The Store Boy
Horatio Alger, Jr.
Part 3 out of 4
"I should be very glad to have my mother live to a hundred, if she
could enjoy life," said Ben, disgusted with his companoin's sordid
"Your mother hasn't got any money, and that makes a difference."
Ben had a reply, but he reflected it would be of little use to argue
with one who took such widely different views as Conrad. Moreover,
they were already within a block or two of the theater.
The best seats were priced at a dollar and a half, and Mrs. Hamilton
had given Conrad three dollars to purchase one for Ben and one for
"It seems an awful price to pay a dollar and a half for a seat," said
Conrad. "Suppose we go into the gallery, where the seats are only
"I think Mrs. Hamilton meant us to take higher-priced seats."
"She won't care, or know, unless we choose to tell her."
"Then you don't propose to give her back the difference?"
"You don't take me for a fool, do you? I'll tell you what I'll do.
If you don't mind a fifty-cent seat, I'll give you twenty-five cents
out of this money."
Ben could hardly believe Conrad was in earnest in this exhibition of
"Then," said he, "you would clear seventy-five cents on my seat and a
dollar on your own?"
"You can see almost as well in the gallery," said Conrad. "I'll give
you fifty cents, if you insist upon it."
"I insist upon having my share of the money spent for a seat," said
Ben, contemptuously. "You can sit where you please, of course."
"You ain't very obliging," said Conrad sullenly. "I need the money,
and that's what made me propose it. As you've made so much fuss about
it, we'll take orchestra seats."
This he did, though unwillingly.
"I don't think I shall ever like that boy," thought Ben. "He's a
little too mean."
They both enjoyed the play, Ben perhaps with the most zest, for he had
never before attended a city theater. At eleven o'clock the curtain
fell, and they went out.
"Come, Ben," said Conrad, "you might treat a fellow to soda water."
"I will," answered Ben. "Where shall we go?"
"Just opposite. They've got fine soda water across the street."
The boys drank their soda water, and started to go home.
"Suppose we go in somewhere and have a game of billiards?" suggested
"I don't play," answered Ben.
"I'll teach you; come along," urged Conrad.
"It is getting late, and I would rather not."
"I suppose you go to roost with the chickens in the country?" sneered
Conrad. You'll learn better in the city--if you stay."
"There is another reason," continued Ben. "I suppose it costs money
to play billiards, and I have none to spare."
"Only twenty-five cents a game."
"It will be cheaper to go to bed."
"You won't do anything a fellow wants you to," grumbled Conrad. "You
needn't be so mean, when you are getting ten dollars a week."
"I have plenty to do with my money, and I want to save up something
On the whole the boys did not take to each other. They took very
different views of life and duty, and there seemed to be small
prospect of their becoming intimate friends.
Mrs. Hamilton had gone to bed when they returned, but Mrs. Hill was up
watching for her son. She was a cold, disagreeable woman, but she was
devoted to her boy.
"I am glad you have come home so soon," she said.
"I wanted to play a game of billiards, but Ben wouldn't," grumbled
"If you had done so, I should have had to sit up later for you,
"There was no use in sitting up for me. I ain't a baby," responded
"You know I can't sleep when I know you are out, Conrad."
"Then you're very foolish. Isn't she, Ben?"
"My mother would feel just so," answered Ben.
Mrs. Hill regarded him almost kindly. He had done her a good turn in
bringing her son home in good season.
"She may be a disagreeable woman," thought Ben, "but she is good to
Conrad," and this made him regard the housekeeper with more favor.
A MYSTERIOUS LETTER
From time to time, Mrs. Hamilton sent Ben on errands to different
parts of the city, chiefly to those who had been started in business
with capital which she had supplied. One afternoon, he was sent to a
tailor on Sixth Avenue with a note, the contents of which were unknown
"You may wait for an answer," said Mrs. Hamilton.
He readily found the tailor's shop, and called for Charles Roberts,
The latter read the note, and said, in a business like tone:
"Come to the back part of the shop, and I will show you some goods."
Ben regarded him in surprise.
"Isn't there some mistake?" he said. "I didn't know I was to look at
"As we are to make a suit for you, I supposed you would have some
choice in the matter," returned the tailor, equally surprised.
"May I look at the letter?" asked Ben.
The tailor put it into his hands.
It ran thus:
"Mr. Roberts: You will make a suit for the bearer, from any goods he
may select, and charge to the account of
"Mrs. Hamilton did not tell me what was in the note," said Ben,
smiling. "She is very kind."
Ben allowed himself to be guided by the tailor, and the result was a
handsome suit, which was sent home in due time, and immediately
attracted the attention of Conrad. Ben had privately thanked his
patroness, but had felt under no obligation to tell Conrad.
"Seems to me you are getting extravagant!" said Conrad enviously.
"I don't know but I am," answered Ben good-naturedly.
"How much did you pay for it?"
"The price was thirty-five dollars."
"That's too much for a boy in your circumstances to pay."
"I think so myself, but I shall make it last a long time."
"I mean to make Aunt Hamilton buy me a new suit," grumbled Conrad.
"I have no objection, I am sure," said Ben.
"I didn't ask your permission," said Conrad rudely.
"I wonder what he would say if he knew that Mrs. Hamilton paid for my
suit?" Ben said to himself. He wisely decided to keep the matter
secret, as he knew that Conrad would be provoked to hear of this new
proof of his relative's partiality for the boy whom he regarded as a
Conrad lost no time in preferring his request to Mrs. Hamilton for a
"I bought you a suit two months since," said Mrs. Hamilton quietly.
"Why do you come to me for another so soon?"
"Ben has a new suit," answered Conrad, a little confused.
"I don't know that that has anything to do with you. However, I will
ask Ben when he had his last new suit."
Ben, who was present, replied:
"It was last November."
"Nearly a year since. I will take care that you are supplied with new
suits as often as Ben."
Conrad retired from the presence of his relative much disgusted. He
did not know, but suspected that Ben was indebted to Mrs. Hamilton for
his new suit, and although this did not interfere with a liberal
provision for him, he felt unwilling that anyone beside himself should
bask in the favor of his rich relative. He made a discovery that
troubled him about this time.
"Let me see your watch, Ben," he said one day.
Ben took out the watch and placed it in his hand.
"It's just like mine," said Conrad, after a critical examination.
"Yes; don't you see? Where did you get it?"
"It was a gift," answered Ben.
"From my aunt?"
"It was given me by Mrs. Hamilton."
"She seems to be very kind to you," sneered Conrad, with a scowl.
"She is indeed!" answered Ben earnestly.
"You've played your cards well," said Conrad coarsely.
"I don't understand you," returned Ben coldly.
"I mean that, knowing her to be rich, you have done well to get on the
blind side of her."
"I can't accept the compliment, if you mean it as such. I don't think
Mrs. Hamilton has any blind side, and the only way in which I intend
to commend myself to her favor is to be faithful to her interests."
"Oh, you're mighty innocent; but all the same, you know how to feather
your own nest."
"In a good sense, I hope I do. I don't suppose anyone else will take
the trouble to feather it for me. I think honesty and fidelity are
good policy, don't you?"
"I don't pretend to be an angel," answered Conrad sullenly.
"Nor I," said Ben, laughing.
Some days later, Conrad came to Ben one day, looking more cordial than
"Ben," he said, "I have a favor to ask of you."
"What is it?"
"Will you grant it?"
"I want to know first what it is."
"Lend me five dollars?"
Ben stared at Conrad in surprise. He had just that amount, after
sending home money to his mother, but he intended that afternoon to
deposit three dollars of it in the savings bank, feeling that he ought
to be laying up money while he was so favorably situated.
"How do you happen to be short of money?" he asked.
"That doesn't need telling. I have only four dollars a week pocket
money, and I am pinched all the time."
"Then, supposing I lent you the money, how could you manage to pay me
back out of this small allowance?"
"Oh, I expect to get some money in another way, but I cannot unless
you lend me the money."
"Would you mind telling me how?"
"Why, the fact is, a fellow I know--that is, I have heard of him--has
just drawn a prize of a thousand dollars in a Havana lottery. All he
paid for his ticket was five dollars."
"And is this the way you expect to make some money?"
"Yes; I am almost sure of winning."
"Suppose you don't?"
"Oh, what's the use of looking at the dark side?"
"You are not so sensible as I thought, Conrad," said Ben. "At least a
hundred draw a blank to one who draws a small prize, and the chances
are a hundred to one against you."
"Then you won't lend me the money?" said Conrad angrily.
"I would rather not."
"Then you're a mean fellow!"
"Thank you for your good opinion, but I won't change my
"You get ten dollars a week?"
"I shall not spend two dollars a week on my own amusement, or for my
"What are you going to do with the rest, then?"
"Part I shall send to my mother; part I mean to put in some savings
"You mean to be a miser, then?"
"If to save money makes one a miser, then I shall be one."
Conrad left the room in an angry mood. He was one with whom
prosperity didn't agree. Whatever his allowance might be, he wished
to spend more. Looking upon himself as Mrs. Hamilton's heir, he could
not understand the need or expediency of saving money. He was not
wholly to blame for this, as his mother encouraged him in hopes which
had no basis except in his own and her wishes.
Not quite three weeks after Ben had become established his new home he
received a letter which mystified and excited him.
It ran thus:
"If you will come at nine o'clock this evening to No. ---- West
Thirty-first Street, and call for me, you will hear something to your
"It may be something relating to my father's affairs," thought Ben.
"I will go."
BEN'S VISIT TO THIRTY-FIRST STREET
Ben's evenings being unoccupied, he had no difficulty in meeting the
appointment made for him. He was afraid Conrad might ask him to
accompany him somewhere, and thus involve the necessity of an
explanation, which he did not care to give until he had himself found
out why he had been summoned.
The address given by James Barnes was easy to find. Ben found himself
standing before a brick building of no uncommon exterior. The second
floor seemed to be lighted up; the windows were hung with crimson
curtains, which quite shut out a view of what was transpiring within.
Ben rang the bell. The door was opened by a colored servant, who
looked at the boy inquiringly.
"Is Mr. Barnes within?" asked Ben.
"I don't know the gentleman," was the answer.
"He sent me a letter, asking me to meet him here at nine o'clock."
"Then I guess it's all right. Are you a telegraph boy?"
"No," answered Ben, in surprise.
"I reckon it's all right," said the negro, rather to himself than to
Ben. "Come upstairs."
Ben followed his guide, and at the first landing a door was thrown
open. Mechanically, Ben followed the servant into the room, but he
had not made half a dozen steps when he looked around in surprise and
bewilderment. Novice as he was, a glance satisfied him that he was in
a gambling house. The double room was covered with a soft, thick
carpet, chandeliers depended from the ceiling, frequent mirrors
reflecting the brilliant lights enlarged the apparent size the
apartment, and a showy bar at one end of the room held forth an
alluring invitation which most failed to resist. Around tables were
congregated men, young and old, each with an intent look, watching the
varying chances of fortune.
"I'll inquire if Mr. Barnes is here," said Peter, the colored servant.
Ben stood uneasily looking at the scene till Peter came back.
"Must be some mistake," he said. "There's no gentleman of the name of
"It's strange," said Ben, perplexed.
He turned to go out, but was interrupted. A man with a sinister
expression, and the muscle of a prize fighter, walked up to him and
said, with a scowl:
"What brings you here, kid?"
"I received a letter from Mr. Barnes, appointing to meet me here."
"I believe you are lying. No such man comes here."
"I never lie," exclaimed Ben indignantly.
"Have you got that letter about you?" asked the man suspiciously.
Ben felt in his pocket for the letter, but felt in vain.
"I think I must have left it at home," he said nervously.
The man's face darkened.
"I believe you come here as a spy," he said.
"Then you are mistaken!" said Ben, looking him fearlessly in the face.
"I hope so, for your sake. Do you know what kind of a place this is?"
"I suppose it is a gambling house," Ben answered, without hesitation.
"Did you know this before you came here?"
"I had not the least idea of it."
The man regarded him suspiciously, but no one could look into Ben's
honest face and doubt his word.
"At any rate, you've found it out. Do you mean to blab?"
"No; that is no business of mine."
"Then you can go, but take care that you never come here again."
"I certainly never will."
"Give me your name and address."
"Why do you want it?"
"Because if you break your word, you will be tracked and punished."
"I have no fear," answered Ben, and he gave his name and address.
"Never admit this boy again, Peter," said the man with whom Ben had
been conversing; neither this boy, nor any other, except a telegraph
"All right, sah."
A minute later, Ben found himself on the street, very much perplexed
by the events of the evening. Who could have invited him to a
gambling house, and with what object in view? Moreover, why had not
James Barnes kept the appointment he had himself made? These were
questions which Ben might have been better able to answer if he could
have seen, just around the corner, the triumphant look of one who was
stealthily watching him.
This person was Conrad Hill, who took care to vacate his position
before Ben had reached the place where he was standing.
"So far, so good!" he muttered to himself. "Master Ben has been seen
coming out of a gambling house. That won't be likely to recommend him
to Mrs. Hamilton, and she shall know it before long."
Ben could not understand what had become of the note summoning him to
the gambling house. In fact, he had dislodged it from the vest pocket
in which he thrust it, and it had fallen upon the carpet near the desk
in what Mrs. Hamilton called her "office." Having occasion to enter
the room in the evening, his patroness saw it on the carpet, picked it
up, and read it, not without surprise.
"This is a strange note for Ben to receive," she said to herself. "I
wonder what it means?"
Of course, she had no idea of the character of the place indicated,
but was inclined to hope that some good luck was really in store for
her young secretary.
"He will be likely to tell me sooner or later," she said to herself.
"I will wait patiently, and let him choose his own time. Meanwhile I
will keep the note."
Mrs. Hamilton did not see Ben till the next morning. Then he looked
thoughtful, but said nothing. He was puzzling himself over what had
happened. He hardly knew whether to conclude that the whole thing was
a trick, or that the note was written in good faith.
"I don't understand why the writer should have appointed to meet me at
such a place," he reflected. "I may hear from him again."
It was this reflection which led him to keep the matter secret from
Mrs. Hamilton, to whom be had been tempted to speak.
"I will wait till I know more," he said to himself. "This Barnes
knows my address, and he can communicate with me if he chooses."
Of course, the reader understands that Conrad was at the bottom of the
trick, and that the object was to persuade Mrs. Hamilton that the boy
she trusted was in the habit of visiting gambling houses. The plan
had been suggested by Conrad, and the details agreed on by him and his
mother. This explains why Conrad was so conveniently near at hand to
see Ben coming out of the gambling house.
The boy reported the success of this plan to his mother.
"I never saw a boy look so puzzled," he said, with a chuckle, "when he
came out of the gambling house. I should like to know what sort of
time he had there. I expected he would get kicked out."
"I feel no interest in that matter," said his mother. "I am more
interested to know what Cousin Hamilton will say when she finds where
her model boy has been."
"She'll give him his walking ticket, I hope."
"She ought to; but she seems so infatuated with him that there is no
"When shall you tell her, mother?"
"I will wait a day or two. I want to manage matters so as not to
arouse any suspicion."
BEN ON TRIAL
"Excuse my intrusion, Cousin Hamilton; I see you are engaged."
The speaker was Mrs. Hill, and the person addressed was her wealthy
cousin. It was two days after the event recorded in the last chapter.
"I am only writing a note, about which there is no haste. Did you
wish to speak to me?"
Mrs. Hamilton leaned back in her chair, and waited to hear what Mrs.
Hill had to say. There was very little similarity between the two
ladies. One was stout, with a pleasant, benevolent face, to whom not
only children, but older people, were irresistibly attracted. The
other was thin, with cold, gray eyes, a pursed-up mouth, thin lips,
who had never succeeded in winning the affection of anyone. True, she
had married, but her husband was attracted by a small sum of money
which she possessed, and which had been reported to him as much larger
than it really was.
When asked if she wished to speak, Mrs. Hill coughed.
"There's a matter I think I ought to speak of," she said, "but it is
painful for me to do so."
"Why is it painful?" asked Mrs. Hamilton, eyeing her steadily.
"Because my motives may be misconstrued. Then, I fear it will give
"Pain is sometimes salutary. Has Conrad displeased you?"
"No, indeed!" answered Mrs. Hill, half indignantly. "My boy is a
great comfort to me."
"I am glad to hear it," said Mrs. Hamilton dryly.
For her own part, Mrs. Hamilton thought her cousin's son one of the
least attractive young people she had ever met, and save for a feeling
of pity, and the slight claims of relationship, would not have been
willing to keep him in the house.
"I don't see why you should have judged so ill of my poor Conrad,"
complained Mrs. Hill.
"I am glad you are so well pleased with him. Let me know what you
have to communicate."
"It is something about the new boy--Benjamin."
Mrs. Hamilton lifted her eyebrows slightly.
"Speak without hesitation," she said.
"You will be sure not to misjudge me?"
"Why should I?"
"You might think I was jealous on account of my own boy."
"There is no occasion for you to be jealous."
"No, of course not. I am sure Conrad and I have abundant cause to be
grateful to you."
"That is not telling me what you came to tell," said Mrs. Hamilton
"I am afraid you are deceived in the boy, Cousin Hamilton."
"In what respect?"
"I am almost sorry I had not kept the matter secret. If I did not
consider it my duty to you, I would have done so."
"Be kind enough to speak at once. You need not apologize, nor
hesitate on my account. What has Ben been doing?"
"On Tuesday evening he was seen coming out of a well-known gambling
"Who saw him?"
"How did Conrad know that it was a gambling house?"
"He had had it pointed out to him as such," Mrs. Hill answered, with
"About what time was this?"
"A little after nine in the evening."
"And where was the gambling house situated?"
"On Thirty-first Street."
A peculiar look came over Mrs. Hamilton's face.
"And Conrad reported this to you?"
"The same evening."
"That was Tuesday?"
"Yes; I could not make up my mind to tell you immediately, because I
did not want to injure the boy."
"You are more considerate than I should have expected."
"I hope I am. I don't pretend to like the boy. He seems to have
something sly and underhand about him. Still, he needs to be
employed, and that made me pause."
"Till your sense of duty to me overcame your reluctance?"
"Exactly so, Cousin Hamilton. I am glad you understand so well how I
feel about the matter."
Mrs. Hill was quite incapable of understanding the irony of her
cousin's last remark, and was inclined to be well pleased with the
reception her news had met with.
"Where is Conrad?"
"He is not in the house. He didn't want me to tell you."
"That speaks well for him. I must speak to Ben on the subject."
She rang the bell, and a servant appeared.
"See if Master Ben is in his room," said the lady. "If so ask him to
come here for five minutes."
Ben was in the house and in less than two minutes he entered the room.
He glanced from one lady to the other in some surprise. Mrs. Hamilton
wore her ordinary manner, but Mrs. Hill's mouth was more pursed up
than ever. She looked straight before her, and did not look at Ben at
"Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, coming to the point at once, "did you visit
a gambling house in Thirty-first Street on Tuesday evening?"
"I did," answered Ben promptly.
Mrs. Hill moved her hands slightly, and looked horror-stricken.
"You must have had some good reason for doing so. I take it for
granted you did not go there to gamble?"
"No," answered Ben, with a smile. "That is not in my line."
"What other purpose could he have had, Cousin Hamilton?" put in Mrs.
Ben eyed her curiously.
"Did Mrs. Hill tell you I went there?" he asked.
"I felt it my duty to do so," said that lady, with acerbity. "I
dislike to see my cousin so deceived and imposed upon by one she had
"How did you know I went there, Mrs. Hill?"
"Conrad saw you coming out of the gambling house."
"I didn't see him. It was curious he happened be in that neighborhood
just at that time," said Ben significantly.
"If you mean to insinuate that Conrad goes to such places, you are
quite mistaken," said Mrs. Hill sharply.
"It was not that I meant to insinuate at all."
"You have not yet told me why you went there, Ben?" said Mrs. Hamilton
"Because I received a mysterious letter, signed James Barnes, asking
me to come to that address about nine o'clock in the evening. I was
told I would hear something of advantage to myself."
"Did you meet any such man there?" asked Mrs. Hill.
"Have you got the letter you speak of?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"No," answered Ben. "I must have dropped it somewhere. I felt in my
pocket for it when I reached the gambling house, but it was gone."
Mrs. Hill looked fairly triumphant.
"A very queer story!" she said, nodding her head. "I don't believe
you received any such letter. I presume you had often been to the
same place to misspend your evenings."
"Do you think so, Mrs. Hamilton?" inquired Ben anxiously.
"It is a pity you lost that letter, Ben."
"Yes, it is," answered Ben regretfully.
"Mrs. Hill," said Mrs. Hamilton, "if you will withdraw, I would like
to say a few words to Ben in private."
"Certainly, Cousin Hamilton," returned the poor cousin, with alacrity.
"I think his race is about run," she said to herself, in a tone of
CONRAD TAKES A BOLD STEP
"I hope, Mrs. Hamilton, you don't suspect me of frequenting gambling
houses?" said Ben, after his enemy had left the room.
"No," answered Mrs. Hamilton promptly. "I think I know you too well
"I did go on Tuesday evening, I admit," continued Ben. "I saw that
Mrs. Hill did not believe it, but it's true. I wish I hadn't lost the
letter inviting me there. You might think I had invented the story."
"But I don't, Ben; and, for the best of all reasons, because I found
the note on the carpet, and have it in my possession now."
"Have you?" exclaimed Ben gladly.
"Here it is," said the lady, as she produced the note from the desk
before her. "It is singular such a note should have been sent you,"
she added thoughtfully.
"I think so, too. I had no suspicion when I received it, but I think
now that it was written to get to into a scrape."
"Then it must have been written by an enemy. Do you know of anyone
who would feel like doing you a bad turn?"
"No," answered Ben, shaking his head.
"Do you recognize the handwriting?"
"No; it may have been written by some person I know, but I have no
suspicion and no clew as to who it is."
"I think we will let the matter rest for a short time. If we say
nothing about it, the guilty person may betray himself."
"You are very kind to keep your confidence in me, Mrs. Hamilton," said
"I trust you as much as ever, Ben, but I shall appear not to--for a
Ben looked puzzled.
"I won't explain myself," said Mrs. Hamilton, with a smile, "but I
intend to treat you coolly for a time, as if you had incurred my
displeasure. You need not feel sensitive, however, but may consider
that I am acting."
"Then it may be as well for me to act, too," suggested Ben.
"A good suggestion! You will do well to look sober and uneasy."
"I will do my best," answered Ben brightly.
The programme was carried out. To the great delight of Mrs. Hill and
Conrad, Mrs. Hamilton scarcely addressed a word to Ben at the supper
table. When she did speak, it was with an abruptness and coldness
quite unusual for the warm-hearted woman. Ben looked depressed, fixed
his eyes on his plate, and took very little part in the conversation.
Mrs. Hill and Conrad, on the other hand, seemed in very good spirits.
They chatted cheerfully, and addressed an occasional word to Ben.
They could afford to be magnanimous, feeling that he had forfeited
their rich cousin's favor.
After supper, Conrad went into his mother's room.
"Our plan's working well, mother," he said, rubbing his hands.
"Yes, Conrad, it is. Cousin Hamilton is very angry with the boy. She
scarcely spoke a word to him."
"He won't stay long, I'll be bound. Can't you suggest, mother, that
he had better be dismissed at once?"
"No, Conrad; we have done all that is needed. We can trust Cousin
Hamilton to deal with him. She will probably keep him for a short
time, till she can get along without his services."
"It's lucky he lost the letter. Cousin Hamilton will think he never
So the precious pair conferred together. It was clear that Ben had
two dangerous and unscrupulous enemies in the house.
It was all very well to anticipate revenge upon Ben, and his summary
dismissal, but this did not relieve Conrad from his pecuniary
embarrassments. As a general thing, his weekly allowance was spent by
the middle of the week. Ben had refused to lend money, and there was
no one else he could call upon. Even if our hero was dismissed, there
seemed likely to be no improvement in this respect.
At this juncture, Conrad was, unfortunately, subjected to a temptation
which proved too strong for him.
Mrs. Hamilton was the possessor of an elegant opera glass, which she
had bought some years previous in Paris at a cost of fifty dollars.
Generally, when not in use, she kept it locked up in a bureau drawer.
It so happened, however, that it had been left out on a return from a
matinee, and lay upon her desk, where it attracted the attention of
It was an unlucky moment, for he felt very hard up. He wished to go
to the theater in the evening with a friend, but had no money.
It flashed upon him that he could raise a considerable sum on the
opera glass at Simpson's, a well-known pawnbroker on the Bowery, and
he could, without much loss of time, stop there on his way down to
Scarcely giving himself time to think, he seized the glass and thrust
it into the pocket of his overcoat. Then, putting on his coat, he
hurried from the house.
Arrived at the pawnbroker's, he produced the glass, and asked:
"How much will you give me on this?"
The attendant looked at the glass, and then at Conrad.
"This is a very valuable glass," he said. "Is it yours?"
"No," answered Conrad glibly. "It belongs to a lady in reduced
circumstances, who needs to raise money. She will be able to redeem
"Did she send you here?"
"We will loan you twenty dollars on it. Will that be satisfactory?"
"Quite so," answered Conrad, quite elated at the sum, which exceeded
"Shall we make out the ticket to you or the lady?"
"To me. The lady does not like to have her name appear in the
This is so frequently the case that the statement created no surprise.
"What is your name?" inquired the attendant.
"Ben Barclay," answered Conrad readily.
The ticket was made out, the money paid over, and Conrad left the
"Now I am in funds!" he said to himself, "and there is no danger of
detection. If anything is ever found out, it will be Ben who will be
in trouble, not I."
It was not long before Mrs. Hamilton discovered her loss. She valued
the missing opera glass, for reasons which need not be mentioned, far
beyond its intrinsic value, and though she could readily have supplied
its place, so far as money was concerned, she would not have been as
well pleased with any new glass, though precisely similar, as with the
one she had used for years. She remembered that she had not replaced
the glass in the drawer, and, therefore, searched for it wherever she
thought it likely to have been left. But in vain.
"Ben," she said, "have you seen my glass anywhere about?"
"I think," answered Ben, "that I saw it on your desk."
"It is not there now, but it must be somewhere in the house."
She next asked Mrs. Hill. The housekeeper was entirely ignorant of
Conrad's theft, and answered that she had not seen it.
"I ought not to have left it about," said Mrs. Hamilton. "It may have
proved too strong a temptation to some one of the servants."
"Or someone else," suggested Mrs. Hill significantly.
"That means Ben," thought Mrs. Hamilton, but she did not say so.
"I would ferret out the matter if I were you," continued Mrs. Hill.
"I intend to," answered Mrs. Hamilton quietly. "I valued the glass
far beyond its cost, and I will leave no means untried to recover it."
"You are quite right, too."
When Conrad was told that the opera glass had been lost, he said:
"Probably Ben stole it."
"So I think," assented his mother. "But it will be found out. Cousin
Hamilton has put the matter into the hands of a detective."
For the moment, Conrad felt disturbed. But he quickly recovered
"Pshaw! they can't trace it to me," he thought. "They will put it on
MR. LYNX, THE DETECTIVE
The detective who presented himself to Mrs. Hamilton was a
quiet-looking man, clad in a brown suit. Except that his eyes were
keen and searching, his appearance was disappointing. Conrad met him
as he was going out of the house, and said to himself contemptuously:
"He looks like a muff."
"I have sent for you, Mr. Lynx," said Mrs. Hamilton, "to see if you
can help me in a matter I will explain to you," and then she gave him
all the information she possessed about the loss of the opera glass.
"How valuable was the glass?" inquired Mr. Lynx.
"It cost fifty dollars in Paris," said Mrs. Hamilton.
"But you set a higher value upon it for other reasons? Just so."
"You are right."
"Will you favor me with an exact description of the article?" said the
detective, producing his notebook.
Mrs. Hamilton did so, and the detective made an entry.
"Have you ever had anything taken out of your house by outside
parties?" he asked.
"On one occasion, when my brother was visiting me, his overcoat was
taken from the hatstand in the hall."
"A sneak thief, of course. The glass, however, was not so exposed?"
"No; it was not on the lower floor at all."
"It looks, then, as if it was taken by someone in the house."
"It looks so," said Mrs. Hamilton gravely.
"Have you confidence in your servants? Or, rather, have you reason to
suspect any of them?"
"I believe they are honest. I don't believe they would be tempted by
such an article."
"Not, perhaps, for their own use, but a glass like this may be pawned
for a considerable sum. Being of peculiar appearance, the thief would
be hardly likely to use it himself or herself. Detection would be too
"No doubt you are right."
"How long has the glass been missing?" resumed the detective.
"No doubt it has been pawned by this time. Your course is clear."
"And what is that?"
"To make a tour of the pawnshops, and ascertain whether such an
article has been brought to any one of them."
"Very well, Mr. Lynx. I leave the matter in your hands. I trust
everything to your judgment."
"Thank you. I will try to deserve your confidence. And now,
good-day. I may call upon you to-morrow."
"Mr. Lynx left the presence of the lady, and went downstairs. He had
just reached the bottom of the staircase, when a thin lady glided from
the rear of the hall, and spoke to him.
"Are you the detective summoned by Mrs. Hamilton?" she asked.
"Yes, madam," answered Mr. Lynx, surveying housekeeper attentively.
"I am Mrs. Hill, the housekeper," said she. "I may add that I am a
cousin of Mrs. Hamilton's."
Mr. Lynx bowed, and waited for further information. He knew who was
addressing him, for he had questioned Mrs. Hamilton as to the
different inmates of the house.
"I stopped you," said Mrs. Hill, "because I have my suspicions, and I
thought I might help you in this investigation."
"I shall feel indebted to you for any help you can afford. Do you
mind telling me upon what your suspicions rest?"
"I don't like to accuse or throw suspicions on anyone," said the
housekeeper, but I think it is my duty to help my cousin in this
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Lynx, noticing that she paused. "Proceed."
"You may or may not be aware that my cousin employs a boy of about
sixteen, whom, as I think, she engaged rather rashly, without knowing
anything of his antecedents. He assists her in her writing and
accounts--in fact, is a sort of secretary.
"His name is Benjamin Barclay, is it not?"
"Do you know anything of his habits?"
"He is very plausible. In fact, I think his appearance is in his
favor; but I think he is sly. Still water, you know, runs deep."
Mr. Lynx bowed assent.
"I was disposed," proceeded Mrs. Hill artfully, "to think well of the
boy, and to approve my cousin's selection, until last week he was seen
leaving a well-known gambling house in Thirty-first Street."
"Indeed! That is certainly suspicious."
"Is it not?"
"Who saw him leaving the gambling house, Mrs. Hill?"
"My son, Conrad."
"Curious that he should have been near at the time!"
"He was taking a walk. He generally goes out in the evening."
"Of course your son would not visit such a place?"
"Certainly not," answered Mrs. Hill, looking offended at the
"By the way, are the two boys intimate? Do they seem to like each
"My Conrad always treats the other boy well, out of common politeness,
but I don't think he likes him very well."
"Is your son in any situation?"
"He is now."
"Was he at the time this Benjamin was engaged by Mrs. Hamilton?"
"Rather singular that she did not employ your son, instead of seeking
out a stranger, isn't it?"
"Now that you mention it, I confess that I did feel hurt at the slight
to my boy. However, I don't wish to interfere with Cousin Hamilton,
or obtrude my son upon her."
"Strong jealousy there!" thought the detective.
"So you think this Ben Barclay may have taken the glass?" he said
"I do. Since he visits gambling houses, he doubtless squanders money,
and can find a market for more than he can honestly earn."
"As you say, gambling often leads to dishonesty. Does Mrs. Hamilton
know that her protege visited a gambling house?"
"Mentioned it to him, I suppose?"
"Of course, he denied it?"
"No; he admitted it, but said he received a letter from a stranger
appointing to meet him there. It is rather curious that he couldn't
show the letter, however. He pretended he had lost it."
"Did Mrs. Hamilton believe him?"
"I don't know. I think not, for, though she has not discharged him,
she treats him very coldly."
"Have you any further information to give me?"
"No. I hope this will be of some service to you."
"I think it will. Thank you, and good-afternoon."
"There! I've prejudiced him against Ben," said Mrs. Hill to herself,
with a satisfied smile. "These detectives are glad of a hint, sharp
as they think themselves. If he finds out that it is Ben, he will
take all the credit to himself, and never mention me in the matter.
However, that is just what I wish. It is important that I should not
appear too active in getting the boy into trouble, or I may be thought
to be influenced by interested motives, though, Heaven knows, I only
want justice for myself and my boy. The sooner we get this boy out of
the house, the better it will be for us."
As Mr. Lynx left the house, he smiled to himself.
"That woman and her son hate Ben Barclay, that much is certain, and
look upon him as an interloper and a rival. I rather sympathize with
the poor fellow. I should be sorry to find him guilty, but I shall
not stop short till I have ferreted out the truth."
THE TELLTALE TICKET
Conrad still had the pawnbroker's ticket which he had received in
return for the opera glasses, and did not quite know what to do with
it. He didn't intend to redeem the glass, and if found in his
possession, it would bring him under suspicion. Now that a detective
had the matter in charge, it occurred to him that it would be well to
have the ticket found in Ben's room.
The two had rooms upon the same floor, and it would, therefore, be
easy to slip into Ben's chamber and leave it somewhere about.
Now, it chanced that Susan, the chambermaid, was about, though Conrad
did not see her, when he carried out his purpose, and, instigated by
curiosity, she peeped through the half-open door, and saw him place
the ticket on the bureau.
Wondering what it was, she entered the room after Conrad had vacated
it, and found the ticket Conrad had placed there.
Susan knew what a pawnbroker's ticket was, and read it with curiosity.
She saw that it was made out to Ben Barclay.
"How, then, did Master Conrad get hold of it?" she said to herself.
"It's my belief he's trying to get Master Ben into trouble. It's a
shame, it is, for Master Ben is a gentleman and he isn't."
Between the two boys, Susan favored Ben, who always treated her with
consideration, while Conrad liked to order about the servants, as if
they were made to wait upon him.
After Conrad had disposed of the pawn ticket, he said carelessly to
"Mother, if I were you, I'd look into Ben's room. You might find the
opera glass there."
"I don't think he'd leave it there. He would pawn it."
"Then you might find the ticket somewhere about."
Upon this hint, Mrs. Hill went up to Ben's room, and there, upon the
bureau, she naturally found the ticket.
"I thought so," she said to herself. "Conrad was right. The boy is a
thief. Here is the ticket made out to him by name. Well, well, he's
brazen enough, in all conscience. Now shall I show it to Cousin
Hamilton at once, or shall I wait until the detective has reported?"
On the whole, Mrs. Hill decided to wait. She could delay with safety,
for she had proof which would utterly crush and confound the hated
Meanwhile, the detective pursued his investigations. Of course, he
visited Simpson's, and there he learned that the opera glass, which he
readily recognized from the description, had been brought there a few
"Who brought it?" he asked.
"A boy of about sixteen."
"Did he give his name?"
The books were referred to, and the attendant answered in the
"He gave the name of Ben Barclay," he answered.
"Do you think that was his real name?" asked the detective.
"That depends on whether he had a right to pawn it."
"Suppose he stole it?"
"Then, probably, he did not give his real name."
"So I think," said Mr. Lynx quietly.
"Do you know if there is a boy by that name?"
"There is; but I doubt if he knows anything about the matter."
"I will call again, perhaps to-morrow," he added. "I must report to
my principal what I have discovered."
From Simpson's he went straight to Mrs. Hamilton, who had as yet
received no communication from the housekeeper.
"Well, Mr. Lynx," she asked, with interest, "have you heard anything
of the glass?"
"I have seen it," was the quiet reply.
"At a well-known pawnshop on the Bowery."
"Did you learn who left it?" asked Mrs. Hamilton eagerly.
"A boy--about sixteen years of age--who gave the name of Ben Barclay."
"I can't believe Ben would be guilty of such a disgraceful act!"
ejaculated Mrs. Hamilton, deeply moved.
MRS. HILL'S MALICE
At this moment there was a low knock on the door.
"Come in!" said Mrs. Hamilton.
Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, glided in, with her usual stealthy step.
"I really beg pardon for intruding," she said, with a slight cough,
"but I thought perhaps I might throw light on the matter Mr. Lynx is
"Well?" said the detective, eying her attentively.
"I had occasion to go into Ben's room to see if the girl had put
things in order, when my attention was drawn to a ticket upon the
bureau. You can tell whether it is of importance," and she handed it,
with an air of deference, to Mr. Lynx.
"What is it?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"It is a pawn ticket," answered Mr. Lynx attentively.
"Let me see it, please!"
Mrs. Hamilton regarded it with mingled pain and incredulity.
"I need not say," continued the housekeeper, "that I was surprised and
saddened at this evidence of the boy's depravity. Cousin Hamilton has
been so kind to him that it seems like the height of ingratitude."
"May I ask, madam," said Mr. Lynx, "if your suspicions had fastened on
this boy, Ben, before you found the pawn ticket?"
"To tell the truth, they had."
"And what reason had you for forming such suspicions?"
"I knew that the boy frequented gambling houses, and, of course, no
salary, however large, would be sufficient for a boy with such
Mrs. Hamilton did not speak, which somewhat embarrassed Mrs. Hill.
Mr. Lynx, however, was very affable, and thanked her for her
"I felt it my duty to assist Cousin Hamilton," said she, "though I am
sorry for that ungrateful boy. I will now withdraw, and leave you to
Mrs. Hill would like to have been invited to remain, but such an
invitation was not given.
"What do you think, Mr. Lynx?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"I think your housekeeper does not like Ben Barclay," he answered
"And you don't think him guilty?" she asked eagerly.
"No; the boy isn't fool enough, first, to give his own name at the
pawnbroker's, and next, to leave the ticket exposed in his room."
"How then did it come there?"
Mr. Lynx was saved the trouble of answering by another tap on the
"Who is it now?" he said.
He stepped to the door, and opening it, admitted Susan.
"What is it, Susan," asked Mrs. Hamilton, in some surprise.
"Did Mrs. Hill bring you a pawn ticket, ma'am?"
"And what do you know about it?" demanded Mr. Lynx brusquely.
"And did she say she found it on Master Ben's bureau?"
"Yes, Susan," said the mistress; "what can you tell us about it?"
"I can tell you this, ma'am, that I saw Master Conrad steal into the
room this morning, and put it there with his own hands."
"Ha! this is something to the purpose." said the detective briskly.
"Are you sure of this, Susan?" asked Mrs. Hamilton, evidently shocked.
"I can take my Bible oath of it, ma'am; and it's my belief that he's
tryin' to get Master Ben into trouble."
"Thank you, Susan," said her mistress. "You have done not only Ben,
but myself, a valuable service. You can go. I will see that you do
not regret it."
"Don't tell Mrs. Hill that I told you, or she'd be my enemy for life!"
"I will see to that."
As Susan left the room, Mr. Lynx said:
"You won't require my services any longer. It is clear enough who
pawned the glass."
"I mean the boy Conrad, whose mother was so anxious to fix the guilt
upon your young secretary. If you have the slightest doubt about it,
invite the young gentleman to accompany you to Simpson's to redeem the
SOME UNEXPECTED CHANGES
When Conrad came home his first visit was to his mother.
"Has anything been found out about the stolen opera glass?" he asked,
with a studied air of indifference.
"I should say there had," she answered. "I followed the clew you
suggested, and searched the boy's room. On the bureau I found the
"You don't say so! What a muff Ben must have been to leave it around
so carelessly! What did you do with it?"
"I waited till Mr. Lynx was conferring with Cousin Hamilton, and then
I carried it in and gave it to them."
"What did they say?" asked Conrad eagerly.
"They seemed thunderstruck, and Mr. Lynx very politely thanked me for
the help I had given them."
"Has Ben been bounced yet?"
"No; but doubtless he will be very soon. Cousin Hamilton doesn't want
to think him a thief and gambler, but there seems no way of escaping
from such a mass of proof."
"I should say not. Do you think she's told Ben? Does he look down in
the mouth?" continued Conrad.
"I haven't seen him since."
When they met at the table Mrs. Hamilton's manner toward Ben was
decidedly frigid, as Conrad and his mother saw, much to their
satisfaction. Ben looked sober, but his appetite did not appear to be
"Your course is about run, young man!" thought Mrs. Hill.
"I should like to see you after supper, Conrad," said Mrs. Hamilton.
"Come into my sitting room."
"I wonder if she is going to give me Ben's place," thought Conrad,
hardly knowing whether he wished it or not.
With a jaunty air and a self-satisfied smile, he followed Mrs.
Hamilton into her "private office," as she sometimes called it.
"Shut the door, Conrad," she said.
He did so.
"I have heard news of the opera glass," she commenced.
"Mother gave me a hint of that," said Conrad.
"It was stolen and pawned at Simpson's on the Bowery."
"It's a great shame!" said Conrad, thinking that a safe comment to
"Yes, it was a shame and a disgrace to the one who took it."
"I didn't think Ben would do such a thing," continued Conrad, growing
"Nor I," said Mrs. Hamilton.
"After all you have done for him, too. I never liked the boy, for my
"So I suspected," said Mrs. Hamilton dryly. "However, I will tell you
what I want of you. I am going down to Simpson's to-morrow to redeem
the glass, and want you to go with me."
"You want me to go with you!" ejaculated Conrad, turning pale.
"Yes; I don't care to go to that part of the City by myself, and I
will take you to keep me company."
"But I must go to the office," faltered Conrad.
"I will send Ben to say that you can't go to-morrow."
"Why don't you take Ben to Simpson's, or the detective?" suggested
Conrad, in great alarm, bethinking himself that it would hardly do to
take Ben, since the attendant would certify that he was not the one
who pawned the glass.
"Because I prefer to take you. Have you any objection to go!"
"Oh, no, of course not!" answered Conrad, not daring to make any
In the morning Mrs. Hill came to Mrs. Hamilton, and said:
"Poor Conrad has a terrible toothache! He is afraid he won't be able
to go with you to Simpson's. Will you kindly excuse him?"
Mrs. Hamilton expected some such excuse.
"I will take Ben, then," she said.
"Are you going to keep that boy--after what be has done?" asked the
"It is inconvenient for me to part with him just yet."
"Then--I hope you will excuse the suggestion--I advise you to keep
your bureau drawers locked."
"I think it best myself," said Mrs. Hamilton. Is Conrad's toothache
"The poor fellow is in great pain."
When Ben was invited by Mrs. Hamilton to go to the pawnbroker's he
made no objection.
"It is only fair to tell you, Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, that the
person who pawned the opera glass gave your name."
"Then," said Ben, "I should like to know who it is."
"I think I know," said his patroness; "but when we redeem the glass we
will ask for a description of him."
An hour later they entered the pawnbroker's shop. Mrs. Hamilton
presented the ticket and made herself known.
"Will you tell me," she asked, "whether you have ever seen the young
gentleman that accompanies me?"
"Not to my knowledge," answered the attendant, after attentively
"Can you remember the appearance of the boy who pawned the opera
"He was taller than this boy, and pale. He was thinner also. His
hair was a light brown."
A light dawned upon Ben, and his glance met that of Mrs. Hamilton, so
that she read his suspicions.
"I think we both know who it was that took your name, Ben," she said;
"but for the present I wish you to keep it secret."
"I will certainly do so, Mrs. Hamilton."
"I am placed in difficult circumstances, and have not made up my mind
what to do."
"I hope you won't allow yourself to be prejudiced against me by any
"No, I can promise you that. I have perfect confidence in you."
"Thank you for that, Mrs. Hamilton," said Ben gratefully.
"Yet I am about to take a course that will surprise you."
"What is that?"
"I am going to let you leave me for a time, and put Conrad in your
Ben looked bewildered, as well he might. There was nothing that would
have surprised him more.
"Then I am afraid you don't find me satisfactory," he said anxiously.
"You discharge me from your service."
"No" answered Mrs. Hamilton, smiling; "I have other work for you to
do. I mean to give you a confidential commission."
Ben's face brightened up immediately.
"You will find me faithful," he said, "and I hope I may repay your
"I think you will. I will explain matters to you before you reach the
house, as I don't want Mrs. Hill or Conrad to know about the matter.
Indeed, for reasons of my own, I shall let them think that I
Ben smiled; he was not averse to such a plan.
"And now for the business. I own a farm in the western part of
Pennsylvania. I have for years let it for a nominal sum to a man
named Jackson. Of late he has been very anxious to buy it, and has
offered me a sum greater than I had supposed it to be worth. As I
know him to be a close-fisted man, who has tried more than once to get
me to reduce the small rent I charge him, this naturally excites my
curiosity. I think something has been discovered that enhances the
value of the farm, and, if so, I want to know it. You are a boy, and
a visit to the neighborhood will not excite surprise.
"I understand," said Ben. "When do you wish me to start?"
"This afternoon. I have prepared written instructions, and here is a
pocketbook containing a hundred and fifty dollars for expenses."
"Shall I need so much?"
"Probably not; but I wish you to be amply provided. You will remove
all your things from my house, but you may store anything you don't
need to carry."
When Conrad heard that Mrs. Hamilton had taken Ben with her, he was
alarmed lest it should be discovered that the boy pawning the opera
glass was not Ben, but himself. When, upon Mrs. Hamilton's return, he
was summoned to her presence, he entered with trepidation.
"Is your toothache better, Conrad?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"A little better, thank you."
"I am going to make a change in your position. Ben is to leave me,
and you will take his place as my secretary."
Conrad's heart bounded with joy and surprise.
"How can I thank you, Cousin Hamilton!" he said, with a feeling of
"By serving me well."
"All has turned out for the best, mother," said Conrad joyfully, as he
sought his mother's presence. "Ben is bounced, and I am to take his
"Heaven be praised!" ejaculated Mrs. Hill.
"I hope you'll soon find a place," said Conrad mockingly, when Ben
left the house, valise in hand.
"I think I shall," answered Ben calmly.
BEN "GOES WEST"
Undisturbed by the thought that his departure was viewed with joy by
Conrad and his mother, Ben set out on his Western journey.
His destination was Centerville, in Western Pennsylvania. I may as
well say that this is not the real name of the place, which, for
several reasons, I conceal.
Though Ben was not an experienced traveler, he found no difficulty in
reaching his destination, having purchased a copy of "Appleton's
Railway Guide," which afforded him all the information he required.
About fifty miles this side of Centerville he had for a seat companion
a man of middle age, with a pleasant face, covered with a brown beard,
who, after reading through a Philadelphia paper which he had purchased
of the train-boy, seemed inclined to have a social chat with Ben.
"May I ask your destination, my young friend?" he asked.
Ben felt that it was well for him to be cautious, though he was
pleasantly impressed with the appearance of his companion.
"I think I shall stop over at Centerville," he said.
"Indeed! That is my destination."
"Do you live there?" asked Ben.
"No," said the other, laughing. "Do I look like it? I thought you
would read 'New York' in my face and manner."
"I am not an experienced observer," said Ben modestly.
"Centerville has a prosperous future before it," said the stranger.
"Has it? I don't know much about the place. I never was there."
"You know, of course, that it is in the oil region?"
"I didn't even know that."
"A year ago," resumed the stranger, "it was a humdrum farming town,
and not a very prosperous one either. The land is not of good
quality, and the farmers found it hard work to get a poor living. Now
all is changed."
Ben's attention was aroused. He began to understand why Mr. Jackson
wished to buy the farm he rented from Mrs. Hamilton.
"This is all new to me," he said. "I suppose oil has been found
"Yes; one old farm, which would have been dear at three thousand
dollars, is now yielding hundreds of barrels daily, and would fetch
fifty thousand dollars easily."
Ben began to be excited. If he could only sell Mrs. Hamilton's farm
for half that he felt that he would be doing an excellent thing.
"I suppose you are interested in some of the petroleum wells?" he
"Not yet, but I hope to be. In fact, I don't mind confessing that I
represent a New York syndicate, and that my object in making this
journey is to purchase, if I can, the Jackson farm."
"The Jackson farm!" repeated Ben, his breath almost taken away by his
"Yes; do you know anything about it?" asked his companion.
"I have heard of a farmer in Centerville named Peter Jackson."
"That is the man."
"And his farm is one of the lucky ones, then?"
"It promises to be."
"I suppose, then, you will have to pay a large sum for it?" said Ben,
trying to speak calmly.
"Jackson is very coy, and, I think, grasping. He wants fifty thousand
"Of course you won't pay so much?"
"I should hardly feel authorized to do so. I may go as high as forty
Ben was dazzled. If he could effect a sale at this price he would be
doing a splendid stroke of business, and would effectually defeat the
plans of Mr. Jackson, who, it appeared, had pretended that he was the
owner of the farm, hoping to obtain it from Mrs. Hamilton at a
valuation which would have been suitable before the discovery of oil,
but now would be ludicrously disproportionate to its real value.
"Shall or shall I not, tell this gentleman the truth?" he reflected.
He thought over the matter and decided to do so. The discovery must
be made sooner or later, and there would be no advantage in delay.
"I don't think Jackson will sell," he said.
"Why not?" asked the stranger, in surprise. "Do you know him?"
"I never saw him in my life."
"Then how can you form any opinion on the subject?"
"The answer is easy enough," he said. "Mr. Jackson can't sell what he
"Do you mean to say that he is not the owner of the farm which he
proposes to sell us?"
"That is just what I mean. He is no more the owner than you or I."
"You speak confidently, young man. Perhaps you can tell me who is the
"I can. The owner is Mrs. Hamilton, of New York."
"Indeed! That is a genuine surprise. Can you give me her address? I
should like to communicate with her."
"I will cheerfully give you her address, but it won't be necessary,
for I represent her."
"You!" exclaimed the stranger incredulously.
"Yes; and I am going out to Centerville now as her agent. This
Jackson, who is her tenant, has been urging her to sell him the farm
for some time. He has offered a sum larger than the farm would be
worth but for the discovery of petroleum, but has taken good care not
to speak of this."
"How much does he offer?"
"Five thousand dollars."
"The rascal!" He offers five thousand, and expects us to pay him fifty
thousand dollars for his bargain. What an unmitigated swindle it
would have been if he had carried out his scheme!"
"Perhaps you would like to see his last letter?" said Ben.
"I should. I want to see what the old rascal has to say for himself."
Ben took from his pocket the letter in question, and put it into the
hands of his new acquaintance.
It was dated at Centerville, October 21. It was written in a cramped
hand, showing that the farmer was not accustomed to letter-writing.
It ran thus:
"As I have already wrote you, I would like to buy the farm, and will
give you more than anybody else, because I am used to living on it,
and it seems like home. I am willing to pay five thousand dollars,
though I know it is only worth four, but it is worth more to me than
to others. I offer you more because I know you are rich, and will not
sell unless you get a good bargain. Please answer right away.
"P.S.--My offer will hold good for only two weeks."
"He seems to be very much in earnest," said Ben.
"He has reason to be so, as he hopes to make forty-five thousand
dollars on his investment."
"He will be bitterly disappointed," said Ben.
"I don't care anything about Jackson," said the stranger. "I would
just as soon negotiate with you. Are you authorized to sell the
"No," answered Ben; "but Mrs. Hamilton will probably be guided by my
advice in the mater."
"That amounts to the same thing. I offer you forty thousand dollars
"I think favorably of your proposal, Mr. ----"
"My name is Taylor."
"Mr. Taylor; but I prefer to delay answering till I am on the ground
and can judge better of the matter."
"You are right. I was surprised at first that Mrs. Hamilton should
have selected so young an agent. I begin to think her choice was a
MR. JACKSON RECEIVES A CALL
"Suppose we join forces, Ben," said Mr. Taylor familiarly.
"How do you mean?"
"We will join forces against this man Jackson. He wants to swindle
both of us--that is, those whom we represent.
"I am willing to work with you" answered Ben, who had been favorably
impressed by the appearance and frankness of his traveling companion.
"Then suppose to-morrow morning--it is too late to-day--we call over
and see the old rascal."
"I would rather not have him know on what errand I come, just at
"That is in accordance with my own plans. You will go as my
companion. He will take you for my son, or nephew, and, while I am
negotiating, you can watch and judge for yourself."
"I like the plan," said Ben.
"When he finds out who you are he will feel pretty badly sold."
"He deserves it."
The two put up at a country hotel, which, though not luxurious, was
tolerably comfortable. After the fatigue of his journey, Ben enjoyed
a good supper and a comfortable bed. The evening, however, he spent
in the public room of the inn, where he had a chance to listen to the
conversation of a motley crowd, some of them native and residents,
others strangers who had been drawn to Centerville by the oil
"I tell you," said a long, lank individual, "Centerville's goin' to be
one of the smartest places in the United States. It's got a big
future before it."
"That's so," said a small, wiry man; "but I'm not so much interested
in that as I am in the question whether or not I've got a big future
"You're one of the owners of the Hoffman farm, ain't you?"
"Yes. I wish I owned the whole of it. Still, I've made nigh on to a
thousand dollars durin' the last month for my share of the profits.
Pretty fair, eh?"
"I should say so. You've got a good purchase; but there's one better
in my opinion."
"Peter Jackson's farm."
Here Ben and Mr. Taylor began to listen with interest.
"He hasn't begun to work it any, has he?"
"Not much; just enough to find out its value."
"What's he waitin' for?"
"There's some New York people want it. If he can get his price, he'll
sell it to them for a good sum down."
"What does he ask?"
"He wants fifty thousand dollars."
"Whew! that's rather stiffish. I thought the property belonged to a
lady in New York."
"So it did; but Jackson says he bought it a year ago."
"He was lucky."
Ben and Mr. Taylor looked at each other again. It was easy to see the
old farmer's game, and to understand why he was so anxious to secure
the farm, out of which he could make so large a sum of money.
"He's playing a deep game, Ben," said Taylor, when they had left the
"Yes; but I think I shall be able to put a spoke in his wheel."
"I shall be curious to see how he takes it when he finds the
negotiation taken out of his hands. We'll play with him a little, as
a cat plays with a mouse."
The next morning, after a substantial breakfast, Ben and his new
friend took a walk to the farm occupied by Peter Jackson. It was
about half a mile away, and when reached gave no indication of the
wealth it was capable of producing. The farmhouse was a plain
structure nearly forty years old, badly in need of paint, and the
out-buildings harmonized with it in appearance.
A little way from the house was a tall, gaunt man, engaged in mending
a fence. He was dressed in a farmer's blue frock and overalls, and
his gray, stubby beard seemed to be of a week's growth. There was a
crafty, greedy look in his eyes, which overlooked a nose sharp and
aquiline. His feet were incased in a pair of cowhide boots. He
looked inquiringly at Taylor as he approached, but hardly deigned to
look at Ben, who probably seemed too insignificant to notice. He gave
a shrewd guess at the errand of the visitor, but waited for him to
"Is this Mr. Jackson?" asked Taylor, with a polite bow.
"That's my name, stranger," answered the old man.
"My name is Taylor. I wrote to you last week."
"I got the letter," said Jackson, going on with his work. It was his
plan not to seem too eager but to fight shy in order to get his price.
Besides, though he would have been glad to close the bargain on the
spot, there was an embarrassing difficulty. The farm was not his to
sell, and he was anxiously awaiting Mrs. Hamilton's answer to his
"She can't have heard of the oil discoveries," he thought, "and five
thousand dollars will seem a big price for the farm. She can't help
agreeing to my terms."
This consideration made him hopeful, but for all that, he must wait,
and waiting he found very tantalizing.
"Have you decided to accept my offer, Mr. Jackson?"
"Waal, I'll have to take a leetle time to consider. How much did you
say you'd give?"
"Forty thousand dollars."
"I'd ought to have fifty."
"Forty thousand dollars is a big sum of money."
"And this farm is a perfect gold mine. Shouldn't wonder if it would
net a hundred thousand dollars."
"There is no certainty of that, and the purchasers will have to take a
"There isn't much risk. Ask anybody in Centerville what he thinks of
the Jackson farm."
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