THE YOUNG EXPLORER
CLAIMING HIS FORTUNE
HORATIO ALGER, JR.
I. Ben's Inheritance
II. Deacon Pitkin's Offer
III. Sam Sturgis' New Idea
IV. A Brilliant Chance
V. In Search of a Place
VI. Mr. Fitch, The Senior Partner
VII. Ben's Dinner Guest
VIII. A Strange Acquaintance
IX. At the Astor House
X. Ben Receives a Call
XI. Miss Sinclair's Stratagem
XII. In San Francisco
XIII. Preliminary Arrangements
XIV. The Canon Hotel
XV. A Polite Hostess
XVI. A New Acquaintance
XVII. A Tight Place
XVIII. An Evening Call
XIX. Ben's Midnight Excursion
XX. A Thief's Disappointment
XXI. Ben's Savings-Bank
XXII. The Arrival at Murphy's
XXIII. Among the Sierras
XXIV. Beaten at His Own Game
XXV. The Horse-Thieves
XXVI. What Next?
XXVII Ki Sing
XXVIII. The Duel of the Miners
XXIX. Chinese Cheap Labor
XXX. A Midnight Visit
XXXI. On the Mountain Path
XXXII. The Mountain Cabin
THE YOUNG EXPLORER
"I've settled up your father's estate, Benjamin," said Job Stanton. "You'll find it all figgered out on this piece of paper. There was that two-acre piece up at Rockville brought seventy-five dollars, the medder fetched a hundred and fifty, the two cows—"
"How much does it all come to, Uncle Job?" interrupted Ben, who was impatient of details.
"Hadn't you better let me read off the items, nephew?" asked Job, looking over his spectacles.
"No, Uncle Job. I know you've done your best for me, and there's no need of your going through it all. How much is there left after all expenses are paid?"
"That's what I was a-comin' to, Ben. I make it out that there's three hundred and sixty-five dollars and nineteen cents. That's a dollar for every day in the year. It's a good deal of money, Ben."
"So it is, Uncle Job," answered Ben, and he was quite sincere. There are not many boys of sixteen to whom this would not seem a large sum.
"You're rich; that is, for a boy," added Uncle Job.
"It's more than I expected, uncle. I want you to take fifteen dollars and nineteen cents. That'll leave me just three hundred and fifty."
"Why should I take any of your money, nephew?"
"You've had considerable trouble in settling up the estate, and it's taken a good deal of your time, too."
"My time ain't of much vally, and as to the trouble, it's a pity ef I can't take some trouble for my brother's son. No, Ben, I won't take a cent. You'll need it all."
"But you said yourself it was a good deal of money for a boy, Uncle Job."
"So it is, but it's all you've got. Most boys have fathers to take care of 'em, while you're alone in the world."
"Yes I am alone in the world," said Ben sadly, his cheerful face clouding over.
"But you've got an uncle, lad," continued Job Stanton, laying his hand gently on the boy's shoulder. "He's a poor man, but as much as in him lies, he'll be your friend and helper."
"I know it, Uncle Job. You've always been kind to me."
"And allus will be, Ben. Now, Ben, I've got a plan for you. I don't know what you'll think of it, but it's the best I've been able to think of."
"What is it, Uncle Job?"
"Ef you'll stay with me and help me in the shop, I'll give you a home, such as it is, and fifty dollars a year toward your clothes. Your Aunt Hannah and your Cousin Jane want you to make your home with us."
"I'm very much obliged to you, Uncle Job," said Ben slowly.
"You needn't be, boy. It's a sort of mutooal arrangement. It'll be as good for me as for you. You can put your money in the bank, and let it stay till you're twenty-one. Why, it'll be nigh on to five hunderd dollars by that time."
"I'm much obliged to you, Uncle Job, as I said before, but there's one thing in the way."
"What's that, Ben?"
"I don't like shoemaking."
"Perhaps it isn't genteel enough for you, Ben," said his uncle.
"I don't care for that, Uncle Job, but I don't like being shut up in a shop. Besides, it doesn't give steady work. Last year you were without work at least a third of the time."
"So I was, Ben," said Job. "I'm willin' to own that's a great drawback."
"And it isn't likely to be any better hereafter. Last year was as good as the average."
"It was better," Job admitted. "The year before I was out of work five months."
"Well, Uncle Job, I want to work at something that'll give me employment all the year round."
"So do I, Ben, but I don't see what you can find, unless you go to work on a farm. You're used to that, and I guess you could find a chance before long. There's Deacon Pitkin wants a boy, and would be glad of the chance of gettin' you."
"I suppose he would," said Ben, laughing. "Would you advise me to go there?"
"Well, there might be some objections, but-"
"You know I wouldn't get enough to eat, Uncle Job," interrupted Ben. "Why, Deacon Pitkin's the meanest man in the village."
"You mustn't be hasty in your judgments, nephew."
"I'm not. I know what I'm talking about. I worked for the deacon two days once. He gave me ten cents a day and board-and such board! Why, I got up from the table hungry every meal, and yet the deacon reported afterward that I was a great eater. Mrs. Pitkin cuts a small pie into eight pieces, each about two mouthfuls, and when I asked for a second piece, she asked if I was allowed to have two pieces at home."
"What did you say?" asked Uncle Job, evidently amused.
"I said yes, and that each piece was twice as big as she gave."
"I'm afraid that was rather forward, Ben. Did she say anything to that?"
"She said I must be very greedy, and that boys always ate more'n was good for 'em. No, Uncle Job, I don't care to work for Deacon Pitkin."
"Have you formed any plans, Ben? You don't want to go on a farm, and you don't want to go into a shoeshop, and that's about all you can find to do in Hampton."
"I don't mean to stay in Hampton," said Ben quietly.
"Don't mean to stay in Hampton!" exclaimed Uncle Joe, amazed.
"No, uncle. There's a good many places besides Hampton in the world."
"So there is, Ben," answered Uncle Job, with a disregard of grammar more excusable than his nephew's, for he had never had any special educational advantages,-"so there is, but you don't know anybody in them other places."
"It won't take me long to get acquainted," returned Ben, not at all disturbed by this consideration.
"Where do you want to go?"
"I want to go to California."
"Gracious sakes! Want to go to California!" gasped Job. "What put that idee into your head?"
"A good many people are going there, and there's a chance to get rich quick out among the gold-mines."
"But you're only a boy."
"I'm a pretty large boy, Uncle Job," said Ben complacently, "and I'm pretty strong."
"So you be, Ben, but it takes more than strength."
"What more, Uncle Job?"
"It takes judgment."
"Can't a boy have judgment?"
"Waal, he may have some, but you don't often find an old head on young shoulders."
"I know all that, uncle, but I can work if I am a boy."
"I know you're willin' to work, Ben, but it'll cost a sight of money to get out to Californy to start with."
"I know that. It will take two hundred dollars."
"And that's more'n half of all you've got. It seems to me temptin' Providence to spend such a sight of money for the chance of earning some on t'other side of the world, when you can get a livin' here and put all your money in the bank."
"In five years it would only amount to five hundred dollars, and if I go to California, I expect to be worth a good deal more than that before two years are past."
"I'm afraid you've got large idees, Ben."
"You won't interfere with my going, Uncle Job?" asked Ben anxiously.
"I won't actooly interfere, but I'll do all I can to have you give it up."
"But if my mind is set upon it, you'll let me go, won't you, uncle?"
"I suppose I must," said Job Stanton. "A wilful lad must have his way. But you mustn't blame me if things turn out unlucky."
"No, I shall only blame myself."
"There's one promise you must make me," said his uncle.
"What is that?"
"Take a week to consider whether you hadn't better take my advice and stay at home."
"Yes, uncle, I'll promise that."
"And you'll think it over in all its bearin's?"
"It ain't best to take any important step without reflection, Ben." "You're right, uncle."
This conversation took place in Job Stanton's little shoe-shop, only a rod distant from the small, plain house which he had occupied ever since he had been married. It was interrupted by the appearance of a pretty girl of fourteen, who, presenting herself at the door of the shop, called out:
"Supper's ready, father."
"So are we, Jennie," said Ben, promptly.
"You are always ready to eat, Ben," said his cousin, smiling.
"That's what Mrs. Pitkin used to think, Jennie. She used to watch every mouthful I took."
DEACON PITKIN'S OFFER.
Ben's father had died three months before. He had lost his mother when ten years old, and having neither brother nor sister was left quite alone in the world. At one time his father had possessed a few thousand dollars, but by unlucky investments he had lost nearly all, so that Ben's inheritance amounted to less than four hundred dollars.
This thought troubled Mr. Stanton, and on his death-bed he spoke about it to his son.
"I shall leave you almost destitute, Ben," he said. "If I had acted more wisely it would have been different."
"Don't trouble yourself about that, father," said Ben promptly. "I am young and strong, and I shall be sure to get along."
"You will have to work hard, and the world is a hard taskmaster."
"I don't feel afraid, father. I am sure I shall succeed."
The dying father was cheered by Ben's confident words. Our hero was strong and sturdy, his limbs active, and his face ruddy with health. He looked like a boy who could get along. He was not a sensitive plant, and not to be discouraged by rebuffs. The father's brow cleared.
"I am glad you are not afraid to meet what is in store for you," he said. "I believe you will do your part, and God helps those who help themselves."
After his father's death, Ben became an inmate of his uncle's family while the estate was being settled. He paid for his board partly by work in the shop, and partly by doing chores. This brings us to the day when the conversation detailed in the first chapter took place.
On the following morning Ben was sent on an errand to the village store. On his way he overtook Deacon Pitkin.
"Good mornin', Ben!" said the deacon. "Where are you goin'?"
"To the store, sir."
"So am I. Ef you ain't in a hurry, le'ss walk along together."
"All right, sir," answered Ben. "I think I know what's comin," he said to himself.
"You're stayin' at your Uncle Job's, ain't you?" asked Deacon Pitkin.
"You don't calc'late to keep on there, do you?"
"No, sir; he would like to have me stay and work in the shop, but I don't fancy shoemaking."
"Jest so. I wouldn't ef I was you. It's an onsartin business. There's nothin' like farmin' for stiddy work."
"The old man kept me at work pretty stiddy," thought Ben. "He'd always find something for me to do."
"'Ive been thinkin' that I need a boy about your age to help me on my farm. I ain't so young as I was, and I've got a crick in my back. I don't want a man-"
"You'd have to pay him too high wages," Ben said to himself.
"A strong, capable boy like you could give me all the help I need."
"I expect I could," said Ben demurely.
"I was sayin' to Mrs. Pitkin this mornin' that I thought it would be a good plan to take you till you was twenty-one."
"What did she say?" asked Ben, interested.
"Waal, she didn't say much," answered the deacon slowly; "but I guess she hasn't no objections."
"Didn't she say that I had an awful appetite?" asked Ben, smiling.
"She said you was pretty hearty," answered the deacon, rather surprised at Ben's penetration. "Boys should curb their appetites."
"I don't think I could curb mine," said Ben thoughtfully.
"I guess there wouldn't be any trouble about that," returned the deacon, whose meanness ran in a different channel from his wife's, and who took less note of what was eaten at his table. "Ef you think you'd like to engage, and we could make a bargain, you might begin next week."
"Jest so," said Ben.
The deacon looked at him rather sharply, but Ben didn't appear to intend any disrespect in repeating his favorite phrase.
"Did your father leave you much?" inquired Deacon Pitkin.
"A few hundred dollars," said Ben carelessly.
"Indeed!" said the deacon, gratified. "What are you goin' to do with it?"
"Uncle Job thinks it would be best to put it in the bank."
"Jest so. It would fetch you some interest every year-enough to clothe you, likely. I'll tell you what I'll do, Ben. I'll give you your board the first year, and your interest will buy your clothes. The second year I'll give you twenty dollars and board, and maybe twenty more the third year."
Ben shook his head.
"I guess we can't make a bargain, Deacon Pitkin," he said.
Deacon Pitkin knew that he had made a very mean offer, and felt that he could afford to increase it somewhat; but he was a close hand at a bargain, and meant to get Ben as cheap as he could.
"What was you expectin'?" he asked cautiously. "You must remember that you're only a boy, and can't expect men's wages."
Ben had no idea, as we know, of engaging to work for Deacon Pitkin at all; but he decided that the easiest way to avoid it was to put such a value on his services as to frighten the old man.
"I am almost as strong as a man," he said, "and I can earn a great deal more than my board the first year."
"I might be willin' to give you twenty dollars the first year," said the deacon.
"I've been thinking," said Ben soberly, "that I ought to have a hundred and fifty dollars and board the first year."
Deacon Pitkin fairly gasped for breath. He was fairly overpowered by Ben's audacity.
"A-hundred-and-fifty-dollars!" he ejaculated, turning his wrinkled face toward our hero.
"That's about the figure," said Ben cheerfully. "A hundred and fifty dollars and board, or three hundred dollars, and I'll board with my uncle."
"Is the boy crazy?" asked the deacon, in a bewildered tone.
"You'd have to pay a man as much as twenty dollars a month," pursued Ben. "That's about a hundred dollars a year more."
"Benjamin," said the deacon solemnly, "do you want to ruin me?"
"No, sir, I hope not," answered our hero innocently.
"Then why do you ask such an unheard-of price?"
"I think I'm worth it," said Ben.
"Boys haven't much jedgment," said the deacon. "You'd better let me talk over this matter with your Uncle Job."
"It won't be any use, Deacon Pitkin. Uncle Job won't interfere with me."
"You can't get such wages anywhere. You'll have to work for less."
"Perhaps I can't get my price in Hampton," said Ben.
"Of course you can't. There ain't no one goin' to pay you men's wages."
"Perhaps you are right, Deacon Pitkin. In that case, my mind is made up."
"What will you do?" asked the deacon, showing some curiosity.
"I'll leave town."
"It's a resky thing, Benjamin. You ain't old enough to take care of yourself."
"I think I can do it. Deacon Pitkin. I am not afraid to try. Still, if you'll give me a hundred and fifty dollars and board—"
"You must think I'm crazy," said the deacon hastily. "I don't throw money away that way."
"Then I'm afraid we can't make a bargain, deacon. Here is the store, and I'll bid you good morning."
"If you think better of my offer, you can let me know, Benjamin. You can talk it over with your uncle."
"All right, sir. If you think better of mine, just let me know within a week, or I may be gone from Hampton."
"That's a cur'us boy," said the deacon meditatively. "He's got the most conceited idea of his vally to work of any boy I ever came across. A hundred and fifty dollars and board! What'll Mrs. Pitkin say when I tell her? She ain't much sot on the boy's comin' anyway. She thinks he's too hearty; but I don't mind that, so much. He's strong and good to work, an' he's the only boy in town that would suit me."
"I wonder what the deacon thinks of me," soliloquized Ben. "I thought I should scare him a little when I named my price. If I'd thought he would take me at that figure, I'd have said more. It wouldn't suit me to work for him at all."
In the evening Deacon Pitkin came over to see Job Stanton, and renewed his offer for Ben's services.
"The boy's got wild idees about pay," he said; "but boys haven't much jedgment. You're a sensible man, Mr. Stanton, and you and me can make a fair bargain."
"It won't be of much use, Deacon Pitkin. Ben's got his idees, an' he sticks to 'em."
"But you're his uncle. You can make him see his true interest."
"Ben's young," said Job, suspending his work; "but he's got to look out for himself. He may make mistakes, but I've promised not to interfere. I've got confidence in him that he'll come out right in the end. Truth is, deacon, he don't want to work at farmin', and that's why he asked you such a steep price. He knew you wouldn't agree to give it."
This put the matter in a new light, and Deacon Pitkin reluctantly concluded that he must abandon the idea of obtaining Ben as a helper on his farm.
SAM STURGIS' NEW IDEA.
During the week which Ben had agreed to take before coming to a final decision, he had another offer of employment.
This is how it came about:
A little out of the village, in a handsome house, the best in Hampton, lived Major Sturgis, a wealthy landholder, who had plenty to live upon and nothing in particular to do, except to look after his property. He was a portly man, who walked with a slow, dignified step, leaning on a gold-headed cane, and evidently felt his importance. His son, Sam, was a chip of the old block. He condescended to associate with the village boys, because solitary grandeur is not altogether pleasant. He occasionally went to New York to visit a cousin of about his own age. From such a visit he had just returned, bringing back with him a new idea.
"Father," he said, "Cousin Henry has a boy about his own age to wait on him, black his boots, and run errands."
"Has he?" asked the major mechanically, not looking up from the daily paper which he was reading.
"Yes, sir. He don't pay him much, you know, only five dollars a month and his board, and Henry finds it very convenient."
Major Sturgis did not reply. In fact, he was too much interested in the article he was reading.
"Ain't you as rich as uncle?" asked Sam, who was gradually leading up to his proposal.
"Yes, Sam, I think so," answered his father, laying down the paper and removing his gold-bowed spectacles.
"Then why won't you let me have a servant, too?"
"What do you want of a servant? There are servants enough in the house."
"I want a boy to follow me round, and do just what I bid him."
"I don't see any necessity for it."
"He could do errands for you, too, father," said Sam diplomatically.
"We would have to send to the city for a boy, in case I let you have one."
"No, we wouldn't," answered Sam.
"Do you know of any one around here?"
"Yes; there is Ben Stanton. He's got to find something to do."
"I thought you didn't like Ben Stanton," said the major, in some surprise. "I have heard you say-"
"Oh, he's rather uppish-feels too big for a poor boy; but I would soon train him. I'd make him know his place."
"Your remarks are well founded, my son. Only yesterday I met the boy on the village street, and instead of taking off his hat and making a low bow, as he should do to a man of my position, he nodded carelessly, and said. 'How are you, major?' Really, I don't know what the country is coming to, when the rising generation is so deficient in veneration."
"The fact is, father, Ben thinks himself as good as anybody. You'd think, by the way he speaks to me, that he considered himself my equal."
"That is one of the evils incident to a republican form of government," said the major pompously. "For my part, I prefer the English social system, where the gentry are treated with proper deference."
"Well, father, may I engage Ben as my servant?"
"I am afraid you would not find him properly subordinate."
"Just leave that to me," said Sam confidently. "If I can't teach him his place, then nobody can. I should enjoy having him to order about."
Sam generally carried his point with his father, and the present instance was no exception.
"I don't know that I have any particular objection," said the major.
"How much wages may I offer, father?"
"The same that your Cousin Henry's servant gets."
"All right, sir," said Sam, with satisfaction. "I guess I'll go round, and see him about it this afternoon. I suppose he can come any time?"
"Yes, my son."
As Sam went out of the room his father thought, complacently:
"My son has all the pride and instincts of a gentleman. He will do credit to the family."
Few persons in the village would have agreed with the major. Sam Sturgis was decidedly unpopular. No boy who puts on airs is likely to be a favorite with any class of persons, and Sam put on rather more than he was entitled to. From time to time he received a rebuff, but still money will tell. He had his followers and sycophants, but we may be sure that Ben was not numbered among them. It was quite useless for Sam to patronize him-he would not be patronized, but persisted in treating the major's son with the most exasperating familiarity. Of course this would be impossible if he became Sam's servant, and this more than anything else was the motive of the young aristocrat in wishing to engage him. As to conferring a favor on Ben, that was the last thing in his thoughts.
Sam bent his steps toward the humble home of Job Stanton, but he did not have to go the whole distance. He met Ben with a fishing-pole over his shoulder.
"How are you, Sam?" was Ben's familiar greeting. "Want to go fishing with me?"
"He's entirely too familiar," thought Sam. "I'll cure him of that when he is under my orders."
At present Sam did not think it politic to express his feelings on the subject. Ben was so independent that it might frustrate his plan.
"I will walk along with you, Ben," said Sam condescendingly.
"All right. Haven't you got a fishing-pole at home?"
"Yes, I have a very handsome one; it cost five dollars."
"Then it's rather ahead of mine," said Ben.
"I should say so," remarked Sam, surveying Ben's pole with contempt.
"But I'll bet you can't catch as many fish with it," said Ben promptly. "I don't think it makes much difference to the fish," he added, with a laugh, "whther they are caught with a five-dollar pole or a five-cent one."
"Very likely," said Sam briefly, "but I prefer to use a nice pole."
"Oh, there's no objection," said Ben, "if you fancy it. It doesn't make any difference to me."
"When are you going to work?" asked Sam abruptly.
"I am working every day-that is, I am helping Uncle Job."
"But I suppose you mean to get regular work somewhere, don't you?"
"What's he after, I wonder?" thought Ben. "Maybe I do," he said aloud.
"Perhaps I can throw something in your way," said Sam, in a patronizing way.
"You are very kind," said Ben, who supposed Sam had heard of some business position which he could fill. Our hero decided that perhaps he had misjudged the major's son, and he was prepared to make amends. "If you get me a position, I shall be much obliged."
"The fact is," said Sam, "I should find it convenient to have a boy go about with me, and be at my orders. My Cousin Henry has one, and father says I may engage you."
Ben faced round, and looked steadily at Sam. He felt that he would far rather work for Deacon Pitkin, in spite of his meager table, or toil twelve hours a day in his uncle's shoe-shop, than accept such a place as was now offered him. He penetrated Sam's motive, and felt incensed with him, though he did not choose to show it.
"What are you willing to pay?" asked Ben, in a businesslike tone.
"Five dollars a month and your board," said Sam. "You'll live better than you ever did before in your life, and your duties will be easy."
"What would you want me to do?" asked Ben.
"Why, I would take you with me whenever I went out rowing or fishing. That would be easy enough. Then, in the morning you would black my shoes and keep my clothes well brushed, and go of any errands I had for you. Oh, well, I can't tell you all you would have to do, but you'd have an easy time."
"Yes, I don't think it would tire me out," said Ben. "You'd want me to black your boots?"
"Well, I might agree to that on one condition."
"What is that?"
"That you would black mine."
"What do you mean?" demanded Sam, his face flushing angrily.
"Just what I say."
"Do you mean to insult me?"
"Not a bit; any more than you mean to insult me,"
"Do you dare to propose that I, a gentleman, should black your low-lived shoes?" exclaimed Sam furiously.
"I think you're rather hard on my shoes," said Ben, laughing. "I'll come for four dollars a month, if you'll do that."
"I never heard such impudence," said Sam, in concentrated wrath. "I never was so repaid for kindness before."
"Look here, Sam," said Ben, "I understand just how kind you are. You want the satisfaction of ordering me round, and you can't have it. I decline your offer. I'd rather beg for bread than accept it."
"You may starve, for all me," said Sam. "It's ridiculous for a poor boy to put on such airs. You'll die in the poorhouse yet."
"I won't live there, if I can help it. What! are you going to leave me?"
"I won't condescend to be seen with you."
"Good-by, Sam. I hope you won't have to black your own boots."
Sam did not deign a reply.
"He looks mad," thought Ben. "I'd live on one meal a day rather than let him order me round."
A BRILLIANT CHANCE.
The week was over, and Ben persisted in his determination to leave Hampton.
"I'm sorry you are going, Ben," said his Cousin Jennie. "I shall miss you awfully."
As Jennie was the prettiest girl in the village, though she did not inherit any good looks from her plain-looking father, Ben was gratified.
"You'd forget me soon," he said.
"No, I won't."
"Especially when Sam Sturgis comes round to see you."
"I don't want to see him. He's a stuck-up boy, and thinks himself too good to associate with common people."
"He wanted to have me black his boots," said Ben.
"He isn't fit to black yours," said Jennie energetically.
"Oh, yes, he is," said Ben, laughing. "That's where you and I disagree."
"I guess we both mean about the same thing," said Jennie, who saw the point.
Ben's resolve to go to California was modified by an advertisement in a New York daily paper which he saw at the village tavern.
It ran thus:
"Wanted, six boys, from fifteen to eighteen years of age, to fill positions of trust. Ten dollars per week will be paid; but a deposit of fifty dollars is required as a guarantee of honesty. This sum will be repaid at the close of term of service. Address Fitch & Perguson, No.—Nassau Street."
This advertisement looked quite attractive to Ben. He copied it, and showed it to Uncle Job.
"Isn't that a good chance, Uncle Job?" he said. "Just think! Ten dollars a week!"
"You'd have to pay your board out of it," said his uncle.
"I know that, but my board wouldn't cost more than four dollars a week. That would leave me six."
"So it would. I declare it does seem to be a good chance. Maybe they've got all the boys they want."
"Why, you see, uncle, there's a good many boys that couldn't pay the deposit money. That would limit the number of applicants. Now, I have the money, and I guess I'd better write to New York at once about it."
"Maybe you had, Ben."
Ben immediately procured a sheet of paper and wrote to the advertisers, stating that he would like the position, and assuring them of his ability to furnish the required sum. The letter went to New York by the afternoon mail.
Naturally Ben was a little excited and suffered a little from suspense. He feared that all the places would be filled, and such another chance was hardly to be expected again very soon. However, on Monday morning he was gratified by the receipt of the following letter:
"No.—NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK.
"MR. BENJAMIN STANTON: Your letter of yesterday is at hand. Fortunately we have one vacancy, the other places being already filled. We have rejected three applicants for it on account of unsatisfactory penmanship. Yours, however, is up to the mark, and we will engage you on the strength of it. It will be necessary for you to report as soon as possible at our office for duty. We require the deposit on account of the sums of money which you will handle. We do not doubt your honesty, but it seems desirable that you should furnish a guarantee, particularly as we pay a much larger salary than is usually given to young clerks.
"FITCH & FERGUSON.
"P. S. Your engagement will not commence until the fifty dollars are in our hands."
Ben was quite elated by his success.
"I must start to-morrow morning," he said, "or I shall be in danger of losing the place."
"It seems very sudden," said his aunt. "I am afraid I sha'n't have time to get your clothes ready. Some are dirty, and others need mending. If I'd had a little notice-"
"It won't make any difference, Aunt Sarah," said Ben. "I'll take a few clothes in a carpetbag, and you can send the rest by express when they are ready."
"Yes, Sarah, that will be the best way," said Uncle Job. "Ben don't want to run the risk of losing the place by delay."
Mrs. Stanton acquiesced rather unwillingly, and for the remainder of the day Ben was busy making preparations to leave his country home.
IN SEARCH OF A PLACE.
Ben took the early train to New York on Tuesday morning, and in due time arrived in the city. He carried with him seventy-five dollars out of his small patrimony. Fifty were to be deposited with Messrs. Fitch & Ferguson, as required, and the balance was to defray his expenses till he began to receive a salary. Ben didn't expect to need much of it, for at the end of a week he would be paid ten dollars for his services, and until then he meant to be very economical.
Ben had only been in New York twice before, but he happened to know his way to Nassau Street, and went there at once, with his carpetbag in his hand.
As he entered Nassau Street from Printing-House
Square, a bootblack accosted him.
"How are you, country?"
"Are you very anxious to know?" asked Ben, stopping short.
"I'm well enough and strong enough to give you a licking."
"Good for you, country! Have you come to stay long?"
Ben laughed. He concluded not to take offense, but to answer seriously.
"That depends on whether I get the place I am after."
"What is that?" asked the bootblack, in a friendly tone.
Now, on the way to the city, Ben had overheard a conversation between two gentlemen, relative to certain swindlers in New York, which, for the first time, had aroused in him a suspicion that possibly there might be something wrong about the firm whose advertisement he had answered. He felt the need of an adviser, and though his choice may be considered rather a strange one, he decided to consult his new acquaintance, the bootblack. He briefly told him of the advertisement, and what it offered.
The bootblack surveyed him with pitying curiosity.
"You don't mean to say you swallow all that?" he said.
"Don't you think it's all right?" asked Ben anxiously.
"Look here," said the street boy, "do you think anybody's going to pay a boy ten dollars a week, when there's hundreds ready to work for three or four? Why, a man in Pearl Street advertised last week for a boy at three dollars, and there was a whole shoal of boys went for it. I was one of 'em."
"Don't you earn more than that by your business?"
"Sometimes I do, but it ain't stiddy, and I'd rather have a place."
"Why do they advertise to give ten dollars, then?" asked our hero.
"They want to get hold of your fifty dollars," said the bootblack. "Them fellers is beats, that's what they are."
"What had I better do?" asked Ben, in perplexity.
"Go and see 'em, and have a talk. If they're not after your fifty dollars, you'll know what it means."
"It may be all right, after all," said Ben, who did not like to give up hope.
"I may be General Grant," retorted the bootblack, "but if I know myself I ain't."
"Well, I'll go round and talk with them. Where can I meet you afterwards?"
"I'll be standin' here, if you ain't gone too long."
"What's your name?"
"I am Ben Stanton. Thank you for your advice."
"You're a good feller if you do come from the country. Just look out for them fellers. Don't let 'em hook you in."
"All right, Tom."
Ben moved on, watching the numbers as he walked slowly along, till he came to the one mentioned in the advertisement. There was a hallway and a staircase, with a directory of persons occupying offices on the floors above. From this Ben ascertained that Fitch & Ferguson occupied Room 17, on the fourth floor.
"I wonder what business they are in," thought our hero as he mounted the stairs. "They must have considerable or they wouldn't need so many boys-that is, if they are on the square."
Presently he stood in front of a door bearing the number 17.
He knocked for admittance.
MR. PITCH, THE SENIOR PARTNER.
"Come in," said a loud voice.
Ben opened the door and entered.
He found himself in a square room, almost bare of furniture. In an office chair at a table sat a dark-complexioned man of near forty. He appeared to be reading the morning paper.
"Is this the office of Fitch & Ferguson?" inquired Ben.
A glance at Ben's carpetbag indicated that he had come in answer to the advertisement, and he was received very graciously.
"Come in," said the man in the chair, smiling affably. "This is the office of Fitch & Ferguson. I am Mr. Fitch."
"My name is Stanton-Ben Stanton," said our hero. "I wrote you from Hampton about your advertisement."
"For a boy at ten dollars a week?" suggested the dark man, with a pleasant smile.
"We agreed to take you, did we not?" asked Mr. Fitch.
"Have you had any business experience?" inquired Pitch.
"I am sorry for that," said Mr. Fitch gravely. "Experience is important. I am not sure whether we ought to pay you ten dollars a week."
Ben did not reply. He was not so much concerned about the amount of his compensation as about the reliable character of Fitch & Ferguson.
"Still," mused Mr. Fitch, "you look like a boy who would learn fast. What do you think about it yourself?"
"I think I could," answered Ben. "I should try to serve you faithfully."
"That is well. We want to be served faithfully," said Mr. Fitch.
"What kind of a business is it?" Ben ventured to ask, surveying the empty office with a puzzled look, which Mr. Fitch observed and interpreted aright.
"We do a commission business," he said. "Of course, we keep no stock of goods here. Business is not done in the city, my young friend, as it is in the country."
"No, I suppose not," returned our hero.
"Without entering into details as to the character of our business," said Mr. Fitch, "I may say that you would be chiefly employed in making collections. It is because considerable sums of money would pass through your hands that we require a deposit in order to protect ourselves. By the way, have you the fifty dollars with you?"
Ben admitted that he had.
Mr. Fitch's face brightened up, for he had not felt quite sure of that.
"I am glad to hear of it," he said. "It shows that you mean business. You may hand it to me, and I will give you a receipt for it."
"I would like to ask you one or two questions first," said Ben, making no movement toward his pocket.
Mr. Fitch frowned.
"Really, I fail to catch your meaning," he said, in a changed tone. "Do you wish to enter my employ, or do you not?"
"I should like to earn ten dollars a week."
"Precisely. Then all you have to do is to hand me the fifty dollars and go to work."
"You might keep me only a week," suggested Ben.
"We shall keep you if you suit us, and you can if you try. If you are discharged, we give you back your money, and pay you for the time you work for us. That is fair, isn't it?"
"Then we may as well settle the matter at once," and he waited for Ben to draw forth his money. Our hero would, undoubtedly, have done so, if he had not been cautioned by Tom Cooper. As it was, he could not help feeling suspicious.
"I should like to propose something to you, sir," he said.
"What is it?" asked Fitch impatiently.
"Suppose you keep five dollars a week out of my wages for ten weeks-that'll make fifty dollars-and only pay it to me when I leave you."
"Young man," said Mr. Fitch sternly, "this is trifling, and my time is too valuable for such discussion. Have you, or have you not, brought fifty dollars with you?"
"Then you can secure the place-a place such as few New York boys are fortunate enough to fill. You must decide for yourself."
He threw himself back in his chair and looked at Ben.
"He seems very anxious about the money," thought our hero, "and I don't see any signs of any business. I'd better back out."
"There are plenty of boys who want the place," continued Fitch, trying to look indifferent.
"I guess you can give it to one of them," said Ben coolly.
Mr. Fitch could not conceal his disappointment. The fifty dollars had a great attraction for him. He saw that Ben was in earnest, for he was already opening the door to go out. He must make an effort to detain him.
"Wait a moment, my young friend. I like your appearance, and we may be disposed to take you on a little easier terms. Fifty dollars is probably a large sum to you."
Ben admitted that it was.
"Probably your means are limited?"
"Yes, sir; I am a poor boy."
"Just so. I will then relax our rules a little in your case. Of course, you won't mention it to our other boys, as it might create dissatisfaction."
"We will take you on a deposit of forty dollars, then."
Ben shook his head, and moved as if to depart.
"In fact," said Mr. Fitch hastily, "I believe I will say thirty dollars, Though I am afraid my partner will blame me."
Ben was not versed in city ways, but now he distrusted Mr. Fitch more than ever.
"I would rather take a situation where no deposit is required," he said.
"But you can't get any unless you agree to accept three or four dollars a week."
"Can you afford to pay me ten dollars a week on account of my deposit?" asked Ben shrewdly.
Mr. Fitch flushed, for Ben's question was a home thrust.
"We don't want cheap boys," he said pompously. "We want boys who are worth high wages, and no others."
"And you think I am worth high wages?" asked Ben.
"I think so, but I may be mistaken."
Ben was not required to answer, for the door opened hastily, and a man entered in visible excitement.
"What is your business, sir?" asked Mr. Fitch, rather nervously.
"Are you Fitch or Ferguson?" demanded the intruder.
"I am Mr. Fitch."
"Two days ago my son, James Cameron, entered your service."
"Where is he now?"
"We have sent him to Brooklyn to collect a bill."
"He paid you a deposit of fifty dollars?"
"Certainly. We require it as a guarantee of honesty and fidelity."
"Well, I want you to pay it back."
"I don't understand you, sir," said Mr. Fitch, looking very much disturbed. "It will be given up when your son leaves our employment."
"Well, he's going to leave it to-day," said the other.
"Can you get him another place as good? Ten dollars a week are not often paid to boys."
"No, sir; it's that that makes me suspicious. Give me back the fifty dollars, and James shall leave your employment."
"That is entirely irregular, sir," said Fitch. "Your son has been only two days in the office. At the end of the week he can leave us, and receive back his money."
"That won't do," said the angry father.
"It will have to do," said Fitch. "You are doing a very foolish thing, Mr. Cameron."
"I'll risk that."
"When your son returns from Brooklyn we will consider what can be done."
"When will that be?"
"In a couple of hours."
"I will come in then."
Cameron went out, and Ben followed him, the discomfited Fitch making no effort to detain the lad.
"I was thinking of engaging myself to Mr. Fitch," said Ben to his companion. "Do you know anything against him?"
"I hear that he's a swindler," said Cameron. "I was a fool to fall into his snare. Keep your money and you'll be better off."
"Thank you, sir."
Fifteen minutes afterward Mr. Fitch left his office, and when Mr. Cameron came back, the door was locked. He found his son waiting in the entry.
"Did you collect any money in Brooklyn?" asked his father.
"No; I guess Mr. Fitch gave me the wrong number. There was no such man living at the house he sent me to."
"We've been fooled!" said the father bitterly. "Come home, James. I doubt we've seen the last of our money. If I ever set eyes on that man Pitch again I'll give him in charge for swindling."
The senior partner of Pitch & Ferguson was at that moment on his way to Philadelphia with the remains of the fifty dollars in his pocket. But for Ben's caution he would have had another fifty dollars in his possession.
Ben slowly retraced his steps to where he had left his friend, Tom Cooper.
"Well," said the bootblack, "did you see Fitch and Ferguson?"
"Yes," answered Ben soberly; "that is, I saw one of them."
"Did you take the place?"
"No; I found he was too anxious for my fifty dollars, though he offered after a while to take me for thirty."
Tom Cooper laughed derisively.
"I'll do better nor that," he said. "If you'll give me twenty dollars, I'll make you my private secretary, payin' you ten dollars a week."
"How long will you keep me?" asked Ben, smiling.
"Six days," answered Tom. "Then I'll have to sack you without pay, 'cause you don't understand your business."
"Is that the way they manage?" asked Ben.
The bootblack nodded.
Ben looked grave. The disappointment was a serious one, and he felt now how much he had relied upon the promises of Fitch & Ferguson. He had formed no other plans, and it seemed likely that he must return to the country to resume his old life. Yet that seemed impracticable. There was no opening there unless he accepted one of the two offers already made him. But he was neither inclined to enter the employ of Deacon Pitkin, nor to become the valet and servant of Sam Sturgis. He was not quite sure whether he would not prefer to become a bootblack, like his new acquaintance.
"What are you goin' to do?" asked Tom.
"I wish I knew," said Ben earnestly. "What can I do?"
"You might go into my business," suggested Tom.
Ben shook his head.
"I don't think I should like that."
"No more would I if I'd got fifty dollars in my pocket. If I was you I'd go into business."
"What kind of business?"
"Well," said Tom reflectively, "you might buy out an apple or a peanut-stand, and have lots of money left."
"Is there much money to be made that way?" inquired Ben.
"Well, I never knowed anybody get rich in that line. I guess you'd make a livin'."
"That wouldn't satisfy me, Tom. What I want most of all is to go to California."
The bootblack whistled.
"That's off ever so far, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's a long way."
"How do you go?"
"There are three ways," answered Ben, who had made himself familiar with the subject. "The first is to go by land-across the plains. Then there is a line of steamers by way of Panama. The longest way is by a sailing-vessel round Cape Horn."
"What would you do when you got to California?" asked Tom.
"Go to work. I suppose I would go to the mines and dig gold."
"I wish it wasn't so far off. I'd like to go myself. Do you think a feller could work his passage?"
"By blacking boots?"
"I don't believe he could. Sailors don't care much about having their boots blacked."
"How much does it cost to go?"
"I don't know."
"Why don't you go to the office and find out?"
"So I will," said Ben, brightening up at the thought. "Do you know where it is?"
"Will you show me?"
"I would if I'd make enough to buy me some dinner. I only had a five-cent breakfast, and I feel kinder holler."
"I feel hungry myself," said Ben. "If you'll go with me I'll buy you some dinner to pay you for your trouble."
"'Nough said!" remarked Tom briefly, as he shouldered his box. "I'm your man. Come along! Where shall we go first?"
"To an eating-house. We might have to wait at the office."
Tom conducted Ben to a cheap restaurant, not far away, where the two for a moderate sum obtained a plentiful meal. Had either been fastidious, some exception might have been taken to the style in which the dishes were served, but neither was critical. A dapper young clerk, however, who sat opposite Tom, seemed quite disturbed by the presence of the bootblack. As his eye rested on Tom he sniffed contemptuously, and frowned. In truth, our friend Tom might be useful, but in his present apparel he was not fitted to grace a drawing-room. He had no coat, his vest was ragged, and his shirt soiled with spots of blacking. There were spots also upon his freckled face, of which Tom was blissfully unconscious. It didn't trouble him any to have a dirty face. "Dirt is only matter in the wrong place," as a philosopher once remarked. Tom was a philosopher in his own way.
The young clerk pulled out a scented handkerchief, and applied it to his nose, looking at Tom meanwhile.
"What's the matter of yer?" inquired Tom, suspecting the cause of the dandy's discomfort. "Be you sick?"
"It's enough to make one sick to sit at the table with you," answered the clerk.
"You are absolutely filthy. Don't you know any better than to come in where there are gentlemen?"
"I don't see any except him," said Tom, indicating Ben with his glance.
"This is really too much. Here, waiter!"
A waiter answered the summons.
"What is it, sir?"
"Just remove my plate to another table, will you?"
"Is anything the matter, sir?"
"I am not accustomed to associate with bootblacks," said the clerk loftily.
"All right, sir."
"I am really surprised that you admit any of that low class."
"As long as they pay their bills we are willing to receive them."
"I don't believe that boy has got enough to pay for his dinner."
The waiter, at this suggestion, looked at Tom rather suspiciously. After removing the plate of the sensitive customer, he came back to the table where the two boys were seated.
"Have you given your order?" he asked.
"If you haven't got money enough to pay your check you'll be bounced."
"Don't you trouble yourself, old woolly head," said Tom coolly. "My friend pays the bills. He's a banker down in Wall Street, and he's rich enough to buy out your whole place."
"The dinner will be paid for," said Ben, smiling.
"All right, gentlemen," said the waiter, more respectfully. "We'll be glad to see you any time."
"Tom," said Ben, "I'm afraid you don't always tell the truth."
"You told the waiter I was a Wall Street banker, and rich."
"Oh, what's the odds? You're rich enough to pay for the dinners, and that's all he wants."
"You came near spoiling the appitite of that young man over at the opposite table."
"I'd like to spoil his beauty. He feels too big. I don't like to see a feller put on so many airs. What's the matter of me, I'd like to know?"
"Why, you see, Tom, your face isn't very clean. There are spots of blacking on it."
"A feller can't be always washin' his face. I'll wash it to-morrow mornin' at the lodge. Does it take away your appetite, too?"
"Not a bit," said Ben, laughing. "Nothing but a good dinner will take away that."
"You're the kind of feller I like," said Tom emphatically. "You don't put on no airs."
"I can't afford to," said Ben. "I'm a poor boy myself."
"I wouldn't feel poor if I had fifty dollars," returned Tom.
"I hope you'll have it sometime, and a good deal more."
"So do I. When I'm a rich man, I'll wash my face oftener."
"And put blacking on your boots instead of your face," added Ben.
"It might look better," Tom admitted.
When dinner was over the two boys directed their steps to the California steamship office, on one of the North River piers.
A STRANGE ACQUAINTANCE.
Tom Cooper was too familiar with the streets of New York to pay any attention to the moving panorama of which he and Ben formed a part. But everything was new and interesting to Ben, who had passed his life in a quiet country town.
"I should think it was the Fourth of July," he said.
"Why?" asked the bootblack.
"Because there's such a lot of people and wagons in the streets."
"There's always as many as this, except Sundays," said Tom.
"Where do they all come from?" said Beu wonderingly.
"You've got me there," answered Tom. "I never thought about that. Look out!" he exclaimed suddenly, dragging Ben from in front of a team coming up the street. "Do you want to get run over?"
"I was looking the other way," said Ben, rather confused.
"You've got to look all ways to once here," said Tom.
"I guess you're right. Don't people often get run over?"
"Once in a while. There's a friend of mine—Patsy Burke—a newsboy, was run over last year and had his leg broke. They took him to Bellevue Hospital, and cut it off."
"Is he alive now?"
"Oh, yes, he's alive and to work, the same as ever. He's got a wooden leg."
"Poor boy!" said Ben compassionately.
"Oh, he don't mind it, Patsy don't. He's always jolly."
By this time they reached the office of the California Steamship Company. There was a large sign up, so that there was no difficulty in finding it.
The two boys entered. The room was not a large one. There was a counter, behind which were two young men writing, and there was besides a man of middle age, who was talking to two gentlemen who appeared to be engaging passage. Seated in a chair, apparently awaiting her turn, was a young lady, whose face was half-concealed by a thick, green veil.
When the two gentlemen were disposed of, the agent spoke to the young lady.
"What can I do for you, miss?" he asked.
"I am in no hurry, sir," she answered, in a low voice. "I will wait for those boys."
"What's your business, boys?" demanded the agent, shrugging his shoulders.
"When does the next steamer start, sir?" inquired Ben.
"In three days."
"What is the price of passage?"
"No, sir, the cheapest."
"One hundred dollars. Do you wish to secure passage?"
"Not this morning, sir."
The agent shrugged his shoulders again, as if to say "I thought so," and turned again to the young lady.
"Now, miss," he said.
"I beg your pardon, sir," she said hurriedly. "I will call again."
As she spoke, she left the office, following the two boys so quickly that they almost went out together.
Ben had not taken particular notice of the young lady, and was much surprised when he felt a hand laid on his arm, and, turning, his eyes fell npon her face.
"May I speak a few words with you?" she said.
"Certainly," answered Ben politely, though he could not conceal his astonishment.
The young lady looked uneasily at Tom, and hesitated.
"Won't you move away a few steps, Tom?" said Ben, understanding the look.
"Thank you," said the young lady, in a low voice. "Are you intending to sail for California by the next steamer?"
"I should like to, miss, but I am poor, and I don't know whether I can afford the expense of a ticket."
"Would you go if your ticket were paid-by a friend?"
"You bet I would-I mean I certainly would," answered Ben, correcting his phraseology, as he remembered that he was addressing a young lady, and not one of his boy friends.
"Would you be willing to take care of me—that is, to look after me?"
Ben was certainly surprised; but he answered promptly and with native politeness: "It would be a pleasure to me."
"You were going alone-you had no friends with you?"
"None at all, miss."
"That is well," she said. "What is your name?"
"Do you live in the city?"
"No, miss. I came from the small town of Hampton."
"Where are you staying?"
"Nowhere. I only arrived in the city this morning."
"Will you be able to go by the next steamer?"
Ben hesitated. It almost took away his breath—it seemed so sudden-but he reflected that there really was no reason why he should not, and he answered in the affirmative.
"Then go back with me, and I will engage passage for us both."
The young lady and Ben reentered the office, Tom Cooper looking on with astonishment. She approached the counter, this time with confidence, and the agent came forward.
"I have concluded to engage passage for myself and this lad," she said.
The agent regarded her with surprise.
"Both first-class?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir. I should like the lad to occupy a stateroom near mine."
"Very well. I will show you on the plan those that are unengaged. I cannot give either of you a stateroom to yourselves. I can give you a room with a very agreeable lady, a Mrs. Dunbar, and the boy can occupy part of the adjoining room."
"Very well, sir."
"What name?" continued the agent.
"Ida Sinclair," answered the young lady, with visible hesitation.
"And the boy's name?"
Miss Sinclair had forgotten; but Ben promptly answered for himself.
The young lady drew out her pocketbook, and produced several large bills, out of which she paid the passage money. Then, turning to Ben, she said: "Now we will go."
Ben followed her out of the office, feeling completely bewildered. Well he might. The young lady had paid two hundred and fifty dollars for his passage, and for this large outlay only required him to take care of her. No wonder he thought it strange.
"You say you are not staying at any hotel?" said the young lady, as they emerged into the street.
"No, Miss Sinclair."
"I am staying at the Astor House, and it is important that you should be with me, as I may have some errands on which to employ you."
"Is it an expensive hotel?" asked Ben.
"That will not matter to you, as I shall pay the bill."
"Thank you, Miss Sinclair; but you are spending a great deal of money for me."
"I have an object in doing so. Besides, I have no lack of money."
"Shall I go with you to the hotel now?"
"May I speak a moment to the boy who was with me?"
"May I tell him where I am going?"
"Yes, but ask him to keep it to himself."
"I will, Miss Sinclair," and Ben was about to walk away.
"On the whole, call the boy here," said Miss Sinclair. "Tom!" Tom Cooper answered the summons.
"I am going to California with this lady," said Ben. "She has paid my passage."
"You're in luck!" exclaimed Tom. "Say, miss, you don't want a boy to go along to black your boots, do you?"
Miss Sinclair smiled faintly.
"I think not," she answered.
"Tom," continued Ben, "you won't say a word about my going, will you?"
"Not if you don't want me to. Besides, there ain't nobody to tell."
Miss Sinclair looked relieved. She drew out her pocketbook, and took from it a ten-dollar bill.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Tom Cooper, ma'am."
"Then, Tom, allow me to offer you a small present."
"Is it all for me?" exclaimed Tom, in amazement.
Tom thrust it into his vest pocket, and immediately executed a somersault, rather to Miss Sinclair's alarm.
"Excuse me, ma'am," said Tom, assuming his natural posture; "I couldn't help it, I felt so excited. I never was so rich before."
"May I tell Tom where we are going to stop?" asked Ben.
"Certainly, if he will keep it to himself."
"I shall be at the Astor House, Tom. Come round and see me."
Tom watched the two as they preceded him on their way to Broadway.
"I wonder if I'm dreaming," he said to himself. "If I am, I hope I won't wake up till I've spent this ten dollars. I guess I'll go to the Old Bowery to-night."
AT THE ASTOR HOUSE.
As they walked up to the hotel together, Miss Sinclair said: "You are probably surprised at what has taken place, but I have strong reasons for acting as I have done."
"I don't doubt it, Miss Sinclair," returned Ben.
"It is desirable that I should tell you-"
"Don't tell me anything unless you like, Miss Sinclair. I am not troubled with curiosity."
"Thank you, but in the confidential relations which we are to hold toward each other, it is necessary that you should understand my position. I will reserve my explanation, however, till we reach the hotel."
"We are to stop at the Astor House?"
"Yes, and I wish you to put down my name and your own on the register, and obtain two rooms as near together as convenient."
"Very well, Miss Sinclair."
"You may put me down as from-well, from Philadelphia."
"All right. Shall I put myself down from Philadelphia, too?"
"Not unless you choose. Your native village will answer. By the way, you are to pass for my cousin, and it will be better, therefore, that you should call me by my first name-Ida."
"I wouldn't take the liberty but for your wishing it."
"I do wish it-otherwise it would be difficult to pass you off as my cousin."
"All right, Miss Sinclair-I mean Ida."
"That is better. I shall call you Ben."
"You couldn't very well call me Mr. Stanton," said our hero, smiling.
"Not very well. But here we are at the hotel. We will go in together. I will go to the ladies' parlor, and you can join me there after securing rooms at the office."
Of course Ben was not used to city hotels, and he was a little afraid that he should not go to work properly, but he experienced no difficulty. He stepped up to the desk, and said to the clerk:
"I should like to engage rooms for my cousin and myself."
The clerk pushed the register toward him.
Ben inscribed the names. At first he could not remember his companion's last name, and it made him feel awkward. Fortunately it came to him in time.
"We can give you rooms on the third floor. Will that do?"
"Yes, sir, I think so. We would like to be near together."
"Very well. I can give you two rooms directly opposite to each other."
"That will do, sir."
The clerk touched a bell, and a porter presented himself:
"Here are the keys of sixty-six and sixty-eight," said the hotel clerk. "Take this young gentleman's luggage to sixty-six, and show the lady with him to number sixty-eight."
Ben followed the porter, pausing at the door of the ladies' parlor, where his companion awaited him.
"Come, Ida," he said, feeling a little awkward at addressing Miss Sinclair so familiarly. "The servant is ready to show us our rooms."
"Very well, Ben," said Miss Sinclair, smiling. She did not seem so nervous now.
As the clerk had said, the rooms were directly opposite each other. They were large and very comfortable in appearance. As Miss Sinclair entered her room she said:
"Join me in the ladies' parlor in fifteen minutes, Ben. I have something to say to you."
Ben looked around him with considerable satisfaction. He had only left home that morning; he had met with a severe disappointment, and yet he was now fortunate beyond his most sanguine hopes. He had heard a great deal of the Astor House, which in Hampton and throughout the country was regarded at that time as the most aristocratic hotel in New York, and now he was actually a guest in it. Moreover, he was booked for a first-class passage to California.
"It's like the Arabian Nights," thought Ben, "and Miss Sinclair must be a fairy."
He took out his scanty wardrobe from the carpetbag, and put it away in one of the drawers of the bureau.
"I might just as well enjoy all the privileges of the hotel," he said to himself.
He took out his brush and comb, and brushed his hair. Then he locked the door of No. 66 and went down-stairs to the ladies' parlor.
He did not have to wait long. In five minutes Miss Sinclair made her appearance.
"Ben," she said, "here is the check for my trunk. You may take it down to the office and ask them to send for it. Then come back and I will acquaint you with some things I wish you to know."
Ben speedily reappeared, and at Miss Sinclair's request sat down beside her on a sofa.
"You must know, Ben," she commenced, "that I am flying from my guardian."
"I hope it's all right," said Ben, rather frightened. He was not sure but he was making himself liable to arrest for aiding and abetting Miss Sinclair's flight.
"You have no cause for alarm. He has no legal control over me, though by the terms of my father's will he retains charge of my property till I attain my twenty-fifth year. Before this, fourteen months must elapse. Meanwhile he is exerting all his influence to induce me to marry his son, so that the large property of which I am possessed may accrue to the benefit of his family."
"He couldn't force you to marry his son, could he?" asked Ben.
"No, but he has made it very disagreeable to me to oppose him, and has even gone so far as to threaten me with imprisonment in a madhouse if I do not yield to his persuasions."
"He must be a rascal!" said our hero indignantly.
"He is," said Miss Sinclair quietly.
"I don't see how he can do such things in a free country."
"He has only to buy over two unscrupulous physicians, and in a large city that can easily be done. On their certificate of my insanity I might any day be dragged to a private asylum and confined there."
"I don't wonder you ran away, Ida."
"I feel perfectly justified in doing so. Liberty and the control of my own person are dear to me, and I mean to struggle for them."
"What makes you think of going to California? is it because it is so far off?"
"Partly; but there is another reason," said Miss Sinclair. "I will not conceal from you that there is a person there whom I wish to meet."
"Is it a young man?" asked Ben shrewdly.
"You have guessed it. Richard Dewey is the son of a former bookkeeper of my father. He is poor, but he is a gentleman, and there is a mutual attachment between us. Indeed, he asked my guardian's consent to his suit, but he was repelled with insult, and charged with being a fortune-hunter. That name would better apply to my guardian and his precious son."
"Is Mr. Dewey in California?"
"Yes; he went out there some months since. He promised to write me regularly, but I have not heard a word from him. I know very well that he has written, and that my guardian has suppressed his letters."
"That is shameful!" said Ben warmly.
"It is indeed; but with your help I think I can circumvent Mr. Campbell yet."
"Mr. Campbell is your guardian, I suppose, Ida?"
"You may reply upon me to help you in every way possible, Miss Sinclair."
"Ida," corrected the young lady.
"I mean Ida."
"That's right, Cousin Ben."
Now that Miss Sinclair's veil was removed, our hero could see that she was very pretty, and perhaps he felt all the more proud of being selected as her escort. But on one point he was in the dark.
"May I ask you a question, Ida?" he said. "How is it that you have chosen me-a stranger, and so young-as your escort? I am only a green country boy."
"Partly because I like your looks; you look honest and trustworthy."
"Thank you, but I am only a boy."
"That's all the better for me. It would not do for me to accept the escort of a man, and it would be awkward for me to propose it even if it would do."
"At any rate, I am lucky to be selected. I hope you will be satisfied with me."
"I feel sure of it."
"You are spending a great deal of money for me."
"You may feel surprised that I have so much money to spend independent of my guardian, but he has control only of the property left by my father. My mother left me thirty thousand dollars, of which I am sole mistress."
"That is lucky for you."
"Under present circumstances-yes."
Here two ladies entered the parlor, and the conversation was suspended.
"I believe I will go in to dinner now," said Miss Sinclair. "Will you come, Ben?"
"I ate dinner an hour ago." "Then you can go where you please. Meet me here at six o'clock." "All right, Ida."
BEN RECEIVES A CALL.
Ben had scarcely left the room when it occurred to him that he ought to send home for the remainder of his clothes. He did not like to do so, however, without first consulting Miss Sinclair.
"Well, Ben?" said the young lady inquiringly.
"I would like to write home for my clothes, if you have no objection."
"Certainly; but don't say anything about me."
Ben went to the reading-room, and, procuring writing-materials, penned the following letter to his uncle:
"ASTOR HOUSE, NEW YORK.
"DEAR UNCLE JOB: Will you send me the rest of my clothes at once, by express? You may direct to this hotel, where I am now staying. The firm that I came to see turned out to be swindlers, and I was at first quite disappointed; but I have made other friends, and am to sail for California next Saturday. This may seem sudden to you. At any rate it does to me, and I don't expect to realize it till I am fairly at sea. It will be some time before I can write you, but I will send you a line from Panama, if possible. You needn't send me any more of my money, for I have with me all I shall need at present.
"Give my love to aunt and Cousin Jenny. I should like to see you all again before I start, but I cannot spare the time. I am in good health and spirits, and I think my prospects are good. Your affectionate nephew, BEN."
This letter excited considerable surprise in Hampton.
"I'm afraid Ben's gettin' extravagant," said Uncle Job. "I've always heerd that the Astor House is a fashionable hotel where they charge big prices. Ben ought to have gone to a cheap place, and saved his money."
"He says he's got money enough with him, father," said Mrs. Stanton. "How much did he take away with him?"
"And he had to pay his passage to California out of that?"
"He won't have much left when he gets to California, then." "No, he won't."
"Don't you think you'd better send him some?" "No, wife. Ben says no, and I'm goin' accordin' to his directions. I suppose he knows best what he wants."
Sam Sturgis did not often condescend to notice Job Stanton, but his curiosity got the better of his pride, and, meeting the old man a short time afterward, he asked: "Have you heard anythiug from Ben?"
"Yes, he writ me a letter from New York. I got it this mornin'?"
"Has he got a chance to black boots?" asked Sam, with a sneer.
"He's stayin' at the Astor House," said Job, enjoying Sam's surprise.
"Staying at the Astor House!" exclaimed the young aristocrat in astonishment. "Why, that is a tip-top hotel."
"I always heerd it was," returned Job. "How can he afford to stay there?" "He didn't say."
"Oh, I understand," said Sam, with an air of relief. "He's got a place to black boots, or clean knives. That must be the way of it."
"I don't think it is, for he has engaged passage to Californy."
"Is that so? When does he sail?"
"On Saturday. We're goin' to send him his clothes. Do you want to send him any word or message?"
"No; why should I?"
"I thought you was one of his friends."
"Yes, I will send him a message," said Sam. "Just tell him that when he has spent all his money, I'll give him the place I offered him before he left Hampton."
"You're very kind," said Job, concealing his amusement; "but I don't think Ben will need to take up with your offer."
"I think he will," said Sam.
"I wonder whether Ben is really staying at the Astor House, and paying his expenses there," he said to himself. "If he is, he's a fool. I've a great mind to ask father if I may go up to New York, and see. Maybe he's only humbugging his uncle."
So when Sam got home he preferred a request to visit New York, and obtained permission.
We now return to the Astor House.
Miss Sinclair and Ben went in to supper together. The young lady had scarcely taken her place, and looked around her, when she started, and turned pale.
"Ben," she said hurriedly, "I must leave the table. Do you see that tall man sitting by the window?"
"Yes, Cousin Ida."
"It is my guardian. He has not seen me yet, but I must be cautious. Direct a servant to bring me some supper in my room, and come up there yourself when you are through."
Miss Sinclair left the room, but Ben maintained his place. He took particular notice of the gentleman who had been pointed out to him. He was a tall, slender man, with iron-gray hair, and a stern, unpleasant look. Ben judged that her guardian had not seen Miss Sinclair, for he seemed wholly intent upon his supper.
"I don't wonder she wanted to run away from him," thought our hero. Ben smiled as it flashed upon him that this young lady was running away with him.
"I didn't expect, when I left home, to meet with any such adventure as this," he said to himself. "But I do mean to help Miss Sinclair all I possibly can. It doesn't seem quite natural to call her Ida, but I will do as she wants me to."
Meanwhile Mr. Campbell had made inquiries at the office if a young lady from Albany was staying at the hotel.
"No," said the clerk.
It will be remembered that Miss Sinclair had registered from Philadelphia, or, rather, Ben had done so for her.
"Have you any young lady here without escort?" asked Mr. Campbell.
"No, sir. There is a young lady from Philadelphia, but she arrived with her cousin, a lad of fifteen or sixteen."
"That cannot be the one I am in search of," said the unsuspecting guardian.
Of course, as the reader will readily surmise, Ida Sinclair was not the young lady's real name, but it is the name by which we shall know her for the present.
After supper Ben went to Miss Sinclair's room, as directed.
"I think, Ben," she said, "it will be best for me to take all my meals in my room during the short time I stay here. Should my guardian catch sight of me he might give me some trouble, and that I wish to avoid."
"I guess you're right," said Ben.
"I shall wish you to come to my room two or three times a day, as I may have some errands for you to do."
"All right, Miss Sinclair."
"You had better call me 'Cousin Ida,' so as to get used to it."
The next day as Ben was standing on the steps of the hotel he saw, with surprise, Sam Sturgis approaching. It did not occur to him, however, that he was responsible for Sam's presence in the city. He was glad to see a familiar Hampton face, and he said cordially: "How are you, Sam?"
"You don't mean to say that you are stopping here, do you?"
"Yes, I do," said Ben, smiling. "Why not?"
"Because it's a first-class hotel."
"Why shouldn't I stay at a first-class hotel, Sam?"
"Because you are a poor boy. Maybe you've got some relations among the servants?"
"If I have I don't know it."
"Your uncle told me you were stopping here, but I didn't believe it."
"Do you believe it now?" asked Ben.
"Perhaps you just stay round here to make people believe you are a guest of the house."
"Why should I care what people think? Nobody knows me here. However, Sam, if you want to be convinced, just come up to my room with me."
Sam concluded to accept the invitation, and accompanied Ben to the desk.
"Please give me the key to number sixty-six," said Ben.
"Here it is, sir."
Sam began to think Ben's statement was true, after all. There was no room for doubt when Ben ushered him into the handsome chamber which he occupied.
"Make yourself at home, Sam," said Ben, enjoying his companion's surprise.
"It's very queer," thought Sam. "I wonder whether he won't run off without paying his bill."
Sam rather hoped that this might be the case, as it would involve Ben in disgrace.
"Your uncle tells me you are going to sail for California on Saturday."
"Have you bought your ticket?"
"How much did you pay?"
"Excuse me. I would rather not tell just now."
"I suppose he goes in the steerage," thought Sam.
As he could learn nothing more from our hero, Sam soon left him.
It was certainly remarkable that the boy to whom he had recently offered the position of his bootblack should be a guest of a fashionable New York hotel.
MISS SINCLAIR'S STRATAGEM.
Mr. Campbell had no particular reason to think that Miss Ida Sinclair, registering from Philadelphia, was the ward of whom he was in pursuit. Still, he thought it worth while to find out what he could about her, and managed to waylay Ben in the corridor of the hotel the next morning.
"Good morning, boy!" he said stiffly, not having the art of ingratiating himself with young people.
"Good morning, man!" Ben thought of replying, but he thought this would be hardly polite, and said: "Good morning, sir," instead.
He suspected Mr. Campbell's purpose, and resolved to answer cautiously.
"This is a nice hotel," said the guardian, resolving to come to the point by degrees.
"I suppose you are too young to have traveled much?"
"I never traveled much, sir."
"Didn't I see you in the company of a young lady?"
"Very likely, sir."
"Your sister, I suppose?"
"A relation, I suppose?"
"I call her Cousin Ida," said Ben truthfully.
"Indeed! And she is from Philadelphia?"
Ben was placed in a dilemma. He saw that he should be forced to misrepresent, and this he did not like. On the other hand, he could not tell the truth, and so betray Miss Sinclair to her persecutor.
"You can tell by looking at the hotel register," he said coldly.
Mr. Campbell judged by Ben's tone that our hero meant to rebuke his curiosity, and, having really very little idea that he was on the right track, he thought it best to apologize.
"Excuse my questions," he said, "but I have an idea that I know your cousin."
"In that case," said Ben, "if you will tell me your name I will speak to Cousin Ida about it."
Now Mr. Campbell was in a dilemma. If Ida Sinclair were really the ward of whom he was in pursuit, his name would only put her on her guard. He quickly thought of a ruse.
"I will send a card," he said.
He stepped to the clerk's desk, and asked for a blank card. After an instant's hesitation, he penciled the name James Vernon, and handed it to Ben.
"The young lady may not remember my name," he said; "but in an interview I think I can recall it to her recollection. Please give it to your cousin."
"All right, sir."
Ben went up-stairs and tapped for admission at Miss Sinclair's door.
"Well, Ben?" she said inquiringly.
"Here is a card which a gentleman down-stairs asked me to hand you."
"James Vernon!" repeated the young lady, in surprise. "Why, I don't know any gentleman of that name."
"He said you might not remember it; but he thought he could recall it to your recollection in a personal interview."
"I don't want a personal interview with any gentleman."
"Not with your guardian?" asked Ben, smiling.
"Was the man who handed you this card my guardian?"
"Yes; he tried to find out all he could from me; but wasn't very successful. Then he said he thought he knew you, and handed me this card."
"So he thinks to delude me by masquerading under a false name! He must suspect that I am his ward."
"Of course you won't see him?"
"What shall I say?"
"That I don't remember the name, and decline to see him."
"Won't that increase his suspicions?"
"I can't help it."
Ben went below; but thought he might as well put off the interview. It was not till afternoon that Mr. Campbell met him again.
"Did you deliver my card, boy?" he asked.
"My name is Benjamin," returned our hero, who did not fancy the manner of address.
"Very well. Did you deliver my card, Benjamin?"
"What did your cousin say?"
"That she knew no gentleman or family of your name."
"I did not expect she would remember; but I have reasons for asking an interview."
"You mustn't be offended, sir; but she declines to meet a stranger."
Mr. Campbell was baffled.
"She mistakes my motive," he said, in a tone expressive of annoyance. "How long do you stay here?"
"I can't say, sir," said Ben coldly.
Mr. Campbell bit his lip and walked away. He did not fancy being foiled by a boy. It occurred to him, however, that by waiting patiently he might see the young lady at dinner. He kept watch, therefore, till he saw Ben entering the dining-room, and then, entering himself, secured a seat near-by. But the young lady, greatly to his chagrin, did not appear. Ben observed his vigilant watch, and after dinner reported to Miss Sinclair.
The young lady smiled.
"I have thought of a way to deceive him and quiet his suspicions," she said.
Ben looked curious.
"If I remain away from the table he will feel sure that I am his ward."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Listen to my plan, then. I have the New York Herald here, with half a column of advertisements of seamtresses. I will give you a list of three, and you shall engage one to be here early to-morrow morning. Select one with a figure as much like mine as possible."
"I see you look puzzled," said Miss Sinclair, smiling.
"I am, a little; I don't know what good that will do."
"Then I will explain. I shall dress the seamstress in one of my own dresses, and let her go to the table with you. Mr. Campbell will naturally suppose that she is Miss Ida Sinclair, and will be satisfied."
"I see! That is splendid!" exclaimed Ben, entering with hearty enthusiasm into the conspiracy.
It happened, luckily, that the first seamstress on whom he called was sufficiently like Miss Sinclair in figure to justify him in engaging her. He directed her to call at the hotel at eight the next morning without fail. The poor girl was glad to make this engagement, having been without employment for two weeks previous.
When she arrived, Miss Sinclair, without confiding too much in her, made known her desire, and the girl, who had had but a scanty breakfast, was glad to embrace the opportunity of enjoying the hospitality of a first-class hotel. Miss Sinclair had really work enough to employ her during the day.
When Mr. Campbell caught sight of Ben approaching the dining-room in company with a young lady, he advanced eagerly and peered into the young lady's face. He turned away in disappointment.
"I have made a fool of myself. It is only a common country girl. I must look elsewhere for my ward."
Directly after breakfast Ben had the satisfaction of seeing the obnoxious guardian depart in a hack.
"Good-by, Mr. Vernon!" he said politely. "I see you are leaving the hotel."
"Good-by!" muttered Campbell.
"I hope you'll excuse my cousin for not seeing you?"
"I don't think she's the one I supposed," said Campbell. "It's of no consequence."
Ben hastened to inform Miss Sinclair of her guardian's departure.
"Now the field is clear," said Ida, breathing a sigh of relief.
"I say, Ida, you managed him tip-top," said Ben admiringly. "I never should have thought of such a plan."
Miss Sinclair smiled faintly.
"I don't like to employ deceit," she said, "but it seems necessary to fight such an enemy with his own weapons."
"He wanted to deceive you. He put a wrong name on his card."
"That is true, Ben. I must thank you for the manner in which you have aided me in this matter. I should not have known how to act if I had not had you to call upon."
Ben's face brightened.
"I am glad to hear you say that, Cousin Ida," he said. "You are spending so much money for me that I shall be glad to feel that I have earned some of it."
"Have no trouble on that score, Ben. I foresee that you will continue to be of great service to me. I regard the money expended for you as well invested."
Ben heard this with satisfaction. It naturally gave him a feeling of heightened importance when he reflected that a wealthy heiress had selected him as her escort and right-hand man, and that she was satisfied with her choice.
On Saturday morning Miss Sinclair and Ben went on board the California steamer, and when the tide served, they started on their long voyage.
IN SAN FRANCISCO.
Ben was not seasick, and enjoyed the novel experiences vastly. Miss Sinclair was less fortunate. For four days she was sick and confined to her stateroom. After that she was able to appear among the other passengers. Ben was very attentive, and confirmed the favorable opinion she had already formed of him.
At last the voyage came to a close. It was a bright, cheery morning when the steamer came within sight of San Francisco. It was not a populous and brilliant city as at present, for Ben's expedition dates back to the year 1856, only a few years after the discovery of gold. Still, there was a good-sized town on the site of the future city. The numerous passengers regarded it with rejoicing hearts, and exchanged hopeful congratulations. Probably with the exception of Miss Sinclair, all had gone out to make or increase their fortunes. Her fortune was already made. She had gone to enjoy personal liberty, and to find her plighted husband.
"Well, Ben, we have nearly reached our destination," said Miss Sinclair, as she looked earnestly in the direction of the embryo city. "You are glad, are you not?"
"Yes, Cousin Ida," said Ben slowly.
"But you look thoughtful. Is there anything on your mind?"
"I feel sorry that I am to part from you, Cousin Ida."
"Thank you, Ben, but we are not to part permanently. You don't mean to forsake me utterly?"
"Not if you need me," said our hero.
"I shall still require your services. You remember that I came out here in search of a—friend?" said Miss Sinclair, hesitating.
"Yes, I know, Cousin Ida."
"I am desirous that he should know that I am in San Francisco, but, unfortunately, though I know he is in California, I have no idea where, or in what part of it he is to be found. Once in communication with him, I need have no further apprehension of interference or persecution on the part of my guardian."
"To be sure," said Ben straightforwardly. "I suppose you would marry him?"
"That may come some time," said Miss Sinclair, smiling, "but he must be found first."
"You will travel about, I suppose?" said Ben.
"No; I shall engage some one to travel for me. It would not be suitable for a young lady to go from one mining-camp to another."
"Have you thought of any one you can send?" asked our hero.
"Yes," said Miss Sinclair. "He is rather young, but I shall try the experiment."
"Do you mean me?" asked Ben quickly.
"Yes; are you willing to be my agent in the matter?"
"I should like it of all things," said Ben, with sparkling eyes.
"Then you may consider yourself engaged. The details we will discuss presently."
"And where will you stay, Cousin Ida?"
"In San Francisco. I have become acquainted with a lady on board who proposes to open a boarding-house in the city, or, rather, to take charge of one already kept by her sister. In my circumstances, it will be better for me to board with her than at a hotel. There I shall have a secure and comfortable home, while you are exploring the mining-districts in my interest."
"That is an excellent plan," said Ben.
"So I think."
Here the conversation was interrupted by the bustle of approaching departure. Ben landed in the company of Miss Sinclair and Mrs. Armstrong, and the three proceeded at once to the boarding-house, over which the latter was in future to preside. A comfortable room was assigned to Miss Sinclair, and a small one to Ben. They were plainly furnished, but both enjoyed being on land once more.
Our young hero, finding that his services were not required for the present, began to explore the city. It was composed almost wholly of wooden houses; some but one story in height, even on the leading streets, with here and there sand-hills, where now stand stately piles and magnificent hotels. He ascended Telegraph Hill, which then, as now, commanded a good view of the town and harbor; yet how different a view from that presented now. Ben was partly pleased and partly disappointed. Just from New York, he could not help comparing this straggling village on the shores of the Pacific with the even then great city on the Atlantic coast. He had heard so much of San Francisco that he expected something more. To-day a man may journey across the continent and find the same comfort, luxury, and magnificence in San Francisco which he left behind him in New York.
In his explorations Ben came to a showy building which seemed a center of attraction. It seemed well filled, and people were constantly coming in and going out. Ben's curiosity was excited.
"What is that?" he asked of a man who lounged outside, with a Mexican sombrero on his head and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.
"That's the Bella Union, my chicken."
"I don't know any better now."
"Just go in there with a pocketful of gold-dust, like I did, and you'll find out, I reckon."
"Is it a gambling-house?" inquired Ben, rather excited, for he had heard much of such places, but never seen one.
"It's the devil's den," said the man bitterly. "I wish I'd never seen it."
"Have you been unlucky?"
"Look here, boy, jest look at me," said the stranger. "An hour ago I was worth a thousand dollars in gold-dust-took six months' hard work to scrape it together at the mines-now I haven't an ounce left."
"Did you lose it there?" asked Ben, somewhat startled.
"Well, I staked it, and it's gone."
"Have you nothing left?"
"Not an ounce. I haven't enough to pay for a bed."
"What will you do for a place to sleep?" inquired Ben, to whom this seemed an alarming state of things.
The stranger shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "I'll stretch myself out somewhere when night comes. I'm used to roughing it."
"Won't you get cold sleeping out of doors?" asked Ben.
The other gave a short, quick laugh.
"What do you take me for, boy? I don't look delicate, do I?"
"Not very," answered Ben, smiling.
"I've slept out under the stars pretty reg'lar for the past six months. I only wish I was back to the mines."
"Do you think I can go in?" Ben said hesitatingly.
"Yes, youngster, there's nothin' to bender, but take a fool's advice, and ef you've got money in your pocket, don't do it."
"You don't think I'd gamble, do you?" said Ben, horror-struck.
"I've seen youngsters smaller than you bet their pile."
"You won't catch me doing it. I am a poor boy, and have nothing to lose."
"All right, then. You're a country boy, ain't you?"
"So was I once, but I've had the greenness rubbed off'n me. I was jest such a youngster as you once. I wish I could go back twenty years."
"You're not very old yet," said Ben, in a tone of sympathy. "Why don't you reform?"
"No, I'm not old-only thirty-six-and I ain't so bad as I might be. I'm a rough customer, I expect, but I wouldn't do anything downright mean. Ef you're goin' into this den, I'll go with you. I can't take care of myself, but mayhap I can keep you out of danger."
"Thank you, sir."
So Ben and his new acquaintance entered the famous gambling-den. It was handsomely furnished and decorated, with a long and gaily appointed bar, while the mirrors, pictures, glass, and silverware excited surprise, and would rather have been expected in an older city. There were crowds at the counter, and crowds around the tables, and the air was heavy with the odor of Chinese punk, which was used for cigar-lights, The tinkle of silver coin was heard at the tables, though ounces of gold-dust were quite as commonly used in the games of chance.
"I suppose a good deal of money is won here?" said Ben, looking around curiously.
"There's a good deal lost," said Ben's new acquaintance.
"Gentlemen, will you drink with me?" said a young man, with flushed face, rising from a table near-by, both hands full of silver and gold, "I've been lucky to-night, and it's my treat."
"I don't care if I do," said Ben's companion, with alacrity, and he named his drink.
"What'll the boy have?"
"Nothing, thank you," answered Ben, startled,
"That won't do. I insist upon your drinking," hiccuped the young man, who had evidently drunk freely already. "Take it as a personal insult, if you don't."
"Never mind the boy," said his new friend, to Ben's great relief. "He's young and innocent. He hasn't been round like you an' me."
"That's so," assented the young man, taking the remark as a compliment. "Well, here's to you!"
"I wouldn't have done it," said Ben's new friend rejoining him; "but it'll help me to forget what a blamed fool I've been to-night. You jest let the drink alone. That's my advice,"
"I mean to," said Ben firmly. "Do people drink much out here?"
"Whisky's their nat'ral element," said the miner. "Some of 'em don't drink water once a month. An old friend of mine, Joe Granger, act'lly forgot how it tasted. I gave him a glass once by way of a joke, and he said it was the weakest gin he ever tasted."
"Are there no temperance societies out here?" asked Ben.
The miner laughed.
"It's my belief that a temperance lecturer would be mobbed, or hung to the nearest lamppost," he answered.
It is hardly necessary to say that even in 1856 intemperance was hardly as common in California as the statements of his new friend led Ben to suppose. His informant was sincere, and spoke according to his own observation. It is not remarkable that at the mines, in the absence of the comforts of civilization, those who drink rarely or not at all at home should seek the warmth and excitement of drink.
"What's your name, boy?" asked the miner abruptly.
"Where were you raised?"
Though the term was a new one to Ben, he could not fail to understand it.
"In the State of Connecticut."
"That's where they make wooden nutmegs," said the miner, "isn't it?"
"I never saw any made there," answered Ben, smiling.
"I reckon you've come out here to make your fortin?"
"I should like to," answered Ben; "but I shall be satisfied if I make a living, and a little more."
"You'll do it. You look the right sort, you do. No bad habits, and willin' to work hard, and go twenty-four hours hungry when you can't help it."
"Where'll you go first?-to the mines, I reckon." "Yes," answered Ben, reflecting that he would be most likely to find Richard Dewey at some mining-settlement.