THE MISSING SLEEVE BUTTON

“That boy evidently suspects me,” thought Renwick Bates, contracting
his forehead. “He is altogether too smart. With the help of his uncle,
whose suspicions are already excited, he may make me trouble. I must
take a bold course, and make the accusations look ridiculous.”

Squire Bates kept on his way till he reached Rockmount, and drove at
once to the office of Thomas Marks.

“How do you do, Squire Bates?” asked the agent politely.

“Very well, thank you. I suppose you have heard of the robbery?”

“To what do you allude?”

“Adin Dunham was stopped on his way home yesterday, and robbed of a
thousand dollars!”

“You don’t mean it?” returned the agent. “Why I paid him that money
with my own hands.”

“So I supposed. Why didn’t you give him a check?”

“He preferred the bills. Besides, as you have no bank at Waterford, he
could have done nothing with the check.”

“That is true; I didn’t think of that. But it’s a pity as it happened.”

“Can you tell me any of the details of the robbery?”

“I talked with Dean Dunham, the nephew, only this morning. I have not
seen Adin himself.”

“What does the boy say?”

Squire Bates repeated what he had heard from Dean, though he might have
gone more into details from his own knowledge. This, of course, he
could not venture upon.

“It seems extraordinary,” said Thomas Marks, thoughtfully. “How could
the robber have known that Adin Dunham had received any money?”

“He might have seen him at your office.”

“I don’t pay money to every one that calls upon me,” said Marks,
smiling.

“No, or I should call for my installment,” returned the squire
jocosely. “Perhaps it might have been some one connected with the hotel
company. I suppose they knew the money was to be called for to-day?”

“Yes.”

“By the way, in what shape did you pay the money?”

“You mean in bills of what denomination?”

“Yes.”

“In fifty-dollar bills.”

“Twenty fifties then?”

“Yes.”

“That information may prove important. Were the bills all on one bank?”

“No, from several. Some, I think, were silver certificates.”

“If this had happened in England the numbers of the notes would have
been noted.”

“Exactly. That is one advantage the English detectives have over ours.
May I ask if you have been retained by Adin Dunham to work out the
case?”

“No; I haven’t even seen him since the robbery, but as he is a neighbor
I naturally take an interest in the affair. If I can do anything to
ferret out the thief, or recover the money, I will do so gladly, and it
shall cost Dunham nothing.”

“Your words do you credit, Squire Bates,” said the agent, warmly.

“I think I have misjudged Bates. He is a better man than I gave him
credit for,” reflected Thomas Marks.

“I sympathize with the poor man heartily,” continued the squire,
following up the favorable impression which he could see that he had
made. “A thousand dollars is a fortune to him. To us, Mr. Marks, it
would not be so important.”

“Speak for yourself, squire. I am by no means a millionaire.”

“Nor I,” rejoined Squire Bates, laughing. “The assessors of Waterford
would be glad if I were.”

“Still I don’t think you are in any danger of going to the poor house,”
continued the agent.

“Well, no, perhaps not. But I must be getting home. I suppose you will
warn the merchants here to look out for any fifty-dollar bills that may
be offered them.”

“Yes; it is a good suggestion. I don’t think, however, that the robber
will be apt to spend his money in this neighborhood.”

“I presume not. From all I can gather he is a wandering tramp, who
possibly only expected to get a few dollars, and will probably be quite
bewildered when he finds what a haul he has made.”

“I hope for poor Dunham’s sake he will be found out.”

“Amen to that!” said Squire Bates, with a queer smile.

“What a droll world it is!” soliloquized the lawyer as he turned his
horse’s head towards Waterford. “How that worthy Marks would have been
astonished if he had known that the bold and audacious robber had been
holding a conversation with him! I must send away those fifty-dollar
notes. Their use in this neighborhood would be suicidal.

“I think my call upon this man Marks is a clever stroke!” the squire
complacently continued musing to himself. “I must venture upon a
still bolder, stroke, and call upon Adin Dunham, though under the
circumstances I feel rather nervous about it. If that young Dean were
out of the way I should feel more comfortable. It may be necessary to
get rid of him, but that can wait. I understand from my boy Brandon
that Dean treated him very disrespectfully, not to say insolently, only
yesterday. As Brandon truly remarks, the boy is as proud as he is poor,
and doesn’t know his place. A working boy occupies an humble position,
and owes deference to his superiors in station. I might have him
arrested for taking possession of Brandon’s boat by violence, but at
present it would not be politic. Our turn will come after a while, and
then Dean Dunham must look out!”

When Squire Bates reached Waterford he drove to the house of Adin
Dunham. Dean was standing in the yard.

“Please hold my horse, Dean,” said the squire pleasantly, “I am going
to call upon your uncle.”

“I don’t know whether he can see you, sir,” said Dean, doubtfully.

“At any rate I can ask. I called on Mr. Marks, from whom your uncle
received the money.”

“Did you learn anything, sir?”

“Yes, I learned that the money was paid in fifty-dollar bills—just
twenty of them. You can see that this is important. If any one in this
neighborhood offers a fifty-dollar bill in payment for any article it
should be investigated.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dean regarded the squire with a puzzled expression. He seemed to take
so much interest in the matter of the robbery, to be so desirous of
throwing obstacles in the way of the thief, that Dean began to think
his suspicions unwarranted. Yet there was his uncle’s description of
the robber, and again there was the tell-tale sleeve button in his
pocket.

“It beats me!” was Dean’s conclusion. “Things may clear up, but at
present it seems particularly foggy.”

“Please ask your aunt if I may see Mr. Dunham,” said the squire. “I
will tie the horse.”

Dean went in and proffered the request, adding, “Squire Bates has just
returned from Rockmount, where he had an interview with the man who
gave uncle the money. He says it was all in fifty-dollar bills.”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Dunham, doubtfully. “Perhaps it may be as
well to let the squire go in. We ought to be doin’ somethin’ to catch
the thief, and the squire’s a lawyer.”

So it happened that without notification to Dunham she entered the sick
room followed by the squire.

“Adin, I’ve brought Squire Bates to see you,” she said soothingly.

Instantly Dunham became excited and manifested alarm.

“Take him away!” he cried, apparently warding off an attack with his
hands. “He is the man that robbed me!”

The squire was prepared for this, and he had decided what to do.

“What!” he exclaimed in a tone of concern, “is poor Dunham’s mind
affected?”

“Yes, I fear the shock was too much for him,” said Mrs. Dunham,
sorrowfully. “What in the world should have put such an idea into his
head?”

“I tell you he is the man that robbed me!” exclaimed Adin Dunham. “I
know him by those long teeth. Give me back my thousand dollars, Squire
Bates!” he continued piteously. “They were all I had.”

“Poor man! I am inexpressibly shocked. I see that my presence excites
him, and I will go.”

“I hope you will excuse his words, squire. He doesn’t know what he
says.”

“Yes, he does, and he means it too. That man knew I was to bring back a
large sum of money, and he lay in wait for me.”

“I had better go, I think,” said the squire nervously.

Mrs. Dunham followed him from the room, continuing her apologies.

“Don’t say a word, my dear madam,” said the squire in a sympathetic
tone. “I feel for you, indeed I do. To prove it, I will head a
subscription to make up to your husband a part of his loss. I will put
down fifty dollars.”

“You are very kind, Squire Bates. How can I thank you?”

“Don’t thank me at all, but rest assured that I will do all I can for
Mr. Dunham, notwithstanding his strange delusion respecting myself.”

“That’s clever stroke number two,” thought the squire, as he rode
homeward. “I think I have thoroughly disarmed suspicion now.”

Squire Bates was as good as his word. He drew up a subscription paper,
and headed it with a subscription of fifty dollars, and went through
the village with it. At the end of three days he came again to Adin
Dunham’s plain home, and handed Mrs. Dunham a hundred and fifty dollars.

“It won’t make up your husband’s loss,” he said, “but it is better than
nothing. I wish I could afford to give more myself.”

“How kind you are, Squire Bates!” said Mrs. Dunham, weeping softly.
“God has indeed raised up a friend for us in our time of trouble.”

“Don’t make too much of my poor service, Mrs. Dunham,” said the squire
modestly. “It is a great deal easier for me to give fifty dollars than
for your husband to lose a thousand.”

“True; but you are very kind, all the same.”

When Mrs. Dunham told Adin what the squire had done, he kept silence
for a moment, and was obviously perplexed.

“I don’t understand it,” he murmured.

“I hope, now, Adin, you will give up the ridiculous idea that the
squire robbed you,” said his wife.

“I can’t,” said Adin. “I saw him with these very eyes. I saw those long
teeth of his just as plain as I see you this minute. It’s very queer. I
can’t understand it.”

“Oh, Adin! I did hope you would get this out of your head. It almost
seems as if your mind was upset.”

“Perhaps it is, but I can’t give up the idea that the squire took my
thousand dollars.”

“It stands to reason, Adin, that if he had, he wouldn’t have taken all
this trouble to raise money for you. Why, he gave fifty dollars out of
his own pocket.”

“Did fifty dollars of this money come from the squire?”

“Yes. Just look at his name on the paper. His name is the very first
one on it.”

“Then,” said Adin Dunham, carefully counting out fifty dollars from the
roll of bills which had been placed in his hand, “I’ll give back the
money to you to do what you like with. The other money came from my
friends and neighbors, and I’ll keep it. But the squire’s money I don’t
want.”

“I’m afraid you are very obstinate, Adin. Why shouldn’t the squire’s
money be as good as anybody’s?”

“I don’t want to put myself under any obligations to him,” said Adin,
stiffly.

“You are willin’ I should keep the money?”

“Do as you please, Sarah. Only don’t let me hear any more of it.”

Sarah Dunham put the fifty dollars carefully aside. It seemed strange
to her to have so much money in her individual possession. She felt
grateful to the squire, if Adin did not.

Weeks passed, and Adin Dunham was able to go about his work. But he
seemed a changed man. All his ambition and energy seemed to be gone.
He was no longer able to do as much work as formerly, and he went
about the place in a listless manner, which made Dean and his aunt
feel anxious. Whenever he caught sight of the squire he hurried away,
apparently anxious to avoid him.

Renwick Bates did not appear to take any notice of this silence, but it
disturbed him.

“He hasn’t got over the thought that I robbed him,” he said to himself.
“Why was I furnished with these wretched tusks? If I had teeth like
other people, I should not have been identified. There’s one good
thing, nobody is likely to share his suspicion. That subscription paper
and my large contribution have completely blinded the eyes of people.
If he persists in his charge, he will only convince his neighbors that
he is a fit subject for an insane asylum.”

There was one, however, who fully believed his uncle’s story, and that
was Dean, who also avoided the squire when it was in his power to do
so. He still had in his possession the sleeve button that he had found
in the wood, but he had not yet shown it to any one. He was considering
what to do about it. He had no doubt about its being the property of
Squire Bates, and finally he determined to put it to the proof by
letting Brandon see it accidentally.

He waited for a favorable opportunity. One day when the boys were at
recess, and Brandon standing only three feet distant, he plunged his
hand into his pocket, and drew out three pennies and the tell-tale
sleeve button, showing it so plainly that Brandon couldn’t help seeing
it.

“Where did you get that button?” asked Brandon sharply.

“What button?”

“The sleeve button marked ‘B.'”

“I found it,” answered Dean composedly.

“Where did you find it?”

“Why do you feel so much interest in it?” demanded Dean. “I don’t know
that I am called upon to tell you where I found it.”

“I believe you stole it!” said Brandon.

“Say that again, Brandon Bates, and I’ll knock you over!” retorted Dean
with spirit. “Do you mean to insult me?”

“I have a right to say what I did. That sleeve button belongs to my
father.”

“Are you sure of that?” asked Dean, his face lighting up, for he had
made the discovery he desired.

“Yes, I am sure of it. I have seen the button plenty of times. Besides,
you know B stands for Bates.”

“It also stands for Bunting,” answered Dean. “How do I know but it was
lost by Sam Bunting?”

Sam Bunting was a poor, ragged, half-witted fellow, who was the
good-natured butt of the village people.

“There’s nothing to joke about, Dean Dunham,” said Brandon angrily. “I
tell you the sleeve button belongs to my father. Give it to me right
away!”

“Hold on a minute! Don’t be so impatient. Has your father mentioned
losing a sleeve button?”

“No,” Brandon was compelled to admit.

“Then you may be mistaken.”

“I know I can’t be mistaken. Haven’t I seen the sleeve button plenty of
times?”

“Very likely, but it may belong to some one else, after all.”

“Did you pick up the other also?” asked Brandon.

“No.”

“Where did you pick it up?”

“I don’t think it necessary to tell you.”

“You will have to tell my father.”

“That is just what I am willing to do. If you will find out whether
your father has lost such a button, and will let me know, I will go and
see him about it, and answer any questions he may choose to ask about
where I found it.”

“It will be just the same if you give it to me.”

“Excuse me, Brandon, but I prefer to surrender it to your father.”

“That’s fair enough, Brandon,” said a boy who had listened to this
conversation.

“I suppose Dean wants to sell it for old gold,” said Brandon insolently.

“You needn’t trouble yourself about supposing,” said Dean coolly. “If
I find the sleeve button belongs to your father, I shall be perfectly
willing to give it up to him.”

“Because you will have to.”

“Put it that way if you want to. I don’t care to keep what doesn’t
belong to me.”

“How long have you had the sleeve button?”

“About a week.”

When Brandon went home from school he lost no time in reporting the
matter to his father.

“Papa,” he said, “Dean Dunham’s got a sleeve button of yours.”

“What!” exclaimed Squire Bates nervously.

“One of the sleeve buttons marked ‘B.’ Did you know you had lost one of
them?”

“No. So—the Dunham boy has got it?”

“Yes; he showed it to me at recess.”

“Where did he say he got it?” asked Squire Bates, with a disturbed look.

“He wouldn’t tell me. I asked him, but he said he wouldn’t tell any one
but you; and, though I told him I knew it was yours, he wouldn’t give
it to me.”

“The boy did right,” said Squire Bates, recovering his self-possession.
“Perhaps it isn’t mine.”

“But I know it is yours, papa!” persisted Brandon.

“Very well! You may ask Dean Dunham to bring it to me. I can soon
decide that point.”

“This is awkward!” said the squire to himself, as he paced the room
after Brandon had left his presence. “I can guess where the boy found
the button. I must put him off the track by as plausible an explanation
as I can devise.”

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