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GILBERT AND JASPER.
Gilbert went to the window and looked out. He was glad to find that it afforded him a prospect of the Mississippi, a mile distant. He could not help speculating on the singular position in which he found himself placed. He had come to this place expecting to receive abuse and defiance from his uncle. On the other hand he had been politely welcomed, and was now a guest. He didn't understand it, but he was glad of it. He was prepared to contend, but he would much prefer to compromise in a friendly manner. His uncle had wronged him, but he was not vindictive.
Meanwhile Jasper, who had been out to the stables, returned to the house and entered his father's presence. He only came in for something he had left in the library, but his father detained him.
"Stop a minute, Jasper," he said. "I want to speak to you."
Jasper turned unwillingly, for he anticipated some remonstrance or criticism upon his conduct.
"I wanted to go out," he said.
"I wish to speak to you on a matter of importance," said his father, seriously.
"Now for a blowing up," thought Jasper. "I suppose I must grin and bear it."
But this time he was mistaken.
"You are going to have company for a few days," said James Grey.
"Who is it?" asked Jasper, in surprise.
"A boy of about your own age. He is up stairs preparing for dinner at this moment."
"Is it any one I know?"
"It is not."
"What is his name?"
"He calls himself Gilbert Grey."
"Is he any relation?"
"He calls himself your cousin."
"Why do you say 'calls himself?'" inquired Jasper, in some mystification.
"Because I do not propose to admit his claim. While he is here, he will pass as a distant relative."
"I don't understand, father. Is his claim a false one?"
"Listen, Jasper, for it is fitting that you should know all, since you are quite as much interested as I am. Do you remember your Uncle John?"
"No. I was too young when he died to remember him."
"It was he that was wealthy, not I. I had a comparatively small interest in the firm, but as he died childless I succeeded naturally to his property. That made me rich, and ever since I have been possessed of large means. But if he had left a son, all this would have been changed. The son would have inherited the bulk of his property, and I should have received an inconsiderable legacy. Do you follow me?"
"Yes, sir, but I don't see the force of it. My uncle left no son."
"Gilbert Grey, as he calls himself, contends that he did leave a son, and he claims to be that son."
"But it is a lie," said Jasper, hastily.
"Of course, but you understand the motive."
"That he may deprive us of the property."
"Why don't you kick him out of the house?" exclaimed Jasper, indignantly. "Of course he is an impostor, and deserves no better treatment."
"I will tell you why. He is very artful, and has forged a pretended confession, and attached to it the signature of an old clerk of our house, who disappeared about the time my nephew was lost, asserting his identity with the lost boy, and charging that I employed him to kidnap the boy, in order that I might succeed to the property."
Jasper fixed a fierce glance upon his father. He had never loved or respected him particularly, and a suspicion entered his mind that the charge might be a true one. But, if admitted, it would reduce him to comparative poverty, and he had no intention of suffering his suspicion to appear. In this matter, at least, he and his father were in entire agreement.
"But, father," he said, after a pause, "can't you prove that it is a forgery?"
"Possibly, but I don't want the matter to come to trial. There are always people, who out of sentimental sympathy would be led to suspect that the rich uncle was guilty of defrauding the poor boy."
"When did you first hear of his claim, father?"
"A short time since, during my recent visit to Cincinnati. I defied him then, and left the city without letting him know my address. But he is evidently shrewd and determined, and he has managed, in some way which I cannot fathom, to discover it. He has followed me up, and here he is."
"What do you mean to do?"
"I find force won't do. He is full of courage, pluck, and determination, and so is an enemy to be dreaded. I am going to try an opposite course."
"You are not going to give up?"
"No, certainly not. I am going to pretend friendship, and having put him off his guard, to get rid of his claim as well as I can. The property I will never surrender, as long as there is a possibility of retaining it," he concluded, firmly.
"I agree with you there, father. So you have invited him to stop here?"
"Yes, and the better to carry out my designs, I want you to act in a particularly friendly manner."
"I will if I can, but I know I shall hate him."
"If you dislike him, adopt the course most likely to injure him."
"You are right, father. I will follow your advice."
"Of course, anything that I communicate to you in this matter must be kept secret for both our sakes. Have I your promise?"
"Then come here."
Jasper drew near his father, and the latter spoke in a lower voice.
"You are a good rider," he said.
"Yes, I can ride as well as any one of my age in the country," said Jasper, proudly.
"Good! Gilbert Grey says he can ride also."
"I am not afraid of his rivalry."
"I am going to send him out to ride with you. You will ride your own horse; he shall ride—Bucephalus."
"Bucephalus, father! He is a vicious beast. I wouldn't dare to ride him myself, and I have no doubt I can ride better than he."
"I would not trust you on him, Jasper. As for Gilbert, I have no particular reason to feel concerned for his safety."
The eyes of the father and son met, and the glance was that of mutual understanding.
"Indeed," added Mr. Grey, "if he should be thrown off, and break his neck, I shouldn't particularly mind. It would rid us both of a dangerous enemy."
"That's so," said Jasper. "It's a capital idea! When shall we ride?"
"To-morrow morning, if it is pleasant. This afternoon you may have the carriage, and drive him round the neighborhood. Be as friendly as you can. Don't let him suspect anything from your manner."
"I won't. You can trust me for that, father."
"Hush! I hear his steps descending the stairs. I will introduce you."
Gilbert, unsuspicious of the wicked plot that had been entered into against him, entered the room at this moment.
"Gilbert," said his uncle, graciously, "let me introduce to you my son, Jasper. He must be near your own age. He has promised to do what he can to make your stay pleasant."
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Grey," said Jasper, advancing with a smile, and speaking in a soft voice. "I have scarcely any companions of my own age, and I shall enjoy your society."
"Thank you," said Gilbert; "I am much obliged to you for your kind reception. I don't think we shall be strangers long."
They talked on various subjects till the bell rang for dinner. No fault could be found with Jasper's manner, which was extremely cordial; yet Gilbert, he could not tell why, was not attracted to his cousin.
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