Chapter 20




THE THIEF IN DISGUISE

It will be inferred, from the preceding conversation, that Mrs. Montgomery was not likely to be shocked by the lack of honesty in her husband. Her conscience was as elastic as his; and she was perfectly willing to help him spend his unlawful gains.

"How soon are you going to sell the ring?" she asked.

"I should like to dispose of it at once, Maria."

"You will need to. Mrs. Flagg wants her bill paid at once."

"I quite understand the necessity of promptness, my dear. Only, you know, one has to be cautious about disposing of articles obtained in this way."

"You say you left the boy locked up. It seems to me, you'd better sell the ring before he has a chance to get out and interfere."

"I don't know but you're right, my dear. Well, we'll get ready."

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"Yes; it will disarm suspicion if you are with me. I think I'll go as a country parson."

"Country parsons are not apt to have diamond rings to dispose of."

"Very true, my dear. The remark does credit to your good judgment and penetration. But I know how to get over that."

"As how?"

"Be a little more particular about your speech, my dear. Remember, you are a minister's wife, and must use refined expressions. What is easier than to say that the ring was given me by a benevolent lady of my congregation, to dispose of for the benefit of the poor?"

"Well thought of, Tony. You've got a good head-piece."

"You're right, my dear. I don't like to indulge in self-praise, but I believe I know a thing or two. And now for the masquerade. Where are the duds?"

"In the black trunk."

"Then we'd better lose no time in putting them on."

Without describing the process of transformation in detail, it will be sufficient to say that the next twenty minutes wrought a decided change in the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Montgomery. The former was arrayed in a suit of canonical black, not of the latest cut. A white neckcloth was substituted for the more gaudy article worn by the jeweler from Syracuse, and a pair of silver-bowed spectacles, composed of plain glass, lent a scholarly air to his face. His hair was combed behind his ears, and, so far as appearance went, he quite looked the character of a clergyman from the rural districts.

"How will I do, my dear?" he asked, complacently.

"Tiptop," answered the lady. "How do I look?"

Mrs. Montgomery had put on a dress of sober tint, and scant circumference, contrasting in a marked manner with the mode then prevailing. A very plain collar encircled her neck. Her hands were incased in brown silk gloves, while her husband wore black kids. Her bonnet was exceedingly plain, and her whole costume was almost Quaker-like in its simplicity.

Her husband surveyed her with satisfaction.

"My dear," he said, "you are a fitting helpmeet for the Rev. Mr. Barnes, of Hayfield Centre. By Jove, you do me credit!"

"'By Jove' is not a proper expression for a man of your profession, Mr. Barnes," said the new minister's wife, with a smile.

"You are right, my dear. I must eschew profanity, and cultivate a decorous style of speech. Well, are we ready?"

"I am."

"Then let us set forth on our pilgrimage. We will imagine, Mrs. Barnes, that we are about to make some pastoral calls."

They emerged into the street. On the way downstairs they met Mrs. Flagg, the landlady, who bowed respectfully. She was somewhat puzzled, however, not knowing when they were let in.

"Good-morning, madam," said Mr. Barnes. "Are you the landlady of this establishment?"

"Yes, sir."

"I have been calling on one of your lodgers—Mr. Anthony Blodgett (this was the name by which Mr. Felix Montgomery was known in the house). He is a very worthy man."

Now, to tell the truth, Mrs. Flagg had not been particularly struck by the moral worth of her lodger, and this testimony led her to entertain doubts as to the discernment of her clerical visitor.

"You know him, then?"

"I know him as myself, madam. Have you never heard him mention the name of Rev. Mr. Barnes, of Hayfield Centre, Connecticut?"

"I can't say I have," answered the landlady.

"That is singular. We were always very intimate. We attended the same school as boys, and, in fact, were like Damon and Pythias."

Mrs. Flagg had never heard of Damon and Pythias, still she understood the comparison.

"You're in rather a different line now," she remarked, dryly.

"Yes, our positions are different. My friend dwells in the busy metropolis, while I pass a quiet, peaceful existence in a secluded country village, doing what good I can. But, my dear, we are perhaps detaining this worthy lady from her domestic avocations. I think we must be going."

"Very well, I am ready."

The first sound of her voice drew the attention of the landlady. Mrs. Felix Montgomery possessed a thin somewhat shrill, voice, which she was unable to conceal, and, looking attentively at her, Mrs. Flagg penetrated her disguise. Then, turning quickly to the gentleman, aided by her new discovery, she also recognized him.

"Well, I declare," said she, "if you didn't take me in beautifully."

Mr. Montgomery laughed heartily.

"You wouldn't know me, then?" he said.

"You're got up excellent," said Mrs. Flagg, with a slight disregard for grammar. "Is it a joke?"

"Yes, a little practical joke. We're going to call on some friends and see if they know us."

"You'd do for the theatre," said the landlady, admiringly.

"I flatter myself I might have done something on the stage, if my attention had been turned that way. But, my dear, we must be moving, or we shan't get through our calls."

"I wonder what mischief they are up to now," thought Mrs. Flagg, as she followed them to the door. "I know better than to think they'd take the trouble to dress up that way just to take in their friends. No, they're up to some game. Not that I care, as long as they get money enough to pay my bill."

So the worldly-wise landlady dismissed them from her thoughts, and went about her work.

Mr. Barnes and his wife walked up toward Broadway at a slow, decorous pace, suited to the character they had assumed. More than one who met them turned back to look at what they considered a perfect type of the country minister and his wife. They would have been not a little surprised to learn that under this quiet garb walked two of the most accomplished swindlers in a city abounding in adventurers of all kinds.

Mr. Barnes paused a moment to reprove a couple of urchins who were pitching pennies on the sidewalk.

"Don't you know that it's wrong to pitch pennies?" he said gravely.

"None of your chaff, mister," retorted one of the street boys, irreverently. "When did you come from the country, old Goggles?"

"My son, you should address me with more respect."

"Just get out of the way, mister! I don't want to hear no preachin'."

"I am afraid you have been badly brought up, my son."

"I ain't your son, and I wouldn't be for a shillin'. Just you go along, and let me alone!"

"A sad case of depravity, my dear," remarked Mr. Barnes to his wife. "I fear we must leave these boys to their evil ways."

"You'd better," said one of the boys.

"They're smart little rascals!" said Mr. Montgomery, when they were out of hearing of the boys. "I took them in, though. They thought I was the genuine article."

"We'd better not waste any more time," said his wife. "That boy might get out, you know, and give us trouble."

"I don't believe he will get out in a hurry. I locked the door and he'd have to pound some time before he could make any one hear, I declare, I should like to see how he looked when he recovered from his stupor, and realized that his ring was gone."

"What sort of boy was he, Tony?"

"Better not call me by that name, my dear. It might be heard, you know, and might not be considered in character. As to your question, he was by no means a stupid boy. Rather sharpish, I should say."

"Then how came he to let you take him in?"

"As to that, I claim to be rather sharp myself, and quite a match even for a smart boy. I haven't knocked about the world forty-four years for nothing."

They were now in Broadway. Turning the corner of Amity street, they walked a short distance downtown, and paused before the handsome jewelry store of Ball & Black.

"I think we had better go in here," said Felix Montgomery—(I hesitate a little by which of his numerous names to call him).

"Why not go to Tiffany's?"

"I gather from what the boy told me that the ring has already been offered there. It would be very likely to be recognized and that would be awkward, you know."

"Are you sure the ring has not been offered here? asked his wife.

"Quite sure. The boy would have mentioned it, had such been the case."

"Very well. Let us go in then."

The Rev. Mr. Barnes and his wife, of Hayfield Centre; entered the elegant store, and ten minutes later Paul Hoffman entered also, and took his station at the counters wholly unconscious of the near proximity of the man who had so artfully swindled him.



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