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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER XV. WHO IS THE THIEF?
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 “You fellows in the battalion have all the good times. I just wish I’d entered the high school first year, then I’d have been an officer by this time,” said Dixon to Reed, one day, with an admiring glance at the other’s neat uniform and shoulder straps.  
“Oh, yes,” said Reed, “it’s such fun to drill three times a week, especially when the thermometer climbs up among the eighties—say about next May. We generally have a hot wave along that time.”
“It’s no fun to carry those heavy muskets,” put in Freeman. “I joined the cadets first year, but the guns were too heavy for me, and I had to quit.”
“Oh, well, you’re a little chap,” and Dixon glanced half-contemptuously at the slender lad. Freeman’s cheeks flushed at the look.
“Well, I never fainted, anyhow,” he said; “and some fellows a good deal bigger than I fainted more than once that year.”
“That was when we had heavy guns. We use lighter ones, now,” said Reed.
“I’d like to wear that uniform,” went on Dixon; “I notice how the girls watch you fellows; girls like a uniform, you know.”
A shout of laughter greeted this remark, and one boy said:—
“Too bad you can’t wear a uniform, Rosy. You might try to get on the police force next year. Maybe the girls would watch you, then.”
Rosy joined in the laugh that greeted this suggestion. He was never backward about acknowledging to an interest in the girls, and was forever begging some boy to introduce him to one or another girl of his acquaintance. Sometimes his interest in the feminine portion of the school got him into trouble, as was the case a little later on this same day.
When school was dismissed, the boys formed in line, and were expected to go through the corridors, and down the stairs in this order.
But there are always disorderly boys, and noisy ones too, and very often Professor Keene would be on the stairs, or in one or other of the corridors, to take note of any such; and not seldom would he send a boy back to his class-room, there to wait until all the others had passed out.
On this occasion, as the boys were standing in line in the upper hall, waiting for the signal to move on, “Rosy” noticed that the door of one of the girls’ rooms, near which he stood, was ajar. He[199] glanced quickly to right and left. The professor was nowhere in sight, so he leaned over and softly pushed the door open a little farther so that he could look in. As he did so, a hand dropped heavily on his shoulder, and the professor’s voice sounded in his ears.
“Dixon,” he said, “I see you are anxious to make the acquaintance of Miss Bent and her class. Step right in, and I will introduce you”; and with his hand still on the boy’s shoulder, he threw open the door, and led him to the platform.
“Miss Bent,” he said, “this young gentleman was so very eager to meet you and the young ladies of your class, that I took the liberty of bringing him in. Allow me to introduce Mr. Dixon.”
For once, Dixon was too confused to be equal to the occasion. His face was as red as his hair, and the bow with which he acknowledged the introduction was not a model of ease and grace. No wonder—when forty girls sat there enjoying his discomfiture, and laughing at the haste with which he departed.
Shouts of “Here comes Rosy!” “Did you have introductions enough, Rosy?” “Say, which was the prettiest girl?” “Why didn’t you stay longer?” greeted him, as he reached the playground, where most of his own classmates were waiting for him; but, by this time, he had recovered his self-possession,[200] and only laughed good-naturedly at the sallies of the boys.
When he entered the school-room next morning, two or three voices called out, “Wrong room, Rosy. The girls’ room is on the other side.”
Dixon grinned, as he perched on the top of his desk, and looked about, saying:—
“Some of you chaps must have gotten up before breakfast this morning. Never saw so many here at half past eight, before.”
“Written exam. to-day, sonny,” said Barber.
“Looks as if ’twas house-cleaning, to-day,” replied Dixon, glancing at the pile of books and papers Barber was hauling out of his desk.
“Does look rather that way,” said Barber. Then he glanced about the room, and added:—
“Say, if any of you fellows have jagged my notebook, give it back, will you. It’s a new one, and I know I left it here last night.”
“You’re dreaming, Barber,” somebody remarked. “Nobody’s been near your desk.”
“But somebody has, though,” persisted Barber; “an’ ’tisn’t the first time, either. My knife vanished last week—the third one I’ve lost this quarter.”
“Better have your mother sew up the holes in your pockets,” suggested Raleigh.
“Or you might fasten a string to your knife and tie it into your pocket,” added another.
“I tell you, the things are taken out of my desk,” insisted Barber, “and somebody does it after school. I like fun as well as anybody, but I’m sick of this kind, and I think it’s time now for whoever did it to hand over my notebook.”
“Is it so, for a fact, Barber?” said Hamlin, walking over to the other’s seat. “Have you been losing things out of your desk—honest Injun?”
“I have so,” replied Barber.
“And I, too. I left a gold pen in my desk last week, and the next morning it was gone,” said Lee.
Upon inquiry, it proved that nearly all the boys present had lost something from their desks within a few weeks, and several had lost small change or car-tickets from the pockets of overcoats left in the dressing-room during school hours.
“We must tell Mr. Horton,” said Hamlin. “It won’t do to have this sort of thing going on.”
“Oh, I say!” broke out Dixon, “you don’t really believe that anybody’s been thieving here, do you? I’m always thinking I’ve lost something, and finding it a week or two later, where I’d poked it away, an’ forgotten all about it.”
Barber shook his head.
“I poked my new notebook into my desk yesterday just before I went home,” he said, positively. “I can’t be mistaken about that.”
“Crawford, you look melancholy. Have you lost something, too?” called out Dixon.
“No,” said Crawford, shortly.
“Not even your temper,” suggested Dixon, who seemed to be in a tormenting mood that morning.
Crawford was standing with his hands in his pockets, and looking moodily out of the window. He made no reply to Dixon’s last remark.
“Clark seems to be the only one who has lost nothing,” remarked Lee, with a significant emphasis that implied more than the words themselves.
Clark looked up inquiringly, while Hamlin exclaimed quickly:—
“What do you mean by that, Lee?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Lee, carelessly, “only some things that happened last term have never been really cleared up.”
Before the words were fairly out of Lee’s mouth, Crawford had wheeled around and caught him by the shoulder. Lee never flinched, and, for an instant the two boys stood gazing angrily into each other’s eyes.
Hamlin, too, had started towards Lee, but stopped as he caught sight of Crawford’s white, set face.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” demanded Lee coolly of Crawford.
“I am going to knock you down if you accuse Stanley Clark of doing anything mean or underhanded since he’s been in this school,” said Crawford, while Clark looked from one to the other in[203] blank amazement, and the rest of the boys gathered about the two.
“So?” said Lee, tauntingly. “Perhaps, then, you know more than the rest of us about some of these underhanded performances.”
The perspiration gathered on Crawford’s forehead in big drops, and the hand that still clutched Lee’s shoulder, trembled perceptibly, but he faced the wondering group, and said slowly, and distinctly:—
“I do know something about at least one underhanded performance that concerns Clark. I’ve been longing to make a clean breast of it for weeks, and now I’m going to do it. I put that pony in Clark’s desk last year. The letters S. C. were the initials of—someone else, and Clark told the truth when he said that he had never seen the book until Mr. Horton held it up before him. I hated Clark last year, and I wanted to do anything I could to injure him. Clark,” he left Lee and turned towards the other, “Clark, it isn’t much to say I’m sorry—but that’s all I can say.”
Clark instantly held out his hand, and said cordially:—
“It is all forgotten from this moment, Crawford,” and then, catching sight of Mr. Horton, who had entered the room while Crawford was speaking, Clark added quickly, “It can end right here, can’t it, sir?”
But Crawford spoke before the teacher could reply.
“No,” he said, “I want all the class to know the truth. Then perhaps I can respect myself a little more.”
“Very well, Crawford,” said Mr. Horton, “it shall be as you wish. I think you are right, and one who can so frankly and manfully acknowledge his fault, cannot fail to win back the respect of his classmates.”
Crawford dropped into his seat with a flush of pleasure at these words, and the boys separated, but more than one glanced coldly at Lee, and Hamlin could not refrain from saying, as he passed Lee’s seat:—
“I hope you are satisfied now, and will stop hounding Clark for the future.”
Lee made no reply, but he thought to himself, “Clark didn’t cheat that time, it seems, but he’s the son of a defaulter; and no Southern boy would take a blow as he did last year.”
Mr. Horton was much disturbed when he learned of the petty stealings that had been going on in the school. Soon, not from section D alone, but from all over the school came complaints of losses of greater or less value. The teachers were very much troubled over the matter. They could not bear to suspect any pupil in the school, but no one else had access to class-rooms and dressing-rooms except the janitor, and he had been in charge of the building for years,[205] and nothing of this kind had ever before occurred. A strict watch was kept over the dressing-rooms through the day, and no scholars were allowed to enter the class-rooms until the teachers came in the morning, or to remain after the departure of the teachers in the afternoon. In spite of these rules however, the losses continued.
One wet day, Raleigh, who lived a long way from the school, was obliged to walk home because the car-tickets he had carelessly left in his overcoat pocket, were missing. The next morning, he appeared wearing an old shabby overcoat in place of the new one he had had the day before.
“What’s the matter, Raleigh? Has your new coat been jagged?” questioned Barber, overtaking him near the school gate.
“No,” said Raleigh, “but if you’ll keep mum, I’ll tell you why I wore this.”
“Mum’s the word,” said Barber, promptly, and Raleigh went on:—
“My car-tickets vanished yesterday. Served me right, I suppose, for being such a ninny as to leave them in my overcoat pocket; but it made me mad to have to foot it all the way home in the wet, so I planned a little scheme to put a mark on the stealer. My sister has some shoe blacking that stains like fury—worse than any ink I ever got hold of—and I’ve soaked a sponge with it, and put it in my side pocket, here. See?”
“Well,” said Barber, “how’s that going to mark the thief?”
“Why, I’ve put half a dollar—a counterfeit one, you understand, that somebody shoved off on my mother—I’ve put it into that same pocket, and if anybody puts a hand in to haul out that half-dollar, he’ll get a mark on his fingers that he can’t scrub off in one day, now I tell you.”
“Well, that is a scheme,” laughed Barber, “but you ought to let one fellow in every room into it, for you and I can’t examine all the paws in the school, ourselves.”
“That’s so; I never thought of that,” said Raleigh.
So the two decided upon one boy in each room who should be the one to keep an eye on the hands in his class-room in case that fifty cents should be missing later in the day.
Mr. Horton having given Raleigh permission for himself and Barber to remain in the room that morning, during recess, as soon as the other boys had gone down to the playground, the amateur detectives began operations. They borrowed from the dressing-room a mirror which they hung on the wall in such a way that it reflected the hall and the door of the dressing-room to them, while they, having set open the door of the class-room, were out of sight behind it.
Five minutes of the recess had slipped away—ten, and not a person had passed through the hall.
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