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Mr. Roscoe rang the bell, and, in answer, a servant entered the library, where he sat before a large and commodious desk.
"Has the mail yet arrived?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; John has just come back from the village."
"Go at once and bring me the letters and papers, if there are any."
John bowed and withdrew.
Mr. Roscoe walked to the window, and looked thoughtfully out upon a smooth, luxuriant lawn and an avenue of magnificent trees, through which carriages were driven to what was popularly known as Castle Roscoe. Everything, even to the luxuriously appointed room in which he sat, indicated wealth and the ease which comes from affluence.
Mr. Roscoe looked around him with exultation.
"And all this may be mine," he said to himself, "if I am only bold. What is it old Pindar says? 'Boldness is the beginning of victory.' I have forgotten nearly all I learned in school, but I remember that. There is some risk, perhaps, but not much, and I owe something to my son—"
He was interrupted by the entrance of the servant with a small leather bag, which was used to hold mail matter, going from or coming to the house.
The servant unlocked the bag, and emptied the contents on the desk. There were three or four papers and two letters. It was the last which attracted Mr. Roscoe's attention.
We will take the liberty of looking over Mr. Roscoe's shoulder as he reads the first. It ran as follows:
"DEAR SIR:-I am in receipt of your favor, asking my terms for boarding pupils. For pupils of fifteen or over, I charge five hundred dollars per year, which is not a large sum considering the exceptional advantages presented by Inglewood School. My pupils are from the best families, and enjoy a liberal table. Moreover, I employ competent teachers, and guarantee rapid progress, when the student is of good, natural capacity, and willing to work.
"I think you will agree with me that it is unwise to economize when the proper training of a youth is in question, and that a cheap school is little better than no school at all.
"I have only to add that I shall be most happy to receive your young nephew, if you decide to send him to me, and will take personal pains to promote his advancement. I remain, dear sir, your obedient servant,
Mr. Roscoe threw the letter down upon the desk with an impatient gesture.
"Five hundred dollars a year!" he exclaimed. "What can the man be thinking of? Why, when I went to school, twenty-five years since, less than half this sum was charged. The man is evidently rapacious. Let me see what this other letter says."
The second letter was contained in a yellow envelope, of cheap texture, and was much more plebeian in appearance than the first.
Again we will look over Mr. Roscoe's shoulder, and read what it contains. It was postmarked Smithville, and the envelope was disfigured by a blot. It commenced:
"DEAR SIR:-It gives me pleasure to answer your inquiries respecting my school. I have about fifty pupils, part of whom, say one-third, are boarders. Though I say it myself, it will be hard to find any school where more thorough instruction is given. I look upon my pupils as my children, and treat them as such. My system of government is, therefore, kind and parental, and my pupils are often homesick in vacation, longing for the time to come when they can return to their studies at Smith Institute. It is the dearest wish of Mrs. Smith and myself to make our young charges happy, and to advance them, by pleasant roads over flowery meads, to the inner courts of knowledge.
"Humbug!" muttered Mr. Roscoe. "I understand what all that means." He continued:
"I hope you will not consider three hundred dollars per annum too much for such parental care. Considering the present high price of provisions, it is really as low a price as we can afford to receive.
"I shall be glad if you consider my letter favorable and decide to place your nephew under my charge. Yours respectfully,
"That is more reasonable," said Mr. Roscoe, to himself, as he laid down the letter. "Three hundred dollars I consider a fair price. At any rate, I do not propose to pay any more for Hector. I suppose the table is plain enough, but I don't believe in pampering the appetites of boys. If he were the master of Roscoe Hall, as he thinks he is, there might be some propriety in it; but upon that head I shall soon undeceive him. I will let him understand that I am the proprietor of the estate, and that he is only a dependent on my bounty. I wonder how he will take it. I dare say he will make a fuss, but he shall soon be made to understand that it is of no use. Now to answer these letters."
Mr. Roscoe sat down in a luxurious armchair, and, drawing pen and paper toward him, wrote first to Dr. Radix. I subjoin the letter, as it throws some light upon the character of the writer:
"ROSCOE HALL, Sept. 10th. DR. DIONYSIUS RADIX.
"My DEAR SIR:-I am in receipt of your letter of the 8th instant, answering my inquiries in regard to your school. Let me say at once that I find your terms too high. Five hundred dollars a year for forty weeks' board and schooling seems to me an exorbitant price to ask. Really, at this rate, education will soon become a luxury open only to the wealthy.
"You are probably under a misapprehension in reference to my young ward. Nephew he is not, in a strict sense of the term. He was adopted—not legally, but practically—by my brother, when he was only a year old, and his origin has been concealed from him. My brother, being childless, has allowed him to suppose that he was his own son. Undoubtedly he meant to provide for him in his will, but, as often happens, put off will-making till it was too late. The estate, therefore, goes to me, and the boy is unprovided for. This does not so much matter, since I am willing to educate him, and give him a fair start in life, if he acts in a manner to suit me. I do not, however, feel called upon to pay an exorbitant price for his tuition, and, therefore, shall be obliged to forego placing him at Inglewood School. Yours, etc.,
"When this letter is sent, I shall have taken the decisive step," thought Mr. Roscoe. "I must then adhere to my story, at whatever cost. Now for the other."
His reply to the letter of Socrates Smith, A. M., was briefer, but likely to be more satisfactory to the recipient. It ran thus;
"DEAR Sir:-Your letter is at hand, and I find it, on the whole, satisfactory. The price you charge-three hundred dollars per annum—is about right. I hope you are a firm disciplinarian. I do not want Hector too much indulged or pampered, though he may expect it, my poor brother having been indulgent to excess.
"Let me add, by the bye, that Hector is not my nephew, though I may inadvertently have mentioned him as such, and had no real claims upon my brother, though he has been brought up in that belief. He was adopted, in an informal way, by my brother, when he was but, an infant. Under the circumstances, I am willing to take care of him, and prepare him to earn his own living when his education is completed.
"You may expect to see me early next week. I will bring the boy with me, and enter him at once as a pupil in your school.
"Yours, etc., ALLAN ROSCOE."
"There, that clinches it!" said Mr. Roscoe, in a tone of satisfaction. "Now for an interview with the boy."
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