Chapter XXX. An Unexpected Blow
 

Herbert felt happier than usual. He had recovered the greater part of his money, and thus was relieved from various inconveniences which had resulted from his straitened circumstances, He was the more elated at this, as it had seemed extremely improbable that the lost money would ever have found its way back to the pocket of its rightful owner. Then, he had a good place, and a salary sufficient to defray his modest expenses, and the prospect of promotion, if he should be faithful to the interests of his employer, as he firmly intended to be. It was agreeable, also, to reflect that he was in favor with Mr. Godfrey, who had thus far treated him with as much kindness as if he had been his own son.

There was, to be sure, the drawback of Tom's enmity, but, as there was no good reason for this, he would not allow it to trouble him much, though, of course, it would have been more agreeable if all in the office had been his friends. He determined to take an early opportunity to write to his good friend, Dr. Kent, an account of his present position. He would have done so before, but had hesitated from the fear that in some way the intelligence would reach Abner Holden, whom he preferred to leave in ignorance of all that concerned him.

These thoughts passed through Herbert's mind as he went about his daily work. Meanwhile, a painful experience awaited him, for which he was not in the least prepared.

About one o'clock a gentleman entered the counting-room hastily, and said, "Mr. Godfrey, I wonder whether I happened to leave my pocketbook anywhere about your office when I was here an hour ago?"

"I don't think so. When did you miss it?"

"A few minutes since. I went to a restaurant to get a lunch, and, on finishing it, felt for my pocketbook, and found it gone."

"Was there much in it?"

"No sum of any consequence. Between twenty and thirty dollars, I believe. There were, however, some papers of value, which I shall be sorry to lose."

"I hardly think you could have left it here. However, I will inquire. Mr. Pratt, have you seen anything of Mr. Walton's pocketbook?"

"No, sir," said the bookkeeper, promptly.

"Herbert, have you seen it?"

"No, sir," said our hero.

"Thomas?"

Tom Stanton was assailed by a sudden and dangerous temptation. His dislike to Herbert had been increased in various ways, and especially had been rendered more intense by the independent tone assumed by our hero in the conversation which had taken place between them that very morning. Now, here was an opportunity of getting him into disgrace, and probably cause him to lose his situation. True, he would have to tell a falsehood, but Tom had never been a scrupulous lover of truth, and would violate it for a less object without any particular compunction.

He hesitated when the question was asked him, and thus, as he expected, fixed Mr. Godfrey's attention.

"Why don't you answer, Thomas?" he said, in surprise.

"I don't like to," said Tom, artfully.

"Why not?" demanded his employer, suspiciously.

"Because I don't want to get anybody into trouble."

"Speak out what you mean."

"If you insist upon it," said Tom, with pretended reluctance, "I suppose I must obey you."

"Of course, if any wrong has been done, it is your duty to expose it."

"Then, sir," said Tom. "I saw Mason pick up a wallet from the floor, and put it in his pocket just after the gentleman went out. He did it so quickly that no one probably observed it but myself."

Herbert listened to this accusation as if stunned. It was utterly beyond his conception how anyone could be guilty of such a deliberate falsehood as he had just listened to. So he remained silent, and this operated against him.

"Herbert," said Mr. Godfrey, mildly, for he was unwilling to believe our hero guilty of intentional dishonesty, "you should have mentioned having found the pocketbook."

"So I would, sir," said Herbert, having found his voice at last, "if I had found one."

"Do you mean to say that you have not?" demanded Mr. Godfrey, with a searching look.

"Yes, sir," said Herbert, firmly.

"What, then, does Thomas mean when he asserts that he saw you do so?"

"I don't know, sir. I think he means to injure me, as I have noticed ever since I entered the office that he seems to dislike me."

"How is that, Thomas? Do you again declare that you saw Herbert pick up the wallet?

"I do," said Tom, boldly. "Of course, I expected that he would deny it. I leave it to you, sir, if he does not show his guilt in his face? Just look at him!"

Now it, unfortunately for Herbert, happened that his indignation had brought a flush to his face, and he certainly did look as a guilty person is supposed to do. Mr. Godfrey observed this, and his heart sank within him, for, unable to conceive of such wickedness as Tom's, he saw no other way except to believe in Herbert's guilt.

"Have you nothing to say, Herbert?" he asked, more in sorrow than in anger.

"No, sir," said Herbert, in a low voice; "nothing, except what I have already said. Tom has uttered a wicked falsehood, and he knows it."

"Of course, I expected you would say that," said Tom, with effrontery.

"This is a serious charge, Herbert," proceeded Mr. Godfrey. "I shall have to ask you to produce whatever you have in your pockets."

"Certainly, sir," said our hero, calmly.

But, as he spoke, it flashed upon him that he had in his pocket twenty- six dollars, and the discovery of this sum would be likely to involve him in suspicion. He could, indeed, explain where he got it; but would his explanation be believed? Under present circumstances, he feared that it would not. So it was with a sinking heart that he drew out the contents of his pockets, and among them his own pocketbook.

"Is that yours?" asked Mr. Godfrey, turning to Mr. Walton.

"No, it is not; but he may have transferred my money to it."

Upon this hint, Mr. Godfrey opened the pocketbook, and drew out the small roll of bills, which he proceeded to count.

"Twenty-six dollars," he said. "How much did you lose?"

"Between twenty and thirty dollars. I cannot be sure how much."

"Here are two tens and three twos."

"I had two tens. I don't remember the denomination of the other bills."

Even Tom was struck with astonishment at this discovery. He knew that his charge was groundless, yet here it was substantiated in a very remarkable manner. Was it possible that he had, after all, struck upon the truth of the matter? He did not know what to think.

"Herbert," said his employer, sorrowfully, "this discovery gives me more pain than I can express. I had a very high idea of you. I could not have believed you capable of so mean a thing as deliberate dishonesty."

"I am not guilty," said Herbert, proudly.

"How can you say this in the face of all this evidence? Do you mean to say that this money is yours?"

"I do," said Herbert, firmly.

"Where could you have got it?" said his employer, incredulously. "Did you not tell me when you entered my employ that you were almost penniless? You have been with me three weeks only, and half your wages have been paid for board."

"Yes, sir; you are right."

"What explanation, then, can you offer? Your case looks bad."

"The six dollars I saved from my wages, at the rate of two dollars a week. The twenty dollars is a part of the money I was robbed of. I succeeded in recovering forty dollars of it yesterday."

Here, Herbert related the circumstances already known to the reader.

"A likely story," said Tom, scornfully.

"Be silent, Thomas," said Mr. Godfrey. "Your story does not seem probable," he proceeded, speaking to Herbert.

"It is true, sir," said our hero, firmly.

"What could he have done with your wallet, however?" said the merchant, turning to Mr. Walton.

"He has been out to the post office since," said Tom. "He might have thrown it away."

This unfortunately for Herbert, was true. He had been out, and, of course, could have disposed of the wallet in the way mentioned.

"I don't know what to think, Mr. Walton," said Mr. Godfrey. "I'm afraid the boy's guilty."

"I'm afraid so. I don't care so much for the money, if he will give me back the papers."

"I can't do it, sir," said Herbert, "for I never had them."

"What shall we do?"

"The other boy declares that he saw this one take the wallet from the floor, where I probably dropped it. It seems to me that settles the matter."

"I am afraid it does."

"Once more, Herbert, will you confess?" asked Mr. Godfrey.

"I can only say, sir, that I am innocent."

"Mr. Walton, what shall we do?"

"Let the boy go. I will leave it to his honor to return me the papers, and he may keep the money. I think he will make up his mind to do so by tomorrow."

"You hear, Herbert," said Mr. Godfrey. "While this matter remains in doubt, you cannot retain your situation."

"Thank you, Mr. Walton, for your indulgence," said Herbert; "but I am sorry you think me guilty. The truth will some time appear. I shall TRY to do my duty, and TRUST to God to clear me."

He took his hat and left the counting-room with a heavy heart, feeling himself in disgrace.

"I had great confidence in that boy, Walton," said Mr. Godfrey. "Even now, I can hardly believe him guilty."