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The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success, a fiction by Horatio Alger

Chapter 16. Mrs. Brent's Strange Temptation

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Now that Phil is fairly established in the city, circumstances require us to go back to the country town which he had once called home.

Mrs. Brent is sitting, engaged with her needle, in the same room where she had made the important revelation to Phil.

Jonas entered the house, stamping the snow from his boots.

"Is supper most ready, mother?" he asked.

"No, Jonas; it is only four o'clock," replied Mrs. Brent.

"I'm as hungry as a bear. I guess it's the skating."

"I wish you would go to the post-office before supper, Jonas. There might be a letter."

"Do you expect to hear from Phil?"

"He said nothing about writing," said Mrs. Brent indifferently. "He will do as he pleases about it."

"I did'nt know but he would be writing for money," chuckled Jonas.

"If he did, I would send him some," said Mrs. Brent.

"You would!" repeated Jonas, looking at his mother in surprise.

"Yes, I would send him a dollar or two, so that people needn't talk. It is always best to avoid gossip."

"Are you expecting a letter from anybody, mother?" asked Jonas, after a pause.

"I dreamed last night I should receive an important letter," said Mrs. Brent.

"With money in it?" asked Jonas eagerly.

"I don't know."

"If any such letter comes, will you give me some of the money?"

"If you bring me a letter containing money," said Mrs. Brent, "I will give you a dollar."

"Enough said!" exclaimed Jonas, who was fond of money; "I'm off to the post-office at once."

Mrs. Brent let the work fall into her lap and looked intently before her. A flush appeared on her pale face, and she showed signs of restlessness.

"It is strange," she said to herself, "how I have allowed myself to be affected by that dream. I am not superstitious, but I cannot get over the idea that a letter will reach me to-night, and that it will have an important bearing upon my life. I have a feeling, too, that it will relate to the boy Philip."

She rose from her seat and began to move about the room. It was a relief to her in the restless state of her mind. She went to the window to look for Jonas, and her excitement rose as she saw him approaching. When he saw his mother looking from the window, he held aloft a letter.

"The letter has come," she said, her heart beating faster than its wont. "It is an important letter. How slow Jonas is."

And she was inclined to be vexed at the deliberation with which her son was advancing toward the house.

But he came at last.

"Well, mother, I've got a letter--a letter from Philadelphia," he said. "It isn't from Phil, for I know his writing."

"Give it to me, Jonas," said his mother, outwardly calm, but inwardly excited.

"Do you know any one in Philadelphia, mother?"


She cut open the envelope and withdrew the inclosed sheet.

"Is there any money in it?" asked Jonas eagerly.


"Just my luck!" said Jonas sullenly.

"Wait a minute," said his mother. "If the letter is really important, I'll give you twenty-five cents."

She read the letter, and her manner soon showed that she was deeply interested.

We will look over her shoulders and read it with her:



"I write to you on a matter of the greatest importance to my happiness, and shall most anxiously await your reply. I would come to you in person, but am laid up with an attack of rheumatism, and my physician forbids me to travel.

"You are, as I have been informed, the widow of Gerald Brent, who thirteen years since kept a small hotel in the small village of Fultonville, in Ohio. At that date I one day registered myself as his guest. I was not alone. My only son, then a boy of three, accompanied me. My wife was dead, and my affections centered upon this child. Yet the next morning I left him under the charge of yourself and your husband, and pursued my journey. From that day to this I have not seen the boy, nor have I written to you or Mr. Brent. This seems strange, does it not? It requires an explanation, and that explanation I am ready to give.

"To be brief, then, I was fleeing from undeserved suspicion. Circumstances which I need not detail had connected my name with the mysterious disappearance of a near friend, and the fact that a trifling dispute between us had taken place in the presence of witnesses had strengthened their suspicions. Knowing myself to be innocent, but unable to prove it, I fled, taking my child with me. When I reached Fultonville, I became alive to the ease with which I might be traced, through the child's companionship. There was no resource but to leave him. Your husband and yourself impressed me as kind and warm-hearted. I was specially impressed by the gentleness with which you treated my little Philip, and I felt that to you I could safely trust him. I did not, however, dare to confide my secret to any one. I simply said I would leave the boy with you till he should recover from his temporary indisposition, and then, with outward calmness but inward anguish, I left my darling, knowing not if I should ever see him again.

"Well, time passed. I went to Nevada, changed my name, invested the slender sum I had with me in mining, and, after varying fortune, made a large fortune at last. But better fortune still awaited me. In a poor mining hut, two months since, I came across a man who confessed that he was guilty of the murder of which I had been suspected. His confession was reduced in writing, sworn to before a magistrate, and now at last I feel myself a free man. No one now could charge me with a crime from which my soul revolted.

"When this matter was concluded, my first thought was of the boy whom I had not seen for thirteen long years. I could claim him now before all the world; I could endow him with the gifts of fortune; I could bring him up in luxury, and I could satisfy a father's affectionate longing. I could not immediately ascertain where you were. I wrote to Fultonville, to the postmaster, and learned that you and Mr. Brent had moved away and settled down in Gresham, in the State of New York. I learned also that my Philip was still living, but other details I did not learn. But I cared not, so long as my boy still lived.

"And now you may guess my wish and my intention. I shall pay you handsomely for your kind care of Philip, but I must have my boy back again. We have been separated too long. I can well understand that you are attached to him, and I will find a home for you and Mr. Brent near my own, where you can see as often as you like the boy whom you have so tenderly reared. Will you do me the favor to come at once, and bring the boy with you? The expenses of your journey shall, of course, be reimbursed, and I will take care that the pecuniary part of my obligations to you shall be amply repaid. I have already explained why I cannot come in person to claim my dear child.

"Telegraph to me when you will reach Philadelphia, and I will engage a room for you. Philip will stay with me.

"Yours gratefully,



"Mother, here is a slip of paper that has dropped from the letter," said Jonas.

He picked up and handed to his mother a check on a Philadelphia bank for the sum of one hundred dollars.

"Why, that's the same as money, isn't it?" asked Jonas.

"Yes, Jonas."

"Then you'll keep your promise, won't you?"

Mrs. Brent silently drew from her pocket-book a two-dollar bill and handed it to Jonas.

"Jonas," she said, "if you won't breathe a word of it, I will tell you a secret."

"All right, mother."

"We start for Philadelphia to-morrow."

"By gosh! that's jolly," exclaimed Jonas, overjoyed. "I'll keep mum. What was in the letter, mother?"

"I will not tell you just now. You shall know very soon."

Mrs. Brent did not sleep much that night. Her mind was intent upon a daring scheme of imposture. Mr. Granville was immensely wealthy, no doubt. Why should she not pass off Jonas upon him as his son Philip, and thus secure a fortune for her own child? _

Read next: Chapter 17. Jonas Joins The Conspiracy

Read previous: Chapter 15. Phil And The Fortune-Teller

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