Chapter XVIII. A Young Aristocrat
 

After a drive of three miles, which was accomplished in a short time by the spirited horses, the carriage entered, through an ornamental gate, upon a smooth driveway, which led up to a handsome mansion, of large size, with a veranda stretching along the entire front.

A boy, a little smaller than Herbert, ran out of the front door, and opened the door of the carriage before Pompey had time to descend from the box.

"What, grandpa, come back?" he said, in surprise.

"Yes, Oscar, we were too late for the train," said his mother. "I brought you back a companion for a, few hours. This is Herbert Mason, whom I intrust to your care, depending upon you to see that he passes his time pleasantly."

Oscar looked at Herbert inquisitively.

Herbert offered his hand, saying, "I am glad to make your acquaintance, Oscar."

"How long are you going to stay?" asked Oscar, as his mother and grandfather went into the house.

"I must return in time to take the twelve o'clock train."

"Is grandpa going, too?"

"Yes."

"And are you going to take care of him?"

"I believe so."

"I wouldn't want to.'

"Why not?"

"Oh, it's an awful bore to be tied to a blind man."

"You'd find it more of a bore to be blind yourself," said Herbert.

"Yes, I suppose I should. Grandpa wants me to go to walk with him sometimes, but I don't like it."

"If I had a grandfather who was blind, I think I should be willing."

"Wait till you have one, and you'll see how it is then."

"I suppose he needs somebody."

"Oh, well, he can take one of the servants, then. It's their business to work."

"Where do you live?" he asked, after a pause.

"I am going to live in New York."

"Are you? I should like to go there."

"Perhaps you wouldn't want to go as I am going."

"What, alone? Yes, I should rather go that way. Then I could do as I pleased. Now it's 'Oscar, do this,' and 'You mustn't do that,' all the time."

"That isn't what I mean exactly. I've got to earn my own living after I get there, and I don't know anybody in the city."

"You haven't run away from home, have you?"

"I haven't got any home."

"Where's your father and mother?"

"They are both dead."

"What are you going to do?"

"I hope to get into a store or counting-room and learn to be a merchant."

"I shan't have to work for a living," said Oscar, in a tone of importance.

"Because your family is rich, I suppose," said Herbert.

"Yes, we've got a large estate, ever so many acres. That's what mother's got. Then grandpa is rich besides, and I expect he will leave me a good deal of his money. He's pretty old, and I don't believe he'll live very long."

Oscar said this with such evident satisfaction that Herbert was disgusted, thinking it not very creditable to him to speculate so complacently upon his grandfather's speedy death.

"You seem to be well off, then," said he, at last, to the boy.

"Yes," said Oscar, "our family is one of the first in the State. My father is a Peyton."

"Is he?" asked Herbert, not appearing as much awestruck as Oscar expected.

"We've got a plantation in Virginia. We live there part of the year. My father's there now. I hope we shall go there soon."

"Do you like it better than here?"

"Yes, a good deal."

"This is a handsome place."

"Yes, this is mother's estate. The other belongs to father."

"Have you any brothers and sisters, Oscar?"

"I've got one sister. She's about twelve. But, I say, I thought you were a gentleman's son when I first saw you."

"So I am," said Herbert, emphatically.

"Was your father rich?"

"No."

"Did he have to work for a living?"

"Yes."

"Then he wasn't a gentleman," said Oscar, decidedly.

"Isn't anybody a gentleman that has to work for a living?" asked Herbert, his indignation excited by his companion's assumption of superiority.

"Of course not," said Oscar, coolly. "It isn't respectable to work. Niggers and servants work."

"That is where I don't agree with you," said Herbert, his face flushing.

"You don't pretend to be a gentleman, do you?" demanded Oscar, insolently.

"Yes, I do," said Herbert, firmly.

"But you're not one, you know."

"I don't know anything of the kind," said Herbert, angrily. "I suppose you call yourself one."

"Of course, I am a gentleman," said Oscar, complacently.

"You don't talk like one, at any rate," retorted Herbert.

This was new language for Oscar to hear. He had been accustomed to have his own way pretty much, and had been used to order round his father's servants and slaves like a little despot. The idea of being told by a boy who had to work for a living that he did not talk like a gentleman, did not suit him at all. His black eyes flashed and he clenched his fists.

"Do you mean to insult me?" he demanded.

"I never insult anybody," said Herbert, not feeling particularly alarmed by this hostile demonstration. "It is you that have insulted me."

"Didn't you tell me I was not a gentleman?" said Oscar, hotly.

"I said you did not talk like one."

"That's about the same thing," said Oscar.

"Just as you like. Even if I did say so, you said the same of me,"

"Well, suppose I did."

"I am as much a gentleman as you, to say the least," asserted Herbert.

"If you say that again, I'll knock you down," said Oscar, furiously.

"I'll say it all day, if I like," said Herbert, defiantly.

Perhaps it would have been better for Herbert to stop disputing, and to have taken no notice of Oscar's words. But Herbert was not perfect. He had plenty of spirit, and he was provoked by the airs Oscar chose to assume, and by no means inclined to allow him to arrogate a superiority over himself, merely on account of his wealth. Though manly and generous, he was quick to resent an insult, and accordingly, when Oscar dared to repeat what he had said, he instantly accepted the challenge as recorded above.

Had Oscar been prudent, he would have hesitated before endeavoring to carry his threat into execution. A moment's glance at the two boys would have satisfied anyone that the chances, in a personal contest, were decidedly in our hero's favor. Herbert was not only a little taller than Oscar, perhaps an inch and a half, but his shoulders were broader and his frame more muscular. Oscar had never done any work to strengthen his arms, while Herbert had been forced by circumstances to do so.

Oscar flung himself upon Herbert, and endeavored to bear him to the ground. But the latter, without an effort, repelled the charge, and flung himself free from his antagonist's grasp.

This naturally made Oscar more determined to overcome his foe. His face red with passion, he showered blows upon Herbert, which the latter parried with ease. At first he acted wholly upon the defensive, but, finding that Oscar's impetuosity did not abate, suddenly closed with him and threw him down.

Oscar rose but little hurt, for Herbert used no unnecessary force, and recommenced the assault. But the result was the same as before. Oscar was almost beside himself with mingled rage and mortification, and it is hard to tell how long the contest would have lasted, had not a servant come up and informed the boys that Mrs. Peyton wished to see them immediately. She had witnessed the whole scene from a window and felt called upon to interfere.

"How is this, young gentleman?" she asked, gravely. "You have scarcely been together twenty minutes, and I find you fighting."

"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Peyton," said Herbert, in a manly tone. "I feel ashamed of myself, but Oscar attacked me for claiming to be a gentleman, and I am afraid that my blood was up, and so we got into a fight."

"How is this, Oscar?" said his mother. "Did you so wholly lose your politeness as to attack your guest for asserting his claims to be a gentleman? I am annoyed with you."

"He says he has to work for a living," said Oscar, sullenly.

"So may you, some time."

"I am rich."

"You may not always be. At any rate, being rich doesn't insure gentlemanly behavior, as your conduct to-day clearly shows. Herbert, I hope you will excuse my son's rudeness."

"Here is my hand, Oscar," said Herbert, cordially. "Let us be friends."

Oscar hardly knew how to receive this overture, but he was finally thawed by Herbert's manner, and they were soon sauntering about on the lawn on the best of terms.

At half-past eleven, after an inviting lunch, the carriage was ordered, and Herbert and Mr. Carroll were driven to the depot, accompanied by Oscar, who went in his mother's place.

Herbert purchased tickets for both, being intrusted with Mr. Carrol's pocketbook for that purpose. He found a comfortable seat for the old gentleman, and sat down beside him.