Chapter XXIX. Some Unexpected Changes
 

When Conrad came home his first visit was to his mother.

"Has anything been found out about the stolen opera glass?" he asked, with a studied air of indifference.

"I should say there had," she answered. "I followed the clew you suggested, and searched the boy's room. On the bureau I found the pawn ticket."

"You don't say so! What a muff Ben must have been to leave it around so carelessly! What did you do with it?"

"I waited till Mr. Lynx was conferring with Cousin Hamilton, and then I carried it in and gave it to them."

"What did they say?" asked Conrad eagerly.

"They seemed thunderstruck, and Mr. Lynx very politely thanked me for the help I had given them."

"Has Ben been bounced yet?"

"No; but doubtless he will be very soon. Cousin Hamilton doesn't want to think him a thief and gambler, but there seems no way of escaping from such a mass of proof."

"I should say not. Do you think she's told Ben? Does he look down in the mouth?" continued Conrad.

"I haven't seen him since."

When they met at the table Mrs. Hamilton's manner toward Ben was decidedly frigid, as Conrad and his mother saw, much to their satisfaction. Ben looked sober, but his appetite did not appear to be affected.

"Your course is about run, young man!" thought Mrs. Hill.

"I should like to see you after supper, Conrad," said Mrs. Hamilton. "Come into my sitting room."

"I wonder if she is going to give me Ben's place," thought Conrad, hardly knowing whether he wished it or not.

With a jaunty air and a self-satisfied smile, he followed Mrs. Hamilton into her "private office," as she sometimes called it.

"Shut the door, Conrad," she said.

He did so.

"I have heard news of the opera glass," she commenced.

"Mother gave me a hint of that," said Conrad.

"It was stolen and pawned at Simpson's on the Bowery."

"It's a great shame!" said Conrad, thinking that a safe comment to make.

"Yes, it was a shame and a disgrace to the one who took it."

"I didn't think Ben would do such a thing," continued Conrad, growing bolder.

"Nor I," said Mrs. Hamilton.

"After all you have done for him, too. I never liked the boy, for my part."

"So I suspected," said Mrs. Hamilton dryly. "However, I will tell you what I want of you. I am going down to Simpson's to-morrow to redeem the glass, and want you to go with me."

"You want me to go with you!" ejaculated Conrad, turning pale.

"Yes; I don't care to go to that part of the City by myself, and I will take you to keep me company."

"But I must go to the office," faltered Conrad.

"I will send Ben to say that you can't go to-morrow."

"Why don't you take Ben to Simpson's, or the detective?" suggested Conrad, in great alarm, bethinking himself that it would hardly do to take Ben, since the attendant would certify that he was not the one who pawned the glass.

"Because I prefer to take you. Have you any objection to go!"

"Oh, no, of course not!" answered Conrad, not daring to make any further objection.

In the morning Mrs. Hill came to Mrs. Hamilton, and said:

"Poor Conrad has a terrible toothache! He is afraid he won't be able to go with you to Simpson's. Will you kindly excuse him?"

Mrs. Hamilton expected some such excuse.

"I will take Ben, then," she said.

"Are you going to keep that boy--after what be has done?" asked the housekeeper.

"It is inconvenient for me to part with him just yet."

"Then--I hope you will excuse the suggestion--I advise you to keep your bureau drawers locked."

"I think it best myself," said Mrs. Hamilton. Is Conrad's toothache very bad?"

"The poor fellow is in great pain."

When Ben was invited by Mrs. Hamilton to go to the pawnbroker's he made no objection.

"It is only fair to tell you, Ben," said Mrs. Hamilton, that the person who pawned the opera glass gave your name."

"Then," said Ben, "I should like to know who it is."

"I think I know," said his patroness; "but when we redeem the glass we will ask for a description of him."

An hour later they entered the pawnbroker's shop. Mrs. Hamilton presented the ticket and made herself known.

"Will you tell me," she asked, "whether you have ever seen the young gentleman that accompanies me?"

"Not to my knowledge," answered the attendant, after attentively regarding Ben.

"Can you remember the appearance of the boy who pawned the opera glass?"

"He was taller than this boy, and pale. He was thinner also. His hair was a light brown."

A light dawned upon Ben, and his glance met that of Mrs. Hamilton, so that she read his suspicions.

"I think we both know who it was that took your name, Ben," she said; "but for the present I wish you to keep it secret."

"I will certainly do so, Mrs. Hamilton."

"I am placed in difficult circumstances, and have not made up my mind what to do."

"I hope you won't allow yourself to be prejudiced against me by any false stories."

"No, I can promise you that. I have perfect confidence in you."

"Thank you for that, Mrs. Hamilton," said Ben gratefully.

"Yet I am about to take a course that will surprise you."

"What is that?"

"I am going to let you leave me for a time, and put Conrad in your place."

Ben looked bewildered, as well he might. There was nothing that would have surprised him more.

"Then I am afraid you don't find me satisfactory," he said anxiously.

"Why not?"

"You discharge me from your service."

"No" answered Mrs. Hamilton, smiling; "I have other work for you to do. I mean to give you a confidential commission."

Ben's face brightened up immediately.

"You will find me faithful," he said, "and I hope I may repay your confidence."

"I think you will. I will explain matters to you before you reach the house, as I don't want Mrs. Hill or Conrad to know about the matter. Indeed, for reasons of my own, I shall let them think that I discharged you."

Ben smiled; he was not averse to such a plan.

"And now for the business. I own a farm in the western part of Pennsylvania. I have for years let it for a nominal sum to a man named Jackson. Of late he has been very anxious to buy it, and has offered me a sum greater than I had supposed it to be worth. As I know him to be a close-fisted man, who has tried more than once to get me to reduce the small rent I charge him, this naturally excites my curiosity. I think something has been discovered that enhances the value of the farm, and, if so, I want to know it. You are a boy, and a visit to the neighborhood will not excite surprise.

"I understand," said Ben. "When do you wish me to start?"

"This afternoon. I have prepared written instructions, and here is a pocketbook containing a hundred and fifty dollars for expenses."

"Shall I need so much?"

"Probably not; but I wish you to be amply provided. You will remove all your things from my house, but you may store anything you don't need to carry."

When Conrad heard that Mrs. Hamilton had taken Ben with her, he was alarmed lest it should be discovered that the boy pawning the opera glass was not Ben, but himself. When, upon Mrs. Hamilton's return, he was summoned to her presence, he entered with trepidation.

"Is your toothache better, Conrad?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.

"A little better, thank you."

"I am going to make a change in your position. Ben is to leave me, and you will take his place as my secretary."

Conrad's heart bounded with joy and surprise.

"How can I thank you, Cousin Hamilton!" he said, with a feeling of great relief.

"By serving me well."

"All has turned out for the best, mother," said Conrad joyfully, as he sought his mother's presence. "Ben is bounced, and I am to take his place."

"Heaven be praised!" ejaculated Mrs. Hill.

"I hope you'll soon find a place," said Conrad mockingly, when Ben left the house, valise in hand.

"I think I shall," answered Ben calmly.