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Tim Bolton looked at Florence in undisguised astonishment.
“Dodger!” he repeated. “How should I know? I supposed that you had lured him away from me.”
“He didn’t like the business you were in. He preferred to make a living in some other way.”
“Then why do you ask me where he is?”
“Because he did not come home last night. Shure he rooms at my house,” put in Mrs. O’Keefe, “and he hasn’t showed up since——”
“And you thought I might have got hold of him?” said Bolton, inquiringly.
“Then you are mistaken. I haven’t seen the boy for weeks.”
Tim Bolton spoke so straightforwardly that there was no chance to doubt his word.
“When he was living with you, Mr. Bolton,” continued Florence, “did he ever stay away like this?”
“No,” answered Bolton. “Dodger was always very regular about comin’ home.”
“Then something must have happened to him,” said Florence, anxiously.
“He might have got run in,” suggested the apple-woman. “Some of them cops is mighty officious.”
“Dodger would never do anything to deserve arrest,” Florence said, quickly.
“Thrue for you, Florence, but some innersent parties are nabbed. I know of one young man who was standin’ on a strate corner waitin’ for the cars, when a cop came up and arristed him for disorderly conduct.”
“But that is shameful!” said Florence, indignantly.
“Thrue for you, my dear. We might go round to the police headquarters and inquire if the boy’s been run in.”
“What do you think, Mr. Bolton?” asked Florence.
Tim Bolton seemed busy thinking. Finally he brought down his hand forcibly on the bar, and said: “I begin to see through it.”
Florence did not speak, but she fixed an eager look of inquiry on the face of the saloon-keeper.
“I believe Curtis Waring is at the bottom of this,” he said.
“My cousin!” exclaimed Florence, in astonishment.
“Yes, your cousin, Miss Linden.”
“But what can he have against poor Dodger! Is it because the boy has taken my part and is a friend to me?”
“He wouldn’t like him any better on account of hat; but he has another and a more powerful reason.”
“Would you mind telling me what it is? I cannot conceive what it can be.”
“At present,” answered Bolton, cautiously, “I prefer to say nothing on the subject. I will only say the boy’s disappearance interferes with my plans, and I will see if I can’t find out what has become of him.”
“If you only will, Mr. Bolton, I shall be so grateful. I am afraid I have misjudged you. I thought you were an enemy of Dodger’s.”
“Then you were mistaken. I have had the boy with me since he was a kid, and though I’ve been rough with him at times, maybe, I like him, and I may some time have a chance to show him that old Tim Bolton is one of his best friends.”
“I will believe it now, Mr. Bolton,” said Florence, impulsively, holding out her hand to the burly saloon-keeper.
He was surprised, but it was evident that he was pleased, also, and he took the little hand respectfully in his own ample palm, and pressed it in a friendly manner.
“There’s one thing more I want you to believe, Miss Linden,” he said, “and that is, that I am your friend, also.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bolton. And now let us all work together to find Dodger.”
“You can count on me, Miss Linden. If you’ll tell me where you live I’ll send or bring you any news I may hear.”
“I live with Mrs. O’Keefe, my good friend, here.”
“I haven’t my kyard with me, Tim,” said the apple-woman, “but I’ll give you my strate and number. You know my place of business?”
“If you come to me there I’ll let Florence know whatever you tell me. She is not always at home.”
The two went away relieved in mind, for, helpless and bewildered as they were, they felt that Tim Bolton would make a valuable ally.
When they had gone Tim turned to Hooker and Briggs, who were lounging at a table, waiting for some generous customer to invite them to the bar.
“Boys,” said Tim, “has either of you seen anything of Dodger lately?”
“No,” answered the two in unison.
“Have you heard anything of him?”
“I heard that he was baggage-smashin’ down by the steamboat landings,” said Hooker.
“Go down there, both of you, and see if you can see or hear anything of him.”
“All right, Tim.”
And the two left the saloon and took a westerly route toward the North River piers.
Three hours later they returned.
“Have you heard anything?” asked Bolton. “Did you see Dodger?”
“No; we didn’t see him.”
“But you heard something?”
“Yes; we found a boy, a friend of his, that said the last he saw of Dodger was last evenin’.”
“Where did he see him?”
“Near the pier of the Albany boats.”
“What was he doin’?”
“Carryin’ a valise for a man.”
“What kind of a man? How did he look?”
“He had gray hair and gray whiskers.”
Tim was puzzled by the description.
If, as he suspected, Curtis were concerned in the abduction, this man could not have been he.
“The man was a passenger by the Albany boat, I suppose?”
“No; that was what looked queer. Before the Albany boat came in the man was lyin’ round with his valise, and the boy thought he was goin’ off somewhere. But when the boat came in he just mixed in with the passengers, and came up to the entrance of the pier. Two boys asked to carry his valise, but he shook his head till Dodger came round, and he engaged him right off.”
Tim Bolton nodded knowingly.
“It was a plan,” he said. “The man wanted to get hold of Dodger. What puzzles me is, that you said he was an old man.”
“His hair and beard were gray.”
“And Curtis has no beard, and his hair is black.”
“But the boy said he didn’t look like an old man, except the hair. He walked off like a young man.”
Tim Bolton’s face lighted up with sudden intelligence.
“I’ll bet a hat it was Curtis in disguise,” he soliloquized.
“That’s all we could find out, Mr. Bolton,” said Briggs, with another longing look at the bar.
“It is enough! You have earned your whiskey. Walk up, gentlemen!”
Hooker and Briggs needed no second invitation.
“Will either of you take a note for me to Mrs. O’Keefe? For another drink, of course.”
“I will, Tim,” said Hooker, eagerly.
“No; take me, Mr. Bolton,” entreated Briggs.
“You can both go,” said Tim, generously. “Wait a minute, and I’ll have it ready for you.”
He found a half sheet of note paper, and scribbled on it this message:
“Mrs. O’Keefe:—Tell Miss Linden that I have a clew. I am almost surtin her cozen has got away with Dodger. He won’t hurt him, but he will get him out of the city. Wen I hear more I will right.
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