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Mark pushed on intent upon reaching Cleveland. He decided not to stop off at Niagara till he was on his return. He never for a moment forgot that a great responsibility rested upon him for the safe delivery of the valuable diamond pin intrusted to him by Mr. Swan. When it was safely out of his hands and in those of Mrs. Loring he would feel relieved.
He was within a hundred miles of Cleveland in a car well filled with passengers when his attention was called to a young lady sitting in the seat directly opposite him. She seemed lively and was particularly attractive.
Mark was too young to be deeply impressed by female beauty, but he experienced, like most persons, a greater pleasure in looking at a beautiful than at an ugly object. The young lady had been sitting alone, when a tall man of about forty came up the aisle and paused by her seat.
"Is this seat occupied?" he asked softly.
"Then I will presume to occupy it."
"He must be a minister," thought Mark.
His clothes were of clerical cut, he wore a white necktie, and on his head was a brown straw hat with wide brim. He folded his hands meekly on his knees, and turned towards his young companion.
"I am sorry to intrude upon you, young lady," Mark heard him say.
"It is no intrusion, sir," answered the girl pleasantly. "I have only paid for one seat, and cannot expect to monopolize two."
"Nevertheless I am sorry if in any way I have intruded upon you. I am, as you may perhaps have inferred from my appearance, a minister."
"I thought you looked like one, sir."
"I am going to make an exchange with a clerical brother."
"Yes, sir," returned the young lady, wondering what interest she could be expected to take in this circumstance.
"I always like to get acquainted with young people. I may perhaps have an opportunity of influencing them for good."
"Just so, sir; but I think such advice is better suited for Sunday, don't you?"
"I am accustomed to drop words of counsel in season, and out of season."
"I would rather listen to them when they are in season."
"True! I stand reproved."
The minister took from his pocket a small volume which he opened and began to read.
"This volume," he said, "contains the sermons of the excellent Dr. Hooker. If I had another copy I should be glad to offer it to you."
"Thank you, I don't care to read just at present."
Half an hour passed. The minister put back his book into his pocket, and bowing politely, bade the young lady good morning.
"I am pleased to have made your acquaintance," he said.
"Thank you, sir."
Five minutes later the young lady put her hand into her pocket. She uttered a cry of alarm.
"What is the matter, miss?" asked Mark.
"My purse is gone!" exclaimed the young lady in a state of nervous excitement.
"When did you last see it?" asked the messenger boy.
"About an hour ago. I bought a copy of Munsey's Magazine of the train boy, and took out my purse to pay for it."
"An hour ago? You were sitting alone at the time?"
"Did any one sit beside you except the old gentleman who has just left?"
"You are sure it hasn't fallen on the floor?"
"I will look."
The young lady rose and looked about under the seat, but the lost purse was not found.
"I—I don't see how I could have lost it. I have been sitting here all the time."
An idea flashed upon Mark.
"It must have been taken by the man who just left you," he said.
"But that can't be! He was a minister."
"I know he was dressed as a minister, but I don't believe he was one."
"He looked just like one. Besides he was reading a volume of sermons. I can't believe that he would rob me."
"There was one thing that didn't look very ministerial."
"What was that?"
"His nose. Do you not notice how red it was?"
"Yes, but I thought it might be some humor."
"It was colored by whisky, I think. I know topers in New York who have noses exactly like his. You may depend upon it that he has your purse. I hope there wasn't much in it."
"Only about five dollars. Generally the loss would not inconvenience me, but as it is—" and she looked anxious.
"If—if I can be of any service," stammered Mark, "I hope you won't mind saying so. I can lend you five dollars."
The young lady looked grateful, but seemed in doubt as to whether she ought to accept the offer.
"I don't know whether I ought to accept such an offer from a young gentleman—" she said hesitating.
"I am a very young gentleman," said Mark smiling. "I am only sixteen!"
"That is true, and it does make a difference. Are you sure you can spare the money for a day or two."
"Quite so, Miss—"
"Loring," prompted the young lady.
"Are you related to Mrs. Arabella Loring of Cleveland?"
The young lady looked very much surprised.
"She is my mother," she replied. "But how in the world do you know of her?"
"I will tell you later," answered Mark.
He felt that it wouldn't be wise to mention the commission, or let any one know that he had a diamond ring in charge.
"Are you going directly to Cleveland, Miss Loring?"
"Yes, but about thirty miles this side I have a young niece at a boarding school. She will join me on the train, and will expect me to pay her railroad fare. But for that, the loss of the money would have entailed no inconvenience."
Mark drew from his pocket book a five-dollar bill and passed it to Miss Loring.
"But how can I return this to you?" she asked.
"I will call at your house. I am going to Cleveland also."
"Do so. Here is my card."
She took out a small card and tendered it to Mark. On it was inscribed:
"Inquire for me when you call!" she said.
"It seems so strange that you should know my mother," she continued evidently feeling curious.
"You will know in time," he said. "If we were alone I would tell you now."
Here there was a stop at some station, and a shabby and dirty-looking man entered the car. There was but one seat vacant, the one next to Florence Loring.
Mark hastily rose and sat down in it.
"I thought," he said apologetically, "you might prefer me to the man who has just entered the car."
"By all means," she answered with a bright smile. "I prefer you also to the clerical gentleman who rode with me earlier."
"Thank you. When your niece joins you I will vacate the seat in her favor."
Florence Loring was perhaps nineteen, three years older than Mark. She looked upon him quite as a boy, and therefore felt under no constraint.
"Do you come from New York?" she asked.
"You seem young to travel alone."
"I don't think you can be much older than I," said Mark.
"Mercy! I feel ever so much older. I feel old enough to be your aunt."
"I shouldn't mind having you for an aunt," returned Mark.
"On the whole, though, it might prove to be too much of a responsibility. You may be very hard to manage."
"Do you mind my calling you aunt?"
"Well, perhaps it might make me appear too venerable."
"Did you notice, Miss Loring, whether your clerical friend left the cars when he left the seat?"
"No; I didn't feel any particular interest in him, and did not give him a second thought."
"Perhaps he may still be on the train. I have a great mind to go and see."
"I don't think it would do any good. We could not prove that he took my purse."
"If you will excuse me for five minutes I will make a search."
Mark went through the next car and entered the second one, which was a smoking car. He looked about him, and in a seat about the middle of the car he saw the man of whom he was in search. He recognized him by his white tie and his red nose. He was smoking a cigar and gazing out of the car window.
The seat beside him being vacant Mark went forward and sat down in it.
The gentleman with the white tie glanced at him carelessly, but did not appear to think Mark was worthy of attention. He changed his mind when Mark said in a low voice:
"Please give me the purse which you took from a young lady in the second car back."
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