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Saturday, November 19, 2016

so, I must act quickly, or my cake will be dough. Whatever comes, she must never live to alter her will." All that night he brooded over the way matters had turned. He felt that he would be made a beggar did his aunt discover the forgery. But so far the only will she had made was in his favor. She must not be allowed to make another. "I must watch her closely," he told himself. "She frequently goes out driving, and along the cliff back of the town, too. What if some day her team took fright and went over the cliff? I don't believe she would ever live to tell the tale, and the fortune would be mine!" If Frederic Vernon was bitter against his aunt, he was also bitter against Robert, for he now knew that our hero had exposed the plot to get Mrs. Vernon into an insane asylum. "He goes driving with her," thought the desperate man. "They can both go over the cliff together!" CHAPTER XX. THE RUNAWAY ALONG THE CLIFF. The discovery of the shortage in her bank account made Mrs. Vernon very nervous, and for two nights the lady slept but little. Robert noticed the change in her condition, and pitied her greatly. "It's a shame that Frederic Vernon can't turn over a new leaf," he thought. "But I am afraid that it isn't in him." On the day that Mrs. Vernon expected a reply to her cablegram she felt worse than ever, and Robert suggested that they take a drive together. "We can go along the river road, and then along the cliffs," he said. "I am certain the morning air will do you good, for it promises to be very clear." "Very well, Robert. I will go with you, and you can get a team without delay," she answered. "And shall I drive?" "If you want to." Mrs. Vernon spoke thus, for Robert had taken her out a number of times and had always proved a very careful and reliable driver. In a few minutes Robert was on his way to the livery stable. He met Frederic Vernon on the street, bound for his aunt's boarding place. "Hullo, Frost, how is my aunt to-day?" cried the young man. "Not so well, Mr. Vernon." "That's too bad. What seems to be the trouble?" "She can't sleep nights, so she says." As Robert spoke he looked sharply at the fellow, but Vernon did not change color. "You ought to take her out for a drive," said the young man. "That is just what I am going to do." "Indeed! This morning?" "Yes, just as soon as I can get a team and a carriage." "Good for you. I would take her out myself but somehow I never made a fist at driving." "That is strange. I thought all young men in your station of life liked to drive." "Well--er--the trouble is, I was scared by a horse when I was a little boy. I've never liked horseflesh since." "I see. Well, I have never yet seen the team I was afraid of," answered Robert, telling the exact truth. "Is that so? Well, your time may come." There was a significance in Frederic Vernon's words which was lost upon our hero. "Where are you going to drive?" went on the spendthrift. "Along the river road first, and then along the cliffs." And with these words Robert passed on. He was afraid that if he stopped to talk longer Frederic Vernon might invite himself to go along, and he was quite certain the ride would do Mrs. Vernon no good were such the case. Watching his opportunity, Vernon followed our hero and saw Robert hire a team of white and gray horses, and have them hooked up to a light road carriage. Then he hurried to his boarding house with a peculiar smile on his evil face. "I can see that team coming a long way off," he said to himself. "And I won't make any mistake." With quite a little flourish Robert drove around to Mrs. Cabe's boarding place, and tied up at the block. Soon Mrs. Vernon came out, and he handed her to a seat. "I met your nephew when I went to the livery stable," he observed, as he drove away. "Did he come in?" "No," answered Mrs. Vernon. "Where was he going?" "I thought he was coming to see you." "Did he want to know if I was going out?" "He suggested I take you for a drive, after I told him you were not very well again." "I wonder he never offers to take me driving," mused the lady. "He said he didn't like to drive--that he was afraid of horses." "What, Frederic? Why, he used to own a very fast horse and go out driving in Lincoln Park at home nearly every day." "He told me he had been frightened when a boy by a horse, and had never cared for horseflesh since." "That is not true, Robert. How queer that he should tell such a falsehood. Do you suppose he did it just to get out of driving me?" "I don't know what to think, Mrs. Vernon. On the whole, I think your nephew is a very peculiar young man." "It's too bad." Mrs. Vernon gave a deep sigh. "And he is the only near relative I have!" Fearful that the drive would do the lady small good if they continued to talk about Frederic Vernon, Robert changed the subject, and so skillfully did he manage it that presently Mrs. Vernon grew quite cheerful. Down along the river they stopped for a few minutes, and the boy picked a bunch of wild flowers and presented them to his companion. At length they left the river road and took to that running up along the cliffs previously mentioned. This road was but little used, but its wildness was attractive to both Mrs. Vernon and the youth, for from the upper heights they could see for many miles around. "I would not mind owning a summer home up here," said Mrs. Vernon, as they halted at the highest point in the road. "See how beautiful the Thames looks, winding along through the meadows and woods below us." "It is nice," answered Robert. "But as for a summer home, I rather think I would prefer one in the United States." The lady smiled. "I can see you are an out-and-out Yankee lad, Robert. Well, I cannot blame you. I agree that our life at home is good enough for anybody." Presently Robert started the team again, and they bowled along the edge of the cliff at a rapid gait. To one side was a mass of rocks and shrubbery, while to the other was a valley or gorge forty or fifty feet deep, at the bottom of which flowed a tiny brook on its way to the River Thames. The team was a fresh one, and the drive along the river had just warmed them up. They went along at a spanking pace, and Robert had his hands full holding them in. But it was a pleasant task. "I love a good team," he said, as they sped along. "No old slow-pokes for me." "You are certain you can control them?" asked Mrs. Vernon, as the horses stepped out livelier than ever. "Oh, yes, they are all right," he answered. A quarter of a mile more was covered, when they reached a point where the cliff road wound around a sharp bend. Mrs. Vernon had just called Robert's attention to a pretty scene in the valley far below, when of a sudden somebody leaped out in the road in front of the horses. It was a man wrapped in a white sheet and with a pistol in his hand. The pistol was discharged, and one end of the sheet waved wildly at the same time. The mettlesome horses were badly frightened and reared and plunged wildly. "Oh, Robert, we will be killed!" burst from Mrs. Vernon's lips. "We will be thrown over the cliff!" "Don't jump!" he answered, as he saw her rise up as if to leap from the carriage. He held the reins tightly and spoke to the team as gently as possible. But now another pistol shot rang out, and off sped the team on a furious gallop down the cliff road, with the carriage bumping and rocking after them. Robert felt that a crisis in his life had suddenly arisen. Should he lose all control of the horses it was more than likely that they would leap over the cliff, and that would mean death for both Mrs. Vernon and himself. All in a flash it came to him that Frederic Vernon must have been the man wound in the white sheet who had fired the pistol. "The scoundrel!" he thought. "If we get out of this alive, he'll have a big score to settle with me!" On and on plunged the team, the carriage jolting from side to side, and Mrs. Vernon prepared to leap out at the first move the horses might make toward the gorge. Robert held on to the lines like grim death, his feet braced firmly against the dashboard. It was truly a ride for life or death. In the meantime the man in the white sheet had disappeared as suddenly as he had come. So far the road had been tolerably even, but now came a stretch which was rough, and the carriage came closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. "We are going!" shrieked Mrs. Vernon. "Not yet," answered Robert, and tried to pull the team around. He had partly succeeded when snap! went one of the reins, and he was thrown backward. The breaking of the rein presented a new obstacle to be overcome, and for the second our hero did not know what to do. The team were now out of control, and even the youth was afraid they might leap over the cliff at any instant. But then a new thought occurred to him, and as quick as a flash he stood up and leaped to the back of one of the horses. "Whoa!" he shouted. "Whoa!" and clapped his hat over the creature's eyes. A rearing and a plunging followed. But the horse slowed up and brought the carriage around to the thicket opposite to the cliff. A crashing of bushes followed, and in a few seconds more the team was halted. One of the wheels of the carriage was badly shattered and one horse was cut about the legs, but otherwise no damage was done. CHAPTER XXI. THE CABLEGRAM FROM CHICAGO. As soon as the team came to a halt Robert leaped to the ground and held their heads. "Now you can get out, Mrs. Vernon," he said. "Thank God we are safe!" murmured the lady. She was so weak she could scarcely stand, and once having left the carriage she sank down on a flat rock, her breast heaving with emotion. Robert tied the team fast to a nearby tree, and then came to her side. "You are not hurt, are you?" he asked anxiously. "I--I believe not," she faltered. "But, oh, Robert, we had a very narrow escape!" "That is so, Mrs. Vernon." "Had the carriage gone over the cliff nothing could have saved us from death!" "Yes, it would have been a nasty fall." "And that man who scared the team----" She paused. "Do you imagine----" She could go no further. "Let us talk about that later on, Mrs. Vernon," he put in hastily. "You had better rest here while I see how much the carriage is damaged." Our hero made the examination, and speedily found that the wheel was too badly shattered to permit the turnout being used again until it was repaired. "I'll have to get another carriage," he said. "What will you do, remain here until I get back?" "No! no!" she cried. "I--I--that man--he may come again----" She gazed at him with a world of meaning in her eyes. "You are right," answered Robert. "There is a cottage some distance down the road. Can you walk that far with me?" Mrs. Vernon said she would try, and they started out. As they approached the cottage they met the owner coming away in his wagon. Matters were quickly explained to the Englishman, and he readily agreed to drive them both back to the village. "I hav'n't no quick horses for to run away with ye!" he grinned. "But I can git ye there in time an' safe, too." They seated themselves on a back seat of the farm wagon, and started. The pace was a slow one, and it was fully an hour before they reached the village and the turnout came to a halt before Mrs. Cabe's door. "Let the livery stable people attend to the wreck," said Mrs. Vernon, "and tell them to send the bill to me." "And what of the man who scared us?" asked Robert. "Shall I put the constable on his track?" Mrs. Vernon's face became a study. "Robert, what do you think of this?" "What do you mean?" "Have you any idea who it was?" "Frankly, I have, Mrs. Vernon." "You imagine it was Frederic?" "I do." "But why should he want to--to----" She could get no further, but burst into tears. "Don't you remember he wanted to know about your will? He has probably found out that you have not yet altered it, and----" "Well?" "Well, he wanted to get you out of the way before any change was made. I am sorry to speak so plainly, but I think your nephew is a thorough villain." "But we may be mistaken. The man may have been an ordinary highwayman." Robert shook his head. "I don't believe there are highwaymen in this part of England." Satisfied that the lady would be safe for the time being, Robert hurried off to the livery stable and explained matters to the proprietor. "The horses got frightened on the road," he said, "and in saving them from going over the cliff I had to turn them into a thicket. A wheel is broken and one horse has his legs scratched." "And who is going to foot the bill?" growled the livery stable keeper, imagining he scented trouble. "Mrs. Vernon will pay any fair bill you may present. But she will pay no fancy price for the damage done." "Oh, all right, I won't charge her any more than is necessary," said the man, much relieved. He wished to know how the team had become frightened, but Robert evaded the question, for Mrs. Vernon had not given him permission to speak of the matter. Evidently the lady wished to think over it before deciding what to do. When the young secretary returned to the boarding house he found Mrs. Vernon lying down, having taken a quieting draught. He attended to the writing of several letters, and was just finishing up when a messenger appeared from the telegraph office. "The cablegram," said Robert, looking at the envelope. "Read it, Robert," said the lady, and opening the communication he did as requested. The cablegram was from Mr. Farley. It read as follows: "Check 865, Frederic Vernon. Six hundred dollars." "Check number 865," murmured Mrs. Vernon. "Robert, what is the last stub number in my book?" "Number 838." "Then check number 865 is a forgery!" The young secretary bowed. "It was drawn to the order of Frederic Vernon, and probably cashed by him," went on the lady, her breath coming short and fast. "Mrs. Vernon, we are only reaching a conclusion we guessed at long ago," said the youth soothingly. "I know, I know, Robert! Yet I had hoped there might be some mistake!" "Your nephew is unworthy of the interest you take in him." "That is where he got his money to come here." "He was a fool to commit the forgery. He must have known that it would be discovered sooner or later," said Robert bluntly. He felt that the sooner Mrs. Vernon realized the utter rascality of her nephew the better it would be for the lady. "But if I had been killed--if both of us had been killed----" she began. "Then the forgery would never have been discovered, for your nephew would have taken charge of everything, including your private papers and your check-books." "It is terrible! terrible!" The lady buried her face in a sofa pillow and began to weep. "Robert, what would you advise me to do?" she asked, after a while. "Do you want my candid opinion?" he questioned. "I do." "I would have a straight talk with your nephew, and then send him about his business, and tell him if he ever came near me again I would have him arrested." "I cannot be so harsh with one of my own flesh and blood." "Well, then, I tell you what you might do. You might give him, say, a thousand dollars, with the understanding that he leave the country, and that he does not go back to the United States." "But where would he go?" "There are lots of places to go to--South Africa, South America, or Australia. With a thousand dollars and his passage money he might set himself up in some sort of business and get rich." Mrs. Vernon's face brightened. "If he would only do that I might be so glad! If he really made a man of himself I would not cut him out of my will." "I would not allow him to be around where I was. He is too dangerous a young man. He may try to poison you next." Mrs. Vernon shivered. "Yes, and he may try poisoning you, too, Robert," she said. "I must be very careful. It would not be right for me to let you run any more risk. Perhaps you would prefer to leave my services." "Mrs. Vernon, I will never leave you--at least, so long as you wish me to stay," he cried impulsively. "You are a true friend, Robert, and I should not like to part with you. I will have a talk with Frederic as soon as he shows himself." "I would like to be present at the interview, Mrs. Vernon." "Yes?" "I want to make certain that he tries no violence. After this I am going to arm myself with a pistol," added Robert. "You shall be present, Robert. But perhaps Frederic will not come again--if he imagines that we suspect him." "He will hang around as long as he dares. He can get hold of no money excepting what he wrings from you, and he knows it." At that moment a servant knocked on the door. "What is wanted?" asked our hero, who went to answer the summons. "Mr. Parsons come to see you and Mrs. Vernon," answered the girl. "Mr. Parsons?" repeated the young secretary. "Who is he?" "A farmer, please sir, as lives up back of the cliff. He says he saw you driving, and he has something to tell you." "He must know something of importance," put in Mrs. Vernon eagerly. "Show him up, Lucy." In a moment more Farmer Parsons, a short, ruddy-faced Englishman, entered the apartment hat in hand. Robert gave him a chair, and then closed the door tightly, that no outsiders might hear what the newcomer had to tell. CHAPTER XXII. FARMER PARSONS' STORY. "You will excuse me for troubling you," began Farmer Parsons, after bowing several times to Mrs. Vernon and Robert. "But I thought I just had to come in and tell you that I couldn't help a-doing of it." "Couldn't help doing what?" questioned Mrs. Vernon, in perplexity. "Giving him a sound trouncing, lady. I thought as how he deserved it, I did." "Whom did you whip?" asked Robert. "Why, the lady's relative, of course!" cried the farmer, in surprise. "Isn't he back yet?" "No, we have seen nothing of him." Farmer Parsons fell back in his chair in open-mouthed surprise. "By Harry! then I suppose I've put my foot into it!" he gasped. "Into what?" asked Robert, although he guessed at the truth. "Why I--that is--you see I collared him on the road and I couldn't help but give him the worst trouncing I guess he ever got in his life. He threatened to have me locked up, so I thought I would come here and explain matters." "You caught Frederic Vernon up on the cliff road?" asked Mrs. Vernon. "I did, madam--jest after he had up and scared your horses so that they ran away." "Then it was Frederic, beyond a doubt," murmured the lady faintly. "He said as how he had done it only in fun," went on the English farmer. "But I said it was mighty poor fun, and he deserved a thrashing." "And then you whipped him?" said Robert. "No, I didn't trounce him until after he got impudent and told me to shut up and mind my own affairs. I told him he might have killed both on you." "And what did he say to that?" asked our hero curiously. "He said he knew what he was doing and I must keep my mouth shut, or he would lay the whole thing off on to me. Then I up and knocked him down, madam, and when he comes back it will be limping and with a black eye. But I don't care," added the farmer defiantly. "He deserved it." "I do not blame you, Mr. Parsons," said Mrs. Vernon quietly. "It was a--a mean thing for him to do." "Some folks would have him arrested for it, madam." "I do not doubt but that they would. Where did you leave my nephew?" "I left him to find his way back to the village the best he could. But before we parted I took this thing away from him. I was afraid if I didn't he might shoot me." Farmer Parsons reached into one of the deep pockets of his coat and brought forth a nickel-plated revolver. Mrs. Vernon received it gingerly and passed it over to Robert. "Is it empty?" she asked. "No, it has two cartridges still in it," answered the young secretary, after an examination. "I do not know what to do with it, Robert. I do not want it." "I reckon I'll keep it for the present, Mrs. Vernon," said our hero, and placed the pistol in his hip pocket. The lady turned to Farmer Parsons. "I do not blame you for what you have done," she said. "I imagine my nephew got what he deserved. But I hate a family scandal, and I wish you would not say anything about this matter unless I call upon you." "As you will, madam; only I don't want no trouble----" "You shall get into no trouble, Mr. Parsons; I will see to that. And for coming here, I will pay you for your time." Farmer Parsons wished to refuse, but he was a poor man with a large family to support and he readily accepted the two pounds--about ten dollars--which Mrs. Vernon tendered him. "Very much obliged, madam," he said, as he bowed himself out. "But take my advice and watch your nevvy--watch him closely, for he's a bad un, he is!" And in a moment he was lumbering down the stairs again. For several minutes after the farmer was gone Mrs. Vernon said nothing. She began to pace the floor nervously. The last of her faith in her graceless nephew was shattered. "He is a villain, Robert," she said at last. "A villain in every sense of the word. There does not seem to be a redeeming trait in his whole character." "Well, I wouldn't say that exactly, Mrs. Vernon. But one thing is certain, he is too dangerous a character to be allowed to remain where you are." "You are right, and I shall send him off as you suggested." "And if he won't go?" "He will go--or else he shall go to jail." For once Mrs. Vernon spoke firmly and in a manner that admitted of no dispute. It took a long time to arouse her, but once aroused her nature was a thoroughly stubborn one. In the meantime Frederic Vernon had found his way to one of the ale-houses of the village. As Farmer Parsons had said, he had suffered a severe chastisement and he could scarcely walk. His chin and one eye were much swollen, and his back felt as if it had been pounded into a jelly. "I'll get even with that man," he muttered. "I'd give a hundred dollars to see him hanged!" Entering the ale-house he called for a glass of liquor, and then explained that he had suffered a severe fall from the cliff. As he had spent considerable money in the resort the landlord was all attention and led him to a side room, where he was given the chance to brush and wash up. At the same time the landlord's wife sewed up several rents in his coat and gave him a bit of court-plaster for a cut on his hand. It must be confessed that Frederic Vernon was in a most unsettled state of mind. He hardly knew whether he dared to go to his aunt or not. From the landlord of the ale-house he learned that both Mrs. Vernon and Robert had escaped without serious physical injury, although the report was around that the lady was suffering from severe shock. "I must put on a bold front," he told himself at last. "After all, my word is as good as that yokel's." To put on a bold front, as he expressed it, Frederic Vernon drank rather more than was good for him, and then with a swagger he made his way to Mrs. Cabe's house that evening after supper. "I want to see my aunt," he said to the landlady. "Mrs. Vernon is not feeling very well," said Mrs. Cabe. "I guess she will see me," he returned, and pushed past her and up to Mrs. Vernon's apartment. Robert heard him coming, and the two met at the door. "What do you want?" asked our hero shortly. He saw at once that Vernon was partly under the influence of liquor. "None of your business," retorted the young man. "My business is with my aunt." "She is not well to-night." "Then it is your fault, Frost. I heard all about how you let those horses run away with her." By this time Mrs. Vernon had come to the door, and Frederic Vernon pushed his way into the room. Robert followed, and at the same time his hand went into his pocket to feel if the pistol Farmer Parsons had surrendered was still where he had placed it. "Well, aunt, I've heard that you came close to losing your life this noon," began Frederic Vernon. "It is true," answered Mrs. Vernon coldly. "You ought not to let that boy drive you out. He might have lost all control and you would have been killed." "It was not Robert's fault that the horses ran away." "They wouldn't have run away had I been driving them." "Frederic, I think it is about time that this farce came to an end. You know well enough what made our team run away in the first place." The young man drew back. "Why--er----" he stammered. "You scared them with your white sheet and the pistol." "It's false, aunt. Was that yokel of an Englishman here with his lying story?" "Mr. Parsons was here, yes, and he told the truth, Frederic. You are an out-and-out rascal. My eyes are open at last, and you shall no longer deceive me." As Mrs. Vernon spoke she faced the young man so sternly that he felt compelled to fall back, while his eyes sought the floor. "I--I never deceived you, aunt." "You have deceived me from start to finish, Frederic. At first you neglected my business and caused me several heavy losses. Then, when I engaged Robert to take your place, you tried to get him into trouble over my jewelry. After that you hired that Dr. Remington to aid you in placing me in an insane asylum, and your plot might have proved a success had I not left America. After that, running short of money, you forged my name to a check for six hundred dollars. And now you have finished up by trying to kill both Robert and me. Frederic, I am done with you, and I never want you to come near me again." As Mrs. Vernon concluded the tears started down her cheeks, and she turned away to hide her emotions. Utterly dumfounded, Frederic Vernon sank in an easy chair the picture of despair. He realized that complete exposure had come at last, and he wondered what his rich relative would do with him. CHAPTER XXIII. AUNT AND NEPHEW'S AGREEMENT. "Aunt, you don't mean it!" gasped Frederic Vernon, when he felt able to speak. "I do mean it, Frederic, and it will be useless for you to argue the question," replied the lady, firmly. "But this is a--a--all a mistake," he faltered. "There is no mistake. And as I just said, I will not argue the question." "You--you cast me out?" "I do." "But if you do that, what shall I do?" "Go to work and make a man of yourself. Do that, and perhaps in time I will do something for you." Frederic Vernon shook his head slowly. Then he faced Robert, and his proud face became black with illy-suppressed rage. "This is your work, you young rascal----" he began, when his aunt stopped him. "I will hear no talk like that here, Frederic," she said. "Robert is my best and truest friend, and you must respect him as such." "He has done everything he could to cut me out!" howled the young spendthrift bitterly. "That ain't so," burst out Robert. "You cut yourself out. Your aunt would never have discharged you had you done your work properly--she has told me that a number of times." "I say it's a plot against me!" said Frederic Vernon, hardly knowing how to go on. "Frederic, you are a very foolish young man," came from Mrs. Vernon gravely. "There was a time when I had unlimited confidence in you, and you could have retained that confidence had you chosen so to do. Instead, you became a spendthrift. Now you must go out into the world and earn your own living." "What am I to go at?" he asked, in a hopeless tone. For the time being he seemed utterly crushed. "You have a fair commercial education. You might become a bookkeeper." "Bookkeepers don't earn their salt!" he snapped. "Some of them earn twenty to forty dollars per week," put in Robert. "Twenty to forty dollars! Do you suppose I am going to live on a beggarly twenty dollars per week! Perhaps a low-bred boy like you can do it. I am used to something better." "I am not a low-bred boy," retorted Robert, clenching his fists, at which Frederic Vernon fell back before him. "I consider my breeding as good as yours, perhaps better." "I will have no further arguments or quarrels," said Mrs. Vernon, coming between them. "Aunt, do you mean to throw me off without a cent?" pleaded Frederic Vernon. "If you do that I shall starve, here among strangers. At least, pay my fare back to the United States." "I do not want you to go back to the United States." "Then where shall I go?" "I have been thinking that over. Your best plan will be to strike out for some new country, say South Africa, South America, or perhaps Australia, where you can take a fresh start in life." "I can't go to any of those places without money." "I understand there are splendid openings in South Africa, and in Australia. If you will agree to go to one or the other of those places, and to keep away from the United States for at least five years, I will pay your passage money and give you a thousand dollars besides." The young man's face brightened, but then it fell again. "A thousand dollars isn't much," he ventured. "It is enough." "Make it five thousand, aunt, and I'll agree never to bother you again." "No, I will not give you a cent more than the thousand dollars, and Robert shall buy your passage ticket." "Always that boy!" howled the young man. "Cannot you trust me even to buy my own ticket?" "I am sorry to say I cannot." "You won't make it two thousand?" pleaded the wayward nephew. "Well, I will give you fifteen hundred dollars," replied Mrs. Vernon, weakening a little. "That will give you a splendid start in some new place. Some men have made fortunes in South Africa and in Australia." "I don't want to go to South Africa; I might try Australia. Dick Roberts went to Sydney, and, I believe, is doing first-rate." "You ought to do as well as young Roberts. You have just as good an education." "And how soon do you want me to start?" "You must start within the next week." "That is rather short notice." "There is nothing to keep you here. You can find out when the Australian steamer leaves, and what the fare is, to-morrow," replied Mrs. Vernon. A long discussion followed, in which Robert took but small part. In vain Frederic Vernon pleaded for more money and more time. Mrs. Vernon remained obdurate, and at last the graceless nephew bid her good-night and left. As the door closed after him the lady uttered a heavy sigh of relief. "I am glad that is over, Robert," she murmured. "It was certainly a heavy trial for you," he said, with a smile of sympathy. "I trust he doesn't bother me any more before he leaves." "I think it won't do any harm if I watch him and see what moves he makes. He may try to play some game upon you at the last minute, you know." "Perhaps you are right, Robert. But so long as he remains around I shall try to look out for myself." The next morning Robert met Frederic Vernon on the street, near the post-office. At once the spendthrift caught our hero by the arm. "Come along, I want to talk to you," he said, with a dark look on his face. Feeling well able to take care of himself, Robert followed the young man down a side street which was practically deserted. "You think you are mighty smart, don't you?" began Vernon, as soon as he felt that they were out of hearing of outsiders. "I think I am smart in some things, Mr. Vernon," replied Robert, as coolly as he could. "You think it's a fine thing to have me shipped off to Australia." "It may prove the making of you." "You want to get me out of the way so that you can get hold of my aunt's fortune." "Well, it will be a good thing for her and for me when you are out of the way. You are too dangerous a young man to have around." "Bah! What I have done against her doesn't amount to shucks." "There is a difference of opinion on that score." Frederic Vernon shook his fist in Robert's face. "You have me down now, and I can't help myself," he hissed. "But my time will come, remember that!" "Are you going to Australia, as your aunt wishes?" "That is none of your business." "She has made it my business." "Do you mean to say you have been sent to watch me?" "Yes, I am going to see that you are going to leave England, as intended." "Then that is another score I will have to settle with you." Without a word more, Frederic Vernon turned on his heel and hurried away. Robert continued to the post-office for the mail, and then purchased a railroad and steamship guide. In the guide he found that a steamer for Australia would sail from Liverpool on the next Tuesday at noon. He also learned where tickets could be procured, and the rate of fare. With this information he returned to Mrs. Vernon. One of the letters from America interested the lady deeply. "I ought to return to Chicago at once," she said, after reading it. "There is to be a change in a manufacturing company in which I hold a large interest." "Well, your nephew can sail for Australia on Tuesday," answered Robert. "We might return to New York by steamer, starting a day or two later." That afternoon Frederic Vernon called upon his aunt again. He was quite humble now, for the last of the six hundred dollars procured on the forged check had been spent, and he was afraid Mrs. Vernon might cut him off entirely unless he agreed to do exactly as she desired. "Robert tells me there is a steamer for Australia on Tuesday next," said the lady. "You can take that, Frederic." "Very well," he answered. "But I must have the money for the ticket. I am dead broke." "I will give you five pounds to spend on an outfit and to keep you until you sail. Robert will buy your ticket." "I am old enough to do that myself," grumbled Frederic. "No; I prefer to have him do so," said Mrs. Vernon pointedly, and the nephew did not dare to argue the point. The ticket was bought on Saturday. Then Mrs. Vernon announced that Robert should see the young man to Liverpool and to the steamer. "I hope all goes well," said Mrs. Vernon to our hero in private. "You must make certain that Frederic sails as intended." CHAPTER XXIV. THE ATTACK IN THE STATEROOM. Frederic Vernon was only calm outwardly; inwardly he was boiling with rage, and more than anxious to "get square" with Robert. He attributed his downfall completely to the young secretary. "If it hadn't been for him I could have hoodwinked aunt right along," he told himself. "It's a shame that I've got to do just what that boy wants me to." As soon as he heard that Robert was going to accompany him to Liverpool, he set to work to hatch up some plot against our hero. Robert was to carry the fifteen hundred dollars, and give it to Frederic when the time came for the steamer to depart, and when young Vernon was on board. Frederic Vernon spent Sunday night with his aunt, and did what he could to get Mrs. Vernon to allow him a little more money. As a consequence, he came away a hundred dollars richer than would otherwise have been the case. Nor was this all. At the last minute, while the aunt was getting the money for him, he picked up some of Mrs. Vernon's jewels and slipped them into his pocket. Among the jewels was a diamond crescent worth five hundred dollars, and a pair of earrings worth three hundred dollars more. Mrs. Vernon was not feeling well, and as soon as her nephew left she retired for the night, and the jewels were not missed until forty-eight hours later. Early the next morning Frederic Vernon started for Liverpool, with Robert with him. "I won't wake my aunt up to say good-by," said the young man. "I always hate a scene." "She will be glad not to be disturbed," thought Robert, but said nothing. Arriving in Liverpool Frederic Vernon set about buying such things as he thought he would need on his long ocean trip. "Will you go along to the shops?" he asked Robert. "No, I will remain at the hotel," answered our hero. So Frederic Vernon went off alone. He had no heart to buy what was needed, for the thought of going to Australia was very distasteful to him. "It won't be like living in Chicago or New York," he thought. "It's beastly uncivilized out there. I wish I could put Frost in my place and stay behind myself." Among the places he visited was a ticket broker's office, and here he asked what they would give for the ticket to Australia. Tickets were just then in good demand, and the broker looked the matter up. "I'll give you seventy-five per cent. of its cost," he said. "But I want the ticket right away." "I can give it to you in about an hour." "That is positive?" "Yes." "Very well, bring it to me. I have a customer who wishes just such a ticket, but I cannot hold him long." At once Frederic hurried back to the hotel. "I am going on board the steamer at once," he said. "Give me my ticket." "You seem to be in a tremendous hurry," said Robert suspiciously. "Well, I'll tell you the truth, Frost, since we are to part to meet no more. Some of my old creditors are after me and I want to give them the slip." "I see." Robert felt it would not be honorable to help Frederic Vernon escape his creditors, but at the same time there was no use in detaining the young man, since he would have no money with which to settle his old obligations. But he would not give up the ticket. "I will go to the steamer with you, and give you the ticket there," he said. He was firm in this, and wondering what he had best do next, Frederic Vernon led the way to the street and hailed a passing cab. The two got in and were driven to the docks without delay. The young man had his hand-baggage with him. "Now I am off," he said. "Give me the ticket and the money, and good-by to you." "I will take you on the steamer," said Robert firmly. Vernon grated his teeth, but had to agree, and both went on board, and down to the stateroom which had been selected. It was a room for two, but as yet Vernon occupied it alone. "Now let me see that money and the ticket," snapped the young man. "I am not going off until I am sure that everything is right." Sitting down on the edge of the lower berth, Robert brought out the articles in question, and passed them over. Vernon inspected the ticket closely and counted the money. "There is twenty dollars missing," he declared. "No, the money is all right," cried Robert. "Well, count it out to me and see for yourself." Anxious to prove that the amount was correct Robert began to count the bills one after another. As he was doing this Frederic Vernon suddenly raised the umbrella he carried and brought down the heavy handle with crushing force on the boy's head. The blow was as cruel as it was unexpected, and with a groan Robert fell forward on the stateroom floor. Vernon bent over him, to find that he was totally unconscious, and liable to remain so for some time to come. "That's the time I paid him off," muttered the rascal. "I'll teach him to meddle in my private affairs." He gathered up the ticket and the money, and prepared to leave the stateroom. Then a sickly smile came over his face. "Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," he muttered, and going back he relieved Robert of his watch, his pocketbook, and the scarfpin Mrs. Vernon had given him. "I reckon I'll be pretty well fixed for awhile," said the young rascal to himself. "And if the steamer carries him off to South Africa or Australia perhaps I'll be able to tell aunt a pretty good story and get back into her good graces." Leaving the stateroom he locked the door, and as an extra precaution he stuffed the keyhole with a paper wad. "Now he won't get out in a hurry, even if he does come around," he added, and hurried on deck and to the crowded dock. Soon he was lost to view amid the people and drays that were coming and going. Half an hour after Frederic Vernon's departure a burly man of forty-five came on board the steamer and engaged the vacant berth in the stateroom Robert was occupying. "I hope I have a good room-mate," observed Mr. Pelham, as he found his way below. "Frederic Vernon, eh? Well, that's a pretty good name." He reached the stateroom, and finding the door locked, knocked upon it several times. No answer came back, and Mr. Pelham was perplexed. "Can the key be at the office?" he mused, and went off to see if such was the case. Of course the article was not there, and a porter followed him to the room to let him in. "The keyhole is stuffed," said the porter, after an examination. "Some of the children on board have been playing pranks again." "Hark!" cried Mr. Pelham. "Am I mistaken, or did I hear a groan?" He and the porter listened. The gentleman was not mistaken, for now a second groan sounded out, more loudly than the first. "Your room-mate must be sick!" cried the porter. "Hi, there, sir, please open the door?" he called. But Robert paid no attention, for he was not yet conscious. The porter dug away at the paper wad, and at last extricated it from the keyhole. Then he inserted the key and swung the door back. Both men uttered exclamations of horror, for Robert lay across the lower berth unconscious, and with a small stream of blood running over his temple and cheek. "Gracious! This looks like suicide!" ejaculated Mr. Pelham. "Run for the captain and a doctor, quick!" The porter needed no second bidding, and made off with all speed. When he returned he found that Mr. Pelham had propped Robert up on a pillow and bound up the small wound on our hero's head with a handkerchief. "Whe--where is he?" were Robert's first words. "He? Who?" asked the men who surrounded him. "Frederic Vernon, the man who struck me down." "So you were struck down?" said the captain of the steamer. "I--I was," gasped Robert. "Did he--he escape?" The others looked around, but of course Vernon was nowhere to be seen. "He must have escaped," said Mr. Pelham. "Frederic Vernon, you said. He was to be my room-mate." A number of questions followed, and Robert told his tale, to which the others listened with close attention. Then a search was instituted for Frederic Vernon, but this was unsuccessful. "He has left the ship," declared the captain. "It's not likely that he wanted to go to Australia." It was not until some time later that Robert discovered the loss of his purse, watch, and the scarfpin, and then he was more angry than ever. "Oh, if only I can lay hands on him," he thought. "I'll make him suffer for all his evil doings!" CHAPTER XXV. A FRIEND IN NEED. The steamer was now ready to sail, and Robert went ashore with a number of others who had come aboard to see their friends off. Just as he left the gang-plank a belated passenger came rushing on the ship. It was the man who purchased Frederic Vernon's ticket at the cut-rate office. It must be confessed that Robert was much downcast as he walked slowly away from the dock. Here he was in Liverpool without a shilling in his pocket, and the mission he had undertaken for Mrs. Vernon had proved a miserable failure. "I was a chump not to watch Vernon more closely," he muttered to himself. "I might have known that he was just waiting to get the best of me." Presently the idea struck him that Frederic Vernon might be watching the steamer to learn whether or not his victim would come ashore or set sail in the ship. "I'll see if he is anywhere around," he thought, and set out on the hunt without delay. The docks were piled high with merchandise of all sorts, and thus afforded numerous hiding places. Robert made his way from one corner to another, until he reached a tall pile of lumber. On the top of this were seated half a dozen boys and a young man. The latter individual was Frederic Vernon, who had returned to the dock to do just as our hero had suspected. Vernon saw Robert at the same instant that the boy spotted him, and before our hero could reach the place he leaped from the lumber pile and started on a dead run for the street beyond the dock. "Hi, stop!" cried Robert, giving chase. "Stop the thief!" The boys and a number of others took up the cry, and in a few minutes fully a score of people were following Frederic Vernon. Down one street and up another went the crowd, Vernon keeping fully a square ahead of them. Robert was nearest to him, and presently saw the rascal dart into an alleyway. When our hero reached the alleyway Vernon was out of sight. Robert and the crowd searched the alleyway from end to end, but without success. Vernon had slipped all of his pursuers, and had hired a cab to take him to another part of the city. The rascal remained in hiding at an obscure boarding house for nearly a week, and then took passage for Boston, satisfied that since Robert had not sailed for Australia, it would be worse than useless for him to appeal again to his aunt. After the chase was over Robert found himself tired out and as hungry as a bear. Moreover his head, which the ship's doctor had patched up with court-plaster, hurt him not a little. "Another failure," he muttered disconsolately. "Did ever a fellow have such a run of bad luck before!" Had Vernon not been a close relative of the lady who employed him, Robert would have put the case in the hands of the Liverpool police, and got them to telegraph to Mrs. Vernon for him for aid. But this he knew would not suit the lady at all. "I must find some means of getting back to Chishing without the aid of the police," he told himself. "Perhaps I'll run across somebody I know." He scanned every face he met, but for several hours was unsuccessful. At last he met a farmer he had seen on the River Thames several times. Farmer Goodall had come to Liverpool to see his son off, who was bound for America. Father and son had just separated when our hero ran across the former. "How do you do, Mr. Goodall," said Robert, extending his hand. "I trust you remember me." "Indeed I do, Mr. Frost," answered the farmer, as he shook hands. "What brings you here? Are you going back home?" "Not yet. I came on a little business for Mrs. Vernon. You know I am her private secretary." "So they told me in the village, sir." "I was just looking for somebody I might know," went on the youth. "I've got myself into trouble." "Indeed, and how is that?" "I've been robbed of my watch, my scarfpin and my money." "Gracious me! is it possible, Mr. Frost? It must have been a bold thief that could do that." "He caught me in an out-of-the-way spot and hit me over the head." Robert showed the plastered cut. "I just wish I could get hold of him." "I've no doubt of that, sir. So he stole your pocketbook, eh? Then perhaps you are out of money." "I am, and I was just looking for somebody who would advance me enough with which to get my dinner and a railway ticket to Chishing. Of course as soon as I get back Mrs. Vernon will, I am certain, make good the amount." "Then in that case I'll advance what you need," answered Farmer Goodall. "But I am going back myself, and perhaps we can travel together, if you don't mind." "Not at all." "I generally travel second-class, but if you----" "Second class will suit me well enough, Mr. Goodall. In America, you know, we have no classes at all, although in the South we have coaches for white folks, and coaches--we call them cars--for colored people." "So I've heard. I suppose my son John will see many strange sights when he gets to New York. I've just been seeing him off." "He will, for New York is somewhat different from any city you have over here. Is he going to remain in New York?" "No, he's going to Chicago first, and then to what they call the West. I don't know much about it, but I hope the buffaloes and Indians don't kill him, that's all. Come on and have something to eat." "I don't believe the buffaloes and Indians will trouble him," said Robert, as they moved toward an eating house. "There are very few buffaloes left, and none around the cities and towns, and as for the Indians they are quite peaceful now and live on the reservations the government has allotted them." "It must be a great country. I wanted to go there when I was a young man, but my wife objected. She didn't want to take the long voyage over the ocean." "That I presume was before we had the swift ocean steamers." "Yes. Those that went over took the sailing vessels, and the trip lasted about a couple of months or so." They entered a modest but respectable eating house, and here Farmer Goodall ordered a substantial dinner for two. He looked curiously at Robert when the youth turned down his glass. "What, lad, won't have a bit of ale with your eating?" he queried. "No, Mr. Goodall, thank you just the same. I never drink." "Don't like to mix good ale with your eating?" "I never drink at all." The farmer dropped his knife and fork in sheer amazement. "So you are temperance. Well, well! you Americans are queer folks, I must allow." "All our folks are not temperance, I can assure you of that," laughed Robert. "Some of them drink far more than is good for them." "I've been used to my ale from childhood; I couldn't get along without it," answered the farmer, and then fell to eating, and Robert did the same. The dinner finished, the two walked around to the railway station, and learned that they could get a train for Chishing in an hour and a half. "I guess I had better spend the time in looking around for that thief," said Robert. "Shall I go along?" "If you wish to do so, Mr. Goodall." "Yes, since I haven't anything else to occupy the wait with," answered the farmer. But the hunt amounted to nothing, and ten minutes before train time the two reached the station again. Promptly on time the train rolled in, and Robert and his friend entered one of the second-class coaches. Luckily they were the only passengers, so to the boy it was quite like riding in a special car. Had he had the money he would have purchased some books and newspapers with which to while away the time, but he did not care to make any further calls upon the farmer's generosity, so contented himself with gazing at the scenery along the road and in talking with his companion. It was long after nightfall when they reached Chishing. "You can settle up with me to-morrow," said Farmer Goodall. "I want to get home now and tell Dora how John got away," and so they separated. It must be admitted that Robert's heart was heavy when he walked to the Cabe boarding house. "I've made a bad mess of it," he told himself. "Perhaps Mrs. Vernon will not like it at all. Who knows but what she may discharge me for what has happened." CHAPTER XXVI. IN CHICAGO ONCE MORE. Mrs. Vernon was sitting up waiting for Robert's return. She at once saw by his face that something was wrong. "How did you get hurt?" she cried, as she noticed the court-plaster on his forehead. "It's a long story, Mrs. Vernon," he answered, as he dropped into a chair. "I'm afraid you will be very angry when I tell you all." "Why, Robert, what has happened?" "I allowed your nephew to slip through my fingers." "And that bruise on your head?" "He did that. He knocked me senseless and robbed me of my watch, my pocketbook, and also that diamond scarfpin you gave me." "And he has robbed me too," added the lady. "Robert, I am very sorry for you!" And she caught his hand. "Robbed you!" he ejaculated. "You mean that check?" "No, more than that. He took some of my jewelry the last time he visited me." Again Robert had to tell his tale, and this time he related all of the details, for he felt that it would not do to hold back anything from the lady. She listened with her face growing whiter every instant. "He is a terrible villain, Robert," she gasped at last. "So he did not sail for Australia, after all." "No. I think he must be still hiding in Liverpool." "Were it not for the scandal I would place a detective on his track. The attack on you was a most cowardly one." "I don't believe he will worry either of us again very soon," said the boy. "He is too much afraid of arrest." "He knows I am very indulgent," she sighed. "Yes, but he knows he now has me to deal with as well as yourself, and he won't expect to find me so tender-hearted." "That is true." "If he shows his nose again I will make him give up what he stole and then threaten him with immediate arrest if he comes near us a second time," went on our hero warmly. They figured up between them that Frederic Vernon, after disposing of the stolen things, would have about three thousand dollars in his possession. "That will probably keep him for twelve months, since he used to expend that amount yearly," said Mrs. Vernon. "Oh, I sincerely trust I never see or hear of him again." She promised to make good Robert's loss. "I will buy you another scarfpin when we go back to London," she said, "and also another timepiece." "The watch came from my father," answered Robert. "I would like to get it back if I could." "We will notify the Liverpool police to search for it in the pawnshops." On the next day Mr. Goodall received a call from Robert, who paid the farmer the money coming to him, and gave him a gift in addition. "I shall not forget your kindness, Mr. Goodall," he said. "I trust some day I shall be able to do as much for you." "Perhaps some day you'll meet my son John in America," replied the farmer. "If so, and you can give him a lift, that will please me more than anything else." "I'll remember, if we ever do meet," said Robert. The Liverpool police were notified, and inside of thirty-six hours the watch was recovered from a pawnbroker who had loaned two pounds on it. But the jewelry could not be traced. Ten days passed, and then Mrs. Vernon received several additional letters from Chicago urging her to return home. Robert also received a very interesting letter from Livingston Palmer, but no communication from his mother, which disappointed him not a little. "I would like to know how she and Mr. Talbot are getting along," he thought. "I hope he isn't making her any fresh troubles." He did not know that his mother had written, telling of her hard lot, and that Mr. Talbot had intercepted the communication and burnt it up. "I think we had better sail for New York next Saturday, Robert," said Mrs. Vernon. "I do not wish to lose anything by not being in Chicago if my presence is required there." "I am more than willing," he answered promptly. "You do not like England then?" "Oh, I can't say that. But I like the United States better." "So do I, and that is natural, for both of us were born and brought up there." Friday night found them in Liverpool, and here they engaged passage on one of the fastest transatlantic vessels running to New York. By Saturday afternoon they were well out on the ocean. On the whole, the trip to England had done both Mrs. Vernon and Robert a good deal of good. Robert's face was round and ruddy, and he looked what he was fast becoming, a young man. "They won't be able to call you a boy much longer," said Mrs. Vernon, during the trip. "I suppose you will soon be sporting a mustache." And she laughed. "I guess I can wait a while for that," answered Robert. "But I won't mind if people think you have a young man for a secretary, instead of a boy. Some folks don't like to trust their business with a boy." "I am perfectly willing to trust you, Robert." "A man might have been smarter in Liverpool than I was." "I don't think so. You were taken off your guard, and that might happen to anyone." The voyage passed without special incident outside of a severe storm which was encountered on the third day out. During this storm all of the passengers had to remain below, and meals were served only under great difficulties. "This is not so pleasant," observed Robert. "But I suppose we have got to take the bitter with the sweet." "I shall be thankful if we don't go to the bottom," said Mrs. Vernon, with a shudder. The storm lasted for twelve hours, and then departed as speedily as it had come, and the balance of the trip proved ideal, for at night there was a full moon, making the ocean look like one vast sheet of silver. It was about four o'clock of an afternoon when they came in sight of New York harbor. From a distance they made out the statue of Liberty. "Home again!" cried Robert. "I tell you there is nothing so good as the United States." "Right you are, young man," replied a gentleman standing near. "I have traveled in many foreign countries, but give me the States every time." They anchored at Quarantine over night, and landed at the pier ten o'clock the next morning. One day was spent in New York, and then they took the train for Chicago. It made Robert's heart swell with delight to tread the familiar streets of Chicago once more. It seemed to him that he had been away a long time. Mrs. Vernon had sent word ahead that she was coming, and at the depot a coach awaited her to take the lady and Robert to the handsome mansion of Prairie Avenue. Here Martha, the maid, met them at the door, her good-natured face wreathed in smiles. "Welcome home again, Mrs. Vernon!" she cried joyfully. "And glad to see you, Master Robert." "I am glad to be back," answered Mrs. Vernon. Robert was soon back in his old room, and the expressman brought in the trunks. By night the youth was as much settled as he had ever been, and the same can be said of the lady who had made him her private secretary. Mrs. Vernon's first move in the morning was to settle domestic affairs. Two days later Mr. Farley called upon her, and her next move was to attend a meeting of the stockholders of one of the companies in which she was interested. "If you wish you can take a run home, Robert," she said, before going away. "I thought, if you did not mind, I would go home over next Sunday," he replied. "Then you can do that. But I shall not need you to-day." "Then I'll take a walk downtown and see how matters look." Before going out Robert wrote a long letter to his mother, telling of his adventures in England, and stating when he was coming home. As he had done with the other letters, he marked this for Personal Delivery only, and sent it in care of the postmaster at Granville, that his step-father might not get hold of it. His first call was at Mr. Gray's office, where he found Livingston Palmer behind the desk as usual. "Right glad to see you, Robert," cried the clerk. "And I must thank you for that gift of yours." "I trust you had a good time on your money, Livingston." "Well, I didn't spend it foolishly, I can tell you that. I have learned a lesson, Robert. I am saving my spare money, and I am putting in most of my nights in learning stenography and typewriting. I have an offer of twenty-five dollars per week if I learn stenography thoroughly, and I am pegging away at it for all I am worth." "I am glad to hear it," answered Robert heartily. "I have taken up stenography myself," and such was a fact. The conversation lasted for quarter of an hour, and then our hero mentioned Dick Marden. "Why, he is in town and at the Palmer House," said Livingston Palmer. "I saw him yesterday afternoon. You had better call on him. I know he will be glad to see you." "I certainly will call on him, and at once," said Robert, and moved off without further delay. CHAPTER XXVII. DICK MARDEN'S GOOD NEWS. On entering the Palmer House Robert was very much surprised to run across Dr. Remington. At first glance he did not recognize the physician, for the latter's face was much bloated, showing that he had been drinking heavily, and his general appearance was seedy to the last degree. "Why, hullo!" cried Dr. Remington, on seeing our hero. "When did you get back to Chicago?" "I got back yesterday," replied Robert coldly. He was about to pass on when the doctor detained him. "Got back yesterday, eh? Did you have a nice trip?" "Yes." "Glad to hear it, Frost. And how is Mrs. Vernon?" "Very well." "Good enough. I suppose an ocean trip was just what she wanted." "It was," said Robert. He was struck with a sudden idea that perhaps Remington knew something of Frederic Vernon's whereabouts. "How have you been?" "Oh, so so. You see, I've been troubled a good deal lately with the grippe." "A doctor ought to be able to cure himself of that." "So one would think, but it's pretty hard for a doctor to cure himself, even though he can cure others." "How is your old friend Frederic Vernon these days?" went on our hero, in an apparently careless tone. At this question Remington's face fell and took on a sour look. "Vernon played me a mean trick," he muttered. "How so?" "Why, I--er--I loaned him some money, and he went off without paying me back." "And you haven't seen anything of him since?" "No. Do you know where he is?" "I do not." "Didn't he follow you to Europe?" "He did. But he wasn't there long before he cleared out," added Robert. By the manner in which Remington spoke he felt that the doctor had told the truth about Frederic Vernon, and if this was so it was likely that Vernon had not returned to Chicago. "I'll wager he worried his aunt a good bit while he was there," went on Remington, closing one eye suggestively. "He did. But I must go on, because I do not wish to miss meeting a friend of mine." Robert tried to proceed, but again the seedy doctor detained him. "Hold on a bit, Frost. I--er--that is, how are you fixed?" "What do you mean?" "Can you lend me ten dollars for a few days? I'm out trying to collect some bills from my patients, but all of them seem to be out of town." This statement was a falsehood, for Remington had neither an office nor a practice left, and the few people that he did treat now and then had to pay him his small fee in spot cash. "You will have to excuse me, Dr. Remington," said Robert. He saw no reason for accommodating the man who had caused his best friend so much trouble. "Won't you lend me the money?" demanded the doctor half angrily. "I will not." "Don't get on a high-horse about it, Frost. Anybody is liable to get into a hole now and then." "I am not getting on a high-horse. I don't care to lend you ten dollars, that's all." "Then make it five. I'll pay you back to-morrow evening, sure." "Dr. Remington, I shall not lend you five cents. I understand you, and I have no use for you. Now let me pass." "You--you monkey!" hissed the irate doctor, and raised the cane he carried as if to strike Robert on the head. But the steady gaze out of our hero's eyes disconcerted him, and lowering the stick he passed on, and was soon swallowed up in the crowd on the street. Robert found Dick Marden's room without trouble, and came upon the miner just as the latter was preparing to go away for the day. "Robert, my boy!" cried Dick Marden, as he shook our hero's hand warmly. "I was just wondering if you were in Chicago or in England. You look well. How has it been with you?" "All right, on the whole," answered the boy. "But I've had some strange adventures since I parted with you." "Tell me about them." The two sat down and Dick Marden listened with deep interest to all Robert had to relate. "That Frederic Vernon is a bad one--a regular snake in the grass," he declared. "You want to beware of him." "I intend to keep my eyes open." "And you want to watch that Remington, too. Now Mrs. Vernon is back to Chicago the pair may try to do her further injury." "But Remington says he doesn't know where Vernon is." "Never mind, rogues always manage to get together again, no matter how they become separated, and they soon patch up their differences if there is any booty in sight. Do you know what I think that lady ought to do?" "What?" "Employ a detective as a sort of bodyguard. Then if that nephew and the doctor try any underhanded work the detective can catch them red-handed." "I will suggest that to Mrs. Vernon." "I suppose you would like to know how matters are going on at Timberville, Michigan." "I would." "Well, the news is first-rate. In the first place my uncle, Felix Amberton, is as well as ever again." "I am very glad to hear that." "In the second place his lawyers have made it so warm for those Canadians and Englishmen that were trying to defraud my uncle out of his timber lands, that the foreigners have given up the contest." "They have left Mr. Amberton in sole possession of the lands?" "Exactly. That map you procured from old Herman Wenrich did the business." "In that case I don't think Mr. Wenrich ought to be forgotten by your uncle." "My uncle has sent Herman Wenrich his check for one thousand dollars." "That's nice. I am certain it will help Mr. Wenrich and his daughter Nettie a good deal, for they are not very well off." "My uncle also thinks that you ought to be rewarded for your trouble," continued the miner. "He told me that as soon as you returned to America he was going to place a thousand dollars in the bank to your credit." "A thousand dollars!" ejaculated Robert. "What for?" "For what you did for him." "I didn't do so much." "He thinks you did, and so do I. You had lots of trouble in getting that map, and lots of trouble in delivering it after you got it." "But a thousand dollars!" "My uncle can easily afford it, for the timber lands are worth fifty times that amount." "I am getting rich," mused Robert. "Do you know how much Mrs. Vernon has given me?" "I haven't the least idea." "When we were in England she placed two thousand dollars in the bank to my credit. The money will be transferred to a Chicago bank in a few days." "That will make three thousand dollars. You are doing well, Robert, but you deserve it. You have had no easy time of it, to defend Mrs. Vernon against that unscrupulous nephew of hers." "I hardly think he will dare bother me again. He knows that I can have him locked up for the assault on me." "What do you intend to do with your money?" "I am going to let it rest in the bank for the present, until I see some good investment. I am adding a little to it every month from my salary." "I am glad to see you haven't turned spendthrift, Robert," said Marden warmly. "Many a young fellow would have his head turned by so much good fortune." "Well, I'll try to keep my head--and my money, too," rejoined the youth, with a laugh. A pleasant talk lasting quarter of an hour followed, and then Marden said he would have to go. "But you must call on me again, Robert," he said, as they parted. "Remember, I consider you very largely my boy still." "And you must call on me," added our hero warmly. "I am sure Mrs. Vernon will be pleased to have you do so." "I am going up to Timberville in a day or two, and I'll tell my uncle you are back. You will probably get a letter from him by the beginning of next week," concluded the miner. CHAPTER XXVIII. IN WHICH MRS. VERNON IS MISSING. Robert reached home about one o'clock, which was the usual hour that Mrs. Vernon and himself had lunch. He found the lady had not yet returned. "I am in no hurry, Martha," he said. "I will go into the office and write some letters." The letters took nearly an hour to finish, and by that time our hero felt decidedly hungry. Mrs. Vernon had told him never to wait over half an hour for a meal, so he now ordered lunch for himself alone. "That meeting probably took longer than expected," he thought. "Perhaps she is having a whole lot of trouble with the other stockholders. I wish I could help her." Slowly the afternoon wore away, and still Mrs. Vernon did not put in an appearance. Robert went out for another walk, and did not come back until six o'clock, the regular dinner hour. "Not back yet, Martha?" was his first question, on returning. "No, Mr. Frost." "It is queer." "Shall I have dinner served?" "No, I will wait half an hour." "It's too bad. The roast will be overdone, I am afraid." "Well, it probably cannot be helped." Robert drifted into the library, and selecting a volume of Cooper's works, sat down in an easy chair to read. But he could not fasten his attention on the story, and soon cast the volume aside. "Is it possible that anything has happened to Mrs. Vernon?" was the question which he asked himself over and over again. He thought of Frederic Vernon and Dr. Remington, and of what Dick Marden had said. "Would Frederic Vernon dare to do anything?" he asked himself. The evening passed slowly and painfully. As hour after hour went by Robert began to pace the floor nervously. He felt "in his bones," as the saying is, that something was wrong, but he could not exactly imagine what. When the clock struck eleven he could stand the suspense no longer. He summoned Martha. "I am going out to look for Mrs. Vernon," he said. "If she comes in in the meantime tell her not to worry about me." "Very well," answered the maid. Robert had decided to call first at the Masonic Temple, a large business building situated in the heart of Chicago. It was in the Temple that the offices were located which Mrs. Vernon had started to visit early that morning. He rode the greater part of the distance and reached the office building shortly before midnight. The ground floor was still open, but the great majority of the offices were dark. Approaching one of the hallmen he asked about the meeting of the manufacturing company. "I don't know anything about that," was the answer. "But Joe Dolan does. I'll call him." "The meeting broke up about noon," said Joe Dolan, when summoned. "Do you remember Mrs. Vernon?" "I don't know the lady by name. How was she dressed?" As well as he was able, Robert described the lady's appearance. "Oh, yes, I know her now," cried Joe Dolan. "There were only two ladies, you see, and the other was short and stout." "Well, what became of Mrs. Vernon?" "She went out ahead of the others." "Alone?" "Yes." "Do you know what direction she took?" "I do not." "Are you sure she did not come back?" "I didn't see anything of her, and I've been around ever since." "Are the offices locked up?" "Yes, and have been ever since five o'clock. No one but Mr. Smith has been in them since three o'clock." "Then she must certainly have gone somewhere else." "Do you calculate there is anything wrong?" said the janitor, with interest. "I don't know what to think. She said she would return home from here, and she hadn't got back up to eleven o'clock." "That looks bad." "Of course something else may have come up that is keeping her away." "That is so." Thanking the janitor for his information, Robert left the Masonic Temple and walked up the street. He scarcely knew what to do next. He would have called upon Mr. Farley for advice, but knew that the lawyer's offices were closed, and he had not the man's home address. Hoping that Mrs. Vernon had returned to the mansion on Prairie Avenue, he returned. It was now nearly one o'clock, and it must be confessed that Robert was sleepy. Martha had gone to bed, but William the butler sat dozing in a hall chair. "No, she isn't home yet," said the butler, in reply to our hero's question. "I never knew her to stay out so late before, excepting when she went to a ball or something like that." "There is something wrong, that is certain," said Robert. "I have half a mind to call on the police for aid." "Better wait, Mr. Frost. It may be all right, and if the police were called in the newspapers might make a big sensation of it. And you know how much Mrs. Vernon dislikes scandals." The butler did not mention Frederic Vernon's doings, but he had them in mind, and Robert understood. Our hero slept but little that night, and was up and dressed long before the usual breakfast hour. He passed to Mrs. Vernon's apartments, to find them still empty. "I will go down to Mr. Farley's and have a talk with him," he told himself, and left the house in time to reach the lawyer's offices at nine o'clock--for he knew Mr. Farley would not be there earlier. "This is certainly strange, Frost," said the lawyer, with a grave look on his face. "I don't like it at all." "Nor I, especially as I saw that nephew of hers in town yesterday morning." "What, Frederic Vernon?" "Yes." "Then he is to blame for his aunt's disappearance," said Robert bitterly. "What makes you think that?" "I may as well tell you the truth, Mr. Farley, although I trust you will let the thing go no further. I believe you do not know exactly what reasons Mrs. Vernon had for going to England so suddenly." "I know she had some trouble with her nephew." "Frederic Vernon was plotting to put her into an insane asylum." "You don't mean it, Frost!" gasped the lawyer. "I do mean it. He had his plans all arranged, when I got wind of it, told Mrs. Vernon, and she left, without letting her nephew know anything about it." "In that case, Frederic Vernon must be accountable for her present disappearance." "I am half of a mind that that is so. The thing of it is, to catch the young man and prove it." "That is so." "If we catch him he may deny everything, unless he is certain he can make out a case of insanity against her." "But she is no more insane than you or I!" cried Mr. Farley. "I agree with you. But Frederic Vernon had a tool, a certain Dr. Remington, who was willing to swear that Mrs. Vernon was of unsound mind." "It is a dastardly plot, and the man who invented it ought to be in prison." "Mrs. Vernon hated publicity or anything in the nature of a family scandal. That is why she suffered so much in silence." "We ought to find this Frederic Vernon at once." "That is so." "If you agree with me, we will put a private detective on his track. I know a reliable man, who knows when to talk and when to keep his mouth shut." "Then that is the man to get. It would be foolish to allow Mrs. Vernon's enemies more time than necessary. They may be carrying her off to a great distance." Mr. Farley was quick to act, and soon he and Robert were on the way to the place where Detective Brossom could be found. As much as was necessary was told to the detective, and he was given a description of Frederic Vernon and also a list of the resorts which the spendthrift had been in the habit of frequenting. "If he's in Chicago I'll run him down all right enough," said Brossom. "If I am not mistaken I've met him at one of the clubs, when I was running down Carew the bank wrecker." "Of course we may be mistaken, and Mrs. Vernon may return home to-day," said Robert. "If she does, I will send word to this place immediately." CHAPTER XXIX. DOCTOR RUSHWOOD'S SANITARIUM. Mrs. Vernon's house was built in the shape of a letter L, the lady's wing containing the library and business office downstairs and private apartments on the second floor. When Robert let himself into the house he entered the library to find out if the lady had yet returned. Nothing was disturbed, and he was about to walk into the business office, when on looking out on the street he saw Frederic Vernon standing behind a nearby tree, watching the mansion closely. "Hullo," cried Robert to himself. "What is he up to now?" At first he thought to go out and hail Vernon, but quickly changed his mind. "I'll get nothing out of him by questioning him," he reasoned. "It will pay far better to watch him and see what he does and where he goes." A few minutes after our hero had discovered Vernon, he saw the spendthrift hurry swiftly for the wing of the house and try the window to the business office. The sash was locked, but by inserting a knife blade between the upper and lower sashes he was enabled to push the catch back. This done the lower sash was raised, and Frederic Vernon crawled into the business office as silently as a cat. "He is up to no good," said our hero to himself. "I believe he is here to steal something." There was a large Turkish chair handy, and Robert crouched behind this, that Frederic Vernon might not see him should he take a peep into the library. "Don't seem to be anybody around," he heard Vernon mutter, as he looked into the library. "Frost must be off trying to hunt the old woman up." Vernon tiptoed his way to Mrs. Vernon's desk, and, unlocking it, slid back the roller top. The movement surprised Robert, for he had thought that only Mrs. Vernon and himself had keys to the desk. "Perhaps he is using Mrs. Vernon's key," he thought. With great rapidity Frederic Vernon went through several drawers full of papers. "Pshaw! The papers must be in the safe," he murmured, and leaving the desk he approached the safe, which stood in a corner. Getting down on his knees he began to work at the combination. "Thirty-five twice, twelve three times," he murmured, repeating what had once been the combination of the lock. But Mrs. Vernon had had Robert to change the combination just before starting for England, and consequently Frederic Vernon failed to get the door open. He fussed with the combination for a quarter of an hour, getting more angry over his failure every minute. "Confound the luck, they must have changed it," he muttered. "I wish I dared to tackle Frost about it. But I am not quite ready for that. Perhaps I can make her give me the combination." Robert did not hear the last words, yet he felt pretty certain that Frederic Vernon was responsible for his aunt's disappearance, and knew where she was. He was half of a mind to call in a policeman, yet he was afraid that Vernon might in some manner give the officer of the law the slip. "And if he is locked up now he may deny knowing anything about his aunt," was the boy's conclusion. At last Vernon left the safe and went to the desk once more. Here he selected several papers and rammed them in his pocket. Then, without warning, he slipped out of the window again, closed the sash, and started down the street at a brisk pace. "I'll follow him," said Robert to himself. "And I won't leave him out of sight until I've found out what has become of Mrs. Vernon." Running into the upper hallway Robert saw on a rack an old overcoat he had once worn and a slouch hat which had belonged to another inmate of the mansion. He donned these, pulling the hat far down over his forehead, and the coat up around his neck. Then he put on a pair of blue glasses which Mrs. Vernon had used on the sea voyage to protect her eyes from the glare of the sun on the water. Thus partially disguised, he made after Frederic Vernon, who had now reached the block below the house. Here Vernon took a passing car and took a seat inside. Running rapidly, Robert managed to catch the car, and took a position on the rear platform, with his back to the interior, that the young spendthrift might not see his face. The car was one running well on toward the southern outskirts of Chicago, and Vernon remained in it until the very end of the line was gained. Then he walked on once more, with Robert still dogging his footsteps, but so carefully that the young man never suspected he was being followed. Once he looked back, but our hero promptly stepped out of sight behind a nearby billboard. In this district the houses were much scattered, and most of them were surrounded by large gardens. Frederic Vernon passed into a side street which was little better than a road, and soon reached a large square building of stone, set in a perfect wilderness of trees and bushes. A high iron fence surrounded the ill-kept garden, and the single iron gate was locked. Ringing a bell at the gate, Frederic Vernon thus summoned a porter, who came, and after asking him a few questions, let him in. Approaching the gate, Robert saw a sign over it, in gilt letters, which read in this fashion: Dr. Nicholas Rushwood, Private Sanitarium for the Weak-Minded. Peering through the ironwork, our hero saw Frederic Vernon follow the porter up the steps of the stone building and disappear inside. "This must be the place to which Mrs. Vernon has been taken," thought Robert. He waited at the gate for awhile to see if Frederic Vernon would come out, but the young spendthrift failed to put in an appearance. The sanitarium was located on a corner, and ran from one street to the next, so that our hero could walk around three sides of the place. On the other side was a high stone wall, which separated the asylum grounds from those of a well-kept garden. All of the windows on the second and third stories of the stone building were very closely barred. "They must keep the patients up there," concluded Robert. He gazed sharply at each window, but though he saw several men and women, he did not catch sight of Mrs. Vernon. Presently a butcher boy came along the back street, a large basket on his arm. "Can you tell me what place this is?" questioned Robert. "That's Dr. Rushwood's asylum for crazy folks," answered the butcher boy. "Has he many patients?" "Ten or a dozen, I believe." "Were you ever inside of the place?" "I used to deliver meat there. But our firm don't serve him any more." "And what kind of a place is it?" "It's a gloomy hole, and the doctor is a terror." "A terror? What do you mean by that?" "He's awfully strict and awfully mean. Some folks say he don't give the crazy folks half enough to eat. He was always kicking about his meat bill. That's the reason our firm stopped serving him." "Did you see them taking anybody new into there lately?" "No, but I heard Jack Mason telling that he saw them taking a woman in there last night." "A young woman or an elderly lady?" "Jack said it was an oldish-looking woman, and said she was very handsomely dressed." "What time was this?" "About six o'clock last night. They brought her in a coach, and two men were with her. But what do you ask all these questions for?" "I have my reasons. A lady has disappeared and I am looking for her." "Christopher! Did they abduct her?" "I don't know. I am much obliged to you," returned Robert, and to avoid being questioned further he sauntered off. He did not go far, however, and as soon as the butcher boy was gone, he returned to the vicinity of the sanitarium. It was now growing dusk, and watching his chance he climbed to the top of the stone wall which divided the asylum grounds from that of the garden next door. The top of the wall was rough, but with care he managed to walk from one end to the other. While he was on the wall he heard the gate bell ring, and crouched down to get out of sight. The porter admitted two men, but who they were Robert could not see. From the wall Robert could easily look into the lower windows of the building. One room into which he gazed was fitted up as a library, and as he gazed into it the door opened and four men entered. The four men were Frederic Vernon, Dr. Remington, and two others, the keeper of the asylum and a second physician. CHAPTER XXX. FREDERIC VERNON'S DEMANDS. The window to the room was closed so that Robert could not hear what the four men said. He, however, saw them talking earnestly, and then saw one of the strangers, probably the doctor who ran the asylum, bring out a legal-looking document. This Frederic Vernon urged Dr. Remington and the second stranger to sign. "It must be the certificate to prove that Mrs. Vernon is insane," thought Robert. "I believe such a document has to be signed by two doctors, and Frederic Vernon is urging Remington and that other physician to do the dirty work for him." Robert's surmise was correct, as later events proved. Remington did not wish to give the certificate until he was certain that Frederic Vernon would pay over the ten thousand dollars which had been promised to him. "I've got to have my pay," he said, in a low but earnest manner. "You'll get it," returned Vernon. "You can trust me." "Humph! I trusted you before," growled the doctor. "Well, you know why I went off--merely to induce my aunt to return to Chicago." "Your money will be safe." "And how about my money?" put in the second physician. "You shall be paid, Dr. Carraway." "You must remember that it is a ticklish business, this signing a certificate when the party isn't--ahem--just as bad as she might be." "And I must have my money," put in Dr. Rushwood. "I am running a risk, too." "What risk will you run if you have your certificate?" questioned Frederic Vernon. "You can fall back on that in case of trouble." "Mrs. Vernon's friends may have us all arrested for conspiracy. It's a big risk." "Well, every man of you shall be paid," said Frederic Vernon. "As soon as the excitement of the affair blows over, I'll take charge of all my aunt's property and then I'll have money to burn, and lots of it. Why, she's worth half a million." So the talk ran on, until Dr. Remington and Dr. Carraway agreed to sign the certificate, and did so. This paper was then turned over to Dr. Rushwood, who placed it on file in his safe. Following this the keeper of the asylum brought out some wine and cigars, and half an hour was spent in general conversation. Then Frederic Vernon said he would like to talk to his aunt for awhile. Dr. Rushwood led the way to an apartment on the third floor. The room had once been well furnished, but the furnishings were now dilapidated, the carpet being worn threadbare and the furniture being scratched and broken. One small window lit up the apartment, and this was closely barred. Frederic Vernon knocked on the door, but received no answer. "Can I come in, aunt?" asked the young spendthrift. At once there was a rustle in the room. "Yes, Frederic, come in," came in Mrs. Vernon's voice. Dr. Rushwood opened the door and the young man entered. Then the doctor locked the door again. "When you want to get out just call me," he said significantly, and walked away. "Frederic, what does this mean?" demanded Mrs. Vernon. By her face it was plain to see that she had been weeping. "Don't excite yourself, aunt," responded the young rascal soothingly. "It is all for the best." "What is for the best?" demanded the lady. "That you are here." "But I do not wish to be here, and you have no right to place me here." "It is for your good, aunt." "I understand you, Frederic, but let me tell you your wicked plot against me shall not succeed." "I have no plot against you, aunt. If you wish to know the truth, let me tell you that your mind is not just what it should be. For a long while you have imagined that I was your enemy, while all your friends know that I have been your best friend." "Indeed! Were you my friend when you forged my name to that check for six hundred dollars?" Frederic Vernon winced, but quickly recovered. "You do me a great injustice when you say I forged your name. I was never guilty of any such baseness." "I know better." "That is only another proof of your hallucination, aunt. But the doctor says if you will submit to his treatment you will be quite cured in a few months." "I need no treatment, for my mind is as clear as yours, perhaps clearer. I want you and those wicked men who helped place me here to let me go." "Such a course is impossible, and you must make yourself content with your surroundings. The room is not furnished as nicely as you may wish, but I will have all that changed in a day or two, as soon as I can get my other affairs straightened out." "You will profit nothing by your high-handed course, Frederic. In the past I have been very indulgent toward you, but if you insist upon keeping me here against my will, when once I do get free I will let the law take its course." The lady spoke so sharply and positively that Frederic Vernon was made to feel decidedly uncomfortable. He had carried matters with a high hand, and he realized that should the game go against him, the reckoning would be a bitter one. "I would let you go, aunt, but I am certain I am acting for your own good. And now I want to talk business to you." "If you do not give me my freedom I do not wish to say another word," answered the lady shortly. "You must give me the combination of your safe." "So that you can rob me again, eh? No, I will do nothing of the sort." Frederic Vernon's face grew dark. "You had better not defy me, aunt. I am bound to have the combination sooner or later." "You will not get from me. Nor from Robert, either, I am thinking." "I will get it somehow." "Will you send Robert or Mr. Farley to me?" "I cannot do that--just yet." "Why not--if you are honest in your actions toward me?" "Because it is against the doctor's orders. He says you must remain very quiet. It is the only hope of restoring you to your full mental health again." "Very well then, Frederic. But remember what I said. If I ever get away again you shall suffer the full penalty of the law." "You won't give me that combination?" "No." Mrs. Vernon remained obdurate, and a little while later the young man called Dr. Rushwood. "You must be careful and watch her closely," said Frederic Vernon to the keeper of the asylum, as the pair walked downstairs. "She is clever, and will try to get the best of you if she can." Dr. Rushwood smiled grimly. "Don't worry about me, Vernon," he replied. "I've never yet had one of them to get the best of me." "I am afraid it will take several days to break her down. At present I can do nothing with her." "Perhaps I had better put her on a diet of bread and water. That sometimes fetches them," suggested the keeper of the asylum brutally. "I am afraid she may do something desperate. She is a nervous, high-strung woman, remember." "I've had all kinds to deal with, and I never miss it in judging them. You just leave the whole thing to me. When will you come again?" "That must depend upon circumstances. Perhaps to-morrow afternoon." "Will you take charge of her affairs at once?" "I must feel my way before I do that. You see my aunt had a private secretary. He is nothing but a boy, but he may cause us a lot of trouble." "Better discharge him at once, then, and make him turn over all his private business to you." "That is what I intend to do." "You said something about getting the combination of her safe." "She wouldn't give it to me. But it won't matter so much. I can get an expert to open the safe--after I have sent that private secretary about his business," concluded Frederic Vernon. CHAPTER XXXI. ROBERT DECIDES TO ACT. To go back to Robert at the time he was watching the four men in the room on the ground floor of the sanitarium. Our hero saw the certificate signed, and a little later saw Dr. Remington and his friend arise to depart. He leaped from the fence and ran around to the front of the grounds, and was just in time to see Remington and his companion stalk off in the direction of the nearest street car. At first he thought to have the pair arrested, but on second thought concluded to wait. He must first have positive proof that Mrs. Vernon had been brought to the place, and that these men were implicated in the plot against the lady. "It's one thing to know a truth," thought Robert. "It's another thing to prove it. I must wait until I can prove what I suspect." After the two men had gone the youth walked around to the rear of the institution once more. Some trees hid the upper windows from view, and to get a better sight of these Robert climbed one of the trees to the very top. From this point he could look into several apartments. The sight in one made his heart sick. On a bed lay an old man, reduced to almost a skeleton. The old man had his fists doubled up, and seemed to be fighting off some imaginary foe. The next window was dark, and our hero turned to the third. The sight that met his gaze here startled him. In a chair near the narrow window sat Mrs. Vernon, while in the center of the apartment stood her graceless nephew. The conversation between the pair has already been given. Robert could not hear what was being said, but he saw every action, and saw that Mrs. Vernon was pleading to be released. When Frederic Vernon went below, our hero slid down the tree and ran once more to the front of the house. He saw Vernon come out and start for the street car line. It was now dark, and he managed to keep quite close to the young man without being discovered. Now that he had seen Mrs. Vernon, Robert's mind was made up as to what he should do. Frederic Vernon had to wait several minutes for a car. When it came along he hurried to a forward seat and gave himself up to his thoughts. As before, Robert kept on the rear platform. The center of the city being reached, Frederic Vernon left the car and took his way to a leading hotel. Watching him, Robert saw the young man get a key from the night clerk and enter the elevator. As soon as Vernon was out of sight Robert entered the hotel office and asked if he might look over the register. "Certainly," answered the clerk. Our hero soon found the entry, "Frederic Vernon, Chicago," and after it the number of his room--643. "Mr. Vernon is stopping here, I see," he said to the clerk. "Yes, he just went up to his room. Do you want to see him?" "I won't bother him to-night, thank you," rejoined Robert, and walked out. He felt pretty certain that Frederic Vernon had retired for the night, but in order to make certain he hung around for the best part of an hour. As Vernon did not re-appear he concluded that the young man had gone to bed. "Now to find Mr. Farley and explain everything to him," said Robert. In looking over the directory he found a long list of people by that name, and of this list three were lawyers. Which of the three could be the man he was after was the question. "I'll have to go it blind," said our hero to himself, and called a passing hack. Soon he was on his way to the nearest of the three residences of the lawyers who bore the same family name. When he arrived he found a rather tumbled-down looking place. Telling the hackman to wait for him, he ran up the steps and rang the bell. No answer was returned and he rang again. Presently an upper window was thrown up, and a head thrust out. "What's wanted?" asked a deep bass voice. "I am looking for Mr. Farley, the lawyer," answered Robert. "All right, I'm your man." "Hardly," thought Robert. "I mean Mr. Farley who has his office in the Phoenix Building," he went on, aloud. "Oh!" came the disappointed grunt. "I am not the fellow." "So I see. Will you please tell me where he lives?" "Somewhere out on Michigan Avenue. I don't remember the number." And with this the upper window was closed with a bang. "That man doesn't believe in being accommodating," said Robert to himself. "However, there is no telling how many times he has been bothered by people looking for other Farleys." He had the address of the Farley living on Michigan Avenue, and told the hackman to drive to it. The distance was covered in quarter of an hour. A sleepy-looking servant answered our hero's summons. "Is Mr. Farley at home?" "He is, but he went to bed long ago." "Will you tell him that Robert Frost is here and wishes to see him on important business?" "Yes, sir." Robert was ushered into a library and the servant went off. Soon Mr. Farley appeared, in dressing gown and slippers. "Why, Frost, what brings you here this time of night?" he asked, as he came in. "I suppose you are surprised, Mr. Farley, but something quite out of the ordinary has happened, and I want your advice." "I will assuredly do the best I can for you. What is the trouble?" "Frederic Vernon has carried off Mrs. Vernon and had her placed in an asylum for the insane." The lawyer emitted a low whistle. "Is it possible!" he ejaculated. "It is, sir. I hunted for Mrs. Vernon for several hours, and just located her a little while ago. She is confined in Dr. Rushwood's Sanitarium for the Weak-Minded, as the institution is called." "I have heard of the place, and, let me add, Dr. Rushwood's reputation is none of the best." "How Frederic Vernon got her there is still a mystery to me, but she is there, and I am pretty certain that he has got his tool, Dr. Remington, and another physician to certify that she is insane." At this announcement the lawyer's face fell. "In that case we may have considerable trouble in procuring her release." "But she is no more insane than you or I." "That is true, and I presume an examination in court will prove the fact." "I can testify that Frederic Vernon plotted this whole thing out with Dr. Remington, and offered the doctor ten thousand dollars for his assistance." "That will be good evidence in Mrs. Vernon's favor." "We can prove, too, that Vernon forged his aunt's name to a check for six hundred dollars." "Yes, I know that. I saw the forged check myself." "And we can prove that he followed her to England and tried to take her life," added Robert. And then he told the particulars of the perilous carriage ride along the cliff and of how Frederic Vernon had been caught by Farmer Parsons. "I guess we'll have a pretty clear case against that young man," said Mr. Farley, after Robert had finished. Our hero then told of his following Frederic Vernon from Mrs. Vernon's mansion, and of what he had seen while hanging around Dr. Rushwood's institution. "We ought to rescue Mrs. Vernon at once," he concluded. "If we don't Frederic Vernon may take it into his head to do her harm." "I think we had better have Vernon and Dr. Remington arrested first," answered the lawyer. He returned to his room above and donned his street clothing. A little later he and Robert were driven to the office of the private detective who had been engaged to hunt up Frederic Vernon. "He is around town," said Brossom. "I've seen him. He is thick again with that Dr. Remington." He had learned a few things, but was astonished when Robert told his tale. "Why, you ought to be a detective yourself, young man," he cried. "Thanks, but I don't care for the work," was our hero's dry response. Brossom agreed that it would be best to arrest Frederic Vernon without delay. The arrests of Dr. Remington and the other physician could then follow. Again the hack was called into service, and they proceeded to the hotel at which Frederic Vernon had been stopping since his return to the city by the Great Lakes. "I will see Mr. Vernon now, if you please," said Robert. "Sorry, but Mr. Vernon went out about half an hour ago," was the clerk's answer, which filled our hero with dismay. CHAPTER XXXII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END. "Gone!" "Yes, sir." "Did he say where to?" "He did not." "Did he say he would be back?" "No, he said nothing, just handed over his key and went off as fast as he could." Our hero turned to the lawyer. "What do you make of this?" he asked. "Perhaps he has gone to the asylum," suggested Mr. Farley. "Or to Mrs. Vernon's residence," put in the detective. "He may have gone to rejoin Dr. Remington and that other physician," said Robert. The three talked the matter over for some time, but could reach no satisfactory conclusion regarding Frederic Vernon's departure from the hotel. "I think it will be best to take the bull by the horns, and have Mrs. Vernon released without delay," said the detective. "Unless we do that her nephew may get it into his head to have her taken a long distance off." This was thought good advice, and leaving the hotel they told the hackman to drive them to Dr. Rushwood's Sanitarium. "Sure an' I'm havin' a long spell av it," grinned the Jehu. "So you are," answered Robert. "But you shall be fully paid for your work." "Is somethin' wrong?" "Very much wrong, and we are going to set it right." "Thin Mike Grady is wid yez to the end," said the hack driver, as he slammed shut the door of his turnout. When they reached the asylum they saw that all of the lower rooms were dark. In two of the upper apartments lights were burning. "Come around and I will show you the room in which Mrs. Vernon is confined," said our hero. They walked to the rear of the institution and Robert pointed up through the tree at the window. As they looked up Mrs. Vernon's face appeared from behind the bars. "There she is!" cried Robert. "I wish I could attract her attention." He decided to climb the tree again, and aided by the detective he went up with all possible speed. One branch grew closer to the window than the others, and Robert went out on this as far as he dared. Then he waved his handkerchief. Even in the darkness the white object fluttering in the wind attracted Mrs. Vernon's attention, and she looked intently in the direction. At last she recognized Robert, and her face showed her joy. She had had the window shut to exclude the cool night air, but now she raised the sash. "Robert!" she cried softly. "Oh, how glad I am that you have come!" "Don't speak too loudly, Mrs. Vernon, or they may hear you." "Are you alone?" "No, Mr. Farley is below, and also a private detective." "Thank God for that. You have come to save me, of course." "Yes. Is anybody around, or have they all gone to bed?" "I have seen nobody since my nephew was here several hours ago." "I wish I could get to the window, I would soon have those bars out and get in to help you," went on Robert, after a pause. "Never mind, tell Mr. Farley and the detective to go around to the front door and demand admittance." Robert descended to the ground and repeated what the lady had said. The men and our hero walked to the great iron gate and rang the bell. Nobody answered the summons. "We had better climb the fence and try the front door," said Brossom. "I'm afraid I am not equal to it," answered Mr. Farley, as he surveyed the iron barrier dubiously. "There is an easy way to get into the garden from the rear end of that dividing wall," said Robert, pointing out the wall in question. "Come along." The spot was soon gained, and the boy leaped up on the wall. Mr. Farley came next, and the detective followed. They picked their way through the tangled shrubbery, and ascending the piazza rang the bell loudly. The bark of a dog rang out, and then they heard hasty footsteps sound through the hallway. "Who is there?" came in a high-pitched voice. "I wish to see Dr. Rushwood on important business," answered Mr. Farley. "Let me in at once." "Wait till I call the doctor," was the reply. The dog continued to bark and to rattle his chain. A few minutes passed, and then Dr. Rushwood put in appearance. "Wha--what is the meaning of this?" he stammered, as he found himself confronted by three people, when he had expected to see only one person. "We have important business with you, Dr. Rushwood," replied Mr. Farley, as he forced his way into the hall, followed by the detective and Robert. "What is your business?" "You have a lady confined here--Mrs. Vernon." The keeper of the asylum changed color and fell back a step. "Well--er--what do you want?" he stammered. "We want you to release the lady at once." "But she is confined here as a--a person of--of weak mind." "She is all right, and you know it," put in Robert. "If you try to make any trouble for us it will go hard with you, I can promise you that." "And who are you to threaten me?" demanded Dr. Rushwood. "I am Robert Frost, Mrs. Vernon's private secretary. Mrs. Vernon has been confined here through a plot hatched out by her worthless nephew, Frederic Vernon, and his tool, Dr. Remington." "The young man tells the truth," put in Mr. Farley. "If you wish to keep out of trouble you will make us no trouble." "And you are----?" faltered Rushwood. "I am Louis Farley, the lawyer." "And I am Frank Brossom, the detective," put in that individual. "Doctor, the game is up, and you had better retire as gracefully as you can." "Retire?" thundered Dr. Rushwood, who felt that he must put on a front. "I have done nothing of which I am ashamed. The lady is here on the certificate of two doctors. If anything is wrong----" "You will right it, of course," finished the detective, thus affording Rushwood a loop-hole through which he might escape. "Very well, take us up to the lady." "Of course I will right anything that is wrong." "Then take us up to Mrs. Vernon," put in Robert, and started for the stairs. "See here, it seems to me that you are very forward," blustered the doctor. "I shall not waste time with you," answered Robert. "I know where Mrs. Vernon is, and I am going up to her," and he began to ascend the stairs. "Be careful, young man, or I may loosen my dog." "If you do he'll be a dead animal in about two seconds," answered Brossom. Robert ran up to the third floor of the house, and speedily found Mrs. Vernon's room. Luckily the key to the door was on a nearby peg, and he quickly took it down and let himself into the apartment. The lady was waiting for him, and almost threw herself into his sturdy arms. "Robert!" she cried. "Oh, what a friend you have proved to be!" Mr. Farley followed our hero, and then came the doctor and the detective. Dr. Rushwood felt that the game was indeed up, and to save himself insisted that he had been imposed upon. "I told the other doctors that Mrs. Vernon did not act like a very crazy person," he said. "But they assured me that she was in the habit of having violent spells." Robert assisted Mrs. Vernon down to the lower floor and then a servant was called upon to unlock the gate leading to the road. The hack was in waiting, and without listening to any more Dr. Rushwood might have to say, the party got in and were driven directly for Mrs. Vernon's mansion. Here it was decided that Robert should remain with Mrs. Vernon until morning, while Mr. Farley returned home and the detective went on a hunt for Frederic Vernon and his accomplices. Mrs. Vernon was very nervous because of her bitter experience, and had Robert occupy a room next to her own, while William the butler was requested to do his sleeping on a couch in the hall. It must be confessed that our hero slept but little during the remainder of the night. His thoughts were busy concerning the rescue and what Frederic Vernon would do next. He was exceedingly thankful that he had been able to render such signal service to the lady who had been so much of a friend to him. On the following morning Mr. Farley put in an appearance, and steps were taken to proceed against Frederic Vernon and those who had aided him in his wicked plot against his aunt. But these steps proved of no avail, for, later on, it was discovered that the rascally nephew had taken a lake steamer to Canada. From Canada Frederic Vernon drifted to the West, and then joined a gold hunting party bound for Alaska. He was caught in a blizzard while out among the mines, and was so badly frozen that recovery was impossible. He sent word to his aunt, telling of his condition, and she forwarded sufficient money for him to return to Chicago. Here he lingered in a hospital for several months, and then died. Before his death he professed to be very sorry for his many wrong-doings, and told where he had pawned the balance of the jewelry he had stolen, and the articles were eventually recovered. Dr. Remington also disappeared, as did Dr. Carraway, and what ever became of them Robert never learned. CHAPTER XXXIII. ROBERT'S HEROISM--CONCLUSION. It took several days to straighten matters out around the Vernon household, and so Robert's proposed visit home had to be deferred until the middle of the week following. Mrs. Vernon was truly grateful to the youth for all he had done, and did not hesitate to declare that she was going to make him her principal heir when she died. "You did nobly, Robert," she said. "Your mother should be proud of you. No woman could have a better son." As Frederic Vernon had disappeared, the scandal was hushed up, the detective paid off, and there the matter was allowed to drop. This was a great relief to Dr. Rushwood, who had dreaded an exposure. But exposure soon came through another so-styled patient, and the doctor had to depart in a great hurry, which he did, leaving a great number of unpaid bills behind him. One day came a letter for Robert, which made him feel very sober. It was from his mother. "I wish you would come home and assist me in my money affairs," wrote Mrs. Talbot. "Mr. Talbot had asked me for more than I am willing to lend him, and lately he has taken to drink and is making me very miserable." "The wretch!" muttered Robert, when he had finished the communication. "What a pity mother ever threw herself away on such a man. I'll run home this very afternoon," and receiving permission from Mrs. Vernon he hurried up and caught the first train leaving after the lunch hour. Robert had not been to Granville for a long time, and he felt rather strange as he stepped off the train. No one was at the depot to receive him, yet he met several people that he knew. "Why if it aint Robert Frost!" cried Sam Jones, his old school chum. "How are you getting along, Robert? But there's no need to ask, by the nice clothes you are wearing." "I am doing very well, Sam," replied our hero. "And how are you faring?" "Pretty good. I am learning the carpenter's trade." "I see." "Come home to stay?" "No, just to see my mother." Sam Jones' face fell a little. "It's too bad she's having such a hard time of it, Robert--indeed it is." "So you know she is having a hard time?" "Why, everybody in Granville knows it. Mr. Talbot is drinking like a fish, and using up her money fast, too, so they say." "It's a shame," muttered Robert. "It's a wonder mother didn't write before." "Going up to the house now?" continued Sam. "Yes." "You'll be in time for a jolly row. I just saw your step-father going up there, and he was about half full." "It's too bad, Sam. I'll have to do the best I can. I wish my mother would come to Chicago and live with me." The two boys separated, and our hero continued on his way to what had once been his happy home. The main street of Granville was a winding one, and after running away from the railroad for a short distance, it crossed the tracks a second time and then led up a hill, on the top of which was built the Frost homestead. As Robert approached the railroad he saw a familiar figure ahead of him, reeling from side to side of the dusty roadway. The figure was that of his step-father. The sight filled him with disgust, and he did not know whether to stop and speak to the man or pass him by unnoticed. While he was deliberating James Talbot reeled down to the railroad tracks, staggered, and fell headlong. He tried to rise, but the effort seemed a failure, and then he sank down in a drunken stupor. "He is too drunk to walk any further," thought Robert. "Oh, what a beast he is making of himself! If he----" Our hero broke off short, as the whistle of an approaching train reached his quick ears. The afternoon express was coming--along the very tracks upon which his step-father lay! The boy's heart seemed to stop beating. The drunken man was unconscious of his danger--he could not help himself. Supposing he was left where he lay? There would be a rushing and crushing of heavy wheels, and then all would be over, and this man, who was not fit to live, would be removed from the Frost path forever! This was the thought that came into Robert's mind, a thought born of the Evil One himself. But then came another thought, as piercing as a shaft of golden light, "Love your enemies." The boy dropped the valise he was carrying and leaped forward madly. "Get up! get up!" he yelled, as he caught the drunken man by the arm. "Get up! The train is coming!" "Whazzer mazzer!" hiccoughed James Talbot dreamily. "Lemme alone, I shay!" "Get off the railroad track!" went on Robert. "The train is coming!" "Train!" repeated the drunkard. "I--hic--don't shee no train." But now the whistle sounded louder than ever, and around the turn of the hill appeared the locomotive of the express, speeding along at a rate of fifty-five miles an hour. The sight caused Robert's heart to thump loudly, while James Talbot gazed at the iron monster as though transfixed with terror. "We're lost!" he screamed hoarsely, and then straightened out and sank back like one dead. What happened in the next few seconds Robert could hardly tell in detail. He had a hazy recollection of catching his step-father by the leg and jerking him from the track and falling down on top of him. Man and boy rolled into a dry ditch, and as they went down the express thundered by, the engineer being unable to stop the heavy train short of twice its own length. And when Robert came to his senses he was lying on a grassy bank and Sam Jones and several others were bathing him with water. "My step-father--is he saved?" were the youth's first words. "Yes, he was saved," answered one of the men. "But he seems to be suffering from another stroke of paralysis." Robert soon felt strong enough to get up, and asked for his valise, which was handed over to him. His brave deed had been witnessed by Sam Jones and a farmer who had been driving toward the railroad crossing. Both of these explained to the crowd how our hero had risked his life to save that of his intoxicated step-father. A stretcher was procured and Mr. Talbot was placed upon this and carried to his home. The whole lower portion of his body seemed to be paralyzed and he spoke with great difficulty. Strange to say the shock had completely sobered him. It was a strange meeting between Mrs. Talbot and Robert. Tears were in the eyes of the mother, tears which only her son understood. With great care James Talbot was carried to a bed-chamber on the second floor of the house and here made as comfortable as possible, while one of the neighbors went off to summon a doctor. "They tell me you risked your life to save him," whispered Mrs. Talbot to Robert. "Oh, Robert, my boy! my only boy!" And she clasped him about the neck and burst into a passionate fit of weeping. When the doctor had made a careful examination he looked very grave. "The shock is a heavy one, Mrs. Talbot," he said. "And coming on top of that which he had some time ago, is likely to prove serious." "Do you mean he will die?" she asked quickly. "'While there is life there is hope,' that is all I can say," said the physician, and then gave directions as to what should be done for the sufferer. In the morning James Talbot was no better, physically, although able to talk a little. From his wife he learned what Robert had done for him. "He's a good boy," he whispered huskily. "A better boy than I am a man." "James, when you get well you must give up drinking," she replied. "I won't get well, Sarah--I feel it. But I won't drink any more, I promise you." And then she kissed him on the forehead. She had loved him once, and now, when he lay helpless, she could not help but love him again. Two days later it was evident that the end was drawing near. Before this came he asked for his wife and told her to bring Robert. When the two were at his bedside he placed their hands one within the other. "Robert, I'm going," he said slowly and painfully. "Will you forgive the past?" "I will," answered Robert. His emotion was such that he could scarcely speak. "And, Sarah, will you forgive me, too?" went on the dying man, turning his yearning eyes toward his wife. "Oh, James, James, there is nothing to forgive!" she wailed, and fell on his bosom. "I've done a good deal of wrong, and this is the end of it. Robert, be a good boy and take care of your mother, for she is the best woman in the world. I--I--wish--I had--been--better too. If I----" James Talbot tried to say more, but could not. A spasm had seized him, and when it was over the paralysis had touched his tongue, and his speech was silenced forever. He died at sunset, and was buried on the Sunday following, in the little Granville cemetery where Robert's father rested. The taking off of James Talbot made a great change in Robert's mother. She became a deep-thinking, serious woman, and from that hour on her heart and soul were wrapped up in her only child. To get her away from the scene of her sorrows, Robert wrote to Mrs. Vernon, and that lady promptly invited the widow to pay her a visit, and this invitation was accepted. The two ladies soon became warm friends, and it was decided that in the future Mrs. Talbot was to spend her winters in Chicago, while each summer Mrs. Vernon and Robert should come to Granville for an outing. "Because, you see," said Mrs. Vernon, "we'll have to divide Robert between us, since neither of us can very well give him up." * * * * * Several years have passed since the events recorded above took place. Robert has gone through a college education, and, in connection with Mr. Farley, manages all of Mrs. Vernon's business affairs for her. It is well known that he will be the rich lady's principal heir when she dies, but he openly declares that it is his hope she will live for many a long year to come. Robert frequently hears from Dick Marden and from his old fellow clerk, Livingston Palmer. Through Marden Robert received a thousand dollars with the compliments of Felix Amberton. Both the lumberman and the miner are doing well. Livingston Palmer has mastered stenography thoroughly and is now Mr. Farley's private clerk, at a salary of thirty dollars per week. To use Palmer's own words, "this beats clerking in a cut-rate ticket office or traveling with a theatrical company all to pieces." As yet Robert is unmarried. But he is a frequent visitor at the home of Herman Wenrich, and rumor has it that some day he will make pretty Nettie Wenrich his wife. He is interested in a number of business ventures of his own, and is fast becoming rich, but no matter what good luck may befall him, it is not likely that he will ever forget the thrilling adventures through which he passed when he was unconsciously _Falling in with Fortune_. Transcriber notes This ebook was produced by Shane McDonald. Images used in the HTML version of this ebook were taken from the Internet Archive. The following obvious typographic printer errors were changed. Page numbers refer to the pages in the original printed version of the book. - Page 27, chapter 3: Added " to end of "Now give it to me. - Page 33, chapter 3: Changed capitalized avenue in "Prairie Avenue" - Page 34, chapter 3: Added , after "It is my new secretary" - Page 48, chapter 5: Removed the second "the" in "the the" - Page 62, chapter 7: Added missing . to last paragraph - Page 75, chapter 9: Changed "Does she deed" to "Does she need" - Page 78, chapter 9: Changed , to ? after "deserve such liberality" - Page 79, chapter 9: Changed "whose attempt" to "whose attempts" - Page 81, chapter 10: Added period to end of chapter title - Page 89, chapter 11: Changed . to ? after "to know where she is" - Page 94, chapter 11: Changed , to . after "on the street once more" - Page 108, chapter 13: Changed reached to reach after "silly rumor ever" - Page 113, chapter 14: Added d to end of "ejaculate" - Page 120, chapter 15: Changed "Here him" to "Hear him" - Page 126, chapter 15: Changed "But this time" to "By this time" - Page 139, chapter 17: Changed "Nora's" to "Norah's" - Page 150, chapter 18: Changed . to ? after "ask her yourself" - Page 173, chapter 21: Changed ? to . after "I do" - Page 195, chapter 23: Changed "set" to "sent" after "you have been" - Page 200, chapter 24: Changed "it's" to "its" after "per cent. of" - Page 200, chapter 24: Added missing "you" after "I can give it to" - Page 229, chapter 27: Changed ? to . after "For what you did for him" - Page 241, chapter 29: Added missing . after "Mrs" - Page 254, chapter 30: Changed "keeeper" to "keeper" - Page 256, chapter 31: Added missing period to end of second paragraph - Page 262, chapter 31: Added missing " at end of paragraph "That will be good evidence" - Page 281, chapter 33: Last paragraph before thought break, merged sentences End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Falling In With Fortune, by Horatio Alger, Jr. and Arthur M. 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