They were Duncan and Montagu, and as they passed the door, Eric pretended to be plunged in books.
“Hallo, Eric! grinding as usual,” said Duncan, good-humoredly; but he only got a sickly smile in reply.
“What! are you the only fellow in the studies?” asked Montagu. “I was nearly sure I heard some one moving about as we came up stairs.”
“I don’t think there’s any one here but me,” said Eric, “and I’m going a walk now.”
He closed his books with, a bang, flew down stairs, and away through the play-ground towards the shore But he could not so escape his thoughts. “Eric, you are a thief! Eric, you are a thief!” rang in his ear. “Yes,” he thought; “I am even a thief. Oh, good God, yes, even a thief, for I had actually stolen the money, until I changed my mind. What if they should discover the key in the box, knowing that I was the only fellow up stairs? Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy!”
It was a lonely place, and he flung himself, with his face hid in the coarse grass, trying to cool the wild burning of his brow. And as he lay, he thrust his hand into the guilty pocket. Good heavens! there was something still there. He pulled it out; it was a sovereign! Then he WAS a thief, even actually. Oh, everything was against him; and, starting to his feet, he flung the accursed gold over the rocks far into the sea.
When he got home he felt so inconceivably wretched that, unable to work, he begged leave to go to bed at once. It was long before he fell asleep; but when he did, the sleep was more terrible than the haunted wakefulness. For he had no rest from tormenting and horrid dreams. Brigson and Billy, their bodies grown to gigantic proportions, and their faces fierce with demoniacal wickedness, seemed to be standing over him, and demanding five pounds on pain of death. Flights of pigeons darkening the air, settled on him, and flapped about him. He fled from them madly through the dark midnight, but many steps pursued him. He saw Mr. Rose, and running up, seized him by the hand, and implored protection. But in his dream Mr. Rose turned from him with a cold look of sorrowful reproach. And then he saw Wildney, and cried out to him, “O Charlie, save me;” but Charlie ran away, saying, “Williams, you are a thief!” and then a chorus of voices took up that awful cry, voices of expostulation, voices of contempt, voices of indignation, voices of menace; they took up the cry, and repeated and re-echoed it; but, most unendurable of all, there were voices of wailing and voices of gentleness among them, and his soul died within him as he caught, amid the confusion of condemning sounds, the voices of Russell and Vernon, and they, too, were saying to him, in tender pity and agonized astonishment, “Eric, Eric, you are a thief!”
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND