Chapter II. Ben and His Mother
 

Ben Barclay, after taking leave of the tramp, lost no time in driving to the grocery store where he was employed. It was a large country store, devoted not to groceries alone, but supplies of dry-goods, boots and shoes, and the leading articles required in the community. There were two other clerks besides Ben, one the son, another the nephew, of Simon Crawford, the proprietor.

"Did you collect any money, Ben?" asked Simon, who chanced to be standing at the door when our hero drove up.

"Yes, sir; I collected twenty-five dollars, but came near losing it on the way home."

"How was that? I hope you were not careless."

"No, except in taking a stranger as a passenger. When we got to that piece of woods a mile back, he asked me for all the money I had."

"A highwayman, and so near Pentonville!" ejaculated Simon Crawford. "What was he like?"

"A regular tramp."

"Yet you say you have the money. How did you manage to keep it from him?"

Ben detailed the stratagem of which he made use.

"You did well," said the storekeeper approvingly. "I must give you a dollar for the one you sacrificed."

"But sir, it was bad money. I couldn't have passed it."

"That does not matter. You are entitled to some reward for the courage and quick wit you displayed. Here is a dollar, and--let me see, there is an entertainment at the Town Hall this evening, isn't there?"

"Yes, sir. Prof. Harrington, the magician, gives an entertainment," said Ben eagerly.

"At what time does it commence?"

"At eight o'clock."

"You may leave the store at half-past seven. That will give you enough time to get there."

"Thank you, sir. I wanted to go to the entertainment, but did not like to ask for the evening."

"You have earned it. Here is the dollar," and Mr. Crawford handed the money to his young clerk, who received it gratefully.

A magical entertainment may be a very common affair to my young readers in the city, but in a country village it is an event. Pentonville was too small to have any regular place of amusement, and its citizens were obliged to depend upon traveling performers, who, from time to time, engaged the Town Hall. Some time had elapsed since there had been any such entertainment, and Prof. Harrington was the more likely to be well patronized. Ben, who had the love of amusement common to boys of his age, had been regretting the necessity of remaining in the store till nine o'clock, and therefore losing his share of amusement when, as we have seen, an opportunity suddenly offered.

"I am glad I met the tramp, after all," he said to himself. "He has brought me luck."

At supper he told is mother what had befallen him, but she tool a more serious view of it than he did.

"He might have murdered you, Ben," she said with a shudder.

"Oh, no; he wouldn't do that. He might have stolen Mr. Crawford's money; that was the most that was likely to happen."

"I didn't think there were highwaymen about here. Now I shall be worrying about you."

"Don't do that mother; I don't feel in any danger. Still, if you think it best, I will carry a pistol."

"No, no, Ben! it might go off and kill you. I would rather run the risk of a highwayman. I wonder if the man is prowling about in the neighborhood yet?"

"I don't think my bogus dollar will carry him very far. By the way, mother, I must tell yon one strange thing. He asked me if I was John Barclay's son."

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Barclay, in a tone of great surprise. "Did he know your name was Barclay?"

"Not till I told him. Then it was he asked if I was the son of John Barclay."

"Did he say he knew your father?"

"I asked him, but he answered evasively."

"He might have seen some resemblance--that is, if he had ever met your father. Ah! it was a sad day for us all when your poor father died. We should have been in a very different position," the widow sighed.

"Yes, mother," said Ben; "but when I get older I will try to supply my father's place, and relieve you from care and trouble."

"You are doing that in a measure now, my dear boy," said Mrs. Barclay affectionately. "You are a great comfort to me."

Ben's answer was to go up to his mother and kiss her. Some boys of his age are ashamed to show their love for the mother who is devoted to them, but it a false shame, that does them no credit.

"Still, mother, you work too hard," said Ben. "Wait till I am a man, and you shall not need to work at all."

Mrs. Barclay had been a widow for five years. Her husband had been a commercial traveler, but had contracted a fever at Chicago, and died after a brief illness, without his wife having the satisfaction of ministering to him in his last days. A small sum due him from his employers was paid over to his family, but no property was discovered, though his wife had been under the impression that her husband possessed some. He had never been in the habit of confiding his business affairs to her, and so, if he had investments of any kind, she could not learn anything about them. She found herself, therefore, with no property except a small cottage, worth, with its quarter acre of land, perhaps fifteen hundred dollars. As Ben was too small to earn anything, she had been compelled to raise about seven hundred dollars on mortgage, which by this time had been expended for living. Now, Ben was earning four dollars a week, and, with her own earnings, she was able to make both ends meet without further encroachments upon her scanty property; but the mortgage was a source of anxiety to her, especially as it was held by Squire Davenport, a lawyer of considerable means, who was not overscrupulous about the methods by which he strove to increase his hoards. Should he at any time take it into his head to foreclose, there was no one to whom Mrs. Barclay could apply to assume the mortgage, and she was likely to be compelled to sacrifice her home. He had more than once hinted that he might need the money but as yet had gone no further.

Mrs. Barclay had one comfort, however, and a great one. This was a good son. Ben was always kind to his mother--a bright, popular, promising boy--and though at present he was unable to earn much, in a few years he would be able to earn a good income, and then his mother knew that she would be well provided for. So she did not allow herself to borrow trouble but looked forward hopefully, thanking God for what He had given her.

"Won't you go up to the Town Hall with me, mother?" asked Ben. I am sure you would enjoy it."

"Thank you, Ben, for wishing me to have a share in your amusements," his mother replied, "but I have a little headache this evening, and I shall be better off at home."

"It isn't on account of the expense you decline, mother, is it? You know Mr. Crawford gave me a dollar, and the tickets are but twenty-five cents."

"No, it isn't that, Ben. If it were a concert I might be tempted to go in spite of my headache, but a magical entertainment would not amuse me as much as it will you."

"Just as you think best, mother; but I should like to have you go. You won't feel lonely, will you?"

"I am used to being alone till nine o'clock, when you are at the store."

This conversation took place at the supper table. Ben went directly from the store to the Town Hall, where he enjoyed himself as much as he anticipated. If he could have foreseen how his mother was to pass that evening, it would have destroyed all is enjoyment.