Frank and Mark took supper alone, Mr. Manning having left word that he would not return till later in the evening.
After supper, Frank decided to go over to call upon Col. Vincent, the new owner of Ajax. His estate was distant about three-quarters of a mile from the Cedars.
As Frank started, Mark inquired:
"Where are you going, Frank?"
"To see Ajax," answered our hero.
"Do you mean to make any fuss about him? I wouldn't advise you to."
"Thank you for your advice."
"I wonder what he is going to do?" thought Mark. "Of course he can't do anything now."
He did not venture to propose to accompany Frank, knowing that his company would not be acceptable.
"Is Col. Vincent at home?" asked Frank, at the door of a handsome house.
"Yes, Mr. Courtney," replied the colored servant, pleasantly, for Frank was a favorite among all classes in the neighborhood. "Come right in, sir. De colonel am smoking a cigar on de back piazza."
Frank followed the servant through the hall which intersected the house, and stepped out on the back piazza.
A stout, elderly gentleman was taking his ease in a large rustic rocking chair.
"Good-evening, Col. Vincent," our hero said.
"Good-evening, Frank, my boy," said the colonel, heartily. "Glad to see you. Haven't you gone back to school?"
"Yes, sir; but I came home to spend Sunday. It doesn't seem much like home now," he added, as his lip quivered.
"You have suffered a great loss, my dear boy," said the colonel, feelingly.
"The greatest, sir. My mother was all I had."
"I suppose Mr. Manning will keep up the establishment?"
"I suppose so, sir; but it is no longer home to me."
"Don't take it too hard, Frank. I was sorry about the will."
"So was I, sir; because it makes me dependent on a man whom I dislike."
"Don't be too prejudiced, Frank. I never took any fancy to your stepfather myself; but then we don't need to like everybody we associate with."
"I hear you have bought my horse, Col. Vincent," said Frank, desiring to change the subject.
"Was Ajax your horse?"
"Yes. It was given to me as a birthday present by my mother."
"I had some such idea, and expressly asked Mr. Manning whether the horse was not yours."
"What did he answer?"
"That it was only nominally yours, and that he thought it best to sell it, as both you and Mark were absent at school, and had no time to use it."
"I am not surprised at anything Mr. Manning may say," said Frank.
"It's too bad! I'll tell you what I will do, Frank. I haven't paid for the horse yet. I will return it to Mr. Manning, and tell him that I bought it under a misapprehension of the ownership. I don't think he will make any fuss."
"I would rather have you keep it, sir."
"You would!" exclaimed the colonel, in surprise.
"Yes, sir. If you should return Ajax, Mr. Manning would sell him to some one else, and you, I know, will treat him well."
"But you will lose the use of him. No, you won't, though. Come over to my stable when you like, and, if he is not in use, you can take him out."
"Thank you, sir! You are very kind. While I am in the neighborhood, I won't forget your kind offer. But I mean to go away."
"You mean to go away! Where?"
"Out into the world. Anywhere, where I can find work and make a living."
"But surely this is not necessary. Your stepfather will provide for you without your working."
"I have no reason to doubt it, Col. Vincent; but I shall be happier in the world outside."
"Of course you will let Mr. Manning know of your intention to leave home?"
"I shall ask his permission to go at the end of my school term. That comes in a couple of weeks."
"Where will you go?"
"A cousin of my father is at Newark, New Jersey. I think I shall go to him first, and ask his advice about getting a place either there or in New York."
"You will need some money to start with. Do you think Mr. Manning will give you any?"
"I don't know, sir! That won't prevent my going. I have fifty dollars in a savings bank, saved up from my allowance, and that will be all I shall need."
"If you have any difficulty on that score, Frank, remember that I was your father's friend, and mean to be yours. Apply to me at any time when you are in a strait."
"I will, sir, and thank you heartily."
"That was a strange will, Frank. I don't want to put any ideas into your head to disturb you, but had your mother ever led you to suspect that she intended to leave you dependent on your stepfather?"
"Don't you think she would have done so, had she had such a plan in view?"
"I do," said Frank, quickly.
The colonel's eye met his, and each knew what the other suspected.
"There is nothing for me to do at present, sir," said Frank. "If Mr. Manning does not interfere with my plans, I shall not trouble him."
"I will hint as much when I see him. It may clear the way for you."
"I wish you would, sir."
"Come and see me again, Frank," said the colonel, as Frank rose to go.
"I certainly will, sir."
"Your father's son will always be welcome at my house. When did you say your school term closes?"
"In a fortnight."
"I will see your stepfather within a few days. By the way, Frank, wouldn't you like a gallop on Ajax to-night?"
"Yes, sir; I should enjoy it."
"Come out to the stable with me, then."
Ajax whinnied with delight when he saw his old, or rather his young master, and evinced satisfaction when Frank stroked him caressingly.
"Sam," said Col. Vincent, "Frank is to ride Ajax whenever he pleases. Saddle him for his use whenever he asks you."
"That I will, sir" answered Sam. "Often and often I've seen Mr. Frank on his back. Doesn't he ride well, though?"
"Don't flatter me, Sam," said Frank, laughing.
Five minutes later he was on the back of his favorite horse, galloping down the road.
"I hope I shall meet Mark," thought Frank. "I would like to give him a sensation."
Considering the manner in which Mark had treated his stepbrother, Frank may be excused for the wish to puzzle him a little.
Finding himself lonely, Mark decided to take a walk not long after Frank's departure. He was sauntering along the road, when he heard the sound of hoofs, and, to his surprise, saw his stepbrother on the back of Ajax.
His first thought was that Frank had gone to Col. Vincent's stable and brought away Ajax without permission, in defiance of Mr. Manning's will. He resolved to take him to task for it immediately. Frank purposely slackened the speed of his horse in order to give Mark the chance he sought.
"Why are you riding Ajax?" asked Mark.
"It is a pleasant evening," answered Frank, "and I thought I should enjoy it."
"Where did you get him?"
"From Col. Vincent's stable, where he never ought to have been carried," answered Frank, with spirit.
"You seem to think you can do anything you like, Frank Courtney," said Mark, provoked, deciding that his suspicions were well founded.
"Is there any particular reason why I should not ride Ajax?" demanded Frank.
"You have made yourself liable to arrest for horse stealing," said Mark. "It would serve you right if Col. Vincent should have you arrested and tried."
"I don't think he will gratify your kind wishes, Mark."
"Just wait and see what my father has to say to you."
"I have only done what I had a perfect right to do; but I can't stop to dispute with you. I must finish my ride. Hey, Ajax!"
As he spoke the horse dashed into a gallop, and Mark was left looking after him in a disturbed frame of mind.
"I'll tell my father as soon as he gets home," he decided; and he kept his word.
In consequence, Frank, by that time returned, was summoned into Mr. Manning's presence.
"What is this I hear?" he began. "Did you ride Ajax this evening?"
"Where did you find him?"
"In Col. Vincent's stable."
"This is a high-handed proceeding, Frank Courtney. Have you any excuse to offer?"
"None is needed sir. Col. Vincent has given me permission to ride him whenever I please."
"It appears to me, Mark," said Mr. Manning, sharply, "that you have made a fool of yourself."
"How should I know?" replied Mark, mortified by the collapse of his sensation. "Frank didn't tell me he had leave to use the horse."
And he left the room, looking foolish.
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