Chapter II. Deacon Pitkin's Offer.
 

Ben's father had died three months before. He had lost his mother when ten years old, and having neither brother nor sister was left quite alone in the world. At one time his father had possessed a few thousand dollars, but by unlucky investments he had lost nearly all, so that Ben's inheritance amounted to less than four hundred dollars.

This thought troubled Mr. Stanton, and on his death-bed he spoke about it to his son.

"I shall leave you almost destitute, Ben," he said. "If I had acted more wisely it would have been different."

"Don't trouble yourself about that, father," said Ben promptly. "I am young and strong, and I shall be sure to get along."

"You will have to work hard, and the world is a hard taskmaster."

"I don't feel afraid, father. I am sure I shall succeed."

The dying father was cheered by Ben's confident words. Our hero was strong and sturdy, his limbs active, and his face ruddy with health. He looked like a boy who could get along. He was not a sensitive plant, and not to be discouraged by rebuffs. The father's brow cleared.

"I am glad you are not afraid to meet what is in store for you," he said. "I believe you will do your part, and God helps those who help themselves."

After his father's death, Ben became an inmate of his uncle's family while the estate was being settled. He paid for his board partly by work in the shop, and partly by doing chores. This brings us to the day when the conversation detailed in the first chapter took place.

On the following morning Ben was sent on an errand to the village store. On his way he overtook Deacon Pitkin.

"Good mornin', Ben!" said the deacon. "Where are you goin'?"

"To the store, sir."

"So am I. Ef you ain't in a hurry, le'ss walk along together."

"All right, sir," answered Ben. "I think I know what's comin," he said to himself.

"You're stayin' at your Uncle Job's, ain't you?" asked Deacon Pitkin.

"Yes, sir."

"You don't calc'late to keep on there, do you?"

"No, sir; he would like to have me stay and work in the shop, but I don't fancy shoemaking."

"Jest so. I wouldn't ef I was you. It's an onsartin business. There's nothin' like farmin' for stiddy work."

"The old man kept me at work pretty stiddy," thought Ben. "He'd always find something for me to do."

"'Ive been thinkin' that I need a boy about your age to help me on my farm. I ain't so young as I was, and I've got a crick in my back. I don't want a man-"

"You'd have to pay him too high wages," Ben said to himself.

"A strong, capable boy like you could give me all the help I need."

"I expect I could," said Ben demurely.

"I was sayin' to Mrs. Pitkin this mornin' that I thought it would be a good plan to take you till you was twenty-one."

"What did she say?" asked Ben, interested.

"Waal, she didn't say much," answered the deacon slowly; "but I guess she hasn't no objections."

"Didn't she say that I had an awful appetite?" asked Ben, smiling.

"She said you was pretty hearty," answered the deacon, rather surprised at Ben's penetration. "Boys should curb their appetites."

"I don't think I could curb mine," said Ben thoughtfully.

"I guess there wouldn't be any trouble about that," returned the deacon, whose meanness ran in a different channel from his wife's, and who took less note of what was eaten at his table. "Ef you think you'd like to engage, and we could make a bargain, you might begin next week."

"Jest so," said Ben.

The deacon looked at him rather sharply, but Ben didn't appear to intend any disrespect in repeating his favorite phrase.

"Did your father leave you much?" inquired Deacon Pitkin.

"A few hundred dollars," said Ben carelessly.

"Indeed!" said the deacon, gratified. "What are you goin' to do with it?"

"Uncle Job thinks it would be best to put it in the bank."

"Jest so. It would fetch you some interest every year-enough to clothe you, likely. I'll tell you what I'll do, Ben. I'll give you your board the first year, and your interest will buy your clothes. The second year I'll give you twenty dollars and board, and maybe twenty more the third year."

Ben shook his head.

"I guess we can't make a bargain, Deacon Pitkin," he said.

Deacon Pitkin knew that he had made a very mean offer, and felt that he could afford to increase it somewhat; but he was a close hand at a bargain, and meant to get Ben as cheap as he could.

"What was you expectin'?" he asked cautiously. "You must remember that you're only a boy, and can't expect men's wages."

Ben had no idea, as we know, of engaging to work for Deacon Pitkin at all; but he decided that the easiest way to avoid it was to put such a value on his services as to frighten the old man.

"I am almost as strong as a man," he said, "and I can earn a great deal more than my board the first year."

"I might be willin' to give you twenty dollars the first year," said the deacon.

"I've been thinking," said Ben soberly, "that I ought to have a hundred and fifty dollars and board the first year."

Deacon Pitkin fairly gasped for breath. He was fairly overpowered by Ben's audacity.

"A-hundred-and-fifty-dollars!" he ejaculated, turning his wrinkled face toward our hero.

"That's about the figure," said Ben cheerfully. "A hundred and fifty dollars and board, or three hundred dollars, and I'll board with my uncle."

"Is the boy crazy?" asked the deacon, in a bewildered tone.

"You'd have to pay a man as much as twenty dollars a month," pursued Ben. "That's about a hundred dollars a year more."

"Benjamin," said the deacon solemnly, "do you want to ruin me?"

"No, sir, I hope not," answered our hero innocently.

"Then why do you ask such an unheard-of price?"

"I think I'm worth it," said Ben.

"Boys haven't much jedgment," said the deacon. "You'd better let me talk over this matter with your Uncle Job."

"It won't be any use, Deacon Pitkin. Uncle Job won't interfere with me."

"You can't get such wages anywhere. You'll have to work for less."

"Perhaps I can't get my price in Hampton," said Ben.

"Of course you can't. There ain't no one goin' to pay you men's wages."

"Perhaps you are right, Deacon Pitkin. In that case, my mind is made up."

"What will you do?" asked the deacon, showing some curiosity.

"I'll leave town."

"It's a resky thing, Benjamin. You ain't old enough to take care of yourself."

"I think I can do it. Deacon Pitkin. I am not afraid to try. Still, if you'll give me a hundred and fifty dollars and board--"

"You must think I'm crazy," said the deacon hastily. "I don't throw money away that way."

"Then I'm afraid we can't make a bargain, deacon. Here is the store, and I'll bid you good morning."

"If you think better of my offer, you can let me know, Benjamin. You can talk it over with your uncle."

"All right, sir. If you think better of mine, just let me know within a week, or I may be gone from Hampton."

"That's a cur'us boy," said the deacon meditatively. "He's got the most conceited idea of his vally to work of any boy I ever came across. A hundred and fifty dollars and board! What'll Mrs. Pitkin say when I tell her? She ain't much sot on the boy's comin' anyway. She thinks he's too hearty; but I don't mind that, so much. He's strong and good to work, an' he's the only boy in town that would suit me."

"I wonder what the deacon thinks of me," soliloquized Ben. "I thought I should scare him a little when I named my price. If I'd thought he would take me at that figure, I'd have said more. It wouldn't suit me to work for him at all."

In the evening Deacon Pitkin came over to see Job Stanton, and renewed his offer for Ben's services.

"The boy's got wild idees about pay," he said; "but boys haven't much jedgment. You're a sensible man, Mr. Stanton, and you and me can make a fair bargain."

"It won't be of much use, Deacon Pitkin. Ben's got his idees, an' he sticks to 'em."

"But you're his uncle. You can make him see his true interest."

"Ben's young," said Job, suspending his work; "but he's got to look out for himself. He may make mistakes, but I've promised not to interfere. I've got confidence in him that he'll come out right in the end. Truth is, deacon, he don't want to work at farmin', and that's why he asked you such a steep price. He knew you wouldn't agree to give it."

This put the matter in a new light, and Deacon Pitkin reluctantly concluded that he must abandon the idea of obtaining Ben as a helper on his farm.