Chapter XXI. At the Theater
 

After dinner, Ben and Conrad started to walk to the theater. The distance was about a mile, but in the city there is so much always to be seen that one does not think of distance.

Conrad, who was very curious to ascertain Ben's status in the household, lost no time in making inquiries.

"What does my aunt find for you to do?" he asked.

It may be remarked, by the way, that no such relationship ever existed between them, but Mrs. Hill and her son thought politic to make the relationship seem as close as possible, as it would, perhaps, increase their apparent claim upon their rich relative.

Ben answered the question.

"You'll have a stupid time," said Conrad. "All the same, she ought to have given the place to me. How much does she pay you?"

Ben hesitated, for he knew that his answer would make his companion discontented.

"I am not sure whether I am at liberty to tell," he answered, with hesitation.

"There isn't any secret about it, is there?" said Conrad sharply.

No, I suppose not. I am to receive ten dollars a week."

"Ten dollars a week!" ejaculated Conrad, stopping short in the street.

"Yes."

"And I get but four! That's a shame!"

"I shall really have no more than you, Conrad. I have a mother to provide for, and I shall send home six dollars a week regularly."

"That doesn't make any difference!" exclaimed Conrad, in excitement. "It's awfully mean of aunt to treat you so much better than she does me."

"You mustn't say that to me," said Ben. "She has been kind to us both, and I don't like to hear anything said against her."

"You're not going to tell her?" said Conrad suspiciously.

"Certainly not," said Ben indignantly. "What do you take me for?"

"Some fellows would, to set Aunt Hamilton against me."

"I am not so mean as that."

"I am glad I can depend on you. You see, the old lady is awfully rich--doesn't know what to do with her money--and as she has no son, or anybody nearer than me and mother, it's natural we should inherit her money."

"I hope she will enjoy it herself for a good many years."

"Oh, she's getting old," said Conrad carelessly. "She can't expect to live forever. It wouldn't be fair for young people if their parents lived to a hundred. Now, would it?"

"I should be very glad to have my mother live to a hundred, if she could enjoy life," said Ben, disgusted with his companoin's sordid selfishness.

"Your mother hasn't got any money, and that makes a difference."

Ben had a reply, but he reflected it would be of little use to argue with one who took such widely different views as Conrad. Moreover, they were already within a block or two of the theater.

The best seats were priced at a dollar and a half, and Mrs. Hamilton had given Conrad three dollars to purchase one for Ben and one for himself.

"It seems an awful price to pay a dollar and a half for a seat," said Conrad. "Suppose we go into the gallery, where the seats are only fifty cents?"

"I think Mrs. Hamilton meant us to take higher-priced seats."

"She won't care, or know, unless we choose to tell her."

"Then you don't propose to give her back the difference?"

"You don't take me for a fool, do you? I'll tell you what I'll do. If you don't mind a fifty-cent seat, I'll give you twenty-five cents out of this money."

Ben could hardly believe Conrad was in earnest in this exhibition of meanness.

"Then," said he, "you would clear seventy-five cents on my seat and a dollar on your own?"

"You can see almost as well in the gallery," said Conrad. "I'll give you fifty cents, if you insist upon it."

"I insist upon having my share of the money spent for a seat," said Ben, contemptuously. "You can sit where you please, of course."

"You ain't very obliging," said Conrad sullenly. "I need the money, and that's what made me propose it. As you've made so much fuss about it, we'll take orchestra seats."

This he did, though unwillingly.

"I don't think I shall ever like that boy," thought Ben. "He's a little too mean."

They both enjoyed the play, Ben perhaps with the most zest, for he had never before attended a city theater. At eleven o'clock the curtain fell, and they went out.

"Come, Ben," said Conrad, "you might treat a fellow to soda water."

"I will," answered Ben. "Where shall we go?"

"Just opposite. They've got fine soda water across the street."

The boys drank their soda water, and started to go home.

"Suppose we go in somewhere and have a game of billiards?" suggested Conrad.

"I don't play," answered Ben.

"I'll teach you; come along," urged Conrad.

"It is getting late, and I would rather not."

"I suppose you go to roost with the chickens in the country?" sneered Conrad. You'll learn better in the city--if you stay."

"There is another reason," continued Ben. "I suppose it costs money to play billiards, and I have none to spare."

"Only twenty-five cents a game."

"It will be cheaper to go to bed."

"You won't do anything a fellow wants you to," grumbled Conrad. "You needn't be so mean, when you are getting ten dollars a week."

"I have plenty to do with my money, and I want to save up something every week."

On the whole the boys did not take to each other. They took very different views of life and duty, and there seemed to be small prospect of their becoming intimate friends.

Mrs. Hamilton had gone to bed when they returned, but Mrs. Hill was up watching for her son. She was a cold, disagreeable woman, but she was devoted to her boy.

"I am glad you have come home so soon," she said.

"I wanted to play a game of billiards, but Ben wouldn't," grumbled Conrad.

"If you had done so, I should have had to sit up later for you, Conrad."

"There was no use in sitting up for me. I ain't a baby," responded Conrad ungratefully.

"You know I can't sleep when I know you are out, Conrad."

"Then you're very foolish. Isn't she, Ben?"

"My mother would feel just so," answered Ben.

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.