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The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success, a fiction by Horatio Alger

Chapter 35. The Pitkins Retire In Disgust

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"Where have you been, Philip?" asked Mr. Carter, breaking the silence. "We were getting anxious about you."

"I have bad news for you, sir," returned Phil, saying what stood first in his mind. "I have lost the two hundred dollars Mr. Pitkin paid me this morning."

"So you lost it?" observed Mr. Pitkin with a sneer, emphasizing the word "lost" to show his incredulity.

"Yes, sir, I lost it," answered Phil, looking him fearlessly in the eye; "or, rather, it was stolen from me."

"Oh! now it is stolen, is it?" repeated Pitkin.

"Really, Uncle Oliver, this is getting interesting."

"I believe I am the proper person to question Philip," said Mr. Carter coldly. "It was my money, I take it."

"Yes, it was yours. As I made the payment, I cannot, of course, be responsible for its not reaching you. You will pardon my saying that it would have been wiser to employ a different messenger."

"Why?" demanded Uncle Oliver, looking displeased.

"Why, really, Uncle Oliver," said Mr. Pitkin, "I should think the result might convince you of that."

"We had better let Philip tell his story," said Mr. Carter quietly. "How did it happen, Philip?"

Thereupon Philip told the story already familiar to the reader.

"Upon my word, quite a romantic story!" commented Mr. Pitkin, unable to repress a sneer. "So you were tracked by a rascal, lured into a den of thieves, robbed of your money, or, rather, Mr. Carter's, and only released by the house catching fire?"

"That is exactly what happened to me, sir," said Philip, coloring with indignation, for he saw that Mr. Pitkin was doing his best to discredit him.

"It quite does credit to your imagination. By the way, boy, have you been in the habit of reading dime novels?"

"I never read one in my life, sir."

"Then I think you would succeed in writing them. For a boy of sixteen, you certainly have a vivid imagination."

"I quite agree with my husband," said Mrs. Pitkin. "The boy's story is ridiculously improbable. I can't understand how he has the face to stand there and expect Uncle Oliver to swallow such rubbish."

"I don't expect you to believe it, either of you," said Philip manfully, "for you have never treated me fairly."

"I think you will find, also, that my uncle is too sensible a man to credit it, also," retorted Mrs Pitkin.

"Speak for yourself, Lavinia," said Mr. Carter, who had waited intentionally to let his relatives express themselves. "I believe every word of Philip's story."

"You do?" ejaculated Mrs. Pitkin, rolling her eyes and nodding her head, in the vain endeavor to express her feelings. "Really, Uncle Oliver, for a man of your age and good sense----"

"Thank you for that admission, Lavinia," said Mr. Carter mockingly. "Go on."

"I was about to say that you seem infatuated with this boy, of whom we know nothing, except from his own account. To my mind his story is a most ridiculous invention."

"Mr. Pitkin, did any one enter your store just after Philip left it to inquire after him?"

"No, sir," answered Pitkin triumphantly. "That's a lie, at any rate."

"You will remember that Philip did not make the assertion himself. This was the statement of the thief who robbed him."

"Yes, of course," sneered Pitkin. "He told his story very shrewdly."

"Mr. Carter," said Philip, "I can show you or any one else the house in which I was confined in Bleecker Street, and there will be no trouble in obtaining proof of the fire."

"I dare say there may have been such a fire," said Mr. Pitkin, "and you may have happened to see it, and decided to weave it into your story."

"Do you think I stole the money or used it for my own purpose?" asked Philip pointedly.

Mr. Pitkin shrugged his shoulders.

"Young man," he said, "upon this point I can only say that your story is grossly improbable. It won't hold water."

"Permit me to judge of that, Mr. Pitkin," said Mr. Carter. "I wish to ask YOU one question."

"To ask ME a question!" said Pitkin, surprised.

"Yes; why did you pay Philip in bills to-day? Why didn't you give him a check, as usual?"

"Why," answered Pitkin, hesitating, "I thought it wouldn't make any difference to you. I thought you would be able to use it more readily."

"Did you suppose I would specially need to use money instead of a check this week? Why break over your usual custom?"

"Really, I didn't give much thought to the matter," answered Pitkin, hesitating. "I acted on a sudden impulse."

"Your impulse has cost me two hundred dollars. Do me the favor, when Philip calls next week, to hand him a check."

"You mean to retain him in your employ after this?" asked Mrs. Pitkin sharply.

"Yes, I do. Why shouldn't I?"

"You are very trustful," observed the lady, tossing her head. "If this had happened to Lonny here, we should never have heard the last of it."

"Perhaps not!" responded the old gentleman dryly. "When a young gentleman is trusted with a letter to mail containing money, and that letter never reaches its destination, it may at least be inferred that he is careless."

It will be remembered that this was the first knowledge Mrs. Pitkin or her husband had of the transaction referred to.

"What do you mean, Uncle Oliver?" demanded Mr. Pitkin.

Mr. Carter explained.

"This is too much!" said Mrs. Pitkin angrily.

"You mean to accuse my poor boy of opening the letter and stealing the money?"

"If I was as ready to bring accusations as you, Lavinia, I should undoubtedly say that it looked a little suspicious, but I prefer to let the matter rest."

"I think, Mr. Pitkin, we had better go," said Mrs. Pitkin, rising with dignity. "Since Uncle Oliver chooses to charge his own nephew with being a thief----"

"I beg pardon, Lavinia, I have not done so."

"You might just as well," said Lavinia Pitkin, tossing her head. "Come, Mr. Pitkin; come, my poor Lonny, we will go home. This is no place for you."

"Good-evening, Lavinia," said Mr. Carter calmly. "I shall be glad to see you whenever you feel like calling."

"When you have discharged that boy, I may call again," said Mrs. Pitkin spitefully.

"You will have to wait some time, then. I am quite capable of managing my own affairs."

When Mr. Pitkin had left the house, by no means in a good humor, Phil turned to his employer and said gratefully:

"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Carter, for your kind confidence in me. I admit that the story I told you is a strange one, and I could not have blamed you for doubting me."

"But I don't doubt you, my dear Philip," said Mr. Carter kindly.

"Nor I," said Mrs. Forbush. "I feel provoked with Lavinia and her husband for trying to throw discredit upon your statement."

"In fact," said Mr. Carter humorously, "the only one of us that suspected you was Julia."

"Oh, Uncle Oliver!" exclaimed Julia, in dismay. "I never dreamed of doubting Phil."

"Then," said Mr. Carter, "it appears that you have three friends, at least."

"If," said Phil? "you would allow me to make up part of the loss, by surrendering a part of my salary----"

"Couldn't be thought of, Philip!" said Uncle Oliver resolutely. "I don't care for the money, but I should like to know how the thief happened to know that to-day you received money instead of a check."

Without saying a word to Phil, Uncle Oliver called the next day on a noted detective and set him to work ferreting out the secret. _

Read next: Chapter 36. The False Heir

Read previous: Chapter 34. Phil's Friends And His Enemies

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