Chapter X. At the Indiana House
 

Walter paused before a modest hotel on Monroe Street--we will call it the Indiana House--and, entering, went up to the desk and inquired the rates of board.

"Are you commercial?" asked the clerk.

"Not at present, sir."

"We make special terms for commercial travelers. We will give you a small room on the third floor for one dollar and a half a day."

This was as cheap as Walter expected to find it at a hotel, and he signified his acceptance.

"Front!" called the clerk.

A red-haired boy about Walter's age came forward.

"Take this young man up to No. 36," said the clerk.

"Yessir," answered the bell-boy, pronouncing the two words in one.

There was no elevator in the house, and Walter followed the boy up two flights of stairs to the third landing. The boy opened the door of a room with a small window looking out into an inner court.

"Here you are!" he said, and he put the valise on the floor.

"Thank you," said Walter.

As he spoke he drew a dime from his vest pocket and deposited it in the hand of the red-haired attendant.

The effect was magical. The bell-boy's listless manner vanished, his dull face lighted up, and his manner became brisk.

"Thank you, sir. Is there anything you want? If you do, I'll get it for you."

Walter looked about him. Soap, water, towels--all were in sight.

"Not just now," he answered, "but I am going to take a wash, and shall probably use up all the water. Some time this evening you may bring me some more."

"All right, sir. Just you ring when you want it."

He went off, and Walter was left alone. First, he took a thorough wash, which refreshed him very much after his long and dusty ride. Then he changed his linen, brushed his clothes with a hand-brush he had brought in his valise and carefully combed his hair.

"I feel a hundred per cent. better," he soliloquized. "Here I am in Chicago and now the battle of life is to begin."

Walter was sanguine and full of hope. His life had always been easy, and he did not know what it was to work for a living. Besides, the fact may as well be told--he had a very comfortable opinion of his own abilities. He felt that he was no common boy. Was he not a sophomore, or rather a junior-elect, of Euclid college? Did he not possess a knowledge more or less extensive of Latin, Greek and mathematics, with a smattering of French and German, not to speak of logic, rhetoric, etc.? For one of his age he considered himself quite accomplished, and he persuaded himself that the world would receive him at his own estimate. It would be very strange if he could not earn a living, when hundreds and thousands of his age, without a tithe of his knowledge, managed to live.

Walter went downstairs, and, as it would not be supper-time for two hours, went out to walk. He wanted to get some idea of the busy city which was for a time at least, to be his home. He walked through Monroe Street until he reached State. At the corner he caught sight of a palatial structure, nearly opposite.

"What building is that?" he asked of a boy.

"Where's year eyes?" returned the boy. "That's the Palmer House."

Walter gazed admiringly at the showy building, and wished that he could afford to put up there. It was as far ahead of the Indiana House as a city is ahead of a country village. He continued his walk until he reached the lake front, and looked with interest at the great sheet of water which spread out before him like an inland sea. He walked along the lake front for a few squares, and then, striking back into the city, saw the Tremont House, the Court-house, the Sherman house, and other handsome buildings. On his way he met hundreds of people walking briskly, and all seeming occupied.

"If all these people make a living, why shouldn't I?" he asked himself. "I think I am as smart as the average."

Secretly Walter thought himself a great deal smarter. It must be remembered that Walter was not quite eighteen--a self-conceited age-- and he over-estimated his strength and ability. On the whole, it is fortunate that the young do not comprehend the difficult struggle that lies before them, or they would become discouraged before they had fairly entered upon it. It is well that they should be hopeful and sanguine. They are more likely to succeed.

Walter wandered around in a desultory way, and it was more than an hour before he reached the hotel at which he was stopping. As he entered the public room he started back in surprise, as his glance rested on a man wearing a white hat. Surely this was the man who had sold him the gold watch. How did it happen that he was not on the way to Dakota?

He coughed, with a view to attracting the attention of his railroad acquaintance.

The ruse succeeded. The man turned, and evidently recognized Walter. He looked doubtful, not having yet met his confederate nor learned how the plot had come out.

"I believe I met you on the train," said Walter, smiling.

The smile decided the other that it would be safe to acknowledge the acquaintance.

"Yes, I remember you now."

"You sold me a watch?"

"Yes," answered the other, hesitating.

"I thought you wanted to take a train to Dakota this evening?" went on Walter.

"So I do, but it doesn't go till eight o'clock. May I ask what time it is? You know I sold you my watch."

"I suppose that is Chicago time," said Walter, pointing to a clock on the left-hand side of the office.

"I wonder whether he's got the watch still?" thought the other. "He must have, as he makes no fuss about it."

Walter was waiting cunningly to see if his railroad acquaintance would betray himself.

"I'm awfully sorry to part with the watch," he said. "If you keep it, I may buy it back some time."

"I'm sorry I can't oblige you," said Walter, "but I have sold it already."

"Sold the watch already!" ejaculated the man in the white hat. "Did you sell it since you reached Chicago?"

"No; I sold it on the train."

"You don't mean it!" exclaimed the other, in amazement. "Who did you sell it to?"

"Jim Beckwith," answered Walter.

"Jim Beckwith!"

The man in the white hat stared at Walter with an air of startled perplexity that almost made our hero laugh.

"Yes, that's what he said his name was, or rather somebody told me it was his name."

"Jim Beckwith bought that watch of you!" repeated the stranger slowly.

"Yes; do you know him?"

"I have heard of him," said the other.

"Oh, I nearly forgot to say that he claimed the watch as his--said you had stolen it from him."

"Jim Beckwith said that?"

"Yes."

And you gave it up to him?"

"Yes, but not till he paid me the twenty dollars I gave for it."

The other was more and more mystified.

"Jim Beckwith gave you twenty dollars?" he said.

"Yes. That leaves me all right. If you want to buy it back at any time you must apply to him."

The man in the white hat stared at Walter as if he was a museum freak.

"Boy," he said, in a tone of enforced admiration, "you're smart!"

"I am glad you think so, sir," returned Walter. "You pay me a compliment."

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

"A seventeen-year-old boy who can get the better of Jim Beckwith is smart, and no mistake."

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me whether it's true that the watch belongs to Mr. Beckwith, as he says?"

"I bought it of another man, who may have stolen it from him," said he of the white hat, cautiously.

"Well, you'll have to settle with him. I'm out of it!"

While Walter was speaking, an extraordinary change came over the countenance of the man in the white hat. The color faded from his cheeks and he half rose from his seat. He was not looking at Walter, but beyond him, toward the door. Walter turned, following his look, and when he saw who had entered he understood the situation.