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RALPH IS GIVEN NOTICE.
Had it not been for his duties on the bridge, Ralph would have continued his search still farther. But already several persons had passed over and dropped their pennies on the counter of the little office, and now a horn was blowing from the deck of the little schooner sailing up Silver Lake.
So telling his mother that he would be back as soon as possible, he hurried to the bridge. Half-a-dozen boats wished to go through the draw, including a string of canal boats, and it was nearly noon before he could leave the spot.
Then Bob Sanderson came around the cove in the sloop Magic. Beside him sat Horace Kelsey. The repairs to the Magic were now completed, and the little craft was practically as good as new.
"Hallo, Bob, come up here and tend for me, will you?" shouted Ralph, as soon as he caught sight of the old man.
"All right, Ralph! What's up?"
"I must go home," returned the young bridge tender, and when the sloop was tied up near by, he told the two occupants of what had occurred.
"I never heard the like!" burst out Bob Sanderson. "If it was really that Paget boy, he ought to have a whip across his back!"
Horace Kelsey accompanied Ralph to the cottage to see the extent of the damage done. The young man from New York was also of the opinion that the guilty party ought to be brought to swift justice.
"But no one saw Percy, and we cannot prove anything," said Mrs. Nelson.
"Perhaps we can," said Ralph. "I'm going to hunt him up, if that is possible."
Horace Kelsey did not feel able to remain longer at Westville, and so he left when Ralph did. Before he went, however, he insisted on presenting Ralph with another twenty-dollar bill, to replace the one lost.
"Here is my card," he said, on leaving. "If you ever come to New York, drop in and see me."
"Thank you; I shall be very much pleased to," replied Ralph.
He noted that Horace Kelsey was in the insurance business, with an office on Broadway, and then he placed the address carefully away in a drawer of the old-fashioned desk in the sitting-room.
"Who knows, but if I am discharged here I may some day go to New York," thought the young bridge tender.
After taking another look about the cottage and through the wood, Ralph started up the road leading to the center of the village. Presently he came across a young man named Edgar Steiner, who was one of Percy Paget's intimate friends.
"Steiner, do you know where Percy Paget is?" he asked.
"Percy has gone to Silver Cove," returned Steiner.
"When did he go?"
"Went early this morning. He drove down to see about a dog he is going to buy from a sport who lives there."
Silver Cove was several miles below Westville, and the road to the place would not have brought the aristocratic bully near the cottage by the bridge.
"You are sure he went?"
"Yes. I saw him drive off. He wanted me to go along, but I couldn't very well. Do you wish to see him?"
"I understand you and he had some trouble yesterday."
"We did have some trouble yesterday. But I want to see him about something else now."
Steiner stared at Ralph. Then, thinking he had spent enough time on such a poor lad as the bridge tender, he turned away and walked off, whistling a merry concert-hall air.
Ralph stood still, undecided what to do next. If Percy had really gone to Silver Cove, somebody else must be guilty of breaking the cottage windows. But who? Ralph could not remember of having any other enemy.
While the boy was deliberating he saw three men coming toward him. They were the squire, the postmaster, and Uriah Dicks.
"Why ain't you at the bridge?" asked Uriah, sourly.
"We have had trouble at the cottage, sir," replied Ralph. "Some vandal has broken nearly all of our windows."
"It's a wonder you do not blame it on my son Percy!" sneered the squire.
"I do blame it on him," retorted Ralph. "He is the only enemy who would do such a thing."
"More of the scheme to get my son into trouble. You see how it is, gentlemen; he is a thorough young rascal!" exclaimed the squire.
"It's awful!" murmured Postmaster Hooker. "It's a good thing we intend to act on this matter, squire."
"Yes, we can't let it rest another minute," returned Squire Paget.
And on the three men passed, leaving Ralph more bitter in heart than ever.
The young bridge tender returned to work, sending Bob Sanderson to the cottage with instructions to buy what glass was needed, and put it in, taking the money out of the twenty-dollar bill Horace Kelsey had given him that morning.
The afternoon slipped by quietly, and at sundown Sanderson came back to relieve Ralph as usual.
"The glass is all in, and here is the change," said he, and handed over sixteen dollars and a half. "Had to pay three dollars and a half for glass, tacks, and putty."
"But your pay, Mr. Sanderson----"
"That's all right, Ralph; I won't ask none on this job, exceptin' you catch the chap as did it, and make him pony up, as the sayin' goes."
"You are very kind. I doubt if I am able to do anything in the matter," returned Ralph, hopelessly.
He had hardly reached home, when a knock was heard on the cottage door. They opened it to admit Squire Paget's hired man.
"A letter for Ralph Nelson," the man said, and handed it over. "I don't think there is any answer," he added, and bowed his way out.
"It must be from the squire," cried Mrs. Nelson. "Perhaps he has relented of his harsh treatment----"
"Not he!" exclaimed Ralph. "It isn't in him."
The boy broke the seal of the letter, and drew out the document, which read as follows:
MRS. RANDOLPH NELSON:--Owing to circumstances of which you are as well aware as ourselves, we shall not require your services or those of your son as bridge tender for Westville after the week ending July 19.
THE WESTVILLE TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE,
Per Hon. Thomas Paget, Chairman.
"What is it, Ralph?" asked his mother, anxiously.
"Just as I thought, mother. My services as bridge tender will not be required after this week," returned Ralph, bitterly.
"Let me see the letter." Mrs. Nelson took and read the epistle. "It is too bad!"
"It's an outrage, mother, that's what it is! And all on account of that aristocratic sneak, Percy Paget!"
"Do not call harsh names, Ralph!"
"I can't help it, mother; he is a sneak, and worse. He brought on the row, took that money, and I am certain he broke our windows into the bargain!"
Mrs. Nelson did not reply. She thought in silence for a moment, and the look of anxiety on her face deepened.
"What shall we do when you are out of work, Ralph?"
"I must try to obtain another job, mother."
"But if you are not successful?"
"Let us not anticipate, mother. I am sure to strike something. In the meantime we will have a little money to fall back on--the balance of that twenty-dollar bill, for instance."
"Yes, and we will have the other money we have saved," added Mrs. Nelson. "But I would not like to touch that if it could be helped."
"We won't touch it. I'll find work before my week's wages and the sixteen dollars and a half are gone. The one pity is we'll feel too poor just now to advertise for those missing papers, and offer any reward for their return."
"That is so," and Mrs. Nelson gave a long sigh.
Perhaps she saw the many disappointments in store for her son when he should seek employment elsewhere.
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