Chapter III. Sam Sturgis' New Idea.
 

During the week which Ben had agreed to take before coming to a final decision, he had another offer of employment.

This is how it came about:

A little out of the village, in a handsome house, the best in Hampton, lived Major Sturgis, a wealthy landholder, who had plenty to live upon and nothing in particular to do, except to look after his property. He was a portly man, who walked with a slow, dignified step, leaning on a gold-headed cane, and evidently felt his importance. His son, Sam, was a chip of the old block. He condescended to associate with the village boys, because solitary grandeur is not altogether pleasant. He occasionally went to New York to visit a cousin of about his own age. From such a visit he had just returned, bringing back with him a new idea.

"Father," he said, "Cousin Henry has a boy about his own age to wait on him, black his boots, and run errands."

"Has he?" asked the major mechanically, not looking up from the daily paper which he was reading.

"Yes, sir. He don't pay him much, you know, only five dollars a month and his board, and Henry finds it very convenient."

Major Sturgis did not reply. In fact, he was too much interested in the article he was reading.

"Ain't you as rich as uncle?" asked Sam, who was gradually leading up to his proposal.

"Yes, Sam, I think so," answered his father, laying down the paper and removing his gold-bowed spectacles.

"Then why won't you let me have a servant, too?"

"What do you want of a servant? There are servants enough in the house."

"I want a boy to follow me round, and do just what I bid him."

"I don't see any necessity for it."

"He could do errands for you, too, father," said Sam diplomatically.

"We would have to send to the city for a boy, in case I let you have one."

"No, we wouldn't," answered Sam.

"Do you know of any one around here?"

"Yes; there is Ben Stanton. He's got to find something to do."

"I thought you didn't like Ben Stanton," said the major, in some surprise. "I have heard you say-"

"Oh, he's rather uppish-feels too big for a poor boy; but I would soon train him. I'd make him know his place."

"Your remarks are well founded, my son. Only yesterday I met the boy on the village street, and instead of taking off his hat and making a low bow, as he should do to a man of my position, he nodded carelessly, and said. 'How are you, major?' Really, I don't know what the country is coming to, when the rising generation is so deficient in veneration."

"The fact is, father, Ben thinks himself as good as anybody. You'd think, by the way he speaks to me, that he considered himself my equal."

"That is one of the evils incident to a republican form of government," said the major pompously. "For my part, I prefer the English social system, where the gentry are treated with proper deference."

"Well, father, may I engage Ben as my servant?"

"I am afraid you would not find him properly subordinate."

"Just leave that to me," said Sam confidently. "If I can't teach him his place, then nobody can. I should enjoy having him to order about."

Sam generally carried his point with his father, and the present instance was no exception.

"I don't know that I have any particular objection," said the major.

"How much wages may I offer, father?"

"The same that your Cousin Henry's servant gets."

"All right, sir," said Sam, with satisfaction. "I guess I'll go round, and see him about it this afternoon. I suppose he can come any time?"

"Yes, my son."

As Sam went out of the room his father thought, complacently:

"My son has all the pride and instincts of a gentleman. He will do credit to the family."

Few persons in the village would have agreed with the major. Sam Sturgis was decidedly unpopular. No boy who puts on airs is likely to be a favorite with any class of persons, and Sam put on rather more than he was entitled to. From time to time he received a rebuff, but still money will tell. He had his followers and sycophants, but we may be sure that Ben was not numbered among them. It was quite useless for Sam to patronize him-he would not be patronized, but persisted in treating the major's son with the most exasperating familiarity. Of course this would be impossible if he became Sam's servant, and this more than anything else was the motive of the young aristocrat in wishing to engage him. As to conferring a favor on Ben, that was the last thing in his thoughts.

Sam bent his steps toward the humble home of Job Stanton, but he did not have to go the whole distance. He met Ben with a fishing-pole over his shoulder.

"How are you, Sam?" was Ben's familiar greeting. "Want to go fishing with me?"

"He's entirely too familiar," thought Sam. "I'll cure him of that when he is under my orders."

At present Sam did not think it politic to express his feelings on the subject. Ben was so independent that it might frustrate his plan.

"I will walk along with you, Ben," said Sam condescendingly.

"All right. Haven't you got a fishing-pole at home?"

"Yes, I have a very handsome one; it cost five dollars."

"Then it's rather ahead of mine," said Ben.

"I should say so," remarked Sam, surveying Ben's pole with contempt.

"But I'll bet you can't catch as many fish with it," said Ben promptly. "I don't think it makes much difference to the fish," he added, with a laugh, "whther they are caught with a five-dollar pole or a five-cent one."

"Very likely," said Sam briefly, "but I prefer to use a nice pole."

"Oh, there's no objection," said Ben, "if you fancy it. It doesn't make any difference to me."

"When are you going to work?" asked Sam abruptly.

"I am working every day-that is, I am helping Uncle Job."

"But I suppose you mean to get regular work somewhere, don't you?"

"What's he after, I wonder?" thought Ben. "Maybe I do," he said aloud.

"Perhaps I can throw something in your way," said Sam, in a patronizing way.

"You are very kind," said Ben, who supposed Sam had heard of some business position which he could fill. Our hero decided that perhaps he had misjudged the major's son, and he was prepared to make amends. "If you get me a position, I shall be much obliged."

"The fact is," said Sam, "I should find it convenient to have a boy go about with me, and be at my orders. My Cousin Henry has one, and father says I may engage you."

Ben faced round, and looked steadily at Sam. He felt that he would far rather work for Deacon Pitkin, in spite of his meager table, or toil twelve hours a day in his uncle's shoe-shop, than accept such a place as was now offered him. He penetrated Sam's motive, and felt incensed with him, though he did not choose to show it.

"What are you willing to pay?" asked Ben, in a businesslike tone.

"Five dollars a month and your board," said Sam. "You'll live better than you ever did before in your life, and your duties will be easy."

"What would you want me to do?" asked Ben.

"Why, I would take you with me whenever I went out rowing or fishing. That would be easy enough. Then, in the morning you would black my shoes and keep my clothes well brushed, and go of any errands I had for you. Oh, well, I can't tell you all you would have to do, but you'd have an easy time."

"Yes, I don't think it would tire me out," said Ben. "You'd want me to black your boots?"

"Yes."

"Well, I might agree to that on one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you would black mine."

"What do you mean?" demanded Sam, his face flushing angrily.

"Just what I say."

"Do you mean to insult me?"

"Not a bit; any more than you mean to insult me,"

"Do you dare to propose that I, a gentleman, should black your low-lived shoes?" exclaimed Sam furiously.

"I think you're rather hard on my shoes," said Ben, laughing. "I'll come for four dollars a month, if you'll do that."

"I never heard such impudence," said Sam, in concentrated wrath. "I never was so repaid for kindness before."

"Look here, Sam," said Ben, "I understand just how kind you are. You want the satisfaction of ordering me round, and you can't have it. I decline your offer. I'd rather beg for bread than accept it."

"You may starve, for all me," said Sam. "It's ridiculous for a poor boy to put on such airs. You'll die in the poorhouse yet."

"I won't live there, if I can help it. What! are you going to leave me?"

"I won't condescend to be seen with you."

"Good-by, Sam. I hope you won't have to black your own boots."

Sam did not deign a reply.

"He looks mad," thought Ben. "I'd live on one meal a day rather than let him order me round."