"Yes, sir, and you can well believe that it was welcome, too," Dick went on.
"About how much did this sudden and surprising inheritance amount to, Richard?" coldly.
"We do not know yet, but it will bring something like a thousand dollars a year, which is enough to support us handsomely, sir," returned the boy, smiling now at the mysterious looks exchanged between the two gentlemen.
"Interest at four per cent, on about twenty-five thousand dollars. That is quite a lucky windfall, Richard; but, my boy, don't you realize what a terribly significant fact it would appear in the eyes of any one bent upon investigating the mysterious disappearance of these valuable documents?" and he laid a trembling hand on Dick's shoulder as he spoke.
"Yes, sir; I thought of that," replied the boy, cheerfully.
"So that I sincerely trust you are in a position to show us some evidence that bears you out in your remarkable assertion. Fortunes do sometimes come to people, but seldom under such conditions as surround you at present."
"That was just what I was telling mother, Mr. Gibbs."
"Yes, and what did she say?"
"She declared that my month in the bank was making me a shrewd business man, just because I suggested that she let me take the letter from the Boston lawyer, and bring it down here to show you when I told of our good luck, sir!"
"A letter—you have a letter from a lawyer then, and with you?" exclaimed the president, his face lighting up suddenly.
Dick put his hand in his pocket and drew the letter out.
"Here it is, sir; just as it was received yesterday by my mother."
Mr. Gibbs immediately glued his face to the pages, type written, and filled with legal phrases, but perfectly intelligible to his trained mind.
When he had finished he only said one word, "wonderful!" but kept repeating it as he watched the cashier devouring the contents of the letter.
"Did you ever hear of such a marvelous coincidence in your life, Goodwyn? Here, just after these papers are lost, and suspicion is turned upon Richard, he and his mother fall heir to a neat little sum of money. My boy, I want to beg your pardon for suspecting that this incident only added to the weight of circumstantial evidence against you. You have proven entirely innocent in so far as this money is concerned. We will forget all about that now, and answer me a few more questions, if you please, about that fatal day when this deplorable accident came about that threatens to cause us so much trouble. Depend upon it we shall straighten it out, and no matter who is guilty they will be punished."
Still, when Mr. Gibbs said this, he did not frown and look at Dick as though the threat was meant for him at all; no matter what the cashier thought, the head of the establishment seemed to be ready to pin his faith on the messenger boy, as though his ability to read character told him there could be no guile in those clear eyes that looked straight into his own.
After a little while Dick was allowed to go.
He had answered every question to the best of his ability, and he wondered if after all the suspicions of the president could have been directed in the same quarter as his own.
All that day he held his counsel, and said nothing to any one about what was passing in his mind.
Matters went on just as usual in the bank, for not a whisper about the missing securities had gotten out; though this immunity could not be expected to continue long; for Mr. Graylock would have to explain to his creditors, who were gathering like a flock of buzzards about the carcass of a dead cow, how it came he could not raise the large sum of money he had promised to have ready to liquidate a proportion of their claims, and then the public must know what had happened.
Dick wondered also if he would be able to hold his head just as erect when he fancied people on the street were pointing at him and whispering significantly.
THE RECEIVING TELLER FREES HIS MIND
The day dragged its course along, but it seemed as though closing time would never come to Dick.
He knew that Mr. Gibbs was busily engaged, and that he held several talks with some one over the wire; the cashier looked solemn enough to make people imagine he had lost some of his family, for this was a serious piece of business with Mr. Goodwyn, and he felt it keenly, perhaps more than Dick imagined.
The boy had determined that he would speak to Mr. Winslow about the suspicion he was harboring, for he believed he was sure to find more or less sympathy in that quarter, after hearing what the teller had thought of Mr. Graylock.
As the other got away some time before his duties were done he thought it best to approach him after the luncheon period—and a new rule had been put in force now to the effect that one of the tellers must remain in the bank all the time, so that business might not be interrupted—it is easy to shut the stable door after the horse is stolen; but at least by such an act a second robbery may be prevented.
"I would like to ask your opinion and advice about something, Mr. Winslow, if I could see you somewhere after closing hours," Dick said, coming up to the teller's window.
The other thought a few seconds, as though he might be wondering whether it would be good policy for them to be seen conferring together; then he nodded and said:
"Come around to the post-office. I sometimes drop in there to give Stavers a lift with his books, as he is a poor hand at keeping accounts. Glad to hear what you have to say, Dick. No more unexpected fortunes dropping down out of the skies, eh?" for of course Dick had told the others about the good luck that had befallen his mother, and even shown them the lawyer's letter.
"Not that I know of; but then I haven't been home yet. Once these things get to coming they say it never rains but it pours. We can stand all that comes our way, I guess. Wait for me then at the post-office, please. It is mighty important—to me anyway, sir."
The bank closed at three, but the tellers did not get away for another hour, and sometimes Dick had to stay even later.
When he did finally get out he hastened to the centre of the town where the post-office was located, and asked for Mr. Winslow, who speedily appeared, he having been watching for the lad.
"Let us walk up this quiet street, Richard, and we can talk as we go. Now, what is it you want to tell me, and in what way can I give you advice? We are all more or less worried at the bank again because Mr. Gibbs informed us that the government bank examiner may drop in on us to-morrow on his regular tour of the financial institutions, though we did not expect him for another month. Go on, Dick."
There was at least a promise of sympathy in the tone of the teller.
"Perhaps you will think me foolish to imagine such a thing, sir, but somehow, if you had only seen his face that day you might have a little suspicion too," he said, half hesitatingly.
"Meaning whom, Richard?" asked Mr. Winslow, encouragingly.
"Mr. Graylock, sir."
"And what day do you mean—the time he brought the securities over, and it fell to your lot to place them in the vault?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Hollister came into the bank to get a bill changed, and there was no one to attend to him but Mr. Goodwyn, who had to come out of his room for a minute and count out a lot of small change."
"Yes, yes, I see, leaving Graylock there during that time; go on, Richard," said the teller, suddenly beginning to show signs of excitement, as the idea Dick was advancing gradually began to take hold on him.
"I don't know what caused me to do it, sir, and I suppose I should be ashamed of yielding to the sudden impulse; but that man always interested me strangely; why, in church I have sat and watched his face working as he listened to the sermon, and could hardly take my eyes off him. Anyhow, no matter, I confess that when I heard Mr. Goodwyn out in the tellers' department speaking with the customer, I just stepped on my tiptoes and put my eye to a little knothole in the partition."
"Yes, I'm following you, Richard; it was hardly the right thing to do, but boys seldom think of such matters. You peeked through and saw—what."
Mr. Winslow had by this time become so excited that he caught hold of Dick's arm and actually gripped him as though he might be afraid the boy would suddenly decamp, and leave his thrilling story but half told.
"I saw Mr. Graylock. He was standing up and buttoning his coat nervously. I saw him turn his head and look around as though he fancied he had heard a noise. Perhaps I did kick a book that was lying on the floor; but he didn't look at that little knothole, only toward the door that led to the outside office. Then he sat down again. I could see that he was smiling as if pleased. Mr. Goodwyn came back just then, and I moved away."
The two looked at each other for a moment without another word being said.
Evidently the teller was allowing the information he had just received to soak in, where he could turn it around and begin to grasp the true significance of the incident.
"Dick, I believe, my boy, you have struck on the true secret of this mysterious robbery," the teller exclaimed. "It seems almost unthinkable that any man could descend so low as to plan such a diabolical thing, and then try as best he could to throw it on the shoulders of an innocent lad. If it turns out to be true nothing could be too severe a punishment for that rascal!"
"Then you don't blame me for thinking such a thing, sir? I was afraid you might laugh at me, or even worse, accuse me of inventing something that could never have happened. Oh! if you could only have seen the look on his face as he stood there buttoning his coat up, you would never forget it. I have dreamed of him every night since, and always with that terrible look in his eyes. But, Mr. Winslow, could a man do such a thing? I never heard of any one robbing himself before."
"Ah! you have a good deal to learn yet, my boy. It would not be the first time a clever and unscrupulous rascal laid a plan to have it appear as though he had been robbed, so that he could profit from the consequences. Mr. Graylock is in a bad box. His creditors are pushing him hard, and I think that to-morrow his house will be in the hands of the courts. He declares that he was holding those securities to prop up his business at the last hour; but Mr. Goodwyn has admitted to me that they would have been only a drop in the bucket; that the failure was bound to come. Now you can see what object he would have in taking the papers after they had been examined by the cashier; and in getting his envelope hurriedly in the vault without its being looked into again."
"Yes, that is what I thought, though I hardly dared put it into words, sir. You mean that when I saw him he was buttoning up his coat because he had hurriedly taken those negotiable securities from the package and thrust them in his pocket?" gasped Dick, trembling with the excitement.
"It could be easily done. Stop and consider, boy, almost immediately afterward, as if he feared lest the cashier might want to look at the contents of his packet again, he suggested that they be placed in the safe, and it fell to you to do this part of the work. Immediately his wicked mind must have conceived the idea of casting suspicion on you. In that way he would kill two birds with one stone, satisfy his feeling of vindictiveness toward you, and at the same time start suspicion in another quarter. I have no doubt he had covered his tracks well, and if one of his securities was offered for sale to a friend of his as he claims, it was so arranged that it could never be traced as coming from him. But even the most cunning of rogues usually overdo the thing. His savage desire to place the blame on you instead of some one else in the bank looks suspicious, and may be the rock on which he will founder."
"Oh! I can hardly believe such a terrible thing of any man; and yet, sir, the more I think of that expression I saw on his face, while the cashier was out of the booth, the more terrible it seems. But what can you do to prove the truth? You could not accuse him of it openly? He might have us put in jail for slandering him."
"I rather think we had better go a little slow, and see what turns up. Graylock is certainly in a hard box just now, and I imagine in a desperate frame of mind. Any man must be who would descend to play such a scurvy trick, and see some innocent party suffer for his crime. What does he care if your mother's heart were broken by the fact of her boy being accused of this deed? Nothing. He is a cold-blooded old scoundrel, and I hope that if it should turn out to be as we suspect, Mr. Gibbs will have no mercy on him."
Mr. Winslow was certainly deeply aroused.
"I am so glad I made up my mind to tell you about this, sir. It first struck me hard while I was talking to my mother last night," and Dick related the incident.
They continued to talk as they walked along, and for half an hour conferred as to many plans whereby the truth might be discovered.
NOT FOR SALE
On the way home that day Dick even mustered up enough courage to whistle again, something he had not thought of doing ever since this black shadow had fallen across his path.
The mere fact that a man as astute as Mr. Winslow should agree that his suspicion was founded on something worth looking into gave him considerable comfort.
It was a terrible thought, but just as the teller had declared, he could see that things must have come to a bad pass indeed with the merchant, and that anticipating a smash in the near future he had possibly conceived the scheme of making way with those negotiable securities in order to defraud his creditors; when the storm had blown over he might go to some city, dispose of the valuable papers by degrees, and in this way have enough to live on comfortably the balance of his days.
On the way home Dick considered whether it were best to tell his mother; and as he had always made it a habit to keep nothing of any importance from her he determined to do so.
She had ever been his best friend and adviser in the many difficulties that beset a boy, and more than once he had found that her wisdom far excelled his own in bringing about a settlement of his boyish disputes.
He found her anxiously awaiting his coming, for the strain had been great, and every minute beyond his customary time for returning was torture to her fond heart, since, in imagination, she could see him being possibly arrested for something that any one with half a heart must know he would never be guilty of doing.
And so Dick told her what had passed during the day, winding up with his conference with Mr. Winslow.
To this latter Mrs. Morrison listened with bated breath, and a look of alarm not unmixed with horror in her gentle eyes.
She was unused to anything bordering on crime, and could hardly believe that a man might bring himself to such a point where he would rob himself.
"But that isn't the point, mother," said Dick, when the lady spoke of this fact. "If he did take those securities he wasn't stealing from himself but from his creditors; for you see they were part of his resources, and would have to be produced in case of a failure, to help pay off his indebtedness."
"Yes, I think I manage to grasp that part of it now, Dick, though you financial men should be more careful to explain such things to greenhorns. Do you suppose he will be arrested and made to produce the missing documents, son?" she asked, with a little laugh.
"Oh! I do not think so. Mr. Winslow said we hadn't a bit of evidence against him more than suspicion, and that is a poor thing to go on. You thought so in my case mother, anyway. He told me to leave it to him, and in some way he'd find a chance to learn the truth."
"What would Mr. Graylock do with the papers in case he did take them out of the envelope that day?" she asked.
"Why, I suppose he would be apt to carry them home and hide them. Perhaps if some one could only watch him without his knowing it, the truth might come out. If he does go under to-morrow, as Mr. Winslow thinks possible, he will be apt to stay around here for some time settling up his affairs; and all the while the missing securities would be safe in the place he has hidden them. But how can anybody get into his house to find them? Ferd wouldn't think of asking me there; and if his father found me under his roof there would be a row at once."
"Better leave all that to Mr. Winslow, my boy. From what you tell me I fancy he is a keen young man, and surely he will think of some way whereby the truth may be made known. At least I hope and pray that it may be so. If that wicked man has been guilty of this terrible thing he deserves to suffer."
So presently they fell to talking of happier things, and the plans spoken of on the preceding night in connection with certain needful repairs about the cottage were again taken up and discussed.
In anticipation of the coming good fortune Mrs. Morrison was already beginning to feel that happiness lay before them; and had it not been for this one cloud on the horizon of Dick's young business career she would have believed herself without a wish ungratified.
As chance would have it while they were still talking some one drove up to the gate in a little buggy and climbed down from the seat.
"I think it must be Lawyer Cheatham," said Dick, looking beyond the porch; "I wonder what he wants here at this time of night."
His mother laughed softly.
"I think I can give a guess, Dick. A week ago when things looked so dark for us I went to see him about selling our little home. I really believed that it might be necessary for us to leave Riverview and go to the city, where I could find customers who would pay me better for my dressmaking than here, and if necessary you could get a place, for there seemed no chance here. I went to see him and we discussed terms. He was very hard, and offered me much less than I thought the place ought to bring. So I came away determined to try and hold out a little longer. I fancy he is coming now to make me a better offer."
"Oh! he is, eh? Well, this place isn't on the market now, is it mother. You don't want to sell it, the house father built?" said Dick, earnestly.
"No, no, not that, only as a very last resort, and thank Heaven we do not have to think of it now," she answered, as the dark figure shuffled up the walk.
"Good evening, Mr. Cheatham. Walk right inside, please. We were just sitting out here talking, Richard and I. Have a chair, won't you?" she said, hospitably.
The lawyer was also a money-lender, and accounted a very shrewd customer.
He was a dried-up specimen of humanity, and mumbled in talking as though never certain how long he could hold his false upper set of teeth in place; Dick had known him for years, but never fancied the old bachelor, who was said to be even richer than Mr. Gibbs, though he wore shabby clothes and drove a rig that would have shamed most men.
"Ahem! I have just dropped in to see you about the sale, Mrs. Morrison. I offered you twelve hundred for the place, counting the mortgages, and you held out for fourteen hundred. Now, circumstances have arisen whereby I am enabled to raise my bid to thirteen hundred. There is about eight hundred due on the place, which will leave you an equity of five hundred. Shall we call it a go, madam?"
"No, sir, I have changed my mind since I saw you," replied the widow, smiling at his eagerness; for knowing his crafty ways she felt positive he had found a chance to dispose of the pretty cottage at a very much greater sum, if he could only get possession of it.
"Well, though the property is hardly worth it I must accept your terms then, and give you the full fourteen hundred, though it will leave me a scant chance to come out even after I have made certain repairs, and put it on the market again," he said.
She shook her head in the negative.
"You did not understand me, Mr. Cheatham when I said I had changed my mind."
"Why, certainly, madam, every woman is given that privilege. I suppose you have concluded to put the price up to fifteen hundred. It is a ridiculous sum; but rather than disappoint a client who has set his heart on securing this same house, I suppose I must submit to the inevitable and consent to pay that exorbitant price," he went on.
Dick could stand it no longer.
He felt that since he was a man of business now, and the head of the house, he ought to have something to say about such a transaction as this.
"Mr. Cheatham, let me explain to you just what my mother means. This house is not for sale," he said, in positive tones that made the old money-lender stare at him.
"Not for sale, young man, when your mother came to me and begged me to take it off her hands? It was only a question of price, and I have even gone a hundred above her own figure. Surely she would not be so foolish as to lose such a golden opportunity, which may never occur again. Not for sale—you must be mistaken, boy."
"As she said to you, circumstances have also changed with us since she called on you. My mother has come into some money, enough to keep her in comfort all her life, and she does not mean to let this house, which my father himself built, go out of her possession. You could not buy it sir, at double the price you offer."
The lawyer and money shark jumped up from his chair as though he had been fixed upon a spring like a jack-in-the-box.
"Madam, is what your son tells me true?" he demanded, hotly.
"Every word of it, Mr. Cheatham; I have been trying to say the same thing but somehow could not get you to understand me. We do not intend to leave Riverview, and the property is withdrawn from sale," she replied.
"Then I have been a fool to come out here to-night," he growled, and shuffled out toward the gate.
"A good riddance, and I hope he never comes here again. When he really got it through his head that you had fallen into a fortune the old beast looked at you as if he could eat you, mother. If he ever comes courting around here I'll be tempted to do something desperate, the old skinflint. He's the worst-hated man in all Riverview, even if he is the richest," declared Dick, as he heard the vehicle moving down the road with sundry creakings and groanings, for they said Hezekiah Cheatham was too stingy to buy axle grease.
"Richard, don't speak of such a thing again, even in fun. Like our little cottage home I am not in the market. Now let us talk again of things more pleasant than Mr. Cheatham, or the missing securities. When we put that new wing on, you shall have a den of your own; and I expect to enjoy the comfort of an up-to-date bathroom, something I have always wanted. But not a penny shall we spend until that delightful little inheritance is safely in our hands. What a Paradise we can make of our dear home in time, eh, Dick?"
And so they talked on as the time flew, picturing happy scenes, and more of comfort than they had ever known; really it seemed to Dick that the shadow he had felt hovering over his devoted head did not appear so formidable after all, with a mother's love to take away its bitter sting.
A RED LETTER DAY
The following morning was very damp and depressing.
Lowering skies and a drizzling rain made a combination that must have its effect upon even the cheeriest nature; and while Dick laughed as usual up to the time he left home for town, it was not long before his spirits began to sink to a lower ebb.
The situation that confronted him was far from reassuring.
Even though there were germs of truth in the suggestion that Mr. Winslow had seized upon with such alacrity, how could they ever hope to prove it, since there seemed to be no way in which either of them could enter the home of Archibald Graylock, and make a search for the missing securities.
He had to pass the big department store on his way to the bank; or rather, having a little time to spare he went out of his way a few paces in order to ascertain what the crowd that he saw standing around meant.
Something out of the usual run must have happened, for a score of people with umbrellas over their heads could be seen in what seemed to be attitudes of curiosity, necks being craned and eyes turned toward the store.
Among them he saw several whom he knew had held positions in Mr. Graylock's employ, and this was a very suspicious fact.
Seeing a young fellow he happened to know very well, and who had been a clerk in the place, Dick asked the usual question:
"What's going on here, Dud?"
The other shrugged his shoulders as he replied:
"The old man is in the hands of his creditors. They've shut him up, and I understand that it's a bad business all around—may not pay twenty cents on the dollar. Meanwhile we're out of a job, and they do say the store may never go on again."
Dick looked surprised, as though he were hearing news; for it was hardly policy to let it be known that the failure of Archibald Graylock had been discounted at the bank for several days.
He stood around talking for a short time, until he was nearly due at the bank, and then hastened to his work.
If anything it seemed even more depressing there than on the street.
The atmosphere was so dense that lights were actually needed in the bookkeeping department in order that business might go on unimpeded; while the employees kept their heads bent down over their work, and not one had a smile to spare.
Indeed, it seemed to Dick as if every one purposely avoided saying good morning to him as usual, though the chances were his imagination deceived him there.
The truth was every one felt a weight resting upon his shoulders.
A calamity had befallen the bank in the loss of the securities, and until this mystery was made clear suspicion must attach to every man in Mr. Gibbs' employ.
Already the president was in his room, a most unprecedented occurrence at this early hour, and from time to time other gentlemen gathered there, so that it was evident that to a limited extent the bank was bound to feel the fall of the leading merchant of the town, having doubtless granted Mr. Graylock favors from time to time.
Mr. Goodwyn dodged in and out, a look of deepest concern on his smooth face, as if the cares of a great State rested upon him.
Who could be cheerful under such conditions?
Dick sometimes felt a lump rising in his throat as the thought of his being positively accused of stealing the lost papers came before his mind's eye; and it was with more or less difficulty that he carried on his work.
Everybody was nervous, and surely he had cause to feel so.
To cap the climax there was a stranger in the bank, and at first sight of him Dick felt a chilly sensation, the man looked so keenly at him; for he really fancied that Mr. Gibbs had put his threat into execution, and brought an officer of the law into consultation, in order to clear up the mystery.
Presently, however, he noticed that the stranger was looking over the books, and seemed to have free access to the safe, as though his authority to do just as he pleased was unquestioned.
And when Dick also noticed how ungrudgingly the bookkeeper waited on him, and was only too pleased to be called into consultation, he suddenly grasped the truth.
The government bank examiner, to be sure!
Mr. Winslow had said they expected a visit from one of these officials, who make periodical visits to all national banks, to see that they are complying strictly with the government requirements.
It seemed too bad that he should time his visit just when there were so many things happening to cause anxiety among the bank officials; but that was the way it often happened.
Of course he had nothing to do with the fact of the securities being gone; since that was a private affair between Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Graylock, and the bank could not be held accountable unless it was clearly shown that one of the employees were guilty.
About ten o'clock Dick's bell rang, and he went into the president's room.
Here he found half a dozen gentlemen, all connected with the affairs of the bank, sitting about the directors' table as though they had been in serious consultation.
Mr. Gibbs was at the head.
The others looked very sober, but Dick rejoiced to see that the president apparently was as clear-headed as usual; and whether his smile was forced or natural it certainly gave the messenger boy new hope that the affairs of the bank could not be in such grave peril after all.
For that was what he was beginning to fear from the grave looks of so many people around him.
"Richard, I wish you to go to the stable where my horse is kept, tell Jerry to hitch him up for you, and then drive as fast as you can to my house with this note. Give it to my wife, and wait until she hands you a package. Be very careful, my boy to get that safely here without delay. I would send the porter with you but he is sick, and the others are very busy, with the bank examiner in charge. I can trust you to perform this service promptly, Richard, can I not?"
Dick felt his heart in his throat, so to speak, as the president thus publicly announced the faith he had in his integrity; coming as it did on the heels of that strange disappearance of Mr. Graylock's securities, and the suspicion that for a brief time had fallen on his shoulders, it almost unmanned the messenger, so that there were actually tears in his eyes as he looked straight at Mr. Gibbs and said as resolutely as he could:
"Yes, sir; I would do anything for you."
"I believed as much, Richard, or I would not send you, for it is very important that you get the package to me without loss of time," said the president, kindly. And Dick, as he hastened after his cap and umbrella was saying to himself that Harvey Gibbs could read a boy's soul better than any man in the world.
"Where away, Dick?" asked Mr. Winslow as he saw the boy pass his window.
"On an errand for Mr. Gibbs, sir," replied the boy.
"Can you take these notices with you, Dick?" asked the bookkeeper, holding up a bunch of papers, such as the bank messenger was in the habit of delivering on his rounds.
"Not just now, sir. I am in a great hurry."
He waited no longer to explain things, but hastened around the corner to the livery stable where, as he knew, Mr. Gibbs kept his horse whenever he drove in alone; sometimes his wife or Bessie came with him, and when this occurred the vehicle of course, was driven home again.
Dick knew the livery-stable keeper well, and Jerry, understanding that he was now employed in the bank had no hesitation in giving him the rig which Mr. Gibbs had driven to town that morning.
In a few minutes Dick was off, and hurrying the animal along as much as seemed consistent; fortunately the boy loved horses, though he had very few chances to exhibit his skill in managing them, and when he found that the animal between the shafts was capable of putting up considerable speed his pulses thrilled with satisfaction.
Many a time had he tramped over that road while going out to his favorite fishing hole; but never did it seem one half so short as when he dashed along behind that high stepper.
One of the first persons he met on the road was Ferd Graylock, who stopped to stare after him; he also called out, but Dick was unable to hear what he said, so rapid was his pace—he could only wave his hand backward in recognition, and continue to urge the horse along.
In this fashion he reached the fine country place of the banker, which, as has been said before, extended over quite a number of acres, and ran down to the river at the point just above the fishing hole Dick so dearly loved.
He sprang out and tied the steaming horse to the hitching post.
Then he ran up to the front door, which appeared to be wide open, as though one of the maids might have been doing some cleaning that morning.
Dick reached out his hand to press the button that would summon a servant to the door when he was thrilled to hear a sudden scream from some portion of the house. It was so full of terror that the boy did not hesitate an instant about entering without an invitation.
The screams continuing led him in the direction of the trouble, which seemed to be on the second floor.
He passed a maid as he ran, who seemed to be fairly paralyzed with fear, for she stood there like a post, with her hands clasped, and her lips moving, as though calling on her patron saint to take care of her.
Dick chanced to be a boy who in an emergency acted first and then considered afterwards; and it proved that he had need of this characteristic just then if ever in his whole life.
He scented smoke even before he burst through the half open door of a room and saw Mrs. Gibbs frantically slapping at the garments of her daughter with a wet towel, while the window curtain and shade were burning fiercely.
Dick sprang forward. He never once considered that this might be an opportunity to distinguish himself; but only remembered that human life and the home of his employer seemed in jeopardy.
GOOD WORDS ON EVERY SIDE
Tearing down the blazing curtains, of which there were only a few shreds left, Dick trampled them underfoot until he had seen that there was really no more danger to be feared from that source.
In extinguishing the fire he had used his hands as well as his feet, and if he received a number of painful burns in doing this, at the time he did not know it. Then turning swiftly he helped Mrs. Gibbs and Bessie slap out the last vestige of smouldering fire in the ruined dress of the girl.
Bessie was as pale as death, and her mother quite as bad; the latter kept saying anxiously as she hugged her pretty daughter:
"Oh! are you sure you are not badly burned, dearest, are you positive?"
"Nothing to speak of, mother, only a trifle on my hands. Oh! what a terrible accident, and what would have happened to the house and perhaps all of us if Dick had not just happened to come," said Bessie, turning a look on the boy that thrilled him to the heart, and which he could never again forget.
"God bless him! It was a miracle that he chanced to be here. Harvey said he might send some one to the house. How thankful I am for the blessings that have been poured out upon us. Oh! how did it happen, my child? You frightened me nearly out of my senses, and when I ran in here to see you in flames it gave me the worst shock of my life. Tell me what happened."
"It was that little liquid alcohol stove, mother. I was pressing some lace with a hot iron, and it upset, the burning alcohol flying over the curtain, which flashed up instantly. Some must have splattered on my dress, for though I sprang back it seemed to be on fire in several places. But it is all over, and there has been no great damage done. Dick, this is the second time you seem to have come like magic when I needed you most. First Benjy's life was in danger, and now my own," and the impulsive girl seized his hand and squeezed it, nor did the boy care just then how vigorously she showed her gratitude.
The servants now came running up, looking frightened; and remembering his message Dick handed his note to the agitated lady.
When she had read it she asked him to wait down in the drawing room for a short time, for her mind was still so distracted by what she had gone through that she could hardly remember what it was her husband wished her to do in case he sent a messenger out to the home place.
Here Dick was presently joined by Bessie, who had donned another frock in place of the one ruined by the various holes burned by the flaming alcohol.
It had been a mercy that as it happened she was wearing a dress made of a material not readily inflammable, or the result might have been much more serious. And when Bessie joined him she brought with her some soft linen and a salve particularly good for burns, which Dick was not sorry to see, for by this time he was conscious of a stinging sensation about his hands that proved he had suffered considerably from the fire at the time he so swiftly tore down the burning curtains and shade to trample them underfoot.
"Let me look at your hands, Dick," said the girl, with solicitude in her voice. He held them out rather shyly, for they were somewhat blackened, as well as inflamed. Immediately she showed the utmost concern.
"You poor fellow, you are burned twice as badly as myself, and you the innocent party in the bargain. Just let me go and get a basin of water and a towel. I'm to be the doctor for the present. You must do what you are told, sir."
He laughed, for after the excitement was over he found that it was mighty nice to be looked upon as a hero, though he did not think he deserved all this fuss being made over him, just for stepping on a few little burning rags; why, he had been burned worse than that once when with some boys in the woods, and nobody bothered about it until he got home and his mother found out.
So Bessie bathed his hands, and tenderly wrapped the left one in soft linen, after greasing the inner cloth with the soothing ointment; why, this was just fine, and Dick thought he could stand such an experience every day in the week; although of course he would not like to know that Bessie was placed in peril again.
The time slipped past, and Dick began to grow uneasy, for he had been fully half an hour at the house, and he knew a party of anxious gentlemen were waiting in the president's room at the bank, for his return.
Finally, when he was about to beg Bessie to go in search of her mother, the lady appeared, carrying a little package in her hands.
"Be very careful of this, Richard, for it contains valuable securities which my husband brought out from the city with him recently in anticipation of a sudden need. Here, let me fasten it inside your coat—yes, it will just go in that pocket nicely, and I can pin it there—a woman's device, but securing safety. And I have taken the trouble to write a few lines to Harvey, explaining the delay. Give it to him with the package. My boy, we can never cease to be grateful to you for your bravery. God alone knows what might have happened here had you not chanced to be at the door. Your mother has reason to be proud of her boy," and with tears in her eyes she kissed him. And Bessie did the same.
It was with a tumultuously beating heart that Dick Morrison ran out of the house, down the front steps, and hastily untying the horse, jumped into the buggy and was off like the wind.
This was another red letter day in his life, one he could never forget.
If he had made fast time in going out to the banker's home he certainly fairly flew on the return trip, using the whip in a manner that surprised the horse, and sending him galloping madly along the road.
He reached the bank, jumped out, threw the lines over a hitching-post, and fairly flew up the steps.
As he burst into the president's room without even the formality of knocking he found himself the object of frowns on all sides, showing that his prolonged absence had been the subject of unfavorable comment.
Even Mr. Gibbs had his watch in his hand and looked at him reproachfully as he entered; perhaps the president may even have begun to fear that he had shown a lack of wisdom in sending a mere lad, already under the ban of suspicion on account of one robbery, to get another precious package of securities.
"You have been a very long time, Richard," he said, as the boy stood before him, breathing hard from his exertions.
"Yes, sir," was all Dick said, unfastening the package, and taking it with the note, from his pocket.
As the president eagerly took them from him he naturally noticed the bandage which Bessie had so solicitously tied about his left hand.
"An accident, Richard?" he inquired, still frowning, but evidently relieved to have the expected papers safely in his possession, for matters were getting critical in Riverview just then, and it was necessary that the bank show a strong financial front to weather the storm.
"Yes, sir," replied the boy again, standing there, waiting to be dismissed.
"Gentlemen, here are the securities I spoke to you about. They are my private property, but I am determined that no reproach shall fall upon the bank, and it is my intention that they shall be placed at your disposal. Kindly examine them. Richard, you may go—but stay, what is this? Great Heavens!"
Evidently his eyes had roamed down the page his wife had written, even while he was speaking, and something had caught his eye that gave him a terrible shock.
He saw the banker continue to read, his eyes enlarged, and his breath suspended for the moment.
Then he felt his hand tenderly taken, and himself brought face to face with the agitated banker, who looked at him as Dick had never seen a man look before.
"God bless you, my dear boy!" he said, in trembling and hoarse tones; "it must have been a premonition that caused me to believe in you, and send you on that message. Gentlemen, listen to me. I wish you to do honor to this brave lad, but for whose valor and promptness I might at this moment be mourning the loss of my house, and perhaps even worse, for both the wife and daughter were in peril. Did you ever know of a more especial favor of Providence than the fact of his being at the door of my house just when an explosion and a fire imperiled all I hold dear in the world?"
They crowded around, asking questions, and reading, the note which Mrs. Gibbs had sent; for the time being even the peril of the bank was a secondary consideration.
Dick was confused by the clamor, and blushed like a schoolboy giving his first declamation, so that he was really glad when Mr. Gibbs, seeing his uneasiness, told him gently that he could go.
That was a proud moment for the bank boy; he felt that he had every reason to rejoice that a strange Providence had sent him to the assistance of Bessie and her mother just when they most needed a quick eye and a ready hand to prevent the fire from spreading; for in a few minutes, before the servants could have summoned courage enough to appear in force, it must have gotten beyond control.
He found that there was considerable curiosity shown by the others in the bank, who had seen his hurried entrance; but Dick had learned to keep a still tongue, and he said not a word; even when Pliny asked about his bandaged hand he simply answered that he had burned it a little.
The other looked down and took hold of the outer covering, with a chuckle.
"What's this, a lady's soft handkerchief, with an initial in the corner—B; now that stands for Bessie, eh?" he said, looking expectant; but all he had in return was one of Dick's smiles that might stand for either yes or no.
But when the bank boy returned from taking the horse to the stable and then going his regular rounds he found that the directors had left the bank, apparently in a good humor, for they were smiling and joking among themselves; and also that every one knew of his recent adventure, showing that Mr. Gibbs or the cashier had taken pains to relate the story.
A REMARKABLE BIT OF INTELLIGENCE
"You certainly beat anything I ever saw when it comes to downright luck, and that's the truth, Dick," said Mr. Winslow, as he stepped out and joined the other when banking hours were done; which on this day was not until an unusually late hour.
"I am beginning to think so myself. There was that incident of the precious kitten which I saved from drowning, and through that secured my position in the bank; and to-day I was fortunate enough just to be Johnny on the spot when some one was needed to jump on that little blaze and put it out," returned the boy, wondering why the teller had waited to see him, and anticipating some news in connection with the matter they were planning in common.
"You are evidently monopolizing all the talent in that line just at present, so there is hardly any show for the rest of us. Hurry up and get through, Dick, so the field will be open. I can see easily enough that the firm name will some day be changed to 'Gibbs & Morrison'" went on Mr. Winslow, laughing.
"Don't look so far into the future, please; but tell me what there is new. I've been so busy to-day that I couldn't find time to see you. I understand that Mr. Graylock is in the hands of the assignee, and that his creditors will be lucky to get thirty cents on the dollar. Do you know anything about the missing securities, Mr. Winslow?" asked Dick, wishing to draw the conversation into a channel less personal.
"I only wish I did. But nevertheless, there's a chance that something may be done before long. I've interested Mr. Cheever in the matter," remarked the teller, looking down at his companion slily as he spoke, to see what effect his words had.
Dick appeared startled.
"Why, that's the bank examiner, isn't it? What on earth interest could he have in the matter at all? It would hardly be a part of his business to go around hunting up lost securities; and besides, was it wise to let him know that we have been careless in handling such things? It might give the bank a bad name, don't you think, Mr. Winslow?" he asked, quickly.
The teller laughed outright at this.
"You are showing wonderfully discreet abilities Richard, and I can easily prophesy a great future for you. It happened by the merest chance that I had met Mr. Cheever before, down in Boston, when he was known under another name," he said, mysteriously.
"What? Mr. Cheever—isn't that his real name, and he a bank examiner?"
"So-called just at present. Dick, he begged me not to say a word to any one in the bank, but I told him I must take you into my confidence, since we were working this thing together. He also declared that your suspicions might be well founded, and that he would take measures to investigate the interior of Mr. Graylock's home without that gentleman's knowledge."
Then light suddenly burst in upon Dick.
"I begin to see what you are hinting at—he is no bank examiner at all, but the officer Mr. Gibbs said he would have to send for!" he exclaimed.
"Exactly; a detective who is accustomed to handling such cases, and who was once a genuine bank examiner, so that he knows just how to go about these things so as not to excite the suspicions of bookkeeper or tellers. Payson does not suspect the truth, nor do any of the others. Indeed, I am not sure that even the cashier knows it. So you see he is able to work inside the bank without suspicion being aroused as to his real character. Of course, his idea was that it had been an inside job, for it really seemed impossible that any one outside could have taken the papers from the vault. As I said it happened that I knew him, and he immediately bound me to secrecy. But after I had a chance to talk with him this noon he drew around to our opinion, to the effect that the securities which Mr. Graylock claims were stolen from his packet never went into the safe at all!"
Dick was vastly interested in all this news.
He had never seen a real live detective in his whole life, and the way in which this smooth gentleman seemed to be working in his capacity as a regular bank examiner was simply wonderful, in his opinion.
"If all this is so I don't wonder that you told him what we suspected. And you say, Mr. Winslow that he took to the idea at once?" he asked, breathlessly.
"Like a hungry dog does to a bone. Said he was up a tree, for it didn't seem as if the thief could be any one in the bank, for not a trace had been left behind. He has met Mr. Graylock—the president attended to that, and I think that his opinion of the gentleman agrees with our own, and that he would not put it past one of his showing, under the peculiar conditions existing, to carry out such a clever little scheme to feather his own nest at the expense of his creditors. More than that Mr. Cheever says it is rather a chestnut, and has been worked often."
"But he did not happen to think of it?" interjected Dick.
"Oh! he says he would have come around to that idea after he had made positive that none of us poor beggars in the bank had purloined Mr. Graylock's bundle; but all the same he was mighty greedy to hear every detail of what happened that day. He said he would have a talk with you to-morrow, when he found a chance, seeing that I was bound to tell you about his dual character. It's a dead secret, remember, Richard."
"Certainly, sir; I shall not speak of it to any one, but my mother."
The teller looked doubtful at first, and then smiled.
"I guess it will be all right to take her into your confidence, since she seems to be a woman in ten thousand who can keep a secret; but be sure and impress this fact on her, Richard. You've had a great day of it, my boy, a wonderful day. Really I envy you the pleasure of telling how you received those honorable burns; and I'd give something to have a pretty girl tie up my hand in her own dainty kerchief."
"Now you're joshing me again, Mr. Winslow. Of course she and her mother felt as if they couldn't do enough for me; but then you know, that's the way with the women folks. I'd like to have run away you see, but I had to wait for the package Mr. Gibbs sent me after."
"You're altogether too modest, Dick. Most boys would have puffed out with pride after doing such a thing; but I like you all the better for it, my boy. Now, if that bank examiner finds a chance to talk with you to-morrow, just put him wise to all you know about the happenings of that day, especially as to what you saw at the time you peeked in through that blessed knothole—I use that word, you understand, because it is going to figure a whole lot in the final discovery of those missing securities. Don't forget, now."
"I certainly won't," replied Dick, accepting the hand of the friendly teller in his one good palm, and yet wincing with the pressure he received.
He anticipated with keenest pleasure his meeting with his mother, and wondered if those wise eyes of hers would note his color when she discovered the dainty kerchief of Bessie Gibbs pinned around his left hand—he meant to keep it always as a souvenir of that exciting time.
And so he came home at last.
Just as he expected she immediately discovered the fact of his having his hand bound up; for little news reached the rather secluded home of the widow, and no neighbor had chanced to hear the story of what had happened at the home of the banker.
"What is the matter—have you had an accident, son?" She exclaimed, taking his hand in hers.
Then she looked more closely, and he knew that she had noticed the kerchief.
"Don't worry, mother; it's only a little burn, nothing serious at all," he said.
"But who put this here—a lady's handkerchief, too? Something has happened, I can see it in your eyes. Tell me at once, Dick. What new danger have you been in now?" she went on, putting her arm around him as they walked toward the door.
"None at all, mother. There was just the littlest bit of fire, and I tore down the curtains and shade, never thinking of my hands. Why, it was all over in three seconds, I believe."
"Curtains—shade—where was this?" she asked, anxiously.
"At Mr. Gibbs' house. He sent me up after some papers, and I was just in time to jump in and play volunteer fireman. You see they insisted on doing my hand up in this ridiculous way, and made me promise not to take it off until you could dress it again to-night. But it doesn't amount to much, I give you my word, mother."
"Oh! come and sit down and tell me all about it. Supper can wait. I believe you have been in danger and won't say so for fear of frightening me. Did their beautiful home burn down—what a pity that would be? And what caused it all."
"One question at a time, mom. I might as well tell you the whole story, because I know I won't get a bite of supper until I do. But they made too much of such a little thing, sure they did."
So Dick in his own modest way related how he had happened to be at the door of the banker's house when the terrible accident occurred that might have caused a severe loss if the fire had been allowed to run riot; he even declared that he believed the flames would have died out even though no one had come; but the fond mother, reading between the lines, knew that she had good reason to feel proud of her boy that night, and in her heart she undoubtedly sent up prayers of gratitude that he had come through the incident with so little harm.
Dick kept his other news until the time when, as usual, they sat together on the little porch, Mrs. Morrison having bound up his hand again, and pretending not to notice how eagerly the lad secreted the little kerchief that was now in sore need of cleansing.
Then he told of the events of the day, and Mrs. Morrison hung on his words as if they thrilled her to the core; her boy was an actor in this strange little drama that was being gradually unfolded, and when the final scene was reached it would be found that Dick had had more than his share to do with the solving of the riddle as to what had become of Mr. Graylock's missing securities.
NEARING A CLIMAX
Just as Mr. Winslow had said, the suave gentleman who was making himself so much at home in the bank managed to get out at a time Dick had an errand, and the boy was not very greatly surprised to find himself waylaid on the road back.
"Dick, Mr. Winslow tells me that you know all about the reason I am here. Now, I like your looks, my boy, and I can see that you are able to keep a still tongue between your lips, so I feel positive no one will be any the wiser on account of your knowing my real character," he said, drawing the other to one side, where they could chat without any one overhearing what was said.
"Yes, sir; I'm ready to answer whatever questions you ask, though I don't think I can tell you anything new."
"That remains to be seen. But at any rate it will give me a chance to hear what I want at first hands, and put my own construction on it. There is a good deal in that, you know."
Thereupon he began to fire away with his questions, and bit by bit drew out the entire story of that one day's happening; now and then he would go over some point and try to see if Dick would contradict himself, but the result was always the same.
"You are a gilt-edged witness, Dick. You never changed your story a particle. I think I have learned all I want now," the other said, in conclusion.
"And what do you think, sir—was my later suspicion founded on anything like fact, or did I allow my imagination to have too big a grip on me when I peeped through that little hole and saw that look on his face?" asked the boy.
The man smiled and shook his head.
"We have to keep our ideas pretty close, Dick. What I think I might not like to say; only that you were far from being a fool when you allowed yourself to think as you did. Time will tell. I will begin to lay my plans, although days may go by, and I will vanish from this region before I find the chance to carry out the last desperate part of my little scheme. Thank you for all you have told me. It has helped me very, very much, my boy."
Later on Dick saw the gentleman once more at work in the bank.
He acted his part to perfection, and not even the bookkeeper seemed to have the slightest suspicion that Mr. Cheever could be anything other than he claimed.
Of course, the fact that he had formerly been a bank examiner before taking up his present profession of investigation made it easy for him to play the game.
But it promised to be the easiest similar task the anxious bookkeeper had ever gone through with; for at the end of the second day the gentleman complimented him on his accurate accounts, and the bank on its solvent condition; after which he was closeted with Mr. Gibbs and the cashier in the president's room for an hour, came out, gravely shook hands all around, and departed.
The bookkeeper heaved a mighty sigh of relief.
"That job's off my hands for six months or more," he said, with evident satisfaction.
Dick could just catch the little chuckle that the receiving teller allowed to escape him upon hearing this remark; but by no look did Mr. Winslow betray his consciousness of a knowledge of the truth.
Things went on for two days just about as usual.
The failure of Archibald Graylock proved to be worse than was at first supposed possible, and it was now declared that after the affairs of the bankrupt firm had been adjusted the creditors might receive even less than twenty cents on the dollar.
Mr. Graylock went about looking quite forlorn, as a man whose business was ruined might be expected to appear; but once when he was passing out of the bank Dick, watching closely, felt sure that he saw a little sneer pass over his angular face, as though some sudden thought had pleased him.
Dick was treated with the utmost kindness by every one for all knew the story of the fire, and Pliny never ceased to deplore the wretched fate that seemed to debar him from playing so heroic a role.
When he could do so Dick sought out the teller, for he was anxious to know whether Mr. Cheever was at work, even though unseen by those in the bank.
"What news?" he asked in a low tone, stopping by Mr. Winslow's desk as if waiting for some document to place in the vault.
The other glanced hastily around before replying.
"Nothing as yet, but I saw him last night, and he gave me reason to believe he might have something to show for his work to-day," he replied in a low tone.
Dick understood what this meant.
Mr. Cheever had been prowling around the Graylock home, and believed he saw a way to effect an entrance during the absence of the owner, whose habits he had carefully studied.
Would he be able to discover anything there?
Might not Mr. Graylock, granting that he was guilty of abstracting those securities with the intention of defrauding his creditors out of their just dues, be cunning enough to conceal them where no one would think of looking?
He advanced this theory to the teller in a whisper.
Mr. Winslow smiled encouragingly.
"You don't know our friend as well as I do, Dick. He is a wonderfully gifted man for prying into secret places, and seems to know just by intuition where one would be apt to hide anything. Don't worry about him. If he gets in he'll rummage that house from top to bottom, and ten to one there'll be something doing, too. I'm expecting to see him walking through that door at any minute now, and passing back into the president's room."
Dick moved away, for the bookkeeper was approaching, with a look of concern on his face.
"Say, Winslow, do you know, the porter was telling me just now that he believes he saw that bank examiner in town last night. I told him he must have been mistaken, but he vowed he was positive. Now, what do you suppose that fellow has come back here for, and after he publicly complimented me on the admirable manner in which my books were kept, too?" and the industrious knight of the ledger and the daybook had such a look of worry on his face that it was all Mr. Winslow could do to keep from laughing outright.
"The porter may have been mistaken after all; or even if he did see the gentleman that fact need not give you any alarm. Possibly he is doing something for Mr. Gibbs; or else has been engaged to straighten out the books of the defunct firm across the way. Forget it, and be happy," he said; and the other went back to his desk shaking his head as if he did not fully like the situation.
Dick found himself looking toward the door every time any one came in, and fervently hoping that Mr. Cheever might show up; for if he came it would doubtless signify that he had been successful in his hunt for the missing securities.
Every time he went out he could see the same crowd about the closed doors of the big store; people could not get over the novelty of the failure, possibly the first that had come to Riverview these many years, and certainly the worst by long odds.
Many in town had also suffered as well as the foreign creditors; and the name of Archibald Graylock was being held up to execration in many quarters where he had borrowed small sums, or else bought goods to fill a gap, and for which he had never settled.
Once he was seized upon by Ferd who had been hovering around, possibly at his father's desire, to hear what was being said of the man who had gone down with such a smash.
Ferd looked doleful enough, and Dick did not have the heart to feel glad.
Knowing what he did of the Graylock son and heir, Dick had before now decided in his own mind that this failure of his father might be the making of Ferd; certainly it was not going to do him any particular harm to be thrown out on his own resources, and there was a chance that it would arouse a slumbering spark of ambition that may have never awakened only for this sudden change.
"This is a mighty rough deal we're up against, Dick. The old man seems to think you know something about those securities he lost the other day. If you do you've played the meanest trick on him that ever was; for he says they would have kept his head above water. But between you and me I believe the old man is getting a bit looney, and that he has pawned them long ago. I'll be glad to get away from this miserable little place, that's what," said Ferd, with disgust plainly shown on his face.
"Then you expect to go away?" asked Dick.
"Yes, in a day or two, to Boston. An uncle has offered me a job in his office; and as he is a broker I think I see myself getting to the top of the heap before long," replied the other, braggingly.
"Is your father going with you?" questioned Dick, thinking that the movements of Archibald Graylock held something of interest for him under the circumstances.
"No, you see he has to stay around here for some weeks yet, settling up. He says he will be as poor as Job's turkey when they get through with him; but if he is, then he was never the keen and clever man I always took him to be. I suppose he will come down to the city after its all done, and begin there over again."
"Well, I must get on. Wish you luck when you go, Ferd."
"You're in an awful hurry. I wanted to ask you about that affair up at old Gibbs' place; they say you saved Bessie's life?" demanded the other, catching his sleeve.
"All a big yarn. I just happened around in time to jerk down a few curtains and stamp on the fire. They were nearly in ashes anyhow. Anybody could have done the same thing. Why, it was a picnic, you know. Good-bye, Ferd," and jerking loose he ran off, leaving the other looking after him, and shaking his head, as if unable to understand why any fellow could resist the chance to play the part of a hero when the chance came to him as it had to Dick.
When he got back to the bank Dick was just settling down to some work he wished to get through with before noon when he saw the bookkeeper staring at the door as if he had seen a ghost; and looking up the boy discovered a familiar figure crossing over in the direction of Mr. Gibbs' private room.
It was the supposed bank examiner!
And he carried a little bundle under his arm at which he glanced significantly, and followed this with a smile and a nod as he passed Mr. Winslow's window.
Dick was thrilled with the belief that he had found the missing securities!
MR. GRAYLOCK MEETS HIS WATERLOO
Mr. Winslow beckoned to Dick to come near his desk, as it happened there were no customers in front at the time, wishing to make deposits.
By bending down, and talking in a low tone he could say what he wished without being overheard; indeed, the bookkeeper had called Mr. Payson over as if to confer with him as to what this unexpected return of the bank examiner might signify; for although he certainly had nothing to fear, still it seemed to make him exceedingly nervous.
"What did I tell you, son?" said the teller, with a broad grin on his face, as he jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the president's room.
"Do you really think he has found them?" asked Dick, eagerly.
"The signs all point that way; you noticed yourself that he was carrying a neat little package under his arm, which he seemed to fondle lovingly; and if looks count for anything the grin he gave me said 'success' as plainly as two and two make four. I can see the complete finish of our tricky friend A. G. Say, I'd give something to see his face when the old man opens that package before him. It would be better than a picnic!" exclaimed the teller, enthusiastically.
"Do you think they'll send for Mr. Graylock, then?"
"Surely. It was his fortune that was supposed to be lost, and which has now come limping home like Little Bo-Peep's sheep; or the prodigal son, as you please. Oh, yes; they would not think of keeping the poor old fellow in agony any longer than is necessary. Hark! there goes the summons for Mr. Goodwyn to cross over and confer with the boss. Told you so. He's to be taken into the scheme, and have a chance to look happy again."
Sure enough the cashier did pass into the room of the head of the bank, and the murmur of voices told that the three were engaged in an animated discussion.
Payson was still trying to soothe the agitated bookkeeper, who was on needles and pins because of this surprising second visit from the man he had believed to be the regular examiner; with Mr. Cheever closeted with the president, and now the cashier called into conference, there seemed to be something in the wind that might reflect upon his capacity as a bank book custodian.
Winslow would have liked easing his mind strain, but he believed it best not to attempt it until events had shaped themselves so that the whole truth could be explained.
Just then Dick's bell rang.
"The Morrison luck again," groaned Mr. Winslow; "now you're going to see and hear the dramatic denouement, while I shall have to be content with taking it second-hand."
When Dick opened the door and entered the room he found the three gentlemen sitting around the table, upon which were numerous papers and packages, as if Mr. Gibbs might have been going over his personal assets to find out just how hard he had been hit by the failure of Graylock.
Both he and Mr. Goodwyn looked pleased, though they tried hard not to show it; as for the bank examiner, when Dick shot a look in his direction, Mr. Cheever gave a very perceptible wink that might stand for a host of things, though Dick knew very well how to interpret it.
The securities had been found!
In some way the detective had managed to gain access to the Graylock house, and his search had not been without its reward; evidently Archibald, never dreaming that any one would suspect him, had not taken the pains to hide the packet beyond thrusting it into his safe.
And that carelessness was fated to be his undoing.
"Richard, have you noticed Mr. Graylock around this morning; he has not been in the bank, but you have gone out several times, I believe?" asked Mr. Gibbs.
"Yes, sir. Only an hour ago I saw him going into the store in company with the gentleman they say is the assignee in charge of the bankrupt stock."
"Very well; please go over to the store and ask him to come back with you; if he demurs tell him it is some very important business that has to be transacted."
"Yes, sir," and Dick was off like a flash.
He never undertook an errand with more animation, and Mr. Winslow, watching him from the window smiled broadly when he saw what his destination must be.
There was a man at the door of the big store, who would not let Dick in until he declared he was the bank boy, and that he had a very important message for Mr. Graylock.
He found that gentleman in the offices, with several others around him, going over the books, explaining what the different accounts meant and looking most abject and forlorn.
Indeed, Dick must have felt sorry for the man in his seeming distress of mind did he not know that this was but a part and parcel of the deep plan which Mr. Graylock was pursuing in order to gull the public; no doubt when at home and free from observation he was in the habit of shaking hands with himself because of the clever little dodge he had played looking to provision for the future.
"Mr. Graylock," said Dick, to attract his attention, for he was busily engaged in dispute with a severe looking gentleman.
When the bankrupt storekeeper looked up and saw who had spoken he scowled in a most savage manner.
"Well, boy, what do you want here?" he demanded.
"Mr. Gibbs sent me over to bring you back to the bank, sir."
"I'm very busy just now. Tell him I'll drop in later in the day," returned the other, a little mollified when he heard the name of the bank president.
"He said to tell you that it was a very important matter, and that you must come now," continued the messenger.
"Oh! well, I suppose I shall have to go. Gentlemen, excuse me for a short time, please. Perhaps it may be good news; possibly those lost securities have been discovered; although too late to save me; or it may be they have some offer to make as a recompense for their disappearance while in their charge. That would be a good thing for my creditors, gentleman. A few minutes and I expect to be with you again."
He picked up his hat and walked out of the office, with Dick trotting along close at his heels; though Mr. Graylock would not deign to notice him.
When they entered the door of the bank together Dick could see that every eye became focussed upon them; and as for Mr. Winslow, there was an expression of actual distress upon his face, as though he realized that he was about to lose the greatest spectacle of the whole affair in being debarred from that room when Archibald Graylock was ushered in.
Dick managed to precede the broken-down merchant, and opening the door allowed him to enter.
He was about to go out himself, when Mr. Gibbs said:
"Don't go, Richard. I may have need of you."
He knew that this was hardly so, and suspected that the president intended that he should be a witness of what followed; possibly believing that since Mr. Graylock had done all he could to cast suspicion on the messenger it was only fair that Dick should be present at his downfall.
At any rate, the boy was only too glad to have the opportunity, and he thought Mr. Winslow's assertion regarding his luck must have some basis after all.
Mr. Graylock looked around him as if surprised that there should be a stranger present; he had met Mr. Cheever, as a bank examiner, but he certainly could not understand how the other could have any interest in his private affairs.
He turned, therefore, with an expression of surprise upon his thin face, as if he would ask Mr. Gibbs what he might understand by this gathering.
"Have a chair, Mr. Graylock, please," said the president, and he certainly looked as solemn as though circumstances had arisen whereby he felt it necessary, for the honor of the bank, to hand over to the gentleman the equal of the securities that had so mysteriously vanished while in the vault of the institution.
Mr. Graylock dropped into a seat and waited; if he was agitated, he did not show it in his face or manner, as yet.
"I have sent for you, Mr. Graylock," began the president, "in connection with the securities which you brought to this bank some time ago, and which were strangely missing from the packet which was handed out when you demanded them."
"Yes," said the other, licking his dry lips, and fixing his small, rat-like eyes on the face of Mr. Gibbs, as though he would read there in advance just what the bank official was about to say.
"I understood you to declare, sir, that it was your positive intention to devote the proceeds of the sale of those securities to bolstering up your business; and even yesterday you assured me that if they could only be found you would of course hand them over to the assignee, to be devoted to the liquidation of your debts. Am I correct in this surmise, Mr. Graylock?"
The merchant started, and half rose from his chair as a sudden fear struck him; then he sank back again with a smile, undoubtedly reassured.
"Such was my intention, Mr. Gibbs; indeed, there could now be no other course open to me. Have you found them, sir; were they mislaid; or did some one in your employ take them after all, so that you feel disposed to make their loss good?" and he had the audacity as he spoke to send a bitter glance in the direction of the bank boy.
The president frowned, and the look of pity that was beginning to steal over his face vanished.
"Then, sir, I have a piece of news for you that will undoubtedly bring you great joy. The missing securities have been found, Mr. Graylock!" he said, emphatically.
"Impossible!" gasped the wretched man, turning still more pallid.
"Not at all, Mr. Graylock, not at all. If you will take the trouble to cast your eye over these you will find they are all here save one for a small figure, which somehow was offered for sale in Boston lately, I believe you said," and as he spoke the president tossed a little package upon the directors' table, upon which the eyes of the broken-down merchant were instantly glued with incredulity and horror.
His crime had arisen like a ghost of the past to confront him.
Mr. Graylock half rose from his chair, and bent low over the table to stare at the documents; then as if unable to believe that his sight told him the truth he dug his knuckles into his eyes and stared again.
Every eye was fastened upon him, and he seemed to realize that his sin had indeed found him out, for finally with a groan that welled up from the depths of his tortured heart he fell back into his chair.
Then he heard the clear voice of the president saying:
"We all deserve to be congratulated, Mr. Graylock—the bank, at the recovery of the valuable papers entrusted to its care; and you, sir, because your good name has been saved, and your creditors will receive all that your estate will produce. It is a great thing to be able to look your friends and neighbors in the face, Mr. Graylock, when such a misfortune overtakes a man in business, although every one may not think so."
Surely this was gall and wormwood to the defeated trickster, who had been caught trying to defraud those who had trusted him.
He writhed and twisted in his chair, until a shred of his former assurance came back to him; when he managed to look up with a sickly smile, and almost whispered:
"Yes, it is a great thing. I suppose I ought to thank you, Gibbs, for saving me the added humiliation of exposure. And the strange discovery of the securities, where they must have been placed during a temporary fit of absent mindedness, will, of course, clear the air, so that no one now need be suspected of any criminal intent."
It was a bold bid for secrecy, and while Mr. Gibbs might feel a contempt for the wretched man now before him, at the same time he believed it would be policy to keep the story quiet for a short time.
"How long before you leave Riverview, Mr. Graylock?" he asked, quietly.
"I think I can say in three days more; yes, by Monday evening I shall have departed," replied the other, eagerly, catching at a straw.
"Very well, then, for three days those of us in the secret will agree not to whisper one word of this sad affair. After you have departed the promise holds no longer. There will be no prosecution, Mr. Graylock, though perhaps I am doing wrong to promise that; but I shall walk over with these securities in half an hour, and hand them to the assignee with the simple remark that they have been found. I think there is nothing further to say, sir."
It was a polite way of telling Mr. Graylock that they could dispense with his company, and getting unsteadily to his feet he made for the door.
Before going out he had the decency to turn his face toward them, and say:
"I thank you all, gentlemen; you have been more considerate with me than I deserve. Good-day."
Mr. Gibbs turned to Dick.
"Now Richard, you can go, and please remember that while the finding of the securities may be announced, not one word to a living soul about the truth until after Mr. Graylock has left town for good. He does not deserve it, but we will spare him that added humiliation. Just now I presume he is the most wretched man in the State. And Richard, please ask Mr. Winslow to step in here for a minute, since I believe he knows what Mr. Cheever intended doing."
The teller obeyed the summons with alacrity, and doubtless heard all about the outcome of the little game he and Dick had planned; at the same time being bound to secrecy until the limited time had passed.
Of course there was great rejoicing among the creditors of the defunct firm when the fact was made known that the missing securities had come to light, and that there would be another hundred thousand dollars divided up among them; but no matter how curious they might be they were unable to learn where the papers had been hidden; though some who knew Mr. Graylock best had their suspicions.
And three days later, as he had said, Mr. Graylock vanished from Riverview, with his wife and son, going to Boston; nor did any of them ever show their faces again in the town where for years the merchant had held his head so high.
The story soon became common property, and for a long time his name was held up to ridicule and execration by those he had swindled.
Some years later Dick learned that the Graylocks had gone South, and with some money advanced by a relative purchased a few acres of land in Florida, where they devoted their attention to raising celery for the northern market; but just how successful they were, or what progress Ferd was making toward overcoming his faults, he never knew.
They had passed out of the life of the little river town; and after a time the name of Graylock was seldom mentioned; for another firm had taken up the big store, and was making it a success by honest dealing.
Some years have passed since the events narrated in this story occurred.
Most of those with whom we have come in contact still remain in Riverview, and the town has prospered quite in proportion to others in the State.
Mrs. Morrison still lives happily in her rose embowered cottage, which of course has been enlarged and vastly improved; for the legacy came to hand in due time, and Dick had his den, while she enjoyed the luxury of a fine bathroom.
She has never dreamed of marrying again.
Two or three times old Hezekiah Cheatham drove around that way to drop in and chat with the buxom widow, whose charms he could now appreciate since she had fallen heir to a neat little fortune; but Dick took him gently aside and gave him plainly to understand that his mother disliked his attentions very much; and that as for himself he was averse to having a step-father; so the old bachelor ceased his pilgrimages in that quarter.
Mr. Gibbs is still the head of the bank, and his right hand man is Ross Goodwyn, the clever cashier, who will soon step into the position of his employer, when the latter retires.
Mr. Payson is the paying teller, but Mr. Winslow finding his health failing him, and being warned by his physician that he had better seek a climate that was dry, intends leaving for Colorado in another month.
It is pretty generally understood that he will be succeeded by Richard Morrison, who has been acting as his under-study for some time.
Dick is a tall, manly looking fellow now, the pride of his mother's heart; and prosperity has not changed his genial, straight-forward nature a particle.
One of his best friends is Mr. Cartwright, the old miller, and frequently they sit and chat of the days long since gone by when Dick found his first job in the employ of the other.
Occasionally Dick has found an opportunity, on holidays, to go out to the dear old fishing hole, and interview a few of his friends, the bass; his ability to capture the wily finny denizens of the river still holds good, and usually he returns home with a full string.
He never visits the old place without thinking of that day when he heard Bessie Gibbs raising her voice in laments over the impending fate of her darling Angora kitten, and the memory always brings a smile to Dick's face.
Bessie is now finishing her schooling at a college; but she and Dick correspond faithfully, and during vacation times they seem inseparable.
He still thinks her the prettiest and sweetest of her sex, and as for Bessie—well, it hardly seems fair to peep into the sacred recesses of a young girl's heart, but she is never one half so happy as when with Dick, and whenever she looks at the little scar on the back of his left hand she shudders, remembering that fearful day when he burst in upon them just in the nick of time, and in his usual energetic way quickly extinguished what might have been a serious conflagration.
Mr. Gibbs, of course, has his eyes about him and understands what this intimacy is bound to end in eventually; but he seems perfectly satisfied that it should be so.
He cannot expect to keep his darling child with him always, and since these things must be he is content with the way events have come about.
The wise man who could read boy character as well as he did on that never-to-be-forgotten day when he sent Dick, still resting under suspicion in connection with the missing securities, out to his home to bring back a valuable packet, feels confident that he has made no mistake, and that he can trust the happiness of Bessie to his keeping.
Mr. Gibbs always declares that he never made an investment in his whole life that brought him in such quick and magnificent returns as his decision that day to put a boy upon his honor; and he hardly dares picture what might have happened had he failed to read the truth lying back of those clear eyes of Dick, the Bank Boy.
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
Page 15, "ofter" changed to "often". (I've often heard)
Page 17, "down" changed to "done". (always done since)
Page 31, "women" changed to "woman". (get a woman to).
Page 37, "endeaver" changed to "endeavor". (endeavor to change)
Page 45, "dilipidated" changed to "dilapidated". (and dilapidated vehicle)
Page 79, "seldoms" changed to "seldom". (He seldom interferes)
Page 95, duplicated word "as" removed. (just as you say)
Page 104, "imposible" changed to "impossible". (It is impossible, incredible,)
Page 129, "furtune" changed to "fortune". (glorious good fortune)
Page 151, "Winlow" changed to "Winslow". (Winslow thinks possible)
Page 156, "hear" changed to "heard". (he heard the vehicle)
Page 157, "unbrellas" changed to "umbrellas". (with umbrellas over)
Page 166, duplicated word "down" removed. (down in the drawing)
Page 173, "forunate" changed to "fortunate". (was fortunate enough)
Page 191, "neecssary" changed to "necessary". (necessary. Hark!)
Page 202, "physican" changed to physician". (his physician that)
Page 202, "Colordo" changed to "Colorado". (for Colorado in)