Jill worried about it more than he did, for she was a faithful little friend, and it was a great trial to have Jack even suspected of doing anything wrong. School is a child's world while he is there, and its small affairs are very important to him, so Jill felt that the one thing to be done was to clear away the cloud about her dear boy, and restore him to public favor.
"Ed will be here Saturday night and maybe he will find out, for Jack tells him everything. I do hate to have him hectored so, for I know he is, though he's too proud to complain," she said, on Thursday evening, when Frank told her some joke played upon his brother that day.
"I let him alone, but I see that he isn't badgered too much. That's all I can do. If Ed had only come home last Saturday it might have done some good, but now it will be too late; for the reports are given out to-morrow, you know," answered Frank, feeling a little jealous of Ed's influence over Jack, though his own would have been as great if he had been as gentle.
"Has Jerry come back?" asked Jill, who kept all her questions for Frank, because she seldom alluded to the tender subject when with Jack.
"No, he's off for the summer. Got a place somewhere. Hope he'll stay there and let Bob alone."
"Where is Bob now? I don't hear much about him lately," said Jill, who was constantly on the lookout for "the other fellow," since it was not Joe.
"Oh, he went to Captain Skinner's the first of March, chores round, and goes to school up there. Captain is strict, and won't let Bob come to town, except Sundays; but he don't mind it much, for he likes horses, has nice grub, and the Hill fellows are good chaps for him to be with. So he's all right, if he only behaves."
"How far is it to Captain Skinner's?" asked Jill suddenly, having listened, with her sharp eyes on Frank, as he tinkered away at his model, since he was forbidden all other indulgence in his beloved pastime.
"It's four miles to Hill District, but the Captain lives this side of the school-house. About three from here, I should say."
"How long would it take a boy to walk up there?" went on the questioner, with a new idea in her head.
"Depends on how much of a walkist he is."
"Suppose he was lame and it was sloshy, and he made a call and came back. How long would that take?" asked Jill impatiently.
"Well, in that case, I should say two or three hours. But it's impossible to tell exactly, unless you know how lame the fellow was, and how long a call he made," said Frank, who liked to be accurate.
"Jack couldn't do it in less, could he?"
"He used to run up that hilly road for a breather, and think nothing of it. It would be a long job for him now, poor little chap, for his leg often troubles him, though he hates to own it."
Jill lay back and laughed, a happy little laugh, as if she was pleased about something, and Frank looked over his shoulder to ask questions in his turn.
"What are you laughing at?"
"Why do you want to know about Hill District? Are you going there?"
"Wish I could! I'd soon have it out of him."
"Never mind. Please push up my table. I must write a letter, and I want you to post it for me to-night, and never say a word till I give you leave.
"Oh, now you are going to have secrets and be mysterious, and get into a mess, are you?" and Frank looked down at her with a suspicious air, though he was intensely curious to know what she was about.
"Go away till I'm done. You will have to see the outside, but you can't know the inside till the answer comes"; and propping herself up, Jill wrote the following note, with some hesitation at the beginning and end, for she did not know the gentleman she was addressing, except by sight, and it was rather awkward:
"Dear Sir, I want to ask if Jack Minot came to see you last Friday afternoon. He got into trouble being seen with Jerry Shannon. He paid him some money. Jack won't tell, and Mr. Acton talked to him about it before all the school. We feel bad, because we think Jack did not do wrong. I don't know as you have anything to do with it, but I thought I'd ask. Please answer quick. Respectfully yours,
To make sure that her despatch was not tampered with, Jill put a great splash of red sealing-wax on it, which gave it a very official look, and much impressed Bob when he received it.
"There! Go and post it, and don't let anyone see or know about it," she said, handing it over to Frank, who left his work with unusual alacrity to do her errand. When his eye fell on the address, he laughed, and said in a teasing way,
"Are you and Bob such good friends that you correspond? What will Jack say?"
"Don't know, and don't care! Be good, now, and let's have a little secret as well as other folks. I'll tell you all about it when he answers," said Jill in her most coaxing tone.
"Suppose he doesn't?"
"Then I shall send you up to see him. I must know something, and I want to do it myself, if I can."
"Look here; what are you after? I do believe you think----" Frank got no farther, for Jill gave a little scream, and stopped him by crying eagerly, "Don't say it out loud! I really do believe it may be, and I'm going to find out."
"What made you think of him?" and Frank looked thoughtfully at the letter, as if turning carefully over in his mind the idea that Jill's quick wits had jumped at.
"Come here and I'll tell you."
Holding him by one button, she whispered something in his ear that made him exclaim, with a look at the rug,
"No! did he? I declare I shouldn't wonder! It would be just like the dear old blunder-head."
"I never thought of it till you told me where Bob was, and then it all sort of burst upon me in one minute!" cried Jill, waving her arms about to express the intellectual explosion which had thrown light upon the mystery, like sky-rockets in a dark night.
"You are as bright as a button. No time to lose; I'm off"; and off he was, splashing through the mud to post the letter, on the back of which he added, to make the thing sure, "Hurry up.
Both felt rather guilty next day, but enjoyed themselves very much nevertheless, and kept chuckling over the mine they were making under Jack's unconscious feet. They hardly expected an answer at noon, as the Hill people were not very eager for their mail, but at night Jill was sure of a letter, and to her great delight it came. Jack brought it himself, which added to the fun, and while she eagerly read it he sat calmly poring over the latest number of his own private and particular "Youth's Companion."
Bob was not a "complete letter-writer" by any means, and with great labor and much ink had produced the following brief but highly satisfactory epistle. Not knowing how to address his fair correspondent he let it alone, and went at once to the point in the frankest possible way:
"Jack did come up Friday. Sorry he got into a mess. It was real kind of him, and I shall pay him back soon. Jack paid Jerry for me and I made him promise not to tell. Jerry said he'd come here and make a row if I didn't cash up. I was afraid I'd lose the place if he did, for the Capt. is awful strict. If Jack don't tell now, I will. I ain't mean. Glad you wrote.
R. O. W."
"Hurrah!" cried Jill, waving the letter over her head in great triumph. "Call everybody and read it out," she added, as Frank snatched it, and ran for his mother, seeing at a glance that the news was good. Jill was so afraid she should tell before the others came that she burst out singing "Pretty Bobby Shafto" at the top of her voice, to Jack's great disgust, for he considered the song very personal, as he wa.s rather fond of "combing down his yellow hair," and Jill often plagued him by singing it when he came in with the golden quiris very smooth and nice to hide the scar on his forehead.
In about five minutes the door flew open and in came Mamma, making straight for bewildered Jack, who thought the family had gone crazy when his parent caught him in her arms, saying tenderly,
"My good, generous boy! I knew he was right all the time!" while Frank worked his hand up and down like a pump-handle, exclaiming heartily,
"You're a trump, sir, and I'm proud of you!" Jill meantime calling out, in wild delight,
"I told you so! I told you so! I did find out; ha, ha, I did!"
"Come, I say! What's the matter? I'm all right. Don't squeeze the breath out of me, please," expostulated Jack, looking so startled and innocent, as he struggled feebly, that they all laughed, and this plaintive protest caused him to be released. But the next proceeding did not enlighten him much, for Frank kept waving a very inky paper before him and ordering him to read it, while Mamma made a charge at Jill, as if it was absolutely necessary to hug somebody.
"Hullo!" said Jack, when he got the letter into his own hand and read it. "Now who put Bob up to this? Nobody had any business to interfere--but it's mighty good of him, anyway," he added, as the anxious lines in his round face smoothed themselves away, while a smile of relief told how hard it had been for him to keep his word.
"I did!" cried Jill, clapping her hands, and looking so happy that he could not have scolded her if he had wanted to.
"Who told you he was in the scrape?" demanded Jack, in a hurry to know all about it now the seal was taken off his own lips.
"You did"; and Jill's face twinkled with naughty satisfaction, for this was the best fun of all.
"I didn't! When? Where? It's a joke!"
"You did," cried Jill, pointing to the rug. "You went to sleep there after the long walk, and talked in your sleep about 'Bob' and 'All right, old boy,' and ever so much gibberish. I didn't think about it then, but when I heard that Bob was up there I thought maybe he knew something about it, and last night I wrote and asked him, and that's the answer, and now it is all right, and you are the best boy that ever was, and I'm so glad!"
Here Jill paused, all out of breath, and Frank said, with an approving pat on the head,
"It won't do to have such a sharp young person round if we are going to have secrets. You'd make a good detective, miss."
"Catch me taking naps before people again"; and Jack looked rather crestfallen that his own words had set "Fine Ear" on the track. "Never mind, I didn't mean to tell, though I just ached to do it all the time, so I haven't broken my word. I'm glad you all know, but you needn't let it get out, for Bob is a good fellow, and it might make trouble for him," added Jack, anxious lest his gain should be the other's loss.
"I shall tell Mr. Acton myself, and the Captain, also, for I'm not going to have my son suspected of wrong-doing when he has only tried to help a friend, and borne enough for his sake," said Mamma, much excited by this discovery of generous fidelity in her boy; though when one came to look at it calmly, one saw that it might have been done in a wiser way.
"Now, please, don't make a fuss about it; that would be most as bad as having everyone down on me. I can stand your praising me, but I won't be patted on the head by anybody else"; and Jack assumed a manly air, though his face was full of genuine boyish pleasure at being set right in the eyes of those he loved.
"I'll be discreet, dear, but you owe it to yourself, as well as Bob, to have the truth known. Both have behaved well, and no harm will come to him, I am sure. I'll see to that myself," said Mrs. Minot, in a tone that set Jack's mind at rest on that point.
"Now do tell all about it," cried Jill, who was pining to know the whole story, and felt as if she had earned the right to hear it.
"Oh, it wasn't much. We promised Ed to stand by Bob, so I did as well as I knew how"; and Jack seemed to think that was about all there was to say.
"I never saw such a fellow for keeping a promise! You stick to it through thick and thin, no matter how silly or hard it is. You remember, mother, last summer, how you told him not to go in a boat and he promised, the day we went on the picnic. We rode up, but the horse ran off home, so we had to come back by way of the river, all but Jack, and he walked every step of five miles because he wouldn't go near a boat, though Mr. Burton was there to take care of him. I call that rather overdoing the matter"; and Frank looked as if he thought moderation even in virtue a good thing.
"And I call it a fine sample of entire obedience. He obeyed orders, and that is what we all must do, without always seeing why, or daring to use our own judgment. It is a great safeguard to Jack, and a very great comfort to me; for I know that if he promises he will keep his word, no matter what it costs him," said Mamma warmly, as she tumbled up the quirls with an irrepressible caress, remembering how the boy came wearily in after all the others, without seeming for a moment to think that he could have done anything else.
"Like Casabianca!" cried Jill, much impressed, for obedience was her hardest trial.
"I think he was a fool to burn up," said Frank, bound not to give in.
"I don't. It's a splendid piece, and everyone likes to speak it, and it was true, and it wouldn't be in all the books if he was a fool. Grown people know what is good," declared Jill, who liked heroic actions, and was always hoping for a chance to distinguish herself in that way.
"You admire 'The Charge of the Light Brigade,' and glow all over as you thunder it out. Yet they went gallantly to their death rather than disobey orders. A mistake, perhaps, but it makes us thrill to hear of it; and the same spirit keeps my Jack true as steel when once his word is passed, or he thinks it is his duty. Don't be laughed out of it, my son, for faithfulness in little things fits one for heroism when the great trials come. One's conscience can hardly be too tender when honor and honesty are concerned."
"You are right, mother, and I am wrong. I beg your pardon, Jack, and you sha'n't get ahead of me next time."
Frank made his mother a little bow, gave his brother a shake of the hand, and nodded to Jill, as if anxious to show that he was not too proud to own up when he made a mistake.
"Please tell on, Jack. This is very nice, but I do want to know all about the other," said Jill, after a short pause.
"Let me see. Oh, I saw Bob at church, and he looked rather blue; so, after Sunday School, I asked what the matter was. He said Jerry bothered him for some money he lent him at different times when they were loafing round together, before we took him up. He wouldn't get any wages for some time. The Captain keeps him short on purpose, I guess, and won't let him come down town except on Sundays. He didn't want anyone to know about it, for fear he'd lose his place. So I promised I wouldn't tell. Then I was afraid Jerry would go and make a fuss, and Bob would run off, or do something desperate, being worried, and I said I'd pay it for him, if I could. So he went home pretty jolly, and I scratched 'round for the money. Got it, too, and wasn't I glad?"
Jack paused to rub his hands, and Frank said, with more than usual respect,
"Couldn't you get hold of Jerry in any other place, and out of school time? That did the mischief, thanks to Joe. I thrashed him, Jill--did I mention it?"
"I couldn't get all my money till Friday morning, and I knew Jerry was off at night. I looked for him before school, and at noon, but couldn't find him, so afternoon recess was my last chance. I was bound to do it and I didn't mean to break the rule, but Jerry was just going into the shop, so I pelted after him, and as it was private business we went to the billiard-room. I declare I never was so relieved as when I handed over that money, and made him say it was all right, and he wouldn't go near Bob. He's off, so my mind is easy, and Bob will be so grateful I can keep him steady, perhaps. That will be worth two seventy-five, I think," said Jack heartily.
"You should have come to me," began Frank.
"And got laughed at--no, thank you," interrupted Jack, recollecting several philanthropic little enterprises which were nipped in the bud for want of co-operation.
"To me, then," said his mother. "It would have saved so much trouble."
"I thought of it, but Bob didn't want the big fellows to know for fear they'd be down on him, so I thought he might not like me to tell grown people. I don't mind the fuss now, and Bob is as kind as he can be. Wanted to give me his big knife, but I wouldn't take it. I'd rather have this," and Jack put the letter in his pocket with a slap outside, as if it warmed the cockles of his heart to have it there.
"Well, it seems rather like a tempest in a teapot, now it is all over, but I do admire your pluck, little boy, in holding out so well when everyone was scolding at you, and you in the right all the time," said Frank, glad to praise, now that he honestly could, after his wholesale condemnation.
"That is what pulled me through, I suppose. I used to think if I had done anything wrong, that I couldn't stand the snubbing a day. I should have told right off, and had it over. Now, I guess I'll have a good report if you do tell Mr. Acton," said Jack, looking at his mother so wistfully, that she resolved to slip away that very evening, and make sure that the thing was done.
"That will make you happier than anything else, won't it?" asked Jill, eager to have him rewarded after his trials.
"There's one thing I like better, though I'd be very sorry to lose my report. It's the fun of telling Ed I tried to do as he wanted us to, and seeing how pleased he'll be," added Jack, rather bashfully, for the boys laughed at him sometimes for his love of this friend.
"I know he won't be any happier about it than someone else, who stood by you all through, and set her bright wits to work till the trouble was all cleared away," said Mrs. Minot, looking at Jill's contented face, as she lay smiling on them all.
Jack understood, and, hopping across the room, gave both the thin hands a hearty shake; then, not finding any words quite cordial enough in which to thank this faithful little sister, he stooped down and kissed her gratefully.