On the Track by George Alfred Henty

CHAPTER I

A SAD CHRISTMAS

Never had there been such a sensation since the day when Brownsville, Ohio, was first founded, as that which was experienced on the 23rd of December, 1879, at the news that Mr. Partridge, the cashier at the bank, had absconded, and that a great number of valuable securities, and a large sum of money, were missing. The first report indeed stated that the bank would have to suspend payment; but the panic caused by this was speedily allayed by the issue of a notice, signed by James Johnstone, President, to the effect that the loss, although heavy, would in no degree affect the stability of the bank, that the assets were equal to all demands, and that the books had already been placed in the hands of skilled accountants, who would before nightfall certify to the stability of the bank.

This did not, however, prevent a run taking place; but as all demands were promptly met, and as at six o'clock in the afternoon a satisfactory assurance as to the state of the bank, signed by the two accountants, was affixed to the doors, confidence was restored, and the people were able to concentrate their attention upon the subject of the missing cashier. A few said that they had always suspected that something was wrong, but these were the people who are always wise after an event; the majority admitted frankly that there was nothing in William Partridge's antecedents or behaviour which would warrant a shadow of suspicion as to his probity. He was not altogether a popular man, and was what the people of Brownsville called high in his notions; that is to say, he did not care about mixing much in general society, being intimate only with a small circle of friends.

There was nothing indeed in Mr. Partridge's way of living which would not have been warranted by the salary he was known to draw. He lived in a pretty house just outside the town, and certainly spent more money than his neighbours in keeping his garden bright with flowers but he never entertained on a large scale. His dinners were choice but small, he kept no equipage, and had no expensive tastes. His reputation indeed was that of a somewhat retiring man with a higher degree of culture and education than most of his neighbours, with quiet and refined manners and studious tastes. All these things, however, would not have prevented him from being seized with the demon "speculation". For many another man, apparently as quiet and as refined, had ruined himself that way; and the verdict of Brownsville was unanimous that he must have become involved in some extensive speculations which had failed signally, and to bolster himself up must have taken the bank funds and securities, hoping to be able to replace them at the next turn of luck.

Everyone agreed that the greatest credit was due to the president, whose vigilance and astuteness had detected the defalcations before they had reached a point which would have proved ruinous to the bank, its shareholders, and depositors. Mr. James Johnstone had always been a popular personage in Brownsville, but he was never so popular as upon this occasion. A deputation of shareholders and depositors waited upon him to express their thanks for his vigilance and watchfulness; and although Mr. Johnstone did not say much he led them to understand that they had every reason to be grateful, for that things would very shortly have been in a very bad way had it not been for his interposition.

The president was a tall man, and just sufficiently inclined to stoutness to add to his appearance of respectability and solvency. He was smoothly shaven, and wore gold eye-glasses, and looked a director every inch. While his cashier never attended public gatherings on scientific, political, or sordid subjects, the president was always a prominent figure at them. He never, however, took a leading part on either side, but appeared rather in the character of an arbitrator. His speeches were always pleasing to both parties, throwing oil on the troubled waters. He was a large subscriber to all the local charities, and although he himself belonged to the Baptist persuasion he made no distinction between the various creeds in the distribution of his alms. Such being the case, when Brownsville once realized the fact that its own savings were in no jeopardy, its sympathy with the banker for the annoyance and trouble that this occurrence would cause him became very great. The matter was discussed in all lights at every tea-table in Brownsville, and even formed the principal topic of conversation among a number of young people who were preparing a school-room for the festivities which were to take place on the following evening.

"What is to be done about Roland Partridge?" Lilla Fairfax, a girl of some sixteen years of age, asked during a pause in the buzz of conversation.

"Of course he won't have the bad taste to show his face here," Percy Johnstone, the president's son, replied.

"I don't see that," Cissie White, a girl who had, however, taken no part in the conversation, but had been sitting in a corner, undisturbed, manufacturing wreaths, said warmly. "He is not to blame for the faults of his father."

"Bravo, Cissie!" Percy Johnstone said in a sneering voice. "It is as well that he should know what a valiant champion he has; but, you see, we have scriptural authority for saying that children must suffer for the faults of their fathers."

"It was not meant in that way," the girl retorted, "and I think it very mean of you to talk so. I suppose you think because Roland Partridge is to suffer for the fault of his father that you are a great man because of the numerous virtues of yours."

There was a general laugh, for Percy Johnstone was known to give himself airs to no inconsiderable extent on account of the social position of the banker. He coloured hotly at the reply and the laughter that followed it, but found no answer ready at hand.

"But really," Lilla Fairfax said, "we ought to decide what we are to do about Roland Partridge. I don't see that there is any necessity for quarrelling over it, but we have got to discuss it. It would not be quite pleasant, you know, for him to be coming amongst us just as if nothing had happened. You would not like it yourself, Cissie."

"I should not like what?" Cissie White asked shortly.

"Well, you would not like to go out sleighing with him, for example."

"I should certainly go out sleighing with him if he asked me," Cissie answered quietly. "Indeed he did ask me two days ago, and I said yes, and if he comes to fetch me I shall certainly go now."

"He is not likely to," Jane Simmonds, the eldest girl present, said.

"No, he is not likely to," Cissie agreed; "he has other things to think about. I only say that if he does come I shall keep my engagement."

"Quite right, Cissie!" Tom Fernlea said heartily. "I like a friend who is a friend, not a mere fair-weather bird. There is no better fellow going than Roland. He may not be quite so brilliant as some fellows," and he glanced at Percy, "and he does not go out of his own way to make himself popular; but I prefer good, straightforward, earnest fellows, and I would almost back him against all Brownsville."

"There are a good many people," Percy Johnstone said coldly, "who would perhaps have said as much two days ago for his father. Perhaps you may change your opinion one of these days."

"I am not likely to change my opinion of you, at any rate," Tom replied hotly, "and that is a pretty strong one, I can tell you. Everyone knows that you never liked Roland, because he always beat you in class, and he is a better baseball player, and a better skater, and a better fellow all round than you are!"

"Oh dear, oh dear!" Lilla Fairfax exclaimed plaintively, "whatever are you all quarrelling about? We have come here to make decorations for to-morrow, and the demon of discord seems to have entered in. I vote, girls, that the next person who quarrels, whoever he or she may be, shall be unanimously expelled from this society."

There was a chorus of assent. Jane Simmonds dexterously changed the conversation by asking whether the arrangements had quite been settled for the programme of the following evening. It was easy, however, to see, during the rest of the meeting, that less interest than usual was taken in the various discussions, and that the thoughts of most of the young people were otherwise occupied. Little whispered conferences went on before they broke up; the opinions of most of those present were ascertained, and were found to be pretty equally divided, as to the advisability or otherwise of treating Roland Partridge just as if his father had still been occupying the position of cashier at the bank.

While the conversation had been going on, the subject of it was pacing up and down the sitting-room at home discussing the matter with his mother. Roland had, a few days before, gone over to stay for a week with an uncle who lived some twenty miles away, and had that morning received a telegram from his mother begging him to return at once, and it was not until he reached home in the evening that he heard the terrible news.

"But it is impossible, mother, absolutely impossible, that my father can have done this thing!"

"That is what I say, Roland. Your father is the last man in the world to do such a thing."

"He never speculated, as far as you know, mother?"

"No, Roland, I am quite sure that he didn't. He was quite contented with his position. He wanted nothing more; and I have often heard him say that no one connected with a bank had any right whatever to engage in business outside it."

"But what did he say, mother? Surely he must have said something when he left you last night?"

"He came in about half-past nine, Roland. He has been staying late at the bank this week making up the books. He was as pale as death. His lips were trembling, and he could hardly speak. When I begged him to tell me what was the matter with him, he said, as nearly as I can remember his words: 'A terrible thing has happened, and I must go away at once. The bank has been robbed!'"

"'But what has that to do with you, William?' I asked. 'I am accused of doing it,' he said. I almost laughed, it seemed so absurd. But he went on: 'Appearances are terribly against me. It is all a mystery to me. But if I stay I shall be arrested to-morrow morning, and surely condemned, and I could not stand it. It would kill me. I must go. There is no other way. I will write to you and tell you what to do when I can think it over. But I can't think now.' He was in such a nervous state that it was useless to speak to him; and, indeed, I was so stunned with the news myself that I could think of nothing. I did say: 'It would be far better for you to stay, William, and face it out. Your innocence is sure to be proved.' But he only shook his head, and repeated, 'I must go.'

"So I hurried to get a few things together for him, and the moment that I had done so he was off to catch the train. I don't think he was five minutes in the house altogether, and it was not till he had gone that I was able to think clearly what had happened."

"I am not blaming you, mother dear," Roland said tenderly. "But it is most unfortunate that father should have acted as he did. You and I know perfectly well that he is innocent, but his running away will, of course, convince everyone else that he is guilty. It would have been a thousand times better to have braved it out, however strong the circumstances might be that point against him."

"So I think, of course, Roland. But you know what your father is, and naturally I understand him even better than you do. You have only known him since he was prosperous and respected here; but in the early days of our marriage, when he was still a struggling young man, I learnt, I will not say the faults, my son, but the weaknesses of his character. He is, as you know, a man of strict, nay, of extreme, honour and integrity. But he is sensitive almost to a fault. He has no self-assertion and very little self-confidence. He is just the man, in fact, to bend before a storm rather than brave it; and although I may greatly lament it, I am not a bit surprised that, when suddenly confronted with such a terrible accusation as this, and seeing, as he says, that circumstances are altogether against him, he should abandon the field without a struggle rather than face the storm of public obloquy and indignation."

Roland was silent. He knew how his father shrunk from anything like a public turmoil, and how easily upset he was by trifles which another would scarcely have noticed; and although he had never acknowledged as much to himself, he had even when much younger been vaguely conscious that his father was lacking in force of character. There was a disinclination to find fault, a shrinking from unpleasantness, and an avoidance even of argument; a desire that everything should go on with clock-like regularity, and that nothing should disturb the even tenor of life, which seemed to show a constitutional avoidance of effort or struggle. Still, as Roland had, as his mother said, only seen his father under circumstances of ease and comfort, he could not tell how far this was an innate defect in his character until it now showed itself so disastrously.

"You don't know where he has gone to, mother?" he said at length; "because, if you have the slightest idea as to the locality, I will start at once to try and find him, and to persuade him to return, whatever the circumstances may be against him. It would be a thousand times better to brave it out than, by running away, to make what cannot but appear a tacit confession of guilt. And now, mother dear, what do you intend to do?"

"That is what I was wanting to talk to you about, Roland. It seems to me that the best thing to do will be to give up our house at once, and to sell the furniture; and then, in the meantime, if I do not hear from your father, to move right away to some place where we shall not be known, and where I can earn a little money by my needle, and you perhaps can obtain a situation of some sort."

"No, mother," Roland said decidedly. "I quite agree with you as to giving up the house and selling the furniture, but go away we will not. Father may have given up the battle in despair, but I shall stay and fight it out. We know that he did not take this money—it is for me to find out who did so. If we go away the matter can never be cleared up; so long as we remain here there is a chance of our striking on some clue or other."

"It will be dreadful," Mrs. Partridge began.

"It will be horribly painful," Roland agreed. "Awful to have to meet all your old friends and know that they regard one as the son of a swindler. But it has to be done, mother, for only so can we hope to prove that father is an honest man. But I don't ask you to stay, mother. I am quite sure that uncle will be glad for you to go and live with him at the farm. He was saying only yesterday that it had been a dull life for him since aunt had gone."

"No, my boy, I could not do that," Mrs. Partridge said. "I could not leave you here to bear the burden alone."

"Don't think me unkind, mother, when I say I would rather that you would. I think I could bear the changed faces of old friends so long as the slights affect only myself, but I should suffer ten times more in seeing you suffer. Therefore, mother, I do think that my plan is the best. I hope that it will not be for very long; but till matters are made clear it will be best for you to stay with uncle, and I could run over from time to time to see you and tell you how I am getting on."

"At any rate, Roland, there is no occasion to decide for a few days. The first thing to do is to get rid of the house and sell the furniture. When that is done, we can talk matters over again."

The next morning Roland called upon their landlord and asked him if he would take the house off their hands at once. This the landlord willingly agreed to do, and was indeed well pleased with the proposition. He had already been wondering how Mrs. Partridge intended to manage. The lease had still two years to run, but he did not see how she would be able to pay her rent. He had that morning received an application from a gentleman who was willing to take the house if he could obtain possession at once, and Roland's proposal to move out at the end of a week exactly suited him. After settling this matter Roland went to an auctioneer, and arranged that notice should at once be issued of the immediate sale of the furniture. He returned home well pleased with the success of his mission.

"As far as I am concerned, mother, I think things will be better than I expected. I see there is a difference of opinion in Brownsville. I have met several people we know well this morning. Some of them just gave me a nod, as much as to say, we see you, but don't want to speak to you. Others nodded, as if they would have liked to have stopped and chatted with me, but were rather afraid to do so; while Tom Fernlea and two other fellows came up and shook hands just as heartily as usual, and asked when I came back from uncle's, what I had been doing, and so on, as if nothing had happened. At any rate, mother, a thing like this gives one an opportunity of finding out which of your friends are worth having and which are not."

There was a certain indication of bitterness in his tone, and his mother looked at him a little anxiously. "You will not get cynical, I hope, Roland, my dear boy. You must remember that a vast number of people act quite as much in accordance with what they think other people will do, as with their own convictions. We are all apt to be guided by the opinions of the world; and though it seems hard that the sins of parents should in any degree be visited upon their children, we must remember that children get the benefit the other way. If a boy or a girl's father is a rich and popular man, they will be made more of than when not so situated. Of course this is wrong, and everyone should be judged by themselves, and no doubt that eventually is the case. Of course if one whom we believed to be a true friend fell away at a time of trial, it would be a proof that his friendship was not a true one; but we must not be surprised if any mere acquaintances go with the stream, whatever its direction may be."

"You are becoming quite a philosopher, little mother," Roland laughed. "At any rate, as I said, things are better than I expected. Of course it is no good doing anything for the next day or two;" and a shade passed over Roland's face as he thought how widely his Christmas day would differ from his anticipations of it; "but next week I will go round and see if I can get something to do. I am not particular what it is, as long as it enables me to stay at Brownsville."


CHAPTER II

TRUE FRIENDS

Late in the afternoon Roland went out to get a few things that were required. Suddenly he came on a group of half a dozen girls who had just finished putting up the decorations in the school-room. The first couple passed him with a bow, but Cissie White, who was walking next, stopped with her companion and shook hands with him.

"How are you, Roland? We have missed you at decorations this afternoon."

"I was sorry not to be able to come, Cissie," Roland said, "and I am sorry I shall not be able to keep my engagement to go sleighing on the 26th."

"I am very sorry too; I should have been so glad to have gone with you, if you could have taken me, but I was afraid you would not be able to. I want to tell you, Roland,"—and she hesitated. "I don't know whether people talk about such things, but I am sure you won't mind. I want to tell you how sorry we all are about the news we have heard, and to say I hope it is not going to make any difference to you."

"I am afraid it must make a difference, Cissie," Roland answered; "but thank you very much for what you have said, and I want to tell you that whatever people may think, I and my mother know that my father did not do this thing that they accuse him of, and some day I hope to prove his innocence."

"I am so glad to hear you say so, Roland; it did seem impossible, and yet,"—and she hesitated.

"And yet everyone said so," he put in. "Unfortunately my father is a very nervous and sensitive man, and the thought of such a charge made him well-nigh beside himself, and he went away; but he is not guilty for all that, and some day I will prove it. Will you please tell the people—the people I know, I mean—not that my father is innocent, for they might not believe it, but that his wife and son are absolutely sure that he is so?"

"I will indeed, Roland, and I am very, very glad to hear what you say. You may be sure that whatever other people say in future, I shall believe it as you tell me. Good-bye now!" And again shaking hands warmly, she hurried away after her companions, who were waiting for her at the corner of the next block.

"What have you found to talk about, Cissie? I would have stopped and spoken too, only I could not think what I should say."

"I told him that I was sorry to hear the news," Cissie said, "and that I hoped it would not make any difference to him."

"Oh, Cissie, you don't mean to say you alluded to that! How could you!"—a chorus from the others.

"Why not?" Cissie asked. "He knew that we must be thinking about it, and why shouldn't I say it? and I am glad I did, for if I had not spoken perhaps he would not have alluded to the matter, and he told me that whatever other people might say, he and his mother were quite sure that Mr. Partridge did not take the money."

There was an incredulous "Oh!" from her hearers, and Jane Simmonds asked, "What did he run away for, then, if he wasn't guilty?"

"Because he is sensitive, and could not stay to face such an accusation. Of course Roland did not say that he was foolish, but I could see that he thought that it was an awful pity."

"I should think it was," Jane Simmonds replied sarcastically. "Of course his wife and son say they think he is innocent, that is only natural; but they won't get anyone to believe them."

"You are wrong for once, Jane," Cissie said quietly, "although I know that it must appear to you to be quite impossible; but, as it happens, I believe them entirely, and although I am a very insignificant person, still I am somebody, and that, you see, upsets your sweeping assertion."

"Well, my dear," Jane Simmonds replied, "if you wish to retain your reputation as a sensible girl I should advise you to keep your opinion to yourself, unless indeed you wish to set up as knowing more than anyone else in the town."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," Cissie replied. "Cassandra was looked upon as an idiot, you know, but she turned out to be right. Brownsville is welcome to entertain the same opinion about me, and I am content that they should think so till I turn out to be right, as you will see will be the case in the end; and now I must be off to tea."

The sale came off on the day arranged. No word had been received from Mr. Partridge, but his wife had hardly expected that he would write so soon; and as she knew he had some hundred dollars in his possession when he went away, she was under no uneasiness respecting him. On the morning of the sale she went to her brother's, Roland's plan having finally been decided upon as the best. The day before the sale Mrs. Partridge received a note from Mr. Johnstone saying that he should be glad to obtain a position for her son in a mercantile house in New York; to which Mrs. Partridge replied that she was greatly obliged and thankful for the offer, but that Roland had quite made up his mind that for the present he should remain in Brownsville, where he hoped to obtain some sort of occupation.

The refusal was speedily known in Brownsville, Percy Johnstone spreading the news everywhere; it excited surprise among some, displeasure among many.

"I think it was wonderfully good of my father," Percy told his friends, "after the trouble and loss the fellow's father has caused, to offer to put him into a situation. I should have thought that he would have been only too glad to have got away from here, and I am sure his absence would have been a relief to us all. I can't understand his motives."

Many others, even among those most favourably disposed towards Roland, were inclined to agree with Percy. His continued presence in Brownsville would be a source of embarrassment and trouble to those who had previously been intimate with him, and it did seem strange that he should prefer to live among people cognisant of his father's misdoings, instead of taking the opportunity that offered of beginning life elsewhere.

Mr. Johnstone's conduct in interesting himself on his behalf was considered kind in the extreme. Still more surprise was excited when, at the meeting of the directors of the bank called a day or two after the beginning of the new year, after explaining the amount of the loss to the bank, he said, in reply to questions, that he had not as yet offered any reward for the apprehension of the fugitive, and had not indeed instructed the police to take any steps in the matter. Rumours to that effect had already been current, for the police authorities, when interviewed on the subject, had declared that they had no instructions on the matter; but it was generally supposed that this was mere official reticence intended to lull the fugitive into security, while they were quietly working to arrest him. The announcement of Mr. Johnstone caused quite a sensation among his colleagues.

"I must say, Mr. Johnstone," one said angrily, "that your course in this matter appears to me to be most extraordinary. As you did not call us together at once, we naturally supposed that you were taking all the necessary steps, and that Partridge would, in a few days at latest, be in the hands of the police; and now you meet us and tell us that you have done nothing. You said, in fact, when we wanted to go into the question on the morning after the discovery of the cashier's flight, and one of us suggested that a hot pursuit should be at once set on foot, that we could safely leave that matter in your hands, and that we had best confine our attention to the investigation of the accounts."

Several others spoke to the same effect, and Mr. Johnstone then rose with his usual placid and undisturbed aspect. "Gentlemen," he said, "in the first place I have not called you together earlier because just at this time of year every man is occupied more or less by family matters; and as it did not seem to me that there was any extreme urgency in the matter, I thought I would allow you to enjoy the holiday undisturbed. Now, as to the main subject of your remarks, namely, that I have taken no steps to secure the arrest of our late cashier. Well, gentlemen, I am aware that in not doing so I have assumed a certain amount of responsibility. Certainly, when I met you ten days since, I had intended to set the police at work without delay. For the first twenty-four hours, however, I was so occupied with the investigations into the state of the books, and, I may say, with reassuring the minds of our depositors and restoring confidence, that I had really no time to move in the matter.

"Then, gentlemen, came Christmas, with Christmas thoughts, Christmas sermons, and Christmas associations, and I said to myself, this man is undoubtedly a thief and a defaulter. But how stands it? The man should be punished; but, gentlemen, for the last fifteen years he has been our friend. We have all been proud of him as a gentleman of singular culture. Most of us have been intimate at his house and acquainted with his wife, one of the most charming ladies in our section. In all these years his conduct has been above reproach, and although he has had passing through his hands the funds of the bank, he has up till now accounted for them up to the last penny. There can be no doubt that the mania of speculation, which is the bane of our civilization, seized upon this unhappy man, and that in a moment, I may say of temporary insanity, he laid his hands upon the bank funds to meet some loss, intending, no doubt, to replace them at the earliest opportunity.

"Well, gentlemen, that opportunity never came. We know the usual sad story in these cases. Loss follows loss, and a man becomes desperate, until at last comes the inevitable discovery. Gentlemen, we all know that the man who does these things should be punished, but it seemed to me that no punishment that the law could allot would add very greatly to that which he must be now suffering. Imagine, gentlemen, a man with refined tastes and habits skulking, a fugitive from justice, perhaps by this time half-way across the ocean, knowing that he can never raise his head again in the society of honest men. There was nothing to gain, for you may be sure that the money has long since passed out of his hands, and I feel that it would do us no good were he arrested and tried. Everyone knows now that the bank has made a loss; they are also satisfied that the bank is solvent; confidence is restored, and we have avoided anything like a run. No one, indeed, has any idea how large the losses really are outside this board.

"Now, gentlemen, if we were to have a trial, the real amount of the loss would become known; and although we ourselves may feel confident that we can weather the storm, and can in time pull round, it is by no means certain that the public will take the same view. The run which has now been averted might then take place, and the bank be compelled to shut its doors. And you know, gentlemen, that when you come to a forced realization of effects, how far the sum realized falls short of the value placed upon it, and how heavy the calls upon the shareholders to make up the deficiency! Well, gentlemen, we are all large shareholders in the bank, and now that ten days have elapsed, and we have kept matters quiet, I ask you, is it worth while to run the risk of bringing ruin upon the bank, and beggary upon its shareholders, merely for the pleasure of knowing that our defaulting cashier has got so many years of penal servitude?"

Put in this light the matter assumed a very different appearance. The directors knew well enough that although they had put a good face on the matter, the loss did seriously compromise the stability of the bank, and that the less the matter was dragged before the public the better. The directors looked at each other in silence when Mr. Johnstone concluded. But one said: "The public will think it a most extraordinary thing that we do not prosecute."

"But we intend to prosecute," Mr. Johnstone said. "It is distinctly understood that is our intention. But facts have come to our knowledge which leave no doubt that our cashier escaped into Canada within a few hours of his leaving this place, and it is believed by this time he has crossed the Atlantic. Should he ever return to this country he will, of course, be prosecuted at once on grounds of public policy and as a duty to the shareholders; but at the same time we have no objection to its being whispered abroad that although the directors would strictly carry out their duty had the opportunity been afforded, they are at heart by no means sorry, both for the sake of the man himself and for that of his wife, that he has succeeded in escaping before the hand of justice could be laid upon him."

After some further discussion, the view taken by the president was unanimously approved of, and the report that the cashier was known to have escaped into Canada, and had made his way to Europe, and that the bank authorities were convinced that he had managed to take but little with him, and were not sorry that the painful duty of prosecuting him had been avoided, was speedily spread through the town.

The unpleasantness which his former friends had anticipated from the strange resolution of Roland Partridge to remain in Brownsville was not experienced, for he never showed himself in his old resorts, and was seldom to be met with in the streets. It was known that he had applied for several situations, but without success, and that he was at present living in a poor lodging in the outskirts of the place.

"Have you seen Roland Partridge lately?" Cissie White asked Tom Fernlea.

"No, I haven't. I have not seen him since Christmas eve."

"Have you been to see him, Tom? you know where he lives."

"Yes, I know. No, I have not been there yet. I have been meaning to go every day, but what with the sleighing parties, and one thing and another, I have never found time."

"Then you ought to have found it," Cissie said indignantly. "I did not think that you were that sort of boy, Tom. I thought that you would have stuck to your friend. I am downright ashamed of you."

"Well, I am ashamed of myself, now that you have put it so, though I really do mean to stick to him, you know. I have an engagement this evening, but I will get out of it and go."

"You ought to have gone a week since," Cissie said, very little mollified. "Call yourself a friend, and let your amusements stand in the way for ten days of your going to see a chum who is all alone and in trouble! I would not give a fig for such friendship as that!"

"Well, you are a staunch friend anyhow, Cissie!" Tom said admiringly. "It is not every girl who would care to stick up for a boy as you do for Roland."

"Why shouldn't I stick up for him?" she asked scornfully. "His mother and mine were friends, and many a pleasant afternoon have I spent there. Why shouldn't a girl stick up for her friend as well as a boy, I should like to know? I liked Roland Partridge better than any of the boys in our set, and I don't care who knows it. And I say it is scandalous his being cut because his father turned out badly, even if he did turn out badly, which I don't believe."

"Oh, come now, Cissie, that is too much. Somebody said that you did not believe Mr. Partridge was guilty, but I put that down to pure obstinacy. Well, you need not look angry about it, because I like people who are obstinate for their friends; but I did not imagine that you really could think so."

"Why shouldn't I? I have a right to my thoughts, Tom Fernlea, I suppose, as well as you have. Do you think that Roland Partridge would tell a lie?"

"No, I am sure that he wouldn't," Tom said. "All the years that I have known him I have never heard him tell anything like an untruth."

"Well then, why shouldn't you believe him now he says that he and his mother are absolutely convinced that his father is innocent? I suppose they are quite as likely to know the truth of the matter as anyone in Brownsville."

"Well, Cissie, if Roland says that, he must have grounds for such a statement. Anyhow, I will go to see him this evening. I need not tell him, I suppose, that you sent me?"

"If you do I will never speak to you again, Tom Fernlea, so now you know."

When Tom called at Roland's lodgings that evening he was told that he was out, whereupon he took post at the door and waited for an hour, when his friend returned.

"I have come for a chat," he said, "old fellow, if you will let me in. I have been waiting for an hour to see you. I should have called before, but you know how engaged fellows are, just at this time of the year. However, I was determined I would come this evening, so I threw over the party at the Dawsons', and here I am."

"I am glad to see you, Tom. Come in," Roland said quietly. He led the way up to his room, and lighted a candle.

"You are looking pale and out of sorts, old fellow," he said as he saw Roland's face. "I know you have had an awful lot to upset you, but still it is of no use letting it make you ill. It is easy, I know, for me to talk," he went on, as he saw a slight smile on Roland's face, "for I am sure that I should be horribly cut up if I were in your position. Do you think it quite wise, Roland, your determination to stop here? I should have thought that you would be only too glad to be away from it all, but they say that you refused an offer that Mr. Johnstone made you of a situation in New York. Of course, you know your own business best, but if I had been in your place I should have jumped at it."

"Well, you see, Tom, it depends how you look at things. If I thought my father guilty I would go right away, quick enough, but as I am sure that he is not, you see I stop."

"Yes; Cissie White was telling me so this afternoon, Roland. I heard before that she was saying so, but it was not until she told me herself this afternoon that I believed she was quite in earnest. You will excuse my saying so, but up till then I had thought as other people do; but when she said that you had assured her that your mother and yourself were thoroughly convinced that your father was innocent, I saw matters in an entirely different light. For I know that even on such a thing as that, you would not say anything that you didn't really believe; but in that case you don't mind my asking you why your father went away?"

"I don't mind your asking at all, Tom. I would much rather people spoke plainly what they think, instead of avoiding all allusion to the subject. I was away, you know, when father went, but from what he said to my mother I imagine that in some way, I can't say how, he felt that circumstances were against him, and that although he was perfectly innocent he was not in a position to prove it. He is a very sensitive, nervous man, and I believe he felt at the moment that anything in the world would be better than standing up before everyone who believed that he was guilty. I think that it was a terrible mistake; however, I can understand my father, whose disposition is entirely different from mine, taking the course he did. Now, believing as I do that he is the victim of somebody else's crime, I made up my mind to stay here and brave it out, in order that, if it be possible, I may find out who has done it. How I am going to set about it I cannot tell you, but I may say that I will watch everyone who is connected with the bank, and possibly I may obtain some clue."

"I understand now, Roland, and quite agree with you as to your course. I am very glad that you have told me, for before, I could not make you out."

"Of course you understand, Tom, this is for you alone. If the real thief had an idea that he was being watched, it would make him careful and diminish my chances. I had rather people thought that I had stopped here from pure pig-headed obstinacy."

"You have not got a place yet, have you, Roland?"

"No; I have applied for several situations, but have always met with refusals; no doubt the people thought that I was better away out of this."

"I will speak to my father, if you don't mind, Roland, my giving him a hint of what your motives are. The old man is no talker, and I know he used to like you very much, and I am sure he will do what he can for you. Is there anything else that I can do?"

"The thing I want to know," Roland said, "is if anyone connected with the bank here has been speculating in New York, but I don't know how to set about it."

"Let me see," Tom said thoughtfully. "You know my cousin Arthur went away last year to a broker's office there; of course he knows lots of clerks in other offices. Now, if you don't mind my writing to him and telling him frankly all about it, I am sure he will set to work, heart and soul, in the matter, and maybe he will find out something."

Roland eagerly agreed, and then for a couple of hours the lads sat chatting about school and other matters, and when Tom took his leave he felt that he had cheered his friend up and done him service.


CHAPTER III

MAKING A START

Two days later Tom Fernlea again called on Roland.

"My father says will you look round to his office to-morrow morning? He did not tell me exactly what he wanted you for, but I expect it is all right. He was very much interested in what I told him yesterday, and when the old man takes a thing up he generally carries it through, so I expect there is something in the wind. What a pity it is, Roland, you did not see your father before he went away! I have been thinking it over, and it seems to me that if he had told you the whole circumstances, you would have been sure to have got some clue to work upon."

"That is what I have thought a hundred times, Tom. I hope that we shall hear from him ere long. I may tell you privately that he is in Canada. My mother has had two short notes from him. He is evidently in a sadly depressed state, but says he is well. The letters having Canadian stamps on them, we knew they came from there, but he says nothing about where he is. He is no doubt afraid that he may be traced and his extradition demanded; but I hope soon that he will give us some address to which we can write to him. Directly he does, I shall send him a letter saying that I am settled here, and am going to make it the business of my life to prove his innocence, and shall implore him to write to me fully every detail he can respecting the affair, as his story may give me some sort of a clue as to the real thief."

The next morning Roland presented himself at the office of Mr. Fernlea, who was the leading lawyer of the town. He was at once shown into the inner office.

"Glad to see you, Roland; you have not been up at the house with Tom for the last month. He has been talking to me about this business of your father's. I quite take the view you do. I have been puzzled over the affair ever since I first heard of it, but your father's foolish flight deceived me, as well as the rest of us. I have no doubt what you say is correct, and that he has been so badly scared that he helped the game of the rascals who are the real criminals by bolting. However, although that may be your opinion and mine, it does not advance the case a bit. Your father, by his own act, has, so to speak, pleaded guilty, and has been condemned and sentenced accordingly by public opinion, and I tell you frankly that I don't think it is likely you will ever obtain a reversal of the sentence. Still, I approve of the resolution which Tom tells me that you have taken. You could not have a nobler aim in life than to clear your father's name, and I am ready to aid you so far as to give you a seat in my office here with a salary of six dollars a week—no great thing, but enough to keep you. It is unlikely, to my mind, that you will ever get any clue which will aid you; but if you should do, I shall be most heartily glad to help you with my advice, or in any other way in my power. I had always a high respect for your father, and will be glad to assist you for his sake, but I may say frankly, I will do so especially because you are a great friend of my Tom; and although he is not particularly bright he has, I think, enough good sense to choose his friends wisely, and indeed I know now, from my own observation in this instance, he has done so. Now what do you say to my offer?"

"I am extremely obliged to you, sir; it is most kind of you, and is far better than anything I had hoped for."

"That is settled then; you may as well begin at once. Mr. Mullins will show you what you have to do."

Roland was indeed glad at the opening which Mr. Fernlea had made for him. The utmost he had hoped for was to obtain a position in a store, and as hitherto it had been intended that he should go to Harvard at the beginning of the next term, the thought of entering a store had gone somewhat against the grain. Now, with the position in Mr. Fernlea's office he might be considered not only to retain the position he occupied among his school-fellows and friends, but to have taken the first step in a promising career.

When it became known in Brownsville that Mr. Fernlea had taken Roland Partridge into his office, there was much surprise and comment. More than one leading man in the place had made overtures to the lawyer for placing his son with him, but he had always declined, saying that he found that he and Mullins were able to get through the work, and that he did not care for the trouble of teaching young bears. There was a general feeling among these that the lawyer had, in some sort of way, done them a personal wrong by thus taking into his office the son of a defaulter, and one whom they had hoped would be obliged to leave the place from his inability to find employment there.

The lawyer, however, was not the man to concern himself with the opinions of others, and would have been unconscious of the comments his decision had excited had not Tom told him, laughing, that he had outraged the feelings of all the old women in the place. Tom did not forget his promise to write to his cousin in New York, and to interest him in the search which Roland had undertaken, and did this so effectually that he received a letter by return saying that the writer would do anything he could to aid his old school-fellow, and that he would set enquiries on foot among all his acquaintances in brokers' offices to find out, if possible, if any resident in Brownsville had lately been going into extensive speculations. A few days after Roland had entered upon his new duties Mr. Fernlea called him into his office.

"By the way, Partridge," he said, "I have been thinking over that matter of yours with the idea that I might perhaps hit upon some clue upon which you might work. I have not done so, for a curious difficulty at once presented itself. It naturally occurred to me that one of the methods to be first pursued was to find out through whose hands some of the stolen securities had passed, and then to trace them backwards; but when I came to think of it, it at once struck me that the list of the securities stolen had never been published. This was so singular and so out of the usual course that yesterday I spoke to one of the directors of the bank, who had come in to smoke a cigar with me. He said it had been decided by the board that as the frauds had extended over some months, and as the defaulter had got safely away to Canada, there was no chance of being able to recover the securities, which by this time had probably passed through a dozen hands, and it was thought better for the credit of the bank, and so on, to let the whole matter drop, but of course the defaulter would be arrested at once if he ever showed his face in this country again.

"The course the directors have taken strikes me as being a very unusual one. I do not say that from some points of view it may not be a very wise one. The loss may be heavier than people suppose, and they may think it better not to call any further attention to it. It may be that it was policy, in fact I think perhaps it was so. Still, it is certainly unusual, and angry men do not always take the wisest course. I said as much to my friend. From what he said, I gathered that they had been to some extent influenced by a feeling of sympathy with you and your mother, and by their respect for your father's former position in the place. He said that was the view the president took, and that they all fell in with it. It wasn't my business to make any remark, and I changed the subject, but I must own, the more I think it over the more unusual and singular it appears to me.

"No doubt they were influenced far more by the thought of the credit of the bank than by their sympathy with your father and mother, and I must say that I am glad I am not a large shareholder in the bank. Still, it is curious, and at any rate one result is that there are no clues to be obtained from following up any of the missing securities. Of course the directors all know what has been taken, but naturally they will keep their own council, and no help is to be obtained in that way."

Now that it was manifest that Roland Partridge was settled for good in Brownsville the little party who had from the first taken his side gained ground rapidly. Their argument was indeed unanswerable: now that he was there it was as well to make the best of it. Tom Fernlea and several others of his set would anyhow stick to him, and as he would be met in their company it was of no use pretending to ignore his presence; it would indeed only cause unpleasantness and disagreement. Consequently, it was decided, with but few dissentient voices, headed by Percy Johnstone, that Roland Partridge should again be received into the set as if nothing unpleasant had taken place. Accordingly, he received an invitation to one of the first parties that was got up. He showed it to Tom Fernlea.

"Yes, I knew it was coming," Tom said, laughing. "We have won all along the line."

"Of course I shall not go," Roland said.

"Of course you will go," Tom replied. "Don't make a fool or a martyr of yourself. What has happened was natural enough. People thought your father had got into a scrape, and all the shareholders of the bank considered that they lost a lot of money by him. It was generally thought that you would be leaving the town, and naturally there was some sort of awkwardness about your joining in our fun as usual. Nobody thought any the worse of you, for it was, of course, not your fault; it was simply the awkwardness. Now that you are going to stay, the matter has altered. A month has passed, and the story has become an old one. Everyone will meet you just as before, and I shall be glad to have you with us again. Besides, if you were to refuse, it would place me and the others who have stuck to you all along in a very uncomfortable position; for whenever you happened to be with us, and we met some of the people whom you refuse to visit, we should either have to pass without speaking, or you would have to stand aloof in the cold while we were talking to them. You made up your mind to live here, and it is of no use your putting your back up and going about like a moral hedgehog. So sit down like a good fellow, and write and say that you will be happy to accept the invitation; then go at once and secure a cutter for the day, and ask Cissie White if she will keep her old engagement. I am going to take Bessie Hartley, and I will arrange that two or three others shall start just at the same time and place, so we can all drive there together in a party."

Roland felt that his friend's advice was good, and, although it needed an effort to follow it, he sat down at once and wrote saying that he would be very glad to join the party. Then he went out and secured the cutter, and called at Mrs. White's and saw Cissie.

"I have been asked to join the sleighing party next Thursday, Cissie; will you let me drive you?"

"With pleasure, Roland. I have an outstanding engagement with you, you know, and I have been hoping that you would call and remind me of it; in fact I made so sure you would, that I considered myself engaged and refused two invitations yesterday."

"That was good of you, Cissie; you have been my best friend all through this business."

"Not better than many others, Roland," she said quietly. "The two sides were pretty equally divided all along, and, now we have won, it is a triumph for us all."

Four cutters drew up together at Mrs. White's door at four o'clock on the Thursday afternoon. Tom Fernlea and Bessie Hartley occupied one; two of the others were filled with couples full of life and spirits; while Roland Partridge held the reins in the fourth. Cissie White was all ready to start and came out at once, and was soon muffled in the rugs by his side.

"Hoorah!" Tom Fernlea shouted as they started. "This is what I call jolly—a glorious day, capital company, and lots of fun before us!"

The whole party were in great spirits, and their laughter rose high as, at a rapid pace, they dashed along towards their destination. This was a barn belonging to the father of one of the party, who lived ten miles away. Two or three of the boys had gone over the day before to sweep and decorate the place. The contributions of provisions had been sent over in a sleigh the previous afternoon, and two or three cutters had driven on an hour or two before the rest, to light the fire and prepare tea. A fiddler had been engaged, and after tea they were to dance, and drive back at ten o'clock by moonlight.

On the way the party overtook several of the cutters, and ten of them dashed up together in procession to the barn. The jingling of the bells and the joyous shouts brought the early arrivals to the door, and there was general greeting and shaking of hands, and Roland, who had rather dreaded the moment, soon felt himself at home again. First of all the horses had to be put up in the stables and some empty barns, and when this was done the boys made their way to the place of assembly. Some forty young people were gathered there, all in the highest spirits. A great wood fire blazed at one end, and over it hung a huge cauldron of boiling water. Tables of boards and rough trestles were arranged down the side of the barn. They were covered with snowy table-cloths, on which were placed a great variety of eatables.

A committee had decided what each of those present should contribute. The most solid viands had been provided by the lads, and cold turkeys, chickens, and joints of meat showed that there was an ample store for the fifty who were to share the feast; while the variety of fruit-pies, cakes, and sweets of all descriptions showed that the girls had fully done their share. As soon as the last comers had arrived the meal began, and all did full justice to it, for the drive had sharpened their appetites. By the time it was finished it was growing dark, and while the boys cleared the tables and carried them outside, others lit the candles, placed in the sconces hired for the occasion and nailed against the sides of the barn, while the girls washed up the tea-things and packed them away in baskets ready for transport home on the following day. Then came five hours of dancing, and as the clock struck ten the boys hurried off for the horses, and the party started for home. Roland had enjoyed himself thoroughly. With the exception of Percy Johnstone and one or two others, everyone had behaved to him just as if the last month had been a blank, except perhaps that there was a little extra kindness and cordiality, as if each wished to show how glad he or she was to see him among them again.

"It was not so very dreadful, was it?" Cissie asked as they drove homeward.

"It was not dreadful at all," he said. "I think, Cissie, half our troubles arise from our own selfconsciousness. We fancy people are thinking and talking about us, when in fact they are not giving us a thought; and if one does but grasp the nettle firmly, one finds that there is no sting in it."

The next morning Roland received a letter from his mother saying that she had again heard from his father, and although he had not precisely given his address, he had given indications by which a letter could be addressed to him under a name not his own; and Roland that night sat down and wrote to him at great length. He told him that he and his mother were convinced that he was the victim of another's misdoings, and that he had determined that if it was humanly possible he would find out the guilty party; but that before he set about doing so with any chance of success, it was absolutely necessary that he should be in possession of all the facts of the case, and he implored him to write fully and frankly to him, giving him every detail, however minute, which could bear upon it. He concluded by saying:

"My dear father, I know how very painful to you the thought must be of appearing in the light of a suspected person in the presence of those who have known and respected you, but I cannot but think that it would have been better if you had made an effort and faced it out, for your innocence must sooner or later have been proved. However, for the sake of your good name and my mother's happiness, it is clearly incumbent on you now to aid us to the utmost in our effort to re-establish your good name, even if to do so you should have to come back and demand a trial. However, this is not necessary now, and I hope never will be. But the first thing of all is for us to understand exactly what the circumstances were that have caused a suspicion of this crime to fall upon you."


CHAPTER IV

A CLUE

A week later Roland received a letter from his father in answer to that he had written him. Its contents were as follows:

"My dear Roland,—I know that with your young heart and strong courage and a complete and happy absence of nerves, you cannot but think it weak and cowardly of me to run away instead of waiting and fighting hard against circumstances. I know as well as anyone can tell me that this is the course I should have adopted, and a score of times since I came away I have been on the point of returning and giving myself up, but each time when it has come to the point I have drawn back, and despised myself for my cowardice. But I cannot overcome it. I had an unhappy childhood under a stern father and a very unkind stepmother, and I think that any spirit I ever had was frightened out of me by the time I entered life—a shrinking, sensitive young fellow, conscious that I possessed fair abilities, but altogether unfit to fight my own way.

"For some years life was very hard to me, and my failing increased rather than diminished; and then by some good chance, certainly from no solicitation on my part, a course opened before me. I married. Your mother's firmness gave me support, and her love and goodness brought me happiness. Then when I obtained the post of cashier at the bank of Brownsville, it seemed that my trials were over. Although I could never bring myself to mix much with other men, I gained confidence in myself, and believed that I had grown out of that extreme sensibility which had rendered my early years so unhappy. When the trial came upon me suddenly I found that I was mistaken. The thought of standing before the world accused of theft filled me with an overpowering fear, and rather than stay and face it I should have put an end to my existence. I know that you will scarcely understand this feeling. I know that you will think it weak and cowardly. I simply say, my boy, that I cannot help it, and that I can no more withstand it than a madman can check his impulses.

"And now I have told you so much, my son, I will tell you of the events of that evening. For some days I had been low and out of sorts; a haunting sense that something was wrong had been upon me. The last clerk, before leaving, had, as usual, laid the keys on the desk beside me. I told him he could go, as I had some hours' work before me. For an hour I went through the books, and then a sudden impulse seized me. I would examine some of the securities and see that none were missing. I took the keys and went down to the strong room, a thing which I never that I can recall had done after the bank was shut; took out some large parcels of shares and bonds, and locked the doors again. I took them up with me to count in my room, and compare them with the books. I had just set to work when I heard the latch-key of the front door turn, and a minute later Mr. Johnstone came in. 'You are at work late, Partridge,' he said. 'I saw your light burning as I was passing. Why, hallo!' he said with a change of voice, 'what have you got all the securities up for? that is rather unusual, isn't it? Wasn't the strong room locked up before the clerks went away?' It had not struck me that there was anything strange about it, but the tone of the president's voice showed me that there was, and my old nervousness seized me as if with a sudden grip; and I have no doubt that the tone in which I explained my reason for going down into the strong room and bringing up the securities added to his suspicion. However, he said coldly: 'I am not aware of anything that should have excited your suspicions that all was not right, and induced you to unlock the strong room after the bank was closed. However, as you have brought up some of the securities, and I have nothing to do for the next half-hour, I will go through them with you.'

"He sat down by my side, and took the book containing the lists of the securities held by the bank and I read out the number of the bonds. 'New York Centrals of five hundred dollars each.' Presently he said sharply: 'That does not tally with the book.' He ran his eye down and remarked: 'There are fifty missing here, running in successive numbers, between the last two you read out.' 'Perhaps they are out of place,' I said, and looked through the rest of the bonds, but they were not there. 'How do you account for this?' the president asked sharply. 'I cannot account for it,' I said, bewildered. 'Oh!' he said in an awkward tone, that particularly struck me. 'Here are your initials to all these figures, showing that they have been paid out. When were they redeemed?' I looked at the book; there were my initials sure enough. The bonds had not been redeemed at all, I was certain, but there were my initials. I looked at them thunderstruck.

"'I have the highest opinion of you, Mr. Partridge,' the president said, 'but this, you must admit, has a very curious appearance. Here I find you have, after the bank has closed, opened the strong room, and have got some of the securities up here, and I find that some of them are missing, but that the book is initialled by you, so that anyone else going through it with the securities would suppose that they had been parted with in due course. Your own manner, if you will excuse my saying so, strikes me as altogether suspicious. However, let us go through some more.'

"Each bundle that we examined showed deficiencies, and although I had not brought up one-tenth of the bonds and securities, we found a deficiency of over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. When we had done, Mr. Johnstone did not make a single observation beyond briefly pointing out the numbers of the missing securities, and added: 'You see, Mr. Partridge, I have but one course to follow. The bank has been robbed of an immense amount. How much as yet I have no means of knowing. I find you here with the securities brought out of the strong room at this unusual hour. These securities were entirely in your hands, and no one touches them but yourself. You can give me no explanation of the deficiency, and in every case your initials are appended, as a proof that they have been paid out in due course. Under such circumstances it is my duty to at once give you into custody.'

"I had been getting more nervous and confused as each fresh discovery was made, and the horrible consciousness of my position became stronger.

"'I am innocent, sir!' I exclaimed; 'before God I am innocent!'

"'In that case, Mr. Partridge, you will no doubt be able to prove it to the satisfaction of the jury. In my mind I confess the matter is clear. This book in which your entries are made is your own private property, and you keep it, I presume, in your own safe here, of which no one but yourself has a key, and it is not the sort of book that you are in the habit of leaving about. What you have done with the proceeds of the bonds I know not, but that you have taken them seems to me as clear as day. Of course the matter may be explained in some way. I hope that it will be. You have worked here with me for the last fifteen years, and I have hitherto not only had implicit confidence in you, but respect and liking. I would give anything to escape the situation in which I am placed, but my duty is clear. I must hand you over to the police.'

"'It will kill me!' I said. 'I am innocent, Mr. Johnstone, innocent as a child, but the disgrace of this will kill me!'

"He was silent for some time, and then he said: 'I am sorry for you, Mr. Partridge, with all my heart, and still more sorry for your wife. This money, I suppose, is hopelessly gone in some wild speculation,'—I again protested, but he waved to me to be silent—'and irretrievably lost. For the sake of our long friendship and of the good lady your wife, I will suffer you to leave this office a free man. I will take no steps till morning. More than that, I will, if possible, keep the affair out of the hands of the police for the next twelve hours, by which time you ought to be across the frontier into Canada. I am risking a great deal in doing this, but I will do it, and I will satisfy my colleagues as well as I can. There, let no more be said. Go! and strive in future, by a life of strict honesty, to justify the course which I am taking.'

"I murmured something, whether of thanks or protest I know not, and, seizing my hat, went out into the air. Anyone who had noticed me on my way home must have thought me drunk, for I know that I staggered blindly along. Your mother will have told you what happened when I got home. That is the tale, Roland, and it makes things look very black against me. I was at the bank late, having opened the strong room and taken out the securities. The president, coming in and finding me so employed, went through the books with me, and discovered large deficiencies in the securities, which were never handled by anyone but myself. Worst of all, in my private book, kept always under lock and key, are my initials, showing that I am cognizant of the securities having been parted with. Lastly, there is my flight and my manner against me. In answer I give my bare protest that I knew nothing about the securities being missing, and that though the initials appear indeed to be my own, that I certainly never signed them, though I own that the book was never to my knowledge out of my custody at any time, and that the safe in which it was kept was always locked up by me of an evening. That somebody has taken the securities is clear; also that somebody has got at my book and forged my initials.

"But it is only this bare assertion that I have against all the facts that seem to prove me guilty. I am going west. I have made the acquaintance of a gentleman, who has given me letters to two or three large store-keepers in Winnipeg, where, under another name, I hope to obtain employment. There, I trust, your mother will follow me. As for yourself, you have told me you have been taken by Mr. Fernlea into his office, and I trust, in spite of the terrible blot I have brought upon our name, that you will succeed. I have, however, no hope that you will be able to clear up the mystery of which I am the victim. Still, I will not dissuade you from trying, and although I cannot hope, I shall pray, day and night, that success may attend your efforts."

Roland read the letter through and through until he had almost learnt it by heart. The next morning he took it in to Mr. Fernlea. "You know what my object is in remaining at Brownsville, Mr. Fernlea. I should like you to read this letter which I have received from my father. I need not say that I shall show it to no one else. I received it yesterday evening, and have been thinking it over all night, but I cannot see that it furnishes me with any clue such as I had hoped. But you may think differently."

Mr. Fernlea read the letter through to the end; then, without a word, he turned it over and re-read it. "Frankly, Roland," he said, when he laid it down, "is there no impression left in your mind after reading that letter?"

"Well, sir," Roland said hesitatingly, "it seems too absurd, but I cannot but think it a little strange that Mr. Johnstone should let my father go off like that."

"That is it," Mr. Fernlea said. "Johnstone has the reputation of being a pleasant gentleman adverse to trouble and contention, and desirous of keeping on good terms with everyone, but he has nevertheless been always sharp enough on creditors to the bank, and has several times prosecuted when it appeared that the bank was the victim of sharp practices. I have always wondered that no attempt to discover and arrest your father was made when the loss was first discovered, which was, I understood, when Johnstone examined the bonds on the morning when your father was found missing; but now that I find he knew it before your father left, it is still more surprising to me that he should have let him go. He assumed, as it seems by this letter, that your father had spent all the proceeds of the robbery; but why should he assume that?

"Your father might still have had a great number of bonds in hand, and by arresting him at once a considerable number of the stolen securities might have been recovered. But this is not all. There is one very singular fact in the story. Your father was reading over the numbers of the bonds, when Mr. Johnstone suddenly exclaimed, 'That is wrong; there are fifty bonds missing between the last two numbers you read out. Where are they?' Why should he have said that? As I take it, the number of the bonds which had hitherto been read corresponded with the number of those marked still in hand, that is to say, of those against which no initial had been placed. But it seems that these fifty were initialled. What was there, then, to call Johnstone's attention to the fact that they should have been there? That is very remarkable, to say the least of it."

Roland clasped his hands before him. "Oh, Mr. Fernlea, do you really think—"

"I don't think anything, Roland," Mr. Fernlea said sharply. "Mr. Johnstone is president of the bank, a prominent citizen, a man of unblemished reputation. I simply say that these facts, stated together, are singular, and I think they give you a clue. How that clue is to be followed up, I cannot at present suggest, I simply affirm that it is a clue. Now I want you to take the next train to Chicago. A client of mine wants some enquiries made about a house which he is thinking of purchasing. Here are the papers connected with it; you can study them as you go along. Of course you will go to the land office and see if there are any mortgages on it, and you will look up the titles."

Roland reached Chicago in the afternoon, where he at once set about making the necessary enquiries. The lawyers upon whom he first called at once showed him the titles, which appeared to him to be correct, but of which he made an abstract for Mr. Fernlea's inspection. He then went to the land office and found that mortgages were registered on the house. From there he walked to the address of the owner, which he found to be in a small street. The house was shut up. He made some enquiries carefully among the neighbours, and found the reputation of the man was the reverse of favourable. It was now getting late in the afternoon, and he rode to the Central Telegraph office to send off a short message to Mr. Fernlea with the result of his enquiries. Two or three persons were writing their messages, and to his surprise he at once recognized in one of them Mr. Johnstone of Brownsville.

There was nothing in the least strange that the banker should be at Chicago, a hundred and fifty miles from Brownsville; and had it not been that Roland had been thinking of him all day, the meeting would not have given him a second thought. As it was, he drew back instantly and took his place at a distant desk to write his own message. "House mortgaged for 2500 dollars, title apparently good; vendor's house shut up, neighbours give bad account of him; I wait instructions." Just as he had finished, Mr. Johnstone turned from the desk and went up to the pigeon-hole and handed in his message. A question or two was asked, and having paid his money he left.

Roland at once went to the same pigeon-hole. The girl was in the act of handing the message she had just received to an operator. "It is a cipher. What tiresome things those are! one has to be so careful with them, and there is no sense to help one."

"Mine is not a cipher," Roland said as he handed his in; "but my handwriting is not a very clear one. Your last message ought not to be difficult to make out, for I know Mr. Johnstone's writing is as clear as print."

"Johnstone!" the girl said, glancing back over the other's shoulder; "it isn't Johnstone, it is Westerton."

Roland felt a thrill shoot through him, but he answered carelessly: "Oh, is it? I was mistaken in my man then, I thought I knew him."

An hour later he received a telegram from Mr. Fernlea in answer to that he had sent. It simply said "Come back". He accordingly took the night train to Brownsville, and appeared at the office as usual in the morning.

"You have found out just what we wanted to know, Partridge. The man is a sort of acquaintance of my client, and wanted him to let him have a thousand dollars to-day, pending the examination of the titles. Of course he said nothing about the mortgage already on the house. My client believed it was all right, and would have advanced the money had I not begged him to wait twenty-four hours; so your trip has prevented him from throwing away a thousand dollars."

"I am very glad I went, sir, on my own account," Roland said, "for I have made a discovery which may be of importance. I have found out that Mr. Johnstone is in the habit of going over to Chicago and despatching telegrams there in the name of Westerton."

And he then related the incident of the telegraph office.

"That may be of importance," Mr. Fernlea said, "but we must not place too much importance upon it. He may possibly have sent off a message for some friend; still, it is a clue."

So Tom Fernlea thought when Roland told him the circumstances. "I must get you to write off again, Tom, to your cousin. You told me two days ago that, so far, he had not found out among his acquaintances that anyone here connected with the bank was speculating. The thing now is to ask among them if anyone knows of a Mr. Westerton of Chicago, dealing in ventures of that sort."


CHAPTER V

THE FOG CLEARS

A week later Tom brought Roland a letter which he had received from his cousin. "My dear Tom,—The plot begins to thicken, and I think we are on the right scent. I was taking drinks with some other stock exchange men this afternoon, when I said, 'Does anyone know Westerton of Chicago?'

"'Yes, he is a client of ours,' one of them replied. 'He speculates pretty heavily in all sorts of stock and has dropped a lot of money the last six months. Do you know him? Because if you do, it is more than anyone in Chicago seems to. The chief has asked lots of men there about him, but no one seems to know the name. Of course it does not matter to us, because there is always ample cover, so we cannot burn our fingers; but it does seem rum that a man who can go in for such heavy speculations should not be known to anyone there.'

"'No, I don't know him,' I said, 'but a man was asking me about him. I fancy he speculates with him too.'

"'Likely enough, these fellows always have two or three agents. We think it rather probable that it is a false name. There is many a man who dabbles in speculations, that none of his friends would ever believe did anything of the sort, such as clergymen, and merchants with solid businesses, whose credit would be injured if men thought that they speculated, and so on. We who are behind the scenes would astonish the world if we were to tell all we know.'

"However, I turned the subject, as I did not want him to suspect that I had any particular interest in Westerton. So, you see, Tom, the first step is gained, and we have found out that the respectable president of Brownsville Bank speculates largely under an assumed name. I don't know what Partridge's next move may be, but if I can give any further assistance you can rely upon me."

"What are you going to do next?" Tom said as he closed the letter.

"I haven't the least idea, Tom; but at any rate, I will consult your father. It is something to learn as much as we have, and we certainly seem to have got on the right clue. I never quite despaired, but I feel now pretty certain that we shall get to the bottom of it at last."

"It will do Percy Johnstone a world of good to take down his conceit a bit—a stuck-up monkey!"

"Don't say that, Tom. I felt it myself so much that I am sure I could not wish my worst enemy to go through such a thing."

"I don't wish Percy Johnstone any particular ill, Roland; but if somebody has got to suffer, I would rather it was him than anyone else in Brownsville. The insufferable airs that fellow gives himself are disgusting."

Mr. Fernlea was greatly interested when he heard the news. "I have no doubt whatever that you are on the right track now, Roland. Taking your father's letter, the points we noticed when we read it, and the facts we know now, that Johnstone is a heavy and unsuccessful speculator, seem to show without doubt that he is the real thief. His conduct in not arresting your father at once, and in allowing him without pursuit to get across the frontier, is accounted for now. He did not want anything like a public trial, for in that case the numbers of the missing bonds must have been made public, and might in that way have been traced to him. I have no doubt whatever that he is the thief. But the question is, how are we to prove it?

"Of course if Johnstone goes on at this game and it continues to be unnoticed, there will be a smash up sooner or later; but even then the whole thing might not come out. If your father should come back here, they would be obliged to arrest him. But even if he denounced Johnstone as the real thief, we have nothing to go upon. The mere fact that he has speculated would in itself be no proof, or that he did so under an assumed name, for he would urge that many people do the same, and that he only adopted this precaution because, being in the position of president of the bank, he did not wish people here to know that he dabbled in shares. I own that I do not see what our next step is to be. It seems to me that we must wait and watch."

"That is what I was thinking, sir. Will you kindly give me leave to be away from your office till this is done? I should like to come here of a morning and go in and out as if I was in your employment, in case Mr. Johnstone was watching me, which is not likely. He would then suppose that I am still working for you, but went out rather frequently on errands."

"Certainly, Roland, and if you want any money let me know. Anything that you may require to carry the matter through I shall be glad to let you have."

"Thank you, sir! but I hope I shall not be obliged to avail myself of your kind offer. My mother still has the proceeds of the sale of our furniture, and I need hardly say how glad she will be to spend it if she knows that there is a chance of proving my father's innocence."

Roland now kept a strict watch upon Mr. Johnstone's movements, and the next time that gentleman boarded the train at Brownsville, Roland did the same, but got into a third-class compartment forward. He was close at hand, however, when the banker presently took out his ticket, which was only for a town some thirty miles out; but when the train stopped at this station the banker ran into the office, and, procuring a ticket for Chicago, continued his journey to that city. When he alighted there Roland followed him. He went to a small house in a retired quarter, and on knocking at the door was admitted without question, and Roland concluded that he habitually stayed there. He came out in a few minutes without the bag which he had carried in, and as soon as he was fairly away Roland, seeing that there was a notice in the window that there was an apartment to let, knocked at the door.

"You have a room to let," he said. "Can I see it?"

"Certainly, sir;" and Roland followed the woman upstairs. "The room will do very nicely," he said. "I shall not be a troublesome lodger, for I am a great deal away, and shall only sleep here occasionally; but I like to have a place of my own instead of always putting up at an hotel."

"That is just the case with our lodger downstairs, sir. He does not often sleep here—not more than one night in the week. He travels, I believe, for some house of business; but, as he says, he likes to have a quiet place to come to when here."

"He is your only other lodger, I hope?" Roland said, "for above all things I like quietness."

"Yes, sir; we only let these rooms. He is quiet enough. When he comes here he generally comes in the afternoon, but goes out directly, and comes back again at seven to his dinner; and he always goes off at six o'clock in the morning. A quieter gentleman no one could wish to have for a lodger than Mr. Westerton."

Roland at once agreed to take the room, and, paying a deposit, said that he would come on the following day to take possession. "My name is Rowlands, but it is not likely that anyone will come to enquire for me."

Having watched Mr. Johnstone off by the first train in the morning, Roland went to his lodgings, where he soon became friendly with his landlady, who was quite ready to gossip. She was full of praise for her other lodger. "I expect he has got a good situation," she said. "Money don't seem of any consequence to him. He always has the best of everything that is in season, no matter what it costs, and he has got quite a cellar of wine, and always takes a bottle with his dinner. I am sure the room was furnished nice enough for anything when he came; but he had all the furniture turned out, and put in fresh himself, and a heap of money it must have cost him, I can tell you; fresh paper on the walls, and looking-glasses, and pictures. They are nice rooms, indeed they could not be nicer—except that the sitting-room is spoilt by a big ugly safe he has got, to keep his papers in. It just spoils the room, as I told him. But he don't seem to mind, so there ain't no reason why I should."

"I should like to see the rooms," Roland said. "Not that I can afford to furnish mine like them at present."

"I will show you them with pleasure, sir. Only, if you meets him and gets to know him afterwards, don't you let out that I showed you his rooms. He is a mighty perticular sort of gent, though he is so affable and pleasant."

The rooms were quietly and handsomely furnished, as Roland had expected. There was nothing whatever in them to give a clue to the identity of their owner. No letters or papers were lying about. Roland's attention was particularly drawn towards the safe. It was a strong, burglar-proof structure, by one of the best makers.

"Yes," he said, "I agree with you. The furniture is very handsome and good, but I should not care, if it were mine, to spoil it with that safe."

"He told me he had lost a valuable lot of papers once, and had determined that he would never run such a risk again, and so he got a safe that could be neither carried off nor broken into."

The next day Roland returned to Brownsville and informed Mr. Fernlea of the progress that he had made.

"Capital, Roland! I shall certainly employ you in any detective work that may in future come into the office. The two next steps to be taken are clear enough, but it is not so easy to see how we are to take them. In the first place, we shall have to obtain a list of the missing securities, and the next to find out whether any of them are still in that safe. Those are the steps, but how on earth are we to take them? Your father would hardly be likely to remember the numbers of the missing bonds, and I could not ask one of the directors without taking him into our confidence, which I am averse to doing, for they all hold Johnstone in such respect that our idea would seem to them altogether preposterous."

"At any rate I could write to my father and ask him," Roland said. "He may not remember the numbers; it is hardly possible that he should, when there are such a lot of them missing; but he might be able to give us some hint how to set about it."

Accordingly Roland wrote a letter to his father informing him of the steps which he had taken and the discoveries which he had made.

"You see, father," he wrote, "that while Mr. Fernlea has no more doubt than I have that Johnstone stole the securities which he accused you of taking, it is very difficult to bring the matter home to him; and as a first step it is absolutely necessary to get the numbers of the bonds, and that without there being a possibility of its coming to his ears that I am moving in the matter. Can you suggest any plan?"

A week later, when Roland had returned to his lodgings after dark, a man was standing at the gate.

"Roland, my boy, is that you?"

"Good heavens, father, how you startled me! I am glad indeed to see you again, but it is surely imprudent to venture back just at this moment, for were your presence here discovered it would upset all our plans. But come in. I have a key, and you can go up with me. But even if the woman of the house saw you, she would hardly be likely to recognize you, for she has not been settled in the town very long."

As soon as they were in his room Roland struck a light, and was able to look at his father. He would hardly have recognized him, so pale and haggard was he. "Why, father, have you been ill?"

"Not actually ill, Roland, though almost out of my mind at times; but I trust that it is nearly over. Your letter has given me new life, for it has made me hope that this black cloud which has fallen over me will be cleared away, and that I can again lift up my head and look my fellow-men in the face. I am ready now to give myself up, if Mr. Fernlea thinks that it will be the best thing for me to do, and to stand my trial. Before, I had nothing, save a bare negative, to oppose the evidence against me. Now there is at least a story to tell."

"We must not tell it at present, father; we must wait till it is complete. If there is any evidence in that safe at Chicago connecting Johnstone with the thefts, we may be sure that it would be destroyed the instant you appeared on the scene. The first thing, as Mr. Fernlea says, is to obtain a list of, at any rate some of the securities that are missing. We hardly hoped that you would be able to furnish them."

"No, Roland. I could tell you the stocks to which they belonged, but not the numbers. And, so far as I know, there is but one way of doing so besides that of obtaining the list from one of the directors, which, you said in your letter Mr. Fernlea thinks would be dangerous to do."

"And what is that, father?"

"It is for me to go to the bank and get the book which Johnstone and I went through together that night."

"But how are you to do that, father? It is probably in the safe if it is still in existence."

"I supposed so, Roland. But when I went away I never thought of leaving the keys behind me, and found them days afterwards in the pocket of my overcoat. Unless they have changed the fastenings, there is nothing to prevent my unlocking the door, going up to my old room, entering it, and opening the safe as usual. There would be no occasion even for a light, for I know the feel of the book so well, with its locked clasp, that I could tell it in the dark if I put my hand on it."

"But it would be an awful risk, father, were you detected. You would be accused—" And he hesitated.

"Of trying to rob the bank for a second time," Mr. Partridge said. "Well, if necessary, I must run the risk."

"At any rate, father, before you attempt it I must speak to Mr. Fernlea. He has been so good a friend throughout the business that we must not move a single step without consulting him. I will go up and see him at once. Before I start I will tell the woman of the house that I have a friend come to stop with me for a day or two. She has a spare room, and will get it ready for you. Will you have some supper before I start?"

"No, no, Roland. Go at once, and I will have a nap in your easy-chair while you are away, for I have travelled without stopping once since I got your letter. I am not so strong as I used to be."

Mr. Fernlea listened attentively to Roland's account of his interview with his father.

"It is a dangerous step to take," he said thoughtfully, "but I don't know that I can propose anything better. Of course, if he is taken, I should come forward and declare that he was my client, that he has been wrongly accused all through, and that he was only going to the bank for the purpose of possessing himself of the book which was his private property, in order to obtain the list of the missing securities, that he might, if possible, trace their course. I should reserve suspicion about Johnstone until the trial, but, of course, there they would have to accuse him of the original theft of the securities. I will go back with you now and talk to him myself."

"My poor friend," he said as he entered the room where Mr. Partridge, too anxious to sleep, was walking restlessly to and fro, "I see that all this has told upon you sadly. However, I hope that we are in a fair way of putting matters right at last. I tell you frankly, I thought at the time that it was foolish of you to run away as you did. But I think now that it has turned out the best, for we had little or no defence beyond a bare denial, whereas we could make out a strong case of suspicion anyhow against Johnstone from what we know already."

"Do you approve of my plan for the recovery of the book?"

"Yes, if it can be carried out. But I fear that they are likely to have changed the locks. That is the first suggestion which the new cashier, on learning that the keys were missing, would make."

"I did not think of that till I was half-way here, but I am afraid that it is only too likely."

"The best plan, father," Roland said, "will be to give me the keys of the door. I can go round to-night and try it. If I find it opens it, you can carry out your plan to-morrow night; if not, there is no use your running the risk of being detected."

"But you might be taken in my place, Roland."

"Not at all, father. I am not going to enter the bank. I shall simply put the key in the lock and turn it, and see if the door opens, and I shall take good care that no one is near when I do it. If by any possible chance I were caught at it—I don't see, though, how such a thing can happen—I should simply say that, having come across the key, I went for a matter of curiosity to see if it was the one that would open the bank door."

"Yes, I don't think there would be much risk in that," Mr. Fernlea agreed. "You had better go at once, Roland, and I will remain with your father until you come back. If by any chance you are detected in trying the door, it would be far better that it should be at this time of the evening, when you might be passing by accidentally, and have acted upon the impulse to see if the key fitted, than if you were to go down in the middle of the night."

In twenty minutes Roland returned.

"A new lock has been put upon the door, father. The key won't go in at all."

Mr. Partridge gave an exclamation of disappointment.

"Don't trouble about that," Mr. Fernlea said. "I don't think that it matters very much. You see, the list would only be perfect so far as the securities you went through which was only a small proportion of those in the hands of the bank. It is essential that we should get the entire list. It might happen that he has parted with those which you know to have been stolen, while he may have some of the others still in his possession. I will think the matter over to-night, and see if I can hit upon a plausible excuse for wanting to get the list of the missing securities without being obliged to hint at the purpose for which we require them."


CHAPTER VI

CONCLUSION

In the morning Mr. Fernlea said to Roland, when he appeared at the office, "The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that it would be dangerous to try and get any of the directors to act with us. Johnstone virtually runs the concern, and the others know very little about it, and I do not think that I could get any of them to move. The best man that I can think of is Hertman. He is one of our most prominent men of business, and is a large shareholder in the bank, and is intelligent and independent; and if he were convinced that wrong had been done he would take it up. Hitherto he has, of course, been under the impression that your father was guilty, and expressed himself freely in condemnation of the policy of the directors in allowing him to escape and in hushing matters up. He is not a client of mine, but I am concerned in business transactions with him, and I think he has a respect for my judgment, as I have for his. I have written a note saying that I want to speak to him on business, and shall be glad if he will come over to my office, or I will go over to his, as will be most convenient to him. Will you take it across at once? His office is in Exchange Street."

Mr. Hertman glanced at the note, and told Roland to say that he would be across in a few minutes.

"What I am going to say, Mr. Hertman, will surprise you," Mr. Fernlea said, when his visitor had taken a seat. "You are, I am aware, one of the largest shareholders in the bank."

"I am sorry to say that I am," Mr. Hertman said. "I wish I were not, but I can't get rid of my shares except at a very heavy loss. That mysterious affair three months ago has greatly depressed the value of the stock, for, in fact, no one seems to know what is the amount of the losses we suffered. The directors told me that the matter was kept quiet to avoid a run upon the bank, and in that respect no doubt they succeeded, and public confidence seems pretty well restored. I have no idea as to how we have come out of it."

"Well, Mr. Hertman, it may surprise you when I tell you that in this matter I am acting on behalf of Partridge."

"What! the absconding cashier, Mr. Fernlea?"

"Just so. I have always entertained a strong idea that he was innocent and was the victim of others, and I am happy to say I am now far on my way to be able to prove it."

"You don't say so!" Mr. Hertman said in surprise; "why, I thought there was no doubt in the matter."

"So most other people thought," Mr. Fernlea said dryly, "and certainly his running away instead of staying to meet the charge was terribly against him, but it has not proved so unwise a step as I thought it would. Had he been arrested and tried then, it would have gone hard with him; but as matters have turned out, things have come to light which alter the complexion of the case. You have heard, perhaps, that I took his son into my office."

"Yes, I heard that," Mr. Hertman replied. "I thought that it was a piece of mistaken kindness on your part, and that the young fellow would have done better to leave the place and begin life elsewhere."

"I took him, Mr. Hertman, in order that he might remain upon the spot to devote himself to getting at the bottom of this mystery, and I may tell you at once that he is within a short distance of success."

Mr. Fernlea then related the whole of the incidents connected with the search.

"There can be little doubt that you are right in the matter," Mr. Hertman said, when he had concluded, "and that this man Johnstone is really the culprit. A great wrong has clearly been done, and you can command my assistance to the utmost in aiding you. What is wanted—funds? I will draw you a cheque for any amount that you may require."

"Thank you, Mr. Hertman! From my knowledge of your character I expected nothing less, but that is not my object in taking you into our confidence. What we want is the list of the securities stolen."

"I should doubt," Mr. Hertman said, "whether there is any such list in existence. One of the directors, who is a personal friend of mine, told me at the time of the meeting that the president explained to them what shares and scrip were missing, and their value, and that the board had individually pledged themselves to keep absolute silence until the meeting of shareholders, which will not take place for another six months yet. Certainly if your suspicions are correct, and I think they are, it would be greatly to the interest of the president that nobody except himself should have such a list.

"In that case," Mr. Fernlea said, "the only way of getting at them is to obtain Partridge's private book. There has been no fresh cashier appointed, has there?"

"No; the chief clerk is acting as cashier at present; the appointment has not been filled up."

"Do you possess any influence with him?"

"Yes, a good deal; he got his appointment as clerk there some fifteen years ago from my recommendation. He is the son of a man with whom I am closely connected in business matters."

"Then perhaps you might manage it for us. What I should propose, if you will consent, is, that some afternoon when we know that Johnstone has just left for Chicago, you should see this man, and tell him you have a clue to some of the missing securities, but that it is necessary for you to ascertain the exact numbers, and that you think you can do so by an examination of the book kept by Partridge, on which, as I understand, Johnstone scored with red ink some at least of those found to be missing. You might say that you only wanted it for two or three hours, and that if he would let you have it, you would pledge yourself to place it in his hands again the first thing the next morning. You could, of course, say that, for the success of the endeavour you are making, it is absolutely necessary that no one, not even the president and directors, should have an idea that anything was being done in the matter."

"I think I can do that," Mr. Hertman said. "Smithson will naturally think that if anything comes of it he will get some credit for aiding us in the matter."

"Very well, then," Mr. Fernlea said; "I will let you know next time that Mr. Johnstone goes to Chicago. He generally takes the trip once a week, and to-morrow is his usual day."

The next evening the book was handed to Mr. Fernlea.

"Can I be of any further use?" Mr. Hertman asked.

"Well, if you can spare two or three hours I should be glad if you would go through the lists with us. Partridge is in the next room waiting."

"Certainly I will. I tell you I have taken up this business in earnest, and am prepared to help you in every way possible."

A minute later Mr. Partridge was called in.

"I am glad to see you," Mr. Hertman said, "and regard you as a deeply wronged man, and would spend my bottom dollar, if necessary, in clearing up this business."

The three men at once sat down to their work, and turned to the pages where Mr. Johnstone had scored a line of red ink against the securities found to be missing.

"We will take down the numbers and descriptions of the marked ones first," Mr. Fernlea said, "because as to these there can be no mistake."

This was soon done.

"Now, Mr. Partridge, will you look at these initials closely; are they yours?"

After a long examination Mr. Partridge said, "They are very like mine."

"Well, let us compare them with the real ones," Mr. Fernlea said, producing a magnifying glass.

"I see a difference," Mr. Hertman said. "Do you see, in your own initials, you do not take your hand off the paper at all, while in these there is a little break; the W. J. are written together, but the writer has paused before making the P. The manner in which you form the letter P is rather a peculiar one, while the W. and J. are easy enough to imitate; and I expect that after having finished the first letters he looked at the copy before commencing the third. You see," he continued, "the upstroke from the J to the P is as nearly as possible continuous, but with the glass you can make out that sometimes the lines do not quite touch, and at others they overlap slightly."

The others at once perceived the point that he had indicated, and they now went through the whole book and without difficulty marked off the shares against which the false initials had been placed. It took them five hours' work, and it was just midnight when they concluded.

"We have got the list complete now," Mr. Fernlea said.

"And a very long one it is," Mr. Hertman said. "Seven hundred thousand dollars! why, it is more than the called-up capital of the bank. He never told the men who examined the books on the day after the affair was first known, what the real extent of the loss was, or they would never have signed that announcement reassuring the public. However, there is a reserve to call up, and if things are put into good hands the bank may pull through yet. Now what is the next step that you propose, Mr. Fernlea?"

"I intend myself to go to New York to obtain the assistance of the police and to call upon the broker who has acted for Westerton—that is, for Johnstone. I shall tell him frankly we are tracing an extensive robbery, and that we have reasons to believe that large numbers of the foreign securities have passed through his hands, sent to him from Chicago. I shall show him this list, and ask him if he has dealt in any of them. If he says yes, we shall then have nothing to do but to go to Chicago and obtain a warrant for the arrest of Westerton. We will not bring Johnstone into it. Then the next time he goes over, we will pounce upon him. I should like you to give me an authority to ask for you, as one of the principal shareholders of the bank."

"I will go with you myself," Mr. Hertman said. "I shall have to go there on business in a few days anyway, and can kill two birds with one stone." "I suppose you will take Mr. Partridge with you?"

"Certainly. I shall have to tell the whole story to the commissioner of police, and he will want what I say confirmed, both as to the theft and the numbers of the missing securities."

The mission to New York was attended with complete success. The broker, when called upon by Mr. Fernlea, Mr. Hertman, and the chief commissioner himself, had no hesitation in disclosing his dealings with Westerton. It was found that a large proportion of the securities noted had passed through his hands.

"I have had my own suspicions that something was not quite right with that gentleman lately. Two months ago he made a very lucky hit in corn. Up to that time he had been unfortunate; and, as you see, all those securities have been sold by him through me to meet his losses. Since then he has been buying. But what struck me as singular was that he insisted upon getting back the very securities he had parted with. He had a special reason, he said, for wanting these particular shares and no others. It gave me a lot of trouble, because the buyers had often parted with them, and sometimes they had gone through two or three hands, and I had to offer something over the market price to get them again. However, with the exception of sixty thousand dollars' worth, I have got them all, or rather, he has got them, and I am in treaty for most of those he still wants. He said in his letter that it was a crotchet of his, and I put it down that he was either a crank or a thief, and yet, even in the latter case, I could not see any reason for his wanting to get into his hands securities which he had once parted with."

"I can only suppose," Mr. Fernlea said, "that he was afraid that at the meeting of the shareholders they would insist upon a committee being appointed to investigate the whole affair, and the list of the missing securities would then be published, in which case they would, of course, be traced back to him—at least to Westerton."

"Then his name is not Westerton?"

"It is not," the chief commissioner said. "But I don't think we will mention just at present what his real name is, though you are likely to know it before long. Now," he went on, when they had left the broker's office, "our course is clear enough. I will send one of my men with you gentlemen to Chicago, with instructions to the local police to aid him in the arrest of one Westerton on the charge of stealing a large number of valuable securities, the property of the Brownsville Bank. And I think I can congratulate you and the other shareholders of the bank on what you have just heard. I fancy it likely that in that safe will be found the whole of the missing property, with the exception of the small number not yet bought up, and even these will probably be recovered, for of course the broker has already received money to buy them with."

Five days later Roland Partridge, looking out from his window at his lodgings in Chicago, saw six men stop before the house. He went quietly downstairs and opened the door, and said, "That is the room."

The door opened and the party entered.

"Westerton, alias Johnstone, I arrest you on the charge of stealing securities, the property of the Brownsville Bank."

There was an exclamation, a slight struggle, and then Mr. Johnstone stood handcuffed among his captors. The safe stood open. Mr. Fernlea and Mr. Hertman stepped forward and glanced at its contents.

"It is as we expected," the former said. "I cannot say how many are missing, but these are the securities stolen from the bank."

"I have been recovering them," Mr. Johnstone said hoarsely. "I have been purchasing them so as to save the shareholders the loss. Another week and I should have got them all. I received a batch to-day, and there are only fifteen thousand dollars' worth missing."

"That may be true enough," Mr. Hertman said, "but we know that you stole them all in the first place—that you yourself stole them, and put the blame on your unfortunate cashier."

The excitement in Brownsville on the absconding of the cashier of the bank was as nothing to that caused when the local paper came out with the following telegram from its correspondent at Chicago:—

"A most important arrest was effected here this evening in the person of a man known as Johnstone, alias Westerton. This man has for months occupied a lodging in Hale Street in this city. He only used it one night a week, and was supposed by Mrs. James, the landlady—a person of the highest respectability—to be a commercial traveller. This evening he was arrested by an officer who came down especially from New York, aided by our own active and intelligent police authorities, on the charge of stealing a great number of valuable securities, the property of the Brownsville Bank, which institution was, as our readers may remember, threatened with a run, towards the conclusion of last year, by the discovery of a robbery, which was at that time supposed to have been effected by Mr. William Partridge, the cashier of the bank.

"The extraordinary part of the business is, that the man Westerton turns out to be the president of the bank, Mr. James Johnstone, who has hitherto borne the highest of characters, being considered quite the leading citizen of Brownsville. The whole circumstances are most romantic, and I shall be able to telegraph further details for your next edition. I am enabled to state that this startling discovery has been brought to light chiefly by the efforts of Mr. Roland Partridge, son of Mr. William Partridge, hitherto suspected of the theft. Mr. Partridge has been assisted by those well-known citizens of Brownsville, Mr. Fernlea and Mr. Robert Hertman. These gentlemen are, with the two Mr. Partridges, at present in Chicago, and will, I understand, leave by the first train in the morning for Brownsville. The prisoner will also be taken over in course of the day in charge of the police, and will be charged before the justices of your city with his offence. I am informed that the greater portion of the securities stolen have been recovered by the police, so that the bank is not likely to be the loser of more than a few thousand dollars by this crime."

Brownsville could at first scarcely believe the news, but enquiries elicited the fact that Mr. Johnstone was absent, and that the police had, late the previous evening, on the receipt of a telegram from Chicago, gone to his house and placed seals upon the drawers and cabinets. The machines of the Brownsville Gazette were insufficient to cope with the demands for papers of the second edition, which gave full details of the affair, and were bought up even more eagerly than the first.

There was quite a crowd at the station to meet the first train from Chicago, and a number of gentlemen who had previously known Mr. Partridge, pressed forward to shake hands with him and to congratulate him as he alighted from the train with his two friends. Roland did not accompany him, having left the train two stations back to fetch his mother, to whom the glad news had been telegraphed on the previous night. Mr. Partridge could not himself go, as his presence would be necessary at the court. There was no feeling of pity for Mr. Johnstone. Later on he received sentence of five years' penal servitude—a sentence that would have been heavier had not the court believed his statement that he had intended to return the stolen securities to the bank. But the effect of this was in public opinion neutralized by his conduct in throwing the blame on to Mr. Partridge, and in allowing him to suffer for his guilt.

Mr. Partridge was forced to overcome his objection to public gatherings so far as to receive a banquet and presentation from his fellow-townsmen, and was unanimously elected by the shareholders of the Brownsville Bank president of that institution. Mr. Johnstone's family left the town immediately after his arrest, and Percy Johnstone is at present a clerk in a store in Broadway. Roland Partridge is still in Mr. Fernlea's office, and will shortly, it is said, be admitted as a partner in the business. About which time, it is also rumoured, he will enter into another partnership with a young lady who was his staunchest defender in his dark days.