Chapter 8




A STRANGE ACQUAINTANCE.

Tom Cooper was too familiar with the streets of New York to pay any attention to the moving panorama of which he and Ben formed a part. But everything was new and interesting to Ben, who had passed his life in a quiet country town.

"I should think it was the Fourth of July," he said.

"Why?" asked the bootblack.

"Because there's such a lot of people and wagons in the streets."

"There's always as many as this, except Sundays," said Tom.

"Where do they all come from?" said Beu wonderingly.

"You've got me there," answered Tom. "I never thought about that. Look out!" he exclaimed suddenly, dragging Ben from in front of a team coming up the street. "Do you want to get run over?"

"I was looking the other way," said Ben, rather confused.

"You've got to look all ways to once here," said Tom.

"I guess you're right. Don't people often get run over?"

"Once in a while. There's a friend of mine—Patsy Burke—a newsboy, was run over last year and had his leg broke. They took him to Bellevue Hospital, and cut it off."

"Is he alive now?"

"Oh, yes, he's alive and to work, the same as ever. He's got a wooden leg."

"Poor boy!" said Ben compassionately.

"Oh, he don't mind it, Patsy don't. He's always jolly."

By this time they reached the office of the California Steamship Company. There was a large sign up, so that there was no difficulty in finding it.

The two boys entered. The room was not a large one. There was a counter, behind which were two young men writing, and there was besides a man of middle age, who was talking to two gentlemen who appeared to be engaging passage. Seated in a chair, apparently awaiting her turn, was a young lady, whose face was half-concealed by a thick, green veil.

When the two gentlemen were disposed of, the agent spoke to the young lady.

"What can I do for you, miss?" he asked.

"I am in no hurry, sir," she answered, in a low voice. "I will wait for those boys."

"What's your business, boys?" demanded the agent, shrugging his shoulders.

"When does the next steamer start, sir?" inquired Ben.

"In three days."

"What is the price of passage?"

"First-class?"

"No, sir, the cheapest."

"One hundred dollars. Do you wish to secure passage?"

"Not this morning, sir."

The agent shrugged his shoulders again, as if to say "I thought so," and turned again to the young lady.

"Now, miss," he said.

"I beg your pardon, sir," she said hurriedly. "I will call again."

As she spoke, she left the office, following the two boys so quickly that they almost went out together.

Ben had not taken particular notice of the young lady, and was much surprised when he felt a hand laid on his arm, and, turning, his eyes fell npon her face.

"May I speak a few words with you?" she said.

"Certainly," answered Ben politely, though he could not conceal his astonishment.

The young lady looked uneasily at Tom, and hesitated.

"Won't you move away a few steps, Tom?" said Ben, understanding the look.

"Thank you," said the young lady, in a low voice. "Are you intending to sail for California by the next steamer?"

"I should like to, miss, but I am poor, and I don't know whether I can afford the expense of a ticket."

"Would you go if your ticket were paid-by a friend?"

"You bet I would-I mean I certainly would," answered Ben, correcting his phraseology, as he remembered that he was addressing a young lady, and not one of his boy friends.

"Would you be willing to take care of me—that is, to look after me?"

Ben was certainly surprised; but he answered promptly and with native politeness: "It would be a pleasure to me."

"You were going alone-you had no friends with you?"

"None at all, miss."

"That is well," she said. "What is your name?"

"Ben Stanton."

"Do you live in the city?"

"No, miss. I came from the small town of Hampton."

"Where are you staying?"

"Nowhere. I only arrived in the city this morning."

"Will you be able to go by the next steamer?"

Ben hesitated. It almost took away his breath—it seemed so sudden-but he reflected that there really was no reason why he should not, and he answered in the affirmative.

"Then go back with me, and I will engage passage for us both."

The young lady and Ben reentered the office, Tom Cooper looking on with astonishment. She approached the counter, this time with confidence, and the agent came forward.

"I have concluded to engage passage for myself and this lad," she said.

The agent regarded her with surprise.

"Both first-class?" he asked.

"Certainly, sir. I should like the lad to occupy a stateroom near mine."

"Very well. I will show you on the plan those that are unengaged. I cannot give either of you a stateroom to yourselves. I can give you a room with a very agreeable lady, a Mrs. Dunbar, and the boy can occupy part of the adjoining room."

"Very well, sir."

"What name?" continued the agent.

"Ida Sinclair," answered the young lady, with visible hesitation.

"And the boy's name?"

Miss Sinclair had forgotten; but Ben promptly answered for himself.

The young lady drew out her pocketbook, and produced several large bills, out of which she paid the passage money. Then, turning to Ben, she said: "Now we will go."

Ben followed her out of the office, feeling completely bewildered. Well he might. The young lady had paid two hundred and fifty dollars for his passage, and for this large outlay only required him to take care of her. No wonder he thought it strange.

"You say you are not staying at any hotel?" said the young lady, as they emerged into the street.

"No, Miss Sinclair."

"I am staying at the Astor House, and it is important that you should be with me, as I may have some errands on which to employ you."

"Is it an expensive hotel?" asked Ben.

"That will not matter to you, as I shall pay the bill."

"Thank you, Miss Sinclair; but you are spending a great deal of money for me."

"I have an object in doing so. Besides, I have no lack of money."

"Shall I go with you to the hotel now?"

"Yes."

"May I speak a moment to the boy who was with me?"

"Certainly."

"May I tell him where I am going?"

"Yes, but ask him to keep it to himself."

"I will, Miss Sinclair," and Ben was about to walk away.

"On the whole, call the boy here," said Miss Sinclair. "Tom!" Tom
Cooper answered the summons.

"I am going to California with this lady," said Ben. "She has paid my passage."

"You're in luck!" exclaimed Tom. "Say, miss, you don't want a boy to go along to black your boots, do you?"

Miss Sinclair smiled faintly.

"I think not," she answered.

"Tom," continued Ben, "you won't say a word about my going, will you?"

"Not if you don't want me to. Besides, there ain't nobody to tell."

Miss Sinclair looked relieved. She drew out her pocketbook, and took from it a ten-dollar bill.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Tom Cooper, ma'am."

"Then, Tom, allow me to offer you a small present."

"Is it all for me?" exclaimed Tom, in amazement.

"Yes."

Tom thrust it into his vest pocket, and immediately executed a somersault, rather to Miss Sinclair's alarm.

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Tom, assuming his natural posture; "I couldn't help it, I felt so excited. I never was so rich before."

"May I tell Tom where we are going to stop?" asked Ben.

"Certainly, if he will keep it to himself."

"I shall be at the Astor House, Tom. Come round and see me."

Tom watched the two as they preceded him on their way to Broadway.

"I wonder if I'm dreaming," he said to himself. "If I am, I hope I won't wake up till I've spent this ten dollars. I guess I'll go to the Old Bowery to-night."







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