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Great was the dismay of Mrs. Rushton when she heard from Robert that he was discharged from the factory. She was a timid woman, and rather apt to take desponding views of the future.
"Oh, Robert, what is going to become of us?" she exclaimed, nervously. "We have only ten dollars in the house, and you know how little I can earn by braiding straw. I really think you were too hasty and impetuous."
"Don't be alarmed, my dear mother," said Robert, soothingly. "I am sorry I have lost my place, but there are other things I can do besides working in the factory. We are not going to starve yet."
"But, suppose you can't find any work?" said his mother.
"Then I'll help you braid straw," said Robert, laughing. "Don't you think I might learn after a while?"
"I don't know but you might," said Mrs. Rushton, dubiously; "but the pay is very poor."
"That's so, mother. I shan't, take to braiding straw except as a last resort."
"Wouldn't Mr. Davis take you back into the factory if I went to him and told him how much we needed the money?"
"Don't think of such a thing, mother," said Robert, hastily, his brown cheek flushing. "I am too proud to beg to be taken back."
"But it wouldn't be you."
"I would sooner ask myself than have you do it, mother. No; the superintendent sent me away for no good reason, and he must come and ask me to return before I'll do it."
"I am afraid you are proud, Robert."
"So I am, mother; but it is an honest pride. Have faith in me for a week, mother, and see if I don't earn something in that time. I don't expect to make as much as I earned at the factory; but I'll earn something, you may depend upon that. Now, how would you like to have some fish for supper?"
"I think I should like it. It is a good while since we had any."
"Then, I'll tell you what--I'll borrow Will Paine's boat, if he'll let me have it, and see if I can't catch something."
"When will you be home, Robert?"
"It will depend on my success in fishing. It'll be half-past nine, very likely, before I get fairly started, so I think I'd better take my dinner with me. I'll be home some time in the afternoon."
"I hope you'll be careful, Robert. You might get upset."
"I'll take care of that, mother. Besides, I can swim like a duck."
Robert went out into the garden, and dug some worms for bait. Meanwhile, his mother made a couple of sandwiches, and wrapped them in a paper for his lunch. Provided thus, he walked quickly to the house of Squire Paine, and rang the bell.
"Is Will home?" he asked.
"Here I am, old fellow!" was heard from the head of the stairs; and William Paine, a boy of our hero's size and age, appeared. "Come right up."
"How did you happen to be at leisure?" he asked. "I supposed you were at the factory."
"I'm turned off."
"Turned off! How's that?"
"Through the influence of Halbert Davis."
"Halbert is a disgusting sneak. I always despised him, and, if he's done such a mean thing, I'll never speak to him again. Tell me all about it."
This Robert did, necessarily bringing in Hester's name.
"He needn't think my sister will walk with him," said Will. "If she does, I'll cut her off with a shilling. She'd rather walk with you, any day."
Robert blushed a little; for, though he was too young to be in love, he thought his friend's sister the most attractive girl he had even seen, and, knowing how she was regarded in the village, he naturally felt proud of her preference for himself over a boy who was much richer.
"What are you going to do now?" asked Will, with interest.
"The first thing I am going to do is to catch some fish, if you'll lend me your boat."
"Lend you my boat? Of course I will! I'll lend it to you for the next three months."
"But you want it yourself?"
"No. Haven't you heard the news? I'm going to boarding school."
"It's a fact. I'm packing my trunk now. Come upstairs, and superintend the operation."
"I can't stay long. But, Will, are you in earnest about the boat?"
"To be sure I am. I was meaning to ask you if you'd take care of it for me. You see, I can't carry it with me, and you are the only fellow I am willing to lend it to."
"I shall be very glad of the chance, Will. I've been wanting a boat for a long time, but there wasn't much chance of my getting one. Now I shall feel rich. But isn't this a sudden idea, your going to school?"
"Rather. There was a college classmate of father's here last week, who's at the head of such a school, and he made father promise to send me. So I'm to start to-morrow morning. If it wasn't for that, and being up to my ears in getting ready, I'd go out fishing with you."
"I wish you could."
"I must wait till vacation. Here is the boat key."
Robert took the key with satisfaction. The boat owned by his friend was a stanch, round-bottomed boat, of considerable size, bought only two months before, quite the best boat on the river. It was to be at his free disposal, and this was nearly the same thing as owning it. He might find it very useful, for it occurred to him that, if he could find nothing better to do, he could catch fish every day, and sell at the village store such as his mother could not use. In this way he would be earning something, and it would be better than being idle.
He knew where the boat was usually kept, just at the foot of a large tree, whose branches drooped over the river. He made his way thither, and, fitting the key in the padlock which confined the boat, soon set it free. The oars he had brought with him from his friend's house.
Throwing in the oars, he jumped in, and began to push off, when he heard himself called, and, looking up, saw Halbert Davis standing on the bank.
"Get out of that boat!" said Halbert.
"What do you mean?" demanded Robert.
"You have no business in that boat! It doesn't belong to you!"
"You'd better mind your own business, Halbert Davis. You have nothing to do with the boat."
"It's William Paine's boat."
"Thank you for the information. I supposed it was yours, from the interest you seem to take in it."
"It will be. He's going to let me have it while he's away at school."
"Indeed! Did he tell you so?"
"I haven't asked Ma yet; but I know he will let me have it."
"I don't think he will."
"If you ever want to borrow this boat, you'll have to apply to me."
"You haven't bought it?" asked Halbert, in surprise. "You're too poor."
"I'm to have charge of the boat while Will Paine is away."
"Did he say you might?" asked Halbert, in a tone of disappointment and mortification.
"Of course he did."
"I don't believe it," said Halbert, suspiciously.
"I don't care what you believe. Go and ask him yourself, if you are not satisfied; and don't meddle with what is none of your business;"
"You're an impudent rascal."
"Have you got another cane you'd like to have broken?" asked Robert, significantly.
Halbert looked after him, enviously, as he rowed the boat out into the stream. He had asked his father to buy him a boat, but the superintendent's speculations had not turned out very well of late, and he had been deaf to his son's persuasions, backed, though they were, by his mother's influence. When Halbert heard that William Paine was going to boarding school, he decided to ask him for the loan of his boat during his absence, as the next best thing. Now, it seemed that he had been forestalled, and by the boy he hated. He resolved to see young Paine himself, and offer him two dollars for the use of his boat during the coming term. Then he would have the double satisfaction of using the boat and disappointing Robert.
He made his way to the house of Squire Paine, and, after a brief pause, was admitted, He was shown into the parlor, and Will Paine came down to see him.
"How are you, Davis?" he said, nodding, coolly, but not offering his hand.
"I hear you are going to boarding school?"
"Yes; I go to-morrow."
"I suppose you won't take your boat with you?"
"I'll give you two dollars for the use of it; the next three months?"
"I can't accept your offer. Robert Bashton is to have it."
"But he doesn't pay you anything for it. I'll give you three dollars, if you say so?"
"You can't have it for three dollars, or ten. I have promised it to my friend, Robert Rushton, and I shall not take it back."
"You may not know," said Halbert, maliciously, "that your friend was discharged from the factory this morning for misconduct."
"I know very well that he was discharged, and through whose influence, Halbert Davis," said Will, pointedly. "I like him all the better for his misfortune, and so I am sore will my sister."
Halbert's face betrayed the anger and jealousy he felt, but he didn't dare to speak to the lawyer's son as he had to the factory boy.
"Good-morning!" he said, rising to go.
"Good-morning!" said young Paine, formally.
Halbert felt, as he walked homeward, that his triumph over Robert was by no means complete.
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