He turned to do something at the desk where he was sitting. Meanwhile, Nick had shuffled away, as though meaning to leave the room. When Hugh looked up he was half-way through the door, and turning to say with a sneer:
“I ain’t going to forget this on you, Hugh Morgan, believe me. I thought I’d give you a chanct to smooth over the rough places between us; but I see you don’t want anything to do with a feller who’s got the reputation they give me. All right, keep your old skates then!”
With that he hurried down the stairs. And a minute afterwards Hugh, happening to glance over to the table at the side of the room, made a startling discovery. The skates had disappeared!
GIVING NICK A CHANCE
“Why, he cribbed them after all!” Hugh exclaimed, as he jumped to his feet, and hurried over to the table, hardly able to believe his own eyes.
Something caught his attention. A dirty dollar bill and a fifty cent silver piece lay in place of the skates. Then Nick had not exactly stolen Hugh’s property, but imagined that this forced sale might keep him within the law.
Hugh at first flush felt indignant. He gave the money an angry look, as though scorning it, despite the hard work Nick may have done and sacrifices also made in order to build up that small amount.
“Why, the contemptible scamp, I’ll have to set Chief Wambold after him, and recover my skates!” he said, warmly for him. “Serve him right, too, if this is the last straw on the camel’s back, to send him to the House of Refuge for a spell. He is a born thief, I do believe, and ought to be treated just like one.”
Hugh, aroused by the sense of injustice, and a desire to turn the tables on the slippery Nick, even stepped forward to snatch up his cap, with the full intention of hurrying out to see if he could overtake the thief; and, if not, continuing on until he came to the office of the police force. Then he stopped short with a gasp.
He had suddenly remembered something. Into his mind rushed the details of a certain recent conversation in which he had indulged with his closest chum, Thad Stevens. Again he saw the picture of that good priest of the story, looking so benignly upon the wretched Jean Valjean, brought into his presence with the valuable silver candlesticks and spoons found in his possession, which he kept insisting his late host had presented him with, however preposterous the claim seemed.
“Why, this is very nearly like that case, I declare!” ejaculated Hugh, almost overcome by the wonderful similarity, which seemed the more amazing because of the resolution he told Thad he had taken.
He dropped back into his seat, with the money still gripped in his hand. He stared hard at it. In imagination he could see Nick, who never liked hard work any too well, they said, busying himself like a beaver, putting in coal for some neighbor, perhaps; or cleaning a walk off for a dime. He must have done considerable work to earn that first dollar.