Chapter II. Phil Hears His Dismissal
 

"Where you been, young man?" The question was a snarl rather than a sentence.

"To school, Uncle, of course."

"School's been out more than an hour. I say, where have you been?"

"I stopped on the way for a few minutes."

"You did?" exploded Abner Adams. "Where?"

"Teddy Tucker and I stopped to read a circus bill over there on Clover Street. We did not stop but a few minutes. Was there any harm in that?"

"Harm? Circus bill--"

"And I want to go to the circus, too, Uncle, when it comes here. You know? I have not been to anything of that sort since mother died--not once. I'll work and earn the money. I can go in the evening after my work is finished. Please let me go, Uncle."

For a full minute Abner Adams was too overcome with his emotions to speak. He hobbled about in a circle, smiting the ground with his cane, alternately brandishing it threateningly in the air over the head of the unflinching Phil.

"Circus!" he shouted. "I might have known it! I might have known it! You and that Tucker boy are two of a kind. You'll both come to some bad ending. Only fools and questionable characters go to such places--"

"My mother and father went, and they always took me," replied the boy, drawing himself up with dignity. "You certainly do not include them in either of the two classes you have named?"

"So much the worse for them! So much the worse for them. They were a pair of--"

"Uncle, Uncle!" warned Phil. "Please don't say anything against my parents. I won't stand it. Don't forget that my mother was your own sister, too."

"I'm not likely to forget it, after she's bundled such a baggage as you into my care. You're turning out a worthless, good-for- nothing loaf--"

"You haven't said whether or not I might go to the circus, Uncle," reminded Phil.

"Circus? No! I'll have none of my money spent on any such worthless--"

"But I didn't ask you to spend your money, even though you have plenty of it. I said I would earn the money--"

"You'll have a chance to earn it, and right quick at that. No, you won't go to any circus so long as you're living under my roof."

"Very well, Uncle, I shall do as you wish, of course," answered Phil, hiding his disappointment as well as he could. The lad shifted his bundle of books to the other hand and started slowly for the house.

Abner Adams hobbled about until he faced the lad again, an angry gleam lighting up his squinting eyes.

"Come back here!"

Phil halted, turning.

"I said come back here."

The lad did so, his self-possession and quiet dignity never deserting him for an instant. This angered the crabbed old uncle more than ever.

"When will you get through school?"

"Tomorrow, I believe."

"Huh! Then, I suppose you intend to loaf for the rest of the summer and live on my hard earned savings. Is that it?"

"No, sir; I hadn't thought of doing anything of the sort. I thought--"

"What did you think?"

"I thought I would find something to do. Of course, I do not expect to be idle. I shall work at something until school begins again next fall, then, of course, I shall not be able to do so much."

"School! You've had enough school! In my days boys didn't spend the best part of their lives in going to school. They worked."

"Yes, sir; I am willing to work, too. But, Uncle, I must have an education. I shall be able to earn so much more then, and, if necessary, I shall be able to pay you for all you have spent on me, which isn't much, you know."

"What, what? You dare to be impudent to me? You--"

"No, sir, I am not impudent. I have never been that and I never shall be; but you are accusing me wrongfully."

"Enough. You have done with school--"

"You--you mean that I am not to go to school any more--that I have got to go through life with the little I have learned? Is that what you mean, Uncle?" asked the boy, with a sinking heart.

"You heard me."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Work!"

"I am working and I shall be working," Phil replied.

"You're right you will, or you'll starve. I have been thinking this thing over a lot lately. A boy never amounts to anything if he's mollycoddled and allowed to spend his days depending on someone else. Throw him out and let him fight his own way. That's what my father used to tell me, and that's what I'm going to say to you."

"What do you mean, Uncle?"

"Mean? Can't you understand the English language? Have I got to draw a picture to make you understand? Get to work!"

"I am going to as soon as school is out."

"You'll do it now. Get yourself out of my house, bag and baggage!"

"Uncle, Uncle!" protested the lad in amazement. "Would you turn me out?"

"Would I? I have, only you are too stupid to know it. You'll thank me for it when you get old enough to have some sense."

Phil's heart sank within him, and it required all his self-control to keep the bitter tears from his eyes.

"When do you wish me to go?" he asked without a quaver in his voice.

"Now."

"Very well, I'll go. But what do you think my mother would say, could she know this?"

"That will do, young man. Do your chores, and then--"

"I am not working for you now, Uncle, you know, so I shall have to refuse to do the chores. There is fifty cents due me from Mr. Churchill for fixing his chicken coop. You may get that, I don't want it."

Phil turned away once more, and with head erect entered the house, going straight to his room, leaving Abner Adams fuming and stamping about in the front yard. The old man's rage knew no bounds. He was so beside himself with anger over the fancied impudence of his nephew that, had the boy been present, he might have so far forgotten himself as to have used his cane on Phil.

But Phil by this time had entered his own room, locking the door behind him. The lad threw his books down on the bed, dropped into a chair and sat palefaced, tearless and silent. Slowly his eyes rose to the old-fashioned bureau, where his comb and brush lay. The eyes halted when at length they rested on the picture of his mother.

The lad rose as if drawn by invisible hands, reached out and clasped the photograph to him. Then the pent-up tears welled up in a flood. With the picture pressed to his burning cheek Phil Forrest threw himself on his bed and sobbed out his bitter grief. He did not hear the thump of Abner Adams' cane on the bedroom door, nor the angry demands that he open it.

"Mother, Mother!" breathed the unhappy boy, as his sobs gradually merged into long-drawn, trembling sighs.

Perhaps his appeal was not unheard. At least Phil Forrest sprang from his bed, holding the picture away from him with both hands and gazing into the eyes of his mother.

Slowly his shoulders drew back and his head came up, while an expression of strong determination flashed into his own eyes.

"I'll do it--I'll be a man, Mother!" he exclaimed in a voice in which there was not the slightest tremor now. "I'll fight the battle and I'll win."

Phil Forest had come to the parting of the ways, which he faced with a courage unusual in one of his years. There was little to be done. He packed his few belongings in a bag that had been his mother's. The lad possessed one suit besides the one he wore, and this he stowed away as best he could, determining to press it out when he had located himself.

Finally his task was finished. He stood in the middle of the floor glancing around the little room that had been his home for so long. But he felt no regrets. He was only making sure that he had not left anything behind. Having satisfied himself on this point, Phil gathered up his bundle of books, placed the picture of his mother in his inside coat pocket, then threw open the door.

The lad's uncle had stamped to the floor below, where he was awaiting Phil's coming.

"Good-bye, Uncle," he said quietly, extending a hand.

"Let me see that bag," snapped the old man.

"The bag is mine--it belonged to my mother," explained the boy. "Surely you don't object to my taking it with me?"

"You're welcome to it, and good riddance; but I'm going to find out what's inside of it."

"You surely don't think I would take anything that doesn't belong to me--you can't mean that?"

"Ain't saying what I mean. Hand over that bag."

With burning cheeks, Phil did as he was bid, his unwavering eyes fixed almost sternly on the wrathful face of Abner Adams.

"Huh!" growled the old man, tumbling the contents out on the floor, shaking Phil's clothes to make sure that nothing was concealed in them.

Apparently satisfied, the old man threw the bag on the floor with an exclamation of disgust. Phil once more gathered up his belongings and stowed them away in the satchel.

"Turn out your pockets!"

"There is nothing in them, Uncle, save some trinkets of my own and my mother's picture."

"Turn them out!" thundered the old man.

"Uncle, I have always obeyed you. Obedience was one of the things that my mother taught me, but I'm sure that were she here she would tell me I was right in refusing to humiliate myself as you would have me do. There is nothing in my pockets that does not belong to me. I am not a thief."

"Then I'll turn them out myself!" snarled Abner Adams, starting forward.

Phil stepped back a pace, satchel in hand.

"Uncle, I am a man now," said the boy, straightening to his full height. "Please don't force me to do something that I should be sorry for all the rest of my life. Will you shake hands with me?"

"No!" thundered Abner Adams. "Get out of my sight before I lay the stick over your head!"

Phil stretched out an appealing hand, then hastily withdrew it.

"Good-bye, Uncle Abner," he breathed.

Without giving his uncle a chance to reply, the lad turned, opened the door and ran down the steps.