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As they were walking home, and talking about various matters, Edward suddenly gave the conversation a new turn, by inquiring:
"Boys, do you want to go into a grand speculation with me?"
"Yes, what is it?" was the response of both the others.
"We should make something handsome out of it, but we should have to run some risk," continued Edward. "I've got the scheme all laid out, so that I know just how to go to work. But it's no use talking about it.
I don't believe either of you have got pluck enough to go into it."
"I 've got pluck--the real, genuine article; try me, and see if I have n't," said Alfred.
"So have I," said Oscar; "I should like to have you show me a boy that's got more pluck than I have, when I get stirred up."
"Pooh, you don't know what pluck is, neither of you," replied Edward.
"What would you do if a policeman should nab you?"
"I should run, just as _you_ did, when the man caught you stealing fruit," said Oscar, with a laugh. "That's a specimen of _your_ pluck, aint it?"
"But what is the speculation you were telling about?" inquired Alfred.
"I guess I shan't tell you about it now," replied Edward. "I 'm afraid you would n't keep it to yourselves."
"Yes we will. _I_ will at any rate," said Alfred.
"So will I," added Oscar.
"If I let you into the secret, and you should blab it out, I would n't mind killing both of you," said Edward, with forced gravity, which he could not long maintain, it gradually relaxing into a smile. "I mean what I say," he added, "you needn't laugh at it."
Both the others renewed their promise to keep the matter a secret; but Edward, after talking about his scheme a quarter of an hour longer, and exciting the curiosity of the others to the highest point, finally informed them that he could not let them into the secret then, but that he would tell them all about it in a few days, if he was sure that they would keep it to themselves.
Oscar saw Edward almost every day, and often inquired about his speculation, but got no definite answer. He and Alfred both felt very curious to know what it was; but though expectation was on tiptoe, it was not gratified. Edward a.s.sured them, however, that things were nearly ready, and that in a few days he would let them into the mysterious scheme.
Oscar's uncle, from Brookdale, was now in the city, and was stopping for a few days at Mr. Preston's. He no sooner arrived, than Oscar applied to his parents for permission to return with him to Maine; but they did not give much encouragement to his proposal, although his uncle said he should like to have him make his family another visit.
Oscar, however, daily renewed his request, for he believed that he should yet accomplish his object by teasing.
The day before Oscar's uncle was to return to his home, a gentleman called into Mr. Preston's store, and told him he wished to see him alone. Having with drawn to a private room, the stranger introduced himself as an officer of the police.
"You have a son fourteen or fifteen years old?" inquired the officer.
"Yes, I have," replied Mr. Preston.
"Are you aware that he is getting into bad company?" continued the officer.
"No, sir," said Mr. Preston.
"Well," resumed the other, "I 've called to acquaint you of a few facts that have come to my knowledge, and you can act in the matter as you think best. There is a young fellow stopping at the ---- Hotel, who came to this city a few weeks ago, and who calls himself Edward Mixer.
He is a little larger than your son, and is well dressed, and looks like a respectable boy; but for a week or two past we have suspected that he was a rogue. He hangs around the railroad depots, and as several persons have had their pockets picked, when getting out of the cars, since he made his appearance, we began to watch him. We have got no evidence against him yet; but yesterday I pointed him out to a New York policeman, who happened to be here, and he says he knows him well.
It seems he is a regular pickpocket by profession, and has served a term at Blackwell's Island.  He was liberated last month, and came on here to follow the business where he isn't known. But we keep a sharp eye on him, and as we have noticed that your son is quite intimate with him, I thought it my duty to inform you of it. I don't suppose your boy knows the real character of this fellow, or has anything to do with his roguery; but it isn't safe for him to be in such company, and I thought you ought to know what is going on."
Mr. Preston thanked the officer very cordially for the information, and promised to see that Oscar was immediately put out of the way of danger from this source. When he went home at noon, he had a long private interview with his son, and informed him of the disclosures the officer had made. Oscar was not a little astonished to learn that the genteel and sociable Ned Mixer, whose company he prized so highly, was a thief by trade, and was fresh from a prison. He a.s.sured his father that he knew nothing of all this. This was true; but after all Oscar knew too much of the character of Ned to believe him to be a good boy, or a safe companion. He had heard him swear and lie. He had also heard him sneer at virtue, and boast of deeds that no well-ordered conscience would approve. And yet he courted his company, and considered him a "capital fellow"! O, foolish boy!
But Oscar's plea of ignorance did not fully excuse him, even in the eye of his father, who did not know how little force that plea really had.
"I don't suppose you knew his character," said Mr. Preston; "but are there not good boys enough in the neighborhood for you to a.s.sociate with--boys that have always lived here and are well known--without your cultivating the acquaintance of every straggler and vagabond that comes along? I wish you would not make yourself so intimate with Tom, d.i.c.k, and Harry, before you know anything about them. I 've cautioned you against this a good many times, and now I hope that you 'll see there is some cause for it. If this intimacy had gone on a few weeks longer, it might have ruined you and disgraced your mother and me."
After consultation with his wife and brother, Mr. Preston concluded to let Oscar go down to Brookdale; and remain until they could make some permanent arrangements for him elsewhere. He did not think it safe for him to remain longer exposed to the temptations of the city. He charged Oscar not to speak again to Ned, and not to inform any one of the facts he had learned about him, lest it might thwart the efforts of the police to detect his rogueries. On second thought, he concluded to take Oscar to the store with him that afternoon, to prevent the possibility of an interview between him and Ned. Oscar thus remained under the eye of his father through the day. In the evening he packed his valise for the journey, and the next morning he started for Brookdale with his uncle.
A day or two after Oscar's departure, Ned was arrested in the act of picking a lady's pocket at a railroad depot. Being unable to obtain bail, he was committed for trial. When his case came up in court, he was brought in guilty; and it appearing, from the testimony of the officers, that, though young, he was quite old in crime, he was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction.
Oscar never ascertained the nature of Ned's "grand speculation," and probably it was well for him that he did not. Had he been let into the secret, and had the scheme been carried into effect at the time it was first talked of, I might have been obliged to add another and a still sadder chapter to the history of "THE BOY WHO HAD HIS OWN WAY."
 The New York Penitentiary.