"There, take the old thing, and do what you please with it; and when you carry it back, see that you pay for the powder, for I won't."
So saying, he turned upon his heel and walked off. He had not gone far when Jerry, who had picked up the gun, called out:
"Here! you 've broken the trigger, throwing it down so. You may carry it back yourself now, I won't."
"I shan't carry it back," replied Oscar; "you say he lent it to you, and you may take care of it now."
Oscar went back to his uncle's, leaving Jerry and the gun to keep each other company. Not feeling in a very pleasant mood, Oscar did not go into the house, but loitered around the barn, avoiding the family as much as he could. Pretty soon he saw Clinton driving up, and he stepped inside of the barn, as he did not care about speaking with him. Clinton stopped however, when opposite to the barn, and called to him.
"What would you give for a letter from home?" said Clinton, when Oscar made his appearance.
"I don't know—why, have you got one for me?" inquired Oscar, with remarkable coolness.
"That's for you, I guess," said Clinton, handing him a letter. "I 've been over to the post-office, and as I happened to see a letter directed to you, I thought I would take it along with me."
"That's right, I'm glad you did," said Oscar, taking the letter. "Much obliged to you for your trouble," he added, as Clinton drove off.
Oscar now went into the barn, and, seating himself upon a stool, opened and read his letter. It was from his mother. She acknowledged the receipt of his letter, and expressed much gratification at hearing that he was well and enjoying himself. His father, she wrote, thought he had better return home, and resume his place at school, from which he had been absent nearly three months. The term would close in about a month, and he wanted Oscar to be prepared to enter the High School at that time. Then followed various little messages from the children, directions about his journey home, &c. In closing, she requested him to return that week, that he might be ready to go to school the following Monday.
Oscar was not very much pleased with the contents of the letter. He did not expect to be recalled so suddenly. He had hoped that, at any rate, he should not be sent to school again that term. But, his plans and hopes were all overturned by this letter. He went into the house, and told the news to his aunt, who expressed regret that he was to leave so soon.
By-and-bye Jerry came home, but he brought the same scowl upon his face that Oscar left with him up in the woods. Oscar, too, was as "stuffy" as ever. No words passed between the two, and each seemed bent upon giving the other a wide berth. At the supper table, something was said about Oscar's letter, and his going home; but Jerry was too obstinate to ask any questions, and so he remained in tormenting uncertainty in regard to the matter. Oscar, too, had some curiosity about the gun, but he did not intend to "speak first," if he never spoke again to his cousin.
During the whole evening, Oscar and Jerry were at the opposite poles of the little family circle. When Oscar retired for the night, he found Jerry not only abed, but asleep, or pretending to be. It was a wonder that both did not tumble out of bed that night; for each slept upon the extreme edge of the mattress, as far as possible from the other.
When Oscar awoke in the morning, he found himself alone, Jerry having quietly arisen and slipped out of the room, without disturbing him. They did not see each other until they met at the breakfast table. Here, their sober and quiet demeanor, so unusual with them, soon attracted notice.
"See how down in the mouth Jerry is!" said Emily. "He looks as though he had lost all his friends. And Oscar does n't look much better either, poor fellow!"
Both boys changed color, and looked queerly, but they said nothing.
"Never mind, boys," said Mrs. Preston, "you 've got one day more to enjoy yourselves together. You 'd better make the most of that, while it lasts, and not worry about the separation till the time comes."
"That's good doctrine," said Mr. Preston; "never borrow trouble, for it comes fast enough any way. Come, cheer up, Oscar, you have n't gone yet."
"It's too bad to make me go home so soon—I thought I was going to stay here a month or two," said Oscar, who was very willing that his unusual demeanor should be attributed entirely to his summons home.
"You must ask your father to let you come down and spend your vacation," said Mr. Preston. "I expect to go up to Boston about that time, and I guess he will let me bring you home with me."
"I should like to come," said Oscar, "but I don't believe father will let me, it's so far."
"O yes, he will, when he knows what good friends you and Jerry are," replied Mr. Preston.
"Jerry 's crying, as true as I 'm alive!" exclaimed Emily, who had been watching the workings of her brother's face for several moments, and thought she saw moisture gathering in his eye.
"No I aint, either!" replied Jerry, in such a prompt and spiteful tone, and with such a scowl upon his face, that all the others, including even Oscar, joined in a hearty laugh.
"I hope you feel good-natured," said his mother; "Oscar's going off seems to have had a queer effect upon you."
"I don't care, you 're all picking upon me—it's enough to make anybody cross," said Jerry, in a surly tone.
"You're mistaken—nobody has picked upon you," replied his mother.
"Yes, you have, too," responded Jerry.
"Jerry! don't let me hear any more of that—not another word," said Mr. Preston, sternly.
"Then you 'd better make Emily hold her tongue," said Jerry.
"Hush! do you hear me?" said Mr. Preston, with considerable excitement.
Jerry undertook to mutter something more, when his father jumped up, and, taking him by the collar, led him to the cellar-door, and told him to go down and stay until he was sent for. Then, shutting the door, and turning the button, he resumed his seat at the table, and the family finished their meal in silence.
Jerry was released from his confinement soon after breakfast; but the unfortunate affair at the table continued to weigh heavily upon his mind. Throughout the rest of the day, he kept out of everybody's way, and said nothing, but looked sour, cross, and wretched. Oscar, too, felt very unpleasantly. He found it hard work to amuse himself alone. He was a boy of strong social feelings, and abhorred solitary rambles and sports. It was a long and dull day, and when he retired to bed at night, he almost felt glad that it was his last day in Brookdale.
Soon after he had got into bed, Jerry, who had retired before him, called out:
"What?" inquired the other.
There was a long pause, during which Jerry hitched and twisted about, as if hesitating how to proceed. He at length inquired:
"Are you mad with me?"
"No," replied Oscar, somewhat reluctantly, and in a tone that was almost equivalent to "yes."
"I don't want you to go off without making up with me," added Jerry; and as he spoke, his voice trembled, and had it been light enough, Oscar might have detected something like moisture in those very eyes that had flashed in anger at Emily in the morning, for reporting the same thing of them.
"I 'm ready to make up with you," replied Oscar, turning over toward Jerry.
Having thus broken the ice, the constraint and reserve that had existed between them since the previous day, gradually melted away, and they were once more on sociable terms, although their intercourse was not quite so free and unembarrassed as it was before their quarrel. In fact, they did not properly heal up the difficulty between them, inasmuch as neither made any confession or apology—a duty that both should have performed, as they were about equally guilty. Oscar's first inquiries were concerning the gun. Jerry told him that he carried it home, and that the owner was quite angry, when he saw the damage it had sustained, but said nothing about making the boys pay for it.
The next morning the family arose at an earlier hour than usual, as Oscar had got to be on his way soon after sunrise. It was decided that Jerry should drive him over to the Cross-Roads. Accordingly, after a hasty breakfast, he bade them all good-bye, one by one, and taking a seat in the wagon with Jerry, started for home. It was delightful, riding while the birds were yet singing their morning songs, and the grass was spangled with dew, and the cool air had not felt the hot breath of the sun; but the separation that was about to take place, and the unpleasant recollection of their recent quarrel, lessened their enjoyment of the ride very much. They reached the Cross-Roads nearly half an hour before the stage-coach came along. At length it drove up to the post-office, and Oscar, mounting to the top, took a seat behind the driver. The mail-bag was handed to the driver, and the coach started again on its way, Oscar bowing his farewell to Jerry, as they drove off.
Nothing of special interest occurred the forenoon's ride. The coach reached its destination about eleven o'clock and Oscar had barely time enough to brush the dust from his clothing, and to obtain a drink of cold water, when the signal was given for the cars to start, and he took his seat in the train. His thoughtful aunt had placed a liberal supply of eatables in the top of his valise, and to that he now had recourse, for his long ride had given him a sharp appetite. There were but few passengers in the train when it started, but at almost every station it received accessions.
On reaching Portland, Oscar found that he had nearly half an hour to spare, before taking the Boston train; for it was his intention to "go through" in one day, which his early start enabled him to do. After treating himself to a few cakes, which he purchased at a refreshment stand in the depot, he walked about until it was time to take his seat in the cars.
The clock struck three, and the train started. One hundred and eleven miles seemed to Oscar a long distance to travel, at one stretch, especially after riding all the forenoon; and, indeed, he did begin to feel quite tired, long before he reached the end of the journey. To add to his uneasiness, a particle of cinder from the locomotive flew into his eye, and lodged there so firmly that all his efforts to remove it were in vain. In a little while, the eye became quite painful, and he was obliged to keep it closed. A kind-looking gentleman, who sat near him, noticed his trouble, and offered to assist him in removing the mote; but it was so small that he could not find it. He advised Oscar not to rub the inflamed organ, and told him he thought the moisture of the eye would soon wash out the intruder, if left to itself. Oscar tried to follow this advice, but the pain and irritation did not subside, and he closed his eyes, and resigned himself to darkness.
The nine o'clock bells of Boston were ringing, as Oscar left the depot and turned his steps homeward. He hurried along through the familiar streets, and had just turned the corner from which his home was in sight, when somebody jumped suddenly from a dark passage-way, and seized him by the hand. It was Ralph, who had been on the watch for his brother half an hour, and, concealed himself just as he saw him approaching. Each gave the other a cordial greeting, and then they hastened into the house, where Oscar found the rest of the family waiting to receive him. The general commotion that followed his arrival, aroused Tiger from the comfortable nap he was taking on a mat, and on hearing the well-remembered tones of his master's voice, he sprang toward Oscar, and nearly knocked him over with his demonstrations of welcome.
So Oscar was at home again; and from the welcome he received, he learned that there is pleasure in getting back from a journey as well as in setting out upon one. His inflamed eye soon attracted the notice of his mother, and she examined it to see if she could detect the cause of the irritation; but the troublesome atom was invisible. She then said she would try the eye-stone, and, going to the drawer, she got a small, smooth, and flat stone, and told Ella to go down into the kitchen and bring up a little vinegar in a saucer. On putting the stone into the vinegar, it soon began to move about, as though it were possessed of life. When it had become sufficiently lively, Mrs. Preston wiped it dry, and put it between the lid and ball of Oscar's inflamed eye. After it had remained there a few minutes, he allowed it to drop into his hand, and on a close-examination, he found that it had brought with it the offending substance that had caused him so much pain. It was a little black speck, so small that it was barely perceptible to the unaided eye. It now being quite late, Mrs. Preston thought that further inquiries and answers concerning Oscar's visit had better be deferred till morning, and the family soon retired to their beds.
The next day was Saturday. Oscar was off most of the day with his comrades, among whom he was quite a lion for the time. During one of the brief intervals that he was in the house, his mother said some thing about his going to school on Monday.
"O dear, I don't want to go to school again this term," said Oscar. "What's the use? Why, it 's only four or five weeks before the term will be through."
"I know that," replied his mother, "but your father is very anxious that you should get into the High School, and he thinks you can do it if you finish up this term."
"I can't do it—I 've got all behindhand with my studies," said Oscar.
"O yes, you can if you try," replied his mother. "You might have got into the High School last year if you had studied a little harder. You were almost qualified then, and I'm sure you ought to be now. If you find you are behind your class in your lessons, you must study so much the harder, and you 'll get up with them by-and-bye."
"But I don't believe it will do me any good to be confined in the school-room," continued Oscar. "I don't think I'm so strong as I was before I was sick."
"Well," said Mrs. Preston, "when you 're sick you need not go to school; but I guess there 's no danger of your staying at home for that reason, at present. You never looked better in your life than you do now."
Oscar tried his pleas again in the evening with his father, but with quite as poor success. He saw that it was fully determined that he should resume his seat at school, and he reluctantly submitted to this decision. When Monday morning came, he proceeded to school, but found that his old desk was in possession of another boy. The head teacher in Oscar's department soon appeared, and seemed quite glad to see him once more. He appointed Oscar a new seat, and told him he hoped he would study so diligently as to make up for lost time.
The hopes of Oscar's teacher and parents were doomed to disappointment. It was soon evident that he cared less about his lessons than ever. He was behind his class, and instead of redoubling his efforts to get up with them, he became discouraged and indifferent. His recitations were seldom perfect, and often they were utter failures. His teachers coaxed, and encouraged, and ridiculed, and frowned, and punished, all in vain. One day, after Oscar had blundered worse than usual, the teacher who was hearing the recitation said to him, in a despairing tone:
"You remind me, Oscar, of what one of the old Roman emperors said to an archer who shot his arrows a whole day, and never once hit the mark. He told him he had a most wonderful talent for missing. So I must say of you—you 've got the greatest talent for missing of any boy I know."
Seeing a smile on the faces of Oscar's classmates, he added:
"But this is too sober a matter to make light of. If you could not get your lessons, it would be a different matter; but I know, and you know, that this is not the trouble. You are quick enough to learn and to understand, when you have a mind to be. If you would only try to get your lessons as hard as the other boys do, you would n't be at the foot of the class a great while. If you keep on in this way, you will see your folly as plainly as I see it now, before you are many years older."
This admonition had little effect upon Oscar. When school was dismissed, a few minutes after, he rushed out with as light a step as any of his comrades, and his gay laugh was heard as soon as he reached the entry. In the general scramble for caps, one had fallen from its peg, and instead of replacing it, two or three of the boys were making a football of it. Oscar joined the sport, and gave the cap a kick that sent it part of the way down stairs. A moment after, he met Willie Davenport returning with it.
"Halloo, Whistler, that is n't your cap, is it?" inquired Oscar.
"No, but it's somebody's," said the good-hearted boy, as he brushed off the dust, and put the lining back into its place. He was about hanging it up, when Benny Wright appeared, and claimed it as his property.
Had Oscar known that the cap was Benny's, he would not have made a foot-ball of it. He remembered the kind epistle he received, when sick, and the amusement it afforded him, when amusements were scarce. Since his recovery, he had treated Benny with much more consideration than before, and quite a kindly feeling had sprung up between them.
Oscar's inattention to his studies was not his only fault at school. His general behavior was worse than it had ever been before. Vexed that he was compelled to return to school so near the expiration of the term, it seemed as though he was determined to make as little improvement in his studies, and as much trouble for his teachers, as he could. He not only idled away his own time, but he disturbed other boys who were disposed to study. He was repeatedly reproved and punished, but reproof and punishment did no good; on the contrary, they seemed rather to make him worse. The teachers at length gave him up as incorrigible, and consoled themselves with the thought that his connection with the school would cease in two or three weeks, at which time his class would graduate. They still aimed to keep him in check, during school hours, but they ceased spending their time and breath in trying to bring about a reformation in his conduct.
One day as the scholars were engaged in writing, the master, while passing along among the boys, and inspecting their writing-books, noticed that somebody had been spitting what appeared to be tobacco juice, near Oscar's seat. This was a violation of the rules of the school, and the teacher concluded not to let it pass unnoticed. Having no doubt, from several circumstances, that Oscar was the offender, he said to him:
"Oscar, what are you chewing tobacco in school for, and spitting the juice on the floor?"
"I have n't chewed any tobacco this afternoon," replied Oscar.
"What is it, then, that you have been spitting upon the floor?" inquired the teacher.
"I have n't spit upon the floor," replied Oscar.
"Who did that?" continued the teacher, pointing to the puddle upon the floor.
"I don't know," said Oscar; "it was there when I took my seat."
It was possible that Oscar told the truth, but the teacher had his doubts. He might perhaps, have settled the matter at once by putting a question to one or two of the boys who sat near the supposed offender but as he always avoided the system of making one boy inform against another, when he could properly do so, he took another course. He told Oscar, if he had any tobacco in his mouth, or anywhere about his person, to give it up to him. Oscar declared that he had none.
"Let me look into your mouth," said the teacher.
Oscar had a small piece of the weed in his mouth, which he tucked behind his upper lip with his tongue, and then opened his mouth. The teacher of course saw nothing but what belonged there. He smelt something, however, that left him no longer in doubt that Oscar had told a falsehood.
"I can't see your cud, but I can smell it plain enough," said the master; "and I 'll examine your pockets, if you please."
Oscar was far from pleased with this proposition, and tried to prevent its being carried into effect. The master, however, easily overcame the difficulties he put in the way, and running his hand into the pocket which he seemed most anxious to defend, brought forth a piece of tobacco large enough to kill a horse!
"What is that?" he inquired, holding the contraband article before Oscar.
Oscar neither looked at it nor made any reply.
"And you are the boy who said a moment ago that you had no tobacco about you," continued the master "I declare I don't know what to do with you. I have said and done all that I can to make a better boy of you, and now I shall report this matter to your father, and let him settle it with you. But I want you to remember one thing. When you tell me a lie, you break God's law, and not mine; and you can't settle the matter in full with me, or any other human being."
The teacher then threw the piece of tobacco out of the open window, and taking Oscar's writing-book, told him he would set a new copy for him. He soon returned, with the following line written upon the top of a clean page:
"Lying lips are abomination to the Lord."
As Oscar wrote this fearful sentence over and over again, he could not fully escape the force of its meaning. It reminded him of his feelings during his recent illness, when at times the terrible thought that his sickness might possibly be unto death intruded upon his mind. But thoughts of God, and death, and a future world, were alike unpleasant to him, and he banished them as speedily as possible.
During the afternoon, the principal of the school wrote a letter to Mr. Preston, informing him of Oscar's indolence and bad conduct, and referring particularly to the incident that had just occurred. By way of offset to the complaint, he spoke in very high terms of Ralph, who attended the same school, but was in another department and another room. He sent the letter by Ralph, but told him not to let Oscar know anything about it. Ralph had some suspicions of the nature of the letter, but he did his errand faithfully, going directly from school to his father's store.
Mr. Preston was at first very much irritated by the teacher's complaints of Oscar's misconduct; and could he have taken the culprit in hand at the time, he would probably have handled him rather roughly. But several days elapsed before he found it convenient to talk with Oscar about the matter, and by this time his passion had subsided into anxiety and sorrow. He showed Oscar the letter, in which he, the eldest son, was severely censured, and his little brother was so highly commended. With tears in his eyes, he warned him of the dangers before him, and entreated him to change his course.
Oscar had never seen his father exhibit so much emotion before. Usually, on such occasions, he was stern, if not passionate; more ready to threaten and punish than to appeal to the heart and conscience. Now, all this was changed, and sorrow seemed to have taken the place of anger. Oscar was somewhat affected by this unusual manifestation of parental anxiety. He was pretty well hardened against scoldings and threatenings, but he did not know how to meet this new form of rebuke. He tried to conceal his feelings, however, and preserved a sullen silence throughout the interview.
This affair made no abiding impression upon Oscar. In a day or two it was forgotten, and the slight compunctions he felt had entirely disappeared. But the schoolmaster's complaint was soon followed by another that was quite as unpleasant. As Mrs. Preston was sitting at her sewing, one day, the door suddenly opened, and in came Bridget, the servant girl, with a face as red as rage and a hot fire could make it.
"I'll be goin' off this night, ma'am—I'll pack me chist, and not stop here any longer at all," said Bridget, in a tone that betokened her anger.
"Going off—what do you mean? You don't say you 're going to leave us so suddenly, Biddy?" inquired Mrs. Preston, with surprise.
"Yes, that I be," replied Bridget, very decidedly; "I 'll not be after staying in the same house with that big, ugly b'y, another day."
"Who, Oscar? What has he done now?" inquired Mrs. Preston.
"He's did nothing but bother the life out o' me ivery day since he coom back, that's jist all he 's did," replied Biddy. "Jist now, ma'am, he slopped over a hull basin o' dirty whater right on to the clane floor, and thin laffed at me, and sassed me, and called me, all sorts o' bad names—the little sass-box! It's not the like o' Bridget Mullikin that 'll put up with his dirty impidence another day. I 'd like to live with ye, ma'am, and Mister Pristen, good, nice man that he is but I can't stop to be trated like a dog by that sassy b'y."
"I 'll go and see what he has been about," said Mrs. Preston, laying down her work.
When they reached the kitchen, Oscar was not to be found. There was the puddle of dirty water upon the floor, however, and so far Bridget's story was corroborated. As she proceeded to wipe it up, she continued to speak in not very complimentary terms of the "ugly b'y," as she delighted to call Oscar. It was in vain that Mrs. Preston attempted to soothe her ruffled spirits. She refused to be comforted, and insisted upon taking her departure from the house that night.
Oscar did not make his appearance again until late in the afternoon. When his mother called him to account for his treatment of Bridget, he denied the greater part of her story. He said that the basin of water was standing upon the floor, and that he accidentally hit it with his foot, and upset it. He denied that he called her bad names or was impudent, but he admitted that he laughed, to see her so angry. He also complained that she was as "cross as Bedlam" to him, and "jawed" him whenever he entered the kitchen.
Mrs. Preston, puzzled by these contradictory stories, brought the two contending parties face to face, in hope of either eliciting the truth or effecting a treaty of peace between them. She failed in both objects, however. Bridget not only adhered to her first statement, but boldly accused Oscar of sundry other misdeeds that had come up in recollection since the first outbreak; while Oscar, on the other hand, stoutly denied most of her charges, and insisted that she was ill-natured, and irritated him in every possible way. The contest finally waxed so warm between them that Mrs. Preston was obliged to interpose, and to withdraw with Oscar.
Mrs. Preston never ascertained the real facts in the case. Candor compels me to say that Bridget's complaints were essentially true. Knowing the poor Irish girl's weak side (her quick temper), Oscar had for some time taxed his ingenuity to torment her, for the sake of hearing her "sputter," as he termed it. He was not only impudent, and applied offensive names to her, but sometimes he purposely put her to extra labor and trouble by misplacing articles, making dirt about the house, &c. These things were a sad annoyance to Bridget, and she soon came to regard Oscar as "the plague of her life," and treated him accordingly. He did very wrong to annoy her in this way; and she was foolish to take so much notice of his hectoring. The ill-will thus established between them grew day by day, until it resulted in the open rupture just described. But Mrs. Preston did not give full credit to Bridget's story. She believed the difficulty was owing quite as much to Biddy's irritable temper and ignorance as to Oscar's impudence, and consequently the latter escaped with a slight reprimand. She also prevailed upon Bridget to remain with them the week out, thinking she would by that time get over her anger. But, to the surprise of all, when Saturday night came, Bridget took her departure. She had got another "place," where she would be out of the reach of the provoking Oscar.
The week for the annual examination of the public schools soon arrived. Oscar begged hard, but in vain, for permission to absent himself, on the eventful day that the grave committee and other distinguished visitors were to sit in judgment upon the condition of the school to which he belonged. But though he was present, he did not appear to much advantage among the "bright particular stars" of the day; and as one and another of the flower of his class were called out, to receive the "Franklin medals," his name was not heard, and no silken ribbon, with silver medal attached, was hung around his neck.
The same day, in obedience to the orders of his father, but very much against his own inclination, Oscar applied to the head master for the certificate required of boys who present themselves for admission to the High School. The teacher seemed a little puzzled what reply to make. At length he said:
"Do you know what kind of a certificate is required?"
"Yes, sir," replied Oscar, who had read the advertisement in the paper that morning.
"The certificate must say that you are a boy of good character, and that your teacher believes you are qualified for admission to the High School," continued the master. "Now I want to ask you if you think I can honestly say that of you?"
Oscar hung his head in shame, but made no reply. It had turned out just as he feared it would.
"It is very hard to refuse such a request," continued the teacher; "but, really, if I should give you the certificate, I am afraid it would do you no good, while it might do me some harm, for I don't like to have my scholars rejected. I cannot honestly say that I think you are qualified for the High School; and besides your conduct has been such of late, that I do not see how I could give you a very high recommendation. I would advise you to give up the idea of applying for admission. I am very sorry it is so, but that will not help the matter."
What could Oscar say to this? He said nothing, but his looks betrayed the deep mortification he felt, and moved his teacher to pity, while he denied his request. Nor was this the end of Oscar's troubles. He had got to face his father, and to confess to him that he was found unworthy even to be a candidate for the school for which he had so long been preparing. In doing this, he smoothed over the matter as well as he could; but at best it was a bitter thing to him, and thus he began to experience some of the sad but natural effects of his own misconduct.
The long summer vacation had now commenced. Oscar wished to spend it at Brookdale, but his parents did not seem much inclined to yield to his wishes. They had not yet fully determined what to do with him; whether to send him to a private school, when the vacations were over, or to put him to work in some shop or store. Meanwhile, Oscar was idling away his time about the streets, and devoting all his energies to the pursuit of amusement. His favorite place of resort continued to be the hotel where Alfred Walton lived. Here he found congenial spirits in Alfred, and Andy the speller, and the several drivers and hostlers, with whom he was on intimate terms. Here, too, he often met with strangers who took his fancy.
At this time, a boy named Edward Mixer was boarding at the hotel. He had lately come to Boston from another city, and Oscar and Alfred were soon captivated by his free and easy manners, and his sociable qualities. He was between fifteen and sixteen years old, and represented that he was travelling about, to see the world. He said he had plenty of money, and should have a great deal more, when he became of age. He was fashionably dressed, and Oscar and Alfred felt proud of his acquaintance, and were soon on terms of intimacy with him.
It was not long before Oscar discovered that Edward was a very bad boy. His conversation was low and profane, and he seemed to take special delight in relating sundry "scrapes," in which he himself figured in a character that was something worse than mischievous, and bordered on the criminal. He "talked large," too, amazingly large; and Oscar and Alfred were at length forced to the reluctant conclusion that he was an unmitigated liar. But these were small faults, in their view. They considered Ned a capital fellow, and a right down good companion, in spite of these little drawbacks, and they sought his company as much as ever.
Ned spent a good deal of his time around the several railroad depots. He seemed to have quite a mania for such places. Oscar and Alfred often accompanied him to these favorite old haunts of theirs. One morning, as the three were loitering around a depot, having nothing in particular to amuse themselves with, an excursion on foot into a neighboring town was proposed, and all readily agreed to the suggestion. They immediately set out, accompanied by Oscar's dog, Tiger. They walked along the railroad track, and crossed the river by the railroad bridge, thus saving their tolls, besides many extra steps. They passed several small sign-boards, on which was painted the warning, "No Person allowed to cross this Bridge;" but this did not check their progress, and as no one interfered with them, they were soon safely over the river. They still followed the track for some distance, until they had reached the open country, and then they turned off into the green fields.
There were many fine orchards and gardens on every side, but ripe fruits and berries were very scarce. Strawberries and cherries had pretty much disappeared, and it was not yet time for plums, peaches, and early apples and pears. Ned appeared to regret this very much.
"Just see there!" he exclaimed, as they approached a large garden, remote from any house, whose trees were loaded with green fruit. "What fine picking we should have, if it were only a few weeks later! I mean to come out here again next month, you see if I don't. We must mark this place; let me see; there's an old rough board fence—I shall remember that, I guess. Didn't you ever rob an orchard, Alf? I've robbed more than you could shake a stick at. I 'm a first-rate hand at it, I can tell you—never got caught in my life; but I've come pretty near it, though, a good many times. Hold on—I 'm going to get over the fence, and see what they 've got. Those plums over there look as if they were pretty near ripe. Come, Alf and Oscar, won't you get over?"
"You two may," said Oscar, "but I 'll stay here with Tiger. He might bark if we all got over, where he could n't see us."
Edward and Alfred were soon upon the other side of the fence. While they were exploring the garden, Oscar's attention was attracted to a dense thicket, from which two or three birds suddenly flew on his approach. He thought there might be a nest there, and concluded to see if he could find it. Carefully brushing aside the leaves and twigs, he began to hunt for the suspected nest, while Tiger stood looking on. Absorbed in this occupation, he lost sight of his comrades.
After searching for several minutes, Oscar found a small nest, within his reach, but it was empty. He turned to inform the other boys of his success, but they were nowhere to be seen. He walked along by the fence, but could see nothing of them. He was afraid to call to them, lest the owner of the garden might hear, and take the alarm. He listened, but could not hear them. He walked along still further, and kept his eyes wide open, but they were not to be seen. He concluded they were playing a trick upon him, and had hid themselves. If that was the game he thought, he would not worry himself about it. He accordingly turned about, and was going to sit down and wait for them to make their appearance, when he happened to espy them in a distant field, running at the top of their speed, with a man in full chase after them. It was soon evident that the boys were gaining on their pursuer; but they were approaching a brook, over which there was no bridge, and the man probably supposed that would bring them to a stand. It did not, however, for they ran right through the shallow water, without stopping to think about it. The man did not think it prudent to follow their example, and he accordingly gave up the chase, and went back with dry feet.
After Edward and Alfred had got rid of their pursuer, they began to look around for Oscar. The latter, putting his fingers into his mouth, gave a loud and shrill whistle, which they immediately recognized, and answered in a similar way. Oscar started towards them, and taking a wide sweep through the fields, they all came out together upon the highway. They did not think it safe to remain long in the neighborhood, and so they hurried on towards Boston. It appeared, from Edward's story, that he and Alfred knocked a few hard peaches from a tree, while in the garden, but they proved unfit to eat. They also found some ripe currants, and were leisurely helping themselves, when they heard somebody ask them what they were about. They turned, and saw a man approaching; whereupon, without stopping to answer his question, they leaped over the fence, and took to their heels, the man following closely upon them. The conclusion of the race Oscar had witnessed.
As they were walking home, and talking about various matters, Edward suddenly gave the conversation a new turn, by inquiring:
"Boys, do you want to go into a grand speculation with me?"
"Yes, what is it?" was the response of both the others.
"We should make something handsome out of it, but we should have to run some risk," continued Edward. "I've got the scheme all laid out, so that I know just how to go to work. But it's no use talking about it. I don't believe either of you have got pluck enough to go into it."
"I 've got pluck—the real, genuine article; try me, and see if I have n't," said Alfred.
"So have I," said Oscar; "I should like to have you show me a boy that's got more pluck than I have, when I get stirred up."
"Pooh, you don't know what pluck is, neither of you," replied Edward. "What would you do if a policeman should nab you?"
"I should run, just as you did, when the man caught you stealing fruit," said Oscar, with a laugh. "That's a specimen of your pluck, aint it?"
"But what is the speculation you were telling about?" inquired Alfred.
"I guess I shan't tell you about it now," replied Edward. "I 'm afraid you would n't keep it to yourselves."
"Yes we will. I will at any rate," said Alfred.
"So will I," added Oscar.
"If I let you into the secret, and you should blab it out, I would n't mind killing both of you," said Edward, with forced gravity, which he could not long maintain, it gradually relaxing into a smile. "I mean what I say," he added, "you needn't laugh at it."
Both the others renewed their promise to keep the matter a secret; but Edward, after talking about his scheme a quarter of an hour longer, and exciting the curiosity of the others to the highest point, finally informed them that he could not let them into the secret then, but that he would tell them all about it in a few days, if he was sure that they would keep it to themselves.
Oscar saw Edward almost every day, and often inquired about his speculation, but got no definite answer. He and Alfred both felt very curious to know what it was; but though expectation was on tiptoe, it was not gratified. Edward assured them, however, that things were nearly ready, and that in a few days he would let them into the mysterious scheme.
Oscar's uncle, from Brookdale, was now in the city, and was stopping for a few days at Mr. Preston's. He no sooner arrived, than Oscar applied to his parents for permission to return with him to Maine; but they did not give much encouragement to his proposal, although his uncle said he should like to have him make his family another visit. Oscar, however, daily renewed his request, for he believed that he should yet accomplish his object by teasing.
The day before Oscar's uncle was to return to his home, a gentleman called into Mr. Preston's store, and told him he wished to see him alone. Having with drawn to a private room, the stranger introduced himself as an officer of the police.
"You have a son fourteen or fifteen years old?" inquired the officer.
"Yes, I have," replied Mr. Preston.
"Are you aware that he is getting into bad company?" continued the officer.
"No, sir," said Mr. Preston.
"Well," resumed the other, "I 've called to acquaint you of a few facts that have come to my knowledge, and you can act in the matter as you think best. There is a young fellow stopping at the —— Hotel, who came to this city a few weeks ago, and who calls himself Edward Mixer. He is a little larger than your son, and is well dressed, and looks like a respectable boy; but for a week or two past we have suspected that he was a rogue. He hangs around the railroad depots, and as several persons have had their pockets picked, when getting out of the cars, since he made his appearance, we began to watch him. We have got no evidence against him yet; but yesterday I pointed him out to a New York policeman, who happened to be here, and he says he knows him well. It seems he is a regular pickpocket by profession, and has served a term at Blackwell's Island.  He was liberated last month, and came on here to follow the business where he isn't known. But we keep a sharp eye on him, and as we have noticed that your son is quite intimate with him, I thought it my duty to inform you of it. I don't suppose your boy knows the real character of this fellow, or has anything to do with his roguery; but it isn't safe for him to be in such company, and I thought you ought to know what is going on."
Mr. Preston thanked the officer very cordially for the information, and promised to see that Oscar was immediately put out of the way of danger from this source. When he went home at noon, he had a long private interview with his son, and informed him of the disclosures the officer had made. Oscar was not a little astonished to learn that the genteel and sociable Ned Mixer, whose company he prized so highly, was a thief by trade, and was fresh from a prison. He assured his father that he knew nothing of all this. This was true; but after all Oscar knew too much of the character of Ned to believe him to be a good boy, or a safe companion. He had heard him swear and lie. He had also heard him sneer at virtue, and boast of deeds that no well-ordered conscience would approve. And yet he courted his company, and considered him a "capital fellow"! O, foolish boy!
But Oscar's plea of ignorance did not fully excuse him, even in the eye of his father, who did not know how little force that plea really had.
"I don't suppose you knew his character," said Mr. Preston; "but are there not good boys enough in the neighborhood for you to associate with—boys that have always lived here and are well known—without your cultivating the acquaintance of every straggler and vagabond that comes along? I wish you would not make yourself so intimate with Tom, Dick, and Harry, before you know anything about them. I 've cautioned you against this a good many times, and now I hope that you 'll see there is some cause for it. If this intimacy had gone on a few weeks longer, it might have ruined you and disgraced your mother and me."
After consultation with his wife and brother, Mr. Preston concluded to let Oscar go down to Brookdale; and remain until they could make some permanent arrangements for him elsewhere. He did not think it safe for him to remain longer exposed to the temptations of the city. He charged Oscar not to speak again to Ned, and not to inform any one of the facts he had learned about him, lest it might thwart the efforts of the police to detect his rogueries. On second thought, he concluded to take Oscar to the store with him that afternoon, to prevent the possibility of an interview between him and Ned. Oscar thus remained under the eye of his father through the day. In the evening he packed his valise for the journey, and the next morning he started for Brookdale with his uncle.
A day or two after Oscar's departure, Ned was arrested in the act of picking a lady's pocket at a railroad depot. Being unable to obtain bail, he was committed for trial. When his case came up in court, he was brought in guilty; and it appearing, from the testimony of the officers, that, though young, he was quite old in crime, he was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction.
Oscar never ascertained the nature of Ned's "grand speculation," and probably it was well for him that he did not. Had he been let into the secret, and had the scheme been carried into effect at the time it was first talked of, I might have been obliged to add another and a still sadder chapter to the history of "THE BOY WHO HAD HIS OWN WAY."
 The New York Penitentiary.