And yet it was not punishment that Marco was afraid of. There were very few boys who could bear punishment of any kind with more fortitude than he, or to whom the idea of punishment gave less concern. It was the detection itself, rather than what was to come after it, that he feared. There is something in the very act of being detected and exposed in guilt, which the heart instinctively shrinks from; and many a boy would willingly bear in secret twice the pain which the punishment of an offense would bring, rather than have his commission of the offense discovered and made known.
There was, however, no indication, at the dinner table, that Marco’s cousin or uncle suspected him of any wrong. They talked of various subjects in their usual manner. Forester had arranged it with Marco, to go that afternoon down to the mill-pond, to examine the boat, in order to see whether they could have it fitted with oars, and to make arrangements to that effect. Marco now hoped that Forester had forgotten this plan, and would not go. Though he had been very much interested in the plan the day before, he now felt disinclined to go. He wished to be alone, or at least out of sight of Forester. He felt as if he had a terrible secret on his mind, and that there was great danger that something or other would occur to discover it. So he hoped that Forester would have forgotten the appointment, and that it would be thus postponed to some future time.
But Forester had not forgotten it; and after dinner, he asked Marco how soon he should be ready to go. Marco said that he should be ready at any time; and in about half an hour they set out. They walked together to the mill-pond. Forester said that the boat belonged to a man who worked in the mills, but he lived a little distance above them. His house was near the water, in a little valley. The water of the pond extended up into this valley, forming a sort of bay.
[Illustration: THE MILLMAN’S HOUSE.]
A road led to the house, but did not go beyond it. The house was small, but it had pleasant little yards and gardens about it, and various pens and coops for different sorts of animals. The man who lived there was famous for keeping a great many animals. He had pigs, and cows, and Malta cats, and two dogs,—one of them a water dog,—and ducks and geese,—among the latter, two wild geese,—and hens and rabbits; and there were two gray squirrels, hanging up in a cage by the side of the front door. Forester told Marco about these animals as they walked along.
Marco was very fond of animals, and he began to anticipate great pleasure in seeing these. When they came near the house, he ran forward to look at the wild geese. The water dog ran to meet Forester. He knew Forester, having often seen him there before. Forester and Marco rambled about the yards, looking at the animals for some time, and then went to the water’s edge, which was very near the house. The ducks and geese were swimming in the water. Forester called the dog there, and Marco amused himself for some time in throwing sticks into the water, and ordering the dog, whose name was Nelson, to plunge in and go and bring them back. The boat was there too, fastened by a rope to a post in the bank. At length, after Marco had satisfied himself with these amusements, he said,