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Willis Ford entered the presence of his employer with an air of confidence which he did not feel. Knowing his own guilt, he felt ill at ease and nervous; but the crisis had come and he must meet it.
"Take a seat, Mr. Ford," said Mr. Reynolds, gravely. "Your stepmother tells me that she has lost some government bonds?"
"All I had in the world," moaned the housekeeper.
"Yes, sir; I regret to say that she has been robbed."
"I learn, moreover, that a part of the bonds were brought to my office for sale to-day?"
"And by Grant Thornton?"
"He can answer that question for himself, sir. He is present."
"It is true," said Grant, quietly.
"Did you ask him where the bonds came from?"
"He volunteered the information. He said they were intrusted to him for sale by a friend."
"Acquaintance," corrected Grant.
"It may have been so. I understood him to say friend."
"You had no suspicions that anything was wrong?" asked the broker.
"No; I felt perfect confidence in the boy."
Grant was rather surprised to hear this. If this were the case, Willis Ford had always been very successful, in concealing his real sentiments.
"How did you pay him?"
"In a check to his own order."
"Have you collected the money on that check, Grant?" asked Mr. Reynolds.
"Have you paid it out to the party from whom you obtained the bonds?"
"No, sir; I am to meet him to-morrow morning at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."
Willis Ford's countenance changed when he heard this statement. He supposed that Jim Morrison already had his money and was safely off with it. Now it was clear that Grant would not be allowed to pay it to him, and his own debt would remain unpaid. That being the case, Morrison would be exasperated, and there was no knowing what he would say.
"What do you know of this man, Grant?"
"Very little, sir."
"How does he impress you--as an honest, straightforward man?"
Grant shook his head.
"Not at all," he said.
"Yet you took charge of his business for him?"
"Yes, sir; but not willingly. He offered me a dollar for my trouble, and as I did not know there was anything wrong, I consented. Besides---" Here Grant paused.
"Will you excuse my continuing, Mr. Reynolds?"
"No," answered the broker, firmly. "On the other hand, I insist upon your saying what you had in your mind."
"Having seen Mr. Ford in this man's company, I concluded he was all right."
Willis Ford flushed and looked disconcerted.
"Is this true, Mr. Ford?" asked the broker. "Do you know this man?"
"What do you say his name was, Thornton?" asked Ford, partly to gain time.
"Yes; I know him. He was introduced to me by an intimate friend of that boy," indicating Grant.
Willis Ford smiled triumphantly. He felt that he had checkmated our hero.
"Is this true, Grant?"
"I presume so," answered Grant, coolly. "You refer to Tom Calder, do you not, Mr. Ford?"
"I believe that is his name."
"He is not an intimate friend of mine, but we came from the same village. It is that boy who was with me when I first met you, Mr. Reynolds."
The broker's face cleared.
"Yes, I remember him. But how do you happen to know Tom Calder, Mr. Ford?"
"He had a room at the same house with me. He introduced himself as a friend of this boy."
"Do you know anything of him--how he earns his living?"
"Haven't the faintest idea," answered Ford. "My acquaintance with him is very slight."
"There seems a mystery here," said the broker. "This Morrison gives Grant two bonds to dispose of, which are identified as belonging to my housekeeper. How did he obtain possession of them? That is the question."
"There isn't much doubt about that," said Mrs. Estabrook. "This boy whom you have taken into your family has taken them."
"You are entirely mistaken, Mrs. Estabrook," said Grant, indignantly.
"Of course you say so!" retorted the housekeeper; "but it stands to reason that that is the way it happened. You took them and gave them to this man--that is, if there is such a man."
"Your son says there is, Mrs. Estabrook," said the broker, quietly.
"Well, I don't intend to say how it happened. Likely enough the man is a thief, and that boy is his accomplice."
"You will oblige me by not jumping at conclusions, Mrs. Estabrook," said Mr. Reynolds. "Whoever has taken the bonds is likely to be discovered. Meanwhile your loss will, at all events, be partially made up, since Grant has the money realized from the sale of the greater part of them."
"I should like to place the money in your hands, Mr. Reynolds," said Grant.
"But it belongs to me," said the housekeeper.
"That is undoubtedly true," said her employer; "but till the matter is ascertained beyond a doubt I will retain the money."
"How can there be any doubt?" asked the housekeeper, discontented.
"I do not think there is; but I will tell you now. You claim that your bonds were marked by certain numbers, two of which belong to those which were bought by Mr. Ford at the office to-day?"
"Meanwhile, you and your stepson have had time to compare notes, and you have had a chance to learn his numbers."
Mrs. Estabrook turned livid.
"I didn't expect to have such a charge brought against me, Mr. Reynolds, and by you," she said, her voice trembling with passion.
"I have brought no such charge, Mrs. Estabrook. I have only explained how there may be doubt of your claim to the money."
"I thought you knew me better, sir."
"I think I do, and I also think I know Grant better than to think him capable of abstracting your bonds. Yet you have had no hesitation in bringing this serious charge against him."
"That is different, sir."
"Pardon me, I can see no difference. He has the same right that you have to be considered innocent till he is proved to be guilty."
"You must admit, sir," said Willis Ford, "that appearances are very much against Grant."
"I admit nothing, at present; for the affair seems to be complicated. Perhaps, Mr. Ford, you can offer some suggestion that will throw light upon the mystery."
"I don't think it very mysterious, sir. My mother kept her bonds in the upper drawer of her bureau. This boy had the run of the house. What was to prevent his entering my mother's room, opening the drawer, and taking anything he found of value?"
"What was to prevent some one else doing it, Mr. Ford--myself, for example?"
"Of course that is different, Mr. Reynolds."
"Well, I don't know. I am honest, and so, I believe, is Grant."
"Thank you, sir," said Grant, gratefully.
"It just occurred to me," said Ford, "to ask my mother if she has at any time lost or mislaid her keys."
"Well thought of, Mr. Ford," and Mr. Reynolds turned to his housekeeper for a reply.
"No," answered Mrs. Estabrook. "I keep my keys in my pocket, and I have them there yet."
So saying, she produced four keys attached to a ring.
"Then," continued Ford, "if Grant chances to have a key which will fit the bureau drawer, that would be evidence against him."
"Show me any keys you may have, Grant," said the broker.
Grant thrust his hand in his pocket and drew out two keys. He looked at them in astonishment.
"One of them unlocks my valise," he said. "The other is a strange key. I did not know I had it."
Ford smiled maliciously. "Let us see if it will open the bureau drawer," he said.
The party adjourned to the housekeeper's room. The key was put into the lock of the bureau drawer and opened it at once.
"I think there is no more to be said," said Willis Ford, triumphantly.
Grant looked the picture of surprise and dismay.
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