MARK’S MISSION

THREE days later, two things puzzled the good people of Pocasset. One
was the removal of old Anthony from his lonely cabin to the small but
comfortable cottage of Mrs. Manning. It was voted by the village people
a very sensible move, but they were at a loss to understand how the
recluse had been persuaded to change his mode of life. It was generally
supposed that he was quite poor, but the two or three dollars a week he
would be able to pay the widow would be a help. A room on the second
floor was appropriated to old Anthony, where he spent much of his time.
Every day, however, he wandered off to the woods, which had been his
residence for several years. Though he said little, he was soon
convinced that he had bettered himself by his removal. Mrs. Manning
provided plain, well-cooked meals, which were far more attractive than
the extemporized lunches with which he had thus far been content.

There was another circumstance, however, that equally puzzled the good
people of the village. This was the disappearance of Mark. He was no
longer seen walking about the streets, and many were the inquiries made
of his mother as to where he had gone. At the request of old Anthony she
answered very indefinitely. She could not tell just where Mark was, but
he was employed. He would probably be home in a few weeks.

Among those whose curiosity was most keen were James Collins and Tom
Wyman.

“Where do you think Mark has gone?” said James one day, throwing away a
half-smoked cigarette.

“I don’t know any more than the man in the moon,” answered Tom. “I asked
his mother the other day when I met her in the street, but I couldn’t
get any satisfaction out of her.”

“Perhaps he has gone to the city in search of a place.”

“I shouldn’t wonder.”

“He can’t get anything to do here. Father won’t take him back into the
shop.”

“He was at work for old Anthony.”

“That couldn’t amount to much. The hermit is as poor as Job’s turkey.”

“Do you know this? How about the gold we saw?”

“It was all he had,” said James, who was in the habit of jumping at
conclusions. “My father says he gets a small pension from some person in
the city. Some rich relative, I suppose, is taking care of him. Do you
know, Tom, I should be glad to come across Mark blacking boots, or
selling papers in the city?”

“Why?”

“He is so mighty independent—poor and proud—that I believe he actually
thinks himself as good as you or I.”

“He is pretty pert, that’s a fact.”

“If he were only humble, and showed that he knew his place, I’d get
father to take him back into the shop. It’s his own fault that he got
discharged.”

“It’s a good thing for his mother having a boarder, as Mark isn’t able
to help her.”

“Pooh! what does that amount to? He probably pays two or three dollars a
week. However, I suppose that’s a good deal to her.”

Mark would have been amused, but not surprised, if he could have heard
this conversation between his two old companions. At present, however,
he had other things to occupy his attention.

He had already reached Chicago and was staying there a day or two before
going farther.

His ultimate destination was Claremont, in Indiana, the place where the
daughter of the hermit was understood to have died. It was about
seventy-five miles from Chicago, and could be reached in three hours.
Mark felt that he could do no better in his brief stay in Chicago than
walk about, and make himself familiar with the principal streets and
avenues, and gain some knowledge of the western metropolis.

He kept his eyes wide open, and noticed all that came in his way.
Everywhere throngs of busy wayfarers, and not one of whom he had ever
seen before. It seemed strange to him, for in Pocasset he knew
everybody.

“The world is larger than I thought,” he reflected, “and there are more
people in it. I wish I could see one familiar face.”

He had hardly formulated the wish when his glance rested on a form that
seemed strangely familiar. It was a man, tall, slender, with a slouching
gait.




“That must be Lyman Taylor,” he decided, with a natural start of
astonishment.

It was indeed the man whom he had last seen in the woods at Pocasset. He
had not thought to meet him, though he remembered now to have heard that
Lyman had been sent to the West by his uncle.

On the whole, Mark was not as much pleased as he expected to see this
familiar face. He did not care to be recognized, as Lyman might have his
curiosity excited, and make him trouble.

Suddenly Lyman turned, and his glance fell upon Mark. The boy lowered
his head, and walked on without notice. Lyman did not recognize him,
though he was vaguely conscious of something familiar in Mark’s
appearance. But before he left New York, Mark had been provided with a
new check traveling suit, and a hat of a different style from the one he
was accustomed to wear.

Moreover, Lyman had no thought of meeting the country boy in a western
city. So he turned his glance in a different direction, and descended
the steps that led to a basement pool and billiard room.

“I would follow him down there, if I dared risk discovery,” thought
Mark. “However, it is none of my business what he does, as long as he
doesn’t annoy his uncle.”

Lyman Taylor would have been glad to see Mark, or any one else
representing his uncle. The sum he had brought away with him had nearly
all melted away, and his prospects were by no means brilliant. The
thought of engaging in any employment by which he might earn an honest
and independent livelihood was by no means attractive to him.

In the afternoon of the second day Mark started by train for Claremont,
and arrived at the Claremont Hotel in time for supper.

He found Claremont to be a fair sized town, containing perhaps four
thousand inhabitants. It seemed to be growing rapidly, like most western
towns favorably situated. After a comfortable supper he bethought
himself of whom he could make inquiries as to the object of his journey.

As he sat in the office, a tall man, with long hair, and a look of
speculation in his eyes accosted him.

“Have you just arrived in town, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Mark.

“Are you calculatin’ to settle here?”

“No, sir; I am only here on a little business.”

“Drummer, I reckon!”

“No, sir; I do not represent any business house.”

“You do look rather young for a drummer, but you said you were travelin’
on business.”

“My business is of a different nature, sir.”

“Just so! if I can help you, I will. I am Colonel Enoch Tarbox,
well-known hereabouts.”

“Thank you for your offer. If you will allow me, I will ask you one or
two questions.”

“Go ahead, young man; I’m ready to give you any information in my
power.”

“I am in search of a family named Ransom, who lived here some years
ago.”

“John Ransom?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You won’t find him; he’s dead.”

“So I have heard. Did you know him or his wife?”

“I’ve drank with John Ransom many a time at this very bar. He was rather
fond of a social glass.”

“Did you know his wife?”

“I’ve seen her often. She’s dead too. They both died of a fever.”

“I suppose they had no children,” said Mark, putting the question
anxiously.

“Let me see,” said the colonel slowly, evidently searching his memory;
“yes, I believe there was a child, a little boy.”

“Is he alive?” asked Mark eagerly.

“There you’ve got me, stranger. Children ain’t much in my line. I never
heerd of Ransom’s child dying. I reckon it left town though.”

“Where could I get any information about it, do you think?”

Colonel Tarbox reflected.

“I reckon you’d better go to Mrs. Finn; she was intimate with Mrs.
Ransom. She lives in the little white cottage alongside of the
Presbyterian church.”

“Thank you, Colonel Tarbox; I am much indebted to you for what you have
told me.”

“Don’t mention it. Won’t you take a drink?”

This kind offer Mark declined rather to the colonel’s dissatisfaction.
He decided to call upon Mrs. Finn the next day.