Taking, Not Stealing by Hannah Sheppard
"So that's your game, is it, my lads? Guess I can help you a bit. I'll
try, anyhow, if it's only for the love I bore your fathers before you.
And you're fine fellows too; but you've got a wrong twist somewhere, or
you'd never in the world do such a thing as that." And quickening his
step at the close of his soliloquy, "Captain Dan," as he was called,
came up behind two boys who were standing in front of the principal
fruit and candy store of the busy town of Hamilton.
A large bag of pea-nuts, with many other things, was displayed outside
under the window, and the old man's attention had been attracted by
seeing the elder of the boys carelessly pick up a nut as he chatted with
his companion, who soon followed his example. Evidently neither one had
any thought of doing wrong as they stood eating the nuts and crushing
the shells in their fingers.
They started as he laid a hand heavily upon the shoulder of each, but
answered his greeting so cordially that it was easy to see they were
warm friends. He stopped them, as, linking their arms in his, they began
to turn him around, by saying: "Going toward home, are ye? Well, I don't
mind if I do go a piece with you after a bit, if you'll go down to the
shore first, for I want to take another look at that vessel I had a
sight of a good hour ago, and see if I can find out where she hails
from. There'll be a fine sunset, too, with the clouds piled like
yon"—as he pointed seaward. "I 'most wonder you're not out in the
Firefly. How is it, Dick?"—turning to the lad on his right hand.
"Why, you see, Captain Dan," replied the boy, slowly, as if bringing his
thoughts back from a long distance, "Ethel wanted Maurice to row her
over to the Island, though I don't think he knows much more about a boat
"Did they take her with them?" asked the captain, eagerly.
"Yes," answered Dick; "and I'm sure mamma would not have let her go if
she'd been at home. But she was out riding with papa, and May begged so
hard that Ethel would take her in spite of all I could say."
"Oh, well, there's no great harm done that I know of," quoth Captain
Dan, "though I'm free to confess that I don't think your cousin knows as
much of boats as he does of his books. However, as you feel uneasy,
we'll wait about the landing till they come, and they can climb the
cliff with us if they like. Many's the time little 'May bird' has gone
up it on my shoulder, little pet!" Then, as he noticed how intently Dick
was watching, he added, "They'll surely be back before long, and it
won't hurt us to talk here awhile, 'specially as I've a word to say to
you, my hearties."
"That's all right," responded Dick, good-humoredly; "for you know Theo
and I like nothing better than to have you spin us a yarn—eh, Theo?"
"Yes, indeed," chimed in Theodore Murray, giving a vigorous kick to a
stone which lay in the captain's path.
By this time they had reached the shore, and after looking off toward
the Island and seeing nothing of their boat, they all sat down on a
rock, which seemed almost as though it might have been shaped for a
seat, only that it was rather roughly finished.
"You really needn't look so anxious, my boy," said Captain Dan, turning
to Dick, "for I don't think your party could possibly come to harm. Why,
the water is as smooth as glass, and we can see them the moment they
round the corner of the cove."
"If Ethel only wasn't so awfully polite," groaned Dick, "but would just
take the oars herself, I'd not mind a bit, for she can row beautifully;
but Maurice hasn't an idea how to manage a boat, though he's first rate
on land. We're all ready for your yarn, though, captain, as soon as
you've got your breath ready to begin to spin it."
Captain Dan smiled, half sadly. "It's no 'yarn' to-night, my lads. But,
Dick, what would you call a man who took what didn't belong to him?"
"Why, a thief, of course," answered the boy, promptly.
"'And what would you say if any one called your father's son a thief?"
pursued the old man.
"Tell him he lied!" exclaimed Dick, quickly, springing to his feet, and
confronting his questioner with flashing eyes. "What ever do you mean,
sir, by such strange talk?"
"Sit down quietly again, and I'll tell you; for though I saw both you
and Theo helping yourselves to what didn't belong to you this afternoon,
yet I never could find it in my heart to call you thieves; for I suppose
you would say it was only 'taking,' and not 'stealing.'"
"What do you mean?" asked Theodore, who had been listening in silence,
but with a most puzzled face.
"Just this—that as I walked up the street I saw each of you take a nut
or so from the bag which stands in front of Mr. Baker's store."
"Oh," said Dick, drawing a long breath of relief, "that was all, was
"Why, that wasn't stealing, Captain Dan," broke in Theodore, eagerly.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," observed their friend, dryly. "I didn't know
you'd paid for the nuts, or I'd not have mentioned the matter."
"Paid for them!" exclaimed both boys at once. "Of course we'd not paid
for them; but then that's not stealing, you know, for we only each took
one or two, and we were right there in open sight. It's a totally
"I beg leave to differ entirely from you," answered the captain, in his
slow way. "But suppose there'd been a water-melon lying there on the
step, would either of you have carried it off without paying for it, or
eaten it there, either?"
"Of course not," said Dick, indignantly; but Theodore broke in,
abruptly, as he sprang up, his cheeks glowing with shame:
"I never thought of it so before! Why, it's just dreadful, Dick; for
Captain Dan is right—we were stealing, though we never meant it. Oh,
what would my mother say?" he added, with a choke in his voice.
"I don't see it in that light at all," persisted Dick, sturdily; "it was
only a pea-nut or so, and we didn't do it 'on the sly,' as we would if
we'd been 'stealing,' as you say. Why, the very word makes me mad all
over"—doubling up his fists as he paced up and down before them, now
and then giving himself a shake like a great dog.
"Hold on a minute, my son," said the old man, gently, "and I think I can
make it clearer. Suppose a basket of apples was standing in Smith's
grocery store. On my way home I stop in to buy a pound of tea, and while
it is being weighed out I pick up an apple to eat. You drop in next to
get some crackers, and you take one while waiting. Then Theo's mother
sends him for a pound of cheese, and he also helps himself. Others
follow our example, and though no person takes more than a single one,
yet by night the basket is emptied, without a cent of profit to the
grocer, though he has paid the farmer for them. Yet you say we have not
been stealing. How is it?"
The color had been slowly mounting in Dick's frank face as he stood
before his friend with folded arms, and looking far out to sea. But the
instant he heard the question with which the speaker concluded, he
turned and said, impulsively: "You're right, Captain Dan, and I'm all
wrong. It is stealing, and nothing else, just as you said; but I never
thought of it so before, and it's just dreadful. I can't bear to think
of it, even though I've hardly ever done it; still, the part I hate just
the worst kind is that I've done it at all, and never saw the harm of it
"Tell you what, Dick," exclaimed Theodore, hurriedly, "I mean to go in
and tell Mr. Baker about it on my way home to-night; will you go with
"Of course I will; and we'll pay him for everything we can possibly
remember. But I say, old fellow, what if Jack Stretch saw us, or any of
those other street chaps? They could turn the tables on us splendidly,
you know, after our asking them to go to Sunday-school with us. They'd
be likely to tell us we'd borrowed their trade, and would say we needn't
preach to them again."
Theodore looked troubled, and then brightened somewhat as a happy
thought struck him. "I mean to tell my mother the whole thing before I
go to sleep this night," he said, "and I'm sure she'll help us out."
"You're right, my boy," observed the captain, nodding his head with a
pleased air. "Your mother's a wise woman; so is yours, Dick, and I
advise you to adopt the same plan; for when boys get too old—or too
something—to talk over their troubles and their pleasures with their
mothers, you may be pretty sure they're going wrong somehow; at least
that has always been my experience."
"But, Captain Dan, there are lots of people who surely can't look at
this thing as you do, and as we do too, now that you've shown us,"
remarked Dick, thoughtfully, "for I've seen men, and women too, pick up
little things to taste in the stores, and never seem to think of paying
The old man sighed wearily. "I know it, lad," he answered; "and I can
tell you more than that. For I've heard of some cases—I hope and trust
they're rare ones, though—where boarding-house keepers in large cities,
who were poorly off, would go from one store to another, and from stand
to stand in the markets, pricing and buying in a small way, while all
the time they would be picking up a nut or so here, an apple or orange
there, or a few raisins over yonder, and in this manner get enough for a
dessert, till their tricks came to be well known, and they were watched
"How dreadful!" cried the boys.
"And perhaps," added Theodore, "they began as we did, without thinking
anything about it, and I'm ever so much obliged to you, Captain Dan, for
"Yes, indeed!" struck in Dick, earnestly, giving himself a shake; "I see
it exactly now; and I don't mind telling mamma about it half so much as
I do thinking to myself that I ever did such a mean thing, don't you
"Yes," responded his friend, as he looked up into the pure manly face,
feeling that so long as the fact of losing his own self-respect was so
much worse than to lose that of others, he would always have a
safeguard—"yes, I understand. But isn't that the Firefly off yonder?"
The boys ran down to the water's edge, followed at a slower pace by the
"Dear me! why don't Ethel take the oars and show him how to row?" burst
forth Dick, impatiently, as they watched the tiny craft moving
irregularly toward them.
"Gently, laddie," said the captain; "remember we must all have a
learning; and no doubt you did as badly as that when you began, even
though you're such a crack sailor now; and you know Miss Ethel mightn't
like to give a lesson unless she was asked to do so."
The little boat gradually neared them, though in a very jerky fashion,
showing how unskilled the rower was, till, unhappily, glancing over his
shoulder, he caught sight of the group awaiting them, and raised his
oars by way of salute. But, in lowering them, one fell from his hand,
tired with the unusual exertion; he leaned over too far to reach it, and
the next moment they were all struggling in the water.
In an instant the boys' coats were off, and they dashed in to the
rescue; nor was Captain Dan much behind them, while it was truly
wonderful to see how agile he was, when swimming, for after his slow
steps on land, the water appeared like his native element. Fortunately
the boat was not far from the shore when the accident happened, and the
captain's powerful strokes soon put him ahead of his younger companions.
He reached the spot just in time to catch May—his "baby," as he always
called the five-year-old prattler—as she was sinking for the last time,
in spite of the frantic efforts made by Maurice, who, though no swimmer,
had retained his presence of mind, and had caught the edge of the
overturned boat, which he was trying to float toward Ethel, while
holding May tightly with the other arm. But the child had struck her
head against the oar as she fell, and was stunned so as to be quite
"Keep your hold of the boat," called the captain; "I've got the baby all
safe, and the boys have reached Miss Ethel. Hullo, Dick!" he shouted,
suddenly; "let Theo help your sister, and bear a hand here, will you?"
For he saw that Maurice was fast giving out, though the gallant old man
was supporting him with one hand, while holding the child firmly with
the other; and encumbered in this way, swimming was slow work.
"Here we are!" sang out Dick, who soon reached them; and remembering
"Nan the Newsboy's" directions, with the captain's aid managed to turn
Maurice upon his back, for by this time he had quite lost consciousness,
and then struck out steadily for the land. In the course of a few more
moments the little party were anxiously gathered around Maurice and May,
who were still insensible. Theo had started off for help, which soon
came, and they were carried to the nearest house, where Maurice after a
time revived. But poor little May remained so long unconscious that they
had almost given up hope, when Dick, who had been helping to rub her,
and would give up his post to no one, exclaimed he was sure he felt her
heart beating, which, to his great delight, proved to be the case, and a
while afterward she opened her eyes, and looked around vacantly.
But the blow on her head had been a very severe one; the shock to the
little frame was so great that it was followed by a serious illness; and
though she recovered after weeks of suffering, and was her own bright
self again, yet the boys agreed that Captain Dan's kindly sermon had
been followed by enough to make that day one of the most eventful in
their lives, and never to be forgotten.
And though they could not go to the store that night, yet they went
early the next morning, told the whole story, and were most kindly
received by Mr. Baker, with whom Captain Dan had had a private
conference just before their arrival, so that he was fully prepared for
In spite of their urging, he would not take their money, though he
thanked them "for coming in such a manly way to confess their fault,"
adding, as he shook hands with them, that while they had only done what
was right, yet he wished men as well as boys would have the moral
courage to confess when they had done wrong, for so often these little
beginnings of evil lead the way to greater sins.