24. Andy Royce's Confession
 

"Want to talk to me, eh?" mumbled Andy Royce. "What you want, anyhow?"

"See here, Royce! what is the use of your drinking like this?" broke in Sam. "Is that the way to use the money my brother's wife loaned you?"

"I ain't been drinkin'," mumbled the man. "That is, I ain't had much."

"You've had more than is good for you," put in Tom. "A man like you ought to leave liquor alone entirely."

"Maybe I would-- if I had a job," growled the former gardener. "But when a man ain't got no work an' no friends it's pretty hard on him;" and he showed signs of bursting into tears.

"See here, Royce, you brace up and be a man!" cried Tom. "Because you haven't any position is no reason at all why you should drink. You ought to save every cent of your money and make it last as long as possible."

"All right, just as you say, Mr. Rover," mumbled the man.

It was evident to the youths that the man was in no condition to think clearly. Evidently he had been drinking more or less for a long while, for his face showed the signs of this dissipation. His clothing was ragged, and he was much in need of a shave and a bath. Certainly he did not look at all like the gardener he had been when he had first come to Hope.

"See here, Royce, I want to ask you a few questions," said Tom. "Do you remember about that diamond ring that disappeared at Hope while you were there?"

"Eh? What?" stammered the former gardener. "Who said I knew anything about that ring?" and he showed confusion.

"Did you hear anything about it at all?" asked Sam.

"Say, is this a trap?" mumbled the man. "If it is, you ain't goin' to ketch me in it. Not much you ain't!"

"Look here! If you know anything about this, Royce, you tell us," declared Tom, struck by the man's manner.

"I ain't goin' to say nothin'! I didn't steal the ring!" cried Andy Royce.

"But you know something about it, don't you!" declared Tom, sharply; and caught the former gardener by the arm.

"Say, you lemme go! I ain't goin' to tell you a thing!" cried the man, in alarm. "You ain't goin' to trap me like this. I know wot I'm doin'. Lemme go, I say!" and he tried to break away.

"You're not going a step, Royce, until you tell us the truth," declared Tom, now quite satisfied in his own mind that the former gardener was holding something back.

"If you took that ring you had better confess," broke in Sam.

"I didn't take it, I tell you," muttered Andy Royce. "You ain't goin' to get nothin' out o' me! This is a put-up job! I won't stand for it!" And once again he tried to break away. But each of the boys held him fast.

"I guess the best we can do is to call a policeman and have him locked up," declared Tom, with a knowing look at his brother. He had no intention of having the former gardener arrested, but thought the threat would frighten the fellow. And this was just what it did. At the mention of being locked up, Andy Royce's courage seemed to leave him.

"No! No! Don't you do it! Please, gents, don't have me locked up!" be whined. "I didn't take the ring!"

"But you know what became of it," declared Tom, sternly. "So if you didn't take it, who did?"

"No-- nobuddy took it," stammered Andy Royce.

"But it's gone," came quickly from Sam.

"Well, if you've got to know the truth, I'll tell you," growled the man, staring unsteadily at the boys. "It's in Miss Harrow's inkwell."

"Miss Harrow's inkwell!" repeated Tom, incredulously.

"Did you put it there?" questioned Sam.

"I did."

"Well, why in the world did you do that?" asked Tom, and made no effort to conceal his wonder.

"Why did I do it?" mumbled the man, unsteadily. "I did it to git Miss Harrow into trouble. I knowed she was responsible for the ring."

"Then you were in the office," declared Sam.

"Sure, I was there! If I wasn't, how would I a-seen that ring? I was told that Miss Harrow wanted to see me, an' I went to the office just at the same time when she came down to the stables where me and two of the other men had had a quarrel. It wasn't my fault, that quarrel wasn't, but them other fellers put it off on me and said 'twas because I had been drinkin'," continued Andy Royce, with a whine. "When I got to the office there wasn't nobuddy around. I saw that diamond ring layin' on the desk, and I picked it up----"

"You were going to steal it?" broke in Tom.

"No, I wasn't, Mr. Rover. I may drink a little now an' then, but I ain't no thief," went on Andy Royce. "I never stole anything in my life. I knowed that ring, because I saw Miss Parsons wear it more than once. I was mad at Miss Harrow for the way she treated me, an' just out of mischief I took the ring an' opened the inkwell an' dropped it in. It was in the inkwell that had red ink in it, an' the ring went plumb out o' sight."

"And you left the ring in the inkwell?" queried Tom.

"Sure I did! Then, not to be seen in the office, I slipped out in a hurry, an' left the seminary by the back door an' ran to the stables. Miss Harrow was there. She had told me that she was goin' to discharge me if there was any more trouble, so I knowed wot was comin'. Then I quit, an' come away," concluded Andy Royce.

"Well, of all the things I ever heard of, this takes the cake!" was Sam's comment.

"If this fellow's story is true, the ring ought to be in the inkwell yet," said Tom. "That is, unless the well was washed out and put away for the summer. In that case the person who cleaned the well ought to have found the ring."

"Sounds almost like a fairy tale," went on Sam. "I don't know whether to believe it or, not."

"It's the truth!" cried Andy Royce.

"We'll believe it when we see the ring," returned Tom, grimly. "I guess the best thing you can do, Royce, is to come with us."

"Please don't have me arrested! I've told you the truth, sure!"

"If you'll come with us and behave yourself, we won't have you arrested," answered Tom. "But we are not going to let you get away until we have found out if your story is true."

"We might telegraph to the seminary at once," suggested Sam. "Do you know who is in charge there during the summer?"

"Why, I heard Nellie say that Miss Parsons took charge-- the teacher who left the ring with Miss Harrow."

"Then why not telegraph to her?"

"We'll do it! But this fellow has got to come with us until we are sure his story is true."

Andy Royce demurred, but the boys would not listen to him. They accompanied him to his room upstairs, and made him pack up his belongings and pay his bill. Then, somewhat sobered by what was taking place, the gardener accompanied them downstairs and to the street. Here the boys hailed a passing taxicab that was empty, and ordered the driver to take them as quickly as possible to the Outlook Hotel.

"It certainly is a queer story," said Dick, who had just arrived from the office, "but it may be true. People do queer things sometimes, especially when they are under the influence of liquor. He probably had a grudge against Miss Harrow, and thought the disappearance of the ring would get her into trouble, just as he said."

"Oh, I hope they do find the ring!" cried Tom. "It will be great news for Nellie."

It was arranged that Andy Royce should accompany Dick and Sam to the smoking room of the hotel, and remain there until Tom had telegraphed to Hope Seminary and received a reply.

"You had better run upstairs and see Dora first," suggested Dick, "and make sure as to who is in charge at the seminary. If there are two persons there, you had better telegraph to both of them so that they can unite in looking for the ring."

"Look for missing diamond ring in Miss Harrow's red-ink inkwell. If found, answer at once.

Thomas Rover,
"Outlook Hotel,
"New York City."

Dora was in a flutter of excitement when told of what had occurred. She remembered about Miss Parsons, and said that there was also a housekeeper named Mrs. Lacy in charge. Armed with this information Tom sent off two telegrams, each reading as follows:

"They were mighty funny telegrams to send," said Tom, when he rejoined his brothers in the hotel smoking room. "Perhaps they won't know what to make of them."

"I am afraid we'll have to wait quite a while for an answer," returned Dick.

"Oh, I don't know. They can telephone the messages up to the seminary from the telegraph office."

"They'll find the ring just as I said unless somebuddy cleaned out the inkwell and took it," declared Andy Royce, who was rapidly sobering up because of the turn of affairs.

As it was getting late, it was decided that Dick should go to dinner with Dora as usual, while Tom and Sam took the former gardener to a corner of the restaurant for something to eat.

"I don't feel much like filling up," said Sam. "I'm on pins and needles about an answer to those messages you sent, Tom."

"Exactly the way I feel, Sam. But we'll have to have patience, I suppose."

The meal at an end, Dora went upstairs, and Dick rejoined his brothers and Andy Royce in the smoking room. Tom had left word at the hotel telegraph office that any message which might come in for hire must be delivered at once.

"Here comes a bellboy now!" cried Dick, presently.

"Mr. Rover! Mr. Rover!" cried the boy, walking from one group of persons to another.

"Here you are! here you are, boy!" cried Tom, leaping up; and in another moment he had a telegram in his hand and was tearing it open to see what it contained.