Mr. Percival, though not engaged in active business, was a wealthy man, and his capital was invested in a great variety of enterprises. Naturally, therefore, he received a large number of business letters, which required to be answered.
The first day he dictated several replies, which Frank put upon paper. He wished, however, to put Frank's ability to a severe test.
"Here are two letters," he said, "which you may answer. I have noted on each instructions which you will follow. The wording of the letters I leave to you."
"I will try to satisfy you sir," said Frank.
Our hero was a good writer for his age. Moreover, he had been well trained at school and did not shrink from the task assigned him.
He read carefully the instruction of his employer, and composed the letters in strict accordance with them.
Mr. Percival awaited with some interest the result of his experiment. If Frank proved competent to the task assigned him, his own daily labor would be considerably abridged.
"Here are the letters, sir," said our hero, passing the drafts to Mr. Percival.
The old gentleman examined them carefully. As he did so, his face expressed his satisfaction.
"Upon my word, Frank," he said, familiarly, "you have done your work exceedingly well. They are brief, concise and yet comprehensive. I feared that you would use too many words."
"I am glad you are pleased, sir. Dr. Brush trained us to write letters, and he cut down our essays when they were too diffuse."
"Then I feel indebted to Dr. Brush for providing me with so competent a young secretary. You will be able to assist me even more than I anticipated. I shall, of course, read over your letters before they are sent, to make sure that you have fully comprehended and carried out my instructions, but I don't expect they will need much correction."
Frank was much gratified by these words. This was the only point on which he had felt at all doubtful as to his ability to please his employer.
Sometimes, when his eyes pained him more than usual, Mr. Percival also employed him to read to him from the daily papers, or from some book in which he was interested, but this did not occur regularly.
Every day, however, Frank was occupied with Freddie. The little boy knew his alphabet, but nothing more, so that his young teacher had to begin with him at the beginning of the primer.
He succeeded in interesting his little pupil, and did not protract his term of study so as to weary him.
Finding that the little fellow was fond of hearing stories, he read to him every day a story or two from Hans Christian Andersen, or from a collection of German fairy stories, and sometimes went out to walk with him.
Freddie was delighted with his teacher, and freely expressed his approval to his mother and grandfather.
"Really, Frank," said Mrs. Gordon, "I shall begin to be jealous of your hold upon Freddie. I am not sure but he likes your company better than mine."
"I don't think Freddie will prefer anyone to his mother," said Frank; "but I am glad he likes to be with me."
"You have certainly proved very successful as a private tutor, Frank," said Mrs. Gordon, "and my father tells me you succeeded equally well as a secretary."
"It is partly because you both treat me so indulgently," answered Frank, gracefully.
This answer pleased Mr. Percival and Mrs. Gordon, who more than ever congratulated themselves upon the lucky chance that had thrown Frank in their way.
Assuredly he made himself very useful in the small household, contributing to the comfort and pleasure of Freddie, his mother and grandfather in nearly equal measure.
While Frank's monthly salary was of great value and importance to him, it was nothing to Mr. Percival in comparison with the pleasure and relief afforded by his presence in the house.
It must not be supposed, however, that Frank's time was wholly occupied by the duties of his two positions. Usually he had several hours daily at his disposal, and these he was allowed to spend as he pleased.
Part of this he occupied in visiting different localities of the city and points of interest in the neighborhood, and part in reading and study.
Mr. Percival had a large and well-selected library, which, to a boy of Frank's studious tastes, was a great attraction.
He entered upon a course of solid reading, embracing some of the standard histories, and devoted some hours every week to keeping up his acquaintance with the Greek and Latin authors which he had read at school.
In this way his time was well and usefully employed, and the weeks slipped by till almost before he was aware six months had passed.
One afternoon Frank walked down Broadway enjoying the bright sunshine. Just in front of the St. Nicholas Hotel he heard his name called and looking up he recognized with some surprise, Pliny Tarbox, his cousin from Newark.
Pliny asked many questions as to what Frank was doing and how much money he was making. Frank told him of his good fortune in obtaining the position he held with Mr. Percival and the two parted—Frank the much happier of the two.
Pliny urgently invited Frank to visit them but Frank would rather remain in New York.
"I hope I shall never think so much of money as Pliny and his father," thought Frank. "Money is a good thing to have but there are some things that are better."
A LETTER FROM MR. TARBOX
Frank did not speak to Mr. Percival's family of his meeting with Pliny. It was not pleasant to him to think that he was valued only for his good fortune. He had seen but little of the Tarbox family, but he understood very well what their professions of friendship amounted to, and that they were not to be relied upon in an emergency.
He was not much surprised on Monday afternoon to receive the following letter from Erastus Tarbox:
"My Dear Young Cousin:—We have been wondering what has become of you, and Mrs. T. and myself have often wished to invite you to pass a Sabbath at our humble home. Not knowing your address, I could not write to you, or I should have done so. You can imagine, therefore, the pleasure we felt when Pliny told us that he had met you, and gave us tidings of your remarkable success, which I am sure does you great credit.
"He tells me that you fill a very responsible position, and receive a very liberal salary. I could wish that Pliny might be equally fortunate, and shall esteem it a great favor if you will mention him to your respected employer, and recommend him for any lucrative position which he may bestow upon him. Pliny is a very capable boy, and has been carefully trained to habits of frugality and industry.
"Can you not soon come out and pass a Sabbath with us? The esteem which we have for your late lamented mother alone would secure you a cordial welcome, not to speak of the friendship for yourself. Pliny often says that you seem to him like a brother, and he would truly enjoy your companionship.
"Your sincere friend and cousin, Erastus Tarbox."
The time was when Frank would have put confidence in the friendly expressions used by Mr. Tarbox, but his eyes had been opened, and he understood that if misfortune should come to him, it would not do to lean upon his cousins at Newark.
Frank wrote a civil reply to Mr. Tarbox, thanking him for his invitation, but saying that at present it would not be convenient for him to accept it. He added that should an opportunity offer he would be glad to assist Pliny to a better position than he now held.
In spite of his wish to be cordial, his letter was felt by the Tarbox family to be cold, and they regretted that they had not treated him better during his brief visit to them.
But then how could they suppose he would be so successful? If the time should ever come when he recovered his property, they would be prepared to make a determined effort to convince him that they had always been his affectionate friends.
About this time Frank received another letter, which afforded him greater satisfaction than the one from Newark.
This letter was from Col. Vincent, who, it will be remembered, had purchased Ajax when Mr. Manning persisted in selling him. It was as follows:
"My Dear Frank: I learned incidentally from one of our townsmen, who recently met you in New York, that you have been very successful in obtaining employment, and that of an honorable and responsible character. It relieved my mind, for, knowing how hard it is for a boy to make his own way in a large city, I feared that you might be suffering privation, or living poorly. I hope, however, you would in that case have applied to me for such help as your father's old friend would have been glad to offer.
"Your stepfather has not been heard from directly. I learn, however, from some friends who have met him abroad that he is having trouble with Mark, who is proving difficult to manage, and has contracted a dangerous taste for gaming. Mr. Manning was obliged to leave Baden-Baden on account of this unfortunate tendency, and is even thinking of returning to the Cedars, where his son will be removed from temptation. To this, however, Mark will be likely to make strenuous opposition. He will find it dull to settle down here after having tasted the gayety of Europe."
Here followed a little local gossip, which the writer thought might prove interesting to Frank, and the letter concluded with a cordial invitation to our hero to spend a Sunday with him, or a longer time, if he could be spared from his duties.
Frank was disposed to accept the invitation, but his acceptance was postponed by an unusual service which he was called upon to render to Mr. Percival.
Of this the reader will hear everything in the next chapter.
MR. PERCIVAL'S PROPOSAL
One morning, after writing several letters for his employer, the young secretary asked Mr. Percival if he had any further commands.
The old gentleman answered thoughtfully:
"I have been thinking of asking you to do me an unusual service."
"I shall be very glad to serve you in any way, Mr. Percival," said Frank, promptly.
"I have no doubt of it," said the old gentleman, kindly. "I have observed your willingness to undertake any duty, and, still more, your disposition to perform it thoroughly. In this particular case, however, I have been considering whether a boy of your age would be competent to do what I desire."
Frank was not self-distrustful, neither was he over-confident. He was naturally energetic and ambitious to distinguish himself, and not afraid to undertake any difficult task.
"Will you try me, Mr. Percival?" he said. "I will do my best to succeed."
"I am quite inclined to try you, Frank," said Mr. Percival; "the more so because I know of no one else in whom I could confide. But I must give you an idea of what I have in view. It would require you to make a journey."
Frank listened to this gladly. To a boy of his age, who had seen but little of the world, a journey offered attractions.
"I should like to travel," he said.
"I have no doubt about that," said Mr. Percival, smiling. "At your age I am sure I should have been equally willing to see something of the world, though traveling involved at that time far more hardships than at present. Now, however, I like best to stay by the fireside, and should dread very much a journey to Minnesota."
"To Minnesota!" exclaimed Frank, with sparkling eyes.
He had not thought of a journey so extended.
"Yes; it would be necessary for you to go out to Minnesota. Ordinarily, a man can best look after his own affairs; but in the present instance, I suspect that you could do better than myself. I don't mean this as a compliment, but a boy like you would not be suspected, and so could discover more than I, from whom facts would be studiously concealed. But, of course, you don't understand my meaning. I will explain, and then you can comprehend me."
Frank was all attention.
"You must know that I own a good deal of property in a certain township in Southern Minnesota. When a young man, I bought three hundred and twenty acres of land in the township of Jackson, obtaining it at a slight advance on government rates.
"Some improvements had been made, and I was induced to visit the place. I found but three families in residence, but I saw also that the place had large natural advantages, water-power, etc., and presented an unusually favorable site for a village. I had considerable means, and started the village by erecting a dozen houses, a store, a sawmill, gristmill, and so on.
"This formed a nucleus, and soon quite a village sprang up. The sawmill and gristmill proved profitable, all my houses were tenanted, and I erected more, securing also additional land. In course of time I was induced to sell some of my houses, but I still own two stores, a dozen houses, the saw and gristmills, besides two outlying farms.
"Living so far away, I could not attend personally to the business connected with my investment, and was compelled to appoint an agent. Up to four years since, I was fortunate enough to possess the services of a capable and trustworthy man, named Sampson. He died after a few weeks' illness, and I was compelled to look out for a successor.
"Now, I had a distant cousin, who had never succeeded very well in life, and was at that time seeking for employment of some kind. He heard of the vacancy, and importuned me to appoint him as my agent in Jackson. I had no reason to doubt his honesty, though his repeated failures might well have led me to suspect his capacity. I was weak enough, as I now consider it, to yield to his importunities and give him the post he sought.
"The result was that during the first year of his incumbency the amount turned over to me was only three-fourths as much as in the last year of his predecessor. The second year there was a further falling off. The same happened the third year, until at the present time my rents amount to less than half what they were in Mr. Sampson's time.
"Of course, my suspicions that my cousin was at least inefficient were aroused long since. I have repeatedly asked an explanation of the diminished revenues, and plenty of excuses have been made, but they do not seem to me satisfactory.
"Moreover, I have heard a rumor that Mr. Fairfield is intemperate in his habits, and I have considerable reason to believe that the story is correct. I have made up my mind that something must be done. A regard for my own interests requires that if my agent is unfaithful he should be displaced, and I wish to find out from some reliable source the true state of the case.
"Now I will tell you what I have in view. I propose to send you out to Jackson to investigate and report to me your impressions of the manner in which Mr. Fairfield discharges his duties, and whether you think a change should be made in the agency."
Frank listened to Mr. Percival with a flushed face and a feeling of gratification and pride that he should be thought of in connection with a responsible duty.
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Percival," he said, "for thinking of me in such a connection. You may feel that I am presumptuous for thinking I have any chance of successfully accomplishing what you desire, but if you are willing to trust me, I am willing to undertake it, and by following your instructions closely, and doing my best, I think I can succeed."
"I am willing to trust you, Frank," said Mr. Percival. "You are a boy, to be sure, but you have unusually good judgment, and I know you will be faithful to my interests. I understand, then, that you are willing to go out as my accredited representative?"
"Yes, sir. When do you want me to start?" said Frank, promptly.
"As soon as you can get ready."
"I will start to-morrow, if you desire it, sir."
"Let it be to-morrow, then. We will now discuss some of the details connected with the mission."
PREPARING FOR A JOURNEY
After receiving certain instructions from Mr. Percival in regard to the manner of carrying on his inquiries, Frank said:
"There is one thing I have thought of, Mr. Percival, that may interfere with my success."
"What is it, Frank? I shall be glad to receive any suggestion from you."
"I have been thinking, sir, that it may excite surprise that I should come to Jackson, and remain there without any apparent motive. Perhaps Mr. Fairfield might suspect that I came from you."
"I hardly think so, Frank. He would not suppose that I would select so young a messenger. Still, it will be well to think of some pretext for your stay. Can you help me?"
"I have been thinking, sir, that I might fit myself out as an agent, or peddler, or something of the kind. It would not only give me an excuse for my journey, but enable me to call from house to house and pick up information about Mr. Fairfield."
"A capital idea, Frank. I see that you are better fitted for the task than I supposed. I give you authority to fit yourself out in any way you choose. I shall have to leave a great deal to your own judgment."
"Then, sir, I think I might lay in a stock of stationery, pens and articles of that nature. Probably this is so common that I would be thought to be nothing more than I seemed."
"That strikes me rather favorably, Frank."
"I could fit myself out in the city, and take the articles along with me in an extra valise or carpetbag."
"Let me suggest an amendment to your plan," said Mr. Percival. "Wait till you get to Chicago, and lay in your stock there. The advantage of that arrangement will be that you will be saved the care of your merchandise up to that point, and, as you may be asked where you obtained your stock, it will create less surprise if you mention Chicago than New York. It would be considered hardly worth while for a New York boy to go so far on such a business—"
This seemed to Frank an excellent suggestion and he instantly adopted it.
The next day Frank started on his long journey. He carried with him a supply of money provided by Mr. Percival, and he was authorized to draw for more if he should require it.
He divided this money into two portions, keeping a small sum in his pocketbook, but the greater part of it in an inside vest pocket, where it would not be likely to be looked for by pickpockets.
This arrangement was suggested by Mr. Percival.
"I once experienced," he said, "the disadvantage of carrying all my money in one pocket. I was in a Southern city, or, rather, on my way to it, when an adroit pickpocket on the car relieved me of my wallet containing all my available funds. I did not find out my loss till I had arrived at the hotel and registered my name. You can imagine my embarrassment. It was my first visit to that particular city, and I had no acquaintances there, so far as I was aware. Had I mentioned my position to the landlord, he might very probably have taken me for an adventurer, traveling on false pretenses."
"What did you do, sir?" asked Frank, interested.
"I took a walk about the city, my thoughts occupied in devising a way out of my trouble. To my great relief, I had the good fortune, during the walk, to meet a New York acquaintance, who knew very well my financial standing. I told him of my difficulty, and he immediately introduced me at a bank, where I raised money on a New York draft. I resolved, however, at that time, never again to carry all my money in one pocketbook, as boats and railroad trains on the long routes are generally infested by pickpockets and sharpers."
Frank at once set about preparing for his journey.
He bought a ready-made suit of blue cloth, not unlike that worn by the district telegraph boys of to-day, which he judged would look more suitable than his ordinary attire for the character he was about to assume of a traveling peddler.
He bought a through ticket to the railroad point nearest Jackson, and then, bidding good-bye to Mr. Percival and his family, started on his trip.
Little Freddie made strenuous opposition to parting with his favorite, but Frank promised to bring him home a present, and this diverted the little fellow's thoughts.
FRANK REACHES JACKSON
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when Frank Courtney left the cars and set foot on the platform before the station at Prescott, five miles distant from the town of Jackson, in Southern Minnesota.
He looked about him, but could see no village.
Prescott was a stopping place for the cars, but there was no settlement of any account there, as he afterward found.
He had supposed he would find a stage in waiting to convey him to Jackson, but it was clear that the business was not large enough to warrant such a conveyance.
Looking about him, Frank saw a farm wagon, the driver of which had evidently come to receive some freight which had come by rail.
Approaching the driver, who seemed to be—though roughly dressed—an intelligent man, Frank inquired:
"How far is Jackson from here, sir?"
"Five miles," was the answer.
"Is there any stage running there from this depot?"
"Oh, no! If there were, it wouldn't average two passengers a day."
"Then I suppose I must walk," said Frank, looking rather doubtfully at the two heavy valises which constituted his baggage.
"Then you are going to Jackson?"
"I come from Jackson myself, and in fifteen minutes shall start on my way back. You may ride and welcome."
"Thank you, sir!" said our hero, quite relieved. "I hope you will allow me to pay you as much as I should have to pay in a stage."
"No, no, my lad," said the farmer, heartily. "The horse can draw you as well as not, and I shall be glad to have your company."
"Thank you, sir!"
"Just climb up here, then. I'll take your baggage and put it on the wagon behind."
When the farmer had loaded up, he started up the team. Then, finding himself at leisure, he proceeded to satisfy his curiosity by cross-examining his young passenger.
"Do you come from the East?" he asked.
"I am last from Chicago," answered Frank, cautiously.
"I suppose you've got some friend in Jackson?" ventured the farmer, interrogatively.
"You are the only man living in Jackson that I ever met," he said.
"Indeed!" said the driver, puzzled. "Are you calculating to make a long stay in our village?" he asked again, after a minute's pause.
"That depends on business," answered the young traveler.
"Are you in business?"
"I have a stock of stationery which I shall offer for sale in Jackson," answered Frank.
"I am afraid you'll find it rather a poor market. If that's all you have to depend upon, I am afraid you'll get discouraged."
"I am also agent for an illustrated book," said Frank. "I may be able to dispose of a few."
"Perhaps so," answered the farmer, dubiously. "But our people haven't much money to spend on articles of luxury, and books are a luxury with us."
"I always heard that Jackson was a flourishing place," said Frank, who felt that now was his time to obtain a little information.
"It ought to be," said the farmer; "but there's one thing prevents."
"What is that?"
"A good deal of our village is owned by a New York man, to whom we have to pay rent. He has a rascally agent—a Mr. Fairfield—who grinds us down by his exactions, and does what he can to keep, us in debt."
"Has he always been agent?"
"No. Before he came there was an excellent man—a Mr. Sampson—who treated us fairly, contented himself with exacting rents which we could pay, and if a man were unlucky, would wait a reasonable time for him to pay. Then we got along comfortably. But he died, and this man was sent out in his place. Then commenced a new state of things. He immediately raised the rents; demanded that they should be paid on the day they were due, and made himself harsh and tyrannical."
"Do you think the man who employs him knows how he is conducting his agency?" Frank inquired.
"No; there is no one to tell him. I suppose Mr. Fairfield tells him a smooth story, and he believes it. I am afraid we can hope for no relief."
"What would he say," thought Frank, "if he knew I were a messenger from Mr. Percival?"
"What sort of a man is this Mr. Fairfield in private life?" he asked.
"He drinks like a fish," was the unexpected reply. "Frequently he appears on the street under the influence of liquor. He spends a good deal of money, lives in a large house, and his wife dresses expensively. He must get a much larger salary than Mr. Sampson did, or he could not spend money as he does."
Though Frank had not much worldly experience, he could not help coming to the conclusion that Mr. Fairfield was acting dishonestly. He put together the two circumstances that this new agent had increased the rents, and yet that he had returned to Mr. Percival only about half as much as his predecessor had done. Clearly, he must retain in his own hands much more than he had a right to do.
"I shall have to report unfavorably on this man," he thought.
One point must be considered—where he was to find a boarding place on his arrival in Jackson.
"Is there a hotel in Jackson?" he asked.
"There is a tavern, but it's a low place," answered the farmer. "A good deal of liquor is sold there, and Mr. Fairfield, our agent, is one of the most constant patrons of the bar."
"I don't think I should like to stop there," said Frank. "Isn't there any private family where I can get board for a week or two?"
"If you don't object to plain fare," said the farmer, "I might agree to board you myself."
This was precisely what Frank wanted, and he replied that nothing would suit him better.
"We live humbly," continued Mr. Hamlin—for this, Frank learned, was his driver's name—"but we will try to make you comfortable."
"I feel sure of that, sir, and I am much obliged to you for receiving me."
"As to terms, you can pay whatever you can afford. My wife and children will be glad to see you. It's pretty quiet out here, and it breaks the monotony to meet any person from the East."
"How long have you lived in Jackson, Mr. Hamlin?"
"About eight years. I was not brought up as a farmer, but became one from necessity. I was a bookkeeper in Chicago for a good many years, until I found the confinement and close work were injuring my health. Then I came here and set up as a farmer. I got along pretty well, at first; at any rate, I made a living for my family; but when Mr. Fairfield became agent, he raised my rent, and, in other ways, made it hard for me. Now I have a hard struggle."
"I thought you were not always a farmer," said Frank.
"What made you think so?"
"You don't talk like a farmer. You have the appearance of a man who has lived in cities."
"Seems to me you are a close observer, for a boy of your years," said Mr. Hamlin, shrewdly.
"I should be glad if your compliment were deserved," he answered. "It's a pity you were not agent, instead of Mr. Fairfield," suggested Frank, pointedly.
"I wish I were," answered Hamlin. "I believe I should make a good one, though I might not turn over as much money to my employer. I should, first of all, lower the rents and make it as easy for the tenants as I could in justice to my New York principal."
"Do you know how much Mr. Fairfield receives—how large a salary, I mean?"
"I know what Mr. Sampson got—twelve hundred dollars a year; but Mr. Fairfield lives at the rate of more than twice that sum, if I can judge from appearances."
"I suppose you would be contented with the salary which Mr. Sampson received?"
"Contented! I should feel like a rich man. It would not interfere with my carrying on my farm, and I should be able to make something from that. Why, it is as much as I received as a bookkeeper, and here the expenses of living are small, compared with what they were in Chicago. I could save money and educate my children, as I cannot do now. I have a boy who wants a classical education, but of course there are no schools here which can afford it, and I am too poor to send him away from home. I suppose I shall have to bring him up as a farmer, though it is a great pity, for he is not fitted for it."
Mr. Hamlin sighed, but Frank felt in unusually good spirits. He saw his way clear already, not only to recommend Mr. Fairfield's displacement, but to urge Mr. Hamlin's appointment in his stead; that is, if his favorable impressions were confirmed on further acquaintance.
"It seems to me," said the driver, changing the subject, "you might find something better to do than to peddle stationery."
"I don't mean to follow the business long," answered Frank.
"It can't pay much."
"I am not wholly dependent upon it," said our hero. "There is one advantage about it. It enables me to travel about and pay my expenses, and you know traveling is agreeable to a boy of my age."
"That is true. Well, your expenses won't amount to much while you are in Jackson. I shall only charge you just enough to cover expenses—say three dollars a week."
Frank was about to insist on paying a larger sum, but it occurred to him that he must keep up appearances, and he therefore only thanked his kind acquaintance.
By this time they had entered the village of Jackson.
"There's Mr. Fairfield now!" said Mr. Hamlin, suddenly, pointing with his whip to a rather tall, stout man, with a red nose and inflamed countenance, who was walking unsteadily along the sidewalk.
Frank carefully scrutinized the agent, and mentally decided that such a man was unfit for the responsible position he held.
Mr. Hamlin stopped his horse a quarter of a mile from the village in front of a plain farmhouse.
An intelligent-looking boy, of perhaps fifteen, coarsely but neatly dressed, approached and greeted his father, not without a glance of surprise and curiosity at Frank.
"You may unharness the horses, Dick," said Mr. Hamlin. "When you come back, I will introduce you to a boy friend who will stay with us a while."
Dick obeyed, and Frank followed his host into the house.
Here he was introduced to Mrs. Hamlin, a motherly-looking woman, and Annie and Grace, younger sisters of Dick.
"I am glad to see you," said Mrs. Hamlin, to our hero, after a brief explanation from her husband. "We will try to make you comfortable."
"Thank you!" said Frank. "I am sure I shall feel at home."
The house was better furnished than might have been anticipated. When Mr. Hamlin left Chicago, he had some money saved up, and he furnished his house in a comfortable manner.
It was not, however, the furniture that attracted Frank's attention so much as the books, papers and pictures that gave the rooms a homelike appearance.
"I shall be much better off here than I would have been at the tavern," he thought. "This seems like home."
"I see," said Mr. Hamlin, "that you are surprised to see so many books and pictures. I admit that my house does not look like the house of a poor man, who has to struggle for the mere necessaries of life. But books and periodicals we have always classed among the necessities, and I am sure we would all rather limit ourselves to dry bread for two out of the three meals than to give up this food for the mind."
"I think you are a very sensible man, Mr. Hamlin," said Frank. "I couldn't get along without something to read."
"Not in this out-of-the-way place, at any rate," said Mr. Hamlin. "Nothing can be more dismal than the homes of some of my neighbors, who spend as much, or more, than I do every year. Yet, they consider me extravagant because I buy books and subscribe for periodicals."
By this time, Dick came in from the barn.
"Dick," said his father, "this is Frank Courtney, who comes from Chicago on a business errand. He is a traveling merchant—"
"In other words, a peddler," said Frank, with a smile, "ready to give the good people in Jackson a chance to buy stationery at reasonable prices."
"He will board with us while he is canvassing the neighborhood, and I expect you and he will become great friends."
"I think we shall," said Frank.
Dick was a little shy, but a few minutes set him quite at ease with his new acquaintance.
After supper, Frank said:
"Dick, if you are at leisure, I wish you would take a walk about the village with me. I want to see how it looks."
"All right," said Dick.
When the two left the house, the country boy began to ask questions.
"How do you like your business?" he asked.
"Not very well," answered Frank. "I do not think I shall stay in it very long."
"Do you sell enough to make your expenses?" asked Dick.
"No; but I am not wholly dependent on my sales. I have a little income—a hundred dollars a year—paid me by my stepfather."
"I wish I had as much. It seems a good deal to me."
"It doesn't go very far. What are you intending to be, Dick?"
"I suppose I shall have to be a farmer, though I don't like it."
"What would you like to be?"
"I should like to get an education," said Dick, his eyes lighting up. "I should like to study Latin and Greek, and go to college. Then I could be a teacher or a lawyer. But there is no chance of that," he added, his voice falling.
"Don't be too sure of that, Dick," said Frank Frank, hopefully. "Something may turn up in your favor."
"Nothing ever does turn up in Jackson," said the boy, in a tone of discouragement. "Father is a poor man, and has hard work to get along. He can give me no help."
"Isn't the farm productive?"
"There is no trouble about that, but he has to pay too high a rent. It's all the fault of Fairfield."
"Your father was telling me about him. Now, if your father were in his place, I suppose he could give you the advantages you wish."
"Oh, yes! There would be no trouble then. I am sure he would make a better and more popular agent than Mr. Fairfield; but there is no use thinking about that."
"I expected myself to go to college," said Frank. "In fact, I have studied Latin and Greek, and in less than a year I could be ready to enter."
"Why don't you?" asked Dick.
"You forget that I am a poor peddler."
"Then how were you able to get so good an education?" asked Dick, in surprise.
"Because I was once better off than I am now. The fact is, Dick," he added, "I have seen better days. But when I was reduced to poverty, I gave up hopes of college education and became what I am."
"Wasn't it hard?"
"Not so much as you might suppose. My home was not happy. I have a stepfather and stepbrother, neither of whom I like. In fact, there is no love lost between us. I was not obliged to leave home, but under the circumstances I preferred to."
"Where are your stepfather and your stepbrother now?"
"They are traveling in Europe."
"While you are working hard for a living! That does not seem to be just."
"We must make the best of circumstances, Dick. Whose is that large house on the left?"
"That belongs to Mr. Fairfield.
"He seems to live nicely."
"Yes, he has improved and enlarged the house a good deal since he moved into it—at Mrs. Percival's expense, I suppose."
"He seems to have pretty much his own way here," said Frank.
"Yes. Mr. Percival never comes to Jackson, and I suppose he believes all that the agent tells him."
"He may get found out some time."
"I wish he might. It would be a great blessing to Jackson if he were removed and a good man were put in his place."
"That may happen some day."
"Not very likely, I am afraid."
At this moment Mr. Fairfield himself came out of his front gate.
"Hello, Hamlin!" he said, roughly, to Dick. "Is your father at home?"
"I have something to say to him. I think I will call round."
"You will find him at home, sir."
"Dick," said Frank, when the agent had passed on, "do you mind going back? What you tell me makes me rather curious about Mr. Fairfield. At your house I may get a chance to see something of him."
"Let us go back, then," said Dick; "but I don't think, Frank, that you will care much about keeping up the acquaintance."
"Perhaps not; but I shall gratify my curiosity."
The two boys turned and followed the agent closely. They reached the house about five minutes after Mr. Fairfield.
MR. FAIRFIELD, THE AGENT
The two boys found Mr. Fairfield already seated in the most comfortable chair in the sitting room.
He looked inquiringly at Frank when he entered with Dick.
"Who is that boy, Hamlin?" inquired the agent. "Nephew of yours?"
"No, sir. It is a young man who has come to Jackson on business."
"What kind of business?'
"I sell stationery," Frank answered for himself.
"Oh, a peddler!" said the agent, contemptuously.
"Many of our most successful men began in that way," said Mr. Hamlin, fearing lest Frank's feelings might be hurt.
"I never encourage peddlers myself," said Mr. Fairfield, pompously.
"Then I suppose it will be of no use for me to call at your door," said Frank, who, in place of being mortified, was amused by the agent's arrogance.
"I should say not, unless your back is proof against a broomstick," answered Fairfield, coarsely. "I tell my servant to treat all who call in that way."
"I won't put her to the trouble of using it," said Frank, disgusted at the man's ill manners.
"That's where you are wise—yes, wise and prudent—young man."
"And now, Hamlin," said the agent, "I may as well come to business."
"To business!" repeated the farmer, rather surprised, for there was no rent due for a month.
"Yes, to business," said Fairfield. "I came to give you notice that after the next payment I shall feel obliged to raise your rent."
"Raise my rent!" exclaimed the farmer, in genuine dismay. "I am already paying a considerably higher rent than I paid to your predecessor."
"Can't help it. Old Sampson was a slow-going old fogy. He didn't do his duty by his employer. When I came in, I turned over a new leaf."
"I certainly got along better in his time."
"No doubt. He was a great deal too easy with you. Didn't do his duty, sir. Wasn't sharp enough. That's all."
"You certainly cannot be in earnest in raising my rent, Mr. Fairfield," said the farmer, uneasily.
"I certainly am."
"I can't live at all if you increase my rent, which is already larger than I can afford to pay, Mr. Fairfield."
"Then I must find a tenant who can and will," said the agent, emphatically.
"I am sure Mr. Percival can't understand the true state of the case, or the circumstances of his tenants. Will you give me his address, and I will take the liberty of writing to him and respectfully remonstrate against any increase?"
Mr. Fairfield looked uneasy.
This appeal would not at all suit him. Yet how could he object without leading to the suspicion that he was acting in this matter wholly on his own responsibility, and not by the express orders of his principal? How could he refuse to furnish Mr. Percival's address?
A middle course occurred to him.
"You may write your appeal, if you like, Hamlin," he said, "and hand it to me. I will forward it; though I don't believe it will do any good. The fact is that Mr. Percival has made up his mind to have more income from his property in Jackson."
FRANK RECEIVES A LETTER FROM MR. PERCIVAL
While Frank was waiting for an answer to a letter to Mr. Percival he devoted part of his time to the business which was supposed to be his only reason for remaining in Jackson.
I am bound to say that as regards this business his trip might be pronounced a failure. There was little ready money in Jackson. Many of the people were tenants of Mr. Percival, and found it difficult to pay the excessive rents demanded by his agent. Of course, they had no money to spare for extras. Even if they had been better off, there was little demand for stationery in the village. The people were chiefly farmers, and did not indulge in much correspondence.
When Frank returned to his boarding place on the afternoon of the first day, Mr. Hamlin asked him, not without solicitude, with what luck he had met.
"I have sold twenty-five cents' worth of note paper," answered Frank, with a smile.
Mr. Hamlin looked troubled.
"How many places did you call at?" he inquired.
"About a dozen."
"I am afraid you will get discouraged."
"If you don't do better, you won't begin to pay expenses."
"That is true."
"But perhaps you may do better to-morrow."
"I hope so."
"I wish you could find something in Jackson that would induce you to remain here permanently, and make your home with us. I would charge you only the bare cost of board."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Hamlin. I should enjoy being with you, but I don't believe I shall find any opening here. Besides, I like a more stirring life."
"No doubt—no doubt! Boys like a lively place. Well, I am glad you feel independent of your business."
"For a little time. I am afraid it wouldn't do for me to earn so little for any length of time."
Frank enjoyed the society of Dick Hamlin. Together they went fishing and hunting, and a mutual liking sprang up between them.
"I wish you were going to stay longer, Frank," said Dick. "I shall feel very lonely when you are gone."
"We may meet again under different circumstances," said Frank. "While I am here, we will enjoy ourselves as well as we can."
So the days passed, and at length a letter came from Mr. Percival. I append the most important passages:
"Your report is clear, and I have perfect confidence in your statement. Mr. Fairfield has abused my confidence and oppressed my tenants, and I shall dismiss him. I am glad you have found in Jackson a man who is capable of succeeding him. Solely upon your recommendation, I shall appoint Mr. Hamlin my resident agent and representative for the term of six months. Should he acquit himself to my satisfaction, he will be continued in the position. I am prepared to offer him one hundred dollars a month, if that will content him.
"Upon receipt of this letter, and the accompanying legal authority, you may call upon Mr. Fairfield and require him to transfer his office, and the papers and accounts connected with it, to Mr. Hamlin. I inclose a check for three hundred dollars, payable to your order, which you may make payable to him, in lieu of three months' notice, provided he immediately surrenders his office. Should he not, I shall dismiss him summarily, and proceed against him for the moneys he has misappropriated to his own use, and you may so inform him."
With this letter was a letter to Mr. Fairfield, of the same purport, and a paper appointing Mr. Hamlin agent.
When this letter was received, Frank was overjoyed, knowing how much pleasure he was about to give his new friends.
With this appointment and salary, Mr. Hamlin would consider himself a rich man, and Dick's hope for a liberal education might be realized.
The letter came just before supper, and, at the close of the evening meal, Frank determined to inform his friends of their good fortune.
"Mr. Hamlin," said he, "I have some good news for you."
"Indeed!" said the farmer, surprised.
"Your rent will not be increased."
"But how do you know this! Has Mr. Fairfield told you so?"
"No," answered Frank. "I have a question to ask. Would you be willing to take Mr. Fairfield's place at a hundred dollars a month?"
"Willing? I should be delighted to do so. But why do you say this?"
"Because," answered Frank, quietly, "I am authorized to offer it to you at that salary."
The whole family looked at Frank in bewildered surprise. It occurred to them that he might have become crazy.
"You!" exclaimed the farmer. "What can you have to do with the agency?"
Frank explained to a very happy family group and then he and Mr. Hamlin set out for the house of the agent.
THE AGENT IS NOTIFIED
It was still early in the evening when Frank and Mr. Hamlin reached the house of the agent. Had they come five minutes later, they would have found him absent. Usually, soon after supper, he made his way to the tavern, where he spent his time and money in a very unprofitable way.
The agent was surprised when his two visitors made their appearance.
"What brings you here, Hamlin?" he asked, with scant ceremony.
"I come on a little matter of business," answered Mr. Hamlin, gravely.
Mr. Fairfield concluded that the farmer had come to make an appeal to have his rent continued at the old rates, and answered, impatiently:
"I don't think it will be of much use. My mind is made up. Have you come on business, also?" he asked, turning to Frank, with a sneer.
"Yes, sir," answered our hero, quietly.
"That will be of no use, either," said the agent. "I am not in want of stationery, and, if I were, I should not buy of a peddler."
"I have not come here to sell stationery, Mr. Fairfield," said Frank.
"Then, may I take the liberty of asking what is your business here?"
"I come on the same business as Mr. Hamlin," answered Frank, who preferred that his companion should introduce the subject.
"Look here, I have no time for trifling," said Mr. Fairfield, angrily. "I am going out and can only spare you five minutes."
"Mr. Fairfield, I would advise you not to go out till you have heard what I have to say," said the farmer in a meaning tone.
"I certainly shall. You can call some other time."
"Another time will not do."
"Look here, sir! Do you know to whom you are talking? How dare you use such a tone to Mr. Percival's representative?"
"I suppose you don't always expect to be Mr. Percival's representative?"
"I suppose I shall die sometime, if that's what you mean; but I am not dead yet, as you will find. To pay you for your impertinence, I shall increase your rent more than I intended. I'll drive you out of town—that's what I'll do."
This was accompanied by an angry stamp of the foot, which, however, did not frighten Mr. Hamlin much.
"I shall not pay a dollar more rent, nor shall I leave the farm I occupy," returned Mr. Hamlin, whose patience was exhausted by the rough insolence of the man before him.
"So you defy me, do you?" demanded Fairfield, furiously.
"I shall resist your injustice, sir, or rather I would do so if you were able to carry out your threat. Luckily you have not the power."
"Have not the power? You will see if I have not the power!" roared the angry agent. "I give you notice that at the end of the quarter you must go, at any rate. After your insolence, I won't let you stay on any terms. I wouldn't let you stay if you would pay double the rent. Do you hear me, Hamlin?"
"Yes, I hear you."
Mr. Fairfield looked at the farmer in surprise. The latter seemed perfectly calm and undisturbed by his threat, though it was of the most serious nature. He had expected to see him humbled, and to hear him entreat a reversal of the sentence; but his tenant was thoroughly self-possessed, and appeared to care nothing for the agent's threats.
"You need not expect that I will change my mind," he added. "Out of Jackson you must go. I know there is no other farm which you can hire, and while I am Mr. Percival's agent, you need expect no favors from me."
"I don't expect any while you are Mr. Percival's agent," said Mr. Hamlin.
There was something in the farmer's tone that arrested the agent's attention and excited his curiosity, though it did not awaken his alarm, and he could not help saying:
"Then what do you expect? Do you think I am going to die?"
"I don't expect that you will die or resign, Mr. Fairfield. You may be removed."
"Have you been writing to Mr. Percival?" exclaimed Fairfield, in mingled anger and apprehension.
"No, sir; I have not communicated with him in any way. You would not give me his address."
"Of course I would not," said the agent, feeling relieved. "It would be mere impertinence for you to write to him."
"Fortunately there is no immediate occasion for me to do so, as he has sent a representative here to investigate your official conduct."
"A representative!" exclaimed Fairfield, now thoroughly startled. "Where is he? I have not seen him."
"He is present," said Mr. Hamlin, indicating Frank.
The agent broke into a scornful laugh.
"You? Why, you are a peddler!"
"Only in appearance, Mr. Fairfield. I assumed that business in order not to attract attention or excite suspicion. I am really Mr. Percival's private secretary, as I can prove to your satisfaction."
"Is this true?" he asked, in a changed voice.
"Yes, sir; quite true."
"Have you written to Mr. Percival?"
"Yes, sir; and this afternoon I received a letter from him."
"What did he write?" asked Fairfield, in a husky voice; for he was convinced now that Frank spoke the truth.
"He removes you, inclosing a check of three hundred dollars in place of notice, and appoints Mr. Hamlin in your place."
"Will you read this letter, sir?"
It was enough. Fairfield knew that his management would not stand investigation, and he yielded with a bad grace.
Mr. Hamlin, the next day, to the great joy of the villagers, made known his appointment.
Fairfield left town and drifted to California, where he became an adventurer, living in a miserable and precarious manner. Mr. Hamlin moved into his fine house, and Dick was sent to a school to prepare for college.
The next day Frank started on his return to New York.
AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY
On his return to New York, Frank had no reason to be dissatisfied with his reception. From Mr. Percival to Freddie, all the family seemed delighted to see him.
"You mustn't go away again, Frank," said little Freddie. "I wanted to see you ever so much."
"And I wanted to see you, Freddie," said our hero, his heart warming to the little boy.
"You won't go away again, will you, Frank?"
"Not if I can help it, Freddie."
"We are all glad to see you back Frank," said his employer. "But you have justified my opinion of you by your success. Some of my friends ridiculed me for sending a boy on such an important mission, but I don't believe any of them would have succeeded any better than you, if as well."
"I am glad you are satisfied with me, sir," said Frank, very much gratified by the commendation of his employer.
"I feel that you have done a great service, and indeed I don't know whom I could have sent in your place. However, I am glad to see you back again. I have missed you about my letters, and have postponed answering some till my young secretary returned."
Frank resumed his regular employment, and three months passed without anything that needs to be recorded.
At the end of that time, Frank received an important letter from Col. Vincent, which gave him much food for thought.
The letter was as follows:
"Dear Frank: For some time past I have been intending to write to you, but I have delayed for no good reason. Now, however, I am led to write by a surprising discovery which has just been made in your old home, which may be of material importance to you.
"When your stepfather went away, he requested me to have an eye to the estate, and order whatever I might think necessary to be done. I am not, as you know, a very cordial friend of Mr. Manning's, but I have always regarded the property as of right belonging to you—that is, since your mother's death—and so accepted the commission.
"A few days since I went over the house and found that it was quite dirty. Where the dirt could come from in an unoccupied house I can't tell, but, at all events, I felt justified in engaging a woman to clean the paint, so, if any of you should return unexpectedly, you would find the house fit to receive you. This was a very simple matter, you will think, and scarcely needs mentioning. But, my dear Frank, events of importance often hinge on trifles, and so it has proved in the present instance.
"On the evening of the second day I received a call from Mrs. Noonan, whom I had employed to scrub the house. She had in her hand a folded paper, which she gave to me.
"'Here is something I found, sir, while I was scrubbing,' she said.
"I opened it indifferently, but conceive of my amazement when I found it to be your mother's will, properly signed, sealed and witnessed.
"Of course it was not the will which Mr. Manning presented for probate. This will gave Mr. Manning ten thousand dollars, and the residue of the property to you, except a small amount bestowed upon Richard Green, the coachman, and Deborah—sums larger, by the way, than those mentioned in the will which was read after your mother's death."
There was more to Colonel Vincent's letter.
Frank showed it to Mr. Percival, and readily obtained permission to take a few days vacation.
"I hope you will get back the estate, Frank," said Mr. Percival, "though I don't know what I shall do without my secretary."
"That need not separate us, Mr. Percival," said our hero. "I have no home but this."
Frank started for his old home on Saturday afternoon. He would arrive in time for supper, at the house of his father's friend. The train was well filled, and he was obliged to share his seat with a shabbily dressed young man with whom, a single glance showed him, he was not likely to sympathize.
The shabby suit did not repel him at all—he was too sensible for that; but there was a furtive look in the man's face, which seemed to indicate that he was not frank and straightforward, but had something to conceal.
Half the journey passed without a word between the two. Then his companion, glancing at Frank, opened a conversation by remarking that it was a fine day.
"Very," answered Frank, laconically.
"A pleasant day to travel."
"Do you go far?"
Frank mentioned his destination. His companion seemed to have his interest awakened.
"Do you know a Mr. Manning, living in your town?" he asked.
"He is my stepfather," said Frank.
"Then you are Frank Courtney?" said his new acquaintance, quickly.
"Pardon me, but I think your mother died recently?"
"And the property was left chiefly to Mr. Manning?"
"Of course, you were surprised, and probably very disappointed?"
"Excuse me," said Frank, coldly; "but I am not in the habit of discussing my affairs with strangers."
"Quite right, but I think you will find it for your interest to discuss them with me. Not in a public car, of course; but I have something of importance to communicate. Where can I have a private interview with you?"
It at once occurred to Frank that there was an opportunity, perhaps, to solve the mystery concerning the will. This man might know nothing about it; but, on the other hand, he might know everything. It would be foolish to repulse him.
"If you have anything important to tell me, I shall be glad to hear it," he said. "I am going to the house of my friend, Col. Vincent, to pass a few days. Do you know where he lives?"
"Yes, I know."
"If you will call this evening, after supper, I shall be glad to see you."
"I will do so. I will be there at eight o'clock, sharp."
On arriving at his destination, Frank found the colonel's carriage waiting for him at the station.
Col. Vincent was inside.
"Welcome, Frank!" he said, grasping heartily the hand of our young hero. "I am delighted to see you. You are looking well, and, bless me, how you have grown!"
"Thank you, Col. Vincent. Do you expect me to return the compliment?"
"About having grown? No, Frank, I hope not. I am six feet one, and don't care to grow any taller. Well, what do you think of the news?"
"I have some for you, colonel;" and Frank mentioned what his new acquaintance had told him.
"The missing link!" exclaimed the colonel, excited. "Do you know what I think?"
"That this man either forged the will which gives the property to your stepfather, or is cognizant of it!"
"I thought of that."
"I shall be impatient to see him."
At eight o'clock the man called and gave his name as Jonas Barton. Whether it was the right name might be a question; but this did not matter.
"I understand," said Col. Vincent, "that you have some information to give us."
"I have; and that of a very important nature."
"Is it of a nature to restore to my young friend here his property now in the possession of Mr. Manning?"
"If it were," said Jonas Barton with a cunning glance of his left eye "how much would it be worth?"
"I supposed it was for sale," said the colonel, quietly. "What is your own idea?"
"I will take two thousand dollars."
"Suppose we say one thousand?"
"It is not enough."
"Were you aware that the genuine will had been found?" asked the colonel, quietly.
Jonas Barton started.
"I thought Mr. Manning destroyed it," he said, hastily.
"No; he concealed it."
"Is this true?"
"Yes. You see that a part of your information has been forestalled."
"He was a fool, then, and still more a fool to refuse my last demand for money. I accept your offer of a thousand dollars, and will tell all."
"I wrote the will which Mr. Manning presented for probate. It was copied in part from the genuine will."
"Good! And you betray him because he will not pay what you consider the service worth?"
Jonas Barton here gave a full account of Mr. Manning, whom he had formerly known in New York, seeking him out and proposing to him a job for which he was willing to pay five hundred dollars. Barton was not scrupulous, and readily agreed to do the work. He was skillful with the pen, and did his work so well that all were deceived.
"You will be willing to swear to this in court?"
"Yes, sir, if you will guarantee the sum you proposed."
"I will. I shall wish you to find a boarding place in the village, and remain here for the present, so as to be ready when needed. I will be responsible for your board."
As Jonas Barton was leaving the house, one of the servants came in with important news, in which Frank was strongly interested.
The news was that Mr. Manning and Mark had just arrived at the Cedars. They had come by the last evening train. Why they had come back so unexpectedly no one knew, but the servant had heard that Mark was in poor health. This was true.
Mark, in Europe, had proved uncontrollable. He had given way to his natural love of drink, had kept late hours, and had seriously injured his constitution. In consequence of these excesses, he had contracted a fever, which alarmed him father and induced him to take the first steamer home.
"We won't call upon your stepfather this evening, Frank," said Col. Vincent; "but early Monday morning we will bring matters to a crisis."
Mr. Manning did not hear of Frank's presence in the village. He was fatigued with his rapid travel and kept at home. Besides, Mark was prostrated by his journey and didn't wish to be left alone.
It was, therefore, a surprise to Mr. Manning when on Monday morning, Col. Vincent was ushered into his presence, accompanied by Frank.
"Really, colonel," he said, recovering his composure, "you are very kind to call so soon. I hope you are well, Frank? Are you staying with the colonel? You must come back to your old home."
"Thank you, Mr. Manning, but I am living in New York. I am only passing a day or two with the colonel."
"It is very friendly in you to call, Col. Vincent."
"Mr. Manning," said Col. Vincent, gravely, "I am not willing to receive undeserved credit. Let me say, therefore, that this is a business, not a friendly, call."
"Indeed," said Manning, uneasily.
"The business is connected with my young friend Frank."
"I am ready to listen," said Mr. Manning. "If Frank wants a larger allowance, I am ready to give it."
"I venture to say for him that he will not be satisfied with that. Let me come to the point at once, Mr. Manning. Mrs. Manning's will has been found."
Mr. Manning started perceptibly, and his glance involuntarily wandered to that part of the wall behind which the will was discovered, for they were sitting in the very apartment where Mrs. Noonan had stumbled upon it.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"A will has been found, leaving the bulk of the property to Frank."
"Indeed! I am surprised. Is it a later will than the one which bequeathed the estate to me?" asked Mr. Manning, pointedly.
"It is Mrs. Manning's latest genuine will," said Col. Vincent, emphatically.
Mr. Manning started to his feet. He could not help understanding the colonel's meaning. It would have been idle to pretend it.
"What do you mean, Col. Vincent?" he asked, in a tone which he tried to make one of dignified resentment.
"I mean that Mrs. Manning made but one will, and that this bequeaths the property to Frank."
"How, then, do you account for the later will which was admitted to probate?"
"In this way. It was not what it purported to be."
Mr. Manning's sallow face flushed.
"What do you mean to insinuate?" he asked.
"That the last will was forged!" said Col. Vincent, bluntly.
"This is a very serious charge," said Mr. Manning, unable to repress his agitation. "You must allow me to say that I shall pay no attention to it. When you furnish proof of what you assert, it will be time enough to meet it. And now, gentlemen, if you have nothing further to say, I will bid you good-morning."
"I think you will find it best not to be in a hurry, Mr. Manning," said Col. Vincent. "The charge must be met here and now. I charge you with instigating and being cognizant of the fraud that has been perpetrated!"
"On what grounds, sir? Do you know I can sue you for libel?"
"You are welcome to do so, Mr. Manning. I have a witness who will clear me."
"Who is he?"
If a bombshell had exploded in the room, Mr. Manning could not have looked paler or more thoroughly dismayed. Yet he tried to keep up a little longer.
"I don't know any man of that name," he answered, faintly.
"Your looks show that you do. I may as well tell you, Mr. Manning, that resistance is useless. We can overwhelm you with proof if we take the matter before the courts. But we do not care to do so. We have something to propose."
"What is it?" said Mr. Manning, faintly.
"The genuine will must be substituted for the fraudulent one. By it you will receive ten thousand dollars, and Frank will consent that you shall receive it. He will not ask you to account for the sums you have wrongfully spent during the last year, and will promise not to prosecute you, provided you leave this neighborhood and never return to it, or in any way interfere with him. To insure this, we shall have Jonas Barton's written confession, attested before a justice of the peace, ready for use, if needful. Do you accept?"
"I must," said Mr. Manning, despondently. "But I shall be a poor man."
"No man who has health and the use of his facilities is poor with ten thousand dollars," answered the colonel.
"Mark alone will spend more than the interest of this sum."
"Then you must prevent him. He will be better off if he has to earn his living, as Frank has done for the last year."
In less than a week the transfer was made, and Frank recovered his patrimony.
Mr. Manning and Mark went to Chicago, and perhaps further West; but nothing has been heard from them for years.
Frank didn't return to the Cedars. The place was let until he should wish to return to it.
By the advice of Col. Vincent, he resumed his preparation for college, and, graduating in due time, commenced the study of law.
Though rich enough to do without a profession, he felt that he should not be content to lead an aimless life.
He obtained for his school friend, Herbert Grant, the post of private secretary to Mr. Percival, and Herbert became nearly as great a favorite as himself.
Through Mr. Percival's kindness, Herbert was enabled, while still living at his house and attending to his duties as secretary, to enter Columbia College, and complete his course there, graduating with honor.
Herbert selected the medical profession, and, when he has completed his studies, will go abroad for a year with Frank, at the latter's expense, and, returning, open an office in New York.
While he is waiting for the patients and Frank for clients, the two will live together, and their common expenses will be defrayed by Frank.
"If I didn't like you so well, Frank," said Herbert, "I would not accept this great favor at your hands—"
"But since we are dear friends," interrupts Frank, with a smile.
"I know that you enjoy giving even more than I do the receiving."
"Enough, Herbert. We understand each other. I have no brother, Herbert, and if I had, I could not care more for him than I do for you. Without you, I should feel alone in the world."
Frank does not regret the year in which he was thrown upon his own resources. It gave him strength and self-reliance; and however long he may live, he will not cease to remember with pleasure the year in which he was "Making His Way."