“Well, the last I saw of Chief Wambold,” continued Thad, “he was starting out to interview Deacon Winslow. You see, he believes the old blacksmith must have meant ten-fifteen instead of eleven. That would give Nick plenty of time to get back to town, so as to take part in the robbery of the Emporium.”
Hugh rubbed his hands together after the manner of one whose mind was completely satisfied.
“I fancy he’ll have all his trouble for his pains,” he went on to say calmly.
“Meaning that the deacon will stick to his statement, and so clear Nick of complicity in the crime—is that it, Hugh?”
“We all know Deacon Winslow to be a reliable man,” Hugh told him. “He is accustomed to dealing in figures, and not inclined to make a mistake about the time. I’d wager now he has something positive to settle the matter of Nick’s staying there, working at the forge, and learning how to be a blacksmith, until exactly fifteen minutes after eleven.”
“Well,” said Thad, scratching his head as though still confused, “things look pretty queer to me, and I hardly know what to believe about that Nick Lang.”
At that Hugh, having finished his work in connection with the care of his tame pets, turned around and faced his chum.
“On my part, Thad,” he was saying, quietly but sincerely, “I’m getting to be hopeful of Nick. I honestly believe that fellow has seen a great light. I think he’s made up his mind to turn over a new leaf and redeem his rotten past. And I want to say here and now it’s up to every boy in Scranton High to treat him decently while he’s still fighting his old impulses of evil. I know I shall let him feel I believe in him, until he does something to forfeit my esteem.”
“That’s just like you, Hugh; and I guess the rest of us ought to be ashamed to throw any stumbling block in the way of a chap who is trying to get out of his old rut. But it passes my comprehension how he can change, and play fair and square, when all his life he’s been so tricky and low-down mean.”
“As for that, lots of men who were once down in the gutter have reformed, and proved giants in helping others to get up to respectability again. Take that Jean Valjean we were talking about the other day, who changed right-about-face, and became just as fine a man as he was bad before. You don’t suppose it all came in a flash, do you?”
“Why, no, of course not, Hugh. He was the lowest sort of a beast, as pictured by Hugo, with the vilest ideas concerning human nature. After he had that revelation, and saw the good priest actually tell a lie in order to save him, he woke up, and, as you said, began thinking for himself. Then the change came gradually, and he determined to work to help those who were down and out like himself.”
“All right,” said Hugh. “This case of Nick Lang is like this, in a small way. But, Thad, do you feel like taking a walk this fine crisp winter morning?”