Chapter XXXIII. A Friend in Need

Herbert left Mr. Godfrey's counting-room very much depressed in spirits. But an hour before he had rejoiced in his excellent prospects, and, depending on the favor of his employer and his own fidelity, had looked forward to a bright future. Now all was changed. He was dismissed from his situation in disgrace, suspected of a mean theft. He had, to be sure, the consciousness of innocence, and that was a great deal. He was not weighed down by the feeling of guilt, at least. Still his prospects were dark. Suppose the matter should not be cleared up, and he should still remain under suspicion? How could he hope to obtain another place without a recommendation from his late employer? No; he must resign all hope of a position and adopt some street occupation, such as selling papers or vending small articles in a basket, as he had seen boys of his own age doing. He did not doubt but that in some way he could get a living, but still he would be under suspicion, and that was hard to bear.

While these things were passing through his mind he walked down Broadway, with his eyes fixed upon the sidewalk. All at once he started to hear his name called, and, looking up, to his unbounded astonishment he saw before him Ralph the Ranger, whom he had supposed a thousand miles away in his cabin in the Ohio woods.

The sight of a friendly face was most welcome to him at such a time, and Ralph's face was friendly.

"Ralph!" he exclaimed, seizing the Ranger's hand. "How did you come here? When did you arrive? You are the last person I expected to see."

"And you are the one I most wanted to see," said Ralph, his tone unconsciously softened by his friendly interest in the boy before him.

"I can say the same, Ralph," said Herbert, soberly, "for I am in trouble."

"In trouble, boy? I am sorry for that. Is it money? I can get you out of that trouble."

"It is not that exactly, Ralph. If you will come into the City Hall Park and sit down on a bench with me I will tell you all about it."

"Instead of that, let us go into the Astor House," said Ralph. "It is where I am stopping."

"You are stopping at the Astor House?" said Herbert, in momentary surprise. "Perhaps you do not know that there are cheaper hotels. Shall I direct you to one?"

"No, Herbert, I am not poor, as you perhaps think. I suppose I should be called rich; but that I can explain afterwards. For the present your affairs require attention. Come in."

They went up the steps of the Astor House, and Ralph led the way to his room, an apartment of good size and handsomely furnished.

"Now, Herbert, take a chair and tell me all," he said.

To repeat Herbert's story here is unnecessary. Ralph listened with attention, and when it was concluded he said: "The main thing is to account for the money in your possession. Do you think you should remember the policeman who aided you in recovering your money?"

"I am sure I should."

"Did he know how much money you recovered?"

"Yes, for he saw me count the bills."

"Then we must seek him out and induce him to go with us to Mr. Godfrey's counting-room and give his testimony."

"I never thought of that," said Herbert, his face brightening. "When shall we go?"

"Now. I have nothing else to occupy me, and the sooner you are righted the better."

They went out together, and made their way at once to the spot where Herbert had encountered Greenleaf. They had to wait but a brief time when the policeman came up.

"Do you remember me?" asked Herbert, going up to him.

"Yes," he replied; "you are the boy that overhauled a thief the other day, and got back his money."

"You see, he remembers," said Herbert, with satisfaction.

"My friend," said Ralph, "when will you be off duty?"

"In half an hour," said the policeman, in surprise.

"In half an hour, then, I want you to go with me to this boys employer and repeat your story. The possession of the money has caused him to be suspected, and your evidence, confirming his own, will clear him of having obtained it improperly."

"I will go," said the officer, "and shall be glad to get him out of a scrape. It was all fair and above-board, and I'll say so cheerfully."

At the end of the half hour the three made their way to Mr. Godfrey's place of business and entered together.

Mr. Godfrey marked their entrance with surprise, and looked inquiringly at Herbert.

"Mr. Godfrey," said Herbert, respectfully, "I have come to prove to you that the money I have in my pocketbook is my own."

"I shall be very glad if you can do so," said Mr. Godfrey; and it was evident from his manner that he spoke sincerely.

"This officer knows all the circumstances, and will tell you what he knows."

The policeman made his statement, partly in answer to questions from Mr. Godfrey.

"The explanation is satisfactory," said Mr. Godfrey, "and convinces me. It does not, however, absolutely clear you, since between the time of the money being lost and your being searched you went out to the post office, and you might have disposed of the pocketbook and its contents on the way."

Herbert's countenance fell, but Mr. Godfrey hastened to add. "Although your vindication is not complete, I will say that I believe you fully, and will receive you back into my employ."

"You have forgotten one thing, sir," said Herbert. "Thomas declares that he saw me pick up the wallet and put it in my pocket."

"So I did," said Tom, boldly.

Mr. Godfrey looked perplexed, and was hesitating what to say when Mr. Walton, the owner of the lost pocketbook, hurriedly entered.

"Mr. Godfrey," he said, "I have to beg your pardon, and, most of all, the pardon of this boy," indicating Herbert. "I have found my pocketbook. I didn't lose it here, but my pocket was picked in the street. The pickpocket was arrested, and the wallet has been returned to me. This boy is innocent."

"I am very glad to hear it," said Mr. Godfrey, with emphasis. "Herbert, I will try to make amends to you for my transient suspicions of your honesty. As for you," he continued, turning to Thomas and speaking sternly, "I despise you for your mean attempt to injure your fellow- clerk. You must leave my employment to-day. I shall write to your father the reasons for dismissing you."

"I can get along without your paltry four dollars a week," said Tom, with bravado. "I am not a beggar."

"You may be something worse, if you do not amend, "said Mr. Godfrey." Mr. Pratt, you may pay him for the entire week, and he can go at once."

Although Tom professed so much disdain for the four dollars a week, he did not decline the week's pay directed to be paid to him, but placed the money in his vest pocket and went out with assumed nonchalance, though, in reality, deeply mortified at the unexpected discovery of his meanness.

"As for you, Herbert," said Mr. Godfrey, "you can come back at once, and I will raise your pay to eight dollars a week. I owe you some reparation for the injury you came so near suffering. I will never again doubt your integrity."

"Thank you, sir," said Herbert; "I shall be glad to come back."

"Before this matter is decided," said Ralph, "I have a proposition to make to Herbert. I am rich, and have no one to share or inherit my wealth. I propose to adopt him--to give him an opportunity to complete his education in Europe, whither I propose going, and if some years hence you shall be willing to receive him, he can then enter your counting-room to learn business. The amount of compensation will be unimportant, as I shall provide for him amply."

Herbert stared at Ralph in amazement. He could hardly realize that the offer was indeed a genuine one.

"Do you mean that I am to go to Europe with you, Ralph?" he said.

"Yes, if you like."

"I shall like it VERY MUCH," said Herbert, enthusiastically. "How can I thank you for so much generous kindness!"

"Your companionship will cheer me, and give me something to live for, Herbert," said Ralph. "Through you I hope some day to enjoy life again."

Herbert's clasped the Ranger's hand in impulsive gratitude, while his face beamed with pleasure.

"I congratulate you, Herbert," said Mr. Godfrey, kindly, "though I am sorry to lose you. Whenever your guardian is ready to have you enter on a business career, a place in my counting-room shall be open to you."

"Ralph," said Herbert, seriously, as they went from the counting-room in company, "all that has happened seems so wonderful that I am a little afraid I shall wake up to find it all a dream."

"It is a change to me also," said Ralph, "to have a new interest in life. The past is a sealed book. Let us look forward to a bright and pleasant future. Whatever pleasures and advantages money can obtain for you shall be yours."

"Thank you," said Herbert, gratefully.