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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 mo 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."
“ Plait straw !” exclaimed Stephen; "what do you do that for?"
“For lots of things,” replied Frank: “ baskets, and hats, and such-like; mother brings the straw from Oldham, and I get so much a-yard for plaiting it. It's very nice work for winter evenings.”
“ I should have thought it was work for girls!” said Stephen, contemptuously.
“Well, I suppose any one could do it who had a mind to,” replied Frank, in a merry voice; “ there is not any particular reason why boys should not plait as well as girls. But I'll tell you why I do it, Stephen. You know this has been a hard winter, on account of everything being so dear. I know it has been so for you, as well as for us, for I heard your mother saying the other day that she had been driven nearly wild with the price of provisions, and that it was enough to ruin any one, to , have to pay so dear for everything. And we have felt it all the more from having had so much illness in the house. Well, mother has got a friend at Oldham, and she was telling her one day how difficult it was to get on down here, and her friend said she thought she could find plenty of employment for us children, if we were old enough to plait straw. Mother knew it was no use setting a little thing like our Susan to such a work as that, but she thought I might do it when all my lessons
were learned, and I am glad enough to do anything to help her. She is a real good mother to us, and I am sure father says true, when he tells us we ought to do our best for her—especially, too,” he added gravely, “ when we think what a loss she has had in our Mary.”
Just at this moment the boys reached a stile, and Stephen remarking that it would be a short cut, announced his intention of getting over it, and going across the fields to his own house. Frank wished him good-by, and as soon as he had parted from him, set off at a brisk pace, and ran along the road as fast as he could, until he reached his own cottage, when he stopped to scrape the snow from his shoes, and went in. It was just the sort of cottage one would have expected a rosy-faced, merry-looking boy like Frank Elston to live in, and the woman whom he greeted with a hearty “ Well, mother!” was just the woman, whom one would have expected to see as the mother of such a tidily dressed, healthy-looking lad. She was standing at the wash-tub, busily engaged in washing her children's clothes, and superintending at the same time the movements of a little girl of about six years of age, who was carefully blowing the fire.
“Well, Frank,” replied his mother in return, “ I am glad you are come, for I have been wanting you so much!”
“ Have you, mother? then I'm glad I made haste home. And only see what a famous ball I have brought with me! The Parson brought a lot of them to-day, and gave one to every boy who was at the top of his class. I hurried home on purpose to give Will a game before dark.” • At the sight of the ball, Will came out of the corner where he was amusing himself with an old top of his brother's, and begged that the game might be begun at once.
“Wait a minute, Will,” said his mother. “ Frank will give you a play by and by; but I want him to do something for me first. I have been waiting for you, Frank, to go across the field and fetch me some water from Farmer Jones's pond. The well is frozen, and we must wait till father comes in to break the ice.”
Will begged to have the ball, but Frank shook his head good-naturedly.
“ No, no, Will; I can't let you have my new ball, for me never to see it again. We'll put it on the shelf, and when I come back we'll have a famous game.”
And Frank placed the fine leather ball on a wooden shelf far above little Will's reach. Will knew it was no use to cry for it, for when he was told he could not have a thing, then he knew he must do without it; but he knew, too, that