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CHAPTER V.


AN APPALLING PROSPECT.


Never was an arrival more opportune than when Mr. John Banker stepped into the private office. I fully believe had he come a moment later he would have found me insensible. As it was it took me several seconds to recover my breath.

"John Banker!" ejaculated my uncle, and every line of his features told of his discomfiture.

"What are you doing with Luke?" went on Harry's father. "Let him up.

"None of your business!" growled my uncle.

"I think it is. Luke, get up."

By this time I had somewhat recovered, and I was not slow to obey the command. I arose to my feet, and took my place beside my newly-arrived friend.

"What's it all about?" went on Mr. Banker, turning to me.

"He says I robbed the safe of six thousand dollars," I replied.

"And so he did," put in my uncle, glad to be able to speak a word for himself.

"Six thousand dollars!" ejaculated Mr. Banker. "Phew! but that's a large sum!"

"I know nothing of the money," I went on. "But I think his son took it, and I just told him so, and that made him mad."

"My son is no thief," stormed Mr. Stillwell.

"And neither is Robert Foster's son, I reckon," returned my friend. "I've knowed Luke all my life, and he's as straightforward a lad as one wants to meet. There's some mistake, Mr. Stillwell."

"No mistake at all; and unless the boy gives up what he took he shall go to prison."

"No, no; don't be too harsh!" cried Mr. Banker. "Remember he is your nephew."

"He is no longer any relation of mine! I've cast him off."

"You have, have you?" asked my friend, curiously.

"Yes, I have."

"Maybe you haven't any right to do it," went on Mr. Banker. "You've got his money in trust."

"Precious little of it."

"Yes? I reckon Robert Foster left quite a pile."

"No such thing."

"He was worth fifty or sixty thousand dollars."

"Fifty or sixty thousand dollars!" howled Mr. Stillwell. "It isn't quarter of that sum. He left five thousand dollars, and that's all."

"Nonsense, Stillwell, he left more."

"Who knows best, you or I?"

"Never mind; you can't make me believe Luke's father wasn't better off than that."

My uncle pursed up his lips.

"But that isn't here nor there," he said. "Luke has taken the money, and he's got to go to prison."

A look of pain crossed Mr. Banker's face. He and my father had been warm friends, and I well knew that he would do all in his power for me.

"He won't go to prison if I can help it," he said. "Luke, tell me the whole story."

Despite the numerous interruptions from my uncle, I related the particulars of the case. Mr. Banker listened with close attention.

"That sounds like a straight story," he said, when I had concluded. "I can't see but what your son is just as much under suspicion as Luke, Stillwell."

"You don't know anything about it, Banker, and the less you have to do with the matter the better off you will be."

"I'm going to see Luke through."

"What brought you here?"

"I came to take him along with me, if he hadn't gone yet. Harry said he expected him up to spend the day or maybe a week, and I happened to be in the city since yesterday."

"He wouldn't leave me off," I put in. "He hasn't let me have a holiday since I've been here."

"Humph! seems to me you're rather hard on the lad, Stillwell, in more ways than one."

"It's none of your business. You had better leave us alone."

"As I've said before, I intend to see Luke through. Don't be alarmed, my lad. If you've done right all will go well with you."

"Thank you, Mr. Banker. I need a friend. Mr. Stillwell doesn't give me half a show."

"You shall have all the show you need after this, Luke."

My uncle was in a rage, but he did not know what to do. Now that I had some one to stand by me, I no longer felt the alarm I had when alone.

"For the last time, are you going to give up the money?" asked Mr. Stillwell.

"I've already answered that question," was my reply.

"Then you shall go to prison. Come along with me."

He made a movement as if to take me by the arm, but Mr. Banker stopped him.

"Not so fast, Stillwell. Where do you intend to take him?"

"To the station house, where he belongs."

This alarmed me.

"Can he do it?" I asked. "I didn't take the money."

Mr. Banker's face clouded.

"I am afraid he can. But don't be alarmed. I will stand by you."

But the prospect before me of spending even a short while in one of the city station houses, previous to an examination, was not a pleasant one. I had known one young clerk who had done so, and was ever afterwards spoken of as having been to prison under suspicion.

"I won't go to prison," I cried. "He has no right to send me. Why doesn't he send Gus, too?"

"You come along," said my uncle sternly. "Didn't I tell you we would find out who was master?"

He took hold of my arm. As he did so Mr. Canning came bustling in.

"Hello, what's up?" he exclaimed.

My uncle told his story. The new partner listened incredulously.

"I can hardly believe it possible!" he exclaimed. "Yet many things are queer here, he added," with a peculiar look that made my uncle wince.

"And I'm going to make an example of him," went on my uncle. "Take charge of the office while I take the young rascal down to the police station."

"I will take charge of the office, but don't act hastily," replied Mr. Canning.

"Now come along," went on Mr. Stillwell to me. And beware how you conduct yourself."

"I shall go along," said Mr. Banker.

Taking me by the arm, my uncle led the way down the stairs. Mr. Banker was close at my side.