Chapter XV. Ben Loses His Place
 

Ben did not find himself immediately out of employment. The next morning Mr. Crawford commenced the work of ascertaining what articles he had saved, and storing them. Luckily there was a vacant store which had once been used for a tailor's shop, but had been unoccupied for a year or more. This he hired, and at once removed his goods to it. But he did not display his usual energy. He was a man of over sixty, and no longer possessed the enterprise and ambition which had once characterized him. Besides, he was very comfortably off, or would be when he obtained the insurance money.

"I don't know what I shall do," he said, when questioned. "I was brought up on a farm, and I always meant to end my days on one. Perhaps now is as well any time, since my business is broken up."

This came to the ears of Squire Davenport, who was always keen-scented for a bargain. His wife's cousin, Mr. Kirk, who has already been introduced to the reader, had, in his earlier days, served as a clerk in a country store. He had no capital, to be sure, but the squire had plenty. It occurred to him as a good plan to buy out the business himself, hire Kirk on a salary to conduct it, and so add considerably to his already handsome income. He sent for Kirk, ascertained that he was not only willing, but anxious, to manage the business, and then he called on Mr. Crawford.

It is unnecessary to detail the negotiations that ensued. It was Squire Davenport's wish to obtain the business as cheaply as possible. The storekeeper, however, had his own estimate of its worth, and the squire was obliged to add considerable to his first offer. In the end, however, he secured it on advantageous terms, and Mr. Crawford now felt able to carry out the plan he had long had in view.

It was in the evening, a week after the fire, that the bargain was struck, and Ben was one of the first to hear of it.

When he came to work early the next morning he found his employer in the store before him, which was not usual.

"You are early, Mr. Crawford," he said, in evident surprise.

"Yes, Ben," was the reply. "I can afford to come early for a morning or two, as I shall soon be out of business."

"You haven't sold out, have you?" inquired Ben quickly.

"Yes; the bargain was struck last evening."

"How soon do you leave the store?"

"In three days. It will take that time to make up my accounts."

"I am sorry," said Ben, "for I suppose I shall have to retire, too."

"I don't know about that, Ben. Very likely my successor may want you."

"That depends on who he is. Do you mind telling me, or is it a secret?"

"Oh, no; it will have to come out, of course. Squire Davenport has bought the business."

"The squire isn't going to keep the store, is he?" asked Ben, in amazement.

"No; though he will, no doubt, supervise it. He will employ a manager."

"Do you know who is to be the manager, Mr. Crawford?"

"Some connection of his named Kirk."

Ben whistled.

"Do you know him?" the storekeeper was led to inquire.

"I have not seen him, but he called with the squire on my mother," said Ben significantly.

"I shall be glad to recommend you to him."

"It will be of no use, Mr. Crawford," answered Ben, in a decided tone. "I know he wouldn't employ me, nor would I work for him if he would. Neither he nor the squire is a friend of mine."

"I did not dream of this, Ben. I am sorry if the step I have taken is going to deprive you of employment," said Mr. Crawford, who was a kind-hearted man, and felt a sincere interest in his young clerk.

"Never mind, Mr. Crawford, I am not cast down. There will be other openings for me. I am young, strong, and willing to work, and I am sure I shall find something to do."

"That's right, Ben. Cheer up, and if I hear of any good chance, rest assured that I will let you know of it."

Tom Davenport was not long in hearing of his father's bargain. He heard it with unfeigned pleasure, for it occurred to him at once that Ben, for whom he had a feeling of hatred, by no means creditable to him, would be thrown out of employment.

"Promise me, pa, that you won't employ Ben Barclay," he said.

"I have no intention of employing that boy," said his father. "Mr. Kirk has a son of his own, about Ben's age, and will, no doubt, put him into the store, unless you should choose to go in and learn the business."

"What! I become a store boy!" exclaimed Tom, in disgust. "No, thank you. I might be willing to become salesman in a large establishment in the city, but I don't care to go into a country grocery."

"It wouldn't do you any harm," said the squire, who was not quite so high-minded as his son. "However, I merely mentioned it as something you could do if you chose."

"Bah! I don't choose it," said Tom decidedly.

"Well, well; you won't have to do it."

"It would put me on a level with Ben Barclay, if I stepped into his shoes. Won't he be down in the month when he hears he has lost his place?" and Tom chuckled at the thought.

"That is no concern of mine," said the squire. "I suppose he can hire out to a farmer."

"Just the business for him", said Tom, "unless he should prefer to go to New York and set up as a bootblack. I believe I'll suggest that to him!"

"Probably he won't thank you for the suggestion."

"I guess not. He's as proud as he is poor. It's amusing to see what airs he puts on."

Squire Davenport, however, was not so much interested in that phase of the subject as Tom, and did not reply.

"I think I'll go down street," thought Tom. "Perhaps I may come across Ben. I shall enjoy seeing how he takes it."

Tom had scarcely walked a hundred yards when he met, not the one of whom he had thought, but another to whom he felt glad to speak on the same subject. This was Rose Gardiner, the prettiest girl in the village, who had already deeply offended Tom by accepting Ben as her escort from the magical entertainment in place of him. He had made advances since, being desirous of ousting Ben from his position of favorite, but the young lady had treated him coldly, much to his anger and mortification.

"Good-morning, Miss Rose," said Tom.

"Good-morning," answered Rose civilly.

"Have you heard the news?"

"To what news do you refer?"

"Crawford has sold out his business."

"Indeed!" said Rose, in surprise; "who has bought it?"

"My father. Of course, he won't keep store himself. He will put in a connection of ours, Mr. Kirk."

"This is news, indeed! Where is Mr. Crawford going?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. I thought you'd be more apt to inquire about somebody else?"

"I am not good at guessing enigmas," said Rose.

"Your friend, Ben Barclay," returned Tom, with a sneer. "Father won't have him in the store!"

"Oh, I see; you are going to take his place," said Rose mischievously.

"I? What do you take me for?" said Tom, haughtily. "I suppose Ben Barclay will have to go to work on a farm."

"That is a very honorable employment," said Rose calmly.

"Yes; he can be a hired man when he grows up. Perhaps, though, he will prefer to go to the city and become a bootblack."

"Ben ought to be very much obliged to you for the interest you feel in his welfare," said Rose, looking steadily and scornfully at Tom. "Good-morning."

"She feels sore about it," thought Tom complacently. "She won't be quite so ready to accept Ben's attentions when he is a farm laborer."

Tom, however, did not understand Rose Gardiner. She was a girl of good sense, and her estimate of others was founded on something else than social position.