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   Chapter 25 A STARTLING DISCLOSURE.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 10674

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Look at me closely, Stephen Ray," said the strange visitor. "I think you will see some traces of the Bolton you used to know."

Stephen Ray, somewhat discomposed, did examine his visitor closely. Against his will he was obliged to acknowledge the resemblance of the man before him to one who in past times had had an intimate acquaintance with his affairs.

"You may be Benjamin Bolton," he said after a pause, "but if so, you have fallen off greatly in your appearance. When I first knew you, you were well dressed and--"

"Respectable, I suppose you mean to say?"

"Well, respectable, if you will have it so. Now you look more like a tramp than a lawyer."

"True as gospel, every word of it. But it isn't too late to mend. That's an old proverb and a true one. It is quite in the line of possibility that I should get back to the position from which I fell."

"Perhaps so, but I'm not sanguine of it."

"With your powerful help nothing is impossible--not even that."

"You must not count upon that," said Stephen Ray, stiffly. "It is a good while since we parted company. I don't myself care to renew the acquaintance."

"But I do," rejoined Bolton with emphasis. "I told you that I had business with you."

"I have very little time at my disposal," said Ray, pulling out an elegant gold watch--a Jurgensen--and consulting it.

"I think it may be well for you to spare me a little time," went on Bolton, quietly.

There was something in his tone that sounded like a threat, and Stephen Ray could not wholly conceal his uneasiness.

"Well," he said, "I will give you ten minutes. Get through your business, whatever it is, as soon as possible."

"Hadn't you better send your son away?" suggested Bolton, significantly.

"Why should I?"

But on second thoughts Mr. Ray concluded to act on the hint, and turning to Clarence he said, "Clarence, you might take another spin on your wheel."

This did not suit Clarence at all. His curiosity had been excited by his father's change of front towards the objectionable stranger, and he counted on finding out the reason for it.

"Why can't I stay?" he grumbled. "I am tired of riding."

"Then go up stairs. This man and I have a little private business together."

He spoke firmly, and Clarence knew by his tone that further remonstrance would be un availing, so with a dissatisfied look he left the room.

"Now, sir," said Stephen Ray, sharply, when his son had taken his departure, "I gave you ten minutes. You will need to be expeditious."

"It will take more than ten minutes--what I have to say," returned Bolton, coolly. "I am rather tired of standing, so you will excuse me if I sit down."

As he spoke he dropped into a comfortable chair three feet from his host.

"Confound his impudence!" thought Ray, much annoyed.

"I think we had better go indoors," he said.

He did not care to be seen in an apparently friendly conversation with a man like Bolton.

"Very well. I think myself it may be better."

He followed Ray into a room which the latter used as a library and office, and took care to select a comfortable seat.

"Really, Stephen Ray," he remarked, glancing around him at the well-filled bookcases, the handsome pictures, and the luxurious furniture, "you are very nicely fixed here."

"I suppose you didn't come to tell me that," responded Stephen Ray with a sneer.

"Well, not altogether, but it is as well to refer to it. I have known you a good many years. I remember when you first came here to visit your uncle in the character of a poor relation. I don't believe you had a hundred dollars to your name."

Such references grated upon the purse-proud aristocrat, who tried to persuade himself that he had always been as prosperous as at present.

"There is no occasion for your reminiscences," he said stiffly.

"No, I suppose you don't care to think of those days now. Your cousin, Dudley, a fine young man, was a year or two older. Who would have thought that the time would come when you--the poor cousin--would be reigning in his place?"

"If that is all you have to say, our interview may as well close."

"It isn't all I have to say. I must indulge in a few more reminiscences, though you dislike them. A few years passed. Dudley married against his father's wishes; that is, his father did not approve of his selection, and he fell out of favor. As he lost favor you gained it."

"That is true enough, but it is an old story. Why recall it?"

"Does it seem just that an own son should be disinherited and a stranger--"

"A near relative," corrected Stephen Ray.

"Well, a near relative, but less near than an only son. Does it seem right that Dudley should have been disinherited and you put in his place?"

"Certainly. My cousin disobeyed his father, while I was always dutiful and obedient."

"So he was left in poverty."

"I don't see how that concerns you, Benjamin Bolton. My uncle had the right to dispose of his property as he pleased. It was not for me to question his right nor you."

"Probably Dudley Ray is living in poverty now."

"You are mistaken. He is dead."

"Indeed! Poor fellow. He was a generous and high-minded man."

"Whatever he may have been, he offended his father and suffered the consequences."

"Too true!"

"But I fail to understand why

you should have come to discuss this matter with me."

"When did Dudley die?"

"I can't be sure as to the year. I think it was about a year after his father's death."

"I presume that his father's injustice helped to hasten his end."

"I won't permit any reflections upon my dear uncle and benefactor. He did what he liked with his own. He felt that the estate would be better in my hands than in Dudley's."

"Admitting for a moment that this was so, did your heart prompt you to bestow a part of the estate on your unfortunate cousin?"

"No; for I am sure my uncle would have disapproved of such action on my part."

"Do you know if he suffered much from poverty?"

"No; I did not concern myself with that, nor need you."

"I would like to comment on one of your statements. You say that your uncle had a right to dispose of his estate as he pleased."

"Do you dispute it?"

"No; I agree with you. Stephen Ray, was his estate disposed of according to his wishes?"

Mr. Ray started, and his face became flushed.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean that he bequeathed the estate to his son, and you took possession of it."

Bolton spoke slowly, and eyed Stephen Ray keenly.

"Are you mad?" gasped Stephen. "How could I do that? His will, devising the estate to me, was duly probated, and I entered upon my inheritance by due process of law."

"I know such a will was probated."

"Then what have you to say?" demanded Stephen Ray, defiantly. "Do you mean to deny that the will was genuine?"

"No."

"Because if you do, you can go to the probate office, and submit the will to any judge of my uncle's handwriting."

"There will be no occasion. I admit that the will was written by him."

"What do you mean, then?" asked Stephen Ray, showing relief.

"I mean this--that it was not his last will and testament."

"Where is the later one? Produce it if you can," said Stephen Ray, triumphantly.

"You say this fearlessly because you found a later will--and destroyed it."

"It is a vile slander!"

"No; I will swear that such a will was made."

"If it was destroyed, he destroyed it himself."

"No, he did not. I am willing to swear that when he died that will was in existence."

"I don't think your swearing will do much good," sneered Stephen Ray.

"Perhaps so; but one thing has not occurred to you."

"What is that?"

"A duplicate of the last will was placed in my hands. That will exists to-day!"

Stephen Ray started violently.

"I don't believe it," he said.

"Seeing is believing."

"Then bring it here, and let me see it. However, there is one material circumstance that would make it of no value."

"What is it?"

"My cousin Dudley is dead, and so is his son Ernest. There would be no one to profit by the production of the alleged will."

Bolton was quite taken aback by this statement, as Stephen Ray perceived, and he plumed himself on the success of his falsehood.

"When did the boy die?" asked Bolton.

"About five years ago."

"And where?"

"At Savannah," answered Ray, glibly.

"What should have taken him down there?"

"I am not positive, but I believe after his father's death a Southern gentleman became interested in him and took him to Georgia, where the poor boy died."

Bolton looked keenly at the face of his companion, and detected an expression of triumph about the eyes which led him to doubt the truth of his story. But he decided not to intimate his disbelief.

"That was sad," he said.

"Yes; and as you will see, even had your story about the will been true it would have made no difference in the disposal of the property."

"Still the revelation of your complicity in the suppression of the last will would injure your reputation, Mr. Ray."

"I can stand it," answered Ray with assumed indifference. "You see, my dear fellow, you have brought your wares to the wrong market. Of course you are disappointed."

"Yes, especially as I am dead broke."

"No doubt."

"And it prompts me to take my chances with the will in spite of the death of the rightful heirs."

"What do you propose to do?"

"Lay the matter before a shrewd lawyer of my acquaintance, and be guided by his advice."

Stephen Ray looked uneasy. The lawyer might suggest doubts as to the truth of his story concerning Ernest's decease.

"That would be very foolish," he said.

"Would it? Then perhaps you can suggest a better course."

"You are a man of education and have been a lawyer yourself. Get a place in the office of some attorney and earn an honest living."

"You see how I am dressed. Who would employ me in this garb?"

"There is something in what you say. I feel for you, Bolton. Changed as you are, you were once a friend. I certainly haven't any reason to feel friendly to you, especially as you came here with the intention of extorting money from me. But I can make allowance for you in your unfortunate plight, and am willing to do something for you. Bring me the document you say you possess, and I will give you fifty no, a hundred dollars."

Bolton eyed his prosperous companion with a cunning smile.

"No, Stephen Ray, I prefer to keep the will," he replied, "though I can do nothing with it. Give me the money unconditionally, and if I get on my feet you will have nothing to fear from me."

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