Chapter XX. Entering Upon His Duties
 

When Ben had taken out his clothing from his valise and put it away in the drawers of the handsome bureau which formed a part of the furniture of his room, he went downstairs, and found his patroness in a cozy sitting room, on the second floor. It was furnished, Ben could not help thinking, more as if it were designed for a gentleman than a lady. In one corner was a library table, with writing materials, books, and papers upon it, and an array of drawers on either side of the central part.

"Come right in, Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, who was seated at the table. "We will talk of business."

This Ben was quite willing to do. He was anxious to know what were to be his duties, that he might judge whether he was competent to discharge them.

"Let me tell you, to begin with," said his patroness, "that I am possessed of considerable wealth, as, indeed, you may have judged by way of living. I have no children, unfortunately, and being unwilling, selfishly, to devote my entire means to my own use exclusively, I try to help others in a way that I think most suitable. Mrs. Hill, who acts as my housekeeper, is a cousin, who made a poor marriage, and was left penniless. I have given a home to her and her son."

"I don't think Mrs. Hill likes my being here," said Ben.

"You are, no doubt, right. She is foolish enough to be jealous because I do not bestow all my favors upon her."

"I think she will look upon me as a rival of her son."

"I expected she would. Perhaps she will learn, after a while, that I can be a friend to you and him both, though, I am free to admit, I have never been able to take any fancy to Conrad, nor, indeed, was his mother a favorite with me. But for her needy circumstances, she is, perhaps, the last of my relatives that I would invite to become a member of my household. However, to come to business: My money is invested in various ways. Besides the ordinary forms of investment, stocks, bonds, and mortgages, I have set up two or three young men, whom I thought worthy, in business, and require them to send in monthly statements of their business to me. You see, therefore, that I have more or less to do with accounts. I never had much taste for figures, and it struck me that I might relieve myself of considerable drudgery if I could obtain your assistance, under my supervision, of course. I hope you have a taste for figures?"

"Arithmetic and algebra are my favorite studies," said Ben promptly.

"I am glad of it. Of course, I did not know that, but had you not been well versed in accounts, I meant to send you to a commercial school to qualify you for the duties I wished to impose upon you."

"I don't think it will be necessary," answered Ben. "I have taken lessons in bookkeeping at home, and, though it seems like boasting, I was better in mathematics than any of my schoolfellows."

"I am so glad to hear that. Can you write well?"

"Shall I write something for you?"

"Do so."

Mrs. Hamilton vacated her place, and Ben, sitting at the desk, wrote two or three copies from remembrance.

"Very well, indeed!" said his patroness approvingly. "I see that in engaging you I have made no mistake."

Ben's cheek flushed with pleasure, and he was eager to enter upon his new duties. But he could not help wondering why he had been selected when Conrad was already in the house, and unemployed. He ventured to say:

"Would you mind telling me why you did not employ Conrad, instead of sending for me?"

"There are two good and sufficient reasons: Conrad is not competent for such an office; and secondly, I should not like to have the boy about me as much as he would need to be. I have obtained for him a position out of the house. One question remains to be considered: How much wages do you expect?"

"I would prefer to leave that to you, Mrs. Hamilton. I cannot expect high pay."

"Will ten dollars a week be adequate?"

"I can't earn as much money as that," said Ben, in surprise.

"Perhaps not, and yet I am not sure. If you suit me, it will be worth my while to pay you as much."

"But Conrad will only receive four dollars a week. Won't he be angry?"

"Conrad is not called upon to support his mother, as I understand you are."

"You are very kind to think of that, Mrs. Hamilton."

"I want to be kind to you, Ben," said his patroness with a pleasant smile.

"When shall I commence my duties?"

"Now. You will copy this statement into the ledger you see here. Before doing so, will you look over and verify the figures?"

Ben was soon hard at work. He was interested in his work, and the time slipped fast. After an hour and a half had passed, Mrs. Hamilton said:

"It is about time for lunch, and I think there will be no more to do to-day. Are you familiar with New York?"

"No, I have spent very little time in the city."

"You will, no doubt, like to look about. We have dinner at six sharp. You will be on tine?"

"I will be sure to be here."

"That reminds me--have you a watch?"

Ben shook his head.

"I thought it might be so. I have a good silver watch, which I have no occasion for."

Mrs. Hamilton left the room, and quickly returned with a neat silver hunting-case watch, with a guilt chain.

"This is yours, Ben," she said, "if you like it."

"Do you give it to me?" asked Ben joyously. He had only expected that it would be loaned to him.

"Yes, I give it to you, and I hope you will find it useful."

"How can I thank you, Mrs. Hamilton, for your kindness?"

"You are more grateful than Conrad. I gave him one just like it, and he was evidently dissatisfied became it was not gold. When you are older the gold watch may come."

"I am very well pleased with the silver watch, for I have long wanted one, but did not see any way of obtaining it."

"You are wise in having moderate desires, Ben. But there goes the lunch bell. You may want to wash your hands. When you have done so come down to the dining room, in the rear of the sitting room."

Mrs. Hill and Conrad were already seated at the table when Ben descended.

"Take a seat opposite Conrad, Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, who was sitting at one end of the table.

The lunch was plain but substantial, and Ben, who had taken an early breakfast, enjoyed it.

"I suppose we shall not have Conrad at lunch to-morrow?" said Mrs. Hamilton. "He will be at the store."

Conrad made a grimace. He world have enjoyed his freedom better.

"I won't have much of my four dollars left if I have to pay for lunch," he said in a surly tone.

"You shall have a reasonable allowance for that purpose."

"I suppose Mr. Barclay will lunch at home," said Mrs. Hill.

"Certainly, since his work will be here. He is to be my home clerk, and will keep my accounts."

"You needn't have gone out of the house for a clerk, Cousin Hamilton. I am sure Conrad would have been glad of the work."

"It will be better for Conrad to learn business in a larger establishment," said Mrs. Hamilton quietly.

This was a new way of looking at it, and helped to reconcile Mrs. Hill to an arrangement which at first had disappointed her.

"Have you any engagements this afternoon, Conrad?" asked Mrs. Hamilton. "Ben will have nothing to do, and you could show him the city."

"I've got an engagement with a fellow," said Conrad hastily.

"I can find my way about alone, thank you," said Ben. "I won't trouble Conrad."

"Very well. This evening, however, Ben, I think you may enjoy going to the theater. Conrad can accompany you, unless he has another engagement."

"I'll go with him," said Conrad, more graciously, for he was fond of amusements.

"Then we will all meet at dinner, and you two young gentlemen can leave in good time for the theater."