Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XII
"There is a boy who stands between me and promotion," continued Jasper, speaking in a low tone.
"The boy you mentioned the other day?"
"Yes, Rodney Ropes. Mr. Goodnow got him from I don't know where, and has taken a ridiculous fancy to him. He has been put over my head and his pay raised, though I have been in the store longer than he. My idea is to connect him with the thefts and get him discharged."
"Do you mean that we are to make him a confederate?"
"No," answered Jasper impatiently. "He would be just the fellow to peach and get us all into trouble."
"Then what do you mean?"
"To direct suspicion towards him. We won't do it immediately, but within a week or two. It would do me good to have him turned out of the store."
Jasper proceeded to explain his idea more fully, and his companion pronounced it very clever.
Meanwhile Rodney, not suspecting the conspiracy to deprive him of his place and his good name, worked zealously, encouraged by his promotion, and resolved to make a place for himself which should insure him a permanent connection with the firm.
Ten days passed, and Mr. Redwood again received a summons from the office.
Entering, he found Mr. Goodnow with a letter in his hand.
"Well, Mr. Redwood," he began, "have you got any clew to the party who has stolen our goods?"
"Has any thing been taken since I spoke with you on the subject?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"Has any one of the clerks attracted your attention by suspicious conduct?"
"No, sir," answered Redwood, puzzled.
"Humph! Cast your eye over this letter."
James Redwood took the letter, which was written in a fine hand, and read as follow:
DEAR SIR,--I don't know whether you are aware that articles have been taken from your stock, say, ladies' cloaks and silk dress patterns, and disposed of outside. I will not tell you how it has come to my knowledge, for I do not want to get any one's ill will, but I will say, to begin with, that they were taken by one of your employees, and the one, perhaps, that you would least suspect, for I am told that he is a favorite of yours. I may as well say that it is Rodney Ropes. I live near him, and last evening I saw him carry a bundle to his room when he went back from the store. I think if you would send round today when he is out, you would find in his room one or more of the stolen articles. I don't want to get him into trouble, but I don't like to see you robbed, and so I tell you what I know.
Mr. Redwood read this letter attentively, arching his brows, perhaps to indicate his surprise. Then he read it again carefully.
"What do you think of it?" asked the merchant.
"I don't know," answered Redwood slowly.
"Have you ever seen anything suspicious in the conduct of young Ropes?"
"I can't say I have. On the contrary, he seems to be a very diligent and industrious clerk."
"But about his honesty."
"I fancied him the soul of honesty."
"So did I, but of course we are liable to be deceived. It wouldn't be the first case where seeming honesty has been a cover for flagrant dishonesty."
"What do you wish me to do, Mr. Goodnow? Shall I send Ropes down to you?"
"No; it would only give him a chance, if guilty, to cover up his dishonesty."
"I am ready to follow your instructions."
"Do you know where he lodges?"
"Then I will ask you to go around there, and by some means gain admission to his room. If he has any of our goods secreted take possession of them and report to me."
"Very well, sir." Half an hour later Mrs. McCarty, Rodney's landlady, in response to a ring admitted Mr. James Redwood.
"Does a young man named Ropes lodge here?" he asked.
"I come from the house where he is employed. He has inadvertently left in his room a parcel belonging to us, and I should be glad if you would allow me to go up to his room and take it."
"You see, sir," said Mrs. McCarty in a tone of hesitation, "while you look like a perfect gentleman, I don't know you, and I am not sure whether, in justice to Mr. Ropes, I ought to admit you to his room."
"You are quite right my good lady; I am sure. It is just what I should wish my own landlady to do. I will therefore ask you to go up to the room with me to see that all is right."
"That seems all right, sir. In that case I don't object. Follow me, if you please."
As they entered Rodney's room Mr. Redwood looked about him inquisitively. One article at once fixed his attention. It was a parcel wrapped in brown paper lying on the bed.
"This is the parcel, I think," he said. "If you will allow me I will open it, to make sure."
Mrs. McCarty looked undecided, but as she said nothing in opposition Mr. Redwood unfastened the strings and unrolled the bundle. His eyes lighted up with satisfaction as he disclosed the contents--a lady's cloak.
Mrs. McCarty looked surprised.
"Why, it's a lady's cloak," she said, "and a very handsome one. What would Mr. Ropes want of such a thing as that?"
"Perhaps he intended to make you a present of it."
"No, he can't afford to make such present."
"The explanation is simple. It belongs to the store. Perhaps Mr. Ropes left it here inadvertently."
"But he hasn't been here since morning."
"He has a pass key to the front door?"
"Then he may have been here. Would you object to my taking it?"
"Yes, sir, you see I don't know you."
"Your objection is a proper one. Then I will trouble you to take a look at the cloak, so that you would know it again."
"Certainly, sir. I shall remember it!"
"That is all, Mrs. ----?"
"Mrs. McCarty, I won't take up any more of your time," and Mr. Redwood started to go down stairs.
"Who shall I tell Mr. Ropes called to see him."
"You needn't say. I will mention the matter to him myself. I am employed in the same store."
"All right sir. Where is the store? I never thought to ask Mr. Ropes."
"Reade Street, near Broadway. You know where Reade Street is?"
"Yes, sir. My husband used to work in Chambers Street. That is the first street south."
"Precisely. Well, I can't stay longer, so I will leave, apologizing for having taken up so much of your time."
"Oh, it's of no consequence, sir."
"He is a perfect gentleman," she said to herself, as Mr. Redwood closed the front door, and went out on the street. "I wonder whether he's a widower."
Being a widow this was quite a natural thought for Mrs. McCarty to indulge in, particularly as Mr. Redwood looked to be a substantial man with a snug income.
Mr. Redwood went back to the store, and went at once to the office.
"Well, Redwood," said Mr. Goodnow, "did you learn anything?"
"I went to the lodging of young Ropes, and was admitted to his room."
"And there, wrapped in a brown paper, I found one of our missing cloaks lying on his bed."
"Is it possible?"
"I am afraid he is not what we supposed him to be, Mr. Goodnow."
"It looks like it. I am surprised and sorry. Do you think he took the other articles that are missing?"
"Of course I can't say, sir, but it is fair to presume that he did."
"I am exceedingly sorry. I don't mind saying, Redwood, that I took an especial interest in that boy. I have already told you the circumstances of my meeting him, and the fancy taken to him by my friend Mulgrave."
"Yes, sir, I have heard you say that."
"I don't think I am easily taken in, and that boy impressed me as thoroughly honest. But of course I don't pretend to be infallible and it appears that I have been mistaken in him."
The merchant looked troubled, for he had come to feel a sincere regard for Rodney. He confessed to himself that he would rather have found any of the other clerks dishonest.
"You may send Ropes to me," he said, "Mr. Redwood, and you will please come with him. We will investigate this matter at once."
"Very well, sir."