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Title: Luck and Pluck - or John Oakley's Inheritance
Author: Alger, Horatio, Jr.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Luck and Pluck - or John Oakley's Inheritance" ***

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POPULAR JUVENILE BOOKS.

BY HORATIO ALGER, JR.


_RAGGED DICK SERIES._

_To be completed in Six Volumes._

  I. RAGGED DICK; OR, STREET LIFE IN NEW YORK.

 II. FAME AND FORTUNE; OR, THE PROGRESS OF RICHARD
       HUNTER.

III. MARK, THE MATCH BOY.

 IV. ROUGH AND READY; OR, LIFE AMONG THE NEW YORK
       NEWSBOYS.

  V. BEN, THE LUGGAGE BOY. (In April, 1870.)

 VI. RUFUS AND ROSE; OR, THE FORTUNES OF ROUGH AND
     READY. (In December, 1870.)

_Price, $1.25 per volume._


_CAMPAIGN SERIES._

_Complete in Three Vols._

  I. FRANK'S CAMPAIGN.
 II. PAUL PRESCOTT'S CHARGE.
III. CHARLIE CODMAN'S CRUISE.

_Price, $1.25 per volume._


_LUCK AND PLUCK SERIES._

_To be completed in Six Volumes._

 I. LUCK AND PLUCK; OR, JOHN OAKLEY'S INHERITANCE.

OTHERS IN PREPARATION.

_Price, $1.50 per volume._



[Illustration]



[Illustration: LUCK AND PLUCK SERIES.
BY HORATIO ALGER JR.
LUCK and PLUCK.]



  LUCK AND PLUCK;
  OR,
  JOHN OAKLEY'S INHERITANCE.


  BY
  HORATIO ALGER, JR.

  AUTHOR OF "RAGGED DICK," "FAME AND FORTUNE," "MARK, THE MATCH
  BOY," "ROUGH AND READY," "CAMPAIGN SERIES," ETC.


  LORING, Publisher,
  819 WASHINGTON STREET,
  BOSTON.



  Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by
  A. K. LORING,
  In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the District of
  Massachusetts.


  Rockwell & Churchill, Printers and Stereotypers,
  122 Washington Street.



  To
  MY YOUNG FRIENDS,
  ISAAC AND GEORGE,
  THIS VOLUME
  IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.



PREFACE.


"Luck and Pluck" appeared as a serial story in the juvenile department
of Ballou's Magazine for the year 1869, and is therefore already
familiar to a very large constituency of young readers. It is now
presented in book form, as the first of a series of six volumes,
designed to illustrate the truth that a manly spirit is better than
the gifts of fortune. Early trial and struggle, as the history of the
majority of our successful men abundantly attests, tend to strengthen
and invigorate the character.

The author trusts that John Oakley, his young hero, will find many
friends, and that his career will not only be followed with interest,
but teach a lesson of patient fortitude and resolute endeavor, and a
determination to conquer fortune, and compel its smiles. He has no
fear that any boy-reader will be induced to imitate Ben Brayton, whose
selfishness and meanness are likely to meet a fitting recompense.

    NEW YORK, NOV. 8, 1869.



LUCK AND PLUCK;
OR,
JOHN OAKLEY'S INHERITANCE.



CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCING TWO BOYS AND A HORSE.


"What are you going to do with that horse, Ben Brayton?"

"None of your business!"

"As the horse happens to belong to me, I should think it was
considerable of my business."

"Suppose you prove that it belongs to you," said Ben, coolly.

"There is no need of proving it. You know it as well as I do."

"At any rate, it doesn't belong to you now," said Ben Brayton.

"I should like to know why not?"

"Because it belongs to me."

"Who gave it to you?"

"My mother."

"It wasn't hers to give."

"You'll find that the whole property belongs to her. Your father left
her everything, and she has given the horse to me. Just stand aside
there; I'm going to ride."

John Oakley's face flushed with anger, and his eyes flashed. He was
a boy of fifteen, not tall, but stout and well-proportioned, and
stronger than most boys of his age and size, his strength having
been developed by rowing on the river, and playing ball, in both of
which he was proficient. Ben Brayton was a year and a half older,
and half a head taller; but he was of a slender figure, and, having
no taste for vigorous out-of-door amusements, he was not a match in
strength for the younger boy. They were not related by blood, but
both belonged to the same family, Ben Brayton's mother having three
years since married Squire Oakley, with whom she had lived for a year
previous as house-keeper. A week since the squire had died, and when,
after the funeral, the will had been read, it was a matter of general
astonishment that John, the testator's only son, was left entirely
unprovided for, while the entire property was left to Mrs. Oakley.
John, who was of course present at the reading of the will, was
considerably disturbed at his disinheritance; not because he cared for
the money so much as because it seemed as if his father had slighted
him. Not a word, however, had passed between him and his father's widow
on the subject, and things had gone on pretty much as usual, until
the day on which our story commences. John had just returned from the
village academy, where he was at the head of a class preparing for
college, when he saw Ben Brayton, the son of Mrs. Oakley by a former
marriage preparing to ride out on a horse which for a year past had
been understood to be his exclusive property. Indignant at this, he
commenced the conversation recorded at the beginning of this chapter.

"Stand aside there, John Oakley, or I'll ride over you!"

"Will you, though?" said John, seizing the horse by the bridle. "That's
easier said than done."

Ben Brayton struck the horse sharply, hoping that John would be
frightened and let go; but our hero clung to the bridle, and the horse
began to back.

"Let go, I tell you!" exclaimed Ben.

"I won't!" said John, sturdily.

The horse continued to back, until Ben, who was a coward at heart,
becoming alarmed, slid off from his back.

"That's right," said John, coolly. "Another time you'd better not
meddle with my horse."

"I'll meddle with you, and teach you better manners!" exclaimed Ben, a
red spot glowing in each of his pale cheeks.

As he spoke, he struck John smartly over the shoulders with the small
riding-whip he carried.

John was not quarrelsome. I am glad to bear this testimony to his
character, for I have a very poor opinion of quarrelsome boys; but he
had a spirit of his own, and was not disposed to submit tamely to a
blow. He turned upon Ben instantly, and, snatching the whip from his
hand, struck him two blows in return for the one he had received.

"I generally pay my debts with interest, Ben Brayton," he said, coolly.
"You ought to have thought of that before you struck me."

A look of fierce vindictiveness swept over the olive face of his
adversary as he advanced for another contest.

"Stand back there!" exclaimed John, flourishing the whip in a
threatening manner. "I've paid you up, and I don't want to strike you
again."

"I'll make you smart for your impudence!" fumed Ben, trying to get
near enough to seize the whip from his hands.

"I didn't strike first," said John, "and I shan't strike again, unless
I am obliged to in self-defence."

"Give me that whip!" screamed Ben, livid with passion.

"You can't have it."

"I'll tell my mother."

"Go and do it if you like," said John, a little contemptuously.

"Let go that horse."

"It's my own, and I mean to keep it."

"It is not yours. My mother gave it to me."

"It wasn't hers to give."

John still retained his hold of the saddle, and kept Ben at bay
with one hand. He watched his opportunity until Ben had retreated
sufficiently far to make it practicable, then, placing his foot in the
stirrup, lightly vaulted upon the horse, and, touching him with the
whip, he dashed out of the yard. Ben sprang forward to stop him; but he
was too late.

"Get off that horse!" he screamed.

"I will when I've had my ride," said John, turning back in his saddle.
"Now, Prince, do your best."

This last remark was of course addressed to the horse, who galloped up
the street, John sitting on his back, with easy grace, as firmly as if
rooted to the saddle; for John was an admirable horseman, having been
in the habit of riding ever since he was ten years old.

Ben Brayton looked after him with a face distorted with rage and envy.
He would have given a great deal to ride as well as John; but he was
but an indifferent horseman, being deficient in courage, and sitting
awkwardly in the saddle. He shook his fist after John's retreating
form, muttering between his teeth, "You shall pay for this impudence,
John Oakley, and that before you are twenty-four hours older! I'll see
whether my mother will allow me to be insulted in this way!"

Sure of obtaining sympathy from his mother, he turned his steps towards
the house, which he entered.

"Where's my mother?" he inquired of the servant.

"She's upstairs in her own room, Mr. Benjamin," was the answer.

Ben hurried upstairs, and opened the door at the head of the staircase.
It was a spacious chamber, covered with a rich carpet, and handsomely
furnished. At the time of his mother's marriage to Squire Oakley, she
had induced him to discard the old furniture, and refurnish it to suit
her taste. There were some who thought that what had been good enough
for the first Mrs. Oakley, who was an elegant and refined lady, ought
to have been good enough for one, who, until her second marriage, had
been a house-keeper. But, by some means,--certainly not her beauty, for
she was by no means handsome,--she had acquired an ascendency over the
squire, and he went to considerable expense to gratify her whim.

Mrs. Oakley sat at the window, engaged in needlework. She was tall and
thin, with a sallow complexion, and pale, colorless lips. Her eyes were
gray and cold. There was a strong personal resemblance between Ben and
herself, and there was reason to think that he was like her in his
character and disposition as well as in outward appearance. She was
dressed in black, for the husband who had just died.

"Why have you not gone out to ride, Ben?" she asked, as her son entered
the room.

"Because that young brute prevented me."

"Whom do you mean?" asked his mother.

"I mean John Oakley, of course."

"How could he prevent you?"

"He came up just as I was going to start, and told me to get off the
horse,--that it was his."

"And you were coward enough to do it?" said his mother, scornfully.

"No. I told him it was not his any longer; that you had given it to me."

"What did he say then?"

"That you had no business to give it away, as it was his."

"Did he say that?" demanded Mrs. Oakley, her gray eyes flashing angrily.

"Yes, he did."

"Why didn't you ride off without minding him?"

"Because he took the horse by the bridle, and made him contrary; I
didn't want to be thrown, so I jumped off."

"Did you have the whip in your hand?"

"Yes."

"Then why didn't you lay it over his back? That might have taught him
better manners."

"So I did."

"You did right," said his mother, with satisfaction; for she had never
liked her husband's son. His frank, brave, generous nature differed too
much from her own to lead to any affection between them. She felt that
he outshone her own son, and far exceeded him in personal gifts and
popularity with the young people of the neighborhood, and it made her
angry with him. Besides, she had a suspicion that Ben was deficient in
courage, and it pleased her to think that he had on this occasion acted
manfully.

"Then I don't see why you didn't jump on the horse again and ride
away," she continued.

"Because," said Ben, reluctantly, "John got the whip away from me."

"Did he strike you with it?" asked Mrs. Oakley, quickly.

"Yes," said Ben, vindictively. "He struck me twice, the ruffian! But
I'll be even with him yet!"

"You shall be even with him," said Mrs. Oakley, pressing her thin lips
firmly together. "But I'm ashamed of you for standing still and bearing
the insult like a whipped dog."

"I tried to get at him," said Ben; "but he kept flourishing the whip,
so that I couldn't get a chance."

"Where is he now?"

"He's gone to ride."

"Gone to ride! You let him do it?"

"I couldn't help it; he was too quick for me. He jumped on the horse
before I knew what he was going to do, and dashed out of the yard at
full speed."

"He is an impertinent young rebel!" said Mrs. Oakley, angrily. "I am
ashamed of you for letting him get the advantage of you; but I am very
angry with him. So he said that I had no business to give you the
horse, did he?"

"Yes; he has no more respect for you than for a servant," said Ben,
artfully, knowing well that nothing would be so likely to make his
mother angry as this. Having once been in a subordinate position,
she was naturally suspicious, and apprehensive that she would not be
treated with a proper amount of respect by those around her. It was
Ben's object to incense his mother against John, feeling that in this
way he would best promote his own selfish ends.

"So he has no respect for me?" exclaimed Mrs. Oakley, angrily.

"None at all," said Ben, decisively. "He says you have no right here,
nor I either."

This last statement was an utter fabrication, as Ben well knew; for
John, though he had never liked his father's second wife, had always
treated her with the outward respect which propriety required. He was
not an impudent nor a disrespectful boy; but he had a proper spirit,
and did not choose to be bullied by Ben, whom he would have liked if
he had possessed any attractive qualities. It had never entered his
mind to grudge him the equal advantages which Squire Oakley, for his
mother's sake, had bestowed upon her son. He knew that his father was
a man of property, and that there was enough for both. When, however,
Ben manifested a disposition to encroach upon his rights, John felt
that the time for forbearance had ceased, and he gave him distinctly to
understand that there was a limit beyond which he must not pass. Very
soon after Ben first entered the family John gave him a thrashing,--in
self-defence, however,--of which he complained to his mother. Though
very angry, she feared to diminish her influence with his father
by moving much in the matter, and therefore contented herself by
cautioning Ben to avoid him as much as possible.

"Some time or other he shall be punished," she said; "but at present it
is most prudent for us to keep quiet and bide our time."

Now, however, Mrs. Oakley felt that the power was in her own hands.
She had no further necessity for veiling her real nature, or
refraining from gratifying her resentment. The object for which she
had schemed--her husband's property--was hers, and John Oakley was
dependent upon her for everything. If she treated him ungenerously, it
would create unfavorable comments in the neighborhood; but for this
she did not care. The property was hers by her husband's will, and
no amount of censure would deprive her of it. She would now be able
to enrich Ben at John's expense, and she meant to do it. Henceforth
Ben would be elevated to the position of heir, and John must take a
subordinate position as a younger son, or, perhaps, to speak still more
accurately, as a poor relation with a scanty claim upon her bounty.

"I'll break that boy's proud spirit," she said to herself. "He has
been able to triumph over Ben; but he will find that I am rather more
difficult to deal with."

There was an expression of resolution upon her face, and a vicious
snapping of the eyes, which boded ill to our hero. Mrs. Oakley
undoubtedly had the power to make him uncomfortable, and she meant to
do it, unless he would submit meekly to her sway. That this was not
very likely may be judged from what we have already seen of him.

Mrs. Oakley's first act was to bestow on Ben the horse, Prince, which
had been given to John a year before by his father. John had been
accustomed to take a daily ride on Prince, whom he had come to love.
The spirited horse returned his young master's attachment, and it
was hard to tell which enjoyed most the daily gallop, the horse or
his rider. To deprive John of Prince was to do him a grievous wrong,
since it was, of all his possessions, the one which he most enjoyed.
It was the more unjustifiable, since, at the time Prince had been
bought for John, Squire Oakley, in a spirit of impartial justice, had
offered to buy a horse for Ben also; but Ben, who had long desired to
own a gold watch and chain, intimated this desire to his mother, and
offered to relinquish the promised horse if the watch and chain might
be given him. Squire Oakley had no objection to the substitution, and
accordingly the same day that Prince was placed in the stable, subject
to John's control, a valuable gold watch and chain, costing precisely
the same amount, was placed in Ben's hands. Ben was delighted with his
new present, and put on many airs in consequence. Now, however, he
coveted the horse as well as the watch, and his mother had told him he
might have it. But it seemed evident that John would not give up the
horse without a struggle. Ben, however, had enlisted his mother as his
ally, and felt pretty confident of ultimate victory.



CHAPTER II.

JOHN RECEIVES SOME PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.


John Oakley had triumphed in his encounter with Ben Brayton, and rode
off like a victor. Nevertheless he could not help feeling a little
doubtful and anxious about the future. There was no doubt that Ben
would complain to his mother, and as it was by her express permission
that he had taken the horse, John felt apprehensive that there would
be trouble between himself and his stepmother. I have already said,
that, though a manly boy, he was not quarrelsome. He preferred to live
on good terms with all, not excepting Ben and his mother, although he
had no reason to like either of them. But he did not mean to be imposed
upon, or to have his just rights encroached upon, if he could help it.

What should he do if Ben persevered in his claim and his mother
supported him in it? He could not decide. He felt that he must be
guided by circumstances. He could not help remembering how four years
before Mrs. Brayton (for that was her name then) answered his father's
advertisement for a house-keeper; how, when he hesitated in his choice,
she plead her poverty, and her urgent need of immediate employment; and
how, influenced principally by this consideration, he took her in place
of another to whom he had been more favorably inclined. How she should
have obtained sufficient influence over his father's mind to induce
him to make her his wife after the lapse of a year, John could not
understand. He felt instinctively that she was artful and designing,
but his own frank, open nature could hardly be expected to fathom hers.
He remembered again, how, immediately after the marriage, Ben was sent
for, and was at once advanced to a position in the household equal to
his own. Ben was at first disposed to be polite, and even subservient
to himself, but gradually, emboldened by his mother's encouragement,
became more independent, and even at times defiant. It was not,
however, until now that he had actually begun to encroach upon John's
rights, and assume airs of superiority. He had been feeling his way,
and waited until it would be safe to show out his real nature.

John had never liked Ben,--nor had anybody else except his mother
felt any attachment for him,--but he had not failed to treat him with
perfect politeness and courtesy. Though he had plenty of intimations
from the servants and others that it was unjust to him that so much
expense should be lavished upon Ben, he was of too generous a nature to
feel disturbed by it, or to grudge him his share of his father's bounty.

"There's enough for both of us," he always said, to those who tried to
stir up his jealousy.

"But suppose your father should divide his property between you? How
would you like to see Ben Brayton sharing the estate?"

"If my father chooses to leave his property in that way, I shan't
complain," said John. "Fortunately there is enough for us both, and
half will be enough to provide for me."

But John had never anticipated such a contingency as Ben and his mother
claiming the whole property, and, frank and unsuspicious as he was, he
felt that his father would never have left him so entirely dependent
upon his stepmother unless improper means had been used to influence
his decision. There was a particular reason which he had for thinking
thus. It was this: Three days before his father died, he was told by
the servant, on entering the house, that the sick man wished to see
him. Of course he went up instantly to the chamber where, pale and
wasted, Squire Oakley lay stretched out on the bed.

He was stricken by a disease which affected his speech, and prevented
him from articulating anything except in a whisper. He beckoned John to
the bedside, and signed for him to place his ear close to his mouth.
John did so. His father made a great effort to speak, but all that John
could make out was, "My will."

"Your will, father?" he repeated.

The sick man nodded, and tried to speak further. John thought he could
distinguish the word "drawer," but was not certain. He was about to
inquire further, when his stepmother entered the room, and looked at
him suspiciously.

"Why have you come here to disturb your sick father?" she asked, coldly.

"I did not come here to disturb him," said John. "I came because he
wished to speak to me."

"Has he spoken to you?" she asked, hastily.

"He tried to, but did not succeed."

"You should not allow him to make the effort. It can only do him harm.
The doctor says he must be kept very quiet. You had better leave the
room. He is safest in my care."

John did leave the room, and though he saw his father afterwards,
it was always in his stepmother's presence, and he had no farther
opportunity of communicating with him.

He could not help thinking of this as he rode along, and wondering what
it was that his father wished to say. He knew that it must be something
of importance, from the evident anxiety which the dying man manifested
to speak to him. But whatever it was must remain unknown. His father's
lips were hushed in death, and with such a stepmother John felt himself
worse than alone in the world. But he had a religious nature, and had
been well trained in the Sunday school, and the thought came to him
that whatever trials might be in store for him he had at least one
Friend, higher than any earthly friend, to whom he might look for help
and protection. Plunged in thought, he had suffered Prince to subside
into a walk, when, all at once, he heard his name called.

"Hallo, John!"

Looking up, he saw Sam Selwyn, son of Lawyer Selwyn, and a classmate of
his at the academy.

"Is that you, Sam?" he said, halting his horse.

"That is my impression," said Sam, "but I began to think it wasn't just
now, when my best friend seemed to have forgotten me."

"I was thinking," said John, "and didn't notice."

"Where are you bound?"

"Nowhere in particular. I only came out for a ride."

"You're a lucky fellow, John."

"You forget, Sam, the loss I have just met with;" and John pointed to
his black clothes.

"Excuse me, John, you know I sympathize with you in that. But I'm very
fond of riding, and never get any chance. You have a horse of your own."

"Just at present."

"Just at present! You're not going to lose him, are you?"

"Sam, I am expecting a little difficulty, and I shall feel better if I
advise with some friend about it. You are my best friend in school, and
I don't know but in the world, and I've a great mind to tell you."

"I'll give you the best advice in my power, John, and won't charge
anything for it either, which is more than my father would. You know
he's a lawyer, and has to be mercenary. Not that I ought to blame him,
for that's the way he finds us all in bread and butter."

"I'll turn Prince up that lane and tie him, and then we'll lie down
under a tree, and have a good talk."

John did as proposed. Prince began to browse, apparently well contented
with the arrangement, and the two boys stretched themselves out lazily
beneath a wide-spreading chestnut-tree, which screened them from the
sun.

"Now fire away," said Sam, "and I'll concentrate all my intellect upon
your case gratis."

"I told you that Prince was mine for the present," commenced John. "I
don't know as I can say even that. This afternoon when I got home I
found Ben Brayton just about to mount him."

"I hope you gave him a piece of your mind."

"I ordered him off," said John, quietly, "when he informed me that the
horse was his now,--that his mother had given it to him."

"What did you say?"

"That it was not hers to give. I seized the horse by the bridle,
till he became alarmed and slid off. He then came at me with his
riding-whip, and struck me."

"I didn't think he had pluck enough for that. I hope you gave him as
good as he sent."

"I pulled the whip away from him, and gave him two blows in return.
Then watching my opportunity I sprang upon the horse, and here I am."

"And that is the whole story?"

"Yes."

"And you want my advice?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll give it. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, stick
to that horse, and defy Ben Brayton to do his worst."

"It seems to me I've heard part of that speech before," said John,
smiling. "As to the advice, I'll follow it if I can. I'm not afraid of
anything Ben Brayton can do; but suppose his mother takes his part?"

"Do you think she will?"

"I am afraid she will."

"Then defy her too," said Sam, hastily.

"I don't know about that," said John. "I am only a boy of fifteen, and
she is my father's widow. If she chooses to take the horse away, I
don't know that I can do anything."

"Ben Brayton is a mean rascal. Didn't he get a gold watch at the same
time that you got the horse?"

"Yes; he might have had a horse too, but he preferred the watch and
chain. They cost as much as Prince."

"And now he wants the horse too?"

"So it seems."

"That's what I call hoggish. I only wish Ben Brayton would come to
school, and sit next to me."

"What for?" asked John, a little surprised at this remark.

"Wouldn't I stick pins into him, that's all. I'd make him yell like--a
locomotive," said Sam, the simile being suggested by the sound of the
in-coming train.

John laughed.

"That's an old trick of yours," he said, "I remember you served me so
once. And yet you profess to be my friend."

"I didn't stick it in very far," said Sam, apologetically; "it didn't
hurt much, did it?"

"Didn't it though?"

"Well, I didn't mean to have it. Maybe I miscalculated the distance."

"It's all right, if you don't try it again. And now about the advice."

"I wouldn't be imposed upon," said Sam. "Between you and me I don't
think much of your stepmother."

"Nor she of you," said John, slyly. "I heard her say the other day that
you were a disgrace to the neighborhood with your mischievous tricks."

"That is the 'most unkindest' cut of all," said Sam. "I'd shed a few
tears if I hadn't left my handkerchief at home. I have a great mind to
tell you something," he added, more gravely.

"Well?" said John, inquiringly.

"It's something that concerns you, only I happened to overhear it,
which isn't quite fair and aboveboard, I know. Still I think I had
better tell you. You know my father was your father's lawyer?"

"Yes."

"Well, he as well as everybody else was surprised at the will that
left everything to your stepmother, only he had the best reason to be
surprised. I was sitting out on our piazza when I heard him tell my
mother that only three months ago your father came to his office, and
had a will drawn up, leaving all the property to you, except the thirds
which your stepmother was entitled to."

"Only three months ago?" said John, thoughtfully.

"Yes."

"And did he take away the will with him?"

"Yes; he thought at first of leaving it in my father's charge, but
finally decided to keep it himself."

"What can have become of it? He must have destroyed it since."

"My father doesn't think so," said Sam.

"What does he think?"

"Mind you don't say a word of what I tell you," said Sam, lowering his
voice. "He thinks that Mrs. Oakley has put it out of the way, in order
to get hold of the whole property herself."

"I can hardly think she would be so wicked," said John, shocked at the
supposition.

"Isn't it easier to believe that of her, than to believe that your
father would deal so unjustly by you?"

"I won't call it unjustly, even if he has really left her the whole
property," said John. "Still, I was surprised at being left out of the
will. Besides," he added, with a sudden reflection, "there's something
that makes me think that the will you speak of is still in existence."

"What's that?" asked Sam.

In reply John gave the particulars of his father's attempt to
communicate with him, and the few words he was able to make out.

"I understand it all now," said Sam, quickly.

"Then you're ahead of me."

"It's plain as a pike-staff. Your father hid the will, fearing that
your stepmother would get hold of it and destroy it. He wanted to tell
you where it was. Do you know of any secret drawer in your house?"

John shook his head.

"There must be one somewhere. Now, if you want my advice, I'll give it.
Just hunt secretly for the drawer, wherever you think it may possibly
be, and if you find it, and the will in it, just bring it round to
my father, and he'll see that justice is done you. Come, I'm not a
lawyer's son for nothing. What do you say?"

"I shouldn't wonder if you were right, Sam."

"You may depend upon it I am. I'm your lawyer, remember, and you are
my client. I give advice on the 'no cure no pay' system. If it don't
amount to anything I won't charge you a cent."

"And if it does?"

"If you get your property by my professional exertions, I trust to your
generosity to reward me."

"All right, Sam."

"Of course you won't let your stepmother suspect what you're after.
Otherwise she might get the start of you, and find it herself, and then
much good it would do you."

"I'm glad to think it is still in existence, and that she hasn't
destroyed it."

"She would if she could, you may depend on that."

"Well, Sam, I'm much obliged to you for your advice. I think I must be
going now."

"Well, good-by, old fellow. Keep a stiff upper lip, and don't give up
the ship--horsemanship, I mean. I must go round to the office, and see
if father doesn't need a little professional assistance."

John leaped on Prince's back, and turned him in the direction of home.
The revelation which Sam had made gave a new direction to his thoughts.
If his father had really intended to give him a share of the estate, he
felt that he ought to have it, and determined to institute a search as
cautiously as possible.

Driving into the yard he saw Ben sitting sullenly on the door-step. He
eyed John with no very friendly glance.

"Where've you been?" he demanded.

"Up the road," said John, briefly.

"It's the last time you'll ride _my_ horse."

"It's not your horse."

"You'll find out whose horse it is," muttered Ben.

"I don't care about disputing with you," said John, quietly, turning
towards the stable.

"My mother wishes to see you at once; do you hear?" said Ben,
unpleasantly. "She's going to make you apologize to me for your
impudence."

"I'll go in and see her as soon as I have put the horse in the stable,"
John answered, quietly.

"I hate that fellow," muttered Ben, following our hero with lowering
eyes; "he puts on too many airs altogether. But my mother'll fix him."



CHAPTER III.

JOHN'S TROUBLES BEGIN.


After putting Prince in the stable, John went into the house slowly,
for he was in no hurry to anticipate what he feared would be an
unpleasant interview.

"Where is Mrs. Oakley, Jane?" he asked of a servant whom he met in the
hall.

"She's in the sitting-room, Master John," said Jane. "She wants to see
you immediately."

"Very well; I'll go in."

He heard steps behind him, and, turning, found that Ben was following
him.

"He wants to hear me scolded," thought John. "However, I won't take any
notice."

Mrs. Oakley was sitting in a rocking-chair. She looked up with a frown
as John entered. She had never liked him, but since Ben had declared,
falsely, as we know, that John had no more respect for her than a
servant, this dislike was greatly increased.

[Illustration] She was inwardly determined to make his life as
uncomfortable as possible.

"Well, sir," she said, "so you have come at last."

"I came as soon as Ben told me you wished to see me," said John. "I
only waited till I had put my horse into the stable."

"_His_ horse!" repeated Ben, by way of calling his mother's attention
to the claim to ownership expressed in those words.

"I suppose I ought to consider it lucky that you paid any attention to
my words," said Mrs. Oakley.

"I hope I have not failed in proper respect," said John.

"It was very respectful in you to ride off with the horse, when I had
told Ben he might use it."

"It was my horse," said John, firmly. "If Ben wanted it, he might ask
me."

"Ask you, indeed!" repeated Ben, scornfully; "you won't catch me doing
that."

"It was enough that I told him that he might ride. Didn't he tell you
that?"

"Yes."

"Then what right had you to refuse?"

"The horse is mine," said John. "It was given me by my father."

"He allowed you to use it."

"He gave it to me. At the same time he gave Ben a watch, which he is
wearing now. He has no more right to demand my horse than I have to
claim his watch."

"You seem to forget," said Mrs. Oakley, coldly, "that your father saw
fit to leave me his property. The horse forms a part of that property,
and belongs to me, and it is for me to say who shall ride on it. Ben,
you may ride on the horse to-morrow."

"Do you hear that?" demanded Ben, triumphantly, looking towards John.

"I suppose," said John, quietly, "you will order Ben to let me have his
watch to-morrow."

"I shall do no such thing," said Mrs. Oakley, sharply, "and it is
impudent in you to ask such a thing."

"I don't see why it isn't fair," said John. "It appears to me rather
mean in Ben to want both, and leave me neither."

"That is for me to decide," said Mrs. Oakley. "There is one thing more
I have to speak to you about. My son tells me you were brutal enough to
strike him with the whip. Do you deny that?"

"I never deny what's true."

"Then you did strike him."

"Yes, I struck him twice."

"And you have the impudence to stand there, and say it to my face!"

"You asked me, and I have answered you. I don't see why that should be
called impudent."

"You glory in your disgraceful action," said Mrs. Oakley, sharply.

"Did Ben tell you that he struck me first?" asked John.

"I am very glad to hear it. It was what you deserved," said Mrs. Oakley.

"Then," said John, firmly, "I gave him what he deserved. You can't
expect me to stand still and be struck without returning it."

"The only fault I find with Ben is, that he did not strike you more
than once," said Mrs. Oakley, in an excited tone.

John glanced from the mother to her son, who was evidently pleased with
the reproaches John was receiving, and said, quietly:--

"I think Ben had better not attempt it."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Mrs. Oakley, quickly.

"I don't want to strike Ben, or injure him in any way," said John; "but
I mean to defend myself if I am attacked."

And Ben, though he chose to sneer, knew very well that, quietly as
John spoke, he was thoroughly in earnest, and would do precisely as he
said. He knew very well, too, that, though he was older and taller than
John, he would very likely be worsted in an encounter. He preferred,
therefore, that his mother should fight his battles for him.

"You hear, mother," he said. "He defies you. I knew he would. You
remember what I told you."

Mrs. Oakley did remember very well, and the recollection made her angry.

"John Oakley," she said, "you will find that it won't do to insult me."

"I have no wish to insult you, Mrs. Oakley," said John. "I have not
forgotten who you are, and I shall try to treat you accordingly."

"What do you mean by that?" said Mrs. Oakley, turning pale with rage.

She was misled by the statement Ben had made, and she thought John
referred to the fact that she had been his father's house-keeper,--a
point on which she felt sensitive.

"I mean," said John, a little surprised at this outburst, "that I have
not forgotten that you are my father's widow, and as such are entitled
to my respect."

"Was that what you meant?" asked Mrs. Oakley, suspiciously.

"Certainly," said John. "What else could I mean?"

Mrs. Oakley turned to Ben, who shrugged his shoulders, intimating that
he did not believe it.

"All very fine," said his mother, "but words are cheap. If you think I
am entitled to your respect, you will do as I require. Will you promise
this?"

"I would rather not promise," said John. "If it is anything I ought to
do, I will do it."

"It _is_ something you ought to do," said Mrs. Oakley.

"What is it?"

"I require you immediately to apologize to my son Benjamin, for the
blows you struck him with the whip this afternoon."

"I cannot do this," said John, firmly.

"Why can't you do it?"

"Because I had a good reason for striking him. He ought to apologize to
me for striking me first."

"Catch me doing it!" said Ben, scornfully.

"I have no fault to find with him for striking you," said Mrs. Oakley.
"On the contrary, I think him perfectly justified in doing so. You
forced him off the horse after I had given him permission to ride, and
I should have been ashamed of him if he had not resisted. I am glad he
gave you such a lesson."

Once more John looked at Ben, and was not surprised to see the smile
of triumph that rose to his face as he listened to these words of his
mother.

"Well," said Mrs. Oakley, impatiently, "what have you to say?"

"What can I say? You are determined to find me in the wrong."

"It is because you _are_ wrong. I demand once more, John Oakley, will
you apologize to my son?"

"I will not," said John, firmly.

"Please to remember that you are left dependent upon me, and that your
future comfort will be a good deal affected by the way in which you
decide."

"Whatever happens," said John, who partly understood the threat, "I
refuse to apologize, unless--"

"Unless what?"

"If Ben will say that he is sorry that he struck me, I will say the
same to him."

"Ben will do nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Oakley, promptly. "I
should be ashamed of him if he did."

"Catch me apologizing to such a whipper-snapper as you!" muttered Ben.

"Then I have no more to say," said John.

"But I have," said Mrs. Oakley, angrily. "You have chosen to defy me
to my face, but you will bitterly repent of it. I'll break your proud
spirit for you!"

John certainly did not feel very comfortable as he left the room. He
was not afraid of what his stepmother could do, although he knew she
could annoy him in many ways, but it was disagreeable to him to feel at
variance with any one.

"If my poor father had only lived," he thought, "how different all
would have been!"

But it was useless to wish for this. His father was no longer on earth
to protect and shield him from the malice of Ben and his mother. Trials
awaited him, but he determined to be true to himself, and to the good
principles which he had been taught.

As for Mrs. Oakley, having once resolved to annoy John, she lost no
time in beginning her persecutions. She had a small, mean nature, and
nothing was too petty for her to stoop to.

John and Ben had been accustomed to occupy bedrooms on the second
floor, very prettily furnished, and alike in every respect. It had been
the policy of Squire Oakley to treat the two boys precisely alike,
although Ben had no claim upon him, except as the son of the woman whom
he had married. Now that he was dead, Mrs. Oakley determined that Ben
should occupy a superior position, and should be recognized throughout
the house as the eldest son and heir. After her unsatisfactory
interview with John, just described, in which he had refused to
apologize, she summoned Jane, and said:--

"Jane, you may remove John's clothes from the bedchamber where he has
slept to the attic room next to your own."

"Is Master John going to sleep there?" asked Jane, in amazement.

"Certainly."

"And shall I move Master Ben's things upstairs, also?"

"Of course not," said Mrs. Oakley, sharply. "What made you think of
such a thing?"

"Beg pardon, ma'am; but who is going to have Master John's room?"

"You ask too many questions, Jane. It is no concern of yours that I am
aware of."

Jane did not venture to reply, but went out muttering:--

"It's a shame, so it is, to put Master John upstairs in that poor room,
while Ben stays downstairs. He's a young reprobate, so he is, just for
all the world, like his mother."

The fact was, that John was a favorite in the house, and Ben was
not. The latter was in the habit of domineering over the servants,
and making all the trouble in his power, while John was naturally
considerate, and always had a pleasant word for them. However, Mrs.
Oakley's commands must be obeyed, and Jane, much against her will,
found herself obliged to remove John's things to the attic. She found
John already in his chamber.

"Excuse me, Master John," she said, "but I have orders to move your
things up to the attic."

"What!" exclaimed John, in amazement.

Jane repeated her words.

"Did Mrs. Oakley tell you to do that?"

"Yes, Master John, and a shame it is."

"Is Ben to go up into the attic too?"

"The mistress said no."

"Wait a minute, Jane; I'll go and speak to Mrs. Oakley."

John went downstairs, and found his stepmother in the room where he had
left her.

"May I speak to you a moment, Mrs. Oakley?" he said.

"Have you come to apologize for your impertinence to me, and your
rudeness to my son?"

"No, I have not," said John.

"Then I don't care to speak to you."

"Excuse me, Mrs. Oakley, but Jane tells me that you have ordered her to
remove my things to the attic."

"Well?"

"Is Ben to go into the attic too?"

"No, he is not."

"Then why are you driving me from my room?"

"You seem to forget that you are only a boy. This house is mine, and I
shall make what arrangements I please."

"The room in the attic is not nearly as good as my present room."

"It is good enough for you."

"I am willing to go up there if Ben goes up, but I claim to be treated
as well as he."

"Ben is older than you. Besides, he is respectful and dutiful, while
you are impertinent and disobedient. I shall treat you as well as you
deserve."

"Why did you not make this change while my father was alive, Mrs.
Oakley?" said John, significantly.

Mrs. Oakley colored, for she understood very well the meaning of this
question.

"I do not intend to be catechised by you," she said, sharply. "I intend
to do what I please in my own house, and I shall not submit to have my
arrangements questioned."

"May I ask how my room is going to be used?" said John, who wanted to
be sure whether his stepmother had any motive for the change except
hostility to himself.

"No, you may not ask," she said, angrily; "or if you do, you need not
expect any answer. And now I will thank you to leave the room, as I
have something else to do besides answering impertinent questions."

There was nothing more to say, and John left the room.

"Well, Master John," said Jane, who had waited till his return, "what
will I do?"

"You may move the things upstairs, Jane," said John.

"It's a shame," said Jane, warmly.

"Never mind, Jane," said John. "I don't like it much myself, but I dare
say it'll all come out right after a while. I'll help you with that
trunk. It's rather heavy to carry alone."

"Thank you, Master John. Ben wouldn't offer to help if he saw me
breakin' my back under it. It's easy to see which is the gentleman."

The room to which John's things were removed was uncarpeted, the floor
being painted yellow. It had been used during Squire Oakley's life by
a boy who was employed to run errands, but who had been dismissed by
Mrs. Oakley, who was disposed to be economical and save his wages. The
bed was a common cot bedstead, comfortable indeed, but of course quite
inferior to the neat French bed in which John had been accustomed to
sleep. There was a plain pine table and bureau, in which John stored
his things. There was a small cracked mirror, and a wash-stand with
the paint rubbed off in spots. Altogether it was hardly suitable for
a gentleman's son to sleep in. John, however, was not proud, and
would not have minded if there had not been malice on the part of his
stepmother. He had scarcely got moved when a step was heard on the
attic stairs, and Ben came up to enjoy the sight of John's humiliation.

"So you've got a new room, John?" he said, smiling maliciously.

"So it seems," said John, quietly.

"I'm sorry to lose so agreeable a neighbor," he continued.

"Are you?" said John, looking at him searchingly.

"But you'll be more at home up here," said Ben.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean it's more suitable for you."

"Ben Brayton," said John, his eyes flashing, "if you have come up here
to insult me, the sooner you go down the better. Your mother has moved
me up here, for what reason I don't know. The only satisfaction I have
in the change is, that it removes me further from you."

"You're uncommon polite since you've moved into this elegant
apartment," said Ben, tauntingly.

"Elegant or not, it is mine, and I want it to myself," said John.
"Leave the room!"

He advanced towards Ben as he spoke. Ben thought a moment of standing
his ground, but there was something in John's eye that looked
threatening, and he concluded that it would be the best policy to obey.
With a parting taunt he backed out of the chamber, and John was left to
himself.



CHAPTER IV.

BEN BRAYTON'S RIDE.


John took his place at the supper-table as usual; but neither Mrs.
Oakley nor Ben, though they spoke freely to each other, had a word to
say to him. If John had been conscious of deserving such neglect, he
would have felt disturbed; but as he felt that all the blame for what
had occurred rested with Ben and his mother, he ate with his usual
appetite, and did not appear in the least troubled by their silence,
nor by the scornful looks which from time to time Mrs. Oakley directed
towards him. After supper he went up into his little room, and prepared
his lesson in Virgil for the next day. He was at the head of his class,
and was resolved to let no troubles at home interfere with his faithful
preparation of his lessons.

Ben did not attend school. In fact, he was not very partial to study,
and though Squire Oakley had offered to bear his expenses at the
academy, and afterwards at college, Ben had persuaded his mother
that his health was not firm enough to undertake a long course of
study. While, therefore, John was occupied daily for several hours
at the academy, Ben had lived like a gentleman of leisure, spending
considerable time at the billiard rooms in the village, and in lounging
on the hotel piazza. He managed to get through considerable money, but
his mother had always kept him well supplied.

Although he did not wish to go to college himself, he did not fancy
the idea of John's going, since this would increase the superiority of
the latter over him. He knew very well that a liberal education would
give John a certain position and influence which he was not likely to
attain, and he determined to prevent his obtaining it. When, therefore,
John had gone to school the next morning, Ben attacked his mother on
the subject.

"Are you going to send John to college, mother?" he asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because I don't want him to go."

"Why not?"

"He'll put on no end of airs if he goes, and turn up his nose at me,
because I don't happen to know so much about Latin and Greek, and such
rigmarole."

"I wish you would make up your mind to go to college, Ben," said his
mother, earnestly, for she was very ambitious for her son.

"It's of no use, mother. I'm seventeen, and it would take three years
to get ready, and hard study at that."

"You have studied Latin already."

"I don't remember anything about it. I should have to begin all over
again."

"Well," said Mrs. Oakley, reluctantly giving up the idea, "you might
study law without going to college."

"I don't think I should like to be a lawyer. It's too hard work."

"You needn't be, but you could go to the Law School, and study long
enough to get a degree. You would make some aristocratic acquaintances,
and it would be an honorable profession to belong to."

"Well," said Ben, "I don't know but I'll enter the Law School in a
year, or two. There is no hurry. I suppose you'll give me enough
money so that I won't have to earn my living? I say, mother, how much
property did old Oakley leave?"

Considering the obligations under which Mrs. Oakley was placed to her
late husband it might have been supposed that she would reprove Ben
for the disrespectful manner in which he spoke of him; but, as may be
guessed, she cared nothing for her husband, except for what she could
get out of him, and was not in the least disturbed by the manner in
which Ben referred to him.

"This house and the land around it," she said, "are estimated at ten
thousand dollars. There are, besides, stocks, bonds, and mortgages to
the amount of fifty thousand dollars."

"Sixty thousand dollars in all!" exclaimed Ben, his eyes sparkling.
"You're quite a rich woman, mother."

"Yes," said Mrs. Oakley, complacently, "I suppose I am."

"It's a little different from when you came here four years ago on a
salary of twenty dollars a month. You were pretty hard up, then."

"Yes, Ben, but we can hold up our heads with anybody now."

"I say, mother," said Ben, persuasively, "as I'm your only son, I think
you might give me ten thousand dollars right out. You'd have fifty
thousand left."

Mrs. Oakley shook her head.

"You're too young, Ben," she said. "Some time or other you shall be
well provided for."

"I'm seventeen," grumbled Ben. "I'm old enough to look after property."

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Ben," said Mrs. Oakley. "I will give you
an allowance of ten dollars a week from now till you are twenty-one.
Then, if you behave well, I will make over to you twenty thousand
dollars."

"You might say thirty. You're not saving a third for John Oakley, are
you?"

Mrs. Oakley's face hardened.

"No," she said; "he's been too insolent to me. I suppose I must give
him something, but he shall never have a third."

"Five hundred dollars will be enough for him," said Ben, with
contemptible meanness, considering that but for the accident of his
father's second marriage the whole property--one hundred and twenty
times as much--would have gone to John.

"I can't tell you how much he will get," said Mrs. Oakley. "It depends
on how he behaves. If he had treated us with greater respect, his
chances would be a great deal better."

"He's a proud upstart!"

"But his pride shall be broken. I'm determined upon that."

"Then you won't send him to college? That would make him prouder still.
Besides," added Ben, his habitual meanness suggesting the thought, "it
costs a good deal to keep a fellow at college."

"No," said Mrs. Oakley, "he shan't go to college."

"Good!" said Ben, his eyes sparkling; "that will be a bitter pill for
him, for he wants to go."

"How soon would he be ready?"

"In about a year."

"You may set your mind at rest on that point. He shan't go."

"All right, mother. When are you going to pay me my allowance?" he
said, insinuatingly.

Mrs. Oakley took out her purse, and placed a ten-dollar bill in his
hand.

"That's for the first week," she said.

"Couldn't you make it fifteen, mother?"

"No, ten must do for the present."

"Are you going to allow John anything?"

"He doesn't deserve anything. When he does, I will allow him fifty
cents a week."

Ben strolled over to the billiard rooms, and spent the forenoon playing
billiards with another young fellow as idle and unpromising as himself.
He then walked over to the hotel, and bought a dozen cigars, one of
which he began to smoke. At one o'clock he returned home to dinner.
John was not present at this meal. The intermission between morning
and afternoon schools at the academy was but an hour, and he had been
accustomed to carry his lunch with him. He was not released until four
o'clock in the afternoon.

"Well, mother," said Ben, "how about the horse? Are you going to give
up to John?"

"Certainly not; you may consider the horse yours," said Mrs. Oakley.

"John'll make a fuss."

"Let him," said Mrs. Oakley. "He'll find that I can make a fuss too."

"I'll go out to ride this afternoon," said Ben, with satisfaction.
"I'll get started just before four o'clock, so as to meet John on
his way from school. He'll look mad enough when he sees me;" and Ben
laughed, as he fancied John's looks.

"It is a very good plan," said Mrs. Oakley, approvingly. "We'll see if
he dares to interfere with you again."

The more Ben thought of it, the better he was pleased with this plan.
All the academy boys knew that the horse was John's, and they would
now see him upon it. He would be likely to meet many of them, and this
would make John's humiliation the greater. At half-past three he went
out to the barn.

"Mike," he said, to the hostler, "you may saddle Prince. I am going to
ride out."

"Master John's horse?"

"No, _my_ horse."

"Your horse, sir? Prince belongs to Master John."

"How dare you stand there contradicting me?" said Ben, haughtily. "The
horse is mine. My mother has given it to me."

"It's a shame, then," said Mike to himself, "for Master John sets a
sight by that horse. The old woman's mighty queer."

It was lucky for Mike that Mrs. Oakley was not aware of the
disrespectful term applied to her in Mike's thoughts, or he would
probably have been discharged at short notice. But the fact was, that
none of the servants liked her. Feeling a little doubtful of her own
position, she always spoke to them in a haughty tone, as if they were
far beneath her, and this, instead of increasing their respect, only
diminished it.

Mike saddled Prince, and led him out into the yard.

"You must be careful, Master Ben," he said. "The horse has got a spirit
of his own, and he isn't used to you."

Ben was a poor horseman, and he knew it; but he was too proud to admit
it to Mike.

"Don't trouble yourself," he said, haughtily. "If John can manage him,
I can."

"He's used to Master John."

"Well, he's got to get used to me," said Ben. "If he don't behave well
it will be the worse for him. You haven't given me the whip."

"You'd better not use it much, Master Ben. He won't stand a whip very
well."

"Keep your advice till it is asked for," said Ben.

"All right, sir," said Mike, and handed him the whip. He followed him
with his eyes as he rode out of the yard. "He don't sit like Master
John. It wouldn't take much to throw him off. However, I've warned him,
and he must have his own way if he breaks his neck."

Although Ben had spurned Mike's warning with so much disdain, he
thought of it as he rode up the street, and let Prince take his own
gait. The truth was, he did not feel very secure in his seat, and did
not feel very much confidence in his own horsemanship. Indeed, he would
not have cared to ride out this afternoon, but for the anticipated
pleasure of mortifying John.

He rode leisurely along, taking the direction of the academy, which was
nearly a mile distant. He looked at his watch, and estimated that he
would meet the pupils of the academy as they emerged from school.

He was right in his reckoning. At precisely four o'clock there was
a bustle about the doors, and with merry shouts the boys poured out
into the street. Among them were John Oakley and Sam Selwyn, who, as
intimate friends and classmates, generally were found in company. They
turned up the street which led by Mr. Selwyn's office, and in the
direction of John Oakley's home.

"John," said Sam, suddenly, "I do believe that is Ben Brayton riding on
your horse."

John looked up the street, and saw that Sam was right.

"You are right, Sam," he said.

"Did you tell him he might ride on it?"

"No."

"Then what business has he with it?"

"His mother told him he might take it. She has taken it from me."

"She's an old--"

"Don't call names, Sam. I'll tell you more about it another time."

Meanwhile Ben had seen the boys coming from the academy. Among others
he recognized John and Sam, and his eyes flashed with anticipated
triumph. Hitherto he had been content to let the horse go on at his
own rate, but now he thought it was time to make a display. He thought
it would annoy John to have him dash by at gallant speed, while he,
the rightful owner, was obliged to stand out of the path, unable
to interfere. He therefore brought the whip down with considerable
emphasis upon Prince's side. Unfortunately he had not foreseen the
consequences of the blow. Prince took the bit between his teeth, and
darted forward with reckless speed, while Ben, seeing his mistake too
late, pale and terrified, threw his arms around the horse's neck, and
tried to keep his seat.

John started forward, also in alarm, for though he had no reason to
like Ben, he did not want him to be hurt, and called "Prince!"

The horse recognized his master's voice, and stopped suddenly,--so
suddenly that Ben was thrown off, and landed in a puddle of standing
water in a gully by the side of the road. Prince stopped quietly for
his master to come up.

"Are you hurt, Ben?" asked John, hurrying up.

Ben rose from the puddle in sorry plight. He was only a little bruised,
but he was drenched from head to foot with dirty water, and patches of
yellow mud adhered to his clothes.

"You did this!" he said, furiously to John.

"You are entirely mistaken. I hope you are not hurt," said John, calmly.

"You frightened the horse on purpose."

"That's a lie, Ben," said Sam, indignantly. "It's a lie, and you know
it."

"I understand it all. You don't deceive me," said Ben, doggedly.

"Will you ride home?" asked John.

Ben refused. In fact, he was afraid to trust himself again on Prince's
back.

"Then I suppose I must." And John sprang lightly upon the horse's back,
and rode towards home, followed by Ben in his soiled clothes.

Mrs. Oakley, looking from her window, beheld, with wondering anger,
John riding into the yard, and her son following in his soiled clothes.

"What's he been doing to Ben?" she thought, and hurried downstairs in a
furious rage.



CHAPTER V.

BEN IS COMFORTED.


"What have you been doing to my son, you young reprobate?" demanded
Mrs. Oakley of John. Her hands trembled convulsively with passion, as
if she would like to get hold of our hero, and avenge Ben's wrongs by
inflicting punishment on the spot.

John was silent.

"Why don't you speak, you young rascal?" demanded Mrs. Oakley,
furiously.

"I am neither a reprobate nor a rascal, Mrs. Oakley," said John,
calmly, "and I do not choose to answer when addressed in that way."

"Ben," said Mrs. Oakley, turning to her son, "what has he done to you?
How happens it that you come home in such a plight?"

"I was thrown over the horse's head into a mud-puddle," said Ben.

"Didn't _he_ have anything to do with it?" asked Mrs. Oakley,
determined to connect John with Ben's misfortune, if possible.

"He spoke to the horse," said Ben.

"And then he threw you?"

"Yes."

Ben answered thus, being perfectly willing that his mother should
charge his fall upon John, as this would create additional prejudice
between them. It was contemptible meanness on his part, but meanness
was characteristic of him, and he had no hesitation in stooping to
falsehood, direct or indirect, if by so doing he could compass his
object.

"It is as I thought," said Mrs. Oakley, thinking it unnecessary to
inquire further. "Of course, as soon as you were thrown, he jumped on
the horse and rode home. You're carrying matters with a high hand,
young man; but you'll find that I'm your match. Get off that horse,
directly."

"That was my intention," said John. "I am sorry, Mrs. Oakley," he
continued, "that Ben has not seen fit to give you a correct account of
what has happened. If he had, it would have been unnecessary for me to
speak."

"It is unnecessary for you to speak now, John Oakley," said his
stepmother, sharply. "Do you mean to charge my son with telling a
falsehood? If that is the case, take care what you say."

"Ben has not told a falsehood, but he is trying to make you believe
that I caused his fall."

"I have no doubt you did."

"Then you are mistaken. Why didn't he tell you that when I first saw
the horse he was running at great speed, in consequence of Ben's having
imprudently struck him severely with the whip? He is a spirited horse,
and won't stand the whip."

"He is like you in that, I suppose," said Mrs. Oakley, sneering.

"He _is_ like me in that," said John, quietly.

"You would both be better if you had to stand it," said his stepmother,
angrily.

John did not see fit to reply to this.

"Is this true, Ben?" she asked.

"Yes," said Ben, reluctantly. "I struck the horse; but it was not till
John spoke to him that he threw me off."

"So I supposed," said Mrs. Oakley, significantly.

"I see, Mrs. Oakley," said John, "you are determined to find me guilty
of causing Ben's fall. If I could be mean enough to do such a thing,
and so risk his life, I should despise myself. Prince was rushing up
the street with tremendous speed, and I was frightened at Ben's danger;
I called out to Prince, but he stopped so suddenly that Ben was thrown
into the puddle, or he might have been seriously hurt."

There was so much sincerity in what John said, that Mrs. Oakley,
though very much against her will, could hardly help believing him.
Determined, however, to make out a case against him, she said:--

"As soon as you saw him off, you jumped on the horse and rode home,
leaving him to get home as he could. That was a very generous and noble
thing to do!"

"Ask Ben if I did not ask him to ride home," said John.

Ben, in answer to his mother's glance, said, rather unwillingly:--

"Yes, he asked me to ride home, but he knew I wouldn't after being
thrown once. I won't get on the brute's back again, I promise you."

Mrs. Oakley was disappointed to find that the case she was trying to
make out against John had failed at all points, and that he was cleared
even by the testimony of her principal witness.

"You had better come in and change your clothes, Ben," she said. "I
am afraid you will take cold. And do you"--turning to John--"take the
horse round to the stable. He's an ugly brute, and I'll take care that
he doesn't endanger your life any more."

John led Prince round to the stable, and delivered him into the hands
of Mike.

"Where's Master Ben?" inquired Mike.

"He got thrown off."

"I thought how it would be," said Mike. "He can't ride no more'n a
stick. I told him not to take the whip, but he wouldn't heed a word I
said."

"That's how he got thrown. He struck the horse violently, and he was
running away with him when he heard my voice and stopped."

"Did Master Ben get hurt?"

"Not much. He fell into a puddle, and dirtied his clothes."

"Maybe he'll be wiser next time."

"He says he won't ride Prince again."

"All the better for you, Master John."

"I don't know, Mike," said John, soberly. "I'm afraid Mrs. Oakley will
sell him. She says he is an ugly brute, and she won't have any more
lives endangered."

"Ugly brute!" repeated Mike, indignantly. "There's not a bit of
ugliness about him. He wants to be treated well, and I'd like to know
who don't. And he's so attached to you, Master John!"

"Yes, Mike, it'll be hard to part with him." And John's lips quivered
as he looked with affection at the noble horse, to which he had
become much attached. Besides, it was his father's gift, and as such
had an additional value for him, as, owing to his disinheritance, he
had nothing else of value by which he could remember the parent whose
loss he was made to feel more and more, as his stepmother's injustice
and harsh treatment, and Ben's meanness and hostility served daily to
increase. It almost seemed to him as if Prince was the only friend he
had left, and that he must be parted even from him.

Meanwhile Ben was changing his clothes in his room. The adventure which
had just happened to him did not make him feel very pleasant. In the
first place, it is rather disagreeable to be thrown violently into a
puddle of dirty water, and Ben might be excused for not liking that.
Ben's pride was touched, since it had been demonstrated in the most
public manner that he could not manage Prince, while it was well known
that John could. Ben knew boys well enough to feel sure that he would
be reminded from time to time of his adventure, and he did not like to
be laughed at. Why was it that John always seemed to get the better
of him? He went out expressly to triumph over John in presence of his
schoolmates, and this had been the humiliating result.

"Why was I such a fool as to use the whip?" thought Ben, vexed with
himself. "If it had not been for that, it would have been all right."

But he had used the whip, and it was all wrong. As to using the horse
any more, he did not care to do it. To tell the truth, Ben, who, as
we know, was not very courageous, was afraid of Prince. He suspected
that the horse would remember the blow he had given him, and would be
likely to serve him the same trick the next time he mounted him. So
he resolved that he would never ride out on Prince again; but he was
equally anxious that John should also be prevented from using him. The
words that his mother had last used led him to hope that she would
agree to sell him, and, what was still more important in his eyes,
_give him the money_ resulting from the sale. Under these circumstances
the triumph would still be his, and he would enjoy John's grief for the
loss of his horse.

When Ben descended from his chamber, in a clean suit, he found that his
mother had taken measures to console him for his mortifying adventure.
The tea-table was spread, and two or three delicacies such as he
particularly liked were set before his plate. Ben surveyed this with
satisfaction, for he was something of a gourmand.

"I thought you might be hungry, Ben," said his mother; "so I got
some of that marmalade that you like so well, and here is some hot
mince-pie."

"That's just what I like, mother."

"We will sit down at once. John can come when he gets ready."

"What are you going to do about that horse, mother?" asked Ben, rather
indistinctly, for his mouth was full.

"I did intend to keep him for your use; but if he is likely to play
such tricks as he has to-day, I suppose I had better sell him."

"Yes, mother, sell him. I'll never mount such a vicious brute again,
and I suppose you won't keep him just for John's use."

"Of course not. It costs considerable to keep a horse. Besides, he'd be
flinging out that he could manage the horse, and you couldn't."

"Of course he would. But the horse is used to him, you know, and that
is why he doesn't find any trouble with him. But you gave me the horse,
you know, mother."

"But you don't want him."

"No, I don't; but I suppose you'll give me the money you sell him for."

"I don't know about that," said Mrs. Oakley, hesitatingly. "He cost a
hundred and fifty dollars. That is too much money for you to have."

"Why is it?" said Ben.

"I give you ten dollars a week now."

"Yes; but that goes for small expenses. If I wanted now to buy anything
expensive, I couldn't do it."

"What is there you want?"

"I don't know yet," said Ben; "I haven't thought, but I should like to
have the money."

Mrs. Oakley still hesitated.

"I know it would make John awful mad," said Ben, cunningly appealing
to his mother's hatred of our hero, "to think that Prince was sold,
and that I had the money. Perhaps it's that you're thinking of. But I
didn't suppose you'd be influenced by anything he could say or do."

"John may be angry or not; it is entirely indifferent to me," said
Mrs. Oakley, falling into the trap laid for her. "I was only thinking
whether it would be well for you. I don't know but I will let you have
the money,--that is, I will put it in the savings-bank in your name,
and you can let me know when you want to use it, and what for."

"All right," said Ben, who determined that when he once got hold of the
money he would not consult anybody as to its disposal. "When will you
sell it, mother?"

"To-morrow, perhaps. I hear that Mr. Barnes, the livery stable-keeper,
has just lost a valuable horse. Perhaps he may like to buy it."

"He'll buy it fast enough," said Ben. "I heard him say the other day
that he should like to have Prince. He likes fast horses. How surprised
John will be when he comes home, and finds Prince is missing!"

Ben laughed as he fancied John's anger, and this thought, together with
the money which would so soon be placed to his account, quite restored
his spirits, somewhat to John's surprise, who did not understand the
reasons which he had for being cheerful.

So Prince's fate was decided, and a new trial awaited John.



CHAPTER VI.

OPEN HOSTILITIES.


From his early boyhood John had been intended by his father to receive
a collegiate education. If he should acquit himself with credit in
college, he was afterwards to have his choice of studying a profession,
or entering mercantile life. At the age of eleven he commenced Latin
at the academy, and two years afterwards Greek, and in these he had
advanced so far that in a year he would be qualified to enter college.
There were six boys in the preparatory class to which he belonged,
among them being Sam Selwyn, his intimate friend, who has already been
introduced to the reader. From the first John had stood at the head
of the class, both in Latin and Greek, Sam ranking second. Although
they were rivals in scholarship, there had never been the shadow of
a difference between them arising from this cause. Both were of a
generous nature, and were strongly attached to each other, and it had
long been understood between them that when admitted to college they
would room together.

John had often talked with his father about going to college, and
Squire Oakley had strong hopes of John's maintaining a high position
in his college class, and doing him credit at the institution where he
had himself graduated. This made it all the more remarkable that John's
interests had been so entirely neglected in the disposition of his
property made by his will.

As John was on his way to school, on the morning succeeding Ben's fall
from the horse, he was overtaken by Sam Selwyn.

"How's your amiable brother this morning, John?" asked Sam.

"Meaning Ben?"

"Of course. I hope his health hasn't suffered seriously from his
unexpected bath. Poor fellow! he had a pretty good fright."

"Yes, I don't think he'll trouble Prince very soon again."

"I shan't soon forget how frightened he looked with both arms around
the horse's neck. I should have felt like laughing, only I was afraid
he might come to harm. Now you'll have Prince to yourself."

"I don't know about that, Sam. I rather think, from something Mrs.
Oakley said, that she means to sell Prince."

"Sell _your_ horse!" exclaimed Sam, indignantly.

"She says it isn't mine. She's given it to Ben. As Ben don't dare to
use it, I am afraid Prince will have to go," said John, sadly.

"I wouldn't stand it!" exclaimed Sam, in excitement. "It's an
imposition."

"But what can I do?"

"The horse is yours."

"Not legally, I am afraid. I can't prove it, and Mrs. Oakley says it
was only mine to use."

"Whether you can prove it or not, the horse is yours, and I say it will
be an outrageous thing if it is sold. At any rate you ought to demand
the money that is received for it."

"I'll tell you what I have made up my mind to do. Mrs. Oakley may say
that the horse is expensive to keep, but as Ben received a watch and
chain at the same time I got the horse, it is only fair that I should
have a watch in place of it, if it is sold."

"Of course, that is only reasonable."

"Not that a watch would pay me for the loss of Prince. I'd rather have
him than three watches; but it doesn't cost anything to keep a watch."

"That's true; but I hope you'll be able to keep the horse."

"So do I," said John; but he had very little expectation of it.

"Well, there's hope ahead, old fellow," said Sam, cheerfully. "Next
year we'll enter college, and then you'll be out of the way of Master
Ben and your kind stepmother, for forty weeks in the year, at any rate."

"I hope so," said John, slowly.

"You _hope so_?" repeated Sam. "You don't expect Mrs. Oakley will
remove to Cambridge, so that you may still be favored with her charming
company?"

"I don't feel sure of going to Cambridge myself," said John, soberly.

"You don't mean to say you're afraid you won't pass the examination? If
you don't, there'll be precious little chance for the rest of us."

"That isn't what I mean," said John. "I think I should pass the
examination. At any rate I am not afraid of it."

"What _are_ you afraid of then?" asked Sam, in surprise.

"I am afraid Mrs. Oakley won't let me go."

"But your father always meant you to go. She knows that."

"Yes, she knows it, for father used often to refer to the time when I
would be in college, in her presence. But I am afraid that won't make
much difference with her."

"Has she said anything about it?"

"No, not yet; but it will cost considerable to keep me at Cambridge."

"Well, your father left a good deal of property."

"Yes; but it was left to Mrs. Oakley."

"There's enough to pay your expenses at college, and maintain Mrs.
Oakley and Ben handsomely."

"I know that, but I am sorry to say that Mrs. Oakley and Ben both
dislike me, and it will be reason enough with them to keep me at home
because they know I am anxious to go."

"It's a burning shame," said Sam, indignantly, "that such a woman as
that should have the control over you. As for Ben Brayton, I always did
despise him. He's a mean fellow, and a coward to boot."

"I don't like Ben much," said John.

"And he returns the compliment."

"Yes, he has taken a dislike to me, I don't know why, for I have always
treated him well, though I couldn't like him."

"I say, John," said Sam, "if you don't go to college, it'll knock all
my plans into a cocked hat. You were to room with me, you know."

"Yes, Sam, I have been looking forward to that a long time."

"What a jolly time we should have! I shan't have half so much pleasure
in going to college if you don't go with me. You're such a good
scholar, too, it would be a great pity. But perhaps it may not be so
bad as you think. Mrs. Oakley may be only too glad to get rid of you."

By this time they had reached the door of the academy. The bell
sounded, summoning the pupils to their morning exercises, and John and
Sam had other things to think of, for a while at least.

At the close of the afternoon John returned home. He went into the
house to carry his Virgil and Greek Reader, being accustomed to prepare
a part of his lessons out of school. On going out into the yard, he saw
Ben lounging lazily against a fence, whittling.

"Are you going out to ride, John?" he asked, in an unusually friendly
tone.

"I think I will ride a little way," said John.

"I got enough of it yesterday," said Ben.

"You were unlucky. If you had not struck Prince it would have been all
right."

"I don't care about trying it again. I hope you'll have a pleasant
ride."

"Thank you," said John, unsuspiciously.

He went out to the barn, and opened the door that led to the stables.
He made his way at once to Prince's stall, and looked in.

_It was empty!_

Surprised, but not yet suspecting what had really happened, he called
out to Mike, whom he saw outside:--

"Where's Prince, Mike?"

"Shure, sir, didn't you know he was sold?"

"Sold? When?"

"This morning, Master John."

"Who bought him?"

"Mr. Barnes, the man that keeps the livery stable. He was here this
morning. He and the mistress came in, and they soon struck a bargain."

John's heart swelled with anger and sorrow, but he asked, calmly:--

"Do you know what price Mr. Barnes gave for Prince?"

"Yes, Master John; I heard him say that he would give one hundred and
ninety dollars. The mistress wanted two hundred; but she finally let
him have Prince at that, and a good bargain it is to him too."

John left the stable outwardly calm, but much disturbed in mind.

"Mrs. Oakley might at least have let me know what she meant to do," he
said, bitterly. "My poor father's gift too."

Ben waited for John's return with malicious interest. He wanted to
witness and enjoy his disappointment.

"I thought you were going to ride?" he said, with a smile of mockery.

"Can you tell me where your mother is?" asked John, coldly.

"She's in the house, I suppose. Do you want to see her?"

"Yes."

John entered the house without taking any further notice of Ben. He
found his stepmother in the sitting-room. She looked up, as he entered,
with a glance of satisfaction, for she saw that she had made him
unhappy.

"Mike tells me you have sold Prince, Mrs. Oakley," he commenced.

"Yes. What of it?"

"As he was my horse, I think you might have let me know what you
intended to do."

"Prince was not your horse," she said, sharply.

"He was my poor father's gift to me."

"Nonsense! He merely let you call him yours. The horse was mine."

"He was as much mine as Ben's watch is his. Are you going to sell Ben's
watch?"

"No, I am not. If that is all you have to say, you may leave the room."

"It is not. I will not object to your selling the horse, because it
would cost something to keep him; but it is only fair that the money
for which he was sold should be given to me, or enough to buy a watch
and chain like Ben's."

"You are very modest in your expectations, young man," sneered Mrs.
Oakley.

"I'm only asking what is just."

"You seem to forget whom you are speaking to. If you think you can
bully me, you will find yourself entirely mistaken."

"I am not in the habit of bullying anybody. I only want my rights,"
said John.

"Then you'll have to want. You may as well understand, first as last,
John Oakley,"--and his stepmother raised her voice angrily,--"that I am
mistress in this house, and owner of this property. You are entirely
dependent upon me for the bread you eat and the clothes you wear, and
it will be prudent for you to treat me respectfully, if you want any
favors. Do you understand that?"

"I understand what you say, Mrs. Oakley," said John, indignantly. "You
seem to have forgotten that every cent of this property belonged to my
father, and would now be mine, if my father had not married you. You
had better remember _that_, when you talk about my being dependent upon
you, and favor Ben at my expense."

Mrs. Oakley turned white with rage.

"What do you mean by your impertinence, you young rascal?" she
shrieked, rising to her feet, and glaring at John.

"I mean this," he exclaimed, thoroughly provoked, "that I don't believe
my father ever intended to leave you all his property. I believe there
is another will somewhere, and I mean to find it."

"Leave the room!" exclaimed Mrs. Oakley, in a voice almost inarticulate
with rage. "You'll repent those words, John Oakley. You're in my power,
and I'll make you feel it."

John left the room, his anger hot within him. When he reflected coolly
upon what had passed, he did repent having spoken about the will. It
might set Mrs. Oakley upon the track, and if she found it, he feared
that she would have no scruples in destroying it, and then his last
chance of obtaining his rights would be gone.



CHAPTER VII.

MRS. OAKLEY DECIDES WHAT TO DO.


Mrs. Oakley was not only angry, but very much disturbed at the words
which John had imprudently uttered. They startled her, because they
intimated John's suspicion of something which she had good reason for
knowing to be a fact.

Mrs. Oakley knew that her husband had executed a later will, and,
though she did not know where it was, she believed it still to be in
existence!

The will under which she inherited bore a date only two months after
her marriage with Squire Oakley. She had cunningly influenced him to
make it. He did so without proper consideration, and gave the will
into her custody. But, though his wife carefully concealed from him
her real character, she could not do so entirely. Little things, which
came under his observation, led him to believe that she entertained
a secret dislike for John, and, only three months before his death,
Squire Oakley, to protect John's interests, made a second will, which
superseded the first, and limited his wife to that portion of his
property which she could legally claim,--that is, one third.

He did not see fit to apprise his wife of this step. But she was
watchful and observant, and something led her to suspect what had been
done. She determined to find out secretly, and with this end went to
the desk where her husband kept his private papers, one day when she
supposed him to be absent, and began to search for the suspected will.
After a while she found it, and, spreading it open, began to read:--

"I, Henry Oakley, being of sound mind," etc.

She had read so far, when a heavy hand was laid upon her shoulder.
Turning with a start, she saw her husband, his face dark with anger,
looking sternly at her.

"Give me that document, Mrs. Oakley," he said, abruptly.

She did not dare do otherwise than obey.

"By what right do you come here to pry into my private papers?" he
demanded.

"I am your wife," she said.

"That is true. You are my wife; but that does not authorize your
stealing in here like a thief, and secretly examining papers, which
would have been shown you if they had been intended for your eyes."

"Does not that paper relate to me?" she asked, boldly.

"It relates to my property."

"It is your will."

"Yes."

"And it makes the one which I hold of no value."

"It does."

"So you are secretly plotting against my interests," she said, angrily.
"I suspected as much, and I determined to find out."

"The will of which you speak never ought to have been made. It
disinherits my son, and places him in your power."

"Could you not trust me to provide for him?" asked Mrs. Oakley.

"I fear not," said her husband. And her eyes fell before his steady
glance. She felt that she was better understood than she had supposed.

"So you have placed me in John's power," she said, bitterly.

"I have done nothing of the kind."

"Have you not left the property to him?"

"You well know that you are entitled by law to one-third of my estate."

"One-third!"

"Yes."

"And he is to have two-thirds?"

"Why should he not? If I had not married a second time he would have
had the whole."

"And my son Ben is left unprovided for?" questioned Mrs. Oakley, in a
tone of mingled anger and disappointment.

"Ben has no claim upon me."

"Poor boy! so he will be penniless."

"You appear to forget that your share of the property will amount to
twenty thousand dollars. He need not suffer, unless his mother should
refuse to provide for him."

But this did not suit Mrs. Oakley's views. She was not at all
reconciled to the thought that John Oakley, whom she disliked, would
inherit forty thousand dollars, while she and Ben must live on half
that sum. She was fond of money and the position it would bring, and
although twenty thousand dollars would once have seemed to her a great
fortune, her desires had increased with her prosperity, and she now
thought it a hardship that she should be limited to such a trifle. She
was by no means reconciled to the thought that Ben must play second
fiddle to his rich stepbrother. Still John was young, and if she were
his guardian that would be something. So she smoothed her face and
said:--

"I suppose you have appointed me John's guardian?"

Squire Oakley shook his head.

"I have appointed Mr. Selwyn to that position. It is more fitting that
a lawyer should have the care of property," he said.

There was another reason which he did not mention. He thought that
John's interests would be safer in Mr. Selwyn's hands than in those of
his wife.

"This is an insult to me," said Mrs. Oakley, angry and disappointed.
"It will be declaring to the world that you have no confidence in me."

"Nothing of the kind. Even were you his real mother, there would be
nothing strange in my leaving him to the guardianship of another."

But Mrs. Oakley looked angry, and for days afterwards wore an offended
and injured look. She appeared to forget from what poverty and
dependence Squire Oakley had delivered her, and how many favors he had
lavished upon Ben, who had no claim upon him save in his relationship
to her.

Three days afterwards, Squire Oakley asked his wife for the will which
she had had in her possession for nearly three years.

"Why do you want it?" she asked.

"Because it is of no value now, since I have made a later will. I wish
to destroy it."

Mrs. Oakley said she would look for it. If she did so, she took care
not to look in the right place, for she reported that it was mislaid,
and she could not find it.

"It is rather strange that you should have mislaid a document which
might have been of such importance," said Squire Oakley, significantly.

"I am always mislaying things," said she, forcing a laugh. "I will look
again to-morrow."

But the will was not found, and Squire Oakley drew his own deductions
from this fact. Painful as it was to suspect his wife, he feared
that his second will would not be safe if she could once get it into
her possession. He saw, too late, that he had married a selfish and
unscrupulous woman. He determined, therefore, to conceal the document,
which so vitally affected his son's interests, in a hiding-place
where it would be safe from Mrs. Oakley's prying disposition. He did
so. But he did not foresee at that time how soon he would be struck
with paralysis that would affect his speech, and render it difficult
for him to reveal the secret to those who ought to know it. So it
happened, however. From the time paralysis attacked him, Mrs. Oakley
kept vigilant watch over him, and did all she could to keep John away
from his father's bedside, lest the secret should be revealed to him.
Meanwhile, she sought everywhere for the missing will, but couldn't
find it. The most she feared was that it had been placed in the
lawyer's hands for safe-keeping. It ought to have been. Squire Oakley,
as he lay on his sick-bed, regretted bitterly that it had not been so
disposed of. It would have saved him from much anxiety. John obtained
one interview with him, as we know, but his father was unable to impart
to him the desired information, and the sudden entrance of Mrs. Oakley
destroyed his last chance.

The rest we know. Squire Oakley died; his wife produced the earlier
will, which she now had no difficulty in finding, and under that
claimed and inherited the whole property. A search was instituted for
the late will, under the lawyer's directions, but it was not found.
Mrs. Oakley found herself, to her secret delight, the undisputed
mistress of her late husband's handsome estate. She had hoped that
John knew nothing of the later will; but the words to which he
gave utterance at the close of the last chapter undeceived her.
It was clear that he knew something of it, and he had expressed a
determination to find it. That it was somewhere in the house, Mrs.
Oakley believed, and, if so, it was very possible that John might
stumble upon it. The result would be that she would be compelled to
surrender two-thirds of the property, and he would become independent
of her. Aside from the large pecuniary loss, she could not bear to
think of John's release from her persecutions. At present, she pleased
herself with thinking that he was in her power, and that she could
"break his proud spirit," as she termed it, though, as we have seen,
John was disposed to be respectful, and only displayed such a proper
spirit as his self-respect demanded.

"If I could only find the will myself," thought Mrs. Oakley, "there
would be no further trouble."

She did not say to herself, that, should such a discovery be made, it
would plainly be her duty to make it known to Squire Selwyn, who had
always been her late husband's lawyer. She did not consider what she
should do with it, but we who have obtained a glimpse of her character
may easily guess that in her hands it would not have benefited John
much.

The point for Mrs. Oakley to consider was how to protect herself
against any sudden discovery of John's. She saw that it would be
dangerous for her to have him continue in the house, and she resolved
to send him away. Where, she could not at once decide.

Having determined upon this, it occurred to her once more to visit her
husband's desk, and examine it carefully, in the hope of discovering
some secret drawer, in which the will might have been concealed.

It was now evening. She lit a lamp, and went to the small room which
Squire Oakley had used for reading and writing in, and went at once to
the desk. It was old-fashioned, with a variety of small drawers. These
she had examined more than once, but she opened them again, in the
hope of discovering some false bottom, which had served as a means of
concealment. While she was intent upon her search, she heard a slight
noise at the door, and, looking up, was startled to find John looking
into the room.

"What are you prying into my actions for?" she demanded, sharply, a
little embarrassed at being caught thus employed, and especially by
John.

"I am not," said John.

"Why are you here, then?"

"By accident entirely; I was passing through the entry, and, seeing a
light in here, I just glanced in."

"I wanted to find a receipt," said Mrs. Oakley, thinking it best to
offer some plausible explanation. "A bill was presented me for payment
that I think has already been paid."

"Can I assist you?"

"No," said Mrs. Oakley, coldly. "I shall probably find it soon."

John was not deceived by this explanation. He felt sure that Mrs.
Oakley was searching for the will; but this he kept to himself.

"I must get rid of him at once," said his stepmother. "Once get him out
of the house, and I'll explore it thoroughly. I shan't feel safe till
the will is found."



CHAPTER VIII.

MR. EPHRAIM HUXTER.


Mrs. Oakley had determined to send John away, This resolution was
easily formed, but it was not quite so easy to decide where to send
him. There were plenty of boarding-schools where he might be sent, but
these would be expensive, and, besides, Mrs. Oakley was of opinion
that John knew enough already. He was very much the superior of Ben
in scholarship, and for this she was sorry. She would like to have
apprenticed him to a trade; but if this was done while Ben lived in
idleness, Mr. Selwyn would be sure to remonstrate, and as the will was
not yet found she felt in some fear of his opinion.

It was about this time that the stage arrived one afternoon before
the gate, and a tall, shabbily dressed man, with a battered valise,
descended, and walking up the front path rang the bell.

The servant who answered the summons thought she recognized him as a
peddler who had called there about a month before.

"We don't want anything," she said, abruptly, nearly shutting the door
in the stranger's face.

"What do you mean?" he demanded, staring at her in surprise. "I want to
see your mistress."

"It's no use. She won't take anything of you."

"What do you mean by your impudence?" he said, angrily.

"Hoity-toity," said the girl. "You put on airs enough for a peddler;
but it's of no use. You may take your rubbish off somewhere else."

"Who's a peddler, I should like to know? If you don't open that door
pretty quick, I'll tell my sister to dismiss you without a character."

"Your sister!" repeated the girl, taken by surprise. "What has your
sister got to do with me?"

"She gives you a home, and pays you wages, I reckon."

"Aint you a peddler, then?" demanded the girl, incredulously.

"I am Mrs. Oakley's brother, and you'd better invite me into the house,
if you want to stay in it yourself."

"Excuse me, sir. I made a mistake. If you'll walk in I'll tell Mrs.
Oakley you're here."

"That's the first sensible word you've spoken. I'll put my valise here
in the entry."

"Well," thought the servant, "if that's Mrs. Oakley's brother, I don't
think much of her family. I always thought she belonged to a poor set."

She went upstairs to the front chamber, where her mistress liked to
sit, and said:--

"Your brother's downstairs. He says he would like to see you."

"My brother!" repeated her mistress, not looking overpleased.

"Yes, he is down in the parlor."

"Very well, I will go down and see him."

The ill-dressed stranger was stretched out in a rocking-chair, in an
attitude more comfortable than graceful. He was gazing about the room,
and noting with much complacency the evidences of comfort and luxury
which the handsome furniture exhibited. It was thus that Mrs. Oakley
found him.

"How do you do, brother Ephraim?" she said, coldly, advancing, and just
giving him the tips of her fingers.

"I'm pretty well," he answered. "So the old gentleman's dead, hey?"

"If you mean my husband," she answered, still with coldness, "you are
right."

"It's all right about the property, hey? How much is left to you?"

"The whole."

"Whew!" whistled Mr. Ephraim Huxter.--"Well, you have worked your cards
well, that's a fact."

"I'll thank you, Ephraim," said Mrs. Oakley, with dignity, "not to use
such low language, or indulge in such insinuations. I did my duty by my
husband, and he showed his confidence in me by leaving me his property."

"Well, perhaps that's the right way to put it," said Mr. Huxter. "I'm
glad you have feathered your nest so well."

"I must again request you not to indulge in such language," said Mrs.
Oakley, in tones of displeasure.

Mr. Huxter was evidently perplexed.

"Come, Jane," said he, "there's no use in trying to deceive me. You
made a good thing of it in marrying old Oakley, and you needn't pretend
to be broken-hearted because he is dead, and has left you his fortune."

"Hush!" said Mrs. Oakley, closing the door; "what if the servants
should hear you talking in this way?"

"Well, there is something in that. That girl of yours that came to the
door took me for a peddler. She wasn't going to let me in."

Mrs. Oakley glanced at her brother's soiled linen and stained clothes,
and did not express any surprise.

"I brought my valise," said her brother. "I suppose it'll be convenient
for me to stay a few days."

Mrs. Oakley assented rather ungraciously,--in truth she did not care
much to present such a man as her brother. She felt that it would make
it still more difficult to obtain the position which she desired to
maintain in the village.

"I thought maybe I could help you in settling up the estate," said Mr.
Huxter.

"I don't think I shall require any assistance. Mr. Oakley was a good
business man, and the task is an easy one," said his sister, coldly.

"How much does the property amount to?" asked Mr. Huxter,--the property
being in his eyes the main thing to be considered.

"I can't say exactly."

"Well, you can give a guess."

But Mrs. Oakley did not care to have her brother understand her exact
position as regarded money matters. She saw clearly enough that he was
already speculating how to turn her prosperity to his own advantage,
and this she was determined he should not do. She would like to have
kept him at a distance, but she was already feeling one of the
inconveniences of wealth. There are some whose chief enjoyment of
wealth arises from the happiness which it enables them to impart to
others, and some, in Mrs. Oakley's position, would have been glad
to do something for such of their relatives as were in struggling
circumstances; but it was not so with her. She was of a stingy,
penurious disposition, and did not mean that her money should benefit
any one but Benjamin and herself, except the small sum which she felt
obliged to spend on John.

"No, I don't think I could form any estimate," she said. "Mr. Oakley
has recently died, you know."

"Has he left as much as fifty thousand?"

"Fifty thousand!" exclaimed Mrs. Oakley; "what are you thinking of?"

"It isn't much less, I am thinking. At any rate, you're a rich woman."

"I am comfortably provided for."

"I wish I was as comfortably provided for," said Mr. Huxter. "Seems
to me your ideas have risen some, Jane, since you used to live with
me, and bind shoes for a living. You and Ben wouldn't have been very
comfortable, I reckon, if I hadn't helped you once upon a time."

"As to that," said Mrs. Oakley, "I worked for my board. It was no great
favor on your part."

"At any rate, you thought yourself lucky to get a home. Now, things are
changed considerably. You are a rich woman, and--well, I'm hard up."

"You always were shiftless, Ephraim," said Mrs. Oakley, who saw what
her brother was coming to.

"Shiftless!" repeated Mr. Huxter, in an injured tone. "I don't know
what you call shiftless. I've been a hard-working man; but luck's never
been on my side."

Mr. Huxter's nose had a suspicious redness, which seemed to indicate
whiskey might have had something to do with his want of luck. This was
in fact the case. If he had never made much headway, it was partly, at
least, his own fault, as his sister knew well enough. But she knew also
that there was very little chance of his amending in that particular,
and though she gave him little encouragement by her manner, she felt
that she should have to help him at last.

"How are your family?" asked Mrs. Oakley.

"Oh, about as usual. Wife's always scoldin' and complainin', and the
children are fractious. I don't know what makes 'em behave so. My home
aint a very happy one, that's a fact."

Mrs. Oakley knew that very well. For more than two years, when left a
widow, with Ben on her hands, she had found a home in her brother's
family, which proved so far from agreeable, that she finally determined
to leave it, and do as well as she could for herself outside. She
had been lucky enough to obtain a situation in Mr. Oakley's family
as house-keeper, and this proved the starting-point of a new and
prosperous career. During Mr. Oakley's life, Mr. Huxter had never been
near her. This had been at Mrs. Oakley's special request. She felt that
her brother was not calculated to do her any particular credit, and
she had succeeded, though with some difficulty, in keeping him at a
distance. She had accomplished this by an occasional present, and the
distinct intimation that these would cease unless her brother should
respect her wishes. Now that she was a widow, he considered that the
prohibition was at an end, and had presented himself unexpectedly, and
was by no means welcome.

At this moment Ben, who wished to see his mother, and was not aware
of his uncle's arrival, entered the room, and, observing the shaggy
appearance of the visitor, whom apparently he did not recognize,
surveyed him with unconcealed contempt.



CHAPTER IX.

MORE ABOUT MR. HUXTER.


Mr. Ephraim Huxter, on perceiving Ben, wreathed his homely features
into what was intended for a gracious smile, and, rising, took his
nephew's rather unwilling hand.

"So this is Ben," he said. "Bless me, what a young gentleman he's
grown, to be sure! Don't you remember me, Ben?"

"No, I don't," said Ben, but not truly, for he had recognized his uncle
at first sight. Indeed, any one who had ever seen Mr. Huxter would be
likely to remember his harsh features and ungainly form.

"It is your Uncle Ephraim," said his mother.

"Humph!" said Ben, not feeling it necessary to express any pleasure.
With his improved fortunes, his pride had developed, and he had come to
look upon his mother's brother as a low person, who was immeasurably
his inferior.

"Yes, Ben has become quite a gentleman," said his uncle, surveying his
broadcloth suit, and gold watch-chain ostentatiously displayed over
his vest. "But I dare say he hasn't forgotten when he used to run round
in a shirt and overalls, and hoed potatoes at three cents an hour."

Ben did remember distinctly, and the recollection was far from
pleasing; so he thought it best to forget it.

"I don't remember anything of the kind," he said, rather roughly.

"I suppose you'd want to be paid better now, ha, ha!" said Mr. Huxter,
laughing as if he thought it a capital joke.

"I don't know anything about hoeing potatoes," said Ben, haughtily.
"I'm not a laborer."

"No, of course not," said Mr. Huxter. "You and your mother are now
rich; but I hope you won't look down on your poor uncle and cousins,
who have to grub along as well as they can for a living. Things were
different once, to be sure. Once my humble home was thrown open to
receive you, and I was glad to give you a shelter, though a lowly one,
in your hour of need. I shall always be glad to think of that, though
my wife and little ones should starve before my face."

Mr. Huxter deliberately drew from his pocket a red cotton handkerchief,
and raised it to his eyes, not to wipe away the tears, for there were
none, but to increase the pathos of his remarks. But even with this
help they failed to produce the desired effect. Mrs. Oakley remained
cool and unaffected, and Ben, turning from his uncle to his mother,
said:--

"How soon will supper be ready?"

"You may go and ask Hannah to set the table at once," said Mrs. Oakley.

Ben left the room with alacrity, without taking further notice of his
uncle.

"The young cub! I'd like to flog him!" thought his uncle; but he did
not consider it polite to give utterance to this thought. "What a
gentlemanly appearance Ben has!" he said, instead.

"Yes," said Mrs. Oakley, more graciously; for her pride in Ben was
her great, and perhaps it might be said, her only weakness, cool and
calculating woman as she was. "I think he will do me credit, brother
Ephraim."

"Indeed he will. I am quite proud of him," said Mr. Huxter, who thought
he saw the best way to ingratiate himself with his sister. "I can
hardly believe he's the same little Ben that used to run round the farm
barefooted. He don't like to think of those old times, ha, ha!"

"No," said Mrs. Oakley; "he has a proud spirit, Benjamin has."

"That's all well enough as long as he has money to support it. 'Poor
and proud' don't go so well together, sister Jane."

"I don't know," said Mrs. Oakley. "I was once poor, but I never lost
my pride. If I had I should have given right up, and made no effort to
better myself."

"I know who you're thinking of. You're thinking of me. You think I
haven't got any proper pride. Well, I don't know as I have. Misfortunes
have come thick and fast, and I've had a hard row to hoe. Hard work and
poverty are enough to take away a man's pride."

Mr. Huxter certainly did not look as if he could ever have had much to
be proud of; but then, pride and merit do not always go together, and
appearances are sometimes deceitful.

"Well," said Mrs. Oakley, now graciously, "perhaps matters may take a
turn with you. I cannot do much, for I have Mr. Oakley's son to provide
for, as well as Benjamin and myself; but I may be able to do something."

"Thank you, Jane," said Mr. Huxter, more cheerfully. "I was sure you
would not harden your heart against your only brother, and leave his
family to suffer, while you were living on the fat of the land."

"We will talk further this evening, Ephraim," said Mrs. Oakley. "Excuse
me for five minutes, while I go out to the kitchen to see if supper is
nearly ready."

"Certainly, Jane. I don't mind confessing that I feel rather hungry
myself. I didn't take any dinner at the Half-way House, to-day, for
dinner costs money, and with my narrow means I didn't feel as if I
could spare half a dollar."

"I am glad you mentioned it. I will see that some cold meat be placed
on the table. You must require something hearty."

"It's my praising Ben that fetched her," said Mr. Huxter, when, being
left to himself, he began to reflect upon the cause of his sister's
sudden and agreeable change of manners. "I shall have to flatter up the
young rascal, I expect, though I'd a good deal rather give him a taste
of a horsewhip. So he turns up his nose at me, does he? He forgets the
time when he'd have been obliged to beg from house to house but for
me. Maybe he won't always be prosperous. The race isn't always to the
strong, nor the battle to the swift."

Mr. Huxter did not often read the Bible, and was not aware that he had
made a trifling mistake in his quotation. His thoughts were turned
into a different and more agreeable channel by the reappearance of
his sister, and the announcement that supper was ready. He rose with
alacrity, and followed Mrs. Oakley into a room in the rear of the
parlor, where an abundant and appetizing meal was spread. Mr. Huxter
rubbed his hands with satisfaction,--for in his own household the meals
were neither abundant nor inviting,--and took his seat at his sister's
table. Ben took the head of the table opposite his mother, and John
Oakley sat opposite Mr. Huxter.

"Who is this young man?" asked Mr. Huxter, glancing at John. "I have
not had the pleasure of an introduction."

"That is John Oakley," said his stepmother, briefly.

"The son of your lamented husband," said Mr. Huxter.

"Yes. Will you have milk and sugar in your tea?"

"Yes, thank you. I hope you are well, Mr. Oakley."

"Quite well, thank you, sir," said John, wondering who was addressing
him.

"I am your stepmother's brother," continued Mr. Huxter, "and that makes
me a sort of relation, you know."

"Will you help yourself to the toast, Ephraim?" said Mrs. Oakley, in
a quick, sharp tone, for she didn't fancy the idea of her brother's
paying so much attention to John.

"Thank you, Jane. If it is as nice as your tea, I shall want to help
myself more than once. But you were always a good house-keeper."

Mrs. Oakley did not relish this allusion, for she would like to have
had everybody forget that she had been a professional house-keeper.
She thought her brother was succeeding admirably in making himself
disagreeable, and determined that he should not long remain her
guest, if she could conveniently get rid of him. But Mr. Huxter had
not penetration enough to see that he was displeasing his sister, and
continued, his mouth being full of toast:--

"Mr. Oakley must be near your Benjamin's age, Jane."

"I'm almost two years older," said Ben, who had so few points of
superiority that he might well claim this.

"Indeed, I shouldn't have thought it," said his uncle; "but then Mr.
Oakley is very well grown for his age."

"I don't know that Ben is deficient in that way," said Mrs. Oakley,
coldly.

"Oh, no, of course not; I didn't mean to hint such a thing. The boys
must be a good deal of company for each other."

"You're mistaken there," said Ben, shortly.

"They are not much together," said Mrs. Oakley. "John goes to school,
but Benjamin has finished his education."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Huxter; "pray what studies do you pursue, Mr.
Oakley?"

"I am studying Latin, Greek, and mathematics," answered John.

"I want to know! Why, you are quite a scholar! Are you going to
college?" asked Mr. Huxter.

"That was what my father intended," said John.

"Mr. Oakley's death has interrupted all our plans," said Mrs. Oakley,
coldly, "and we have not had time to form new ones."

"What are your plans for Benjamin?" asked his uncle. "Do you understand
Latin and Greek, too, Ben?"

"No; and I don't want to," said Ben. "It's all nonsense, and won't do
any good."

"Well, I can't say as I care much about either myself," said Mr.
Huxter; "only it is fashionable to study them."

"I don't care whether it is fashionable or not," said Ben; "I shan't
waste my time over them."

"Will you have some more toast, Ephraim?" asked Mrs. Oakley, heartily
tired of the conversation.

"Thank you, I believe I will."

John mentally decided that Mr. Huxter was a singular man, but did not
dream that he was likely to have considerable to do with him, and that
ere long.



CHAPTER X.

HOW THE MATTER WAS SETTLED.


After supper Mrs. Oakley and her brother were left together. Ben had no
particular fancy for the society of his uncle, and John had no desire
to intrude upon Mrs. Oakley.

"Well, Ephraim," said Mrs. Oakley, plunging into business at once, "I
have been considering what I could do for you."

"I knew you had a good heart, sister Jane," said Mr. Huxter, who was
disposed to be very complimentary to his sister, now that his interest
lay in flattering her. Mrs. Oakley well remembered the time when he
treated her in quite a different manner; but though she saw through his
change of manner, and thoroughly understood what prompted it, she was
well pleased to have it so. It made her feel the power which her wealth
had brought her; and there was no woman who enjoyed that better than
Mrs. Oakley.

"You mustn't expect too much," she continued. "You must remember that
there are others who have claims upon me."

"But your means are large," said Mr. Huxter, who was resolved to extort
as much as possible.

"No doubt you think so; but I am the best judge of what I can afford,"
said Mrs. Oakley.

"If I were rich I wouldn't see you and Ben suffer," said Mr. Huxter.

"As to that, your health is good, and your family ought not to suffer
if I gave you no assistance at all. I don't think much of a man who
can't support his family."

"I've been a very unlucky man," said Mr. Huxter. "I'd ought to be
independent now, but something or nuther was always happening. There
was my best cow, that I could have got fifty dollars for easy, up and
died one night."

"How long ago was that?"

"Three years," said Mr. Huxter, rather reluctantly.

"It seems to me you've had time to get over that loss," said his
sister, not betraying much sympathy in her tone.

"It wouldn't be much to you, I know; but to a poor man like me it was a
great loss," said Mr. Huxter.

"Well, we won't say anything about that. I told you that I would help
you, and I will. You observed John Oakley at the table?"

"Yes; he looks like a smart fellow."

"He's no smarter than Ben that I know of," said Mrs. Oakley, jealously.

"Of course not; I didn't suppose he was," said Mr. Huxter, seeing that
he had got on the wrong tack. "Ben is a boy that you may be proud of,
sister Jane. He is very genteel in his manners."

"I mean to bring him up as a gentleman," said Mrs. Oakley. "I think I
shall make a lawyer of him."

"I hope you will. There's never been a lawyer in our family. I should
be proud to speak of my nephew, Benjamin Brayton, Esq., the famous
lawyer."

"I hope that time will come, brother Ephraim. But I was going to speak
of John Oakley. Ben and he don't agree very well."

"Don't they?" asked Mr. Huxter, not so much surprised as he might have
been if he had not made Ben's acquaintance. "I suppose it is John's
fault."

"Of course it is. He doesn't treat Ben or myself with proper respect,
and of course Ben resents it."

"Of course."

"He doesn't seem to realize that Ben is older than himself, and
therefore entitled to more privileges. He went so far one day as to
strike Ben with a whip."

"What did Ben do?" asked Mr. Huxter, curiously.

"Oh, of course he struck John," said Mrs. Oakley, not thinking it
necessary to mention that Ben's blow came first.

"Well," said Mr. Huxter, "it seems natural for boys to quarrel."

"I shan't allow my son to be struck by John Oakley," said Mrs. Oakley,
quickly.

"What are you going to do about it?"

"That is what I am coming to. I think of sending John away somewhere,
so that we may live in peace and quiet, and not be disturbed by his
quarrelsome disposition."

"Where do you think of sending him?"

"To your house."

"To my house?" exclaimed Mr. Huxter, in surprise, for he had not
foreseen what was coming.

"Yes."

"I don't know as he would like the way we live," said Mr. Huxter,
thinking of the "picked-up" dinners to which he was accustomed. "He's a
rich man's son, and has been used to good living."

"Don't trouble yourself about that," said Mrs. Oakley; "if he has
always lived well, he can stand a little poor living now, by way of
variety. It is his own fault that I send him away from home."

Mr. Huxter hardly knew what to think of this arrangement. He had hoped
that his sister would settle an annual sum upon him, without any
equivalent, or would give him, say a thousand dollars outright. Now she
only proposed that he should take a boarder.

"I don't know what my wife will say," he remarked. "It will increase
her work."

"Not much. There will only be one extra seat at the table."

"But we shall have to put ourselves out a little for him."

"I don't want you to put yourself out at all," said Mrs. Oakley,
emphatically.

"He's a rich man's son."

"But he'll be a poor man himself. He will have to earn his living by
hard work."

"I don't see how that can be. Didn't his father leave plenty of money?"

"No," said Mrs. Oakley, determined not to be entrapped into any such
acknowledgment; "and if he had, John is no better off for it. You seem
to forget that all the money is left to me."

"That's a fact," said Mr. Huxter. "I didn't think of that. Shan't you
leave any of it to John?"

"That depends upon his behavior," said Mrs. Oakley. "I make no
promises. The property is all mine, and I shall leave it to no one who
treats me with disrespect. You see, therefore, that you need feel on no
ceremony with him."

Mr. Huxter did see it. He was a selfish man, who had a great respect
for the possessors of wealth merely on the score of their wealth, and
he began to look upon John Oakley with quite different eyes now that he
had been informed of his true position.

"You're carrying things with rather a high hand, Jane," he said.

"I mean to be treated with respect."

"So John is saucy, is he?"

"He is proud-spirited, and thinks himself justified in looking down
upon me, because I was once his father's house-keeper," said Mrs.
Oakley, in a tone of bitterness; "but I have vowed to subdue his proud
spirit, and you will see that I shall do it."

"I have no doubt you will, Jane. But there is one thing you haven't
mentioned."

"What is that?"

"How much am I to receive for John Oakley's board?"

"I will give you six dollars a week, and you know that this is
considerably more than any other boarder would pay you."

"Six dollars a week!" said Mr. Huxter, slowly. "Yes, I suppose that
would pay for what he would eat and drink, but I expected you would do
something more for me than just to find me a boarder."

"You will make a pretty good profit out of that, Ephraim."

"You might do a little more than that for me, Jane."

"I will tell you what I will do. Besides paying you regularly for his
board, I will allow you his labor, and that will be worth considerable."

"What can he do?"

"He can do what other boys do. You can take him into your shop, and set
him to pegging shoes. It won't hurt him a bit, though it may trouble
his pride a little."

"But will he be willing to go into the shop? He was expecting to go to
college."

"I don't think much of you if you can't compel him to do it."

Mr. Huxter reflected a moment. John's work would be worth at least five
dollars a week, and this, added to the six he would receive from his
sister, would certainly pay munificently for John's board.

"Well, that is a consideration. We'll call it a bargain," he admitted.

"Very well; I think you'll find your account in it," said Mrs. Oakley,
in a tone of satisfaction.

"Couldn't you pay me a quarter's board in advance?"

To this Mrs. Oakley assented with some hesitation.

After matters had thus been satisfactorily arranged, Mr. Huxter said:--

"I think, Jane, I will just take a little walk outside, and smoke a
pipe. I always do after supper. By the way, when would you like to have
young Oakley go?"

"To-morrow."

"To-morrow!" repeated Mr. Huxter, in some disappointment, for he had
confidently hoped to avail himself of his sister's hospitality for a
week at least. "Seems to me, Jane, you're in something of a hurry."

"I am. There is a good reason for it, which I am not at liberty to
mention," said Mrs. Oakley.

"Not even to me?"

"Not even to you."

"Well, I dare say it is all right, but I am tired after my journey,
and it don't give me much time to rest," said Mr. Huxter, with
disappointment.

"Let it be day after to-morrow, then. I don't want to be inhospitable,"
said Mrs. Oakley.

Mr. Huxter thought this concession better than nothing, and, going out
on the door-step, smoked his pipe in rather a cheerful frame of mind.

"It'll be a pretty good speculation," he reflected; "but I mistrust
I'll have some trouble with young Oakley. But I guess I can manage him.
He'll find me pretty ugly if he goes to oppose me."

Mr. Huxter was partly right. He was capable of being "pretty ugly" when
he thought it safe to be so,--that is, to those who were weaker than
himself, and in his power. He fawned upon those who had money or power,
and was in the habit of tyrannizing over those who had neither. On the
whole, I hardly think John is to be congratulated upon his prospects.



CHAPTER XI.

JOHN CONSULTS A LAWYER.


Mrs. Oakley felt very well pleased with the arrangement she had made
about John. Her brother lived nearly one hundred miles distant. She
would have liked John even further off; but this would remove him from
the ability to interfere with her plans. She felt, too, that she would
be more comfortable with him out of the house. Until the will was found
_and destroyed_ she would not feel safe, and she did not venture to
search thoroughly till John was out of the way.

But there was one important question: Would John consent to go? On this
point Mrs. Oakley felt doubtful. She knew that it would be a grievous
disappointment to him to leave his class at the academy, and all his
young friends in the village, not to speak of his natural regret at
leaving the house where he had been born, and which had always been his
home. Under the circumstances, therefore, she felt that it would be
best to use a little stratagem.

Meanwhile John had been thinking earnestly of his position and his
duty. He felt that he needed advice, and he determined to call upon
Squire Selwyn, who, as I have already said, was his father's legal
adviser and intimate friend. His son Sam, also, was John's best friend,
and thus the families had a double bond of union.

The day succeeding Mr. Huxter's arrival was Wednesday. On that day
the afternoon session at the academy was over an hour earlier than
usual, the only exercise being declamation, or, on alternate weeks, the
reading of compositions. John thought this would be the most favorable
opportunity he would have for consulting Mr. Selwyn.

Squire Selwyn's office was a small, neat one-story building situated
on the main street, not far from the academy building. It was painted
white, with green blinds, and had been built expressly for a law office.

Sam and John walked home from school together as usual. When they came
to the office John said:--

"I'm going in to see your father, Sam; so I'll bid you good-afternoon."

"Got some law business for the governor?"

"Maybe."

"Then you better consult me," said Sam. "I swept out the office for a
week once when the office-boy was off on vacation, and you can't think
what a lot of law I picked up in that time."

"I dare say," said John, smiling. "I don't doubt your qualifications,
but I think I'll consult your father this time."

"All right," said Sam, more seriously. "I'm glad you're going to. The
fact is, Mrs. Oakley is doing her best to circumvent you, and you must
do your best, or she'll succeed."

"I'm afraid she will at any rate," said John.

"I wish you could find that will."

"So do I."

"Do you believe in dreams, John?" asked Sam, lowering his voice.

"What makes you ask that?"

"Because I dreamed last night that I found the will. It seemed to me
that it was very dark, and I came upon Mrs. Oakley and Ben, each with a
lantern in their hand, searching about on the ground for it. I followed
them softly, and all at once spied a white paper. Mrs. Oakley saw it at
the same time, and reached out for it, but I was too quick, and carried
it off in triumph."

"Is that all?"

"Not quite. When she and Ben saw that I had got it they dropped their
lanterns and ran after me, or rather Ben threw his at my head. It was
an awful whack. Just then I woke up, and found that I had struck my
head against the bedpost."

"Well," said John, laughing, "how do you interpret that dream?"

"In this way. I think that the will is going to be found some day, and
that I shall be the one to find it."

"I certainly hope you will. It would make a great change in my
circumstances."

"What'll you give me if I find it, John?"

"A gold watch," said John.

"Well, that's worth working for."

"You seem to be in earnest about it."

"There's many a true word spoken in jest. The time may come when I
shall remind you of your promise."

"I hope it will. You will find that I keep my promises."

"All right. Well, there's the squire looking out the window, so I'll
leave you. Good luck!"

John entered the office.

"Good-afternoon, John," said Squire Selwyn. "How are things going on at
home?"

"We are all well," said John.

"I'm glad to hear it. Won't you sit down?"

The lawyer was a man of middle height. He had a pleasant face and
manner, but his eye was keen and penetrating, and seemed to be reading
the person upon whom it rested. He was deservedly popular, for it was
always his endeavor to conciliate rather than to foment quarrels, and
he more than once succeeded in dissuading a client from a lawsuit
which would have put a considerable sum of money into his own pocket.
He was a safe legal adviser, and an honest lawyer. He was glad to see
John, for he had always been attracted towards him, not only because of
his friendship for the father, but because of John's truthfulness and
straightforwardness.

Seeing that John hesitated, he said, by way of encouragement:--

"If there is anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask it. Your
father was my friend, and I hope to be regarded by his son in the same
light."

"It is because of that that I have called upon you, Squire Selwyn,"
said John. "You know, of course," he added, after a little hesitation,
"how my father left his property?"

"I know how he _appears_ to have left it," said the lawyer,
significantly.

"I would like to ask you a question, Squire Selwyn," said John; "but of
course you will not answer it unless you think proper."

"Very properly put. Ask your question, and I will decide as to its
fitness."

"It is this: Do you know whether my father made any later will than the
one which was found?"

"I have no hesitation in answering your question. He did."

"How long since was it made?"

"Only three months before he died."

"I suppose that it disposed of the property differently?"

"It disposed of it as the law would have done if no will had been made.
Your stepmother was to have her thirds; the rest of the property would
have gone to you. The matter might have been left to the law but for
the existence of the former will, which was in Mrs. Oakley's charge,
and which she said that she had mislaid."

"Who would have been my guardian under the last will, Squire Selwyn?"

"Your father asked me to assume that office, and I consented
cheerfully, not only from my friendship for him, but because I have a
very good opinion of you," said Squire Selwyn.

"Thank you, sir," said John, earnestly.

"Let me add, my young friend," said the lawyer, kindly, "that I hope
you will come to me as freely for advice as if I really filled this
office."

"I will, sir," said John. "I am so situated that I need a friend to
advise me who is older and wiser than myself."

"Apply to me freely at all times," said the lawyer, pleased with John's
modest demeanor.

"There is one thing I want to tell you," said John; "I think my
father's last will is still in existence."

"What grounds have you for such a belief?" asked Squire Selwyn,
regarding him closely.

"I will tell you, sir," said John.

He then related the particulars of his last interview with his father,
and the great effort which the sick man made to communicate something
to him.

Squire Selwyn listened attentively.

"Will you repeat the words which you could distinguish?" he said.

"I distinctly heard father say, 'my will,' and I thought I heard him
say also 'drawer.'"

"I am glad you told me this," said the lawyer, thoughtfully. "Did he
attempt to say more?"

"There was no chance. Mrs. Oakley entered the chamber, and ordered me
out. She said I was disturbing father."

"Do you think she heard the words which your father uttered?"

"I know she could not, for it was only by placing my ear close to his
mouth that I could distinguish the little I did."

"How did your father seem affected by the interruption?"

"He seemed disappointed."

"Didn't you have any further chance to speak with your father?"

"No; Mrs. Oakley would never admit me again."

The lawyer sat for a moment plunged in thought. At length he said:--

"Have you ever chanced, since your father's death, to see your
stepmother searching the papers he left behind?"

"Yes, sir."

"Tell me when."

John related the circumstances.

"Did she give any explanation?"

"She said she was looking for a receipt."

"Didn't she seem disturbed at your seeing her thus engaged?"

"She seemed angry, and accused me of prying into her actions."

"What opinion did you form of her object at that time?" asked the
lawyer.

"I thought she was looking for the will," said John, frankly.

"Are your relations with your stepmother pleasant?" asked Squire Selwyn.

"I am sorry to say they are not," said John. "If they had been, I
would not have troubled myself about the will. But I can see that Mrs.
Oakley is determined to persecute me, and make my life unhappy, and
that she is determined not to carry out any of my father's plans about
my education. She has already taken away my horse, and sold it. She
intended to give it to Ben, but he had an unlucky adventure with it one
afternoon."

"I heard of that," said the lawyer, smiling. "He got thrown, didn't he?"

"Yes, sir. That cured him of wanting to ride, and so the horse was
sold."

"It was a present to you from your father, was it not?"

"Yes, sir. Ben received at the same time a gold watch, which he still
has."

"That seems hardly fair. One question more: Have you any knowledge of
any secret drawer in your father's desk, or in any article which he
used to own?"

"No, sir."

"I suppose not. If there had been one, he would hardly have disclosed
its whereabouts to a boy. Well, my young friend," said the lawyer,
rising, as if to terminate the interview, "I am glad to have received
this call from you. I regard your information as important. It
strengthens the conviction which I before entertained, that _your
father's last will is in existence somewhere_. Out of regard to your
interests, as well as to carry out his last wishes, I sincerely hope
that it may be found. But I need not tell you that in the present
position of affairs the greatest caution is absolutely necessary. I am
not prepared to advise you at present, but shall take your case under
my most serious consideration."

John took his cap and books, and Squire Selwyn accompanied him to the
door of the office. As they stood on the threshold, an open wagon drove
by. Both looked up simultaneously, and an expression of vexation swept
over the lawyer's face as he recognized Mrs. Oakley and her brother.
Mrs. Oakley's eye lighted up as it rested upon John.

"He is getting dangerous," she thought. "It is well I am going to be
rid of him."



CHAPTER XII.

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.


John could not help wondering what inference Mrs. Oakley would draw
from seeing him in consultation with the lawyer. He anticipated that it
would arouse her suspicions, and lead to his being treated with greater
coldness and harshness than ever. It was with considerable surprise,
therefore, that on presenting himself at the supper-table he received
a very pleasant greeting from his stepmother. She made no allusion to
having met him, but, in her conversation with her brother, asked two or
three questions of John, in an easy way, as if the relations between
them were perfectly cordial. Ben glanced at his mother once or twice in
surprise, for she had not seen fit to take him into her confidence, and
he did not understand what this sudden cordiality meant. John, who had
usually been excluded from any share in the conversation, was not only
surprised, but pleased, and hoped that the change would be permanent.
His resentment was not lasting, and he was prepared to respond to his
stepmother's advances. Mr. Huxter's conduct puzzled him a little. That
gentleman seemed disposed to be quite affable and social.

"I hope, Mr. Oakley, you and Benjamin will some time favor me with a
visit at my humble home. I cannot promise you as good accommodations as
you have at home, but I shall be very glad to see you--very."

"Thank you, sir," said John.

Ben, who was not remarkable for politeness, did not deign a word in
reply to his uncle's invitation.

In spite of Mr. Huxter's not very prepossessing exterior John began
to think him quite a pleasant man, and felt obliged to him for his
invitation, though he felt no particular desire to accept it.

After supper was over, Mr. Huxter turned to John:--

"I am going out on the door-step to smoke my pipe. I suppose you don't
smoke?"

"No, sir," said John.

"I was going to ask you to join me; but of course you don't smoke. It
isn't good for boys. Do you smoke, Ben?"

"I don't smoke a _pipe_," said Ben, glancing with some disgust at the
clay pipe, the bowl of which his uncle was filling.

"I suppose you, being a young gentleman, smoke cigars. They are more
aristocratic. But I'm a poor man, and I can't afford them. Well, if
you'll get your cigar, we'll have a social smoke together."

"I've got an engagement," said Ben, not very graciously, and, putting
on his hat, he stalked off.

"He's an impudent puppy," said Mr. Huxter to himself. "I wish I had the
training of him for a little while. But I must put up with his insults,
or lose all hope of help from my sister."

"Come home early, Benjamin," said his mother.

"Oh, you needn't sit up for me. You go to bed so precious early it
doesn't give me any evening at all."

Mrs. Oakley followed him with her eyes a little uneasily. While Mr.
Oakley was alive Ben kept pretty straight, for he stood somewhat in
awe of his stepfather; but since his death he had shown a disposition
to have his own way, and his mother's wishes weighed very little with
him. She could not help feeling that the boy in whom her dearest hopes
centred, and for whom she was willing even to wrong another, manifested
very little gratitude for her devotion to him. John, whom she charged
with lack of respect, treated her at all times much more respectfully
than her own son. But Mrs. Oakley was prejudiced, and would not see
this. She shut her eyes alike to John's merits and Ben's faults, and
the latter took his own way, spending the evening in the bar-room and
billiard saloon, and learning much that he ought not to have learned.

About half-past nine in the evening, when John was studying his lesson
in "Xenophon's Anabasis," he heard a low knock at the door. Supposing
it to be one of the servants, he said, carelessly, "Come in!"

Looking up, as the door opened, he was not a little surprised at the
entrance of his stepmother. With the instincts of a young gentleman, he
rose hastily, and, drawing a chair, said:--

"Won't you sit down, Mrs. Oakley?"

"Thank you, John," said his stepmother; "I will sit down a moment. You
are studying, I suppose."

"Yes, I was preparing my Greek lesson for to-morrow."

John tried not to look surprised, but he wondered very much what should
have led to a call from Mrs. Oakley, especially at so late an hour.

"You are getting on well in your studies, I have no doubt."

"Thank you. So my teacher says."

"I am glad to hear it. I am afraid it will be an interruption for you
to be absent from school a few days."

"Yes, it would be an interruption; but if you wish it, I could try to
make it up afterwards."

"I came to ask a favor of that kind."

"Does she want me to work on the farm?" thought John, puzzled.

But he was not long kept in doubt.

"My brother, who is now stopping here, leaves for home to-morrow
morning," proceeded Mrs. Oakley. "There's a little business I want
attended to, which makes it desirable that some one should go back with
him. I might send Ben, but I don't think he would answer the purpose.
So I have thought of you."

"Does Mr. Huxter go to-morrow morning?" asked John.

"He has just decided to do so. That, I am aware, gives you but short
notice," said Mrs. Oakley.

"Shall I need to be away long?"

"A few days at least. Have you a carpet-bag?"

"A small one."

"That will answer. You can put in a couple of shirts, some collars,
stockings, and handkerchiefs."

"How shall I know what to do?"

"My brother will give you all the needful information. And now,
good-night. We shall breakfast at six, in order to be in time for the
stage."

"Very well, I will be ready."

Mrs. Oakley left the room, and went downstairs, leaving John
considerably puzzled by what had happened. He was sorry to be kept from
school for a few days even, for he was at the head of his class both in
Greek and Latin, and would lose his standing temporarily at least. But
it was characteristic of him to be obliging, even at the cost of some
self-sacrifice, and therefore he had made no opposition to the wishes
of his stepmother, though it did occur to him that, as Ben neither
attended school nor did anything else except amuse himself, he might
have executed his mother's commission. However, John knew enough of
Ben's disobliging disposition to suspect that he had been applied to
and refused, especially as he could see that he had no great affection
for his uncle. Of course he could have no suspicion of the trap which
Mrs. Oakley had artfully laid for him, and that the few days' absence
were intended by her to extend to months and possibly years.

"If I am going early to-morrow morning," thought John, "I may as well
stop studying and pack my carpet-bag. I wish I had asked Mrs. Oakley
where her brother lives."

John closed his "Anabasis," and found his carpet-bag. Into it he put
whatever he thought would be needed in a week's absence. He did not
suppose he should be away longer than that.

"If it were not so late," he thought, "I would run over and tell Sam
that I am to be away for a few days. He will be surprised when he don't
see me at school."

But it was too late, for the village clock just then struck ten, and as
he must be up early, John felt that the best thing he could do was to
go to bed and get a good night's sleep, to prepare him for the fatigues
of the succeeding day.

After a sound and refreshing night's sleep, John went downstairs the
next morning, with his carpet-bag in his hand. The table was spread for
breakfast, and Mr. Huxter and Mrs. Oakley had already taken their seats.

"Good-morning, John," said Mrs. Oakley; "you are just in time. Are you
all ready to go?"

"Yes," said John.

"Then sit down to breakfast, for the stage will be here very soon."

"So I am to have the pleasure of your company, Mr. Oakley?" said Mr.
Huxter. "I did not anticipate that I should so soon receive a visit
from you when I invited you yesterday to my humble home."

"In what town do you live, Mr. Huxter?" asked John.

"Well, folks call it Hardscrabble," said Mr. Huxter, with a laugh.

"Is it far away?"

"We'll get there to-night if nothing happens," said Mr. Huxter.

John did not know whether to conclude that Hardscrabble was, or was
not, the real name of the town, but did not like to press the inquiry.
He never remembered to have heard of a town bearing that name. However,
he would know by evening at any rate. He could not help feeling some
curiosity as to Mr. Huxter's home; but neither that gentleman's
appearance nor description of it led him to form a very high idea of
its sumptuousness.

The breakfast was a substantial one, and Mr. Huxter did justice to it.
Indeed, he was seldom wanting in a good appetite, especially when the
repast was an inviting one.

"I suppose I shan't see Ben before I go?" said he, leaning back in his
chair, and picking his teeth with a fork.

"I am afraid not," said Mrs. Oakley. "Ben got home rather late last
night, and I suppose the poor boy is tired this morning. I think I had
better not disturb him."

"Don't disturb him on my account," said his uncle, who did not seem
much disappointed by Ben's absence. "He'd better have his sleep out.
But, sister Jane, if I were you I wouldn't let him stay out so late in
the evening."

"You must remember, Ephraim, he's a young gentleman now. It won't do to
keep him in leading-strings, just as if he were a boy."

"I'd keep him in check if he were my boy," thought Mr. Huxter; but he
saw that it would not be best to say so.

"Well, Jane, of course you know best," he said. "When are you coming to
make us a visit?"

"Not very soon, I am afraid. I can't leave the farm very well. There
are too many things which need attending to."

"There's the stage," said John, suddenly.

The rumbling of the wheels was faintly heard up the road. All rose from
the table, and prepared to go. Mrs. Oakley brought out a covered basket
and handed it to her brother.

"I've put some sandwiches in this basket," she said. "You'll be hungry
by and by, and it will save you the expense of stopping at a hotel for
dinner."

"Very good!" said Mr. Huxter, with satisfaction. "That's what I meant
to speak about, but I forgot it. I begrudge paying for dinner at a
tavern. They always charge you about double what it's worth. Come, Mr.
Oakley, are you ready?"

"All ready, sir."

The rumbling of the stage was now distinctly heard. They opened the
front door, and made signals for it to stop. The lumbering vehicle
was brought to in front of the gate, and the driver jumped from his
elevated perch, and opened the door for the passengers to enter.

"I think I'll take a seat outside, if it makes no difference to you,
Mr. Huxter," said John.

"Just as you like," was the reply.

So, while Mr. Huxter got inside, John took a seat beside the driver.

"Where are you going, John?" asked the driver, who knew everybody in
the village, and was on intimate terms with all.

"I'm going away with the gentleman who has just got inside," said John.

"Where does he live?"

"I don't know the name of the place," said our hero, suspecting that
Hardscrabble was only a local appellation.

"Be gone long?"

"Not more than a week."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Oakley watched the receding stage with satisfaction.
When it was out of sight, she entered the house.

"Now," said she, "I'll look for the will without John Oakley to spy
upon me."



CHAPTER XIII.

JOHN OAKLEY'S NEW HOME.


Although John would prefer to have remained at home, in order that his
studies might be uninterrupted, he nevertheless could not help deriving
enjoyment from the ride on the stage-coach. It was a beautiful morning.
The sun was gilding with its beams the fields and brooks, and a
beautiful breeze rustled in and out among the leaves of the trees that
for some distance lined the road. John, from his elevated perch, had an
excellent view of the scenes through which they passed. As they rode by
the house of Squire Selwyn, lie hoped to catch sight of his friend Sam;
but Sam was nowhere to be seen.

"Sam is lazy this morning," thought John, disappointed.

But there he did Sam injustice. He had risen early, and with hook and
line had gone to the pond to fish. From a distance he caught a glimpse
of the stage rumbling along the village street, but it was too far
off for him to distinguish the outside passengers. He would have been
surprised had he known that among them was his friend John.

Ere long they were beyond the limits of the township. Occasionally the
stage stopped to take in a fresh passenger, or to discharge a portion
of its living freight. At intervals of a few miles they came to some
village tavern, with a broad swinging sign, where the driver would
pause to water his horses, or, at longer intervals, to exchange them
for a fresh supply. Once or twice John descended to stretch his legs,
stiff with long sitting. More than once he observed Mr. Huxter enter
the tavern, and come out with his nose a little redder than usual.

"I went in to get a glass of bitters," he explained to John, whom he
encountered at the door on one of these occasions. "I'll get you some
if you want it."

"Thank you," said John. "I don't care for any."

"Well, you're young and strong, and don't need them. When you get to my
age, you'll need a little something to stimulate you."

John, who rightly conjectured that the glass of "bitters" was only
another name for New England rum, could not help thinking that Mr.
Huxter would have been quite as well off without it; but this thought
he of course kept to himself.

"The old gentleman is rather fond of 'wetting his whistle,' isn't he?"
said the driver, familiarly.

"So it seems," said John, briefly.

He did not care to discuss the conduct of his stepmother's brother
with any one, and therefore confined himself to this remark. At twelve
o'clock they had travelled forty miles.

"The stage will stop half an hour for dinner," said the driver, as he
drew up in front of an old-fashioned country tavern.

"This is as far as I go," said the driver to John. "Do you stop here?"

"No, we go further on."

"I suppose you'll be comin' back this way in a few days?"

"I expect so. By the way, if you see Sam Selwyn to-night, just tell him
that I was one of your passengers this morning."

"All right."

"John Oakley!" said Mr. Huxter, from below.

"Here, sir," said John.

"Just get down, and bring that basket with you. We'll go under the
trees and have a bite."

John followed directions, and the two sat down together, with the
basket between them.

"Travelling is hungry work," said Mr. Huxter. "Let's see what my sister
has put up for us."

The basket, being uncovered, proved to be full of sandwiches, with a
few doughnuts on top. They were all excellent of their kind; for Mrs.
Oakley, whatever might be said of her in other respects, was a good
house-keeper, and took care that whatever food was prepared in the
house should be good.

"Now, Oakley," said Mr. Huxter, "we needn't have any ceremony here.
Just make yourself at home and pitch in."

It may be observed that Mr. Huxter was gradually beginning to treat
John with greater familiarity. When first introduced, he had addressed
him as "Mr. Oakley." Next it was "John Oakley." Now it was "Oakley,"
without any prefix. John, who had no inordinate sense of his own
dignity, was not much disturbed by this, but continued to treat Mr.
Huxter with the same outward respect as at first.

Mr. Huxter followed his own recommendations strictly. He did "pitch
in," and with such vigor that he consumed two-thirds of the contents of
the basket, while John, whose appetite had also been stimulated by the
long ride, was eating the remaining third.

"Well, there aint much left, that's a fact," he said, surveying the
empty basket. "The ride's given you a pretty good appetite, Oakley."

"Pretty good," said John, smiling at the unexpected inference drawn
from the empty basket.

"That's lucky, for we shan't get anything more till we get home," said
Mr. Huxter.

"When will that be?" inquired John.

"Somewhere about seven. It's a long pull; but I guess we can stand it,"
said Mr. Huxter.

"I think I can," said John.

"The old lady won't be expecting us," said Mr. Huxter. "I told her I
might, maybe, be gone a fortnight."

"She'll be glad to see you so soon," said John, who did not think of
anything else to say.

"Umph!" said Mr. Huxter, in a tone which might be interpreted as
conveying a little doubt on this point. "I feel a little dry," he said,
rising and stretching himself. "I think I'll go into the house, and see
if I can find a little water."

When Mr. Huxter reappeared, John inferred from his appearance that,
if he had been drinking water, it had been largely mingled with a
different beverage. He satisfied his own thirst at the pump, where he
drank a deep and refreshing draught of clear cold water, purer and
better than any liquid which the art of man has devised.

So the afternoon passed. Twice more Mr. Huxter got out of the stage,
and entered a wayside tavern, on the same mysterious errand. Each time
he reappeared with his nose redder, and his eyes more inflamed. The
liquor which he had drunk made him quarrelsome, and so disagreeable to
his fellow-passengers. Finally one of them called to the driver in an
authoritative voice to stop, and insisted that Mr. Huxter should travel
outside for the remainder of the way. With some difficulty he was
induced to make the change, and from that time John had the pleasure of
his society.

"Who are you?" asked Mr. Huxter, fixing his eyes upon John with a
vacant stare.

"I am John Oakley," said our hero.

"Oh, yes, I know. You're the son of old Oakley that my sister Jane
married."

It was painful to John to hear his father spoken of as old Oakley, but
he understood Mr. Huxter's situation, and felt that it would be idle to
resent anything said under such circumstances.

"Old Oakley left all his property to Jane," continued Mr. Huxter, with
a drunken laugh. "Oh, she's a deep one, is Jane! She knows how her
bread is buttered."

John turned away in disgust, and tried not to heed what was said.

"But she's hard on her poor brother," whined Mr. Huxter. "She ought to
have come down with something handsome."

His mutterings became incoherent, and John ceased to notice them. At
length, about seven o'clock, the stage drove into a small village, of
not particularly attractive appearance.

"Well," said the driver, turning to John, "you're most home."

"Am I?" asked John.

"Of course you are. Aint you travelling with _him_?" indicating Mr.
Huxter by a gesture.

"Yes; I've come with him on a little business."

"Then you're not going to stay?"

"Oh, no!"

"Lucky for you!"

John didn't inquire why the driver thought it lucky for him. He thought
he understood without any explanation.

"Do you go any further?" he asked of the driver.

"To the next town."

"What is the name of this place?"

"Some folks call it Hardscrabble; but the real name is Jackson."

"Where does Mr. Huxter live?"

"Up the road apiece. I go right by the gate. I'll stop and leave you
there."

A little less than a mile further the driver reined up his horses.

"Here you are," he said. "Now look sharp, for I'm behind time."

With some difficulty Mr. Huxter, who had now become quite drowsy,
was made to understand that he had reached home. With still greater
difficulty, he was assisted in safety to the ground, and the stage
drove on.

John now for the first time looked about him to see what sort of a
place he had reached. He distinguished a two-story house, old-fashioned
in appearance, standing a few rods back from the road. It was sadly in
need of a fresh coat of paint, as was also the fence which surrounded
it. A little distance from the house, at one side, was a small building
of one story, liberally supplied with windows, which John afterwards
learned to be a shoe-shop. It was Mr. Huxter's place of business,
when he saw fit to work, which was by no means regularly. An old
cart, a wood-pile, and some barrels littered up the front yard. A
field alongside was overgrown with weeds, and everything indicated
shiftlessness and neglect.

John had no difficulty in opening the front gate, for it hung upon one
hinge, and was never shut. He supported Mr. Huxter to the door and
knocked, for there was no bell. The summons was answered by a girl of
ten, in a dirty calico dress and dishevelled hair.

"Mother," she screamed, shrilly, as she saw who it was, "here's father
come home, and there's somebody with him!"

At this intimation, a woman came from a back room to the door. She
looked thin and careworn, as if the life which she led was not a very
happy one.

"Mrs. Huxter, I suppose?" asked John.

"Yes," said she.

"Your husband does not feel quite well," said John, expressing in as
delicate a manner as possible the fact that something was out of order
with Mr. Huxter.

"Who said I wasn't well?" exclaimed Mr. Huxter, in a rough voice.
"Never was better in my life. I say, Polly, can't you get us something
to eat? I'm most starved."

Mrs. Huxter looked inquiringly at John, whose presence with her husband
she did not understand.

"I believe I am to stop here for a day or two," said John, responding
to her look. "My name is John Oakley. I am the stepson of Mr. Huxter's
sister."

"Oh, yes, I know," said Mrs. Huxter. "I am afraid we can't accommodate
you very well, Mr. Oakley, but we'll do our best."

"What's good enough for us is good enough for him," said Mr. Huxter,
fiercely. "He's as poor as we are. Sister Jane's got all the money.
She's a deep one, is sister Jane."

"I hope you won't be offended at what he says, Mr. Oakley," said Mrs.
Huxter, in an apologetic tone. "He don't mean what he says."

"Shut up, Mrs. Huxter!" said her husband, who was disposed to be
quarrelsome. "Don't make a fool of yourself, but get supper as soon as
you can."

"We haven't got any meat in the house," said Mrs. Huxter, timidly. "You
know you only left me a little money."

"Here's some money," said Mr. Huxter, fumbling in his pocket, and
producing a five-dollar bill.

Mrs. Huxter took the bill, surprised at its large amount, for she
seldom got more than one dollar at a time. Forthwith the girl of ten
was sent for some steak at the butcher's, and in a reasonable time
supper was declared to be ready. Meanwhile Mr. Huxter had been to the
pump, and by the free use of cold water, applied externally, succeeded
in getting the better of his intoxication, and was prepared to do full
justice to the meal provided.

By the time supper was over, it was half-past eight. John felt fatigued
with his long journey, and asked permission to retire. He was shown to
an attic chamber, furnished only with a cot bed and a broken chair.
But, rude as were the accommodations, John slept soundly, little
dreaming the unwelcome news that awaited him on the morrow.



CHAPTER XIV.

MR. HUXTER AT HOME.


When John awoke the next morning he found it difficult at first to
understand where he was; but recollection soon came to his aid, and he
remembered that he was Mr. Huxter's guest. He rose from the cot-bed,
and, going to the window, looked out. The prospect was not a very
pleasant one. Just across the street was a pasture, with here and there
a gnarled and stunted tree. The immediate neighborhood of Mr. Huxter's
house has already been described.

"I don't wonder they call it Hardscrabble," thought John. "I shouldn't
like to live here."

At this moment Mr. Huxter's head was thrust in through the open door.

"Come, Oakley," said he, "it's time to get up. We don't want any lazy
folks here."

"I was tired with my ride yesterday, and overslept myself," said John.

"Well, dress as quick as you can," said Mr. Huxter, turning to descend
the stairs.

"I don't see any washbowl," said John, hesitating.

"You can come downstairs and wash, like the rest of us," said Mr.
Huxter. "You needn't expect us to lug up water for you."

John did not reply to this rude speech; but he could not avoid being
struck by the change in the manner of his host. Mr. Huxter had, when
first introduced, treated him with elaborate politeness. Now he treated
him with downright rudeness, and as if he possessed some authority over
him. John did not understand this, nor did he like it; but as it was
only for a few days at the farthest, he resolved not to repay rudeness
with rudeness, but to behave with as much respect as circumstances
would allow. In the mean time he would ascertain as soon as possible
the object of his visit, and so hasten matters as to allow of his
return home with as little delay as possible.

Dressing hastily, he went downstairs, and found the breakfast-table
spread in the kitchen. Mr. Huxter was seated at the table in his
shirt-sleeves.

"Down at last, Oakley," he said. "Sit right up."

"I should like to wash first," said John.

"Well, there's the sink, and there's a tin basin," said Mr. Huxter.

"Wait a minute, Mr. Oakley," said Mrs. Huxter, "I'll wash out the basin
for you."

"It's clean enough," said her husband.

"No, there's been some greasy water in it," said Mrs. Huxter.

"You're mighty anxious to wait on him," sneered Mr. Huxter. "You don't
seem to think me of any consequence."

His wife did not reply. Poor woman! she had a hard time of it. She had
always had to contend with poverty; but poverty is not the worst of
evils. If her husband had been reasonably kind, she could have borne
that without repining, though it subjected her to many privations which
she well knew might have been avoided had not her husband been so
shiftless and intemperate. But his temper was far from sweet. He was
that detestable character, a domestic tyrant, and did all in his power
to make his wife uncomfortable and unhappy. She had learned that her
best course was to permit his taunts and harsh words to pass unheeded,
for at such times reason had no weight with him.

It did not take John long to understand the position of affairs. He saw
that Mrs. Huxter was disposed to be polite and kind to him, and he felt
grateful. He could not help pitying her for having such a husband.

"Thank you, Mrs. Huxter," he said, when she had prepared the basin for
him.

"I suppose you are accustomed to washing in your own room," she said.

"Yes," said John; "but it's of no consequence. I can wash down here
just as well."

"Of course you can," said Mr. Huxter. "Come, be spry there, Oakley."

John washed himself deliberately, not thinking that it was necessary to
hurry himself on Mr. Huxter's account, and sat down to the table.

"You're an enterprising young man," said Mr. Huxter. "I'm half through
my breakfast, and you're just ready to begin."

"He had a long and tiresome journey yesterday," said Mrs. Huxter. "No
wonder he was tired."

"So had I," said her husband. "You don't seem to think I can ever get
tired, even when I've been working like a dog."

"What time is it?" asked John.

"Most seven."

"Seven is our breakfast-hour at home," said John, quietly. "As you did
not tell me you breakfasted earlier here, you could not expect me to
get up sooner than I did."

"That's true, Mr. Oakley," said Mrs. Huxter.

"So you're siding with him,--are you?" said Mr. Huxter, angrily.

John was far from being a coward. He was disposed to treat every one
with courtesy and respect, but expected to be treated in the same
way. Mr. Huxter's manner was so very offensive, and his words so
dictatorial, that his anger was excited. He felt that he could not with
proper self-respect remain silent longer.

"Mr. Huxter," he said, fixing his eyes calmly on the face of his host,
"you seem to forget that I am your guest, and entitled to be treated
with common politeness."

"Mr. Oakley is quite right," said Mrs. Huxter. "You have been very rude
to him."

"Do you mean to say I'm not polite?" demanded Huxter, raising his voice.

It was not certain to whom this question was addressed,--to John or his
wife. But John, who did not wish to get Mrs. Huxter into trouble on his
account, hastened to reply:--

"You can judge for yourself, Mr. Huxter, whether you have treated
me as I had a right to expect. I came here with you to oblige your
sister, Mrs. Oakley. When the business is over, I shall go back. I
suppose it will only occupy a short time. I shall try to make you as
little trouble as possible, and if you will let me know the rules of
your house I will try to conform to them. To-morrow morning I shall be
downstairs in time for breakfast."

Mr. Huxter would have been angry at these words, but the secret thought
that John was in his power moderated his resentment. He laughed in his
sleeve at the thought of John's dismay, when he learned that he was
not here on a visit, but to remain for an indefinite period. This fact
he had not mentioned even to his wife, who, therefore, could not help
wondering what could be John's business.

"You've made quite a speech, Oakley," said he, sarcastically. "You may
think it all right to charge a man with impoliteness in his own house,
but for my part I think it cursed impudent."

"I do not intend to be impudent," said John.

"I don't know what you intend, but you are so," said Huxter.

"I hope you won't mind what he says," said Mrs. Huxter, distressed.

"Shut up, Mrs. Huxter! I'd rather you wouldn't interfere. I'll have it
out with this young man without any help from you."

"I don't understand you, Mr. Huxter," said John, with dignity. "I have
tried to treat you with proper respect."

"Yes, you've tried very hard."

"And I don't know why you have taken offence. I should like to know how
long I am likely to be detained here on the business which has brought
me here."

"Why do you want to know?"

"Because I think it would be better for both of us that I should go
to the hotel, if there is one in the village. I am afraid we are not
likely to agree very well, and then I shall not interfere with any of
your arrangements."

"Who do you expect is going to pay your hotel bills?" demanded Mr.
Huxter, with a sneer.

"I think there will be no difficulty about that," said John.

"If you think my sister will pay any such bills you are mistaken."

"As I came here on business of hers she will probably pay it. If she is
unwilling, I will pay it myself."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Huxter, pricking up his ears. "Where will you get
the money?"

"I hope you will not take offence, Mr. Huxter, if I decline to answer
that question."

"Have you got any money with you?"

"I decline answering."

Mr. Huxter was about to make an angry reply; but a moment's thought led
him to change his purpose. He was anxious to find out how much money
John had.

"Have you got money enough to keep you at the hotel a week?"

"Shall I need to remain here a week?" asked John, a little disturbed
at the thought of having his studies interrupted for so long a time,
especially as there seemed so little prospect of deriving any enjoyment
from his visit.

"Perhaps longer."

"If I don't have money enough, I will write to Mrs. Oakley for more,"
he said.

"I can tell you beforehand that you won't get any."

"We won't dispute about that," said John. "I shall be glad to go about
this business at once, as I do not wish to be kept away from my studies
any longer than is absolutely necessary."

"I'm thinking, young man," said Mr. Huxter, "that it will be a good
while before you go back to your Latin and Greek."

"Why so?" said John.

"Read that, and you'll know," said Mr. Huxter; and he drew a note from
his pocket, and handed it to John.



CHAPTER XV.

MRS. OAKLEY'S NOTE.


John opened the note, little suspecting the nature of its contents. It
was as follows:--

 "JOHN OAKLEY:--I have made an arrangement with my brother to have
 you board with him for the present. As you and Benjamin find it so
 difficult to agree, it will be much better that you should live
 apart. If you had not treated him so brutally I should not be under
 the necessity of sending you away from home. I hope you will give my
 brother no trouble, but will follow his directions. He understands
 what course I wish him to pursue with you. If he reports favorably of
 you, I will send for you to return at a proper time."

  "JANE OAKLEY."

 "P. S. I will forward your trunk by express, early next week."

John read this cold and unjust letter with mingled anger and dismay.
It was hard to have all the blame of his quarrel with Ben thrown upon
him, when Ben had been the aggressor, and he had only contended for
his just rights. So he was to be exiled from home on Ben's account.
He could not help thinking how happily his father and he used to
live together before the present Mrs. Oakley came to the farm as
house-keeper. And now she and her son had taken possession, and he
was turned adrift. What would his father have thought, could he have
foreseen what would happen so soon after his death!

These thoughts, and others not less disturbing, passed through John's
mind as he read his stepmother's letter. Mr. Huxter's eyes were fixed
upon his face in cruel exultation, for he imagined the nature of John's
feelings, and enjoyed his sorrow.

"Well, Oakley, what do you say to that?" he demanded.

"I don't know what to say," said John.

"No, I presume not. The fact is, you haven't got anything to say in the
matter. My sister is your natural guardian, and she has sent you to me
to manage. She says you're rather a tough subject; but I reckon I can
manage you. You'll find me a little harder to deal with than a woman, I
can tell you that."

John did not reply. Indeed, he hardly knew what Mr. Huxter had been
saying. So many thoughts crowded in upon his mind with regard to the
sudden change in his position that he paid little attention to what
was said.

"Is this the only business on which Mrs. Oakley sent me?" he asked, at
length.

"It's enough, isn't it?" demanded Mr. Huxter, with a laugh. "So you
hadn't the least idea what was the object of your expedition?"

"No, I had not," said John, indignantly. "I had no suspicion that it
was only a trap."

"I knew you hadn't," said Mr. Huxter, laughing with evident enjoyment.
"You were pretty well taken in, hey?"

"I was taken in," said John, shortly.

"Sister Jane was pretty cute. She knew you'd be making a fuss, if you
knew. I told her that once I got you here there wouldn't be any more
trouble. So now you know all about it, and you may as well settle down
to staying here."

Mrs. Huxter, to whom all this was news, listened with earnest
attention. She was a good-hearted woman, and she couldn't help pitying
John. She liked her sister-in-law, now Mrs. Oakley, no better than John
did, and was very thankful when, after a two years' residence under her
roof, she had obtained a position as house-keeper at a distance. She
readily came to the conclusion that John had been harshly and unjustly
treated, and she could not forbear expressing her sympathy.

"I did not know you were going to remain with us, Mr. Oakley," she
said. "I'll try to make you comfortable as long as you stay."

"Thank you, Mrs. Huxter," said John, gratefully; for he could
understand the kindness which led her to speak.

"You needn't mister him," said Mr. Huxter, roughly. "It's ridiculous to
call such a boy 'Mr.'; it'll make him put on airs worse than ever."

"I do not know his first name," said Mrs. Huxter.

"My name is John," said our hero.

"Then I will call you so, if you are willing."

"If he is willing! Don't make a fool of yourself, Mrs. Huxter. It makes
no difference whether he is willing or not."

"I shall be glad to have you call me John," said our hero, without
regarding Mr. Huxter's brutal speech.

John rose from the table. He had not eaten much, for Mr. Huxter's
coarseness, and the note from his stepmother, had taken away his
appetite.

"Won't you have something more, John?" asked Mrs. Huxter. "You've eaten
very little."

"No, thank you. I don't feel much appetite this morning."

He took his hat, and was about to leave the house by the back door
which led out of the kitchen.

"Where are you going, Oakley?" demanded Mr. Huxter.

"I am going out for a walk," said John, shortly.

Mr. Huxter hesitated whether to obey the dictates of the petty tyranny
which impelled him to forbid John to go out, but finally decided not to
interfere at present. He contented himself, therefore, with saying:--

"I expect you to return within an hour."

John made no reply, but his manly spirit revolted against such
contemptible despotism. He did not recognize Mr. Huxter's authority,
and did not mean to. He resolved to take an independent stand at once,
and return when he pleased, and no sooner. I wish it to be distinctly
understood that John did not expect, at his present age, to enjoy all
the privileges of a grown man. He was always respectful to rightful
authority, but he considered that Mr. Huxter's authority was not
rightful, and that his commands ought to have no weight with him. Mr.
Huxter did not know the character with which he had to deal. He did not
know that John could be as firm under some circumstances, as he was
compliant in others. If he had known him better he might have felt less
confident of triumphing over him.

When he left the room Huxter turned to his wife, and said, harshly:--

"I've got something to say to you, Mrs. Huxter. You needn't trouble
yourself to take that boy's part. He is a proud-spirited young rascal,
and he needs taking down."

"He seems to me a very good sort of boy," said his wife.

"That shows what a good judge you are," said Mr. Huxter, with a sneer.
"He's a young bully, and was all the time fighting with Ben."

"I always thought Ben inclined to be a bully," said Mrs. Huxter.

"Well, he is a proud young upstart," admitted his uncle, who had not
forgiven Ben's disdain. "Got some of the Brayton blood in him. But the
other's just as bad. It's six of one and half a dozen of the other.
However, wife," pursued Mr. Huxter, with a change of tone, "it's
likely to be a good thing for us. We're to have six dollars a week for
boarding young Oakley."

"That's very good pay. I really think we ought to make him
comfortable."

"He won't get much favor from me. I promised Jane I'd break his proud
spirit, and I'm going to do it. I shall set him to work next week in
the shop."

"Set him to work while we are getting six dollars a week for his
board!" exclaimed Mrs. Huxter, in astonishment.

"Yes, that's what Jane told me to do."

"But his work alone will more than pay his board."

"All the better for us."

"But I don't think, Mr. Huxter, you have the right to do it."

"That shows how little you know about it. Isn't Jane his guardian?"

"Does she agree to the arrangement?"

"Of course she does. She told me I might do it."

"And she will be willing to pay his board besides?"

"Yes. You see I represented to her that now she was a rich woman she
ought to do something for her only brother, and that's the way she's
going to do it. It's a good thing for both of us. She gets rid of a
troublesome young rascal, and I get handsomely paid for taking charge
of him. It's a very simple arrangement."

"I can't seem to think it's right," said Mrs. Huxter, slowly.

"Then you're a fool," said Mr. Huxter, not very politely.

"I'm afraid there'll be trouble," thought Mrs. Huxter, nervously, but
she did not reply.



CHAPTER XVI.

MR. HUXTER MAKES A DISCOVERY, AND SO DOES JOHN.


John felt that he was in a difficult situation, and he went out, not so
much for a walk, as to gain time to consider what he should do under
the circumstances. He guessed without much difficulty the reason which
had led to his banishment. Mrs. Oakley did not like him, he was aware,
and it was natural that she should take measures to remove him from the
house. But John felt that, though this was one reason, it was not the
principal reason. He was satisfied that she wished to have him out of
the way while she was looking for the will. But since the discovery of
the will could only be of advantage to him, and strip her of two-thirds
of the property, he was forced to the conclusion that, if she found it,
it would be only to destroy it, or put it away where he would never be
likely to find it. He was thoroughly convinced of this, but he asked
himself in vain what he could do under the circumstances. There he was
at a loss. He could not return and force Mrs. Oakley to keep him at
home, or if so, he well knew that she would manage to make his position
very uncomfortable. Mrs. Oakley certainly had every advantage over him.
It would not be prudent, he knew, to reveal his suspicion, for he had
no proof to bring forward. What should he do?

Mrs. Oakley meant him to remain with her brother; but he had already
seen enough of Mr. Huxter's petty tyranny and intemperate habits, to
decide that he could never be happy or ordinarily comfortable with
him. Of the two, Mrs. Oakley seemed preferable. Mrs. Huxter, to be
sure, seemed to be a good-hearted woman, but she was a victim of her
husband's tyranny, and her well-meant interference, without doing him
any good, would very likely bring her into trouble.

Finding his perplexity only increase, John adopted a sensible
resolution. He determined to lay the matter before some one who was
older and wiser than himself, and be guided by his advice. He decided
to write to Squire Selwyn, his father's lawyer and friend, who was
already well acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, and ask
his advice. If he should write at once, he calculated that an answer
might reach him by the fourth day, and until then he thought he could
endure Mr. Huxter's disagreeable manners. As to the will, he thought it
more than probable that it would never be found, or, if found, it would
never do him any good. If Mrs. Oakley would carry out his father's
plans, permit him to continue his studies and go through college, he
would then be able to make his own way, and would not trouble himself
about the property.

While engaged in these reflections he had been slowly walking up the
road towards the village. It was not much of a village, not more than
twenty houses in all, including a church, a school-house, the tavern,
and a store. Knowing something of the custom in country villages, John
rightly concluded that the post-office would be found in the store. He
entered therefore, and looked about him. It was a common country store,
with a stock of a very miscellaneous assortment of articles, from sugar
and dried apples to calico and tape. One corner was appropriated to the
use of the post-office. John walked up to the counter and asked:--

"Have you any writing paper and envelopes?"

"Yes," said the clerk, producing the articles.

John bought two sheets of paper and two envelopes, thinking he might
have occasion to write two letters, and then asked when the mail went
out.

"It has already gone."

"When will the next mail go?"

"To-morrow morning."

"Will you allow me the use of your ink to write a letter?"

"Certainly. Just step behind the counter."

John followed directions, and, sitting down at the desk, commenced
writing. He thought it better to write here than to do so at Mr.
Huxter's, knowing that the suspicions of the latter would be excited.

It is not necessary for me to transcribe John's letter. He contented
himself with stating plainly the situation in which he found himself,
and the manner in which he had already been treated by Mr. Huxter, and
wound up by asking Squire Selwyn's advice. Having concluded the letter,
he directed it neatly, and, prepaying the postage, handed it to the
clerk.

"All right," said the latter. "It'll go to-morrow morning."

When this matter was disposed of John felt more comfortable. He had
transferred the responsibility of deciding what he should do to another
in whom he had great confidence, and so felt a burden removed from his
own shoulders. He thought he could stand Mr. Huxter's harsh treatment
for a few days. Meanwhile, with the usual elasticity of youth, he began
to feel an interest in the new scenes by which he was surrounded.
He had never before been so far away from home, and though Jackson
was not a very attractive place, it was new, and so had a certain
charm for him. About half a mile distant he saw a hill, which, though
barren pasture land, would afford him a good view of the village. He
determined to climb it, and look about him.

We must now return to Mr. Huxter.

Half an hour or more after John left the house he began to feel
thirsty,--not that natural, healthful thirst to which we are all
subject, but the artificial, craving thirst of one who has accustomed
himself to the drinking of alcoholic mixtures. Thanks to the advanced
payment for John's board which he had received from his sister, he
was unusually well supplied with funds, and felt that he need work no
more than he chose. After splitting up a little wood, therefore, he
turned out of the yard, and walked towards the tavern. He went into the
bar-room, and received a cordial greeting from the landlord, of whom he
was a pretty steady customer.

"Good-morning, Huxter, where have you kept yourself for two or three
days? You haven't been round to see me."

"I've been making a visit to my sister," said Huxter.

"Oh, that's it. I began to think you had taken the temperance pledge,
and given up your old friends."

"I haven't come to that yet," said Mr. Huxter, in a tone which
indicated that he considered taking the pledge a very discreditable
proceeding.

"No; I thought you'd have too much sense for that. What'll you have
this morning?"

"Give me a glass of something stiff. Let it be extra good, for I'm
going to pay up the old score."

No doubt it was extra good, for Mr. Huxter drank it with evident
enjoyment, and immediately ordered another glass. This, too, was drank,
and after a little desultory conversation Mr. Huxter left the tavern.

It occurred to him that his stock of tobacco was out, and he went into
the store hard by to lay in a fresh supply. While he was paying for it
the clerk said:--

"You brought a boy home with you, Mr. Huxter, didn't you?"

"Yes. How'd you know?"

"I saw him on the stage, and somebody said he got off at your house.
Going to stay with you?"

"Yes, I've taken charge of him."

"He seems a good sort of boy."

"When did you see him?" asked Mr. Huxter.

"This morning. He only went out from here a few minutes ago."

"Humph!" said Mr. Huxter. "Did he buy anything?"

"Only two sheets of paper and two envelopes."

A light began to dawn upon Mr. Huxter. John wanted to make trouble by
writing home.

"Look here," said he; "if the boy brings in a letter you needn't send
it. Keep it, and hand it to me."

The clerk looked surprised. Mr. Huxter, finding some explanation
necessary, continued:--

"He's a very troublesome boy. He's almost broken his poor mother's
heart,--she's my sister,--and I've agreed to take charge of him for
a time. It takes a man to manage him. But it won't do for him to be
writing home and making a fuss. You understand?"

"I shouldn't have thought him so troublesome. He looks very quiet."

"You can't judge from appearances," said Mr. Huxter, shaking his head.
"He don't show out before folks. So, if any letters are put in directed
to Hampton, just keep them, and I'll look them over. If they're proper
to send, I will let them go."

"He wrote a letter here this morning."

"Did he?" asked Mr. Huxter, his eyes sparkling. "The young rascal's
prompt. It's lucky I came in. He was cunning enough to write here, that
I might not know anything about it. Let me see the letter."

The clerk, not doubting Mr. Huxter's authority, handed him the letter.

He broke it open hastily, and read it. It is needless to say that
John's description of himself, though moderately expressed, was far
from complimentary, and Mr. Huxter's heart was stirred with indignation.

"The young rascal shall pay for this," he thought.

"This letter is not fit to send," he said, aloud. "It would only make
trouble. I will take charge of it. The boy needn't know but it is gone.
You may take any letter he brings; but mind you don't send it till I
have seen it."

"Very well," said the clerk; but he could not help pitying John, if
he was to be under Mr. Huxter's guardianship. In a small village like
Jackson every man's failings were a matter of general knowledge, and
the estimation in which Mr. Huxter was held was not very high.

"Well, I've defeated the young rascal," thought Mr. Huxter,
triumphantly, as he left the store. "He'll find it isn't so easy to
outwit me. If Jane can't manage him I can, and I intend to. I reckon
it'll be some time he'll have to wait for an answer to that letter."

This thought amused Mr. Huxter, so that he partly forgot his vexation
at the unflattering description of himself which the letter contained.
Having no further business to attend to, he went up the road towards
home. The letter he put in one of the side-pockets of the loose coat
which he wore. But there was a large hole in his pocket, and without
Mr. Huxter's knowledge the letter slipped through. He kept on his way,
not suspecting his loss.

The letter remained unnoticed in the grass by the side of the road,
having been wafted there by the wind, until John, on his way home an
hour and a half later, happened to catch sight of it. He went to pick
it up, not suspecting what it was, and was immeasurably surprised when
he found it to be the same letter he had put into the post-office two
hours before. How came it there?

John was not long in guessing the truth. Mr. Huxter was determined that
he should not communicate with any one in Hampton, and had recalled the
letter. No doubt he had given instructions to the postmaster, which
would make it impossible for John to post any letters in future in the
village.

"I am very glad to know this," thought John; "I shall know better how
to act."

He put the letter in his pocket, and kept on his way, determined to
keep his discovery to himself. He began to see what sort of man he had
to deal with.



CHAPTER XVII.

A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.


Twelve o'clock was the dinner hour at Mr. Huxter's. John and he met
once more, but the dispute between them was not renewed. John was
deliberating as to what course he should pursue. Mr. Huxter was
secretly exulting in having defeated John's attempt to communicate with
his friends, little suspecting that John knew all about it. So on the
whole he was pleasanter than usual, and allowed his young guest to eat
in peace. Mrs. Huxter was glad to notice this change in his conduct,
though she hardly dared to hope that it would continue.

"So you took a walk this morning, Oakley?" said Mr. Huxter.

"Yes, sir."

"Where did you go?"

"I went to the top of the hill behind the tavern."

"How do you like our village?"

"I can't tell yet. I haven't got sufficiently acquainted."

"You'll have chance enough before you get through," said Mr. Huxter,
significantly.

John understood this very well; but did not see fit to show that he did
so. He did not wish to provoke a quarrel.

"I am going to write to my sister this afternoon," said Mr. Huxter.
"Perhaps you'd like to send a message."

"Thank you," said John; "I don't think of any message just at present."

"You wouldn't like to send your love to Ben, would you?" asked Mr.
Huxter, jocosely.

"I don't think I should," said John, quietly.

"There isn't much love lost between you two, I reckon."

"We are not very good friends," said John, in the same quiet tone.

"I'm sure it's no wonder," said Mrs. Huxter; "Ben was always a
troublesome, headstrong boy."

"Let me tell you, Mrs. Huxter," said her husband, sharply, "it doesn't
look very well in you to run down your own relations."

Mrs. Huxter thought it prudent not to reply.

"Let me see," said Mr. Huxter, as they rose from the table, "it's
Friday,--too late in the week to begin anything. You shall have till
Monday morning to look about you, and then we'll see if we can't find
something for you to do."

Here was a disclosure for John. He had understood that he was to board
with Mr. Huxter. Now it appeared that the latter intended to set him to
work. Had he any authority for doing so, and what was John's duty under
the circumstances. He wished earnestly that he were able to consult
Squire Selwyn without delay, and this reminded him that his letter had
not yet gone. It would be useless to leave it again at the village
post-office. It must go from some other. John had all the afternoon
before him, and if the next town were not too far off, he determined to
walk over and post his letter there. Not wishing Mr. Huxter to have any
clue to his plans, he decided to obtain the necessary information, not
from Mrs. Huxter, though he did not doubt her willingness to give it,
but from some other person.

He went out into the road, and began to walk slowly in a direction
opposite to that which he had taken in the morning. It was the stage
road he knew, and was probably the most direct route to the next town.

Our hero had walked about three-quarters of a mile, when he heard a
loud clattering sound behind him. Turning around, he saw a farm-wagon,
driven by a boy of about his own age. It was but little past noon,
and the walk which might be a long one was sure to be a hot one. As
the boy-driver appeared to be alone, and there was plenty of room for
another, John hailed him.

"Hallo!" he called out. "Hold on a minute."

"Whoa!" shouted the boy, and brought his horse to a stop.

"Are you going to the next village?" inquired John.

"To Milbank, you mean?"

"Yes," said John, who was not quite sure whether he meant it or not,
but was willing to take the risk.

"Yes, I'm going there. Don't you want a ride?"

"That's just what I was going to ask. I'm willing to pay for it."

"I don't want any pay," said the boy; "I'd rather have company than go
alone."

"How far is Milbank?"

"It's a pretty good piece,--most five miles."

John was glad he had not attempted to walk.

"You don't live round here, do you?" asked John's new acquaintance.

"No."

"I thought I hadn't seen you. Whereabouts are you stayin'?"

[Illustration]

"At Mr. Huxter's."

"Is he a relation of yours?" asked the boy, looking at John with
interest.

"No, he isn't," said John, hastily, unwilling for a moment to have it
supposed that there was any such tie between him and his temporary host.

"Are you going to stay long?"

John was not surprised at these questions, for in the country, where
he had always lived, it was the rule to be inquisitive about other
people's affairs, and he felt that he ought to make some return for his
ride.

"I don't think I shall," he said.

He would like to have replied decidedly in the negative; but he felt
that he was by no means certain about the length of his stay.

"How do you like Huxter?" asked his new acquaintance, with rather a
comical look.

"I've seen men I liked better," said John, smiling.

"Shouldn't wonder," said the other. "He gets awful tight sometimes."

"It is a pity," said John, "for Mrs. Huxter seems to be a good sort of
a woman, and it must be hard on her."

"It would be hard for any woman to have such a husband. I don't know
Mrs. Huxter much, but I never heard anything against her. I've a great
mind to tell you," said the boy, looking at John to judge whether he
appeared as if he might be trusted with a secret, "a trick that one or
two of the fellows played on Mr. Huxter once when he was drunk. But
you'll be sure not to tell?"

John, whose curiosity was somewhat excited, gave the required promise.

"You see," continued his informant, "I was walking along with George
Sprague one afternoon, when we came across old Huxter lying side of the
road as drunk as he could be. George is rather a wild boy, and always
up to some mischief or other. That afternoon he happened to have a
little red paint, which he had got at the painter's shop for his father
to use. As soon as we saw old Huxter snoring away, George winked to me,
and said, 'Huxter's nose is red, but I've a great mind to make it a
little redder. I should like to see how the old fellow will look.' With
that he took out his brush, and touched Huxter's nose with it lightly,
making it as red as a brick. I was afraid he would wake up and chase
us, for he's pretty violent when he's drunk; but he was too far gone,
and never stirred. George took the paint home, and then we came out to
see if Huxter had gone home. We found he had, and we afterwards heard
how the trick came out."

[Illustration]

"When he got home and went into the kitchen, Mrs. Huxter screamed as
soon as she saw him.

"'What's the matter with you?' he growled.

"'O Mr. Huxter!' she said, clasping her hands, 'I knew that drinking
would be the ruin of you.'

"'Then you're a fool,' he said. 'Drinking a little now and then don't
do me any harm; but you're a woman, and have no more sense than a
kitten.'

"'You don't believe me, look at your nose,' said his wife.

"'What's the matter with my nose?' asked old Huxter, a little surprised.

"'Look at it, and you won't be surprised at my words.'

"With that Huxter did look, and when he saw his nose glaring red, he
was pretty well frightened, I can tell you. He had no more suspicion
than his wife that any one had been playing a trick upon him, and he
was afraid that his nose would always be so. He got frightened and went
to bed, and then asked his wife to go for the doctor."

"Did the doctor tell him how it was?"

"No; he thought it would do him no harm to be frightened a little; so
he lectured him about his habits, but told him that he thought he could
cure him this time by using a warm lotion. It was nothing but warm
water, with something put in to stain the water and make him think it
was something else; but Huxter did not know that, and was very grateful
to the doctor for relieving him.

"The fright had such an effect upon him that he didn't drink anything
for a whole week. Then he began again, and got bolder by degrees, till
now he's as bad as ever."

"How did you find out how the doctor treated the case?"

"Because George Sprague is the doctor's son. The doctor told all about
it at home as a good joke. George heard it all, but never breathed a
word to his father about his being the one that painted Huxter's nose.
The doctor didn't say anything to George, but he looked at him rather
queerly, as if he had some suspicion. It was a good joke,--wasn't it?"

"It would have turned out pretty well if it had stopped Mr. Huxter's
drinking."

"Nothing will do that. He's a pretty hard case But you mustn't say a
word about what I've been telling you. It would get George and me into
trouble."

"No, I won't say anything about it."

"Where do you live?"

"In Hampton."

"Whereabouts is that? Is it far from here?"

"About eighty miles, I should think. It lies to the north."

"Is it a pleasant place?"

"I think so; but then I was born there, you know, and perhaps that is
the reason I think so."

"Well, I was born in Jackson, but I don't think much of it. I guess
we'll move away next spring. Father talks of selling his farm. What is
your name?"

"My name is John Oakley."

"And mine is David Wallace."

The boys now felt thoroughly acquainted, and chatted together on a
variety of subjects, such as interest boys. While they were in the
midst of their conversation, they came to a grist-mill.

"I must stop here about ten minutes, to leave my grain," said David.
"The village is a mile further on. If you'll wait I'll carry you there
afterwards."

"I don't want you to go just on my account," said John.

"I am going there any way," said David. "There are better stores at
Milbank than at home, and mother asked me to buy her two or three
things. So you can come as well as not, and ride back too, if you don't
want to stay long."

"Thank you, David," said John. "I shall be glad to accept your offer.
It's rather hot walking, and I shan't want to stop but a few minutes.
Shall you go anywhere near the post-office?"

"Close by."

"I'll just run in there a minute."

"Have you got anything else to do?"

"No."

"You didn't set out to walk just to go to the Milbank post-office, did
you?" asked David, in some surprise.

"I had a letter to mail."

"Couldn't you mail it at our post-office?"

"Yes, I could; but it wouldn't go."

"Why not?"

"I've a great mind to tell you. You told me one secret, and I'll tell
you another, but on the same condition,--you won't tell anybody?"

"I wish I may have my head chopped off if I do," said David, earnestly.

John felt sure that he could trust his new acquaintance, though they
had so recently been brought to the knowledge of each other, and he
wanted somebody to confide in. So he gave David Wallace a general idea
of his story, not mentioning, however, the will, as he could see no
advantage in so doing.

"So Huxter thinks you don't know anything of his having stopped your
letter?"

"I am sure he does not."

"It's a good joke on him. He will never think of your coming so far to
mail a letter."

Part of this conversation took place after they had left the mill, and
were driving towards Milbank. They were soon in the village. It was a
much larger and pleasanter place than Jackson, and much more important
also, being the county seat, and therefore having a court-house and a
jail. John looked around him with interest, and did not dream how lucky
he was in taking this journey on this particular afternoon.



CHAPTER XVIII.

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.


"That is the court-house," said David Wallace, pointing out a brick
building, surmounted by a wooden cupola.

John glanced at the building to which his attention was thus called.
He had hardly done so than he started and uttered an exclamation of
surprise.

"What's the matter?" demanded David.

"Won't you stop the horse?" asked John, hastily. "I want to get out."

"What for?"

"There's a man I know. I want to speak to him."

David stopped the horse, and John sprang to the ground. He hurried to
the gateway of the court-house, by which a gentleman was just entering.

"Squire Selwyn!" John called out.

Mr. Selwyn, for it was indeed he, turned in surprise, and could hardly
believe his eyes.

"John Oakley!" he exclaimed; "is it really you?"

"Yes, sir."

"How came you here?"

"It is a long story, sir. Can you spare me fifteen minutes? I had
written you a letter, and was just about to post it," said John.

"Yes, I will spare you that time. Come into the court-house with me,
and we will find a chance to sit down."

"One minute, sir, and I will be with you."

John returned to the wagon, and said to the surprised David:--

"It is the gentleman to whom I was going to post a letter. I am going
in to have a talk with him. I won't trouble you to stop for me, but I
can walk home. I am very much obliged to you for bringing me so far."

"How long will you be?" asked David.

"Half an hour perhaps."

"I shall be here as long as that. I will go on and do my errands, and
stop here on my way back. Then, if you are through, I will take you
along. You would find it warm walking."

"You're very kind, David."

"I'd rather have company than not. It makes the time go quicker. So go
ahead. It's all right."

David started the horse, and John rejoined the lawyer, who had been
waiting for him.

"You say you were just going to post me a letter?" said Squire Selwyn.

"Yes, sir."

"Of course you have it with you?"

"Here it is."

"I will read it. That will be the shortest way of getting at what
you wish to consult me about. After I have read it, I will ask any
questions that seem needful. But first we will come in."

They entered the court-house, and went into a room to the left, where
they found seats. Squire Selwyn put on his spectacles, and read the
letter slowly and deliberately.

"You are in a difficult position, John," he said, when he had finished
reading. "You are very unpleasantly situated, I should judge."

"Very, sir."

"And this Mr. Huxter doesn't seem a very agreeable man to have dealings
with?"

"I should be very unhappy if I expected to be obliged to stay with him."

"You say he is intemperate?"

"He drank several times on his way back in the stage, and the boy with
whom I rode over says he has been intemperate for years."

"Certainly he is not a fit person to have charge of you. Does he know
that you have come over here to-day?"

"No, sir."

"It is evidently Mrs. Oakley's intention that you you should not
be allowed to communicate with me, or any of your other friends in
Hampton. So, no doubt, she has instructed her brother. There must be
some motive for this."

Squire Selwyn looked thoughtfully at John as he said this, perhaps with
a view of drawing out John's opinion.

"I think," said John, hesitatingly, "that she is going to look for the
will."

"I won't say whether I agree with you or not," said Squire Selwyn,
cautiously. "It is not best to charge any one with wrong thoughts or
intentions too hastily, but it is well to be prepared for what may be
done to our disadvantage. Of course it is for your interest that the
will should be found, provided the discovery is made public."

"Yes, sir."

"But would Mrs. Oakley make it public, if found, when it is for her
interest to keep it concealed? That is an important question."

"She can do what she pleases so far as I am concerned. She has sent me
away from home, where I shall know nothing that is going on."

"In one sense you are wholly in the power of your stepmother," said the
lawyer; "but you will have some one to look after your interests. Your
father was my friend, and you are my son's friend. I shall do what I
can in your behalf."

"Thank you, sir," said John, gratefully. "I felt sure you would, and
that is why I wrote to you at once."

"As soon as I return to Hampton,--and that will be to-morrow,--I will
call on Mrs. Oakley, and, without letting her know how I came by the
information, will set before her your present position, and demand that
she pursue a different course. The result I will communicate to you.
How do you wish me to direct any letter I may have occasion to write?"

"To Milbank, if you please, Squire Selwyn. If directed to Jackson, I
feel sure that it would fall into Mr. Huxter's hands."

"And never reach you. Very likely you are right. Then I will direct to
Milbank, and will write at once upon having my interview with Mrs.
Oakley."

"Suppose Mr. Huxter ill-treats me in the mean time?" suggested John. "I
think it is his intention to set me to work next week."

"Did he not say you were boarding with him?"

"That is what Mrs. Oakley said in her letter."

"Then if he is paid a full price for your board, I do not see that he
has any claim upon your services. It is better, however, to avoid cause
of quarrel until you hear from me."

"And if you cannot induce Mrs. Oakley to change her plans?" asked John.
"You wouldn't advise me to stay with Mr. Huxter?"

"Didn't your father have a married sister?" inquired Squire Selwyn. "I
think I have heard so."

"Yes, sir. Her husband kept a country store in the town of Wilton."

"That is about fifty miles to the westward. Well, though I don't in
general approve of a boy's running away, it might be advisable, should
your stepmother continue obstinate, and Mr. Huxter seem disposed to
abuse you, to leave here, and seek out your aunt. Should you make this
change, you would of course immediately communicate with me."

"Yes, sir. Thank you for the advice. I never thought of that before;
but I think it is the best thing I could do."

"Have you any money, John?" asked Squire Selwyn, putting his hand into
his pocket.

"Yes, sir; thank you. I have thirty dollars."

"Indeed!" said the lawyer, surprised. "Did Mrs. Oakley supply you with
so much?"

"No, sir; but when my father was alive he gave me an allowance of a
dollar a week pocket-money. I had saved up thirty dollars, thinking
I might some time want to make a large purchase,--a row-boat, or
something of that kind. When I came away with Mr. Huxter, I thought I
had better bring it with me."

"It is lucky you did so. You may have occasion to use it. Does Mr.
Huxter know you have this money?"

"He knows I have some money," said John, "but probably does not suspect
how much."

"I advise you to take care of it then. Such a man is not to be trusted.
If he claims the power of controlling you, he may demand this money."

"I don't think he will get it," said John, resolutely.

"I hope not. You were always a quiet boy; but I have observed that you
were not deficient in firmness."

"I hope you don't think me obstinate, Squire Selwyn," said John,
smiling.

"No, I don't think you that."

"If I find myself in the wrong I am always ready to confess it and give
up."

"That's right, my lad. It's a thing that some of us who are much older
than you find it hard to do. By the way, I suppose you wonder how I
happen to be here so opportunely for you."

"I have been wondering all the time, but did not like to ask."

"One of my clients placed some business in my hands relating to
property which required me to consult the county records of this
county."

"You didn't come through by the stage?"

"No, I thought it too long and tedious. So I came by a roundabout
way which left me only twenty miles' staging. I travelled a greater
number of miles than you, but in considerably less time. Now, John, is
there anything more I can do for you before I set about the particular
business which called me here?"

"No, sir, thank you. At least I think of nothing."

"One thing at least let me say. We don't know how this affair is coming
out. Your stepmother may prove wholly unmanageable, especially as the
power is in her hands, as things are at present situated. Should there
come a time when you have need of further money, let me know frankly,
and I will see what I can do for you."

"You are very kind indeed, sir," said John, earnestly.

"I certainly ought to be. When I came to Hampton, a young lawyer and
without acquaintances, your father took me by the hand, and placed
his business in my hands, and influenced others to do the same. So I
consider that he laid the foundation of my present prosperity, and
therefore I shall not desert his son while he is in trouble."

"Thank you, Squire Selwyn," said John. "I did not know what you just
told me; but I did know that my father looked upon you as one of his
most valued friends."

"Well, John, good-by," said the lawyer, kindly, extending his hand.
"Keep up a good heart, and something may turn up which may set matters
right. Be sure to keep me apprised of your movements, and rely upon me
to do what I can for you in Hampton."

John left the court-house much encouraged by the friendly words of
Squire Selwyn. He felt that he would prove a powerful friend, and
his burden of care was diminished now that he had communicated his
situation to such a friend.

Just then David Wallace drove up to the gate in his wagon.

"Have you got through your talk?" he asked.

"Just finished."

"Jump aboard then, and we'll be getting home."

"I've been pretty lucky to-day, David," said John.

"How's that?"

"In the first place, in finding my letter by the side of the road. But
for that I should have thought it had gone straight. Next in meeting
you, and being saved a hot walk; and again in just meeting the very man
I wanted most to see."

"There's one thing you forgot," said David, roguishly.

"What's that?"

"The affectionate welcome you'll get from old Huxter when you reach
home."

"I don't count much on that," said John, smiling in return.

"I'm glad you've overreached the old fellow," said David.

"He thinks he's overreached me."

"I know it. That makes it all the better."

John reached his temporary home about four o'clock. Mr. Huxter was
not at home when he arrived, and remained ignorant of the important
interview which had taken place between John and Squire Selwyn.



CHAPTER XIX.

ON THE TRACK.


When the stage which conveyed John and Mr. Huxter was fairly out of
sight Mrs. Oakley entered the house with a great feeling of relief.
She realized for the first time how she had been constrained by the
presence of her stepson. Though he had always been respectful, there
was an unuttered reproach in his frank, fearless glance, which made
her uncomfortable. It was the tribute which a mean and wicked nature
pays to one of greater nobility, though Mrs. Oakley did not acknowledge
that. She only felt glad that John was out of the way.

She had been so fearful that something might happen to prevent the
success of her plan, that she had been careful not to make Ben
acquainted with it. She was apprehensive that Ben would, in his
exultation, lead John to suspect what was going on, and so cause him
to refuse going. Now that he was fairly off she would tell her son the
good news.

Ben came down to breakfast late. He generally had his way now, and was
seldom present at the regular breakfast hour. It was different when
Squire Oakley was alive; but then many other things were different also.

"Benjamin is delicate," she said, one morning in presence of the
servant. "He needs more sleep than the rest of us."

"Maybe it's smoking cigars makes him delicate," suggested the servant,
who did not particularly admire Ben, or care to join his mother in
making allowances for him.

Her mistress silenced her with some asperity; but nevertheless took an
opportunity to speak to Ben on the subject. But that young gentleman
only laughed at her remonstrances.

"It does me good, mother," he said. "I always feel better after smoking
a good cigar."

"It seems to me you are growing pale," said Mrs. Oakley, whose heart
was full of tenderness where Ben was concerned.

"That's all nonsense," said Ben. "I'm not as red as a beet, and I don't
want to be. But as to being pale, I'm healthy enough. Don't worry
yourself."

With this Mrs. Oakley had to be contented, for Ben, though a coward
with his equals, had sense enough to take advantage of his mother's
weak partiality, and take his own way.

When Ben came down to breakfast on the morning of his uncle's
departure, he said in an indifferent tone:--

"Has that man gone?"

"Do you refer to your uncle, Benjamin?" asked Mrs. Oakley, not
altogether pleased to hear Mr. Huxter spoken of in that style, though
she felt no very warm attachment for him herself.

"I mean Mr. Huxter," said Ben, carelessly, breaking an egg as he spoke.

"He is your uncle."

"I don't mean to call him so. I'm ashamed of the relationship."

"He is my brother."

"That's your misfortune," said Ben. "All I know is, that I hope he
won't darken our doors again."

"What have you against him?"

"He's a coarse, low man. He isn't a gentleman. You're a rich woman now,
mother. You'd better cut his acquaintance. He won't do us any credit.
You haven't invited him to come again, I hope."

"I don't think he will come again very soon."

"He'd better not. How can you expect people to forget that you were
the late Mr. Oakley's house-keeper if you show them such a man as that
as your brother?"

This argument had weight with Mrs. Oakley. She wanted to be looked
upon as a lady, and she acknowledged to herself that Mr. Huxter's
relationship would be no credit to her. He was coarse and low, as Ben
said,--not because he was poor. Wealth would have made no difference in
him, except that it might have enabled him to dress better. It would
not have diminished the redness of his nose, for instance, or refined
his manners. Mrs. Oakley, however, made no comment on what Ben had
said, but remarked:--

"At any rate, Ben, your uncle has done us a good turn."

"What is that, mother?" asked Ben.

"John has gone with him."

"Gone home with him?"

"Yes."

"How long is he going to stay?"

"For good."

"How's that? I don't understand."

"John was in the way here. You and he could not agree,--not that I
blame you for that,--and I did not like him. Therefore I made an
arrangement with my brother to have John board with him. I don't
suppose you'll miss him much."

"It'll be a lucky miss," said Ben, emphatically. "But John's rather
stubborn. How did you get him to go?"

"He doesn't know he is to stay. I told him I wanted him to go back with
your uncle, in order to attend to a little business for me. When he
gets there he'll find out what it is."

"Won't he rave, though?" exclaimed Ben, laughing heartily. "He'll find
it a healthy old boarding-house."

"I wish you wouldn't use such language, Ben," said his mother. "It is
my great ambition to see you act and talk like a gentleman."

"So I do, mother. That's just the way they talk."

Mrs. Oakley looked rather incredulous.

"I say, mother, is Uncle Huxter going to prepare John for college?"

Mrs. Oakley laughed--heartily for her.

"Your uncle's shoe-shop will be the only college John will enter," she
said.

"Do you mean that he is to peg shoes?"

"Yes."

"His pride will have a pretty hard fall."

"I mean that it shall," said Mrs. Oakley, compressing her thin lips.

"Well, I don't envy John. Every dog has his day, and he has had his.
It's our turn now. Another cup of coffee, and not so weak as the last."

"I don't think such strong coffee is good for you, Benjamin."

"Oh bother, don't be a granny," said Ben, rudely. "Anybody'd think I
was a baby."

This was the way in which Ben addressed his mother, who deserved his
gratitude at least, for she was to him a devoted and self-sacrificing
mother, however faulty might be her conduct towards John.

At length Ben's late breakfast was over, and he left the house to
resort to his accustomed haunt,--the hotel bar-room and billiard saloon.

"I wish Ben cared more about study, and was more ambitious," thought
Mrs. Oakley, with a half sigh. "If I could only make him feel as I do!"

It would have been fortunate for Ben if he had inherited his mother's
energy and ambition. The ambition was not a noble one; but at least it
would have kept him from low haunts and bad associates, which were all
he cared about at present. Though all his mother's worldly plans should
succeed, this was the point in which they were likely to fail. Mrs.
Oakley's punishment would come in all probability through the son for
whom she was willing to sacrifice justice and duty.

When Ben had left the house, Mrs. Oakley began to concentrate her
thoughts upon that which had first led her to determine upon John's
banishment. This was the hidden will. She could not feel assured of
her position until that was found. Until now she had not felt at
full liberty to search. She had feared that John might come upon
her unexpectedly, and divine her object. Now there was no fear of
interruption. She could ransack the house from top to bottom, and no
one would understand the motive of her search. She had not communicated
her intention to Ben. She trusted in his discretion too little to
confide to him any secret of importance, for she was a shrewd and
prudent woman.

On this particular morning she had a feeling that she had never had
before. There was a confidence that she had never before experienced
that success awaited her.

"I must and will find it," she thought. "This is not a large house.
Then there are some parts of it that need not be searched. Mr.
Oakley would never have hidden his will in the servants' rooms, nor
in the kitchen. Everywhere else I will search. Let me go to work
systematically and thoroughly. This time it shall not be my fault if it
escapes me."

There was a small room on the lower floor, where the late Mr. Oakley
used to do the most of his writing. This has already been referred to.
Here he kept a desk, and this desk more than once had been searched by
Mrs. Oakley. She determined to search it once more, but only for form's
sake.

"He did not mean that I should find it," she thought. "Therefore he did
not conceal it where I should be certain to look first."

So, though she searched the desk, she was not disappointed when this
search, like the preceding, resulted in bringing nothing to light.

"It is as I thought," she said. "Where shall I search next?"

She selected her own bedchamber, though here, for obvious reasons, she
had little hopes of finding the missing document.

"He wouldn't place it under my very eyes," she said. "Of course I know
that. Still I cannot afford to leave a single place unexplored."

The result justified her anticipations. So room after room was
searched, and no clue was obtained.

"He wouldn't put it under the carpet," she thought.

Yet the thought seemed worth following up. She got down on her hands
and knees, and felt of every square foot of carpeting in the several
rooms to see if she could detect beneath the pressure of any paper. In
one place there was a rustle, and she eagerly tore up the carpet. But
nothing was revealed save a loose piece of newspaper, which by some
chance had got underneath. Disappointed, she nailed down the carpet
again.

Where else should she look? All at once a luminous idea came to her.

John's room,--his old room, of course! Why had she never thought of
that? John, of course, was the one who would be most benefited by
the new will. If by any chance it should be discovered by him, no
harm would result. His father would trust John, when he would not
have trusted her or Ben. Mrs. Oakley could not help acknowledging to
herself that in that he was right. What strengthened her in this view
was, that among the articles of furniture was an old desk which had
belonged to Squire Oakley's father. It was battered and defaced by
hard usage, and had been at one time banished to the attic. But John,
who was accustomed to study in his room, felt that this old desk would
be of use to him, and he had asked to have it transferred to his own
chamber. There had been no objection to this, and the transfer took
place about a year before Squire Oakley's death. It had stood in John's
room ever since.

When the new idea came to Mrs. Oakley, she thought at once of this old
desk as the probable repository of the will. Her eyes sparkled with
anticipated triumph.

"I was a fool not to think of this before," she said. "If the will is
anywhere in the house, it is in John's room, and in that old desk. At
last I am on the right track!"

With a hurried step she entered John's room. Her hands trembled with
nervous agitation. She felt that she was on the brink of an important
discovery.



CHAPTER XX.

MRS. OAKLEY FINDS THE WILL.


Mrs. Oakley commenced her examination of the old desk, thoroughly
convinced that if the missing will were in existence at all, it was
hidden there.

It was one of those old desks and bureaus combined, which were so
common in the days of our grandfathers. In the drawers beneath, John
had been accustomed to keep his clothing; in the desk above, writing
materials, and some small articles of no particular importance. These
he had not had time to remove before his unexpected departure.

Mrs. Oakley turned those over impatiently, and explored every drawer
hurriedly. But she did not discover what she had expected to find.
This first failure, however, did not surprise her. She did not
expect to find the will lying loosely in any of the drawers. But she
suspected that some one drawer might have a false bottom, beneath which
the important document would prove to be concealed. She therefore
carefully examined every drawer with a view to the discovery of such a
place of concealment. But to her disappointment she obtained no clue.
The drawers seemed honestly made. For the first time Mrs. Oakley began
to doubt whether the will were really in existence. She had searched
everywhere, and it could not be found.

"I wish I could be sure," she said to herself. "I would give five
hundred dollars this minute to be sure that there was no will. Then I
should feel secure in the possession of my money. But to feel that at
any moment a paper may turn up depriving me of forty thousand dollars
keeps me in constant anxiety."

She gave up the search for the day, having domestic duties to attend
to. She tried to persuade herself that her fears and anxieties were
without foundation, but in this she was unsuccessful. She permitted a
day to slip by, but on the second day she again visited John's room.
The old desk seemed to have a fascination for her.

This time she turned the desk around, and passed her hand slowly over
the back. Just when she was about to relinquish the attempt in despair,
success came.

Suddenly beneath her finger a concealed spring was unconsciously
touched, and a thin drawer sprang from the recesses of the desk. Mrs.
Oakley's eyes sparkled with the sense of approaching triumph, as she
perceived carefully laid away therein a paper compactly folded.

With fingers trembling with nervous agitation she opened it. She had
not been deceived. _The missing will lay outspread before her!_ Mrs.
Oakley read it carefully.

It was drawn up with the usual formalities, as might have been
expected, being the work of a careful lawyer. It revoked all other
wills of a previous date, and bequeathed in express terms two-thirds of
the entire estate left by the testator to his only son, John. Squire
Selwyn was appointed executor, and guardian of said John, should he be
under age at the time of his father's death. The remaining third of
the property was willed to Mrs. Jane Oakley, should she survive her
husband; otherwise to her son Benjamin in the event of his mother's
previous death.

Such was the substance of Squire Oakley's last will and testament, now
for the first time revealed.

Mrs. Oakley read it with mingled feelings,--partly of indignation
with her late husband that he should have made such a will, partly
of joy that no one save herself knew of its existence. She held in
her hand a document which in John Oakley's hands would be worth forty
thousand dollars if she permitted him to obtain it. But she had no such
intention. What should be done with it?

Should she lock it up carefully where it would not be likely to be
found? There would be danger of discovery at any moment.

"It must be destroyed," she said to herself, resolutely. "There is no
other way. A single match will make me secure in the possession of the
estate."

Mrs. Oakley knew that it was a criminal act which she had in view; but
the chance of detection seemed to be slight. In fact, since no one
_knew_ that such a will was in existence, though some might suspect it,
there seemed to be no danger at all.

"Yes, it shall be destroyed and at once. There can be no reason for
delay," she said firmly.

She crossed the entry into her own chamber, first closing the secret
drawer, and moving the old desk back to its accustomed place. There was
a candle on the mantel-piece, which she generally lighted at night.
She struck a match, and lighted it now. This done, she approached
the will to the flame, and the corner of the document so important
to John Oakley caught fire, and the insidious flame began to spread.
Mrs. Oakley watched it with exulting eyes, when a sudden step was
heard at the door of her chamber, and, turning, she saw Hannah, the
servant-girl, standing on the threshold, looking in.

Mrs. Oakley half rose, withdrawing the will from the candle, and
demanded harshly:--

"What brought you here?"

"Shall I go out to the garden and get some vegetables for dinner?"
asked Hannah.

"Of course you may. You needn't have come up here to ask," said her
mistress, with irritation.

"I didn't know whether you would want any," said Hannah, defending
herself. "There was some cold vegetables left from yesterday's dinner.
I thought maybe you'd have them warmed over."

"Well, if there are enough left you may warm them. I'll come down
just as soon as I can. I have been looking over some old papers of my
husband's," she explained, rather awkwardly, perceiving that Hannah's
eyes were bent curiously upon the will and the candle, "and burning
such as were of no value. Do you know what time it is?"

"Most eleven, by the kitchen clock," said Hannah.

"Then you had better go down, and hurry about dinner."

"I can take down the old papers, and put them in the kitchen stove,"
suggested Hannah.

"It's of no consequence," said Mrs. Oakley, hastily. "I will attend to
that myself."

"Mrs. Oakley seems queer this morning," thought Hannah, as she turned
and descended the stairs to her professional duties in the kitchen. "I
wonder what made her jump so when I came in, and what that paper is
that she was burning up in the candle."

Hannah had never heard of the will, and was unacquainted with legal
technicalities, and therefore her suspicions were not excited. She only
wondered what made Mrs. Oakley seem so queer.

When she went out Mrs. Oakley sat in doubt.

"Hannah came in at a most unlucky moment," she said to herself, with
vexation. "Could she have suspected anything? If she should breathe a
word of this, and it should get to that lawyer's ears, I might get into
trouble."

Mrs. Oakley held the will in her hand irresolutely. Should she follow
out her first intention, and burn it? A feeling of apprehension as to
the possible consequences of her act prevented her. The flame had gone
out, leaving the corner scorched, and slightly burned; but apart from
this the will was uninjured.

After a pause of deliberation, Mrs. Oakley blew out the candle, and,
taking the will, opened the upper drawer of her bureau, and deposited
it carefully inside. She locked it securely, and, putting the key in
her pocket, went downstairs.

Before doing so, however, she went to the closet in which she kept her
wardrobe, and, selecting a handsome silk cape, took it down with her.

"Hannah," she said, "here's a cape I shall not use again. It doesn't
fit me exactly. If you would like it, it is yours."

"Thank you, ma'am," said the astonished Hannah, for this was the first
present she had ever received from her mistress; "you're very kind
indeed. It is an elegant cape."

"Yes, it is a nice one. I am glad you like it."

"The mistress must be crazy," thought the bewildered Hannah. "I never
knew her to do such a thing before, and I've lived here three years
come October."



CHAPTER XXI.

SQUIRE SELWYN'S CALL.


Mrs. Oakley's door-bell rang, and Hannah answered the summons.

"Is Mrs. Oakley at home?" inquired Squire Selwyn, for it was he.

"Yes, sir. Will you walk in?"

"I think I will. Let her know that I wish to see her, if you please."

Hannah did as directed.

"Squire Selwyn?" asked Mrs. Oakley. "Where is he?"

"In the parlor."

"Very well. I will go in at once."

"Has he found out anything about John, I wonder?" thought Mrs. Oakley.

"Good-morning, sir," she said, as she entered the lawyer's presence.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Oakley."

"Is your family well?"

"Quite well. My son tells me that John has been absent from school for
two or three days past."

"Yes."

"He is not sick, I suppose?"

"No."

"You will excuse my questions; but his father and myself were very
intimate friends. Is he at home?"

"No, he is not."

"I suppose you have no objection to telling me where he is?"

"Suppose I have?" said Mrs. Oakley, coolly.

"Then I should think it very strange."

"You are at liberty to think it very strange," said Mrs. Oakley,
composedly.

"Why should you object to telling me that he went away with your
brother, Mr. Huxter, and is now at his house?"

Mrs. Oakley started in surprise. The lawyer was better informed than
she supposed.

"If you knew," she answered, after a slight pause, "why need you
inquire?"

"I wished to know whether you had sent him away, intending to keep his
destination a secret."

"I suppose he has written to you."

"He did write to me; but the letter was suppressed by your brother.
May I inquire whether this was by your wish?"

"What you tell me is news to me," said Mrs. Oakley; "but I have no
hesitation in saying that my brother understands my wishes, and will
carry them out."

"I am answered," said the lawyer. "Is it your intention to permit John
to continue his studies preparatory for college?"

"It is not."

"It was his father's wish and intention. That wish ought to be sacred
with you."

"I understand my duty."

"I trust you will do something more than understand it," said the
lawyer, gravely. "I must remonstrate with you on your intentions with
regard to John. He is an excellent scholar, and his abilities are
superior. It would be a great pity that he should be debarred from the
privilege of a college education."

"You say he is an excellent scholar," said Mrs. Oakley. "Then, if his
education is already so excellent, there is no further need of his
studying. He can begin to earn his living."

"Surely you do not mean what you say. If he were poor, and such a
necessity existed, it would be well enough that he should go to work;
but you well know that no such necessity exists."

"I am not going to support him in idleness," said Mrs. Oakley, coolly.

"As a student in college he would lead far from an idle life," said the
lawyer. "Study is hard work, and college distinction is never won by a
lazy student."

"It may be work, though to my mind it is not; but it brings in no
money."

"Not at first, perhaps, but it prepares the student for remunerative
employment in after life."

"I don't think much of colleges."

Though Mrs. Oakley said this, she would have been very glad to have Ben
in college, not that she cared so much to have him a scholar, but it
would give him a good social standing.

"I don't know," said Squire Selwyn, rather sharply, for he was getting
out of patience with Mrs. Oakley,--"I don't know that it matters much
what your opinion of colleges is. It was, as you know, the desire and
intention of your late husband that John should enter college. It is
your moral duty to carry out that intention."

"I don't care to be told what is my duty," said Mrs. Oakley, her eyes
flashing.

"Do you propose to be independent of public opinion?"

"Perhaps you mean your opinion?"

"Not mine alone. Let me tell you, Mrs. Oakley, that in defrauding John
Oakley of the privileges which his father meant him to enjoy, you are
wronging the dead as well as the living,--not John alone, but the dead
husband from whom all your money comes."

"He chose to leave all his money to me," said Mrs. Oakley, "Probably he
thought that I would know how to dispose of it without outside advice."

"I am not so sure that he did leave his money to you," said the lawyer,
significantly.

Mrs. Oakley flushed. Could he know that the will was found?
Involuntarily she put her hand to her pocket, where the will was at
that moment lying concealed. But a moment's reflection satisfied
her that Hannah, who had not left the house, could not have had a
communication with Squire Selwyn. Besides, there was no probability of
Hannah's suspecting the nature of the document which she had seen in
the candle.

"You have not forgotten that there was a will executed three months
before Mr. Oakley died," added Squire Selwyn,--"a will by which John
would have come into possession of two-thirds of the estate."

"I have heard a great deal about that will," retorted Mrs. Oakley.
"Undoubtedly my husband destroyed it, as unjust to me."

"I don't see how it was unjust to you. It left the property as the law
would have left it."

"Very well, where is the will? If you will produce it, I shall of
course surrender to John all except the third which comes to me."

"I wish I could produce it."

"But you can't," said Mrs. Oakley, triumphantly, looking the lawyer in
the face.

"In my opinion it has never been properly searched for," said the
lawyer. "I have the strongest reason to believe that it exists."

"May I inquire what is that reason?" asked Mrs. Oakley.

"Mr. Oakley, in his last sickness, spoke to John about the will."

"What did he say about it?" asked the lady. "This is the first I have
heard of it."

"Unfortunately he was so low that he was unable to declare where it
was."

Mrs. Oakley looked relieved.

"But John heard the words 'secret drawer.'"

"Then you conclude that the will is still in existence."

"I do."

"And where do you think it is?"

"Somewhere in this house," said Squire Selwyn, emphatically.

"It is strange then that it has not been found," said Mrs. Oakley.

"I do not think so. If hidden in a secret drawer, it would naturally be
difficult to find."

Mrs. Oakley rapidly made up her mind what to do. She saw that Squire
Selwyn was suspicious of her. By a show of fair dealing she could allay
those suspicions, and this would be worth while.

"If this will exists," she said, "it ought to be found."

"So I think," said the lawyer, surprised to hear her speak thus.

"And though its discovery would be to my disadvantage, I certainly
shall not object to a search. Are you at leisure now to assist me in
such a search?"

"I am," said the lawyer. "I think there is no time like the present."

"Then let us begin in this very room."

"It wouldn't be likely to be here. Still it is best not to slight any
possible place of concealment."

Assisted by Mrs. Oakley, Squire Selwyn commenced a strict search,
beginning with the parlor, and proceeding from room to room. He little
suspected how near him the document was all the time. Of course the
search proved fruitless.

"There is one room which has not yet been searched," said Mrs.
Oakley,--"the only one except the kitchen, in which Mr. Oakley would be
hardly likely to conceal it. I mean my own room."

"There's no occasion to search there."

"I would prefer that the search should be thorough. Here are my keys. I
would rather have you go up."

Thus requested, Squire Selwyn complied with the request. He returned
from the quest disappointed.

"It is very strange," he thought. "I am firmly convinced that my friend
Oakley left a will in existence. But where is it?"

That question he was unable to answer.

"I cannot find the will," he said.

"I am glad you have searched," said Mrs. Oakley. "The fact that I have
given you every facility for searching proves that I am perfectly
willing that my husband's will should be carried out."

"And his wishes as well?"

"What do you refer to?"

"I refer to John's education."

"I have made up my mind as to that," said Mrs. Oakley, briefly.

"Do you consider your brother's house a suitable home for Mr. Oakley's
son?"

"Why not?" she demanded, sharply.

"Do you think, in setting him to work in a shoe-shop, you are doing as
his father wished?"

"I do not know where you got your information, Mr. Selwyn," said Mrs.
Oakley, angrily, "but I must tell you that you are meddling with
business that does not concern you. As you were my husband's lawyer,
and drew up the will which you thought in existence, I have asked you
to search for it; I have even opened my own chamber to your search.
You ought to be satisfied by this time that you are mistaken. In doing
this, I have done all that I intend doing. I shall take my own course
with John Oakley, who is dependent upon me, and whatever you choose to
think or say can have no effect upon me. Good-afternoon, sir."

Mrs. Oakley swept from the room, and Squire Selwyn left the house,
feeling that his visit had not benefited John in the slightest degree.
That night he wrote John a letter.



CHAPTER XXII.

MR. HUXTER GETS INTO HOT WATER.


It was Mr. Huxter's intention to set John to work as soon as possible;
but it so happened that the shoe business, in which he was engaged,
had been for some time unusually dull, and had not yet revived. To
this circumstance our hero was indebted for the comparative freedom
which for a few days he was permitted to enjoy. During that time he
was waiting anxiously for the expected letter from Squire Selwyn. He
wished to know whether his stepmother was resolutely determined upon
her present course with regard to himself, before he decided to take
the matter into his own hands, and help himself in his own way. Upon
one thing he was fully resolved,--not to remain much longer a member of
Mr. Huxter's household.

As the letter was to come to the Milbank post-office, on the fourth
afternoon he walked over to that village. This time he was not
fortunate enough to meet David Wallace, and therefore had a long and
tiresome walk.

"Is there a letter here for John Oakley?" he inquired of the postmaster.

"John Oakley," said the old official, looking under his glasses. "Do
you live round here?"

"I am passing a short time in the neighborhood," said John.

The postmaster took some time to adjust his spectacles, and a longer
time in looking over the letters. John waited anxiously, fearing that
he had taken the long walk for nothing. But he was destined to be more
fortunate.

"You said your name was John Oakley?" repeated the official, balancing
a letter in his hand.

"Yes," said John, quickly.

"Then here's a letter for you. It looks like Squire Selwyn's writing."

"It is from him," said John.

"Then you know him?"

"Yes," said John, mechanically, impatiently tearing open the letter.

"He's a good lawyer, the squire is," said the postmaster. "He was here
only last week."

"Yes, I saw him."

This was the letter which John received:--

 "MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND:--I called upon your stepmother yesterday in
 the afternoon, hoping to induce her to adopt different measures
 with regard to yourself. I regret to say that I failed utterly in my
 mission. She will not permit you to go to college, declaring that you
 have already a sufficient education. Nor will she remove you from the
 house of Mr. Huxter, though I represented that he was not a proper
 person to have the charge of you.

 "We had some conversation about the missing will. I was a little
 surprised by her suggesting that I should search the house for it. I
 was glad of the opportunity, and proceeded to do so. I made the search
 as thorough as possible, but discovered nothing. I still believe,
 however, that the will is in existence, _unless it has been destroyed
 since your father's death_.

 "I hardly know what to advise under the circumstances. If you should
 leave Mr. Huxter, I advise you to seek your aunt at Wilton, and I
 shall be glad to hear from you when you have arrived there. If you
 should need money, do not hesitate to apply to me, remembering that I
 am your father's friend."

  "Your true friend,
  JAMES SELWYN."

 "P. S. I enclose a few lines from Sam."


There was another sheet inside the envelope, on which John recognized
easily Sam's familiar handwriting. He was very glad to hear from Sam,
for whom he felt a warm attachment.

Here is Sam's letter:--

 "DEAR JOHN:--I have been missing you awfully. I couldn't think what
 had become of you till father told me he had seen you at Milbank. So
 you are in the spider's clutches, you poor innocent fly? A nice time
 you must have of it with old Huxter. I declare I've no patience with
 Mrs. Oakley, when I think of the way she has treated you. I can't do
 anything to her; but I'll take it out in tricks on Ben. By the way,
 your amiable stepbrother has got a new friend,--a flashy young man
 from New York, who sports a lot of bogus jewelry, and smokes from
 ten to a dozen cigars a day, and spends his time in lounging about
 the billiard and bar room. He isn't doing Ben any good. They play
 billiards a good deal, and he tells Ben stories about the city, which
 I expect will make Ben want to go there. Do you think Mrs. Oakley will
 let him?

 "You've no idea how I miss you, old fellow. All the hard parts in
 Virgil and Xenophon come to me now. I don't enjoy studying half so
 much now that you are away. If I were you, I'd give old Huxter the
 slip some fine morning. I only wish you could come and stay at our
 house. Wouldn't it be jolly? I know father would like it; but I
 suppose people would talk, and Mrs. Oakley would make a fuss.

 "Well, it's time for me to go to studying. Keep up a stiff upper lip,
 and never say die. Things will be sure to come round. One thing, you
 must be sure to write to me as soon as you can. Tell me all about how
 you're getting along with the _monstrum horrendum informe_. Of course
 I mean old Huxter."

  "Your affectionate friend,
  SAM SELWYN."

John felt much better after reading these letters. He felt that,
whatever might be the hardships of his present lot, he had two good
friends who sympathized with him. He read over the lawyer's letter once
more. Though he didn't expressly advise him to leave Mr. Huxter, it was
evident that he expected him to do so. John himself had no doubts on
that point. He felt that he would be willing anywhere else to work for
his living; but to remain in his present position was insupportable.
He could feel neither regard nor respect for Mr. Huxter. He witnessed
daily with indignation the manner in which he treated his poor wife,
whom he sincerely pitied. But it was not his business to interfere
between man and wife. No, he could not stay any longer in such a house.
To-morrow morning he would rise early, and, before Mr. Huxter woke, bid
a silent farewell to Jackson, and start on his journey to Wilton.

When he reached his boarding-place, it was already four o'clock in the
afternoon. Mr. Huxter had come home just drunk enough to be ugly. He
had inquired of his wife where John was. She couldn't tell him.

"What business has he to leave the house without permission?" he
growled.

"He is old enough for that, surely," said Mrs. Huxter.

"Shut up, Mrs. Huxter! What do you know about it?" said her husband.
"The boy needs a good flogging."

"I'm sure he's a very good boy," said Mrs. Huxter. "He is quite a young
gentleman."

"He is altogether too much of a young gentleman," said Mr. Huxter. "He
puts on too many airs for me."

"You are not just to him, Mr. Huxter."

"How many times, Mrs. Huxter, must I request you to mind your own
business?" said her husband, coarsely. "Do you know what I am going to
do?"

"What?" asked his wife, with apprehension.

"I'm going to cut a stout stick out in the orchard, and give the young
gentleman a lesson when he returns. That's what I'm going to do."

"Oh don't, Mr. Huxter!" implored his wife, clasping his arm.

But Mr. Huxter was in one of his ugly fits, and shaking off his wife's
grasp, went out into the orchard, taking out his jack-knife. He
returned in a few minutes with a thick stick in his hand, which boded
no good to poor John.

Mrs. Huxter turned pale with apprehension, and earnestly hoped John
would not return until her husband had forgotten his resolution. But
this was not to be. She heard a step upon the threshold, and John
entered by the back way. Mr. Huxter tightened the grasp upon his stick,
and smiled grimly.

"Where've you been, Oakley?" he demanded, abruptly.

"I have been over to Milbank," said John, quietly, not knowing the
intention of the questioner.

"What did you go over to Milbank for?" asked Huxter.

"I didn't know there was any objection to my going," said John.

"What business had you to go without asking my leave?"

"I didn't suppose there was any need of my asking you whether I could
go or not."

"You're an impudent young rascal!" exclaimed Mr. Huxter.

"What reason have you for calling me that?" asked John, calmly. He
saw that Mr. Huxter had been drinking, and did not wish to get into a
dispute with him.

"You needn't think you can put on any of your airs here. I won't stand
it!" vociferated Huxter, gradually working himself up into a rage.

"I don't want to put on any airs, Mr. Huxter," said John.

"Do you mean to contradict me?" demanded Huxter, glaring at John.

"You had better go out," said Mrs. Huxter, in a low voice.

"He shan't go out! He shall stay," roared Huxter. "I'll thank you not
to interfere, Mrs. Huxter. I'm going to flog the young jackanape."

He seized his stick and made a rush at John. Our hero, knowing he could
not cope with him, and besides not wishing to get into a fight in the
presence of Mrs. Huxter, dodged the angry man. This made Mr. Huxter,
whose blood was now up, all the more eager to get hold of him. John,
however, succeeded in eluding him once more. This time, however, Mr.
Huxter was unlucky. Mrs. Huxter had been washing, and the tub full of
quite warm water had been temporarily placed upon the floor of the
kitchen. Mr. Huxter, whose motions were not over-steady, slipped, and,
falling backward, sat down in the tub.

He gave a yell of pain, and John, taking advantage of the accident, ran
out of the door. But Mr. Huxter was in no condition to follow him. The
water was not hot enough to scald him; but it certainly made him feel
very uncomfortable.

"The young rascal has killed me," he groaned. "I'm scalded to death,
and I suppose you're glad of it, Mrs. Huxter. You put the tub there on
purpose."

Mr. Huxter took off his clothes and went to bed, swearing at his poor
wife, who he declared was in league with John.

"There's no help for it now," said John to himself. "I must leave this
house to-morrow."



CHAPTER XXIII.

IN WHICH JOHN TAKES FRENCH LEAVE.


"To-morrow I will leave Jackson," thought John, as he undressed
himself, and jumped into bed.

His spirits rose as he made this resolution. It had been very
irksome to him to feel that he was under the control of such a man
as Mr. Huxter,--a man for whom it was impossible for him to feel
either respect or regard. Under any circumstances it would have been
disagreeable for him to remain, but off from the studies in which he
had taken delight, the time passed heavily; he felt that he had no
longer an object in life. But the petty persecutions to which he was
subjected made it intolerable, and he was satisfied that the accident
which had befallen Mr. Huxter would only make matters worse.

Meanwhile Mr. Huxter, on his bed below, cherished thoughts the reverse
of agreeable concerning our hero.

"I'll come up with the young rascal," he muttered. "He'll find it's a
bad day's work he's done for himself."

"It wasn't his fault, Mr. Huxter," said his wife, who wanted justice
done.

"Why isn't it his fault?" said her husband, looking at her with a frown.

"He didn't know you would slip into the tub."

"And I shouldn't wonder if you put it there, Mrs. Huxter. It was a
regular trap."

"I put it there just for a few minutes. I was going to move it."

"Yes, after you had accomplished your object, and got me scalded."

"You ought not to say such things, Mr. Huxter. You know I was innocent
of any such intention."

"Oh, of course nobody was to blame! That's always the way. But it isn't
much comfort to me."

"I don't see how anybody was to blame."

"Well, I do," said Mr. Huxter, savagely. "As soon as I get up, I'll
give Oakley such a flogging as he never got before."

It was a great disappointment to Mr. Huxter that he could not carry out
his benevolent design at once; but he felt too uncomfortable for that.

"I wish you had never brought him here," said Mrs. Huxter. "I am sure
he cannot enjoy himself much here."

"I don't care whether he enjoys himself or not," said her husband. "We
get six dollars a week for his board,--that's the main point. And next
week, when I set him to work in the shop, we'll make a pretty good
thing out of him."

"I don't believe he will be willing to work in the shop. He knows that
you get paid for his board."

"I think I can persuade him with the horsewhip," said Mr. Huxter,
significantly.

At that moment John's steps were heard as he ascended the attic stairs
on his way to bed.

A new thought came to Mr. Huxter about an hour later. He reflected that
it was in John's power to elude his vengeance by escaping, and this he
had no intention of permitting.

"Mrs. Huxter," he said.

"Do you want anything?"

"Yes, I want you to go upstairs, and fasten the door of John Oakley's
chamber."

"What for?"

"No matter what for. Go and do it, and I will tell you afterwards."

"He won't be able to come downstairs in the morning."

"I don't mean that he shall. I'll keep him in his room for twenty-four
hours on bread and water. It'll be a good lesson for him. Come, are you
going? If you don't I'll get out of bed myself, and go up."

Mrs. Huxter thought it best to comply with the command accompanied
by such a threat. Much against her will, therefore, she went up and
secured the door of John's chamber by a bolt placed upon the outside.
She hoped that her husband would forget all about it during the night,
so that she might release John before he had learned that he had been a
prisoner.

It was about half-past three that John awoke. He did not know what
time it was, but conjectured that it might be near four. Though he
still felt sleepy, he deemed it advisable to lose no more time, but
escape while Mr. Huxter was asleep. He accordingly dressed himself as
carefully as he could, in the imperfect light, and went on tiptoe to
the door. He tried to open it, but without success. Thinking that the
door might stick, he made another attempt. This time he understood the
state of things.

"I have been bolted in," he said to himself. "Can Mr. Huxter have
suspected my plan?"

Whether this was or was not the case John was unable to determine.

He sat down on the bed, and reflected what he had better do. Should he
give up the attempt, and go to bed again? No; he was resolved not to
relinquish his plan while there was any chance of carrying it out.

He went to the window and looked out. If it had been on the second
floor the difficulty would have been less, but it was an attic window,
and over twenty feet from the ground. There was no ell part beneath;
but the distance to the ground was unbroken.

A sudden thought struck John. He turned up the bed, and found that it
rested upon an interlacing cord. Why could he not detach this cord,
and, fastening it to some fixed object in the chamber, descend with
safety to the ground? The plan no sooner occurred to John than he
determined to carry it into execution.

The rope proved to be quite long enough for his purpose. He fastened
one end securely, and dropped the other over the sill. Looking down,
he saw that it nearly reached the ground. He had no fear of trusting
himself to it. He had always been good at climbing ropes, and was very
strong in the arms.

"After all," he thought, "this is better than to have gone downstairs.
I might have stumbled over something in the dark, and Mr. Huxter would
have been roused by the noise."

He got out of the window, and swung out. He let himself down as
noiselessly as possible. In less than a minute he stood upon the
ground, under the gray morning sky.

He looked up to Mr. Huxter's window, but everything was still.
Evidently no one had heard him.

"So far, so good," thought John. "Now I must travel as many miles as
possible between now and six o'clock. That will give me a good start if
I am pursued."

John hoped he would meet no one who would recognize him. But in this
he was disappointed. He had walked six miles, when he heard his name
called from behind. Startled, he looked back hastily, and to his relief
discovered that the call came from David Wallace, who had taken him up
on his first journey to Milbank.

"Where are you going, John?" asked David. "Don't you want to ride?"

"Thank you," said John.

He jumped on board the wagon, and took a seat beside David.

"You are travelling early, David," he said.

"Just what I was going to say to you," said David, laughing. "Are you
walking for your health?"

"Not exactly," said John. "I've a great mind to tell you. You won't
tell?"

"Honor bright!"

"Then, I've left Mr. Huxter without bidding him good-by."

"Good!" said David. "I don't blame you a bit. Tell me how it happened."

David was highly amused at Mr. Huxter's adventure with the tub.

"I must tell that to George Sprague," he exclaimed. "It's a good joke."

"I'm afraid Mr. Huxter wouldn't agree with you there."

"He never does agree with anybody. Now tell me how you managed to walk
off."

John narrated how he found himself locked in, and how he resorted to
the expedient of the bed-cord.

"You're a trump, John!" said David, slapping him on the shoulder. "I
didn't think you had so much spunk."

"What did you think of me?" asked John, smiling.

"You see you're such a quiet fellow, you don't look as if you were up
to such things. But what will you do if Mr. Huxter pursues you?"

"I can tell better when the time comes," said John.

"You wouldn't go back with him?"

"Not if I could help myself. I don't feel that he has any right to
control me. He isn't my guardian, and he is the last man, I know, that
my father would be willing to trust me with."

"I wish I could see how he looks when he finds you are gone. If you'd
like to send him your love I could go round by the house on my way
back."

"I don't think I shall need to trouble you, David," said John.

"Whereabouts are you going?"

"I have an aunt living about fifty miles away. I shall go there for the
present."

"Well, I'm sorry you're going to leave Jackson. I mean I'm sorry I
shan't see you any more. Can't you write to me now and then?"

"I would but for one thing," said John.

"What's that?"

"I am afraid the letters would be noticed by the postmaster, and put
Mr. Huxter on the track. I don't want to have any more to do with him."

"There's something in that. I didn't think of it. At any rate I hope
we'll meet again some time."

"So do I, David. You have been very kind to me, and I shall not forget
it. I don't know what lies before me, but I shall keep up good courage,
hoping that things will come out right in the end."

"That's the best way. But I am afraid I must bid you good-by here. I
turn up that side road. I suppose you are going straight ahead."

"Yes."

"I wish I could carry you further."

"It's been quite a help what I have already ridden."

"Whoa, Dan!" said David, and the horse stopped.

"Good-by, David," said John, as he jumped out of the wagon.

"Good-by, John. Then you haven't any message to send back to Mr.
Huxter?"

"Not to him," said John; "but," he added, after a moment's thought, "if
you happen to see Mrs. Huxter, just let her know that you saw me, and
that I am grateful for all she tried to do for me."

"You're sure she won't tell her husband?"

"No; she acted like a good friend. I would like to have said good-by;
but it wouldn't do."

"All right, I'll remember what you say. Good-by, old fellow."

"Good-by, David."

John estimated that he was now nearly ten miles from his
starting-place. The sun was already shining brightly, and it promised
to be a fine day. Our hero began to feel hungry. The fresh morning air
had given him an appetite.



CHAPTER XXIV.

JOHN IS PURSUED.


Mr. Huxter felt better after a night's rest. In fact, his injuries had
not been as serious as he wished Mrs. Huxter to suppose. The truth is,
he was a coward, and even a small sickness terrified him. But with the
morning, finding himself very little inconvenienced by his mishap of
the day previous, his courage returned, and with it his determination
to wreak condign vengeance on John.

"How do you feel, Mr. Huxter?" asked his wife.

"I feel like whipping that young scamp, Oakley," said her husband.

"He has done nothing that deserves punishment, I am sure."

"Of course, scalding me is a very slight affair, in _your_ opinion; but
I happen to think differently," he said, with a sneer.

He drew on his pantaloons as he spoke, and seizing a leather strap,
left the room.

"Oh, dear," sighed Mrs. Huxter, "I do wish Mr. Huxter wouldn't be so
violent. I don't see what can have turned him so against that poor boy.
I am sure he's very polite and gentlemanly."

She wanted to say more, in the hope of dissuading her husband from
his harsh resolution, but she dared not. She went to the foot of the
attic stairs to listen, fearing that she would hear the sounds of an
altercation. She saw Mr. Huxter draw the bolt and enter the chamber,
but she was quite unprepared to see him burst forth furiously a minute
later, exclaiming in a rage:--

"He's gone,--the young rascal has escaped."

"Escaped?" repeated Mrs. Huxter, bewildered, for she could not conceive
how John could escape from a third-story room when the door was bolted.

"Ha, are you there?" demanded her husband. "What do you know of this?"
he asked, suspiciously.

"Nothing at all," said Mrs. Huxter. "I don't see how he could have got
away."

"You'll see plain enough if you come upstairs," said her husband. "He
got out of the window."

"Jumped out?" gasped Mrs. Huxter.

"Slid down by the bed-cord, you fool!" said her husband, who was too
angry to be polite.

"I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Huxter, in a tone indicating her surprise.

"Did you advise him to run away?" asked Mr. Huxter.

"Of course not."

"And did you know nothing of his going? Didn't he tell you?" he asked,
suspiciously.

"Not a word. But I'm glad he's gone,--I really am."

"You're glad we've lost six dollars a week, are you?" growled her
husband. "You'd like to see us starvin', I suppose. But you needn't
be in such a hurry to be glad. I'll have him back yet, and then if
he doesn't get the tallest kind of a flogging, that'll sicken him of
running away forever, my name is not Huxter."

"You'd better let him go, husband. Don't go after him."

"You'll oblige me by minding your business, Mrs. Huxter. I shall go
after him, as soon as I have eaten breakfast."

Meanwhile John, feeling very hungry, as was stated at the close of the
last chapter, determined to get a breakfast at the first inn on the
road. He had only to walk a mile further, when he came to a country
inn, with its long piazza, and stable-yard alongside. It had a
comfortable look, suggestive of good old-fashioned hospitality.

John walked through the front entrance, chancing to meet the landlord.

"Can I have some breakfast?" he asked.

"Are you travelling alone?" asked the landlord, who was a Yankee.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I guess we can give you some. What would you like?"

"I should like some beefsteak and a couple of eggs."

"Coffee or tea?"

"Coffee."

"Very well."

"How soon will it be ready, sir? I've taken a long walk, and am very
hungry."

"You won't have to wait long. Here, Betty, just get up some breakfast
for this young man. Beefsteak, boiled eggs, and coffee. As quick as you
can."

In twenty minutes John was told that breakfast was ready. He was shown
into rather a cheerless dining-room, but the meat emitted a savory
odor, and he enjoyed the meal better, it seemed to him, than ever
before in his life. He rose from the table at length with a sigh of
enjoyment. Going into the office he called for his bill.

"Fifty cents," said the landlord.

John produced a two-dollar bill, and the change was returned to him.

"Not going to stay with us?" said the landlord, interrogatively.

"No," said John; "I've got to travel further."

"Where may you have come from?"

"From Jackson this morning," said John.

"Did you walk? It's a pretty long stretch,--hard upon ten miles."

"I rode part of the way."

"And where are you bound?"

John was beginning to tire of this persistent questioning, and would
have declined answering, but that he feared this would excite suspicion.

"I am going to Redport," he answered.

Redport, as he had ascertained, was the next town on the route. He
did not think it necessary to mention that he was going considerably
further.

"Redport!" repeated the landlord.

"Yes. How far is it?"

"It's a matter of six miles. Are you going to walk?"

"Yes, unless I find somebody that's going that way."

"I'm going over myself this afternoon. If you'll wait till that time
you may go with me."

"Thank you," said John; "but I don't think I will wait. I've got pretty
good legs, and I shan't mind the walk."

"You can get over in two hours easy. Ever been that way before?"

"No."

"Well, it's a straight road. You can't miss it."

John left the landlord's presence with a feeling of relief. He had
declined his offer for two reasons: partly because he did not want to
wait till afternoon, but principally because the landlord would be sure
to ask where he intended to stop in Redport, which would of course
embarrass him.

John waited about half an hour, as he did not wish to walk immediately
after a hearty meal. Then, having cut a stick from a tree by the
roadside, he went on his way.

Twenty minutes after his departure, Mr. Huxter rode up to the inn which
he had just left. That gentleman had procured a fast horse from the
stable, for the pursuit of the runaway. It was rather extravagant, to
be sure; but then Mr. Huxter felt that he must have John back at all
hazards. He could not afford to let a boy escape who paid him three
hundred dollars a year, besides the work he intended to get out of him.
Then again, he thought, by proper representations, he could induce his
sister to pay all the expenses attending John's capture.

"It's only fair," he thought, "that Jane should pay for the team, if I
give my time."

So Mr. Huxter sped along the road at a rapid rate. He had taken the
right road by chance, and having met a boy who had met John and
described his appearance accurately, he had the satisfaction of knowing
that he was on the track of the fugitive.

Arriving at the tavern, it occurred to him that John might have stopped
to rest, if nothing more. He accordingly descended hastily from the
carriage, and accosted the landlord, whom he knew slightly.

"Good-morning, Mr. Jones."

"Good-morning, Mr. Huxter. Going to stop with us?"

"I can't stop now. Have you seen anything of a boy of about fifteen,
rather stout built, who must have passed this way lately?"

"Blue suit?" interrogated the landlord.

"Yes; have you seen him?"

"You don't mean to say you're after him?"

"Yes, I do. But have you seen him?"

"Yes, he took breakfast here only an hour ago. Son of yours?"

"No, he was my nephew."

"Run away, hey?"

"Yes; he's been acting badly, and I suppose he thought I was going to
punish him; so the young rascal took to his heels."

"Sho! you don't say so! He paid for his breakfast all right."

"You can judge how he came by his money," said Mr. Huxter.

"You don't say so! Well, he is a bad case," said the landlord, who
concluded, as it was intended he should, that John had stolen the
money. "Well, he don't look like it."

"Oh, he's a deep young rascal!" said Mr. Huxter. "You'd think butter
wouldn't melt in his mouth; but he's a regular scamp. Which road did he
take?"

"He said he was going to Redport."

"What time did he start?"

"Less than half an hour ago. He can't have got much over a mile. If you
keep on, you'll be sure to overhaul him."

"I'll do that with a vengeance," said Mr. Huxter.

"Thank you for your information, Mr. Jones. I'll do as much for you
some time."

"All right. Stop on the way back, won't you?"

"Well, I don't know but I will. I only took a mouthful of breakfast, I
was in such a hurry to pursue this young scamp."

"Well, it's an ill wind that blows nobody good," thought the landlord.
"The boy's running away has brought me two customers. I had no idea he
was such a young rascal."

"I might as well get a good breakfast," soliloquized Mr. Huxter. "I can
charge it to Jane. She can't expect me to chase John Oakley over hill
and dale on an empty stomach!"

Mr. Huxter began to indulge in pleasing anticipations of what he would
do to John when he had captured him, forgetting the good old rule, that
before cooking a hare you must catch him.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE VALUE OF A BOAT.


Meanwhile John was plodding along at a moderate pace. He had no idea of
the danger that menaced him. He was now ten or eleven miles away from
Jackson, and this gave him a feeling of security; not that the distance
was so great, but that, of the many directions in which he might have
gone, he saw no reason to think that Mr. Huxter would be likely to
guess the right one.

On the whole, John felt in very good spirits. It was a bright, pleasant
morning in September, with a clear, bracing air, that lent vigor to
his steps. He decided to stop in Redport until after dinner, and then
inquire his way more particularly. He determined to take the stage or
cars, if he found any that ran across to Wilton. The expense would not
be any greater, probably, than the cost of the meal and lodging for
which, if he walked, he would be obliged to pay at the country inns.

He had got to the bottom of a hill when he heard the clattering of
wheels behind him, and was startled by the sound of a voice only too
familiar. "Stop, you rascal!"

John looked round, and his heart made a sudden bound when he recognized
the well-known face of Mr. Huxter projecting out of a chaise, which was
tearing down the hill at furious speed.

"So I've caught you, have I?" exclaimed his pursuer, in exultation.
"I've got an account to settle with you, you young scamp!"

John was no coward, but he knew that in a physical contest, he, a boy
of fifteen, would be no match for a man close upon six feet in height.
Discretion was evidently the better part of valor. If he could not
overcome his antagonist, could he elude him? He darted a quick glance
around, in order to understand the situation and form his plans.

He couldn't keep on, that was evident. To the right, at the distance
of a quarter of a mile, he saw a small pond gleaming in the sunlight.
It might have been a mile in circumference. Behind it was a belt of
woods. It occurred to John that he might find a boat somewhere along
the shore. If so, he could paddle across, and Mr. Huxter would be left
in the lurch. If he found no boat, his chances would be small. But at
any rate this seemed his only feasible plan. Mr. Huxter was already
within a few rods, so there was no time to lose. John clambered up on
the stone wall.

"Stop, you rascal!" shouted Mr. Huxter, as soon as he saw this movement.

"I'd rather not," said John, coolly.

"I'll give you the worst flogging you ever had!" said his pursuer,
provoked.

"That's no inducement," said John, as he jumped on the other side, and
began to run across the field.

"I'll make him pay for all the trouble he gives me," said Mr. Huxter,
between his teeth.

He stopped the horse, and jumped into the road. He would like to have
pursued John at once, but he did not dare to leave the horse loose,
fearing that he would not stand. Although chafing at the delay, he felt
that prudence required him to secure the horse, which was a valuable
one, before setting out after the fugitive. "The more haste the worse
speed," says an old proverb. So it proved in the present instance. Five
minutes were consumed in attaching the horse to the branch of a tree.
This done, Mr. Huxter jumped over the stone wall, and looked to see how
far John had got. Our hero had already reached the shore of the pond,
and was running along beside it. Mr. Huxter's eyes lighted up with
exultation.

"I'll have him yet," he muttered. "The pond is in my favor."

He began to run diagonally to the point John was likely to reach. But
suddenly John stopped and bent over.

"What's he doing?" thought the pursuer puzzled.

A moment revealed the mystery. Reaching the top of a little knoll, he
saw John jump into a boat, rowing vigorously from shore. He was only
just in time. One minute later, and Mr. Huxter stood at the edge of the
pond. He was excessively provoked at the boy's escape.

"Come back here!" he shouted, authoritatively.

"I would rather not," said John.

He rested on his oars a moment, and looked calmly at his pursuer. There
he was, only three rods distant, and yet quite out of reach. Certainly
it was very tantalizing. If there had only been another boat! But there
was not. The one which John was in was the only one upon the pond. John
felt very comfortable. He fully appreciated the advantage he had over
his antagonist.

"Come back here, I say!" screamed Mr. Huxter, stamping his foot.

[Illustration]

"Why should I?" asked John, calmly.

"Why should you? Because I'm your guardian."

"I don't think you are, Mr. Huxter."

"At any rate, you're under my charge."

"Suppose I come to the shore, what then?" asked John.

"I'll give you such a flogging that you won't dare to run away again."

"In that case," said John, smiling, "I think I'd better not come."

"You'd better come, if you know what is best for yourself."

"But I don't think a flogging would be best for me," said John, smiling
again.

Mr. Huxter was excessively angry; but he saw that he was on the wrong
tack. It was not easy for him to change it, for he felt too provoked;
but he saw that he must do it, or give up the chance of capturing John.

"Well," he said, after a little pause, "then I'll pass over the
flogging this time. But you must come to shore. I want to go home as
soon as I can."

"I am not going home with you," said John, composedly.

"Why not, I should like to know?"

"I should never be happy at your house."

"You're homesick. That will pass off."

John shook his head.

"I can't go back."

"Come, Oakley," said Mr. Huxter, changing his tone; "you think I bear
malice for the little accident that happened yesterday. I don't mind
confessing that it made me feel ugly when I fell into that tub of hot
water. You wouldn't have liked it yourself, would you?"

"No, I don't think I should," said John, smiling in spite of himself,
as the image of Mr. Huxter's downfall rose before him.

"You can't blame me for feeling mad. But I know it was an accident, and
I forgive you. You know it's your duty to come back."

"I don't know about that," said John.

"Your stepmother made the arrangement for your good, and it's your duty
to obey her."

"Mrs. Oakley has not treated me as I had a right to expect," said John.
"There was no reason for her sending me away from home."

"She thought it best for you," said Mr. Huxter, condescending to reason
with the boy, who was beyond his reach.

"She took me from school, though she knew that my father wished me to
remain there, and get ready for college."

"She thinks you know enough already. You know more than Ben."

"Ben doesn't care for study. He could have prepared for college if he
had wished."

"Well, perhaps you're right," said Mr. Huxter, with wily diplomacy. "I
didn't see it in that light before. If your father wanted you to go to
college, it's all right that you should go. I'll write to my sister as
soon as we get home, and tell her how you feel about it. So just come
ashore, and we'll talk it over as we go home."

Mr. Huxter's words were smooth enough, but they did not correspond
very well with his tone, when the conference began. John detected
his insincerity, and understood very well the cause of his apparent
mildness.

"I shall be glad to have you write to Mrs. Oakley," he said; "but there
won't be any need of my going home with you."

"How can you find out what she writes me?" asked Mr. Huxter, subduing
his wrath.

"If Mrs. Oakley is willing to have me go home and attend the academy,
as I have been accustomed to do, she can let Squire Selwyn know it,
and he will get word to me."

"Does he know you are running away?" demanded Mr. Huxter, frowning.

"No, he does not; but I shall tell him."

"Come, Oakley," said Mr. Huxter, persuasively, "you know this is all
wrong,--your running away, I mean. I don't want you to stay at my house
if you don't like it, of course, but I don't like to have it said that
you ran away. Just come ashore and go home with me, and to-morrow I'll
take the responsibility of sending you home to my sister. I can write
her that I think she hasn't done the right thing by you. That's fair,
isn't it?"

John felt that it would be fair; but unfortunately he had no faith in
Mr. Huxter's sincerity. He had seen too much of him for that. He could
not help thinking of the spider's gracious invitation to the fly, and
he did not mean to incur the fly's fate by imitating his folly.

"I don't think it will be wise for me to go back," said John.

"I wish I could get at you," said Mr. Huxter to himself.

"My sister will be very angry when she hears of your running away," he
said, aloud.

"Yes," said John, "I suppose she will."

"You must take care not to provoke her. You are dependent upon her."

"That I am not!" said John, proudly.

"Didn't your father leave her all the property?"

"So it seems," said John, wincing.

"Then how can you live without her help?"

"I am old enough to earn my own living," answered John.

"Come, Oakley, don't be foolish. What's the use of working for your
living, when, by behaving right, you can have a home without?"

Mr. Huxter seemed to forget that he had intended to set John at work in
his shoe-shop as soon as he could obtain a supply of work.

"I am not afraid to work," said John. "What I dislike is to be
dependent. I am not dependent upon Mrs. Oakley, for the property which
my father left was partly intended for my benefit, even if it was not
willed to me. If Mrs. Oakley intends me to feel dependent, and breaks
up all my plans, I will go to work for myself, and make my own way in
the world."

"Very fine talk; but you'll repent it within a week."

"No," said John; "I have made up my mind, and I shall do as I have
determined."

"Then you won't come ashore?" demanded Mr. Huxter, his tone changing.

"No, I will not," said John.

"If I ever get hold of you, I'll make you smart for this," said Mr.
Huxter, now wholly throwing off the mask which for prudential motives
he had worn.

"I don't mean that you shall get hold of me," said John, coolly. And
with a sweep of the oars, he sent the boat further from the shore.

Mr. Huxter was beside himself with rage, but perfectly powerless to do
any harm. Nothing is more ludicrous than such a spectacle. He screamed
himself hoarse, uttering threats of various kinds to John, who,
instead of being frightened, took it all very coolly, dipping his oars
tranquilly in the water.

"There's one way of getting at you," said Huxter, suddenly picking up a
good-sized stone and flinging it at the boat.

If he had been a good marksman the stone might have hit John, for
the boat was within range; but it veered aside and struck the water.
Admonished of a new danger, John took several rapid strokes, and was
quickly free from this peril. Mr. Huxter shook his fist wrathfully at
the young boatman, and was considering if there was any way of getting
at him, when an unexpected mischance called his attention in another
direction. Looking towards the road, he found that his horse had
managed to break loose, and was now heading for home.

"Whoa!" he shouted, as he ran towards the retreating vehicle,
forgetting that his voice would hardly reach a third of a mile.

Certainly this was not one of Mr. Huxter's lucky days. John was left
master of the situation.



CHAPTER XXVI.

ONE DISAPPOINTMENT FOLLOWS ANOTHER.


At the close of the last chapter we left John floating at his ease in
a row-boat, while his pursuer was compelled, by the sudden departure
of his horse, to give up his immediate purpose, and chase the flying
animal. It was very much against his will that he left John; but the
horse, as he knew, was the best in the stable, and valued at not less
than three hundred dollars,--a sum which he would be unable to make up.
Besides this, the chaise might be injured.

"Curse my luck!" exclaimed Mr. Huxter, as he glanced back at John, with
a baffled look. "Every thing turns against me. But I'll come back after
the young rascal as soon as I catch the horse."

But, unfortunately for Mr. Huxter, it proved that two legs were
no match for four. When he got to the road, the horse was half a
mile ahead. In spite of his haste, he was obliged to pause a moment
and recover his breath, which the unusual exercise of running had
exhausted.

Mr. Huxter was nearly two miles distant from the tavern where he had
stopped. His only hope was that the horse would stop or be stopped
there. As soon as he recovered his breath, he started for the tavern,
therefore. Partly running, partly walking, he at length arrived, tired,
heated, and in ill-humor.

Entering the yard, he saw a group of men and boys surrounding the horse
and chaise, which had already arrived. Among them was Mr. Jones, the
landlord.

"Why, here's the man himself!" exclaimed the landlord, advancing to
meet him. "How came your horse to run away? Were you spilled out?"

"No; I tied him to a tree, and he broke loose and ran away. Has he done
any harm?" asked Mr. Huxter, nervously.

"He's smashed one of the wheels in running against a post," said a
bystander.

"Let me see," said Mr. Huxter, dolefully.

He found that it was as bad as had been told him. The horse made a
short turn into the inn-yard, and managed to bring the chaise into
collision with a post. The wheel was pretty well shattered.

"Looks bad," said the bystander. "It'll cost something to mend it."

"It can't be mended," said Mr. Jones. "You'll have to get a new wheel."

"What'll it cost?" said Mr. Huxter, with something very like a groan.

"I can't say exactly. Maybe twenty-five dollars will do it."

"It might have been worse," said the bystander, in what was meant to be
an encouraging tone.

"It's bad enough," said Mr. Huxter, fiercely. "It's just my cursed
luck."

"Was the carriage yours?" asked the landlord.

"No, I got it from a stable. They'll charge me about double price."

"Oh, by the way, did you catch the boy?" asked the landlord, in a tone
of interest.

"No," said Mr. Huxter, with an oath which I will omit. "I had just
overtaken him when the cursed horse ran away."

"Well, you are unlucky," said Jones. "What are you going to do about
it?"

"I suppose I must get the carriage home somehow."

"You might get a new wheel put on here. There's an excellent
wheelwright in the village. It will cost you less."

Mr. Huxter finally made an arrangement to this effect, the wheelwright
agreeing for twenty-five dollars to put the chaise in repair.
This, with the stable charge, made thirty dollars as the expense
of Mr. Huxter's little excursion, which, as we have seen, ended in
disappointment. He decided not to continue the pursuit of John, having
good reason to doubt whether he would catch him.

There was one question which troubled Mr. Huxter: Would his sister be
willing to pay this thirty dollars? If not, it would indeed be a bad
morning's work for him. He lost no time, on getting home, in writing to
Mrs. Oakley. His letter is subjoined.

 "DEAR SISTER:--I hope these few lines will find you in good health.
 This comes to inform you that the young rascal that I took to board
 to accommodate you has run away, after treating me most shameful. I
 hired a team to go after him this morning; but the horse ran away and
 broke the carriage, which will cost me forty dollars to mend. (Mr.
 Huxter thought if Mrs. Oakley was to pay the bill he might as well add
 something to it.) As I was on your business, you will expect to pay
 this, of course. You can send the money in a letter. I will get back
 John Oakley if I can. He is a young scamp, and I don't wonder you had
 trouble with him. When I get him back, I will make him toe the mark,
 you may be sure of that. Please write to me by return mail, and don't
 forget the money. Your brother,"

  "EPHRAIM HUXTER."

Mr. Huxter did not have to wait long for an answer; but it proved to be
less satisfactory than prompt. It ran as follows:--

 "MY DEAR BROTHER:--Your letter has just reached me. I am surprised
 that you could not manage to control a boy of fifteen. It seems that
 he has got the best of you. You need not trouble yourself to get him
 back. If he chooses to run away and earn his own living, he may, for
 all I care. He is a young rascal, as you say.

 "As to the carriage which you say was damaged to the extent of forty
 dollars, I do not see how it could have happened, with ordinary care.
 How did it happen? You ought to have told me in your letter. Nor do I
 see how you can expect me to pay for the result of your carelessness.
 But even if I were to do it, you seem to forget that I advanced you
 seventy-five dollars on John's board. As he has remained only one
 week, that being deducted will leave a balance of sixty-nine dollars,
 or perhaps sixty, after taking out travelling expenses. I could
 rightfully require this back; but I will not be hard on you. You may
 pay for the damage done to the carriage (I am surprised that it should
 amount to forty dollars), and keep the balance as a gift from me.
 But it will be useless for you to make any further claim on me for a
 year, at least, as I have large expenses, and charity begins at home.
 Remember me to your wife."

  "JANE OAKLEY."

"Well, if that isn't a cold-blooded letter!" said Mr. Huxter, bitterly.
"Jane is rich now, and don't care for the privations of her poor
brother. She blames me because the chaise got broken,--just as if I
could help it."

Still Mr. Huxter had no real reason to complain. His sister had agreed
to pay for the damage done, and there would be something left out of
the money she had paid in advance. But Mr. Huxter, as soon as he had
received it, had at once looked upon it as his own, though not yet
earned, and to use it seemed as if he were paying the bill out of his
own pocket. Then, again, the very decided intimation that he need not
look for any more assistance at present was discouraging. Deducting
expenses, it would leave him but a small amount to pay him for his
journey to Hampton. He resolved not to pay the wheelwright, if he
could possibly avoid it, not being very conscientious about paying his
debts. But, as Mr. Huxter's reputation in that way was well known, the
wheelwright refused to surrender the chaise till his bill was paid; and
the stable-keeper made such a fuss that Mr. Huxter was compelled to pay
the bill, though very much against his inclination.

The result of his disappointment was, that he began to drink worse than
ever, and poor Mrs. Huxter, for some weeks, had a hard time of it. She
was certainly very much to be pitied, as is every poor woman who finds
herself yoked for life to a husband wedded to a habit so fatal to all
domestic comfort and happiness.



CHAPTER XXVII.

JOHN OAKLEY'S AUNT.


When John found that his enemy had abandoned the siege, he rowed
ashore, and watched Mr. Huxter until he became satisfied that it
would require a considerable time to catch the horse. He thought
that he might venture to pursue his journey, without further fear of
molestation. Of the incidents that followed, none are worth recording.
It is sufficient to say that on the evening of the second day John
entered the town of Wilton.

It was years since he had seen his aunt. She had been confined at home
by the cares of a young family, and the distance between Wilton and
Hampton seemed formidable. He knew, however, that his uncle, Thomas
Berry, kept a small country store, and had done so ever since his
marriage. In a country village it is always easy to find the "store,"
and John kept up the main road, feeling that it would not be necessary
to inquire. He came at length to a meeting-house, and judged that the
store would not be far off. In fact, a few rods further he came to a
long, two-story building, painted white, with a piazza in front. On a
large sign-board over it he read:--

  "THOMAS BERRY.

   PROVISION AND DRY-GOODS STORE."

"This must be the place," thought John. "I think I'll go into the store
first and see uncle."

He entered, and found himself in a broad room, low-studded, furnished
with counters on two sides, and crowded with a motley collection of
goods, embracing calicoes and dry goods generally, as well as barrels
of molasses and firkins of butter. There chanced to be no customer in
at the time. Behind the counter he saw, not his uncle, but a young man,
with long, light hair combed behind his ears, not very prepossessing in
his appearance,--at least so John thought.

"Is Mr. Berry in?" he asked, walking up to the counter.

"Mr. Berry is dead," was the unexpected reply.

"Dead!" exclaimed John, in surprise. "How long since he died?"

"A week ago."

"We never heard of it," said John, half to himself.

"Are you a relation?" asked the young man.

"He was my uncle."

"Is your name Oakley?"

"Yes, John Oakley."

"Of Hampton?"

"Yes."

"A letter was sent there, announcing the death."

This was true; but Mrs. Oakley, who received the letter, had not
thought it necessary to send intelligence of its contents to John.

"Didn't you get it?" continued the other.

"I haven't been at home for a week or more," said John. "I suppose that
accounts for it. How is my aunt?"

"She is not very well."

"I think I will go into the house and see her."

John went around to the door of the house and knocked. A young girl
of twelve answered. Though John had not seen her for six years, he
concluded that it must be his Cousin Martha.

"How do you do, Cousin Martha?" he said, extending his hand.

"Are you my Cousin John Oakley?" she said, doubtfully.

"Yes. I did not hear till just now of your loss," said John. "How is
your mother?"

"She is not very well. Come in, Cousin John. She will be glad to see
you."

John was ushered into a small sitting-room, where he found his aunt
seated in a chair by the window, sewing on a black dress for one of the
children.

"Here's Cousin John, mother," said Martha.

An expression of pleasure came to Mrs. Berry's pale face.

"I am very glad to see you, John," she said. "You were very kind to
come. Is your stepmother well?"

"Quite well," said John. "But I do not come directly from home."

"Indeed! How does that happen?" asked his aunt.

"It is rather a long story, aunt. I will tell you by and by. But now
tell me about yourself. Of what did my uncle die?"

"He exposed himself imprudently in a storm one evening three months
since," said Mrs. Berry. "In consequence of this, he took a severe
cold, which finally terminated in a fever. We did not at first suppose
him to be in any danger, but he gradually became worse, and a week
since he died. It is a terrible loss to me and my poor children."

Here his aunt put her handkerchief to her face to wipe away the tears
that started at the thought of her bereavement.

"Dear aunt, I sympathize with you," said John, earnestly, taking her
hand.

"I know you do, John," said his aunt. "I don't know how I can get along
alone, with four poor fatherless children to look after."

"God will help you, aunt. You must look to him," said John, reverently.

"It is that thought alone that sustains me," said Mrs. Berry. "But
sometimes, when the thought of my bereavement comes upon me, I don't
realize it as I should."

"I went into the store first," said John. "I suppose it was my uncle's
assistant that I saw there?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Berry; "it was Mr. Hall."

"I suppose he manages the store now for you?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Berry, slowly. "But I hardly know that it is right to
say that he manages it for me."

"Why not?" asked John, perplexed by his aunt's manner, which seemed to
him strange.

"I will tell you, John," said his aunt. "When Mr. Berry died, I
thought he owned the stock clear, and had no debts; but day before
yesterday Mr. Hall called in, and showed me a note for two thousand
dollars, signed by Mr. Berry. I don't suppose the stock is worth more
than three thousand. Of course that makes a very great difference in my
circumstances. In fact, it will leave me only a thousand dollars, at
the utmost, to support my poor children. I don't know what I shall do."
And the poor woman, whose nerves had been shaken by her grief, burst
into tears.

"Didn't my uncle own this building, then?" asked John.

"No, he never owned it. He hired it at a low rent from Mr. Mansfield,
one of the selectmen, and a rich man."

"Can't you keep up the store, aunt? Will not that give income enough to
support the family?"

"But for this note, I could. But if I have to pay that, it will leave
only a third of the store belonging to me. Then out of the profits I
must pay the rent, the wages of a salesman and a boy, before I can get
anything for myself. You see, John, there isn't much prospect."

"Yes," said John, thoughtfully. "It doesn't look very bright. You say,
aunt, that uncle never mentioned this note to you?"

"He never mentioned a syllable about it."

"Did he generally mention his affairs to you?"

"Yes; he wasn't one of those husbands that keep everything secret from
their wives. He always told me how he was getting along."

"When was the note dated?"

"A year and a half ago."

"Do you know whether my uncle had any particular use for so large a sum
of money at that time?"

"No. That is what puzzles me," said Mrs. Berry. "If he got the money, I
am sure I don't know what he did with it."

"Did he extend his business with it, do you think?"

"No, I am sure he did not. His stock is no larger now than it was six
years ago. He always calculated to keep it at about the same amount."

"That seems strange," said John,--"that we can't find where the money
went to, I mean; especially as it was so large a sum."

"Yes, John, that is what I think. There's some mystery about it. I've
thought and thought, and I can't tell how it happened."

"What sort of a man is Mr. Hall?" asked John, after a pause.

"I don't know anything against him," said Mrs. Berry.

"I don't know why it is," said John, "but I don't like his looks. I
took rather a prejudice against him when I saw him just now."

"I never liked him," said his aunt, "though I can't give any good
reason for my dislike. He never treated me in any way of which I could
complain."

"How long has he been in the store?"

"How long is it, Martha?" asked Mrs. Berry, turning to her oldest
daughter, who, by the way, was a very pretty girl, with blooming cheeks
and dark, sparkling eyes.

"It will be four years in October, mother."

"Yes, I remember now."

"He seems quite a young man."

"I think he is twenty-three."

"Does he get a large salary?"

"No, only forty dollars a month."

"Did you know of his having any property when he came here?"

"No; he seemed quite poor."

"Then I don't understand where he could have got the two thousand
dollars which he says he loaned uncle."

"I declare, John, you are right," said Mrs. Berry, looking as if new
light was thrown over the matter. "It certainly does look very strange.
I wonder I didn't think of it before; but I have had so much to think
of, that I couldn't think properly of anything. How do you account for
it, John?"

"I will tell you, aunt," said John, quietly. "I think the note is a
forgery, and that Mr. Hall means to cheat you out of two-thirds of your
property."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

JOHN MAKES A DISCOVERY.


"Do you really believe this, John?" asked Mrs. Berry, in excitement.

"I really do, aunt. I see no other way to account for the existence of
the note."

"But the signature looked like Mr. Berry's," said his aunt, doubtfully.

"Did you examine it carefully, aunt?"

"No, I didn't," admitted Mrs. Berry.

"I should like to compare it with uncle's handwriting."

"I suppose Mr. Hall would think it strange if I should ask him to let
me take it."

"Yes; but he must do it, if he wants the note acknowledged."

"I have no head for business," said Mrs. Berry. "A child could cheat
me. I wish you could stay with me and look after things."

"Perhaps I can."

"But will your mother be willing?"

"I have no mother," said John.

"Your stepmother, then?"

"I might as well tell you, aunt, that there has been a serious
difficulty between Mrs. Oakley and myself, and I have left home."

"Is it possible, John? Didn't your stepmother treat you right?"

"I will tell you all about it, aunt, and you shall judge."

It was a long story, but, as we already know all about it, it is
unnecessary to give John's account. His aunt listened attentively, and
sympathized fully with John in the matter.

"You have been badly treated, John," she said. "I am sure my poor
brother would feel badly enough if he could know how Mrs. Oakley has
driven you from home. You do not mean to go back?"

"No, aunt," said John, resolutely. "Until Mrs. Oakley restores me to my
former privileges, I shall not go home."

"Then you must stay here, John," said his aunt.

"If I can be of any service to you, aunt, I will."

"You can be of great service to me, John. I do not feel confidence in
Mr. Hall, and you know why I cannot be sure that he is not cheating me
in the store. I want you to keep an eye upon him."

"I will go into the store as an assistant," said John. "That will give
me the best opportunity."

"But you have never been used to work," said his aunt.

"I must work now. Remember, aunt, Mrs. Oakley holds the property, and I
am dependent on my own exertions."

"It is disgraceful that it should be so, John."

"But it is so. Perhaps matters may come right by and by; but for the
present I must work. I will go into the store, and you shall give me my
board."

"You will earn more than that, John."

"If we get clear of Mr. Hall's note, you can do better by me. Until
then, let that be the arrangement."

"You don't know what a load you have lifted from my mind, John. I am
very sorry that you have been driven from home; but I am very glad to
have you here. Martha, get ready the back bedroom for John."

"I begin to feel myself at home already," said John, brightly.

"Our home is a humble one compared with the one you have left, John,"
said his aunt.

"But you are here, aunt, and you seem like my own mother. That will
make more than the difference to me."

"I hope we can make you comfortable, John. Martha, you may set the
table for supper, and get John's room ready afterwards. I think he must
be hungry."

"I am as hungry as a bear, aunt," said John, smiling.

In the evening Martha went into the store by her mother's request, and
asked Mr. Hall to step in after closing the store.

He did so.

"I believe you wished to see me, Mrs. Berry," he said.

"Yes, Mr. Hall. Will you sit down?"

"Thank you." And the young man seated himself, looking furtively at
Mrs. Berry, as if to inquire the object of his being summoned.

"Mr. Hall, this is my nephew, John Oakley. I believe you have already
met."

"Yes, he came into the store," said Mr. Hall, glancing at John.

"He has agreed to remain here for the present, and will assist you in
the store."

Mr. Hall looked as if he was not pleased with this intelligence.

"I do not think that I shall need any assistance," he said.

"I am surprised to hear that," said Mrs. Berry. "Certainly you cannot
expect to do alone the business which formerly required Mr. Berry and
yourself to do."

"The business is not so large as it was," said Hall.

"Then you must try to bring it up to where it used to be. You must
remember that I have a young family to support, and it will require an
effort to do it."

"That is why I thought it would be better to save the wages of an extra
clerk," said Hall.

"You are considerate, especially as it would require you to work harder
yourself. But my nephew knows my circumstances, and does not wish large
compensation."

"Has he any experience in tending store?" asked Hall.

"No," said John.

"Then I should have to teach you. It would be more trouble than the
help I would get."

"I don't think you would find me so hard to learn," said John,
quietly. "I have always lived in the country, and know something about
the business of a country store. I don't think I shall be long in
learning."

"I agree with John," said Mrs. Berry.

"Of course it must be as you say," said Mr. Hall, appearing
dissatisfied; "but I hoped to save you the expense. And I cannot say
I think any help necessary; or, if it were, it would be better, with
all respect to Mr. Oakley, to take James Sanford, who has had some
experience at Trafton."

"Very well, Mr. Hall," said John, taking no notice of the opposition,
"then I will come in to-morrow morning. What time do you open the
store?"

"At six o'clock."

"Won't that be rather early for you, John?" asked his aunt.

"You are making me out to be lazy, aunt," said John.

"There isn't much business early in the morning," said Hall. "You need
not come till seven."

"I would rather go early," said John. "I want to learn the business as
soon as I can."

"Did you wish to speak about anything else, Mrs. Berry?" said Mr. Hall.

"No, Mr. Hall; but you need not be in haste."

"Thank you; I am feeling rather tired."

"Good-night, then."

"Good-night."

"It seems to me," said John, when they were alone, "that Mr. Hall did
not much want me to enter the store."

"No; I was surprised at that. It must be very hard for one."

"I have my thoughts about it," said John.

"What are they?" asked his aunt.

"I will not say anything now. They may amount to nothing. But I think
Mr. Hall is afraid I will find out something, and therefore he objects
to my going into the store. I shall keep good watch, and if I find out
anything I will let you know."

"I think you must be tired, John. You can go to bed when you please."

"Then I think I will go now, particularly as I am to be up by six in
the morning."

"Never mind about to-morrow morning."

"I had better begin as I am going to hold out, aunt. Good-night."

John took the lamp and entered his bedchamber with a happier and more
home-like feeling than he had had for months. He felt so interested in
his aunt's troubles that he almost forgot that he had any of his own.

In the morning, as the village clock struck six, John stood in front of
the store. A minute later, Mr. Hall, who boarded at a little distance,
came up. He greeted John coldly, and they entered.

"Now I hope you will make me useful," said John.

"You may sweep out," said Hall.

"Where shall I find the broom?"

Hall told him and John commenced. It was new work to him, but he did
it well, and then went to work to arrange things a little more neatly.
Occasionally he asked information of Mr. Hall, which was ungraciously
given. Still John learned rapidly, and in a fortnight had learned as
much as many boys in three months.

One day, when Hall was gone to dinner, John chanced to open the stove,
in which there had been no fire for the summer months. It was full of
papers and letters of various kinds, which had been crowded into it, as
a convenient receptacle. It was so full that, on the door being opened,
a considerable portion fell on the floor. John began to pick them up,
and, in doing so, naturally looked at some of the papers.

All at once he started with excitement as a particular paper caught his
attention. He read it eagerly, and his eyes lighted up with pleasure.

"I must show this to my aunt," he said. "I suspected that note of Mr.
Hall's was a forgery, and now I feel sure of it."

He carefully deposited the paper in his pocket-book, and, putting back
the rest of the papers, shut the stove door, and resumed his place
behind the counter, just as Mr. Hall returned from dinner.

He little guessed that John had made a discovery of the utmost
consequence to him.



CHAPTER XXIX.

MR. HALL'S DISCOMFITURE.


The paper which John had discovered among the rubbish in the stove
was a half sheet of foolscap, which was covered with imitations of
Mr. Berry's handwriting, the words occurring being those of the note
of hand which Hall had presented for payment. The first attempts were
inexact, but those further down, with which pains had evidently been
taken, were close copies of Mr. Berry's usual handwriting. This of
course John could not know, not being familiar with his uncle's hand,
but his aunt confirmed it.

"It is clear," said John, "that Mr. Hall has forged the note which he
presented against my uncle's estate."

"What a wicked man," said Mrs. Berry, "to seek to defraud me and my
poor fatherless children! I never could have suspected him."

"It was the love of money, aunt. He thought you would not detect the
fraud."

"I should not but for you, John. How lucky it was you came! Now tell me
what I ought to do."

"Is there a lawyer in the place?" asked John.

"Yes; there is Mr. Bradley."

"Then, aunt, you had better send for him, and ask his advice."

"I will do so; I think that will be the best way."

Mr. Bradley, though a country lawyer, was a man of sound judgment, and
quite reliable. When the circumstances were communicated to him, he
gave his opinion that John's suspicions were well founded.

"I should like to see Mr. Hall here," he said. "Can you not ask him to
be present, and bring the note with him?"

"The store closes at nine. I will invite him then, if you can meet him
at that hour."

"That will suit me, Mrs. Berry," said the lawyer.

Mr. Hall was not surprised at the message he received. He expected that
the widow would be troubled about the claim he had presented, and he
was prepared to listen to entreaties that payment might be postponed.
That his fraud was suspected he did not dream.

When Mr. Hall entered the little sitting-room he was somewhat surprised
to see Mr. Bradley, the lawyer; but it occurred to him that Mrs. Berry
in her trouble had applied to him to mediate between them.

"Good-evening, Mr. Bradley," he said.

"Good-evening, Mr. Hall," said the lawyer, rather coldly.

"It is rather cool this evening," said Hall, trying to appear at ease.

"I understand," said Mr. Bradley, not appearing to notice this remark,
"that you have a claim against the estate of my late friend, Mr. Berry."

"Yes, sir."

"And the amount is--"

"Two thousand dollars," said Hall, promptly.

"So I understood. Did you bring the note with you?"

Hall opened his pocket-book, and produced the note. The lawyer took it,
and scanned it closely.

"Do you know what led Mr. Berry to borrow this amount?" asked the
lawyer.

"He wanted to put it into his business."

"Did he extend his business then? He might have done it to a
considerable extent with that sum."

"No, I believe not," said Hall, hesitating.

"But I thought he borrowed the money with that object."

"The truth is," said Hall, after a pause, "he was owing parties in
Boston for a considerable portion of his stock, and it was to pay off
this sum that he borrowed the money."

"I suppose you are aware, Mr. Hall, that this claim will sweep away
two-thirds of Mr. Berry's estate?"

"I am sorry," said Hall, hesitating. "I didn't know but he left more."

"Scarcely a thousand dollars will be left to the family. Mrs. Berry
will have a very hard time."

"I won't be hard upon her," said Hall. "I don't need all the money now.
I will let half of it, say, stand for a year."

"But it will have to be paid finally."

"Yes, I suppose I must have my money."

"It is rather strange that Mrs. Berry never knew anything of this. Her
husband usually told her of his business affairs."

"She thought so," said Mr. Hall, significantly,

"Do you mean to imply that he did not?"

"It seems that he did not tell her of this."

"So it appears, and yet it is a very important matter. By the way, Mr.
Hall, it was very creditable to a young man, like yourself, to have
saved up so considerable an amount of money. Two thousand dollars is
quite a little sum."

"I did not save it up,--that is, not all of it," said Hall, perceiving
that this would lead to suspicion. In fact, he was beginning to feel
rather uneasy under the lawyer's questioning.

"You did not save it up?"

"Not all of it. I received a legacy a little more than two years since
from a relative."

"You were fortunate. What was the amount of the legacy?"

"Fifteen hundred dollars."

"And you loaned all this to Mr. Berry?"

"Yes, sir."

"And five hundred dollars more."

"Yes."

"You never mentioned this legacy at the time."

"Only to Mr. Berry."

"Where did your relative live, Mr. Hall?"

"In Worcester," said Hall, hesitating.

"What relative was it?"

"My aunt," answered Hall, beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"What was her name?"

"I don't see why you ask so many questions, Mr. Bradley," said Hall,
beginning to find this catechising embarrassing, especially as he had
to make up the answers on the spot.

"Surely you have no objection to answer my question, Mr. Hall?" said
the lawyer, looking fixedly at the young man, who changed color.

"It isn't that," said Hall; "but it seems unnecessary."

"You must consider, Mr. Hall, that this claim is a very unexpected one.
Mr. Berry never mentioned to any one, so far as I know, that he had
borrowed this money of you. Remember, also, that it will reduce Mrs.
Berry to poverty, and you will not be surprised that we want to know
all the particulars respecting the transaction."

"I should think the note ought to be sufficient," said Hall.

"True, the note. Let me examine it once more." The lawyer scrutinized
the note, and, raising his eyes, said:--

"This note is in Mr. Berry's handwriting, is it?"

"Yes."

"By the way, Mr. Hall, the interest has been paid on this note at
regular intervals."

"Ye--es," said Hall.

"How often?"

"Every six months," he answered, more boldly.

"Ah, then I suppose we shall find corresponding entries on Mr. Berry's
books."

"I suppose so," said Hall; but he began to feel very uncomfortable.

"So that no interest is due now."

"About a month's interest; but never mind about that, I won't say
anything about that," said Hall, magnanimously.

"You are very considerate, Mr. Hall," said the lawyer; "but I am sure
Mrs. Berry will not accept this favor. She intends to pay you every
penny she owes you."

Mr. Hall brightened up at this intimation. He thought it looked
encouraging.

"I don't want to be hard," he said. "I don't care for the trifle of
interest due."

"I repeat that Mrs. Berry means to pay every penny that is justly due,
_but not one cent that is not so due_," said the lawyer, emphasizing
the last words.

"Of course," said the clerk, nervously; "but why do you say that?"

"Do you wish me to tell you, Mr. Hall?" asked Mr. Bradley, fixing his
keen glance upon the young man.

"Yes."

"Then I will tell you. Because I believe this note which I hold in my
hand _to be a base forgery_."

Hall jumped to his feet in dismay.

"Do you mean to insult me?" he asked, with quivering lips.

"Sit down, Mr. Hall. It is best that this matter should be settled
at once. I have made a charge, and it is only fair that I should
substantiate it, or try to do so. Did you ever see this sheet of paper?"

So saying, he produced the crumpled half sheet which John found in the
stove.

Mr. Hall turned pale.

"I don't know what you mean," he faltered; but there was a look upon
his face which belied his words.

"I think you _do_ know, Mr. Hall," said the lawyer. "You must be aware
that forgery is a serious matter."

"Give me back the note," said Hall.

"Do you admit it to be a forgery?"

"I admit nothing."

"Mr. Hall, I will hand you the note," said the lawyer, after a slight
pause, "merely reminding you that, if it is what I suppose, the sooner
you destroy it the better."

Hall took the note with nervous haste, and thrust it into the flame of
the lamp. In an instant it was consumed.

"You have done wisely, Mr. Hall," said Mr. Bradley. "I have no further
business with you."

"I shall leave Wilton to-morrow, Mrs. Berry," said Hall. "I must ask
you to get somebody else in my place."

"I will pay you to-night whatever wages are due you" said the lawyer,
"in behalf of Mrs. Berry."

"But how shall I manage about the store?" asked Mrs. Berry.

"I will take charge of it, aunt," said John, promptly, "if you will get
some one to assist me."

"Very well, John; but I am afraid it will be too much for you."

"Never fear, aunt; I haven't been in the store long, but I've learned a
good deal about the business."

Hall was paid, and that was the last that was seen of him. He went away
in the stage the next morning, and it is to be hoped that he has found
out that honesty is the best policy.

After he had left the room, Mr. Bradley advanced to Mrs. Berry, and,
grasping her hand, said, cordially:--

"I congratulate you on the new and improved look of your affairs."

"It has lifted a great weight from my mind," said the widow. "Now I
feel sure that I shall be able to get along, especially with John's
help. He was the first to suspect Mr. Hall of attempting to cheat me."

"You ought to be a lawyer, John," said Mr. Bradley. "You have shown
that you have a good head on your shoulders."

"Perhaps I may be one some time," said John, smiling.

"If you ever do, my office is open to you. Good-night, Mrs. Berry;
we've done a good evening's work."

The next day John undertook the chief management of his aunt's store.
He engaged James Sanford, who had had some experience in another town,
to help him, and things went on smoothly for a few weeks. At the end of
that time John received an important letter from Hampton.



CHAPTER XXX.

A DANGEROUS ACQUAINTANCE.


While John was attending to his aunt's interests at Wilton, important
events were occurring at Hampton.

It has already been stated that Ben Brayton was accustomed to spend
most of his time in lounging at the tavern, or in a billiard saloon
close by. It was at the latter place that he had the privilege of
forming an acquaintance with Arthur Winchester, a young man from the
city of New York (or so he represented). He was dressed in the extreme
of the fashion, sported a heavy gold chain, wore a diamond ring, and
carried a jaunty cane. I cannot guarantee the genuineness of the gold
or the diamond; but there was no one in Hampton who could distinguish
them from the real articles.

The appearance of Mr. Arthur Winchester created something of a
sensation among the young men of Hampton, or at least that portion
who aspired to wear fashionable clothes. Mr. Winchester's attire was
generally regarded as "nobby" in the extreme.

They exhibited an elegance which the highest efforts of the village
tailor had never succeeded in reaching. Forthwith the smart young men
in Hampton became possessed with the desire to have their clothes made
in the same faultless style, and Mr. Winchester was accommodating
enough to permit the village tailor to take a pattern from his garments.

Among those who gazed with admiration at the new-comer was Ben Brayton.
He was the first, indeed, to order a suit like Mr. Winchester's, in
which, when obtained, he strutted about proudly, arm in arm with the
young man himself.

Various circumstances served to strengthen the intimacy between the
two. In the first place neither had any weighty occupations to prevent
their drinking or playing billiards together, and it chanced after a
time that this became a regular business with them.

Ben Brayton was an average player, and appeared nearly equal to his new
friend. At all events, in the friendly trials of skill that took place
between them, Ben came off victorious perhaps a third of the time.

"Come, Ben," said Winchester, one morning, "this is slow. Suppose we
make the games a little more exciting by staking a little on the game."

[Illustration]

"You're a better player than I am, Winchester," said Ben.

"Not much. You beat me pretty often. However, I'll give you twenty
points, and stake a dollar on the game."

"I don't mind," said Ben. "A dollar isn't much."

"Agreed."

The game was played, and, counting the twenty points conceded, Ben came
off victorious by five points.

He pocketed the dollar with a sense of elation.

"Will you have another?" he asked.

"Of course I will. I'm bound to have my revenge."

The second game was played, and likewise terminated in Ben's favor.
He pocketed the second dollar with satisfaction. He had never found
billiards so interesting.

"Come, Brayton, this won't do. I didn't think you were so good a
player. You'll clean me out at this rate."

"Oh, I only happened to be lucky," said Ben, in high good humor. "Shall
we try it again?"

Of course they tried it again, and spent nearly the entire day in the
same way. Fortune veered about a little, and Ben came out minus three
dollars.

"Never mind, Brayton, you'll get it back to-morrow," said Winchester,
as they parted.

So Ben thought, and the furor of gaming had already taken such
possession of him that he got up unusually early, anxious to get at the
fascinating game.

So matters went on for a week. They never exceeded one dollar as
stakes, and played so even that Ben was only ten dollars behindhand.
This he paid from his allowance, and so far from being satiated with
the game could hardly restrain his impatience till Monday morning
should give him a chance of playing again.

It is perhaps needless to say that Ben had fallen into dangerous
company. Mr. Arthur Winchester was really a far superior player, and
eventually meant to fleece Ben out of his last dollar. But he did not
wish to arouse suspicion of his intentions, and "played off," as the
saying is, and thus had no difficulty in luring Ben on to the point at
which he aimed.

At the end of the second week Ben was only five dollars behind.

"You're gaining upon me," said Winchester. "You're improving in your
play."

"Am I?" said Ben, flattered.

"Not a doubt of it. I don't like to boast, but I am considered a
first-class player in the city, and, by Jove, you're almost even with
me."

Ben listened with gratification to this praise. He didn't doubt that
Winchester was the first-class player he represented, and in fact he
was a superior player, but he had never yet put forth his utmost skill.
He had only played with Ben, suiting himself to his inferior style of
playing.

Gradually Winchester suggested higher play.

"A dollar is nothing," he said. "Let us make it five."

Ben hesitated.

"That's a good deal to lose," he said.

"That's true, but isn't it as much to win? Come, it will make our games
more interesting, and you're as likely to come out ahead as I am."

"That is true," thought Ben.

"I'll tell you what," he said; "give me twenty-five points, and I'll do
it."

"Anything for excitement," said Winchester; "but we're so nearly
matched that you'll beat me twice out of three times on those odds."

Ben did beat the first game, and the exultation with which he pocketed
the stakes revealed to his experienced opponent that he had the game in
his hands.

Towards the middle of the afternoon Ben stood one game ahead. He was
flushed and excited by his success.

"I'll tell you what," said Winchester; "let's give up child's play and
have the real thing."

"What do you mean?" asked Ben.

"Let us stake fifty dollars, and done with it. That'll be something
worth playing for."

Ben started in surprise. The magnitude of the stake took his breath
away.

"I haven't got the money," he said.

"Oh, well, you can give me your note. I'll wait, that is, of course if
I win; but I am not so sure of that as I was. You're a pretty smart
player."

Ben did not hesitate long. He was dazzled by the idea of winning fifty
dollars, and his success thus far encouraged him to think that he would.

"Give me thirty points, then," he said.

"I ought not to; but anything for excitement."

The game was commenced. Ben led till towards the close of the game,
when his opponent improved his play, and came out three points ahead.

"It was a close shave," he said.

Ben looked uneasy. It was all very agreeable to win a large sum; but to
lose was not so comfortable.

"I haven't got the money," he said.

"Oh, give me your note, and pay when it's convenient! In fact, perhaps
you need not pay at all. You may win the next game."

"I don't know if I had better play," said Ben, doubtfully.

"Oh, you mustn't leave off a loser. You must have your revenge. In
fact, I'll make you a good offer. We'll play for a hundred dollars, and
I'll give you thirty-five points. That'll square us up, and make me
your debtor."

"Say forty, and I'll agree."

"Forty let it be then; but you'll win."

Again Winchester permitted Ben to gain in the commencement of the
game, but towards the last he took care to make up for lost time by a
brilliant play that brought him out victor.

"I was lucky," he said. "I began to think, the first part of the game,
that all was over with me."

Ben, silly dupe that he was, did not fathom the rascality of his
companion.

"I don't think I played as well as usual," he said, ruefully.

"No, you didn't. Perhaps your hand has got a little out, you have
played so many hours on a stretch."

Ben gave Winchester another due-bill for one hundred dollars,
wondering how he should be able to meet it. He was rather frightened,
and resolved not to play the next day. But when the next day came his
resolution evaporated. I need not describe the wiles used by Arthur
Winchester. It is enough that at the close of the coming day he held
notes signed by Ben for three hundred dollars.

He assured the disturbed Ben that he needn't trouble himself about the
matter; that he didn't need the money just yet. He would give him time
to pay it in, and other things to the same effect. But having come to
the conclusion that Ben had been bled as much as he could stand, he
called him aside the next morning, and said:--

"I'm sorry to trouble you, my dear Brayton, but I've just had a letter
recalling me to the city. Could you let me have that money as well as
not, say this afternoon?"

"This afternoon!" exclaimed Ben, in dismay. "I don't see how I can get
it at all."

"Do you mean to repudiate your debts of honor?" said Winchester,
sternly.

"No," said Ben, faltering; "but I've got no money."

"You ought to have made sure of that," said Winchester, shortly,
"before playing with a gentleman. Go to your mother. She is rich."

"She won't give me the money."

"Look here, Brayton," said Winchester, "I must have that money. I don't
care how you get it. But some way or other it must be got. I hope you
understand."

A bright idea came to Ben.

"You can't collect my notes," he said; "I'm under age."

"Then," said Winchester, his face darkening with a frown that made Ben
shiver, "I demand satisfaction. To-morrow morning, at five o'clock, I
will meet you with swords or pistols, as you prefer."

"What do you mean?" asked Ben, his teeth chattering, for he was an
arrant coward.

"What I say! If the law will not give me satisfaction, I will demand
the satisfaction of a gentleman. Fight or pay, take your choice; but
one or the other you must do."

The sentence closed with an oath.

"I'll do my best," said Ben, terrified. "Of course I mean to pay you."

"Then you'll let me have the money to-morrow?"

"I'll try."

The two parted, and Ben, thoroughly miserable, went home, trying to
devise some means to appease his inexorable creditor, whom he began to
wish he had never met.



CHAPTER XXXI.

BEN MAKES A DISCOVERY.


Ben went home slowly, in a state of great perplexity. He knew his
mother too well to think she would pay him three hundred dollars
without weighty cause. Should he tell her the scrape he had got into?
He felt a natural reluctance to do that, nor was he by any means
satisfied that she would pay the money if he did. Then again he was
ashamed to admit that he was afraid to fight. He felt convinced that,
should he reveal the matter, his mother would bid him take advantage
of the legal worthlessness of his notes to Winchester. He would gladly
do it, but was afraid, and did not dare to admit it. On the whole, Ben
felt decidedly uncomfortable.

"Is mother at home?" he inquired, when he reached home.

"No; she's gone over to Mrs. Talbot's to spend the afternoon," was the
reply.

Ben felt relieved by this assurance, though he hardly knew why.

"I wonder whether mother has got as much as three hundred dollars by
her," he thought.

With this thought in his mind he went upstairs, and entered his
mother's chamber.

The first thing he caught sight of when he entered was a little bunch
of keys lying on the table. He knew at once that they were his mother's
keys. It was certainly extraordinary that she should on that particular
day have left them exposed. She was generally very careful. But it
chanced that she had hurried away, and in her haste had forgotten the
keys, nor did she think of them while absent.

Under ordinary circumstances Ben would have made no improper use
of the keys thus thrown in his way; but, harassed as he was by the
importunities of Winchester, it seemed to him a stroke of luck that
placed them in his power.

He determined to open the drawers of his mother's bureau, and see what
he could find. If only he could find the sum he wanted he could get
out of his present difficulties, and perhaps explain it to his mother
afterwards.

Ben, after several trials, succeeded in finding the key that fitted the
upper drawer. He examined the contents eagerly. It was of course filled
with a variety of articles of apparel, but in one corner Ben found
a portemonnaie. He opened it, and discovered a roll of bills, six in
number, each of the denomination of twenty dollars.

"One hundred and twenty dollars!" he said. "That's more than a third of
the bill. Perhaps, if I pay that, Winchester'll wait for the rest."

It occurred to him, however, that a further search might reveal some
more money. If he could get thirty dollars more, for example, that with
the other would make one half the sum he owed Winchester, and with that
surely the other might be content, for the present at least. The rest
of the debt he could arrange to pay out of his weekly allowance, say at
the rate of five dollars a week.

Accordingly Ben began to poke about until he found a folded paper. He
opened it with curiosity and began to read. His interest deepened, and
his excitement increased.

"By Jove," he said, "if this isn't the lost will I've heard so much
talk about. The old lady's kept it mighty quiet. Wouldn't John Oakley
give something to get hold of it?"

Ben sat down to reflect upon the discovery he had made.

"Mother's right to keep it quiet," he said to himself. "She ought to
have destroyed it, and I verily believe she has tried," he continued,
as he noticed the scorched appearance of the will. "I wonder she
didn't."

The next question to consider was, what to do with it. It did not take
long to decide. His mother would be very much frightened, and this
would give him a hold upon her, by which he might induce her to give
him the money he required.

"Yes, I'll keep it," he said.

He put the roll of bills into his pocket-book, carefully deposited the
will in his side-pocket, and, shutting and locking the bureau-drawer,
placed the keys in the same position upon the table in which he had
found them, and then left the room.

"A pretty good day's work!" thought Ben to himself. "I think I'll go
and pay Winchester what money I have, and get him to wait a few days
for the rest."

Ben left the house, and wended his way to the tavern. He found
Winchester in the bar-room, smoking a cigar. He looked up inquiringly
as Ben entered.

"How are you, Winchester?" said Ben.

"All right," said the latter, noticing Ben's changed demeanor, and
auguring favorably from it. "Have a cigar?"

"I don't care if I do," said Ben.

Winchester handed him one, and the two sat down together.

"Oh, about that money," said Ben, after a little pause. "I can let you
have a part of it now, but I shall have to make you wait a few days for
the rest."

"How much can you pay me now?"

"One hundred and twenty dollars," said Ben.

"That's good," said Winchester, with satisfaction. "The fact is, I'm
deuced hard up, and need it."

"I don't want to pay you here," said Ben. "Come out a little way, and
I'll hand it to you."

"All right. I'd like a walk."

The two sauntered forth together, and Ben paid over the money.

"You'll oblige me by not mentioning to anybody that I have paid you any
money," said Ben. "I have a reason for it."

"Of course."

"I can't tell you the reason."

"That's your affair."

"Now about the rest."

"Yes, about the rest."

"I think I can get it for you in a few days."

"I can wait a few days to oblige you, but I must go to the city as soon
as I can get away. So please hurry up."

"I'll do the best I can. This morning," he added, "I didn't see how
I was going to get the money. My mother wouldn't look upon it as we
do, as a debt of honor; but since then I've been lucky enough to get
possession of one of her secrets, and I think it will help me."

"Glad of it," said Winchester, "for your sake. I don't care, of course,
how you get the money, as long as you do get it. That's the main thing,
you know."

"Yes, I see."

"Now what do you say to another little game of billiards?"

"I can't stake any more money. I've lost enough," said Ben, sensibly.

"Then let it be a friendly game--just a little trial of skill, that's
all."

To this Ben was not averse, and the two made their way as so often
before to the billiard saloon.

In the mean time Mrs. Oakley returned home from her afternoon visit.
She had not yet missed her keys, but on going up to her chamber,
discovered them lying upon the table.

"How terribly careless I have been!" she said. "I hope they have not
been seen."

Tolerably sure of this, she opened the upper bureau-drawer, and looked
for the portemonnaie. It was in the same place. She opened it, and
found it empty. Her eyes flashed with indignation.

"Some one has been to the drawer," she said.

She next thought of the will, and felt for it. _It was not there!_
She turned pale, and with nervous fingers took everything out of the
drawer, hoping to find it misplaced. But her search was vain. The will
was not to be found.

She sank back into a chair, and exclaimed with passionate regret:--

"Fool that I was! Why did I not make all sure by burning it?"



CHAPTER XXXII.

MRS. OAKLEY'S SUSPICIONS.


The sudden disappearance of the will struck Mrs. Oakley with dismay. It
threatened her with the loss of two-thirds of her estate. But she was
not a woman to bear it in silence. She possessed a fund of energy, and
lost no time in seeking to determine the important question, "Who had
taken it?"

She descended at once to the kitchen, where she found Hannah setting
the table for supper.

"Hannah," she said, abruptly, "have you been upstairs to my chamber
this afternoon?"

"No, ma'am," said Hannah.

"Think a moment," said her mistress, sternly; "have you not been up?"

"No, ma'am, I haven't. I told you so once," said Hannah, not altogether
pleased with the doubt implied by the second question.

"Has any one called here since I went away?" asked Mrs. Oakley.

"No, ma'am."

"Then there has been no one in the house excepting yourself?"

"No one except Master Ben."

"Ben!" repeated Mrs. Oakley, in a changed voice. "When did Ben come
home?"

"About an hour ago,--maybe an hour and a half," said Hannah.

"He is not here now."

"Isn't he, ma'am? I suppose he went out, but I didn't hear him."

"You are quite sure no one else has been in the house?" inquired her
mistress.

"Certain sure, ma'am."

Mrs. Oakley went upstairs slowly. A new idea had forced its way into
her mind. It must be that Ben had taken both the money and the will.
That he should have taken the first didn't surprise her, for with all
her love for her son, she had small confidence in his honesty. No doubt
he had got into debt, and so was tempted to appropriate the bills. But
why should he have taken the will? That was something she could not
understand. For the money she cared little comparatively. But the loss
of the will was ruin, if John or his friends found it, or, if not, she
would live in perpetual fear of their discovering it.

"If I once get hold of it again," she said to herself, "I will take
care that all danger from that source shall end and forever. Ben will
never divulge its existence, of course. He will understand that it
affects his interests too nearly."

She waited in nervous excitement for Ben's reappearance.

At length his step was heard--never more welcome than now.

Ben entered, feeling rather nervous also.

"Has mother found out?" he thought.

"Good-afternoon, mother," he said, with apparent unconcern. "Is supper
most ready? I'm awful hungry."

"I want to speak to you a moment, Benjamin," said his mother. "Will you
come upstairs?"

"Now for it," thought Ben.

"Can't you speak here just as well?" he said. "I'm tired."

"I would rather have you come upstairs," said Mrs. Oakley.

"Just as you say," said Ben; "but I don't see why you can't talk just
as well down here."

Mrs. Oakley led the way to her own chamber. Ben followed, feeling, it
must be confessed, not altogether comfortable. This feeling was not
diminished when his mother closed the door carefully. She turned and
confronted him.

"You have been to my bureau-drawer, Ben," she said, eying him fixedly.

"I don't know what you mean," said Ben.

"You came home about two hours ago, didn't you?"

"Yes, I came home then," said Ben, knowing that it would be of no use
to deny what could be proved by Hannah's testimony.

"You came up to this chamber, found my keys on the table, and opened
the upper drawer of my bureau."

"Did you see me do it?" asked Ben, feeling confident that he was
accused on suspicion merely.

"No, but--"

"Doesn't Hannah pretend that she saw me?"

"No."

"Lucky for her she doesn't. If she did she'd lie," said Ben, glad to
find out so much.

"Do you mean to deny that you came up here?" asked Mrs. Oakley.

"Yes, I do. It seems to me you're mighty quick in suspecting me,"
continued Ben, with an air of injured innocence. "But what's all the
fuss about? Have you missed anything?"

"Yes," said his mother, "I have met with a serious loss. But, Benjamin,
it is very important that I should clearly understand who did or did
not take it. Will you assure me upon your honor that you did not take
anything from my bureau?"

"Of course I will," said Ben, who felt that he was in for it, and must
stick stoutly to the lie at all hazards. "But you haven't told me what
you lost."

Mrs. Oakley turned pale with consternation. She had depended upon Ben's
proving the real culprit, in which case she could require restitution,
at any rate, of the will.

"I lost a sum of money," she said,--"a hundred and twenty dollars."

"Whew!" said Ben. "That _was_ a loss."

"But that was not all. There was besides a--a document of importance,
for which I cared more than the money."

"I've no doubt of it," thought Ben.

"What was it?" he said aloud.

"What it was is quite immaterial," said Mrs. Oakley. "It is sufficient
to say that it was a document of very great importance. I care little
for the money compared with that. If you took it, Ben," she said, with
a sudden final appeal, "I will forgive you, and let you keep the
money, if you will restore the--the document."

There was a look of entreaty in the proud woman's eyes, as she made
this appeal to her son. She waited anxiously for the answer.

But the inducement was not sufficient. The one hundred and twenty
dollars were already paid away, and Ben owed one hundred and eighty
dollars besides. He knew that Winchester would not remit the debt.
There was no chance whatever of that. So Ben determined to keep the
_rôle_ of injured innocence which he had assumed in the beginning. His
mother would not be able to find him out. It may be thought that this
was inconsistent with his plan of raising money out of his mother's
fears by withholding the will. But he had arranged that already. _He
might find the will_,--perhaps in Hannah's chamber, perhaps elsewhere,
he could decide that hereafter; but he resolved not to own up to the
theft. In fact, after denying it stoutly, it would have been difficult
to do that.

"Look here, mother," he said, "I am not a thief, and I wish you would
not try to make me out one. You're ready enough to suspect me. Why
don't you suspect Hannah? She was here all the time."

"I have already spoken to Hannah," said Mrs. Oakley.

"What did she say?"

"She said she had not been upstairs during my absence."

"And you believed her," said Ben, reproachfully. "Do you believe her
before me?"

"Yes, I believed her," said Mrs. Oakley; "and I will tell you why. She
might take the money, but she wouldn't be likely to take the paper."

"I don't know about that. She might think it was of importance. She
might think you would pay her money to get it back."

Just then it flashed across Mrs. Oakley's mind that Hannah had seen
the will in her hand on the day that she undertook to burn it. Why
had she not thought of that before? It might be that Hannah was more
artful than she gave her credit for, and, suspecting the value of the
document, had taken it as well as the money.

"I will question Hannah again," she said. "Come with me, Benjamin."

They went downstairs together, and Hannah was summoned from the kitchen.

"Hannah," said Mrs. Oakley, "listen attentively to me."

"Certainly, ma'am," said Hannah, wondering what was coming.

"Something was taken from my drawer this afternoon, Hannah,--some money
and something else. Do you know anything about it?"

"Sure I don't, ma'am. I told you once before."

"If you took it, and will tell me, and restore everything, I will
forgive you, and let you keep ten dollars of the money besides."

"But I didn't take it, ma'am," said poor Hannah, earnestly.

"If you don't," said Mrs. Oakley, sternly, "I will send for the
constable, and have you arrested at once and carried to prison."

Hannah burst into a piteous howl, and declared that she never stole so
much as a pin, and called the Virgin and all the saints to witness that
she was innocent.

"Give up the paper you took," said Mrs. Oakley, "and you may keep
twenty dollars of the money."

But Hannah again declared that she took nothing.

"Stop a minute," said Ben; "maybe we're all wrong. When I went out of
the house I saw a very suspicious-looking man coming this way."

"What was his appearance?"

"He had black hair and whiskers," said Ben, glibly, "and was meanly
dressed."

"Was he coming towards the house?"

"Yes."

"Did such a person come to the house, Hannah?"

"I didn't see him; but he might have come to the wing door without me
knowing it."

"I'll bet ten dollars he was the thief," said Ben.

Mrs. Oakley did not know what to say or think. Both Ben and Hannah
stoutly denied the theft, and resisted the most liberal overtures to a
confession. It might be the ill-looking man spoken of.

"What'll you give me if I find the paper, mother?" asked Ben. "I'll get
on the track of the scamp, and get it if I can."

"I'll give fifty dollars," said his mother.

"But you offered a hundred a little while ago."

"I'll give you a hundred and twenty then."

"Promise me two hundred cash down, and I'll do my best."

"I'll give you two hundred dollars when you place the paper in my
hands."

"All right," said Ben. "If I can find the man, I'll offer him a little
something to begin with. It won't be of any use to him, you know."

They sat down to supper. Ben partook heartily, feeling that he had as
good as got the two hundred dollars, while Mrs. Oakley was pale and
nervous, and had no appetite. How differently she would have felt if
she had only known that the lost will was all the while laid snugly
away in Ben's coat-pocket!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

A STRANGE METAMORPHOSIS.


Ben decided not to produce the will too soon. It would look suspicious.
Besides, the longer it remained missing, the more rejoiced his mother
would be to recover it, and so naturally the more ready to pay the
reward she had promised. The afternoon of the next day he thought would
be quite soon enough to "find" it.

Meanwhile the next morning Ben strolled over to the tavern, thinking
he might find Winchester. But that young man had gone out on a fishing
excursion, and had left word to that effect with the landlord.

So Ben strolled down to the river. It was a delightful day, and the
desire seized him to "go in swimming." Though he cared little for other
athletic exercises, he was fond of swimming, and was quite a fair
swimmer.

Now, as Ben's ill luck would have it, Sam Selwyn chanced to be in the
woods quite near by, and saw Ben undress and go into the water. He
was not fond of Ben, and he was fond of a practical joke. Besides, he
had been for some time wanting to pay off Ben for the share he had in
making John's life uncomfortable. A plan suggested itself to him.

"I'll do it!" he exclaimed, his eyes twinkling with merriment.

He ran home,--it was but a few steps across lots,--dashed upstairs,
and from an upper room took a faded calico dress and hoop-skirt, and,
rolling them up, made his way swiftly back to the river. The river's
edge was heavily wooded, and running vines and thick underbrush almost
completely concealed the water from the sight. He went to the place
where Ben had deposited his clothes, took away his coat, vest, and
pantaloons, put the gown and hoop-skirt in their place, and quickly
departed. Ben's clothes he hid away in the hollow trunk of an old tree
not more than two rods distant. But in doing so a folded paper slipped
out of the coat-pocket. Sam's attention was drawn towards it, for it
looked like the legal papers of which his father had so many in his
office. Opening it under an impulse of curiosity, his face instantly
glowed with an expression of the most earnest and enthusiastic joy.

"By all my lucky stars!" he exclaimed; "if this isn't the lost will!
This will set John all right. I wonder how that scamp got hold of it!"

Sam put the will in his own inside coat-pocket, and buttoned up his
coat to make sure that it was safe. He wanted to go at once and
communicate the joyful discovery to his father, but he also wanted to
enjoy Ben's dismay when he found his clothes gone. This he could not
forego on any account, and that he might be an unseen witness of all
that occurred, he climbed up a large tree whose thick-leaved branches
hid him completely.

Hardly had he concealed himself before Ben emerged from the water.
He at once proceeded to the spot where he had left his clothing. In
ludicrous perplexity he gazed at the remarkable change which had taken
place. He lifted the gown and skirt, and found that his shirt, collar,
hat, stockings, and shoes were untouched.

He put on his shirt and stockings, and called out, angrily, thinking
the author of the trick might be within hearing:--

"I say, bring back my clothes!"

But no reply was made.

"Bring back my clothes, I say!" he called, in louder and more angry
accents.

But again this reasonable request fell unheeded. He waited anxiously
for a response, but none came.

"Where are you, you scoundrel?" he screamed, in very ill temper.

"Don't you wish you knew?" thought Sam, as he looked calmly down from a
distance upon Ben.

"Perhaps the scamp has hid my clothes somewhere about here," thought
Ben.

He proceeded to search in every direction he could think of. But the
hollow tree, rather strangely, did not occur to him and escaped his
notice.

His anger and dismay increased as he found his search vain.

"I wish I had the mean, contemptible rascal here!" he exclaimed. "I'd
break every bone in his body!"

"I don't know about that, Ben Brayton," silently commented Sam, from
his secure post of observation.

"What shall I do?" thought Ben, gloomily.

He sat down to consider. His situation was certainly an embarrassing
one. Of course he could not go home in his shirt, and the only
alternative was to wear the odious gown. It was hard to make up his
mind to that. He preferred to wait awhile to see if help would not come
from some quarter. Sam began to get tired in his perch.

"Why don't the fellow dress and go home?" he muttered.

At length Ben made up his mind that it must be done, and, with a hearty
anathema on the author of his perplexity, robed himself in the dress.
Sam nearly exploded with laughter as he saw Ben arrayed in the gown,
which fell lank around him. Ben gazed ruefully at his extraordinary
figure, and then at the hoop-skirt. He concluded that he would not look
quite so badly with that addition. He therefore fitted it on as well
as he could, and adjusted his dress by the help of some pins which he
found sticking in the dress.

"I wish I had a hood or something to hide my face," muttered Ben,
dismally. "I might pass for a girl then. Now folks will stare at me as
if I was mad, and if any one sees me I shall never hear the last of it."

Certainly Ben's black felt hat did not look much in keeping with the
faded calico dress, now properly filled out by the hoop-skirt, which
swayed from side to side as he walked.

"Oh, it's too rich!" thought Sam, almost choking with suppressed
laughter. "What a sensation he will make in the village!"

Just then Ben's foot got caught somehow, and he fell sprawling. He
gathered himself up with furious energy, and did not observe that
there was a conspicuous stain of mud on his dress. He took a roundabout
way, so as to remain under cover of the woods as long as he could.

[Illustration]

"I must meet Ben, and enjoy his discomfort," thought Sam.

He scrambled down from the tree, and cautiously made a short cut for
the road, unseen by Ben. He posted himself at a place where Ben must
emerge. He walked along, apparently absorbed in thought, till he came
face to face with Ben, who, very much ashamed of his appearance, was
walking as fast as his embarrassing clothing would allow.

"Good gracious, Ben Brayton!" he exclaimed, in affected amazement.
"Why, what possesses you to go round in this style?"

"No choice of mine. I couldn't help it," said Ben, ruefully. "I went in
swimming. Some scamp stole my clothes, and left these traps in their
place."

"Well, upon my word, Ben, really you do cut the queerest figure I ever
saw!" said Sam, giving vent to his pent-up mirth.

"I don't see anything to laugh at," said Ben, in a most aggrieved tone.

"You would if you could only see yourself," said Sam,--and he burst out
with laughter again.

"Do you mean to insult me?" said Ben, wrathfully.

"Excuse me, Ben; but really I can't help it. See, there's Miss Clark
coming. If she don't laugh I'll forfeit a dollar."

Miss Clark was one of the prettiest young ladies in the village, and to
be seen by her was most humiliating. But there was no dodging it. She
met Ben face to face, and, as might be expected, was moved to merriment.

"Good-morning, Miss Clark," said Ben, sheepishly.

The young lady tried to say good-morning, but only burst into a fresh
fit of mirth as she passed along, Sam joining her a few moments
afterwards.

Ben walked on very much discomposed. He was still half a mile from
home, and it was very probable that he would meet others.

"I'd give fifty dollars to be safe at home," he groaned.

He had reason to say so. Just then the scholars in the village school
were sent out to their morning recess. They espied the strange figure,
and instantly, boy-like, started in pursuit.

"Keep your distance!" said Ben, furiously, to his young tormentors.

"Oh my! what a fine young lady I am!" said one.

"How _do you do_ this morning, _Miss_ Brayton?" said another.

"What a _becoming_ dress!" commented another, with much admiration.

Ben tried to give chase to his tormentors, but, as might have been
expected, not being accustomed to his attire, tripped, and fell
headlong.

Then a shout, long and loud, went up from the boys.

Ben could not stand it. He gathered up his skirts, and ran towards home
with all the expedition he was capable of. The old doctor met him,
and gazed in wonder at the flying figure, not recognizing Ben in his
new costume. He began to speculate whether it might not be an insane
person, who had broken from his or her confinement.

Panting for breath, Ben at length brought up at his own door. It was
locked, Mrs. Oakley having followed the old adage of "shutting the
stable-door after the horse is stolen." Ben rang a tremendous peal at
the door-bell, which was quickly answered by Hannah.

When she saw the strange figure before her, she uttered a loud shriek,
and fled with precipitation.

Mrs. Oakley heard the bell and Hannah's shriek, and came hastily to the
head of the stairs.

"What does this ridiculous masquerading mean?" she demanded, sternly.

"It means that I went in swimming, and some rascal stole my clothes and
left these," growled Ben, provoked that he should be blamed for his
misfortune.

Then, for the first time, flashed upon Ben the crowning
misfortune,--that the lost will was in his coat-pocket. Upon the
recovery of that depended his chance of getting the two hundred
dollars. He sank into a chair, pale with dismay.

"Are you sick, Ben?" asked his mother, hastily.

"No," he said; "but I must dress as quick as possible, and go back and
find my clothes if I can."

He dressed in nervous haste, and set out for the woods. This time he
espied the hollow tree. There he found his clothes. He felt in the
pockets, and found that everything was safe, including his watch and
pocket-book.

But the will was gone! Ben instituted a strict and careful search
in every conceivable direction, but he found no trace of the lost
document.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONCLUSION.


A letter was at once despatched to John, from Squire Selwyn, requesting
his immediate return to Hampton.

Though no reason was assigned for the summons, John of course lost no
time in obeying it. On the third day he was set down at the lawyer's
house.

"O John, how glad I am to see you!" said Sam, in his delight flinging
both arms around John's neck, and giving him a warm embrace.

John's greeting was no less hearty.

"Such news, John!" said Sam.

"It isn't the will?" inquired John, eagerly.

"But it is, though."

"Found?"

"Yes, and I found it. Didn't I tell you so! Don't you remember my
dream?"

"But perhaps it's all a dream now."

"Well, if it is, it's a substantial dream, and father's got the
document locked up in his safe. You're no longer dependent on Mrs.
Oakley, and you can go to college with me, and--you don't know how glad
I am."

"Yes, I do, Sam," said John. "You're just as glad as if it had happened
to yourself, and that's what I expected of you. But you haven't told me
how it was found yet."

"Oh, it was such fun!" said Sam. "Sit down here, and I'll tell you all
about it."

It need hardly be said that John was amused by the story of Ben's
ludicrous embarrassment; but he was surprised as well.

"How could Ben have got hold of it? I don't understand that."

"Nor I," said Sam. "But as long as we've got it, we won't trouble
ourselves about that."

It was decided that the next morning Squire Selwyn, accompanied by
John, should call on Mrs. Oakley, and make arrangements founded on the
new phase of affairs.

Mrs. Oakley had not received intelligence of John's return, and her
surprise was accompanied by a nervous sensation, when Hannah came up
to her chamber, and announced that Squire Selwyn was below, and Master
John was with him.

"John Oakley?" she demanded, hastily.

"Yes, ma'am."

Mrs. Oakley entered the parlor with her old haughty step, and coldly
bade the lawyer "good-morning." Of John she took no notice.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Oakley," said John.

"So you have got back, have you?" she said.

"Yes, he has got home to stay," said Squire Selwyn, significantly.

"With or without my permission, I suppose," said Mrs. Oakley.

"I don't know that he needs anybody's permission to live in his own
house," said the lawyer.

"His own house!" repeated Mrs. Oakley, in a voice which, despite her
efforts, betrayed some nervousness.

"Yes, Mrs. Oakley. My object in calling upon you this morning is to
apprise you that the will is found."

"What will?" she demanded.

"Your late husband's last will and testament, in which he bequeaths
this estate to his son John, here present."

"Where's the will?"

"Here," said the lawyer, producing it.

"Will you let me see it?"

"Excuse me, but it must remain in my possession till it is publicly
read."

"What reason have I for believing this to be a genuine document?" said
Mrs. Oakley, harshly. It was foolish thus to contend, and she knew
it; but it angered her that by the document she should be stripped of
two-thirds of what she had come to look upon as her own.

"I am prepared to swear that it is the will which I drew up for your
husband three months before his death."

"I suppose I am not to ask how it came into your possession?" said Mrs.
Oakley. "If it was concealed in this house, some one must have entered
illegally, and made a secret search."

Mrs. Oakley fixed her eyes upon John, feeling satisfied that he had
entered the house on the day she left her keys out, and opened the
drawer.

"If you think I had anything to do with it, Mrs. Oakley," said John,
"you are mistaken. I only reached Hampton last evening, summoned by
Squire Selwyn."

"I accused you of nothing," said Mrs. Oakley, but she was greatly
surprised.

"As to who found the will, Mrs. Oakley," said Squire Selwyn,
composedly, "I will only suggest that your son Benjamin can probably
throw more light on this matter than any one else."

"Benjamin!" exclaimed Mrs. Oakley, quickly.

"Yes, I have reason to think he can give you all the information you
desire."

Mrs. Oakley compressed her lips closely. Was it possible that Ben had
found the will and deliberately carried it to Squire Selwyn? Could he
have sold her and his own interests to the enemy? No doubt she argued,
Squire Selwyn had bribed him at a heavy price to deliver it up.

"I don't understand this," she said. "If Benjamin found the will, he
should have brought it to me."

"As, of course, you would have placed it in my hands, there is no harm
done," said the lawyer, watching keenly the face that showed some
discomposure as he spoke. "But you can settle that with Ben. I will
merely read you the provisions of the will informally, previous to
presenting it for probate."

To this Mrs. Oakley could make no objection, though she was fully
acquainted with the document to be read.

It provided that the home estate, consisting of the family mansion,
and lands situated in the town of Hampton, valued together at twenty
thousand dollars, should go to John. Of the remaining estate, invested
in stocks and bonds, valued at forty thousand dollars, one half was
to go to John, and the remaining half to Mrs. Oakley. Squire Selwyn
was appointed executor, and guardian of John, until the latter should
attain his majority.

"If the will is genuine,"--commenced Mrs. Oakley,--

"You certainly do not question my word to that effect?" said the
lawyer, gravely.

"I have no right to stay in this house," continued Mrs. Oakley.

"I am quite sure John would wish you to exercise your own choice in
that matter."

"I shall not remain a tenant on sufferance," said Mrs. Oakley, coldly.
"Next week Benjamin and I go to the city."

"You will act your own pleasure, of course," said Squire Selwyn, rather
glad to hear it, if the truth must be told.

Some other matters were discussed and they rose to go. John received no
invitation to remain.

"I am afraid I must burden your hospitality, Squire Selwyn," he said,
as they left the house.

"You are a welcome guest, and will always be, John," said the lawyer.
"Sam will be delighted at the arrangement."

"I don't know how my aunt will manage without me," said John. "I was
her business manager."

"It seems to me, John, that your aunt had better sell out her store,
and come and keep house for you. You will have a large house, and you
are not quite old enough to marry and go to house-keeping."

"Not quite," said John, laughing.

"Your aunt will thus be relieved from business anxieties, and you are
quite rich enough to provide for her and your cousins."

"It is an excellent arrangement," said John. "I'll write to her at
once."

John did write, and, as might have been expected his aunt was very
glad to accept his offer. It was, of course, impossible to doubt the
validity of the will, and its provisions were, as soon as practicable,
carried into effect. Mrs. Oakley removed to New York with Ben, and
established herself at a boarding-house. On some accounts it was an
unwise step. Ben, having nothing useful to do, grew dissipated, and
contracted debts on all hands. In five years his mother's twenty
thousand dollars had dwindled to a few hundreds, and once more she
found herself obliged to exert herself for a support. She opened a
boarding-house, by means of which she managed to make a living. As for
Ben, who she fondly hoped would grow up a gentleman, he appears to be
sinking deeper and deeper every day into worthlessness and dissipation.
He has cost his mother many sorrowful hours.

Mr. Huxter is dead. Probably his excesses in drinking hastened his
death. His poor wife was left quite destitute. When John heard of her
distress, grateful for her sympathy at a time when he stood in need of
it, he asked permission to help her. A certain sum is paid her annually
by him, by which, with her earnings as a dress-maker,--a trade which
she followed before her marriage,--she is able to make a comfortable
living for herself and her children.

John returned to his studies, and was admitted to college with Sam,
where both took a high rank. They graduated at the last commencement,
and are now both studying law.

Squire Bradley, of Wilton, who was much impressed by the skill with
which John ferreted out Mr. Hall's rascality, is anxious to have John
enter his office; but Sam, who is unwilling to part with one who from
boyhood has been his most intimate friend, insists that John shall
enter his father's office with him, after completing a course at a
celebrated Law School where they now are. Probably this arrangement
will best suit John. I have no hesitation in predicting for him a noble
manhood and an honorable career. In spite of the gifts of Fortune that
he possesses, I consider his warm and generous heart, his personal
integrity, and his manly character, to be JOHN OAKLEY'S MOST VALUABLE
INHERITANCE.



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Obvious printer errors have been corrected. Otherwise, the author's
original spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been left intact.





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