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

Chapter 36. The False Heir

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In the suburbs of Chicago, perhaps a dozen miles from the great city, stands a fine country house, in the midst of a fine natural park. From the cupola which surmounts the roof can be seen in the distance the waters of Lake Michigan, stretching for many miles from north to south and from east to west, like a vast inland sea.

The level lawns, the greenhouses, the garden with rare plants and flowers, show clearly that this is the abode of a rich man. My readers will be specially interested to know that this is the luxurious and stately home of Mr. Granville, whose son's fortunes we have been following.

This, too, is the home of Mrs. Brent and Jonas, who, under false representations, have gained a foothold in the home of the Western millionaire.

Surely it is a great change for one brought up like Jonas to be the recognized heir and supposed son of so rich a man! It is a change, too, for his mother, who, though she dare not avow the relationship, is permitted to share the luxury of her son. Mrs. Brent has for her own use two of the best rooms in the mansion, and so far as money can bring happiness, she has every right to consider herself happy.

Is she?

Not as happy as she anticipated. To begin with, she is always dreading that some untoward circumstance will reveal the imposition she has practiced upon Mr. Granville. In that case what can she expect but to be ejected in disgrace from her luxurious home? To be sure, she will have her husband's property left, but it would be a sad downfall and descent in the social scale.

Besides, she finds cause for anxiety in Jonas, and the change which his sudden and undeserved elevation has wrought in him. It requires a strong mind to withstand the allurements and temptations of prosperity, and Jonas is far from possessing a strong mind. He is, indeed, if I may be allowed the expression, a vulgar little snob, utterly selfish, and intent solely upon his own gratification. He has a love for drink, and against the protests of his mother and the positive command of Mr. Granville, indulges his taste whenever he thinks he can do so without fear of detection. To the servants he makes himself very offensive by assuming consequential airs and a lordly bearing, which excites their hearty dislike.

He is making his way across the lawn at this moment. He is dressed in clothes of the finest material and the most fashionable cut. A thick gold chain is displayed across his waistcoat, attached to an expensive gold watch, bought for him by his supposed father. He carries in his hand a natty cane, and struts along with head aloft and nose in the air.

Two under-gardeners are at work upon a flowerbed as he passes.

"What time is it, Master Philip?" says one, a boy about a year older than Jonas.

"My good boy," said Jonas haughtily, "I don't carry a watch for your benefit."

The gardener bit his lip, and surveyed the heir with unequivocal disgust.

"Very well," he retorted; "I'll wait till a gentleman comes this way."

A flush of anger was visible on the cheek of Jonas despite his freckles.

"Do you mean to say I'm not a gentleman!" he demanded angrily.

"You don't act like one," returned Dan.

"You'd better not be impertinent to me!" exclaimed Jonas, his small gray eyes flashing with indignation. "Take that back!"

"I won't, for it's true!" said Dan undauntedly.

"Take that, then!"

Jonas raised his cane and brought it down smartly on the young gardener's shoulder.

He soon learned that he had acted imprudently. Dan dropped his rake, sprang forward, and seizing the cane, wrenched it from the hands of the young heir, after which he proceeded to break it across his knee.

"There's your cane!" he said contemptuously, as he threw the pieces on the ground.

"What did you do that for?" demanded Jonas, outraged.

"Because you insulted me. That's why."

"How can I insult you? You're only a poor working boy!"

"I wouldn't change places with you," said Dan. "I'd like well enough to be rich, but I wouldn't be willing to be as mean as you are."

"You'll suffer for this!" said Jonas, his little bead-like eyes glowing with anger. "I'll have you turned off this very day, or as soon as my father get's home."

"If he says I'm to go, I'll go!" said Dan. "He's a gentleman."

Jonas made his way to his mother's room. She noticed his perturbed look.

"What's the matter, my dear boy?" she asked. "What's the matter, Jonas?"

"I wish you'd stop calling me your dear boy," said Jonas angrily.

"I--I forget sometimes," said Mrs. Brent, with a half-sigh.

"Then you ought not to forget. Do you want to spoil everything?"

"We are alone now, Jonas, and I cannot forget that I am your mother."

"You'd better, if you know what's best for both of us," said Jonas.

Mrs. Brent was far from being a kind-hearted woman. Indeed she was very cold, but Jonas was her only son, and to him she was as much attached as it was possible for her to be to any one. Formerly he had returned her affection in a slight degree, but since he had figured as a rich man's son and heir he had begun, incredible as it may appear, to look down upon his own mother. She was not wholly ignorant of this change in his feelings, and it made her unhappy. He was all she had to live for. But for him she would not have stooped to take part in the conspiracy in which she was now a participant. It seemed hard that her only son, for whom she had sinned, should prove so ungrateful.

"My boy," she said, "I would not on any account harm you or injure your prospects, but when we are alone there can be no harm in my treating you as my son."

"It can't do any good," grumbled Jonas, "and we might be overheard."

"I will be cautious. You may be sure of that. But why do you look so annoyed?"

"Why? Reason enough. That boy Dan, the under-gardener, has been impudent to me."

"He has?" said Mrs. Brent quickly. "What has he done?"

Jonas rehearsed the story. He found in his mother a sympathetic listener.

"He is bold!" she said, compressing her lips.

"Yes, he is. When I told him I would have him turned off, he coolly turned round and said that my father was a gentleman, and wouldn't send him away. Ma, will you do me a favor?"

"What is it, Jonas?"

"Send him off before the governor gets home. You can make it all right with him."

Mrs. Brent hesitated.

"Mr. Granville might think I was taking a liberty."

"Oh, you can make it all right with him. Say that he was very impudent to me. After what has happened, if he stays he'll think he can treat me just as he pleases."

Again Mrs. Brent hesitated, but her own inclination prompted her to do as her son desired.

"You may tell Dan to come here. I wish to speak to him," she said.

Jonas went out and did the errand.

"Mrs. Brent wants to see me?" said Dan. "I have nothing to do with her."

"You'd better come in if you know what's best for yourself." said Jonas, with an exultation he did not attempt to conceal.

"Oh, well, I have no objection to meeting Mrs. Brent," said Dan. "I'll go in."

Mrs. Brent eyed the young gardener with cold animosity.

"You have been impudent to Master Philip," she said. "Of course you cannot remain any longer in his father's employment. Here are five dollars--more than is due you. Take it, and leave the estate."

"I won't take your money, Mrs. Brent," said Dan independently, "and I won't take my dismissal from any one but Mr. Granville himself."

"Do you defy me, then?" said Mrs. Brent, with a firmer compression of her lips.

"No, Mrs. Brent, I don't defy you, but you have nothing to do with me, and I shall not take any orders or any dismissal from you."

"Don't be impertinent to my----" burst forth from Jonas, and then he stopped in confusion.

"To your--what?" asked Dan quickly.

"To my--nurse," faltered Jonas.

Dan looked suspiciously from one to the other.

"There's something between those two," he said to himself. "Something we don't know of." _

Read next: Chapter 37. Mrs. Brent's Panic

Read previous: Chapter 35. The Pitkins Retire In Disgust

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