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The telegraph boy's evidence overwhelmed Willis Ford and his confederates with dismay. The feeling was greater in Ford, for it tended to fasten the theft upon him, while Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, though convicted of falsehood, were at all events sustained by the consciousness that nothing worse could be alleged against them.
"It is false!" asserted Willis Ford, with a flushed face.
"It is true!" declared the telegraph boy, sturdily.
"I don't believe a word of it," said the housekeeper, angrily.
"This is a startling revelation, Mr. Ford," said the broker, gravely.
"It is a base conspiracy, sir," returned Ford, hoarsely. "I submit, sir, that the word of a boy like that ought not to weigh against mine. Besides, these gentlemen," indicating Jim Morrison and Tom Calder, "will corroborate my statement."
"Of course we do," blustered Morrison. "That boy is a liar!"
"I have spoken the truth, sir, and they know it," asserted Johnny, resolutely.
"How much did Grant Thornton pay you for telling this lie?" demanded Willis Ford, furiously.
"I will answer that question, Mr. Ford," said Grant, thinking it time to speak for himself. "I paid him nothing, and did not know till last evening that he had witnessed the interview between you and Mr. Morrison."
"Your word is of no value," said Ford, scornfully.
"That is a matter for Mr. Reynolds to consider," answered Grant, with composure.
"Mr. Ford," said the broker, gravely, "I attach more importance to the testimony of this telegraph boy than you appear to; but then it is to be considered that you are an interested party."
"Am I to be discredited on account of what a wretched telegraph boy chooses to say?" asked Ford, bitterly. "Even supposing him worthy of credence, my two friends sustain me, and it is three against one."
"They are your friends, then?" asked Mr. Reynolds, significantly.
Willis Ford flushed. It was not to his credit to admit that an acknowledged gambler was his friend, yet he knew that to deny it would make Morrison angry, and perhaps lead him to make some awkward revelations.
"I have not known them long, sir," he answered, embarrassed, "but I believe they feel friendly to me. One of them," he added, maliciously, "is an old friend of Grant Thornton."
"Yes," answered Grant, by no means disconcerted. "Tom Calder is from the same town as myself, and I wish him well."
Tom looked pleased at this friendly declaration on the part of Grant, whom, indeed, he personally liked better than Willis Ford, who evidently looked down upon him, and had more than once snubbed him.
"You see," said Ford, adroitly, "that Grant Thornton's old friend testifies against him. I don't think I need say any more except to deny, in toto, the statement of that low telegraph boy."
"I'm no lower than you are," retorted Johnny, angrily.
"None of your impertinence, boy!" said Ford, loftily.
"I must say," interposed the housekeeper, "that this seems a very discreditable conspiracy against my stepson. I am sure, Mr. Reynolds, you won't allow his reputation to be injured by such a base attack."
"Mr. Ford," said the broker, "I have listened attentively to what you have said. I ought to say that a telegraph boy has as much right to be believed as yourself."
"Even when there are three against him?"
"The three are interested parties."
"I have no doubt he is also. I presume he has an understanding with Grant Thornton, who is a suspected thief."
"I deny that, Mr. Ford," exclaimed Grant, indignantly.
"You are certainly suspected of stealing my stepmother's bonds."
"And I have no doubt you took them," declared the housekeeper, venomously.
At this time the doorbell was heard to ring.
"Excuse me for a moment," said the broker. "I will be back directly."
When he had left the room, the parties left behind looked at each other uncomfortably. Willis Ford, however, was too angry to keep silence.
He turned to Grant, and made an attack upon him.
"You won't accomplish anything, you young rascal, by your plotting and contriving! I give you credit for a good deal of cunning in bringing this boy to give the testimony he has; but it won't do you any good. Mr. Reynolds isn't a fool, and he will see through your design."
"That he will, Willis," said the housekeeper. "After all the kindness that boy has received in this house, he might be better employed than in stealing my bonds, and then trying to throw it upon a man like you."
"I don't care to argue with you, Mr. Ford," said Grant, quietly. "You know as well as I do that I didn't steal the bonds, and you know," he added, significantly, "who did."
"I have a great mind to break your head, you impudent boy!"
"That would be a very poor argument. The truth has already come out, and I am vindicated."
"I don't know whether you expect Mr. Reynolds to shield you or not, but, if my mother takes my advice, she will have you arrested, whatever happens."
"I intend to," said the housekeeper, nodding spitefully. "If you had returned the bonds, I did not mean to let the matter drop, but since you have tried to throw suspicion on my son, who has always been devoted to me, I mean to punish you as severely as the law allows."
"I think you will change your mind, Mrs. Estabrook, and let the thief go unpunished," said Grant, in no ways disturbed.
"Not unless you make a full confession; and even then I think you ought to suffer for your base wickedness."
"You are making a mistake, Mrs. Estabrook. I referred to the thief."
"That is yourself."
Grant shrugged his shoulders. He was spared the necessity of answering the attack, for just then the door opened, and Mr. Reynolds re-entered. He did not enter alone, however.
A small man of quiet manner, attired in a sober suit of brown, closely followed him.
All present looked at him in surprise. Who was this man, and what had he to do with the matter that concerned them all?
They were not destined to remain long in doubt,
"Mr. Graham, gentlemen!" said the broker, with a wave of the hand.
The detective bowed courteously.
"Mr. Graham, permit me to ask," continued the broker, "if you have seen any of these gentlemen before?"
"Yes," answered Graham, and he indicated Grant Thornton, Jim Morrison and Tom Calder.
"When did you see them, and where?"
"At the Fifth Avenue Hotel this morning."
"What passed between them?"
"They were talking about some bonds, which that gentleman," indicating Morrison, "acknowledged giving to the boy to sell. He asked for the proceeds, but the boy told him there was something wrong about the bonds, and his employer wouldn't allow him to pass over the money. Upon this, Morrison, as I understand him to be called, said they were given him by a party that owed him money, and threatened that, if he had played a trick upon him, it would be the worse for him."
"Who is that man, Mr. Reynolds?" asked Ford, in nervous excitement.
"One of the best known detectives in the city," quietly answered the broker. "What have you to say to his evidence?"
"That it doesn't concern me. I may be wrong about the boy taking the bonds, but that doesn't involve me. There may have been another party."
"You forget the testimony of the telegraph boy--that he saw you give the bonds to your friend there."
"The boy told a falsehood!"
"I am in a position to confirm the boy's testimony," said the detective.
Willis Ford gasped for breath and seemed ready to sink into the floor. What was coming next?
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