27. The Mystery Of The Safe
 

Dick was at his desk sorting out his morning mail. He was rather downcast, for the past two days had brought no news regarding the missing bonds. On the other hand, he had received word from his uncle that the investment in the Sharon Valley Land Company was a perfectly legitimate one, and that Mr. Aronson's claim would have to be met.

"And how we are going to meet it, I don't know," said Dick, in speaking of the matter to his brothers. "It certainly is tough luck to have these obligations pouring in on us at just this time."

"Well, there is one bright spot in uncle's letter," returned Sam. "He says dad is feeling somewhat better. I am mighty glad of that."

"I guess we all are," broke in Tom. "Just the same, I agree with Dick. The financial outlook is mighty gloomy."

There were other letters besides business communications for the boys. Songbird had written, and so had Spud; and Dick had likewise a long epistle from Bart Conners, who in years gone by had been the young major of the Putnam Hall cadets. But just now Dick had no heart to read these communications. He felt that he must give his entire attention to the business in hand. One letter in a plain envelope was in a handwriting entirely unfamiliar to him. He cut open the envelope hastily to see what it might contain. A glance at the single sheet inside, and his face showed his interest.

"'Look over your safe very carefully. You may discover something to your advantage.'"

"Look at this, boys!" he cried; and then read the following:

There was no signature.

"Who sent that?" came from Sam and Tom simultaneously.

"I don't know. It isn't signed."

"'Look over your safe very carefully. You may discover something to your advantage,'" repeated Tom. "Say! that looks as if somebody knew something about the robbery!" he went on, excitedly.

"We have looked over the safe a dozen times," returned Sam. "It hasn't furnished the slightest clew."

"We'll go over it again," broke in Dick, who had already left his desk and gone to the strong-box. He worked at the combination for a few moments, and pulled open the safe door.

"Maybe we ought to have a light here," suggested Tom. "It is rather dark in this corner."

"Wait, I can fix that," said Sam, and reaching for a droplight that hung over the desk, the youngest Rover commenced to unfasten the wire by which it was held in position. By this means he was able to shift the light so that it hung directly over the opening of the strong-box.

"Nothing unusual about the door or the combination that I can see," said Tom, after all had made a careful inspection.

"And the sides seem to be all right," added Sam. "Maybe it's the back or the bottom."

"If it wasn't so heavy we might be able to swing the safe around away from the wall," said Dick. "But wait, hold that light closer, Tom, and I'll see if I can find out anything from the inside."

Dick was now on his knees and feeling around the back of the safe with his hand. Presently he found a crack, and inserting his fingers he gave a push. Much to his astonishment a portion of the safe back slid upward.

"Hello, I've found something!" he ejaculated. "There is a hole in the back of this safe!"

"You don't say so!" cried Sam; and he and Tom peered into the steel box.

Then Dick continued to work around with his hand, and presently was able to slide another section of the safe back upward. He now found that he could touch a piece of board which evidently took the place of some plaster that had formed part of the office wall.

"There must be a small trap door there, leading to some place outside," said the oldest Rover boy. "We'll go into the hall and have a look."

It did not take the eager youths long to reach the hallway of the building, and once there, all three hurried to the spot where they thought the opening might be located. Soon they came to the little closet which the janitor had once mentioned to them-- a small place in which was located a sink, and also a number of brooms, brushes, and cleaning cloths.

The closet was dark, but Dick had brought along a box of matches, and a light was quickly made. A corner containing some brooms and cloths was cleaned out, and the boys soon located a piece of board about eight inches square, covered with a sheet of tin painted the same color as the wall.

"It's as plain as daylight!" cried Tom. "The thief didn't have to open the safe door at all. He simply came in here, removed that board, slid up the back section of the safe, and took out what he wanted."

"And the fellow who did it----" broke in Sam.

"Was either Pelter or Japson," finished Dick.

"Then you think this letter came from----" Tom started to say.

"That young fellow whose life you saved-- Barton Pelter," answered Dick.

"By the rudder to Noah's Ark, I think you are right!" burst out Tom. "Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face! Don't you remember how worried Barton Pelter looked when we told him the bonds were missing, and how he asked us at the moving picture show if we had gotten them back yet? More than likely he knew how this safe was fixed-- he used to come here, you know, to see his uncle----"

"I believe you're right, Tom," came from Sam, "because if he didn't do it, who did?"

"I think I can make sure of this," returned Tom. "Let us go back to the offices."

Tom had taken possession of one of the desks in the place, and in one of the pigeonholes he had placed a number of letters, including the one received while at college from Jesse Pelter's nephew. This he now brought forth, and compared the handwriting with that of the letter just received.

"It's the same hand," he affirmed. And after an examination the brothers agreed with him.

"If Barton Pelter wrote that letter we ought to locate him without delay," was Sam's comment. "He may know just where the missing bonds are."

"Or else where we can locate his uncle and Japson."

"Wait a minute!" cried Dick. "You forget that Japson has been away from New York for some time. The detective told me that, and said it was positive. So that would seem to put the thing off on Pelter's shoulders; and I think Pelter is just the man to do such a thing. You'll remember how bitter he was against us when we exposed him."

"Then let us locate Jesse Pelter without delay," broke in Tom. "It ought to be easy, unless he is in hiding."

"If he's got our bonds he'll certainly do his best to keep out of our way," returned Dick, grimly. "I think the best we can do first of all is to locate Barton Pelter and make him tell us all he knows."

"He said he had a chance of a position as a traveling salesman."

"Did he say for whom?"

"He mentioned 'The Consolidated Cream Cracker Company,' whatever that is."

"Let us call them up and find out," said Dick.

By consulting the telephone directory, the boys were soon in communication with the cracker company in question. They were informed that Barton Pelter had been taken on as a salesman the day before, and had left that evening for a trip through the Middle West. It was not known on what train he had departed.

"Nothing doing here," said Tom. "They don't even seem to know what town he is going to stop at first."

"I think we had better call up Mr. Bronson, and tell him about this and put him on the trail of the Pelters," answered Dick.

The detective was as astonished as the boys had been when he saw the hole in the back of the safe.

"This is certainly one on me," he confessed, frankly. "I looked that safe over very carefully, too. I should have discovered that;" and his face showed his chagrin.

Then he was told about the Pelters and about Japson, and he agreed with the Rovers that he had best try to locate Barton Pelter and his uncle without delay.

"I'll put a man on the trail of the young fellow who went West," he said, "and as soon as he sends me any word regarding Jesse Pelter I'll go after that fellow, and I'll also let you know what I'm doing;" and so it was arranged.