Chapter XIX. The Laurel Club.
 

Richard felt decidedly uncomfortable over the situation in which he now found himself. It was so unexpected--it had been so forced upon him that he did not know what to do.

"Come, take a hand in," repeated Earle Norris, offering him a chair at the table and at the same time removing his hat.

"Thank you, but I do not play cards," replied Richard coldly.

"Oh, you'll soon learn!" returned the shipping-clerk. "Come, sit down, and I'll give you a few points."

"I don't care to learn," was Richard's firm reply. "I never gambled in my life, and I don't intend to begin now."

"Say, Norris, what do you want to bring such a fellow up here for?" asked one of the players, with a scowl. "We were just having a jolly good game, and don't care to have it spoilt."

"Oh, that's all right. I'm aware of that; but Mr. Dare is a new-comer to New York, and I'm only showing him around a bit."

"We don't want any one here who is going to give us away," put in another player. "Harrison, your cut."

"I'm quite sure Mr. Dare won't be so mean," said Norris. "Come, make yourself at home."

But during the last few minutes Richard had been doing some heavy thinking, and the conclusion of it all was that he had better get out as soon as possible. He had nothing in common with such a crowd, and to remain might place him in an awkward if not dangerous position.

"I thought you only wanted to get a book?" he said to Norris.

"So I did; but now we are up here we might as well stay awhile and have some fun. It's early yet."

"It's not early for me," responded Richard. "I promised to be back by nine o'clock, and it must be near that now. Just give me my hat."

For Norris had taken his guest's hat and placed it on a hook beside his own.

For reply, the shipping-clerk pulled Richard down into a seat.

"Don't be a fool," he whispered. "We won't hurt you. All the fellows here are gentlemen. No use of offending them."

Richard sprang to his feet.

"I don't want to stay, and that's all there is to it," he exclaimed. "If your friends are offended by my going away, why I can't help it. I didn't come up here of my own choosing in the first place, and I claim the right to leave whenever I please."

"Oh, you do, do you?" sneered Norris. "Well, we'll see about that."

And he placed himself between Richard and the door.

Richard grew pale.

"Perhaps I'll have to fight my way out," he thought. "I suppose this is nothing but a gambling den. Well, I'll fight if it comes to that," he finished; and his eyes flashed with determination.

"Come, Norris, none of that," said a tall young man, who sat at the head of the table. "No one shall be forced to stay here against his will. You should have found out if your friend cared for this sort of thing before you brought him."

It was seldom that Don Wimler said so much, either at the club-rooms or outside, and every one knew he meant every word.

Earle Norris's face fell.

"Of course, if Dare won't stay, he needn't," he said slowly. "I only thought I was doing him a favor by bringing him."

"I hope, Mr. Dare, that you will not speak of what you have seen here to-night," went on Don Wimler. "It might place us in an unpleasant predicament."

Richard hesitated. "If I do, it will only be so far as it concerns Mr. Norris and myself," he replied. "I have no desire to hurt you or the others."

And going to the door Richard passed swiftly through it to the outer room. Norris was after him on the instant.

"What do you mean by saying you may tell on me?" he demanded, with an evil look in his eyes.

"I meant just what I said," retorted Richard. "I may be green, but I'm not so green as you take me to be. Let me go."

Norris had taken a tight hold of his shoulder.

"You shan't go till you promise to keep the thing quiet," he replied grimly.

For reply, Richard gathered himself together and gave the shipping-clerk a shove that sent that individual sprawling to the floor.

Before Norris could regain his feet, Richard had unlocked the outer door, and was speeding down the stairs.

"I made a failure of it that time," muttered the shipping-clerk, as he slowly arose to his feet. "But we'll get even yet, and more than even, too!"

Richard breathed a sigh of relief when he emerged once more upon the street.

"I'm glad I found Norris out, any way," he said to himself as he hurried along. "I think I can safely put him down as a bad egg."

Retracing his way down Broadway the boy at length crossed over to Grand Street, and directed his steps towards the east side.

When he reached the Massanets' it was quarter past nine. Mattie let him in, stating that her mother and her brother had not yet returned.

Frank had told her of the street urchin and the letters, and she was anxious to hear about the result of Richard's visit to Doc Linyard's, trusting it had been good.

Richard related the particulars. He did not mention Norris; and finally the talk drifted around to Pep, the street urchin.

"I feel sorry for him," said Mattie Massanet. "We must find out where he lives, and see if we can't do something for him and his sick father."

"I've been thinking of it," returned Richard. "He is very shy, and wouldn't even tell me his last name. But perhaps when he sees that I mean him no harm he'll grow more communicative."

"We might go down and see his father on a Sunday," went on Mattie. "I suppose the neighborhood in which he lives isn't a very nice one to visit at night."

"I'll ask him if we can come."

There was something about Mattie Massanet that Richard liked very much. She was gentle as well as lively, and sympathetic as well as full of fun. She reminded him strongly of his sister Nancy in one way, and his sister Grace in another. Indeed it was Mattie who made the Massanet flat a real home for him.

Presently there were footsteps on the stairs, and in a moment Mrs. Massanet and her son entered. They had been shopping over in the French district, and carried several bundles.

It was now drawing towards ten o'clock, and only a few words were spoken before the good-nights were said.

In the upper hall Richard asked Frank to come to his room, and giving his friend a chair and seating himself upon the edge of the bed he told of his adventure with Norris.

"I have suspected Norris of something like that for several months," said Frank. "I was tolerable sure that he was spending more money than he was making now. He must be an expert player or else an unfair one. I suppose he thought as long as he got you there the rest would follow easy enough. I'm glad you didn't give in. If you had, he or his companions would have won every cent you had, and perhaps have placed you in debt to them."

"What would you do? Tell on him?"

"Williams & Mann ought to know what kind of a fellow their shipping-clerk is," replied Frank. "Yet one word about it may cost Norris his position. Suppose you wait a day or two? Watch how he acts and think it over."

Richard thought this was good advice, and told Frank he guessed it was just what he would do; and on this conclusion the two separated.

Far better would it have been for both, however, if they had taken their information to the firm at once. Later happenings will explain why.