"I am glad you have found it out," said our hero, coolly. "If you're not too much pressed by important business," (the clerk was leaning back, picking his teeth), "perhaps you wouldn't mind asking Mr. Ferguson if he will see a merchant from New York."
The clerk laughed.
"You're a hard nut to crack, young man," he said.
"Don't try to crack me, then."
The clerk went into the counting-room, and, returning quickly, told Tom he might go in.
Entering, Tom found himself in the presence of a man of about forty.
"Do you wish to see me?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I should like to ask if you know anything of Mr. Grey, who used to be in business in this place?"
"I know a good deal of them—there were two."
"I know that, sir, but one died."
"Yes—it was John Grey."
"Your father!" exclaimed the merchant, in astonishment.
"But I thought John Grey's son died?"
"No, sir; that was a mistake. Can you tell me where my Uncle James lives? I don't find his name in the directory."
"No; he moved away, after selling out the business to me. I was head salesman in the establishment under the brothers Grey. Now the business is mine."
"And you don't know where my uncle went?"
"He went to Minnesota, I think; but where, I cannot tell. I don't think it was to St. Paul, or to any large place."
"How long ago was that, sir?"
"About five years since. But I always supposed John Grey's son was lost. You have a strong family look, however."
"Do I?" asked Tom. "I don't remember my father."
"Where have you been all these years?"
"I will tell you, sir," said Tom, "if you have time to hear the story. I didn't know who I was myself till a little while ago."
"Proceed. I am busy, but I have time to listen. Take a seat."
Tom told the story with which we are already familiar. Mr. Ferguson listened with strong intent. When it was finished, he said:
"Young man, have you the confession of this Jacob with you?"
Tom drew it from his inner pocket, and submitted it to inspection. He awaited the merchant's verdict.
"I recognize Jacob's handwriting," he said, at length. "He was a fellow-clerk of mine. I remember, also, that he disappeared at the same time with you. The story is a strange one, but I am inclined to think it is true. What do you intend to do?"
"I want to find my uncle."
"I am afraid you will find that difficult. He has left no clew in this city where he once lived. He sold out all his property, and has no interest here."
"You think he went to Minnesota?"
"Yes; but I cannot tell where."
"I will go to Minnesota, then," said our hero. "Is it far off?"
"It is several hundred miles away, and a large place when you get there. It costs money to travel. Are you well supplied?"
"I've got about fifteen dollars."
"Fifteen dollars!" repeated the merchant. "And you expect to undertake such a task on that sum?"
"I'd like to have more money; but what's the use of waitin'? I ain't gettin' richer."
"Have you any situation? Are you earning any money?"
"Then I advise you to find something to do in the city, and postpone your plans of finding your uncle. You are just as likely to hear from him here, while at work, as if you were traveling in search of him," said Mr. Ferguson.
"I'd just as lief go to work," said Tom, "if I could find anything to do."
Mr. Ferguson reflected a moment. Then he turned to our hero, and said:
"I will think about your case. Come round to-morrow morning, about this time."
"All right, sir."
Tom left the counting-room, and was rather surprised to meet Maurice Walton on the main floor of the store.
"What brings you here?" asked Maurice.
"Business," said Tom.
"Important?" sneered Maurice.
"Very important," answered Tom, coolly.
"I wish I knew more about him," thought Maurice. "There's some mystery about him. He's impudent enough for half a dozen."
Some might have thought the impudence on the other side, but Maurice did not see it in that light.
It occurred to Tom that he would call and see the man who advertised for a person "with a small capital to enter a light, genteel business." He found the place after awhile—a small back room, scantily furnished, with a few packages lying on a solitary counter. There was a man of about thirty-five in attendance, who seemed to have nothing particular to do.
"Are you the one that advertised for a man with a small capital?" asked Tom.
"To enter a light, genteel business?" continued the other, briskly. "Yes, I am the one."
"Well, I've got a small capital, and that's just the kind of business I want."
"You're rather young. Have you ever been in business?"
"I should think I had. I've been in business for six or seven years."
"You must have begun young. What kind of business?"
"The boot and shoe business, mostly," answered our hero; "but I was in the periodical business for awhile."
"Well, if you've got experience, you can succeed in our business. How much capital have you?"
"Tell me about the business first."
"Well, it's the perfumery business. We've got up a new and superior kind of perfumery, which we sell by agents. I want to find some one to take charge of the office while I travel and solicit orders. You can take care of the office, can't you?"
"What's the wages?"
"Twenty dollars a week."
"That'll about suit me," said Tom.
"You will receive the money from the agents and take care of it."
"That suits me again."
"But, of course, we expect you to deposit money with us as security."
"How much do you want?"
"Five hundred dollars."
Our hero whistled.
"That's ahead of my pile," he said.
"How much have you got?"
"Fifteen dollars; but I owe part of it for board."
"Then get out of this office! Do you think I can afford to waste my time in talking to you?" said the young man, angrily.
"You'd rather waste my money. You'll have to hook in some other chap, mister. I've been round."
Of course it was only a trap to fleece the unsuspecting out of their money. Tom was posted, and only went in to have a little fun. He meant to wait and hear what Mr. Ferguson had to propose before forming any decisive plans for the future.
The next morning, at the time appointed, Tom called at the establishment of Mr. Ferguson. The first he met was Maurice Walton. Maurice, in fact, was the youngest clerk, having received the appointment six weeks before, through the influence of his uncle.
"Did you come round to see me? I'm busy," said Maurice.
"Haven't you swept out yet?" asked Tom, mischievously.
"Do you think I would demean myself by sweeping out?" returned Maurice, disgusted.
"I thought that might be your business."
"That would be good business for you. Perhaps Mr. Ferguson will engage you."
"All right; I'll accept, if he'll pay me enough. Is he in?"
"I don't understand such low terms," said Maurice, loftily.
"Then it's time you did. Is Mr. Ferguson in?—if you can understand that better."
"Yes, he is, but he won't see you."
"Because his time is too valuable."
"Then I wonder why he asked me to come round this morning?"
"Of course he did; and, if you've got through sweeping out, you'd better let him know I'm on hand."
"Thank you for your polite invitation. They didn't examine you in good manners when they took you in here, did they?"
"You're an impertinent fellow."
"Thank you. You ought to be a good judge of impudence. I'll see you again soon—hope you won't miss me much."
Our hero, who, it must be confessed, was not troubled by bashfulness, made a low bow to his opponent, and, advancing to the counting-room, opened the door. Mr. Ferguson looked up from his letters.
"Take a seat, Grey," he said, "and I'll speak to you in a moment."
"Thank you," said Tom, who knew how to be polite when it was proper to be so.
At the end of fifteen minutes Mr. Ferguson looked up.
"Well," said he, "have you formed any plans, Gilbert?—I think that is your name."
"No, sir, except that I'm goin' to try to get a place."
"Have you tried yet?"
"I called to see a man who offered a light, genteel employment to a young man with a small capital. I thought mine was small enough, so I applied."
"Well, what came of it?"
"The man wasn't willin' to sell out for fifteen dollars, so I left."
"You seem to be a smart boy. Suppose I take you into my employment?"
"I'd try to do my duty."
"I really don't need an extra clerk; but you are the son of my old employer, and to him I feel under considerable obligations. I'll take you on trial."
"Thank you, sir. When shall I come?"
"All right, sir; I'll be on hand."
"Where are you boarding?"
"At the Ohio Hotel."
"How much board do you pay?"
"Ten dollars a week."
"That is too much. You ought to get board in a private house for four. Between now and Monday, I advise you to look up some decent house that will answer your purpose. You can't expect to live luxuriously at first."
"I ain't used to first-class accommodations," said Tom.
"I see you are a sensible boy. Cut your coat according to your cloth. That is a good maxim. When you get older, you can live better. Now, about your salary. I can't give much at first, or my other clerks might complain. I will give you five dollars, the same that I pay to my youngest clerk."
"Do you know him?" questioned Mr. Ferguson, in surprise.
"Yes, sir. I took supper at his uncle's Wednesday evening."
"Indeed! I did not know you were acquainted with Mr. Benton."
"Bessie Benton came on from Buffalo in my charge."
"Really, Gilbert, you seem to be getting on fast. You seem quite able to push your own way."
"I've always done it, sir."
"You are not bashful."
"New York street-boys ain't troubled that way."
"That's well, if not carried too far. Now, tell me how much you know."
"If it's about learning, I can do that in five minutes."
"Your education, I take it, has been neglected."
"I don't know much—I didn't have a chance to learn."
"Can you read?"
"When the words ain't too long."
"Then I advise you to take what leisure time you have to remedy the defects in your education."
"I'd like to, sir. I was ashamed of knowing so little when I was at Mr. Benton's."
"A good feeling, my boy. The more you know the better chance you stand to get on in the world. I am giving you a low place in my employment. If you want to be promoted, you must qualify yourself for it."
"I'll do it, sir," said our hero, manfully. "That's good advice, and I'll foller it."
"Success to you, my boy. You can now go, and come back Monday morning."
"Thank you, sir."
Tom left the counting-room in excellent spirits. He had found a place, and one just such as he liked. Five dollars a week, he foresaw, would not pay his expenses, but he was sure he could earn more in some way. As he was about to leave the store, Maurice, whose curiosity was aroused, came to meet him.
"Did you get through your important business?" he said, sneeringly.
"Not quite. I'm coming here again next Monday."
"Mr. Ferguson must be glad to see you."
"I'm comin' Tuesday, also."
"What, every day?"
"Yes; your boss has concluded to take me into the business."
"You ain't coming here to work?" said Maurice, hastily.
"You've hit the nail on the head."
"We've got enough clerks now."
"I'm comin' to help you sweep out in the mornin'."
Maurice was by no means pleased to hear this. Regarding Tom as his social inferior, he did not like to be placed on a level with him.
"How much pay are you to get?" he asked.
"Five dollars a week."
"The same as I get?"
Maurice was disgusted.
"Then I shall ask for higher pay."
"Go ahead. I don't care."
"Do you expect to live on your salary?"
"No, of course not. I've got private property."
"Go and ask the man that calls for the taxes."
"I don't believe it."
"Why, I'm payin' ten dollars a week for my board."
Finally our hero went out, leaving Maurice dissatisfied and annoyed—first that his rival, as he regarded him, had obtained a place in the same establishment with himself, and next that the new-comer was to receive the same salary. He sent in an application, the next day, for increase of pay, but it was dismissed, with the curt response that when he earned more he would get it.
Meanwhile Tom bent his steps toward the Ohio river. Of course, my readers know that Cincinnati is on the north bank of the Ohio, and that just across is a town in Kentucky.
"I'd like to see Kentucky," said Tom to himself. "I guess I'll go across."
Small river steamers convey passengers across the river for a very small sum. Our hero paid the required fee and went on board.
"It's some like goin' across to Jersey," he thought.
There was the usual variety of passengers—men, women, and children. Tom sat down beside a young man well dressed, but a little strange in his manners. It was evident that he had been drinking too much, and was under the influence of liquor at present. He was perfectly quiet, however, till they were in the middle of the stream, when, all at once, he climbed the railing and threw himself into the turbid waters of the river.
The passengers seemed paralyzed by the suddenness of the action. Our hero was the first to recover, and, being an expert swimmer, jumped in after him without hesitation.
A FASHIONABLE BOARDING-HOUSE.
When Tom's head emerged from the yellow and turbid waters, he caught sight of the young man, and struck out for him. Grasping him by the arm, he succeeded, with considerable difficulty, in holding him up till a small boat near by picked both up.
"Whew!" sputtered Tom, spitting out some of the water which he had involuntarily taken into his mouth.
The young man rescued looked about him stupidly.
"What made you jump into the river?" asked the boatman.
"I was drunk," said the young man, frankly, upon whom the shock of the falling into the water had produced a favorable effect.
"It's lucky this boy was near and jumped after you, or you might have been drowned before I got to you."
The young man turned and looked earnestly at Tom.
"So you jumped after me?" he said.
"I feel as if I did," answered Tom. "I'm as wet as a drowned rat."
"You're a brave boy."
"Thank you," said Tom, modestly. "But I can swim so well that it didn't take much courage."
"I can't swim a stroke."
"Then you'd better not jump into the water again."
"I don't mean to," said the young man, smiling. "Where did you learn to swim?"
"In the East river."
"Look here, gentlemen, where do you want to be carried?" asked the boatman.
"Back to Cincinnati. I'll pay you for your trouble," said the young man.
"I was goin' on an explorin' expedition to Kentucky," said our hero.
"You are too wet; you must take another day."
"It ain't any wetter on one side of the river than the other."
"Do you live in Kentucky?"
"Yes; I've lived there a day or two."
"You must change your clothes, or you will get cold."
"I haven't got any clothes except what I've got on."
The young man looked rather surprised at this, since Tom had on a good suit, and appeared to be in good circumstances.
"Then," said he, promptly, "I shall take you home with me, and lend you one of my suits."
"It would fit me too much," said Tom, laughing.
"Never mind. We will stay in the house till your clothes are dry. What do you say?"
"All right," said Tom. "I'm agreeable."
When they came to the Ohio side of the river the two got off. The young man was so well over his fit of drunkenness that he walked quite steadily, showing no trace of it in his gait.
"I live a mile and a half away," he said, "but it will be better to walk, as we shall be less liable to take cold in our wet clothes. Or, do you feel tired?"
"Not a bit," said Tom. "I'm used to walkin'. My coachman don't have much to do."
"You're a genius," said the young man.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Tom. "If I'm a fair specimen, geniuses don't know much."
"At any rate, you are not such a fool as I am."
"Are you a fool?"
"Any man is a fool that gets drunk."
"I don't know but you're right," said Tom. "What makes you do it?"
"Because I'm a fool. That's all the reason I can give. I'm too weak to resist temptation."
"I never was drunk but once," said Tom. "I don't want to be again."
"How did that happen?"
"A sailor invited me into a bar-room, and got me to drink. I felt as if my head would burst open the next morning."
"So you didn't get drunk again?"
"No, I got enough of it."
"What is your name?" asked the young man, interested.
"Do you live in this city?"
"I'm goin' to."
"I wish you would come and live with me."
"Because, though you are younger, you know how to take care of yourself. I think you would take care of me, too."
"If you pay me good wages," said Tom, "I'm willin' to be your guardian."
"I am in earnest," said the young man. "It would do me good to have some one help me keep straight."
"How many times a week would you want me to jump into the water after you?" asked our hero, jocularly. "Because I'd want to keep a good stock of dry clothes on hand; or maybe I might wear a bathin' suit all the time."
"I sha'n't try that again," said the other, smiling; "I don't like it well enough."
By this time they reached a handsome brick house, in a fine street.
"This is where I board," said the young man. "Come in."
He rang the bell, and a servant answered the summons. She looked surprised at the appearance of the pair, both showing signs of the wetting they had received.
"We met with an accident, Bridget," explained the young man, "or rather I tumbled into the water and this boy jumped after me."
"Faith you look like it, Mr. Mordaunt," said Bridget. "Will I tell Mrs. White?"
"Yes. Ask her if she can send us up some hot coffee in about twenty minutes. I am afraid, if we don't have some hot drink, we will take cold."
"All right, sir."
A hasty glance satisfied Tom that it was a first-class boarding-house. The hall was handsomely furnished, and when, on reaching the head of the stairs, his companion led the way into a spacious room, with a chamber connecting, our young hero saw a rich carpet, elegant furniture, a handsome collection of books, and some tasteful pictures upon the walls. It was evident that Mr. Mordaunt was possessed of ample means.
"Now—by the way, I've forgotten your name, yet——"
"Gilbert Grey. Some call me Tom, for short."
"Now, Gilbert, make yourself at home. The best thing we can do is to strip at once, and put on dry clothes."
He went to a wardrobe and brought out two suits of clothes, also a supply of under-clothing.
"There," said he, "go ahead and change your clothes."
Tom followed directions obediently, while his companion was similarly employed. Of course, it was necessary to wash, also. The clothes were too large for him, but still not much, as he was a well-grown boy, and Mr. Mordaunt was by no means large.
"How do you like the looks?" asked the young man, as Tom surveyed himself in a handsome mirror.
"I expect it's me, but I ain't certain," said Tom. "It'll take me some time to grow to these clothes."
"They are rather big, that's a fact," said the young man, smiling. "When the servant comes up with the coffee, we'll send down our suits to be dried. Will your friends feel anxious about you?"
"There's one will, I expect," said Tom.
"Who is that—your mother?"
"No; it's my intimate friend, Maurice Walton. He can't bear me out of his sight, or in it, either."
"So he's very devoted, is he?"
"You bet he is."
Here there was a knock at the door.
"Come in," called Mordaunt.
Bridget entered with a waiter, on which were a coffee-pot, some cups and saucers, sugar, etc., beside a plate of sandwiches.
"Thank you, Bridget," said Mordaunt. "I see you understood what was wanted. Now, if you'll take down them wet clothes and dry them for us, we will be much obliged."
"I'll do it, Mr. Mordaunt," said the willing handmaiden.
"Now, Gilbert, sit down, and we'll have a good cup of coffee apiece," said Mordaunt. "You're hungry, are you not?"
"Bathin' in such a big tub gave me an appetite," said Tom; "but I wouldn't like to get up an appetite that way every day."
"Nor I. It's too much trouble, not to speak of the danger. How do you find the coffee?"
"It's a good deal better than wine, eh?"
"Now, Gilbert, while we are taking lunch I have a little plan to propose to you."
"All right. I'm ready."
TOM CHANGES HIS BOARDING-HOUSE.
"Where are you boarding?" Mordaunt began.
"At the Ohio Hotel. But I don't mean to stay. I'm lookin' out some first-class boardin'-house, where they don't charge mor'n five dollars a week."
"You haven't found one yet?"
"Come here and room with me."
"Don't you pay but five dollars?"
"Rather more," said Mordaunt, laughing.
"I only get five dollars a week for my valuable services," said Tom. "I pay that for board, and get my clothes with the balance. If I hadn't a fortune of ten dollars to fall back upon, I'd have to go without."
"Is that really the way you are situated?" asked Mordaunt, seriously.
"Then," said the young man, "come and board with me, and it sha'n't cost you a cent. I'll have another bed put into the bedroom, and we'll make ourselves as comfortable as we can."
"Do you mean it?" asked Tom, incredulously.
"And you'll pay my board for the sake of my agreeable society?"
"Just so," answered his companion.
"Then you're a tip-top feller, and I won't refuse such a good offer."
"Good! That's settled, then," said the young man, with satisfaction. "Now I'll tell you my reasons for making you such an offer. I am an orphan, and with no near relations, except an uncle in Canada, with whose family I am little acquainted. I inherited from my father, who died just as I reached the age of twenty-one, a fortune of one hundred thousand dollars."
"Whew!" said our hero; "that's a big pile of money."
"It was too large for me. It took away my ambition and energy; and though for two years I have been in a law office, pretending to study law, I have wasted my time in drinking among unworthy companions. The fact is, I am of a sociable disposition, and I found my room lonely. Now I want to turn over a new leaf, give up drinking, and devote myself more to study."
"I want to study, too," said Tom. "I'm as ignorant as a horse. I'll have to study some evenings."
"I'll teach you," said Mordaunt. "We'll spend our evenings that way, instead of in bar-rooms."
"All right," said our hero. "That suits me. But I ought not to let you pay my board."
"I can well afford it. My money is securely invested, and brings me in six thousand dollars a year clear."
"I shall have to work from now till I'm a gray-haired old patriarch before I earn six thousand dollars," said Tom, comically.
"I hope it isn't so bad as that," he said. "Well, do you agree?"
"To come here as your guardian?"
"Yes, if you put it in that way."
"You are very kind to me," said our hero, changing his tone and speaking earnestly. "I am a poor boy, and don't know much. I'm afraid you'll be ashamed of introducing me to your friends."
"Friends! I have no friends that care for me. They care for my money, and are jolly enough; but, if I needed help, they wouldn't give it. I don't know why it is, but I like you. You saved my life this morning, and I would rather have you live with me than any one I know. So, when your clothes are dry, go round to the hotel, and bring your trunk here."
"I haven't got any trunk," said Tom. "I wouldn't have any use for one. I've got a carpet-bag."
"Very well. Bring that. Now you must do me a favor."
"All right. Only if it's to lend you a hundred dollar bill, I'm afraid I couldn't do it."
"I hope some time you will be rich enough to grant such favor; but that isn't the favor I meant."
"What is it?"
"You must let me buy you some more clothes."
Tom was about to object, but Mordaunt continued:
"Remember, I've got more money than I know what to do with. I owe you something for the wetting I exposed you to."
"I won't resist very hard," said Tom. "I s'pose you want your guardian to look respectable."
Later in the day, when their clothes were dry, Mordaunt took Tom to a fashionable clothing store, and bought him two suits of clothes, of handsome cloth and stylish cut, and, in addition, purchased him a sufficient stock of under-clothing. He also ordered a trunk to be sent up to the room. Then, it being time, they went home to supper. Mordaunt had already spoken to Mrs. White about receiving our hero as a boarder. Of course she was very ready to do so.
Tom felt, at first, a little embarrassed, but this feeling soon wore away. He was not a guest, but a boarder, and was addressed by the landlady and the boarders as Mr. Grey. He came near laughing the first time he was called by this name, but soon got used to it.
It was a first-class boarding-house. There were some dozen boarders, all of ample means. As Tom looked around him, and remembered that only a short time previous he had been a New York street-boy and bootblack, he could hardly believe that the change was permanent.
"What would they think if they knowed what I was?" he thought.
Next to him at table sat an elderly young lady, who was not in the habit of receiving attentions from gentlemen of marriageable age, and was therefore inclined to notice those more youthful.
"Do you like the opera, Mr. Grey?" she asked.
"Do you?" asked Tom, who had never heard an opera in his life.
New York bootblacks seldom attend such classic entertainments. They prefer the old Bowery entertainments.
"I dote upon it," said Miss Green, enthusiastically.
"So do I," said Tom, much to Mordaunt's amusement.
"What is your favorite opera?" asked Miss Green.
"I haven't got any favorite," said Tom, who thought this the best answer, as he did not know the name of any.
"I think Trovatore splendid."
"That's a gentleman's word," said Miss Green, laughing. "I am glad you agree with me. Do you sing yourself?"
"A little," said Tom. "Shall I come and sing under your window to-night?"
There was a general laugh at this offer.
"Oh, do!" said Miss Green. "Do you often serenade ladies?"
"I used to, but I had to give it up."
"Why, Mr. Grey?"
"Because it was taken for a cat-concert, and people used to throw bottles at me. I couldn't stand that."
"I'll promise not to throw any bottles at you, Mr. Grey."
"I'll let you know when I'm comin'," said Tom. "My voice ain't in order just at present. When it is, I'll do my best to keep you awake."
"Really, Gilbert," said Mordaunt, when they had left the table, and returned to their room, "you got up quite a flirtation with Miss Green. It will be a good match for you. She's got money, and isn't more than twice as old as you are."
"But when I got to be fifty she'd be a hundred," said Tom. "I guess I'll leave her for you."
"She has tried her fascinations on me already," said Mordaunt; "but she soon concluded there wasn't any chance, and gave it up. She'll be wanting you to take her to the opera, as you dote upon it so much."
"The only opera house I ever went to was in the Bowery."
"That's what I thought. Now, how shall we spend the evening?"
"Suppose we take a walk, and then come and study."
"A good plan. What would you like to study?"
"I can't read or write very well. I don't know much."
"We will stop at a bookstore on our way and buy such books as you want. Then I'll give you lessons."
While walking, a flashily-dressed young man recognizing Mordaunt, stepped up and slapped him on the shoulder.
"Come and play a game of billiards, Mordaunt," he said.
"I can't, Dacres. I've got an engagement with my friend here."
"Sorry for it. Won't he come, too?"
"No; he's young. I don't care to take him among such wild fellows as you."
"The last time I played billiards with Dacres he won a hundred dollars of me," said Mordaunt, as they passed on. "It might have been so to-night; but, now I have your company, I am safe."
On reaching home Tom spent an hour and a half in study, Mordaunt assisting him. The young man became interested in his task, and went to bed much better satisfied with himself.
MAURICE IS ASTONISHED.
Maurice Walton felt very much annoyed at the prospect of having Tom for a fellow-clerk. He felt jealous of him on account of the evident partiality of Bessie Benton for his society. He suspected, from Tom's style of talking, that he was "low and uneducated," and he would have given considerable to know that his hated rival had been a New York bootblack. But this knowledge he could not obtain from Tom. The latter delighted in mystifying him, and exciting suspicions which he afterward learned to be groundless.
Bright and early Tom made his appearance in front of Mr. Ferguson's establishment. As he came up one way, he met Maurice, looking sleepy and cross, coming from a different direction.
"Good-morning, Maurice," said our hero, good-naturedly. "Have you just got out of bed?"
"No," answered Maurice, crossly. "My name is Walton."
"How are you, Walton?"
"Mr. Walton, if you please," said Maurice, with dignity.
"Don't we feel big this morning, Mr. Walton?" said Tom, mischievously.
"Do you mean to insult me?"
"Wouldn't think of such a thing, Mr. Walton. My name is Mr. Grey."
Maurice didn't think proper to answer this remark—perhaps because he had nothing in particular to say. He opened the warehouse, and Tom entered.
"I don't know what made Mr. Ferguson take you," he said, amiably.
"Nor I," said Tom; "particularly as he had your valuable services."
"Very likely he took you out of charity," said Maurice.
"Did he take you out of charity?" asked Tom, innocently—"Mr. Walton?"
"How dare you speak of me in that way?" demanded Maurice, haughtily.
"It didn't take much courage," said Tom, coolly. "How dared you speak of me in that way?"
"Why is it?"
"You haven't got much money—you're almost a beggar."
"Where did you find out all that?"
"Anybody can tell by just looking at you."
"That's the way, then? Have you got much money?"
"My uncle has."
"So has my uncle."
"I don't believe it."
"That don't alter the fact."
"How much is he worth?"
"Over a hundred thousand dollars—I don't know how much more."
"Where does he live."
"He used to live in this city, but he's gone farther West."
Maurice was not decided whether to believe this statement or not. He wanted to disbelieve it, but was afraid it might be true. He tried a different tack.
"Where do you board? Are you at the Ohio Hotel? I hear it's a low place—third-class."
"You're about right. It isn't first-class."
"I suppose you had to go there because it was cheap?"
"It was the first hotel I came across. But I'm not there now—I've moved."
"Have you? Where are you now?"
"No. 12 Crescent Place."
Now Maurice knew that Crescent Place was in a fashionable quarter of the city. It astonished him that our hero, whose salary was but five dollars a week, should live in such a neighborhood.
"Twelve Crescent Place?" he repeated. "How much board do you pay?"
"That's a secret between me and the landlady," said Tom. "If you'll come round and see me this evening, you can judge for yourself."
Having a strong curiosity about Tom's circumstances, Maurice accepted the invitation.
"Perhaps there are two Crescent Places," he thought. "I don't believe he can afford to live in a fashionable boarding-house."
"Mr. Mordaunt," said Tom, when they were getting ready for supper, "I've invited a friend to call this evening."
"That's right. I shall be glad to see him."
"It's that boy that loves me so much, Maurice Walton. He's awfully jealous of me—tries to snub me all the time."
"Then why did you invite such a fellow to call?"
"Because he thinks I live in a poor place, and it will make him mad to find me in such a nice room."
"I see," said Mordaunt, laughing. "It isn't as a friend you invite him."
"I'm as much his friend as he is mine."
"What makes him dislike you."
"I don't know, except because Bessie Benton is polite to me, and seems to like my company."
"That explains it fully," he said. "So you are rivals for the young lady's hand?"
"Not quite. I ain't quite ready to be married yet. I'll wait awhile. But Bessie's a tip-top girl."
"You must introduce me some time."
"All right. I'll try and get an invitation for you to call with me."
About eight o'clock Maurice reached Crescent Place, and, scanning the numbers, found No. 12.
"He can't live in such a house," thought he. "It's ridiculous."
Still, he rang the bell, and, when the servant appeared, he asked, rather hesitatingly:
"Does Gilbert Grey live here?"
"Yes, sir," said the servant. "Will you go up to his room?"
"I don't know where his room is. Will you ask him to come down?"
"There is somebody to see you, Mr. Grey," said the servant, after mounting the stairs.
"He's come," said our hero, in a low voice, to Mordaunt. "I'll go down and bring him up."
Tom descended the stairs and welcomed Maurice.
"I'm glad you're come, Mr. Walton," he said. "Come up stairs to my room."
Finding that he did, after all, live in this handsome house, Maurice expected that it was on the upper floor, and was surprised when Tom led the way into a handsome parlor on the second floor.
"My roommate, Mr. Mordaunt, Mr. Walton," said Tom, introducing the visitor.
"I am glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Walton," said Mordaunt. "Take a seat," and he indicated a luxurious armchair.
Maurice sank into its depths, and looked around him with wonder. How in the world could a fellow like Tom, earning a salary of five dollars a week, afford to board so luxuriously? Why, it quite eclipsed even his uncle's rooms. Handsome pictures, books, statuary, and choice furniture, under the brilliant blaze of an argand burner, made a beautiful apartment.
"You've got a nice room," he could not help saying.
"Won't you look at the bedroom?" said Mordaunt, politely.
Maurice looked in, and found it in proportion to the parlor.
"Gilbert and I manage to make ourselves comfortable," said Mordaunt. "We enjoy it ourselves, and are glad to have a pleasant place to invite our friends to."
Maurice was astonished; but such is the influence of wealth, or apparent wealth, upon a disposition like his, that he thawed, and made up his mind that he had better change his manner toward one who was able to afford living in such a style.
"He must have money," he thought. "Perhaps it's his rich uncle. I thought he was lying, but I guess it's true, after all."
Tom saw the change in his manner, and it amused him.
"He thinks I'm somebody, after all," he said to himself. "What would he say if he knowed what I used to be?—how I went round the streets of New York calling out: 'Shine yer boots!' and was glad if I could earn a dollar a day that way? I don't believe Mordaunt would mind. I'm going to tell him some time, and see."
"Do you ever play checkers, Mr. Walton?" asked Mordaunt.
"Then suppose we try a game, or perhaps you will play with him, Gilbert?"
"I'd rather look on," said Tom. "I don't know how to play, but maybe I'll learn lookin' at you."
Two games were played, and then a waiter appeared from a neighboring restaurant with some cake and ice-cream, of which Maurice partook with evident enjoyment. His ideas with regard to our hero were quite revolutionized. He was a good fellow, after all. So when he took leave, at the close of the evening, he readily promised to come again, and did not forget to do so.
"He'll take more notice of me now," said Tom, laughing. "He'll think I'm somebody."
"It's the way of the world, Gilbert," said Mordaunt. "We must take it as it comes."
"Maybe," said Tom, looking at his companion earnestly, "you wouldn't like to have me room with you if you knew what I used to be."
"What did you used to be?" asked Mordaunt, not without curiosity.
"A New York bootblack."
"Is it possible?"
"Don't you want me to go?"
"No, Gilbert; my friendship is too strong for that. But I want to hear about your former life. Sit down and tell me all about it."
Mordaunt listened with interest and surprise to the story of his roommate.
"It seems," he said, in conclusion, "that there is a fortune somewhere to which you are entitled."
"Yes," said our hero, "but my uncle will take pretty good care that I don't get it."
"From your description he doesn't seem to be a credit to the family. What are you going to do about it? Have you any plan?"
"Mr. Ferguson advises me to stay here for the present. He says I am as likely to hear of my uncle, if I stay in Cincinnati, as if I travel round the country after him."
"I presume he is right. As your uncle was formerly in business here, he is likely to come here some time on a visit. If he does, he will be likely to call at your establishment. The best thing you can do is to attend to your business, learn as much as possible, and keep your eyes open."
"I guess you're right," said Tom. "I ain't very old yet. I'll try to learn something, so that, when I come into my fortune, I can appear like a gentleman."
THE SCARRED FACE.
We are now about to pass over a space of three years, partly because no incidents of importance marked their passage, though they wrought an important change in our hero. We leave him an uneducated boy of fifteen. We meet him again a youth qualified to appear to advantage in any society. Of course, this change was not wrought without persistent effort. Tom was, as we know, an unusually smart boy, with a quick wit, and an aptness to learn. But talent avails little unless cultivated. Our hero, however, kept up his habit of evening study, at first under Mordaunt's instruction. The latter was amazed at the progress of his pupil. He seemed to fly along the path of knowledge, and to master difficulties almost by intuition. At the end of a year he was as good an English scholar as most boys of his age. But this did not satisfy him. He induced Mordaunt to join him in securing the services of a native French teacher, and was speedily able to read the language with ease, and to speak it a little. He also found it for his interest to learn something of German, on account of the number of German customers which Mr. Ferguson had. To these solid acquirements he added a couple of quarters at a fashionable dancing-school, and the result of all was, that he not only became a good scholar, but was able to appear to advantage in the social gatherings to which Mordaunt and himself were frequently invited.
Maurice Walton was no longer able to laugh at his rusticity, but, on the other hand, was forced to admit to himself, with a twinge of jealousy, that the rough, uncultured boy of former days had wholly eclipsed him in every desirable accomplishment, as well as in the solid branches. For Maurice spent his evenings in quite a different way from our hero—at the billiard-saloon or bar-room, or in wandering about the streets without object. The result was that Mr. Ferguson, detecting the difference between the two clerks, and recognizing the superior value of Gilbert, for he has now laid aside his street-name of Tom, promoted him much more rapidly than Maurice. The latter received but ten dollars a week, after three years' service, while our hero had been advanced to twenty. This was naturally felt by Maurice as a bitter grievance, and he sometimes complained of it to Gilbert himself.
"Ferguson treats me meanly," he said, just after the last rise of Gilbert.
"How is that, Maurice?"
"He won't raise my salary. He is only going to give me ten dollars a week, the same as last year. How much is he going to give you?"
"Just twice as much!" exclaimed Maurice, angrily. "He has no business to make any difference between us."
"I wish he would give you twenty dollars, too," said Gilbert.
"Do you?" asked Maurice, suspiciously.
"Certainly. I am none the better off for your getting small pay."
"If you really feel so, suppose you ask him to give me more."
"I am afraid he would think I was interfering in his affairs."
"Just as I thought. You were not in earnest in what you said. You like to triumph over me because I came here the same time you did, and only get half as much."
Maurice spoke in a bitter tone, which might partly be excused by his mortification and disappointment.
"You are quite mistaken, Maurice," said Gilbert.
"I will believe that when you go to Mr. Ferguson and ask him to raise my salary."
Gilbert reflected a moment, and then said, suddenly:
"I'll do it."
"You will?" asked Maurice, surprised.
"Yes. He may be angry with me, but I'll risk it. Only if he refuses, you won't blame me?"
"No, I won't. You're such a favorite with him that he may do it for you. When will you go?"
Mr. Ferguson was sitting alone in his counting-room when Gilbert entered.
"May I speak with you a moment, Mr. Ferguson?" he asked.
"Yes, Gilbert. What is it?"
"I hope you will excuse me for interfering in what is none of my business, but I promised Maurice I would speak to you."
"Oh, it's on Maurice's business, is it?" said the merchant.
"Yes, sir. He is very much disturbed because you have raised my salary, and have not raised his. I get twenty dollars a week, and he only ten."
"He thinks it unjust, does he?"
"Will you ask him to step into the office, and come back here yourself?"
The two clerks were speedily in the presence of their employer.
"So you think you ought to have a higher salary, Walton?" began Mr. Ferguson.
"I don't think Grey earns twice as much as I do, sir."
"Perhaps you think he does not earn any more."
"I don't see why he does."
"Then I will tell you. You have both been with me about the same length of time, you a little longer, I think, but length of service does not always enhance the value of service. Grey has devoted his evenings to study. He has acquired such a knowledge of German in particular that he can wait upon German customers. He has mastered all the details of the business, which you have not done. You are often late, often inattentive, and are no better clerk now than you were a year ago. That is the reason I am willing to give Gilbert higher pay than you. If you wish to fare as well as he has done, pursue the same course."
"I don't feel like studying in the evening; I am too tired," said Maurice, sullenly.
"Do as you please about that; but there is still another way in which, without any more time, you can make yourself more valuable, and merit increase of pay."
"How is that, sir?"
"Always be on the alert while you are here in the store. Then, in place of an indifferent salesman, you may become a good one—such as I should be very sorry to lose. At present, I confess I should not feel it to be a great loss if you withdrew to another establishment."
Maurice listened sullenly. It chafed his pride to be thus addressed by his employer, in presence of Gilbert.
As they went back to their duty, our hero said:
"I did the best I could for you, Maurice. You can't blame me."
"No, but I blame him. He has no business to be so partial to you. All the difference between us is, that you can jabber Dutch a little. That isn't worth ten dollars a week extra. He's down on me for something or other; I don't know why."
"I don't make any comparison between us, Maurice," said Gilbert. "I am perfectly willing you should get as high pay as I do."
"You are very kind," said Maurice, sarcastically.
"Now, don't get mad with a fellow," said Gilbert, good humoredly. "I can't help it."
But Maurice was sullen all day, and for some days subsequently. He insisted on regarding Gilbert as a successful rival, and would have injured him if he could.
It was about this time that our hero had his thoughts suddenly recalled to the uncle who had defrauded him of his birthright. Walking in Vine street one morning, he suddenly came face to face with the man whose boots he had brushed, more than three years before, on the steps of the Astor House. He knew him at once by the peculiar scar upon his right cheek, of which he had taken particular notice when they first met.
UNCLE AND NEPHEW.
Our hero stopped short, and, being directly in the path of his uncle, the latter was compelled to stop, too.
"Mr. Grey," said Gilbert.
"That's my name," said the other, who had not yet taken particular notice of the youth who addressed him. But, as he spoke, he looked at him, and instantly recognized him. Gilbert could see that he did by his sudden start, and expression of surprise and annoyance. He couldn't understand how the New York bootblack had been metamorphosed into the well-dressed and gentlemanly-looking young clerk. He regretted so soon acknowledging his name, and marveled how Gilbert could have learned it.
"What business have you with me, young man?" he continued, formally.
"I have wanted to meet you for a long time," said Gilbert.
"Indeed!" said his uncle, with a sneer. "I am rather surprised to hear this, not having, to my knowledge, ever had the honor of seeing you before."
"I am your nephew," said Gilbert, bluntly.
"Then he knows," said Mr. Grey to himself, rather disturbed.
"I confess," he said, in the same sarcastic tone, "I am slightly disturbed at being claimed as a near relative by a stranger whom I happen to encounter in the street. May I ask how you happen to be my nephew?"
"I am the son of your older brother, John," said Gilbert.
"That can hardly be, young man. My brother had but one son, and he died."
"Disappeared, you mean," said Gilbert, significantly.
"There is no doubt that he died," said Mr. Grey, positively.
"Then he has come to life again, for I am he."
"You are an impudent impostor," said Mr. Grey, hotly; "but you have missed your mark. I am not so easily humbugged. I denounce you and your pretensions as alike false. Let me pass."
As he said this he attempted to pass Gilbert, but our hero had no intention of losing sight of his uncle.
"Of course you can pass," he said; "but I shall follow you."
"You will?" demanded his uncle, shaking his cane angrily. "Then I will put you in the hands of the police."
"I don't think you will," said Gilbert, with perfect composure.
"Why not? What is to hinder me, I should like to know?"
"It wouldn't be good policy for you to do it."
"Why not, you impudent young rascal?"
"Because I should let the relationship be known."
"And why is it that you deny it?"
"Well," said Mr. Grey, his attention caught, "why do I deny it?"
"Because you are in possession of my father's property, which, of right, belongs to me!" said Gilbert, firmly, looking his uncle in the eyes. "It is your interest to deny the relationship."
James Grey saw that his long injustice had come home to him at last. How could this stripling have learned what he had taken such pains to conceal? What was he to do? Was he to admit the boy's claims, and surrender the estate? He could not make up his mind to do it. He must stave off the attack, if he could.
"This is a ridiculous story," he said. "Somebody has been making a fool of you."
"Didn't you have an older brother, named John?"
"Yes," Mr. Grey admitted, unwillingly.
"Did he not have a son?"
"Yes; but, as I told you, he died."
"He only disappeared. He was carried away, for what object, you can tell."
"You are dealing in mysteries. I don't know what you are talking about." Mr. Grey said this, but his troubled look showed that he did not feel as unconcerned as he pretended.
"The man who carried me off was a clerk in your employ. His name was Jacob Morton."
"So he took you to Australia, did he? That's a likely story."
"Yes. He was supplied with money by you for the purpose. But he did not like Australia. After awhile he returned to New York, and there I was brought up in the streets, suffering every privation, while you were enjoying the property my father left."
"Well, have you got anything more to say? The tale does great credit to your invention."
"Three years ago—a little more, perhaps—I saw you in New York. I brushed your boots on the steps of the Astor House."
"Better and better. I am expected to recognize a New York bootblack as my nephew!"
"It was your fault that I was reduced to be a bootblack."
"How happens it that you are not in the same line of business now? Perhaps you are."
"Jacob died and left me a few dollars, with which I came out West. Before he died he gave me a written paper, in which he revealed all the plot into which he entered with you."
"He gave you a paper, did he?"
"Yes. From it I learned that I was born in Cincinnati, and I expected to find you here. But I looked in vain. After awhile I found my father's place of business. I introduced myself to Mr. Ferguson, and he gave me a place in his employ."
"On the strength of your ridiculous story, I suppose?"
"Because he believed me to be the son of his old employer, John Grey."
"I thought Ferguson had more sense than to be duped by such a designing young rascal."
"He tells me that I bear a strong resemblance to my father. Look in my face, Uncle James, and tell me whether it is not true."
Almost involuntarily James Grey fixed his eyes on the frank, handsome face of his nephew, as he stood intrepidly before him, and he was forced, however reluctantly, to admit to himself that the resemblance was indeed very striking.
The case was getting more serious than he had expected. Gilbert had already been recognized as the missing son of John Grey, and that by a man whose testimony would carry great weight. Old Jacob had testified not only to his identity, but to the wrongful compact by which Gilbert had been spirited away to suit his uncle's rapacity. Were this publicly known, his reputation would be destroyed, and he would be deprived of the wealth which he had labored so dishonestly to acquire. Evidently the claim was not to be disposed of so easily as he had at first supposed.
"What do you call yourself?" he asked.
"Of course you would take the name of the boy you pretend to be."
"Then you don't believe I am Gilbert Grey?"
"No, I do not. I believe that Gilbert Grey is dead."
"Are you willing to come with me to Mr. Ferguson's, and speak to him about it?"
"No, I am not. I have not time. I must leave Cincinnati at once."
"Then will you tell me where you live?"
"Because I see that you intend to follow me up and persecute me about this preposterous claim. I don't choose to be troubled."
"If I am an impostor, you can prove me to be so."
"I don't choose to waste my time in doing it."
"Mr. Grey," said Gilbert, "I might as well tell you that I am determined in this matter. I know that you have an object in keeping me out of my rights; but I am bound to have them. I shall place the matter in the hands of a lawyer, and he can soon find out, by advertising, where you live, even if you try to keep it secret from me."
James Grey realized the truth of this, and he changed his tack.
"You say that you have a paper, signed by Jacob Morton, attesting your identity."
"Not only signed, but written by him."
"I should like to see that paper. Have you got it with you?"
"No, but I can lay my hands upon it immediately."
"Then bring it to me at the Burnet House this afternoon, at three o'clock. I will be in the reading-room of the hotel."
"I will bring it."
The two then separated.
Gilbert went immediately, returned to his place of business, resolved to inform Mr. Ferguson, whom he looked upon as a good friend, that his uncle was found.
DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.
"Your uncle in the city?" said Mr. Ferguson, in surprise.
"Yes, sir. I met him, only a short time since, on Vine street."
"How did you know him?"
"By the scar on his cheek. But I think I would have known him at any rate. I have a good memory for faces."
"How did he receive you?" asked Mr. Ferguson, with curiosity.
"He didn't seem very glad to see me," answered Gilbert, smiling. "He insisted that his nephew is dead, and called me an impostor."
"He must have seen the resemblance between you and his brother. You will make just such a looking man as your father."
"I hope I sha'n't look like my uncle."
"Your father and your uncle did not resemble each other. There might have been a slight family likeness, but it was very slight."
"So much the better."
"You don't think you shall like your uncle?"
"I am sure I shall not. First, he cheated me out of my property, and now, because I claim it, he calls me an impostor."
"So that was the way the interview terminated, was it?"
"Not exactly. When I told him I had old Jacob's confession, and threatened to put it into the hands of a lawyer, he said he would like to see it, and asked me to call with it at the Burnet House this afternoon."
"Humph!" said Mr. Ferguson, thoughtfully. "Did you promise to do it?"
"Then I will give you a piece of advice."
"What is it, sir?"
"Don't carry the original paper with you."
"Why not, sir?"
"It is best to be on the safe side. Your uncle is an unscrupulous man. This paper is of the utmost importance to you, since it proves your identity, and lays bare the conspiracy against you. Just in proportion as it is valuable to you, it is also valuable to your uncle."
"I understand," said Gilbert, nodding. "You think he has laid a trap for me, in order to get hold of the paper."
"It looks very much like it. At any rate, it is best to be on your guard."
"I don't think he would find it easy to get it away from me," said Gilbert, with the confidence of youth.
"You are too confident, Gilbert. You are but a boy, and he is a strong man. Besides, he will want to take it in his hands."
"Would you not advise me to carry it then, sir?"
"Not the original. Can you not make a copy of the paper?"
"But I am to call at three."
"You will have time enough. It is not long."
"Then I shall be obliged to neglect my duties here."
"Oh! as to that, in a matter of such importance, I will readily excuse you. You can go home at once, and get to work."
"Thank you, sir."
Gilbert lost no time in availing himself of the permission accorded to him. Reaching his boarding-house—the same one to which the reader has already been introduced—he took the important paper from its secure resting-place in his trunk, and, seating himself at the table, began to copy it rapidly. When he first entered Mr. Ferguson's establishment, he could scarcely write at all; but he knew how important a good handwriting was, to one who aspired to be a business man, and he therefore soon commenced taking lessons. Now he was master of a handsome hand. Jacob, too, was a good writer, with a handwriting quite similar to his, so that, without any great effort, he succeeded in producing a document very nearly resembling the original.
"Now, Uncle James, I am ready to meet you," he said to himself, with satisfaction, as he compared the two papers, and then carefully laid away the first in its old place of concealment. "You are welcome to destroy this, if you think it will do you any good."
It was still early, for the paper was not long, and Gilbert decided to go back to the store, and resume his duties until it should be time to start for the Burnet House.
"Where have you been, Gilbert?" asked Maurice Walton, crossly.
"I have been home—to my boarding-house."
"I shouldn't think Mr. Ferguson would like your leaving his business to run home in the middle of the fore-noon."
"He advised me to go."
"I suppose you pretended to have a headache, or something of that kind," said Maurice, with a sneer.
"No, I didn't. I was never better in my life."
"What did you go for, then?"
"It seems to me you are very curious, Maurice," said Gilbert, good-naturedly. "If you must know, I went home on a little private business of my own."
"Very important, I suppose."
"Yes, it was important."
"Mr. Ferguson is very partial to you, that's all I can say. He wouldn't let me be away for a couple of hours, in the morning, even if I did have important business."
"I have no doubt he would. I hope you won't be disturbed if I tell you that I am going out again this afternoon."
"And you get twice as much pay as I," said Maurice, with dissatisfaction. "I say it's a shame."
"You must remember, Maurice, that I don't fix the salaries. If I could fix it so, your salary should be raised at once, so as to equal mine."
"It's easy to say that," said Maurice Walton, discontentedly.
Gilbert, in spite of the discontent of his fellow-clerk, took his hat at half-past two, and left the store. He reached the Burnet House about ten minutes of three, and went at once to the reading-room, where he was to meet his uncle.
Mr. Grey was already in waiting. He was seated in an arm-chair, looking over a file of the New York Herald.
"I have come, Mr. Grey," said Gilbert, "as you proposed."
"Humph! Have you the paper?"
Here Mr. Grey showed signs of satisfaction, as Gilbert was quick-sighted enough to perceive.
"We will go up stairs to my room," said his uncle, rising, and laying down the paper. "We shall be more private there."
"Perhaps he thinks he can get hold of the paper better," thought our hero, though, of course, he kept his thought to himself.
"Follow me," said Mr. Grey. "Give me the key to No. 157," he said, to the hotel clerk.
Gilbert followed him up several flights of stairs till he reached his room.
"Enter," he said, unlocking the door.
Gilbert did so, feeling, at the same time, a queer sensation, as he thought of the attempt that might be made at violence. However, he was not wanting in courage, and did not deign to give audience to fear.
"Sit down," said Mr. Grey, abruptly.
Gilbert seated himself near the door. His uncle drew up a chair for himself, but, as our hero noted, placed it between him and the door.
"He wants to cut me off from escape," he thought. "Never mind; he'll let me go when he finds he can't make anything by keeping me."
"Well," said his uncle, when they were seated, "let me know all about this precious plot you have been hatching."
"I am engaged in no plot, Mr. Grey," said Gilbert, steadily.
"Of course not. Conspirators are the last to admit the real character of their designs. But that don't alter the fact. You have laid a plot for getting possession of my property, and, to this end, have forged a paper, which you think will help you."
"You are quite mistaken, Mr. Grey. I have Jacob Morton's written confession of his agency in carrying me away from Cincinnati. I knew nothing of it till he spoke to me on this subject, and placed the paper in my hands."
"Have you the paper with you?"
Gilbert didn't answer this question, since he could not have said truly that he had Jacob's confession with him. It was merely his own copy. But he drew the paper from his breast-pocket, and handed it to his uncle.
Mr. Grey took the paper, and ran his eye rapidly over it. His countenance changed, for he saw that it would have great weight in a court of justice, completely substantiating Gilbert's claims to the estate which he wrongfully held.
"Well," he said, looking up, after he had finished reading the paper, "I have read this document, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing it a vile forgery. It shall meet the fate it merits."
So saying, he hastily tore it across the middle, and proceeded to tear it into still smaller pieces.
"Now, young man," he said, sarcastically, "as I have no further business with you, I will bid you a very good-day," and he bowed, mockingly.
"I think you are mistaken about our business being settled," said Gilbert, quietly.
"Your forged document will help you little," said Mr. Grey, triumphantly. "I have torn it into a hundred pieces."
"It is of no consequence," said our hero, calmly. "It is only a copy of the original paper."
BAFFLED, BUT NOT DISCOURAGED.
The triumphant look on the face of James Grey faded, and was replaced by one of baffled rage and disappointment.
"It's a lie!" he exclaimed, speaking rather what he wished than what he believed.
"You are mistaken," said Gilbert, in the same calm tone. "The paper you have just torn up was in my own handwriting."
"I have no doubt of that. I thought, all the time, that it was an imposture which you had got up."
"I made a copy of it from the original this morning," said our hero.
"Why did you not bring the original, if there is one?"
"Because I was afraid you might be tempted to destroy it. It seems I was right," added Gilbert, with a glance at the torn pieces of paper which littered the carpet at his feet.
James Grey was terribly provoked. He had "shown his hand," so to speak, and gained nothing by it. If his nephew's story was true, the dreaded paper was still in existence, and likely to be guarded more carefully than ever. Gilbert's calmness was a strong indication of the correctness of his story. Were the real paper destroyed, he could not help showing agitation.
"Do you mean to say that you have another paper than this?" he demanded.
"I do," said our hero.
"You must show me that, or I shall not believe you have it."
"I am not quite a fool, Uncle James," said Gilbert. "I know as well as you how valuable that paper is, and I am not going to risk it."
"You seem to be a remarkably prudent young man," said Mr. Grey, with a sneer—"quite an old head upon young shoulders."
"I ought to be," said Gilbert. "I was educated to the streets of New York. There I had to knock about for myself and earn my own living, at an age when most boys are carefully looked after by their parents. I learned to look out for my own interests there. I am indebted to you for that kind of training. You must not complain now if I use it against you."
Mr. Grey sat a moment in deep and troubled thought. This nephew of his turned out to be a decidedly formidable opponent. How could he cope with him?
"Have you told any one in this city about these false claims of yours?" he asked, after awhile.
"I have not spoken to any one about false claims," said Gilbert, coldly.
"Call them what you will. Have you spoken of having any claims to my brother's property to any one here?"
"To Mr. Ferguson."
James Grey frowned. Mr. Ferguson was one of the last men to whom he would have wished the communication known.
"He must have laughed at your ridiculous story."
"On the contrary, he fully believes it."
"I did not think him so gullible. Have you spoken to him about my being in the city?"
"Did he know you were to call upon me this afternoon?"
"I told him before I came."
Things were evidently getting more serious than Mr. Grey had supposed. Not only was Gilbert a young man who meant business, but he was backed by a merchant of standing, whose former connection with the Grey family made his co-operation and favor of no slight importance. James Grey saw that he must temporize. Had he followed out his inclination, he would have sprung upon his obdurate nephew and pounded him to a jelly. But unfortunately he was in a civilized city, where laws are supposed to afford some protection from personal assault, and this course, therefore, was not to be thought of. Since violence, then, was not practicable, he must have recourse to stratagem, and, to put Gilbert temporarily off his guard, he must play a part.
"Well, young man," he said, at length, "I am not prepared at present to pronounce a definite opinion upon your claim. Of course, if really convinced that you were my nephew, I would acknowledge you to be such."
"I have some doubts as to that," thought Gilbert.
"But it does not seem to me very probable that such is the case. Of course, I objected to being duped by an impostor. You cannot blame me for that."
"At first, your claim appeared to me preposterous, and I pronounced it to be so. Upon reflection, though I strongly doubt its genuineness, I am willing to take time to consider it."
"That is fair," said Gilbert.
"I shall consult with a lawyer on the subject, and institute some inquiries of my own. Then, besides, my time will be partly occupied with other business, on which I have come hither. You may come again, say in a week, and I shall perhaps be able to give you a definite answer."
"Very well," said Gilbert. "Good-morning."
"Good-morning," responded his uncle, following him to the door. "I'd like to kick you down stairs, you young villain," he added, sotto voce.
James Grey shut the door of his chamber, and sat down to think. It was certainly an emergency that called for serious thought. Gilbert's claim would strip him of four-fifths of his fortune, and reduce him from a rich man to a comparatively poor one.
"I am not safe as long as that paper exists," he concluded. "It must be stolen from the boy, in some way." But how? He felt that he wanted an unscrupulous tool through whose agency he might get possession of old Jacob's confession. That destroyed, he could snap his fingers at Gilbert, and live undisturbed in the possession of the fortune he wrongfully withheld from him.
Sometimes the devil sends to evil men precisely what they most want, and so it turned out in this particular instance.
That evening Mr. Grey was walking thoughtfully in the street, reflecting upon his difficult situation, when his sharp ears caught the sound of his nephew's name, pronounced by two boys, or young men, in front of him. Not to keep the reader in suspense, they were Maurice Walton and a friend of his, named Isaac Baker.
"I tell you, Baker," said Maurice, warmly, "it's the greatest piece of injustice my being paid only half the salary of that sneak, Gilbert Grey."
"I suppose he's a favorite with Ferguson, isn't he?"
"That's just it. I'm as good a clerk as he is, any day, yet he gets twenty dollars a week, while I only get ten. It's enough to make a fellow swear."
"Did you ever speak to Ferguson about it?"
"Yes, but that was all the good it did. He seems to think there's nobody like Grey."
"How did Grey get in with him?"
"I believe he's a nephew of the man Ferguson used to work for. Besides he's got a way of getting round people. He's a humbug and a hypocrite."
Maurice spoke with bitterness, and evidently felt strongly on the subject. He had another grievance, which he did not choose to speak of, of which our readers have already had a glimpse. His cousin, Bessie Benton, persisted in the bad taste of preferring Gilbert to him. Of course they were too young for anything serious; but, in the social gatherings to which all three were invited, Bessie was, of course, the recipient of attentions from both, and she had, on more than one occasion, shown unmistakably her preference for Gilbert Grey. Only two evenings previous, she had danced with Gilbert, but, when Maurice applied, had told him her card was full. It was not an intentional slight, and, had he come up earlier, he would have been successful in securing her. But he chose to regard it as a slight, and this naturally embittered him still more, partly against his cousin, but most of all against Gilbert, who, both in business and with the fair sex, seemed to have eclipsed him.
"I suppose, under the circumstances, you don't like Grey much?" said his companion.
"Like him!" returned Maurice, with bitter emphasis. "I should think not. He's a mean grasping fellow, and I hate him. He's got the inside track now, but my turn may come some time."
James Grey listened to this conversation with increasing interest. It seemed to open a way for him to success.
"Come," thought he, "here is just the fellow I want. He hates my dangerous nephew, and can easily be molded to my purposes. I will follow him, and, as soon as I can speak to him alone, I will see if I cannot win him to my side."
James Grey continued to follow Maurice Walton and his companion until his patience was nearly exhausted. At length, just as the city clocks were striking ten, Baker said:
"Well, Walton, I must bid you good-night."
"Won't you walk home with me? It isn't far out of your way."
"Can't do it to-night. The fact is, I want to see the governor before he retires. I'm hard up, and shall try to get a ten-dollar bill out of him."
"I wish you success. As to being 'hard up,' I can sympathize with you. Couldn't you ask him for an extra ten for me?"
"I would if there was any chance of getting it, but I'm afraid my own chance is slim enough."
"If I only got Grey's salary, I wouldn't ask favors of anybody; but how is a fellow to get along on ten dollars a week?"
"Just so. Well, good-night."
Baker walked off, and Maurice Walton walked on by himself. He had taken but a few steps when Mr. Grey, quickening his pace, laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"Mr. Walton," said he.
Maurice turned quickly.
"You must excuse the liberty I have taken in addressing you, being a stranger; but I heard you, when in conversation with the young man who has just left you, mention the name of Gilbert Grey."
"Yes, sir, I mentioned his name," said Maurice. "Do you know him?"
"I have spoken with him, but I know very little about him. I judge that you do."
"We are in the same store," said Maurice; "but we are not intimate friends."
"I infer that you do not like him?"
"No, I don't."
"Nor do I."
Probably Mr. Grey could not have said anything more likely to win young Walton's confidence than this frank expression of dislike.
"The fact is," continued Mr. Grey, "I suppose I may speak to you in confidence?"
"Oh! certainly, sir," said Maurice, eagerly, for he anticipated hearing something to Gilbert's disadvantage.
"Then," said Mr. Grey, in a low tone, "I look upon him as an impostor."
"You do?" repeated young Walton. "What makes you think so?"
"I don't like to speak openly in the street. Can you give me an hour, or even half an hour of your time, or is it necessary for you to go home at once?"
"Where are you stopping, sir?"
"At the Burnet House."
"I think I can spare half an hour. It is near by."
"Thank you. I will endeavor to make the interview a profitable one for you. I am going to ask a service of you, and I am willing to pay handsomely for it."
Upon a young man "hard up," as Maurice was, this suggestion was not thrown away.
"I shall be glad to help you, sir," he said, quickly.
"Come with me, then. I will defer saying more till we are seated in my room at the hotel."
In less than five minutes they were so seated. By the gaslight Maurice got a fair view of his companion, and was led to wonder who he was.
"Mr. Walton," said the older man, "it is only fair that I should give you an equal advantage with myself. I know your name. You do not know mine. Let me introduce myself as James Grey."
"Formerly in business in this city?"
"The uncle of Gilbert Grey?"
"So he says."
It was impossible to mistake the tone in which these words were spoken.
"Is he not really your nephew?" asked Maurice, in surprise.
James Grey shrugged his shoulders.
"He pretends to be; but I believe him to be an impostor."
"What makes you think so? Why should he pretend to be related to you?" asked Maurice, excited and eager.
"Because I am rich, and he has entered into a plot to extort money from me. I can make clear his design very briefly. He pretends that he is the son of my elder brother. If this be true, then the property which I possess, or a large part of it, properly belongs to him."
"But, if it isn't true, how can he make such a claim?"
"My brother's only son disappeared when a mere boy, and, though his body was not found, there is reason to believe that he fell into the Ohio river and was drowned. At about the same time, a clerk in my employ purloined a sum of money and fled. This boy has heard of these two incidents, and, cunningly putting them together, comes forward with a trumped-up story to the effect that this clerk, Jacob Morton, was hired to carry off my nephew, in order that, the true heir being out of the way, I might succeed to my brother's money. It is ridiculous, and yet it is cunningly devised."
"I always thought he was artful," said Maurice.
"You are quite right there. He has an astonishing amount of artfulness and unblushing impudence. But I have not told you all. He produces a paper professing to be written by this Jacob Morton, who, he says, is dead, asserting all that he claims."
"Do you think he wrote it himself?"
"Either that, or he has met this clerk somewhere, and they have devised a plan for jointly enriching themselves at my expense. If this is the case, and the paper was really written by Jacob Morton, the man is probably still alive, but keeping himself somewhere in concealment."
"What a bold attempt at fraud!" exclaimed Maurice, who was completely duped by his companion's plausible statements.
"Is it not? Now I want to ask you, who know him well, what your opinion of him is. Do you look upon him as honest and straightforward?"
"No, I don't. He's just artful enough to be up to some such game. He's deceived Mr. Ferguson, and made him think there is no one like him, so that there is no chance for me. He gets twice the salary that I do, although I have been in the business as long as he."
"And yet you look as if you had a good business turn," said Mr. Grey, with skillful flattery.
"I know as much of business as he does. I am sure of that."
"Mr. Ferguson must be a weak man to be so easily duped. If it were my case, he wouldn't find it so easy to impose upon me."
"I don't know how he does it, but he has cut me out entirely. Mr. Ferguson won't hear a word against his favorite."
"You are unfortunate, but we are in the same position there. He has conspired to keep you down, and he is now plotting to extort money from me by his preposterous claims."
"Do you think he stands any chance?"
"No. But if he produces this paper of his, he might bring a suit against me which would be annoying. You know there are some people who are always ready to believe the worst, and I dare say he would convince some that his claims were just, and that I had acted fraudulently. Now that would be unpleasant to me, though I should be certain to win at law."
"Of course. What are you going to do about it, Mr. Grey?"
"To ask your assistance, for which I shall be ready to pay."
"But what can I do?" asked Maurice, in some astonishment.
"I will tell you," said James Grey, hitching his chair nearer that of his young visitor; "but, of course, you will keep my confidence?"
"The whole strength of his case lies in this forged paper. Let me get possession of that, and he can do nothing."
"Now you know where he boards, probably?"
"Can't you contrive to get access to his room, search for the paper—very likely it is in his trunk—and, when obtained, bring it to me? I am ready to give a hundred dollars for it."
"I don't know," said Maurice, slowly. "I am afraid it would be difficult."
"But by no means impossible. I will give you ten dollars now, and that you may keep, whether you succeed or not. If you succeed, you shall have a hundred dollars besides. Do you agree?"
As he spoke he held a ten-dollar bill out temptingly. It was a temptation that Maurice Walton, with but fifty cents in his pocket, could not resist. He wanted money sorely. Besides, he had a chance to win a hundred dollars additional, and this would enable him to gratify several wishes which had hitherto seemed unattainable.
"I will do my best," he said, holding out his hand for the money.
There was a quiet flash of triumph in the cold, gray eye of his older companion, as he placed the bill in Maurice's hands.
"I need not caution you to be secret," he said.
"I shall not say a word to any one," answered young Walton.
James Grey rubbed his hands gleefully, as Walton left the room.
"The scheme promises well," he soliloquized. "My worthy nephew, I may checkmate you yet."
THE THEFT OF THE PAPER.
Had Maurice Walton been a youth of strict honor, he could not have been induced to undertake the theft of the paper, however large the sum offered him. But his principles were not strict enough to interfere, and the hope of injuring Gilbert, whom he envied, and therefore hated, made him the more willing to engage in the enterprise.
"A hundred dollars will be very acceptable," he said to himself, complacently. "They couldn't be more easily earned. Now, how shall I set about it?"
Maurice came to the conclusion that Gilbert kept the paper in his trunk. This seemed to be the most natural depository to be selected. Of course, then, he must contrive some means of opening the trunk. He thought of pretending that he had lost the key of his own trunk, and asking Gilbert for the loan of his. But that would draw suspicion upon him when the paper was missed. Another plan, which he finally adopted, was to go to a locksmith, and ask for a variety of trunk keys, on the same pretext, in order to try, with the liberty of returning those that didn't suit. This, and other points necessary to success in his scheme, were determined upon by Maurice, and will be made known to the reader as he proceeds.
A little before ten the next morning, Maurice left his place in the store, and, going to Mr. Ferguson, asked permission to go home.
"For what reason?" asked his employer.
"I have a terrible headache," said Maurice, looking as miserable as possible.
"Certainly you may go," said Mr. Ferguson, who was a kind-hearted man, and who didn't doubt the statement.
"If I feel better I will come back in the afternoon," said Maurice.
"Don't come unless you feel able. I know what the headache is, and I don't want you to come, unless you feel quite able to attend to business."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now for business," said Maurice, as he found himself in the street. "I'll rest my poor head by a ride on the horse-cars."
First, however, he entered a small shop near by, over which was a sign, M. FRINK, Locksmith.
The locksmith, wearing a dirty apron, looked up from his work.
"I have lost the key to my trunk," said Maurice.
"I can make you another," said the locksmith.
"I want to open it now. Haven't you got some already made?"
"Plenty. But how will you know the size?"
"Give me half a dozen to try, and I will bring back those that don't suit."
"All right. Is your lock a large one?"
"Not very. About medium," said Maurice, hazarding a guess.
The locksmith picked out eight keys, of various sizes, and handed them to Maurice.
"I will bring them back safe," said he.
"All right. I don't think you'll run off with them."
"Now for it," said Maurice. "I think one of these keys must fit."
He took the cars to a point only two squares distant from Gilbert's boarding-house, and walked toward it. But, in order to change his appearance, he applied to his upper lip a false black mustache, which he had bought for the purpose, and, a little discomposed by his dishonest intentions, walked up the steps and rang the bell. It was opened directly by a servant.
"I am a friend of Mr. Grey's," said Maurice, putting on a bold face. "He told me I might get his opera-glass."
This he said in an easy, confident manner, which imposed upon the girl.
"Do you know his room?" she asked.
"Yes, I know it," said Maurice. "Never mind about going up."
The servant went back to her work, and Maurice, his heart beating fast, went up stairs on his dishonest errand. He had no difficulty in getting into the room, for the door was not locked. The trunks were kept in the bed-chamber, and he therefore went thither at once. One of the trunks was a handsome one, made of sole-leather. This belonged to Mordaunt. The other was plainer and smaller, and no doubt belonged to Gilbert.
Maurice got down on his knees and began to try his keys. The first did not fit, neither did the second, nor the third. Indeed, it was only the last that proved to be the right one. Maurice had feared the failure of his plans, when success came.
"So far, so good," he said, and began eagerly to explore the contents.
First in order came a pile of shirts and underclothing. These he hastily removed, and peered about for papers. In one corner was a book of deposits on a city savings-bank. Led by curiosity, Maurice opened it. He saw a long line of deposits, covering several pages, for Gilbert had been in the habit of making a weekly deposit, even the first year, for, though his income was small, he had nothing to pay for board, and this was, of course, a great help.
"How much has the fellow got?" thought Maurice.
He made a hurried calculation, and, to his astonishment and envy, learned that our hero had seven hundred and sixty dollars deposited to his credit.
"Almost eight hundred dollars, and I haven't a cent," he muttered, discontentedly. Then there came the thought that if he found the paper, he might count upon a hundred dollars, and his good spirits returned. Underneath the bank-book were two letters, written to him by Mordaunt while absent on a pleasure-trip not long before, and under these was a sheet of quarto paper, which appeared to be written upon.
"That may be the paper," thought Maurice, and he took it in his hands with eager anticipations. Turning to the end he read the signature, "Jacob Morton." A slight examination of the contents satisfied him that it was the paper he wanted.
"Success! success!" he ejaculated, exultingly. "My hundred dollars are safe. Now, Gilbert Grey, your hopes are dashed to the earth, and you won't know who has done it for you."
There was no need of waiting longer. He put back the contents of the trunk hastily, with the exception of the paper, which he folded, and put carefully in his breast-pocket. Then locking the trunk, he went down stairs, and let himself out by the front door, without meeting any one.
"I didn't think I'd succeed so easily," he thought. "Now I'll go round to the Burnet House and get my hundred dollars. It pays to have a headache, sometimes."
Arrived at the Burnet House he found that Mr. Grey was out, and decided to wait for him. He remained in the reading-room, reading the papers, impatient for the return of his employer. As he sat there, Mr. Grey, who had been told at the desk that some one was waiting to see him, entered.
"Ah! my young friend," he said, affably, "well, have you any news for me?"
"Yes," said Maurice.
"What is it?"
"Hadn't we better go up stairs?"
"It may be better. But, in one word, is it success or failure?"
"Success," said Maurice.
"Good!" exclaimed James Grey, his eyes lighting up with joy. "Come up."
Again they found themselves in the same room in which Gilbert and his uncle had formerly had their interview.
"The paper," said Mr. Grey, impatiently.
"You'll pay me the money?" said Maurice, cautiously.
"If the paper is correct, you may be assured of that."
Upon this assurance Maurice withdrew the paper from his pocket, and passed it over to his companion. The latter opened it, and glanced over it triumphantly.
"Is it right?"
"Yes, it is right. It is the forged paper. We have put a spoke in the wheel of that impudent young impostor. He can do nothing now. But you want your money, and you shall have it."
Mr. Grey took out his pocket-book and counted out five twenty-dollar bills, which he put in the hands of his agent.
"Now confess," he said, "you never earned money more easily."
"No," said Maurice; "but I wouldn't like to go through it again. Suppose Grey had come in while I was at his trunk?"
"Tell me how you managed it—I am curious to know."
So Maurice told the story, which amused his auditor not a little, especially when he tried on the mustache in his presence.
"You are a regular conspirator," he said, smiling. "You absolutely have a genius for intrigue."
Maurice felt complimented by this remark, and the fact that he was the possessor of over a hundred dollars, put him in very good spirits.
"When do you think Gilbert will find out his loss?" he asked.
"Very likely not till he calls on me. He will wonder how he met with the loss."
"I must be going, Mr. Grey," said Maurice. "It is about time for lunch."
"I would invite you to lunch with me, but it might lead to suspicions."
"Thank you all the same."
"Now the boy may do his worst," said James Grey, exultingly. "He has lost his proof, and has nothing but his own assertion to fall back upon. I am out of danger."
THE TABLES TURNED.
As Maurice Walton left the Burnet House, he fell in with the one whom he most wished to avoid. Gilbert was returning to the store, after his usual midday lunch. He was surprised to see Maurice, supposing him at home, suffering from the headache.
"How do you happen to be here, Maurice?" he asked. "I thought you were at home."
"My head felt so bad that I thought I would come out into the fresh air," answered Maurice, a little confused.
"Do you feel better?"
"A little. I think I'll go home and go to bed."
"I hope you'll be all right to-morrow."
"I guess so."
So they separated, Gilbert, who was not inclined to be suspicious, not doubting his fellow-clerk's statements.
That evening, when he returned to his boarding-house, the servant said:
"Did your friend find the opera-glass?"
"What?" said Gilbert.
"Shure a friend of yours called, and said you had sent him to borrow your opera-glass."
"I sent nobody. Who was it? What did he look like?"
"He was about your size, shure, and had a black mustash."
"I don't know who it can be. Did he go up into my room?"
"Yes, he did. He said he knew the way."
"I can't think who it was."
Gilbert went up stairs, and, to increase the mystery, there was his opera-glass on the bureau, where he usually kept it. It was directly in sight, so that the visitor must have seen it.
"I can't understand it," he said, perplexed. "Mordaunt, do you know of any friend of mine who has a black mustache?"
"He is considerably larger than I am. The servant said it was some one of my size."
"I can't think of anybody else."
"I don't see why he didn't take the opera-glass, if he wanted it, though it would have been rather bold, as I didn't authorize anybody to take it."
As there seemed no clew to the mystery, and as, moreover, Gilbert had no suspicion that the visitor was on an unlawful errand, he dismissed it from his mind.
Two days afterward, Gilbert met his uncle in the street. As the week was not up, he was about to pass him with a bow, when Mr. Grey paused, and appeared inclined to speak.