"Well," said the doctor, turning to Mrs. Preston, when Oscar got through, "what does all this mean?"
"I know not; you must ask him," replied Mrs. Preston.
The same question, put to Oscar, brought from him a reluctant confession of the last night's folly. When he had concluded, the doctor arose, and taking his hand, said:
"I will bid you good-bye. It's of no use for me to attend upon you any longer, if you abuse my confidence in this way. If you want to kill yourself I won't stand in your way. Good morning."
Before Oscar recovered from his astonishment, the doctor had reached the entry. Addressing his mother who was following him, he said:
"Call him back, mother—tell him I won't do so again—call him back."
The doctor heard the message, and returned.
"I will consent to prescribe for you only on one condition," he said; "and that is, that you will agree to do precisely as I tell you to. You must take the medicines I order, and eat only what I tell you to, or I will have nothing more to do with you. Do you agree to that?"
"Yes, sir," replied Oscar.
The doctor resumed his seat, and felt the patient's pulse. He had not yet got entirely over his irritation, and, turning to Mrs. Preston, he remarked:
"If the patient was a little stronger, my first prescription would be a smart external application of birch or ratan; but, as it is, we shall have to omit that for the present. You need not think you will escape punishment, however," he continued, turning to Oscar. "This scrape of yours will put you back more than one week and if you are not careful you may never get your health again. You may trifle with the doctor, but you can't trifle with the lung fever."
The doctor then gave directions as to Oscar's diet and medicine, and departed, but not until he had again warned him against leaving the room without his mother's consent, or eating any articles forbidden by her.
Oscar found no opportunity after this to evade the commands of the doctor, had he been so disposed, for some one was always with him by day and night. Still, his recovery seemed to have been checked very much by his relapse, and the doctor's skill was taxed pretty severely to bring the fever to a favorable termination. As it was, his attempt was not fully successful; for the fever, in spite of all he could do, left behind it a cough, and a weakness of the lungs, which gave Oscar's parents no little alarm at times.
For a fortnight after his midnight supper, Oscar allowed his mother and the doctor to do just as they pleased with him. He yielded to their wishes, and their orders were law to him. At the end of that time the doctor discontinued his regular visits. Oscar was now able to go out-doors a little in very pleasant weather; but his cough rendered prudence still very necessary. His confinement, however, was daily growing more irksome, and sometimes he disregarded the positive commands of his parents by going out when the weather was unsuitable.
One morning, a menagerie, or collection of wild beasts, was to enter the city in grand procession. There were to be several elephants and camels on foot, besides hundreds of other animals (invisible) in carriages. There was also to be a mammoth gilt chariot, filled with musicians, and drawn by ever so many horses. The procession was to pass very near the street where Oscar lived, and he intended to go and see it; but when the morning came, there was a cold, drizzling rain, with an uncomfortable east wind, and his mother told him he must not think of going out. He did think of it, however, and not only thought of it, but went. While his mother was up stairs, he quietly slipped out, and went to the corner the procession was expected to pass. There he waited about an hour, until he became thoroughly wet and chilled, and then returned home, without seeing the sight; for the showmen had shortened their intended route on account of the storm. He entered the house, vexed by his disappointment and the uncomfortable plight he was in; and when his mother mildly reproved him for his conduct, and entreated him to be more careful of himself, he only replied that he did not wish to live, if he must be shut up in the house all the time. This act of imprudence and disobedience made him a close prisoner in the house for several days, besides causing him no little suffering.
Oscar employed much of his leisure time in reading, during his confinement in-doors. His acquaintances lent him many interesting books, with which he beguiled the weary hours. One day, happening to think of a volume belonging to his classmate, Benjamin Wright, which he thought he should like to read, he sent word by Ralph that he wished to borrow it. The next morning Benjamin brought it to school, and Ralph took it home to Oscar. On removing the paper in which it was wrapped up, a letter dropped out, which Oscar found was directed to himself. He opened it, and a smile lit up his countenance as he glanced over the sheet, which was filled up with drawings and writing of an amusing character. Benjamin was quite famous among the boys for the skill and facility with which he made sketches, and in this letter he had given a curious specimen of his artistic talent. The following is a copy of this production:
I am sorry to hear you 're in weakness and pain, And I send you a book to beguile your tired brain; I send also some puzzles, to stir up your wit, And tempt you to laugh, when you really don't feel like it one bit!
What a queer name!
What do we all do when we first get into bed? Why is swearing like an old coat? What is that which is lengthened by being cut at both ends?
My first, if you do, you won't hit; My second, if you do, you will have it; My whole, if you do, you won't guess it.
Turn me over, pray.
A word there is, five syllables contains; Take one away, no syllable remains.
What is that which is lower with a head than without one? Who was the first whistler? What tune did he whistle? How do you swallow a door? What is that which lives in winter, dies in summer, and grows with its root upwards? If you were to tumble out of the window, what would you fall against?
Why is this like the Falls of Niagara? If my puzzles are simple, and my pictures a fright, Then just laugh at me, and it will all B. WRIGHT.
This letter was the prime source of attraction to all the children, the rest of the day; and its reception formed an era in Oscar's sick-day experience, not easily to be forgotten. All the family, from Mr. Preston down to little George, set themselves to work to guess out the riddles; but in some of them, they found more than their match. To Oscar, however, the letter was something more than a collection of drawings and puzzles. It was a token of interest and sympathy from a boy towards whom he had never manifested a very friendly spirit. Benjamin's high standing in the school, both for scholarship and behavior, had awakened in Oscar a secret feeling of jealousy or resentment towards him. He was a poor boy, too, and this by no means increased Oscar's respect for him. But now, Oscar began to feel ashamed of all this; and as instances of his unkind treatment of his generous classmate came up in remembrance, he wished he had the power to blot them from existence. He determined thenceforth to "stand up" for Benjamin, and began to plan some way of making a return for his manifestation of good feeling.
Ella wanted to carry Benjamin's letter to school, to show to the girls, but Oscar would not allow it to go out of his hands. She then begged the privilege of copying it, to which he consented. She did the best she could, no doubt, but her drawings probably did not quite do justice to the subjects; for Oscar declared that her copy was more comical than the original. She lent it to some of her schoolmates, one of whom was roguish enough to show it to Benjamin himself! He laughed heartily at the caricature; but thinking it was getting him rather more notoriety than he wished, he put it in his pocket, and that was the end of it.
In consequence of his many acts of imprudence, Oscar got along very slowly in his recovery. Yet he was daily growing more impatient of his long confinement, and the utmost vigilance of his parents was necessary to restrain him from doing himself harm. During stormy weather, which was not rare at that season of the year, he was not allowed to go out, and the time passed heavily with him. One rainy afternoon, as he was sitting listlessly at a front window, watching for some object of interest to pass, a coach stopped at the door, and his heart beat high at the thought of his dulness being dispelled by the arrival of "company." The driver opened the coach door, and out jumped a stout, brown-faced man, whom Oscar at once recognized as his uncle, John Preston, from Maine.
The arrival of Uncle John was soon heralded through the house, and a warm greeting extended to him. He usually visited the city thrice a year on business, and on such occasions made his brother's house his stopping-place. He lived in the town of Brookdale, where he had a family; but he was engaged in the lumber business, and generally spent the winter months in the forests of Maine, with large gangs of loggers, who were employed to cut down trees, and convey them to the banks of the streams, where they were floated down to the mills in the spring freshets. These forests are far from any settlement, and the lumber-men live in log-huts, in a very independent and care-for-nobody sort of way. Oscar had often heard his uncle describe their manner of life, and, to him, there was something quite fascinating about it. He thought he should like the logging business very much—all but the working part of it; he was afraid that would spoil the whole, for his Uncle John always represented it as being pretty hard work.
Oscar had four cousins in Brookdale, the children of his Uncle John, none of whom he had ever seen. He had many questions to ask about them, in the course of which he expressed a wish that he might visit them. His uncle replied that he should like to take him home with him, and, as he was sick, he thought the journey might do him good. He afterwards talked with Oscar's parents about the matter, and they finally concluded to let him go, hoping that a few weeks in the country would improve his health.
NOTE.—The following are the solutions of the puzzles, &c., in Benjamin's letter, contained in this chapter. The first puzzle is the name of Oscar Preston, enigmatically expressed. 2. Make an impression. 3. It is a bad habit. 4. A ditch. 5. Mistake. 6. Monosyllable. 7. A pillow. 8. The wind. 9. "Over the hills and far away." 10. Bolt it. 11. An icicle. 12. Against your inclination. 13. It is a cataract (cat erect).
Oscar's valise was well packed for his journey, and many were the injunctions given him by his mother, in regard to his conduct during his absence from home. The morning for his departure soon came, and, in company with his uncle, he proceeded to the depot, and took the cars for Portland. It was a mild spring morning, near the close of May. Oscar secured a seat by a window, from which he could see the country they passed through; while his uncle, to whom the journey was no novelty, seated himself by his side, and was soon absorbed in his morning newspaper.
The keen relish with which Oscar set out upon his long ride gradually wore off, and he began to feel weary long before the train reached its destination. It was just noon when they arrived at Portland; and as it was too late to reach Brookdale that day, Oscar's uncle concluded to stop there until the next morning. They proceeded to a hotel, where they booked their names, and were shown to a chamber. After dinner, Mr. Preston took Oscar to walk, and showed him some of the most notable places about town. But the latter felt too tired to walk about a great deal, and spent most of the afternoon in the hotel, while his uncle was off attending to some business.
After supper, Mr. Preston again went out to make some calls. He invited Oscar to go with him, but he preferred to remain in the hotel. He lounged awhile in the bar-room, as it was called (though there was no bar in it), listening to the conversation of the men who had gathered there. At length, beginning to grow sleepy, he retired to his chamber, taking with him a queer little lamp the landlord gave him, which appeared to hold only about a thimblefull of oil. Oscar thought it was a stingy contrivance, and had some notion of sitting up to see how long it would burn; but his eyelids grew heavy, and he gave up the idea. Throwing off his clothing, he extinguished his diminutive lamp, and took possession of one of the beds in the room, of which there were two. As he composed himself to sleep, a slight sense of lonesomeness stole over him, when he remembered that he was alone in a strange house and a strange city, more than a hundred miles from his home; and almost unconsciously he found himself reverently repeating the little prayer he had been taught by his mother in infancy, but which of late years, in his sad waywardness, he had outgrown and almost forgotten:
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take."
He had occasionally repeated to himself this simple but appropriate evening petition during his late illness; but, strange to tell, for several years previous to that time, the thought of asking anything of the great Giver of all good had scarcely ever entered his mind.
Oscar was soon fast asleep, and the next thing he was conscious of was the striking of a strange church-clock, that awoke him in the morning. His uncle was dressing himself, and the sun was shining in at the window. For a moment, he was puzzled to determine where he was; but his recollection returned when his uncle remarked:
"Come, Oscar, it is time to get up,—we have got to be at the depot in an hour."
Oscar jumped out of bed, and was dressed and ready for the breakfast table before the bell rang. After the morning meal was despatched,—for it was literally a work of despatch, judging from the celerity with which the heaping plates of hot biscuits and beef-steak disappeared from the long table,—Mr. Preston settled with the landlord, and proceeded with Oscar to the railroad depot.
"How much further have we got to go?" inquired Oscar, after they had taken their seat in the car.
"About one hundred and twenty miles," replied his uncle; "and thirty-five of it will be in a stage-coach—that is the worst of the whole journey."
"I shall like that part of it first-rate, I guess," said Oscar. "If they have good horses, I know I shall."
"You will find out how you like it, before night," added Mr. Preston, with a smile.
The cars were soon on their way, and Oscar's eyes and attention were fully engaged in taking note of the scenery from the windows. The appearance of the country did not differ much from that through which he passed the day previous; and long before he reached the end of his eighty-miles' ride, his attention began to flag, and his eyes to grow weary. It was about eleven o'clock, when they arrived at the depot at which they were to leave the train. Here they had an opportunity to rest an hour, and to take dinner, before resuming their journey.
After dinner, the stage-coach made its appearance, and the passengers began to stow themselves away within it, Oscar mounted the outside, and took a seat with the driver, with whom he was soon on intimate terms. All things being ready, the horses started, at the familiar "Get up!" and they were on their way toward Brookdale.
The horses did not prove quite so smart as Oscar hoped they would, and the coach was a heavy and hard-riding concern, compared with those he was accustomed to ride upon at home. But the road was good, though hilly, and the scenery, much of the way, was very pleasant. The driver, too, was quite talkative, and Oscar being the only outside passenger, enjoyed the full benefit of his communicativeness. Occasionally they passed through a village, with its rows of neat white houses, its tall church steeple, its bustling store, and its groups of children playing in the streets. Now and then they stopped a few moments, to leave a passenger, a package, or a mail-bag; for the strong leathern bags, with brass padlocks, which the driver had carefully packed away under his box, contained the United States' mails for the towns along his route.
As they advanced on their way, the villages became less frequent, the farm houses were more scattering, and the country grew more wild. Sometimes the road extended for miles through thickly-wooded forests. Occasionally they would come in sight of a river, and, perhaps, would hear the clatter and whizzing of a saw-mill, or get a glimpse of a raft of logs floating lazily down the stream. It was about six o'clock when the stage stopped at the post-office of a small settlement, and the driver told Oscar he was going to leave him there. His seat had grown tiresome, during the last few hours, and he was by no means sorry to leave it.
"Well, Jerry, here I am again," said Mr. Preston, addressing a boy who stood by. "How are all the folks at home?"
"They are well," replied the boy addressed.
"This way Oscar," said Mr. Preston, pointing to a horse and wagon on the opposite side of the street. "Oscar, this is your cousin Jerry," he continued, and the boys shook hands with each other, in acknowledgment of the introduction.
Oscar now learned that they were yet five miles from Brookdale, and that as the stage did not pass any nearer to his uncle's, Jerry had come over with a horse to take his father home. There being but one seat to the wagon, Mr. Preston and Oscar took possession of it, while Jerry seated himself on the floor behind them. While on the way to Brookdale, Oscar addressed several remarks to his cousin; but the latter seemed shy, and they did not get acquainted with each other very fast. They passed but very few houses, and Oscar looked in vain for any signs of a village. At length, when he thought they could not be far from their journey's end, he inquired:
"Where is the village, uncle John? Shan't we see any of it, going to your house?"
"This is the village," replied Mr. Preston.
"This a village!" exclaimed Oscar; "why, I don't see any houses."
"This is all the village there is," replied his uncle; "there are hardly any two houses in sight of each other in the town."
They were now approaching an old, two-story farmhouse, in the doorway of which a woman and several children were standing, looking towards them. This proved to be the end of their journey. Having driven the wagon into the large barn which stood nearly opposite the house, Mr. Preston left Jerry to put up the horse, and proceeded at once to the house with his nephew. Mrs. Preston had seen Oscar in Boston, and came out to meet him. She welcomed him very cordially, and inquired after all the other members of the family. She then introduced him to his three other cousins, Emily, Harriet, and Mary, all of whom were younger than Jerry, and quite as shy and silent as he, at the presence of a stranger.
Supper was now ready, and all the family, including James, the hired man, seated themselves at the table. Mr. Preston, during the meal, talked freely of what he had seen and done since he left home; but the children maintained their gravity and silence, though Oscar tried hard to break the ice of restraint with Jerry, who sat by his side. A strange face was an unusual thing among them, and they could not get over it in a moment.
After supper, Mrs. Preston and her oldest daughter cleared off the table and washed the dishes; James and Jerry went out to the barn; Mr. Preston sat down to a table to examine some papers he had in his pocket-book; while Harriet and Mary remained, to keep Oscar company. The latter now began to make advances towards his youngest cousin, who was the prettiest and most interesting of the children. A little coaxing brought her to his side.
"Do you know what my name is, Sissy?" he inquired.
"Yes; it's Oscar," she replied.
"Oscar what?" he inquired.
"Cousin Oscar," she answered, after a little hesitation.
"Yes, but that is n't all of it," replied Oscar; "don't you know the other part of it—Cousin Oscar——what?"
Mary looked thoughtful a moment, and then replied, in a confident tone, "Boston."
Oscar could not help laughing at this amusing mistake, and Mary, feeling hurt at the liberty he took, began to move away; but he held her by the hand, saying:
"No, don't go yet, Sissy—you got my name almost right, after all. Cousin Oscar Preston, from Boston,—that was what you meant to say, was n't it?"
"Yes," replied Mary.
"Now tell me what your name is?" continued Oscar.
"Mary Preston," she replied.
"And how old are you?"
"I 'm going to be six next winter," she answered, with animation.
"Very well,—you 're a smart little girl," replied Oscar.
"How old be you?" inquired Mary, now turning the table upon her questioner.
"I 'm fourteen," said Oscar.
"You 're a smart little boy," added Mary, with a roguish twinkle in her eye, and she darted out of the room with a merry laugh.
After that, there was no more shyness between Mary and Oscar. With the older children, however, Oscar did not get acquainted quite so easily, particularly with the girls. He made but little progress with any of them that evening, until he retired with Jerry, with whom he was to sleep during his visit. After they had got into bed, Jerry's tongue was loosed, and before they went to sleep his reserve had almost entirely vanished.
The next morning the air was extremely raw and chilly, and there were strong indications of rain. Oscar's uncle and aunt advised him so earnestly not to expose himself to the cold and damp wind, that he did not extend his rambles any further than to the barn that day. But if he did not go far, he made many new acquaintances. Having made sure of Jerry and Mary, he left his other two cousins to "surrender at discretion," and turned his attention in another direction. His first performance was to introduce himself to Billy, the horse, who was eating the breakfast James had just given him. After rubbing and talking to him awhile, he paid his respects to a pair of oxen and three or four cows, which he helped James and Jerry to drive into the pasture near the barn. He next visited the hogs, and then the hens. This completed the list of life stock on the farm. He then had a frolic with Jerry in the hay-loft, in the midst of which he suddenly stopped and inquired:
"Is n't it almost time for you to go to school, Jerry?"
"No," his cousin replied, with a laugh, "it wants just six months of it."
"Six months!" exclaimed Oscar; "what do you mean? Don't you go to school?"
"Yes, I go when there is any school; but it does n't commence till next December," replied Jerry.
"That's a queer idea," said Oscar; "I should like to know how long your school keeps, after it begins."
"It keeps three months," replied Jerry.
"I should like that first-rate—I wish I lived here," said Oscar; "I have to go to school all the time. But why does n't your school keep more than three months?"
"I don't know," replied Jerry; "I guess it's because folks are too stingy to pay for it. They 've been talking of having a summer school, but I don't believe it will amount to anything."
"I should hope it would n't if I lived here," said Oscar. "What capital times you must have!—no school to bother you, and no lessons to get. But I suppose you have to work some—don't you?"
"No, not much," said Jerry; "I help a little in planting and haying time, and have a few chores to do about the house,—that's all."
"Do you have many boys to play with?" inquired Oscar.
"There are boys enough," replied his cousin, "but they are scattered all over town,—that's the worst of it. There is only one fellow of my age that lives near here, and he's half a mile off."
"If you call that near, I should like to know what you call distant," said Oscar. "I 'm afraid I should be lonesome if I lived here."
"Halloo, it rains!" said Jerry, as the big drops began to sound upon the roof over their heads.
"Then I 'm going in," added Oscar, and they both started for the house.
It proved to be a rainy day, and Oscar was obliged to find his amusement in-doors through its remaining hours. With his four cousins to help him, this was not a very difficult matter. When he retired at night, he felt quite at home in his new quarters.
The sun rose clearly the next morning, and everything looked the more beautiful for the rain. To Oscar, the fields not only seemed greener, but the hills looked higher, and the trees more majestic, than they did the day before.
"Why," he exclaimed, as he stood before the chamber window, "there is a pond away off there, is n't there? I did n't know that before."
"Yes, that's a pond," replied Jerry, "and we 've got a small river, too, but you can't see it from here. We 'll go over to the pond, some warm day, and go into water; it's a real good place to bathe."
"Perhaps we 'll go to-day," said Oscar; "it looks as though it were going to be real warm."
Mrs. Preston now called to the boys that breakfast was ready, and they hurriedly finished dressing themselves, and descended to the kitchen. Having washed his face at the sink, Oscar stepped to the door, and used his pocket-comb; but Jerry was in too great a hurry to go through this last operation, and he was about taking his seat at the table, with his hair standing up in every direction, when his father inquired:
"Jerry, what have you been doing to your head?"
"Nothing," replied Jerry, with a look of surprise.
"Well, I think you had better do something to it, before you come here," said his father. "Oscar will think you were brought up among the wild Arabs, if you come to the table with such a mop of hair as that about your head. Don't you see how nicely he has smoothed his hair?"
"He's got a comb of his own. I wish you would buy me one, father," said Jerry.
"Don't stand there talking—go and comb your hair," said Mr. Preston, somewhat sharply.
To tell the truth, Jerry did need a lesson in neatness; and in this respect, Oscar was a very good model for him to imitate. Having reduced his snarly locks to something like order and smoothness, Jerry took his seat at the table, much improved in appearance.
"You 'll have a chance to go about some to-day, Oscar," said Mr. Preston; "it's about twenty-five degrees warmer than it was yesterday."
"Father," said Jerry, "I and Oscar—"
"I and Oscar—where did you learn your manners?" interrupted his mother.
Jerry was for a moment in doubt whether to be offended or not at this second unexpected lesson in good-breeding; but he finally concluded to make the best of it, and went on with his story:
"Oscar and I, then—were going over to the pond this forenoon, and I guess it will be warm enough for us to go into water. Should n't you think it would?"
"No, indeed," replied Mr. Preston, "you mustn't think of such a thing. It's only the first of June, and you ought not to go into water for two or three weeks yet. Besides, Oscar 's an invalid, and I should n't like to have him go in, even if it was warm enough for you. I would n't walk about much, either, at first," he continued, addressing Oscar. "You 're weak, and must look out, and not overdo yourself. This afternoon, when the horse is at leisure, Jerry shall give you a ride; so you had better not go far this forenoon."
The river of which Jerry spoke is a small stream that has its source in the lake Oscar saw from the chamber window. It flows in a south-westerly direction, crossing the road on which Mr. Preston lived, not far from his house. A small bridge is thrown over the river at this point. After breakfast, Jerry and Oscar walked down to this bridge, and then, leaving the road, followed the river through the fields and woods, to its fountain-head. Here they found a beautiful sheet of water, more than half a mile across, in one direction, with an irregular shore, fringed most of the way with woods. A two-masted sail-boat was riding at anchor, a little off from the shore, which Oscar regarded with wishful eye; but as it did not belong to Mr. Preston, and they could not reach it without going into the water, it was of no use to think of taking a sail. They now walked along the edge of the pond, some distance, and after wandering some time in the woods, they returned home by a circuitous route.
The annexed map of Brookdale will show the location of the pond, river, &c. Jerry lived in the house numbered 2.
Oscar and Jerry spent the rest of the forenoon in the barn and wood-shed, and in the fields immediately around the house. After dinner, Mr. Preston told the boys they could have the horse and wagon, and as the family wanted some groceries, they might ride over to the store and get them. They accordingly tackled up the team, and were soon on their way.
The store at which Mr. Preston traded was at the village where the stage left Oscar, which goes by the name of the "Cross-Roads," from the fact that two of the principal thoroughfares of that section of country cross at this point. Though this store was about five miles distant, there was no other one nearer to Mr. Preston's. The boys had a fine ride over to the village. Oscar drove, and was quite anxious to put Billy to a test of his speed; but as his uncle told them not to hurry, because the horse had been worked some in the forenoon, he did not dare to make any experiment of this kind. Jerry assured him, however, that he once drove Billy over to the Cross-Roads in just twenty minutes, which was the quickest time he had ever been known to make. He thought this a remarkable feat; but Oscar did not seem much astonished at it, and said he knew of horses that could go a mile in three minutes, and even in less time if the road was smooth and level.
After riding about three-quarters of an hour, they arrived at the Cross-Roads, and drove up to a post and chain for tying horses in front of the store. The store was kept in a large wooden building. Over the door was the sign, "J. FLETCHER, VARIETY STORE;" and the shutters were covered with columns of names of articles sold within, such as "Bacon," "Cheese," "Flour," "Grain," "Shoes," "Dry Goods," &c. Another sign in one of the windows indicated that this was also the post-office of the village.
The boys went into the store, and while Jerry was ordering the articles his mother had sent for, Oscar improved the opportunity to look around the premises. It was to him a queer assortment of goods. There seemed to be a little of everything for sale. Here you could buy of one salesman articles that you could obtain in Boston only by visiting a dozen different shops. Groceries and dry goods, country produce and hardware, boots, shoes, and hats, confectionary and fancy articles, stoves and children's toys, were in most neighborly companionship. Before leaving the store, Oscar invested a few cents in candy and cigars; for his father had given him a little spare change beyond what was necessary to defray the expenses of the journey. He shared the candy with Jerry, and put the cigars in his pocket for future use.
Jerry having finished his business at the store, they set out on their return, and arrived home in safety and without meeting with any remarkable adventure. The boys employed themselves the rest of the afternoon in planning excursions and amusements, and before they got through, they had laid out "fun" enough to occupy them for several days.
The evenings were now quite short, and as it was the custom to retire to bed early at Mr. Preston's, it frequently happened that no lamps were lit in the house for several days in succession. As twilight came on that evening, Oscar, who began to feel pretty tired, laid down upon the sofa in the sitting-room, and in a few minutes was fast asleep. Jerry got a straw, and was about to tickle his ear, when his mother stopped him. Oscar's nap, however, was a short one, and suddenly waking up, he began to laugh.
"I guess you had a pleasant dream," said his aunt.
"I had a real funny one," replied Oscar. "I thought you sent me over to the store to get some things, and when I got there, I had them all jumbled together in my head, and I told the man I wanted a yard of molasses, and a pound of calico, and a gallon of shingle-nails, and I did n't know what else. And I thought the man laughed, and asked me if I would take them loose, or have them done up in a rag. Then another boy that was in the store set up a loud laugh, and that woke me up. I wonder how long I slept—do you know, aunt?"
"Only two or three minutes," replied Mrs. Preston.
"I was real smart, then," replied Oscar; "for you gave me my errand, and I harnessed the horse and drove away over to the Cross-Roads, and went through the scene in the store, and woke up again, all in two or three minutes. I thought I 'd been asleep half an hour."
"I should think you 'd dream about the store," said Jerry; "you 've made fun enough about it, if that 's all."
"Well, I 'll leave it to aunt if it is n't odd to see such a queer lot of stuff in one store; I 've heard about country stores, but I never saw one that would come up to that before. It is almost equal to going into a fair, to go in there. There was everything you could think of, from a grindstone to a pop-gun."
"There is n't business enough to support more than one trader, and that is the reason why Mr. Fletcher keeps such a variety," said Mrs. Preston.
"I know that," said Oscar, "and I suppose the folks are glad to have him keep all sorts of knick-knacks; but it seems queer to me, to see groceries and dry goods, and everything else, in the same shop."
"Did you see any babies there?" inquired little Mary, who was amusing herself by walking around the room backwards.
"What sort of babies—live ones, or rag ones, or wax ones?" inquired Oscar.
"No, none of them," replied Mary; "I mean crying babies, like Annie Davenport's."
"O, you mean those little dolls that make a squeaking noise when you squeeze them. No, I believe I did n't see any," said Oscar.
"No, Mr. Fletcher would n't keep such silly things as them," said Jerry, who was very fond of teasing his sisters.
"No, they aint silly, either, are they cousin Oscar?" said Mary.
"No," replied Oscar, "seeing it's you, they aint silly."
Mary was continuing her backward walk around the room, and was just at that moment passing before Jerry, when he suddenly put out his foot, and stumbling over it, she fell heavily upon the floor, striking her head against a corner of the sofa. A loud scream immediately followed this mishap, and as the author of it hastened to raise up his sister, he was himself a little frightened; but seeing no blood flowing from her head, he concluded she was "more scared than hurt," and tried to turn the affair into a joke, saying:
"There, sis, you're a little crying baby yourself, now. Come, stop your noise; you 've blubbered enough about it. It didn't hurt you, did it?"
"Come here, dear, what is the matter?" said Mrs. Preston, who had left the room a moment before, and hurried back on hearing Mary scream.
"Jerry knocked me over," said Mary, sobbing bitterly, as her mother lifted her up into her lap.
"Where did it hurt you, dear?—there? Well, let mother rub it, and it will feel better soon. Jerry is a naughty boy to do so. Why need you torment your little sister so?" Mrs. Preston added, turning to Jerry.
Mr. Preston, who had been sitting upon the door-step, smoking his pipe, as was his custom in the evening, came in, on hearing the uproar; and having ascertained what the trouble was, he boxed Jerry's ears pretty severely, and sent him off to bed. Oscar soon followed him; but Jerry was so mortified at the rough handling he had received, that he scarcely spoke again that night.
IN THE WOODS.
It was soon evident that the air of Brookdale agreed with Oscar. He was fast gaining his strength, and the increased fulness and color of his countenance betokened returning health. No part of this improvement was to be attributed to the bottle of cough drops his mother packed away in the bottom of his valise, and charged him to take every morning and night; for the drops were not very palatable, and he had not opened the bottle since he left home. In fact, he had by this time quite forgotten both the medicine and his mother's injunction.
So rapid was the improvement in Oscar's health, that two or three days after his trip to the Cross-Roads, Mr. Preston gave his consent to an excursion he and Jerry had planned, which was to occupy a whole day. "Old Staple's Hut," as it was called, was the place they proposed to visit. It was about four miles distant, beyond the hills in the north-east part of the town, represented in the upper corner of the map of Brookdale. They were to carry their dinner, and Mrs. Preston accordingly filled a small basket with eatables. While she was doing this, Jerry took Oscar aside and said:
"There is one thing more we want, and that is father's gun. I know he won't let me have it, but I guess he would lend it to you, if you should ask him."
"Yes, we must have a gun," replied Oscar; "and I should just as lief ask him for it as not."
Oscar hunted up his uncle, and made known his request. Mr. Preston hesitated a moment, and then inquired:
"Does your father allow you to use a gun at home?"
"He never says anything about it, either way," replied Oscar.
"Well, I guess you had better not take the gun," said Mr. Preston. "I 'm afraid you might get hurt,—that's all I care about. I don't allow Jerry to use firearms, and I should n't like to put anything of the kind into your hands without your father's consent."
"But I 'll be very careful if you 'll let me have it," added Oscar. "I 've fired a gun several times, and know how to handle it."
"No, I think you had better not carry the gun with you," replied his uncle. "If you used it, Jerry would think he must, and I know he is too careless to be trusted with it. He 'd shoot you, just as like as not, if he did n't kill himself."
Mr. Preston's tone was so decided, that Oscar saw it would be useless to say anything more about the gun, and so he and Jerry were obliged to abandon the idea of taking it with them. Taking their basket of provisions, they accordingly set out on their long tramp. Leaving the road, and turning into a footpath through the fields, they passed close by the upper edge of the pond. In this part of their walk there was a good deal of swamp land, and a number of brooks to cross. Sometimes they had to pick their way along upon stones which had been placed at regular intervals in wet places, or upon old logs that served for bridges; and at times it required no little skill in balancing to avoid getting a wet foot. After they had got beyond the pond, however, the land gradually ascended, and was mostly occupied as pastures for cattle. But they still occasionally came to a brook, flowing down from the hills towards the pond. Most of them were so narrow, they could easily jump over them; but in one instance they were obliged to take off their shoes and stockings and wade across.
"Now you see why this place is called Brookdale," said Jerry, after they had passed four or five of these little streams.
"Is that the reason, because there are so many brooks? I never thought of that before," said Oscar.
"Yes, that's it," replied Jerry. "In the spring these brooks make quite a show; but they get low in the summer, and generally dry up in August, unless it's a very wet season."
"I 'm going to cut me a cane," said Oscar, taking out his knife; "I see a real straight and handsome one in there," and he pointed to a thicket they were approaching.
"That's nothing but birch—that won't make a good cane," replied Jerry; "stop a minute, and I 'll find you something better."
After looking about a little, Jerry found some beeches, which he said would make good canes. They accordingly cut two of the straightest and handsomest.
"I mean to try an experiment with mine," said Oscar, "and see if I can't crook the top of it. Do you know how they do it, Jerry?"
"No, I always thought they grew in that shape," replied Jerry.
"A man told me they boiled the end of the stick and then bent it," said Oscar. "He said that was the way all the hooked canes were made. I don't know whether he knew or not, but I mean to try it some day, and see how it works."
"I don't believe in that," said Jerry. "It is n't very likely you can bend such a stick as that without breaking it; just see how stiff it is."
"I don't care, I'll try it, just to satisfy myself," replied Oscar.
Oscar was right in regard to bending wood. The hooked-top walking-sticks are made in the way he described,—by boiling the end, and then bending it into an arch. In boiling wood, several substances which enter into its composition are dissolved, and others are softened, so that it is rendered flexible.
The boys trudged slowly on their way, now aided by their canes, which, in a long walk, are of no slight service to the pedestrian. As they sauntered along, chatting, singing, and whistling, as merrily as the birds around them, Oscar remembered the cigars he bought at the store, and soon the pure atmosphere of the fields was polluted with the vile odor of bad tobacco. Oscar had been in the habit of smoking occasionally for some time; but though he considered it a manly accomplishment, he was very careful not to let his parents know that he was addicted to it. He prevailed upon his cousin to take a cigar; but Jerry was not very partial to tobacco, and a few whiffs satisfied him for that occasion.
They had now reached the foot of the long, steep hills, over which they must climb. These hills were thickly wooded most of the way, forming beautiful groves, cool, dark, fragrant with resinous odors, and softly carpeted with moss and decayed leaves. Oscar and Jerry concluded to rest a few minutes before scaling the hills. Selecting a favorable spot, they stretched themselves at full length upon the ground, and looked up towards the distant tree-tops. It was a pine forest, and the trees were as straight as an arrow, and so tall that their tops almost seemed among the clouds. The moaning of the wind among the topmost branches sounded like the distant roar of the sea. Birds were skipping merrily among the "tasselled boughs," and curiously eying the young strangers who had invaded their solitude.
"O, how I wish I had that gun now!" said Oscar, as a fine plump robin lit on one of the lower branches of a tree right over his head.
In repay for this generous wish, Signor Robin executed one of his choicest songs in his handsomest style, and, without waiting for an encore from his audience, darted off and was quickly out of sight. But it is probable the audience thought more of the "good shot" he presented, than of the sweet strains he poured forth for their entertainment.
"There's better game than that in these woods," said Jerry, after the robin had taken his departure.
"Is there anything besides birds?" inquired Oscar.
"Yes," replied Jerry, "there are rabbits, and woodchucks, and weasels, and skunks, and squirrels; and some folks say there are wild-cats here, but I don't know about that. Jim Oakley, a fellow who lives about a mile from our house, comes over here gunning very often; and he says he saw a real savage-looking creature here, a few weeks ago, that he took to be a wild-cat. He fired at it, but it got clear of him. He says it looked a good deal like a cat, only it was larger, and had a little short tail. I wish he 'd killed it. I should like to know what it was. I never saw a wild-cat; did you?"
"No," replied Oscar.
"But that was n't equal to something a man came across in the woods the other side of these hills, two or three years ago," continued Jerry. "What do you suppose it was?"
"I don't know; was it a moose?" inquired Oscar.
"No," replied Jerry; "moose come down into this neighborhood, once in awhile, but that was n't what I was going to tell you about. There is a road through these woods, a little beyond the hills. It is n't travelled much, except by the loggers in the fall and spring. A man was riding along this road, one afternoon in summer, when he suddenly came across a monstrous black bear. As soon as the bear saw him, he squat down on his haunches, right in the middle of the road, and began to show his teeth. The man didn't dare to drive by him, and his horse was so frightened that it was as much as he could do to hold him in. He had a loaded revolver with him, but he knew there was n't much hope of killing the bear with that. So he turned his horse about, and concluded to go back to the nearest house, and get a gun and somebody to help him kill the bear. The bear sat still, watching him, as much as to say, 'If you'll let me alone, I 'll let you alone;' but just as the man was starting up, he thought he would try his pistol, and so he blazed away at the bear. Two or three of the shot hit the bear in the shoulder. They did n't hurt him much, only enough to rouse his dander; but he sprang up as quick as lightning, and started after the team. The man whipped up his horse, and the bear 'pulled foot' after him, and did n't give up the race till he had run about a quarter of a mile. The man said if he had been afoot, the bear would have beat him at running, but he could n't keep up with the horse.
"Well, the man went back three or four miles, and got another man to go with him in search of the bear. They armed themselves with guns and hunting-knives; but when they drove back to where the man met the bear, they could n't find anything of him. They traced his tracks into the woods, but after awhile they lost them, and as it was getting late, they gave up the hunt; and nobody hereabouts has seen that bear from that day to this."
"Perhaps he's about here now—who knows?" said Oscar.
"No, I guess he went right back to the place he came from," replied Jerry. "Somebody would have seen him, if he 'd stayed around here."
"Where do you suppose he came from?" inquired Oscar.
"From way back in the woods, fifty miles from here," replied Jerry. "There had been great fires in the woods that summer, and I suppose he got burned out, or frightened, and that was the reason he came down this way."
"I should like to meet such a customer," said Oscar; "only I should want to have a good double-barrelled gun with me. I read in a newspaper, the other day, about a boy up in New Hampshire, who met a bear and two cubs, all alone in the woods. He had a gun with him, and killed the old one, and one of the cubs, but the other cub got off. That was doing pretty well, wasn't it?"
"'Twas so," said Jerry; "but I guess you would n't have done quite so well as that."
"I bet I should have tried, at any rate," said Oscar, who really was not deficient in courage, though he had hardly practiced hunting enough to justify him in believing that he could master so savage an animal as a bear.
Having rested themselves, the boys resumed their journey, and after ten minutes' hard work, reached the top of the range of hills. The highest summit was a bare ledge of rock, and they concluded to climb to the top of it, for the sake of the view to be obtained. It was called "Prospect Rock," and was very appropriately named. As the boys stood upon it, the country for miles around was spread out at their feet,—houses, and cultivated fields, and forests, and roads, and narrow streams. A distant mountain was visible in the west, which Jerry said was about twenty miles off, though it seemed much nearer. After enjoying the scene a few minutes, they began to descend the hill on the other side. They kept their eyes open, for game, but they saw only a few squirrels, and one rabbit, which bounded off, and was out of sight in a moment. Jerry pointed out to Oscar a woodchuck's hole, near the foot of the hill.
"I should like to see a woodchuck," said Oscar; "what do they look like?"
"They 're about as big as a rabbit, and are of a brownish color," replied Jerry.
"Do you suppose there's one in that hole?" inquired Oscar; "let's see if we can't scare him out."
"I don't know whether there is or not," replied Jerry; "but if there was, we could n't dig him out without shovels. They burrow real deep. If we had brought a dog with us, how he would dig into that hole!"
"I wish I had my Tiger here," said Oscar; "it's too bad father would n't let me bring him with me."
Oscar thrust his cane into the hole, but did not reach the end of it; and if the occupant of the tenement was within, he did not think it worth while to show himself. The boys accordingly renewed their journey. After they had reached the foot of the hill, they had to cross a swamp. With its wet and miry bottom, and its dense growth of vines, bushes, and small trees, this was no easy matter; but they succeeded in getting through with no damage save wet feet, a few slight scratches, and a good many mosquito bites. This latter trouble was the most serious of all. The mosquitoes were large and ferocious. They bit right through jacket, vest, and all, and Oscar declared that their sharp stings even penetrated his boots.
After the boys emerged from the swamp, they came to the road in which the man met a bear. They followed this road a short distance, till it brought them to the shore of a large and beautiful pond. Leaving the highway, they now walked along by the edge of the water, and soon came to the old hut they were in pursuit of. It was but a few rods from the pond, and was directly under the brow of a steep and rocky hill. It had a very old and decayed appearance. The roof had fallen in, the door had disappeared, and the single window was without sash or glass. It contained but one apartment, and that was very small, and so choked up with rubbish that the boys did not try to enter.
"Well, that must have been a great place for a man to live in," said Oscar, after he had inspected the premises. "How long has the old fellow been dead?"
"I don't know," said Jerry; "it must be fifteen years, for he died before I was born."
"I wonder what he lived here for; does anybody know?" inquired Oscar.
"No, he was a hermit, and that's all anybody knows about him. They say he used to have a garden, and raised everything he wanted to eat. In the summer time he used to work a good deal for two or three farmers that lived over at Cedar Hill, at the further end of the pond. He had a little skiff, and rowed back and forth in that. He never used to spend any money, and people say he must have had all of a thousand dollars, that he had earned, when he died; but nobody knew what became of it. They suppose he buried it about here somewhere, or hid it in some rock."
"A thousand dollars!" said Oscar; "I 'm going to hunt for that; what will you bet I won't find it?"
"Pooh!" replied Jerry, "people have searched all round here, and dug holes, and pulled up the floor of the hut, more than a hundred times; and I guess there's no danger of your finding the money now."
"I 'm going to try, at any rate," said Oscar, and he get up from the stone upon which he was seated.
"Stop, don't go now," said Jerry; "let's make a fire and get dinner first—I 'm just about half starved."
Oscar fell in with this suggestion, and they gathered together a lot of brush and other dry wood, and soon had a good fire kindled against a large stone, which happened to be hollowed out something like a fireplace. Among the provisions they had brought with them were half a dozen potatoes, which they buried in the embers after the fire had got well under way. While these were baking, they employed themselves in gathering wood and watching the fire. They also found some slices of cheese in their basket, which they toasted by holding it before the fire upon the point of a sharp stick. When their preparations for dinner were about completed, Oscar inquired:
"Where shall we find some water to drink? Is there a spring about here?"
"Water, why, there's plenty of it," replied Jerry pointing to the pond.
"What! you don't mean to drink pond water, do you?" said Oscar, somewhat surprised.
"Yes I do," replied Jerry; "that's good water—old Staples drank it all the time he lived here."
"Well, come to think of it, I suppose it is good," said Oscar; "for our Cochituate water, in Boston, is nothing but pond water. It seems queer, though, to dip it right out of the pond; but I suppose it is just as good as though we drew it from an aqueduct."
There was a tin dipper in the basket, and Oscar took it, and went down to the pond, to try the water. He found it clear, and agreeable to the taste, though not very cold. Filling the dipper, he returned to the fire, where Jerry now had the dinner in readiness. They found a large flat stone, which answered for a table, and spreading their provisions upon it, they threw themselves upon the grass, and began to eat. The potatoes were nicely roasted, and, indeed, all the articles that helped to form their rural repast, tasted uncommonly well. Even the pond water, Oscar confessed, would have been equal to the Cochituate, if they had only had a little ice to put in it.
After dinner, Oscar commenced his search for the hidden treasures, and Jerry, impelled by sympathy, joined in the hunt, though with no very sanguine expectations of finding the hermit's gold. They examined the hut, and poked over the rubbish, within and about it. They walked over the ground, around the cabin, turning over stones, looking after holes in the trunks of trees, and peering curiously into every crack and crevice they could find. They then climbed up the rocks behind the hut, and patiently continued their search, talking earnestly, the meanwhile, about what they should do with the money, if they found it. Oscar said if he found the money, he should buy the best horse he could find. He should not go to school any more, but should spend his time in riding, and going to places of amusement. If his father did not like it, he should leave home, and board at a hotel. Jerry, on the other hand, wanted to see the world. If he found the money, he was going to travel all over the country. After visiting the great Atlantic cities, he should go to California, and stop a few months, just long enough to dig a few thousand dollars out of the mines—and then he should push on to China, and India, and Europe, and come home in one of the Collins steamers. It was finally agreed, however, that if either of them found the treasure, it should be equally divided between them, and with this friendly understanding, they renewed their search, with fresh zeal.
"It's real hot; what do you say about going into water?" inquired Oscar, after they had ransacked the neighborhood pretty thoroughly, and worked themselves into a perspiration.
"I 'll go in if you will," said Jerry. "Father did n't tell us not to go in to-day—I was afraid he would; but he did n't say anything about it."
"He need n't know it, if we do go in," suggested Oscar, who knew very well that his uncle would not approve of his bathing so early in the season, and so soon after his sickness.
"No, he won't know anything about it," added Jerry; "and I don't believe it can do us any hurt, for it is as warm as it is in the middle of summer. I 've been into water many a time, when it was colder than it is now."
They did not debate the question long, but throwing off their clothes, they soon plunged into the clear lake. The water did not feel quite so warm to their bodies, as it tasted when they washed down their dinner with it. Still, it was not very cold; and as the place was quite convenient for bathing, having a hard, gravelly bottom, with a gradual slope, they enjoyed their dip in the water as well as they could enjoy a forbidden gratification.
After they had dressed themselves, they sat a little while with their caps off, that the warm sun might dry their hair, and thus remove all evidence of their stolen pleasure. This accomplished, they concluded, from the position of the sun, that it was time to start for home; and taking their basket and canes, they commenced their homeward march. They met with no incident of any moment in returning, except that they got off their course at one time; but Jerry, who was quite at home in the woods, soon found where he was, and set himself right again. The last two miles of their jaunt were the hardest of all, especially to Oscar, who was more troubled with sore feet and stiff legs than Jerry. They were both, however, as tired and hungry as need be, when they got home.
No questions were asked about their going into water. This was fortunate, for it probably saved them from the additional guilt of falsehood. They experienced no punishment for their disobedience, except the consciousness that they had committed a wrong act. To some boys, that alone would have been no slight punishment; but I fear this was not the case with Oscar and Jerry.
"Come, Jerry, let's go over to Clinton's this forenoon," said Oscar, the morning after their excursion to the hermit's hut.
"Agreed," replied Jerry, "we 'll start right away as soon as I can find my cap. Let me see—-where did I leave it, I wonder?"
"Jerry," said Mrs. Preston, who overheard this conversation, "bring me in an armfull of wood before you go."
"I 'll get the wood while you 're looking for your cap," said Oscar, and he started for the wood-house.
Oscar almost repented of his offer when he discover ed that there was no wood split. However, he took the axe and split a few logs, and carried them into the kitchen. Jerry had not yet found his cap, though he had searched all over the house for it. He began to suspect some one had played a trick upon him by hiding his cap, and when Emily laughed at his impatience, he concluded she was the guilty one. In vain she protested that she had not seen the missing cap, and did not know where it was. He searched every part of the girls' chamber, and then, in his vexation, he pulled Emily's bonnet from off her head, and tossed it out of the window into an apple-tree, in the branches of which it lodged.
It was now Emily's turn to fly into a pet, and she availed herself of the opportunity. Running to her mother, she reported what Jerry had done, setting off his foolish conduct in the worst possible light. Jerry soon made his appearance in the kitchen, and retorted upon his sister by charging her with having hid his cap. Mrs. Preston tried to settle the difficulty by directing Jerry to get Emily's bonnet out of the tree, and ordering Emily to tell Jerry where his cap was, if she knew; but Emily protested she knew nothing about the cap, and her brother did not seem inclined to obey his portion of the decree, while his sister failed to comply with hers. The quarrel was thus becoming more and more complicated, when Oscar suddenly entered the room with the lost cap in his hand.
"Here's your cap, Jerry," he said; "I found it just where you left it last night, out in the barn. Don't you remember, you threw it at the cat to scare her?"
"Yes, so I did, and I forgot to pick it up again," said Jerry.
"There, do you believe me now?" said Emily, with an air of triumph.
Jerry did not stop to reply; but, going into the garden, he climbed the apple-tree, and tossed the bonnet down to Emily.
"Now I 'm ready to start, just as soon as I 've had a drink of buttermilk," said Jerry to Oscar; "come into the buttery and get some, won't you?"
There was only one bowl-full of buttermilk left from the morning's churning, but Mrs. Preston told the boys they might have that. Jerry proposed that they should "go snacks," and gave the bowl to Oscar that he might drink his share first. The latter took one mouthful, but quickly spit it out, and puckered his face into all sorts of shapes.
"Ugh!" he exclaimed, "you don't call that sour stuff good, do you?" and he handed the bowl back to Jerry, with a look that would have soured the buttermilk, if it had not already undergone that process.
As soon as Jerry could get over laughing at his cousin's grimaces, he swallowed the contents of the bowl, and then smacking his lips, said:
"There, don't you think I like it? You just drink it a few times, and then see if you don't like it, too. I could drink a quart of it now if I had it."
"You may have it, for all me; I don't want any more of it," replied Oscar.
"Jerry, have the hens been attended to?" inquired Mrs. Preston, as the boys were about starting from home.
"I don't know—I have n't fed them," replied Jerry.
"You ought to know whether they are seen to or not; it's your business to take care of them," said his mother. "Don't you go off this morning till you have fed them. You ought to have done it an hour ago."
The care of the fowls had been committed to Jerry, but he did not feel much interest in them, and needed to be reminded of his duty pretty often. His negligence had been more marked than ever since Oscar's arrival, and more than once the hens had been without food and water nearly a whole day because he forgot to attend to them. Jerry now went back, in obedience to his mother, and gave the fowls their usual allowance of corn, and a vessel of fresh water. He also looked into the nests to see if there were any new-laid eggs; and he was not a little surprised to find in one of them a small billet, neatly folded up, and addressed, "To Master Jerry." He looked at it a moment, and tried to imagine what it could be; then he opened it, and read the following, which was neatly written with a pencil:
"THE HENROOST, June 12th.
"I have determined to write you a few words in behalf of my dear suffering family. The sun is scorching hot, and yet we have not got a drop of water to save us from parching up. My poor biddies have been walking back and forth all day, panting for water, and calling for it as plainly as they could speak; but all in vain. We have received our food at very irregular times, too, and sometimes we have had to keep fast nearly all day. If I were the only sufferer, I would say nothing about it; but I cannot bear to see my poor flock dying by inches in this way. Do take pity on us, and see that we have plenty of corn and water hereafter. Some of my family, who pride themselves on being good layers, complain that since you have kept us shut up in such narrow quarters they cannot find anything to make their egg-shells of. Now, if you would give us some old burnt bones, pounded up fine, or a little lime, once in awhile, I do not think you would lose anything by it. And as you will not let us go out to scratch for ourselves, what is the reason that you cannot dig us a few worms occasionally? It would be a great treat to us. I hope you will heed my suggestions. If you do not, I can assure you of two things: you won't have many eggs this summer; and fat chickens will be a scarce article in this neighborhood next Thanksgiving time. But Mrs. Yellowneck has just laid an egg, and I must help her cackle over it; so I will write nothing more at present, but sign myself
"Your faithful, but afflicted,
Before Jerry had finished reading this mysterious letter, Oscar, who wondered at his long absence, went to see what the matter was, and found his cousin deeply absorbed in the document. After Jerry had read it, he handed it to Oscar, telling him where he found it.
"Well, that is queer," said Oscar, after he had read it. "Who do you suppose wrote it?"
"I know where it came from well enough," said Jerry; "keep dark—don't say anything about it," he added, as he put the letter in his pocket. Then stepping to the kitchen-window, he inquired, "Mother, was Clinton over here yesterday?"
"I believe he was," replied Mrs. Preston.
"That accounts for it," said Jerry to Oscar; "that letter sounds just like Clinton. I knew he wrote it just as soon as I saw it."
"But can he write as well as that?" inquired Oscar.
"Yes, he 's a very good writer," replied Jerry. "He ought to be, for he has to get a lesson every day, just as though he went to school, and recite to his mother in the evening. I wish I knew as much as he does, but I should n't want to study so hard."
They had now started on their way to Clinton's. The Shanghae letter continued to be the topic of remark for some time. It was finally concluded that they should say nothing to Clinton about it. To tell the truth, Jerry felt a little mortified at the deserved rebuke he had received, and he thought the easiest way to get over it would be, to pretend that the letter had never reached its destination.
Clinton Davenport, the suspected author of this letter, lived in the nearest house to Mr. Preston's. The house is marked 1, on the map of Brookdale. He was three or four months younger than Jerry, and, like him, was an only son. They had been intimate playmates from early childhood, though their tastes and dispositions were very different. Clinton was an industrious boy. He liked to work, and took an interest in all his father's plans and labors. He was an ingenious boy, too; and, in addition to his other commendable traits, he was a good scholar.
Oscar had seen Clinton once or twice, at Jerry's house, but this was his first visit to him. They soon came in the sight of the house. It was a neat, but plain cottage, situated near the foot of a hill. There were several noble oaks around it, and fruit trees in the rear. Luxuriant vines were trained around and over the front door. A large and substantial barn stood a little one side, and back from the road, with its great doors swung open. On a tall pole, behind the house, there was a complete miniature of the cottage, which appeared to be occupied by a family of birds, who were constantly flying back and forth. This pretty birdhouse Clinton had made with his own hands the previous winter.
When Oscar and Jerry reached the house, they saw Clinton doing something in the orchard, behind the buildings, and walked along towards him. They found him employed in destroying caterpillars' nests, in the apple-trees. He had a light ladder, with which he ascended the trees; and having his hands protected by a pair of old gloves, he swept down the nests, and destroyed the young caterpillars by the hundred.
"This is n't very pleasant work," said Clinton, "but it has got to be done. I've been all over the orchard this morning, and this is the last tree I 've got to examine. I shall be done in a few minutes, and then I 'll walk around with you."
"I should like to know where all these caterpillars come from," said Oscar; "do they come up from the ground?"
"No," replied Clinton. "A miller lays the eggs, the summer before, on a branch of the tree, and there they stay till about the first of June; then they hatch out, and build their nest. The nests look something like tents, don't you see they do?"
"Yes, so they do," said Oscar.
"That's the reason they are called tent-caterpillars. There are three or four hundred of them in every nest. In about a month from now, they would all turn into millers, if nobody disturbed them, and lay millions of eggs for next year's crop."
"That 's curious—I 've learnt something new by coming here," said Oscar.
"There, I believe that's all," said Clinton, as he cast his eye over the tree; "now come and see my turkeys."
Jerry slyly winked at Oscar, and both thought of the Shanghae rooster's letter; but they said nothing, and followed Clinton to a tree near the barn, where there was a large, motherly hen, surrounded by her happy brood. They were young turkeys, but it was all the same to the poor simple hen. She had set four weeks upon the eggs from which they were hatched, and no wonder she honestly believed they were her own children. To confess the truth, they did look so much like chickens, that a city boy like Oscar would hardly have suspected they were turkeys, if he had not been told that they were. They were black, and of about the size of chickens of their age. They had also the sharp, piping cry of genuine chickens. But their necks were a little longer than usual, and that was almost the only badge of their turkeyhood. The hen was confined to the tree by a string, to prevent her roving off. A barrel turned upon its side, served them for a house at night.
There was another hen, confined under a tree near by, which was the proud mother of a large brood of chickens. There were about twenty-five of them, but though they now constituted one brood, they were hatched by two hens. Clinton said he usually managed to set two hens together, so that one of them might bring up all the chickens, thereby saving some trouble for himself, as well as one hen's time, which was of some value to him. Hens do not seem to have much knowledge of arithmetic, and biddy was apparently unconscious of any difference between twelve and five-and-twenty.
A loud and prolonged "Cock-a-doodle-do-o-o-o" now attracted Oscar to the hen-yard near by, behind the barn, where the rest of Clinton's poultry were confined. It was a large enclosure, connected with a shed, in which the fowls roosted and laid their eggs. Its occupants, and indeed all the poultry on the place were the exclusive property of Clinton, and he took the entire management of them in his own hands. He raised the corn they consumed on a patch of ground his father gave him for the purpose. He sold his eggs, chickens, and turkeys to whom he pleased, and kept a regular account in a book of all his business transactions. Of course, all the money he made was his own, and he told Oscar he had nearly seventy-five dollars in the bank, which he had earned in this way.
"I don't see how you do it," said Jerry; "I could n't make anything that way if I should try. I don't believe our hens more than pay their way, if they do that."
"If you should manage as I do, I guess you would make something," replied Clinton.
"No, it isn't my luck," said Jerry; "if I worked ever so hard, I should n't be any better off for it."
"I don't believe that," said Clinton; "there 's no luck about it. Any boy could make out just as well as I have done, if he took the same trouble. You try it, now, and see."
"No, I shan't try, for I know just as well as I want to, how it would turn out," replied Jerry.
"How can you know if you never tried it?" inquired Clinton.
Jerry did not answer this question, and perhaps he could not. He preferred to comfort himself with the foolish plea of the lazy, that he was not one of "the lucky ones," and it was useless for him to think of succeeding in anything of that kind.
Clinton did not make the most distant allusion to the Shanghae Rooster's letter, although Jerry felt sure that he knew all about it. The latter also avoided all reference to it. Oscar could hardly keep from introducing the matter, but his cousin's injunction to "keep dark" prevailed, and he was able to restrain his impatient tongue.
The boys now took a look at the piggery, where they found several fat, dignified grunters, together with a family of little squealers, who seemed quite too clean and delicate to occupy such an enclosure. They then went all over the great barn, which happened to be tenantless, the cows being at pasture and the oxen and horse off at work. Oscar's attention was attracted to a scrap cut from a newspaper, which was pasted upon one of the posts of the horse's stall. It read as follows:
"THE HORSE'S PRAYER.
"Up hill, spare thou me; Down hill, take care of thee; On level ground, spare me not, Nor give me water when I 'm hot."
Clinton said he found these lines in a newspaper about the time he began to drive alone, and he stuck them up upon the stall that he might not forget them.
"Hallo, who is this?" inquired Oscar, as a little curly-haired girl of six years came tripping into the barn.
The little girl to whom the inquiry was addressed turned a shy and roguish look towards the strange boy, and then edged along to Clinton, and nestled her little hand in his.
"Can't you tell him who you are?" inquired Clinton. "He came all the way from Boston, where cousin Ettie and cousin Willie live. He 's Jerry's cousin, and little Mary Preston's cousin. Now you'll tell him what your name is, won't you?"
"Annie Davenport—that's my name," she replied, in her artless, winning way.
"Then you're Clinton's sister, are you?" inquired Oscar.
"Yes, and he 's my brother," she quickly added, with a proud look that greatly amused the boys.
"Did you say you have a cousin Willie in Boston, Clinton?" continued Oscar.
"Yes, Willie Davenport," replied Clinton.
"I know him—he's about your size, is n't he? and his father is a lawyer?"
"Yes, that's him—why, I want to know if you know him?"
"O yes; he goes to our school. The boys have nicknamed him Whistler, because he whistles so much; but he 's a real clever fellow, for all that. My brother Ralph is quite intimate with him. It's strange that I never knew before that he had relations down here," added Oscar.
"Do you know his sister, Ettie?" inquired Clinton.
"No, I never saw her," replied Oscar.
"Come into the house with me,—I must tell mother we 've heard from Boston," said Clinton.
They all entered the house, and Mrs. Davenport was soon informed of the pleasant discovery they had made, and had many questions to ask concerning her Boston friends. Oscar seemed to become at once an old acquaintance. The fact that he was a schoolmate of Willie gave him a direct passport to the good graces of all the family. When Oscar called to mind his peculiar relations towards Willie, this unlooked-for friendship was not particularly agreeable to him; for he was not, and never had been, on very friendly terms with Clinton's cousin. This, however, was more than he dared say to Clinton, and so he concealed his dislike of Willie as well as he could.
After sitting in the house a little while, Clinton invited Oscar and Jerry into the "shop," which was a room back of the kitchen, where Mr. Davenport kept a variety of carpenter's tools. Here, in cold and stormy weather, Clinton's father mended his broken tools and implements, and performed such other jobs as were required. Clinton, too, spent many odd moments at the work-bench, and patient practice had made him quite a neat and skilful workman. He showed the boys several boxes, a pine table, and a cricket, made entirely by his own hands, which would have done no discredit to a regular carpenter.
After remaining an hour or two with Clinton, Oscar and Jerry started for home, well pleased with their visit.
"Oscar, you have n't written home since you came down here, have you?" inquired Mr. Preston one morning at the breakfast table.
"No, sir," replied Oscar.
"Well, you ought to write," added Mr. Preston; "your mother told you to, and I suppose she has been looking for a letter every day for a week or more. It's over a fortnight since you left home, and your folks will feel anxious about you, if they don't hear from you soon. You 'd better write a letter to them this morning, before you do anything else, and then it will be out of the way. I shall either go or send over to the post-office to-day, and the letter will start for Boston to-morrow morning, and get there the next day."
"O dear, I hate to write," said Oscar. "Why can't you write to mother, aunt, and tell her how I am?"
"No, no," said Mr. Preston, "that won't do. You promised your mother that you would write yourself, and she 'll expect to hear from you, and not from somebody else. Your aunt can write, if she chooses, but you must write too. I 'll give you a pen and some paper and ink after breakfast, and you can write just a much as you please."
"I guess it won't be much—I don't know how to write a letter," replied Oscar.
"A boy of your age not know how to write a letter—and been all your lifetime to such grand schools as they have in Boston, too! I don't believe that," said Mr. Preston, shaking his head.
"I shall have to go and see the Shanghae Rooster," said Oscar, looking at Jerry very knowingly.
Jerry laughed at this allusion, but the others did not appear to understand its meaning. It was evident that they were innocent of all knowledge of the mysterious letter; and as Jerry wished them to remain so, he adroitly turned the remark by replying:
"No you won't—father has got plenty of steel pens."
After breakfast, Mr. Preston told Oscar to follow him. They went up stairs, and Mr. P. took a key from his pocket, and unlocked the door of what was known by the name of "the private room." It was a very small apartment, and was originally designed for a closet or store-room; but Mr. Preston now used it as a sort of office. Here he kept his business papers, and here he did what little writing he had to do. There was one window in the room, which looked out upon the garden in the rear of the house. The furniture consisted of a chair, a small portable desk, placed upon a table, an old map of the State of Maine, a dictionary, almanac, and several other odd volumes and pamphlets.
"There," said Mr. Preston, "you may sit right down to my desk, and write as long as you please, if you won't disturb my papers. There are paper, ink, pens, and wafers—you can use what you want. When you get done, lock the door, and give the key to your aunt."
Oscar found there was no backing out from a letter this time; so he sat down, and tried to make up his mind to face the dreaded duty. He heard his uncle tell the children not to interrupt him, till he had finished his letter; and when Mr. Preston and his man James went off to work, Jerry accompanied them. Oscar was thus left to himself. After thinking about the matter a few moments, he dipped his pen in the ink-stand, and, having consulted the almanac, wrote the proper date for the letter, together with the address, "Dear Mother." Here he came suddenly to a stand. He was at a loss how to commence. He sat uneasily in his chair, now nibbling the end of the pen-holder, and now running his fingers slowly through his hair, as if to coax out the thoughts he wished to express.
At length he got started, and wrote several lines without stopping. Now he thought he should go ahead without further trouble; but he soon found himself again brought to a dead halt. He began to scribble and draw rude figures upon a piece of waste paper, hoping the next sentence, in continuance of his letter, would soon pop into his head; but instead of anything popping in, his ideas began to pop out, so that he almost forgot the letter, amid the unmeaning flourishes his pen was making. Then, suddenly thinking of the scarcely-commenced task before him, he read and re-read the few lines he had written, but could not determine what to say next. Lifting up the lid of the desk, he found a variety of bills, receipts, accounts and letters scattered about. Disregarding the injunction of his uncle, and in violation of one of the plainest rules of good breeding, he concluded to open one of the letters, and see if he could not gain some hint from it, to aid him in completing his own. The letter he opened proved to be a short business message, and it was written in such a difficult hand, that he could not read half the words. He then looked into several other letters, but none of them afforded him any aid.
After idling away half an hour in this manner, he resumed his letter, and began to make some progress upon it, when the lively chirping and twittering of a party of birds in an apple-tree near the window, attracted his attention. He laid down his pen, and watched their movements awhile. They were swallows; and from their actions, Oscar soon discovered that the old birds were teaching their little ones how to fly. There were several nests of these swallows, under the rafters of Mr. Preston's barn; and as they had recently had accessions to their families, Oscar concluded this must be the first appearance of the new-comers in public. The old birds fluttered back and forth, twittering and talking to the young ones all the while, and trying to entice them to commit themselves again to their wings. The little fearful things looked doubtingly, first one way and then another, as though they would gladly launch away upon their destined element, if they were only sure they should not tumble ingloriously to the ground. The clamor of the old ones increased every moment. They called and coaxed more earnestly, and fluttered more impatiently, until at length the young birds worked up their courage to the requisite point, and away the whole flock darted, towards the barn.
Now that the swallows were out of his way, Oscar returned to his letter once more. Had he learned a lesson of self-confidence from the example of the little swallows, the few minutes he spent in watching their movements would have been well employed. But instead of his confidence increasing, he was now almost sick of the sight of the letter, and began to doubt whether he should ever finish it. While he was hesitating whether he had better tear it up, or try once more to go on with it, a sweet childish voice from the garden engaged his attention. He looked from the window, and saw little Mary sitting down upon the grass, in a shady spot, with a large book open before her. She was looking at the engravings in the volume, and was talking very earnestly to herself, and to the figures in the pictures.
"There is Emily," she was saying, "and there is father with a shovel; and this one is me, and that is Jerry, and that's Oscar, carrying a basket. I guess they 're going to dig potatoes. O, what lots of houses over the other side of the pond; and there 's one, two, three, five, ten, eight meeting-houses, too. It must be Boston, I guess, there are so many houses there. And there's a great boat coming—O what a smoke it makes!—and it's got wheels, too. Now we'll get right into it, and go and see Uncle Henry and all the folks. Stop, stop, you boat! Now that's too bad—it goes by, and we can't go to Boston."
Thus little Mary continued to talk to the pictures and to herself, unconscious that any one was listening to her. She was a pretty child, and, all unknown to herself, she made almost as attractive a picture as any in her book, with her fair face, her flowing hair, and her clean dress, set off by the green grass and climbing vines around her. Oscar sat listening to her childish prattle for some time, when the striking of the kitchen clock reminded him that he had been seated at the desk an hour, and had not yet written a dozen lines. He was about to tear up the sheet of paper over which he had sat (but not labored) so long, and give up the attempt. Then he thought of his promise to write, and how ashamed he should feel to have his uncle's folks know that he had tried a whole hour, and could not write a letter to his own mother. He finally determined to make one more attempt.
Finding that the sound of Mary's voice disturbed him, Oscar now shut down the window, and thus cut off all communication with the outer world, except by the eye. He soon got under way again with his letter, and, to his own surprise, he went along quite easily and with considerable rapidity. The reason of this was, he was now really in earnest, and had given his mind wholly to the letter. Before, his thoughts were flitting from one trifle to another; now they were directed to the object he wished to accomplish. Before the clock struck the next hour, the letter was finished, sealed, and directed. It was quite a respectable sort of a letter, too. When he had got through, Oscar was himself surprised to find that he could write so good an epistle. The spelling, punctuation, and penmanship might have been improved, but in other respects the letter was creditable to him. I will print it as he intended it should read, and not precisely as he wrote it:
"BROOKDALE, June 15, 185—.
"I suppose you are looking for a letter from me, and I meant to have written before this, but somehow I have neglected it. I got here safe the next day after I left home. We stopped one night in Portland, and put up at the —— Hotel. The next day we rode in the cars all the forenoon, and in the stage all the afternoon. The stage does not go within five miles of uncle's, but Jerry went over with a horse and wagon to get us. I like Brookdale first-rate. It is a real countryfied place, but I like it all the better for that. The nearest house to uncle's is half a mile off; and, by the way, tell Ralph that a cousin of Whistler's lives there. His name is Clinton Davenport. I have got acquainted with him, and like him very much. I like Jerry, too. We have capital times together. All the boys here are rather 'green,' as we say in Boston; and you would laugh at the ideas they have of city things; but I suppose they think I am green about country things, and so we are square. I have lots of rides, and good long walks, too. A few days ago, Jerry and I walked four or five miles through the woods and pastures, to an old hut where a hermit used to live. They say he was a miser, and buried his money there, and people have dug for it, but nobody has found it. We carried our provisions, and made a fire, and ate dinner there. There is a fine pond close by, where we got our water to drink.
"There are lots of birds here. We are going to set some snares in the woods, and catch some. There are some swallows' nests in uncle's barn, just over the door. You can look right up into them, and see the birds. They are quite tame. They are just making their young ones learn how to fly. It is real amusing to see them.
"Uncle has quite a large farm. I forget how many acres he told me there was, but it is a good many. They have cows, and pigs, and hens, and live in real country style. I have learned how to make butter, but I have not learned to like buttermilk yet. I can't bear it, but all the other folks think it is a great treat. The schools don't keep here but three months in the winter, so Jerry and I are together about all the time. We sleep together, too. I almost forgot to tell you that I have got quite strong and hearty again. My cough is gone, and aunt says I look a good deal better than I did when I came here. I want to hear from home, but I hope you won't send for me to go back just yet. But I am tired of writing, and must close up my letter. Excuse errors and bad writing. Give my love to all the family, including Tiger.
"Your affectionate son,
Oscar felt quite relieved when his letter was ready for the post-office. Having locked up the little room, he carried the key to his aunt.
"Have you written your letter?" inquired Mrs. Preston.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Oscar.
"Where is it? You 're going to let me read it, aint you?" inquired Emily.
"There it is," said Oscar, taking the letter from his jacket pocket; "but I guess you won't read it, miss."
"Yes, do let me read it," persisted Emily, who really had an undue proportion of inquisitiveness in her nature.
"No, I can't; it's sealed up," replied Oscar.
"Then tell me what you wrote, won't you?" continued Emily.
"Why, you silly child, what business is it to you what he wrote?" said her mother. "Don't ask any more such foolish questions; Oscar will think you have n't got common sense if you do."
"Did you write anything about me?" continued Emily, in a lower tone.
"Did you hear me, Emily?" inquired Mrs. Preston, in a sharper tone.
"O no, I did n't write much," said Oscar, in reply to Emily; "there's nothing in the letter that you would care about seeing."
"I did n't know you were going to seal up the letter so soon. I wanted to send a message to Alice and Ella," continued Emily.
"You are too late now," replied Oscar; "but I 'll give you a chance next time. What message do you want to send?"
"You must n't be so inquisitive," said Emily, with a laugh; "just as though I were going to tell you, when you would n't let me read the letter!"
"Well, I can tell you one thing,—I don't want to know," replied Oscar. "Aunt Eliza, do you know where Jerry is?"
"He has gone with his father down to the meadow lot," replied Mrs. Preston. "I guess they will be back before a great while."
Oscar set out for the "meadow lot," which was a quarter of a mile from the house, on the other side of the river. He had not gone far, however, when he met Mr. Preston and Jerry returning.
"I 've written my letter, uncle, and it's all ready to go to the post-office," said Oscar; "can't Jerry and I carry it over?"
"I 'll see about that this afternoon," said Mr. Preston; "I 've got something else for Jerry to do now."
"I 'm going over to the old wood-lot to get a load of mulching," said Jerry to Oscar; "and you can go too, if you want to."
"Mulching—what is that?" inquired Oscar.
"It's stuff that they put around young trees, to keep the roots from drying up in summer," replied Jerry. "You know all those small apple and pear trees back of the barn? well, it's to put around them."
Having reached the house, the boys ate some luncheon, and then proceeded to tackle Billy into the hay-cart. After Mr. Preston had given Jerry sundry cautions and directions, which the latter seemed to think quite unnecessary, the boys hopped into the cart, and drove off towards the woods. Mr. Preston owned several tracts of woodland in Brookdale. The lot to which the boys were going, was called the "old" one, because the wood had all been cut off once, and it was now covered with a young growth, not large enough for firewood. It was but a short distance from the house, and the boys soon reached the spot, and commenced operations. They were each provided with large jack-knives, and with these they proceeded to lop off the young and tender ends of the birches, which trees were quite abundant in that spot; for birches are very apt to spring up after a pine forest has been cleared away. Many of the trees were yet so small, that the boys did not have to climb up to reach the branches.
Though all this was really work, it seemed so much like play to Jerry and Oscar, that they actually forgot to be lazy. The consequence was, the job was done before they thought of it. Gathering up the heaps of small twigs scattered around them, they threw them into the cart, and found they had quite a respectable load; respectable in bulk at least, though not a very heavy burden for Billy. Taking their seats upon the top of the mulching, which was almost as soft as a load of hay, they drove back to the barn, and alighted. Mr. Preston now appeared, and led the horse into the orchard, where, with the aid of the boys, he scattered the birch twigs around the young trees, so as to protect their roots from the fierce heat of the sun. There was not enough for all the trees, but he told them they need not get any more at that time.
After dinner, Mr. Preston said he should have to go over to the Cross-Roads himself, as he wanted to see a man who lived there; but he told Oscar he might go with him, if he wished. Oscar accepted the invitation, and they were soon on their way, leaving Jerry not a little disappointed that he could not go with them. Oscar handed his letter to the postmaster, who marked it with the stamp of the office, and deposited it in the mail-bag, Mr. Preston stopped to purchase a few articles in the shop where the post-office was kept. When he was ready to start, he inquired:
"Have you mailed your letter, and paid your postage, Oscar?"
"I 've mailed it, but I did n't pay the postage," replied Oscar.
"That was n't right," said his uncle; "when you mail a letter to a friend, you should always pay the postage. If you pay it now, in advance, it will be only three cents; but if the postage is not paid till the letter is delivered, it will be five cents."
"I did n't think of that," said Oscar; "I wonder if it is too late to pay it now? I 'll go and see."
On making known his request, the postmaster drew forth the letter from the bag, and imprinted another stamp upon it. Oscar paid the three cents, and departed, with his uncle.
Oscar was bent upon going a-gunning. He had allowed his mind to dwell upon the idea, until it seemed to him as though he could no longer resist the impulse to play the sportsman, without a sacrifice of his happiness. His uncle, it is true, had tried to dissuade him from it, and had positively refused to lend him his gun. But there were other guns in Brookdale, and everybody was not so particular as Mr. Preston about trusting boys with fire-arms. Why could n't he borrow a gun of somebody else? So he asked himself; and by-and-bye he put the same question to Jerry. Jerry heartily entered into the proposal. He thought Jim Oakley would lend him a gun. At any rate, he was not afraid to ask him. Jim was a famous gunner, in that region. He had several fowling-pieces; and if he would not lend them his best rifle, it was not likely that he would refuse them one of his old guns. So Jerry reasoned, and Oscar fully agreed with him. They went to see Jim, that very afternoon, and by dint of teasing, they got the gun, together with a small quantity of powder and shot. Thus armed, they set out for the woods, in quest of game.
They had been in the woods but a short time, and had not yet shot anything, though they had fired several charges, when a dispute arose between them about the gun. Jerry claimed a right to it half the time, on the ground that he had borrowed it. Oscar was willing that he should use the gun occasionally, but he resisted his claim to it half the time. He contended that the gun was loaned to him, and besides, he had agreed to pay the owner for all the ammunition they used. The dispute waxed warmer and warmer. Oscar was obstinate, and Jerry grew sulky. It was the first serious difficulty that had arisen between them. Neither of them, as yet, knew the other's temper, but now they were in a fair way of finding each other out. It was the clashing of two strong wills. Oscar soon saw that their sport was at an end for that day, and throwing down the gun and powder flask upon the grass, he said, in an angry tone: