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The more Dick thought of the enterprise which he had undertaken, the more he disliked it. He relished fun as much as any one, but he could not conceal from himself that he would be subjecting Frank to a great deal of trouble and annoyance. As he had told John, Frank had always treated him well, and this thought made the scheme disagreeable to him.
Still, John had promised him two dollars for his co-operation, and this, in his circumstances, was an important consideration. Unfortunately, Dick had contracted a fondness for smoking—a habit which his scanty supply of pocket-money rarely enabled him to indulge. This windfall would keep him in cigars for some time. It was this reflection which finally turned the wavering scale of Dick's irresolution, and determined him to embrace John's offer.
The moon was now at the full, and the nights were bright and beautiful. Dick decided that it would be best to defer the accomplishment of his purpose till later in the month, when darker nights would serve as a screen, and render detection more difficult.
By and by a night came which he thought suitable. A few stars were out, but they gave only a faint glimmer of light, not more than was necessary.
Dick went to bed at nine o'clock, as usual. By an effort he succeeded in keeping awake, feeling that if he once yielded to drowsiness, he should probably sleep on till morning. At half-past nine all in the house were abed. It was not till eleven, however, that Dick felt it safe to leave the house. He dressed himself expeditiously and in silence, occasionally listening to see if he could detect any sound in the room above, where his parents slept. Finally he raised the window softly, and jumped out. He crept out to the road, and swiftly bent his steps toward Mr. Frost's house.
As this was not more than a third of a mile distant, a very few minutes sufficed to bring him to his destination. Dick's feelings were not the most comfortable. Though he repeatedly assured himself that it was only fun he was engaged in, he felt very much like a burglar about to enter a house.
Arrived before the farmhouse, he looked cautiously up to the windows, but could see no light burning.
"The coast is clear," he thought. "I wish it were all over, and I were on my way home."
Dick had not reconnoitered thoroughly. There was a light burning in a window at the other end of the house.
The pig-pen was a small, rough, unpainted building, with a yard opening from it. Around the yard was a stone wall, which prevented the pigs from making their escape. They were now, as Dick could with difficulty see, stretched out upon the floor of the pen, asleep.
Dick proceeded to remove a portion of the stones forming the wall. It was not very easy or agreeable work, the stones being large and heavy. At length he effected a gap which he thought would be large enough for the pigs to pass through. He next considered whether it would be better to disturb the slumbers of the pigs by poking them with a hoe, or wait and let them find out the avenue of escape in the morning. He finally decided to stir them up. He accordingly went round to the door and, seizing a hoe, commenced punching one of the pigs vigorously.
The pig whose slumbers were thus rudely disturbed awoke with a loud grunt, and probably would have looked astonished and indignant if nature had given him the power of expressing such emotions.
"Get out, there, you lazy beast," exclaimed Dick.
The pig, as was perhaps only natural under the circumstances, seemed reluctant to get up, and was by no means backward in grunting his discontent. Dick was earnestly engaged in overcoming his repugnance to locomotion, when he was startled by hearing the door of the building, which he had carefully closed, open slowly. Looking up hastily, the hoe still in his hand, his dismayed glance fell upon Frank Frost, entering with a lantern.
A half-exclamation of surprise and dismay escaped him. This called the attention of Frank, who till that moment was unsuspicious of Dick's presence.
"Dick Bumstead!" he exclaimed, as soon as he recognized the intruder. "What brings you here at this time of night?"
"A mean errand, Frank," returned Dick, with a wholesome feeling of shame. He had made up his mind to a confession.
"You didn't come here to—to——" Here Frank stopped short.
"No, not to steal. I ain't quite so mean as that comes to. I come to let out your pigs, so that in the morning you would have a long chase after them."
"But what could put such a thing into your head, Dick?" asked Frank, in great surprise.
"I thought it would be a good joke."
"It wouldn't have been much of a joke to me," said Frank.
"No; and to tell the truth it wouldn't have been to me. The fact is, and I don't mind telling it, that I should never have thought of such a thing if somebody else hadn't put it into my head."
"Yes; I'd a little rather not tell who that somebody is, for I don't believe he would like to have you know."
"Why didn't he come himself?" asked Frank. "It seems to me he's been making a catspaw of you."
"Yes, haven't you read the story? A monkey wanted to draw some chestnuts out of the hot ashes, but, feeling a decided objection to burning his own paws in the operation, drew a cat to the fire and thrust her paw in."
"I don't know but it's been so in my case," said Dick. "I didn't want to do it, and that's a fact. I felt as mean as could be when I first came into your yard to-night. But he offered me two dollars to do it, and it's so seldom I see money that it tempted me."
Frank looked puzzled. "I don't see," he said thoughtfully, "how anybody should think it worth while to pay two dollars for such a piece of mischief."
"Perhaps he don't like you, and wanted to plague you," suggested Dick.
The thought at once flashed upon Frank that John Haynes must be implicated. He was the only boy who was likely to have two dollars to invest in this way, and the suggestion offered by Dick of personal enmity was sufficient to supply a motive for his action.
"I believe I know who it is, now, Dick," he said quietly. "However, I won't ask you to tell me. There is one boy in the village who thinks he has cause of complaint against me, though I have never intentionally injured him."
"What shall you do about it, Frank?" asked Dick, a little awkwardly, for he did not want his own agency made public.
"Nothing," answered Frank. "I would rather take no notice of it."
"At any rate, I hope you won't think hard of me," said Dick. "You have always treated me well, and I didn't want to trouble you. But the money tempted me. I meant to buy cigars with it."
"You don't smoke, Dick?"
"Yes, when I get a chance."
"I wouldn't if I were you. It isn't good for boys like you and me. It is an expensive habit, and injurious, too."
"I don't know but you are right, Frank," said Dick candidly.
"I know I am. You can leave off now, Dick, better than when you are older."
At this moment a voice was heard from the house, calling "Frank!"
"I came out for some herbs," said Frank hurriedly. "Jacob isn't very well, and mother is going to make him some herb tea. I won't mention that I have seen you."
"All right. Thank you, Frank."
A minute later Frank went into the house, leaving Dick by himself.
"Now," thought Dick, "I must try to remedy the mischief I have done. I'm afraid I've got a job before me."
He went round to the gap in the wall, and began to lay it again as well as he could. In lifting the heavy stones he began to realize how much easier it is to make mischief than to repair damages afterward. He pulled and tugged, but it took him a good half-hour, and by that time he felt very tired.
"My clothes must be precious dirty," he said to himself. "At any rate, my hands are. I wonder where the pump is. But then it won't do to pump; it'll make too much noise. Oh, here's some water in the trough."
Dick succeeded in getting some of the dirt off his hands, which he dried on his handkerchief. Then with a feeling of relief, he took the road toward home.
Although he may be said to have failed most signally in his design, he felt considerably better than if he had succeeded.
"Frank's a good fellow," he said to himself. "Some boys would have been mad, and made a great fuss. But he didn't seem angry at all, not even with John Haynes, and did all he could to screen me. Well I'm glad I didn't succeed."
Dick reached home without any further mischance, and succeeded in crawling in at the window without making any sound loud enough to wake up his parents.
The next day John, who had been informed of his intention to make the attempt the evening previous, contrived to meet him.
"Well, Dick," he said eagerly, "what success last night?"
"None at all," answered Dick.
"Didn't you try?"
"What prevented your succeeding, then?"
"Frank came out to get some herbs to make tea for the hired man, and so caught me."
"You didn't tell him who put you up to it?" said John apprehensively.
"No," said Dick coolly; "I don't do such things."
"That's good," said John, relieved. "Was he mad?"
"No, he didn't make any fuss. He asked what made me do it, and I told him somebody else put it into my head."
"You did! I thought you said you didn't."
"I didn't tell who that somebody was, but Frank said he could guess."
"He can't prove it," said John hastily.
"I don't think he'll try," said Dick. "The fact is, John, Frank's a good fellow, and if you want to get anybody to do him any mischief hereafter, you'd better not apply to me."
"I don't know as he's any better than other boys," said John, sneering. He did not enjoy hearing Frank's praises.
"He's better than either of us, I'm sure of that," said Dick decidedly.
"Speak for yourself, Dick Bumstead," said John haughtily. "I wouldn't lower myself by a comparison with him. He's only a laborer, and will grow up a clodhopper."
"He's my friend, John Haynes," said Dick stoutly, "and if you've got anything else to say against him, you'll oblige me by going farther off."
John left in high dudgeon.
That day, to his father's surprise, Dick worked with steady industry, and did not make a single attempt to shirk.
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