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" Then homeward all take off their several way;
The youngling cottagers petiré to rest;
For them and for their little ones provide ;
“ How horribly cold it is !” exclaimed in a whining, petulant voice, a boy of about fourteen years of age, as in company with a troop of other lads he emerged from a stone schoolhouse that stood upon a village green, and prepared to take his way homewards. He certainly only said what was true, for the snow lay thick upon the ground, and there was a biting frost, and very disagreeable he
and all the other boys seemed to find it as they came forth from their warm schoolroom, and faced the piercing wind of that bleak December afternoon. “How horribly cold it is !” again exclaimed the young lad; “I wish there was no such thing as winter, that I do.”
“ It just is cold,” replied a merry voice behind him ; “but I think, if we had no such thing as winter, we should lose a good deal of fun, too— all our skating on Farmer Jones's pond, and our famous snow-balling. Come, Stephen, you and I go the same road. Let us have a walking-match, and see which gets to the turnpike first. It's the best thing in the world to warm one's blood.”
“It's all very well, Frank, for you to talk about walking-matches; my feet are so dead I can scarcely creep, much less walk.”
“ Well,” replied Frank, “a good run would bring them to life again, and set you to rights in no time. Come, let us set off.”
But there was evidently no idea of setting off in Stephen Barton's mind that afternoon, and Frank Elston did not quite like to leave him alone in his misery, and start off by himself; all the other boys having dispersed in different directions towards their own homes.
Frank Elston and Stephen Barton lived at some distance from the school, in a little hamlet
which lay on the outskirts of the village; and from having been long accustomed to tread the same road to school day by day, to sit under the same roof, and learn the same tasks from the same master, they had grown to be very intimate, and were each other's constant companions. Friends they could never be, for they were utterly unlike in every respect, and had no tastes in common. One had only to look at the two boys, as they walked together towards their homes that December afternoon, to see how little resemblance there was between them. In person there certainly was not any. Frank was a stout lad, with a bright rosy face, and an open ingenuous expression which was very winning. Stephen was a tall slight youth, with a long pale face, and a listless, melancholy expression. He looked as if things went habitually wrong with him, while Frank appeared to have discovered the secret of making the best of it, whatever might happen. Cold as the day was, it did not seem to have any power to chill the warmth of his bright young spirit, for he laughed gaily as he rubbed his blue fingers, and trudged merrily along, checking his speed every now and then to allow Stephen to keep up with him, in order that they might continue their conversation together.
“ What a kind man the Parson is, to be sure !"
he said; “ was it not good of him to give us those fine balls ? I knew he would not forget the promise he made last week to bring a present in his pocket next time he came, for every boy he should find at the head of his class. I am glad he found me at the top of mine. And you were in luck too, Stephen. I have wanted a ball this long time, and this is a famous strong one. It will last me many a day. Won't little Will be pleased when I give him a good game of play with it in our yard ? Let us make haste on, Stephen, or the evening will shut in before we are there." .. “ So much the better if it does,” replied Stephen ; “ for then it will be nearer bed-time. It's the best part of these cold winter days that they are soon over, and one has done with them. Bed is about the only place one can be comfortable in such weather as this, and the sooner the time comes for getting to it, the better.”
“Oh, then, I don't at all agree with you,” replied Frank, quickly. “I am not particularly fond of going to bed at any time, but least of all on winter evenings. We do have such a pleasant time of it! Father comes home early from work, and mother makes up a bright bit of fire, and after we've had supper, we all sit round so comfortable, and father tells us stories, or sometimes he reads to us, while Susan knits, and I plait straw.”