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Chapter 16

AN UNPLEASANT DISCOVERY


It never occurred to Frank that his cordial reception was wholly due to his supposed wealth. Had he known the Tarbox family better, he would have had no uncertainty on this point. As it was, the discovery was soon made.

"All my olive branches are for you, my dear young cousin," said Mr. Tarbox, waving his hand. "A peaceful, happy family. Children, this is our esteemed relative, Frank Courtney. You remember visiting his delightful home, the Cedars."

"Yes, pa," said Julia.

Pliny said nothing, but stared at Frank, inwardly considering whether it would be possible to borrow some money of him.

"I am glad to meet you all. I hope we shall become better acquainted," said Frank politely.

"No doubt you will," said Mr. Tarbox. "They are rather bashful, but they long to know you."

"How are you?" said Pliny, in a sudden burst of sociability.

"Pretty well, thank you!" answered Frank, finding it rather difficult to preserve his gravity.

"I am in a store," said Pliny.

"In your father's store?"

"No. He wouldn't pay me as much as I get where I am."

Mr. Tarbox looked embarrassed.

"A smaller boy answered my purpose," he said, in an explanatory manner. "Pliny is suited for higher duties. But our supper is ready. It is frugal compared with yours at the Cedars, my dear Frank, but you are heartily welcome to it."

"It looks very nice, Mr. Tarbox," said our hero, "and I have not been accustomed to luxurious living."

This answer pleased Mr. and Mrs. Tarbox. Even if Frank should become a boarder on liberal terms, they didn't wish to spend too much on their table.

"We couldn't get sirloin steak," said Mr. Tarbox; "but I hope you will find this good."

"No doubt I shall," said Frank, politely.

"Won't you have another piece of steak?" asked Mrs. Tarbox.

Frank saw that there was but a small piece left, and, though his appetite was not wholly satisfied, he answered:

"No, thank you."

"I will!" said Pliny, quickly.

Mrs. Tarbox frowned at her son, but did not venture to refuse in the presence of her guest. She cut off a small portion of the steak, and, with a severe look, put it on the extended plate of Pliny.

"You've got a good appetite, Pliny," said Julia.

"So would you have, if you had to work like me!" grumbled Pliny.

After the steak came an apple pie, which was cut into seven pieces. Mrs. Tarbox managed to make Frank's piece a little larger than the rest.

Her husband observed it with approval. He was very desirous that Frank should be satisfied with his fare.

When Pliny rose from the table, saying that he must be getting back to the store, Frank rose also.

"I will go with you," he said, "if you have no objection. I would like to take a walk."

"Come along," said Pliny. "I should like to have company."

"You will be a great deal of company for Pliny," observed Mr. Tarbox, rubbing his hands with satisfaction. "Just of an age and of congenial tastes."

Frank hardly expected to find Pliny very congenial, but he wished to obtain some information, which he thought the latter could give him, and he also wanted to see something of Newark.

"I say, your name is Frank, isn't it?" commenced Pliny:

"Yes."

"The old man's awful glad to see you."

"I am glad of it. He has received me very kindly."

"Got up an extra supper for you. We don't often get steak for supper."

This was rather an embarrassing revelation, and surprised Frank somewhat. The supper had not seemed to him at all extra. It would do, but was far from luxurious.

"I hope you'll stay with us a good while," continued Pliny.

"Thank you."

"You see we shall live better while you are with us, and the rest of us will be gainers."

"I don't want to put your father to any unusual expense."

"Oh, he can afford it! But he's stingy, father is. He doesn't spend any more than he can help."

"It is best to be economical, I suppose."

"When you don't carry it too far. I say, Frank," continued Pliny, lowering his voice, "you can't lend me five dollars, can you?"

Frank regarded Pliny with astonishment. The proposal was very abrupt, especially when the shortness of their acquaintance was considered.

"Are you particularly in need of money?" asked Frank.

"Well, you see," said Pliny, "I want it for a particular purpose."

"Why not ask your father for it?"

"Oh, he'd never let me have it!"

Now, in Frank's present circumstances, five dollars represented a good deal of money. He was the more impressed with the necessity of economy since he had found out how small were the wages paid in stores to boys of his age.

He did not feel at all inclined to grant Pliny's request, especially as he had a strong suspicion that it would be a long time before the sum would be returned.

"Why do you apply to me, Pliny?" he asked, seriously.

"Didn't your mother die and leave you a big property? Father says you must be worth more than a hundred thousand dollars."

"Your father probably has not heard of the will," said Frank, quietly.

"What was there in the will?" asked Pliny.

"The whole property was left to Mr. Manning."

"Who is he?"

"My stepfather."

"And nothing to you?"

"Nothing to me."

"But he's got to take care of you, hasn't he?"

"It was expected, but I am going to earn my own living, if I can."

Pliny stopped short in blank amazement and whistled.

"Then you haven't got a lot of money?"

"No."

"Won't your stepfather give you a part of the property?"

"I haven't asked him, but I don't think he will."

"And why did you come to Newark?"

"I thought your father might give me some help about getting a place."

"If this isn't the richest joke!" said Pliny, laughing uproariously.

"Where is the joke? I don't see it," returned Frank, inclined to be angry.

"The way you have taken in the old man. He thinks you are rich, and has treated you accordingly—got up an extra supper and all that. Oh, it's too good!"

"I certainly didn't intend to take him in, as you call it," said Frank. "The sooner you tell him the better."

"I'll tell him," said Pliny. "I shall enjoy seeing how provoked he'll be."

"I think I will leave you," said Frank, shortly. "I will take a walk by myself.

"Well, don't lose your way. Oh, I wish the store was shut! I want to tell the old man."

And Pliny laughed again, while our hero walked off in disgust.

Horatio Alger