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THE THEFT OF THE PAPER.
Had Maurice Walton been a youth of strict honor, he could not have been induced to undertake the theft of the paper, however large the sum offered him. But his principles were not strict enough to interfere, and the hope of injuring Gilbert, whom he envied, and therefore hated, made him the more willing to engage in the enterprise.
"A hundred dollars will be very acceptable," he said to himself, complacently. "They couldn't be more easily earned. Now, how shall I set about it?"
Maurice came to the conclusion that Gilbert kept the paper in his trunk. This seemed to be the most natural depository to be selected. Of course, then, he must contrive some means of opening the trunk. He thought of pretending that he had lost the key of his own trunk, and asking Gilbert for the loan of his. But that would draw suspicion upon him when the paper was missed. Another plan, which he finally adopted, was to go to a locksmith, and ask for a variety of trunk keys, on the same pretext, in order to try, with the liberty of returning those that didn't suit. This, and other points necessary to success in his scheme, were determined upon by Maurice, and will be made known to the reader as he proceeds.
A little before ten the next morning, Maurice left his place in the store, and, going to Mr. Ferguson, asked permission to go home.
"For what reason?" asked his employer.
"I have a terrible headache," said Maurice, looking as miserable as possible.
"Certainly you may go," said Mr. Ferguson, who was a kind-hearted man, and who didn't doubt the statement.
"If I feel better I will come back in the afternoon," said Maurice.
"Don't come unless you feel able. I know what the headache is, and I don't want you to come, unless you feel quite able to attend to business."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now for business," said Maurice, as he found himself in the street. "I'll rest my poor head by a ride on the horse-cars."
First, however, he entered a small shop near by, over which was a sign, M. Frink, Locksmith.
The locksmith, wearing a dirty apron, looked up from his work.
"I have lost the key to my trunk," said Maurice.
"I can make you another," said the locksmith.
"I want to open it now. Haven't you got some already made?"
"Plenty. But how will you know the size?"
"Give me half a dozen to try, and I will bring back those that don't suit."
"All right. Is your lock a large one?"
"Not very. About medium," said Maurice, hazarding a guess.
The locksmith picked out eight keys, of various sizes, and handed them to Maurice.
"I will bring them back safe," said he.
"All right. I don't think you'll run off with them."
"Now for it," said Maurice. "I think one of these keys must fit."
He took the cars to a point only two squares distant from Gilbert's boarding-house, and walked toward it. But, in order to change his appearance, he applied to his upper lip a false black mustache, which he had bought for the purpose, and, a little discomposed by his dishonest intentions, walked up the steps and rang the bell. It was opened directly by a servant.
"I am a friend of Mr. Grey's," said Maurice, putting on a bold face. "He told me I might get his opera-glass."
This he said in an easy, confident manner, which imposed upon the girl.
"Do you know his room?" she asked.
"Yes, I know it," said Maurice. "Never mind about going up."
The servant went back to her work, and Maurice, his heart beating fast, went up stairs on his dishonest errand. He had no difficulty in getting into the room, for the door was not locked. The trunks were kept in the bed-chamber, and he therefore went thither at once. One of the trunks was a handsome one, made of sole-leather. This belonged to Mordaunt. The other was plainer and smaller, and no doubt belonged to Gilbert.
Maurice got down on his knees and began to try his keys. The first did not fit, neither did the second, nor the third. Indeed, it was only the last that proved to be the right one. Maurice had feared the failure of his plans, when success came.
"So far, so good," he said, and began eagerly to explore the contents.
First in order came a pile of shirts and underclothing. These he hastily removed, and peered about for papers. In one corner was a book of deposits on a city savings-bank. Led by curiosity, Maurice opened it. He saw a long line of deposits, covering several pages, for Gilbert had been in the habit of making a weekly deposit, even the first year, for, though his income was small, he had nothing to pay for board, and this was, of course, a great help.
"How much has the fellow got?" thought Maurice.
He made a hurried calculation, and, to his astonishment and envy, learned that our hero had seven hundred and sixty dollars deposited to his credit.
"Almost eight hundred dollars, and I haven't a cent," he muttered, discontentedly. Then there came the thought that if he found the paper, he might count upon a hundred dollars, and his good spirits returned. Underneath the bank-book were two letters, written to him by Mordaunt while absent on a pleasure-trip not long before, and under these was a sheet of quarto paper, which appeared to be written upon.
"That may be the paper," thought Maurice, and he took it in his hands with eager anticipations. Turning to the end he read the signature, "Jacob Morton." A slight examination of the contents satisfied him that it was the paper he wanted.
"Success! success!" he ejaculated, exultingly. "My hundred dollars are safe. Now, Gilbert Grey, your hopes are dashed to the earth, and you won't know who has done it for you."
There was no need of waiting longer. He put back the contents of the trunk hastily, with the exception of the paper, which he folded, and put carefully in his breast-pocket. Then locking the trunk, he went down stairs, and let himself out by the front door, without meeting any one.
"I didn't think I'd succeed so easily," he thought. "Now I'll go round to the Burnet House and get my hundred dollars. It pays to have a headache, sometimes."
Arrived at the Burnet House he found that Mr. Grey was out, and decided to wait for him. He remained in the reading-room, reading the papers, impatient for the return of his employer. As he sat there, Mr. Grey, who had been told at the desk that some one was waiting to see him, entered.
"Ah! my young friend," he said, affably, "well, have you any news for me?"
"Yes," said Maurice.
"What is it?"
"Hadn't we better go up stairs?"
"It may be better. But, in one word, is it success or failure?"
"Success," said Maurice.
"Good!" exclaimed James Grey, his eyes lighting up with joy. "Come up."
Again they found themselves in the same room in which Gilbert and his uncle had formerly had their interview.
"The paper," said Mr. Grey, impatiently.
"You'll pay me the money?" said Maurice, cautiously.
"If the paper is correct, you may be assured of that."
Upon this assurance Maurice withdrew the paper from his pocket, and passed it over to his companion. The latter opened it, and glanced over it triumphantly.
"Is it right?"
"Yes, it is right. It is the forged paper. We have put a spoke in the wheel of that impudent young impostor. He can do nothing now. But you want your money, and you shall have it."
Mr. Grey took out his pocket-book and counted out five twenty-dollar bills, which he put in the hands of his agent.
"Now confess," he said, "you never earned money more easily."
"No," said Maurice; "but I wouldn't like to go through it again. Suppose Grey had come in while I was at his trunk?"
"Tell me how you managed it—I am curious to know."
So Maurice told the story, which amused his auditor not a little, especially when he tried on the mustache in his presence.
"You are a regular conspirator," he said, smiling. "You absolutely have a genius for intrigue."
Maurice felt complimented by this remark, and the fact that he was the possessor of over a hundred dollars, put him in very good spirits.
"When do you think Gilbert will find out his loss?" he asked.
"Very likely not till he calls on me. He will wonder how he met with the loss."
"I must be going, Mr. Grey," said Maurice. "It is about time for lunch."
"I would invite you to lunch with me, but it might lead to suspicions."
"Thank you all the same."
"Now the boy may do his worst," said James Grey, exultingly. "He has lost his proof, and has nothing but his own assertion to fall back upon. I am out of danger."
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