28. Josiah Crabtree Once More
 

When the boys arrived at the hotel that evening the girls had much to tell them. Nellie had received a letter from Miss Harrow, in which the teacher had frankly begged her pardon for having suspected the girl of taking the diamond ring.

"It is a lovely letter," said Nellie. "I never thought that she could humble herself in that fashion."

"I've got an idea; in fact, I've had it for some time," came from Tom. "I had Royce in this afternoon to see me. He is very anxious to get work. I've half a notion to ask you to write to Miss Harrow and see if they won't take the fellow back at the seminary."

"I am willing to write such a letter, Tom," answered the girl. "And if they won't take Royce back, perhaps I can get my father to give him work at our farm; although I know he is more of a gardener than he is a farmer."

But the most important news the two girls and Dick's wife had to tell was that on a shopping tour after lunch they had walked into Josiah Crabtree.

"We came face to face with him in front of a show window," explained Dick's wife. "I was so startled for the minute that I did not know what to say. Oh, Dick! he was on crutches, and he did look so pale and thin I couldn't help but feel sorry for him!"

"He has evidently suffered a great deal," put in Grace. "In fact, he said as much. He seemed to be utterly downcast. He didn't look like the dictatorial teacher he used to be at all."

"What did he have to say?" questioned Sam.

"Oh, he was quite confused at first, but he did ask about Dora's mother-- if she was well-- and then he said he understood that you three were going into business together. He said he hoped you would be successful."

"The idea of old Crabtree saying that!" burst out Tom. "It's enough to make a fellow think the end of the world is coming."

"Did he say what he was doing, or what he proposes to do?" questioned Dick.

"He said he had received a tentative offer of a position in a boys' school in Maine," answered Nellie, "but he did not know whether he was going to take it or not. My idea is that he is too poor to even go to Maine. And he had on such an old, rusty, black suit!"

"Say! Did he say where he was stopping?" questioned Dick, eagerly, struck by a sudden idea.

"No, he did not."

"Too bad! I'd like to see him as soon as possible."

"Why, what's up now, Dick?" questioned Sam.

"I want to ask him if he knows anything about Jesse Pelter-- where the fellow has gone to."

"It isn't likely. I don't think those two parted the best of friends."

"Most likely not. Still Crabtree may know where Pelter keeps himself."

"I'll tell you what you might do, Dick," suggested Tom. "You might send Crabtree a couple of letters, one addressed to the General Delivery here, and another simply addressed to New York City; then you'll run two chances of striking him."

"I'll do that," answered the older brother; and sent off the communications without delay. In each of them he asked Josiah Crabtree to call at his offices as soon as possible.

"Do you think you can make him open up if he comes?" questioned Sam.

"I think so-- that is if I make it worth his while. If Crabtree is down on his luck he will most likely be willing to do anything for money."

Two days went by, and the boys waited anxiously for some word from the detective in regard to the whereabouts of the Pelters. But no word came in, and they were as downcast as ever. In the meanwhile Dick, aided by the others, stirred around as best he could in an endeavor to take care of their finances.

"I've got the small things all taken care of," Dick said to Tom and Sam, on the evening of the second day. "But what I am going to do about that twenty thousand dollars we must pay the Sharon Valley Land Company, and that other claim Mr. Powell spoke about, I don't know. It looks to me as if we were going to get into a hole, unless I'm able to get some of our friends to help us out."

The one bright spot on the horizon was the news received from home, which was to the effect that their father's health was improving. He had gone downstairs and walked around the garden, and also taken a short ride in the automobile. Moreover, his mind seemed to be much brighter than it had been for a long while past.

On the following morning, when the three youths were at the offices discussing the situation, Bob Marsh came in.

"A man to see you," announced the office boy. "A man on crutches named Crabtree."

"Show him in!" exclaimed Dick. And then he added hastily to his brothers in a lower tone: "Now let me engineer this, please. I think I know how to handle him."

"Go ahead, Dick," responded Tom; and Sam nodded.

Josiah Crabtree hobbled in on his crutches, with his hat in his hand. Evidently he was weak and nervous. His thin face had lost much of its former shrewdness and cunning, and he looked quite downcast.

"Good morning, young gentlemen," he said, in a somewhat cracked voice. "You sent me a letter. I just got it at the post-office."

"Sit down, Mr. Crabtree," returned Dick, and offered the former teacher of Putnam Hall a chair.

"Thank you." Josiah Crabtree sank down on the seat, resting his crutches against his knee. "You have the same offices that Pelter, Japson & Company had, I perceive," he continued, allowing his eyes to rove around.

"Yes, Mr. Crabtree," answered Dick. "By the way, do you know where Mr. Pelter is just now?"

"You said you wanted to see me about some particular business," said the former teacher. "perhaps we had better get at that first."

"Well, I might as well admit, Mr. Crabtree, that what I wanted to see you about is this. I want to know if you can tell me where Mr. Jesse Pelter is just now."

"Oh, is that all!" And Josiah Crabtree's face showed his disappointment.

"That is all at present."

"Humph! Supposing I don't care to tell you where he is?"

"Now see here!" pursued Dick, earnestly. "If I understand matters aright, Mr. Crabtree, Jesse Pelter is no longer a friend of yours. When you went to the hospital he practically deserted you, isn't that right?"

"If is!" exclaimed the former teacher, bitterly. "He left me in the lurch, and not only that, he didn't give me the money that was rightfully coming to me."

"Exactly so! Now then, why shouldn't you help us to locate him?"

"Well-- er-- well-- er-- supposing I did help you?" returned Josiah Crabtree, hesitatingly.

"If you will do that, Mr. Crabtree, I'll make it well worth your while," responded Dick, quickly. "I may as well admit to you that we wish to get hold of Mr. Pelter as soon as possible. We want him to clear up a certain transaction. If you can put me into communication with him to-day, I'll give you fifty dollars."

At the mention of fifty dollars Josiah Crabtree's eyes lit up. Evidently he had not seen that amount of money for some time.

"You'll give me fifty dollars?" he repeated.

"I will."

"There is no fooling about this, Rover?"

"Mr. Crabtree, did I ever deceive you?" And Dick looked the former teacher squarely in the eyes.

"I don't think you did, Rover. So you want to find Jesse Pelter, and you'll give me fifty dollars if I'll help you do it? All right, I'll take you up. I don't think Pelter is aware that I know where he is, but I do;" and Josiah Crabtree smiled grimly.

"Where is he?"

"He told Japson that he was going down East, most likely to Boston. But he didn't do any such thing; he hung around New York for awhile and then he went to Philadelphia, and he's down there now, I am thinking, unless he took a boat for Europe."

"What? Was he going from Philadelphia to Europe?" broke in Tom.

"So I understood. Although why he didn't go from New York is a mystery-- the service is so much better."

"Have you any idea where he is stopping in Philadelphia?" questioned Dick.

"He usually stopped with a distant relative of his-- a man named Crowley Pelter."

"Then that's all I want to know for the present, Mr. Crabtree," announced Dick. "If we can locate him I'll let you know and then the fifty dollars will be yours."

"How soon are you going to look for the man?" asked the former teacher, curiously.

"At once," was Dick's quick reply. "Leave me your address, and as soon as we hear anything I'll let you know." And a few minutes later the boys brought the interview to an end.