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As the distance was considerable to the business part of the city, Luke boarded a car and rode downtown. It did not occur to him to open the envelope till he was half way to the end of his journey.
When he did so, he was agreeably surprised. The envelope contained a ten-dollar bill.
"Ten dollars! Hasn't Mrs. Merton made a mistake?" he said to himself. "She said it was a week's pay. But, of course, she wouldn't pay ten dollars for the little I am to do."
Luke decided that the extra sum was given him on account of the service he had already been fortunate enough to render the old lady.
Next to him sat rather a showily dressed woman, with keen, sharp eyes. She took notice of the bank-note which Luke drew from the envelope, and prepared to take advantage of the knowledge.
No sooner had Luke replaced the envelope in his pocket than this woman put her hand in hers, and, after a pretended search, exclaimed, in a loud voice: "There is a pickpocket in this car. I have been robbed!"
Of course, this statement aroused the attention of all the passengers.
"What have you lost, madam?" inquired an old gentleman.
"A ten-dollar bill," answered the woman.
"Was it in your pocketbook?"
"No," she replied, glibly. "It was in an envelope. It was handed to me by my sister just before I left home."
As soon as Luke heard this declaration, he understood that the woman had laid a trap for him, and he realized his imprudence in displaying the money. Naturally he looked excited and disturbed. He saw that in all probability the woman's word would be taken in preference to his. He might be arrested, and find it difficult to prove his innocence.
"Have you any suspicion as to who took it?" asked the old gentleman.
"I think this boy took it," said the woman pointing to Luke.
"It's terrible, and he so young!" said an old lady with a severe cast of countenance, who sat next to the old gentleman. "What is the world coming to?"
"What, indeed, ma'am?" echoed the old gentleman.
Luke felt that it was time for him to say something.
"This lady is quite mistaken," he declared, pale but resolute. "I'm no thief."
"It can easily be proved," said the woman, with a cunning smile. "Let the boy show the contents of his pockets."
"Yes, that is only fair."
Luke saw that his difficulties were increasing.
"I admit that I have a ten-dollar bill in an envelope," he said.
"I told you so!" said the woman, triumphantly.
"But it is my own."
"Graceless boy!" said the old gentleman, severely, "Do not add falsehood to theft."
"I am speaking the truth, sir."
"How the boy brazens it out!" murmured the sour-visaged lady.
"Return the lady her money, unless you wish to be arrested," said the old gentleman.
"I don't intend to give this person"—Luke found it hard to say lady—"what she has no claim to."
"Young man, you will find that you are making a grand mistake. Probably if you give up the money the lady will not prosecute you."
"No, I will have pity upon his youth," said the woman.
"I can tell exactly where I got the money," went on Luke, desperately.
"Where did you get it?" asked the old maid, with a sarcastic smile.
"From Mrs. Merton, of Prairie Avenue."
"What did she give it to you for?"
"I am in her employment."
"Gentlemen," said the woman, shrugging her shoulders, "you can judge whether this is a probable story."
"I refer to Mrs. Merton herself," said Luke.
"No doubt! You want to gain time. Boy, I am getting out of patience. Give me my money!"
"I have no money of yours, madam," replied Luke, provoked; "and you know that as well as I do."
"So you are impertinent, as well as a thief," said the old gentleman. "I have no more pity for you. Madam, if you will take my advice, you will have the lying rascal arrested."
"I would prefer that he should give up the money quietly."
"I will take it upon myself to call a policeman when the car stops."
"You do me great injustice, sir," said Luke. "Why do you judge so severely of one whom you do not know?"
"Because, young man, I have lived too long to be easily deceived. I pride myself upon my judgment of faces, and I can see the guilt in yours."
Luke looked about him earnestly.
"Is there no one in this car who believes me innocent?" he asked.
"No," said the old gentleman. "We all believe that this very respectable lady charges you justly."
"I say amen to that," added the old maid, nodding sharply.
Next to the old maid sat a man of about thirty-five, in a business suit, who, though he had said nothing, had listened attentively to the charges and counter-charges. In him Luke was to find a powerful and effective friend.
"Speak for yourself, old gentleman," he said. "You certainly are old enough to have learned a lesson of Christian charity."
"Sir," exclaimed the old gentleman, in a lofty tone, "I don't require any instruction from you."
"Why do you think the boy a thief? Did you see him take the money?"
"No, but its presence in his pocket is proof enough for me of his guilt."
"Of course it is!" said the old maid, triumphantly.
The young man did not appear in the least disconcerted.
"I have seldom encountered more uncharitable people," he said. "You are ready to pronounce the boy guilty without any proof at all."
"Don't it occur to you that you are insulting the lady who brings the charge?" asked the old gentleman, sternly.
The young man laughed.
"The woman has brought a false charge," he said.
"Really, this is outrageous!" cried the old maid. "If I were in her place I would make you suffer for this calumny."
"Probably I know her better than you do. I am a salesman in Marshall Field's drygoods store, and this lady is a notorious shoplifter. She is varying her performances to-day. I have a great mind to call a policeman. She deserves arrest."
Had a bombshell exploded in the car, there would not have been a greater sensation. The woman rose without a word, and signaled to have the car stopped.
"Now, sir," went on the young man, sternly, "if you are a gentleman, you will apologize to this boy for your unworthy suspicions, and you, too, madam."
The old maid tossed her head, but could not find a word to say, while the old gentleman looked the picture of mortification.
"We are all liable to be mistaken!" he muttered, in a confused tone.
"Then be a little more careful next time, both of you! My boy, I congratulate you on your triumphant vindication."
"Thank you, sir, for it. I should have stood a very poor chance without your help."
The tide was turned, and the uncharitable pair found so many unfriendly glances fixed upon them that they were glad to leave the car at the next crossing.
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