III. The Theft
Frank was very pale when his brother finally came to him at the appointed place. He sat limply in his chair, his eyes fixed upon the floor.
"Come, brace up now, Frank, and tell me about it."
At the sound of his brother's voice he started and looked up as though he had been dreaming.
"I don't know what you 'll think of me, Maurice," he said; "I have never before been guilty of such criminal carelessness."
"Don't stop to accuse yourself. Our only hope in this matter lies in prompt action. Where was the money?"
"In the oak cabinet and lying in the bureau drawer. Such a thing as a theft seemed so foreign to this place that I was never very particular about the box. But I did not know until I went to it to-night that the last time I had opened it I had forgotten to take the key out. It all flashed over me in a second when I saw it shining there. Even then I did n't suspect anything. You don't know how I felt to open that cabinet and find all my money gone. It 's awful."
"Don't worry. How much was there in all?"
"Nine hundred and eighty-six dollars, most of which, I am ashamed to say, I had accepted from you."
"You have no right to talk that way, Frank; you know I do not begrudge a cent you want. I have never felt that my father did quite right in leaving me the bulk of the fortune; but we won't discuss that now. What I want you to understand, though, is that the money is yours as well as mine, and you are always welcome to it."
The artist shook his head. "No, Maurice," he said, "I can accept no more from you. I have already used up all my own money and too much of yours in this hopeless fight. I don't suppose I was ever cut out for an artist, or I 'd have done something really notable in this time, and would not be a burden upon those who care for me. No, I 'll give up going to Paris and find some work to do."
"Frank, Frank, be silent. This is nonsense, Give up your art? You shall not do it. You shall go to Paris as usual. Leslie and I have perfect faith in you. You shall not give up on account of this misfortune. What are the few paltry dollars to me or to you?"
"Nothing, nothing, I know. It is n't the money, it 's the principle of the thing."
"Principle be hanged! You go back to Paris to-morrow, just as you had planned. I do not ask it, I command it."
The younger man looked up quickly.
"Pardon me, Frank, for using those words and at such a time. You know how near my heart your success lies, and to hear you talk of giving it all up makes me forget myself. Forgive me, but you 'll go back, won't you?"
"You are too good, Maurice," said Frank impulsively, "and I will go back, and I 'll try to redeem myself."
"There is no redeeming of yourself to do, my dear boy; all you have to do is to mature yourself. We 'll have a detective down and see what we can do in this matter."
Frank gave a scarcely perceptible start. "I do so hate such things," he said; "and, anyway, what 's the use? They 'll never find out where the stuff went to."
"Oh, you need not be troubled in this matter. I know that such things must jar on your delicate nature. But I am a plain hard-headed business man, and I can attend to it without distaste."
"But I hate to shove everything unpleasant off on you, It 's what I 've been doing all my life."
"Never mind that. Now tell me, who was the last person you remember in your room?"
"Oh, Esterton was up there awhile before dinner. But he was not alone two minutes."
"Why, he would be out of the question anyway. Who else?"
"Hamilton was up yesterday."
"Yes, for a while. His boy, Joe, shaved me, and Jack was up for a while brushing my clothes."
"Then it lies between Jack and Joe?"
"Neither one was left alone, though."
"Then only Hamilton and Esterton have been alone for any time in your room since you left the key in your cabinet?"
"Those are the only ones of whom I know anything. What others went in during the day, of course, I know nothing about. It could n't have been either Esterton or Hamilton."
"Not Esterton, no."
"And Hamilton is beyond suspicion."
"No servant is beyond suspicion."
"I would trust Hamilton anywhere," said Frank stoutly, "and with anything."
"That 's noble of you, Frank, and I would have done the same, but we must remember that we are not in the old days now. The negroes are becoming less faithful and less contented, and more 's the pity, and a deal more ambitious, although I have never had any unfaithfulness on the part of Hamilton to complain of before."
"Then do not condemn him now."
"I shall not condemn any one until I have proof positive of his guilt or such clear circumstantial evidence that my reason is satisfied."
"I do not believe that you will ever have that against old Hamilton."
"This spirit of trust does you credit, Frank, and I very much hope that you may be right. But as soon as a negro like Hamilton learns the value of money and begins to earn it, at the same time he begins to covet some easy and rapid way of securing it. The old negro knew nothing of the value of money. When he stole, he stole hams and bacon and chickens. These were his immediate necessities and the things he valued. The present laughs at this tendency without knowing the cause. The present negro resents the laugh, and he has learned to value other things than those which satisfy his belly."
Frank looked bored.
"But pardon me for boring you. I know you want to go to bed. Go and leave everything to me."
The young man reluctantly withdrew, and Maurice went to the telephone and rung up the police station.
As Maurice had said, he was a plain, hard-headed business man, and it took very few words for him to put the Chief of Police in possession of the principal facts of the case. A detective was detailed to take charge of the case, and was started immediately, so that he might be upon the ground as soon after the commission of the crime as possible.
When he came he insisted that if he was to do anything he must question the robbed man and search his room at once. Oakley protested, but the detective was adamant. Even now the presence in the room of a man uninitiated into the mysteries of criminal methods might be destroying the last vestige of a really important clue. The master of the house had no alternative save to yield. Together they went to the artist's room. A light shone out through the crack under the door.
"I am sorry to disturb you again, Frank, but may we come in?"
"Who is with you?"
"I did not know he was to come to-night."
"The chief thought it better."
"All right in a moment."
There was a sound of moving around, and in a short time the young fellow, partly undressed, opened the door.
To the detective's questions he answered in substance what he had told before. He also brought out the cabinet. It was a strong oak box, uncarven, but bound at the edges with brass. The key was still in the lock, where Frank had left it on discovering his loss. They raised the lid. The cabinet contained two compartments, one for letters and a smaller one for jewels and trinkets.
"When you opened this cabinet, your money was gone?"
"Were any of your papers touched?"
"How about your jewels?"
"I have but few and they were elsewhere."
The detective examined the room carefully, its approaches, and the hall-ways without. He paused knowingly at a window that overlooked the flat top of a porch.
"Do you ever leave this window open?"
"It is almost always so."
"Is this porch on the front of the house?"
"No, on the side."
"What else is out that way?"
Frank and Maurice looked at each other. The younger man hesitated and put his hand to his head. Maurice answered grimly, "My butler's cottage is on that side and a little way back."
"Uh huh! and your butler is, I believe, the Hamilton whom the young gentleman mentioned some time ago."
Frank's face was really very white now. The detective nodded again.
"I think I have a clue," he said simply. "I will be here again to-morrow morning."
"But I shall be gone," said Frank.
"You will hardly be needed, anyway."
The artist gave a sigh of relief. He hated to be involved in unpleasant things. He went as far as the outer door with his brother and the detective. As he bade the officer good-night and hurried up the hall, Frank put his hand to his head again with a convulsive gesture, as if struck by a sudden pain.
"Come, come, Frank, you must take a drink now and go to bed," said Oakley.
"I am completely unnerved."
"I know it, and I am no less shocked than you. But we 've got to face it like men."
They passed into the dining-room, where Maurice poured out some brandy for his brother and himself. "Who would have thought it?" he asked, as he tossed his own down.
"Not I. I had hoped against hope up until the last that it would turn out to be a mistake."
"Nothing angers me so much as being deceived by the man I have helped and trusted. I should feel the sting of all this much less if the thief had come from the outside, broken in, and robbed me, but this, after all these years, is too low."
"Don't be hard on a man, Maurice; one never knows what prompts him to a deed. And this evidence is all circumstantial."
"It is plain enough for me. You are entirely too kind-hearted, Frank. But I see that this thing has worn you out. You must not stand here talking. Go to bed, for you must be fresh for to-morrow morning's journey to New York."
Frank Oakley turned away towards his room. His face was haggard, and he staggered as he walked. His brother looked after him with a pitying and affectionate gaze.
"Poor fellow," he said, "he is so delicately constructed that he cannot stand such shocks as these;" and then he added: "To think of that black hound's treachery! I 'll give him all that the law sets down for him."
He found Mrs. Oakley asleep when he reached the room, but he awakened her to tell her the story. She was horror-struck. It was hard to have to believe this awful thing of an old servant, but she agreed with him that Hamilton must be made an example of when the time came. Before that, however, he must not know that he was suspected.
They fell asleep, he with thoughts of anger and revenge, and she grieved and disappointed.