Chapter XI. Miss Sinclair's Stratagem.
 

Mr. Campbell had no particular reason to think that Miss Ida Sinclair, registering from Philadelphia, was the ward of whom he was in pursuit. Still, he thought it worth while to find out what he could about her, and managed to waylay Ben in the corridor of the hotel the next morning.

"Good morning, boy!" he said stiffly, not having the art of ingratiating himself with young people.

"Good morning, man!" Ben thought of replying, but he thought this would be hardly polite, and said: "Good morning, sir," instead.

He suspected Mr. Campbell's purpose, and resolved to answer cautiously.

"This is a nice hotel," said the guardian, resolving to come to the point by degrees.

"Yes, sir."

"I suppose you are too young to have traveled much?"

"I never traveled much, sir."

"Didn't I see you in the company of a young lady?"

"Very likely, sir."

"Your sister, I suppose?"

"No, sir."

"A relation, I suppose?"

"I call her Cousin Ida," said Ben truthfully.

"Indeed! And she is from Philadelphia?"

Ben was placed in a dilemma. He saw that he should be forced to misrepresent, and this he did not like. On the other hand, he could not tell the truth, and so betray Miss Sinclair to her persecutor.

"You can tell by looking at the hotel register," he said coldly.

Mr. Campbell judged by Ben's tone that our hero meant to rebuke his curiosity, and, having really very little idea that he was on the right track, he thought it best to apologize.

"Excuse my questions," he said, "but I have an idea that I know your cousin."

"In that case," said Ben, "if you will tell me your name I will speak to Cousin Ida about it."

Now Mr. Campbell was in a dilemma. If Ida Sinclair were really the ward of whom he was in pursuit, his name would only put her on her guard. He quickly thought of a ruse.

"I will send a card," he said.

He stepped to the clerk's desk, and asked for a blank card. After an instant's hesitation, he penciled the name James Vernon, and handed it to Ben.

"The young lady may not remember my name," he said; "but in an interview I think I can recall it to her recollection. Please give it to your cousin."

"All right, sir."

Ben went up-stairs and tapped for admission at Miss Sinclair's door.

"Well, Ben?" she said inquiringly.

"Here is a card which a gentleman down-stairs asked me to hand you."

"James Vernon!" repeated the young lady, in surprise. "Why, I don't know any gentleman of that name."

"He said you might not remember it; but he thought he could recall it to your recollection in a personal interview."

"I don't want a personal interview with any gentleman."

"Not with your guardian?" asked Ben, smiling.

"Was the man who handed you this card my guardian?"

"Yes; he tried to find out all he could from me; but wasn't very successful. Then he said he thought he knew you, and handed me this card."

"So he thinks to delude me by masquerading under a false name! He must suspect that I am his ward."

"Of course you won't see him?"

"No."

"What shall I say?"

"That I don't remember the name, and decline to see him."

"Won't that increase his suspicions?"

"I can't help it."

"Very well."

Ben went below; but thought he might as well put off the interview. It was not till afternoon that Mr. Campbell met him again.

"Did you deliver my card, boy?" he asked.

"My name is Benjamin," returned our hero, who did not fancy the manner of address.

"Very well. Did you deliver my card, Benjamin?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did your cousin say?"

"That she knew no gentleman or family of your name."

"I did not expect she would remember; but I have reasons for asking an interview."

"You mustn't be offended, sir; but she declines to meet a stranger."

Mr. Campbell was baffled.

"She mistakes my motive," he said, in a tone expressive of annoyance. "How long do you stay here?"

"I can't say, sir," said Ben coldly.

Mr. Campbell bit his lip and walked away. He did not fancy being foiled by a boy. It occurred to him, however, that by waiting patiently he might see the young lady at dinner. He kept watch, therefore, till he saw Ben entering the dining-room, and then, entering himself, secured a seat near-by. But the young lady, greatly to his chagrin, did not appear. Ben observed his vigilant watch, and after dinner reported to Miss Sinclair.

The young lady smiled.

"I have thought of a way to deceive him and quiet his suspicions," she said.

Ben looked curious.

"If I remain away from the table he will feel sure that I am his ward."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Listen to my plan, then. I have the New York Herald here, with half a column of advertisements of seamtresses. I will give you a list of three, and you shall engage one to be here early to-morrow morning. Select one with a figure as much like mine as possible."

"All right!"

"I see you look puzzled," said Miss Sinclair, smiling.

"I am, a little; I don't know what good that will do."

"Then I will explain. I shall dress the seamstress in one of my own dresses, and let her go to the table with you. Mr. Campbell will naturally suppose that she is Miss Ida Sinclair, and will be satisfied."

"I see! That is splendid!" exclaimed Ben, entering with hearty enthusiasm into the conspiracy.

It happened, luckily, that the first seamstress on whom he called was sufficiently like Miss Sinclair in figure to justify him in engaging her. He directed her to call at the hotel at eight the next morning without fail. The poor girl was glad to make this engagement, having been without employment for two weeks previous.

When she arrived, Miss Sinclair, without confiding too much in her, made known her desire, and the girl, who had had but a scanty breakfast, was glad to embrace the opportunity of enjoying the hospitality of a first-class hotel. Miss Sinclair had really work enough to employ her during the day.

When Mr. Campbell caught sight of Ben approaching the dining-room in company with a young lady, he advanced eagerly and peered into the young lady's face. He turned away in disappointment.

"I have made a fool of myself. It is only a common country girl. I must look elsewhere for my ward."

Directly after breakfast Ben had the satisfaction of seeing the obnoxious guardian depart in a hack.

"Good-by, Mr. Vernon!" he said politely. "I see you are leaving the hotel."

"Good-by!" muttered Campbell.

"I hope you'll excuse my cousin for not seeing you?"

"I don't think she's the one I supposed," said Campbell. "It's of no consequence."

Ben hastened to inform Miss Sinclair of her guardian's departure.

"Now the field is clear," said Ida, breathing a sigh of relief.

"I say, Ida, you managed him tip-top," said Ben admiringly. "I never should have thought of such a plan."

Miss Sinclair smiled faintly.

"I don't like to employ deceit," she said, "but it seems necessary to fight such an enemy with his own weapons."

"He wanted to deceive you. He put a wrong name on his card."

"That is true, Ben. I must thank you for the manner in which you have aided me in this matter. I should not have known how to act if I had not had you to call upon."

Ben's face brightened.

"I am glad to hear you say that, Cousin Ida," he said. "You are spending so much money for me that I shall be glad to feel that I have earned some of it."

"Have no trouble on that score, Ben. I foresee that you will continue to be of great service to me. I regard the money expended for you as well invested."

Ben heard this with satisfaction. It naturally gave him a feeling of heightened importance when he reflected that a wealthy heiress had selected him as her escort and right-hand man, and that she was satisfied with her choice.

On Saturday morning Miss Sinclair and Ben went on board the California steamer, and when the tide served, they started on their long voyage.