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"By no means," said Mr. Wharton, as the housekeeper was about to withdraw; "don't imagine you are intruding. Come in and sit down."
"Thank you, sir," said Mrs. Bradley, in a measured tone. "You are very considerate, I am sure, but if you'll excuse me, I won't come in this evening."
"Mrs. Bradley has been with me a good many years," explained Mr. Wharton, "and I dare say she feels a little disturbed at seeing another occupy her place, even in a duty like this."
"I am afraid she will be offended with me, sir," said Frank.
"Oh, no; I will explain matters to her. Go on with your reading, Frank."
At half-past nine, Mr. Wharton took out his watch.
"It is getting late," he said. "I have no doubt you are tired and need rest."
"I am not tired, sir."
"I believe in going to bed early. I shall seldom keep you later than this. Do you think you can find your way out?"
"Yes, sir. When shall I come to-morrow evening?"
"A little before eight."
"I will be punctual."
Jasper was waiting for him, not wholly without anxiety, for it was very unusual for Frank to be late.
"Well, Frank!" he exclaimed; "this is a pretty time for you to come home. I began to think you had got into trouble. I was just going around to the nearest station house in search of you."
"I was in quite a different place, Jasper."
Frank told his story, including an account of his engagement.
"So it seems I am to lose your company in the evening. I am sorry for that, but I am glad you are so lucky."
"It was better than I expected," said Frank, with satisfaction.
"What sort of a man is this Mr. Wharton?" said Jasper.
"He is very kind and generous. I am lucky to have so good a friend. There's only one thing that is likely to be disagreeable."
"The housekeeper--her name is Mrs. Bradley-- for some reason or other she doesn't want me there."
"What makes you think so?"
"Her manner, and the way she speaks. She came in to read to Mr. Wharton last evening, and didn't seem to like it because I had been taken in her place."
"She is evidently jealous. You must take care not to offend her. She might endeavor to have you dismissed."
"I shall always treat her politely, but I don't think I can ever like her."
Meanwhile, the housekeeper, on leaving the library, had gone to her own room in dudgeon.
"Mr. Wharton's a fool!" she muttered to herself.
"What possessed him to take this cash-boy from the streets, invite him to dinner, and treat him as an honored guest, and finally to engage him as a reader? I never heard of anything so ridiculous! Is this little vagabond to take my place in the old man's good graces? I've been slaving and slaving for twenty years, and what have I got by it? I've laid up two thousand dollars; and what is that to provide for my old age? If the old man would die, and remember me handsomely in his will, it would be worth while; but this new favorite may stand in my way. If he does I'll be revenged on him as sure as my name is Ulrica Bradley."
Here the area bell rang, and in a moment one of the housemaids entered Mrs. Bradley's room.
"There's your nephew outside, ma'am, and wanting to see you."
"Tell him to come in," and the housekeeper's cold face became softer and pleasanter in aspect as a young man of twenty entered and greeted her carelessly.
"How are you, aunt?"
"Pretty well, Thomas," she answered. "You haven't been here for some time."
"No. I've had a lot of work to do. Nothing but work, work, all the time," he grumbled. "I wish I was rich."
"You get through at six o'clock, don't you?"
"I hope you spend your evenings profitably, Thomas?"
"I ain't likely to go on any sprees, aunt, if that's what you mean. I only get twelve dollars a week."
"I should think you might live on it."
"Starve, you mean. What's twelve dollars to a young fellow like me when he's got his board to pay, and has to dress like a gentleman?"
"You are not in debt, I hope, Thomas?" said Mrs. Bradley, uneasily.
"I owe for the suit I have on, and I don't know where I'm going to get the money to pay for it."
He was dressed in a flashy style, not unlike what is popularly denominated a swell. His coarse features were disfigured with unhealthy blotches, and his outward appearance was hardly such as to recommend him. But to him alone the cold heart of the housekeeper was warm. He was her sister's son and her nearest relative. Her savings were destined for him, and in her attachment she was not conscious of his disagreeable characteristics. She had occasionally given him a five-dollar bill to eke out what he termed his miserable pay, and now whenever he called he didn't spare hints that he was out of pocket, and that a further gift would be acceptable. Indeed, the only tie that bound him to his aunt was a mercenary one.
But the housekeeper, sharp-sighted as she ordinarily was, did not detect the secret motive of such attention she received from her nephew. She flattered herself that he really loved her, not suspecting that he was too selfish to love anybody but himself.
"Thomas," she said, with a sudden thought, "I may be able to help you to an increase of your income. Mr. Wharton needs somebody to read to him evenings. On my recommendation he might take you."
"Thank you, aunt, but I don't see it. I don't want to be worked to death."
"But, think, Thomas," said his aunt, earnestly. "He is very rich. He might take a fancy to you and remember you in his will."
"I wish somebody would remember me in his will. Do you really think there's any chance of the old boy's doing something handsome for me?"
"That depends on yourself. You must try to please him."
"Well, I must do something. What'll he give?"
"I don't know yet. In fact, there's another reading to him just now."
"Then there's no chance for me."
"Listen to me. It's a boy he's picked up in the streets, quite unsuited for the place. He's a cash- boy at Gilbert & Mack's. Why, that's where you are," she added, with sudden recollection.
"A cash-boy from my own place? What's his name?"
"Fowler, I believe."
"I know him--he's lately come. How did he get in with the old man?"
"Mr. Wharton fell in the street, and he happened to be near, and helped him home."
"You'll have to manage it, aunt."
"I'll see what I can do to-morrow. He ought to prefer my nephew to a strange boy, seeing I have been twenty years in his service. I'll let you know as soon as I have accomplished anything."
"I don't half like the idea of giving up my evenings. I don't believe I can stand it."
"It is only for a little while, to get him interested in you."
"Maybe I might try it a week, and then tell him my health was failing, and get him to do something else for me."
"At any rate, the first thing must be to become acquainted."
Thomas now withdrew, for he did not enjoy spending an evening with his aunt, the richer by five dollars, half of which was spent before the evening closed at a neighboring billiard saloon.
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