There are some boys, as well as men, who cannot stand prosperity.
It appeared that Mark Manning was one of these.
While his stepmother was living and his father's prospects—and consequently his own—were uncertain, he had been circumspect in his behavior and indulged in nothing that could be considered seriously wrong.
When his father came into possession of a large fortune, and his pocket money was doubled, Mark began to throw off some of the restraint which, from motives of prudence, he had put upon himself.
About the middle of the week, as Frank was taking a walk after school hours, he was considerably surprised to see Mark come out of a well-known liquor saloon frequented by men and boys of intemperate habits.
The students of Bridgeville Academy were strictly forbidden this or any other saloon, and I am sure that my boy readers will agree with mo that this rule was a very proper one.
Mark Manning appeared to have been drinking. His face was flushed, and his breath, if one came near enough to him, was redolent of the fumes of alcohol. With him was James Carson, one of the poorest scholars and most unprincipled boys in the academy. It was rather surprising that he had managed for so long to retain his position in the institution, but he was crafty and took good care not to be caught.
To go back a little, it was chiefly owing to James Carson's influence that Mark had entered the saloon.
When he learned that Mark's worldly prospects had improved, and that he had a large supply of pocket money, he determined to cultivate his acquaintance—though privately he thought Mark a disagreeable boy—with the intention of obtaining for himself a portion of Mark's surplus means.
At the first of the term he had made similar advances to Frank, but they were coldly received, so much so that he did not think it worth while to persevere in courting our hero's intimacy.
He succeeded better with Mark, his crafty nature teaching him how to approach him.
"Mark," he said, with a great show of cordiality, "I am delighted to hear of your good fortune. I always liked you, and I think you deserve to be rich."
"Thank you!" said Mark, much gratified, for he liked flattery. "I am sure I am very much obliged to you."
"Oh, not at all! I only say what I think. Shall I tell you why I am particularly glad?"
"Yes, if you like," returned Mark, in some curiosity.
"Because I like you better than that young muff, your stepbrother. I hope you won't be offended at my plain speaking," he added, artfully.
"Certainly not!" said Mark.
"I suppose," said James, "you will see a little life now that you are your own master and have plenty of money."
"I don't know exactly what you mean, James. There isn't much life to be seen in Bridgeville."
"That is true; but still there is some. Suppose now"—by this time they were in front of the saloon, which, besides a bar, contained a billiard and pool table—"suppose now we go in and have a game of billiards."
"It's against the rules, isn't it?" asked Mark.
"What do you care for the rules?" said James, contemptuously.
"If the old man hears of it, we shall get into hot water."
By the "old man" Mark meant the Rev. Dr. Brush, the venerable and respected principal of the Bridgeville Academy, but such boys as he have very little respect for the constituted authorities.
"Why need he know it? We will slip in when no one is looking. Did you ever play a game of billiards?"
"I never played over half a dozen games in my life."
"Yon ought to know how to play. It is a splendid game. Come in."
Mark did not make very strong opposition, and the two boys, first looking cautiously in different directions, entered the saloon.
Toward the entrance was a bar, and in the roar of the saloon were two tables.
"Won't you have a drink, Mark?" asked James.
"Oh, come now, it won't hurt. Two glasses of whisky, John."
"All right, Mr. Carson," said the barkeeper, to whom James was well known.
James tossed off his glass with the air of an old drinker, but Mark drank his more slowly.
"There, I know you feel better, Mark."
"Now, John, give me the balls. We'll play a game of billiards."
"All right, sir."
"I'll discount you, Mark," said James, "to give you a fair chance. It is about the same thing as giving you half the game. Or, if you like, I will give you seventeen points to start with, and then you will only have seventeen to make, while I am making thirty-four."
"I like that best."
"Now shall we play for the drinks?"
"We have just had a drink?"
"We'll have another."
"Won't that be too much? I don't want to get drunk."
"Two drinks won't do you any harm. Very well. Now let us string for the lead."
There is no need of describing the game in detail. Mark was only a novice, while James could really make three or four points to his one. He restrained himself, however, so that he only beat Mark by two points.
"You did splendidly, Mark," he said. "Considering how little you have played, you did remarkably well. Why, you made a run of three."
"Yes, I did pretty well," said Mark, flattered by his companion's praises.
"I had hard work to beat you, I can tell you that. As it was, you came within two points of beating. Don't you like the game?"
"I thought you would. Shall we have another game?"
"I don't mind," answered Mark.
He knew that he ought to be in his room writing a composition to be delivered the next day, but such obligations sat easily upon Mark, and he did not hesitate long.
That time James allowed him to score sixteen, so that Mark was only beaten by one point.
"You see, you are improving," said James. "I played a better game that time than before, and still you came within one of beating me."
"I think I shall become a good player in time," said Mark, complacently.
"Yes, and in a very short time. Now," said James, "I have a proposal to make to you."
"What is it?"
"We'll bet twenty-five cents on the next game, to give a little interest to it."
Mark had no special scruples against betting, which is only one form of gambling, but he decidedly objected to losing money, so he answered, cautiously:
"I don't know about that. You beat me both of the other games."
"That's true; but you play better now than you did at first."
"That may be so."
"What are twenty-five cents, anyway? I expect to lose it, but it will increase the interest of the game."
So Mark was persuaded, and the game was played.
James Carson managed to let Mark beat him by five shots, and the latter was correspondingly elated.
"You beat me after all," said James, pretending to be much disappointed, "and by five points. I'll tell you what I'll do—I'll give you the same odds, and bet a dollar on the game. I suppose it's foolish, but I'll risk it!"
"Done!" said Mark, eagerly.
His cupidity was excited, and he felt sure of winning the dollar, as he had the twenty-five cents. But James had no idea of playing off now, and he played a better game, as he was well able to do. The result was that Mark was beaten by three points.
He looked quite crestfallen.
"I had better shows than you," said James. "I couldn't do it once in five times. Will you play again?"
Mark agreed to it with some hesitation, and he was again beaten.
"You had luck against you. Another day you will succeed better. Have you played enough?"
"Yes," answered Mark, annoyed.
He had four games to pay for and two dollars in bets, and it made rather an expensive afternoon.
"Have another drink? I'll treat," said James, who could afford to be liberal.
Mark accepted, and then, flushed and excited, he left the saloon, just as Frank came up, as described in the first part of the chapter. On the whole, he was sorry to meet his stepbrother just at this time.
Frank stopped, and his attention was drawn to Mark's flushed face.
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