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- Hector's Inheritance - 20/41 -


"Was the door open?"

"No; but that signifies nothing. It wasn't locked, and anyone could enter."

"Is it possible that we have a thief in the institute?" said Mrs. Smith, nervously. "Socrates, I shan't sleep nights. Think of the spoons!"

"They're only plated."

"And my earrings."

"You could live without earrings. Think, rather, of the wallet, with nearly fifty dollars in bills."

"Who do you think took it, Socrates?"

"I have no idea; but I will find out. Yes, I will find out. Come downstairs, Mrs. Smith; we will institute inquiries."

When Mr. Smith had descended to the lower floor, and was about entering the office, it chanced that his nephew was just entering the house.

"What's the matter, Uncle Socrates?" he asked; "you look troubled."

"And a good reason why, James; I have met with a loss."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Jim, in innocent wonder; "what is it?"

"A wallet, with a large amount of money in it!"

"Perhaps there is a hole in your pocket," suggested Jim.

"A hole--large enough for my big wallet to fall through! Don't be such a fool!"

"Excuse me, uncle," said Jim, meekly; "of course that is impossible. When do you remember having it last?"

Of course Socrates told the story, now familiar to us, and already familiar to his nephew, though he did not suspect that.

Jim struck his forehead, as if a sudden thought had occurred to him.

"Could it be?" he said, slowly, as if to himself; "no, I can't believe it."

"Can't believe what?" demanded Socrates, impatiently; "if you have any clew, out with it!"

"I hardly like to tell, Uncle Socrates, for it implicates one of the boys."

"Which?" asked Mr. Smith, eagerly.

"I will tell you, though I don't like to. Half an hour since, I was coming upstairs, when I heard a door close, as I thought, and, directly afterward, saw Hector Roscoe hurrying up the stairs to the third floor. I was going up there myself, and followed him. Five minutes later he came out of his room, looking nervous and excited. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but I now think that he entered your room, took the wallet, and then carried it up to his own chamber and secreted it."

"Hector Roscoe!" repeated Mr. Smith, in amazement. "I wouldn't have supposed that he was a thief."

"Nor I; and perhaps he isn't. It might be well, however, to search his room."

"I will!" answered Socrates, with eagerness, "Come up, James, and you, Mrs. Smith, come up, too!"

The trio went upstairs, and entered poor Hector's room. It was not unoccupied, for Ben Platt and Wilkins were there. They anticipated a visit, and awaited it with curious interest. They rose to their feet when the distinguished visitors arrived.

"Business of importance brings us here," said Socrates. "Platt and Wilkins, you may leave the room."

The boys exchanged glances, and obeyed.

"Wilkins," said Ben, when they were in the corridor, "it is just as I thought. Jim has set a trap for Roscoe."

"He may get caught himself," said Wilkins. "I ain't oversqueamish, but that is too confounded mean! Of course you'll tell all you know?"

"Yes; and I fancy it will rather surprise Mr. Jim. I wish they had let us stay in there."

Meanwhile, Jim skillfully directed the search.

"He may have put it under the mattress," suggested Jim.

Socrates darted to the bed, and lifted up the mattress, but no wallet revealed itself to his searching eyes.

"No; it is not here!" he said, in a tone of disappointment; "the boy may have it about him. I will send for him."

"Wait a moment, Uncle Socrates," said Jim; "there is a pair of pants which I recognize as his."

Mr. Smith immediately thrust his hand into one of the pockets and drew out the wallet!

"Here it is!" he exclaimed, joyfully. "Here it is!"

"Then Roscoe is a thief! I wouldn't have thought it!" said Jim.

"Nor I. I thought the boy was of too good family to stoop to such a thing. But now I remember, Mr. Allan Roscoe told me he was only adopted by his brother. He is, perhaps, the son of a criminal."

"Very likely!" answered Jim, who was glad to believe anything derogatory to Hector.

"What are you going to do about it, uncle?"

"I shall bring the matter before the school. I will disgrace the boy publicly," answered Socrates Smith, sternly. "He deserves the exposure."

"Aha, Master Roscoe!" said Jim, gleefully, to himself; "I rather think I shall get even with you, and that very soon."

CHAPTER XIX.

A DRAMATIC SCENE.

It was generally after vespers that Mr. Smith communicated to the school anything which he desired to call to their attention. This was to be the occasion of bringing our hero into disgrace.

The boys assembled, most of them quite ignorant that anything exceptional was to occur. Hector himself, the person chiefly interested, was entirely unconscious that he was to be made "a shining mark" for the arrows of suspicion and obloquy. If he had noticed the peculiar and triumphantly malicious looks with which Jim Smith, the bully and tyrant, whom he had humiliated and deposed, regarded him, he might have been led to infer that some misfortune was in store for him. But these looks he did not chance to notice.

There were two other boys, however, who did notice them. These were Ben Platt and Wil-kins, who had very good reasons, as we know, for doing so.

"I believe old Sock is going to pitch into Roscoe at vespers," said Ben, in a whisper, to his roommate.

"So do I. There's a look about him like that of a tiger about to pounce on his prey."

"Or a cat with murderous designs on a mouse."

"We must expose the whole thing."

"Of course."

"Won't Jim be mad?"

"Let him! He won't dare to thrash us while Roscoe is round."

There was, indeed, about Socrates Smith an air of mystery, portentous and suggestive. He looked like one meditating a coup d'etat, or, perhaps, it might better be said, a coup de main, as the hand is with schoolmasters, generally, the instrument of attack.

When the proper time arrived, Mr. Smith cleared his throat, as he always did before beginning to speak.

"Boys," he said, "I have an important, and I may say, a painful, communication to make to you."

All the boys looked at each other in curiosity, except the three who were already in the secret.

"You know, boys," continued Socrates, "how proud I am of this institute, how zealous I am for its good reputation, how unwearied I am in my efforts for your progress and welfare."

Mr. Smith's unwearied efforts were largely in the line of making out and receipting bills for tuition, and it may be said that this was to him by far the most agreeable of the duties he undertook to perform.


Hector's Inheritance - 20/41

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