Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XIII
Rodney entered Mr. Goodnow's office without a suspicion of the serious accusation which had been made against him. The first hint that there was anything wrong came to him when he saw the stern look in the merchants eyes.
"Perhaps," said Mr. Goodnow, as he leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze on the young clerk, "you may have an idea why I have sent for you."
"No, sir," answered Rodney, looking puzzled.
"You can't think of any reason I may have for wishing to see you?"
"No, sir," and Rodney returned Mr. Goodnow's gaze with honest unfaltering eyes.
"Possibly you are not aware that within a few weeks some articles have been missed from our stock."
"I have not heard of it. What kind of articles?"
"The boy is more artful than I thought!" soliloquized the merchant.
"All the articles missed," he proceeded, "have been from the room in charge of Mr. Redwood, the room in which you, among others, are employed."
Something in Mr. Goodnow's tone gave Rodney the hint of the truth. If he had been guilty he would have flushed and showed signs of confusion. As it was, he only wished to learn the truth and he in turn became the questioner.
"Is it supposed," he asked, "that any one in your employ is responsible for these thefts?"
"Is any one in particular suspected?"
"Will you tell me who, that is if you think I ought to know?"
"Certainly you ought to know, for it is you who are suspected."
Then Rodney became indignant.
"I can only deny the charge in the most emphatic terms," he said. "If any one has brought such a charge against me, it is a lie."
"You can say that to Mr. Redwood, for it is he who accuses you."
"What does this mean, Mr. Redwood?" demanded Rodney quickly. "What have you seen in me that leads you to accuse me of theft."
"To tell the truth, Ropes, you are about the last clerk in my room whom I would have suspected. But early this morning this letter was received," and he placed in Rodney's hands the letter given in a preceding chapter.
Rodney read it through and handed it back scornfully.
"I should like to see the person who wrote this letter," he said. "It is a base lie from beginning to end."
"I thought it might be when Mr. Goodnow showed it to me," said Redwood in an even tone, "but Mr. Goodnow and I agreed that it would be well to investigate. Therefore I went to your room."
"Then it is all right, for I am sure you found nothing."
"On the contrary, Ropes, I found that the statement made in the letter was true. On your bed was a bundle containing one of the cloaks taken from our stock."
Rodney's face was the picture of amazement.
"Is this true?" he said.
"It certainly is. I hope you don't doubt my word."
"Did you bring it back with you?"
"No; your worthy landlady was not quite sure whether I was what I represented, and I left the parcel there. However I opened it in her presence so that she can testify what I found."
"This is very strange," said Rodney, looking at his accuser with puzzled eyes. "I know nothing whatever of the cloak and can't imagine how it got into my room."
"Perhaps it walked there," said Mr. Goodnow satirically.
Rodney colored, for he understood that his employer did not believe him.
"May I go to my room," he asked, "and bring back the bundle with me?"
Observing that Mr. Goodnow hesitated he added, "You can send Some one with me to see that I don't spirit away the parcel, and come back with it."
"On these conditions you may go. Redwood, send some one with Ropes."
Rodney followed the chief of his department back to the cloak room, and the latter, after a moments thought, summoned Jasper.
"Jasper," he said, "Ropes is going to his room to get a parcel which belongs to the store. You may go with him."
There was a flash of satisfaction in Jasper's eyes as he answered with seeming indifference, "All right! I will go. I shall be glad to have a walk."
As the two boys passed out of the store, Jasper asked, "What does it mean, Ropes?"
"I don't know myself. I only know that there is said to be a parcel containing a cloak in my room. This cloak came from the store, and I am suspected of having stolen it."
"Whew! that's a serious matter. Of course it is all a mistake?"
"Yes, it is all a mistake."
"But how could it get to your room unless you carried it there?"
Rodney gave Jasper a sharp look.
"Some one must have taken it there," he said.
"How on earth did Uncle James find out?"
"An anonymous letter was sent to Mr. Goodnow charging me with theft. Did you hear that articles have been missed for some time from the stock?"
"Never heard a word of it" said Jasper with ready falsehood.
"It seems the articles are missing from our room, and some one in the room is suspected of being the thief."
"Good gracious! I hope no one will suspect me," said Jasper in pretended alarm.
"It seems I am suspected. I hope no other innocent person will have a like misfortune."
Presently they reached Rodney's lodgings. Mrs. McCarty was coming up the basement stairs as they entered.
"La, Mr. Ropes!" she said, "what brings you here in the middle of the day?"
"I hear there is a parcel in my room."
"Yes; it contains such a lovely cloak. The gentleman from your store who called a little while ago thought you might have meant it as a present for me."
"I am afraid it will be some time before I can afford to make such present. Do you know if any one called and left the cloak here?"
"No; I didn't let in no one at the door."
"Was the parcel there when you made the bed?"
"Well, no, it wasn't. That is curious."
"It shows that the parcel has been left here since. Now I certainly couldn't have left it, for I have been at work all the morning. Come up stairs, Jasper."
The two boys went up the stairs, and, entering Rodney's room, found the parcel, still on the bed.
Rodney opened it and identified the cloak as exactly like those which they carried in stock.
He examined the paper in which it was inclosed, but it seemed to differ from the wrapping paper used at the store. He called Jasper's attention to this.
"I have nothing to say," remarked Jasper, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't understand the matter at all. I suppose you are expected to carry the cloak back to the store."
"Yes, that is the only thing to do."
"I say, Ropes, it looks pretty bad for you."
Jasper said this, but Rodney observed that his words were not accompanied by any expressions of sympathy, or any words that indicated his disbelief of Rodney's guilt.
"Do you think I took this cloak from the store?" he demanded, facing round upon Jasper.
"Really, I don't know. It looks bad, finding it in your room."
"I needn't ask any further. I can see what you think."
"You wouldn't have me tell a lie, would you, Ropes? Of course such things have been done before, and your salary is small."
"You insult me by your words," said Rodney, flaming up.
"Then I had better not speak, but you asked me, you know."
"Yes, I did. Things may look against me, but I am absolutely innocent."
"If you can make Mr. Goodnow think so," said Jasper with provoking coolness, "it will be all right. Perhaps he will forgive you."
"I don't want his forgiveness. I want him to think me honest."
"Well, I hope you are, I am sure, but it won't do any good our discussing it, and it doesn't make any difference what I think any way."
By this time they had reached the store.