20. Barton Pelter Again
 

"Well, Dick, any news?"

"No, Tom. It's the same old story."

"Haven't the detectives been able to locate that fellow they thought might be guilty?" put in Sam.

"No, Sam. They told me up at headquarters that all of the three former criminals one of the detectives mentioned, were nowhere near New York, so far as they could learn."

"Then if they haven't been near this city, that supposition of theirs falls through," was Tom's comment. "What do they propose to do next?"

"I don't think they know. Anyway, they didn't give me any satisfaction;" and, hanging up his hat, Dick sank into an office chair, looking much downcast.

Several days had passed, and during that time the Rover boys had done their best to get further clews concerning the robbery. From an old man who kept an apple stand near the entrance of the building, they had learned that the strange fellow who had been seen by Kittie Donovan was a man of perhaps forty years of age, with a clean-shaven face. But more than that the street merchant was unable to say.

"And there are thousands of men in New York City who are about that age and who have clean-shaven faces," had been Sam's comment on learning this. "That clew won't get us anywhere. Now, if the fellow had limped, or had a crooked nose----"

"Sure! And a false tooth with two spots of gold and a diamond in it, and all that sort of thing," Tom had broken in. "Say, Sam, what do you want, some clews made to order?" and he had laughed grimly.

"I must confess, I am at my wits' end," said Dick.

"What did Mr. Powell have to say about it?" questioned Tom, for he and Sam had been out hunting for clews when the lawyer had called.

"What could he say? He wasn't here when the bonds were taken. He asked me about our other investments; and he said if we got into any financial difficulties through this loss, he would aid us all he could."

"Bully for Songbird's uncle!" cried Sam. "He's as generous as Songbird himself."

"What's bothering me is this," continued the oldest Rover boy. "Sooner or later, if we don't recover those bonds, we have got to let dad know about the loss; and how he is going to take it, I don't know."

"Oh, let us keep it from him just as long as possible," broke in Sam, entreatingly. "Why, Dick, you haven't any idea how run down he is, and how nervous!"

"Oh, yes, I have, Sam. And that is what is worrying me. I don't know if we are doing right to keep this from him."

"Before we tell him anything, let us consult Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha," said Tom. "If they know the truth, that will lift a little of the responsibility from our shoulders."

"I am not going to tell any of them-- at least, not for a week or so longer," returned Dick. "I am living in hope every day that we'll get some kind of a clew."

It had rained hard the day previous, but now the sky was clear. With but little to do in the offices that afternoon after three o'clock, the Rover boys took a walk up Broadway from Wall Street to where the Outlook Hotel was located.

"It certainly is a busy city," was Tom's comment, as they came to a temporary halt in front of the post-office. "Just look at the stream of humanity and the cars and wagons, not to speak of the automobiles."

"What takes my eye, is the size of so many of these buildings," declared Sam. "Say, maybe an earthquake around here wouldn't do some damage!"

"And to think of the way the people travel!" broke in Dick. "They are down in the ground, on the street, and up in the air," and he smiled a little at the thought.

Walking past the post-office, the three youths entered City Hall Park, crossing the same to look at some of the bulletin boards put out by the newspapers located on Park Row.

"Hello!" cried Tom, suddenly; and caught each of his brothers by the arm.

"What now, Tom?" asked Dick, quickly.

"See that fellow over there, leaning against the fence, reading a newspaper?"

"Why, I declare! It is Barton Pelter!" ejaculated Sam.

"You mean Jesse Pelter's nephew-- the chap you hauled out of the river?" questioned Dick.

"The same," returned Tom. "Say, I think I'll go over and talk to him," he added, quickly.

"He may not want to talk to you, Tom," interposed his younger brother.

"I'll risk it;" and so speaking, Tom stepped forward and advanced to where the other youth was busy looking over the sporting edition of one of the afternoon sheets.

"What is it? I don't seem to remember you," said Barton Pelter, when Tom touched his arm.

"I am Tom Rover," was the reply. "This is my brother Sam, and this my brother Dick;" and Tom pointed to the others, who were coming up.

"Oh, is that so!" returned Barton Pelter, and put out his hand. "I am glad to see you," he continued, somewhat hesitatingly. "Is this the one who helped to pull me out of the river?" and he nodded towards Sam.

"Yes."

"I am certainly very much obliged to both of you," continued the young man, and his face showed that he meant what he said. "If it hadn't been for you, I might have been drowned. I suppose you-- er-- you-- er-- got my letter?"

"Oh, yes, and we understood it, perfectly," returned Tom, hastily. "It's all right. We didn't do so much, after all."

"I think you did a good deal," and Barton Pelter laughed nervously. "You-- you are now in business where my uncle used to be, are you not?"

"We are," answered Dick. "By the way,

what has become of your uncle?" he questioned, curiously.

"I don't know, exactly. I think though he is going East. Perhaps to Boston. How is business with you?" the young man continued, hastily, as if he wanted to change the subject.

"Oh, business is all right enough," answered Dick. And then he looked meaningly at his brothers.

"The trouble with us is, we've been very unfortunate," broke in Tom, before the others could stop him. "We've just suffered a tremendous loss."

"Is that so? In what way?"

Before answering, Tom looked at Dick. "Shall I tell him?" he questioned, in a low tone.

"You might as well, since you have gone so far," was the reply. "In fact, I don't know that it will do much good to keep still any longer."

"We've been robbed."

"You don't say so! Did you lose much?"

"We lost sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds," answered Sam.

"Oh, a bad business deal, I presume." And Barton Pelter smiled grimly. "That's the way it is in Wall Street. You are up one day, and down the next. That's the way it was with my uncle."

"No, we didn't lose the bonds that way," answered Dick. "They were stolen."

"Stolen! From where?"

"From our office."

"Why, that's the worst I ever heard!" declared Barton Pelter, with interest. "Who was it? Did some fellow sneak into your offices and take them?"

"We don't know how the robbery took place," answered Tom. "My brother put the bonds in a japanned box that was locked, and put the box in the once safe one afternoon. The next morning when he opened the safe, the box with the bonds was gone."

"What's that!" exclaimed the listener, excitedly. "You had them in a box, and put the box in your safe? Do you mean the safe that was in the offices when my uncle and Mr. Japson had it?"

"Sure! it's the same safe," answered Dick.

"Well, what do you know about that!" gasped Barton Pelter. His face showed increasing interest. "When was all this?"

"Just about a week ago."

"Haven't you any clews to the robbery?"

"Nothing very much," answered Dick, before either of his brothers could speak. "A girl saw a man leaving the building the evening of the robbery, but who he was, she did not know."

"And you say the box was put in the safe my uncle used to own?" went on the young man. "Of course it was locked?"

"Yes."

"Was it-- er-- er-- was it-- er-- that is, did you have the same combination on it that the lock used to have?" stammered the other.

"No. I had the combination changed."

"And you haven't got the least idea then who took the bonds?" questioned Barton Pelter.

"Not so far."

"It's strange. Say, that's a fierce loss! I couldn't lose that much;" and the young man laughed nervously.

"Are you working in New York?" asked Tom, following an awkward pause.

"I haven't anything to do just now, but I am hoping to get a situation soon," answered Barton Pelter. "I've got to be going now," he added, and after a few words more, he made his way to the elevated station at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

"Evidently a pretty decent sort of a fellow," was Dick's comment, as the three brothers walked over to look at the newspaper bulletin boards. "It's too bad he has Jesse Pelter for an uncle."

"That news about our robbery seemed to astonish him," said Sam. "Did you hear him ask about the combination on the safe? He must have been wondering whether we suspected his uncle or Japson."

"That isn't strange," was Tom's comment, "when one knows what kind of rascals those two men are."

With the shadow of the loss hanging over them the Rover boys were in no mood to amuse themselves. Had it been otherwise, they might have gone to the theater or some concert, or possibly to some moving picture show. But, as it was, they spent most of their time at the offices and the hotel, and in looking around for clews.

"I received two nice letters to-day," said Dora that evening, when her husband and the others appeared, and she held up the missives. "One is from mamma, and she sends her best love to all of you. The other is from your Aunt Martha."

"And what does she say about dad?" asked Dick, quickly.

"She says there is no change in his general condition, but that he continues to worry about business matters. He wants to make sure that everything here, in New York City, is going along all right."

"Poor, old dad!" murmured Tom, and his voice was full of sympathy. "We certainly can't let him know the truth."

"Oh, not for the world, Tom!" cried Dora.

"But what are we going to do if the bonds are not found?" questioned Dick. "He has got to know it some time."

"Well, put it off as long as you can," returned his wife.

"Oh, if we could only find those bonds!" exclaimed Sam. "We've just got to do it! We've got to!"