"He wants to keep out of your way, I guess," volunteered Bates.
As this suggestion was flattering to the pride of the "boss," it was graciously received.
"Very likely," he said; "but he'll find that isn't so easy. Boys, follow me, if you want to see some fun."
Jim started with his loose stride for the field, where he expected to meet his adversary, or, rather, victim, for so he considered him, and the smaller boys followed him with alacrity. There was going to be a scrimmage, and they all wanted to see it.
Jim and his followers issued from the gate, and, crossing the street, scaled the bars that separated Carver's field from the highway. Already they could see the two boys—Roscoe and Wilkins-slowly walking, and nearly arrived at the brook in the lower part of the field.
"He doesn't seem much afraid," remarked Talbot, one of the recent comers, incautiously.
Upon him immediately Jim frowned ominously.
"So you are taking sides with him, Talbot, are you?" he said, imperiously.
"No, Jim," answered Talbot, hurriedly, for he now saw that he had been guilty of an imprudence.
"What made you say he wasn't scared, then?"
"I only said he didn't seem afraid," answered Talbot, apologetically.
"Be careful what you say in future, young fellow!" said Jim, sternly; "that is, if you are a friend of mine. If you are going over to Roscoe, you can go, and I shall know how to treat you."
"But I am not going over to him. I don't like him," said the cowardly boy.
"Very well; I accept your apology this time. In future be careful what you say."
By this time Wilkins and Roscoe had reached the clump of big trees, and had seated themselves under their ample branches. Then, for the first time, glancing backward toward the school, they became aware of the advancing troop of boys. Wilkins saw them first.
"There's Jim coming!" he exclaimed. "Now you are in a pickle. He means business."
"I suppose," said Hector, coolly, "he has decided to accept my invitation, and come to see me."
"You'll find he has," said Wilkins, significantly.
"He seems to have considerable company," remarked Hector, scanning the approaching party with tranquillity.
"They're coming to see the fun!" said Wilkins.
"I suppose you mean the fight between Jim Smith and myself."
"Well, not exactly. They've come to see you thrashed."
"Suppose they should see Jim thrashed instead—what then?"
"They might be surprised: but I don't think they will be," answered Wilkins, dryly. He was, on the whole, well disposed toward Hector, and he certainly disliked Jim heartily, but he did not allow his judgment to be swayed by his preferences, and he could foresee but one issue to the impending conflict. There was one thing that puzzled him exceedingly, and that was Hector's coolness on the brink of a severe thrashing, such as Jim was sure to give him for his daring defiance and disregard of his authority.
"You're a queer boy, Hector," he said. "You don't seem in the least alarmed."
"I am not in the least alarmed," answered Hector. "Why should I be?"
"You don't mind being thrashed, then?"
"I might mind; but I don't mean to be thrashed if I can help it."
"But you can't help it, you know."
"Well, that will soon be decided."
There was no time for any further conversation, for Jim and his followers were close at hand.
Jim opened the campaign by calling Hector to account.
"Look here, you new boy," he said, "didn't Bates tell you that I wanted to see you?"
"Yes," answered Hector, looking up, indifferently.
"Well, why didn't you come to me at once, hey?"
"Because I didn't choose to. I sent word if you wished to see me, to come where I was."
"What do you mean by such impudence, hey?"
"I mean this, Jim Smith, that you have no authority over me and never will have. I have not been here long, but I have been here long enough to find out that you are a cowardly bully and ruffian. How all these boys can give in to you, I can't understand."
Jim Smith almost foamed at the mouth with rage.
"You'll pay for this," he howled, pulling off his coat, in furious haste.
CHAPTER XIII. WHO SHALL BE VICTOR?
Hector was not slow to accept the challenge conveyed by his antagonist's action. He, too, sprang to his feet, flung off his coat, and stood facing the bully.
Hector was three inches shorter, and more than as many years younger, than Jim. But his figure was well proportioned and strongly put together, as the boys could see. On the other hand; Jim Smith was loosely put together, and, though tall, he was not well proportioned. His arms were long and his movements were clumsy. His frame, however, was large, and he had considerable strength, but it had never been disciplined. He had never learned to box, and was ignorant of the first rudiments of the art of self-defense. But he was larger and stronger than any of his school-fellows, and he had thus far had no difficulty in overcoming opposition to his despotic rule.
The boys regarded the two combatants with intense interest. They could see that Hector was not alarmed, and meant to defend himself. So there was likely to be a contest, although they could not but anticipate an easy victory for the hitherto champion of the school.
Hector did not propose to make the attack. He walked forward to a favorable place and took his stand. The position he assumed would have assured the casual observer that he knew something of the art in which his larger antagonist was deficient.
"So you are ready to fight, are you?" said Jim.
"You can see for yourself."
Jim rushed forward, intending to bear down all opposition. He was whirling his long arms awkwardly, and it was clear to see that he intended to seize Hector about the body and fling him to the earth. Had he managed to secure the grip he desired, opposition would have been vain, and he would have compassed his design. But Hector was far too wary to allow anything of this kind. He evaded Jim's grasp by jumping backward, then dashing forward while his opponent was somewhat unsteady from the failure of his attempt, he dealt him a powerful blow in the face.
Jim Smith was unprepared for such prompt action. He reeled, and came near falling. It may safely be said, also, that his astonishment was as great as his indignation, and that was unbounded.
"So that's your game, is it?" he exclaimed, furiously. "I'll pay you for this, see if I don't."
Hector did not reply. He did not propose to carry on the battle by words. Already the matter had come to a sterner arbitrament, and he stood on the alert, all his senses under absolute control, watching his big antagonist, and, from the expression of his face, seeking to divine his next mode of attack. He had this advantage over Jim, that he was cool and collected, while Jim was angry and rendered imprudent by his anger. Notwithstanding his first repulse, he did not fully understand that the new boy was a much more formidable opponent than he anticipated. Nor did he appreciate the advantage which science gives over brute force. He, therefore, rushed forward again, with the same impetuosity as before, and was received in precisely the same way. This time the blood started from his nose and coursed over his inflamed countenance, while Hector was still absolutely unhurt.
Meanwhile the boys looked on in decided amazement. It had been as far as possible from their thoughts that Hector could stand up successfully against the bully even for an instant. Yet here two attacks had been made, and the champion was decidedly worsted. They could not believe the testimony of their eyes.
Carried away by the excitement of the moment, Wilkins, who, as we have said, was disposed to espouse the side of Hector, broke into a shout of encouragement.
"Good boy, Roscoe!" he exclaimed. "You're doing well!"
Two or three of the other boys, those who were least under the domination of Jim, and were only waiting for an opportunity of breaking away from their allegiance, echoed the words of Wilkins. If there was anything that could increase the anger and mortification of the tyrant it was these signs of failing allegiance. What! was he to lose his hold over these boys, and that because he was unable to cope with a boy much smaller and younger than himself? Perish the thought! It nerved him to desperation, and he prepared for a still more impetuous assault.
Somewhere in his Greek reader, Hector had met with a saying attributed to Pindar, that "boldness is the beginning of victory." He felt that the time had now come for a decisive stroke. He did not content himself, therefore, with parrying, or simply repelling the blow of his antagonist, but he on his part assumed the offensive. He dealt his blows with bewildering rapidity, pressed upon Jim, skillfully evading the grasp of his long arms, and in a trice the champion measured his length upon the greensward.
Of course, he did not remain there. He sprang to his feet, and renewed the attack. But he had lost his confidence. He was bewildered, and, to confess the truth, panic-stricken, and the second skirmish was briefer than the first.
When, for the third time, he fell back, with his young opponent standing erect and vigorous, the enthusiasm of the boys overcame the limits of prudence. There was a shout of approval, and the fallen champion, to add to his discomfiture, was forced to listen to his own hitherto subservient followers shouting, "Hurrah for the new boy! Hurrah for Hector Roscoe!"
This was too much for Jim.
He rose from the ground sullenly, looked about him with indignation which he could not control, and, shaking his fist, not at one boy in particular, but at the whole company, exclaimed: "You'll be sorry for this, you fellows! You can leave me, and stand by the new boy if you want to, but you'll be sorry for it. I'll thrash you one by one, as I have often done before."
"Try Roscoe first!" said one boy, jeeringly.
"I'll try you first!" said Jim; and too angry to postpone his intention, he made a rush for the offender.
The latter, who knew he was no match for the angry bully, turned and fled. Jim prepared to follow him, when he was brought to by Hector placing himself in his path.
"Let that boy alone!" he said, sternly.
"What business is it of yours?" demanded Jim, doggedly; but he did not offer to renew the attack, however.
"It will be my business to put an end to your tyranny and bullying," said Hector, undauntedly. "If you dare to touch one of these boys, you will have to meet me as well."
Jim had had enough of encountering Hector. He did not care to make a humiliating spectacle of himself any more before his old flatterers. But his resources were not at an end.
"You think yourself mighty smart!" he said, with what was intended to be withering sarcasm. "You haven't got through with me yet."
He did not, however, offer to pursue the boy who had been the first to break away from his allegiance. He put on his coat, and turned to walk toward the school, saying, "You'll hear from me again, and that pretty soon!"
None of his late followers offered to accompany him. He had come to the contest with a band of friends and supporters. He left it alone. Even Bates, his most devoted adherent, remained behind, and did not offer to accompany the discrowned and dethroned monarch.
"What's Jim going to do?" asked Talbot.
"He's going to tell old Sock, and get us all into trouble."
"It'll be a cowardly thing to do!" said Wilkins. "He's been fairly beaten in battle, and he ought to submit to it."
"He won't if he can help it."
"I say, boys, three cheers for the new boy!" exclaimed Wilkins.
They were given with a will, and the boys pressed forward to shake the hand of the boy whose prowess they admired.
"Thank you, boys!" said Hector, "but I'd rather be congratulated on something else. I would rather be a good scholar than a good fighter."
But the boys were evidently of a different opinion, and elevated Hector straightway to the rank of a hero.
CHAPTER XIV. SOCRATES CALLS HECTOR TO ACCOUNT.
Jim Smith, as he walked back to the institute, nursing his wrath, felt very much like a dethroned king. He was very anxious to be revenged upon Hector, but the lesson he had received made him cautious. He must get him into trouble by some means. Should he complain to his uncle? It would involve the necessity of admitting his defeat, unless he could gloss over the story in some way.
This he decided to do.
On reaching the school he sought his dormitory, and carefully wiped away the blood from his face. Then he combed his hair and arranged his dress, and sought his uncle.
Mr. Smith was at his desk, looking over his accounts, and estimating the profits of the half year, when his nephew made his appearance.
"Uncle Socrates, I'd like to speak to you."
"Very well, James. Proceed."
"I want to complain of the new boy who came this morning."
Socrates Smith looked up in genuine surprise. As a general thing, his nephew brought few complaints, for he took the responsibility of punishing boys he did not like himself.
"What! Roscoe?" inquired the principal.
"Is he in any mischief?"
"Mischief? I should say so! Why, he's a regular young Turk."
"A young Turk? I don't think I understand you, James."
"I mean, he's a young ruffian."
"What has he been doing?" asked Socrates, in surprise.
"He pitched into me a short time ago," said Jim, in some embarrassment.
"Pitched into you! You don't mean to say that he attacked you?"
"Yes, I do."
"But he's a considerably smaller boy than you, James. I am surprised that he should have dared to attack you."
"Yes, he is small, but he's a regular fighter."
"I suppose you gave him a lesson?"
"Ye-es, of course."
"So that he won't be very likely to renew the attack."
"Well, I don't know about that. He's tough and wiry, and understands boxing. I found it hard work to thrash him."
"But you did thrash him?" said Socrates, puzzled.
"Then what do you want me to do?"
"I thought you might punish him for being quarrelsome."
"It may be a good idea. I remember now that his uncle warned me that he would need restraining."
"Just so, uncle," said Jim, eagerly. "His uncle was right."
"Well, I will give him a lecture. He will find that he cannot behave as he pleases at Smith Institute," said Socrates, pompously. "He will find that I do not tolerate any defiance of authority. I will speak of it after vespers."
"Thank you, uncle."
"He'll get a raking down!" thought Jim, with gratification. "I'll make it hot for him here, he may be sure of that."
Half an hour after supper was read a brief evening service called vespers, and then the boys' study hours commenced. During this time they were expected to be preparing their lessons for the next day.
The service was generally read by Socrates Smith, A. M., in person. It was one of the few official duties he performed, and he was generally very imposing in his manner on this occasion.
When the service had been read on that particular evening, the principal did not immediately give the signal for study to be commenced. Instead, he cleared his throat, saying:
"Boys, I have a few words to say to you. This morning a new boy made his appearance among us. His uncle, or perhaps I should say his guardian, attracted by the well-deserved fame of Smith Institute, came hither to enter him among my pupils. I received him cordially, and promised that he should share with you the rich, the inestimable educational advantages which our humble seminary affords. I hoped he would be an acquisition, that by his obedience and his fidelity to duty he would shed luster on our school."
Here Socrates blew his nose sonorously, and resumed:
"But what has happened? On the very first day of his residence here he brutally assaults one of our numbers, my nephew, and displays the savage instincts of a barbarian. His uncle did well to warn me that he would need salutary restraint."
Hector, who had been amused by the solemn and impressive remarks of Socrates, looked up in surprise. Had Allan Roscoe really traduced him in this manner, after robbing him of his inheritance, as Hector felt convinced that he had done?
"Hector Roscoe!" said Socrates, severely; "stand up, and let me hear what you have to say for yourself."
Hector rose calmly, and faced the principal, by no means awe-stricken at the grave arraignment to which he had listened.
"I say this, Mr. Smith," he answered, "that I did not attack your nephew till he had first attacked me. This he did without the slightest provocation, and I defended myself, as I had a right to do."
"It's a lie!" muttered Jim, in a tone audible to his uncle.
"My nephew's report is of a different character. I am disposed to believe him."
"I regret to say, sir, that he has made a false statement. I will give you an account of what actually occurred. On my return from a walk he sent a boy summoning me to his presence. As he was not a teacher, and had no more authority over me than I over him, I declined to obey, but sent word that if he wished to see me he could come where I was. I then walked down to the brook in Carver's field. He followed me, as soon as he had received my message, and, charging me with impertinence, challenged me to a fight. Well, we had a fight; but he attacked me first."
"I don't know whether this account is correct or not," said Socrates, a little nonplused by this new version of the affair.
"I am ready to accept the decision of any one of the boys," said Hector.
"Bates," said Socrates, who knew that this boy was an adherent of his nephew, "is this account of Roscoe's true?"
Bates hesitated a moment. He was still afraid of Jim, but when he thought of Hector's prowess, he concluded that he had better tell the truth.
"Yes, sir," he answered.
Jim Smith darted an angry and menacing glance at his failing adherent.
"Ahem!" said Socrates, looking puzzled: "it is not quite so bad as I supposed. I regret, however, that you have exhibited such a quarrelsome disposition."
"I don't think I am quarrelsome, sir," said Hector.
"Silence, sir! I have Mr. Allan Roscoe's word for it."
"It appears to me," said Hector, undauntedly, "that your nephew is at least as quarrelsome as I am. He forced the fight upon me."
"Probably you will not be in a hurry to attack him again," said Socrates, under the impression that Hector had got the worst of it.
Some of the boys smiled, but Socrates did not see it.
"As you have probably received a lesson, I will not punish you as I had anticipated. I will sentence you, however, to commit to memory the first fifty lines of Virgil's 'AEneid.' Mr. Crabb, will you see that Roscoe performs his penance?"
"Yes, sir," said Crabb, faintly.
"Is your nephew also to perform a penance?" asked Hector, undaunted.
"Silence, sir! What right have you to question me on this subject?"
"Because, sir, he is more to blame than I."
"I don't know that. I am not at all sure that your story is correct."
Mr. Crabb, meek as he was, was indignant at this flagrant partiality.
"Mr. Smith," he said, "I happen to know that Roscoe's story is strictly correct, and that your nephew made an unprovoked attack upon him."
Hector looked grateful, and Jim Smith furious.
"Mr. Crabb," said Socrates, angrily, "I did not ask your opinion. So far as my nephew is concerned, I will deal with him privately. Boys, you may begin your studies."
All the boys understood that Jim was to be let off, and they thought it a shame. But Mr. Crabb took care to make Hector's penance as light as possible.
And thus passed the first day at Smith Institute.
CHAPTER XV. THE USHER CONFIDES IN HECTOR.
Mr. Crabb acted rashly in siding with Hector, and speaking against Mr. Smith's nephew. Socrates showed his displeasure by a frigid demeanor, and by seeking occasions for snubbing his assistant. On the other hand, Hector felt grateful for his intercession, and an intimacy sprang up between them.
A few days afterward, on a half holiday, Mr. Crabb said: "Roscoe, I am going out for a walk. Do you care to accompany me?"
"I will do so with pleasure," said Hector, sincerely.
"Mr. Crabb," he said, after they were fairly on their way, "I am sorry to see that Mr. Smith has not forgiven you for taking my part against Jim."
"I would do it again, Roscoe," said the usher. "I could not sit silent while so great an injustice was being done."
"Do you think Jim was punished?"
"I am sure he was not. He is a boy after Mr. Smith's own heart, that is, he possesses the same mean and disagreeable qualities, perhaps in a greater degree. Has he interfered with you since?"
"No," answered Hector, smiling; "he probably found that I object to being bullied."
"You are fortunate in being strong enough to withstand his attacks."
"Yes," said Hector, quietly; "I am not afraid of him."
"Bullies are generally cowards," said the usher.
"I wonder, Mr. Crabb, you are willing to stay at Smith Institute, as usher to such a man as Mr. Smith."
"Ah, Roscoe!" said Mr. Crabb, sighing; "it is not of my own free will that I stay. Poverty is a hard task-master. I must teach for a living."
"But surely you could get a better position?"
"Perhaps so; but how could I live while I was seeking for it. My lad," he said, after a pause, "I have a great mind to confide in you; I want one friend to whom I can talk unreservedly."
"Mr. Crabb," said Hector, earnestly, "I shall feel flattered by your confidence."
"Thank you, Roscoe; or, rather, since we are going to be friends, let me distinguish you from the other boys and call you Hector."
"I wish you would, sir."
"I need not tell you that I am poor," continued Mr. Crabb; "you can read it in my shabby clothes. I sometimes see the boys looking at my poor suit, as if they wondered why I dressed so badly. Smith has more than once cast insulting looks at my rusty coat. It is not penuriousness, as some of the boys may think—it is poverty that prevents me from attiring myself more becomingly."
"Mr. Crabb, I sympathize with you," said Hector.
"Thank you, Hector. Of that I am sure."
"Mr. Smith ought to pay you enough to clothe yourself neatly. He makes you work hard enough."
"He pays me twenty dollars a month," said the usher; "twenty dollars and my board."
"Is that all?" asked Hector, in amazement. "Why, the girl in the kitchen earns nearly that."
"To be sure," answered the usher, bitterly; "but in Mr. Smith's estimation, I stand very little higher. He does not value education, not possessing it himself. However, you may wonder why, even with this sum, I cannot dress better. It is because I have another than myself to support."
"You are not married?" asked Hector, in surprise.
"No; but I have an invalid sister, who is wholly dependent upon me. To her I devote three-quarters of my salary, and this leaves me very little for myself. My poor sister is quite unable to earn anything for herself, so it is a matter of necessity."
"Yes, I understand," said Hector, in a tone of sympathy.
"You now see why I do not dare to leave this position, poor as it is. For myself, I might take the risk, but I should not feel justified in exposing my sister to the hazard of possible want."
"You are right, Mr. Crabb. I am very sorry now that you spoke up for me. It has prejudiced Mr. Smith against you."
"No, no; I won't regret that. Indeed, he would hesitate to turn me adrift, for he would not be sure of getting another teacher to take my place for the same beggarly salary."
"Something may turn up for you yet, Mr. Crabb," said Hector, hopefully.
"Perhaps so," answered the usher, but his tone was far from sanguine.
When they returned to the school, Hector carried out a plan which had suggested itself to him in the interest of Mr. Crabb. He wrote to a boy of his acquaintance, living in New York, who, he had heard, was in want of a private tutor, and recommended Mr. Crabb, in strong terms, for that position. He did this sincerely, for he had found the usher to be a good teacher, and well versed in the studies preparatory to college. He did not think it best to mention this to Mr. Crabb, for the answer might be unfavorable, and then his hopes would have been raised only to be dashed to the earth.
Later in the day, Hector fell in with Bates, already referred to as a special friend of Jim Smith. The intimacy, however, had been diminished since the contest in which Hector gained the victory. Bates was not quite so subservient to the fallen champion, and Jim resented it.
"I saw you walking out with old Crabb," said Bates.
"He isn't particularly old," said Hector.
"Oh, you know what I mean. Did you ever see such a scarecrow?"
"Do you refer to his dress?" asked Hector.
"Yes; he'll soon be in rags. I shouldn't wonder at all if that old suit of his was worn by one of Noah's sons in the ark."
"You don't suppose he wears it from choice, do you?"
"I don't know. He's stingy, I suppose—afraid to spend a cent."
"You are mistaken. He has a sister to support, and his salary is very small."
"I can believe that. Old Sock is mean with his teachers. How much does he pay Crabb?"
"It is very little, but I don't know that I ought to tell."
"I say, though, Roscoe, I wouldn't go to walk with him again."
"The boys will say that, you are trying to get into his good graces, so he'll let you off easy in your lessons."
"I don't want him to let me off easy; I generally intend to be prepared."
"I know, but that's what they will say."
"Let them say what they please, and I will do what I please," said Hector, independently.
"Old Sock ain't any too fond of Crabb since he took your part the other day. Jim says the old man means to bounce him before long."
"I suppose that means discharge him."
"It means giving him his walking papers. Jim will see that he does it, too."
Hector did not reply, but he felt more than ever glad that he had written a letter which might possibly bring the poor usher more profitable and, at the same time, agreeable employment.
"Jim doesn't like you, either," added Bates.
"I never supposed he did. I can do without his favor."
"He will get you into a scrape if he can."
"I have no doubt whatever of his benevolent intentions toward me. I shall not let it interfere with my happiness."
Just then a sharp cry was heard, as of a boy in pain. It came from the school yard, which the two boys were approaching on their return from a walk.
"What's that?" asked Hector, quickly.
"I expect it's the new boy."
One had arrived the day before.
"Is he hurt, I wonder?" asked Hector, quickening his steps.
"Jim's got hold of him, probably," said Bates; "he said this morning he was going to give the little chap a lesson to break him into school ways."
"He did, did he?" said Hector, compressing his lips. "I shall have something to say to that," and he quickened his steps.
CHAPTER XVI. TOSSED IN A BLANKET.
The last new boy was a little fellow only eleven years old. His name was Tommy Cooper, as he was called at home. It was his first absence from the sheltering care of his mother, and he felt lonesome in the great, dreary school building, where he was called "Cooper," and "you little chap." He missed the atmosphere of home, and the tenderness of his mother and sister. In fact, the poor boy was suffering from that most distressing malady, homesickness.
Had Mrs. Socrates Smith been a kind, motherly woman, she might have done much to reconcile the boy to his new home; but she was a tall, gaunt, bony woman, more masculine than feminine, not unlike Miss Sally Brass, whom all readers of Dickens will remember.
I am sorry to say that a homesick boy in a boarding school does not meet with much sympathy. Even those boys who have once experienced the same malady are half ashamed of it, and, if they remember it at all, remember it as a mark of weakness. There was but one boy who made friendly approaches to Tommy, and this was Hector Roscoe.
Hector had seen the little fellow sitting by himself with a sad face, and he had gone up to him, and asked him in a pleasant tone some questions about himself and his home.
"So you have never been away from home before, Tommy," he said.
"No, sir," answered the boy, timidly.
"Don't call me sir. I am only a boy like you. Call me Hector."
"That is a strange name. I never heard it before."
"No, it is not a common name. I suppose you don't like school very much?"
"I never shall be happy here," sighed Tommy.
"You think so now, but you will get used to it."
"I don't think I shall."
"Oh, yes, you will. It will never seem like home, of course, but you will get acquainted with some of the boys, and will join in their games, and then time will pass more pleasantly."
"I think the boys are very rough," said the little boy.
"Yes, they are rough, but they don't mean unkindly. Some of them were homesick when they came here, just like you."
"Were you homesick?" asked Tommy, looking up, with interest.
"I didn't like the school very well; but I was much older than you when I came here, and, besides, I didn't leave behind me so pleasant a home. I am not so rich as you, Tommy. I have no father nor mother," and for the moment Hector, too, looked sad.
The little fellow became more cheerful under the influence of Hector's kind and sympathetic words. Our hero, however, was catechised about his sudden intimacy with the new scholar.
"I see you've got a new situation, Roscoe," said Bates, when Hector was walking away.
"What do you mean?"
"You've secured the position of nurse to that little cry baby."
"You mean Tommy Cooper?"
"Yes, if that's his name."
"I was cheering up the little fellow a bit. He's made rather a bad exchange in leaving a happy home for Smith Institute."
"That's so. This is a dreary hole, but there's no need of crying about it."
"You might if you were as young as Tommy, and had just come."
"Shall you take him under your wing?"
"Yes, if he needs it."
We now come to the few minutes preceding the return of Hector from his walk, as indicated in the last chapter.
Tommy Cooper was sitting in the school yard, with a disconsolate look, when Jim Smith, who was never happier than when he was bullying other boys, espied him.
"What's the matter with you, young one?" he said, roughly, "Is your grandmother dead?"
"No," answered Tommy, briefly.
"Come here and play."
"I would rather not."
"I am not going to have you sulking round here. Do you hear me?"
"Are you one of the teachers?" asked Tommy, innocently.
"You'll find out who I am," answered Jim, roughly. "Here, Palmer, do you want a little fun with this young one?"
Palmer and Bates were Jim Smith's most devoted adherents.
"What are you going to do, Jim?" questioned Palmer.
"I'm going to stir him up a little," said Jim, with a malicious smile. "Go and get a blanket."
"All right!" said Palmer.
"We'll toss him in a blanket. He won't look so sulky after we get through with him."
There were two or three other boys standing by, who heard these words.
"It's a shame!" said one, in a low voice. "See the poor little chap, how sad he looks! I felt just as he does when I first came to school."
"Jim ought not to do it," said the second. "It's a mean thing to do."
"Tell him so."
"No, thank you. He'd treat me the same way."
The two speakers were among the smaller boys, neither being over fourteen, and though they sympathized with Tommy, their sympathy was not likely to do him any good.
Out came Palmer with the blanket.
"Are there any teachers about?" asked Jim.
"That's good. We shan't be interfered with. Here, young one, come here."
"What for?" asked Tommy, looking frightened.
"Come here, and you'll find out."
But Tommy had already guessed. He had read a story of English school life, in which a boy had been tossed in a blanket, and he was not slow in comprehending the situation.
"Oh, don't toss me in a blanket!" said the poor boy, clasping his hands.
"Sorry to disturb you, but it's got to be done, young one," said Jim. "Here, jump in. It'll do you good."
"Oh, don't!" sobbed the poor boy. "It'll hurt me."
"No, it won't! Don't be a cry baby. We'll make a man of you."
But Tommy was not persuaded. He jumped up, and tried to make his escape. But, of course, there was no chance for him. Jim Smith overtook him in a couple of strides, and seizing him roughly by the collar, dragged him to the blanket, which by this time Palmer and one of the other boys, who had been impressed into the service reluctantly, were holding.
Jim Smith, taking up Tommy bodily, threw him into the blanket, and then seizing one end, gave it a violent toss. Up went the boy into the air, and tumbling back again into the blanket was raised again.
"Raise him, boys!" shouted Jim. "Give him a hoist!"
Then it was that Tommy screamed, and Hector heard his cry for help.
He came rushing round the corner of the building, and comprehended, at a glance, what was going on.
Naturally his hot indignation was much stirred.
"For shame, you brutes!" he cried. "Stop that!"
If there was anyone whom Jim Smith did not want to see at this moment, it was Hector Roscoe. He would much rather have seen one of the ushers. He saw that he was in a scrape, but his pride would not allow him to back out.
"Keep on, boys!" he cried. "It's none of Roscoe's business. He'd better clear out, or we'll toss him."
As he spoke he gave another toss.
"Save me, Hector!" cried Tommy, espying his friend's arrival with joy.
Hector was not the boy to let such an appeal go unheeded. He sprang forward, dealt Jim Smith a powerful blow, that made him stagger, and let go the blanket, and then helped Tommy to his feet.
"Run into the house. Tommy!" he said. "There may be some rough work here."
He faced round just in time to fend off partially a blow from the angry bully.
"Take that for your impudence!" shouted Jim Smith. "I'll teach you to meddle with, me."
But Jim reckoned without his host. The blow was returned with interest, and, in the heat of his indignation, Hector followed it up with such a volley that the bully retreated in discomfiture, and was glad to withdraw from the contest.
"I'll pay you for this, you scoundrel!" he said, venomously.
"Whenever you please, you big brute!" returned Hector, contemptuously. "It is just like you to tease small boys. If you annoy Tommy Cooper again, you'll hear from me."
"I'd like to choke that fellow!" muttered Jim. "Either he or I will have to leave this school."
CHAPTER XVII. JIM SMITH'S REVENGE.
It would be natural to suppose that Jim Smith, relying upon his influence with his uncle, would have reported this last "outrage," as he chose to consider it, to the principal, thus securing the punishment of Hector. But he was crafty, and considered that no punishment Hector was likely to receive would satisfy him. Corporal punishment for taking the part of an ill-used boy, Hector was probably too spirited to submit to, and, under these circumstances, it would hardly have been inflicted. Besides, Jim was aware that the offense for which Hector had attacked him was not likely, if made known, to secure sympathy. Even his uncle would be against him, for he was fond of money, and had no wish to lose the new pupil, whose friends were well able to pay for him.
No! He decided that what he wanted was to bring Hector into disgrace. The method did not immediately occur to him, but after a while he saw his way clear.
His uncle's bedchamber was on the second floor, and Jim's directly over it on the third story. Some of the other boys, including Hector, had rooms also on the third floor.
Jim was going upstairs one day when, through the door of his uncle's chamber, which chanced to be open, he saw a wallet lying on the bureau. On the impulse of the moment, he walked in on tiptoes, secured the wallet, and slipped it hurriedly into his pocket. Then he made all haste upstairs, and bolted himself into his own room. Two other boys slept there, but both were downstairs in the playground.
Jim took the wallet from his pocket and eagerly scanned the contents. There were eight five-dollar bills and ten dollars in small bills, besides a few papers, which may be accurately described as of no value to anyone but the owner.
The boy's face assumed a covetous look. He, as well as his uncle, was fond of money—a taste which, unfortunately, as he regarded it, he was unable to gratify. His family was poor, and he was received at half price by Socrates Smith on the score of relationship, but his allowance of pocket money was less than that of many of the small boys. He made up the deficiency, in part, by compelling them to contribute to his pleasures. If any boy purchased candy, or any other delicacy, Jim, if he learned the fact, required him to give him a portion, just as the feudal lords exacted tribute from their serfs and dependents. Still, this was not wholly satisfactory, and Jim longed, instead, for a supply of money to spend as he chose.
So the thought came to him, as he scanned the contents of the wallet: "Why shouldn't I take out one or two of these bills before disposing of it? No one will lay it to me."
The temptation proved too strong for Jim's power of resistance. He selected a five-dollar bill and five dollars in small bills, and reluctantly replaced the rest of the money in the wallet.
"So far, so good!" he thought. "That's a good idea."
Then, unlocking the door, he passed along the entry till he came to the room occupied by Hector. As he or one of the two boys who roomed with him might be in the room, he looked first through the keyhole.
"The coast is clear!" he said to himself, in a tone of satisfaction.
Still, he opened the door cautiously, and stepped with catlike tread into the room. Then he looked about the room. Hanging on nails were several garments belonging to the inmates of the room. Jim selected a pair of pants which he knew belonged to Hector, and hurrying forward, thrust the wallet into one of the side pockets. Then, with a look of satisfaction, he left the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.
"There," he said to himself, with exultation. "That'll fix him! Perhaps he'll wish he hadn't put on quite so many airs."
He was rather annoyed, as he walked along the corridor, back to his own room, to encounter Wilkins. He had artfully chosen a time when he thought all the boys would be out, and he heartily wished that some untoward chance had not brought Wilkins in.
"Where are you going, Jim?" asked Wilkins.
"I went to Bates' room, thinking he might be in, but he wasn't."
"Do you want him? I left him out on the playground."
"Oh, it's no matter! It'll keep!" said Jim, indifferently.
"I got out of that pretty well!" he reflected complacently.
Perhaps Jim Smith would not have felt quite so complacent, if he had known that at the time he entered Hector's room it was occupied, though he could not see the occupant. It so chanced that Ben Platt, one of Hector's roommates, was in the closet, concealed from the view of anyone entering the room, yet so placed that he could see through the partially open door what wras passing in the room.
When he saw Jim Smith enter he was surprised, for he knew that that young man was not on visiting terms with the boy who had discomfited and humiliated him.
"What on earth can Jim want?" he asked himself.
He did not have long to wait for an answer though not a real one; but actions, as men have often heard, speak louder than words.
When he saw Jim steal up to Hector's pants, and producing a wallet, hastily thrust it into one of the pockets, he could hardly believe the testimony of his eyes.
"Well!" he ejaculated, inwardly, "I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it. I knew Jim was a bully and a tyrant, but I didn't think he was as contemptible as all that."
The wallet he recognized at once, for he had more than once seen Socrates take it out of his pocket.
"It's old Sock's wallet!" he said to himself. "It's clear that Jim has taken it, and means to have it found in Roscoe's possession. That's as mean a trick as I ever heard of."
Just then Wilkins entered the room. Wilkins and Ben Platt were Hector's two roommates.
"Hello, Wilkins! I'm glad you've come just as you have."
"What for, Platt? Do you want to borrow some money?"
"No; there is more money in this room now than there has been for a long time."
"What do you mean? The governor hasn't sent you a remittance, has he?"
"Expound your meaning, then, most learned and mysterious chum."
"I will. Within five minutes Jim Smith has been here and left a wallet of money."
"Jim been here? I met him in the corridor."
"I warrant he didn't say he had been here."
"No; he said he had been to Bates' room, but didn't find him there."
"That's all gammon! Wilkins, what will you say when I tell you that old Sock's wallet is in this very room!"
"I won't believe it!"
"Look here, then!"
As he spoke, Ben went to Hector's pants and drew out the wallet.
Wilkins started in surprise and dismay.
"How did Roscoe come by that?" he asked; "surely he didn't take it?"
"Of course he didn't. You might know Roscoe better. Didn't you hear me say just now that Jim brought it here?"
"And put it in Roscoe's pocket?"
"In your presence?"
"Yes; only he didn't know that I was present," said Platt.
"Where were you?"
"In the closet. The door was partly open, and I saw everything."
"What does it all mean?"
"Can't you see? It's Jim's way of coming up with Roscoe. You know he threatened that he'd fix him."
"All I can say is, that it's a very mean way," said Wilkins in disgust.
He was not a model boy—far from it, indeed!—but he had a sentiment of honor that made him dislike and denounce a conspiracy like this.
"It's a dirty trick," he said, warmly.
"I agree with you on that point." "What shall we do about it?"
"Lay low, and wait till the whole thing comes out. When Sock discovers his loss, Jim will be on hand to tell him where his wallet is. Then we can up and tell all we know."
"Good! There's a jolly row coming!" said Wilkins, smacking his lips.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE MISSING WALLET IS FOUND.
Socrates Smith was, ordinarily, so careful of his money, that it was a very remarkable inadvertence to leave it on the bureau. Nor was it long before he ascertained his loss. He was sitting at his desk when his wife looked in at the door, and called for a small sum for some domestic expenditure.
With an ill grace—for Socrates hated to part with his money—he put his hand into the pocket where he usually kept his wallet.
"Really, Mrs. Smith," he was saying, "it seems to me you are always wanting money—why, bless my soul!" and such an expression of consternation and dismay swept over his face, that his wife hurriedly inquired:
"What is the matter, Mr. Smith?"
"Matter enough!" he gasped. "My wallet is gone!"
"Gone!" echoed his wife, in alarm. "Where can you have left it?"
Mr. Smith pressed his hand to his head in painful reflection.
"How much money was there in it, Socrates?" asked his wife.
"Between forty and fifty dollars!" groaned Mr. Smith. "If I don't find it, Sophronia, I am a ruined man!"
This was, of course, an exaggeration, but it showed the poignancy of the loser's regret.
"Can't you think where you left it?"
Suddenly Mr. Smith's face lighted up.
"I remember where I left it, now," he said; "I was up in the chamber an hour since, and, while changing my coat, took out my wallet, and laid it on the bureau. I'll go right up and look for it."
Mr. Smith bounded up the staircase with the agility of a man of half his years, and hopefully opened the door of his chamber, which Jim had carefully closed after him. His first glance was directed at the bureau, but despair again settled down sadly upon his heart when he saw that it was bare. There was no trace of the missing wallet.
"It may have fallen on the carpet," said Socrates, hope reviving faintly.
There was not a square inch of the cheap Kidderminster carpet that he did not scan earnestly, greedily, but, alas! the wallet, if it had ever been there, had mysteriously taken to itself locomotive powers, and wandered away into the realm of the unknown and the inaccessible.
Yet, searching in the chambers of his memory, Mr. Smith felt sure that he had left the wallet on the bureau. He could recall the exact moment when he laid it down, and he recollected that he had not taken it again.
"Some one has taken it!" he decided; and wrath arose in his heart, He snapped his teeth together in stern anger, as he determined that he would ferret out the miserable thief, and subject him to condign punishment.
Mrs. Smith, tired of waiting for the appearance of her husband, ascended the stairs and entered his presence.
"Well?" she said.
"I haven't found it," answered Socrates, tragically. "Mrs. Smith, the wallet has been stolen!"
"Are you sure that you left it here?" asked his wife.
"Sure!" he repeated, in a hollow tone. "I am as sure as that the sun rose to-morrow—I mean yesterday."
"Was the door open?"
"No; but that signifies nothing. It wasn't locked, and anyone could enter."
"Is it possible that we have a thief in the institute?" said Mrs. Smith, nervously. "Socrates, I shan't sleep nights. Think of the spoons!"
"They're only plated."
"And my earrings."
"You could live without earrings. Think, rather, of the wallet, with nearly fifty dollars in bills."
"Who do you think took it, Socrates?"
"I have no idea; but I will find out. Yes, I will find out. Come downstairs, Mrs. Smith; we will institute inquiries."
When Mr. Smith had descended to the lower floor, and was about entering the office, it chanced that his nephew was just entering the house.
"What's the matter, Uncle Socrates?" he asked; "you look troubled."
"And a good reason why, James; I have met with a loss."
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Jim, in innocent wonder; "what is it?"
"A wallet, with a large amount of money in it!"
"Perhaps there is a hole in your pocket," suggested Jim.
"A hole—large enough for my big wallet to fall through! Don't be such a fool!"
"Excuse me, uncle," said Jim, meekly; "of course that is impossible. When do you remember having it last?"
Of course Socrates told the story, now familiar to us, and already familiar to his nephew, though he did not suspect that.
Jim struck his forehead, as if a sudden thought had occurred to him.
"Could it be?" he said, slowly, as if to himself; "no, I can't believe it."
"Can't believe what?" demanded Socrates, impatiently; "if you have any clew, out with it!"
"I hardly like to tell, Uncle Socrates, for it implicates one of the boys."
"Which?" asked Mr. Smith, eagerly.
"I will tell you, though I don't like to. Half an hour since, I was coming upstairs, when I heard a door close, as I thought, and, directly afterward, saw Hector Roscoe hurrying up the stairs to the third floor. I was going up there myself, and followed him. Five minutes later he came out of his room, looking nervous and excited. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but I now think that he entered your room, took the wallet, and then carried it up to his own chamber and secreted it."
"Hector Roscoe!" repeated Mr. Smith, in amazement. "I wouldn't have supposed that he was a thief."
"Nor I; and perhaps he isn't. It might be well, however, to search his room."
"I will!" answered Socrates, with eagerness, "Come up, James, and you, Mrs. Smith, come up, too!"
The trio went upstairs, and entered poor Hector's room. It was not unoccupied, for Ben Platt and Wilkins were there. They anticipated a visit, and awaited it with curious interest. They rose to their feet when the distinguished visitors arrived.
"Business of importance brings us here," said Socrates. "Platt and Wilkins, you may leave the room."
The boys exchanged glances, and obeyed.
"Wilkins," said Ben, when they were in the corridor, "it is just as I thought. Jim has set a trap for Roscoe."
"He may get caught himself," said Wilkins. "I ain't oversqueamish, but that is too confounded mean! Of course you'll tell all you know?"
"Yes; and I fancy it will rather surprise Mr. Jim. I wish they had let us stay in there."
Meanwhile, Jim skillfully directed the search.
"He may have put it under the mattress," suggested Jim.
Socrates darted to the bed, and lifted up the mattress, but no wallet revealed itself to his searching eyes.
"No; it is not here!" he said, in a tone of disappointment; "the boy may have it about him. I will send for him."
"Wait a moment, Uncle Socrates," said Jim; "there is a pair of pants which I recognize as his."
Mr. Smith immediately thrust his hand into one of the pockets and drew out the wallet!
"Here it is!" he exclaimed, joyfully. "Here it is!"
"Then Roscoe is a thief! I wouldn't have thought it!" said Jim.
"Nor I. I thought the boy was of too good family to stoop to such a thing. But now I remember, Mr. Allan Roscoe told me he was only adopted by his brother. He is, perhaps, the son of a criminal."
"Very likely!" answered Jim, who was glad to believe anything derogatory to Hector.
"What are you going to do about it, uncle?"
"I shall bring the matter before the school. I will disgrace the boy publicly," answered Socrates Smith, sternly. "He deserves the exposure."
"Aha, Master Roscoe!" said Jim, gleefully, to himself; "I rather think I shall get even with you, and that very soon."
CHAPTER XIX. A DRAMATIC SCENE.
It was generally after vespers that Mr. Smith communicated to the school anything which he desired to call to their attention. This was to be the occasion of bringing our hero into disgrace.
The boys assembled, most of them quite ignorant that anything exceptional was to occur. Hector himself, the person chiefly interested, was entirely unconscious that he was to be made "a shining mark" for the arrows of suspicion and obloquy. If he had noticed the peculiar and triumphantly malicious looks with which Jim Smith, the bully and tyrant, whom he had humiliated and deposed, regarded him, he might have been led to infer that some misfortune was in store for him. But these looks he did not chance to notice.
There were two other boys, however, who did notice them. These were Ben Platt and Wil-kins, who had very good reasons, as we know, for doing so.
"I believe old Sock is going to pitch into Roscoe at vespers," said Ben, in a whisper, to his roommate.
"So do I. There's a look about him like that of a tiger about to pounce on his prey."
"Or a cat with murderous designs on a mouse."
"We must expose the whole thing."
"Won't Jim be mad?"
"Let him! He won't dare to thrash us while Roscoe is round."
There was, indeed, about Socrates Smith an air of mystery, portentous and suggestive. He looked like one meditating a coup d'etat, or, perhaps, it might better be said, a coup de main, as the hand is with schoolmasters, generally, the instrument of attack.
When the proper time arrived, Mr. Smith cleared his throat, as he always did before beginning to speak.
"Boys," he said, "I have an important, and I may say, a painful, communication to make to you."
All the boys looked at each other in curiosity, except the three who were already in the secret.
"You know, boys," continued Socrates, "how proud I am of this institute, how zealous I am for its good reputation, how unwearied I am in my efforts for your progress and welfare."
Mr. Smith's unwearied efforts were largely in the line of making out and receipting bills for tuition, and it may be said that this was to him by far the most agreeable of the duties he undertook to perform.
"I have been proud of my pupils," continued the principal, "and it has given me pleasure to reflect that you all reflected credit, more or less, upon my teaching. I have, also, sought to form your manners, to train you to fill the positions which Providence may have in store for you. In a word, while from time to time you may have indulged in little escapades, slightly-culpable, I have felt that you were all gentlemen."
"What in the world does he mean?" thought more than one puzzled boy. "What is all this leading to?"
Among those to whom this thought occurred, was Hector Roscoe, who was very far from conjecturing that all this long preamble was to introduce an attack upon him.
"But," proceeded Socrates, after a pause, "I have this afternoon been painfully undeceived. I have learned, with inexpressible pain, that Smith Institute has received an ineffaceable stigma."
"Old Sock is getting eloquent!" whispered Ben Platt.
"I have learned," continued Socrates, with tragic intensity, "that I have nourished a viper in my bosom! I have learned that we have a thief among us!"
This declaration was greeted with a buzz of astonishment. Each boy looked at his next door neighbor as if to inquire, "Is it you?"
Each one, except the three who were behind the scenes. Of these, Jim Smith, with an air of supreme satisfaction, looked in a sidelong way at Hector, unconscious the while that two pairs of eyes—those of Wilkins and Ben Platt—were fixed upon him.
"I thought you would be surprised," said the principal, "except, of course, the miserable criminal. But I will not keep you in suspense. To-day, by inadvertence, I left my wallet, containing a considerable sum of money, on the bureau in my chamber. An hour later, discovering my loss, I went upstairs, but the wallet was gone. It had mysteriously disappeared. I was at a loss to understand this at first, but I soon found a clew. I ascertained that a boy—a boy who is presently one of the pupils of Smith Institute—had entered my chamber, had appropriated the wallet, had carried it to his dormitory, and there had slyly concealed it in the pocket of a pair of pants. Doubtless, he thought his theft would not be discovered, but it was, and I myself discovered the missing wallet in its place of concealment."
Here Mr. Smith paused, and it is needless to say that the schoolroom was a scene of great excitement. His tone was so impressive, and his statement so detailed, that no one could doubt that he had most convincing evidence of the absolute accuracy of what he said.
"Who was it?" every boy had it on his lips to inquire.
"Three hours have elapsed since my discovery," continued Mr. Smith. "During that time I have felt unnerved. I have, however, written and posted an account of this terrible discovery to the friends of the pupil who has so disgraced himself and the school."
Ben Platt and Wilkins exchanged glances of indignation. They felt that Mr. Smith had been guilty of a piece of outrageous injustice in acting thus before he had apprised the supposed offender of the charge against him, and heard his defense. Both boys decided that they would not spare Jim Smith, but at all hazards expose the contemptible plot which he had contrived against his schoolfellow.
"I waited, however, till I was somewhat more calm before laying the matter before you. I know you will all be anxious to know the name of the boy who has brought disgrace upon the school to which you belong, and I am prepared to reveal it to you. Hector Roscoe, stand up!"
If a flash of lightning had struck him where he sat, Hector could not have been more astonished. For a moment he was struck dumb, and did not move.
"Stand up, Hector Roscoe!" repeated the principal. "No wonder you sit there as if paralyzed. You did not expect that so soon your sin would find you out."
Then Hector recovered completely his self-possession. He sprang to his feet, and not only that, but he strode forward, blazing with passion, till he stood before Mr. Smith's desk and confronted him.
"Mr. Smith!" he said, in a ringing tone, "do I understand you to charge me with stealing a wallet of yours containing money?"
"I do so charge you, and I have complete evidence of the truth of my charge. What have you to say?"
"What have I to say?" repeated Hector, looking around him proudly and scornfully. "I have to say that it is an infamous lie!"
"Hold, sir!" exclaimed Socrates, angrily. "Shameless boy, do you intend to brazen it out? Did I not tell you that I had complete proof of the truth of the charge?"
"I don't care what fancied proof you have. I denounce the charge as a lie."
"That won't do, sir! I myself took the wallet from the pocket of your pantaloons, hanging in the chamber. Mrs. Smith was with me and witnessed my discovery, and there was another present, one of the pupils of this institute, who also can testify to the fact. It is useless for you to deny it!"
"You found the wallet in the pocket of my pantaloons?" asked Hector, slowly.
"Yes. There can be no doubt about that."
"Who put it there?" demanded Hector, quickly.
Socrates Smith was staggered, for he had not expected this query from the accused.
"Who put it there?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir," continued Hector, firmly. "If the matter is as you state it, some one has been mean enough to put the wallet into my pocket in order to implicate me in a theft."
"Of course you put it there yourself, Roscoe. Your defense is very lame."
Hector turned round to his fellow-scholars.
"Boys," he said, "you have heard the charge that has been made against me. You know me pretty well by this time. Is there any one of you that believes it to be true?"
"No! No!" shouted the boys, with one exception. Jim Smith was heard to say distinctly, "I believe it!"
"Silence in the school!" shouted Socrates. "This is altogether irregular, and I won't have it."
Hector turned to the principal, and said, calmly:
"You see, Mr. Smith, that, in spite of your proof, these boys will not believe that your charge is well founded."
"That is neither here nor there, Roscoe. Will anyone step up and prove your innocence?"
There was another sensation. In the second row back a boy was seen to rise.
"Mr. Smith," said Ben Platt, "I can prove Roscoe's innocence!"
CHAPTER XX. HECTOR GAINS A VICTORY.
There were two persons on whom Ben Platt's declaration made a profound impression. These were Jim Smith and his uncle, the learned Socrates. The latter was surprised, for he was fully persuaded that the charge he had made was a true one, and Hector was a thief. As for Jim, his surprise was of a very disagreeable nature. Knowing as he did that, he himself had taken the money, he was alarmed lest his offense was to be made known, and that the pit which he had digged for another should prove to be provided for himself.
Socrates was the first to speak after taking time to recover himself from his surprise.
"This is a very extraordinary statement, Platt," he said. "You say you can prove Roscoe's innocence?"
"Yes, sir," answered Platt, firmly.
"I wish no trifling here, sir," said the principal, sharply. "I myself found the wallet in Roscoe's pocket."
"Yes, sir," answered Ben Platt, "I know it was there."
"You knew it was there!" repeated Socrates. "How did you know it was there?"
"Because I saw it put in."
Here Jim Smith's face turned from red to pale, and he moved about uneasily in his seat. "Could Ben Platt have been hidden somewhere in the room?" he asked himself, "If so, what was he to do?" There was but one answer to this question. He must brazen it out, and boldly contradict the witness. But he would bide his time. He would wait to hear what Ben had to say.
"Did you put it in yourself?" asked Socrates, savagely.
"No, Mr. Smith, I didn't put it in," answered Ben, indignantly.
"None of your impudence, sir!" said the schoolmaster, irritated.
"I merely answered your question and defended myself," answered Ben.
There was a little murmur among the pupils, showing that their sympathy was with the boy who had been so causelessly accused by the principal.
"Silence!" exclaimed Socrates, annoyed. "Now," he continued, turning to Ben, "since you know who put the wallet into Roscoe's pocket—a very remarkable statement, by the way—will you deign to inform me who did it?"
"James Smith did it!" said Ben, looking over to the principal's nephew, who was half expecting such an attack.
"It's a base lie!" cried Jim, but his face was blanched, his manner was nervous and confused, and he looked guilty, if he were not so.
"My nephew?" asked Socrates, flurried.
"It isn't so, Uncle Socrates," said Jim, excited. "I'll lick you, Ben Platt, when we get out of school."
"You forget yourself, James," said Socrates, with a mildness he would not have employed with any other pupil.
"I beg your pardon, Uncle Socrates," said Jim, with contrition, "but I can't be silent when I am accused of things I don't do."
"To be sure, you have some excuse, but you should remember the respect you owe to me. Then you did not do it?"
"Certainly not, sir."
"So it appears, Platt, that you have brought a false charge against your fellow-pupil," said Mr. Smith, severely. "I can conceive of nothing meaner."
"Mr. Smith," said Hector, "what right have you to say that the charge is false? Is it the denial of your nephew? If he took the wallet he would, of course, deny it."
"So would you!" retorted Socrates.
"No one saw me conceal it," said Hector, significantly.
Then Wilkins rose.
"Mr. Smith," he said, "I have some evidence to offer."
"Out with it, sir," said the principal, angrily, for he was fighting against an inward conviction that his nephew was really the guilty party.
"I was walking along the corridor about the time Platt speaks of Smith's visit to Roscoe's room, and I met your nephew walking in the opposite direction. When I entered the room, Platt told me that, half-concealed by the closet door, he had seen Jim Smith enter and thrust the wallet into Roscoe's pocket. Soon after, you and Mrs. Smith came into the room, guided by your nephew, who let you know just where the wallet was hidden. He had very good reasons for knowing," added Wilkins.
If a look would have annihilated Wilkins, the look directed towards him by Jim Smith would have had that effect.
"It's a conspiracy against me, Uncle Socrates," said Jim, intent upon brazening it out. "They're all in league together."
"The testimony of Wilkins doesn't amount to much!" said Mr. Smith. "He may have seen James in the corridor, but that is by no means a part of his complicity in this affair."
"Just so!" said Jim, eagerly.
"Ben Platt's evidence ought to count for something," said Hector. "He saw your nephew putting the wallet into the pocket of my pants."
Socrates was clearly perplexed. In spite of his partiality for his nephew, the case against him certainly looked very strong.
Hector, however, determined to make his defense even stronger.
"I would like to ask Platt," he said, "at what time this took place?"
"At three o'clock."
"How do you know it was three?" asked the principal, sharply.
"Because I heard the clock on the village church strike three."
"I would like to ask another boy—Frank Lewis—if he heard the clock strike three?"
Lewis answered in the affirmative.
"Where were you at the time?"
"In the playground."
"What were you doing?"
"Was I in the game?"
"How long had the game been going on?"
"Half an hour."
"How long had the game been going on, do you know?"
"From half to three-quarters of an hour."
"Can you remember whether I was with you all the time?"
"Now, Platt, will you tell me how long after the wallet was put into my pocket before Mr. Smith appeared in search of it?"
"Not over half an hour."
"I submit, then," said Hector, in a matter-of-fact manner, "that I was absent in the playground during the entire time when it was found in my room. I believe this is what lawyers call an alibi that I have, fortunately, been able to prove."
"You are a very smart lawyer!" sneered the principal.
The boys were by this time so incensed at Mr. Smith's evident effort to clear his nephew at the expense of Roscoe, that there was a very audible hiss, in which at least half a dozen joined.
"Is this rebellion?" asked Socrates, furiously.
"No, sir," said Ben Platt, firmly. "We want justice done; that is all."
"You shall have justice—all of you!" exclaimed Socrates, carried beyond the limits of prudence.
"I am glad to hear that, sir," said Hector. "If you do not at once exonerate me from this charge, which you know to be false, and write to my guardian retracting it, I will bring the matter before the nearest magistrate."
This was more than Socrates had bargained for. He saw that he had gone too far, and was likely to wreck his prospects and those of the school.
"I will look into the matter," he said, hurriedly, "and report to the school hereafter. You may now apply yourselves to your studies."
CHAPTER XXI. THE USHER IS DISCHARGED.
Among the boys of Smith Institute there was but one opinion on the subject of the principal's wallet. All acquitted Roscoe of having any part in the theft, and they were equally unanimous in the belief that Jim Smith had contrived a mean plot against the boy whom he could not conquer by fair means. There was a little informal consultation as to how Jim should be treated. It was finally decided to "send him to Coventry."
As this phrase, which is well understood in English schools, may not be so clear to my readers, I will explain that Jim was to be refused notice by his schoolfellows, unless he should become aggressive, when he was to be noticed in a manner far from agreeable.
Jim could not help observing the cold looks of the boys, who but lately were glad enough to receive notice from him, and he became very angry. As to being ashamed of the exposure, he was not sensitive, nor did he often have any feeling of that kind. Naturally vindictive, he felt especially angry with the two boys, Ben Platt and Wilkins, whose testimony had proved so uncomfortable for him.
"I'll thrash those boys if I never thrash another," he said to himself. "So they have turned against me, have they? They're only fit to black my boots anyway. I'll give 'em a lesson."
Platt and Wilkins were expecting an attack. They knew that Jim would seize the opportunity of attacking them singly, and in the absence of Hector, of whom he was afraid, and with good reason. They concerted measures, accordingly, for defeating the common enemy.
Jim was stalking about the next day, looking sullen and feeling ugly. He could not help observing that whenever he approached a group of boys they immediately scattered and walked away in various directions. This naturally chafed him, for, having no intellectual resources, he found solitude oppressive. Besides, he had been accustomed to the role of boss, and where is a boss without followers?
Tired of the schoolroom precincts, Jim went to walk. In a rustic lane, much to his delight, he saw approaching him one of the boys who had so seriously offended him.
It was Ben Platt.
Ben was sauntering along in idle mood when he came face to face with the dethroned boss.
"So it's you, Platt, is it?" said Jim, grimly.
"I believe it is," answered Ben, coolly.
"I've got a word or two to say to you," said Jim, significantly.
"Say them quick," said Ben, "for I'm in a hurry."
"I'm not," said Jim, in his old tone, "and it makes no difference whether you are or not."
"Indeed! you are as polite as usual," returned Ben.
"Look here, you young whelp!" Jim broke forth, unable any longer to restrain his wrath, "what, did you mean by lying about me last evening?"
"I didn't lie about you," said Ben, boldly.
"Yes, you did. What made you say you saw me put that wallet into Roscoe's pocket?"
"I can't think of any reason, unless because it was true," said Ben.
"Even if it were, how dared you turn against me? First you play the spy, and then informer. Paugh!"
"I see you admit it," said Ben. "Well, if you want an answer I will give you one. You laid a plot for Hector Roscoe—one of the meanest, dirtiest plots I ever heard of, and I wasn't going to see you lie him into a scrape while I could prevent it."
"That's enough, Platt!" exclaimed Jim, furiously. "Now, do you know what I am going to do?"
"I don't feel particularly interested in the matter."
"You will be, then. I am going to thrash you."
"You wouldn't if Hector Roscoe were here," said Ben, not appearing to be much frightened.
"Well, he isn't here, though if he were it wouldn't make any difference. I'll whip you so you can't stand."
Ben's reply was to call "Wilkins!"
From a clump of bushes, where he had lurked, unobserved hitherto, sprang Wilkins, and joined his friend.
"There are two of us, Smith!" said Ben Platt.
"I can thrash you both," answered Jim, whose blood was up.
Before the advent of Hector no two boys would have ventured to engage Jim in combat, but his defeat by a boy considerably smaller had lost him his prestige, and the boys had become more independent. He still fancied himself a match for both, however, and the conflict began. But both of his antagonists were in earnest, and Jim had a hard time.
Now, it so happened that Mr. Crabb, the usher, was taking a solitary walk, and had approached the scene of conflict unobserved by any of the participants. He arrived at an opportune time. Jim had managed to draw Wilkins away, and by a quick movement threw him. He was about to deal his prostrate foe a savage kick, which might have hurt him seriously, when the usher, quiet and peaceful as he was by nature, could restrain himself no longer. He rushed up, seized him by the collar, dragged him back and shook him with a strength he did not suppose he possessed, saying:
"Leave that boy alone, you brute!"
Jim turned quickly, and was very much surprised when he saw the meek usher, whom he had always despised, because he looked upon him as a Miss Nancy.
"So it's you, is it?" he said, with a wicked glance.
"Yes, it is I," answered the usher, manfully; "come up just in time to stop your brutality."
"Is it any of your business?" demanded Jim, looking as if he would like to thrash the usher.
"I have made it my business. Platt and Wilkins, I advise you to join me, and leave this fellow, who has so disgraced himself as to be beneath your notice."
"We will accompany you with pleasure, sir," said the boys.
They regarded the usher with new respect for this display of courage, for which they had not given him credit.
"I'll fix you, Crabb," said Jim Smith, insolently, "and don't you forget it!"
Mr. Crabb did not deign to answer him.
Jim Smith was as good as his word.
An hour later Mr. Crabb was summoned to the presence of the principal.
Socrates received him with marked coldness.
"Mr. Crabb," he said, "I cannot conceal the amazement I feel at a complaint which has just been made by my nephew."
Mr. Crabb had nerved himself for the worst, and did not cower or show signs of fear, as Socrates expected he would.
"James tells me that you attacked him savagely this afternoon when he was having a little sport with two of his schoolfellows."
"Is that what he says, Mr. Smith?"
"Yes, sir, and I require an explanation."
"You shall have it. The sport in which your nephew was engaged was attempting to thrash Wilkins. He had him down, and was about to deal him a savage kick when I fortunately came up."
"And joined in the fight," sneered Socrates.
"Yes, if you choose to put it so. Would you have had me stand by, and see Wilkins brutally used?"
"Of course, you color the affair to suit yourself," said Socrates, coldly. "The fact is that you, an usher, have lowered yourself by taking part in a playful schoolboy contest."
"Playful!" repeated Mr. Crabb.
"Yes, and I shall show how I regard it by giving you notice that I no longer require your services in my school. I shall pay you up at the end of the week and then discharge you."
"Mr. Smith," said the usher, "permit me to say that anything more disgraceful than your own conduct within the last twenty-four hours I have never witnessed. You have joined your nephew in a plot to disgrace an innocent boy, declining to do justice, and now you have capped the climax by censuring me for stopping an act of brutality, merely because your nephew was implicated in it!"
"This to me?" exclaimed Socrates Smith, hardly crediting the testimony of his ears.
"Yes, sir, and more! I predict that the stupid folly which has characterized your course will, within six months, drive from you every scholar you have in your school!"
"Mr. Crabb," gasped Socrates, never more surprised in his life than he was at the sudden spirit exhibited by the usher, "I will not be so insulted. Leave me, and to-morrow morning leave my service."
"I will, sir. I have no desire to remain here longer."
But when Mr. Crabb had walked away his spirit sank within him. How was he to obtain another situation? He must consult immediately with Hector Roscoe, in whose judgment, boy as he was, he reposed great confidence.
CHAPTER XXII. THE WELCOME LETTER.
"Hector," said Mr. Crabb, nervously, "I am going to leave the institute at the end of the week."
"Have you secured another situation, Mr. Crabb?" asked Hector, hopefully.
"No," answered the usher, shaking his head. "I have been discharged."
"For what reason?"
"For interfering with Mr. Smith's nephew when he was brutally abusing Wilkins."
"Did Mr. Smith fully understand the circumstances?"
"Yes; but he stands by his nephew right or wrong. He blamed me for checking his nephew's brutality."
"This is shameful!" said Hector, warmly. "May I ask, Mr. Crabb, if you have formed any plans?"
"No, except to seek a new position!" answered Crabb. "I fear," he added, despondently, "that it may be some time before I am so fortunate. Roscoe, I don't know what to do when I leave the school. I shall barely have five dollars, and you know I have not only myself, but another to support."
"Keep up your courage, Mr. Crabb! It is nearly time for me to hear from the friend in New York to whom I wrote is your behalf. If you can secure the position of his private tutor—"
"If I can, I will hail it as providential. It will relieve me at once from all anxiety."
"I don't think I shall long remain here myself, Mr. Crabb," said Hector. "I came here with the full intention of making the most of the facilities the institute affords for education, but I find the principal incompetent, and disposed to connive at injustice and brutality. The only good I have got here has been derived from your instructions."
"Thank you, Roscoe. Such a tribute is, indeed, welcome," said the usher, warmly.
"It is quite sincere, Mr. Crabb, and I hope my good wishes may bring you the advantage which I have in view."
"Thank you, Roscoe. I don't blame you for being disgusted with the management of the school. You have yourself suffered injustice."
"Yes; in writing home, and charging me with theft, before he had investigated the circumstances, Mr. Smith did me a great injustice. I doubt whether he has since written to correct the false charge, as I required him to do. If not, I shall owe it to myself to leave the school."
"You will be justified in doing so." The next day brought Hector two letters. One was from Allan Roscoe, and read as follows:
"HECTOR: I have received from your worthy teacher a letter which has filled me with grief and displeasure. I knew you had great faults, but I did not dream that you would stoop so low as to purloin money, as it seems you have done. Mr. Smith writes me that there is no room to doubt your guilt. He himself discovered in the pocket of your pantaloons a wallet containing a large sum of money, which he had missed only a short time before. He learned that you had entered his chamber, and taken the money, being tempted by your own dishonest and depraved heart.
"I cannot express the shame I feel at this revelation of baseness. I am truly glad that you are not connected with me by blood. Yet I cannot forget that my poor brother treated you as a son; and took pains to train you up in right ideas. It would give him deep pain could he know how the boy whom he so heaped with benefits has turned out! I may say that Guy is as much shocked as I am, but he, it seems, had a better knowledge of you than I; for he tells me he is not surprised to hear it. I confess I am, for I thought better of you.
"Under the circumstances I shall not feel justified in doing for you as much as I intended. I proposed to keep you at school for two years more, but I have now to announce that this is your last term, and I advise you to make the most of it. I will try, when the term closes, to find some situation for you, where your employer's money will not pass through your hands. ALLAN ROSCOE."
Hector read the letter with conflicting feelings, the most prominent being indignation and contempt for the man who so easily allowed himself to think evil of him.
The other letter he found more satisfactory.
It was from his young friend in New York, Walter Boss. As it is short, I subjoin it:
"DEAR HECTOR: I am ever so glad to hear from you, but I should like much better to see you. I read to papa what you said of Mr. Crabb, and he says it is very apropos, as he had made up his mind to get me a tutor. I am rather backward, you see, not having your taste for study, and papa thinks I need special attention. He says that your recommendation is sufficient, and he will engage Mr. Crabb without any further inquiry; and he says he can come at once. He will give him sixty dollars a month and board, and he will have considerable time for himself, if he wants to study law or any other profession. I don't know but a cousin may join me in my studies, in which case he will pay a hundred dollars per month, if that will be sastisfactory.
"Why can't you come and make me a visit? We'll have jolly fun. Come and stay a month, old chap. There is no one I should like better. Your friend, WALTER Boss."
Hector read this letter with genuine delight. It offered a way of escape, both for the unfortunate usher and himself. Nothing could be more "apropos" to quote Walter's expression.
Our hero lost no time in seeking out Mr. Crabb.
"You seem in good spirits, Roscoe," said the usher, his careworn face contrasting with the beaming countenance of his pupil.
"Yes, Mr. Crabb, I have reason to be, and so have you."
"Have you heard from your friend?" asked the usher, hopefully.
"Yes, and it's all right."
Mr. Crabb looked ten years younger.
"Is it really true?" he asked.
"It is true that you are engaged as private tutor to my friend, Walter. You'll find him a splendid fellow, but I don't know if the pay is sufficient," continued Hector, gravely.
"I am willing to take less pay than I get here," said the usher, "for the sake of getting away."
"How much do you receive here?"
"Twenty dollar a month and board. I might, perhaps, get along on a little less," he added doubtfully.
"You won't have to, Mr. Crabb. You are offered sixty dollars a month and a home."
"You are not in earnest, Roscoe?" asked the usher, who could not believe in his good fortune.
"I will read you the letter, Mr. Crabb."
When it was read the usher looked radiant. "Roscoe," he said, "you come to me like an angel from heaven. Just now I was sad and depressed; now it seems to me that the whole future is radiant. Sixty dollars a month! Why, it will make me a rich man."
"Mr. Crabb," said Hector, with a lurking spirit of fun, "can you really make up your mind to leave Smith Institute, and its kind and benevolent principal?"
"I don't think any prisoner ever welcomed his release with deeper thankfulness," said the usher. "To be in the employ of a man whom you despise, yet to feel yourself a helpless and hopeless dependent on him is, I assure you, Roscoe, a position by no means to be envied. For two years that has been my lot."
"But it will soon be over."
"Yes, thanks to you. Why can't you accompany me, Hector? I ought not, perhaps, to draw you away, but—"
"But listen to the letter I have received from my kind and considerate guardian, as he styles himself," said Hector.
He read Allan Roscoe's letter to the usher.
"He seems in a great hurry to condemn you," said Mr. Crabb.
"Yes, and to get me off his hands," said Hector, proudly. "Well, he shall be gratified in the last. I shall accept Walter's invitation, and we will go up to New York together."
"That will, indeed, please me. Of course, you will undeceive your guardian."
"Yes. I will get Wilkins and Platt to prepare a statement of the facts in the case, and accompany it by a note releasing Mr. Roscoe from any further care or expense for me."
"But, Hector, can you afford to do this?"
"I cannot afford to do otherwise, Mr. Crabb. I shall find friends, and I am willing to work for my living, if need be."
At this point one of the boys came to Mr. Crabb with a message from Socrates, desiring the usher to wait upon him at once.
CHAPTER XXIII. ANOTHER CHANCE FOR THE USHER.
Mr. Smith had been thinking it over. He had discharged Mr. Crabb in the anger of the moment, but after his anger had abated, he considered that it was not for his interest to part with him. Mr. Crabb was a competent teacher, and it would be well-nigh impossible to obtain another so cheap. Twenty dollars a month for a teacher qualified to instruct in Latin and Greek was certainly a beggarly sum, but Mr. Crabb's dire necessity had compelled him to accept it. Where could he look for another teacher as cheap? Socrates Smith appreciated the difficulty, and decided to take Mr. Crabb back, on condition that he would make an apology to Jim.
To do Mr. Crabb justice, it may be said that he would not have done this even if he saw no chance of another situation. But this Mr. Smith did not know. He did observe, however, that the usher entered his presence calm, erect and appearing by no means depressed, as he had expected.
"You sent for me, sir?" said the usher interrogatively.
"Yes, Mr. Crabb. You will remember that I had occasion to rebuke you, when we last conferred together, for overstepping the limits of your authority?"
"I remember, Mr. Smith, that you showed anger, and found fault with me."
"Why doesn't he ask to be taken back?" thought Socrates.
"I have thought the matter over since," continued the principal, "and have concluded we might be able to arrange matters."
The usher was surprised. He had not expected that Mr. Smith would make overtures of reconciliation. He decided not to mention at present his brighter prospects in New York, but to wait and see what further his employer had to say.
Mr. Crabb bowed, but did not make any reply.
"I take it for granted, Mr. Crabb, that your means are limited," proceeded Socrates.
"You are right there, sir. If I had not been poor I should not have accepted the position of teacher in Smith Institute for the pitiful salary of twenty dollars a month."
"Twenty dollars a month and your board, Mr. Crabb," said Socrates, with dignity, "I consider a very fair remuneration."
"I do not, Mr. Smith," said the usher, in a decided tone.
"I apprehend you will find it considerably better than to be out of employment," said Socrates, rather angry.
"You are right there, sir."
"I am glad you show signs of returning reason. Well, Mr. Crabb, I have thought the matter over, and I have a proposal to make to you."
"Very well, sir!"
"I do not wish to distress you by taking away your means of livelihood."
"You are very considerate, sir."
There was something in Mr. Crabb's tone that Socrates did not understand. It really seemed that he did not care whether he was taken back or not. But, of course, this could not be. It was absolutely necessary for him, poor as he was, that he should be reinstated. So Mr. Smith proceeded.
"To cut the matter short, I am willing to take you back on two conditions."
"May I ask you to name them?"
"The first is, that you shall apologize to my nephew for your unjustifiable attack upon him day before yesterday."
"What is the other, Mr. Smith?"
"The other is, that hereafter you will not exceed the limits of your authority."
"And you wish my answer?" asked the usher, raising his eyes, and looking fixedly at his employer.
"If you please, Mr. Crabb."
"Then, sir, you shall have it. Your proposal that I should apologize to that overgrown bully for restraining him in his savage treatment of a fellow-pupil is both ridiculous and insulting."
"You forget yourself, Mr. Crabb," said Socrates, gazing at the hitherto humble usher in stupefaction.
"As to promising not to do it again, you will understand that I shall make no such engagement."
"Then, Mr. Crabb," said Socrates, angrily, "I shall adhere to what I said the other day. At the end of this week you must leave me."
"Of course, sir, that is understood!"
"You haven't another engagement, I take it," said Mr. Smith, very much puzzled by the usher's extraordinary independence.
"Yes, sir, I have."
"Indeed!" said Socrates, amazed. "Where do you go?" Then was Mr. Crabb's time for triumph.
"I have received this morning an offer from the city of New York," he said.
"From New York! Is it in a school?"
"No, sir; I am to be private tutor in a family."
"Indeed! Do you receive as good pay as here?"
"As good!" echoed the usher. "I am offered sixty dollars a month and board, with the possibility of a larger sum, in the event of extra service being demanded."
Socrates Smith had never been more surprised.
This Mr. Crabb, whom he had considered to be under his thumb, as being wholly dependent upon him, was to receive a salary which he considered princely.
"How did you get this office?" he asked.
"Through my friend, Hector Roscoe," answered the usher.
"Probably he is deceiving you. It is ridiculous to offer you such a sum."
"I am quite aware that you would never think of offering it, but, Mr. Smith, there are other employers more generous."
Mr. Crabb left the office with the satisfied feeling that he had the best of the encounter.. He would have felt gratified could he have known the increased respect with which he was regarded by the principal as a teacher who could command so lucrative an engagement in the great city of New York.
Before closing this chapter I must take notice of one circumstance which troubled Mr. Smith, and in the end worked him additional loss.
I have already said that Jim Smith, in appropriating his uncle's wallet, abstracted therefrom a five-dollar bill before concealing it in Hector's pocket.
This loss Mr. Smith speedily discovered, and he questioned Jim about it.
"I suppose Roscoe took it," said Jim, glibly.
"But he says he did not take the wallet," said Socrates, who was assured in his own mind that his nephew was the one who found it on the bureau. Without stigmatizing him as a thief, he concluded that Jim meant to get Hector into trouble.