THE TELEGRAM

“Hank has got it!” said Joe Lufkin, as he took long strides toward the
village. “He didn’t try to lie me out of it at all. When I told him that
he had a pearl worth two hundred dollars he was completely dumfounded. I
reckon he’ll wonder how I found it out. He’s got it, as sure as the
world! Now I’m going to try Gibbons. It can’t be that a boy can give his
money into another’s hands, as Hank has done with Bob, and so shut me
out of the whole of it. At any rate, that’s a point I am going to have
settled.”

Joe was a rapid walker, and in due time he reached Mr. Gibbons’s steps.
As he ascended them he drew on his long face again, and when he opened
the lawyer’s door a stranger would have supposed that he had nothing to
live for. He found Mr. Gibbons there with his feet perched upon the
desk, and he had a legal document in his hand.

“Howdy,” said Joe, taking off his hat and making a profound bow.

“Why, Joe, I haven’t seen you for a long time,” said the lawyer. “Sit
down. Did you come here to see me?”

“I reckon I can’t stop long,” said Joe, sitting down in a chair and
whirling his hat in his hand. “I just want to tell you something.”

“Well, speak out. We are here alone.”

“Mr. Gibbons, that boy of mine has discovered a pearl worth two hundred
dollars,” said Joe.

“Well, I declare!” exclaimed the lawyer, opening his eyes. “He was
lucky, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was. Now what does this Hank do but give his money into Bob
Nellis’s hands, and now Bob has gone to sea and he ain’t here to give me
any money.”

“Are you sure he put it all into the bank in Bob’s hands?” asked the
lawyer, who thought it was about as smart a trick as he ever heard of.
“Perhaps he’s got some of it laid out somewhere.”

“No, he ain’t, because if he had he’d ‘a’ told me. Now I want some of
that money, if I can get it.”

“Um! Well, what do you expect me to do about it?”

“I want you to get some of it for me,” said Joe, looking down at his
clothes. “You can see for yourself that I want a new shirt and a new
pair of breeches.”

“I don’t see that you do,” said the lawyer. “Your clothes are about as
good as mine. There isn’t a hole in them.”

“Winter is coming on, and I want some thicker clothes than these to
wear. It wouldn’t look well for me to go around wearing summer clothes,
for some of the boys might ask me what I had been doing all the season.”

The lawyer laughed loudly. It wouldn’t be hard work to tell what Joe had
been doing all summer. He was right where he could borrow money of his
wife when he needed it.

“Well, I want you to understand that I can’t get any money for you,”
said Mr. Gibbons. “You see, I didn’t know anything about this pearl
until you told me just now, consequently I had no hand in putting the
money in the bank. You will have to go to the president and see what he
has got to say about it; though, to tell you the truth, it won’t do you
any good.”

“Oh, the president is a worse man than you are,” said Joe, in
consternation. “I wouldn’t go to him.”

“That’s the only thing you can do. You see, they don’t know that the
money belongs to Hank any more than I do. It is there to Bob’s credit,
and Bob is the only one who can get it. I don’t see any other way for it
but for you to go to work.”

“I can’t. The wound in my side bothers me so that I don’t know what my
name is.”

“Well, then, there’s the poor-house; you can go to that by getting a
commission—”

“Poor-house! Not much I won’t go there.”

“I think myself that you will be safer in trusting to your wife. They
are pretty strict in the poor-house.”

“You just bet your life that I ain’t a-going there,” said Joe,
confidently. “But can’t I get none of this money?”

“Not out of me, you can’t.”

“Why, I thought, as Bob’s lawyer, you would have something to do with
it.”

“Well, I can’t help you there. When Bob comes home, which will be in the
course of a few months, then it will be easy for you—Halloo! What’s the
matter?”

“I don’t see why you always stick to that,” said Joe, impatiently.

“Stick to what?” asked the lawyer, a dim suspicion being awakened in his
mind.

“About Bob’s coming back. He’ll be miles under the sea before the time
comes for him to come back.”

“Why of course he’s coming back,” said the lawyer. “Haven’t you heard
about his deserting at Cape Town? Well, he has, and he’ll be at home as
quick as a clipper-ship can bring him. Don’t go.”

“I must. If you can’t get any of that money for me there’s no use of my
staying here.”

“Come to think of it,” replied the lawyer, “I wouldn’t advise you to go
near the president. He might ask you what has become of Bob, you know.”

“Why, human natur’! I don’t know what has become of Bob,” returned Joe,
opening his eyes and trying hard to look surprised, but all he succeeded
in doing was to call guilt to his face plainly enough.

“I know you don’t; but you will remember that the J. W. Smart sailed
from this port the morning after Bob disappeared. You recall that, don’t
you?”

“Well, I must be going. I am sorry you can’t give me any money.”

“So am I, but you see I can’t do it. Keep away from the president;
that’s all you have got to do.”

Joe closed the door and went out, and the lawyer resumed his old
position, with his feet upon the desk; but this time he did not have
that legal document in his hand.

“That man has been up to something, and I know it,” said Mr. Gibbons.
“The poor, foolish fellow don’t know enough about geography to know that
Bob hasn’t had time to reach Cape Town yet, being only one day at sea;
but, to my mind, he’s had a hand in sending him off. Now, what’s to be
done? Of course he must have got something for it, and I’ll just watch
him and see about the money he spends. That will be rough on Hank, won’t
it? Well, he knew he was running the risk of States prison when he tried
it, and I don’t know that he has anybody to blame but himself.”

Joe Lufkin walked away from the lawyer’s office like one in a dream. He
did not dare to lift his eyes to meet the gaze of anybody who passed him
on the streets, and consequently he did not see his son Hank, who, by
dodging around the nearest corner, hid himself in a doorway until his
father had passed out of sight. Then he came out and hurried toward Mr.
Gibbons’s office, and he was pretty nearly out of breath when he got
there. The lawyer hadn’t got done thinking about Joe when the door
opened to admit Hank.

“Halloo, Hank!” exclaimed Mr. Gibbons. “I was just wondering what had
become of you.”

“Has father been here?” asked Hank.

“Well, yes, he has been here.”

“What did he want of you? Did he ask you to draw some of that money for
him?”

“Hank, that was about the sharpest trick you ever did,” said Mr.
Gibbons, laughing outright. “Yes, he wanted me to draw some of it for
him; but I told him I couldn’t do it. The money is all in Bob’s hands,
and there it will have to remain until Bob comes back.”

“I am glad to hear you say that,” said Hank, who was immensely relieved.
“You see, mother and I got to wondering how in the world he could have
found it out, and it occurred to me that, you being Bob’s lawyer, he
would come to see you about it; so I came down. He can’t get any of it,
can he?”

“I don’t know of any way in which he can. The authorities at the bank
don’t know that you are in any way interested in that money. By the way,
how did you happen to find that pearl?”

Hank explained in a few words, adding that Houston was in the store at
the time Bob called upon Mr. Vollar, and had heard all that passed
between them.

“I believe that Houston is at the bottom of this,” said Hank. “He told
me this morning, while I was going after you, that there was something
he wanted to tell me about this pearl, and when I came back I went to
see what it was. I supposed that Mr. Vollar had paid me more than the
pearl was worth, and I wanted to give it back; but I could see that the
jeweller was very angry at Houston.”

“Whew!” whistled Mr. Gibbons. “Hank, you are in a scrape all around.”

“That’s what I think. I gave the money to Bob Nellis to put in the bank,
and no one but Leon Sprague and Ben Watson knew a thing about it; but
now I find that father’s got hold of it.”

“Did you intend to go to that stream and gather some more pearls?” asked
the lawyer.

“Yes. That’s what I intended to do.”

“And nobody knows where it is?”

“Not a living soul. I should have had things all my own way.”

“Well, Hank, you can rest easy. When you go home you can tell your
mother that your father can’t get the money, that you are the only one
who knows where that stream is, and that I hope you will gather pearls
enough to make you as rich as Captain Nellis was. You said that the
money will have to remain in Bob’s hands till he comes back. When do you
expect him?”

“It may be months, for it takes a sailing vessel a long time to go
anywhere, but he’s coming,” replied Hank, as if he felt that to-morrow
would be the time when he could take Bob by the hand. “And I shouldn’t
be surprised if he had his father with him.”

“That’s just what I think,” replied the lawyer, as Hank arose to his
feet. “But I don’t see how he is going to find his father aboard another
vessel.”

“Stranger things than that have happened in the world,” replied Hank.
“The Pacific Ocean is mighty big, and there’s a heap of islands
scattered around through it, but somehow I am certain that they are
going to come back. Now, you just see what sort of a prophet I am.”

“I hope your prediction will turn out true,” muttered the lawyer as Hank
closed the door and hastened down stairs. “But won’t they raise things
if they do come back? Joe Lufkin, it’s my opinion that you will have to
dig out.”

Hank went away from Mr. Gibbons’s office feeling very unlike his father,
who went away from there but a short time before. It is true that he was
at his rope’s end. He would begin now, just where he was before he found
that pearl to give into Bob’s hands, but he didn’t care for that. He had
always made a living, and as long as he kept his health he trusted to be
able to do so.

“Mother will have to go to work again, and that’s what I am troubled
about. But there is one thing, father isn’t going to get the money,”
said Hank, as he trudged along. “I’ve got my nerve up, and I am going to
wait and see what he will have to say to me when I get back.”

But that was one thing he need not have troubled his head about. His
father sat in his accustomed place, pipe a-going, but he was so deeply
interested in other matters that he never moved out of the way when Hank
entered the house. The question that occupied the whole of his mind was,
How much did Mr. Gibbons know about him? Did he know he had knocked Bob
down and sent him off to sea? He did not know where Cape Town was.

“Hank,” said he, arousing himself by an effort, “whereabouts in the
world is Cape Town?”

“It is a long way from here—as much as three or four thousand miles,
probably.”

“Oh, pshaw! Then that old Gibbons has been fooling me,” he added
mentally. Then aloud he said: “Then Bob will have plenty of time to fall
overboard before he reaches there.”

“Why, of course he will. But Bob isn’t the kind to fall overboard. He’s
coming back as sure as you live.”

“That’s neither here nor there. Mebbe he’ll come back, and mebbe he
won’t,” said Joe to himself. “But there is one thing about it: Houston
isn’t going to get half the pearls I make. Where is that stream you
found the pearls on, Hank?”

“It is up the country a piece, and I am going to keep it to myself.”

Joe went on with his smoking, but to himself he added:

“I’ll bet that about the time you get there looking for more pearls I
will be close at your heels. You needn’t think that because you have
money I am going to have none. So Bob hasn’t got to Cape Town yet. Then
I can rest easy on what money I have got.”

Joe didn’t go to bed at all that night, but lay on the lounge, as he had
done the night before. Hank was up before the sun, but this time he
didn’t have anything to say to his father about being sick. He ate his
breakfast without saying much, and then put off, nobody knew where, and
Hank was left to talk to his mother.

“Now, you have got to begin your washing again,” said he. “That’s what
worries me.”

“Never mind,” said his mother. “You think that Bob will come back some
time, and then the money will be of just as much use to us as though we
had it now.”

“If I could just find one more pearl I would be satisfied,” replied
Hank. “But I am almost afraid there isn’t any more. Here’s that Houston.
Mother, I know he is the man that told father of it. He is the only one
who overheard what Mr. Vollar said to Bob.” And with the words he
appeared at the door to hear what Houston had to say, for the man leaned
upon the gate as if he was afraid to venture in.

“Good-morning,” said Sam. “Is Mr. Lufkin about?”

“No, sir. He went away bright and early this morning, and nobody knows
where he has gone.”

Mr. Houston seemed surprised to hear it. He looked up and down the
street, and finally moved away without saying another word. It was
evident that he would have to hunt for the pearl-mine himself, for the
sum he had received from Mr. Vollar wasn’t going to last him always. He
started back toward the village, and ran onto Joe Lufkin almost before
he knew it. He seized Joe by the lapel of his coat and pulled him into a
doorway out of sight. He knew that people would think it strange of him
to be seen talking to such a man.

“Look here, Joe, what made you go off and leave me so suddenly this
morning?” said Sam. “Have you been to see Gibbons about that money?”

“Yes, I have; and I won’t go there again, I bet you. He talked to me as
though I knew where Bob Nellis was. And he can’t give me any money,
either.”

“What did I tell you? Now, the next best thing you can do is to call
upon the president of the bank.”




“And I won’t go there, either. He says if I can’t get along any other
way I can go to the poor-house.”

“Well, then, that thing is up stump, and there’s nothing left but for
you and me to go and hunt up that pearl-stream. I’ll start with you now,
if you want to.”

“I ain’t a-going to hunt up any pearl streams,” returned Joe. “I was up
to a stream this morning before you was up, and I couldn’t see no signs
of any pearls. You can go and hunt them up if you have a mind to, but
I’ll stay right here.”

“Going to give it up, are you?” said Sam, in great disgust. “You had
rather be here, dependent on your wife, than to go and hunt up some more
for yourself.”

“I know what I am doing, and if you don’t just like my style you can go
elsewhere,” returned Joe, defiantly. “All the pearls you get up there
you can stick in your eye.”

Joe turned about and left him in the doorway, and Sam, after gazing at
him a moment or two, turned and went, too, but in a different direction.
There was nothing left for him now but to examine the streams for
himself, and this he determined to do before he had eaten another meal
at his boarding-house. He went, and in less than half an hour after he
reached the first stream he wished that he was safe back in Mr.
Vollar’s. Of all the cluttered-up streams that he ever saw that was the
worst. There was no beach at all upon which he could prosecute his
search, but every foot of the way seemed obstructed by logs and
drift-wood. But Sam was persevering, and when night came he was ten
miles from home and as hungry as a wolf.

“Hank never found any pearls in this stream,” said Sam, as he worked his
way through the brush toward the road. “It must have been on some other
one. Never mind. There’s more than one day coming, and I’ll find that
stream yet. I am glad it is dark,” he muttered, looking down at his
shoes and clothes, “for I should be ashamed to be seen going about the
streets in this way. I wouldn’t feel so bad if I knew I had a stone
worth two hundred dollars in my pocket.”

To make a long story short, Sam Houston worked two weeks in this way,
and never once found a pearl or the sight of one. His land-lady looked
surprised when he came home with his clothes all spattered with mud, and
a little more surprised when his week’s board became due and he said not
a word about paying it. In the meantime his shoes were giving out—he had
but one pair—and he did not know where he was going to get any more. He
was getting pretty near desperate, and he even thought of running away;
but he soon concluded that that wouldn’t do, for where was he going to
run to? The small sum he received from the jeweller had been spent long
ago, and it didn’t do him any good, for it all went for cigars. Finally,
after passing an almost sleepless night upon his bed, he got up at
daylight and went down to the store, and there he found Mr. Vollar in
the act of sweeping out. The latter had not seen him for some time, and
he was astonished at his appearance.

“Halloo, Sam!” he exclaimed, as soon as he had somewhat recovered
himself. “How goes the pearl business?”

“I want you to take me back,” said Sam, almost ready to cry. “The pearl
business don’t go at all. I don’t believe there is any such thing out
there.”

“Give it up as a bad job, have you? Well, Sam, I have been expecting
this—you see I haven’t got anybody to take your place—and I will take
you back on one condition: That you will mind your own business in
future.”

“I’ll do it,” said Sam. “Nobody shall ever have occasion to complain of
me from this time on.”

“I will advance you enough to pay your board and furnish you with new
clothes, and you can go right along here as though you had been on a
vacation. But mind you, Sam, no dipping into my business.”

And so it was settled that Sam got a new outfit, and when he went home
to breakfast that morning he was dressed in a new suit of clothes and
paid his landlady the two weeks’ board that was due her. She never knew
that anything was wrong, for Mr. Vollar had solemnly kept his promise.

“I am all right,” said Sam, as he hung his hat up on its old nail and
gazed after his employer, who had just gone out to his meal. “I don’t
care if some one finds a gold-mine up there, Sam Houston will have no
hand in looking for it. I’ll stay right here and take my six dollars a
week. I hope that everybody will come out as slick as I did—all except
Joe Lufkin. I shall always think hard of him.”

Those two weeks that Sam Houston had devoted to finding the pearls were
enough to bring everybody back to their old, legitimate way of living;
and so it run along for the nine months that Bob was absent from
Clifton. No one heard a word from him, and almost everybody thought he
was dead—all except Mr. Gibbons and Hank. They believed that he would
come back. The lawyer kept close watch of Joe to see how much money he
spent, but Joe was very sly about it. If Joe wanted a shirt or some
tobacco, he took from his buried bundle just the sum he wanted, and no
more, and Mr. Gibbons supposed he was drawing on his wife. Leon Sprague
went to school and completed his course there, and went to college; but
it was a very different school from what it was when Bob was there. All
the boys had heard what had become of Bob, and wondered if they were
ever going to see him again. Gus Layton did not go back to the academy,
for the “benefit” the boys had given him the last afternoon he passed
there still rung in his ears. He stayed at home with his father, and as
he had no one to associate with, the life he led there was monotonous in
the extreme. He kept away from Sam Houston, for he didn’t want to hear
anything more about that codicil. His father had told him that he had
not touched the will, and that was all Gus cared to know about it. Mr.
Layton bought him a pair of high-stepping horses, which were far ahead
of the ponies he had lost, but no one seemed to care a cent for him when
he went out riding. Mr. Jones had kindly offered to keep the ponies for
a year, Mr. Gibbons paying their board in the meantime, and if, at the
end of that time, Bob did not make his appearance, then something else
was to be done with them. Hank Lufkin was in a hard row of stumps,
indeed; but then it was no worse than he had been in before. After a
while he renewed his efforts to find more pearls, but at last he was
impelled to give it up. Not a single pearl did he find. Mr. Vollar
called him into the store and divided fifty dollars with him, and Hank
put that where he knew it would be safe.

Things went on in this way until one bright spring morning there came a
telegram to Mr. Curtis, the president of the bank. It was from San
Francisco, and read as follows:

“I will be with you next week. That codicil is a fraud. Don’t let Luther
Layton have any more money on my account. Let him and Joseph Lufkin know
about it, but don’t attempt to arrest them if they try to leave the
village.”

Mr. Curtis was wild with excitement. He sent at once for his cashier,
and showed him the telegram.

“I really wish they had been more explicit,” said he. “It is signed by
Robert Nellis, but it doesn’t say whether he’s the old man or the boy.
At any rate, you will let Luther Layton have no more funds. He will be
down here some time to-day, for he wants money to pay his hands with,
and you tell him that I want to see him.”

Gus Layton came just before the hour of closing up, and presented a
check for one hundred dollars. The cashier looked at it a moment, and
then remarked that Mr. Curtis wanted to see his father.

“He is sick,” answered Gus. “He has not been out of the house for
several weeks.”

“Well, I guess you will do. Step back in his private room. He will have
something to say to you before I cash this check.”

Lost in wonder, Gas turned toward the room in which the president was
occupied, and when he came out again he looked very unlike the boy who
had gone in there a few moments before. He felt faint. The president had
shown him the telegram, and, furthermore, it spoke about not arresting
his father if he attempted to leave the village. That proved that his
father had been guilty of a violation of the law. Hardly knowing what he
did, he made his way home, blundered into the library, where his father
was, and threw himself into the nearest chair.

“There’s your check, father,” said Gus, “and you can’t have any more
money. A telegram has come from San Francisco this morning, and it says
the will is a fraud. You may not have touched the will, but you touched
the codicil.”

Mr. Layton settled back in his chair and covered his face with his
hands. It was all out on him now.