Dick Hamilton's Fortune/1

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"Here comes Dick Hamilton!" exclaimed a flashily-dressed youth to his companion, no less gaily attired, as the two stood in front of a building from which sounded a peculiar clicking noise.

"So it is, Guy," was the answer. "Let's get him into a game. Maybe I can win a little money. I need it, for I'm nearly dead broke."

"I thought you always had all the cash you wanted, Simon," remarked Guy Fletcher, with something like a sneer in his voice. "I know I loaned you some the other day."

"Do you think that lasted until now?" inquired Simon Scardale, glancing down at his patent leather shoes. "I'm short of ready money now, and if we can get your friend Hamilton into a game of billiards I think I can beat him."

"He's no friend of mine," returned Guy, with a short laugh. "He isn't my kind, even if his father is a millionaire."

"That's the main reason why you ought to cultivate his acqaintance," returned Simon. "It pays to keep in with such fellows. But here he is. Let me do the talking. You needn't play if you don't want to."

The two boys, who in spite of their fine clothes, did not have an air of good breeding, watched the approach of Dick Hamilton as he sauntered down the main street of the town that pleasant afternoon late in June.

Dick was a boy a little above the average height, well built, with curling brown hair and eyes of the same hue. The eyes were bright and clear, and, when he looked at you they seemed to glint like moss agates, as some of his friends used to say.

"And you ought to see them when he's excited," one of Dick's acquaintances once remarked. "His eyes sparkle and seem to look right through you."

It needed but a glance to see that Dick was well dressed, with that careless air of studied negligence which so marks the person accustomed to fine raiment. Dick wore his garments as if he was "used to them and not dressed up," as Fred Murdock remarked. There was that about him which at once proclaimed him for what he was—the son of a very wealthy man, for his father, Mortimer Hamilton, counted his fortune in the millions.

As Dick came opposite the place whence issued that peculiar sound, produced by ivory balls hitting against one another, he was hailed by Simon Scardale.

"I say, Dick, come in and have a little game of billiards?"

Dick paused and looked at the speaker with a quizzical glance.

"Who's going to play?" he asked.

"Why—er—I—am—for one," replied Simon. "And maybe Guy, here, will take a cue. I'll bet I can beat you, and I'll give you twenty-five points to start with. I'll bet you ten dollars—"

"No, thanks," answered Dick, in rather languid tones, but the sparkle in his brown eyes showed there was more spirit in the words than at first might be apparent. "I don't believe I care to play."

"Afraid I'll beat you!" exclaimed Simon, with a sneer.

"You were very far from doing that the last time you played at my house," retorted Dick, quickly.

"Oh, well, that—er—that was on a table you were used to, and—"

"He's worried about losing the money!" interrupted Guy Fletcher. "Come on, Simon, I'll play you. I'm not afraid of ten dollars, even if my father isn't quite as wealthy as his."

As a matter of fact Guy's father was very far from being as well off as Mr. Hamilton, but Guy took upon himself as much importance, and gave himself as many airs, as though his parent was a multi-milhonaire.

"Hold on!" exclaimed Dick sharply, straightening up and thrusting his hands in the pockets of his well-fitting coat. "Now don't you fellows get any wrong notions into your heads. Go a little slow. You asked me to come into a public billiard-room and play a game with you. I—"

"Yes, and you refused because you're afraid!" retorted Guy.

"That's where you're wrong," replied Dick coolly. "I refused because, in the first place, I don't play billiards in a public resort like this. I like the game, but I have a fine table at home, and I see no reason why I should waste my time hanging around in a place that's thick with tobacco smoke, and where the language isn't the most polite, not to put it too strong. Besides, the tables are in such poor condition that—"

"Oh, so you've turned Miss Nancy!" exclaimed Simon, with a mean smirk.

"If you think so just come up to my gymnasium and put on the boxing gloves with me," invited Dick with a meaning smile; but Simon knew better than to accept. He had once boxed a friendly round with Dick and had been sore for a week afterward, for Simon was "soft."

"Another reason," continued Dick, "is that I never gamble, whether it's over a game of billiards or something else. I don't believe it's right. It isn't a question of money at all. In fact, if you need a little cash, I don't mind lending it to you. But I'll not gamble for it.

"However," went on the wealthy youth, "don't let me stand in the way of you two having a good time. 'Every one to their notion,' as the old lady said when she kissed the cow," and Dick laughed.

"What's the cow got to do with it?" inquired Simon, who did not see the point of Dick's joke.

"Afraid," murmured Guy, but so low that Dick did not hear him.

"The cow," retorted Dick, with a glance at Simon, "is a second cousin to the one that jumped over the moon. But, aside from all this," he continued, more seriously, "if I did feel like playing billiards with you in there, I couldn't do it this afternoon, for I promised my father I'd be home early. He has an appointment with me—a very important one—and I'm in a hurry to keep it."

"Didn't look so, by the way you were walking along the street a moment ago," sneered Simon.

"I was just looking at some new fishing tackle in White's window," answered Dick. "I have my horse tied in front of the post-office, and I guess you know he goes fast enough to take me home in a hurry. Now I think I'll say ta-ta, and get along. Try to work some one else into your billiard game," and, with a nod that had in it not the least sign of displeasure, in spite of his firm words, Dick turned and walked off.

"Well, if he ain't the limit!" ejaculated Guy. "He makes me tired. Come on in, I'll play you a game; but not for ten dollars. Dad growled the other day because I asked him for money, and I've got to go slow."

"I wish I'd taken him at his word and borrowed about twenty-five dollars from him," remarked Simon, as he followed Guy into the billiard-room.

Meanwhile Dick had reached the post-office, where his horse, a handsome bay of fine spirit, but gentle disposition, was waiting him. The animal whinnied with pleasure as the lad came up, and when he patted the black muzzle, the horse showed every evidence of delight.

"I wonder if they think I can't get home in a hurry on you, Rex?" asked Dick, as he loosened the strap and vaulted into the saddle. "Come on, now, show 'em how you can go!"

The splendid animal was off like a shot, many persons in the street turning to look at the pleasing picture the well-built youth made on his handsome steed. Past the billiard parlor Dick rode at a fast pace, and several youths inside hurried to the door.

"There he goes," remarked Simon, with a sneer. "I'd like to take some of the starch out of him."

"Who?" inquired another player, chalking his cue.

"Dick Hamilton."

"He hasn't any starch in him," was the answer. "He's one of the best fellows in the world. One of the very few who has not been spoiled by their father's wealth. You don't know Dick Hamilton, or you wouldn't say he's stiff or proud."

"We don't want to know him," put in Guy.

"Well, I'd be proud to," went on the player at the next table. "He isn't in my class, or, rather, I'm not in his, but he always bows pleasantly and speaks to me every time we meet. He's a real sport, he is. None of your tin-horn variety."

Through the main street of the town Dick rode, waving his hand now and then to acquaintances who saluted him. To some he called out cheery words of greeting, and to several elderly men he bowed respectfully.

As Dick turned out of the main thoroughfare into one that led to the handsome mansion where he and his father lived, he came in sight of a spectacle that made him pause. It was a rattle-trap of a wagon, drawn by a horse that seemed as much in danger of falling apart as did the vehicle. In the wagon was a miscellaneous collection of scrap iron, broken pipes, pieces of stoves, fractured pulleys and bent shafting mingling in a confused mass. On the seat sat a pleasant-faced, bright-looking youth, about Dick's age, and nearly of his size.

"Hello, Henry!" called Dick. "What in the world have you got there?"

"Scrap iron, scrap wagon and a scrap horse," replied Henry Darby, with a grin.

"What are you doing?"

"Well, I'm in a sort of new venture," was the answer. "I'm collecting old iron, wherever I can I find it, and selling it again. I bought up a lot out in the country, and I hired this rig to get it back to town with; only I'm afraid I'm not going to arrive."

"What's the matter?"

"Why, this horse—if you can call such an animal a dignified name like that—has the heaves, a spavin, spring-halt, blind-staggers, and a few other things. It got tired a few minutes ago, and went on a strike. I'm afraid to do anything to it to make it go for fear it'll fall apart right here in the road."

Dick, who had brought his steed to a stop, laughed heartily.

"Well, you are in a fix," he said. "But I don't understand about this old iron business."

"I've got to do something to make a living," answered Henry Darby, who seemed confused about something "I have been doing it on a small scale for quite a while. Now I'm trying to branch out a bit. There's money in old iron, if I could sell enough of it. But I don't see how I'm going to get this load home. You might lend me your horse," he added with a laugh; for in spite of the poverty of Henry Darby, and the wealth of Dick Hamilton, the two boys were good friends.

"I'm sorry I can't do that, Henry," said Dick; and his voice showed that he was sincere. "The fact is, I'm in a hurry to get home. When I went out this morning father told me to be sure to be in at three o'clock, as he had something important to tell me."

"Maybe he's going to reduce your allowance," suggested Henry, with a laugh.

"No, I can't imagine what it is," and Dick spoke soberly "But that it's important I know by the way he acted. Otherwise I'd lend you my horse to pull that load back with. I'll tell you what I'll do, however. As soon as I get home I'll send one of the grooms out here with one of the work horses. They'll think that load is a feather. But now I am in a hurry, so I must gallop on. It won't do to keep dad waiting, especially when be laid so much stress on my being home on time."

"Oh, don't trouble about a horse. I guess I can get this—this animal to go after a while," and Henry laughed; for he was of a happy disposition, and trouble rolled away from him "like water off a duck's back," as he used to say.

"But it's no trouble at all," insisted Dick. "You wait here and I'll send a man back with a horse. You can drive him home to-morrow, or to-night, if you like."

"All right. It's very kind of you," said Henry, but Dick did not stay to listen to the thanks before he had called to Rex, under whose flying feet the dust of the road arose in a cloud.

"He must be in a hurry to ride like that," thought Henry, as he tried to lead on his apology for a horse. "I wonder what it is that his father is going to tell him? It must be about money I guess, for Mr. Hamilton has so much he doesn't know what to do with all of it."

Dick was also wondering, as he galloped along, what the important matter might be that his parent was to speak to him about. He only had a hint of it in what Mr. Hamilton had said that morning.

"This is your birthday," Dick's father had remarked, when he and his son were at breakfast in the Hamilton mansion. "I wish you many happy returns, and I will add that I have something very important to say to you this afternoon—something that may have a great influence on your future life. I will meet you here in the library at three o'clock, and communicate to you certain portions of your dear mother's will."

For a moment emotion had overcame Mr. Hamilton, for his wife, of whom he had been devotedly fond, though dead some years, was ever a living memory to him. Dick's eyes filled with tears as he recalled the sweet-faced woman to whom he had lisped "mother," for he was only a small chap when she died.

"So, if you will be here on time, Dick," his father finally went on, "I will read to you an important document, in accordance with your mother's final instructions. Now don't be late. I am a busy man, and if I make an appointment for a certain time, I like the other fellow to be there also," and he smiled at his son.

"I'll be there, father," promised Dick. So now he was hurrying on to keep his appointment. His home was about two miles from the town of Hamilton Corners, in one of our eastern states, the place having been named in honor of Mr. Hamilton, who, as will be told later, was at the head of many industries that gave the town its importance.

"I wonder what it can all be about?" mused Dick, as he turned his horse into the driveway that led to the mansion.

In a vague way he knew that his mother had been very wealthy in her own right; almost as wealthy as Mr. Hamilton, who was many times a millionaire. But Dick had no idea of the provisions of his mother's will. He had often heard his father speak of what a wise and far-seeing woman Mrs. Hamilton was; but Dick, who was a healthy, happy youth, fond of all kinds of sports, had not up to this time given much thought to the future.

Now, to-day, he was to be given a glimpse into it, and he was not a little sobered by the thoughts of the coming interview.