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- Struggling Upward - 10/41 -


"I can't understand, for my part, how an outside party could open the safe," said Mrs. Larkin. "It seems very mysterious."

"There's many things we can't understand," said Melinda, shaking her head sagely. "All crimes are mysterious."

"I hope they'll find out who took the bonds," said the widow. "Did they belong to the bank?"

"No, they belonged to a gentleman in Cavendish, who kept them in the bank, thinking they would be safer than in his own house. Little did he know what iniquity there was even in quiet country places like Groveton."

"Surely, Melinda, you don't think any one in Groveton robbed the bank?" said Mrs. Larkin.

"There's no knowing!" said Miss Sprague, solemnly. "There's those that we know well, or think we do, but we cannot read their hearts and their secret ways."

"Have you any suspicions, Miss Sprague?" asked Luke, considerably amused at the portentous solemnity of the visitor.

"I may and I may not, Luke," answered Melinda, with the air of one who knew a great deal more than she chose to tell; "but it isn't proper for me to speak at present."

Just then Miss Sprague saw some one passing who, she thought, had not heard of the robbery, and, hastily excusing herself, she left the house.

"What do you think, Luke?" asked his mother, after the spinster had gone. "Do you think the box we have was taken from the bank?"

"No, I don't, mother. I did think it possible at first, but it seems very foolish for the thief, if he was one, to leave the box in the same village, in the charge of a boy. It would have been more natural and sensible for him to open it, take out the bonds, and throw it away or leave it in the woods."

"There is something in that," said Mrs. Larkin, thoughtfully. "There is certainly a mystery about our box, but I can't think it was stolen from the bank."

Meanwhile, Miss Sprague had formed an important resolve. The more she thought of it, the more she believed the missing box was the one of which she had caught a glimpse of in Mrs. Larkin's trunk. True, Luke and the widow had not betrayed that confusion and embarrassment which might have been anticipated when the theft was announced, but she had noticed the look exchanged between them, and she was sure it meant something. Above all, her curiosity was aroused to learn how it happened that a woman as poor as the Widow Larkin should have a tin box in her trunk, the contents of which might be presumed to be valuable.

"I don't like to get Luke and his mother into trouble," Melinda said to herself, "but I think it my duty to tell all I know. At any rate, they will have to tell how the box came into their possession, and what it contains. I'll go to the bank and speak to Squire Duncan."

Prince Duncan had called an extra meeting of the directors to consider the loss which had been discovered, and they were now seated in the bank parlor. There were three of them present, all of whom resided in Groveton--Mr. Manning, the hotelkeeper; Mr. Bailey, a storekeeper, and Mr. Beane, the Groveton lawyer.

Miss Sprague entered the bank and went up to the little window presided over by the paying-teller.

"Is Squire Duncan in the bank?" she asked.

"Yes, Miss Sprague."

"I would like to speak with him."

"That is impossible. He is presiding at a directors' meeting."

"Still, I would like to see him," persisted Melinda.

"You will have to wait," said the paying-teller, coldly. He had no particular respect or regard for Miss Sprague, being quite familiar with her general reputation as a gossip and busybody.

"I think he would like to see me," said Melinda, nodding her head with mysterious significance. "There has been a robbery at the bank, hasn't there?"

"Do you know anything about it, Miss Sprague?" demanded the teller, in surprise.

"Maybe I do, and maybe I don't; but I've got a secret to tell to Squire Duncan."

"I don't believe it amounts to anything," thought the teller. "Well, I will speak to Squire Duncan," he said aloud.

He went to the door of the directors' room, and after a brief conference with Prince Duncan he returned with the message, "You may go in, Miss Sprague."

She nodded triumphantly, and with an air of conscious importance walked to the bank parlor.

Prince Duncan and his associates were sitting round a mahogany table.

Melinda made a formal curtsy and stood facing them.

"I understand, Miss Sprague, that you have something to communicate to us in reference to the loss the bank has just sustained," said the squire, clearing his throat.

"I thought it my duty to come and tell you all I knew, Squire Duncan and gentlemen," said Melinda.

"Quite right, Miss Sprague. Now, what can you tell us?"

"The article lost was a tin box, was it not?"

"Yes."

"About so long?" continued Miss Sprague, indicating a length of about fifteen inches.

"Yes."

"What was there in it?"

"Government bonds."

"I know where there is such a box," said Miss Sprague, slowly.

"Where? Please be expeditious, Miss Sprague."

"A few days since I was calling on Mrs. Larkin--Luke's mother--just happened in, as I may say, and, not finding her downstairs, went up into her chamber. I don't think she heard me, for when I entered the chamber and spoke to her she seemed quite flustered. She was on her knees before an open trunk, and in that trunk I saw the tin box."

The directors looked at each other in surprise, and Squire Duncan looked undeniably puzzled.

"I knew the box was one such as is used to hold valuable papers and bonds," proceeded Melinda, "and, as I had always looked on the widow as very poor, I didn't know what to make of it."

"Did you question Mrs. Larkin about the tin box?" asked Mr. Beane.

"No; she shut the trunk at once, and I concluded she didn't want me to see it."

"Then you did not say anything about it?"

"No; but I went in just now to tell her about the bank being robbed."

"How did it seem to affect her?" asked Mr. Bailey.

"She and Luke--Luke was there, too--looked at each other in dismay. It was evident that they were thinking of the box in the trunk."

Melinda continued her story, and the directors were somewhat impressed.

"I propose," said Mr. Manning, "that we get out a search-warrant and search Mrs. Larkin's cottage. That box may be the one missing from the bank."

CHAPTER XI

LUKE IS ARRESTED

Just after twelve o'clock, when Luke was at home eating dinner, a knock was heard at the front door.

"I'll go, mother," said Luke, and he rose from the table, and, going into the entry, opened the outer door.

His surprise may be imagined when he confronted Squire Duncan and the gentlemen already mentioned as directors of the Groveton bank.

"Did you wish to see mother?" he asked.

"Yes; we have come on important business," said Squire Duncan, pompously.

"Walk in, if you please."

Luke led the way into the little sitting-room, followed by the visitors. The dinner-table was spread in the kitchen adjoining. The room looked very much filled up with the unwonted company, all being large men.

"Mother," called Luke, "here are some gentlemen who wish to see you."

The widow entered the room, and looked with surprise from one to


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