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"Mr. Wainwright showed me the letter you wrote to him," went on Fred.
"Excuse me," said Sinclair, looking puzzled, "but you seem very young to be taken into Mr. Wainwright's confidence."
"I am only seventeen."
"I don't understand it."
"Nor do I," answered Fred, smiling, "but Mr. Wainwright is right in supposing that I will do my best for him."
"Does he give you full powers in this matter?"
"Read this letter and you can judge for yourself."
The sick man eagerly held out his hand, and read carefully the letter which Fred placed in it. It ran thus:
JAMES SINCLAIR: The bearer of this letter has full powers to treat with you. I am glad you realize the wrong you have done me, and am prepared to consider your case in a generous spirit. The theft is known only to those who committed it, my young messenger and myself. On the return of the bonds I will take you back into my employment.
Tears came to the eyes of Sinclair.
"How kind and considerate Mr. Wainwright is!" he said in a tone of emotion. "Read this letter."
"You are right, but I would do the same."
Sinclair extended his hand which Fred shook cordially.
"I am not as bad as you may suppose. It was Bowman who, by his artful hints and allurements, induced me to rob my employer. I have never ceased to repent it."
"Are you prepared to restore the bonds? That will set you right."
"When I wrote the letter I was prepared, but now I must depend on you to find them."
"You don't know where they are?" asked Fred in dismay.
"No. You see that trunk at the other end of the room?"
"They were there until three days ago. Then Bowman, who kept the key, opened the trunk in my presence, and took out the package of bonds, locking the trunk after him."
"'What are you doing?' I asked.
"'Going to put these bonds into a place of security,' he answered.
"'Are they not safe in the trunk?' I asked.
"'No;' he replied, 'suppose, during my absence, a thief should enter the house? You are confined to the bed by rheumatism. What resistance could you make?'
"'But that is very improbable,' I persisted.
"'I don't know about that. This is a lonely cottage, and might be entered at any time,' he rejoined.
"'Where are you going to put the bonds?' I asked uneasily,
"He evaded a reply, but promised to tell me when I recovered my health. I protested, for we were jointly concerned in the robbery, and half the proceeds belonged to me. At any rate, I had as much title to them as he. But the contest was not an equal one. Had I been a well man I would have forcibly prevented his carrying out his purpose, but what could I do, racked with pain as I was, and unable to sit up in bed? I was worse off then than I am now."
"So he carried off the bonds?"
"Yes, and I don't know where he carried them. You see, that complicates matters."
"I do see," answered Fred, perplexed, "and I don't see the way out of the difficulty. Have you any idea where he can have concealed the securities?"
"Do you think he would keep them in his room at the hotel? It is just across the hall from mine, on the second floor."
"No, I don't. A hotel room would be a much less secure place than this cottage, and Bowman is a shrewd man."
"That is true."
"He has probably found some outside place of concealment. Where, of course, I can give you no hint. But I would advise you to follow him, watch his movements, and learn what you can. He will be sure to visit the place where the bonds are hidden from time to time, if only to make sure that they are still safe."
"Then I shall have to do some detective work?"
"I have read a good many detective stories, but I don't know that any of them will help me in this matter. There is one thing I am afraid of."
"What is that?"
"You say Bowman is a shrewd man. He will be likely to find out that I am following him and become suspicions."
"He would if you were a man, but as you are a boy he won't be likely to think that you are interested in the matter."
"Mr. Wainwright was of opinion that I should be less likely to excite suspicion than a grown man."
"The old man is smarter than I gave him credit for."
"I see no other way than to follow your directions. Are you in much pain to-day?"
"No, less than for some time. I think it is my mental trouble that aggravates my physical malady. Now that you are here, and something is to be done to right the wrong I have committed. I am sure I shall rapidly recover. Were you with Bowman this morning?"
"Yes, we went out in the woods together. I had a few New York papers which he read with interest."
"Have you them with you?" asked Sinclair eagerly. "You don't know how I hunger for home news."
"Yes, I brought them along, as I thought you might like to read them."
"I will read them after you are gone. Now we will converse."
"Have you a family?" asked Fred.
"I am not a married man but I have a mother," answered Sinclair, his eyes filling.
"Does she know——"
"Of my disgrace? No, I was obliged to tell a falsehood and represent that I was going to Canada on business. I have been in constant dread that my crime would get into the papers and she would hear it. Poor mother! I believe that it would kill her!"
"You didn't think of that when you took the bonds?"
"I thought of nothing. Bowman gave me no time to think. What I did was done on the impulse of the moment without consideration. Oh, if I had only stopped to think!" he concluded with a sigh.
For Fred it was a great moral lesson. He was honest by nature, but there is no one who cannot be strengthened against temptation. The sum taken by Sinclair was large, but it had not made him happy. Probably he had never been more miserable than in the interval that had elapsed since his theft. Judging between him and Bowman. Fred felt sure that it was Sinclair who had been weak, and Bowman who had been wicked. Now his only hope was to recover his lost position, to get back to where he stood when he yielded to temptation and robbed a kind and considerate employer.
"Where is Bowman this afternoon?" asked Sinclair.
"He told me he was going to ride to Hyacinth with the landlord. He seems to find time hanging heavy on his hands."
"He is much better off than I am. It is bad enough to be sick but when to this is added a burden of remorse, you can imagine that my position is not enviable."
At five o'clock Fred rose from his chair and took his hat.
"I must be going," he said. "We have supper at the hotel at six, and I may as well be punctual."
"Will you call again?" asked Sinclair, eagerly.
"Yes, but perhaps I had better not spend too much time with you. It may give rise to suspicions on the part of your partner."
"Don't call him my partner! I don't want to admit any connection between us. There has been a connection, it is true, but as soon as I can bring it about it will be closed, and then I hope never to see or hear of Paul Bowman as long as I live."
"I shall get to work to-morrow," said Fred. "I think it will be best for me not to call here till the day after. We must not appear to be too intimate."
When Fred returned to the hotel he found Bowman just arrived.
"Where have you been all the afternoon?" asked Bowman.
"Part of the time I spent with your friend, Mr. Sinclair."
"What did he find to talk about?" asked Bowman, eying Fred sharply.
"Chiefly about New York and his health. He doesn't seem contented here."
"No wonder. It's the dullest hole I was ever in. Is he any better?"
"He thinks so."
"I wish he'd get well quick. I want to go to some larger place."
"I suppose Montreal is a more interesting town."
"Yes, there is something going on there. We were fools to leave it."
After supper Fred played a few games of billiards with Bowman. Evidently he was not suspected as yet.
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