A single slip or false step on his part meant death

And the electricity flashing along the wire from the headquarters up-town entered the silent truck house ruled by Chief Trask, and with one stroke of the gong transformed it into a scene of activity. The men who were on watch on the ground floor, sprang from their seats by the stove, and the horses, released by the electric current, bounded to their places, three in front of the heavy truck, and one between the shafts of the chief’s red wagon.

And the same alarm which rang out in the lower floor, sounded also in the room above, where the men lay sleeping. Bruce heard it just as he was dreaming of the old days in the village beside Lake Ontario, and he sprang to the floor, and struggled into his turnout, before he fairly realized that he was in New York, and not in the country. But, quick as he was, he was not a second ahead of the other men, and as he slid down one of the shining poles, he found that fully half the company had got down before him. By this 344time the horses were all in their places, and the men had just finished hitching. The alarm was still ringing on the gong, and although Charley Weyman leaped to his place in the driver’s seat, the company did not start. It was a first alarm, but not one on which they were due. For a few moments they waited, while the horses tugged and strained at their bits, and stamped on the wooden floor in their eagerness to be off. Then the second alarm came, and Tom Brophy, who was at the wheel, drew on a pair of heavy woolen mittens, while the men pulled their thick caps down over their heads, and Weyman exclaimed, “Look out, fellows, we’ll get a third for that, sure!”

Bruce had watched these preparations with considerable excitement, and at the suggestion of one of the men, had pulled on a heavy skull-cap, and buttoned his thick overcoat close up to his neck. He was trembling violently, but whether it was from the cold or excitement he did not know. He had never been out on a third alarm before, and the thought that the very next minute might send him out into the biting storm on an errand such as the one that had cost his father his life, sent the blood tingling through his veins.

345“Jump in, Bruce!”

It was Chief Trask who said this. And as the boy made answer he continued in his sharp soldierly voice, “If we get a third alarm I want you to come with me in the wagon.”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the brass gong sounded for a third time, and almost instantly the doors were thrown back with a roar and rumble, there was a rattle of the ropes which supported the harness, as Weyman pulled his reins with a sharp and sudden jerk, and Bruce, who by this time was seated in the chief’s wagon with his superior officer beside him, felt the horse bounding forward, and the next moment was out in the blinding storm.

Strange to say he had kept his wits about him and knew in what part of the town the alarm-box from which the signal had come was situated. As they passed over the threshold, Chief Trask turned the horse sharply to the left, and then without a word, placed the reins in the boy’s hands, stooped down and drew his helmet from under the seat of the wagon, and put it on, and then buttoned his jacket tightly about his neck and peered forward through the falling snow trying to catch a glimpse of the distant fire.

346“And now my chance has come,” said Bruce Decker to himself, for what with the cold air in his face and the necessity for careful driving, his excitement had vanished, and he felt as cool as one of the snowflakes that settled on his cheek. “I’m going to a big fire now, and I’m going to make a record if it costs me a leg.”

And he drove on through the snow with Chief Trask sitting in silence by his side, and the hook and ladder company thundering along close behind them.

“Turn here?” he said to his superior as they drew near a broad thoroughfare leading up-town.

“Yes, and hurry up too,” was the reply, and as he pulled the horse’s head around at the intersection of the two streets, he saw several blocks ahead of him a brilliant, ruddy glare on the white snow that showed where the conflagration was. He knew at once that it was a big fire, and just then Charley Weyman, who had been rapidly gaining on him, turned his horses to the left and attempted to go by him. This was something the boy had not been looking for; he well knew that bad as it was to be beaten in the race to a fire by a rival company, it would be 347still worse to be passed on the way by his own truck which he was supposed to lead. Charley was driving the three strong horses that belonged to the apparatus, and Bruce held the reins over a sturdy black that had been recently added to the quarters for the chief’s special use. In an instant he had grasped the whip from its socket, and brought it down on the broad, snowflaked back in front of him, causing the animal to bound forward at a slightly increased gait, but not fast enough to prevent Charles Weyman’s team from creeping slowly up to him. Again he swung his whip, and they raced along, the boy driving with so much vigor and skill that he soon forged ahead, and took a lead of fully twenty yards, which he maintained until they reached the scene of the disaster. Then he pulled up. The chief leaped to the ground, and just then the truck thundered along with the captain standing on the turntable close to the driver into whose ears he had been shouting his orders.

As the chief leaped from his wagon, Bruce realized for the first time the extent of the conflagration which they had been called upon to subdue. From the upper windows of the hotel streams of smoke were issuing, while in others he could see the half-clad forms of men and women who were looking out and shouting to those in the street below for assistance.

The sidewalk in front of the main entrance was already thronged with people, many of whom were only partly dressed, and had evidently been aroused from their beds by the alarm of fire. One or two of them carried bundles in their hand, and there were some who had dragged their trunks down the stairs and out into the roadway, and were now sitting on them, regarding, in a bewildered fashion, the progress of the fire.

And now the people in the windows above began to throw satchels and other light articles out into the street, and one or two of them fell near enough to the spot where 349Bruce was sitting in his wagon to make it apparent to him that he had better move away. His horse was panting and sweating from the exertion of his run, and so the boy threw a heavy blanket over him, and then hitched him to a lamp-post a block away. Then he returned to the truck, and stood for a moment watching the streams of water which the firemen were turning on the hotel.

Chief Trask, who, at the moment of his arrival had reported to the deputy in charge of the fire, now appeared and ordered his men to come up at once and open the roof; and, in obedience to this command, some of them seized axes and others hooks and endeavored to force an entrance into the building next door to the hotel. But the door resisted their attempts, and then Chief Trask briefly ordered them to get the ram.

The ram, a heavy-headed iron shaft, with handles projecting on either side, was brought from the truck, and in the hands of three or four of the strongest men of the company, soon proved formidable enough to demolish the heavy front door, and afford the firemen means of access to the building. In they went, with roof-ropes and hoisting tools, Bruce 350following with his iron hook in his hand; and as soon as they had broken their way to the staircase, they went up on a swift run and were not long in reaching the skylight. In an instant they had unfastened the scuttle and were out on the roof in the midst of the wind and the snow. Beside them towered the wall of the hotel, fully twenty-five feet above the roof, on which they were standing.

“Cap, get up a thirty-five-foot ladder for that roof, as quick as you can!” commanded the chief; and in a moment a long rope was uncoiled, and one end thrown over the edge of the building to the men below. To these the chief shouted his directions, lying at full length on the snow-covered roof, and bending his head down over the cornice in a difficult attempt to make himself heard. Then a thirty-five-foot ladder, with the end of the rope tied around its sides and under its middle rounds was reared against the wall, and with a strong pull the chief and his followers pulled it up until it was within their reach.

Once on the roof, the ladder was speedily raised, and placed as securely as it was possible to place it against the wall of the burning hotel. Then, with the chief leading and 351Bruce bringing up the rear, the men made the ascent, and stood at last on the parapet of the building, from which they descended to the tin roof. The smoke was rising about them now in dense clouds, and the chief knowing that the hotel itself must be filled with it, ordered his men to begin at once the task of breaking skylights and ventilators and cutting a hole in the tin roof to serve as a vent.

To this task the firemen bent themselves with characteristic energy, cutting a big square hole with their axes, and then turning back the tin with their hooks. This done, it was an easy matter to break through the boards and plaster that formed the ceiling, and thus give a vent to the smoke and flames. In the meantime other axemen had demolished one of the scuttles, so that dense clouds, enlivened here and there by brilliant tongues of fire, were pouring out through the two huge openings.

As the men stood resting after their labors, and waiting for further orders from the chief, Bruce crept along to the edge of the roof, and leaning over it looked down into the street below. He could see that fully a dozen fire-engines were at work now. He could hear the noise they made, and it sounded like 352the distant strokes of so many pile-drivers. The police had arrived by this time, and driven the crowd back from in front of the hotel, leaving none there but the firemen and some of the escaping guests. The snow which lay so white and pure on the roofs and in the other streets that were within his range of vision, was trampled into a black slush, while the heat of the flames had already melted some of the drifts that lay close at hand.

A fire-escape, connecting the different stories of the burning building, attracted his attention, and it seemed to him to be crowded with frightened people who were hurrying down it as fast as they could, some carrying bags or bundles, while others who had not even taken time to dress, were in their night clothes, and apparently perfectly oblivious of the awful storm of wind and snow that raged about them. And as he noted all these things he saw coming down the broad avenue a fire-engine driven at the top of the horses’ speed and belching out a column of black smoke from its funnel, while the red-hot cinders, falling from the ash-pan, sizzled and then went out in little breaths of steam in the snow that lay thick on the streets. And now a sudden 353shout arose from the men and women on the fire-escape, and was echoed by those in the street underneath. The boy looked down, startled by the loud cries, and saw the flames bursting out of the building at the sixth story, completely enveloping the frail iron stairway on which the hapless guests were going down, and cutting off the escape of those who still lingered on the upper floors. He saw at once the danger in which these people were, and realized that in their half-crazed condition they were liable to throw themselves to the ground.

“Chief!” he cried, running over to the scuttle where that officer stood, “there are a lot of people on the fire-escape and the flames are coming out right under them. Can’t we save them?” In an instant Chief Trask had run to the edge of the roof, and thrown himself at full length on the snow covered surface so that he could look down as the boy had a few moments before.

“Hold on there!” he yelled to those who found themselves cut off, and who seemed ready to take the most desperate chances to save their lives. “Don’t jump! Stay right where you are and we’ll save you in a couple of minutes.”

354His words and the authoritative way in which they were uttered made an instant impression on the frightened men and women to whom they were addressed, and when these looked up above them and saw the helmet of a fireman extended beyond the cornice, they felt assured that succor was at hand, and despite their awful position of peril they gave vent to a feeble cheer.

“Go back into the hotel!” screamed Chief Trask at the top of his lungs, for the wind was blowing so fiercely that it was with great difficulty he could make himself heard.

“We can’t go back! We were driven out by the smoke!” yelled a man in stentorian tones.

“I tell you to go back at once and I’ll come down with my men and take you out of the building,” rejoined the fireman in stern, commanding tones, which left the frightened guests no alternative but to obey. Accordingly they climbed in at the windows from which they had escaped, and found that the rooms were no longer filled with smoke, as they had been before, because, although they did not know it, the open skylight and holes made in the roof by the firemen had drawn most of the smoke out of the building, and 355made it possible for people to move about in the upper stories without fear of suffocation.

Having seen that his orders were obeyed, Chief Trask lifted a scuttle which had not previously been touched by the firemen, and finding that very little smoke came up through the open hatchway, and also that the volumes that were pouring through the other apertures were not nearly as dense or as black as they were before, he summoned his men, and, leading the way himself, bade them follow into the interior of the hotel. Bruce went with him, leaving the scuttle open behind him.

Meantime the firemen outside the building had not been idle. There were twelve fire-engines on the ground, four hook and ladder companies and a water-tower, and of these four engine companies had been ordered to enter the hotel by the main entrance, while four more had gone around to the side and rear entrances, and the others were at work in the streets throwing water against the burning wall and also upon the roofs of the buildings adjoining. As for the hook and ladder companies, some of them were in the building helping to tear down partitions and ceilings, 356while others had put up their scaling ladders and were going from window to window in order to save any people who might be imprisoned in the rooms. Others had ascended to the roofs of the neighboring houses, and were lending efficient aid to the firemen by helping to haul the long lengths of hose up from the street.

At this critical moment, and when the fire seemed to be making steady headway in spite of the desperate and diligent efforts of those who were fighting it, the sharp clang of a gong was heard on the street, and immediately the crowd which had gathered, despite the awful storm that was raging, parted in the middle. The policemen on guard saluted, and a wagon, drawn by a panting and sweating horse, dashed through the fire-lines and drew up suddenly at the curbstone. The tall, grizzled, and soldierly looking man who alighted was evidently a person of importance, for in an instant the deputy chief in command of operations appeared before him and saluted him in military style.

The newcomer was tall and well built. He wore a thick fireman’s overcoat and a helmet. His face was grave and stern, and smooth shaved, save for a grey moustache.

357“What have you sent out?” he demanded curtly of his deputy, as with a quick glance of his practiced eye he took in all the details of the scene in which he found himself.

“Third, sir.”

Once more the chief of the fire department surveyed the burning building before him. Then, without a word, he turned on his heel and walked rapidly to the corner of the street, where he could have a better view of the fire and of its exposure on all sides. He was back again in less than a minute, and ordered his subordinate to send out a special call for two engines and a truck company, in order to locate more companies on the north side of the fire. Then he ordered the immediate erection of a water-tower on the eastern side, and stood silently regarding the men, as they placed it in position.

About this time the fuel-wagons sent out by the companies which had arrived on the first and second alarms, began to come in loaded with cans of coal, and with small boys sitting on them ready to lift them to the ground and make themselves as useful as possible, simply for the sake of being inside the fire-lines and imagining themselves to be firemen. There is no fire in New York, no 358matter at what time of the day or the night, that does not attract its swarm of boys, who are only too anxious to load and unload the fuel-cans, in order to get into the thick of the excitement.

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The horses bounded to their places

“Very well, then, tell him I’ll be with him at six,” he said, and the young ragamuffin departed, while Bruce resumed his work on the chief’s wagon, amazed and delighted to get an answer in such a short time to his letter. The afternoon seemed to pass very slowly, and at half-past five he obtained the chief’s permission to go out for a little while, and bent his steps immediately to Lyons’s, a restaurant on the Bowery, which Skinny visited once in a while when he was prosperous enough to treat himself to a substantial meal.

Bruce found the little newsboy standing in front of the open door.

“I got your note yesterday, an’ here I am,” was Skinny’s greeting, as the two boys shook hands. “I cum right on de minute I knowed I wuz wanted here,” he added, “an’ what’s more I’ve got dat mun’ yer let me have de time we cum outter de hospital,” and he handed four dollars and twenty-two cents to his companion, with a distinct look of pride.

It pleased Bruce very much to feel that his humble little friend was so honest and so willing to do his bidding, and he said so in a hearty, straightforward manner that Skinny readily understood. Then they entered the restaurant, selected a quiet table, in an obscure corner, and sat down to a nice supper, Skinny acting as host for perhaps the first time in his life. And as they ate they talked, the newsboy describing 288his experiences on the farm, and Bruce plying him with questions about the different country people he knew.

Never before in his life had Bruce felt so much like a character in a story book as he did now, and even Skinny remarked that the situation reminded him of a similar one in his favorite romance “Shorty, the Boy Detective.”

It was the first time that the newsboy had ever entertained anyone at a dinner as sumptuous as the one which he now offered to the young lad whom he admired and liked as he liked and admired no other human being. He recommended all the most expensive dishes on the bill of fare, ordered the waiter around in a way that brought a broad smile to that functionary’s face, and “showed off” in so many other ways that Bruce, who was at heart a modest and unobtrusive young chap, finally felt constrained to ask him to attract less attention, and conduct himself with more decorum.

The fact was, that Skinny “felt his oats,” as they say in the country. He was very proud to be called in as a sort of advisory counsel in such a delicate and important matter as the one which now occupied Bruce’s mind, and he was ready enough to give his friend the full benefit 289of his long experience in the city and really remarkable knowledge of the habits of crooked, crafty and dangerous people. Young as he was, the newsboy had long since learned the great lesson of eternal vigilance, and he knew well enough that the man whom he called “Scar-faced Charlie” was not one in whom implicit confidence should be reposed.

He listened attentively as Bruce described his visits to the Dexter mansion, and then said to him “Wot’s de matter wid bracin’ him in his Eldridge Street joint?”

“But I don’t know where it is,” replied the other.

“Come along wid me, an’ I’ll show yer,” said Skinny quickly, and, having paid the check and handed the amazed waiter a quarter, coupling his gift with an admonition to “hustle lively” the next time he had any visitors of distinction to wait on, the newsboy led the way down the Bowery which was by this time crowded with people and brilliantly lighted, to Grand Street, and then in an easterly direction to a corner from which he could see the building in which Mr. Korwein had his office.

But beyond this corner Skinny positively refused to go. Plucky as he was, and heedless 290of results, he had a profound fear for the big strong man out of whose stern grasp he had wriggled that very day.

“You go over dere, an’ brace de old bloke. I’ll wait here. He’s dere, fer de lights in the windy,” he said. And Bruce was forced to make his visit alone.

Never before in his life had he gone about any task that so tried his nerves as this one, and it was fully five minutes before he could make up his mind to open the door and enter the money-lender’s dingy office. At last, however, his will conquered his fears, and he marched boldly up the steps, opened the door and closed it behind him with a sharp bang. Mr. Korwein was standing behind the tall desk adding up a long column of figures in his ledger. He looked up as the boy entered and said rather roughly: “Well, what can I do for you this evening?”

“I’m not quite sure what you can do for me,” rejoined his visitor, looking him carefully in the face and speaking in a tone which arrested the tall man’s attention at once. “I heard that you are making some rather particular inquiries about me, and I thought if there was anything you wanted to know, I might be able to tell you myself.”

291“Inquiries about you!” repeated Mr. Korwein, dropping his pen and coming out from behind the tall desk, in order to get a good view of his visitor, “why, who are you?”

“My name is Bruce Decker, and I am the son of Frank Decker, the fireman,” was the boy’s answer.

Not much in the words he uttered nor in the tone of his voice, one would say. But enough to drive every particle of color from the money-lender’s face and to cause him to start back with a half suppressed oath on his lips, and an expression in which rage, disappointment and astonishment seemed to be blended in equal parts.

“Frank Decker’s son! He never had any son!” he exclaimed.

“Oh yes he did,” replied Bruce “and I am that son. I heard you were looking for me. Now that I am here, tell me what you want.”

“And so you are really Frank’s boy are you,” said the money-lender, speaking in a more conciliatory tone and evidently trying to recover his equanimity, “well I am glad to see you, glad to see you. I’ve been looking for you because, because—to tell the truth, there is a little money coming to you, not much my boy, 292not very much, but something. It was left to your father, and by his death goes to his next of kin. If you are really his son, you are entitled to it. But I must have proof you know, proof, before I can pay it over. Where do you live, my boy? Let me know your address and I will look you up and see that you receive every cent that is your due.” He wiped the perspiration from his face as he entered with much care in a memorandum book the address which Bruce gave him, which was that of Chief Trask’s house and not of the boy’s. And then, declaring that he could say no more until he received absolute proof that Bruce was what he represented himself to be, he opened the door and ushered his visitor out into the street.

Bruce stood for a moment on the sidewalk, utterly bewildered by what he had heard.

“Well, did yer brace de bloke?” demanded Skinny appearing suddenly in front of him.

“Yes,” answered Bruce “and he told me he had some money to pay me that was left to my father.”

“Hully gee,” exclaimed the boy. “Better look out though dat yer get all wot’s comin’ to yer. Dat Scar-faced Charlie don’t never pay bills in full.”

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Dere’s an answer ter dat, said the boy

“Yes,” said Laura, “I’ll run and get it for you, but you must never tell anybody that I did because it would make awful trouble for me.”

When she returned she found her father, her aunt and Harry in the room and for a moment she was at a loss what to do, but Mr. Dexter, who was anxiously looking for her, held out his hand for the address and said, as Laura placed the scrap of paper in it, “Remember, this is our secret, my little girl, and Harry is not to know anything about it.”

The way in which he said this and the smile with which his words were accompanied stimulated Harry’s curiosity and at the same time served to put the elders off the scent. Then the conversation was turned into other channels and in five minutes the incident had passed out of the minds of everyone but the two concerned in it.

That afternoon Laura spread her writing materials on the parlor table and sat down to write her regular weekly letter to her dear friend in America, Kitty Harriott. She had just written “Dear Kitty,” when a thought came into her mind that caused her to drop her pen and sit for a moment in deep meditation. Then with cheeks flushed with excitement, she continued as follows:

258“I hope you are well and enjoying yourself and that all the other girls are well too. We are having a splendid time here but we have to study as hard as we did at home. There is something that I want you to do for me and you must never tell any one that I mentioned it to you for it is something very mysterious and important. You know about Bruce Decker, the young fireman who was in the hospital. I have often talked to you about him. Well, Papa has made me promise not to write to him and I dare not disobey him, but I did not promise that you would not write to him, and something has happened which he ought to know. I want you to write him a letter and send it to the address on the scrap of paper enclosed. Tell him that Mr. Dexter and Papa are great friends now and he comes to see us every day. This morning I was alone when he called and he sat down and we had a long talk. I told him what Bruce told me about the Dexter house (just write it that way and he will know what I mean), and he was very much interested in what I said and got up and walked up and down the room talking to himself but I could not hear a word he said. Then he asked me for Bruce’s address and I copied it out and gave it to him right before Papa and Aunt Sarah and Harry who had all come into the room, and Harry’s wild to know what was on the paper I gave him. Now Kitty you must do exactly what I tell you. Bruce will know who you are because he has heard me talk about you and I’m sure he’s just dying to know you. But remember it is important that he should get this message right away and nobody must know anything about it. If he makes any answer to your note write to me at once. No more at present, from

Your loving friend
Laura Van Kuren.”

Now the interest which old Mr. Dexter had betrayed while listening to Laura’s story was in reality as nothing compared with that which he felt, and when he reached his home that afternoon he seated himself by the fire and fell into a condition of deep thought.

Mr. Van Kuren who called on him that evening found him in his parlor busy with a number of old letters, papers and photographs which were spread out on the table before him.

“You see,” he said as he rose to greet his guest, “that even here in Paris, with enough to render most men contented, my thoughts go back to my old friends and home in America. I don’t know whether I shall ever return or not; but of late I have been thinking seriously of running over to New York for a week or two to settle a little matter of business that has been worrying me for a short time past.”

Mr. Dexter did not explain that the “short time past” meant only about eight hours nor did he, of course, say what the matter was that troubled him but his guest divined that it might be some 260family affair and asked him if that were not the case.

“Well yes,” rejoined Mr. Dexter, “it is a family matter, and one that I cannot settle very well by mail, though I might write my nephew and ask him to attend to it for me.”

“Your nephew?” exclaimed Mr. Van Kuren, “why I was not aware that you were even on speaking terms with him, and for my part I would not blame you if you never have anything more to say to him.”

The older man looked up at his visitor, and said very gently and with the same pleasant smile that always came into his face when he spoke to either Harry or Laura, “My dear Horace, when you reach my age you will be anxious to settle up all your earthly quarrels so that when the time comes for you to leave this world you may do so with a feeling that you leave no enemies behind.”

“But do you mean to tell me,” demanded Mr. Van Kuren, “that you have become a friend of that good-for-nothing nephew of yours again? I can’t understand it after the way in which he treated you ten years ago.”

“You must remember, Horace, that Sam is the only blood relation I have left in this world. He came to see me a few months before I left 261America, and I found him so regretful for the past, and so much changed for the better that I have now fully as much confidence in him as I ever had in my own son.”

Mr. Van Kuren shrugged his shoulders, and after a moment’s hesitation, replied, “There’s nothing in the world that would induce me to place any confidence whatever in Sam Dexter, even if he is your only blood relation. It is entirely through him that the misunderstanding occurred which separated us for years, and I have heard of him in New York of late as connected with some very dubious enterprises.”

“But my dear Horace,” continued the old gentleman, “you must not believe everything that you hear. I have no doubt that my nephew’s career has not been altogether what it should have been; but that he is thoroughly contrite now I have no reason to doubt. When he first came to see me I supposed, of course, that he was in want of money again, and was therefore inclined to be a little suspicious, but when he not only assured me, but proved to me, that he had a handsome sum laid by out of his savings for a future day, that he wanted nothing of me, and was only anxious to heal up old breaches while I was still alive, then I was 262forced to admit that he was, indeed, a different man from the one whom I had known formerly.”

“Do you mean to say that he never tried to beg or borrow anything from you, that is to say, since this last reconciliation?” demanded Mr. Van Kuren, incredulously.

“I certainly do mean to say exactly that,” replied the other emphatically. “He is occupying the old house at present but that is because I asked him to do so. It is not safe to leave one’s home in the hands of servants or caretakers.”

Mr. Van Kuren shrugged his shoulders again and remarked, in a tone that showed he had no faith in the repentance or sincerity of Mr. Dexter’s nephew: “Well, just mark my words, that man will still manage to injure you in some way. He is not to be trusted.”

For a few moments the old gentleman sat quietly looking into the fire, then he lifted his eyes and said, “I should be sorry to have as bad an opinion of Sam as you have, but it may be that you are nearer right in your estimate of him than I am. Nevertheless it’s an old man’s fancy, and one that should be, for that reason, pardoned, to feel that after he is gone he will be succeeded at his home and in his estate by one of his own blood rather than by a stranger.”

263“And so,” remarked Mr. Van Kuren dryly, “you have arranged to make Sam your heir, have you?”

“Yes that is my present intention. As my will stands now, all my property goes to my son and as he is dead, Sam as the next of kin would inherit it anyway. Therefore I hardly think it necessary to write a new one, but will destroy the old one, which will throw the property into his hands.”

“And does he know this?” asked Mr. Van Kuren.

“I haven’t told him so in so many words, but I am sure he must know what my intentions are. However he has never broached the topic to me and I am bound to say that he seems to be thoroughly disinterested in his regard for me.”

“In that case,” observed Mr. Van Kuren, watching his friend’s face carefully as he spoke, “you had better write to him and ask him to arrange this little family matter that troubles you. At any rate it will save you the trouble of making a trip across the water. A journey at your time of life and at this season of the year might be regarded as almost unsafe.”

Mr. Dexter made no reply to this remark, and there was silence in the room for fully a 264minute. Then he shook his head slowly, and said: “No, I don’t exactly like to ask Sam to help me in this affair, and perhaps, after all it would be better for me to write than to make the journey myself.”

“My dear Mr. Dexter,” said Mr. Van Kuren, rising from his seat and placing his hand on his old friends arm, “the mere fact that you do not write to him in this matter is a proof that you do not fully trust him; but don’t take the trip yourself. Write a letter; this is no season for a man of your age to travel.”

Soon after this the visitor took his leave, and the old gentleman sat down at his library table and addressed a polite and formal note to Bruce Decker, telling him what he had learned from a mutual friend, and asking him to send him full information concerning himself and his family, adding that he very well remembered meeting him before, and hoped that he was making progress in the calling which he had chosen. Having sealed and addressed this letter he sat for some time lost in reflection. Then taking up his pen again, he wrote another letter to the man to whom Mr. Van Kuren had referred as “Sam.”

265Both these letters reached New York on the same day, and were the cause of the strange meeting of the two boys, which has been described in another chapter. But in the letter to his kinsman, Sam, the old gentleman did not reveal the address which Laura had given him.

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