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BESSIE BENTON AT HOME.
Tom came down to breakfast rather late the next day, but he felt fresh and hopeful, having slept off all his fatigue. He had money enough left to pay his board for a week and a half, and was not under the immediate necessity of obtaining work. He felt curious to see the city he was in, and devoted the day to wandering about the streets. He took pains to find out where B—— street, the residence of Bessie Benton, was. He had made up his mind to call there that evening. It was a quiet, substantial house, in a nice street, indicating, in its appearance, the social position of the family.
About four o'clock in the afternoon, Tom ascended the steps and rang the bell.
"Is Miss Bessie Benton at home?" he inquired of the servant who answered his summons.
"Yes. Who shall I say wishes to see her?"
"Tom—I mean Gilbert Grey," said our hero, who came near forgetting his new name.
"Walk in, sir."
Tom was ushered into a handsome parlor, and took his seat on a sofa.
"This is rather ahead of the room old Jacob and I used to live in," he thought. "I didn't make many fashionable calls then."
He was interrupted by the entrance of Bessie herself, who advanced frankly, and welcomed him with evident pleasure.
"I'm glad you didn't forget to call, Gilbert," she said.
"I wanted to see you again," said Tom, with unconventional frankness.
"I'm glad you did. I want to introduce you to papa."
"Is he at home?"
"No, he won't be home till supper time. But, of course, you'll stay to supper?"
"I don't know," said Tom, awkwardly.
"Papa told me to invite you. He expects you."
"Then I'll stay," said Tom, promptly.
"How do you like the city? Have you been about much?"
"Yes, I've been goin' round all day. It isn't as big as New York, but I like it."
Just then Maurice Walton entered the parlor. He stopped short on seeing Tom, not over-pleased at the sight of a possible rival.
"This is Gilbert. Mr. Grey, Maurice," said Bessie.
"How d'ye do?" returned Maurice, ungraciously.
"Pretty well," said Tom. "I hope you're the same."
"You found the way up here pretty quick," said Maurice, rather rudely.
"Yes," said Tom. "I wanted to see your cousin—and you," he added, slyly, perceiving the feelings of Maurice.
"Where are you stopping?"
"At a hotel."
"So I supposed. There are several hotels in the city," he remarked, with a sneer.
"Are there?" asked Tom, innocently.
"Are you stopping at Burnett's?"
"That is the most fashionable hotel."
"That is the reason I didn't go there. I ain't fashionable myself."
"You don't say so?" sneered Maurice.
"I hope so."
Here Bessie Benton burst into a laugh.
"What a vain, self-conceited boy you are, Maurice," she said.
"I don't call myself a boy at all," said Maurice, with lofty indignation.
"You're a young gentleman, then?"
"Of course I am."
"At what hotel did you say you stopped?" he asked, a minute later.
"I didn't say," said Tom.
Bessie laughed again, and Maurice colored with anger.
"If you'd rather not tell," he returned, "it's of no consequence."
"It's the Ohio Hotel."
"I never heard of it."
"It can't be much of a hotel."
"I've seen better myself," said Tom. "It don't compare with the Fifth Avenue, in New York."
"Did you ever stop there?"
"I've been there often."
Tom did not explain that he once blacked boots in front of the hotel for several weeks. He did not feel disposed to take Maurice too much in his confidence. The fact is, that Maurice was considerably mystified as to Tom's position and claims to consideration.
There was, of course, a certain want of polish about our hero, the result of his early associations, which led Maurice to doubt if Tom was not socially his inferior. On the other hand, Tom's free and easy allusions to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, for instance, tended to combat this view. He became silent, and listened to the conversation between his cousin and Tom, which was altogether too free and animated to suit his taste.
"I wonder how long he's going to stay?" he thought.
"Isn't it most supper time, Bessie?" he asked, at length.
"Why? Are you hungry?"
"Rather," said Maurice, looking significantly at Tom, hoping that he would take the hint and go. He was ignorant of the invitation which had been given and accepted.
"Mr. Grey will stop to supper, Maurice," said Bessie.
"Oh! will he?" said Maurice; but his manner was far from showing pleasure.
He left the room soon after, and, at six, Mr. Benton came in. He was a stout, pleasant-looking man, with a look of Bessie about the eyes, and he very cordially welcomed our hero.
"My daughter tells me you took good care of her on the way from Buffalo, Mr. Grey," he said.
"I tried to," said Tom.
"Accept my thanks for your attentions. You are not very old for a protector," he added, with a smile, "but, from her account, you answered the purpose."
"There wasn't much to do," said Tom, modestly. "I'd like to do it again."
Bessie blushed a little, and laughed.
"It seems the arrangement was mutually agreeable," said the old gentleman. "Are you going to stay long in Cincinnati, Mr. Grey?"
"Yes, sir—I expect to."
"Then you must come and see us often."
"I should like to." Tom was on the point of adding, "tip-top," but stopped just in time.
Here the bell rang for supper, and the party adjourned to the dining-room. There were seats for four. Bessie sat opposite her father, having on one side Maurice, on the other Tom. The latter, I am bound to say, felt a little embarrassed. He knew that the usages of the family he was visiting must be different from those to which he was accustomed, and he was afraid he might make some blunder. He resolved, therefore, to watch Maurice carefully, and do whatever he did. Eating with a fork, he thought odd, and not nearly as convenient as a knife. Still, he did it to avoid mistakes. Maurice watched him, hoping to detect him in blunders, but to no purpose. He was, perhaps, slightly awkward, but committed no breaches of etiquette.
"This is Mr. Grey, Maurice," introduced Mr. Benton, at the commencement of the meal.
"I have the honor of knowing Mr. Grey," said Maurice, stiffly.
There was a slight emphasis on the word honor, which Mr. Benton did not notice.
After supper Mr. Benton said:
"I am obliged to go out on a little business, but you young people can amuse yourselves without me. Perhaps Mr. Grey would like to hear you play, Bessie."
"Perhaps he plays himself?" suggested Maurice, with a sneer.
"Do you?" asked Bessie.
"I can play on a hand-organ," answered Tom.
"Professionally?" inquired Maurice.
"I never was in the business," said our hero. "Is it profitable?"
"How should I know?" said Maurice, angrily.
They adjourned to a pleasant sitting-room, where there was a piano, and Bessie took her place at the piano.
"I am not much of a player," she said, "but will do my best."
After a while she began to sing. Her voice was pleasant, but not remarkable.
"I don't like singing alone," she said, at last.
"Mr. Grey will sing with you," said Maurice, maliciously.
"Will you?" pleaded Bessie, turning to our hero.
"If you'll play that," said Tom, pointing to one of the popular songs of the day, which he had caught in the street.
"Of course I will."
I don't claim that Tom was a remarkable singer; but his voice was of good quality, and harmonized well with Bessie's. He sang correctly, also, and she was much pleased.
"How well you sing, Gilbert," she said. "Can't you sing something else?"
They sang two other popular songs, to the great dissatisfaction of Maurice, who saw himself quite eclipsed by the new arrival.
"Isn't he splendid, Maurice?" asked Bessie, after Tom had taken leave.
"He's a low fellow!" said Maurice.
"I wish you were half as handsome and agreeable," said Bessie, warmly.
Maurice went to bed in a very unhappy frame of mind. Tom, on the other hand, felt, as he returned to his unfashionable lodgings, that he had never before had so pleasant an evening.
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