Mr. Hamlin stopped his horse a quarter of a mile from the village in front of a plain farmhouse.
An intelligent-looking boy, of perhaps fifteen, coarsely but neatly dressed, approached and greeted his father, not without a glance of surprise and curiosity at Frank.
"You may unharness the horses, Dick," said Mr. Hamlin. "When you come back, I will introduce you to a boy friend who will stay with us a while."
Dick obeyed, and Frank followed his host into the house.
Here he was introduced to Mrs. Hamlin, a motherly-looking woman, and Annie and Grace, younger sisters of Dick.
"I am glad to see you," said Mrs. Hamlin, to our hero, after a brief explanation from her husband. "We will try to make you comfortable."
"Thank you!" said Frank. "I am sure I shall feel at home."
The house was better furnished than might have been anticipated. When Mr. Hamlin left Chicago, he had some money saved up, and he furnished his house in a comfortable manner.
It was not, however, the furniture that attracted Frank's attention so much as the books, papers and pictures that gave the rooms a homelike appearance.
"I shall be much better off here than I would have been at the tavern," he thought. "This seems like home."
"I see," said Mr. Hamlin, "that you are surprised to see so many books and pictures. I admit that my house does not look like the house of a poor man, who has to struggle for the mere necessaries of life. But books and periodicals we have always classed among the necessities, and I am sure we would all rather limit ourselves to dry bread for two out of the three meals than to give up this food for the mind."
"I think you are a very sensible man, Mr. Hamlin," said Frank. "I couldn't get along without something to read."
"Not in this out-of-the-way place, at any rate," said Mr. Hamlin. "Nothing can be more dismal than the homes of some of my neighbors, who spend as much, or more, than I do every year. Yet, they consider me extravagant because I buy books and subscribe for periodicals."
By this time, Dick came in from the barn.
"Dick," said his father, "this is Frank Courtney, who comes from Chicago on a business errand. He is a traveling merchant—"
"In other words, a peddler," said Frank, with a smile, "ready to give the good people in Jackson a chance to buy stationery at reasonable prices."
"He will board with us while he is canvassing the neighborhood, and I expect you and he will become great friends."
"I think we shall," said Frank.
Dick was a little shy, but a few minutes set him quite at ease with his new acquaintance.
After supper, Frank said:
"Dick, if you are at leisure, I wish you would take a walk about the village with me. I want to see how it looks."
"All right," said Dick.
When the two left the house, the country boy began to ask questions.
"How do you like your business?" he asked.
"Not very well," answered Frank. "I do not think I shall stay in it very long."
"Do you sell enough to make your expenses?" asked Dick.
"No; but I am not wholly dependent on my sales. I have a little income—a hundred dollars a year—paid me by my stepfather."
"I wish I had as much. It seems a good deal to me."
"It doesn't go very far. What are you intending to be, Dick?"
"I suppose I shall have to be a farmer, though I don't like it."
"What would you like to be?"
"I should like to get an education," said Dick, his eyes lighting up. "I should like to study Latin and Greek, and go to college. Then I could be a teacher or a lawyer. But there is no chance of that," he added, his voice falling.
"Don't be too sure of that, Dick," said Frank Frank, hopefully. "Something may turn up in your favor."
"Nothing ever does turn up in Jackson," said the boy, in a tone of discouragement. "Father is a poor man, and has hard work to get along. He can give me no help."
"Isn't the farm productive?"
"There is no trouble about that, but he has to pay too high a rent. It's all the fault of Fairfield."
"Your father was telling me about him. Now, if your father were in his place, I suppose he could give you the advantages you wish."
"Oh, yes! There would be no trouble then. I am sure he would make a better and more popular agent than Mr. Fairfield; but there is no use thinking about that."
"I expected myself to go to college," said Frank. "In fact, I have studied Latin and Greek, and in less than a year I could be ready to enter."
"Why don't you?" asked Dick.
"You forget that I am a poor peddler."
"Then how were you able to get so good an education?" asked Dick, in surprise.
"Because I was once better off than I am now. The fact is, Dick," he added, "I have seen better days. But when I was reduced to poverty, I gave up hopes of college education and became what I am."
"Wasn't it hard?"
"Not so much as you might suppose. My home was not happy. I have a stepfather and stepbrother, neither of whom I like. In fact, there is no love lost between us. I was not obliged to leave home, but under the circumstances I preferred to."
"Where are your stepfather and your stepbrother now?"
"They are traveling in Europe."
"While you are working hard for a living! That does not seem to be just."
"We must make the best of circumstances, Dick. Whose is that large house on the left?"
"That belongs to Mr. Fairfield.
"He seems to live nicely."
"Yes, he has improved and enlarged the house a good deal since he moved into it—at Mrs. Percival's expense, I suppose."
"He seems to have pretty much his own way here," said Frank.
"Yes. Mr. Percival never comes to Jackson, and I suppose he believes all that the agent tells him."
"He may get found out some time."
"I wish he might. It would be a great blessing to Jackson if he were removed and a good man were put in his place."
"That may happen some day."
"Not very likely, I am afraid."
At this moment Mr. Fairfield himself came out of his front gate.
"Hello, Hamlin!" he said, roughly, to Dick. "Is your father at home?"
"I have something to say to him. I think I will call round."
"You will find him at home, sir."
"Dick," said Frank, when the agent had passed on, "do you mind going back? What you tell me makes me rather curious about Mr. Fairfield. At your house I may get a chance to see something of him."
"Let us go back, then," said Dick; "but I don't think, Frank, that you will care much about keeping up the acquaintance."
"Perhaps not; but I shall gratify my curiosity."
The two boys turned and followed the agent closely. They reached the house about five minutes after Mr. Fairfield.
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