18. At The Offices
 

After that the three Rovers and Dick's wife talked the matter over for fully an hour. Dick gave Sam and Tom all the particulars he could think of, and answered innumerable questions. But try their best, not one of the party could venture a solution of the mystery.

"I think you had better go to bed," said Dora, at last. "You can go down to the offices the first thing in the morning, and make up your minds what to do next;" and this advice was followed.

"No use of talking, this is a fierce loss!" was Tom's comment, when he and Sam were retiring.

"Yes, and Dick feels pretty bad over it," returned the youngest Rover. "I am afraid he imagines that we think he is to blame."

"Maybe, but I don't blame him, Sam. That might have happened to you or me just as well as to him."

It must be admitted that the boys did not sleep very soundly that night. For a long time each lay awake, speculating over the mystery, and wondering what had become of the bonds.

"Perhaps Pelter and Japson had nothing at all to do with it," thought Tom, as he reviewed the situation. "It may have been some outsider, who watched Dick alter the combination of the safe."

All of the boys were up early in the morning, and accompanied by Dora, obtained breakfast in the hotel dining-room.

"If you want me to go along, I shall be glad to do so," said Dora, during the course of the meal. It cut her to the heart to have Dick so troubled.

"No, Dora, you had better stay here, or else spend your time shopping," answered Dick. "We'll have to take care of this matter ourselves."

"I'll tell you what you can do," broke in Tom. "You can write a nice letter to Aunt Martha, telling her that we have arrived safely, and that we are going into some business matters with Dick. Of course, you needn't say a word about the robbery. It will be time enough to tell her and Uncle Randolph after we have tried all we can to get the bonds back-- and failed."

As my old readers will probably remember, the offices formerly occupied by Pelter, Japson & Company were located at the lower end of Wall Street. The building was an old one, five stories in height, which had recently been put in repair. The offices were on the fourth floor in the extreme rear, and had a fairly good outlook.

The Rovers found the office boy, Bob Marsh, already on hand, and doing some work which Dick had given him. He was a bright, sharp-eyed lad, his only failing being that he was a bit forward.

"Any one here to see me, Bob?" asked Dick, as they entered.

"Nobody, sir, but an agent that wanted to sell you some kind of a new calendar. I told him we had bushels of calendars already," and the boy grinned slightly.

Passing through two small offices, the Rovers came to one in the rear-- that which had formerly been used by Jesse Pelter.

"Looks a little bit familiar," observed Tom. "Looks like when I visited it as Roy A. Putnam, from Denver, Colorado, and thought about taking stock in the Irrigation Company," and he laughed shortly as he recalled that incident, the particulars of which have been related in "The Rover Boys in New York."

"You've got pretty big offices for only you and the office boy," remarked Sam.

"I took them just as the old concern had them," returned Dick. "But if business increases, I guess we'll have to have quite some office help. Anyway, a bookkeeper and a stenographer."

"Hadn't you better send that office boy out for a little while?" suggested Sam.

"A good idea," returned his oldest brother, and sent the lad on an errand up to the post-office.

Left to themselves, the Rovers once more went over the details of the robbery so far as they knew them. Dick opened the safe, showing his brothers how the combination lock was worked; then the boys looked inside the strong-box, and into the private compartment which, so Dick told them, had contained the missing box of bonds.

"I don't see how they got into this safe," was Sam's comment, after the door had been closed and the combination turned on. "I can't make head or tail of how to get it open."

"Let me have a try at it," returned Tom, and he worked for several minutes over the combination.

"Here are the figures for the combination," said Dick, and he turned them over to his brothers. But even with the figures before them, they found it no easy task to open the heavy door of the strong-box. This door was provided with several bolts, so that to get it open without either working the combination or else blowing the door open, was out of the question.

"It's a Chinese puzzle to me. I give it up," declared Tom, at last. "The only way I imagine, Dick, is that, somehow or other, somebody got hold of that combination."

"It would seem so, Tom. But I can't see how it could be done, or who did it," was the answer.

"Do you suppose that boy suspects anything?" questioned Sam.

"He may, because, after I discovered that the box was gone, I questioned him pretty closely as to who had been in the offices. I guess he knows something is wrong."

"Let us ask him about Pelter and Japson when he comes back," said Tom. "It certainly won't do any harm to get all the information possible. Then, if we can't get any clew by noon, I think the best thing you can do, Dick, is to notify the authorities."

It was not long before Bob Marsh came back from his errand to the post-office, and then Dick called him into the inner office.

"Now, Bob, I'm going to tell you something," said the oldest Rover, coming to the point without delay. "There has been a robbery here."

"Robbery!" exclaimed the boy. "I didn't do it. I wouldn't take nothin'," he went on, quickly.

"I didn't say you did, Bob. But what I want you to do is to tell me everything that you know. Was there anybody in this office during my absence?"

"Nobody went into this office while I was here," declared the office boy. "I wouldn't let 'em in. But then you must remember, the janitors come in during the night to clean up."

"Oh, yes, I know that."

"Dick, do you think the janitor of the building could be in this?" exclaimed Sam.

"As I have said several times, I don't know what to think," answered Dick. "As a matter of fact, I don't know who the janitor is."

"Say!" broke in the office boy, suddenly. "There was one feller here that I didn't tell you about. I forgot about him. He was here three or four days ago-- I don't exactly remember what day it was."

"Who was that?"

"Why, it was a young feller named Barton Pelter. He's a relation to Mr. Pelter. I think Mr. Pelter is his uncle."

"Barton Pelter!" exclaimed Dick. He looked at his brothers. "That must be the same fellow that you wrote about-- the fellow you pulled out of the river."

"What did this Barton Pelter want?" asked Sam.

"He wanted to see his uncle. He knew that the firm had sold out to you folks, but he was not certain if they had moved away yet. When I told him that his uncle was gone, he looked kind of disappointed."

"Was he in this office, Bob?" questioned Dick.

"No, sir, he was only in the outside office."

"Did he say anything about bonds or money?"

"No, sir."

"Say, tell me something!" broke in Tom. "Were this Barton Pelter and his uncle on good terms?"

"They used to be," replied the office boy, "but once or twice they had some pretty warm talks. This young feller didn't like it at all the way his uncle treated your father. I heard him tell his uncle once, that what he was doing was close to swindling. Then Mr. Pelter got awful mad, and told him he had better get out."

"Good for Barton!" murmured Sam. "He can't be such a bad sort."

"Oh, I guess he was all right," put in the office boy, with the freedom that seemed natural to him. "Only I guess he was dependent on his uncle for money. Maybe if it wasn't for that, he would have pitched into his uncle more than he did. But say! You said something was stolen. What was it?"

"Sixty-four thousand dollars in bonds," answered Dick.

"What! Say, boss, ain't you kiddin'?" and the boy looked incredulous.

"No, it is the truth, Bob. Somebody took a box out of that safe that contained sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds."

"Great smoke! I didn't think there was that many bonds in the hull building!" cried the boy, with emphasis.

"I only expected to keep them here a few days," went on Dick. "Later on, of course, I would have placed them in a safe deposit vault."

"Say, boss! you sure don't think that I took them bonds?" cried the office boy.

"No, I don't, Bob. But somebody took them, and we've got to find them."

"Sure, we've got to find them!" cried Bob. "Say, do you want me to call the janitor? Maybe he knows something about it."

"Yes, you may call him, but don't tell him what we want him for," answered Dick.