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BAFFLED, BUT NOT DISCOURAGED.
The triumphant look on the face of James Grey faded, and was replaced by one of baffled rage and disappointment.
"It's a lie!" he exclaimed, speaking rather what he wished than what he believed.
"You are mistaken," said Gilbert, in the same calm tone. "The paper you have just torn up was in my own handwriting."
"I have no doubt of that. I thought, all the time, that it was an imposture which you had got up."
"I made a copy of it from the original this morning," said our hero.
"Why did you not bring the original, if there is one?"
"Because I was afraid you might be tempted to destroy it. It seems I was right," added Gilbert, with a glance at the torn pieces of paper which littered the carpet at his feet.
James Grey was terribly provoked. He had "shown his hand," so to speak, and gained nothing by it. If his nephew's story was true, the dreaded paper was still in existence, and likely to be guarded more carefully than ever. Gilbert's calmness was a strong indication of the correctness of his story. Were the real paper destroyed, he could not help showing agitation.
"Do you mean to say that you have another paper than this?" he demanded.
"I do," said our hero.
"You must show me that, or I shall not believe you have it."
"I am not quite a fool, Uncle James," said Gilbert. "I know as well as you how valuable that paper is, and I am not going to risk it."
"You seem to be a remarkably prudent young man," said Mr. Grey, with a sneer—"quite an old head upon young shoulders."
"I ought to be," said Gilbert. "I was educated to the streets of New York. There I had to knock about for myself and earn my own living, at an age when most boys are carefully looked after by their parents. I learned to look out for my own interests there. I am indebted to you for that kind of training. You must not complain now if I use it against you."
Mr. Grey sat a moment in deep and troubled thought. This nephew of his turned out to be a decidedly formidable opponent. How could he cope with him?
"Have you told any one in this city about these false claims of yours?" he asked, after awhile.
"I have not spoken to any one about false claims," said Gilbert, coldly.
"Call them what you will. Have you spoken of having any claims to my brother's property to any one here?"
"To Mr. Ferguson."
James Grey frowned. Mr. Ferguson was one of the last men to whom he would have wished the communication known.
"He must have laughed at your ridiculous story."
"On the contrary, he fully believes it."
"I did not think him so gullible. Have you spoken to him about my being in the city?"
"Did he know you were to call upon me this afternoon?"
"I told him before I came."
Things were evidently getting more serious than Mr. Grey had supposed. Not only was Gilbert a young man who meant business, but he was backed by a merchant of standing, whose former connection with the Grey family made his co-operation and favor of no slight importance. James Grey saw that he must temporize. Had he followed out his inclination, he would have sprung upon his obdurate nephew and pounded him to a jelly. But unfortunately he was in a civilized city, where laws are supposed to afford some protection from personal assault, and this course, therefore, was not to be thought of. Since violence, then, was not practicable, he must have recourse to stratagem, and, to put Gilbert temporarily off his guard, he must play a part.
"Well, young man," he said, at length, "I am not prepared at present to pronounce a definite opinion upon your claim. Of course, if really convinced that you were my nephew, I would acknowledge you to be such."
"I have some doubts as to that," thought Gilbert.
"But it does not seem to me very probable that such is the case. Of course, I objected to being duped by an impostor. You cannot blame me for that."
"At first, your claim appeared to me preposterous, and I pronounced it to be so. Upon reflection, though I strongly doubt its genuineness, I am willing to take time to consider it."
"That is fair," said Gilbert.
"I shall consult with a lawyer on the subject, and institute some inquiries of my own. Then, besides, my time will be partly occupied with other business, on which I have come hither. You may come again, say in a week, and I shall perhaps be able to give you a definite answer."
"Very well," said Gilbert. "Good-morning."
"Good-morning," responded his uncle, following him to the door. "I'd like to kick you down stairs, you young villain," he added, sotto voce.
James Grey shut the door of his chamber, and sat down to think. It was certainly an emergency that called for serious thought. Gilbert's claim would strip him of four-fifths of his fortune, and reduce him from a rich man to a comparatively poor one.
"I am not safe as long as that paper exists," he concluded. "It must be stolen from the boy, in some way." But how? He felt that he wanted an unscrupulous tool through whose agency he might get possession of old Jacob's confession. That destroyed, he could snap his fingers at Gilbert, and live undisturbed in the possession of the fortune he wrongfully withheld from him.
Sometimes the devil sends to evil men precisely what they most want, and so it turned out in this particular instance.
That evening Mr. Grey was walking thoughtfully in the street, reflecting upon his difficult situation, when his sharp ears caught the sound of his nephew's name, pronounced by two boys, or young men, in front of him. Not to keep the reader in suspense, they were Maurice Walton and a friend of his, named Isaac Baker.
"I tell you, Baker," said Maurice, warmly, "it's the greatest piece of injustice my being paid only half the salary of that sneak, Gilbert Grey."
"I suppose he's a favorite with Ferguson, isn't he?"
"That's just it. I'm as good a clerk as he is, any day, yet he gets twenty dollars a week, while I only get ten. It's enough to make a fellow swear."
"Did you ever speak to Ferguson about it?"
"Yes, but that was all the good it did. He seems to think there's nobody like Grey."
"How did Grey get in with him?"
"I believe he's a nephew of the man Ferguson used to work for. Besides he's got a way of getting round people. He's a humbug and a hypocrite."
Maurice spoke with bitterness, and evidently felt strongly on the subject. He had another grievance, which he did not choose to speak of, of which our readers have already had a glimpse. His cousin, Bessie Benton, persisted in the bad taste of preferring Gilbert to him. Of course they were too young for anything serious; but, in the social gatherings to which all three were invited, Bessie was, of course, the recipient of attentions from both, and she had, on more than one occasion, shown unmistakably her preference for Gilbert Grey. Only two evenings previous, she had danced with Gilbert, but, when Maurice applied, had told him her card was full. It was not an intentional slight, and, had he come up earlier, he would have been successful in securing her. But he chose to regard it as a slight, and this naturally embittered him still more, partly against his cousin, but most of all against Gilbert, who, both in business and with the fair sex, seemed to have eclipsed him.
"I suppose, under the circumstances, you don't like Grey much?" said his companion.
"Like him!" returned Maurice, with bitter emphasis. "I should think not. He's a mean grasping fellow, and I hate him. He's got the inside track now, but my turn may come some time."
James Grey listened to this conversation with increasing interest. It seemed to open a way for him to success.
"Come," thought he, "here is just the fellow I want. He hates my dangerous nephew, and can easily be molded to my purposes. I will follow him, and, as soon as I can speak to him alone, I will see if I cannot win him to my side."
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