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The California steamer was to start in two days. This gave Hector but little time for preparation, but then he had but scanty preparation to make. Mr. Ross and Walter were naturally surprised at the confidence placed in Hector by a stranger, but were inclined to think that our hero would prove himself worthy of it.
"Don't be gone long, Hector," said Walter. "I shall miss you. I depended upon having your company for a good while yet."
"Come back to my house, Hector," said Mr. Ross, cordially, "when you return, whether you are successful or not. Consider it a home where you are always welcome."
"Thank you, sir," said Hector, gratefully. "I wish you were my uncle instead of Mr. Allan Roscoe."
"By the way, Hector, take time, while you are in California, to go to Sacramento to see if you can learn anything of your early history. It is most important to you, and I'm sure Mr. Newman will not object."
"He has already suggested it to me," said Hector. "Moreover, he has given me the name of the minister who baptized me, and, should he be dead or removed, he has given me the name of another person—a lady—with whom my father boarded during his residence in Sacramento."
"It is to be hoped that one or the other of these persons may still be living. It will afford me sincere pleasure if, by reliable testimony, you can defeat the wicked conspiracy into which Mr. Roscoe has entered, with the object of defrauding you of your inheritance."
Hector's ticket was purchased by Mr. Newman, and he was provided with a considerable sum of money as well as an order upon a bank in San Francisco for as much more as he might need.
"You are trusting me to an unusual extent, Mr. Newman," said Hector.
"That is true, but I have no hesitation in doing so. I am a close observer, and, though I have seen but little of you, I have seen enough to inspire me with confidence."
"I hope I shall deserve it, sir."
"That depends upon yourself, so far as integrity and fidelity go. Whether you succeed or not in your undertaking depends partly upon circumstances."
My young readers may wonder how Hector would be expected to recognize a young man whom he had never seen. He was provided with a photograph of Gregory, which had been taken but six months before, and which, as Mr. Newman assured him, bore a strong resemblance to his nephew.
"He may have changed his name," he said, "but he cannot change his face. With this picture you will be able to identify him."
The great steamer started on her long voyage. Walter and Mr. Crabb stood on the pier and watched it till Hector's face was no longer distinguishable for the distance, and then went home, each feeling that he had sustained a loss.
Among those who watched the departure of the steamer was a person who escaped Hector's notice, for he arrived just too late to bid good-by to an acquaintance who was a passenger on board.
This person was no other than Allan Roscoe.
When he recognized Hector's face among the passengers he started in surprise and alarm.
"Hector Roscoe going to California!" he inwardly ejaculated. "What can be his object, and where did he raise money to go?"
Conscience whispered: "He has gone to ferret out the fraud which you have practiced upon him, and his mission is fraught with peril to you."
Allan Roscoe returned to his elegant home in a state of nervous agitation, which effectually prevented him from enjoying the luxuries he was now able to command. A sword seemed suspended over him, but he resolved not to give up the large stake for which he played so recklessly without a further effort.
By the next mail he wrote a confidential letter to an old acquaintance in San Francisco.
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