Chapter VII. Twenty Thousand Dollars Lost
 

Edward Foster, as he ran his machine along the country road toward New City, where he was to transact his business at the bank, was thinking of many things. And not all of them were connected with the large sum of money and the bonds which he was to exchange for stock. A certain bright-eyed girl figured largely in his reveries.

"Guess I'd better put on a little more speed," he said to himself. "It's going to take some time to get this all straightened out, and I don't like to have such a large sum with me on the road."

He speeded up his car, and was soon on the outskirts of the city, where he had to go slower, threading his way in and out among many vehicles.

He reached the bank shortly before noon, was greeted by the president and the secretary, who were expecting him, and was shown into a private office.

"Well, we have the stock all ready for you," said the president genially. It was not every day that his bank disposed of such a large block. "I trust you will find it a good investment."

"I believe I will," replied Ed as he reached his hand in his inner pocket to take out the wallet that contained the money and bonds. "I looked into--"

He stopped suddenly. A blank look came over his face. Hurriedly he felt in another pocket. Then he began a rapid search through his clothes.

"What's the matter?" asked the secretary. "Did you mislay your valuables?"

"Yes--no--I don't see--" murmured Ed. All the while he was making a frantic search. His face paled. The bank officials looked anxiously on.

"Can't you find it?" inquired the president.

"I've either lost my wallet,--or it's been stolen!" burst out Ed desperately.

"How could it have been stolen?" asked the secretary.

"I don't know," was the answer. "I don't see how it could have been, as, from the time it was in my pocket until now, I did not leave my auto--"

He stopped quickly. The memory of the scene alongside the road, where the machines had collided, came back to him with vivid distinctness. He had alighted there, and--

He pursued his reflections no further, but hurriedly got up from the chair.

"I must go back at once," he said. "I will make a search. I think I know where the loss may have taken place."

"Or the theft," suggested the president.

"No," said Ed slowly, "I don't believe it was a theft."

"Shall we send for a detective? Will you take one of our porters or a watchman with you?" asked the secretary.

"No; I think I'll make a search myself, first, thank you. And please don't tell the police--yet. I may have dropped it. I'll let you know as soon--as soon as I go to a certain place and look. There is time enough to notify the authorities afterward. I'll telephone you if I don't find it, and then I'll tell the police in Chelton. But I must hurry."

"Yes; you had better lose no time," advised the president.

"The thief--if there, was one--could easily dispose of those securities. As for the money--?"

"He would have no trouble in spending that," finished Ed. "Yes, I'll go back at once."

He hurried out to his auto, and was soon speeding back over the road on which he had come. He reached the spot where the auto collision had occurred, and where he had helped fix Cora's machine. Jumping from the car he looked carefully over the ground, but could find no trace of the missing wallet, containing the equivalent of twenty thousand dollars.

"I must hurry to tell the police," he murmured as he urged his machine forward at top speed. A little later Cora and Walter, who had returned to Chelton, saw Ed standing on the steps of the police station.

"Why!" Cora exclaimed to Walter in some surprise, "I thought Ed was in New City, attending to that bank business."

"He ought to be," commented Walter. Then, noting Ed's white face, he added: "Something's happened!"

A moment later Jack, who had left the Robinson twins at their home, drove up in his runabout, and stopped it beside his sister's larger car. He, too, saw Ed Foster's white face.

"What's the matter, Ed?" he called quickly. "Are you hurt?"

"No," was the answer, and the voice was strained.

"But something has happened," insisted Cora as she alighted from her car and started up the steps of the police station.

"Yes," he said, and his voice trembled, "something has happened."

"What?" asked Jack.

"I've lost twenty thousand dollars--or--else it has been stolen!"

"Twenty thousand dollars!" cried Jack. "The money you were taking to the bank?"

Ed nodded.

"Where?" was Jack's next question.

"That's what I don't know. If I did I'd go get it."

"But if it was stolen--" began Cora.

"The thief is far enough away from here now," finished Ed, trying to smile. "However, I think I lost it near where the collision took place. I just came from there to report the matter to the police."

"But how could you lose it?" asked Cora, taking off her heavy driving gloves and fanning her face with them.

"I don't know, unless when I leaned over to fix the mud guard of your auto the wallet may have slipped from my pocket. But I've looked every inch about that spot," and then Ed related how he had come to miss the money and securities.

"Oh, we must go back and help you look!" exclaimed Cora quickly. "Of course we will, won't we, Jack--Walter?"

"Sure," replied her brother, and Walter gravely nodded. He was trying to recall every incident of the happenings after the collision.

"We'll go right away," went on Cora. "Crank up, Walter. Few persons go over that road in the afternoon, and maybe we can find it."

"Oh, I assure you that it's useless," declared Ed. "I am only waiting here to report the matter to Chief Jenkins, and then I'm going to telephone the officials at the bank in New City, as I promised I would."

"Can't you stop payment?" asked Jack.

"Not on the money, and not very easily on the negotiable securities. That's the unfortunate part of it. If it had been a check I could."

"Queer, I almost had a premonition that something might happen to that twenty thousand," said Jack slowly. "Though I suppose if I say that it makes it look bad for me," he added with a smile.

"Oh, no," Ed answered, seriously enough. "Of course not."

"Come on; let's hurry back," suggested Cora. She re-entered the car, which shook from the running of the ungeared motor that Walter had started for her.

"Really, Cora," began Ed, "it is useless for you to take the trouble to go back and hunt for it, though I'm sure it's very kind--"

"It's no trouble at all."

"But have you been home to dinner?" asked Ed.

"No. Walter and I stopped at a little wayside restaurant and had lunch. Come on, we'll hurry back to the place where the collision took place. I'm sure we'll find the wallet. I'm very lucky that way."

"Let me wish you the best of luck," said Ed with an attempt at gallantry. "I'd go with you, only I must give the chief all the particulars, in case it's stolen, you know. Then I must telephone to the bank."

"That's all right," put in Jack. "Go ahead. We'll make a hunt for that small fortune. Can I do anything for you here?"

"No, thanks. I think not. You are going to have a useless errand, though, I fear, but I appreciate what you are doing for me."

"Come on--hurry!" cried Cora, all impatient to be off, and then, when Walter climbed in beside her and Jack sent his car off, following the big machine of his sister, Ed disappeared behind the door of the police station.