FATHER AND SON

Clifton was a thriving little place, the centre of a rich farming
region, and as all the cotton that was produced in the country for a
circle of twenty miles around was shipped at its wharves, it could, at
certain seasons of the year, boast of an amount of business that one
would hardly expect of so small a town. It was the home of many wealthy
gentlemen, and conspicuous among the noble mansions which adorned the
hills south of the village stood that which had once been occupied by
Mr. Nellis. It was situated in the midst of extensive grounds, away from
the noise and bustle of the town, and there Bob was born, and there he
had lived, surrounded by every comfort that affection could suggest and
money supply. The hunting, too, was fine—so much so that the neighboring
planters came from far and near to enjoy it. During the season there was
hardly a day passed but that some of the village hunters would be called
upon to act as guides to some of those who were bound to fill their
game-bags before they went home. A few miles farther out quails were
abundant, and squirrel were so thick they were almost a nuisance. Wild
turkeys and deer were often brought in, and finally it came about that
one of the hunters who belonged in the village discovered something that
worked a great change in his fortunes.

Towards home, his home it was now, Gus Layton hurriedly bent his steps
as soon as the steamer touched the wharf, leaving his baggage, which he
had given into the charge of a drayman, to follow more leisurely. As the
ponderous iron gate clanged behind him he looked around with a smile of
satisfaction. The last time he entered there he was dependent on the
bounty of a man whom he despised; now he was master there, or his father
was, which amounted to the same thing.

“And I shall lose no time in making my power felt,” thought Gus. “Bob
and I have changed places now, and it will do him good to know by
experience how I have felt during the last few years of my life. How
different the world looks to a rich man! And how different he looks to
the world,” added Gus, philosophically. “The world sees in him many
things to admire that it does not see in a poor man. With horses and
dogs, and boats and money and good clothes at my command, I shall occupy
a rather higher position here in Clifton than I did few months ago.”

Soliloquizing thus, Gus strolled along with the air of a young lord,
passing through the wide front door, which stood open, and up the stairs
to the library, which he entered without the ceremony of knocking. He
found his father there, as he expected, and was not a little surprised
at the look of alarm his sudden appearance had called to his face.

Mr. Layton was a little, dried-up man, scarcely larger than the
sixteen-year-old boy who stood before him, and the hooked nose and round
shoulders, as well as the deprecating, insinuating air which belonged to
his son, were particularly noticeable in him, and would have attracted
the attention of a stranger at first glance. His eyes were small and
sharp, and just now had a wild look in them, and their owner had a habit
of turning them from side to side, something after the manner of a
frightened deer.

“Why, Augustus,” he exclaimed, rising from his chair and approaching his
son, “how you startled me! I was not expecting you for a week or two. Is
your school out?”

“How are you, governor?” replied Gus, placing a passive hand in his
father’s eagerly-outstretched palm. “But I say, what’s the matter with
you? You look like some wild animal that has been driven to bay by the
hounds.”

“Augustus, hush!” exclaimed his father, quickly. “After all I have done
and dared for you I should think you would treat me with more respect.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean anything, governor; it is merely my way. But really
you have changed during the last few months. See how your hands
tremble!”

“It is nothing,” replied Mr. Layton. “You frightened me by your abrupt
entrance; that’s all. Is school out?”

“No, nor will it be until next week. You wonder what brought me here, I
suppose? Well, the fellows sent me to coventry, and as I couldn’t stand
that, I came away.”

“Coventry? Where’s that?”

“I presume they didn’t do such things when you went to school. They got
mad at me and told me they wouldn’t speak to me or notice me any more
than they would a crooked stick. That is what is meant by sending one to
coventry.”

“They were angry, I suppose, because you beat them in the race.”

“But as it happens I didn’t beat them. Bob found out that his oar was
cut, and he and his crew took their old ones and won as easily as
falling off a log. You ought to see the style that Bob has been putting
on ever since! He feels too big to walk on the ground. By the way, where
will he go when school is out?”

“So he beat you at last, did he!” exclaimed Mr. Layton, in great
surprise. “How did he find out that the oar was cut?”

“Sprague says he was the guilty party that told him, but I don’t believe
it. I bet you I will find means to get even with him when he comes home.
What are you going to do with Bob?”

“Why, this is the only home he has, and I suppose he will come here.”

“Well, then, you will have to take your choice between him and me, for
if he stays I shan’t.”

“But what shall I do with him?” asked Mr. Layton.

“That’s for you to decide. Send him to sea—send him anywhere, so long as
you get rid of him.”

“And what if he refuses to go?”

“Make him go. You do not intend to send him to school next year, do
you?”

“His father made no provision for it in his will.”

“Then tell him so. Has he any money?”

“There was none left to him.”

“Tell him that also. Tell him that he has got his own living to make
from this time on, and the sooner he sets about it the better for him,
and for us, too,” said Gus, rising to his feet and moving toward the
door.

“Don’t go,” said Mr. Layton, hastily. “I have been so lonely with no one
to talk to, and now that you have come home you want to run away from
me. Sit down.”

“Don’t worry,” replied the dutiful son. “I am not going far. My trunks
have arrived and I want to see them brought up stairs.”

“I have given you rooms in the south wing over the parlors,” said Mr.
Layton. “When you have looked at them, tell me how you like them and the
way they are furnished.”

Gus slammed the door without waiting to hear what his father had to say,
and at the head of the stairs met a negro coming up with some of his
luggage.

“That trunk and the others go into the north rooms,” said Gus.

“Sah?” exclaimed the darky. “Old Moster say dem rooms ‘longs to young
Moster Nellis.”

“And do you hear what _I_ say?” demanded Gus. “I say those trunks go
into the north rooms, which belong to _me_.”

“Yes, sah! Yes, sah! Dat’s all right, sah!” replied the obsequious
darky, and into the north rooms the trunks went.

“That’s the first step,” said Gus to himself. “What would Bob think, if
he knew it?”

One, to have taken a single glance at these apartments, could have told
why Gus ordered his trunks taken in there. There were three of them—a
sitting-room, bedroom, and a sort of conservatory, which Bob had fitted
up as a museum. By the aid of his father and his father’s sea-captains
he had there gathered together such a supply of curiosities from all
quarters of the globe that, the room being unable to contain them all,
they had flowed into the others, and filled every nook and corner of
them likewise. Here Gus settled himself down with the air of a
conqueror. Not because the rooms were any pleasanter or more desirable
than others in the house did he select them, but simply because he had
determined to show his cousin that their circumstances were exactly
reversed—that he was the favored child of fortune now and Bob the poor
relation. The curiosities he cared nothing about. Indeed he told himself
that when he felt in the right humor he would have them all removed and
bundled into the garret as so much useless lumber. He expected to take
quiet possession of everything that belonged to Bob, and whether or not
he did so we shall presently see.

“Now, boy,” said Gus, addressing himself to the negro after he had seen
his trunks stowed away to his satisfaction, “what’s your name?”

“Sam, sah; dat’s my name.”

“Well, Sam, I suppose my ponies are in the barn?”

“Yes, sah, de ponies is dar.”

“My father has a hostler, I presume?”

“Sah? Oh, yes, sah.”

“Then tell him to hitch the ponies to a light buggy and have them at the
door in a quarter of an hour. I’ll go out and take an airing,” said Gus
to himself, when the darky had disappeared. “There are a good many
people here in Clifton who used to snub me when I was at home last
summer, and I want to see if they will do it now.”

Having performed his ablutions, Gus proceeded to make his toilet with
much more care than usual, but he was ready by the time the carriage was
at the door. Taking his seat in the vehicle, he drove through the gate
and spent the next hour in exhibiting upon the principal streets of the
town the best suit of clothes and the best pair of kid gloves he had
ever worn. Bob’s fine turnout, which was well known in the village,
attracted some attention, but it did not bring Gus any more smiles and
bows than he had been wont to receive when he trudged through the
streets on foot. The people knew him too well; and, besides, there were
some of them (how surprised Gus would have been to know it) who believed
he had no business in that fine carriage.




Having shown himself off to his satisfaction, Gus turned the ponies’
heads toward the wharves, closely scrutinizing the signs on each side of
the street as he passed along. Presently he seemed to discover the one
he was in search of, for he drew up to the sidewalk and got out of the
carriage. After hitching the ponies he entered the door under the sign
and found himself in a small, dingy bar-room, whose only occupant was a
gray-headed, dissolute-looking man, with a wooden leg. This personage
started up as Gus entered, and hobbling around the counter waited for
him to make known his wants, at the same time looking fixedly at him, as
if he saw something about him that was familiar.

“Well, Barlow, how are you?” said Gus.

“Now, I swan, I thought I knowed the cut of your jib!” exclaimed the old
man, extending across the counter a huge, begrimed paw, which Gus
pretended he did not see. He was a gentleman now, and gentlemen did not
shake hands with such characters as Barlow. Besides, he had his new kids
on and did not want to soil them. “It’s young Mr. Layton, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Barlow, that’s who it is,” replied Gus.

“I thought I knowed your face, but them good clothes of your’n rather
got the best of me. You’re dressed up within an inch of your life, ain’t
you? You don’t look much like the dirty, barefoot boy that I used to see
playing about the gutters a few years ago. Your father used to live in
that little shanty opposite the breakwater, and was so poor that he used
to be glad to come to me to find him a job of stevedorin’. I suppose he
would turn up his nose at me now.”

Gus had come to Barlow’s saloon for a particular purpose, but it was not
to discuss such matters as these. He did not like to hear about them, so
as soon as he saw a chance he broke in with—

“The wheel of fortune has turned a spoke or two in my favor since I last
saw you, that is true. But what is the news here in Clifton? I have been
away a year, you know.”

“Well, there ain’t no news ‘cepting that ole Cap’n Nellis has slipped
off, and that I suppose you knowed long ago. Folks ain’t got done
talkin’ about it, and never will.”

“Rather sudden and mysterious, wasn’t it?” asked Gus, carelessly.

“Yes, rather sudden, and mebbe mysterious to them as don’t suspect
nothing. But I can easy account for it. Howsomever, it ain’t no consarn
of mine, and I don’t meddle with other people’s business. Savin’ your
presence, Mr. ‘Gustus, he’s the meanest man that ever stepped, is Cap’n
Nellis.”

“He _was_ the meanest man, you mean,” suggested the visitor.

“No, I don’t mean anything of the kind,” insisted Barlow. “I say he
_is_, ’cause, barring accident that is likely to fall to men in any part
of the world, he’s as hale and hearty this minute as me and you be, the
old villain!”

“Whew!” whistled Gus, opening his eyes in amazement and looking a little
alarmed.

“It’s a fact, I tell you,” declared Barlow, “’cause I know. But if I did
see a few things one dark and rainy mornin’, and by putting this and
that together got at the whole of the story, so that I can tell it
to-day as straight as them that done the business, ’tain’t no consarn of
nobody’s, is it? If I had had a hand in the matter he wouldn’t ever turn
up again, as he is likely to do.”

Gus was too astonished to speak. Here was a startling revelation indeed.