ENGAGED AS PRIVATE SECRETARY

If Brandon had supposed the stranger would prove an unwelcome visitor
to his father, he would have been undeceived if he could have been
present at the interview between them.

“What, Kirby!” said the squire, as the new arrival entered his study.

“Yes, it is I, captain,” answered Peter Kirby, sinking into an
arm-chair. “You seem comfortably fixed here.”

“Yes; I have tried to make myself comfortable.”

“And I understand you go by the name of squire?”

“How did you learn that?”

“From a boy who guided me here.”

“I hope you did not express any surprise.”

“Oh, no! I did nothing to arouse suspicion. Are you a justice of the
peace?”

“Yes.”

“And perhaps preside over trials?”

“Well, yes, sometimes.”

“Ha, ha!”

“What are you laughing at?” demanded the squire irritably.

“It is a good joke. Suppose the good people here were acquainted with
your real character?”

“Hush; this is no time for jesting. You might be overheard. Now, what
news?”

“Well, there isn’t much. Things have been pretty quiet. You haven’t
been at any of our meetings lately?”

“No; I did not care to excite suspicion. I’ve been engaged in a little
enterprise on my own account.”

“What, here?”

“Yes.”

“What was it?” asked Kirby with interest.

“I learned that one of my neighbors—a simple minded carpenter—was to
receive a considerable sum of money, which I had reason to think he
would bring home in person. I disguised myself, lay in wait for him,
and took the whole.”

“How much was there?”

“A thousand dollars!”

“Excellent! And you have it here?”

“Yes. It happened to be in fifty-dollar bills, and I have not dared to
use any of it lest it should be traced to me. Besides, there is one who
suspects me of having been implicated in the affair?”

“Is it a person likely to prove dangerous?”

“I don’t know. It is a boy.”

“A boy! How should a boy be likely to suspect you?”

“I will tell you. It is a nephew of the man who lost the money. Near
the scene of the robbery he found a sleeve button marked with my
initial, which I had the ill luck to drop.”

“Does he know it is yours?”

“Yes, my son recognized it in his possession, and unfortunately let out
that it was mine. I at once sent for the boy, asked to see the button,
and admitted it was mine.”

“How then did you explain?”

“I am coming to that. I told him that both buttons had been stolen from
me, probably by a tramp who had been seen prowling round my house, and
that I presumed the same man had robbed his uncle.”

“Very ingenious, upon my word! You always were a man of ideas, captain.
I suppose this allayed his suspicions.”

“Not wholly, though it puzzled him. I must tell you that while I
was relieving the uncle of his money, though otherwise disguised I
unfortunately opened my mouth.”

“And showed your teeth?”

“Precisely. I have often had occasion to regret that Nature supplied
me with such ugly looking tusks, for they are a dangerous means of
identification. I understand the carpenter—one Adin Dunham—has spoken
of this, but it seemed absurd to those who heard him that a man in my
position should be a robber, and it was taken as a proof that he was
out of his head. I strengthened this impression by taking a foremost
part in raising a subscription for the carpenter to compensate him
partially for his loss, and myself contributed fifty dollars.”

“Out of the man’s own money?” asked Kirby laughing.

“No, I didn’t venture to use one of the fifty dollars. I used other
money which I had.”

“Then you have the money by you still?”

“Yes.”

Squire Bates rose from his seat, locked the door, and then opening a
small cabinet drew out a roll of bills—which he counted before his
visitor.

“See,” he said, “Here are twenty bills, amounting in all to a thousand
dollars.”

Peter Kirby’s eyes brightened covetously as he eyed this large sum of
money.

“It was a good haul for one man to make, in a quiet place like this,”
he said.

“So I flatter myself,” said Squire Bates complacently.

“But I can’t help expressing my surprise at your burying yourself in
such a small, out of the way place. If you were in one of our large
cities, for instance, it would be much more convenient, and the rest of
the band could communicate with you better.”

Squire Bates rose and paced the room thoughtfully.

“That is true,” he said, after a pause, “but you must remember also that
I should stand a better chance of being recognized in a large and
important place, where there is a well disciplined and efficient police
force and an organized body of detectives. No one would think of looking
for me in a small, unimportant village like Waterford, where I pass as
the village lawyer, and have a commission as justice of the peace.”

“How do you sustain the part of a lawyer?”

“I have a few law books, and there was a time in earlier years—I think
I was nineteen—when I passed six months in the office of a lawyer,
where I picked up some of the rudiments of practical jurisprudence.”

“Where was that?”

“In a Western town, not far from Chicago. Here no very complicated
matters come before me. I am perfectly competent to draft a will, to
write out a deed, make out a lease, and so on—that is all that is
required of me.”

“You must find it very dull living here. I couldn’t stand it.”

“I must live somewhere, and you must remember that I have a wife and
son who are entirely ignorant of my real character.”

“They suppose you to be a lawyer?”

“Yes.”

“I saw your son outside. It was easy to recognize him as your son.”

“Why?”

Peter Kirby touched his teeth with a significant gesture.

“He has your teeth,” he said. “They are a perfect _facsimile_.”

“Yes,” said the squire soberly. “He too is cursed with this deformity.”

“Still, as teeth, I have no doubt they are strong and—durable.”

“Yes, they will last me all my life. I have no excuse for having them
extracted, and procuring an artificial set. Yet I want to do it, if I
were not a coward as regards dentists. But, to come back to business. I
shall hand you these bills, and ask you to exchange them for bills of
other denominations. You can send them to me in an express package.”

“There will be some risk about this, won’t there, as it is known that
the stolen money was in fifty-dollar bills?”

“Not if you go far enough away. I shall want you to go to Chicago on
other business which I will communicate to you. There you will have no
difficulty in effecting the change.”

“I suppose I am to have a commission?”

“Yes; you can retain fifty dollars.”

“That is small, captain,” said Kirby, in a tone of discontent.

“It may be, but I have other work for you to do which will increase
your remunerations.”

“What sort of work?”

“I have already told you of a boy in the village who suspects me of
being implicated in the robbery.”

“Yes.”

“I mean you to take him with you.”

“What, and to abduct him? That will be difficult and dangerous.”

“No, you are to offer him lucrative employment, and he will go with
you willingly. Then you are to get him into trouble, involve him in
a crime perhaps, and he won’t dare to come back. I learn from Brandon
that he is anxious to obtain a position. However, I will give you
detailed instructions how to proceed.”

“Brandon,” said his father, “I would like to have you call at Adin
Dunham’s with a note.”

Brandon frowned. He did not fancy being employed as an errand boy.

“Can’t you get somebody else?” he asked. “I wouldn’t mind going to any
other place, but I don’t like to go there on an errand.”

“Perhaps that will overcome your objections,” said his father,
producing a silver dollar.

“Thank you, papa, I’ll go,” said Brandon with alacrity, for he was
always in want of money. “Who is the note for?”

“For the boy—Dean.”

“Oh!”

Brandon’s face changed.

“Seems to me Dean Dunham is getting to be a person of a good deal of
importance,” he said. “What is the note about? If you are going to haul
him over the coals I won’t mind taking it.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Kirby, our guest, is going to offer him a
position as his clerk and private secretary.”

“And did you recommend him to Mr. Kirby?” asked Brandon, considerably
disgusted.

Squire Bates was sharp enough to understand the cause of Brandon’s
dissatisfaction.

“I don’t mind telling you confidentially,” he said with a smile, “that
I don’t envy the boy who works for Peter Kirby.”

“Then it isn’t such a great chance after all?”

“I suspect that Dean will be sorry he engaged to work for him within
a week. But of course you won’t let drop a word to prejudice the boy
against accepting Mr. Kirby’s offer.”

“You may rely upon me, papa,” said Brandon with a chuckle.

Dean was reading aloud to his uncle when there was a knock at the door,
which was answered by Mrs. Dunham.

“Brandon Bates!” she said in surprise.

“Yes, Mrs. Dunham. Is Dean at home?”

“Won’t you come in? Yes, he’s at home.”

“I won’t stop. I should like to see him a minute.”

“Dean, here’s Brandon Bates wants to see you a minute,” said his aunt.

Dean shared in Mrs. Dunham’s surprise. He laid down the paper from
which he was reading, and went to the door.

“Good-evening, Brandon!” he said politely, “do you wish to see me?”

“Yes. I’ve got a note for you. I happened to be coming this way, and
I told my father I’d take it,” continued Brandon, anxious to have it
understood that he was not specially sent to the cottage.

“Thank you, Brandon. Won’t you come in while I am reading it?”

“No, but I’ll wait. I think it’s short.” Dean tore open the envelope,
and read as follows in the handwriting of Squire Bates:

“DEAN DUNHAM:

“I understand from my son Brandon that you are seeking employment, and
have no objection to leave home. A gentleman at present visiting me is
in want of a clerk and secretary, and he would like to have an interview
with you. As he leaves town to-morrow, I send for you this evening.

“RENWICK BATES.”

Dean felt that nothing would suit him better.

He felt grateful to Squire Bates for what he regarded as a piece of
unexpected kindness.

“Your father is very kind, Brandon,” he said as he folded up the note.
“He offers me a position with a friend of his.”

“He just mentioned the matter to me,” Brandon said indifferently.

“I wonder if the gentleman is one to whom I showed the way to your
father’s house this afternoon?”

“Like as not. I don’t know him; I never saw him before.”

“Then you don’t know whether he lives far from here or not?”

“No.”

“I wonder whether I shall suit him,” queried Dean anxiously.

“My father seems to think you will,” answered Brandon. “Of course I
don’t know anything about it.”

“I will try to suit him at any rate,” said Dean earnestly.

“Do you think your uncle will let you go?”

“Yes, it is a fair chance. I’ve talked over the matter with him and he
sees that there isn’t anything for me to do in Waterford, and that I
shall have to leave town to get a place that is worth having.”

“I shall envy you for one thing,” said Brandon.

“What is that?”

“Because you will be leaving Waterford.”

“It is a pretty village.”

“I am sick and tired of it. There is nothing going on here. I don’t see
why a gentleman of my father’s wealth should bury himself in such a
one-horse place.”

“It isn’t very lively,” Dean admitted.

“I should say not. Why even the circus doesn’t come any nearer than ten
miles. I shall tease papa to go to New York to live. I should like to
live on Madison or Fifth Avenue.”

Dean knew very little about either of the avenues referred to,
though he had heard of them as tenanted by rich families. He rather
congratulated himself that Brandon had not sought the place which was
to be offered to him.

By this time they had reached the home of Squire Bates, and Dean
followed Brandon into the house. He soon found himself in the presence
of the squire and of Peter Kirby.

“Good-evening, Dean,” said the squire pleasantly. “This is my friend,
Mr. Kirby.

“I have seen the young man before,” said Kirby, opening his mouth in
what he tried to make a pleasant smile.

“Yes, sir. I remember you.”

Looking at Kirby as his future employer, Dean was not prepossessed in
his favor. He was certainly far from an agreeable looking man, but
Dean was disposed to judge him without prejudice. He knew that a fair
outside sometimes accompanies very undesirable traits, and the reverse
might also be the case.

“If you read my note, you understand that Mr. Kirby is in want of a
young man, or boy, to assist him in the capacity of clerk or private
secretary,” the squire put in.

“I hope I may suit you, sir,” said Dean earnestly, addressing himself
to Peter Kirby.

“Oh, I am not very hard to suit. If a boy does his duty, and studies my
interests, he won’t find me a hard master.”

“I think I can promise that I will serve you faithfully, sir.”

“Is your uncle willing to have you leave home?” asked the squire.

Dean made the same answer as he had done to Brandon.

“Then there will be no difficulty there.”

“How soon would you like to have me begin, sir; that is, if you are
willing to engage me?”

“Well, you can report at French’s Hotel on Saturday—day after
to-morrow. I suppose you can find your way to New York alone?”

“Oh, yes, sir. I have never been there, but I am sure I shall have no
difficulty.”

“I will give the boy the necessary directions, Kirby,” said Squire
Bates. “He has a tongue in his head, and can ask questions.”

“What salary do you expect, Master Dunham?” asked Kirby.

“I will leave that to you, sir.”

“I am willing to pay a fair salary, say twenty-five dollars a month and
your board and lodging thrown in. Will that be satisfactory?”

“It is more than I anticipated,” said Dean, quite dazzled by the offer.
He reckoned that he would be able to send some money home to his uncle
and aunt every month—and thus have the pleasure of making up to some
extent for the expense which they had incurred on his account.

“Then that matter is settled. Here is a card with my address on it. You
will find me at French’s Hotel at one o’clock in the day. If anything
occurs to detain me, you can wait in the office till I return. My
friend Bates here will supply money for your journey.”

Dean understood that there was nothing more to be said, and he rose and
took his leave. He went home in a fever of excitement, for he felt that
he was about to enter the great world of which he had heard so much,
and which he so earnestly longed to see.

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