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Chapter 28

FRANK MAKES AN EVENING CALL


After supper Frank walked slowly up to Mr. Percival's residence. Now that he knew two members of the family, he looked forward with pleasure to the call he was about to make. His prospects seemed much brighter than when he woke up in the morning.

On reaching the house of Mr. Percival, he saw at a glance that it was the residence of a wealthy man, and the hall, into which he was first admitted, was luxurious in its appearance. But Frank had been brought up to the enjoyment of wealth, and he felt more at home here than in the rather shabby boarding house in Clinton Place.

A colored servant opened the door.

"Is Mr. Percival at home?" he asked.

"Yas, sah."

"I should like to see him."

"What name, sah?"

"Frank Courtney."

"Step in, sah, and I will 'form Mr. Percival," said the colored servant, in a consequential tone that amused Frank.

Frank stepped into the hall, but he was not left long without attention. Little Freddie ran downstairs, eagerly calling out:

"Did you come to see me, Frank?"

"Yes," answered Frank, smiling; "but I came to see your grandfather, too."

"Come, and I will show you where he is," said the little boy, taking Frank's hand.

The two went up the staircase and into a handsomely furnished room, made attractive by pictures and books.

In a large armchair sat a pleasant-looking elderly man, of about sixty.

"Grandpa," said the little boy, "this is Frank. He wants to see you."

Mr. Percival smiled.

"I am glad to see you, Frank," he said. "It seems, my boy, that you are already acquainted with my daughter and grandson."

"Yes, sir. I was fortunate enough to meet them to-day."

"You relieved my daughter from some embarrassment."

"I am glad to have had the opportunity, sir."

Frank's manner was easy and self-possessed, and it was evident that Mr. Percival was favorably impressed by him.

"Take a seat," he said, "while I ask you a few questions."

Frank bowed and obeyed.

"Let me sit in your lap, Frank," said Freddie.

Our hero took the little boy in his lap.

With Freddie, it was certainly a case of friendship at first sight.

"Won't he trouble you?" asked his grandfather.

"No, sir. I like young children."

Mr. Percival now proceeded to interrogate Frank.

"Your name is Frank Courtney. Have you been long in the city?"

"No, sir; only a few weeks."

"What led you to come here?"

"I wished to earn my living."

"What that necessary? You do not look like a poor boy."

"I was brought up to consider myself rich," said Frank.

"Indeed! Did you lose your property?"

"Perhaps I had better tell you how it happened, sir."

"If you don't object, I should be glad to hear."

Frank gave a brief statement of his position, and the circumstances that led him to leave his home and go out into the world.

Mr. Percival listened thoughtfully.

"It is a singular story," he said, after a pause. "Your stepfather's in Europe, then?"

"Yes, sir; at least he sailed for Europe."

"Have you heard from him?"

"No, sir."

"Do you expect to hear?"

"I think not."

"He can't feel much interest in you."

"I don't think he does," answered Frank. "Still, I can't say that he has treated me unkindly."

"Do you suspect that your stepfather has wronged you in the matter of the property?"

"I would rather not answer that question, sir. I might wrong Mr. Manning, and I have no proof to offer."

"I understand you, and I applaud your discretion. It does you credit. Some time or other the mystery may be cleared up, and the wrong, if there is one, may be righted. I can't understand, however, how this Mr. Manning should be willing to leave you dependent upon your own exertions with such a scanty provision as twenty-five dollars a quarter."

"I didn't ask for any more; and, besides, Mr. Manning offered to take me to Europe with his son Mark."

"Do you think that he was sincere in the offer?"

"I don't think he expected me to accept it, and I am sure that it would have been very disagreeable to Mark to have me in the party."

"Have you any objections to telling me how you have succeeded in your efforts to make a living?" asked the old gentleman, with a keen but kindly glance.

"I have been disappointed, sir," was the candid reply.

"I am not surprised to hear it. A boy brought up as you have been cannot rough it like a farmer's son or a street boy."

"I think I could, sir; but I should not like to."

"Precisely. Now, I am not sure that you acted wisely in undertaking a task so difficult, since it was not necessary, and your stepfather could hardly have refused to support you at home. However, as you have taken the decisive step, we must consider what is best to do under the circumstances. What work have you been doing?"

"I have been selling tea for the Great Pekin Tea Company."

"How have you succeeded?"

"I have not been able to pay expenses," Frank admitted.

"How have you made up the difference?"

"I brought about fifty dollars with me from home."

"Is it all used up?"

"I had thirty-five dollars left, sir, but a day or two since one of my fellow boarders opened my trunk and borrowed it without leave."

"Of course you won't recover it?"

"I don't think there is much chance of it, sir."

"Then probably your money is nearly exhausted?"

Frank did not like to admit his poverty, but owned up that he had less than two dollars.

"And yet you paid the car fares of this little boy and his mother?"

"I hope, sir, I would not refuse to assist a lady when in trouble."

Mr. Percival nodded two or three times, smiling as he did so. He was becoming more and more favorably impressed without young hero.

"Do you mean to continue this tea agency?" he asked.

"No, sir; I have already notified my employers that I do not care to continue it."

"Have you anything else in view?"

Frank felt that now was the time to speak.

"I came here this evening," he said, "intending to ask you if you knew of any situation I could fill, or could recommend me to employment of any kind by which I might make a living."

"I must consider that. Have you thought of any particular employment which you would like?"

"No, sir; I cannot afford to be particular. I will do anything that is honest, and at all suitable for me."

"What would you consider unsuitable?"

"I should not wish to black boots, for instance, sir. It is honest work, but I ought to be suited to something better."

"Of course; What education have you had? Good, I suppose?"

"I am nearly ready for college."

"Then you are already fairly well educated. I will put you to a test. Sit up to the table, and take paper and pen. I will dictate to you a paragraph from the evening paper, which I should like to have you write down."

Frank obeyed, though, in doing so, he was obliged to set Freddie down, rather to the little fellow's dissatisfaction.

Mr. Percival selected a short letter, written by some public man, which chanced to have found a place in the evening journal.

Frank wrote rapidly, and when his copy was finished submitted it to Mr. Percival.

The old gentleman took it, and, running his eye over it, noticed that it was plainly written, correctly spelled and properly punctuated. This discovery evidently gave him satisfaction.

"Very creditably written," he said. "I have known boys nearly ready for college who could not copy such a letter without blundering. I am glad that your English education has not been neglected while you have been studying the classics."

Frank was gratified by Mr. Percival's commendation, though he could not see in what manner his education was likely to bring him employment. It was desirable, however, to produce a favorable impression on Mr. Percival, and he could not help hoping something would result to his advantage.

At this moment Freddie's mother entered the room, and greeted Frank with a cordial smile.

"Freddie," she said, "it is time for you to go to bed."

"I don't want to leave Frank," said Freddie.

"Frank will come and see you again."

"Will you, Frank?"

Frank made the promise, and Mrs. Gordon—for that was her name—left the room, promising to return before Frank went away.

He was now left alone with the old gentleman.

Horatio Alger