Squire Green rubbed his hands as if he had been proposing a plan with special reference to the interest of the Waltons. Really he conceived that it would save him a considerable sum of money. He had in his employ a young man of eighteen, named Abner Kimball, to whom he was compelled to pay ten dollars a month. Harry, he reckoned, could be made to do about as much, though on account of his youth he had offered him but two dollars, and that not to be paid in cash.
Mr. Walton paused before replying to his proposal.
"You're a little too late," he said, at last, to Harry's great relief.
"Too late!" repeated the squire, hastily. "Why, you hain't hired out your boy to anybody else, have you?"
"No; but he has asked me to let him leave home, and I've agreed to it."
"Leave home? Where's he goin'?"
"He has not fully decided. He wants to go out and seek his fortune."
"He'll fetch up at the poorhouse," growled the squire.
"If he does not succeed, he will come home again."
"It's a foolish plan, neighbor Walton. Take my word for't. You'd better keep him here, and let him work for me."
"If he stayed at home, I should find work for him on my farm."
Mr. Walton would not have been willing to have Harry work for the squire, knowing well his meanness, and how poorly he paid his hired men.
"I wanted to help you pay for that cow," said the squire, crossly. "If you can't pay for't when the time comes you mustn't blame me."
"I shall blame no one. I can't foresee the future; but I hope to get together the money somehow."
"You mustn't ask for more time. Six months is a long time to give."
"I believe I haven't said anything about more time yet, Squire Green," said Hiram Walton, stiffly. "I don't see that you need warn me."
"I thought we might as well have an understandin' about it," said the squire. "So you won't hire out the boy?"
"No, I cannot, under the circumstances. If I did I should consider his services worth more than two dollars a month."
"I might give him two'n a half," said the squire, fancying it was merely a question of money.
"How much do you pay Abner Kimball?"
"Wal, rather more than that," answered the squire, slowly.
"You pay him ten dollars a month, don't you?"
"Wal, somewheres about that; but it's more'n he earns."
"If he is worth ten dollars, Harry would be worth four or six."
"I'll give three," said the squire, who reflected that even at that rate he would be saving considerable.
"I will leave it to Harry himself," said his father.
"Harry, you hear Squire Green's offer. What do you say? Will you go to work for him at three dollars a month?"
"I'd rather go away, as you told me I might, father."
"You hear the boy's decision, squire."
"Wal, wal," said the squire, a good deal disappointed--for, to tell the truth, he had told Abner he should not want him, having felt confident of obtaining Harry. "I hope you won't neither of ye regret it."
His tone clearly indicated that he really hoped and expected they would. "I bid ye good night."
"I'll hev the cow back ag'in," said the squire to himself. "He needn't hope no massy. If he don't hev the money ready for me when the time is up, he shan't keep her."
The next morning he was under the unpleasant necessity of reengaging Abner.
"Come to think on't, Abner," he said," I guess I'd like to hev you stay longer. There's more work than I reckoned, and I guess I'll hev to have somebody."
This was at the breakfast table. Abner looked around him, and after making sure that there was nothing eatable left, put down his knife and fork with the air of one who could have eaten more, and answered, deliberately: "Ef I stay I'll hev to hev more wages."
"More wages?" repeated Squire Green, in dismay. "More'n ten dollars?"
"Yes, a fellow of my age orter hey more'n that."
"Ten dollars is a good deal of money."
"I can't lay up a cent off'n it."
"Then you're extravagant."
"No I ain't. I ain't no chance to be. My cousin, Paul Bickford, is gettin' fifteen dollars, and he ain't no better worker'n I am."
"Fifteen dollars!" ejaculated, the squire, as if he were naming some extraordinary sum. "I never heerd of such a thing."
"I'll work for twelve'n a half," said Abner, "and I won't work for no less."
"It's too much," said the squire. "Besides, you agreed to come for ten."
"I know I did; but this is a new engagement."
Finally Abner reduced his terms to twelve dollars, an advance of two dollars a month, to which the squire was forced to agree, though very reluctantly. He thought, with an inward groan, that but for his hasty dismissal of Abner the night before, on the supposition that he could obtain Harry in his place, he would not have been compelled to raise Abner's wages. This again resulted indirectly from selling the cow, which had put the new plan into his head. When the squire reckoned up this item, amounting in six months to twelve dollars, he began to doubt whether his cow trade had been quite so good after all.
"I'll get it out of Hiram Walton some way," he muttered. "He's a great fool to let that boy have his own way. I thought to be sure he'd oblige me arter the favor I done him in sellin' him the cow. There's gratitude for you!"
The squire's ideas about gratitude, and the manner in which he had earned it, were slightly mixed, it must be acknowledged. But, though he knew very well that he had been influenced only by the consideration of his own interest, he had a vague idea that he was entitled to some credit for his kindness in consenting to sell his neighbor a cow at an extortionate price.
Harry breathed a deep sigh of relief after Squire Green left the room.
"I was afraid you were going to hire me out to the squire, father," he said.
"You didn't enjoy the prospect, did you?" said his father, smiling.
"Shouldn't think he would," said his brother Tom.
"The squire's awful stingy. Abner Kimball told me he had the meanest breakfast he ever ate anywhere."
"I don't think any of his household are in danger of contracting the gout from luxurious living."
"I guess not," said Tom.
"I think," said Jane, slyly, "you'd better hire out Tom to the squire."
"The squire would have the worst of the bargain," said his father, with a good-natured hit at Tom's sluggishness.
"He wouldn't earn his board, however poor it might be."
"The squire didn't seem to like it very well," said Mrs. Walton, looking up from her mending.
"No, he fully expected to get Harry for little or nothing. It was ridiculous to offer two dollars a month for a boy of his age."
"I am afraid he will be more disposed to be hard on you, when the time comes to pay for the cow. He told you he wouldn't extend the time."
"He is not likely to after this; but, wife, we won't borrow trouble. Something may turn up to help us."
"I am sure I shall be able to help you about it, father," said Harry.
"I hope so, my son, but don't feel too certain. You may not succeed as well as you anticipate."
"I know that, but I mean to try at any rate."
"If you don't, Tom will," said his sister.
"Quit teasin' a feller, Jane," said Tom. "I ain't any lazier'n you are. If I am, I'll eat my head."
"Then you'll have to eat it, Tom," retorted Jane; "and it won't be much loss to you, either."
"Don't dispute, children," said Mrs. Walton. "I expect you both will turn over a new leaf by and by."
Meanwhile, Harry was busily reading the "Life of Franklin." The more he read, the more hopeful he became as to the future.