"I don't believe it," said Popkins--"he wouldn't do that, anyhow."
"Nor I," said Bolmer. "He's a little too religious, and all that; but he's not a thief."
"I'm sure he didn't do it," said Ned Stebbins, with his face as white as it well could be, and his upper lip strangely trembling. As he spoke, a hand was laid upon his arm, and Durkey--his face slightly flushed--interrupted:
"Anyhow, there is mighty strong proof against him."
"What is it?" said they all, in a breath.
"Why, his knife was found in Whooney's room. He was out of the Dormitory the night the money was taken, and they have found four of the gold pieces in his pocket. He said, too, that he got them from home, and Doctor Neverasole heard from his grandmother that that was a lie."
Guffins, who was standing by, gave a long whistle, and Snippers began tn reflect, a little uneasily, upon a five-cent piece he had abstracted, only the day before, from Whiffles' desk. People did get found out, sometimes, and he took the opportunity, shortly afterwards, to restore the five-cent piece, and also two slate pencils, four sheets of paper, a piece of chalk, three marbles, and a stick of candy, and nobody was louder in his denunciations, thereafter, of such wickedness, than Snippers. The boys were greatly excited.
There had been an awful hush of silence in the school, when Dr. Neverasole, who had had long consultations with all the Professors, and had examined Mrs. Jollipop and Mr. Whooney, entered the study.
"How dreadful the Doctor did look," said Cropsey to a little boy named Dummer, who was now his intimate friend, «when he said, 'Robert Graham, stand up!' "
"Yes," answered Dummer, "and how awful guilty Rob Graham looked. He knew he was found out, then. I wouldn't have been him, for a good deal."
"That's the window," said Cropsey, looking up to the third story, as they walked along.
"Is he up there?" said Dummer. "What do you think they will do with him?"
"I shouldn't wonder if they sent him to State's Prison, unless his grandmother begs him off, and pays up pretty handsomely, to Mr. Whooney. He must be an awful bad boy; and his grandmother not likely to live long, too."
"What do you suppose he used to say his prayers for, those times, and make believe he was so good?" asked Dummer.
"All for beans," replied Cropsey, and they walked away. They walked around the play ground for quite a time, and finally, to the other side of the Gymnasium, where, in a place where the earth seemed to have been loosened a little, as they walked they kicked at it, trying as they did so, to kick the loose ground up into each other's face. Presently Dummer's foot caught in something which seemed like an old rag, and which, as it stuck tight in the ground, required considerable energy to move it. He was bent on kicking it at Cropsey, if he could. Presently a large piece of the earth was loosened, and stopping the kicking, he stooped to pick it up and throw it at Cropsey.
"What's this?" he cried, and pulled up what seemed to be a bag of something. He shook it as he spoke and added, "It must be somebody's marbles; but how did they get down there?"
"Let me see," said Cropsey.
The bag was carefully tied with a string, and it took them some time to get it loose. For a little time longer they scuffled to see which should get his hand first into the bag. Cropsey, however, succeeded, and drew out a five-dollar gold piece. With a shout of amazement, Dummer poured out the rest upon the ground. There were thirty-five in all, and with them rolled out a piece of paper. It looked like the back of a letter and was directed to Master Robert Graham, Dorchester Polytechnic Academy, with the post mark, Danville.
"Oh, dear!" said Cropsey, "it is Mr. Whooney's money, and here is a piece of one Robert Graham's letter in with it. He must have hid it here," and seizing the bag, followed by Dummer, and by several other boys, to whom he told the story by snatches, as well as his breathless condition would admit, he rushed to Dr. Neverasole's study. Dr. Neverasole had not said, "come in." Indeed, he was talking to Mr. Stebbins, whom he had summoned from Dorchester; but the boys supposed he had said so when they knocked, and pressed into the study. Cropsey, with his face flushed with running and excitement; Dummer, fearful lest Cropsey should get all the credit of the discovery; the other boys open-mouthed to hear all that could be heard; Dr. Neverasole, half angry and half curious, and Mr. Stebbins much annoyed, made up the scene. "I have found,--"said Cropsey.
"I picked it up," said Dummer.
"We saw them," said two of the other boys.
"Its Mr. Whooney's money," said all the boys at once, as Cropsey laid the bag on the table.
"I thought so," said Mr. Stebbins; "no doubt he lost it. I have always found out that half the supposed thieving, is nothing but somebody's carelessness."
Dr. Neverasole opened the bag, carefully poured out the pieces--counted them, and said aloud, "thirty-five; there should be four hundred," and then, turning to Cropsey, commanded him to give an account of the matter. This Cropsey did, with occasional assistance and corrections from Dummer. When he came to the piece of paper, Dr. Neverasole put his hand into the bag, and, drawing it out, handed it to Mr. Stebbins.
"I am afraid that settles the matter, Mr. Stebbins," he said.
Mr. Stebbins did not answer, but moved away to the window.
"You can go, boys," said Dr. Neverasole, and out they went, and Cropsey and Dummer were soon in the midst of a crowd of boys, telling the story, with a full description of all they felt and imagined, and a powerful picture of Mr. Stebbins' state of mind, when the piece of paper was presented to him.
Meanwhile, Dr. Neverasole only repeated what he said before.
"Mr. Stebbins, I am afraid that settles the matter."
"Yes," said Mr. Stebbins. "Dr. Neverasole,' he added, "my wife was right. Phrenology is a wonderful science. She examined his bumps and said, at once, Robert Graham was a bad boy. His organism is incomplete. He is not morally responsible."
"Not morally responsible?" said Dr. Neverasole, "He is a very bright boy, and not, in the least, idiotic."
"Have you not read Professor Smith's admirable article in the Progressive Freeman, on the subject?" asked Mr, Stebbins. "It shows, most conclusively, that, what between inherited tendencies, the influences of the stomach and the nerves, the old-fashioned notions of right and wrong are quite absurd. I hope, myself, to live to see the day when sermons on food, ventilation and hygiene, generally, will take the place of the dreamy discourses we hear in our orthodox churches.
"No doubt," replied Dr. Neverasole, "but what shall be dene with your nephew? I feel very sorry, as you have been always a patron of the Academy; but I cannot keep him at the school. The two thousand dollars must be paid, and he must go; otherwise there will be public exposure. As it is, I am afraid the reputation of the school is injured." "What did he do it for?" he added, in an angered tone of voice, as the thought of the injury done to the Academy, made the worthy Doctor realize more fully, the sin of which Robert had been guilty.
"Two thousand dollars is a large sum," said Mr. Stebbins. "It must, however, be paid, and the boy has property enough. I must, however, first have his written acknowledgment that the debt is a just one, to secure myself, as I am only his guardian."
"That is easy enough," said Dr. Neverasole, "with such proof, he cannot continue to deny it. Will you see him, Mr. Stebbins?"
"I suppose, I must," replied Mr. Stebbins.
They went up stairs together--Dr. Neverasole unlocked the door and walked in, followed by Mr. Stebbins. Upon the bed sat Robert; on a table, beside him, was some untasted bread and water. The sun struggled into the window, through the floating March clouds, and lighted up the bare cheerlessness of the room. Poor Robert's face was pale, his hair not nicely brushed, and he looked guilty and miserable, as he rose up from the bed. "Uncle," he said, stepping out and stretching out his hand, "I did not do it, I did not do it," and burst into tears. Mr. Stebbins would have been affected by such an appearance of sorrow, but that, feeling sure, as he did, that Robert was guilty, it looked to him like the height of hypocrisy, so he did not take the outstretched hand. There was no answer to the appealing tears; he only said, very sternly, "There is no use in crying and making believe any longer; you are guilty, and you know it, and you may as well acknowledge it at once." "Uncle," cried Robert; "Dr. Neverasole," he added, turning from his uncle's stern look, as if seeking for a friend in the Doctor, "you do not think I did it; I could not have done it." Sobs choked his utterance, until at last, as there came no answer from either, with a great gulp he swallowed down his sorrow, and stood waiting.
"My son," said Dr. Neverasole, with a blending of the paternal and the magisterial, which he had often found very impressive, "your crime is discovered. You remember, I caught you out of your Dormitory the very night the money was taken. A boy was seen, that very night, in Mr. Whooney's room; your knife was found upon the floor; four of the five-dollar pieces were found in your possession marked with the L. which Mr. Whooney had scratched upon them, and now, as if to bring your guilty deeds to light, thirty-five of the pieces have been found where you hid them. Whose letter is this?" he said, interrupting "himself, and handing the envelope to Robert.
"Mine!" said Robert, "I got it from Mrs. Dorothy about ten days ago."
"Yes," said Mr. Stebbins, breaking in on Dr. Nevera-.sole, "and it was found with the thirty-five pieces, in the very spot where you hid them."
Robert was confused and bewildered; but at last he spoke: "Uncle, I went out of my Dormitory that night .after Ned, who was off, for something or another."
"Ned!" said Mr. Stebbins angrily; "you try to turn off your wrong on him, do you? Such meanness will not serve you. Ned is as true and pure as you seem to be the opposite." Mr. Stebbins paused and Dr. Neverasole resumed:
"Where did you get the four five-dollar gold pieces?"
"I thought I got them from home," said Robert.
"You thought!" said Mr. Stebbins.
"I know I did not, now, for gran Imother has written me, asking about it; but a letter came from Mrs. Dorothy, in somebody else's hand-writing, saying she could not write herself, enclosing the money."
"Where is that letter?" asked Dr Neverasole.
"I looked for it when I got grandmother's letter, but it was gone. Dr. Neverasole," he said, "somebody has been playing a trick on me; the knife I do not remember about, but I have often lent it; and I do not know what you mean about my hiding thirty-five pieces."
"Robert Graham!" exclaimed Dr. Neverasole, "how do you dare to go on in such a course of miserable lying. You stole the money, and you know it! You never received any letter from Mrs. Dorothy, and you know it! You hid thirty -five of the pieces, and the very envelope which you say is yours, bears witness to it! Now sir, you cannot get rid of what you have done, but you may, at least, acknowledge your wrong, and make restitution for it. I shall not openly expose you. You will be withdrawn from the school. Your Grandmother will be spared the pain and sorrow, and you can begin life again, and never do so any more, and learn, what all the teachings of the Dorchester Polytechnic Academy ought long since to have taught you, that honesty is the best policy."
"More than this," added Mr. Stebbins, with his lips compressed, "You must acknowledge it, and let me pay Mr. Whooney the $2000, or else the law shall take its course. We must all be disgraced--your Grandmother, who lies at home, near her end--be killed by it, and you go to State Prison for a term of years.
Robert did not seem to hear the next; he only cried, "Grandma dying? Let me go to her; she will believe me." He was darting by them to the door, as if he would start at the moment for Danville, but Mr. Stebbins stopped him.
"I did not say she was dying, and such an affectation on your part does not deceive me. I only mean to say, that if you do not acknowledge what you have done, it may kill her. You have the two courses before you; acknowledgement and forgiveness--for we do not mean to be too hard on you"--he added a little more gently, "or exposure, the disgrace of us all, and State Prison."
"Uncle," said Robert, "how can I acknowledge what I Have not done?"
Mr. Stebbins did not heed him; but taking pen, ink and paper, he had brought up stairs with him, and sitting down at the little table wrote:
"I acknowledge, with deep sorrow, that I have stolen, from Mr. Whoon^ the sum of $2000, and I hereby empower my uncle and guardian, R Stebbins, Esq., to pay this amount, on my behalf, to Mr. Whooney."
Dorchester Polytechnic Academy, March 18.:
"Sign this," he said, "and you will leave the school for home to-day, and begin life again."
"Go home to-day?" said Robert, not quite taking in what was required of him. He would have done almost anything to be at home again. The sun shining in on the dreary room, the cold and unsympathizing look on the faces of his Uncle and the Doctor, the thought of his Grandmother, lying ill, perhaps believing him to be guilty, and he not able to defend himself; all these, in one way or another, moved him. He took the paper in his hand, he read it carefully over, his Uncle handed him the pen, and, as he did so, said, "sign it and we leave in an hour."
"Stolen from Mr. Whooney?" said Robert aloud, the full force of the words dawning, suddenly, upon him. "Uncle, you mean me to acknowledge myself a thief."
"Certainly, sir," said his uncle, "when we all know you have been one."
Robert dropped the paper on the floor; he looked this way and that way; there seemed nobody to help him; the boys outside, cried and shouted, in their play; when, suddenly, a verse of Psalms seemed to sound somewhere down his throat, as if one had spoken it, "I will make thy righteousness as clear as the light, and thy just dealing as the noon-day;" and there was almost a smile on his face as he answered, "Uncle, I cannot do it."
"Hardened fellow," said Dr. Neverasole, who saw the naif smile, and did not hear the text--as how could he--never reading the Psalms, and having considerable doubts about their inspiration, anyhow.
Mr. Stebbins walked up and down the room and then said, sternly, "You have your choice, sir. With Dr. Neverasole's permission, I will" give you twenty-four hours for consideration, and then the law must take its course; meanwhile, I shall consult your grandmother." They both left the room together. It soon spread abroad, among the boys, that Robert Graham had twenty-four hours for consideration, and if he did not own up he would get it.
"Might as well do it at once," said Whiffles.
"I wonder what he did with the rest of it?" said Snippers, "thirty-five from four hundred leaves--leaves one hundred and sixty-five," and Snippers spent a good part of the next play-hour in looking in all sorts of places, with a view to the discovery of the rest. Indeed, more or less everybody in the whole establishment was affected by Robert's probation. Prof. Poggers went and reasoned with Robert, most clearly and convincingly, upon the sin of Healing, and the necessity of confession, and came away with a sense of moral exultation and the firm conviction few boys so young could possibly be so abandoned. lit for his excellent training in the theological school at Cambridge," he told Dr. Neverasole, "he would, almost, we become convinced of the truth of the doctrine of al sin, if not of total depravity."
What Dr. Neverasole told him about the article in the Progressive Freeman, on the influence of nerves, stomach organism, inherited tendencies, etc., quite reassured him, however, in regard so his theological views, but left lmn more than ever convinced of the wickedness of Robert Graham.
Indeed, Robert's supposed wickedness produced an effect upon the whole school, in one way or another. From the little room in which he was shut up, went out a sort of influence, affecting people differently, in accordance with their several conditions. It seemed as if the whole school nerved itself to one mighty effort to bring him to confess his sin; and from the quiet boy sitting on the bed, and hearing what each one had to say, who came to him, went forth a something, they knew not what, to each.
For that day, at least, the Dorchester Polytechnic Academy, according to the measure of its spiritual powers, headed by its worthy chief, Dr. Neverasole, labored for the conversion of a sinner.
The excitement reached its height, when, at the Evening Prayers in chapel, which were held once a month, on & Wednesday evening, and happened to come that night, Professor Poggers led in prayer, and especially commended to the throne of grace, "their deluded, sinful brother."
Dr. Neverasole allowed anyone, who thought he or she could influence the boy, to call and see him. Mr. Whooney talked a long time to him, and told Mrs. Jollipop, afterwards, "I told him I was sure he had taken the money. I told him what a loss it was, and what a dreadful misfortune it was to me, to give up all my hopes. I begged him, anyhow, to own up, so that the money might be paid to me by his uncle. I told him I would forgive him if he would only do so."
"What did he say?" said Mrs. Jollipop.
"He just cried a little, and when I thought he was going to own it up, he said he could not do it, he had never touched it, and God would bring it all to light."
"That vexed me," said Mr. Whooney, "and I know it was wrong; but I forgot about him, and said what I have often thought, 'what have I done that I should have so many trials,' and Robert muttered something about people being made perfect through suffering. What does he know about sufferings? If he's innocent, though, and I almost believe he is," added Mr. Whooney, "all this is pretty hard on him.
"Innocent," said Mrs. Jollipop, "of course, he's innocent; nothing will convince me to the contrary." So Mrs. Jollipop kept going to see him and exhorting him to stand firm, and went out each time, ready to fight with anybody who dared to look as if they thought Robert were guilty.
Miss Hetty Neverasole, who was the only person in the ,Academy who agreed with Mrs. Jollipop, also called, and to Robert's intense confusion, kissed him three times, and would have done so four or five, had not Robert retreated as far off as the narrow limits of the room permitted. Mrs. Neverasole spent quite a time with him, and kept sayingm "it's a great deal better to own it; it would save a lot of trouble. Nehemiah won't give in; he never does. I was once in a State Prison, and it was an awful place; there were three murderers, two forgers and a crazy woman, who was shut up in a cage. I don't see what boys steal' for; but if they do, why don't they tell of it, and give back all that's left." Being a woman of a strong imagination, she also described a hanging she had once witnessed, and. how she covered her face with her hands, and screeched when the sheriff put the black cap on; and what lots of peanuts she had eaten all that morning, and how the man who was hanged, began with stealing, and would not own it up With which cheerful picture, she left Robert to himself.
So the night came on, and star after star glimmered through the window, for they had allowed him no light and the noises of the building died away, and the sounds of the boys' voices grew fainter and fainter, and the footsteps in the hall ceased, and everything was still. By his bedside, the boy knelt and prayed, and sobbed and prayed again, and fell asleep on his knees, with a gleam from a star falling upon him.
"Put it here," said Popkins, in a gruff whisper.
"That's it," answered Ned Stebbins, in another whisper, at they placed the ladder, just underneath the window of the jail.
"You go first," said Ned.
Slowly, in the darkness--hand over hand--they mounted the ladder. Popkins gently raised the sash, and quietly; lowered himself into the room. In doing so, he just saved himself from upsetting the table, with the bread and water upon it. He quickly lighted a small lantern he held in his hand, and gave Ned enough light to ascend quite noiselessly. They both stood together, and, scared by the stillness, looked around the room. Popkins threw the light upon the bed, and it shone upon the kneeling and sleeping I boy. It was with a very gentle hand that Popkins shook Robert slightly, almost as if he were afraid to waken him. Robert moved uneasily and muttered, "Grandmamma, I did not do it."
Ned did not catch the sound of the words, and whispered to Popkms, "What did he say?"
"He said," answered Popkins, "what I knew he'd always say, 'I did not do it.'"
Then Popkins shook him again, and whispered, in a voice like what he had often heard at the Dorchester Theatre, "Escape! Escape!"
"Who is it?" cried Robert, now thoroughly awake.
"Hush!" said Popkins: "it's me and Ned Stebbins; we've got a ladder at the window, and we'll go over with you to Hubville. The stage leaves for Danville at six in the morning, and then you are all right."
"Does anybody think I stole it?" asked Robert.
"Almost everybody," said Popkins, "except me and Ned."
"I know you didn't," said Ned.
"And I am sure of it, anyhow," said Popkins, "and if you did, I'll stand by you, old fellow."
He gave Robert a great grip with his huge hand, as he spoke, "And here is something for you," he continued, drawing out of his pocket a sausage, an apple and a lemon.
"What would be the use of running away," said Robert, "they could find meat Danville, as well as here."
"Couldn't you hide in the well, or up in the garret, or In a cupboard where they keep the gingerbread?" said Popkins.
"I am just as much obliged to you, Popkins, for thinking of me, but I cannot run away; that would be just the same as saying I did it. It would be as bad, almost, as jb signing the paper."
"Ned," he added, as if a sudden thought struck him, "what were you out of your Dormitory for, the night the money was taken? I went out to look for you, because I thought you were doing something wrong, and that's one reason why they think I took it. Ned, don't you know anything about it?"
He turned an appealing look on his cousin, and Popkins let the light of the lantern fall full on Ned's face. His face was white and his teeth clenched together.
"Tell me," said Robert, "if you know."
Who can tell what Ned would have answered, but a slow step on the lower hall, as of one going the rounds, and about to mount to the floor above, made Popkins blow out the lantern.
"We shall be found out," he whispered; "come Robert."
"I cannot," said Robert, and in a moment more the boys had clambered out of the window, and were down the ladder. In about half an hour, Popkins stuck his head in the window again, and said, "Good night; I believe you, anyhow," and Robert heard him take the ladder away.
The footstep was only Mr. Whooney going to bed; so the boys might have stayed, for the poor man was more dazed than ever, by something that had just befallen him. He had betaken himself, when his duties were over, to Mrs. Jollipop's room, as he often did. It was a pleasant change, after the noise and confusion of the study hour he had to keep, and never had seemed pleasanter than on that evening. There was an air of snug comfort about the house-keeper's room. The fire burned cheerily, in an open fire-place. A tea-kettle sang pleasantly over the fire. The tall presses, round the room, sent forth an odorous smell. The cat purred on the rug. A great rocking-chair, softly cushioned, stood waiting for him. A cup of tea and a slice of toast, with a little of Mrs. Jollipop's raspberry jam, was on the table; arid Mrs. Jollipop herself, resting after the labors of the day, in a clean cap and white apron, was a pleasing sight enough. To-night, too, Miss Hetty Neverasole, who looked more than usually comely, with a fresh glow on her clear skin, added to the homelike look of the apartment. With such a subject to talk over as the theft, and Robert Graham's guilt or innocence, and the warm fire in front, was it strange that they should draw their chairs close together, Mr. Whooney between the two, and talked confidentially?
Pleasantly did the fire light up Miss Hetty's fair countenance, and the sparks from the hickory log flew out, as sparks are won't to do--as though they, at least, appreciated her.
At last there was a long silence, when suddenly, as if it had thundered in a clear sky, Miss Hetty burst into tears. She put her cambric pocket handkerchief to her face, and sobbed as if her heart would break.
"What is the matter, Miss Hetty?" said Mr. Whooney, quite scared. "Mrs. Jollipop, do speak to her; something dreadful must have happened to her."
"Poor dear! poor dear!" said Mrs. Jollipop.
Meanwhile, the afflicted Miss Hetty swayed to and fro, in the intensity of her emotions, and at last her head--how strange it was--fell over on Mr. Whooney's shoulder, with her handkerchief still covering her countenance.
Poor Mr. Whooney had never been placed in such circumstances before, and he did not know what to do.
"Poor angelic child," said Mrs. Jollipop, "her heart is almost broken."
At this Miss Hetty sobbed again, uncontrollably; and her cheek touched Mr. Whooney's cheek.
"Oh, dear," said Mr. Whooney, whereat Mrs. Jollipop exclaimed:
"It's all right, Hetty; he calls you his dear."
''Thine forever!" murmured Miss Hetty, in a low voice quite as she supposed Arabella Lucinda must have done under similar circumstances, in that charming novel "Green as the Grass is He."
How it all came about, Mr. Whooney never actually knew, but when, with slow and anxious footsteps, he went to bed that night, Lucy and Lichfield seemed further away than ever; and he did not know, but was very much afraid, that Miss Hetty thought that he and she were engaged. He had not meant it; but what could he do, poor soul?