Was it Charles who had done this—could it be possible that the boasting one really did have more or less influence with the president?
He smiled at the thought.
Then his mind roved in another direction, and he realized that after all his humane act of the previous day must be bearing fruit; Bessie and her mother had told Mr. Gibbs about the saving of the wonderful Benjy from a watery grave, and no doubt also related how the boy had declined to take any money as a reward for his kind deed; then one of them must have mentioned the fact that Dick had said he was looking for work, and this had led the banker to write to him.
It was glorious, and he jumped up to meet his mother, whom he discovered coming through the back garden just then.
She was surprised to see him home.
"No use telling me you have been successful, my boy, for your face tells the story better than words," she declared, laying down a dish in which she had doubtless carried some little tempting dainty to the sick woman; they might not have much themselves; but there were always others worse off.
Dick put his hand in his pocket and drawing it out, said:
"Guess how much for my morning's catch?"
"A dollar," she replied, always entering into the spirit of his pleasantry.
"And a half then?"
"Still short, mom, try again."
"Not two, Dick?" with delight in her eyes.
He emptied his hand into her waiting ones.
"Two dollars and twenty cents. I consider that I had pretty fair luck for bass fishing. You know how freakish they are about biting. I had made up my mind I'd give them a whirl to-morrow, but now I find it will be impossible. My other engagements are too pressing."
She looked at him as though puzzled to guess his meaning, whereupon Dick, unable to restrain himself any longer, snatched up the precious letter and held it for her to see.
When she managed to make out its contents she stared at him, half laughing and crying at the same time.
"How splendid! And just what you have always wished, Dick. Oh! I'm so glad! How nice of Mrs. Gibbs, and—Bessie!" she exclaimed; for her woman's intuition had instantly jumped at the truth which Dick had only reached after more or less floundering in the mire.
Her dear arms were immediately around his neck, and Dick knew that, pleased as he might be at the fortunate happening, his feelings could never keep pace with hers.
He could think of nothing else the balance of the day, while doing some little work in the garden; and scores of times he figuratively hugged himself in congratulation over his good luck.
Dick did not dig any more bait; in fact he was careful to put away his poles and lines, because, as he said to his mother, if he expected to go into the business harness now he would have little time for fishing.
That evening was a long one to him.
He thought it would never come time to retire; and after he snuggled down in bed it seemed as if he could not settle to sleep, so many things kept popping up in his mind to engage his attention.
But morning came at last.
Dick was up early, and started to dig some more ground in the garden, for the last planting of vegetables, beans and late corn.
"At any rate," he said at breakfast, as he leaned back and looked at his mother happily, "the hours are not early in a bank, so that I shall have plenty of time to do the chores around, and even look after my part of the garden before going to work."
"There will not be a great deal to do from now on that I cannot manage, my boy. I shall want you to keep your mind principally on your business, and, whatever it may be, do it with your whole soul. I expect to live to see you at the top rung of the ladder some day, Dick. You have your father's perseverance, and the desire to do everything as well as any person could possibly do it. I do not fear for your future," she said, proudly.
About ten o'clock Dick started out.
He was trembling a little as he kissed his mother, and there was a tear of sympathy in her eye when she waved him goodbye as he turned around down the road to look back.
If ever a mother's prayers and good wishes went out after her boy those of Mrs. Morrison followed him as he strode manfully along, with his head held erect and the light of determination in his eyes.
When he drew near the bank he swerved and passed along, but not from timidity; it lacked seven minutes of the time Mr. Gibbs had set, and Dick had learned that a busy man is often almost as much annoyed by a premature caller as by one who keeps him waiting.
So the town clock was just striking the half hour when he walked into the bank.
Dick had been inside the place more than once, on some errand for his mother; but it had never looked just as it did on this morning, when he surveyed it as the possible field of his future industries.
He went over to the teller's window.
"Good morning, Mr. Winslow, can I see Mr. Gibbs?" he asked.
The receiving teller glanced quickly up, for when any one asked to see the president personally it usually meant particular business.
To his surprise the speaker was only a boy; and as he recognized Dick he shook his head a little dubiously in the negative.
"Mr. Gibbs is a busy man, generally, and unless you have some very important business with him I hardly think he could see you," he replied.
"But my business is important, to me anyway. I have come to see him about a position here," said Dick, calmly.
"Then you had better see Mr. Goodwyn, the cashier. He has charge of all the employing; Mr. Gibbs never troubles himself in that line. First window around the corner there."
"But I have an engagement with Mr. Gibbs. He expects me at half-past ten this morning, sir," pursued Dick, beginning to feel a trifle alarmed lest after all something happen to disturb his rosy dreams of the future.
Mr. Winslow opened his eyes and once more condescended to peer out of his little window at the boy who made this astonishing statement.
"An engagement with Mr. Gibbs—well, of course, that alters the complexion of things considerably. We have no one to show you in just now. Open that door yonder and rap on the first one you see to the right. It will have the words 'President's Office, Private,' on it," he observed, looking more closely at Dick, and then smiling as though some thought gave him pleasure.
As the boy moved along Mr. Winslow turned to the other teller and said something in a low tone that caused him to grin broadly; and then give a quick look around in the direction of the desk where Dick had been told the cashier, Mr. Goodwyn, was stationed.
Dick found the door and the inscription, just as the teller had told him.
He drew in a long breath, set his teeth together, and then knocked boldly.
"Come in," some one said, and opening the door he found himself in the presence of the biggest magnate of Riverview, Mr. Gibbs, the banker.
Of course Dick had seen him many times before; but somehow he had always viewed Harvey Gibbs as one placed upon a pedestal, far removed from the common herd; as a boy he could understand such people as Ezra Squires and Mr. Graylock, but a silent man, known as a shrewd financier, was far beyond his ken.
Mr. Gibbs had been writing, but looking up as the boy entered he smiled pleasantly as though pleased with his appearance.
"Sit down here a minute or two, Richard, until I finish this paper, which is of importance, and requires my signature later. I will be ready to talk with you presently," he said, moving a chair out in a kindly way.
So Dick waited, meanwhile looking curiously around him at the luxurious office, which, in his eyes was as finely furnished as any palace could be.
He was pleased to think that his business was to be transacted with Mr. Gibbs in person rather than through the medium of the teller, Ross Goodwyn, a small keen-eyed young-old man with a bald head, and doubtless the capacity to fit him for his responsible job, but whom Dick had never liked; twice he had talked with him on matters connected with his mother's affairs, and each time the cashier had seemed to take a cruel pleasure in making him "feel small," as Dick himself expressed it.
Still, if he was to come into this institution as an employee he would have to get over this feeling toward Mr. Goodwyn, who undoubtedly would have considerable to do with him.
That three minutes seemed an age to poor Dick, settled on the anxious seat.
Finally the banker sat up and rang a bell, whereupon one of the tellers made his appearance, the document was signed, and then as Mr. Payson went out Dick found himself alone with the head of the firm.
"Now I can give you a few minutes' time, Richard. Please move your chair a little closer, so that we need not talk so loud. It is rather a peculiar combination that is responsible for your appearance here this morning," he said, pleasantly; and somehow the boy lost all his former fear for the usually austere banker.
THE MEETING IN THE BANK
"Am I right in assuming that you are looking for a position, Richard?" was the first thing the banker said.
"Yes, sir. You probably know the trouble my mother is having with her investment, for she has conducted all negotiations through your bank. Until that company resumes the payment of dividends we shall have rather a hard time to get on. And I have made up my mind to give up school, for the present, at least, and get work of some kind," said the boy, clearly.
"Good for you. Your object is surely commendable. I understand that you have already been making a start in that line?" pursued Mr. Gibbs.
"Do you mean with Mr. Cartwright, sir?" asked Dick, wondering how the other had managed to hear of this.
"Yes. He was in here doing some business yesterday, and spoke of you."
"That was mighty nice of him, sir. I would gladly have continued on with him, but you see his son, who had been sick, got well enough to come back, and that knocked me out of a job."
"Very inconsiderate of Toby, too. But Mr. Cartwright, who is one of our directors, and a heavy stockholder in this bank, recommended you to me as a trustworthy young fellow who could be depended on to do your best always. That is the rule we follow here; no matter how menial the task, do it as near perfect as lies in your power."
"It was Mr. Cartwright, then—I thought—" began Dick, and stopped short.
"What did you think, Richard; tell me?" asked Mr. Gibbs, smiling.
"I thought that perhaps Charles might have said something. He promised to recommend me if you ever needed an assistant to help him out, he was so busy."
"Oh! yes, just so, you mean Charles Doty. Unfortunately he was not able to save himself, much less use his powerful influence toward getting another in here. In fact, my boy, it is to fill his place that I am now engaging you," observed the gentleman, pointedly.
"Then Charlie has gone—I expected he would not last. He likes to sleep too much in the morning. I used to have to go and pull him out of bed whenever we went fishing last year," remarked Dick, nodding significantly.
"That was just the trouble—it took Charles too long to get started. He may find more congenial employment in some other line; but he would never do for the financial business. But I spoke of a curious coincidence. You are doubtless wondering what I mean by that. Someone else recommended that I give you a trial. Can you guess who it was?"
The reddening face of the boy announced that he at least had a suspicion.
"That was only such a small thing to do, Mr. Gibbs. Any fellow could pull a poor little kitten out of the water. It wasn't really deep enough to drown me, anyhow; and I guess it would take more than that to do the business, for I'm a duck in the water, sir."
"All right, but I've known many boys who would take a fiendish delight in seeing a kitten drown," retorted the gentleman.
"But—that was Bessie's kitten!" said Dick, hastily.
"Oh! yes, so I see. Well, at any rate you did a good thing all around, Richard, pleased my wife and daughter, and opened the way to a situation for yourself in the bank here. Mr. Cartwright tells me you have always wanted to be connected with an establishment of this kind, and he says that you are unusually quick and accurate with figures—in fact, he calls you a wonder in that line; but all our employees would seem such to him, doubtless. Can you go to work to-day, Richard? We let Charles off yesterday, and while the porter is doing some of his usual work there are many errands that should be attended to."
"I am ready to commence right now, sir," responded Dick, getting up with his usual alacrity.
"Good. I like to hear a lad talk that way. But by the way, you have not asked anything about wages."
"I'm willing to leave that entirely to you, sir. I am sure you will pay me all I am worth to the bank," said Dick, simply.
He could not have made a more diplomatic reply had he been a schemer instead of a frank single-minded lad.
"Good again. I begin to think that it was a fine thing for all of us that Charles overslept so frightfully yesterday. We paid him eight dollars a week to begin with, Richard."
"Yes, sir. I shall be very glad to receive that, if you consider that I can fill the bill."
"But, for the last two months we have been paying Charles ten. Now, I am of the opinion that you are going to be even more valuable in the start than he was at the finish of his banking career, so I shall instruct the bookkeeper to put you on the payroll at ten dollars. That will do for the present, Richard. I am going to take a personal interest in your progress. I knew your father, my boy, and respected him highly."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, as he withdrew; and there were tears in his eyes which he had to wink very hard to dry out; but it was not the fact that he was to receive such splendid wages at the beginning of his business career that affected him half so much as this constant allusion to the honorable name his father had left behind as a heritage for his son.
Thomas Morrison might not have been able to lay up a fortune before he was called to another world; but he had at least won for himself the regard and esteem of his neighbors during all the years he labored in and around Riverview.
Presently Dick was being instructed in his duties by one of the friendly tellers.
While this was going on the cashier came out of his little room.
"Who's this boy, Payson?" he asked, frowning at Dick.
"I think you know me, Mr. Goodwyn; I am Mrs. Morrison's son. I have been in to see you several times on business," returned Dick, calmly.
"But what are you doing inside the railing now?" continued the cashier.
"Mr. Gibbs has given him the place of the messenger boy, Charles, Mr. Goodwyn," remarked the teller, a little vindictively, Dick thought.
The cashier frowned.
"Why, I spoke only yesterday to Mr. Gibbs about a nephew of mine I could recommend for that position; I don't understand how it comes he has taken this thing out of my hands. He seldom interferes with the hiring of help. I must see him about it at once," and he hurried away to interview the president.
"Much good it will do him," remarked Payson to his fellow teller; "I've seen the fellow he wants to put in here, and so has Mr. Gibbs; and I must say I didn't like his looks. Goodwyn has to help support his family, I understand, and it's more his wish to lighten his own load than to get us a clever messenger, that impels him to recommend his nephew. Make your mind easy, Dick; there will be nothing doing."
And apparently there was not much satisfaction in the brief interview which the cashier had with Mr. Gibbs, for when he came back presently he hastened into his little den, nor did he have a word to say to anyone.
Only Dick feared that he would find Mr. Goodwyn a hard taskmaster, on account of this incident; and he regretted it very much, believing it would handicap him more or less in his work.
But the others soon came to like the new messenger exceedingly, he was so clever, so obliging, and withal so bright; both tellers declared at the close of the day's business that they had never known so little trouble in getting their errands executed in a lucid manner.
At noon Dick bought himself a little luncheon, for he was too far away from home to spend half an hour walking to and fro each day; after this he meant to bring something with him; no matter if it were only bread and butter, it would be much better than this "sawdust," as he contemptuously called the cake he had purchased at the town bakery.
It was just at two o'clock that a most peculiar incident occurred, and one that gave Dick considerable amusement.
He was waiting in the outer room for a paper which the president intended sending to the post office to go by registered mail, when who should come in but Ferd Graylock, accompanied by his father; who, as one of the officers of the bank, went straight back to the room of the president without ceremony, leaving his son in the public waiting-room.
Of course Ferd immediately spied Dick there and sauntered over, with his customary air of importance.
"Hello! Morrison, what are you doing here? I didn't you know you were a depositor in our bank," he said, with a patronizing manner that at first made Dick grit his teeth, and then caused him to smile as a sudden suspicion flashed across into his mind.
"Oh! I drift in occasionally to drop a few hundred thousand for safe keeping," he replied, in a spirit of irony.
"What are you here for anyway?" demanded Ferd, eyeing the other with a sneer.
"Just waiting for something at present."
"Oh! I see, your mother has probably been making arrangements to borrow on her tied-up investments. It's hard lines, old fellow. Now, you ought to do something in the way of business, instead of spending your time fishing, as I hear you are doing. I expect to branch out that way myself. My old man says my school days are over, because my report was so very depressing this term. He believes I would make a splendid banker; and he's just gone back to consult with Gibbs about starting me in here."
"Oh!" was all Dick trusted himself to say.
Apparently that position formerly occupied by the departed Charles was not going around begging for applicants; nor was the cashier the only one who had his eye upon it.
"Of course I will have to begin low down so as to get a grasp upon the details and technical points of the financial side of the business; but I'm willing to learn. Here comes the governor now; I guess he has it clinched."
If he did he certainly showed little signs of satisfaction as he came up, for he simply glared at Dick.
"Come on, son, back to the store. I think you'll have to begin your mercantile career behind a dry goods counter after all," he snarled.
"But the position that was open to me here, with a chance to rise?" exclaimed Ferd, looking aghast at this unexpected explosion of his hopes.
"It is open no longer, Mr. Gibbs himself filled it. And that young interloper has stepped into your place," pointing his trembling finger at Dick.
"What! you?" cried Ferd, hardly able to believe his ears, "impossible!"
Just then the paying-teller called out.
"Richard, here is the letter to be sent registered; and on the way back stop in at Underwoods and leave this notice of a note coming due to-morrow."
"Yes, sir," said Dick, hurrying out; while Ferd followed more slowly, a frown on his face and his teeth gritting with anger.
Being quick to learn, it did not take Dick long to grasp the scope of his new duties, and by the end of the second week he had gained the good will of every person connected with the bank, from the president down to the porter—with one single exception.
This was Ross Goodwyn, the cashier.
Somehow that individual seemed to take it as a personal affront that Dick had been chosen to fill the vacancy caused by the discharge of Charles.
He had figured on filling it with his nephew, and since as a rule these things were left to his discretion he felt very much aggrieved because Mr. Gibbs had for once gone over his head.
Being a sensitive man he imagined that the other employees were forever chuckling in their sleeves over his defeat, and hence he misconstrued every little incident that arose to be a slur aimed at his vanished authority.
It made him most unhappy.
And certainly Dick did not enjoy the thought of having this clever man classed as his enemy, for in the course of his duties about the bank he necessarily came into frequent contact with the cashier, and it was unpleasant to feel that the other was eyeing him constantly, as though ready to pick a flaw in his conduct.
Perhaps it also made Dick more careful than he might ordinarily have been, and in this way worked for good.
The bookkeeper's assistant, a young man named Kassam, frequently ate lunch with Dick, as his people lived at a distance, and he did not scorn to bring a bite to the office with him daily.
There was a little room back of the offices where some papers and books were kept, such as the big safe could not accommodate, and here the two would often sit and chat as they disposed of their luncheon.
Pliny Kassam was a diligent fellow, who meant to make his mark some day; he had a mother and a raft of little sisters at home, for whom he seemed to entertain a sincere affection.
It was the similarity in their conditions that first drew the boys together; for each of them had lost a good father, though Kassam's people were in comfortable circumstances.
It was one noon hour when Dick had been with the bank about three weeks, that his friend for the first time mentioned a subject that had a distinct bearing on the messenger's personal affairs.
In the course of the general talk Dick chanced to mention the name of the cashier, as having sent him upon a certain errand.
Pliny glanced around and unconsciously lowered his voice as he said:
"I'd advise you to keep your eye on Mr. Goodwyn, Dick, and when he asks you to do anything make sure that you carry out his wishes to a dot. He has it in for you on account of his disappointment about this position he wanted for that nephew of his."
"I always try to do exactly as I am told, no matter whether it is the cashier who gives the order or the bookkeeper. But I don't believe Mr. Goodwyn would stoop so low as to try and injure a fellow who had never done him any harm. I knew nothing about his nephew. The place was offered to me, and as I had to work I accepted it only too gladly. I hope Mr. Goodwyn will soon be as good a friend to me as anyone else in the bank," replied Dick, earnestly.
"Oh! don't mistake me, now, old fellow. I wouldn't for the world hint that our clever cashier would dream of doing you any harm, or trumping up a false charge against you. Those things happen often enough in the stories we read, but in real life very seldom. But there are other ways of getting into trouble, you know."
"Just how?" asked his companion, puzzled and not a little worried by the mysterious manner of Kassam.
"Well, suppose that something happened, as it frequently does, when things go wrong, and some careless person has misplaced a valuable paper—we know that after a certain amount of hunting it will be found, for it could hardly get out of our department; but in your case it would be different, for your work takes you outside. If the circumstances looked in the least suspicious, I mean that Mr. Goodwyn would be apt to condemn you off-hand. Just make up your mind to be unusually careful, that's all."
"See here, Pliny, you have some reason for telling me this, haven't you," demanded the other, anxiously.
Again his companion cast that instinctive hasty look around him, and the reason was obvious, for Mr. Goodwyn's little department was just at the other side of the thin partition, and if he happened to be in at this hour, which would be unusual, he could possibly hear voices raised above the ordinary, and as his decision was generally the controlling factor in the matter of employment, Pliny might find himself looking for another job.
"Well, to tell the truth I have. You were out yesterday at noon when I was eating my lunch, and he happened to be in his room when Mr. Graylock called to see about some business matter. They talked rather loud, for you remember Archibald is a trifle deaf, and raises his voice at all times. I couldn't help but hear, although I paid no particular attention to what they were saying until I happened to catch your name mentioned."
"My name?" echoed Dick, anxiously.
"Yes, and of course that caused me to sit up and take notice, for I thought it kind of queer that two business men in consultation should think about a boy who had nothing to do with their affairs at all," went on Pliny, lowering his voice still more, until its mysterious character affected Dick seriously, and he even found himself quivering with eagerness.
"Who brought me into the conversation first?" he asked.
"I think it was Graylock, for I heard him ask how you were making good, and from the plain sneer in his tone when he spoke I knew the old fellow was just hoping Mr. Goodwyn would say not at all, and that he would have to make a change."
"But he didn't—don't tell me he said I was a failure?"
"Oh! no; on the contrary he admitted that you seemed to be getting along pretty well, though he also spoke about the new broom sweeping clean, and that no doubt when the novelty had wore off you would show up just as many faults as Charlie had."
Dick breathed easier.
"I am glad he said a good word for me, anyhow. Wait and see if I go backward. I'm more determined than ever to make good here, for I believe that the one chance I wanted has come to me. What did Mr. Graylock say to that, Pliny?" he asked.
"He sneered at it in that nasty way he has, and he was mighty bitter when he declared that he had no faith in you. He even said you had come to him to ask for a job, and he felt constrained to turn you down because he had heard certain things in various quarters that reflected on your honesty—nothing positive, but just little straws that generally show which way the wind blows."
Dick half sprang out of his seat, and his face grew red with anger and mortification.
"I haven't liked Mr. Graylock from way back, but it never entered my head that he was a man who would descend to actual lies to get even with a boy who happened to cut his son out of a job. That was about as mean a thing as any man could ever hint at—no proof, but only general suspicion, and on that he would ruin my reputation with my employers. It's hard to stand that, Pliny, mighty hard!" he breathed, clinching his hands and looking as though he had half a mind to hurry around to the big department store and demand an explanation and an apology from the owner.
"Just what I said to myself at the time—old Graylock is a cur, a mean, mangy cur, that's what he is. And because I detest him so I made up my mind you should hear what happened to come to my ears. Mind you, I'm not a listener, and under ordinary circumstances I'd have stopped up my ears."
"It was kind of you to tell me, Pliny. I'll be more careful than ever how I do things now. Mr. Graylock offered me a position in his store, and told me to take off my coat and go to work; but as he only gave three dollars a week I had to decline. I suppose he can't quite forgive me for walking out. Perhaps I did say something a little sarcastic at the time, but who could help it when a man had even gone so far as to sneer at my father for declining to put his money into that store business of his?"
"Served him just right—three dollars a week, eh? And they do say he works his help like a mule driver. If that man doesn't get to be a millionaire it will be because he is so small he makes mistakes that a larger grained man never would. That is the law of compensation, my boy. And I hate to say it, but Graylock ended up by warning Mr. Goodwyn that if he were in his shoes he would keep a sharp eye on a boy who had had no father these many years to train him right. That kind of hit me too, and I couldn't help shaking my fist at the old curmudgeon through that partition."
"It was a mean trick, if I do say it. I ought to be glad, I suppose, that I happen to have nothing to do with Mr. Graylock. Even if he had offered me living wages I hated to think of working for him. But let's drop the subject. I'm glad you told me this, Pliny, unpleasant as it has been."
"You won't say anything to a living soul?"
"Of course not, not even to my mother, though it's little I ever keep from her. She would only worry about it, and what's the use? I must look out for myself. Depend on me to keep mum," replied Dick, quickly, reaching out a hand and shaking that of the assistant bookkeeper heartily.
"You know there is a knothole in that partition over there, and if a fellow cared to he could look in and see what Mr. Goodwyn was doing; but I wouldn't want to be guilty of that low trick. Hearing what was said in a loud voice was another matter; I couldn't help that," declared Pliny.
Then they talked of other things; though Dick was unusually sober the balance of that day, and every time Pliny caught his eye he gave a little shake of his head as though warning the messenger not to show his feelings so plainly.
Perhaps Mr. Goodwyn may have noticed the look on Dick's face when he had occasion to talk with him, and it may have given his conscience a little stab or so, for he seemed more than ordinarily pleasant to the lad.
Poor Dick was already learning that there may be a cloud upon the horizon ready to darken the bright skies, no matter how cheerful things may have looked heretofore; he had secured the situation that was the dream of his heart, but already a fly had dropped in the ointment.
The baneful influence of Mr. Graylock seemed capable of reaching him through the dislike of the cashier, and sooner or later he was apt to suffer because of that unnatural combination.
Even his fond mother noticed that he was dull that evening, but he said nothing, and hence she concluded that the duties of his new position were proving exacting.
But even Dick could not foresee the shadow that in the immediate future was destined to cast its blight upon his promising young business career.
Another week passed. Dick had recovered his natural spirits, since it was impossible for a boy of his buoyant disposition to hug worry to his heart for any great length of time.
Mr. Goodwyn could find no fault in his conduct; he was intelligent, quick, respectful and accurate; and yet the cashier kept tabs of his movements as though constantly looking for a weak place in his armor.
Would he find it after a while; could the boy continue to be as perfect right along as he seemed just now, and should the time come, was Mr. Goodwyn mean enough to look upon an accidental mistake as a crime?
This was what made Dick anxious; anyone was apt to make a slip once in a while—in the bookkeeping department it happened every month when they were taking off their trial balance, and then hours had to be consumed, and midnight gas burned until the error was found and rectified; but what was an ordinary mistake with one person might be magnified into an enormous blunder in another.
Accordingly, having this uneasy feeling in connection with Mr. Graylock's vindictive animosity, Dick was put on his guard one day when the cashier sent him with a note to the department store.
He had not been in it since that day when Pliny told him about the talk between Archibald Graylock and the cashier.
As he entered the big building it seemed to him that there was a difference in the air of things somehow; the clerks behind the counter were actually taking things easier than he had ever known them to do, and several were even conversing together—why, he actually heard a low laugh as he passed along, something that had hitherto been unknown in the Graylock store.
Apparently the proprietor must have been relaxing his eternal vigilance for some reason or other.
Dick began to take notice, and somehow a thought flashed into his brain that he would not have communicated to anyone else for a king's ransom, lest he be accused of betraying the secrets that were connected with his trusted position in the bank.
He remembered now that Mr. Graylock had been in consultation with the bank officials daily of late, and there seemed to be a look on his face that was more than the keen, shrewd business expression people were accustomed to seeing there.
Could it be that he was having troubles financially?
Dick knew that there were some heavy notes out against the man whose genius as an organizer had built up that big department store, so long a credit to the good name of Riverview.
Yes, and he had been in to see Mr. Gibbs twice personally, which was a rather unusual proceeding, since the cashier was the one with whom all ordinary affairs were transacted.
And now that he thought of it, might there be a reason in his setting Ferd to work to earn his own living.
He discovered the object of his last thought behind a counter, looking disconsolate, though when Ferd saw him he tried to brace up and assume his former patronizing air, beckoning Dick to approach.
Actually he offered to shake hands, which was a sure indication that Ferd had suffered a fall in his pride.
"How d'ye do, Dick? Getting along all right in the bank? I had an idea I'd like to take up the financial end of the game, but when I discovered what slaves all bank clerks are nowadays, I changed my mind. It's a heap better to work into the ropes here, and learn how the governor manages things; because you understand, before a great while I expect to see my name on the sign with his. Archibald Graylock & Son, won't look half bad, eh? After that I can take it easier, you see. And when the whole business comes my way, after the old man cashes in his checks, why I expect to travel and enjoy life. I'm thinking of investing in a car the very day I get to be a partner here; yes, and I've been having stacks of catalogues sent me of the different makes. Don't suppose you feel any interest in such things; perhaps you may ten or twenty years from now, when you get to be cashier."
It amused Dick to hear Ferd boast, and never changed his own ideas a particle.
Just now he wondered deep down in his heart what effect it would have on the fellow if his father did make a grand smash, and it actually became a necessity for Ferd to get out and hustle for his daily bread—it might prove the making of him in the end.
"Oh! I sometimes dream of having such a thing, some fine day; but just as you say, I rather guess that time is a long way off. It doesn't bother me a particle. I'm satisfied to get along day by day, and leave the future to itself. But I must be on my way, Ferd. Glad you like your berth. Be sure and invite me to a ride in that car when you conclude to get it."
Mr. Graylock was pacing up and down in that little room of his, with a plainly perturbed face; he started as Dick entered, and looked relieved to see him, just as if he had been entertaining a fear of having some impatient debtor call upon him to demand an immediate settlement of his claim under penalty of closing up his business.
And the lookout hole was closed, which accounted for the unusual commotion in the store among the employees; plainly Mr. Graylock, in anticipation of disagreeable interviews, had chosen to cut off his means of communication with the outer offices.
He tore open the envelope Dick carried from the cashier and hastily scanned the contents.
There was a strained look on his seamed face, and a glitter in his eyes that Dick could not but think boded ill toward some one, and he rejoiced that fortune had not thrown his daily lot under the finger of this petty tyrant.
"Tell Mr. Goodwyn that I will be right over, and bring the securities with me," he said, in a voice that seemed to tremble a little with eagerness or some emotion.
"Yes, sir. Anything else?" asked the boy, respectfully.
Mr. Graylock looked at him long and earnestly; it seemed to Dick that something cruel and sinister was creeping over his hard face, and despite himself he shivered as though a piece of ice had suddenly been applied to his flesh.
"That is all," said the merchant, finally, like a man making up his mind.
Dick went out.
He could not understand his feelings, but it seemed as though he must have had some connection with the thoughts passing through that shrewd mind of Mr. Graylock while the other was standing there a full minute and looking directly at him.
Why should that be?
How could so humble a personage as the bank messenger boy have anything to do with the financial standing of a big merchant like Mr. Graylock?
Surely it was entirely out of the question that the former dislike which this man had entertained toward him could have any place in his thoughts now, if, as Dick imagined, he were wrestling with financial difficulties.
He had one more errand to attend to before returning to the bank.
It was the noon hour, and he expected to eat lunch before business picked up again.
In these country banks things are not run on the same rigid regulations as in great city institutions.
Sometimes for half an hour business is virtually suspended and all the employees may be found out at dinner save possibly a single exception, which may be one of the tellers, or on occasion the cashier himself.
As a rule depositors, aware of these conditions, do not come to transact any business between these hours, but if there should happen to be any especial need of money being paid out or taken in, the lone occupant of the desk attends to it.
Dick had noticed that several times Mr. Graylock seemed to have timed his visits at just this particular hour.
It may have been accident, or he possibly wished to catch the cashier at leisure, and as the building was empty for a short season, so far as they knew, they could confer without a chance of being overheard.
On this particular day, which was fated to be marked with a white stone in the history of Dick Morrison, Mr. Graylock entered the bank at the time he was eating his lunch in the little room back of the offices.
From where he sat he could see the merchant as he came in the open door.
He noticed Mr. Graylock cast a quick look around as if to size up the situation, and what would appear to be a pleased expression flashed over his thin face when he saw that the coast seemed clear, and that the cashier was the only one present, besides the boy eating in the back room.
Passing immediately into the section reserved for the bank workers he entered Mr. Goodwyn's den; the door being open so that the cashier could command a full view of the outer offices, and jump up if any customer should happen to apply at the windows for attention.
There followed the murmur of voices from within; but for once Mr. Graylock saw fit to graduate his tones to a lower pitch, so that beyond an occasional word Dick heard nothing that passed, nor did he wish to listen.
Then someone entered through the front door, and he heard the cashier get up to pass through into the main offices to wait on the customer.
What impelled Dick to step gently over to that knothole Pliny had spoken of and take one quick glance he could never have explained, for surely he had no particular desire to look upon the disturbed and crafty face of Archibald Graylock.
The merchant was just sitting down in his chair again as though he had stood up after the cashier's hurried departure from the little office, and he seemed to be buttoning up his coat; Dick had one scant look at his face as he turned away again to resume his lunch, and he could never again forget the expression he saw there, it seemed to be so full of fear, of nervous strain, of malicious triumph.
WANTED IN THE CASHIER'S OFFICE
Five minutes later a bell rang. It was from the cashier's office, and was meant to summon Dick if he were about the premises.
Accordingly he at once presented himself in the little department adjoining the main offices, where he found the cashier still sitting with Mr. Graylock.
The latter was watching for his coming, since his little eyes fastened upon the boy immediately.
It appeared that he had mentioned something to Mr. Goodwyn pertaining to a matter that Dick would be apt to know about; which of course had resulted in the boy being called upon to explain.
This he was able to do in a satisfactory manner, for after all it was a trivial matter, though considering the feeling that animated the merchant it might have become serious had Dick been less careful how he handled the messages entrusted to his charge.
"That is all right, Richard. I can see that you did the proper thing. If there is any fault it does not lie at your door," remarked Mr. Goodwyn, smiling.
Dick was more than pleased at these few words of praise from this source, the very first he had ever received from Mr. Goodwyn; his face flushed, and he drew a long breath as if inclined to thank the cashier, but realizing that this was not called for he turned to depart.
"By the way, Mr. Goodwyn, don't you think it would be wise to have this packet placed in the safe right away? It represents too much to me just now to take any possible chance of losing it," exclaimed Mr. Graylock, eagerly.
"Why, certainly, if it will ease your mind any, Archibald. I meant to do it myself just as soon as you had gone. Here, Richard, be sure and place this in the vault just where you put that package for me yesterday," and Dick, turning at the door accepted the large buff envelope that had a stout rubber band around it to keep the contents intact.
He was impelled somehow to look quickly up at Mr. Graylock as he turned to pass out of the door.
Again that strange shiver shot through him from head to feet as he saw the grim smile that appeared for just a single instant on that thin face, and then vanished.
He went immediately into the bank vault, which was open, though the inner one had been fastened when the tellers left their stations, and carefully placed the packet in the exact spot he had been told.
Then he returned to the little room back of the offices to finish his lonely lunch; for Pliny was away from his desk three days now with an attack of summer complaint—nothing serious, but keeping him at home for a short season.
Five minutes later he saw Mr. Graylock pass out.
Then one of the tellers returned and the cashier went home to his dinner.
During the balance of the day Dick often thought of what had occurred during the noon hour, and wondered whether the owner of the big store could really be getting into deep water financially.
Already he had learned that those in the bank must never talk about what they happen to learn or suspect, and so he made up his mind to keep his suspicions to himself.
At any rate it was none of his business, and while he had no affection for Mr. Graylock he certainly did not feel like exulting over the fact that impending trouble hovered over his devoted head.
Once, when he had occasion to pass into the vault he saw that someone, possibly the teller, had taken pains to remove the packet from the shelf, and that it was undoubtedly now safely reposing in the inner receptacle of the big vault; indeed, the door of this being ajar Dick fancied he could see the buff envelope with the heavy rubber band sticking out of one of the various pigeon-holes.
After that it passed entirely from his mind.
Three more days passed by. There were now rumors abroad that all was not rosy with the firm of Archibald Graylock; everybody was talking of it, for in a small town such a thing is a calamity affecting many households; for should the big store close its doors scores must be thrown out of employment, for it had been doing a rushing business off and on.
Dick heard of it in half a dozen places; indeed, it seemed as though everyone must be talking about the visits of creditors, and the hustling of the worried proprietor to get accommodation in order to tide over the storm.
There were no more consultations between the cashier and Mr. Graylock; for somehow the merchant seemed to avoid the bank, sending Ferd several times with notes, when it became necessary to communicate.
It seemed to Dick as though there was a muttering in the air, just as he used to notice before a summer storm broke on a sultry day.
Surely something was going to happen.
And now a new week had come around, the beginning of his second week with the bank.
Dick was even more pleased than ever with his position.
It was an absolute delight for him to dabble with figures, and finding how very quick and accurate he was, the bookkeeper and tellers did not hesitate to give him many a task in that line.
The more he did the better they were pleased, and many a joke passed around the inner circle that was aimed at poor Charles, and his blundering ways.
It was about a quarter after eleven when Dick saw Mr. Graylock come in.
He had a most determined look on his face, as though his mind was set upon doing something he had endeavored to hold aloof for some time.
"Looks to me as though the climax is close at hand," observed Pliny, who was once more back at his desk; Dick happened to be standing near by waiting for some notices that were being gotten together by the bookkeeper to be delivered on his regular morning round of the business houses of Riverview.
"I think myself we shall hear something drop before long," replied that functionary, in a low confidential tone, intended only for the ears of his assistant.
Never were words spoken half in jest more speedily made to come true.
Loud voices could be heard coming from the little den of the cashier, whither Mr. Graylock had immediately hastened upon entering.
Then in the doorway appeared the trim figure of Mr. Goodwyn, showing evident signs of excitement.
"It is impossible, incredible, sir! Such a thing could never happen in this institution. There must be some mistake; your informant was in error," he was saying, forgetting that other ears than those of the merchant were open, and could hear all he was saying.
"My informant is a responsible man, and he declares that there can be no mistake. It was positively one of my securities that was offered to him by an unknown party, who, upon being questioned refused to tell where he had obtained the same, and left before he could be detained. I only trust that there is a mistake, Mr. Goodwyn. It would be a most serious thing for me just now to be crippled when I have need all of my available resources."
"We will prove it to be a mistake, and you can breathe freely again, Mr. Graylock."
With that the cashier stepped into the safe.
Mr. Graylock stood in the doorway of the inner sanctuary, an eager look on his face that told of expectancy and dread, either real or assumed.
Every one in the enclosure had their eyes riveted upon the vault; although they were not supposed to have any interest in this matter it was only human nature to be overwhelmed with curiosity concerning anything that happened in connection with Archibald Graylock, who just now seemed to occupy a prominent place in the talk of the town, particularly with regard to his financial standing.
Five seconds later the cashier came out of the vault again.
He was smiling now, and holding up the big buff envelope that was held with the heavy rubber band.
Both he and the merchant passed within the smaller office, and the door of communication was immediately closed.
Tellers and bookkeepers started back to work, with various significant smiles and nods.
"Has to put his long hand down at last in his bag and get out the securities he had intended keeping for his old age," whispered Pliny, turning to Dick, and then immediately adding: "Why, what's the matter, Dick, you look pale?"
"Nothing," replied the other; but somehow he found himself still listening as if he really expected to hear further sounds from the interior of the cashier's retreat.
Voices reached them as if the two men were in earnest consultation.
Then the door opened and Mr. Goodwyn poked his head out.
He looked worried, much more so than Dick had ever seen him before.
Yes, something had indeed happened, and a vague sense of impending peril seemed to overwhelm the boy, so that his knees actually quivered while he stood there, not through fear, for he had done nothing to bring about such a feeling, but simply nervous excitement.
"Mr. Payson, kindly step in here," said the cashier.
The paying teller did so with alacrity, and remained inside some five minutes, finally returning to his desk without saying a word to any of his associates, and looking rather mystified and uneasy.
Then Mr. Winslow was asked to join the two who were in the other apartment, and when he too came out his face was white, and in his eyes there seemed to be something bordering on dread, such as suspicion cast upon his good name must always breed in the mind of a bank employee.
Next the bookkeeper had his inning.
Dick still waited, knowing that sooner or later he was apt to have his turn.
Just as he expected, Pliny Kassam was not called upon; that must be because he had been absent up to the morning of this same day.
As the bookkeeper resumed his work he did not look quite so jolly as usual; in fact a line as of new anxiety had come between his eyes, and Dick imagined he gave a quick glance toward him as though something that was said had caused suspicion to be aroused toward the new messenger.
"It's coming, whatever it all means!" Dick was saying mentally, as he tried to get a grip upon his pulses and fortify himself for the ordeal.
Then his bell rang—he was wanted in the cashier's office.
One thing struck Dick as singular.
As the bell rang that summoned him to the carpet in the cashier's office it seemed as though the eye of everyone of his associates was raised from the work that had employed their attention and was focussed upon him.
He even thought he could detect something akin to pity in these looks.
He walked steadily over to the door, pushed it open and entered the small compartment of the head official of the bank, under the president.
"Please close the door again, Richard," said Mr. Goodwyn, solemnly.
Why, it sounded like a funeral, and the cashier looked as though he might be taken for the chief mourner; as for Mr. Graylock, he sat there apparently wrought up to a high pitch of excitement, and drumming with his fingers on the table.
Dick gulped something down that seemed to be inclined to half strangle him, and then set his teeth together, resolved to put a brave face on it, no matter what difficulty might arise.
"Sit down here, Richard, where I can talk with you," continued Mr. Goodwyn.
The boy did as he was told, and looked calmly into the face of the cashier; if the other had anticipated discovering anything shifty in his manner he certainly received as great a surprise as at any time in his life.
"Richard, do you remember the day Mr. Graylock was in here, and I called you to ask about that Classon matter, which you explained quite satisfactorily—let me see, what day was it?" he said, turning to the eager merchant, who was devouring Dick with his eyes, and looking actually savage.
"Thursday of last week. I made a note of it naturally in my memorandum book, for I might wish to substantiate the occasion when I called for the securities again," replied the merchant, grimly.
Then it was about that packet after all; Dick had suspected something of the kind ever since he knew that Mr. Graylock seemed to be aroused over something, and had mentioned the word while standing in the doorway.
"Yes, sir, I remember," he replied, calmly, even while his heart was fluttering with an unknown dread.
"You also recall the fact that I handed you a packet, a buff envelope in fact, secured with a rubber band and requested you to immediately place it in the vault?"
"Yes, sir, I do," answered the boy, respectfully.
"Was this the package I gave you?" holding up the bulky envelope.
"It looks very much like it, sir."
"Take hold of it, Richard; tell me does it seem quite as full as when I first placed it in your hands?"
"I do not notice any difference, sir, though of course I paid little attention to the fact at the time," replied Dick.
"You went straight into the vault, because I can remember seeing you. Then my attention being attracted by something this gentleman was saying I turned my head away, and did not think of you again. Just how long do you think you were in there on that occasion, Richard?" continued the cashier, enunciating plainly, as if he wished to impress the seriousness of the occasion upon the consciousness of the one he addressed.
"I think not more than a few seconds, sir; only long enough to put the packet on the shelf where Mr. Payson would be sure to see it as soon as he came in, and place it in the inner safe."
"Yes, I remember, I explained to you that anything placed on that particular shelf was intended to be lodged in the fireproof safe when Mr. Winslow had it open. A few seconds, you say, Richard. I wish I could make sure of that, my boy," and he looked severely at the messenger.
"Did you see that packet again after that?" asked Mr. Graylock, taking a hand in the examination.
"No, sir. When I carried the books in at the close of business the shelf was empty, so I guessed Mr. Payson had put it away as soon as he returned from lunch."
"Oh! you noticed that, did you? Take pains to stick a pin in that, Mr. Goodwyn, please; the boy was enough interested in that particular packet to look and see if it was still there! Now, tell me just why you thought anything about it, boy?" exclaimed Mr. Graylock, scowling as he bent forward the better to stare into the face of the one under suspicion.
"I don't know why I should, but just happened to remember having placed it there. The books fit in a rack under that shelf. I suppose it was only natural for me to remember the incident, and give one look up there."
"Just so," said the cashier, slowly, as if trying to grasp the tangled ends to the mystery with which he so unexpectedly found himself confronted; "you appear to be wondering what all this means, and I will tell you. That buff envelope contained negotiable securities worth fully one hundred thousand dollars. I saw them with my own eyes and even handled them, putting them back with the other papers myself just before you were called in. I have taken this envelope out of the safe just now, and when Mr. Graylock scattered the contents on my table the securities were missing!"
So, that was what had happened, was it? and suspicion had already pointed its finger in the direction of the bank boy, simply because he had held the buff envelope in his hands a brief time!
Somehow, now that the worst was known, Dick did not feel anything like a tremor pass through his frame.
Strong in the consciousness of his own innocence he could not see where he had been at all to blame; they could certainly not accuse him of a misdemeanor on the strength of mere suspicion in the mind of Mr. Graylock, who had shown so plainly the strange and unreasonable dislike he bore Dick.
"I am sorry to hear that, sir; but I assure you that I know absolutely nothing about the matter. I placed the packet on the shelf; someone put it away a short time later, and I have not touched it since. That is all I can say, Mr. Goodwyn," he went on, with an expression on his young face that might either mean sincerity or brazen boldness, according to the way one chose to look at it.
"But no one saw you come out of the safe that day. You may have been there a full minute; that would be long enough to open the envelope, extract part of the contents and put the rest away—that is, if you were so minded," said Mr. Graylock, vindictively.
Dick grew very white, and a burning answer trembled on his tongue at this direct accusation, but he wisely held himself in restraint, remembering that under the circumstances the distracted merchant could hardly be blamed for what he was saying.
"Stop and look at the matter a minute, sir. It hardly seems reasonable that a green boy at the business should know all about negotiable securities, and take only such out of the envelope, leaving all others. In what way could I attempt to dispose of such things, since I have never been out of Riverview in all my life? If these papers have been stolen and are being offered for sale somewhere, it looks to me as though some pretty clever man must have done the stealing, instead of a bank boy."
The cashier looked interested at what he said.
"At least the boy talks sense, Graylock. If there is a leak in this bank we are bound to discover it in short order. You need not worry about it, sir, since you are protected by our assurance that we will do all in our power to recover your securities; and if it can be proven conclusively that any one in our employ took them the bank is bound to remunerate you, even though its resources be badly crippled in so doing. Mr. Gibbs is unfortunately away to-day, but I shall wire to him immediately. Until he comes nothing more can be done," he remarked, positively.
"And about this boy—what will you do?" asked the merchant, turning to frown at Dick, as though in spite of all he either could not or would not allow himself to get rid of the idea that the messenger knew something about the missing papers.
"Nothing just now. There is really no tangible evidence that he took the securities, sir; you must admit that it is only suspicion as yet with you?" returned the cashier, gloomily, gnawing at his upper lip nervously, and playing with his pencil by tapping it on the table.
"But he handled the packet, you admit?" declared Mr. Graylock, stubbornly.
"So did Mr. Payson, who declares he put it away on that day as soon as he returned from lunch; so did I right here before your eyes. I have been trying to recall the exact circumstances of that day, but I seem to be a little hazy, which, however, is not to be wondered at under the circumstances, for this thing has given me a terrible shock, sir. It will be your duty to have some one find the man who offered one of the stolen securities to your friend, and in that way discover the identity of the guilty person. I shall be sorry for him when found; Mr. Gibbs is a martinet when it comes to duty, and the one who took those papers will undoubtedly have occasion to repent behind the bars."
He looked at Dick as he said those last words, but the boy did not quail in the least, his calm eyes meeting those of the nervous cashier steadily.
"Innocent, or hardened, which," was what was passing through the mind of Mr. Goodwyn, as he noted this unflinching behavior of the suspected youth.
"Do you wish to ask me anything more, sir?"
"Are you in the habit of corresponding with anyone in Boston, Richard?"
"Not until a week ago, when a friend of mine who was in Florida the last time I heard from him wrote me from Boston. He addressed his letter to the bank because he said he understood from another fellow in Riverview he corresponded with that I was now employed here."
"Have you this letter?" continued the cashier, quietly.
Dick put his hand to his pocket and drew out an envelope, which he started to open, and then turned scarlet with mortification.
"I remember now that I was reading his letter again this morning while down near the river on an errand, a sudden gust of wind carried it out of my hand and over the fence. I had no time to hunt for it, and besides concluded it had blown into the river. But I kept the envelope to remember his address," he said.
Mr. Graylock laughed scornfully, almost triumphantly, Dick thought.
"Let me see that envelope, young man," he snarled, and having fairly snatched it out of Dick's hand he gave one glance and then held it up.
"Just what I thought! Look at that, will you, Mr. Goodwyn; up in the corner is this firm address: 'Cassidy and Prime, Stock Brokers, Boston!'"
The cashier took the envelope, and then said huskily:
"This begins to appear like a serious thing for you, Morrison. I really feel sorry for your mother. Sit down again; I am not yet through with you!"
MR. GRAYLOCK SEEMS DISAPPOINTED
Somehow or other Dick did not seem to be greatly alarmed by these significant words of Mr. Goodwyn.
Perhaps it was because he did not fully understand their import, or catch the tremendous importance of that broker's address upon the empty envelope; then again the consciousness of his entire innocence may have had something to do with it.
Had he been asked, however, it is very possible the boy would have imputed his bold front to the fact that he saw the look of almost savage delight on the vindictive countenance of Mr. Graylock, and was determined that he would give that gentleman little cause to gloat over his apparent downfall.
So he smiled as he sat down again and faced the uneasy cashier.
"I don't see why you should be sorry for my mother, Mr. Goodwyn. I have done nothing that I need be ashamed of, and she will believe me, no matter what happens. I have been like other boys, in their sports and in playing pranks, but Mr. Goodwyn, I never deceived her in my life," he said, with some show of feeling.
"That sounds very nice, Richard. I wish I could believe you. Of course you can see that this envelope needs immediate explanation; for your story about having a boy friend in that office is rather far-fetched, to say the least," the cashier went on.
"I should say it did—fishy, I should call it," muttered Mr. Graylock, with a shake of his head.
"All the same it is true. His name is Frank Patterson, and he used to live here in Riverview," asserted the boy.
"I remember such a boy; but that does not prove your assertion by any means. Do you know I can telegraph to that office and discover the truth?"
He was watching the face of the other closely, expecting him to look anxious; on the contrary Dick smiled broadly as he immediately answered:
"I wish you would, then, Mr. Goodwyn, or get them on the long distance 'phone. I would like to ask you one thing, first, sir; it might save you the expense of such a call."
"Well, what is it?" coldly.
"I said that the letter was torn out of my hand by a sudden gust of wind, and carried over the fence toward the river, and that I had no time just then to try and find it again?"
"Yes, that is what you told us as near as I can remember—go on."
"If that letter could be found on the meadow somewhere, and brought to you, sir, would it help clear me in your eyes?" anxiously.
The cashier considered.
"It might go a long ways toward making me believe you spoke the truth about having a friend in that office; the contents of the letter might also help. But I could not think of letting you go after it by yourself, you understand," as a sudden suspicion flashed into his mind that Dick might manufacture some sort of letter and try and palm it off for the original.
"Of course not. I was just going to ask if you would have some one you could fully trust go with me, sir," the boy went on, laying an emphasis on that word that somehow made the gentleman wince.
"Very well, Richard. I will take the place of Mr. Winslow for a time, and he can accompany you down to the river. I shall instruct him not to leave you alone for a minute—for your sake as well as my own satisfaction. If you are going to be cleared of this suspicion it must be thoroughly done."
"Thank you, sir," was all Dick said, but the smile he gave Mr. Graylock seemed to irritate that gentleman more than a little.
So the receiving teller was called in and put in possession of such facts as seemed necessary for him to know, and in another minute he and Dick left the bank, heading down the street toward the river, and leaving Mr. Graylock still sitting there, trying to pour poison into the ears of the cashier concerning the wily ways of all boys in general, though in so doing he rather disgusted Mr. Goodwyn, who it happened had a couple of little kids at home himself.
Mr. Winslow seemed to be worried as he strode along at the side of the messenger.
"I really hope there's nothing in this affair, Dick," he said, kindly.
"Make your mind easy on that, sir; there isn't an atom of truth about it. I know nothing about the package or what it contained, any more than you do. I may have my suspicions about what happened to those securities, but without any proof I don't dare speak about it. As to this letter business it can be easily cleared up, even if they have to call the Boston firm and ask particulars."
"Where were you when the letter was snatched out of your hand by the wind?"
"Just a little ways further along; I think it was where that old boat lies pulled up on the shore by the creek. The road takes a bend there, and the letter was carried across the creek and into the meadow. If it went on far enough it must have gone to the river; but I have an idea it fell down to the ground, and may have caught somewhere," returned Dick.
The other took an observation and saw that it looked reasonable, especially as the wind was still blowing rather stiffly, and came from a quarter that would have carried any piece of paper just as Dick declared.
They crossed the creek by a little footbridge used by those who kept boats near by, climbed the fence by the meadow, and then started straight across, Dick keeping his eyes eagerly on the alert for any sign of a white paper.
Before they had more than half crossed the field, with the river half hidden in the trees and brushwood beyond he gave an exclamation of delight.
"Look over there, sir, just where that oak stands; there is something white in the scrub at its butt. Perhaps that may be what we are looking for."
"I hope so, Richard, I truly hope so," replied the tender-hearted teller, who had taken a great fancy for the boy, and felt deeply grieved over the calamity that seemed to be hovering over his head, for if Dick turned out to be a rogue Mr. Winslow believed he would never be able to trust any lad again.
Hurrying forward they were soon at the base of the tree, Dick having his eyes fixed upon the white paper that had become caught in the twigs of the brush.
"It's the letter, all right, sir. Please take it out yourself. Mr. Goodwyn would not trust me to touch it, I'm afraid," he said, a little bitterly.
So the teller immediately reached into the copse and gently but eagerly drew the paper out; he scanned its entire contents before saying a word, while Dick watched the look of pleasure that began to steal across his face.
Presently the teller gave a big sigh of relief, and his first act was to snatch the boy's hand and squeeze it fiercely.
"It's all right, Dick, and I'm delighted more than I can tell you. What you say is fully proven in this letter. Let them call up the firm if they want; you have nothing to fear from any exposure. Come, we will get back to the bank as fast as possible. I want to see the face of that old reptile when he learns that the letter has been found, just as you said," by which rather severe epithet he undoubtedly meant Mr. Graylock, whose evident animosity toward the bank boy he must have noticed.
"I am glad the letter didn't blow further, and get in the water, for then we never could have found it; but after all it wouldn't have mattered much in the end. They would have learned that I never sent a single letter to that firm, and that I was unknown to them," remarked Dick, as he trudged along at the side of the teller, whose eagerness to produce the proof of the boy's innocence in so far as his accounting for that envelope went was urging him to walk unusually fast.
So they came presently to the bank.
Mr. Goodwyn jumped up out of his chair when the two burst into his little room.
The teller was waving the paper ahead of him, but his eyes were fixed upon the face of Mr. Graylock, and he was quick to see the look of keen disappointment that passed over it.
"You found it, then?" asked the cashier, reaching out his hand eagerly.
"Yes, lodged in the bushes, just as Dick said. And I think it will fully substantiate all he claimed, sir," replied the teller.
"Like enough he wrote it himself, and all this is a dodge gotten up by a clever young scamp," grumbled the merchant.
"For shame, Mr. Graylock; at least give the boy the benefit of the doubt," said the teller, indignantly.
"If he didn't take the securities, then who did?" snapped the other, angrily.
"Time will prove that, sir," remarked Mr. Winslow, slowly, and it interested him to see the old man look confused, as though he saw in the answer a sterling reproof.
Meanwhile the cashier had read the letter from beginning to end.
He now looked up, and there was an expression of relief on his face as he said:
"This letter seems to be genuine beyond the shadow of a doubt, Richard, and it proves your assertion that you have a friend in the employ of this broker; but to make assurance doubly certain I think I had better call them up on the 'phone and ask if they have ever had any dealings with any one by the name of Richard Morrison. You have the numbers of those securities with you, of course, Mr. Graylock, for I may as well ask them at the same time whether they have had any of them in their hands for disposal. Please give them to me, sir."
But Mr. Graylock did not appear to be very sanguine that this would lead to any definite result.
"Here are the numbers on this slip of paper, Goodwyn; but I don't think you will learn anything that way. The fellow who would be clever enough to slip those negotiable securities out of the envelope and leave the others is going to be too smart to leave his trail exposed. This thing is bound to bring calamity down on my business, and I fear it will soon pass into the hands of my creditors; but remember, sir, if it turns out that any one in your employ took those documents I shall hold this bank responsible to the last dollar," and so saying he hurried away.
The cashier looked relieved after the departure of Mr. Graylock.
As for the teller, he took occasion to shake his fist after the retreating storekeeper, and shake his head as though he bore the man anything but brotherly love.
Dick stood there waiting for the cashier to speak.
"You can go about your regular duties, Dick, and say nothing about what has happened, to any one outside of the bank."
"Then I am not discharged, sir?" asked the boy, a sign of moisture coming into his eyes as he looked into the face of the cashier.
"Certainly not. There has been nothing proven as yet. Others as well as you have had access to the safe, and could, if they wished, have opened the envelope and abstracted those papers. I must have time to think this over. First I shall call up the Boston firm and settle that point. Then, when Mr. Gibbs gets here he and I will try to find out just what could have come of those securities. While you were out, Mr. Winslow, I searched the safe thoroughly, in the hope that in some unaccountable way they might have slipped out of the envelope, but they are certainly not there. I am in a fog just now; but depend upon it, we will find out the thief."
"I hope so, sir. Come, Dick, I have an errand for you," and the kindly teller threw his arm about the shoulder of the boy, and in this way walked into the outer office.
Every eye was immediately fastened on them, and the attitude of Mr. Winslow was enough in itself to assure Mr. Payson, the bookkeeper, and Pliny that at least he was convinced of the boy's innocence.
The balance of the day dragged heavily to every one.
Business was almost at a standstill in the bank, for when the cashier was not in evidence some of them were bound to drift together and converse in whispers about the strange and terrible thing that had happened.
Each one seemed to feel the weight resting upon his shoulders, for until the truth came out there must always be an uncertainty as to the entire innocence of the employees of the bank.
Mr. Winslow had to tell his part in the investigation several times, and the letter was passed around until every one had read it; but Mr. Winslow insisted that it should not leave his sight until the banker himself had had a chance to see it.
Finally, when released for the day from his duties Dick went straight home.
He held his head erect and walked as firmly as though honors had been showered upon him, instead of his being under suspicion of having stolen valuable securities held in trust by the bank.
Mr. Graylock had claimed that he intended to borrow enough on these papers to tide him through his present difficulties; personally, however, the cashier knew that he was in so deep that even this large amount would only have stayed the inevitable for a short time.
Dick, of course, did not know this fact, and having heard the owner of the big store declare that he would be ruined by his loss, he could not help but feel a certain amount of pity for him.
His mind was in a whirl as he walked home, and in the maze he seemed to be trying to grasp something that continually eluded him, something that if he could only capture it might give him a clue as to the solution of the mystery.
Like Mr. Goodwyn, the sudden shock had disconcerted him, and he seemed to be in somewhat of a fog as to the happenings of that day; resolutely he set himself to the task of straightening things out, and going over every little incident that had occurred while he was eating his lunch and the two men were talking in the adjoining room.
He had not dared mention this fact as yet to Mr. Goodwyn, for, on its face, he feared that it would only serve to make his case more serious; since the fact would become evident that he knew the value of the papers in the packet.
He had just reached the point where he took that one peep through the little knothole, and saw Mr. Graylock buttoning up his coat, with that inscrutable look on his thin face, when he arrived home, and found his mother awaiting him.
To his surprise she was smiling as though unusually happy, and this was so unexpected that it gave him a pang to remember how he must bring new shadows upon her heart by telling how he was suspected of having done a terrible thing.
"Good news, Dick, guess what it is?" she exclaimed, as she fondly caught him in her arms and kissed him.
"Not the resumption of paying dividends by that company?" he asked.
"No, something as unexpected as a meteor falling out of the heavens. I have received word from a lawyer in Boston that a relative whom I hardly knew belonged to the family has died, and left me quite a little fortune—the lawyer could not say the exact amount, but it brings in something like a thousand dollars a year."
Dick could hardly believe his ears.
What a day this had been, the evil mingled with the good; would he ever forget it as long as he lived?
Of course, being a boy he immediately forgot all about his own troubles, and hugged his little mother until she begged for mercy.
"Say, isn't that great? Did you ever hear of such luck, and just when it looked as if we were near the bottom of the heap, too? Ain't it just bully? I feel as if I could whoop like a wild Indian. Now, mother, no more worry for you, and a rest from all that miserable sewing that makes your eyes red. Hurrah for the Morrisons! they're sure IT right now."
His boyish enthusiasm was bubbling over in this fashion when he suddenly remembered the distressing news he had brought with him; still, in the light of his mother's glorious good fortune Dick somehow felt that he could stand the odium of being under suspicion for a little while; for, of course, the truth must come out sooner or later.
His friends at the bank believed in him, and if the cashier still harbored any doubts he at least was a square man and meant to do the right thing; as for what Mr. Graylock chose to think, that could not matter a great deal, for he had plainly shown that he was very much prejudiced against Dick—in fact, come to think of it, he had by every means in his power striven to make it appear that the crime must lie at his door.
Why should this be?
It was what puzzled Dick, and seemed to be the subject of much of his pondering.
He waited until they were through supper before speaking of the ugly matter.
Trust a fond mother's eyes for discovering that her boy had something on his mind that even the glorious news received that day was unable to dissipate.
"Now tell me what ails you, son," she said, as he snuggled down beside her on the settee on the porch; for the evening was balmy and the stars so bright they could not bear to sit inside by a lamp.
She did not once interrupt while he told the story, beginning with the day he happened to be alone in the storeroom back of the offices eating his lunch when Mr. Graylock brought over the securities he wished to leave in the bank looking to the day he would have to borrow on them.
When he had finished Mrs. Morrison sighed deeply.
"I cannot see how any one could imagine that you had anything to do with the disappearance of the papers," she said. "I should say that some one who was perfectly familiar with their marketable value must have taken them. But it is evident that Mr. Graylock has made up his mind you are guilty, though it is incomprehensible to me why he should do so, rather than one of the tellers, or the bookkeeper; and he means to give you all the trouble he can. Oh! how I fear that man. There is something about his face that makes me shiver whenever I look at him—something so crafty, so cruel. I do not believe he has the feelings of other men, or cares for a living soul beyond himself."
"Now, don't feel so badly over this affair, mother dear. It will all come out right, just as Mr. Winslow says. Mr. Graylock may find that after all he did not put the negotiable papers in the envelope—but no, that couldn't be, for the cashier owns to having handled them at the time. Perhaps Mr. Graylock—" and there he abruptly came to a stop as a dazzling thought flashed through his mind almost staggering him with its immensity, so that he fairly gasped for breath.
"What was it you were about to say, Dick?" asked the lady.
"Never mind, mother, I had better not finish my sentence. A sudden thought came to me, perhaps a foolish one, but anyhow I shall mention it to Mr. Winslow in the morning. Let us forget this trouble to-night, and only talk about the wonderful fortune that has come to you. I want to take that letter from the lawyer with me to-morrow to show Mr. Goodwyn. You see if he heard we had come suddenly into some money he might think it looked very suspicious."
She laughed at that.
"I can see how your bank training is already making you very shrewd, my boy. I should never have thought of that, and how suggestive it might seem, coming as it has just now. You shall have the letter, and now let us plan what improvements we can make in our little home when some of this bonanza comes in," she said.
When Dick arrived at the bank on the following morning at his usual hour he found that a sense of gloom had descended upon the inmates of the institution.
Every one seemed to be depressed.
In answer to his pleasant greeting the tellers and bookkeeper nodded and went on with the work that held their attention, as though endeavoring to catch up with a press of business.
At first Dick wondered whether there could have been any further developments linking his name with the mysterious disappearance of the securities; then he wisely came to the conclusion that all of his fellow employees were simply nervous over the coming interview with the head of the establishment, who might find some cause to suspect that the guilt lay with one of them.
He went about his duties as quietly as though nothing had happened, and Mr. Winslow, looking over the top of his desk allowed himself to give a little nod of appreciation when he saw how determined Dick was not to look like a guilty person.
"That boy has grit, all right," he said to his associate, when they came together in getting out the cash to begin the day's business; "most lads in his condition would be scared half to death, and ready to break down. Dick is a chap after my own heart. Here comes Mr. Gibbs, and the cashier is with him. I believe he must have met him at the station, and has told the whole story on the way here. Now for it, Payson. This is a nasty piece of bad luck for us all, and I only hope we get out of it decently."
The two gentlemen were in the president's room for some time before any one was called; then one of the tellers was summoned and remained there for about five minutes, after which the other went in, followed by the bookkeeper.
"Now it is my turn," said Dick to himself as he saw this last gentleman come out again, and beckon to him to enter.
He found Mr. Gibbs looking very grave indeed.
If the bank finally had to stand the loss it would make a big hole in the resources of the institution; as the securities had simply been placed in the safe of the bank for security, at the risk of the department store keeper, of course they could not be held accountable for their loss unless it was proven that some one in their employ had taken them—Mr. Graylock assumed the chances of fire or any ordinary burglary up to the time he actually gave them in charge of the bank and accepted a loan on the papers, when the risk would be transferred to the institution.
Still it reflected upon the good name of his bank, even though Mr. Gibbs might never be compelled by law to redeem their value to the owner.
Of course, Mr. Gibbs had heard all about the letter from the brokers in Boston, and that matter was easily disposed of, for the cashier had been in touch with a member of the firm by long distance phone, and learned that they neither knew of a customer by the name of Morrison, nor had they ever handled any of the listed missing securities.
Mr. Gibbs was desirous of learning all about the events of that day when Dick put the packet on the shelf in the vault.
Evidently the cashier had not yet been able to distinctly recall every little incident that had happened on that occasion, and Mr. Gibbs laid particular stress upon the fact that besides Mr. Goodwyn, Dick and the merchant, there had been no one in the bank while the transaction was going on.
"You are quite positive about that, Richard—you three were the only ones in the building during that noon half-hour, you say—not another soul about?" he continued to say, watching the boy keenly.
"Except Mr. Hollister, sir," replied Dick.
The cashier started as if he had been shot, and turned red; he had apparently quite forgotten that little point, which, after all, might have some bearing on the explanation of the puzzle.
"Mr. Hollister, you say—one of our best customers, and a man of unimpeachable honesty; in fact, a director in this bank; surely we cannot imagine for a moment that he could have anything to do with the disappearance of these securities!" exclaimed the president, frowning at Dick.
"Oh! I did not mean that, sir, indeed, I had no thought of such a thing. Only you asked me if there was any other person in the building during that half hour when the rest were out to lunch. Mr. Hollister did not come back of the railing; he only wanted to get change for a large bill, I believe, sir," returned Dick.
Mr. Gibbs glanced toward the cashier, who immediately nodded.
"The boy is right, though I had really forgotten the circumstance. As I was the only one present to wait on him I made him the change. It only took me half a minute, sir," replied Mr. Goodwyn, hastily.
"H'm, at the time he came in you were seated with Mr. Graylock in your room. I understand?" said the president.
"With the securities still on the table?"
"Done up in this buff envelope, just as you see them here, sir," replied the cashier.
The president looked at him as though he may have had a sudden inspiration; but remembering that another was present he refrained from saying what was on his mind.
Turning to Dick he continued to question him.
"Richard, you understand that while circumstances may put you under a cloud for a brief time, if you are innocent of wrong doing, as I firmly believe, you have nothing to fear. Such a bold crime cannot be committed without the thief leaving some trace of his identity behind him. I shall doubtless find it necessary to send to the city for an officer to come up here and take up the investigation. You will not hesitate to tell him everything he wishes to know, will you?"
"I have nothing to hide, Mr. Gibbs. Some one certainly took those securities, and I would give a great deal to be the one to find them. I have told my mother all about this trouble, sir. Of course, she believes that it would be impossible for me to take anything that did not belong to me, and especially such valuable papers as these were; but she is my mother, you know, sir."
"Yes, I understand that, Richard. Of course the only temptation that might urge a boy, brought up as you have been, to do something of this sort would be the desire to place his mother beyond want. I have no doubt the officer will lay considerable stress upon the fact that you have found yourselves in straightened circumstances of late, and that you could not bear to see her suffer."
"That is all ended, sir," said Dick, smiling, for he knew what a bolt he was about to launch in another moment.
"How do you mean, Richard?" asked the president, curiously.
"We have come into some money, left by a relative in Boston so far removed that my mother hardly remembered her name, sir."
"What! come into some money? Indeed!" and the president, just as Dick expected, shot an alarmed glance across at Mr. Goodwyn, who also looked very serious.