Chapter I. Around the Breakfast Table
 

"Well, wife," said Mr. Benjamin Stanton, as he sat down to a late breakfast, "I had a letter from Ohio yesterday."

"From Ohio? Who should write you from Ohio? Anyone I know?"

"My sister, Margaret, you remember, moved out there with her husband ten years ago."

"Oh, it's from her, is it?" said Mrs. Stanton, indifferently.

"No," said her husband with momentary gravity. "It's from a Dr. Kent, who attended her in her last illness. Margaret is dead!"

"Dear me!" returned Mrs. Stanton, uncomfortably; "and I am just out of mourning for my aunt. Do you think it will be necessary for us to go into mourning for your sister?"

"No, I think not," said her husband. "Margaret has lived away from us so long, and people won't know that we have had a death in the family unless we mention it."

"Was that all the letter said--about the death, I mean?"

"Why, no," said Mr. Stanton, with a little frown. "It seems Margaret left a child--a boy of fourteen; and, as she left no property, the doctor suggests that I should send for the boy and assume the care of him."

"Upon my word!" said Mrs. Stanton; "you will find yourself in business if you undertake to provide for all the beggars' brats that apply to you for assistance."

"You must remember that you are speaking of my sister's child," said Mr. Stanton, who, cold and selfish and worldly as he was, had some touch of decency about him, and did not relish the term "beggars' brats," as applied to one so nearly related to him.

"Well, call him what you like," said his wife; "only don't be so foolish as to go spending your money on him when our children need all we have. There's Maria needs a new dress immediately. She says all the girls at Signor Madalini's dancing academy dress elegantly, and she's positively ashamed to appear in any of her present dresses."

"How much will it cost?" asked Mr. Stanton, opening his pocketbook.

"You may hand me seventy-five dollars. I think I can make that do."

Without a word of remonstrance, the money was placed in her hand.

"I want some money, too," said Tom Stanton, who had just disposed of a very hearty meal.

"What do you want it for, Tom?"

"Oh, some of the fellows are getting up a club. It's going to be a select affair, and of course each of us has got to contribute some money. You see, we are going to hire a room, furnish it nicely with a carpet, black walnut furniture, and so on, and that'll cost something."

"Whose idea is it?"

"Well, Sam Paget was the first boy that mentioned it."

"Whose son is he?"

"His father belongs to the firm of Paget, Norwood & Co. He's awful rich."

"Yes, it is one of our first families," said Mr. Stanton, with satisfaction. "Is he a friend of yours, Tom?"

"Oh, yes, we are quit intimate."

"That's right!" said his father, approvingly. "I am glad you choose your friends so well. That's one of the principal reasons I have for sending you to an expensive school, to get you well launched into good society."

"Yes, father, I understand," said Tom. "You won't find me associating with common boys. I hold my head a little too high for that, I can tell you."

"That's right, my boy," said Mr. Stanton, with satisfaction. "And now how much money do you want for this club of yours?"

"Well," said Tom, hesitatingly, "thirty or forty dollars."

"Isn't that considerable?" said his father, surprised at the amount.

"Well, you see, father, I want to contribute as much as any of the boys. It would seem mean if I didn't. There's only a few of us to stand the expense, and we don't want to let in any out of our own set."

"That's true," said Mr. Stanton; "I approve of that. It's all very well to talk about democracy, but I believe in those of the higher orders keeping by themselves."

"Then you'll give the money, father?" said Tom, eagerly.

"Yes, Tom, there's forty dollars. It's more than I ought to spare, but I am determined you shall stand as good a chance as any of your school- fellows. They shan't be able to say that your father stints you in anything that your position requires."

"Thank you, father," said Tom, pocketing the two twenty-dollar bills with great satisfaction.

The fact was that Tom's assessment amounted to only twenty dollars, but he thought it would be a good excuse for getting more out of his father. As to the extra money, Tom felt confident that he could find uses enough for it. He had latterly, though but fourteen years of age, contracted the habit of smoking cigars; a habit which he found rather expensive, especially as he felt bound occasionally to treat his companions. Then he liked, now and then, to drop in and get an ice-cream or some confectionery, and these little expenses counted up.

Mr. Stanton was a vain, worldly man. He was anxious to obtain an entrance into the best society. For this reason, he made it a point to send his children to the most expensive schools; trusting to their forming fashionable acquaintances, through whom his whole family might obtain recognition into those select circles for which he cherished a most undemocratic respect. For this reason it was that, though not naturally liberal, he had opened his purse willingly at the demands of Mrs. Stanton and Tom.

"Well," said Mrs. Stanton, after Tom's little financial affair had been adjusted, "what are you going to write to this doctor? Of course you won't think of sending for your nephew?"

"By no means. He is much better off where he is. I shall write Dr. Kent that he is old enough to earn his own living, and I shall recommend that he be bound out to some farmer or mechanic in the neighborhood. It is an imposition to expect, because I am tolerably well off, that it is my duty to support other people's children. My own are entitled to all I can do for them."

"That's so, father," said Tom, who was ready enough to give his consent to any proposition of a selfish nature. "Charity begins at home."

With Tom, by the way, it not only began at home, but it ended there, and the same may be said of his father. From time to time Mr. Stanton's name was found in the list of donors to some charitable object, provided his benevolence was likely to obtain sufficient publicity, Mr. Stanton did not believe in giving in secret. What was the use of giving away money unless you could get credit for it? That was the principle upon which he always acted.

"I suppose," continued Tom, "this country cousin of mine wears cowhide boots and overalls, and has got rough, red hands like a common laborer. I wonder what Sam Paget would say if I should introduce such a fellow to him as my cousin. I rather guess he would not want to be quite so intimate with me as he is now."

If anything had been needed, this consideration would have been sufficient to deter Mr. Stanton from sending for his nephew. He could not permit the social standing of his family to be compromised by the presence of a poor relation from the country, rough and unpolished as he doubtless was.

Maria, too, who had been for some time silent, here contributed to strengthen the effect of Tom's words.

"Yes," said she, "and Laura Brooks, my most intimate friend, who is shocked at anything vulgar or countrified--I wouldn't have her know that I have such a cousin--oh, not for the world!"

"There will be no occasion for it," said her father, decidedly. "I shall write at once to this Dr. Kent, explaining to him my views and wishes, and how impossible it is for me to do as he so inconsiderately suggests."

"It's the wisest thing you can do, Mr. Stanton," said his wife, who was to the full as selfish as her husband.

"What is his name, father?" asked Maria.

"Whose name?"

"The boy's."

"Herbert Mason."

"Herbert? I thought it might be Jonathan, or Zeke, or some such name. Herbert isn't at all countrified."

"No," said Tom, slyly; "of course not. We all know why you like that name."

"Oh, you're mighty wise, Mr. Tom!" retorted his sister.

"It's because you like Herbert Dartmouth; but it isn't any use. He's in love with Lizzie Graves."

"You seem to know all about it," said Maria, with vexation; for Tom was not far from right in speaking of her preference for Herbert Dartmouth.

"Of course I do," said Tom; "I ought to, for he told me so himself."

"I don't believe it!" said Maria, who looked ready to cry.

"Well, you needn't; but it's so."

"Be quiet, children," said Mrs. Stanton. "Thomas, you mustn't plague your sister."

"Don't take it so hard, Maria," said Tom, in rather an aggravating tone. "There's other boys you could get. I guess you could get Jim Gorham for a beau, if you tried hard enough."

"I wouldn't have him," said Maria. "His face is all over freckles."

"Enough of this quarreling, children," said Mrs. Stanton. "I hope," she continued, addressing her husband, "you won't fail to write at once. They might be sending on the boy, and then we should be in a pretty predicament."

"I will write at once. I don't know but I ought to inclose some money."

"I don't see why you need to."

"Perhaps I had better, as this is the last I intend to do for him."

"At any rate, it won't be necessary to send much," said Mrs. Stanton.

"How much?"

"Five dollars will do, I should think. Because he happens to be your nephew, there is no good reason why he should be thrown upon you for support."

"Perhaps it will be best to send ten dollars," said Mr. Stanton. "People are unreasonable, you know, and they might charge me with meanness, if I sent less."

"Then make it ten. It's only for once. I hope that will be the last we shall hear of him."

The room in which this conversation took place was a handsomely furnished breakfast room, all the appointments of which spoke not only of comfort, but of luxury. Mr. Stanton had been made rich by a series of lucky speculations, and he was at present carrying on a large wholesale store downtown. He had commenced with small means twenty years before, and for some years had advanced slowly, until the tide of fortune set in and made him rich. His present handsome residence he had only occupied three years, having moved to it from one of much smaller pretensions on Bleecker Street. Tom and Maria were forbidden to speak of their former home to their present fashionable acquaintances, and this prohibition they were likely to observe, having inherited to the full the worldly spirit which actuated their parents. It will be seen that Herbert Mason was little likely to be benefited by having such prosperous relations.