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   Chapter 26 No.26

'As Gold in the Furnace' By John E. Copus Characters: 11934

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Stockley's Story

WHEN our unfortunate treasurer of the pitching cage fund entered the sickroom he was scarcely prepared for what he found there. The room, to his imagination, resembled an emergency hospital. The air was impregnated with the odors of arnica, and iodine and ether-decidedly sickly smells to one coming in suddenly and not accustomed to them.

On the table near the bed where Stockley was lying were a number of bottles, gauze, and sponges and the remains of a light breakfast. The boy was propped up with pillows, his broken arm in splints resting on one, while another was gently pressed against his fractured ribs.

Stockley was not an ill-featured boy. It is true that he had somewhat neglected his personal appearance of late, but there was nothing about him that was really repulsive, and now after his alcohol bath and with his hair well brushed from his forehead he appeared quite presentable. He had a fine mouth and his eyes were large and clear. His forehead was high and intelligent, and notwithstanding his faults one could not fail to recognize a sort of innate nobility in him, and Roy discovered something more than even this as he watched him. He saw on his face a softened, chastened look. His countenance showed that softening effect which appears in so peculiar yet unmistakable a way immediately after receiving one of the sacraments of the Church. His look was subdued and yet exalted. There was a species of radiance on the face which Roy felt he could not define, but yet was quite discernible. There was also a change of manner of speech. Stockley had been very close to the gates of death and that tremendous fact had changed his views, and the sacrament of Penance had the effect of softening his hitherto somewhat hard exterior conduct and manner and he was even now under the apprehension that it was quite doubtful whether he would recover from his injuries, although the physician had told him that unless most unexpected complications ensued there was no danger. He was nevertheless quite frightened, and was now very serious. It must not be understood, however, that the story he told was due to his fright, for he had quite a different motive in relating what he did.

Roy saw the change in the boy, yet he could not help but regard him with disfavor, although he determined to be perfectly just to him. He was anxious, also, to keep his wits about him in order to lose nothing of what might be said. In justice to himself he meant to get the whole story, although in his heart of hearts he had the sickening dread that this boy lying wounded and bruised before him would confirm his worst fears concerning his cousin Garrett.

Henning realized that the present moment was a critical one in his life; that now, or perhaps never, would all suspicion be removed. He felt that if this interview should result in nothing not already known, and he remain under the unjust and cruel suspicion, it would compel him to reconsider seriously his purpose of entering the seminary. Was there not also a possibility that the bishop would reject him-would be compelled to reject him-upon learning that his character for honesty was impugned?

All this and much more he saw as he stood by the bedside of the injured boy, waiting for him to speak. While waiting he offered a fervent prayer to the Sacred Heart for direction for himself, and that if it were in Stockley's power to do so, he might clear up everything.

To see Henning at this moment one would never imagine that he was very much excited. His two friends thought he was taking the matter very coolly. He stood at the bedside with his hands in the side pockets of his trousers, and with as much apparent nonchalance as if he were watching a ball-game.

Perceiving that Stockley would not, or at least did not begin the conversation, he remarked:

"I am sorry that you have met with so serious and so terrible an accident."

There was no reply. Stockley put out his uninjured hand, but Roy did not take it. He felt that there was something in the character of the boy lying before him that was entirely antagonistic to his own character and disposition. They were the opposites of each other in almost everything. The one was animated with noble and generous impulses, with exalted ideals of life and duty and goodness. The other, as far as Roy had known him, was the antithesis of all this. Seeing that Stockley did not speak, he again made an attempt to open the conversation.

"The infirmarian tells me that you wish to say something to me."

"Yes," said the other in a low voice. He was really suffering a great deal of pain. "Yes, won't you all take chairs? Sit down, all of you."

"Thanks, I prefer to stand," said Roy, but the other two found seats.

"But it is rather a long story I have determined to tell. It will take some time."

Roy sat down.

"That's right. It makes it easier for me to say what I am going to tell."

Henning nodded his head, without venturing a reply.

"You seem rather sour with me."

"No. Excuse me if I appear so. I am anxious to hear what you have to say."

"By the way, where is Smithers? Why hasn't he been up here to see me? Where is he?"

"I know nothing about him. You know I have only arrived from home this morning. As yet I have no news of the yard."

"Well, he might have come, seeing how thick we have been. But there! I'm not going to say anything about him, or about anybody but myself."

Roy nodded his head in approbation.

"Ah! that suits you. You pious fellows are so particular about what is said about one's neighbor. I must be careful. You are right, of course, and besides I received a pretty close call, up there on the hillside, so I am going to try to undo some of the harm I have done. The chaplain has urged me, too."

"Yes, be careful, please. But what is your story?"

"I was brought up," he began in a low voice, "in a strange, unwholesome way. I suppose h

eredity, or at least environment, must have something to do with my tendencies and disposition. The only piece of good fortune I have had was in being sent to St. Cuthbert's, but, now when it is too late, I see how I have missed my chances here. Ever since I can remember, my father has been a heavy drinker and our home has been one of squalid discomfort, and I became more or less soured with everything and everybody and found myself doing many a mean thing. Do you know who it was who put the suspicion of theft on you? Three of us worked that, or strictly speaking, two; It was I and Smithers, and occasionally-once in a great while-your cousin Garrett."

"So I have thought all along; in fact I knew it," said Henning, "but why on earth did you do such a thing? Do you not know how much I have suffered from this? And you must know how terribly hard this was to bear."

"I know very well. Why did we do it? I, for one, was thoroughly envious of your popularity. I was angry, as a good many others were, at your refusal to play baseball or football. I did not, and to tell you the truth, do not like you, and I wanted to do something to vex you. Of course I see these things now in a different light after confession. You know I have been to confession, don't you."

"I suspected as much. I am glad of that. So you started the cowardly rumor against my honesty all the time knowing I was innocent."

Henning was determined to be diplomatic, so the question was not put as in anger, or with any apparent excitement or resentment, but rather as if he were helping the boy make a full confession by suggesting to him facts known to both.

"Yes, I acted this way knowing you to be innocent," answered Stockley.

"Did you realize that you might have ruined me for life?"

"To be honest, I never dreamed of such a result. It was done simply to annoy you, and for no other reason, on my part."

"Did you suggest this to Garrett or he to you?" asked Roy.

"To do him justice, I must say that we, Smithers and I, suggested it to him. We had a hard job to bring him over, in fact he never did really come over. He would never let the letter be circulated."

"Letter! What letter? What do you mean?"

"Don't you know? That was my biggest card and it fell flat. Don't know? Oh, well, if you don't know about the letter, you must ask your cousin. He wouldn't give it up. I guess he's got it yet."

Roy was much mystified. He could not imagine what the letter could be, or what bearing it had on the case.

"Stockley, you have told us some things of importance. Now will you not go farther? You know I am innocent of the robbery, and of any possible connection with it?"

"No doubt about that," said the other.

"Now to make your story complete, and of immense value to me, will you not reiterate your statement before Bracebridge and Beecham here that you know me to be innocent of all the charges which have been circulated about me in the yard?"

"Why, yes. I repeat emphatically that you are guiltless of them all."

"Thanks! thanks! You are sure of what you say?"

"Quite sure. You are scot-free."

"Thanks again. Now, Stockley, as you are quite sure, do you not see the only way in which you can convince others that you are correct is to admit you know the thief?"

The boy on the bed laughed.

"Well, Henning, I suppose you think you have caught me nicely. You think I have either said too much or too little. If I had not been to confession I should not have allowed you to drive me into this corner, but I did not intend to stop at this. Yes, I will tell you the name of the thief."

"Who is he?"asked Roy, as calmly as he could, although he felt himself half choking with suppressed excitement.

"I must continue my story. When I have done you will know. What time is it?"

"Twenty minutes to ten," answered Roy.

"You've got it yet," said the boy, pointing his finger at Roy's watch, which he still held in his hand.

"What? The watch? Oh! yes."It was a rather small gold hunting-case watch.

"That watch was the cause of the robbery," said Stockley dramatically. Henning clicked the watch shut with a start, and put it back in his pocket.

"This watch the cause of the robbery! What on earth are you talking about? Your senses must be leaving you--"

"Just wait. You'll soon see I'm not wandering. Why should there be such an unequal distribution of wealth, and of the good things of the world? Why can you have all that heart can desire, and why must I get along with a mere pittance, just enough to make me wince under my own indigence? Look at my father and yours; my home and your home. Your father is a wealthy and honored lawyer with a home like a palace; mine, as I said before, one of squalid discomfort. My father gave me five dollars to get through the school year with, yours probably gave you a hundred."

Henning began to pity the boy. Laying his hand gently on Stockley he said:

"Hold on. I begin to catch your view, but you are getting on too fast. I am going to tell you something which I have never breathed to a living soul. Do you know how much money I had to spend this year?"

"As I said," replied the other, "about a hundred, or perhaps much more."

"You are mistaken. I had just twenty-five dollars-not one cent more-and you see that's a very small amount for me, because I am supposed-just as you suppose now-to have plenty."

"Oh! Come off! You gave Smithers nearly ten,"

"I know it, and it left me fifteen."

Jack and Ambrose were never so surprised in their lives-and felt like cheering. Stockley remained silent. This was a revelation to him. He had supposed that a rich man's son, because he was a rich man's son, always had all the money he wanted. He was sharp enough to realize Roy's position during the year.

"My, that must have been hard on you,"

"It was hard," replied Roy.

Another long pause. The injured boy was thinking new thoughts.

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