Driven from Home/Chapter VI
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Chapter VI: Mrs. Crawford's Letter
|Chapter VII: Ends in a Tragedy→|
"How did you like my stepmother?" asked Carl, when Gilbert returned in the afternoon.
"She's a daisy!" answered Gilbert, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't think I ever saw a more disagreeable woman."
"Do you blame me for leaving home?"
"I only wonder you have been able to stay so long. I had a long conversation with your father."
"Mrs. Crawford has made a different man of him. I should have no trouble in getting along with him if there was no one to come between us."
"He gave me this for you," said Gilbert, producing the ten-dollar bill.
"Did my stepmother know of his sending it?"
"No; she was opposed to sending your trunk, but your father said emphatically you should have it."
"I am glad he showed that much spirit."
"I have some hopes that he will make you an allowance of a few dollars a week."
"That would make me all right, but I don't expect it."
"You will probably hear from your father to-morrow or next day, so you will have to make yourself contented a little longer."
"I hope you are not very homesick, Mr. Crawford?" said Julia, coquettishly.
"I would ask nothing better than to stay here permanently," rejoined Carl, earnestly. "This is a real home. I have met with more kindness here than in six months at my own home."
"You have one staunch friend at home," said Gilbert.
"You don't allude to Peter?"
"So far as I can judge, he hates you like poison. I mean Jane."
"Yes, Jane is a real friend. She has been in the family for ten years. She was a favorite with my own mother, and feels an interest in me."
"By the way, your stepmother's charge that you took a wallet containing money from her drawer has been disproved by Jane. She saw Peter abstracting the money, and so informed Mrs. Crawford."
"I am not at all surprised. Peter is mean enough to steal or do anything else. What did my stepmother say?"
"She was very angry, and threatened to discharge Jane; but, as no one would be left to attend to the dinner, I presume she is likely to stay."
"I ought to be forming some plan," said Carl, thoughtfully.
"Wait till you hear from home. Julia will see that your time is well filled up till then. Dismiss all care, and enjoy yourself while you may."
This seemed to be sensible advice, and Carl followed it. In the evening some young people were invited in, and there was a round of amusements that made Carl forget that he was an exile from home, with very dubious prospects.
"You are all spoiling me," he said, as Gilbert and he went upstairs to bed. "I am beginning to understand the charms of home. To go out into the world from here will be like taking a cold shower bath."
"Never forget, Carl, that you will be welcome back, whenever you feel like coming," said Gilbert, laying his band affectionately on Carl's shoulder. "We all like you here."
"Thank you, old fellow! I appreciate the kindness I have received here; but I must strike out for myself."
"How do you feel about it, Carl?"
"I hope for the best. I am young, strong and willing to work. There must be an opening for me somewhere."
The next morning, just after breakfast, a letter arrived for Carl, mailed at Edgewood Center.
"Is it from your father?" asked Gilbert.
"No; it is in the handwriting of my stepmother. I can guess from that that it contains no good news."
He opened the letter, and as he read it his face expressed disgust and annoyance.
"Read it, Gilbert," he said, handing him the open sheet.
This was the missive:
"CARL CRAWFORD:--AS your father has a nervous attack, brought on by your misconduct, he has authorized me to write to you. As you are but sixteen, he could send for you and have you forcibly brought back, but deems it better for you to follow your own course and suffer the punishment of your obstinate and perverse conduct. The boy whom you sent here proved a fitting messenger. He seems, if possible, to be even worse than yourself. He was very impertinent to me, and made a brutal and unprovoked attack on my poor boy, Peter, whose devotion to your father and myself forms an agreeable contrast to your studied disregard of our wishes.
"Your friend had the assurance to ask for a weekly allowance for you while a voluntary exile from the home where you have been only too well treated. In other words, you want to be paid for your disobedience. Even if your father were weak enough to think of complying with this extraordinary request, I should do my best to dissuade him."
"Small doubt of that!" said Carl, bitterly.
"In my sorrow for your waywardness, I am comforted by the thought that Peter is too good and conscientious ever to follow your example. While you are away, he will do his utmost to make up to your father for his disappointment in you. That you may grow wise in time, and turn at length from the error of your ways, is the earnest hope of your stepmother,
"It makes me sick to read such a letter as that, Gilbert," said Carl. "And to have that sneak and thief--as he turned out to be--Peter, set up as a model for me, is a little too much."
"I never knew there were such women in the world!" returned Gilbert. "I can understand your feelings perfectly, after my interview of yesterday."
"She thinks even worse of you than of me," said Carl, with a faint smile.
"I have no doubt Peter shares her sentiments. I didn't make many friends in your family, it must be confessed."
"You did me a service, Gilbert, and I shall not soon forget it."
"Where did your stepmother come from?" asked Gilbert, thoughtfully.
"I don't know. My father met her at some summer resort. She was staying in the same boarding house, she and the angelic Peter. She lost no time in setting her cap for my father, who was doubtless reported to her as a man of property, and she succeeded in capturing him."
"I wonder at that. She doesn't seem very fascinating."
"She made herself very agreeable to my father, and was even affectionate in her manner to me, though I couldn't get to like her. The end was that she became Mrs. Crawford. Once installed in our house, she soon threw off the mask and showed herself in her true colors, a cold-hearted, selfish and disagreeable woman."
"I wonder your father doesn't recognize her for what she is."
"She is very artful, and is politic enough to treat him well. She has lost no opportunity of prejudicing him against me. If he were not an invalid she would find her task more difficult."
"Did she have any property when your father married her?"
"Not that I have been able to discover. She is scheming to have my father leave the lion's share of his property to her and Peter. I dare say she will succeed."
"Let us hope your father will live till you are a young man, at least, and better able to cope with her."
"I earnestly hope so."
"Your father is not an old man."
"He is fifty-one, but he is not strong. I believe he has liver complaint. At any rate, I know that when, at my stepmother's instigation, he applied to an insurance company to insure his life for her benefit, the application was rejected."
"You don't know anything of Mrs. Crawford's antecedents?"
"What was her name before she married your father?"
"She was a Mrs. Cook. That, as you know, is Peter's name."
"Perhaps, in your travels, you may learn something of her history."
"I should like to do so."
"You won't leave us to-morrow?"
"I must go to-day. I know now that I must depend wholly upon my own exertions, and I must get to work as soon as possible."
"You will write to me, Carl?"
"Yes, when I have anything agreeable to write."
"Let us hope that will be soon."