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Chapter 17

GRACE GETS A LETTER


The door closed after Sullivan. Larry, standing in the library entrance, watched him leave the house. Then he turned to look at Grace.

"Oh, that was terrible!" the girl exclaimed, almost ready to cry, but bravely keeping back the tears. "What a horrid man! What did he mean?"

"I'm sure I don't know," replied Larry. "I doubt if he does himself. Mr. Potter's disappearance has evidently sent some of his plans askew, and he is hardly responsible for what he says or does. Don't let it worry you."

"I wonder if he knows where my father is?"

"I don't believe he does. If he did he would hardly come here, hoping to deceive you or your mother. No; Sullivan wants to find out where Mr. Potter is just as much as we do. Why, I can't tell yet, but he has a good reason, a strong reason, or he would not have acted as he did."

"What had I better do?" asked the girl.

"Do nothing. Leave it to me. I will write something for the Leader that will make Sullivan wish he had stayed away from here."

"Mother doesn't like this newspaper publicity."

"I can imagine it is not very pleasant for her," admitted Larry. "But it has to be borne if we are going to find your father. The more the papers print of the affair the better chance there is of finding him. If he is staying away for some reason he will see what a stir his disappearance has caused, and will be anxious to arrange matters so he can come back. If he is being detained against his will, the publicity will cause his captors an alarm which may result in their releasing him. So, too, if any one sees him wandering about they will recognize him by his picture, or by the description, and inform the police."

"Suppose—suppose he—should be—dead," and Grace whispered the words.

"Don't think that for a moment!"

"It is over two weeks now since he disappeared, and not one word have we heard from him."

"Persons have been known to disappear for longer periods than that, and yet turn up all right," said the young reporter, endeavoring to find some consolation for the girl. He related several instances of similar cases that had come to his attention since he had been in newspaper work.

"Now don't put too much in the paper about Mr. Sullivan—and me," said the girl as Larry was going. "There has been sufficient printed all ready, and some of my friends think I must have a staff of reporters at my beck and call, to get my name mentioned so often," and she smiled at Larry.

"I'll not mention you any more than necessary," he promised, thinking that Grace was much prettier when a smile brought out a dimple in each cheek.

Larry's description of Sullivan's visit to the Potter house proved to be what Mr. Emberg described as "a corking good scoop." None of the other papers had a line about it, of course, for Larry was the only reporter in a position to get inside information, and Sullivan was not likely to give out any account of his strange call.

"You seem to be keeping right after all the ends of this story, Larry," said Mr. Emberg the day after the account of Sullivan's visit was printed. "That's what we want. Now what sensation are you going to give us to-day?"

"I don't know. Not a very good one, I'm afraid. I've been to Mr. Potter's office. There's nothing new there, and I guess I'll have to fix up a re-hash of yesterday's stuff unless I can strike another lead. To-morrow I'm going to work on a new plan."

"What is it?" asked the city editor.

"I'm going to the steamship docks and——"

Before Larry could finish the telephone on Mr. Emberg's desk rang, and, as this instrument has precedence over everything else in a newspaper office, Larry broke off in the midst of his remark to wait until Mr. Emberg had answered the wire.

"Yes, he's here, standing right close to the 'phone," he heard the city editor say in response to the unseen questioner. "Some young lady wants to talk to you," Mr. Emberg went on, handing the portable instrument to Larry.

"Young lady to speak to me?" murmured Larry, as he took the telephone.

"This is Grace Potter," he heard through the instrument.

"Oh, how are you?" called Larry, for want of something better to say.

"Come right up," Grace said. "I have some news for you."

"What is it?"

"I have a letter from my father!"

"A letter from your father? Where is he? How did it come? Who brought it? Is he home?"

Larry fired these questions out rapidly. But there was a click in the 'phone that told him the connection was cut off. Evidently Grace had no time to tell more.

"Hurry up there!" exclaimed Mr. Emberg, as soon as he understood the import of the message Larry had received. "This will be a feature of to-day's story! Hurry, Larry!"

Larry thought the transportation facilities in New York were never so slow as on that journey to the Potter house. He tried to imagine, on the way up, what sort of a letter Grace had received from her father. That it contained good news he judged from the cheerful note in her voice.

"Things seem to be happening quite rapidly," the young reporter mused, as he got off at the elevated station nearest to his destination. "First thing I know I'll find him, and then I'll not have a chance to see Grace any more."

He dwelt on this thought, half-laughing at himself.

"I guess I'd better stop thinking of her and attend strictly to this disappearance business," he murmured as he went up the steps of the Potter mansion. "She's too rich for one thing, and another is I'm too poor, though I'm earning good wages, and we have some money in the bank," for the sale of the Bronx land, as related in "Larry Dexter, Reporter," had netted Mrs. Dexter and her children about ten thousand dollars.

Larry's ring at the bell was answered by Grace, who, it would seem, had been on the watch for him.

"I thought you would never come," she said. "I telephoned ever so long ago."

"I came as fast as I could," Larry responded. "Where is the letter?"

Grace held out to him a small piece of paper. On it was but a single line of writing. It read:

"Am well. Have to stay away for a time. Don't worry. Will write again."

It was signed with Mr. Potter's name.

"Are you sure it's from your father?" asked Larry, thinking some cruel person might be trying to play a joke, or that some enterprising reporter had sent the message for the sake of making news. Such things are sometimes done by New York newspaper men, though their city editors may know nothing about it.

"I couldn't mistake father's writing," replied Grace. "Mamma knows it is from him, and she is much happier. But we can't imagine why he has to stay away."

"When did you get this, and how did it come?" asked the reporter.

"The postman brought it a little while ago."

"Where is the envelope?"

Grace handed it to Larry. An inspection of the post-mark showed that it had been mailed in New York in the vicinity of sub-station Y, which was on the East Side. It might have been dropped in one of the many street boxes from which collections were made for that particular office, or it might have been mailed in the station itself.

"Not much to trace him by," said Larry. He looked at the envelope again and saw that there was a small ink blot on the lower left-hand corner, and that the corner where the stamp was affixed was smeared as if with some sticky substance.

"Any one would think you were a detective," said Grace, as she watched Larry examining the envelope. "What does it matter now? We are sure father is alive, for that note was posted yesterday. That has made mother and me happy. Of course we want to find him, but I don't see how you can by that letter. I thought you'd like to know about it to make a little item for the paper, and I wanted to repay you for your kindness to mother and me."

"I haven't done anything," Larry replied. "I am only too glad to be of service to you. But I may be able to find out something by this envelope."

"I don't see how."

"Will you let me take it to the sub-station?"

"Of course. But what good will that do?"

"I want to ask the sorters and clerks in charge if they remember having handled it. I may find the carrier who brought it in from the box, and he can tell in what locality it was."

"But how can they remember when they must handle thousands of letters every day?"

"Perhaps they cannot, but it is worth trying. You see in that section of the city are mostly foreigners, who write a peculiar hand, and use stationery anything but clean or of this quality. This envelope and paper are of an expensive kind."

"Yes, they are some father had made to order for his private correspondence. I did not know he took any to Europe with him, but he must have."

"It may be that a letter carrier or mail sorter took enough notice of the envelope to remember it," Larry went on. "Besides there is a small blot on it, and the way in which the stamp is put on shows that some glue or paste was applied to the envelope. Probably he used an old stamp which had no mucilage on. To make it fast to the envelope your father, or whoever posted the letter, would have had to use some sticky substance, and, in doing so, he has put it on a little too thick. Some spread out from under the stamp and soiled the envelope.

"Of course the sorters and carriers don't pay much attention to the pieces of mail, except to see that they are properly stamped and addressed, but it's worth trying. This envelope would attract attention if anything would."

"And you are going to use that for a clue?"

"I'm going to try. It may be useless. If we can find in what particular locality it was mailed we can have the police keep a watch for your father. He may mail other letters there."

"But my father is not a criminal. Why should the police watch for him so particularly. They are keeping a general lookout now, but I wouldn't like to think they were lying in wait for him."

"It's the only way to find him," said Larry. "Of course it's unpleasant, but there is evidently some mystery here, and that's the best way to clear it up."

"But he says he has to stay away for a while," argued Grace. "Maybe he wouldn't like to be found."

"Of course that point has to be considered," Larry admitted. "But I take it you and your mother want to find your father, or be in a position to communicate with him."

"Oh, we do!" exclaimed Grace.

"Then we'll have to ask the police to help us. There is no disgrace in it. Everyone knows your father is honorable, and if he wants to disappear that's his business. It is also perfectly right for you to try to find him, for——" and Larry stopped.

"Well, for what?" asked Grace, seeing the reporter hesitate.

"I don't want to alarm you," Larry went on, "but I was going to say that there is no way of telling but what some one may have imitated his writing and forged his name."

"I am sure that is my father's writing," the girl said, earnestly. "Of course I may be mistaken. I hope not. I prefer to believe that note is from him. It makes me happier."

"Of course there is only the barest possibility that this note is not from your father, but we can take no chances. That is why I want to make a systematic search, beginning at the sub-station."

"And where will it end?" asked Grace.

"I don't know. But after that I am going to the steamship piers of all the lines that ply between here and Italy."

"What for?"

"I want to see if the captain of any of the steamers recalls any man answering your father's description having come over with him. He must have sailed on some steamer, as he is in this country, if that note is from him."

"That's a good idea," commented Grace. "How I wish I could help you. Couldn't I? Couldn't I go around with you—that is to the steamer piers? I've crossed the ocean several times, and I know some of the captains of the Italian lines."

"Maybe that would be a good idea," said Larry, secretly delighted with it. "You can come with me to-morrow. I will go to the sub-station now, and will let you know what I learn. Then we will make a tour of the piers. You'll be of great assistance to me, for I know very little about steamers."

"I'm so glad!" exclaimed Grace. "It has been terrible to sit here day after day and only wait! I wanted to do something to help find father. Now there is a way! I wish I was a boy—no, I'd rather be a reporter; they can do so many things," and Grace laughed more heartily than at any time since her father had disappeared.

"I'm afraid you give us too much credit," replied Larry. "We do our best, but we don't always get results. Are you sure your mother will let you go?"

"Of course," Grace replied, in a way that showed she was used to having her own way. "When will you come for me to-morrow?"

"In the morning."

"I can hardly wait. Now don't forget. I'll be your assistant. Maybe I could learn enough to be a woman reporter some day."

"I have no doubt you could," Larry responded, as he went out on his way to the sub-station with the envelope, having telephoned to the police of the letter and securing a promise that no other reporters would be informed of it for a while.

As he walked along, his thoughts were busy in many directions. The receipt of the letter, the clues the envelope offered, the plans for a search among the ship captains, and, above all, Grace's offer to accompany him, made Larry speculate on what the Potter mystery was coming to.

"I wonder what the other fellows on the Leader would say if they knew I was working this assignment in company with the millionaire's daughter," said Larry to himself. "I guess I'd better not say anything about it. They'd make fun of me. I know it's all right to take her, or I wouldn't do it. Besides, if she knows the captains she can be of considerable aid to me. Queer, though, for Larry Dexter, who used to rush copy, to be hunting for a missing millionaire in company with his pretty daughter."

It was odd, but no other line of activity is so filled with strange surprises, or brings about such a variety of work, as being a newspaper reporter of the first class.

Larry struck several snags when he attempted to get information at the sub-station. In the first place none of the officials in charge would give him any news about the envelope unless he got an order from the New York postmaster himself. The government has very strict regulations in regard to giving out information about mail matter. But Larry was not daunted. He telephoned to Mr. Emberg, and the forces of the newspaper were set to work. Certain political wires were "pulled," and, as there were on the Leader men to whom the postmaster was under obligations, that official gave the clerks at the sub-station permission to tell Larry whatever he wanted to know.

"Sorry we had to have so much red tape about it," the sub-station agent said, when Larry came back with the magical paper that opened the mouths of the subordinates.

"Oh, that's all right," the reporter said. "I know how it is. Now, what I want to know is, in what box was that letter posted?" and he held out the envelope Grace had given him.

"Rather hard to say," spoke the head clerk. "I'll show it to all the carriers who are in now, and later to those who come in during the afternoon. They may recognize it. It's a little out of the run of ordinary envelopes we get in this section of the city."

One after another several carriers scanned the envelope. All shook their heads, until it came to an elderly man. As soon as he saw the envelope he exclaimed:

"I brought that in. I remember it very well." "Where did you get it?" asked Larry, eagerly. "A man gave it to me last night, just as I was taking the mail from a box down near the river," was the unexpected reply.

Victor Appleton

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