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The High School Freshmen; or, Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9361

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"What's wrong mother? Have you heard---" the boy began, as soon as the door was closed.

"Yes, Richard."

"But, mother, I am inno---"

"Oh, Dick, of course you are! But this fearful suspicion is enough to kill one who loves you. Come! Your father is in the store. Dr. Thornton is upstairs. He and--and--a policeman.

"Policeman!" gasped Dick, paling instantly. "Do they mean to---"

"I don't know just what they mean, Dick I'm too dazed to guess," replied his mother. "But come upstairs."

As Dick entered their little parlor he was dimly aware that the High School principal was in the room. But the boy's whole gaze was centered on a quiet little man--Hemingway, the plain clothes man from the police station.

"Don't look scared to death, Prescott," urged Dr. Thornton, with a faint attempt at a smile. "We want to go through with a little formality--that is all. This matter at the High School has puzzled me to such a degree that I left early today and went to consult with Mr. Hemingway. Now, he thought it best that we come around here and have a talk with you."

"I can begin that talk best," pursued Hemingway, "by asking you,

Prescott, whether you have anything that you want to say first-off?"

"I can't say anything," replied Dick, slowly, "except that I know nothing as to how any of the articles missed at school came to vanish. Ripley's pin was found in my pocket today, and I can only guess that some one--Ripley, perhaps dropped it in my pocket. Ripley has some feelings of enmity for me, anyway. We had a fight last week, and--" Dick could not repress a smile--"I thrashed him so that he was out of school for several days."

"But Ripley was not at school for the last few days, until today," broke in Dr. Thornton. "Now, a pin and a watch were missed while Ripley was not attending school."

"I know it, sir," Dick nodded. "As to those two articles I cannot offer even the ghost of an explanation."

"I don't like to accuse you of taking Ripley's scarf-pin, nor do I like to suspect him of putting up such a contemptible trick," explained Dr. Thornton, thoughtfully. "As far as the incident of the scarf-pin goes I am willing to admit that your explanation is just as likely to be good as is any other."

"Prescott, what did you do with the other pin and the watch?" shot in Policeman Hemingway, suddenly and compellingly.

It was well done. Had Dick been actually guilty, he might either have betrayed himself, or gone to stammering. But, as it was, he smiled, wanly, as he replied:

"I didn't do anything with them, Mr. Hemingway. I have just been explaining that."

"How much money have you about you at this moment?" demanded Hemingway.

"Two cents, I believe," laughed Dick, beginning to turn out his pockets. He produced the two copper coins, and held them out to the special officer.

"You may have more about you, then, somewhere," hinted the officer.

"Find it, then," begged Dick, frankly, as he stepped forward.

"Search me. I'll allow it, and shall be glad to have you do it."

So Policeman Hemingway made the search, with the speed and skill of an expert.

"No; you've no more money about you," admitted the policeman.

"You may have some put away, though."

"Where would it be likely to be?" Dick inquired.

"In your room, perhaps; in your baggage, or hidden behind books; oh, there's a lot of places where a boy can hide money in his own room."

"Come along and show me a few of them, then, won't you please?" challenged the young freshman.

Mrs. Prescott, who had been hovering near the doorway, gave a gasp of dismay. To her tortured soul this police investigation seemed to be the acme of disgrace. It all pointed to the arrest of her boy--to a long term in some jail or reformatory, most likely.

"Madame," asked the plain clothes man, stepping to the door, "will you give your full consent to my searching your son's room--in the presence of yourself and of Dr. Thornton, of course? I am obliged to ask your permission, for, without a search warrant I have no other legal right than that which you may give me."

"Of course you may search Richard's room," replied his mother, quickly. "But you'll be wasting your time, for you'll find nothing incriminating in my boy's room."

"Of course not, of course not," replied Hemingway, soothingly. "That is what we most want--not to find anything there. Will you lead the way, please? Prescott, you may come and see the search also."

So the four filed into the little room that served Dick as sleeping apartment, study-room, den, library and all. Hemingway moved quickly about, exploring the pockets of Dick's other clothing hanging

there. He delved into, under and behind all of the few books there. This plain clothes man moved from place to place with a speed and certainty that spoke of his long years of practice in this sort of work.

"There's nothing left but the trunk, now," declared the policeman, bending over and trying the lock. "The key to this, Prescott!"

Dick produced the key. Hemingway fitted it in the lock, throwing up the lid. The trunk was but half filled, mostly with odds and ends, for Dick was not a boy of many possessions. After a few moments the policeman deftly produced, from the bottom, a gold watch. This he laid on the floor without a word, and continued the search. In another moment he had produced the jeweled pin that exactly answered the description of the one belonging to Mrs. Edwards.

Dick gave a gasp, then a low groan. A heart-broken sob welled up in Mrs. Prescott's throat. Dr. Thornton turned as white as chalk. Hemingway, an old actor in such things, did not show what he felt--if he really felt it at all.

"These are the missing articles, aren't they?" asked the policeman, straightening up and passing watch and pin to the High School principal.

"I believe them to be," nodded Dr. Thornton, brokenly.

Mrs. Prescott had staggered forward, weeping and throwing her arms around her son.

"O, Richard! Richard, my boy!" was all she could say.

"Mother, I know nothing about how those things came to be in my trunk," protested the boy, sturdily. After his first groan the young freshman, being all grit by nature, straightened up, feeling that he could look all the world in the eye. Only his mother's grief, and the knowledge that his father was soon to be hurt, appealed to the softer side of young Prescott's nature.

"Mother, I have not stolen anything," the boy said, more solemnly, after a pause. "I am your son. You believe me, don't you?"

"I'd stake my life on your innocence when you've given me your word!" declared that loyal woman.

"The chief said I was to take your instructions, Dr. Thornton," hinted Hemingway.

"Yes; I heard the order given," nodded the now gloomy High

School principal.

"Shall I arrest young Prescott?"

At that paralyzing question Dick's mother did not cry out. She kissed her son, then went just past the open doorway, where she halted again.

"I hesitate about seeing any boy start from his first offense with a criminal record," replied the principal, slowly. "If I were convinced that this would be the last offense I certainly would not favor any prosecution. Prescott, could you promise---"

"Then you believe, sir, that I stole the things that you hold in your hand?" demanded the young freshman, steadily.

"I don't want to believe it," protested Dr. Thornton. "It seems wicked--monstrous--to believe that any fine, bright, capable boy like you can be---"

Dr. Thornton all but broke down. Then he added, in a hoarse whisper:

"--a thief."

"I'm not one," rejoined Dick. "And, not very far into the future lies the day when I'm going to prove it to you."

"If you can," replied Dr. Thornton, "you'll make me as happy as you do yourself and your parents."

"Let me have the watch and pin to turn over to the chief, doctor," requested Hemingway, and took the articles. "Now, for the boy---?"

"I'm not going to have him arrested," replied the principal, "unless the superintendent or the Board of Education so direct me."

From the other side of the doorway could be heard a stifled cry of delight.

"Then we may as well be going, doctor. You'll come to the station with me, won't you?"

"In one moment," replied the principal. He turned to Dick, sorrowfully holding out his hand.

"Prescott, whatever I may do will be the result of long and careful thought, or at the order of the superintendent or of the Board of Education. If you really are guilty, I hope you will pause, think and resolve, ere it is too late, to make a man of yourself hereafter. If you are innocent, I hope, with all my heart, that you will succeed in proving it. And to that end you may have any possible aid that I can give you. Goodbye, Prescott. Goodbye, madam! May peace be with you."

Half way down the stairs Dr. Thornton turned around to say:

"Of course, you quite comprehend, Prescott, that, pending official action by the school authorities, you must be suspended from the Gridley High School!"

As soon as the door had closed Dick half-tottered back into his room. He did not close the door, but crossed to the window, where he stood looking out upon a world that had darkened fearfully.

Then, without having heard a step, Dick Prescott felt his mother's arms enfold him.

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