Robert left the superintendent's office in deep thought. He understood very well that it would be impossible to enforce his claim without more satisfactory testimony than his father's letter. If any one had been cognizant of the transaction between Mr. Davis and his father it would have helped matters, but no one, so far as he knew, was even aware that his father had possessed so large a sum as five thousand dollars. Had Captain Rushton inclosed the receipt, that would have been sufficient, but it had probably gone to the bottom with him. But, after all, was it certain that his father was dead? It was not certain, but our hero was forced to admit that the chances of his father's being alive were extremely slender.
Finding himself utterly at a loss, he resolved to call upon his firm friend, Squire Paine, the lawyer. Going to his office, he was fortunate enough to find him in, and unengaged.
"Good-morning, Robert," said the lawyer, pleasantly.
"Good-morning, sir. You find me a frequent visitor."
"Always welcome," was the pleasant reply. "You know I am your banker, and it is only natural for you to call upon me."
"Yes, sir," said Robert, smiling; "but it is on different business that I have come to consult you this morning."
"Go on. I will give you the best advice in my power."
The lawyer listened with surprise to the story Robert had to tell.
"This is certainly a strange tale," he said, after a pause.
"But a true one," said Robert, hastily.
"I do not question that. It affords another illustration of the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction. That a letter committed to the deep so many thousand miles away should have finally reached its destination is very remarkable, I may say Providential."
"Do you think there is any chance of my father being yet alive?"
"There is a bare chance, but I cannot encourage you to place much reliance upon it."
"If he had been picked up by any vessel I suppose he would have written."
"You would doubtless have seen him at home before this time in that case. Still there might be circumstances," added the lawyer, slowly, "that would prevent his communicating with friends at home. For instance, his boat might have drifted to some uninhabited island out of the course of ordinary navigation. I don't say it is at all probable, but there is such a probability."
"Is there any chance of making Mr. Davis return the money my father deposited with him?"
"There again there are difficulties. He may demand the return of his receipt, or he may continue to deny the trust altogether."
"Won't the letter prove anything?"
"It may produce a general conviction that such a deposit was made, since, admitting the letter to be genuine, no one, considering especially the character of your father, can readily believe that in the immediate presence of death he would make any such statement unless thoroughly reliable. But moral conviction and legal proof are quite different things. Unless that receipt is produced I don't see that anything can be done."
"Perhaps my father might have put that in a bottle also at a later date."
"He might have done so when he became satisfied that there was no chance of a rescue. But even supposing him to have done it, the chances are ten to one that it will never find its way to your mother. The reception of the first letter was almost a miracle."
"I have no doubt you are right, Mr. Paine," said Robert; "but it seems very hard that my poor father's hard earnings should go to such an unprincipled man, and my mother be left destitute."
"That is true, Robert, but I am obliged to say that your only hope is in awakening Mr. Davis to a sense of justice."
"There isn't much chance of that," said Robert, shaking his head.
"If you will leave the matter in my hands, I will call upon him to-night, and see what I can do."
"I shall feel very glad if you will do so, Squire Paine. I don't want to leave anything undone."
"Then I will do so. I don't imagine it will do any good, but we can but try."
Robert left the office, making up his mind to await the report of the lawyer's visit before moving further.
That evening, the lawyer called at the house of the superintendent. Mrs. Davis and Halbert were in the room. After a little unimportant conversation, he said:
"Mr. Davis, may I ask the favor of a few minutes' conversation with you in private?"
"Certainly," said the superintendent, quite in the dark as to the business which had called his guest to the house. He led the way into another room, and both took seats.
"I may as well say to begin with," commenced the lawyer, "that I call in behalf of the family of the late Captain Rushton."
The superintendent started nervously.
"That boy has lost no time," he muttered to himself.
"I suppose you understand what I have to say?"
"I presume I can guess," said the superintendent, coldly. "The boy came into my office this morning, and made a most extraordinary claim, which I treated with contempt. Finding him persistent I ordered him out of my office. I need not say that no sane man would for a moment put confidence in such an incredible story or claim."
"I can't quite agree with you there," said the lawyer, quietly. "There is nothing incredible about the story. It is remarkable, I grant, but such things have happened before, and will again."
"I suppose you refer to the picking up of the bottle at sea."
"Yes; I fail to see what there is incredible about it. If the handwriting can be identified as that of the late Captain Rushton, and Robert says both his mother and himself recognized it, the story becomes credible and will meet with general belief."
"I thought you were too sensible and practical a man," said the superintendent, sneering, "to be taken in by so palpable a humbug. Why, it reads like a romance."
"In spite of all that, it may be true enough," returned the lawyer, composedly.
"You may believe it, if you please. It seems to me quite unworthy of belief."
"Waiving that point, Robert, doubtless, acquainted you with the statement made in the letter that Captain Rushton, just before sailing on his last voyage, deposited with you five thousand dollars. What have you to say to that?"
"What have I to say?" returned the superintendent. "That Captain Rushton never possessed five thousand dollars in his life. I don't believe he possessed one quarter of the sum."
"What authority have you for saying that? Did he make you his confidant?" asked the lawyer, keenly.
"Yes," said the superintendent, promptly. "When last at home, he called at my house one day, and in the course of conversation remarked that sailors seldom saved any money. 'For instance,' said he, 'I have followed the sea for many years, and have many times resolved to accumulate a provision for my wife and child, but as yet I have scarcely done more than to begin.' He then told me that he had little more than a thousand dollars, but meant to increase that, if possible, during his coming voyage."
To this statement Squire Paine listened attentively, fully believing it to be an impromptu fabrication, as it really was.
"Did he say anything about what he had done with this thousand dollars or more?" he asked.
"A part he left for his wife to draw from time to time for expenses; the rest, I suppose, he took with him."
Mr. Paine sat silent for a moment. Things looked unpromising, he couldn't but acknowledge, for his young client. In the absence of legal proof, and with an adroit and unscrupulous antagonist, whose interests were so strongly enlisted in defeating justice, it was difficult to see what was to be done.
"I understand then, Mr. Davis," he said, finally, "that you deny the justice of this claim?"
"Certainly I do," said the superintendent. "It is a palpable fraud. This boy is a precocious young swindler, and will come to a bad end."
"I have a different opinion of him."
"You are deceived in him, then. I have no doubt he got up the letter himself."
"I don't agree with you. I have seen the letter; it is in Captain Rushton's handwriting. Moreover, I have seen the letter of the owners, which accompanied it."
The superintendent was in a tight place, and he knew it. But there was nothing to do but to persist in his denial.
"Then I can only say that Captain Rushton was a party to the fraud," he said.
"You must be aware, Mr. Davis, that when the public learns the facts in the case, the general belief will be the other way."
"I can't help that," said the other, doggedly. "Whatever the public chooses to think, I won't admit the justice of this outrageous claim."
"Then I have only to bid you good-evening," said the lawyer, coldly, affecting not to see the hand which the superintendent extended. The latter felt the slight, and foresaw that from others he must expect similar coldness, but there was no help for it. To restore the money would be ruin. He had entered into the path of dishonesty, and he was forced to keep on in it.
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