The Running Away Of Chester (1903)

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Chester did the chores with unusual vim that night. His lips were set and there was an air of resolution as plainly visible on his small, freckled face as if it had been stamped there. Mrs. Elwell saw him flying around, and her grim features took on a still grimmer expression.

"Ches is mighty lively tonight," she muttered. "I s'pose he's in a gog to be off on some foolishness with Henry Wilson. Well, he won't, and he needn't think it."

Lige Barton, the hired man, also thought this was Chester's purpose, but he took a more lenient view of it than did Mrs. Elwell.

"The little chap is going through things with a rush this evening," he reflected. "Guess he's laying out for a bit of fun with the Wilson boy."

But Chester was not planning anything connected with Henry Wilson, who lived on the other side of the pond and was the only chum he possessed. After the chores were done, he lingered a little while around the barns, getting his courage keyed up to the necessary pitch.

Chester Stephens was an orphan without kith or kin in the world, unless his father's stepsister, Mrs. Harriet Elwell, could be called so. His parents had died in his babyhood, and Mrs. Elwell had taken him to bring up. She was a harsh woman, with a violent temper, and she had scolded and worried the boy all his short life. Upton people said it was a shame, but nobody felt called upon to interfere. Mrs. Elwell was not a person one would care to make an enemy of.

She eyed Chester sourly when he went in, expecting some request to be allowed to go with Henry, and prepared to refuse it sharply.

"Aunt Harriet," said Chester suddenly, "can I go to school this year? It begins tomorrow."

"No," said Mrs. Elwell, when she had recovered from her surprise at this unexpected question. "You've had schoolin' in plenty—more'n I ever had, and all you're goin' to get!"

"But, Aunt Harriet," persisted Chester, his face flushed with earnestness, "I'm nearly thirteen, and I can barely read and write a little. The other boys are ever so far ahead of me. I don't know anything."

"You know enough to be disrespectful!" exclaimed Mrs. Elwell. "I suppose you want to go to school to idle away your time, as you do at home—lazy good-for-nothing that you are!" Chester thought of the drudgery that had been his portion all his life. He resented being called lazy when he was willing enough to work, but he made one more appeal.

"If you'll let me go to school this year, I'll work twice as hard out of school to make up for it—indeed, I will. Do let me go, Aunt Harriet. I haven't been to school a day for over a year."

"Let's hear no more of this nonsense," said Mrs. Elwell, taking a bottle from the shelf above her with the air of one who closes a discussion. "Here, run down to the Bridge and get me this bottle full of vinegar at Jacob's store. Be smart, too, d'ye hear! I ain't going to have you idling around the Bridge neither. If you ain't back in twenty minutes, it won't be well for you."

Chester did his errand at the Bridge with a heart full of bitter disappointment and anger.

"I won't stand it any longer!" he muttered. "I'll run away—I don't care where, so long as it's away from her. I wish I could get out West on the harvest excursions."

On his return home, as he crossed the yard in the dusk, he stumbled over a stick of wood and fell. The bottle of vinegar slipped from his hand and was broken on the doorstep. Mrs. Elwell saw the accident from the window. She rushed out and jerked the unlucky lad to his feet.

"Take that, you sulky little cub!" she exclaimed, cuffing his ears soundly. "I'll teach you to break and spill things you're sent for! You did it on purpose. Get off to bed with you this instant."

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