Bessie Bradford's Prize
Joanna H. Mathews
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Branko Collin, Tonya Allen, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
BESSIE BRADFORD'S PRIZE
The third of a series of sequels to "the Bessie books"
By Joanna H. Mathews
Illustrated by W. St. John Harper
Dedicated to my dear little friend and fellow author Elizabeth Leiper
With the wish that the path of authorship may have for her as many
flowers and as few thorns as it has had for her friend and well
J. H. M.
I. AT THE POLICEMAN'S,
III. LENA'S SECRET,
V. ROBBING THE MAIL,
VI. A CONFIDENCE,
VII. A BOX OF BONBONS,
VIII. "INNOCENTS ABROAD,"
IX. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING,
X. FRANKIE TO THE FRONT AGAIN,
XL A TRUST,
XIV. WHO WINS?
AT THE POLICEMAN'S.
"Here comes Mrs. Fleming," said Jennie Richards, in a tone indicative
of anything but pleasure in the coming of Mrs. Fleming.
Mrs. Granby responded with an exclamation which savored of a like
sentiment, and rising, she tossed aside the little frock she was
working on, as she added:
"I don't see what she's comin' for! I didn't want her a comin' here,
bringin' her mournin' an' frettin' an' lookin' out for troubles to
pester you, Mary Richards, an' I told her I would be over to her
place this evenin'. I did tell her, you know, I'd fit that dress for
her Mrs. Bradford give her to Christmas, but she just needn't a come
here when I told her I'd go there; an' a kill-joy she is an' no
comfort to nobody. You go into the kitchen, Mary, an' stay there
till she's gone, which I won't be long fittin' her, an' I'll get rid
of her soon's I can,"
Mrs. Richards was about to comply with the suggestion, when Jennie,
who was still gazing out of the window, exclaimed with a total change
"And here come the little Miss Bradfords, with Jane, and Miss Belle
Powers and Miss Lily Norris along with them."
The little sister whom she was diverting by holding her up to the
window, began to clap her hands, and Mrs. Richards settled herself
back into her chair again, saying:
"I ain't going into the kitchen to miss _them_, and I'll set the
sunshine they'll bring against the clouds Mrs. Fleming drags."
Mrs. Granby beamed upon her.
"Well, I declare, Mary Richards, you ain't no great hand to talk, but
when you do, you just do it beautiful; now don't she, Jennie? That's
the po'tryest talkin' I've heard this long while, real live po'try,
if there ain't no jingle about it. I allers did think you might a
writ a book if you'd set about it, an' if you'd put such readin' as
that kind of talk into it, I'll be boun' it would bring a lot of
money, an' I'm right glad the little young ladies is comin', on'y I
wish Amandy Flemin' hadn't hit the same time."
It was plain to be seen that the visit of the young party who were on
the way to the door was a source of gratification to the policeman's
family, whatever that of Mrs. Fleming might be. Their quicker
footsteps brought them in before Mrs. Fleming, and they received a
warm welcome. It is to be feared that the younger girl had an eye to
the loaves and fishes with which they usually came laden on their
visits to the Richards' household, as she ran to them on their
"What did oo b'ing me?"
"Augh! Shame!" said the scandalized Mrs. Granby, snatching her up;
and, "You'll excuse her, young ladies," said Mrs. Richards, mortified
also; "but she's only a little thing, and you spoil her, always
bringing her something when you come."
That they were not offended or hurt was soon evidenced by the fact
that Lily presently had the little one on her lap, while Belle was
showing her a linen scrap-book which had been brought for her.
Mrs. Granby was a seamstress, and Jane had brought some work which
her mistress, Mrs. Bradford, had sent; and Maggie and Bessie, with
Belle and Lily, who were spending the day with them, had chosen to
accompany her, the first three because they were generally ready for
a visit to the family of the policeman, who had befriended Bessie
when she was lost, the latter because she thought Mrs. Granby "such
fun." To have Mrs. Fleming come in, as she presently did, was bliss
indeed to Lily, who delighted in pitting the cheery, lively little
Mrs. Granby against the melancholy, depressing Mrs. Fleming. Nor was
the entertainment long in beginning.
Jane was to carry home some work which Mrs. Granby had finished, and
as the latter was putting it up Mrs. Fleming came in and was bidden
by her to take a seat till she was ready to attend to her.
"And how's little Miss Neville, Miss Maggie?" asked Mrs. Richards. "I
think that's the name of the young lady who was so brave in saving
her little sister, and was so burned."
"Yes, that's her name," answered Maggie. "She is a great deal better,
Mrs. Richards. The doctor has said she is out of danger, and her
mother has been able to leave her and to go back to the son who is
"I'm very glad to hear it," said Mrs. Richards, cordially. "My
husband was telling me how wonderful and brave she was, and how she
never thought of herself trying to save the other children; and how
the gentleman Miss Staunton is to marry was burned very bad saving
"Yes; it was a terrible time," said Maggie; "but Mr. Howard is much
better now, too; so we are all very happy."
All this time Mrs. Fleming had sat nodding her head mournfully, as if
she would say, "Don't be encouraged; there is no ground for hope."
"Look! Look at her!" Lily whispered to Bessie. "She's like an insane
Chinese mandarin, rolling round her old head that way."
"Hush!" whispered Bessie, "she'll hear you."
"Don't care if she does," answered Lily.
And now Mrs. Fleming broke forth in just such a lackadaisical,
tearful tone as one would have expected to issue from her lips.
"Oh, Miss Maggie," she whined, "if the dear lady, your ma, 'ad but
listened to me. I told her no good wouldn't come of 'avin' that
number of children to her Christmas tree--twice thirteen; an' I said
if thirteen was hunlucky, twice thirteen was twice worse; an' your ma
just laughed at me; an' the next day came the burnin'."
Bessie looked gravely at her.
"My mother says that is wrong and foolish, too," she said, in an
admonitory tone, "and that thirteen is no worse than any other
"You nor your ma can't gainsay that there come the burnin', Miss,"
persisted the woman.
"I know that Colonel Rush's house was on fire, and that Miss Lena was
burned, and Mr. Howard, too," answered Bessie, equally determined to
maintain her side of the case. "But they are both a great deal
better, and it ought to show you that such things don't make any
difference to God, and that He can take just as good care of one
number as another."
The other children were rather surprised to hear Bessie speak so
decidedly to one older than herself; but this was a subject on which
she felt strongly; her own faith and trust and reliance on the
goodness and power of God were very strong; and more than one
occurrence in her little life had tended to foster these, and she
always rather resented the want of them in others. And now Mrs.
Fleming, in her turn, resented being chidden by this mite who
appeared even younger than she really was. But it pleased her, as
usual, to assume the injured role.
"Well, Miss," she said, "'tain't for me to contradick you nor your
ma. I can't help havin' my hown feelin's an' hopinions; but the Lord
made me to be down-trod, an' I'm willin' to habide 'is will an' stay
This was beyond Bessie; she had no answer, no argument for folly such
as this, if, indeed, she grasped the woman's meaning; but she did
understand that she was still making her moan over matters and things
in general, and that in some way she seemed to be blaming her own
dear mother. She looked displeased and turned away; but here Mrs.
Granby, who had her head in a wardrobe, looking for a large sheet of
paper, withdrew it and came to the front.
"Well," she said, raising her voice so that it might be heard above
the rattle of the stiff paper which she unfolded and wrapped about
the completed work Jane was to carry back, "well, if so be as you
enjoy bein' 'down-trod,' as you do enjoy most things as other folks
don't find pleasin', there ain't nobody goin' to hinder you; but you
look here, Mrs. Flemin', you nor nobody else ain't goin' to cast no
slurs onter Mrs. Bradford which there never was a better lady, nor
one that was so far from down-treadin' folks but more like to be
upliftin' 'em if only they'll let themselves be uplift, an' all her
family the same an' the little ladies brought up accordin'; so, if
you please, no slurs on any of 'em afore me an' Mary Richards which
we would have feelin's on account of it an' wouldn't stan' it in
_this_ house. I don't see why you can't live agreeable like
other folks; an' it does fret me outer patience to hear a body
mortifyin' the Lord's mercies an' you such a heapin' lot sent to you
this very winter, an' it's for your own good I speak, which the Lord
He does get out of patience with us sometimes I do believe when we're
faithless an' mistrustin', an' takes back His blessin's when He finds
we don't hold 'em in no appreciation."
By this time Mrs. Fleming had dissolved into tears and buried her
face in an already much bewept pocket-handkerchief.
Seeing this Mrs. Granby resumed in a soothing tone and with some
"But just hear me now rattlin' on about my neighbors' short-comin's
an' me plenty of my own, me that ain't a woman of many words neither.
There, Mrs. Flemin', don't mind, an' if you've a min' to compose your
feelin's in the kitchen just step in an' I'll fit your dress soon's
Jane's business is over."
But Mrs. Fleming had no idea of retiring to privacy to compose her
"feelin's;" she preferred to indulge them in public, and she sat
still, sobbing only the louder. The situation was becoming
embarrassing to the young party, and Maggie, with her usual ready
tact, seized upon an opening to change the subject.
"Why, Mrs. Granby," she said, "I did not know you made dresses. I
thought you only did plain sewing such as you have done for our
"I do a bit at it, Miss Maggie," answered the seamstress; "though, to
be sure, I wouldn't undertake to dress-make for ladies like your ma
and aunts an' the like, but for them as hasn't much ambition as to
their figgers, I can make out, an' I did tell Mrs. Flemin' I'd fit
hers, so she could make it herself an' she shouldn't have to do no
expenses about it, for it's on'y right we should all lend a helpin'
hand, an' where would me an' the Richardses be if your folks hadn't
thought the same an' acted accordin', which there's never a night on
my bended knees I don't ask the Almighty's blessin' on you, an'
there's none more deserves it, an' I do b'lieve the dear Lord's of
the same way of thinkin', for there's none as I see happier nor more
prosperin' an' does one's heart good to see it, an' never will I
forget the night we was in such a peck of troubles an' seein' no way
out of 'em me an' the Richardses, an' your pa comin' in an' turnin'
the tide, an' since then, yes, ever since, all goin' so comfortable
an' pleasant with us. I did think when I saw Mr. Bradford's face that
night I first opened the door to him that he was the
agreeablest-lookin' gentleman I ever did see, but me no idea what a
blessin' he was a bringin' us all an' help outer our troubles, which
the Richardses' troubles is always mine too. But I declare, just hear
me runnin' on, as I always do if I get on them times; you'd think I
was the greatest hand to talk ever was."
Lily was having her "fun," and she was quite loth to take leave when
Mrs. Granby had the parcel ready and Maggie made the move to go.
"I'm sure, Miss Maggie," said Mrs. Richards, "that I am truly glad to
hear that Miss Neville is likely to get well. I suppose she'll be
leaving her uncle's now and going away with her mother. It isn't
likely Mrs. Neville will want to be leaving her child again after
such an escape as she's had. I'm sure I couldn't abide one of mine
out of my sight after such a thing. And the bravery of her, too, the
dear young thing. My husband says it was a risk a strong man, and
one of the police themselves, might have shrunk from."
This was an unusually long speech for Mrs. Richards, who was that
which Mrs. Granby so mistakenly called herself, "a woman of few
words," for she, as well as the rest of the family, had been greatly
interested in the adventure of the heroic little girl who had braved
and endured so much to rescue her young brother and sister.
Maggie hesitated one moment, then said:
"No, Mrs. Richards. Mrs. Neville has gone back to her son, but Miss
Lena has not gone with her. She is to stay with Colonel and Mrs. Rush
for a long time, perhaps a year, and we are all so glad about it."
"And could the mother go and leave her, and she might any time take a
turn for the worse, and be took off sudden?" interposed Mrs. Fleming,
whose tears did not prevent her from hearing all that passed. "You
never know when there's been burnin' if there ain't smothered fire,
an' it shows up when you least hexpect it."
No one took any notice of this cheerful prophecy, but Mrs. Granby
"And the young lady is like to be quite well again and about soon,
"Oh, yes," answered Maggie, confidently; "and we hope to have her
back at school before long. She is quite well enough now to enjoy
everything except walking; but her feet are still tender and she
cannot yet walk about. But come, girls, it is time to go;" and the
young party took their leave.
When not far from their respective homes, which were all in the same
neighborhood, they met Gracie Howard, and Maggie stopped to speak to
her, although Gracie had shown no sign of wishing to do so; indeed,
she seemed as if she would rather pass on. Of course, the others
"Gracie," said Maggie, "I hope you will come to the meeting of our
club the day after to-morrow. It is so long since you have been."
Gracie colored violently, looked down upon the ground, and in a
nervous way dug the toe of her overshoe into the snow which had
fallen that morning and still lay in some places on the street.
"I don't know; no, I think not--I think--perhaps I may go out with
mamma," she stammered, anxious for some excuse, and yet too honest to
invent one that was altogether without foundation. Perhaps she would
go out with her mother; she would ask her to take her.
"Oh, come, Gracie; do come," persisted Maggie, determined to carry
her point if possible. "It is so long since you have been, and you
know there is a paper owing from you. Your turn is long since passed;
and we'll all be so glad to have you."
Grade's color deepened still more, and she cast a sidelong glance at
Lily, who stood at Maggie's elbow; and Lily saw that she was doubtful
if that "all" included herself. Lily was very outspoken, particularly
so where she saw cause for disapproval, and above all if she thought
others were assuming too much; and she had on certain occasions so
plainly made known her opinion of some of Grade's assumption, that a
sort of chronic feud had become established between the two, not
breaking out into open hostility, but showing itself in a
half-slighting, half-teasing way with Lily, and with Gracie in a
manner partly scornful, partly an affectation of indifference.
Some six weeks since, at a meeting of the club of the "Cheeryble
Sisters," to which all three little girls belonged, Gracie's
overweening self-conceit and irrepressible desire to be first had led
her into conflict with another of her classmates, Lena Neville, in
which she had proved herself so arrogant, so jealous and ill-tempered
that she had excited the indignation of all who were present. But if
they had known what followed after Gracie had been left alone in the
room where she had so disgraced herself, how would they have felt
then? How she had stood by and seen the source of contention, a
composition, which she believed had been written by Lena, torn to
atoms by a mischievous little dog, withholding her hand from rescuing
it, her voice from warning the dog off from it simply for the
indulgence of that same blind, overpowering jealousy. The destruction
was hardly wrought, when repentance and remorse too late had
followed--repentance and remorse, intensified a thousandfold by after
events on the very same day.
But that guilty secret was still locked within her own heart,
weighing heavily upon her conscience, but still unconfessed, still
unsuspected by others. Ever since that miserable afternoon she had
shrunk from meeting her classmates, and although she had been obliged
to do so at school, she had avoided all other opportunities of seeing
them, and on one excuse and another had refused to attend the
meetings of the club which came together every Friday afternoon, the
place of rendezvous being at Mrs. Bradford's, Maggie being the
president as she had been the originator of the club.
It was true that Gracie had later discovered that the ruined paper
was one of her own, a composition on the very same subject as Lena's,
and which had, by the merest accident, and without her knowledge,
been exchanged for that of the young classmate whom she chose to
consider as her rival; and this had in some measure relieved the
weight of sorrow and remorse she had felt when Lena was severely
burned and lay for days hovering between life and death. But she
could not shut her eyes or blind her conscience to the fact that she
had been guilty in intention, if not in actual deed, and she could
not shake off the haunting sense of shame or the feeling that others
must know of the contemptible action of which she had been guilty.
Knowing nothing of this, Maggie and the other members of the club
believed that her avoidance of them and her low spirits were caused
by shame and distress for the bad temper and unkindness she had shown
to Lena on that memorable day; and now Maggie, feeling sorry for her
and also very loath to have any unpleasantness in the club, would
fain have persuaded her to join them once more and to put things on
their old footing.
Gracie was not doubtful of Maggie, nor of Bessie, nor yet of Belle
Powers and Fanny Leroy; in fact, she knew she would be received
kindly by the majority of the members, but about Lily and two or
three others she had her misgivings, and hence that doubtful,
half-deprecating glance at the former, who stood at Maggie's elbow.
Lily caught it, and, although she had intended to be very offish and
high and mighty with Gracie for the rest of her days, her heart smote
her, and flinging her former resolution to the winds, she followed
Maggie's example, and laying her hand persuasively on Gracie's muff,
said, with her usual directness:
"Oh, come on, Gracie! Don't let's have any more madness and being
offended among us. It's horrid; so let by-gones be by-gones, and
come to the club meetings again."
"If they only knew," thought Gracie, "they would not ask me, would
not say 'let by-gones be by-gones;'" but she said that she would come
to the meeting, and then they parted and went their separate ways.
When Maggie and Bessie reached home, they found Colonel Rush there
awaiting them, and heard that he had come to take them to his own
house. Lena, his niece, was coming down to dinner for the first time
since she had been so badly burned; that is, she was to be carried
down, for her poor little feet were still too tender to suffer her to
put them to the ground, or to take any steps upon them. But she had
been so long a prisoner upstairs that it was quite an event for her
to be allowed to join the family at dinner once more; and the Colonel
had seen fit to make it a little more of a celebration by coming for
Maggie and Bessie to make merry with them on the occasion. Indeed, he
was apt to think that such occasions were not complete without the
company of his two pets, and they had both been perfectly devoted to
Lena during the period of her confinement, so that he was more than
ready to make this a little jubilee for all concerned.
Mamma's permission being readily obtained--indeed the Colonel had
secured it before the two little maidens had appeared upon the
scene--the three friends set forth again, well pleased with one
another and with the prospect before them.
"Lena has had quite an eventful day," said the Colonel, as they were
on their way to his house. "First and greatest, I suppose, was a
letter from her brother Russell--only a few lines, it is true, but
the first she has had since he was taken ill, and it was full of
loving praises for her presence of mind and her bravery, and for the
patience with which she has borne her suffering; so it was very
precious to her, for she adores him, you know; and there was another
from her father, containing news which she would like to give you
herself, I am sure; so I leave it for her to do so. And now comes her
first dinner with the family, with you to dine with her. But she is
such a cool, composed little woman, and takes things so quietly, that
we are less afraid of over-excitement for her than we would be for
some I could name."
"Now, Uncle Horace," said Maggie, as he looked down at her with a
twinkle in his kind eyes, "you know I would keep quiet if you told me
"You would try, I am sure, Midget," answered her friend, "but there
are girls and girls, you know, and it is easier for one species to
keep quiet under exciting causes than it is for another."
"But you can't tell how _this_ species would be in such
circumstances," said Maggie, "because I have never been very ill or
had any terrible injury, such as Lena's burns."
"I can tell that you are a very 'happy circumstance' yourself, and
that I am quite satisfied with you as you are," answered the Colonel,
bending another loving look upon the rosy, glowing face upturned to
his, and which broke into dimples at the allusion to an old-time
Long ago, when Maggie was a very little girl, she had been very fond
of using long words--indeed, she had not yet outgrown this fancy; but
in former days, whenever she heard what she called "a new word," she
would presently contrive some occasion for using it, not always with
the fullest understanding of its exact meaning; and the results, as
may be supposed, were sometimes rather droll.
One summer, when Mr. Bradford's family were at the sea-shore, and
Colonel and Mrs. Rush were their near neighbors, Maggie had taken a
violent dislike to the mistress of the house where she boarded. The
woman was somewhat rough and unprepossessing, it is true, and hence
Maggie had conceived the prejudice against her; but she was
kind-hearted and good, as the little girl learned later. Having heard
some one use the expression, "happy circumstance," Maggie took a
fancy to it; and, as she informed Bessie, immediately resolved to
adopt it as one of "my words."
An opportunity soon presented itself. Mrs. Jones offended both
children, Maggie especially, and soon after, she asked Mr. Jones in
confidence, if he thought Mrs. Jones "a very happy circumstance."
Fortunately, the man, a jolly, rollicking farmer with a very soft
spot in his heart for all children, took it good-naturedly and
thought it a tremendous joke, and his uproarious merriment called
Mrs. Jones upon the scene to reprove him and inquire the cause,
greatly to the confusion and distress of poor embarrassed, frightened
Maggie. And this was increased by the fact that she took occasion to
praise Maggie and Bessie and to say what good, mannerly children they
Mr. Jones, however, did not betray confidence, and later on, Maggie
changed her opinion; but the "happy circumstance" had remained a
family joke ever since, and the expression was frequently brought
into use in the sense in which Maggie had employed it, and the
children laughed now as the Colonel used the old familiar phrase.
They found Lena in the library, ensconced in state in her uncle's
comfortable rolling chair, in which, in by-gone days when he was lame
and helpless, he had spent many hours, and in which she could easily
be conveyed from room to room by the Colonel's man, Starr, without
putting her still tender little feet to the ground. It was natural
that she should be glad to be down-stairs again after all the past
weeks of confinement and suffering; but Maggie and Bessie found her
in a state of happiness and excitement unusual with the calm,
reserved Lena, and which seemed hardly to be accounted for by the
mere fact that she had once more been allowed to join the family
But this was soon explained.
"Maggie and Bessie," she said, with more animation than her little
friends had ever seen her show before, "what do you think has
happened? Such a wonderful, such a delightful thing! I cannot see how
it did happen!"
Such a thing as had "happened" was indeed an unwonted occurrence in
Lena's young life; but she had been through so many new experiences
lately, that she might almost have ceased to be surprised at
If she could have looked in upon her father and mother and invalid
brother Russell, in their far away southern sojourn a few days since,
she would have seen what led to the present unexpected occurrence.
Mrs. Neville had just read to the two gentlemen a letter from her
brother, Colonel Rush, speaking of Lena's continued imprisonment; and
they had continued to talk of their little heroine and her
"Was Lena delirious at any time while she was so very ill?" asked
"Not exactly delirious," answered his mother, "but somewhat flighty
at times; and at those times, and indeed when she was herself, her
chief thought and her chief distress seemed to be that she would not
be able to enter into competition with her schoolmates for some prize
to be gained for composition. Your Aunt Marion told me that this
prize was an art education provided by some one for a girl with
talent, whose circumstances would not permit her to obtain one for
herself; and she said that Lena had become very much interested in an
English girl, the daughter of the rector of a poor struggling church
in the suburbs of the city, a girl with a very remarkable artistic
talent; and that she and those little Bradfords, on whose education
and training Horace and Marion seem to base all their ideas
respecting children--if, indeed, they have any ideas except those of
the most unlimited indulgence and license--had set their hearts on
winning this prize for that child. Had it been brought about in any
other way and without physical injury to herself, I should be glad
that Lena was removed from such competition. I highly disapprove of
all such arrangements. Children should be taught to seek improvement
and to do their duty because it _is_ their duty, and not with
the object of gaining some outside advantage either for themselves
"In this case, it certainly seems to have been for a praiseworthy,
unselfish object. Poor, dear little Lena!" said Russell, who was the
only member of his family who ever ventured to set up his opinion in
opposition to his mother's.
"It is the principle of the thing I object to," she said, a little
severely. "As I say, I wish my children to do right because it is
right, and not with any ulterior object."
"The inducement seemed to have one good effect, at least," persisted
Russell, with a slight shrug of his shoulders which was not, perhaps,
altogether respectful, "and that was the wonderful improvement Lena
made in letter-writing; in the matter and manner, the style and the
handwriting, she has certainly made rapid progress during the time
she has been with Miss Ashton. Do you not agree with me, father?"
"Ahem-m-m! Yes, I do indeed," answered Mr. Neville, thinking of a
little letter which lay snugly ensconced in his left-hand waistcoat
pocket, a letter which had come by the same mail as that which his
wife held in her hand, but which he had not thought fit to submit to
her perusal. It was a letter thanking him for giving her the liberty
of asking for anything she wished for--her choice had been that she
might be allowed to remain at her uncle's house during the stay of
the family in the country--a letter sweet, tender, and confiding, and
giving him glimpses into the child's heart which were a revelation to
him; a letter which had touched him deeply, but which he believed
Mrs. Neville would call "gush" and "nonsense." And just now he did
not care to have it so criticised, so he would not show it to his
wife, at least at present.
But before the subject of the conversation had changed, Mrs. Neville
was called from the room, and Mr. Neville said to his son:
"Russell, I am feeling that I owe--ahem!--I owe some
recognition--ahem!--to the Almighty for the very signal mercies
granted to us during the past few weeks, some thank-offering--and,
ahem!--perhaps I owe some to Lena, too. You, in a fair way of
recovery; and, through Lena's wonderful heroism, a frightful casualty
averted; and now she herself doing far better than we had dared to
hope. If the child is set upon giving an artist's education to this
young countrywoman of our own, and your Uncle Horace thinks well of
it,--perhaps it might give her pleasure to have the means of doing
so. Being now disabled it will be impossible for her to enter into
farther competition with her schoolmates, and I wish her to have the
pleasure of making the gift herself. What say you?"
The idea met with unqualified approbation from his son; and not only
this, but Russell expressed a wish to join his father in his
thank-offering. He was liberal and open-handed, this young man, and,
having lately come of age and into possession of quite a fortune in
his own right, he was ready to seize upon any opportunity of
benefiting others out of his own means. He was a young man after
Maggie's and Bessie's own hearts, and they would instantly have
stamped him with the seal of their approval had they known of this
most desirable characteristic.
Some little further conference on the matter ensued between the
father and son, with the result that Lena's eyes and heart had to-day
been gladdened by the receipt of two checks of no inconsiderable
amount--a fortune they seemed to her--the one from her father
representing one thousand dollars, the other from Russell for five
hundred. They were enclosed in a letter from Mr. Neville to his
little daughter, saying that they were to be appropriated to any
charitable purpose which she might designate, subject to her uncle's
approval--either for the use of the young artist, or, if she were
likely to gain the instruction she required through the means of any
of Lena's schoolmates, for any good object which would gratify her.
"It's worth all the burns," said the delighted Lena to her uncle,
when she had shown her prize to him and consulted him as to the best
disposition of it.
"The true martyr spirit," the Colonel said later to his wife. "And
she shows herself a wise and prudent little woman; for when we were
discussing the matter she said she would wait to decide what should
be done with the money until she knows if Maggie or Bessie or any one
of those interested in Gladys Seabrooke wins the prize. She knows
that Mr. Ashton's gift will go to Gladys in that case; and then she
wishes to devote the money to repairing the old church. If she were
thirty instead of thirteen she could not show better judgment or more
"I am glad that her father is learning to appreciate her at last,"
said Mrs. Rush, who, being very fond of children herself, deeply
resented the keep-your-distance system and constant repression under
which her husband's sister and brother-in-law brought up their
So this was the prize which Lena had to show to her young friends,
this the story she had to tell. They, Maggie and Bessie, were
enchanted in their turn, and as Lena displayed to them the two magic
slips of paper which held for them such wonderful possibilities, and
which appeared as untold wealth to their eyes, they could not contain
their delight and enthusiasm.
"Why, that will build a whole new church; will it not, Uncle Horace?"
asked Bessie, whose faith that her own Maggie would win the prize was
absolute, especially now that Gracie Howard seemed to have withdrawn
from the contest, and that Lena had been disabled, and who therefore
never doubted that the rector's little daughter was sure of the gift
tendered by Mr. Ashton.
"Well, hardly," said the Colonel, smiling, as he laid aside the
evening paper; "hardly, although it will go far towards making some
of the repairs which are so much needed, and also towards beautifying
the inside of the church a little. And I think that you must let me
also have a hand in this, for I, too, have occasion for a
thank-offering. So altogether, I hope we shall be able to put the
little church into a fairly presentable condition; that is, in case
you decide, Lena, to use your funds for that purpose," he added,
with the private resolve that the needy church should not be the
loser even if the checks were applied to Gladys Seabrooke's benefit.
She was the first object with all three children, that was plainly to
be seen; but if it should fall out that the means of improvement she
so much desired and so much needed were gained for her by Mr.
Ashton's trust, then this small fortune was to be devoted to the
church of which her father was rector. Then, too, these young home
missionaries intended to devote the proceeds of the fair they were to
hold at Easter to the help of the same church; so that altogether the
prospect for its relief seemed to be promising.
[Illustration: "THAT WILL BUILD A WHOLE NEW CHURCH"]
"I had a letter from Russell, too, written by his own hand, the very
first since he has been ill," said the happy Lena. "Oh! and I forgot;
I had a letter from Percy, too. I did not read it, I was so excited
by Papa's and Russell's and the two checks. Let me see; where is it?
Oh, here it is!"
And she opened it; but seeing at a glance that it was unusually long,
she decided that she would not try to decipher Percy's irregular,
illegible handwriting at that time, but would wait till Maggie and
Bessie should have left her and would make the most of their society.
Poor little Lena! her day was not to be all sunshine, for a cloud
came over the heaven of her happiness before she laid her head upon
her pillow that night. But this cast no shadow as yet, and the
evening passed merrily to all three children.
"I do wish that you could come to the club-meeting on Friday, Lena,"
said Bessie, shortly before it was time for them to separate for the
"So do I," said Maggie.
"I am sure that I wish it," said Lena, "but I suppose it will be some
weeks yet before I can go."
Mrs. Rush, who was sitting near, overheard the little colloquy, and
at once made a charming suggestion.
"Suppose," she said, "that you meet here till Lena is well enough to
go to your house, Maggie. My morning room shall be at your service,
as your mother's is at present."
"Oh, how good in you!" cried Maggie and Bessie, both in one breath,
while Lena's pale face flushed with gratitude and pleasure; and so
the matter was arranged, Maggie undertaking to tell all the members
of the club of the change in the place of meeting.
But, glancing at Bessie, Maggie saw that she looked somewhat
perturbed, and she suddenly remembered what had passed with Gracie
Howard that very afternoon, and that she had been urged to resume her
accustomed place among the "Cheeryble Sisters," and had consented to
do so. How would that do now? Would Lena feel like having Gracie come
here? Gracie who had treated her so badly, who had shown such
jealousy and unkindness towards her. This was rather a complication,
and considering it, Maggie became uneasy and embarrassed, and Lena,
who was very quick-sighted, saw it.
"What is the matter, Maggie?" she asked. "Do you think you would
rather not come here?"
"Oh, no!" answered Maggie, "you know I always love to come here. But,
Lena, this afternoon we met Gracie Howard, and I begged her to come
to the meeting to-morrow. She has not been since--since--the day--of
The flush which pleasure at her aunt's offer had brought to Lena's
face deepened to crimson, which mounted to the very roots of her hair
as she heard Maggie.
Then after a moment's hesitation, she said, "Will you ask her to
"Yes," answered Maggie, doubtfully, "I'll ask her."
"But you think that she will not come?" said Lena.
"I am afraid she will not," answered Maggie; then added, "I am sure I
should not if I were in her place; I should be too ashamed. I think
she is ashamed, Lena, and sorry, too; I really do."
Lena seemed to be considering for a moment; then she said, evidently
with a great effort,--
"Do you think she would come if I wrote and asked her? I--I would do
it if you thought she would be friends again. And, perhaps," she
added, with a little pathetic wistfulness which nearly made the tears
come to the eyes of the sympathetic Maggie and Bessie, "perhaps she
would, now, after such a thing happened to me. Do you know," sinking
her voice to a whisper, and speaking with an unreserve which she
never showed towards any one save these little friends, and seldom to
them, "do you know that when they thought I was going to die--oh, I
know that every one thought I was going to die--I used to feel so
sorry for Gracie, because we had that quarrel that very afternoon;
and I knew how I should have felt if I had been in her place, and I
used to wish that I could make up with her; and now I would really
like to if she will. Shall I write?"
Bessie, whose eyes were now brimming over, stooped and kissed her
cheek; and Maggie followed her example, as she answered, with a break
in her own voice,
"I don't see how she could help it, Lena; you dear Lena."
Maggie and Bessie were not a little astonished, not only at this
burst of confidence from the shy, reserved Lena, but also at the
feeling she expressed and her readiness to go more than half way in
making advances for the healing of a breach in which she certainly
had not been to blame.
But in the border-land through which Lena's little feet had lately
trod, many and serious thoughts had come to her; thoughts of which
those about her were all unconscious, as she lay seemingly inert and
passive from exhaustion, except when pain forced complaint from her;
and chief among these had been the recollection of the unpleasant
relation which for some time had existed between herself and Gracie
Howard, and which had culminated in the attack of jealousy and
ill-temper which the latter had shown towards her on the very
afternoon of the day in which Lena had been so badly, almost fatally,
injured in the fire. And Lena herself, as has been said, had been
altogether blameless in the affair, had no cause whatever for
self-reproach; nevertheless, she had wished that she could have made
friends with Gracie before she died. But she had spoken to no one of
this until now, when she thus opened her heart, at least in a
measure, to Maggie and Bessie.
Knowing all that they did--and still neither they nor Lena knew
one-half of Gracie's misconduct--what wonder was it that they were
touched, and filled with admiration for this little friend who, a
stranger only a few months since, had come to fill so large a place
in their affection and interest.
But Maggie, feeling confident, as she said, that Gracie was both
ashamed and repentant, was also overjoyed at this opening towards a
reconciliation; for her peace-loving soul could not abide dissension
in any shape, and this breach between two members of the once
harmonious club of the "Cheeryble Sisters" had been a sore trial to
Nor was Bessie much less pleased; and thinking that there was no time
like the present, and that it would be well that Lena should act
before she had opportunity to change her mind,--this showed that she
did not know Lena well, for having once made up her mind that a thing
was right, Lena was not more apt to change than she would have been
herself,--she offered to bring writing materials, that the note might
be written at once; and running into the library, where Colonel Rush
was smoking his cigar, she begged for and received them.
But even with those before her and her resolve firmly taken, Lena
found not a little embarrassment and difficulty in wording her note;
for, owing to the state of affairs between her and Gracie, it was not
the easiest thing in the world for her to do.
However, by Maggie's advice, she resolved to write as though nothing
unpleasant had passed between herself and Gracie, and she finally
produced the following simply-worded note, ignoring all that was
"Aunt Marion has said that I may have the 'Cheeryble Sisters,' Club
here to-morrow, and she says she will make it a little celebration for
us because it is so long since I have been with you girls. Please
come, for I want to have all of you here.
"LENA H. NEVILLE."
She hesitated over the manner of closing it, for she could not put
"affectionately yours," as, although she was striving to put from her
all hard thoughts of Gracie, she certainly did not regard her with
any affection, nor would she pretend to do so; for Lena was a most
determinately honest child and would never express, even in a
conventional way, that which she did not feel. She even shocked
Maggie and Bessie now and then, truthful and sincere as they were,
by her extreme and uncompromising plain-speaking; and perhaps it was
as well that she was a child of so few words, or she would often have
given offence. Maggie had suggested "truly yours," as being a common
form even between strangers; but Lena rejected that also as
expressing a sentiment she did not feel, and Bessie finally proposed
"your schoolmate," which satisfied the requirements of both truth and
Maggie and Bessie posted the note on the way home, so that it might
be sure to reach Gracie early in the morning, and that, as Bessie
said, she might have "time to get over the shock of Lena's
forgiveness before she came to school."
Lena had been carried upstairs and safely deposited in her own room
by Starr; and Hannah, the nurse of the young Nevilles, had gone
down-stairs to seek the food which it was still considered necessary
for the little invalid to take before going to rest, when Lena
bethought herself of her brother Percy's letter, still unopened in
the excitement which had attended the receipt of the two from her
father and Russell.
With a half-remorseful feeling that she had so long left it
unnoticed, she broke the seal of Percy's letter. But the first words
on which her eyes lighted sent a pang to her heart, and as she heard
Hannah's heavy step returning, she thrust the letter hurriedly out of
"Dear, dear, child!" said the old nurse, as she saw that Lena's hand
shook so that she could hardly hold the bowl of broth, or carry the
spoon to her lips, and with some triumph in, as she believed, the
fulfilment of her own prophecies, "dear, dear, you're hall hupset,
Miss Lena. I told the mistress and I told the doctor you wasn't in no
state to go downstairs yet, or worse still, to be 'avin' company, not
if it was Miss Maggie and Miss Bessie, leastways not hout of your
hown room. 'Ere, let me 'old the basin; you're not fit to do it.
There now, here, child,--why, bless your 'eart, Miss Lena, what is
Poor little girl! she was still so weak, so nervous from the effects
of the frightful experience through which she had lately passed, and
of all the consequent suffering, that she was in no state to bear
even the slightest shock or excitement. Had Hannah not noticed her
agitation she would probably have controlled herself; but the
questions and pressing of the old servant were too much for her, and
she burst into a flood of hysterical tears.
She retained sufficient presence of mind, however, when Hannah ran to
the door to call her assistant, who was in the next room, to open the
drawer of the table by which she sat, and shut the letter within. No
one must see that letter until she had had time to read it, and find
what those first few sentences meant.
Letitia was sent by Hannah for Mrs. Rush, who speedily came; and,
knowing no other cause, she believed, as the servants did, that this
came from all the excitement of the day, and that they would have to
be more guarded with their little convalescent. She soothed and
petted her, mingling therewith a little judicious firmness, till
Lena's sobs ceased and she was comfortably settled in bed, where she
soon forgot both joys and troubles in the sleep of exhaustion.
"Well!" said Mrs. Rush, when she had left her patient in Hannah's
care and rejoined her husband, "this puts an end to the project of
having the children's club here to-morrow. We have gone too fast, and
now prove that Lena is not so strong and cannot bear so much as we
thought. I must at once send word to Maggie and Bessie."
When Mrs. Rush came up a couple of hours later to inquire about her
little niece, she found her still in that heavy sleep; and with
directions to Hannah to call her if needful, left her, with the hope
that she would rest undisturbed till morning.
When Lena woke from that dull sleep some time after midnight, all the
house was still; the only sound she heard was the regular breathing
of Hannah, who slept on a cot on the other side of the room, that she
might be near in case Lena needed anything in the night.
She roused to a bewildered half-consciousness of something unusual;
what was it, good or ill? What had happened before she went to sleep?
Then came the recollection of those delightful letters from papa and
Russell, confiding to her disposal those precious slips of paper
which represented so much; oh! what a pleasure it was to have the
power of doing so much good; then with a shock came the remembrance
of that other letter, and those two or three first lines, which
seemed to have burned themselves upon her eyes as she read.
"I am in the most awful scrape any one was ever in, and you are the
only one who can help me out of it. If you can't, there is nothing for
me but to be arrested and awfully disgraced, with all the rest of the
family too, and the--"
This was as far as Lena had read when Hannah's returning footsteps
had impelled her to put the letter out of sight; but it had been
enough in her weak state to startle her out of her self-control, and
it has been seen what a shock it gave her. "Arrested" had a terrible
significance to Lena.
Not very long before Mrs. Neville's family had left home, Lena had
seen a boy, about her brother Percy's age, arrested in the streets of
London. He had been taken up for some grave misdemeanor, and having
violently resisted his captors, they had found it necessary to
handcuff him, and when Lena saw him he was being forced along between
two policemen, still fiercely struggling, and with his face and
hands covered with blood. The sight had made a dreadful impression
upon the little girl, and when she heard the word "arrested" it
always came back to her with painful force.
Had it been Maggie or Bessie, or any other child whose relations with
her mother were as tender and confiding as are usually those between
mothers and daughters, the impression might have been lessened by
learning that such a sight was not a usual one, and that people when
arrested were not apt to resist as desperately as the unhappy youth
whom she had seen; but not being accustomed to go to Mrs. Neville
with her joys or troubles, Lena had kept her disagreeable experience
to herself and supposed it all to be the necessary consequence of an
arrest, and Percy's words had conjured up at once all manner of
dreadful possibilities. In imagination she saw him dragged along the
streets in the horrible condition of the criminal she had seen, and
the whole family covered with shame and disgrace.
Percy was four years older than Lena, but had not half his young
sister's strength of character, judgment or good sense, and he was,
unfortunately, afflicted with that fatal incapacity for saying no,
which brings so much trouble upon its victims. He was selfish, too;
not with a deliberate selfishness, but with a heedless disregard for
the welfare and comfort of others, which was often as trying as if he
purposely sought first his own good. He would not have told a
falsehood, would not have denied any wrong-doing of which he had been
guilty, if taxed with it; but he would not scruple to conceal that
wrong, or to evade the consequences thereof, by any means short of a
deliberate untruth. His faults were those with which his father and
mother had the least patience and sympathy, and those which needed a
large share of both; had he ever received these, the faults would
probably never have attained to such a growth, for he was in mortal
dread of both parents, especially of his mother, and this, of course,
had tended to foster the weakness of his character.
Poor Lena lay wakeful but quiet for hours, wondering and wondering
what could be the matter, and what those terrifying words with which
Percy's letter commenced could portend. And she, he wrote, was "the
only one who could help him." She wished vainly for the letter, that
she might know the worst at once; but she had no means of reaching it
at present. Her feet could not yet bear to be touched to the ground,
and she dared not wake Hannah and ask for it. Such an unusual request
at this time of night would arouse wonder and surmise, even if Hannah
could be induced to bring her the letter and give her sufficient
light to read it. The old nurse would think her crazy or delirious,
perhaps run and call her aunt and uncle. No, no; that was not to be
thought of, the poor child said to herself as she lay and reasoned
this all out; she must wait till the day came, and then she must
contrive to read the letter when she was alone. Then she could decide
whether or no it would do to take Colonel and Mrs. Rush into her
confidence. She could not bear to think of keeping anything from this
kind uncle and aunt, who had shown themselves so ready to enter into
all her joys and sorrows, who took such an interest--so novel to
her--in all her duties, her occupations, and amusements; who, with a
genuine love for young people, were at no little pains to provide her
with every pleasure suitable for her.
But--Percy--she must think of him first. Oh, if she only knew all
that was in that dreadful letter!
But at last she fell asleep again, sleeping late and heavily, far
beyond the usual hour. When she awoke, she insisted upon being taken
up and dressed, although her aunt and nurse would fain have persuaded
her to lie still and rest; and that done, her object was to obtain
possession of Percy's letter without attracting attention to it.
Being totally unaccustomed to anything like manoeuvring or planning,
she could think of no excuse by which she might have the table
brought near her chair, or the chair rolled near the table. The maids
thought her remarkably fractious and whimsical and hard to please,
but laid it all to the reaction from last night's hysterical attack.
Do what she would, she could not contrive, poor helpless child, to
come at the drawer of the table unless she spoke out plainly, which
she could not do, and she had been wheeled into the nursery before
the opportunity offered.
But here she found the way opened to her. Hannah, who would let no
one else attend to her young lady's meals when they were taken
upstairs, departed for Lena's breakfast; and after she had gone, Lena
speedily bethought herself of a way of procuring Letitia's absence
for a while by sending her down-stairs with directions for some
change in her bill of fare.
Then calling her little sister Elsie, who was playing about the
nursery, she sent her into her own room, bidding her open the table
drawer and bring her the letter she would find there.
Elsie, a demure, sedate little damsel, who always did as she was told
and was a pattern child after Mrs. Neville's own heart, discharged
her commission and came back with the letter, which she handed to her
sister without asking any inconvenient questions, and returned to her
dolls in the corner.
Lena ventured to open the letter, knowing that Hannah, at least, was
sure to be absent for some moments yet, and sure that Letitia, who
was a dull, unobserving girl, would take no notice. She felt that she
could wait no longer.
There was a few moments' silence in the room; Elsie, absorbed in her
quiet play, took no heed to her sister; Letitia did not return,
having stopped on her way back to the nursery to gossip with one of
Mrs. Rush's maids; and Lena read on undisturbed, read to the very end
of the letter.
Then she spoke to Elsie again, spoke in a voice so changed from its
natural tone that the little one looked up in surprise.
"What's the matter, Lena?" she asked, coming to her sister's side;
"is your throat sore? Oh!" scanning her curiously, "did something
Lena did not heed either question.
"Elsie," she said, still in that strained voice, as if it were an
effort to speak, "put this in the fire, away far back in the fire."
"Why, Lena!" answered the child, "I'm forbidden to go near the fire.
Did you forget that?"
Lena thought a moment, then said, with a strong effort for
self-control, and still in that same measured tone:
"Then go in my room and open the small right-hand compartment of my
writing-desk and put this letter in it and shut the door tight, tight
again, and lock it and bring me the key. Quick, Elsie."
But again, influenced by conscientious scruples, Elsie objected.
"I 'spect Hannah wouldn't like me to go in your room so much, Lena;
the windows are all open. She didn't say don't go in there, but I
'spect she thinked it, 'cause she always says don't go where the
windows are open."
For the first time in her life Lena condescended to something like
"And you will not do that for your poor sister who cannot walk?" she
"Oh, yes, yes; and burned herself for me to save me out the fire,"
exclaimed Elsie, throwing her arms about Lena, "I don't care if
Hannah does scold me; I'd just as lief be scolded for you. But your
voice is so queer, Lena; you must be thirsty for your breakfast."
Taking the letter from her sister's hand, the child turned to obey
her request, but was again assailed by doubts as to the course of
"If Hannah or Letitia come, shall I tell them to put it away?" she
"No, no!" answered Lena, sharply; then feeling that she must take the
child, at least in a measure, into her confidence, she added,
"Hannah is not to see it. No one is to see it, no one; and you are
not to speak of it, Elsie. Go now, quickly, and put it in the
Rather startled by her voice and manner, the little one obeyed and
returned to Lena's room with the letter.
But now she fell into difficulties. The door of the compartment into
which Lena had told her to put the letter was hard to open; it stuck,
and Elsie vainly struggled with it, for it would not yield. Meanwhile
Letitia, hearing Hannah come up from the kitchen, had hurriedly
returned to her post of duty. She exclaimed on finding the door
between the rooms open and a draught of cold air sweeping through,
and hastening to shut it, discovered Elsie still struggling with the
door of the little closet.
"Well, did I ever!" exclaimed the nursery-maid. "You here in this
cold draught, Miss Elsie; an' what'll Hannah say, I wonder?"
"I want to put this in here, and I can't open this door," said the
loyal little soul, refraining from shifting the blame from her own
shoulders, by saying that she had come on Lena's errand. Letitia went
to her assistance, but the door was still obstinate, and before the
letter was hidden it was made plain "what Hannah would say;" for the
old nurse came bustling in in a transport of indignation at finding
Elsie exposed to the risk of taking cold, for she was a very
delicate child. She rated both her little charge and her assistant in
no measured terms, especially the latter, who, as she said, "had not
even had the sense to put down the windows on the child." She
snatched the letter from Elsie's hand, the little girl repeating what
she wanted to do with it, and bidding her at once to go back to the
other room, gave a violent pull to the small door, which proved more
successful than the efforts of her predecessors.
"What's all this fuss about putting the letter away, anyway?" she
said, glancing at the unlucky document. "Bless me, if t'aint from
Master Percy, an' to Miss Lena! Well, an' she never saying a word of
it. What's she so secret habout it for?"
Now Hannah's chief stumbling-block was a most inordinate curiosity,
and once aroused on the subject of that letter, was not likely to be
laid to rest until it had received some satisfaction. She turned the
letter over and over, scrutinizing it narrowly; but there was nothing
to be learned from the address or the post-mark farther than that it
was certainly from Percy, whose handwriting she well knew. Had she
dared she would have opened it; but that was a thing upon which even
she scarcely ventured, autocrat though she was within the nursery
dominions. Also, Lena was rather beyond her rule since the Neville
family had come to Colonel Rush's house.
Elsie had lost no time in escaping from the storm which her seeming
imprudence had evoked, and the nursery maid had followed; the little
girl reporting to her sister that Hannah had taken the letter from
her and was putting it away. Poor Lena found her precautions of no
avail, and she knew Hannah well enough to feel sure that she would be
subjected to the closest questioning. She must brave it out now, and
she forced herself to face it.
"_I_ sent Elsie in there; it was my fault, not hers," she said,
throwing down the gauntlet with an air of defiance which rather
"You know she oughtn't to go in that cold hair," said Hannah,
sharply. "And why for couldn't you wait till me or Letitia came to
put by your letter if you _was_ in 'aste habout it? There,"
mollified by the look in the beautiful dark eyes, now so unnaturally
large and pathetic through illness and suffering, which Lena turned
piteously upon her without answering, "there, there, child; never
mind now. Heat your breakfast, my dear, for you look quite spent and
worn out. Ye've got a setback by yesterday's doin's that'll last a
week. Come, now, Miss Lena, take this nice chicken an' put a bit of
strength into you."
And the old woman bustled about, displaying to the best advantage the
dainty breakfast she had brought to tempt the appetite of her young
But Lena could not eat; she was still too sick at heart, and seeing
this, Hannah connected it with the letter.
"You 'av'n't 'ad hany bad news, Miss Lena?" she suddenly asked, as
she bade Letitia remove the tray with its contents almost untouched.
"Master Percy--none of 'em isn't hill?"
"No, no," answered Lena, replying to the latter question and ignoring
the former. "I have not heard that any one was ill. Letitia," in a
tone of imperious command, very unusual with her when speaking to a
servant, "hand me that book--and--Hannah--let me alone."
Hannah was now indeed dumb with amazement, and her suspicions were
more than ever aroused. There was something wrong with Percy; he
might not be ill--he was sure not to be if the absolutely truthful
Lena denied it, but he was in some trouble, and she would not rest
until she found it out.
Percy was, of all her nurslings, Hannah's favorite, perhaps for the
very reason that the instability of his character had so often led
him into scrapes in which she had shielded and helped him. He had, in
his childhood, frequently escaped punishment by her connivance, and
it was her theory that "the poor boy was put upon" more than any of
the others. Now he had been sent away to school, while the rest were
enjoying the unwonted liberty and pleasures of their uncle's house;
and her affectionate old heart was often sore within her as she
pondered over the wrongs she fancied he endured. She was not
over-scrupulous as to the means she took to avert the consequences of
misdoing from Percy, or any other one of the flock whom she had
nursed from earliest babyhood; but so guarded was she that Mrs.
Neville had never suspected her of anything like double-dealing, or
assuredly her reign in the nursery would soon have come to an end.
That she was right in her surmises she became more and more convinced
as she watched Lena and saw that though she kept her eyes fixed upon
the open book in her lap, she never turned a leaf. It was evidently
to avoid observation and to have a pretext for keeping quiet that she
had taken the book. Then, by dint of adroit questioning of the other
servants, she managed to ascertain, without letting them know that
anything was wrong, that no letters had been carried to Lena that
morning, but that Starr had handed her three on the previous
afternoon. Lena had spoken of two of these, her papa's and Russell's,
had told the old nurse what treasures they contained, but she had
said nothing of the other, Percy's. Hannah guessed the truth when she
surmised that in the excitement over the first two, Lena had
forgotten Percy's and opened it later.
"When she'd come up to bed last night! I see, I see," the nurse said
to herself. Percy was surely in some difficulty again, and both he
and Lena were trying to hide it; but she would leave no means untried
to discover what it was.
Mrs. Rush was quite shocked at Lena's looks when she came up to see
her, and so was the colonel in his turn, and Lena found it very
difficult to parry their questions, and to appear even comparatively
unembarrassed and at her ease in their presence. They both positively
vetoed any attempt at coming down-stairs to-day, or the reception of
any visitors; and, indeed, Lena had no inclination for either, but
was quite content to accept their verdict that she must keep
absolutely quiet and try to recover from the over-excitement of
yesterday. She did not wish to see any one; even Maggie and Bessie
would not have been welcome visitors now when that dreadful secret
was weighing upon her, and as for going down-stairs she had no desire
to do so; she wanted to remain as near as might be to the fatal
letter, would have insisted upon being carried back to her own room
had she not feared it would occasion wonder. She was half frantic,
too, about the key of the compartment of the secretary. Hannah had
not brought it to her, and she dared not ask for it.
Oh, how miserable it was to be so helpless with so much at stake! not
to be able even to touch one's feet to the ground to go to find out
if the key were still in the lock, the letter safe in the secretary.
Her apprehensions were of the vaguest, for there was no reason that
any one should go to her secretary without permission, and she had no
cause to suspect that any one would do so, and thus she reasoned with
herself; but had she known it, they were not without cause, for
Hannah had resolved that she would find out what that letter
contained. It must be said for her that although her curiosity was
greatly aroused, she was actuated chiefly by her affection for Percy,
and the desire to rescue him from any trouble into which he might
An opportunity was not long in presenting itself, for when the
doctor, who had been sent for, arrived, Hannah made a plausible
errand into Lena's room and secured the letter.
Having gained her object the dishonorable old woman found the
agitation of her invalid charge amply accounted for. She carried the
letter to a place where she could read it undisturbed and free from
observation, and make herself mistress of its contents; then returned
to Lena's room and put the letter in the place whence she had taken
But Hannah's face was very pale, and she was most unusually quiet all
that day, falling into fits of abstraction as if her thoughts were
far away. She was more tender than ever with Lena, knowing now too
well the trouble which was weighing upon the heart and spirits of the
sensitive young sister, and secretly sharing it with her. Hour after
hour she pondered upon ways and means for relieving her favorite
from the trouble into which his own folly and weakness had led him,
and how she might do so without betraying either this or her own
shameless conduct in possessing herself of the secret.
Percy Neville had been placed by his parents at a small private
school where only twelve pupils were taken, and where they intended
he should be, as Mrs. Neville said, "under the strictest personal
supervision." The school had been chosen not only on this account,
but also because the principal was an Englishman, and had formerly
been tutor in a school which Mr. Neville had attended when a boy.
Only two of the masters and tutors resided in the school, one of them
being a young man of the name of Seabrooke, who was half tutor, half
scholar, giving his services for such lessons as he took. He was a
youth of uncommon talent, studious and steady, and much thought of by
Dr. Leacraft and the other masters. Six of the twelve pupils were in
one dormitory under charge of this young man; the other six in
another, in the care of Mr. Merton. Had Dr. Leacraft but known it,
just the opposite arrangement would have been advisable, as the
half-dozen boys in Mr. Merton's room were a much more steady set than
those in young Seabrooke's.
Seabrooke himself had little idea of the lawlessness which reigned in
the quarters under his charge; he was an unusually heavy sleeper, and
all manner of pranks were carried on at night without rousing him.
The leader of these escapades was a boy of the name of Flagg, utterly
without principle or sense of honor; but plausible, and, being quick
at his studies, making a fair show with his masters. Over Percy
Neville this boy had acquired a most undesirable influence, and led
him into many pranks and violations of rules which were little
suspected by the authorities. Poor Percy, weak, vacillating, and
utterly without resolution or firmness of character, was easily led
astray, although his conscience, his judgment, and his sense of truth
were often offended by the wrong-doing into which he suffered himself
to be persuaded.
About a mile from the school lived a man of the name of Rice, who
kept boats, fishing-tackle and one or two horses which he let out;
while back of his place was a small lake which afforded good fishing
in the summer and excellent skating in the winter. His house was not
a gambling or drinking place, at least not avowedly so; but some
rather questionable doings had taken place there, and the spot was
one absolutely forbidden to the scholars of Dr. Leacraft's school.
Nevertheless, some of the wilder spirits were in the habit of going
there when they could do so without risk of discovery; and they also
employed Rice to procure for them such articles as were tabooed and
which they could not purchase for themselves. Lewis Flagg was one of
his most constant customers, and he had gradually drawn every one of
the boys in his dormitory into various infringements of regulations.
He had found Percy an easy victim, and by degrees had drawn him on
from bad to worse, until he had brought him to a pass where he was
afraid to rebel lest Lewis should reveal his former misdoings, as he
threatened to do.
Within the last few weeks it had been the practice of the six boys in
Seabrooke's dormitory to slip out of the window at night upon the
roof of the porch, thence by the pillars to the ground, and then off
and away to Rice's house, where a hot supper, previously ordered,
awaited them. This flagrant violation of rules and order had taken
place several times, and, so far, thanks to Seabrooke's heavy
slumbers, had not yet been discovered.
About this time a hard frost of several days duration had made the
skating unusually good; and there was no place within miles of the
school so pleasant or so favorable for that pastime as Rice's pond.
Tempted by this, all the boys under Dr. Leacraft's care had signed a
petition, asking that they might be allowed to go upon this pond if
they would promise not to go into the house.
An hour or two after this petition had been sent in, but before it
had received an answer, a telegram came to the doctor calling him to
Harvard, to his only son, who had been dangerously hurt. The boys
were all assembled at the time for recitation to the doctor, and
rising in his place he made known the subject of the despatch, and
"In answer to the request which I have just received from you, young
gentlemen, I must return a positive negative. My reasons for
forbidding you to go near Rice's place have lately been given
additional force, and, although I cannot take time to mention them
now, I must request, I must absolutely _forbid_ each and every
one of you from going in the neighborhood of Rice's house or Rice's
pond. I cannot tell how long I may be away; meanwhile the school
will be left under the charge of Mr. Merton and Mr. Seabrooke, and I
trust that you will all prove yourselves amenable to their authority,
and that I shall receive a good report. I leave by the next train.
The doctor's face was pale and his voice was husky, as he bade them
farewell, dreading what might have come to him before he should see
them again. He was gone in another moment, and in half an hour had
left the house.
Dr. Leacraft was a kind, a just, and a lenient master, granting to
his pupils all the indulgence and privileges consistent with good
discipline, and the more reasonable among the boys felt that he must
have just cause for this renewed and emphatic prohibition against
Rice's place. But Lewis Flagg and his followers were not reasonable,
and many and deep, though not loud, were the murmurs at his orders.
Lewis' boon companions saw from the expression of his eye that he
meditated rebellion and disobedience even while the doctor was
speaking; and Percy Neville and one or two others resolved that they
would refuse to share in them.
Nor were they mistaken. No sooner were the six choice spirits alone
together than Lewis unfolded a plan for "a spree" for the following
The moon was about at the full, and his proposal was that they should
leave the house in the manner they had done more than once before, by
means of the window and the root of the porch, go to Rice's and have
a supper, which was to be previously ordered, and afterwards a
moonlight skate on the lake.
"Rip Van Winkle will never wake," said Flagg, "not if you fire a
cannon-ball under his bed, and we'll be back and in our places and
have a good morning nap before he suspects a thing."
But some of the better disposed among the boys demurred, fresh as
they were from the doctor's late appeal to them, and their knowledge
of the sad errand upon which he had gone; and foremost among them was
"I don't know," he said, doubtfully, when Lewis Flagg unfolded his
plan. "I don't know. Isn't it rather shabby after what the doctor
said to us? And--you know--Dick Leacraft might be dying--might be
dead--they say he's awfully hurt--and we wouldn't like to think about
it afterwards if we were breaking rules when the doctor--"
But the expression upon Flagg's face stopped him.
"Hear the sentiment of him!" sneered the bad, reckless boy; "just
hear the sentiment of him! Who'd have thought Neville was such a Miss
Nancy, such a coward? But you're going if the rest go, for we're all
in the same box and have got to stand by one another--none are going
to be left behind to make a good thing for themselves if anything
does leak out."
"I shouldn't, you know I shouldn't say a word!" ejaculated Percy,
"No, I don't believe you would," said Flagg; "but we can't have any
left behind. One in for it, all in for it. Pluck up your courage and
come along, Percy. If you don't,"--meaningly--"you and I'll have some
old scores to settle."
This threat, which meant that former misdeeds and infringements of
rules would be betrayed by Lewis if Percy did not yield, took effect,
as it had done more than once before; and Percy agreed to join in the
prohibited sport. He had not the strength, the moral courage, to tell
Lewis that cowardice and weakness lay in that very yielding, in the
fear which led him into new sin sooner than to face the consequences
of former misdeeds,--misdeeds more venial than that now proposed. It
was not the doctor of whom Percy stood in such awe half so much as
his parents, especially his mother. It is more than possible that he
would have gone to the former and made confession of past offences
rather than continue in such bondage as Flagg now maintained over
him; but he could not or would not face the displeasure of his
father and mother, or the consequences which were likely to follow.
Leniency, or a tender compassion for their faults, were not looked
for by any of the Neville children; when these were discovered they
must be prepared to bide the fullest penalty.
"I don't know about Seabrooke." said Raymond Stewart. "He has not
slept as soundly as usual these last few nights. I've been awake
myself so much with the toothache, and I know that he has been
restless and wakeful; and he might chance to rouse up at the wrong
time and find us going or gone."
"He's seemed to have something on his mind and to be uneasy in the
daytime, too," said another boy, "and he's been so eager for the
mail, as if he were expecting something more than usual. He's
everlastingly writing, too, every chance he finds."
"Oh, he fancies he has literary talent," said Flagg, "and he's
forever sending off the results of his labors. I suppose he expects
to turn out an author and to become famous and a shining mark."
"The doctor says he will be," said Raymond, "and I know that one or
two of his pieces have been accepted by the magazines and paid for,
too. I saw them myself in a magazine at home. It must be a great
thing for a fellow who has his own way to make in the world, as
Seabrooke has. I know his family are as poor as rats. His father is
rector of a little shabby church just out of the city, and I know
they have hard work to get along. You know Seabrooke teaches for his
"I'll see that he sleeps sound enough not to interfere with us
to-morrow night," said Lewis Flagg. "Leave that to me."
He spoke confidently; but to all the questions of the other boys as
to how he was to bring about this result, he turned a deaf ear.
But he succeeded in bringing every one of his five schoolmates to his
own way of thinking, or, at least, to agreeing to join in the
proposed expedition; and his arrangements were carried on without any
further demur openly expressed from them.
Seabrooke was in the habit of taking a generous drink of water every
night the last thing before he retired. On the evening of the
following day, and that for which the aforesaid frolic had been
planned, Lewis Flagg might have been found in the dormitory at a very
unusual hour; and had there been any one there to see, he might have
been observed to shake the contents of a little paper, a fine white
powder, into the water carafe which stood filled upon the wash-stand
in Seabrooke's alcove. Then, with the self-satisfied air of one who
has accomplished a great feat, he stole from the room and back to his
"Seems to me Seabrooke has been uncommonly chirk and chipper this
evening," said Charlie Denham, when the boys had gone to their rooms,
as their masters supposed-for the night.
"Yes, he had a letter by the evening mail which seemed to set him up
wonderfully," said Raymond. "I hope it has eased his mind of whatever
was on it so that he won't be wakeful to-night."
"Oh, he'll sleep sound enough, I'll warrant you," said Lewis Flagg,
with a meaning laugh.
Ensconced in bed, every boy fully dressed, but with other clothes so
arranged as to deceive an unsuspecting observer into the belief that
all was as usual, they waited the time when Seabrooke should be
The young tutor's alcove was not within the range of Lewis' vision,
but Percy from his bed could see all that went on there, and he lay
watching Seabrooke. As usual, at the last moment the latter poured
out a glass of water and proceeded to drink it down; but he had not
taken half of it when he paused, and Percy saw him hold it up to the
light, smell it, taste of it again and then set the glass down, still
more than two-thirds full.
Harley Seabrooke had no mental cause for restlessness that night; the
evening mail had, as Raymond said, brought him that which had lifted
a load of suspense and anxiety from his mind, and he was unusually
light-hearted and at ease. His head was scarcely upon his pillow when
he was asleep, but not so very sound asleep, for Flagg had over-shot
his mark, and the sleeping potion which he had so wickedly put into
the carafe of water had given it a slightly bitter taste, so that
Seabrooke had found it disagreeable and had not drank the usual
quantity, and the close he had taken was not sufficient to stupefy
him, but rather to render him wakeful as soon as it began to act.
Believing themselves safe as soon as they heard his regular
breathing, the six conspirators slipped from their beds out of the
window upon the roof of the piazza, and thence down the pillars to
the ground, and then off and away to Rice's.
Hardly had they gone when Seabrooke, on whom the intended anodyne
began to have an exciting effect, awoke, and lay tossing for more
than an hour. Weary of this, he rose at last, intending to read
awhile to see if it would render him sleepy; but as he drew the
curtain before his alcove, in order to shield the light from the eyes
of the companions whom he supposed to be safe in their beds fast
asleep, he was struck with the unusual silence of the room. Not a
rustle, not a breath was to be heard, although he listened for some
moments. He could hardly have told why, but he was impressed with the
idea that he was entirely alone, and striking a light, he stepped out
into the main room and went to the nearest bed.
Empty! and so with each one in succession. Not a boy was there!
Remembering the petition to Dr. Leacraft and the resentment which his
refusal to accede to it had provoked, it did not take him long to
surmise whither they had gone; and hastily dressing himself he made
his exit from the house in the same way that they had done and
hastened in the same direction, filled with indignation at such
flagrant disobedience and treachery at a time when the doctor was in
The runaways had had what they called a "jolly supper" and were in
the hall of Rice's house donning great-coats and mufflers before
going out upon the lake, when the outer door was opened, and Percy,
who stood nearest, saw Seabrooke. His exclamation of dismay drew the
attention of all, and the delinquents, one and all, felt themselves,
as Percy afterwards said, "regularly caught."
"You will go home at once, if you please," was all the young tutor
said; but, taken in the very act of rebellion to the head master's
orders, not one ventured to dispute the command. He marshalled them
all before him, and the party walked solemnly home, five, at least,
"Don't you feel sneaky?" whispered Raymond to Lewis Flagg.
"No" answered the other; "I'm not the one to feel sneaky. I haven't
been spying and prying and trapping other fellows."
But this bravado did not make the others easy.
Seabrooke made his captives enter by the way in which they had left,
so that the rest of the household might not be disturbed, and ordered
them at once to bed.
"What are you going to do about this?" Lewis asked.
"Report to Mr. Merton in the morning; and then write to the doctor, I
presume, as Mr. Merton's hand is too lame for him to write. It will
be as he thinks best," answered Seabrooke, dryly. "I do not wish to
talk about the matter now."
Contrary to his usual custom, Lewis Flagg did not attempt to treat
lightly and as a matter of no consequence the displeasure of his
masters, but seemed depressed and restless the next morning, and
Percy remarked upon it.
"You'd be cut up too if you were in my place," said Lewis, roughly;
"you're only afraid of your father and mother and the doctor; and you
see I've been in a lot of scrapes this term and been awfully unlucky
about being found out, and my uncle threatened to stop my allowance
if he caught me in another, and he'll do it, too; and I've lots of
debts out--a big one to Rice--and you know what the doctor is about
debt, and my uncle is still worse; there'll be no end of a row if he
knows it. If this fuss could only be kept quiet till after I have my
next quarter-and that's due the first of next week--I could pay off
Rice, at least. But if word goes to the doctor, he'll let my uncle
know--he promised to, by special request," he added, bitterly. "Uncle
will make ten times more row over my debts than he will over one
lark, and I promised Rice he should have his money next week. I'm in
awfully deep with him, Percy, and I don't dare let it be found out.
We'll see what old Merton says this morning. But--the doctor sha'n't
hear of it just yet if I can help it."
Percy wondered how he _could_ help it; but before he could ask
the question the school-bell rang and the boys took their places.
After school was opened, Mr. Merton rose, and, with what Lewis called
"threatening looks" at the delinquents, said, quietly:
"Young gentlemen of Mr. Seabrooke's dormitory, it is hardly necessary
to say that this evening's mail will carry to Dr. Leacraft an account
of last night's flagrant misconduct. Till I hear from him, I shall
take no further steps, save to request that you will not go outside
the house without either myself or Mr. Seabrooke in attendance."
Lewis Flagg was a bright scholar, and so far as recitations went,
maintained his standing in the class with the best; but to-day he was
far below his usual mark, and his attention constantly wandered; and
most of his fellow culprits were in like case. In view of the
escapade of the previous night and its impending consequences, that
was hardly to be wondered at; but Lewis was wont to make light of
such matters, and he was evidently taking this more seriously than
But the truth was that this did not rise from shame or regret--at
least not from a saving repentance--but because he was absorbed in
trying to find a way out of his difficulties.
Mr. Merton was suffering from acute rheumatism in his right hand, and
being disabled from writing, he had, after consultation with his
junior, delegated him to make the necessary disclosures to the absent
doctor. Seabrooke was observed to be doing a great deal of writing
that afternoon, and was supposed to be giving a full account of the
The letters to be taken out were always put into a basket upon the
hall table, whence they were taken and carried to the post-office at
the proper hour by the chore-boy of the school. Here, Lewis thought,
lay his opportunity.
Drawing Percy aside again, he said that Seabrooke's letter to the
doctor must be taken from the basket before Tony carried all away,
and be kept back for a day or two; then it could be posted and
nothing more would be suspected than that it had been belated.
Meanwhile his allowance would arrive, and then Dr. Leacraft was
welcome to know all the particulars of the escapade.
Percy was startled and shocked, and at first refused to have any part
in the matter; but the old threat brought him to terms, and he at
last agreed to Lewis' plans that they should contrive to abstract
Seabrooke's letter to Dr. Leacraft from among the others laid ready
for the post, and keep it back until Lewis' allowance had been
But although the two boys made various errands to the hall, they
found no opportunity of carrying out their dishonorable purpose
before Tony had started on his round of afternoon duties, taking with
him the letters for the post.
Scarcely had he disappeared when Mr. Merton said to the six culprits:
"Young gentlemen, you will go for afternoon exercise to walk with Mr.
Seabrooke. The cold will prevent me from venturing out," touching the
crippled right-arm, which lay in a sling, "or I should not trust you
from beneath my own eyes; but if I hear of any farther misconduct, or
you give him any trouble, there will be greater restrictions placed
upon you, and there will be another chapter to add to the sad account
which has already gone to the doctor."
"Dr. Leacraft will be tired before he comes to a second volume of the
thing Seabrooke has written to him," Flagg whispered to Percy, as
they started together for the walk under Seabrooke's care. "Did you
see him writing and writing page after page? He must have given him
every detail, and made the most of it. And he fairly gloated over it;
looked as pleased as Punch while he was doing it; never saw him look
"I'm likely to lose my Easter vacation, and dear knows what else for
this," said Percy, who was exceedingly low in his mind over the
consequences of his lawlessness.
"I'll have worse than that," answered Lewis. "I wouldn't mind that;
but if my quarter's allowance is stopped I don't know what I
_shall_ do. Oh, if I only could get hold of that letter!"
Percy made no response; for, much as he dreaded to have this affair
come to the knowledge of his parents, he shrank from the thought of
abstracting and destroying that letter.
Seabrooke had not much reason to enjoy his walk that afternoon if he
had depended upon his company; his charge were all sulky and
depressed; but, somewhat to their exasperation, their young leader
did not pay much heed to their humors; his own thoughts seemed
sufficient for him; and, to judge by the light in his eye and his
altogether satisfied expression, these were pleasant society.
"Seabrooke's been awfully cock-a-hoop all clay," said Raymond
Stewart; "wonder what's up with him."
"He's glad we're in a scrape," said Lewis, bitterly.
"Don't believe it," said Raymond; "that's not like him."
Seabrooke led the way to the village store, a sort of
_omnium-gatherum_ place, as village stores are apt to be, and
which contained also the post-office.
Entering, the party found Tony there before them, the letters he had
carried from the school lying on the counter; for there were several
small parcels and newspapers which would not go into the receiving
box, and the post-mistress was sorting the afternoon up mail, and the
delivery window of the office was closed; so Tony was waiting his
chance for attention. He stood with his back to the counter,
examining some coal shovels, having received orders to buy one.
Seabrooke was at the other side of the store, making some purchases;
the rest of the boys scattered here and there.
"He hasn't put the letters in the box yet; now's our chance,"
whispered Lewis to Percy, and he sauntered up to the counter where
the letters lay, drawing the reluctant Percy with him.
With a hasty glance at the letters, he snatched up the bulky one
which he believed to be that to Dr. Leacraft, gave another quick look
at the address and thrust it within his pocket; then, humming a tune,
he walked leisurely away with an air of innocent unconcern, still
with his arm through that of Percy.
"That was good luck, wasn't it?" he said. "Now we'll keep it till my
allowance comes and then post it."
Seabrooke and the six boys had just reached the door of the school,
when Tony rushed up to the young tutor, and said, hurriedly:
"Mr. Seabrooke, sir, did you take that letter you told me to be
"No," said Seabrooke, turning hastily. "You haven't lost it?"
"I couldn't find it, sir," faltered the boy; "but I know I had it
when I passed the bridge, for I was lookin' at it and rememberin'
what you told me about it."
Seabrooke waited for no more, but darted off upon the road back to
the village, followed by Tony.
"We're in a fix, now," whispered Lewis to Percy, "if there's going to
be a row about that letter. Isn't he the meanest fellow in the world
to be so set upon having the doctor knowing about last night? Percy,
I'll tell you what! We've got to put the letter out of the way now.
And there's old Merton coming, and he's asking for me. Quick, quick;
take it!" drawing the stolen letter from his pocket and thrusting it
into Percy's unwilling hands. "Put it in the stove, quick, quick!
There's no one to see; no one will suspect! Quick now, while I go to
Mr. Merton and keep him back. You're not fit to meet him: why, man,
you're as pale as a ghost."
And Lewis was gone, meeting Mr. Merton in the hall without.
With not a moment for thought, save one of terror lest he should be
found with the missing letter in his hand, Percy opened the door of
the stove, thrust the letter within upon the glowing coals, and
closed the door again, leaving it to its fate, a speedy and entire
destruction, accomplished in an instant.
An hour passed; the supper gong had sounded and the boys had taken
their places at the table, when Seabrooke returned, pale as death,
and with compressed lips and stern eyes.
Mr. Merton, who was extremely near-sighted, did not observe his
appearance as he took his seat, but the boys all noticed it.
"I have not seen it," or, "I have not found it," was all the response
he had to make to the inquiries of, "Have you heard anything of your
letter?" and so forth.
"Have you lost a letter, Harley?" asked Mr. Merton, at length, his
attention being attracted.
"Yes, sir," answered Seabrooke.
"How was that? Was it a letter of importance?" asked the gentleman,
"Yes, sir, a letter of importance, a letter to my father," answered
his junior, but in a tone which told the older man that he did not
care to be questioned further on that subject.
To his father!
Percy's fork dropped from his hand with a clatter upon his plate, and
Lewis' face took an expression of blank dismay which, fortunately for
him, no one observed.
His father! Had they then run all this risk, been guilty of this
meanness, only to delay, to destroy a letter to Seabrooke's father,
while that to the doctor, exposing their delinquencies, had gone on
its way unmolested.
ROBBING THE MAIL.
"Neville and Flagg, I want to speak to you. Will you come into the
junior recitation-room?" said Seabrooke, as soon after supper as he
could find opportunity of speaking apart to the two terrified
Fain would the guilty boys have refused, but they dared not; and they
followed Seabrooke to the place indicated, where he closed the door
and, turning, confronted them.
"Lewis Flagg and Percy Neville," he said, sternly, and his voice
seemed to carry as much weight and authority as that of Dr. Leacraft
himself when he had occasion to administer some severe reproof, "I
suppose that you are striving to annoy me in this manner in revenge
for my detection of your deliberate infringement of rules last night,
but your tricks have recoiled upon your own heads, although even now
I will spare you any farther disgrace and punishment if you will
make restitution at once, for you do not know the extent of the crime
of which you have been guilty. Robbing the mail is an offence which
is punished by heavy penalties. You, Lewis, were seen to take a
letter from among those which Tony carried to the post-office; you,
Percy, standing by and not interfering, even if you were not aiding
and abetting. No matter who told me; you were seen; but it is looked
upon as a school-boy trick, and, by my request, will not be spoken
of if you return the letter without delay. Nor shall I betray you.
Lewis, where is that letter? For your own sake, give it to me at
once. You do not know what you have done."
Lewis would have braved it out, would perhaps even have denied taking
the letter, for he was not at all above telling a lie; but he could
not tell how far evidence would be given against him, and, at least,
immunity from farther punishment was held forth to him and his
But--restitution! Percy, as he knew, had followed out his
instructions and put the letter in the fire.
"I'm sorry," he said, with a forced laugh, but with his voice
faltering; "but we had no idea the letter was of special importance.
We thought it was to the doctor about last night, and we only meant
to keep it back for a day or two and--and--well, when you made such a
row about it--Percy--Percy burned it up. But to call it 'robbing the
He was stopped by the change in Seabrooke's face.
"_You burned it!_" he almost shouted, forgetting the caution he
had hitherto observed in lowering his voice so that it might not be
heard by any one who might be outside the door. For one instant he
stared at the two startled boys, looking from one to the other as if
he could not believe the evidence of his ears. "You burned it!" he
repeated, in a lower tone; then, covering his face with his hands, he
bent his head upon the table before him with something very like a
groan. When he raised his head and uncovered his face again he was
"There were two hundred dollars in that letter," he said; "you have
not only stolen and destroyed my letter, but also all that sum of
Stolen! All that money!
They were sufficiently appalled now, these two reckless, thoughtless
boys; Percy to an even great degree than his more unprincipled
Lewis was the first to find his voice.
"There was not! You're joking! You're only trying to frighten us," he
said, although in his inmost soul he was convinced that this was no
joking matter, no mere attempt to punish them by arousing their
fears. Seabrooke's agitation was not assumed, that was easy to be
Then followed a long and terrible pause, while the three boys, the
injured and the injuring, stood gazing at one another. Then, despite
his wrongs, the unutterable terror in the faces of the latter touched
Seabrooke, especially in the case of Percy, for whom he had a strong
liking; for the boy had many lovable traits, notwithstanding the
weakness of his character.
"What can we do?" faltered Percy, at last.
"What will you do?" asked Lewis, almost in the same breath.
Trembling and anxious, the two culprits stood before the young man,
scarcely older than themselves, who had become their victim and was
now their accuser and their judge, in whose hands lay their sentence.
"Wait, I must think a minute," he said, willing, out of the kindness
of his noble heart, to spare them ruin and disgrace, and yet scarcely
seeing his way clear to it.
"Listen," he said, after some moments' pondering. "You thought that
letter was to Dr. Leacraft, you say, giving an account of last night.
Mr. Merton, who is disabled, as you know, asked me to write to the
doctor; but I begged him to let me off and to ask one of the
professors to do it. That letter you destroyed was to my father, and,
as I told you, contained two hundred dollars in money--money earned
by myself--money which I must have and which you must restore. Give
it back to me--I will wait till after the Easter holidays for it--and
this matter shall go no farther. No one but myself knows that the
letter contained money; only one saw you take it out, and that one
will be silent if I ask it. I will write out a confession and
acknowledgment for you both to sign. Bring me, after the holidays or
before, each your own share of the money and I will destroy that
paper; but if you fail, I will carry it to the doctor and he must
require it of your friends. I will not--I cannot be the loser through
your wickedness and dishonesty. If you refuse to sign I shall go to
Mr. Merton now and to the doctor as soon as he returns. I do not know
if I am quite right in offering to let you off, even upon such
conditions; but if I can help it I will not ruin you and cause your
expulsion from the school, which, I know, would follow the discovery
of your guilt."
Percy, overwhelmed, was speechless; but Lewis answered after a
moment's pause, during which Seabrooke waited for his answer:
"How are we to raise the money?"
"I do not know," answered Seabrooke, "that is your affair. I worked
hard for mine and earned it; you have taken it from me and must
restore it--how, is for you to determine. If your friends must know
of this, and I suppose that it is only through them that you can
repay me, it seems to me that it would be better for you to make a
private confession to them than to risk that which will probably
follow if Dr. Leacraft knows of it. Are you ready to abide by my
"You will give us till--" stammered Lewis, seeing no loophole of
escape, but, as he afterwards told Percy, hoping that something
"would turn up" if they could gain time.
"Till Easter--after the holidays--no longer," answered Seabrooke. "I
know very well that you could hardly raise so much at a moment's
notice; so, although it is a bitter disappointment not to have it
now, I will wait till then if you agree to sign the paper which I
will have ready this evening after study hour. Quick now; the bell
will ring in two minutes."
What could they do? Seabrooke was evidently inexorable, and they knew
well that he could not be expected to bear this loss.
"Yes, I will sign it," said the thoroughly cowed Percy. But Lewis
suddenly flashed up and answered impudently:
"How are we to know that the money was in that letter?"
"I can prove it," answered Seabrooke, quietly; "and, Lewis Flagg, I
can prove something more. I tested the water that was in my carafe
last night, and found that it had been tampered with. I know the
object now, and have discovered who bought the drug at the
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