Mark was in his room, where Frank found him trying on a new necktie. Though decidedly plain, Mark fancied himself very good-looking, and spent no little time on personal adornment. In particular, he had a weakness for new neckties, in which he indulged himself freely.
When the boys came to the academy, the principal proposed that they should room together; but both objected, and Mark had a room to himself—no one caring to room with him.
"Take a seat, Frank," said Mark, condescendingly. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes," answered Frank. "I hear your father has sold Ajax, or is intending to do so. Will you tell me if it is true?"
"I believe it is," answered Mark, indifferently.
"And what right has he to sell my horse?" demanded Frank, indignantly.
"You'd better ask him," said Mark, with provoking coolness.
"It is an outrage," said Frank, indignantly.
"As to that," said his stepbrother, "you can't expect father to be at the expense of feeding your horse."
"With my money?"
"The money is legally his," replied Mark.
"Do you know to whom your father has sold Ajax?"
"To Col. Vincent, I believe."
"I am glad, at any rate, that he will have a good master."
Frank felt that there would be no advantage in prolonging the interview, or carrying on further a war of words.
He sought out his friend Herbert, and communicated to him this last infraction of his rights.
"It is too bad, Frank!" said his sympathizing friend.
"Yes, it is," said Frank, gravely; "but I fear it is only the beginning of annoyances. I don't believe I can ever live in any place with Mr. Manning or Mark."
"Will it be necessary?"
"I suppose so. I have no money, as you know. All has gone to him. Herbert, I tell you frankly, I envy you and your position."
"Though my father is a poor man?"
"Yes; for, at any rate, you have a peaceful home, and a father and mother who love you. I have a stepfather, who will do all he can to make me miserable."
"Would you be willing to work for your own support, Frank?"
"Yes; far rather than remain a dependent on Mr. Manning."
"Suppose you should run away," suggested Herbert.
Frank shook his head.
"I wouldn't do that except in case of extreme necessity. I know that if my mother knows what goes on here, it would grieve her for me to take such a step."
"Suppose your stepfather should consent to your leaving home?"
"Then I would do so gladly. I am willing to work and I think I could make a living in some way."
"Why not ask him?"
Frank's face brightened.
"Thank you for the hint, Herbert," he said. "I will think of it, and I may act upon it."
Frank was naturally self-reliant and energetic. He was not disposed to shrink from the duties of life, but was ready to go forth to meet them. The idea which Herbert had suggested commended itself to him the more he thought of it.
In spite, therefore, of the news which he had received about Ajax, he resumed his cheerfulness, considerably to the surprise of Mark, whose natural suspicion led him to conjecture that Frank had some plan in view to circumvent his father.
"If he has, he'd better give it up," reflected Mark. "The old man's as sly as a fox. A raw boy like Frank can't get the better of him."
At the close of the week, both the boys went home. They were on board the same train and the same car, but did not sit together. When they reached the house, Mr. Manning was not at home.
Frank went out to the stable at once to see Richard Green, the coachman.
He found him, indeed, but he also found another man, a stranger, who appeared to be employed in the stable.
"Who is this, Richard?" asked Frank.
"My successor," answered the coachman.
"Are you going to leave?" asked Frank, hastily.
"Come out with me, Mr. Frank, and I will tell you," said Richard. "I've had notice to leave," he said, "and so has Deborah. It came last evening. Mr. Manning got a letter from Bridgeville—I know that, because I brought it home from the post office—which appeared to make him angry. He called Deborah and me and told us that he should not need our services any longer."
"Did he give you any reason?"
"Yes; he said that he could have our places filled for a good deal less money, and he had no doubt we could do as well elsewhere."
"He has filled your place pretty soon."
"Yes. This man came this morning. I think Mr. Manning had sent for him already. I told you the other day we should soon be discharged."
"I know it; but I can tell you what has hastened it."
"Mark wrote his father that I had learned about the sale of Ajax, and that the information came from you or Deborah."
"I think it likely, Mr. Frank, for the old gentleman seemed mighty cool. I hope you won't take it too much to heart that Ajax is sold."
"I am not sure but I am glad of it," said Frank.
The coachman looked at him in surprise.
"I thought you would be very angry," he said.
"So I was at first, but he has been sold to a man who will treat him well, and I shall be glad to think of that when I'm away from home."
"You don't mean to run away, Mr. Frank?"
"No; but I mean to get my stepfather's permission to go, if I can."
"Where do you mean to go, Mr. Frank?"
"Somewhere where I can earn my living, without depending upon anybody. You know very well, Richard, how miserable I should be to stay here in dependence upon Mr. Manning."
"But to think that you, to whom the property rightfully belongs, should go away and work for a living, while that man and his boy occupy your place. I can't bear to think of it."
"I have done a good deal of thinking within a few days, and I don't shrink from the prospect. I think I should rather enjoy being actively employed."
"But you were to go to college, Mr. Frank."
"I know it, Richard, but I am not sure whether it would be for the best. My tastes are for an active business life, and I don't care for a profession."
"Do you think your stepfather will give you a start?"
"In the way of money?"
"I don't know. If he won't, I have still fifty dollars in the savings bank, which I have saved from my pocket money. I will take that."
"Mr. Frank, will you promise not to be offended at what I'm going to say?"
"I don't think you would say anything that ought to offend me, Richard."
"Then I want you to take the money that comes to me by the will—Mr. Manning is to pay it to me on Monday. I don't need it, and you may."
Frank shook his head.
"You are very kind, Richard, but I will get along with fifty dollars, unless Mr. Manning supplies me with more. If I really need money at any time, I will think of your offer."
"That's something, at any rate," said Richard. partly reconciled. "You won't forget it now, Mr. Frank?"
"No, Richard, I promise you."
Frank left the stable and went thoughtfully into the house.
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