A FRIEND—IN NEED

Two days later Dean and his employer reached a small town in Iowa which
we will call Clifton. They passed the night at the American Hotel, and
occupied a room with two beds. Kirby rose first in the morning, and
went out, leaving Dean asleep.

When the boy awoke he rose and dressed himself. He was putting on
his coat when he noticed an open letter addressed to Kirby which had
fallen on the floor. Dean picked it up, and was about to put it away to
return to Kirby, when his eye caught the postmark “Waterford” and the
signature Renwick Bates.

Though under ordinary circumstances Dean would not have felt
justified in reading a letter not addressed to himself, the peculiar
circumstances, and the suspicion he entertained relative to the share
these two men probably had in the robbery of his uncle, decided him
to take advantage of the opportunity which presented itself to him of
acquiring some information on the subject.

This was the letter which Dean read with an interest that may be
imagined:

FRIEND KIRBY:

I have not received the government bonds which you purchased with
the bills I gave you to dispose of. How did you send them? I cannot
understand how such a package could have miscarried if properly
addressed and forwarded with suitable precautions. I shall hold you
responsible for them, and say emphatically that I regard the failure to
reach me as something strange and mysterious. I do not like to express
distrust, but I require you to send me the receipt of the express
company to whom you committed the package.

In regard to the boy Dean you understand my wishes. I don’t wish him to
return to Waterford. It will be easy to get him into trouble at such a
distance from home that he will find it hard to get back. You can write
me a letter which I can show at my discretion to his friends, which
will discredit any stories he may invent about you or myself.

RENWICK BATES.

Dean read this letter with eager interest. He felt that it would be a
formidable proof against Squire Bates, and he carefully concealed it in
his inside vest pocket.

“So Mr. Kirby means to get me into trouble,” he soliloquized. “I shall
have to be on my guard.”

Dean went below and took breakfast, not being in the habit of waiting
for his employer. Mr. Kirby entered the breakfast-room as he was
leaving it.

“We take the ten o’clock train,” he said briefly. “Don’t leave the
hotel.”

“All right, sir, I’ll stay in the office.”

At ten o’clock they stepped on board a Western bound train. Dean feared
that Kirby would miss his letter, and make inquiries about it, but its
loss appeared not to have been discovered. They took seats, and the
train started. Dean caught Kirby regarding him with a peculiar gaze,
and it made him uneasy. Was he devising some plot, of which Dean was to
be the victim?

Two hours later the train had traversed fifty miles. The train boy came
through the car, carrying a supply of the latest novels. Kirby was not
in general much of a reader, but on this occasion he stopped the boy
and looked over his books.

“I think I will take this book,” he said, selecting a Pinkerton
detective story.

“I sell a good many of that series,” said the boy glibly.

Kirby put his hand into his pocket, and withdrew it with a startled
expression.

“I can’t find my pocket-book,” he said.

Several of the passengers looked round, and apprehensively felt for
their own wallets.

“When did you have it last, sir?” asked an old gentleman in the next
seat.

“At the Clifton railroad station, sir. I bought tickets there.”

“Are you sure you put back the wallet into your pocket?”

“Yes, I am positive.”

“There must be a pickpocket on the train then.”

“But I haven’t exposed myself,” said Kirby puzzled. “I took my seat
here, with my boy, and have not stirred since.”

“Your son, I suppose?”

“No; he is a boy in my employ.”

“Humph!” said the old man, eying Dean dubiously.

“You don’t mean that you suspect him of taking it?” said Kirby in a low
tone.

Dean heard these words, and he exclaimed indignantly. “I am not a
thief, if that is what the gentleman means.”

“Of course not,” said Kirby soothingly—”Still, just to convince him
now, you may as well search your pockets.”

Dean thrust his hand into his right pocket (he wore a sack coat) and
it came in contact with something unexpected. He drew it out, with the
lost pocket-book in it.

“Is it possible?” ejaculated Kirby.

“Just what I thought!” said the old man, nodding emphatically.

“I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Kirby.

“Mr. Kirby,” said Dean, his face flaming with indignation, “do you mean
to charge me with taking that pocket-book?”

“What else can I think? Oh, Dean, I am grieved to find you dishonest.”

“I know nothing of how it came into my pocket,” said Dean hotly, “but I
suspect.”

“What do you suspect?”

“That you put it there to get me into trouble.”

“You hear him!” said Kirby, turning to the old man.

“What shameless effrontery!” exclaimed the old gentleman. “I don’t know
what the world is coming to. Have you ever missed anything before, sir?”

“Two or three articles of jewelry,” answered Kirby, “but it never
occurred to me to suspect the boy.”

“It seems pretty clear now.”

“Yes, I should say so.”

Meanwhile Dean, with flushed and angry countenance, looked from one
face to another, but everywhere he met looks of distrust. It was clear
that the majority of the passengers believed him guilty. He understood
now the nature of the plot against him, and the letter in his pocket
would be a sufficient proof of it. But he did not wish to produce
it. He chose rather to keep it on account of the evidence which it
contained against Squire Bates.

“What shall you do about it?” asked the old gentleman, who seemed to
feel particularly hostile against Dean.

“I don’t know,” answered Kirby hesitating.

“The boy ought to be punished. If it were _my_ case, I would have him
arrested.”

“No, I don’t care to do that. He belongs to a respectable family.”

“Surely you won’t keep him in your employ?”

“No, I shall feel compelled to discharge him. Dean, you can leave the
car at the next station. You are no longer in my employ. For the sake
of your uncle and aunt, I shall not have you arrested, but I must
decline to employ you any longer.”

“Very well, sir!” answered Dean. “If you will pay me what you owe me
for services, I will leave you.”

“Pay you what I owe you!” replied Kirby, as if surprised.

“Yes, sir; you promised me twenty-five dollars per month, and I have
been with you three weeks.”

“You have received money from me at different times, and I owe you
nothing. Besides, the jewelry which you have taken will amount to more
than your wages.”

“Mr. Kirby, I have taken no jewelry, and you know it.”

“How can you tolerate the boy’s impudence?” said the old man.

Kirby shrugged his shoulders.

“I have been very much deceived in him,” he answered, “but I cherish
no revengeful feelings. I hope he may see the error of his ways, and
resolve to lead an honest life.”

“You are too merciful, sir.”

“It may be so, but he is young, and there is hope of his repentance.”

“Mr. Kirby, do I understand that you wish me to leave you?” asked Dean.

“Yes. You had better get out at the next station. Here is a dollar. I
don’t want to leave you altogether penniless. Of course I must report
what has happened to Squire Bates, who stood sponsor to you.”

The train began to slow up, for the next station was near at hand.

“I don’t want the dollar,” said Dean. “I understand your object in
accusing me of theft. I could clear myself now if I chose, but I am
willing to wait.”

Dean rose from his seat, and with flushed cheeks and head erect walked
to the end of the car, and stepped out on the platform. He stood there,
and watched the departure of the train, bearing his late employer
farther West. He did not even know the name of the station at which he
had disembarked.

The suddenness with which Dean found himself cast adrift, and thrown
upon his own resources, was enough to take away his breath. As
merchants from time to time take account of stock, he felt that it
would be wise now that he was about to set up for himself to ascertain
the extent of his means.

He thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew out a small collection
of silver coins and pennies. All told he found he had but sixty-seven
cents, and he was probably twelve hundred miles from home. The chances
were that it would cost him at least three cents a mile, or thirty-six
dollars, to get back to Waterford. He would have been glad to have the
thirty-six dollars, but he had no intention of going back until he
could carry something with him. He did not want to acknowledge that he
had made a failure.

Dean ascertained that the town in which he was stranded (for he hadn’t
money enough to get out of it) was Granville. The village appeared to
be half a mile away, and might at a rough guess contain a thousand
inhabitants. Like most small Western towns, it consisted of one main
street, with short side streets opening out of it. For a place of the
size it seemed to be wide awake, and enterprising, more so than a
village of corresponding population at the East.

After spending a few minutes at the depot Dean took his valise, and
trudged on in the direction of the town. What he should do when he got
there he hardly knew. He was ready for anything that might turn up, and
he did not worry as much as he would if he had been twice as old.

Dean had accomplished about half the distance when a voice hailed him,
“Halloa, youngster!”

Dean turned in the direction of the voice and his glance fell on a man
of perhaps twenty-five, who was stretched comfortably under a tree by
the roadside. He had a knapsack and wore a velveteen suit. Something in
his appearance gave Dean the impression that he was an actor.

Responding to his greeting, which was accompanied by a pleasant smile,
Dean answered “Good day!”

“Where are you traveling, young chap?”

“I don’t know,” responded Dean. “I suppose I am on my way to the
village.”

“Do you live about here?”

“No, I live in New York State.”

“So do I, when I’m at home, but I’m not often at home.”

“Are you an actor?”

“That’s what I call myself. That’s what I am styled by admiring
friends, though some of the critics are unkind enough to express
doubts. At present I am in hard luck. I came West with a dramatic
company which has gone to pieces. I am traveling homeward on my uppers.
Permit me to introduce myself,” and he doffed a soft hat which he wore,
“as Cecil Montgomery, not wholly unknown to the metropolitan stage.”

There was something attractive in his good-humored recklessness that
impressed Dean favorably.

“My name is Dean Dunham,” he responded, “not known on any stage.”

“Excuse the impertinence, but are you a young man of fortune?”

“Yes, if you call sixty-seven cents a fortune.”

“Dean, my boy, you have ten cents the advantage of me. If you have any
plans that with our united capital we may be able to carry out, my
wealth is at your service.”

“I have no plans except to get something to eat,” said Dean.

“I am with you there,” said the actor, rising with alacrity from his
recumbent position. “Know you of a hostelry?”

“If that means a restaurant, I think we may find one in the village.”

“Wisely guessed. If you have no objection to my company, we will walk
together.”

“I shall be glad of your company, Mr. Montgomery.”

“You do me proud, Mr. Dunham,” and the actor once more doffed his hat,
and bowed low. “If you don’t mind, my boy, suppose you tell me what
brings you out here, so far from home? I came with a combination, as I
have explained.”

“I came as private secretary with a gentleman—no, a man named Kirby.
He chose to charge me with stealing his pocket-book, and discharged me
on the train, refusing to pay me back wages.”

“Steal—with that honest face! Why, I’d trust you with my entire
wealth—fifty-seven cents—and wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep.”

“Thank you,” said Dean, smiling. “I hope I deserve your confidence.”

“So it seems that we are both in very much the same plight. We must
hustle for a living. I wish you were an actor.”

“Why?”

“We might give a joint performance, and so pick up a few pennies. Can
you play on any instrument?”

Dean drew a harmonica from his pocket and displayed it.

“I can play a little on this,” he said.

“Give us a taste of your quality.”

Dean put the harmonica in his mouth and played several popular airs in
very creditable style. He had practiced considerably in Waterford, and
when he left home chanced to bring his favorite instrument with him.

Mr. Montgomery applauded vociferously.

“That’s capital!” he said. “I have an idea. Our fortune is made.”

“Is it? I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Let me explain. I am a dramatic Jack of all trades. I can sing,
dance, recite, and give imitations. Why shouldn’t we give a joint
exhibition? I venture to say we can charm and astonish the good people
of Granville, and gather in golden shekels for ourselves.”

“But what am I to do?”

“Listen. You are the world-renowned Dean Dunham, the champion player
on the harmonica, who have charmed tens of thousands, and whose name is
a household word from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Do you understand?”

“I shall begin to think I am a humbug.”

“So be it! Humbug makes money and rides at ease, while modest merit
goes barefoot and tramps over dusty roads.”

“That is complimentary to us, for it happens to be our condition just
at present.”

“Then let us abandon it! It doesn’t pay. Will you join me, and try your
luck with the good people of Granville?”

Dean hesitated a moment, but only a moment. He must do something, and
nothing else seemed to present itself. If any one chose to pay for the
privilege of hearing him play on the harmonica, he had no objection to
receiving the money. Besides, he would be at no trouble in the matter.
Mr. Montgomery would make all arrangements, and he would only have to
take the part that might be assigned him.

“I am at your service, Mr. Montgomery.”

“Your hand on it! We will, we must be successful. In after years, when
fame and money are yours, think that it was I, Cecil Montgomery, who
assisted you to make your début.”

“I certainly will, Mr. Montgomery,” said Dean, falling into his
companion’s humor.

By this time they had reached the village. A sign over a small
one-story building attracted their attention.

RESTAURANT
AND
COFFEE HOUSE.

“Let us enter,” said the actor. “It is astonishing what an appetite I
have. If we are to give an entertainment we must be fed.”

Fortunately the prices at the restaurant and coffee house were very
moderate, and the two travelers were able to make a plentiful meal,
though it reduced their stock of money almost to nothing. After dinner
Mr. Montgomery indulged in a five cent-cigar, but Dean declined to
smoke.

“Stay here, Dean,” said his companion. “I hear there is a weekly paper
published in Granville. I will see the editor, and ask him to join us
in the speculation, sharing the profits. The paper appears to-morrow.
He can give us a big puff that will insure our success.”

“Suppose he won’t do it?”

“Leave it to me! I have a most persuasive tongue. Granville must not
let such an opportunity slip. It must hear me act and listen to your
melodious strains.”

Nearly an hour passed. Then Montgomery came back radiant. “It’s all
fixed,” he said. “You make your début to-morrow evening. I have engaged
board at the hotel for us both.”

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