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- The Boys of Bellwood School - 3/27 -
a middle-aged man, with a tool-kit satchel extending from his shoulder, approaching the wagon.
"Well, good-by, and glad I met you," said Frank, shaking hands with Ned.
"Lucky for me I met you," retorted the tinker boy gratefully. "I hope I'll meet you again some time, but I don't suppose I'll ever be in this town again."
"If you ever do--" Frank paused, and then added quickly: "why, hunt me up."
He had an impulse to invite his new acquaintance up to the house, but suddenly thought of his aunt and changed his mind. Nothing would have delighted him more than to have Ned Foreman tell him about his travels and adventures, for they must have been many.
Frank strolled homeward, trying his knife on a piece of willow and shaping out a whistle. As he came up the walk to the house he heard voices inside. His aunt was speaking in her sharp, strident tones, a little more excitedly than usual.
A gruff, masculine voice responded, and Frank, wondering who the owner might be, stepped into the hall and peered into the reception-room.
"Aha!" instantly greeted him, as a man there sprang to his feet. "Here is that precious nephew of yours, Miss Brown. I say, Frank Jordan, what have you done with my diamond bracelet?"
THE DIAMOND BRACELET
Frank looked at the speaker in wonder. He knew Samuel Mace, the jeweler, perfectly well. The village tradesman was greatly excited, and he glided toward Frank in a threatening way, as if he would walk straight over him.
What made the occasion doubly puzzling to Frank was the fact that his aunt looked more severe, shocked and alarming than ever before. He did not move, drawing upright with boyish manliness, and the jeweler halted and then retreated a step or two.
"Your diamond bracelet, Mr. Mace?" repeated Frank in a perplexed tone; and then, with a faint smile, glancing at the wrist of the angry visitor: "I did not know you wore one."
"Don't you try to be funny!" stormed the jeweler, and he seized Frank by the arm. "You young rascal, where is that bracelet you took from my store?"
Frank got a glimmering of the facts now. He was dumfounded, and listened like one in a dream, while Mr. Mace continued his furious tirade:
"He took it. Can't you see from his actions that he took it, Miss Brown? Nobody else could have done it--nobody else was in the store when he bought that stickpin he wears. After he left the shop the bracelet was missing."
"Frank, if you have the bracelet give it up," said his aunt coldly.
"See here, aunt," cried Frank, firing up instantly at this, "you don't mean to say that you imagine for one instant that I am a thief?"
"We are all sinful and tempted," returned Miss Brown in a tearful, whispering tone.
"Not me," dissented Frank--"not in that mean way, anyhow. Why, you wretched old man!" he fairly shouted at Samuel Mace, "how dare you even so much as insinuate that I know anything about your missing bracelet--if there is any missing bracelet."
"You was in my store--it was gone after you left. You took it," stubbornly insisted the jeweler.
"I tell you I didn't take it!" cried Frank.
"You give it up, or I'll have you arrested," declared the jeweler.
"If you do, my folks will make it hot for you," declared Frank. "I am no thief."
He drew himself up proudly in his conscious innocence, and marched from the room all on fire with resentment and just indignation.
"Why, the old curmudgeon!" exclaimed the boy as he passed out into the open air again. "How dare he make such a charge. I won't even argue it with him; it's too ridiculous."
He had cooled down somewhat after walking aimlessly and excitedly about the garden a round or two. When he came again to the front of the house, Samuel Mace was departing from the scene. As he caught sight of Frank he waved his cane angrily at him with the words:
"I'll see about this, young man!"
Frank went into the house to find his aunt locking up the secretary in the library, just as she did when there was a burglar scare in town. Her very glance and manner accused Frank, and he could scarcely restrain himself from arguing with her. Then he remembered his promise to his absent parents and that Miss Brown was a credulous, suspicious old maid. He tried to forget his troubles by going after his fishing-rod. This he had left at the spot near the river where he had met Ned Foreman. Frank swung along whistling recklessly, but he did not feel at all pleasant or easy.
He had returned from his errand and was putting in a miserable enough time feeding some pet pigeons when a voice hailed him from the fence railings.
"Hey, Frank--this way for a minute."
Frank recognized a friend and crony of Samuel Mace. This was pompous, red- faced Judge Roseberry. He had once been elected by mistake a justice of the peace, had never gotten a second term, but for some eight or ten years had traded on his past reputation. He managed to eke out a living by giving what he called legal advice at a cheap rate, and mixing in politics. Sometimes he collected bills for the tradesmen of the town, and in this way he had been useful to Mace. Most of the time, however, he hung around the village tavern. He looked now to Frank as if he had just come from that favorite resort of his. There was an unsteady gravity in the way that he poked an impressive finger at Frank as he spoke to the youth.
"What do you want?" demanded Frank, ungraciously enough, as he half guessed the mission of this bloated and untidy emissary of the law.
"Judicial, see?" observed Roseberry, gravely balancing against the picket fence.
"Go ahead," challenged Frank, keeping out of radius of the judge's breath.
"Come, come, young man," maundered Roseberry. "I'm too old a bird to have to circumlocate. You know your father has great confidence in me."
"I never heard of it before," retorted Frank.
"Oh, yes," insisted Roseberry with bland unction. "Had a case of his once."
"The only case I ever knew of," returned Frank, "was a collection he gave you to make. I heard him tell my mother that he never saw the creditor or the money, either, since."
"Ah--er--difficult case; yes, yes, decidedly complex, costs and commissions," stammered the judge, becoming more turkey-red than he naturally was. "We won't retrospect. To the case in hand."
"Well?" spoke Frank, looking so open-faced and steadily at Roseberry that the latter blinked.
"I--that is--I would suggest an intermediary, see? The law is very baffling, my friend. Once in its clutches a man is lost."
"But I'm not a man--I'm only an innocent, misjudged boy," burst forth Frank. "See here, Judge Roseberry, I know why you come and who sent you."
"My client, Mr. Mace--"
"Is a wicked, unjust man," flared out Frank, "and you are just as bad. Neither of you can possibly believe that I would steal. Why, I don't have to steal. I have what money I need, and more than that. I tell you, if my father was here I think you people would take back-water quick enough. When he does come, you shall suffer for this."
Judge Roseberry looked impressed. He stared at Frank in silence. Perhaps his muddled mind reflected that the accused lad had a good reputation generally. Anyhow, the open, resolute way in which Frank spoke daunted him. But he shook his head in an owl-like manner after a pause and remarked:
"My function's purely legal in the case--must do my duty."
"Do it, then, and don't bother me," said Frank irritably, and started away from the spot.
"Hold on, hold on," called out the judge after him. "I've a compromise to offer."
"There is nothing to compromise," asserted Frank over his shoulder.
"Suggestion, then. Don't be foolish, young man."
"Well, what's your suggestion?" demanded Frank.
"We'll take a walk in the woods, see? I've got a ten-dollar bill in my pocket. I'll walk one way, you walk the other. No witnesses. I'll put the ten-dollar bill on the stump--you'll do your part at another stump. We'll turn, pass each other. Backs to each other, see?"
"I don't know what you are driving at," declared Frank.
"As you pass my stump you take up the ten-dollar bill; it's yours. As I pass your stump--backs to each other, mind you, no witnesses, matter pleasantly adjusted--I'll pick up the diamond bracelet."
"All right--that suits me," said Frank readily, but with a grim twinkle in his eye.
"You agree?" inquired the judge eagerly.
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