"It seems to be a pretty good business," remarked Grant.
"Yes, it is; I don't work for nothin', I can tell you that."
"I'm glad of your good luck, Tom," said Grant, and he spoke sincerely. "I hope you'll keep your agency."
"Oh, I guess I will! A feller like me is pretty sure of a good livin', anyway. Hello, Jim!"
This last was addressed to a flashily dressed individual—the same one, in fact, that Grant had seen on a former occasion with Tom.
"Who's your friend?" asked Jim, with a glance at Grant.
"Grant Thornton. He's from my place in the country. He's in the office of Mr. Reynolds, a broker in New Street."
"Grant, let me make you acquainted with my friend, Jim Morrison," said Tom, with a flourish.
"Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Thornton," said Jim Morrison, jauntily, offering his hand.
"Thank you," said Grant, in a reserved tone; for he was not especially attracted by the look of Tom's friend. He shook hands, however.
"Come 'round and see us some evenin', Grant," said Tom. "We'll take you round, won't we, Jim?"
"Of course we will. Your friend should see something of the city."
"You're the feller that can show him. Well, we must be goin'. It's lunch time."
Tom pulled out a watch, which, if not gold, was of the same color as gold, and the two sauntered away.
"What in the world can Tom have found to do?" Grant wondered.
WILLIS FORD'S NEW FRIENDS
When Harry Decker left the office at the end of two weeks, Grant was fully able to take his place, having, with Harry's friendly assistance, completely mastered the usual routine of a broker's office. He had also learned the names and offices of prominent operators, and was, in all respects, qualified to be of service to his employer.
Mr. Reynolds always treated him with friendly consideration, and appeared to have perfect confidence in him. For some reason which he could not understand, however, Willis Ford was far from cordial, often addressing him in a fault-finding tone, which at first disturbed Grant. When he found that it arose from Ford's dislike, he ceased to trouble himself about it, though it annoyed him. He had discovered Ford's relationship to Mrs. Estabrook, who treated him in the same cool manner.
"As it appears I can't please them," Grant said to himself, "I won't make any special effort to do so." He contented himself with doing his work faithfully, and so satisfying his own conscience.
One evening some weeks later, Grant was returning from a concert, to which the broker had given him a ticket, when, to his great surprise, he met Willis Ford walking with Tom Calder and Jim Morrison. The three were apparently on intimate terms.
"Good-evenin', Grant," said Tom.
Grant looked at Willis Ford, but the latter's lip curled and he did not speak. Grant, however, bowed and passed on. He was surprised at the intimacy which had grown up between Ford and those two, knowing Ford's spirit of exclusiveness. He would have been less surprised had he known that Morrison had first ingratiated himself with Ford by offering to lend him money, and afterward had lured him into a gambling house, where Ford, not knowing that he was a dupe, had been induced to play, and was now a loser to the extent of several hundred dollars, for which Morrison held his notes.
"I don't know when I can pay you," said Ford, gloomily, when he came to realize his situation.
"Oh, something will turn up." said Jim Morrison, lightly. "I shan't trouble you."
Two weeks later, however, he lay in wait for Ford when he left Wall Street.
"I want to speak to you a moment, Mr. Ford," he said.
"Well, what is it?" asked Ford, uncomfortably.
"I am hard up."
"So am I," responded Willis Ford.
"But you owe me a matter of six hundred dollars."
"I know it, but you said you wouldn't trouble me."
"I didn't expect I should be obliged to," said Morrison, smoothly. "But 'Circumstances alter cases,' you know. I shall have to ask you for it."
"That's all the good it will do," said Willis, irritably. "I haven't a cent to my name."
"When do you expect to have?"
"Heaven knows; I don't."
Ford was about to leave his companion and walk away, but Morrison had no intention of allowing the matter to end so. He laid his hand on Ford's shoulder and said, firmly: "Mr. Ford, this won't do. Yours is a debt of honor, and must be paid."
"Will you be kind enough to let me know how it is to be paid?" demanded Ford, with an ugly sneer.
"That is your business, not mine, Mr. Ford."
"Then, if it is my business, I'll give you notice when I can pay you. And now, good-afternoon."
He made another attempt to walk away, but again there was a hand placed upon his shoulder.
"Understand, Mr. Ford, that I am in earnest," said Morrison. "I can't undertake to tell you how you are to find the money, but it must be found."
"Suppose it isn't?" said Ford, with a look of defiance.
"Then I shall seek an interview with your respected employer, tell him of the debt, and how it was incurred, and I think he would look for another clerk."
"You wouldn't do that!" said Ford, his face betraying consternation.
"I would, and I will, unless you pay what you owe me."
"But, man, how am I to do it? You will drive me to desperation."
"Take three days to think of it. If you can't raise it, I may suggest a way."
The two parted, and Willis Ford was left to many uncomfortable reflections. He knew of no way to raise the money; yet, if he did not do it, he was menaced with exposure and ruin. Would his stepmother come to his assistance? He knew that Mrs. Estabrook had a thousand dollars in government bonds. If he could only induce her to give him the custody of them on any pretext, he could meet the demand upon him, and he would never again incur a debt of honor. He cursed his folly for ever yielding to the temptation. Once let him get out of this scrape, and he would never get into another like it.
The next evening he made a call upon Mrs. Estabrook, and made himself unusually agreeable. The cold-hearted woman, whose heart warmed to him alone, smiled upon him with affection.
"I am glad to see you in such good spirits, Willis," she said.
"If she only knew how I really felt," thought her stepson. But it was for his interest to wear a mask.
"The fact is, mother," he said, "I feel very cheerful. I've made a little turn in stocks, and realized three hundred dollars."
"Have you, indeed, Willis? I congratulate you, my son. No doubt you will find the money useful."
"No doubt of that. If I had the capital, I could make a good deal more."
"But there would be the danger of losing," suggested Mrs. Estabrook.
"That danger is very small, mother. I am in a situation to know all about the course of stocks. I wouldn't advise another to speculate, unless he has some friend in the Stock Exchange; but for me it is perfectly safe."
"Pray be careful, Willis."
"Oh, yes. I am sure to be. By the way, mother, haven't you got some money in government bonds?"
"A little," answered Mrs. Estabrook, cautiously.
"How much, now?"
"About a thousand dollars."
"Let me manage it for you, and I will make it two thousand inside of a month."
Mrs. Estabrook had a large share of acquisitiveness, but she had also a large measure of caution, which she had inherited from her Scotch ancestry.
"No, Willis," she said, shaking her head, "I can't take any risk. This money it has taken me years to save. It is the sole dependence I have for my old age, and I can't run the risk of losing it."
"But two thousand dollars will be better than one, mother. Just let me tell you what happened to a customer of ours: He had above five hundred dollars in the savings bank, drawing four per cent interest—only twenty dollars a year. He had a friend in the Stock Exchange who took charge of it, bought stocks judiciously on a margin, then reinvested, and now, after three months, how much do you think it amounts to?"
"How much?" asked the housekeeper, with interest.
"Six thousand five hundred dollars—just thirteen times as much!" answered Willis, glibly.
This story, by the way, was all a fabrication, intended to influence his stepmother. Mrs. Estabrook never doubted Ford's statement, but her instinctive caution saved her from falling into the trap.
"It looks tempting, Willis," she said, "but I don't dare to take the risk." Ford was deeply disappointed, but did not betray it.
"It is for you to decide," said he, carelessly, then drifted to other subjects.
Ten minutes later he pressed his hand upon his breast, while his features worked convulsively. "I believe I am sick," he said.
"What can I do for you, my dear son?" asked the housekeeper, in alarm.
"If you have a glass of brandy!" gasped Willis.
"I will go downstairs and get some," she said, hurriedly.
No sooner had she left the room than Willis sprang to his feet, locked the door, then went to the bureau, unlocked the upper drawer—he had a key in his pocket which fitted the lock and, thrusting in his hand, drew out a long envelope containing one five-hundred-dollar government bond and five bonds of one hundred dollars each, which he thrust into his side pocket. Then, closing the drawer, he unlocked the door of the room, and when his step- mother returned he threw himself back in his chair, groaning. He took the glass of brandy the housekeeper brought him, and, after a few minutes, professing himself much better, left the house.
"Saved!" he exclaimed, triumphantly. "Now I shall be all right again."
AN ARTFUL TRAP
Willis Ford was anxious to get away. He feared that Mrs. Estabrook might go to the bureau and discover the loss before he got out of the house, which would make it awkward for him. Once out in the street, he breathed more freely. He had enough with him to pay his only debt, and give him four hundred dollars extra. It might be supposed he would feel some compunction at robbing his stepmother of her all. Whatever her faults, she was devoted to him. But Willis Ford had a hard, selfish nature, and the only thought that troubled him was the fear that he might be found out. Indeed, the housekeeper's suspicions would be likely to fall upon him unless they could be turned in some other direction. Who should it be? There came to him an evil suggestion which made his face brighten with relief and malicious joy. The new boy, Grant Thornton, was a member of the household. He probably had the run of the house. What more probable than that he should enter Mrs. Estabrook's chamber and search her bureau? This was the way Willis reasoned. He knew that his stepmother hated Grant, and would be very willing to believe anything against him. He would take care that suspicion should fall in that direction. He thought of a way to heighten that suspicion. What it was my readers will learn in due time.
The next day, at half-past eight o'clock in the morning, on his way down Broadway, Willis Ford dropped into the Grand Central Hotel, and walked through the reading room in the rear. Here sat Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, waiting for him by appointment.
Ford took a chair beside them.
"Good-morning," he said, cheerfully.
"Have you brought the money?" asked Morrison, anxiously.
"Hush! don't speak so loud," said Ford, cautiously. "We don't want everybody to know our business."
"All right," said Morrison, in a lower voice; "but have you brought it?"
"You're a trump!" said Morrison, his face expressing his joy.
"That is to say, I've brought what amounts to the same thing."
"If it's your note," said Morrison, with sharp disappointment, "I don't want it."
"It isn't a note. It's what will bring the money."
"What is it, then?"
"It's government bonds for six hundred dollars."
"I don't know anything about bonds," said Morrison. "Besides, the amount is more than six hundred dollars."
"These bonds are worth a hundred and twelve, amounting in all to six hundred and seventy-two dollars. That's forty more than I owe you. I won't make any account of that, however, as you will have to dispose of them."
"I may get into trouble," said Morrison, suspiciously. "Where did they come from?"
"That does not concern you," said Ford, haughtily. "Don't I give them to you?"
"But where did you get them?"
"That is my business. If you don't want them, say the word, and I'll take them back."
"And when will you pay the money?"
"I don't know," answered Ford, curtly.
"Maybe he'll sell 'em for us himself," suggested Tom Calder.
"Good, Tom! Why can't you sell 'em and give me the money? Then you can pay the exact sum and save the forty dollars."
"I don't choose to do so," said Ford. "It seems to me you are treating me in a very strange manner. I offer you more than I owe you, and you make no end of objections to receiving it."
"I am afraid I'll get into trouble if I offer the bonds for sale," said Morrison, doggedly. "I don't know anybody in the business except you."
"Yes, you do," said Ford, a bright idea occurring to him.
"You know the boy in our office."
"Grant Thornton?" said Tom.
"Yes, Grant Thornton. Manage to see him, and ask him to dispose of the bonds for you. He will bring them to our office, and I will dispose of them without asking any questions."
"First rate!" said Tom. "That'll do, won't it, Jim?"
"I don't see why it won't," answered Morrison, appearing satisfied.
"I would suggest that you see him some time today."
"Good! Hand over the bonds."
Willis Ford had already separated the bonds into two parcels, six hundred in one and four hundred in the other. The first of these he passed over to Jim Morrison.
"Put it into your pocket at once," he said. "We don't want anyone to see them. There is a telegraph boy looking at us."
"I'm going to see if it is all there," muttered Morrison; and he drew from the envelope the two bonds, and ascertained, by a personal inspection, that they were as represented.
"It's all right," he said.
"You might have taken my word for it," said Willis Ford, offended.
"In matters of business I take no one's word," chuckled the confidence man.
"I wonder what they're up to," said the little telegraph boy to himself. "I know one of them fellers is a gambler. Wonder who that feller with him is? Them must be gov'ment bonds."
Johnny Cavanagh was an observing boy, and mentally photographed upon his memory the faces of the entire group, though he never expected to see any of them again.
When Grant was hurrying through Wall Street about noon he came upon Tom Calder and Morrison.
"Hello, there, Grant," said Tom, placing his hand upon his shoulder.
"What's the matter, Tom? I'm in a hurry," said Grant.
"Jim Morrison's got a little business for you."
"What is it?"
"He wants you to sell gov'ment bonds for him."
"You'd better take them round to our office."
"I haven't got time," said Morrison. "Just attend to them, like a good fellow, and I'll give you a dollar for your trouble."
"How much have you got?"
"Six hundred—a five hundred and a one."
"Are they yours?"
"Yes; I've had 'em two years, but now I've got to raise money."
"What do you want for them?"
"Regular price, whatever it is."
"When will you call for the money?"
"Meet me at Fifth Avenue Hotel with it tomorrow morning at nine o'clock."
"I shall have to meet you earlier—say half-past eight."
"All right. Here's the bonds."
Grant put the envelope into his pocket, and hurried to the Exchange.
When he returned to the office he carried the bonds to Willis Ford.
"Mr. Ford," he said, "an acquaintance of mine handed them to me to be sold."
"Some one you know?" queried Ford.
"I know him slightly."
"Well, I suppose it's all right. I'll make out a check to your order, and you can collect the money at the bank."
Grant interposed no objection, and put the check in his pocket.
"The boy's fallen into the trap," said Willis to himself, exultantly, as he proceeded to enter the transaction on the books.
GRANT FALLS UNDER SUSPICION
In furtherance of his scheme to throw suspicion upon Grant, Willis Ford decided to make another call upon his stepmother the succeeding evening. It occurred to him that she might possibly connect his visit of the evening before with her loss, and he wished to forestall this.
"Is Mrs. Estabrook at home?" he asked of the servant.
When the housekeeper made her appearance he carefully scrutinized her face. She was calm and placid, and it was clear that she had not discovered the abstraction of the bonds.
"I dare say you are surprised to see me so soon again," he commenced.
"I am always glad to see you, Willis," she said. "Come upstairs."
"What a pleasant room you have, mother!"
"Yes, I am very comfortable. Have you had any return of your sickness?" she asked, anxiously.
"No, I have been perfectly well. By the way, mother, I have a special object in calling."
"What is it, Willis?"
"I want to speak to you about those bonds of yours. If you will only sell them out, and invest in Erie, I am sure you will make in six months a sum equal to several years interest."
"That may be, Willis, but I am very timid about taking a risk. Those bonds represent all the property I have."
Willis Ford's conscience pricked him a little, when he heard her speaking thus of the property he had so heartlessly stolen; but he did not show it in his manner.
"What is the date of your bonds, mother?" he asked.
"I don't know. Does that make any difference?"
"It makes some difference. Those that have longest to run are most valuable."
"I can easily tell," said the housekeeper, as she rose from her chair and opened the bureau drawer, in full confidence that the bonds were safe.
It was an exciting moment for Willis Ford, knowing the sad discovery that awaited her.
She put her hand in that part of the drawer where she supposed the bonds to be, and found nothing. A shade of anxiety overspread her face, and she searched hurriedly in other parts of the drawer.
"Don't you find them, mother?" asked Willis.
"It is very strange," said Mrs. Estabrook, half to herself.
"What is strange?"
"I always kept the bonds in the right-hand corner of this drawer."
"And you can't find them?"
"I have looked all over the drawer."
"You may have put them, by mistake, in one of the other drawers."
"Heaven grant it!" said Mrs. Estabrook, her face white with anxiety.
"Let me help you, mother," said Willis, rising.
She did not object, for her hands trembled with nervousness.
The other drawers were opened and were thoroughly searched, but, of course, the bonds were not found.
Mrs. Estabrook seemed near fainting.
"I have been robbed," she said. "I am ruined."
"But who could have robbed you?" asked Ford, innocently.
"I-don't-know. Oh, Willis! it was cruel!" and the poor woman burst into tears. "All these years I have been saving, and now I have lost all. I shall die in the poorhouse after all."
"Not while I am living, mother," said Willis. "But the bonds must be found. They must be mislaid."
"No, no! they are stolen. I shall never see them again."
"But who has taken them? Ha! I have an idea."
"What is it?" asked the housekeeper, faintly.
"That boy—Grant Thornton—he lives in the house, doesn't he?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Estabrook, in excitement. "Do you think he can have robbed me?"
"What a fool I am! I ought to have suspected when—-"
"When he brought some bonds to me to-day to sell."
"He did!" exclaimed Mrs. Estabrook; "what were they?"
"A five-hundred-dollar and a hundred-dollar bond."
"I had a five-hundred and five one-hundred-dollar bonds. They were mine—the young villain!"
"I greatly fear so, mother."
"You ought to have kept them, Willis. Oh! why didn't you? Where is the boy? I will see Mr. Reynolds at once."
"Wait a minute, till I tell you all I know. The boy said the bonds were handed to him by an acquaintance."
"It was a falsehood."
"Do you know the number of your bonds, mother?"
"Yes, I have them noted down, somewhere."
"Good! I took the number of those the boy gave me for sale."
Mrs. Estabrook found the memorandum. It was compared with one which Willis Ford brought with him, and the numbers were identical. Four numbers, of course, were missing from Ford's list.
"That seems pretty conclusive, mother. The young rascal has stolen your bonds, and offered a part of them for sale. It was certainly bold in him to bring them to our office. Is he in the house?"
"I'll go and see."
"And bring Mr. Reynolds with you, if you can find him."
In an excited state, scarcely knowing what she did, the housekeeper went downstairs and found both parties of whom she was in search in the same room. She poured out her story in an incoherent manner, inveighing against Grant as a thief.
When Grant, with some difficulty, understood what was the charge against him, he was almost speechless with indignation.
"Do you mean to say I stole your bonds?" he demanded.
"Yes, I do; and it was a base, cruel act."
"I agree with you in that, Mrs. Estabrook. It was base and cruel, but I had nothing to do with it."
"You dare to say that, when you brought the bonds to my son, Willis, to be sold to-day?"
"Is this true, Grant?" asked Mr. Reynolds. "Did you sell any bonds at the office to-day?"
The broker looked grave.
"Where did you get them?" he asked.
"They were handed to me by an acquaintance in Wall Street."
"Who was he?"
"His name is James Morrison."
"What do you know of him? Is he in any business?"
"I know very little of him, sir."
"Have you handed him the money?"
"No, sir. I am to meet him to-morrow morning at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and pay him."
"Why doesn't he call at the office?"
"I don't know," answered Grant, puzzled. "I suggested to him to bring the bonds to the office himself, but he said he was in haste, and offered me a dollar to attend to the matter."
"This seems a mysterious case."
"Excuse me, Mr. Reynolds, but I think it is plain enough," said the housekeeper, spitefully. "That boy opened my bureau drawer, and stole the bonds."
"That is not true, Mr. Reynolds," exclaimed Grant, indignantly.
"How did you know the bonds were offered for sale at my office to-day, Mrs. Estabrook?" inquired the broker.
"My son—Willis Ford—told me."
"When did you see him?"
"Is he in the house?"
"Yes, sir. I left him in my room."
"Ask him to be kind enough to accompany you here."
The housekeeper left the room. Grant and his employer remained silent during her absence.
THE TELLTALE KEY
Willis Ford entered the presence of his employer with an air of confidence which he did not feel. Knowing his own guilt, he felt ill at ease and nervous; but the crisis had come and he must meet it.
"Take a seat, Mr. Ford," said Mr. Reynolds, gravely. "Your stepmother tells me that she has lost some government bonds?"
"All I had in the world," moaned the housekeeper.
"Yes, sir; I regret to say that she has been robbed."
"I learn, moreover, that a part of the bonds were brought to my office for sale to-day?"
"And by Grant Thornton?"
"He can answer that question for himself, sir. He is present."
"It is true," said Grant, quietly.
"Did you ask him where the bonds came from?"
"He volunteered the information. He said they were intrusted to him for sale by a friend."
"Acquaintance," corrected Grant.
"It may have been so. I understood him to say friend."
"You had no suspicions that anything was wrong?" asked the broker.
"No; I felt perfect confidence in the boy."
Grant was rather surprised to hear this. If this were the case, Willis Ford had always been very successful, in concealing his real sentiments.
"How did you pay him?"
"In a check to his own order."
"Have you collected the money on that check, Grant?" asked Mr. Reynolds.
"Have you paid it out to the party from whom you obtained the bonds?"
"No, sir; I am to meet him to-morrow morning at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."
Willis Ford's countenance changed when he heard this statement. He supposed that Jim Morrison already had his money and was safely off with it. Now it was clear that Grant would not be allowed to pay it to him, and his own debt would remain unpaid. That being the case, Morrison would be exasperated, and there was no knowing what he would say.
"What do you know of this man, Grant?"
"Very little, sir."
"How does he impress you—as an honest, straightforward man?"
Grant shook his head.
"Not at all," he said.
"Yet you took charge of his business for him?"
"Yes, sir; but not willingly. He offered me a dollar for my trouble, and as I did not know there was anything wrong, I consented. Besides—-" Here Grant paused.
"Will you excuse my continuing, Mr. Reynolds?"
"No," answered the broker, firmly. "On the other hand, I insist upon your saying what you had in your mind."
"Having seen Mr. Ford in this man's company, I concluded he was all right."
Willis Ford flushed and looked disconcerted.
"Is this true, Mr. Ford?" asked the broker. "Do you know this man?"
"What do you say his name was, Thornton?" asked Ford, partly to gain time.
"Yes; I know him. He was introduced to me by an intimate friend of that boy," indicating Grant.
Willis Ford smiled triumphantly. He felt that he had checkmated our hero.
"Is this true, Grant?"
"I presume so," answered Grant, coolly. "You refer to Tom Calder, do you not, Mr. Ford?"
"I believe that is his name."
"He is not an intimate friend of mine, but we came from the same village. It is that boy who was with me when I first met you, Mr. Reynolds."
The broker's face cleared.
"Yes, I remember him. But how do you happen to know Tom Calder, Mr. Ford?"
"He had a room at the same house with me. He introduced himself as a friend of this boy."
"Do you know anything of him—how he earns his living?"
"Haven't the faintest idea," answered Ford. "My acquaintance with him is very slight."
"There seems a mystery here," said the broker. "This Morrison gives Grant two bonds to dispose of, which are identified as belonging to my housekeeper. How did he obtain possession of them? That is the question."
"There isn't much doubt about that," said Mrs. Estabrook. "This boy whom you have taken into your family has taken them."
"You are entirely mistaken, Mrs. Estabrook," said Grant, indignantly.
"Of course you say so!" retorted the housekeeper; "but it stands to reason that that is the way it happened. You took them and gave them to this man—that is, if there is such a man."
"Your son says there is, Mrs. Estabrook," said the broker, quietly.
"Well, I don't intend to say how it happened. Likely enough the man is a thief, and that boy is his accomplice."
"You will oblige me by not jumping at conclusions, Mrs. Estabrook," said Mr. Reynolds. "Whoever has taken the bonds is likely to be discovered. Meanwhile your loss will, at all events, be partially made up, since Grant has the money realized from the sale of the greater part of them."
"I should like to place the money in your hands, Mr. Reynolds," said Grant.
"But it belongs to me," said the housekeeper.
"That is undoubtedly true," said her employer; "but till the matter is ascertained beyond a doubt I will retain the money."
"How can there be any doubt?" asked the housekeeper, discontented.
"I do not think there is; but I will tell you now. You claim that your bonds were marked by certain numbers, two of which belong to those which were bought by Mr. Ford at the office to-day?"
"Meanwhile, you and your stepson have had time to compare notes, and you have had a chance to learn his numbers."
Mrs. Estabrook turned livid.
"I didn't expect to have such a charge brought against me, Mr. Reynolds, and by you," she said, her voice trembling with passion.
"I have brought no such charge, Mrs. Estabrook. I have only explained how there may be doubt of your claim to the money."
"I thought you knew me better, sir."
"I think I do, and I also think I know Grant better than to think him capable of abstracting your bonds. Yet you have had no hesitation in bringing this serious charge against him."
"That is different, sir."
"Pardon me, I can see no difference. He has the same right that you have to be considered innocent till he is proved to be guilty."
"You must admit, sir," said Willis Ford, "that appearances are very much against Grant."
"I admit nothing, at present; for the affair seems to be complicated. Perhaps, Mr. Ford, you can offer some suggestion that will throw light upon the mystery."
"I don't think it very mysterious, sir. My mother kept her bonds in the upper drawer of her bureau. This boy had the run of the house. What was to prevent his entering my mother's room, opening the drawer, and taking anything he found of value?"
"What was to prevent some one else doing it, Mr. Ford—myself, for example?"
"Of course that is different, Mr. Reynolds."
"Well, I don't know. I am honest, and so, I believe, is Grant."
"Thank you, sir," said Grant, gratefully.
"It just occurred to me," said Ford, "to ask my mother if she has at any time lost or mislaid her keys."
"Well thought of, Mr. Ford," and Mr. Reynolds turned to his housekeeper for a reply.
"No," answered Mrs. Estabrook. "I keep my keys in my pocket, and I have them there yet."
So saying, she produced four keys attached to a ring.
"Then," continued Ford, "if Grant chances to have a key which will fit the bureau drawer, that would be evidence against him."
"Show me any keys you may have, Grant," said the broker.
Grant thrust his hand in his pocket and drew out two keys. He looked at them in astonishment.
"One of them unlocks my valise," he said. "The other is a strange key. I did not know I had it."
Ford smiled maliciously. "Let us see if it will open the bureau drawer," he said.
The party adjourned to the housekeeper's room. The key was put into the lock of the bureau drawer and opened it at once.
"I think there is no more to be said," said Willis Ford, triumphantly.
Grant looked the picture of surprise and dismay.
GRANT'S ENEMIES TRIUMPH
It is not too much to say that Grant was overwhelmed by the unexpected discovery, in his pocket, of a key that fitted the housekeeper's drawer. He saw at once how strong it made the evidence against him, and yet he knew himself to be innocent. The most painful thought was, that Mr. Reynolds would believe him to be guilty.
In fact, the broker for the first time began to think that Grant might possibly have yielded to temptation.
"Can't you account for the possession of that key?" he asked.
"No, sir," answered Grant, in painful embarrassment. "I have occasion to use but one key, and that is the key to my valise."
"I think you had occasion to use the other," sneered Ford.
"Mr. Ford," retorted Grant, indignantly, "you are determined to think me guilty; but I care nothing for your opinion. I should be very sorry if Mr. Reynolds should think me capable of such baseness."
"Your guilt seems pretty clear," said Ford, sarcastically; "as I have no doubt Mr. Reynolds will agree."
"Speak for yourself, Mr. Ford," said the banker, quietly.
"I hope you are not going to shield that young thief, Mr. Reynolds," said the housekeeper. "His guilt is as clear as noonday. I think he ought to be arrested."
"You are rather in a hurry, Mrs. Estabrook," said Mr. Reynolds; "and I must request you to be careful how you make charges against me."
"Against you?" asked the housekeeper, alarmed at his tone.
"Yes," answered the broker, sternly. "You have insinuated that I intend to shield a supposed thief. I have only to say that at present the theft is to be proved."
"I submit, sir," said Ford, "that the evidence is pretty strong. The boy is proved to have had the bonds in his possession, he admits that he sold a part of them and has the money in his possession, and a key is found in his possession which will open the drawer in which the bonds were kept."
"Who put the key in my pocket?" demanded Grant, quickly.
For a moment Willis Ford looked confused, and his momentary confusion was not lost upon Grant or the banker.
"No doubt you put it there yourself," he answered, sharply, after a monent's pause.
"That matter will be investigated," said the broker.
"I think the money ought to be paid to me," said the housekeeper.
"Can you prove your ownership of the bonds?" asked the broker.
"I can," answered Willis Ford, flippantly. "I have seen them."
"I should like some additional evidence," said Mr. Reynolds. "You are related to Mrs. Esta-brook, and may be supposed to have some interest in the matter."
"What proof can I have?" asked the housekeeper, disturbed by this unexpected obstacle.
"Have you the memorandum of the broker who bought you the bonds."
"I don't know, sir."
"Then you had better look."
The housekeeper searched the drawer, and produced, triumphantly, a memorandum to the effect that she had purchased the bonds of a well-known house in Wall Street.
"So far, so good!" said the broker. "It appears that besides the bonds sold you had four one-hundred-dollar bonds?"
"You had not parted with them?"
"They will some time be put on the market, and then we shall have a clew to the mystery."
"That boy has probably got them," said the housekeeper, nodding her head emphatically.
"You are at liberty to search my chamber, Mrs. Estabrook," said Grant, quietly.
"He may have passed them over to that man Morrison," suggested the housekeeper.
"I hardly think that likely," said Willis Ford, who saw danger to himself in any persecution of Jim Morrison.
Mr. Reynolds noticed his defense of Morrison, and glanced at him thoughtfully.
"Mrs. Estabrook," he said, "I am satisfied that you possessed the bonds which you claim, and I will relieve your mind by saying that I will guarantee you against loss by their disappearance. You need have no further anxiety on the subject. I will undertake to investigate the matter, which at present appears to be involved in mystery. Whether or not I succeed in solving it will not matter to you, since you are saved from loss."
"Thank you, sir," said the housekeeper, feeling considerably relieved; "it wasn't much, but it was my all. I depended upon it to use when old age prevented me from earning my living."
"I am glad you are so wise in providing for the future."
"You won't let that boy escape?" the housekeeper could not help adding.
"If you refer to Grant Thornton, I think I may say for him that he has no intention of leaving us."
"Is he to stay in the house?"
"Of course; and I expect him to aid me in coming to the truth. Let me request, Mrs. Estabrook, that you discontinue referring to him in offensive terms, or I may withdraw my offer guaranteeing you from loss. Grant, if you will accompany me, I have some questions to put to you."
Grant and his employer left the room together.
"He won't let the boy be punished, though he must know he's guilty," said Mrs. Estabrook, spitefully.
"He makes a fool of himself about that boy," said Willis Ford, disconcerted.
"He's an artful young vagabond," said the housekeeper. "I know he took the bonds."
"Of course he did," Ford assented, though he had the best of reasons for knowing that Grant was innocent.
"At any rate," he continued, "you are all right, mother, since Mr. Reynolds agrees to make up the value of the bonds to you. When you get your money, just consult me about investing it. Don't put it into bonds, for they may be stolen."
"Perhaps I'd better put it into the savings bank," said his stepmother.
"You'll get very small interest there; I can invest it so you can make quite as much. However, there will be time enough to speak of that when you've got the money. Now, mother, I shall have to bid you good-evening."
"Can't you stay longer, Willis? I feel so upset that I don't like to be left alone. I don't know what that boy may do."
"I think you are safe," said Willis Ford, secretly amused. But, as he left the house, he felt seriously disquieted. There was danger that Jim Morrison, when he found the money which he was to receive withheld, would be incensed and denounce Ford, who had received back his evidence of indebtedness. Should he divulge that the bonds had been given him by Ford, Grant would be cleared, and he would be convicted of theft.
As Ford was leaving the house a telegraph boy was just ascending the steps. It was John Cava-nagh, already referred to.
As his eyes rested on Ford, he said to himself: "Where have I seen that feller? I know his face."
Then it flashed upon the boy that he had seen Ford at the Grand Central Hotel, in the act of giving bonds to Jim Morrison.
"It's queer I should meet him here," said the telegraph boy to himself. "I wonder what game he's up to."
Johnny was introduced into the presence of Mr. Reynolds, for whom he had a message. On his way out he met Grant in the hall. The two boys were acquainted, Grant having at one time advanced Johnny two dollars toward paying his mother's rent.
"Do you live here?" asked the telegraph boy.
"Yes," answered Grant.
"I met a feller goin' out that I've seen before. Who was it?"
"Willis Ford, a clerk of Mr. Reynolds."
"I seed him in the Grand Central Hotel yesterday givin' some bonds to a suspicious-lookin' chap."
"You did," exclaimed Grant. "Come right up and tell that to Mr. Reynolds," and he seized the astonished telegraph boy by the arm.
Mr. Reynolds looked rather surprised when Grant appeared, drawing the telegraph boy after him.
"This boy has got something to tell you about Mr. Ford," said Grant, breathless with excitement.
"About Mr. Ford?" repeated the broker. "What do you know about Willis Ford?"
"I don't know his name," replied Johnny. "It's the chap that just went out of the house."
"It was Mr. Ford," explained Grant.
"Tell me what you know about him," said the broker, encouragingly.
"I seed him in the Grand Central Hotel, givin' some bond to a flashy-lookin' man. There was a boy wid him, a big boy."
"With whom—Mr. Ford?"
"No, wid the other chap."
"I know who he means, sir," said Grant. "It was Tom Calder."
"And the man?"
"Was Jim Morrison, the same man that gave me the bonds to sell."
"That seems important," said Mr. Reynolds. "I did not believe Ford capable of such rascality."
"He had as good a chance to take the bonds as I, sir. He was here last evening."
"Was he?" asked the broker, quickly. "I did not know that."
"He was here for an hour at least. I saw him come in and go out."
Mr. Reynolds asked several more questions of the telegraph boy, and enjoined him to silence.
"My boy," he said, "come here to-rnorrow evening at half-past seven. I may want you."
"I will, sir, if I can get away. I shall be on duty."
"Say to the telegraph company that I have an errand for you. Your time will be paid for."
"That will make it all right, sir."
"And, meanwhile, here is a dollar for your own use."
Johnny's eyes sparkled, for with his limited earnings this sum would come in very handy. He turned away, nearly forgetting the original errand that brought him to the house, but luckily it occurred in time. The nature of it has nothing to do with this story.
When Johnny had gone, Mr. Reynolds said: "Grant, I need not caution you not to breathe a word of this. I begin to think that there is a conspiracy against you; but whether Willis Ford is alone in it, or has a confederate I cannot decide. My housekeeper does not appear to like you."
"No, sir, I am sorry to say she does not; but I don't think she is in this plot. I think she honestly believes that I stole her bonds."
"I have too great confidence in you to believe it. I own I was a little shaken when the key was found. You have no idea how it came in your pocket, I suppose?"
"No, sir, I can't guess. I might suspect Mr. Ford of putting it there, but I can't see how he managed it."
"Well, we will let matters take their course. You will go to work as usual, and not speak a word of what has happened this evening."
"Thank you, sir."
Meanwhile, we must follow Willis Ford. When he left the house, he was by no means in a comfortable frame of mind. He felt that it was absolutely necessary to see Jim Morrison, and have an understanding with him. What arrangements he could make with him, or how he could reconcile him to the loss of the money which he had expected to receive from the sale of the bonds, he could not yet imagine. Perhaps he would be willing to receive the other four bonds in part payment. In that case Willis himself would not profit as much as he had hoped from the theft; but there seemed no alternative. He had got himself into a scrape, and he must get out of it the best way possible.
Though he did not know where to find Morrison, he thought it likely that he might be seen at the White Elephant, a large and showy billiard room on Broadway, near Thirtieth Street. There were several gambling houses near by, and there or in that neighborhood he thought that Morrison might be met.
He was right. On entering the billiard room he found the man he sought playing a game of billiards with Tom Calder, at the first table.
"I want to see you, Morrison," he said, in a low voice. "Is the game 'most finished?"
"I have only six points more to make. I shall probably run out this time."
He was right in his estimate. Two minutes later the two went out of the saloon together, accompanied by Tom.
"Well, what is it?" he asked.
"Let us turn into a side street."
They turned into Thirtieth Street, which was much less brilliantly lighted than Broadway, and sauntered leisurely along.
"Did you buy the bonds of that boy?" asked Morrison, anxiously.
"Then it's all right. Have you brought me the money?"
"How should I?" returned Ford, impatiently. "I couldn't pay him, and keep the money myself."
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. He is to meet me to-morrow morning and hand over the money."
"I am afraid you will be disappointed." "Disappointed," repeated Morrison, quickly. "What do you mean? The boy hasn't made off with the money, has he? If he has—-" and the sentence ended with an oath.
"No, it isn't as you suppose."
"Then why won't he pay me the money, I'd like to know?"
"There is some trouble about the bonds. It is charged that they are stolen."
"How is that? You gave them to me," said Morrison, suspiciously.
Now came the awkward moment. However, Ford had decided on the story he would tell.
"They were given me by a person who owed me money," he said, plausibly. "How was I to know they were stolen?"
"They were stolen, then?"
"I suppose so. In fact, I know so."
"How do you know?"
"Well—in fact, they were stolen from my stepmother."
"Well," he said.
"Of course you mustn't say that I gave them to you. You would get me into trouble."
"So you want to save yourself at my expense? I am to be suspected of stealing the bonds, am I? That's a decidedly cool proposal, but it won't do. I shall clear myself, by telling just where I got the bonds."
"That's what I want you to do."
"You do!" ejaculated the gambler, in surprise.
"Yes. You are to say that the boy gave them to you."
"Why should I say that?"
"Because he is already suspected of stealing the bonds."
"But I gave them to him to sell."
"You mustn't admit it. There is no proof of it except his word."
"What's your game? Whatever it is, it is too deep for me."
"I've got it all arranged. You are to say that the boy owed you a gambling debt, and agreed to meet you to-morrow morning to pay it. Of the bonds, you are to know nothing, unless you say that he told you he had some which he was going to sell, in order to get money to pay you."
"What advantage am I to get out of all this?"
"What advantage? Why, you will save yourself from suspicion."
"That isn't enough. I didn't take the bonds, and you know it. I believe you did it yourself."
"Hush!" said Willis Ford, looking around him nervously.
"Look here, Ford, I gave up your I O U, and now I find I've got to whistle for my money."
"Go with me to my room, and you shall have four hundred dollars to-night."
"No; in bonds."
"Some more of the same kind? No, thank you, I want ready money."
"Then give me a little more time, and I will dispose of them—when this excitement blows over."
Finally Morrison gave a sulky assent, and the conspirators parted.
AT THE FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL
"If I thought he was playing me false," said Jim Morrison, after Ford and himself had parted company, "I'd make him smart for it."
"I guess it's all right," said Tom, who was less experienced and less suspicious than his companion.
"It may be so, but I have my suspicions. I don't trust Willis Ford."
"Shall you go round to the Fifth Avenue Hotel to meet Grant to-morrow morning."
"Of course I shall. I want to see what the boy says. It may be a put-up job between him and Ford."
The very same question was put by Grant to Mr. Reynolds.
"Shall I go round to the hotel to-morrow morning to see Morrison and Tom Calder?"
The broker paused a moment and looked thoughtful.
"Yes," he answered, after a pause. "You may."
"And what shall I say when he demands the money?"
Upon this Mr. Reynolds gave Grant full instructions as to what he desired him to say.
About quarter after eight o'clock the next morning a quiet-looking man, who looked like a respectable bookkeeper entered the Fifth Avenue Hotel and walked through the corridor, glancing, as it seemed, indifferently, to the right and. left. Finally he reached the door of the reading room and entered. His face brightened as at the further end he saw two persons occupying adjoining seats. They were, in fact, Morrison and Tom Calder.
The newcomer selected a Boston daily paper, and, as it seemed, by chance, settled himself in a seat not six feet away from our two acquaintances, so that he could, without much effort, listen to their conversation.
"It's almost time for Grant to come," said Tom, after a pause.
"Yes," grumbled Morrison, "but as he won't have any money for me, I don't feel as anxious as I should otherwise."
"What'll you say to him?"
"I don't know yet. I want to find out whether Ford has told the truth about the bonds. I believe he stole 'em himself."
Five minutes later Grant entered the reading-room. A quick glance showed him, not only the two he had come to meet, but the quiet, little man who was apparently absorbed in a copy of the Boston Journal. He went up at once to meet them.
"I believe I am in time," he said.
"Yes," answered Jim Morrison. "Have you brought the money?"
"Why not?" demanded Morrison, with a frown.
"There was something wrong about the bonds you gave me to sell."
"Weren't they all right? They weren't counterfeit, were they?"
"They were genuine, but—-"
"A lady claims that they belong to her—that they were stolen from her. Of course you can explain how they came into your hands?"
"They were given me by a party that owed me money. If he's played a trick on me, it will be the worse for him. Did you sell them?"
"Then give me the money."
"Mr. Reynolds won't let me."
"Does he think I took the bonds?" asked Morrison, hastily.
"No, he doesn't," answered Grant, proudly, "but he would like to have an interview with you, and make some inquiries, so that he may form some idea as to the person who did take them. They belonged to his housekeeper, Mrs. Estabrook, who is the stepmother of Mr. Ford, a young man employed in our office."
Tom Calder and Jim Morrison exchanged glances. Grant's story agreed with Ford's, and tended to confirm their confidence in his good faith.
"When does he want to see me?" asked Morrison.
"Can you call at his house this evening at eight o'clock?"
"Where does he live?"
Grant mentioned the street and number.
"I will be there," he said, briefly.
"Can I come, too?" asked Tom Calder, addressing the question to Grant.
"There will be no objection, I think."
"Tell him we'll be on hand."
The three left the hotel together, Grant taking a Broadway stage at the door. The quiet man seemed no longer interested in the Boston Journal, for he hung it up in its place, and sauntered out of the hotel. He had not attracted the attention of Jim Morrison or Tom.
When Grant entered the office, and with his usual manner asked Ford if he should go to the post-office, the young man eyed him curiously.
"Are you to remain in the office?" he said.
"Yes, I suppose so."
"After what you have done?"
"What have I done, Mr. Ford?" asked Grant, eyeing the young man, steadily.
"I don't think you need to have me tell you," he said, with a sneer. "I don't think Mr. Reynolds is very prudent to employ a boy convicted of dishonesty."
"Do you believe me guilty, Mr. Ford?" asked our hero, calmly.
"The evidence against you is overwhelming. My mother ought to have you arrested."
"The person who stole the bonds may be arrested."
"What do you mean?" asked Willis Ford, flushing, and looking disconcerted.
"I mean that I have no concern in the matter. Shall I go to the post-office?"
"Yes," snapped Ford, "and take care you don't steal any of the letters."
Grant did not reply. He knew that his vindication was certain, and he was willing to wait.
If Willis Ford had been prudent he would have dropped the matter there, but his hatred of Grant was too great to be easily concealed. When a few minutes later the broker entered the office and inquired, "Where is Grant?" Ford, after answering, "he has gone to the post-office," could not help saying, "Are you going to keep that boy, Mr. Rey-nolds?"
"Why should I not?" the broker replied.
"I thought a boy in his position ought to be honest."
"I agree with you, Mr. Ford," said the broker, quietly.
"After taking my mother's bonds, that can hardly be said of Grant Thornton."
"You seem to be sure he did take them, Mr. Ford."
"The discovery of the key settled that to my mind."
"Grant says he has no knowledge of the key."
Ford laughed scornfully.
"Of course he would say so," he replied.
"I propose to investigate the matter further," said the broker. "Can you make it convenient to call at my house this evening? Possibly something may be discovered by that time."
"Yes, sir; I will come, with pleasure. I have no feeling in regard to the boy, except that I don't think it safe to employ him in a business like yours."
"I agree with you, Mr. Ford. One who is capable of stealing bonds from a private house is unfit to be employed in an office like mine."
"Yet you retain the boy, sir?"
"For the present. It is not fair to assume that he is guilty till we have demonstrated it beyond a doubt."
"I think there will be no difficulty about that, Mr. Reynolds," said Willis Ford, well pleased at these words.
"I sincerely hope that his innocence may be proved."
Soon afterward Mr. Reynolds went to the Stock Exchange, and Willis Ford returned to his routine duties.
"With the testimony of Jim Morrison I shall be able to fix you, my young friend," he said to himself, as Grant returned from the post-office.
No further allusion was made to the matter during the day. Grant and Willis Ford were both looking forward to the evening, but for different reasons. Grant expected to be vindicated, while Ford hoped he could convince the broker of the boy's guilt.
THE THIEF IS DISCOVERED
Willis Ford ascended the steps of the broker's residence with a jaunty step. The servant admitted him, but he met Grant in the hall.
"Won't you come upstairs, Mr. Ford?" he said.
Willis Ford nodded superciliously.
"Your stay in the house will be short, young man," he thought. "You had better make the most of it."
He was ushered not into the housekeeper's room, but into a sitting-room on the second floor. He found Mr. Reynolds and his stepmother there already. Both greeted him, the broker gravely, but his stepmother cordially. Grant did not come in.
"I have come as you requested, Mr. Reynolds," he said. "I suppose it's about the bonds. May I ask if you have discovered anything new?"
"I think I have," answered the broker, slowly.
The housekeeper looked surprised. If anything new had been discovered, she at least had not heard it.
"May I ask what it is?" Ford inquired, carelessly.
"You shall know in good time. Let me, however, return the question. Have you heard anything calculated to throw light on the mystery?"
"No, sir, I can't say I have. To my mind there is no mystery at all about the affair."
"I presume I understand what you mean. Still I will ask you to explain yourself."
"Everything seems to throw suspicion upon that boy, Grant Thornton. Nobody saw him take the bonds, to be sure, but he has had every opportunity of doing so, living in the same house, as he does. Again, a key has been found in his pocket, which will open the bureau drawer in which the bonds were kept; and, thirdly, I can testify, and the boy admits, that he presented them at our office for sale, and received the money for them. I think, sir, that any jury would consider this accumulation of proof conclusive."
"It does seem rather strong," said the broker, gravely. "I compliment you on the way you have summed up, Mr. Ford."
Willis Ford looked much gratified. He was susceptible to flattery, and he was additionally pleased, because, as he thought, Mr. Reynolds was impressed by the weight of evidence.
"I have sometimes thought," he said, complacently, "that I ought to have become a lawyer. I always had a liking for the profession."
"Still," said the broker, deliberately, "we ought to consider Grant's explanation of the matter. He says that the bonds were intrusted to him for sale by a third party."
"Of course he would say something like that," returned Willis, shrugging his shoulders. "He can hardly expect anyone to be taken in by such a statement as that."
"You think, then, that he had no dealings with this Morrison?"
"I don't say that, sir," said Ford, remembering the story which he and Morrison had agreed upon. It may be stated here that he had been anxious to meet Morrison before meeting the coming appointment, in order to ascertain what had passed between him and Grant. With this object in view, he had gone to the usual haunts of the gambler, but had been unable to catch sight of him. However, as he had seen him the evening previous, and agreed upon the story to be told, he contented himself with that.
"You think, then, that Morrison may have given Grant the bonds?" said Mr. Reynolds.
"No, sir; that is not my idea."
"Have you any other notion?"
"I think the boy may have been owing him money, and took this method of raising it."
"But how should he owe him money?" asked the broker, curiously.
"I don't wish to say anything against Morrison, but I have been told that he is a gambler. Grant may have lost money to him at play."
"Or you," thought the broker; but he said:
"Your suggestion is worth considering, but I don't think Grant has had any opportunity to lose money in that way, as he spends his evenings usually at home."
"It wouldn't take long to lose a great deal of money, sir."
"That explains it," said the housekeeper, speaking for the first time. "I have no doubt Willis is right, and the boy gambles."
"I presume, Mr. Ford," said the broker, with a peculiar look, "that you do not approve of gambling?"
"Most certainly not, sir," said Ford, his face expressing the horror which a so-well-conducted young man must naturally feel for so pernicious a habit.
"I am glad to hear it. Will you excuse me a moment?"
After the broker had left the room, Mrs. Estabrook turned to Willis and said: "You are pretty sharp, Willis. You have found out this wretched boy, and now I think we shall get rid of him."
"I flatter myself, mother," said Willis, complacently, "that I have given the old man some new ideas as to the character of his favorite. I don't think we shall see him in the office again."
As he spoke, his ears caught the sound of ascending footsteps on the stairs without. He was rather puzzled. He conjectured that Grant had been summoned to confront his accuser, but there seemed, from the sound, to be more than two approaching. When the door opened, and the broker gravely ushered in Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, both looking ill at ease, followed by Grant Thornton, he looked amazed and perplexed.
"I believe you know these gentlemen," said Mr. Reynolds, gravely. "I have thought it best to make our present investigation thorough and complete."
"I have met the gentlemen before," said Ford, uncomfortably.
"You also have met them, Grant, have you not?"
"Have you had any business transaction with either?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Morrison met me on Wall Street and handed me two bonds, with a request that I would sell them for him, and hand him the money the next morning, at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."
"Were these the same bonds that you sold to Mr. Ford?"
"I think the boy is lying, sir," burst out Ford.
"What have you to say to the boy's story, Mr. Morrison?" asked the broker.
"He's made a little mistake," answered Jim Morrison, who by this time was feeling more at his ease. "I didn't give him no bonds."
Willis Ford looked triumphant, and Grant amazed.
"How, then, could there be any business between you?"
"I may as well own up that I am a gambler," replied Morrison, with virtuous frankness. "The boy lost the money to me at play, and said he'd meet and pay me at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. I didn't know where he was goin' to get the money, but I expect he must have stolen the bonds, and got it that way."
Considering the damaging nature of the revelation, Grant showed considerable self-command. He did not turn pale, nor did he look guilty and conscience-stricken.
"What have you to say to this charge, Grant?" asked the broker.
"It is not true, sir."
"What a hardened young villain!" said the housekeeper, in a low, but audible voice.
"Mr. Reynolds will hardly believe you," said Ford, turning upon our hero and speaking in a tone of virtuous indignation. "You see, sir," he continued, addressing the broker, "that I was right in my conjecture."
"I am not quite satisfied yet," said Mr. Reynolds. "Grant, call the boy."
Great was the perplexity of Willis Ford and his friends when Grant left the room, and almost immediately reappeared with a small boy in blue uniform. Not one of them recognized him.
"Have you ever seen any of these gentlemen before, my boy?" asked the broker.
"I've seed 'em all, sir," answered the boy.
"State where you saw them last."
"I seed him, and him, and him," said Johnny, pointing out Willis Ford, Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, "at the Grand Central Hotel yesterday mornm'."
Ford started and became very pale.
"What passed between them?"
"He," indicating Ford, "gave some bonds to him," indicating Morrison, "and got back a bit of paper. I don't know what was on it."
"It is false!" ejaculated Willis Ford, hoarsely.
WILLIS FORD AT BAY
The telegraph boy's evidence overwhelmed Willis Ford and his confederates with dismay. The feeling was greater in Ford, for it tended to fasten the theft upon him, while Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, though convicted of falsehood, were at all events sustained by the consciousness that nothing worse could be alleged against them.
"It is false!" asserted Willis Ford, with a flushed face.
"It is true!" declared the telegraph boy, sturdily.
"I don't believe a word of it," said the housekeeper, angrily.
"This is a startling revelation, Mr. Ford," said the broker, gravely.
"It is a base conspiracy, sir," returned Ford, hoarsely. "I submit, sir, that the word of a boy like that ought not to weigh against mine. Besides, these gentlemen," indicating Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, "will corroborate my statement."
"Of course we do," blustered Morrison. "That boy is a liar!"
"I have spoken the truth, sir, and they know it," asserted Johnny, resolutely.
"How much did Grant Thornton pay you for telling this lie?" demanded Willis Ford, furiously.
"I will answer that question, Mr. Ford," said Grant, thinking it time to speak for himself. "I paid him nothing, and did not know till last evening that he had witnessed the interview between you and Mr. Morrison."
"Your word is of no value," said Ford, scornfully.
"That is a matter for Mr. Reynolds to consider," answered Grant, with composure.
"Mr. Ford," said the broker, gravely, "I attach more importance to the testimony of this telegraph boy than you appear to; but then it is to be considered that you are an interested party."
"Am I to be discredited on account of what a wretched telegraph boy chooses to say?" asked Ford, bitterly. "Even supposing him worthy of credence, my two friends sustain me, and it is three against one."
"They are your friends, then?" asked Mr. Reynolds, significantly.
Willis Ford flushed. It was not to his credit to admit that an acknowledged gambler was his friend, yet he knew that to deny it would make Morrison angry, and perhaps lead him to make some awkward revelations.
"I have not known them long, sir," he answered, embarrassed, "but I believe they feel friendly to me. One of them," he added, maliciously, "is an old friend of Grant Thornton."
"Yes," answered Grant, by no means disconcerted. "Tom Calder is from the same town as myself, and I wish him well."
Tom looked pleased at this friendly declaration on the part of Grant, whom, indeed, he personally liked better than Willis Ford, who evidently looked down upon him, and had more than once snubbed him.
"You see," said Ford, adroitly, "that Grant Thornton's old friend testifies against him. I don't think I need say any more except to deny, in toto, the statement of that low telegraph boy."
"I'm no lower than you are," retorted Johnny, angrily.
"None of your impertinence, boy!" said Ford, loftily.
"I must say," interposed the housekeeper, "that this seems a very discreditable conspiracy against my stepson. I am sure, Mr. Reynolds, you won't allow his reputation to be injured by such a base attack."
"Mr. Ford," said the broker, "I have listened attentively to what you have said. I ought to say that a telegraph boy has as much right to be believed as yourself."
"Even when there are three against him?"
"The three are interested parties."
"I have no doubt he is also. I presume he has an understanding with Grant Thornton, who is a suspected thief."
"I deny that, Mr. Ford," exclaimed Grant, indignantly.
"You are certainly suspected of stealing my stepmother's bonds."
"And I have no doubt you took them," declared the housekeeper, venomously.
At this time the doorbell was heard to ring.
"Excuse me for a moment," said the broker. "I will be back directly."
When he had left the room, the parties left behind looked at each other uncomfortably. Willis Ford, however, was too angry to keep silence.
He turned to Grant, and made an attack upon him.
"You won't accomplish anything, you young rascal, by your plotting and contriving! I give you credit for a good deal of cunning in bringing this boy to give the testimony he has; but it won't do you any good. Mr. Reynolds isn't a fool, and he will see through your design."
"That he will, Willis," said the housekeeper. "After all the kindness that boy has received in this house, he might be better employed than in stealing my bonds, and then trying to throw it upon a man like you."
"I don't care to argue with you, Mr. Ford," said Grant, quietly. "You know as well as I do that I didn't steal the bonds, and you know," he added, significantly, "who did."
"I have a great mind to break your head, you impudent boy!"
"That would be a very poor argument. The truth has already come out, and I am vindicated."
"I don't know whether you expect Mr. Reynolds to shield you or not, but, if my mother takes my advice, she will have you arrested, whatever happens."
"I intend to," said the housekeeper, nodding spitefully. "If you had returned the bonds, I did not mean to let the matter drop, but since you have tried to throw suspicion on my son, who has always been devoted to me, I mean to punish you as severely as the law allows."
"I think you will change your mind, Mrs. Estabrook, and let the thief go unpunished," said Grant, in no ways disturbed.
"Not unless you make a full confession; and even then I think you ought to suffer for your base wickedness."
"You are making a mistake, Mrs. Estabrook. I referred to the thief."
"That is yourself."
Grant shrugged his shoulders. He was spared the necessity of answering the attack, for just then the door opened, and Mr. Reynolds re-entered. He did not enter alone, however.
A small man of quiet manner, attired in a sober suit of brown, closely followed him.
All present looked at him in surprise. Who was this man, and what had he to do with the matter that concerned them all?
They were not destined to remain long in doubt,
"Mr. Graham, gentlemen!" said the broker, with a wave of the hand.
The detective bowed courteously.
"Mr. Graham, permit me to ask," continued the broker, "if you have seen any of these gentlemen before?"
"Yes," answered Graham, and he indicated Grant Thornton, Jim Morrison and Tom Calder.
"When did you see them, and where?"
"At the Fifth Avenue Hotel this morning."
"What passed between them?"
"They were talking about some bonds, which that gentleman," indicating Morrison, "acknowledged giving to the boy to sell. He asked for the proceeds, but the boy told him there was something wrong about the bonds, and his employer wouldn't allow him to pass over the money. Upon this, Morrison, as I understand him to be called, said they were given him by a party that owed him money, and threatened that, if he had played a trick upon him, it would be the worse for him."
"Who is that man, Mr. Reynolds?" asked Ford, in nervous excitement.
"One of the best known detectives in the city," quietly answered the broker. "What have you to say to his evidence?"
"That it doesn't concern me. I may be wrong about the boy taking the bonds, but that doesn't involve me. There may have been another party."
"You forget the testimony of the telegraph boy—that he saw you give the bonds to your friend there."
"The boy told a falsehood!"
"I am in a position to confirm the boy's testimony," said the detective.
Willis Ford gasped for breath and seemed ready to sink into the floor. What was coming next?
Mr. Graham turned to the broker and addressed further remarks to him.
"Your statement that four hundred dollars remained to be accounted for, led me to conclude that they would be found in the possession of the party who had abstracted the others. I therefore obtained a search warrant and visited the room occupied by that gentleman, whose name I believe is Willis Ford."
This was an unexpected stroke. Ford did not speak, but kept his eyes fixed upon the detective in evident panic.
"I have just come from Mr. Ford's room," he resumed. "These are what I found there."
He drew from his pocket a long envelope, from which he took four government bonds.
"Will you be kind enough, Mrs. Estabrook," said the broker, gravely, "to examine these bonds and determine whether they are yours?"
The housekeeper took them mechanically and examined them.
"They are mine," she said; "but I cannot believe Willis took them."
"I did not," said Ford, hoarsely, but his eyes were downcast.
"Will you account for their being in your room, then, Mr. Ford?" inquired the broker, sternly.
"That boy must have put them there. I know nothing of them. I am as much surprised as you are."
"We have had enough of this, Mr. Ford," said the broker, coldly. "Your guilt is evident. In robbing your stepmother you have committed a serious crime; but in attempting to throw the guilt upon an innocent boy, you have been guilty of an offense still more detestable, and one which I cannot forgive. You cannot remain in my employment another day. If you will call at the office in the morning, I will pay your salary to the end of the month. That will end all relations between us."
Willis Ford looked like a convicted criminal. For the moment all his hardihood and bravado deserted him.
"Can this be true, Willis?" wailed his stepmother. "Is it possible that you took my bonds, and would have left me to an old age of poverty?"
"No," answered Ford, with a return of his usual assurance. "I am as innocent as a babe unborn. I am the victim of a conspiracy. As Mr. Reynolds is determined to shield his favorite by throwing the blame on it, I must submit. The time will come when he will acknowledge my innocence. Mother, I will satisfy you later, but I do not believe you will think me guilty. Gentlemen, I bid you all good-evening."
No one spoke as he withdrew from the room, and not even Morrison offered to follow him.
When he was fairly out of the room, the broker turned to Morrison.
"Mr. Morrison," he said, "I have a question or two to put to you. I think you will find it to your interest to answer correctly. Do you still maintain that these bonds were given you by Grant Thornton?"
"I may as well make a clean breast of it," said Morrison. "They were given me by Willis Ford."
"To satisfy a gambling debt, was it not?"
"I take it for granted you did not know they were stolen?"
"If I had known it I wouldn't have touched them. I might have been suspected of stealing them myself."
"I believe you."
"You're a gentleman," said Morrison, gratified that his word was accepted.
"Of course you have lost the amount which you consider due you. To be entirely candid with you, I do not feel any sympathy with you. Money won at play must be classed among ill-gotten gains. I hope you will realize this, and give up a discreditable profession."
"I have no doubt your advice is good, sir. Do you want me and Tom any longer?"
"You are at liberty to go. I am indebted to you for coming. You have helped to clear up the mystery of the theft."
"He's a little hard on us, Tom," said Morrison, as they went down the front steps, "but he's treated us like a gentleman. That Ford is a rascal."
"I think so, too," Tom assented.
"And I shall never see a cent of that six hundred dollars," continued Jim Morrison, ruefully.
"If you'll excuse me, I'll go to my own room," said Mrs. Estabrook, pertly. "I want to think quietly of all this."
"Go, by all means," said the broker, courteously. "To-morrow morning your property shall be restored to you."
Next the detective and the telegraph boy withdrew, the latter rich by a five-dollar note, which Mr. Reynolds presented him.
Johnny's eyes sparkled.
"That will make mother happy," he said. "She'll think I am in luck."
"Keep your eyes open, my boy, and be faithful to your employer, and this won't be the last piece of luck that will come your way."
When they were alone Mr. Reynolds turned to Grant and said kindly, "I congratulate you, Grant, on your complete vindication. Those who have wickedly conspired against you have come to grief, and you come out of the trial unscathed. As I am to part with Willis Ford, though you are not competent to take his place, your duties will be somewhat enlarged, and I will take care that your compensation shall be increased."
"I am afraid, Mr. Reynolds, I already receive more than I earn."
"That may be, but I am only anticipating a little. How much do I pay you now?"
"Six dollars a week, sir."
"I will allow you four dollars more, but this additional sum I will keep in my own hands, and credit you with. It is time you were saving something for future use. Will this be satisfactory to you?"
"You are very kind, Mr. Reynolds," said Grant. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Then I will tell you—be faithful in your duties in the office and continue your kindness to Herbert."
Grant decided not to write to his mother about his increase in salary. He preferred to wait till his savings amounted to a considerable sum, and then surprise her by the announcement of his good fortune. In six months, he estimated, he would have more than a hundred dollars, and this to the country minister's son seemed a large sum. At any rate, when he was twenty-one he might hope to be the possessor of a thousand dollars. This opened to Grant a brilliant prospect. It was probably all his father was worth, including all his possessions.
"In spite of my uncle's opposition," thought Grant, "I think I acted wisely in preferring business to college. Now I shall be able to make the family more comfortable."
When Willis Ford called at the office the next morning Grant was gone to the post office. As he returned he met Ford coming out with a check in his hand.
"So it's you, is it?" sneered Ford, stopping short.
"Yes, Mr. Ford."
"I suppose you are exulting over your victory?"
"You are mistaken," said Grant. "It was not my wish that anything unpleasant should happen."
"I suppose not," said Ford, in an unpleasant tone.
"For some reason you have shown a dislike to me from the first," Grant proceeded. "I don't know why. I have always treated you with respect and tried to do my duty faithfully."
"You are a little angel, to be sure."
"Have you any objection to telling me why you dislike me?" he asked.
"Yes, I'll tell you. It is because I see how you are trying to worm yourself into the confidence of Mr. Reynolds. You have plotted against me, and now, thanks to you, I have lost my place."
"I don't consider myself the cause of that, Mr. Ford."
"I do. But you needn't exult too much. I generally pay my debts, and I shan't forget what I owe you. I will be even with you some day."
So saying, he walked off, and Grant returned to his work.
"I can't understand why Mr. Ford should hate me so," he thought.
Willis Ford's feelings were far from enviable when he took leave of the office in which he had long enjoyed an excellent position. He was conscious, though scarcely willing to admit it, that his misfortunes had been brought upon him by his own unwise, not to say criminal, course. None the less, however, was he angry with those whom he had connected with the disaster that had come upon him. He had always disliked Grant Thornton. Now he hated him, and thirsted for an opportunity to do him mischief. Next he felt embittered against Mr. Reynolds, who had discharged him, though it is hardly possible to see how the broker could have done otherwise. This dislike was increased within a few days, and for this reason.
Ford addressed a letter to Mr. Reynolds, requesting a certificate of good character, which would enable him to procure a new situation.
To this request the broker answered substantially as follows:
"I shall be glad to hear that you have changed your course, and have decided to lead an honest lift; but, for the same reason that I am not willing to retain you in my employment, I am unwilling to recommend you without reserve to another business man. If you are willing to refer him to me, on condition that I tell the truth, I will cheerfully testify that you have discharged your office duties to my satisfaction."
"The old fool!" muttered Ford, angrily crushing the letter in his hand. "What use would such a recommendation be to me? Not content with discharging me, he wants to keep me out of employment."
In truth, Willis Ford hardly knew where to turn. He had saved no money, and was earning nothing. In his dilemma he turned to his stepmother.
One forenoon, after he knew the broker and Grant would be out of the way, he rang the bell, and inquired for the housekeeper.
Mrs. Estabrook was agitated when she saw her step-son. She did not like to believe that he had robbed her, but it was hard to believe otherwise.
"Oh, Willis!" she said almost bursting into tears, "how could you take my small savings? I would not have believed you capable of it!"
"You don't mean to say, mother," returned Willis, with well-dissembled and reproachful sorrow, "that you believe this monstrous slander?"
"I don't want to believe it, Willis, heaven knows. But were not the bonds found in your room?"
"I admit it," said Ford; "but how did they get there?"
"Did you not put them there?"
"Certainly not, mother. I thought you knew me better than that."
"But who, then—" began his step-mother, looking bewildered.
"Who should it be but that boy?"
"Have you any proof of this?" asked the housekeeper, eagerly.
"I will tell you what I have found out. I learn that a boy called, on the day in question, at my room and asked to see me. Being told that I was out, he asked leave to go up and wait for me. As the servant had no suspicion, he was allowed to go up. I don't know how long he stayed; but no doubt he had the bonds with him and concealed them where they were found."
"Did you ask for a description of the boy? Was it like Grant?" asked the housekeeper, quickly.
"Unfortunately, the girl did not take particular notice of him. I have no doubt that it was either Grant or the telegraph boy, who seems to have been in the plot."'
Now, this story was an audacious fiction, and should not have imposed upon a person of ordinary intelligence; but the housekeeper was anxious to believe her step-son innocent and Grant guilty. She therefore accepted it without question, and was loud in her denunciation of that "artful young rascal."
"You ought to tell Mr. Reynolds of this, Willis," she said.
"It would be of no use, mother. He is too strongly prejudiced against me. What do you think? He has refused me a letter of recommendation. What does he care if I starve?" concluded Willis, bitterly.
"But I care, Willis. I will not desert you," said Mrs. Estabrook, in a tone of sympathy.
This was just the mood in which Ford desired his step-mother to be. He was desirous of effecting a loan, and after a time succeeded in having transferred to him two of the one-hundred-dollar bonds. He tried hard to obtain the five hundred, but Mrs. Estabrook was too prudent and too much attached to her savings to consent to this. Ford had to be satisfied with considerably less.
"Ought I to stay with Mr. Reynolds after he has treated you in this way, Willis?" asked his step-mother, anxiously.
"By all means, mother. You don't want to throw away a good position."
"But it will be hard to see that boy high in Mr. Reynolds' confidence, after all his wickedness."
"You must dissemble, mother. Treat him fairly, and watch your opportunity to harm him and serve me. Don't say much about me, for it would do no good; but keep your hold on Reynolds."
"If you think it best, Willis," said his stepmother, not without a feeling of relief, for she was reluctant to relinquish a good home and liberal salary, "I will remain."
"Do so by all means. We may as well make all we can out of the enemy, for Mr. Reynolds has treated me very shabbily. And now I must bid you good-by."
"What are your plans, Willis?"
"I can't tell you, but I think I shall go West."
"And I shall never see you!"
"You will hear from me, and I hope I shall have good news to write."
Willis Ford left the house, and, going to the Grand Central Depot, bought a ticket for Chicago.
Now came quite a pleasant period after the trouble and excitement. Grant found his duties at the office increased, and it was pleasant to see that his employer reposed confidence in him. His relations with others in the office were pleasant, now that Willis Ford was away, and every day he seemed to get new insight into the details of the business. Whether Jim Morrison and Tom Calder were in the city, he did not know. At all events, they were never seen in the neighborhood of Wall Street. Grant was not sorry to have them pass out of his life, for he did not consider that he was likely to draw any benefit from their presence and companionship.
He was still a member of Mr. Reynolds' house-hold. Herbert appeared to be as much attached to him as if he were an older brother, and the broker looked with pleasure upon the new happiness that beamed from the face of his son.
As to Mrs. Estabrook, Grant had feared that she would continue to show animosity toward him, but he had nothing to complain of. She certainly did not show any cordiality in her necessary intercourse with him; but then, on the other hand, she did not manifest any desire to injure him. This was all Grant desired. He felt that under no circumstances could he have made a friend of the housekeeper. He was content to have her leave him alone.
After the lapse of six months Grant expressed a desire to go home to pass a day or two. His mother's birthday was close at hand, and he had bought for her a present which he knew would be acceptable. Permission was readily accorded, and Grant passed four happy days at home. His parents were pleased that he was so highly regarded by his employer, and had come to think that Grant's choice had been a wise one.
When Grant returned he went at once to the office. He found it a scene of excitement.
"What has happened?" he asked, eagerly.
"Herbert Reynolds has disappeared, and his father is almost beside himself with grief!" was the startling reply.
After a while Grant learned the particulars about Herbert's disappearance. He had gone out to play in the street about three o'clock in the afternoon. Generally he waited for Grant to return-home, but during his absence he had found other companions. When his father returned home, he inquired of the housekeeper: "Where is Herbert?"
"He went out to play," said Mrs. Estabrook, indifferently.
"In the street?"
"I believe so."
"He ought to be in by this time."
"Probably he went to walk with some of his companions. As he had no watch, he might not know that it is so late."
This seemed very plausible to Mr. Reynolds.
"Yes," he said; "Herbert seems lost without Grant. He will be glad to see him back."
To this Mrs. Estabrook did not reply. She had learned, to her cost, that it would not be politic to speak against Grant, and she was not disposed to praise him. She seldom mentioned him at all.
The dinner bell rang, and still Herbert had not returned. His father began to feel anxious.
"It is strange that Herbert remains so long away," he said.
"I shouldn't wonder if he had gone to Central Park on some excursion," returned the housekeeper calmly.
"You think there is nothing wrong?" asked the broker, anxiously.
"How could there be here, sir?" answered Mrs. Estabrook, with unruffled demeanor.
This answer helped to calm Mr. Reynolds, who ordered dinner delayed half an hour.
When, however, an hour—two hours—passed, and the little boy still remained absent, the father's anxiety became insupportable. He merely tasted a few spoonfuls of soup, and found it impossible to eat more. The housekeeper, on the contrary, seemed quite unconcerned, and showed her usual appetite.
"I am seriously anxious, Mrs. Estabrook," said the broker. "I will take my hat and go out to see if I can gain any information. Should Herbert return while I am away, give him his supper, and, if he is tired, let him go to bed, just finding out why he was out so late."
"Very well, sir."
When Mr. Reynolds had left the house a singular expression of gratified malice swept over the housekeeper's face. "It is just retribution," she murmured. "He condemned and discharged my stepson for the sin of another. Now it is his own heart that bleeds."
Only a few steps from his own door the broker met a boy about two years older than Herbert, with whom the latter sometimes played.
"Harvey," he said, "have you seen Herbert this afternoon?"
"Yes, sir; I saw him about three o'clock."
"Where?" asked the broker, anxiously.
"Just 'round the corner of the block," answered Harvey Morrison.
"Was he alone?"
"No; there was a young man with him—about twenty, I should think."
"A young man! Was it one you had ever saw before?"
"What was his appearance?"
Harvey described Herbert's companion as well as he could, but the anxious father did not recognize the description.
"Did you speak to Herbert? Did you ask where he was going?"
"Yes, sir. He told me that you had sent for him to go on an excursion."
"Did he say that?" asked the father, startled.
"Then there is some mischief afoot. I never sent for him," said the agitated father.
Mr. Reynolds requested Harvey to accompany him to the nearest police station, and relate all that he knew to the officer in charge, that the police might be put on the track. He asked himself in vain what object any one could have in spiriting away the boy, but no probable explanation occurred to him.
On his return to the house he communicated to the housekeeper what he had learned.
"What do you think of it?" he asked.
"It may be only a practical joke," answered the housekeeper calmly.
"Heaven grant it may be nothing more! But I fear it is something far more serious."
"I dare say it's only a boy's lark, Mr. Reynolds."
"But you forget—it was a young man who was seen in his company."
"I really don't know what to think of it, then. I don't believe the boy will come to any harm."
Little sleep visited the broker's pillow that night, but the housekeeper looked fresh and cheerful in the morning.
"Has the woman no feeling?" thought the anxious father, as he watched the tranquil countenance of the woman who for five years had been in charge of his house.
When she was left alone in the house Mrs. Estabrook took from her workbasket a letter, bearing date a month previous, and read slowly the following paragraph: "I have never forgotten the wrong done me by Mr. Reynolds. He discharged me summarily from his employment and declined to give me a recommendation which would secure me a place elsewhere. I swore at the time that I would get even with him, and I have never changed my resolution. I shall not tell you what I propose to do. It is better that you should not know. But some day you will hear something that will surprise you. When that time comes, if you suspect anything, say nothing. Let matters take their course."
The letter was signed by Willis Ford.
A WESTERN CABIN
The speaker was a tall, gaunt woman, in a loose, faded, calico dress, and she stood at the door of a cabin in a Western clearing.
"What yer want?" came as a reply from a tall, unhealthy-looking boy in overalls, who was sitting on a log in the yard.
"I want you to split some wood for the stove."
"I'm tired," drawled the boy.
"I'll tire you!" said the mother, sharply. "You tall, lazy, good-for-nothing drone! Here I've been up since five o'clock, slavin' for you and your drunken father. Where's he gone?"
"To the village, I reckon."
"To the tavern, I reckon. It's there that he spends all the money he gets hold of; he never gives me a cent. This is the only gown I've got, except an old alpaca. Much he cares!"
"It isn't my fault, is it?" asked the boy, indifferently.
"You're a-follerin' in his steps. You'll be just another Joel Barton—just as shif'less and lazy. Just split me some wood before I get hold of yer!"
Abner rose slowly, went to the shed for an ax, and in the most deliberate manner possible began to obey his mother's commands.
The cabin occupied by Abner and his parents was far from being a palace. It contained four rooms, but the furniture was of the most primitive description. Joel Barton, the nominal head of the famliy, was the possessor of eighty acres of land, from which he might have obtained a comfortable living, for the soil was productive; but he was lazy, shiftless and intemperate, as his wife had described him. Had he been as active and energetic as she was, he might have been in very different circumstances. It is no wonder that the poor woman was fretted and irritated almost beyond endurance, seeing how all her industry was neutralized by her husband's habits. Abner took after his father, though he had not yet developed a taste for drink, and was perfectly contented with their poor way of living, as long as he was not compelled to work hard. What little was required of him he would shirk if he possibly could.
This cabin was situated about a mile from the little village which had gathered round the depot. The name of the township was Scipio, though it is doubtful if one in fifty of the inhabitants knew after whom it was named. In fact, the name was given by a schoolmaster, who had acquired some rudiments of classical learning at a country academy.
To the depot we must transport the reader, on the arrival of the morning train from Chicago. But two passengers got out. One of them was a young man under twenty. The other was a boy, apparently about ten years of age, whom he held firmly by the hand.
He was a delicate-looking boy, and, though he was dressed in a coarse, ill-fitting suit, he had an appearance of refinement and gentle nature, as if he had been brought up in a luxurious home. He looked sad and anxious, and the glances he fixed on his companion indicated that he held him in fear.
"Where are you going?" he asked timidly, looking about him apprehensively.
"You'll know soon enough," was the rough reply.
"When are you going to take me home, Mr. Ford?" asked the boy, in a pleading tone.
"Don't trouble yourself about that."
"Papa will be so anxious about me—papa and Grant!"
The young man's brow contracted.
"Don't mention the name of that boy! I hate him."
"He was always good to me. I liked so much to be with him."
"He did all he could to injure me. I swore to be even with him, and I will!"
"But I have never injured you, Mr. Ford."
"How could you—a baby like you?" said Ford, contemptuously.
"Then why did you take me from home, and make me so unhappy?"
"Because it was the only way in which I could strike a blow at your father and Grant Thornton. When your father dismissed me, without a recommendation, not caring whether I starved or not, he made me his enemy."
"But he wouldn't if you hadn't—"
"Hadn't what?" demanded Ford, sternly.
"Taken Mrs. Estabrook's bonds."
"Dare to say that again, and I will beat you," said Willis Ford, brutally.
Herbert trembled, for he had a timid nature, and an exquisite susceptibility to pain.
"I didn't mean to offend you," he said.
"You'd better not. Wait here a minutes, while I look around for some one of whom I can make inquiries. Here, sit dowp on that settee, and, mind you, don't stir till I come back. Will you obey me?"
"Yes," answered the boy, submissively.
THE RIDE TO BARTON'S
Willis Ford went to the station master, who stood at the door with a cheap cigar in his mouth.
"Is there a man named Joel Barton living hereabouts?" he asked.
The station master took his cigar from his mouth and surveyed his questioner with some curiosity.
"Does he owe you money?" he inquired.
"No," answered Ford, impatiently. "Will you answer my question?"
"You needn't be in such a pesky hurry," drawled the station master. "Yes, he lives up the road a piece."
"How far is a piece?"
"Well, maybe a mile."
"Is there any way of riding?"
"Well, stranger, I've got a team myself. Is that boy with you?"
"I'll take you over for half a dollar."
"Can you go at once?"
"Then it's a bargain."
The station master, whose house was only three minutes' walk away, appeared in a reasonable time with a farm wagon, drawn by an old horse that had seen better days, it is to be hoped, for she was a miserable-looking mare.
"Jump in, Herbert," said Ford.
The boy obeyed, and sat on the front seat, between the driver and his abductor.
"I suppose the horse is warranted not to run away?" said Ford, regarding the animal with a smile.
"He ran away with me once," was the unexpected answer.
"When was that?"
"'Bout fifteen years ago," replied the driver, with grim humor. "I reckon he's steadied down by this time."
"It looks like it," said Ford.
"Know Joel Barton?" asked the station master, after a pause.
"I saw him once when I was a boy."
"He married a cousin of my stepmother. What sort of a man is he?"
"He's a no-account man—shif'less, lazy—drinks."
"That agrees with what I have heard. How about his wife?"
"She's smart enough. If he was like her they'd live comfortably. She has a hard time with him and Abner—Abner's her son, and just like his father, only doesn't drink yet. Like as not he will when he gets older."
Willis Ford was not the only listener to this colloquy. Herbert paid attention to every word, and in the poor boy's mind there was the uncomfortable query, "Why are we going to these people?" He would know soon, probably, but he had a presentiment of trouble.
"Yes," continued the station master, "Mrs. Barton has a hard row to hoe; but she's a match for Joel."
"What do you mean by that?"
"She's got a temper of her own, and she can talk a man deaf, dumb, and blind. She gives Barton a piece of her mind whenever he comes home full."
"She ought to have that satisfaction. From what you tell me, I don't feel very proud of my unknown relatives."
"Goin' to stay there any length of time?"
"I don't know my own plans yet," answered Willis Ford, with a glance at the boy. He foresaw a scene when he announced his purpose to leave Herbert in this unpromising place, but he did not wish to anticipate it.
"I suppose Barton is a farmer?" he suggested.
"He pretends to be, but his farm doesn't pay much."
"What supports them?"
"His wife takes in work from the tailors in the the village. Then they've got a cow, and she makes butter. As for Joel, he brings in precious little money. He might pick up a few dollars hirin' out by the day, if he wasn't so lazy. I had a job for him myself one day, but he knocked off at noon—said he was tuckered out, and wanted me to pay him for that half day. I knew well enough where the money would go, so I told him I wouldn't pay him unless he worked until sunset."
"Did he do it?"
"Yes, he did; but he grumbled a good deal. When he got his pay he went over to Thompson's saloon, and he didn't leave it until all the money was spent. When his wife heard of it she was mad, and I expect she gave Joel a taste of the broom handle."
"I wouldn't blame her much."
"Nor I. But here we are. Yonder's Barton's house. Will you get out?"
Abner, who was sitting on a stump, no sooner saw the team stop than he ran into the house, in some excitement, to tell the news.
"Marm," he said, "there's a team stopped, and there's a man and boy gettin' out; 'spect they're coming here."
"Lord's sake! Who be they?"
"Well, go out and tell 'em I'll see' em in a minute."
Abner met them in front of the house.
"Are you Joel Barton's son?" asked Ford.
"That's what the old man says," returned Abner, with a grin.
"Is your mother at home?"
"Marm will be right out. She's slickin' up. Who be you?"
"You'll know in good time, my boy." "Who's he? Is he your son?"
"No," answered Herbert promptly.
Willis Ford turned upon his young ward with a frown. He understood the boy's tone.
"It will be time to speak when you are spoken to," he said sharply.