They had been so engrossed

It was a lovely day, real harvest weather, when Sir Everard Duncombe and
his two little boys took their way to the corn-field to see the new
machine at work.

Sir Everard was going up to town that evening, but it was for the last
time; and then, to the children’s delight, he had promised to come down
for good, and had settled that the Harvest Home should take place early
in the ensuing week.

The corn-field presented a gay appearance when they reached it. The new
machine, drawn by two fine horses, and driven by the bailiff, was
careering along the corn, with the reapers all running by the side. Down
fell the golden grain on all sides, and eager hands collected and bound
it up.

With a shout of joy, Humphrey was among them, hindering every one and
alarming his father by continually getting in the way of the machine and
the horses.

Of course he was not long content with so subordinate a part in the
proceedings; and came to beg his father to let him mount up on the
little seat by the bailiff’s side.

Sir Everard assisted him up, and the machine went off again, followed by
the reapers.

By and by, Sir Everard looked at his watch, and found it was time to be
making his way to the station. The children were so happy, he had not
the heart to take them away.

“They are quite safe,” he reflected, “with so many people about; and I
will send Virginie to them, as I pass the house.”

Humphrey was out of sight, so Sir Everard told Miles (who was playing
with the “little girl at the lodge”) to look out for Virginie, and to
say “good-bye” for him to Humphrey.

Little Miles held up his face to be kissed–a thin face it was
still–and said: “You’ll come back soon, Fardie, and not go away any
more?”

“Very soon, my darling; and then not leave you again till next year!
We’ll have great fun, and you must be a good little man, and not get ill
any more.”

“I promise, Fardie.”

Sir Everard smiled rather sadly, kissed the child over and over again,
and then walked away.

When he got to the gate, he turned round to have one more look at the
gay scene. Miles was still standing where he had left him, gazing after
his father, and kissing his hand. His was the prominent figure in the
foreground, surrounded by the golden corn. Away behind him stretched the
lovely landscape, and in the background was the machine returning to its
starting point followed by the reapers. Humphrey, sitting by the
bailiff, had now got the reins in his own hands, and was cheering on the
horses as he came.

So Sir Everard left them.

Excitement cannot last for ever, and after a time, Humphrey got tired of
driving, and got down to play with his little brother. They followed the
machine once or twice, picking up the corn, but it was hot work, and
they went to rest under the hedge.

“It is very hot, even here,” said Humphrey, taking off his hat, and
fanning himself. “I think we’ll go and sit under the tree in the next
field, where we sat the Sunday Uncle Charlie was here. Come along.”

They climbed over the gate, and made for the tree, where they sat down
on the grass.

“How jolly Uncle Charlie’s stories were,” sighed Humphrey; “how I wish
we could hear them all over again. It’s a great pity father ever told me
not to climb the bough that sticks out. It would have been the very
thing to crawl along, like the man in that story. Father says its rotten
and unsafe. I think he _must_ make a mistake; it looks as strong as
possible!”

He sighed again, and there was a long pause.

Presently he resumed. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t go and _look_. It
would be so cool by the pond.”

“Oh! Humphie, _pl


ease_ don’t. We shall lose our way, and Virginie will
be so angry.”

“But I know the way quite well from here, Miles. It was only because we
started from Dyson’s cottage that I lost it before.”

“But, Humphie, if we get wet again! I _promised_ Fardie not to get ill.”

“The rain made you wet, Miles, not the pond; and it’s not going to rain
to-day. Look what a blue sky!”

The two little brothers gazed upwards. It was clear overhead, but there
was a suspicious bank of clouds in the distance.

“Those clouds won’t come down till night,” Humphrey observed. “Come
along. It’s not very far.”

“Better not, Humphie.”

“I’m only going to look, Miles. What are you afraid of?”

“Don’t know, Humphie,” answered the little fellow, with a tiny shake in
his voice; “but _please_ don’t let us go!”

“Well, you needn’t come if you don’t like. I’ll go alone–I shan’t be
long.”

But Miles didn’t like being left in the field by himself; so with a
little sigh, he got up, and put his hand in his brother’s.

“I’ll come,” he said, resignedly.

“That’s right,” said Humphrey; “there’s nothing to be afraid of–_is_
there?”

“No,” said the child; but his face was troubled, and his voice still
shook a little.

So over the grass the two little brothers went, hand in hand, till in an
adjoining field they saw the waters of the pond gleaming like silver in
the summer sunshine. Side by side they stood on its brink.

“We’re only going to _look_, you know,” said Humphrey.

They were the first words he had spoken for some time, and they came so
suddenly that Miles started as they fell on the still air. They seemed
to arouse the inhabitants of that secluded spot, for a bird flew out of
the tree, and soared away with a scared chirrup, which fell with a
melancholy sound on the children’s ears; and a water-rat bounded from
under a lily-leaf, and plunged with a dull splash into another part of
the pond.

Innumerable insects skimmed across the surface of the water, and one or
two bees droned idly, as they flew from one water lily to another.

The branch of the tree that stretched over the pond dipped its topmost
leaves into the water with a sleepy sound; as the breeze swayed it
gently backwards and forwards, the water-lilies danced lightly with the
movement of the water; and there was over the whole place a sense of
repose and an isolation which infected the children with its dreaminess,
keeping even Humphrey silent, and making little Miles feel sad.

“Let’s go, Humphie.”

“Not yet,” answered Humphrey, recovering from his fit of abstraction,
and moving towards the tree: “I want to look at the branch. Why, it’s
not rotten a bit!” he exclaimed, as he examined it. “I do believe it
would hold us quite well!”

He clasped his arms round the trunk of the tree, and propelled himself
upwards, where he was soon lost to view in the thick foliage.

Miles gave a little sigh; he could not shake off the melancholy that
oppressed him, and he was longing to get away from the place.

Presently Humphrey’s ringing laugh was heard, and Miles, looking up, saw
him crawling along the branch which stretched out over the water. His
face was flushed, and his eyes sparkling with excitement, and he was
utterly regardless of the shivering and shaking of the branch under his
weight. When he had got out a certain distance he returned, and throwing
his arms once more round the upper part of the trunk, he raised himself
to his feet and stood upright, triumphant.

“There!” he exclaimed–“I’ve done it. Who says it’s dangerous now? It’s
as safe as safe can be. Come up, Miles. You can’t think how jolly it
is!”

Miles drew a long breath. “Must I really _really_ come?”

“Why not? you see how easily I did it. Give me your hand, and I’ll help
you up.”

Bright and beautiful was the aspect of the elder boy, as he stood above,
with his graceful figure clearly defined against the green foliage, one
arm thrown carelessly round a bough, and the other outstretched to his
little brother; and very lovely the expression of wistful uncertainty on
the face of the younger one, as he stood below, with his eyes upraised
so timidly to his brother’s face, and his hands nervously clasped
together.

Involuntarily he shrank back a little, and there was a pause.

He looked all around the secluded spot, as if to find help, as if to
discover a loophole whereby he might escape, even at the eleventh hour.
But the insects skimming from side to side of the pond, the water-lilies
dancing gently on the surface, were still the only animate things to be
seen, and no sound was to be heard save the dipping of the branch into
the water, and the splash of the active water-rat. They were powerless
to help him, and he resigned himself to Humphrey’s will.

“I know I shall be _kilt_, but I’ll come,” he said; and he held out his
shaking little hand.

Humphrey grasped it tightly, and got him up by degrees to the same level
as himself. Then carefully he dropped down on his hands and knees and
helped Miles to do the same.

Slowly they both began to move, and gradually they crawled along the
branch that stretched over the water! Clinging tightly with arms and
legs, and listening to Humphrey’s encouraging voice, little Miles
settled himself on the branch in fancied security.

Humphrey got close up to him behind, and put his arms round him.
“Hurrah” he shouted; “here we both are!”

They had been so engrossed that they had not noticed how the weather had
clouded over. The bank of clouds they had noticed was nearly over their
heads, the air was becoming thick and oppressive, far in the distance
was heard the growl of approaching thunder, and some big drops of rain
fell.

Humphrey remembered, with a start, his father’s injunctions about Miles,
and the ill effects of their last adventure. “We must go home,” he
exclaimed; and, forgetting their perilous position, he moved so
suddenly, that he nearly sent his little brother off the branch.
Instinctively he reached out his hand to save him, and Miles nearly
overbalanced himself in his attempt to cling to it.

Their combined movements were too much for the decaying wood, already
rocking beneath their weight. It swayed–it shivered–it creaked …
and then with a crash it broke from its parent bark!–and boys and
branch were precipitated into the water below.

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