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When Jasper left the house he bent his steps to the dwelling of a friend of his father, Otis Miller, a man of considerable property and good position. He found Mr. Miller at home.
"I am glad to see you, Jasper," said he, cordially.
"Thank you, sir."
"You have met with a great loss," said Mr. Miller, attributing Jasper's serious expression to his father's death.
"Yes, sir; I am only just beginning to understand how much."
"A father's place cannot be supplied."
"No, sir; but this is not the extent of my trouble."
"Can I do anything to help you?"
"Yes, sir. I am very much in need of advice."
"I shall be glad to give you the best I can, Jasper. I was your father's friend, and I shall be glad to be yours also."
"Thank you, sir. My troubles are connected with my step-mother, who treats me like an enemy."
"Can this be so?" asked Mr. Miller, in surprise.
"I will tell you all, and then ask your advice."
Jasper told the story briefly and without excitement. It was only in his step-mother's presence that he felt disturbed.
"I have met your step-mother, but I know very little of her," said Mr. Miller. "She never impressed me very favorably, but I never dreamed that she would act in such an unreasonable manner. Perhaps even now matters are not as bad as you think. Sometimes people say things in anger which they repent of in their cooler moments."
"I don't think it is the case with Mrs. Kent."
"It is unfortunate, since she is your guardian."
"I wish you were my guardian, Mr. Miller."
"For your sake, Jasper, I wish I were. I don't think we should quarrel."
"I know we should not."
"You wish to know what to do?"
"You are quite sure you cannot stay at home?"
"I should be subject to constant persecution from Mrs. Kent."
"You think she would not allow you to go back to school?"
"She has refused to do so."
"There is one thing she cannot do, and that is, keep your portion of the estate from you when you become of age."
"No, I suppose not."
"You will then be rich."
"But the money won't do me any good now, will it?"
"In this way it will. Suppose I agree to pay your expenses at school—that is to say, advancing the money, to be repaid when you obtain yours?"
"That would be very kind, Mr. Miller; but I shouldn't like to subject you to that risk."
"You mean that a minor's promise would be invalid? Well, Jasper, I have too much confidence in you to have any doubt of your integrity."
"Thank you, Mr. Miller; but suppose I should die before attaining my majority?"
"Then I should probably lose the money."
"That is what I thought of. I should not like to have you run the risk."
"But I am willing to do so. However, it may be as well to ascertain definitely your step-mother's intentions first. I will call upon her in your interest and find out."
"Thank you, sir. I should like to have you do so, as I don't want to act too hastily."
"I will go at once. Will you remain here till I return?"
When Mrs. Kent was told that Mr. Miller had called to see her she went down to meet him, not surmising his errand.
"Mrs. Kent," said he, after the ordinary greetings were over, "I have called with reference to your relations to your late husband's son, Jasper."
"Did he ask you to come?" demanded Mrs. Kent, frowning.
"No; but he came to ask my advice as to what he ought to do. I am sorry to hear that you are unfriendly."
"He has treated me with intolerable insolence," said Mrs. Kent, hotly.
"That surprises me. It is wholly contrary to his reputation with those who have known him from his infancy," said Mr. Miller, quietly.
"Then you don't know him as he is."
"He tells me you have accorded your own son superior privileges."
"My son treats me with respect."
"Probably you treat him differently from Jasper."
"I have reasons to."
"You will admit that it is aggravating to see a stranger—an intruder, I may say—preferred to him in his own home?"
"Who calls my son an intruder?" asked Mrs. Kent, hastily.
"Let us call him a stranger, then. Was Mr. Kent aware that you had a son?"
"I decline to answer your question," answered Mrs. Kent, with asperity.
"To pass on, then. Have you refused Jasper permission to return to the school at which his father placed him?"
"May I ask why?"
"I don't know that I am responsible to you."
"Mrs. Kent," said Mr. Miller, gravely, "I was the friend of your late husband. I am the friend of his son, Jasper. As the friend of both, I ask you your reason."
"I will answer you, though I do not acknowledge your right to ask. I refuse to let Jasper go back to school, because I wish to punish him for his insolence and disobedience."
"It cannot be any satisfaction to you to have him at home, I should think."
"It is not. I have no reason to like his society."
"Then it appears that you punish yourself in keeping him here."
"Do you think, Mrs. Kent, that you have any right to deprive him of the opportunity to obtain an education?"
"He can attend school in this village," said Mrs. Kent.
"You know as well as I that there is neither a classical nor a high school here. He would be compelled to give up the course of study upon which he has commenced."
"That is his own fault," returned Mrs. Kent, doggedly.
"This, then, is your unalterable determination?"
"For the present, yes. If Jasper repents his ill-conduct, and makes up his mind to yield me that implicit obedience which is my due, I may hereafter consent to return him to school. But he must turn over a new leaf."
"Madam," said Mr. Miller, disgusted at the woman's manner, "do you consider that you are carrying out his father's wishes in reference to his son?"
"That is a question for me to decide," said Mrs. Kent, coldly. "I have undertaken the responsibility, and I have no fears about carrying out his wishes. I must trust my own judgment, not that of others."
"Madam," said Mr. Miller, after a pause, "there is one other question which I should like to put to you."
"Very well, sir."
"This guardianship imposed upon you is a certain amount of care. Are you willing to relinquish it to another?"
"To you, perhaps?" suggested Mrs. Kent, with a sneer.
"I should be willing to undertake it for Jasper's sake."
"I have no doubt you would, and I presume Jasper would be very glad to have you do so."
"I think he would, though he didn't authorize me to speak to you about it," said Mr. Miller.
"Then, sir, I refuse in the most emphatic terms. I shall not relinquish the power which his father's will gives me over him. He shall yet repent his insolence."
"I regret your animosity, Mrs. Kent," said Mr. Miller, with dignity, rising as he spoke. "I was inclined to think that Jasper had exaggerated his account of the difficulties. I see now that he was correct. I have only, in wishing you good-morning, to predict that you will yet regret the manner in which you have treated your step-son."
"I will take my chance of that," said Mrs. Kent. "You may report to Jasper that my only terms are unconditional submission."
"I will do so, madam; but you know, as well as I, what his answer will be. His nature is too manly to submit to tyranny, even from his step-mother."
"You are not over-polite, sir," said Mrs. Kent, angrily.
"I am truthful, madam," was the grave reply.
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