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CHAPTER XVI


DICK TURNS DETECTIVE


"Well, Dick," remarked Mr. Hamilton at breakfast the next morning, "your party was a great success."

"I hope they all had a good time. They seemed to. I know I did."

"Yes, they were a fine lot of young people," went on the millionaire. "Oh, by the way, I had a letter from the man in Yazoo City I wrote to about your gold mine stock. Nick Smith, his name is. He's an old forty-niner, I understand."

"What does he say?"

"The mine is all right. He sent me a report from the government assay office, and I guess the Dolphin is as good as the Hop Toad."

"Then I'd better finish paying for the stock when Mr. Vanderhoof comes to town again," said Dick. "It will be mine then, and all I'll have to do is to wait for it to increase and pay me big dividends."

"I hope it does," answered Mr. Hamilton. "I also had a letter from Vanderhoof yesterday. He also had heard from Smith, it appears, and as he learned the mine was favorably reported on, he sent word that he'd call to-day for the fifteen hundred dollars."

"He can have it, dad," said Dick. "I guess I'll go down to the bank with you. What time will Mr. Vanderhoof be there?"

"At eleven, his letter said. Well, if you have finished breakfast, come along. You're getting to be quite a financier."

"I'm going to make that a paying investment if it's a possible thing," answered Dick, as he walked through the well-kept grounds toward the street and thought of Uncle Ezra's place. Mr. Vanderhoof was promptly on time, and had the bonds ready for Dick, who paid for them with a check. The youth, who had about given up trying to recall where he had seen Vanderhoof before, thought the mining promoter smiled more than ever like a cat as he handed over the securities and took the money.

"I'm sure I hope you double your capital," he remarked, with a smirk that showed nearly all his teeth.

"Oh, if I make twenty-five per cent. I'll be satisfied," answered Dick.

"Well, I'll be in town for a few days," Mr. Vanderhoof went on, "and if either of you would like to take some more mining stock I'll be glad to accommodate you."

"I have enough," replied the millionaire, and Dick answered that he wanted to see how this investment turned out before venturing another.

"Well, I'll be in town, at any rate," was the promoter's parting remark.

Dick felt quite like a man of business as he looked over his check book a little later and noted what he had paid out. True, he had taken in nothing since he had come into his fortune, but he knew the wealth his mother had left him was accumulating interest all the while—faster, in fact, than he had spent it so far. Still he wished that he was receiving an income from some efforts of his own.

"Never mind, wait until my stock in the gold mine and the milk company begins to boom," he told himself. "That is, if that milk concern doesn't demand another assessment," he added, dubiously.

Dick walked slowly home, and, passing around the side of the house, approached the stable. He intended taking a gallop on Rex that afternoon and wanted the groom to have the horse in readiness. As he neared Grit's kennel he noticed that the chain was thrown over the top of the house, as it usually was when the dog was loose.

"Where's Grit?" he asked of Peters, the groom.

"Grit, Master Dick?" inquired the man, in great surprise. "Sure an' didn't you send for him about an hour ago?"

"Me send for him?" repeated Dick in some alarm, for Grit, even if he was unchained, would not stray away from the stable. He was nowhere in sight, and Dick at once became worried.

"Sure, Master Dick," went on the groom. "About an hour ago a youngish chap came here and said you'd sent him for Grit."

"And you let him take him?"

"Why, sure, I thought you'd sent for him, as you did once."

"Yes, but then I sent a note, Peters."

"That's so, but the young man had Grit's leash, sir; and, though the dog was inclined to be a bit ugly, he seemed to know the leash and went along after a bit."

"What sort of a man got him?" asked Dick, quietly, though he was much excited over what seemed to be the theft of his pet.

"A young man, not very nice-looking. Master Dick, and smelling very strong of the stables. In fact, that's what made Grit finally take to him. Grit's very fond of horses and stables, sir. He'll let almost anyone come near him as long as they've been around a barn."

"That's so. Did the man say anything, or give any name?"

"No. He just said you were going for a walk and wanted Grit to go 'long. Said you was too busy to come and had sent the leash so's he'd have no trouble. He didn't have—that is, not very much—barring that Grit wanted to get hold of his leg first. But when the dog had sniffed at the leash, probably knowin' it came from you, he was quiet enough. But I could see the man was askeered of him, Master Dick. He walked to one side like. Why, Master Dick, is anything wrong?"

"Wrong? I should say so! Grit's been stolen, Peters."

"You don't say so. Master Dick!" exclaimed the man, much alarmed at his part in the matter.

"Yes, he's been stolen, and by a clever trick," went on Dick. "But I don't blame you, Peters. I remember now, I lost the leash thong last night. I had it on Grit and I took it off and put it in my pocket. Then I missed it after the party, and I was too tired to look for it. Someone must have found it, and, knowing it belonged to Grit, made up his mind to steal him. The fellow must have known he'd come more willingly after smelling his own leash."

"But you must have lost it somewhere around here," went on Peters. "Someone at the party may have found it."

"If they had they would have known it was mine," answered Dick. "No, I think someone outside found it and he stole Grit. Well, I've got to find him, that's all. Saddle Rex, and I'll make some inquiries about town."

"But it's near dinner-time, Master Dick."

"I don't care. I can't eat if Grit is gone," and with a heavy heart Dick waited for the horse to be saddled. He whistled shrilly his favorite call to Grit, hoping the dog might have broken away not far from the stable, and be in hiding somewhere, but no Grit appeared.

On the back of Rex, Dick made a hasty tour of the immediate neighborhood, inquiring of various persons he met if they had seen the bulldog. Grit was well known about Hamilton Corners, for he was often seen in his master's company. But this time no one had noticed him being led off in leash by a young man who seemed quite afraid of the brute that was so handsome for his very ugliness.

"He's been stolen for a reward," was Mr. Hamilton's opinion when he came home to lunch and heard Dick's woful story. "You'll hear from him sooner or later. Better advertise in the county papers."

Dick put in several notices that afternoon, offering to pay a reward of a hundred dollars for the return of Grit.

"Now we'll have to wait," said the millionaire. "Never mind, Dick; if Grit is gone you can get another dog," for Mr. Hamilton was as fond of animals as was his son.

"There'll never be another Grit," answered Dick, sorrowfully.

Meanwhile, Grit was being led across the country fields which stretched out back of the Hamilton mansion.

"I've got to keep off the roads," muttered the youth who had hold of the leash. "There's too many people as knows a dorg like this. I wish I hadn't gone into this game. It's too risky, not only at bein' caught, but I don't like the way this dorg looks at my legs. He looks hungry."

Indeed, Grit was in no amiable frame of mind. He consented to be led along because he recognized his old leash, and the man leading him had the familiar smell of horses, which Grit loved so well. The dog was a little suspicious, but once before Dick had sent a stranger for him and the man had smelled of horses, so Grit, though he had grave doubts, was willing to go along. But he was getting anxious to see his master, as his uneasy growls from time to time indicated, to the no small alarm of the somewhat ragged youth leading him.

"Easy now, old boy," he said. "That's a good dorg. We'll soon be there," he added, as he cast an uneasy look around. "The wagon must be waiting somewheres about here."

He cut through a little clump of trees and emerged upon an unfrequented road that led to Leonardville, a distant settlement.

"There's the rig!" he exclaimed, as he caught sight of a wagon and a horse hitched to the fence. "The worst of it's over."

"Did you get 'im?" asked a man in the wagon.

"Yep, an' I'll be glad to git rid of 'im. He's a little too anxious to see what my legs is made of."

Grit was led toward the wagon. He seemed to think something was not just right, for he growled menacingly and hung back.

"Hold 'im a minute now, until I git the bag," ordered the man in the wagon, and, as the ragged youth did so, the man suddenly threw a big sack over Grit's head. Then, hastily wrapping him up in it and tying several turns of rope about it, the sack and dog were tossed into the wagon.

"Quick's the word!" exclaimed the man, as he and the youth got up on the seat and drove off. "Now to get our share of the reward. I hope that young feller what put up this job knows what he's about."

Poor Grit, whining and growling alternately in the bottom of the wagon, tried to work the suffocating bag off his head, but it was too tightly fastened.

The mail the next day brought Dick a badly-written and worse-spelled missive, in which it was stated that if he wanted Grit returned he could have him by paying two hundred dollars' reward. No names were signed, and the hand-writing was unfamiliar.

"I told you so," said Mr. Hamilton. "But who's got him?"

"The letter doesn't say. I'm to leave two hundred dollars to-night under a flat stone, near the stump just where the county road crosses Butternut Creek. Then, the letter says, the dog will be back at the stables to-morrow morning."

"Well," remarked Mr. Hamilton, "that's a hundred more than you advertised to pay. I guess you can't help yourself. You'd better do as the letter says."

"I'll not!" exclaimed Dick.

"What are you going to do? Inform the police? They won't be able to do much. Besides, they'll never bother over a dog, no matter how valuable he is."

"No," replied Dick. "I'm not going to tell the police."

"What then?"

"I'm going to turn detective myself and find Grit! See, here is the first clue," and he held up the envelope of the letter. "This was mailed in Leonardville. I'm going there for a starter, and I'll find Grit!"

With flashing eyes Dick hurried to the stables to order Rex saddled.