The planting-season was over. For a month Frank had worked industriously, in conjunction with Jacob Carter. His father had sent him directions so full and minute, that he was not often obliged to call upon Farmer Maynard for advice. The old farmer proved to be very kind and obliging. Jacob, too, was capable and faithful, so that the farmwork went on as well probably as if Mr. Frost had been at home.
One evening toward the middle of June, Frank walked out into the fields with Mr. Morton. The corn and potatoes were looking finely. The garden vegetables were up, and to all appearance doing well. Frank surveyed the scene with a feeling of natural pride.
"Don't you think I would make a successful farmer, Mr. Morton?" he asked.
"Yes, Frank; and more than this, I think you will be likely to succeed in any other vocation you may select."
"I am afraid you're flattering me, Mr. Morton."
"Such is not my intention, Frank, but I like to award praise where I think it due. I have noticed in you a disposition to be faithful to whatever responsibility is imposed upon you, and wherever I see that I feel no hesitation in predicting a successful career."
"Thank you," said Frank, looking very much pleased with the compliment. "I try to be faithful. I feel that father has trusted me more than it is usual to trust boys of my age, and I want to show myself worthy of his confidence."
"You are fortunate in having a father, Frank," said the young man, with a shade of sadness in his voice. "My father died before I was of your age."
"Do you remember him?" inquired Frank, with interest.
"I remember him well. He was always kind to me. I never remember to have received a harsh word from him. It is because he was so kind and indulgent to me that I feel the more incensed against a man who took advantage of his confidence to defraud him, or, rather, me, through him."
"You have never mentioned this before, Mr. Morton."
"No. I have left you all in ignorance of much of my history. This morning, if it will interest you, I propose to take you into my confidence,"
The eagerness with which Frank greeted this proposal showed that for him the story would have no lack of interest.
"Let us sit down under this tree," said Henry Morton, pointing to a horse-chestnut, whose dense foliage promised a pleasant shelter from the sun's rays.
They threw themselves upon the grass, and he forthwith commenced his story.
"My father was born in Boston, and, growing up, engaged in mercantile pursuits. He was moderately successful, and finally accumulated fifty thousand dollars. He would not have stopped there, for he was at the time making money rapidly, but his health became precarious, and his physician required him absolutely to give up business. The seeds of consumption, which probably had been lurking for years in his system, had begun to show themselves unmistakably, and required immediate attention.
"By the advice of his physician he sailed for the West India Islands, hoping that the climate might have a beneficial effect upon him. At that time I was twelve years old, and an only child. My mother had died some years before, so that I was left quite alone in the world. I was sent for a time to Virginia, to my mother's brother, who possessed a large plantation and numerous slaves. Here I remained for six months. You will remember that Aunt Chloe recognized me at first sight. You will not be surprised at this when I tell you that she was my uncle's slave, and that as a boy I was indebted to her for many a little favor which she, being employed in the kitchen, was able to render me. As I told you at the time, my real name is not Morton. It will not be long before you understand the reason of my concealment.
"My father had a legal adviser, in whom he reposed a large measure of confidence, though events showed him to be quite unworthy of it. On leaving Boston he divided his property, which had been converted into money, into two equal portions. One part he took with him. The other he committed to the lawyer's charge. So much confidence had he in this man's honor, that he did not even require a receipt. One additional safeguard he had, however. This was the evidence of the lawyer's clerk, who was present on the occasion of the deposit.
"My father went to the West Indies, but the change seemed only to accelerate the progress of his malady. He lingered for a few months and then died. Before his death he wrote two letters, one to my uncle and one to myself. In these he communicated the fact of his having deposited twenty-five thousand dollars with his lawyer. He mentioned incidentally the presence of the lawyer's clerk at the time. I am a little surprised that he should have done it, as not the faintest suspicion of the lawyer's good faith had entered his thoughts.
"On receiving this letter my uncle, on my behalf, took measures to claim this sum, and for this purpose came to Boston. Imagine his surprise and indignation when the lawyer positively denied having received any such deposit and called upon him, to prove it. With great effrontery he declared that it was absurd to suppose that my father would have entrusted him with any such sum without a receipt for it. This certainly looked plausible, and I acknowledge that few except my father, who never trusted without trusting entirely, would have acted so imprudently.
" 'Where is the clerk who was in your office at the time?" inquired my uncle.
The lawyer looked somewhat discomposed at this question.
" 'Why do you ask?'he inquired abruptly.
" 'Because,' was the reply, 'his evidence is very important to us. My brother states that he was present when the deposit was made.'
" 'I don't know where he is,' said the lawyer. 'He was too dissipated to remain in my office, and I accordingly discharged him.'
"My uncle suspected that the clerk had been bribed to keep silence, and for additional security sent off to some distant place.
"Nothing could be done. Strong as our suspicions, and absolute as was our conviction of the lawyer's guilt, we had no recourse. But from that time I devoted my life to the exposure of this man. Fortunately I was not without means. The other half of my father's property came to me; and the interest being considerably more than I required for my support, I have devoted the remainder to, prosecuting inquiries respecting the missing clerk. Just before I came to Rossville, I obtained a clue which I have since industriously followed up.
"Last night I received a letter from my agent, stating that he had found the man--that he was in a sad state of destitution, and that he was ready to give his evidence."
"Is the lawyer still living?" inquired Frank.
"What a villain he must be."
"I am afraid he is, Frank."
"Does he still live in Boston?"
"No. After he made sure of his ill-gotten gains, he removed into the country, where he built him a fine house. He has been able to live a life of leisure; but I doubt if he has been as happy as he would have been had he never deviated from the path of rectitude."
"Have you seen him lately?" asked Frank.
"I have seen him many times within the last few months," said the young man, in a significant tone.
Frank jumped to his feet in surprise. "You don't mean----" he said, as a sudden suspicion of the truth dawned upon his mind.
"Yes," said Mr. Morton deliberately, "I do mean that the lawyer who defrauded my father lives in this village. You know him well as Squire Haynes."
"I can hardly believe it," said Frank, unable to conceal his astonishment. "Do you think he knows who you are?"
"I think he has noticed my resemblance to my father. If I had not assumed a different name he would have been sure to detect me. This would have interfered with my plans, as he undoubtedly knew the whereabouts of his old clerk, and would have arranged to remove him, so as to delay his discovery, perhaps indefinitely. Here is the letter I received last night. I will read it to you."
The letter ran as follows:
"I have at length discovered the man of whom I have so long been in search. I found him in Detroit. He had recently removed thither from St. Louis. He is very poor, and, when I found him, was laid up with typhoid fever in a mean lodging-house. I removed him to more comfortable quarters, supplied him with relishing food and good medical assistance. Otherwise I think he would have died. The result is, that he feels deeply grateful to me for having probably saved his life. When I first broached the idea of his giving evidence against his old employer, I found him reluctant to do so--not from any attachment he bore him, but from a fear that he would be held on a criminal charge for concealing a felony. I have undertaken to assure him, on your behalf, that he shall not be punished if he will come forward and give his evidence unhesitatingly. I have finally obtained his promise to, do so.
"We shall leave Detroit day after to-morrow, and proceed to New England by way of New York. Can you meet me in New York on the 18th inst.? You can, in that case, have an interview with this man Travers; and it Will be well to obtain his confession, legally certified, to guard against any vacillation of purpose on his part. I have no apprehension of it, but it is as well to be certain."
This letter was signed by Mr. Morton's agent.
"I was very glad to get that letter, Frank," said his companion. "I don't think I care so much for the money, though that is not to be dispised, since it will enable me to do more good than at present I have it in my power to do. But there is one thing I care for still more, and that is, to redeem my father's memory from reproach. In the last letter he ever wrote he made a specific statement, which this lawyer declares to be false. The evidence of his clerk will hurl back the falsehood upon himself."
"How strange it is, Mr. Morton," exclaimed Frank, "that you should have saved the life of a son of the man who has done so much to injure you!"
"Yes, that gives me great satisfaction. I do not wish Squire Haynes any harm, but I am determined that justice shall be done. Otherwise than that, if I can be of any service to him, I shall not refuse."
"I remember now," said Frank, after a moment's pause, "that, on the first Sunday you appeared at church, Squire Haynes stopped me to inquire who you were."
"I am thought to look much as my father did. He undoubtedly saw the resemblance. I have often caught his eyes fixed upon me in perplexity when he did not know that I noticed him. It is fourteen years since my father died. Retribution has been slow, but it has come at last."
"When do you go on to New York?" asked Frank, recalling the agent's request.
"I shall start to-morrow morning. For the present I will ask you to keep what I have said a secret even from your good mother. It is as well not to disturb Squire Haynes in his fancied security until we are ready to overwhelm him with our evidence."
"How long shall you be absent, Mr. Morton?"
"Probably less than a week. I shall merely say that I have gone on business. I trust to your discretion to say nothing more."
"I certainly will not," said Frank. "I am very much obliged to you for having told me first."
The two rose from their grassy seats, and walked slowly back to the farmhouse.