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The Lost Check by Mrs. W. J. Hays

 

"I have hunted high and low for that check, Sam, and I can not find it."

"I thought it was careless, when I saw you parading it about here."

"Well, you see, I felt rich. Father never sent me such a lot of money before."

"It was your birthday, wasn't it?"

"Yes, and the governor came down handsomely. He knows I am saving up for a trip to the Adirondacks. Well, if it is gone, it is gone."

"It could not go without hands; but I hope it will turn up yet. In future you had better put such documents in a safe place."

Will Benson heard this conversation between two fellow-clerks in the warehouse where he also was employed, and it troubled him much. He was a young fellow about fifteen or thereabouts, but so steady and reliable a youth that already many matters of importance were intrusted to him. He had seen Charlie Graham nourishing a check about, and had heard him talking very largely of his plans, etc. He had also seen the valuable bit of paper lying about, and had asked Charlie to pocket it; but he had also seen some one else do that in a very quiet way, and it had so peculiarly affected him that when Charlie asked him about it, he had colored up violently, and was so confused, that had Charlie been of a suspicious nature, he would have had good reason to suppose that Will knew more about the affair than he cared to tell—which was the truth. But Charlie was neither suspicious nor careful, and, in addition to leaving the paper about, he had also indorsed it.

WILL CONSIDERS THE SITUATION. WILL CONSIDERS THE SITUATION.

Will listened to the inquiries and the comments in silence, not knowing what to say. Had he been very impulsive, he would have come out instantly with his suspicions; but he had a habit of reflection, and was inclined to consider before acting or speaking. At this moment, however, his thoughts were confused, and finding that his writing was suffering in consequence, he thrust his pen behind his ear, and sat down on a box at the office door to see if he could not think himself out of his difficulty.

He was quite sure that a theft had been committed, and that he had witnessed it. What should he do?—tell Charlie Graham, have the man arrested and sent to prison, as he deserved, or keep the matter quiet, wait, and see how the thing would turn out?

As he sat there in the soft spring morning a little bird perched itself on a budding bough, and began to chirp. As it turned its head from side to side, and peeped coyly at him, it reminded him, by one of those unconscious flights of association, of another bird, which hung in a gilded cage very near the couch of his invalid mother. He could see the little warbler doing his best to entertain the weary moments of one who seldom heard the wild birds, or set her foot in the woods. He could also see the soft draperies about the window, the climbing ivy and growing ferns, and the much-used books and work-table, and from all these homely but precious belongings came uppermost the sweet smile of affection, the placid face which, in spite of age and sorrow and suffering, had always so tender a beauty for him. Quickly he turned back to his desk, and wrote a long letter to his mother. She would set him aright, she would solve his difficulty. Happy the boy who has such a mother!

Of course he had to wait some time for the answer, and the waiting was tedious. Charlie gave up the check as lost, and said no more about it, and Will took so great an aversion to the porter, who he was sure was the thief, that he hated to come in contact with him. But the mother's letter was worth waiting for, and Will acted on its advice.

Late one afternoon he wended his way to the narrow street where lived Grimes, the porter. It was a noisome locality. Will could not help thinking what a contrast it was to the quiet, clean town where he was born, and where his mother still lived! These dirty, narrow, crowded city slums, what wonder that all sorts of crime are born in them!

He found the house, and through the dark wretched stairway at last came to a door, at which he knocked.

"Come in," was the response.

He entered, stumbling over heaps of unwashed clothing. Two or three forlorn-looking children were eating at a wretchedly uninviting table in the midst of these surroundings. A feeble-looking woman was on a bed.

"Is Grimes at home?" asked Will.

"No, sir, he's not; and I beg pardon for letting you come in. My washing was half done when I was took down with a turn, and Grimes is looking now for some one to do what I am unable to do."

"Will he soon be in, do you think?"

"Yes, sir; have a chair; he'll be in presently."

"I will wait outside," said Will, glad of the excuse to get out. He waited in the dim light of a dirty window outside, and wished he had about a gallon of Cologne water at hand. Soon Grimes came, looking tired and cross. When he saw Will he grew pale, but asked him, in a smothered voice, what he wanted.

"I have come to speak about that check of Charlie Graham's," said Will.

Grimes grew red and angry, swore roundly that he knew nothing of it, and threatened to pitch Will down stairs.

Will very firmly replied that he had seen Grimes take it, and that unless he was willing to make reparation, his employers would have to be told of it.

At this the man wavered a little, but still stoutly denied the theft. At this moment the door, which was ajar, was pushed wider open, and the woman's head came peering out; then the children followed, but they were speedily sent down into the street.

Grimes retreated into the room; Will followed, not without some tremors, but that letter of his mother's was in his pocket.

"Sure and are ye found out?" said the woman, impetuously. "Didn't I tell you so? didn't I say no good could come of stalin', Grimes, my man?"

Grimes tried to hush her, but she would not listen to him. She had drawn a shawl about her, and was the picture of woe, with her pale face, her unkempt hair, and her glittering eyes. She took Will by the hand. "As you are a gintleman, and the son of a lady, have mercy on Grimes. If it's the bit of paper ye want, I have it; here it is;" and she drew it from the folds of her dress. "I knew no good could come of it, and I would not let him use it, miserable as we are. But spare him, and God will bless you."

"I have no wish to injure him," said Will, "and my mother thinks if this is a first offense, and he is at all sorry, I had better not make his dishonesty known."

Grimes was hanging his head in sullen silence, but at this he raised it eagerly. "Never in my life before have I taken anything—but you see our misery. I thought she would be the better for something this money could buy."

"Hush!" said the woman. "I might better die than live by stalin'. You will forgive him, misther; I know you will; I see it in your kind eyes."

Will promised silence, except to Charlie Graham, to whom he should be obliged to reveal the theft, as well as to make restitution; and gladly turned away from this scene of misery.

Charlie and he had a long talk that night. They concluded to abide by Mrs. Benson's advice.

"It was very wrong as well as silly for me to leave that check where it could tempt a poor fellow; and if it wasn't for the Adirondacks I'd send the whole amount to Mrs. Grimes," said Charlie, generously.

"No, that would not be wise," said Will; "but I tell you what, let's club together and send her some decent food and clothing."

Their kindness was not thrown away. Grimes never repeated the wrong-doing. With better times came better health and strength for his wife, and when Will went home for a holiday he took to his mother a bit of Irish lace, which Mrs. Grimes had begged him to carry to her.