‘My betters!’ said Harold—’an old skin-flint like Farmer Shepherd’s old woman?’
‘Hush, Harold! I’ll tell Mother of you, that I will!’ cried Ellen.
‘Do then,’ said Harold, who knew his sister would do no such thing. She had made the threat too often, and then not kept her word.
She contented herself with saying, ’Well, all I know is, that I’m sure now he has run away out of prison, and is no better than a thief; and if our place isn’t broken into before to-morrow morning, and Mother’s silver sugar-tongs gone, it will be a mercy. I’m sure I shan’t sleep a wink all night.’
Both boys laughed, and Alfred asked why he had not done it last night.
‘How should I know?’ said Ellen. ’Most likely he wanted to see the way about the place, before he calls the rest of the gang.’
‘Take care, Harold! it’s a gang coming now,’ said Alfred, laughing again. ‘All coming on purpose to steal the sugar-tongs!’
‘No, I’ll tell you what they are come to steal,’ said Harold mischievously; ’it’s all for Ellen’s fine green ivy-leaf brooch that Matilda sent her!’
’I dare say Harold has been and told him everything valuable in the house!’ said Ellen.
‘I think,’ said Alfred gravely, ’it would be a very odd sort of thief to come here, when the farmer’s ploughing cup is just by.’
‘Yes,’ said Harold, ’I’d better have told him of that when I was about it; don’t you think so, Nelly?’
‘If you go on at this rate,’ said Ellen, teased into anger, ’you’ll be robbing the post-office yourself some day.’
‘Ay! and I’ll get Paul Blackthorn to help me,’ said the boy. ’Come, Ellen, don’t be so foolish; I tell you he’s every bit as honest as I am, I’d go bail for him.’
‘And I know he’ll lead you to ruin!’ cried Ellen, half crying: ’a boy that comes from nowhere and nobody knows, and sleeps on a hay-cock all night, no better than a mere tramp!’
’What, quarrelling here? ’said Mrs. King, coming upstairs. ’The lad, I wish him no ill, I’m sure, but he’ll be gone by to-morrow, so you may hold your tongues about him, and we’ll read our chapter and go to bed.’
Harold’s confidence and Ellen’s distrust were not much wiser the one than the other. Which was nearest being right?
The post-office was not robbed that night, neither did the silver sugar-tongs disappear, though Paul Blackthorn was no farther off than the hay-loft at Farmer Shepherd’s, where he had obtained leave to sleep.
But he did not go away with morning, though the hay-making was over. Ellen saw him sitting perched on the empty waggon, munching his breakfast, and to her great vexation, exchanging nods and grins when Harold rode by for the morning’s letters; and afterwards, there was a talk between him and the farmer, which ended in his having a hoe put into his hand, and being next seen in the turnip-field behind the farm.