When another day had passed and no letter came to Frederic Vernon, the young man began to grow desperate.
“I’ve got to raise money somehow,” he said to himself.
But the question was a difficult one to settle, since he had already used his friends as much as he dared.
He was a late riser, and it was after ten o’clock when he was preparing to go out to a nearby restaurant for breakfast, when there came a hasty knock on his door.
He was expecting Remington, and unlocked the door without a second thought–to find himself confronted by Richard Anderson. The face of the capitalist was stern, and in one hand he carried the horsewhip he had recently purchased.
“Well, Vernon, I reckon you did not expect to see me,” said the president of the lumber company coldly.
“Why–er–no, I did not,” stammered the young man.
“I want to have a little talk with you, young man.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Vernon, with a shiver. “What–er–what about?”
“I want to know why you have been circulating a report calculated to hurt our lumber company.”
“Me?” cried Vernon, pretending to be astonished.
“I have circulated no report.”
“It is useless for you to deny it, young man. I have it upon the best authority that the report came from you.”
“That our company was in a bad way financially and liable to go to pieces at any time.”
As Richard Anderson finished he closed and locked the door and placed the key in his pocket.
“Hi! what are you doing that for?” gasped Frederic Vernon in alarm.
“So that nobody can interrupt me while I am teaching you a lesson.”
“I–I don’t understand.”
“You will understand when I begin to use this horsewhip.”
Vernon grew white and trembled so that he could scarcely stand up.
“You won’t dare to–to hit me,” he faltered.
“Won’t I? You just wait and see. Do you know that I could have you arrested for what you have done?”
“I deny doing anything.”
“And I can prove what you have done. If it wasn’t for that kind-hearted aunt of yours I would let you go to prison.”
“Did Mrs. Vernon tell you what I–I mean did she accuse me?” ejaculated the young man, so astonished that he partly forgot himself.
“No, she hasn’t told me anything that you may have written to her. My information came from an outside party who happened to be my friend. But your slip just now proves what my friend told me. You are a rascal, Vernon, but instead of having you locked up, I am, for your aunt’s sake, going to take it out of your hide.”
As Richard Anderson concluded he threw back his arm, and down came the lash of the horsewhip across Vernon’s shoulder.
“Ouow!” yelled the young man. “Oh, murder! Stop! stop! I’ll be cut to pieces!”
Swish! swish! swish! down came the horsewhip again and again, over Vernon’s shoulders, his back, around his legs, and one cut took him around the neck and face. The lumber dealer was thoroughly in earnest, and though the young man tried to fight him off it was useless.
“I will have you arrested for this!” shrieked Vernon, as he danced around with pain. “Oh, my neck! Oh, my legs! Stop! stop!”
“I hope this proves a lesson you never forget,” returned Richard Anderson, with a final cut over Vernon’s quivering back. “And now take my advice, and don’t go to law over it, for if you do I shall expose you and make you pay the full penalty of your evil doings.”
“I’ll–I’ll kill you when I get the chance!” roared Vernon, in a wild rage.
“No, you won’t touch me. You just behave yourself, and stop being a fool and a spendthrift, and perhaps you’ll get along better.”
With these final words Richard Anderson unlocked the door again and walked out, taking his whip with him. As soon as the lumber dealer had departed Vernon closed the door, and not only locked but bolted it, and then sank into an easy chair, the picture of misery and despair.
“Oh, the rascal,” he groaned, as he nursed his cuts, which smarted like fire. “I won’t get over this in a month!” He gazed into a handy looking-glass. “Everybody at the club will ask where I got that cut on the neck and cheek. I wish I could kill him, yes, I do!”
But his rage, although intense, was useless, and after a while he cooled down a little, and then set to work to bathe his cuts and put something soothing on them. During this time there was a knock on the door, at which Vernon instantly became quiet.
“Hullo, Frederic, are you asleep yet?” came in Dr. Remington’s voice.
“He mustn’t see me in this condition,” thought the young man, and continued quiet.
There followed another knock and a pause. “Guess he’s out for breakfast,” muttered the doctor, and stalked away.
“Breakfast,” murmured Vernon. “I don’t feel as if I could eat a mouthful in a week.”
For the thrashing had made him sick all over. It was nearly noon when he did venture out, and then he got his first meal of the day at a restaurant where he was unknown.
He wondered greatly who had informed Richard Anderson of what was going on. Strange to say, he never suspected Mr. Farley.
“It must have been that Robert Frost,” he said, at last. “He has read my letter to aunt, and wants to get me into trouble. I wish he was at the bottom of the ocean!”
All day long Vernon brooded over the way he had been treated.
“If this whole affair comes out and aunt hears of it, she will treat me worse than ever,” he reasoned. “I wish I could get to her and have a talk.” He felt certain that he would be able to persuade Mrs. Vernon into treating him more liberally, not suspecting that she had discovered the plot to send her to an insane asylum.
At last a bold, bad plan entered his head, and he resolved to act upon it the very next morning. He would draw up a check for himself for six hundred dollars, and sign Mrs. Vernon’s name to it. He was a clever penman, and felt he could imitate her signature closely. He had frequently received large checks from her, and the forgery would never be suspected at the bank.
His first move was to get the necessary blank check at the bank. This was easy, as such blanks are always to be found on the desks provided for the use of the public.
Having obtained several blanks he hurried home and brought out a number of letters Mrs. Vernon had written. With these as a guide to the style of writing, he filled in one of the blanks and signed her name. Then, from his knowledge of her private business, he filled in the number, making it high enough to clear all checks below it. His first effort was a complete success, and so he threw the other blanks away.
Noon found him again at the bank, and having endorsed the check with his own name he walked to the window and asked to have it cashed. The teller knew him, and passed out the six hundred dollars without comment.
When Vernon found himself on the sidewalk it must be confessed that the cold perspiration stood out on his forehead. He was a high-handed criminal, and he knew it. For what he had done the law could send him to state’s prison for a long term of years.
“And now to get away from Chicago, and from the United States,” he told himself, and took a hack for his bachelor apartment. Once in the rooms, he packed his trunk and valise and donned a traveling suit. Before night he was on his way to New York, and forty-eight hours later he had secured passage on an ocean liner for England.