"Then this is from him. Odd we should just have been talking about him.
Mr. Franklin's face grew grave, then angry, as he read the letter.
"That boy will come to no good end," he muttered. "I don't know what we are going to do with him."
Edith watched him curiously. She wished that her father would give her the letter to read, but he did not. People were hurrying by to the station, which was but a few steps from the post-office.
"You will miss your train, Franklin," said some one, tapping him on the shoulder.
Mr. Franklin glanced at the clock in the station tower, found that he had but half a minute, and with a hasty good-by to Edith, and strict injunctions not to mention Bronson's letter at home, he ran for his train, thrusting the mysterious note into his pocket as he went.
Edith did the errands and drove home again, after a brief call upon Gertrude Morgan, who was full of curiosity about Neal's return.
"I always knew he was pretty gay," she said. "Of course Tom and Tony Bronson wouldn't say much--boys never do, you know; but I gathered from certain things that Neal was--well, rather sporty, to say the least."
Edith drove homeward rather slowly. She was very sorry about it all: sorry for Neal himself, whom she liked, despite the fact that he was a Gordon; sorry for her step-mother, whom she told herself she disliked; and yet Mrs. Franklin's unvarying kindness and sweet temper had not been without good results. Edith had softened greatly towards her, more than she herself was aware of. She still continued to a.s.sure herself that it was an unfortunate day for them when the Gordons came, and she worked herself into a temper when she thought of the added worriment it gave her father to have Neal behave as he had done.
"Papa looked so anxious this morning when he read that letter," she said to herself. "It is too bad. I do wonder what was in it, and from Tony Bronson, too! What would Gertrude have said if I had told her?"
In the mean time Mr. Franklin was reading his letter again.
"MY DEAR MR. FRANKLIN [it ran],--It is with great regret that I am obliged to call a little matter to your attention. I had hoped that it would not be necessary. Your brother-in-law, Neal Gordon, owes me a small amount, fifty dollars, in fact, and I am at present really in need of the money. I have waited for it a good while, nearly a year, and there are one or two bills that I am expected to pay out of my allowance, which I am unable to do until Gordon pays me.
"Of course I dislike very much to dun him for it when he is in disgrace, but really I see no other way out of the difficulty than to ask you if you will kindly forward a check to my order.
"Very truly yours, "ANTHONY BRONSON.
"St. Asaph's, _April 2d_."
This letter had cost the writer much thought. He had written several copies before he was altogether satisfied, but at last the result pleased him.
"I call it rather neat," he said, as he folded it carefully and addressed the envelope with an extra flourish. "This will bring the roof down on our fine high-and-mighty Mr. Gordon, if nothing else does. I fancy that brother-in-law of his has a nice little temper of his own, and it will be so pleasant for Gordie to be nagged by a brother-in-law!"
When Edith got back to Oakleigh the morning that Bronson's note was received she found wild excitement raging, which, for a time, made her forget the letter.
Some of the Leghorn pullets, which, unfortunately, could fly high, had escaped from the yard, notwithstanding the wire netting which enclosed them, and had been having a fine time scratching and pecking in entirely new hunting-grounds, when Bob happened along.
Here was his chance. For many months he had been waiting for this very moment. What was the use of being a sporting dog, if he could not now and then indulge his hunting proclivities? His master had gone on the river and left him at home--his master did not treat him well, nowadays.
Bob felt neglected. He would have one good time.
He waited his opportunity, and when it came he made the most of it. A fine fat hen, peacefully picking a worm, found the tables suddenly turned. Instead of the worm being in her mouth, she found herself in the mouth of the horrible black object which she had often seen peering greedily at her through the fence. Oh, that she had never flown over that fence! She gave one despairing "cluck" as she was borne madly through the air, and then was silent forever.
Janet and w.i.l.l.y, playing near, heard the noise and followed in pursuit, calling Cynthia as they did so, who, seeing what was the matter, flew from the house, dogwhip in hand. The boys were both on the river.
For a time the chase was hopeless. Bob had not waited all these months for nothing; he had no intention of dropping the prize at the first command. Round and round he tore, leading his pursuers a pretty dance through orchard and field, over the lawn, and through the currant-bushes. Cynthia fell at this particular point, with Janet and w.i.l.l.y on top of her, but they picked themselves up and started again.
At last Mrs. Franklin, coming out, headed Bob off, and Cynthia grasped his collar.
"Bad dog!" she cried. "Neal told me I was to punish you, and I mean to do it."
She cut him with the short whip, but it was of no avail. Bob had dropped the chicken, and, wild with excitement, sprang from her hand. She only succeeded in lashing herself with the whip.
"It's no use," she said at last. "I've got to punish him some other way.
The boys won't be home for ever so long, and it won't do to wait."
"I have always heard the only way of curing a dog of killing hens was to tie one around his neck," said Mrs. Franklin, doubtfully. "Perhaps it had better be done. We will call one of the men."
"No, I will do it all," said Cynthia; "it's not a very nice piece of work, but I'll do it."
[Ill.u.s.tration: POOR BOB! HIS JOY HAD BEEN QUICKLY TURNED TO MOURNING.]
Cord was brought, and she finally succeeded in attaching the defunct hen to Bob's collar. Poor Bob! His joy had been quickly turned to mourning.
And now this stern Cynthia--she who had hitherto been apparently so affably disposed towards him--fastened him to the hitching-post, and came with a horrid horsewhip to chastise him! Bob never forgot that morning. He always thought of Cynthia with more respect after that.
When Neal came home he highly approved of all the proceedings except the horsewhip.
"Couldn't you do it with his own whip?" he asked. "It places a dog at a mean disadvantage to tie him up and then whip him. It is so lowering to his dignity."
"One of us had to be at a disadvantage," said Cynthia, indignantly, "and I should think it was better for Bob to be at it than for me. And as for his dignity, I think it ought to be lowered."
To which wise remark Neal was forced to agree.
Jack was much disgusted at losing one of his best hens. What with the fox last winter, and a neighbor's dog that had killed seven, and a peculiar disease which had taken off fifty, luck seemed to be against the poultry business. But, undiscouraged, Jack had refilled the machine and was awaiting results. Some of last year's hens had begun to lay, and he was sending eggs to the Boston markets. There were actually a few more figures on the page for receipts.
Bob's misdemeanor temporarily diverted the minds of the family from the trouble about Neal, but Mr. Franklin's return that night brought up the subject again to some of them.
He told his wife that he wished to speak with her, and together they went into the library and shut the door. He laid two letters before her on the table--the one he had received that morning from Bronson, and a second one from the same source, which had come by the evening mail. The latter was very brief:
"MY DEAR MR. FRANKLIN,--The very day that I sent my letter to you I received a money-order from Gordon for the amount he owed me.
"Regretting very much that I should have troubled you, I have the honor to be
"Very truly yours, "ANTHONY BRONSON."
"What does it mean!" asked Mr. Franklin, when his wife had finished reading the letters.
"I cannot imagine," said she, looking up, completely mystified.
"Did you lend him the money?"
"No, certainly not. I should have told you, John, if I had," she added, reproachfully.
"I know," he said, as he walked up and down the room, "but I could not account for it in any other way. It is extraordinary."
"Suppose we send for Neal and ask him about it."
When Neal came he was given the two letters to read. He did so, and laid them down without a word.
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