Chapter IX. A Prospect of Trouble
 

When Ben returned home from the Town Hall he discovered, at the first glance, that his mother was in trouble.

"Are you disturbed because I came home so late?" asked Ben. "I would have been here sooner, but I went home with Rose Gardiner. I ought to have remembered that you might feel lonely."

Mrs. Barclay smiled faintly.

"I had no occasion to feel lonely," she said. "I had three callers. The last did not go away till after nine o'clock."

"I am glad you were not alone, mother," said Ben, thinking some of his mother's neighbors might have called.

"I should rather have been alone, Ben. They brought bad news--that is, one of them did."

"Who was it, mother? Who called on you?"

"The first one was the same man who took your money in the woods."

"What, the tramp!" exclaimed Ben hastily. "Did he frighten you?"

"A little, at first, but he did me no harm. He asked for some supper, and I gave it to him."

"What bad news did he bring?"

"None. It was not he. On the other hand, what he hinted would be good news if it were true. He said that your father left property, and that he was the only man that possessed the secret."

"Do you think this can be so?" said Ben, looking at his mother in surprise.

"I don't know what to think. He said he was a barkeeper in the hotel where your poor father died, and was about to say more when a knock was heard at the door, and he hurried away, as if in fear of encountering somebody."

"And he did not come back?"

"No."

"That is strange," said Ben thoughtfully. "Do you know, mother, I met him on my way home, or rather, he came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder."

"What did be say?" asked Mrs. Barclay eagerly.

"He gave me back the bogus dollar he took from me saying, with a laugh, that it would be of no use to him. Then he said he might do me a service sometime, and I would some day hear from him."

"Ben, I think that man took the papers from the pocket of your dying father, and has them now in his possession. He promised to sell me a secret for money, but I told him I had none to give."

"I wish we could see him again, but he said he should leave town to-night. But, mother, what was the bad news you spoke of?"

"Ben, I am afraid we are going to lose our home," said the widow, the look of trouble returning to her face.

"What do you mean, mother?"

"You know that Squire Davenport has a mortgage on the place for seven hundred dollars; he was here to-night with a man named Kirk, some connection of his wife. It seems Kirk is coming to Pentonville to live, and wants this house."

"He will have to want it, mother," said Ben stoutly.

"Not if the squire backs him as he does; he threatens to foreclose the mortgage if I don't sell."

Ben comprehended the situation now, and appreciated its gravity.

"What does he offer, Mother?"

"A thousand dollars only--perhaps a little more."

"Why that would be downright robbery."

"Not in the eye of the law. Ben, we are in the power of Squire Davenport, and he is a hard man."

"I would like to give him a piece of my mind, mother. He might be in better business than robbing you of your house."

"Do nothing hastily, Ben. There is only one thing that we can do to save the house, and that is, to induce someone to advance the money necessary to take up the mortgage."

"Can you think of anybody who would do it?"

Mrs. Barclay shook her head.

"There is no one in Pentonville who would be willing, and has the money," she said. "I have a rich cousin in New York, but I have not met him since I was married; he thought a great deal of me once, but I suppose he scarcely remembers me now. He lived, when I last heard of him, on Lexington Avenue, and his name is Absalom Peters."

"And he is rich?"

"Yes, very rich, I believe."

"I have a great mind to ask for a day's vacation from Mr. Crawford, and go to New York to see him."

"I am afraid it would do no good."

"It would do no harm, except that it would cost something for traveling expenses. But I would go as economically as possible. Have I your permission, mother?"

"You can do as you like, Ben; I won't forbid you, though I have little hope of its doing any good."

"Then I will try and get away Monday. To-morrow is Saturday, and I can't be spared at the store; there is always more doing, you know, on Saturday than any other day."

"I don't feel like giving any advice, Ben. Do as you please."

The next day, on his way home to dinner, Ben met his young rival of the evening previous, Tom Davenport.

"How are you, Tom?" said Ben, nodding.

"I want to speak to you, Ben Barclay," said the young aristocrat, pausing in his walk.

"Go ahead! I'm listening," said Ben.

Tom was rather annoyed at the want of respect which, in his opinion, Ben showed him, but hardly knew how to express his objections, so he came at once to the business in hand.

"You'd better not hang around Rose Gardiner so much," he said superciliously.

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Ben quickly.

"You forced your attentions on her last evening at the Town Hall."

"Who told you so?"

"I saw it for myself."

"I thought Rose didn't tell you so."

"It must be disagreeable to her family to have a common grocer's boy seen with her."

"It seems to me you take a great deal of interest in the matter, Tom Davenport. You talk as if you were the guardian of the young lady. I believe you wanted to go home with her yourself."

"It would have been far more suitable, but you had made her promise to go with you."

"I would have released her from her promise at once, if she had expressed a wish to that effect. Now, I want to give you a piece of advice."

"I don't want any of your advice," said Tom loftily. "I don't want any advice from a store boy."

"I'll give it to you all the same. You can make money by minding your own business."

"You are impudent!" said Tom, flushing with anger. "I've got something more to tell you. You'll be out on the sidewalk before three months are over. Father is going to foreclose the mortgage on your house."

"That remains to be seen!" said Ben, but his heart sank within him as he realized that the words would probably prove true.