Chapter VI. Mr. Pitch, the Senior Partner.
 

"Come in," said a loud voice.

Ben opened the door and entered.

He found himself in a square room, almost bare of furniture. In an office chair at a table sat a dark-complexioned man of near forty. He appeared to be reading the morning paper.

"Is this the office of Fitch & Ferguson?" inquired Ben.

A glance at Ben's carpetbag indicated that he had come in answer to the advertisement, and he was received very graciously.

"Come in," said the man in the chair, smiling affably. "This is the office of Fitch & Ferguson. I am Mr. Fitch."

"My name is Stanton-Ben Stanton," said our hero. "I wrote you from Hampton about your advertisement."

"For a boy at ten dollars a week?" suggested the dark man, with a pleasant smile.

"Yes, sir."

"We agreed to take you, did we not?" asked Mr. Fitch.

"Yes, sir."

"Have you had any business experience?" inquired Pitch.

"No, sir."

"I am sorry for that," said Mr. Fitch gravely. "Experience is important. I am not sure whether we ought to pay you ten dollars a week."

Ben did not reply. He was not so much concerned about the amount of his compensation as about the reliable character of Fitch & Ferguson.

"Still," mused Mr. Fitch, "you look like a boy who would learn fast. What do you think about it yourself?"

"I think I could," answered Ben. "I should try to serve you faithfully."

"That is well. We want to be served faithfully," said Mr. Fitch.

"What kind of a business is it?" Ben ventured to ask, surveying the empty office with a puzzled look, which Mr. Fitch observed and interpreted aright.

"We do a commission business," he said. "Of course, we keep no stock of goods here. Business is not done in the city, my young friend, as it is in the country."

"No, I suppose not," returned our hero.

"Without entering into details as to the character of our business," said Mr. Fitch, "I may say that you would be chiefly employed in making collections. It is because considerable sums of money would pass through your hands that we require a deposit in order to protect ourselves. By the way, have you the fifty dollars with you?"

Ben admitted that he had.

Mr. Fitch's face brightened up, for he had not felt quite sure of that.

"I am glad to hear of it," he said. "It shows that you mean business. You may hand it to me, and I will give you a receipt for it."

"I would like to ask you one or two questions first," said Ben, making no movement toward his pocket.

Mr. Fitch frowned.

"Really, I fail to catch your meaning," he said, in a changed tone. "Do you wish to enter my employ, or do you not?"

"I should like to earn ten dollars a week."

"Precisely. Then all you have to do is to hand me the fifty dollars and go to work."

"You might keep me only a week," suggested Ben.

"We shall keep you if you suit us, and you can if you try. If you are discharged, we give you back your money, and pay you for the time you work for us. That is fair, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then we may as well settle the matter at once," and he waited for Ben to draw forth his money. Our hero would, undoubtedly, have done so, if he had not been cautioned by Tom Cooper. As it was, he could not help feeling suspicious.

"I should like to propose something to you, sir," he said.

"What is it?" asked Fitch impatiently.

"Suppose you keep five dollars a week out of my wages for ten weeks-that'll make fifty dollars-and only pay it to me when I leave you."

"Young man," said Mr. Fitch sternly, "this is trifling, and my time is too valuable for such discussion. Have you, or have you not, brought fifty dollars with you?"

"I have."

"Then you can secure the place-a place such as few New York boys are fortunate enough to fill. You must decide for yourself."

He threw himself back in his chair and looked at Ben.

"He seems very anxious about the money," thought our hero, "and I don't see any signs of any business. I'd better back out."

"There are plenty of boys who want the place," continued Fitch, trying to look indifferent.

"I guess you can give it to one of them," said Ben coolly.

Mr. Fitch could not conceal his disappointment. The fifty dollars had a great attraction for him. He saw that Ben was in earnest, for he was already opening the door to go out. He must make an effort to detain him.

"Wait a moment, my young friend. I like your appearance, and we may be disposed to take you on a little easier terms. Fifty dollars is probably a large sum to you."

Ben admitted that it was.

"Probably your means are limited?"

"Yes, sir; I am a poor boy."

"Just so. I will then relax our rules a little in your case. Of course, you won't mention it to our other boys, as it might create dissatisfaction."

"No, sir."

"We will take you on a deposit of forty dollars, then."

Ben shook his head, and moved as if to depart.

"In fact," said Mr. Fitch hastily, "I believe I will say thirty dollars, Though I am afraid my partner will blame me."

Ben was not versed in city ways, but now he distrusted Mr. Fitch more than ever.

"I would rather take a situation where no deposit is required," he said.

"But you can't get any unless you agree to accept three or four dollars a week."

"Can you afford to pay me ten dollars a week on account of my deposit?" asked Ben shrewdly.

Mr. Fitch flushed, for Ben's question was a home thrust.

"We don't want cheap boys," he said pompously. "We want boys who are worth high wages, and no others."

"And you think I am worth high wages?" asked Ben.

"I think so, but I may be mistaken."

Ben was not required to answer, for the door opened hastily, and a man entered in visible excitement.

"What is your business, sir?" asked Mr. Fitch, rather nervously.

"Are you Fitch or Ferguson?" demanded the intruder.

"I am Mr. Fitch."

"Two days ago my son, James Cameron, entered your service."

"Yes, sir."

"Where is he now?"

"We have sent him to Brooklyn to collect a bill."

"He paid you a deposit of fifty dollars?"

"Certainly. We require it as a guarantee of honesty and fidelity."

"Well, I want you to pay it back."

"I don't understand you, sir," said Mr. Fitch, looking very much disturbed. "It will be given up when your son leaves our employment."

"Well, he's going to leave it to-day," said the other.

"Can you get him another place as good? Ten dollars a week are not often paid to boys."

"No, sir; it's that that makes me suspicious. Give me back the fifty dollars, and James shall leave your employment."

"That is entirely irregular, sir," said Fitch. "Your son has been only two days in the office. At the end of the week he can leave us, and receive back his money."

"That won't do," said the angry father.

"It will have to do," said Fitch. "You are doing a very foolish thing, Mr. Cameron."

"I'll risk that."

"When your son returns from Brooklyn we will consider what can be done."

"When will that be?"

"In a couple of hours."

"I will come in then."

Cameron went out, and Ben followed him, the discomfited Fitch making no effort to detain the lad.

"I was thinking of engaging myself to Mr. Fitch," said Ben to his companion. "Do you know anything against him?"

"I hear that he's a swindler," said Cameron. "I was a fool to fall into his snare. Keep your money and you'll be better off."

"Thank you, sir."

Fifteen minutes afterward Mr. Fitch left his office, and when Mr. Cameron came back, the door was locked. He found his son waiting in the entry.

"Did you collect any money in Brooklyn?" asked his father.

"No; I guess Mr. Fitch gave me the wrong number. There was no such man living at the house he sent me to."

"We've been fooled!" said the father bitterly. "Come home, James. I doubt we've seen the last of our money. If I ever set eyes on that man Pitch again I'll give him in charge for swindling."

The senior partner of Pitch & Ferguson was at that moment on his way to Philadelphia with the remains of the fifty dollars in his pocket. But for Ben's caution he would have had another fifty dollars in his possession.