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Mrs. Stafford's Christmas Star

Mrs. Stafford's Christmas Star image
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Copyright, 1899, by C. W. Hooke. Albert Stafford, attorney and counselor at law, made a resolution on the first day of the year that he would save enough cnoney in the nest 11 months to buy nis wife some handsome diamonds for Christmas. Stafford feit very mean about the trivial present that he had made to her on this lioliday but a week bef ore; henee the good resolution. There was no reason why he should not keep it. He had a good income ifrom bis profession and about as much more from hls share of an estáte in trust. In fact, he would have been thought rich if he had lived anywhere else but in New York. Stafford had had considerable experi'Cnce with himself in this matter of aving money. and it all pointed one ■way. He couldn't do it. "I'm a child in such matters." he said to himself. "And sinee I know that, why shouldn't I treat myself like ii chüd?" So he bought half a dozen little iron tianks and strewed the path of his dally life with them. Sometimes he deposited as much as $10 in one of them; at other times a half dollar or even a cdime, just to encourage himself. They ■vere doing quite well nntil on an evil day he got hard up and robbed the Tichest of them. Any policeman will teil you that a fellow who robs a bank can never reform. Stafford proved it. He wrecked every one of these little institutions many times. When he made an annual statement for them in the middle of December, he found that the available cash was less than $50, and ome of that was in damaged coin. He had the $50 from the banks in iiis pocket in a little canvas bag when lie left the house one morning. It was an exceptionally fine day, and be decided to walk down town. He selected some of the less familiar streets. and in one of them his eye was attracted by the window of a pawnshop, kept by a person named Lowenstein. There was a sign in the window whereon were the words, "Bargains In Diamonds." Nothing could better have suited Stafford's aeed. It bad not oeeurred to liirn to buy except in the orthodox inarts of trade, but it would do no liarm to see what Mr. Lowenstein had to offer. In tbe shop he was permitted to exAmine a number of fairly good stones that were offered at really attractive prices, but he saw nothing that espeially appealed to hint. There were too many men lined up before the short counter, and the air in the place was very bad, so Stafford did not rernaiu long. He strolled away in rather a dissatisfied mood. His conseienee was troufoling him for haring robbed those little banks. If he had only let theni ulone. he would have had money enough. This consideration led him to put his hand into the side pocket of his sack .'oat, where the money from the banks ■ought to have been. "but was not! He knew this fact even before his band got into his pocket, for he mlssed the weight of the raouey. He stopped short, struck with that duif qjystjücation wliich is the ürst seusation ou such oGcaslon's. Aimlessly he thrust a hand into the pocket on tbe other'sltfe. Of cours? the money wasn't there, but something else was, a giieer thing with many angles. He pulled it out. and it proved to be a star of gold set with glittering diamonds. Stafford took off his hat and faniied liimsell' with it. thougb it was the midlle of December. "Somobody," said he. "has sold mè sibont Í2.000 worth of diainonds for $50." He put the Bashtng star nto his pocket and his hat upou his benei and walkod back to LoVensteln's shop. It was not posslble. but it was ns neaï'ly tosSible as anythíijg Im could think of. tbat lic had pocbeted the atar whfle examiting the bargaius. though he had no recollection of having seen it. Reentering the shop, he asked Lowenstein if he had a gold star set with diamonds in stock, and the pawnbroker replied that he had not seen such a thing in some time. By hard thinking upon the problem for the remainder of the day Stafford reached the conclusión that it was essentially insoluble. However, the jewel certainly did not belong to him. It should be returned to its owner. So Stafford put some advertisements Ín the next morning's papers. He did not give hls name or true address in them. for he had decided to keep the affair a secret from his wife. If he told her about it, he would have to show the star, and it was so beautiful that It would make whatever present he might buy look like a pewter spoon. In the most secret drawer of a desk in his private den at home he bestowed the treasure wbile awaiting a claimant. None appeared in four days, and then a most unfortunate thing happened. Mrs. Stafford, rummaging in that desk for the very first time in her Iife - as she solemnly declared - found the star and of course supposed that it was her Christmas present. She was so supremely delighted that she couldn't keep the discovery to herself. She told her busband when he carne home for dinner that day that he was the dearest and best of mortal creatures. and it did not rake him long to find out why she thought so. Some men in such a position would have told the truth, but it must be remembered that Stafford is a lawyer. He let her think what pleased her best about the star. "If the thing isn't claimed before Christmas," said he to himself, 'TH give it to her. If it isr 111 raise the money sotnehow and buy another just like it." That day a very quiet and gentlemanly individual whom Stafford instantly remembered having seen in Lowenstein's shop called at the lawyer's office and claimed the star. He described it perfectly. and he told a convincingly straight story of the loss of it. He and a friend had been picking up a few bnrgains in diamonds and had secured the star just before visiting Lowenstein's place. Stafford's ealler- whose card bore the name of John M. Deering - had been examining the jewel while at Lowenstein's and on finishing had put it, as he supposed, into the side pocket of his friend's coat. Half an hour later he was horrifled to learn that his friend did not have the star. The two compared their recollections and flnally identifled Stafford by mutual memory of his appearance as the man who must have stepped between them as tbey stood before the counter just in time to receive the jewel that was meant for another. They had searched for him without suceess, and it was by accident that Mr. Deering had seen and recognized Stafford that morning just as he was entering the building in whieh his offices were situated. Of eourse the lawyer demanded more '"proofs, and Deering professed himself quite ready to furnish them. He would produce liis friend aud the broker from whom the star had been purchased. Deering's manner convinced Stafford of the truth of his story. The real owner of the diamonds had nppeared. Then what was to bo done to prevent the disruption of a happy home? How, oh, how, was tlie matter of that supposed Christmas prosont to be straightened out? Inspiratiou caine to Stafford in his dospair. He took the star to a manufaetnrlfig j'eweler and secnred his promi&e to duplícate it in three daya witli real gold and tho fiuost quality of paste. Tlie jeweler guaranteed thnt Mrs. Stafford should not be able to teil the differenee. !'y wh;it artífices Stafford held off Doering long enough the Jewoler to do 'nis work I leaye to the linn.scinntion of t.hosp who have dealt wlfh l.-iwyors. Ho did it. and no bard (peHnjc wn? niparent when restitution flnally was made to Deering's friend, Mr. Stackpole, a wealthy Philadelphian. On Christmas day Stafford gave the bogus star to his wife. He feit rueaner than ever before in his career, but tliere was no help for it. The best he could do for his conscience was to swear solemnly that he must speedily replace the paste jewels by real ones. On the evening of Jan. 8 the star was stolen. It was taken from what Mrs. Stafïord bolieved to be a secure hiding place iu her dressing table. The theft occurred in the evening while the couple were at the theater. A servant had been ín the apartments all the evening. but had heard no unusual sound. Nothing of any cousequence except the star had been taken. If Stafford had believed that the star was gone forever, he might almost have found it in his heart to rejoice, but he thought it likely that the pólice would find it without mnch trouble. One of the central office detectives sent to the house said that the robbery "looked like the work of a friend of his." and he thought he'd have him in a day or two. Another, however, was sure it was the servant. Stafford believed that if the pólice found the star they would discover its fraudulent character. The only way to prevent such a catastrophe was to I find it first himself. Splitting the difference between the two theories of the pólice. Stafford suspected the janitor of the building, principally because he did not look honest With a iawyer's assurance he went straight to this man and accused him point blaak. The janitor denied it, but he was so badly frightened that he packed a few of his goods and fled that night. The pólice got wind of his flight and arrested him next day with the star in his possession. Stafford was summoned by telephone to pólice headquarters to reclaim the property. In the room of the chief of detectives he found the janitor a prisoner. Mr. Deering and Mr. Stackpole were also present, and on a table lay two diamond stars and Stafford's bag of money. "You know these two gentlemen. 1 believe," said the chief of detectives, addressing Stafford. "They're professional thieves and confidence men. Both of them were arrested a few days ago coming out of Lowenstein's pawnshop. My men thought to find stolen property on them. but there was nothing except that bag, and we couidn't teil at first whether that belonged to them or not. "Today I've learned the whole story. They were in there with you. The one who calis himself Deering had in his possession a diamond star stolen from Mrs. Higginson Walworth. a well known society woman. a few weeks ago. He saw a couple of my men coming in and suspected that they were after him. If caught with the star in his possession. he was lost. So he' slipped it into the first convenient place, your 'pocket. "Meanwhile the other thief had lifted your little bag of money. Seeing my men, the two thieves hurried out, but were arrested on the sidewalk. We held them for several days, but finally had to let them go for lack of evidence. You know what followed. Ah. here is Mrs. Walworth to claim her property!" I A very elegant personage entered the room as these words were spoken. She expressed the greatest joy at the recovery of her pretty trinkets. with whieh she soon departed. Stafford took the other oue and carried it home to his wife, who wept over it. Two days later she shook her husband's already overstrained nerves withthe statement that she had left the star in a jeweler's establishment to have one of the settings t'ghtened. "I asked him - just for fun, you Lnow - how much t was worth," said she, "and after examining the stones carefully he told me about $2.600. Did you pay all that for it, you dear old thing?" "Not quite," replied Stafford, blushing. Here was a terrible situation. Evidently Mrs. Higginson Walworth had taken the wrong star from pólice headquarters. Remernbering that she had had her choice, Stafford was almost tempted to say nothing, but his honesty triumphed, and he wrote a frank letter to her at ber country place at Lenox. The reply, by telegraph. was astounding: "Must be some mistake. Have had diamonds examined by expert, and they are genuine." Then there were two stars of real diamonds! Utterly impossible! In a maze of mystification Stafford went to see the jeweler who was repairing the star for Mrs. Stafford. When the lawyer had explained his errand, the man ,of jewels winked. "She told me it was a Christmas present from her husband," said he. "Do I look like one who would get his fellow man into troubleV No, sir; I'm married myself." "Look here!" cried Stafford. "This star is making life too thrilling for me. I do nothing but fly from one person to another. confessing my sha me. It's got to stop. Will you replace thnt paste with genuine diumonds and take my note for 90 days?" ' "I will," replied the jeweler promptiy. 'And thus it bappened that Mrs. Stafford's Christmas star was made as good as its twiu in this quëer conStellation.