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Chapter 40

JONAS BARTON


Frank started for his old home on Saturday afternoon. He would arrive in time for supper, at the house of his father's friend. The train was well filled, and he was obliged to share his seat with a shabbily dressed young man with whom, a single glance showed him, he was not likely to sympathize.

The shabby suit did not repel him at all—he was too sensible for that; but there was a furtive look in the man's face, which seemed to indicate that he was not frank and straightforward, but had something to conceal.

Half the journey passed without a word between the two. Then his companion, glancing at Frank, opened a conversation by remarking that it was a fine day.

"Very," answered Frank, laconically.

"A pleasant day to travel."

"Yes."

"Do you go far?"

Frank mentioned his destination. His companion seemed to have his interest awakened.

"Do you know a Mr. Manning, living in your town?" he asked.

"He is my stepfather," said Frank.

"Then you are Frank Courtney?" said his new acquaintance, quickly.

"I am."

"Pardon me, but I think your mother died recently?"

"Yes."

"And the property was left chiefly to Mr. Manning?"

"Yes."

"Of course, you were surprised, and probably very disappointed?"

"Excuse me," said Frank, coldly; "but I am not in the habit of discussing my affairs with strangers."

"Quite right, but I think you will find it for your interest to discuss them with me. Not in a public car, of course; but I have something of importance to communicate. Where can I have a private interview with you?"

It at once occurred to Frank that there was an opportunity, perhaps, to solve the mystery concerning the will. This man might know nothing about it; but, on the other hand, he might know everything. It would be foolish to repulse him.

"If you have anything important to tell me, I shall be glad to hear it," he said. "I am going to the house of my friend, Col. Vincent, to pass a few days. Do you know where he lives?"

"Yes, I know."

"If you will call this evening, after supper, I shall be glad to see you."

"I will do so. I will be there at eight o'clock, sharp."

On arriving at his destination, Frank found the colonel's carriage waiting for him at the station.

Col. Vincent was inside.

"Welcome, Frank!" he said, grasping heartily the hand of our young hero. "I am delighted to see you. You are looking well, and, bless me, how you have grown!"

"Thank you, Col. Vincent. Do you expect me to return the compliment?"

"About having grown? No, Frank, I hope not. I am six feet one, and don't care to grow any taller. Well, what do you think of the news?"

"I have some for you, colonel;" and Frank mentioned what his new acquaintance had told him.

"The missing link!" exclaimed the colonel, excited. "Do you know what I think?"

"What?"

"That this man either forged the will which gives the property to your stepfather, or is cognizant of it!"

"I thought of that."

"I shall be impatient to see him."

At eight o'clock the man called and gave his name as Jonas Barton. Whether it was the right name might be a question; but this did not matter.

"I understand," said Col. Vincent, "that you have some information to give us."

"I have; and that of a very important nature."

"Is it of a nature to restore to my young friend here his property now in the possession of Mr. Manning?"

"If it were," said Jonas Barton with a cunning glance of his left eye "how much would it be worth?"

"I supposed it was for sale," said the colonel, quietly. "What is your own idea?"

"I will take two thousand dollars."

"Suppose we say one thousand?"

"It is not enough."

"Were you aware that the genuine will had been found?" asked the colonel, quietly.

Jonas Barton started.

"I thought Mr. Manning destroyed it," he said, hastily.

"No; he concealed it."

"Is this true?"

"Yes. You see that a part of your information has been forestalled."

"He was a fool, then, and still more a fool to refuse my last demand for money. I accept your offer of a thousand dollars, and will tell all."

"Go on."

"I wrote the will which Mr. Manning presented for probate. It was copied in part from the genuine will."

"Good! And you betray him because he will not pay what you consider the service worth?"

"Yes, sir."

Jonas Barton here gave a full account of Mr. Manning, whom he had formerly known in New York, seeking him out and proposing to him a job for which he was willing to pay five hundred dollars. Barton was not scrupulous, and readily agreed to do the work. He was skillful with the pen, and did his work so well that all were deceived.

"You will be willing to swear to this in court?"

"Yes, sir, if you will guarantee the sum you proposed."

"I will. I shall wish you to find a boarding place in the village, and remain here for the present, so as to be ready when needed. I will be responsible for your board."

As Jonas Barton was leaving the house, one of the servants came in with important news, in which Frank was strongly interested.

Horatio Alger