Nearly Lost by Unknown

I KNOW what I shall do!” exclaimed Walter Harrison to about a dozen other boys, his schoolfellows, who were standing round him. “I shall just tell ‘old Barnacles’ that my father and mother wish me to have a holiday this afternoon, and he can’t say ‘no’ to that. It’s the simplest and best way. If you all agree to it, we shall get a holiday all around. Who’ll go in for my plan?”

“I will! and I! and I!” responded nearly all the boys.

The facts of the case were simply these: There were taking place in a park close by a series of athletic sports, and this afternoon the admission was free to any one who chose to go. Of course all the boys in Mr. Jackson’s school were mad to see the sports; but by the time the school was out the best fun would be over, and the majority of the boys guessed pretty shrewdly what would be the result of asking their parents to let them stay away. The grand idea was to induce the master to give a general holiday, but the question was how that desirable end was to be brought about. It had been suggested to stay away bodily, without so much as saying, “With your leave or by your leave;” but as such a course carried a certainty of punishment in its train, it was universally rejected. Another idea, which had received some favor, had been to trip up the poor half-blind schoolmaster, quite by accident, and by rendering him incapable obtain the desired holiday, but there had been a majority found to protest against such cruelty; and now Walter Harrison had suggested his plan. But although most of them were inclined to adopt it, there were two who resolutely refused to do so.

“Why won’t you join us?” asked Walter of these two.

“I sha’n’t, because I’m not going to tell a pack of lies for the sake of a holiday,” answered Willie Ford, the younger of the two.

“How good we are!” replied Walter, tauntingly; and then throwing his cap up into the air, he sang out:

“‘There was a curly-headed boy
Who never told a lie;
He knew a trick worth two of that:
That was the reason why.’

“Sly fox!” he said, patting Willie on the back. “He does the ‘good’ dodge to perfection, and finds it answers too; don’t you, Ford?”

Walter’s sallies were received with roars of laughter by the boys. Willie took no notice of them, although it was a difficult matter to restrain his anger.

“What a milksop the fellow is!” cried out one of the boys.

“A stupid little muff!” cried another.

“Am I?” cried Willie, his temper now fully roused; “I’ll show you about that. Although I’m not going to tell lies, I’ll fight any one of you. Come now, Harrison, let’s have it out together.”

Harrison burst out laughing: “Fancy me fighting with a little cock-sparrow like you! I should like to see myself!”

Willie was about to burst out again, but a friendly hand was laid on his arm, and his friend Philip said, gently, “Come away, Will; no fighting about such a trifle as that, lad.”

“What a peppery little chap!” called out Walter as Willie turned away with his friend. “Pepper and sop! Ugh! what a nasty mess!”

The boys followed out their plan, and got their holiday, all except Willie and Philip and several little fellows who had taken no interest in the matter.

School over, the two boys rushed off in the hope that they might be in time to see something. They were too late, however, for the performances were just coming to an end when they arrived, so they started for a stroll through the beautiful park, which was not often open to the public.

“Why, there are our fellows!” said  Philip as they suddenly came in sight of a group of boys on the edge of the magnificent lake.

“What are they up to? They’re very busy about something!” exclaimed Willie.

“Let’s go and see,” Philip said, in reply.

As they came nearer they could tell that the boys were gesticulating and shouting to something in the water.

“It can’t be one of them gone in and lost his depth,” said Willie, anxiously.

No such thing, as they found when they got close—only a dog that the boys were amusing themselves by seeing how long they could keep under water. The creature was making frantic efforts to gain a landing-place, but as he approached the shore they drove him back with sticks and stones.

“We’re teaching him to swim,” cried one as Philip and Willie came up. “A miserable little mongrel! he can’t swim a bit!”

“Why, don’t you see,” cried Willie, eagerly, “that he’s as weak as a rat? He can scarcely support himself in the water. I should think he’s been starved.”

At this moment the dog, being turned back once more, disappeared, quite close to the shore. With a loud cry of pain and anger, Willie darted through the boys, and wading into the shallow water succeeded in enticing the drowning dog toward him. He came out, holding the dripping creature safely in his arms.

“We must carry it home,” he said to Philip, after they had vainly endeavored to set it upon its feet; and accordingly, they started off at a good pace, the poor half-drowned animal safely sheltered in Willie’s arms.

Well might his mother be alarmed to see him come home to tea in such a plight; but when she heard his explanation, she was quite ready to sympathize with him, and told him he had done bravely and well to rescue the poor animal. As he seemed none the worse for his wetting, he was allowed to come down stairs again as soon as he had put on dry things. Very tenderly the little half-starved dog was fed with warmed milk. He had fallen into good hands. Willie’s father and mother were kind Christian people, who had taught their children to be gentle and considerate to the meanest of God’s creatures.

“Why, Willie, he’s a fine fellow, and only quite a puppy; he will be a splendid dog when he is fully grown,” his father said, when the animal had recovered sufficiently to be examined.

And so it proved. Bruno, as Willie named him, turned out a splendid creature. His devotion to the whole family, but especially to Willie, was quite touching to see. He would obey the slightest gesture of his young master in every matter except one. As a child once burned dreads the fire, so Bruno, once nearly drowned, could never be induced to enter the water.

While Bruno was developing into a handsome dog, Willie, you may be sure, was not standing still. He had grown into a fine strong lad, and got beyond poor old Dr. Jackson’s school.

To the last day of his stay there he and Walter Harrison never managed to get on very good terms, and a suspected unfairness in the matter of obtaining a prize made them part with still greater coldness.

A year or two after he had left school Willie’s parents went with their family to spend the summer months near the sea. Before they had been in their new quarters many weeks, much to Willie’s vexation and disappointment, he found that Walter and his parents were also staying in the same town, and quite close to him.

The two lads frequently met, but they could get on no better now than they had done in the old days. Walter still looked upon Willie as a contemptible little milksop, and Willie was inclined to consider Walter’s exploits more the result of foolhardiness than bravery.

One day they met on the beach. Walter had come down with a friend to take a boat.

“Rather rough for rowing,” Willie  called out as he passed, “but I suppose you’re a good oar.”

“What’s that to you?” responded Walter, insolently; “I suppose you’re afraid of a little sea.”

“I don’t see the pleasure of going out when there’s any risk,” Willie replied, good-humoredly.

“How precious careful you are over yourself!” replied Walter.

The boat pushed off, and away started the two friends. Willie, not caring to watch them after the haughty, rude manner in which his remark had been received, turned away; but before he had gone far his attention was attracted by a succession of shouts and ejaculations.

The tiny boat had come to grief before they had got much more than fifty yards from the shore. In the unskilful hands of the two lads the little bark was a mere plaything in the angry sea. Carried on with a swiftness they were unable to check, they rushed headlong on to one of the hidden rocks with which the coast abounded. The boat turned over and disappeared, leaving its occupants struggling in the water.

There were but few bystanders, and of these no one did more than talk and gesticulate and ask wildly what was to be done.

The same impulse that had prompted Willie to rescue a drowning dog now caused him to risk his life in order to save that of the boy who had always shown so unfriendly a disposition toward him.

Pulling off his coat, he threw it and his hat down on the shore; and giving Bruno an injunction to guard them, he plunged bravely into the tempestuous waves. He could swim well, and succeeded with great difficulty in reaching the spot where Walter had but a moment ago disappeared, and then began the terrible struggle for life.

Bruno sat by his master’s clothes and gazed out over the sea with eyes which looked almost human in their intelligent anxiety. Presently he grew restless, and in another moment the faithful creature dashed into the waves, and made resolutely for the spot where his master was laboriously engaged in trying to convey one of the drowning lads to shore.

By the powerful aid of the noble dog Walter and Willie were saved; and a boat having now put off, Walter’s friend was picked up after a while. What a cheer rent the air when the dog and the two lads gained the shore I cannot attempt to describe. Willie was never called a milksop any more, and Bruno was more loved and prized than ever.