"Bywater tells me that he left his clean surplice in the vestry this morning. This afternoon it was found thrown behind the screen, tumbled together, beyond all doubt purposely, and partially covered with ink. I ask, who has done this?"
"I have not, sir," burst forth from most of the boys simultaneously. The seniors, of whom there were three besides Gaunt, remained silent. But this was nothing unusual; for the seniors, unless expressly questioned or taxed with a fault, did not accustom themselves to a voluntary denial.
"I can only think this has been the result of accident," continued the head-master. "It is incredible to suppose any one of you would wantonly destroy a surplice. If so, let that boy, whoever he may have been, speak up honourably, and I will forgive him. I conclude that the ink must have been spilt upon it, I say accidentally, and that he then, in his consternation, tumbled the surplice together, and threw it out of sight behind the screen. It had been more straightforward, more in accordance with what I wish you all to be - boys of thorough truth and honour - had he candidly confessed it. But the fear of the moment may have frightened his better judgment away. Let him acknowledge it now, and I will forgive him; though of course he must pay Bywater for another surplice."
A dead silence.