Mrs. Dudley was sitting at her dining-table. The dessert was before her. There were fine, red water-melons, rich and juicy, with glossy black seeds peeping out from their hiding-places, and musk-melons, fragrant and luscious, which grew in her own garden. They had been gathered early in the morning, by George and Willie, and placed in the cellar, that they might be cool and refreshing. The boys had assisted in planting them in the spring, and with their little hoes they had worked about them during the summer, and subdued the weeds. They had watched their growth, and every day they examined the vines to find those that were ripe. They carefully gathered them, and sometimes there were so many that their wheelbarrow was quite full. Then they had the pleasure of carrying some to their neighbours. Mrs. Dudley did not consider good ripe fruit injurious, but much more healthy, in summer, than meat, puddings, and pastries, so that melons formed quite an important part of the family dinner. The children enjoyed them particularly, because they had raised them, in part, by their own industry.
George asked to be excused from the table. Not long after he left, Mrs. Dudley heard a cry, as if some child was in trouble. She looked around. Mary, and Willie, and Eddie were there. The sounds of distress could not come from George, for he never cried in that way. Mr. and Mrs. Dudley immediately arose and went out upon the lawn. The children followed. They looked here and there, and soon saw a boy near the house. He had a small bundle in his hand, and a little tin pail. I should think he was ten or eleven years old. He was crying, and calling to a boy who stood at the gate. Mr. Dudley inquired of him,
“What is the matter?”
“John won’t let me go home.”
“How does he prevent you? What does he do to you?” asked Mrs. Dudley.
“He won’t let me alone.”
“Does he try to make you fight?” she again inquired,—for she had frequently seen that large boys often love to tease and torment smaller ones, and she thought perhaps this little fellow was abused by a tyrannical companion. She thought of going to speak to the boy at the gate, but Mr. Dudley made further inquiries, and the child’s answers were not very satisfactory.
Mary Dudley now came near her mother, and, speaking in a low voice, said to her, “That is the boy who steals.”
While they were talking with him a larger boy came up, and said his teacher had sent him and the boy at the gate to take Jimmy back to school.
“Why, what has he done?” asked one of the group which surrounded him.
“He has been stealing the children’s dinners. He stole yesterday, and he has been stealing to-day.”
This was a sad account to hear. Jimmy begged to be permitted to go home, but Mr. Dudley told him he had better return to the school. He then very reluctantly walked down to the gate with the largest boy, and I suppose was led back to his teacher.