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Prince Duncan was unusually taciturn during the railroad journey—so much so that his wife noticed it, and inquired the reason.
"Business, my dear," answered the bank president. "I am rather perplexed by a matter of business."
"Business connected with the bank, Mr. Duncan?" asked his wife.
"No, private business."
"Have you heard anything yet of the stolen bonds?"
"Have you any suspicion?"
"None that I am at liberty to mention," answered Duncan, looking mysterious.
"I suppose you no longer suspect that boy Luke?"
"I don't know. The man who owns to having given him the tin box for safe-keeping is, in my opinion, a suspicious character. I shouldn't be at all surprised if he were a jailbird."
The small man already referred to, who occupied a seat just across the aisle, here smiled slightly, but whether at the president's remark, is not clear.
"What did he call himself?"
"Roland Reed—no doubt an alias."
"It seems to me you ought to follow him up, and see if you can't convict him of the theft."
"You may be sure, Jane, that the president and directors of the Groveton Bank will do their duty in this matter," said Mr. Duncan rather grandiloquently. "By the way, I have received this morning a letter from Mr. Armstrong, the owner of the stolen bonds, saying that he will be at home in a few days."
"Does he know of the loss?"
"How will he take it?"
"Really, Jane, you are very inquisitive this morning. I presume he will be very much annoyed."
The car had become quite warm, and Mr. Duncan, who had hitherto kept on his overcoat, rose to take it off. Unfortunately for him he quite forgot the bonds he had in the inside pocket, and in his careless handling of the coat the package fell upon the floor of the car, one slipping out of the envelope a bond for one thousand dollars.
Prince Duncan turned pale, and stooped to pick up the package. But the small man opposite was too quick for him. He raised the package from the floor, and handing it to the bank president with a polite bow, said, with a smile: "You wouldn't like to lose this, sir."
"No," answered Duncan gruffly, angry with the other for anticipating him, "it was awkward of me."
Mrs. Duncan also saw the bond, and inquired with natural curiosity.
"Do they belong to the bank, Mr. Duncan?"
"No; they are my own."
"I am glad of that. What are you going to do with them?"
"Hush! It is dangerous to speak of them here. Some one might hear, and I might be followed. I am very much annoyed that they have been seen at all."
This closed Mrs. Duncan's mouth, but she resolved to make further inquiries when they were by themselves.
Prince Duncan looked askance at his opposite neighbor. He was a man who had come to Groveton recently, and had opened a billiard saloon and bar not far from the bank. He was not regarded as a very desirable citizen, and had already excited the anxiety of parents by luring into the saloon some of the boys and young men of the village. Among them, though Squire Duncan did not know it, was his own son Randolph, who had already developed quite a fondness for playing pool, and even occasionally patronized the bar. This, had he known it, would have explained Randolph's increased applications for money.
Whether Tony Denton—his full name was Anthony Denton—had any special object in visiting New York, I am unable to state. At all events it appeared that his business lay in the same direction as that of Prince Duncan, for on the arrival of the train at the New York depot, he followed the bank president at a safe distance, and was clearly bent upon keeping him in view.
Mr. Duncan walked slowly, and appeared to be plunged in anxious thought. His difficulties were by no means over. He had the bonds to dispose of, and he feared the large amount might occasion suspicion. They were coupon bonds, and bore no name or other evidence of ownership. Yet the mere fact of having such a large amount might occasion awkward inquiries.
"Here's yer mornin' papers!" called a negro newsboy, thrusting his bundle in front of the country banker.
"Give me a Herald," said Mr. Duncan. Opening the paper, his eye ran hastily over the columns. It lighted up as he saw a particular advertisement.
"The very thing," he said to himself.
This was the advertisement:
"LOAN OFFICE—We are prepared to loan sums to suit, on first-class security, at a fair rate of interest. Call or address Sharp & Ketchum, No. — Wall Street. Third floor."
"I will go there," Prince Duncan suddenly decided. "I will borrow what I can on these bonds, and being merely held on collateral, they will be kept out of the market. At the end of six months, say, I will redeem them, or order them sold, and collect the balance, minus the interest."
Having arrived at this conclusion, he quickened his pace, his expression became more cheerful, and he turned his steps toward Wall Street.
"What did the old fellow see in the paper?" thought Tony. Denton, who, still undiscovered, followed Mr. Duncan closely. "It is something that pleased him, evidently."
He beckoned the same newsboy, bought a Herald also, and turning to that part of the paper on which the banker's eyes had been resting, discovered Sharp & Ketchum's advertisement.
"That's it, I'll bet a hat," he decided. "He is going to raise money on the bonds. I'll follow him."
When Duncan turned into Wall Street, Tony Denton felt that he had guessed correctly. He was convinced when the bank president paused before the number indicated in the advertisement.
"It won't do for me to follow him in," he said to himself, "nor will it be necessary—I can remember the place and turn it to my own account by and by."
Prince Duncan went up-stairs, and paused before a door on which was inscribed:
SHARP & KETCHUM
He opened the door, and found the room furnished in the style of a private banking-office.
"Is Mr. Sharp or Mr. Ketchum in?" he inquired of a sharp-faced young clerk, the son, as it turned out, of the senior partner.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Sharp is in."
"Is he at leisure? I wish to see him on business."
"Go in there, sir," said the clerk, pointing to a small private room in the corner of the office. Following the directions, Mr. Duncan found himself in the presence of a man of about fifty, with a hatchet face, much puckered with wrinkles, and a very foxy expression.
"I am Mr. Sharp," he said, in answer to an inquiry.
Prince Duncan unfolded his business. He wished to borrow eight or nine thousand dollars on ten thousand dollars' worth of United States Government bonds.
"Why don't you sell at once?" asked Sharp keenly.
"Because I wish, for special reasons, to redeem these identical bonds, say six months hence."
"They are your own?" asked Mr. Sharp.
"They are a part of my wife's estate, of which I have control. I do not, however, wish her to know that I have raised money on them," answered Duncan, with a smooth falsehood.
"Of course, that makes a difference. However, I will loan you seven thousand dollars, and you will give me your note for seven thousand five hundred, at the usual interest, with permission to sell the bonds at the end of six months if the note remains unpaid then, I to hand you the balance."
Prince Duncan protested against these terms as exorbitant, but was finally obliged to accede to them. On the whole, he was fairly satisfied. The check would relieve him from all his embarrassments and give him a large surplus.
"So far so good!" said Tony Denton, as he saw Mr. Duncan emerge into the street. "If I am not greatly mistaken this will prove a lucky morning for me."
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