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Chapter 7

A SCHOOL FRIEND


Early Monday morning it had been the custom for Frank and Mark to take the train for Bridgeville, to enter upon a new week at the academy.

Frank felt that it would be better for him to go back without any further vacation, as occupation would serve to keep him from brooding over his loss.

"Are you ready, Mark?" he asked, as he rose from the breakfast table.

"Ready for what?"

"To go back to school, of course."

"I am not going back this morning," answered Mark.

"Why not?" asked Frank, in some surprise.

"I am going to stay at home to help father," said Mark, with a glance at Mr. Manning.

"If I can be of any service to you, sir, I will stay, too," said Frank, politely.

"Thank you, but Mark will do all I require," replied his stepfather.

"Very well, sir."

Frank appeared at the academy with a grave face and subdued manner, suggestive of the great loss he had sustained. From his schoolfellows, with whom he was a favorite, he received many words of sympathy—from none more earnest or sincere than from Herbert Grant.

"I know how you feel, Frank," he said, pressing the hand of his friend. "If I could comfort you I would, but I don't know how to do it."

"I find comfort in your sympathy," said Frank. "I look upon you as my warmest friend here."

"I am glad of that, Frank."

To Herbert alone Frank spoke of his mother and her devoted affection; but even to him he did not like to mention the will and his disinheritance. He did not so much lament the loss of the property as that he had lost it by the direction of his mother, or, rather, because it would generally be supposed so.

For himself, he doubted the genuineness of the will, but he felt that it was useless to speak of it, as he was unprepared with any proofs.

So it happened that when, on Wednesday afternoon Mark Manning made his appearance, Frank's change of position, as respected the property, was neither known nor suspected by his schoolfellows. It was soon known, however, and of course, through Mark.

The boys immediately noticed a change in Mark. He assumed an air of consequence, and actually strutted across the campus. Instead of being polite and attentive to Frank, he passed him with a careless nod, such as a superior might bestow on an inferior.

"What has come over Mark?" asked Herbert of Frank, as the two were walking together from recitation.

"How do you mean?"

"He holds his head higher than he used to do. He looks as if he had been elected to some important office."

"You will soon learn, Herbert," said Frank. "Make a pretext to join him, and let the news come from him."

Herbert looked puzzled.

"Do you wish me to do this?" he asked.

"Yes, I have a reason for it."

"Very well. I am always ready to oblige you, Frank, but I hope Mark won't think I have suddenly formed a liking for his society."

"If he does, you can soon undeceive him."

"That is true."

Herbert left the side of his friend, and sauntered toward Mark.

As Herbert was known as Frank's especial friend, Mark was at first surprised, but quickly decided that his improved position had been communicated by Frank, and that Herbert was influenced by it. That is to say, he judged Herbert to be as mean and mercenary as himself.

Herbert's position was too humble to entitle him to much notice from Mark, but the latter was pleased with the prospect of detaching from Frank his favorite friend.

"You came back rather late, Mark," said Herbert.

"Yes," answered Mark, with an air of importance. "I remained at home a short time, to help my father in his accounts. You know the property is large, and there is a good deal to do."

"I should think that was Frank's place, to help about the accounts."

"Why?"

"The property is his, of course!"

"Did he tell you that?" asked Mark, sharply.

"He has not said a word about the property."

"No, I suppose not," said Mark, with a sneering laugh.

"Has anything happened? Didn't his mother leave as much as was expected?" went on Herbert, quite in the dark.

"Yes, she left a large estate, but she didn't leave it to him."

"To whom, then?"

"To my father!" replied Mark, with conscious pride. "Frank has nothing. He is entirely dependent upon father."

"Did his mother leave him nothing, then?" asked Herbert, in pained surprise.

"Nothing at all," assured Mark, complacently.

"That is very strange and unjust."

"I don't look upon it in that light," said Mark, nettled. "My father knows what is best for him. He will provide for him just as his mother did before."

"But when Frank is of age, doesn't he come into possession of the estate then?"

"No, of course not. Didn't I tell you it belongs to father? Frank is a poor boy—as poor as you," said Mark, in a tone of evident satisfaction.

"Or you," added Herbert, pointedly.

"You are mistaken," said Mark, quickly. "I am father's heir."

"Suppose your father dies—how will the property go?"

"I suppose something will be left to Frank, unless my father leaves me the property, with directions to provide for him."

"Would you think that right and just?" demanded Herbert, indignantly.

"Of course I would. My stepmother knew what she was about when she made her will. I see you are surprised. You won't be quite to thick with Frank, now, I expect."

"Why shouldn't I be?"

"Because he is just as poor as you are. He never can help you."

"Mark Manning, I believe you are about the meanest boy I ever encountered, and you judge me by yourself!"

"Do you mean to insult me? Mind what you say!" blustered Mark, unpleasantly surprised at this outburst from a boy whom he expected would now transfer his allegiance from Frank to himself.

"I mean that you and your father have robbed Frank of his inheritance, and glory in it, and you think that I am mean enough to desert him because he is no longer rich. It makes no difference to me whether he is rich or poor. I think I like him all the better because he has been so badly treated. As for you, I despise you, and shall continue to, even if you get the whole of Frank's money."

"You forget that you are talking to a gentleman, you low-born mechanic!" said Mark, angrily.

"You a gentleman!" replied Herbert, contemptuously. "Then I never want to be one!"

He walked away, leaving Mark very much incensed.

"He is a fool!" muttered Mark. "When I am a rich man, he may repent having insulted me."

Herbert went back to Frank.

"Did he tell you?" asked Frank, quietly.

"Yes; and he actually appeared to think I would be ready to desert you because you were poor, and follow him about."

"I am not afraid of that, Herbert."

"I don't think Mark will have that idea any more. I gave him a piece of my mind, and left him very angry. But what does it all mean, Frank?"

"I know no more than you do, Herbert. I cannot understand it."

"What could have induced your mother to make such a will?"

"I cannot believe my poor mother ever made such a will; but, if she did, I am very sure that she was over-persuaded by my stepfather, who is one of the most plausible of men."

"What shall you do about it?"

"What can I do? I am only a boy. I have no proof, you know."

"How are you likely to be treated?"

"I have had a little foretaste of that."

"It looks very bad for you, Frank," admitted Herbert, in a tone of sympathy.

"I don't so much care for the loss of the property, Herbert," said Frank, "but I am afraid I shall have sorts of annoyances to endure from Mark and his father. But I won't anticipate trouble. I will do my duty, and trust that things will turn out better than I fear."

The next afternoon a letter was placed in Frank's hands. It was in a brown envelope, and directed in a cramped and evidently unpracticed hand, with which Frank was not familiar.

On opening it, a glance at the signature showed that it was from Richard Green, the coachman. It commenced:

"Dear Mr. Frank: This comes hoping you are well. I have no good news to tell. Mr. Manning has sold your horse, Ajax, and he is to be taken away to-night. I thought you ought to know it, and that is why I take my pen in hand to write."

There was more, but this is all that was important.

Frank's face flushed with anger. He immediately went in search of Mark, who, he felt assured, knew of the sale.

It may be said here that Ajax was one of Frank's dearest trophies, a gift from his mother.

Horatio Alger