"I see you've got a new shirt on, Mike," said Mr. O'Connor.
"Yes, sir," said Mike.
"Where did you get it?"
"Where would I get it?" said Mike. "I bought it yesterday."
"Where did you buy it?"
"Round in Baxter Street," said Mike, confidently.
"It is a pretty good shirt for Baxter Street," remarked Mr. O'Connor. "How much did you pay for it?"
"Fifty cents," answered Mike, glibly.
"This may all be true, Mike," said the superintendent; "but I am not certain about it. This boy here says it is his shirt, and he thinks that you stole it from him while he was lying asleep in City Hall Park yesterday."
"It's a lie he's tellin', sir," said Mike. "I never seed him afore."
Here seemed to be a conflict of evidence. Of the two Ben seemed the more likely to tell the truth. Still it was possible that he might be mistaken, and Mike might be right after all.
"Have you any other proof that the shirt is yours?" asked Mr. O'Connor, turning to Ben.
"Yes," said Ben, "my name is marked on the shirt, just below the waist."
"We can settle the matter quickly then. Mike, pull out the shirt, so that we can see it."
Mike made some objection, which was quickly overruled. The shirt, being examined, bore the name of "Benj. Brandon," just as Ben had said.
"The shirt is yours," said the superintendent to Ben.
"Now, Mike, what did you mean by telling me that lie? It was bad enough to steal, without adding a lie besides."
"I bought the shirt in Baxter Street," persisted Mike, unblushingly.
"Then how do you account for his name on it?"
"Maybe he sold it to the man I bought it of."
"I didn't sell it at all," said Ben.
"Was that all you had taken?"
"No," said Ben. "There was another shirt besides."
"Do you know anything about it, Mike?"
"No, I don't," said Mike.
"I don't know whether you are telling the truth or not," said the superintendent; "but at any rate you must take this off, and give it to the right owner."
"And will he pay me the fifty cents?" asked Mike.
"I don't think you bought it at all; but if you did, you can prove it by the man you bought it of. If you can do that, I will see that the money is refunded to you."
There was one strong reason for discrediting Mike's story. These Baxter-Street shops are often the receptacles of stolen goods. As their identification might bring the dealers into trouble, they are very careful, as soon as an article comes into their possession, to obliterate all the marks of former ownership. It was hardly likely that they would suffer a shirt to go out of their hands so plainly marked as was the case in the present instance. Mr. O'Connor, of course, knew this, and accordingly had very little fear that he was doing injustice to Mike in ordering him to make restitution to Ben.
Mike was forced, considerably against his will, to take off the new shirt, and put on his old ragged one. But the former was no longer as clean as formerly.
"Where can I get it washed?" asked Ben.
"You can wash it yourself, in the wash-room, or you can carry it to a laundry, as some of the boys do, if you are willing to pay for it."
"I think I would rather carry it to a laundry," said Ben, who doubted strongly his ability to wash the shirt so as to improve its appearance. The superintendent accordingly gave him the direction to one of these establishments.
Opposite the room which he had entered was a smaller room used by the boys as a gymnasium. Ben looked into it, and determined to use it on some future occasion. He next went into the wash-room. Here he saw two or three boys, stripped to the waist, engaged in washing out their shirts. Being provided with but a single one each, they left them to dry over night while they were in bed, and could dispense with them. Ben wondered how they managed about ironing them; but he soon found that with these amateur laundresses ironing was not considered necessary. They are put on rough-dry in the morning, and so worn until they are considered dirty enough for another purification.
Ben looked about him with interest. The boys were chatting in an animated manner, detailing their experiences during the day, or "chaffing" each other in a style peculiar to themselves.
"Say, Jim," said one, "didn't I see you at the Grand Opera last night?"
"Yes, of course you did," said Jim. "I was in a private box along with the mayor. I had a di'mond pin in the bosom of my shirt."
"Yes, I seed you through my opera-glass. What have you done with your di'mond pin?"
"Do you think I'd bring it here to be stole? No, I keep it in my safe, along of my other valooables."
Ben listened in amusement, and thought that Jim would have cut rather a singular figure in the mayor's box.
Several boys, who had gone barefoot, were washing their feet, that being required previous to going to bed. This is necessary; otherwise the clean bed-clothes would be so soiled as to require daily washing.
The boys seemed to be having a good time, and then, though he was unacquainted with any of them, felt that it was much pleasanter to be here, in a social atmosphere, than wandering around by himself in the dark and lonely streets. He observed one thing with surprise, that the boys refrained from profane or vulgar speech, though they were by no means so particular in the street during the day. This is, however, a rule strictly enforced by the superintendent, and, if not complied with, the offender is denied the privilege of the Lodging House.
After a while Ben expressed a desire to go to bed, and in company with one of the boys descended to a room equally large, in the story below, where over a hundred single beds were arranged in tiers, in a manner very similar to the berths of a steamboat. Ben was agreeably surprised by the neat and comfortable appearance of these beds. He felt that he should be nearly as well provided for as at home. Quickly undressing himself, he jumped into the bed assigned him, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
Ben had a comfortable night's rest, and when he awoke in the morning he felt that a bed at the Newsboys' Lodge was considerably better than a bale of cotton, or a hay-barge. At an early hour in the morning the boys were called, and began to tumble out in all directions, interchanging, as they performed their hasty toilet, a running fire of "chaff" and good-humored jesting, some of which consisted of personal allusions the reverse of complimentary.
Many of the boys stopped to breakfast, but not all. Some wanted to get to work earlier, and took breakfast at a later hour at some cheap restaurant, earning it before they ate it. Ben, however, had paid for his breakfast in advance, knowing that he could not get it so cheap elsewhere, and so waited to partake of it. He took his place at a long table with his companions, and found himself served with a bowl of coffee and a generous slice of bread. Sometimes, but not always, a little cold meat is supplied in addition. But even when there is bread only, the coffee warms the stomach, and so strengthens the boys for their labors outside. The breakfast was not as varied, of course, as Ben had been accustomed to at home, nor as tempting as my young readers have spread before them every morning; but it was good of its kind, and Ben ate it with unusual relish.
When he had finished his meal, he prepared to go out to work; not, however, till the superintendent, whose recollection of individual boys is surprising, considering the large number who frequent the Lodging House in the course of a year, had invited him to come again. The Lodging House, though it cannot supply the place of a private home, steps between hundreds of boys and complete vagabondage, into which, but for its existence, they would quickly lapse. Probably no money is more wisely expended than that which enables the Children's Aid Society of New York to maintain this and kindred institutions.
Ben had, after breakfast, eighty-five cents to commence the day on. But of this sum, it will be remembered, he had reserved fifty cents to pay the friendly reporter for his loan. This left him a working capital of thirty-five cents. It was not a large sum to do business on, but it was enough, and with it Ben felt quite independent.
In front of the 'Times' office, Ben met Rough and Ready,—the newsboy who had taken his part the day before. He had got the start of Ben, and was just disposing of his only remaining paper.
"How are you?" asked Ben.
"So's to be around," answered the other. "What are you up to?"
"I'm going to buy some papers."
"I have sold eight already. Where did you sleep last night?"
"At the Lodging House."
"How do you like it?"
"It's a good place, and very cheap."
"Yes, it's a bully place. I'd go there myself, if it wasn't for mother and Rose. It's enough sight better than our room on Leonard Street. But I can't leave my mother and sister."
"If you're going to buy some more papers, I'd like to go with you."
"All right. Come ahead."
Ben invested his money under the direction of his companion. By his advice, he purchased nearly to the amount of his entire capital, knowing that it would come back to him again, so that his plan for paying the reporter could still be carried out.
"You can stand near me, if you want to, Ben," said Rough and Ready.
"I am afraid I shall interfere with your trade," answered Ben.
"Don't be afraid of that. I don't ask no favors. I can get my share of business."
Ben, while engaged in selling papers himself, had an opportunity to watch the ready tact with which Rough and Ready adapted himself to the different persons whom he encountered. He succeeded in effecting a sale in many cases where others would have failed. He had sold all his papers before Ben had disposed of two-thirds of his, though both began with an equal number.
"Here, Ben," he said, generously, "give me three of your papers, I'll sell 'em for you."
By this friendly help, Ben found himself shortly empty-handed.
"Shall I buy any more?" he inquired of his companion.
"It's gettin' late for mornin' papers," said Rough and Ready. "You'd better wait till the evenin' papers come out. How much money have you made?"
Ben counted over his money, and answered, "I've made thirty-five cents."
"Well, that'll be more'n enough to buy your dinner."
"How much do you make in a day?" asked Ben.
"Sometimes over a dollar."
"You ought to lay up money, then."
Rough and Ready shook his head.
"I have to pay everything over to my mother," he said. "It's little enough to support a family."
"Doesn't your father earn anything?"
"My step-father," repeated the other, emphasizing the first syllable. "No, he doesn't earn much, and what he does earn, he spends for rum. We could do a great deal better without him," he continued.
Ben began to see that he had a much easier task before him in supporting himself, than his new friend in supplying the wants of a family of four; for Mr. Martin, his step-father, did not scruple to live partially on the earnings of his step-son, whose industry should have put him to shame.
"I guess I'll go home a little while," said Rough and Ready. "I'll see you again this afternoon."
Left to himself, Ben began to walk around with an entirely different feeling from that which he experienced the day before. He had one dollar and twenty cents in his pocket; not all of it his own, but the greater part of it his own earnings. Only twenty-four hours before his prospects seemed very dark. Now he had found friends, and he had also learned how to help himself.
As he was walking down Nassau Street, he suddenly espied, a little distance ahead, the reporter who had done him such an important service the day before.
He quickened his pace, and speedily came up with him.
"Good-morning," said he, by way of calling the reporter's attention.
"Good-morning," responded the reporter, not at first recognizing him.
"I'm ready to pay the money you lent me yesterday," said Ben.
"Oh, you're the boy I set up in business yesterday. Well, how have you made out?"
"Pretty well," said Ben, with satisfaction. "Here's the money you lent me;" and he drew out fifty cents, and offered it to the young man.
"But have you got any money left?" inquired the reporter.
Ben displayed the remainder of his money, mentioning the amount.
"You've succeeded capitally. Where did you sleep last night?"
"At the Newsboys' Lodge."
"That's better than sleeping out. I begin to think, my young friend, you must have a decided business talent. It isn't often a new boy succeeds so well."
Ben was pleased with this compliment, and made a new offer of the money, which the young man had not yet taken.
"I don't know as I had better take this money," said the reporter; "you may need it."
"No," said Ben, "I've got enough to keep me along."
"You've got to get dinner."
"That won't cost me more than twenty-five cents; then I shall have forty-five to buy papers this afternoon."
"Well," said the young man, "if you don't need it, I will take it; but on one condition."
"What is that?" asked Ben.
"That if you get hard up at any time, you will come to me, and I will help you out."
"Thank you," said Ben, gratefully. "You are very kind."
"I know that you boys are apt to have hard times; but if you work faithfully and don't form any bad habits, I think you will get along. Here is my card, and directions for finding me, if you need any assistance at any time."
Ben took the card, and went on his way, feeling more glad that he had paid his debt than if the money were still in his possession. He felt that it was a partial atonement for the theft which he had nearly committed the day before.
As he walked along, thinking of what he had just done, he suddenly found himself shoved violently off the sidewalk. Looking angrily to see who was the aggressor, he recognized Mike Rafferty, who had been detected the night before in wearing his stolen shirt.
"What's that for?" demanded Ben, angrily.
"It's to tache you better manners, ye spalpeen!" said Mike.
Ben returned the blow with spirit.
"That's to teach you not to steal my shirt again," he said.
"It's a lie," said Mike. "I bought it of the man you sold it to."
"You know better," retorted Ben. "You took it while I was asleep in the Park."
Mike was about to retaliate with another blow, when the sight of an approaching policeman warned him of peril, and he retreated in good order, sending back looks of defiance at our hero, whom he could not forgive for having proved him guilty of theft.
Ben's exploration of the city had thus far been very limited. He had heard of the Battery, and he determined to go down there. The distance was not great, and in a few minutes he found himself at the lower end of the Manhattan Island, looking with interest at the shores across the river. Here was Castle Garden, a large structure, now used for recently arrived emigrants, but once the scene of one of Jenny Lind's triumphs. Now it would seem very strange to have a grand concert given in such a building and in such a locality. However, Ben knew nothing of the purposes of the building, and looked at it ignorantly. The Battery he thought might once have been pretty; but now the grass has been worn off by pedestrians, and the once fashionable houses in the neighborhood have long ago been deserted by their original proprietors, and been turned into warehouses, or cheap boarding-houses.
After looking about a little, Ben turned to go back. He began to feel hungry, and thought he might as well get some dinner. After that was eaten it would be time for the evening papers. He was intending to go back to Fulton Street; but his attention was drawn to a restaurant by the bills of fare exposed outside. A brief examination satisfied him that the prices were quite as moderate as in Fulton Street, and he decided to enter, and take his dinner here.
BEN BECOMES A BAGGAGE-SMASHER.
The restaurant was a small one, and not fashionable in appearance, having a shabby look. The floor was sanded, and the tables were covered with soiled cloths. However, Ben had learned already not to be fastidious, and he sat down and gave his order. A plate of roast beef and a cup of coffee were brought, according to his directions. Seated opposite him at the table was a man who had nearly completed his dinner as Ben commenced. He held in his hand a Philadelphia paper, which he left behind when he rose to go.
"You have left your paper," said Ben.
"I have read it through," was the reply. "I don't care to take it."
Ben took it up, and found it to be a daily paper which his father had been accustomed to take for years. It gave him a start, as he saw the familiar page, and he felt a qualm of homesickness. The neat house in which he had lived since he was born, his mother's gentle face, rose up before him, compared with his present friendless condition, and the tears rose to his eyes. But he was in a public restaurant, and his pride came to the rescue. He pressed back the tears, and resumed his knife and fork.
When he had finished his dinner, he took up the paper once more, reading here and there. At last his eye rested on the following advertisement:—
"My son, Benjamin Brandon, having run away from home without any good reason, I hereby caution the public against trusting him on my account; but will pay the sum of one dollar and necessary expenses to any person who will return him to me. He is ten years old, well grown for his age, has dark eyes and a dark complexion. He was dressed in a gray-mixed suit, and had on a blue cap when he left home.
Ben's face flushed when he read this advertisement. It was written by his father, he knew well enough, and he judged from the language that it was written in anger. One dollar was offered for his restoration.
Ben felt somehow humiliated at the smallness of the sum, and at the thought that this advertisement would be read by his friends and school-companions. The softer thoughts, which but just now came to him, were banished, and he determined, whatever hardships awaited him, to remain in New York, and support himself as he had begun to do. But, embittered as he felt against his father, he felt a pang when he thought of his mother. He knew how anxious she would feel about him, and he wished he might be able to write her privately that he was well, and doing well. But he was afraid the letter would get into his father's hands, and reveal his whereabouts; then the police might be set on his track, and he might be forced home to endure the humiliation of a severe punishment, and the jeers of his companions, who would never let him hear the last of his abortive attempt.
At last a way occurred to him. He would write a letter, and place it in the hands of some one going to Philadelphia, to be posted in the latter city. This would give no clue to his present home, and would answer the purpose of relieving his mother's anxiety.
Late in the afternoon, Ben went into a stationery store on Nassau Street.
"Will you give me a sheet of paper, and an envelope?" he asked, depositing two cents on the counter.
The articles called for were handed him.
"Can I write a letter here?" inquired Ben.
"You can go round to that desk," said the clerk; "you will find pen and ink there."
Ben, with some difficulty, composed and wrote the following letter, for it was the first he had ever had occasion to write:—
"DEAR MOTHER,—I hope you will not feel very bad because I have left home. Father punished me for what I did not do, and after that I was not willing to stay; but I wish I could see you. Don't feel anxious about me, for I am getting along very well, and earning my own living. I cannot tell you where I am, for father might find out, and I do not want to come back, especially after that advertisement. I don't think my going will make much difference to father, as he has only offered one dollar reward for me. You need not show this letter to him. I send you my love, and I also send my love to Mary, though she used to tease me sometimes. And now I must bid you good-by.
"From your affectionate son,
After completing this letter Ben put it in the envelope, and directed it to
"MRS. RUTH BRANDON,
It may be explained that the Mary referred to was an elder sister, ten years older than Ben, against whom he felt somewhat aggrieved, on account of his sister's having interfered with him more than he thought she had any right to do. She and Ben were the only children.
If I were to express my opinion of this letter of Ben's, I should say that it was wanting in proper feeling for the mother who had always been kind and gentle to him, and whose heart, he must have known, would be deeply grieved by his running away from home. But Ben's besetting sin was pride, mingled with obstinacy, and pride prevailed over his love for his mother. If he could have known of the bitter tears which his mother was even now shedding over her lost boy, I think he would have found it difficult to maintain his resolution.
When the letter was written, Ben went across to the post-office, and bought a three-cent stamp, which he placed on the envelope. Then, learning that there was an evening train for Philadelphia, he went down to the Cortlandt Street Ferry, and watched till he saw a gentleman, who had the air of a traveller. Ben stepped up to him and inquired, "Are you going to Philadelphia, sir?"
"Yes, my lad," was the answer; "are you going there also?"
"I thought you might want somebody to take charge of you. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes, sir. If you would be so kind as to post this letter in Philadelphia."
"I will do so; but why don't you post it in New York? It will go just as well."
"The person who wrote it," said Ben, "doesn't want to have it known where it came from."
"Very well, give it to me, and I will see that it is properly mailed."
The gentleman took the letter, and Ben felt glad that it was written. He thought it would relieve his mother's anxiety.
As he was standing on the pier, a gentleman having a carpet-bag in one hand, and a bundle of books in the other, accosted him.
"Can you direct me to the Astor House, boy?"
"Yes, sir," said Ben.
Then, with a sudden thought, he added, "Shall I carry your carpet-bag, sir?"
"On the whole I think you may," said the gentleman. "Or stay, I think you may take this parcel of books."
"I can carry both, sir."
"No matter about that. I will carry the bag, and you shall be my guide."
Ben had not yet had time to get very well acquainted with the city; but the Astor House, which is situated nearly opposite the lower end of the City Hall Park, he had passed a dozen times, and knew the way to it very well. He was glad that the gentleman wished to go there, and not to one of the up-town hotels, of which he knew nothing. He went straight up Cortlandt Street to Broadway, and then turning north, soon arrived at the massive structure, which, for over thirty years, has welcomed travellers from all parts of the world.
"This is the Astor House, sir," said Ben.
"I remember it now," said the gentleman; "but it is ten years since I have been in New York, and I did not feel quite certain of finding my way. Do you live in New York?"
"You may give me the package now. How much shall I pay you for your services?"
"Whatever you please, sir," said Ben.
"Will that answer?" and the traveller placed twenty-five cents in the hands of our young hero.
"Yes, sir," said Ben, in a tone of satisfaction. "Thank you."
The traveller entered the hotel, and Ben remained outside, congratulating himself upon his good luck.
"That's an easy way to earn twenty five cents," he thought. "It didn't take me more than fifteen minutes to come up from the ferry, and I should have to sell twenty-five papers to make so much."
This sum, added to what he had made during the day by selling papers, and including what he had on hand originally, made one dollar and thirty cents. But out of this he had spent twenty-five cents for dinner, and for his letter, including postage, five cents. Thus his expenses had been thirty cents, which, being deducted, left him just one dollar. Out of this, however, it would be necessary to buy some supper, and pay for his lodging and breakfast at the Newsboys' Home. Fifteen cents, however, would do for the first, while the regular charge for the second would be but twelve cents. Ben estimated, therefore, that he would have seventy-three cents to start on next day. He felt that this was a satisfactory state of finances, and considered whether he could not afford to spend a little more for supper. However, not feeling very hungry, he concluded not to do so.
The next morning he bought papers as usual and sold them. But it seemed considerably harder work, for the money, than carrying bundles. However, Ben foresaw that in order to become a "baggage-smasher" (for this is the technical term by which the boys and men are known, who wait around the ferries and railway depots for a chance to carry baggage, though I have preferred to use the term luggage boy), it would be necessary to know more about localities in the city than he did at present. Accordingly he devoted the intervals of time between the selling of papers, to seeking out and ascertaining the locality of the principal hotels and streets in the city.
In the course of a fortnight he had obtained a very fair knowledge of the city. He now commenced waiting at the ferries and depots, though he did not immediately give up entirely the newspaper trade. But at length he gave it up altogether, and became a "baggage-smasher," by profession, or, as he is styled in the title of this book, a luggage boy.
Thus commences a new page in his history.
BEN'S HOME IN PHILADELPHIA.
Though the story of "Ben, the Luggage Boy," professes to treat of life in the city streets, I must devote a single chapter to a very different place. I must carry the reader to Ben's home in Pennsylvania, and show what effect his running away had upon the family circle.
There was a neat two-story house standing on the principal street in Cedarville, with a pleasant lawn in front, through which, from the gate, a gravelled walk ran to the front door. Mr. Brandon, as I have already said, was a coal-dealer, and in very comfortable circumstances; so that Ben had never known what it was to want anything which he really needed. He was a man of great firmness, and at times severity, and more than once Ben had felt aggrieved by his treatment of him. Mrs. Brandon was quite different from her husband, being gentle and kind, and it was to her that Ben always went for sympathy, in any trouble or difficulty, whether at home or at school.
Mrs. Brandon was sitting at the window with her work in her hand; but it had fallen listlessly in her lap, and on her face was a look of painful preoccupation. Opposite her sat her daughter Mary, Ben's only sister, already referred to.
"Don't worry so, mother," said Mary; "you will make yourself sick."
"I cannot help it, Mary," said Mrs. Brandon. "I can't help worrying about Ben. He has been gone a week now, and Heaven knows what he has suffered. He may be dead."
"No, mother," said Mary, who had more of her father's strength than her mother's gentleness. "He is not dead, you may depend upon that."
"But he had no money, that I know of. How could he live?"
"Ben can take care of himself better than most boys of his age."
"But think of a boy of ten going out in the world by himself!"
"There are many boys of ten who have to do it, mother."
"What could the poor boy do?"
"He might suffer a little; but if he does, he will the sooner come home."
"I wish he might," said Mrs. Brandon, with a sigh. "I think your father does very wrong not to go after him."
"He wouldn't know where to go. Besides, he has advertised."
"I hope Ben will not see the advertisement. Poor boy! he would feel hurt to think that we cared so little for him as to offer only one dollar for his return."
"He will know you had nothing to do with the advertisement, mother; you may be sure of that."
"Yes, he knows me too well for that. I would give all I have to have him back."
"I want him back too," said Mary. "He is my only brother, and of course I love him; but I don't think it will do him any harm to suffer a little as a punishment for going away."
"You were always hard upon the poor boy, Mary," said Mrs. Brandon.
"No, I am not hard; but I see his faults, and I want him to correct them. It is you who have been too indulgent."
"If I have been, it is because you and your father have been too much the other way."
There was a brief pause, then Mrs. Brandon said, "Can you think of any place, Mary, where Ben would be likely to go?"
"Yes, I suppose he went to Philadelphia. When a boy runs away from home, he naturally goes to the nearest city."
"I have a great mind to go up to-morrow."
"What good would it do, mother?"
"I might meet him in the street."
"There is not much chance of that. I shouldn't wonder if by this time he had gone to sea."
"Gone to sea!" repeated Mrs. Brandon, turning pale. "What makes you think so? Did he ever speak of such a thing to you?"
"Yes, he once threatened to run away to sea, when I did something that did not suit him."
"Oh, I hope not. I have heard that boys are treated very badly on board ship. Besides, he might get drowned."
"I am not sure whether a good sea-voyage might not be the best thing for him," said strong-minded Mary.
"But suppose he should be ill-treated?"
"It might take the pride out of him, and make him a better boy."
"I never get much satisfaction from you, Mary. I don't see how you can be so harsh."
"I see we are not likely to agree, mother. But there is a boy coming up the walk with a letter in his hand."
"It may be from Ben," said his mother, rising hastily, and going to the door.
The boy was William Gordon, a school-mate of Ben's, whose disappearance, long before this time, had been reported throughout the village.
"I was passing the post-office, Mrs. Brandon," he said, "when the postmaster called from the window, and asked me to bring you this letter. I think it is from Ben. The handwriting looks like his."
"Oh, thank you, William," said Mrs. Brandon, joyfully. "Give it to me quick."
She tore it open and read the letter, which is given at length in the last chapter.
"Is it from Ben?" asked William.
"Is he in Philadelphia? I noticed it was mailed there."
"Yes—no—he says he cannot tell us where he is."
"I think he must be in Philadelphia, or the letter would not be mailed there."
"Come in, William. I must go and tell Mary."
"No, thank you, Mrs. Brandon. I am on an errand for my mother. I hope Ben is well?"
"Yes, he says so."
Mrs. Brandon went in, and showed the letter to her daughter.
"There, I told you, mother, you need not be alarmed. He says he is earning his living."
"But it seems so hard for a boy of ten to have to work for his living. What can he do?"
"Oh, there are various things he can do. He might sell papers, for instance."
"I think I shall go to Philadelphia to-morrow, Mary."
"It won't be of any use, you may depend, mother. He is not in Philadelphia."
"But this letter is posted there."
"That is a proof to me that he is not there. He says he don't want to come back."
Shortly after, Mr. Brandon entered the house.
"We have had a letter from Ben, father," said Mary.
"Show it to me," he said, briefly.
He read the letter, and handed it back without a word.
"What are you going to do about it, Mr. Brandon?" asked his wife.
"What is there to be done?" he asked.
"I think I had better go up to Philadelphia to-morrow."
"I might see him."
"You would be going on a wild-goose chase."
"Then why won't you go?"
"It isn't worth while. If the boy doesn't want to come home, he may take care of himself if he likes it so well. I shan't run round after him."
"He says he did not do what you punished him for," said Mrs. Brandon, rather deprecatingly, for she was somewhat in awe of her husband.
"Of course he would say that. I have heard that before."
"But I don't think he really did."
"I know you have always been foolishly indulgent to him."
"At any rate that cannot be said of you," said his wife, with some spirit.
"No," he answered, rather surprised at such an unusual manifestation from his usually acquiescent wife; "you are right there, and you might add that I don't mean to be, if he should return."
"I think he would have come home but for that advertisement. You see what he says about it in his letter."
"If I were to write it again, I should write it in the same manner, though perhaps I might not offer so large a sum."
Mrs. Brandon sighed, and ceased speaking. She knew her husband well enough to see that there was little chance of changing his determination, or softening his anger towards Ben.
The next day, when Mr. Brandon returned home to dinner from his coal-wharf, he found Mary seated at the head of the table.
"Where is your mother?" he asked.
"She went to Philadelphia by the middle train," was the answer.
"She has gone on a fool's errand."
"I advised her not to go; but she thought she might meet Ben, and I could not dissuade her."
"Well, she will be better satisfied after she has been up—and failed to find him."
"Do you think he will ever come back, father?"
"Yes; he will turn up again some day, like a bad penny. He will find that earning his own living is not quite so agreeable as being taken care of at home."
"Suppose he shouldn't come back?"
"So much the worse for him," said Mr. Brandon.
Mr. Brandon spoke after his way of speaking, for he was not an affectionate man, nor given to the softer emotions. He had never given Ben any reason to think he loved him, at least since he was a baby, but appearances are sometimes deceptive, and he thought more of his son's absence than any one would have supposed. He thought, too, of that sentence in Ben's letter, in which he spoke of being punished for what he did not do, and he admitted to himself, though he would not have done so to his wife, that perhaps he had been unjust to the boy after all. Every day when he turned from his office to go home, it was with the unacknowledged hope that he might find the prodigal returned. But in this hope they were all doomed to be disappointed. Year after year passed away, and still no tidings from Ben beyond that single letter which we have mentioned.
Mrs. Brandon returned from Philadelphia, as might have been anticipated, disappointed and despondent. She was very tired, for she had wandered about the streets, looking everywhere, during the four or five hours she was in the city. Once or twice her heart beat high, as she saw in front of her a boy of Ben's size, and dressed as he had been dressed when he left home. But when, with hurrying steps she came up with him, she was doomed, in every case, to disappointment.
"I told you it would be no use, mother," said Mary.
"I couldn't stay at home contented, if I did nothing to find him, Mary."
"He'll turn up yet some day, mother,—return in rags most likely."
"Come when he may, or how he may, Mary, my arms shall be open to receive him."
But the years passed, and Ben did not come.
THE FIRST CIGAR.
It was a week or more after Ben started in business as a baggage-smasher, that, in returning from carrying a carpet-bag to Lovejoy's Hotel, on Broadway, he fell in with his first city acquaintance, Jerry Collins. Jerry had just "polished up" a gentleman's boots, and, having been unusually lucky this morning in securing shines, felt disposed to be lavish.
"How are you, Ben?" asked Jerry. "What are you up to now?"
"I'm a baggage-smasher," answered Ben, who was beginning to adopt the language of the streets.
"How does it pay?"
"Well," said Ben, "sometimes it pays first rate, when I'm lucky. Other days I don't get much to do. I didn't make but fifteen cents this morning. I carried a bag up to Lovejoy's, and that's all the man would pay me."
"I've made fifty cents this mornin'. Look here, Johnny."
The Johnny addressed was a boy who sold cigars, four for ten cents.
"I'll take two," said Jerry, producing five cents.
"Six cents for two," said the cigar boy.
"All right, I'll owe you the other cent," said Jerry, coolly.
"Do you smoke?" inquired Ben.
"In course I do. Don't you?"
"Why don't you?"
"I don't know," said Ben. "Do you like it?"
"It's bully. Here, take this cigar. I bought it for you."
Ben hesitated; but finally, induced mainly by a curiosity to see how it seemed, accepted the cigar, and lighted it by Jerry's. The two boys sat down on an empty box, and Jerry instructed Ben how to puff. Ben did not particularly enjoy it; but thought he might as well learn now as any other time. His companion puffed away like a veteran smoker; but after a while Ben's head began to swim, and he felt sick at his stomach.
"I don't feel well," he said. "I guess I'll stop smoking."
"Oh, go ahead," said Jerry. "It's only because it's the first time. You'll like it after a while."
Thus encouraged, Ben continued to smoke, though his head and his stomach got continually worse.
"I don't like it," gasped Ben, throwing down the cigar. "I'm going to stop."
"You've got a healthy color," said Jerry, slyly.
"I'm afraid I'm going to be awful sick," said Ben, whose sensations were very far from comfortable. Just at this moment, ignorant of the brief character of his present feelings, he heartily wished himself at home, for the first time since his arrival in the city.
"You do look rather green," said Jerry. "Maybe you're going to have the cholera. I've heard that there's some cases round."
This suggestion alarmed Ben, who laid his head down between his knees, and began to feel worse than ever.
"Don't be scared," said Jerry, thinking it time to relieve Ben's mind. "It's only the cigar. You'll feel all right in a jiffy."
While Ben was experiencing the disagreeable effects of his first cigar, he resolved never to smoke another. But, as might have been expected, he felt differently on recovering. It was not long before he could puff away with as much enjoyment and unconcern as any of his street companions, and a part of his earnings were consumed in this way. It may be remarked here that the street boy does not always indulge in the luxury of a whole cigar. Sometimes he picks up a fragment which has been discarded by the original smoker. There are some small dealers, who make it a business to collect these "stubs," or employ others to do so, and then sell them to the street boys, at a penny apiece, or less, according to size. Sometimes these stubs are bought in preference to a cheap cigar, because they are apt to be of a superior quality. Ben, however, never smoked "stubs." In course of time he became very much like other street boys; but in some respects his taste was more fastidious, and he preferred to indulge himself in a cheap cigar, which was not second-hand.
We must now pass rapidly over the six years which elapsed from the date of Ben's first being set adrift in the streets to the period at which our story properly begins. These years have been fruitful of change to our young adventurer. They have changed him from a country boy of ten, to a self-reliant and independent street boy of sixteen. The impressions left by his early and careful home-training have been mostly effaced. Nothing in his garb now distinguishes him from the class of which he is a type. He has long since ceased to care for neat or whole attire, or carefully brushed hair. His straggling locks, usually long, protrude from an aperture in his hat. His shoes would make a very poor advertisement for the shoemaker by whom they were originally manufactured. His face is not always free from stains, and his street companions have long since ceased to charge him with putting on airs, on account of the superior neatness of his personal appearance. Indeed, he has become rather a favorite among them, in consequence of his frankness, and his willingness at all times to lend a helping hand to a comrade temporarily "hard up." He has adopted to a great extent the tastes and habits of the class to which he belongs, and bears with acquired philosophy the hardships and privations which fall to their lot. Like "Ragged Dick," he has a sense of humor, which is apt to reveal itself in grotesque phrases, or amusing exaggerations.
Of course his education, so far as education is obtained from books, has not advanced at all. He has not forgotten how to read, having occasion to read the daily papers. Occasionally, too, he indulges himself in a dime novel, the more sensational the better, and is sometimes induced to read therefrom to a group of companions whose attainments are even less than his own.
It may be asked whether he ever thinks of his Pennsylvania home, of his parents and his sister. At first he thought of them frequently; but by degrees he became so accustomed to the freedom and independence of his street life, with its constant variety, that he would have been unwilling to return, even if the original cause of his leaving home were removed. Life in a Pennsylvania village seemed "slow" compared with the excitement of his present life.
In the winter, when the weather was inclement, and the lodging accommodations afforded by the street were not particularly satisfactory, Ben found it convenient to avail himself of the cheap lodgings furnished by the Newsboys' Lodging House; but at other times, particularly in the warm summer nights, he saved his six cents, and found a lodging for himself among the wharves, or in some lane or alley. Of the future he did not think much. Like street boys in general, his horizon was limited by the present. Sometimes, indeed, it did occur to him that he could not be a luggage boy all his lifetime. Some time or other he must take up something else. However, Ben carelessly concluded that he could make a living somehow or other, and as to old age that was too far ahead to disquiet himself about.
THE PASSENGER FROM ALBANY.
Ben did not confine himself to any particular pier or railway depot, but stationed himself now at one, now at another, according as the whim seized him, or as the prospect of profit appeared more or less promising. One afternoon he made his way to the pier at which the Albany boats landed. He knew the hour of arrival, not only for the river-boats, but for most of the inward trains, for this was required by his business.
He had just finished smoking a cheap cigar when the boat arrived. The passengers poured out, and the usual bustle ensued. Now was the time for Ben to be on the alert. He scanned the outcoming passengers with an attentive eye, fixing his attention upon those who were encumbered with carpet-bags, valises, or bundles. These he marked out as his possible patrons, and accosted them professionally.
"Smash yer baggage, sir?" he said to a gentleman carrying a valise.
The latter stared hard at Ben, evidently misunderstanding him, and answered irascibly, "Confound your impudence, boy; what do you mean?"
"Smash yer baggage, sir?"
"If you smash my baggage, I'll smash your head."
"Thank you, sir, for your kind offer; but my head aint insured," said Ben, who saw the joke, and enjoyed it.
"Look here, boy," said the puzzled traveller, "what possible good would it do you to smash my baggage?"
"That's the way I make a livin'," said Ben.
"Do you mean to say any persons are foolish enough to pay you for destroying their baggage? You must be crazy, or else you must think I am."
"Not destroying it, smashin' it."
"What's the difference?"
Here a person who had listened to the conversation with some amusement interposed.
"If you will allow me to explain, sir, the boy only proposes to carry your valise. He is what we call a 'baggage-smasher,' and carrying it is called 'smashing.'"
"Indeed, that's a very singular expression to use. Well, my lad, I think I understand you now. You have no hostile intentions, then?"
"Nary a one," answered Ben.
"Then I may see fit to employ you. Of course you know the way everywhere?"
"You may take my valise as far as Broadway. There I shall take a stage."
Ben took the valise, and raising it to his shoulders was about to precede his patron.
"You can walk along by my side," said the gentleman; "I want to talk to you."
"All right, governor," said Ben. "I'm ready for an interview."
"How do you like 'baggage-smashing,' as you call it?"
"I like it pretty well when I'm workin' for a liberal gentleman like you," said Ben, shrewdly.
"What makes you think I am liberal?" asked the gentleman, smiling.
"I can tell by your face," answered our hero.
"But you get disappointed sometimes, don't you?"
"Yes, sometimes," Ben admitted.
"Tell me some of your experiences that way."
"Last week," said Ben, "I carried a bag, and a thunderin' heavy one, from the Norwich boat to French's Hotel,—a mile and a half I guess it was,—and how much do you think the man paid me?"
"Yes, he did, but he didn't want to. All he offered me first was ten cents."
"That's rather poor pay. I don't think I should want to work for that myself."
"You couldn't live very high on such pay," said Ben.
"I have worked as cheap, though."
"You have!" said Ben, surprised.
"Yes, my lad, I was a poor boy once,—as poor as you are."
"Where did you live?" asked Ben, interested.
"In a country town in New England. My father died early, and I was left alone in the world. So I hired myself out to a farmer for a dollar a week and board. I had to be up at five every morning, and work all day. My wages, you see, amounted to only about sixteen cents a day and board for twelve hours' work."
"Why didn't you run away?" inquired Ben.
"I didn't know where to run to."
"I s'pose you aint workin' for that now?" said our hero.
"No, I've been promoted," said the gentleman, smiling. "Of course I got higher pay, as I grew older. Still, at twenty-one I found myself with only two hundred dollars. I worked a year longer till it became three hundred, and then I went out West,—to Ohio,—where I took up a quarter-section of land, and became a farmer on my own account. Since then I've dipped into several things, have bought more land, which has increased in value on my hands, till now I am probably worth fifty thousand dollars."
"I'm glad of it," said Ben.
"Because you can afford to pay me liberal for smashin' your baggage."
"What do you call liberal?" inquired his patron, smiling.
"Fifty cents," answered Ben, promptly.
"Then I will be liberal. Now, suppose you tell me something about yourself. How long have you been a 'baggage-smasher,' as you call it?"
"Six years," said Ben.
"You must have begun young. How old are you now?"
"You'll soon be a man. What do you intend to do then?"
"I haven't thought much about it," said Ben, with truth.
"You don't mean to carry baggage all your life, do you?"
"I guess not," answered Ben. "When I get to be old and infirm, I'm goin' into some light, genteel employment, such as keepin' a street stand."
"So that is your highest ambition, is it?" asked the stranger.
"I don't think I've got any ambition," said Ben. "As long as I make a livin', I don't mind."
"When you see well-dressed gentlemen walking down Broadway, or riding in their carriages, don't you sometimes think it would be agreeable if you could be in their place?"
"I should like to have a lot of money," said Ben. "I wouldn't mind bein' the president of a bank, or a railway-director, or somethin' of that kind."
"I am afraid you have never thought seriously upon the subject of your future," said Ben's companion, "or you wouldn't be satisfied with your present business."
"What else can I do? I'd rather smash baggage than sell papers or black boots."
"I would not advise either. I'll tell you what you ought to do, my young friend. You should leave the city, and come out West. I'll give you something to do on one of my farms, and promote you as you are fit for it."
"You're very kind," said Ben, more seriously; "but I shouldn't like it."
"I don't want to leave the city. Here there's somethin' goin' on. I'd miss the streets and the crowds. I'd get awful lonesome in the country."
"Isn't it better to have a good home in the country than to live as you do in the city?"
"I like it well enough," said Ben. "We're a jolly crowd, and we do as we please. There aint nobody to order us round 'cept the copps, and they let us alone unless we steal, or something of that kind."
"So you are wedded to your city life?"
"Yes, I guess so; though I don't remember when the weddin' took place."
"And you prefer to live on in your old way?"
"Yes, sir; thank you all the same."
"You may change your mind some time, my lad. If you ever do, and will write to me at B——, Ohio, I will send for you to come out. Here is my card."
"Thank you, sir," said Ben. "I'll keep the card, and if ever I change my mind, I'll let you know."
They had been walking slowly, or they would have reached Broadway sooner. They had now arrived there, and the stranger bade Ben good-by, handing him at the same time the fifty cents agreed upon.
"He's a brick," Ben soliloquized, "even if he did say he'd smash my head. I hope I'll meet some more like him."
Ben's objection to leaving the city is felt in an equal degree by many boys who are situated like himself. Street life has its privations and actual sufferings; but for all that there is a wild independence and freedom from restraint about it, which suits those who follow it. To be at the beck and call of no one; to be responsible only to themselves, provided they keep from violating the law, has a charm to these young outcasts. Then, again, they become accustomed to the street and its varied scenes, and the daily excitement of life in a large city becomes such a matter of necessity to them, that they find the country lonesome. Yet, under the auspices of the Children's Aid Society, companies of boys are continually being sent out to the great West with the happiest results. After a while the first loneliness wears away, and they become interested in the new scenes and labors to which they are introduced, and a large number have already grown up to hold respectable, and, in some cases, prominent places, in the communities which they have joined. Others have pined for the city, until they could no longer resist their yearning for it, and have found their way back to the old, familiar scenes, to resume the former life of suffering and privation. Such is the strange fascination which their lawless and irresponsible mode of life oftentimes exerts upon the minds of these young Arabs of the street.
When Ben parted from the passenger by the Albany boat, he did not immediately seek another job. Accustomed as he was to live from "hand to mouth," he had never troubled himself much about accumulating more than would answer his immediate needs. Some boys in the Lodging House made deposits in the bank of that institution; but frugality was not one of Ben's virtues. As long as he came out even at the end of the day, he felt very well satisfied. Generally he went penniless to bed; his business not being one that required him to reserve money for capital to carry it on. In the case of a newsboy it was different. He must keep enough on hand to buy a supply of papers in the morning, even if he were compelled to go to bed supperless.
With fifty cents in his pocket, Ben felt rich. It would buy him a good supper, besides paying for his lodging at the Newsboys' Home, and a ticket for the Old Bowery besides,—that is, a fifteen-cent ticket, which, according to the arrangement of that day, would admit him to one of the best-located seats in the house, that is, in the pit, corresponding to what is known as the parquette in other theatres. This arrangement has now been changed, so that the street boys find themselves banished to the upper gallery of their favorite theatre. But in the days of which I am speaking they made themselves conspicuous in the front rows, and were by no means bashful in indicating their approbation or disapprobation of the different actors who appeared on the boards before them.
Ben had not gone far when he fell in with an acquaintance,—Barney Flynn.
"Where you goin', Ben?" inquired Barney.
"Goin' to get some grub," answered Ben.
"I'm with you, then. I haven't eat anything since mornin', and I'm awful hungry."
"Have you got any stamps?"
"I've got a fifty."
"So have I."
"Where are you goin' for supper?"
"To Pat's, I guess."
"All right; I'll go with you."
The establishment known as "Pat's" is located in a basement in Nassau Street, as the reader of "Mark, the Match Boy," will remember. It is, of coarse, a cheap restaurant, and is considerably frequented by the street boys, who here find themselves more welcome guests than at some of the more pretentious eating-houses.
Ben and Barney entered, and gave their orders for a substantial repast. The style in which the meal was served differed considerably from the service at Delmonico's; but it is doubtful whether any of the guests at the famous up-town restaurant enjoyed their meal any better than the two street boys, each of whom was blest with a "healthy" appetite. Barney had eaten nothing since morning, and Ben's fast had only been broken by the eating of a two-cent apple, which had not been sufficient to satisfy his hunger.
Notwithstanding the liberality of their orders, however, each of the boys found himself, at the end of the meal, the possessor of twenty-five cents. This was not a very large sum to sleep on, but it was long since either had waked up in the morning with so large a capital to commence operations upon.
"What shall we do?" asked Ben.
"Suppose we go to the Old Bowery," suggested Barney.
"Or Tony Pastor's," amended Ben.
"I like the Bowery best. There's a great fight, and a feller gets killed on the stage. It's a stunnin' old play."
"Then let us go," said Ben, who, as well as his companion, liked the idea of witnessing a stage fight, which was all the more attractive on account of having a fatal termination.
As the theatre tickets would cost but fifteen cents each, the boys felt justified in purchasing each a cheap cigar, which they smoked as they walked leisurely up Chatham Street.
THE ROOM UNDER THE WHARF.
It was at a late hour when the boys left the theatre. The play had been of a highly sensational character, and had been greeted with enthusiastic applause on the part of the audience, particularly the occupants of the "pit." Now, as they emerged from the portals of the theatre, various characteristic remarks of a commendatory character were interchanged.
"How'd you like it, Ben?" asked Barney.
"Bully," said Ben.
"I liked the fight best," said Barney. "Jones give it to him just about right."
"Yes, that was good," said Ben; "but I liked it best where Alphonso says to Montmorency, 'Caitiff, beware, or, by the heavens above, my trusty sword shall drink thy foul heart's blood!'"
Ben gave this with the stage emphasis, so far as he could imitate it. Barney listened admiringly.
"I say, Ben," he replied, "you did that bully. You'd make a tip-top actor."
"Would I?" said Ben, complacently. "I think I'd like to try it if I knew enough. How much money have you got, Barney?"
"Nary a red. I spent the last on peanuts."
"Just my case. We'll have to find some place to turn in for the night."
"I know a place," said Barney, "if they'll let us in."
"Whereabouts is it?"
"Down to Dover Street wharf."
"What sort of a place is it? There aint any boxes or old wagons, are there?"
"No, it's under the wharf,—a bully place."
"Under the wharf! It's wet, isn't it?"
"No, you just come along. I'll show you."
Having no other place to suggest, Ben accepted his companion's guidance, and the two made their way by the shortest route to the wharf named. It is situated not far from Fulton Ferry on the east side. It may be called a double wharf. As originally built, it was found too low for the class of vessels that used it, and another flooring was built over the first, leaving a considerable space between the two. Its capabilities for a private rendezvous occurred to a few boys, who forthwith proceeded to avail themselves of it. It was necessary to carry on their proceedings secretly; otherwise there was danger of interference from the city police. What steps they took to make their quarters comfortable will shortly be described.
When they reached the wharf, Barney looked about him with an air of caution, which Ben observed.
"What are you scared of?" asked Ben.
"We mustn't let the 'copp' see us," said Barney, "Don't make no noise."
Thus admonished, Ben followed his companion with as little noise as possible.
"How do you get down there?" he asked.
"I'll show you," said Barney.
He went to the end of the wharf, and, motioning Ben to look over, showed him a kind of ladder formed by nailing strips of wood, at regular intervals, from the outer edge down to the water's edge. This was not an arrangement of the boys, but was for the accommodation of river-boats landing at the wharf.
"I'll go down first," whispered Barney. "If the 'copp' comes along, move off, so he won't notice nothin'."
"All right!" said Ben.
Barney got part way down the ladder, when a head was protruded from below, and a voice demanded, "Who's there?"
"It's I,—Barney Flynn."
"Come along, then."
"I've got a fellow with me," continued Barney.
"Who is it?"
"It's Ben, the baggage-smasher. He wants to stop here to-night."
"All right; we can trust him."
"Come along, Ben," Barney called up the ladder.
Ben quickly commenced the descent. Barney was waiting for him, and held out his hand to help him off. Our hero stepped from the ladder upon the lower flooring of the wharf, and looked about him with some curiosity. It was certainly a singular spectacle that met his view. About a dozen boys were congregated in the room under the wharf, and had evidently taken some pains to make themselves comfortable. A carpet of good size was spread over a portion of the flooring. Upon this three beds were spread, each occupied by three boys. Those who could not be accommodated in this way laid on the carpet. Some of the boys were already asleep; two were smoking, and conversing in a low voice. Looking about him Ben recognized acquaintances in several of them.[A]
"Is that you, Mike Sweeny?" he asked of a boy stretched out on the nearest bed.
"Yes," said Mike; "come and lay alongside of me."
There was no room on the bed, but Ben found space beside it on the carpet, and accordingly stretched himself out.
[A] The description of the room under the wharf, and the circumstances of its occupation by a company of street boys, are not imaginary. It was finally discovered, and broken up by the police, the details being given, at the time, in the daily papers, as some of my New York readers will remember. Discovery did not take place, however, until it had been occupied some time.
"How do you like it?" asked Mike.
"Tip-top," said Ben. "How'd you get the carpet and beds? Did you buy 'em?"
"Yes," said Mike, with a wink; "but the man wasn't in, and we didn't pay for 'em."
"You stole them, then?"
"We took 'em," said Mike, who had an objection to the word stole.
"How did you get them down here without the copp seein' you?"
"We hid 'em away in the daytime, and didn't bring 'em here till night. We came near gettin' caught."
"How long have you been down here?"
"Most a month."
"It's a good place."
"Yes," said Mike, "and the rent is very reasonable. We don't have to pay nothin' for lodgin'. It's cheaper'n the Lodge."
"That's so," said Ben. "I'm sleepy," he said, gaping. "I've been to the Old Bowery to-night. Good-night!"
In five minutes Ben was fast asleep. Half an hour later, and not a sound was heard in the room under the wharf except the occasional deep breathing of some of the boys. The policeman who trod his beat near by little suspected that just at hand, and almost under his feet, was a rendezvous of street vagrants and juvenile thieves, for such I am sorry to say was the character of some of the boys who frequented these cheap lodgings.
In addition to the articles already described there were two or three chairs, which had been contributed by different members of the organization.
Ben slept soundly through the night. When he woke up, the gray morning light entering from the open front towards the sea had already lighted up indistinctly the space between the floors. Two or three of the boys were already sitting up, yawning and stretching themselves after their night's slumber. Among these was Mike Sweeny.
"Are you awake, Ben?" he asked.
"Yes," said Ben; "I didn't hardly know where I was at first."
"It's a bully place, isn't it?"
"That's so. How'd you come across it?"
"Oh, some of us boys found it out. We've been sleepin' here a month."
"Won't you let a feller in?"
"We might let you in. I'll speak to the boys."
"I'd like to sleep here," said Ben. "It's a good deal better than sleepin' out round. Who runs the hotel?"
"Well, I'm one of 'em."
"You might call it Sweeny's Hotel," suggested Ben, laughing.
"I aint the boss; Jim Bagley's got most to do with it."
"Which is he?"
"That's he, over on the next bed."
"What does he do?"
"He's a travellin' match merchant."
"That sounds big."
"Jim's smart,—he is. He makes more money'n any of us."
"Where does he travel?"
"Once he went to Californy in the steamer. He got a steerage ticket for seventy-five dollars; but he made more'n that blackin' boots for the other passengers afore they got there. He stayed there three months, and then came home."
"Does he travel now?"
"Yes, he buys a lot of matches, and goes up the river or down into Jersey, and is gone a week. A little while ago he went to Buffalo."
"Oh, yes; I know where that is."
"Blest if I do."
"It's in the western part of York State, just across from Canada."
"Who told you?"
"I learned it in school."
"I didn't know you was a scholar, Ben."
"I aint now. I've forgot most all I ever knew. I haven't been to school since I was ten years old."
"Where was that?"
"In the country."
"Well, I never went to school more'n a few weeks. I can read a little, but not much."
"It costs a good deal to go to Buffalo. How did Jim make it while he was gone?"
"Oh, he came home with ten dollars in his pocket besides payin' his expenses."
"What does Jim do with all his money?"
"He's got a mother and sister up in Bleecker Street, or somewheres round there. He pays his mother five dollars a week, besides takin' care of himself."
"Why don't he live with his mother?"
"He'd rather be round with the boys."
I may remark here that Jim Bagley is a real character, and all that has been said about him is derived from information given by himself, in a conversation held with him at the Newsboys' Lodging House. He figures here, however, under an assumed name, partly because the record in which his real name is preserved has been mislaid. The impression made upon the mind of the writer was, that Jim had unusual business ability and self-reliance, and might possibly develop into a successful and prosperous man of business.
Jim by this time was awake.
"Jim Bagley," said Mike, "here's a feller would like to put up at our hotel."
"Who is he?" asked Jim.
The travelling match merchant, as Mike had described him, was a boy of fifteen, rather small of his age, with a keen black eye, and a quick, decided, business-like way.
"It's this feller,—he's a baggage-smasher," explained Mike.
"All right," said Jim; "he can come if he'll pay his share."
"How much is it?" asked Ben.
Mike explained that it was expected of each guest to bring something that would add to the comforts of the rendezvous. Two boys had contributed the carpet, for which probably they had paid nothing; Jim had supplied a bed, for which he did pay, as "taking things without leave" was not in his line. Three boys had each contributed a chair. Thus all the articles which had been accumulated were individual contributions. Ben promised to pay his admission fee in the same way, but expressed a doubt whether he might not have to wait a few days, in order to save money enough to make a purchase. He never stole himself, though his association with street boys, whose principles are not always very strict on this point, had accustomed him to regard theft as a venial fault, provided it was not found out. For his own part, however, he did not care to run the risk of detection. Though he had cut himself off from his old home, he still felt that he should not like to have the report reach home that he had been convicted of dishonesty.
At an early hour the boys shook off their slumbers, and one by one left the wharf to enter upon their daily work. The newsboys were the first to go, as they must be on hand at the newspaper offices early to get their supply of papers, and fold them in readiness for early customers. The boot-blacks soon followed, as most of them were under the necessity of earning their breakfast before they ate it. Ben also got up early, and made his way to the pier of the Stonington line of steamers from Boston. These usually arrived at an early hour, and there was a good chance of a job in Ben's line when the passengers landed.
BEN MEETS AN OLD FRIEND.
Ben had about half an hour to wait for the arrival of the steamer. Among the passengers who crossed the plank from the steamer to the pier was a gentleman of middle age, and a boy about a year younger than Ben. The boy had a carpet-bag in his hand; the father, for such appeared to be the relationship, carried a heavy valise, besides a small bundle.
"Want your baggage carried?" asked Ben, varying his usual address.
The gentleman hesitated a moment.
"You'd better let him take it, father," said the boy.
"Very well, you may take this;" and the valise was passed over to Ben.
"Give me the bag too," said Ben, addressing the boy.
"No, I'll take that. You'll have all you want to do, in carrying the valise."
They crossed the street, and here the gentleman stood still, evidently undecided about something.
"What are you thinking about, father?"
"I was thinking," the gentleman said, after a slight pause, "what I had better do."
"I have two or three errands in the lower part of the city, which, as my time is limited, I should like to attend to at once."
"You had better do it, then."
"What I was thinking was, that it would not be worth while for you to go round with me, carrying the baggage."
"Couldn't I go right up to Cousin Mary's?" asked his son.
"I am afraid you might lose the way."
"This boy will go with me. I suppose he knows the way all about the city. Don't you?" he asked, turning to Ben.
"Where do you want to go?" asked Ben.
"To No.—Madison Avenue."
"Yes, I can show you the way there well enough, but it's a good way off."
"You can both take the cars or stage when you get up to the Astor House."
"How will that do?" asked Charles, for this was his name.
"I think that will be the best plan. This boy can go with you, and you can settle with him for his services. Have you got money enough?"
"I will leave you here, then."
Left to themselves, it was natural that the two boys should grow social. So far as clothing went, there was certainly a wide difference between them. Ben was attired as described in the first chapter. Charles, on the other hand, wore a short sack of dark cloth, a white vest, and gray pants. A gold chain, depending from his watch-pocket, showed that he was the possessor of a watch. His whole appearance was marked by neatness and good taste. But, leaving out this difference, a keen observer might detect a considerable resemblance in the features of the two boys. Both had dark hair, black eyes, and the contour of the face was the same. I regret to add, however, that Ben's face was not so clean as it ought to have been. Among the articles contributed by the boys who lived in the room under the wharf, a washstand had not been considered necessary, and it had been long since Ben had regarded washing the face and hands as the first preparation for the labors of the day.
Charles Marston looked at his companion with some interest and curiosity. He had never lived in New York, and there was a freshness and novelty about life in the metropolis that was attractive to him.
"Is this your business?" he asked.
"What,—smashin' baggage?" inquired Ben.
"Is that what you call it?"
"Well, is that what you do for a living?"
"Yes," said Ben. "It's my profession, when I aint attendin' to my duties as a member of the Common Council."
"So you're a member of the city government?" asked Charles, amused.
"Do you have much to do that way?"
"I'm one of the Committee on Wharves," said Ben. "It's my business to see that they're right side up with care; likewise that nobody runs away with them in the night."
"How do you get paid?"
"Well, I earn my lodgin' that way just now," said Ben.
"Have you always been in this business?"
"No. Sometimes I've sold papers."
"How did you like that?"
"I like baggage-smashin' best, when I get enough to do. You don't live in the city, do you?"
"No, I live just out of Boston,—a few miles."
"Ever been in New York before?"
"Once. That was four years ago. I passed through on the way from Pennsylvania, where I used to live."
"Pennsylvania," repeated Ben, beginning to be interested. "Whereabouts did you live there,—in Philadelphy?"
"No, a little way from there, in a small town named Cedarville."
Ben started, and he nearly let fall the valise from his hand.
"What's the matter?" asked Charles.
"I came near fallin'," said Ben, a little confused. "What's your name?" he asked, rather abruptly.
Ben scanned intently the face of his companion. He had good reason to do so, for though Charles little suspected that there was any relationship between himself and the ragged and dirty boy who carried his valise, the two were own cousins. They had been school-mates in Cedarville, and passed many a merry hour together in boyish sport. In fact Charles had been Ben's favorite playmate, as well as cousin, and many a time, when he lay awake in such chance lodgings as the street provided, he had thought of his cousin, and wished that he might meet him again. Now they had met most strangely; no longer on terms of equality, but one with all the outward appearance of a young gentleman, the other, a ragged and ignorant street boy. Ben's heart throbbed painfully when he saw that his cousin regarded him as a stranger, and for the first time in a long while he felt ashamed of his position. He would not for the world have revealed himself to Charles in his present situation; yet he felt a strong desire to learn whether he was still remembered. How to effect this without betraying his identity he hardly knew; at length he thought of a way that might lead to it.
"My name's shorter'n yours," he said.
"What is it?" asked Charles.
"That stands for Benjamin; so yours is the longest after all."
"That's so, I never thought of that. Everybody calls me Ben."
"What's your other name?"
Ben hesitated. If he said "Brandon" he would be discovered, and his pride stood in the way of that. Finally he determined to give a false name; so he answered after a slight pause, which Charles did not notice, "My other name is Hooper,—Ben Hooper. Didn't you ever know anybody of my name?"
"Yes. I had a cousin named Ben."
"Is he as old as you?" asked Ben, striving to speak carelessly.
"He is older if he is living; but I don't think he is living."
"Why, don't you know?"
"He ran away from home when he was ten years old, and we have never seen him since."
"Didn't he write where he had gone?"
"He wrote one letter to his mother, but he didn't say where he was. That is the last any of us heard from him."
"What sort of a chap was he?" inquired Ben. "He was a bad un, wasn't he?"
"No, Ben wasn't a bad boy. He had a quick temper though; but whenever he was angry he soon got over it."
"What made him run away from home?"
"His father punished him for something he didn't do. He found it out afterwards; but he is a stern man, and he never says anything about him. But I guess he feels bad sometimes. Father says he has grown old very fast since my cousin ran away."
"Is his mother living,—your aunt?" Ben inquired, drawn on by an impulse he could not resist.
"Yes, but she is always sad; she has never stopped mourning for Ben."
"Did you like your cousin?" Ben asked, looking wistfully in the face of his companion.
"Yes, he was my favorite cousin. Poor Ben and I were always together. I wish I knew whether he were alive or not."
"Perhaps you will see him again some time."
"I don't know. I used to think so; but I have about given up hopes of it. It is six years now since he ran away."
"Maybe he's turned bad," said Ben. "S'posin' he was a ragged baggage-smasher like me, you wouldn't care about seein' him, would you?"
"Yes, I would," said Charles, warmly. "I'd be glad to see Ben again, no matter how he looked, or how poor he might be."
Ben looked at his cousin with a glance of wistful affection. Street boy as he was, old memories had been awakened, and his heart had been touched by the sight of the cousin whom he had most loved when a young boy.
"And I might be like him," thought Ben, looking askance at the rags in which he was dressed, "instead of a walkin' rag-bag. I wish I was;" and he suppressed a sigh.
It has been said that street boys are not accessible to the softer emotions; but Ben did long to throw his arm round his cousin's neck in the old, affectionate way of six years since. It touched him to think that Charlie held him in affectionate remembrance. But his thoughts were diverted by noticing that they had reached the Astor House.
"I guess we'd better cross the street, and take the Fourth Avenue cars," he said. "There's one over there."
"All right!" said Charles. "I suppose you know best."
There was a car just starting; they succeeded in getting aboard, and were speedily on their up town.
BEN FORMS A RESOLUTION.
"Does this car go up Madison Avenue?" asked Charles, after they had taken their seats.
"No," said Ben, "it goes up Fourth Avenue; but that's only one block away from Madison. We'll get out at Thirtieth Street."
"I'm glad you're with me; I might have a hard time finding the place if I were alone."
"Are you going to stay in the city long?" asked Ben.
"Yes, I am going to school here. Father is going to move here soon. Until he comes I shall stay with my Cousin Mary."
Ben felt quite sure that this must be his older sister, but did not like to ask.
"Is she married?"
"Yes, it is the sister of my Cousin Ben. About two years ago she married a New York gentleman. He is a broker, and has an office in Wall Street. I suppose he's rich."
"What's his name?" asked Ben. "Maybe I've seen his office."
"It is Abercrombie,—James Abercrombie. Did you ever hear that name?"
"No," answered Ben, "I can't say as I have. He aint the broker that does my business."
"Have you much business for a broker?" asked Charles, laughing.
"I do a smashin' business in Erie and New York Central," answered Ben.
"You are in the same business as the railroads," said Charles.
"How is that?"
"You are both baggage-smashers."
"That's so; only I don't charge so much for smashin' baggage as they do."
They were on Centre Street now, and a stone building with massive stone columns came in view on the west side of the street.
"What building is that?" asked Charles.
"That's a hotel, where they lodge people free gratis."
Charles looked at his companion for information.
"It's the Tombs," said Ben. "It aint so popular, though, as the hotels where they charge higher."
"No, I suppose not. It looks gloomy enough."
"It aint very cheerful," said Ben. "I never put up there, but that's what people say that have enjoyed that privilege."
"Where is the Bowery?"
"We'll soon be in it. We turn off Centre Street a little farther up."
Charles was interested in all that he saw. The broad avenue which is known as the Bowery, with its long line of shops on either side, and the liberal display of goods on the sidewalk, attracted his attention, and he had numerous questions to ask, most of which Ben was able to answer. He had not knocked about the streets of New York six years for nothing. His business had carried him to all parts of the city, and he had acquired a large amount of local information, a part of which he retailed now to his cousin as they rode side by side in the horse-cars.
At length they reached Thirtieth Street, and here they got out. At the distance of one block they found Madison Avenue. Examining the numbers, they readily found the house of which they were in search. It was a handsome four-story house, with a brown-stone front.
"This must be Mr. Abercrombie's house," said Charles. "I didn't think Cousin Mary lived in such a nice place."
Ben surveyed the house with mingled emotions. He could not help contrasting his own forlorn, neglected condition with the position of his sister. She lived in an elegant home, enjoying, no doubt, all the advantages which money could procure; while he, her only brother, walked about the streets in rags, sleeping in any out-of-the-way corner. But he could blame no one for it. It had been his own choice, and until this morning he had been well enough contented with it. But all at once a glimpse had been given him of what might have been his lot had he been less influenced by pride and waywardness, and by the light of this new prospect he saw how little hope there was of achieving any decent position in society if he remained in his present occupation. But what could he do? Should he declare himself at once to his cousin, and his sister? Pride would not permit him to do it. He was not willing to let them see him in his ragged and dirty state. He determined to work and save up money, until he could purchase a suit as handsome as that which his cousin wore. Then he would not be ashamed to present himself, so far as his outward appearance went. He knew very well that he was ignorant; but he must trust to the future to remedy that deficiency. It would be a work of time, as he well knew. Meanwhile he had his cousin's assurance that he would be glad to meet him again, and renew the old, affectionate intimacy which formerly existed between them.
While these thoughts were passing through Ben's mind, as I have said, they reached the house.
"Have you had any breakfast?" asked Charles as they ascended the steps.
"Not yet," answered Ben. "It isn't fashionable to take breakfast early."
"Then you must come in. My cousin will give you some breakfast."
Ben hesitated; but finally decided to accept the invitation. He had two reasons for this. Partly because it would give him an opportunity to see his sister; and, secondly, because it would save him the expense of buying his breakfast elsewhere, and that was a consideration, now that he had a special object for saving money.
"Is Mrs. Abercrombie at home?" asked Charles of the servant who answered his summons.
"Yes, sir; who shall I say is here?"
"Her cousin, Charles Montrose."
"Will you walk into the parlor?" said the servant, opening a door at the side of the hall. She looked doubtfully at Ben, who had also entered the house.
"Sit down here, Ben," said Charles, indicating a chair on one side of the hat-stand. "I'll stop here till Mrs. Abercrombie comes down," he said.
Soon a light step was heard on the stairs, and Mrs. Abercrombie descended the staircase. She is the same that we last saw in the modest house in the Pennsylvania village; but the lapse of time has softened her manners, and the influence of a husband and a home have improved her. But otherwise she has not greatly changed in her looks.
Ben, who examined her face eagerly, recognized her at once. Yes, it was his sister Mary that stood before him. He would have known her anywhere. But there was a special mark by which he remembered her. There was a dent in her cheek just below the temple, the existence of which he could account for. In a fit of boyish passion, occasioned by her teasing him, he had flung a stick of wood at her head, and this had led to the mark.
"Where did you come from, Charles?" she said, giving her hand cordially to her young cousin.
"From Boston, Cousin Mary."
"Have you just arrived, and where is your father? You did not come on alone, did you?"
"No, father is with me, or rather he came on with me, but he had some errands down town, and stopped to attend to them. He will be here soon."
"How did you find the way alone?"
"I was not alone. There is my guide. By the way, I told him to stay, and you would give him some breakfast."
"Certainly, he can go down in the basement, and the servants will give him something."
Mrs. Abercrombie looked at Ben as she spoke; but on her part there was no sign of recognition. This was not strange. A boy changes greatly between ten and sixteen years of age, and when to this natural change is added the great change in Ben's dress, it will not be wondered at that his sister saw in him only an ordinary street boy.
Ben was relieved to find that he was not known. He had felt afraid that something in his looks might remind his sister of her lost brother; but the indifferent look which she turned upon him proved that he had no ground for this fear.
"You have not breakfasted, I suppose, Charles." said his cousin.
"You wouldn't think so, if you knew what an appetite I have," he answered, laughing.
"We will do our best to spoil it," said Mrs. Abercrombie.
She rang the bell, and ordered breakfast to be served.
"We are a little late this morning," she said.
"Mr. Abercrombie is in Philadelphia on business; so you won't see him till to-morrow."
When the servant appeared, Mrs. Abercrombie directed her to take Ben downstairs, and give him something to eat.
"Don't go away till I see you, Ben," said Charles, lingering a little.
"All right," said Ben.
He followed the servant down the stairs leading to the basement. On the way, he had a glimpse through the half-open door of the breakfast-table, at which his sister and his cousin were shortly to sit down.
"Some time, perhaps, I shall be invited in there," he said to himself.
But at present he had no such wish. He knew that in his ragged garb he would be out of place in the handsome breakfast-room, and he preferred to wait until his appearance was improved. He had no fault to find with the servants, who brought him a bountiful supply of beefsteak and bread and butter, and a cup of excellent coffee. Ben had been up long enough to have quite an appetite. Besides, the quality of the breakfast was considerably superior to those which he was accustomed to take in the cheap restaurants which he frequented, and he did full justice to the food that was spread before him.
When he had satisfied his appetite, he had a few minutes to wait before Charles came down to speak to him.
"Well, Ben, I hope you had a good breakfast," he said.
"Tip-top," answered Ben.
"And I hope also that you had an appetite equal to mine."
"My appetite don't often give out," said Ben; "but it aint so good now as it was when I came in."
"Now we have a little business to attend to. How much shall I pay you for smashing my baggage?" Charles asked, with a laugh.
"Whatever you like."
"Well, here's fifty cents for your services, and six cents for your car-fare back."
"Thank you," said Ben.
"Besides this, Mrs. Abercrombie has a note, which she wants carried down town to her husband's office in Wall Street. She will give you fifty cents more, if you will agree to deliver it there at once, as it is of importance."
"All right," said Ben. "I'll do it."
"Here is the note. I suppose you had better start with it at once. Good-morning."
"Good-morning," said Ben, as he held his cousin's proffered hand a moment in his own. "Maybe I'll see you again some time."
"I hope so," said Charles, kindly.
A minute later Ben was on his way to take a Fourth Avenue car down town.
LUCK AND ILL LUCK.
"That will do very well for a beginning," thought Ben, as he surveyed, with satisfaction, the two half dollars which he had received for his morning's services. He determined to save one of them towards the fund which he hoped to accumulate for the object which he had in view. How much he would need he could not decide; but thought that it would be safe to set the amount at fifty dollars. This would doubtless require a considerable time to obtain. He could not expect to be so fortunate every day as he had been this morning. Some days, no doubt, he would barely earn enough to pay expenses. Still he had made a beginning, and this was something gained. It was still more encouraging that he had determined to save money, and had an inducement to do so.
As Ben rode down town in the horse-cars, he thought of the six years which he had spent as a New York street boy; and he could not help feeling that the time had been wasted, so far as any progress or improvement was concerned. Of books he knew less than when he first came to the city. He knew more of life, indeed, but not the best side of life. He had formed some bad habits, from which he would probably have been saved if he had remained at home. Ben realized all at once how much he had lost by his hasty action in leaving home. He regarded his street life with different eyes, and felt ready to give it up, as soon as he could present himself to his parents without too great a sacrifice of his pride.
At the end of half an hour, Ben found himself at the termination of the car route, opposite the lower end of the City Hall Park.
As the letter which he had to deliver was to be carried to Wall Street, he kept on down Broadway till he reached Trinity Church, and then turned into the street opposite. He quickly found the number indicated, and entered Mr. Abercrombie's office. It was a handsome office on the lower floor. Two or three clerks were at work at their desks.
"So this is my brother-in-law's office," thought Ben. "It's rather better than mine."
"Well, young man, what can I do for you to-day?" inquired a clerk, in a tone which indicated that he thought Ben had got into the wrong shop.
"You can tell me whether your name is Sampson," answered Ben, coolly.
"No, it isn't."
"That's what I thought."
"Suppose I am not; what then?"
"Then the letter I've got isn't for you, that's all."
"So you've got a letter, have you?"
"That's what I said."
"It seems to me you're mighty independent," sneered the clerk, who felt aggrieved that Ben did not show him the respect which he conceived to be his due.
"Thank you for the compliment," said Ben, bowing.
"You can hand me the letter."
"I thought your name wasn't Sampson."
"I'll hand it to Mr. Sampson. He's gone out a moment. He'll be in directly."
"Much obliged," said Ben; "but I'd rather hand it to Mr. Sampson myself. Business aint particularly pressin' this mornin', so, if you'll hand me the mornin' paper, I'll read till he comes."
"Well, you've got cheek," ejaculated the clerk.
"I've got two of 'em if I counted right when I got up," said Ben.
Here there was a laugh from the other two clerks.
"He's too smart for you, Granby," said one.
"He's impudent enough," muttered the first, as he withdrew discomfited to his desk.
The enemy having retreated, Ben sat down in an arm-chair, and, picking up a paper, began to read.
He had not long to wait. Five minutes had scarcely passed when a man of middle age entered the office. His manner showed that he belonged there.
"If you're Mr. Sampson," said Ben, approaching him, "here is a letter for you."
"That is my name," said the gentleman, opening the note at once.
"You come from Mrs. Abercrombie," he said, glancing at Ben, as he finished reading it.
"Yes, sir," said Ben.
"How did she happen to select you as her messenger?"
"I went up there this morning to carry a valise."
"I have a great mind to send you back to her with an answer; but I hesitate on one account."
"What is that?" asked Ben.
"I don't know whether you can be trusted."
"Nor I," said Ben; "but I'm willin' to run the risk."
"No doubt," said Mr. Sampson, smiling; "but it seems to me that I should run a greater risk than you."
"I don't know about that," answered Ben. "If it's money, and I keep it, you can send the copps after me, and I'll be sent to the Island. That would be worse than losing money."
"That's true; but some of you boys don't mind that. However, I am inclined to trust you. Mrs. Abercrombie asks for a sum of money, and wishes me to send it up by one of the clerks. That I cannot very well do, as we are particularly busy this morning. I will put the money in an envelope, and give it to you to deliver. I will tell you beforehand that it is fifty dollars."
"Very good," said Ben; "I'll give it to her."
"Wait a moment."
Mr. Sampson went behind the desk, and reappeared almost directly.
"Mrs. Abercrombie will give you a line to me, stating that she has received the money. When you return with this, I will pay you for your trouble."
"All right," said Ben.
As he left the office the young clerk first mentioned said, "I am afraid, Mr. Sampson, Mrs. Abercrombie will never see that money."
"The boy will keep it."
"What makes you think so?"
"He's one of the most impudent young rascals I ever saw."
"I didn't form that opinion. He was respectful enough to me."
"He wasn't to me."
Mr. Sampson smiled a little. He had observed young Granby's assumption of importance, and partly guessed how matters stood.
"It's too late to recall him," he said. "I must run the risk. My own opinion is that he will prove faithful."
Ben had accepted the commission gladly, not alone because he would get extra pay for the additional errand, but because he saw that there was some hesitation in the mind of Mr. Sampson about trusting him, and he meant to show himself worthy of confidence. There were fifty dollars in the envelope. He had never before been trusted with that amount of money, and now it was rather because no other messenger could be conveniently sent that he found himself so trusted. Not a thought of appropriating the money came to Ben. True, it occurred to him that this was precisely the sum which he needed to fit him out respectably. But there would be greater cause for shame if he appeared well dressed on stolen money, than if he should present himself in rags to his sister. However, it is only just to Ben to say that had the party to whom he was sent been different, he would have discharged his commission honorably. Not that he was a model boy, but his pride, which was in some respects a fault with him, here served him in good stead, as it made him ashamed to do a dishonest act.