As he thus drew nearer and nearer his quarry he saw the rope coil up, yet it looked to be coiling over nothing but air. One end of the lasso was made fast to a ring in the saddle, and when the rope was almost wound up and the horse began to pull away and snort with fear, Jim dismounted. Holding the reins of the bridle in one hand, he followed the rope, and an instant later saw an old man caught fast in the coils of the lasso.
His head was bald and uncovered, but long white whiskers grew down to his waist. About his body was thrown a loose robe of fine white linen. In one hand he bore a great scythe, and beneath the other arm he carried an hourglass.
While Jim gazed wonderingly upon him, this venerable old man spoke in an angry voice:
"Now, then--get that rope off as fast as you can! You've brought everything on earth to a standstill by your foolishness! Well--what are you staring at? Don't you know who I am?"
"No," said Jim, stupidly.
"Well, I'm Time--Father Time! Now, make haste and set me free--if you want the world to run properly."
"How did I happen to catch you?" asked Jim, without making a move to release his captive.
"I don't know. I've never been caught before," growled Father Time. "But I suppose it was because you were foolishly throwing your lasso at nothing."
"I didn't see you," said Jim.
"Of course you didn't. I'm invisible to the eyes of human beings unless they get within three feet of me, and I take care to keep more than that distance away from them. That's why I was crossing this field, where I supposed no one would be. And I should have been perfectly safe had it not been for your beastly lasso. Now, then," he added, crossly, "are you going to get that rope off?"
"Why should I?" asked Jim.
"Because everything in the world stopped moving the moment you caught me. I don't suppose you want to make an end of all business and pleasure, and war and love, and misery and ambition and everything else, do you? Not a watch has ticked since you tied me up here like a mummy!"
Jim laughed. It really was funny to see the old man wound round and round with coils of rope from his knees up to his chin.
"It'll do you good to rest," said the boy. "From all I've heard you lead a rather busy life."
"Indeed I do," replied Father Time, with a sigh. "I'm due in Kamchatka this very minute. And to think one small boy is upsetting all my regular habits!"
"Too bad!" said Jim, with a grin. "But since the world has stopped anyhow, it won't matter if it takes a little longer recess. As soon as I let you go Time will fly again. Where are your wings?"
"I haven't any," answered the old man. "That is a story cooked up by some one who never saw me. As a matter of fact, I move rather slowly."
"I see, you take your time," remarked the boy. "What do you use that scythe for?"
"To mow down the people," said the ancient one. "Every time I swing my scythe some one dies."
"Then I ought to win a life-saving medal by keeping you tied up," said Jim. "Some folks will live this much longer."
"But they won't know it," said Father Time, with a sad smile; "so it will do them no good. You may as well untie me at once."
"No," said Jim, with a determined air. "I may never capture you again; so I'll hold you for awhile and see how the world wags without you."
Then he swung the old man, bound as he was, upon the back of the butcher's horse, and, getting into the saddle himself, started back toward town, one hand holding his prisoner and the other guiding the reins.
When he reached the road his eye fell on a strange tableau. A horse and buggy stood in the middle of the road, the horse in the act of trotting, with his head held high and two legs in the air, but perfectly motionless. In the buggy a man and a woman were seated; but had they been turned into stone they could not have been more still and stiff.
"There's no Time for them!" sighed the old man. "Won't you let me go now?"
"Not yet," replied the boy.
He rode on until he reached the city, where all the people stood in exactly the same positions they were in when Jim lassoed Father Time.