Chapter XVII. New Acquaintances
 

Herbert stopped overnight at Columbus.

The first train eastward left Columbus at seven o'clock in the morning. It was Herbert's intention to take this train, but unfortunately, as he thought at the time, the clock at the hotel by which his movements were guided was ten minutes too slow. The consequence was, that before he had quite reached the depot he saw the cars going out at the other end. He ran as fast as possible, hoping still to make up for lost time, but it was in vain.

"You're too late, youngster," said a porter, who had been assisting to stow away baggage. "You'll have to wait till the next train."

"When does the next train start?" asked our hero.

"Twelve o'clock."

"Then I shall have to wait till that time," Herbert concluded, with regret.

Yet, as he directly afterwards thought, it could make no particular difference, since he had no stated engagement to meet, and this consideration enabled him to bear the inevitable delay with a better grace.

"I suppose," he reflected, "I might as well go back to the hotel."

He turned to leave the building when a carriage drove hastily up to the station. It was drawn by two horses, and driven by a negro in livery. A lady put her head out of the window and inquired anxiously if the train had started. She addressed this question to Herbert, who happened to be nearest.

"Yes, madam," he answered, respectfully.

"I am so sorry," said the lady, in a tone of vexation and perplexity. "It was very important that my father should take that train."

"There is another train that starts at twelve," said Herbert. "It will make a difference of a few hours only."

"Yes," said the lady, "but you do not understand my difficulty. The few hours' difference in time would be of small importance, but my father is blind, and is, of course, for that reason, dependent upon the kindness of others. A gentleman of our acquaintance was going by this train, who would have taken charge of him and seen him safe to his destination. By losing the train we lose his services."

"My dear," said an elderly gentleman, sitting on the opposite seat, "if I can get somebody to see me on board, I think I can manage very well."

"On no account, father," was the hasty reply, "particularly under present circumstances."

"Where is the gentleman going?" asked Herbert, with interest.

"To Philadelphia."

"I am going on to New York," said our hero. "I have been disappointed like you. I expected to take the early train."

"Do you intend to go by the next train, then?" asked the lady.

"Yes, madam."

"Then, perhaps--I have a great mind to ask you to take charge of my father."

"I shall be very glad to be of service to you," said Herbert. "There is only one objection," he added, with some embarrassment.

"What is that?"

"Why," said Herbert, frankly, "I am obliged to be economical, and I was thinking of buying a second-class ticket."

"Oh," said the lady, promptly, "there need be no difficulty about that. If you will take the trouble to look after my father, we will gladly pay for your ticket."

"I am afraid my services will not be worth so much," said Herbert, modestly.

"You must leave us to estimate them. If you do what you have undertaken, we shall consider the expense well incurred."

Herbert made no further objection. He felt, indeed, that it would be quite a lift to him, in the present state of his finances, and besides would be a very easy way of earning the money. He therefore signified his thanks and his acceptance of the offer.

"When did you say the train starts?" asked the lady.

"At twelve."

"Nearly five hours. That will be too long to wait. I think, father, we will go home."

"Yes, my dear, I think that will be best."

"Are you obliged to go home before starting?" the lady inquired, addressing Herbert.

"No, madam, I have no home in Columbus. I passed last night at a hotel."

"Have you any particular plan for spending the next few hours?"

Herbert answered in the negative.

"Then will you not ride home with us? You will then be ready to start with my father."

"I shall be happy to do so."

"I think that will be much the best plan. Pompey, open the carriage door for the young gentleman."

Our hero was about to say that he could just as well open the door for himself, but he reflected that it was best to adapt himself to the customs of those he was with. He bowed, therefore, and waited till the coachman had opened the door for him, and stepped into the carriage. The lady signed to him to take a seat beside her, and the door was closed.

"Home, Pompey," said she, briefly.

The coachman ascended to his seat, and the spirited grays were soon whirling the party rapidly homeward.

It was a new position for our hero, and he felt it to be so. His parents had never been rich, and latterly had been very poor. Living in a small country village, he had never even seen so elegant a carriage as that in which he was now riding He sank back upon the luxuriously cushioned seat, and he could not help thinking how pleasant it would be if he could command so comfortable a conveyance whenever he wanted to ride out. But another thought succeeded this. If he were blind, like the gentleman whom he was to take charge of, it would be a very poor compensation to ride in a luxurious carriage. After all, things were not so unequal as they seemed at first sight.

"Since you are to be my father's traveling companion," said the lady, "perhaps you will not object to telling us your name."

"Certainly," said our hero, "my name is Herbert Mason."

"Are you going from home for the first time?" inquired the lady.

"I have no home," said Herbert. "My father and mother are both dead."

"Excuse me," said the lady, gently. "I am sorry to have touched upon a subject which must awaken sorrowful recollections. My father's name is Carroll. Father, you have heard that your young escort is Mr. Herbert Mason."

The old gentleman extended his hand, which Herbert took respectfully.

"I am afraid you will find me a troublesome charge," he said. "Since I have become blind I have been compelled to tax the kindness of others."

"The journey will be pleasanter to me," said Herbert, politely, "than if I were alone."

Mr. Carroll was evidently pleased with this remark, for he turned toward Herbert with increased interest.

"You can imagine how much more so it will be to me," he said. "I have not your resources for beguiling the tedium of the way. I would give all my possessions gladly, for your young eyes. All journeys are alike to me now, since, however interesting the scenery, it is a blank to me."

"That is indeed a privation, sir."

"Especially in the journey we are about to take. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, as it is called, runs through a romantic and charming country, and affords views at once bold and beautiful. Have you ever traveled over the road?"

"No, sir."

"Then you will have all the pleasure of a first discovery. Before I became blind, before, indeed, the railway was located, I became, as a young man, familiar with this whole section of country, so that I have, at least, the remembrance of it. I am obliged now to live upon my memory."

"You say you have never been over this railroad," said the lady. "Have you ever been to the East?"

"No, madam, I have always lived in the State of Ohio."

"And you are now going to Philadelphia?" she inquired.

"I am going to New York," said Herbert.

"Indeed! Is it on a visit?"

"No, madam, I am expecting to live there; that is, if I can make a living."

"Are you dependent, then, upon your own exertions for support?"

"Yes, madam."

"You seem very young for such a responsibility."

"I am fourteen."

"I thought you a year older. My Oscar is fourteen, and I am afraid he would make a poor hand at supporting himself. What do you think, father?"

"I think you are right, my dear. Oscar has not been placed in circumstances to develop his self-reliance."

"No; that probably has something to do with it. But, Herbert, if you will permit me to call you so, do you not look forward to the future with apprehension?"

"No, madam," said Herbert. "I am not afraid but that I shall be able to get along somehow. I think I shall find friends, and I am willing to work."

"That is the spirit that leads to success," said the old gentleman, approvingly. "Work comes to willing hands. I think you will succeed."

"I hope so, sir."

Our hero was gratified to meet with so much sympathy from those whose wealth placed them far above him in the social scale. But it was not surprising, for Herbert had a fine appearance and gentlemanly manners, marked, too, by a natural politeness which enabled him to appear better than most boys of his age.