Chapter XXXI. Tom Clover's Statement.
 

The news from Mossvale was certainly a cruel blow to Richard, and, as he read the letter written by his sister Nancy, his cheeks paled.

"What is it?" asked Frank, seeing that something was wrong. "No one dead, I hope."

"No, not as bad as that," replied Richard faintly; "but bad enough. Read it."

Frank took the letter and glanced at it hastily. The important passages ran as follows:

"It is awful news. Our home is burned to the ground, and I am writing this at Mrs. Wood's where we are all staying. The fire started in the barn (we think a tramp must have done it), and the wind carried the sparks over to the house, and in ten minutes it was all ablaze. It was one o'clock at night, and no one was around to help us. Mother, Grace and I saved all we could, but that was not much, because we did not have time, and it got so awfully hot. When the fire was out, Charlie made us all go over to his house, and sent a team over for what stuff we had saved.

"Mother is awfully excited, and Grace is sick over it. Madge is all right, and so am I. But I think it's awful, and I don't know what we are going to do. Mrs. Wood and Charley, are very kind, but we can't stay here very long, even if Grace is engaged to Charley.

"Mother says there is an insurance on the house and furniture for nine hundred dollars, but she hasn't been able to find the papers yet, and maybe they have been burned, too. If you can, come down right away. I suppose they don't like to let clerks off in New York, but they ought to make an exception in a case like this."

Frank handed the letter over to his sister Mattie.

"I'm sorry for you and your folks, Dick," he said earnestly. "Of course you'll go at once."

"How can I?" replied Richard helplessly. "Mr. Martin will--"

"Never mind Mr. Martin," interrupted Frank. "Your first duty is to your family. I'll get along as best I can, and I'll explain to Mr. Martin if he gets back before you do."

"But what will you do for meals? You must have time to get them?" went on Richard, anxious lest his friend should be assuming too much.

"He can take lunch along, and I'll bring him his dinner," put in Mattie. "You go, Dick; your mother and your sisters need you."

Richard needed no further urging. Whatever Mattie said must certainly be right. He glanced at the clock.

"Quarter to ten. I wonder when I can get a train?" he cried.

A consultation of a time-table showed that no train for Mossvale could be had until nine-thirty the next morning.

"It's too bad!" he groaned. "I could have taken one just an hour ago if I had known."

There was nothing to do, however, but wait, and so Richard retired with the rest.

He passed a sleepless night, thinking over what had happened, and trying to form some plan for the future. But he could arrive at no conclusion, and found that he must wait until he had talked the matter over with the others.

He was the first one up in the morning, and, having over three hours yet to wait, took a walk around to the store to see what Phil was doing.

"There is a telegram for you; just came," said the boy, and he handed it over.

"More news from home," thought Richard. "But we have no telegraph office. Wonder what it means?"

And he tore the telegram open.

It ran as follows:

"PHILADELPHIA, June 28.

"RICHARD DARE:

"My son is dead. Close store until further orders.

"JONAS MARTIN."

Richard had just finished reading the dispatch when Frank came up.

"You are ahead of me," said Frank. "What have you there?"

"Word from Mr. Martin. His son is dead, and we are to close the store until further notice."

Here was more sad news. Phil, who had known young Mr. Martin well, and liked him, felt it the most.

"It will break old Mr. Martin all up," he said sadly. "He thought a heap of his son. The two were alone in the world."

"I can get away easily enough now," said Richard, with a sorry little laugh. "I won't hurry back as soon as I intended. You must write me if anything turns up."

In less than an hour the store was closed up, a death notice pasted on the door, and then Frank accompanied Richard down to the ferry.

On the corner of Liberty Street they met Pep, who started back in surprise.

"I was just comin' up to see you!" he exclaimed to Richard. "My uncle wants you to come right down!"

"Wants me to come down?" queried Richard. "What for?"

"Don't know exactly. Dad's there, and they both want to see you. You'd better go right away; but maybe you was going," added Pep suddenly.

"No, I wasn't. I was going to take a train home," replied Richard. "Perhaps it's nothing in particular."

He had an hour before train time, and, accompanied by Frank, walked down to the Watch Below.

Doc Linyard greeted him cordially. He was surprised to see Richard dressed up, and grieved to learn of the cause.

"Well, I'm glad as how I ain't got no bad news to tell you," said the old sailor with a grin. "Tom Clover is upstairs, in his right mind, and wants to see you."

"What about?" "Never mind, just go up," replied Doc.

On a comfortable bed, in an upper chamber, lay Tom Clover. Good care and nursing had done wonders for the man, and when Richard looked at him he could hardly realize that this was the miserable wretch he had visited in the garret at Frying Pan Court.

"Here's Mr. Dare come to see you," said Doc Linyard, by way of an introduction.

Tom Clover grasped Richard's hand tightly.

"Betty and Doc have told me all about you," he said in a somewhat feeble voice. "I thank you more than I can put in words. Sit down; I want to talk to you."

"I would like to, Mr. Clover, but I've got to catch a train for home in three quarters of an hour," replied Richard. "I'll call as soon as I get back."

"Just stay a little while," urged Doc Linyard. "Tom's got something to say to you."

"Doc tells me your father was a soldier in the late war?" went on Tom Clover.

"Yes, sir."

"Did he once live in Brooklyn?"

"Yes, sir. But--" and Richard paused, while his heart beat rapidly.

"And was his first name John?"

"Yes, sir--John Cartwell Dare. But why do you ask, Mr. Clover? Is it possible that you knew him?"

Tom Clover raised himself up to a sitting position.

"Know him?" he cried. "We were bosom companions for eighteen months! Why, I caught him in my arms the day he was shot!"