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Bessie Bradford's Prize
by Joanna H. Mathews
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There is small occasion to say that it had scarcely come into her hands when it was sent again on its travels; this time to Percy.

The hilarious acknowledgment which immediately came back to her was a relief in more ways than one, although she was half provoked at the insouciant, devil-may-care-now spirit which it evinced.

Percy wrote:

"DEAR LENA,

"You're the dearest of little sisters, the brickiest of bricks! But there is no need for me to rob you of your hundred dollars. You say somebody sent it to you anonymously; well, the same somebody, I suppose, has done the same good office for me, sent me a hundred dollars. You say you don't know who it could be; why, it was Russell, of course. You know he's just as generous as generous can be, and since he came into his own money he can't rid himself of it fast enough, but must always be finding out ways of spending it for other people. And I don't see anything so strange in this way of doing it. He knew the powers that be would make an awful row if they knew we had all that money to spend at our own sweet wills, so he took this way of sending it to us, so that we could keep our own counsel; and if they do find out we have it, we can say we don't know where it came from. It is a blessed thing they will never know that I had mine, at any rate, or ask where it went. You may be sure it did not stay in my hands long, but went into those of Seabrooke in five minutes. How I did want to keep it too. But there, Seabrooke is paid, and I'm free and no one the wiser; at least, no one that I'm afraid of, so no harm is done. But to think I've had to lose that money for such a thing as that. I suppose it was a shabby trick to play, and I tell you I think I never heard anything quite so scurvy as Flagg putting that stuff into Seabrooke's carafe to make him sleep, and I'm sure Seabrooke feels more put out about that than he does about the letter, because that was malice prepense, and the other was—well—an accident; at least, we did not know the mischief we were doing, and we have made it all right. But he can't get over the drugging, and I'm glad I had no hand in it, for I do not know what the doctor will say to it. He is not back yet; but his son is better, and he will be here when we come after the Easter holidays. I'm rather sick of Flagg anyway; he has mean ways, and our dear old Russell wouldn't tolerate him for a moment, so I'll shake him off all I can when I come back to school. I'll keep your hundred dollars till I come home, and hand it to you then. You're a trump, Lena, and I never would have taken it if I could have helped it. But I would have had to do it if this other hundred had not come. And, do you know, there is one thing that puzzles me. It came by post from New York in a hair-pin box, and done up in about a thousand papers-at least there were six—so I suppose Russell sent to some one in the city to do it for him; but the whole thing was awfully womanish. The address was in the most correct, copy-book-y handwriting, every point turned just so, every loop according to rule. But it came just in the nick of time, and saved me and your money. Bless your heart, how are the feet?

"Your own all the same everlastingly obliged brother,

"PERCY NEVILLE."

Thankful as Lena had been to receive this letter, so annoyed was she by Percy's indifferent, careless way of looking upon his own misdeeds that she did not show it to Bessie; she was ashamed to do so, knowing, as she did, Bessie's conscientiousness and strict sense of honor and honesty. "All right now." Was this indeed all the impression made upon Percy by his late peril, all the shame and regret he could feel? Child though she was, and several years younger than her erring brother, the ways of right and wrong were so much clearer to her than they were to him, she had so much more steadfastness of character and purpose.

"Now," she said, when she had told Bessie all, "now if I could only find out who sent me that money and return it when Percy sends it back to me. But you see, Bessie, I am not so sure that it was Russell. It is not at all like the way he does things; he is never mysterious or anonymous; and he is not at all afraid of papa or mamma, and can do what he likes with his own money. He is very, very generous, and always takes such nice ways of being kind to people and giving them pleasure; and I do not think that this would be at all a nice way of sending presents to Percy and me. Do you, Bessie?"

"No," answered Bessie, doubtfully, remembering her own way of conveying to Lena the means of rescuing Percy,—"no—I—do not like anonymousity very much; but I suppose there are times when one has to do it."

"Um-m-m; no, I do not think so," said Lena, all unconscious of Bessie's secret, and looking at her with surprise; for she knew Bessie's ideas about underhand dealings to be as uncompromising as her own.

But Bessie stuck to her point; she had known of a case where "to be anonymous" was the best and only course to take, so it had seemed to her, and she was not to be convinced that there were not times when it was justifiable.

However, she was not anxious to dwell upon the subject, and soon changed it. She knew that Lena's unknown friend was not her brother Russell, and she was herself mystified about the other sum sent to Percy; but, fearful of betraying her own part, she began to talk of something else.

"Do you remember, Lena," she said, "that next Sunday is Easter Sunday, and that Saturday is the day for Miss Ashton to name the one who deserves Mr. Ashton's prize?"

"Yes," answered Lena, rather despondently, "but that cannot make much difference to me, except that I shall be so glad if you or Maggie win it."

"Oh, Maggie will, certainly," said Bessie, secure in her belief that no one could compete with her sister, now that Lena was supposed to be out of the question and Gracie Howard had decidedly withdrawn from the contest. "Maggie is sure to have it, and you know that she is anxious for it so she can give it to Gladys Seabrooke, as you would have done."

"I was thinking," said Lena, with a little hesitation, very different from her usual straightforward, somewhat blunt way of speaking, "I was thinking that you and Maggie praise me too much for wishing to earn the prize for Gladys Seabrooke. I would like to be the one to win it for her; but I think—I know—it is more for my own sake than for hers. You know I told you I wished so much that papa and mamma would think me so much improved by Miss Ashton's teaching that they would wish me to stay with her; and they would think it a sign of that if I did win the prize."

"Yes, I know," answered Bessie; "but I thought your father had promised that you should stay with Uncle Horace and Aunt May, and go to Miss Ashton's while you were in our country."

"Yes," said Lena, "but I want to stay here till I am quite grown up and educated. I want papa and mamma to think that I am doing better here, improving more than I have ever done before—as I am—so that they will leave me till I am grown up and quite old. Uncle Horace and Aunt May would keep me; Uncle Horace said he would like to have me for his girl always."

Not even her opinion of Mrs. Neville as a mother, not even her appreciation of the happiness of a home with her beloved Colonel and Mrs. Rush could quite reconcile Bessie to the fact that Lena was not only willing but anxious to leave her own home and family and to remain in a country where she would be separated from them for years to come; but nevertheless she felt a great sympathy for her and a strong desire that this wish should be fulfilled. Still she could not but have a little feeling of gladness that, according to her belief, there was no one who could now compete with her own Maggie for the prize; and she rather evaded the subject and took up that of school-news until Maggie, who had come with Jane, the nursery-maid, to take Bessie home, ran in.

She brought with her the papers read at the last meeting of the "Cheeryble Sisters' Club," such papers being, at Lena's special request, always turned over to her for perusal.

"Whose are these?" asked the young convalescent, when Maggie delivered them to her.

"One is Bessie's, and it is poetry. Did you know that Bessie had begun to write poetry?" said Maggie.

"Two poetesses in one family!" said Lena. "No, I did not hear that Bessie wrote poetry too."

"And this is so sweet," said Maggie; "such a pretty idea. And this paper is Lily's. Lily has given up the resolution that she would never let her compositions be read in the club, and this is the second one she has given us. It is good, too," she added. "And this is another one from Frankie. He seems to think himself quite a 'Cheeryble Sister,'" she added, laughing.

"Can you not read them to me before you go?" asked Lena, and Maggie assented.

"I'll read the best first," with a smile full of appreciative pride at Bessie, "for fear Jane comes and asks me to hurry because she has a million things to do."

And accordingly she unfolded one of the papers she had laid upon Lena's table when she came in; but before she had time even to commence it, Jane put her head in at the door with the usual formula.

"Miss Maggie and Miss Bessie, will you please come. I have a million things to do, and ought to be at home."

"In a few moments," answered Maggie; but Jane added to her persuasions by saying:

"And it's snowing, too; a snow kind of soft-like that'll be turning into rain before long, and Miss Bessie'll get wet."

This moved Maggie, as the politic Jane knew that it would do, for it was not expedient for Bessie to be out in the damp or wet; and when she glanced out of the window and saw that the maid's words were true, she lingered no longer, but laid the papers down again and told Lena they must go; and Jane, congratulating herself that she had gained her point so easily, was bearing away her young charge when an interruption occurred.

The children were in Mrs. Rush's sitting-room, and just at this moment she came in, accompanied by a little old lady, who will, doubtless be immediately recognized by those who have met her before.

"Maggie and Bessie, you are not just going, are you?" said Mrs. Rush. "Here is an old friend who would like to see you, at least for a few moments."

"I think we must go, Aunt May," said Maggie, "for it is snowing, and mamma would not like Bessie to be out." Then, turning to the little old lady, "How do you do, Miss Trevor? It is a long time since we have seen you."

"Time, indeed; time, yes, time," said Miss Trevor, shaking hands warmly with both Maggie and Bessie. "And you've grown, yes, grown, actually grown—why, grown!" she added, in a tone which would indicate that it was a matter of surprise two girls of the ages of Maggie and Bessie should grow. Then she put her head on one side and critically scanned her quondam pupils, giving them little nods of approval as she did so.

Maggie and Bessie were used to Miss Trevor's odd ways and manner of speaking; but to Lena they were a novelty, as she had never seen her before, although she had heard of her from her aunt and from her schoolmates, who often made merry over the recollection of her peculiarities when she had been their teacher in writing and drawing.

Presently she turned to Lena and surveyed her as if she were a kind of natural curiosity; yet there was nothing rude or obtrusive in the gaze.

"My niece, Lena Neville, Miss Trevor," said Mrs. Rush. "Lena, dear, this is Miss Trevor, of whom you have often heard me speak."

"So this is the little heroine," murmured Miss Trevor, "heroine, yes, heroine, indeed. Fire, oh yes, indeed, fire; such courage, such presence of mind, yes, mind, indeed, mind."

Lena was annoyed. She did not like allusions to the fire, to her own bravery and her rescue of her little sister, even from those who were near and dear to her; and from strangers they were unendurable to her. She shrank back in her chair and half turned her face from Miss Trevor, while the dark look which Mrs. Rush knew so well, but which she seldom wore now, came over it.

She hastened to effect a diversion.

"Miss Maggie, if you please, it's snowing fast," said Jane, "and I've a mil—"

"The young ladies cannot walk home in this wet snow," interposed Mrs. Rush. "The carriage has gone for the colonel; when it returns it shall take them home. And, Miss Trevor, it shall take you also. You can go to the nursery if you choose, Jane."

So Jane, forgetting the "million things" in the prospect of a comfortable gossip with old Margaret, departed to the nursery till the carriage should return and her young ladies be ready to go.

Miss Trevor, who was at her ease with Mrs. Rush and her former pupils of Miss Ashton's class if she was with any one, asked many questions about the studies of the latter and of the progress they were making in the two branches in which she had been their instructress, and gave some information respecting herself; Lena listening and looking on in wonder at her peculiarities of speech and manner, but taking no part in the conversation.

But at last Miss Trevor turned to her again.

"Neville, you said, my dear Mrs. Rush,—your niece—yes, Neville, indeed, Neville. Such a favorite with me—me, indeed, yes, favorite. I know a boy, yes, boy—indeed, youth—such a fine youth—such a hero—ro, indeed, ro—does not fear geese—hissing creatures, my dears—yes, creatures, indeed creatures, my dears, yes, creatures, indeed. Neville he is, yes, Neville—chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, 'proche, indeed, 'proche."

Now, as may be supposed, Lena was far from regarding her brother Percy as a "chevalier sans peur et sans reproche." She had little reason, in view of late occurrences, to do so, and she never connected him with the heroic youth on whose praises this odd little old lady was dwelling. She felt no interest in her, only a sort of impatient surprise, and wished that her aunt would take her away.

Miss Trevor dwelt farther upon the episode of the geese and Percy's coming to the rescue; and while Lena maintained a sober face, seeing nothing especially funny in the story, Maggie and Bessie, and even Mrs. Rush, had some difficulty in restraining themselves from laughing outright at the tragic tale she contrived to make out of it, and the thought of the droll spectacle the old lady must have presented as she flew down the street, pursued by the hissing, long-necked foe.

But presently Lena's attention was aroused.

"But are flocks of geese allowed to wander loose in the streets of Utica, Miss Trevor?" asked Mrs. Rush. "I thought it was too much of a place for that."

"Oh, no, my dear not Utica, no indeed, not Utica—did you not know? We moved, yes, moved, a year ago, yes, 'go, to Sylvandale, yes, Sylvandale—yes, 'dale," said Miss Trevor.

"Sylvandale! Neville!" said Mrs. Rush. "Lena has a brother at school at Sylvandale. Percy Neville! Can it be that our Percy is your young cavalier, Miss Trevor?"

"Percy Neville," repeated Miss Trevor, "yes, indeed, that is his name, name, yes, name. Is it possible he is your brother?" turning to Lena with a face now radiant with pleasure at this discovery. "Ah! such a boy, boy, indeed, boy!"

Lena was interested now, and, perhaps a trifle uneasy, lest by any possibility some knowledge of Percy's escapades should have come to Miss Trevor and might by her be incautiously betrayed to Colonel and Mrs. Rush. She turned rather an anxious eye upon the old lady, wishing that she would not pursue the theme of Percy and his valorous deeds, but not seeing very well how she could change the subject. Words did not come easily to Lena.

And her fears were not without foundation, although Miss Trevor knew nothing of Percy's troubles. Further and more startling revelations were to come.

For just at the moment, to this assembled group, entered Hannah, bearing in her hands a tray, on which was a cup of beef-tea for Lena. She was close to her little lady before she perceived the stranger, whom she would have shunned as she would a pestilence. The recognition was mutual, and to Hannah most unpleasant, and in the start it gave her she nearly dropped the tray and its contents.

"Merciful Lord!" she ejaculated, taken completely off her guard; but the exclamation was far more of a prayer than an irreverent mention of her Maker's name.

For was not her beloved nursling in danger? Her Master Percy, for whom she had sacrificed so much, was he not in danger of betrayal and disgrace in case this old lady should touch upon the subject of the money confided to her care to be conveyed to him?

She was not gifted with presence of mind, and she stood perfectly still, staring in undisguised perturbation at Miss Trevor.

Perceiving this, Miss Trevor believed that it was caused not only by surprise at seeing her there when she had told Hannah that she expected to return at once to Sylvandale, but also by the fear that the money had not reached its destination in good time, and she hastened to relieve her, thus bringing on the disclosures which Hannah was dreading.

"Good morning," she said, kindly. "Your money has gone, yes gone, my good woman, gone. I stayed in the city, yes, stayed, but the money has gone. He has it, the dear boy, yes, boy, he has it."

It was not her money but her boy that Hannah was fearing for now, and for whom she stood dismayed at the sight of Miss Trevor. Moreover, although she knew her place, and generally treated her superiors with all due respect, if there was one thing more than another which exasperated her, it was to have any one call her "my good woman;" and, hastily setting her tray upon the table, she looked daggers at Miss Trevor, as she answered, snappishly:

"I wasn't askin' ye nothin', ma'am."

Then she turned and fled, desirous to avoid all questions, although it was not Hannah's way to flee before danger, either real or apprehended.



CHAPTER X.

FRANKIE TO THE FRONT AGAIN.

It was the worst thing she could have done for her cause. It was her custom to stand over Lena "till hevery drop of that beef-tea is taken," knowing, as she did, that her young charge was averse to the process; and, had she stood her ground she might have evaded or parried questions, and perhaps have conveyed to Miss Trevor her desire for secrecy; but her dark looks and sudden exit, evidently caused by the presence of the latter, put the timid old lady into one of her flutters.

"What is it, my dear?" she asked, turning to Mrs. Rush, and speaking in a kind of panic. "What did I do? Does she think—yes—think that the money has not gone? Oh, yes, indeed, yes, I sent it so carefully, carefully indeed, fully, and the dear boy has it, yes, has it, indeed, long before this, long!" Then to Lena, "Your brother, my dear, yes, brother. Oh, I would have gone home myself to take it to him, yes, take, if I could not have sent it quite safely, yes, safe; but they persuaded me to stay, and so I sent it by post, sent it, yes, post."

Lena gave a little gasp.

Here then was a partial solution of the mystery of that second hundred dollars. She and Bessie both saw it; Hannah had sent it to Percy, and by some strange means, through Miss Trevor. And Hannah was now evidently very angry and disturbed. What could it all mean?

Bessie wondered: but the matter was not of as much moment to her as it was to Lena, who was more bewildered, if possible, than ever. And she knew what must follow—questions, explanations, and disclosure to her aunt and uncle of Percy's wrong-doing. Now, however, that he was released from the other dangers that had threatened him, the child felt this to be almost a relief: she had so suffered under the knowledge that she was keeping his secret from them, had felt such a sense of positive guiltiness in their presence.

"What is all this, Miss Trevor?" asked Mrs. Rush. "Where have you met Lena's old nurse before? And what is this about Percy; for I take it for granted he is the brother of Lena of whom you are speaking."

Her manner was so grave that Miss Trevor was alarmed, and imagining that she had brought herself and her young cavalier into some difficulty, she became more incoherent, nervous and rambling than usual. Repeating herself over and over again, she related, in such a confused manner, the story of her encounter with Hannah, and of how the latter had entrusted her with the money for Percy; of how she had intended to return to Sylvandale at once when she had accepted the trust, but had been persuaded by her friends to remain in the city until after Easter, and how she, mindful of the task she had undertaken, and not knowing where she could find Hannah to inform her of the change in her plans, had sent the money by post; but, as she assured Mrs. Rush, with the greatest precautions. Only those who were accustomed to her ways of speech could have thoroughly understood her, and even Mrs. Rush, who had known the old lady from her own childhood, had some difficulty in patching together a connected tale; and all she arrived at in the end only increased her desire to know more of the matter and to understand for what purpose Hannah had sent such a sum of money to Percy, and in such a mysterious manner.

As for Lena, a new thorn was planted in her poor little heart, a new shame bowed her head.

This much she understood, that Hannah had been sending money to Percy. Was it possible that her reckless brother had been so lost to all sense of what was fitting that he had actually applied to his faithful old nurse, this servant in his father's family, for aid? Oh, Percy, Percy; shame, shame!

As we know, she wronged Percy in this; but as she had no means of ascertaining how Hannah had become possessed of his secret and of his extremity, it was the most natural thing in the world that she should think he had so far forgotten himself. She could guess at more than Mrs. Rush or Bessie Bradford could, and had no doubt to what purpose the money entrusted to Miss Trevor had been destined.

And an added pang of shame and regret was given to the proud, high-spirited child when, at the conclusion of Miss Trevor's rambling tale, her aunt turned to her, and said:

"Why, Lena, that gold must have been those cherished sovereigns which Hannah destined for her monument and 'epithet.' Why should she have sent them to Percy? It is not possible that she would trust them to the keeping of a careless schoolboy."

As yet, it was plain, Mrs. Rush had suspected nothing wrong, so far as Percy was concerned about the disposal of Hannah's money, but now when she observed the painful flush and startled, shamed look upon the little girl's face, she could not but see that Lena was distressed, and instantly coupled this with the low spirits and nervous restlessness which had, for some time past, so evidently retarded her recovery. Lena could make her no answer in words, but her expression and manner were enough, and Mrs. Rush asked no more, intending to leave the matter to the judgment of her husband. She gave no hint of her suspicions to Lena, moreover, passing over the child's agitation in silence; and when the carriage had returned with the colonel, and the visitors departed, she set herself to divert Lena, offering, if she chose, to read the "club papers" Maggie had brought with her.

Lena assented, more to divert attention from herself and to turn her aunt's thoughts from the subject of the mysterious doings of Hannah, than from any real interest in the compositions; but as Mrs. Rush read her attention was presently attracted.

"This is one of Maggie's, I see," said Mrs. Rush, perceiving one in Maggie's handwriting. "Oh, no," glancing at the commencement and seeing that it was by no means in Maggie's style, "it is another effusion of Frankie's; she has only written it out from his dictation. I wonder if it will be as droll as 'Babylon Babylon.'"

"THE MAN THAT BROKE GOOD FRIDAY."

"Once there was a boy, and he never told a lie, and his name wasn't George Washington either. And I don't think it was anything so great to tell about that everlasting cherry-tree that everybody's tired hearing about; and when I come to be the Father of my Country and I do something bad, I'll just go and tell my papa about it without waiting for him to go poking round and having to ask me if I did it. I think it is awfully mean to do a fault and wait till somebody comes and asks you about it; it is skimpy of telling the truth. And if you do bad things your fathers don't always claps you in their arms and say they'd rather you'd do a hundred bad things than tell a lie; sometimes they punish you, all the same, and you don't always get out of it that way.

"Well, this boy didn't think so much of himself because he didn't tell lies; he was used to not telling them, and he didn't get himself put into the history books about it and make himself chestnuts. He was very polite to girls, too, and always got up and gave them a chair and gave them the best of everything, just like our Hal. Hal's awfully generous, and Fred is, too; only Fred teases, and the boys call Hal 'Troubadour.'

"Well, there was a man lived by this boy's house, and he was a real bad man, and it came Good Friday, and this man didn't go to church or anything; but he bought a flag—a great big, new one, and he put it right up on his flag-staff with his own hands. He just must have been glad that God was dead. The good boy saw it, and he knew it wasn't any use to tell that man he was breaking Good Friday, 'cause he would just say 'mind your own business,' so the boy ran to the President and told him about it, and the President came down out of his Capitol and ran with the truth-telling boy and came to the man and said, 'Hi, there, you! Pull down that flag this minute on Good Friday! And the man was awfully frightened 'cause he knew the President has such lots of soldiers and policemen, and he was afraid he'd set them on him; so he pulled down the flag mighty quick. But he was so mad he made faces at the President; but the President didn't care a bit. Presidents grow used to disagreeable things, and it is worse having people not vote for you than it is to be made faces at. He had a lot of laws to make that day and he thought he'd make a new one about putting up flags on Good Friday; so he hurried home to his Capitol; but when he came there, he said to his wife:

"'My dear, I'm afraid that man might do something horrid to that truth-telling boy—I know just by the look of him he don't like people who tell the truth; so you run and peep round the corner and watch!'

"And the President's wife said, 'Yes, your Presidency, I will'; and she put on her best frock and her crown, so as to make the man think she was very grand, so he'd be respectful to her, and she kissed the President for good-by and went and peeped around the corner.

"Well, you see after the President went away that man had grown madder and madder, but he didn't dare to put the flag up again, only he didn't like it 'cause somebody meddled with his business; generally people don't like it if you meddle with their business; and he stamped his feet and clenched his hands, and just screamed, he was so mad. It sometimes makes you feel a little better to scream if you're mad, only your fathers and mothers don't like it, but this man was so old and grown up his father and mother had had to die long ago; but they saw him out of heaven and were mad at him. Well, all of a sudden he said, 'I guess it was that boy who never tells lies; he looked real mad when he saw that flag, and I'll pay him off, oh, won't I though!' Then he cut off a great big piece of his flag-staff; he forgot the flag wouldn't go so high if he did it, and he was going to run at that boy who didn't tell lies; but the boy wasn't going to wait for him to ask, and he went up to him and said:

"'Hi, there, you! I told the President about you; I don't want you to ask me any kestions, 'cause always I speak the truth without waiting for people to ask me, and I did it, so, there now!'

"Then the bad man struck at the boy with the piece of the flag-staff in his hand; but the boy was too quick for him, and he couldn't reach him, and the President's wife screamed right out and ran for her husband's soldiers. She would have gone to help the boy herself; but she had to be very proud and stiff of herself because she was the President's wife.

"When the President heard her scream he knew it was because that man was trying to do something to the boy; so he looked in his laws dictionary to find what to do to him; but the man that made the dictionary never thought that any one would be so bad as to break Good Friday, so there was nothing about it. So he made a new law himself very quick and told the soldiers what to do, and they came; and the President's wife was hollering like anything and nervous; but the boy was just laughing and jumping around the man, saying, 'Catch me; why don't you catch me, old Good Friday breaker.'

"Well, this boy had a fairy of his own—this is partly a fairy tale and partly a Bible story, 'cause it is about Good Friday; and I don't know if it's very pious to mix up the two, but I have to end up the story—and this fairy came to help him, and she opened a hole in the ground and let the man fall right through to Africa, where the cannibals got him and eat him up; but he was so bad he disagreed with them, so even after he was killed he was a nuisance. Then the President gave the boy a beautiful present, and told him he'd vote for him to be President when he grew up, and he'd give him a whole regiment of soldiers for his own.

"So this is what you get for always telling the truth, and for not being afraid to tell when you've done a bad thing. Anybody is an awful old meaner to hide it when he's done it, and you ought to tell right out and not be sneaky. A boy who hides what he's done is a sneak, I don't care. The End."

There were some parts of this fanciful tale which made Lena wince, as she saw how much clearer an idea of right and wrong, truth and justice, had this little boy of seven than had her own brother of more than twice his age. If Percy could but think that it was "mean and sneaky" to endeavor to hide a fault, could but see how much nobler and more manly it was to make confession, and, so far as possible, reparation. True, the money had been repaid to Seabrooke; but through what a source had it come to him; and there were so many other things to confess, things which had led to this very trouble with Seabrooke. The rambling, half-incoherent nonsense written, or rather, dictated by the little brother of her young friends made her feel more than ever the shame and meanness of Percy's conduct, and she could not laugh at Frankie's contribution to the "Cheeryble Sisters," as her aunt did.

And Frankie practised that which he preached, as Lena very well knew. Mischievous and heedless, almost to recklessness, he was not only always ready to confess his wrong-doing when questioned, but when conscious of his fault, did not wait for his parents to "go poking about to find him out," but would go straightway and accuse himself. Like all the Bradford children, strictly truthful and upright, he scorned concealment or evasion, and accepted the consequences of his naughtiness without attempt at either. But well could Lena remember how in the nursery days from which she and Percy had but so recently escaped, he would hide, by every possible device, his own misdoings, even to the very verge of suffering others to be blamed for them. Hannah would even then strive to shield him from detection and punishment at his parents' hands, thus fostering his weakness and moral cowardice. With over-severity on the one hand, and over-indulgence on the other, what wonder was it that Percy's faults had grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength?

It cannot be said that Lena put all this into words, even to herself: but such thoughts were there, or those very much like them. She was given to reasoning and pondering over things in the recesses of her own mind, and she was uncommonly clear-sighted for a girl of her age. Probably the child was not the happier for that.

To Maggie and Bessie, in their joyous lives, full of the tenderness and confidence and sympathy which existed between them and their parents, such ideas would never have come, even while they wondered at and pitied the utter lack in Lena's existence of all that made the happiness of theirs.

And another trouble, perhaps now the greatest which weighed upon Lena's mind, was the knowledge that their faithful old nurse had sacrificed her long-cherished gold, with its particular purpose, to the rescue of Percy from his dilemma. For, after hearing Miss Trevor's story, Lena could not—did not doubt that this was so.

And Aunt May, having also heard the tale, would tell Uncle Horace; there was no doubt of that. Lena was not at all relieved by the fact that her aunt asked no questions, never once alluded to the subject. She suspected something wrong, and was only waiting for an opportunity to submit it to the colonel. Lena did not imagine, of course, that her aunt blamed her in any way in the matter; there was no reason that she should do so, and in one respect it would be almost a relief to have her aunt and uncle know all. But for Percy's sake she still shrank from that.

But Hannah, and Hannah's cherished money! Dear, faithful old Hannah! Oh, the shame, the shame of it!

Mrs. Rush, with her suspicions already tending Percy-wise in connection with Lena's late low spirits, and noting how devoid of interest she seemed to be in the papers she was reading for her benefit, had those suspicions more than ever confirmed since she observed the effect Miss Trevor's revelation had had upon her; she felt assured now that Percy had fallen into some trouble from which his sister and his old nurse had endeavored to extricate him. And it must be indeed a serious trouble which made needful such secrecy, such mysterious, underhand doings.

Suddenly Mrs. Rush saw Lena's countenance change; a look of relief passed over it, and her head was lifted and her eye brightened again. For it had flashed upon the child that there was a way out of a part of the difficulty, at least. That second hundred dollars could be taken to return to Hannah that which she had sacrificed. Percy had written that he would bring it to her when she came home for the Easter holidays; she would somehow contrive to have it turned into gold and give it back to the old woman, telling her at the same time that she and Percy had discovered her generosity, and loved her all the more for her faithful tenderness.

Ah! she said to herself, how stupid she had been not to see this at once, and how strange that Percy had not thought of doing it when he must at least have suspected the truth after applying to Hannah.

Mrs. Rush took up the second paper and glanced over it, then laughed.

"This is Lily's," she said. "Spelling does not seem to be her strong point."

"No," answered Lena, "she says she never can spell, and I do not think she tries very hard. Miss Ashton takes a great deal of trouble with her, too; but Lily just laughs at her own spelling and does not seem to think that it matters very much. But she is so nice," she added, apologetically, "and we all like her so much."

"Yes," answered Mrs. Rush, "Lily is a dear child, and so truly noble and upright and conscientious, in spite of her sometimes careless way of speaking of right and wrong. Shall I read this, Lena; do you care to hear it?" For she had noticed that Lena appeared distraite during the reading of Frankie's composition.

"Oh, yes, if you please, Aunt Marian," answered Lena, more cheerfully than she had spoken before. "Lily's compositions are always rather droll, even if they are not very correct."

"But does Miss Ashton leave it to Lily's own choice to say whether she will write compositions or no?" asked Mrs. Rush.

"Oh, no," answered Lena, "she has to write them regularly, as the rest of us do; but she has never before been willing to have one read in the club, and even this she will not allow to go in our book."

"'Good Resolutions' is the title of the piece," said Mrs. Rush, beginning to read from the paper in her hand.

"Good resolutions are capitle things if you keep them, but generally they are made to be broken; at least I am afraid mine are. I think I've made about a thousand in my life, and about nine hundred and ninety-seven have been broken. But there is one good resolution I made I have never broken and never shall, and that is, forever and ever and ever to hate Oliver Cromwell. I shall always kepe that. I know of lots of bad men, but I think he was the worst I ever knew. He made believe he was very pious, but he was not at all, he was a hipokrit and deceiver; and he made believe he had the king killed for writeousness' sake, and I know he only did it so as to take the head place himself. I think I can't bear Cromwell more than any one I ever knew. I just hate him, and it is no use for any one to say he was doing what he thought was best for his country and he meant well. I don't believe it, and I hate people who mean well; they are always tiresome. The poor dear king! I would like to have been there when they tryed him, and I would have been like Lady Fairfax and would have called out, 'Oliver Cromwell is a rogue and a traitor,' and not been afrade of anybody when I wanted to stand up for my king. I love Lady Fairfax."

"What a stanch little royalist Lily is and would have been had she lived in those days," said Mrs. Rush, smiling as she came to a pause.

"Yes," said Lena, "she always stands up for kings and the rights of kings."

"But I am amazed," said Mrs. Rush, "that Lily does not write a better composition than this. It is really not as good as some which I have seen written by the younger children of the class, Bessie, Belle and Amy."

"No," answered Lena, "and we all think it is because Lily does not choose to take pains with her compositions. She is so bright and clever about all her other lessons, history, geography, French, and everything but composition and spelling; but she only laughs about her bad report for those two, and does not seem to care at all or to take any trouble to improve in them. Miss Ashton is sometimes quite vexed with her, and says it is only carelessness."

"And even the wish to earn the prize did not spur her on?" asked Mrs. Rush.

"Oh, no," answered Lena, "she only said she knew she could never gain it, and wasn't going to try. I think Maggie persuaded her to write a paper to be read in the club in the hope that it would make her take a little pains and try to improve."

"But it hardly seems to have answered the purpose," said Mrs. Rush. "But" she added, as she took up again Lily's paper, which she had laid upon the table, "she is a dear child, and as you say, very bright. Do you wish to hear more of this, dear; or are you tired?"

"Oh, yes, please," answered Lena, who was now so relieved by the remembrance that the debt to Hannah could be paid as soon as her brother returned, that she felt as if some heavy weight had been lifted from her, and looked, spoke, and acted like a different child from the one of a few moments since; "if you please, Aunt Marian. Lily goes on for some time in such a nonsensical way and then comes out with something so clever and droll that we cannot help laughing. I would like to hear the rest of it; and there is Bessie's piece, too."

But before Mrs. Rush had time to commence once more the reading of Lily's composition, the colonel sent up a message to ask his wife to come to him.



CHAPTER XI.

A TRUST.

The puzzled colonel, even more puzzled than were his wife and Lena, since he had not all the clews to guide him which they had received, and, moreover, rather astonished that the former had not come to greet him, according to her usual custom, when he entered the house after an absence of some hours, had his tale to tell and his riddle to solve.

"Where have you been? Why did you not come before? Is Lena worse?" were questions he propounded in a breath, not waiting for an answer to the first till he had asked all three.

No, Lena was not worse, Mrs. Rush said, but she had been startled and worried, and she had stayed with her and tried to divert her until she should be more comfortable. And then she told the story of Miss Trevor's visit, of her encounter with Hannah, and the latter's evident dismay and displeasure at seeing her there; of how the old lady had betrayed that which the old nurse had plainly intended should be kept a profound secret; of how there could be no doubt that Lena had had the key to these revelations, and of how she had been much distressed and agitated by them, but had tried to conceal this and had told her nothing.

The colonel had his say also, and told how he had met Miss Trevor at the door with Maggie and Bessie when they came down to take the carriage; of how she had, in her own queer, incoherent way, told him some story of which he could make nothing clear save that Hannah had, through her, sent a large sum of money to Percy; and how he, coupling one thing with another, had arrived at the conclusion that Percy had fallen into trouble through his own fault, and so had not dared to apply for help to those upon whom he had a legitimate right to call, but had confided in Hannah, and begged and received aid from her. There could be no doubt of this, both the colonel and his wife agreed; nor that the depression and anxiety shown by Lena some time since was to be referred to the same cause, whatever that might be.

But as Percy would be home for the Easter vacation in a couple of days, the colonel said he would not question Lena or disturb her further at present. If Percy were in fault and had been guilty of any wrong-doing, he must be made to confess; if not, it would still be expedient that it should be known why a sum of money, so large for such a boy, should have been conveyed to him by a servant in such a surreptitious manner. If no information on the matter could be obtained from either Lena, Percy or Hannah, he should feel it only right to write to Percy's father and place it in his hands; and in any case Hannah must be repaid. The story of the exchange of the gold for Miss Trevor's bank-notes left little doubt in the mind of either Colonel or Mrs. Rush that the sum consecrated to the monument and epitaph which were to commemorate the virtues of the faithful old woman, had been sacrificed to Percy's needs; and now the colonel remembered how she had asked him the value of British gold in American paper.

So nothing more was said till Percy should come, and Lena, seeing that her uncle and aunt were just as usual, and that they plied her with no questions, took heart of grace, and consoled herself with the reflection that she had alarmed herself unnecessarily, and that they were not going to "make a fuss" over Miss Trevor's revelations.

Meanwhile Percy had kept his promise to his sister, namely, that he would henceforth avoid Lewis Flagg; at least, he had done so as far as he was able, for it is easier to take up with bad company than it is to shake it off; that is, if the desire to do so is not mutual, and the bad company has no mind to be discarded. And this was the case with Lewis. He had reasons of his own for wishing to keep his influence over Percy, and he did not intend that he should escape it if it were possible to maintain it.

So, in spite of Percy's avoidance of him, which became so marked that the other boys noticed it, he persisted in seeking his company at all times and in all places. He was not by any means blind to Percy's endeavors to avoid him, but chose to ignore them and to be constantly hail-fellow-well-met with him as he had been before.

But, fortunately for Percy, Seabrooke had his eye on both. While seeing all the weakness and instability of the younger boy's character, he saw also much that was lovable and good; and moreover, a kindly feeling towards him had been aroused through gratitude to his friends and relations.

He had heard through his sister Gladys and his father, not only of the kindness shown to the little girl, but also of the generous donation made by Colonel Rush to the struggling church of which his father was rector; and he knew through Percy of the efforts of Lena and her young friends to gain the scholarship for Gladys. In spite of his rather stubborn pride which had led him so haughtily to answer Percy that his sister was not an object of charity, he could not but feel grateful to the sweet little strangers who were striving to earn such a benefit for his own sister; and for the sake of Percy's relatives as well as for that of the boy himself, he had resolved to keep an eye upon him during the few remaining days of the term and to endeavor to keep him from going astray again. And Percy, who had been pretty thoroughly frightened, and also truly ashamed of the disgraceful scrape into which he had fallen, was far more amenable than usual to rules and regulations, and was not without gratitude to Seabrooke for having dealt so leniently with him.

But even now, as Harley Seabrooke could plainly see, Percy had no proper sense of the gravity of his late offence; the dread of Dr. Leacraft's displeasure and of the exposure to his relatives being what chiefly concerned him.

Percy had told Seabrooke whence he had received the money with which he had been enabled to repay him, and had been rather troubled by his reluctance to accept it through the means of a girl who was totally innocent of any share of blame. Careless as he was, Percy could not but feel that it cast a reflection upon him. Hence he had been glad when that second remittance arrived in such a mysterious manner to let Harley know of it, and to declare that he should repay his sister at once on his return to his uncle's house at the approaching Easter holidays.

But Seabrooke had little faith in Percy's strength of purpose in case any new temptation presented itself in the meantime; that is, any temptation to spend the money in any other way.

"Don't you think it is what I ought to do?" asked Percy, when he had told Seabrooke of his intentions, and observed, as he could not help doing, that the other seemed a little doubtful.

"Certainly, I think it is what you ought to do; it is the only thing you can do if you have any sense of right and honor," answered Seabrooke, looking at him steadily.

"But you think I won't," said Percy, awakening to a sense that Seabrooke had no confidence in his good resolutions.

"I think you are open to temptation, Neville, more than any one I know," answered his uncompromising mentor; and Percy could not deny that there was too much truth in the assertion. He took it in good part, however, although he made no answer beyond what was conveyed by a rather sheepish look; and presently Seabrooke said:

"Does any one know that you have received this money, Neville?"

He would not ask the direct question which was in his mind, namely, whether Lewis Flagg knew of it.

"Oh, yes, all the fellows know of it," answered Percy; "they were all there when I opened that odd-looking parcel. I thought it was a hoax—wrapped up in paper after paper that way—and I was not going to open the hair-pin box when it came out at last; but Raymond Stewart cut the string and there was the hundred-dollar note. A nice thing it would have been if I had tossed it in the fire, as I had a mind to do half-a-dozen times while I was unrolling those papers. Oh, yes; they all saw it. Flagg says I am the luckiest fellow he knows."

"Yes," thought Seabrooke, "and he'll persuade you to make way with it before it goes into your sister's hands, if I know him aright. I say, Percy," aloud, "why don't you put that money into Mr. Merton's hands till you are going home?"

"Why?" asked Percy, rather indignantly. "You don't suppose any one is going to steal it, do you?"

"Of course not," answered Seabrooke, who really had no such thought, and only feared that Percy himself might be tempted to do something foolish—in his situation something almost dishonorable Seabrooke thought it would be. It was due to Percy's sister that this sum should be employed to repay her; it would be an absolute wrong to employ it for anything else. "Only," he added, with a little hesitation, "I thought you might find it a sort of a safeguard to have it in the hands of some one else."

"A safeguard against myself, eh?" said Percy, laughing good-naturedly, and not at all offended, as Seabrooke feared he might be. "All right, if you are unhappy about it take care of it yourself."

And drawing his purse from his pocket he opened it, took from it the hundred dollar note, and thrust the latter into Seabrooke's hand.

"I suppose it's wisest," he said; "but I know I shouldn't spend it. However, if it gives you any satisfaction it is as well in your pocket as mine."

"It will not lodge in my pocket," said Seabrooke; "how can you carry such a sum of money in such an insecure place, Neville? Playing rough-and-tumble games, too, when any minute it is likely to fall out of your pocket. I shall lock it up, I can tell you; and what if you tell me not to return it to you till we are breaking up?"

"All right," said Percy again. "I request you not to give it back to me until the day we leave."

"I promise," said Seabrooke. "Remember now; I shall keep my word and take you at yours, and will not return this money to you until Thursday morning of next week."

"No, don't," said Percy, laughing. "I give you full leave to refuse to return it to me till then."

"Self-confident, careless fellow!" said Seabrooke to himself as the other turned away in a series of somersaults down the slope on the edge of which they had been standing. "He is so sure of himself; and yet, I know, at the very first temptation he would forget all about his debt to his sister and make way with that money. But I can't help having a liking for him, and for the sake of that sister who has been so nice to Gladys I shall do what I can to keep him straight."

"I say, Neville," said Raymond Stewart, meeting Percy not half an hour afterward, "aren't you going to stand treat out of that fortune of yours?"

"No," answered Percy, "not this time. I have something else to do with that fortune of mine."

"Turned stingy all of a sudden, eh?" said Raymond, with the disagreeable sneer which was almost habitual with him; and Percy, in spite of his boasting self-confidence, felt glad that his money was in other keeping than his own. He knew perfectly well that he would not have stood proof against the persuasions and sneers, perhaps even threats, which might be brought into use to induce him to part with at least a portion of it. Seabrooke had foreseen just some such state of affairs when he heard that the other boys all knew of Percy's fortune, and hence the precautions he had taken. He would have felt that they were fully justified had he overheard the present conversation.

Further pressure, not only from Raymond Stewart, but from several of the other boys was brought to bear upon Percy: but, as he laughingly declared, he had not the money in his hands, and so could not spend it.

"Where is it, then?" "What have you done with it?" "Have you sent it home?" asked one and another; but Percy still refused to tell.

Only Lewis Flagg did not beset him, did not ask any questions or seem to take any interest in the matter; but that would easily be accounted for by the coolness which had arisen between Percy and himself during the last few days. But this state of affairs had really nothing to do with it, for Lewis did not choose to be snubbed so long as he had any object to gain, and the coolness was all on Percy's side.

But Lewis could give a very good guess as to the whereabouts of Percy's money at present, or at least, as to the person in whose custody it was.

He had been standing at one of the school-room windows while Seabrooke and Percy had been talking at the top of the slope, and had seen the latter take out his pocket-book, take something from it and hand it to Seabrooke, and he rightly conjectured how matters were, that Seabrooke had persuaded Percy to give him the money for safe-keeping.

And then arose a thought which had made itself felt before, that it was hard that Percy had been furnished not only with the means to defray the claim of Seabrooke, and that through no sacrifice or exertion of his own, but also with a like sum which he was at liberty to spend as he pleased, while he himself had been obliged to dispose of his watch in order to obtain the sum which would save him. He felt quite wronged, and as if some injustice had been done to him, forgetting or losing sight of all the meanness, underhand dealing and disobedience of rules which had brought him to his present predicament. And the doctor would be here tomorrow,—for his son was out of danger and he was coming back to close the school,—would hear the account of his misconduct and would report at home, if nothing worse. A feeling of intense irritation against both Seabrooke and Percy Neville took possession of him, a feeling as unreasonable as it was spiteful; and he said to himself that he would find means to be revenged on both, especially on Seabrooke, whom he chose to look upon as the offender instead of the offended, the injurer instead of the injured.

Then another idea took possession of him, and one worthy of his own mean spirit, namely, that Seabrooke had been demanding and Percy giving a further prize for the silence of the former in the matter of the burnt money; and he immediately formed in his own mind a plan by which he might be revenged upon Seabrooke. He called it to himself, "playing a jolly good trick;" but Lewis Flagg's "jolly good tricks" were apt to prove more jolly to himself than to his victims, and they did occasionally, as we have seen, recoil upon his own head.

"I say, Percy," said Raymond Stewart, "you hav'n't made over that hundred dollars to Flagg, have you? We know that he can get out of you anything that he chooses. Has he, Flagg? Own up now if he has. I shouldn't wonder."

"No, I hav'n't," said Percy, exasperated by the assertion that Flagg could do as he pleased with him. "No, I haven't given it to him, and he can't make me do as he pleases. No one can."

At this assumption of his own independence from the facile, easily-led Percy a shout of derision was raised; and then began a running fire of schoolboy jeers and jests. The good humor with which Percy generally took such attacks was apt to disarm his tormentors; but now, probably because he was conscious that their taunts were so well-deserved, he resented them and showed some irritability in the matter. Had he not felt assured that Seabrooke would abide by his word and insist upon keeping possession of the money until the day of the breaking up of school, there is little doubt that he would have allowed himself to be urged into demanding it back and spending at least some portion of it for the entertainment of his school-fellows.

"See here," said one of the boys, apropos of nothing it seemed, "see here, do you know Seabrooke is going to dine with the dons up at Mr. Fanshawe's to-night?"

"Then who's going to be sentinel at evening study?" asked Raymond Stewart.

"Mr. Merton," answered the other.

"Isn't he invited?" asked Raymond.

"Yes, but he wants Seabrooke to go because he says he has but little pleasure; so he told him he would decline and take the evening study, so that he might go to the dinner. Here he comes now. Hallo! Seabrooke, what a big-bug you're getting to be! Going out to dine with the dons and so forth."

Seabrooke passed on with a cold, indifferent smile just moving the corners of his mouth. He had little of the spirit of good comradeship and was not accustomed to meet any joke or nonsense from his companions in a responsive manner; so it was little wonder that he was not very popular with the other boys.

But as he passed Percy, who stood leaning with his back against a tree, rather discontentedly kicking the toe of his shoe into the ground, he saw that the boy was vexed about something, and paused to speak to him.

"Hallo, Neville," he said; "what is the matter? You look as if the world were not wagging your way just now."

"Nothing," answered Percy, half-sulkily, "only I wish I hadn't given you that money. The fellows think I'm awfully mean."

"So soon!" said Seabrooke to himself; then replied aloud, "Why, because you wish to pay a just debt?"

"No, they don't know about that," said Percy, "only they think I ought to stand treat."

"I shall keep my word to you," said Seabrooke, significantly, and walked on.

"You wouldn't like it yourself," answered Percy; but Seabrooke only shrugged his shoulders and gave no symptom of yielding to his unspoken desire.

"Weak, unstable fellow!" he said to himself. "He would have asked me for that money if he had thought there was the slightest chance I would give it to him, and would have spent a part of it rather than have those fellows chaff and run him. After his sister's sacrifice, too. Pah!"

He had never been a boy who was subject to temptations of this nature, or who cared one iota for the opinion of others, especially if he believed himself to be in the right; and he had no patience with or pity for weakness of character or purpose. To him there was something utterly contemptible in Percy's indulging in the least thought of withdrawing from his resolution of using the sum he had confided to his keeping to repay his debt to his sister, and he wasted no sympathy upon him or his fancied difficulties.

Seabrooke went to dine with "the dons," caring not so much for the social pleasure as for the honor conferred upon him by the invitation; Mr. Merton taking, as had been arranged, his place in the schoolroom during evening study.

The tutor cast his eye around the line of heads and missed one.

"Where is Lewis Flagg?" he asked.

"I don't know, sir," answered one of the boys. "I saw him about ten minutes ago."

Scarcely had he spoken when the delinquent entered the room and hastened to his seat.

"Late, Lewis," said Mr. Merton, placing a tardy mark against his name.

"I did not hear the bell, sir," answered Lewis, telling his falsehood with coolness, although his manner was somewhat flurried and nervous.

Percy was running across the play-ground the next morning when he came full against Seabrooke, who was just rounding the corner of an evergreen hedge. He would have been thrown off his balance by the shock had not Seabrooke caught him; but the next instant he shook him off, while he regarded him with a look of the most scornful contempt.

"Hallo!" said Percy, not observing this at first, "that was a concussion between opposing forces. I beg your pardon. I should have been down, too, but for you"

"You're pretty well down, I should say," replied Seabrooke, sneeringly. "You're a nice fellow to call yourself a gentleman, are'n't you?"

Percy opened his eyes in unfeigned astonishment. The grave, studious, young pupil-teacher was no favorite with the other boys, who thought him priggish and rather arbitrary; but at least he was always courteous in his dealings with them, and, indeed, rather prided himself upon his manners.

"Well, that's one way to take it," said the younger boy, resentfully, his regrets taking flight at once as they met with this apparently ungracious reception. "Accidents will happen, and, after all, it was just as much your fault as mine."

"I would not try to appear innocent. It will hardly serve your turn under the circumstances," said Seabrooke, still with the same disagreeable tone and manner. "But let me tell you, Mr. Neville, that I have a great mind to report you for trespassing in my quarters. You may think you have the right to demand your own if you choose to break a compact made for your own good, but you have no right to be guilty of the liberty and meanness of ransacking another man's belongings in search of it."

"I don't know what you are talking about. What do you mean?" exclaimed the astonished Percy, really for the moment forgetting that Seabrooke had anything belonging to him in his keeping.

But Seabrooke only answered, as he turned away, "Such an assumption of innocence is quite thrown away, I repeat, sir and the next time you meddle with my things or places, you shall suffer for it, I assure you."

But Percy seized him by the arm.

"You shall not leave me this way," he said. "What do you mean? Explain yourself. Who touched your things?"

"It shows what you are," answered Seabrooke, continuing his reproaches, instead of giving the straightforward answer which he considered unnecessary, "that you have not the decent manliness to demand that which rightfully belonged to you because you were ashamed of your own folly and weakness, but must go and ransack in my quarters to find your money. Let me go; I wish nothing more to do with you."

Light broke upon the bewildered Percy. Seabrooke was accusing him of searching for and taking the money he had confided to his care, but which he, Percy, certainly had no right to recover by such means.

"You say I took back my money without asking you for it, and hunted it out from your places?" he asked, incredulously, but fiercely.

"I do," answered Seabrooke, "and I've nothing more to say to you now or hereafter."

Percy contradicted him flatly, and in language which left no doubt as to his opinion of his veracity, and very hard words were interchanged. Both lost their temper, and Seabrooke his dignity—poor Percy had not much of the latter quality to lose—and the quarrel presently attracted the attention, not only of the other boys, but of one or two of the masters who happened to be within hearing.

Naturally this called forth inquiry, and it soon became known that Percy had entrusted to Seabrooke's keeping a large sum of money, lest he should himself be tempted to spend any portion of it, as it was to be reserved for a special purpose; that Seabrooke before going to the dinner on the previous evening had put it, as he supposed, in a secure place, and that this morning the money was gone, while he had discovered slight but unmistakable evidence that his quarters had been ransacked in search of it. He had, perhaps, not unnaturally, at once arrived at the conclusion that Percy himself had searched for and taken it, being determined to have it, and yet ashamed to demand its return. It was a grave accusation, and one which Percy denied in the most emphatic and indignant manner which convinced nearly every one who heard him of his innocence.

Seabrooke was not among these. He maintained that no one but Percy knew that he had taken the money in charge; no one but Percy had any object in finding it, and he appeared and professed himself perfectly outraged that any one "should have dared" to open his trunk, bureau and so forth. There could be no question of actual theft, since the money was Percy's own, to dispose of as he pleased, but the liberty was a great one, and it was a very mean way of regaining possession even of his own property, had he been guilty of it.

But Percy was popular, Seabrooke was not; and even the masters were inclined to believe that the latter must have been careless and forgetful and mislaid the money, while believing he had put it in the place he indicated, and presently—no one knew exactly how it started or could trace the rumor to its source—presently it began to be bruited about among the boys that Seabrooke was keeping it for his own use and had never intended to return it to Percy, and was now making him his scape-goat.

But Percy, even in the midst of his own wrath and indignation, generously combated this; he inclined to the first supposition that Seabrooke had mislaid or lost the note, and he even maintained that it would shortly be found.

But this did not make Seabrooke any more lenient in his judgment. He said little, but that little expressed the most dogged and obstinate belief in Percy's weakness of purpose, and in his search for and abstraction of his own property.

The situation was one hard to deal with, and Mr. Merton and the other tutors resolved to let the matter rest until the return of Dr. Leacraft, who was expected that very evening.

School closed the next day, and the various actors in this little drama were to scatter to their respective homes for the Easter holidays.

"What a miserable report we have to make to the doctor on his return!" said Mr. Merton. "When he has been through so much, too, and is just feeling a little relief from his anxiety. He will find that his boys—the majority at least—have not had much consideration for him in his trouble."

What would he have said had he known how much worse the record might have been—had all been revealed, had Seabrooke disclosed the drugging, the theft of his letter to his father, and the destruction, unintentional though it was, of the money?

Seabrooke went about the business of the day with all his accustomed regularity and precision, but with a sort of defiant and I-am-going-to-stick-to-it air about him which in itself incited the other boys to covert thrusts and innuendoes tending to throw distrust upon his version of the story and to make known their thorough sympathy with Percy, not only for his loss, but also for the aspersions cast upon him by the young pupil-teacher. Seabrooke professed, and perhaps with truth, not to care particularly for popularity or for what others said about him; but he found this hard to bear, more especially as he fully believed Percy to be guilty of the meanness he had ascribed to him.

But for some unknown reason Lewis Flagg, who was usually the ringleader in all such little amenities, held his peace and had nothing to say.



CHAPTER XII.

DISCOVERY.

If Dr. Leacraft expected to be received with much enthusiasm on his return that evening he was destined to disappointment. The boys cheered him on his arrival, it is true, and came about him with inquiries for his injured son and congratulations on his partial recovery; but there was a certain restraint in the manner of the majority which to his experienced eye and ear told that all things had not gone quite well.

And that it was something more than the by-gone offence of the expedition to Rice's was evident. Only one-half of the boys were implicated in that affair; they had already been punished by the restrictions which had been placed upon them, and were to be further disgraced by the public reprimand which he intended to give them on the dismissal of the school; and these culprits were probably dreading this or some other severe punishment which would be meted out to them by the report of their misconduct which would be sent home. But there was something here beyond all this; the boys were looking askance at one another, and as if there were some new revelation to be made.

Mr. Merton would have spared the doctor the recital of any further disturbance until the morning; but the principal, having observed all this, would not be put off; the time was short, and if the matter were a serious one which required investigation, he must have knowledge of it at once.

Serious, indeed, the doctor thought it when he heard the tale: the disappearance of a hundred-dollar note confided by one boy to another, and the question as to who was responsible for it.

But was it certain that this responsibility lay solely between these two boys?

This was an idea which now presented itself to the minds of the two gentlemen, as it had before this to the minds of the pupils. It had been started by Raymond Stewart, who had said:

"How do we know that some one else has not been meddling with that money? I do not see that it follows no one could touch it but Seabrooke or Percy."

"That would say that there was a thief among us," said another boy, indignantly.

"That's about it," answered Raymond.

The boys had looked from one to another almost in dismay. Whatever their faults and shortcomings—and some of these had been grave enough—such an idea, such an implication as this had never before presented itself to them—that there was a thief in their midst, that one of their number had been guilty of flagrant dishonesty, of an absolute theft, and that of a large sum.

"That's a nice thing for you to say," broke forth Malcolm Ainslie. "Whom do you accuse?"

"I accuse no one," answered Raymond. "I only said such a thing might be."

But Percy and Seabrooke had both scouted the idea; no one, they both said, knew that the former had intrusted his money to Seabrooke; no one had been present at the time, and both declared that they had spoken of it to no one.

But the suspicion aroused by Raymond was not set at rest by this, and an uncomfortable atmosphere had reigned ever since, and, as has been seen, was remarked by Dr. Leacraft as soon as he returned home.

Thursday morning, and the closing day arrived, and there was a general feeling of shame and annoyance that such a cloud should be resting upon the school as its members separated even for a few days. It seemed now as if nothing could "come out," as the boys said, there was so little time for any investigation, for the pupils, none of whom lived at more than a few hours distance from Sylvandale, were to leave by the afternoon trains.

The morning lessons were to continue as usual, but those for the after part of the day were to be dispensed with.

The matron did the boys' packing, so that there were no especial calls upon their time before leaving.

"Henderson, are you ill?" asked Dr. Leacraft, coming into the junior class-room about eleven o'clock, and noticing that Charlie Henderson, the youngest boy in the school and a pattern scholar, was deathly pale, and supporting his head upon his hand. The boy was subject to frightful headaches, which for the time unfitted him for all study or recitation; and Seabrooke, who was hearing the lesson in progress, had excused him from taking any part in it. These headaches were of few hours duration; but the boy needed absolute rest and quiet to enable him to conquer them.

As he lifted his heavy, suffering eyes to the doctor's face, Seabrooke answered for him.

"Yes, sir, he has one of his headaches, and is afraid he will not be able to go this afternoon. I have excused him from recitation, and was going to ask if he may go to his room. He is not fit to be here."

"Certainly. Go at once, my child," said the doctor, laying his hand kindly on the boy's throbbing head. "You must have a sleep, and ease this poor head before afternoon. You will feel better by train time."

Charlie rose with a murmured word of thanks, every step and movement adding a fresh pang to his pain, and went slowly from the room and up to the dormitory devoted to the younger boys.

But there seemed small prospect of quiet here. The matron and three housemaids were in the room, half a dozen trunks were standing here and there, bureau drawers and closets were standing open, and a general appearance of disorder attendant upon the packing for half-a-dozen boys reigned throughout the apartment.

Charlie gave a little groan of despair as he stood at the open door and looked in.

"Oh, Master Henderson, my dear!" ejaculated the matron, as she caught sight of the pale, suffering young face, "you've never gone and got one of your headaches to-day of all days. Such a hubbub as there is here. You can't come in, my dear; you'll never get rest for your poor head. Come to the other dormitory; we're all done there, and it's as quiet as a nunnery, and one can get to sleep, and sleep you must have if you are going home this afternoon. Come now; you have five hours to get rid of that good-for-nothing headache."

And the voluble but kind-hearted woman led the way to the dormitory of the older boys, where all was quiet and in order, and installed her patient on Percy Neville's bed, covered him, gave him the medicine prescribed for his relief, and having made him as comfortable as circumstances would permit, left him to the coveted rest and quiet in the half-darkened room.

The healing sleep was not long in coming, and for three hours or more Charlie lay motionless and lost to all around him, Mrs. Moffat coming once or twice to look in upon him, and depart with a satisfied nod of her head, confident that he would wake sufficiently restored to undertake the journey home at the appointed hour.

It was with a grave face that the doctor rose at the close of the morning lessons to dismiss his charge for the Easter holidays. His customary leave-taking was one simply of good-will and kind wishes for the enjoyment of his pupils, and for their return at the commencement of another term; but this time there was much to be said that was not so agreeable. To the younger boys he addressed only a few commendatory words, praising them for their fair progress and general good conduct, and wishing them a very pleasant holiday.

To those of the senior department he then turned with stern looks and tones, saying he had thought it but right to inform their parents and guardians of their misconduct during his absence. He did not intend to leave punishment entirely to them, however, but on the return of the boys to school, further restrictions would be placed upon their liberty, and many of their past privileges would be taken from them for the remainder of the school year. He spoke severely, not only of the want of principle shown by the culprits, but alluded also to the lack of feeling they had shown in so defying his express wishes and orders at a time of such distress and anxiety to himself, although he did not dwell much upon this. But to those among them who had any sense of honor left, there was an added shame when this was presented anew to them, and as Percy afterwards said, he did "feel uncommonly mean and sneaky."

He must speak of another and still more painful matter, the doctor continued. A matter so serious that he felt he must allude to it before they separated. A large sum of money was missing under very mysterious circumstances; he believed that there was no need to enter into particulars. He wished and was inclined to think that some forgetfulness and carelessness lay at the bottom of this. Here Seabrooke's hand, which lay upon his desk, clenched itself, and a dark scowl passed over his face, while Percy glanced over at him with suspicion and resentment written on every feature, and a battery of eyes turned in his direction, not one among them with friendly look for himself.

But the doctor said there might be even a worse interpretation put upon the disappearance of the money, an interpretation he was both to entertain, but which must occur to all, namely, that some one had succumbed to temptation, and had appropriated the missing sum, which one of their number had been so positive he left in a safe place. Was it possible that there was one among the circle who would do such a thing? If so, let him make confession and restitution before he left to-day, and although he could not be suffered to return to the school, he might at least be spared the shame of confronting his schoolmates after discovery. For he would leave no stone unturned, he said, emphatically, to unravel the mystery; and if nothing came to light before to-night, he should at once place the matter in competent hands for its solution.

A dead silence fell upon the boys as he concluded, and if they had been uneasy and inclined to look askance upon one another before, how was it with them now? So the higher powers shared the suspicions which, they scarcely knew how, had made themselves felt among them since yesterday morning.

What an uncomfortable puzzle it all was! and who was to read the answer to the riddle? Had Seabrooke lost the money? Had Percy been guilty of possessing himself of his own property by such unjustifiable means? Or was one of their number an actual thief?

In a few more words Dr. Leacraft then dismissed the school, and the boys were free for discussion of the matter among themselves.

It was easy for Seabrooke to see, as it had been from the first, in which direction the current of opinion tended, and not caring to talk further upon the subject, he withdrew to the shelter of his own alcove.

Charlie Henderson, in the solitary dormitory, lay quiet and undisturbed, until, having nearly slept off his headache, he woke with the delightful sense of relief and peace which comes after the cessation of severe pain. He lay still, however, feeling languid, and waiting till some one should come whom he could ask for the cup of strong coffee which was always needed to perfect his cure, and thinking happily of home and the pleasure he anticipated in the holidays just at hand.

At last Mrs. Moffat put her head into the room. "Ah, Master Henderson, my dear," she said, at once appreciating the change in the situation, "so you're better. That's a dear boy"—as though it were highly meritorious in Charlie to have allowed himself to feel better. "Well, now, you must have your cup of coffee to tone you up for your trip. You lie still, while I see about it. There's lots of time yet, and I'm not going to send you home faint and miserable to your mother, and have her say there's nobody at Sylvandale Academy to look after her head-ache-y boy."

And she was gone, while Charlie, nothing loth, obeyed orders and lay almost motionless.

Suddenly quick footsteps came along the hall, and the door of the room, which Mrs. Moffat had left ajar, was pushed open and a boy entered—one of the older boys—and Charlie knew that his presence here would be questioned, and that he must hasten to explain.

Who was it? There were boys and boys belonging to that dormitory, and Charlie felt that he would rather be found there by some than by others. It was for this reason that he had chosen the bed of the good-natured, easy-going Percy to rest upon; he would "raise no fuss," or make him feel himself an intruder.

It was Lewis Flagg. Certainly he was not the one by whom Charlie would choose to be faced, and seeing that he was not perceived, he hesitated whether he should speak and reveal his presence, or pretend to be still asleep and trust to silence and good fortune to remain undiscovered.

But before he had quite made up his mind which course to pursue the matter was decided for him, and he found that he had no need to betray himself.

Lewis was upon business which necessitated haste and secrecy; and knowing that all the other legitimate occupants of the dormitory were below stairs, he never gave a thought to the possibility that there might be some one else there, and believed himself quite alone. His hurried movements were very mysterious to the young spectator.

Lewis went to the alcove occupied by Seabrooke, where his trunk, like that of the other boys, stood packed and closed, but not locked or strapped lest there should be "some last things to put in." He stooped over the trunk, lifted the lid, and taking something from his pocket, thrust it down beneath the contents, hastily closed it again, and darted from the room. The whole performance took but a moment, but there was an unmistakable air of guilt and terror about Lewis which did not fail to make itself apparent even to the inexperienced eye of Charlie.



"I wonder what he was doing. He hates Seabrooke; so he wasn't giving him a pleasant surprise," said the little boy to himself. "He's a sneak, and I suspect he was doing something sneaky. I've a great mind to tell Seabrooke to look in his trunk before he locks it. Perhaps he has put in something to explode or do some harm to the things in Seabrook's trunk or to himself."

Charlie was a nervous child and rather imaginative, and was always conjuring up possibilities of disaster in his own mind. He did not make these public; he knew better than to do such a thing in a house full of schoolboys, but they existed all the same. He did not wish to "tell tales;" but he had not too much confidence in Lewis Flagg—it would be hard to find the boy in the school who had, especially among the younger ones—and he could not bear to think that he might have planned some scurvy trick on Seabrooke.

Charlie was a pattern scholar, a boy after Seabrooke's own heart, because of his sincere efforts to do right; and hence he had found favor in his eyes, and he had shown many little tokens of partiality toward the child which had won for him the younger boy's gratitude and affection.

He lay waiting for Mrs. Moffat and trying to make up his mind what he had better do, when Seabrooke himself entered the room and went directly to his alcove, in his turn unconscious of Charlie's presence.

He looked troubled and harassed, as he well might do, and sat down for a moment, leaning his head upon his hand, and seemingly in deep thought.

Should he tell him? Charlie asked himself.

Presently with a sigh and a despondent shake of the head, to which he would never have given vent had he known that any one was observing him, Seabrooke rose, and going to his trunk proceeded to lock it.

It was too much for Charlie.

"Seabrooke!" he said, in a low tone, and raising himself from his pillows.

Seabrooke looked up, startled at finding that he was not the sole occupant of the room.

"Charlie," he exclaimed, "what are you doing here?" Then with a flash of recollection, "Oh! I suppose they put you here to sleep off your headache."

"Yes," answered Charlie, "and—Seabrooke—"

"Well, what is it?" asked the other, as the boy hesitated.

"Won't you look in your trunk—carefully—before you lock it?" said Charlie.

"Why?" asked Seabrooke, much surprised, and thinking for a moment that Charlie's headache must have produced something like delirium.

"Oh, because," said Charlie, thinking how he could best warn Seabrooke and yet not betray Flagg, "because—there's something in your trunk."

"Of course there is," said Seabrooke, "lots of things, I should say—pretty much all I possess is there."

And he wondered as he spoke if he should ever bring any of his possessions back there again, whether, with this cloud, this suspicion of a possible betrayal of his trust resting upon him, he should ever return to Sylvandale school.

"But—" stammered Charlie, "I mean—Seabrooke—somebody put something there. I—I saw him—but he did not see me here. He's playing you a trick, I know. Do look."

Seeing that the boy was quite himself and thoroughly in earnest, Seabrooke turned to his trunk and began taking the clothes out, Charlie sitting up and watching him anxiously, and wondering what would be discovered.

"It's in the left-hand corner in front," he said; and then there was silence for a moment.

Seabrooke laid aside half-a-dozen articles, then suddenly started to his feet with an exclamation, holding in his hand a creased and crumpled envelope, which he hastily opened, and took from it—Percy's hundred-dollar note!

He turned deathly pale and for a moment stood gazing at it as if stupefied.

"What is it? Percy Neville's money?" asked Charlie, who, in common with every other boy in the school, knew the story of Percy's lost banknote.

"Yes," answered Seabrooke in a stern, cold tone, "did you say you saw some one put it there?"

"Yes," said Charlie, "but you must not ask me who it was, for I cannot tell."

"You must tell me," said Seabrooke, striding up to the bed, "you must tell me. Who was it?"

"I won't, I won't; I will not," said Charlie, firmly. "I told you because I thought you ought to know some one went to your trunk; but I won't tell who it was."

"Ah, I know," answered Seabrooke; "no need to look very far. It was Neville himself. Who would have believed it of him, weak, miserable coward that he is? He would have set some one to search my trunk, I suppose, that it might be found there and prove me a thief."

"Percy Neville! It was not Percy! Oh, no!" exclaimed Charlie; "you ought not to say it."

"Who then? Tell me at once," persisted Seabrooke, just as Mrs. Moffat returned with the coffee, to find her young patient flushed and distressed, with Seabrooke standing over him in rather a threatening manner.

"I won't," repeated Charlie, "but it wasn't Percy."

"Hi! what's the matter? what is this?" demanded Mrs. Moffat. "If Master Henderson's been breaking any rules, you'll please not nag him about it now, Mr. Seabrooke. You'll have him all worried into another headache, and he is not fairly over this one yet, and he'll not be fit for his journey home."

Seabrooke paid no more attention to her than if she had not spoken.

"Do you hear me, Henderson?" he asked. "I will know."

"I won't—" began Charlie again; but Mrs. Moffat interposed once more.

"Mr. Seabrooke," she said, actually pushing herself between the two boys, the tray with the coffee in her hand, "Mr. Seabrooke, Master Henderson is under my care so long as he is in here, and I will not have him worried in this way. Let him alone if you please."

Seabrooke was blind and deaf to all her interference.

"I will know," he repeated. "I will bring the doctor here if you do not tell. Who was it?"

Charlie's eyes turned involuntarily towards the corner of the room occupied by Lewis Flagg's bed and other belongings, and Seabrooke caught the look. Quick-sighted and quick-witted, he drew his own inferences and attacked the boy from another quarter.

"It was Flagg, then," he persisted.

The color flashed up over Charlie's pale face, but he only answered sharply:

"I tell you to let me alone. You're real mean, Seabrooke."

"So he is," said Mrs. Moffat, "and I wish the doctor would come. We'd see if he'd have this sick boy put about this way, Mr. Seabrooke. I tell you I have the care of him now, and I'll not have him plagued this way."

But Seabrooke was gone before she was half through with this speech, and poor Charlie was left to take his coffee in such peace as he might with the dread hanging over him of being reported as a tell-tale. Mrs. Moffat's sympathy and her almost abuse of Seabrooke did him little good; he was very sensitive to praise or blame, and could not bear the thought of incurring the ill-will of any one of the boys.



CHAPTER XIII.

ACCUSATION.

Quiet and self-contained and little given to impulse as he was, Seabrooke, when roused to anger or resentment, was a very lion in his wrath, and there was one thing which he could never tolerate or overlook, and that was any attempt to take an unfair advantage of him. He had been exasperated to a great degree by Flagg's endeavor to drug him on the night of the expedition to Rice's, and that with good reason; and now his suspicions, nay, more than suspicions aroused that he was trying to make it appear that he, Seabrooke, had wrongfully kept Percy's money and then pretended that the latter had taken it from him by stealth, enraged him beyond bounds.

Striding in among the group of boys who were still discussing the very question of the disappearance of the money which had been the main topic of interest ever since the loss was discovered, the bank-note in his hand, he advanced directly to Flagg, who was taking an active part in the conversation—that is, he had been doing so within the last few moments, since he had returned after a short absence from the school-room, looking, as more than one of the boys observed, "flushed and rather flurried."

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