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For three months Frank passed a quiet and not unpleasant life with the old naturalist in Ratcliff Highway. The latter took a great liking to him, and treated him like a son rather than an assistant. The two took their meals together now, and Frank's salary had been raised from twelve to eighteen shillings a week. So attractive had the cases in the windows proved that quite a little crowd was generally collected round them, and the business had greatly augmented. The old naturalist was less pleased at this change than most men would have been in his position. He had got into a groove and did not care to get out of it. He had no relatives or any one dependent on him, and he had been well content to go on in a jog trot way, just paying his expenses of shop and living. The extra bustle and push worried rather than pleased him.
"I am an old man," he said to Frank one day, as after the shop was closed they sat over their tea. "I have no motive in laying by money, and had enough for my wants. I was influenced more by my liking for your face and my appreciation of your talent, than by any desire of increasing my business. I am taking now three times as much as I did before. Now I should not mind, indeed, I should be glad, if I thought that you would succeed me here as a son would do. I would gladly take you into partnership with me, and you would have the whole business after my death. But I know, my boy, that it wouldn't do. I know that the time will come when you will not be content with so dull a life here. You will either get an offer from some West End house which would open higher prospects to you, or you will be wandering away as a collector. In any case you would not stop here, of that I am quite sure, and therefore do not care, as I should have done, had you been my son, for the increase of the business. As it is, lad, I could not even wish to see you waste your life here."
Frank, after he was once fairly settled at his new work, had written to his friend the doctor, at Deal, telling him of the position he had taken, and that he was in a fair way to make at least a comfortable living, and that at a pursuit of which he was passionately fond. He asked him, however, while writing to him from time to time to give him news of his sister, not to tell any one his address, as although he was not ashamed of his berth, still he would rather that, until he had made another step up in life, his old schoolfellows should not know of his whereabouts. He had also written to his friend Ruthven a bright chatty letter, telling him somewhat of his adventures in London and the loss of his money, and saying that he had now got employment at a naturalist's, with every chance of making his way.
"When I mount a bit higher," he concluded, "I shall be awfully glad to see you again, and will let you know what my address may then be. For the present I had rather keep it dark. If you will write to me, addressed to the General Post Office, telling me all about yourself and the fellows at school, I shall be very, very glad to get your letter. I suppose you will be breaking up for Christmas in a few days."
Christmas came and went. It was signalized to Frank only by the despatch of a pretty present to Lucy, and the receipt of a letter from her written in a round childish hand. A week afterwards he heard somebody come into the shop. His employer was out, and he therefore went into the shop.
"I knew it was!" shouted a voice. "My dear old Frank, how are you?" and his hand was warmly clasped in that of Ruthven.
"My dear Ruthven," was all Frank could say.
"I had intended," Ruthven exclaimed, "to punch your head directly I found you; but I am too glad to do it, though you deserve it fifty times over. What a fellow you are! I wouldn't have believed it of you, running away in that secret sort of way and letting none of us know anything about you. Wasn't I angry, and sorry too, when I got the letter you wrote me from Deal! When I went back to school and found that not even Dr. Parker, not even your sister, knew where you were, I was mad. So were all the other fellows. However, I said I would find you wherever you had hidden yourself."
"But how did you find me?" Frank asked greatly moved at the warmth of his schoolfellow's greeting.
"Oh! it wasn't so very difficult to find you when once I got your letter saying what you were doing. The very day I came up to town I began to hunt about. I found from the Directory there were not such a great number of shops where they stuffed birds and that sort of thing. I tried the places in Bond Street, and Piccadilly, and Wigmore Street, and so on to begin with. Then I began to work east, and directly I saw the things in the window here I felt sure I had found you at last. You tiresome fellow! Here I have wasted nearly half my holidays looking for you."
"I am so sorry, Ruthven."
"Sorry! you ought to be more than sorry. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, downright ashamed. But, there, I won't say any more now. Now, can't you come out with me?"
"No, I can't come out now, Ruthven; but come into this room with me."
There for the next hour they chatted, Frank giving a full account of all he had gone through since he came up to town, while Ruthven gave him the gossip of the half year at school.
"Well," Ruthven said at last, "this old Horton of yours must be a brick. Still, you know, you can't stop here all your life. You must come and talk it over with my governor."
"Oh, no, indeed, Ruthven! I am getting on very well here, and am very contented with my lot, and I could not think of troubling your father in the matter."
"Well, you will trouble him a great deal," Ruthven said, "if you don't come, for you will trouble him to come all the way down here. He was quite worried when he first heard of your disappearance, and has been almost as excited as I have over the search for you.
"You are really a foolish fellow, Frank," he went on more seriously; "I really didn't think it of you. Here you save the lives of four or five fellows and put all their friends under a tremendous obligation, and then you run away and hide yourself as if you were ashamed. I tell you you can't do it. A fellow has no more right to get rid of obligations than he has to run away without paying his debts. It would be a burden on your mind if you had a heavy debt you couldn't pay, and you would have a right to be angry if, when you were perfectly able to pay, your creditor refused to take the money. That's just the position in which you've placed my father. Well, anyhow, you've got to come and see him, or he's got to come and see you. I know he has something in his mind's eye which will just suit you, though he did not tell me what it was. For the last day or two he has been particularly anxious about finding you. Only yesterday when I came back and reported that I had been to half a dozen places without success, he said, 'Confound the young rascal, where can he be hiding? Here are the days slipping by and it will be too late. If you don't find him in a day or two, Dick, I will set the police after him--say he has committed a murder or broken into a bank and offer a reward for his apprehension.' So you must either come home with me this afternoon, or you will be having my father down here tonight."
"Of course, Ruthven," Frank said, "I would not put your father to such trouble. He is very kind to have taken so much interest in me, only I hate--"
"Oh, nonsense! I hate to see such beastly stuck up pride, putting your own dignity above the affection of your friends; for that's really what it comes to, old boy, if you look it fairly in the face."
Frank flushed a little and was silent for a minute or two.
"I suppose you are right, Ruthven; but it is a little hard for a fellow--"
"Oh, no, it isn't," Ruthven said. "If you'd got into a scrape from some fault of your own one could understand it, although even then there would be no reason for you to cut your old friends till they cut you. Young Goodall, who lives over at Bayswater, has been over four or five times to ask me if I have succeeded in finding you, and I have had letters from Handcock, and Childers, and Jackson. Just as if a fellow had got nothing to do but to write letters. How long will you be before you can come out?"
"There is Mr. Horton just come in," Frank said. "I have no doubt he will let me go at once."
The old naturalist at once assented upon Frank's telling him that a friend had come who wished him to go out.
"Certainly, my dear boy. Why, working the hours and hours of overtime that you do, of course you can take a holiday whenever you're disposed."
"He will not be back till late," Ruthven said as they went out. "I shall keep him all the evening."
"Oh, indeed, Ruthven, I have no clothes!"
"Clothes be bothered," Ruthven said. "I certainly shall end by punching your head, Frank, before the day's out."
Frank remonstrated no more, but committed himself entirely to his friend's guidance. At the Mansion House they mounted on the roof of an omnibus going west, and at Knightsbridge got off and walked to Eaton Square, where Ruthven's father resided. The latter was out, so Frank accompanied his friend to what he called his sanctum, a small room littered up with books, bats, insect boxes, and a great variety of rubbish of all kinds. Here they chatted until the servant came up and said that Sir James had returned.
"Come on, Frank," Ruthven said, running downstairs. "There's nothing of the ogre about the governor."
They entered the study, and Ruthven introduced his friend.
"I've caught him, father, at last. This is the culprit."
Sir James Ruthven was a pleasant looking man, with a kindly face.
"Well, you troublesome boy," he said, holding out his hand, "where have you been hiding all this time?"
"I don't know that I've been hiding, sir," Frank said.
"Not exactly hiding," Sir James smiled, "only keeping away from those who wanted to find you. Well, and how are you getting on?"
"I am getting on very well, sir. I am earning eighteen shillings a week and my board and lodging, and my employer says he will take me into partnership as soon as I come of age."
"Ah, indeed!" Sir James said. "I am glad to hear that, as it shows you must be clever and industrious."
"Yes, father, and the place was full of the most lovely cases of things Frank had stuffed. There was quite a crowd looking in at the window."
"That is very satisfactory. Now, Frank, do you sit down and write a note to your employer, asking him to send down half a dozen of the best cases. I want to show them to a gentleman who will dine with me here today, and who is greatly interested in such matters. When you have written the note I will send a servant off at once in a cab to fetch them."
"And, father," Dick continued, "if you don't mind, might Frank and I have our dinner quietly together in my room? You've got a dinner party on, and Frank won't enjoy it half as much as he would dining quietly with me."
"By all means," Sir James said. "But mind he is not to run away without seeing me.
"You are a foolish lad," he went on in a kind voice to Frank; "and it was wrong as well as foolish to hide yourself from your friends. However independent we may be in this world, all must, to a certain extent, rely upon others. There is scarcely a man who can stand aloof from the rest and say, 'I want nothing of you.' I can understand your feeling in shrinking from asking a favor of me, or of the fathers of the other boys who are, like myself, deeply indebted to you for the great service you have rendered their sons. I can admire the feeling if not carried too far; but you should have let your schoolfellows know exactly how you were placed, and so have given us the opportunity of repaying the obligation if we were disposed, not to have run away and hidden yourself from us."
"I am sorry, sir," Frank said simply. "I did not like to seem to trade upon the slight service I rendered some of my schoolfellows. Dr. Bateman told me I was wrong, but I did not see it then. Now I think, perhaps he was right, although I am afraid that if it happened again I should do the same."
Sir James smiled.
"I fear you are a stiff necked one, Master Frank. However, I will not scold you any further. Now, what will you do with yourselves till dinner time?"
"Oh, we'll just sit and chat, father. We have got lots more things to tell each other."
The afternoon passed in pleasant talk. Frank learned that Ruthven had now left Dr. Parker's for good, and that he was going down after the holidays to a clergyman who prepared six or eight boys for the army. Before dinner the footman returned with half a dozen of the best cases from the shop, which were brought up to Dick's room, and the latter was delighted with them. They greatly enjoyed their dinner together. At nine o'clock a servant came up and took down the cases. Five minutes later he returned again with a message, saying that Sir James wished Mr. Richard and his friend to go down into the dining room. Frank was not shy, but he felt it rather a trial when he entered the room, where seven or eight gentlemen were sitting round the table, the ladies having already withdrawn. The gentlemen were engaged in examining and admiring the cases of stuffed birds and animals.
"This is my young friend," Sir James said, "of whom I have been speaking to you, and whose work you are all admiring. This, Frank, is Mr. Goodenough, the traveler and naturalist, of whom you may have heard."
"Yes, indeed," Frank said, looking at the gentleman indicated. "I have Mr. Goodenough's book on The Passerine Family at home."
"It is rather an expensive book too," the gentleman said.
"Yes, sir. My father bought it, not I. He was very fond of natural history and taught me all I know. He had a capital library of books on the subject, which Dr. Bateman is keeping for me, at Deal, till I have some place where I can put them. I was thinking of getting them up soon."
Mr. Goodenough asked him a few questions as to the books in the library, and then put him through what Frank felt was a sort of examination, as to his knowledge of their contents.
"Very good indeed!" Mr. Goodenough said. "I can see from your work here that you are not only a very clever preparer, but a close student of the habits and ways of wild creatures. But I was hardly prepared to find your scientific knowledge so accurate and extensive. I was at first rather inclined to hesitate when Sir James Ruthven made me a proposal just now. I do so no longer. I am on the point of starting on an expedition into the center of Africa in search of specimens of natural history. He has proposed that you should accompany me, and has offered to defray the cost of your outfit, and of your passage out and home. I may be away for two years. Of course you would act as my assistant, and have every opportunity of acquiring such knowledge as I possess. It will be no pleasure trip, you know, but hard work, with all sorts of hardships and, perhaps, some dangers. At the same time it would be a fine opening in a career as a naturalist. Well, what do you say?"
"Oh, sir!" Frank exclaimed, clasping his hands, "it is of all things in the world what I should like most. How can I thank you enough? And you, Sir James, it is indeed kind and thoughtful of you."
"We are not quits yet by any means, Frank," Sir James said kindly. "I am glad indeed to be able to forward your wishes; and now you must go upstairs and be introduced to my wife. She is most anxious to see you. She only returned home just before dinner."
Frank was taken upstairs, where he and his cases of birds were made much of by Lady Ruthven and the ladies assembled in the drawing room. He himself was so filled with delight at the prospect opened to him that all thought of his dark tweed suit being out of place among the evening dresses of the ladies and gentlemen, which had troubled him while he was awaiting the summons to the dining room, quite passed out of his mind, and he was able to do the honors of his cases naturally and without embarrassment. At eleven o'clock he took his leave, promising to call upon Mr. Goodenough, who was in lodgings in Jermyn Street, upon the following morning, that gentleman having at Sir James' request undertaken to procure all the necessary outfit.
"I feel really obliged to you, Sir James," Mr. Goodenough said when Frank had left. "The lad has a genius for natural history, and he is modest and self possessed. From what you tell me he has done rather than apply for assistance to anyone, he must have plenty of pluck and resolution, and will make a capital traveling companion. I feel quite relieved, for it is so difficult to procure a companion who will exactly suit. Clever naturalists are rare, and one can never tell how one will get on with a man when you are thrown together. He may want to have his own way, may be irritable and bad tempered, may in many respects be a disagreeable companion. With that lad I feel sure of my ground. We shall get on capitally together."
On his return to the shop Frank told his employer, whom he found sitting up for him, the change which had taken place in his life, and the opening which presented itself.
Mr. Horton expressed himself as sincerely glad.
"I shall miss you sadly," he said, "shall feel very dull for a time in my solitary house here; but it is better for you that you should go, and I never expected to keep you long. You were made for better things than this shop, and I have no doubt that a brilliant career will be open before you. You may not become a rich man, for natural history is scarcely a lucrative profession, but you may become a famous one. Now, my lad, go off to bed and dream of your future."
The next morning Frank went over, the first thing after breakfast, to see his friend the porter. He, too, was very pleased to hear of Frank's good fortune, but he was too busy to talk much to him, and promised that he would come over that evening and hear all about it. Then Frank took his way to Jermyn Street, and went with Mr. Goodenough to Silver's, where an outfit suited for the climate of Central Africa was ordered. The clothes were simple. Shirts made of thin soft flannel, knickerbockers and Norfolk jackets of tough New Zealand flax, with gaiters of the same material.
"There is nothing like it," Mr. Goodenough said; "it is the only stuff which has a chance with the thorns of an African forest. Now you will want a revolver, a Winchester repeating carbine, and a shotgun. My outfit of boxes and cases is ready, so beyond two or three extra nets and collecting boxes there is nothing farther to do in that way. For your head you'd better have a very soft felt hat with a wide brim; with a leaf or two inside they are as cool as anything, and are far lighter and more comfortable than the helmets which many people use in the tropics."
"As far as shooting goes," Frank said, "I think that I shall do much better with my blowgun than with a regular one. I can hit a small bird sitting nineteen times out of twenty."
"That is a good thing," Mr. Goodenough answered. "For shooting sitting there is nothing better than a blowgun in skillful hands. They have the advantage too of not breaking the skin; but for flying a shotgun is infinitely more accurate. You will have little difficulty in learning to shoot well, as your eye is already trained by the use of your blowpipe. Will you want any knives for skinning?"
"No, sir. I have a plentiful stock of them."
"Are you going back to Eaton Square? I heard Sir James ask you to stop there until we start."
"No," Frank replied; "I asked his permission to stay where I am till tomorrow. I did not like to seem in a hurry to run away from Mr. Horton, who has been extremely kind to me."
"Mind, you must come here in three days to have your things tried on," Mr. Goodenough said. "I particularly ordered that they are to be made easy and comfortable, larger, indeed, than you absolutely require, but we must allow for growing, and two years may make a difference of some inches to you. Now, we have only to go to a bootmaker's and then we have done."
When the orders were completed they separated, as Mr. Goodenough was going down that afternoon to the country, and was not to return until the day preceding that on which they were to sail. That evening Frank had a long chat with his two friends, and was much pleased when the old naturalist, who had taken a great fancy to the honest porter, offered him the use of a room at his house, saying that he should be more than paid by the pleasure of his company of an evening. The offer was accepted, and Frank was glad to think that his two friends would be sitting smoking their pipes together of an evening instead of being in their solitary rooms. The next day he took up his residence in Eaton square.
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