A Dozen of Them – Chapter 3

Here’s the next installment of A Dozen of Them by Isabella Alden. If you missed chapters 1 and 2, you can read them here.

A Dozen of Them

Chapter 3




There was a broad smile on Joseph’s face; he was fully satisfied with his verse for the month.

In the first place, it was very short—only five words; in the second place, he had no brother, so it was not possible for it to get him into what he called “scrapes,” by living up to it.

Now you know which verse it is? Yes; that is the very one: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Yet the New Year’s Eve frolic was not over before he found the verse fitted in. They were having a tableau party, and Joseph was dressed in an extraordinary manner—like a youthful musician of the olden time. Mrs. Calland had managed—nobody but she knew how—to arrange for him a most remarkable wig of soft curling hair; the mustache part was easy; a little burnt cork settled that. Then there was little Fannie Stuart and her brother Rex dressed surprisingly!

It was just as all the toilets were completed and Mrs. Calland was ready to arrange her living picture behind the curtain, that Joseph’s verse came into prominence.

I am not sure that he would have thought of it in just the way he did, had it not been for Mrs. Calland’s remark as she finished arranging Rob Walker’s cloak. Rob Walker was a day scholar who had been invited to the evening’s fun because they were sorry for him; as he was at his uncle’s, more than a thousand miles away from home, during this holiday time. He was another musician, representing a different style of dress, and Mrs. Calland, as she fastened the wide collar about his neck, had said:

“Why, how this dress changes one’s appearance! You and Joseph would pass for brothers, now.”

After which, Rob, much amused, had called his companion “Brother Joseph.”

It was while she was bending over Rex that there fell from Mrs. Calland’s own collar a gleaming pin which Joseph did not know was a diamond; but he knew it was beautiful, and very much beloved by Mrs. Calland. He knew, too, in less than five seconds after its fall, what became of it.

Rob, the almost stranger among them, also saw it fall, gave a swift glance about the room to see if others were looking, then stooped and put the gleaming thing in his pocket, and said not a word!

How utterly astonished and dismayed was Joseph! He could not go on with his part, and took such stupid positions instead of the right one, as to make the others laugh, and to call from Mrs. Calland the question:

“Why, Joseph, what has happened to you? Are you taking a nap?”

“Brother Joseph, you must do better than that, or I’ll disown you,” said Rob good-naturedly.

“Brother Joseph!” The words chimed in with the boy’s thoughts. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Something seemed asking Joseph that question.

Unless you are the sort of boy who can understand it without explanation, I don’t know that I can help you to feel how dreadfully Joseph hated to meddle with this matter. It was so uncomfortable to think of going to Mrs. Calland with tales about another boy! He knew just how grave she looked when any of the scholars pointed out the faults of others. And such a fault! Did Rob really mean to steal?

If so, the owner ought certainly to be told; yet perhaps Rob meant only a little mischief, and would give the pin back in a little while; in which case, how very mean he, Joseph, should feel to have been tale-bearer. But then, on the other hand, what if Rob shouldn’t give it back?

“I don’t care,” said Joseph to himself; “what business is it of mine, anyhow? I didn’t take it, and I am not supposed to know anything about it. What is Rob Walker to me?”

Am I my brother’s keeper?

It startled Joseph to think the verse seemed to fit what he was planning. If the truth must be told, one grave fault of this boy, Joseph, was to shirk responsibility. Besides, he had the fault common to many good-hearted boys; he hated to be called a “tell-tale;” hated it to such a degree that it was hard work for him to tell, even when he felt sure that telling was duty.

There was much thinking, and there were also many blunders, over which the young people had great merriment, before Joseph finally reached the point:

“I don’t care, I’m going to tell her. If she thinks it’s mean I can’t help it; if she thinks I don’t do it with the right feeling, I can’t help that either: I believe I ought to tell. That little old verse of mine will go and choke me if I don’t; and Rob, maybe, will choke me if I do; but I can stand his choking better than the other. Who would have thought there would be a place for that verse to fit in?”

With Joseph, to decide, was to perform. Very grave indeed Mrs. Calland looked when she bent her head and received the hurriedly whispered story.

Still, her words encouraged him: “You did just right, Joseph, to speak to me quietly. Don’t mention it to any person; we will both be quiet and I will decide what to do.”

But Joseph remained sober all the rest of the evening.

You may imagine he was on the alert when, nearly two hours afterwards, as they were making ready for the closing tableau, Addie Fowler suddenly said, “Sister Kate, you have lost your pin!”

Everybody but Joseph looked at Mrs. Calland; he looked down on the floor, and felt his face grow red.

“I know it,” said Mrs. Calland quietly. “It has been gone for some time. I must have dropped it early in the evening.”

There was an instant bustle of looking for the pin, but it was Rob Walker’s voice stopped them:

“I know where it is; I guess you will find it in the Italian musician’s pocket; those fellows are always thieves.”

Then you should have seen the red in Joseph’s face. He looked over at Mrs. Calland, now, in a helpless, pitiful sort of way, which made some of the scholars say in whispers:

“Why, would you think it possible! I would never believe it if he didn’t show it in his face at this minute!”

At the same time, the poor fellow dived both hands into his pockets and drew out, sure enough, the gleaming thing; whereat Rob laughed loud and long. But no one else did.

What a “scrape” for a boy to get into! What in the world was he to do? What would Mrs. Calland do or think? Would she possibly think he stole it, and then tried to palm the theft off on Rob? Hark! What was that she was saying in her quiet voice:

“Never mind laughing any more, Robert; we will not keep the company waiting for the closing tableau; but by and by you shall tell me why you picked up my pin, carried it in your pocket for nearly an hour, then slipped it slyly into Joseph’s pocket. You must have had some reason for it all; remember, I saw you do it,” continued Mrs. Calland; then added, “but we will not keep our guests waiting longer, now. Get your places, girls.”

“I don’t believe I could have thought you would steal it, my dear boy,” said Mrs. Calland to Joseph, late that night, when at last she was alone with him for a moment in the kitchen. “I don’t think I could look into your honest eyes and imagine such a thing; but of course what you told me, put me on my guard and prepared me to watch poor Rob. So, you see, your verse saved yourself, and will be helpful to him in the end. I think the boy means only mischief; but it is mischief of a very malicious kind, which might have brought trouble upon you. I think you ought to thank sister Jean in your next letter, for suggesting such a shield for her brother.”

From which you will understand that Joseph had also confided to Mrs. Calland the story of the verse.

Chapter 4 will post on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. See you then!