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Willis Ford ascended the steps of the broker's residence with a jaunty step. The servant admitted him, but he met Grant in the hall.
"Won't you come upstairs, Mr. Ford?" he said.
Willis Ford nodded superciliously.
"Your stay in the house will be short, young man," he thought. "You had better make the most of it."
He was ushered not into the housekeeper's room, but into a sitting-room on the second floor. He found Mr. Reynolds and his stepmother there already. Both greeted him, the broker gravely, but his stepmother cordially. Grant did not come in.
"I have come as you requested, Mr. Reynolds," he said. "I suppose it's about the bonds. May I ask if you have discovered anything new?"
"I think I have," answered the broker, slowly.
The housekeeper looked surprised. If anything new had been discovered, she at least had not heard it.
"May I ask what it is?" Ford inquired, carelessly.
"You shall know in good time. Let me, however, return the question. Have you heard anything calculated to throw light on the mystery?"
"No, sir, I can't say I have. To my mind there is no mystery at all about the affair."
"I presume I understand what you mean. Still I will ask you to explain yourself."
"Everything seems to throw suspicion upon that boy, Grant Thornton. Nobody saw him take the bonds, to be sure, but he has had every opportunity of doing so, living in the same house, as he does. Again, a key has been found in his pocket, which will open the bureau drawer in which the bonds were kept; and, thirdly, I can testify, and the boy admits, that he presented them at our office for sale, and received the money for them. I think, sir, that any jury would consider this accumulation of proof conclusive."
"It does seem rather strong," said the broker, gravely. "I compliment you on the way you have summed up, Mr. Ford."
Willis Ford looked much gratified. He was susceptible to flattery, and he was additionally pleased, because, as he thought, Mr. Reynolds was impressed by the weight of evidence.
"I have sometimes thought," he said, complacently, "that I ought to have become a lawyer. I always had a liking for the profession."
"Still," said the broker, deliberately, "we ought to consider Grant's explanation of the matter. He says that the bonds were intrusted to him for sale by a third party."
"Of course he would say something like that," returned Willis, shrugging his shoulders. "He can hardly expect anyone to be taken in by such a statement as that."
"You think, then, that he had no dealings with this Morrison?"
"I don't say that, sir," said Ford, remembering the story which he and Morrison had agreed upon. It may be stated here that he had been anxious to meet Morrison before meeting the coming appointment, in order to ascertain what had passed between him and Grant. With this object in view, he had gone to the usual haunts of the gambler, but had been unable to catch sight of him. However, as he had seen him the evening previous, and agreed upon the story to be told, he contented himself with that.
"You think, then, that Morrison may have given Grant the bonds?" said Mr. Reynolds.
"No, sir; that is not my idea."
"Have you any other notion?"
"I think the boy may have been owing him money, and took this method of raising it."
"But how should he owe him money?" asked the broker, curiously.
"I don't wish to say anything against Morrison, but I have been told that he is a gambler. Grant may have lost money to him at play."
"Or you," thought the broker; but he said:
"Your suggestion is worth considering, but I don't think Grant has had any opportunity to lose money in that way, as he spends his evenings usually at home."
"It wouldn't take long to lose a great deal of money, sir."
"That explains it," said the housekeeper, speaking for the first time. "I have no doubt Willis is right, and the boy gambles."
"I presume, Mr. Ford," said the broker, with a peculiar look, "that you do not approve of gambling?"
"Most certainly not, sir," said Ford, his face expressing the horror which a so-well-conducted young man must naturally feel for so pernicious a habit.
"I am glad to hear it. Will you excuse me a moment?"
After the broker had left the room, Mrs. Estabrook turned to Willis and said: "You are pretty sharp, Willis. You have found out this wretched boy, and now I think we shall get rid of him."
"I flatter myself, mother," said Willis, complacently, "that I have given the old man some new ideas as to the character of his favorite. I don't think we shall see him in the office again."
As he spoke, his ears caught the sound of ascending footsteps on the stairs without. He was rather puzzled. He conjectured that Grant had been summoned to confront his accuser, but there seemed, from the sound, to be more than two approaching. When the door opened, and the broker gravely ushered in Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, both looking ill at ease, followed by Grant Thornton, he looked amazed and perplexed.
"I believe you know these gentlemen," said Mr. Reynolds, gravely. "I have thought it best to make our present investigation thorough and complete."
"I have met the gentlemen before," said Ford, uncomfortably.
"You also have met them, Grant, have you not?"
"Have you had any business transaction with either?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Morrison met me on Wall Street and handed me two bonds, with a request that I would sell them for him, and hand him the money the next morning, at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."
"Were these the same bonds that you sold to Mr. Ford?"
"I think the boy is lying, sir," burst out Ford.
"What have you to say to the boy's story, Mr. Morrison?" asked the broker.
"He's made a little mistake," answered Jim Morrison, who by this time was feeling more at his ease. "I didn't give him no bonds."
Willis Ford looked triumphant, and Grant amazed.
"How, then, could there be any business between you?"
"I may as well own up that I am a gambler," replied Morrison, with virtuous frankness. "The boy lost the money to me at play, and said he'd meet and pay me at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. I didn't know where he was goin' to get the money, but I expect he must have stolen the bonds, and got it that way."
Considering the damaging nature of the revelation, Grant showed considerable self-command. He did not turn pale, nor did he look guilty and conscience-stricken.
"What have you to say to this charge, Grant?" asked the broker.
"It is not true, sir."
"What a hardened young villain!" said the housekeeper, in a low, but audible voice.
"Mr. Reynolds will hardly believe you," said Ford, turning upon our hero and speaking in a tone of virtuous indignation. "You see, sir," he continued, addressing the broker, "that I was right in my conjecture."
"I am not quite satisfied yet," said Mr. Reynolds. "Grant, call the boy."
Great was the perplexity of Willis Ford and his friends when Grant left the room, and almost immediately reappeared with a small boy in blue uniform. Not one of them recognized him.
"Have you ever seen any of these gentlemen before, my boy?" asked the broker.
"I've seed 'em all, sir," answered the boy.
"State where you saw them last."
"I seed him, and him, and him," said Johnny, pointing out Willis Ford, Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, "at the Grand Central Hotel yesterday mornm'."
Ford started and became very pale.
"What passed between them?"
"He," indicating Ford, "gave some bonds to him," indicating Morrison, "and got back a bit of paper. I don't know what was on it."
"It is false!" ejaculated Willis Ford, hoarsely.
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