JASPER'S RETURN HOME.
His father married again, and he left in ignorance of his intention! Jasper felt hurt that his father, for whom he cherished so deep and warm an affection, should have taken such a step without apprising him of it in advance. If he was to marry, certainly his only son ought to have been present at the wedding.
"But it isn't father's fault," he thought, bitterly. "It's the fault of Miss Thorne. She is more artful and designing even than I thought. She has married my father for his wealth and position, and she was afraid I would dissuade him from such a step."
It was certainly a bitter thought that he must look upon this woman as his step-mother—that she was to take the place of the mother whom he tenderly remembered, though six years had passed since she left him. But, after all, was it true? Might it not be the case that Thorne, who evidently disliked him, had fabricated the story in order to annoy him? There was a gleam of comfort in this, and he felt that he would willingly run the risk of being laughed at for having started on a "wild-goose chase" if only his fears could be relieved. But, after all, there was the possibility—nay, the probability, considering what he knew of Miss Thorne—that Thorne's story was all true.
The cars stopped for a brief minute at the depot in Morton, Jasper's destination, and he jumped out. He looked eagerly about him to see if there was anyone of whom he could ask information. To his joy he caught sight of John, a serving-man in his father's employ.
"Halloo, John!" he cried, "give me a hand with my valise!"
"Why, Master Jasper!" returned John, in evident surprise, "I didn't know you were coming home."
"I am not expected," said Jasper. "I came at a moment's notice."
"You're too late for the wedding, Master Jasper."
"For the wedding!" repeated Jasper, his heart sinking at this confirmation of his worst fears.
"Yes; didn't you know of it?"
"I heard something, but not much. Tell me about it. When did it take place?"
"At ten o'clock this morning."
"At the house?"
"No; your father and the governess walked over to the church, and were married private like. There was nobody invited, but we were all surprised that you didn't come to it."
"I knew nothing about it," said Jasper, sadly.
"It was Miss Thorne's doings, then—leastways, I must say Mrs. Kent's, now."
"I know it, John. My father would not have treated me that way. How long has it been going on—the—"
"The courtship? Well, that was all on the side of Miss Thorne, I'm thinkin'. She wheedled your father into marrying her."
"I wish I had been here."
"Poor man! he felt too weak to resist, and he did it only because she teased him. I can take my oath of that."
"It is infamous!" said Jasper. "Have they gone away?"
"No; they ain't goin', I've heard. Your father don't feel able to travel, and the governess—I mean your step-mother—she don't care much. They're at home now."
"Then I will go up. I suppose they will be surprised to see me."
"Yes, they will, but your father'll be glad. He sets the world by you, Master Jasper."
"I believe he does, John," said Jasper. "I wish I could have saved him from this misfortune."
"It's too late now entirely."
"You are right. I don't know but it might be best for me to turn round and go back again to school without going to the house at all; but I must face this thing, and see for myself. If you've got nothing else to do, John, you may carry my valise."
"I'll do it, Master Jasper, directly. You go up to the house, and I'll be there in a jiffy."
So Jasper walked thoughtfully and sadly homeward.
We must precede him.
In a sunny sitting-room on the second-floor sat Jasper Kent's father in a luxurious arm-chair. He was barely fifty, but evidently a chronic invalid. His constitution had been undermined years before by a residence of several years in Central America, where he had acquired a fortune, but paid a costly price therefor in the loss of his health.
For years he had done no business other than to take care of his property, which was amply sufficient to enable him to live luxuriously. Yet he did not find the time hanging heavily upon his hands. Of a studious taste, he had surrounded himself with books and pictures. He received regularly a New York daily paper, and the leading magazines and reviews, and barring his ill-health, and occasional seasons of pain, passed his time in a placid and agreeable manner. Circumstances, perhaps, had fostered a disposition to indolence, and made it more difficult to resist the artful schemes of Miss Thorne, whom he had admitted into the house as governess of his little niece, Florence Grantley, but who had from the first cherished the ambitious design of making herself mistress of the establishment.
It is needless to recapitulate the steps she took in this direction. It is enough to chronicle her ultimate success.
We introduce the newly-married pair, as they sit conversing in the pleasant sitting-room already referred to.
"I think Jasper ought to be at once informed of our marriage," said Mr. Kent.
"There is no need of haste, in my opinion, my dear," said Mrs. Kent.
"Indeed, he ought to have been present at the ceremony. I am afraid the poor boy will feel hurt that I should have left him wholly in the dark."
Mrs. Kent's lip curled. Evidently she had no particular feeling for the "poor boy."
"Lay the whole blame upon me, Mr. Kent," she said. "It was I who advised it, and I am willing to take the responsibility."
"I know you advised it, my dear," said Mr. Kent, to whom this phrase was yet new; "but I could not understand why."
"I will explain, and I think you will consider my explanation a good one. It would have taken Jasper's attention from his studies, and it might have been some time before he would have been able to resume them to advantage."
"That may be, but still on an occasion of this kind—"
"If the ceremony had not been so private—wholly out of regard to your health—of course he should have been recalled. As it is, it is better on all accounts not to disturb him. Did I tell you that I saw him last week?"
"Was he here? Why did I not see him?" asked Mr. Kent, in surprise.
"It was not here that I saw him—it was at his school."
"At his school! How came you to go there?" inquired her husband in still greater surprise.
"I will tell you, though I have hitherto kept it a secret, as a matter of my own. Now, since I am your wife, it is only proper that I should acquaint you with it. I have a nephew at the same school."
"You have a nephew at Dr. Benton's boarding-school?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Kent, lowering her voice to a compassionate inflection. "Poor boy! he has neither father nor mother! He is entirely dependent upon me. Out of my salary I have paid his expenses ever since I entered your employ."
"That was generous and kind of you," said her husband, approvingly. "What is the boy's name?"
"Your brother's son, I suppose?" said Mr. Kent.
"Ye—es," she replied, hesitatingly.
"What is his age?"
"Sixteen. He is about the same age as Jasper. Do I venture too much in asking you to become his friend?"
Mrs. Kent modulated her voice, as she well knew how to do, to counterfeit warm and tender feeling, as she proffered this request. Her nature was feline, and she knew how to conceal her claws.
"You may rely upon my co-operation, my dear," said Mr. Kent, kindly, "in your noble task."
There was a latent gleam of triumph in Mrs. Kent's eyes as she heard this promise, which transferred to her husband a burden which had long been a drain upon her own slender purse. She had dreaded the effect of this announcement upon her husband, and finally, as we have seen, thought it best to change the relationship and call Nicholas her nephew, and not her son. So that difficulty was well surmounted, and the effect had been to impress Mr. Kent with a sense of her generous and unselfish devotion.
But her exultation was short-lived. A bustle was heard outside. An instant later the door was thrown open, and Jasper entered the room, flushed and excited.
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