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Prince Duncan, who was a magistrate, directed the arrest of Luke on a charge of robbing the Groveton Bank. The constable who was called upon to make the arrest performed the duty unwillingly.
"I don't believe a word of it, Luke," he said. "It's perfect nonsense to say you have robbed the bank. I'd as soon believe myself guilty."
Luke was not taken to the lock-up, but was put in the personal custody of Constable Perkins, who undertook to be responsible for his appearance at the trial.
"You mustn't run away, or you'll get me into trouble, Luke," said the good-natured constable.
"It's the last thing I'd be willing to do, Mr. Perkins," said
Luke, promptly. "Then everybody would decide that I was guilty.
I am innocent, and want a chance to prove it."
What was to be done with the tin box, was the next question.
"I will take it over to my house," said Squire Duncan.
"I object," said Mr. Beane.
"Do you doubt my integrity?" demanded the bank president, angrily.
"No; but it is obviously improper that any one of us should take charge of the box before it has been opened and its contents examined. We are not even certain that it is the one missing from the bank."
As Mr. Beane was a lawyer, Prince Duncan, though unwillingly, was obliged to yield. The box, therefore, was taken to the bank and locked up in the safe till wanted.
It is hardly necessary to say that the events at the cottage of Mrs. Larkin, and Luke's arrest, made a great sensation in the village. The charge that Luke had robbed the bank was received not only with surprise, but with incredulity. The boy was so well and so favorably known in Groveton that few could be found to credit the charge. There were exceptions, however. Melinda Sprague enjoyed the sudden celebrity she had achieved as the original discoverer of the thief who had plundered the bank. She was inclined to believe that Luke was guilty, because it enhanced her own importance.
"Most people call Luke a good boy," she said, "but there was always something about him that made me suspicious. There was something in his expression—I can't tell you what—that set me to thinkin' all wasn't right. Appearances are deceitful, as our old minister used to say."
"They certainly are, if Luke is a bad boy and a thief," retorted the other, indignantly. "You might be in better business, Melinda, than trying to take away the character of a boy like Luke."
"I only did my duty," answered Melinda, with an air of superior virtue. "I had no right to keep secret what I knew about the robbery."
"You always claimed to be a friend of the Larkins. Only last week you took tea there."
"That's true. I am a friend now, but I can't consent to cover up inquiry. Do you know whether the bank has offered any reward for the detection of the thief?"
"No," said the other, shortly, with a look of contempt at the eager spinster. "Even if it did, and poor Luke were found guilty, it would be blood-money that no decent person would accept."
"Really, Mrs. Clark, you have singular ideas," said the discomfited Melinda. "I ain't after no money. I only mean to do my duty, but if the bank should recognize the value of my services, it would be only right and proper."
There was another who heard with great satisfaction of Luke's arrest. This was Randolph Duncan. As it happened, he was late in learning that his rival had got into trouble, not having seen his father since breakfast.
"This is great news about Luke," said his friend Sam Noble, meeting him on the street.
"What news? I have heard nothing," said Randolph, eagerly.
"He has been arrested."
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Randolph. "What has he done?"
"Robbed the bank of a tin box full of bonds. It was worth an awful lot of money."
"Well, well!" ejaculated Randolph. "I always thought he was a boy of no principle."
"The tin box was found in his mother's trunk."
"What did Luke say? Did he own up?"
"No; he brazened it out. He said the box was given him to take care of by some mysterious stranger."
"That's too thin. How was it traced to Luke?"
"It seems Old Maid Sprague"—it was lucky for Melinda's peace of mind that she did not hear this contemptuous reference to her—"went to the Widow Larkin's house one day and saw the tin box in her trunk."
"She didn't leave the trunk open, did she?"
"No; but she had it open, looking into it, when old Melinda crept upstairs softly and caught her at it."
"I suppose Luke will have to go to State's prison," said Randolph, with a gratified smile.
"I hope it won't be quite so bad as that," said Sam, who was not equal in malice to his aristocratic friend.
"I haven't any pity for him," said Randolph, decidedly. "If he chooses to steal, he must expect to be punished."
Just then Mr. Hooper, the grammar-school teacher, came up.
"Mr. Hooper," said Randolph, eagerly, "have you heard about Luke?"
"I have heard that he has been removed from his janitorship, and
I'm sorry for it."
"If he goes to jail he wouldn't be able to be janitor," said
"Goes to jail! What do you mean?" demanded the teacher, sharply.
Hereupon Randolph told the story, aided and assisted by Sam Noble, to whom he referred as his authority.
"This is too ridiculous!" said Mr. Hooper, contemptuously. "Luke is no thief, and if he had the tin box he has given the right explanation of how he came by it."
"I know he is a favorite of yours, Mr. Hooper, but that won't save him from going to jail," said Randolph, tartly.
"If he is a favorite of mine," said the teacher, with dignity, "it is for a very good reason. I have always found him to be a high-minded, honorable boy, and I still believe him to be so, in spite of the grave accusation that has been brought against him."
There was something in the teacher's manner that deterred Randolph from continuing his malicious attack upon Luke. Mr. Hooper lost no time in inquiring into the facts of the case, and then in seeking out Luke, whom he found in the constable's house.
"Luke," he said, extending his hand, "I have heard that you were in trouble, and I have come to see what I can do for you."
"You are very kind, Mr. Hooper," said Luke, gratefully. "I hope you don't believe me guilty."
"I would as soon believe myself guilty of the charge, Luke."
"That's just what I said, Mr. Hooper," said Constable Perkins.
"Just as if there wasn't more than one tin box in the world."
"You never told any one that you had a tin box in your custody,
I suppose, Luke?"
"No, sir; the man who asked me to take care of it especially cautioned me to say nothing about it."
"What was his name?"
"Do you know where to find him? It would be of service to you if you could obtain his evidence. It would clear you at once."
"I wish I could, sir, but I have no idea where to look for him."
"That is unfortunate," said the teacher, knitting his brows in perplexity. "When are you to be brought to trial?"
"To-morrow, I hear."
"Well, Luke, keep up a good heart and hope for the best."
"I mean to, sir."
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