he Felt the judge's stern eyes fixed upon him.
HOW HE MADE THEM HELPS TOWARD PROGRESS
% Stors far Bojjs
(Mrs. G. R. Alden)
author of "ester ried," wanted," tl overruled," the prince of peace," etc.
BOSTON LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY
lothhop pcblishikg company.
All rights reserved.
Trade-Mark Registered June 4, 1895.
I. Hindered by Fire.......... 9
II. A Lost Supper........... 24
III. That Other Boy........... 37
IV. A Bewildered Boy.......... S3
V. Cross-Questioned.......... 66
VI. An Unexpected Witness........ 78
VII. Hindered by Falsehood........ 92
VIII. Flowers and Thorns......... 107
IX. "What makes Things Happen?" .... 118
X. Hindered by Himself......... 131
XI. A "Chance"............ 142
XII. Hindered by Conscience........ 154
XIII. A New World........... 164
XIV. Triumphs and Puzzles......... 174
XV. The Way grows Pleasanter...... 183
XVI. Christmas Plans........... 19S
XVII. Christmas Eve Surprises........ 205
XVIII. A Christmas Present "....... 217
XIX. '"Tain'tMe!" ......... 227
XX. "Clothes is Great Things"...... 239
XXI. Nancy's Chance........... 249
XXII. A New World........... 260
XXIII. A Rough Path........... 270
XXIV. At Last.............. 282
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
He felt the Judge's Stern Eyes fixed upon Him,
Reuben came to a Sudden Halt........ 15
Nancy Hardman was out on the Porch..... 43
While Reuben waited, He took up a Book and
On His Way................ 151
" We are going past Your Old Home," said Alice, 189
Reuben stood still in the Road....... 209
" 'Taint Me I" she said........... 233
He buried His Face in His Hands....... 279
HINDERED BY FIRE.
IT was November, but the weather wouldn't have told you so; the grass was green, and the roses and tulips and all manner of bright flowers were in bloom; and there was sunshine everywhere. Groups of girls in white dresses and no wraps walked leisurely along the streets ; occasionally one fanned herself with her broad-brimmed hat, and said, How hot it is Yet it was almost Thanksgiving Day.
Oh! it snowed in some parts of the world that day ; the papers told about an unusually heavy fall of snow, about sleet, and drifts, and sharp, cutting winds. The girls in white would have laughed at the thought of such a thing ; they could not imagine frost and snow anywhere ; they lived in Florida away down on the peninsula, where snow never comes, and even the frost just touches the flowers
once in a while ; almost like a kiss, for lightness, is his touch in that part of the world and the girls may wear white, dresses and flower-wreaths at Christmas as well as at Thanksgiving, and are liable at any time through the year to be complaining of the heat.
Out in the country, at least two miles away from the groups of merry young people in their white dresses and flower-trimmed hats, was Reuben Stein, hurrying along as fast as tired feet would take him. A hurried boy was Reuben, nearly always. He worked for his board and clothes at Mr. Hard-man's ; and though the board was so poor that Reuben often went hungry, and his clothes were of the poorest, and worn until he felt ashamed to be seen on the street by daylight, they seemed to cost a great deal; for work as he might all day and every day, he was constantly told that he was not worth the salt which it took to season his food. When Reuben was younger, he might have seasoned his food with his tears, had they been shed at the right time, and not saved up until he was safe in his bed for the night; but as he grew older, and reached the age of fourteen, he made up his mind that tears did no good only unfitted him for his work the next clay, and that he would brave it out and do the best he could; one of these clays he would be old enough to run away, and then the
Hardmans would never see him again. Just how old he would have to be before he ran away, he had never quite decided nor how he was going to manage it, since he had long before settled it that he would never be a tramp ; but when he ran, would wear good clothes and have enough money in his pocket to pay for his food, and a decent place in which to sleep. A respectable, gentlemanly sort of runaway Reuben meant to be.
It would not, however, be right to leave you to suppose that Mr. Hardman was cruel, or that he intended to half starve Reuben. The truth is, the Hardmans were very poor, and had a trying time themselves ; they worked hard every day of their lives, not excepting Sundays. Often it was as much as they could do to get themselves enough to eat. Often the older children went hungry, too, though it was Reuben's turn oftener than it was the others'. Perhaps that was but natural; Reuben felt this himself, and would not have minded the hunger, or the ragged clothes, half so much if he had not been scolded and grumbled at every day of his life. Still, in their way, the Hardmans had been good to Reuben Stein ; they thought they had been very good. When bis father and mother died, both in the same week, during that awful yellow fever year, were they not the ones who came forward and offered him a home until he could do better ? And
while they had grown poorer each year, had Reuben ever been able to do better ?
Reuben, as he hurried along on this November afternoon, went over the story of the years, as he so often did, and wondered if there would ever be a way out. While he owned to himself that the Hardmans had been as good to him as perhaps people like them could be, and told himself for the hundredth time that when he got to be a man, and had a home, and money, he would be sure to remember them nevertheless, he told himself, also, that he did not believe he could stand it much longer; and that if he did not get this place in view, he believed he should die. He felt the more sure of this because he had strong hope of securing the place. Only the night before, he had seen in the village paper the advertisement of a Northern gentleman who was boarding at a farm-house three miles out. He wanted a strong boy of twelve or fourteen to go North with him as an attendant and care-taker of a little invalid lad who needed somebody with him all clay. One who applied must know how to read and write, and must be willing to give his whole time during the day to his charge.
Now, it happened that Reuben was what is called a natural reader; though really I do not think there was any happen about it. His mother had been a good reader, and had taught him when quite
young to read carefully and with expression. Since he had been left alone in the world he had had very little to read; the Hardmans were not people who cared much for any sort of reading, and besides had no money to spend for even a weekly paper. The consequence was, that Reuben read and reread the few books and magazines that had been given to him when the home was broken up ; and because they were well worth reading, he learned more, perhaps, than he would if he had had plenty of books and papers. When the advertisement called for somebody who knew how to read, his heart beat faster over the hope that here was his chance. What more reasonable than to suppose that part of the duties of the place would be to read to the invalid boy? Of course books would be provided, and it was possible that among them might be some of the very ones about which his mother had talked, and which he had so longed to read. Whether they were or not, Reuben was sure to like whatever was to be read; so fond of it was he that he enjoyed reading the very advertisements as he went along the village streets. As for the writing, he chuckled to himself as he remembered how his mother had prided herself on the clear, round hand- which he wrote, and told him that perhaps it would make his fortune some day. What if the time had come for his fortune to begin ? As
he hurried over the road he told himself that he had been very lucky to get hold of that paper last night, and see that advertisement. If it had not been for his having to trudge back to the grocery after the saleratus that Nancy forgot to tell him about when he went for the meal, he shouldn't have seen it; and he also told himself that he would never grumble again about having things go wrong, as he did all the way back to the grocery. At this point he came to a sudden halt. He was passing a young orange-grove, whose small, straight trees were leaved in lovely green. It was not the trees which arrested his steps, but the fence, or rather, what was going on at the foot of the fence. Actually a fire and looking for all the world as though it had been set; for there was a little pile of pine boughs near by, as though they had been brought there to feed the fire. It was burning briskly now, and as the fence was largely made of pine, would be likely to burn briskly. It will go all around the grove!" said Reuben to himself, "and worse than that, it will creep along the bushes to the young trees and ruin them. Why, it might even reach the house and burn it. I must put it out." Suiting the action to the thought, he began to pull away the wood from around the fire, and to separate the parts which were then burning, and smothered the blaze. It was still a small fire, having evidently
reuben came to a sudden halt.
been started but a few minutes. A little vigorous pulling and beating left only smoking embers, which Reuben separated so far from each other that they could not act as feeders. He would have been better satisfied with his work if he could have poured a few pails of water on it, but the house for which he had had fears was far back in the grove, and had the appearance of being shut up. The folks are not at home," said Reuben, still talking to himself, as he strode through the grove and looked carefully at the closed blinds. I don't believe I could get in to get any water ; and I don't believe it is necessary. I guess I have put it all out; and I've got to hurry if I get there before four o'clock. 'Apply at the Portland farm before four o'clock on Tuesday ;' that is what it said. I'm pretty near a mile from there this minute, and by the looks of the sun it isn't far from four o'clock. What if I should be too late!"
The thought lent wings to his feet; although at the same time he really had little fear of being too late. He knew the neighborhood pretty well, and did not think of another boy besides himself who would be likely to care for such a chance as that who could meet the requirements. There was Vick "Brasier who wanted a place, and who had been threatening all summer to run away if nothing opened; but Vick was a horrid reader, and
as for writing, he could not write his own name so he could be sure of it himself an hour afterwards. There was little to be feared from that source. Still, the Portland farm was only four miles away from the next village, and there might be boys there whom he did not know. Anyhow, it would not do to be late. He was speeding over the ground again, having decided that his fire was safe, when, as he turned the corner to reach the road which led directly to the Portland farm, he made .another full stop. Those scamps, whoever they were, had started another fire around this side. It had failed them, to be sure, but not before it had done a little harm, and some of the embers still had a good deal of life in them ; and there was more danger on this side than on the other, for the breeze which was already sprung up, always came from this way, and might fan those embers into flames. Reuben looked at the sun and felt sure .it was almost four o'clock. He had tried to get an earlier start, but it seemed as though Nancy Hard-man wanted more things done for her that afternoon than ever before. He looked toward the house in the distance; it was as much shut up on this side as on the other, and besides, he had seen Mr. Fenning's carriage pass early in the afternoon with Mr. Fenning himself and three ladies in it. And Ann Jones, who lived next door to their house,
told Nancy, in the morning, that she and Mrs. Fen-ning's cook were going to the circus that afternoon. He felt sure there was nobody at home, but he would run up there and knock. The boy who did chores might be around somewhere. So he ran with all speed, and knocked hard, and received no answer. He came back and looked at the fire. Should he go on and leave it to take care of itself ? No, there was really danger here ; those embers had more life in them than he had supposed ; one had broken into a blaze while he was gone; and all along was a trail of pine boughs which contained a good deal of pitch. Moreover, half-burned bits were scattered along close to the fence; it was very dry, and there was no telling how soon they might blaze ; in fact, some of them were blazing now. There was no help for it; he must make it safe for the people who lived in that house before he took another step. It was harder work than before; the fire would break out in another place after he thought he had entirely conquered it. If there was only some way to get water! But that was not to be had without getting into the locked house ; he must depend on sand and beating. At last, after a full hour of busy work, during which all the dangerous-looking bits of pine were gathered and carried to a safe place, Reuben felt that he could go on with a clear
conscience. He took the precaution to run around the grove this time to make sure there were no more attempts at setting it on fire, and then made what speed he could to the Portland farm, much troubled all the way by two thoughts : First, would he be too late to have his trip do any good ? Secondly, what would Mr. Hardman say to him for being gone so long ? Of course it would never do to say anything about the Portland farm to Mr. Hardman; he believed that Reuben's only errand this afternoon was to see if the Sedgwick boys could come with their team and help Mr. Hardman plough his grove the next day. Now, the Sedgwick boys lived a half a mile this side of the Fenning place. What kind of a story could he tell Mr. Hardman ? If he explained about the fire, which was really what had delayed him, for by running every step of the way, he had calculated that he could get back from the Portland farm in about the time that he would be expected to take, he would of course be asked what he was doing near the Fenning place. There is no denying that matters looked gloomy to Reuben Stein. Nevertheless, he meant to visit the Portland farm before he went home that night.
It was a very pleasant farm-house, with long, wide piazzas running all around. The house itself was set in an orange-grove, whose beautiful dark
foliage made a dense shade. On the south piazza was a wheel-chair of a peculiar shape, and lying back among its cushions was a fair-faced boy of about Reuben's age, though he was so slight and pale that he looked to Reuben much younger. Beside him, in an arm-chair, sat a middle-aged man with an open book in his lap, from which he had evidently just been reading; though he laid it down to watch Reuben as he hurried, out of breath, up the long carriage-drive.
" Only see how fast he can walk," said the sick boy, watching Reuben with keen interest.
"Yes," said the man cheerily, "that is the way you will be walking through the world when you get well and strong again."
The boy's only answer was a faint smile ; he did not believe in his heart that he would ever walk in that way or any other, again ; but he did not tell his father so.
" Is this Mr. Oliver ? asked Reuben ; and then, all but breathless with the haste he had made, as well as with anxiety, he told his errand.
"I am sorry, my boy," said Mr. Oliver; "but you are let me see," and he drew a-handsome gold watch from its pocket, yes, you are exactly fifteen minutes too late. It is just that length of time since the boy whom we have decided to try, went from the door. He wasn't in all respects
satisfactory; but as this is the third time we have advertised, and we could not delay our journey longer, we decided to try him."
" O father exclaimed the invalid, a little pink flushing into his cheeks.
His father turned and looked at him inquiringly. You like the looks of this boy better than the other, Charlie ? To tell the truth, so do I. But we promised to try him, you know; we must keep our word, must we not ? "
" I suppose so, sir," said Charlie wearily.
" I ami really very sorry," said Mr. Oliver ; if you had only been fifteen minutes earlier."
There was no occasion for staying longer; yet Reuben lingered, partly because it seemed to him that he could not go back home. He found, now that it was all over, that he had built very strong hopes on this chance. If it had not been for that fire he would have been in time. Mr. Oliver seemed much interested in him, asked many questions, and so did Charlie. In fact, they were so sympathetic that he found himself telling about the fire, and the trouble he had putting it out. And I put myself out by the means, it seems," he said mournfully.
"Well," said Mr. Oliver, "I'll tell you what, my boy; we will take your name and address, and keep you in mind; something might occur very
soon which would make it desirable for us to make a change. Who knows ? We are sorry not to have seen you earlier, but at the same time I cannot be sorry that you stopped to put out the fire. Nobody loses anything in the end by doing right. That is my doctrine."
A LOST SUPPER.
AS soon as Reuben was far enough down the road to make it safe to appear, two boys dodged out of the woods where they had evidently been hiding, and looked about them.
" Yes, sir, he's done it!" exclaimed one of them in an excited tone as he stooped and examined the remains of the fire. Put it all out; every spark there isn't the ghost of a chance to start it again without matches, and I haven't got a single one left. The mean little coot! What right had he to interfere with us, I'd like to know. I'll pay him for this, see if I don't."
" He didn't know it was us," ventured his companion.
" Well, what if he didn't! He knew it was somebody and he hadn't any cause to interfere. What are you saying that for ?" he added in an angry tone; are you trying to stand up for him?"
" No, i ain't," said the other, looking injured.
" I'm only thinking you better be careful, talking as if he knew it was us. And you can't pay him off without being found out; that's what I'm thinking of."
"Trust me for that. I'm not green, I guess your business is to do as I tell you, and let me take care of the rest. What I say is, that fellow has spoiled our plan, and he shall pay for it, or my name ain't Joel Potter."
That his name was Joel Potter the teacher in his ward of the public school could have testified to her sorrow. Nobody knew any good of him, nor, indeed, of any one of his name. What excuse a boy has for going wrong, Joel Potter could plead. His father had been out of the penitentiary but six months, and those who knew him best prophesied that he would soon be back there.
His mother was a broken-spirited woman, who kept her house in filth, and her children in rags, and cared little where they were, so they did not "bother" her.
Joel inherited from his father, among other evil things, a revengeful spirit; if a person was so unfortunate as to excite his anger in any way, he could not rest until he had, as he said, paid him off." The last person who had crossed his path was Judge Fenning.
The Judge had come upon him at the school-
house door one morning when he was in the act of setting a snare for the unsuspecting feet of his teacher, which would be likely to trip her up the moment she attempted to cross the threshold. It is an old trick, I know, but Joel made no pretence at smartness. Old tricks, so that they were mean enough, suited him perfectly. And he chuckled at the thought of Miss Benson sprawling flat on the ground which was the refined way in which he pictured the scene to himself.
Judge Fenning, who was a trustee of the building, had been examining one of the rooms that needed repairing, and came in contact with Joel on his way out. He discovered the fine wire just in time to save himself from a fall; and his words to Joel were sharp and to the point. He not only ordered the wire up, but waited to see his order obeyed and went away presently, with the wire in his pocket, and a threat to Joel to give him what he deserved if he ever heard of such pranks being played.
It was for this reason that Joel, whose wrath rose steadily the longer he nursed it, contrived the plan of firing Judge Fenning's fence. I should not say he contrived the plan; the truth is, he got it out of a wretched dime novel which he had been reading. It was especially unfortunate for Joel to get hold of a book with anything evil in it, because
he was one of those boys who always copied the bad and let the good alone. One thing ought to be said for him ; he was too ignorant to know, and too heedless to think, whether or not the fire would do other damage than that of burning down the fence ; that was as far as his intention went. Possibly he might even have planned some other way of being revenged if he had thought of the house burning down, for instance; but that he did not think of it when the idea occurred to Reuben Stein the minute he saw the fire, shows what sort of a boy he was in that respect. As for his companion, he was one of those hopelessly weak boys who seem compelled to follow the example of those with whom they are for the moment. If Bennie Wilcox could have been fastened all his life to a good and true boy, he might really have made somebody, for he was willing to copy good as well as bad examples. What a pity that the bad ones were so much more easy to find than the good What a pity, also, that the good boys who might have helped him were so thoughtless and indifferent; often passing him by with a good-natured, half-contemptuous "hello," and leaving him in the very midst of temptation, when a few words from them, and a few minutes spent in winning him, might have saved him. Such boys will have a great deal to answer for, one of these days. Yet
after all, I confess to having very little patience with Bennie Wilcox. Hadn't he a mother at home who cried over his wrong-doings, and begged him each morning, when he left her, to be a good boy that day ? And hadn't he promised his father when he lay dying, that he would try to grow up to take his place, and always be good to his mother ? Why need a boy who had made such a promise allow himself to become the tool of a fellow like Joel Potter ?
" Yes, sir," said Joel, walking around the scene of his late fire, that fellow has upset the whole of it; we won't have time hello I don't know but we will if you will lick it around the corner to Colonel Payton's and borrow some matches, we might get the thing to going again before old Fenning gets back."
" Oh, no said Bennie, who was already tired of his part of the work, which had been to wait on Joel without the prospect of getting any fun out of it; they couldn't even stand around and see the fire burn, t lest they should be caught and suspected. There wouldn't be time ; it is getting late now ; let's let it go till another time. I say, Joe," in a changed and excited tone, what if that should be Judge Fenning coming down the road I hear horses coming."
Sure enough ; Joel had just time to turn and look,
and then to run for the woods without waiting for another word. Judge Fenning's horses were coming at a rapid rate. Bennie, with shorter legs and stouter body, ran as fast as he could, but was not sure that the friendly trees hid him in time for Judge Fenning's keen eyes to escape him.
" We 'most got caught," he said, dropping into a little heap and panting for breath; I dunno but he saw us after all."
" We said Joel, with exasperating calmness ; speak for yourself, little chap. He didn't see me; and if he did, what of it! Haven't I as good a right to be rambling through the woods as the next one ? Don't be such a ninny Somebody has been firing Judge Fenning's fence, and we stopped to look at the damages ; that was all."
Bennie regarded him with open-mouthed wonder, and then laughed. He actually thought that this was a sign of smartness in Joel. It had not occurred to him until that minute that he could tell a lie, and so escape being blamed for the fire. Poor, weak Bennie It is very sad to think what an apt pupil he was.
" What in the world has been going on here !" said Judge Fenning, looking about him in surprise as the burned fence caught his eye. Hold on, Caleb, look at the fence."
Caleb was looking, making his eyes large with
astonishment. What do you make out of that ? asked his master at last. Has some stray spark from a careless cigar set it on fire ?"
" It is my opinion, Judge," said Caleb, with the gravity of a judge on the bench, that that there ain't got no accident about it. It have been set afire, or my name ain't Caleb Joshua Abram Peters."
" Oh please drive on," said Mrs. Fenning, putting her head out of the carriage window; I'm so afraid Alice will reach home before us. The child would not know what to think at finding us all gone."
"Alice is all right," said Judge Fenning; "but look at the fence, Fanny." Nevertheless, he gave the order to drive on up the avenue. As soon as the ladies were helped out and had vanished inside the door, he returned with Caleb to the burned fence. They drove slowly around the grove, and discovered evidences of fire on the south side, also, and noted the fact that some effort had been made to clear a space. Caleb called attention to this. Somebody has done took away a heap of brush, Judge, since morning. I was noticing it when I was down this way. 'Pete,' says I, 'there's a heap of stuff on the south side that would feed a fire this dry weather, first rate.' Says I, 'it ought to be took away,' but Pete he allowed that he couldn't do it to-day
nohow, 'cause he must plough around them trees at the other grove; but somebody done took it away."
" I wonder who ? said the judge thoughtfully ; and I wonder who could have started a fire here in the first place always supposing it was started intentionally. I have no enemies that I know of."
" Dar ain't no accident, 'pend upon that! said Caleb again with marked earnestness ; accidents don't start up just alike twice in one afternoon; two sparks from cigars don't start in two places on the same fence, nohow; accidents don't go that way."
Judge Fenning admitted to himself the force of this; and then something happened which- put all idea of the fire out of his mind. Miss Geraldine Carleton, who was visiting at the Fennings, and had been to town with them, now came running down from the house, calling eagerly: Oh! Mr. Fenning, Alice has fallen down the back stairs and hurt herself dreadfully, we are afraid. Mrs. Fenning wants you to come as quick as you can, and send Caleb for the doctor."
Whereupon Judge Fenning gave the order in quick, sharp tones, and then went with all speed to the house.
Not long afterwards, Reuben Stein made his way rapidly down the road toward the Hardmans.
He glanced at the sun anxiously as he walked. Mr. Hardman would be sure to question him as to this afternoon's work; for he was certainly late. If it had not been for that fire, he could not only have secured the situation, but have got back in time to have had his absence unnoticed, but whatever he said must be truth. He had not decided what to say. Mr. Hardman, without being what could be called cruel, was often severe. If he should send Reuben to bed without his supper, the boy half believed he should starve ; his dinner had been none too hearty.
" I never saw a fellow with such luck as mine," he murmured, although it was not two hours since he had determined never again to grumble at his luck.
Arrived at the Hardman home, what was his surprise to find it in silence and darkness.
Not even a light in the out-kitchen, where Nancy was generally at work at this hour of the day. It was quite dark, for they have no twilight in that part of the country; almost as soon as the sun disappears from the sky, unless the moon has taken his place, darkness settles over the earth ; and it seems to come in a moment of time. When Reuben passed the Fenning place the sun was still shining; he remembered it, because, hurried as. he was, he had paused and given a careful look about
to make sure that no further harm had come from the firev Yet when he reached home, he stumbled through the dark kitchen, and had much trouble in finding matches and lamp. What could have become of all the folks ? It did not seem possible that they could have gone to bed so early as this, although they were given to early hours. Having nothing to read, and but little sewing to do, time hung heavily on the hands of even Nancy, after dark. Having lighted the smoky little lamp, Reuben held it high and gazed about him. No signs of supper, unless a hump on the corner of the kitchen table with a tin basin turned over it might stand for something to eat. Wait; what was that pinned to the wall near where his own small lamp stood, with just oil enough in it to get him to bed, if he made all speed after it was lighted. A piece of paper with some writing on it; Nancy's square, business-like hand. It must be intended for him to read. He unfolded it with a curious feeling tugging at his heart. Something must have happened. He was not in the habit of having notes written to him. Holding the paper to the dim light, he read :
" You've got paid for your laziness, for once! Uncle Kastor has come for us all to go there to supper and to a merry-making in the evening. We sha'n't be at home till late. You'll find your supper under the tin on the table, if
you get home in time to eat any. Uncle Kastor asked for you, and offered to wait a spell for you, but father told him you had been gone long enough to be back three times over, and it served you right. Take care of the lamp, and don't'do any mischief of any sort; just eat your supper and leave the matches where we can find them, and get yourself off to bed as quick as you can."
The note was not signed, and needed no signing ; Reuben would have known Nancy's style anywhere. He folded the paper, and stood like one stunned.. How persistently his luck had followed him. Uncle Kastor was his one friend in all this world. A jolly, warm-hearted man; Mrs. Hardman's own brother, and as unlike her husband as a man could well be. Poor he was, but with a different sort of poverty from that of his brother-in-law. Some way or other, his large family always managed to have enough to eat; and they all, from the father down to the youngest, contrived to have good times. Money was almost as scarce there as it was at Mr. Hardman's, so Uncle Kastor, with the best intentions in the world, could never help his sister's family in that way; but he had a fashion of swooping down upon them once in two or three months, and carrying them all off to supper in his log cabin, three miles away through the woods. And what a jolly supper it always was Wild turkey, which one of the boys
"had the luck to shoot the other day;" fish, that another of them happened to catch ;" sweet potatoes, cooked as only Uncle Kastor's wife knew how to cook them ; and better than all, to Reuben's hungry heart, merry faces, and much laughing, and hearty, kindly words, for him as well as for the others. In fact, Uncle Kastor, having only words to offer, bestowed them with special care on Reuben, seeming to have a dim realization of his loneliness and homesickness. Next to the misery of having lost his one chance of getting away out of the country, no bitterer trial could have come to him than to have lost this evening at Uncle Kastor's. If it had not been for that fire, he could have reached home in ample time. No doubt Uncle Kastor waited for him as long as he could; he knew his kind heart. And now they were probably just sitting down to the table, with everything smoking hot, and smelling, oh so delicious and a place left vacant where he would have been tucked in. Uncle Kastor always contrived to have the table large enough for him to sit down with the rest. Despite his fourteen years, and his determination to be manly, Reuben put up his smoke-begrimed hand and .brushed away great hot tears. By and by, he went toward the tin basin; he was very hungry. Two biscuits, large and heavy, and yellow with soda, lay waiting for him,
and beside them, half of a cold sweet potato. This was all. There are boys who would have scorned to touch such a supper. But Reuben was too hungry for that. Besides, he had sense enough to know that Nancy had done the best she could for him. They lived in a country where milk was a luxury, and butter hardly less so. And Nancy did not know how to make biscuits. Reuben ate every crumb; he even looked hungrily about him, and wished that he had another; but not for anything would he have opened the pantry door and tried to find more. After that, there was nothing to be done but to follow Nancy's advice, and get himself off to bed. And his pillow, if he had had one, would have been wet that night with tears.
THAT OTHER BOY.
HE week following Reuben's disappointment
JL was a hard one for him. It seemed impossible for him to forget that he had been so near to good fortune and lost it. 'As the days passed, this feeling seemed to grow stronger, rather than lessen, as he hoped it would. He made himself miserable by asking over and over again why it had to be as it was. Why, for instance, need that fence around the orange-grove have taken fire just when it did ? Or, if it must needs burn, why did he have to see it and stop, and be hindered long enough to lose his chance ? Not only that, but he must lose his chance of a visit at Uncle Kastor's. And not only that, but both of these losses were connected with another.
When the Hardman family came home, which was not until the next day, Uncle Kastor brought them; and from him Reuben learned that a man whom he called "well to do," had been looking for a boy to spend the winter with him, and do chores
and go to school; Uncle Kastor had thought at once of Reuben, and been resolved to give him the chance. "I didn't say anything about it," he explained, because it would look like trying to get you away from my brother's folks, don't you see ? but all the same I knew you hankered after school, and it seemed to me that you ought to have the chance; and I told the man I would bring you along down with me, and he could see what a likely chap you were. And I knew he would take a notion to you, and make you an offer. That is the very reason I swooped down on the folks that day ; and lo and behold, you weren't home at all! I tried my level best to have them wait till you came, but they felt sure you wasn't coming back till after dark, since you'd staid so long; and I didn't think Mr. Peters would wait much after dark. And I couldn't explain things, you know, so there was nothing for it but to drive off without you ; but I tell you I kind of hoped all the way that you would get back just after we started, and run on and overtake us, and I drove as slow as I could and Peters, he waited till the moon came up, to see you. I guess I could have got him to wait till today, if a shack of a boy hadn't come along within an hour after we got home, looking for a place; and Peters, who always likes to do things up in a hurry, took him."
This story had been very hard for Reuben to listen to. It did seem discouraging, that a second time in one day he should be so near the end of his ambition and yet should fail. All this because some wicked man, or boy, chose to set fire to a fence. If I only knew what rascal did it! said Reuben to himself, setting his lips firmly the while, I'd like to choke him ; mean old wretch Spoiling all my chances in life just for the sake of having a little fun Work at Mr. Hardman's never seemed so hard as it did during those trying clays. It was almost more than he could do to get through the weary round that he hated, not so much because it was hard, as because it seemed as though he accomplished almost nothing, and because it was always accompanied with sharp, or at least cross words.
One evening, nearly a week after his trip to the Portland Farm, he sat in the kitchen before his untasted supper; it was only a piece of corn-bread and a dish of molasses and his appetite seemed to have deserted him. He had been late in getting home that evening, through no fault of his. Old Dingle, the sorrowful-looking cow which the Hardmans kept, had seen fit to stray much farther away than usual, and had led him a long, tiresome walk through sand and across patches of woods. When at last, very tired, he succeeded in bringing her
safely home, Mr. Hardman had scolded as though it had been Reuben who had run away, instead of the cow even going so far as to give him a box on the ear, which tingled with the blow, but not so much as his nerves did over the thought of it. His mother had never boxed his ears, and it was a form of correction that he hated ; while Mr. Hardman apparently enjoyed administering it. Of course it did not make matters any cheerier for Reuben to reflect that he had done nothing that called for punishment of any sort; on the contrary, he had stoutly resisted the inclination to come back without Dingle, and declare that he could not find her; and had gone on and on, until it seemed that his feet could carry him no farther, before he caught the sound of her bell in the distance.
I said it was harder for Reuben because he did not deserve blame ; but, after all, I cannot see why a sensible boy could not have got comfort out of that thought. If one could only realize how much better it is to be blamed for nothing than for something, one could take such things better. Reuben, however, realized nothing of the kind; his heart was swelling with indignation, and there was such a lump in his throat that it seemed to him he would have choked if he had tried to swallow a mouthful. He had torn his blouse in a scramble through some of the low bushes. He had stepped on the sand
spurs with bare feet until they felt full of thorns, and he was so tired that even the effort of carrying the corn-cake to his mouth seemed too much for him. He leaned his elbow on the corner of the kitchen table which was free from dishes, leaned his head on his hand, and let one or two great tears roll slowly down his sunburned, dusty cheek. You will remember that he did not often cry in these days ; that he did so this evening was a proof of how utterly tired and discouraged he was. He had just been telling himself that he hadn't a friend in the world.
It did seem sad and strange that in all this great world there was not only no one to help him, but no one to care whether he ever found any better life than this.
Nancy Hardman was out on the porch, looking at nothing in particular, and waiting for Reuben to finish his supper, so she could put away the things.
" Come, hurry up she said sharply. You are going to be as long eating your supper as you were getting home." She turned as she finished the sentence, and was in time to see those two tears, and to note the utterly discouraged look on the boy's face. Nancy, although she had a habit of speaking sharp, harsh words, and was always dashing around and making others uncomfortable,
had not an ugly heart; there were times when she actually felt sorry for Reuben when her father was especially hard on him though no one would have been more astonished than Reuben himself to have known this. She felt sorry for him at this moment; she knew he was probably not to blame for being late, but she had a strange way of showing sympathy.
"What are you crying about?" she asked severely, coming in at the door as she spoke, and standing in front of Reuben, so that he could not even brush away the tears without being seen. Before I would spend my time in crying like a baby, such a great boy as you are! You ought to be too old to cry, especially when you ain't got nothing to cry for. If you had real trouble, now, you might talk; there's lots of trouble in this world, Reuben Stein, and you'd better be glad that it doesn't come to you instead of growling and snivelling because you have to work for your living. Who doesn't, I should like to know! All the folks around here unless it is the Fennings and a few such have a hard time to keep soul and body together; I am sure of that."
It was such a new thing to hear Nancy Hard-man moralize that Reuben, in spite of himself, was somewhat interested. He shaded his eyes with one hand, and looked through it at the hard-featured
nancy hardman was out on the porch.
girl; there was nothing comforting in her tone, and her words were certainly not very sympathetic, but for some reason they made him feel more as though he had to do with human beings than he generally felt with Nancy.
She busied herself about some work, occasionally glancing at the boy as if to see what effect her words were having on him. "Lots of trouble," she repeated after a moment's silence. People who have beds to sleep in and things to eat, better not grumble. There's been an awful accident on the railroad, and ever so many killed outright to say nothing of the folks that have lost legs and arms. I don't know but I'd rather be killed than to lose my legs, for instance, so I couldn't go around. My! what would become of this family, then?"
" When was the accident ? asked Reuben drearily ; he had not much interest even in this people lived, and travelled, and died, and he knew nothing about it. What did it matter that some of them were killed ? they were nothing to him; he had not been to the village for seven days, so had heard no news.
" It was last Thursday night; the express ran into a freight-train, and smashed two of its sleeping-cars all to bits. Well! what's the matter with you now ? for Reuben's hand had been suddenly
withdrawn from his face, and he sat up straight, his eyes full of anxious interest.
"Last Thursday night," he repeated. "O Nancy are you sure ? "
"Why, of course I am ; you don't suppose I've been making it up, do you ? Where have your ears been that you haven't heard it ? Everybody is talking about it. Why, what makes you interested all of a sudden ? "
" Did you ever see the people that boarded at the Portland Farm, Nancy ? There was a lame boy and his father. They went North last Thursday night. Oh! I wonder if"
"Yes, I saw him out riding one day with his boy ; but they won't go out riding any more ; they were both killed "
" O Nancy are you sure ? Reuben's tone was so full of pain that Nancy forgot to be vexed with him for questioning the truth of her news.
" Why yes, I am; I heard Mr. Fenning telling Uncle Kastor all about it; he stopped here this morning while you were up in the swamp-lot. He said that man and his boy were both killed outright, and"
" Nancy," interrupted Reuben, his face pale with excitement; "there was a boy went North with them ; he was from Weymouth, down below here, you know ; did you hear anything about him ?"
Nancy nodded her head. He was killed too ; and his folks are going to have him taken to his uncle's in the North, because they can't afford to have him brought back here. How came you to know so much about these folks? she asked with sudden sharpness. How did you know they took a boy North with them ? did you know the boy?"
" I heard about it," said Reuben evasively. No, i didn't know him; but it seems strange to think that he is dead."
" Well, he is," said Nancy, speaking almost as though she enjoyed the news. The truth is, she lived such a starved, lonely life that excitement of any sort, even though connected with a railroad accident, was in a sense a relief.
Reuben finished his supper like a person dazed. Nancy, dashing around washing and putting away the plate and saucer which he had hardly used, went on with her story, telling all the particulars she knew, and making comments that were meant to be impressive. It was very new business for Nancy to talk to Reuben, but she had so much news tonight that it seemed as though she must tell somebody. He became a very unsatisfactory listener; he had no comments to make, no exclamations even over the, harrowing parts. She grew provoked at last, and, forgetting her momentary astonishment over his excitement, said,
" You take it cool, I must say! one would think you had been mixed up with railroad accidents all your life; I'd show a little more feeling as if I wasn't made of wood. You can sit and cry over yourself, with nothing in the world to cry for, and you haven't even a sigh for the folks that are in such trouble to-night. Think of that woman who won't ever see her boy again, and he was all she had, too. He wasn't much comfort to her, I s'pose boys never are; but then I dare say she will miss him."
" Yes," said Reuben ; the lump in his throat had grown so large that he could not say another word. He said that in such a way that Nancy thought he did not care. She went into the other room, and told her father that she didn't believe Reuben was more than half-witted ; he had no more feeling than a stone.
"He's 'witted' enough," said her father significantly. He has himself to think about, and it takes all his time."
Reuben went up to bed there was nothing more to be done that night, and he would not for anything have stayed down-stairs and run the risk of being spoken to about the accident, or of hearing more about it. He had heard enough too much. He never felt so strangely in his life. How very near he had been to death! What if
that fence around the orange grove had not been set on fire that day, and he had reached the Portland Farm in time! Mr. Oliver would have been sure to have engaged him, for didn't he and the lame boy both say that they liked his looks, and were sorry he was too late ? Then he would have been the one to be buried somewhere in the cold North, instead of that boy whom he had been almost hating because he had been ahead of him ; now he was dead How did it seem to be dead! Reuben shivered at the thought. He felt of the pulse at his wrist; he laid his hand on his steadily beating heart, and wondered what it would be like to have it still. He did not want to be dead, although he had wished himself so a great many times ; it was one thing to make the wish when every nerve in his body was quivering with life, and quite another to think of it with death almost at the door. "There is but a step between us and death somewhere, sometime, Reuben had heard that verse; he knew it was in the Bible, but he could not remember where or when he had heard it. It seemed to repeat itself to him now in slow, solemn tones. What if he were being buried now, to-night and the Hardmans were sitting in the room down-stairs talking about him. Nancy would tell all the particulars just as she did about that other boy; she could tell more about him;
she would go over that last day before he went away, and tell what he had said and done. Then the excited and nervous boy tried to remember all the things he had said and done that day when the Olivers went North. Would the words sound well, repeated ? He slammed the door, he remembered, when Nancy sent him the third time after wood, which was not to be found, and she had told him to take the door along with him the next time, hinges and all; would she tell her part, he wondered, if she were going over those last things about him ? and where would he be if it really were he ? Was it possible that he might be where he could overhear all the talk ? Would he like to have them go over his past, and remember the things he had done and left undone ? No, he couldn't hear it; he would be buried under the ground but then, there was the soul they didn't bury souls ; what became of them ? Good people went to heaven but he was not good. Oh! he was by no means ready to die ; he would never wish himself dead any more he had not realized what it was before. Suppose God should take him at his wish, and make him dead that very night. People died who were not on the cars he must not die ; he could not! And here poor Reuben buried his head under the clothes ; not to cry, but to shiver and tremble, and feel hot and cold
by turns. It seemed to him that he had never come so near to death not even when his mother died; he was such a little boy then and had not realized it; but that boy of about his age whom he had envied it was so strange so terrible to think of him being gone out of the world!
By and by he grew calmer, and ceased to tremble, but he was very wide awake, and found himself unable to get away from his thoughts; unable to think of anything but the accident and his narrow escape. Gradually his thoughts took form about one idea. He wished that he did not care so much about dying no, not that, exactly. He was a sensible boy, and realized that so great a change one, not an idiot, must care about. What he meant was, that he wished he did not care about it in such a frightened, awful way. There was such a thing as being ready to die, and thinking and talking about it calmly, even though you thought it very near. The last time he had visited at Uncle Kastor's he remembered hearing him tell about a neighbor who was very sick and going to die; how he said that night when Uncle Kastor called to see how he was :
" Well, neighbor, tell the friends that I'm almost home, arid feel very safe and glad."
For the first time in his life, Reuben coveted such a feeling, and wondered how it was secured.
The last thing he remembered on that eventful night was a determination to find out for himself and if it was a possible thing make himself ready for any possible accident that could come to him.
A BEWILDERED BOY.
REUBEN was splitting wood the next morning when Mr. Fenning's carriage drew up before their door; the pine stump had to wait a few minutes while Reuben admired the silken coats of the span of horses, and watched to see how they curved their necks, and took dainty steps in the sand, even while they waited; for Mr. Fenning, after discovering that Mr. Hardman was at home, had gone into the family sitting-room thereby putting Nancy Hardman into a state of consternation. There was not a chair in the house which she thought fit to offer to such a great man. Horses like his were not seen often in that part of the world; most of them had as much as they could do to plod through the sand with slow, discouraged steps and heads bowed, and had no strength to waste in restless steppings about when they were left to stand.
" I wonder what he came for ?" said Reuben to himself as he watched the horses. "What if he wanted to take me out riding!" and he chuckled
over the folly of his thoughts. I'd like it first-rate to ride in such a rig as that; but I don't believe I could go this morning I haven't got time!"
If he could have heard what was going on in the Hardmans' front room, what would he have thought ? Nancy, in the bedroom which opened from it, with the door ajar, lost the first of the talk, though she tried her best to hear. Mr. Fenning seemed to think it necessary to speak very low. Her father's, reply was plain enough.
"I shouldn't wonder at all boys are always getting into scrapes and this one is no better than he should be. What has happened, Mr. Fenning ?"
Once more Mr. Fenning's words were so low that Nancy only caught one now and then, and could make nothing of it. I want to know! said her father. "It doesn't seem possible that Reuben would do such a thing. How do you say you found out that he was the one ?"
This time Nancy fixed the door so she could hear.
" I am not sure of it, of course, Mr. Hardman ; one ought to have very good evidence to accuse a boy of a thing like that. My informant is not altogether trustworthy. You know the Potters, I presume ? their boy Joel came to me of his own
accord to give information. That in itself looks badly or would in another boy. I am not sure but that it is so much Joel's nature to try to get other people into trouble that he watches for chances. He came to me the morning after the fire, and wanted to know what I would give him to tell me all about it. I was vexed with the fellow, and told him I would arrest him as an accomplice in mischief ; which would doubtless give him what he deserved. Over that, he looked injured; said he didn't want anything, of course, but had come because he thought he ought to tell, seeing he happened to know all about it. Then he told something like a straightforward story about being in the woods with another boy, hunting for a certain kind of air-plant which a man stopping near them wanted and he saw your Reuben come down the road. He said he was going slowly, and looking about him as if afraid of being seen; and his manner attracted the two boys, so they determined to watch him. According to them, he gathered brush, and pine-knots, and everything he could find of that character heaped it against the fence and set fire to it. Not content with that, he went round to the other side, where the wind was more brisk, and set still another fire close to the fence planning it so skilfully that there was soon a big blaze ; and as soon as he was safely away, they
came out of their hiding-place and worked like beavers, scattering the fire, and stamping put the sparks. Now, of course, I don't know that there is a word of truth in this; I only know that my fence was on fire that day, and burned quite briskly for a few minutes, and must have been started by some one, because as my man observed an accidental fire doesn't generally choose two places on different sides of the same ground on the same afternoon. And it was evidently put out by somebody who took a good deal of pains to do it; for the brush, of which there was some lying around loose, had all been carried to a safe distance. And there were other evidences of somebody being at work there. These boys came to me with their story, the morning after the fire, as I said, and I promised to look into it; but my little daughter; who had a fall that same day, occupied so much of my attention at first, as to put other things out of my mind ; then I was called away by business, and have only recently returned. But I mean to find out the truth of this if possible ; for a boy with such tendencies is hardly safe to have around us."
" I should think not! said Mr. Hardman excitedly ; he ought to be flogged within an inch of his life; and if you don't do it, Judge Fenning, I shall. For that matter, I shall anyhow. To think of my feeding and clothing such a scamp as that! "
At that moment the bedroom door was thrown wide open, and Nancy Hardman came into view.
" Father," she said, I don't believe a word of that story. Reuben is-aggravating enough all boys are; but he ain't of that sort, and I should think you would know it. He doesn't do things for mischief, if he does blunder a good deal; because his wits are somewhere else instead of on his work; but when he can keep his mind to it, I do say for him that I think he does the best he knows how. As for setting anything afire on purpose, to spoil other folks' things, it ain't in him."
Judge Fenning turned toward the excited girl with a pleasant smile on his face. I am glad to hear you say so," he said. I never heard anything ill of the boy before and I am slow to believe this. It seems so utterly uncalled for; so far as I know he can have nothing against me; I never spoke to him that I can remember; but for the boy's sake as well as my own, I mean to look into it very thoroughly, and to find the guilty one if possible."
" Of course, of course! said Mr. Hardman, he ought to be found; and if it proves to be Reuben, he will have reason to remember it before I get through with him. I won't stand any nonsense like that, Judge Fenning, you may well believe. Nancy seems to think he couldn't have
done it and it doesn't sound like him, I think myself ; but then somebody did it, and what would that boy have told such a story for, if there wasn't any truth in it ? Nancy, do you know what Reuben was about the day it happened ? "
"Yes," said Judge Fenning; "if we could prove that Reuben was quietly at home that afternoon it would go a great way toward establishing his innocence."
" I should think it would," said Nancy. "Well, when did it happen ? I can count back most days ; there's always something to mark the time."
" The fire must have been started last week, on Thursday afternoon between the hours of two and five; I was at home just before two; and back again about five. The fence was all right when I left, and burned when I returned."
" Last week, Thursday," repeated Nancy, and her face grew gloomy.
" Can you think, Nancy, where the boy was that afternoon ? asked her father.
"Yes, I can. That was the day Uncle Kastor came for us and we all went up to his house and stayed to supper."
"And did Reuben go along ?" asked Judge Fenning in a tone which said, I should be only too glad if it should prove that he was miles away at the time."
" No, he didn't," said Nancy sharply. She felt vexed and disappointed over what she must now own. He wasn't at home, and he didn't come home until we don't know when. We waited awhile for him, and then father wouldn't wait any longer, and we went off."
"I remember," said Mr. Hardman. "That doesn't look very well for the scamp, Nancy, after all you have said. He was out that way as sure as fate, Judge Fenning; at least, he was out to the Sedgewick place; I sent him there on an errand, and he was gone long enough to go there and come back twice over. I remember it well, for Uncle Kastor wanted to wait for him he has taken a kind of notion to the boy; I don't know why, I'm sure, though I never thought he was much worse than other boys. But Uncle Kastor wanted to wait and take him; and we did, for a spell until I said the)'' needn't wait any longer on his account, because he shouldn't go if he came, to pay him for being so long doing an errand. What he was about all that time is more than I know. I tried to get something out of him the next morning, but I remember now he had very little to say for himself."
Judge Fenning sighed. I am afraid something tempted him to indulge in this piece of mischief," he said gravely.
" I don't see why you should say that put in Nancy sharply. "Because a boy was gone on an errand longer than he ought to have been, it does not follow that he was at work setting fences on fire; there are other things he might have done."
Judge Fenning smiled again. "That is true. Well, trust me to see that only the truth is discovered. I'm glad the boy has a good friend in your daughter."
How astonished Reuben would have been if he had heard that Nancy Hardman was his friend !
" What I suggest is," continued the judge, "that you allow me to take him away with me now, to my house, for a quiet talk. I should like to see him entirely alone, and have a first word with him before he has a chance to hear of the suspicion from any other person. You are willing, I suppose, to trust him to me ? "
" Of course, of course," said Mr. Hardman. I know you will do the right thing, Judge Fenning." Nor did either gentleman heed Nancy's muttered protest that it was taking a mean advantage of a boy to carry him off like a prisoner before he had heard anything about it. They went out together to the yard where Reuben was struggling with the pine-stump.
" Good-morning, my boy," said Judge Fenning kindly. You have a tough job before you, haven't
you ? I wonder if you would be willing to leave it for a while and take a ride with me ?"
This question so astonished Reuben, coming as it did after the thoughts he had had on the subject, that all he could do was to stare, until recalled to his senses by Mr. Hardman's sharp voice. Why do you stand there staring like an idiot, and keeping the judge waiting Don't you know enough to get into a carriage when you get a chance ? "
" Yes, sir," said Reuben ; and dropping the axe, he took long strides toward the carriage which was waiting at the gate, opened the door and sprang in. If this was all a huge joke, the point of which he could not understand, at least he would have the pleasure of seeing how those great plump cushions felt. He had often wondered, and never expected to know.
Judge Fenning smiled gravely; and, lifting his hat to Mr. Hardman as though he had been the first gentleman in the land, followed Reuben without more words, and Caleb drove away; Nancy watching from the window, a curious, choking sensation in her throat, and a feeling of indignation at both Judge Fenning and her father in her heart. Why had not her father spoken up for Reuben, and told the great man that somebody else fired his fence ? Why had not the man sense enough to
see that Reuben was not one of that sort ? Above all, why did she care so much about it all ? Was she really fond of Reuben Stein ? She had not suspected it.
The judge tried to enter into conversation with his companion ; asked several questions about his work and his plans. But Reuben, who under almost any other circumstances would have been only too glad of a chance to tell Judge Fenning his plans, so far as he could be said to have any, in the hope of getting some help from him, was now so overcome by the strangeness of his position as to be unable to do other than to answer with the briefest yes sir," and no sir;" his mind full meantime with the question What did it all mean ?" Why was he being taken at such speed over the road ? Where were they going ? Was it possible that the judge wanted some work done that he could do, and had asked Mr. Hard-man to lend him ? But that was nonsense gentlemen did not come after their workmen in a carriage ; still it was positively the only explanation he could think of. At last he ventured a question.
" Has Mr. Hardman hired me out to work for you, Judge Fenning ?"
"Oh, no," said the judge, smiling at the idea. Then he glanced at Caleb, who was so short a clis-
tance in front of them, with all the carriage windows open. Caleb had remarkably sharp ears, and had been much tried by his master's slowness in looking into the matter of the burned fence. Judge Fenning did not know whether or not Caleb had heard the Potter boy's story; he took care to say nothing about it himself, and he meant not to prejudice Caleb against Reuben if he could help it. Oh, no! he said again after this moment of thought, I wanted to have a little talk with you about some matters, quite alone; and I asked Mr. Hardman to let you ride home with me, to give me a chance." And then Judge Fenning knew by the swift glance which Caleb' gave them that he had heard the Potter story.
"Yes, sir," said Reuben, wondering still more.
"Do you go to school?" asked the judge; and Reuben explained his face red the while, that he used to go, but he couldn't manage it very well.
"That is unfortunate," said the judge. "We have a better school here this fall than ever before ; a new teacher, you know. Have you seen him ?"
No; Reuben had not even seen him, except on the street at a distance. We live out quite a stretch, you know," he explained ; and folks don't generally come that way."
"And you are too busy to spare time for school ?
I shouldn't think Mr. Hardman would have enough work to keep a boy of your age busy all the time. He has no orange-grove, he tells me."
" No, sir it isn't that," said Reuben, his face growing redder. It seemed a disgrace to have to explain what it was but there was no help for it. The fact is, sir, my clothes gave out, and it was a hard season, you know, and we couldn't manage to get any more."
" Is that it ?" and Judge Fenning gave him a swift glance.. His clothes were patched and were too short in the sleeves, and too narrow on the shoulders. Yes, he did look rather shabby; still, there were boys in school who looked worse. Was this an excuse for a fellow who was glad to get rid of the restraints of school, or was it the self-respect of a boy who had been used to better things ? Judge Fenning was much away from his Southern home, and knew little of what was going on in the neighborhood. He dimly remembered having heard about the boy who lived at Hardman's, but could not now recall whether what he had heard was good or bad.
Reuben struggled with his pride, and resolved to explain. It was dreadful to have a man like Judge Fenning think that he didn't want to go to school. I tried every way I could think of to earn some money this summer, so I could buy
some decent clothes, but I couldn't. Then I tried to get a chance to go North, and had one, almost but it failed."
" Did you, indeed ? What made you want to go North ?"
" Well," said Reuben, hesitating I don't quite .know, unless it was because we came from there, and I seemed to think if I could get back I could earn enough to get an education; people in the North seem to go to school."
"Not all of them," said the judge, smiling. So you want an education. Did you ever hear the old proverb Where there's a will there's a way ?
" Yes, sir," said Reuben gravely. Mother used to say so; but I haven't found any way yet maybe I will."
HEY had been making swift time over the
J- road while this conversation was going on, and with Reuben's last word Caleb drew up before the Fenning gateway. Before he knew what was being done, Reuben was out like a cat, and swung the gate open.
" Well done," said the judge, smiling; while Caleb showed all his white teeth in thanks.
" You are quick-motioned, I see. Will you climb in again, or walk to the house ? "
Reuben chose the latter; and taking the short road, was standing by the steps when the carriage wound around the avenue. He had often wondered how that handsome house looked inside now he would have a chance to see. Perhaps, though, the judge would take him to the carriage-house, or the stable, for his talk.
No; he took him to his own handsome library, and seated him on one of the elegant leather-covered chairs. Now," he said, taking the great
arm-chair, we are comfortable, and can have our little talk. So you are from the North ? "
Reuben could not help staring in reply. Had Judge Fenning brought him in his carriage away out here merely to ask such questions as that ? There seemed to be no reply to make, as he had already answered the question; but the judge had others.
In the course of the next few minutes he learned all that Reuben knew himself about his journey down there in search of health for his mother ; and how both father and mother were, only a year after their coming, victims of yellow-fever and the Hardmans took him home with them because Mrs. Hardman's mother had known them in the North. Reuben grew so interested in going over the old times to somebody who was listening and seeming interested, that he almost forgot the strangeness of his present position, until suddenly brought back to it by a question.
" Now, Reuben, you seem to have a very good memory can you tell me where you were, and what you were about, two weeks ago to-day say between two o'clock and five ? "
Then Reuben's face flamed red, up to his very temples. Why, he could not have told, save that he knew at once that it was the day on which he made his visit to the Portland Farm and planned
his desperate effort to get North once more. In a flash of thought it came to him that Mr. Hardman must have heard of his attempt and been angry about it, and appealed to Judge Fenning to have him punished; perhaps it was against the law for a boy who had been fed and clothed by a family for three years to try to get away from them and Judge Fenning was a great lawyer. Reuben knew very little about law, just enough to fill him with awe of it. He felt himself trembling from head to foot, and his anxiety and actual terror grew stronger as he felt the judge's stern eyes fixed upon him. Yes, the eyes of the judge were growing stern. This boy has been deceiving me ; he talked like an honest, outspoken, well-meaning boy who wanted to make something of himself, but directly I mention that afternoon, he turns crimson and trembles like a culprit. He thought he was not found out, and now he thinks he is. What could have been his motive ? These were some of the thoughts which filled the mind of the judge.
"Well," he said, while Rebuen tried to speak, and felt that his voice trembled so that he did not dare trust it; has your memory played you false at last ? Perhaps I could help you. Were you over in this direction ? Yes," he said to himself, he undoubtedly did it." For Reuben had opened his lips, and stammered something not understood
then closed them again ; he certainly acted like one afraid to speak. It may seem strange to you that a boy of fourteen could get into such a state of terror for so slight a reason, but you must remember that Reuben was very much alone in the world, and about some things as ignorant as a child ; then, too, his nerves had been unsettled by the railroad accident, and his narrow escape from death. There were times when he told himself that it must have been very wicked for him to try to steal away from the Hardmans, and that God meant to punish him for it. However, as a rule he was a boy of a good deal of courage; if he had not been utterly taken by surprise with Judge Fenning's question, he would not have shown such fear. As it was, he soon got control of himself. He decided that he certainly had not intended wrong ; the Hardmans had told him more than once that they kept him out of charity, and he knew they were too poor to do it ; he had honestly meant to relieve them, as well as himself, although he knew that in some things it would be harder for them if he were away. He decided that the thing for him to do was to tell a plain story of where he was, and exactly what he was about and frankly say that he meant no wrong.
" Yes, sir," he said suddenly; I was by here. I went to the Portland Farm; there was a man
boarding there named Oliver, and I saw in the paper that he wanted a boy to go North with him, and I went for the place; that is what I meant when I told you I tried to go North once, and didn't succeed ; I was fifteen minutes too late, and another boy got the place. I didn't want to say anything about it, because I didn't tell the Hardmans the fact is, sir, I meant to run away." Here Reuben unconsciously lowered his voice, as though he were telling a great secret. Perhaps I ought not to have done so, but I did not know it was against the law. They are really nothing to me, and they have fed me for three years; and, while I work as well as I can, they have often told me they could not afford to keep me, and I don't think they can. If I did wrong I am very sorry but it didn't amount to anything, you see, sir; and I am ready to promise not to do it again, if it is against the law."
Was this acting ? Had the boy really no knowledge of the burned fence ? Judge Fenning felt very much puzzled. He found himself wondering if Reuben had been near the Portland Farm that afternoon; perhaps he had heard of the railroad accident, and knowing that Mr. Oliver and his boy were both killed, it had occurred to him that nobody could dispute such a storyhe would tell it and account for his time in that way.
" Do you know where Mr. Oliver is now ?" he asked gravely.
"Oh, yes, sir!-or I mean I know he is dead; he was killed that very night and the boy who got the place was killed too; and I should have been if I had gone. That was one of the things that made me think perhaps it was wrong to do it."
Judge Fenning could not help smiling over such queer logic; the boy seemed to be a curious mixture of man and child. He did not know what to say next.
" How came you to be late that clay ? he asked, more to gain time than because he thought it made any difference why he was late.
A sudden light broke over Reuben's face; curiously enough this was the first time he had thought of the burned fence since the questions began. What he considered the graver matter had driven the other out of his mind.
" Oh! a -very strange thing hindered me," he said eagerly. Haven't you noticed a piece of your fence burned, Judge Fenning ? It was burning when I passed here on my way to the farm at least it had been burning, and had kind of died out; but I was afraid it would get started again, and there was lots of brush, and leaves, and things around it, so I had to stop and clear thern away.
Then. I ran around to the other side, and found it on fire too, and it looked worse than it did in front; it took quite a little time to get all the knots and brush away, and to stamp out every spark; it took more than fifteen minutes, sir and that is the reason I was late."
The judge studied his face thoughtfully. Who helped you in putting out this fire ?" he asked.
" Nobody helped me, sir. There wasn't a person around; not even any one passing byif there had been, I. should have run away and left them to do it, for I was in an awful hurry."
" But I should suppose it would have been the most natural thing in the world to have run to the house for help."
" Oh, I did and knocked and knocked, but there was nobody to answer ; I made up my mind you were all away."
" What is your opinion about that fire, Reuben ? How came it to be on fire ? "
" Why, I'm sure I don't know, sir; I thought perhaps somebody with a cigar had been careless, but I don't know."
" Did it strike you that there was more brush lying about than there would have been on a well-kept place ?"
" I don't know, sir ; I didn't think much about it. You see, I was in such a hurry that all I
thought of was to get it where I could leave it as soon as possible."
" Why didn't you leave it, and go on ? i
" Sir ? said Reuben, looking bewildered.
" I mean, how came you to take so much trouble ? It wouldn't have been your fault if the fence had burned down."
" Why, it would if I could have helped it, I suppose ; and it wasn't only the fence, sir ; the wind was blowing just in the right direction, and I was afraid for the house I thought I ought to see to it I mean I thought that was the right thing to do."
" And you always try to do right, do you ? "
" No, sir," said Reuben, his face crimsoning. There came to him suddenly the memory of times when he had shirked work which Nancy Hardman wanted done; to be sure, many of her wants seemed unreasonable to him, but he knew very well that he ought to have obeyed her. No, sir, I don't always; but I tried to, that day."
"Well, Reuben," said Judge Fenning, after what seemed to the boy a long silence to tell you the plain truth, I brought you out here to-day to hear your story of the fire. Perhaps it is only fair to tell you that I have heard another which doesn't match with yours at all." He looked steadily at Reuben as he spoke, but the boy returned the look only with one of interest.
" I don't see what it could be," he said, because there wasn't a living soul within sight or hearing. I called two or three times as loud as I could shout, in the hope that I could make somebody hear, and come and help me. And if anybody knows how it got started, I should think he would have tried to be there to put it out."
" Reuben, did it occur to you at all, that perhaps the fire had been started on purpose ? asked Judge Fenning, his keen eyes watching the boy as though they would read his very thoughts.
" Yes, sir," said Reuben, that was the first thought I had ; things were so kind of heaped up, as though they had been fixed on purpose ; but after I came to think it over, it didn't seem sensible, and I decided that it might have been a cigar as I told you or I thought maybe some very little boys had been playing with matches though I don't know of any boys around here who are little enough not to know better than to start a bonfire right by a fence."
Judge Fenning became silent again, and this time considered so long that it gave Reuben a chance to look about him and admire some of the wonders of the beautiful room.
" Well," he said at last, and this time he arose from his great leather chair, I think I will let Caleb drive you home and come again to-morrow
to see me. At that time I will try to have here the persons who have told me the other story. I want you and them to put the two stories together to make them match. How should you like that ?"
" I should like it first-rate," said Reuben, without the least hesitation. I have thought a good many times that I'd like to know just how that fire commenced, and all about it. But I can walk home, Judge Fenning Caleb mustn't go back for just me."
Judge Fenning smiled. Caleb has to go to the village on an errand for me," he said, and it will take him but a few minutes to set you down at home; if you don't like a ride with a couple of fast horses better than a walk through the sand, you are different from any boy I ever saw."
" Oh, I like it!" said Reuben, his eyes twinkling ; I've often wondered how those cushions of yours felt, and to-day I had a chance to find out."
" Very well, you may try them again. I will send a note to Mr. Hardman, making arrangements with him to have you call here to-morrow at twelve o'clock. And now I have a request to make of you. I should be very glad if you would promise not to talk to any person about the burned fence, between this time and to-morrow morning when we meet here. Not only that, but I would rather you would not talk about this interview we have had,
nor explain in any way what was wanted of you. Are you willing to promise ? "
" I don't know," said Reuben. I am willing to promise not to talk about it more than I can help; but Mr. Hardman and Nancy Hardman will ask ever so many questions, and I don't see how I am going to help telling them what you wanted of me."
"What did I want of you?" asked the judge; and his face was so kind that Reuben, to his own after astonishment, laughed outright as, he said, "I don't know, sir, I'm sure, unless it was to give me a nice time."
" Then you wouldn't have a very clear story to tell, after all, would you ? But what I mean is, that I ask you not to talk about this matter more than you can help. If direct questions are asked, which you feel it your duty to answer, of course your promise will not bind you."
" Oh! I can promise that," said Reuben promptly. I will not talk more than I can help."
Five minutes afterwards he wondered if Judge Fenning knew what a talker his coachman was. During that swift drive homeward, Caleb used his utmost skill to discover just how much Reuben knew about the burned fence. He began as they were driving down the avenue.
"See that hole in the fence? We don't commonly have no such holes around our place."
" No," said Reuben, I suppose not."
" How do you suppose that hole got there ?"
" Holes are sometimes broken in fences," said Reuben, with the air of a sage.
"Yes, and holes are sometimes burned," said Caleb, fixing his large, solemn eyes on the boy, who wanted to laugh but didn't. That there hole was burned just two weeks ago to-day; I reckon you ain't heard of that before ?"
"I saw it," said Reuben, "as we drove in."
" Oh, you did! Well, I reckon you don' know nothing about how it happened, nor why ?"
Reuben, not knowing how to answer this after his promise to Judge Fenning, decided to say nothing. Caleb eyed him suspiciously, and continued to talk about the fire and the fence, and the boys, and mean people, in what he thought was a most expressive way. And Reuben listened and smiled, and sometimes looked grave, and wondered what the fellow meant.
AN UNEXPECTED WITNESS.
" QHO!" said Caleb at last, "there's no use talk-O ing to poor white trash they don't know even enough to answer when they are spoken to."
Two hours later, Caleb, who had just finished giving his master an account of his errands, added: It's my opinion, Judge Fenning, that I had the pleasure of taking the boy who burned the fences a ride in the carriage this very morning."
" Indeed! said Judge Fenning, "what leads you to suppose so ? "
"Well, Judge Fenning, my knowledge of boys is consid'able; and in my opinion that boy acts like the very one."
" How does he act ?"
" Why, Judge, he hasn't got nothing to say for himself. Won't talk, you know not about the fences nor the fire. I gave him mo' than a dozen chances, and he was just mum. Didn't even have no curiosity to know how such a thing happened. It looks bad, Judge ; it does, so "
The judge smiled. So far, at least, Reuben had followed his instructions.
There was a second sensation that day at the Hardmans', when Reuben was brought home in the carriage.
"Well," said Mr. Hardman, almost before the boy had sprung out like a deer, and hurried up the walk, seems like you go and come in style! You don't feel quite so fine as when you went away, I reckon? I wonder-that he let you come back. I would have locked you up, if I had been he. I don't want to harbor no such around me, I can tell you. And when he gets through with you, I want you to understand that you'll have to answer to me."
" What do you mean, sir ? asked Reuben, his face flushing a dark red. "What can you suppose I have been doing ? "
" Oh! dear me, how innocent you are You can't come no such tricks on me, and you needn't try. They may go down with Judge Fenning,,and even Nancybut I'm too old to be caught that way."
" I am sure I do not know what you are talking about," said Reuben, with severe dignity. Here is a note which Judge Fenning wished me to bring you. Now shall I go on with the wood ?"
Mr. Hardman had no answer ready; he was
already devouring the note. A letter for his eye alone, from Judge Fenning, was certainly distinction ; but he did not find it quite to his mind.
"How lofty he can be!" he said in a discontented tone; I'll talk as much as I please; my tongue's my own, I guess. What do you stand there staring for ? Why don't you go to work ? Isn't it enough that you have wasted the whole morning ?"
Reuben waited for no further orders, but concluded that the pine-stumps must be his work, and went at them with a will.
Just then Nancy appeared. What have you got, father?" she asked; "what does Reuben say ?"
" He says nothing, just as he usually does when he ought to speak," said Mr. Hardman crossly. And Judge Fenning has laid down his orders to us as though we were slaves, and he owned us. We are not to question the boy, if we 'please,' until after he sees him again. What if I don't please what right has he to order me ? "
"I don't see but the note is nice enough;" said Nancy, glancing it through. He says Dear sir,' and 'yours truly,' just as gentlemen do to each other; and I wouldn't ask questions if I were you, so long as he don't want you to. There's likely some reason. There's no use quarrelling with a
man because he's rich and drives around in his carriage. I sha'n't say a word to Reuben, though I am dying to know what happened."
Mr. Hardman, though he grumbled more or less, apparently came to a like conclusion. The day passed, and Reuben was asked no questions. However, both father and daughter had said enough. Some of Nancy's words floated back to Reuben between the blows of the axe, and added to those which Mr. Hardman had spoken, made his face grow troubled and puzzled, and then finally gather into a frown, as for the first time it dawned upon him that not only the Hardmans, but Judge Fenning, actually believed that he set the fence on fire or helped it along in some way! No such thought had occurred to him while talking with the judge, or even with Caleb. Secure in conscious innocence, he had been slow to take the hints which Caleb's words might have conveyed. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that herein lay the explanation of some things that Judge Fenning said. Probably that was the "entirely different story which he had heard. From whom ? Who could suppose for a moment that he would do such a thing ? Why should he do it ? and why should anybody think he would ? Was he a boy to amuse himself with mischief ? Had he ever gone prowling around seeing what he could
do to trouble others, as some boys he knew of did ? Had he not during all the years he had spent in this part of the world and they seemed to Reuben many and long been faithful to his work, and honest in his ways ? What right had Judge Fenning to suppose for a moment that he would be guilty of such an act ? As for Mr. Hardman, of course he would believe the worst of him. "And be glad of the chance, I suppose," said Reuben to himself, with a swelling heart; it is hard, I declare, that a fellow who has clone his best to make something of himself, should not only have no chances, but be hindered all the time by things which he can't help, and then be told lies about in the bargain. I might as well give up and be the sort of fellow they think I am. But I never will," he added after a few minutes of bitter thought ; I'll be somebody yet, in spite of them all."
Nevertheless, it was a very hard day. Reuben always looked back to it afterwards as one of the hardest he remembered. Mr. Hardman did not ask any questions, but he did worse.
" Let the matches alone! he said roughly to Reuben, when in the course of the afternoon he came for some to light the kitchen fire. The less you meddle with matches, the better. We don't want to be burned out of house and home, either from carelessness or wickedness."
Reuben's face was white with anger; but he turned away without a word, and went off to the kitchen.
" Well," said Nancy, who was waiting for the matches, did you stop to make them ?"
" No ; your father told me to let them alone. He seems to have grown suddenly afraid to trust me with matches."
Nancy uttered an exclamation which he did not catch, and rushed after them herself. Father," he heard her say, "seems to me I wouldn't be a goose, if I could help it. Reuben didn't set that fence on fire any more than I did; and I don't believe in treating him as if he did. That isn't the way Judge Fenning would want you to do, I can tell from his note."
" I'm not Judge Fenning's slave, nor yours either," said Mr. Hardman, who was in unusual ill-humor that day, for several reasons. In the first place, several plans of his own had gone wrong; and in the second place he had been drinking hard cider more of it than usual and it had the effect which hard cider has on some brains; it made him cross without reason. But for the first time in his life the voice of Nancy Hardman sounded like music in Reuben's ears. Here was one who believed in him in the face of all suspicion. And he admitted to himself that since Judge Fenning
could suspect him, it was not unreasonable, perhaps, for the Hardmans to do so. He must have told them some story in the morning to base suspicion on; but despite it all, Nancy Hardman believed in him A few days before, Reuben would have laughed at the idea that it made much difference to him what Nancy Hardman thought about anything. I'll always remember it of her," he said to himself gratefully. "After this, I'll fill her tubs, and bring her pine-knots, and split her kindling-wood without having to be told, and I'll do everything I can to help her. To think that she should speak up for me in that way I can hardly believe my ears !" The memory of it softened the rest of the day for him. On the whole, he bore Mr. Hardman's unreasonableness much better than he had feared he should. But he looked forward to the next morning with mingled feelings of anxiety and indifference, while he worked hard with his hands, and spent hours of thought trying to puzzle out who could have gotten up the story about him. Was it possible that somebody had seen him working hard to put the fire out, and had supposed that he was, instead, trying to build it ? But nobody passed," said the poor fellow "not a soul. I was too anxious to have help to let anybody escape me."
Meanwhile Judge Fenning, though a very busy
man, gave a good deal of thought to the honest-faced boy whom he had questioned that morning, and at the tea-table made known his perplexities. "I'm a good deal puzzled just how to manage the callers whom I expect to-morrow."
" Callers ?" said Mrs. Fenning inquiringly ; and Alice looked up from the orange she was sipping, to ask, Who are they to be, papa ? "
"Three boys," said the judge; "and I fancy they will not care to meet. The more I think about that manly-looking fellow who was with me to-day, the more sure I feel that he told the truth."
Alice was interested at once. O papa! she said, "did you have a trial right here in your study ? How nice tell me about it please, papa,"
" Why, it was about the fence that was burned," said the judge. Then he looked up suddenly at his wife, remembering that they had agreed not to say anything about that before Alice until she was quite strong again. Mrs. Fenning laughed at his startled look. Never mind," she said, :" Alice is well enough now, I think, to hear about the fire. It happened the day you were hurt, darling," she continued ; "the fence around the grove took fire in some way, and quite a hole was burned. We did not mention it before you, lest it might excite
you when you were weak, as it happened the very day you were hurt."
Alice looked excited now; her cheeks glowed, and her voice was eager. O papa! I know about the fire; it was that which made me go up those ugly back stairs in the dark so they could not find me if they got into the house and I was coming down again when I fell. Why! isn't it strange that I forgot all about it ? "
No, they did not think it very strange. In the fall she had hurt her head, and had been burning with fever and delirium for several days; then, as she grew better, the doctor would not allow her to be questioned about the accident, lest it might excite her ; and for the same reason the accident to the fence had not been mentioned in her presence.
" Never mind," said Judge Fenning anxiously, when he saw her glowing cheeks. And he asked himself how he could have been such an idiot as to mention the boys in her hearing. Never mind, the fire was over so long ago it is no wonder you forgot it; and it wasn't much of a fire, anyway."
" Oh! but, papa, I know all about it. Let me tell you ; it won't make me excited. I was silly to be afraid then I can't think how I happened to be such a dunce but it seemed queer to be in the house alone, you know; and then to see those boys
burning sticks and things, and setting fire to them right close to the fence, did look dreadful. I thought perhaps the kitchen door was unlocked I had not thought to look and that they might come in and try to steal things ; so I locked all the doors in the front part of the house, and took the keys, and ran away up those back stairs where I was sure they couldn't find me. How silly I was, wasn't I ? How could they have got to me in any of the rooms after I had locked the doors ? but I seemed to want to get as far away from them as possible."
Poor little girl! the utmost they had thought was that a desire to rummage in some of the boxes in the back attic had come to her; and here she had been frightened into making the journey No wonder she had been delirious all night, and for two or three nights, indeed, and imagined that all sorts of people and things were coming after her! Judge Fenning began to look not only grave, but stern. The boys who had by their wickedness perilled the life of his darling would not have fared very well at his hands just then. But Alice was quite herself again, and it could do no harm to ask her a few questions.
" Were there two boys, daughter ? he began quietly.
" Oh! yes, sir. One was a good deal smaller
than the other. They worked hard for quite a while at least it seemed a long while to me getting ready for the fire. I could not think what they were about. I had a mind to run down and tell them they must go away that my father did not like to have boys playing around there. But when they made a blaze, it frightened me so that I thought of nothing but thieves. Papa, I had read a story only a few days before about some men who set fire to a house, and burned it down so they could steal things. Wasn't it strange that I should have read about it just before it seemed to be going to happen ?"
" I don't wonder that you were frightened," said her mother gravely.
" Yes; but then it was silly to run up those old back stairs. Oh! well, I had another reason for going ; don't you know, papa, from that back attic window you can see away down the road ? I thought I could keep watch what they did next, and could see the first glimpse of the carriage when it turned the corner ; oh but wasn't I glad to see it ? Just the minute it turned the corner, I started to run down; and then my feet caught and I fell and that is the last I know."
"Were the boys there all the time you stayed up in the attic ? asked her father.
" Oh no, sir. Why, there is ever so much more
to tell. They went off into the woods, and there came another boy along; he was going by real fast, as though he was in a hurry, but when he saw the fire burning, he stopped and looked at it a minute, then he began to pull the sticks away and stamp on them, and I knew he was going to put out the fire. After that I didn't feel half so much afraid. I thought of starting down to tell him how it got afire, and to ask him if he knew who those boys could be; but while I was deciding whether I dared go and talk to him, he ran around to the south side where I couldn't see him, and very soon afterwards you came."
" Well," said Judge Fenning, after a thoughtful silence, during which Mrs. Fenning questioned Alice as to some other particulars which she had wondered over during her illness ; "well, I begin to understand. Alice, do you think you would know those boys again if you should see them ?"
" I think I should, papa. You see, I sat up there and watched them quite a while; and the big boy especially, who put out the fire. I'm most sure I should know him again; I felt so grateful to him, you know, I wanted to run down and tell him how glad I was that he came along just then; oh! I'm most sure I should know him."
" Mamma," said Judge Fenning, "do you think it would hurt Alice to come into my office to-mor-
row morning for a few minutes, and see if she will recognize the boy ? "
" O papa! did the boy come to see you who said he put out the fire ? How nice! I wish I had seen him to-day. Did you give him something nice, papa ?"
" No," said her father, with a grave smile, I asked him to come again and see me to-morrow; if mamma is willing, you and I will have a little talk with him."
After that, Judge Fenning felt almost certain that Reuben had told the exact truth. Several little words which Alice had let slip confirmed his story. For instance, "that tall boy," she had called him; and he remembered with satisfaction that Reuben must be considerably taller than the Potter boy. But what could have been that Potter boy's motive for such conduct ? If it were pure mischief the desire to harm something that belonged to others a desire which some boys seemed to have born with them surely he need not have carried it to such an extent as to come of his own accord to accuse an innocent person. "But that might have been in self-defence," he added, continuing, after the manner of a lawyer, to think the case out carefully on both sides ; if his guilty fears troubled him, he might have thought to forestall all inquiries by furnishing the boy who
had done the mischief. If this proves to be the case, Joel Potter is a dangerous character to have in the neighborhood; he had better be sent away to a reform school, or something of that sort, before he grows too old to be reformed. Well, we shall see what they will say to-morrow."
HINDERED BY FALSEHOOD.
PROMPTLY at ten o'clock Reuben Stein was at Judge Fenning's piazza door. Caleb eyed him in no friendly way, and said in a discontented tone, What do you want now ? 'Pears to me if I had a safe place to stay in, I would stay there if I were you, and not come prowling around here so much."
" Judge Fenning directed me to be here at ten o'clock," said Reuben stiffly. He began to understand that Caleb didn't believe in him. Reuben's heart was very sorrowful this morning. Mr. Hard-man had not got over his ill-humor. The truth is, it irritated him to think of Reuben being mixed up with a secret which he was not at liberty to talk to him about; he had grumbled over it a good deal the evening before.
" Like as not the fellow will get me into trouble!" he said crossly to Nancy. If there is a trial, as of course there will be, I shall be dragged in as a witness and have to answer all sorts of questions,
and go to nobody knows how much expense. I wish we had let him go to the poor-house, instead of getting ourselves mixed up with him."
"Oh! now, father," Nancy had said, "what is the use of borrowing trouble ? we have enough and to spare, I think, without borrowing any. I don't believe there will be any kind of a trial; if Judge Fenning isn't smart enough to find out the truth from an honest boy like Reuben, he isn't fit to be a judge. As for being a witness, I'd like the chance myself; I'd like to witness to the fact that Reuben Stein is as honest and above-board as the sun is at noon. There isn't a deceiving streak in him. Why, father, you know we've always been able to trust to Reuben's word."
The only reply Mr. Hardman could make was to say : You never can tell what turn a boy like him will take; he's smart enough to.tell any sort of story if he took a notion." His distrust in, and annoyance with Reuben showed in every word that he spoke to him. And the boy had hard work to keep from making disrespectful replies, and was relieved rather than otherwise when the time came for him to start for Judge Fenning's. It was hard to be looked upon with suspicion. He had thought of his mother oftener than usual since these troubles came upon him. How sure she would be to know that he spoke the truth and perhaps it would
not be possible for him to convince Judge Fenning that he did. If Mr. Hardman, who had known him well for years, could so easily give up all belief in him, what was to be expected of a stranger ?
It was not Caleb's business to answer the doorbell. A trim mulatto girl did that, who smiled on him and asked : Is your name Reuben' ? If it is, you are to go into that little room there, where the door is open, and wait until Judge Fenning sends for you."
Into the little room he went. Such a pretty room There was white matting on the floor, and in the centre a thick green rug; there was a soft couch in one corner, covered with some puffy green stuff which looked to Reuben's eyes like velvet; then there was an easy-chair or two, and in the low, wide window-seats, half-hidden by long white curtains, vases of flowers were standing. The table in the middle of the room was strewn with papers and books, and the walls were lined with shelves reaching half-way up the ceiling and filled with books. Troubled as Reuben's heart was, he could not keep the brightness from his eyes at the sight of so many books; and venturing to take up one while he waited, he soon became so interested in it as to almost forget where he was and for what he was waiting. Just the other side of
while reuben waited he took up a book and read.
the hall, in the large library, sat Judge Fenning in his leather-covered arm-chair; and three feet away from him, seated on chairs which had been placed for them, were Joel Potter and Bennie Wilcox.
"Now, Joel," said the judge, I want you to begin at the beginning, and tell me the exact truth about the burned fence ; put in every detail as nearly as possible, and give me the whole story without being questioned."
" Why," said Joel, looking injured, I told you the exact truth the other day, Judge ; what is the use of going over it again ? "
"But if I want to hear it, you have no objection to going over it, have you ? If your story is true, it cannot be much trouble to tell it."
" Oh, no! said Joel, returning to the saucy air which was habitual; if you want to hear it again, I suppose I can tell it." And he went over with great apparent care the account of his discovery of the fire, and his effort to put it out. The judge, who had made a shorthand report of the same story as given a few days before, glanced from time to time at the paper which lay near him, and noted that in several particulars the two accounts contradicted each other. Once he called the boy's attention to it. Look here, Joel, didn't you tell me the other day that you didn't notice the fire on the south side of the grove until you had put out the
other ? And to-day you say that you saw the fire on the south side."
" Oh no," said Joel glibly, I didn't say that; you have mixed me up with somebody else; of course I saw the fire around on the south side first that is where I had the hardest time getting it out."
" Indeed," said the judge, looking all the while at his paper where the former story was written, not in the least like this. Joel, who was looking at it too, made sure that there was no writing on it, and repeated his statement very confidently. He hadn't an idea that those queer little dots and marks were writing. When Judge Fenning was satisfied that Joel did not mean to tell the truth, and that the little fellow by his side was too much under his power to do other than agree to all he said, he directed the boys to wait there a moment, and crossed the hall to speak to Reuben. It seemed to give him pleasure to find Reuben so busy reading that he did not hear a footfall. "That does not look like guilt," said the judge to himself; then he spoke :
" Good-morning you have found something that interests you, I see."
" Yes, sir," said Reuben, dropping the book and springing to his feet; I found something about a meeting in New York, and it felt like home. I
have been in the hall where it was held, and I've seen the man who made the speech; he used to come to our Sunday-school quite often and talk to us." Then there seemed to come suddenly the remembrance of why he was there, and his face grew red. Perhaps I ought not to have touched the book, sir," he said; but I saw the picture, and took it up without thinking."
"That is all right," said the judge heartily. "I am glad you enjoyed it; that is a picture of a good man whom we all honor. Now are you ready to hear that other story I told you of?"
" Yes, sir, as ready as I can be," said Reuben with a very faint smile. I can't imagine who knows anything about it besides myself; because if there had been anybody within sight or hearing, they must have heard me call for help."
" Before we go in," said the judge, glancing at the small note-book he held in his hand, "let me ask you again about the fire, that I may have your story freshly before me." Then he questioned him as he had done Joel, keeping his eye on the notebook as Reuben answered. The two stories agreed in all important points. Once Reuben hesitated.
" I don't know," he said ; I can't think whether that was before or after I went around on the south side."
" Never mind," said the judge, smiling; it is.of