"Then I will be revenged, at any rate," said Sam.
Now that vacation had fairly commenced, Ben thought he had better make application for employment at the mills. It was generally understood that business had improved and that new hands were to be taken on.
On the morning succeeding the award of prizes, Ben presented himself at the office of the superintendent.
After awhile the great man arrived. He nodded patronizingly to the applicants for employment. He saw Ben in the number and his small soul was rejoiced, for he meant to humiliate him.
He summoned one and another to a conference, engaging such as were old hands.
Ben began to look hopeful. He, too, had experience.
At last Mr. Archer beckoned to him to approach.
"What do you wish?" he demanded.
"I should like employment at the mills," said Ben.
"Have you been in my employ before?"
Mr. Archer opened a thick folio volume which lay upon the desk, and appeared to be looking for something, which he found at last.
"I can't employ you," he said coldly.
"Why not, sir?"
"Because your record is not good."
Ben's eyes flashed with proper indignation.
"I don't understand, sir," he said, in a dignified tone.
"It strikes me that my language is plain."
"What complaints were made of me? I should like to know in what respect I failed to do my duty."
"Probably you know as well as I can tell you," said the superintendent. "At any rate, I have no time to waste in examining into the matter. I prefer to take a boy who has nothing against him. Next."
Ben left the office, smarting not so much at the failure to obtain employment, as at the unfounded charges trumped up against him.
Just outside the office he met Sam Archer.
"Good morning, Bradford," said Sam, eyeing our hero curiously.
"Are you going to work in the mill?"
"No," said Ben shortly.
"Perhaps old Taylor will give you employment."
"No doubt he would if he had occasion to employ any one. Mr.
Taylor is a gentleman."
"Do you mean to say father isn't a gentleman?"
"You can draw your own conclusions."
Ben was not quite an angel, though he was a manly boy, and he felt pugnacious.
"I've a great mind to knock you down," said Sam.
"You may have the mind, but you haven't got the strength to do it," said Ben.
"I won't dirty my hands with touching you."
"That's prudent, at any rate," retorted Ben.
"You'd better go home and read your prize."
"That's good advice, though it comes from a bad source," returned Ben. "It isn't needed, however, for I have been reading it. I can quote two lines —
"'Be not like dumb, driven cattle,
Be like heroes in the strife.'"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that you will find it hard to drive me."
"Perhaps so, but I've done one thing," boasted Sam.
"I told father not to take you if you applied; and that's why you are going away with a flea in your ear."
"I am not surprised to hear this," he answered.
"You are glad to hear it?" repeated Sam, puzzled.
"I don't understand why you should be."
"I suppose not. I am glad you know just why I was refused."
"Well, I hope you are satisfied."
"I am entirely so."
"I wonder what the fellow means," thought Sam.
Sam knew that Ben was anxious to obtain a situation. It occurred to him that it would be a splendid joke to write to Ben, in the name of some Boston firm, offering him a situation. Ben would go up to the city, of course, only to find that he had been "sold."
Of course, it would not do for Sam to write the letter himself, since his writing was well known to Ben. Again, the letter must be posted in Boston. However, where there is a will there is a way. Sam was acquainted with a boy who lived in Boston – Frank Ferguson – and to him he wrote, enclosing the draft of a letter, which he requested Frank to copy and mail to Ben. "It is only a practical joke," Sam explained in his letter, "in return for one Ben has played on me." But for this explanation, Frank who was an honorable boy, would not have lent himself to this scheme. As it was, it struck him only as a piece of fun, and he followed Sam's instructions.
A few days later, Ben, in going to the post-office, received a letter directed to himself. It read thus:
"BENJAMIN BRADFORD: We are in want of a boy in our store. You can have the place if you wish. It will be necessary for you to report for duty next Monday."Yours, in haste,"JONES & PORTER"
Ben had heard of Jones & Porter. They were well-known booksellers and publishers. A position with them was certainly desirable.
"But how could they have heard of me," thought Ben.
He was not vain enough to suppose that his name was well known in Boston, yet here was an important firm that had offered him employment. Again, the manner in which the letter ended struck him as rather singular. It didn't occur to Ben to doubt its genuineness.
As he was walking back, he met James Watson.
"What's the news, Ben?" asked James.
"I am offered a place in Boston," answered Ben.
"You don't say so! What sort of place is it?"
"It is a place in a bookstore. There is the letter."
James read it.
"How did they happen to write to you."
"I don't know, I am sure."
"Can't you think of any way in which they could have heard of you?"
"There is only one way I can think of. There was a gentleman in
Charleston who was quite kind to me when I was there last year.
He promised to be of service to me if I ever needed it. He may have mentioned my name to Jones & Porter.
"Very likely," said James. "You are in luck."
"I wish I knew what wages they are willing to pay," said Ben. "If it's only five dollars a week, it won't more than pay my board, and I don't like to call upon Aunt Jane to pay for my clothes."
"You will take the place, won't you, at any rate?"
"Oh, yes. Perhaps I can get a chance to earn something by extra work, and so pay for my clothes."
"Well, I wish you good luck, Ben. If you hear of a place for me, let me know."
"I will, James. I should like your company."
Ben went home and showed the letter to his aunt.
"You see, aunt, I am provided for," said Ben.
Old Mrs. Perkins was present and hazarded a cheerful observation.
"I wouldn't trust a boy of mine in the city, Mrs. Bradford," she said; "it's the ruination of 'em most always. Like or not, Ben will get dissipated, and take to drinkin', and have the delirious triangles."
Mrs. Bradford was easily alarmed.
"Do you think you'd better go, Ben?" she asked doubtfully. "You're so young."
"I can't afford to wait till I'm an old man, Aunt Jane," he said; "and I don't mean to have the 'delirous triangles,' if I can help it. You wouldn't keep me at home till I'm eighty, like Mrs. Perkins – "
"I'm only sixty-two," exclaimed the old lady indignantly. "What do you mean by calling me eighty?"
"I didn't know you were sensitive about your age."
"I ain't," snarled the old lady; "I own up to sixty-two, but you needn't call me twenty years older."
Mrs. Perkins was really seventy-two and looked her age; but she fondly hoped to deceive the public.
"Do you really think you had better go to Boston, Ben?" said his aunt, after the departure of the visitor.
"Yes, Aunt Jane. There's no chance for me in Milltown, as you know very well. Mr. Archer's prejudiced against me, and won't take me into the mill."
"I shall miss you very much, Ben."
"I'll write you once every week."
"How much will you get?"
"I don't know. If it's too little, I will live as closely as I can. I shall be learning the business, you know, and, of course, I shall get my salary raised when I deserve it."
Ben had a strong, positive nature, and he convinced his aunt that he ought to accept the offer of Jones & Porter. Mrs. Bradford set about putting his clothes in order.
Sam Archer awaited with interest the result of his joke. Seeing Ben the next day, he stopped him.
"Where are you bound, Ben?" he asked.
"I am going to buy some underclothes," he said.
"Have you got a place?"
"Yes, I expect so."
Sam wanted to laugh, but concealed his emotions.
"Where is it?" he asked.
"It isn't in you father's mill," retorted Ben.
"No, I suppose not. Is it in town?"
"It is in Boston!" said Ben, in a tone of satisfaction.
Sam laughed involuntarily.
"What are you laughing at?" inquired Ben angrily.
"Excuse me," said Sam. "I was thinking how green you would be at first in a city place. I will call and see you when I go to the city."
"I don't like to be impolite; but as you prevented my getting a place here, I don't look upon you as a friend, and I only care to receive calls from my friends."
"How proud we are just because we have got a place in Boston!" said Sam mockingly, and he laughed again.
"I thought he would be disappointed to hear of my success," thought
Ben. "He is rather a queer boy."
"Isn't it jolly?" said Sam to himself. "Won't he be mad when he finds it all a sell?"
Ben set out for Boston on Monday morning in very good spirits. His aunt shed a few tears at parting. She was apt to take depressing views of the future, and said; "I hope you'll prosper, Ben," in a tone which implied that she did not think there was more than one chance in ten of his success. But Ben understood his aunt, and did not allow her presentiments to weigh with him. His motto was still, "Wait and Hope."
Ben found himself seated beside a young man of pleasant appearance, who was attracted by our hero's frank and manly look.
"I suppose you are going to Boston," he said.
"Yes," answered Ben readily.
"Have you got a place there?"
"I am going to have," said Ben cheerfully.
"Do you mind telling where?"
"Oh, no," said Ben; "I am going to the store of Jones & Porter."
"Indeed! There are very prominent business men."
"I suppose they are," said Ben.
"Do you know them personally?"
"I don't know them at all. I think some friend of mine must have mentioned me to them."
"It's rather singular that I shouldn't know anything about your engagement," said the young man.
"Why should you?" inquired Ben, in natural surprise.
"The fact is, I am Mr. Porter's nephew, and am a salesman in the establishment," said the young man. He drew from his pocket a business card, bearing the name.
HENRY W. PORTER
With Jones and Porter
Ben was rather disturbed, and he thought: "Can there be anything wrong?"
He said aloud: "I don't see how there can be any mistake. I received a letter from Jones & Porter last week, offering me the place."
Ben took the letter from his pocket and handed it to the young man.
The latter ran his eye over it hastily. He examined the signature and the address, and said quietly "I don't think this letter came from our store."
Ben felt as if the earth had opened before him.
"I don't understand it," he said, his face very red. "If the letter isn't genuine, who could have written it?"
"It seems written in a schoolboy hand," said young Porter. "Isn't it possible that some one may be playing a practical joke on you?"
"It wouldn't be much of a joke to me," said Ben.
"I should call it a mean trick myself," said Porter; "but can't you think of any one who may have written it?"
"I'll bet it's Sam Archer."
"And who is Sam Archer?"
"He is the meanest boy in Milltown," said Ben.
"Doesn't he like you? Isn't he one of your friends?"
"No, he does all he can to injure me. But" – here Ben examined the letter a second time – "this isn't his handwriting."
"That proves nothing. He probably sent it to some confederate in
Boston to copy and mail to you."
"Don't you think there is any chance of its being genuine?" asked Ben.
"The chance is very slight; but it is well, of course, to make sure. I have been away to pass Sunday, and shall go to the store at once on my arrival. You can go with me. I will introduce you to my uncle."
"If it is a trick," said Ben uncomfortably, "I shall be in an awkward fix."
"Whether it is a trick or not, you can count on my friendship," said young Porter kindly.
"Thank you," said Ben gratefully.
About an hour later Ben and his new friend entered the large and handsome bookstore of Jones & Porter.
Young Porter, as he walked through the store, received the greetings of his fellow clerks.
"Have you adopted a boy?" asked one facetiously.
"Yes," said Porter, smiling. "Where is my uncle?"
"He is in the back office."
"All right! Come along, Ben."
Henry Porter kept on his way till he reached the back part of the store, where a good-sized office was partitioned off. Mr. Porter was writing at a desk.
"Good morning, uncle," said Ben's companion.
"Good morning, Henry. Have a good time?"
"Excellent, uncle. Let me introduce to your favorite notice Master
Benjamin Bradford, of Milltown."
Mr. Porter did not consider it beneath his dignity to be polite even to a boy.
"I am glad to see you, my young friend," he said, rising and offering his hand to Ben. "Are you on a visit to the city?"
Poor Ben! His heart sank within him. Evidently Mr. Porter would not ask such a question of a boy whom he had engaged to work for him.
The young man saw his embarrassment and answered for him.
"That's rather an odd question to ask you new clerk, uncle," he said.
"My new clerk, Henry? I don't understand you."
"Ben, show your letter."
"That is a forgery," said the uncle rather indignantly.
Poor Ben! Manly as he was, he felt ready to cry.
"I am sorry," he said faltering.
"Have you any idea who wrote it?" asked Mr. Porter.
"Yes," answered Ben. "It's Sam Archer."
"No, in spite. He is always glad to injure me."
"What can be his motive?"
Ben explained his relations with Sam.
"Do you need the position?" asked Mr. Porter.
"Yes, sir, I am poor, and can ill afford the money I have spent in coming to Boston. Sam knows this, and it is mean for him, a rich boy, to fool me so."
Mr. Porter was a kind-hearted man. More than once he had kept on a clerk whom he did not need.
"Go into the store a minute, my boy," he said, "while I speak with my nephew."
Of course Ben obeyed.
"What do you think of this boy, Henry?"
"I think very favorably of him. He seems honest and straightforward, and I think he is smart."
"I like his looks myself; I wish we had a vacancy."
"We shall have very soon."
"To whom do you refer?"
"Frank Robinson is going to leave at the beginning of next month. His father thinks it will be better for him to go to school a year or two longer."
"So you would recommend hiring this boy?"
"Yes, sir; I have so good an opinion of him that I am quite willing to guarantee him. If you will take him on immediately, I will myself pay his wages till the end of the month, when Robinson leaves."
"Bravo, Henry! That shows a kind heart. I won't accept that, but will give you leave to help him outside as much as you please."
Ben was looking with interest at a row of new books when he was summoned into the private office.
"My young friend," said Mr. Porter, senior, "we are not responsible for the letter that brought you here."
"No, sir," said Ben. "I am sorry to have troubled you. I'll go home this afternoon."
He looked sober enough, poor Ben, for it would not be pleasant facing his aunt and friends in Milltown, and explaining matters. Even the "licking" which he determined to give Sam Archer, if he should prove the author of the decoy letter, would be a poor satisfaction.
"You may as well stay," said Mr. Porter. "My nephew thinks we can find a place for you in the store."
"Will you really take me?" asked Ben.
"We will try you. My nephew thinks you will suit us."
"Thank you, sir," said Ben warmly.
"Your friend, who wrote the letter, will be rather disappointed, eh?" said young Porter, smiling.
"Yes," said Ben, who could smile now. "I should like to see him when he learns that his malicious letter has procured me a situation.
"What do we pay you Robinson?"
"Six dollars a week."
"Then Benjamin shall have the same. He has no knowledge of the business, to be sure – "
"I will have soon," said Ben confidently.
"That's right, my lad. Make yourself useful to us, and you won't have cause to regret it."
He was set to work dusting books, and young Porter went to his own desk; he was chief bookkeeper.
"When the store closes," he said, "come to me. I shall take you to my room to-night."
In the evening, at his friend's room, Ben wrote the following letter to his friend, James Watson:
"Boston, July 18, 19 – .
"Dear James: Though I have been only a few hours in Boston I have a good deal to tell you. You remember my showing you the letter from Jones & Porter, which induced me to come to the city. Well, it was a hoax. It didn't come from the firm at all. Somebody wanted to play a trick on me, and wrote it. I have no doubt Sam Archer was at the bottom of it. You know what a mean fellow he is, and that he would like nothing better than to injure me. But I am glad to say that he has not succeeded. By great good luck I got acquainted with Mr. Porter's nephew on board the train. I showed him the letter, which he pronounced probably a forgery. But he took me to the store – he is head bookkeeper – and introduced me to his uncle. It seems that there will be a vacancy at the beginning of next month, and as I was on the ground, they engaged me. So Sam's mean trick has been the means of obtaining me a position. He will be provoked enough when he hears it. Now I will tell you what I want you to do. Don't say a word about the letter being a hoax. Merely tell the boys that I have got the place I expected. If Sam wrote the letter he will certainly betray himself. Keep mum, and lead him on. Then let me know what you find out. I will write again soon."Your affectionate friend,"Ben Bradford."
"It's a mean trick, and just like Sam," ejaculated James when he read Ben's letter. "I'll follow Ben's instructions. Sam will be coming round making inquiries pretty soon. I'll manage him."
James was right in his supposition. Sam eagerly awaited the upshot of his trick. He concluded that Ben would come back Monday night depressed and humiliated, and he was on the street near Ben's house when the afternoon train got in, ready to feast his eyes on his rival's unhappiness. But he waited in vain.
The next morning, about ten o'clock, he met James Watson on the street. James had received the letter from Ben the evening previous.
"How are you, James?" said Sam.
"I'm all right," said James rather coolly.
"Have you heard from Ben Bradford?"
"I heard last night."
"What does he say?' asked Sam eagerly.
"He hadn't been in his situation long enough to tell how he should like it," answered James.
"Is he in a situation?" demanded Sam in surprise.
"What do you think he went to Boston for?"
"Where is he working?" asked Sam incredulously.
"He is with Jones & Porter, of course. Didn't you know they sent for him?"
"Ha! ha!" laughed Sam.
"I am on the track," thought James.
"I don't know what you mean," said he quietly. "Jones & Porter sent for Ben, and he is in their employ."
"I'll bet you a dollar Ben Bradford will be back here within a week," said Sam, in a ton of great confidence. "I don't believe Jones & Porter ever wrote him a letter."
"I saw the letter."
"Suppose you did; it might have been a hoax."
"Then whoever wrote it did Ben a good turn, for he has got a place at Jones & Porter's."
"I don't believe it," said Sam uneasily.
"Ben writes me that he is there."
"Will you let me see the letter?"
"No, I won't."
"That convinces me that it's all a humbug."
"You think the letter a hoax?"
"Yes, I do."
"What reason have you for thinking so?"
"I decline to state."
"Who do you think wrote it?"
"How should I know?"
"As you know so much, I don't mind telling you that you are right.
The letter was a hoax."
Sam laughed heartily.
"I thought so," he said.
"And I know who wrote it."
Sam didn't laugh now.
"Who?" he asked uncomfortably.
"You did it."
"What do you mean?" blustered Sam.
"Exactly what I say. Otherwise you would have had no reason to suspect the genuineness of it."
"Does Ben Bradford charge me with it? Just wait till I see him."
"That will be some time unless you go to Boston. Jones &
Porter happened to have a vacancy, and Ben stepped into it.
Your letter got him a place."
"I don't believe it," said Sam faintly.
"It's true, and it's lucky for you. If Ben had been obliged to come home he would have given you the worst licking you ever had."