Chapter XXXII. Ben Sells the Farm
 

The farmer stared at Ben panic-stricken. He had thought success within his grasp. He was to be a rich man--independent for life--as the result of the trick which he was playing upon Mrs. Hamilton. His disappointment was intense, and he looked the picture of discomfiture.

"I don't believe you," he faltered after a pause.

Ben drew a letter from his inside pocket and held it up.

"Do you deny the writing?" he said.

"Give it to me!" said Jackson, with a sudden movement.

"No, thank you; I prefer to keep it. I shall make no use of it unless it is necessary. I called here to notify you that Mrs. Hamilton does not propose to sacrifice the farm. If it is sold at all it will be to someone who will pay its full value."

"You can't sell it," said Jackson sullenly. "I have a lease."

"Produce it."

"At any rate, I shall stay till my year's out."

"That will depend upon the new owner. If he is willing, Mrs. Hamilton will not object."

"I think you've got him there, Ben," said Mr. Taylor, with a laugh. "Mr. Jackson, I think it won't be worth while to continue our conversation. You undertook to sell what was not yours. I prefer to deal with the real owner or her representative."

"That boy is an impostor!" muttered Jackson. "Why, he's only a school boy. What does he know about business?"

"I think he has proved a match for you. Good-morning, Mr. Jackson. Ben, let us be going."

"Now," said Taylor as they were walking toward the inn, "what do you say to my offer?"

"Please state it, Mr. Taylor."

"I offer forty thousand dollars for the farm. It may be worth considerably more than that; but, on the other hand, the wells may soon run dry. I have to take the chances."

"That seems a fair offer, Mr. Taylor," said Ben frankly. "If I were the owner I would accept it; but I am acting for another who may not think as I do."

"Will you consult her and let me know?"

"I will write at once."

"Why not telegraph? The delay would be too great if you trust to the mail."

"I will do as you suggest," answered Ben, "if there is an opportunity to telegraph from this place."

"There is an office at the depot."

"Then I will take that on my way back to the hotel."

At one corner of the depot Ben found a telegraph operator. After a little consideration, he dashed off the following telegram:

"No. ---- Madison Avenue, New York.

"To Mrs. Hamilton:

"Oil has been discovered on your farm. I am offered forty thousand dollars for it by a responsible party. What shall I do?

"Ben Barclay."

"Send answer to the hotel," said Ben, to the operator.

Four hours later a messenger brought to Ben the following dispatch:

"Your news is most surprising. Sell at the figure named if you think it best. You have full powers.

"Helen Hamilton."

Mr. Taylor watched Ben's face eagerly as he read the telegram, for he knew that it must relate to his offer.

"What does your principal say?" he inquired.

"You can read the telegram, Mr. Taylor."

Taylor did so.

"So you have full powers?" he said. "Mrs. Hamilton must feel great confidence in you."

There was a proud flush on Ben's cheek as he replied:

"I have reason to think that she does. I hope it is not misplaced."

"I hope you won't drive a hard bargain with me, Ben."

"I don't mean to bargain at all. You have made a fair offer, and I will accept it."

Taylor looked pleased.

"Some boys in your position," he said, "would have stipulated for a present."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," said Ben promptly. "I should not think it honest."

"Your honesty, my boy, is of the old-fashioned kind. It is not the kind now in vogue. I like you the better for it, and if you were not in Mrs. Hamilton's employ I would try to secure your services myself."

"Thank you, Mr. Taylor. The time may come when shall remind you of your promise."

"You will find I have not forgotten it. And now to business. We will go to a lawyer and have the necessary papers drawn up, which you shall sign in behalf of your principal."

The business was speedily arranged, and by supper-time Ben found that he had nothing further to detain him in Centerville. He felt that he had done a smart stroke of business. Mrs. Hamilton had been surprised at receiving an offer of five thousand dollars for the farm, yet he had sold it for forty thousand!

As they were returning from the lawyer's office they met farmer Jackson just returning from the post office.

"By the way, Mr. Jackson," said Taylor, "you will perhaps be interested to learn that your farm has been sold."

The farmer paused, and looked troubled.

"Are you going to turn me out of the house?" he asked.

"Not if you wish to live in it. I shall employ workmen at once to sink wells, and develop the property. They will need to board somewhere. Are you willing to board them?"

"Yes; I shall be glad to," answered Jackson. "I am a poor man, and it's hard work living by farming."

"Very well; we can no doubt make an arrangement. I am obliged to go to New York to complete arrangements for the transfer of the property, but I shall come back as soon as possible and commence operations."

"I wouldn't mind workin' for myself," said Jackson.

"Then you are the first man I engage."

The old farmer brightened up. He was to make money out of the new discoveries after all, though not in the way he had comtemplated.

"When are you going back to New York, Ben?" asked Taylor.

"There is nothing to detain me here any longer."

"We can go back together, then."

"I shall be glad to travel in your company, sir."

"Do you expect to remain in Mrs. Hamilton's employ?"

"I don't know," answered Ben.

"What were you doing?"

"Keeping accounts and acting as her private secretary."

"Do you like it?"

"Yes; I find it very pleasant, or would be but for one thing."

"What is that?"

"She has relatives living in the house who do not like me."

"Jealous, eh?"

"Perhaps so."

"Let me say frankly, that you are fitted for something higher. I am a good judge of men--"

Ben smiled.

"Boys, then; and I consider you a boy of excellent business capacity. After I have got my oil wells under way, I should like to engage you as superintendent."

"I am flattered by your good opinion, Mr. Taylor, but it is a business I know nothing of."

"You would make it your business to learn it, or I mistake you."

"You are right there, sir."

"However, there will be plenty of time to arrange about this matter. It would probably be two months before I felt justified in leaving another in charge."

The two started for New York. About fifty miles before reaching the city, as Ben was reading a magazine he had purchased from the train-boy, he felt a touch upon his shoulder.

Looking up, he recognized, to his amazement, the tramp with whom he had had an adventure some weeks before in Pentonville.

"I see you know me," said the tramp, with a smile.