Chapter III. Making His Start in the World
 

The sun was just setting as Phil Forrest strode out of the yard. Once outside of the gate he paused, glancing irresolutely up and down the street. Which way to turn or where to go he did not know. He had not thought before of what he should do.

Phil heard the clatter of Abner Adams' stick as the old man thumped about in the kitchen.

Suddenly the door was jerked open with unusual violence.

"Begone!" bellowed Mr. Adams, brandishing his cane threateningly.

Phil turned down the street, without casting so much as a glance in the direction of his wrathful uncle, and continued on toward the open country. To anyone who had observed him there was nothing of uncertainty in the lad's walk as he swung along. As a matter of fact, Phil had not the slightest idea where he was going. He knew only that he wanted to get away by himself.

On the outskirts of the village men had been at work that day, cutting and piling up hay. The field was dotted with heaps of the fragrant, freshly garnered stuff.

Phil hesitated, glanced across the field, and, noting that the men had all gone home for the day, climbed the fence. He walked on through the field until he had reached the opposite side of it. Then the lad placed his bag on the ground and sat down on a pile of hay.

With head in hands, he tried to think, to plan, but somehow his mind seemed unable to perform its proper functions. It simply would not work.

"Not much of a start in the world, this," grinned Phil, shifting his position so as to command a better view of the world, for he did not want anyone to see him. "I suppose Uncle Abner is getting supper now. But where am I going to get mine? I hadn't thought of that before. It looks very much as if I should have to go without. But I don't care. Perhaps it will do me good to miss a meal," decided the boy sarcastically. "I've been eating too much lately, anyhow."

Twilight came; then the shadows of night slowly settled over the landscape, while the lad lay stretched out on the sweet-smelling hay, hands supporting his head, gazing up into the starlit sky.

Slowly his heavy eyelids fluttered and closed, and Phil was asleep. The night was warm and he experienced no discomfort. He was a strong, healthy boy, so that sleeping out of doors was no hardship to him. All through the night he slept as soundly as if he had been in his own bed at home. Nor did he awaken until the bright sunlight of the morning finally burned his eyelids apart.

Phil started up rubbing his eyes.

At first he wondered where he was. But the sight of his bag lying a little to one side brought back with a rush the memory of what had happened to him the evening before.

"Why, it's morning," marveled the lad, blinking in the strong sunlight. "And I've slept on this pile of hay all night. It's the first time I ever slept out of doors, and I never slept better in my life. Guess I'll fix myself up a little."

Phil remembered that a little trout stream cut across the field off to the right. Taking up his bag, he started for the stream, where he made his toilet as best he could, finishing up by lying flat on his stomach, taking a long, satisfying drink of the sparkling water.

"Ah, that feels better," he breathed, rolling over on the bank. After a little he helped himself to another drink. "But I've got to do something. I can't stay out here in this field all the rest of my life. And if I don't find something to eat I'll starve to death. I'll go downtown and see if I can't earn my breakfast somehow."

Having formed this resolution, Phil took up his belongings and started away toward the village. His course led him right past Abner Adams' house, but, fortunately, Mr. Adams was not in sight. Phil would have felt a keen humiliation had he been forced to meet the taunts of his uncle. He hurried on past the house without glancing toward it.

He had gone on for some little way when he was halted by a familiar voice.

"Hello, Phil! Where are you going in such a hurry and so early in the morning?"

Phil started guiltily and looked up quickly at the speaker.

"Good morning, Mrs. Cahill. What time is it?"

"It's just past four o'clock in the morning."

"Gracious! I had no idea it was so early as that," exclaimed the lad.

"If you are not in such a great hurry, stop a bit," urged the woman, her keen eyes noting certain things that she did not give voice to. She had known Phil Forrest for many years, and his parents before him. Furthermore, she knew something of the life he had led since the death of his parents. "Had your breakfast?"

"Well--"

"Of course you haven't. Come right in and eat with me," urged the good-hearted widow.

"If you will let me do some chores, or something to pay for it, I will," agreed Phil hesitatingly.

"Nothing of the kind! You'll keep me company at breakfast; then you'll be telling me all about it."

"About what?"

" 'Bout your going away," pointing significantly to the bag that Phil was carrying.

He was ravenously hungry, though he did not realize it fully until the odor of the widow's savory cooking smote his nostrils.

She watched him eat with keen satisfaction.

"Now tell me what's happened," urged Mrs. Cahill, after he had finished the meal.

Phil did so. He opened his heart to the woman who had known his mother, while she listened in sympathetic silence, now and then uttering an exclamation of angry disapproval when his uncle's words were repeated to her.

"And you're turned out of house and home? Is that it, my boy?"

"Well, yes, that's about it," grinned Phil.

"It's a shame."

"I'm not complaining, you know, Mrs. Cahill. Perhaps it's the best thing that could have happened to me. I've got to start out for myself sometime, you know. I'm glad of one thing, and that is that I didn't have to go until school closed. I get through the term today, you know?"

"And you're going to school today?"

"Oh, yes. I wouldn't want to miss the last day."

"Then what?"

"I don't know. I shall find something else to do, I guess. I want to earn enough money this summer so that I can go to school again in the fall."

"And you shall. You shall stay right here with the Widow Cahill until you've got through with your schooling, my lad."

"I couldn't think of that. No; I am not going to be a burden to anyone. Don't you see how I feel--that I want to earn my own living now?"

She nodded understandingly.

"You can do some chores and--"

"I'll stay here until I find something else to do," agreed Phil slowly. "I shan't be able to look about much today, because I'll be too busy at school; but tomorrow I'll begin hunting for a job. What can I do for you this morning?"

"Well, you might chop some wood if you are aching to exercise your muscles," answered the widow, with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew that there was plenty of wood stored in the woodhouse, but she was too shrewd an observer to tell Phil so, realizing, as she did, that the obligation he felt for her kindness was too great to be lightly treated.

Phil got at his task at once, and in a few moments she heard him whistling an accompaniment to the steady thud, thud of the axe as he swung it with strong, resolute arms.

"He's a fine boy," was the Widow Cahill's muttered conclusion.

Phil continued at his work without intermission until an hour had passed. Mrs. Cahill went out, begging that he come in and rest.

"Rest? Why, haven't I been resting all night? I feel as if I could chop down the house and work it up into kindling wood, all before school time. What time is it?"

"Nigh on to seven o'clock. I've wanted to ask you something ever since you told me you had left Abner Adams. It's rather a personal question."

The lad nodded.

"Did your uncle send you away without any money?"

"Of course. Why should he have given me anything so long as I was going to leave him?"

"Did you ever hear him say that your mother had left a little money with him before she died--money that was to be used for your education as long as it lasted?"

Phil straightened up slowly, his axe falling to the ground, an expression of surprise appeared in his eyes.

"My mother left money--for me, you say?" he wondered.

"No, Phil, I haven't said so. I asked you if Abner had ever said anything of the sort?"

"No. Do you think she did?"

"I'm not saying what I think. I wish I was a man; I'd read old Abner Adams a lecture that he wouldn't forget as long as he lives."

Phil smiled indulgently.

"He's an old man, Mrs. Cahill. He's all crippled up with rheumatism, and maybe he's got a right to be cranky--"

"And to turn his own sister's child outdoors, eh? Not by a long shot. Rheumatics don't give anybody any call to do any such a thing as that. He ought to have his nose twisted, and it's me, a good church member, as says so."

The lad picked up his axe and resumed his occupation, while Mrs. Cahill turned up a chunk of wood and sat down on it, keeping up a running fire of comment, mostly directed at Abner Adams, and which must have made his ears burn.

Shortly after eight o'clock Phil gathered his books, strapped them and announced that he would be off for school.

"I'll finish the woodpile after school," he called back, as he was leaving the gate.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," retorted the Widow Cahill.

Darting out of the yard, Phil ran plump into someone, and halted sharply with an earnest apology.

"Seems to me you're in a terrible rush about something. Where you going?"

"Hello, Teddy, that you?"

"It's me," answered Teddy ungrammatically.

"I'm on my way to school."

"Never could understand why anybody should want to run when he's going to school. Now, I always run when I start off after school's out. What you doing here?" demanded the boy, drawing his eyelids down into a squint.

"I've been chopping some wood for Mrs. Cahill."

"Huh! What's the matter with the bear this morning?"

"The bear?"

Teddy jerked a significant thumb in the direction of Phil's former home.

"Bear's got a grouch on a rod wide this morning."

"Oh, you mean Uncle Abner," answered Phil, his face clouding.

"Yep."

"Why?"

"I just dropped in to see if you were ready to go to school. He yelled at me like he'd gone crazy."

"That all?" grinned the other boy.

"No. He chased me down the road till his game knee gave out; then he fell down."

Phil could not repress a broad grin at this news.

"Good thing for me that I could run. He'd have given me a walloping for sure if he'd caught me. I'll bet that stick hurts when it comes down on a fellow. Don't it, Phil?"

"I should think it would. I have never felt it, but I have had some pretty narrow escapes. What did the folks you are living with say when you got home all mud last night?"

Teddy grinned a sheepish sort of grin.

"Told me I'd better go out in the horse barn--said my particular style of beauty was better suited to the stable than to the kitchen."

"Did you?"

"Well, no, not so as you might notice it. I went down to the creek and went in swimming, clothes and all. That was the easiest way. You see, I could wash the mud off my clothes and myself all at the same time."

"It's a wonder they let you in at all, then."

"They didn't; at least not until I had wrung the water out of my trousers and twisted my hair up into a regular top-knot. Then I crawled in behind the kitchen stove and got dried out after a while. But I got my supper. I always do."

"Yes; I never knew you to go without meals."

"Sorry you ain't going to the circus tomorrow, Phil."

"I am. Teddy, I'm free. I can do as I like now. Yes, I'll go to the circus with you, and maybe if I can earn some money tonight I'll treat you to red lemonade and peanuts."

"Hooray!" shouted Teddy, tossing his hat high in the air.