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After a while Grant learned the particulars about Herbert's disappearance. He had gone out to play in the street about three o'clock in the afternoon. Generally he waited for Grant to return-home, but during his absence he had found other companions. When his father returned home, he inquired of the housekeeper: "Where is Herbert?"
"He went out to play," said Mrs. Estabrook, indifferently.
"In the street?"
"I believe so."
"He ought to be in by this time."
"Probably he went to walk with some of his companions. As he had no watch, he might not know that it is so late."
This seemed very plausible to Mr. Reynolds.
"Yes," he said; "Herbert seems lost without Grant. He will be glad to see him back."
To this Mrs. Estabrook did not reply. She had learned, to her cost, that it would not be politic to speak against Grant, and she was not disposed to praise him. She seldom mentioned him at all.
The dinner bell rang, and still Herbert had not returned. His father began to feel anxious.
"It is strange that Herbert remains so long away," he said.
"I shouldn't wonder if he had gone to Central Park on some excursion," returned the housekeeper calmly.
"You think there is nothing wrong?" asked the broker, anxiously.
"How could there be here, sir?" answered Mrs. Estabrook, with unruffled demeanor.
This answer helped to calm Mr. Reynolds, who ordered dinner delayed half an hour.
When, however, an hour--two hours--passed, and the little boy still remained absent, the father's anxiety became insupportable. He merely tasted a few spoonfuls of soup, and found it impossible to eat more. The housekeeper, on the contrary, seemed quite unconcerned, and showed her usual appetite.
"I am seriously anxious, Mrs. Estabrook," said the broker. "I will take my hat and go out to see if I can gain any information. Should Herbert return while I am away, give him his supper, and, if he is tired, let him go to bed, just finding out why he was out so late."
"Very well, sir."
When Mr. Reynolds had left the house a singular expression of gratified malice swept over the housekeeper's face. "It is just retribution," she murmured. "He condemned and discharged my stepson for the sin of another. Now it is his own heart that bleeds."
Only a few steps from his own door the broker met a boy about two years older than Herbert, with whom the latter sometimes played.
"Harvey," he said, "have you seen Herbert this afternoon?"
"Yes, sir; I saw him about three o'clock."
"Where?" asked the broker, anxiously.
"Just 'round the corner of the block," answered Harvey Morrison.
"Was he alone?"
"No; there was a young man with him--about twenty, I should think."
"A young man! Was it one you had ever saw before?"
"What was his appearance?"
Harvey described Herbert's companion as well as he could, but the anxious father did not recognize the description.
"Did you speak to Herbert? Did you ask where he was going?"
"Yes, sir. He told me that you had sent for him to go on an excursion."
"Did he say that?" asked the father, startled.
"Then there is some mischief afoot. I never sent for him," said the agitated father.
Mr. Reynolds requested Harvey to accompany him to the nearest police station, and relate all that he knew to the officer in charge, that the police might be put on the track. He asked himself in vain what object any one could have in spiriting away the boy, but no probable explanation occurred to him.
On his return to the house he communicated to the housekeeper what he had learned.
"What do you think of it?" he asked.
"It may be only a practical joke," answered the housekeeper calmly.
"Heaven grant it may be nothing more! But I fear it is something far more serious."
"I dare say it's only a boy's lark, Mr. Reynolds."
"But you forget--it was a young man who was seen in his company."
"I really don't know what to think of it, then. I don't believe the boy will come to any harm."
Little sleep visited the broker's pillow that night, but the housekeeper looked fresh and cheerful in the morning.
"Has the woman no feeling?" thought the anxious father, as he watched the tranquil countenance of the woman who for five years had been in charge of his house.
When she was left alone in the house Mrs. Estabrook took from her workbasket a letter, bearing date a month previous, and read slowly the following paragraph: "I have never forgotten the wrong done me by Mr. Reynolds. He discharged me summarily from his employment and declined to give me a recommendation which would secure me a place elsewhere. I swore at the time that I would get even with him, and I have never changed my resolution. I shall not tell you what I propose to do. It is better that you should not know. But some day you will hear something that will surprise you. When that time comes, if you suspect anything, say nothing. Let matters take their course."
The letter was signed by Willis Ford.
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