Right Tackle Todd
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“Just as I did,” Jim had said.
“Yeah. But, say, kid, honest I wasn’t meanin’ to bleed you. I really meant to go to Norwalk the day after I first saw you, just like I told you. But somethin’ sort o’ prevented.”
“There’s another thing, Webb. I’m going to see the Judge in the morning before he goes into court. The Police Captain said he’d fix it so I could. And I’m going to tell him you ain’t really a – a loafer, and about how good you used to be to me, Webb, and I guess he won’t be hard on you. But if I do that you must give me back that money, what’s left of it.”
“All of it? Well, but listen, kid, how am I goin’ to get to Norwalk?”
“I’ll bring you enough for that. How much does it cost on the train?”
“Four dollars.” Jim blinked at that, and then Webb had said: “That’s a lie, kid. Two-eighty’s the price.”
“I’ll get it. That other money, what you stole from Clem Harland, must go back to him. Remember, Webb, I’ll have to pay back what you used of it, and the five dollars I borrowed for you besides, and it ain’t going to be easy. Father’s pretty hard up this year, and I don’t get but ten dollars a month.”
“Yeah, I know about your father. I wrote and tried to make a touch awhile back, but nothin’ stirrin’. Well, what you say goes, kid. You’re sure white, and I won’t forget it.”
When he had reached the door Webb had called: “Say, kid, if you’ve got a quarter you ain’t needin’ you might hand it to the old guy there an’ tell him to fetch me in some supper. I’ll bet the cuisine at this hotel’s rotten.”
Jim had thrust a hand into an empty pocket and replied regretfully: “I haven’t got it, Webb.”
“All right, kid. Don’t you worry. I ate good a while back. See you to-morrow.”
Now, staring at the unsullied sheet of note paper before him and tapping his teeth with the end of his fountain pen, Jim was wondering where and how he was to get two dollars and eighty cents to give to Webb in the morning. He was determined that all that was left of Clem’s twenty-two dollars should go back to him untouched. Webb ought to have more than the mere price of his fare, too. He seemed certain that he had only to reach Norwalk to find work, but he would have to have money for food to eat to-morrow and the part of the next at least. Four dollars wouldn’t be a cent too much. Jim went to his closet and looked over his none too ample wardrobe. Jim knew nothing of institutions that loaned money on personal property and allowed you the privilege of redeeming it; he was trying to decide whether his heavy winter overcoat which, if truth were told, was far heavier than it was warm, or the light-weight suit he had worn back to school in the fall could be best given up. Either one ought to sell for a good deal more than four dollars; but how much more he didn’t know. His movements dislodged the football from the shelf above and it dropped with a startling thud on his head. He picked it up and was looking it over appraisingly when the door opened and Clem entered.
Clem said “Hello,” glancing briefly from Jim’s face to the ball in his hands, and turned to his own closet to hang up his cap.If there was anything unaccustomed in his tone Jim didn’t notice it. He was thinking of what he had to say and wondering how Clem was going to take it. He walked back to the table, stared down at the waiting letter paper and, when Clem turned away from the closet, said: “I’m terribly sorry about what happened to-day, Clem.”
After a slight hesitation Clem replied: “Yes. Well, so am I, Jim.” It sounded as though he had tried to speak lightly, but he had only succeeded in sounding oddly stiff. Jim looked across inquiringly, but Clem had seated himself on his side of the table and was pulling over his books.
“I’m going to get what’s left of that money in the morning,” Jim continued, “and give it back to you. There’s only a little over sixteen dollars of it, though, and so I’m owing you eleven now. I’m going to write to dad and ask him to send me ten and take it out of my December and January allowances. Then – then I thought of another way, but I don’t know – I ain’t sure about that yet.”
“Don’t bother about it,” said Clem. “I don’t care a hang if you never pay it back.” He opened a book, propped his elbows and indicated that the subject was closed. Something in his voice and attitude puzzled Jim, and he jumped to a conclusion.
“I guess I know how you feel,” he said. “It – it isn’t very pleasant to find that the fellow you’re rooming with has a cousin – well, a sort of a cousin – who’s a – a thief. I sort of wish you hadn’t gone over there with me, Clem.”
Clem lifted his head and stared a moment. Then he laughed shortly. “Well, I can certainly believe that!” he said.
“What I mean is if you hadn’t known about Webb, about his being related to me, it wouldn’t have troubled you. But I’d sort of like you to believe that he ain’t – isn’t really bad, Clem. If you had known him five or six years ago – ”
“Look here, Jim, let me understand you. This cousin of yours, or whatever he is, is a ne’er-do-well, all right; I guess you could call him a bum without being sued for libel, but just what do you mean by calling him a thief?”
“Why, I – well, I don’t want to call him that, Clem, because I – I’m awfully fond of him, but I guess I’ve got to, haven’t I, after what happened?”
“What did happen?” asked Clem brusquely.
Jim stared in puzzlement. “Why, he stole your money, Clem!”
“Oh, I see. Your cousin stole it.”
“Well – well, didn’t he?” asked Jim. “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you hear what that man said, the Police Captain? I thought – ”
“Yes, I saw and heard both, Jim, and – Look here, suppose we leave the word ‘stole’ out of it. Let’s say ‘borrowed.’ It sounds better. Anyway, what’s the good of talking about it any more? You’re sorry and I’m sorry. Let it go that way.”
“We-ell, all right,” answered Jim dubiously. “Only I wanted you to know that you were going to get your money back, Clem.”
“I’ve told you I didn’t care about that. Besides, hang it all, Jim, if this fellow Webb stole it why don’t you let him pay it back? If he stole it where does your liability come in?”
“Why, he couldn’t pay it back, Clem. Or he wouldn’t, I guess. He’s promised to go straight, but I don’t know if he will. I’m responsible, of course. If it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t have come here and taken it.”
“When was it he took it?” asked Clem coldly.
“About three, he said. The other night he saw you get your keys out and open the suit-case, and he heard us talking, and to-day – ”
“Saw us through the door, eh?”
“No, he says the door wasn’t quite closed. But he didn’t think of stealing the money until to-day. He came up here to ask me for another loan, and we were both out, and he remembered about the money in the suit-case and – and took it.”
“And no one saw him?” asked Clem incredulously.
“He says Mr. Tarbot saw him go by his study but didn’t pay any attention.”
“That’s hard to believe. And look here, Jim, I don’t remember that door being ajar. My recollection is that you closed it tight when you came in from the hall.”
“I guess I meant to, but maybe I didn’t, because Webb saw you go to your drawer and get the keys.”
Clem jumped up impatiently, went to the door and set it open an inch or two. “Like that?” he asked, with a trace of sarcasm. “Tell me how he could have seen me go to the closet and open the bag on the floor there.”
“He couldn’t.” Jim was finding his chum’s manner more puzzling every minute. “He didn’t say he did. He only said he saw you open the drawer and get the bunch of keys. The rest he just heard.”
Clem shrugged as he closed the door again and went back to his chair. Jim was watching him anxiously, disturbed by something he couldn’t define. “Over there at the police station,” said Clem, after a moment’s silence, “the Captain told us that your – friend said he got the money from you.”
“Yes,” agreed Jim, frowning.
“And you said so, too, didn’t you?”
“Of course! What else could I say? I had to lie, Clem. If I hadn’t they’d have accused him of theft. I thought you understood why I was doing it!”
“Oh! Yes, I see.”
Suddenly Jim realized. Indignation sent the blood flooding up into his cheeks and for an instant his hands clutched the back of the chair on which they rested until the knuckles showed white. He stifled the exclamation of angry dismay that rushed to his lips, and in the moment he realized that, on evidence alone, Clem was fairly entitled to his belief. Yes, circumstances undoubtedly pointed to him rather than to Webb as the culprit! But the thought that Clem could believe him a thief, on any sort of evidence save that of his own eyesight, hurt him horribly. He felt almost sick for a minute.
Clem’s eyes were on the book opened before him, but I doubt that he saw the words there. He was secretly at odds with himself. He had returned to the room determined to make no reference to the affair of the stolen money. It had not occurred to him that Jim had sought to protect Webb. It did not occur to him now, seriously. Webb had demanded more money, Jim had known about the twenty-two dollars and had yielded to a sudden temptation. That was how Clem figured it. The mere act of thievery didn’t seem so bad to him, nor did the loss of the money – if it proved a loss – trouble him at all. But he felt terribly injured, spiritually bruised, by the revelation that Jim could do so small and mean an act. He had, almost without realizing it, grown very fond of Jim, and now the discovery that the latter was not worthy of the affection wounded him sorely. But he had meant to keep all this to himself; Jim, he had thought, would be glad to say no more of the affair; and he would have done so if Jim had not made matters worse by attempting to shift the blame to Webb. That had turned Clem’s sorrow to disgust and, finally, to something close to anger. To him, accusing Webb was far worse than taking the money. The latter was capable of palliation if one granted sudden temptation, but to seek to clear himself at the expense of another, one who could not testify on his own behalf, was indefensible; it was the worst of all offenses to Clem’s eyes, it was poor sportsmanship!
Jim’s voice broke the silence finally. It was harsh and strained, for he was trying desperately to hide his hurt, and it was so low that it scarcely carried across the table.
“Clem,” he said, “are you thinking that I stole that money?”
Clem looked up, his face oddly expressionless. “I thought we had agreed to leave that word out of it.”
“What does it matter what you call it?” asked Jim, his voice trembling a trifle in spite of his efforts to keep it steady. “You are thinking it! You don’t dare look me in the face and deny it!”
Clem frowned. “Let’s not be tiresome, Jim. It’s done. Let’s not say anything more about it.”
There was another silence. Then: “All right,” said Jim. “I will never speak of it again – until you do.” The strained expression went out of his face, but it remained white and grim as he seated himself in his chair and took up his pen once more. Now there was no hesitation. The sprawling letters followed each other rapidly across the white sheet. “Friday,” he wrote; “Dear Father: I am sorry to have to ask you for money again but I must have twelve dollars within a few days. This is right important. I want you should take it out of my allowances for December, January and February, so I’m not asking anything extra. Please try hard to send me this twelve dollars just as soon as you get this letter. I’m not in trouble, so you don’t need to be worried any, and when I see you I’ll tell you what I have to have it for. I am well and getting along nicely – ”
Jim paused there and stared sadly at the base of the lamp for a long moment before he went on.