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Chapter 6

AN UNSATISFACTORY INTERVIEW


Frank came to a decision the next morning. A long deferred interview with his stepfather was necessary. Having made up his mind, he entered the room in which his stepfather sat. His air was manly and his bearing that of a boy who respects himself, but there was none of the swagger which some boys think it necessary to exhibit when they wish to assert their rights.

Mr. Manning, in a flowered dressing gown, sat at a table, with a sheet of paper before him and a lead pencil in his hand. Short as had been the interval since his accession to the property, he was figuring up the probable income he would derive from the estate.

He looked up as Frank entered the room, and surveyed him with cold and sarcastic eyes. His soft tones were dropped.

"Mr. Manning," said Frank, "I wish to talk to you."

"You may, of course," his stepfather replied mildly. "It is about the will," Frank advised him.

"So you would complain of your poor mother, would you?" said his stepfather, in a tone of virtuous indignation.

"I cannot believe that my mother made that will."

Mr. Manning colored. He scented danger. Should Frank drop such hints elsewhere, he might make trouble, and lead to a legal investigation, which Mr. Manning had every reason to dread.

"This is very foolish," he said, more mildly. "No doubt you are disappointed, but probably your mother has provided wisely. You will want for nothing, and you will be prepared for the responsibilities of manhood under my auspices."

Mr. Manning's face assumed a look of self-complacence as he uttered these last words.

"I have no blame to cast upon my dear mother," said Frank. "If she made that will, she acted under a great mistake."

"What mistake, sir?"

"She failed to understand you."

"Do you mean to imply that I shall be false to my trust?"

"Not at present, sir. I don't wish to judge of you too hastily."

As the boy turned to go, he said. "I have nothing further to say, sir."

"But I have," said Mr. Manning.

"Very well, sir."

"I demand that you treat my son Mark with suitable respect, and forbear to infringe upon his rights."

Frank looked up, and answered, with spirit: "I shall treat Mark as well as he treats me, sir. Is that satisfactory?"

"I apprehend," said Mr. Manning, "that you may make some mistakes upon that point."

"I will try not to do so, sir."

Frank left the room, and this time was not called back.

His stepfather looked after him, but his face expressed neither friendliness nor satisfaction.

"That boy requires taming," he said to himself. "He is going to make trouble. I must consider what I will do with him."

As Mr. Manning reviewed Frank's words, there was one thing which especially disturbed him—the doubt expressed by his stepson as to his mother's having actually made the will.

He saw that it would not do for him to go too far in his persecution of Frank as it might drive the latter to consult a lawyer in regard to the validity of the will by which he had been disinherited.

Frank rather gloomily made his way to the stable. As he reached it, Richard Green came out.

"I'm sorry for you, Mr. Frank. But your mother was a saint. She was too good to suspect the badness of others, Mr. Frank. She thought old Manning was really all that he pretended to be, and that he would be as kind to you as she was herself. When she was alive, he was always as soft as—as silk."

"His manner has changed now," said Frank, gravely. "Excuse me, Richard, for finding fault with you, but don't call him old Manning."

"Why not, Mr. Frank?"

"I have no liking for Mr. Manning—in fact, I dislike him—but he was the husband of my mother, and I prefer to speak of him respectfully."

"I dare say you are right, Mr. Frank, but, all the same, he don't deserve it. Is Mr. Mark to ride Ajax then?"

"If he asks for it, you are to saddle Ajax for him. I don't want you to get into any trouble with Mr. Manning on my account."

"I don't care for that, Mr. Frank. I can get another place, and I don't much care to serve Mr. Manning."

"I would rather you would stay, if you can, Richard. I don't want to see a new face in the stable."

"I don't think he means to keep me long, Mr. Frank. Deborah and I will have to go, I expect, and he'll get some servants of his own here."

"Has he hinted anything of this, Richard?" asked Frank, quickly.

"No; but he will soon, you may depend on it. I won't lose sight of you, though. I've known you since you were four years old, and I won't desert you, if I can do any good—nor Deborah, either."

"I have two friends, then, at any rate," said Frank to himself. "That is something."

Horatio Alger