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The intelligence that his ticket was valueless came to Joe like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. The minute before he was in high spirits—his prospects seemed excellent and his path bright.
"What shall I do?" he ejaculated.
"I can't tell you," said the officer. "One thing is clear—you can't go to California on that ticket."
Poor Joe! For the moment hope was dead within his breast. He had but one dollar left and that was only half the amount necessary to carry him back to the village where we found him at the commencement of our story. Even if he were able to go back, he felt he would be ashamed to report the loss of his money. The fact that he had allowed himself to be swindled mortified him not a little. He would never hear the last of it if he returned to Oakville.
"No; I wouldn't go back if I could," he decided.
"Wouldn't I like to get hold of the man that sold me the ticket!"
He had hardly given mental expression to this wish when it was gratified. The very man passed him and was about to cross the gangplank into the steamer. Joe's eyes flashed, and he sprang forward and seized the man by the arm.
The swindler's countenance changed when he recognized Joe, but he quickly decided upon his course.
"What do you want, Johnny?" he asked composedly.
"What do I want? I want my fifty dollars back."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"You sold me a bogus ticket for fifty dollars," said Joe stoutly. "Here it is. Take it back and give me my money."
"The boy must be crazy," said the swindler.
"Did you sell him that ticket?" inquired the officer.
"Never saw him before in my life."
"Ain't you mistaken, boy?" asked the officer.
"No, sir. This is the very man."
"Have you any business here?" asked the officer.
"Yes," said the man; "I've taken a steerage ticket to San Francisco. Here it is."
"All right. Go in."
He tore himself from Joe's grasp and went on board the steamer. Our hero, provoked, was about to follow him, when the officer said:
"Stand back! You have no ticket."
"That man bought his ticket with my money."
"That is nothing to me," said the officer. "It may be so, or you may be mistaken."
"I am not mistaken," said Joe.
"You can report it to the police—that is, if you think you can prove it. Now, stand back!"
Poor Joe! He had been worsted in the encounter with this arch-swindler. He would sail for San Francisco on the Columbus. Perhaps he would make his fortune there, while Joe, whom he had so swindled, might, within three days, be reduced to beggary.
Joe felt that his confidence in human nature was badly shaken. Injustice and fraud seemed to have the best of it in this world, so far as his experience went, and it really seemed as if dishonesty were the best policy. It is a hard awakening for a trusting boy, when he first comes in contact with selfishness and corruption.
Joe fell back because he was obliged to. He looked around, hoping that he might somewhere see a policeman, for he wanted to punish the scoundrel to whom he owed his unhappiness and loss. But, as frequently happens, when an officer is wanted none is to be seen.
Joe did not leave the wharf. Time was not of much value to him, and he decided that he might as well remain and see the steamer start on which he had fondly hoped to be a passenger.
Meanwhile, the preparations for departure went steadily forward. Trunks arrived and were conveyed on board; passengers, accompanied by their friends, came, and all was hurry and bustle.
Two young men, handsomely dressed and apparently possessed of larger means than the great majority of the passengers, got out of a hack and paused close to where Joe was standing.
"Dick," said one, "I'm really sorry you are not going with me. I shall feel awfully lonely without you."
"I am very much disappointed, Charlie, but duty will keep me at home. My father's sudden, alarming sickness has broken up all my plans."
"Yes, Dick, of course you can't go."
"If my father should recover, in a few weeks, I will come out and join you, Charlie."
"I hope you may be able to, Dick. By the way, how about your ticket?"
"I shall have to lose it, unless the company will give me another in place of it."
"They ought to do it."
"Yes, but they are rather stiff about it. I would sell it for a hundred dollars."
Joe heard this and his heart beat high.
He pressed forward, and said eagerly:
"Will you sell it to me for that?"
The young man addressed as Dick looked, in surprise, at the poorly dressed boy who had addressed him.
"Do you want to go to California?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said Joe. "I am very anxious to go."
"Do I understand you to offer a hundred dollars for my ticket?"
"Yes, sir; but I can't pay you now."
"When do you expect to be able to pay me, then?"
"Not till I've earned the money in California."
"Have you thought before of going?"
"Yes, sir. Until an hour ago I thought that it was all arranged that I should go. I came down here and found that the ticket I had bought was a bogus one, and that I had been swindled out of my money."
"That was a mean trick," said Dick Scudder indignantly. "Do you know the man that cheated you?"
"Yes; he is on board the steamer."
"How much money have you got left?"
"Only a dollar? And you are not afraid to land in California with this sum?"
"No, sir. I shall go to work at once."
"Charlie," said Dick, turning to his friend, "I will do as you say. Are you willing to take this boy into your stateroom in my place?"
"Yes," said Charles Folsom promptly. "He looks like a good boy. I accept him as my roommate."
"All right," said the other. "My boy, what is your name?"
"Well, Joe, here is my ticket. If you are ever able to pay a hundred dollars for this ticket, you may pay it to my friend, Charles Folsom. Now, I advise you both to be getting aboard, as it is nearly time for the steamer to sail. I won't go on with you, Charlie, as I must go back to my father's bedside."
"Good-by, sir. God bless you!" said Joe gratefully. "Good-by, Joe, and good luck!"
As they went over the plank, the officer, recognizing Joe, said roughly:
"Stand back, boy! Didn't I tell you you couldn't go aboard without a ticket?"
"Here is my ticket," said Joe.
"A first-class ticket!" exclaimed the officer, in amazement. "Where did you get it?"
"I bought it," answered Joe.
"I shall go to California, after all!" thought our hero exultingly.
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