"Well, Frank," said his father at supper-time, "I've been speaking to Mr. Maynard this afternoon about your plan."
"What did he say?" asked Frank, dropping his knife and fork in his eagerness.
"After he had thought a little, he spoke of it favorably. He said that, being too old to go himself, he should be glad to do anything in his power to facilitate my going, if I thought it my duty to do so."
"Didn't he think Frank rather young for such an undertaking?" asked Mrs. Frost doubtfully.
"Yes, he did; but still he thought with proper advice and competent assistance he might get along. For the first, he can depend upon Mr. Maynard and myself; as for the second, Mr. Maynard suggested a good man, who is seeking a situation as farm laborer."
"Is it anybody in this town?" asked Frank.
"No, it is a man from Brandon, named Jacob Carter. Mr. Maynard says he is honest, industrious, and used to working on a farm. I shall write to him this evening."
"Then you have decided to go!" exclaimed Frank and his mother in concert.
"It will depend in part upon the answer I receive from this man Carter. I shall feel if he agrees to come, that I can go with less anxiety."
"How we shall miss you!" said his wife, in a subdued tone.
"And I shall miss you quite as much. It will be a considerable sacrifice for all of us. But when my country has need of me, you will feel that I cannot honorably stay at home. As for Frank, he may regard me as his substitute."
"My substitute!" repeated Frank, in a questioning tone.
"Yes, since but for you, taking charge of the farm in my absence, I should not feel that I could go."
Frank looked pleased. It made him feel that he was really of some importance. Boys, unless they are incorrigibly idle, are glad to be placed in posts of responsibility. Frank, though very modest, felt within himself unused powers and undeveloped capacities, which he knew must be called out by the unusual circumstances in which he would be placed. The thought, too, that he would be serving his country, even at home, filled him with satisfaction.
After a pause, Mr. Frost said: "There is one point on which I still have some doubts. As you are all equally interested with myself, I think it proper to ask your opinion, and shall abide by your decision."
Frank and his mother listened with earnest attention.
"You are aware that the town has decided to give a bounty of one hundred and fifty dollars to such as may volunteer toward filling the quota. You may remember, also, that although the town passed the vote almost unanimously, it was my proposition, and supported by a speech of mine."
"Squire Haynes opposed it, I think you said, father."
"Yes, and intimated that I urged the matter from interested motives. He said he presumed I intended to enlist."
"As if that sum would pay a man for leaving his home and incurring the terrible risks of war!" exclaimed Mrs. Frost, looking indignant.
"Very likely he did not believe it himself; but he was irritated with me, and it is his habit to impute unworthy motives to those with whom he differs. Aside from this, however, I shall feel some delicacy in availing myself of a bounty which I was instrumental in persuading the town to vote. Though I feel that I should be perfectly justified in so doing, I confess that I am anxious not to put myself in such a position as to hazard any loss of good opinion on the part of my friends in town."
"Then don't take it," said Mrs. Frost promptly.
"That's what I say, too, father," chimed in Frank.
"Don't decide too hastily," said Mr. Frost. "Remember that in our circumstances this amount of money would be very useful. Although Frank will do as well as any boy of his age, I do not expect him to make the farm as profitable as I should do, partly on account of my experience being greater, and partly because I should be able to accomplish more work than he. One hundred and fifty dollars would procure many little comforts which otherwise you may have to do without."
"I know that," said Mrs. Frost quickly. "But do you think I should enjoy them, if there were reports circulated, however unjustly, to your prejudice? Besides, I shall know that the comforts at the camp must be fewer than you would enjoy at home. We shall not wish to fare so much better than you."
"Do you think with your mother, Frank?" asked Mr. Frost.
"I think mother is right," said Frank, proud of having his opinion asked. He was secretly determined, in spite of what his father had said, to see if he could not make the farm as profitable as it would be under his father's management.
Mr. Frost seemed relieved by his wife's expression of opinion. "Then," said he, "I will accept your decision as final. I felt that it should be you, and not myself, who should decide it. Now my mind will be at ease, so far as that goes."
"You will not enlist at once, father?" asked Frank.
"Not for three or four weeks. I shall wish to give you some special instructions before I go, so that your task may be easier."
"Hadn't I better leave school at once?"
"You may finish this week out. However, I may as well begin my instructions without delay. I believe you have never learned to milk."
"Probably Carter will undertake that. Still, it will be desirable that you should know how, in case he gets sick. You may come out with me after supper and take your first lesson."
Frank ran for his hat with alacrity. This seemed like beginning in earnest. He accompanied his father to the barn, and looked with new interest at the four cows constituting his father's stock.
"I think we will begin with this one," said his father, pointing to a red-and-white heifer. "She is better-natured than the others, and, as I dare say your fingers will bungle a little at first, that is a point to be considered."
If any of my boy readers has ever undertaken the task of milking for the first time, he will appreciate Frank's difficulties. When he had seen his father milking, it seemed to him extremely easy. The milk poured out in rich streams, almost without an effort. But under his inexperienced fingers none came. He tugged away manfully, but with no result.
"I guess the cow's dry," said he at last, looking up in his father's face.
Mr. Frost in reply drew out a copious stream.
"I did the same as you," said Frank, mystified, "and none came."
"You didn't take hold right," said his father, "and you pressed at the wrong time. Let me show you."
Before the first lesson was over Frank had advanced a little in the art of milking, and it may as well be said here that in the course of a week or so he became a fair proficient, so that his father even allowed him to try Vixen, a cow who had received this name from the uncertainty of her temper. She had more than once upset the pail with a spiteful kick when it was nearly full. One morning she upset not only the pail, but Frank, who looked foolish enough as he got up covered with milk.
Frank also commenced reading the Plowman, a weekly agricultural paper which his father had taken for years. Until now he had confined his readings in it to the selected story on the fourth page. Now, with an object in view, he read carefully other parts of the paper. He did this not merely in the first flush of enthusiasm, but with the steady purpose of qualifying himself to take his father's place.
"Frank is an uncommon boy," said Mr. Frost to his wife, not without feelings of pride, one night, when our hero had retired to bed. "I would trust him with the farm sooner than many who are half a dozen years older."