Chapter IX. At the Astor House.
 

As they walked up to the hotel together, Miss Sinclair said: "You are probably surprised at what has taken place, but I have strong reasons for acting as I have done."

"I don't doubt it, Miss Sinclair," returned Ben.

"It is desirable that I should tell you-"

"Don't tell me anything unless you like, Miss Sinclair. I am not troubled with curiosity."

"Thank you, but in the confidential relations which we are to hold toward each other, it is necessary that you should understand my position. I will reserve my explanation, however, till we reach the hotel."

"We are to stop at the Astor House?"

"Yes, and I wish you to put down my name and your own on the register, and obtain two rooms as near together as convenient."

"Very well, Miss Sinclair."

"You may put me down as from-well, from Philadelphia."

"All right. Shall I put myself down from Philadelphia, too?"

"Not unless you choose. Your native village will answer. By the way, you are to pass for my cousin, and it will be better, therefore, that you should call me by my first name-Ida."

"I wouldn't take the liberty but for your wishing it."

"I do wish it-otherwise it would be difficult to pass you off as my cousin."

"All right, Miss Sinclair-I mean Ida."

"That is better. I shall call you Ben."

"You couldn't very well call me Mr. Stanton," said our hero, smiling.

"Not very well. But here we are at the hotel. We will go in together. I will go to the ladies' parlor, and you can join me there after securing rooms at the office."

"Very well-Ida."

Of course Ben was not used to city hotels, and he was a little afraid that he should not go to work properly, but he experienced no difficulty. He stepped up to the desk, and said to the clerk:

"I should like to engage rooms for my cousin and myself."

The clerk pushed the register toward him.

Ben inscribed the names. At first he could not remember his companion's last name, and it made him feel awkward. Fortunately it came to him in time.

"We can give you rooms on the third floor. Will that do?"

"Yes, sir, I think so. We would like to be near together."

"Very well. I can give you two rooms directly opposite to each other."

"That will do, sir."

The clerk touched a bell, and a porter presented himself:

"Here are the keys of sixty-six and sixty-eight," said the hotel clerk. "Take this young gentleman's luggage to sixty-six, and show the lady with him to number sixty-eight."

Ben followed the porter, pausing at the door of the ladies' parlor, where his companion awaited him.

"Come, Ida," he said, feeling a little awkward at addressing Miss Sinclair so familiarly. "The servant is ready to show us our rooms."

"Very well, Ben," said Miss Sinclair, smiling. She did not seem so nervous now.

As the clerk had said, the rooms were directly opposite each other. They were large and very comfortable in appearance. As Miss Sinclair entered her room she said:

"Join me in the ladies' parlor in fifteen minutes, Ben. I have something to say to you."

Ben looked around him with considerable satisfaction. He had only left home that morning; he had met with a severe disappointment, and yet he was now fortunate beyond his most sanguine hopes. He had heard a great deal of the Astor House, which in Hampton and throughout the country was regarded at that time as the most aristocratic hotel in New York, and now he was actually a guest in it. Moreover, he was booked for a first-class passage to California.

"It's like the Arabian Nights," thought Ben, "and Miss Sinclair must be a fairy."

He took out his scanty wardrobe from the carpetbag, and put it away in one of the drawers of the bureau.

"I might just as well enjoy all the privileges of the hotel," he said to himself.

He took out his brush and comb, and brushed his hair. Then he locked the door of No. 66 and went down-stairs to the ladies' parlor.

He did not have to wait long. In five minutes Miss Sinclair made her appearance.

"Ben," she said, "here is the check for my trunk. You may take it down to the office and ask them to send for it. Then come back and I will acquaint you with some things I wish you to know."

Ben speedily reappeared, and at Miss Sinclair's request sat down beside her on a sofa.

"You must know, Ben," she commenced, "that I am flying from my guardian."

"I hope it's all right," said Ben, rather frightened. He was not sure but he was making himself liable to arrest for aiding and abetting Miss Sinclair's flight.

"You have no cause for alarm. He has no legal control over me, though by the terms of my father's will he retains charge of my property till I attain my twenty-fifth year. Before this, fourteen months must elapse. Meanwhile he is exerting all his influence to induce me to marry his son, so that the large property of which I am possessed may accrue to the benefit of his family."

"He couldn't force you to marry his son, could he?" asked Ben.

"No, but he has made it very disagreeable to me to oppose him, and has even gone so far as to threaten me with imprisonment in a madhouse if I do not yield to his persuasions."

"He must be a rascal!" said our hero indignantly.

"He is," said Miss Sinclair quietly.

"I don't see how he can do such things in a free country."

"He has only to buy over two unscrupulous physicians, and in a large city that can easily be done. On their certificate of my insanity I might any day be dragged to a private asylum and confined there."

"I don't wonder you ran away, Ida."

"I feel perfectly justified in doing so. Liberty and the control of my own person are dear to me, and I mean to struggle for them."

"What makes you think of going to California? is it because it is so far off?"

"Partly; but there is another reason," said Miss Sinclair. "I will not conceal from you that there is a person there whom I wish to meet."

"Is it a young man?" asked Ben shrewdly.

"You have guessed it. Richard Dewey is the son of a former bookkeeper of my father. He is poor, but he is a gentleman, and there is a mutual attachment between us. Indeed, he asked my guardian's consent to his suit, but he was repelled with insult, and charged with being a fortune-hunter. That name would better apply to my guardian and his precious son."

"Is Mr. Dewey in California?"

"Yes; he went out there some months since. He promised to write me regularly, but I have not heard a word from him. I know very well that he has written, and that my guardian has suppressed his letters."

"That is shameful!" said Ben warmly.

"It is indeed; but with your help I think I can circumvent Mr. Campbell yet."

"Mr. Campbell is your guardian, I suppose, Ida?"

"Yes."

"You may reply upon me to help you in every way possible, Miss Sinclair."

"Ida," corrected the young lady.

"I mean Ida."

"That's right, Cousin Ben."

Now that Miss Sinclair's veil was removed, our hero could see that she was very pretty, and perhaps he felt all the more proud of being selected as her escort. But on one point he was in the dark.

"May I ask you a question, Ida?" he said. "How is it that you have chosen me-a stranger, and so young-as your escort? I am only a green country boy."

"Partly because I like your looks; you look honest and trustworthy."

"Thank you, but I am only a boy."

"That's all the better for me. It would not do for me to accept the escort of a man, and it would be awkward for me to propose it even if it would do."

"At any rate, I am lucky to be selected. I hope you will be satisfied with me."

"I feel sure of it."

"You are spending a great deal of money for me."

"You may feel surprised that I have so much money to spend independent of my guardian, but he has control only of the property left by my father. My mother left me thirty thousand dollars, of which I am sole mistress."

"That is lucky for you."

"Under present circumstances-yes."

Here two ladies entered the parlor, and the conversation was suspended.

"I believe I will go in to dinner now," said Miss Sinclair. "Will you come, Ben?"

"I ate dinner an hour ago." "Then you can go where you please. Meet me here at six o'clock." "All right, Ida."