The Dragon’s Master

Nearing the Dragon, I discovered Mr. Seymour standing on the porch, without hat or coat, smoking a pipe, an occupation that seemed greatly to his liking, as indeed it is to most of his sturdy countrymen. Shivering in the icy air, I thought his dress far from appropriate; but then Englishmen are hardier than we, though why this should be I do not know, unless they are bred in a more rugged climate or spend more of their time in the open air. Scanning his ruddy face and upright figure, all the things I had been taught as a schoolboy to believe of his countrymen came back as if to puzzle me by their presence. But were the stories true? I asked myself as I walked on more slowly. Yes, every one of them, and more; but if that were so, then Mr. Seymour could not be like the others—those sent hither in the Colonial days by the Odious King whom the forefathers defied and treated with scorn and contumely. No! He was an exception to the Sodden Crew, the consorters of Hessians and the like. Or, after all, were McGuffy’s stories of Oppression and the Flaming Torch vain and wanton imaginings only! No! They were true enough; and it is thou, sweet Constance, that hast led me to doubt, and who will in the end, if I do not have a care, uproot all the traditions of my country, making its patriotic pillars to topple and fall as if they were not. Come back to me, then, thou sturdy belief in the Cruel Oppressor in the days when the patriots resolved and fought, and in the end filled all the places of preferment and profit. Hated Englishmen! Monsters of greed! Oppressors of the patriots! Devisers of stamps and nefarious taxes! Let me never cease to despise you, though Constance be all the world to me and more! Or, and the thought would come, however much I strove to force it back, were the tales of oppression shadowy phantoms merely of a gloomy period? Men in buckram, so to speak, conjured up and kept alive to stir the patriot’s heart! Were indeed the servants of the British Tyrant like other men, sturdy and fair-minded and of good sleep, so far as men can be, or odious oppressors, as the Teachers point out and the Schoolbooks show? Oh, Constance, thou dream of grace and love, what doubts thy sweet face and entrancing eyes have caused to rise like a fog across the revolutionary moor that I have been taught to believe a part of the heritage of my countrymen! Surely thou hast undone me, loyal youth though I be!
With such thoughts, imperfect and fragmentary, but forerunners of others to come in after years, I hurried forward to greet Mr. Seymour. Hearing me, he turned about, surprised at my appearance, crying out as he came forward and took my hand:
“Hello, Gilbert! Welcome home!”
“Thank you, sir; I’m glad to get back,” I answered.
“Where do you come from, and on such a morning?” he asked, looking me over.
“From the Blakes, where I’ve been since I left here.”
“The Blakes—and all this while and we not know it!” he answered, half incredulously. “Why, Blake has been here half the time, and yet has not mentioned your name.”
“Yes, sir; but it was agreed that nothing was to be said until Uncle Job had matters fixed up with Moth,” I answered.
“Moth couldn’t have harmed you. However, you went, and that is the end of it. Now your uncle himself is in trouble, and Moth is egging it on,” Mr. Seymour answered, with lowering face.
“That’s what brings me back. I didn’t know till yesterday, or I’d have come before.”
“How does it happen that Blake let you come on foot in such weather?” Mr. Seymour asked, in a voice in which anger and astonishment blended.
“I didn’t tell him I was coming. But how is Uncle Job?” I asked, anxious to learn all I could about his affairs.
“Well, but in poor spirits, of course. It couldn’t be otherwise in the desperate strait he is in,” Mr. Seymour answered, soberly.
“Is it desperate, then?” I asked, my anxiety increased by his manner.
“Yes; a week or more has gone by without our being able to find the slightest clew to the theft, and the trial comes off in three days.”
“In three days!” I cried; “surely they might give him time to prove his innocence.”
“There is no haste, they think, and in this case your uncle expressly asks it, the court being now in session. He says he is innocent, and will scarce talk to a lawyer, not believing any one, least of all an Appletop jury, will think him guilty. In this I fear he is mistaken, and I am filled with anxiety in regard to him, so unfortunate does his case appear.”
“You don’t think him guilty, sir?”
“No, certainly not.”
“Does any one? He, of all men!”
“At first every one scouted the idea,” Mr. Seymour answered, “but now the feeling has changed. It is partly due, I think, to the devilish persistency of Moth, though appearances are all against your uncle, if the truth must be told.”
“How did Moth come to be mixed up with it?” I asked, wondering at the fate that always brought this man to the front in every trouble of my life.
“He happened to be in Rock Island when news of the robbery reached there, and being the attorney of the party to whom the money belonged, was brought along to help hunt down the criminal. Now he is to act as the prosecuting attorney.”
“The villain! And he is glad of the chance I’m sure,” was all I could say.
“Perhaps; but there is some one else, we can’t tell who, that occupies himself creating suspicions and suggesting this and that. It doesn’t matter, however, the thing for us is to disprove the charge; but how this is to be done I can’t see,” Mr. Seymour answered, as if the question were one he had asked himself many times before.
“Is no one thought to be concerned except Uncle Job?” I asked, feeling the ground sinking beneath my feet.
“No; and the worst of it is he insisted on guarding the money himself that night. Rathe volunteered to do it, but your uncle wouldn’t have it that way.”
“Couldn’t the money have been taken without uncle’s knowing it, while he was asleep? Surely there would be nothing strange in that,” I asked, believing it to be so.
“Yes, and your Uncle Job claims that is how it was; that he was drugged, in fact. I am sure that is the way it happened; but how could any one have drugged him when he was locked in his room? they say.”
“How did he happen to have the money?” I asked.
“It was a collection he had made for a client.”
“Did any one know he had it in his office?” I asked.
“Only Rathe and I, so far as we know, though of course there might have been others.”
“Rathe! And where was he that night?”
“He stopped here, and never left the house. He appears greatly worried, claiming the loss will ruin his business and discredit him forever.”
“The sneak! I don’t believe he cares—or if anything, is glad of it. How much money was there?” I asked, feeling that every inquiry made the case look the worse for Uncle Job.
“Ten thousand dollars,” he answered, reflectively; “a fortune here.”
“How could he hide so much money?” I asked, remembering the great stacks of bills my father used to bring home and the trouble mother and he had in secreting them about the house.
“It was mostly in big bills, with some gold and silver.”
“Did you see it?”
“Yes, but only casually, as he and Rathe sealed it up.”
“Uncle Job took it in charge afterward?”
“Yes; Rathe and I coming away together. At daybreak the next morning your uncle woke us up, complaining of his head and looking wild and disordered. He couldn’t give any account of the money, however, except that he thought he had been drugged, and indeed the odor of chloroform filled the room, as I found on going there, which I did at once.”
“That’s enough to clear him,” I cried. “Nothing could be plainer.”
“Yes, so it would seem; but they claim he invented the story.”
“The room was filled with the stuff, you say?”
“Yes; but Moth says your uncle spilled it himself, to hide the crime.”
“The liar! he knows better. Oh, it’s wicked to accuse Uncle Job when he can’t prove what he says.”
“Yes, that is what his friends think; but what we are saying don’t lead to anything, and while we are talking you are freezing. Come, Constance will want to see you and welcome you back.” Saying which, Mr. Seymour, not a whit the worse for the cold, took my arm and led me into the house, though I was all of a tremor, so biting was the air.
Mr. Seymour ordered breakfast served in the Treasury, looking upon my coming as an event, he said. Constance being told of my arrival, came in presently, looking pale and distressed, and seeing me beside her father, ran forward without speaking, save to call my name, clasping her arms about my neck and hiding her face on my shoulder.
“There, Puss, don’t give way like that,” Mr. Seymour exclaimed. “Gilbert is all right, and with the strength and color of a prince, as you can see.”
“Yes, papa; but when I heard he was here the fear that something dreadful had happened gave me such a fright I could scarce stand.”
This I did not doubt, for the dear girl trembled as with a chill, and loosing her hands and taking them in mine, I drew her to me and kissed her, saying:
9“I was never in such fine health in my life, Constance; the country is the place to build one up, you know.”
At breakfast, seated beside her, I forgot, and wholly, Uncle Job and the errand on which I had come. How beautiful she was, I thought. Almost a woman, too, in height, and with the grace of one. Surely there never was any one so fair and good as she. Pressing her hand, I wondered that I could have remained so long away, or that another’s troubles, should have been needed to bring me back; but so it was always. Loving her, I was content, or thought I was, when away, knowing her thoughts, like mine, were ever such as we would have shared had we been together. Thus it had been from the first, neither change of place nor period making any difference to us, but constant in all things, each day only added to our love. Nor, as I have told you, was this affection in anything like that of children; nor of brother or sister, but of man and woman. This Mr. Seymour knew, and since that day at Wild Plum had treated me in all things as if I were his son and a man grown. Of the reason for this, remembering my youth, I do not know, unless indeed something in his own life led him to view the matter differently from what other men would have done in his place. Thus all things contributed to make the bond between us as strong as the affections of two loving and trusting hearts could make it; and thus it continued, each day only adding to its strength.
“Gilbert’s come back to see if he can aid his Uncle Job,” Mr. Seymour remarked, as he arose from the table. “Maybe you can help him, Puss. Two such wise young heads ought to be equal to most anything. He has lost no time in finding out everything I know”; and with that he kissed her and went out, turning at the door to smile upon her, half in banter, half in earnest.
“Yes, Constance,” I said, turning to her, “I’ve come back to help Uncle Job, but how, I can’t see.”
“I am sure you will be able to help him if any one can, Gilbert,” she answered, with simple trust; “I have thought of him so much because of you, and knowing how distressed you would be when you came to hear of his misfortune.” NEO-DANKONG NORFLOXACIN
“That’s like you, Constance, but what can we do? Who could have stolen the money and yet have covered it up so well?”
“There were but two who knew he had the money—papa and Mr. Rathe. Papa didn’t take it, we know. Then if he did not, Rathe must, and that I believe.”
“He never left the house, your father says, and so how could he have taken it?” I answered.
“Papa thinks so, but how do we know. He could have left the house easily enough during the night without any one knowing it, I’m sure.”
“Oh, you sweet child!” I cried, my heart filling. For from the moment Mr. Seymour had mentioned Rathe’s name I believed him to be the thief, and no other. “How can we prove it, though, for no one suspects him, not even your father,” I added, looking at her to see how she took it.
“I don’t know about that. Papa’s a man, and doesn’t always say what he thinks; but I know he doesn’t like Rathe any more than we do.”
“Well, we must wait and see what Fox says,” I answered. “I’m going to meet him to-night and let him know everything I can find out. He’s promised to help, though afraid to come to Appletop because of Moth.”
“You thought he could aid you before, I know, but how can he do anything if he dare not show himself?” she asked, as if not placing much hope in anything he could do.
“Men like him know more than others about things of this kind, I’ve heard say. They are more alert, I suppose, and Fox seems so clear in his way of looking at things.”
“I hope he can help. I’m sure he thinks a great deal of you or he would not have come to make inquiries when you were sick. I wouldn’t build too much on him, though, if I were you, Gilbert, for Moth is weaving a dreadful web about your uncle, I fear,” the sweet girl answered, as if looking forward to some great sorrow in store for me; and with the words, she put her arms about my neck and pressed her face against mine in comfort of companionship and tender sympathy.