A Hasty Judgment

by Unknown

'What is the new step-mother like?' asked Walter Howard. He was cycling from the station with his friend, Jack Trehane, having just arrived to spend a few days of the summer holidays.

'No good,' was the short but expressive answer.

'I remember you thought her rather a good sort before your father married her,' Walter remarked.

'You never know what people are really like until you live in the same house with them,' said Jack, gloomily.

'Hard lines, when you had such decent holidays with your father alone. How is it she is not nice to you now, when she used to be so jolly?'

'Oh, she isn't exactly nasty,' Jack explained, 'only I do so hate her mean, saving little ways.'

Walter's face fell. It would be a nuisance if he had to waste some of his precious holidays in a place where there was not even enough 'grub!'

However, the food proved to be excellent, so Walter felt that it must be in some other way that the stinginess would be evident.

'It is such a lovely day,' said Mrs. Trehane the next morning at breakfast. 'What do you say to an expedition to Pengwithen Cove?'

The boys were delighted with the idea and ran off to get ready, so that they did not see Mrs. Trehane set to work busily to cut sandwiches.

'What is that hamper thing you are carrying?' asked Jack of his father as they were starting.

'Our lunch, Jack; and, knowing who packed it, I can promise we shall not do badly.'

'But you always used to give us lunch at the hotel, Father,' Jack said.

'Ah, but we have learnt a trick worth two of that, have we not, my dear?' and Mr. Trehane smiled at his wife.

'It is so much jollier to have our lunch close to the sea,' she said, 'instead of in a stuffy room.'

'And who is going to carry that horrid, great basket, I should like to know?' muttered Jack, as he rode on ahead with Walter. 'That is one of the mean dodges I told you about. She thinks it will save the expense of a lunch at the hotel.'

The white-crested waves were rolling in over the blue waters of the bay as the Trehanes and Walter followed the cliff path towards the Cove for which they were bound. Jack loitered behind the others, for it was his turn to carry the lunch. Presently a cry from him made them look round, and what should they see but the precious picnic-basket rolling down the sloping turf which edged the cliff! As they watched, it went over with a loud report of bursting lemonade bottles, and the contents were dashed into fragments on the rocks beneath.

'How could you be so careless, Jack?' his father said in tones of vexation; but as he never dreamed it was anything but an accident, he did not say much.

They were obliged to return to the hotel for a meal, and Walter shrewdly suspected this was the result Jack had worked for.

However, the lunch was not a success. A crowd of excursionists had swept nearly everything in the shape of food before them, and left very little for any one who came after.

'Oh, dear,' sighed Mrs. Trehane, 'when I think of the nice ham sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, the lovely meat patties and raspberry puffs, which are now floating away to sea, I do feel sad!'

'What an idiot you have been!' whispered Walter to Jack, and the latter was inclined to believe his friend spoke truly.

When Mr. Trehane pulled out some money in order to pay the bill, his wife gave another sigh.

'This is worse than the cold mutton, is it not?' he asked, laughing.

Then she laughed too and held up a warning finger.

'Hush!' she whispered, 'you must not let out my secret.'

'I think we must share it with Jack,' said Mr. Trehane. 'It will make him more careful in future when we trust him with our luncheon-basket.'

He had noticed his son's scornful look when the settlement of the bill was mentioned, and had partly guessed what was in his mind.

'I wanted it to be a surprise,' Mrs. Trehane said; 'but now you have revealed half the secret, perhaps it is as well to confess the whole.'

'Well, Jack,' his father said, 'you know you have been bothering me for a new watch, but I told you I could not manage such a piece of extravagance now, and you would have to wait another year.'

'My old one is no more use than a turnip,' Jack broke in.

'All the more pity that part of the new one went over the cliff with the lunch,' remarked his father.

'What do you mean?' asked Jack in bewilderment.

Mr. Trehane looked at his wife.

'It was your plan; you had better explain it,' he said.

'You see, Jack,' she began, 'it seemed rather hard you should not have a new watch when you wanted one so badly, so I told Father I was quite sure I could save money in many little ways without robbing us of any real comforts. One of my plans was to take a luncheon-basket when we had picnics or expeditions, and to have a first-rate meal of delicious home-made dainties instead of a second-rate lunch for which we should have to pay more. Now, Jack, do you approve of my little scheme?'

Jack was almost speechless with shame and confusion, and the twinkle in Walter's eye made him even hotter.

'I think you are awfully good,' he stammered, 'but I don't deserve that watch, and I shan't have it now I was such a silly donkey as to throw the basket over the cliff.'

'Oh, yes, you will, Jack,' said his step-mother, though she did look a little astonished at the confession that it was a deliberate act instead of an accident. 'There will be plenty of money saved by the end of the holidays, if you will be careful not to lose any more baskets.'

Jack never forgot this lesson, and the beautiful new watch he carried back to school with him was a constant reminder that hasty judgments too often prove unjust.

"The precious picnic-basket rolling down the turf!" "The precious picnic-basket rolling down the turf!"