Chapter XXXII. Risen from the Dead
 

Ralph Pendleton proceeded.

"This blow overwhelmed me. All that I had been laboring for seemed suddenly snatched from me."

"You had your money," suggested Mr. Stanton.

"Yes, I had my money; but for money itself I cared little."

Mr. Stanton shrugged his shoulders a little contemptuously. He could not understand how anyone could think slightingly of money, and he decided in his own mind that Ralph was an unpractical enthusiast.

"I valued money only as a means to an end, and that end was to make Margaret Lindsay my wife. She failed me, and my money lost its charm."

"There were plenty who could have consoled you in her place."

"No doubt, I might have been successful in other quarters, but I did not care to try. I left New York in disgust, and, going West, I buried myself in the forest, where I built a rude cabin, and there I have lived since, an unsocial, solitary life. Years have passed since I visited New York."

"What did you do with your money all this while?"

"I left it in the hands of men whom I could trust. It has been accumulating all these years, and I find that the fifty thousand dollars have swelled to ninety thousand."

"Indeed!" ejaculated Mr. Stanton, his respect for Ralph considerably raised. "And now you have come here to enjoy it, I suppose?"

"A different motive has led to my coming--a motive connected with you," said Ralph, fixing his eyes steadily upon Mr. Stanton.

"Connected with me!" repeated the merchant, uneasily.

"Yes."

"May I ask in what manner?"

"I expected the question, and am come to answer it. When I returned from Europe impoverished, you gave me a brief statement of the manner in which you had invested my fortune, and showed me how it had melted away like snow before the sun."

"You remember rightly. I bought, on your account, shares in Lake Superior Mining Company, which promised excellently, and bade fair to make handsome returns. But it proved to be under the management of knaves, and ran quickly down from par to two per cent., at which price I thought best to sell out, considering that a little saved from the wreck was better than nothing."

"This is according to the statement you made me," said Ralph, quietly.

"I am sure," said Mr. Stanton, "that no one regretted more than I do the disastrous result. Indeed, I had reason to do so, for I was myself involved, and suffered considerable loss."

"I am aware now that you were concerned in the matter," said Ralph, significantly.

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Stanton, quickly, detecting something peculiar in his tone.

"I will tell you. You were right in denouncing the management as knavish. The company was got up by knaves, on a basis of fraud, and was from the first intended as a trap for the unwary. But there is one important circumstance which you have neglected to mention."

"What is that?" asked Mr. Stanton, in a voice which strove to be composed.

"I mean this," said Ralph, firmly, "that you yourself were the prime originator of the company--that you engineered it through to the end-- that you invested my money with the express intention of converting it to your own profit. I charge you with this, that all, or nearly all the property I lost, went into your pocket."

The color came and went in Mr. Stanton's face. He seemed staggered by this sudden and unexpected accusation, and did not at first make reply.

Feeling forced to speak at last, he said: "This is very strange language, Mr. Pendleton."

"It is unexpected, no doubt, for after all these years you probably thought it would remain forever unknown; but in what respect is it strange? I have given you a statement of facts as directly as I could."

"They are not facts. Your charge is wholly false," said the merchant, but his tone was not that of a man. who speaks the truth boldly.

"I wish I could believe it," said Ralph. "I wish I could believe that I was not deliberately swindled by one who professed to be my father's friend."

"On what authority do you bring this monstrous charge?" demanded Mr. Stanton, more boldly. "How happens it that you have not made it before?"

"For the simple reason that I myself did not suspect any fraud. I presumed that it was as you stated to me, and that your only fault was your injudicious investment."

"Well, I admit that, as it turned out, the investment was injudicious. Everything else I deny."

"Your denial is vain."

"You cannot prove the truth of what you say."

"So you fall back on that? But you are mistaken. I can prove the truth of what I say," said Ralph firmly.

"How?"

"Do you remember a man named David Marston?"

"He is dead," said Mr. Stanton, hastily.

"So you have supposed," said Ralph; "but you were deceived. He is not dead. I only encountered him a week since, quite by accident, in my Western home. He was your confidential clerk, you remember, and fully acquainted with all your business transactions at the time of which I am speaking. From him I learned how basely I had been deceived, and with what deliberate cruelty you conspired to rob the son of your dead friend."

"I don't believe David Marston is alive," said Mr. Stanton, hoarsely, with a certain terror in his face. "Indeed, I have proof that he is dead."

"I know the character of your proof. A paper was forwarded to you from Australia, whither you had sent him, containing the record of his death."

"Yes? What have you to say against this?"

"That the publication was a mistake. He was dangerously sick, and it was falsely announced that he was dead. That notice was sent to you, and you believed it to be true."

"I believe it now," said Mr. Stanton, doggedly. "Why should I not?"

"If you wish to be convinced, proof is at hand. Wait a moment."

Ralph Pendleton rose from his seat and left the counting-room. Two minutes had not passed when he returned with an elderly man, thin of face and wasted in figure, looking twenty years older than Mr. Stanton, though really of about the same age.

"This is David Marston," said Ralph--"the living proof that I have told you the truth."

Mr. Stanton gazed at him wildly, for to him it was as the face of one risen from the dead.

"How do you do, Mr. Stanton?" said David Marston, humbly. "It is many, many years since we met, sir."

"Are you really David Marston?" demanded Mr. Stanton, never taking his eyes off the shrunken figure of his old clerk.

"I am, sir; greatly changed indeed, but still the David Marston who was formerly in your employ. Time hasn't treated me as well as it has you, sir. I've been unlucky, and aged fast."

"I am afraid your mind is also affected. You have been telling strange stories to Mr. Pendleton here."

"True stories, sir," said David, firmly.

"Come, come, how much is he going to give you for this evidence of yours?"

"Stop, Mr. Stanton! You insult us both," said Ralph Pendleton, sternly. "I am not the man to buy false evidence, nor is David Marston the man to perjure himself for pay. David, I want you, in Mr. Stanton's presence, to make a clear statement of his connection with the mining company by which I lost my fortune."

David Marston obeyed, and in a few words as possible unfolded the story. It is not necessary to repeat it here. Enough that it fully substantiated the charge which Ralph had brought against his early guardian,

When he had finished, Ralph said, "You can judge what weight Marston's testimony would have before a court of justice, and whether it would help your commercial standing to have his story made public."

"What is it you want of me?" said Mr. Stanton, sullenly.

"I want restitution, dollar for dollar, of my lost money. I will waive interest, though I might justly claim it. But, were it all paid, interest and principal, the wrong would not be redressed. You cannot restore the bride who would have been mine but for your villainy."

How much time will you give me to pay this money?" asked the merchant, moodily.

"Ten days."

"It is a short time."

"It must suffice. Do you agree?"

"I must."

"Bind yourself to that, and for ten days I leave you free."

Satisfactory security was given that the engagement would be met, and Ralph Pendleton left the counting-room. But his countenance was scarcely more cheerful than that of the man he had conquered.

"I am rich," he said to himself; "but of what avail is it? Whom can I benefit with my wealth?"

This thought had scarcely crossed his mind when he came face to face with Herbert, walking with a sad and downcast face in the opposite direction.