Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV


UNCLE EZRA'S PLOT


"This isn't to be altogether a pleasure trip, Dick," went on Mr. Hamilton, when he and his son were alone in the reception hall. "I suppose you got my letter, telling you about some distant relatives I need to locate?"

"Yes, I got your note, but you didn't go into details."

"No, it wasn't exactly safe, in a letter. I'll tell you about it now, and I hope you can combine business and pleasure. How would you like to sail for Cuba?"

"Cuba? Fine! That would suit me."

"Well, I'd like to have you make a trip down there, and, after you find the persons I'm looking for, you can cruise somewhere else; along the New England coast, if you like."

"All right, dad. Let's hear the story."

"I think I never told you," began Mr. Hamilton, "that your mother had some distant relatives in Cuba. One of her cousins named Rose Martin married a Cuban gentleman, named Raphael Valdez. For a time they were quite well off, but, just before your mother left us she learned that her cousin had died, and that her husband and son were in want.

"Your mother endeavored to send them some relief, but just then the Spanish-American war broke out, and all trace was lost of the Valdez family, who were of Spanish extraction. Your mother grieved very much at not being able to help her relatives, even if they were so distantly related, and I promised that I would aid her.

"Then—then came your mother's death," and Mr. Hamilton's voice faltered. "I had many cares, and the matter slipped from my mind. Now, it is to find, if possible, these people that I wish you to go to Cuba, Dick."

"In order to give them aid?"

"Yes, if they need it; but also for another reason. That reason I hinted at in my letter. It seems that, some time ago, your mother purchased a large piece of valuable property in the business section of New York. It has increased in value of late, and a syndicate has been formed to erect a large office building on it. I am interested in it—in fact, I hold a majority of the stock.

"Well, when the time came to interest outsiders, and borrow money to erect the building, for I do not care to finance it all alone, we found that there was a flaw in the deed. Your mother paid cash for the property, and she thought she had a good title, but it seems that now, when the ownership has passed to me by will, that the names of this Senor Valdez and his son are needed on the deed."

"And you want me to locate them, and get their signatures?" asked Dick.

"Either that, or bring them to Hamilton Corners, or New York, where they can sign. I also want you to aid them if they are in want. I have had several firms of lawyers, both in New York and in Cuba, looking for the Valdez family, but no trace of them can be found. I have spent much time and money on it, for I want this matter cleared up. The whole thing is hanging fire until we can get those signatures. Outside capital will not be invested in the enterprise, for the title guarantee company will not certify to the title while this flaw exists. So you see it is very necessary to find the Valdez father and son, and I hope you can do it."

"But couldn't you erect the building on this land yourself, and finance it alone?"

"I could, but it is a sort of philanthropic enterprise. It is a stock company, and the funds of widows and orphans are tied up in it. If it goes, through they will make considerable money, but i if it does not they will lose. Of course, I could step in and take entire financial responsibility, but if I did this it might be said that I had put up a game, to enrich myself at the expense of the poor who invested their money because I stood back of the enterprise. It would look as though I had invented this fact of the title not being clear, to gain some advantage."

"I see," said Dick.

"Another thing," went on his father. "Youf mother left a certain sum, under her will, to Senor Valdez and his son, and they are also, it seems, entitled to a tenth part of this New York property, and I wish them to have their rights.

"So I want to find these people, get their signatures to a deed, and the title will be clear. Then the work can proceed, the building will be erected, and all will be well. It is very important, Dick, and it is growing more so every day.

"That is why this plan of your mother's to have you get a steam yacht happens at a good time. You can go to Cuba, and begin this search for me—the search in which the lawyers have failed."

"Well, dad, I'll do my best!" exclaimed the young millionaire.

"And it will be just as well if your Uncle Ezra doesn't knew that you are going to Cuba to look for your mother's relatives," went on Mr. Hamilton. "Not that it would make any particular difference, only I would prefer that the fact did not become generally known. So, ostensibly, you will be going on a mere pleasure trip, and in a sense it will be that, for you will probably take some of your friends along."

"So I will, dad. It will be great!"

"Well, now that so much is settled, we can defer talking about the rest until after supper," suggested Mr. Hamilton, as he and his son walked toward the dining-room.

"About how large a yacht do you think I ought to get, dad?" asked Dick, as the butler placed their chairs at the table.

"Well, suit yourself about that. Of course, you want a good, seaworthy craft, but I shouldn't get one too large. If you do you'll have to engage a big crew to help navigate it; and again, while I have no wish to restrict you in the spending of your fortune, you will find yachting pretty expensive."

"Expensive! I should say it was, Mortimer!" exclaimed Mr. Larabee, coming into the dining-room at that moment. "Don't think of letting Richard have a yacht."

"We have already discussed that," said Mr. Hamilton, somewhat coldly, "and my mind is made up. Better have something to eat, Ezra."

"Well, I will have a bit of dry toast and a cup of weak tea. I don't believe that will give me the dyspepsia," and the butler tried to conceal a smile as he set before the crabbed old man the very frugal repast.

Dick and his father talked yachting from the beginning until the end of the meal, and Uncle Ezra Larabee was a silent, but objecting listener. Occasionally a crafty look came over his face, to be replaced by one of agony when Dick mentioned the spending of large sums of money. At length, Mr. Hamilton said:

"Well, my boy, I think the simplest way out of it would be for you to go to New York, and look around for yourself. Perhaps you may pick up a bargain in a steam yacht. You have my full permission to do as you think best, only, as I said, don't get too large a craft. Take a week for the task, and I think you'll get what you want."

"That's what I'll do, dad. I'll go to New York in a few days, and see what I can do."

"Perhaps your Uncle Ezra would like to go with you," went on Mr. Hamilton.

"Who, me?" exclaimed the old man, carefully picking up from the table-cloth some crumbs of toast and eating them. "No, Mortimer, I haven't any money to waste on trips to New York. Living is frightfully expensive there."

"I'll pay for everything," said Dick, generously.

"No—no," and his uncle spoke slowly, and with an evident effort. "I—I—er—I've got to get back to Dankville. I know some of my hired men will waste the oats in feeding the horse, or else they'll burn too much kerosene oil, sitting up nights to read useless books. No, I must get back. The gravel walks need raking, and I always cut my lawn this time of year. I'll go home. But, before I go, I want to have a little talk with you, Mortimer, on a very serious subject."

"All right, Ezra. I guess Dick will excuse us."

Mr. Hamilton arose from the table, followed by his brother-in-law. As Uncle Ezra pushed back his chair there was a mingled howl and growl, followed by a short bark.

"Grit!" cried Dick. "You've stepped on my bulldog, Uncle Ezra!"

"Served him right!" snapped the old man. "Dogs have no business in the house. I'd have him shot if he were mine!"

An angry retort rose to Dick's lips, but by an effort he calmed himself.

"Here, Grit, old fellow," he called soothingly, and the dog crawled up to him, limping slightly.

"Dogs are no good," went on Mr. Larabee, pointing a long, lean finger at Grit. "If he were mine I'd——"

He didn't finish the sentence, for the bulldog, with the hair on the ridge of his back standing up in anger, and with his lips parted in an ugly snarl, darted away from Dick. The animal might have sprung at Mr. Larabee, but for the restraining hand of his master on his collar. However, the crabbed old man did not wait. Toward the library he fled, crying out:

"Hold him, Richard! Hold him! If he bites me I'll sue your father for damages!"

He reached the library and slammed shut the door. Mr. Hamilton followed more slowly, endeavoring not to smile or laugh.

"Better put Grit outside, Dick," he said. "Your uncle is going home in the morning."

"All right," agreed the young millionaire, somewhat regretfully. "Come on, Grit, old man, we'll go out to the stable and see how Rex is getting along," for Dick had not greeted his pet horse since his return from the academy.

Mr. Hamilton continued on to the library, and tried the door. It was locked.

"Let me in, Ezra," he called.

"Is that savage dog gone?" inquired Mr. Larabee, with anxiety in his voice.

"Yes, Dick has taken him to the stable."

"That's where he belongs. Wait a minute and I'll open the door."

There were sounds inside, as though tables and chairs were being moved away from the portal, and then Uncle Ezra's lean face was thrust carefully out of a crack of the door, as he cautiously opened it. He took a survey up and down the hall, and, seeing no signs of Grit, swung the door wider.

"He wouldn't hurt you," said Mr. Hamilton, as he entered. "Grit is as gentle as a lamb."

"Lamb! Humph, you can't make me believe that!" snorted Mr. Larabee. "He'd have bitten me if I'd stayed there."

Mr. Hamilton did not answer, but drawing up an easy chair, and indicating another for his brother-in-law, inquired:

"What was it you wanted to see me about, Ezra?"

"It's this," went on Mr. Larabee, walking over and locking the library door. "I'm going back to Dankville to-morrow, but, before I go, I consider it my duty to make one last appeal to you not to let Richard go off on this yachting cruise."

"Why not?"

"Because it will squander a lot of money that he ought to save up against the time of need."

"Oh, Dick has plenty, and so have I."

"That may be, but it's the wrong sort of training for a young man. Richard ought to be taught the habits of thrift and frugality."

"His mother and I think he ought to be trained to fulfill his station in life, which is that of a millionaire. Did you ever stop to think, Ezra, that a millionaire may do good by spending his money, freely, not foolishly."

"No, I don't know as I ever did."

"Well, he can. Think of how many persons he keeps employed, and how he helps to give them a chance to earn their living."

"Well, Mortimer, you and I never will think alike on that subject. But will you do as I ask—not let Richard waste this money for a yacht?"

"I'm afraid I can't do as you ask, Ezra. I've promised Dick that he may have the boat, and I'm sure it will do him good."

"Humph!" exclaimed Uncle Ezra. Then his face took on a hard and determined look.

"Mortimer," he said finally, after a silence, "I don't like to interfere, but you must remember that Richard's mother was my only sister. I loved her, though I did not agree with some of her views. I'm fond of Richard, and I want to see him grow up a careful and saving man. But he never will as long as you allow him to go on in this fashion."

"I'm afraid it's too late to change our plan, Ezra."

"No, it's not too late! I'll take a hand in this myself. If you won't bring your son up in the right way, then I'll do it for you!"

The lean old man had arisen from his chair, and was excitedly pacing the room.

"Why, Ezra, what do you mean?" asked Mr. Hamilton, wondering what sudden emotion had possessed his brother-in-law.

Then Mr. Larabee seemed to recollect himself. His manner suddenly changed.

"Excuse me, Mortimer," he said more mildly. "I spoke too hastily. I—I wasn't thinking what I was saying. I—I—er—that is, I had some hopes that you might let Richard come to live with me and Samanthy at The Firs for a time. I would give him good training."

"I've no doubt you would, Ezra, but Dick doesn't want to go, and I have fallen in with his late mother's plan of having him travel and see the world. Besides, there is another important phase to it."

"Very well," spoke Mr. Larabee, and he seemed to be careful of his words. "Then we'll say no more about it, Mortimer. Now, I think I'll get ready to return to Dankville."

"Why, it's too soon. You're not going until morning, are you?"

"No, but I must get my things in order, and I have some business to attend to. I think I'll go do it now. Do you think that savage dog is out of the way?"

"Oh, yes; you needn't fear him."

Mr. Larabee cautiously unlocked the library door, and looked out. Then he stepped into the hall. The coast was clear, and he went upstairs to his room. Mr. Hamilton remained in the library.

As Dick's uncle reached the head of the stairs, he turned and looked toward the room where his brother-in-law was sitting.

"So you won't agree to my plan, to save your son from being a spendthrift, eh?" he murmured. "Then, I'll do it for you in spite of you and him! I'll prevent Richard from wasting all of his money, if I have to lock him up away from you, and where you can't see him."

After supper that night, or, rather, following dinner, as Gibbs, the butler, preferred to call it, Dick saddled Rex, his horse, and galloped over to town in the pleasant late June evening. As he was turning into the main street he saw a wagon coming toward him, drawn by a sleek, fat horse, and driven by a genial-faced lad of about our hero's age.

"Hello, Henry!" called the young millionaire, pleasantly, drawing rein. "Got a new horse, I see. How's the old iron business? Rattling away, I suppose?"

"That's right," answered Henry Darby, with a laugh. "But this isn't a new horse, Dick."

"No? You don't mean to say that it's the one you used to have—the same one that couldn't draw the load of iron when I once met you?"

"The same one. I bought him from the man who sold me the iron, and I fattened him up. The horse got rid of the ringbone, spavin, blind staggers, dinkbots, and a few other things he had, and he's all right now."

"You must have fed him on some iron filings to make him so strong," for the animal was pulling a heavy load.

"No, I didn't do that, but maybe he got out of the stable and helped himself to an old radiator or a wagon tire once in a while. So you're back from the military school, Dick?"

"Yes, and glad of it in a way. I'm going to have a steam yacht, and travel around a bit this vacation."

"My, oh my! Some folks are born lucky!" cried Henry, with a jolly laugh. "Now, if I'd only been rich instead of good looking I'd buy a yacht, too," and the two lads, both of whom were really fine-appearing chaps, laughed together.

"I'll give you a ride when you get your vacation," promised Dick.

"The trouble is I never get one," replied Henry. "The old iron business, that you helped me start on such a good footing, takes all my time. Well, I must be traveling, Dick. This horse hasn't had his supper, yet, and he needs it. So long."

"So long, Henry. Come over and see me when you get a chance."

"Humph! There aren't many millionaires who would give a fellow like me such an invitation as that," remarked Henry Darby as he drove along, while Dick galloped off in the opposite direction.

Dick met several of his friends in town, and spent a pleasant hour chatting with them, before he trotted leisurely back home. He found his father reading in the library, but Uncle Ezra had gone to bed early, as he said he must take the first train for home in the morning. Mr. Hamilton did not tell his son of the peculiar words and actions of his uncle.

"Well, Dick," said Mr. Hamilton, musingly, "I suppose you'll soon be going to New York, to buy your yacht."

"Day after to-morrow, dad."

"All right. I'll give you a letter to my lawyers there, and they'll see to the transfer of the boat, and attend to the legal matters. Now, don't buy any gilt-edged mining shares, Dick," and Mr. Hamilton smiled grimly, in memory of a visit his son once paid to the metropolis, as related in the first volume of this series.

"I'll not," promised the young millionaire, and, after he and his father had spent an hour chatting in the big apartment, the walls of which were lined with many books, Dick retired to bed, Mr. Hamilton soon following.

Dick's room was over an extension to the main part of the house, and was fitted up like the "den" of any other lad, whether he has a million dollars to his credit, or only one. There were various trophies, some swords and guns, Indian relics, odds and ends of no earthly use to any one but a boy, and a few pictures. Yet, everything in it meant something to Dick, and, after all, that is the real way to decorate a "den."

Mr. Larabee, the next day, completed his preparations for returning to The Firs, and Dick began to pack for his trip to New York. He offered to drive his uncle to the railroad station in his auto runabout, but Mr. Larabee did not trust autos.

"Besides," he added, "you might run over somebody, and then they'd bring a suit for damages, and I'd be liable for part of it, on account of being in the car with you. No, I'll walk and save the street-car fare."

"I'll take all responsibility for the damage," promised Dick, but his uncle would not agree to an auto trip, and walked.

As Mr. Larabee said good-by to his brother-in-law and nephew, he murmured to himself:

"I certainly must put my plan into operation. That boy Richard has absolutely no idea of the value of money. I must save him from himself and his father. I certainly must."

Uncle Ezra was very thoughtful on his way home that day. Riding in the train he worked out the details of a plot that was destined to have a very important effect on Dick's life.

"It's a little risky," thought Mr. Larabee, as the train neared Dankville station, "and it's going to cost me considerable, but I can get it back from the Hamilton fortune in the end, and I can charge interest on whatever I spend. It's in a good cause, and I'll do it, for I must teach Richard the value of a dollar!"

Mr. Larabee reached home, and was welcomed by his wife, who carefully watched him to see that he wiped his feet as he entered the house. He told of his visit to his brother-in-law's house, and denounced Mr. Hamilton's action in letting Dick have a steam yacht. Then, after a frugal meal, the lights were put out, to save kerosene oil, and the gloomy house of The Firs was shrouded in darkness.

But, somehow, Uncle Ezra Larabee couldn't sleep. He tossed from side to side in the bed, and, now and then, he muttered to himself:

"I'll do it! I vum I'll do it! It's the only way."

His wife noted his restlessness.

"What's the matter, Ezra?" she asked. "Can't you sleep? Are you sick?"

"Nope. I'm all right."

But Mr. Larabee wasn't. Sleep would not come to him. He was busy thinking of many things, but chief of all was a plan he had evolved to save Dick Hamilton from what the old man thought was a trip that would "waste" much money.

"I've got to do it," murmured Uncle Ezra to the darkness all about him. "It may not be accordin' to strict law, but it's justice. I've got to do it," and he turned wearily from one side of the bed to the other as he worked out the details of his plot.

"For land sakes!" exclaimed his wife at length, for she was being kept awake, "can't you doze off, Ezra?"

"No, I can't seem to, Samanthy."

"Maybe your railroad trip upsot ye?"

"No, I guess not. I think I'll sleep now. I've had lots to think of, Samanthy."

Once more he shifted his position and tried to close his eyes, but they would not stay shut. He found himself staring up at the ceiling in the darkness.

He arose, got a drink of water, and came back to bed. But he seemed more wideawake than ever.

"Ezra," called his wife again, "are you thinkin* of the dollar an' nineteen cents you once lost? Maybe that's what's keepin' you awake."

"No, it ain't that, Samanthy."

"Then, what is it?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why, Ezra. You ain't in trouble; be ye? You ain't goin' to keep a secret from me; be ye?" "I ain't in trouble, no, Samanthy, but I've got to keep this thing quiet until—well, until I'm ready to tell it."

"But what's it about, Ezra?'*

"Well, it's about Nephew Richard and his money. He'll run through his mother's fortune in no time, if I don't take a hand and save it."

"Do tell, Ezra! What are you goin' to do?"

"Samanthy, I'm going to do something desperate! I've got to do it to save Dick. Why, his father's as crazy as he is about spending money. I've got to do something desperate."

"You—you won't get arrested for it; will you, Ezra?"

"I hope not. But go to sleep, Samanthy. I'll tell you about it—when it's time," and, having thus gotten this much of the plot off his mind, Uncle Ezra turned over and went to sleep. But he did not have pleasant dreams.