"Nat, where have you been?"
"Been fishing," answered the boy addressed, a sturdy youth of sixteen,with clear blue eyes and sandy hair.
"Fishin'? And who said you could go fishin'?" demanded Abner Balberry,in his high, nervous voice.
"Nobody said I could go," answered the boy, firmly. "But I thought you'dall like to have some fish for supper, so I went."
"Humph! I suppose you thought as how them taters would hoe themselves,eh?" sneered Abner Balberry, who was not only Nat's uncle, but also hisguardian.
"I hoed the potatoes," was the boy's answer. "Got through at half-pasttwo o'clock."
"If you got through so soon you didn't half do the job," grumbled theman. "I ain't goin' to have you wastin' your time on no fishin',understand?"
"Can't I go fishing at all?"
"Not when there is work to do on this farm."
"But I did my work, Uncle Abner."
"An' I say it couldn't have been done right if ye didn't take propertime fer it, Nat Nason! I know you! You are gittin' lazy!"
"I'm not lazy!" cried the boy, indignantly. "I work as hard as anybodyaround here."
"Don't you talk back to me!" ejaculated Abner Balberry. "I say you arelazy, an' I know. How many fish did ye catch?"
"I only got two. They didn't bite very well to-day."
"Humph! A-wastin' three hours an' more jest to catch two little fish! IfI let you go your own way, Nat Nason, you'll be in the poorhouse beforeyou die."
"I don't think I'll ever get to the poorhouse, Uncle Abner."
"Oh, don't talk back! Take your fish to the kitchen an' then git down tothe barnyard as quick as you can. You've got to help me milk to-night.An' don't you dare to go fishin' ag'in, unless I give ye permission,"added Abner Balberry, as he strode off towards the barn.
A sharp answer arose to Nat Nason's lips, but he checked it and turnedtoward the kitchen of the farmhouse.
"What luck did you have, Nat?" questioned the did woman who was AbnerBalberry's housekeeper.
"Not much luck, Mrs. Felton. They didn't bite very well to-day."
"What was Mr. Balberry saying to you?" went on Mrs. Felton, who had beenhousekeeper at the place since the death of Mrs. Balberry, two yearsbefore.
"He was mad because I went fishing."
"I am sorry to hear that."
"Uncle Abner never wants me to have any sport."
"He's a hard-working man, and always was, Nat. He doesn't believe inwasting time."
"But a fellow ought to have a little time off."
"That may be true."
"Don't you think I work pretty hard for a boy of my age?"
"I do, Nat."
"Uncle Abner wants to make a regular slave out of a fellow."
"Didn't he say you were to help him milk to-night?"
"Yes, and I might as well get at it right away. If I don't, he'll giveme another jawing," answered the boy, and placing his fish on a bench,he strode off toward the barnyard.
Nat Nason was an orphan, the only child of Mr. William Nason, who hadbeen a brother to the late Mrs. Balberry. The boy's father had beenkilled in a runaway and his mother had never gotten over the shock ofthe sudden death.
When the youth found himself an orphan he was taken in by his Aunt Mary,who did what she could for him. The Nasons had not been rich, so therewas little or no money coming to Nat. From the start he was told that hemust earn his own living, and this he proceeded to do to the best of hisability.
The death of his Aunt Mary was almost as much of a blow to the lad asthe loss of his mother, for it left him under the entire charge of hisuncle, Abner Balberry. The latter had no children of his own and he madeNat work as hard as if he were a full-grown man.
The Balberry farm was located in Ohio, not far from the town of Caswell.It consisted of one hundred acres of good land, with a house and severaloutbuildings. Among his neighbors Abner Balberry was considered themeanest man in the district. Abner himself thought he was a pretty goodman and he counted himself a real "pillow" of the church, as heexpressed it.
For two years life on the Balberry farm had been one continual grind toNat Nason. He was expected to work from morning to night, and such athing as a whole day off was utterly unknown to him. He received next tonothing in the way of spending money.
"I'll save the money fer ye," Abner Balberry would say, when questionedon the subject. "'Tain't good fer boys to have too much cash on hand. Itmakes 'em reckless."
"But you never give me anything," had been Nat's answer.
"Never mind--I'm a-givin' you a good home an' good eatin'," was theanswer.
The good home and good fare were something to be questioned. Nat's roomwas a small one under the roof, his clothing usually made over from thegarments worn by Mr. Balberry, and such a thing as an elaborate tablewas unknown on the farm. Many times Mrs. Felton had wished to cook more,or make some fancy dishes, but Abner Balberry had always stopped herfrom doing such a thing.
"Plain fare is good enough," he would say. "An' if ye eat too much itonly brings on the dyspepsy." More than once Nat went to bed feelingpositively hungry.
When Nat reached the barnyard he found his uncle already there with themilk pails and milking an old white cow called Sukey.
"Go on down the lane and drive up Jule," cried Abner Balberry, withoutstopping his milking. "She just went down that way."
"All right," answered Nat, and passing through the barnyard he hurrieddown the lane mentioned.
Jule was a new cow that the farmer had purchased a week before. She didnot seem inclined to herd with the other animals and Nat had had quite agood deal of trouble with her before.
At the end of the lane was an orchard and here he found the cow,contentedly eating the fresh grass. She tried to get away from him, buthe was too quick for the creature and soon had her turned around andheaded up the lane. Then he stopped to get an apple, for his fishingtrip had made him hungry and he knew that supper was still a good houroff.
"I wish I had some other kind of a job," he murmured, with a sigh."Somehow, farming doesn't seem to be just the right thing for me. Wish Iwas in some big city."
"Hurry up with that cow!" cried Abner Balberry. "Do you think I'm goingto stop here all night fer milkin'?"
"I'm coming!" sang out Nat. "Get along, Jule, you old slow poke!"
He gave the cow a slap on the side, and away she flew up the lane. Theboy followed, finishing the apple as he went.
As it happened several cows were bunched up near the entrance to thelane and as the new cow appeared, driven by Nat, the bunch scattered.Then Jule ran directly into the barnyard.
"Hi! hi! stop!" yelled Abner Balberry. "Drat the beast! Stop!"
But the new cow did not stop, and a moment later she stepped into apailful of milk, and tipped it over. Then she ran against another cowthat the farmer was milking. This cow swerved around, and in a twinklingAbner Balberry was thrown on his back and the milk was sent flying overhim.