Chapter XXIII. STrange Discoveries.

Frank Massanet was surprised and delighted to have Richard come to work again.

"You have indeed a good friend in Mr. Joyce," he remarked when the boy had told him what the leather merchant had done. "One such is worth a thousand of the common sort."

During the afternoon Earle Norris had occasion to come up to the stock- room. He started back upon seeing Richard at work.

"Why, I thought you had taken a vacation!" he exclaimed.

"So I did--for an hour," replied Richard, and without further words went on with his work.

"Why, I thought--" began the shipping-clerk.

"What did you think?" demanded Frank, coming forward.

"Why I--I----" stammered Norris. "What business is it of yours?" he added rudely.

"You thought he was discharged," went on Frank. "You've been trying your best to get him discharged."

"Who says so?" demanded Norris, but he turned slightly pale as he uttered the words. "I say so. I don't understand your scheme, but that's what you are trying to do; and I warn you that you had better quit it."

It was seldom that Frank Massanet spoke in such an arbitrary way, yet it was plain to see that he meant every word he said.

"You're mistaken," returned Norris, hardly knowing how to reply. "But it's only natural that you should stick up for your mother's boarders. They help support the family, I suppose."

And with this parting shot the shipping-clerk hurried below.

In the middle of the afternoon Mr. Mann sent for Richard and asked the boy to accompany him to an office on lower Broadway.

"I wish you to keep our visit to the place a secret," he said. "I might as well tell you something is going wrong at our place. Goods are missing from several departments and we cannot trace them. They are taken by some one in our employ, but there must be a confederate outside."

"Did Mr. Joyce tell you about----"

"Norris? Yes; but I knew that. I thought you were in collusion with him, because you were seen in his company."

"By that detective, I suppose."

"Do you know him?" asked the book merchant, in much surprise.

"Not much; Frank Massanet told me of him."

And Richard related the particulars.

"But did not Norris try to get me out of a position?" he added.

"Yes--no--I don't know." Mr. Mann contracted his brow, and then a light seemed to break in upon him. "He did cast suspicion upon you, but I thought that was only done for effect--I couldn't exactly understand it."

"Perhaps he wished to get some one in my place--some one who would aid him--that is, if he is the guilty party. Who had my place before?"

"A tall young man named Springer. He was discharged for incompetency.

"Springer!" exclaimed Richard. "That was the name of the doorkeeper at the Laurel Club. He and Norris are great friends."

"Ah! Then I see it. Hold up! We received two applications for your position only last week."

"What were the names?" asked the boy, deeply interested.

"I have them here in my note-book," replied Mr. Mann, feeling in his pocket. "Do you remember the names of those you met at that club?"

Richard thought a moment.

"Harrison, Foley, Nichols and Springer, I think. I'm pretty good at remembering names," he returned.

Mr. Mann got out his notebook.

"Here they are!" he cried. "Andrew S. Foley is one, and Henry Nichols the other." He jammed the volume back into his pocket. "It's as clear as day. There is no necessity for your going with me now. You can return to the store; but remember, not a word of this, even to Massanet."

"I'll remember, sir."

When Richard returned to the stock-room, his friend, of course, wanted to know what was up, but the boy only replied that it was all right, and that Mr. Mann had requested him to keep silent.

Throughout the entire establishment there appeared to be the feeling that something was about to happen--what, no one knew.

As the two boys were returning home that evening, they met the street urchin Pep, who greeted them politely. He had a bigger bundle of papers than ever, and seemed to be prospering in his street trade.

Nevertheless, he had a sober, earnest look upon his countenance that caught Richard's eye immediately.

"What's up, Pep?" he asked kindly.

"Dad's worse, sir," replied the boy. "I don't think I can come up Sunday, 'ceptin' he gets better."

"Wouldn't you like us to come down, any way?" asked Frank.

"I would, yes; but he wouldn't. His head ain't right, and he don't want no one around 'ceptin' me."

"Well, will you come up to the house, and get some nice stuff I will give you? Some eating and the like?" continued Frank.

"Yes, sir; thank you."

"I'll expect you. Good-by."

"Good-by, sir. Good-by, Mr. Dare," cried Pep. "Oh, say," he added, running back, "I reckon I can give you that other dollar by Monday."

On Saturday afternoon, as they were starting home early, Frank unfolded his scheme of one day going into business for himself.

"I would like to see you do it," cried Richard, "and make a big success of it, too. You deserve it, Frank--such a good fellow as you are!"

A few minutes later a funeral of some old soldier passed. There were several coaches, and then a post of Grand Army men. The sight was a sad one to Richard.

"My father was a soldier," he said to his companion. "He was shot, too," he added, with a sigh.

"Yes?" said Frank. "Then your mother gets a pension," he added, after a pause.

"No, she does not. She ought to have one, but we cannot get our claim passed. My father let it rest so long that when he did try he could find no witness."

And Richard related the full particulars of the case. Frank Massanet listened attentively.

"I think, as your sister Grace says, I'd turn the whole country upside down before I'd give up the hope of finding a witness," he said. "Why, it would amount to several thousand dollars! A small fortune!"

"I'm going to try as soon as I get settled," replied Richard. "I haven't any money to do anything with yet."

"I'd advertise as soon as I could afford it," suggested Frank. "And I'd write to the secretaries of all these old soldiers' organizations, too, giving your father's full name and what he belonged to."

"That's a good idea," exclaimed Richard. "I'll do that this week. I have plenty of time in the evening, and can get the addresses from the directory."