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Mrs. Hill regarded him almost kindly. He had done her a good turn in
bringing her son home in good season.

"She may be a disagreeable woman," thought Ben, "but she is good to
Conrad," and this made him regard the housekeeper with more favor.




CHAPTER XXII
A MYSTERIOUS LETTER


From time to time, Mrs. Hamilton sent Ben on errands to different
parts of the city, chiefly to those who had been started in business
with capital which she had supplied. One afternoon, he was sent to a
tailor on Sixth Avenue with a note, the contents of which were unknown
to him.

"You may wait for an answer," said Mrs. Hamilton.

He readily found the tailor's shop, and called for Charles Roberts,
the proprietor.

The latter read the note, and said, in a business like tone:

"Come to the back part of the shop, and I will show you some goods."

Ben regarded him in surprise.

"Isn't there some mistake?" he said. "I didn't know I was to look at
any goods."

"As we are to make a suit for you, I supposed you would have some
choice in the matter," returned the tailor, equally surprised.

"May I look at the letter?" asked Ben.

The tailor put it into his hands.

It ran thus:

"Mr. Roberts: You will make a suit for the bearer, from any goods he
may select, and charge to the account of
Helen Hamilton."

"Mrs. Hamilton did not tell me what was in the note," said Ben,
smiling. "She is very kind."

Ben allowed himself to be guided by the tailor, and the result was a
handsome suit, which was sent home in due time, and immediately
attracted the attention of Conrad. Ben had privately thanked his
patroness, but had felt under no obligation to tell Conrad.

"Seems to me you are getting extravagant!" said Conrad enviously.

"I don't know but I am," answered Ben good-naturedly.

"How much did you pay for it?"

"The price was thirty-five dollars."

"That's too much for a boy in your circumstances to pay."

"I think so myself, but I shall make it last a long time."

"I mean to make Aunt Hamilton buy me a new suit," grumbled Conrad.

"I have no objection, I am sure," said Ben.

"I didn't ask your permission," said Conrad rudely.

"I wonder what he would say if he knew that Mrs. Hamilton paid for my
suit?" Ben said to himself. He wisely decided to keep the matter
secret, as he knew that Conrad would be provoked to hear of this new
proof of his relative's partiality for the boy whom he regarded as a
rival.

Conrad lost no time in preferring his request to Mrs. Hamilton for a
new suit.

"I bought you a suit two months since," said Mrs. Hamilton quietly.
"Why do you come to me for another so soon?"

"Ben has a new suit," answered Conrad, a little confused.

"I don't know that that has anything to do with you. However, I will
ask Ben when he had his last new suit."

Ben, who was present, replied:

"It was last November."

"Nearly a year since. I will take care that you are supplied with new
suits as often as Ben."

Conrad retired from the presence of his relative much disgusted. He
did not know, but suspected that Ben was indebted to Mrs. Hamilton for
his new suit, and although this did not interfere with a liberal
provision for him, he felt unwilling that anyone beside himself should
bask in the favor of his rich relative. He made a discovery that
troubled him about this time.

"Let me see your watch, Ben," he said one day.

Ben took out the watch and placed it in his hand.

"It's just like mine," said Conrad, after a critical examination.

"Is it?"

"Yes; don't you see? Where did you get it?"

"It was a gift," answered Ben.

"From my aunt?"

"It was given me by Mrs. Hamilton."

"She seems to be very kind to you," sneered Conrad, with a scowl.

"She is indeed!" answered Ben earnestly.

"You've played your cards well," said Conrad coarsely.

"I don't understand you," returned Ben coldly.

"I mean that, knowing her to be rich, you have done well to get on the
blind side of her."

"I can't accept the compliment, if you mean it as such. I don't think
Mrs. Hamilton has any blind side, and the only way in which I intend
to commend myself to her favor is to be faithful to her interests."

"Oh, you're mighty innocent; but all the same, you know how to feather
your own nest."

"In a good sense, I hope I do. I don't suppose anyone else will take
the trouble to feather it for me. I think honesty and fidelity are
good policy, don't you?"

"I don't pretend to be an angel," answered Conrad sullenly.

"Nor I," said Ben, laughing.

Some days later, Conrad came to Ben one day, looking more cordial than
usual.

"Ben," he said, "I have a favor to ask of you."

"What is it?"

"Will you grant it?"

"I want to know first what it is."

"Lend me five dollars?"

Ben stared at Conrad in surprise. He had just that amount, after
sending home money to his mother, but he intended that afternoon to
deposit three dollars of it in the savings bank, feeling that he ought
to be laying up money while he was so favorably situated.

"How do you happen to be short of money?" he asked.

"That doesn't need telling. I have only four dollars a week pocket
money, and I am pinched all the time."

"Then, supposing I lent you the money, how could you manage to pay me
back out of this small allowance?"

"Oh, I expect to get some money in another way, but I cannot unless
you lend me the money."

"Would you mind telling me how?"

"Why, the fact is, a fellow I know - that is, I have heard of him - has
just drawn a prize of a thousand dollars in a Havana lottery. All he
paid for his ticket was five dollars."

"And is this the way you expect to make some money?"

"Yes; I am almost sure of winning."

"Suppose you don't?"

"Oh, what's the use of looking at the dark side?"

"You are not so sensible as I thought, Conrad," said Ben. "At least a
hundred draw a blank to one who draws a small prize, and the chances
are a hundred to one against you."

"Then you won't lend me the money?" said Conrad angrily.

"I would rather not."

"Then you're a mean fellow!"

"Thank you for your good opinion, but I won't change my
determination."

"You get ten dollars a week?"

"I shall not spend two dollars a week on my own amusement, or for my
own purposes."

"What are you going to do with the rest, then?"

"Part I shall send to my mother; part I mean to put in some savings
bank."

"You mean to be a miser, then?"

"If to save money makes one a miser, then I shall be one."

Conrad left the room in an angry mood. He was one with whom
prosperity didn't agree. Whatever his allowance might be, he wished
to spend more. Looking upon himself as Mrs. Hamilton's heir, he could
not understand the need or expediency of saving money. He was not
wholly to blame for this, as his mother encouraged him in hopes which
had no basis except in his own and her wishes.

Not quite three weeks after Ben had become established his new home he
received a letter which mystified and excited him.

It ran thus:

"If you will come at nine o'clock this evening to No. - - West
Thirty-first Street, and call for me, you will hear something to your
advantage.
James Barnes."

"It may be something relating to my father's affairs," thought Ben.
"I will go."




CHAPTER XXIII
BEN'S VISIT TO THIRTY-FIRST STREET


Ben's evenings being unoccupied, he had no difficulty in meeting the
appointment made for him. He was afraid Conrad might ask him to
accompany him somewhere, and thus involve the necessity of an
explanation, which he did not care to give until he had himself found
out why he had been summoned.

The address given by James Barnes was easy to find. Ben found himself
standing before a brick building of no uncommon exterior. The second
floor seemed to be lighted up; the windows were hung with crimson
curtains, which quite shut out a view of what was transpiring within.

Ben rang the bell. The door was opened by a colored servant, who
looked at the boy inquiringly.

"Is Mr. Barnes within?" asked Ben.

"I don't know the gentleman," was the answer.

"He sent me a letter, asking me to meet him here at nine o'clock."

"Then I guess it's all right. Are you a telegraph boy?"

"No," answered Ben, in surprise.

"I reckon it's all right," said the negro, rather to himself than to
Ben. "Come upstairs."

Ben followed his guide, and at the first landing a door was thrown
open. Mechanically, Ben followed the servant into the room, but he
had not made half a dozen steps when he looked around in surprise and
bewilderment. Novice as he was, a glance satisfied him that he was in
a gambling house. The double room was covered with a soft, thick
carpet, chandeliers depended from the ceiling, frequent mirrors
reflecting the brilliant lights enlarged the apparent size the
apartment, and a showy bar at one end of the room held forth an
alluring invitation which most failed to resist. Around tables were
congregated men, young and old, each with an intent look, watching the
varying chances of fortune.

"I'll inquire if Mr. Barnes is here," said Peter, the colored servant.

Ben stood uneasily looking at the scene till Peter came back.

"Must be some mistake," he said. "There's no gentleman of the name of
Barnes here."

"It's strange," said Ben, perplexed.

He turned to go out, but was interrupted. A man with a sinister
expression, and the muscle of a prize fighter, walked up to him and
said, with a scowl:

"What brings you here, kid?"

"I received a letter from Mr. Barnes, appointing to meet me here."

"I believe you are lying. No such man comes here."

"I never lie," exclaimed Ben indignantly.

"Have you got that letter about you?" asked the man suspiciously.

Ben felt in his pocket for the letter, but felt in vain.

"I think I must have left it at home," he said nervously.

The man's face darkened.

"I believe you come here as a spy," he said.

"Then you are mistaken!" said Ben, looking him fearlessly in the face.

"I hope so, for your sake. Do you know what kind of a place this is?"

"I suppose it is a gambling house," Ben answered, without hesitation.

"Did you know this before you came here?"

"I had not the least idea of it."

The man regarded him suspiciously, but no one could look into Ben's
honest face and doubt his word.

"At any rate, you've found it out. Do you mean to blab?"

"No; that is no business of mine."

"Then you can go, but take care that you never come here again."

"I certainly never will."

"Give me your name and address."

"Why do you want it?"

"Because if you break your word, you will be tracked and punished."

"I have no fear," answered Ben, and he gave his name and address.

"Never admit this boy again, Peter," said the man with whom Ben had
been conversing; neither this boy, nor any other, except a telegraph
boy."

"All right, sah."

A minute later, Ben found himself on the street, very much perplexed
by the events of the evening. Who could have invited him to a
gambling house, and with what object in view? Moreover, why had not
James Barnes kept the appointment he had himself made? These were
questions which Ben might have been better able to answer if he could
have seen, just around the corner, the triumphant look of one who was
stealthily watching him.

This person was Conrad Hill, who took care to vacate his position
before Ben had reached the place where he was standing.

"So far, so good!" he muttered to himself. "Master Ben has been seen
coming out of a gambling house. That won't be likely to recommend him
to Mrs. Hamilton, and she shall know it before long."

Ben could not understand what had become of the note summoning him to
the gambling house. In fact, he had dislodged it from the vest pocket
in which he thrust it, and it had fallen upon the carpet near the desk
in what Mrs. Hamilton called her "office." Having occasion to enter
the room in the evening, his patroness saw it on the carpet, picked it
up, and read it, not without surprise.

"This is a strange note for Ben to receive," she said to herself. "I
wonder what it means?"

Of course, she had no idea of the character of the place indicated,
but was inclined to hope that some good luck was really in store for
her young secretary.

"He will be likely to tell me sooner or later," she said to herself.
"I will wait patiently, and let him choose his own time. Meanwhile I
will keep the note."

Mrs. Hamilton did not see Ben till the next morning. Then he looked
thoughtful, but said nothing. He was puzzling himself over what had
happened. He hardly knew whether to conclude that the whole thing was
a trick, or that the note was written in good faith.

"I don't understand why the writer should have appointed to meet me at
such a place," he reflected. "I may hear from him again."

It was this reflection which led him to keep the matter secret from
Mrs. Hamilton, to whom be had been tempted to speak.

"I will wait till I know more," he said to himself. "This Barnes
knows my address, and he can communicate with me if he chooses."

Of course, the reader understands that Conrad was at the bottom of the
trick, and that the object was to persuade Mrs. Hamilton that the boy
she trusted was in the habit of visiting gambling houses. The plan
had been suggested by Conrad, and the details agreed on by him and his
mother. This explains why Conrad was so conveniently near at hand to
see Ben coming out of the gambling house.

The boy reported the success of this plan to his mother.

"I never saw a boy look so puzzled," he said, with a chuckle, "when he
came out of the gambling house. I should like to know what sort of
time he had there. I expected he would get kicked out."

"I feel no interest in that matter," said his mother. "I am more
interested to know what Cousin Hamilton will say when she finds where
her model boy has been."

"She'll give him his walking ticket, I hope."

"She ought to; but she seems so infatuated with him that there is no
telling."

"When shall you tell her, mother?"

"I will wait a day or two. I want to manage matters so as not to
arouse any suspicion."




CHAPTER XXIV
BEN ON TRIAL


"Excuse my intrusion, Cousin Hamilton; I see you are engaged."

The speaker was Mrs. Hill, and the person addressed was her wealthy
cousin. It was two days after the event recorded in the last chapter.

"I am only writing a note, about which there is no haste. Did you
wish to speak to me?"

Mrs. Hamilton leaned back in her chair, and waited to hear what Mrs.
Hill had to say. There was very little similarity between the two
ladies. One was stout, with a pleasant, benevolent face, to whom not
only children, but older people, were irresistibly attracted. The
other was thin, with cold, gray eyes, a pursed-up mouth, thin lips,
who had never succeeded in winning the affection of anyone. True, she
had married, but her husband was attracted by a small sum of money
which she possessed, and which had been reported to him as much larger
than it really was.

When asked if she wished to speak, Mrs. Hill coughed.

"There's a matter I think I ought to speak of," she said, "but it is
painful for me to do so."

"Why is it painful?" asked Mrs. Hamilton, eyeing her steadily.

"Because my motives may be misconstrued. Then, I fear it will give
you pain."

"Pain is sometimes salutary. Has Conrad displeased you?"

"No, indeed!" answered Mrs. Hill, half indignantly. "My boy is a
great comfort to me."

"I am glad to hear it," said Mrs. Hamilton dryly.

For her own part, Mrs. Hamilton thought her cousin's son one of the
least attractive young people she had ever met, and save for a feeling
of pity, and the slight claims of relationship, would not have been
willing to keep him in the house.

"I don't see why you should have judged so ill of my poor Conrad,"
complained Mrs. Hill.

"I am glad you are so well pleased with him. Let me know what you
have to communicate."

"It is something about the new boy - Benjamin."

Mrs. Hamilton lifted her eyebrows slightly.

"Speak without hesitation," she said.

"You will be sure not to misjudge me?"

"Why should I?"

"You might think I was jealous on account of my own boy."

"There is no occasion for you to be jealous."

"No, of course not. I am sure Conrad and I have abundant cause to be
grateful to you."

"That is not telling me what you came to tell," said Mrs. Hamilton
impatiently.

"I am afraid you are deceived in the boy, Cousin Hamilton."

"In what respect?"

"I am almost sorry I had not kept the matter secret. If I did not
consider it my duty to you, I would have done so."

"Be kind enough to speak at once. You need not apologize, nor
hesitate on my account. What has Ben been doing?"

"On Tuesday evening he was seen coming out of a well-known gambling
house."

"Who saw him?"

"Conrad."

"How did Conrad know that it was a gambling house?"

"He had had it pointed out to him as such," Mrs. Hill answered, with
some hesitation.

"About what time was this?"

"A little after nine in the evening."

"And where was the gambling house situated?"

"On Thirty-first Street."

A peculiar look came over Mrs. Hamilton's face.

"And Conrad reported this to you?"

"The same evening."

"That was Tuesday?"

"Yes; I could not make up my mind to tell you immediately, because I
did not want to injure the boy."

"You are more considerate than I should have expected."

"I hope I am. I don't pretend to like the boy. He seems to have
something sly and underhand about him. Still, he needs to be
employed, and that made me pause."

"Till your sense of duty to me overcame your reluctance?"

"Exactly so, Cousin Hamilton. I am glad you understand so well how I
feel about the matter."

Mrs. Hill was quite incapable of understanding the irony of her
cousin's last remark, and was inclined to be well pleased with the
reception her news had met with.

"Where is Conrad?"

"He is not in the house. He didn't want me to tell you."

"That speaks well for him. I must speak to Ben on the subject."

She rang the bell, and a servant appeared.

"See if Master Ben is in his room," said the lady. "If so ask him to
come here for five minutes."

Ben was in the house and in less than two minutes he entered the room.
He glanced from one lady to the other in some surprise. Mrs. Hamilton
wore her ordinary manner, but Mrs. Hill's mouth was more pursed up
than ever. She looked straight before her, and did not look at Ben at
all.

"Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, coming to the point at once, "did you visit
a gambling house in Thirty-first Street on Tuesday evening?"

"I did," answered Ben promptly.

Mrs. Hill moved her hands slightly, and looked horror-stricken.

"You must have had some good reason for doing so. I take it for
granted you did not go there to gamble?"

"No," answered Ben, with a smile. "That is not in my line."

"What other purpose could he have had, Cousin Hamilton?" put in Mrs.
Hill maliciously.

Ben eyed her curiously.

"Did Mrs. Hill tell you I went there?" he asked.

"I felt it my duty to do so," said that lady, with acerbity. "I
dislike to see my cousin so deceived and imposed upon by one she had
befriended."

"How did you know I went there, Mrs. Hill?"

"Conrad saw you coming out of the gambling house."

"I didn't see him. It was curious he happened be in that neighborhood
just at that time," said Ben significantly.

"If you mean to insinuate that Conrad goes to such places, you are
quite mistaken," said Mrs. Hill sharply.

"It was not that I meant to insinuate at all."

"You have not yet told me why you went there, Ben?" said Mrs. Hamilton
mildly."

"Because I received a mysterious letter, signed James Barnes, asking
me to come to that address about nine o'clock in the evening. I was
told I would hear something of advantage to myself."

"Did you meet any such man there?" asked Mrs. Hill.

"No."

"Have you got the letter you speak of?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.

"No," answered Ben. "I must have dropped it somewhere. I felt in my
pocket for it when I reached the gambling house, but it was gone."

Mrs. Hill looked fairly triumphant.

"A very queer story!" she said, nodding her head. "I don't believe
you received any such letter. I presume you had often been to the
same place to misspend your evenings."

"Do you think so, Mrs. Hamilton?" inquired Ben anxiously.

"It is a pity you lost that letter, Ben."

"Yes, it is," answered Ben regretfully.

"Mrs. Hill," said Mrs. Hamilton, "if you will withdraw, I would like
to say a few words to Ben in private."

"Certainly, Cousin Hamilton," returned the poor cousin, with alacrity.
"I think his race is about run," she said to herself, in a tone of
congratulation.




CHAPTER XXV
CONRAD TAKES A BOLD STEP


"I hope, Mrs. Hamilton, you don't suspect me of frequenting gambling
houses?" said Ben, after his enemy had left the room.

"No," answered Mrs. Hamilton promptly. "I think I know you too well
for that."

"I did go on Tuesday evening, I admit," continued Ben. "I saw that
Mrs. Hill did not believe it, but it's true. I wish I hadn't lost the
letter inviting me there. You might think I had invented the story."

"But I don't, Ben; and, for the best of all reasons, because I found
the note on the carpet, and have it in my possession now."

"Have you?" exclaimed Ben gladly.

"Here it is," said the lady, as she produced the note from the desk
before her. "It is singular such a note should have been sent you,"
she added thoughtfully.

"I think so, too. I had no suspicion when I received it, but I think
now that it was written to get to into a scrape."

"Then it must have been written by an enemy. Do you know of anyone
who would feel like doing you a bad turn?"

"No," answered Ben, shaking his head.

"Do you recognize the handwriting?"

"No; it may have been written by some person I know, but I have no
suspicion and no clew as to who it is."

"I think we will let the matter rest for a short time. If we say
nothing about it, the guilty person may betray himself."

"You are very kind to keep your confidence in me, Mrs. Hamilton," said
Ben gratefully.

"I trust you as much as ever, Ben, but I shall appear not to - for a
time."

Ben looked puzzled.

"I won't explain myself," said Mrs. Hamilton, with a smile, "but I
intend to treat you coolly for a time, as if you had incurred my
displeasure. You need not feel sensitive, however, but may consider
that I am acting."

"Then it may be as well for me to act, too," suggested Ben.

"A good suggestion! You will do well to look sober and uneasy."

"I will do my best," answered Ben brightly.

The programme was carried out. To the great delight of Mrs. Hill and
Conrad, Mrs. Hamilton scarcely addressed a word to Ben at the supper
table. When she did speak, it was with an abruptness and coldness
quite unusual for the warm-hearted woman. Ben looked depressed, fixed
his eyes on his plate, and took very little part in the conversation.
Mrs. Hill and Conrad, on the other hand, seemed in very good spirits.
They chatted cheerfully, and addressed an occasional word to Ben.
They could afford to be magnanimous, feeling that he had forfeited
their rich cousin's favor.

After supper, Conrad went into his mother's room.

"Our plan's working well, mother," he said, rubbing his hands.

"Yes, Conrad, it is. Cousin Hamilton is very angry with the boy. She
scarcely spoke a word to him."

"He won't stay long, I'll be bound. Can't you suggest, mother, that
he had better be dismissed at once?"

"No, Conrad; we have done all that is needed. We can trust Cousin
Hamilton to deal with him. She will probably keep him for a short
time, till she can get along without his services."

"It's lucky he lost the letter. Cousin Hamilton will think he never
received any."

So the precious pair conferred together. It was clear that Ben had
two dangerous and unscrupulous enemies in the house.

It was all very well to anticipate revenge upon Ben, and his summary
dismissal, but this did not relieve Conrad from his pecuniary
embarrassments. As a general thing, his weekly allowance was spent by
the middle of the week. Ben had refused to lend money, and there was
no one else he could call upon. Even if our hero was dismissed, there
seemed likely to be no improvement in this respect.

At this juncture, Conrad was, unfortunately, subjected to a temptation


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