Thanksgiving-Day had come. Among the multitude of good things it brought with it, not the least important, in the eyes of the children, was a visit from their grandmother, Mrs. Lee, who arrived the evening previous. She was the mother of Mrs. Preston, and lived in a distant town in Vermont. She had not visited the family for several years, and the children and their parents were all very glad to see her once more. She was much surprised to find how the young folks had grown since she last saw them. Alice had shot up into a young lady, Oscar, who she remembered as "a little bit of a fellow," was a tall boy, Ella, too, was quite a miss, and Georgie, "the baby," had long since exchanged his frock for the jacket, trowsers, and boots, of boyhood. All these changes had happened since their grandmother's last visit; and yet she was just the same pleasant, talkative old lady that she was years ago. The children could not discover that time had left so much as one new wrinkle on her well-remembered face.
After breakfast, their grandmother proceeded to unpack her trunk. From its capacious depths she drew forth sundry articles,—specimens of her own handiwork,—which she distributed among the children, as gifts. They were all articles of utility, such as warm, "country-knit" mittens and socks for the boys, and tippets and stockings for the girls. A large bag filled with nuts, and another of pop-corn, were also among the contents of the trunk, and were handed to the children to be divided among them.
In accordance with an agreement made the day before, Oscar soon left the house, and went in search of Alfred. Having found him, they set out for South Boston, in company with two or three boys, to witness a shooting-match got up by a man who worked about the stable. The spot selected for the sport was a retired field, where there was little danger of being interrupted. On reaching the ground, the boys found a small collection of young men and lads already engaged in the cruel amusement; for the mark was a live fowl, tied to a stake. The company assembled were of a decidedly low order, and Oscar at first felt almost ashamed to be seen among them. Smoking, swearing, betting, and quarrelling, were all going on at once, interspersed with occasional shouts of laughter at some vulgar joke, or at the fluttering and cries of a wounded fowl. Sometimes a poor chicken would receive several shots, before its misery would be terminated by a fatal one. When one fowl was killed, a fresh one was brought forth. Each man who fired at the mark, paid a trifling sum for the privilege, and was entitled to the fowl, if he killed it.
Oscar and his young companions lingered around the grounds for an hour or two, familiarizing themselves with scenes of shameful cruelty, and breathing an atmosphere loaded with pollution and moral death. The repugnance which Oscar at first felt to the party and its doings was so far overcome, that before he left he himself fired one or two shots, with a rifle which was lent to him.
Oscar reached home before the hour for dinner. As he entered the sitting-room, his mother, who had missed him, inquired where he had been all the forenoon.
"I 've been with Alf," he replied.
His mother did not notice this evasion of her question, but added:
"Why do you want to be with Alfred so much? It seems to me you might find better company. I 'm afraid he is not so good a boy as he might be. I don't like his looks very much."
"Why, mother," said Oscar, "Alf is n't a bad boy, and I never heard anybody say he was. I like him first-rate—he 's a real clever fellow."
"He may be clever enough, but I do not think he is a very good associate for you," replied Mrs. Preston.
"Who ought to know best about that, you or I?" said Oscar, with a pertness for which he was becoming a little too notorious. "I see Alf every day, but you don't know hardly anything about him. At my rate, I 'll risk his hurting me."
Oscar's grandmother looked at him with astonishment, as he uttered these words. He felt the silent rebuke, and turned his head from her.
"Well," added Mrs. Preston, "if Alfred is not a bad boy himself, I do not believe that the kind of people you spend so much of your time with, around the hotel-stable, will do either you or him any good. The lessons a boy learns among tavern loungers do not generally make him any better, to say the least. I wish you would keep away from such places—I should feel a good deal easier if you would."
The subject was dropped, and dinner,—the event of Thanksgiving-day, in every New England home,—soon began to engross the attention of the household. It was a pleasant feast, to old and young. The children forgot all their little, fanciful troubles, and the traces of care were chased from their parents' brows for the hour.
The afternoon was stormy, and the children amused themselves with in-door sports. After tea, however, Oscar asked his father for some money, to buy a ticket to an entertainment that was to take place in the evening. But both his parents thought he had better stay at home, with the rest of the family, and he reluctantly yielded to their wishes, coupled with the promise of a story or two from his grandmother, about old times.
A cheerful fire was burning in the grate, when the family returned to the parlor, from the tea-table. The lamps were not yet lit, although the gray twilight was fast settling down, and the ruddy coals began to reflect themselves from the polished furniture. Mrs. Preston was about to light the lamps, when Ella exclaimed:
"No, no, mother, don't light the lamps—let's sit in the dark awhile, and then grandmother's stories will seem twice as romantic. You don't want a light, do you, grandmother?"
"No," said the grandmother, "I can talk just as well in the dark. But I don't know as I can tell you any very interesting stories. I can't think of anything now but what you have already heard. That's just the way when I want to tell a story. If I was all alone, I should think of lots of things to tell you."
"Can't you tell us something about the Indians?—I like to hear about them," said Oscar.
"You would like to know how they served naughty boys, would n't you?" inquired his grandmother; and if the room had not been quite so dark, Oscar would have seen something like a roguish twinkle in her sober gray eye, as she spoke.
"O yes, grandmother," interrupted Ella, "that will suit him, I know. At any rate, it ought to interest him—so please to tell us what they did to their bad boys, and perhaps we shall learn how to serve Oscar."
"And while you are about it, grandmother," said Oscar, "tell us what they did to naughty girls, too."
"I don't know how they punished girls," said the old lady; "but I have heard it said that when they wished to punish a boy very severely, they made him lie down on the ground, upon his back. They then put their knees on his arms, and held his head back, while they took into their mouth some very bitter stuff, made from the roots of a certain plant, and squirted it into the boy's nose. They kept repeating the dose, till the poor fellow was almost strangled, and I suppose by that time he was cured of his fault."
"Pooh, was that all?" said Oscar; "I thought something terrible was coming."
"I guess you would not like to try the Indian remedy more than once," replied his mother; "but if you think it is so pleasant to take, perhaps your father will give you a taste of it, one of these days, if you do not behave better than you have done of late."
"Did you ever get frightened by the Indians, grandmother?" inquired Ralph.
"No," replied the old lady; "there were plenty of them around, when I was a little girl, but they had got to be quite civil, and we were not afraid of them. I wish I could remember all the stories my mother used to tell me about them—they were plenty and troublesome, too, in her day. I recollect one fight that took place in our neighborhood, when she was young. One evening, a man who was returning from another settlement, happened to discover a party of Indians, making their way very quietly up the river in their canoes, towards our little village. He watched their movements as narrowly as possible, but was careful not to let them see or hear him. When they got within about half a mile of the settlement, they pulled their canoes ashore, and concealed them among the bushes. They meant to creep along very slowly and slily, the rest of the way, and then fall suddenly upon the whites, and murder and plunder them before they could know what the matter was. But the man who discovered them hurried on to the settlement, and gave the alarm. Ten men was all he could muster, for there were but a few families in the town. These men armed themselves, and by the time they were ready for action, the Indians had already begun their work of plunder.
"But the Indians were not cunning enough for the white folks, that time. The settlers formed themselves into two parties—one of seven and one of three men. The three men went down very cautiously to the Indian's landing-place, and after cutting slits in their bark canoes, they hid themselves, and awaited the result. While they were doing this, the other party made such a furious and sudden attack upon the enemy, that the Indians thought they were assailed by a force far superior to their own, and so they fled as fast as they could. When they reached the landing-place, they jumped pell-mell into their canoes, and pushed out into the stream. Now they thought they would soon be out of the reach of harm; but, to their astonishment, the canoes began to fill with water, and were entirely unmanageable. The three men in ambush now began to attack them, and pretty soon the other seven came to their aid, and in a little while the Indians were all shot or drowned, and not one of the party escaped, to inform their kindred what had befallen them. The stream on which this happened is called Laplot River. Laplot, they say, means 'the plot,' and a good many people think the river got its name from the stratagem of the settlers, but I don't know how that is."
After musing awhile in silence, Ralph called for another story.
"Let me see," said his grandmother; "did I ever tell you about Widow Storey's retreat, in the Revolution!"
"No ma'am," said Oscar; "I've read about General Burgoyne's retreat; but I never heard of Widow Storey before: who was she?"
"O, it was n't that kind of a retreat that I meant," said his grandmother; "but I will tell you who she was. She lived in Salisbury, some twenty or thirty miles from where I belong. Her husband was the first man who settled in Salisbury, but he was very unfortunate. After he had worked hard, and got a log cabin ready for his family, it took fire, and was destroyed; and he himself was killed by the fall of a tree, soon after. But his widow was a very smart woman; and though she had eight or ten small children, she moved on to the place her husband had selected; and the proprietors of the township gave her a hundred acres of land to encourage and reward her. She worked just like a man, and didn't mind chopping down trees, and cultivating the soil, with her own hands. But by-and-bye the Revolution broke out, and as there were British soldiers in the neighborhood, she was afraid they would make her a visit. She fled several times to another town, where there was less danger; but after awhile a new idea entered her head, and she proceeded to carry it out, with the aid of a man who lived near her. The idea was, to construct a hiding-place, where the British could not find them, if they should pay her a visit. They selected a spot on Otter Creek, and dug a hole right into the bank, horizontally. The hole was a little above the water, and was just large enough for a person to crawl into. It was so covered up by bushes that hung from the bank, that a stranger would not notice it. This passage led to a large lodging-room, the bottom of which was covered with straw. Good comfortable beds were prepared, and here the families found a secure retreat, until the danger was past."
"That was complete," said Oscar; "but I should think the British might have tracked them to their retreat, for it's likely they had to go home pretty often, to get food, and look after things."
"Yes," added his grandmother; "but they reached their retreat by a canoe, so that no footsteps could be seen leading to it; and they were careful not to go out or in during the day-time. I have heard my brother James tell about it. I believe he saw the very hole once, where they went in."
"Uncle James was a famous hand for telling stories," remarked Mrs. Preston. "I shall never forget what a treat it was to me, when I was a child, to have him come to our house. I used to run out and meet him, when I saw him coming, and coax him to tell me a good lot of stories before he went off. I can remember some of them even now. He used to tell a story of a crabbed old fellow, who was very much annoyed by the boys stealing his apples. So, after awhile, he got a spring-trap, and set it under the trees, to catch the young rogues. But the boys got wind of the affair, and the first night he set it, they picked it up, and very quietly put it on his door-step, and then went back to the orchard, and began to bellow as though they were in great distress. The old man heard the uproar, and started out, in high glee at the idea of catching his tormentors; but he hardly put his foot out of the door, before he began to roar himself, and he was laid up a month with a sore leg."
"That was old Zigzag," said the grandmother; "I knew him very well."
"Old Zigzag!—what a funny name!" exclaimed Ralph.
"That was n't his name, although he always went by it," added the old lady. "He was a very odd character, and one of his peculiarities was, that he never walked directly towards any place or object he wished to reach, but went in a 'criss-cross,' zigzag way, like a ship beating and tacking before a head-wind. He was a hard drinker, and was almost continually under the influence of liquor, and perhaps that was the cause of his singular habit. He was a terribly ugly fellow, when he was mad, and the boys used to tease him in every possible way; but wo to them if he got hold of them. He lived all alone, for he never had any wife or children; and he would not allow anybody to enter his house, on any account, but always kept the door locked. If his neighbors had business to transact with him, he would step into the yard and attend to them; but even in the severest weather, he would not let them cross his threshold. He never would speak to or look at a woman, and would always avoid meeting them, if possible. Poor fellow, he had a dreadful end. He was missing for several days, and at last some of the town's-people broke into his house, and found him dead, with his head badly burned. They supposed he was intoxicated, and fell, striking his head upon the andiron, which stunned him; and while he lay helpless, he was so badly burned that he soon died. And that was the last of poor old Zigzag."
"There was another story Uncle James used to tell, about the naming of Barre, in Vermont; do you recollect it, mother?" inquired Mrs. Preston.
"Yes, indeed, and I 've heard old Dr. Paddock tell it many a time. He was there, and saw it all. The people did n't like the name of their town, which was Wildersburgh, and determined to have a new one, and so they met together in town-meeting, to talk the matter over. One of the leading men came from Barre, Massachusetts, and he wanted the town to take that name. Another prominent citizen came from Holden, Massachusetts, and he insisted that the town should be called Holden. The people liked both of these names well enough, and it was finally determined that the question should be decided by a game of boxing, between these two men. So the meeting adjourned to a new barn, with a rough hemlock plank floor, and the contest commenced. After boxing awhile, one of them threw the other upon the floor, and sprang upon him at full length; but the one who was underneath dealt his blows so skilfully, that his opponent soon gave in; and rolling the Holden man out of the way, he jumped up and shouted, 'There, the name is Barre!' and Barre it hasten, to this day. The next day, the man who won this victory had to call on the doctor to extract from his back the hemlock splinters he had received while struggling on the barn floor."
Thus the evening was beguiled with stories, mingled with a few songs by Alice and Ella, and a few favorite airs upon the piano-forte. Before the hour of retiring arrived, even Oscar was quite reconciled to the loss of the evening's entertainment away from home which he had promised himself.
Mrs. Lee, the grandmother of the Preston children, remained with the family for several weeks, after Thanksgiving. Her visit was, on the whole, a pleasant one, though there were some shadows thoughtlessly cast over it by the children. Age had somewhat impaired her sense of hearing, but yet she always wanted to understand everything that was said in her presence. Often, when the children were talking to each other in a low tone, she would ask them what they were saying. Ella did not like these interruptions, and was the first to complain of them.
"O dear," said she, one day, "I do wonder what makes grandmother so inquisitive. I really believe she thinks we are talking about her all the time. I can't open my mouth, but she wants to know what I said. Don't you think she is getting childish, Alice?"
"Why, Ella!" exclaimed Alice, in astonishment, "I should think you would be ashamed to speak so of your poor old grandmother. What do you think mother would say if she knew what you said!"
"I can't help it," replied Ella; "I don't see why grandmother need be so curious about every little thing that's said. I mean to ask her some time when I have a good chance."
"I should think you had better, Miss Impudence," said Alice; "perhaps she would like to have you give her some lessons in good behavior."
Alice did not for a moment suppose that her sister meant to speak to their grandmother upon this subject. But she had miscalculated the pertness of Ella. A day or two after this, as several of the children were talking among themselves, the attention of the old lady was arrested. She could not hear distinctly what they said, but Oscar took a prominent part in the conversation; and a moment after, on his leaving the room, she asked Ella what he wanted.
"O, it was n't anything that you care about, grandma'am," replied Ella.
"Is that the way your mother teaches you to answer questions, Ella?" inquired Mrs. Lee, in a mild, reproachful tone.
"No, no, grandmother," replied Alice, with considerable earnestness; "I shall tell mother how impudently she spoke to you. A boy has given a little dog to Oscar, and that was what he was telling us about, just before he went out."
"Why, grandmother," added Ella, "I did n't mean to be impudent; but I 've noticed that you always want to hear what everybody says, even when they are not talking to you, and mother says that is n't polite."
"I am much obliged to you, my dear," replied her grandmother, very meekly; "after I have taken a few more lessons from you, perhaps I shall know how to behave."
The feelings of the old lady were more hurt by the rudeness of Ella, than her mild rebukes indicated. Alice felt bound to inform her mother of what had taken place; and Mrs. Preston was greatly mortified, on learning that her little daughter had spoken so impudently to her aged mother. She apologized for Ella, as well as she could, by saying that she was naturally forward and impulsive. At noon, when the children returned from school, she called Ella into a room by herself, and talked with her about her conduct. At first, Ella tried to justify herself; but after awhile her better nature triumphed, and she felt heartily ashamed of her treatment of her grandmother. To think that she, a girl eleven years old, should have attempted to teach her aged grandmother politeness, and in such an uncivil way, too! No wonder she hung her head in shame.
To be candid, perhaps Ella's grandmother was a little too inquisitive to know what was going on around her. But this was one of the infirmities of old age which were slowly stealing upon her, and which the young should regard with pity and forbearance, but never with a censorious spirit.
Ella was really a good-hearted girl, when her generous feelings were aroused. From that day, she treated her grandmother with marked kindness and respect; and her unfortunate attempt to rebuke the venerable woman was never alluded to again.
Among the articles which Mrs. Lee brought from the country, for the children, was a small bag of corn for popping. One evening, George happened to think of this corn, which none of them had yet tried; and partly filling one of his pockets from the bag, he slipped quietly into the kitchen, and commenced popping it by Bridget's fire. There was no person in the kitchen but himself, and putting a handfull of corn in the wire popper, it soon began to snap and jump about, the hard, yellow kernels bursting forth into light and beautiful milk-white balls. But by-and-bye the savory odor of the corn found its way up stairs, and Ella and Ralph ran down to get their share of the treat. George had put the corn upon the table to cool, as fast as it was popped; but when he heard footsteps approaching, he scrambled it into his pocket as quick as possible.
"Halloo, popped corn! Give me some, Georgie, won't you?" said Ralph.
"And me, too," added Ella.
"No I shan't, either," said George; "I popped it for myself."
"You're real stingy," replied Ella; "but no matter, Ralph and I will pop some for ourselves. Where is the bag?"
"You must find it for yourselves—I had to," was George's selfish reply, as he gathered the last of his popped corn into his pocket, badly burning his fingers, in his anxiety lest his brother or sister should get hold of a kernel or two.
Ella and Ralph commenced searching for the bag of corn, but they could not find it. They looked in every place where they supposed it might be, but in vain. Their mother had gone to bed with a sick headache, or they would have ascertained where it was from her. At length they gave up the search, and returned to the sitting-room, in no very pleasant frame of mind.
"I do declare, George," said Ella, "you are the meanest boy I ever heard of."
"Why, what is the matter with George?" inquired his grandmother.
"He 's been popping some of the corn you gave us," replied Ella; "and he won't give us a kernel of it, nor tell us where the bag is, so that we can pop some for ourselves."
"Why, George," said Mrs. Lee, "that is too bad; I would tell them where the corn is, for I intended it as much for them as for you."
"I don't care," said George; "they've called me mean and stingy, and now they may find it for themselves."
"We did n't call you mean and stingy till you refused to tell us where it was," added Ella.
"If I could find it, I guess you would n't get another kernel of it," said Ralph, addressing George; "I'd burn it all up first."
"No, no, Ralph, that is wrong," replied his grandmother. "The corn is n't worth quarrelling about. If George wants to be selfish, and keep it all to himself, I 'll send down some more for the rest of you, when I go home. But I guess Georgie does n't mean to be selfish," she added, coaxingly; "he only wants to plague you a little, that's all. He 'll tell you where he found the corn, pretty soon."
George, who was growing uneasy under this combined attack, now retreated to bed, leaving his grandmother more astonished than ever at his obstinacy.
"There," said Alice, "it's of no use to try to drive or coax him out of his selfishness. Mother says he 'll outgrow it by-and-bye, but I don't see as there is any prospect of it. You know what made him so selfish, don't you, grandmother?"
"I am afraid he has been humored too much," replied Mrs. Lee.
"Well, he has been," added Alice; "but you know when he was little, he was very sick for a whole year, and the doctor said he must n't be crossed any more than we could help, for crying and fretting were very bad for him. So he had his own way in everything, and if we children had anything he wanted, we had to give it to him, and let him break it to pieces, for he would scream as loud as he could, if we refused him. This was the way he got to be so selfish; and now he thinks we must humor him just as we did when he was sick."
"There is some little excuse for him, if he fell into the habit when he was very young and sick," observed Mrs. Lee; "but he is old enough and well enough now to know better, and ought to be broken of the fault."
"Father and mother have tried to break him of it," replied Alice, "but they have not succeeded very well yet. They have talked to him a good deal about it, but it does no good."
The next day, the children found the bag of corn, and their mother told George she should punish him for his selfishness by not letting him have any more of it. The corn was accordingly divided among the other children, and thus George, in trying to get more than his share, actually got less than the others did.
It was about this time that Oscar came into possession of the pup which Alfred Walton had promised him two or three weeks before. He at first had some difficulty in obtaining the consent of his mother to bring it home. She thought it would be troublesome, and tried to dissuade him from taking it; but Oscar's heart was so strongly set upon the dog, that she at length reluctantly assented to its being admitted as an inmate of the family.
Fastening a string to the neck of the dog, Oscar led him to his new home, where he received every attention from the younger members of the family. Quite a grave discussion at once ensued, as to what the name of the new-comer should be. Each of the children had a favorite name to propose, but Oscar rejected them all, and said the dog should be called "Tiger;" and so that became his name, but it was usually abbreviated to "Tige."
Tiger had grown very rapidly, and was now about twice as large as he was when Alfred promised Oscar one of his litter of pups. He was a handsome fellow, especially about the head, as you may see by his portrait. At times, he looked as old and grave as his mother; but for all that, he was a great rogue, and there was very little dignity or soberness about him. He was brim-full of fun, and would play with anybody or anything that would allow him to take that liberty. He would amuse himself for hours with an old shoe or rag that he had found in the street, and it seemed as if he never would get tired of shaking, and tearing, and biting it. This disposition sometimes led him into mischief, in the house; but he was always so happy, so good-natured and so affectionate, that it was difficult to blame him very hard for his misconduct. If Oscar's grandmother happened to drop her ball of yarn, when Tige was about, he would seize it in an instant, and she would have to work hard to get it away from him. She kept her work in a bag, which she usually hung upon the back of a chair; but one day, the little rogue pulled the bag down upon the floor, and had its various contents scattered all about the room, before the old lady noticed what he was doing.
These mischievous pranks were very amusing to Oscar, and he set all the more by Tiger, on account of this trait in his character. The other members of the family, too, seemed to enjoy the sport he made; and it was easy to see that even old Mrs. Lee, though she pretended to be angry with the dog for his mischievousness, was in reality pleased with the attentions he bestowed upon her and her knitting-work.
Oscar's grandmother usually retired to her chamber, soon after dinner, to take a short nap. One noon, after she had been scolding, with assumed gravity, about the dog's mischievousness, Oscar thought he would play a joke upon the old lady; so, on rising from the dinner-table, he carried Tiger up to her bed-room, and shut him in. He wanted to conceal himself somewhere, and witness the surprise of his grandmother, when she should open the door, and the dog should spring upon her; but it was time to go to school, and he could not wait.
It so happened that Mrs. Lee did not take her nap so early as usual that day. When she did go to her chamber, Tiger, impatient of his long confinement, sprang out so quickly, that she did not observe him. But such a scene as met her gaze on entering the chamber! The first thing that caught her eye, was her best black bonnet lying upon the floor, all crumpled up and torn into shreds, looking as though it had been used for a football by a parcel of boys. She entered the room, and found a dress upon the floor, with numerous marks of rough handling upon it; while towels and other articles were scattered about in confusion. The cloth upon the dressing-table had been pulled off, and the articles that were kept upon it were lying upon the floor, including a handsome vase, which, in the fall, had been shattered to pieces. There was in the chamber a stuffed easy-chair, the covering of which was of worsted-work, wrought by Mrs. Preston when she was a young girl. This chair, which was highly valued as a relic of the past, was also badly injured. A part of the needle-work, which had cost so many hours of patient toil, was torn in every direction, and some of the hair, with which the cushion was stuffed, was pulled out, and scattered about the floor.
As soon as Mrs. Lee had fully comprehended the extent of the mischief, she went to the stair-way, and called her daughter. A glance satisfied Mrs. Preston that Tiger must have been there; and she was confirmed in this belief by Bridget, who remembered that the dog came down into the kitchen, just after Mrs. Lee went up. But they could not tell how the little rogue got shut into the room. They concluded, however, that some of the children did it by accident, or that the dog slipped in unperceived when Mrs. Lee came out from the chamber before dinner.
Oscar did not go directly home from school, but as soon as he entered the house, he learned what Tiger had done, from the other children. He felt sorry that what he intended as a harmless joke, should end in so serious a matter; but he determined that no one should know he had a hand in it, if he could prevent it. He regretted the destruction of property, but this feeling did not cause him so much uneasiness as his fear of losing his dog in consequence of this bad afternoon's work. His mother, as soon as she saw him, inquired if he had been to his grandmother's chamber that noon. He replied that he had not. She inquired if he let Tiger into it, and he answered in the negative. His mother questioned him still further, but he denied all knowledge of the matter.
It was not very hard work for Oscar to tell a lie, now, for practice makes easy. He could do it, too, in such a plausible and seemingly innocent way, that it was difficult to believe he was deceiving you. His falsehoods, in this instance, were readily believed; and as all the other children denied having any knowledge of the affair, it was the general conclusion that Tiger must have obtained admittance to the chamber accidentally and unperceived.
When Mr. Preston came home to tea, and saw what the dog had done, he was very angry with poor Tiger, and told Oscar he must sell him or give him away, for he would not have such a mischievous animal about the house another day. A day or two after, Mrs. Preston replaced the articles belonging to her mother that had been injured, and the excitement about the dog soon died away. Oscar did not try to get rid of his pet; but he was careful not to let him stay in the house much of the time especially when his father was at home.
"Oscar," said his grandmother a day or two after as he came into the kitchen with Tiger, "I thought your father told you he would n't have that dog around here any more."
"O, he did n't mean so," replied Oscar; "he was mad when he said that, but he 's got over it now. Besides, I don't let Tige stay in the house much."
"A good dale ye cares for what yer father says," remarked Bridget, who was never backward about putting in a word, when Oscar's delinquencies were the subject of conversation.
"You shut up, Bridget,—nobody spoke to you," replied Oscar.
"Shet up, did ye say? Faith, if ye don't git shet up yerself where ye won't git out in a hurry, afore ye 're many years older, it 'll be because ye don't git yer desarts. Ye 're a bad b'y, that ye are, an'—"
"There, there, Biddy," interrupted Mrs. Lee, "I would n't say anything more—it only aggravates him, and does no good. But, Oscar," she added, "I 'm sorry you don't pay more attention to what your father says. It's a bad habit to get into. I knew a disobedient boy, once, who came to the gallows; and I 've known several others who made very bad men."
"But you don't call me disobedient, do you, grandma'am?" inquired Oscar.
"I don't know what else to call it," she replied, "if your father tells you to do a thing, and you take no notice of it."
"But father does n't want me to give Tige away—I don't believe he 's thought of it again since that night."
"Then, if I were you," replied his grandmother, "I would ask his consent to keep the dog. If he did n't mean what he said, that night, you will be safe enough in asking him."
But this was a kind of reasoning that Oscar could not appreciate. If he could carry his point just as well without his father's formal consent, he thought it was useless to ask any such favor. As long as he could keep his dog, it was all the same to him whether his father withdrew his command, or silently acquiesced in his disobedience of it.
But grandmother Lee's visit was drawing to a close, and early one bright, cool morning, in the latter part of December, the coach called, to take her to the railroad depot; and after a few kisses, and words of affectionate advice, and lingering good-byes, she departed on her homeward journey. Of those she left behind, next to her own daughter, the saddest of the group was little Ella, who, for many days, missed the pleasant face of her good old grandmother.
It was now mid-winter, and a few inches of snow lay upon the frozen ground, sufficient to make pretty fair sleighing for a few days, and to afford good coasting for the boys on the hill-sides. The favorite place for this amusement, among the boys in Oscar's neighborhood, was the Common. Here they always found good, long, smooth coasting-places, when there was any snow on the ground; and there was no danger of tripping up foot passengers, or getting under the heels of the horses, or being tapped on the shoulder by a policeman, which often happened to boys who coasted down the steep streets of the city,—a practice, by the way, prohibited by a city law.
Oscar had a handsome new sled, which was a new year's present from his father. It was long and narrow, the two steel-shod runners projecting forward far beyond the top or seat, and ending in sharp points. It was painted light blue, and varnished. Upon the sides, in gilt letters, was its name—CLIPPER; and upon its top it bore the initial of Oscar's name, with an ornamental device. It had what a sailor would call a decidedly rakish look, and was really a fast as well as a stylish "team," to use the term by which Oscar usually spoke of it. It even eclipsed George's small but elegant sled, which, the winter previous, had been regarded as the ne plus ultra of sled architecture.
Ralph's sled, by the side of these, presented a very cheap and antiquated appearance, and it was seldom that he took it with him to the Common. He often borrowed Oscar's, however, when it was not in use for his elder brother, with all his faults, was not selfish boy, but was willing to lend his property to others, when he was not using it himself. One pleasant Wednesday afternoon, a portion of the week always devoted to recreation by the Boston school children, Ralph obtained leave to take the "Clipper" with him to the Common. George also went with him with his sled. The coasting is very good, and some hundreds of boys are enjoying it. Long lines of sleds, freighted with from one to three or four juveniles, are dashing down in various directions from the Beacon Street mall; and an odd collection of juveniles and sleds it is, too. There comes a chubby, red-faced lad, with his exact counterpart, on a smaller scale, clinging on behind him with one hand, and swinging his cap with the other. Their sled is called the "Post-Boy," and it seems to "carry the males" very expeditiously. Close at their heels is a pale, poetic youth, lightly skimming over the inclined plane upon a delicate craft that looks like himself, and which he calls the "Mystery." Here comes a rude, unpainted sled, with two rough but merry youngsters lying prone upon it, one over the other, and their heels working up and down in the air in a most lively manner. Anon goes by an aristocratic-looking craft, bearing upon it a sleek and well-dressed boy, whose appearance speaks of wealth, indulgence, and ease. His sled is appropriately named the "Pet;" but in gliding down the icy track it strikes a tree, and its pampered owner is sent sprawling upon his back, in a very undignified way, while his "Pet" gives him the slip and soon finds the bottom of the hill. Poor fellow! we wonder if this is an omen of what is to befall him in sliding down the hill of life. And here comes the "Clipper" itself, with our Ralph seated proudly upon it, and apparently enjoying the fleet and beautiful sled as much as though it were really his own. And there, too, comes George, with his pretty "Snow Flake;" and close behind him are the "Tempest," and the "Yankee Doodle," and the "Screamer," and the "Snow ball," and the "Nelly," and the "Racer," and a host of other craft, of every imaginable appearance, and strided by all sorts of boys.
Ralph and George spent an hour or two upon the Common. Nothing occurred to mar their pleasure till just before they started for home, when Ralph met with an adventure that sadly ruffled his temper. He was descending the hill upon his sled, when another craft, having two boys upon it larger than himself, managed to run into him. The "Clipper" being lightly loaded, the other sled descended with greater impetus; and the force of the collision, together with a vigorous kick from the stout boots of one of the boys, overturned Ralph upon the steepest part of the hill. He quickly picked himself up, and, forgetful of self, his first care was to see whether Oscar's sled had sustained any damage. When he beheld the marks of the rough encounter, in the form of sundry ugly scratches upon the polished sides of the "Clipper," the tears came in his eyes; and it was some time before he noticed that he himself bore upon his hands and knees several unmistakable tokens of the collision.
Ralph knew very well that the collision was not accidental. The kick of the boy who guided the sled, and the hearty laugh of both its occupants, when Ralph was overturned, satisfied him that he had been run down purposely. He did not know the names of the boys, having only met them occasionally on the Common. They soon came along again, on their way up the hill, and Ralph asked the owner of the sled why he run him down.
"Because you got in our way," replied the boy.
"No, I did n't," said Ralph; "there was room enough for you to go by, but you steered out of your course, and gave my sled a kick, too."
"Don't you tell me I lie, you little snipper-snapper," answered the boy "or I 'll put you in my pocket, and carry you off."
"See what you did," continued Ralph, pointing to the scratches on the "Clipper;" "I should n't care anything about it, but the sled is n't mine. I borrowed it of my brother, and it had n't a scratch on it when I took it."
"Pooh," said the other boy, "that does n't hurt it any. I 'll be bound it will be scratched worse than that, before the winter 's over. If you get in my way with it again, I shall serve it worse than I did this time."
The boys passed on their way, and Ralph and George, whose "fun" had been thus suddenly and unjustly spoiled by their insolent and domineering companions, concluded to return home. Poor Ralph dreaded to meet Oscar; but yet he hunted him up, as soon as he got home, and told him what had befallen the beautiful sled. Oscar was very angry when he heard the story, but he generously acquitted his brother of all blame in the matter, and declared that he would pay back the boy who had thus taken advantage of his weakness. He knew the offender, from Ralph's description, and from the name of his sled, which was the "Corsair." He even proposed to go directly to the Common, and settle the account at once; but Ralph, in whose heart revenge held a very small place, persuaded him out of the notion.
But Oscar, unlike Ralph, was not the boy to forget or forgive an injury. A day or two after the occurrence just related, while coasting on the Common, he fell in with the boy who run into his brother. Keeping his eye upon him until he could catch him a little aside from the other boys, when the favorable moment came, he suddenly dealt him a severe blow, which nearly knocked him over, accompanying it with the remark:
"There, take that for running down my little brother, when he was coasting with my sled, the other day."
The other boy, without saying a word, sprang at Oscar, and, for a moment or two, blows and kicks were freely exchanged. But though they were about of a size, it was evident that Oscar was the stronger or most resolute of the two, and his antagonist soon gave up the contest, but not until he had been pretty roughly handled. Other boys soon came flocking around, to whom Oscar explained the cause of the assault; but his antagonist denied all knowledge of the affair for which Oscar had attacked him. An angry war of words ensued, but the excitement finally subsided without any further resort to blows, and Oscar returned home, well pleased with his adventure.
One of Oscar's favorite winter amusements was skating. Early in winter, as soon as the little pond on the Common was frozen over, he might be seen gliding over the smooth ice; but later in the season, when there was good skating on "Back Bay," he preferred that locality, because of its greater extent. Tiger usually accompanied him in his skating excursions, and seemed to enjoy the sport as much as his master did. It was amusing to see him try to make a short turn, in running upon the ice. He would slide some distance before he could change his course. Oscar would often plague him, when he was in full chase after his master, by suddenly turning upon his skates, and taking a contrary direction, leaving Tiger to get back as he could.
But an event happened, one day, that almost wholly cured Tiger of his fondness for this kind of sport. He was gaily tripping over the ice, by the side of his young master, when the latter suddenly turned about, and Tiger, in his haste to follow him, slid directly into an air-hole. This was probably the first time he had enjoyed so extensive a cold bath; and as he was not a water-dog, it is not surprising that he was terribly frightened. His piteous cries brought Oscar to his relief, who could not help laughing at the sorry plight in which he found his half-drowned canine friend. He was floundering and paddling about in the water, now lifting himself almost out, upon the edge of the ice, and now slipping off again, and plumping over-head in the uncomfortable element; his intelligent countenance, in the meantime, wearing the impress of despair. But Oscar soon helped him from his disagreeable position. Finding himself on his legs again, he did not resume his sport; but, shivering with cold, and dripping with water, almost at the freezing point, and with his head hanging downward, and his tail drooping between his legs, he started towards home—a wiser and a sadder dog.
When Oscar got home, he found the family some what alarmed for his own safety. Tiger had arrived some time before, and as it was evident that he had been overboard, and as he was known to have gone off with his master, Mrs. Preston felt some anxiety, not knowing but that both Oscar and the dog had broken through the ice. But his arrival dispelled all fears, and his account of Tiger's misfortune served to amuse the children for the rest of the day. As for Tiger himself, he seemed heartily ashamed of the part he had played, and could hardly be persuaded to leave the chimney-corner for a moment, or even to look up, when the children inquired for his health.
"I don't see what good air-holes do. I wonder if anybody knows what they are for," exclaimed Ralph, as the children and their mother were seated around the sitting-room table in the evening.
"They are traps set to catch skaters, I suppose," said Oscar.
"And dogs," added Ella.
"But don't you know what they are for, Alice?" continued Ralph.
"Yes," replied Alice, who had studied natural philosophy at school, "they are the breathing holes of the fishes. Fishes can't live without air, any better than we can; and a pond or river frozen over solid, without any air-holes, would be as bad for them as a room from which all fresh air was shut out would be to us. You can sometimes catch fish very easily by cutting a hole in the ice, for if they feel the need of air, they will rush right up to the opening."
"But how are the air-holes made?" inquired Ralph.
"I believe," replied Alice, "that they are generally made by springs that bubble up from the bottom. These springs come from the earth, and the water is so warm that it gradually thaws the ice over them. The fish often finish the process by jumping up through the ice before it has entirely melted. When the cold is very intense, and these springs have frozen up, some of the water is absorbed by the earth, which leaves a vacuum or empty space between the ice and the water; and then the ice gives way under the weight of the atmosphere, and air is admitted into the water beneath."
"Well, I 'm glad air-holes are good for something," said Oscar; "they 're troublesome enough to skaters. Jim Anderson skated right into one the other day, and came pretty near getting drowned. But I always keep my eyes open for them. I never got into one yet."
"You cannot be too careful when you are on the ice," remarked Mrs. Preston. "I felt so uneasy, that I was just going to send Ralph in search of you, when you got home."
After that day it required considerable coaxing to induce Tiger to go upon the boys' skating-ground. He manifested a decided preference to remain upon the shore, and look on; and when he did venture to accompany his master, he kept close by his side, and travelled over the treacherous ice with a degree of circumspection, which said very plainly, "You won't catch me in that scrape again, master Oscar!"
But there was nothing that the boys enjoyed more at this season of the year, than a real good snowstorm. Such a storm they were favored with during this month. It came on in the evening, and the next morning, when they arose, their basement windows were more than half buried up in snow, and the drifts, in some places, were higher than Oscar's head. The streets were deserted and almost impassable. Thick crusts of snow hung over the roofs of the long blocks of houses; while the blinds, windows, doors and balustrades were heavily trimmed with the same delicate material. The huge banks which stretched themselves along the street and sidewalk, were as yet undisturbed; for the few passers-by had been glad to pick their way through the valleys. The wind roared and piped among the chimneys and house-tops, and whisked through narrow passage-ways, and whistled through the smallest cracks and crevices, in its merriest and busiest mood. Now it would scoop up a cloud of snow from the street, and bear it up far above the house-tops, and then it would repay the debt by gathering a fleecy wreath from some neighboring roof, and sweeping it into the street beneath. The storm still continued with unabated severity, and the air was so full of snow, that one could hardly see the length of the street.
After a hasty breakfast, the boys tucked the bottoms of their trowsers into their boots, and sallied forth, to explore the half-buried streets. And now the light snow-balls began to fly thick and fast, and every few moments, one and another would measure his full length in some deep drift, which for a moment almost buried him from sight. Tiger, who accompanied them, entered fully into the sport, and very good-naturedly received his share of the snowballs and snow-baths. But their exercise was too violent to be continued a great while. They soon returned home, coated with snow from head to heel, and the cheeks of the boys glowing with health and enjoyment.
"After you get rested, Oscar," said Mr. Preston, who was just leaving for the store, "I want you to shovel a path in front of the house."
"What is the use?" inquired Oscar. "The storm is n't over yet, and if I make a path, it will fill right up again."
"No it won't," replied his father. "I don't think it will storm much longer; and the snow is so light, now, that you can shovel it easily, but if you leave it till noon, it maybe trodden down hard. You need not clean off the whole side-walk now; only make a comfortable passage-way, and perhaps I will help you finish the job at night."
Oscar still thought it would be a waste of labor to shovel a path then, and he did not evince any haste in obeying his father's order. After loitering about the house a long time, he took the shovel, and worked lazily at the path for awhile. Although he only undertook to cut a narrow passage-way through the drift in front of the house, he worked with so little spirit, that when the time came for him to get ready for school, he had not half completed the task. He asked permission to stay at home and finish his path, but his mother did not think this necessary, and refused her consent. So he went to school, and in the meantime the storm died away, and the clouds dispersed.
Towards noon the door-bell rang, and on Bridget going to answer it, a little printed paper was handed to her, directing the occupant of the house to have the snow removed from his sidewalk within a given number of hours. After school, Oscar thought no more of his path, but went off with Alfred Walton, and did not go home until dinner-time. He had but little time now to shovel snow; but his father told him to be sure and come home directly from school, in the afternoon, and not to play or do anything else until the sidewalk was cleared off.
Oscar accordingly went home after school, and resumed his work. He found that the snow was trodden into such a solid icy mass, that an axe was necessary to cut it up in some places. He was not the boy to hurt himself with hard labor, and although he kept his shovel at work in a leisurely way, he did not accomplish much, except the removal of a little snow that had not got trodden down. Wearied at length with his feeble and fruitless efforts, he returned into the house, saying to his mother:
"There, I can't get the snow off the sidewalk, and it's of no use to try. It's trodden down just as hard as ice. Besides, if I should shovel it all off, there will be an avalanche from the top of the house to-night, that will bury the sidewalk all up again. The snow is sliding off the roofs, all around here;—have n't you heard it, mother?"
"Yes, I thought I heard it," replied Mrs. Preston; "but if you can't get the snow off the sidewalk, you had better speak to your father about it, when he comes home, and perhaps he will help you, or hire somebody to do it for you. It must be got off as soon as possible, for the police have notified us to attend to it."
In spite of this advice, Oscar neglected to speak to his father in regard to the matter, and no one else happening to think of it, nothing was said about it. The next morning, he chopped away upon the ice a little while, but getting tired of it, he soon abandoned the job, and went to play. When Mr. Preston came home to dinner, an unusual cloud was on his brow; and as soon as Oscar came in, the cause was explained.
"Oscar," he said, "why did you not shovel the snow from the sidewalk, as I told you to, yesterday morning?"
"I tried to," replied Oscar; "but it was trodden down so hard, I could n't get it off."
"But you should have done it before it got hardened. I told you to clear a passage-way, yesterday morning. That would have saved the rest from getting trod down, and at noon you could have finished the job. Why did you not do as I told you to?"
"I did begin to make a path," replied Oscar; "but I did n't have time to finish it, and when I got home from school, the snow was all trodden down hard."
"Did n't have time?" said his father; "what do you tell me such a story as that for? You could have made all the path that was necessary in fifteen or twenty minutes, if you had been disposed to do it. By neglecting to obey me, you have got me into a pretty scrape. I have had to go before the Police Court, this forenoon, and pay a fine and costs, amounting to over five dollars, for your negligence and disobedience. And now," he added, "you may try once more, and see if you can do as I tell you to. As soon at you have done dinner, take the hatchet and shovel, and go to work upon the sidewalk; and don't you leave it until the ice is all cleared off. As sure as you do, I will dust your jacket for you when I come home to-night, so that you will not forget it for one while."
Oscar thought it best to obey his father this time. It being Saturday, school did not keep, in the afternoon, and he had ample time to complete the task, although it was time which he intended to spend in a different way. Ralph, however, volunteered his assistance, and before the middle of the afternoon, the task was finished.
Those who impose upon the weak, sometimes get punished for their meanness in an unexpected manner. This truth was very effectually impressed upon Oscar, one March morning, as he was going to school. The streets were in a very bad condition, being several inches deep with a compound of snow, water, and mud, familiarly known as "slosh." Just before reaching the school-house, he overtook two little boys with a sled, and throwing himself upon it, he compelled them to drag him along. It was hard sledding, and the boys naturally objected to drawing such a heavy load; but Oscar kept his seat, and compelled them to go on. For a few minutes, he rode along very quietly, although his span of youngsters, who were continually muttering to themselves, did not seem to enjoy the sport as well as he did. But, by a dexterous movement, they soon balanced the debtor and creditor account. Giving the sled a sudden jerk and lurch, in one of the sloppiest places they had met with, their lazy passenger was thrown backward into the mud, and imprinted a full length picture of himself in the yielding material. The incident happened almost in front of the school-house, and as Oscar rose from the mud, he was greeted by the shouts and laughter of a hundred boys who witnessed the scene. Several men, also, who were passing at the time, joined in the laughing chorus; and one, who had observed the whole affair from the beginning, told Oscar the boys had served him just right.
Ralph came to the relief of his brother, and having wiped off as much of the mud and water from his back as he could, with a handkerchief, Oscar started for home, wet to his skin. He was keenly sensitive to any mortification of this kind, and it was a bitter pill for him to appear in the crowded streets in such a plight. He imagined everybody he met or overtook was staring at him, and laughing at the figure he cut, and he wanted to hide his face from their sight. He never went home from school so fast before; but when he had changed his dress, and washed the dirt from his hands and face, it was too late to return. In the afternoon, when he made his appearance at school, he was quite generally greeted with the significant nickname of "Stick-in-the-mud," and had to stand a most remorseless fire of wit, pleasantry, and ridicule the rest of the day, both at home and in the street.
Oscar thought quite as much as was proper of outward appearances. He was commendably neat in his personal habits, and was seldom caught with dirty hands and face, or uncombed hair, or soiled and ragged dress. He loved to dress well, too, and no amount of persuasion could induce him to wear a garment, if he fancied it did not set right, or was much out of fashion, or had an old and patched-up look. In such a case, nothing but the stern arm of authority was sufficient to overcome his prejudices.
"There," said his mother one evening, after spending some time over one of his jackets, which had become a little worn at the elbows; "there, that will last you a spell longer, and look almost as well as it ever did, too."
Oscar examined the garment. It was neatly mended, and looked very well; but his eye rested upon a slight patch upon one of the elbows, which entirely spoilt it for him, although it had previously been a favorite garment.
"It's too small for me," he said; "why can't you keep it for Ralph?"
"No, you needn't keep it for Ralph," quickly replied the owner of that name; "I haven't had anything but your old clothes to wear for a year or two, and I should think it was my turn to have some of the new ones, now. Make him wear that out, mother, won't you?"
"Yes, I intend he shall wear it awhile longer," replied Mrs. Preston. "It looks well enough for any body."
"But see that detestable patch," said Oscar; "I don't want to wear that to school; folks will think I have borrowed one of Ben. Wright's old jackets."
Ben Wright was one of Oscar's schoolmates. He was the son of a poor widow, and was the most be-patched boy in Oscar's class, at the head of which he stood. As he had nothing to recommend him but fine scholarship, exemplary deportment, and a good character, in school and out, he was a boy of little consequence in the eyes of Oscar.
"I wish you were worthy to wear one of Benny's old jackets," replied Mrs. Preston. "If you were half as good a boy as he is, I would not complain. But you need not be afraid that anybody will mistake you for him, even if you do wear a patched garment."
"I believe you think Ben. Wright is a little angel," said Oscar, who never liked to hear his humble but diligent classmate praised.
"I think he has some traits that you would do well to imitate," replied his mother.
"I shall think I am imitating him, when I get that thing on," added Oscar, in a contemptuous manner, alluding to the jacket.
"There, that will do, Oscar," replied Mrs. Preston, "You've said enough about the jacket; don't let me hear another word of complaint. I took a great deal of pains to mend it neatly, and it looks well enough for you or any other boy. You may put it on to-morrow morning, and don't you leave off wearing it till I tell you to."
Oscar nodded his head in a way that seemed to say, "You 'll see how long I wear it;" but his mother did not observe the motion. He had a short and easy way of getting rid of garments that he disliked. Somehow other they were sure to waste away in a much faster manner than those he had a fancy for; or, perhaps they would be rendered suddenly useless, by some mysterious accident. But he would never admit that their period of usefulness had been purposely shortened, though suspicions of this kind were occasionally hinted.
Soon after this, Mr. Preston entered the room, and took a seat by the fire He pulled out his watch to wind it up, as was his custom just before bed-time, when Oscar said:
"Father, I wish you would buy me a watch. Frank King, and Bill Andrews, and Charlie Grant, and almost all the large boys that I know, have got watches, and I should think I might have one too; why can't I, father?"
"What do they do with watches?" inquired Mr. Preston.
"Why, what does anybody do with them? They carry them to tell the time of day, of course," replied Oscar.
"And to make a display of watch-chain," added his father.
"No, that isn't it," replied Oscar; "but it's convenient to have a watch with you. You don't know how I 'm plagued to tell what time it is, sometimes. It would make me a good deal more punctual, if I had one. I was late to school this morning, but it was n't my fault, for I did n't know what time it was until I got to the school-house, and found that the boys had all gone in."
"When I was of your age," said Mr. Preston, "boys never thought of carrying watches, and yet they were taught to be as punctual as the clock, in their attendance at school. If I had been tardy, and tried to excuse myself by saying that I had no watch, I should have got laughed at by the whole school. But where were you this morning, that you did not know when it was school-time?"
"Over to Alf. Walton's."
"And couldn't find a time-piece about the premises?"
"Why—no—I—forgot—" replied Oscar, somewhat embarrassed by the question.
"Just as I supposed," added his father; "you got along with that boy, and forgot all about your school; and it would have been just the same, if you 'd had half a dozen watches in your pocket."
"O no, father," said Oscar; "for if I 'd had a watch about me, I should have looked at it."
"Well," added Mr. Preston, "if you don't care enough about punctuality to take a little trouble to ascertain what time it is, when you have an engagement, I don't think a watch would help you any in acquiring the habit. You have n't made out a very strong case."
"No," remarked Mrs. Preston, "he wants a watch for show, and not punctuality,—that's plain enough. He has just been making a great fuss because I put a little bit of a patch on the elbow of his jacket. He is getting to be quite fastidious, for a gentleman of his size."
"If you would think a little less of outside appearances, Oscar," continued his father, "and a little more of inward character, your judgment of men and things would not be quite so much at fault as it is now. If you judge of boys or men by the cloth and watches they wear, and select your companions accordingly, you will soon find that you have got a pretty set of friends. And so, too, if you think you can secure the good opinion and respect of the world, merely by dressing well, you are greatly mistaken. You must learn to judge people by their characters, and not by their dress or appearance. If I could see you trying to form a good character, I should care very little what sort of garments you wore. I would buy you a watch, or anything else in my power, if it would only make you behave better. In fact, I will make you a handsome offer now, if you wish."
"Well, what is it?" inquired Oscar.
"I will agree to give you a nice watch, in six months from this time, if you will do three things," continued his father.
"What are they?" inquired Oscar; "are they things that I can do?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Preston; "you can do them if you will only try. The first is, that you render prompt obedience to your parents, during these six months. Is n't that within your power?"
"Yes, sir," replied Oscar, somewhat reluctantly.
"The second is," continued Mr. Preston, "that you behave toward your playmates and all other people in such a way, that no serious complaint shall be made against you. Can you do that, if you try?"
"Yes, sir, I guess so," replied Oscar.
"And the last condition is, that you give sufficient attention to your studies to gain admission to the High School, at the end of the term. Is that in your power?"
"I suppose it is," said Oscar.
"You admit, then, that you can keep these conditions," continued his father; "the question now is, will you do it?"
That was a hard question for Oscar to answer. He hesitated, and twisted about in his chair, and at length replied:
"Why, I don't suppose I should make out, if I tried."
"No, you certainly would not, if that is your spirit," replied his father. "You cannot accomplish anything unless you have some confidence that you can do it, and firmly resolve to try. You just admitted that you could keep these conditions, but it seems you are not willing to make the attempt. You want a watch, but you don't intend to obey your parents, or to conduct yourself properly, or to attend to your lessons, for the sake of getting it—that's what you mean to say, is it not?"
Oscar remained silent.
"I am sorry," continued his father, "that you will not take up with my offer; for though I do not think it important that you should get the watch, it is important that you should reform some of your habits. You are getting to be altogether too wayward and headstrong, as well as vain."
"If I get into the High School next summer, may I have the watch?" inquired Oscar.
"No," replied his father, "not unless you comply with the other conditions. But I want you to remember what I told you the other day, that if you don't get into the High School at that time, I shall send you to some boarding-school away from home, where you will be made to study, and to behave yourself too. If strict discipline can do anything for you, you shall have the benefit of it, you may depend upon that."
Oscar was now two-thirds of the way through his last year in the school he attended. His parents were anxious that he should go through the High School course of studies, and, indeed, he had applied for admission to that school the summer previous to this, but did not pass the examination. There was still some doubt whether he would succeed any better at the next examination; and in case of his failure, his parents had decided to send him to a boarding-school in the country. But there was nothing very alarming to him in the idea of going into such an establishment, notwithstanding all his father said of the strict discipline to which he would be subjected. There would be a novelty about it, he imagined, that would make it quite pleasant. Consequently, he cared very little whether he was accepted as a High School pupil or not.
THE MORAL LESSON.
Oscar had the name among his fellows of being a shrewd and sharp boy at a bargain; and, like too many men who have acquired a similar reputation, he was not over-scrupulous in his manner of conducting his business operations. If he could drive a profitable trade, it mattered little how he did it; and if somebody else lost as much as he gained by the bargain, that was not his business; every one must look out for himself. So he reasoned, and so constantly did he act on this principle, that, to tell the truth, his integrity was by no means unimpeachable among his comrades. It was a very general opinion, that in many of their boyish games, such as marbles, he would cheat if he could get a chance; and the notion was equally prevalent, that in a bargain, he was pretty sure to get decidedly the best end.
Oscar was very desirous that his dog Tiger should wear a brass collar, by way of ornament and distinction. All other respectable dogs bore upon their necks this badge of ownership, and he thought it highly important that Tiger should be on a good footing with his canine friends. But how to get the collar, was the question that perplexed him. He had asked his father to buy it, and met with a flat refusal. He had even called at several shops, and inquired the price of the coveted article, but it was hopelessly beyond his means. The subject lay heavily upon his mind for several days, for when he took a notion that he wanted a thing, it was hard to reason or drive him out of it. His thoughts and his dreams were of brass dog-collars, and his talk among his companions run upon the same theme. At length, while prosecuting his inquiries, he happened to learn that a little boy who attended his school, owned just such a collar as he wanted, and had no dog to wear it. Here was a chance for a speculation. Oscar lost no time in seeing this boy, and in getting his lowest price for the collar, which was fifty cents. This was much less than the price at the shops, and Oscar thought his father might be induced, by this fact, to let him have the money to purchase it; but Mr. Preston did not think Tiger needed any such appendage, and Oscar's request was again denied.
Oscar now set his wits to work to devise a way of buying the collar, without his father's aid. He looked over the little collection of "goods and chattels," which he called his own, to see what there was he could exchange for the article he wanted. His eye soon fell upon a brass finger ring, and his plan was quickly formed. The ring had been tumbled about among his playthings for a year or two, and was now dull and dingy; but he remembered that he once cleaned and polished it, so that it looked very much like gold, so long as the lustre lasted. He subjected it to this process again, and it soon looked as well as the plain gold ring he wore upon his finger, which it somewhat resembled in size and color. Substituting it for the gold ring, he wore it to school that afternoon; and a little negotiation, after school was dismissed, settled the business—the coveted dog-collar was his! Indeed, so craftily did he conduct the bargain, that he made the other boy throw in a pretty ivory pocket-comb to boot! The little boy who was thus cruelly deceived, supposed he was buying the ring that Oscar usually wore; and, in truth, Oscar did give him to understand, in the course of the barter, that it was fine gold, a point on which the other boy did not appear to have much doubt.
Oscar did not dare to tell any one what a good bargain he had made, for fear that the other boy would hear of it. Tiger appeared with a handsome collar around his neck the next morning; and all the explanation any one could get from his young master was, that he "traded for it."
A week or two elapsed before Oscar's victim discovered the imposition that had been practiced upon him. The ring, which had been proudly worn, at length began to look dim and brassy; and on being submitted to careful inspection, it was pronounced by competent authority to be not worth one cent. The owner was of course indignant, and he went at once to Oscar, and demanded a return of the collar and comb. But Oscar laughed at the proposal.
"A bargain is a bargain," said he, "and there can't be any backing out, after it's all settled. You agreed to the trade, and now you must stick to it."
"But it was n't a fair bargain," said the other boy; "you told me the ring was gold, and it is nothing but brass."
"No, I did n't tell you it was gold," replied Oscar. "You imagined that. And I did n't tell you it was the one I wore either,—you imagined that too. It was my other ring that I said was gold, and I told you it cost two dollars, and so it did. I never told you this ring was gold,—I recollect perfectly about it."
"Well, you know I supposed it was gold, or I would n't have traded for it," replied the boy; "and besides, you made me think it was gold, whether you really said it was or not."
"That was your look-out," said Oscar. "When a man sells a thing, he is n't obliged to run it down. You must look out for yourself when you make a bargain—that's what I do."
"I should think you did," replied the other; "and I guess I shall remember your advice, if I ever trade with you again. There's your old ring: now give me back my collar and comb," he continued, handing the ring to Oscar.
"I shan't do any such thing," said Oscar, and he refused to take the ring, and turned upon his heel, leaving the other boy in no very pleasant state of mind.
"Then you 're a great cheat and a swindler," cried the victim, gathering courage as Oscar retreated.
"And you 're a little greeny," replied Oscar, with a loud laugh.
Oscar had prepared his mind for this explosion of indignation, and though he did not care much about it, he was glad it was over with. He regarded the transaction which led to it as a shrewd business operation, to be chuckled over, rather than repented of; and he had no idea of spoiling it all, by undoing the bargain.
In Oscar's school, it was customary for the first class (of which he was a member) to devote the first half hour of every Monday morning to a lesson in morals. In these lessons, the duties which we owe to God, to ourselves, and to one another, were explained and enforced. Although a text-book was used, the teacher did not confine himself to it, in the recitations, but mingled oral instruction with that contained in the printed lessons, often taking up incidents that occurred in school, to illustrate the principle he wished to establish.
It so happened that on the Monday morning after the occurrence just related, the subject of the moral lesson was dishonesty. The various forms of dishonesty,—theft, robbery, fraud, &c.,—were explained, and the distinction between them pointed out. The teacher then proceeded as follows:
"A gentleman was riding in the cars, one evening, when a newsboy passed through the train, and he purchased a paper, giving the boy by mistake a gold eagle instead of a cent. The boy noticed the mistake, but said nothing about it. Albert, you may tell me what you think of that boy's conduct."
"It was dishonest," replied Albert; "because he knew that the money did not belong to him, and yet he kept it."
"But did not a part of the blame belong to the man who made the mistake?" inquired the teacher.
Albert, after thinking a moment, replied:
"He was to blame for his carelessness, but not for the boy's dishonesty."
"You are right," said the teacher. "The boy was guilty of stealing, just as much as if he had picked the man's pocket, or broken into his house. But suppose, instead of the mistake being to the amount of ten dollars, it had only been a few cents,—how then?"
"It would have been just the same," replied the boy.
"But what if the man was very rich, and would never feel the loss, while the boy was poor, and needed the money?"
"That would have made no difference," replied Albert.
"Very good," continued the teacher; "when an honest man discovers a mistake in his own favor, he always hastens to rectify it. He will receive only what he is entitled to. Robert," he added, addressing an other pupil, "how is it with regard to lost articles?"
"When we find anything that has been lost," replied the boy addressed, "we should try to ascertain the owner, and return the article to him."
"Is there any guilt in neglecting to do this?"
"Yes, sir, it is a kind of dishonesty."
"You are right," added the teacher; "the courts often punish men for this very offence, for it is a species of theft. And how of borrowing articles, and neglecting to return them,—is that honest?"
"It is not," replied Robert.
"Oscar," continued the teacher, "you may give your opinion of this case: suppose one of your acquaintances wants a certain article belonging to you, and by way of barter, offers you a finger-ring for it. You take it for granted that the ring is gold, but a week or two after the bargain is concluded, you discover that it is of brass, and of no value what ever. The other boy knew all the while it was brass, and also knew you supposed it was gold. What should you say of such a transaction? Was it honest?"
Oscar turned red, and looked confused, as this question was put to him. It was a minute or two before he made any reply, and then he said, in a hesitating manner:
"If the other boy did n't tell me it was gold, I don't see as he was to blame."
"But we will suppose there was no need of his telling you so," added the master; "we will suppose he managed the bargain so adroitly, that you never suspected he was not dealing fairly with you. In that case, should you think he had acted honestly towards you?"
"No, sir," replied Oscar, but it came out with the utmost reluctance.
"Certainly not," said the teacher; "it is dishonest to take advantage of another's ignorance, or simplicity, or necessity, in a bargain. Overreaching in trade is often dignified with the name of shrewdness, but, for all that, it is contrary to the rule of honesty. And now I have one more question to ask you: After you have discovered how your comrade has imposed upon you, what should you expect of him?"
Oscar made no reply.
"Should you not expect him to make full restitution?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, in a scarcely audible voice.
"Of course you would," continued the master; "and if he refused, he would deserve double punishment."
Several other forms of dishonesty were then considered, such as the following;—withholding from another his just dues; contracting debts which we know we cannot pay, or making promises we know we cannot fulfil; wasting or injuring the property of others, &c. In concluding, the teacher remarked, that it was not very pleasant to feel that we had been wronged and cheated; but there was another feeling, a thousand-fold more to be dreaded—the feeling that we have wronged and cheated others. And so ended the moral lesson for that morning.
The particular bearing of this lesson upon Oscar, and the pertinency of the "case" he was called to decide upon, were not generally known to the class, though their suspicions might have been somewhat excited by his confusion, and his reluctance to answer the questions put to him. The teacher had been informed of Oscar's dishonest bargain by the boy who suffered from it, and he chose this way to impress upon him the immorality of the transaction. He concluded, however, to give him an opportunity to make a voluntary restitution, and so no further reference was made to the matter.
Oscar was wise enough to heed the warning. Before night, the brass dog-collar and the ivory pocket-comb were returned to their rightful owner.
"You have got a bad cold, Oscar," said Mrs. Preston one evening towards the close of winter, as Oscar came in from his play, and was seized with a coughing spell. "And no wonder," she added, on glancing at his feet; "why, do you see how wet the bottoms of your pantaloons are? I should like to know where you have been, to get so wet—it is strange that you will not keep out of the water."
"I should like to know how anybody could help getting wet feet this weather, with the slosh up to your knees," said Oscar.
"I could walk about the streets all day without going over my shoes," replied his mother, "and so could you, if you tried to. I believe you go through all the mud-puddles you can find, just to see how wet you can get. But it won't do for you to sit down in this condition. Take off your wet boots, and run up stairs and put on a pair of dry pantaloons and some dry stockings, and then you may sit down to the fire and warm yourself."
"I don't want to change my pantaloons and stockings," said Oscar; "I 'll take off my boots and dry myself—that will do just as well."
"No it won't," replied his mother; "you had better change your clothes, for you've got a real bad cold now, and I don't want you to get any more. Come, do you hear me? Run up to your chamber and put on some dry clothes."
Oscar paid no attention to the command, but after removing his wet boots, sat down before the range to dry his feet and legs. Such instances of disobedience were too common in the family to attract any special notice, and Mrs. Preston said nothing more about the matter.
Oscar, that afternoon, had been down to the shores of Charles River, near Cambridge Bridge, with Alfred Walton and several other boys. They had been amusing themselves upon the ice that had formed along the edge of the river, and which was now breaking up. They loosened some of the large cakes, and set them floating off upon the current towards the ocean. It was in this way that Oscar got his feet so wet.
The next afternoon, when school was dismissed, Oscar, forgetting his wet feet and his cold, went again to the same place, with several of his cronies. Tiger also accompanied the party, for his master seldom went anywhere without him, except to school. The boys amused themselves, as on the previous day, with shoving off large blocks of ice into the stream, and with running rapidly over floating pieces that were not large enough to bear them up. Sometimes they narrowly escaped a ducking, so venturesome were they; and all of them got their feet pretty thoroughly soaked.
It happened, after awhile, that a cake of ice upon which the boys were all standing, got disengaged from the shore, unperceived by them, and commenced floating into the river. They were all at work upon another ice-block, trying to push it off, and did not notice that they were going off themselves, until they were several feet from the shore. The distance was too great to leap, and the water was so deep that none of them dared to jump off from their precarious footing.
"Well, this is a pretty joke," said one of the boys, with some appearance of alarm. "I should like to know how we are going to get out of this scrape?"
"Get out of it?—who wants to get out of it?" replied Oscar. "I don't, for one—we shall have a first-rate sail down into the harbor; shan't we, Alf?"
"The tide will take us right under the bridge, and I 'm going to climb up one of the piers," said Alfred, who appeared to be thinking more of a way of escape than of the pleasures of the trip.
"Pooh, I shan't get off there," said Oscar. "I 'm in for a sail, and if the rest of you back out, I shan't. You 'll go too, won't you, Tom?"
Before Tom could answer, they all began to notice that their ice-cake gave signs that the burden upon it was greater than it could safely bear. The swift current began to whirl it about in a rather uncomfortable manner, and it was gradually settling under water. They all began to be very much alarmed—all but Tiger, who did not quite comprehend the situation of affairs, and who looked up into the boys' faces with an expression of curiosity, as though he wanted to say:
"I wonder what mischief these little rogues are up to now?"
Several people who were crossing the bridge now noticed the perilous situation of the boys, and stopped to look at them. As soon as Alfred noticed them, he cried out slowly, at the top of his voice:
"Halloo, there! send us a boat, will you? we 're sinking!"
There was some doubt whether the people on the bridge understood the cry, and the other boys repeated it as loud as they could, in the meantime also trying to manifest their want by signs and gestures. Some of the spectators upon the bridge, who were now quite numerous, shouted back in reply; but the boys, being to their windward, could not understand what they said. Their frail support was now moving rapidly along, and whirling about in the eddies more alarmingly than ever. It had sunk so low that they were all standing in the water, and they expected it would shortly break to pieces and precipitate them all into the river. There were four of them upon the cake, besides the dog. The two youngest boys began to cry with fright; but Oscar and Alfred, though they were as much alarmed as the others, did not manifest it in this way, but were looking anxiously towards the bridge and the shore for relief.
The boys were not long kept in this dreadful state of suspense; for pretty soon they discovered a boat putting out towards them from the end of the bridge. There were two men in it, each of whom was plying an oar. They called out to the boys not to be frightened, and in a few minutes they were alongside the fugitive ice-cake, whose living freight was safely transferred to the boat. The boatmen then pulled for the wharf from which they came, and the rescued party had the pleasure of standing once more upon firm ground. They were so overjoyed at their escape that they forgot to thank the men who had taken so much trouble to rescue them. They were not ungrateful however; though it would have been better if their words as well as their looks had expressed the sentiment they felt. As soon as they reached the wharf, the men advised them to run home and dry themselves, which they proceeded to do.
When Oscar reached home, he was so hoarse, from hallooing, that he could not speak aloud. When his mother heard of his exposure, and saw how wet he was, she was much concerned for him. She wished him to change his damp clothing, but he did not think it necessary, and instead of complying with her desire, he sat down to the fire and dried himself. He had but little appetite for supper; and a headache coming on in the evening, he retired to bed early. Before dong so, however, he took a dose of medicine which his mother had prepared, to "throw off" his cold.
After a feverish and restless night—in which, in his troubled dreams, Oscar had floated to sea upon a small piece of ice, and, after a long agony, foundered alone in fathomless waters—he awoke in the morning feeling very strangely. Every few moments a cold chill ran through his body, that made him shiver until the bed trembled beneath him. His head ached badly, and there was also a pain in his back. He tried to raise himself up, but his arms had lost their strength, and he was barely able to support himself a moment upon his elbow. By-and-bye his brothers, who slept in the same room in another bed, got up, and Oscar informed them that he was too weak to get off the bed. They soon called in their father and mother, who, after looking at the sick boy, concluded to send for a physician.
After breakfast, Ralph was despatched for the doctor, who soon arrived, and was conducted into Oscar's chamber. Seating himself upon the bedside, he took the sick boy's wrist into his hand, and began to talk with him very pleasantly, asking him various questions about his feelings, the manner in which he took cold, &c. Having ascertained all the facts and symptoms of the case, he told the family he thought Oscar was suffering from an attack of lung fever, and he then gave directions as to the manner in which the disease should be treated. He also wrote a recipe for some medicine, to be procured at the apothecary's. The terms used in it were Latin, and very much abbreviated, besides, so that they were unintelligible to Mrs. Preston; for this is a custom among physicians, that has come down from ancient times. Seeing Mrs. Preston was in some doubt about the prescription, he explained to her what the articles were that composed it, and the effect they would have upon the patient.
After the doctor had gone, it was decided to remove Oscar into another chamber, in a lower story, where he would be more comfortable, and where, also, it would be more convenient to wait upon him. Wrapping him up warmly in the bed-clothes, his father took him in his arms, and carried him to the room he was to occupy for the present.
In spite of his medicine, Oscar continued to grow worse, through the day. He longed for night to come, that he might go to sleep; but when it came, it did not bring with it the refreshing slumber of health. Short naps and troubled dreams alternated with long, weary hours of wakefulness; and the sun, at its next rising, found him sicker than before. The pains in his head and chest were more severe; his skin was hot and dry; his cheeks were flushed with fever; he breathed with difficulty, and his cough had become quite distressing. He felt cross and fretful, too, and nothing that was done for him seemed to give him satisfaction. He was unwilling that any one should attend upon him, except his mother, and refused to receive his food or medicine from any hand but hers. If she happened to be absent from his room more than a few moments, when he was awake, he would insist upon her being called back.
But though Oscar would not allow his mother to leave him, she did not suit him much better than the other members of the family. It was with considerable difficulty that she could coax him to take the medicines the doctor had ordered. Then she was obliged to deny him all forms of nourishment, except a little gum-arabic water,—an arrangement at which he complained a good deal.
Oscar's fever continued to run for more than a week, the violence of the disease increasing from day to day. Then a favorable change took place, and the doctor told him the fever had turned, and he was getting better. For a day or two before this, however, he was very ill; so ill, indeed, that he submitted to whatever the doctor ordered, without a word of complaint. He felt that there was danger, and he dare not stand in the way of the means used for his recovery. To this, perhaps, he owed the favorable turn the disease had taken; for had he refused to take his medicines, as he did at the commencement of his sickness, or even had he only engaged in a fruitless but exhausting contest with his mother, the scale might have turned the other way, and the fever ended in death.
Getting better! That was the best news Oscar had heard for many a day. He almost wanted to kiss the lips that spoke those encouraging words. He always liked Dr. Liscom, but never so well as at that moment. It was good news to all the household, too, and flew quickly from one to another. In fact, the children grew so jubilant over it, that their mother had to remind them that Oscar was yet too sick to bear any noise in the house.
"O dear," said George, "I 've got tired of keeping so still. How long will it be before we can make a real good noise, mother?"
"And how long before I can sing, and practice my music-lessons, mother?" inquired Ella.
"And how long before Oscar can go out and play?" inquired Ralph, more thoughtful for his sick brother than for himself.
"I can't tell," replied their mother; "you must all keep still a few days longer, for Oscar is very weak now, and the noise disturbs him. The doctor thinks it will take several weeks for him to get fully well, but he will soon be able to sit up, I hope."
The next morning, Oscar felt decidedly better, and so he continued to improve day by day. But his old impatience soon began to return. He grumbled every time the hour returned to take his drops, and he fairly rebelled against the food that was prepared for him—a little weak gruel, when his appetite was clamoring for a hearty meal of beef and potatoes! During his sickness, many little delicacies had been sent in to him by friends and neighbors, and from most of these too he was still debarred by the inexorable doctor. He teased his mother to let him have things the doctor had forbidden, and was offended with her when she refused. He thus made a great deal of unnecessary trouble and suffering for his mother, who had served him so devotedly through this sickness that her own health was giving way.
A day or two after his fever turned, Oscar wished to sit up in a chair, and begged very hard to be allowed to get up from the bed.
"Why, Oscar," said his mother, "you could not sit up two minutes, if I should put you in a chair. You have no idea how weak you are."
"No, I aint weak," replied Oscar; "I bet you I can walk across the room just as well as you can—you don't know how strong I 've grown within a day or two. Come, mother, do let me get up, will you?"
"You are crazy to talk so, my son," answered Mrs. Preston. "If you should try to stand up, you would faint away as dead as a log. It will be a week before you are strong enough to walk about."
"I believe you mean to keep me sick as long as you can," was Oscar's unfeeling reply. "I am tired almost to death of laying a-bed," he added, and the tears began to gather in his eyes.
His mother felt hurt by these words, but she attributed them to the weakening and irritating influence of disease, and forgave them as quickly as they were uttered. She even yielded to his wishes so far as to offer to let him sit up in bed a little while. He gladly acceded to the proposal, and putting his arms around her neck, she slowly raised him up; but he had no sooner reached an upright position than his head began to "fly round like a top," and he was very glad to be let down again to his pillow. This little experiment satisfied him for the day.
It was a fine April morning when Oscar was first taken up from his sick bed, and placed in an easy chair, well lined with blankets and comforters. This was a memorable event in his life, the first time he sat up after nearly three weeks' confinement to his bed. He was dragged to the front window, from which he could see the people upon the street below. How familiar, and yet how strange, everything and everybody looked to his sick eyes! And then, to have his toast and drink set before him upon a corner of the table, where he could help himself, and eat and drink with some comfort,—was n't that "grand," to use his own expressive term!
Oscar's recovery was now pretty rapid, but his mother had to watch him very sharply, to prevent him from running into excesses, to which his impatience continually prompted him. It was hard to make him realize that there was yet some danger of a relapse, and that prudence would be necessary for several weeks to come.
Oscar had reason to remember the first time he went down stairs, after his fit of sickness. It was in the night-time. He awoke, feeling quite hungry; for he was yet kept on a spare diet, which was far from satisfying the cravings of his appetite. He was alone in his room, and all the rest of the family were asleep. A lamp was burning dimly in the fire-place of his chamber, and the door that led into his mother's room was open, that she might be ready, at the least sound of alarm. After thinking the matter over a few minutes, and satisfying himself that no one in the house was awake, he determined to go down stairs in quest of something to eat.
"What is the use of starving a fellow to death, because he has been sick!" he said to himself. "I might as well die one way as another; and if there 's anything to eat in the house, I'm bound to have it. I 've lived on slops and toasted bread three weeks, and I can't stand it any longer."
He accordingly got up, and taking the lamp, stole very cautiously into the entry, and down stairs, having nothing but his night-clothes upon him. The snapping of the stairs, under his tread, was the only noise that was heard, and this did not awake any of the household. He proceeded at once to the kitchen closet, and commenced helping himself with a free hand to its contents. He began upon a dish of corned beef and vegetables, from which he partook quite liberally. He then hastily swallowed a piece of mince-pie, and a slice or two of cake, when, the night air beginning to feel chilly, he hurried back to bed. This last operation was by no means so easy as he had imagined it would be. His knees were very weak and "shaky," and it seemed as though they could not support him, when he undertook to go up stairs. He was alarmed, and would have given up the attempt, and called for help, but for the dread of being caught in such a flagrant act of disobedience. So he persisted in his efforts, and finally reached his chamber, quite exhausted.
After a heavy and troubled sleep, Oscar awoke in the morning, feeling quite wretchedly. As soon as his mother entered the room, her quick eye detected the unfavorable change; but he did not seem inclined to complain much of his feelings, and appeared averse to conversing about them. She ascertained, however, after awhile, that Oscar was more feverish than he had been, that he had a severe pain in his chest, and that his cough was worse. Many were the surmises thrown out, by his father and mother, as to the probable cause of this change in his symptoms; but as for himself, he seemed entirely at a loss to account for the mystery, and left them to form their own conjectures.
The doctor, who now visited Oscar only two or three times a week, was sent for after breakfast. When he arrived, he questioned Mrs. Preston very closely as to the manner in which the patient had been treated, and he also addressed many inquiries to Oscar; but he learned nothing from either that could account for the renewed attack of fever. He sat a few moments, in a thoughtful mood, seemingly at a loss what to say, when Oscar, who had complained much of nausea for the last half hour, began to show symptoms of vomiting. A basin was brought, and the contents of his stomach were quickly discharged into it.
The mystery was now explained. Mrs. Preston looked on in silent astonishment, while the doctor could hardly repress his anger at this exhibition of the contents of his patient's stomach. There were great pieces of unmasticated meat and potato, mixed up with a porridge of half-dissolved pie and cake, the whole forming a medley of hearty and indigestible substances, that would have taxed the strong stomach of a healthy man.