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- The Boys of Bellwood School - 4/27 -


"Provided you furnish the bracelet," went on the boy.

"Bah!" snorted the judge in high dudgeon, marching from the spot. "Young man, I've done my duty out of consideration for your respected family. You won't listen to reason, so you must take the consequences. I shall advise Mr. Mace to have you arrested at once."

CHAPTER IV

GILL MACE

About the middle of the afternoon Frank strolled down to the village. He had been worked up a good deal all morning, and when dinner time came he was made aware that his aunt was determined to treat him as a kind of culprit.

The cross-grained old maid did not speak to him during the entire meal. She sat prim and erect, barely glanced at him, and as Frank arose from the table, half choked with the unwelcome food he had eaten, he resolved to speak his mind.

"I'd like to say a word or two, Aunt Tib," he began.

"Say it," snapped his ungracious relative sharply.

"About this monstrous charge made against me by Mr. Mace," continued Frank.

"It is indeed a terrible charge," remarked Miss Brown, with a chilling, awesome groan.

"Of course it isn't true, and of course you can't believe it," went on Frank. "I am sure that a day or two will change things that look so black for me now. All that I am worrying about is that this affair may get to father and mother. It would simply worry them both to death, and it mustn't be. I hope you wouldn't be so cruel, so wicked, as to add to their troubles."

"I shall not write to them until you have confessed."

"Confessed!" cried Frank hotly. "There is nothing to confess. Don't I tell you that I never saw old man Mace's bracelet? Aunt Tib, I am ashamed of you. I tell you, I'm holding in a good deal. If I thought you believed that man's story I'd leave the house for good."

"You mustn't do that, Frank," she said quickly. "We must bear our crosses patiently."

"It's no use; I'm just fighting mad," declared Frank to himself as he left the house. "I just hope Mace and Roseberry will do something to bring affairs to a focus. If this thing gets around the village, it will be a nice, pleasant thing for me, won't it, now? I've half a mind to make a break and get out of it all."

Frank was in a decidedly disturbed state of mind. From being angry he got dejected, and for some time he allowed his thoughts to wander unrestrained. He actually envied Ned Foreman and his wandering career. If it had not been for his loyalty to his parents he would have hunted up the grinding wagon to ask the man who had relieved Ned to give him a job.

It would not have been so hard for Frank if he had had any close chum to whom he could have confided his troubles. But Miss Brown had spoiled all that. She kept the garden like a parlor, and scared away what few acquaintances Frank had with her severe looks and manner. The Jordans had lived at Tipton for only a year. The greater part of that time Frank had been absent at a boarding-school in a neighboring town. The lads with whom he had formerly associated in Tipton were away at various academies. Frank did not know the town schoolboys very well.

He went downtown and strolled about for a time. Defiantly he walked calmly past Mace's jewelry store, and even paused and looked through its front plate-glass show window. He passed the usual hangout of Judge Roseberry, and did not hasten his steps a bit when he saw that the judge, lounging on a bench, noticed him.

Frank fancied that after he had passed the tavern the judge said something to some of his fellow hangers on, and that they glanced after him with some curiosity. A little farther on two little schoolboys paused in their walk, stared hard at him and then scooted away, saying something about a "burglary."

"Mace is bluffing, and so is the judge," determined Frank. "They have no evidence against me, and they don't dare to arrest me. If they spread their false stories, all the same, they shall suffer for it."

Frank felt pretty lonesome and gloomy as he passed the schoolhouse. The boys were rushing out, free from the tasks of the day. It might have been imagination, but Frank fancied that one or two of them greeted him with a cool nod and hurried on. As he politely lifted his cap to a bevy of girls, he imagined that they were rather constrained in their return greeting and looked at him queerly.

Beyond the schoolhouse was Bolter's Hill, a famous place for coasting in the winter time. Just now it had a new power of attraction for the schoolboys. An old hermit-like fellow named Clay Dobbins had lived for years at the other side of the hill. He owned a little patch of ground and a dilapidated house. His wife had died recently, and all the village knew of his two chronic complaints.

The first was that "Sairey had died leaving a sight less money than he had expected," and old Dobbins had wondered if the lawyers or the speculators had got it.

The second was that the old man had got nervous and lonely living in the isolated spot. So he had rented a hut the other side of Bolter's Hill, near the schoolhouse. He planned to have his house moved there, and intended starting a little candy and notion store.

There had never been much house-moving in Tipton, and nobody in the village was equipped to undertake even the simple task of conveying the Dobbins dwelling uphill and then down again. A house-moving firm from Pentonville, however, had engaged to perform the work. They had jacked up the house on screws, chained it securely to a log frame, and, setting a portable windlass at the top of the hill, operated this by horse power.

An immense rope cable, thick as a man's arm, ran to a pulley under the house. It was a novelty to the school youngsters to watch the horse go round and round the windlass, and to see the house come up the hill a slow inch at a time.

Work on the moving had been suspended for the day, but the boys hung around the spot. They raced through the house, clambered over the moving frame, and knocked with the workmen's mallets on the rollers to make the hollow echo that was new to them and sounded like music.

The house movers had set the windlass locked, and the strain on the rope brought it taut. The house was anchored about half way up the hill, straining at the giant cable dangerously and on a sharp tilt.

A little urchin was trying to "walk the tightrope," as he called it, as Frank came up, shaping a willow stick with his pocket knife.

"Say, Frank Jordan," cried the lad, "won't you make me a whistle?"

"Of course I will," replied Frank accommodatingly, and got astride a moving timber and set at work. Only a few of the large boys were about the spot. Frank noticed that Gill Mace, the nephew of the village jeweler, was among their number.

Frank soon turned out a first-class whistle for the applicant, who went away tooting at a happy rate. A second urchin preferred a modest request, and Frank had just completed the second whistle when the boy he had sent away contented came back sniveling.

"Why, what's the matter?" inquired Frank sympathizingly.

Between sobs the little fellow related his troubles. Gill Mace had forcibly taken the whistle away from him, and when he had got through testing its merits had pocketed it and sent its owner away with a cuff on the ear.

"I'll give Gill Mace a piece of my mind, just now," declared Frank, hastily getting to the ground. The jeweler's nephew was up to just such mean, unmanly tricks all of the time. Frank felt that he deserved a lesson. Besides, at just the present moment he had no great love for the whole Mace family.

Frank hurried around to the side of the house, to come upon Gill and his companions, who were engaged in leaping across a puddle near a pit in the hillside. He marched right up to the culprit, the little fellow he had befriended trailing after him.

"See here, Gill Mace," cried Frank promptly, "can't you find a little better employment of your time than bullying little children?"

Gill flushed up, but put on a braggart air.

"Any of your business?" he demanded blusteringly.

"I'm making it my business--it ought to be the business of any decent, fair-minded fellow," asserted Frank staunchly.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" demanded Gill, doubling up his fists."

"I'm going to give you just twenty seconds to give that whistle back to that boy, or I'm going to take it out of your hide," declared Frank steadily.

"Oho! you are, eh?" snorted Gill, swelling up and glaring wickedly at Frank. "Well, you won't get the whistle, for it's there in the mud."

"I've a good mind to make you go after it," began Frank, when Gill, making a sudden jump, landed up against him, and dealt him a quick, foul blow below the waist.

"I don't care about dirtying my hands with a thief," answered Gill, "but--"

"What's that?" cried Frank, all the pride and anger in his nature coming to the front.

"I said it," replied Gill, keeping up his doubled fists, but edging away, for the look in the eyes of his adversary warned and cowed him.

"You call me a thief, do you?" demanded Frank.

"Yes; you stole a diamond bracelet from my uncle's store this morning."


The Boys of Bellwood School - 4/27

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