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"What is that?" he inquired, holding the contraband article before Oscar.
Oscar neither looked at it nor made any reply.
"And you are the boy who said a moment ago that you had no tobacco about you," continued the master "I declare I don't know what to do with you. I have said and done all that I can to make a better boy of you, and now I shall report this matter to your father, and let him settle it with you. But I want you to remember one thing. When you tell me a lie, you break G.o.d's law, and not mine; and you can't settle the matter in full with me, or any other human being."
The teacher then threw the piece of tobacco out of the open window, and taking Oscar's writing-book, told him he would set a new copy for him.
He soon returned, with the following line written upon the top of a clean page:
"_Lying lips are abomination to the Lord._"
As Oscar wrote this fearful sentence over and over again, he could not fully escape the force of its meaning. It reminded him of his feelings during his recent illness, when at times the terrible thought that his sickness might possibly be unto death intruded upon his mind. But thoughts of G.o.d, and death, and a future world, were alike unpleasant to him, and he banished them as speedily as possible.
During the afternoon, the princ.i.p.al of the school wrote a letter to Mr.
Preston, informing him of Oscar's indolence and bad conduct, and referring particularly to the incident that had just occurred. By way of offset to the complaint, he spoke in very high terms of Ralph, who attended the same school, but was in another department and another room. He sent the letter by Ralph, but told him not to let Oscar know anything about it. Ralph had some suspicions of the nature of the letter, but he did his errand faithfully, going directly from school to his father's store.
Mr. Preston was at first very much irritated by the teacher's complaints of Oscar's misconduct; and could he have taken the culprit in hand at the time, he would probably have handled him rather roughly.
But several days elapsed before he found it convenient to talk with Oscar about the matter, and by this time his pa.s.sion had subsided into anxiety and sorrow. He showed Oscar the letter, in which he, the eldest son, was severely censured, and his little brother was so highly commended. With tears in his eyes, he warned him of the dangers before him, and entreated him to change his course.
Oscar had never seen his father exhibit so much emotion before.
Usually, on such occasions, he was stern, if not pa.s.sionate; more ready to threaten and punish than to appeal to the heart and conscience.
Now, all this was changed, and sorrow seemed to have taken the place of anger. Oscar was somewhat affected by this unusual manifestation of parental anxiety. He was pretty well hardened against scoldings and threatenings, but he did not know how to meet this new form of rebuke.
He tried to conceal his feelings, however, and preserved a sullen silence throughout the interview.
This affair made no abiding impression upon Oscar. In a day or two it was forgotten, and the slight compunctions he felt had entirely disappeared. But the schoolmaster's complaint was soon followed by another that was quite as unpleasant. As Mrs. Preston was sitting at her sewing, one day, the door suddenly opened, and in came Bridget, the servant girl, with a face as red as rage and a hot fire could make it.
"I'll be goin' off this night, ma'am--I'll pack me chist, and not stop here any longer at all," said Bridget, in a tone that betokened her anger.
"Going off--what do you mean? You don't say you 're going to leave us so suddenly, Biddy?" inquired Mrs. Preston, with surprise.
"Yes, that I be," replied Bridget, very decidedly; "I 'll not be after staying in the same house with that big, ugly b'y, another day."
"Who, Oscar? What has he done now?" inquired Mrs. Preston.
"He's did nothing but bother the life out o' me ivery day since he coom back, that's jist all he 's did," replied Biddy. "Jist now, ma'am, he slopped over a hull basin o' dirty whater right on to the clane floor, and thin laffed at me, and sa.s.sed me, and called me, all sorts o' bad names--the little sa.s.s-box! It's not the like o' Bridget Mullikin that 'll put up with his dirty impidence another day. I 'd like to live with ye, ma'am, and Mister Pristen, good, nice man that he is but I can't stop to be trated like a dog by that sa.s.sy b'y."
"I 'll go and see what he has been about," said Mrs. Preston, laying down her work.
When they reached the kitchen, Oscar was not to be found. There was the puddle of dirty water upon the floor, however, and so far Bridget's story was corroborated. As she proceeded to wipe it up, she continued to speak in not very complimentary terms of the "ugly b'y," as she delighted to call Oscar. It was in vain that Mrs. Preston attempted to soothe her ruffled spirits. She refused to be comforted, and insisted upon taking her departure from the house that night.
Oscar did not make his appearance again until late in the afternoon.
When his mother called him to account for his treatment of Bridget, he denied the greater part of her story. He said that the basin of water was standing upon the floor, and that he accidentally hit it with his foot, and upset it. He denied that he called her bad names or was impudent, but he admitted that he laughed, to see her so angry. He also complained that she was as "cross as Bedlam" to him, and "jawed"
him whenever he entered the kitchen.
Mrs. Preston, puzzled by these contradictory stories, brought the two contending parties face to face, in hope of either eliciting the truth or effecting a treaty of peace between them. She failed in both objects, however. Bridget not only adhered to her first statement, but boldly accused Oscar of sundry other misdeeds that had come up in recollection since the first outbreak; while Oscar, on the other hand, stoutly denied most of her charges, and insisted that she was ill-natured, and irritated him in every possible way. The contest finally waxed so warm between them that Mrs. Preston was obliged to interpose, and to withdraw with Oscar.
Mrs. Preston never ascertained the real facts in the case. Candor compels me to say that Bridget's complaints were essentially true.
Knowing the poor Irish girl's weak side (her quick temper), Oscar had for some time taxed his ingenuity to torment her, for the sake of hearing her "sputter," as he termed it. He was not only impudent, and applied offensive names to her, but sometimes he purposely put her to extra labor and trouble by misplacing articles, making dirt about the house, &c. These things were a sad annoyance to Bridget, and she soon came to regard Oscar as "the plague of her life," and treated him accordingly. He did very wrong to annoy her in this way; and she was foolish to take so much notice of his hectoring. The ill-will thus established between them grew day by day, until it resulted in the open rupture just described. But Mrs. Preston did not give full credit to Bridget's story. She believed the difficulty was owing quite as much to Biddy's irritable temper and ignorance as to Oscar's impudence, and consequently the latter escaped with a slight reprimand. She also prevailed upon Bridget to remain with them the week out, thinking she would by that time get over her anger. But, to the surprise of all, when Sat.u.r.day night came, Bridget took her departure. She had got another "place," where she would be out of the reach of the provoking Oscar.
The week for the annual examination of the public schools soon arrived.
Oscar begged hard, but in vain, for permission to absent himself, on the eventful day that the grave committee and other distinguished visitors were to sit in judgment upon the condition of the school to which he belonged. But though he was present, he did not appear to much advantage among the "bright particular stars" of the day; and as one and another of the flower of his cla.s.s were called out, to receive the "Franklin medals," his name was not heard, and no silken ribbon, with silver medal attached, was hung around his neck.
The same day, in obedience to the orders of his father, but very much against his own inclination, Oscar applied to the head master for the certificate required of boys who present themselves for admission to the High School. The teacher seemed a little puzzled what reply to make. At length he said:
"Do you know what kind of a certificate is required?"
"Yes, sir," replied Oscar, who had read the advertis.e.m.e.nt in the paper that morning.
"The certificate must say that you are a boy of good character, and that your teacher believes you are qualified for admission to the High School," continued the master. "Now I want to ask you if you think I can honestly say that of you?"
Oscar hung his head in shame, but made no reply. It had turned out just as he feared it would.
"It is very hard to refuse such a request," continued the teacher; "but, really, if I should give you the certificate, I am afraid it would do you no good, while it might do me some harm, for I don't like to have my scholars rejected. I cannot honestly say that I think you are qualified for the High School; and besides your conduct has been such of late, that I do not see how I could give you a very high recommendation. I would advise you to give up the idea of applying for admission. I am very sorry it is so, but that will not help the matter."
What could Oscar say to this? He said nothing, but his looks betrayed the deep mortification he felt, and moved his teacher to pity, while he denied his request. Nor was this the end of Oscar's troubles. He had got to face his father, and to confess to him that he was found unworthy even to be a candidate for the school for which he had so long been preparing. In doing this, he smoothed over the matter as well as he could; but at best it was a bitter thing to him, and thus he began to experience some of the sad but natural effects of his own misconduct.
The long summer vacation had now commenced. Oscar wished to spend it at Brookdale, but his parents did not seem much inclined to yield to his wishes. They had not yet fully determined what to do with him; whether to send him to a private school, when the vacations were over, or to put him to work in some shop or store. Meanwhile, Oscar was idling away his time about the streets, and devoting all his energies to the pursuit of amus.e.m.e.nt. His favorite place of resort continued to be the hotel where Alfred Walton lived. Here he found congenial spirits in Alfred, and Andy the speller, and the several drivers and hostlers, with whom he was on intimate terms. Here, too, he often met with strangers who took his fancy.
At this time, a boy named Edward Mixer was boarding at the hotel. He had lately come to Boston from another city, and Oscar and Alfred were soon captivated by his free and easy manners, and his sociable qualities. He was between fifteen and sixteen years old, and represented that he was travelling about, to see the world. He said he had plenty of money, and should have a great deal more, when he became of age. He was fashionably dressed, and Oscar and Alfred felt proud of his acquaintance, and were soon on terms of intimacy with him.
It was not long before Oscar discovered that Edward was a very bad boy.
His conversation was low and profane, and he seemed to take special delight in relating sundry "sc.r.a.pes," in which he himself figured in a character that was something worse than mischievous, and bordered on the criminal. He "talked large," too, amazingly large; and Oscar and Alfred were at length forced to the reluctant conclusion that he was an unmitigated liar. But these were small faults, in their view. They considered Ned a capital fellow, and a right down good companion, in spite of these little drawbacks, and they sought his company as much as ever.
Ned spent a good deal of his time around the several railroad depots.
He seemed to have quite a mania for such places. Oscar and Alfred often accompanied him to these favorite old haunts of theirs. One morning, as the three were loitering around a depot, having nothing in particular to amuse themselves with, an excursion on foot into a neighboring town was proposed, and all readily agreed to the suggestion. They immediately set out, accompanied by Oscar's dog, Tiger. They walked along the railroad track, and crossed the river by the railroad bridge, thus saving their tolls, besides many extra steps.
They pa.s.sed several small sign-boards, on which was painted the warning, "_No Person allowed to cross this Bridge_;" but this did not check their progress, and as no one interfered with them, they were soon safely over the river. They still followed the track for some distance, until they had reached the open country, and then they turned off into the green fields.
There were many fine orchards and gardens on every side, but ripe fruits and berries were very scarce. Strawberries and cherries had pretty much disappeared, and it was not yet time for plums, peaches, and early apples and pears. Ned appeared to regret this very much.
"Just see there!" he exclaimed, as they approached a large garden, remote from any house, whose trees were loaded with green fruit. "What fine picking we should have, if it were only a few weeks later! I mean to come out here again next month, you see if I don't. We must mark this place; let me see; there's an old rough board fence--I shall remember that, I guess. Didn't you ever rob an orchard, Alf? I've robbed more than you could shake a stick at. I 'm a first-rate hand at it, I can tell you--never got caught in my life; but I've come pretty near it, though, a good many times. Hold on--I 'm going to get over the fence, and see what they 've got. Those plums over there look as if they were pretty near ripe. Come, Alf and Oscar, won't you get over?"
"You two may," said Oscar, "but I 'll stay here with Tiger. He might bark if we all got over, where he could n't see us."
Edward and Alfred were soon upon the other side of the fence. While they were exploring the garden, Oscar's attention was attracted to a dense thicket, from which two or three birds suddenly flew on his approach. He thought there might be a nest there, and concluded to see if he could find it. Carefully brushing aside the leaves and twigs, he began to hunt for the suspected nest, while Tiger stood looking on.
Absorbed in this occupation, he lost sight of his comrades.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Hunting for Birds' Nests.]
After searching for several minutes, Oscar found a small nest, within his reach, but it was empty. He turned to inform the other boys of his success, but they were nowhere to be seen. He walked along by the fence, but could see nothing of them. He was afraid to call to them, lest the owner of the garden might hear, and take the alarm. He listened, but could not hear them. He walked along still further, and kept his eyes wide open, but they were not to be seen. He concluded they were playing a trick upon him, and had hid themselves. If that was the game he thought, he would not worry himself about it. He accordingly turned about, and was going to sit down and wait for them to make their appearance, when he happened to espy them in a distant field, running at the top of their speed, with a man in full chase after them. It was soon evident that the boys were gaining on their pursuer; but they were approaching a brook, over which there was no bridge, and the man probably supposed that would bring them to a stand.
It did not, however, for they ran right through the shallow water, without stopping to think about it. The man did not think it prudent to follow their example, and he accordingly gave up the chase, and went back with dry feet.
After Edward and Alfred had got rid of their pursuer, they began to look around for Oscar. The latter, putting his fingers into his mouth, gave a loud and shrill whistle, which they immediately recognized, and answered in a similar way. Oscar started towards them, and taking a wide sweep through the fields, they all came out together upon the highway. They did not think it safe to remain long in the neighborhood, and so they hurried on towards Boston. It appeared, from Edward's story, that he and Alfred knocked a few hard peaches from a tree, while in the garden, but they proved unfit to eat. They also found some ripe currants, and were leisurely helping themselves, when they heard somebody ask them what they were about. They turned, and saw a man approaching; whereupon, without stopping to answer his question, they leaped over the fence, and took to their heels, the man following closely upon them. The conclusion of the race Oscar had witnessed.