Frank's Campaign or the Farm and the Camp

by Horatio Alger

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Chapter XVII. A Shade of Mystery

Frank found little difficulty in persuading his mother to accept young Morton's proposition. From her son's description she felt little doubt that he would be a pleasant addition to the family circle, while his fund of information would make him instructive as well as agreeable.

There was another consideration besides which determined her to take him. Five dollars a week would go a great way in housekeeping, or, rather, as their income from other sources would probably be sufficient for this, she could lay aside the entire amount toward paying the mortgage held by Squire Haynes. This plan occurred simultaneously to Frank and his mother.

"I should certainly feel myself to blame if I neglected so good an opportunity of helping your father," said Mrs. Frost.

"Suppose we don't tell him, mother," suggested Frank; "but when he gets home surprise him with the amount of our savings."

"No," said Mrs. Frost, after a moment's thought, "your father will be all the better for all the good news we can send him. It will make his life more tolerable."

Frank harnessed his horse to a light wagon and drove down to the tavern.

Henry Morton was sitting on the piazza, as the day was unusually-warm, with a book in his hand.

"Well," he said, looking up with a smile, "I hope you have come for me."

"That is my errand, Mr. Morton," answered Frank. "If your trunk is already packed, we will take it along with us."

"It is quite ready. If you will come up and help me downstairs with it, I will settle with the landlord and leave at once."

This was speedily arranged, and the young man soon occupied a seat beside Frank.

Arrived at the farmhouse, Frank introduced the new boarder to his mother.

"I hope we shall be able to make you comfortable," said Mrs. Frost, in a hospitable tone.

"I entertain no doubt of it," he said politely. "I am easy to suit, and I foresee that Frank and I will become intimate friends."

"He was very urgent to have you come. I am not quite sure whether it would have been safe for me to refuse."

"I hope he will be as urgent to have me stay. That will be a still higher compliment."

"Here is the room you are to occupy, Mr. Morton," said Mrs. Frost, opening a door at the head of the front stairs.

It was a large square room, occupying the front eastern corner of the house. The furniture was neat and comfortable, though not pretentious.

"I like this," said the young man, surveying his new quarters with an air of satisfaction. "The sun will find me out in the morning."

"Yes, it will remain with you through the forenoon. I think you will find the room warm and comfortable. But whenever you get tired of it you will be welcome downstairs."

"That is an invitation of which I shall be only too glad to avail myself. Now, Frank, if you will be kind enough to help me upstairs with my trunk."

The trunk was carried up between them, and placed in a closet.

"I will send for a variety of articles from the city to make my room look social and cheerful," said Mr. Morton. "I have some books and engravings in Boston, which I think will contribute to make it so."

A day or two later, two large boxes arrived, one containing pictures, the other books. Of the latter there were perhaps a hundred and fifty, choice and well selected.

Frank looked at them with avidity.

"You shall be welcome to use them as freely as you like," said the owner--an offer which Frank gratefully accepted.

The engravings were tastefully framed in black walnut. One represented one of Raphael's Madonnas. Another was a fine photograph, representing a palace in Venice. Several others portrayed foreign scenes. Among them was a street scene in Rome. An entire family were sitting in different postures on the portico of a fine building, the man with his swarthy features half-concealed under a slouch hat, the woman holding a child in her lap, while another, a boy with large black eyes, leaned his head upon her knees.

"That represents a Roman family at home," explained Henry Morton.

"At home!"

"Yes, it is the only home they have. They sleep wherever night finds them, sheltering themselves from the weather as well as they can."

"But how do they get through the winter? should think they would freeze."

"Nature has bestowed upon Italy a mild climate, so that, although they may find the exposure at this season disagreeable, they are in no danger of freezing."

There was another engraving which Frank looked at curiously. It represented a wagon laden with casks of wine, and drawn by an ox and a donkey yoked together. Underneath was a descriptive phrase, "Caro di vino."

"You don't see such teams in this country," said Mr. Morton, smiling. "In Italy they are common enough. In the background you notice a priest with a shovel-hat, sitting sideways on a donkey. Such a sight is much more common there than that of a man on horseback. Indeed, this stubborn animal is found very useful in ascending and descending mountains, being much surer-footed than the horse. I have ridden down steep descents along the verge of a precipice where it would have been madness to venture on horseback, but I felt the strongest confidence in the donkey I bestrode."

Frank noticed a few Latin books in the collection. "Do you read Latin, Mr. Morton?" he inquired.

"Yes, with tolerable ease. If I can be of any assistance to you in carrying on your Latin studies, it will afford me pleasure to do so."

"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Morton. I tried to go on with it by myself, but every now and then I came to a difficult sentence which I could not make out."

"I think we can overcome the difficulties between us. At any rate, we will try. Have no hesitation in applying to me."

Before closing this chapter, I think it necessary to narrate a little incident which served to heighten the interest with which Frank regarded his new friend, though it involved the latter in a shadow of mystery.

Mrs. Frost did not keep what in New England is denominated "help." Being in good health, she performed the greater part of her household tasks unassisted. When washing and house-cleaning days came, however, she obtained outside assistance. For this purpose she engaged Chloe to come twice a week, on Monday and Saturday, not only because in this way she could help the woman to earn a living, but also because she found her a valuable and efficient assistant.

Henry Morton became a member of the little household at the farm on Thursday, and two days later Chloe came as usual to "clean house."

The young man was standing in the front yard as Chloe, with a white turban on her head, for she had not yet laid aside her Southern mode of dress, came from the street by a little path which led to the back door. Her attention was naturally drawn to the young man. No sooner did she obtain a full view of him, than she stopped short and exclaimed with every appearance of surprise, "Why, Mass' Richard, who'd'a' thought to see you here. You look just like you used to do, dat's a fac'. It does my old eyes good to see you."

Henry Morton turned suddenly.

"What, Chloe!" he exclaimed in equal surprise. "What brings you up here? I thought you were miles away, in Virginia."

"So I was, Mass' Richard. But Lor' bless you, when de Linkum sogers come, I couldn't stay no longer. I took and runned away."

"And here you are, then."

"Yes, Mass' Richard, here I is, for sure."

"How do you like the North, Chloe?"

"Don't like it as well as de Souf. It's too cold," and Chloe shivered.

"But you would rather be here than there?"

"Yes, Mass' Richard. Here I own myself. Don't have no oberseer to crack his whip at me now. I'se a free woman now, and so's my little Pomp."

The young man smiled at the innocent mistake.

"Pomp is your little boy, I suppose, Chloe."

"Yes, Mass' Richard."

"Is he a good boy?"

"He's as sassy as de debble," said Chloe emphatically. "I don't know what's goin' to 'come of dat boy. He's most worried my life out."

"Oh, he'll grow better as he grows older. Don't trouble yourself about him. But, Chloe, there's one favor I am going to ask of you."

"Yes, Mass' Richard."

"Don't call me by my real name. For some reasons, which I can't at present explain, I prefer to be known as Henry Morton, for some months to come. Do you think you can remember to call me by that name?"

"Yes, Mass'--Henry," said Chloe, looking perplexed.

Henry Morton turned round to meet the surprised looks of Frank and his mother.

"My friends," he said, "I hope you will not feel distrustful of me, when I freely acknowledge to you that imperative reasons compel me for a time to appear under a name not my own. Chloe and I are old acquaintances, but I must request her to keep secret for a time her past knowledge concerning me. I think," he added with a smile, "that she would have nothing to say that would damage me. Some time you shall know all. Are you satisfied?"

"Quite so," said Mrs. Frost. "I have no doubt you have good and sufficient reason."

"I will endeavor to justify your confidence," said Henry Morton, an expression of pleasure lighting up his face.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.