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Upon his return to the city, John Armstrong lost no time in sending for Roland Reed. The latter, though rather surprised at the summons, answered it promptly. When he entered the office of the old merchant he found him sitting at his desk.
"Mr. Armstrong?" he said inquiringly.
"That's my name. You, I take it, are Roland Reed."
"No doubt you wonder why I sent for you," said Mr. Armstrong.
"Is it about the robbery of the Groveton Bank?"
"You have guessed it. You know, I suppose, that I am the owner of the missing box of bonds?"
"So I was told. Have you obtained any clue?"
"I have not had time. I have only just returned from Europe. I have done nothing except visit Groveton."
"What led you to send for me? Pardon my curiosity, but I can't help asking."
"An interview with a protege of yours, Luke Larkin."
"You know that Luke was arrested on suspicion of being connected with the robbery, though there are those who pay me the compliment of thinking that I may have had something to do with it."
"I think you had as much to do with it as Luke Larkin," said
"I had—just as much," said Reed, with a smile. "Luke is a good boy, Mr. Armstrong."
"I quite agree with you. If I had a son I should like him to resemble Luke."
"Give me your hand on that, Mr. Armstrong," said Roland Reed, impulsively. "Excuse my impetuosity, but I've taken a fancy to that boy."
"There, then, we are agreed. Now, Mr. Reed, I will tell you why I have taken the liberty of sending for you. From what Luke said, I judged that you were a sharp, shrewd man of the world, and might help me in this matter, which I confess puzzles me. You know the particulars, and therefore, without preamble, I am going to ask you whether you have any theory as regards this robbery. The box hasn't walked off without help. Now, who took it from the bank?"
"If I should tell you my suspicion you might laugh at me."
"I will promise not to do that."
"Then I believe that Prince Duncan, president of the Groveton
Bank, could tell you, if he chose, what has become of the box."
"Extraordinary!" ejaculated John Armstrong.
"I supposed you would be surprised—probably indignant, if you are a friend of Duncan—but, nevertheless, I adhere to my statement."
"You mistake the meaning of my exclamation. I spoke of it as extraordinary, because the same suspicion has entered my mind, though, I admit, without a special reason."
"I have a reason."
"May I inquire what it is?"
"I knew Prince Duncan when he was a young man, though he does not know me now. In fact, I may as well admit that I was then known by another name. He wronged me deeply at that time, being guilty of a crime which he successfully laid upon my shoulders. No one in Groveton—no one of his recent associates—knows the real nature of the man as well as I do."
"You prefer not to go into particulars?"
"Not at present."
"At all events you can give me your advice. To suspect amounts to little. We must bring home the crime to him. It is here that I need your advice."
"I understand that the box contained government bonds."
"What were the denominations?"
"One ten thousand dollar bond, one five, and ten of one thousand each."
"It seems to me they ought to be traced. I suppose, of course, they were coupon, not registered."
"You are right. Had they been registered, I should have been at no trouble, nor would the thief have reaped any advantage."
"If coupon, they are, of course, numbered. Won't that serve as a clue, supposing an attempt is made to dispose of them?"
"You touch the weak point of my position. They are numbered, and I had a list of the numbers, but that list has disappeared. It is either lost or mislaid. Of course, I can't identify them."
"That is awkward. Wouldn't the banker of whom you bought them be able to give you the numbers?"
"Yes, but I don't know where they were bought. I had at the time in my employ a clerk and book-keeper, a steady-going and methodical man of fifty-odd, who made the purchase, and no doubt has a list of the numbers of the bonds."
"Then where is your difficulty?" asked Roland Reed, in surprise.
"Go to the clerk and put the question. What can be simpler?"
"But I don't know where he is."
"Don't know where he is?" echoed Reed, in genuine surprise.
"No; James Harding—this is his name—left my employ a year since, having, through a life of economy, secured a competence, and went out West to join a widowed sister who had for many years made her residence there. Now, the West is a large place, and I don't know where this sister lives, or where James Harding is to be found."
"Yet he must be found. You must send a messenger to look for him."
"But whom shall I send? In a matter of this delicacy I don't want to employ a professional detective. Those men sometimes betray secrets committed to their keeping, and work up a false clue rather than have it supposed they are not earning their money. If, now, some gentleman in whom I had confidence—someone like yourself—would undertake the commission, I should esteem myself fortunate."
"Thank you for the compliment, Mr. Armstrong, more especially as you are putting confidence in a stranger, but I have important work to do that would not permit me to leave New York at present. But I know of someone whom I would employ, if the business were mine."
"But he is only a boy. He can't be over sixteen."
"He is a sharp boy, however, and would follow instructions."
John Armstrong thought rapidly. He was a man who decided quickly.
"I will take your advice," he said. "As I don't want to have it supposed that he is in my employ, will you oblige me by writing to him and preparing him for a journey? Let it be supposed that he is occupied with a commission for you."
"I will attend to the matter at once."
The next morning Luke received the following letter:
"MY DEAR LUKE: I have some work for you which will occupy some time and require a journey. You will be well paid. Bring a supply of underclothing, and assure your mother that she need feel under no apprehensions about you. Unless I am greatly mistaken, you will be able to take care of yourself.
Luke read the letter with excitement and pleasure. He was to go on a journey, and to a boy of his age a journey of any sort is delightful. He had no idea of the extent of the trip in store for him, but thought he might possibly be sent to Boston, or Philadelphia, and either trip he felt would yield him much pleasure. He quieted the natural apprehensions of his mother, and, satchel in hand, waited upon his patron in the course of a day. By him he was taken over to the office of Mr. Armstrong, from whom he received instructions and a supply of money.
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