Chapter XXII. Richard Visits Mr. Joyce Again.
 

"I'm discharged, Frank."

Frank Massanet dropped the books he held in his hands. "Discharged!" he cried. "Surely, Dick, you don't mean it!"

"I do," replied Richard. "Mr. Mann has given me my wages for this week, and says he wants me to leave at once."

"But how--what did he have to say? What did he accuse you of?"

"He had very little to say. He said I knew quite as well as he did why I was discharged."

"But didn't he give you a chance to explain?"

"No; he wouldn't let me say a word. I tried to, but he shut me right up."

"It's a shame," exclaimed the stock-clerk, indignantly. "I never thought Mr. Mann could be so unfair." He hesitated a moment. "I'll do it; yes, I will," he went on, half to himself.

"Do what?" asked Richard.

"Go down and have a talk with him. He's in the wrong, and ought to be told so."

"No, no, don't go down!" cried Richard in alarm. "I could plainly see that he was in a bad temper, and you'll only get yourself into trouble."

"I don't care, it's--" began the stock-clerk with flashing eyes, that showed up well the force of character within.

"No, no!" repeated Richard. He would not have his friend get into trouble on his account for the world. "I am much obliged to you for wanting to help me, indeed I am, but I'd rather leave the thing as it is."

"What will you do?"

"I hardly know yet. I'm completely upset and want time to think."

"You're not going to sit down and calmly submit to it, I hope?"

"Indeed I'm not. Mr. Mann has cast a slur on my character, and I'm going to remove that, no matter what happens afterwards."

Richard washed his hands and put on his coat in silence. Frank Massanet sat on the edge of a packing case and watched the boy thoughtfully.

"I wonder if Earle Norris has been discharged?" he remarked. "If any one was to go he should have been the person."

"I don't know," replied Richard. "I'll try to find out as I go down."

"Where are you going?"

"I don't know that either. I must think it over."

"Never mind; remember what I said before; you're in the right, so keep a stiff upper lip," returned Frank.

When Richard went down he passed through the shipping-room. Earle Norris was hard at work, sending off orders. He looked surprised, or pretended to, as the boy entered.

"Hello!" he exclaimed, "Off early?"

"Yes, I am," returned Richard briefly.

"How's that? Got a vacation?"

"Yes."

The boy did not care to be further questioned, and so quickly left the building.

"Reckon he's discharged," muttered Norris under his breath. "So far Harrison's scheme works well. Now I must use my wits to clear myself."

"Norris does not act as if he had received bad news," thought Richard, with a shake of his head. "I can't make it out. There is something behind it all, but what it is, still remains to be seen."

Richard walked down Beekman Street and then turned the corners of several other streets. He had no definite plan in mind, and time seemed at that particular moment of no great value.

Finally he found himself in the neighborhood of the leather district, and determined to call upon Mr. Joyce.

He was not long in reaching the latter's warehouse, and a moment later found himself in the merchant's office. As usual Mr. Joyce was hard at work at his desk. He looked surprised at Richard's entrance, but finished the letter he was writing before he turned around and spoke.

"Well, Dare, dropped in to see me?" he said pleasantly. "Have a chair."

"Thank you, Mr. Joyce. Yes, I--I have come to see you," said Richard, hardly knowing how to begin. "I want your advice," he added.

"Yes? Well, you can have that, I'm sure. How are you making out at Williams & Mann's?"

"I was discharged this morning."

"What!"

Mr. Joyce's face betrayed resentment, anger, pity and curiosity, all in one.

"But believe me, sir, I am not to blame," went on Richard hastily. "I have done my work, and more, faithfully, and Mr. Mann would give no reason for discharging me."

"But there must have been some reason," exclaimed the leather merchant flatly. "No one sends away an efficient clerk without cause."

"Well, I can't make it out," replied the boy. "That's the reason I came to you. I'm sure I haven't done anything wrong, and I haven't been negligent."

Richard's earnest manner had its full effect upon Mr. Joyce.

"Well, tell me your story," he said. "Tell me every word of the plain truth. Unless you do that I can't help you a bit."

So Richard told of everything that had happened since he had gone to work--of his intimacy with the Massanets, his acquaintanceship with Earle Norris, the adventure at the Laurel Club, and all. Mr. Joyce listened in silence until the boy's story was concluded.

Then he put a number of questions, to make sure that nothing had been left out or covered up.

"I can't see how you are to blame," he said at the last. "You did wrong not to let some one know how this Norris had treated you, but you have done nothing, as far as I can make out, to warrant dismissal. I will go up and see Mr. Mann in a little while--just as soon as I finish my morning's work. Will you go along?"

"If you think I ought to. Mr. Mann wanted me to get out though, and talked as if he didn't want to see me again."

"Never mind. Everybody is entitled to a hearing, and Mr. Mann is probably laboring under a false impression."

In half an hour the two were on the way. Richard's heart beat quickly as they walked along, for in some manner Mr. Joyce's presence inspired him with confidence.

When they reached the store Mr. Mann had gone out for lunch. In a few minutes, however, he returned. He greeted Mr. Joyce with cold politeness, and then frowned openly upon Richard.

"Say, Mel, what's the trouble here?" began Mr. Joyce, diving right into the subject at hand. "My young friend says he has been discharged without warning."

"We have paid him his week's wages," replied Mr. Mann stiffly.

"So he says, but he wants to know why you discharged him. He says you acted as if something was wrong."

"Well, something is wrong," admitted the book-merchant; and then he added in an undertone: "I meant to send you word about it. I don't care to have the boy aware how much or how little I do know. Send him out, and I'll tell you the whole affair. The boy is not so innocent as he looks."

"Bosh! I told you before I knew an honest face when I saw it, and I'll wager he's as honest as the day is long. Dare," continued Mr. Joyce, turning to Richard, "just go outside in the store and wait for me."

"Yes, sir."

Richard went out as directed. In the short time that he had been with Williams & Mann he had come but little in contact with the clerks downstairs, and they hardly knew him, and now allowed him to stand around as though he was a stranger.

The dismissal made him feel strange, too. He wished he could go upstairs to Frank, but he did not know how soon Mr. Joyce might want him. He wondered how Frank was getting along, and who the firm would get to help him.

A short half hour passed. It seemed like an age to Richard.

Then the private office door opened and Mr. Joyce called for him to come in.

Hardly knowing what to expect, the boy entered. Mr. Joyce closed the door carefully behind him.

"Well, Dare," began Mr. Mann, "we have talked your case over pretty thoroughly, and while there are some things in your conduct that I don't like, yet I admit that perhaps I was hasty in judging you. I did not care to explain all I know for reasons you may learn later. You may go to work again if you wish."

"Thank you, sir," replied the boy, nearly as much surprised at this sudden turn as he had been at the first. "But I--"

"Never mind, now. I know there are many things you would like to know, and which, perhaps, I ought to explain; but for the present you will have to let that pass."

"I'm willing to, as long as it comes out right in the end," replied the boy. "Thank you, Mr. Joyce, for your kindness," he added, turning to the leather merchant, and then withdrew.