Chapter XXVI. A Family Council
 

As soon as he was released from business, Tom Stanton hurried home to impart the unexpected intelligence that his cousin Herbert had arrived in the city. As might be expected, the news gave no particular pleasure in the Stanton homestead.

"Did you tell him who you were, Thomas?" asked his mother.

"Catch me doing it!" said Tom. "I ain't quite a fool. I don't care about owning any pauper relations."

"He isn't a pauper," said Mr. Stanton, who, hard man of the world as he was, could not forget that Herbert was the son of his sister.

"He's the next door to it," said Tom, carelessly.

"Thomas is right," said Mrs. Stanton. "You may depend upon it, Mr. Stanton, that when this boy finds you out, he will apply to you for assistance."

"Possibly he may."

"I hope you won't be such a fool as to encourage him in his application."

"If he were in actual distress, my dear," said Mr. Stanton, "I should feel that I ought to do something."

"Then you'd allow yourself to be imposed upon, that's all I've got to say. There is no need of his being in distress. He is a stout boy, and capable of earning his own living."

"He might get sick," suggested Mr. Stanton, who was not so hard-hearted as his wife.

"Then let him go to the hospital. It's provided for such cases."

"Is Herbert good-looking?" asked Maria, with interest.

"He won't get a prize for his beauty," said Tom, disparagingly.

"Is he homely?"

"No," said Tom, reluctantly. "I suppose he'll pass; but he's countrified. He hasn't got any style," and he glanced complacently at his own reflection in a mirror, for Tom was vain of his personal appearance, though by no means as good-looking as Herbert. In fact, he was compelled secretly to confess this to himself, and for this reason was more than ever disposed to view his cousin with prejudice.

"I should like to see Herbert," said Maria, who had her share of female curiosity, and thought it would be pleasant to have a cousin to escort her round.

"Perhaps I'd better invite him round to dinner tomorrow," said Thomas, sarcastically.

"I wish you would."

"Thomas will do no such thing!" said Mrs. Stanton, decidedly. "It's my opinion that the less notice we take of him the better. Your father is in good circumstances, to be sure, but whatever he is able to do, ought, of right, to go to his own family. We don't want any poor relations coming here to get their living out of us."

"Just my sentiments, mother," said Tom Stanton, approvingly.

"It doesn't seem quite right," said Mr. Stanton, uncomfortably, "to neglect my sister's child."

"Don't make yourself ridiculous with your scruples, Mr. Stanton," said his wife. "It's the boy's duty to take care of himself. It would only do him harm, and lead to false expectations, if we allowed him the run of the house."

"Besides," said Tom, "I shouldn't want to have Tom Paget and Percy Mortimer, and other fellows that I associate with, ask me who he is, and have to tell them that he is my cousin."

This argument had considerable weight with Mr. Stanton, who was anxious to elevate himself in society, and looked with complacency upon the school acquaintances Tom had formed with the scions of distinguished families.

"Well," said he, rising from the table, "let it be as you will. We won't go out of our way to invite the boy here, but if he presents himself, as he doubtless will, we must take a little notice of him."

"I don't see why he couldn't have stayed in the country," said Mrs. Stanton. "It was the best place for him."

"Of course, it was," said Tom.

"He could have had no other object than to seek us out, and see what he could get out of us. For my part, I would advise you to recommend him to go back."

"He has secured a place, it seems, and would not be likely to give it up."

"It's a great pity he should have got into the same counting-room with Tom. He will presume on the relationship as soon as he finds it out."

Mrs. Stanton need not have been alarmed, for Herbert was too high- spirited to seek an intimacy where he had reason to think it would be disagreeable. But his aunt knew nothing of him, and judged him by herself.

"He's there, and it can't be helped," said Mr. Stanton.

"At any rate, if he does stay in the city," persisted Mrs. Stanton, "I hope you'll give him to understand that he needn't call here more than once in three months. That is as much as he can expect."

"After all, he is my sister's son," said Mr. Stanton. "I can't feel that this would be quite kind in us."

"Leave it to me, then. If you're too soft-hearted, Mr. Stanton, I will take all the responsibility, and the blame, if there is any."

"Well, I think you've said enough on the subject," said her husband. "Tom, run upstairs and bring me a cigar. You know where I keep the cigar box."

"You'd better send a servant, father," said Tom, coolly.

"It appears to me you are getting lazy, Thomas," said his father.

"Thomas is right," said Mrs. Stanton. "What do we keep servants for but to run errands?"

"Still, Tom might have obliged me in such a little matter."

"You shouldn't have asked him, Mr. Stanton. You seem to forget that we are not living in the style of half a dozen years ago. You should adapt yourself to circumstances."

Mr. Stanton said no more, but sent a servant in Tom's place. But he could not help thinking that the outward prosperity for which he was striving was not without its drawbacks, since it compelled him to look to servants for the most ordinary services.

The next morning Tom went to the counting-room, fully expecting that Herbert would claim relationship as soon as he discovered his name. While he would be compelled to admit it, he determined to treat Herbert with such a degree of coolness that he would take the hint, and keep his distance.

When he arrived at the counting-room, Herbert was already there, and Mr. Pratt also.

"Good-morning," said Herbert.

"Morning," muttered Tom.

"This is Thomas Stanton, your fellow-clerk," said Mr. Pratt, the bookkeeper. "I believe you have not been introduced."

"Now for it," thought Tom.

But rather to his surprise, Herbert made no demonstration, but merely bowed slightly.

"What does it mean?" thought Tom, a little perplexed. "Is it possible that he is not my cousin, after all?"

"I think you came from Ohio?" inquired Tom, impelled by his curiosity to ask the question.

"Yes," said Herbert.

"Why didn't you stay there? Couldn't you make a living there?" asked Tom, not over-politely.

"Probably I might," said Herbert, quietly.

"Then I think you should have stayed there."

"Which do you like best, the city or the country?" asked our hero.

"The city."

"So do I."

"But there's a difference. I have always lived in the city."

"I suppose boys often do come from the country to the city," said Herbert. "Was your father born in the city?"

"No," said Tom, glancing keenly at Herbert, to see if he meant anything by the question.

"Then it seems he must have preferred the city to the country."

Tom had his share of curiosity. He knew that it would be better not to pursue this subject further if he wished his cousin to remain ignorant of the relationship between them. Still, he was anxious to know what Herbert's actual knowledge was, and whether he would be likely to avail himself of it. He was therefore tempted to say, "I suppose you have no relations in the city?"

"What makes you think I haven't?" asked Herbert, looking at Tom rather peculiarly.

"I don't think anything about it. I only asked," said Tom, a. little confused.

"Yes, I have an uncle in the city," said Herbert, quietly.

"Oh, indeed," said Tom.

He said nothing more, for he felt that he might betray his knowledge of the relationship unintentionally. Herbert's manner left him as much in the dark as ever.

Mr. Pratt set Herbert to work on some writing, and Tom, also, was soon busy. After a while Mr. Godfrey came in.

"Good-morning, Herbert," he said, pleasantly, offering his hand. "So Mr. Pratt has set you to work, has he?"

"Yes, sir."

"I think we shall find enough for him to do, eh, Mr. Pratt?"

"Yes, sir, I think so," said the bookkeeper, who perceived that Herbert was in favor, and it was as well to fall in with his employer.

"That's well. How do you like your boarding place, Herbert?"

"It isn't a very nice one, sir, but it is as good a one as I have a right to expect for the money I pay."

"Come round and dine with us to-night," said the merchant. "Mrs. Godfrey will be glad to see you. I'll give you my street and number."

"Thank you, sir," said Herbert. "I shall be glad to accept your kind invitation."

Tom listened to this invitation with envy. Mr. Godfrey occupied a high social position. Moreover, he had a pretty daughter, whom he, Tom, had met at dancing school, and he would have been very glad to receive the invitation which had been extended to "that beggar, Herbert," as he mentally styled him.