Chapter IX. Finding the Wallet
 

"No luck, eh?" went on Ed as he approached Jack.

"No; that is, Lem and I didn't have any."

"Lem--do you mean to say Lem Gildy?"

"Now, don't get nervous. I didn't tell him it was your pocketbook that was lost. You see, I had to have some one keep watch on one side of the road while I looked on the other, and he was the only one available."

Then Jack related the details of the search.

"I'm glad Lem doesn't know about it," went on Ed. "I heard to-day that he and Sid Wilcox have been seen together several times lately, and I'm not quite ready to have my loss made public--especially to Sid."

"Maybe Cora and Walter will have better luck," suggested Jack hopefully. "We won't hear from them for some time, though. Did you 'phone to the bank in New City?"

"Yes. I told them I couldn't get any trace of the wallet here, and, as you know, I have already notified the Chelton police. They have been making a quiet search about town, but I fear it will be hopeless."

"The bank people didn't say it had been turned in there, by any chance, did they?"

"No such good fortune," and Ed laughed uneasily. "Well, I'm going home now to get a list of the bonds and their numbers, as well as the numbers of the big bills. The; police say they will want them when they send out a general alarm."

"But I thought you said you didn't want it generally known."

"I don't, until I have made a thorough search at home. It is barely possible that I took up the wrong wallet by mistake when I rushed out this morning. I have two that look exactly alike. I may have picked up the empty one, shoved it into my pocket, and lost that one. The one containing the bonds and cash may still be at my house. I am hurrying there to see. If I don't find it, the police are to send out a general alarm."

"I hope you find it."

"So do I. It means a big loss to me--almost my entire fortune gone. I don't know what I am going to do."

"Let's hope for the best," spoke Jack as cheerfully as possible, but there was a dubious look on his face as he watched Ed turn in the direction of his home.

But Ed found that he had made no mistake in the wallets. The empty one was safely in his room, but the one containing the twenty thousand dollars was--as he had feared--lost. He communicated this fact to the police, and soon the chief had ordered some handbills printed, describing the pocketbook and the contents, and offering a reward of five hundred dollars for the cash and bonds, Ed having agreed to pay this amount and ask no questions.

"Ha!" exclaimed Lem Gildy that night as one of the hastily printed bills came into his possession, "so this is the wallet they are lookin' for, eh? Twenty thousand dollars! But I knowed it all the while. As if Jack Kimball an' his sister could fool me! But I'll bleed him--that's what I'll do. I'll make him whack up--or--or I'lltell!" and Lem chuckled to himself, while there was a dangerous look on his mean face.

The search conducted by Cora and Walter was, as might be guessed, as unsuccessful as the one undertaken by Jack and Lem. Cora and Walter looked carefully over the whole length of the road to New City, but saw nothing of the wallet, and came back disconsolate in the auto.

"Poor Ed!" remarked Walter. "It's tough luck!"

"Yes, I wish we could have found it for him," agreed Cora as she skillfully drove the car through the Chelton streets at dusk. "I'm beginning to believe that it was stolen."

"I think so myself," added Walter. "But if he had it when he was fixing your car, and he missed it directly after he left our crowd--"

He hesitated a moment, then continued:

"Well, maybe he thinks that some of us may have--"

"Better not jump at conclusions," cautioned Cora, and at this Walter alighted near the street that led to his home.

"I won't," he promised Cora with a laugh as she sent the car ahead. She was anxious to reach home and learn the, details of Jack's search, though she and Walter knew, from an inquiry they had made at the bank in New City, that it had not been successful.

That night nothing was so important a topic of conversation in Chelton as the loss of the twenty thousand dollars. Speculation was rife, and opinion was equally divided on the question of whether it had been lost or stolen, or both, for that it might have been stolen after it was lost was possible.

Ed consulted some business friends, but they could give him little help. He was advised to hire private detectives, and said he would do so, in case the police of New City or Chelton could do nothing.

It was two days after the loss of the money and bonds that Cora, with her inseparable friends, the Robinson twins, and Walter, whom she had picked up on the road, were out for a ride. They took the turnpike, as it was the smoothest highway.

"We may meet Jack along here," said Cora as she turned out to avoid a large rock.

"Yes?"--asked Elizabeth, and she tried to keep down the eagerness in her voice.

"Yes; he's gone over to see about a concert his mandolin club is going to give, and he said he might bring a couple of the members back with him to stay a few days."

"College lads?" asked Bess with a laugh.

"Surely," replied Cora; "and charming ones, too, I gathered from Jack's talk."

"Must be some of the Never Sleep members," spoke Walter.

"Never Sleep members?" repeated Elizabeth.

"Yes; I belong. We call ourselves that because we used to be up at all hours. Some of the boys play in Jack's mandolin club."

"I hope we meet them!" exclaimed Bess frankly. "I'm dying for some music."

"Let me sing and save your life," proposed Walter.

"With pleasure," answered Bess, making a little gesture of surprise. "But I didn't know you sang."

"Only to save life," replied Waiter. "But," he added, "if I'm not mistaken that sounds like Jack's car."

"It is," declared Cora, who was getting to be an expert on the puffing sounds of autos. "There he is!" she exclaimed as Jack's runabout came in sight. "And it's pretty well crowded, too."

It was, for in the car, which would barely hold three, Jack had managed to squeeze four--three lads besides himself.

"Hello, sis!" he called as he caught sight of Cora. "You're just in time. Take one of these brutes out of here, will you? My springs are breaking."

"I'll go!" cried one lad as he caught sight of the Robinson twins.

"No, I saw 'em first!" exclaimed another.

"You did not! It's my turn to ride in a decent car," said the third.

"Now, just for that you will all three get in Cora's car, and I'll take the Misses Robinson in with me," declared Jack.

There was laughter at this, and Jack introduced his mandolin club friends to Cora and the twins.

"Seriously, though, sis, you'll have to take one or two of 'em," went on Jack. "Here, Diddick, you and Parks go in the big car. I want to talk to Youmans about the concert we're going to have."

Diddick and Parks gladly made the exchange into the larger car, while Youmans tried to look as if he liked to remain with Jack. But it was hard work to imagine it when he glanced across at the pretty twins and Cora.

"Hold on a minute," exclaimed Walter as he noticed that one of the rear tires of the touring car was flat. "We can't go on like this, Cora. That left tire will have to be pumped up."

"And you've got good muscles to do it, too, Walter," urged Diddick, smiling mischievously.

"We'll all help," volunteered Parks. "Come on!"

Diddick, Walter and Parks alighted. Walter stepped to the tool-box to get out the pump and the lifting-jack. As he was about to take them out he started back excitedly.

"Hurt yourself?" asked Cora, who was looking over the side of the car.

Walter shook his head. His face was strangely white as he spoke in a husky voice:

"The wallet! Ed Foster's wallet in the tool box--here--see!"

He held the pocketbook up to view.

"Where--where did you get it?" gasped Cora.

"In--in--your--tool--box!"

"What?"

The girl's voice was shrill, and there was a tremor in her tones. Cora fairly leaped out beside him. She was staring at the brown leather wallet the wallet that had contained the twenty thousand dollars.

"How on earth--" she began.

She reached out her hand for the pocketbook. Walter gave it to her. She raised up the flap, and uttered but a single word:

"Empty!"

The limp wallet fell from her hand to the ground. Cora's face turned strangely white, and she began swaying, as does a tree that a woodsman has nearly cut through.

A moment later the overwrought girl staggered and almost fell into Walter's arms.