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."