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walk another way. Conscience made cowards of them. However, they knew it would be useless for them to object to the favourite walk, so, with heavy hearts, they prepared to accompany their schoolfellows. As is often the case with those whose consciences are ill at ease, these unhappy boys endeavoured to conceal their uneasiness under a mask of unusual gaiety. They ran into the nut wood, shouting with all their might, and laughing loud when there was nothing to laugh about. They proposed a game at hunt-the-hare, and carried on the game so violently that the usher, who was with them, was obliged to interfere, and recommend a little more moderation in their sport. Alas! “the laughter of fools,” as the Bible tells us, is like “ the crackling of thorns under a pot,”—a sudden blaze, a great noise, and then all is over. So it was with the glee
of William, Harry, and Frank. While all the rest of their playfellows were as happy as a holiday, a pleasant walk, a fine day, and light hearts could make them, the three self - accused culprits were wretched with all their attempts at mirth.
The Crossway Willow was gained at last; and then, of course, the boys_all but Frank, William, and Harry—could not be satisfied until they had paid a visit to dame Watson and her cake shop.
“I shall stay here while you go,” said Harry ; “ for I am too tired to go any further.” “ And so am I,” said Frank.
William was rather more courageous ; or, it may be, he was afraid of being suspected, supposing any harm had happened to poor Dick; so he went on with the rest. We must accompany them too, and leave, for a while, Frank and Harry under the Crossway Willow.
All William's vivacity was gone when he left his two companions in folly behind him. He lagged behind the other boys, and pretended to be searching for blackberries in the hedge; and when they arrived at dame Watson's cottage, he hesitated for more than a minute before he could follow them into the little shop. At last he made a desperate effort, and stepped over the threshold in time enough to hear what realized his fears, and smote him to the heart with remorse.
“Ah, deary me!” the poor, lame, old woman was saying; “I am afraid I have not much that will suit you, to-day. My stock is very small now."
“How is that, dame ? ” asked one of her young customers.
“My poor old man- ” she said, and then burst into loud sobs which, for a time, stopped her utterance. But, becoming
presently more composed, she gave the listening, and we are glad to say, commiserating schoolboys, the following story of her misfortunes.
She said her husband had turned his donkeys out into their little field to graze; but they, “ naughty things!” were not satisfied with that, but must needs break through the hedge, and gallop quite away. How long they had been gone she could not tell ; but gone they were late in the afternoon. So poor Dick took his stick in hand, and went to look after them. “He was gone a long, long time,” continued the poor, crippled woman, “and when he did come back, after dark, it was without the donkeys; and, dear sirs, you should have seen what a way he was in ! He had been all over the Salts, and there had been a high tide that day. He was wet through to the skin; for his poor
eye-sight, you know, is but little use to him, and he had got into the wet ditches before he saw them. Oh! it was a mercy he was not drowned; for the Salts, you know, are very dangerous at times. And so tired he was, poor old man, and in such a taking about the tiresome donkeys, I thought he would go mad.”
When William heard all this, no wonder that the small remains of his hardi. hood forsook him, and that he felt a sickly faintness creeping over him. “Oh," he thought, “suppose poor, blind Dick had really been drowned-I should have been a murderer, and never have been happy again!”
But Mrs. Watson's tale of misfortune was not yet ended. She went on to say, that her husband was very unwell all that night with pains in his limbs, and vexation about his strayed donkeys; and that