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- Richard Dare's Venture - 20/35 -


Haven't you noticed the deep circles around Norris's eyes? They come from a want of sleep, and how long do you suppose he can stand that sort of thing and his work here without breaking down? Why, I remember when he came here, a year ago, he looked twice as healthy as he does now."

"Then he is foolish," said Richard. "I wouldn't want to run the risk of ruining my health, especially needlessly."

"Of course if our way of living is too quiet for you--I suppose it would be for most young fellows--you are at liberty to leave at any time."

"Thank you, Frank; I know I can, but I reckon I'll stay just as long as you care to keep me, or at least until I can afford to bring the family here."

"Norris has approached me several times on the subject of joining him in some of his frolics," went on Frank, "but I have never gone out with him."

"Does he get a very large salary?"

"No more than I--ten dollars a week."

"I should think it would take every cent he had after his board was paid to dress him. His clothing is more fashionable than Mr. Mann's."

"He certainly isn't saving any money," replied Frank.

Frank Massanet had his own idea about Earle Norris and his peculiar ways. He was almost certain that there would some day be a startling development at Williams & Mann's, but, having as yet no proofs, he kept quiet concerning his suspicions.

During the afternoon Richard had occasion again to visit the packing-room, and once more Norris, who was the only one present, approached him.

"How would you like to go to Niblo's Garden with me to-night?" he asked. "I have two tickets, and I would be pleased to have your company."

"I am much obliged, I'm sure, but I have an errand to-night," replied Richard. "I must deliver two letters."

"Well, that ought not to take you all the evening. Come along; I don't want to have the extra ticket and not use it. A friend of mine from Brooklyn was going with me, but he has just dropped me a postal card saying he is sick."

"Can't you sell the extra ticket?"

"Oh, I suppose I might; but I don't care to go alone," explained Norris. "Come, you'll enjoy it, I know."

Richard was sorely tempted. The play at the theater was a standard one, and the leading actor one of renown. Surely there wouldn't be much harm in going.

If any other person than Norris had asked him, he would probably have accepted.

Yet his reasoning on the point was remarkably clear. He was sure that there had been nothing in his own manner to draw him to Norris, and this being so, why did the latter take such an interest in one who was but a step removed from a stranger to him?

"No, I guess not," he replied, after a pause. "I don't care to go."

"Oh, well, don't then," replied Norris coldly. "I only asked you out of kindness, being as you were a stranger."

And he turned his back on the boy and walked away.

Richard told Frank where he was to meet Pep, and added that if the stolen letters were forthcoming he would take them to Doc Linyard's before returning to the Massanets'.

At six o'clock the two quitted the store together and walked over to the Bowery. Pep was already waiting for Richard. He had a big bundle of evening papers under his arm, and seemed to have improved both his capital and his time.

"Here's de letters, mister," he said, holding out the two envelopes and the slip. "I'm sorry I got 'em dirty."

For his unwashed hands had left many marks upon the white paper.

Richard took the letters eagerly, and put them in an inside pocket.

"How have you done to-day?" he asked.

"First-rate. Had luck ever since yer started me. I'm worth sixty cents now. Say," he went on in a whisper, "I'm going to pay yer back that two dollars soon as I kin."

"And how is your father?"

"He is a bit better to-day--he was awful yesterday. Can I see yer here in a few days?"

"Why?"

"About that money. I want yer to have it back. It's the first time I took anything."

"Yes, you can see me," replied Richard, somehow pleased at the idea of becoming better acquainted with the urchin, in whom he found himself taking a strong interest. "You can generally meet me at the same time you've met me to-day."

"All right. I'll have der chink in a few days, see if I don't. Have an _Evening Telegram_ or _Mail and Express_?" "I haven't any change," replied Richard.

"Ho! what yer take me for?"

And, thrusting a copy of each paper in Richard's hand, Pep darted across to the Elevated Station, crying his wares as he went.

"Not such a bad chap, I guess," said Frank. "I have seen worse fellows than him reform. I must see if we can't get him in our mission."

"I'll go right down to West Street with these letters," returned Richard. "They may be very important."

"I'm sorry I can't go with you," said Frank, "but I'm going out with mother. Will you be long?"

"I guess not. Of course I can't tell. Doc Linyard may want me to do something for him--write a letter or so, and that all takes time. I'll be back by nine, I guess."

And with these words the two separated, Frank hurrying up town, and Richard to carry his news to the old sailor.

CHAPTER XVIII.

A STRANGE SITUATION.

The road to West Street was no longer a strange one to Richard, and it took him but a short quarter of an hour to reach the Watch Below.

As usual the restaurant was crowded, and the merry jests of the sailors mingled with the rattle of dishes and clatter of knives.

Doc Linyard was glad to see the boy, and immediately asked how he was progressing and how he liked his position.

"I have good news for you," said Richard.

And he handed over the two letters.

"Are they the ones as were lost?" asked the old sailor.

"Yes; I caught the boy and made him return them."

"Did you get your money, too?" went on Linyard, as he cut the envelopes open.

"Not yet, but I'm pretty sure of getting it in the near future."

"Hope you do; two dollars ain't much, but it's something, and nowadays everything counts. Will you read these letters for me? My eyesight ain't none of the best any more, and besides, writing is kinder stiff reading for me at the best."

"Certainly I will, Mr.--"

"Avast there on that figurehead!" interrupted the old tar.

"Doc Linyard, I'll do it with pleasure."

But it was no pleasure after all for Richard to read the two communications, for each was a disappointment.

The first was from a firm of lawyers who wished to take the case in hand at "astonishingly low terms," which must, however, be paid in advance. The other had been sent by a private detective, who was willing to institute a search for the missing party for the modest sum of three dollars per day, also payable in advance.

"Just what I thought they might be," observed Doc Linyard, when the reading was finished. "You can tear them up. We don't want such outside help."

Richard did as directed.

"It's a pity that such letters should cause you so much trouble," went on the old sailor; "but that's the way of the world."

"Have you had any other letters?" asked Richard, for he had not seen Doc Linyard for several days, and thought it possible that something might have turned up in the meantime.


Richard Dare's Venture - 20/35

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