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   Chapter 20 A STRANGE COMMISSION.

Frank and Fearless; or, The Fortunes of Jasper Kent By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8134

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The man whom we have called Dick stopped short and gazed in astonishment at the boy who had so fearlessly stepped upon the scene.

"Where did you come from?" he demanded, frowning.

"From that closet," answered Jasper.

"How came you there? What business have you in my house, anyway?" demanded the ruffian.

"I entered it supposing it to be deserted," said Jasper. "While I was below I heard that poor boy cry, and came up."

"Did you know he was here?" asked the ruffian, turning to his wife, and speaking menacingly.

"Yes, Dick."

"Why did you let him in?"

"He came in while I was out."

"Why didn't you tell me he was here?"

"Because I didn't want him injured in any way. I was afraid you would be angry with him."

"That is where you are right," said Dick, adding an oath. "The young scoundrel shall pay for his impudence in entering my house like a thief."

"You have no right to say that," said Jasper. "I have explained to you why I came here."

"You hid in the closet, intending to come out and steal when we were out of the way."

"What could I steal?" asked Jasper, looking around him.

"Do you mean to taunt me with my poverty?" exclaimed the ruffian, enraged.

"No; I am poorer than you."

"You look like it."

"It is true. I was robbed in the cars by a pickpocket, and because I was penniless and could not pay my fare I was put off at this station."

"Is this true?" demanded Dick, with a searching look.

"Yes; I wish it were not."

"How came you near this house?"

"I set out to walk to the village, and must have lost my way."

"Why did you come out of that closet?" was the next demand.

"Because I heard you abusing that little boy," said Jasper, fearlessly.

"I have a right to do what I please to my own child."

"It isn't your child."

"What do you mean by that, you impudent young jackanapes?"

Unobserved by her husband, the wife made a warning sign to Jasper not to provoke the man, whose evil passion she so well knew.

Jasper comprehended the sign, but it did not influence him. Frank and fearless by temperament, he thought it his duty to stand between the little boy and this ruffian's brutality. Still he appreciated the woman's kindness, and resolved to bear it in mind. Indeed, he saw that she was rather to be pitied than blamed. Her natural instincts were good, but she was under the control of a bad man.

"I heard what you were saying," said Jasper.

"You heard?"

"Yes, while I was in the closet."

"What did you hear, you young scoundrel?" demanded the ruffian.

"Enough to satisfy me that you have stolen this boy from his parents."

"It's a lie!"

"No; it is the truth. I felt sure of it before, and now I know it. You took him in order to extort money from his friends."

"Well," said the ruffian, defiantly, "what if I did? Have you anything to say against it?"

"Yes," said Jasper.

"I shall have to wring your neck by and by," muttered Dick. "Well, go on. Spit out what you've got to say."

"I say it's a cruel wrong to the parents," said Jasper, boldly, "and to the child also. But you make it worse when you try to abuse the boy."

"Come, boy, if you care so much for the brat, suppose you take his place, and take the beating I was going to give him," suggested the ruffian, mockingly.

"I would rather suffer than have him suffer," said Jasper, quietly; "but perhaps you will change your mind when you hear what I have to say."

"Oh, you are going to beg off!" sneered the ruffian, with a look of satisfaction. "I thought you'd come to your senses."

"You are mistaken as to my intention. I want to speak to you about your sister-formerly Mrs. Thorne."

"What do you know about her?" asked the man, in extreme astonishment.

"A good deal. She is my step-mother."

"What! Are you the son of the man she married?" asked Dick, eagerly.

"I am Jasper Kent."

"That's the name. So she sent you out to me, did she? That's better than I thought She hasn't forgotten her brother, after all."

"No; you are mistaken," said J

asper. "She never so much as told me she had a brother."

Dick looked disappointed. Then, with sudden suspicion, he said, roughly:

"I believe you are lying. This Jasper Kent is rich-the heir of two-thirds of his father's property. You say you are penniless."

"That is true. Both stories are true. I am my father's principal heir, but your sister is my guardian. She has treated me in such a way that I left the house."

"Ran away, eh?"

"No, I gave her full notice of what I should do. I told her that if I were decently treated I would stay, but if she continued to insult me, and give the preference in all things to her own boy, Nicholas, I would go away."

"You haven't been such a fool as to go off and leave all your property in her hands?"

"I shall come in possession of it when I am twenty-one. Till then I will try to support myself."

"Come, boy, you're plucky. I'm glad you came, after all. I want to hear more about my sister's affairs. Come down stairs, and we'll talk."

Dick appeared suddenly to have forgotten his animosity. He became even friendly in his manner, as he gave our hero this invitation.

"Old woman," said he, addressing his wife, "can't you rake up something for this boy to eat? I dare say he is hungry."

"I don't think we've got anything more in the house."

"I'll go out directly and get something. Come down, boy, I want to ask you a few more questions."

They went down stairs, followed by the wife. She was happily relieved by the unexpected good understanding between her husband and Jasper.

"Now tell me," said Dick, eagerly, when they were in the lower room, "how much property has my sister got?"

"Probably between thirty and forty thousand dollars."

"As much as that?" said Dick, complacently. "Well, she has feathered her nest well."

"I don't like Mrs. Kent," said Jasper. "Though she is your sister, I am obliged to say that, but it is not at all on account of the property my father left her. If he had given her one-half his estate I would not have complained, as long as she treated me fairly."

"Helen was always a hard customer. She's got a will of her own," chuckled Dick.

"There was no hope of our getting on together," said Jasper.

"She ought to do something for me-don't you think so? I'm her only brother."

"As to that," said Jasper, "my opinion wouldn't have any weight with her. If you are poor and need help, it would be only natural for her to help you."

"That's the way to talk! You won't say anything against me to her?"

"Certainly not," said Jasper. "I shall not write to her at all; and even if I did, I wouldn't try to interfere with her disposing of her property in any way she thinks best."

"Come, you're a trump, after all. I like you. You're plucky, too."

"Thank you."

"I'll say a good word for you to my sister when I see her."

"You'd better not," said Jasper. "If she thinks you are friendly to me you'll stand a poor chance of any favors. Better abuse me."

Dick roared with laughter.

"I say, youngster, you're a smart 'un. I see you're friendly by your hint. I'll abuse you to her, never fear. You must take a drink on that. Say, old woman, where's the whisky?"

"There's not a drop in the house, Dick."

"I forgot. Curse the luck!"

Just then a man entered the house only less brutal-looking than Dick himself.

He held a letter in his hand.

Dick seized it eagerly.

"It's from the father of the boy," he said.

The letter proved to contain fifty dollars.

"I send this in advance," said the writer. "When the boy is safely delivered into my hands a hundred and fifty more will be paid to the one who brings him, and no questions asked.

Herman Fitch."

"Good!" said Dick, "as far as it goes. I'm ready to give up the brat, but will his father keep faith? Perhaps he'll have the police on hand ready to nab me."

"Haven't you anybody to send-anybody you can trust?"

Dick slapped his knee forcibly. An idea had come to him.

"I'll send him in charge of the brat," he said, pointing to Jasper.

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