Chapter XVIII. Walter is Turned Adrift
 

"Mr. Sherwood?" said the telegraph messenger inquiringly.

"That is my name," answered Walter.

"A message for you."

Walter opened the note, and read as follows:

"I am called out of the city. You may close up at four, and leave the key with the janitor. Report for duty to-morrow morning. LOCKE."

"What is it?" asked the young man eagerly.

Walter showed him the note.

"It looks to me like some trick," said the stranger.

"But I don't see any object in it."

"He has your thirty dollars."

"And I have a check for over two hundred."

"I would rather have the thirty dollars. What shall you do?"

"There is nothing to do but follow directions."

The young man shrugged his shoulders.

"Then you will come round to-morrow morning?" he said.

"Certainly."

"I'll look in upon you. I want to see this Mr. Locke, though I doubt if that is his name."

Walter was disposed to think the young man too suspicious. He was of a sanguine temperament, and he tried to persuade himself that there was really no good reason to suspect Mr. Locke of unfair dealing. He laid considerable stress upon the favorable reports of the agents who had called upon him during the day.

At length four o'clock came, and he closed up the office, leaving the key with the janitor. He went home, not quite knowing whether he was to be congratulated or not. He decided not to say anything just yet about his engagement, lest it might turn out to be deceptive. Had he been quite sure that it was substantial and to be relied upon, he would have written to his guardian to announce the good news, but he thought it best to wait.

The next morning he went to the office, arriving at the hour agreed upon.

"Please give me the key to Locke & Green's office," he said to the janitor.

"Mr. Locke's given up the room," was the startling reply.

Walter was dismayed.

"Given up the room! Have you seen him?" he inquired.

"Yes."

"When?"

"He called yesterday afternoon, an hour after you went away, and got the key from me. In about ten minutes he came down again, carrying a ledger in his hand.

"'I have taken another office,' he said. 'This is not large enough for me.'

"'Have you told your clerk?' I asked him.

"'Yes, I have sent a message to him,' he replied carelessly."

Walter sank against the door. He felt limp and helpless. Mr. Locke had gone off, and carried his thirty dollars with him. There was hardly room to doubt that it was a case of deliberate swindling.

True, he had the check in his possession--a check for two hundred and twenty-seven dollars--but, even if it were genuine, it was made out in favor of Locke & Green, and would be of no service to him, though in that case it would insure Mr. Locke's calling upon him. Should such be the Case, he determined that he would not give up the Check till his thirty dollars were returned.

Walter walked slowly out of the building. When he reached Dearborn Street he went into the office of a private banker, and, showing the check, asked, "Is there any such bank as this?"

"I never heard of any," said the banker.

Walter turned pale.

"Then you think it is bogus?"

"Very likely. Under what circumstances did you receive it?"

Walter explained.

"I am sorry to say that you are probably the victim of a confidence man, or firm. I think I saw an expose of some similar swindlers in the Inter-Ocean a few weeks since. Did you give the fellow any money?"

"Yes, sir; thirty dollars."

"You will have to whistle for it, in all probability."

Walter's heart felt as heavy as lead. He had less than twenty dollars now, and his small balance would last him less than three weeks. What should he do then? Should he write to his guardian for more money? He hated to do this, and, above all, he hated to confess that he had been victimized.

In the next three days he answered several advertisements, and made personal applications for employment. But no one seemed to want him. In one case he was offered three dollars a week as an office boy, but he had not got quite so low down as to accept this place and salary. It struck Walter as very singular that one who had spent two years at college, and possessed a fair knowledge of Latin, Greek, and mathematics, should be in so little request. He envied the small office boys whom he saw on the street, and even the busy newsboys, who appeared to be making an income. They had work to do, and he had none. He decided that he must reduce his expenses, and accordingly hired a poor hall-bedroom for a dollar and a quarter a week, and took his meals at restaurants.

One day he went into Kinsley's restaurant, on Adams Street, feeling the need of a good meal, and sat down at a table. He gave his order, and ate his dinner with appetite. He was about to rise from the table when, casting his eye about the room, he started in surprise, as at a neighboring table he saw the familiar face of Mr. Jonas Damon, whose check he held in his pocket.

Instantly his resolve was taken. He would speak to Mr. Damon, and try to ascertain something about the check.

He walked over to the table, and touching Damon on the shoulder, said: "Mr. Damon, I believe?"

The man looked up quickly, and a little change in his countenance showed that he recognised Walter; but he assumed a stolid look, and said: "Were you speaking to me, young man?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did you call me?"

"Mr. Damon."

"You're off the track. That isn't my name."

"Perhaps not," said Walter resolutely; "but when you called at Locke & Green's office and handed me a check you said your name was Jonas Damon."

"Ho, ho!" laughed Damon. "So I gave you a check, did I?"

"Yes, for two hundred and twenty-seven dollars."

"That's news to me. I'm not in a position to give such checks as that."

"I have got the check with me now."

"Why didn't you cash it?"

"It was not made payable to me."

"Then why didn't you give it to the party it was made out to?"

"Because he disappeared."

"That's a strange story. Do you know what I think?"

"No; but I should like to."

"I think you are a confidence man, and are trying to take in a poor countryman. But I've read about you fellows in the papers, and I am on my guard. You'd better go away, or I may call a policeman."

This certainly was turning the tables on Walter with a vengeance. For a fellow like Damon to accuse him of being a confidence man was something like the wolf's charge against the lamb in Aesop's fable.

Damon saw that Walter looked perplexed, and followed up the attack.

"If anybody has given you a check," he said, "I don't see what you've got to complain about. You'd better make use of it if you can."

"Do you deny that your name is Damon?"

"Of course I do. My name is Kellogg--Nelson Kellogg, of Springfield, Illinois. I am in the city to buy goods."

"And you don't know Mr. Locke, of Locke & Green?"

"Never heard of the gentleman. If you've got a check of his, you'd better advertise for him. I wish my name was Locke. I shouldn't mind receiving it myself."

Here the waiter came up with Mr. Damon's order, and that gentleman addressed himself to disposing of it.

Walter left the restaurant slowly, and walked in a dejected manner in the direction of the Palmer House. He began to think that he was a failure. When he was a student of Euclid College he was in his own estimation, a person of importance. Now he felt his insignificance. If the world owed him a living, it seemed doubtful if it was inclined to pay the debt.