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Rufus entered the office as Mr. Turner was about to leave it.
"You were rather long," he said. "Were you detained?"
"I wish that was all, Mr. Turner," said Rufus, his face a little pale.
"What has happened?" asked the banker, quickly.
"The box was stolen from me as I was going upstairs to the office of Foster & Nevins."
"How did it happen? Tell me quickly."
"I had only gone up two or three steps when I heard a step behind me. Turning to see who it was, I was struck violently in the face, and fell forward. When I recovered, the man had disappeared, and the box was gone."
"Can I depend upon the absolute truth of this statement, Rufus?" asked Mr. Turner, looking in the boy's face searchingly.
"You can, sir," said Rufus, proudly.
"Can you give any idea of the appearance of the man who attacked you?"
"Yes, sir, I saw him for an instant before the blow was given, and recognized him."
"You recognized him!" repeated the banker, in surprise. "Who is he?"
Our hero's face flushed with mortification as he answered, "His name is Martin. He is my step-father. He has only just returned from Blackwell's Island, where he served a term of three months for trying to pick a man's pocket."
"Have you met him often since he was released?" asked Mr. Turner.
"He attempted to follow me home one evening from the Academy of Music, but I dodged him. I didn't want him to know where I boarded, for fear he would carry off my little sister, as he did once before."
"Did he know you were in my employ?"
"Yes, sir; I met him day before yesterday as I was coming home from the post-office, and he followed me to the office. He showed me a roll of bills, and said he was getting a hundred dollars a month."
"Now tell me what you did when you discovered that you had been robbed."
"I searched about for Martin with a policeman, but couldn't find him anywhere. Then I thought I had better come right back to the office, and tell you about it. I hope you don't think I was very much to blame, Mr. Turner."
"Not if your version of the affair is correct, as I think it is. I don't very well see how you could have foreseen or avoided the attack. But there is one thing which in the minds of some might operate to your prejudice."
"What is that, sir?" asked Rufus, anxiously.
"Your relationship to the thief."
"But he is my greatest enemy."
"It might be said that you were in league with him, and arranged to let him have the box after only making a show of resistance."
"I hope you don't think that, sir?" said our hero, anxiously.
"No, I do not."
"Thank you for saying that, sir. Now, may I ask you one favor?"
"I want to get back that box. Will you give me a week to do it in?"
"What is your plan?"
"I would like to take a week out of the office. During that time, I will try to get on the track of Martin. If I find him, I will do my best to get back the box."
Mr. Turner deliberated a moment.
"It may involve you in danger," he said, at length.
"I don't care for the danger," said Rufus, impetuously. "I know that I am partly responsible for the loss of the box, and I want to recover it. Then no one can blame me, or pretend that I had anything to do with stealing it. I should feel a great deal better if you would let me try, sir."
"Do you think there is any chance of your tracing this man, Martin? He may leave the city."
"I don't think he will, sir."
"I am inclined to grant your request, Rufus," said the banker, after a pause. "At the same time, I shall wish you to call with me at the office of police, and give all the information you are possessed of, that they also may be on the lookout for the thief. We had best go at once."
Mr. Turner and Rufus at once repaired to the police office, and lodged such information as they possessed concerning the theft.
"What were the contents of the box?" inquired the officer to whom the communication was made.
"Chiefly railroad and bank stocks."
"Was there any money?"
"Four hundred dollars only."
"Were any of the securities negotiable?"
"There were two government bonds of five hundred dollars each. They were registered, however, in the name of the owner, James Vanderpool, one of our customers. Indeed, the box was his, and was temporarily in our care."
"Then there would be a difficulty about disposing of the bonds."
"We may be able to get at the thief through them. Very probably he may be tempted to offer them for sale at some broker's office."
"It is quite possible."
"We will do our best to ferret out the thief. The chances are good."
"The thief will not be likely to profit much by his theft," said Mr. Turner, when they were again in the street. "The four hundred dollars, to be sure, he can use; but the railway and bank stocks will be valueless to him, and the bonds may bring him into trouble. Still, the loss of the securities is an inconvenience; I shall be glad to recover them. By the way, Mr. Vanderpool ought at once to be apprised of his loss. You may go up there at once. Here is his address."
Mr. Turner wrote upon a card, the name
and handed it to Rufus.
"After seeing Mr. Vanderpool, you will come to my house this evening, and report what he says. Assure him that we will do our best to recover the box. I shall expect you, during the week which I allow you, to report yourself daily at the office, to inform me of any clue which you may have obtained."
"You may depend upon me, sir," said our hero.
Rufus at once repaired to the address furnished him by Mr. Turner.
Another difficult and disagreeable task lay before him. It is not a very pleasant commission to inform a man of the loss of property, particularly when, as in the present case, the informant feels that the fault of the loss may be laid to his charge. But Rufus accepted the situation manfully, feeling that, however disagreeable, it devolved upon him justly.
He took the University Place cars, and got out at Twenty-Seventh Street. He soon found Mr. Vanderpool's address, and, ringing the bell, was speedily admitted.
"Yes, Mr. Vanderpool is at home," said the servant. "Will you go up to his study?"
Rufus followed the servant up the front staircase, and was ushered into a front room on the second floor. There was a library table in the centre of the apartment, at which was seated a gentleman of about sixty, with iron-gray hair, and features that bore the marks of sickness and invalidism.
Mr. Vanderpool had inherited a large estate, which, by careful management, had increased considerably. He had never been in active business, but, having some literary and scientific tastes, had been content to live on his income, and cultivate the pursuits to which he was most inclined.
"Mr. Vanderpool?" said Rufus, in a tone of inquiry.
"Yes," said that gentleman, looking over his glasses, "that is my name. Do you want to speak to me?"
"I come from Mr. Turner, the banker," said Rufus.
"Ah, yes; Mr. Turner is my man of business. Well, what message do you bring to me from him?"
"I bring bad news, Mr. Vanderpool," said our hero.
"Eh, what?" ejaculated Mr. Vanderpool, nervously.
"A tin box belonging to you was stolen this morning."
"Bless my soul! How did that happen?" exclaimed the rich man, in dismay.
Rufus gave the account, already familiar to the reader, of the attack which had been made upon him.
"Why," said Mr. Vanderpool, "there were fifty thousand dollars' worth of property in that box. That would be a heavy loss."
"There is no danger of losing all that," said Rufus. "The money I suppose will be lost, and perhaps the government bonds may be disposed of; but that will only amount to about fifteen hundred dollars. The thief can't do anything with the stocks and shares."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Mr. Vanderpool, relieved.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Turner told me so. We have given information to the police. Mr. Turner has given me a week to find the thief."
"You are only a boy," said Mr. Vanderpool, curiously. "Do you think you can do any good?"
"Yes, sir; I think so," said Rufus, modestly. "The box was taken from me, and I feel bound to get it back if I can. If I don't succeed, the certificates of stock can be replaced."
"Well, well, it isn't so bad as it might be," said Mr. Vanderpool. "But are you not afraid of hunting up the thief?" he asked, looking at Rufus, attentively.
"No, sir," said Rufus. "I'd just like to get hold of him, that's all."
"You would? Well now, I would rather be excused. I don't think I have much physical courage. How old are you?"
"Well, I hope you'll succeed. I would rather not lose fifteen hundred dollars in that way, though it might be a great deal worse."
"I hope you don't blame me very much for having the box stolen from me."
"No, no, you couldn't help it. So the man knocked you down, did he?"
"That must have been unpleasant. Did he hurt you much?"
"Yes, sir, just at first; but I don't feel it now."
"By the way, my young friend," said Mr. Vanderpool, reaching forward to some loose sheets of manuscript upon the desk before him, "did you ever consider the question whether the planets were inhabited?"
"No, sir," said Rufus, staring a little.
"I have given considerable time to the consideration of that question," said Mr. Vanderpool. "If you have time, I will read you a few pages from a work I am writing on the subject."
"I should be happy to hear them, sir," said Rufus, mentally deciding that Mr. Vanderpool was rather a curious person.
The old gentleman cleared his throat, and read a few pages, which it will not be desirable to quote here. Though rather fanciful, they were not wholly without interest, and Rufus listened attentively, though he considered it a little singular that Mr. Vanderpool should have selected him for an auditor. He had the politeness to thank the old gentleman at the close of the reading.
"I am glad you were interested," said Mr. Vanderpool, gratified. "You are a very intelligent boy. I shall be glad to have you call again."
"Thank you, sir; I will call and let you know what progress we make in finding the tin box."
"Oh, yes. I had forgotten; I have no doubt you will do your best. When you call again, I will read you a few more extracts. It seems to me a very important and interesting subject."
"Thank you, sir; I shall be very happy to call."
"He don't seem to think much of his loss," said our hero, considerably relieved. "I was afraid he would find fault with me. Now, Mr. Martin, I must do my best to find you."
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