There is a secret puzzle in this website. When you complete it, you will be even closer to the truth. We are waiting for someone to find it. The first step of this digital maze is to find the secret page hidden in one of our blog posts. Good Luck.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Falling In With Fortune, by Horatio Alger, Jr. and Arthur M. Winfield This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook. Title: Falling In With Fortune The Experiences Of A Young Secretary Author: Horatio Alger, Jr. Arthur M. Winfield Release Date: November 18, 2018 [EBook #58304] Language: English *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FALLING IN WITH FORTUNE *** Produced by Shane McDonald FALLING IN WITH FORTUNE OR THE EXPERIENCES OF A YOUNG SECRETARY BY HORATIO ALGER, Jr. AUTHOR OF "OUT FOR BUSINESS," "THE YOUNG BOATMAN," "SINK OR SWIM," "LUCK OR PLUCK," "PAUL, THE PEDDLER," "ONLY AN IRISH BOY," ETC. COMPLETED BY ARTHUR M. WINFIELD AUTHOR OF "THE ROVER BOYS AT SCHOOL," "THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN," "THE ROVER BOYS IN THE JUNGLE," "THE ROVER BOYS OUT WEST," ETC. THE MERSHON COMPANY RAHWAY, N. J. NEW YORK Copyright, 1900, BY THE MERSHON COMPANY [Illustration: "IS THIS YOUR RING, AUNT?"] PREFACE. "Falling in with Fortune" is a complete tale in itself, but forms the second of two companion volumes, the first being entitled, "Out for Business." In this story are related the adventures of Robert Frost, who figured in the other volume mentioned. In the first tale we saw how Robert was compelled to leave home on account of the harsh actions of his step-father, and what he did while "out for business," as he frequently expressed it. In the present tale our hero, by a curious combination of circumstances, becomes the private secretary to a rich lady, and travels with this lady to England and other places. The lady has a nephew whose character is none of the best, and as this young man had formerly occupied the position now assigned to Robert, our hero's place becomes no easy one to fill. Yet his natural stoutheartedness helps him to overcome every obstacle and brings his many surprising adventures to a satisfactory ending. The two stories, "Out for Business" and "Falling in with Fortune," give to the reader the last tales begun by that famous writer of boys' tales, Mr. Horatio Alger, Jr., whose books have sold to the extent of hundreds of thousands of copies, not alone in America, but likewise in England, Australia, and elsewhere. The gifted writer was stricken when on the point of finishing the tales, and when he saw that he could not complete them himself, it was to the present writer that he turned, and an outline for a conclusion was drawn up which met with his approval--and this outline had been filled out in order to bring the stories to a finish and make them, as nearly as possible, what Mr. Alger intended they should be. The success of the first of the companion tales causes the present writer to hope that the second will meet with equal favor. Arthur M. Winfield. _July_ 1, 1900. CONTENTS. CHAPTER I. Thrown Out of Employment II. The Accusation and What Followed III. Getting Settled IV. The Old Secretary and the New V. A Plot against Robert VI. Mrs. Vernon's Money VII. The Doctor's Visit VIII. Frederic Vernon's Perplexity IX. Robert Reaches London X. Matters at Home XI. Vernon Makes Another Move XII. An Unexpected Result XIII. Vernon's High-handed Proceedings XIV. Vernon's Unwelcome Visitor XV. A Fight and a Fire XVI. Robert Shows his Bravery XVII. A Diamond Scarfpin XVIII. Vernon Plays the Penitent XIX. Mrs. Vernon's Bank Account XX. The Runaway along the Cliff XXI. The Cablegram from Chicago XXII. Farmer Parsons' Story XXIII. Aunt and Nephew's Agreement XXIV. The Attack in the Stateroom XXV. A Friend in Need XXVI. In Chicago Once More XXVII. Dick Marden's Good News XXVIII. In which Mrs. Vernon is Missing XXIX. Doctor Rushwood's Sanitarium XXX. Frederic Vernon's Demands XXXI. Robert Decides to Act XXXII. The Beginning of the End XXXIII. Robert's Heroism--Conclusion FALLING IN WITH FORTUNE. CHAPTER I. THROWN OUT OF EMPLOYMENT. "A telegram for you, Robert." "A telegram for me?" repeated Robert Frost, as he took the envelope which his fellow clerk, Livingston Palmer, handed him. "I wonder where it can be from?" "Perhaps it's from your mother. Your step-father may be sick again, and she may want you at home." "No, Mr. Talbot is quite well now; my mother said so in her letter of yesterday. I imagine this is from Timberville, Michigan." "Is your friend, Dick Marden, still up there attending to that lumber business for his uncle?" "Yes." "Didn't he want you to stay there with him?" "He did, but I told him I would rather remain in the city. I like working for Mr. Gray, here in the ticket office, a great deal better than I do lumbering." "I can see that. You are an out and out business boy, Robert. I shouldn't be surprised some day to see you have a cut-rate ticket office of your own." "I'd rather be in a bank, or some large wholesale house, Livingston. But excuse me while I read the telegram." "Certainly. Don't mind me." Tearing open the envelope, Robert Frost pulled out the bit of yellow paper, upon which was written the following: "I am called away to California and to Canada on business. May remain for three months. Will write to you later on. My uncle's case is in a bad mix-up again. "Dick Marden." Robert read the brief communication with much interest. Dick Marden was much older than the boy, but a warm friendship existed between the pair. "No bad news, I hope," said Livingston Palmer, after waiting on a customer, who had come in to buy a cut-rate ticket to Denver. "Dick Marden has gone to California. He says the Amberton claim to that timber land is in a bad mix-up again." "I see. Well, that doesn't concern you, does it?" "Not exactly. But I would like to see Mr. Amberton come out ahead on the deal, for I think he deserves it." "I know you worked hard enough to get that map for him," said Livingston Palmer, laughing. "Have you ever heard anything more of those two rascals who tried to get the map away from you?" "No--and I don't want to hear from them. All I want is to be left alone, to make my own way in the world," concluded Robert. Robert Frost was a lad of sixteen, strongly built, and with a handsome, expressive face. He had been born and brought up in the village of Granville, some fifty or sixty miles from Chicago, but had left his home several months before to do as he had just said, make his own way in the world. The readers of the companion tale to this, "Out for Business," already know why Robert left home. To new readers I would state that it was on account of his step-father, James Talbot, who had married the widow Frost mainly for the purpose of getting possession of the fortune which had been left to her,--a fortune which upon her death was to go to her only child, Robert. From his first entrance into the handsome and comfortable Frost homestead, James Talbot had acted very dictatorial toward Robert, and the boy, being naturally high-strung, had resented this, and many a bitter quarrel had ensued. At last Robert could stand his step-father's manner no longer, and, with his mother's consent, he left home for Chicago, to try his fortunes in the great city by the lakes. Robert was fortunate in falling in with a rough but kind-hearted miner named Dick Marden, and the miner, who was well-to-do, obtained for the youth a position in the cut-rate ticket office of one Peter Gray, an old acquaintance. Gray gave Robert first five and then seven dollars per week salary, and to this Marden added sufficient to make an even twelve dollars, so the boy was enabled to live quite comfortably. Dick Marden had an uncle living at Timberville, Michigan, who was old and feeble, and who was having a great deal of trouble about some timber lands which he claimed, but which an Englishman and a French Canadian were trying to get away from him. There was a map of the lands in the possession of an old lumberman named Herman Wenrich, and his daughter Nettie, who lived in Chicago, and this map Robert obtained for Marden and his uncle, Felix Amberton, and delivered it to them, although not until he had had several encounters with the people who wished to keep the map from Amberton. For his services Robert was warmly thanked by both Amberton and Marden, and the lumberman promised to do the handsome thing by the boy as soon as his titles to the lumber lands were clearly established in law. During the time spent in Chicago Robert had had considerable trouble with his step-father, who was trying his best to get hold of some of Mrs. Talbot's money, with the ostensible purpose of going into the real estate business in the great city of the lakes. But a stroke of paralysis had placed Mr. Talbot on a sick bed, and upon his recovery he had told both his wife and his step-son that he intended to turn over a new leaf. Mrs. Talbot believed him, but Robert was suspicious, for he felt that his step-father's nature was too utterly mean for him to reform entirely. "I hope he does reform, mother," the boy said to his fond parent. "But if I were you I would not expect too much--at least, at the start. I would not trust him with my money." "He has not asked me for money," had been Mrs. Talbot's reply. "But he wanted that ten thousand dollars to open up with in Chicago." "That was before he had the attack of paralysis, Robert." "He may want it again, as soon as he is himself once more. Take my advice and be careful what you do." And so mother and son parted, not to see each other again for a long while. But Robert was right; less than two months later James Talbot applied again for the money, stating that he would be very careful of it, so that not a dollar should be lost. He thought himself a keen business man, but thus far he had allowed every dollar that had come into his possession to slip through his fingers. Robert felt sorry that Dick Marden had gone to California, for he had reckoned on seeing his friend upon his return to Chicago. "Now, I suppose I won't see him for a long while," he thought. Robert had settled down at the office, expecting the position to be a permanent one, but on the Saturday following the receipt of Marden's telegram a surprise awaited him. Mr. Gray called him into his private office. "Robert," he said, "I have bad news for you." "Bad news, Mr. Gray? What is it?" "I am sorry to say it, but I shall have to dispense with your services from to-night." Robert flushed, and felt dismayed. This announcement was like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. "Are you dissatisfied with me, Mr. Gray?" he asked. "Not at all. Your services have been entirely satisfactory." "Then why do you send me away?" "I cannot very well help it. I have a nephew from the country who wants a place in the city. His father has written me, asking as a favor that I will give Donald a place in my office. He is poor, and I don't see how I can refuse his request." "Yes, sir, I see. I am glad you are not discharging me on account of dissatisfaction." "You may be assured of that. I suppose you have some money saved up?" "Yes, sir." "And no doubt your friend Mr. Marden will provide for you?" "Mr. Marden has gone to California for three months." "But you know his address there?" "No, sir." Peter Gray looked sober, for he was a man of good feelings. "Perhaps I can arrange to keep you," he said. "You know as much about the business as Mr. Palmer. I can discharge him and keep you." "I would not consent to that, sir. Livingston Palmer needs his salary, and I wouldn't be willing to deprive him of it. I can get along somehow. When do you wish me to go?" "My nephew arrived at my house this morning. He will be ready to go to work on Monday morning." "Very well, sir." "Of course I will give you a good recommendation--a first class one." "Thank you, sir." At six o'clock the broker handed Robert his week's wages, and Robert went out of the office, out of a place, and with prospects by no means flattering. Fortunately for Robert he had about twenty dollars in his pocket, so that he was not in any immediate danger of suffering from want. He would have had more, but had bought some necessary articles of wearing apparel, assuming that his position was a permanent one. Of course he began to seek for another place immediately. He examined the advertising columns of the daily papers, and inquired for anything he thought would suit him. But it so happened that business was unusually quiet, and he met with refusals everywhere, even where it was apparent that he was regarded favorably. There was one exception, however. He was offered three dollars a week in a small furnishing goods store, but this he felt that he could not afford to accept. As he came back to his boarding place every afternoon, he grew more and more despondent. "Is there no place open to me in this big city?" he asked himself. One thing he was resolved upon. He would not go back to his old home. It would be too much of a triumph for his step-father, who had often predicted that Robert would fail in his undertaking to support himself. And yet he must do something. He began to watch the newsboys near the Sherman House briskly disposing of their merchandise. "I wonder if they make much," he thought. He put the question to one pleasant-looking boy, of whom he bought an evening paper. "I make about sixty or seventy cents a day," was the reply. Sixty or seventy cents a day! That meant about four dollars a week. It was scarcely better than the salary offered in the furnishing goods store, and the employment would not be so agreeable. He felt that he should not like to have his step-father or any one who knew him in his native town seeing him selling daily papers in the street, so he decided not to take up that business except as a last resort. One day he went into a large dry goods store to purchase a small article. He made his purchase and started to go out. All at once he heard a cry, proceeding from a lady. "I have lost my purse." "That boy's got it!" said a voice. Then much to his bewilderment Robert found himself seized by the shoulder, and a pocket-book was drawn out from the side pocket of his sack coat. "Send for an officer!" said the floor-walker. "The boy is a thief!" CHAPTER II. THE ACCUSATION, AND WHAT FOLLOWED. A person who is entirely innocent is likely to look confused when suddenly charged with theft. It came upon Robert so suddenly that he could not at first summon presence of mind enough to deny it. But at last he said indignantly, "I didn't take it. I never stole in my life." "That's a likely story," said the floor-walker. "It got into your pocket itself, I suppose." "I don't know how it got there. I only know I didn't put it there." "Why did you come into the store--except to steal?" "I came here to buy a necktie." Just then in came an officer who had been summoned. "Arrest that boy!" said the floor-walker. "He is a thief." Robert started indignantly when the officer put his hand on his shoulder. "That is false!" he said. "Come along!" said the officer. "Is there no one here who will speak for me?" asked Robert, looking about him on the suspicious and distrustful faces that surrounded him. "Yes, I will do so," said a voice, and a tall, dignified looking gentleman with white hair pressed forward toward him. All eyes were turned upon the gentleman. "The boy is not a thief!" he said. "Then perhaps," said the floor-walker sarcastically, "you can tell who is?" "I can," returned the other calmly. "_There_ is the thief!" He pointed to a flashily attired young man who started to go out--protesting that it was all a mistake. "That won't go down," said the floor-walker. "Who are you, sir, that try to screen the boy at the expense of an innocent man?" "I am the Rev. Dr. Blank; I am pretty well known in Chicago, I believe." This statement made a sensation. Some of those present recognized the clergyman, and even the floorwalker was impressed. "Are you sure of this, sir?" he asked. "Yes." "Did you see the young man steal the pocket-book?" "No, but I saw him put it into the boy's pocket." By this time the policeman's attention had been called to the real thief. "The minister is right, I make no doubt," he said. "I recognize that man. He is a well-known thief." "Arrest him then!" said the floor-walker sullenly, for he was really sorry that Robert had been proven innocent. The officer released his hold on our hero, and prepared to leave the store in charge of the real thief, who had, of course, emptied the pocket-book before placing it in Robert's pocket. "Will you be present at the trial?" he asked the clergyman. "Yes. There is my address. You can summon me." "How can I thank you, sir?" said Robert warmly. "You have saved me from arrest." "Thank God for that, my boy. I am glad that word of mine should do you such a service." Robert walked out of the store feeling that he had had a very narrow escape. This was a relief, but it was quickly succeeded by anxious thoughts--for he was nearly out of money. His prospects were so uncertain that he blamed himself for incurring the expense of a necktie, though it had only cost him twenty-five cents. Robert continued to seek for a position, but he seemed out of luck. Once he came near success. It was in a furnishing goods store. The shopkeeper seemed inclined to engage him, but before the decisive word was spoken his wife entered the store. She looked at Robert scrutinizingly. "I think I have seen you before," she said sharply. "I don't know, madam. I don't remember you." "But I remember you. It was two days since. I saw you in a store on State Street. You were about to be arrested for stealing a wallet." Robert blushed. "Did you stay till it was discovered that someone else took it?" he asked. "I know you got off somehow." "I got off because I was innocent. I was as innocent as you were." "Do you mean to insult me, boy?" asked the lady sharply. "No, madam. I only say that I was innocent. It was shown that a man then in the store took the wallet. He was arrested, and I was released." "Very likely he was a confederate of yours." "If he had been he would have said so." "At any rate, circumstances were very suspicious. Were you thinking of hiring this boy, William?" "Yes, I liked his looks," answered the shopkeeper. "Then be guided by me, and don't hire him." "Why not? The charge seems to have been false." "At any rate, he has been under suspicion. He can't be trusted." "In that case," said Robert proudly, "I withdraw my application. I need the place enough, but if you are afraid to trust me I don't care to come." "I am not afraid to trust you," said the owner of the shop kindly, "but my wife seems to have taken a prejudice against you." "In that case I will go." Robert bowed and left the store. His heart was full of disappointment and bitterness, and he resented the cruel want of consideration shown by the woman who had interfered between him and employment. In fact, he had but fifteen cents left in his pocketbook. It was time for dinner, and he felt that he must eat. But where his next meal, outside of his boarding house, was to come from, he could not tell. He was on State Street, and must go to another part of the city to find a cheap restaurant. He chanced to be passing the same store where he had almost suffered arrest. "I wish I had never gone in there," he reflected. "It cost me a place." As this thought passed through his mind a lady, richly dressed, passed through the portals of the store and stepped on the sidewalk. Her glance rested on the boy. "Didn't I see you in this store day before yesterday?" she asked. "What!" thought Robert. "Does she remember me also?" "I was here, madam," he replied. "You were charged with stealing a wallet?" "Yes, madam, but I hope you don't think that I did it." "No; you were exonerated. But even if you had not been, I should know by your face that you were not a thief." Robert brightened up. "Thank you," he said gratefully. "I appreciate your confidence the more because I have just lost a place because a lady insisted that I might have been a confederate of the thief." "Tell me about it. We will walk up the street, and you shall speak as we walk along." Robert placed himself at her side, and told the story. "Then you need employment?" she asked. "Yes, madam. I need it very much. I have only fifteen cents left in my pocket." "Do you live in the city?" "I have been here only a short time. I came from the country." "Are you well educated? Can you write a good hand? Are you good at figures?" "I am nearly ready for college, but troubles at home prevented my going." "You shall tell me of them later. Would you like to be my private secretary?" "Yes, madam. I should feel very fortunate to procure such a position." "Can you enter upon your duties at once?" "Yes, madam." "Then we will take a car, and you can accompany me home." "Shall I go after my valise?" "No, you can go after that this evening. If you accompany me now we shall be in time for dinner." Rather dazed by the suddenness of his engagement, Robert hailed a passing car by direction of his companion, and they took seats. The ride proved to be a long one. They disembarked at Prairie Avenue, and the lady led the way to a handsome residence. Robert went up the front steps with her, and rang the bell. The door was opened by a smart servant girl, who regarded Robert with some surprise. "Is dinner ready, Martha?" asked the lady of the house. "Yes, madam. It will be served at once." "Take this young gentleman up to the back room on the third floor, so that he may prepare for dinner." "Yes, Mrs. Vernon." "You will find everything necessary for your toilet in the room which I have assigned you. By the way, what is your name?" "Robert Frost." "A good name. Martha will go up in ten minutes to conduct you to the dining room." "If this is a dream," thought Robert, as he followed the servant upstairs--"it is a very pleasant one. I hope I shan't wake up till I have had dinner." He was shown into a chamber of fair size, very handsomely furnished. Everything was at hand for making his toilet. Robert bathed his face and hands and combed his hair. He was quite ready when Martha knocked at the door. "Dinner is served," she said. "I will show you the way to the dining room." CHAPTER III. GETTING SETTLED. Robert was well prepared by long abstinence to do justice to the choice viands that were set before him. He had not been brought up in poverty, yet he had not been accustomed to the luxurious table maintained by Mrs. Vernon. He ate with so much relish that he was almost ashamed. "I have an unusual appetite," he said half apologetically. "Probably you do not generally dine so late," said Mrs. Vernon. "No, madam." "I am glad you enjoy your dinner," said his hostess. When dinner was over she said, "Come with me into my study, or perhaps I may say my office, and I will give you an idea of your duties." Robert followed her with not a little curiosity, to a somewhat smaller room on the same floor. It contained a large writing desk with numerous drawers, also several chairs and a bookcase. Mrs. Vernon seated herself at the desk. "Probably you wonder what a woman can want of a secretary?" she said inquiringly. "No," answered Robert. "I know that there are women of business as well as men." "Quite true. I do not need to enter into full explanations. However, I may say that I possess considerable property invested in different ways. My husband died two years since, and I am left to manage it for myself." Robert bowed, indicating that he understood. "A part of my property is in real estate, and I have numerous tenants. A part is invested in manufacturing stocks. I believe you said you understood bookkeeping?" "Theoretically, I do. I have studied it in school." "Take this sheet of paper and write a letter at my dictation." She rose from the desk and signed to Robert to take her seat. He did so, and wrote a short letter at her dictation. "Now give it to me." She regarded it approvingly. "That will do very well," she said. "I think you will suit me." "Am I the first secretary you have employed?" asked Robert curiously. "A natural question. No, I still have a secretary, a nephew of mine." Robert looked puzzled. "Then, with me, you will have two." "No, for I shall discharge my nephew." "Is he--a boy?" "No, he is a young man of twenty-five." "Do you think I shall suit you any better? I am afraid you will be disappointed in me." "I will tell you why I discharge my nephew. He takes advantage of his relationship to make suggestions and interfere with my plans. Besides, he is inclined to be gay, and though his duties are by no means arduous he neglects them, and is so careless that I have found numerous errors in his accounts." "Does he know that he is to be superseded?" "No; he will learn it first when he sees you." "I am afraid he will be prejudiced against me." "No doubt he will." "Does he depend upon his salary? Won't he be put to inconvenience?" "You are very considerate. I answer No, for I shall continue to pay him a liberal salary, but will leave him to obtain employment elsewhere. And this leads me to ask your views in regard to compensation." "I shall be satisfied with whatever you choose to pay me." "Then suppose we say a hundred dollars a month, and of course a home. You will continue to occupy the room into which Martha conducted you before dinner." "But, Mrs. Vernon, can I possibly earn as much as that? Most boys of my age are contented with five or six dollars a week." "They do not have as responsible duties as you. You will not only be my secretary, but will be entrusted with my bank account. I can afford to pay you liberally, and wish to do so." "Then I can only thank you and accept your generous offer." "That is well. By the way, how are you provided with money now?" "I have almost nothing. I have been out of employment for some weeks." Mrs. Vernon opened a drawer in her desk, and took out a roll of bills. "Count those, please," she said. "There are seventy-five dollars." "You can accept them on account, or rather, I won't charge them to you. You may look upon that sum as your outfit. Very likely you may need to replenish your wardrobe." "Yes, Mrs. Vernon, I shall, if I am to live in your house." "Well spoken. As one of my family, of course I shall want you to be well dressed." "Shall I begin my duties now?" "No; you may return to your boarding house and prepare to transfer your trunk here." Robert bowed. "We shall have supper at seven. Very possibly your predecessor, my nephew, may be here. We will separate till then." She left the room, and Robert followed. As he emerged into the street he asked himself whether it were not all a dream. But feeling in his vest pocket he found the roll of bills, and this was a sufficient answer. What a difference a couple of hours had made in his feelings! In the forenoon he had been discouraged, now he was in the highest spirits. On his way he passed the furnishing goods store where he had been refused a position in the morning. He was in need of underclothing, and entered. The proprietor of the shop saw and recognized him. "You have come back again, I see," he said. "It is of no use. I cannot employ you. So far as I am concerned, I should be willing, but, as you know, my wife is prejudiced against you." "I am not looking for a position," said Robert quietly. "What, then?" "I wish to buy a few articles." He passed from one article to another, and his bill amounted to over ten dollars. The proprietor of the store, who waited upon him in person, became more and more amazed, and even a little anxious. "Can you pay for all these?" he asked. "Certainly, or I should not buy them." When the bill was made out it amounted to between fourteen and fifteen dollars. Robert passed out two ten-dollar bills. "You seem well provided with money," said the merchant respectfully. "Where shall I send these articles?" Robert gave the number of Mrs. Vernon's residence on Prairie Avenue. "Do you live there?" "Yes, sir." "I hope you will favor me with your continued patronage. Evidently my wife made a very absurd mistake." Robert did not buy any more articles. He deferred till the next day purchasing a suit, of which he stood in need. Then it occurred to him, as he had plenty of time, that he would call at the cut-rate ticket office where he had been employed. As he entered the office he found Livingston Palmer alone. "I am glad to see you, Robert," said his friend. "I begin to hope that Mr. Gray will take you back." "How is that?" "His nephew is getting home-sick. Besides, he has no business in him. He will never make a good clerk. If you can get along for a week or two you may be taken into the office again." "I am not in the market, Livingston." "You don't mean to say you have got a place?" "But I have." "What is it?" "I am private secretary to a lady of property on Prairie Avenue." "You don't say so! Is the pay good?" "A hundred dollars a month." "Jumping Jehosophat! You are jollying me." "Not at all. It's all straight. And that is not all. I have a home in the house, too." Livingston Palmer regarded his young friend with reverential awe. "It doesn't seem possible," said he. "How did you get it?" "I can hardly tell you. The lady has taken me without recommendations." "Well, Robert, you were born to good luck. I am afraid you won't notice me now that you are getting up in the world." Robert smiled. "I will see you as often as I can," he said. Just then Mr. Gray entered the office. "Ah, Frost," he said. "I suppose you haven't a place yet?" "I have one," answered Robert rather coolly, for he felt that the broker had treated him badly. "Indeed!" Then after Robert's departure Palmer told his employer the particulars of his late clerk's good fortune. Mr. Gray was disposed to be incredulous. On returning to Prairie Avenue Robert found himself just in time for tea. At the table he met a stout, swarthy young man, whom Mrs. Vernon introduced as her nephew, Frederic Vernon. "Is this a new acquaintance of yours, aunt?" asked Frederic Vernon. "It is my new secretary," she replied, "Robert Frost." "That boy!" he said disdainfully, regarding Robert with unmistakable animosity. CHAPTER IV. THE OLD SECRETARY AND THE NEW. Before Robert's entrance Frederic Vernon and his aunt had had a conversation. He had no idea that his aunt contemplated a change in their arrangements. She was a woman of a few words, and had been gradually making up her mind to dismiss her nephew from his post as secretary. When he entered her presence at five o'clock he said apologetically, "I hope you had no important business for me this afternoon, aunt. I was unavoidably detained." "Please explain, Frederic," she said composedly. "At the Palmer House I fell in with an old schoolmate who wished me to dine with him." "And you accepted?" "Yes; I am awfully sorry." "Your regrets are unavailing. This is not the first, nor the tenth time, that you have neglected your duties without adequate cause." Frederic looked at her. She was not in the least excited, but she seemed in earnest. "I see I shall have to turn over a new leaf," he said to himself. "My aunt is taking it seriously." "It will be the last time," he said. "I admit that I have been neglectful. Hereafter I will be more attentive." "It will not be necessary," said Mrs. Vernon. "Why not?" he asked, in surprise. "Because I shall relieve you from your duties." "What do you mean?" "I shall give you a permanent vacation." "Do you discharge me?" asked Frederic quickly, his cheek flushing. "Yes, if you choose to use that word." "But--how am I to live?" "I will continue your salary--you may hereafter call it an allowance." "But how will you manage about your writing?" "I shall get another secretary--indeed, I have already engaged one." Frederic Vernon hardly knew how to take this announcement. It was certainly a favorable change for him, as his salary would be continued, and his time would all be at his own disposal. "I am afraid you are angry with me, aunt?" he said. "Say dissatisfied." "But----" "The fact is, I have thought it best to employ one who was not related to me. You have taken advantage of the relationship to slight my interests. My new secretary is not likely to do that." "Who is he? Where did you find him?" "His name is Robert Frost. As to where I found him, I do not consider it necessary to answer that question." "Is he in the house?" "He will be here to tea." Frederic Vernon remained silent for a short time. He was thinking over the new situation. In some respects it was satisfactory. He was naturally lazy, and though his duties had been light, he had no objection to give up work altogether. "Of course, you will please yourself, aunt," he said. "There is one thing more. You had better find another home." "What! Leave this house?" "Yes; you will be more independent elsewhere. While you were in my service it was best for you to have your home here. I shall make you an extra provision to cover the expense of a room elsewhere." "You are very kind, aunt." "I mean to be. Of course, you are at liberty to come here to meals whenever you like. You will be quite independent as regards that." "How long have you been thinking of making a change, aunt?" "For some weeks. I advise you to find some occupation. It will not be well for you to have your time entirely unoccupied." "You are sure this change will not alter your feeling toward me?" he asked anxiously. "I think not." Frederic Vernon went upstairs to prepare for tea. Soon after he came down he met Robert, as already mentioned. He was certainly very much surprised at the youthful appearance of the new secretary, and he was not altogether free from jealousy. "Have you ever filled the position of secretary before?" he asked abruptly. "No, Mr. Vernon." "I supposed not. How old are you?" "Sixteen." "Humph! How long since did you lay aside short pants?" "Frederic!" said his aunt, in a tone of displeasure. "I desire you to drop this tone. I expect you to treat your successor with courtesy. You have nothing to complain of." "Very well, aunt. I will be guarded by your wishes." On the whole the young man was not sorry to have his duties transferred to another. Though he had seldom been occupied more than three hours daily, even those had been irksome to him. "When do you wish me to find a new home, aunt?" he asked. "You can consult your own convenience." "I will look around to-morrow, then. Do you wish me to initiate my successor in the duties of his position?" "It will not be necessary. They are simple, and I will give him all the aid he requires." When they rose from the table Frederic Vernon invited Robert to go out with him. "I will take you to some place of amusement," he said. His object was to get better acquainted with his successor, and report unfavorably to his aunt. "Thank you," answered Robert. "You are very kind, but I am tired, and I should like to arrange my clothing in my chamber. Some other time I shall be glad to accept your invitation." "Very well," said Vernon indifferently, and soon left. "I am glad you did not go out with my nephew," said Mrs. Vernon. "He keeps late hours, which would be even worse for a boy of your age than for him." "I am afraid he is not pleased with my taking his place." "Probably not; though he won't object to being relieved from all care. Perhaps I had better tell you something about our relations. He is a son of an older brother of my husband, and should I die without a will, he is my natural heir. I fancy he bears this in mind, and that it prevents his making any exertions in his own behalf. I don't mind confessing that I am a rich woman, and that my property would be well worth inheriting." "Still," said Robert, "you are likely to live a good many years." "Perhaps so, but I am twenty years older than my nephew. He is a young man of fair abilities, and might achieve a creditable success in business if he were not looking forward to my fortune." Mrs. Vernon seemed quite confidential, considering their brief acquaintance. "At any rate," said Robert, smiling, "I hope I am not likely to be spoiled by any such anticipation." "Some time you shall tell me of your family. Now it may be well to go up to your room and arrange your things." Robert went upstairs, and retired early, feeling fatigued. He could not help congratulating himself on the favorable change in his circumstances. In the morning he had been despondent and almost penniless. Now he felt almost rich. The next morning after breakfast Mrs. Vernon said: "Be ready to go downtown with me at two o'clock. I will introduce you at my bank, as I shall have occasion to send you there at times to draw and deposit money." "When shall you wish me to write for you, Mrs. Vernon?" "To-day, just after dinner. It will not always be at the same hour." They set out at the time mentioned. Mrs. Vernon introduced Robert to the teller at what we will call the Bank of Chicago, and announced that he would act as her messenger and agent. As they left the bank she said: "I shall now leave you to your own devices--only stipulating that you be at home at two o'clock." "It seems I am to have an easy time," thought Robert, when left alone. In one of the cross streets leading from Clark to State Street Robert met Frederic Vernon and a friend. "Hallo, Frost!" said the former. "Have you been out with my aunt?" "Yes, sir." "Cameron, this is Mr. Frost, my aunt's private secretary." "I thought you filled that honorable position," said Cameron. "So I did, but I have resigned it--that is, the place, but not the salary." "You are in luck. Won't your friend come in with us and have a drink?" "Thank you for the invitation," said Robert, "but I must ask you to excuse me." "Oh, you are Puritanical," said Cameron, with an unpleasant sneer. "Perhaps so." Robert bowed and passed on. "Do you know, Vernon," said Cameron, "I have seen that kid before, and under peculiar circumstances." "Indeed!" "Yes; on Tuesday I was in the Bazaar dry goods store, on State Street, when I saw him for the first time." "What were the peculiar circumstances?" "He was charged with stealing a pocket-book." "Are you sure of that?" asked Vernon eagerly. "Yes, I should know him anywhere." "How did he get off?" "Some minister spoke in his favor." "I must tell my aunt of this," said Vernon gleefully. "I think the young man will get his walking papers." CHAPTER V. A PLOT AGAINST ROBERT. Frederic Vernon lost no time in acquainting his aunt with his discovery. Finding himself alone with her that evening, he said: "I am afraid, aunt, you did not exercise much caution when you selected young Frost as your secretary." "Explain yourself, Frederic." "It is only a few days since he was arrested for theft in a dry goods store." "Well?" "Surely you don't approve of employing a thief?" "No, but he was innocent." "How do you know? Does he say so?" "I was in the store when he was arrested." "And yet you engaged him?" "The arrest was a mistake. The real thief was found and is now serving a sentence." "I didn't suppose you knew of this incident in the life of your secretary." "And you hoped to injure him by mentioning it to me." "I thought you would see that you had made a bad choice." "Then you made a mistake. Thus far I am quite satisfied with my choice." Frederic Vernon was mortified by his lack of success, but determined to follow up his attack upon Robert, and to get him into trouble if he could. He had still free entrance into the house of his aunt, and occasionally occupied his own room there. One day in passing his aunt's chamber, seeing the door ajar, he entered, and soon discovered on her bureau a valuable ring. "Ha!" he exclaimed, as a contemptible thought entered his mind. "I think I can give young Frost some trouble." He took the ring, and carrying it into Robert's room, put it in a drawer of the bureau. In the evening he took supper in the house. His aunt looked perplexed. "What is the matter, aunt?" he asked. "I miss my diamond ring--the cluster diamond--which was a gift from your uncle." "That is serious. When did you see it last?" "I think I left it on my bureau this morning. Of course, it was careless, but I felt that there was no danger of its being lost or taken." "Humph! I don't know about that. Was it valuable?" "I suppose so. In fact, a jeweler told me once that it was worth five hundred dollars." "It might tempt a thief. Aunt, let me make a suggestion." "Well?" "I slept here last night. I should like to have you search my chamber to make sure it is not there." "Nonsense, Frederic! As if I could suspect you." "No, it is not nonsense. What do you say, Mr. Frost?" "I am perfectly willing to have my room searched, Mr. Vernon." "I don't suspect either of you," said Mrs. Vernon. "I will look again in my own room." "Aunt, that will be well, but I insist on your searching my room also, and Mr. Frost is willing to have you search his." Reluctantly Mrs. Vernon followed her nephew upstairs, and first examined her own chamber, but the ring was not found. Next she entered Frederic's room. He made great ado of opening all the drawers of his bureau, and searching every available place, but again the ring was not found. "You see, the search is unnecessary, Frederic," said his aunt. "Still I shall feel better for its having been made." "Then we will stop here." "If Robert does not want his room searched he can say so," said Vernon significantly. Robert colored, for he felt the insinuation. "I wish you to search my room," he said proudly. Frederic Vernon conducted the examination. He searched every other place first. Finally he opened a small drawer of the bureau, and uttered an exclamation. "What is this?" he asked, as he drew out the ring and held it up. "Is this your ring, aunt?" "Yes," she answered calmly. "Mrs. Vernon," said Robert, in an agitated tone, "I hope you don't think I had anything to do with taking the ring." "The case is plain," said Frederic Vernon severely. "You may as well confess, and I will ask my aunt to let you off. Of course she cannot retain you in her employ, but I will ask her not to prosecute you." Robert looked anxiously yet proudly into the face of his employer. "Don't feel anxious, Robert," she said, "I haven't the slightest suspicion of you." "Then, aunt, how do you account for the ring being found in the room of your secretary?" "Because," said Mrs. Vernon, "it was placed there." "Exactly. That is my opinion." "But not by him." "Not by him? What do you mean?" "By you. I was in my room this afternoon, and heard steps in his chamber; I knew that it was not Robert, for I had sent him out on an errand. Presently you came downstairs. It was you who placed the ring where it was found, Frederic Vernon," she said sternly. "If that is the opinion you have of me, aunt," said Vernon, who could not help betraying confusion, "I will bid you good-evening." "You may as well. Your attempt to ruin the reputation of your successor by a false charge is contemptible." Vernon did not attempt to answer this accusation, but turning on his heel left the room. "Thank you for your justice, Mrs. Vernon," said Robert gratefully. "I was afraid you might believe me a thief." "I should not, even if I had not positive knowledge that Frederic had entered into a conspiracy against you. He has done himself no good by this base attempt to blacken your reputation. We will let the matter drop and think no more of it." CHAPTER VI. MRS. VERNON'S MONEY. During the next three months Frederic Vernon was a rare visitor at the house of his aunt. He took apartments nearer the central part of the city, and lived like a bachelor of large means. The result was, that he overrun the income received from his aunt, though this was a very liberal one. He applied to her to increase his allowance, but she firmly refused. "How is it, Frederic," she asked, "that you are spending so much money?" "I don't know, aunt. I only know that the money goes." "You must be a very poor manager." "I have a good many friends--from the best families in Chicago." "And I suppose you entertain them frequently?" "It is expected of me." "I give you twice as much as you received when you were my secretary." "Then I did not have an establishment of my own." "You ought to live well on three thousand dollars a year." "Do you live on that, aunt?" "I keep up a large house." "And I have an extensive suite of rooms." "It is not necessary. What rent do you pay?" "A thousand dollars a year." "Then you will need to engage cheaper rooms." "Won't you help me out, aunt?" "No," answered Mrs. Vernon firmly. Frederic went away in ill humor. He was never rude to Robert now. Indeed, he treated him with exaggerated and formal respect, which Robert felt only veiled a feeling of dislike. One evening Robert sat down for a time in the lobby of a prominent hotel. He did not at first notice that Frederic Vernon and a tall black-whiskered man of middle age sat near him, conversing in a low tone. At length he heard something that startled him. "Is it difficult," asked Frederic, "to procure the seclusion of a party who shows plain signs of insanity? I ask you as a physician." "State your case," said his companion. "I have an aunt," answered Frederic, "a woman of fifty or more, who is acting in a very eccentric manner." "In what way?" "Until a few months since she employed me as her private secretary. Without any warning and with no excuse for the action, she discharged me, and engaged in my place a boy of sixteen, whom she had known only a day or two." "Where did she meet this boy?" "In a large dry goods store, under peculiar circumstances. He was about to be arrested for theft when she secured his release, and engaged him as her secretary on a liberal salary." "Is he still in her employ?" "Yes. She has made him her first favorite, and it looks very much as if she intended to make him her heir." "Is she a rich woman?" "She is probably worth quarter of a million--perhaps more." "And you are her rightful heir?" "Yes. What do you think of that?" "It is very hard on you." "Don't you think it is evidence of insanity?" "It looks very much that way." "If you can manage to procure her confinement in an asylum, I will make it worth your while, and can afford to do so. I should in that case, doubtless, have the custody of her property, and----" Robert did not hear the balance of the sentence, for the two parties arose and left the hotel, leaving him startled and shocked by the revelations of the wicked conspiracy which so seriously threatened the safety of his benefactress. He lost no time in giving Mrs. Vernon information of what he had heard. "You are quite sure of what you have told me?" she asked, with deep interest. "Certainly, Mrs. Vernon. Why do you ask?" "Because it seemed to me incredible that Frederic could be guilty of such base ingratitude. Why, he is even now in receipt of an income of three thousand dollars a year from me." "It seems very ungrateful." "It is very ungrateful," said the widow in an emphatic tone. "Mrs. Vernon," said Robert, "your nephew mentioned as one evidence of your insanity your employing me as your secretary. If this is going to expose you to danger, perhaps you had better discharge me." "Give me your hand, Robert," said Mrs. Vernon impulsively. "It is easy to see that you are a true friend, though in no way related to me." "I hope to prove so." "And you would really be willing that I should discharge you and take back my nephew into his old place?" "Yes." "Nothing would induce me to do it. That ungrateful young man I will never receive into a confidential and trusted position. What is the appearance of the man you saw with him?" Robert described him. "You think he was a physician?" "I judge so." "Probably my nephew will bring him here to see me with a view to reporting against my sanity. In that case I shall call upon you to identify him," concluded Mrs. Vernon. CHAPTER VII. THE DOCTOR'S VISIT. Two days later Frederic Vernon called. He found his aunt with Robert. The latter was writing to her dictation. "Are you well, aunt?" he asked blithely. "Yes, Frederic. This is an unusual time for you to call. Have you any special business with me?" "Oh, no, aunt, but I happened to be passing. I have a friend with me. Will you allow me to introduce him?" "Yes." "Then I will go down and bring him up. I left him in the hall." When her nephew left the room Mrs. Vernon said rapidly, "Stay here, Robert, when my nephew comes back. If the man with him is the same one you saw at the hotel make me a signal." "Yes, Mrs. Vernon." Frederic Vernon entered with his companion. "Aunt," he said, "let me introduce my friend Mr. Remington. Remington, my aunt, Mrs. Vernon." Mrs. Vernon bowed formally, and did not seem to see the outstretched hand of her nephew's companion. She scrutinized him carefully, however. "Are you a business man, Mr. Remington?" she asked. "No, madam," answered Remington hesitatingly. "Professional then?" "My friend Remington is a physician," said Frederic. "I should have introduced him as Dr. Remington." "Perhaps you are a patient of his?" "Oh, no," laughed Frederic. "I don't need any medical services." "Nor I," said Mrs. Vernon quickly. "By the way," said Frederic, turning toward Robert, "this is Mr. Frost, my aunt's private secretary." Dr. Remington surveyed our hero closely. "He is young for so important a position," he said. "Yes, he is young, but competent and reliable," answered Mrs. Vernon. "No doubt, no doubt! Probably you have known him for a long time, and felt justified in engaging him, though so young." "Certainly I felt justified," said Mrs. Vernon haughtily. "Oh, of course, of course." The conversation continued for a few minutes, Mrs. Vernon limiting herself for the most part to answering questions asked by her nephew. She treated the stranger with distant coldness. Presently Frederic Vernon arose. "We mustn't stay any longer, Remington," he said. "We interrupted my aunt, and must not take up too much of her time." "You are right," said the doctor. "Mrs. Vernon, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance." Mrs. Vernon bowed politely, but did not otherwise acknowledge the compliment. "Good-by, aunt," said Frederic lightly. "I will call again soon." "When you find time," she answered coldly. "Good-by, Robert," said Frederic, in an affable tone. Robert bowed. "Well, Remington," said Frederic when they emerged into the street. "What do you say?" "I say that your aunt treated us both with scant courtesy." "She reserves that for young Frost, her secretary. He is first favorite, and is working to make himself her heir." "We will put a spoke in his wheel," said the physician. "I shall have no hesitation in giving you a certificate of your aunt's probable insanity." "Good! I will see that you are properly compensated." "That sounds very well, Frederic, but is too indefinite." "What do you want, then?" "If through my means your aunt is adjudged insane, and you come into her fortune, or get control of her estate, I want ten thousand dollars." "Isn't that rather steep?" "You say Mrs. Vernon is worth at least quarter of a million?" "I judge so." "Then what I ask is little enough. You must remember that I must get another doctor to sign with me." "Very well, I agree," answered Vernon after a pause. "Then I will undertake it. Be guided by me, and success is sure." When the pair of conspirators had left her presence Mrs. Vernon remained for a short time silent and thoughtful. Robert watched her anxiously. "I hope," he said, "you do not think there is cause for alarm." "I do not know," she answered. "I am not so much alarmed as disgusted. That my own nephew should enter into such a plot is enough to destroy one's confidence in human nature." "If my going away would lessen the danger----" "No; I shall need you more than ever. I am not prepared to say just yet what I shall do, but I shall soon decide. We will stop work for this afternoon. I am going downtown to see my lawyer. I shall not need you till tea-time." She left the room, and Robert, availing himself of his leisure, left the house also. He was destined to a surprise. On State Street, near the Palmer House, an hour later he came face to face with his step-father, now in the city for the first time since his illness. Robert had held no communication with the family since obtaining his new position, and James Talbot did not know where he was. "Robert Frost!" he exclaimed in genuine surprise. "Mr. Talbot," said Robert coldly. "Are you still living in Chicago?" asked his step-father curiously. "Yes, sir. Is my mother well?" "As well as she can be, considering the waywardness of her son." "What do you mean by that?" demanded Robert with spirit. "My only waywardness consists in resenting your interference with my liberty." "I was only exercising my right as your step-father." "My mother's act has made you my step-father, but I don't admit that it gives you the right to order me about." "It is very sad to see you so headstrong," said James Talbot, in a mournful tone. "Don't trouble yourself about me, Mr. Talbot. I feel competent to regulate my own affairs." "I suppose you are working in some way?" said Talbot inquiringly. "Yes, sir." "I heard you had left Gray's office. For whom are you working? Are you in a store?" "No, sir." "You seem well-dressed. I hope you are doing well?" "Yes." "Have you any message for your mother?" "Tell her I will write to her again soon. I ought to have done so before." "You had better go home with me; I invite you to do so." "I do not care to be under the same roof with you." "It is sad, indeed, to see a boy of your age so refractory." "Don't borrow any trouble on my account, Mr. Talbot. I will go home on one condition." "What is that?" "That you will leave the house." "This is very improper and disrespectful. Of course I cannot do that. I shall remain to comfort and care for your mother." "Then there is no more to say. Good-day, sir." Robert bowed slightly, and passed on. "I wish I knew what he was doing, and where he is employed," said Talbot to himself. "I would let his employer know how he has behaved to me. I wish he might lose his place and be compelled to sue for pardon." When Robert met Mrs. Vernon at the supper table she said to him, "Robert, I have some news for you." "What is it, Mrs. Vernon?" "We start for New York to-morrow. We sail for Liverpool on Saturday." CHAPTER VIII. FREDERIC VERNON'S PERPLEXITY. There are few boys to whom the prospect of visiting Europe would not possess a charm. Robert was delighted by Mrs. Vernon's announcement, and readily agreed to assist her in the necessary preparations. Nothing occurred to interfere with their plans. They passed a single day in New York, where Mrs. Vernon purchased a large letter of credit, and Saturday saw their departure on a Cunard steamer bound for Liverpool. It was on this very day that Frederic Vernon, again accompanied by his friend, Dr. Remington, called at the house on Prairie Avenue. The doctor recommended a second interview, in order that he might more plausibly give a certificate of insanity. No hint of Mrs. Vernon's projected trip had reached her treacherous nephew. A single servant had been placed in charge by Mrs. Vernon to care for the house, and guard against the intrusion of burglars. "I suppose my aunt is at home, Martha," said Frederic blithely. "No, Mr. Frederic, she has gone away." "You mean she has gone into the city. When will she return?" "I don't know." "Why don't you know?" "She has gone on a journey." "Indeed!" said Remington, much disappointed. "Where has she gone?" "She said she might go to California." Martha had been instructed to say this, and did not know but it was true. "Well, well! That is strange!" ejaculated Remington. "What do you think of it, doctor?" "It bears out our theory," responded the doctor briefly. "It is very inconvenient," Vernon continued. "When did Mrs. Vernon start?" he inquired, turning to the girl. "On Wednesday morning." Remington's countenance fell. "I suppose it will be of no use to remain longer, then," he said, as he descended the steps. "Is there no one of whom you can obtain information, Vernon?" "My aunt has a man of business who looks after her investments. He will probably know." "Let us go there, then." Mr. Farley's office was on Dearborn Street. Frederic Vernon went there at once. Mr. Farley was a lawyer as well as a man of business, and Frederic had to wait half an hour while he was occupied with a client. "Well, Mr. Vernon, what can I do for you?" he asked coldly, for the young man was not a favorite of his. "I just called upon my aunt, and learned that she had departed on a journey." "Precisely so." "The servant thought she had gone to California. Is that correct?" "Did she not write to inform you of her destination?" "No, sir, she was probably too hurried. Of course you know where she is." "Even if I did know I should not be at liberty to tell you. If your aunt has not informed you, she probably has her reasons." Vernon flushed, and he found it hard to control his anger. "Then you refuse to tell me?" "I do not feel called upon to tell. Have you any special business with your aunt? If so, I will mention it in any letter I may have occasion to write." "It seems to me this is a very foolish mystery." "It is not for me, or for you, to comment upon or to criticise your aunt's plans," said the lawyer pointedly. "Has Robert Frost, whom she employs as secretary, gone with her?" "Possibly. She did not mention him in her last interview with me." "Will you write me when you hear from her?" "If she authorizes it." "I will leave you my address." There seemed to be nothing more to say, and Vernon left the office baffled and perplexed. He communicated what he had heard to Dr. Remington, whom he had not thought it advisable to take with him to Mr. Farley's office. "What do you make of it, Remington?" he inquired. "I don't know. Do you think Mrs. Vernon got any inkling of your scheme to have her adjudged insane?" "How could she?" "True. We have been very careful not to discuss the matter within the hearing of anyone." "What can we do?" "We must wait. You must find out where your aunt is before you can take any steps." "Suppose she has gone to California?" "We can follow her." There was, however, one serious impediment in the way of going to California. Vernon used up his allowance as fast as he received it, and was even a little in debt. Again, California was a large place, and though probably his aunt might be in San Francisco, it was by no means certain. The money, however, was the chief consideration. "How are you fixed financially, Remington?" asked Vernon. "Why do you ask?" "If you could lend me five hundred dollars we might start to-morrow." "Where do you think I could raise five hundred dollars?" asked Remington coolly. "I thought you might have it--in a savings bank." "I wish I had, but even then I should consider it safer there than in your hands." "I hope you don't doubt my honesty," said Vernon quickly. "Well, I haven't the money, so there is no occasion to say more on the subject." Vernon looked despondent. "What do you advise me to do?" he asked. "When does your next allowance come due?" "On the first of next month." "Three weeks hence?" "Yes." "Then you will have to wait till that time, unless you find some obliging friend who has more money than I." "It's very vexatious." "It may be for our advantage. Remember, it is not at all certain that your aunt is in California. You may get some light on the subject within a short time. Next week suppose you call in Prairie Avenue again. The servant may have heard something." "True," responded Vernon, somewhat encouraged. In a few days he called again, but Martha had heard nothing. "It is hardly time yet," said Remington. "Next week you may have better luck. If your aunt is in California there would be time for her to get settled and write to you." The next week Vernon ascended the steps of his aunt's house with a degree of confidence. "I think I shall get some information this time," he said. "Have you had a letter from my aunt yet?" he asked. "No, Mr. Frederic." His countenance fell. "But I have received a note from Mr. Farley." "What did he say?" asked Vernon eagerly. "He said that he had had a telegram from my mistress and she was well." "Did he say where she was?" "No, sir." "And you have no idea?" "No, Mr. Frederic. I expect she is in California, as I told you." "But why should she telegraph from California?" This question was asked of his companion. "I give it up," said Remington. "You might call on Farley again." "I will." The visit, however, yielded no satisfaction. The lawyer admitted that he had received a telegram. He positively refused to account for its being a telegram, and not a letter. "But," said Vernon, "do you feel justified in keeping me ignorant of the whereabouts of my near relative?" "Yes, since she has not thought it necessary to inform you." "By the way, Mr. Farley," asked Vernon, after a pause, "can you kindly advance me a part of my next month's allowance?" "It will all be payable within a week." "True, but I have occasion for a little money. Fifty dollars will do." "You must excuse me, Mr. Vernon." As Frederic Vernon's available funds were reduced to twenty-five cents, this refusal was embarrassing. However, he succeeded in borrowing fifty dollars during the day from a broker who knew his circumstances, at five per cent. a month, giving the broker an order on Mr. Farley dated a week later. The same evening found him in the billiard room of the Palmer House, playing a game of billiards with Remington. Remington took up a copy of the New York _Herald_, and glanced over the columns in a desultory way. Something caught his eye, and he exclaimed in an excited tone, "Vernon, the mystery is solved. Your aunt is at the Charing Cross Hotel in London." "You don't mean it?" ejaculated Vernon. "See for yourself. Mrs. Ralph Vernon, Chicago; Robert Frost, Chicago." Frederic Vernon gazed at his friend in stupefaction. "I can't believe it," he muttered feebly. CHAPTER IX. ROBERT REACHES LONDON. The ocean trip was more enjoyed by Robert than by Mrs. Vernon. For three days the lady was quite seasick, while her young secretary was not at all affected. He was indefatigable in his attentions to the invalid, and gained a stronger hold upon her affections. "I don't know what I should do without you, Robert," she said on the third day. "You seem to me almost like a son." "I am glad to hear you say this, Mrs. Vernon," returned Robert, adding with a smile, "if you had said I seemed to you almost like a nephew, I should not have been so well pleased." "I should like to forget that I have a nephew," said Mrs. Vernon, with momentary bitterness. "I shall never forget his treachery and ingratitude." Robert did not follow up the subject. Frederic Vernon's ingratitude to his aunt and benefactress seemed to him thoroughly base, but he did not care to prejudice Mrs. Vernon against him. "I wish you were my nephew," continued Mrs. Vernon thoughtfully. "I cannot help contrasting your treatment of me to his." "I have reason to be grateful to you," said Robert. "I was very badly situated when you took me in." "I feel repaid for all I have done for you, Robert," said Mrs. Vernon. "But now go on deck and enjoy the bright sunshine and the glorious breeze." "I wish you could go with me." "So do I. I think I shall be able to accompany you to-morrow." Mrs. Vernon felt so much better the next day that she was able to spend a part of the time on deck, and from that time a portion of every day was devoted to out-of-door exercise. She was able to walk on deck supported by Robert, who was never so occupied with the new friends he made among the passengers as to make him neglectful of his benefactress. Mrs. Vernon, too, made some acquaintances. "How devoted your son is to you, Mrs. Vernon," said Mrs. Hathaway, an elderly widow from the city of New York. "I wish I had a son, but alas! I am childless." "So am I," said Mrs. Vernon quietly. Mrs. Hathaway looked surprised. "Is he not your son, then?" "He is not related to me in any way." "I am surprised to hear it. What then is the secret of your companionship?" "He is my private secretary." "And he so young! Is he competent to serve you in that capacity?" "Entirely so. He is thoroughly well educated and entirely reliable." "If you ever feel disposed to part with him, transfer him to me." Mrs. Vernon smiled. "Have you no near relatives, then?" "No, I once had a son, who died about the age of your young secretary. I should be glad if you would transfer him to me. I am rich, and I would see that he was well provided for." "I don't think I could spare him. I too am rich, and I can provide for him." "If you change your mind my offer holds good." Later in the day when they were together Mrs. Vernon said, "Robert, I don't know but I ought to increase your salary." "You pay me more now than anyone else would." "I am not sure of that. I have had an application to transfer you to another party." "Any person on this steamer?" "Yes; Mrs. Hathaway." "Does she need a private secretary?" "Probably not, but she says you are about the age of a son she lost. I think she wants you to supply his place. She is rich, and might do more for you than I am doing." "I am quite satisfied with my present position. I do not want to leave you." Mrs. Vernon looked gratified. "I do not want to lose you," she said, "but I thought it only fair to speak of Mrs. Hathaway's offer." "I am very much obliged to her, but I prefer to remain with you." Mrs. Vernon looked pleased. "I should be willing to transfer my nephew Frederic to Mrs. Hathaway," she said, "but I doubt if the arrangement would prove satisfactory to her." The voyage was a brief one, their steamer being one of the swiftest of the Cunard liners, and a week had scarcely passed when they reached the pier at Liverpool. A short stay in Liverpool, and they took the train for London, where they took rooms at the Charing Cross Hotel. Robert was excited and pleased with what he saw of the great metropolis. He had his forenoon to himself. Mrs. Vernon had visited London fifteen years before, and had seen the principal objects of interest in the city. She rose late, and did not require Robert's presence till one o'clock. "Go about freely," she said. "You will want to see the Tower, and Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. I don't care to see them a second time." "But I don't feel quite right in leaving you." "Don't feel any solicitude for me. I am three times your age, and our tastes and interests naturally differ. When I need you, I shall signify it, but it will seldom be till afternoon." In the afternoon they often took a carriage and drove in the parks or out into the country. So between the drives and his own explorations Robert was in a fair way of becoming well acquainted with the great metropolitan district. One afternoon, about a week after their arrival, Mrs. Vernon said with a smile: "To-morrow morning I shall require your presence." "Certainly, Mrs. Vernon." "We will go out at eleven o'clock. It is on business of your own." "Business of my own?" repeated Robert, wondering what it would be. "I will be ready." At eleven o'clock Robert ordered a hansom cab, and the driver awaited directions. "Do you know the office of Baring Brothers, bankers?" asked Mrs. Vernon. "Yes, madam." "Take us there." It was on the firm of Baring Brothers that Mrs. Vernon had a letter of credit, and Robert concluded that she was intending to draw some money from them. He did not connect her errand with himself. Arrived at the banking house, Robert remained in an outer room, while Mrs. Vernon was closeted with a member of the firm. After twenty minutes Robert was called in. "Robert," said Mrs. Vernon, "you will append your signature here." "Then this is the young gentleman for whom you have established a credit with us?" said the banker. "Yes, sir." "He is very young." "Sixteen years old." "Do you wish him to have a guardian?" "No. He is to have absolute control of the funds in your charge." When they emerged from the banking house Mrs. Vernon said: "Robert, I will explain what probably mystifies you. I have placed to your credit with Baring Brothers the sum of four hundred pounds. It is at your own control." Robert looked inexpressibly astonished. He knew that four hundred pounds represented about two thousand dollars in American money. "What have I done to deserve such liberality?" he asked gratefully. "You have become the friend that my nephew ought to have been. I am rich, as you are probably aware, and shall be unable to carry my money with me when I die. I might, of course, make a will, and leave you the sum I have now given, but the will would probably be contested by my nephew if he should survive me, and I have determined to prevent that by giving you the money in my lifetime. How far Frederic Vernon will be my heir I cannot as yet tell. It will depend to a considerable extent upon his conduct. Whatever happens, I shall have the satisfaction of feeling that I have shown my appreciation of your loyalty and fidelity." "I don't know what to say, Mrs. Vernon. I hope you will believe that I am grateful," answered Robert warmly. "I am sure of it. I have every confidence in you, Robert." To Robert the events of the morning seemed like a wonderful dream. Three months before he had been wandering about the streets of Chicago a poor boy in search of employment. Now he was worth two thousand dollars, in receipt of a large income, and able to lay by fifty dollars a month. But above all, he was made independent of his step-father, whose attempts to control him were more than ever futile. This led him to think that he ought to apprise his mother of his present whereabouts and his health. He did not think it advisable to mention the large gift he had just received, or the amount of the salary he was receiving, though he had no doubt it would change the feelings of Mr. Talbot toward him. His step-father worshiped success, and if he knew that Robert was so well provided for he would do all that lay in his power to ingratiate himself with him. After writing the letter to his mother, he wrote as follows to his fellow-clerk, Livingston Palmer, whom he had not informed of his European journey. "Dear Friend Palmer," he wrote, "you will be surprised to hear that I am in London, and shall probably spend several months on this side of the water. I am still acting as private secretary to Mrs. Vernon, who continues to be kind and liberal. From time to time I will write to you. I inclose a ten-dollar bill as a present, and shall be glad to have you spend it in any way that is agreeable to yourself. "Yours sincerely, "Robert Frost." CHAPTER X. MATTERS AT HOME. James Talbot was thoroughly put out by the way in which Robert had treated him when the two had met on the street in Chicago. "That boy hasn't the least respect for me," was what he told himself bitterly. "I am afraid he will end up by making me a lot of trouble." Before his sickness he had felt certain that he would get at least ten thousand dollars of the Frost fortune in his hands,--to be invested, so he had told Mrs. Talbot, in the real estate business in Chicago. What he was really going to do with the cash, the man had not yet decided. Certain it is, however, that neither Mrs. Talbot nor Robert would have ever seen a dollar of it again. When James Talbot arrived home he was so out of humor that even his wife noticed it. "You are not well again," she said. "I met that boy of yours," he growled. "You met Robert!" she exclaimed. "Where?" "On the street, in Chicago." "How was he looking?" "Oh, he was well enough, madam. But let me tell you, that boy is going to the dogs." "Oh, I trust not, James." "I say he is." "Did you two quarrel?" "He quarreled; I did not. I invited him to come back home, and what do you think he said?" "I cannot say." "Said he wouldn't come back unless I got out. Said that to me, his legal step-father," stormed Talbot. "I am very sorry you and Robert cannot get along," sighed the lady meekly. "It's the boy's fault. He is a--a terror. He will end up in prison, mark my words." "I do not think so," answered Mrs. Talbot, and to avoid a scene she quitted the room. James Talbot was growing desperate, since the little money he had had of his own was nearly all spent. By hook or by crook he felt that he must get something out of his wife. A few days later he concocted a scheme to further his own interests. Coming home from the post-office, he rushed into his wife's presence with a face full of smiles. "Sarah, I have struck a bonanza!" he cried, waving a folded legal-looking document over his head. "A bonanza?" she queried, looking up from her sewing in wonder. "Yes, a bonanza. I have the chance to make half a million dollars." "In what way?" "By investing in a dock property in Chicago, on the river. My friend, Millet, put me on to the deal. The property is to be sold at private sale, and Millet and I are going to buy it in--that is, if we can raise the necessary cash." "Is it so valuable?" "We can get the property for twenty-five thousand dollars. It is right next to the docks of the Dearborn Iron Manufacturing Company. They wanted this land, but the owner quarreled with them and wouldn't let them have it. Now we can gather it in for about half its value, and it won't be a year before the iron people will offer us a fat sum for it." "But if the iron people want it, why don't they get a private party to buy it in for them?" returned Mrs. Talbot. "Oh, you women don't understand these things," answered James Talbot loftily. "Millet has the bargain clinched--if only we can raise the money." "And how much will he raise?" "Twelve thousand dollars. He wants me to put in the other thirteen thousand. My dear, you will lend me that amount, won't you? It would be a crime to let such a chance slip by." "Don't you know that thirteen is an unlucky number?" said the lady slowly. "Surely, Sarah, you are not as superstitious as all that. If you are, I'll get Millet to put up even with me--twelve thousand and five hundred each. But I would rather have the balance of the say in the matter." "I am not superstitious, James, but--but----" "But what? The money will be perfectly safe." "I--I think I had better have a lawyer look into the deal first. There may be some flaw in the title to the property." "No, that is all right--Millet had it examined. There is no time to spare, as the deal must be closed by noon to-morrow, or our option comes to an end." "It is very sudden." "And that is how fortunes are made, my love. The man of business watches his chances, and then seizes them before anybody else can get ahead of him." Mrs. Talbot was doubtful, and tried to argue. But her husband seemed so positive that he at last won her over, and got her to make out a check for the thirteen thousand dollars. "But be careful, James," she pleaded. "Remember, I do not consider this money really mine. At my death it must go to Robert." "I shall be careful, Sarah, my love," he said. "Do not worry." But to himself he thought: "That boy, always that boy! It will be a long day before he sets eyes on a cent of this money!" He could hardly control his delight, but he did his best to calm his feelings before his wife. The next day he was off for Chicago, stating that he would not be back again for several days. Secretly, Mrs. Talbot was much worried over what she had done. "I hope the investment proves a good one," she thought. "I would not wish to see the money lost. It must all go to Robert when I am gone." She never considered that the Frost fortune was her own, for hers was, as we know, only a life interest. Two days later came a letter from Robert--not the one mailed from London, but one he had penned in New York before taking the trip on the ocean liner. Mrs. Talbot was greatly interested in all her son had to say. She was glad he was enjoying good health, and pleased to know that he would write again on reaching the other side of the Atlantic. On the same day that she received Robert's letter a visitor called upon her. It was William Frankwell, her lawyer, and a man who had at one time transacted all of Mr. Frost's legal business for him. "You will excuse me for calling, Mrs. Talbot," said the lawyer, after the usual greeting. "But I thought it might be for your interest to drop in." "I am glad to see you, Mr. Frankwell," she responded. "I was thinking of sending for you." "Indeed. Was it about that check?" "What do you know of the check?" she cried. "I heard of it at the bank, and I thought----" The lawyer paused. "That it was rather unusual for me to put out a check of that size?" "Exactly." "Mr. Talbot is going to use it in buying a dock property in Chicago." And she gave the lawyer what particulars she possessed regarding the transaction. "If things are as you say, they are all right," said the lawyer. "Mr. Frankwell, I wish you to look into the matter, and--and----" "And see if everything is as represented," he finished. "Yes. I am ashamed to own it, but my husband is--well, is not exactly what I took him to be," she faltered. "I understand, perfectly, Mrs. Talbot," answered William Frankwell gravely. "I will do my best for you." "I should not wish him to know that I am having an investigation made." "He shall not know it--I give you my word on that." And so they parted, and the lawyer set one of his clerks to watching James Talbot, to learn just what the man's underhanded work meant. CHAPTER XI. VERNON MAKES ANOTHER MOVE. Frederic Vernon was much put out to think that his aunt had gone to England instead of to California. "What do you think of this?" he asked of Dr. Remington. "I think your aunt wanted to put you off the track," replied the physician. "That she had no idea of going to California, even at first?" "That's it." "Do you think she suspects what we intend to do?" "Perhaps," was the dry reply. "Insane people are quite crafty, you know." "Oh, she must be insane, Remington." "Well, I am willing to give a certificate to that effect, and I can get another doctor to back me up." "But we can't touch her in England, can we?" "I think not. You must try some means of getting her back to the United States." "That is easy enough to say, but not so easy to do," returned Frederic Vernon gloomily. "Make it necessary for her to return." "How can I?" "Do you know how her capital is invested?" "In various investments,--banks, stocks, and bonds, besides some real estate." "Why not write to her, saying that some of her money is in danger of being lost, and that she must return at once in order to take the necessary steps to save it?" "By Jove, but that's a good idea!" ejaculated Frederic Vernon. "Remington, you have a long head on you. I'll write the letter at once." "You must be very careful how you word it, otherwise she may smell a mouse, as the saying is." "Yes, I'll look her interests up first and find out how they stand. I had a list which I kept after giving up being her secretary." "Then you ought to be able to compose a first-rate letter." "But how will I send it? I am not supposed to know where she is." "Tell her you saw the notice in the newspaper." "To be sure--I didn't think of that." On returning to his bachelor apartments Frederic Vernon looked over the papers he had kept, which should have been turned over to Robert, and found that his aunt owned thirty thousand dollars' worth of stock of the Great Lakes Lumber Company, whose principal place of business was in Chicago. This stock had once dropped, but was now worth a little above par value. "This will do," he murmured to himself, and sitting down to his desk, penned the following letter: "My Dearest Aunt: "I was very much surprised to learn about a week ago that you had left Chicago for parts unknown. I suppose you are off on a little trip, and do not want to be worried about business or anything else. I thought you were in California, and was much surprised to see, by the New York _Herald_, that you are in London. "I called at your home to tell you about the Great Lakes Lumber Company. Quite by accident I overheard a talk between the president of the concern and some stockholders, and learned that they intend to freeze out some of the other stockholders, including yourself. I heard the president say, 'We'll get that woman out, even if we don't get anybody else out.' "Under such conditions, I would advise you to return to Chicago at once, and then I will tell you all of the details, so that you can proceed against the company without delay and save yourself. "I am in the best of health, and about to accept a fine business opening with one of the leading railroads. I trust you are also well, and that your ocean trip does you a world of good. "Devotedly your nephew, "Frederic Vernon." "There, what do you think of that?" asked Vernon of Remington, when the two met on the following morning. "It's pretty strong," was the physician's answer. "If the president of that company got hold of the letter he could make you sweat for it." "But he shan't get hold of it. As soon as my aunt comes back, I'll confiscate the letter,--and I'll look to you to do the rest." "I am ready to do all I can. If we work the deal properly, we'll have her in a private asylum inside of forty-eight hours after she returns." The letter was duly addressed to Mrs. Vernon, in care of the Charing Cross Hotel, London, and Frederic carried it down to the post-office so that it might start on its long journey without delay. "I suppose I'll have to wait at least two weeks now," said Vernon dolefully. "It's a long time, but it cannot be helped." He was waiting patiently for the time to come when he might draw his allowance from Mr. Farley. Promptly on the day it was due he called at the lawyer's office. He expected seven hundred and fifty dollars--a quarter of his yearly allowance of three thousand dollars, but instead, Mr. Farley offered him a hundred and fifty dollars. "Why, what does this mean?" demanded the young man, who could scarcely believe the evidence of his eyesight. "You ought to know better than I, Mr. Vernon," replied the lawyer quietly. "Don't I get my usual allowance?" "No; Mrs. Vernon has instructed me to give you a hundred and fifty dollars monthly after this." "Why, that is only eighteen hundred a year!" "You are right, sir." "But I was getting three thousand." For answer to this Mr. Farley merely shrugged his shoulders. "It is an outrage!" went on the young man. "If you don't want to take the money you don't have to," said the lawyer coldly. He was utterly disgusted with Frederic Vernon's manner. "I'll have to take it," groaned Vernon. "But how I am to live on a hundred and fifty a month I don't know." "At your age I would have been glad to have had half that amount per month, Mr. Vernon." "You were not in society as I am, Mr. Farley." "You are right there--and I am glad of it." "I don't think my aunt has any right to cut me down in this fashion." "Is she called upon to allow you anything?" The shot told, and Frederic Vernon's face grew red. "I am her nearest relative." "I know that." "Blood ought to count for something." "I agree with you." "I have always done my best to further my aunt's interests." "You were her secretary for awhile, I believe." "I was, until she took in an upstart of a boy in my place." "Young Frost seems to be a nice young man." "He is a snake in the grass. He has prejudiced my aunt against me." "I know nothing about that." "Then you cannot possibly let me have more money?" asked Vernon, as he arose to go. "No; I cannot. Will you sign for the check or not?" "I will sign," was the desperate answer, and, having done so, the young man took the check and hurried off with it. "Matters have come to a pretty pass," he hissed between his set teeth when on the street once more. "Who knows but what she'll soon cut me off altogether. I hope she comes home as soon as she gets my letter, and that we get her into a private asylum without any trouble." CHAPTER XII. An Unexpected Result. "Two letters for you, Mrs. Vernon," said Robert, as he came to the lady one fine day after a drive in the park. "Thank you, Robert," she replied, and gazed at the writing on the envelopes. "I declare one is from my nephew Frederic!" "Why, I thought he didn't know where you were," replied the youth. "I wasn't aware that he did know. I told nobody but Mr. Farley." "Then perhaps the lawyer told him," suggested our hero. "No, Mr. Farley is too discreet for that. The second letter is from him." Without delay Mrs. Vernon opened Frederic's communication and read it. Robert saw by her face that she was greatly perplexed. "This is too bad!" she murmured. "No bad news, I hope, madam?" said Robert. "It is bad news. Read the letter for yourself," and Mrs. Vernon passed it over. While Robert read Vernon's letter, the lady perused the communication from her lawyer. It was on several matters of business, but one passage will certainly interest the reader. "I have followed your directions and had your nephew watched," wrote Mr. Farley. "He is very thick with Dr. Remington, and the pair seem to have some plot between them. Will write again in a few days." "Well, Robert, what do you think of Frederic's letter?" asked Mrs. Vernon, as she put her lawyer's epistle away. "Do you want me to speak frankly?" replied our hero. "Certainly." "Then let me say that I think it is merely a ruse to get you to come home." "Do you really think so?" "I do. Your nephew knows he can do nothing while you are out of his reach." "I have thought of that--in fact, that is why I came to England. If I go back, what do you suppose he will do?" "Hire that Dr. Remington to put you into an asylum, and then try to get control of your money." "Then you do not advise me to go back?" "No, indeed; at least, not until you have proved to your own satisfaction that what he writes is true." "I might get Mr. Farley to investigate." "Then that is just what I was going to suggest. As he is authorized to transact all business for you, he can probably do as much as if you yourself were on the ground." "Yes, I know, but----" Mrs. Vernon paused and flushed up. "You hate to expose your family affairs, even to Mr. Farley," interposed Robert. "That is too bad, certainly, but I don't see how it can be helped. Sooner or later the truth must come out." "I am willing to let Mr. Farley know all--in fact, he knows a good deal already. But the world at large----" "Then tell Mr. Farley to investigate in private. One thing is sure, I wouldn't go back if I were you." "I don't know but what you are right, Robert. But, oh, it is terrible to think one's relative is so treacherous," concluded Mrs. Vernon, and she could scarcely keep from weeping. Robert did his best to cheer her up, and then she sat down and dictated a long letter to Mr. Farley, asking him to investigate the charge against the Great Lakes Lumber Company without delay. This letter Robert posted before going to bed. Although rather strong appearing, Mrs. Vernon was in reality quite a delicate woman, and worrying over her nephew's doings soon told on her. She grew pale, and hardly ate at all when she came to the table. Robert was quick to notice the change. "London air doesn't seem to agree with you," he remarked one morning. "Don't you think a change might be of benefit?" "I was considering the question of leaving the city," replied the lady. "Perhaps it would be as well for us to take quarters in some pretty town up the Thames. I would like to find some place where the driving and boating are both good." "I am sure it will be an easy matter to obtain what we want if we hunt around a little," said Robert. A few days later they left London and removed to Windsor, where the royal palaces are located. Here they remained two days, and then settled down at a pretty town which I shall call Chishing, located on a small bluff overlooking the Thames at a point where the river was both wide and beautiful. Their new boarding place was a pretty two-and-a-half story affair, with a long, low parlor, and an equally long and low dining hall. It was kept by Mrs. Barlow, a stout, good-natured English woman, who did all in her power to make her visitors comfortable. They had two rooms, which, while they did not connect, were still side by side, and both overlooked the river, and a pretty rose garden besides. "I know I shall like it here," said Mrs. Vernon, as she sat by the window of her apartment, drinking in the scene one day at sunset. "Robert, what do you think?" "I will like it, too, for awhile." "I suppose you are thinking of home." "I must admit I am. To tell the truth, I am afraid my mother is not very happy." "I fear you are right." Mrs. Vernon sighed. "With your mother, it is her husband, while with me, it is my nephew. Ah, if only everything in this world would go right for once!" "Well, we have to take things as they come, and make the best of them," replied our hero. The next day there was a letter for him from his mother. In this Mrs. Talbot mentioned his communications, and told how she had come to let her husband have the thirteen thousand dollars. She concluded by stating that she was afraid she had made a big mistake. "I am certain she has made a big mistake," said Robert to himself. "Mr. Talbot will never give the money back, and I know it. I think she is doing enough by supporting him. I don't believe he has done a stroke of work since he was sick." Robert soon felt at home, and on the third day went down to the river to take a row, a pastime of which he had been fond while at home. As he passed to the dock where boats could be hired, he ran plump into a red-headed boy named Sammy Gump. Sammy was strong and heavy set, and had been the bully of Chishing for several years. "Hullo, Yankee, where are you going?" he demanded, as he pushed Robert roughly. "I am going to attend to my own business," replied our hero quietly. "Have you any objection?" "Dreadful fine clothes you have got; oh, dear!" smirked Sammy. "We are dressed for the ball, we are!" "Let me pass," demanded Robert, and tried to go around the bully, who suddenly pushed him, and tried to trip him in the dust of the road. But for once Sammy Gump had reckoned without his host, for although he sent Robert staggering several yards, our hero did not fall. Gump expected Robert to beat a retreat, and was taken aback when the boy came forward with clenched fists. "What do you mean by treating me like that?" demanded Robert. "Oh, go along with you!" howled the bully. "If you don't like it, do the other thing." "You are mighty impudent about it." "Am I?" sneered Sammy. "Say, Yankee, how do you like that?" And he slapped Robert on the cheek. If our hero was surprised that instant, the bully was more surprised the instant after, for hauling back, Robert let fly with his fist, and took Sammy Gump fairly and squarely in the mouth, a direct blow that landed the bully flat on his back and loosened two of his teeth. "Wh--what did yo--you do that for?" he spluttered, as after an effort he arose and glared at Robert. "To teach you a lesson, you overgrown bully," replied Robert. "The next time, I imagine, you will know enough to leave me alone." And then he passed along to the dock to hire the rowboat. Sammy Gump glared after him in baffled rage. "All right; you just wait," he muttered. "Nobody ever struck me yet but what he didn't rue it afterward!" CHAPTER XIII. VERNON'S HIGH-HANDED PROCEEDINGS. Frederic Vernon found it very hard to cut down his expenses. He had so accustomed himself to luxurious living that to give up any of the good things of life was to him worse than having a tooth pulled. Yet it was absolutely necessary that he do something, for his rent was due, and his tailor had threatened to sue him unless at least a part of the bill for clothing was paid. Returning from Mr. Farley's office he found his landlord waiting for him. "Good-morning, Mr. Vernon," said the landlord stiffly. "I called for the quarter's rent for your apartments." "I am very sorry, Mr. Brown," replied Vernon smoothly. "But I will have to ask you to wait until next week. My banker----" "I can't wait any longer, Mr. Vernon," was the quick rejoinder. "You promised to settle to-day." "Yes, but my banker disappointed me, and----" "Then you cannot pay?" "No." "Then I am ordered by the owner of the building to serve you with a notice to quit," said Mr. Brown quietly. At this Frederic Vernon was thunderstruck. He, one of the leading society lights of the city, served with a notice to quit his bachelor apartments! It was preposterous, scandalous! "Mr. Brown, do you know who I am?" he demanded, drawing himself up to his full height. "Certainly. Mr. Frederic Vernon." "Exactly, sir, and a member of one of our first families, sir." "I can't help that, sir. The owner of this building expects his money from the first family tenants as well as from the others." "You are--er--a--a----" "No use to quarrel about it, Mr. Vernon. You must pay, or I will serve the notice." A wordy war followed, but Mr. Brown was obdurate, and to avoid being set out on the street Frederic Vernon paid him fifty dollars on account, and promised to settle the balance inside of ten days. Then the young man walked into his parlor, threw himself into an easy chair, lit a Havana cigar, and gave himself up to his reflections. But not for long, for five minutes later there was a knock on the door and opening it, he found himself confronted by Mr. Simon Moses, his tailor. "Ver sorry, inteet, to disturb you, Mr. Vernon," said the tailor, who was a Hebrew, "but I come to see if you vould pe so kind as to bay up dot pill you vos owin' me for der last seex months." "No; I haven't got any money now," growled Vernon. "Come next week." "Dot is oxactly vot you say las' veek, und de veek pefore, Mr. Vernon. Dot pill is long oferdue, and I vos need mine monish." "So do I need my money, but I can't get it, Mr. Moses. I've got six thousand dollars owing me for a month, and can't get a cent of it." For the moment the Hebrew was astonished, then a crafty look came into his eyes. "Maype you vill sign ofer von of dem claims to me, hey?" he suggested. "Chust enough to cofer mine pill, see?" "No, I can't do that. Call in ten days and I will pay up in full." "Dot is positive?" "Do you doubt the word of a gentleman?" "Very vell, I vill call chust ten days from to-day. And if you no bay up den, I will go and see your rich aunt about dot pill." And with this parting shot Simon Moses left the apartments, banging the door after him. Going to the door, Vernon locked it. "Nobody else shall disturb me," he thought, and sat down to finish his smoke. "So he will go to my aunt, eh? Ha! ha! I guess he'll have something of a job to locate her, especially if Martha tells him she is in California." The days passed, and Vernon waited impatiently for a letter from his aunt. He felt almost certain that she would write, stating she would be back by the first available steamer. When the time was past and no letter came, he began to grow suspicious. "Perhaps she didn't get the letter," suggested Dr. Remington. "She may have left Charing Cross Hotel, you know." "More than likely young Frost got the letter and destroyed it," answered Vernon. "I should have sent it in care of Mr. Farley. He may have some secret way of communicating with her." "Well, don't worry too much. You may get a letter before the week is out," concluded Remington, and there the matter dropped and the two sallied off to waste several hours in drinking and in playing billiards. Remington had no visible means of support, but managed to squeeze out a living by sponging from those who were richer than himself. It was true he now got very little out of Vernon, but he was living in the hope that the plan against the rich aunt would be carried through, and he would become ten thousand dollars richer by the operation. The mail steamer had brought no letter for Vernon, but it had brought a very important communication for Mr. Farley, and after reading it carefully the lawyer decided to act without delay. He was acquainted with Richard Anderson, the president of the Great Lakes Lumber Company, fairly well, and knew him to be a pillar of the church and in sound financial standing. With proper delicacy the lawyer approached the subject at hand, and Richard Anderson listened in amazement. "It is absurd to think there is anything wrong with our company, Mr. Farley," said the gentleman, with spirit. "If Mrs. Vernon thinks so all she has to do is to put her stocks on the market, and I will buy them up at two per cent. above par value. How did such a silly rumor ever reach her ears?" "I hardly feel justified in stating how the rumor started." "But I must demand it of you, Mr. Farley. Why, such a report, if it spread, might do our company a tremendous harm." "I agree with you on that point." "Tell me the truth, and I will see that you do not suffer through it." "I do not want Mrs. Vernon to suffer." Richard Anderson thought for a moment, then leaped to his feet. "Tell me, did that report come from that fool of a nephew of hers?" he demanded. "What makes you think it might come from him?" "Because I heard that he was angry at her for leaving Chicago and not letting him know where she had gone to. The young fool let it out at one of the clubs when he was half full of liquor." "Well, if you must know, it did come from Vernon. But don't let on that I told you," said the lawyer. "The scoundrel! Farley, do you know what I think of doing?" "Don't have him arrested. It will break Mrs. Vernon's heart." "I won't. But I'm going to thrash him within an inch of his life, the puppy!" "You can do as you see fit on that score." And Mr. Farley could not help but smile. "Where does he live, with his aunt?" "No, he has bachelor quarters at the Longmore." "Very well. He shall hear from me before to-morrow night. I'll take some of his baseness out of him." "Don't get yourself into trouble," was Mr. Farley's warning as he arose to go. "Oh, I won't murder him, rest easy about that," returned Richard Anderson grimly. On his way home that night he stopped at a harness store and asked to see the whips. "I want something short, and with a good, stinging lash," he said. "Got a bad horse to deal with, eh?" said the salesman. "Yes, the worst colt in the city." "All right, sir, here you are. That will fetch him, I'll warrant you." "How much?" "One dollar." "That will do." Richard Anderson paid the money and had the whip wrapped up. "Now, Frederic Vernon, I'll wager I'll make you face the music to-morrow," he muttered, as he took a car for home. "If I don't lay this on well it will be because I've forgotten how, and I guess a man don't forget these things very easily." CHAPTER XIV. VERNON'S UNWELCOME VISITOR. When another day had passed and no letter came to Frederic Vernon, the young man began to grow desperate. "I've got to raise money somehow," he said to himself. But the question was a difficult one to settle, since he had already used his friends as much as he dared. He was a late riser, and it was after ten o'clock when he was preparing to go out to a nearby restaurant for breakfast, when there came a hasty knock on his door. He was expecting Remington, and unlocked the door without a second thought--to find himself confronted by Richard Anderson. The face of the capitalist was stern, and in one hand he carried the horsewhip he had recently purchased. "Well, Vernon, I reckon you did not expect to see me," said the president of the lumber company coldly. "Why--er--no, I did not," stammered the young man. "I want to have a little talk with you, young man." "Yes, sir," answered Vernon, with a shiver. "What--er--what about?" "I want to know why you have been circulating a report calculated to hurt our lumber company." "Me?" cried Vernon, pretending to be astonished. "Yes, you." "I have circulated no report." "It is useless for you to deny it, young man. I have it upon the best authority that the report came from you." "What report?" "That our company was in a bad way financially and liable to go to pieces at any time." As Richard Anderson finished he closed and locked the door and placed the key in his pocket. "Hi! what are you doing that for?" gasped Frederic Vernon in alarm. "So that nobody can interrupt me while I am teaching you a lesson." "I--I don't understand." "You will understand when I begin to use this horsewhip." Vernon grew white and trembled so that he could scarcely stand up. "You won't dare to--to hit me," he faltered. "Won't I? You just wait and see. Do you know that I could have you arrested for what you have done?" "I deny doing anything." "And I can prove what you have done. If it wasn't for that kind-hearted aunt of yours I would let you go to prison." "Did Mrs. Vernon tell you what I--I mean did she accuse me?" ejaculated the young man, so astonished that he partly forgot himself. "No, she hasn't told me anything that you may have written to her. My information came from an outside party who happened to be my friend. But your slip just now proves what my friend told me. You are a rascal, Vernon, but instead of having you locked up, I am, for your aunt's sake, going to take it out of your hide." As Richard Anderson concluded he threw back his arm, and down came the lash of the horsewhip across Vernon's shoulder. "Ouow!" yelled the young man. "Oh, murder! Stop! stop! I'll be cut to pieces!" Swish! swish! swish! down came the horsewhip again and again, over Vernon's shoulders, his back, around his legs, and one cut took him around the neck and face. The lumber dealer was thoroughly in earnest, and though the young man tried to fight him off it was useless. "I will have you arrested for this!" shrieked Vernon, as he danced around with pain. "Oh, my neck! Oh, my legs! Stop! stop!" "I hope this proves a lesson you never forget," returned Richard Anderson, with a final cut over Vernon's quivering back. "And now take my advice, and don't go to law over it, for if you do I shall expose you and make you pay the full penalty of your evil doings." "I'll--I'll kill you when I get the chance!" roared Vernon, in a wild rage. "No, you won't touch me. You just behave yourself, and stop being a fool and a spendthrift, and perhaps you'll get along better." With these final words Richard Anderson unlocked the door again and walked out, taking his whip with him. As soon as the lumber dealer had departed Vernon closed the door, and not only locked but bolted it, and then sank into an easy chair, the picture of misery and despair. "Oh, the rascal," he groaned, as he nursed his cuts, which smarted like fire. "I won't get over this in a month!" He gazed into a handy looking-glass. "Everybody at the club will ask where I got that cut on the neck and cheek. I wish I could kill him, yes, I do!" But his rage, although intense, was useless, and after a while he cooled down a little, and then set to work to bathe his cuts and put something soothing on them. During this time there was a knock on the door, at which Vernon instantly became quiet. "Hullo, Frederic, are you asleep yet?" came in Dr. Remington's voice. "He mustn't see me in this condition," thought the young man, and continued quiet. There followed another knock and a pause. "Guess he's out for breakfast," muttered the doctor, and stalked away. "Breakfast," murmured Vernon. "I don't feel as if I could eat a mouthful in a week." For the thrashing had made him sick all over. It was nearly noon when he did venture out, and then he got his first meal of the day at a restaurant where he was unknown. He wondered greatly who had informed Richard Anderson of what was going on. Strange to say, he never suspected Mr. Farley. "It must have been that Robert Frost," he said, at last. "He has read my letter to aunt, and wants to get me into trouble. I wish he was at the bottom of the ocean!" All day long Vernon brooded over the way he had been treated. "If this whole affair comes out and aunt hears of it, she will treat me worse than ever," he reasoned. "I wish I could get to her and have a talk." He felt certain that he would be able to persuade Mrs. Vernon into treating him more liberally, not suspecting that she had discovered the plot to send her to an insane asylum. At last a bold, bad plan entered his head, and he resolved to act upon it the very next morning. He would draw up a check for himself for six hundred dollars, and sign Mrs. Vernon's name to it. He was a clever penman, and felt he could imitate her signature closely. He had frequently received large checks from her, and the forgery would never be suspected at the bank. His first move was to get the necessary blank check at the bank. This was easy, as such blanks are always to be found on the desks provided for the use of the public. Having obtained several blanks he hurried home and brought out a number of letters Mrs. Vernon had written. With these as a guide to the style of writing, he filled in one of the blanks and signed her name. Then, from his knowledge of her private business, he filled in the number, making it high enough to clear all checks below it. His first effort was a complete success, and so he threw the other blanks away. Noon found him again at the bank, and having endorsed the check with his own name he walked to the window and asked to have it cashed. The teller knew him, and passed out the six hundred dollars without comment. When Vernon found himself on the sidewalk it must be confessed that the cold perspiration stood out on his forehead. He was a high-handed criminal, and he knew it. For what he had done the law could send him to state's prison for a long term of years. "And now to get away from Chicago, and from the United States," he told himself, and took a hack for his bachelor apartment. Once in the rooms, he packed his trunk and valise and donned a traveling suit. Before night he was on his way to New York, and forty-eight hours later he had secured passage on an ocean liner for England. CHAPTER XV. A FIGHT AND A FIRE. To go rowing on the River Thames became a favorite amusement with Robert, and many an hour was spent thus, when Mrs. Vernon did not need him. Occasionally the lady would go with our hero, but she was now suffering from rheumatism, and the dampness affected her so that she soon preferred to remain in the cozy boarding house. "But do not remain in on my account, Robert," she said one day, on declining his suggestion to go out. "A boy like you needs all the fresh air and exercise he can get." "I hate to go and leave you alone," he replied. "You are with me enough. While you are gone I shall do a little fancy work and read, and perhaps lie down for a nap." Secretly Mrs. Vernon was much worried over the outcome of her letter to Mr. Farley concerning Frederic's communication, but she did not let on to her young secretary. "It will do no good," she thought. "There is already enough trouble as it is." There was a brisk wind blowing when Robert made his way to the dock where he usually hired his boat, but otherwise the day promised to be a perfect one. Our hero generally obtained his craft from an old tar named Jack Salter, but on reaching the landing place he was disappointed to find Salter nowhere in sight. "He must have gone out to fish," he said to himself. "I wonder if I dare take a boat without asking him? I suppose it will be all right." He was looking the boats over when suddenly several big boys came rushing out of a building nearby and surrounded him. The leader of the crowd was Sammy Gump, the bully of the village. "Hi, there!" bawled Sammy. "What are you doing among Jack Salter's boats?" "I was going to hire one," answered Robert quietly, although he did not like the looks of the crowd that surrounded him. "Hire one?" sneered Sammy. "It's more than likely you were going to take one without hiring it." Robert's face flushed and his eyes blazed as he faced the bully. "Do you mean to say that I was going to steal one?" he demanded. "Never mind what I meant. You leave Jack Salter's boats alone." "I believe I have as much right here as you." "Hear him!" sneered several. "Don't the Yankee think he's big!" "Jack Salter isn't going to let you have any more boats," put in Bob Snipper, who was Sammy Gump's particular toady. "And why not?" "Because we told Jack not to," answered Sammy Gump. "We haven't any boats for such fellows as you." "I think Jack Salter will let me have all the boats I want if I pay for them," returned Robert sharply. "Anyway, this is a public dock and a public business, and you have no right to interfere with my affairs." "Don't you talk like that, or you'll catch it," growled Sammy. "From you?" answered Robert quickly. "Perhaps you have forgotten our encounter of the other day." "You took an unfair advantage of me then," went on the bully. "I'm going to teach you a lesson for it." He made a signal to his companions and of a sudden all of the English boys hurled themselves upon our hero. Robert was not expecting such a combined attack, and before he could save himself he was down on his back, with three of his tormentors on top of him. "Now give it to him, fellows!" cried Sammy. "Pound him as hard as you can!" "Not much!" answered Robert, as he let out with his foot. The blow landed on the bully's knee and made him howl with pain. But Robert could not throw the others off at once, and they hit him half a dozen times. At last he got up with a quick side movement, and hauling off he hit Bob Snipper such a blow that the toady lost his balance and went backward with a loud splash into the river. "Bob's overboard!" was the cry. "He'll be drowned!" "Save me! save me!" yelled Snipper. "I--I can't swim!" And then throwing up both arms he disappeared from view. "You've killed him!" cried Sammy hoarsely. "He had no right to attack me," answered Robert. "But he is not dead yet, and I think we can get him ashore if we hurry." He leaped from the dock into the nearest boat. As he cast off he looked at the others, expecting one or more to follow him to the rescue, but nobody volunteered. Nearly all were too dazed to act. Snipper had gone down, and when he came up it was fully twenty feet from where the boat rode. Seizing an oar, Robert paddled toward the unfortunate youth. "Keep up!" he cried encouragingly. "I will help you in half a minute!" Bob Snipper saw Robert approaching and it gave him a little hope. He had forgotten all about how badly he had treated our hero. He made a clutch at the oar Robert extended toward him, and having secured a firm hold was quickly drawn aboard of the rowboat. "Now, I guess you are all right," said Robert, who was hardly excited at all. "I--I--suppose I am," gasped the bully's toady. "I--I--am much obliged to you for hauling me out of the water." "So you got him out, eh?" remarked Sammy, as Robert paddled back to the dock. "Yes." "It wasn't much to do. I would have gone for him myself if you had given me the chance." "There was no time to waste," was Robert's brief reply. "Come, you can jump ashore now," he added, to his dripping passenger. "Aren't you coming ashore?" said Snipper slowly. "No, I am going out on the river. I don't think any of you will stop me from using this boat now." "You can take it so far as I am concerned," answered the bully's toady, with a face full of shame. "I shan't set myself up against you again, I can tell you that!" "Yes, go on and take the boat, Frost," put in one of the other boys. "You're the right sort, and I'm sorry we attacked you." One of the other boys also spoke up, expressing his regrets at the encounter. But Sammy Gump remained silent, his face just as sour as before. "I'm awfully thankful he pulled me out," said Bob Snipper, after Robert had left the vicinity of the dock. "If he hadn't I would have been drowned." "That's right, Bob," said one of the others. "Humph!" muttered Sammy. "You are trying to make a regular hero out of him, when he is nothing of the sort." "Well, why didn't you come and pull me out?" asked Bob. "I was going to--but he got ahead of me." "I can't swim, and it wouldn't have taken me long to drown, I can tell you that." "He did very well," said another lad of the crowd. "After this I am going to be friendly with him." "All right, Dick Martin, do as you please. I'll never be friendly with him," answered Sammy Gump, and strode away in as bad a humor as ever. As Bob Snipper was soaked to the skin, there was nothing for him to do but to either go home and change his clothes, or else go bathing and let his suit dry in the meantime. Afraid of a scolding if he went home, the boy concluded to go bathing, and Dick Martin and one other lad accompanied him, while the others hurried away after Sammy Gump. "I don't believe the American boy is half a bad sort," said Dick Martin, as the three moved up the Thames to where there was a tiny inlet well screened with trees and bushes. "He had a perfect right to hire a boat if he wanted it and could pay for it." "We made a big mistake to follow Sammy into the game," said Harry Larkly, the third boy. "Sammy was mad at him because of a row the two had on the road some time ago." "After this I am going to treat him as a friend," said Dick Martin. "It's all tom-foolery to give him the cold shoulder just because he's an American. Why, I've got half a dozen cousins in America." "So have I," put in Bob Snipper. "And when my father went to Boston last year the folks over there treated him first-rate. We were fools to let Sammy lead us around by the nose." "Well, we'll know better next time," said Harry Larkly. "If Sammy won't do the right thing by him, why, I'm going to cut Sammy, that's all." The swimming place was soon gained, and having placed his garments in the sun to dry, Bob Snipper went in for a second bath, but this time taking very good care not to go out over his depth. The others soon followed, and went out a considerable distance, for both were good swimmers. "Why can't you swim, Bob?" asked Dick. "I don't know, I'm sure. Every time I try my head goes down like a lump of lead." "That's queer." "My brother is the same way--and my father says he could never learn either." "It must run in the family," said Harry, with a grin. "Like wooden legs among soldiers. I think you can learn if you'll only try and keep cool. You get too excited." The boys remained in the water for nearly an hour. By this time the wind and the sun had about dried Bob's garments, and then all began to dress. "Hullo, what's that?" cried Dick suddenly, as he pointed toward the village. "See the heavy smoke." "It's some place on fire!" burst out Bob. "I wonder what place it can be?" All three boys ran toward the river road, putting on the last of their garments on the way. "It's Mrs. Barlow's boarding house!" ejaculated Dick Martin. "Say, fellows, this wind is going to sweep the house to the ground!" "Mrs. Barlow's?" repeated Harry Larkly. "Why, that is where that American boy and his lady companion board." "That's so, Harry," said Bob. "And that is where Norah Gump, Sammy's sister, works, too," he added. "I hope none of those people are in danger of being burnt up." CHAPTER XVI. ROBERT SHOWS HIS BRAVERY. Robert was hardly in a fit mental condition to enjoy his row, and his face was very serious as he drew away from the crowd that had molested him. "I don't see what they want to act so for?" he mused, as he pulled up the broad stream. "I never tried to harm any of them, or interfered with their amusements." Crossing to the other side of the Thames he started to fish for a while. But the fish were not biting well just then, and after bringing up one small stickleback, a fish very common to England's streams, he drew in his lines and gave it up. Close to where the rowboat rode was a grassy bank, filled with moss and several species of ferns, and presently Robert jumped ashore to investigate. "Those ferns are very pretty," he thought. "I guess I'll dig some up, put them in a flowerpot and place them in one of our windows. I am certain Mrs. Vernon will be pleased to watch them grow." He was prowling around, and had already dug up half a dozen ferns and some moss to wrap them in, when he discovered the smoke drifting over the village. "That looks pretty close to our boarding house," he said to himself. "Can it be possible that it is Mrs. Barlow's place?" Much alarmed, he leaped into his boat and seized the oars. A few strokes took him well out into the stream, and then he made out that it was the boarding house beyond the possibility of a doubt. With desperate energy he began to row for the nearest landing to the house. "If only Mrs. Vernon is safe," he said to himself, over and over again. He knew only too well how badly she was suffering from rheumatism, and also knew that at this time of day she was probably lying down trying to catch a nap. At last the landing was gained, and our hero leaped from the boat and ran at top speed for the boarding house. By this time the alarm had been given through the village, and the inhabitants were hurrying to the scene of the conflagration from all directions. There was but one fire engine in the place, and this was a very primitive affair, so, with such a strong wind blowing, it was speedily seen that Mrs. Barlow's resort was doomed. When Robert came up he ran plump into the landlady, who was rushing out of the house with a lamp in one hand and a canary bird cage in the other. "Mrs. Barlow, is Mrs. Vernon safe?" he asked breathlessly. "Mrs. Vernon?" repeated Mrs. Barlow, in a semi-dazed fashion. "Sure, Mr. Frost, I don't know where she is." Robert waited to hear no more, but ran into the boarding house and began to mount the stairs, three steps at a time. "Mrs. Vernon!" he called out. "Mrs. Vernon, where are you?" Getting no reply, he made his way through the upper hallway, which was rapidly filling with smoke. The fire was in the rear of the dwelling and so far the wind had blown it away, but now the wind was shifting and the fire was leaping from cellar to garret. Robert, as we know, was naturally brave, and now the thought that the lady who had been so kind to him might be in peril of her life, lent him additional courage. He tried Mrs. Vernon's door, to find it locked. "Mrs. Vernon!" he repeated. "Mrs. Vernon!" "What is it, Robert?" came sleepily from inside. "Get up, quickly! The house is on fire!" "On fire!" came with a gasp. "Oh, Robert!" "Open the door and I will help you to get downstairs," went on the youth. There was a hasty movement within the apartment and then the key turned in the lock. Robert threw the door open, to behold Mrs. Vernon standing before him, clad in a morning wrapper and her slippers. Having just roused up from a sound sleep, she was bewildered and gazed at him questioningly. "Come, there is no time to lose," he said, and took hold of her arm. "My jewels and money----" she began, and pointed to the dresser. With one clutch he caught up the jewel case and her money box and placed them under his arm. They hurried into the hallway. The smoke was now so thick that Robert could scarcely see the stairs. In her excitement Mrs. Vernon forgot all about her rheumatism. She clutched the young secretary tightly by the arm. "Bend down and the smoke won't blind you so much," said Robert. "Lean on me if you are afraid of falling." They passed downstairs as rapidly as the lady's condition permitted. In the lower hallway they again met Mrs. Barlow, along with several others, all carrying out furniture and other household effects. Once outside, Robert conducted Mrs. Vernon to a place of safety, and set her down on a garden bench. She was still bewildered, but gradually her excitement left her. The pair had hardly reached the bench when a piercing scream rang out, coming from the garret of the boarding house. At the small dormer window stood a young girl, waving her hands piteously for help. "It is Norah Gump!" shouted somebody in the crowd. "What is she doing up there?" "She went up for her bag of clothing," answered Mrs. Barlow. "She used to sleep in the garret." Robert recognized the girl as one who had assisted the cook of the boarding house. He had heard her called Norah, but had never supposed that she was a sister to the bully of the village. "She will be burnt up!" he cried, in horror. "Oh, I trust not!" cried Mrs. Vernon. "See if you cannot aid her, Robert." "I will," he returned, and dropping her jewel casket and her money box in her lap, he made again for the burning building. "No use of trying to go up there," cried one of the firemen. "The stairs is burning already." "Then why not get a ladder and put it up to the window?" asked Robert. "Aint got no ladder," came from another man. "Maybe she had better jump." "She'll break her neck if she jumps," said Robert. He looked up at the window and then at a tree which grew nearby. One of the branches of the tree was within four feet of the opening. "Please save me!" shrieked the girl. "The room is full of smoke already!" "Don't jump!" answered Robert. He turned to the firemen. "Give me a boost up into the tree." "You can't reach the window from there," said one of the men. "I think I can. But hurry, or it will be too late." The firemen did as requested, and up the tree went Robert with the agility of a cat. He felt that it was a veritable climb for life. The fire was now coming out of a parlor window, and this sent the smoke and sparks into the tree and up to the window at which the girl was standing. "I can't stay here," moaned the girl, wringing her hands. "I must jump!" And she placed one foot on the window sill. "Wait a few seconds longer," urged Robert, as he climbed nearer to her. "The fire is coming up through the floor!" With a jump, our hero gained the branch which grew out toward the window. Luckily it was a heavy limb, or it would not have sustained his weight. The end had originally pressed on the roof of the house, but this had been sawed off. At last our hero was within four feet of the window sill, and somewhat below the opening. The girl watched him in a frenzy of terror. Buckling his feet under the tree limb Robert held out his arms. "Now, jump and I will catch you," he said. The girl needed no second bidding, for the flames were already licking the floor under her. Standing on the window sill she cast herself forth, and our hero caught and steadied her. It was no easy thing to do, and for one brief instant it looked as if both would fall to the ground. But Robert kept his hold, and soon they were safe and descending to the ground. A cheer went up. "He's a brave lad!" was the cry. "He deserves a medal!" The women folks standing around said but little, yet all were deeply affected. When Norah Gump reached the ground her emotions were such that she fainted dead away. Restoratives were speedily applied, and while they were being administered Sammy Gump appeared on the scene, followed by the boys who had helped him in his attack on Robert. "Is Norah dead?" he asked, in a quivering voice. He thought a good deal of his sister. "No, she has only fainted from excitement," answered one of the women standing by. "She'll be all right in a little while. But she would have been burnt up if it hadn't been for that young gent yonder." Sammy looked in the direction pointed out, and beheld Robert, who had rejoined Mrs. Vernon. "Do you mean to tell me he saved her?" he demanded, in amazement. "Yes, he did," put in one of the men, and gave the bully the particulars. These particulars were also corroborated by Bob Snipper and his chums. "I can't understand it at all," said Sammy, a little while later, when he was taking his sister to his mother's house. "He's a good bit better chap than I dreamed he was." CHAPTER XVII. A DIAMOND SCARFPIN. Robert found Mrs. Vernon resting comfortably on the garden bench. She smiled broadly when he came up. "Robert, you are a regular hero," she observed. "Nobody could have done a braver deed." "It was not so very much to do," he answered, with a blush. "I simply saw how the girl might be saved, and I set to work to do it." "But it was no easy matter to catch the girl," went on the lady warmly. "You ran a big risk." The firemen were now hard at work, and a steady stream of water was being poured on the conflagration. But the wind had caught the house fairly, and but little could be saved. Soon the men directed their efforts toward saving the adjoining property, and fortunately nothing but the boarding house was consumed. As soon as the fire was over Mrs. Vernon and our hero set about finding another boarding place. This was an easy matter, for Mrs. Barlow's sister also took boarders. To Mrs. Cabe, therefore, they went, and procured rooms which were just as desirable as those which they had formerly occupied. "It's too bad we couldn't save your trunks, Mrs. Vernon," observed Robert, after the boarding place question had been settled. "You've got only what you have on." "Well, I am no worse off than you, Robert," she answered, with a peculiar smile. "Oh, it doesn't matter so much for a boy." "I suppose not. Still we both need outfits, and I shall see to it that we get them as soon as possible." "There are not many stores in this town--I mean stores of any importance." "We will take a journey to Oxford. We can get about all we want there, and it will give you a chance to look at the most celebrated English institutions of learning." "I shall like that." "You ought to have a college education, Robert. It would prove very useful to you. Not but what I am satisfied with you, however," added the lady hastily. "I would like to go to Yale or Harvard first-rate." "Perhaps we will be able to arrange that later." Mrs. Vernon paused for a moment. "Robert, I feel that I owe you a good deal for saving my life." "You don't owe me anything, Mrs. Vernon. I did no more than my duty." "I think otherwise. To free myself from pain I took a double dose of my medicine, and I was in an extra heavy sleep when you aroused me. If you had not come I would have slept on until it was too late." And the lady closed her eyes for a moment and shuddered. Taking her jewel case from her bureau drawer, Mrs. Vernon opened it and brought forth a neat but costly diamond scarf-pin. "I am going to make you a present of this, Robert," she went on. "It will look very well on the new scarf I am going to purchase you." "Oh, Mrs. Vernon, it is a diamond pin!" "So it is, Robert." "It must be worth a good deal of money." "It cost me two hundred dollars at one of the leading Chicago jewelers. I don't mind telling you that I got the pin to give to Frederic on his birthday. But I have changed my mind about giving him a present." "It's too valuable a gift for me to wear, Mrs. Vernon." "Let me be the judge of that, Robert. Of course, you will be careful and not lose it." "I'll take the best possible care of it," he answered, and then she gave it to him, and he thanked her heartily. That evening after supper Mrs. Cabe came to Robert and told him that a boy was downstairs and wanted to see him very much. Robert went down and found Sammy Gump, who stood there hat in hand, and with a face full of shame. "Excuse me for troubling you, Robert Frost," said the bully humbly. "But--but I wanted to thank you for saving Norah's life, and mother and father want me to thank you, too. They can't come themselves, because father's a stoker on the railway, and mother has got to stay home and take care of Norah." "You are welcome to whatever I did, Gump," answered Robert. "I am glad I was of service." "Did you know she was my sister?" asked Sammy curiously. "No, I confess I did not." "Oh!" "But I would have saved her anyhow," added Robert hastily. "Honest?" "Yes, Gump, honest." The bully of the town looked sharply into our hero's honest eyes, and his face grew redder than ever. "I believe you; yes, I do," he observed, in a choking voice. "Say, do you know what? I'm awfully sorry I pitched into you. I was a big fool to do it. You're the right sort, and you'll never find me standing in your way again." "I am glad to hear you talk so, Gump," answered Robert. There was an awkward pause, and then our hero put out his hand. Sammy Gump clutched it eagerly and gave it a tight squeeze. From that instant the two boys were firm friends. Nor was this all. Robert's generous action set Sammy Gump to thinking how mean and overbearing he had been, and the bully ended up by giving up all his overbearing manners, and treating everybody as he himself wished to be treated. He soon made a score of friends, and was as well liked as anybody in the town. Two days later Robert and Mrs. Vernon set out for Oxford. The journey was a delightful one, and nightfall found them located at one of the principal hotels. On the day following they went shopping, and Mrs. Vernon insisted upon having her young secretary measured for two business suits, a traveling suit, and also a dress suit, and likewise bought him a generous supply of other things to wear. "As my private secretary, you must dress well," she said. "And I owe it to you to foot the bills myself." "My old friends will hardly know me when they see me," said Robert, as he surveyed himself in one of his new suits. "I wonder what your nephew would say if he heard of this." To this Mrs. Vernon did not reply, and quickly changed the subject. Little did they dream that Frederic Vernon was already on his way to see them. Two more days were spent in Oxford, and Robert visited many places of interest, including several famous colleges, the cathedral, and the great library. Then Mrs. Vernon and our hero returned to Chishing. "I am feeling ever so much better," she declared. "I believe the excitement of the fire and the traveling to Oxford helped me." "I am glad of it," answered Robert. "But to have a fire to help a sick person is rather costly medicine." At this Mrs. Vernon laughed outright. "Quite true, Robert, and I want no more fires. But we can travel. How would you like to go to Paris?" "I will go anywhere you say, Mrs. Vernon." "Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole world. Perhaps we will go there before long." "I am afraid my knowledge of French is rather limited," said our hero, with a faint smile. "That will not matter much, since we can stop at an English hotel. I can speak French fluently." "Have you any idea how long you will remain in Europe?" "No, Robert. It will depend somewhat upon what Frederic does." "It is queer that you do not get some word back from Mr. Farley." "We may get a letter to-day." Mrs. Vernon was right,--a letter came in the evening mail. In this the lawyer stated that he had investigated the charges brought against the Great Lakes Lumber Company, and found them to be utterly without foundation. Mrs. Vernon grew very sober when she read the communication. "What do you think of this?" she asked, after letting Robert read the letter. "It is as I thought," answered the young secretary. "It was a ruse to get you back to the United States." "Do you know what I feel like doing? I feel like writing to Mr. Farley to tell Frederic that he may expect no more remittances from me." "If you cut him off entirely what will he do?" "He will have to do as thousands of others do, go to work for a living." "Does he know anything--I mean anything special?" "He is an expert bookkeeper, and could get a position at that, if he would only apply himself." On the day following Mrs. Vernon had some special business to be transacted in London, and sent Robert down to the metropolis to attend to it. It was a fine day, and, left to herself, the lady prepared to go out for a short walk when a visitor was announced. She went down to the parlor to see who it was, and was nearly struck dumb to behold Frederic Vernon. CHAPTER XVIII. VERNON PLAYS THE PENITENT. "What, you!" cried Mrs. Vernon, when she could speak. "Yes, aunt," replied Frederic Vernon awkwardly. "I suppose you didn't expect to see me." "I certainly did not." And the lady sank in a chair. "Aren't you going to shake hands with me?" He came to her side and held out his hand, and she grasped it mechanically. "When did you come over?" she asked. "I arrived at Liverpool yesterday, and went directly to London. At the Charing Cross Hotel I found out that you had come here." "I see." She said no more, but stared hard at him. "Dear aunt, cannot you forgive me," he said, trying to put on a sad face. "I have done wrong, I know, but I--I--couldn't help it." "Sit down, Frederic, and tell me why you reported to me that the lumber company was in bad shape." "Because I was told that it was a fact." "Who told you that?" "Some of the men at the Pioneer Club. They knew I, or rather you, were interested in the company." "The report is absolutely false." "So I have since heard, and I have come to you for the purpose of setting myself straight in your eyes." Frederic Vernon had carefully rehearsed his part, and his manner was such that his aunt almost believed him. "You wish to set yourself straight?" she asked slowly. "Yes, dear aunt. I know I have done wrong, but I am not the rascal you may think I am." "I have never said you were a rascal, Frederic." "But you turned me away, and had that young Frost take my place." "I did that because you neglected my business. Somebody had to attend to that business." "And then you left Chicago without letting me know where you were going." "I had my reasons for that." "I trust you didn't do it on my account, aunt. I may have been neglectful, but I--well, I never tried to do you any harm, no matter what that young Frost or others may say against me." Frederic Vernon began to cough, and sank back on a sofa as if partly exhausted. "You are not well?" she asked, in alarm. "I am not very sick now. But I have been quite ill," he answered, telling the falsehood without a blush. "And you have a scar on your neck and cheek." "I was taken sick on the street, and fell down and cut myself on a stray barrel hoop," he answered. "But I guess I'll pull through." Mrs. Vernon was alarmed, for he did look sick, and she at once began to question him about what he had done for himself. "I haven't done much--I was too anxious to find you and set myself straight with you," he said. "Since you sent me off I have had no peace of mind at all." "Perhaps I was a little hasty," said Mrs. Vernon, whose heart was a tender one. "You must consult a doctor at once, and settle down where you can have it comfortable." The conversation between the pair lasted for fully an hour, and the upshot of the matter was that Mrs. Vernon engaged a room for Frederic at the boarding house opposite to that maintained by Mrs. Cabe, the latter resort being full. "I will pay all of your expenses," she said. Then a doctor was ordered. The physician was a man of small practice, and Frederic Vernon fooled him easily. "He is, indeed, quite sick," said the doctor to Mrs. Vernon. "But rest and medicine will make him pull through, I feel certain of it." Then he wrote out a prescription, and a boy was sent to procure it at the apothecary shop. When the medicine came Frederic Vernon pretended to take it, but not a mouthful of it did he ever swallow. "You'll not catch me swallowing any such dose," he said to himself, when he was alone, and poured the medicine out of the window. He was highly elated over his success in fooling his aunt, and when left to himself felt like dancing a jig. "I'll work my cards all right enough," he thought. "My next move must be to get rid of young Frost, and when my aunt takes me back I'll make sure that I am not thrown aside again." Of course Robert was astonished to hear of Frederic Vernon's arrival. He listened gravely to what Mrs. Vernon had to tell him. "It's too bad if he is sick, Mrs. Vernon," he said. "But take my advice and be careful how you trust him." "I will be careful, Robert. But I am really afraid that I have been too hard on Frederic." "Have you questioned him about that scheme he and Dr. Remington were hatching out?" "No. I will bring that around when he is real well again." "Of course he will deny it." "It may be that you were mistaken, Robert." "I don't think so." It was not until two days later that Robert and Frederic Vernon met. In the meantime Mrs. Vernon had called upon her nephew a number of times. "Glad to see you, Frost," said Frederic, extending his hand cordially. "I hear you are getting along first-rate as my aunt's private secretary." "Thank you, I am doing very well," answered Robert stiffly. "How do you feel?" "Oh, I am coming around slowly. But I've had a pretty bad spell of sickness." "That isn't very nice." "It's beastly. But sit down, I want to talk to you. How do you like things over here?" "Oh, I am suited very well." "Say, but that's a nice scarfpin you are sporting." "It is a nice pin." "Looks like a real diamond." "It is." "Where did you get it?" "Mrs. Vernon gave it to me." "You are in luck." Frederic Vernon laughed nervously. "By the way, I understand you have been playing the part of a hero." "Who told you that?" "The landlady here. She says you saved my aunt and a servant girl when that other boarding house burnt down." "Well, I did what I could." "You've lined your nest nicely," went on Frederic Vernon, eyeing Robert in a peculiar manner. Robert's face flushed. "What do you mean by that?" "The first thing you know, Mrs. Vernon will be making you her heir." "If she does it will be a complete surprise to me." "Do you deny that you are working for that end?" "I do deny it, most emphatically. I want no more than I am entitled to." "Bah, you talk well, Frost, but don't think I can't see through your little plot. Has my aunt changed her will lately?" "I don't know." "You ought to know; you have charge of her private papers." "I haven't seen anything of a will." "Then she must have left it with Mr. Farley, in Chicago." And Frederic Vernon breathed a long sigh of relief. He was very anxious to learn if his aunt had cut him off, but could get absolutely nothing out of Robert. If she had made no new will, however, the chances were that he was safe. "How long is my aunt going to remain in England?" he went on. "I cannot say. Why don't you ask her yourself?" "I will. She left in a big hurry, didn't she?" "I admit she did." "What was the reason?" "Perhaps you had better ask her that, too." "Don't get saucy, Frost." "I am not saucy. I wasn't hired to answer your questions." "I want to be friends with you, not enemies. But you seem to wish otherwise." "No, Mr. Vernon. But I am your aunt's private secretary, and it won't do for me to expose her business, or her motives for doing certain things." Frederic Vernon looked daggers at Robert, but controlled himself. "All right, as you please," he said carelessly. "But you may find it to pay to make a friend of me some day." "I do not wish to be your enemy. But I must do my duty to your aunt," concluded Robert, and a minute later bowed himself away. When our hero was gone Frederic Vernon grated his teeth. "He's a clever one," he muttered. "But he shan't get the best of me. He knows all of her business, but he intends to keep it to himself. I must watch my chances and see if I cannot overhear what they talk about from time to time. Hang me, if I don't follow him now!" And putting on his hat, Frederic Vernon did so. He saw Robert enter the garden attached to Mrs. Cabe's place and join Mrs. Vernon in the summerhouse overlooking the broad river. Taking care so that he would not be seen, he came up close to a tree near the summerhouse. From this point he could hear every word that passed between his aunt and our hero. CHAPTER XIX. MRS. VERNON'S BANK ACCOUNT. "How did you find Frederic?" was Mrs. Vernon's first question when Robert joined her. "He seems to be doing very well," answered the young secretary. "I don't think he was quite as sick as he made out to be." "He was certainly sick when he came here. And he must have been very sick to fall and hurt himself on the neck and cheek." "Perhaps you are right, Mrs. Vernon, I never had much to do with sick people." "Did he ask you anything about yourself?" "He asked me about the diamond scarfpin. I told him that you had given it to me." "If Frederic really reforms I will get him one, too. What else did he ask about, Robert?" "Well, he asked about you." "And what did you say?" "Maybe I had better not repeat our talk, Mrs. Vernon." "Did you quarrel?" "He was quite angry because I would not tell him about your will. He wanted to know if you had changed it lately." "And what did you tell him?" "That I knew nothing of a will." Mrs. Vernon became thoughtful. "I presume it would be a shame to cut him off," she said slowly. "Have you done that?" "Not yet. In my last will, which Mr. Farley holds, he is almost my sole heir. But I have been thinking of changing my will and leaving him only a quarter of my estate,--one-half of the whole estate to go to charitable institutions, and the remaining quarter to go to my friends, including yourself." "I did not expect anything to be left to me, Mrs. Vernon. You have given me enough--in fact, more than enough--already." "You have been like a son to me, Robert. But about Frederic--if he really and truly reforms, I think I will leave him the bulk of my fortune." "I would not be too hasty. You see, I haven't forgotten the plot he and the doctor hatched against you." "I will be very careful. I shall watch him for a year, and if during that time he does not reform thoroughly, I shall cut him off with a very small allowance, say a thousand dollars." "A thousand dollars wouldn't be bad for most young fellows. But to him it will be nothing. By the way, he seems to have quite some money." "I have noticed that, too, and it has puzzled me greatly, for, as you are aware, I have cut down his allowance." "Perhaps somebody has loaned him some money." "It is possible. But I know, through Mr. Farley, that he was in debt to many of his friends, and these folks will not go on loaning money forever." "They may be banking on his prospects." "Then they may get left, as the saying goes. I sincerely wish that Frederic would settle down to some business and make a man of himself." Here the conversation changed, and soon after Mrs. Vernon went into the house, while Robert walked down to the river to take a row. Left to himself, Frederic Vernon stole back to his boarding quarters. "So she will cut me off with a paltry thousand dollars unless I reform, eh, and she is going to watch me for a whole year," he muttered to himself. "I wonder when she will hear from that forged check? I hope it doesn't come in before I have time to arrange my future plans." The more he thought of the matter, the more did the forged check worry him. He had hoped to get possession of his aunt's mail by applying at the local post-office, but this scheme had fallen through, as the mail was delivered only to Mrs. Vernon or to Robert, and orders were to deliver it to no one else. Several days went by, and now Frederic came to see his aunt regularly morning, afternoon, and evening. From her he learned that she thought of going to Paris, and he eagerly favored the scheme, hoping that through the change he might be able to get the mail. But he was doomed to bitter disappointment. Before any change could be made there came a long letter from Mr. Farley, showing how money matters stood. Among other things, this showed a deficiency in one bank account of six hundred dollars. Robert looked over this communication with the lady, for this was a part of his work, Mrs. Vernon trusting him more and more every day with her private affairs. "I cannot understand this," she said, after referring to her various bank accounts. "Understand what, Mrs. Vernon?" he asked. "The account at the American Exchange Bank is just six hundred dollars short." "Are you certain the stubs have been footed up properly?" asked Robert, in much surprise. "You footed them up yourself." "So I did. But I will foot them up again." The young secretary did so. "According to your check book, you have a balance there of two thousand and three hundred dollars," he said, when he had concluded his calculations. "Exactly, and according to the bank rendering, made through Mr. Farley, the sum is seventeen hundred dollars--just six hundred dollars less. I cannot understand it." Robert shook his head slowly, for he was as much puzzled as the lady. "Let us look over the other accounts," he ventured. "Perhaps the money was transferred without a showing being made,--although I don't see how that could be." There were six other bank accounts, running up to many thousands of dollars, but each was correct to the cent. "You never drew a check and forgot to charge it up against the account, did you?" asked Robert. "There is the book. Aren't all the stubs filled--I mean those from which the checks have been detached?" Robert looked through the book with care. "Yes, every one is filled out," he said. "Then I don't understand it." Mrs. Vernon leaped to her feet suddenly. "Unless----" She stopped short. "Unless----" repeated Robert, and then he, too, became silent. Both had thought of Frederic Vernon at the same time. "I do not think he would do it," went on the lady, almost pitifully. "He has our family blood running in his veins. He would not be guilty of such a terrible crime." Robert said nothing, but he had his own opinion of the nephew who would plot to put his aunt in the insane asylum just to get hold of her money. "What do you advise, Robert?" she asked, as she began to pace the floor nervously. "I would advise you to send to Chicago at once for an accounting from the bank, giving the numbers of the checks you have really issued. If you don't want the bank to know that something is wrong, transact the business through Mr. Farley." "I will do so. I will send a cablegram to America this very day." Mrs. Vernon set to work to prepare her cablegram with great care. Of course, the sending of such a message way off to Chicago would be expensive, but just now she did not think of the money, she wanted to know the truth concerning the shortage. "If Frederic is guilty I will cut him off without a dollar," she said quietly, but so firmly that Robert felt she meant what she said. Robert was commissioned to take the cablegram to the nearest telegraph office which could forward it, and on the way he met Frederic Vernon, who was out walking. "Hullo, Frost, come and take a walk with me," said the young man patronizingly, as our hero approached. "Thank you, but I just as lief walk alone," answered Robert shortly. "Don't want to be sociable, eh? All right. Where are you bound?" "That is my business." "Humph!" Frederic Vernon stared at him for a moment. Then he walked on without further words. But at the corner he looked back and saw Robert enter the telegraph office. "Something is in the wind," he muttered to himself, and retraced his steps. Getting behind several other people, he drew close to the youth and saw him send the message and pay a good round price for it. "That message is going to Chicago, and I know it," he told himself, after following Robert to the road once more. "Now what did it contain? Has my aunt got wind of that forged check already? If

No comments:

Post a Comment

İletişim Formu

Name

Email *

Message *


Get paid to share your links!