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Title: Out For Business - or Robert Frost's Strange Career
Author: Stratemeyer, Edward, Horatio Alger Jr.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Out For Business - or Robert Frost's Strange Career" ***

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[Illustration: ROBERT OVERHEARS AN IMPORTANT CONVERSATION.
_Frontispiece_]



  OUT FOR BUSINESS

  OR

  _ROBERT FROST'S STRANGE CAREER_


  BY

  HORATIO ALGER, JR.

  AUTHOR OF "FALLING IN WITH FORTUNE," "LUCK OR PLUCK,"
  "THE YOUNG BOATMAN," "ONLY AN IRISH BOY,"
  "YOUNG MINER," 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.

  [Illustration]


  GROSSET & DUNLAP

  PUBLISHERS      ::      ::      NEW YORK



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


  THE YOUNG BOOK AGENT;
  Or, Frank Hardy's Road to Success.

  FROM FARM TO FORTUNE;
  Or, Nat Nason's Strange Experience.

  LOST AT SEA;
  Or, Robert Roscoe's Strange Cruise.

  JERRY, THE BACKWOODS BOY;
  Or, The Parkhurst Treasure.

  NELSON, THE NEWSBOY;
  Or, Afloat in New York.

  YOUNG CAPTAIN JACK;
  Or, The Son of a Soldier.

  OUT FOR BUSINESS;
  Or, Robert Frost's Strange Career.

  FALLING IN WITH FORTUNE;
  Or, The Experiences of a Young Secretary.


_12mo, finely illustrated and bound. Price per volume, 60 cents._


  GROSSET & DUNLAP
  PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK


  COPYRIGHT, 1900, BY
  THE MERSHON COMPANY



PREFACE.


"OUT FOR BUSINESS" is a complete tale in itself, but forms the first
of two companion stories, the second being entitled "Falling in with
Fortune."

In this tale are related the various haps and mishaps which befall a
sturdy country youth, of high moral aim, who, by the harsh actions of
his step-father, is compelled to leave what had once been the best of
homes, and go forth into the world to make his own way.

Robert Frost finds his path to fortune no easy one to tread. The thorns
of adversity line the way, and there is many a pitfall to be avoided.
But the lad is possessed of a good stock of hard, common sense, and in
the end we find him on the fair road to success--and a success richly
deserved.

The two stories, "Out for Business" and "Falling in with Fortune,"
give to the reader the last tales begun by that prince of juvenile
writers, Mr. Horatio Alger, Jr., whose books have sold to the extent
of hundreds of thousands of copies, not only in America, but also in
England and elsewhere. The gifted writer was stricken when on the point
of finishing the stories, 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
it is this outline which has now been filled out in order to bring the
tales to a finish, so that both stories might be as nearly as possible
what Mr. Alger intended they should be. It may be that the stories will
not be found as interesting as if Mr. Alger had written them entirely,
nevertheless the present writer trusts that they will still hold the
reader's attention to the end.

  ARTHUR M. WINFIELD.

March 1st, 1900.



CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER                                                PAGE

  I. A GREAT SURPRISE,                                       7

  II. MR. TALBOT AND THE DOG,                               15

  III. THE LITTLE PLOT AGAINST ROBERT,                      24

  IV. MR. TALBOT IS MYSTIFIED,                              33

  V. A CRISIS,                                              42

  VI. ON THE TRAIN,                                         51

  VII. BAFFLED,                                             59

  VIII. PERIL,                                              67

  IX. AT THE PALMER HOUSE,                                  75

  X. ROBERT GETS A PLACE,                                   83

  XI. MR. PALMER'S INFATUATION,                             92

  XII. AN UNLOOKED-FOR SCENE,                              101

  XIII. ROBERT RECEIVES A LETTER,                          110

  XIV. JAMES TALBOT LEARNS SOMETHING OF IMPORTANCE,        118

  XV. THE RESULT OF A FIRE,                                127

  XVI. TWO DISAPPOINTMENTS,                                136

  XVII. ROBERT IS GIVEN A MISSION,                         143

  XVIII. THE POST-OFFICE MONEY ORDER,                      150

  XIX. AN UNEXPECTED ATTACK,                               160

  XX. THE ESCAPE OF CROSS AND HUSKIN,                      169

  XXI. ROBERT AND THE OLD LUMBERMAN,                       178

  XXII. A CLEVER CAPTURE,                                  187

  XXIII. PALMER'S UNFORTUNATE DÉBUT,                       197

  XXIV. PALMER CALLS UPON ROBERT'S MOTHER,                 209

  XXV. ANOTHER TALK ABOUT ROBERT,                          215

  XXVI. ROBERT SPEAKS HIS MIND,                            222

  XXVII. MR. TALBOT RECEIVES ANOTHER SET-BACK,             229

  XXVIII. THE CONSPIRATORS ARE DISGUSTED,                  236

  XXIX. A LUCKY CHANGE OF STATEROOMS,                      245

  XXX. ANOTHER PLOT AGAINST ROBERT,                        253

  XXXI. THE MISSING BAGGAGE CHECK,                         261

  XXXII. ROBERT DELIVERS THE PRECIOUS MAP,                 269

  XXXIII. ROBERT VISITS HOME--CONCLUSION,                  279



OUT FOR BUSINESS.



CHAPTER I.

A GREAT SURPRISE.


Robert Frost, with his books under his arm, turned into the front yard
of a handsome residence in the village of Granville. He was a boy of
sixteen, strongly built, and with a handsome, expressive face.

"I wish mother were at home," he soliloquized. "It seems very lonesome
when she is away."

He opened the front door and let himself into the house. It was a
handsome and spacious hall. Two paintings hung on the walls, and both
were portraits. One represented a lady, with a pretty, but rather weak
face. She looked as if she had very little resolution, and might easily
be influenced by one with stronger will. The other picture was that of
a man of near forty. It was an attractive face. The strong resemblance
which it bore to the boy made it probable that it was his father, and
such was the case. Robert looked up to it regretfully, for he had not
yet got over the loss of his father, hardly twelve months dead.

"I wish dad were alive," he thought sadly, "we were such good friends,
he and I."

Mr. Frost had not died of disease. He was cut off in the full vigor of
life, the victim of a railroad accident. Robert remembered well when he
was taken home, mangled and hardly to be recognized.

His death did not entail any privation upon his little family--Robert
was the only child--for he left a considerable fortune and was heavily
insured besides, so that they were still able to live in handsome style.

"When will supper be ready, Jane?" Robert asked of the servant, as he
passed into the dining-room.

"At half-past five o'clock, Master Robert."

"All right, Jane. I will be on hand, and with a good appetite."

He put on his hat, after laying down his books, and was about to go
out, when Jane arrested his steps.

"Wait a minute, Master Robert. There's a telegram for you."

He took the yellow envelope in some surprise.

"When was it left?" he asked.

"Half an hour since."

"It must be from mother," he said thoughtfully.

"Very likely--I hope it isn't bad news."

Robert echoed the wish, but did not say a word. He took out his
penknife and opened the envelope.

There it was--just a few words, but they puzzled him.

"What is it?" asked Jane, whose curiosity was excited.

Robert read the telegram. It ran thus:

  "Gloucester, June 5.

    "Shall be at home to-morrow. Prepare for a great surprise.

  "Mother."

Robert looked surprised and bewildered.

"What can it mean, Jane, do you think?" he asked.

"I don't know, I'm sure, Master Robert. Perhaps your mother is going to
bring you a present."

"But she wouldn't call that a great surprise."

"I don't know then. You'll know to-morrow."

Yes, he would know to-morrow, but he could not help letting his mind
dwell on the mystery. It occurred to him that it might be a gold watch,
which he had long wanted, and which his mother had promised to get him
very soon. But this would scarcely be considered a great surprise.

"Well, there's no use guessing," he decided at length. "I'll only have
to wait till to-morrow, and then I shall know."

The next day was Saturday, and school did not keep. Robert looked over
the railroad time-table, and concluded that his mother would arrive
about twelve o'clock. This would bring her in time for dinner, which
was usually on the table at half past twelve. He suggested to Jane to
get a better dinner than usual, as his mother would probably be present
to partake of it.

This suggestion proved unnecessary, for about ten o'clock Jane herself
received a telegram to this effect.

    "Have a good dinner ready at the usual time. I shall reach home in
    time for it, and bring another with me."

"So that's the surprise!" reflected Jane. "She is going to bring a
friend with her. I wonder who it is. Maybe it's the lady she's been
visiting. I hope it isn't, for lady visitors are so fussy."

However, Jane went to the market and ordered a pair of chickens, with
a variety of vegetables, and prepared apple dumplings, which she knew
Mrs. Frost always enjoyed.

"Now," she said, "I'll have a dinner good enough for anybody."

Robert intended to go to the depot to meet his mother, but he went on
an expedition with one of his schoolmates, and found that he would
scarcely have time to do so. So he returned home.

"Has mother come, Jane?" he asked.

"No, Master Robert, not yet."

He posted himself at the front window, and five minutes later he saw
the depot carriage approaching the house.

"She's coming, Jane!" he called out in excitement.

"I forgot to tell you that she's going to bring a visitor."

"How do you know?"

"Because I received a telegraph this morning," answered Jane.

"Did she say who was coming with her?"

"No; can you see anyone in the carriage?"

By this time the carriage had reached the entrance to the neat graveled
path which led from the gate to the front door.

The door of the carriage was opened, and a man got out--a man of less
than medium size.

Robert was surprised.

"Why, Jane" he said, "it's a gentleman!"

"Go out and meet them, Master Robert."

Robert opened the front door quickly, and hurried out. Meanwhile, the
gentleman had helped Mrs. Frost out, and she was advancing up the walk,
leaning on the arm of her companion. Mrs. Frost smiled, and turning to
the man at her side, said, "This is my son Robert, James."

"Ah, indeed!" said the other with a smile. "He looks like a stout,
strong boy."

"I wonder who he is," thought Robert. But he was soon to learn.

"Did you have a pleasant visit, mother?" he asked.

"Yes, very pleasant," answered his mother, with a meaning glance at her
companion. "Robert, did you receive my telegram?"

"Yes, mother."

"You remember what I said about the great surprise?"

"Yes, mother."

"Well, this gentleman is the great surprise," she said, simpering.

By this time the whole party had entered the house.

"I don't understand you, mother," said the boy, but a sudden suspicion
had entered his mind, and he was afraid that he did understand. He
waited in painful suspense for his mother to speak.

"I have brought you a new father, Robert. This is my husband, Mr.
Talbot."

"Oh, mother!" exclaimed Robert in a grief-stricken tone. "How could you
marry again?"

Mrs. Talbot, for this was now her name, blushed and looked
uncomfortable. Her husband looked angry.

"Really, young man," he said, "it seems to me that is a very improper
way of addressing your mother."

For the first time Robert fixed his eyes upon this man whom he was so
suddenly called upon to think of as--not his father, for he could not
tolerate the thought--but as his mother's husband. As before mentioned,
he was a small-sized man, with black hair and side whiskers, a thin
face, aquiline nose, and an expression which, so far from attracting,
actually repelled the boy. It was a baleful look, which suggested
Mephistopheles, though this well-known character in Faust did not occur
to Robert, for he had never heard of him. The boy was not accustomed to
regard new acquaintances with repugnance, but this was the feeling with
which he regarded Mr. Talbot.

"I hate you!" he blazed out in sudden fury. "Oh, mother, why did you
marry him?"

This, it must be admitted, was not a very cordial welcome, and the
boy's anger was reflected in the face of his new step-father, who bit
his nether lip, and glared at our hero with wrathful eyes.

"You are an impudent cub!" he exclaimed. "I won't forget the way you
have received me."

"Oh, James, forgive him!" pleaded the mother. "He doesn't realize what
he says. He will get over it to-morrow."

"I shall never get over it, mother!" said Robert. "If you must marry
again, why at least didn't you marry a gentleman?"

"I'll get even with you for this, young man!" exclaimed Talbot
furiously.

Mrs. Talbot screamed and sat upon a couch. Robert seized his hat, and
without waiting for dinner, dashed out of the house.



CHAPTER II.

MR. TALBOT AND THE DOG.


"You didn't tell me what a violent temper your son had," said James
Talbot, when Robert had left the house.

"He has a good temper, James, but I suppose he was taken by surprise."

"I'll take him by surprise!" said Talbot spitefully. "He'll find out
that he has a master."

"No, James," pleaded Mrs. Talbot. "Remember that he is my son."

"I will treat him well if he treats me well, not otherwise. He has the
temper of a fiend."

"I am so sorry," said the bride, and she indulged in weak tears. "I
looked forward with so much pleasure to this day, and now----"

"Perhaps you are sorry you married me," said Talbot, biting his
mustache.

"Oh no, not that, but Robert has gone away without his dinner."

"Serves him right. When he gets hungry enough he will come back."

"Promise, James, that you will overlook his rudeness."

James Talbot was silent a moment, and then constrained his harsh
features into a smile, which he tried to make pleasant.

"I will remember that he is your son, Sarah," he said, softening his
voice. "It will not be my fault if I do not teach him to like me."

"Thank you! How good you are!"

"And now, my love, let me remind you that I am hungry. Won't you order
dinner served? Really, I am almost famished."

"Jane, you may put the dinner on the table," said Mrs. Talbot, looking
relieved.

Jane followed directions.

"And where is Master Robert, Mrs. Frost--no, I mean Mrs. Talbot?"

"He has gone out for a short time. If he is not back before long, you
may save some dinner for him."

"That's queer, his going out just as his mother gets back," thought
Jane, but she kept silence.

She looked disapprovingly at the new husband.

"Sure, he looks like a gorilla," she mused. "How could the mistress
marry him when her first husband was such a fine handsome man? I
mistrusts he and Master Robert won't get along very well together."

James Talbot took the place at the head of the table, and began to
carve the fowls. Jane noticed that though he helped his wife first, he
reserved the nicest portion of the chicken for himself.

"Sure, he's a selfish beast!" reflected Jane. "If he was a gentleman he
wouldn't take all the breast for himself."

She was right. Talbot was selfish and had always been so. Some men can
conceal this trait. He did not try to do so. He did not trouble himself
about criticism, as long as he got what he wanted.

"I wish Robert were here," said Mrs. Talbot plaintively. "I can't be
happy, thinking that he is going without his dinner."

"He'll be all right to-morrow. I'll try to make friends with him."

"Will you really? It will be so good of you."

"I always try to be kind and considerate, my love. Your son is very
hasty, but he will soon understand me better."

"Oh, I do hope so."

After dinner Talbot said: "Now, my love, I wish you would show me over
the house--our house," he added with cat-like softness.

"I shall be so glad to do so."

They passed out into the hall, and the new husband's attention was
drawn to the portrait of Robert's father. He frowned slightly.

"Who is that?" he asked.

"It is my first husband."

James Talbot glanced curiously at the picture. He was displeased to
notice that the portrait represented such a handsome man--a man with
whom he was not to be compared.

"He was generally considered a fine-looking man," remarked the bride.

"Humph! Tastes differ. No doubt he was a good man, but I don't consider
him handsome."

Through the open door Jane heard this remark, and took instant offense,
for she had liked Mr. Frost, who was always kind to her.

"He didn't look a gorilla, as you do," she said to herself, and would
like to have said aloud.

Meanwhile Robert went down to the village. He was the prey of
contending emotions. It looked as if all the happiness of their quiet
home was gone. This man--this interloper--would spoil it all.

"How could mother marry him?" he said to himself.

But in spite of his dissatisfaction, he felt hungry. There was a
restaurant in the village, and he turned in there. He felt that on this
day at least he could not dine at home.

He sat down at the table beside Mr. Jameson, a jeweler, and an old
friend of the family. The jeweler regarded Robert with surprise.

"How is it that you don't dine at home?" he asked. "I believe, however,
that your mother is away."

"It isn't that, for Jane prepares the meals."

"You want a change then?" said Mr. Jameson smiling.

"No, it isn't that either. Mother has got home," he added bluntly.

"And you go away at such a time?"

"I may as well tell you--everybody will know it soon. She has come home
with a new husband."

"You amaze me! And you don't like the arrangement?" he asked, with a
keen glance at his young companion.

"No; he's not a gentleman," answered Robert bitterly. "I don't see how
she could have married him--or anybody, after my father."

"It is natural for you to feel so. Still, she had a right to do so."

They talked further, and Mr. Jameson gradually modified Robert's
excited feelings. He made the boy promise that if Mr. Talbot should
show a disposition to be friendly, he would at any rate treat him with
courtesy.

About three o'clock in the afternoon Robert met his new step-father
in the street. He paused, uncertain how to act. But James Talbot
approached him with a soft, ingratiating smile.

"Robert," he said, "I am sorry you have taken such a dislike to me. You
will excuse my saying that it is quite unreasonable, as you can't know
anything about me."

"Perhaps I was hasty," Robert forced himself to say, "but it was a
trial to me to think my mother had married again."

"Quite natural, I am sure, so I shall not look upon your manifestations
of dislike as personal to myself."

"I suppose not," said Robert slowly. "Of course, I don't know much
about you."

"When you do, I hope you will like me better," said Talbot cheerfully.
"Have you had any dinner?"

"Yes, sir."

"I hope you will come home to supper. It makes your mother feel very
sad to have you stay away."

"Yes, I will come."

"Shall we take a walk together? I don't know anything of your village.
You might show me something of it."

Robert hesitated, but he was naturally polite, and, though rather
reluctantly, he walked through different parts of the village
and pointed out the churches and the public library, the center
school-house, and other buildings. Gradually they approached the
outskirts of the village till they reached a house occupied by an
eccentric old bachelor, who kept a large dog of an uncertain temper. As
the two passed, the dog bounded from the yard and ran after them. This
gave Robert a chance to judge of his step-father's courage.

James Talbot turned pale with fright, and started to run.

"Save me, Robert!" he called out, in tremulous accents. "Will he--will
he bite?"

"I don't think so, Mr. Talbot," said Robert manfully, not exhibiting
the least alarm. "What do you mean, Tige?" he continued sternly,
addressing the dog.

He snatched a stout stick from the side of the road, and made
threatening demonstrations.

The dog stood still, evidently cowed.

"I don't think he is dangerous, Mr. Talbot," Robert started to say,
but he looked in vain for his step-father.

"Here I am, Robert," he heard in quavering accents.

James Talbot had managed, with an agility hardly to be expected of a
man of forty-five, to climb into a tree by the roadside.

"I--I thought I should be safer here," he said, Robert wanted to laugh,
but he was polite, and refrained.

"I--I hope he won't bite you."

"I'll risk it, sir."

"What a terrible situation! I don't dare to come down."

"I think you may, sir; I will protect you."

"How can you? You wouldn't be a match for a dog like that."

By this time Tiger had got over his fierce demonstrations, and seemed
quite friendly.

"You see he has got over his fierceness. You had better come down."

"Do you really think it would be safe?"

"I am sure of it."

James Talbot got down from the tree cautiously, eyeing the dog askance.

"Now let us get away from here at once," he said nervously.

"Very well, sir."

They took the road for home, the dog making no hostile demonstrations.

"I--I was always afraid of dogs," said Talbot, half ashamed. "If it had
been a man I wouldn't have cared." And then he began to tell Robert how
he had once frightened a burglar from the house where he was lodging;
but Robert didn't believe him. He felt contempt for his step-father as
a coward.



CHAPTER III.

THE LITTLE PLOT AGAINST ROBERT.


Robert resumed his place in the home circle. Between him and his
step-father there was no cordiality, but formal politeness, though
at times Mrs. Talbot tried to cultivate more friendly relations. He
was somewhat ashamed of the cowardice he displayed during their walk
through the village. It was partly because Robert had been a witness of
his humiliation that he grew to dislike him the more and determined,
when occasion offered, to get even with the boy. He was somewhat afraid
of the spirited boy, but gradually plucked up courage for an encounter.

When Robert came home from school three days later, he found his
step-father in the hall, standing on a chair, engaged in taking down
the portrait of Mr. Frost.

"What are you doing, Mr. Talbot," he demanded indignantly.

Talbot turned his head, and answered curtly, "I apprehend that is my
business."

"Are you going to take down my father's portrait?"

"That's exactly what I am going to do."

"Why?" asked Robert sternly.

"It is not fitting, now that your mother is my wife, that the picture
of her first husband should hang here."

"Are you going to put yours in its place?"

"As soon as I have one painted."

Robert paused for a moment. After all, why should he interfere? His
mother had transferred her love and allegiance to another husband, and
his father's face would be a silent reproach to her.

"Did my mother authorize this removal?" he asked.

"Certainly."

"Then I have only one request to make, that the portrait be hung up in
my chamber. I still revere the memory of my father."

"I have no objections. You can take it up to your room when you please."

The portrait was taken down, and Robert received it. He at once carried
it upstairs. His heart swelled within him, and a look of bitterness
came over his young face.

"I can't stand it long," he said to himself. "The sight of that man
fills me with indignation and disgust. I would as soon see a serpent."

As yet, however, there had been no open outbreak, but it was to come
very soon.

"May I ask a favor of you, James?" said his wife at the breakfast table.

"What is it, my dear?"

"I find that our woodpile needs replenishing. Will you stop at Mr.
Webber's on your way to the post-office and ask him to call? I want to
speak to him about sawing and splitting a new supply."

"My dear," said her husband, "let me make a suggestion. Why employ Mr.
Webber when you have a strong, able-bodied boy in the house?"

"Do you mean Robert?"

"There is no other boy in the house, I take it."

"But," expostulated Mrs. Talbot, "there is no occasion to put Robert at
such work. I am quite able to employ and pay Mr. Webber."

"And bring up the boy in idleness. That's a very bad plan. He will be
getting lazy."

"He has his studies to attend to."

"He needs physical exercise."

"He plays ball and foot-ball."

"His time is thrown away. He could get quite as healthful exercise in
sawing and splitting wood, and it would save money."

Mrs. Talbot was of a gentle, yielding temper, but she was not disposed
to adopt her husband's views. She still ventured to expostulate.

"Robert is not lazy, James," she said. "If I were poor and there were
any need of it, he would willingly saw and split the wood."

"Perhaps he would and perhaps he wouldn't. From what I have seen of
him, I am decidedly of the opinion that he has been pampered and
spoiled. He has a very bad temper----"

"Oh, James!"

"It is true, but it is partly because of his bringing-up. He needs to
have his will broken. He has always had his own way, and it is quite
time that he learned who is master here."

"You are very hard and cruel, James," said his wife, the tears filling
her eyes.

"You think so, but I am only seeking the boy's good. I am quite decided
on this point. We will drop the discussion."

"Oh, what will happen?" thought the poor mother. "Robert will never
submit, and there will be serious trouble."

The next morning was Saturday, and Robert had a holiday from school.
He was out in the yard, after breakfast, and was about to leave the
premises, when his step-father appeared in the doorway.

"Stop a minute," he called out in a tone of command.

Robert looked back in surprise.

"What is wanted?" he asked.

"Where are you going?"

"Out fishing with Harry Baker."

"I think you had better postpone it."

"Why?" demanded Robert in surprise.

"Come out in the back-yard and I will tell you."

Very much surprised, Robert followed his step-father out into the
back-yard.

"What does all this mean?" he thought.

"I want you to spend the forenoon in sawing and splitting wood. Your
mother tells me there is need of a fresh supply."

"I don't understand you, sir," said Robert coldly. "Mr. Webber always
saws and splits wood for us."

"He always has hitherto, but this arrangement is to be changed."

Robert's eyes flashed. He was beginning to understand now.

"Why? Is my mother unable to pay him?"

"That is not the point. You are strong and well able to do the work.
There is no need of going to unnecessary expense."

Robert's lip curled.

"You really expect me to work at the woodpile?" he said.

"I do. What is more, I command you to go to work at once."

Robert looked his step-father firmly in the face.

"You command me to go to work?" he repeated slowly.

"Yes, I do," blustered Mr. Talbot, thinking by his loud voice to
intimidate the boy.

But he didn't understand the boy with whom he had to deal. Robert eyed
his step-father contemptuously. James Talbot, though perhaps an inch
taller, was less heavily built, and looked thin and puny beside the
sturdy boy whom he was trying to coerce. He felt the contempt which
Robert's face so plainly expressed, and it enraged him, for he was a
man of violent temper.

"I think, Mr. Talbot," said Robert, after a pause, "that you will have
hard work in getting your orders obeyed."

If James Talbot had not been beside himself with rage, he would not
have dared to act as he did. He seized a stout stick lying on the
ground and sprang towards his disobedient step-son.

Robert instantly seized the ax, which was conveniently near, and
brandished it in a threatening manner.

"Don't you dare to touch me!" he exclaimed in excitement.

James Talbot turned pale.

"Are you insane?" he demanded, drawing back in affright.

"No, but I don't propose to be bulldozed. Just lay down that stick, if
you please."

Mechanically Talbot dropped it.

"You have a terrible temper!" he exclaimed.

"I hope not, but I am quite prepared to defend myself, Mr. Talbot."

"How old are you, sir?"

"Sixteen."

"Then you are under authority. You are bound to obey me."

"Am I? I don't recognize you as having any authority over me."

"Evidently you have a good deal to learn. Once more, will you obey me?"

"Once more, I won't," returned Robert firmly.

"You will be sorry for your disobedience. You haven't seen the end of
this."

He turned and walked back to the house, feeling with mortification that
he had been worsted in this first encounter with his step-son.

"I'd like to flog that boy within an inch of his life," he muttered
spitefully. "I--I wish I dared to grapple with him."

Robert and his step-father didn't meet at dinner or supper, as the
latter had to go away on business.

"Mother," said Robert, "do you wish me to take Mr. Webber's place at
the woodpile?"

"No, Robert. It was Mr. Talbot's idea. He thought it would be healthful
exercise for you."

"Why not for him?"

"I will try to get him off the idea."

"It makes no difference. He can't make me do it, though he threatened
me with a stick this morning."

"Surely he did not strike you?" said his mother nervously.

"No, I guess not. He did not dare to."

It so happened that James Talbot did not reach home till a late hour in
the evening, when Robert was already in bed. He went upstairs softly,
ascertained from Robert's regular breathing that he was sound asleep,
then taking the key from the lock inside, locked the door from the
outside, and went downstairs with a smile.

"When the boy wakes up, he will find himself a prisoner," he said. "I
shall get even with him, after all."



CHAPTER IV.

MR. TALBOT IS MYSTIFIED.


Robert slept soundly, and didn't wake till near breakfast-time. He
jumped out of bed and hastily dressed himself. Then he went to the door
of his chamber, and tried to open it. To his surprise, he found himself
unable to do so. For the first time he noticed that the key was not in
the lock.

"What does this mean?" he asked himself.

He peered through the key-hole and detected the key sticking in from
the other side of the door.

"This is Mr. Talbot's work," he decided. "What does he expect to gain
by it?"

Robert was quite cool, and upon the whole, rather amused. It seemed to
him a childish trick to play upon him.

"What a contemptible fellow he is!" he said to himself. "It mortifies
me to think he is my mother's husband."

Robert's room was a large front apartment on the third floor. It was
quite as handsome as any on the second floor. It was directly over the
room occupied by his mother. She, however, must already be downstairs.

"I am sure mother can't know of this," he decided.

Just then the breakfast bell rang, and Robert wondered whether anyone
would come up to see why he did not come down.

Presently he heard a step on the stairs, and a minute later he heard
the voice of his step-father.

"Robert!" he called out, "are you up?"

"Yes, Mr. Talbot. Why did you lock me in?"

"I had my reasons. You were disobedient to me yesterday."

Robert laughed, a little to Mr. Talbot's annoyance. He hoped to find
the boy in a state of alarm, ready to submit to his orders.

"About the wood, I suppose you mean."

"Yes."

"Are you going to unlock the door?"

His voice was quite calm, and he showed no nervousness nor excitement.

"I will upon one condition."

"You have no right to lock me up here, and no right to make
conditions."

"That is for me to say. I will unlock the door on condition that you
agree to saw and split the wood, as I required yesterday."

"To-day is Sunday. Do you expect me to work to-day?"

Mr. Talbot was rather taken aback. He had forgotten when the evening
before he locked the door of Robert's chamber that the next day would
be Sunday.

"No, but next week."

"I don't agree," said Robert firmly.

"All right; I will come up in an hour, and see if you have changed your
mind."

With a malicious chuckle James Talbot drew the key from the lock, put
it in his pocket, and went downstairs. His wife was already sitting in
her place at the breakfast table.

"What makes you so late, James," she asked.

"I have been having a little interview with your son, my dear."

"He is late, too. Is he coming down?"

"No doubt he would like to," said her husband, chuckling.

"I don't understand you, James. If he would like to come, why doesn't
he?"

"Because he is locked in his chamber."

"Who locked him there?"

"I did."

Mrs. Talbot was a meek woman, but this excited her to anger.

"I will go right up and let him out," she said.

James Talbot laughed, but allowed his wife to leave the room without a
word.

She hurried up to Robert's chamber.

"Robert!" she called through the key-hole.

"Is it you, mother?"

"Yes. Are you locked in?"

"Yes."

"Where is the key?"

"In Mr. Talbot's pocket, I presume."

"Why did he lock you in?"

"Because I would not agree to saw and split the wood in place of Mr.
Webber next week."

"That is shameful. Poor boy! and you have had no breakfast."

"And am not likely to have, unless you can pass some through the
key-hole. You see what sort of a man you have married, mother."

Mrs. Talbot was silent. She began to realize it herself.

"How is this going to end?" she asked, half crying.

"Don't mind me, mother. I'll get out some way."

"I will ask James--Mr. Talbot for the key."

"He won't give it to you. Let things take their course. I will consider
what is best to be done. But first, is there any other key in the house
that will fit this door?"

"No, I don't think so."

When Mrs. Talbot went downstairs her husband was half through breakfast.

"I am afraid your breakfast will be cold, my dear," he said.

"How can you act so meanly, James?"

"It is all for Robert's good. He has been too much indulged. I want to
make a man of him. What did he say to you?"

"He told me not to mind--that he would get out some way."

"Perhaps through the key-hole," laughed James Talbot, apparently much
amused.

"You are real mean," whimpered his wife. "The poor boy has had no
breakfast."

"Don't let that interfere with your breakfasting, Mrs. T."

"How can I eat when he is hungry?"

"You see it doesn't affect my appetite. Really, this steak is unusually
good."

Meanwhile Robert was considering how he was to escape. It was rather a
puzzling question to consider, and he could not think of any way. But
as he was looking out of the window he saw Sam Jones, a school friend,
pass by. An idea came to him. Sam's father was a carpenter, and the
owner of a tall ladder.

"I say, Sam!" he called out.

Sam looked up in the direction of the voice, and to his surprise saw
Robert at the window.

"What's up?" he asked.

"I am."

"Why don't you come down?"

"For a very good reason--because I am locked in."

"What's that for?" asked Sam in natural surprise.

Robert explained.

"What are you going to do?"

"Get out, if you will help me."

"What shall I do?"

"Ask your father to bring his tall ladder. I am sure it will reach up
to my window. Only be quick about it. I want to get out before Mr.
Talbot is through breakfast."

"I'll do it. It will be good fun to circumvent the old rascal."

Sam started on a run, and in less than ten minutes came back with his
father and the ladder. Mr. Jones was very ready to lend his assistance,
for he had taken a dislike to Mr. Talbot, who had beaten him down on
the price of some repairs he had made to the barn.

The two together put up the ladder against the window, and Robert
stepping through the opening, put his foot on the top rung and quickly
descended.

He breathed a sigh of relief and exultation as he set foot on the
ground.

"That's the first time I was ever a prisoner, and I don't like it," he
said. "I wish I had old Talbot up there. He wouldn't dare to escape as
I did, for he is an awful coward."

He told the story of the dog, and how frightened his step-father had
been. Sam and his father enjoyed the story.

"Now, take away the ladder quick. I don't want Mr. Talbot to know how I
got out. I mustn't forget to thank you for your kindness."

"You can do as much for me if father ever locks me up," said Sam.

"I don't think there's much danger."

Meanwhile, Mr. Talbot having got through breakfast went upstairs to
enjoy the uncomfortable position of his step-son.

"Robert!" he called through the key-hole.

There was no answer.

"You needn't be sullen. It will do you no good."

Still there was no answer.

"I would open the door," thought the man, "but he may be lying in wait
for me, and he is very strong for a boy."

A third time he called, but still there was no answer.

"I hope he hasn't done anything desperate," thought James Talbot.

Finally he summoned up courage to unlock the door. Lo, the bird was
flown, and the window was open.

"I wonder if he has jumped out!" said Talbot in alarm.

He went to the window and looked out, but could see nothing of Robert.

"It is very strange," he muttered. "If he had broken a limb, he would
be lying on the lawn."

He went downstairs considerably perturbed. Hearing noise in the
dining-room, he looked in, and saw Robert sitting at the table.

"Good morning, Mr. Talbot," said Robert, with much politeness. "You
will excuse my being late to breakfast, but circumstances prevented my
being on time."

James Talbot sank into a chair and stared at Robert open-mouthed.

"Did you get out of the window?" he asked.

"Yes, but next time I'd rather go through the door."

"What a very remarkable boy!" thought his step-father.



CHAPTER V.

A CRISIS.


Nothing more was said about the woodpile. Apparently Mr. Talbot
concluded that he was not likely to carry his point, and prudently
withdrew from the conflict. But his sense of defeat only made him the
more incensed against his rebellious step-son.

"I would give five dollars to see that boy thrashed," he said to
himself moodily, as from the window he watched Robert playing ball in
the street with his friend Sam Jones.

As Robert seemed to be enjoying himself, he could not resist the
temptation to interfere.

So he opened the window and called out, "Robert, I wish you would stop
playing ball in the street."

"Why?" asked his step-son.

"Because the ball might come this way and break one of the windows."

"There is no chance of it, Mr. Talbot. We are sending the ball up and
down the street."

"Still there is danger."

"I don't see it."

"Will you be guided by my wishes?" demanded Talbot querulously.

"I would if they were reasonable. I don't think they are."

"I am the best judge of that. I don't want you to play ball in front of
my house."

"Your house? How long has it been yours? It belongs to my mother."

"Your mother is my wife."

"I am sorry to say that you are right. But that doesn't make the house
yours."

"I have no wish to quibble. I represent your mother, and I have a right
to ask you to stop playing ball in front of the house."

"Even if the house were yours, you don't own the street. Go ahead, Sam!"

Mr. Talbot banged the door and went into the house.

"That is the most impudent cub I ever saw," he muttered. He was worsted
again, and he felt angry and provoked.

"What a sweet step-father you've got, Robert," said Sam.

"Isn't he? But don't call him my step-father. I want to forget that he
is connected with me in any way. He is constantly nagging me. I don't
think I can stand it much longer."

"How does your mother stand it?"

"Mother has a very sweet temper, and she has no will of her own."

"Unlike you," said Sam, smiling.

"Yes, I have a will of my own. I don't think a boy or man can succeed
who hasn't."

"You say you can't stand it. What will that lead to?"

"It may lead to my leaving the house, and going out into the world to
seek my fortune. Our house is a large one, but it isn't large enough to
contain Mr. Talbot and myself."

"I hope you won't have to go, Robert. I should miss you awfully."

"And I should miss you, Sam. But time will show."

Probably no persons could be more incompatible, or less likely to get
along together, than Robert and Mr. Talbot. The presence of one was
a constant irritation to the other. This could have but one issue.
One day, perhaps a week after the dispute about ball-playing, Robert
entered the gate on his way back from the village. Mr. Talbot was
standing on the lawn. He had scarcely entered the yard when a man
reeling under the influence of drink staggered by.

"That man has more than he can carry," observed Robert.

"Yes," answered Talbot with a smile. "Take care that you don't fall
into the same habit."

"Why do you caution me," asked Robert curtly. "Do you think there is
any need of it?"

"Yes, if all that I have heard is true."

"What have you heard?"

"That your father was an intemperate man."

Robert's eyes flashed with intense anger.

"It is a lie," he said. "Take it back."

"I have every reason to believe it is true, and I won't take it back."

This was too much for Robert, who was a boy of spirit, and had been
devotedly attached to his father.

"Take it back!" he repeated in a tone of menace.

"Do you think I would take it back at the order of a whipper-snapper
like you?" sneered his step-father.

Robert waited to hear no more. His affection and reverence for his
father were so strong that he felt outraged by the insult to his
memory. He made a sudden attack upon his step-father, so impetuous
that it dashed Mr. Talbot to the ground.

The man was very much frightened. His encounter with the dog showed
that he was a coward, and though he, a grown person, was attacked by a
boy, he seemed helpless and over-whelmed.

"Ah--what does this mean?" he gasped.

"It means that I won't allow you or any other man to insult my father's
memory," answered Robert fiercely.

"I will have you arrested," said Talbot venomously.

"Do as you please," returned Robert contemptuously.

He sprang to his feet, and without waiting for Mr. Talbot to rise,
entered the house and sought his mother, who had not witnessed the
fracas.

The time had been brief, but he had already made up his mind to do what
had been in his mind for some time. He would leave home and seek his
fortune in the great world. He felt that to stay at home any longer--to
live under the same roof as his step-father--would be absolutely
impossible. He was not afraid to depend upon his own exertions. He was
young, well-educated, strong, and had confidence in his own ability to
earn a living. He would be sorry to leave his mother of course, but his
mother didn't seem to belong to him now that she was the wife of a man
whom he despised.

Leaving James Talbot to pick himself up at his leisure, he sought his
mother, who was in the sitting room, engaged in sewing. She noticed
the flush upon Robert's face, and his excited air, and asked at once,
"What's the matter, Robert? You look disturbed."

"I am disturbed, mother."

"What is it? Tell me about it."

"I got into a dispute with Mr. Talbot."

"I wish you could be friendly with him."

"It is impossible, mother. He is always irritating me. This time he
insulted my father's memory."

"How did he do that?"

"He said father was a man of intemperate habits."

"Surely he did not mean it," said his mother, looking troubled.

"I don't know whether he meant it or not. I only know that he said it.
And now, mother, you mustn't take too hard what I am going to say to
you."

"What is it?" inquired Mrs. Talbot nervously.

"I have made up my mind to leave home."

"Surely you would not do that," said his mother startled.

"Yes, it is the best way. I can't live under the same roof as Mr.
Talbot. Besides I am now sixteen. It is time I was earning my own
living."

"But that is not necessary, Robert. I have enough for you."

"I know it, but I can't live on you all my life. I want to go out into
the world, and see what I can do for myself."

"Take time to think it over, Robert. You are not through school."

"I shall be very soon. I have a good education already, and I can get
along."

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know yet. Something will open up for me."

"Wait till next week," pleaded his mother.

"No, I must go this very day. I have had a fight with Mr. Talbot, and I
can't stay in the house any longer."

"Oh, Robert, you will make me very unhappy."

"I am sorry for that, mother, but I don't see how I can help it. Look
on the bright side. I think things will turn out well for me."

"If you must go, you must let me give you some money," and Mrs. Talbot,
rising, went to her secretary.

"No, mother; I have twenty dollars laid by. That will do for the
present. When that is gone I will write you for some more."

"Will you promise to do it, Robert?"

"Yes, mother?"

"Where do you think of going?"

"To Chicago, first."

"But you don't know anyone there, and I am told there are a great many
bad men there who might lead you into temptation."

"I hope I am strong enough to resist them. But I must go upstairs and
get ready."

Robert went up to his chamber and drew out from a closet a large
grip-sack. Into this he put hurriedly a supply of shirts, socks,
handkerchiefs, and underclothing.

"I came near forgetting a comb and brush," he said to himself,
unlocking the grip-sack after it was closed. "I am not used to
traveling, but I suppose I shall be in time."

Meanwhile, Mr. Talbot after taking time to recover his equanimity,
sought his wife.

"Mrs. T.," he said, "your promising son is getting worse and worse."

"Explain yourself," she said coldly.

"He sprang upon me with the ferocity of a tiger, after I had made an
inoffensive remark, and taking me unawares, actually threw me down. I
can't endure his presence."

"You won't be obliged to. He has decided to leave home."

"Where will he go?"

"He is going out into the world to seek his fortune," she answered
sadly.

"He will fetch up in jail," said his step-father savagely.

"I think, Mr. Talbot, we will drop the subject. I do not feel equal
to discussing it when my dear and only child is about to leave home,
driven from it by you."

She rose and left the room.

"Well, I'm glad he's going," thought Talbot. "I can the better carry
out my plans."



CHAPTER VI.

ON THE TRAIN.


His valise filled with a stock of necessary underwear, Robert walked to
the railway station. It was a very sudden start, and he had no time to
consider what he was to do, for the train moved off five minutes after
his arrival.

He selected a seat by a window, and placed his valise on the seat
beside his own.

It was not till the train had fairly started that he began to realize
the importance of the step that he was taking. He was leaving a
comfortable, nay, a luxurious home, where he was provided with every
comfort, and by his own choice was undertaking to earn his own living.
It was enough to make any boy feel serious. But Robert was manly and
resolute, and he decided that anything would be better than to live
under the same roof with his odious step-father.

Five minutes later a tall thin man walked over from the opposite side
of the car, and said, "Will you allow me to sit beside you?"

"Certainly," answered Robert courteously, and removed his grip-sack.

"Thank you. I am tired of sitting alone, and thought I should like a
chat with an intelligent young man."

Robert smiled.

"So you think I am an intelligent young man?" he said.

"I am sure of it."

"I am very much obliged, but what makes you think so?"

"I am well versed in character reading, being a professional
phrenologist and a student of physiognomy. Are you going to the city?"

"Yes, sir. I think so."

"So am I. Are you connected with any business house there?"

"Not yet, sir. I may be before long."

"I may be able to help you get a place. I am extensively acquainted
with business firms. But perhaps you have a place already secured?"

"No, sir."

"Are you well acquainted in Chicago?"

"I know scarcely anyone there--no one of any prominence."

"You may have to wait for a position. Pardon me--it is none of my
business--but you ought to have money enough to carry you on a few
weeks in case you have to wait."

"I have some money," said Robert cautiously.

"That is well. I am glad to hear it. Are you well educated?"

"Tolerably so."

"Do you know anything about bookkeeping?"

"Yes, sir."

"I have a brother-in-law who is a commission merchant. Indeed I may say
that Mr. Claflin, the great merchant, is a cousin of mine."

"Indeed, sir."

"I was once in Claflin's employ," continued the stranger. "I was head
of one of the departments, with a salary of five thousand dollars a
year."

"What made you leave so good a place?"

"I don't wonder you ask. It was because Claflin interfered with me.
I felt that I ought to have full charge of my department, and would
tolerate no interference. He interfered with me, and in a fit of anger
I threw up my position. I dare say you think me foolish?"

"Yes, I do," answered Robert frankly.

"You are right, but an angry man doesn't stop to consider. Claflin
seemed surprised, and no doubt he was sorry, but he is a proud man and
he wouldn't demean himself by asking me to stay. So I put on my coat
and left."

"Have you got on well since?"

"I went over to a rival merchant, but had to take less pay. Still I got
on very well, till last spring, when I had an attack of malaria. That
broke me down in health and pocket, and now I am what you call hard up."

"Hadn't you saved up anything from your large salary?"

"Yes, but I invested in running stock, and lost all."

"I wonder what he is telling me all this for?" mused Robert.

"I have about recovered my health, and now I shall soon get a good
place," went on the stranger.

Here Robert took out his watch--it was an excellent Waltham silver
watch--and consulted it.

"Let me look at your watch!" said the stranger.

Robert put it in his hands.

"A very good watch! Let me show you mine."

He drew from his pocket a showy gold watch--at least it was yellow, and
had a good appearance.

"What do you think of it?"

"It is showy."

"Yes, and is of high grade. It is well worth seventy-five dollars,
though I have had it for three years."

Robert was not especially interested. His own watch had cost but
twenty-five, but it was a gift from his father, and as such he valued
it.

"I have a great mind to offer you a bargain," said his companion.

Robert looked at him inquiringly.

"If you will give me ten dollars to boot, I will exchange with you."

"Why should you do that? You say your watch is worth seventy-five
dollars."

"So it is, but, my young friend, I am very short of money. The silver
watch would keep as good time, and the money would be of great service
to me."

Robert shook his head.

"My watch was a present," he said, "I should not care to part with it."

"Of course, that is a consideration," said the stranger, appearing
disappointed.

"Besides I could not very well spare ten dollars."

"You could easily pawn the watch for forty dollars."

"Why don't you do that?"

"Egad! I didn't think of it. I believe I will. By the way, will you do
me a favor?"

"What is it?"

"Will you keep the watch for fifteen minutes? I am going out into the
smoking-car, and I may go to sleep. That is the way smoking affects me.
I might get robbed, but if you hold the watch I shall feel easy."

This seemed a strange proposal to make, but after all it was plausible.
It seemed a trifling favor to grant. Why should he object?

"But how do you know I am honest," asked Robert. "You have only known
me a few minutes."

"Didn't I tell you I was skilled in reading character? You have an
honest face."

"Thank you for your favorable opinion."

"Do you consent?"

"Yes. How long will you be gone?"

"I shall come back before we reach the city."

"Very well, if you are anxious to have me take charge of it."

"Yes; I shall feel safe if it is in your hands."

"All right, sir."

Robert wore a sack coat with pockets on each side. He put the watch in
one of these pockets, and resumed looking out of the window.

His companion left the car and went to the car in the rear, which was
the smoking-car.

Half an hour passed, and then a stout, thick-set man of thirty-five
entered the car and walked through it, looking at the passengers as he
passed along.

He paused in front of Robert's seat.

"Young man," he said, "show me your watch."

Robert looked at him in astonishment.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean that I have had my watch stolen, and I am sure some passenger
has taken it."

"What kind of a watch was it?"

"It was a gold watch. Have you such a watch about you?"

"Yes, but----"

"Never mind about any buts," said the other fiercely. "I can tell by
your expression that you have got my watch. Let me have it at once."

"A gentleman, now in the smoking-car, gave me a watch to keep for him."

"And you have it about you?"

"Yes."

"Give it to me at once."

"I couldn't, without his permission."

"That won't go down. Either give me the watch, or I will have you
arrested."

"I have no right to give you the watch. If it is yours it was stolen by
the man who handed it to me to keep for him."

"I give you two minutes to produce the watch. If you will do this, and
pay me ten dollars besides, I will overlook your offense."

Robert's face flushed. He felt that he was in a tight place. This man
might be a confederate of the other. But how was he to prove it?



CHAPTER VII.

BAFFLED.


The charge had come upon Robert so suddenly that he hardly knew what to
say. Gradually, his presence of mind returned to him.

"What made you fix upon me as the one likely to have the watch?" he
asked. "Why didn't you select some other passenger?"

The stout man hesitated. He could not say what was the truth, that
Robert had been described to him by his confederate.

"It was your guilty look," he answered, after a pause.

"So you think I look guilty?" said our hero, with an amused smile.

"Yes, I do," said the other defiantly. "I have had a great deal to do
with crooks in my time."

"No doubt of it," chimed in a new voice.

Both Robert and the man who accused him looked round. The voice
proceeded from a tall, rough-looking man who sat behind Robert.

The accuser looked a little uneasy.

"As I said, I know a crook when I see him."

"So do I," said the rough-looking man, who had the appearance of a
Western miner.

"My friend," said the claimant of the watch severely, "will you do me
the favor to mind your own business?"

"That's good advice. I hope you follow it yourself."

"Will you give me the watch, or are you prepared to be arrested?"

"Describe the watch," said Robert composedly.

"I have. It is a gold watch."

"So is this," said the miner, producing a heavy gold watch from his fob.

"You needn't put in your oar," said the claimant, frowning.

"The boy is right. Describe the watch."

"I have already said that it is a gold watch."

"So is this. Do you claim this watch as yours?"

"No. I suppose it is your watch. The watch in the boy's pocket is not
his."

"Correct, squire. But that doesn't prove it is yours."

"Where is the man who handed it to me?" asked Robert.

"I don't know. I don't believe there is any such man."

"Bring him here, and I will hand it to him."

"That's where your head's level, boy," said the miner. "If this man
wants any proof that he asked you to keep it for him, he can call on
me. I saw him do it."

"No doubt!" sneered the accuser. "I presume you are in league with the
boy."

The miner coolly lifted the window beside his seat.

"Do you see that window," he asked.

"Yes. What of it?"

"Have you any particular desire to be thrown out?"

"No," answered the other, in evident alarm.

"Then don't you dare to insinuate that I am in league with anybody for
crooked work."

As he spoke, he rose to his full height, showing a muscular figure,
rather more than six feet in length. Robert's antagonist was about six
inches shorter.

"No offense, mister," he said meekly.

"You seem to be coming to your senses. Now, is this watch yours?"

"What watch?"

"The watch in the boy's pocket."

"Yes."

"How did the other man get hold of it?"

"If he had it at all, he stole it from me."

"Very good; we'll investigate this. My young friend, come with me into
the smoking-car."

The claimant protested uneasily, but the miner insisted.

He and Robert left the car and went into the one behind.

There about the middle of the car sat the man from whom Robert had
received the watch.

"Give it back to him," said the miner.

Robert walked up to his first acquaintance.

"I want you to take back your watch," he said. "This man says it
belongs to him."

The tall, thin man looked at his confederate. He saw that their little
plan of frightening Robert into giving them ten dollars had failed.

"Did you send him in to me?" went on Robert.

"There is some mistake. I sent him in for it, but he misunderstood me."

He looked askance at the miner, who he saw was disposed to be a friend
of Robert.

"Look here," said the miner sternly, "you are a precious pair of
rascals. Your little game hasn't worked. I have seen such men as you
before. I was on the vigilance committee in San Francisco some years
ago, and such fellows as you we strung up to the nearest lamp-post. Can
you make it convenient to get off at the next station?"

"That's where we intend to stop," said the tall man meekly.

"That is fortunate. It will save you a good deal of trouble. Now, boy,
come back into the other car. We have no further business with these
gentlemen."

Going back, they sat down in the same seat.

"I am very much obliged to you for getting me out of the scrape," said
Robert gratefully.

"Don't mention it."

"Do you really think they were----?"

"Crooks? Yes. They had all the signs. I've rubbed against such fellows
before now. These fellows are not smart. They don't understand the
rudiments of the business."

"You spoke of San Francisco. Have you been there?" asked Robert with
interest.

"I lived there and at the mines for five years."

"Were you lucky?"

"You mean, did I strike it rich? Well, I had middling luck. I didn't
go there for nothing. How much do you think I had when I landed at
Frisco?"

"A hundred dollars?"

"I had just three dollars and a half. I had one extra shirt, and that
was about all."

"That wasn't a very large supply. Where did you go from?"

"I was raised in Vermont. Worked on a farm for dad till I was
twenty-two. Then with fifty dollars, which I had in the savings bank,
I started for California. Well, I got there at last, but my funds were
almost gone. I got a chance to do some rough work till I had enough to
go to the mines. There I made something of a pile, enough to pay off
the mortgage on the old farm, and have ten thousand dollars left. I've
just come from there."

"Do you ever expect to go back to the mines?"

"Yes. I should not be satisfied now to remain at the East. Where are
you going?"

"To the city."

"To get a place?"

"Yes, if I can."

"Have you parents living?"

"I have a mother," said Robert slowly.

"And you want to get work to help support her?"

"No, she has plenty of money."

"Then why do you leave home?"

Robert looked at his companion. His plain, honest face impressed him
favorably. He felt that he was a man in whom he could confide.

"I have a step-father," he said briefly.

"I understand. You and he don't hitch horses. Is that so?"

"You are right."

"Tell me all about it."

"I will. I should like to ask somebody's advice. I want to know whether
I have done right."

"Go ahead, my lad."

Robert told the story, and the miner listened attentively.

"Do you know what I think of that step-father of yours?"

"Tell me."

"I think he is about as mean a skunk as I ever heard mentioned. What
made your mother marry him?"

"I don't know. She must have been infatuated."

"I suppose you had an easy time at home."

"Yes, I did."

"And now you will have to work for a living?"

"Yes, but I don't mind that."

"I see you're the right sort," said the miner approvingly.

They had reached the next station. In the next car there was a tumult
and a noise as of men scuffling. The miner rose and opened the door of
the car.

He and Robert saw the two men who had tried to swindle our hero in
the hands of two angry men, who hustled them out of the car with such
violence that they fell prostrate beside the track.

"What's the matter?" asked the miner.

"These men tried to relieve me of my watch. They won't try it again in
a hurry."

Bruised by the fall, the two men picked themselves up and slunk away.

"They're a precious pair of rascals," said the miner. "If we had them
at the mines, they would soon dangle from the branch of a tree."



CHAPTER VIII.

PERIL.


Jones and Barlow, the two men who had been so ignominiously expelled
from the train, picked themselves up, and with faces flaming with anger
shook their fists at the train in impotent wrath.

"This is an outrage, Jones," said Barlow, the taller of the two.

"So it is," said Jones, rubbing his knee, which had received an
abrasion from falling on a flinty stone.

"They don't know how to treat a gentleman."

"No, they don't. You're right, Barlow."

"I suppose the boy and that long-legged miner are laughing in their
sleeves."

As he spoke, both turned their glances upon the car in which Robert
and the miner were located, and saw both looking out of a car window.
The miner's face wore a look of amusement and satisfaction, which was
enough to anger the two adventurers.

"Good-by, boys!" he said. "You're leaving us in a hurry, but we won't
forget you."

In reply, Jones, who was the more choleric of the two, shook his fist
at the miner, but did not indulge himself in any remarks. His feelings
were probably too deep for words.

"What shall we do, Barlow?" he asked.

"Foot it to the next station, I reckon. I'm used to walkin', aint you?"

"I've done a little of it in my time," said Jones, with a grin.

"Then we can take the next train that comes along. That cursed miner
won't be on board, and we can be received as gentlemen."

"Say, have you got a clothes-brush, Barlow? My knees--that is the knees
of my pants--are all over mud."

"So are mine. Yes, I believe I have, but don't let us repair damages
here. They will be looking out of the car-windows and laughing at us."

"Go ahead, then. I'll follow."

They started in the direction in which the train was going. Two
minutes later they fell in with a young Irish boy, who surveyed their
dilapidated appearance with amusement.

"Say," he remarked, "have youse been racin' wid de train?"

"Why do you ask, boy?" inquired Barlow with lofty dignity.

"I take it all back. I guess you've been on your knees prayin'."

"Boy, don't you know how to address a gentleman?"

"Where's the gentleman?" inquired the youth, with a vacant look.

"Jones, chase that boy and give him a lesson."

Jones undertook to do so, but he was short and fat, and the boy easily
eluded him. He climbed over a fence on one side of the railway, and
began to make faces at the pair.

"What would you have done to me if you had caught me?" he asked in a
mocking and derisive tone.

"Given you a first-class thrashing," growled Jones.

"Then I'm glad you didn't catch me. Say, I saw you get out of the
train."

"Suppose you did?"

"You were kicked out. What had you been doin'?"

Angry as the two adventurers were at their humiliating treatment, their
feeling of indignation was intensified by the boy's taunts. Jones was
about to make an angry retort, when Barlow stopped him.

"Don't mind the boy," he said. "We'd better be getting on."

They walked briskly till they had probably got a quarter of a mile on
their way to the next station. Then they paused and looked back, for on
the way they had passed the train.

"What's the matter with the train?" asked Barlow.

"Don't know. It's making quite a stop."

"I wish it would get wrecked."

This gave an idea to Jones.

"So I say. We'd get even with that miner, and the men that hustled us
off the train. What do you say to wrecking it?"

"We can do it. See that switch?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"I'm an old switchman. Tended switch for three years on a Western road.
All we'll have to do is to reverse that switch," pointing to one a
hundred feet farther on, "and there'll be a smash."

Barlow's breath came quick. He was not as daring a rascal as his
companion.

"Do you really mean it, Jones?" he said.

"Yes, I do."

"Suppose we get caught?"

"We won't get caught."

"Somebody may see us."

"There's no one around. Look and satisfy yourself."

"If you think it safe?"

"Of course it's safe. Besides, if there's a wreck, there'll be booty
for us. I'd like to rifle the pockets of that miner."

The train had been detained at a signal tower by a telegram, and this
allowed the two adventurers to arrange their plans for wrecking it. But
on trying to move the switch, Jones found a difficulty. He had not the
necessary appliances.

"Can't you move it?" asked Barlow.

"No."

"Then we must give up the plan."

"No, there's another way. Do you see that rock?"

He pointed to a square rock, weighing not far from a hundred pounds, by
the side of the railroad.

"Yes, that'll do the business. But there's no time to lose. The train
may come along at any moment. I don't know why it has been so delayed."

"Come along then, and help me move it. It is heavy."

The two rascals bent over and lifted the rock in concert.

They grumbled over the weight, neither of them being used to hard labor.

"I should think it weighed most half a ton," grumbled Barlow.

"Never mind. We will soon have it in position. Quick! I hear the train!"

The rumbling of the train could be heard at a considerable distance.
The two scoundrels didn't trouble themselves about the possible, or
probable consequences of their dastardly plot. They only thought of
revenging themselves upon the men who had ejected them from the train,
and they felt, besides, an animosity against Robert and his miner
friend.

They thought themselves without a witness, but in this they
were mistaken. The boy already mentioned, whom they had pursued
ineffectually, had followed them at a distance, having a feeling of
curiosity about them.

"I wonder what they're up to?" he soliloquized, as he watched them
tampering with the switch. He could not quite understand the meaning
of their movements. But when they took the rock, and between them
conveyed it to the railroad track, and put it in the way of the coming
train, he understood.

"I believe the mean chaps want to wreck the train," he said to himself.

What should he do?

He bethought himself of calling out to them, and trying to prevent
their plot. But he was sure they would pay no attention to him, and
besides there was no time. He could already hear the thundering sound
of the approaching train.

Tommy was on a bluff about fifteen feet above the roadbed. To descend
the bank and run to meet the train would consume more time than he had
at command.

"Oh, dear!" muttered Tommy. "There'll be a smash, and lots of people
will be killed."

But there was one thing that neither Tommy nor the two scoundrels had
seen. It was a cow that somehow or other had found its way through a
gap in the fence from a pasture to the left, and was leisurely walking
along the track, full in the path of the approaching train.

The engineer could not see the rock, for it was too small an object,
but by great good luck he did see the cow.

With a tremendous effort, he stopped the engine just in time. When
the train halted, it was only ten feet away from the animal, who was
looking with startled eyes at the coming train.

The shock of the sudden stop was such that the passengers started to
their feet, and the engineer leaped from the engine.

By this time Tommy had descended the bank, and was standing only a few
feet away.

"We have had a narrow escape," said the miner, wiping the perspiration
from his brow.

"You have had two narrow escapes," said Tommy, pointing to the large
rock which lay across one of the rails fifteen feet further on.

The engineer started, and seemed horror-struck.

"Who put that rock on the track?" he demanded sternly.



CHAPTER IX.

AT THE PALMER HOUSE.


Tommy Keegan pointed to Barlow and Jones, who rather imprudently had
maintained their position, in the hope that the train would be wrecked.

The engineer and the group of passengers around him eyed the two men
with a quick, scrutinizing glance. Their appearance made the charge a
probable one.

"How do you know, boy?" asked the engineer.

"I seed them put the rock on the track," answered Tommy.

"It's a lie!" blustered Jones. "The boy did it himself."

"The boy could not lift a rock of that size," said the engineer
positively.

Among the group of passengers were Robert and the miner.

"Why, it's the scamps that were put off the train!" exclaimed the
miner.

"You recognize them?" asked the engineer.

"Yes, they were put off the train at the last station for trying to
swindle some of the passengers."

"What have you to say to this, man?" demanded the engineer sternly.

"It's a lie. The gentleman is mistaken."

"No, he isn't. I was one of those who put them off the train," said one
of the other passengers.

"Tell all you know about it, boy," said the engineer.

"I seed them try to turn the switch first," said Tommy. "They couldn't
do that, so they got the rock and put dat on the track just before the
train come along."

Barlow and Jones saw that things were getting serious for them, and
very foolishly started to run. But a dozen men went in pursuit,
prominent among them being the miner, whose long legs soon brought him
abreast of the rascally pair. He seized Barlow by the collar, and at
the same time another passenger grasped Jones.

"Now," said the engineer, "what was your object in trying to wreck the
train?"

"We didn't do it. The boy lies," said Jones sullenly.

"It was in revenge for being put off the train," suggested the miner.

"Lynch them! Hang them to the nearest tree!" shouted half a dozen.

"That's my idea," said the miner.

Had the engineer sanctioned this, it would have been done without
further delay, but he was a man of good judgment, and would not
countenance such a proceeding.

"No," he said, "secure them and take them on board the train."

"Come here, boy," said the miner, beckoning to Tommy. "The passengers
owe you something for exposing these infamous rascals. Who will chip
in?"

He took off his hat and dropped in a piece of money. Others followed
suit, and the happy Tommy went away the richer by over thirty dollars.
The two men were secured by a strong cord, and once again boarded the
train as passengers, but under very unfavorable circumstances, and with
gloomy forebodings as to the fate that was in store for them.

As they neared Chicago the miner turned to Robert and asked: "Are you
intending to go to a hotel, my lad?"

Robert hesitated.

"I don't think I can afford it," he said. "I have but little money, and
I don't know how long I may have to wait for work."

"Don't let that worry. I am going to the Palmer House, and will take
you along with me."

"Isn't it a high-priced hotel?"

"Yes, but it will cost you nothing. You can stay with me two or three
days while you are looking around for work."

"You are very kind," said Robert gratefully, "but I am a stranger to
you."

"Not now. I feel as well acquainted with you as if I had known you for
years. I have been poor myself, and it will go hard if Dick Marden
can't take care of a boy who is looking out for a chance to make a
living. Well, youngster, what do you say?"

"I can only say that I accept your offer with gratitude, Mr. Marden."

"That's all right. You may consider me your guardian for the time
being."

Twenty minutes more brought them to the Chicago station.

The hackmen were on hand with their offers of transportation, but the
miner declined.

"I want to unfold myself," he said, "and I reckon I'll walk. My bag
isn't heavy, for I don't carry round a dress suit. I suppose you're
able to walk, Robert?"

"Yes, I would prefer it."

So, unheeding the hackmen, they started for the Palmer House, which was
less than half a mile distant. When Robert came in sight of the hotel,
he was impressed by the large size and handsome appearance of the
structure.

"I shouldn't dare to put up at such a hotel if I were alone," he said
with a smile.

"No, I reckon not. As it is, you are all right. Let us go in."

They walked in to the office.

"I want a room with two beds," said the miner, after registering his
name.

"All right, sir. Front!"

A bell-boy came up at the summons.

"Take this gentleman and his son to 297."

The bell-boy took their bags and preceded them to the elevator.

"Did you hear what the clerk said, Robert? He called you my son."

"Yes, I heard him."

"I haven't chick nor child, and have no right to have, as I never
married, but if I did have a son, you would suit me as well as any boy
I know."

"Thank you, Mr. Marden; I consider that a compliment."

"I mean it. Now let us see what sort of a room has been assigned to us."

It proved to be a very good room, moderately spacious, with two beds,
one on each side of the apartment.

"I think we'll be comfortable here, Robert," said his new friend.

"I feel sure of it," replied the boy, looking about him with an air of
satisfaction.

"You can have that bed and I'll take the other. Now, do you feel
hungry?"

"I think I could eat something, Mr. Marden."

"Don't call me Mr. Marden. I'm not used to it."

"What shall I call you?"

"Call me Dick."

"If you wish me to, though I am afraid it is hardly respectful,
considering how much older you are than I am."

"Oh, hang respect! That won't bother me any. Take a wash, if you want
to, and we'll go down to the dining-room."

Robert was glad to do so, as he felt heated and dusty. Mr. Marden
followed his example.

They went down to the dining-room, and both did justice to the
excellent meal provided.

They had just commenced on the dessert when a small man with a slight
hump entered the dining-room, and took a seat opposite. He glanced
across the table.

"Why, Dick Marden!" he cried in surprise. "Is that you?"

The miner looked across the table.

"Well, well, who would have expected to see you here, Peter Gray?" he
returned, arching his eyebrows.

"Strange things will happen, Dick. I've been in Chicago for nearly a
year."

"Are you in business here?"

"Yes, I keep a cut-rate ticket office on Clark street."

"Are you making money?"

The small man shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm not rich yet," he answered. "I suppose you are."

"I have a little money," he answered.

"Let me see; the last time I saw you was at the diggings?"

"Yes, we were both in hard luck then. How are you fixed?"

"I've got a little, and my business gives me a living."

"It must, if you are boarding here."

"I am not. I generally eat at a restaurant, but once a week I come in
here and get a good dinner. The remembrance of it lasts me a week, and
makes my other meals more palatable."

"You are a sensible man."

"Is that your son, Dick?"

"No, I wish he were. He is a young friend of mine, who is for a short
time under my protection. His name is Robert Frost. Don't you want a
clerk in your office?"

"Well, I don't know," said Mr. Gray. "If he were your son now----"

"Consider him my son, then. But we'll speak of this after dinner."

"All right, Dick."

Robert's eyes lighted up with pleasant anticipation. He felt that he
would indeed be fortunate if he should obtain a place at once. He would
not be able to look up to his employer, for the cripple was a little
less than five feet in height, but their relations might be pleasant,
nevertheless.



CHAPTER X.

ROBERT GETS A PLACE.


"You can go out and take a walk, Robert, while I go with Mr. Gray to
his office."

"All right, sir."

"Now," said Marden, as they emerged into State street, "will you take
the boy?"

"Yes, but I can't pay him much."

"How much?"

"Five dollars a week."

"That won't support him. He has been well brought up, and will need
twelve."

Peter Gray stopped short and whistled in his surprise.

"I can't possibly pay twelve dollars to any clerk, not even if he were
experienced--and this boy probably isn't."

"He knows nothing of the business."

"Then, Marden----"

"Stop a minute! I propose that you shall pay him twelve dollars a week,
but I will undertake to pay seven of it."

"You must take a great interest in the lad."

"I do--a most unusual interest."

"Of course that will make a difference."

"I should say so."

"In that case he can come at once."

"He will come day after to-morrow. To-morrow I want to show him
Chicago."

"All right. Oh, there is one thing I must mention. I have another
clerk--twenty-two years of age--whom I only pay ten dollars a week. He
mustn't know that the boy gets twelve."

"Very well; I will caution Robert. Should the young man find out, let
him understand that only five dollars come from you."

"That will be satisfactory."

Marden went to the office of his old acquaintance. It was small, but as
large as many in the same line of business.

At four he returned to the hotel.

"Well, Robert," he said, "it's arranged. You will go to work on
Thursday morning. Here is the card of your employer. To-morrow I will
go round the city with you."

"Shall I receive enough to pay my board, Mr. Marden," asked Robert
anxiously.

"You will receive twelve dollars a week."

Robert was amazed.

"I don't see how Mr. Gray should be willing to pay me so much," he said.

Marden smiled.

"Oh, he has a little private arrangement with me. There is another
clerk, considerably older than you. He is not to know how much you get.
Let him understand that it is five dollars."

"I understand. How generous you are, Mr. Marden."

"Not Mr. Marden--Dick."

"Well, Dick. But you ought not to pay so much for me."

"Why not? Consider me your uncle, and take care to do credit to my
recommendation."

"I will," said Robert earnestly. "Shall you remain in the city, Uncle
Dick?"

"I may come here now and then, but I expect day after to-morrow to go
to the northern part of Michigan, to visit an old friend there, who is
in the lumber business."

"Then, hadn't I better be looking for a boarding-place?"

"Well thought of. We'll look over the _Record_ and hunt up a place."

Within an hour Robert had selected a small room not far from La Salle
street, where he was to have full board for five dollars a week. The
room was not equal to the one he had at home, but he would spend very
little time there.

During the day following, Robert and his miner friend made an extensive
tour of Chicago, and Robert felt impressed with the magnitude of the
city and the extent of the business that was carried on in it.

"Do you think you shall like Chicago, Robert?"

"Yes, Uncle Dick; I begin to feel like a man of business already."

"And you will be contented?"

"Yes, but I shall miss you."

"I am glad to hear that, boy. Let me see, how long have we known each
other?"

"Only two days."

"And yet you seem like my own boy. I never had anyone belonging to me
before."

"You may get tired of me, Uncle Dick."

"Perhaps so, but I don't believe it."

"Will you write to me?"

"I'm not much on letter writing, but I reckon I'll be able to scribble
a few lines occasionally."

Robert remained with the miner till Thursday morning, and then made his
way to Mr. Gray's office.

He found a tall young man with tallowy hair and freckles standing
behind the counter.

"What can I do for you, boy?" he asked with lofty politeness.

Robert smiled.

"I'm the new clerk," he said. "Didn't Mr. Gray mention me?"

"I believe he did say something about hiring a boy. What's your name?"

"Robert Frost."

"Well, Frost, my name is Mr. Livingston Palmer."

"Indeed! Are you related to Mr. Palmer who keeps the hotel?"

"I--ahem! I believe we are distantly related. Do your people live in
Chicago?"

"No. Some distance out in the country."

"Got a father and mother?"

"No, a mother--and a step-father."

"I sympathize with you. So have I a step-father. He drinks."

"I don't think that is true of Mr. Talbot--my step-father--but if he
did, I should not dislike him any more. How do you like this business?"

"So-so."

"Does Mr. Gray treat you well?"

"Well, I can't complain. He doesn't pay me enough salary."

"That is a common complaint, I suppose," said Robert, smiling.

"How much are you to get?"

"From Mr. Gray--five dollars."

"That's what I got the first year. Now I only get ten."

"That is considerably more."

"Yes, but it isn't enough. Why, I am the brains of the establishment."

Robert was amused. But he saw that Mr. Livingston Palmer was quite in
earnest.

"How about the boss?"

"Oh, he's a fair business man, but he couldn't get along without me."

"Then I hope he won't have to. I will take it as a favor if you will
help me along. I am quite inexperienced. I never was in any business
before."

"Yes, I'll look after you. If Mr. Gray knew what was to his interest,
he would take me into partnership."

"Did you ever suggest it to him?"

"Well, no, not exactly, but I've given him a delicate hint, but he
never seemed to understand what I meant."

Just then Peter Gray came in. He looked quite insignificant compared
with either of his two clerks, but Robert soon found that he was a
hustler and a good man of business.

"So you are here on time?" he said pleasantly.

"Yes, sir."

"Where is my old friend, Marden?"

"He starts this forenoon for Michigan."

"So? He seems to feel a great interest in you."

"I am glad to say he does."

"He says you are a smart, go-ahead boy. I hope you will prove so."

"I'll try, Mr. Gray."

"If you try you'll succeed. Now, let me tell you a little about the
business. You understand that this is a cut-rate railroad ticket
office?"

"Yes, sir."

"You'll soon get to understand our way of doing business--that is, if
you pay attention."

"I will do that."

The day passed, and Robert, who was on the alert, began to get an
insight into the business. He found that it was not very hard, and
could be soon mastered. He was not as much impressed as he expected to
be by the business ability of Mr. Livingston Palmer, who had claimed
to be the "brains of the business." It seemed to him that Mr. Palmer
was slow, and prone to make mistakes, but those were only his first
impressions, which might be modified hereafter.

The office closed at six.

"Where do you board, Frost?" asked the senior clerk.

Robert told him.

"I have a room, and get my meals at restaurants."

"I don't think I should like that so well."

"We live on the same street. Have you any engagement this evening?"

"No."

"I would invite you to go to some amusement with me, but I am almost
broke."

"Then suppose you go to some amusement with me, Mr. Palmer?"

"With pleasure," said the elder clerk, brightening up--"that is, if you
don't mind the expense."

"No, I can afford it."

"I don't see how you can on five dollars a week."

"Oh, I have an allowance besides."

"You're in luck. I wish I had."

Mr. Palmer selected a variety theater, and Robert purchased two
orchestra seats, although he would have preferred some performance of
a higher class.

"Do you know why I wanted to come here?" asked Palmer in a low
confidential tone.

"No. Why?"

"There's a girl that sings here--she's a daisy, and I have reason to
think that she's sweet on me. There's her name on the bill--Alameda
Churchill. When she comes out, give me your opinion of her."



CHAPTER XI.

MR. PALMER'S INFATUATION.


In about twenty minutes Miss Churchill appeared. She was a stout young
lady, weighing at least one hundred and sixty pounds. She had a high
color, black hair, and a loud metallic voice.

Mr. Palmer surveyed her with rapt intensity.

"That's she!" he whispered. "Didn't I tell you she was a daisy?"

Robert was tempted to smile. He had a very indefinite idea of what
might be considered a feminine daisy, but he recognized his companion's
conception of the term.

Miss Churchill sang in a loud voice and with plenty of action one of
the popular songs of the day. Livingston Palmer looked the picture
of rapture. With his head thrown back and his eyes fastened upon his
charmer, he could hardly fail to attract her attention.

She paused between two of the verses, and looked at him with a smile.

"Did you see?" he whispered in delight, "she smiled at me."

"Yes," answered Robert, "I noticed that she did."

"It looks as if she was sweet on me, don't you think so?"

"Perhaps so, I don't know much about young ladies. I can't read their
thoughts."

"How would it do for me to write her a note?"

"What could you write? You don't know her?"

"But she has taken notice of me. I might ask her for an interview."

"I don't feel competent to give you advice, Mr. Palmer; I am only a
boy."

"That is true. I--I think I will venture."

"But what will it lead to? Your attachment is not serious, I presume?"

"I don't know but it may be. The fact is, Robert, I am in love."

"Were you ever in love before, Mr. Palmer?"

"Never. This is the first time I have met my ideal."

"You surely wouldn't think of marrying her," said Robert.

"Why not?"

"I thought perhaps you would not care to marry on ten dollars a week."

"I could not. But she is probably earning considerably more. If we both
of us worked, there would be a nice income between us."

"Then you would not object to your wife appearing in a theater?"

"No, Robert. I have no narrow prejudices."

"Then you think she would marry you?"

"You saw for yourself how sweetly she smiled on me. Oh, Robert, I am
very happy!" and the infatuated young man looked in the seventh heaven
of bliss.

"Excuse me for ten minutes, Robert," he said. "I am going into the
Sherman House to write a note. I will try to get it to her this
evening."

Robert smiled. He was a good deal amused by Palmer's romantic
infatuation, but he did not feel called upon to remonstrate with him.

"I will wait for you here," he said.

In fifteen minutes Livingston Palmer returned to his seat.

"Well, have you written the note?" asked Robert.

"Yes, here it is. Cast your eye over it, and see what you think of it."

Robert glanced at the note.

This was the way it was expressed:

       *       *       *       *       *

  "Adorable Alameda:

"Doubtless you will know from whom this note comes. It is from the
young man in the fourth row of the orchestra on whom you smiled so
sweetly this evening. I am sure you read my devotion in my face. I have
never spoken to you, but I feel that I love you, and I have never loved
before. Will you appoint a time when I can meet you? Perhaps I flatter
myself too much when I say that you seem to be kindly disposed towards
me. I will send this by the usher, and will beg for a reply.

  "Yours devotedly,
  "Livingston Palmer."

"What do you think of it?" asked Palmer eagerly.

"I think it ought to make a favorable impression on the young lady,"
said Robert, doubtfully, however.

"I think it is pretty good, myself," said Palmer complacently.

When the entertainment was over, Palmer went up to one of the ushers.

"My friend," he said, "do you know Miss Alameda Churchill, the singer?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you manage to put this note into her hands?"

"When?"

"To-night."

"Well, I might if----"

"I will pay you for your trouble."

"All right, sir. I see you are a gentleman. Give it to me."

"I shall be glad if she will send me an answer."

A few minutes later the usher returned.

"Did you give it to her?" asked Palmer eagerly.

"Yes, sir."

"Did she send an answer?"

"Here it is."

It was a small scrap of paper, folded diagonally.

Palmer opened and read it, his heart beating with feverish excitement.
Then he smiled.

"Shall I read it to you, Robert?" he asked.

"Yes, if you like."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Many thanks for your pretty note. To-morrow evening at eleven be under
the window at No. 98 Lemore street.

  "Alameda."

"What do you think of that?" said Livingston Palmer triumphantly. "Do
you notice that she signs herself Alameda?"

"Yes."

"That seems nice and friendly, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it seems so."

"She is evidently taken with me. Oh, Robert, I never was so happy."

Robert, of course, being a boy, could not enter fully into Palmer's
feelings. However, he answered in a sympathetic tone which satisfied
his fellow clerk.

"I never thought I should be so fortunate," he said. "Oh, Robert, you
don't know how I feel towards that girl."

"No, I suppose not, Mr. Palmer."

"It isn't to be expected, for you are only a boy."

"Yes, I am only a boy."

"I suppose I was the same at your age. How fortunate it was that you
invited me to accompany you this evening. I feel under the greatest
obligations to you," and Palmer, seizing our hero's hand, shook it with
impulsive energy.

"I am sure you are quite welcome, Mr. Palmer."

Robert was beginning to be weary. To his mind, Palmer seemed to be
acting in a very silly manner. However, as he reflected, he was only a
boy, and could not comprehend the effect of a grand passion on a man
like his fellow clerk.

The next day Palmer was like a man in a dream. He was at his desk
in the office, but he found it hard to attend to his duties in an
intelligent manner. He made some ludicrous blunders, which finally
attracted his employer's notice.

"It seems to me, Mr. Palmer," he said quietly, "that you are not quite
yourself. Where did the man you just waited on wish to go?"

"Alameda," blurted out Palmer. "No," he corrected himself in some
confusion, "Denver, Colorado."

"You seem to have Alameda on the brain. We don't sell tickets to
Alameda."

"No, sir."

"Do you know where Alameda is?"

"No," answered Palmer hesitatingly.

"I believe there is such a place in California, but we never had any
tickets for it."

"Yes, sir."

"For the rest of the day try to keep your wits about you."

"Do you think he suspects?" asked Palmer in a whisper to Robert, when
Mr. Gray had gone out for a minute.

"No; how should he?"

"Really, I hope not. It makes me feel embarrassed and confused."

"I see it does. Can't you put the matter out of your mind during
business hours?"

"I will try to, but oh, Robert, when I think of to-night I feel like
dancing a Highland fling right in the office."

"If you did I am sure Mr. Gray would think you were crazy."

"Of course, I don't mean that exactly, Robert, I was speaking
figuratively."

"You refer to the figure you would cut when you were dancing the
Highland fling?"

"I see you are witty, Robert."

"No one ever accused me of that before," said Robert demurely.

Livingston Palmer laughed, and managed with an effort to devote himself
for the rest of the day strictly to business.

"You will be with me to-night, Frost," he said, as they closed the
office, and started on their way to supper.

"Do you mean that I am to go to 98 Lemore street with you?"

"Yes, you could stand on the other side of the street."

"Your appointment is at eleven o'clock. What are you going to do before
that time comes? Will you go to the theater?"

"No. I could not enjoy it. May I pass the evening in your room?"

"Certainly, if you like."

"You know we can speak of her. That will be better than having my
thoughts taken up by a variety entertainment. But, oh, how long the
evening will be!"

"We shall get through it after a while. You might go round and take
supper with me. I look upon you as my confidential friend."



CHAPTER XII.

AN UNLOOKED-FOR SCENE.


As the clocks of the city struck eleven Robert and his friend Palmer
turned into Lemore street. It was a small, narrow street, lined with
brick houses, and evidently far from fashionable. The house indicated
by the singer was no better than its neighbors.

"I wonder which is her room?" murmured Palmer. "There seems to be no
light in any of the windows."

But as he spoke, one of the windows was lighted up by a lamp, which was
lighted from within.

"That's her room," said Palmer joyfully. "She is expecting me."

The curtain was lifted, and the fair face of Alameda peered out. She
looked across the street and smiled, as she caught sight of Palmer and
his young companion.

"You see?"

"Yes. Perhaps I had better go now."

"No; stay till she opens the window and speaks to me."

"Very well, if you wish it."

Livingston Palmer walked across the street, and taking a harmonica from
his pocket, started on a tune. It was the only instrument on which he
knew how to play, and that is why he selected it. It might have been
hard to distinguish the tune, but that was not of so much importance.
He felt that it was the proper thing to do, to serenade his charmer.

Robert maintained his position, and wondered what would come next. He
had not long to wait.

The window opened, and Alameda leaned out with something in her hand.

The next moment Palmer was drenched by the contents of a pitcher, which
Alameda poured out, locating him with careful precision, so that he
should receive the full benefit of it.

Palmer started with a cry of dismay, and turned quickly. But too late.
His collar, his hat, and coat were thoroughly wet. It was certainly
very aggravating, and his mortification was increased by a hard, cold
laugh, evidently proceeding from his charmer.

"Good-night," she said, and then shut the window.

Robert hurried across the street to where Palmer was standing
motionless, as if dazed. He did not laugh, as most boys would have
done, for he felt indignant at the treatment his unlucky companion had
received.

"Are you much wet?" he asked in a tone of sympathy.

"Yes," answered Livingston Palmer in a hollow voice. "But it is not
that that troubles me. She is false, heartless. Oh, Robert, my heart is
broken!"

And the poor fellow actually shed tears.

"Brace up, Palmer!" said Robert in a cheery voice. "She is not worthy
of you. You are lucky to have found her out so soon."

"Perhaps you are right," said Palmer in a mournful voice. "But how
could she be so false, so cruel?"

"You had not known her long?"

"No."

"And you will soon forget her, now that you know how false she is."

"I don't know, Robert," said the poor fellow sadly. "I don't think I
shall ever get over it."

"Oh, yes, you will. You will meet someone else, who will appreciate
your devotion."

They heard the window opening again, and fearing a second deluge, drew
quickly away.

It was just in time, for the pitcher was again emptied, but this time
the water only wet the sidewalk.

"Surely you can't love her after that," said Robert.

"No. She is not what my fancy painted her. What can I do?"

"You had better let the matter drop."

"No. I will go home and write her a reproachful letter. I will make her
ashamed of herself."

"Better not. She will only laugh at it."

"But it will make me feel better. I--would you mind going into the
Sherman House with me while I write the letter?"

"Better wait till to-morrow."

"No, it will ease my breaking heart if I write to her to-night."

Sympathizing with his friend, Robert made no further opposition, and
Palmer stepped into the Sherman House, procured a sheet of paper, and
wrote thus:

  "Perfidious Girl:

    "How could you find it in your heart to treat so cruelly one who
    loves you so wildly? You led me to think that you returned my
    love, at any rate that you felt an interest in me. I have just
    returned from the house in Lemore street. I will not refer to the
    way you received me. It was cruel and unwomanly. I feel that my
    heart has received a wound from which it will never recover. Yet,
    if you acted in a thoughtless manner, and did not mean to wound
    me, I am ready to forgive and forget all. Once more I will come to
    your side, and renew my vows of devotion. I put my business address
    below, and shall be most glad to hear from you.

  "Your faithful friend,

  "Livingston Palmer."

"What do you think of that, Robert?" asked Palmer, handing the boy the
letter to read.

"I wouldn't have said anything about going back to her, if I had been
you."

"But perhaps she only meant it in fun. Girls sometimes act that way."

"Not if they love a person."

"But if there is any chance of getting in with her again, I don't want
to lose it."

"Well, Mr. Palmer, if you are satisfied with the letter, you had better
mail it."

"I'll get a stamp and mail it to-night."

"Now I think we had better go home and go to bed."

"I shall not sleep to-night, Robert," said Palmer mournfully. "My
poor heart is too sore;" and he placed his hand on the place where he
supposed his heart to be.

"I am glad I am not old enough to have any heart troubles."

"Yes, you are fortunate. But your time will come."

Robert doubted whether he should ever be affected like Palmer, but he
dropped the subject, and went home to bed.

Palmer appeared at business the next day. His face showed a mild
melancholy, but there were no indications of a breaking heart.

Whenever the postman entered the office, he looked up hopefully. But
there was no letter for him till three o'clock. And then it was not
directed in a feminine hand. But he opened it eagerly. As he read it
his face became blanched. Then he laid it down on the counter and
beckoned to Robert. Mr. Gray was not in the office.

"Is the letter from her?" asked Robert.

"No, but it is about her. Read it."

Robert cast his eye over the letter. It was written in a large
masculine hand. It ran thus:

  "Mr. Livingston Palmer.

    "Dear Sir: You have dared to write an insulting letter to my wife
    and I demand an apology. You are evidently seeking to alienate her
    affections from me. If ever she should forsake me it won't be for
    such a man as you. She requests me to say that your attentions are
    unwelcome, and that she has never given you any encouragement. If
    you renew them, I will horsewhip you on sight.

  "Yours, etc.,

  "Peter Churchill.

    "Should you take offense at my letter, I am willing to meet you on
    the field of honor. You have the choice of weapons."

       *       *       *       *       *

"So Alameda is a married woman?" said Robert, rather amused.

"Yes."

"And her husband charges you with trying to alienate her affections?"

"It is terrible!" murmured Palmer.

"And he hints at a duel. Shall you meet him on the field of honor, Mr.
Palmer?"

"No! no! I wouldn't fight a duel for anything. What do you think I had
better do?"

"Write a letter of apology. Tell him you did not know she was a
married woman, and will withdraw your attentions."

"I will. I--I don't think I love her any more, now that I know she is
another man's wife."

"You are quite right. It would not be honorable."

"Still she encouraged me."

"You had better not say anything about that. Mr. Churchill might take
offense, and insist on your fighting a duel."

"My dream is at an end. I will never think of her again."

"You are wise."

Livingston Palmer wrote a letter of apology, and mailed it just after
supper. After that he seemed more cheerful. Robert concluded that his
heart was not quite broken.

The next day about eleven o'clock a large dark-complexioned man with
black hair and whiskers and a deep, hoarse voice entered the office.

"What can I do for you, sir?" asked Robert, who was nearest the door.

"Is Mr. Livingston Palmer employed here?"

"Yes, sir. That is he."

The new arrival strode up to where Palmer was standing.

"Mr. Palmer," he said. "I have received your letter. I am Peter
Churchill."

Palmer turned pale, his knees knocked together, and he looked
terror-stricken.



CHAPTER XIII.

ROBERT RECEIVES A LETTER.


As Palmer looked at the stalwart black-bearded man facing him a
terrible fear sent a tremor through his slender frame. Suppose the
fellow had come to inflict punishment upon him? Suppose he had a
cowhide somewhere concealed about his clothes? He felt ready to sink
through the floor.

"I hope," he said tremulously, "you found my letter satisfactory. I--I
didn't know Alameda--I mean Mrs. Churchill--was married."

"Oh, that's all right. So you supposed her single?"

"I assure you I do."

"Well, at any rate she got even with you. She told me of the pitcher of
water she threw on you out of the window. How did it feel?"

"Very wet," responded Palmer with a faint smile.

"Good joke!" said Churchill, laughing boisterously. "I wish I had been
there."

Somehow Palmer did not enjoy having the scene which had been so
harrowing to him recalled. Yet this man must be propitiated.

"I was there," he said with a feeble attempt at a joke.

"So you were, so you were. When Alameda told me about it I nearly
laughed myself to death."

Palmer began to recover from his alarm. Evidently the injured husband
was not disposed to take things seriously, for he seemed in a good
humor.

"I hope you don't object to my admiring your wife?" he said.

"No, it does credit to your taste, but I can't have you flirting with
her."

"I assure you my intentions were and are strictly honorable."

"Oh, Alameda will take care of that. I'll tell you what I came about."

"As long as it isn't about a duel, I don't mind," thought Palmer.

"My wife is to have a benefit next Thursday evening. Tickets are a
dollar each. How many will you take?"

"I'll take one."

"Better take two. You can scare up some young lady to take with you."

"I don't know many young ladies."

"Don't tell me that. You were not so very bashful with Alameda."

"I--I believe I'll take two."

"All right! Here they are."

"I'm afraid I haven't got two dollars with me," said Palmer
embarrassed. In fact, he lived so closely up to his income that he
seldom had that amount about him.

Peter Churchill frowned a little.

"I can't leave the tickets without the money," he said.

"I'll lend you the money, Mr. Palmer," said Robert.

"Thank you," said the senior clerk gratefully.

"Won't you take a couple of tickets, young fellow?" asked Churchill.

"No, sir. I will use one of Mr. Palmer's tickets."

The tickets were paid for and transferred to Palmer's vest-pocket. Then
Alameda's husband left the office.

"I'm glad he's gone," said Livingston Palmer feebly. "I--I really
thought he'd come in to horsewhip me."

"I guess he could do it," said Robert, with a smile.

"Isn't he a terrible looking ruffian? To think the divine Alameda
should be married to such a man!"

"It's a pity she didn't meet you first. But I say, Mr. Palmer, you'd
better give up paying attentions to her. It wouldn't be safe."

"I shall never dare to speak to her again."

"And you won't try to alienate her affections from him."

"No," answered Palmer fervently. "I--I feel that I have had a narrow
escape."

Two weeks passed without any event of importance. Robert had no
difficulty in "getting the run" of the business in the office, and
it is not too much to say that he became in that short time quite as
efficient as Livingston Palmer, though the latter had been in the
office for several years. Robert was on the whole satisfied with his
position, but it must be confessed that he was looking around for
something better.

"I am sure Mr. Marden wouldn't want me to remain here if I could
improve myself," he thought. "In fact, I think he would like me the
better for striking out for myself."

"It's a terribly dull life--this in a stuffy office," said Livingston
Palmer one day. Since his upsetting with the variety singer the senior
clerk had hardly known what to do with himself.

"That's true," answered Robert. "But it's much better than doing
nothing."

"That's true."

"When I struck out from home I was at first afraid I would be left
stranded."

"Humph! that wouldn't happen to me," said Palmer loftily. "I am certain
I could strike something at once, if I tried."

Robert did not agree with his fellow clerk, since he had seen many a
poor fellow on the streets begging for work of any kind. But he saw it
would be useless to attempt to argue Palmer out of his high opinion of
himself.

On the day following there came a long letter for Robert. It was
postmarked Timberville, Michigan, and was from Dick Marden.

    "My dear Robert," wrote the miner, "I've been wanting to drop you a
    few lines for some time, but could not get around to do it. When I
    arrived here I found my uncle, Felix Amberton, very ill, and I have
    had to take practically entire charge of his affairs. My uncle is
    a bachelor like myself, so he hadn't even a wife to depend upon in
    this emergency.

    "My uncle owns a large lumber interest here, close to the upper end
    of the State, and several Canadians are trying to force him into a
    sale of his lands at a low price. They claim to have some hold upon
    the land.

    "I must say I wish you were up here with me--to help run the lumber
    office. I have to be out on the lands a greater part of the time,
    and the office clerk is not to be trusted, since he is a great
    friend of the Canadians I mentioned. I am in hopes that my uncle
    will soon recover, to take charge for himself."

Dick Marden's letter interested Robert greatly. The confinement of city
life was beginning to tell on the boy, who had heretofore lived more or
less in the open at home.

"I'd like to go to Timberville," he said to Palmer, when he showed the
communication. "The smell of pine and spruce would do a fellow a world
of good."

"It wouldn't suit me," said Palmer, with a decided shake of his head.
"Why, you have no amusements in a place like that--no theaters, no
concerts, no billiard parlors, nothing."

"And yet people get along very well without them," smiled Robert.

"They can't have very elevated tastes."

"Perhaps more elevated than you think, Livingston. I've known some
lumbermen who were very well educated."

"If I made a change do you know what I would do?" asked Palmer.

"No."

"I would go on the stage," said the senior clerk earnestly.

"What stage? Perhaps the variety stage the adorable Alameda is on, eh?"

"No! no! I am done with that forever. I would go in for tragedy."

"Tragedy doesn't pay, so I've heard said."

"Good, real talent will pay, I feel sure of it."

"And what would you play, Hamlet?"

"I would play all of Shakespeare's plays, but the part of Sparticus the
Gladiator would suit me better."

"Did you ever act?"

"Twice--at the Twice-a-week Club. We gave Julius Cæsar, and I was
Cæsar. The performance was a great success from an artistic standpoint."

"How about it financially?"

"Well, to tell the truth, we ran about thirty-three dollars behind."

"Which proves what I said, that tragedy doesn't pay," said Robert, with
a short laugh.

"My support was very poor, and, besides, our performance was not
advertised widely enough."

"I presume the newspapers gave you some favorable notices."

"No, they did nothing of the sort. We had not given them much
advertising and so they ignored us. You know they won't do a thing
without being paid for it."

"I didn't know it. I thought they gave the news. Why, sometimes they
condemn a play even while they advertise it."

"Never mind, they ought to have praised our play, but they didn't." And
here Palmer walked away and the subject was dropped.



CHAPTER XIV.

JAMES TALBOT LEARNS SOMETHING OF IMPORTANCE.


A week passed and nothing of special interest happened. During that
time Robert wrote to his mother, telling her where he was and what
he was doing. He hoped to receive a letter in return, and was quite
disappointed when no word came back.

The trouble was that the letter he had sent fell into James Talbot's
hands.

"Here is a letter for Mrs. Talbot," said the postmaster, one day to
Talbot, when the latter had called at the place for the mail.

"All right, I'll take it home to her," answered Robert's step-father.

"It's from Chicago," said the postmaster, whose name was Joel Blarcomb.
"It looks like Robert's handwriting, too."

"Do you know Robert's writing?" questioned Mr. Talbot.

"Very well. He once did some writing for me in my books, when I had
injured my finger on a nail in a sugar barrel," said the postmaster,
who also kept the principal store in Granville.

"Well, give me the letter and I will take it home," said Mr. Talbot,
and soon after left the store with the communication in his pocket.

As soon as he was out of sight of the store he began to inspect the
letter and wondered what it contained.

"More than likely the young rascal has sent to his mother for money,"
he thought. "I've a good mind to open the letter and read it."

The communication was not sealed very well, and by breathing repeatedly
upon the flap James Talbot soon had the envelope open. Then he drew out
the letter and read it.

He was chagrined to learn that his step-son was doing so nicely and
needed no assistance.

"He seems to have fallen upon his feet," he murmured. "Well, I'll wager
it won't last. Sooner or later he'll be back home and wanting me and
his mother to take care of him. When that time comes, I'll dictate
pretty stiff terms to him, or my name isn't James Talbot."

One passage in the letter positively angered him.

    "I trust Mr. Talbot treats you as you should be treated," wrote
    Robert. "If he does not, let me know, and I will compel him to do
    what is right. He must remember that the house and everything else
    belongs to you so long as you live."

"Belongs to you so long as you live," mused James Talbot. "Can it be
possible that the estate goes to Robert after his mother's death? I
must look into this."

At first he was of a mind to destroy the letter, but thought better of
it and placed it again in the envelope.

When he reached the house he found his wife in the garden, sitting
under a grape arbor. Mrs. Talbot's face showed that she had been
weeping.

"Why, my love, what is the matter?" he asked softly. Of late he had
been treating her well, having what is popularly called "an ax to
grind."

"Nothing is the matter, James."

"But your face shows that you have been crying."

"It is nothing."

"Have you had any trouble with Jane?"

"No."

"Then what is it?"

"I was thinking of Robert. Isn't it terrible that I get no word from
him?"

Mr. Talbot started, and his hand went into the pocket where the letter
rested. Then he recovered and shrugged his shoulders.

"I have already told you what I think of the boy," he said. "My love,
he is unworthy of your tears."

"Oh, James!"

"It is true. He has gone out into the world and has forgotten you."

"No, no! Robert would never be so heartless."

"I think I know him better than do you. You are blind to the truth
because you are his mother."

"He may be penniless, or sick, so that he cannot write."

"Perhaps he is out on the ocean, or on the Great Lakes," said Mr.
Talbot.

"Even so, I am sure he would have written before going."

"You must not think so much of him, my love. You are altogether too
melancholy. I have just learned that we are to have a first-class
theatrical company in Granville next week. I will get good seats and
take you there."

"I do not care to go to any play. Life is too real to me for that."

"You are blue, Sarah. Forget the boy and you will feel better," said
James Talbot, and receiving no answer to this, he walked away.

"Forget Robert! forget my only child!" thought Mrs. Talbot. "Never! Oh,
if I only knew where I could write to him!"

On the day following Mrs. Talbot had occasion to call at Joel
Blarcomb's store to order a number of groceries for the house.

"I hope you got good news from Robert," said the postmaster, after she
had given her order.

"Good news?" she repeated, in bewilderment. "I haven't any news, Mr.
Blarcomb."

"Oh, then that Chicago letter wasn't from him?"

"What Chicago letter?"

"The one I gave to Mr. Talbot yesterday. I felt certain it was your
son's handwriting on the envelope."

"He gave me no letter," answered the lady, and then a sudden fear came
into her heart that made her feel faint. Had her husband received a
letter from her son and destroyed it?

"No, no, he would not be so cruel," she thought.

"Well, the letter was for you, whether you got it or not," said Joel
Blarcomb bluntly. He did not like James Talbot any more than did many
others in the little town. All who had had dealings with Robert's
step-father had found him mean to the last degree.

"Perhaps he has forgotten to give it to me," said Mrs. Talbot, and
abruptly left the store. Joel Blarcomb gazed after her pityingly.

"She didn't make no happy match an' I know it," he muttered. "That
Talbot aint half the man Frost was."

Arriving at home, Mrs. Talbot at once sought out her husband.

"James, where is the letter Mr. Blarcomb gave you for me?" she demanded.

"The letter?" he said carelessly. "Why--er--that didn't amount to
anything."

"Did you open it?"

"Yes--by mistake. It was only an advertisement from a Chicago
investment company. The men who run it are little better than swindlers
and I don't want you to have anything to do with them."

Mrs. Talbot's heart sank. The letter was not from Robert after all.

"Still, I would like to see the letter," she continued.

"I am sorry, my love, but I really believe I tore it up--in fact I am
sure I did."

"You shouldn't have done that, since it was addressed to me."

"As your husband, I didn't do so very wrong to open the letter. When
I saw what it was I thought best to destroy it--I didn't want you to
place any of your money in the hands of such swindlers. If you did that
you would never see a dollar of it again."

"Don't you think I am capable of looking out a little bit for myself,
James?"

"Not in money matters, Sarah. Such things a woman should leave entirely
to her husband."

"I feel I must differ with you. After Mr. Frost died I became the sole
executrix of his will, and I do not know that anything has gone wrong."

"Oh, I do not say that." James Talbot paused for a moment. "Speaking of
Mr. Frost," he continued. "May I ask, did he leave his estate entirely
to you?"

"No, he left me my choice of one-half of all he possessed, the other
half to go to Robert, or the use of everything so long as I lived, all
to go to Robert after my death, providing he was living at that time."

"And which did you choose," asked Talbot, trying vainly to conceal his
intense interest in the matter.

"I chose a life interest only, and signed the necessary papers for the
surrogate."

"Then when you die, all will go to that good-for-nothing boy."

"All will go to Robert, yes; but he is not a good-for-nothing boy."

"That is where we differ, Mrs. Talbot. Once he gets the fortune he will
run through it like wildfire, mark my words."

"Robert is far too sensible to do any such thing."

"Suppose he dies before you do, what then becomes of the estate?"

"It becomes mine absolutely."

"I see."

"But I do not anticipate Robert will die before I do," went on Mrs.
Talbot. "He is a strong, healthy lad."

"True, but there is many an accident happens to a boy that is knocking
around like him."

"Mr. Talbot, do you wish any harm to befall my son?" demanded the lady
of the house, half angrily.

"Oh, no, of course not. But in knocking around he is taking a big risk,
you must admit that."

At these words Mrs. Talbot's face became a study and she left her
husband without another word.

"I really believe he wishes Robert out of the way," she thought. "Then
the money would be mine, and he would try to get me to leave it to him."

Left to himself James Talbot walked up and down in moody contemplation.

"Here's a nice mess," he muttered. "I thought the whole estate belonged
to her. If she died to-morrow I would be turned out without a cent and
that boy or his guardian would take sole possession. I half wish I
could get him out of my way for good, I really do." And then he began
to speculate upon how such a dark deed could be accomplished.



CHAPTER XV.

THE RESULT OF A FIRE.


On the following Sunday morning Robert attended one of the principal
churches in Chicago and heard what he considered a very fine sermon on
charity.

"I suppose we ought all to be more charitable," he thought, on coming
out. "But I must say I find it very hard to have any charitable
feelings for Mr. Talbot. I do hope he is treating mother as he should."

He was walking down State Street when he heard a commotion on the
thoroughfare. A fire engine was coming along, followed by a long hook
and ladder truck. He watched them and to his surprise saw them draw
up almost in front of the tall office building in which Mr. Gray's
cut-rate ticket establishment was located.

"Can it be possible that our place is on fire?" he cried, and ran to
the office with all speed.

He soon discovered that the building was a mass of flames from top to
bottom, the fire having started in the boiler room in the basement and
found a natural outlet through the elevator shafts. He tried to get
into the office, but the door was locked and he had no key.

"Back there, young man!" came from a policeman, as he rushed up to
force the gathering crowd out of the firemen's way.

"I work in this office," answered Robert. "Hadn't I better try to save
something?"

"Are your books in your safe?"

"I presume they are."

"Then you had better get back. Something may cave in soon, you know."

While Robert hesitated another officer came along, and then everybody
was ordered back, and a rope was stretched across the street at either
end of the block. Meanwhile the fire kept increasing until it was easy
to see that the office building was doomed.

"It's too bad," thought Robert, as he watched the progress of the
flames. "This will upset Mr. Gray's business completely."

Half an hour later, as the boy was moving around in the dense crowd, he
ran across Livingston Palmer.

"This will throw us out of employment, Livingston," he said.

"It looks like it, Robert," answered the senior clerk. "Still, I can't
say that I care so much."

"You do not?"

"No. You see, after we closed up Saturday night I met my friend Jack
Dixon, of the Combination Comedy Company, and he has offered me a place
to travel with the organization."

"And you are going to accept?"

"I certainly shall now. At first I was on the fence about it, for I
wanted to get with a tragedy company. But I suppose this will do for a
stepping stone to something better."

Robert had his doubts about this, for Palmer had recited several times
for him, and he had thought the recitations very poor. But the senior
clerk was thoroughly stage-struck, and Robert felt that it would do no
good to argue the matter with him.

"Your leaving may throw Mr. Gray into a worse hole than ever," he
ventured.

"Oh, I guess not. He will have you to fall back on. I doubt if he will
be able to resume business immediately."

Livingston Palmer was right in the latter surmise. The next day Robert
found his employer in an office on the opposite side of the street.

"I am all upset, Frost," said Mr. Gray. "The safe has dropped to the
bottom of the ruins and it will be a week or two before they can dig it
out."

"Shall you resume at once?"

"I hardly think so. The fact is, I have telegraphed to my brother in
New York about business there. It may be that I shall open up in that
city instead of here."

"Then I fancy I can consider myself disengaged for the present."

"Yes. I am sorry for you, but you can see it cannot be helped."

"I don't blame you in the least, Mr. Gray. I am sorry on your own
account, as well as mine, that you have been burnt out. I hope you were
fully insured."

"I was, in a way. Yet I have lost valuable records which no amount of
money can replace."

When Robert left the office it was with a sober face. He was out of a
position. What should he do next?

"It's too bad," he mused. "And just after writing to mother that I was
doing so nicely."

All told he had saved up about twenty-five dollars, and he resolved
to be very careful of this amount and not spend a cent more than was
necessary, until another situation was secured.

Feeling that no time was to be lost, he procured two of the morning
papers and carefully read the want columns. There were several
advertisements which seemed to promise well, and he made a note of
these and then started to visit the addresses given.

The first was at a restaurant where a cashier was wanted. Robert found
the resort to be anything but high-styled. It was on a side street and
looked far from clean.

"Well, a fellow can't be too particular," he thought, and marched
inside without hesitation.

"This way," said the head waiter, thinking he had come in to get
something to eat.

"I wish to see the proprietor," answered Robert. "He advertised for a
cashier."

"He's got one."

"Oh, if that's so, excuse me for troubling you," and the boy turned on
his heel to walk out.

"Hold on," said the head waiter. "I don't think the new man suits Mr.
Hinks entirely. Perhaps he'll give you a show after all. You'll find
Mr. Hinks over at the pie counter yonder," and the waiter jerked his
thumb in the direction.

Robert walked to the counter and found a short, stout man in charge.
The individual had a pair of crafty eyes that the boy did not at all
admire.

"I came to see about that position which you advertised," he said.

"Yes? Have you had any experience?"

"I worked in a cut-rate ticket office--the one that was burned out on
Sunday last. I think I could do the work of an ordinary cashier."

"No doubt you could, if you are used to handling money. Did you work
for Gray?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I reckon he wouldn't have you unless you were all right," said
Mr. Hinks. "I've got a new man on but he don't suit--he's too fussy
and particular. Last night he left his desk and ran all the way to the
sidewalk to give a man a dollar bill which he had forgotten."

"Well, that shows he is honest," said Robert, with a laugh.

"Yes, but my desk might have been robbed in the meantime."

"I suppose that is true."

"I don't want a man to be so honest as all that,--that is, with the
customers,--although he must be honest with me. If a customer is
foolish enough to leave his change behind, why let him lose it, that's
my motto. What do you want a week?"

"I was getting twelve dollars."

"Phew! That's pretty stiff."

"I might start in for less."

"I never pay a man over five dollars."

"I cannot live on five dollars, I am afraid."

"Well, you pick up a good deal, you know," replied Mr. Hinks, and
closed one eye suggestively.

"You mean in the way of tips?"

"Tips? Oh, no, they go to the waiters. But through making change and
the like," and Mr. Hinks closed one eye again.

Robert's face flushed.

"Do you mean by giving people the wrong change?" he demanded
indignantly.

"I didn't say so. But I know almost every cashier picks up lots of
extra money in one way and another."

"Not if they are honest, sir. And I would not be dishonest--I would
starve first. I am out for business, but not the kind of business you
seem to expect of your employees."

At this plain talk Mr. Hinks scowled darkly at Robert.

"Here, here, I won't have you speak to me in this fashion," he
blustered. "If you don't like the offer I've made you, you can get out."

"I don't like the offer, and I think it is an outrage that you are
allowed to conduct business on such principles," replied Robert, and
lost no time in quitting the place. The proprietor followed him to the
door and shook his fist after him.

The next place was a map-maker's office. Here there was a large force
of clerks, and the youth was received very politely.

"I am sorry to keep you waiting," said the clerk who advanced to see
what the boy wanted. "But Mr. Ruggles is very busy at present. Will you
sit down or call again?"

"I'll wait a little while," said Robert, who was favorably impressed by
the surroundings. "That is, if the place that was advertised is still
open."

"I can't say as to that. There have been several applicants, but the
entire matter is in Mr. Ruggles' hands."

The clerk turned away and Robert dropped on a long bench running up one
side of the waiting room. Hardly had he settled himself than two men
came in. One looked like an Englishman while the other was evidently
French.

The clerk greeted them as if they had been there before.

"Mr. Stanhope will see you directly," he said.

"We cannot wait too long," said the Englishman. "My friend--Jean Le
Fevre, must get back to Michigan as soon as possible."

"I will tell Mr. Stanhope," said the clerk, and vanished into an inner
office.

Left to themselves, the Englishman and the Frenchman began to converse
rapidly, the subject of their talk being a certain tract of timber land
in the upper section of Michigan. This interested Robert, who could not
help but hear all that was said.

"Ze map--zat is what we want," he heard the French Canadian--for such
Jean Le Fevre was--say. "Once we have zat, and the land will be ours."

"Right you are," answered the Englishman. "And then old Felix Amberton
can whistle for his money. His claim won't be worth the paper it is
written upon."

Robert was startled at these words. He remembered that Felix Amberton
was the name of Dick Marden's uncle, the Michigan lumberman. Were these
the fellows who wished to get the lumberman's lands away from him?



CHAPTER XVI.

TWO DISAPPOINTMENTS.


"I must hear all they have to say," thought Robert.

Ordinarily he despised playing the part of an eavesdropper, but in the
present instance he felt justified in doing so.

"It ees a great pity zat man came to help Mistair Amberton," went on
the Canadian. "Who is he, do you know, Mistair Hammerditch?"

"His name is Marden and he is Amberton's nephew."

"He seem to be verra smart, as you call heem."

"Perhaps he is smart, Le Fevre. But I don't think he can outwit me,"
returned Oscar Hammerditch. He was one of the kind of men who hold a
very exalted opinion of themselves.

The French Canadian nodded his round head rapidly.

"No, he cannot outwit you--nor Jean Le Fevre. Once we have ze map and
all will be well."

At that moment the clerk came forward again.

"Mr. Ruggles is at liberty now," he said to Robert. "You had best go in
at once, before one of the clerks engages him."

"Thank you, I will," answered the boy.

"I wish he had left me to listen to those schemers a bit longer," was
what he thought.

But there seemed no help for it, and leaving the Englishman and the
Canadian talking earnestly to each other he entered the private office
of the proprietor of the firm.

Mr. Ruggles proved to be a pleasant man past middle age.

"If you have been waiting to see me I am sorry for you," he said, after
Robert had stated the object of his visit. "I engaged a clerk less than
an hour ago."

This was a set-back and the boy's face fell.

"I am sorry too," he said. "I imagine this office would just suit me."

"You can leave your name and address. Perhaps the other young man may
not be suitable. Have you any recommendations?"

"I worked for Mr. Peter Gray, the cut-rate ticket man. We were burnt
out, and Mr. Gray doesn't know what he is going to do next."

"I know Mr. Gray, and if he can recommend you that will be sufficient.
Here is a sheet of paper. Do you know what I pay a clerk at the start?"

"No, sir?"

"Can you keep an ordinary set of books?"

"Yes, sir."

"How about writing an ordinary business letter?"

"I wrote many letters for Mr. Gray."

"In that case I would be willing to start you at eight dollars per
week, and after six months I would raise you to ten dollars."

"That would be satisfactory."

"Then leave your name and address. Even if that new clerk does suit
there may be another opening before long--although I would not advise
you to lay back and depend upon it."

"I couldn't afford to lay back, sir."

"You have to support yourself?"

"I do."

"Then I trust you get an opening soon--if I cannot use you," concluded
Mr. Ruggles.

Robert wrote out his name in his best style, and added the address of
his boarding house. The handwriting pleased the map-publisher, but he
put it on file without comment. Then the boy bowed himself out.

"What a nice man," he thought. "I like him even better than I do Mr.
Gray."

He was pleased to think that, although there was no immediate opening
for him, there might be one in the near future.

As Robert entered the outer office he looked around for the Englishman
and the Canadian. They were nowhere to be seen.

"They are either in one of the other offices or they have gone," he
said to himself. "I'd give a good deal to know just what they are up
to. When I write to Mr. Marden I must tell him about the pair."

Once on the sidewalk the boy hardly knew how to turn. He had one more
place on his list--that of a wholesale butcher, but the idea of working
in a packing house did not please him.

"I don't believe it would suit me," he said to himself. "Especially if
I had to work down by the stockyards."

Nevertheless, he was resolved not to remain idle if it could be helped,
and so started out to find the address.

The locality was some distance from the center of the city and in a
neighborhood filled with factories and saloons. At the corner of the
block upon which the packing establishment was located, Robert came to
a halt.

"I don't believe mother would like me to work in such a place as this,"
he mused. "The folks may be honest enough, but they don't know the
meaning of the word refinement."

"Lookin' fer sumthin', mister?"

The question came from a very small and very dirty boy who had brushed
up against Robert's elbow.

"Hardly," answered Robert. "Is that Rogers' packing house over there?"

"Yes."

"Thank you, that's all I wanted to know."

"Goin' in to see Mr. Rogers?"

"I was thinking of it."

"Better not go now?"

"Why?"

"He jest came out of O'Grady's saloon and he's more'n half full."

"Do you mean drunk?"

"Dat's it."

"Then I don't think I care to see him."

"Does he owe you anything?" went on the street urchin, with a coolness
that swallowed up the impertinence of the question.

"No, he doesn't owe me anything. He advertised for a clerk and I had
a notion I would strike for the situation," answered Robert, who could
not help but like the street lad, he had such an open, friendly face.

"He had a fight with one o' his clerks day before yesterday, an' the
clerk got a black eye."

"Indeed. And what did the clerk do?"

"I heard dad say he was going to have old Rogers arrested, but Rogers
gave him some extry money to keep still about it."

"And that is the reason he wants a new clerk, eh?" said Robert, with a
short laugh. "Well, I don't think I'll apply."

"Couldn't you lick old Rogers if he hit you first?"

"I wouldn't want to get into a fight with him."

"He's a terror when he's half drunk--my dad says so."

"Does he work in the place?"

"Yes, he's a butcher."

"And did he ever have any trouble?"

"Lots of times. Once old Rogers followed my dad with a butcher knife,
but dad up and knocked the knife from his hand with a club."

"And what did your father do then?"

"He was goin' to have old Rogers locked up for salt the battery, or
sumt'ing like that, but Rogers he raised dad's wages a dollar a week,
an' so dad didn't do nuthin."

"Evidently Mr. Rogers thinks money will cover everything," said Robert.
"Well, it wouldn't cover everything with me."

"I'd like to see old Rogers git one good wallopin'--an' so would all of
the boys around here. He won't let none of us around the packing house
to see what's going on. He calls us all a set of thieves."

"He certainly must be a hard man to work for," concluded Robert. "I
don't want to go near him," and with this remark he walked back the way
he had come.



CHAPTER XVII.

ROBERT IS GIVEN A MISSION.


"Well, what luck?" asked Livingston Palmer, when he and Robert met
again.

"No luck at all," answered Robert.

"That's bad."

"One man said he might have an opening in the near future."

"That's all right, but a fellow can't live on promises."

"Exactly my idea."

"Why don't you try the stage, as I am going to do."

"I don't believe I can act."

"No one knows what is in him until he tries. Didn't you ever recite?"

"In school, yes. But I don't think I ever made a hit, as actors call
it."

"If you managed to get in with Jack Dixon I might be able to coach you
in your part," said Livingston Palmer loftily.

"Have you had a part assigned to you yet?" asked Robert curiously.

"Yes. We are to play two plays, 'The Homeless Sister,' and 'All for
Love.' In 'The Homeless Sister' I am to take the part of a heartless
landlord, and in 'All for Love' I am a butler in a Fifth Avenue mansion
in New York."

"Are they leading parts?"

"Well--er--hardly. Dixon says he can't put me in leading parts yet, for
it would make the older actors jealous."

"I see."

"He says he will shove me ahead as soon as I've made a hit."

"Then I trust you make a hit on the opening night."

"Oh, I certainly shall. I have my lines down fine, and Dixon says my
make-up is just what it ought to be."

"Aren't you afraid of being nervous?"

"Nervous? Not a bit. Did you ever see me nervous, Frost?"

"No--excepting----" Robert was going to mention the time when the
adorable Alameda's husband had called at the ticket office, but cut
himself short.

"Excepting when?"

"It's of no consequence, Palmer."

"But I demand to know when I was ever nervous," insisted the would-be
actor.

"Well, you were rather put out when the husband of that variety actress
called upon you."

"Oh! Well--er--I'll admit it. But that was an unusual case, wasn't it?"

"I presume so. Does she know you are going on the stage?"

"Yes; I took particular pains to let her hear of it, through one of the
ladies of our combination."

"And did you hear what she said?"

"The lady says she laughed and said I would ruin Dixon. But I'll show
her that she is mistaken," added Livingston Palmer, drawing himself
up to his full height and inflating his chest. "Robert, I am a born
actor--I feel it in my bones."

"Do your bones ache?"

"You know what I mean. Shall I give you a sample of what I am to do?"

"If you get through by the time the supper bell rings. My walk has made
me tremendously hungry."

"The part of the landlord is not a long one--in fact it contains but
six speeches each about thirty words in length. At first I come into
the parlor where the guests have arrived. I make a low bow and turn
to the gentleman and say: 'What, it is my father's friend, Roger
Brockbury, as I live! Thrice welcome to the Lion Inn, sir. And what is
the matter with the lady, sir?'"

As Palmer began to recite he strutted around in grand style, ending by
elevating his eyebrows, clenching his fists and throwing his head so
far back that he nearly lost his balance.

"Is that what you have to say?" questioned Robert, who could scarcely
keep from laughing outright.

"Yes. How do you like it?"

"You'll certainly make them take notice of you?"

"I knew you would say that. Why, Robert, it won't be a month before I'm
the star of the combination."

"You have my best wishes."

"Shall I take you to see Jack Dixon?"

"No--at least, not for the present."

"But you may be missing the chance of your life."

"No, I'm no actor. I believe I was cut out for some office business and
nothing else."

"Do you mean to say you would be content to sit on a high stool
keeping books all your life? That wouldn't suit me."

"No, I don't mean that exactly. I would like to manage some large
office business--after I had learned it thoroughly."

"Of course that is somewhat better."

At that moment the supper bell rang, and Palmer took his leave, to go
to the theater for rehearsal. As Robert went down to the dining room of
the boarding house he could not help but utter a short sigh.

"Poor Palmer," he mused. "He means well, but I'm afraid he will make an
awful mess of it."

The evening was spent in his room reading a paper, for Robert was in no
humor to go anywhere, even if he had felt like spending any money.

"I must try my luck again to-morrow," was his resolve. "And I must get
around early, too."

He was up before seven o'clock, and dressing hastily, went out and
purchased several newspapers. At the house he sat down in the sitting
room to examine the Help Wanted columns, as he had done the day before.

Presently he heard the postman's whistle and ring. Soon after one of
the servant girls came in with a letter for him.

It was from Timberville, as he could see by the postmark, and he tore
it open eagerly, feeling it must have been sent by Dick Marden.

The communication interested Robert deeply. It ran as follows:

  "My Dear Robert:

    "I have just learned by the newspapers that Peter Gray's office was
    burnt out last Sunday. I see that the loss was heavy, and in an
    interview Gray says he may not resume.

    "This will, of course, throw you out of a position. In one way I am
    sorry of it; in another, I am glad.

    "I hate to have you compelled to make a change, yet, as matters
    have turned, I would like to have a smart boy like you up here
    to help me, since my uncle is worse than before and those
    swindlers--for such they are--are determined to get the lumber
    lands away from him.

    "In the crowd are two men, a French Canadian Le Fevre and an
    Englishman named Hammerditch. They want to get hold of an old map
    which was in the possession of a certain lumberman named Herman
    Wenrich. This lumberman used to live in upper Michigan but now
    resides in Chicago.

    "If you can do so, I would like you to find Herman Wenrich and
    get the map from him, even if you have to pay fifty or a hundred
    dollars for it. The map will be valuable in showing up the actual
    grants which belong to my uncle.

    "In case Wenrich cannot be found in the course of two or three days
    you can drop the matter and come on to here without further delay.
    I send you some money in case the fire has left you short, and in
    case you have a chance to buy the map.

  "Yours truly,
  "Richard Marden."

Enclosed in the letter were money orders amounting to one hundred and
fifty dollars.

"I'm glad I didn't get a job now," thought Robert. "If I had I would
only had to have thrown it up. I'll go down to the post-office at
once, get those money orders cashed, and then go on a hunt for Herman
Wenrich."



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE POST-OFFICE MONEY ORDER.


Robert had been to the post-office a number of times for Mr. Gray, so
he made his way there after breakfast without difficulty.

He found the money-order department somewhat crowded, and had to take
his place at the end of a line numbering a dozen persons or more.

While he was moving toward the window his attention was attracted to a
loudly-dressed individual, who came in and glanced around as if looking
for somebody he knew.

The man singled out Robert and came up to him.

"Are you acquainted here, young man?" he asked, in a low tone, so that
those standing around might not hear.

"What do you mean?" asked the youth.

He was positive he had never seen the loudly-dressed individual before.

"I mean do they know you at yonder window?"

"One of the clerks knows me."

"Then I wish you would do me a favor. My name is Charles Shotmore. I
come from Lexington. I received a money order yesterday from my aunt,
with whom I reside, and I want to get the order cashed."

"Well?"

"Won't you identify me? Of course, it's a mere matter of form, but it
places one in a regular hole if one is not known," went on the man
glibly. "You know they are very particular just at present, although
they didn't used to be."

"But I don't know you," said Robert, with considerable surprise.

"I have just told you my name--Charles Shotmore, of Lexington. My
aunt's name is Caroline Shotmore. And your name is----?" The man
paused, expecting Robert to fill in the blank.

But the youth had seen enough of city life to make him shy of
strangers, and he did not mention his name.

"Never mind about my name," he said coldly.

"Won't you identify me?"

"How can I when I do not know you."

"I have just told you my name. Isn't that sufficient?"

"Why don't you tell them the same thing at the window?"

"Because they are too particular."

"I don't think they are."

"Then you won't do me the favor?" And the loudly-dressed individual
frowned darkly.

"I cannot, conscientiously."

"Humph! it seems to me you are mighty particular."

"And you are very forward," retorted Robert, and turned his back on the
fellow. The man started to say more, but suddenly turned and walked to
the corner of the room.

Robert had no difficulty in getting his money orders cashed.

"For yourself?" said the clerk, with a smile.

"Yes."

"You're in luck."

"I've got to use most of the money," answered the boy, and left the
window.

A hundred and fifty dollars was quite a sum, even for Robert to handle,
and he placed the amount in the breast pocket of his coat.

The flashily-dressed man saw the youth stow the bank bills away, and
his eyes glistened greedily.

He was a sharper by the name of Andy Cross, and it is doubtful if he
had ever done an honest day's work in his life.

The money order he carried was one belonging to a man who had been
stopping at the same boarding place at which Andy Cross had put up.

The order had come in a letter the day before, and Cross was anxious to
get it cashed before Charles Shotmore should become aware of his loss.

"I've a good mind to follow that boy and see if I can't get hold of
that money," said Cross to himself.

As Robert went out of the post-office he came behind him.

Not far away was a drug store, where several directories lay on a stand
for the use of the public.

Robert stepped into the drug store to look for Herman Wenrich's name in
the directory, and Andy Cross took a stand outside where he might watch
the boy.

While the sharper was waiting, he felt himself touched on the arm, and
wheeling about, found himself confronted by the man to whom the stolen
money order belonged.

"Mr. Smith, I wish to speak to you," said Charles Shotmore, somewhat
excitedly. He did not know Cross' real name, for he had never heard it.

"What do you want?" demanded Andy Cross, as coolly as he could,
although he was much disconcerted.

"I--I--that is, I believe you have a letter belonging to me."

"A letter belonging to you?"

"Yes."

"I have no such letter, Mr. Shotmore. What makes you think I have?"

"The servant at the boarding house says a letter came yesterday for me,
and that she saw you pick it up from the hall rack."

"She is mistaken."

"She says she is positive, and--and she says your record is none of the
best."

"Sir, do you mean to insult me!" demanded Cross, but his face turned
pale with sudden fear.

"The girl comes from the South End, and she says you are known by the
name of Cross. She is positive you took my letter, and I want it."

"Preposterous! Why should I take your letter?"

"I don't know. But I was expecting a money order from my aunt, and if
it was in the letter I want it."

"Did you follow me to here?" asked Andy Cross, nervously.

"I came down to the post-office, yes, for that is where they cash money
orders."

"Well, I haven't your money order, and that is all there is to it. Let
go of my arm."

For Charles Shotmore had clutched the sharper while they were
conversing.

At that moment Robert came out of the drug store. On catching sight of
Cross in the grasp of another, he paused in wonder.

"Something is wrong," he thought, and drew closer to the pair.

"I am of the opinion that you have the money order," said Charles
Shotmore. "If you are an honest man you will not object to being
searched."

"But I do object!" burst out Andy Cross, fiercely, and tried to wrench
himself loose. He had almost succeeded when Robert came to Charles
Shotmore's assistance.

"I'll help you hold him, sir," he said quietly, but firmly.

"Let go, boy!" fumed the sharper. "Let go, or it will be the worse for
you!"

"I'll not let go." Robert turned to the other man. "Do you know this
fellow, sir?"

"Perhaps I had better ask you that question," returned Charles
Shotmore, cautiously.

"I was at the post-office a while ago and he wanted me to identify him.
He said his name was Charles Shotmore."

"Why, that is my name."

"He had a money order he wished to have cashed."

"My money order, I'll wager a new hat. You villain. I have caught you
just in time," and Charles Shotmore clutched Cross tighter than before.

It must be confessed that the sharper was nonplussed, for he had not
expected to have Shotmore follow him up thus rapidly.

"This is--er--a--a great mistake," he stammered.

"I guess it was a mistake--for you," said Shotmore grimly.

"If I--I have the letter, I took it by mistake," went on Andy Cross.
"Sometimes I have violent headaches, and during those periods I do the
most extraordinary things."

"Indeed!" sneered Charles Shotmore. "Never mind the headaches, just you
hand over the money order."

As he spoke he slipped his hand into Cross' breast pocket and drew
forth the letter.

"Mine, sure enough!" he ejaculated.

"Is the money order in it?" questioned Robert.

"Yes. My boy, you have done me a valuable service."

"I am glad of it."

"I really believe I ought to have this rascal arrested."

"I think you are justified, Mr. Shotmore. It's bad policy to have such
dishonest persons running around loose."

"Arrest me?" gasped Andy Cross. "If you have me arrested you will make
the greatest mistake of your lives."

"I'll risk it," said Charles Shotmore.

He started to look around for an officer.

As he did so, Andy Cross gave a pull and freed himself from both
Shotmore and Robert. Then he dashed into the street, among the cars and
trucks going in both directions.

"Hi! stop him!" cried Shotmore. "Police! Police!"

Robert at once took up the chase. Soon Shotmore joined in. But Andy
Cross was fleet of foot, and fear lent speed to his feet. By the time
the other side of the crowded thoroughfare was gained he was nowhere to
be seen.

"He's disappeared," panted Robert, coming to a halt at the corner.

"So I see," returned Charles Shotmore. "He could run, couldn't he?"

"Well, he had something to run for."

"That's right." Shotmore indulged in a low laugh. "I'm glad I got my
letter and money order away from him before he started."

"Do you know him?"

"No more than that he boarded at the same house with me. I fancy he is
an all-round sharper, from what the servant girl said of him."

"Then it's a pity he escaped."

"I may meet him again some day. But I owe you something for your aid."

"You are welcome to whatever I have done for you."

"But I would like to pay you something," persisted Charles Shotmore.

"I don't wish it."

"May I ask your name?"

Robert gave it, and they shook hands.

"I hope we meet again," said the gentleman, and after a few more words
they parted, Shotmore going over to have his money order cashed without
further delay,--he being already known at the post-office.

From the directory in the drug store Robert had obtained Herman
Wenrich's address. The old lumberman lived on the outskirts of the
city, on the other side of the Chicago River, and the youth set off for
the place, little dreaming of what trouble his visit was to bring to
him.



CHAPTER XIX.

AN UNEXPECTED ATTACK.


Andy Cross ran for several blocks after leaving Charles Shotmore and
Robert so unceremoniously. Then he turned into a large office building
and took the elevator to one of the upper floors.

Here he felt himself tolerably safe from pursuit.

He stood at a hall window, which overlooked the street, and gazing down
saw a friend walking along on the opposite sidewalk.

"Jim Huskin," he murmured. "I wonder if he has anything new on?"

Feeling that Shotmore and Robert must have given up the pursuit by this
time, he descended again and hurried after the man he had recognized.

"Hullo, Jim!" he said, as he caught the other by the arm.

Jim Huskin started, half fearing that it was a detective who had
accosted him, for he was wanted for several petty crimes--indeed the
two rascals were well matched, and had committed many a wrong deed
together.

"Andy!" replied Jim Huskin. "How are you?"

"Nothing to brag of," answered Andy Cross.

"Then you haven't been striking it rich lately."

"On the contrary, I've had mighty poor luck. Have you got another
cigar, Jim?" He said this for Huskin was smoking.

"No. I got this out of a gent at the Palmer House. I tried to work him
for a loan, but it was no go."

"Then I reckon you haven't any more money than I."

"I've got a quarter," answered Jim Huskin, frankly.

"You are exactly five cents richer than yours truly."

Both sharpers laughed at this. With them it was "easy come, easy go,"
and temporary poverty did not bother them.

"Perhaps I am five cents richer," went on Jim Huskin. "But I owe my
hotel three weeks' board."

"It's a wonder they let you stay that long."

"I've got a well-filled trunk in my room." And Huskin chuckled and
winked one eye.

"Filled with bricks, eh?"

"No, paving stones--although they are about the same thing. Say, when
the hotel keeper opens that he'll have enough to build on another
addition."

"He won't build it on to accommodate such guests as you."

"I don't suppose he will--and I don't care."

"I am behind two weeks with my landlady. She's sharp after me--but I
don't care. I can't go back, even if I wanted to."

"Had a falling out with somebody?"

"Yes. One of the boarders got a money order and I tried to get it
cashed for him."

"And it didn't work, eh?"

"No, it didn't--and what's more, the man and a boy came close to having
me arrested. I'll tell you what, Jim, I would like to get that boy in
some spot where I could go through his pockets."

"Has he got much?"

"He's got a good silver watch, and I saw him cash money orders at the
post office amounting to one hundred and fifty dollars."

"Phew! that would make a nice haul. Where is the boy?"

"I don't believe he's far off. I left him near the post office."

"Why not look him up?"

"He would recognize me and make trouble."

"Then point him out to me, and I'll see what I can do."

Andy Cross was willing to do this, providing Jim Huskin would "whack
up" with anything which was netted from the proceedings, and the pair
sauntered the way Cross had come.

"There he is now!" cried the sharper presently.

He pointed across the street to where Robert was walking, bound for the
place where Herman Wenrich lived.

"You are sure that's the boy?" asked Huskin.

"I am positive."

"Is the money in his vest pocket?"

"I think he put it in his breast pocket."

"Then I'll soon have it from him, providing I get half a chance."

"You've got to be careful. He's a smart customer, I can tell you that."

"I've never met the boy or man I couldn't work--if I had half a show,"
returned Jim Huskin confidently. "What will you do, follow me?"

"Yes. If you can corner him and want assistance, whistle, and I'll do
all I can," added Andy Cross.

So it was arranged, and a moment later Jim Huskin crossed the street
and placed himself at Robert's heels.

By this time the boy was close to the river, and crossing the bridge at
the foot of the street, he hurried on in the direction where the old
lumberman resided.

"I wonder if he lives over here?" thought Huskin. "If he does I must
tackle him before he reaches home."

Several blocks were passed, and Robert came to a halt on a street
corner.

As he did so Huskin stooped down and pretended to pick up a
handkerchief.

"Excuse me, but you dropped your handkerchief," he said, holding out
the article.

Robert felt in his pocket.

"You are mistaken, the handkerchief is not mine," he answered.

"Is that so? Why, I was sure you dropped it." And Jim Huskin appeared
much surprised. "It's a pretty good article," he continued. "I guess
I'll keep it."

"You might as well--if you can't find the owner."

"I once had a funny thing happen with a handkerchief," went on Jim
Huskin, as he ranged up alongside of Robert when the boy started off
again. "A lady dropped hers in a street car. I picked it up, and as I
did so, out rolled, what do you think?"

"I'm sure I cannot imagine."

"A set of false teeth. The lady had been wiping her mouth and the
teeth had dropped into the handkerchief. Maybe both of us weren't
embarrassed. The lady got as red as a beet, and left the car at the
very next corner." And Jim Huskin laughed loudly. "A good joke, wasn't
it?"

"Perhaps for the others in the car; not for the lady," answered Robert,
yet he could not help smiling.

"Live down this way?" asked the sharper carelessly.

"No, I am a stranger in this part of Chicago. I am looking for Grandon
street."

"Grandon Street. I can take you there easily enough. I own property on
that street."

"Do you? Then perhaps you can take me to number 238--that is, if you
are going there now."

"Yes, I was bound there--to see one of my tenants who talks of moving.
Number 238 is less than a block from my houses. I think the Nelsons
live at 238,--or is it the Romers."

"I am looking for a man named Herman Wenrich--an old lumberman from
Michigan."

"Oh, yes, to be sure. I know him fairly well. Doesn't he live in the
house with the Nelsons,--or maybe it's next door?"

"I don't know who he lives with, or if he lives alone. He is a stranger
to me. I want to see him on a little business."

"And you have never been in this part of Chicago before?"

"No."

Jim Huskin turned his head to conceal a smile. "I reckon I can lead him
where I please now," he thought. Then he looked back, to see Andy Cross
following them at a distance of less than a block.

Several squares were covered, and Huskin took Robert around a corner
into a street which was little better than an alleyway.

"This is a short cut," he said. "The street is all torn up a bit
further on, and unless we go this way we will have to walk several
blocks out of our way."

"Any way will suit me," answered Robert. "Only I may have some
difficulty in finding my way back."

"Not if you take the street two blocks to our left."

As they entered the alleyway Jim Huskin began to whistle a lively air.
It was the signal for Andy Cross to draw closer.

"I always whistle when I get here," explained the sharper, glibly,
as he stopped for a second. "I was born and brought up in this
neighborhood, and the scene takes me back to my boyhood days."

Robert was not favorably impressed by the surroundings. On one side
of the alleyway were a number of deserted tenement houses, and on the
other the high brick wall surrounding a factory yard. "He must have
been pretty poor to have lived in one of those shanties," thought the
boy.

"In those days these houses were well kept, and where the factory
stands was a pretty open lot," said Huskin, as if reading his thoughts.
"Everything is changed now. Will you mind my stopping at one of the
houses for a minute? An old negro lives here, and I want to see if he
is sick."

"All right."

Jim Huskin entered one of the tenements, to find it as he expected,
deserted.

"Say, just look here a minute!" he cried, coming to the front door.
"What do you think is the matter with this poor fellow?"

Wondering what was up, Robert advanced and entered the hallway of the
tenement.

The light was poor, and for several seconds he could see but little.

"I don't see anybody--" he began, when, without warning, Jim Huskin
leaped upon him and caught him by the arm and collar.

"Give me that money and your watch!" he cried, harshly. "Give it to me
instantly, or it will be the worse for you."



CHAPTER XX.

THE ESCAPE OF CROSS AND HUSKIN.


For the moment Robert was dumfounded, for he had not dreamed that this
pleasant stranger was about to attack him.

"Do you hear? Give me that money," repeated Huskin, and tightened his
grip.

"Let me go!" returned Robert. "Would you rob me?"

"I want that money you drew out of the post-office. And I want it
instantly."

"I won't give you a cent," cried Robert, and began to struggle with all
the strength at his command.

Although but a boy, he was strong, and soon it looked as if he might
break away in spite of all the sharper could do to hold him. Seeing
this, Huskin whistled loudly three times,--a signal that Andy Cross
must join him at once.

The signal had scarcely come to an end when Andy Cross pushed his way
into the hallway.

"Quick--hold him!" shouted Jim Huskin. "He's a regular eel."

"I've got him," answered Andy Cross, and caught Robert from behind, and
soon his bony fingers were pressing themselves directly into the poor
youth's windpipe, so that it looked as if Robert would be choked to
death.

Robert could not see Cross, but he recognized the sharper's voice, and
at once came to the conclusion that the two men had laid a plot to rob
him.

Nearly strangled, he let go his hold of Huskin, and tried to break Andy
Cross' grip.

The moment Jim Huskin felt himself free he wrenched Robert's watch and
chain from their fastening and placed them in his own pocket.

Then he dove into the boy's coat.

"Let--let me go!" spluttered Robert. "Help! thiev----"

He could go no farther, for now his wind was cut off entirely. All grew
black before his eyes, and it was only in a hazy fashion that he felt
Huskin snatch the money from where he had placed it with care.

"Got what you want?" asked Andy Cross.

"Yes."

"Sure about the money?"

"Here is a package of five and ten dollar bills."

"That's it. And the watch?"

"Safe."

"Then we had better make tracks."

"Ram his head against the wall first. We don't want him to give the
alarm too soon."

Andy Cross understood what Huskin meant, and between them the sharpers
raised the boy's body up and threw him with great violence against the
hard wall close at hand.

The shock landed mainly upon Robert's head, as was intended, and with a
groan, the youth sank down in a heap unconscious.

"I guess he's done for," said Cross.

"He is for a while, anyway," responded Huskin. "Come, the sooner we get
out of this neighborhood the better off we will be."

Running to the doorway of the tenement, both sharpers peered forth.

"A man is coming!" cried Cross.

"Let us get out by the back way," said his companion.

They hurried back past Robert, and into the kitchen.

Here, to their surprise, a fire was burning in a dilapidated stove.

"Hullo! I thought this place was deserted," ejaculated Jim Huskin, in
astonishment.

"We must not be caught," added Cross. "Here is a back door and another
alleyway."

The door was unlocked, and they slipped outside. Soon the rascals had
placed several blocks between themselves and the scene of the nefarious
encounter.

Meanwhile the man coming up the alleyway paused at the tenement.

He lived in the place, paying no rent. He was very old, and could
hardly walk, and his eyesight was poor.

He had been to the corner grocery to buy himself a few of the
necessities of life.

Entering the semi-dark hallway he shambled along until his foot struck
Robert's body.

"Why, what can this be?" he muttered, and bent over that he might see.

He was greatly amazed to find a boy there, suffering from a slight cut
over one eye, from which the blood was flowing.

"Something is wrong," he thought. "Has the lad met with foul play?"

He was half of a mind to summon the police, but was afraid he could not
find an officer short of six or seven blocks off.

Setting down his basket, he raised up Robert's head. As he did this,
our hero gave a groan and a shiver.

"Don't, don't hit me again," he murmured. "Don't!"

"I ain't hit ye," answered the old man. "How did ye git here?"

But Robert did not answer, having relapsed again into unconsciousness.

Not without considerable trouble did the old man bring some cold water
and bathe Robert's face, and bind up the wound with an old towel. He
carried the boy to the kitchen and set him down on a worn-out lounge.

"How do you feel?" he asked as Robert opened his eyes and stared around
him.

"Where are they--the rascals?" asked Robert. He was completely
bewildered.

"Who do you mean?"

"I mean the men who attacked me."

"I don't know anything about 'em. I found ye in the hallway in a heap."

"Two men attacked me and robbed me."

"Gee shoo! Did they git much?"

"Yes." Robert gave a groan. "They got my watch and over a hundred and
fifty dollars."

At this announcement the eyes of Lemuel Branley almost started from
their sockets.

"A hundred and fifty dollars!"

"Yes; and a watch worth twenty-five more."

"What was ye a-doing with so much money about ye?"

"I was expecting to use the most of it to buy something with. So you
didn't see the men?"

Lemuel Branley shook his head.

"They couldn't have left so long ago."

"Then they didn't go out by the front door, for I was at the top of the
alleyway quite a spell."

"Is there a rear way out?"

"Yes; and come to think of it, the back door was wide open when I first
came in for the water."

"Then they went out that way."

There was a pause.

"Did you know them?" asked the old man, curiously.

"I knew one of them in a way. The other introduced himself to me while
I was on my way over here."

And Robert related how he had fallen in with Jim Huskin, and how the
sharper had gotten him to enter the tenement hallway.

"You're lucky to escape with your life," said Lemuel Branley. "You
don't know how bad some of the criminals in Chicago are."

"I must try to get on their track. I can't afford to lose my money,
nor the watch, either." And Robert's face grew serious. The watch was
the one his father had given him, and without the money how was he to
purchase the map Dick Marden was so anxious to possess?

"You'll have to hustle to find them rogues, to my way of thinking,"
said Lemuel Branley. "Like as not they'll quit Chicago just as soon as
possible."

Robert stood up. He felt strangely weak and far from able to pursue
anybody.

"Can you call a policeman?" he asked.

"Certainly."

Lemuel Branley made off, and while he was gone the boy brushed off his
clothing and washed himself. Luckily he had a bit of court-plaster in
his pocket, and this he plastered over the cut on forehead, thus doing
away with the ragged towel.

By the time he had finished he felt a little stronger. Soon the old man
came back, followed by a tall, heavy-set officer of the law.

"I saw you and one of the men a while ago," said the policeman,
after our hero had told his story. "The man didn't impress me very
favorably. I rather think I've seen his picture in the rogues'
gallery."

"Then you would know him again?"

"I think I would."

"I wish you would try to hunt him up."

"I will. Will you go along."

Robert was willing, and they left the tenement by the back way, our
hero first thanking Lemuel Branley for what he had done.

But nothing was to be seen of Andy Cross and Jim Huskin, and in an hour
the policeman and the youth gave up the hunt. The officer directed
Robert to the nearest station house, and here the particulars of the
robbery were taken down. A large book of photographs was placed before
Robert, and he soon found Jim Huskin's portrait.

"That's the man," he said.

"You are certain."

"Yes, I would know him out of a thousand."

Andy Cross' photograph could not be found, since he had not yet sat for
the rogues' gallery, even though he richly deserved it.

The officer in charge took down Robert's address, and told our hero if
anything was learned he would let the youth know.

With this small consolation Robert had to be content. He left the
station house much crestfallen.

"Everything seems to be going wrong," he mused. "I do hope those
rascals are caught, and that very soon."



CHAPTER XXI.

ROBERT AND THE OLD LUMBERMAN.


It must be confessed that Robert was in no humor to hunt up Herman
Wenrich.

"Even if I find him, what good will it do, if I can't offer him the
money for the map?" was his mental comment.

Nevertheless, there seemed to be nothing else to do, and so, after a
lunch, he started again for No. 238 Grandon Street.

He was careful where he went this time, and found the thoroughfare
without further difficulty. It was fully eight blocks from the tenement
where he had been robbed.

The number he was searching for was a block away, and as he walked
toward it two men passed him whom he instantly recognized. The men were
Jean Le Fevre and Oscar Hammerditch.

"Well, I declare!" muttered the boy. "Can it be possible that they have
been calling upon Herman Wenrich?"

It certainly would seem so, yet Robert had no way of proving it. Both
the Canadian and the Englishman were walking rapidly, and soon they
passed out of sight around the corner.

Robert found No. 238 Grandon Street a modest dwelling set in the rear
of a tiny garden of flowers. As he entered the garden a girl came out
on the front porch and gazed up and down the street anxiously. She
was probably fifteen years of age, and was pale and thin, as if just
getting over a long sickness, which was the case.

"Does Mr. Herman Wenrich live here?" asked Robert politely, as he
tipped his hat.

"Yes, sir," answered the girl.

"Is he in?"

"He is, but he is not very well."

As she spoke the girl eyed Robert sharply, wondering what he wanted.

"He doesn't look like one of these traveling agents," she thought. She
had been bothered with agents a great deal lately.

"I am sorry to hear Mr. Wenrich is not well," said Robert. "I wished to
see him on a little business."

"May I ask your name?"

"My name is Robert Frost. But he doesn't know me. You might tell him
that I came here at the request of Richard Marden, who is a nephew of
Felix Amberton, of Timberville, Michigan. I wish to see him about a
lumber tract up there."

"Why, that is what those two men came about!" cried the girl.

"You mean the two men I just met on the street?"

"I presume they are the same. The men left but a minute before you
came."

"Can you tell me if they came for a map?"

"Why, yes, they----" The girl stopped short. "I do not know as I have
any right to talk of these things, Mr. Frost. My father might not like
it."

"So Mr. Wenrich is your father."

"Yes. My name is Nettie Wenrich."

Robert bowed. "I certainly would not wish to make any trouble for you,"
he said, with a smile. "But I would like to see your father."

Nettie Wenrich hesitated for a moment. "He looks like a nice boy," she
thought. "I like him better than I did those men."

"Come into the parlor and I will tell father you are here," said she.

Robert found the parlor small but cozy. There were several covered
chairs, some pictures and books, and in one corner stood a small organ.
The youth sat down near a window and waited.

The girl was gone fully five minutes. When she returned her face bore a
puzzled look.

"Father does not know what to make of this," she said. "You say you
came because Mr. Amberton sent you?"

"Mr. Marden sent me. He is Mr. Amberton's nephew and has taken full
charge, now that Mr. Amberton is sick."

"Father says Mr. Hammerditch, one of the men who just called, said Mr.
Amberton sent him for the map."

"What!" cried Robert, leaping to his feet. "That cannot be possible."

"Why?"

"Because those men are enemies of Mr. Amberton. They wish to get some
of his lumber lands away from him."

The girl studied Robert's honest face for a moment.

"I believe you. But it is a queer mix-up," was her comment.

"Perhaps I can explain some things, Miss Wenrich. But I would like to
talk with your father first."

"Very well. But my father is quite sick, and I would not like to have
you excite him."

"I will be careful. But I hope he didn't let them have the map."

"No, he is holding that. They made a proposition to him and he said he
would think it over."

Nettie Wenrich led the way to the second story of the cottage, and to
the front bedchamber. Here, on a snowy couch lay Herman Wenrich, feeble
with age and a malady that had attacked his digestive organs.

"I do not wish to disturb you, Mr. Wenrich," said Robert, after
introducing himself and shaking hands. "But I think it very strange
that I should come here right after those two men I met outside."

"It is strange, lad," responded Herman Wenrich feebly. "I cannot
understand it."

"I think I can safely say that Mr. Amberton never sent them and that he
knows nothing of their coming," continued our hero.

"That makes the whole thing even more strange."

"They wish to get a certain map from you--a map of some lumber lands in
upper Michigan."

"Yes, yes, there is but one map," cried Herman Wenrich. "I have kept it
safely for years."

"Papa, please do not excite yourself," pleaded Nettie Wenrich, coming
to the bedside.

"I am not excited, my child."

"I do not know a great deal about the matter," continued Robert.
"But I do know that those two men, Le Fevre and Hammerditch, are Mr.
Amberton's enemies and not his friends."

"Can you prove that?"

For the instant the youth was nonplussed. Then he thought of Dick
Marden's letter.

"Here is a letter I got from Timberville," he said. "You can read that."

"My eyesight is poor. Nettie, read the letter."

At once the daughter complied. Herman Wenrich listened attentively.

"Ah, yes, I remember this Marden now," he said slowly. "He was the son
of Amberton's youngest sister. Where does he come from?"

"He belongs in California and is a rich miner. But he was brought up
down east--in Vermont, if I remember rightly."

"Exactly--he is Grace Amberton's boy. A good fellow, too--if he takes
after his mother. So Amberton is sick and has put Dick Marden in
charge. Then what those two men told me is a--a string of falsehoods."

"You can see what I am authorized to offer you for the map," said
Robert. "I started for here with the money in my pocket----"

"Stop, Mr. Frost. You do not understand old Herman Wenrich. I am not
thinking to sell the map."

"But you are willing to see justice done to Mr. Amberton, are you not?"

"Yes, yes--full justice--for he deserves it. He could have had the map
before, but it affected some land of mine--which I have since sold."

"Then you will let him have the map!" exclaimed Robert, much delighted.
"I will pay----"

"Not a cent, my lad, not a cent. He can have it and welcome.
But--but----"

"But what, sir?"

"I must be dead sure, as they say, of what I am doing. You look honest
enough, but so did those men."

"Those men didn't look very honest to me," came from Nettie Wenrich,
who had taken a strong liking to Robert, and it must be admitted that
the feeling was reciprocated. "I could not bear that Englishman."

"I cannot blame you for being suspicious," said Robert gravely. "I wish
I had been so this morning. I might have saved my watch and some of
my money." He did not feel called upon to state that he had lost the
amount which was to be paid over to Herman Wenrich for the map.

Of course he had to tell his story--or, at least, a part of it. Nettie
Wenrich was quite affected.

"It was too bad!" she cried. "I hope you get your watch and money back
and succeed in sending those bad men to prison."

"I will tell you what I will do," said Herman Wenrich, after several
minutes of silent thinking. "Let Felix Amberton send me a written order
to deliver the map to you and I will do so."

"That is fair," said Robert. "No honest person could ask more at your
hands. But what of those two men? They are to call again, I believe."

"I will put them off, for, say three days. You ought to be able to get
your order by that time."

"Perhaps I can get it sooner, but I wish you would make it four days.
There may be some delay, especially if Mr. Amberton is very ill."

"Very well, we will make it four days then," said Herman Wenrich, and
thanking him for his kindness Robert withdrew and followed Nettie
Wenrich downstairs.

"Do your father and you live here alone?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I hope he gets well soon," said the youth gravely, and his voice was
full of a sympathy which went straight to the girl's heart.

"I am afraid he will never get well," answered Nettie, and the tears
sprang into her eyes.

He took her hand and shook it warmly. "You must hope for the best," he
said. And then, as she looked straight into his clear, honest eyes, he
added, "If I can ever be of service to you don't hesitate to call upon
me."

And a minute later he was gone.



CHAPTER XXII.

A CLEVER CAPTURE.


As Robert was approaching his boarding house he ran into Livingston
Palmer, valise in hand, bound for the theater.

"I'm off," said Palmer. "Our company leaves town to-day."

"Well, I wish you every success."

"Have you struck anything yet?" asked Palmer curiously.

"I have and I haven't. I've got a letter from Mr. Marden requesting me
to come to Timberville in Michigan."

"It wouldn't suit me to bury myself in such a hole."

"I don't know that I will stay there any great length of time. I am to
go up on a little private business."

"I see. Well, I must hurry. What time have you?"

"No time at all. My watch is gone."

"Hullo! Do you mean to say you've had to pawn it already. I thought
you were one of the saving kind, to look out for a rainy day."

"The watch was stolen from me."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, and some of my money went with it."

"That's too bad, Robert," and Palmer's face was full of real sympathy.

"It is bad."

"I would loan you some money if I had it. But the truth is, I'm broke
excepting for a couple of dollars that Jack Dixon advanced me on my
salary."

"Thank you, Livingston, but I am not quite broke, even if I have been
robbed."

"I'm glad to hear it. Now I am off, or I will be left behind."

And with a hearty grasp of Robert's hand the would-be actor hurried
down the street. Robert gazed after him meditatingly.

"I hope his engagement proves all he wishes," he thought. "But I am
afraid he is running up against a tremendous disappointment."

Retiring to his room, Robert wrote a long letter to Dick Marden,
telling of the receipt of the money orders and of his interview with
Herman Wenrich. He also mentioned Le Fevre and Hammerditch and asked
for the order from Felix Amberton for the map. At first he thought to
put in about the stolen money and the watch, but then reconsidered the
matter.

"I'll wait, since the map is not to be paid for," he said to himself.
"Perhaps the police will catch the sharpers. If the worst comes to the
worst I guess I can scrape up enough money to take me to Timberville
without applying to Mr. Marden for more."

The letter finished, Robert went down to the post-office to post it.
There now seemed nothing to do but to wait, and he returned to his
boarding house worn out with the exertions of the day.

A good sleep made the youth feel much better, and while he was eating
his breakfast he began to deliberate upon what to do during the time in
which he would have to wait for an answer from his miner friend.

The front door bell rang, and presently he heard somebody ask to see
the landlady of the house.

"Please, mum, a gentleman to see you," said Mary, coming into the
dining room.

Mrs. Gibbs, the landlady, went into the parlor at once, thinking the
newcomer might be somebody for board.

"This is the landlady?" asked the man, bowing.

"Yes, I am Mrs. Gibbs."

"I am looking for a nice, quiet boarding place," went on the newcomer.
"Have you any vacant rooms?"

"I have one room vacant, but it is on the third floor."

"Is it a nice, quiet room?"

"It is in the rear and looks out on a small private garden. I think you
will find it quiet enough."

"I cannot stand a noise. I used to board on the other side of the city,
but there was a factory in the neighborhood and the rumble set me wild."

"We have no noises of that kind here."

"And what do you ask for board and room?"

"With one person in the room my charges are ten dollars per week. If
two gentlemen take the room together the rate is eight dollars each."

"I prefer to be alone, madam."

"I will show you the room," said Mrs. Gibbs, moving toward the door. "I
am sure you will find it as nice as any for the price."

"I think so myself--for the house shows it," replied the man, with a
glance around at the well-kept parlor.

Mrs. Gibbs led the way into the hall. As she did so Robert came out of
the dining room.

The man glanced carelessly at our hero and then fell back as if he had
received a shock.

Then Robert uttered a cry of amazement.

"You!" he gasped, and rushing forward caught the man by the arm.

"Let go of me, young man!" cried the man savagely.

"I will not," answered Robert firmly. "I know you, and I am going to
hand you over to the police."

At these words Mrs. Gibbs uttered a little shriek.

"Oh, Mr. Frost, what can this mean?" she demanded.

"It means that this man is a thief," declared Robert. "I met him in the
post-office yesterday, where he saw me cash several money orders. After
that he and a confederate robbed me of both money and my watch."

At these words the face of Andy Cross--for it was really he--became a
study.

The sharper had not dared to go back to his former boarding house.
He had calculated to find some new victim and to keep "shady" by
pretending to be too ill to leave his room for several days. Now his
little game was knocked completely in the head.

"He is a thief?" ejaculated the landlady. "Oh, my! and to think I was
going to take him in to board!"

And the good old lady appeared ready to faint.

"There is some strange mistake here," said Andy Cross. "Young man, how
dare you call me a thief!"

"I dare to because it is the truth."

"Do you know who I am?"

"You are what I just called you."

"I have a strong inclination to knock you down, but I will try to curb
my temper, as all Christian people should. I am Ralph Goodwill, the son
of the Reverend Amos Goodwill, of Denver. I have come to Chicago to
complete my studies for the ministry."

"You'll have to turn over a new leaf before you become a minister,"
answered Robert.

"Evidently you do not believe me."

"Why should I? You are a thief, and you cannot humbug me into believing
otherwise."

"Mr. Frost, there may be some mistake," put in the landlady timidly.

"There is no mistake, Mrs. Gibbs. Did you ever see a seminary student
sporting such a suit of clothing."

"Well--er--I don't know as to that."

"The suit is one I picked up in the slums," said Andy Cross glibly.
"I have been doing some work there, assisted by some Salvation Army
people. You can work better among the poor, lost ones if you are
dressed like them," he added softly.

"Yes, yes, I presume that is so," said Mrs. Gibbs, who was somewhat
interested in slum work herself.

"He is an out and out fraud," said Robert, as firmly as ever. "Mrs.
Gibbs, will you send Mary to call a policeman? I will be responsible
for the arrest."

"But if there is a mistake----"

"Haven't I said that I will be responsible? I am not going to let him
escape if I can help it."

At that moment the front door opened, to admit one of the lady
boarders. Robert stepped back to let her pass, and as he did so Andy
Cross wrenched himself free and leaped for the door.

"Stop!" cried Robert. "Stop!"

"Go to blazes!" snarled the sharper, and pulling the door back, he
leaped out on the piazza.

Our hero's blood was up and he was determined that Cross should not
escape him again.

He, too, leaped for the doorway, and as the sharper gained the piazza
Robert put out his foot to trip him up.

The movement was far more successful than anticipated.

Down went Andy Cross on his knees, and before he could recover he went
down the steps, bump! bump! bump! to the sidewalk.

The wind was knocked completely out of him, and he was sadly bruised
about the head, while the blood spurted from his nose in a stream.

"Oh! oh! I'm killed!" he moaned, as he sat up.

"If you were, you wouldn't be able to groan over it," answered Robert.
"Stay where you are, if you know when you are well off."

"Don't have me arrested," pleaded the sharper. The unexpected fall had
taken all his self-possession from him.

At that moment a policeman showed himself at the corner, and Robert
called to him to come up.

"What's the trouble?" demanded the officer of the law.

Seeing to it that Andy Cross did not get away, Robert told his story.

"Yes, I have the report of the robbery," said the policeman. "You were
lucky to fall in with him."

In vain the sharper protested that he was innocent. The policeman
marched him off to the nearest station house.

Here he was examined and searched, and fifty dollars of Robert's
money was found in the envelope which our hero had obtained at the
post-office.

"What of the rest of the money and the watch?" asked Robert.

Seeing there was no help for it, Andy Cross made a confession. He
stated that Jim Huskin had kept both the timepiece and the rest of the
money, and left Chicago the night before.

"And where did he go?" asked Robert.

"He took a steamer for Muskegon, Michigan," answered Andy Cross.

"Muskegon!" cried our hero. And then he said no more. But he was filled
with interest, for he had thought to journey to Timberville by way of a
steamer to the town named and then by railroad for the balance of the
journey.

"We will look this matter up and telegraph to the authorities at
Muskegon," said the officer who was examining Cross. "If we learn
anything we will let you know."

This ended the matter for the time being, and Andy Cross was locked up.
Robert returned to his boarding house, feeling lighter in both heart
and mind than he had a couple of hours before.



CHAPTER XXIII.

PALMER'S UNFORTUNATE DEBUT.


It had made James Talbot feel very bitter to think that should his wife
die the Frost fortune would go entirely to his step-son.

"He doesn't deserve a cent of it--with his impudence to me and his
running away from home," he said to himself. "The money ought to come
to me."

The more he thought over the matter the more bitter did he become. He
tried to think of some way by which he could alter the conditions of
Mr. Frost's will, but nothing came to his mind that was satisfactory.

Of course he did not dare show his wife his real feelings. She was
still angry over the lost letter, and he was afraid of causing an open
rupture.

He concluded to do everything he could to win her good graces, and then
question her again about the will and the property. Perhaps he might be
able, he thought, to get control of the money lying in the bank, which
amounted to about thirty thousand dollars.

"Once I get control of that," he told himself, "Robert can whistle for
his share. I'll run away to Europe before I'll give it up."

The first thing he did was to buy Mrs. Talbot a new bonnet, since he
had heard that a woman will be pleased over a new bonnet, if over
nothing else. The lady, however, received the gift rather coldly.

"It is very nice," she said. "But I do not need it, James."

"Never mind, my love, I want my wife to look as good as or better than
any lady in Granville."

"Thank you, but I never tried to set the fashion."

"I know that. But you should--with so much money behind you."

"The money is for Robert, not for me." And Mrs. Talbot sighed as she
thought of her son, and wondered how he was faring.

"Always the boy," thought James Talbot savagely. "Will she never forget
him?"

"There is going to be a play at the opera house to-night," he said
sweetly. "I would like you to go. You can wear the new bonnet, if you
will."

"Thank you. What is the play, James?"

"'All for Love,' a romance of high life in New York. The newspaper says
it is a good play."

"The newspapers cannot always be depended upon. Do you know anything of
the company?"

"It is the Dixon Combination Comedy Company of Chicago."

"I never heard of it."

"I am afraid, my love, that you do not keep very good track of
theatrical affairs."

"I like to read about the good ones in the papers."

"This company has some very good advertising. One of the bills says
they carry ten star actors and actresses. I am sure you will like the
play."

"I will go if you wish me to," answered Mrs. Talbot, although she was
doubtful if she would enjoy the performance. During the time Mr. Frost
had been living, husband and wife had gone to both the theater and to
the concert, but only to the very best. But Mr. Talbot had no taste for
such things, and an ordinary performance pleased him about as well as
one which was far superior.

There had been no show in Granville for over two weeks. Consequently
when the doors of the opera house were opened that night, the
fair-sized hall became crowded in short order.

The Dixon Combination Comedy Company was entirely unknown, and for good
reason--it had never existed until two weeks previous to the opening at
Granville.

Jack Dixon, the manager, had been a "hanger-on" among theatrical people
for several years, and having received several hundred dollars through
the death of a rich aunt, had at once set to work to put a company of
his own on the road.

The man meant well, but he knew very little about the business, as was
proved by his hiring Livingston Palmer and several others who were no
better actors.

Rehearsals had been backward and unsatisfactory from the start, and the
combination would have done much better had it held back for another
week for practice before appearing in public.

But everyone was anxious to make a hit, and nobody thought failure
possible.

"We will carry the town by storm," said the leading man, a fellow by
the name of Caster. He had been on the boards for several years, but
had never before risen to a position higher than that of being a member
of a stock company attached to a dime museum.

"Yes, we will show them what real acting is," answered Livingston
Palmer. "To-morrow the newspapers will be full of complimentary
notices."

At quarter to eight the orchestra, consisting of a piano player, a
violinist, a flutist, and a cornetist, struck up on the overture, and
at eight o'clock sharp the curtain went up on the first act of "All for
Love."

The scene represented Fifth avenue, in New York--at least, so the
programme said,--although it is doubtful if anybody living on that
fashionable thoroughfare would have recognized the locality. People
were coming and going, and doing this as if their lives depended upon
it, the same person appearing and disappearing every half minute or so.

In the crowd was a girl who was supposed to be a companion to a rich
old lady. As she stood waiting for something, the villain of the play,
a fashionably-dressed man, came up and tried to tempt her into stealing
the rich lady's jewels. While this was going on the butler of the
lady's mansion appeared and overheard the plot.

The acting was crude from the start, but at the opening of a play few
people pay much attention, and it was not until Livingston Palmer
appeared as the spying butler that the audience began to grow attentive.

"Ha, what is this I hear!" cried Palmer, as he peered forth from
behind a dry goods box set up against a building marked Hotel.
"She is plotting to rob my mistress. Base woman that she is, I
will--will--will----"

Palmer should have said, "I will expose her to Mrs. Ulmer and have her
arrested," but the words would not come, for he had caught sight of
the hundreds of faces in the audience and become stage-frightened in
consequence.

"I will--will--I will----" he stammered, trying again.

"Will you?" came a voice from the gallery. "All right, Willie!"

There was a laugh and then a hiss.

"I will expose her," whispered the prompter, who stood in the
prompter's box with the book of the play in his hand.

"I will--will expose her!" burst out Livingston Palmer. "I will
expose her, base--I mean--I will expose her to be arrested--to--by--I
mean--Mrs. Ulmer shall arrest her!" and then he fell back out of
sight, and all but overcome.

At once the prompter ran up to him.

"You fool!" he whispered wildly. "That wasn't right. You've ruined the
scene."

"Have I?" asked Palmer, in awe-stricken tones. "Oh, I--I--something
slipped my mind. But--but I'll be all right in the next scene."

"I hope so. Better study your lines before you go on."

"I will," answered the would-be actor, and began to study as never
before.

In the meantime the scene went on, the actors reciting their lines
without a break, but with so little dramatic action that scarcely
anyone in the audience was interested.

"Do you like it, my love?" asked James Talbot, who sat beside his wife
in one of the orchestra rows.

"No, it is very stupid so far," answered Mrs. Talbot.

"The next act may be better, Sarah. The best plays rarely start well."

"That young man missed his part entirely," was Mrs. Talbot's comment.

The second act of the play represented the drawing room of Mrs. Ulmer's
mansion. There was at first a love scene which promised very well.
But the lover in the play was as nervous as he might have been in real
life, and when he started to kiss his lady-love good-by, he smacked her
so warmly that his false mustache fell off into her lap.

"Oh!" she cried, and there was a roar of laughter from the audience.

The lover snatched the mustache up in a trice and hurried off as if he
was leaving an enemy, instead of her whose heart he was supposed to
have won.

The rich old lady came in, supported on the arm of her nephew, a
captain of the regular army. The captain was wearing his sword, but he
was not used to the weapon, and it got tangled up between his legs more
than once, and came near to upsetting him.

"Take it off!" cried a voice from the gallery. Of course a laugh
followed the bit of advice.

The captain was about to conclude an important interview with his rich
aunt, when the butler walked in with a tray, on which were a bottle
supposed to contain wine, and two glasses.

"Be careful there, Willie, or you'll drop the tray!" cried the voice
from the gallery.

"Will--he?" said another voice, with an attempt at a pun.

"Ah, so this is honest John!" exclaimed the captain, turning to the
butler. "John, what have you to say to the captain who used to go
horseback riding on your foot?"

"I'm glad to see you, sir," said Livingston Palmer. "Very glad, sir."
Then he took a deep breath, and started again, so that his next lines
might not escape him. "Mrs. Ulmer, Ihavea secret to tell." He meant, "I
have a secret to tell," but some of his words ran one into another.

"A secret, John. What can it be?"

"You'retoberobb'd, yes, madam, youretobe robb'd."

"Robbed!"

"Yes, madam, robb'd. Oneyou have fondly robbed intendsto loveyou."

A shout went up at this, a shout that speedily became a roar. Of course
Palmer meant to say, "One you have fondly loved intends to rob you,"
but he was hopelessly bewildered, and hardly knew what he was doing.
For once his self-confidence had entirely left him.

"Go! I will not believe it!" cried the rich lady. "Leave my sight!"

"Yes, madam, Iwillgo, but--but----" Livingston Palmer stared around
wildly. He wanted to add, "I can prove what I have to say," but the
words became mixed as before. "Icansay--whatIcanprove--I mean, I
provetosay what I can--I can say what Icansay----"

"Then go and say it!" yelled somebody from the gallery. "Say it, and
give somebody else a chance to talk."

"Say, but this is a bum company," added somebody else.

"Worst I ever saw!" came from a third party. And then followed a storm
of hisses. In the midst of this Palmer hurried from the stage. At once
Dixon collared him.

"Palmer, what do you mean by this?" demanded the manager. "Have you
lost your wits?"

"No, but--but--it's awful to have so many folks staring at you, and
cat-calling, too."

"You spoiled both acts."

"I did my best," pleaded Livingston Palmer.

"Then you'll never make an actor if you live to be a hundred years,"
responded Jack Dixon, and with this cold cut he walked off, leaving
Palmer the picture of misery and despair.

But the scene was not yet ended, and scarcely had Dixon turned away
when there came another roar and a hiss. The unfortunate captain had
fallen down with his sword between his feet. In trying to pick himself
up he had upset a small table, scattering the books thereon in every
direction. His wig came off, and when he managed to gain his feet once
more it was found that his coat was split up the back for a foot and
over.

"They are a disgrace to the opera house!" came the cry.

"They are no good!"

"Let us give 'em something to remember us by!"

The last suggestion was greeted with a wild assent, and soon half a
dozen different articles landed on the stage, including the core of an
apple and a half-decayed orange. In the midst of the uproar a number
of the audience started to leave and the drop curtain came down with a
bang.



CHAPTER XXIV.

PALMER CALLS UPON ROBERT'S MOTHER.


Among the first to leave the opera house were Mrs. Talbot and her
husband.

"I have had quite enough of this," said the lady to James Talbot. "The
company and the play are both very poor."

"Perhaps you are right," he admitted. "I must say I looked for
something much better myself. That poor butler couldn't act at all."

"He was dumstruck," said Mrs. Talbot, and felt compelled to laugh.
"Poor fellow, he ought to go at some other line of work."

They were soon on the way home. Mr. Talbot had ordered a carriage to
come for them when the performance was over, but this was not at hand,
so they were forced to walk.

"I didn't make much by taking her out to-night," said the schemer to
himself. "Next time I'll have to make sure that I am taking her to
something that is really first-class."

When the pair reached home James Talbot wished his wife to come into
the sitting-room, to talk over their business affairs. The fact of the
matter was, he was running short of money, and he desired his wife to
make him an advance.

"I have something of a headache, James," she said. "I think I had
better retire early."

"I will not detain you long, my love," he answered.

Soon they were in the sitting-room and the lady dropped into an easy
chair. He could not sit down, but began to walk up and down nervously.

"I hate very much to mention the matter to you, Sarah," he began, "but
the fact is, a remittance from a man in Chicago who owes me quite some
money has been delayed, and this has cut me short."

"Do you want money?"

"If you can spare it, I would like to have a hundred dollars or so
until the remittance comes."

"Very well, you can have it in the morning," answered Mrs. Talbot
quietly.

James Talbot had told her before they were married that he was fairly
well-to-do, but since they had become man and wife she had not seen a
dollar of his money.

It was true, he had a little money, or had had it, but the amount was
less than a thousand dollars, and it was now tied up in a speculation
that promised little or no return. James Talbot had no head for
business, and even his wife was beginning to find that out. He could
be miserly, but miserliness is not true economy. He pretended to deal
in real estate, but he was too shiftless and lazy to apply himself to
steady work.

"I will be all right as soon as the money comes," went on Talbot
cheerfully. "After this I trust I shall never have to trouble you
again."

"How is the real estate business progressing?" she asked.

"Fairly well. Granville is not a booming town."

"I know that."

"I am half of a mind to try my luck in Chicago. That is where they make
fortunes in real estate every year."

"Perhaps; but they have to have a large capital to start on."

"Exactly, my love. But with a large capital it is a dead sure thing,
for it cannot burn up, cannot be stolen from you, and constantly
increases in value. What do you think of my plan to start in Chicago?"

"I am sure I have no objection, although I am comfortably situated
here."

"You could keep this home if you wished--at least, at first, and I
could come out every Saturday afternoon and remain until Monday. The
trouble is, the venture would require quite some capital."

"I presume it would."

"If I had five or ten thousand dollars to spare, I would start at once."

"Haven't you that much, James?" she asked, with interest.

"Not in ready money. My cash is tied up in investments. But you could
loan me the amount, couldn't you, my love?"

Mrs. Talbot's face flushed, and her eyes sought the floor. She had been
afraid that this was what was coming.

"I--I suppose so," she faltered, hardly knowing what to say.

"Of course you would be secured. I would see to that."

"Yes, James, I would want that. For the money is to go to Robert, you
know."

His face fell. "The boy always!" he thought. "Oh, I wish he would never
be heard from again!"

"But if I make a barrel of money out of my investments, that must go to
you," he said aloud.

"No, you shall keep the money," she replied. "I have as much as I will
ever need."

In a few minutes more Mrs. Talbot retired. James Talbot walked the
sitting-room floor with considerable satisfaction.

"Ten thousand dollars will be a nice sum," he mused, rubbing his horny
hands together. "Robert, eh? Well, he'll never see the cash, I'll give
James Talbot's word on that! It will be several years before he becomes
of age, and who knows how much more of the fortune will come my way
before that time?"

The morning paper contained a long and semi-humorous account of the
performance of "All for Love." It said the actors and actresses were
probably well-meaning amateurs who had yet much to learn before they
would become successful in their profession. They advised the butler in
the play to perfect himself in the part of a stuttering comedian! By
the account it was evident that the play had come to a conclusion in a
perfect uproar, and that many in the audience had demanded their money
back.

James Talbot had gone off to his real estate office, to perfect his
plans for opening up in Chicago, when the door-bell rang and Jane
announced a visitor to see Mrs. Talbot.

"He gives his name as Livingston Palmer," said Jane.

"Livingston Palmer?" mused the lady of the house. "Why, where have
I heard that before? Oh, I remember now. It was on that theatrical
programme," and she looked it up to make sure. "He was that butler who
started all the trouble. What can he want of me?"

She descended to the parlor to greet her visitor. Livingston Palmer was
seated on the edge of a chair, his face far more careworn than ever
before, and his clothing much soiled and torn.

"Good-morning," he said humbly. "This is Mrs. Talbot, who used to be
Mrs. Frost, I believe."

"Yes," she answered.

"I am a stranger to you, madam, but I come from Chicago, and I am well
acquainted with your son Robert."

"Indeed!" cried Mrs. Talbot, and her whole manner changed. "Is Robert
in Chicago?"

"He is--or at least he was when I left there, two days ago."

"Can you tell me what he is doing?"

"He and I were clerks in a cut-rate ticket office. But a fire threw us
both out of employment."

"And you joined a theatrical company," added Mrs. Talbot.

"How do you know that?"

"I was at the opera house last night and saw you on the stage."

For once in his life Livingston Palmer's face grew as red as a beet.

"You--er--witnessed that unfortunate affair," he stammered. "I--I----"

"I thought you were new at acting," said the lady candidly. "It was, as
you say, unfortunate."

"The people used us meanly," exclaimed Palmer. "I was struck in half
a dozen places, and my coat was nearly torn from my back, and in the
struggle to get away I lost my money and could not find it again."

"When was this? I came away at the conclusion of the second act."

"It was after the play was over. A regular mob congregated around the
stage door, and we could scarcely escape with our lives. I never shall
go on the stage again, never!" And Palmer shook his head bitterly. He
meant what he said, and let it be recorded here that he kept his word.



CHAPTER XXV.

ANOTHER TALK ABOUT ROBERT.


Mrs. Talbot saw plainly that Livingston Palmer was suffering, both
from humiliation and from the manner in which he had been treated
physically, and her heart was touched.

"I am very sorry for you, Mr. Palmer," she said. "If there is anything
I can do for you I will do it willingly. But I would first like to hear
something of my son."

"I will tell you all I know," answered the young man quickly. "I was in
hope that Robert's mother might aid me. We have been good friends. He's
a splendid lad."

"Yes, Robert is a good boy and always was. Is he well?"

"Perfectly well, and was, as I said before, doing finely, until the
fire threw us both out."

"How much was he getting a week?"

"Five dollars."

"I do not call that very good," cried Mrs. Talbot. "He cannot live
very well on that in such a city as Chicago."

"He told me he had an allowance besides."

"An allowance?" Mrs. Talbot looked puzzled. "I can't understand that. I
made him no allowance, for he would not permit it. He said he was going
to make his own way in the world."

"Well, I can only tell you what he said," returned Livingston Palmer.

"Will you give me his address, so that I can write to him?"

"Why, haven't you his address? I am sure he wrote to you."

"I never got the letter." And then Mrs. Talbot's face flushed, as she
remembered about the letter her husband had destroyed. Had she been
deceived in the matter, after all?

"Then I will write the address down for you," said Palmer, and did so.

A long talk followed, and the young man told Mrs. Talbot all he knew
about Robert, and also mentioned Dick Marden, but not in such a way
that the lady suspected the allowance Robert received came from the
miner.

Palmer frankly admitted that he was without means of any sort.

"If I were in Chicago, this would not matter so much," he added. "But
in Granville I know nobody but you and the members of our company, or
rather the company to which I belonged. I was discharged, and Dixon
refuses to even give me my carfare back to the city."

"I shall be pleased to give you what you need," replied Mrs. Talbot. "I
am overjoyed to learn that Robert is well. I am going to pay Chicago a
visit soon, and then if he will not come to me I will go to him."

"He will come to you fast enough, madam. It is only his step-father
whom he dreads."

"Yes, yes, I know." Mrs. Talbot thought best to change the subject.
"Will you not have breakfast with me, Mr. Palmer?"

"With pleasure," answered the young man. "But I--er--I would like to
brush and wash up first."

"To be sure." Mrs. Talbot surveyed him critically. "I really believe
some of Robert's clothing would fit you. At least his coat would."

"Yes, his coat would."

"Then I can perhaps replace that torn garment you are wearing."

Mrs. Talbot was as good as her word, and half an hour later Livingston
Palmer came down from the room Robert had occupied, thoroughly brushed
and washed and wearing a coat and vest which had belonged to the
boy. They were rather tight, it is true, but they were almost new,
and a vast improvement over the ragged garments Palmer had worn upon
presenting himself.

A substantial breakfast followed, of fish, omelet, hot rolls, and
coffee, and it is perhaps needless to say that Palmer did full justice
to all that was set before him. And small wonder, for he had eaten
nothing since the afternoon of the day before.

It was nearly noon before the young man prepared to take his departure,
with twenty dollars in his pocket, which he had insisted should be a
loan only, to be paid back as soon as the opportunity afforded.

"I am very grateful to you, Mrs. Talbot," he said, on parting. "You
have treated me like a king. Why Robert should leave such a home and
such a mother I can't understand."

Mrs. Talbot was visibly affected.

"It was entirely on his step-father's account, Mr. Palmer. Robert is
high spirited and would not bend as Mr. Talbot wished."

"Then let me be bold enough to say that I imagine Robert was in the
right."

To this Mrs. Talbot made no reply. But she begged Palmer to keep an
eye on her son, and if anything went wrong to let her know by sending
her a letter in care of the postmaster, and marked for personal
delivery only. Then Palmer hurried away, to catch the first train he
could for the great city by the lakes.

When her visitor was gone Mrs. Talbot sat down to review the situation
in her mind. Her thoughts were not pleasant ones. Her second marriage
was proving to be anything but agreeable. She realized that her husband
was not the man she had imagined him to be.

Dinner was on the table at twelve, for Mr. Talbot insisted on having
his main meal at mid-day. Yet the man did not come in until nearly half
an hour later, and then he appeared to be much put out about something.

"I understand you had a visitor this morning," he began, as he and his
wife sat down to the table, and Jane brought on the food.

"Yes."

"Some friend of that reckless son of yours," went on Mr. Talbot. "What
did Robert send him for, money?"

Mrs. Talbot was surprised.

"How did you learn my visitor was a friend of Robert?" she asked.

"I got it from Sproggens at the depot. He was talking with the fellow
while he was waiting for a train. I hope you didn't encourage him,
Sarah. If the boy sees fit to run away and stay away, let him make his
own way."

"That is just what Robert is doing, James," cried the lady, her face
flushing.

"Then why did Robert send that young man here?"

"He didn't send him here."

"Humph!" James Talbot was on the point of saying that he did not
believe the statement, but cut himself short. If he angered his wife
now he might have trouble in getting the five or ten thousand dollars
she had said she would loan him.

"The young man belonged to that theatrical company we went to see,"
continued Mrs. Talbot. "He knew Robert and so he thought he would call
here and see me."

"What did he have to say about the boy?"

"He said Robert had been doing very well, but a fire burnt out the
office in which he was employed."

"And what is the boy doing now?"

"Nothing, just at present."

"He won't find it easy to get another opening."

"Mr. Palmer said Robert might go up to Michigan in a few days. He had
to do something for a man interested in some timber lands in the upper
part of that State."

"Humph! I shouldn't wonder if the boy came home soon. He'll get tired
of roughing it."

"Robert has a stout heart, Mr. Talbot, and I doubt if he ever comes
home so long as you are here."

And with these words Mrs. Talbot arose and swept from the dining room,
hardly having touched a mouthful of the food Jane had taken so much
pains to prepare.

James Talbot finished his meal in silence, and ate as heartily as ever,
for seldom did anything interfere with his appetite. From the kitchen
Jane eyed him in a manner which was anything but agreeable.

"The old gorilla," she said to herself, as she rattled the pans
angrily. "He ought to be thrown out of the house. If it wasn't for the
poor mistress, sure and I wouldn't stay another minute. I wish the
victuals would choke him." And then she vowed that the next time she
fixed the dessert she would make Mr. Talbot's portion so bad that he
could not eat it.



CHAPTER XXVI.

ROBERT SPEAKS HIS MIND.


Robert waited for two days for a letter from Dick Marden. In the
meantime he went down to the police station twice to learn if anything
had been found out about Jim Huskin.

"We telegraphed to Muskegon and several other points," said the officer
in charge. "But so far no one has seen the rascal."

In the evening mail of the second day came two letters for the boy,
both of which he perused with great interest.

The first was from his mother, telling of the meeting with Livingston
Palmer, and of what the would-be actor had told her.

    "I am glad to hear that you have not suffered so far, Robert,"
    she wrote. "But I am afraid that the fire may prove an unexpected
    set-back for you, and so I enclose twenty dollars, which may come
    in useful. So far I have received no letter from you, although Mr.
    Palmer says you have written. When you write again send it in care
    of the postmaster, and mark it for personal delivery only. Then I
    am sure Mr. Blarcomb will give it to me and to nobody else."

It may be imagined that Robert was indignant.

"I'll wager old Talbot stole that letter," he told himself. "And I
guess mother thinks as much. Oh, what a mistake she made in marrying
that man! I'll write her another letter this very night." And he did
so, and posted it before retiring. In the communication he told her to
beware of his step-father and not trust him in money matters, as she
might be very sorry for it.

"It's best to open her eyes," he reasoned, "even if it does cause her
pain."

The second letter was from Dick Marden, enclosing the order from Felix
Amberton for the map. In this the old miner urged Robert to obtain the
document at the earliest possible moment.

    "Our enemies are hedging us in and intend to proceed against us in
    the county court in a day or two," he added. "As soon as we get
    the map we will know just where we stand, and our lawyer will know
    exactly what claims he can make. My uncle is of the opinion that
    the other side is making a big bluff in the hope that we will offer
    to compromise."

"I'll go and get the document the first thing in the morning," Robert
told himself. "And if all goes well I'll be on my way to Timberville by
noon."

With the money recovered from Andy Cross, and with what his mother had
sent to him, he now had ample funds for the trip. After writing the
letter to his parent, he packed his valise, that nothing might delay
his start.

A surprise awaited him the next morning just after he had left the
dining room, and while he was telling Mrs. Gibbs that he intended to go
away, to be gone an indefinite time.

"A gentleman to see Mr. Frost," announced the girl, and entering the
parlor Robert found himself confronted by his step-father.

"Good-morning, Robert," said James Talbot, smiling affably and
extending his hand.

"Good-morning, Mr. Talbot," replied our hero coldly. He pretended not
to see the outstretched hand.

"I suppose you are surprised to see me here," began Mr. Talbot
awkwardly.

"I am surprised. How did you learn my address?"

"Never mind that now, Robert. I came to see how you are getting along."

"You ought to know. You got my letter, even if my mother didn't,"
answered Robert bitterly.

"I got no letter, my lad, upon my honor I did not. I came out of pure
friendliness to you."

"Then let me tell you that I am doing very well."

"I heard something about your being out of work on account of a fire."

"Did Mr. Gray tell you?"

"Never mind who told me." James Talbot cleared his throat. "As you are
out of work I thought perhaps that you would like to come to work for
me."

"Work for you!"

"Exactly. I don't mean for you to go back to Granville. I am going
to open a real-estate office in Chicago, and I shall want a clerk. I
understand that you take to that sort of thing."

"I don't believe I'll take to clerking for you," returned Robert
bluntly.

"Ahem! That is rather harsh of you, Robert. I mean to do well by you.
Why not take a fresh start? I am sure we shall get along very well
together."

"Are you going to give up the office you opened in Granville?"

"Not just yet. But I may in the future--after the office here is in
full blast. I expect to make a big thing of the business here."

"A big business here means the investment of a lot of money," said the
boy shrewdly. "Where is that to come from?"

"Never mind about the money. It will be forthcoming as it is needed."

"Is my mother going to let you have some of her money?"

"If she did, it would be no more than right that she should depend upon
her husband in her investments."

"I wouldn't advise her to depend upon you. With your own money you
can do as you please, but I don't think you ought to touch any of her
funds."

"You are decidedly plain-spoken, boy!" cried James Talbot, frowning.

"Because one must speak plainly to such a man as you, Mr. Talbot.
I don't know why my mother married you, but I think I know why you
married my mother."

"And why?"

"To get hold of her money."

James Talbot leaped from the chair upon which he had been sitting. He
was enraged, but quickly calmed himself.

"You are entirely mistaken, boy, entirely mistaken. Why, I have all the
money I want."

"I saw you borrow fifty dollars from my mother once."

"Merely a bit of accommodation because I didn't have the cash handy.
Why I can draw my check for twenty or thirty thousand dollars if I wish
to."

Robert did not believe the statement. Yet as he had no way to disprove
it, he remained silent on the point.

"Then you are going to use your own money entirely in this real estate
venture in Chicago?"

"Well--er--most likely. Of course I may become pushed for ready cash at
times and will then look to your mother to help me out a little. Every
man, no matter how well off, gets pushed at times, when he cannot turn
his securities into ready cash, you know."

"I shall advise my mother to keep her fortune in her own hands."

"You will!" James Talbot became more enraged than ever. "Don't you
dare to interfere between my wife and myself."

"I will do all I can to keep her money out of your reach."

"Perhaps you want it yourself?" sneered Talbot.

"No, I want her to keep it and enjoy it as long as she lives. I don't
believe you are any kind of a business manager, and if she put the
money in your care she might be a beggar in a year or two."

"Boy, boy, this to me! me, your father!" cried Talbot.

"You are not my father, Mr. Talbot, and you need not call yourself
such. My father was a far better man than you are, I can tell you that.
He made his own way in the world, just as I am trying to do, and ask no
favors from anybody."

"You are impertinent--a thorough good-for-nothing!" howled James
Talbot, hardly knowing what to say. "I want to do you a kindness, and
this is the way you receive me. I will not speak to you longer. But
don't you dare to set my wife against me, or there will be trouble,
mind that--there will be trouble!"

And thus talking he left the parlor, clapped his silk hat on his head,
and dashed from the boarding house.



CHAPTER XXVII.

MR. TALBOT RECEIVES ANOTHER SET-BACK.


"He's in a rage, it's easy to see that. I wonder what he will do next?"

Such was the mental question Robert asked when he found himself once
more alone.

James Talbot had tried a little plan of his own, and it had failed and
left him in a worse position than before.

He had hoped by offering Robert a good salary--to be paid out of Mrs.
Talbot's money--to get the youth under his thumb. But our hero had
refused to have anything to do with him and had threatened to do all he
could to induce Mrs. Talbot to keep her fortune in her own control.

"He's a regular imp," muttered James Talbot, as he hurried down the
street, so enraged that he scarcely knew where he was walking. "If he
writes home to his mother it will be harder than ever to do anything
with her. I wish he was at the bottom of the sea!"

His soliloquy was brought to a sudden and unexpected termination when
he passed around a corner and ran full tilt into another individual.
Both went sprawling, and both were for the instant deprived of their
wind.

"Who--what--?" spluttered James Talbot, as he picked himself up.

"You fool, you!" panted the other individual. "What do you mean by
driving into me in this fashion?"

"I--I didn't see you," answered Talbot.

"You must be blind," stormed the party who had been knocked down.

"I'm not blind. I--I--was in a tremendous hurry." James Talbot looked
at the other man curiously. "I--er--I--think I've met you before."

"I don't remember you."

"Isn't your name Livingston Palmer?"

"It is."

"I saw you in Granville--at the theater, and later on at the railroad
station."

Palmer, for it was really he, flushed up.

"Perhaps you belonged to that mob that assaulted our troupe," he
sneered. "Your actions here are in the same line."

"No, I had no fault to find with the theatrical company," returned
James Talbot slowly. The meeting had surprised him greatly, and he
began to wonder how he might turn it to account. "I wonder if you know
who I am?" he added, after a pause.

"I can't say that I do."

"I am James Talbot, the husband of the lady upon whom you called."

"Oh! Then you are Robert Frost's step-father," exclaimed Livingston
Palmer.

"I am. May I ask what induced you to call upon my wife?"

Again Palmer flushed up.

"I think, Mr. Talbot, that that was my affair."

"Do you mean to say you refuse to tell?"

"Well, if you must know, I will tell you--so that Mrs. Talbot may not
get into trouble over it. Your townpeople treated me so shabbily that
I called upon your wife for a small loan, so that I might get back to
Chicago."

"Humph! Then Robert didn't send you to see her?"

"No, Robert knew nothing about my going to Granville."

"I thought you and he were great friends?"

"So we are, but he didn't know where I was going when we separated."

"A likely story," sneered James Talbot. "I believe that boy sent you to
my wife with a message."

"You can think as you please," cried Palmer hotly. "I have told you the
plain truth. But I guess Robert will have to send a private messenger,
since his letters don't reach his mother."

The shot told, and James Talbot grew pale for the moment. Then he
recovered himself.

"I won't stand any of your slurs, young man. I reckon you are no better
than Robert."

"I don't want to be any better than Robert. He's a first-rate fellow."

"He is an impudent cub."

"That is only your opinion."

"I am his step-father, and in the eyes of the law I am as a real father
to him. Yet instead of minding me he openly defies me."

"I don't know but what I would do the same," answered Palmer coolly.

"I want to do what is right by him--make something of him--but he won't
let me do it."

"He is able to take care of himself."

"No, he is not. Sooner or later he'll be going to the dogs."

"He told me all about how you had treated him. I don't blame him for
leaving home, although it may be possible that he would have done
better by sticking to his mother."

"Do you mean to insinuate that his mother may need him?"

"I don't wonder if she does, Mr. Talbot. As I understand the matter she
is rich."

"Well?"

"It would be a great temptation for some husbands to try to get that
money in their own hands."

James Talbot grew crimson.

"You insult me!" he ejaculated.

Livingston Palmer shrugged his shoulders.

"You can take it as you please. I didn't stop you. You ran into me and
knocked me down."

"Where are you going?"

"That is my affair."

"You are going to call upon Robert."

"Perhaps I am."

"If you do, let me warn you not to talk about me and my wife. Did she
send the boy a message?"

"If she did I shan't deliver it to you," answered Livingston Palmer,
and proceeded on his way. James Talbot gazed after him in anger and
disappointment.

"Another who is against me," he muttered. "I must hurry my schemes, or
it will be too late to put them through."

Livingston Palmer had just reached Mrs. Gibbs' boarding house when he
met Robert coming out, on his way to see Herman Wenrich about the map.

"Robert!" cried the former clerk. "I'm glad I caught you."

"Why, Livingston, I thought you were on the road," returned Robert, as
he shook hands.

"Not much! No more theatrical life for me," said Palmer.

"What, have you had enough already?"

"Yes, and got it in your native town, too."

"In Granville?"

"Exactly. We opened in Granville and we busted in Granville," said
Palmer, and in such a dubious fashion that our hero could scarcely keep
from laughing outright.

"What, has the Dixon Combination Comedy Company gone to pieces?"

"It has--at least so far as I am concerned. Dixon isn't going to show
again until the performers have rehearsed for another couple of weeks."

Palmer did not wish to go into the details of his bitter experience, so
without delay he began to tell of his visit to Mrs. Talbot and of what
she had done and said, and then before Robert could interrupt him he
told of the meeting with James Talbot.

"Yes, my step-father was here," said Robert. "I am satisfied that he
is not to be trusted. I shall write my mother a long letter about him
as soon as I can get the chance. But now I must be off, as I have some
important business to attend to for Mr. Marden. What are you going to
do?"

"I am going to call upon Mr. Gray and see if he intends to open up
again," answered Livingston Palmer. "After this office life will be
good enough for me."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE CONSPIRATORS ARE DISGUSTED.


Less than an hour later found Robert at Herman Wenrich's modest home.
A ring at the door bell brought Nettie Wenrich, who smiled pleasantly
upon seeing our hero.

"My father is much better, thank you," said the girl, in reply to
Robert's question concerning her parent's health. "I was afraid he
would not get well before, but now I am sure he will."

"I am glad to hear that," answered the boy.

"Those men were here again," went on Nettie. "They are very anxious to
get the map, and they offered my father fifty dollars for it."

"They offered two hundred dollars," came from the bedchamber, for
Robert and Nettie were ascending the stairs, and old Herman Wenrich had
overheard the talk. "The fifty dollar offer was only their first."

The old lumberman shook hands cordially.

"But you have the map, haven't you?" questioned Robert eagerly.

"To be sure I have, my lad. Herman Wenrich's word is as good as his
bond."

"You know I am authorized to give you a hundred dollars," went on
Robert.

"And didn't I say I didn't want a cent from Felix Amberton?" cried the
old man. "All I want is that order, to make certain that I am not going
astray--not but what you look honest enough."

"Here is the order, just received by mail," and Robert handed it over.

Herman Wenrich had his daughter bring spectacles and he perused the
paper with great care.

"That's all right--I know Amberton's signature well--saw it on many a
check he gave me. You shall have the map. Nettie, bring me my tin box."

"I will, father," answered the daughter, and left the room.

"What did those men have to say when you told them that I had said they
were not working for Felix Amberton's interest?" asked Robert while she
was gone.

"I didn't tell them anything about it. I merely told them to hold off
for a day or two, and I would consider their offer."

"They'll be mad when they learn the truth."

"I shall show them this order for the map. They probably know
Amberton's signature as well as I do."

"Perhaps so."

"I suppose you are going to send that to Timberville by the first mail."

"I am going to take it up myself. Mr. Marden wants to come up."

"You will find it a wild section of the country--a good bit different
from around here."

"I shan't mind that--in fact, I think I'll rather like the change."

"It's a good place for a fellow who is strong and healthy. There are
fortunes in the lumber business."

"I've no doubt of it."

"I went into the district a poor man, and worked at cutting lumber at a
dollar and a half a day. Inside of fifteen years I came out something
like twelve thousand dollars ahead. Of course that isn't a fortune, but
you must remember that I lost about ten thousand dollars by two spring
freshets which carried off nearly all I at those times possessed. If I
had remained there I would have been better off. But I came to Chicago
and speculated, and now my fortune amounts to very little, I can tell
you that."

By this time Nettie came back with a long tin box painted black. It was
locked, and the key was in a pocketbook under the sick man's pillow.
Soon the box was opened and Herman Wenrich took out a paper yellow with
age.

"This is the map," he said. "If I were you I would be very careful of
how I handled it, or it may go to pieces. Nettie, haven't you a big
envelope in which to place it?"

"I think I have, father," she replied, and went off to hunt up the
article.

During her absence Robert looked over the document, and found that it
contained not only a map but also a long written description of several
lumber tracts, including that which Felix Amberton had once purchased
from a man named Gregory Hammerditch.

"This must be some relative to the Hammerditch I met," said our hero.

"It was an uncle. The trouble started through this Gregory Hammerditch
and the Canadian, Jean Le Fevre. They claimed the land was never paid
for, I believe."

At that moment came a ring at the front door bell.

"It is those two men!" cried Nettie, who stood close to the window.

"You mean the Canadian and the Englishman?" asked Robert.

"Yes."

"Do you wish to meet them?" questioned Herman Wenrich. "If so, I have
no objection."

"I would like to hear what they have to say, sir."

"You can go into the back bedroom, if you wish."

The idea struck Robert as a good one, and while Nettie went below to
let the visitors in our hero entered the rear apartment, leaving the
door open several inches.

Soon he heard Hammerditch and Le Fevre ascending the stairs.

"Good-morning," said both, as they came in and sat down close to Herman
Wenrich's bedside.

"Good-morning," replied the old lumberman shortly.

"Well, I trust you have decided to sell us the map," continued the
Englishman.

"I have decided not to do so."

"Indeed." The faces of both men fell. "The map is of no use to you, Mr.
Wenrich," went on Hammerditch.

"That may be true."

"And it is no more than right that we should have it."

"Dat is so," said the Canadian. "Ze map should be ours."

"You said Mr. Amberton had sent you for the map," said Herman Wenrich.

"So he did," answered Hammerditch, and Le Fevre nodded.

"Did he give you a written order?"

"He did not. He didn't think it was necessary."

"I have received a written order--or rather, a written request, for it."

At this both of the visitors were dumfounded.

"A written order?" gasped Hammerditch.

"Yes."

"By mail?"

"No, a young man brought it."

"Ze order must be von forgery!" came from the French Canadian.

"Certainly it must be a forgery," added his companion.

"It is no forgery, gentlemen."

The voice came from the rear doorway, and Robert confronted them.

"Who are you?" demanded Hammerditch roughly.

"My name is Robert Frost."

"I never heard of you before."

"I am a friend to Mr. Richard Marden, the nephew of Felix Amberton."

"And you come for ze map?" queried Jean Le Fevre.

"Yes."

"It's an outrage!" burst out Hammerditch. "The map belongs to us."

"No, it belongs to Mr. Wenrich."

"What do you intend to do with it?"

"I intend to turn it over to Mr. Amberton and Mr. Marden."

"It will do them no good."

"I think it will."

"Amberton shall never have that timber land."

"How will you stop him?"

"Never mind, he shall never have it."

"We haf ze other map," said Le Fevre.

"There isn't any other map," put in Herman Wenrich.

"Yes, there is," said Hammerditch.

"Perhaps it's one you had made down to Cresson & Page," said Robert,
mentioning the firm of mapmakers, to whom he had applied for a
situation.

Both Le Fevre and Hammerditch were amazed.

"What do you know of that?" demanded the Englishman.

"He haf played ze part of a spy!" hissed the French Canadian.

"I have spied upon nobody. I was at Cresson & Page's place when you
came there, and I couldn't help overhear what you said about the map."

"Bah, he is a spy, sure enough," ejaculated Hammerditch, in disgust.
"Jean, we have played into the hands of our enemies."

"Zat is so, but it shall do zem no good," answered the Canadian. "We
haf better git back to Timberville as soon as possible," he added, in a
whisper.

"I reckon you are about right," said Hammerditch. He bowed himself
toward the door.

"You are going?" asked Herman Wenrich.

"Yes, we are going. You have played us for a pair of fools," replied
the Englishman.

He ran down the stairs, with Le Fevre at his heels. Soon both were
outside and stalking up the street rapidly. Robert began to laugh.

"They are a pair of rascals," he remarked. "I am awfully glad I
outwitted them."

"So am I glad," answered Herman Wenrich.

"And I am glad, too," said Nettie, with a bright smile. "But if I were
you I wouldn't lose any time in getting to Timberville with the map."

"I will leave this afternoon," answered the boy.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A LUCKY CHANGE OF STATEROOMS.


Robert found that the afternoon boat for Muskegon left at half past
three, so there was still time left in which to get back to Mrs. Gibbs'
house for a late dinner.

At the boarding house he found a short note from Livingston Palmer.

    "Mr. Gray is going to go into business again," it read; "with one
    office here and another in New York. He is going to take me back
    and he says you can return too, if you desire."

"That's nice," thought Robert. "But I'll have to see Dick Marden before
I decide upon what's best to do next."

While waiting for dinner he penned a hasty reply to the note, and
also a letter to his mother. In the latter he mentioned that he had
seen Palmer, and that his step-father had called upon him, and urged
her to keep her financial affairs entirely under her own control. He
was careful to send the letter in care of Mr. Blarcomb, for personal
delivery only.

"She'll get that, I know," he said to himself. "And I hope it does some
good."

At the proper time our hero went down to the dock and boarded the
_Arrow_, as the steamer was named. He found about two hundred
passengers besides himself bound for Muskegon and other points along
the Michigan shore. Besides passengers the _Arrow_ carried a large
quantity of baggage and freight.

The distance from Chicago to Muskegon is about one hundred and
twenty-five miles. The _Arrow_ was rather a slow boat and did not
reach the latter point until some time in the early morning, so that
Robert must spend a night on board. This being so, he lost no time in
obtaining a berth.

He had just turned away from the clerk's office when he saw two men
approaching. They were Hammerditch and Le Fevre.

"Hullo, they are going too," he thought, and was about to step out of
sight, when the Englishman espied him.

"Humph! so you are going with us," said the man, with a scowl.

"Not with you," answered Robert quietly. "I believe this is a public
boat."

"You have been following us again."

"Excuse me, Mr. Hammerditch, but I never followed you in my life."

"Then why are you on this boat?"

"Because I am going to take a trip in her."

"To Muskegon?"

"That is my affair."

"I suppose if we get off at Muskegon you will get off too."

"Perhaps I shall."

"Don't you know that you may get into a good deal of trouble through
following us, young man?"

"As I said before, I am not following you. I have my own business to
attend to and I am attending to it."

"Bah, do you think we will believe zat," burst in Jean Le Fevre. "You
are von spy. Perhaps you are von--vot you call heem?--von detective."

At this Robert laughed. "No, I am no detective. Only a young fellow out
for business."

"Zen you are on ze way to Timberville, hey?"

"If I am that is my business."

At this the French Canadian began to dance around and shook his fist in
Robert's face.

"I know you!" he shouted. "But ve vill see who comes out best! Ha! ve
vill see zat!"

"Hush!" interrupted Hammerditch. "Don't raise a disturbance on the
boat," and he led his companion away to the upper deck.

"I shall have to keep my eye on them," thought Robert. "That Frenchmen
wouldn't like anything better than to get into a fight. I might fight
one of them, but I don't think I could get the best of both."

Once on the upper deck and away from observation, Hammerditch began to
talk earnestly to his companion.

"We made a mistake by quarreling with him," he said.

"I cannot see eet," muttered Le Fevre.

"If we had made friends with him he might have shown us the map."

"Ha! zat is so."

"I would give a good lot to get hold of the map," continued the
Englishman. "Our false map may help us some, but that real map ought to
be out of the way."

At this Le Fevre clutched his companion by the arm.

"I haf an idee," he whispered. "Let us see if ze boy has got a
stateroom."

"We can find that out at the office."

"And if he is to sleep alone."

"All right."

A little later they went to the office and looked over the register.

"Here he is--Robert Frost, room 45," said Hammerditch.

"Anybody else in zat room?"

They looked over the register, but could find nobody else.

"He will haf ze room all to himself," chuckled Jean Le Fevre. "Now if I
can find a way to open ze door----"

"You mean to search his valise for the map?"

"To be sure."

"A good idea. We must work the plan, by all means," replied Hammerditch.

In the meantime Robert had gone to the bow of the boat and was enjoying
the sea breeze.

Presently the clerk of the boat came up, followed by two burly Germans.

"I believe this is Mr. Robert Frost," said the clerk.

"That's my name," answered Robert, wondering what was wanted.

"These gentlemen are brothers and desire a stateroom together,"
explained the clerk. "If you do not mind I would like to put you in
stateroom No. 50, along with a very nice gentleman named Porter, and
give these gentlemen No. 45. Otherwise I will have to put one of them
with you and one with Mr. Porter. They prefer to be together."

"It vill pe a great favor," said one of the Germans politely.

"All right, I would just as lief go in with the gentleman you
mentioned," answered Robert.

"Dank you very mooch," said the German.

"You vos very kind," added his brother.

"All right then, that's settled," said the clerk. "Mr. Frost, I will
have your baggage transferred, if you will give me your key."

"I will transfer the baggage myself and take a look at the other
stateroom," rejoined Robert.

Our hero and the clerk went below, and Robert took his bag to stateroom
No. 50, which was better than the other. Mr. Porter sat outside of
the door reading a newspaper, and the clerk introduced the pair. The
stranger proved to be a Chicago hardware merchant on his way into
Michigan on a business trip.

"I am glad to know you," he said, smiling pleasantly. "I hate to travel
alone when there is the chance of an agreeable companion."

"Thank you! I think I can say the same," replied Robert, with a smile.

The boy retired at ten o'clock, and Mr. Porter with him. Soon Robert
was sound asleep.

The Germans had gone to bed early, and both were in the land of dreams
and snoring lustily when Jean Le Fevre and Hammerditch stole up to the
door of stateroom 45.

"This is the one," whispered the French Canadian. "I was lucky to get
the pincers, hey?"

"Hush, make no noise, the boy may be awake," said the Englishman,
warningly.

While Hammerditch stood on guard Le Fevre inserted a small pincers in
the key-hole of the door and managed to turn the key, which was stuck
in from the other side.

Then the Frenchman opened the door several inches.

"Ha! he is snoring loudly--he is fast asleep," he thought, not noticing
that two persons were in the stateroom instead of one, for the German
in the upper berth happened just then to be silent.

In the dim light the French Canadian made out a valise standing on the
floor and grabbed it hastily. Then he came away, shutting the door
behind him.

"I haf eet!" he whispered. "Come!" And he almost ran for the stateroom
assigned to him and Hammerditch. Once inside, the pair secured the door
and then turned up the light.

"It's a mighty rusty-looking bag," was the Englishman's comment. "Have
you got the key?"

"It ees in ze lock," answered La Fevre.

Soon the valise was opened, and out tumbled a few articles of dirty
underwear and a pair of embroidered slippers.

"I don't see any map!" exclaimed Hammerditch, in disgust.

"'Tis ze wrong bag!" groaned the French Canadian. "See, ze clothing is
too big for a boy, and so are ze slippers."

"You've made a mess of it," answered his companion. "Better take that
bag back or there'll be a jolly row all for nothing."

Much crestfallen, Le Fevre took the bag back. On his second visit he
saw both Germans, and he retreated even more speedily than he had on
his first trip to the stateroom.

"The cake is dough," announced Hammerditch. "But though we are foiled
this time, we must get that map away from the boy, no matter at what
cost."



CHAPTER XXX.

ANOTHER PLOT AGAINST ROBERT.


Robert enjoyed his sleep, and did not awaken until after the _Arrow_
had tied up at the dock in Muskegon. He was just finishing his toilet
when Mr. Porter opened his eyes.

"Ah, so you are ahead of me!" cried the hardware dealer, springing up.
"Have we arrived?"

"I believe we have," answered Robert.

"May I ask where you are bound?"

"For the depot. I am going to take a train for Timberville."

"I know the place and the route well. You cannot get a train for
Timberville until eleven o'clock. Here is a time-table." And selecting
one of several from his pocket, Mr. Porter passed it over.

A short examination showed Robert that his friend was right.

"It's a long wait," he said.

"It will give you time for breakfast and a chance to look around.
Supposing we dine together?"

"Thank you! that will suit me first-rate."

In less than half an hour they had left the boat, and were walking up
the main street of Muskegon. The gentleman knew the place well, and led
the way to a substantial restaurant where a good meal could be had at a
reasonable figure.

Hammerditch and Le Fevre had followed the youth, and now came to a halt
outside of the eating resort.

"He seems to have picked up a friend," said the Englishman. "That will
make our task so much harder."

"Perhaps ze man vill not remain wid heem," suggested Le Fevre.

Satisfied that Robert and his companion would not come out immediately,
the pair went to another restaurant and procured a hasty breakfast.

Mr. Porter expected to do considerable business in Muskegon, and
breakfast over, he shook Robert by the hand cordially.

"We must part now," he said. "I am glad to have met you, and trust we
shall meet again."

"The same to you, Mr. Porter," replied our hero. "I wish you were
going to Timberville with me."

"I'm afraid I wouldn't do much there. There is only one small store and
two or three sawmills. Of course, they use some hardware, but not a
great deal."

And thus they parted.

By consulting a clock Robert found he had still two hours to wait
before the departure of the train. Looking at the clock reminded him of
his lost watch, and he had remembered how Andy Cross had said that Jim
Huskin had left Chicago for Muskegon.

"I would just like to land on that fellow," he said to himself. "He
deserves to be in prison quite as much as Cross does."

Walking around to the depot, Robert purchased a ticket for Timberville,
made sure that he was right about the train, and had his valise checked
straight through.

Although he was not aware of it, his movements were shadowed by
Hammerditch and Le Fevre.

"He has checked the bag," said the Englishman. "I wonder if we can get
at it through the baggage master?"

"It ees not likely," said the French Canadian. "Za are verra
particular here about baggage. If ve can get ze check ve be all right."

"Let us follow him and see if anything turns up in our favor."

So the two rascals followed Robert in his walk about the town.

All unconscious of the nearness of his enemies, our hero sauntered from
street to street.

His eyes were wide open for some glimpse of Jim Huskin, and it must be
confessed that he never gave a thought to being attacked from behind.

Having traveled the main thoroughfares of Muskegon, the youth commenced
a tour of the streets of lesser importance.

One street, near the docks, was lined with saloons, and here the worst
element of the town appeared to be congregated.

"Set 'em up, lad," cried one 'longshoreman, as he bumped up against
Robert.

"Thanks, I don't drink," answered Robert, coolly.

"Don't drink?" cried the man. "Wot yer doin' down here, then?"

"That is my business."

"Don't yer git uppish about it."

"Make him treat, Mike," put in another man, whose nose showed that
strong drink and he were no strangers.

"Come on an' have jess one glass," went on the man who had first
addressed Robert.

As he spoke he caught Robert by the shoulder.

Our hero shook him off.

"Don't you dare to touch me," he said sharply. "If you do you will be
laying up a good bit of trouble for yourself."

"In fightin' trim, hey?"

"I can defend myself, and more, if I am called upon to do it."

The 'longshoreman leered at Robert for a moment.

"Yer too soft," he sneered, and aimed a blow for Robert's head.

As quick as a flash our hero ducked, and hit out in return. The blow
caught the tippler on the chin, and made him stagger up against the
saloon window.

"Now I guess you'll leave me alone," remarked the boy. And then he
walked on, but kept glancing behind him, to be prepared for another
attack.

"Phew, he's a fighter, Mike," said the second man.

"Dat's wot he is," grumbled Mike, rubbing his chin, where the blow had
landed. "He must be wot da call a scientific boxer, hey?"

"Are yer goin' ter drop him?"

"Wot shall I do?"

"Make him treat or lick him."

"Maybe you want ter lick him," suggested Mike.

"I kin if I set out fer ter do it."

"Then pitch in, Pat."

But Pat hesitated about going ahead. Robert looked strong, and he felt
that the youth could not be easily intimidated.

"We kin do it tergether," he ventured.

While the two roughs were conversing Hammerditch and Le Fevre drew near.

They had seen the short encounter and saw how angry were the men who
wanted to be treated.

"Got the best of you, did he?" said Hammerditch.

"You mind your own business," growled Mike, crossly.

"Why didn't you pitch into him?" went on the Englishman. "I would have
done so."

"Dat's wot I'm a-tellin' him," put in Pat.

"He's a boy zat wants taking down," said Le Fevre.

The two roughs looked at the newcomers curiously.

"Do yer know de boy?" demanded Mike.

"Yes, I know him, and I would like to see him get a sound thrashing,"
answered Hammerditch.

"Gif him what he deserves and ve vill pay you vell for eet," added the
French Canadian.

"Wot yer down on him fer?" questioned Pat.

"He stole a baggage check from me," said Hammerditch, promptly. "Of
course, he claims the check, but it is mine."

"I see. Do yer want ter git the check away from him?"

"I do."

"Where is it?"

"In his trousers' pocket."

"An' if we git it fer yer, wot will yer give us?" asked Pat.

"Five dollars," quickly answered Hammerditch.

To these roughs, who had not done a full day's work for a long time,
five dollars appeared quite a sum of money.

"We'll go yer," said Pat promptly. "Aint dat right, Mike?"

"If you'll work wid me," answered Mike.

"All right; I'll follow you up for the check," said Hammerditch. "And
here is the five dollars." And he showed the bill, so that they might
know that he meant what he said.

In a few minutes more the two roughs had laid their plans and were
stealing after Robert.

"We can git dat check an' his money too," said Mike, and Pat agreed
with him.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE MISSING BAGGAGE CHECK.


All unconscious of the plot being hatched out against him, Robert
walked on along the docks.

At one point he saw a large lake steamer at anchor, and thought to walk
out to the craft to inspect her.

The way took him past a large quantity of merchandise piled high on the
rear end of the dock.

He was just passing around the merchandise when he found himself
suddenly seized from behind.

He tried to cry out, but before he could do so a dirty hand was clapped
over his mouth.

He struggled to free himself, but soon found that two men were holding
him. At last he managed to turn partly around and saw that the men were
the two roughs who had wanted him to treat.

"Let me go!" he managed to say at last.

"Hold him, Mike," cried Pat, and slipped his hand into Robert's
trousers' pocket.

Robert struggled, but before he could break away Pat had secured not
only the baggage check, but also some loose change amounting to about a
dollar.

"Now his udder pockets, Pat," panted Mike heavily. "Hurry up, I can't
hold him much longer."

"You scoundrels!" exclaimed our hero, and breaking away at last, he
dealt Mike a staggering blow in the chest.

But as the rough tumbled he caught the boy by the arm, and both fell,
Robert on top.

"Help me, Pat!" roared Mike, seeing he was getting the worst of the
encounter.

Pat started to jump in, but then thought better of it. As Robert leaped
up with fire in his clear eyes, the man began to run.

"Stop, you thief!" yelled the boy, and made after him. Left to himself,
Mike also got up and limped away, his nose bleeding, and suffering from
a bruised rib, where Robert had stepped upon him.

"Dat boy is a reg'lar lion," he murmured. "We was fools ter tackle him."

Pat ran as he had never ran before, and coming to an alleyway, darted
to the lower end and hid behind some empty barrels.

Robert ran past and then Pat came out again.

"Only a dollar," he said to himself, as he sized up his dishonest haul.
"Well, wid that five I'm ter git fer de check it will be six. Dat aint
bad."

Pat was no particular friend to Mike, and speedily resolved to keep the
haul for himself.

"I'll tell Mike I didn't git no check and dat dere was only twenty
cents in de pocket," he reasoned. He was willing to allow Mike ten
cents for his share in the work, and no more.

The roughs had agreed to meet Hammerditch on a certain corner, and to
this spot Pat made his way with all possible speed.

"Come in out of sight!" said the rough, and motioned the way to a
nearby saloon. He was afraid Mike would come up before the transfer of
the check could be made.

They went inside and ordered some drinks, and then Pat turned the
baggage check over to the Englishman, and received the five dollars
reward.

"I'll bet yer goin' ter make a fortune out of dat check," observed Pat.

"Not at all," answered Hammerditch. "The check is of little value
really. But I was bound to have it."

Afraid that Robert would hurry to the railroad station as soon as the
loss of the check was discovered, the Englishman did not remain in the
drinking place long. At a hotel several squares away he met Le Fevre.

"You haf eem?" queried the French Canadian anxiously.

"I have, Jean. Come."

"Ve vill haf von drink first," was the reply, and they went to the
barroom. Here they met several lumbermen they knew, and in consequence
it was some time before they could get away from the hotel.

One of the lumbermen knew about the Amberton land claim, and thought
that it would be a hard matter to dispossess the present incumbent.

"Ve vill do eet," grinned Le Fevre. "Ve hold ze vinning cards--not so,
Hammerditch?"

"That is so," answered Hammerditch.

The lumbermen wanted to know the particulars, but the others were not
willing to disclose all of their secrets.

In the meantime Robert was hunting around for the rough called Pat.

Mike he did not care so much about, since it had been Pat who had made
off with his belongings.

"He didn't get much money," he mused. "But he got that baggage check,
and I don't want to lose that."

At first he thought to inform the police of what had occurred.

He was making for a policeman when he saw Pat coming out of the saloon.
The rough had had half a dozen glasses of liquor, and he was in
consequence quite hazy in his mind.

"You rascal!" cried our hero, catching him by the shoulder. "Give me
back what you stole from me."

"That's all right, boss--didn't steal nothin'," mumbled Pat.

"I say you did--a baggage check and about a dollar in change. Give them
up or I'll have you arrested."

"Aint got no check," hiccoughed Pat. "An' the money is spent."

"Then you come with me."

At this the tough grew alarmed, and at last he broke down and confessed
that he had got the check for another party who had given him five
dollars for it. He had part of the five dollars left, and out of this
he gave Robert a sum equal to that which had been stolen.

"Who took that check?" demanded our hero, a sudden suspicion crossing
his mind.

As well as he was able Pat described Hammerditch.

"He's goin' ter git sumthin' on de check," he added.

"Not if I can prevent it," answered Robert. "He wants to steal my
valise. You come with me."

"I aint goin' ter!" roared Pat, and breaking away, he started on a
clumsy run. Robert could readily have caught him, but concluded not to
waste the time.

"Hammerditch will be hot-footed after my bag," he thought. "He expects
to get that map."

He looked around, and espying a hack standing near, leaped in, and
ordered the driver to get him to the depot with all possible speed.

Pat ran for fully six blocks, and then sank down on a pile of lumber,
panting for breath.

"I'm in fer it," he groaned, expecting that Robert was at his heels.

But the boy was nowhere to be seen, and at once his courage arose, and
he concluded that Robert had given up the chase. He counted his money
and found that he had exactly a dollar and ten cents left. The balance
of the cash had been paid over to the saloon keeper and to Robert.

"I guess I'll git anudder drink," he murmured, and rolled over to
the nearest dive. Here in less than half an hour every cent that had
been left was spent, and then Pat started for home. He could not walk
straight, and frequently bumped up against those he passed. He had
passed less than three blocks when he espied Mike coming toward him.

"Bedad, I can't let him see me!" he reasoned, and tried to steer out
of sight. But Mike was too quick for him, and the pair confronted each
other at the entrance to a lumber yard.

"Well, how much did yer git?" was Mike's first question.

"Didn't git nuthin," answered Pat boldly.

"Yer got a whole handful of money," retorted Mike. "I want half, do yer
mind dat?"

"I ain't got nuthin," was all Pat could answer.

A wordy quarrel followed, and then the two roughs came to blows. They
were encouraged to fight by the by-standers, who loved nothing better
than to witness a "scrap," and it was not until a policeman came up
that the encounter came to an end. Each contestant had a bloody nose,
and their eyes were so swollen they could scarcely see out of them.

"You're both good for sixty days in jail," said the officer of the
law, and marched them to headquarters. Instead of sixty, each got
ninety days, and I think my readers will agree with me that they richly
deserved their sentences.



CHAPTER XXXII.

ROBERT DELIVERS THE PRECIOUS MAP.


"There aint no train now, boss," said the hack driver, after receiving
his directions from Robert.

"I don't want to catch a train; I want to catch a couple of thieves who
want to make off with my valise," answered our hero.

"Did you forget the valise?"

"No, they have stolen my baggage check."

"Oh, that's it! Well, I'll get you to the depot in short order."

Away went the hack at a rate of speed which was far from agreeable so
far as riding was concerned.

But, disagreeable as it was, it pleased Robert, and soon the railroad
station came in sight.

"There are the fellows who are after my bag!" cried our hero, as the
hack came to a halt. He had espied Hammerditch and Le Fevre making
their way to the baggage room.

"You are certain they are after the valise? Perhaps you may be
mistaken," went on the driver, who was a rather elderly man and
cautious.

"I'll watch them and make sure," said Robert.

Taking his station behind the baggage room door, our hero saw the
Englishman and the French Canadian approach the baggage master.

"I am after my valise," said the Englishman, producing Robert's check.
"My son left it here a few hours ago. I have concluded to remain in
Muskegon over night."

"All right, sir," answered the baggage master, taking the check. He
glanced at the piles of baggage which littered the room. "What kind of
a looking bag was it?"

For the minute Hammerditch was nonplussed, as he did not remember
Robert's bag very well.

"It was--er--a tan-colored bag, not very large," he stammered. "I just
bought it, so I don't remember it--er--very well."

"I reckon this is it," said the baggage master, after a short hunt.
"Check 432,--that's right."

Hammerditch was about to take the valise when Robert came up and seized
it.

"No, you don't, you thief!" he exclaimed. "Your little game is nipped
in the bud."

The Englishman turned and his face fell, and Le Fevre was also
discomfited.

"What's the trouble?" asked the baggage master, in astonishment.

"This rascal was about to steal my bag."

"Your bag?"

"Yes, my bag. Don't you remember my leaving it here a couple of hours
ago?"

"I do."

"He got a tough to steal my check, and he would have had the bag if I
hadn't got here just in time."

"He said you were his son."

"I wouldn't have him for a relative," cried Robert. "Mr. Hammerditch,
you are a thorough-paced scoundrel," he went on, facing the Englishman.

"What, this to me!" gasped the schemer.

"Yes, that to you. You are a would-be thief, and I reckon your
companion is little better."

"Boy, boy! I vill haf ze law on you!" howled the French Canadian.

"And I will have the law on you," retorted Robert. "You wanted to steal
that map. You need not deny it."

"The bag is mine," said Hammerditch boldly. "This is a plot to get me
into trouble."

"I reckon I can prove my property," said Robert. "Have you the key that
will unlock the bag?"

"Never mind about that."

"I have the key," went on our hero. He produced it and opened the bag.
"I wish you to bear witness that this bag contains my wearing apparel,"
he said to the baggage master.

"Yes, that must be your stuff," was the answer.

"Here are my initials, R.F. My name is Robert Frost, while his name is
Oscar Hammerditch. There isn't a single thing here that belongs to him,
or that would fit him."

"What did you say about a map?" went on the baggage man.

"I have a map that he wants to steal, in order to lay claim to certain
lumber lands located near Timberville."

"But I see no map."

"The map is in my pocket, here," and Robert produced the document.

If ever Hammerditch had looked sheepish it was now. He realized that
even if he had obtained the valise he would have been outwitted.
Plainly this American lad was too smart for him.

"I'll see you about this later," he howled, and started to back out.

"Wait a minute, I want to give you a bit of advice," said Robert,
catching him by the arm. "If I wanted to I could have you arrested on
the spot. But I am not going to take that trouble. But this baggage man
is a witness to the fact that you tried to steal my valise, and if you
or that Frenchman ever bother me again, I'll have you locked up on the
charge, and I'll see that you go to prison for it. Now you can clear
out."

For the moment Hammerditch was speechless. He wanted to flare up, but
the words would not come. He grated his teeth, turned on his heel and
almost ran from the baggage room. With him went Jean Le Fevre; and it
may be added right here that that was the last Robert ever saw of the
dishonest pair.

After the pair were gone Robert gave the baggage man the particulars of
what had occurred, so that he might remember, in case the affair came
up later.

"I thought it was queer he couldn't remember how his bag looked," said
the baggage master. "I reckon, however, they won't bother you again in
a hurry."

It was now nearly train time, and Robert remained in the depot.
Presently the train came in and he got on board, and the journey to
Timberville was continued.

"I'll not forget my stop-off at Muskegon," he mused, as he sped on his
way.

The remainder of the journey passed without special incident.
Hammerditch and Le Fevre had expected to take this same train, but
could not screw up the necessary courage to do so.

Timberville was reached about three o'clock, and our hero alighted at
the depot, which was little better than a shed. As Mr. Porter had said
the village was small and looked almost deserted.

"I wish to get to Mr. Felix Amberton's place," he said to the station
master. "How can I best reach it?"

"It's several miles from here," was the reply. "Guess Joe Bandy will
take you along in his rig."

Joe Bandy proved to be the mail carrier, who drove a two horse wagon
through the lumber region of the vicinity. He agreed to take Robert
along for the usual fare, thirty-five cents. Soon they were on the way.

"Come out to try your luck?" questioned the mail carrier, with a grin.

"No, I came out on business."

"Say, you can't be the lawyer Mr. Marden is expectin'," went on the
mail carrier, with a look at the valise.

"No, I'm no lawyer," laughed Robert. "But I am a friend to Mr. Marden.
How is Mr. Amberton?"

"Doin' poorly. Those land sharks are worrying him to death. They want
to take his timber from him," answered Bandy.

They passed over several hills and through a heavy forest, and then
made a sharp turn to the left. Presently a well-built cabin came into
sight.

"There is Amberton's hang-out," said the driver, and drew up.

"Hullo, Robert!" came a voice from behind some trees, and Dick Marden
rushed forth. His face wore a broad smile and he almost broke the
bones of Robert's fingers, so hearty was his hand shake. "How are you,
lad--well? And did you get that map?"

"Yes, I'm well, and the map is safe in my pocket," answered Robert, and
then they walked to the cabin, while the mail carrier proceeded on his
way.

Once inside of the place Robert was introduced to Dick Marden's uncle,
who sat in an old-fashioned easy chair by one of the little windows of
which the cabin boasted. Mr. Amberton seemed weak and careworn.

"Dick has been telling me about you," he said, in a low voice. "He felt
sure you would manage to get the map."

There was of course nothing for Robert to do but to tell his story from
beginning to end, and this he did without delay, Dick Marden in the
meantime ordering the negro servant to cook a good dinner for the youth.

"Well, you outwitted Hammerditch and Le Fevre nicely," cried the miner.
"I would like to have seen them at the railroad station. They must have
felt cheap and no mistake."

"They are rascals, and I always knew it," said Felix Amberton. "But now
we have a hold upon them, for through Robert we can show up their true
characters, if it becomes necessary."

The map was examined with care, and Dick Marden announced that it was
just what was wanted.

"They can't go behind this," he said. "Robert, I think you have saved
the estate for my uncle."

"I think so myself," came from Felix Amberton. "But I am afraid I am in
for a long lawsuit, nevertheless."

Inside of an hour a hot dinner awaited our hero, to which he, as was
usual with him, did full justice.

The balance of the day passed quietly, and on the day following Dick
Marden took the boy over the timber lands.

"Would you like it out here?" asked the miner.

"I don't believe I would," answered Robert promptly. "I much prefer
city life."

"Honestly spoken," cried Marden. "Now with me it is just the opposite.
I can remain in the city a couple of weeks, or possibly a month, and
then I feel that I must get somewhere where there is lots of elbow
room."

Two days later a lawyer arrived--the one sent for by Marden and Felix
Amberton.

"The claim is all right," said the legal gentleman. "This map is good
proof, too. If they want to fight let them. You will surely come out on
top."

This was cheering news, and its effect upon Amberton was soon visible.

"When it is settled I shall not forget you," he said to Robert.

"Thank you," replied the boy, "but I am glad to have been of service
to you and Mr. Marden, my best friend. He helped me, you know, when I
actually did not know how to turn myself."

On Monday of the week following Dick Marden announced his intention of
going to Chicago on business, and as there was nothing to keep Robert
in the lumber camp, he decided to accompany his friend back to the
great city by the lakes.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

ROBERT VISITS HOME--CONCLUSION.


"You have had lots of adventures since last we met in Chicago,"
remarked Dick Marden, while he and Robert were making the trip from
Timberville to Muskegon.

"That is true, and some adventures that I didn't care much about,"
returned our hero.

"It's the way of the world, lad--you can't get through without some
pretty hard knocks and dangerous brushes. But tell me frankly, what
would you like to do next?"

"I would like to obtain some good office situation. I like to keep
books, write business letters, and handle money--especially if the
business done is on a large scale."

"I understand." Dick Marden mused for a moment. "I was thinking of
offering you a place at Timberville, or in my mine in California; but I
reckon you had best remain in Chicago. But I shan't forget to keep my
eye on you, and you can be sure that my uncle won't forget you if he
comes out on top, as that lawyer says."

The run to Muskegon was without special incident, and once in the town
bordering the lake they found they had several hours to wait until a
steamer would leave for Chicago.

"The wait will just suit me," said the miner. "I want to call on a man
who deals in lumber and make an arrangement with him to handle some of
my uncle's output."

The office building in which the wholesale lumber dealer did business
was situated several blocks from the depot and thither the pair made
their way.

As they entered the wide hallway Robert suddenly clutched Dick Marden
by the arm.

"There he is at last!" he whispered.

"He? Who?"

"That rascal who robbed me--Jim Huskin!"

And our hero pointed to where Huskin stood, in conversation with an old
gentleman in black.

"You are certain he is the man?" asked the miner.

"Yes; I would never forget that smooth face and those wicked eyes."

"He seems to be playing some confidence game now," went on Dick Marden.

The miner was right. Jim Huskin had the old man in black in an out of
the way corner and was conversing with him in great earnestness.

"You cannot lose on the venture, Mr. Price," he said, as our hero and
Marden drew closer. "The shares will always be worth the money you put
into them. Better let me have the check now, and I will buy them inside
of the next hour."

"Yes, yes, but are you quite sure it is safe?" asked the old man, in
a trembling voice. "You see, I cannot afford to lose four hundred
dollars."

"You will not lose--I will guarantee the shares myself," answered the
confidence man earnestly.

"Very well, if you will guarantee them," said the old man, and drew out
his pocketbook, which held several bankbills, and a filled in check for
the amount Huskin desired.

At that moment Robert placed his hand upon the confidence man's
shoulder.

"So we meet again, Jim Huskin," he said coldly.

The rascal turned in amazement, and then his face fell.

"Why--er--what--who are you?" he stammered, hardly being able to speak.

"You know very well who I am," answered our hero. "I am the boy you
robbed in Chicago."

"Robbed!" gasped the old man in black. "Did you say robbed?"

"I did, sir. This man is a rascal and a thief."

"You are mistaken----" began Jim Huskin, but his manner showed how
uncomfortable he felt.

"A rascal and a thief!" murmured the old man, and looked as if he would
faint. It did not take him long to place his pocketbook in his pocket
again.

Jim Huskin was a man who made up his mind quickly. He saw that Robert
had the best of him, and that his only chance for safety lay in flight.
Turning swiftly, he started to run from the building.

But he had reckoned without Dick Marden, and he had scarcely taken two
steps when the miner put out his foot and sent him sprawling in the
hallway. At once a crowd began to collect.

"What's the row here?" demanded the janitor of the building, as he
rushed up.

"We've collared a thief," answered Marden. "Call a policeman."

"What! do you mean to have me arrested?" demanded Jim Huskin, as he
got up, to find himself in the grasp of both Robert and his friend.

"That's what," answered the miner coolly.

Jim Huskin began to expostulate, but all to no purpose. Soon an officer
came in, followed by another crowd.

"What has he done?" demanded the policeman.

"I charge him with robbing me," answered Robert. "His name is Jim
Huskin."

"My name isn't Huskin, it is Williams," put in the confidence man.

"Jim Huskin?" repeated the officer. "I've heard that before."

"He and another man named Andy Cross robbed me in Chicago. Cross was
caught, but this fellow came to Muskegon."

"Oh, yes, I remember the case now. So this is Huskin, eh? You were
lucky to land on him."

"This is all wrong," persisted Huskin. He turned to the old man in
black. "Mr. Price, won't you testify that my name is Williams?"

"I don't know as I will," was the slow answer. "You said it was, but I
have no further proof of it."

"He was going to get you to invest in some scheme, wasn't he?" asked
Robert.

"Yes, he wanted to sell me some unlisted mining shares. Said they were
a good investment."

"What were the shares?" asked Dick Marden. "I am an old miner and I
know the mines pretty well."

"They were shares of the Golden Bucket Mine, of California."

"The Golden Bucket! Why, that mine gave out six years ago. It never
paid back the money put into it. Why, it's dead, and so are the stocks.
You had a lucky escape."

"I believe you," returned the old man, and looked greatly relieved.

Inside of quarter of an hour Jim Huskin was transferred to the local
jail and his capture was telegraphed to Chicago. He was searched,
and on him were found about forty dollars belonging to Robert and a
pawn-ticket for the watch, showing that it had been pawned in Muskegon
for six dollars. Before he left the town Robert got the watch back.

Later on Jim Huskin was taken back to Chicago, and he and Andy Cross
were tried together, and each received a sentence of two years in
State's prison for his misdeeds.

On getting back to Mrs. Gibbs' boarding house Robert found a telegram
from his mother awaiting him. It read:

    "Come home at once. Your step-father is very ill."

Without delay our hero started for Granville, arriving there late in
the evening. His mother met him at the front door, and it was plain to
see that she had been weeping.

"Oh, Robert!" she cried, and embraced him. It was several minutes
before she could say more.

"Mr. Talbot is very sick then?" asked the boy.

"Yes, very sick, and the doctor is afraid he will never get well,"
answered Mrs. Talbot.

James Talbot was suffering from a sudden stroke of paralysis, which had
affected his stomach and his left side. He was almost unconscious, and
remained in that state for several days. During that time Mrs. Talbot
was at his bedside constantly, and Robert did all he could for both.

At the end of two weeks the physician pronounced James Talbot out of
danger. The paralysis was gradually leaving him, and he could now take
a little nourishment.

His sickness seemed to have changed him wonderfully, and his harshness
appeared to be a thing of the past.

"I have had my eyes opened," he said to his wife and Robert. "I have
done wrong in the past, but from now on you will find me a different
man."

These words pleased Mrs. Talbot greatly and removed a heavy load from
her heart. Robert, however, said but little on the subject.

"I hope he does turn over a new leaf," he thought. "But I want to test
him for a while before I trust him."

"Your step-father will be all right now, Robert," said his mother,
hopefully.

"I sincerely trust so," he answered gravely. "For your sake even more
than for my own."

       *       *       *       *       *

Here we will bring to a close the story of Robert Frost's adventures
while "Out for Business." He had succeeded in taking several forward
steps in life, and had brought to grief the enemies who had tried to
drag him down and overcome him.

As soon as Mr. Talbot was on the mend our hero returned to Chicago and
called upon Mr. Gray. The cut-rate ticket broker had already opened
both his Chicago and his New York offices, and he at once agreed to
give the boy his position back, with two dollars per week added to
his salary. The next day found Robert again working beside Livingston
Palmer.

"Right glad to see you!" cried Palmer. And he shook hands cordially. "I
reckon we have both had adventures enough for the present."

"I know I have," answered Robert. "I hope in the future I am left alone
to buckle down to business."

For the time being all went well. But there were still many adventures
in store for Robert, which will be related in a companion volume to
this, entitled: "Falling in with Fortune; or, The Experiences of a
Young Secretary." In this book we will meet all of our old friends and
some new ones, and also learn something more about James Talbot and his
schemes for getting possession of the Frost fortune.

And now, kind reader, good-by, in the hope that some day we will meet
again.



The Famous Rover Boys Series

By ARTHUR W. WINFIELD

Each volume is hailed with delight by boys and girls everywhere. 12mo.
Cloth. Handsomely printed and illustrated.

Price, 60 Cents per Volume. Postpaid.


  THE ROVER BOYS DOWN EAST

  Or, The Struggle for the Stanhope Fortune
    Old enemies try again to injure our friends.

  THE ROVER BOYS AT COLLEGE

  Or, The Right Road and the Wrong
    Brimming over with good nature and excitement.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON TREASURE ISLE

  Or, The Strange Cruise of the Steam Yacht
    A search for treasure; a particularly fascinating volume.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON THE FARM

  Or, The Last Days at Putnam Hall
    The boys find a mysterious cave used by freight thieves.

  THE ROVER BOYS IN SOUTHERN WATERS

  Or, The Deserted Steam Yacht
    A trip to the coast of Florida.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON THE PLAINS

  Or, The Mystery of Red Rock Ranch
    Relates adventures on the mighty Mississippi River.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON THE RIVER

  Or, The Search for the Missing Houseboat
    The Ohio River is the theme of this spirited story.

  THE ROVER BOYS IN CAMP

  Or, The Rivals of Pine Island
    At the annual school encampment.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON LAND AND SEA

  Or, The Crusoes of Seven Islands
    Full of strange and surprising adventures.

  THE ROVER BOYS IN THE MOUNTAINS

  Or, A Hunt for Fame and Fortune
    The boys in the Adirondacks at a Winter camp.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON THE GREAT LAKES

  Or, The Secret of the Island Cave
    A story of a remarkable Summer outing; full of fun.

  THE ROVER BOYS OUT WEST

  Or, The Search for a Lost Mine
    A graphic description of the mines of the great Rockies.

  THE ROVER BOYS IN THE JUNGLE

  Or, Stirring Adventures in Africa
    The boys journey to the Dark Continent in search of their father.

  THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN

  Or, A Chase for a Fortune
    From school to the Atlantic Ocean.

  THE ROVER BOYS AT SCHOOL

  Or, The Cadets of Putnam Hall
    The doings of Dick, Tom, and Sam Rover.


GROSSET & DUNLAP----NEW YORK

Transcribers Note:
Some apparent misspellings have been left unchanged
                  aint/ain't
                  dumfounded/dumbfounded
                  dumstruck/dumbstruck
in the believe they are as the author intended.





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