Chapter XXXI. Mr. Stanton is Surprised
 

While the events recorded in the last chapter were taking place in Mr. Godfrey's counting-room another and a different scene took place at the office of Mr. Stanton.

He had just finished reading the morning paper, and, as it slipped from his hand, his thoughts turned, transiently, to the nephew whose persistent failure to claim relationship puzzled him not a little. He was glad not to be called upon for money, of course; still, he felt a little annoyed at Herbert's reticence, especially as it left him unable to decide whether our hero knew of the tie which connected them. It was scarcely possible to suppose that he did not. But in that case, why did he not make some sign? The truth did suggest itself to Mr. Stanton's mind that the boy resented his cold and indifferent letter, and this thought made him feel a little uncomfortable.

While he was thinking over this subject, one of his clerks entered the office.

"A gentleman to see you, Mr. Stanton," he said, briefly.

Mr. Stanton raised his head, and his glance rested on a tall, vigorous man of perhaps thirty-five years of age, who closely followed the clerk. The stranger's face was brown from exposure, and there was a certain appearance of unconventionality about his movements which seemed to indicate that he was not a dweller in cities or a frequenter of drawing- rooms, but accustomed to make his home in the wilder haunts of nature.

In brief, for there is no occasion for mystery, Mr. Stanton's visitor was Ralph the Ranger, who had assisted Herbert from the clutches of Abner Holden.

Mr. Stanton gazed at the stranger with some curiosity, but was unable to recognize him.

"Have you any business with me?" he asked.

"Yes," said the visitor, in a voice whose depth carried with it an assurance of strength.

"State it, then, as briefly as possible," said the merchant, with a little asperity, for there was not as much deference in the manner of the other as he thought there should have been. Like most new men, he was jealous of his position, and solicitous lest he should not be treated with due respect.

"I will do so," said the stranger, "but as it cannot be summed up in a sentence, I will take the liberty of seating myself."

As he spoke he sat down in an office chair, which was placed not far from that in which Mr. Stanton was sitting.

"My time is valuable," said the merchant, coldly. "I cannot listen to a long story."

As the visitor was plainly, if not roughly, dressed, he suspected that he desired pecuniary assistance on some pretext or other, and that his story was one of misfortune, intended to appeal to his sympathies. Had such been the case, there was very little prospect of help from Mr. Stanton, and that gentleman already enjoyed in anticipation the pleasure of refusing him.

"Don't you know me?" demanded Ralph, abruptly.

Mr. Stanton did not anticipate such a commencement. It had never occurred to him to suppose that his rough visitor was one whom he had ever before met.

"No," he said, "I never saw you before."

Ralph smiled a little bitterly.

"So I have passed entirely out of your remembrance, have I?" he said. "Well, it is twelve years since we met."

"Twelve years," repeated Mr. Stanton. He scanned the stranger's face with curiosity, but not a glimmer of recollection came to him.

"I dare say I met many persons at that distance of time, whom I cannot remember in the least now, even by name."

"I think you will remember my name," said Ralph, quietly. "Your memory of Ralph Pendleton cannot be wholly obliterated."

Mr. Stanton started, and it was evident from the expression of his face that the memory was not a welcome one.

"Are you Ralph Pendleton?" he asked, in an undecided voice.

"Yes, but not the Ralph Pendleton you once knew. Then I was an inexperienced boy; now I am a man."

"Yes, you have changed considerably," said Mr. Stanton, uncomfortably, "Where have you kept yourself all these years? Why have you not made yourself known before?"

"Before I answer these questions, I must refer to some circumstances well known to both of us. I hope I shall not be tiresome; I will, at least, be brief. You were my father's friend. At least, he so considered you."

"I was so."

"When he died, as I had not yet attained my majority, he left you my guardian."

"Yes."

"I was in rather an idle frame, and being possessed, as I supposed, of fifty thousand dollars, I felt no necessity impelling me to work. You gave me no advice, but rather encouraged me in my idle propensities. When I was of age, I took a fancy to travel, and left my property in your hands, with full power to manage it for me. This trust you accepted."

"Well, this is an old story."

"An old one, but it shall not be a long one. My income being sufficient to defray my expenses abroad, I traveled leisurely, with no thought for the future. In your integrity I had the utmost confidence. Imagine, then, my dismay when, while resident in Paris, I received a letter from you stating that, owing to a series of unlucky investments, nearly all my money had been sunk, and in place of fifty thousand dollars, my property was reduced to a few hundreds.'

"It was unlucky, I admit," said Mr. Stanton, moving uneasily in his chair. "My investments were unlucky, as it turned out, but the best and most judicious cannot always foresee how an investment will turn out. Besides, I lost largely, myself."

"So you wrote me," said Ralph, quietly. "However, that did not make it any the easier for me to bear."

"Perhaps not, but it shows, at any rate, that I took the same risk for my own money that I did for others."

Ralph proceeded without noticing this remark. "What made matters worse for me was that I had fallen in love with a young American lady who, with her parents, was then traveling in Europe. My circumstances, as I supposed them to be, justified me in proposing marriage. I was accepted by the young lady, and my choice was approved by the parents. When, however, I learned of my loss of fortune, I at once made it known, and that approval was withdrawn. The father told me that, under the altered circumstances, the engagement must be considered broken. Still, he held out the prospect that, should I ever again obtain a property as large as that I had lost, I might marry his daughter. She, on her part, promised to wait for me."

"Well?"

"I came to New York, received from you the remnant of my lost fortune, and sailed the next week for California, then just open to American enterprise. The most glowing stories were told of fortunes won in an incredibly short time, Having no regular occupation, and having a strong motive for acquiring money, it is not surprising that I should have been dazzled with the rest, and persuaded to make the journey to the land of gold."

"A Quixotic scheme, as I thought at the time," said Mr. Stanton, coldly. "For one that succeeded, there were fifty who failed. You had better have taken the clerkship I offered you."

"You are wrong," said Ralph, composedly. "There were many who were disappointed, but I was not among the number."

"Did you succeed?" asked Mr. Stanton, surprised.

"So well," answered the other, "that at the end of two years' residence, I found myself as rich as I had ever been."

"Had you made fifty thousand dollars?" demanded the merchant, in amazement.

"I had."

"What did you do? Why did you not let me know of your success?"

"When I once more found myself possessed of a fortune, I took the next vessel home with my money. I had but one thought, and that was to claim the hand of my promised bride, who had promised to wait for me ten years, if necessary."

"Well?"

"I found her married," said Ralph, bitterly. "She had forgotten her promise, or had been over-persuaded by her parents--I do not know which --and had proved false to me."

"That was unfortunate. But do you still possess the money?"

"I do."

"Indeed! I congratulate you," said Mr. Stanton, with suavity, and he held out his hand, which Ralph did not appear to see. Ralph Pendleton rich was a very different person from Ralph Pendleton poor, and it occurred to him that he might so far ingratiate himself into the favor of his former ward as to obtain the charge of his second fortune. He saw that it would be safe, as well as politic, to exchange his coldness for a warm and cordial welcome.

"Proceed with your story," he said; "I am quite interested in it."