The Table of Contents, not in the original book, has been added for the convenience of the reader.
The Trials and Triumphs of Harry West
A Story for Young Folks
Author of "The Boat Club," "All Aboard," "Poor and Proud," "Hope and Have," "Now or Never," Etc.
New York The New York Book Company 1911
Chapter Page BIOGRAPHY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 4 I IN WHICH HARRY WEST AND SQUIRE WALKER DISAGREE ON AN IMPORTANT POINT 5 II IN WHICH HARRY FINDS A FRIEND, AND A PRACTICABLE SCHEME FOR RESISTANCE 11 III IN WHICH HARRY LEAVES THE POORHOUSE, AND TAKES TO THE RIVER 19 IV IN WHICH IT IS SHOWN THAT THE NAVIGATION OF THE RIVER IS DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS 26 V IN WHICH HARRY FIGHTS A HARD BATTLE, AND IS DEFEATED 33 VI IN WHICH HARRY CONCLUDES THAT A DEFEAT IS SOMETIMES BETTER THAN A VICTORY 41 VII IN WHICH HARRY FINDS HIMSELF IN A TIGHT PLACE AND EXECUTES A COUNTER MOVEMENT 48 VIII IN WHICH HARRY KILLS A BIG SNAKE, AND MAKES A NEW FRIEND 55 IX IN WHICH HARRY BREAKFASTS ON DOUGHNUTS, AND FINDS THAT ANGELS DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE WINGS 62 X IN WHICH HARRY FARES SUMPTUOUSLY, AND TAKES LEAVE OF THE LITTLE ANGEL 69 XI IN WHICH HARRY REACHES THE CITY, AND THOUGH OFTEN DISAPPOINTED, TRIES AGAIN 76 XII IN WHICH HARRY SUDDENLY GETS RICH AND HAS A CONVERSATION WITH ANOTHER HARRY 83 XIII IN WHICH HARRY BECOMES A STABLE BOY, AND HEARS BAD NEWS FROM ROCKVILLE 90 XIV IN WHICH HARRY DOES A GOOD DEED, AND DETERMINES TO "FACE THE MUSIC" 97 XV IN WHICH HARRY MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF A VERY IMPORTANT PERSONAGE 104 XVI IN WHICH HARRY GOES INTO THE DRYGOODS BUSINESS 111 XVII IN WHICH HARRY REVISITS ROCKVILLE, AND MEETS WITH A SERIOUS LOSS 117 XVIII IN WHICH HARRY MEETS WITH AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE AND GETS A HARD KNOCK ON THE HEAD 124 XIX IN WHICH HARRY FINDS THAT EVEN A BROKEN HEAD MAY BE OF SOME USE TO A PERSON 131 XX IN WHICH HARRY PASSES THROUGH HIS SEVEREST TRIAL, AND ACHIEVES HIS GREATEST TRIUMPH 137 XXI IN WHICH HARRY IS VERY PLEASANTLY SITUATED, AND THE STORY COMES TO AN END 147
BIOGRAPHY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
William Taylor Adams, American author, better known and loved by boys and girls through his pseudonym "Oliver Optic," was born July 30, 1822, in the town of Medway, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, about twenty-five miles from Boston. For twenty years he was a teacher in the Public Schools of Boston, where he came in close contact with boy life. These twenty years taught him how to reach the boy's heart and interest as the popularity of his books attest.
His story writing began in 1850 when he was twenty-eight years old and his first book was published in 1853. He also edited "The Oliver Optic Magazine," "The Student and Schoolmate," "Our Little Ones."
Mr. Adams died at the age of seventy-five years, in Boston, March 27, 1897.
He was a prolific writer and his stories are most attractive and unobjectionable. Most of his books were published in series. Probably the most famous of these is "The Boat Club Series" which comprises the following titles:
"The Boat Club," "All Aboard," "Now or Never," "Try Again," "Poor and Proud," "Little by Little." All of these titles will be found in this edition.
Other well-known series are his "Soldier Boy Series," "Sailor Boy Series," "Woodville Stories." The "Woodville Stories" will also be found in this edition.
IN WHICH HARRY WEST AND SQUIRE WALKER DISAGREE ON AN IMPORTANT POINT
"Boy, come here!"
Squire Walker was a very pompous man; one of the most notable persons in the little town of Redfield, which, the inquiring young reader will need to be informed, as it is not laid down on any map of Massachusetts that I am acquainted with, is situated thirty-one miles southwest of Boston.
I am not aware that Redfield was noted for anything in particular, unless it was noted for Squire Walker, as Mount Vernon was noted for Washington, and Monticello for Jefferson. No doubt the squire thought he was as great a man as either of these, and that the world was strangely stupid because it did not find out how great a man he really was. It was his misfortune that he was born in the midst of stirring times, when great energy, great genius, and the most determined patriotism are understood and appreciated.
Squire Walker, then, was a great man—in his own estimation. It is true, the rest of the world, including many of the people of Redfield, had not found it out; but, as the matter concerned himself more nearly than any one else, he seemed to be resigned to the circumstances of his lot. He had represented the town in the legislature of the state, was a member of the school committee, one of the selectmen, and an overseer of the poor. Some men would have considered all these offices as glory enough for a lifetime; and I dare say the squire would have been satisfied, if he had not been ambitious to become one of the county commissioners.
The squire had a very high and proper regard for his own dignity. It was not only his duty to be a great man, but to impress other people, especially paupers and children, with a just sense of his importance. Consequently, when he visited the poorhouse, he always spoke in the imperative mood. It was not becoming a man of his magnificent pretensions to speak gently and kindly to the unfortunate, the friendless, and the forsaken; and the men and women hated him, and the children feared him, as much as they would have feared a roaring lion.
"Boy, come here!" said Squire Walker, as he raised his arm majestically towards a youth who was picking up "windfalls" under the apple trees in front of the poorhouse.
The boy was dressed in a suit of blue cotton clothes, extensively, but not very skillfully patched. At last two-thirds of the brim of his old straw hat was gone, leaving nothing but a snarly fringe of straws to protect his face from the heat of the sun. But this was the least of the boy's trials. Sun or rain, heat or cold, were all the same to him, if he only got enough to eat, and time enough to sleep.
He straightened his back when Squire Walker spoke to him, and stood gazing with evident astonishment that the distinguished gentleman should condescend to speak to him.
"Come here, you sir! Do you hear?" continued Squire Walker, upon whom the boy's look of wonder and perturbation was not wholly lost.
"This way, Harry," added Mr. Nason, the keeper of the poorhouse, who was doing the honors of the occasion to the representative of the people of Redfield.
Harry West was evidently a modest youth, and appeared to be averse to pushing himself irreverently into the presence of a man whom his vivid imagination classed with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, whose great deeds he had read about in the spelling book.
Harry slowly sidled along till he came within about a rod of the great man, where he paused, apparently too much overawed to proceed any farther.
"Come here, I say," repeated Squire Walker. "Why don't you take your hat off, and make your manners?"
Harry took his hat off, and made his manners, not very gracefully, it is true; but considering the boy's perturbation, the squire was graciously pleased to let his "manners" pass muster.
"How old are you, boy?" asked the overseer.
"Most twelve," replied Harry, with deference.
"High time you were put to work."
"I do work," answered Harry.
"Not much; you look as fat and lazy as one of my fat hogs."
Mr. Nason ventured to suggest that Harry was a smart, active boy, willing to work, and that he more than paid his keeping by the labor he performed in the field, and the chores he did about the house—an interference which the squire silently rebuked, by turning up his nose at the keeper.
"I do all they want me to do," added the boy, whose tongue seemed to grow wonderfully glib under the gratuitous censure of the notable gentleman.
"Don't be saucy, Master West."
"Bless you, squire! Harry never spoke a saucy word in his life," interposed the friendly keeper.
"He should know his place, and learn how to treat his superiors. You give these boys too much meat, Mr. Nason. They can't bear it. Mush and molasses is the best thing in the world for them."
If any one had looked closely at Harry while the functionary was delivering himself of this speech, he might have seen his eye snap and his chest heave with indignation. He had evidently conquered his timidity, and, maugre his youth, was disposed to stand forth and say, "I, too, am a man." His head was erect, and he gazed unflinchingly into the eye of the squire.
"Boy," said the great man, who did not like to have a pauper boy look him in the eye without trembling—"boy, I have got a place for you, and the sooner you are sent to it, the better it will be for you and for the town."
"Where is it, sir?"
"Where is it? What is that to you, you young puppy?" growled the squire, shocked at the boy's presumption in daring to question him.
"If I am going to a place, I would like to know where it is," replied Harry.
"You will go where you are sent!" roared the squire.
"I suppose I must; but I should like to know where."
"Well, then, you shall know," added the overseer maliciously; for he had good reason to know that the intelligence would give the boy the greatest pain he could possibly inflict. "You are going to Jacob Wire's."
"Where, sir?" asked the keeper, looking at the squire with astonishment and indignation.
"To Jacob Wire's," repeated the overseer.
"Jacob Wire's!" exclaimed Mr. Nason.
"I said so."
"Do you think that will be a good place for the boy?" asked the keeper, trying to smile to cover the indignation that was boiling in his bosom.
"Certainly I do."
"Excuse me, Squire Walker, but I don't."
The overseer stood aghast. Such a reply was little better than rebellion in one of the town's servants, and his blood boiled at such unheard-of plainness of speech to him, late representative to the general court, member of the school committee, one of the selectmen, and an overseer of the poor.
Besides, there was another reason why the temerity of the keeper was peculiarly aggravated. Jacob Wire was the squire's brother-in-law; and though the squire despised him quite as much and as heartily as the rest of the people of Redfield, it was not fitting that any of his connections should be assailed by another. It was not so much the fact, as the source from which it came, that was objectionable.
"How dare you speak to me in that manner, Mr. Nason?" exclaimed the squire. "Do you know who I am?"
Mr. Nason did know who he was, but at that moment, and under those circumstances, he so far forgot himself as to inform the important functionary that he didn't care who he was; Jacob Wire's was not a fit place for a heathen, much less a Christian.
"What do you mean, sir?" gasped the overseer in his rage.
"I mean just what I say, Squire Walker. Jacob Wire is the meanest man in the county. He half starves his wife and children; and no hired man ever stayed there more than a week—he always starved them out in that time."
"If you please, sir, I would rather not go to Mr. Wire's," put in Harry, to whom the county jail seemed a more preferable place.
"There, shut up! I say you shall go there!" replied the squire.
"Really, squire, this is too bad. You know Wire as well as any man in town, and—"
"Not another word, Mr. Nason! Have the boy ready to go to Jacob Wire's to-morrow!" and the overseer, not very well satisfied with the interview, hastened away to avoid further argument upon so delicate a topic.
Harry stood watching the retreating form of the great man of Redfield. The mandate he had spoken was the knell of hope to him. It made the future black and desolate. As he gazed the tears flooded his eyes, and his feelings completely overcame him.
"Don't cry, Harry," said the kind-hearted keeper, taking him by the hand.
"I can't help it," sobbed Harry. "He will whip me, and starve me to death. Don't let him put me there."
"I don't know as I can help it, Harry."
"I am willing to work, and work hard, too; but I don't want to be starved to death."
"I will do what I can for you; but the other overseers do pretty much as Squire Walker tells them to do."
"I can't go to Jacob Wire's," burst from Harry's lips, as he seated himself on a rock, and gave way to the violence of his emotions.
"I will see the other overseers; don't cry, Harry. Hope for the best."
"No use of hoping against such a man as Jacob Wire. If he don't starve me, he will work me to death. I would rather die than go there."
"Well, well; don't take on so. Perhaps something can be done."
"Something shall be done," added the boy, as he rose from his seat, with an air of determination in keeping with the strong words he uttered.
The keeper's presence was required in the barn, and he left Harry musing and very unhappy about his future prospects. The thought of becoming a member of Jacob Wire's family was not to be entertained. The boy was a pauper, and had been brought up at the expense of the town; but he seemed to feel that, though fortune and friends had forsaken him, he was still a member of the great human family.
Jacob Wire, with whom it was proposed to apprentice him, had the reputation of being a hard master. He loved money, and did not love anything else. His heart was barren of affection, as his soul was of good principles; and though he did not literally starve his family and his help, he fed them upon the poorest and meanest fare that would support human life. The paupers in the poorhouse lived sumptuously, compared with those who gathered around the board of Jacob Wire.
The keeper knew this from experience, for years ago, before he had been appointed to his present situation, he had worked for Wire; and age and prosperity had not improved him. The more he got, the more he wanted; the fuller his barn and storehouse, the more stingy he became to those who were dependent upon him.
Harry West was a good boy, and a great favorite with the keeper of the poorhouse. He was always good-natured, willing to work, and never grumbled about his food. He was not only willing to take care of the baby washing days, but seemed to derive pleasure from the occupation. For all these reasons, Mr. Nason liked Harry, and had a deep interest in his welfare; something more than a merely selfish interest, for he had suggested to the overseers the propriety of binding him out to learn some good trade.
Harry was sad and disheartened; but he had unlimited confidence in the keeper, and felt sure that he would protect him from such a calamity as being sent to Jacob Wire's. After he had carried the windfalls into the shed, he asked Mr. Nason if he might go down to the river for a little while. The permission given, he jumped over the cow yard wall, and with his eyes fixed in deep thought upon the ground, made his way over the hill to Pine Pleasant, as the beautiful grove by the river's side was called.
The grove extended to the brink of the stream, which in this place widened into a pond. Near the shore was a large flat rock, which was connected with the mainland by a log, for the convenience of anglers and bathers. This was a favorite spot with Harry; and upon the rock he seated himself, to sigh over the hard lot which was in store for him. It was not a good way to contend with the trials to which all are subjected; but he had not yet learned that sorrow and adversity are as necessary for man as joy and prosperity. Besides, it was a turning point in his life, and it seemed to him that Jacob Wire's house would be the tomb of all his hopes.
IN WHICH HARRY FINDS A FRIEND, AND A PRACTICABLE SCHEME FOR RESISTANCE
My young readers will probably desire to know something about Harry's "antecedents"; and while the poor fellow is mourning over the hard lot which Squire Walker has marked out for him, we will briefly review his previous history.
Unlike the heroes of modern novels and romances, Harry did not belong to an ancient, or even a very respectable family. We need not trace his genealogy for any considerable period, and I am not sure that the old records would throw much light on the subject if we should attempt to do so. The accident of birth in our republican land is a matter of very little consequence; therefore we shall only go back to Harry's father, who was a carpenter by trade, but had a greater passion for New England rum than for chisels and foreplanes.
The bane of New England was the bane of Franklin West; for he was a kind-hearted man, a good husband and a good father, before he was deformed by the use of liquor. He made good wages, and supported his little family for several years; but the vile habit grew upon him to such a degree that the people of Redfield lost all confidence in him. As his business decreased, his besetting vice increased upon him, till he was nothing but the wreck of the man he had once been. Poverty had come, and want stared him in the face.
While everybody was wondering what would become of Franklin West, he suddenly disappeared, and no one could form an idea of what had become of him. People thought it was no great matter. He was only a nuisance to himself and his family. Mrs. West was shocked by this sudden and mysterious disappearance. He was her husband, and the father of her children, and it was not strange that she wept, and even hoped that he would come back. The neighbors comforted her, and put her in the way of supporting herself and the children, so that she was very soon reconciled to the event.
When West had been gone a month, his wife received a letter from him, informing her that he had determined to stop drinking, and be a man again. He could not keep sober in Redfield, among his old companions, and he was at work in Providence till he could get money enough to pay his expenses to Valparaiso, in South America, where a lucrative place awaited him. He hoped his wife would manage to get along for a few months, when he should be able to send her some money.
Mrs. West was easy again. Her husband was not dead, was not drowned in the river, or lost in the woods; and her heart was cheered by the prospects of future plenty, which the letter pointed out to her.
A year passed by, and nothing more was heard from Franklin West. The poor, forsaken wife had a hard time to support her little family. The most constant and severe toil enabled her to pinch her way along; but it was a bitter trial. She had no relations to help her; and though the neighbors were as kind as neighbors could be, life was a hard struggle.
Then the baby sickened and died. This bereavement seemed to unnerve and discourage her, and though there was one mouth less to feed, her strength failed her, and she was unequal to the task. Care and sorrow did their work upon her, and though people said she died of consumption, Heaven knew she died of a broken heart and disappointed hopes.
Harry was four years old when this sad event left him alone in the world. There was none willing to assume the burden of bringing up the lonely little pilgrim, and he was sent to the poorhouse. It was a hard fate for the tender child to be removed from the endearments of a mother's love, and placed in the cheerless asylum which public charity provides for the poor and the friendless.
The child was only four years old; but he missed the fond kiss and the loving caresses of his devoted mother. They were kind to him there, but it was not home, and his heart could not but yearn for those treasures of affection which glittered for him only in the heart of his mother. There was an aching void, and though he could not understand or appreciate his loss, it was none the less painful.
He was a favorite child, not only with the old paupers, but with the keeper and his family; and this circumstance undoubtedly softened the asperities of his lot. As soon as he was old enough, he was required to work as much as the keeper thought his strength would bear. He was very handy about the house and barn, more so than boys usually are; and Mr. Nason declared that, for the three years before it was proposed to send him away, he had more than earned his board and clothes.
He had been at school four winters, and the schoolmasters were unanimous in their praise. He was a smart scholar, but a little disposed to be roguish.
The moral discipline of the poorhouse was not of the most salutary character. Mr. Nason, though a generous and kind-hearted man, was not as exemplary in his daily life as might have been desired. Besides, one or two of the old paupers were rather corrupt in their manners and morals, and were not fit companions for a young immortal, whose mind, like plastic clay, was impressible to the forming power.
The poorhouse was not a good place for the boy, and the wonder is that Harry, at twelve years of age, was not worse than we find him. He had learned to love Mr. Nason, as he had learned to fear and to hate Squire Walker. The latter seemed to have absolute power at the poorhouse, and to be lord and master in Redfield. But when the overseer proposed to place the boy in the family of a man whom even the paupers looked down upon and despised, his soul rebelled even against the mandate of the powerful magnate of the town.
Harry turned the matter over and over in his mind as he sat upon the rock at Pine Pleasant. At first he tried to reconcile the idea of living with Jacob Wire; but it was a fruitless effort. The poorhouse seemed like a paradise to such a fate.
Then he considered the possibility and the practicability of resisting the commands of Squire Walker. He could not obtain much satisfaction from either view of the difficult problem, and as a happy resort under the trials of the moment, he began to console himself with the reflection that Mr. Nason might prevail with the overseers, and save him from his doom.
He had not much hope from this direction, and while he was turning again to the question of resistance, he heard footsteps in the grove. He did not feel like seeing any person and wished he could get out of sight; but there was no retreating without being observed, so he lay down upon the rock to wait till the intruder had passed.
The person approaching did not purpose to let him off so easily; and when Harry heard his step on the log he raised himself up.
"Hallo, Harry! What are you doing here? Taking a nap?"
It was Ben Smart, a boy of fourteen, who lived near the poorhouse. Ben's reputation in Redfield was not A, No. 1; in fact, he had been solemnly and publicly expelled from the district school only three days before by Squire Walker, because the mistress could not manage him. His father was the village blacksmith, and as he had nothing for him to do—not particularly for the boy's benefit—he kept him at school all the year round.
"O, is that you, Ben?" replied Harry, more for the sake of being civil than because he wished to speak to the other.
"What are you doing here?" asked Ben, who evidently did not understand how a boy could be there alone, unless he was occupied about something.
"Been in the water?"
Ben was nonplussed. He suspected that Harry had been engaged in some mysterious occupation, which he desired to conceal from him.
"How long have you been here?" continued Ben, persistently.
"About half an hour."
Ben stopped to think. He could make nothing of it. It was worse than the double rule of three, which he conscientiously believed had been invented on purpose to bother school boys.
"You are up to some trick, I know. Tell me what you come down here for."
"Didn't come for anything."
"What is the use of telling that. No feller would come clear down here for nothing."
"I came down to think, then, if you must know," answered Harry, rather testily.
"To think! Well, that is a good one! Ain't the poor-farm big enough to do your thinking on?"
"I chose to come down here."
"Humph! You've got the blues, Harry. I should think old Walker had been afoul of you, by your looks."
Harry looked up suddenly, and wondered if Ben knew what had happened.
"I should like to have the old rascal down here for half an hour. I should like to souse him into the river, and hold his head under till he begged my pardon," continued Ben.
"So should I," added Harry.
"Should you? You are a good feller, then! I mean to pay him off for what he did for me the other day. I wouldn't minded being turned out of school. I rather liked the idea; but the old muttonhead got me up before all the school, and read me such a lecture! He thinks there isn't anybody in the world but him."
"The lecture didn't hurt you," suggested Harry.
"No; it didn't. But that warn't the worst of it."
"My father give me a confounded licking when I got home. I haven't done smarting yet. But I will pay 'em for it all."
"You mean Squire Walker."
"And the old man, too."
"If I only had a father, I wouldn't mind letting him lick me now and then," replied Harry, to whom home seemed a paradise, though he had never understood it; and a father and mother, though coarse and brutal, his imagination pictured as angels.
"My father would learn you better than that in a few days," said Ben, who did not appreciate his parents, especially when they held the rod.
Harry relapsed into musing again. He thought how happy he should have been in Ben's place. A home, a father, a mother! We value most what we have not; and if the pauper boy could have had the blessings which crowned his reckless companion's lot, it seemed as though he would have been contented and happy. His condescension in regard to the flogging now and then was a sincere expression of feeling.
"What's old Walker been doing to you, Harry?" asked Ben, suspecting the cause of the other's gloom.
"He is going to send me to Jacob Wire's to live."
"Whew! That is a good one! To die, you mean; Harry, I wouldn't stand that."
"I don't mean to."
"That's right; I like your spunk. What do you mean to do?"
Harry was not prepared to answer this question. He possessed a certain degree of prudence, and though it was easy to declare war against so powerful an enemy as Squire Walker, it was not so easy to carry on the war after it was declared. The overseer was a bigger man to him than the ogre in "Puss in Boots." Probably his imagination largely magnified the grandeur of the squire's position, and indefinitely multiplied the resources at his command.
"What do you mean to do?" repeated Ben, who for some reason or other took a deep interest in Harry's affairs.
"I don't know. I would rather die than go; but I don't know how I can help myself," answered the poor boy, gloomily.
Harry looked up with interest and surprise. Ben sympathized with him in his trials, and his heart warmed towards him.
"I daresn't tell you now," replied Ben after a short pause.
"Can you keep a secret?"
"Of course I can. Did I ever blow on you?"
"No, you never did, Harry. You are a first rate feller, and I like you. But you see, if you should blow on me now, you would spoil my kettle of fish, and your own, too."
"But I won't, Ben."
"Promise me solemnly."
"Solemnly," repeated Harry.
"Well, then, I will get you out of the scrape as nice as a cotton hat."
"I guess I won't tell you now; but if you will come down here to-night at eleven o'clock I will let you into the whole thing."
"Eleven o'clock! I can't come at that time. We all go to bed at eight o'clock."
"Get up and come."
"I can do that; but perhaps Mr. Nason will persuade the overseers not to send me to Jacob Wire's."
"I'm glad I didn't tell you, then. But promise me this, Harry: that, whatever happens, you'll hold your tongue."
"I will, Ben."
"And if Nason don't get you off, be here at eleven o'clock. Put on your best clothes, and take everything you want with you."
"Going to run away?"
"I didn't say so."
Ben made him promise again to be secret, and they separated. Harry had an idea of what his companion intended, and the scheme solved all his doubts. It was a practicable scheme of resistance, and he returned to the poorhouse, no longer fearful of the impending calamity.
IN WHICH HARRY LEAVES THE POORHOUSE, AND TAKES TO THE RIVER
When Harry reached the poorhouse, Mr. Nason was absent, and one of the paupers told him that he had taken the horse and wagon. He conjectured that the keeper had gone to see the other overseers, to intercede with them in his behalf. He did not feel as much interest in the mission as he had felt two hours before, for Ben Stuart had provided a remedy for his grievances, which he had fully decided to adopt.
It was nearly sunset before Mr. Nason returned; and when he came his looks did not seem to indicate a favorable issue. Harry helped him unharness the horse, and as he led him into the barn the keeper opened the subject.
"I have been to see the other overseers, Harry," he began, in tones which seemed to promise nothing hopeful.
"I thought likely you had gone."
"As I supposed, they are all afraid of Squire Walker. They daresn't say their souls are their own."
"Then I must go to Jacob Wire's."
"The other overseers declare, if the squire says so, you must."
"It is a hard case, Mr. Nason," replied Harry, not much disappointed at the result.
"I know it is, Harry. Perhaps you might try the place, and then, if you found you couldn't stand it we might make another trial to get you off."
"I don't want to go there, anyhow. I should like to help duck the squire in the horse pond."
"Well, Harry, I have done all I can for you," continued Mr. Nason, seating himself on a keg on the barn floor. "I wish I could help you."
"You have been very good to me, Mr. Nason. I shall always remember you as the best friend I ever had," replied Harry, the tears streaming down his sun-browned cheeks.
"Never mind that, Harry; don't cry."
"I can't help it; you have been so good to me, that I hate to leave you," blubbered Harry.
"I am sorry you must leave us; we shall miss you about the place, and I wish it was so that you could stay. But what makes it ten times worse is the idea of your going to Jacob Wire's."
"Mr. Nason," said Harry, dashing down his tears, and looking earnestly at the keeper, "I have made up my mind that I won't go to Wire's anyhow."
"I don't blame you; but I don't see how you can fight the squire. He carries too many guns for you, or for me, either, for that matter. I have been thinking of something, Harry, though I suppose, if I should speak it out loud, it would be as much as my place here is worth."
"I have been thinking of something, too," continued Harry, with a good deal of emphasis.
"I can't tell even you."
Mr. Nason, sympathizing deeply with his young friend, did not attempt to obtain any knowledge whose possession might be inconvenient to him. He was disposed to help the boy escape the fate in store for him; but at the same time, having a family to support, he did not wish to lose his situation, though, if the emergency had demanded it, he would probably have been willing to make even this sacrifice.
"I was thinking, Harry, how astonished the squire would be, when he comes over in the morning to take you to Jacob Wire's, if he should not happen to find you here."
"I dare say he would," answered Harry, with a meaning smile.
"By the way, have you heard from Charles Smith lately? You know he went to Boston last spring, and they say he has got a place, and is doing first rate there."
The keeper smiled as he spoke, and Harry understood him as well as though he had spoken out the real thought that was in his mind.
"I suppose others might do as he has done."
"No doubt of it."
Mr. Nason took from his pocket the large shot bag purse, in which he kept his change, and picked out four quarters.
"Here, Harry, take these; when you get over to Wire's, money will keep you from starving. It will almost anywhere, for that matter."
"How good you are!" exclaimed Harry, as he took the four quarters. "You have been a father to me, and one of these days I shall be able to pay you this money back again."
"Don't trouble yourself about that. Keep it; and I wish I had a hundred times as much to give you."
"I shall never forget you, Mr. Nason. I shall be a man one of these days, and we shall meet again."
The supper bell rang, and they separated. Harry felt the spirit of a man stirring within him. He felt that the world had cast him off, and refused him a home, even in the poorhouse. He was determined to push his way through life like a hero, and he nerved himself to meet whatever hardships and trials might be apportioned to him.
After supper he went to his room, gathered up the few articles of clothing which constituted his wardrobe, and tying them up in a bundle, concealed them in a hollow stump back of the barn.
At eight o'clock he went to bed as usual. He felt no desire to sleep, and would not have dared to do so if he had. He heard the old kitchen clock strike ten. The house was still, for all had long ago retired to their rest, and he could hear the sonorous snores of the paupers in the adjoining rooms. His heart beat quick with anxiety. It was a novel position in which he found himself. He had been accustomed to do everything fairly and "above board," and the thought of rising from his bed and sneaking out of the house like a thief was repulsive to him. But it was a good cause, in his estimation, and he did not waste much sentiment upon the matter. A conspiracy had been formed to cheat him of his hopes and of his future happiness, and it seemed right to him that he should flee from those with whom he could not successfully contend.
Carefully and stealthily he crept out of bed, and put on his best clothes, which were nothing to boast of at that, for there was many a darn and many a patch upon the jacket and trousers. Stockings and shoes were luxuries in which Harry was not indulged in the warm season; but he had a pair of each, which he took under his arm.
Like a mouse he crept down stairs, and reached the back door of the house without having disturbed any of its inmates. There were no locks on the poorhouse doors, for burglars and thieves never invaded the home of the stricken, forsaken paupers.
The door opened with a sharp creak, and Harry was sure he was detected. For several minutes he waited, but no sound was heard, and more carefully he opened the door wide enough to permit his passage out.
He was now in the open air, and a sensation of relief pervaded his mind. He was free. No man was his master in this world, and he had not learned to think much of the other world. As he passed through the cow yard he heard the old gray mare whinny, and he could not resist the temptation to pay her a parting visit. They had been firm friends for years, and as he entered the barn she seemed to recognize him in the darkness.
"Good-by, old Prue. I am going away to leave you," said Harry, in low tones, as he patted the mare upon her neck. "I hope they will use you well. Next to Mr. Nason, you have been my best friend. Good-by, old Prue."
The mare whinnied again, as though she perfectly comprehended this affectionate speech, and wished to express her sympathy with her young friend in her own most eloquent language. Perhaps Harry could not render the speech into the vernacular, but he had a high appreciation of her good feeling, and repeated his caresses.
"Good-by, old Prue; but, before I go, I shall give you one more feed of oats—the very last."
The localities of the barn were as familiar to him as those of his own chamber; and taking the half peck measure, he filled it heaping full of oats at the grain chest as readily as though it had been clear daylight.
"Here, Prue, is the last feed I shall give you"; and he emptied the contents of the measure into the trough. "Good-by, old Prue; I shall never see you again."
The mare plunged her nose deep down into the savory mess, and seemed for a moment to forget her friend in the selfish gratification of her appetite. If she had fully realized the unpleasant fact that Harry was going, perhaps she might have been less selfish, for this was not the first time she had been indebted to him for extra rations.
Passing through the barn, the runaway was again in the open air. Everything looked gloomy and sad to him, and the scene was as solemn as a funeral. There were no sounds to be heard but the monotonous chirp of the cricket, and the dismal piping of the frogs in the meadow. Even the owl and the whip-poor-will had ceased their nocturnal notes, and the stars looked more gloomy than he had ever seen them before.
There was no time to moralize over these things, though, as he walked along, he could not help thinking how strange and solemn everything seemed on that eventful night. It was an epoch in his history; one of those turning points in human life, when all the works of nature and art, borrowing the spirit which pervades the soul, assume odd and unfamiliar forms. Harry was not old enough or wise enough to comprehend the importance of the step he was taking; still he was deeply impressed by the strangeness within and without.
Taking his bundle from the hollow stump, he directed his steps toward Pine Pleasant. He walked very slowly, for his feelings swelled within him and retarded his steps. His imagination was busy with the past, or wandering vaguely to the unexplored future, which with bright promises tempted him to press on to the goal of prosperity. He yearned to be a man; to leap in an instant over the years of discipline, that yawned like a great gulf between his youth and his manhood. He wanted to be a man, that his strong arm might strike great blows; that he might win his way up to wealth and honor.
Why couldn't he be a great man like Squire Walker. Squire West wouldn't sound bad.
"One has only to be rich in order to be great," thought he. "Why can't I be rich, as well as anybody else? Who was that old fellow that saved up his fourpences till he was worth a hundred thousand dollars? I can do it as well as he, though I won't be as mean as they say he was, anyhow. There are chances enough to get rich, and if I fail in one thing, why—I can try again."
Thus Harry mused as he walked along, and fixed a definite purpose before him to be accomplished in life. It is true it was not a very lofty or a very noble purpose, merely to be rich; but he had been obliged to do his own philosophizing. He had not yet discovered the true philosopher's stone. He had concluded, like the alchemists of old, that it was the art of turning anything into gold. The paupers, in their poverty, had talked most and prayed most for that which they had not. Wealth was to them the loftiest ideal of happiness, and Harry had adopted their conclusions. It is not strange, therefore, that Harry's first resolve was to be a rich man.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you," was a text which he had often heard repeated; but he did not comprehend its meaning, and he had reversed the proposition, determined to look out for "all these things" first.
The village clock struck eleven, and the peal of the clear notes on the silent air cut short his meditations, and admonished him to quicken his pace, or Ben would reach the place of rendezvous before him. He entered the still shades of Pine Pleasant, but saw nothing of his confederate. Seating himself on the familiar rock in the river, he returned to his meditations.
He had hardly laid down his first proposition in solving the problem of his future success, before he was startled by the discovery of a bright light in the direction of the village. It was plainly a building on fire, and his first impulse was to rush to the meeting house and give the alarm; but prudence forbade. His business was with the great world and the future, not with Redfield and the present.
A few moments later the church bell pealed its startling notes, and he heard the cry of fire in the village. The building, whatever it was, had become a mass of fierce flames, which no human arm could stay.
While he was watching the exciting spectacle, he heard footsteps in the grove, and Ben Smart, out of breath and nearly exhausted, leaped upon the rock.
"So you are here, Harry," gasped he.
"I am, Ben," replied Harry. "Where is the fire?"
"We have no time to waste now," panted Ben, rousing himself anew. "We must be off at once."
Ben descended to the lower side of the rock, and hauled a small flat-bottomed boat out of the bushes that grew on the river's brink.
"Where is the fire, Ben?" persisted Harry.
"Never mind the fire now; jump into the boat, and let us be off."
Harry obeyed, and Ben pushed off from the rock.
"Where are you going?" asked Harry, not much pleased either with the imperative tone or the haughty reserve of his companion.
"Down the river. Take the paddle and steer her; the current will take her along fast enough. I am so tired I can't do a thing more."
Harry took the paddle and seated himself in the stern of the boat, while Ben, puffing and blowing like a locomotive, placed himself at the bow.
"Tell me now where the fire is," said Harry, whose curiosity would not be longer resisted.
"Squire Walker's barn."
IN WHICH IT IS SHOWN THAT THE NAVIGATION OF THE RIVER IS DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS
Harry was astounded at this information. Ben was exhausted, as though he had been running very hard; besides, he was much agitated—more so than the circumstances of the occasion seemed to justify. In connection with the threat which his companion had uttered that day, these appearances seemed to point to a solution of the burning building. He readily understood that Ben, in revenge for the indignity the squire had cast upon him, had set the barn on fire, and was now running away by the light of it.
This was more than he had bargained for. However ill-natured he felt towards the squire for his proposal to send him to Jacob Wire's, it never occurred to him to retaliate by committing a crime. His ideas of Christian charity and of forgiveness were but partially developed; and though he could not feel right towards his powerful enemy, he felt no desire to punish him so severely as Ben had done.
His companion gave him a short answer, and manifested no disposition to enlarge upon the subject; and for several minutes both maintained a profound silence.
The boat, drifting slowly with the current, was passing from the pond into the narrow river, and it required all Harry's skill to keep her from striking the banks on either side. His mind was engrossed with the contemplation of the new and startling event which had so suddenly presented itself to embarrass his future operations. Ben was a criminal in the eye of the law, and would be subjected to a severe penalty if detected.
"I shouldn't have thought you would have done that," Harry observed, when the silence became painful to him.
"Done what?" asked Ben, sharply.
"Set the barn afire."
"Who said I set it afire?"
"Well, I can see through a millstone when there is a hole in it."
"I didn't say I set the barn afire."
"I know you didn't; but you said you meant to pay the squire off for what he had done to you."
"I mean to."
"Haven't you done it already?"
"I didn't say I had," answered Ben, who was evidently debating with himself whether he should admit Harry to his confidence.
"But didn't you set the barn afire?"
"What if I did?"
"Why, I should say you run a great risk."
"I don't care for that."
"I see the reason now, why you wouldn't tell me what you was going to do before."
"We are in for it now, Harry. I meant to pay off the squire, and—"
"Then you did set the barn afire?"
"I didn't say so; and, more than that, I don't mean to say so. If you can see through a millstone, why, just open your eyes—that's all."
"I am sorry you did it, Ben."
"No whining, Harry; be a man."
"I mean to be a man; but I don't think there was any need of burning the barn."
"I do; I couldn't leave Redfield without squaring accounts with Squire Walker."
"Where are you going, Ben?"
"To Boston, of course."
"How shall we get there?"
"We will go by the river, as far as we can; then take to the road."
"But this is George Leman's boat—isn't it?"
"You hooked it?"
"Of course I did; you don't suppose I should mind trifles at such a time as this! But he can have it again, when I have done with it."
"What was the use of taking the boat?"
"In the first place, don't you think it is easier to sail in a boat than to walk? And in the second place, the river runs through the woods for five or six miles below Pine Pleasant; so that no one will be likely to see us. We shall get off without being found out."
"But the river is not deep enough. It is full of rocks about three miles down."
"We won't mind them. We can keep her clear of the rocks well enough. When I was down the river last spring, you couldn't see a single rock above water, and we don't draw more than six inches."
"But that was in the spring, when the water was high. I don't believe we can get the boat through."
"Yes, we can; at any rate, we can jump ashore and tow her down," replied Ben, confidently, though his calculations were somewhat disturbed by Harry's reasoning.
"There is another difficulty, Ben," suggested Harry.
"O, there are a hundred difficulties; but we mustn't mind them."
"They will miss the boat, and suspect at once who has got it."
"We shall be out of their reach when they miss it."
"I heard George Leman say he was going a fishing in her to-morrow."
"Did you? Then why didn't you say so before?" retorted Ben, angrily.
"Because you didn't tell me what you were going to do. How could I?"
"Never mind; it is no use to cry for spilt milk. We will make the best of it."
"We are in for it now."
"That we are; and if you only stick by me, it will all come out right. If we get caught, you must keep a stiff upper lip."
"Never fear me."
"And, above all, don't blow on me."
"Of course I won't."
"Whatever happens, promise that you will stick by me."
"I will, Ben."
"That's a good fellow, Harry. On that, we will take a bit of luncheon, and have a good time of it."
As he spoke, Ben drew out from under the seat in the bow a box filled with bread and cheese.
"You see we are provisioned for a cruise, Harry," added Ben, as he offered the contents of the box to his companion. "Here is enough to last us two or three days."
"But you don't mean to keep on the river so long as that?"
"I mean to stick to the boat as long as the navigation will permit," replied Ben, with more energy than he had before manifested, for he was recovering from the perturbation with which the crime he had committed filled his mind.
"There is a factory village, with a dam across the river, six or seven miles below here."
"I know it; but perhaps we can get the boat round the dam in the night time, and continue our voyage below. Don't you remember that piece in the Reader about John Ledyard—how he went down the Connecticut River in a canoe?"
"Yes; and you got your idea from that?"
"I did; and I mean to have a first rate time of it."
Ben proceeded to describe the anticipated pleasures of the river voyage, as he munched his bread and cheese; and Harry listened with a great deal of satisfaction. Running away was not such a terrible thing, after all. It was both business and pleasure, and his imagination was much inflated by the brilliant prospect before him. There was something so novel and exciting in the affair, that his first experience was of the most delightful character.
He forgot the crime his companion had committed, and had almost come to regard the burning of the squire's barn as a just and proper retribution upon him for conspiring against the rights and privileges of young America.
My young readers may not know how easy it is even for a good boy to learn to love the companionship of those who are vicious, and disposed to take the road which leads down to moral ruin and death. Those lines of Pope, which are familiar to almost every school boy, convey a great truth, and a thrilling warning to those who first find themselves taking pleasure in the society of wicked men, or wicked boys:
"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien As to be hated, needs but to be seen; But seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace."
Now, I have not represented my hero, at this stage of the story, as a very good boy, and it did not require much time to familiarize him with the wickedness which was in Ben's heart, and which he did not take any pains to conceal. The transition from enduring to pitying and from that to embracing was sudden and easy, if, indeed, there was any middle passage between the first and last stage.
I am sorry to say that an hour's fellowship with Ben, under the exciting circumstances in which we find them, had led him to think Ben a very good fellow, notwithstanding the crime he had committed. I shall do my young reader the justice to believe he hopes Harry will be a better boy, and obtain higher and nobler views of duty. It must be remembered that Harry had never learned to "love God and man" on the knee of an affectionate mother. He had long ago forgotten the little prayers she had taught him, and none were said at the poorhouse. We are sorry he was no better; but when we consider under what influences he had been brought up, it is not strange that he was not a good boy. Above every earthly good, we may be thankful for the blessing of a good home, where we have been taught our duty to God, to our fellow-beings, and to ourselves.
The young navigators talked lightly of the present and the future, as the boat floated gently along through the gloomy forest. They heard the Redfield clock strike twelve, and then one. The excitement had begun to die out. Harry yawned, for he missed his accustomed sleep, and felt that a few hours' rest in his bed at the poorhouse was even preferable to navigating the river at midnight. Ben gaped several times, and the fun was really getting very stale.
Those "who go down to the sea in ships," or navigate the river in boats, must keep their eyes open. It will never do to slumber at the helm; and Harry soon had a practical demonstration of the truth of the proposition. He was so sleepy that he could not possibly keep his eyes open; and Ben, not having the care of the helm, had actually dropped off, and was bowing as politely as a French dancing master to his companion in the stern. They were a couple of smart sailors, and needed a little wholesome discipline to teach them the duty of those who are on the watch.
The needed lesson was soon administered; for just as Ben was making one of his lowest bows in his semi-conscious condition, the bow of the boat ran upon a concealed rock, which caused her to keel over to one side, and very gently pitch the sleeper into the river.
Of course, this catastrophe brought the commander of the expedition to his senses, and roused the helmsman to a sense of his own delinquency, though it is clear that, as there were no lighthouses on the banks of the river, and the intricacies of the channel had never been defined and charted for the benefit of the adventurous navigator, no human forethought could have provided against the accident.
Harry put the boat about, and assisted his dripping shipmate on board again. The ducking he had received did not operate very favorably upon Ben's temper, and he roundly reproached his companion for his carelessness. The steersman replied with becoming spirit to this groundless charge, telling him he had better keep his eyes open the rest of the night. Wet and chilly as he was, Ben couldn't help growling; and both evidently realized that the affair was not half as romantic as they had adjudged it to be an hour or two before.
"Never mind it, Ben. If we fail once let us try again—that's all."
"Try again? You want to drown me, don't you?" snarled Ben.
Harry assured him he did not, and called his attention to the sound of dashing waters, which could now be plainly heard. They were approaching the rocks, and it was certain from the noise that difficult navigation was before them. Harry proposed to haul up by the river's side, and wait for daylight; to which proposition Ben, whose ardor was effectually cooled by the bath he had received, readily assented.
Accordingly they made fast the painter to a tree on the shore, and both of them disembarked. While Harry was gathering up a pile of dead leaves for a bed, Ben amused himself by wringing out his wet clothes.
"Suppose we make a fire, Harry?" suggested Ben; and it would certainly have been a great luxury to one in his damp condition.
"No; it will betray us," replied Harry, with alarm.
"Humph! It is easy enough for you to talk, who are warm and dry," growled Ben. "I am going to have a fire, anyhow."
In vain Harry protested. Ben had some matches in the boat, and in a few minutes a cheerful fire blazed in the forest. As the leader of the enterprise felt its glowing warmth his temper was sensibly impressed, and he even had the hardihood to laugh at his late misfortune. But Harry did not care just then whether his companion was pleasant or sour, for he had stretched himself on his bed of leaves, and was in a fair way to forget the trials and hardships of the voyage in the deep sleep which makes it "all night" with a tired boy.
After Ben was thoroughly dried and warmed, he placed himself by the side of his fellow-voyager, and both journeyed together through the quiet shades of dreamland, leaving no wakeful eye to watch over the interests of the expedition while they slumbered.
IN WHICH HARRY FIGHTS A HARD BATTLE, AND IS DEFEATED
The sun was high in the heavens when the tired boatmen awoke. Unaccustomed as they were to fatigue and late hours, they had been completely overcome by the exertion and exposure of the previous night. Harry was the first to recover his lost senses; and when he opened his eyes, everything looked odd and strange to him. It was not the rough, but neat and comfortable little room in the poorhouse which greeted his dawning consciousness; it was the old forest and the dashing river. He did not feel quite at home; the affair had been divested of its air of romance, and he felt more like a runaway boy than the hero of a fairy tale.
"Hallo, Ben!" shouted he, to his sleeping companion.
Ben growled once, and then rolled over, as if angry at being disturbed.
"Ben! We shall be caught if you don't wake up. There, the clock is striking eight!" and to give Ben a better idea of where he was, he administered a smart kick in the region of the ribs.
"What are you about?" snarled Ben, springing to his feet with clinched fists.
"Time we were moving. Don't you see how high the sun is? The clock has just struck eight."
"No matter for that. We are just as safe here as anywhere else. You kick me again, and see where you will be!"
"Come, come, Ben; don't get mad."
"Don't kick me, then."
"What are you going to do now?"
"That's my business. You do what I tell you, that's all you have to do with it," replied Ben, imperiously, as he walked to the bank of the river to survey the difficulties of the navigation.
"Is it?" asked Harry, not particularly pleased with this interpretation of their relations.
"You better believe it is."
"I don't believe anything of the kind. I ain't your nigger, anyhow!" added Harry, with spirit.
"I'll bet you are."
"I'll bet I ain't."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I'll let you know what I am going to do."
"If you don't mind what I tell you, I'll wallop you on the spot."
"No, you won't"; and Harry turned on his heel, and leisurely walked off towards the thickest of the forest.
"Where are you going?"
"Do you think I'm going to stay with you, to be treated like a dog!" replied Harry, as he continued his retreat.
Ben started after him, but Harry picked up a stick of wood and stood on the defensive.
"Now, if you don't come back, I'll break your head!" said Ben.
"Look out that your own don't get broke"; and Harry brandished his cudgel in the air.
Ben glanced at the club, and saw from the flash of Harry's bright eye that he was thoroughly aroused. His companion was not to be trifled with, and he was ready to abandon the point.
"Come, Harry, it's no use for us to quarrel," he added, with a forced smile.
"I know that; but I won't be trod upon by you or anybody else."
"I don't want to tread on you."
"Yes, you do; you needn't think you are going to lord it over me in that way. I will go back to the poorhouse first."
"Let's be friends again, Harry. Throw down your club."
"Yes, and let you lick me, then! No, you don't!"
"I won't touch you, Harry; upon my word and honor, I won't."
"Humph! Your word and honor ain't worth much. I'll go back, if you'll behave yourself; but I shall keep the club handy."
"Anyway you like; but let us be off."
Ben changed his tone, and condescended to tell Harry what he meant to do, even at the sacrifice of his dignity as commander of the expedition. An appearance at least of good feeling was restored, and after breakfasting on their bread and cheese, they embarked again, on what promised to be a perilous voyage.
For a quarter of a mile below, the bed of the narrow river was spotted with rocks, among which the water dashed with a fury that threatened the destruction of their frail bark. For a time they seriously debated the question of abandoning the project, Harry proposing to penetrate the woods in a northeasterly direction. Ben, however, could not abandon the prospect of sailing leisurely down the river when they had passed the rapids, making the passage without any exertion. He was not pleased with the idea of trudging along on foot for thirty miles, when the river would bear them to the city with only a little difficulty occasionally at the rapids and shoal places. Perhaps his plan would have been practicable at the highest stage of water, but the river was now below its ordinary level.
Ben's love of an easy and romantic time carried the day, and Harry's practical common-sense reasoning was of no avail, and a taunt at his cowardice induced him to yield the point.
"Now, Harry, you take one of the paddles, and place yourself in the bow, while I steer," said Ben, as he assumed his position.
"Very well; you shall be captain of the boat, and I will do just as you say; but I won't be bullied on shore," replied Harry, taking the station assigned him.
"All right; now cast off the painter, and let her slide. Keep both eyes open."
"Never fear me; I will do my share."
The boat floated out into the current, and was borne rapidly down the swift-flowing stream. They were not very skillful boatmen, and it was more a matter of tact than of strength to keep the boat from dashing on the sharp rocks. For a little way they did very well, though the passage was sufficiently exciting to call their powers into action, and to suggest a doubt as to the ultimate result of the venture.
They soon reached a place, however, where the river turned a sharp angle, and the waters were furiously precipitated down upon a bed of rocks, which threatened them with instant destruction.
"We shall be smashed to pieces!" exclaimed the foolhardy pilot, as his eye measured the descent of the waters. "Let's try to get ashore."
"Too late now," replied Harry, coolly. "Put her through, hit or miss."
But Ben's courage all oozed out, in the face of this imminent peril, and he made a vain attempt to push the boat toward the shore.
"Paddle your end round, Harry," gasped Ben, in the extremity of fear. "We shall be smashed to pieces."
"Too late, Ben; stand stiff, and make the best of it," answered Harry, as he braced himself to meet the shock.
The rushing waters bore the boat down the stream in spite of the feeble efforts of the pilot to check her progress. Ben seemed to have lost all his self-possession, and stooped down, holding on with both hands at the gunwale.
Down she went into the boiling caldron of waters, roaring and foaming like a little Niagara. One hard bump on the sharp rocks, and Harry heard the boards snap under him. He waited for no more, but grasping the over-hanging branches of a willow, which grew on the bank, and upon which he had before fixed his eyes as the means of rescuing himself, he sprang up into the tree, and saw Ben tumbled from the boat into the seething caldron.
"Save me, Harry!" shouted Ben.
But Harry had to save himself first, which, however, was not a difficult matter. Swinging himself from branch to branch till he reached the trunk of the willow, he descended to the ground, without having even wet the soles of his shoes.
"Save me! save me!" cried Ben, in piteous accents, as the current bore him down the stream.
"Hold on to the boat," replied Harry, "and I will be there in a minute."
Seizing a long pole which had some time formed a part of a fence there, he hastened down the bank to the water's edge. The water was not very deep, but it ran so rapidly that Ben could neither swim nor stand upon the bottom; and but for his companion's promptness he would undoubtedly have been drowned. Grasping the long pole which Harry extended to him, he was drawn to the shore, having received no other injury than a terrible fright and a good ducking.
"Here we are," said Harry, when his companion was safely landed.
"Yes, here we are," growled Ben; "and it is all your fault that we are here."
"It is my fault that you are here; for if I had not pulled you out of the river, you would have been drowned," replied Harry, indignantly; and perhaps he felt a little sorry just then that he had rescued his ungrateful commander.
"Yes, and if you had only done as I told you, and pushed for the shore above the fall, all this would not have happened."
"And if you hadn't been a fool, we should not have tried to go through such a hole. There goes your old boat"; and Harry pointed to the wreck, filled with water, floating down the stream.
"Here they are!" shouted a voice, not far from them.
Harry started, and so did Ben.
"We are caught!" exclaimed Ben.
"Not yet," replied Harry, with some trepidation, as he broke off a piece of the pole that lay at his feet, and retreated from the river. "Take a club, for I am not going to be carried back without fighting for it."
A survey of the ground and of the pursuers enabled him to prepare for the future. He discovered at a glance the weakness of the assailants.
"Take a club, Ben. Don't you see there is only one man on this side of the river? and we can easily beat him off."
Ben took the club; but he seemed not to have the energy to use it. In fact, Harry showed himself better qualified to manage the present interests of the expedition than his companion. All at once he developed the attributes of a skillful commander, while his confederate seemed to have lost all his cunning and all his determination.
"Now, let us run; and if we are caught we will fight for it," said Harry.
The boys took to their heels, and having a fair start of their pursuer, they kept clear of him for a considerable distance; but Ben's wet clothes impeded his progress, and Harry had too much magnanimity to save himself at the sacrifice of his companion.
It was evident, after the chase had continued a short time, that their pursuer was gaining upon them. In vain Harry urged Ben to increase his speed; his progress was very slow, and it was soon apparent to Harry that they were wasting their breath in running when they would need it for the fight.
"Now, Ben, we can easily whip this man, and save ourselves. Be a man, and let us stand by each other to the last."
Ben made no reply; but when Harry stopped, he did the same.
"Keep off! or we will knock your brains out," cried Harry, placing himself in the attitude of defense.
But the man took no notice of this piece of bravado; and as he approached Harry leveled a blow at his head. The man warded it off, and sprang forward to grasp the little rebel.
"Hit him, Ben!" shouted Harry, as he dodged the swoop of his assailant.
To his intense indignation and disgust, Ben, instead of seconding his assault, dropped his club and fled. He seemed to run a good deal faster than he had run before that day; but Harry did not give up the point. The man pressed him closely, and he defended himself with a skill and vigor worthy a better cause. But it was of no use; or, if it was, it only gave Ben more time to effect his escape.
The unequal contest, however, soon terminated in the capture of our resolute hero, and the man tied his hands behind his back; but he did not dare to leave the young lion to go in pursuit of his less unfortunate, but more guilty, confederate.
"There, Master Harry West, I think you have got into a tight place now," said his captor, whose name was Nathan Leman, brother of the person to whom the boat belonged. "We will soon put you in a place where you won't burn any more barns."
Harry was confounded at this charge, and promptly and indignantly denied it. He had not considered the possibility of being accused of such a crime, and it seemed to put a new aspect upon his case.
"You did not set fire to Squire Walker's barn last night?" replied Leman, incredulously.
"No, I did not."
"Perhaps you can make the squire believe it," sneered his captor.
"I didn't do it."
"Didn't steal my brother's boat, either, did you?"
Harry thought a moment. After the mean trick which Ben Smart had served him, he did not feel very kindly towards him, but he was not yet prepared to betray him.
"I didn't," was his reply.
Nathan Leman then conducted his prisoner to the river's side. By this time the other pursuer, who had been obliged to ascend the river for a quarter of a mile before he could cross, joined him.
"Where is the other fellow?" he asked.
"Couldn't catch him. This one fought like a young tiger, and I couldn't leave him," replied Nathan. "If you will take Harry up to the village I will soon have him."
The other assented, and while Nathan went in search of Ben, Harry was conducted back to the village.
The prisoner was sad and depressed in spirits; but he did not lose all hope. He was appalled at the idea of being accused of burning the barn; but he was innocent, and had a vague assurance that no harm could befall him on that account.
When they entered the village, a crowd gathered around them, eager to learn the particulars of the capture; but without pausing to gratify this curiosity, Harry's conductor led him to the poorhouse, and placed him in charge of Mr. Nason.
IN WHICH HARRY CONCLUDES THAT A DEFEAT IS SOMETIMES BETTER THAN A VICTORY
The keeper of the poorhouse received Harry in sullen silence, and conducted him to the chamber in which he had been ordered to keep him a close prisoner. He apparently had lost all confidence in him, and regretted that he had connived at his escape.
Harry did not like the cold and repulsive deportment of his late friend. Mr. Nason had always been kind to him; now he seemed to have fallen in with Squire Walker's plans, and was willing to be the instrument of the overseer's narrow and cruel policy. Before, he had taken his part against the mighty, so far as it was prudent for him to do so; now, he was willing to go over to the enemy.
The reverse made him sadder than any other circumstance of his return—sadder than the fear of punishment, or even of being sent to live with Jacob Wire.
"I've got back again," said Harry, when they reached the chamber in which he was to be confined.
"I see you have," replied Mr. Nason, in freezing tones.
The keeper had never spoken to him in such tones, and Harry burst into tears. His only friend had deserted him, and he felt more desolate than ever before in his life.
"You needn't cry, now," said Mr. Nason, sternly.
"I can't help it," sobbed the little prisoner.
Mr. Nason sneered as he spoke, and his sneer pierced the heart of Harry.
"O, Mr. Nason!"
"There—that will do. You needn't blubber any more. You have made your bed, and now you can lie in it;" and the keeper turned on his heel to leave the room.
"Don't leave me yet," pleaded Harry.
"Leave you? What do you want of me? I suppose you want to tell me I advised you to burn the barn."
"I didn't set the barn afire!" exclaimed Harry, now for the first time realizing the cause of his friend's displeasure.
"I speak the truth. I did not set it afire, or even know that it was going to be set on fire."
Mr. Nason closed the door which he had opened to depart. The firm denial, as well as the tone and manner of the boy, arrested his judgment against him. He had learned to place implicit confidence in Harry's word; for, though he might have told lies to others, he never told them to him.
"Who did burn the barn?" asked the keeper, looking sternly into the eye of the culprit.
Harry hesitated. A sense of honor and magnanimity pervaded his soul. He had obtained some false notions; and he did not understand that he could hardly be false to one who had been false to himself—that to help a criminal conceal his crime was to conspire against the peace and happiness of his fellow-beings. Shabbily as Ben Smart had used him, he could not make up his mind to betray him.
"You don't answer," added Mr. Nason.
"I didn't do it."
"But who did?"
"I don't like to tell."
"Very well; you can do as you like. After what I had done for you, it was a little strange that you should do as you have."
"I will tell you all about it, Mr. Nason, if you will promise not to tell."
"I know all about it. You and Ben Smart put your heads together to be revenged on the squire; you set his barn afire, and then stole Leman's boat."
"No, sir; I didn't set the barn afire, nor steal the boat, nor help to do either."
"You and he were together."
"We were; and if it wasn't for being mean to Ben, I would tell you all about it."
"Mean to Ben! As soon as it was known that you and Ben were missing, everybody in the village knew who set the barn afire. All you have got to do is to clear yourself, if you can; Ben is condemned already."
"If you will hear my story I will tell you all about it."
Harry proceeded to narrate everything that had occurred since he left the house on the preceding night. It was a very clear and plausible statement. He answered all the questions which Mr. Nason proposed with promptness, and his replies were consistent.
"I believe you, Harry," said the keeper, when he had finished his examination. "Somehow I couldn't believe you would do such a thing as set the squire's barn afire."
"I wouldn't," replied Harry, warmly, and much pleased to find he had re-established the confidence of his friend.
"But it is a bad case. The fact of your being with Ben Smart is almost enough to convict you."
"I shouldn't have been with him, if I had known he set the barn afire."
"I don't know as I can do anything for you, Harry; but I will try."
Mr. Nason left him, and Harry had an opportunity to consider the desperate circumstances of his position. It looked just as though he should be sent to the house of correction. But he was innocent. He felt his innocence; as he expressed it to the keeper afterwards, he "felt it in his bones." It did not, on further consideration, seem probable that he would be punished for doing what he had not done, either as principal or accessory. A vague idea of an all-pervading justice consoled him; and he soon reasoned himself into a firm assurance that he should escape unharmed.
He was in the mood for reasoning just then—perhaps because he had nothing better to do, or perhaps because the added experience of the last twenty-four hours enabled him to reason better than before. His fine scheme of getting to Boston, and there making a rich and great man of himself, had signally failed. He did not give it up, however.
"I have failed once, but I will try again," said he to himself, as the conclusion of the whole matter; and he picked up an old school book which lay on the table.
The book contained a story, which he had often read, about a man who had met with a long list of misfortunes, as he deemed them when they occurred, but which proved to be blessings in disguise.
"Oft from apparent ills our blessings rise, Act well your part; there all the honor lies."
This couplet from the school books came to his aid, also; and he proceeded to make an application of this wisdom to his own mishaps.
"Suppose I had gone on with Ben. He is a miserable fellow," thought Harry; "he would have led me into all manner of wickedness. I ought not to have gone with him, or had anything to do with him. He might have made a thief and a robber of me. I know I ain't any better than I should be; but I don't believe I'm as bad as he is. At any rate, I wouldn't set a barn afire. It is all for the best, just as the parson says when anybody dies. By this scrape I have got clear of Ben, and learned a lesson that I won't forget in a hurry."
Harry was satisfied with this logic, and really believed that something which an older and more devout person would have regarded as a special providence had interposed to save him from a life of infamy and wickedness. It was a blessed experience, and his thoughts were very serious and earnest.
In the afternoon Squire Walker came down to the poorhouse to subject Harry to a preliminary examination. Ben Smart had not been taken, and the pursuers had abandoned the chase.
"Boy," said the squire, when Harry was brought before him; "look at me."
Harry looked at the overseer with all his might. He had got far enough to despise the haughty little great man. A taste of freedom had enlarged his ideas and developed his native independence, so that he did not quail, as the squire intended he should; on the contrary, his eyes snapped with the earnestness of his gaze. With an honest and just man, his unflinching eye would have been good evidence in his favor; but the pompous overseer wished to awe him, rather than get at the simple truth.
"You set my barn on fire," continued the squire.
"I did not," replied Harry, firmly.
"Yes, you did. How dare you deny it?"
"I did not."
He had often read, and heard read, that passage of Scripture which says, "Let your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." Just then he felt the truth of the inspired axiom. It seemed just as though any amount of violent protestations would not help him; and though the squire repeated the charge half a dozen times, he only replied with his firm and simple denial.
Then Squire Walker called his hired man, upon whose evidence he depended for the conviction of the little incendiary.
"Is that the boy, John?" asked the squire, pointing to Harry.
"No, sir; it was a bigger boy than that," replied John, without hesitation.
"Are you sure?"
"O, very sure."
"It must be that this is the boy," persisted the squire, evidently much disappointed by the testimony of the man.
"I am certain it was a bigger boy than this."
"I feel pretty clear about it, Mr. Nason," added the squire. "You see, this boy was mad, yesterday, because I wanted to send him to Jacob Wire's. My barn is burned, and it stands to reason he burned it."
"But I saw the boy round the barn night afore last," interposed John, who was certainly better qualified to be a justice of the peace than his employer.
"I know that; but the barn wasn't burned till last night."
"But Harry couldn't have had any grudge against you night before last," said Mr. Nason.
"I don't know about that," mused the squire, who was apparently trying to reconcile the facts to his theory, rather than the theory to the facts.
John, the hired man, lived about three miles from the squire's house. His father was very sick; and he had been home every evening for a week, returning between ten and eleven. On the night preceding the fire, he had seen a boy prowling round the barn, who ran away at his approach. The next day, he found a pile of withered grass, dry sticks, and other combustibles heaped against a loose board in the side of the barn. He had informed the squire of the facts, but the worthy justice did not consider them of much moment.
Probably Ben had intended to burn the barn then, but had been prevented from executing his purpose by the approach of the hired man.
"This must be the boy," added the squire.
"He had on a sack coat, and was bigger than this boy," replied John.
"Harry has no sack coat," put in Mr. Nason, eagerly catching at his evidence.
"It is easy to be mistaken in the night. Search him, and see if there are any matches about him."
Undoubtedly this was a very brilliant suggestion of the squire's muddy intellect—as though every man who carried matches was necessarily an incendiary. But no matches were found upon Harry; and, according to the intelligent justice's perception of the nature of evidence, the suspected party should have been acquitted.
No matches were found on Harry; but in his jacket pocket, carefully enclosed in a piece of brown paper, were found the four quarters of a dollar given to him by Mr. Nason.
"Where did you get those?" asked the squire, sternly.
"They were given to me," replied Harry.
Mr. Nason averted his eyes, and was very uneasy. The fact of having given this money to Harry went to show that he had been privy to his escape; and his kind act seemed to threaten him with ruin.
"Who gave them to you?"
Harry made no reply.
"Answer me," thundered the squire.
"I shall not tell," replied Harry.
"You shall not?"
The squire was nonplussed. The boy was as firm as a hero; and no threats could induce him to betray his kind friend, whose position he fully comprehended.
"We will see," roared the squire.
Several persons who had been present during the examination, and who were satisfied that Harry was innocent of the crime charged upon him, interfered to save him from the consequences of the squire's wrath.
Mr. Nason, finding that his young friend was likely to suffer for his magnanimity, explained the matter—thus turning the squire's anger from the boy to himself.
"So you helped the boy run away—did you?" said the overseer.
"He did not; he told me that money would keep me from starving."
Those present understood the allusion, and the squire did not press the matter any further. In the course of the examination, Ben Smart had often been alluded to, and the crime was fastened upon him. Harry told his story, which, confirmed by the evidence of the hired man, was fully credited by all except the squire, who had conceived a violent antipathy to the boy.
The examination was informal; the squire did not hold it as a justice of the peace, but only as a citizen, or, at most, as an overseer of the poor. However, it proved that, as the burning of the barn had been planned before any difficulty had occurred between the squire and Harry, he had no motive for doing the deed.
The squire was not satisfied; but the worst he could do was to commit Harry to the care of Jacob Wire, which was immediately done.
"I am sorry for you, Harry," whispered Mr. Nason.
"Never mind; I shall try again," he replied, as he jumped into the wagon with his persecutor.
IN WHICH HARRY FINDS HIMSELF IN A TIGHT PLACE AND EXECUTES A COUNTER MOVEMENT
"Jacob, here is the boy," said Squire Walker, as he stopped his horse in front of an old, decayed house.
Jacob Wire was at work in his garden, by the side of the house; and when the squire spoke, he straightened his back, regarding Harry with a look of mingled curiosity and distrust. He evidently did not like his appearance. He looked as though he would eat too much; and to a man as mean as Jacob, this was the sum total of all enormities. Besides, the little pauper had earned a bad reputation within the preceding twenty-four hours, and his new master glanced uneasily at his barn, and then at the boy, as though he deemed it unsafe to have such a desperate character about his premises.
"He is a hard boy, Jacob, and will need a little taming. They fed him too high at the poorhouse," continued the squire.
"That spoils boys," replied Jacob, solemnly.
"So it does."
"So, this is the boy that burnt your barn?"
"Well, I don't know. I rather think it was the Smart boy. Perhaps he knew about it, though;" and the squire proceeded to give his brother-in-law the particulars of the informal examination; for Jacob Wire, who could hardly afford to lie still on Sundays, much less other days, had not been up to the village to hear the news.
"You must be pretty sharp with him," said the overseer, in conclusion. "Keep your eye on him all the time, for we may want him again, as soon as they can catch the other boy."
Jacob promised to do the best he could with Harry, who, during the interview, had maintained a sullen silence; and the squire departed, assured that he had done his whole duty to the public and to the little pauper.
"Well, boy, it is about sundown now, and I guess we will go in and get some supper before we do any more. But let me tell you beforehand, you must walk pretty straight here, or you will fare hard."
Harry vouchsafed no reply to this speech, and followed Jacob into the house. His first meal at his new place confirmed all he had heard about the penuriousness of his master. There was very little to eat on the table, but Mrs. Wire gave him the poorest there was—a hard crust of brown bread, a cold potato, and a dish of warm water with a very little molasses and milk in it, which he was expected to imagine was tea.
Harry felt no disposition to eat. He was too sad and depressed, and probably if the very best had been set before him he would have been equally indifferent.
He ate very little, and Jacob felt more kindly towards him than before this proof of the smallness of his appetite. He had been compelled to get rid of his last boy, because he was a little ogre, and it seemed as though he would eat him out of house and home.
After supper Harry assisted Jacob about the barn, and it was nearly eight o'clock before they finished.
"Now, boy, it is about bed time, and I will show you your rooms, if you like," said Jacob. "Before you go, let me tell you it won't do any good to try to run away from here, for I am going to borrow Leman's bull-dog."
Harry made no reply to this remark, and followed his master to the low attic of the house, where he was pointed to a rickety bedstead, which he was to occupy.