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- Struggling Upward - 30/41 -


"But, my friend," said Coleman, frowning, "you are putting me to great inconvenience. I must meet my friend in twenty minutes and pay him a part of this money."

"I have nothing to do with that," said the clerk.

"You absolutely refuse, then?"

"I do," answered the clerk, firmly. "However, you can easily overcome the difficulty by bringing the boy down here to authorize me to hand you the money."

"It seems to me that you have plenty of red tape here," said Coleman, shrugging his shoulders. "However, I must do as you require."

Coleman had a bright thought, which he proceeded to carry into execution.

He left the office and went upstairs. He was absent long enough to visit the chamber which he and Luke had occupied together. Then he reported to the office again.

"The boy is not dressed," he said, cheerfully. "However, he has given me an order for the money, which, of course, will do as well."

He handed a paper, the loose leaf of a memorandum book, on which were written in pencil these words:

"Give my guardian, Mr. Coleman, the money I left on deposit at the office. LUKE LARKIN."

"That makes it all right, doesn't it?" asked Coleman, jauntily. "Now, if you'll be kind enough to hand me my money at once, I'll be off."

"It won't do, Mr. Coleman," said the clerk. "How am I to know that the boy wrote this?"

"Don't you see his signature?"

The clerk turned to the hotel register, where Luke had enrolled his name.

"The handwriting is not the same," he said, coldly.

"Oh, confound it!" exclaimed Coleman, testily. "Can't you understand that writing with a pencil makes a difference?"

"I understand," said the clerk, "that you are trying to get money that does not belong to you. The money was deposited a couple of hours sooner than the time you claim to have handed it to the boy--just after you and the boy arrived."

"You're right," said Coleman, unabashed. "I made a mistake."

"You cannot have the money."

"You have no right to keep it from me," said Coleman, wrathfully.

"Bring the boy to the office and it shall be delivered to him; then, if he chooses to give it to you, I have nothing to say."

"But I tell you he is not dressed."

"He seems to be," said the clerk, quietly, with a glance at the door, through which Luke was just entering.

Coleman's countenance changed. He was now puzzled for a moment. Then a bold plan suggested itself. He would charge Luke with having stolen the money from him.

CHAPTER XXIX

MR. COLEMAN IS FOILED IN HIS ATTEMPT

Luke looked from Coleman to the clerk in some surprise. He saw from their looks that they were discussing some matter which concerned him.

"You left some money in my charge yesterday, Mr. Larkin," said the clerk.

"Yes."

"Your friend here claims it. Am I to give it to him?"

Luke's eyes lighted up indignantly.

"What does this mean, Mr. Coleman?" he demanded, sternly.

"It means," answered Coleman, throwing off the mask, "that the money is mine, and that you have no right to it."

If Luke had not witnessed Coleman's search of his pockets during the night, he would have been very much astonished at this brazen statement. As it was, he had already come to the conclusion that his railroad acquaintance was a sharper.

"I will trouble you to prove your claim to it," said Luke, not at all disturbed by Coleman's impudent assertion.

"I gave it to you yesterday to place in the safe. I did not expect you would put it in in your own name," continued Coleman, with brazen hardihood.

"When did you hand it to me?" asked Luke, calmly.

"When we first went up into the room."

This change in his original charge Coleman made in consequence of learning the time of the deposit.

"This is an utter falsehood!" exclaimed Luke, indignantly.

"Take care, young fellow!" blustered Coleman. "Your reputation for honesty isn't of the best. I don't like to expose you, but a boy who has served a three months' term in the penitentiary had better be careful how he acts."

Luke's breath was quite taken away by this unexpected attack. The clerk began to eye him with suspicion, so confident was Coleman's tone.

"Mr. Lawrence," said Luke, for he had learned the clerk's name, "will you allow me a word in private?"

"I object to this," said Coleman, in a blustering tone. "Whatever you have to say you can say before me."

"Yes," answered the clerk, who did not like Coleman's bullying tone, "I will hear what you have to say."

He led the way into an adjoining room, and assumed an air of attention.

"This man is a stranger to me," Luke commenced. "I saw him yesterday afternoon for the first time in my life."

"But he says he is your guardian."

"He is no more my guardian than you are. Indeed, I would much sooner select you."

"How did you get acquainted?"

"He introduced himself to me as a traveler for H. B. Claflin, of New York. I did not doubt his statement at the time, but now I do, especially after what happened in the night."

"What was that?" asked the clerk, pricking up his ears.

Luke went on to describe Coleman's search of his pockets.

"Did you say anything?"

"No. I wished to see what he was after. As I had left nearly all my money with you, I was not afraid of being robbed."

"I presume your story is correct. In fact, I detected him in a misstatement as to the time of giving you the money. But I don't want to get into trouble."

"Ask him how much money I deposited with you," suggested Luke. "He has no idea, and will have to guess."

"I have asked him the question once, but will do so again."

The clerk returned to the office with Luke. Coleman eyed them uneasily, as if he suspected them of having been engaged in a conspiracy against him.

"Well," he said, "are you going to give me my money?"

"State the amount," said the clerk, in a businesslike manner.

"I have already told you that I can't state exactly. I handed the money to Luke without counting it."

"You must have some idea, at any rate," said the clerk.

"Of course I have. There was somewhere around seventy-five dollars."

This he said with a confidence which he did not feel, for it was, of course, a mere guess.

"You are quite out in your estimate, Mr. Coleman. It is evident to me that you have made a false claim. You will oblige me by settling your bill and leaving the hotel."

"Do you think I will submit to such treatment?" demanded Coleman, furiously.

"I think you'll have to," returned the clerk, quietly. "You can


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