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THE FLIGHT OF JONES
Everything seemed like a dream to Brewster as he rushed off through the night to the office of Grant & Ripley. He was dazed, bewildered, hardly more than half-conscious. A bitter smile crept about his lips as he drew away from the street-car track almost as his hand touched the rail of a car he had signaled. He remembered that he did not have money enough to pay his fare. It was six or seven blocks to the office of the lawyers, and he was actually running before he stopped at the entrance of the big building.
Never had an elevator traveled more slowly than the one which shot him to the seventh floor. A light shone through the transom above the attorneys' door and he entered without so much as a rap on the panel. Grant, who was pacing the floor, came to a standstill and faced his visitor.
"Close the door, please," came in steady tones from Ripley. Mr. Grant dropped into a chair and Brewster mechanically slammed the door.
"Is it true?" he demanded hoarsely, his hand still on the knob.
"Sit down, Brewster, and control yourself," said Ripley.
"Good God, man, can't you see I am calm?" cried Monty. "Go on — tell me all about it. What do you know? What have you heard?"
"He cannot be found, that's all," announced Ripley, with deadly intentness. "I don't know what it means. There is no explanation. The whole thing is inconceivable. Sit down and I will tell you everything as quickly as possible."
"There isn't much to tell," said Grant, mechanically.
"I can take it better standing," declared Brewster, shutting his jaws tightly.
"Jones was last seen in Butte on the third of this month," said Ripley. "We sent several telegrams to him after that day, asking when he expected to leave for New York. They never were claimed and the telegraph company reported that he could not be found. We thought he might have gone off to look after some of his property and were not uneasy. Finally we began to wonder why he had not wired us on leaving for the east. I telegraphed again and got no answer. It dawned upon us that this was something unusual. We wired his secretary and received a response from the chief of police. He asked, in turn, if we could tell him anything about the whereabouts of Jones. This naturally alarmed us and yesterday we kept the wires hot. The result of our inquiries is terrible, Mr. Brewster."
"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Brewster.
"There can be no doubt that Jones has fled, accompanied by his secretary. The belief in Butte is that the secretary has murdered him."
"God!" was the only sound that came from the lips of Brewster.
Ripley moistened his lips and went on.
"We have dispatches here from the police, the banks, the trust companies and from a half dozen mine managers. You may read them if you like, but I can tell you what they say. About the first of this month Jones began to turn various securities into money. It is now known that they were once the property of James T. Sedgwick, held in trust for you. The safety deposit vaults were afterward visited and inspection shows that he removed every scrap of stock, every bond, everything of value that he could lay his hands upon. His own papers and effects were not disturbed. Yours alone have disappeared. It is this fact that convinces the authorities that the secretary has made away with the old man and has fled with the property. The bank people say that Jones drew out every dollar of the Sedgwick money, and the police say that he realized tremendous sums on the convertible securities. The strange part of it is that he sold your mines and your real estate, the purchaser being a man named Golden. Brewster, it — it looks very much as if he had disappeared with everything."
Brewster did not take his eyes from Ripley's face throughout the terrible speech; he did not move a fraction of an inch from the rigid position assumed at the beginning.
"Is anything being done?" he asked, mechanically.
"The police are investigating. He is known to have started off into the mountains with this secretary, on the third of September. Neither has been seen since that day, so far as anyone knows. The earth seems to have swallowed them. The authorities are searching the mountains and are making every effort to find Jones or his body. He is known to be eccentric and at first not much importance was attached to his actions. That is all we can tell you at present. There may be developments to morrow. It looks bad — terribly bad. We — we had the utmost confidence in Jones. My God, I wish I could help you, my boy."
"I don't blame you, gentlemen," said Brewster, bravely. "It's just my luck, that's all. Something told me all along that — that it wouldn't turn out right. I wasn't looking for this kind of end, though. My only fear was that — Jones wouldn't consider me worthy to receive the fortune. It never occurred to me that he might prove to be the — the unworthy one."
"I will take you a little farther into our confidence, Brewster," said Grant, slowly. "Mr. Jones notified us in the beginning that he would be governed largely in his decision by our opinion of your conduct. That is why we felt no hesitation in advising you to continue as you were going. While you were off at sea, we had many letters from him, all in that sarcastic vein of his, but in none of them did he offer a word of criticism. He seemed thoroughly satisfied with your methods. In fact, he once said he'd give a million of his own money if it would purchase your ability to spend one-fourth of it."
"Well, he can have my experience free of charge. A beggar can't be a chooser, you know," said Brewster, bitterly. His color was gradually coming back. "What do they know about the secretary?" he asked, suddenly, intent and alive.
"He was a new one, I understand, who came to Jones less than a year ago. Jones is said to have had implicit faith in him," said Ripley.
"And he disappeared at the same time?"
"They were last seen together."
"Then, he has put an end to Jones!" cried Monty, excitedly. "It is as plain as day to me. Don't you see that he exerted some sort of influence over the old man, inducing him to get all this money together on some pretext or other, solely for the purpose of robbing him of the whole amount? Was ever anything more diabolical?" He began pacing the floor like an animal, nervously clasping and unclasping his hands. "We must catch that secretary! I don't believe Jones was dishonest. He has been duped by a clever scoundrel."
"The strangest circumstance of all, Mr. Brewster, is that no such person as Golden, the purchaser of your properties, can be found. He is supposed to reside in Omaha, and it is known that he paid nearly three million dollars for the property that now stands in his name. He paid it to Mr. Jones in cash, too, and he paid every cent that the property is worth."
"But he must be in existence somewhere," cried Brewster, in perplexity. "How the devil could he pay the money if he doesn't exist?"
"I only know that no trace of the man can be found. They know nothing of him in Omaha," said Grant, helplessly.
"So it has finally happened," said Brewster, but his excitement had dropped. "Well," he added, throwing himself into a deep chair, "it was always much too strange to be true. Even at the beginning it seemed like a dream, and now — well, now I am just awake, like the little boy after the fairy-tale. I seem like a fool to have taken it so seriously."
"There was no other way," protested Ripley, "you were quite right."
"Well, after all," continued Brewster, and the voice was as of one in a dream, "perhaps it's as well to have been in Wonderland even if you have to come down afterward to the ordinary world. I am foolish, perhaps, but even now I would not give it up." Then the thought of Peggy clutched him by the throat, and he stopped. After a moment he gathered himself together and rose. "Gentlemen," he said sharply, and his voice had changed; "I have had my fun and this is the end of it. Down underneath I am desperately tired of the whole thing, and I give you my word that you will find me a different man to-morrow. I am going to buckle down to the real thing. I am going to prove that my grandfather's blood is in me. And I shall come out on top."
Ripley was obviously moved as he replied, "I don't question it for a moment. You are made of the right stuff. I saw that long ago. You may count on us to-morrow for any amount you need."
Grant endorsed the opinion. "I like your spirit, Brewster," he said. "There are not many men who would have taken this as well. It's pretty hard on you, too, and it's a miserable wedding gift for your bride."
"We may have important news from Butte in the morning," said Ripley, hopefully; "at any rate, more of the details. The newspapers will have sensational stories no doubt, and we have asked for the latest particulars direct from the authorities. We'll see that things are properly investigated. Go home now, my boy, and go to bed. You will begin to-morrow with good luck at your side and you may be happy all your life in spite of to-night's depression."
"I'm sure to be happy," said Brewster, simply. "The ceremony takes place at seven o'clock, gentlemen. I was coming to your office at nine on a little matter of business, but I fancy it won't after all be necessary for me to hurry. I'll drop in before noon, however, and get that money. By the way, here are the receipts for the money I spent to-night. Will you put them away with the others? I intend to live up to my part of the contract, and it will save me the trouble of presenting them regularly in the morning. Good night, gentlemen. I am sorry you were obliged to stay up so late on my account."
He left them bravely enough, but he had more than one moment of weakness before he could meet his friends. The world seemed unreal and himself the most unreal thing in it. But the night air acted as a stimulant and helped him to call back his courage. When he entered the studio at one o'clock, he was prepared to redeem his promise to be "the jolliest fellow of them all."