Wait and Hope: or, A Plucky Boy's Luck
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"I thought you said my record was not good."
"So I did," said the superintendent; "but I was mistaken. I was thinking of another boy at the time."
"I am glad to hear it, sir," he answered. "I felt disturbed about it at the time."
"Of course. I believe you and Sam had a little difference."
"Yes, sir; but I don't think I was to blame."
"I don't care to inquire into that. You and Sam will laugh over it when you become a little older."
Squire Archer had never seemed so kind and pleasant. Ben began to think he had misjudged him.
"I would like to be friends with Sam," he said. "I shall be ready to meet him half-way."
"I will tell him so to-night," said the superintendent.
"By the way, I suppose you are rather surprised to see me here.
You didn't think I was going to Europe?"
"No, sir, I didn't think that. I suppose you couldn't be spared at the mill."
"Quite true, my boy. I can't be spared for so long. I wish I could. I have long wanted to make a European tour; but I am tied down at home by business. However, that doesn't explain why I am here."
"Don't tell me, sir, unless you like. It is none of my business."
"To be sure. In fact, there is a little secret about it; but I don't mind telling you."
Ben felt more and more surprised. Was this the proud Squire
Archer, who carried his head so high?
"If there is a secret about it, perhaps you had better not tell me," said
"Oh, I am quite willing to tell you; but you must not say anything about it till after the steamer has sailed. The fact is, a man, who owes the mill a large sum of money, it is suspected has taken passage on board this steamer, with the intention of going to Europe and evading the payment of his debt. I can't tell you his name, as that might interfere with my plans. I am here to intercept him, and prevent his departure."
"I hope you will succeed, Squire Archer," said Ben.
"Thank you, Ben. You see, therefore, that it is essential for me to keep my presence here secret till the steamer sails. I will go down-stairs now and watch."
Ben delivered his parcel, left the steamer, and did not mention that he had met any one whom he knew. He felt bound to respect Squire Archer's secret.
In the afternoon he was walking up Washington Street with the bookkeeper, when the latter bought the Evening Transcript. He glanced at the first page and then turned to Ben.
"Do you know Archer living in Milltown?"
"Certainly; he is the superintendent of the mill there."
"Well, here is a paragraph about him. It seems he has left the town, with fifty thousand dollars belonging to the corporation. His flight has made a great sensation. The police are on his track, and it is thought that he will be arrested and brought back."
"I saw Squire Archer this morning, on the Cunard steamer. He told me not to mention having seen him till after the steamer had started."
"Is it possible?" exclaimed young Porter.
"Yes; he said he was looking out for a man who owed money to the mill, whom he suspected of taking secret passage for Europe."
Sam Is Improved By Adversity
Mr.Archer's flight made a great commotion in Milltown. No one entertained a suspicion of his integrity. He had been appropriating the funds of the corporation to his own use, being treasurer as well as superintendent. When exposure was inevitable he fled.
To Sam and his mother, it was a great blow, not only on account of the disgrace, but also because it involved poverty and a narrow style of living. To persons of their pretensions this was heavy to bear. They were not altogether penniless. Mrs. Archer had property of her own, to the amount of four thousand dollars, which was unimpaired. But, even at a liberal rate of interest, this would not support them. Sam remained in the house, dispirited and resentful against the father who had brought this upon him, till he got tired of confinement and walked out. He hoped to meet no one whom he knew, but at the corner of the street he fell in with James Watson.
"He is one of Ben Bradford's friends. He will rejoice at what has happened," thought Sam. But James stopped him, and said in a friendly tone: "Are you out for a walk, Sam? Let us walk together?"
"I didn't know as you'd care to walk with me."
"You don't think I rejoice over your misfortune?"
"I didn't know but you might. You are a friend of Ben Bradford."
"He will be very sorry. He won't think of any little difference there has been between you."
"I don't believe that," said Sam, shaking his head.
"You will, as soon as you see him. You mustn't lose courage, Sam.
I know it's bad for you, but – "
"I don't know what's going to become of us," said Sam despondently.
"We shall be poor."
"That isn't the worst thing that can happen to you."
"Father has treated us very badly."
"He has done wrong; but he is your father. Remember, Sam, I am your friend, and if I can do anything for you I will."
"Thank you, James," he said. "You are a good fellow – much better than I thought. I supposed you would be glad I was down in the world."
Same was to be still more surprised. The next day he received the following letter from Ben Bradford:
To say that Sam was surprised to receive this cordial letter from a boy whom he had so persistently tried to injure will hardly express his feelings. He was overwhelmed with astonishment, mingled with shame.
"Ben is a great deal better than I am," he was forced to admit. "I don't deserve such a kindness from him."
He showed Ben's letter to his mother.
"I think I had better ask Ben to get me the place. We must not be too proud."
"We have no right to be proud now. We shall have scarcely enough to support us in the humblest manner."
"My wages will help. I shall get five dollars a week. That will be two hundred and sixty dollars a year."
Even Mrs. Archer was surprised at the change in Sam.
"Do you think you will be willing to work?"
"Of course I shall; that is, if I can work in Boston. I don't want to stay here."
"Nor I," said Mrs. Archer.
"Suppose we both go to Boston, then."
"I am afraid our income won't be sufficient."
"For two or three years you can spend some of your principal, mother. By that time I shall be getting higher wages, and it may not be necessary."
"I didn't expect that you would take it so, Sam."
Ben received the following answer to his letter.
Ben was pleased.
"Sam has improved," he thought.
By the first of the month Sam and his mother were established in a boarding-house on Warren Avenue and Sam had entered upon his duties in Milk Street.
Clouds in the Sky
Ben felt that he and his aunt were fortunately situated. From the time when his salary was raised he had laid aside two dollars a week, which he deposited in the savings-bank on School Street. His aunt, having no rent to pay, easily got along on her income from work and from the liberal board paid for little Emma.
"I am getting on," thought Ben, complacently regarding his bank book, at the end of three months. "I am worth twenty-six dollars already."
Little Emma, his aunt's boarder, was a child of pleasant disposition, and had given little trouble to Mrs. Bradford. Her health, too, had been excellent, until all at once she became pale and thin. Mrs. Bradford felt it her duty to report this to Mr. Manning, the child's guardian. By his direction, a skillful physician was consulted, who gave it as his opinion that the best thing for the child would be a sea voyage. This was communicated to Mr. Manning.
"Fortunately," he responded, "my sister starts in a fortnight for Europe. She will be absent six months. I have prevailed upon her to take charge of Emma."
Mrs. Bradford was glad that the little girl would have a chance to recover her former health and bloom; but she felt her loss doubly, on account of her society, and on account of the loss of income which her absence would involve. It was not until after Emma had actually gone that she felt the full force of the last consideration. So the poor woman wrote a doleful letter to Ben, in which she predicted that Tony and herself must soon go to the poorhouse.
When this letter reached Ben his duty was set plainly before him. From his regular income he could spare two dollars a week, and, taking two dollars weekly from his reserve fund, he would be enabled to allow his aunt four dollars a week, which, added to her own earnings, would maintain her and Tony in comfort.
"My dear aunt," he wrote, "don't talk of going to the poorhouse just yet. You forget that you have a rich nephew in Boston, who is unwilling that any of his relations should live at public expense unless they get into public office. I don't suppose there is any chance of your getting elected member of Congress. As it is, I shall send you every week four, dollars, which I hope will provide you with your usual comfort. I can keep up this allowance for twenty weeks, and that will carry you nearly to the time when Emma will return to you; then all will be right again."
Ben began to save a dollar more. He wanted to prepare for the time when his little fund would be exhausted. If by that time he had twelve dollars more, he would be able to continue to his aunt her regular allowance, till the six months were at an end. The thought that he had arranged matters so satisfactory made Ben quite cheerful. He realized the advantage of the habit of saving. He was encouraged also by some help which he received from the bookkeeper.
"Ben," said he, "do you spend all your salary?"
"Yes, Mr. Porter, I am obliged to."
"I should think you could save something out of eight dollars a week, as only four goes for board."
"So I could, but I have to help my aunt."
"I thought she was provided for," said Mr. Porter.
"Doesn't she get seven dollars a week for boarding a little girl?"
"She did; but the little girl is now in Europe."
"I suppose you cannot send much to your aunt."
"I send her four dollars a week."
"Four dollars a week!" exclaimed the young man, in surprise. "Why, that allows you nothing after paying your board."
The Ben told his friend about his savings.
"Doesn't it seem hard to have your earnings used up in this way?" asked the bookkeeper.
"No," answered Ben cheerfully.
"You are an excellent boy, Ben. You have done just the right thing.
I am glad you are so unselfish."
"I am afraid I am selfish as the majority of boys; but I am not mean enough to let my aunt and little cousin suffer."
"I believe you consider me a friend of yours, Ben."
"I consider you one of the best friends I have, Mr. Porter," said Ben warmly.
"Then you must allow me a friend's privilege."
As he said this he drew from his pocketbook a twenty-dollar bill, and put it into Ben's hands.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Porter; but ought I to accept so much?"
"Certainly. Remember that my means are considerable, and that I have no one dependent upon me."
Ben felt that his companion derived pleasure from his gift, and he did not see why he should make any further objections. He added the twenty dollars to his savings-book fund, and said to himself: "There will be no trouble now in tiding over the six months."
But it is said misfortunes never come singly. The very next day his aunt received a lawyer's letter, which plunged her into the deepest despondency.
The Blow Falls
This is the material portion of Mrs. Bradford's letter to Ben:
Mrs. Bradford continued:
Even Ben, hopeful as he was, looked sober after reading this letter.
He went to his friend, the bookkeeper.
"Have you ever seen your uncle, Ben?" he inquired.
"What was his reputation?"
"He was considered wealthy."
"It is a pity you could not visit Montreal, and make some inquiries," said the bookkeeper thoughtfully.
"Of course I can't do that."
"Then, first of all, write to this lawyer, and inquire the particulars of Mr. Baldwin's death; and next, how his property is left. Then make him acquainted with the terms on which your aunt has occupied her house."
This advice seemed reasonable, and Ben adopted it.
As Ben left the store at six o'clock, one evening, he brushed by an old man with a bent figure and apparently feeble. He stumbled and would have fallen had not Ben sprung forward and held him up.
"Thank you, my boy," he said, in a tremulous voice.
"You seem feeble," said Ben compassionately.
"Yes, I am not strong."
"If you wish it I will accompany you to your house; you might fall again."
"What is your name?"
"Where do you board?" asked the old man abruptly.
"At No. – Warren Avenue."
"I want to find a comfortable boarding-house. Do you think I could get in there?"
"Yes, sir; I know Mrs. Draper has a vacant room."
"Is she reasonable in her charges?"
"If she were not I could not afford to board there."
"I've a great mind to go there," said the old man.
"I wonder if he has money enough to pay his board regularly," thought Ben.
Just then a grandson of Mrs. Draper's, Charlie Hunting, a boy rather younger than Ben, came up.
"How are you, Ben?" he said.
"All right, Charlie. Do you know if your grandmother has let the bedroom on the second floor?"
"Yes, I know she hasn't."
"Would you like to go and see it, sir?" asked Ben.
"Yes," said the old man. "Is it far?"
"About half a mile; but we can take the cars."
"No, I can walk, if you will walk slow enough for me. I am not so young as I was."
"Certainly, sir. Charlie, if you are going home, just tell your grandmother that this gentleman is coming to look at her room. You needn't wait for me."
"All right, Ben."
"You are very kind to an old man; what did you say your name was?"
"Have you parents living?"
"No, sir, only an aunt and cousin."
"Are they well off?"
"Not very, sir. They got along very comfortably till lately, but now something has happened which makes me feel anxious. But I won't trouble you with it, sir."
"Tell me about it; I would like to hear it."
"For five years my aunt has occupied a small house, rent free. It belonged to her uncle. She has just got a letter saying that her uncle is dead, and demanding payment of rent for the last five years."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I have written to the lawyer, telling him on what terms my aunt occupied her house – that is, rent free, on condition that she paid the taxes regularly."
"What was the uncle's name? I am a little acquainted in Montreal.
Perhaps I may have heard it."
"His name was Matthew Baldwin."
"I have heard of him. He was a miserly old man."
"I don't know about that," said Ben.
"It seems to me you ought to look after the matter. Why don't you go to Montreal?"
"I can't spare the time or money," answered Ben. "Besides, we should certainly have heard of it if any property had been coming to us. I have written to the lawyer, and expect to hear something soon."
When they reached the boarding-house on Warren Avenue the old man appeared pleased with the vacant room. He haggled a little about the terms, but finally agreed to take it at the price set by Mrs. Draper. He gave his name as Marcus Benton, and too immediate possession.
Ben Receives a Commission
In due time a letter came from Montreal. It was brief and not overcourteous. From it Ben learned that Mr. Baldwin had been dead for three weeks, and that all his property was left to a young man who claimed to be a distant relative. The name of the heir was John Tremlett. The letter concluded: "I can find nothing in the papers of the deceased confirming your statement that your aunt was allowed to occupy her house rent free. If you hold any proof of your assertions, you may forward it. Otherwise Mr. Tremlett will insist upon his claim."
This letter reached Ben on a Friday. It naturally caused him anxiety. He obtained permission to go to Milltown Saturday afternoon and spend Sunday. He desired himself to institute a search for the letter of which his aunt had spoken.
His aunt received him in tearful despondency.
"Oh, what shall we do, Benjamin?" said the widow.
"First, we must search for that letter of Uncle Matthew's."
"I know I'm to blame, Benjamin. I have brought ruin upon you and my poor, innocent Tony."
"You haven't ruined me, so you need not trouble yourself about that.
Even if the letter cannot be found, I guess we shall live through it."
They hunted high and low; but the letter was not to be found. Ben was a good deal disappointed, but did not venture to say so, not wishing to increase his aunt's despondency. On Monday morning he went back to Boston, and told the bookkeeper.
"It seems quite desirable that you should go to Montreal, Ben," said young Porter.
"Of course that is out of the question, Mr. Porter."
"No; I think it can be managed."
Ben looked, as he felt, not a little surprised.
"It is some time," explained the bookkeeper, "since we sent an agent to Montreal. We have been thinking of sending some one up there, stopping at the principal towns on the way. You are rather young, but if I recommend you I presume my uncle will let you go."
Of course Mr. Porter, senior, had to be consulted. Though not a little doubtful about the expediency of sending so young a representative of the house, he finally gave his consent, which was communicated to Ben.
Ben was summoned to the countingroom, and received his instructions, with a sum of money for expenses. At three o'clock in the afternoon he was dismissed, though he was not to start till the next morning.
Old Mr. Benton's door was open when Ben returned.
"What brings you home so soon?" he inquired.
"I am going to Montreal," said Ben.
"Come in and tell me about it."
The old man, clad in a ragged dressing-gown, was sitting in a rocking-chair by the fire. The day was not cold, but his blood was thin, and he felt the need of some artificial heat. He was smoking a common clay pipe.
"Isn't this sudden – your going to Montreal?" asked Mr. Benton.
"Yes, sir; I think young Mr. Porter has made business there in order to give a chance to go?"
"What do you mean to do?"
"I shall attend first to the business of the firm, and then call on this lawyer, Mr. Brief."
"It is well thought of, and, Benjamin, try to get a chance to see the new heir, Mr. Tremlett, and find out what use he is making of his property."
"Yes, sir, I will."
"Have you money enough to pay your expenses, Benjamin?" asked the old man, rather hesitatingly.
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