"Young man," he said, "can you call on me this evening?"
"I shall leave the city to-morrow, and, though it is of no consequence to me, I suppose you would like to know my decision in regard to the matter you broached the other day."
"I will call," said Gilbert, bowing.
"He looks as if he were going to defy me," thought our hero. "Well, I am ready for him."
In the evening he called, and was shown up to his uncle's room.
"Good-evening, Mr. Grey," he said, politely.
"Good-evening, young sir," said the other. "You did me the honor, the other day, of claiming relationship with me?"
"Knowing that your claim had no foundation, but was only an impudent fabrication, instigated by cupidity——"
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Gilbert, quietly, "but that statement I deny most positively. I have not the slightest doubt that that relationship exists; neither has Mr. Ferguson."
"You have succeeded in duping Mr. Ferguson. You will find it a harder task to dupe me. If you knew me better, you would have hesitated before you attempted to humbug me in that barefaced way."
"If you knew me better, Uncle James——"
"I am not your Uncle James."
"Mr. Grey, then. If you knew me better, Mr. Grey, you would know that I am not capable of making a false claim."
"Oh! no doubt you are very honest—the soul of integrity," sneered James Grey; "but every one has his price, and, as the success of your imposture would make you rich for life, you concluded to leave honesty out of the question."
James Grey might at once have referred to his possession of the paper, but he could not forbear playing with Gilbert, as a cat with a mouse, enjoying meanwhile the power which he possessed of crushing his claims by a single statement.
"Your charge is entirely unjust," said Gilbert, quietly. "I shall appreciate the money to which I am rightfully entitled, to be sure; but I want to settle my claim, also, to my father's name, of which I was so long ignorant."
"If you choose to call yourself Grey, or Green, or Brown, there is no law to prevent you, I suppose," said Mr. Grey, sarcastically; "but when you, a street bootblack, try to force your way into a respectable family, there is considerable to be said."
"I am not ashamed of having been a bootblack," said our hero, calmly. "I was earning an honest living, though an humble one; and I was not living upon what belonged to another."
"Do you mean me?" interrupted his uncle, angrily.
"You must decide whether you are meant, Mr. Grey."
"Suppose now I decline to consider seriously this very impudent claim of yours, what are you going to do about it?"
"I shall take legal advice."
"How do you expect to pay a lawyer?"
"I shall try to manage it."
"No lawyer will undertake such a discreditable case."
"I happen to be acquainted with one lawyer that will. In fact, I have mentioned the matter to him, and I am acting by his advice now."
"Does he tell you that you have a good case?"
"What does he say is the strongest part of it?"
"The statement of Jacob Morton."
"Do you happen to have it with you?"
"No, sir. After the experience of my last call, I prefer not to bring it."
"You can't produce it," said James Grey, triumphantly.
"Because you have no such document."
"You are mistaken there."
"I have the strongest reason for saying that this forged document, on which you so much rely, is no longer in your possession."
"I should like to know your reason," said Gilbert, struck by his uncle's significant manner.
"Then I will tell you. It is not in your possession, because it is in mine!"
"What do you mean, sir?" asked Gilbert, somewhat startled.
"Just what I say. I have obtained possession of the paper which you so artfully concocted, and pretended to be the dying statement of Jacob Morton."
"What, did Mr. Ferguson give it to you?" asked Gilbert, amazed.
"Mr. Ferguson? What had he to do with it?"
"It is in his safe. I deposited it there, the morning after my interview with you."
"That is a lie!" exclaimed Mr. Grey, in excitement. "You placed it in your trunk."
"Oh!" said Gilbert, as light dawned upon him, "I understand you, now. Before carrying it to Mr. Ferguson, I made a copy for reference, thinking, also, that you might want to look at it again. That copy I left in my trunk; but the original is in Mr. Ferguson's safe."
"I don't believe you," said James Grey, furiously.
"It is perfectly true. I suppose that the young man who I hear called at my room one day in my absence, was your agent, and that he stole the paper."
"Out of my room, you scoundrel!" roared James Grey, whose disappointment was in proportion to his former exultation. "I defy you!"
Gilbert saw that it would be of no use to prolong the discussion. He bowed quietly, and left the room.
A SUDDEN DEPARTURE.
After James Grey's triumphant feeling that he had spiked the guns of his young adversary, the revulsion and disappointment of defeat were all the more disheartening. He would like to have believed his tale a false one, but that was not easy. On a closer inspection of the paper which Maurice Walton had brought to him, he discovered a water-mark in the paper showing that it had only been manufactured the year previous. As Gilbert had been in Cincinnati three years, this, of course, was sufficient to show that the document could not be genuine.
"Who would have imagined the fellow so shrewd?" ejaculated his uncle, pacing the room with hurried steps. "He lost no time in locking up the paper. I'm afraid he's going to be a dangerous enemy."
"What a fool I am—a full-grown man, with fifty years' experience of the world, to be afraid of what a boy can do! No, he shall not gain his point. Possession is nine points of the law, and possession is mine. If he undertakes to oust me, he must be careful, for I have not lived in luxury, and grown accustomed to it for years, to resign it quietly now. If it is going to be a fight, it shall be a desperate one."
One of the smaller mortifications which Mr. Grey experienced was that of paying Maurice Walton a hundred and ten dollars, without receiving any benefit from the outlay.
"I'd get the money back, if I could," he thought, but reflection convinced him that this would be impossible. Besides, the best way to secure Maurice's continued silence, was to leave him in undisturbed possession of the money.
"After all, there's one good thing about him," considered Mr. Grey, "he hates my rascally nephew. For that alone I make him welcome to the money, though he has done me no good."
How should he carry on the campaign? That was the first thing to be considered. Evidently his policy was to be passive. He must remain on the defensive, leaving the aggressive part of the conflict to his nephew. First in the programme, he determined to leave Cincinnati at once, so that no legal process might be served upon him.
"Fortunately, the boy does not know where I live, nor can his employer give him any clew, as he, too, is ignorant of it. If he takes the trouble to call upon me again, he will find the bird flown."
James Grey was a man of quick action. He no sooner came to this determination than he proceeded to carry it out. Proceeding to the clerk's desk, he announced his immediate departure. Then, taking care not to order a hotel carriage, lest this should afford a clew to his destination, he left the hotel with his carpet-bag in his hand, and took a cab from the next street. He was driven direct to the depot, and, in a few minutes, was on his way westward.
"How lucky it was that I took the paper from my trunk," thought Gilbert, as he left the hotel. "Probably it would, by this time, have been destroyed, had it come into my uncle's possession. I think I'm a little ahead of him, this time."
Gilbert was not intimidated, nor were his resolutions shaken by the defiant tone in which his uncle had spoken to him. He was a spirited boy, and he meant to stick to his rights, as he understood them. He was not one to be browbeaten or cheated, and he resolved to fight out the battle.
"I will call on my uncle to-morrow evening," he resolved. "He will then have had twenty-four hours to think over the situation, and, if he is a man of sense, he will see that he can't get over my proofs."
When Mr. Ferguson, therefore, asked him how the business progressed, he answered that nothing definite had been settled upon, but that he was to have another interview with his uncle in the evening.
"It will take some time to bring him round, I think," said his employer. "A man doesn't resign a fine estate without some opposition. If you should need any advice, at any time, you may apply to me freely."
"Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, I certainly will. Perhaps I may need to do it to-morrow."
In the evening our hero walked into the hotel, and, stepping up to the desk, inquired if Mr. Grey was in.
"He has gone away," was the answer.
"Gone!" exclaimed Gilbert, in manifest dismay, for that possibility had not occurred to him.
"Yes—he went away yesterday afternoon."
"Do you know where he went? From what depot?"
"I cannot tell you. He didn't take a carriage, but walked. Probably he went home."
"Will you let me see his name on the register?"
The book was placed before him, and Gilbert, finding the entry of his uncle's name, saw opposite it, "St. Louis, Mo."
"So he lives in St. Louis," thought our hero. "It won't be hard to find him, then. His name is probably in the directory. I must go at once to St. Louis. This business ought to be attended to at once."
Of course, it was necessary to speak to his employer about leave of absence. Probably, also, Mr. Ferguson would be able to give him some valuable advice, and he was likely to stand in need of it, for the undertaking on which he had entered was of no light character. Single-handed, he could hardly hope to overcome so experienced and determined an opponent as James Grey. He sought Mr. Ferguson, and gave him a full account of what had happened thus far. He concluded by stating the departure of his uncle.
"Well, Gilbert," said Mr. Ferguson, after he had finished, "have you thought of anything further, or will you let the matter rest?"
"Never!" exclaimed our hero, with energy. "I will not rest till I have recovered the property of which my uncle has deprived me."
"That will be difficult."
"I know it, but I am not afraid of difficulty. It is not impossible. He thrust me into the streets of New York to earn my living as a bootblack; and I might have been there now, if Jacob had not revealed to me the story of my birth."
"You don't express yourself much like a street-boy now, Gilbert."
"No, sir. I hope I have improved since then."
"I used to be amused, sometimes, by the expressions you used."
"I don't wonder, sir. I must have talked like a young barbarian; but I am grateful to God for having raised me above my former ignorance."
"It is determined, then, that you will prosecute your claims. How do you propose to do it?"
"I must first go to St. Louis and see my uncle again."
"Does he live in St. Louis?"
"How do you know? Did he tell you so?"
"No, sir. But I read it on the hotel register, at the hotel."
"Did he register himself before he first met you?"
"Where was he before?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Then what reason have you to think that he registered correctly? Why did he change his hotel? I may be wrong, but it strikes me that it was intended as a blind to deceive you. Your uncle is a shrewd man, and he would understand the importance of keeping his real residence concealed from one who had in his power to prosecute a claim against him involving nearly his whole fortune."
"Then you don't think he lives in St. Louis, Mr. Ferguson?"
"I don't think he does."
Gilbert looked blank.
"That interferes with my plans," he said. "I meant to ask a month's leave of absence from you, and go to St. Louis and see what I could do."
"That would take money."
"I have saved up about eight hundred dollars," said Gilbert.
"Eight hundred dollars?" repeated his employer, surprised. "How was it possible for you to save so much?"
"I have no board to pay. My roommate is rich, and I was the means of doing him a service which he repays in that way."
"I congratulate you, Gilbert. It speaks well for your habits that you have laid aside so much money. I was about to offer you a loan."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Ferguson," said Gilbert, gratefully; "but I don't think I shall need it. I shall have money enough, but that is not all. From what you say, I am afraid, if I went to St. Louis, it would only be a wild-goose chase."
"Stay," said Mr. Ferguson, after a moment's thought; "an idea strikes me. You may gain the knowledge you want with very little trouble. Mind, I say may. It is not certain."
"How, sir?" said Gilbert, eagerly.
MAURICE BETRAYS HIMSELF.
"In this way," answered Mr. Ferguson. "Your uncle did not register his name at the Burnet House till after his encounter with you in the street. Probably his reason for changing his hotel was to prevent your examining the register of the one at which he was previously staying, and so ascertaining his real residence. The same motive would lead him to give the wrong address in the new hotel."
"Yes, sir; that seems likely, but how is that going to help me?"
"You must try to ascertain where he formerly stopped. Go to the principal hotels, and examine their registers for a fortnight back. Probably that will cover all the time in which your uncle is likely to have arrived."
"Yes, I see," said Gilbert, brightening up. "It is a good plan, and I think it will succeed."
"I hope so, for your sake."
Gilbert lost no time in following out his employer's suggestion. First, he went to the Gibson House; but he examined the books to no purpose. He looked back as far as twenty days, but could not find the name of James Grey.
"He can't have stopped at this hotel," he said to himself.
Next he went to the Spencer House. It occurred to him that possibly his uncle's name might be recognized, so he asked the clerk:
"Has a gentleman named James Grey stopped with you lately?"
"Grey? I believe so," said the clerk, after a moment's reflection. "He left us about a week since."
"Yes, it is the same," said Gilbert, eagerly. "Was he here long?"
"Only two or three days."
This, of course, made the examination easy. In point of fact, ten days back Gilbert found recorded on the books:
James Grey, Clayton, Illinois.
"Clayton, Illinois," repeated Gilbert; "that's a place I never heard of. I wonder where it is? It can't be much of a place. Can you tell me in what part of Illinois Clayton is?" he inquired of the clerk.
"Never heard of it," said that official, indifferently.
"Clayton, Illinois?" said a gentleman who had just come up to leave his key. "I can tell you where it is."
"It is a small town on the Mississippi river, north of Alton—I should think about thirty or forty miles. I never was there, but I've passed it while ascending the river on a steamboat."
"Thank you, sir," said our hero.
As may be supposed, he was not a little elated at his discovery. In spite of James Grey's prudent precautions, his nephew felt that he had not been shrewd enough. St. Louis had not answered the purpose. The insignificant place where he had supposed himself safe from pursuit, was now known, and Gilbert determined that there should be no cessation of hostilities. He was resolved to follow up the attack, and force his uncle to do him justice.
Meanwhile Maurice Walton could not but observe that something was going on. He noticed Gilbert's absence from the store, and his frequent interviews with Mr. Ferguson, and rightly inferred that they had something to do with James Grey.
"I wonder if he has found out the loss of the paper?" he thought. "He must have discovered it, and that's why he is in such a flutter. If it's spoilt his chances, so much the better. I owe him a grudge, and, if I've put a spoke in his wheel, I shall be glad."
One incident, having its effect upon the narrative, has not yet been recorded.
When James Grey left the hotel, carpet-bag in hand, he chanced to meet Maurice, just before he took a hack to the depot. An idea flashed upon him that Maurice might be useful to him as a spy upon his nephew, and might be engaged to watch and give him timely notice of his movements. He therefore paused, and Maurice perceived that he wished to speak with him.
"Good-day, sir," he said.
"Good-day. I am glad to meet you, for I have something to say to you. That paper you brought me was not the right one."
"Not the right one?" repeated Maurice, in alarm, for he thought Mr. Grey was about to demand back the hundred dollars, which he would have been very sorry to surrender.
"No; the rascal had been cunning enough to put the original in Mr. Ferguson's safe, and leave only a copy in his trunk. The paper you brought me was the copy."
"Does Gilbert say so?"
"Perhaps he lies."
"So I thought; but the date on the paper confirms his story."
"It wasn't my fault. I think I earned the money."
"You can keep it. I have no intention of asking it back; but I shall want to employ you further."
"To get the paper from the safe?"
"Can you do it?"
"I am afraid not. If I were caught doing it, I should be dismissed, and perhaps arrested."
"If you succeed, I will give you another hundred dollars."
"I should like the money."
"Watch for a good chance. You may be able to do it unobserved."
"Are you going to leave the city?"
"Yes, I leave at once."
"Suppose I get the paper—what shall I do with it?"
"Send it by mail to my address."
"Where is that, sir?"
"Can I rely upon you not to communicate it to Gilbert Grey? It would do him a great deal of good."
"Then I certainly won't tell him," said Maurice, decidedly.
Knowing the state of feeling between Maurice and his nephew, Mr. Grey felt satisfied with this assurance.
"I don't want you even to put it on paper," he continued. "Gilbert might get hold of it. You can remember it without."
"Very well, sir."
"It is Clayton, Illinois, to the north of Alton, on the river. Now, can you remember Clayton?"
"I will think of Henry Clay."
"That will be a good reminder. As to the State, you are not very likely to forget that. Now, if you find the paper, inclose it in an envelope, and mail it to JAMES GREY, Clayton, Illinois. As soon as I receive it, I will send you, or bring you, a hundred dollars."
"Very well, sir; I will try, but I am not sure whether I shall succeed. It's harder than the other job."
"Are you suspected of that?"
"I don't think so."
"That is not all. I shall want to learn about the fellow's movements. He may be planning some conspiracy, of which it is important that I should be apprised. Now, you are in the same office, and likely to know what is going on."
"I want you to watch carefully, and, whenever you learn anything worthy my knowing, write me immediately, to the address I have given you. See if you remember it."
"For every letter containing information of value, I will send you ten dollars. I shall not write direct from Clayton, lest the letter be seen, but I will manage to have my letters posted from St. Louis. That is where Gilbert supposes I am living."
"Perhaps you had better direct to my boarding-place, and not to the store."
"A good suggestion. Give me your address."
James Grey took it down in his memorandum book.
"I believe that is all," he said. "Remain faithful to my interests," he added, "and I will take care you do not regret it."
"I shall not regret it, if it interferes with Gilbert Grey."
"If you are his enemy, you cannot harm him more than by devoting yourself to my service."
"I will do it."
James Grey now hurried away, and Maurice went back to the store. He thought himself unsuspected of the theft of the paper, but he did not long remain so, and it was through his own imprudence that it happened.
The black mustache which he had used as a disguise he thrust carelessly in his vest pocket. One day in the store, in drawing out his watch-key, the mustache came too, and dropped on the floor.
Maurice stooped hastily to pick it up, but not till Gilbert had seen it. The latter at once remembered the servant's description of the young man who called for his opera-glass.
"How long have you had that mustache, Maurice?" he asked, pointedly.
"I bought it yesterday," muttered Maurice, in confusion.
"I thought you might have had it longer," said Gilbert, quietly.
Maurice did not answer.
"Now I know who stole the paper," thought our hero. "I must be on my guard against him."
He said nothing further; but Maurice knew that he was suspected, and it only incensed him the more against his fellow-clerk.
MAURICE AND BESSIE BENTON.
Gilbert could not help wondering how Maurice and Mr. James Grey were brought together, and how it happened that the former became his uncle's agent and accomplice. He knew, however, that Maurice never liked him, and guessed that this had been an inducement.
"I wonder," he thought, "if there is any chance of his communicating my plans to Mr. Grey? It will be best for me to keep him in ignorance of my destination."
When, therefore, he was ready to start, he resolved only to tell him that he was going to St. Louis. This was, in truth, his first destination, but, as we know, he intended to go farther.
Maurice, who didn't before know of Gilbert's plans, was surprised when the latter walked up to him and said:
"I must bid you good-by for a time, Maurice."
"Are you going away?" exclaimed his fellow-clerk, staring at him in amazement.
"Yes, I am going away for a short time."
"To St. Louis."
"On business for Mr. Ferguson?"
"No, it is on my own business."
"I suppose it has something to do with his uncle," thought Maurice, but he thought it most prudent not to say this.
"How long do you expect to be gone?" he asked.
"I don't know—it depends on how successful I am."
"Bessie Benton will miss you," said Maurice, sarcastically.
"So she said," answered Gilbert quietly, appreciating his motive.
"When did you see her?" asked Maurice, with a twinge of jealousy.
This made Maurice feel very uncomfortable. Bessie had grown very pretty, and he admired her more than ever, but with a strange perversity, as he thought, she didn't appear to reciprocate the feeling. On the other hand, she appeared to care a good deal more for Gilbert's society than for that of Maurice. It came to him now, with a feeling of joy, that when Gilbert was away Bessie would naturally turn to him for companionship.
"I think I shall go up there this evening myself," he said. (It must be explained that Maurice no longer boarded at his uncle's.) "If you have any message to send, I can take it."
"Give Bessie my love," said Gilbert, a little mischievously, knowing that Maurice would never carry such a message.
"I will remember you to Miss Benton," said Maurice, with dignity.
"Oh! don't take the trouble," said Gilbert, carelessly; "it isn't at all necessary."
"Then I won't."
"Just as you please."
"I never saw such an amount of cheek in my life," said Maurice to himself. "I've a great mind to drop a hint to Bessie. She notices him altogether too much."
So Maurice, fulfilling his determination of calling that evening, managed to introduce the subject.
"Gilbert Grey called on you last evening, didn't he?"
"Yes; he is going away. He came to say good-by."
"I sha'n't miss him much."
"Why not? Are you not a good deal together?"
"In the store we are together. Out of it, I don't care to keep his company."
"He isn't my style."
"If it means that he does not resemble you, Maurice, I think you are right."
"He is very much stuck up."
"Really, Maurice—I hope you will excuse my saying it—I think that charge could be brought against you more justly."
"Do you mean to say I am stuck up?" asked Maurice, indignantly.
"Perhaps it is only your manner."
"But do you think I seem so?"
"More than Gilbert."
"You seem very familiar with Grey, to call him Gilbert."
"Of course I am familiar with him. Why shouldn't I be?"
"It doesn't show very good taste on your part."
"I don't know about that. Gilbert is popular in society. You know that at parties he never has any difficulty in filling up his card."
Maurice did know that at the parties when both were present, Gilbert was received with much more favor than himself, and this was one of the circumstances that made him angry with his fellow-clerk. Few can pardon a wound to their self-love.
"It only shows that humbugs flourish best in the world," he said.
"Do you call Gilbert a humbug?" asked Bessie, her fair face flushed with indignation.
"Yes, I do."
"Then," she said, spiritedly, "it only shows your jealousy and envy of him, because he is better looking and more popular than you. Jealousy is hateful, I think," said the little lady, tossing her head with emphasis.
"I hope when I am jealous it will be of somebody better than Gilbert Grey," said Maurice, angry and mortified because Bessie had referred to Gilbert as better looking and more popular than himself.
"It seems to me you are making yourself very disagreeable to-night, Maurice," said his cousin, pettishly.
"If you knew what an impudent message he sent to you, you might change your mind about him."
"What impudent message did he send? I don't believe he sent any."
"Then you're mistaken. He said, with his own lips, 'Give my love to Bessie.'"
A smile rippled over the face of Bessie Benton, and there was a little blush, too. Evidently she was not at all displeased at the message.
"Was that the impudent message you spoke of?" she asked.
"Then I don't see what impudence there is in it."
"What right had he to call you Bessie?"
"Don't you call me Bessie?"
"That's different—I am your cousin."
"Well, I call him Gilbert. So we're even."
"He had no right to send you his love. It isn't proper."
"Really, Maurice, I ought to be very much obliged to you for taking such good care of me, and teaching me what's proper, and what isn't. But, if you don't think the message a proper one, what made you give it to me?" she asked, smiling.
"I wish I hadn't," thought Maurice, who began to see that he had been hurried by his anger into making a mistake.
"I thought you would resent it," he said, aloud.
"You can give Gilbert my love, when you write to him," said his cousin, provokingly.
"I sha'n't write to him; and, if I did, I wouldn't send him that message."
"You are very obliging."
"If you knew as much of Gilbert Grey as I do, you wouldn't think so much of him."
"Do you know anything very dreadful about him?" asked Bessie, incredulously.
"I know why he has gone to St. Louis."
"Is it to commit murder, or robbery, or for any other dreadful reason?"
"It is to commit robbery!"
"Don't make a fool of yourself, Maurice Walton," said Bessie, sharply.
"I don't know what else you can call it," persisted Maurice. "He is going to try to get possession of some property that don't belong to him."
"I don't believe it."
"He knows of a rich gentleman of the same name, and he has forged a paper, and is trying to make out that he is his nephew, though it is well known that the nephew died years ago."
"Is that his reason for going to St. Louis?" asked Bessie, interested.
"How do you know?—did he tell you?"
"I have the best authority for my statements," said Maurice, who, for reasons known to the reader, did not like to tell how he gained the information; "but I am not at liberty to say more."
"You are very mysterious."
"What I have told you is the truth. If you don't call it robbery, I do."
"All I have got to say is, that if Gilbert claims to be anybody's nephew, I have no doubt he is. He wouldn't forge a paper for anything."
"That's where you and I don't agree."
"I think it's rather mean of you, Maurice Walton, to come here to slander a friend."
"He isn't my friend. Perhaps he is yours."
"You are right there," said Bessie, firmly. "He is my friend."
"Perhaps, when he gets that fortune, you'll marry him?" said Maurice, sarcastically.
"He hasn't asked me yet," said Bessie, blushing.
This was too much for Maurice. He began to see that Bessie liked Gilbert more than he suspected, and that, by his blundering, he had only helped matters along. He sulkily bade his cousin good-night, and, returning home, bethought himself of his promise to Mr. Grey, and, though it was late, sat down and wrote him a letter.
JAMES GREY'S RESIDENCE.
About a mile from the bank of the Mississippi River, in the small town of Clayton, stood a handsome house. It was on a commanding site, and could be seen by the travelers bound up the river, from the decks of the large river-boats. It stood in lonely grandeur, with no other houses very near, and those that were within a respectful distance from it were far inferior. The occupant might be judged to be, in his neighborhood, a person of some consideration.
This was the mansion of James Grey, already introduced to our readers.
What motives had led him to pitch his tent in such a spot, can only be conjectured. He came thither directly from the city of Cincinnati, having lived in a hotel near by while he hurried the erection of this house. He came thither with his son, (his wife was dead), and had lived there ever since, though, from time to time, he absented himself on a trip to St. Louis, or, in rarer instances, Cincinnati. It is not unlikely that, knowing himself to be guilty of a fraudulent appropriation of his nephew's property, he had chosen to withdraw from the busy world, and plant himself in this comparatively obscure place, where he was not likely to be visited by any one cognizant of the manner in which he obtained his money.
Indeed, until his visit to New York, three years before, he had not supposed there was any one living so cognizant. He had seen a rumor that the vessel in which Jacob and his young charge went out to Australia was wrecked, and he imagined, or rather hoped, and so persuaded himself, that his dangerous nephew and his guilty accomplice were dead. But his recognition of the boy who blacked his boots on the steps of the Astor House undeceived him as to this point. Still, it seemed altogether unlikely that the boy would ever become aware of his identity.
"If he does," thought James Grey, "he is not likely to find me here on the banks of the Mississippi, fifteen hundred miles away."
According to the doctrine of probabilities, he was doubtless correct. It was not likely, but then events often bid defiance to the probabilities, and such was the case now.
At the time we introduce Mr. Grey at home, he was sitting at breakfast in a handsome breakfast-room, from the windows of which the river was visible. He held in his hand a copy of a St. Louis morning paper of the morning previous, and was reading its columns, while sipping a cup of coffee at his side.
A boy of seventeen entered the room.
"You are very late, Jasper," said his father, consulting his watch. "Can't you get to breakfast earlier than ten o'clock, sir?"
Jasper was dark and effeminate in appearance, not strong and sturdy, nor had he the look of self-reliance and calm power which characterized our hero, who was his cousin. He was smooth, deceitful, and vain, running to dissipation, as far as he had opportunity.
"I was tired, sir," he answered.
"What made you tired?"
"I didn't get home till late last evening."
"Where had you been?"
"I was at Alton."
"Without my permission," said his father, frowning.
"I am seventeen, sir. I am old enough to go off by myself."
"By heavens, you are not!" said his father, angrily. "It seems to me, sir, you are getting mighty independent."
"There is nothing to do here in this hole," said Jasper, disdainfully. "I get tired of moping here."
"I manage to content myself here," said Mr. Grey.
"I don't see how you do it," said Jasper, shrugging his shoulders.
"Well, what did you do at Alton?"
"Not much. I just went up there in the morning, and came back at night. I didn't have long to stay."
"I missed you at dinner, but thought you were out riding."
"I am going out to ride after breakfast. By the way, father, can you give me a little money?"
"Money! I gave you twenty-five dollars three days since."
"I haven't got a dime left."
"What did you do with it, you young spendthrift? Gambled on the boat, I dare say."
"Well, I had a little game," answered Jasper, coolly.
"Yes, I lost."
"Of course. You are too green to cope with the sharpers that infest those boats. Haven't I forbidden you to play?"
"There was nothing else to do."
"You appear to pay very slight regard to my commands. In return I shall allow you to know what it is to be penniless for a time."
"Won't you give me any money, father?"
"No, I won't."
Jasper looked dark and sullen. He was an utterly spoiled boy, if one can be called spoiled, who had so few good qualities which admitted of being spoiled. He inherited his father's bad traits, his selfishness and unscrupulousness, in addition to a spirit of deceitfulness and hypocrisy from his mother's nature. He was not as censurable as he would have been had he not possessed these bad tendencies.
He finished his breakfast and went out.
"That's a model son to have—a son to be proud of," soliloquized his father. "He is already a gambler, a liar, and cares for me only as I have it in my power to promote his selfish ends. I have let him grow up like an evil weed, and I am afraid he will some day disgrace me."
Though himself unscrupulous and bad, Mr. Grey would have been glad to have his son better than himself. In his secret heart he felt the superiority of Gilbert to his cousin. Yet Jasper, with all his faults, was his son, and the wily father schemed to secure to him the property which belonged to his nephew.
He was interrupted by the entrance of a colored servant.
Pompey had originally been a slave, as he showed by his language at times.
"Well, Pompey, have you been to the post-office?"
"I suppose you found a paper for me, didn't you?"
"No, massa, didn't see nothing of no paper," said Pompey; "but I found this letter," and he displayed a letter in a yellow envelope.
"Give it to me."
Mr. Grey took it in his hand, and saw that it was post-marked "Cincinnati." The handwriting he did not recognize. His curiosity was aroused.
"You can go, Pompey," he said, waving his hand.
"I'm gone, massa."
James Grey tore open the letter hastily, and turned at once to the signature.
"Maurice Walton!" he repeated. "Why that's my young spy. It must be about my nephew."
He read with eager interest:
"DEAR SIR:—(so it commenced) You asked me to write you if anything happened. I think you will like to know that your nephew, Gilbert Grey, if he is your nephew, which I doubt, has just left here for St. Louis. I suppose, from what I can learn, that he is in search of you. I don't think he has any idea where you really live. He has not learned from me, for I hate him, and I won't tell him anything he wants to know. I didn't know but you might happen to be in St. Louis, so I write to put you on your guard. I hope you will write to me, so that I may know this letter went straight.
"He wants me to write to him, inclosing ten dollars," thought James Grey. "Well, he shall not be disappointed. His information is worth that. So my young nephew is on the trail is he? He really thinks he is a match for me. Well, well, we shall see. He mustn't push his inquiries too far, or he may find me dangerous," and Mr. Grey's face assumed a dark and threatening look. "However, he is not likely to find me in this out-of-the-way place."
Mr. Grey went into his library, and penned a short letter to Maurice Walton, commending him for his watchfulness, and inclosing a ten-dollar greenback.
He had scarcely finished the letter when Pompey entered, and said:
"Scuse me, massa, but there's a young gemman below that axes to see you."
"A young gentleman!" repeated Mr. Grey. "Can it be my nephew?" flashed through his mind with sudden suspicion.
"Bring him up, Pompey," he said, aloud.
THE GUEST OF HIS ENEMY.
While Pompey was gone to seek Gilbert and invite him to the library, James Grey gave the time to rapid reflection. He saw that our hero was a determined and dangerous opponent. He had not credited him with such courage and perseverance. He thought that, being a mere boy, he would be easily intimidated—that opposition and difficulty would daunt him. But he had hardly reached home, and his nephew was already on his track.
"How could he have found out my residence?" thought he. "Maurice Walton wouldn't tell him. He must be sharper than I supposed."
When intimidation and force fail, a good general has recourse to strategy. James Grey was a man of expedients, and he rapidly decided upon a change of base. When, therefore, Gilbert entered the library, expecting an angry reception, he was astonished by seeing his uncle rise from his chair and advance to meet him with hand outstretched.
"Good-morning," he said, smiling. "How did you find your way here?"
"I accidentally learned where you lived, Mr. Grey."
"Precisely so. I was quite sure I had not mentioned my address to you."
"No, sir, you did not."
"It was an oversight on my part. Did you have a pleasant journey from Cincinnati?"
"Quite pleasant, sir."
"Are you traveling on business?"
"On business with you, sir. That is all."
"So I supposed. Well, I am glad to see you. We are a small family, and lonely. I hope you will stay with us a few days."
"As your guest?" inquired our hero, much surprised.
"Yes. That will enable us to transact this business at our leisure."
"I shouldn't think you would invite me to your house," said Gilbert, in surprise.
"You think I am an impostor."
"I don't feel sure of that."
"You said so in the city."
"I thought so in the city," said Mr. Grey, with apparent frankness. "Since I returned home I have been turning the matter over in my mind, and I don't feel so certain about it. You may be deceived."
"I know I am not," said Gilbert, firmly.
"Of course, you think so, my young friend. We won't dispute about it. I only want to find out the truth, and if you can prove your claim beyond any question I will do what is right. But there must be no doubt of it."
"Of course, that is fair enough."
"It seemed to me incredible that a son of my brother John should be living, and as he left some property, I thought that you might be playing a sharp game. You mustn't be offended at my plain speaking," he added, with a smile.
"No, sir; certainly not. I am in favor of plain speaking. But I hope you will in time have a more favorable opinion of me."
"I have already, or I would not invite you to become my guest. Have you your luggage with you?"
"Only a carpet-bag."
"Where is that?"
"At the village hotel."
"That is a poor place. You must stay here, and I will send for it."
"I don't know what to say," said Gilbert, not yet recovered from his astonishment.
"Then I will say for you that you accept without hesitation."
"Thank you, sir."
Mr. Grey rang the bell, and Pompey appeared.
"What's wanted, massa?"
"Send Dick to the hotel for this young gentleman's carpet-bag."
"Yes, sar. What name, sar?"
"Gilbert Grey," answered our hero.
"Any 'lation?" asked Pompey, with the freedom of a favorite servant.
"Mr. Grey thinks there is a relationship," said the uncle. "Now be off, and tell Dick to make haste."
"By the way, though it is early to enter upon business, have you brought old Jacob's confession?" asked James Grey, in an indifferent tone; but he awaited the answer with a good deal of interest.
"No, sir; that is, not the genuine paper. I have with me a copy."
"That will do as well," said the other, but he could not wholly hide the disappointment in his voice. "Let me see it, if you please."
Gilbert drew the paper from his pocket and handed it without hesitation to his uncle.
"If you have no objection I will keep this for a while, and look over it in private."
"Certainly, sir. You may keep it permanently. I have the other."
"Confound you, I know that only too well," thought the uncle, but he only expressed his thanks quietly.
"You probably know nothing of my family," continued James Grey, "though as a possible relation, you should do so. My wife is dead, and I have but one child, a boy of about your own age. Jasper is seventeen."
"I am about eighteen."
"He does not look at all like you, or me either. He favors his mother's family, being quite dark. I think also he is more like his mother in disposition than like me. I hope you will like him."
"I hope so," said our hero, politely.
"I can't say he altogether pleases me," said James Grey. "He is not as obedient and observant of my wishes as he should be. For example, he went to Alton yesterday without permission, and lost all his money on hand by gaming. I hope you never gamble, Gilbert."
"No, sir, I don't approve of it."
"You are quite right. I foresee you will have a good influence on Jasper—I was about to say, on your cousin, Jasper—but I will wait till that is proved."
"I will not call him cousin while there remains a doubt."
"Quite right. I will give my earliest attention to the matter."
"I hope you will, sir, as I wish to return to Cincinnati."
"If you prove yourself to be my brother's son, there will be no need of that, for the greater part of my property will go to you. You will be independent."
"I should be sorry to deprive you of property, sir, though I have no objection to becoming rich."
"Of course not. We all want to be rich. I shall not blame you for being my brother's son, if it appears that you are so. How long can you remain with us?"
"I won't set a limit, sir. Do you think I can get away in a week?"
"That is a short time."
"I can stay longer if necessary."
"I may need to go to Alton, to consult my lawyer. After examining this paper, which, I suppose, is an exact copy of the original?"
"Yes, sir, exact."
"He will give me his opinion, which I will at once communicate to you. Probably it will not be in my power to go to Alton for several days."
"I don't wish to hurry you too much, Mr. Grey. That will be satisfactory to me."
"Very well. Now there is one other thing I wish to speak of. Of course I can't acknowledge you as my nephew immediately."
"I do not ask it, sir."
"It will be better that your claim to be my nephew should not be made public. I will tell my son, Jasper, and ask him to treat you as a cousin. He will, I think, be able to make you pass your time agreeably. But to the servants you will be Mr. Grey, a distant relative."
"Very well, sir, I agree."
"Of course, just as soon as your claim is substantiated, there will be no further need of concealment. By the way, do you ride?"
"Yes, sir, a little."
"I think you will enjoy exploring the country a little with Jasper. You never were in this neighborhood before?"
"It won't do you any harm to have a little vacation. By the way, how is Mr. Ferguson, your employer?"
"He is well, sir."
"Is he aware of the object of your present journey?"
"Yes, sir. He was in favor of my undertaking it."
"For which I don't in the least thank him," said James Grey to himself.
There was a little more desultory conversation, which was interrupted by the entrance of Pompey with our hero's carpet-bag, which his fellow-servant had brought from the village hotel, if it deserved the name.
"Pompey, you may conduct this young gentleman to his room. He may wish to wash before dinner. Dinner is at one, Mr. Grey."
"Thank you, sir."
"Put him in the blue room, Pompey."
Gilbert followed him up stairs, and into a room finished and furnished throughout in blue. It was comfortable, and even elegant, and our hero saw that he was likely to be well cared for.
"Was you a 'lation, sar?" asked Pompey, who possessed an inquiring mind, as he put down the bag.
"Yes," said Gilbert.
"A near 'lation?" asked Pompey, continuing his catechism.
"I can't tell you how near," said our hero, in an equivocal manner.
"You must be 'bout Massa Jasper's age."
"That is what Mr. Grey says. I have not seen Jasper yet."
"He went out ridin'. He's fond of ridin'."
"Is he a good rider?"
"Pretty good, sar. He thinks he's first-rate," added Pompey, laughing. "Do you ride, sar?"
"Maybe you'll ride out with Massa Jasper?"
"Has my—Mr. Grey got many horses?"
"Four, sar. Two are carriage horses, and two are for ridin'. But I'm 'ruptin' you, sar. Dinner at one o'clock."
"I will be punctual."
"I like his looks," said Pompey. "He's better-lookin' than Massa Jasper. Looks like he was better-tempered, too."
GILBERT AND JASPER.
Gilbert went to the window and looked out. He was glad to find that it afforded him a prospect of the Mississippi, a mile distant. He could not help speculating on the singular position in which he found himself placed. He had come to this place expecting to receive abuse and defiance from his uncle. On the other hand he had been politely welcomed, and was now a guest. He didn't understand it, but he was glad of it. He was prepared to contend, but he would much prefer to compromise in a friendly manner. His uncle had wronged him, but he was not vindictive.
Meanwhile Jasper, who had been out to the stables, returned to the house and entered his father's presence. He only came in for something he had left in the library, but his father detained him.
"Stop a minute, Jasper," he said. "I want to speak to you."
Jasper turned unwillingly, for he anticipated some remonstrance or criticism upon his conduct.
"I wanted to go out," he said.
"I wish to speak to you on a matter of importance," said his father, seriously.
"Now for a blowing up," thought Jasper. "I suppose I must grin and bear it."
But this time he was mistaken.
"You are going to have company for a few days," said James Grey.
"Who is it?" asked Jasper, in surprise.
"A boy of about your own age. He is up stairs preparing for dinner at this moment."
"Is it any one I know?"
"It is not."
"What is his name?"
"He calls himself Gilbert Grey."
"Is he any relation?"
"He calls himself your cousin."
"Why do you say 'calls himself?'" inquired Jasper, in some mystification.
"Because I do not propose to admit his claim. While he is here, he will pass as a distant relative."
"I don't understand, father. Is his claim a false one?"
"Listen, Jasper, for it is fitting that you should know all, since you are quite as much interested as I am. Do you remember your Uncle John?"
"No. I was too young when he died to remember him."
"It was he that was wealthy, not I. I had a comparatively small interest in the firm, but as he died childless I succeeded naturally to his property. That made me rich, and ever since I have been possessed of large means. But if he had left a son, all this would have been changed. The son would have inherited the bulk of his property, and I should have received an inconsiderable legacy. Do you follow me?"
"Yes, sir, but I don't see the force of it. My uncle left no son."
"Gilbert Grey, as he calls himself, contends that he did leave a son, and he claims to be that son."
"But it is a lie," said Jasper, hastily.
"Of course, but you understand the motive."
"That he may deprive us of the property."
"Why don't you kick him out of the house?" exclaimed Jasper, indignantly. "Of course he is an impostor, and deserves no better treatment."
"I will tell you why. He is very artful, and has forged a pretended confession, and attached to it the signature of an old clerk of our house, who disappeared about the time my nephew was lost, asserting his identity with the lost boy, and charging that I employed him to kidnap the boy, in order that I might succeed to the property."
Jasper fixed a fierce glance upon his father. He had never loved or respected him particularly, and a suspicion entered his mind that the charge might be a true one. But, if admitted, it would reduce him to comparative poverty, and he had no intention of suffering his suspicion to appear. In this matter, at least, he and his father were in entire agreement.
"But, father," he said, after a pause, "can't you prove that it is a forgery?"
"Possibly, but I don't want the matter to come to trial. There are always people, who out of sentimental sympathy would be led to suspect that the rich uncle was guilty of defrauding the poor boy."
"When did you first hear of his claim, father?"
"A short time since, during my recent visit to Cincinnati. I defied him then, and left the city without letting him know my address. But he is evidently shrewd and determined, and he has managed, in some way which I cannot fathom, to discover it. He has followed me up, and here he is."
"What do you mean to do?"
"I find force won't do. He is full of courage, pluck, and determination, and so is an enemy to be dreaded. I am going to try an opposite course."
"You are not going to give up?"
"No, certainly not. I am going to pretend friendship, and having put him off his guard, to get rid of his claim as well as I can. The property I will never surrender, as long as there is a possibility of retaining it," he concluded, firmly.
"I agree with you there, father. So you have invited him to stop here?"
"Yes, and the better to carry out my designs, I want you to act in a particularly friendly manner."
"I will if I can, but I know I shall hate him."
"If you dislike him, adopt the course most likely to injure him."
"You are right, father. I will follow your advice."
"Of course, anything that I communicate to you in this matter must be kept secret for both our sakes. Have I your promise?"
"Then come here."
Jasper drew near his father, and the latter spoke in a lower voice.
"You are a good rider," he said.
"Yes, I can ride as well as any one of my age in the country," said Jasper, proudly.
"Good! Gilbert Grey says he can ride also."
"I am not afraid of his rivalry."
"I am going to send him out to ride with you. You will ride your own horse; he shall ride—Bucephalus."
"Bucephalus, father! He is a vicious beast. I wouldn't dare to ride him myself, and I have no doubt I can ride better than he."
"I would not trust you on him, Jasper. As for Gilbert, I have no particular reason to feel concerned for his safety."
The eyes of the father and son met, and the glance was that of mutual understanding.
"Indeed," added Mr. Grey, "if he should be thrown off, and break his neck, I shouldn't particularly mind. It would rid us both of a dangerous enemy."
"That's so," said Jasper. "It's a capital idea! When shall we ride?"
"To-morrow morning, if it is pleasant. This afternoon you may have the carriage, and drive him round the neighborhood. Be as friendly as you can. Don't let him suspect anything from your manner."
"I won't. You can trust me for that, father."
"Hush! I hear his steps descending the stairs. I will introduce you."
Gilbert, unsuspicious of the wicked plot that had been entered into against him, entered the room at this moment.
"Gilbert," said his uncle, graciously, "let me introduce to you my son, Jasper. He must be near your own age. He has promised to do what he can to make your stay pleasant."
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Grey," said Jasper, advancing with a smile, and speaking in a soft voice. "I have scarcely any companions of my own age, and I shall enjoy your society."
"Thank you," said Gilbert; "I am much obliged to you for your kind reception. I don't think we shall be strangers long."
They talked on various subjects till the bell rang for dinner. No fault could be found with Jasper's manner, which was extremely cordial; yet Gilbert, he could not tell why, was not attracted to his cousin.
Jasper was now thoroughly enlisted in his father's plans. Almost any boy of his age would have shuddered at the prospect of a violent death which, through the united agency of his father and himself, impended over his young guest. But Jasper was thoroughly selfish, and what his father had communicated to him had inspired in him a feeling of alarm. He could not endure the thought of surrendering his inheritance to Gilbert, and was ready, young as he was, to go to any extremity rather than to do it.
According to the suggestion his father had made, when dinner was over, at which both Jasper and his father had exerted themselves to be particularly agreeable, the former, turning to his cousin, said:
"If you like, I will take you out in the carriage. You might like to see something of the country round here."
"I should like it very much," said Gilbert, "but I hope you won't put yourself to too much trouble."
"It will be no trouble. I shall enjoy driving with some one who is new to the country. It is dull work driving alone."
"I will go with pleasure, then, and thank you for the offer."
James Grey listened with complacent approval.
"Really," he thought, "I didn't imagine Jasper could be so polite and agreeable. He doesn't often show these qualities in his intercourse with me."
When Gilbert went up to prepare for the excursion, Jasper lingered behind.
"If I am going to do the agreeable to your company, father," he said, "I shall need some money. I am cleaned out."
Without a word of remonstrance his father drew thirty dollars from his pocket-book, and placed the money in his son's hands.
"Do it up handsomely, Jasper," he said. "Don't be unnecessarily extravagant, of course, but spend your money like a gentleman."
"Yes, father," answered Jasper, as his fingers closed with satisfaction upon the bills.
The carriage drove up to the door, and the two young men entered. During the drive that ensued, Jasper showed himself very social and communicative. He was unwearied in pointing out objects of interest, and, in fact, by his easy and genial manners almost conquered the antipathy which Gilbert secretly felt.
"I wonder," he said, at length, leaning back in the carriage and surveying Gilbert with curiosity, "I wonder you never visited us before."
"I did not know where you lived."
"Yet we are relations—distant relations, are we not?"
"I have reason to think that we are related."
"I have very few relations—none that I know. I believe there is a brother of my mother living somewhere in New Mexico, but with that exception, I know of no relations except you. Where do you live?"
"I used to live there. Why did we not meet then?"
"I have only been there for the last three years—that is, lately. I have been in Australia, and later in New York."
"In Australia!" echoed Jasper, in considerable surprise.
"Yes, I was there for a while."
"You have been quite a traveler. How nearly are you related to us?"
"That matter is not settled yet. I am not quite sure whether your father would like me to tell."
Gilbert said this, understanding the embarrassment of intimating to a son that his father had defrauded him of the property that was rightfully his. He thought it best to let his uncle reveal the secret himself.
They drove ten miles, reaching a considerable town, boasting a large hotel.
"Let us go in and have a game of billiards," suggested Jasper.
"Very well, but you won't find me much of a player."
"I must get father to put a billiard table in the house. I like the game, but I get no chance to practice."
They adjourned to the bar-room, in which there was a solitary table. This happened to be unoccupied, and they accordingly played two games, which lasted about an hour and a half. The reader will judge that neither was very expert in the game.
"Now," said Jasper, who paid for both games, despite Gilbert's remonstrances, "we will order a little lunch, and then start for home."
"I don't feel hungry."
"Nonsense! one can always eat. Besides, I want to patronize the hotel."
"Did you have a pleasant drive?" asked James Grey, meeting them on their return.
"Very pleasant," responded Gilbert.
"I hope Jasper was attentive."
"He could not have been more so. I am much obliged to him."
"I am glad enough to have company," said Jasper, with an assumption of frank cordiality. "I don't often enjoy a drive, but I did this afternoon."
"I think I shall have to invite Gilbert to stay here as our permanent guest," said Mr. Grey, pleasantly.
While he spoke Gilbert could not help wondering what had come over him to make him so different from what he was in Cincinnati. There he was rough, insulting, and abusive. Now he was the model of courtesy. It was hard to believe him the same man. Gilbert was not very credulous, but he was thoroughly deceived by his altered manner.
"I suppose he really believed me an impostor when we met in Cincinnati," said he to himself. "Now he begins to think that he was mistaken, and is trying to make it up to me."
Nevertheless, there were one or two things which interfered with this view. Why should his uncle have schemed so eagerly to get dishonest possession of the confession unless he believed it to be genuine, and therefore dangerous? That did not seem honorable. What had happened since to change him?
After reflection, this was the conclusion to which our hero came: His uncle had made up his mind that he (Gilbert) had a strong case, and meant to conciliate him in the hope of a favorable compromise. Otherwise what object could he have in treating him with so much politeness and attention?
Gilbert was a smart boy, or perhaps I should say, young man, but he was not yet acquainted with the "ways that are dark, and the tricks that are vain," to which human craft is often led to resort. Least of all did he suspect any danger to himself from the uncle and cousin, who seemed to vie with each other in ministering to his enjoyment.
"Well, Jasper," said his father, the next morning, as they were seated at breakfast, "what plans have you for the enjoyment of our guest?"
"You ride on horseback, don't you, Gilbert?" inquired his cousin.
"Yes, I can ride a little."
"Wouldn't you like a gallop after breakfast?"
Gilbert responded readily in the affirmative. He had taken riding lessons in the city, and was accustomed to ride, whenever he had a chance, in the environs of the city. He was, in truth, an excellent rider, having taken lessons of an accomplished teacher, who often referred to him as one of the most proficient of his pupils. But when Jasper questioned him he only answered that he rode a little, having a strong disinclination to boast.
"I should think that would be an agreeable plan," said Mr. Grey. "What horses shall you take?"
"I will ride on my own. I am used to her, and don't like to change."
"How will you mount Gilbert?"
"He might ride on Bucephalus."
"Isn't Bucephalus a little skittish?"
"That is what they say at the stable; but I am not so easily scared."
"Why not use Sidney?"
"Sidney is not very well; he has had a bad cold. Still, if Gilbert is afraid of mounting Bucephalus"—there was an intentional covert sneer in Jasper's tone—"he can try Sidney."
Now Gilbert was not timid, and did not like to be considered so. Had he really known the character of the horse designed for him, his cousin's words would still have decided him to take the risk.
"I am not in the least afraid," he said. "I'll ride Bucephalus."
"Don't you think you had better take the other horse?" urged James Grey, hypocritically.
"No, sir," said Gilbert, with decision. "If Sidney is sick I would much rather try Bucephalus, even if he is a trifle spirited."
"A trifle spirited," thought his uncle. "I wouldn't trust myself on the brute for ten thousand dollars."
"If you're ready, Gilbert, we'll go out to the stable," said Jasper.
They left the house and proceeded in the direction of the stable.
"Ten to one he'll come back hurt," James Grey said to himself, "if he comes back at all," he added, with an evil smile.
The stable was a handsome building, very complete in its appointments, for both Mr. Grey and Jasper were fond of horses. Opening the small door at one side the boys saw John, the coachman, washing the carriage.
"John, we want the saddle-horses," said Jasper. "Gilbert and I are going to ride."
"You will ride your own horse, Mr. Jasper?"
"And your friend will ride Sidney?"
"No; he will take Bucephalus."
John shook his head.
"Sidney's better for him," he said. "I wouldn't trust Bucephalus."
"John, you're a fool!" said Jasper, impatiently. "Gilbert isn't a baby."
"I know he isn't, Mr. Jasper, but all the same I wouldn't advise him riding Bucephalus."
"What are you afraid of?"
"He's a contrary brute, while Sidney's as good-natured as a kitten."
"Oh, well, we'd better have a kitten at once. Gilbert, we've got an old cat in the house, warranted safe. If John thinks it more prudent, we'll saddle her for you. A kitten might be too wild and skittish."
"I think I won't disturb the old cat," he said. "I'll try Bucephalus."
"Better not, sir," said the coachman.
"Of course, if you are afraid," said Jasper, with another covert sneer, "you'd better take Sidney; but in that case I shall probably ride away from you."
"I'll take Bucephalus," said Gilbert, in decided tones. "I am not in the least afraid, and I think I can keep up with you."
"On that horse I am sure you can."
John saw that further remonstrance would be unavailing, and very reluctantly got ready the mettlesome steed. Gilbert jumped on his back and put his feet in the stirrups.
John came to his side, and said, in a low voice:
"Be very careful, sir. Let him have his way, and don't chafe or vex him. I hope you won't have any trouble."
"I don't think I shall. Thank you."
"What could possess Mr. Jasper to be so particular to have his friend ride out on the ugly brute?" thought John, as he watched the two galloping up the road. "He wouldn't trust himself on his back. Maybe he won't mind it so much if the other gets a broken limb or broken neck. I hope there won't be no accident. That Gilbert, as he calls himself, looks like a nice, gentlemanly lad. I think I'd like him much better than Mr. Jasper, who does put on airs, and orders me round as if I was a dog."
John watched the two till a turn in the road concealed them from his view, and then went back to his work. But his thoughts could not help dwelling on the rash youth who had placed himself at the mercy of this ill-tempered steed, and he heartily wished he could be sure of his safe return.
We will now follow the two riders, and inquire how they sped.
Jasper soon found that Gilbert knew how to ride. His position was easy and unconstrained, and his seat was firm. He seemed as much at ease as in a parlor. But then Bucephalus was behaving well. He showed spirit, but was obedient to the rein.
"How do you like Bucephalus?" inquired Jasper.
"I find no fault with him. He is a fine horse. What made your coachman so afraid of trusting me on him?"
"I hope you won't be angry with John," answered Jasper, laughing, "but he doubted whether you could ride. If you didn't know anything about riding, your horse would soon find it out, and take advantage of it."
"Almost any horse would do that."
"I suppose you have ridden Bucephalus, Jasper?"
"Certainly, though not often. I am used to my own horse—General, I call him—and I naturally prefer him."
Jasper did not speak the truth. He had never ridden Bucephalus, nor would he have done so for a considerable sum of money, though he was by no means a poor rider. But Gilbert had no reason, or thought he had not, for doubting his assertion, and readily believed that it was only the coachman's doubt of his horsemanship that had given rise to the fears he expressed.
"How long has your father owned Bucephalus?" inquired Gilbert.
"Only three months."
"Who rides him?"
"Neither of us, much. The fact is, Sidney is father's horse, and this is mine. We don't need Bucephalus, but father took him for a debt, and means to sell him when he has a good opportunity."
This was true. Bucephalus had been taken for a debt, and as, on account of his ill-temper, he was of no use to Mr. Grey, he proposed to dispose of him at the first favorable opportunity.
"You ride well," said Jasper, after a pause. "Have you ridden much?"
"Considerably," answered Gilbert, modestly.
Had he not been so modest he might have added that his teacher had pronounced him the best rider he had ever taught. But Gilbert was no boaster, and, therefore, Jasper remained in ignorance of his really superior horsemanship.
"You don't seem to find any trouble in managing him. I wish John could see you ride. He would see how foolish he was in being afraid for you."
Gilbert was only human, and the compliment pleased him. He knew he was a good rider, and though he was not willing to boast of it, he liked to have it appreciated by others. He could not read the unspoken thought that was passing through his cousin's mind.
"He does well enough now," thought Jasper; "but wait till Bucephalus wakes up. Then he will be like a child in his grasp. I wouldn't like to be in his shoes then."
Yet to this danger from which he himself shrank in dread he had exposed his cousin, when he could easily have saved him from it. It was proof of his cold and selfish wickedness that he could do this without being visited by reproaches of conscience.
For several miles Bucephalus behaved unusually well. But at length he began to show signs of the insubordinate spirit that possessed him. They came to a turn in the road; Jasper took the turn, but Bucephalus preferred to go straight on. He shook his head viciously, and snorted defiantly.
"It's coming," thought Jasper, and for the first time he did feel a little pity for his companion.
"Won't he turn?" he asked.
"He don't want to, but he will," said Gilbert, coolly.
He pulled the right rein in a firm, decided way. Bucephalus reared, and began to dance round.
"Is that your game?" said Gilbert. "We'll see who will be master."
He sawed away at the horse's mouth with no mercy. Bucephalus was enraged. He could hardly understand the presumption of the rider, who was daring enough to defy him to his worst. He was accustomed to inspire fear in his rider, and his spirit was up. He indulged in worse antics, when he was astonished and maddened by a terrible lashing from the whip in Gilbert's hand.
He started off like a shot at a break-neck speed down the road which Gilbert wanted him to take. In his fury he was not probably aware that he had yielded that point to his master. On he rushed with the speed of lightning. Terror-struck, Jasper, sitting still on his own horse, followed him with his glance. He saw Gilbert, immovable as a rock, keeping his seat on the maddened steed, never for a moment losing courage or self-possession. He was astonished, but he could not help feeling admiration also.
"He rides magnificently," he said to himself. "Who would have supposed that he could manage that brute?"
But there was one thing that Jasper did not know—which I have not yet imparted to the reader. Gilbert had taken lessons of Rarey, the famous horse-tamer, and that gave him a wonderful advantage. Feeling firm in his seat, he let Bucephalus continue his break-neck speed till his beating sides and labored breath showed that he was exhausted. Then turning him unresisting he rode back. After a while he met Jasper. The latter could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the fierce steed cowed and subdued, while his cousin seemed perfectly cool and composed.
"Thank Heaven, you are safe!" ejaculated Jasper, hypocritically. "I was very much alarmed about you."
"I have given Bucephalus a lesson," said Gilbert, quietly. "I will ride him again to-morrow. I think he is thoroughly subdued now. Did he ever act in this way when you rode him?"
"No," answered Jasper. "I don't see what got into him to-day. You rode him splendidly," he felt forced to add.
"I am not afraid of horses," said Gilbert, quietly. "But suppose we turn back. I think he has had enough for one day."
AN UNWELCOME RETURN.
"I wish I know'd the boy would come to no harm," thought John, the coachman. "What made Master Jasper so anxious to have him ride the ugly brute? He wouldn't trust his own neck, but maybe it makes a difference when another's is in danger. I ain't sure but I'd rather my frind, Pat Murphy, would break his neck than mysilf. It's human natur to think of your silf first, and Master Jasper is got his shere of human natur' I'm thinkin'!"
Time passed, and still John, as he kept about his work, could not keep his thoughts off the adventurous youth who had ridden Bucephalus.
From time to time he went outside the stable, and shading his eyes with his hand, looked up the road, but still nothing was to be seen of either of the boys.
"If he can manage the ugly baste, he knows how to ride, that's sure," said John to himself. "I wish I was certain of that same, I do, by St. Patrick."
"What are you looking at, John?" asked a voice, near at hand.
John turned suddenly, and perceived that it was Mr. Grey who spoke.
"I was lookin' to see if the boys was comin' back," said John.
"They'll come back in due time. You needn't leave off your work for that."
"I wish I knowed that, sir."
"Knowed what?" repeated his employer.
"That the young man—Mr. Gilbert—would come back safe."
"Why shouldn't he come back?" inquired James Grey.
"He rode on Bucephalus, sir."
"Suppose he did?"
"I'm afraid the ugly baste will do him some harm."
"I am not afraid. Bucephalus is a spirited horse, I am aware, but he is used to riding, and doubtless can manage him."
"So is Mr. Jasper used to riding, but you couldn't hire him to ride Bucephalus."
"He has a horse of his own," said Mr. Grey, impatiently, not liking John's pertinacity. "Of course he prefers to ride on his own horse."
"Would you ride him yourself, sir?" asked John, shrewdly.
"I have had enough of this," said Mr. Grey, sternly. "It is a good rule, John, to mind your own business, and I am forced to remind you of it. Go into the stable, and continue your work. I did not know Gilbert was going to ride Bucephalus, but as he has chosen to do it, I do not feel in the least anxious. I have no doubt he will come back safe."
"There he comes, begorra," exclaimed John, suddenly, swinging his hat in joyous excitement, "alive and kickin', sure, and the ugly brute as make and quiet as a lamb, too."
"Where?" asked Mr. Grey, sharing John's excitement, but feeling a wicked disappointment in the failure of his evil plans.
"Don't you see him, sir? He's jist at the turnin'. Shure he looks like he had mastered the horse, as bowld as a hero."
It was as John had said. Side by side at a walk came the two horses with their riders. The fierce steed had found his master, and looked quiet and subdued. Never till that day had he been broken. Till this time he had felt his power, now he felt the power of another. Gilbert seemed perfectly at home on his back, and from his manner no one would have supposed that he had had a hard conflict with the brute, from which, had he not come forth victorious, the result might have been death or serious injury.
"He's dangerous," thought his uncle. "A boy who can subdue such a horse must have an unconquerable will. While he lives, I am not safe."
To John he said, wishing to keep up appearances:
"I told you he would come back safe. You only made a fool of yourself by worrying."
"Shure he must be a splindid rider, sir," said John, perplexed, "or else he has the divil's own luck, the one or the other."
Mr. Grey waited till the boys came up, and John took the liberty of doing the same, though he had been bidden to go back to his work.
"How did you enjoy your ride?" he inquired, looking to Gilbert. "I see you rode Bucephalus."
"I had a little fight with the horse," answered Gilbert, "but I came off best."
"So he undertook to trouble you, did he?" asked Mr. Grey, with curiosity.
"Yes. He thought he was master, and undertook first to disobey, and afterward to run away with me. But I think he met his match, didn't you, Bucephalus?" said Gilbert, with a laugh, as he stroked the horse's neck.
Bucephalus showed signs of pleasure, and the fierce glance of his eye was softer and more gentle than Mr. Grey had ever known it.
"Shure and I'm glad you come back safe, Mr. Gilbert," said John, earnestly. "I don't see how you did it."
"I don't think you'll find him so troublesome after this, John," said our hero, dismounting. "We are better friends than we were—eh, Bucephalus?"
"Ye must have had a charm," said John, more than half in earnest. "I never saw such a change in a creetur before. He was a lion when he went out, and he comes back a lamb."
"It's a great secret," said Gilbert, laughing.
"Will it last, do you think?"
"I think so. When a horse is once conquered he remembers it."
"Shure, thin, he's worth twice the sum he was before," said John.
"Do you want me to charge Mr. Grey for my services?" asked Gilbert, laughing.
"Shure he could afford to pay you," answered John, "and that handsome."
"How far did you go, Jasper?" inquired his father.
"About eight miles, sir."
"Well, you must be tired and hungry. Come into the house, and the cook shall send you up some lunch."
"I am not in the least hungry, sir," said Gilbert. "We lunched at a hotel in the next town."
Jasper accompanied his father into the house, but Gilbert remained behind five minutes longer. John's good-natured anxiety for his safety had enlisted his good will, and he thought he would like to chat a while with him.
"You seem to be surprised at my coming home safe," he said.
"Yes, sir—shure I am. You're the only one I know that could manage the ugly brute, let alone a horse-tamer."
"But Jasper has ridden on him. Don't you think I can manage him as well as Jasper?"
"Mr. Jasper niver has ridden on Bucephalus."
"He told me he had," said Gilbert, in a tone of surprise.
"Shure, sir, you couldn't have understood him."
"Do you mean to say that he never rode on the horse?"
"No; and he wouldn't for a hundred dollars."
"What did he mean, then, by telling me he had done so?"
"Are you sure he told you so, Mr. Gilbert?"
"Yes; he said he had ridden Bucephalus, but not often, as he preferred his own horse."
"Then, savin' your presince, he told a lie, but you mustn't tell him I said so."
"I won't betray you; but I don't see why he should deceive me," said Gilbert, regarding the coachman with perplexity. "Did Mr. Grey ever ride on him?"
"No, sir, and he wouldn't. He'd be afraid of his life."
"Did you ever ride on him yourself, John?"
"Yes, sir, I did that same. I rid him once too often. Before I knew where I was I found myself lyin' in the road lookin' up to the stars, of which I saw plenty, though it was broad daylight."
"How long ago was that?"
"Two months ago, jist after we got him. I hain't been on his back since."
Gilbert now began to look serious. He was beginning to understand a little better how matters stood.
"I shouldn't think Mr. Grey or Jasper would have let me ride him if he was so dangerous," he said, after a pause.
"Nor I," said John. "Faith, they care less for your neck than their own, I'm thinkin'."
"It is lucky I am a good rider, or you might never have seen me again. I conquered him, but it wasn't easy. Six months ago he would have conquered me."
"All's well that ends well," said John, philosophically. "He won't be up to any more of his tantrums when you are on his back, I'm thinkin'. Horses have a good mimery, and they know their master."
"I shall not be afraid to ride him now. But I must go into the house."
Gilbert entered the house. He did not enter his uncle's presence at once, but went up to his room and seated himself thoughtfully at the window.
"Can it be that he meant to risk my life?" he said to himself. "I am in his way, I know, but is he capable of such a crime?"
He could not decide. He was not prone to think evil of others, yet he felt that it was necessary to be on his guard.
"So he mastered Bucephalus," said James Grey, when alone with his son. "He must be a splendid rider."
"I had no idea he was so used to horses," said Jasper. "He sat like a rock, and did not seem in the least frightened."
"I begin to think he is more dangerous than I at first supposed. Did he appear to suspect anything when the horse began to behave badly?"
"I don't think he did."
"He may be surprised that we should give him that horse when we don't ride it ourselves."
"He doesn't know that. He asked me if I ever rode Bucephalus, and I told him yes, but not often, as I preferred my own horse."
"That will do, if John doesn't undeceive him."
"John is a meddlesome fellow," said Jasper, in a tone of vexation. "He tried to persuade him not to ride Bucephalus."
"John makes a fool of himself. I am afraid he will arouse Gilbert's suspicions. If he does, we must do what we can to allay them."
"What shall you do now, father?" inquired Jasper.
"I have not decided. When I have, I may not tell you."
"Why not?" asked Jasper, suspiciously.
"Not from any feeling of distrust, for we are both in the same boat, and equally interested in frustrating your cousin's designs. But it may be necessary to resort to strong—perhaps forcible measures—and it may be well that you should be kept in entire ignorance of them. It is a serious peril for both of us, this claim of Gilbert's, but more so to you. I have already enjoyed the estate for a long time. In the course of nature I have thirty-five years less of life to look forward to than you. Therefore your interest is greater than mine."
"All right, father. Whatever you think best I am ready to agree to; but if you need any help that I can give, just let me know."
"That shall be understood. Now, you had better go out and look for your cousin. It is not best that John and he should be left to themselves too long."
Jasper went out into the stable-yards, but found that Gilbert had already gone into the house.
"That's a mighty foine lad, that Gilbert," said John.
"Yes, he's a clever fellow," responded Jasper, not very enthusiastically.
"He's as smart as a steel-trap," said John, earnestly.
"I didn't know steel-traps were very smart," said Jasper, sarcastically.
He felt instinctively that John considered Gilbert smarter than himself, and his self-conceit was so great that this troubled him.
"Wait till you get into one," said John, laughing. "If you'd get your little finger into one of them things, you'd find it was too smart for ye."
"What did Gilbert have to say to you?"
But John was too smart to be pumped.
"Nothing much," he answered. "He says the ugly brute won't give no more trouble."
"Do you think so yourself?"
"He won't trouble Mr. Gilbert."
"Will he trouble anybody else?"
"Maybe not. He's had a good lesson."
"I wonder whether Gilbert told him what I said," thought Jasper. He didn't like to ask, for, in so doing, he would betray himself. After a little pause he walked back to the house; but he did not see Gilbert for some time, for the latter was still in his chamber.
When they met at supper, Mr. Grey said:
"I ought to apologize to you, Gilbert, for trusting you to such a horse; but he has never cut up such pranks before, and I did not realize the danger to which I was exposing you. From what Jasper says, you must have been in peril."
"I suppose I should have been, sir, if I had not been so accustomed to horses; but I have ridden a great deal, though I don't think I ever had such a sharp contest before."
"You had better ride Sidney to-morrow—I don't want you to run any more risk."
"Thank you, sir; but I am not afraid. Bucephalus has had a lesson, and won't try to master me again. With your permission, I will try him again, and hope to have him wholly subdued before I go."
"I shall be glad to have him subjugated, I confess, as it will greatly enhance his value; but I don't want you to run any further risk."
"The danger is quite over, Mr. Grey."
This conversation, and the regret frankly expressed by his uncle, did considerable to put to rest the suspicion that had been excited in Gilbert's mind. It did look strange, to be sure, that Jasper should have made a false claim to have ridden Bucephalus, when he hadn't done so; but possibly this was because he did not like to have it supposed that he was inferior in courage or in horsemanship. At any rate, though not quite satisfied, he felt that there might be an explanation.
The next morning the boys went out to ride once more. Bucephalus justified Gilbert's prediction, and behaved as well as could be expected. Once he made a start, but a sudden twitch of the reins recalled to his mind the defeat of the day before, and he quickly relapsed into obedience.
Meanwhile Mr. Grey paced the floor of his library, and thought deeply. To what means should he resort to avert the danger that menaced his estate? He knew enough now of Gilbert to understand that he was resolute and determined. He might be conciliated, but could not be intimidated while he felt that he was battling for his inherited rights. Would it be worth while to conciliate him? Mr. Grey feared that he would require the surrender of the major portion of the estate, and to this he was not willing to accede. While he was thus perplexed, Pompey made his appearance, and said:
"There's a man wants to see you, Mr. Grey."
"A man, or a gentleman?"
"A man. It's Hugh Trimble."
"Bring him up."
Some idea must have been started in Mr. Grey's mind, for his eyes lighted up with a gleam of exultation, and he muttered:
"The very thing. Why didn't I think of it before?"
Hugh Trimble shuffled into the room—a tall, shambling figure of a man, with a generally disreputable look. He was roughly dressed, and appeared like a social outlaw. He was a tenant of Mr. Grey's, living on a clearing just on the edge of a forest. He had a wife, but no children. She led a hard life, being subjected to ill usage from her husband when, as was frequently the case, he was under the influence of liquor.
Such was the man who entered the library, and evidently ill at ease on finding himself in a room so unfitted to his habits, made a clumsy salutation.
"Well, Trimble," said Mr. Grey, with unusual cordiality, "how are you getting on?"
"Bad enough," returned Trimble, "I haven't got no money for you."
"Have you been unlucky?"
"I'm always unlucky," growled Trimble, frowning. "I was born to bad luck, I was."
"Perhaps your bad luck will leave you, after a time."
"I don't see no signs of that."
"Sit down," said Mr. Grey, with continued cordiality. "There's a chair next to you."
Hugh Trimble seated himself cautiously on the edge of a chair, a little surprised at the unexpected attention he was receiving.
"I want to speak to you on an important subject."
"All right, sir," responded the backwoodsman, not without curiosity.
"You say you have been always unlucky?"
"And you don't expect your luck to change, I think you said?"
"Not unless it becomes worse," grumbled Trimble.
"Would you consider it good luck if some one should pay you over a thousand dollars?"
"Would I? I'd think myself a rich man." exclaimed Trimble. "But who's a goin' to do it?" he added, in a more subdued voice.
"I will, on certain conditions."
"You will give me a thousand dollars?" exclaimed the backwoodsman, opening wide his eyes in astonishment.
"First, you must promise that what I tell you shall be kept secret."
Hugh Trimble made the promise.
Mr. Grey now rose and closed the door, which was partially open, and, drawing his chair near that of his visitor, conferred with him, in a low voice, for some twenty minutes. At the end of that time he dismissed him with a parting injunction.
"Remember what I have told you, and, above all things, be secret."
When the visitor had departed, he stood with his back to the fire, and smiled unpleasantly, as he repeated:
"I think it'll work—I think it'll work."
A RIDE THROUGH THE WOODS.
The next morning, when the three were seated at the breakfast table, Mr. Grey said:
"Jasper, I think I shall leave you to amuse yourself this morning. I propose to invite Gilbert to accompany me on a drive."
"All right, father. Where do you intend driving?"
"I scarcely know, yet. There are many pleasant places in the neighborhood which it is worth while to visit."
"I wonder what the old man's up to?" thought Jasper. "No good to Gilbert, I'll be bound. Well, I've had my turn, and it's no more than right that he should take his. I won't ask any inconvenient questions."
"Will that arrangement be agreeable to you?" asked James Grey, turning to his young visitor.
"I shall be happy to accompany you, Mr. Grey," answered our hero, politely.
"Then it is settled. I will order the chaise round to the door at ten o'clock."
"I will be ready, sir."
Jasper looked at his father curiously, as Gilbert left the room. His look was returned by one equally significant.
"Ask no questions," it said, and Jasper sauntered out of the room, in mute obedience.
Ten o'clock found the chaise before the door. Gilbert was on hand, and so was his uncle.
"Jump in, Gilbert," said Mr. Grey.
Our hero did so, and James Grey followed.
Jasper stood near, and looked on.
"He isn't coming back," he said to himself. "I saw it in my father's eyes. He won't dare to kill him, I wonder?"
The question, which should have produced a feeling of horror, only caused a feeling of curiosity, and he walked away, in the confidence that the dangerous foe to his prospects was to be disposed of somehow.
"It is a pleasant morning for driving," said Mr. Grey, by way of opening the conversation.
"Yes, sir, very pleasant."
"Did you have any more trouble with Bucephalus yesterday?"
"No, sir. He has given up the contest."
"I am glad to hear it."
"How large is your estate, Mr. Grey?"
This was a simple question, but James Grey understood it as implying curiosity on the part of our hero to learn how large a property he could claim.
"There are about two hundred acres," he answered. "By the way, we have not yet spoken of your claim."
"I have been meaning to go to Alton to consult my lawyer. I have delayed it longer, perhaps, than I should. To-morrow I will attend to it, and report to you the result."
"Thank you, sir. I don't like to hurry you, but a decision is so important to my plans in life that I should like the matter decided as soon as possible."
"Of course, your feeling is only natural. Indeed, I have reason to feel in the same way, for if your claim is sustained it will reduce me to comparative poverty, and my poor boy also."
James Grey spoke with affected feeling, and Gilbert responded, quickly:
"Don't think so meanly of me, Mr. Grey, as to suppose that I should be willing to reduce you and Jasper to poverty. I can not give up my rights, but I will take care that you are saved from any pecuniary want."
"Will you, indeed?" said Mr. Grey to himself, with a sneer. "Thank you for nothing, young man; I intend to provide against that contingency myself."
What he said aloud was something very different.
"I feel sure that in any event I can rely on your forbearance," he said. "But the decision may be in my favor, and in that case I will not be behind you in generosity. I will do what I can to further your interests, though I do not promise to do as much for you as an own son."
"Of course not, sir. I thank you for your offer."
Mr. Grey spoke so frankly and fairly—he was one of those who could assume a virtue though he had it not—that Gilbert was partially deceived—so far, at least, as to question the correctness of his former impressions of his uncle. Nevertheless, he could not help calling to mind that this man, fairly as he now spoke, had in all probability conspired against him, dooming him to privation and penury for nearly ten years, while he and his son had been living luxuriously. On the whole, his uncle was a puzzle to him. He exhibited such a contrariety of character and disposition, that he knew not to what decision it would be right to come respecting it.