Chapter XX. Trouble Brewing.
 

In the morning Richard went to work as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was not until after dinner that business called him down to the packing-room, and then there were several others besides Norris present.

Yet the shipping-clerk evinced a strong desire to talk to Richard privately, and finally accosted him just as he was going up the stairs.

"Say, I hope you'll let what happened last night pass," he said in an undertone. "I only wanted to show you a little of life here, and didn't dream you'd resent it as you did."

"Well, next time you will understand that I mean what I say," returned Richard sharply.

"I know I was to blame," went on Norris humbly. "But to tell the truth I'd had a glass of champagne at supper time, and my head wasn't as clear as it should have been. If you say anything of it here, though, I may be discharged."

"Well, I won't say anything unless something more happens," Richard replied. "I don't want to get any one into trouble. But I'll tell you, Mr. Norris," he went on, "I think you're on the wrong track. Take my advice, even if I am younger than you, and steer clear of the Laurel Club."

"I'll think of it," replied the shipping-clerk, turning away.

"I guess I've shut the young fool up," he muttered to himself. "He might have placed me in a decided fix if he had told all he knew."

Of course Richard reported the interview to Frank. Indeed the two were now deep in each other's confidence, and no such thought as keeping the matter to himself would have crossed Richard's mind.

"Perhaps it will teach him a lesson," said Frank. "But I doubt it. Better keep an eye on him."

Later in the day Mr. Mann came up to the stock-room, looking very black. He asked a number of questions about some books that had been sent to Troy four days before. "The party that received them says there were five or six sets of Irving's works badly damaged. Do you know anything about it?"

"No, sir," replied Frank promptly. "Those we packed up were all in first-class order."

"Well, there was some damaged stock here."

"Yes, sir, quite a good deal that was soaked by that water-pipe bursting three weeks ago. But Mr. Williams ordered us to sort it out, and it was all sent to the second-hand dealer's last week."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive, sir. Dare, here, helped me ship it off."

Mr. Mann turned to Richard.

"That's so, Mr. Mann," put in the latter. "And I remember well that before the last box went down we hunted high and low to see that nothing that was damaged in the least should be left behind."

"Well, it's mighty queer how those people in Troy should get twenty odd volumes of damaged stock. We'll have to make a reduction in their bill, I suppose. Be careful of the goods shipped in the future."

And with this retort Mr. Mann took the elevator and went below.

"I can't see how those people could have got a single damaged volume," said Richard when the head of the firm had departed. "I remember that box well, and every volume in it was perfect."

On returning to the Massanets' that evening Frank heard bad news. An aunt had died over in Port Richmond, on Staten Island. His mother had gone to the place at once, and wished her son to come to the funeral, on the following afternoon.

"Of course I'll have to go," said Frank to Richard. "I'll stop at the store on my way down and let the firm know, and also help you enough to get along while I am gone."

This Frank did. He readily obtained permission from Mr. Williams to be absent, and at ten o'clock Richard found himself in sole charge of the stockroom.

There were a number of important orders to fill, and the boy worked like a beaver to get them done in time.

"I'm so glad for the chance to do something for Frank; he has been so kind," said Richard to himself. "Besides, some day I may wish him to do me a like favor."

Richard was careful that there should be no mistakes, and it is perhaps needless to state that he had both eyes wide open for damaged books.

While hard at work, with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up, Mr. Williams appeared. He was quite an old man, and in many respects much pleasanter than his partner.

"I came up to see how you were making out," he said. "You will have your hands full, trying to do two men's work."

"Oh, I guess I can manage it," replied Richard pleasantly. "I wouldn't want to do it very long, though," he added.

"I'll give you a hand," said Mr. Williams. "This used to be my work years ago, and I still like it."

"Here is an order from Pittsburgh I can't read very well," said Richard. "I'd be much obliged if you will help me on that."

"All right. Give it to me."

In a few minutes employer and employee were hard at work together. Mr. Williams had not intended to stay very long, but he became interested, both in the work and in Richard, and it was only when, two hours later, a message came for him, that he went below.

"He is a nice man," thought Richard, when Mr. Williams had gone. "I am sure he would not have treated Mr. Mann with more consideration than he did me. No wonder Mr. Joyce called for him first the day he brought me here."

A little later Earle Norris came up.

"Hello! alone?" he exclaimed.

"Yes."

"How's that?" Thought Massanet was as steady as clockwork.

Richard told him why Frank was absent.

"Oh, that's all right," said Norris.

"What brought you up?" asked Richard.

"I came up to see if Martin's order from Pittsburgh was filled yet. It's got to go first thing in the morning."

"There it is; been done half an hour ago," replied Richard.

He did not think it necessary to add that Mr. Williams had filled it.

"All right; send it down at once," replied Norris. "Rather tough, making you do all the work," he added. "I'd strike for higher pay."

"I am very well satisfied with the way I am treated," returned Richard.

Norris disappeared, and a moment later Richard sent the crate containing the goods down on the elevator to be packed up below. After that he worked steadily until six o'clock, at which time he had the satisfaction of knowing that every order sent up had been promptly and correctly filled.

Richard found Frank and his mother already at home when he reached there in the evening. The funeral of Mrs. Massanet's sister had been a quiet, but sad affair, and Richard saw that no one was in humor for much talking, and all retired early.

Frank was not a little astonished in the morning to find that Richard had done all the work so well, and also that Mr. Williams had helped.

"I declare, between you, you'll soon be cutting me out of a job," he laughed.

"Oh, I hope not," returned Richard. "If I'd thought that, I surely would not have worked so hard."

"Oh, it's all right," replied Frank.

"If I ever go into business for myself," he thought, "Richard Dare is just the clerk I want to help me. He is bright, and not afraid of work, and those are the fellows who get along."

Frank Massanet's one idea was to some day own a bookstore of his own. He understood the trade thoroughly, and with the proper location and a fair amount of cash he was tolerably certain that he could make such a place pay. His savings amounted to several hundred dollars now; he was only waiting for the time to come when they would be at least a thousand. Then he intended to strike out for himself.

The two worked on steadily through most of the day. Late in the afternoon a boy came up from below.

"Mr. Mann would like to see you in his private office," he said to Richard.

The latter was surprised at the announcement. Since he had gone to work he had not been called for once before.

"What does he want of me?"

"I don't know," replied the boy. "He is awful mad about something, and has sent for several of the others."

"I can't understand it," said Richard to Frank, as he put on his coat. "I don't know of anything that has gone wrong."

And considerably worried, Richard descended to the ground floor, and knocked on the door of the private office.