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Chapter XX. A Disageeeable Surprise.

Mr. Davis was seated in his office, but it was his own personal affairs rather than the business of the factory that engaged his attention. He was just in receipt of a letter from his broker in New York, stating that there were but slender chances of a rise in the price of some securities in which he had invested heavily. He was advised to sell out at once, in order to guard against a probable further depreciation. This was far from satisfactory, since an immediate sale would involve a loss of nearly a thousand dollars. Mr. Davis felt despondent, and, in consequence, irritable. It was at this moment that one of the factory hands came in and told him that Robert Rushton wished to see him.

The superintendent would have refused an interview but for one consideration. He thought that our hero was about to beg to be taken back into his employ. This request he intended to refuse, and enjoyed in advance the humiliation of young Rushton.

"Good-morning, sir," said Robert, removing his hat on entering.

"I suppose you want to be taken back," said the superintendent, abruptly.

"No, sir," said Robert. "I have come on quite a different errand."

Mr. Davis was disappointed. He was cheated of his expected triumph. Moreover, looking into our young hero's face, he saw that he was entirely self-possessed, and had by no means the air of one about to ask a favor.

"Then state your business at once," he said, roughly. "My time is too valuable to be taken up by trifles."

"My business is important to both of us," said Robert. "We have just received a letter from my father."

The superintendent started and turned pale. This was the most unwelcome intelligence he could have received. He supposed, of course, that Captain Rushton was alive, and likely to reclaim the sum, which he was in no position to surrender,

"Your father!" he stammered. "Where is he? I thought he was dead."

"I am afraid he is," said Robert, soberly.

"Then how can you just have received a letter from him?" demanded Mr. Davis, recovering from his momentary dismay.

"The letter was inclosed in a bottle, which was picked up in the South Pacific, and brought to the owners of the vessel. My father's ship was burned to the water's edge, and at the time of writing the letter he was afloat on the ocean with five of his sailors in a small boat."

"How long ago was this? I mean when was the letter dated."

"Nearly two years ago--in the November after he sailed."

"Then, of course, he must have perished," said the superintendent, with a feeling of satisfaction. "However, I suppose your mother is glad to have heard from him. Is that all you have to tell me?"

"No, sir," said Robert, looking boldly in the face of his former employer. "My father added in his letter, that just before sailing he deposited with you the sum of five thousand dollars, to be given to my mother in case he never returned."

So the worst had come! The dead had revealed the secret which the superintendent hoped would never be known. He was threatened with ruin. He had no means of paying the deposit unless by sacrificing all his property, and it was doubtful whether even then he would be able wholly to make it up. If Robert possessed his acknowledgment he would have no defense to make. This he must ascertain before committing himself.

"Supposing this story to be true," he said, in a half-sneering tone, "you are, of course, prepared to show me my receipt for the money?"

"That my father carried away with him. He did not send it with the letter."

All the superintendent's confidence returned. He no longer felt afraid, since all evidence of the deposit was doubtless at the bottom of the sea with the ill-fated captain. He resolved to deny the trust altogether.

"Rushton," he said, "I have listened patiently to what you had to say, and in return I answer that in the whole course of my life I have never known of a more barefaced attempt at fraud. In this case you have selected the wrong customer."

"What!" exclaimed Robert, hardly crediting the testimony of his ears; "do you mean to deny that my father deposited five thousand dollars with you just before sailing on his last voyage?"

"I certainly do, and in the most unqualified terms. Had such been the case, do you think I would have kept the knowledge of it from your mother so long after your father's supposed death?"

"There might be reasons for that," said Robert, significantly.

"None of your impertinent insinuations, you young rascal," said Mr. Davis, hotly. "The best advice I can give you is, to say nothing to any one about this extraordinary claim. It will only injure you, and I shall be compelled to resort to legal measures to punish you for circulating stories calculated to injure my reputation."

If the superintendent expected to intimidate Robert by this menace he was entirely mistaken in the character of our young hero. He bore the angry words and threatening glances of his enemy without quailing, as resolute and determined as ever.

"Mr. Davis," he said, "if there is no truth in this story, do you think my father, with death before his eyes, would have written it to my mother?"

"I have no evidence, except your word, that any such letter has been received."

"I can show it to you, if you desire it, in my father's handwriting."

"We will suppose, then, for a moment, that such a letter has been received, and was written by your father. I can understand how, being about to die, and feeling that his family were without provision, he should have written such a letter with the intention of giving you a claim upon me, whom he no doubt selected supposing me to be a rich man. It was not justifiable, but something can be excused to a man finding himself in such a position."

Robert was filled with indignation as he listened to this aspersion upon his father's memory. He would not have cared half so much for any insult to himself.

"Mr. Davis," he said, boldly, "it is enough for you to cheat my mother out of the money which my father left her, but when you accuse my father of fraud you go too far. You know better than any one that everything which he wrote is true."

The superintendent flushed under the boy's honest scorn, and, unable to defend himself truthfully, he worked himself into a rage.

"What! do you dare insult me in my own office?" he exclaimed, half rising from his desk, and glaring at our hero. "Out of my sight at once, or I may be tempted to strike you!"

"Before I leave you, Mr. Davis," said Robert, undauntedly, "I wish you to tell me finally whether you deny the deposit referred to in my father's letter?"

"And I tell you, once for all," exclaimed the superintendent, angrily, "if you don't get out of my office I will kick you out."

"I will leave you now," said our hero, not intimidated; "but you have not heard the last of me. I will not rest until I see justice done to my mother."

So saying, he walked deliberately from the office, leaving Mr. Davis in a state of mind no means comfortable. True, the receipt had doubtless gone to the bottom of the sea with the ill-fated captain, and, as no one was cognizant of the transaction, probably no claim could be enforced against his denial. But if the letter should be shown, as Robert would doubtless be inclined to do, he was aware that, however the law might decide, popular opinion would be against him, and his reputation would be ruined. This was an unpleasant prospect, as the superintendent valued his character. Besides, the five thousand dollars were gone and not likely to be recovered. Had they still been in his possession, that would have been some compensation.

Horatio Alger