Ben rightly judged that the money would be needed as soon as possible, and, as the distance was great, he resolved to ride, trusting to Mr. Sampson's liberality to pay him for the expense which he would thus incur in addition to the compensation allowed for his services.
He once more made his way to the station of the Fourth Avenue cars, and jumped aboard one just ready to start.
The car gradually filled, and they commenced their progress up town.
Ben took a seat in the corner next to the door. Next to him was a man with black hair and black whiskers. He wore a tall felt hat with a bell crown, and a long cloak. Ben took no particular notice of him, being too much in the habit of seeing strange faces to observe them minutely. The letter he put in the side pocket of his coat, on the side nearest the stranger. He took it out once to look at it. It was addressed to Mrs. Abercrombie, at her residence, and in one corner Mr. Sampson had written "Money enclosed."
Now it chanced, though Ben did not suspect it, that the man at his side was a member of the swell mob, and his main business was picking pockets. He observed the two words, already quoted, on the envelope when Ben took it in his hand, and he made up his mind to get possession of it. This was comparatively easy, for Ben's pocket was on the side towards him. Our hero was rather careless, it must be owned, but it happened that the inside pocket of his coat had been torn away, which left him no other receptacle for the letter. Besides, Ben had never been in a situation to have much fear of pick pockets, and under ordinary circumstances he would hardly have been selected as worth plundering. But the discovery that the letter contained money altered the case.
While Ben was looking out from the opposite window across the street, the stranger dexterously inserted his hand in his pocket, and withdrew the letter. They were at that moment just opposite the Tombs.
Having gained possession of the letter, of course it was his interest to get out of the car as soon as possible, since Ben was liable at any moment to discover his loss.
He touched the conductor, who was just returning from the other end of the car, after collecting the fares.
"I'll get out here," he said.
The conductor accordingly pulled the strap, and the car stopped.
The stranger gathered his cloak about him, and, stepping out on the platform, jumped from the car. Just at that moment Ben put his hand into his pocket, and instantly discovered the loss of the letter. He immediately connected it with the departure of his fellow-passenger, and, with a hasty ejaculation, sprang from the car, and started in pursuit of him.
WHICH IS THE GUILTY PARTY?
It was an exciting moment for Ben. He felt that his character for honesty was at stake. In case the pickpocket succeeded in getting off with the letter and money, Mr. Sampson would no doubt come to the conclusion that he had appropriated the fifty dollars to his own use, while his story of the robbery would be regarded as an impudent fabrication. He might even be arrested, and sentenced to the Island for theft. If this should happen, though he were innocent, Ben felt that he should not be willing to make himself known to his sister or his parents. But there was a chance of getting back the money, and he resolved to do his best.
The pickpocket turned down a side street, his object being to get out of the range of observation as soon as possible. But one thing he did not anticipate, and this was Ben's immediate discovery of his loss. On this subject he was soon enlightened. He saw Ben jump from the horse-car, and his first impulse was to run. He made a quick movement in advance, and then paused. It occurred to him that he occupied a position of advantage with regard to his accuser, being respectably dressed, while Ben was merely a ragged street boy, whose word probably would not inspire much confidence. This vantage ground he would give up by having recourse to flight, as this would be a virtual acknowledgment of guilt. He resolved instantaneously to assume an attitude of conscious integrity, and frown down upon Ben from the heights of assumed respectability. There was one danger, however, that he was known to some of the police force in his true character. But he must take the risk of recognition.
On landing in the middle of the street, Ben lost no time; but, running up to the pickpocket, caught him by the arm.
"What do you want, boy?" he demanded, in a tone of indifference.
"I want my money," said Ben.
"I don't understand you," said the pickpocket loftily.
"Look here, mister," said Ben, impatiently; "you know well enough what I mean. You took a letter with money in it out of my pocket. Just hand it back, and I won't say anything about it."
"You're an impudent young rascal," returned the "gentleman," affecting to be outraged by such a charge. "Do you dare to accuse a gentleman like me of robbing a ragmuffin like you?"
"Yes, I do," said Ben, boldly.
"Then you're either crazy or impudent, I don't know which."
"Call me what you please; but give me back my money."
"I don't believe you ever had five dollars in your possession. How much do you mean to say there was in this letter?"
"Fifty dollars," answered Ben.
The pickpocket had an object in asking this question. He wanted to learn whether the sum of money was sufficient to make it worth his while to keep it. Had it been three or four dollars, he might have given it up, to avoid risk and trouble. But on finding that it was fifty dollars he determined to hold on to it at all hazards.
"Clear out, boy," he said, fiercely. "I shan't stand any of your impudence."
"Give me my money, then."
"If you don't stop that, I'll knock you down," repeated the pickpocket, shaking off Ben's grasp, and moving forward rapidly.
If he expected to frighten our hero away thus easily, he was very much mistaken. Ben had too much at stake to give up the attempt to recover the letter. He ran forward, and, seizing the man by the arm, he reiterated, in a tone of firm determination, "Give me my money, or I'll call a copp."
"Take that, you young villain!" exclaimed the badgered thief, bringing his fist in contact with Ben's face in such a manner as to cause the blood to flow.
In a physical contest it was clear that Ben would get the worst of it. He was but a boy of sixteen, strong, indeed, of his age; but still what could he expect to accomplish against a tall man of mature age? He saw that he needed help, and he called out at the top of his lungs, "Help! Police!"
His antagonist was adroit, and a life spent in eluding the law had made him quick-witted. He turned the tables upon Ben by turning round, grasping him firmly by the arm, and repeating in a voice louder than Ben's, "Help! Police!"
Contrary to the usual custom in such cases, a policeman happened to be near, and hurried to the spot where he was apparently wanted.
"What's the row?" he asked.
Before Ben had time to prefer his charge, the pickpocket said glibly:—
"Policeman, I give this boy in charge."
"What's he been doing?"
"I caught him with his hand in my pocket," said the man. "He's a thieving young vagabond."
"That's a lie!" exclaimed Ben, rather startled at the unexpected turn which affairs had taken. "He's a pickpocket."
The real culprit shrugged his shoulders. "You aint quite smart enough, boy," he said.
"Has he taken anything of yours?" asked the policeman, who supposed Ben to be what he was represented.
"No," said the pickpocket; "but he came near taking a money letter which I have in my pocket."
Here, with astonishing effrontery, he displayed the letter which he had stolen from Ben.
"That's my letter," said Ben. "He took it from my pocket."
"A likely story," smiled the pickpocket, in serene superiority. "The letter is for Mrs. Abercrombie, a friend of mine, and contains fifty dollars. I incautiously wrote upon the envelope 'Money enclosed,' which attracted the attention of this young vagabond, as I held it in my hand. On replacing it in my pocket, he tried to get possession of it."
"That's a lie from beginning to end," exclaimed Ben, impetuously. "He's tryin' to make me out a thief, when he's one himself."
"Well, what is your story?" asked the policeman, who, however, had already decided in his own mind that Ben was the guilty party.
"I was ridin' in the Fourth Avenue cars along side of this man," said Ben, "when he put his hand in my pocket, and took out the letter that he's just showed you. I jumped out after him, and asked him to give it back, when he fetched me a lick in the face."
"Do you mean to say that a ragamuffin like you had fifty dollars?" demanded the thief.
"No," said Ben, "the money wasn't mine. I was carryin' it up to Mrs. Abercrombie, who lives on Madison Avenue."
"It's a likely story that a ragamuffin like you would be trusted with so much money."
"If you don't believe it," said Ben, "go to Mr. Abercrombie's office in Wall Street. Mr. Sampson gave it to me only a few minutes ago. If he says he didn't, just carry me to the station-house as quick as you want to."
This confident assertion of Ben's put matters in rather a different light. It seemed straightforward, and the reference might easily prove which was the real culprit. The pickpocket saw that the officer wavered, and rejoined hastily, "You must expect the officer's a fool to believe your ridiculous story."
"It's not so ridiculous," answered the policeman, scrutinizing the speaker with sudden suspicion. "I am not sure but the boy is right."
"I'm willing to let the matter drop," said the pickpocket, magnanimously; "as he didn't succeed in getting my money, I will not prosecute. You may let him go, Mr. Officer."
"Not so fast," said the policeman, his suspicions of the other party getting stronger and more clearly defined. "I haven't any authority to do as you say."
"Very well, take him along then. I suppose the law must take its course."
"Yes, it must."
"Very well, boy, I'm sorry you've got into such a scrape; but it's your own fault. Good morning, officer."
"You're in too much of a hurry," said the policeman, coolly; "you must go along with me too."
"Really," said the thief, nervously, "I hope you'll excuse me. I've got an important engagement this morning, and—I—in fact it will be excessively inconvenient."
"I'm sorry to put you to inconvenience, but it can't be helped."
"Really, Mr. Officer—"
"It's no use. I shall need you. Oblige me by handing me that letter."
"Here it is," said the thief, unwillingly surrendering it. "Really, it's excessively provoking. I'd rather lose the money than break my engagement. I'll promise to be on hand at the trial, whenever it comes off; if you keep the money it will be a guaranty of my appearance."
"I don't know about that," answered the officer "As to being present at the trial, I mean that you shall be."
"Of course, I promised that."
"There's one little matter you seem to forget," said the officer; "your appearance may be quite as necessary as the boy's. It may be your trial and not his."
"Do you mean to insult me?" demanded the pickpocket, haughtily.
"Not by no manner of means. I aint the judge, you know. If your story is all right, it'll appear so."
"Of course; but I shall have to break my engagement."
"Well, that can't be helped as I see. Come along, if you please."
He tucked one arm in that of the man, and the other in Ben's, and moved towards the station-house. Of the two Ben seemed to be much the more unconcerned. He was confident that his innocence would be proclaimed, while the other was equally convinced that trouble awaited him.
"Well, boy, how do you like going to the station-house?" asked the policeman.
"I don't mind as long as he goes with me," answered Ben. "What I was most afraid of was that I'd lose the money, and then Mr. Sampson would have taken me for a thief."
Meanwhile the other party was rapidly getting more and more nervous. He felt that he was marching to his fate, and that the only way of escape was by flight, and that immediate; for they were very near the station-house. Just as Ben pronounced the last words, the thief gathered all his strength, and broke from the grasp of the officer, whose hold was momentarily relaxed. Once free he showed an astonishing rapidity.
The officer hesitated for an instant, for he had another prisoner to guard.
"Go after him," exclaimed Ben, eagerly. "Don't let him escape. I'll stay where I am."
The conviction that the escaped party was the real thief determined the policeman to follow Ben's advice. He let him go, and started in rapid pursuit of the fugitive.
Ben sat down on a doorstep, and awaited anxiously the result of the chase.
HOW ALL CAME RIGHT IN THE MORNING.
It is quite possible that the pickpocket would have made good his escape, if he had not, unluckily for himself, run into another policeman.
"Beg your pardon," he said, hurriedly.
"Stop a minute," said the officer, detaining him by the arm, for his appearance and haste inspired suspicion. He was bare-headed, for his hat had fallen off, and he had not deemed it prudent to stop long enough to pick it up.
"I'm in a great hurry," panted the thief. "My youngest child is in a fit, and I am running for a physician."
This explanation seemed plausible, and the policeman, who was himself the father of a family, was on the point of releasing him, when the first officer came up.
"Hold on to him," he said; "he's just broken away from me."
"That's it, is it?" said the second policeman. "He told me he was after a doctor for his youngest child."
"I think he'll need a doctor himself," said the first, "if he tries another of his games. You didn't stop to say good-by, my man."
"I told you I had an important engagement," said the pickpocket, sulkily,—"one that I cared more about than the money. Where's the boy?"
"I had to leave him to go after you."
"That's a pretty way to manage; you let the thief go in order to chase his victim."
"You're an able-bodied victim," said the policeman, laughing.
"Where are you taking me?"
"I'm going back for the boy. He said he'd wait till I returned."
"Are you green enough to think you'll find him?" sneered the man in charge.
"Perhaps not; but I shouldn't be surprised if I did. If I guess right, he'll find it worth his while to keep his promise."
When they returned to the place where the thief had first effected his escape, our hero was found quietly sitting on a wooden step.
"So you've got him," said Ben, advancing to meet the officer with evident satisfaction.
"He's got you too," growled the pickpocket. "Why didn't you run away, you little fool?"
"I didn't have anything to run for," answered Ben. "Besides, I want my money back."
"Then you'll have to go with me to the station-house," said the officer.
"I wish I could go to Mr. Abercrombie's office first to tell Mr. Sampson what's happened."
"I can't let you do that; but you may write a letter from the station-house."
"All right," said Ben, cheerfully; and he voluntarily placed himself on the other side of the officer, and accompanied him to the station-house.
"I thought you was guilty at first," said the officer; "but I guess your story is correct. If it isn't, you're about the coolest chap I ever saw, and I've seen some cool ones in my day."
"It's just as I said," said Ben. "It'll all come right in the morning."
They soon reached the station-house. Ben obtained the privilege of writing a letter to Mr. Sampson, for which the officer undertook to procure a messenger. In fact he began to feel quite interested for our hero, feeling fully convinced that the other party was the real offender.
Ben found some difficulty in writing his letter. When he first came to the city, he could have written one with considerable ease, but he had scarcely touched a pen, or formed a letter, for six years, and of course this made an important difference. However he finally managed to write these few lines with a lead-pencil:—
"MR. SAMPSON: I am sory I can't cary that leter til to-morrow; but it was took from my pokit by a thefe wen I was ridin' in the cars, and as he sed I took it from him, the 'copp' has brort us both to the stashun-house, whare I hope you wil come and tel them how it was, and that you give me the leter to cary, for the other man says it is his The 'copp' took the leter
It will be observed that Ben's spelling had suffered; but this will not excite surprise, considering how long it was since he had attended school. It will also be noticed that he did not sign his real name, but used the same which he had communicated to Charles Marston. More than ever, till he was out of his present difficulty, he desired to conceal his identity from his relations.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sampson was busily engaged in his office in Wall Street. It may as well be explained here that he was the junior partner of Mr. Abercrombie. Occasionally he paused in his business to wonder whether he had done well to expose a ragged street boy to such a temptation; but he was a large-hearted man, inclined to think well of his fellow-men, and though in his business life he had seen a good deal that was mean and selfish in the conduct of others, he had never lost his confidence in human nature, and never would. It is better to have such a disposition, even if it does expose the possessor to being imposed upon at times, than to regard everybody with distrust and suspicion. At any rate it promotes happiness, and conciliates good-will, and these will offset an occasional deception.
An hour had passed, when a boy presented himself at Mr. Abercrombie's office. It was a newsboy, who had been intrusted with Ben's letter.
"This is for Mr. Sampson," he said, looking around him on entering.
"Another of Mr. Sampson's friends," sneered Granby, in a tone which he took care should be too low to come to that gentleman's ears.
"My name is Sampson," said the owner of that name. "Who is your letter from?"
"It's from Ben."
"And who is Ben?" asked Mr. Sampson, not much enlightened.
"It's Ben, the baggage-smasher."
"Give it to me," said the gentleman, conjecturing rightly that it was his messenger who was meant.
He ran his eye rapidly over the paper, or, I should say, as rapidly as the character of Ben's writing would permit.
"Do you come from the station-house?" he asked, looking up.
"Which station-house is it?"
"In Leonard Street."
"Very well. Go back and tell the boy that I will call this afternoon. I will also give you a line to a house on Madison Avenue. Can you go right up there, calling at the station-house on the way?"
"Very well. Here is something for your trouble."
The boy pocketed with satisfaction the money proffered him, and took the letter which Mr. Sampson hastily wrote. It was to this effect:—
"MY DEAR MRS. ABERCROMBIE: I received your note, and despatched the money which you desired by a messenger; but I have just learned that his pocket was picked on the horse-cars. I cannot spare one of my clerks just now, but at one o'clock will send one up with the money, hoping that he may have better fortune than the first messenger, and that you will not be seriously inconvenienced by the delay.
Then he dismissed the matter from his mind until afternoon, when, the office having closed, he made his way to the Leonard Street station-house, where he was speedily admitted to see Ben.
"I'm glad you've come, Mr. Sampson," said our hero, eagerly. "I hope you don't think I was to blame about the letter."
"Tell me how it was, my lad," said Mr. Sampson, kindly. "I dare say you can give me a satisfactory explanation."
Ben felt grateful for the kindness of his tone. He saw that he was not condemned unheard, but had a chance of clearing himself.
He explained, briefly, how it occurred. Of course it is unnecessary to give his account, for we know all about it already.
"I believe you," said Mr. Sampson, in a friendly tone. "The only fault I have to find with you is that you might have been more careful in guarding your pockets."
"That's so," said Ben; "but I don't often carry anything that's worth stealing."
"No, I suppose not," said Mr. Sampson, smiling. "Well, it appears that no serious loss has occurred. The money will be recovered, as it is in the hands of the authorities. As to the delay, that is merely an inconvenience; but the most serious inconvenience falls upon you, in your being brought here."
"I don't mind that as long as the money is safe," said Ben. "It'll all be right in the morning."
"I see you are a philosopher. I see your face is swelled. You must have got a blow."
"Yes," said Ben; "the chap that took my letter left me something to remember him by."
"I shall try to make it up to you," said Mr. Sampson. "I can't stop any longer, but I will be present at your trial, and my testimony will undoubtedly clear you."
He took his leave, leaving Ben considerably more cheerful than before. A station-house is not a very agreeable place of detention; but then Ben was not accustomed to luxury, and the absence of comfort did not trouble him much. He cared more for the loss of his liberty, finding the narrow cell somewhat too restricted for enjoyment. However, he consoled himself by reflecting, to use his favorite phrase, that it would "all be right in the morning."
It will not be necessary to give a circumstantial account of Ben's trial. Mr. Sampson was faithful to his promise, and presented himself, somewhat to his personal inconvenience, at the early hour assigned for trial. His testimony was brief and explicit, and cleared Ben. The real pickpocket, however, being recognized by the judge as one who had been up before him some months before, charged with a similar offence, was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, considerably to his dissatisfaction.
Ben left the court-room well pleased with the result. His innocence had been established, and he had proved that he could be trusted, or rather, he had not proved faithless to his trust, and he felt that with his present plans and hopes he could not afford to lose his character for honesty. He knew that he had plenty of faults, but at any rate he was not a thief.
While he stood on the steps of the Tombs, in which the trial had taken place, Mr. Sampson advanced towards him, and touched him on the shoulder.
"Well, my lad," he said, in a friendly manner, "so you're all right once more?"
"Yes," said Ben; "I knew it would all be right in the morning."
"I owe you something for the inconvenience you have suffered while in my employ. Here is a ten-dollar bill. I hope you will save it till you need it, and won't spend it foolishly."
"Thank you," said Ben, joyfully. "I'll put it in the bank."
"That will be a good plan. Good-morning; when you need a friend, you will know where to find me."
He shook Ben's hand in a friendly way and left him.
"He's a trump," thought Ben. "If my father'd treated me like that, I'd never have wanted to run away from home."
IN A NEW LINE.
"Ten dollars!" said Ben to himself, with exultation. "That's pretty good pay for a few hours in the station-house. I'd like to board there a week on the same terms."
Ben's capital now amounted to eleven dollars; but of this sum he decided to retain one dollar as a reserve to fall back upon in case of need. The ten dollars he determined to deposit at once in a savings-bank. He accordingly bent his steps towards one in the course of the forenoon. The business was quickly transacted, and Ben left the building with a bank-book containing an entry of his first deposit.
This was a very good beginning, so Ben thought. Fifty dollars, as he had estimated, would enable him to carry out the plan which he proposed, and he had already one-fifth of the sum. But the accumulation of the other forty dollars would no doubt take him a considerable time. The business of a "baggage-smasher," as Ben knew from experience, is precarious, the amount of gains depending partly upon luck. He had sometimes haunted the steamboat landings for hours without obtaining a single job. Now that he was anxious to get on, he felt this to be an objection. He began to consider whether there was any way of adding to his income.
After considerable thought he decided to buy a supply of weekly papers, which he could sell while waiting for a job. One advantage in selecting weekly papers rather than daily was this, that the latter must be sold within a few hours, or they prove a dead loss. A daily paper of yesterday is as unsalable as a last year's almanac. As Ben was liable to be interrupted in his paper business at any time by a chance to carry luggage, it was an important consideration to have a stock which would remain fresh for a few days.
This idea impressed Ben so favorably that he determined to act upon it at once. In considering where he should go for his supply of papers, he thought of a Broadway news-stand, which he frequently had occasion to pass. On reaching it, he said to the proprietor, "Where do you buy your papers?"
"What do you want to know for?"
"I thought maybe I'd go into the business."
"You don't think of setting up a stand, do you?" asked the man, with a significant glance at Ben's ragged attire.
"No," said Ben. "I haven't got capital enough for that, unless you'll sell out for fifty cents."
"I suppose you want a few to carry round and sell?"
"Where do you think of going with them?"
"Down to the wharves. I'm a baggage-smasher, and I thought I might make somethin' by sellin' papers, when I hadn't any baggage to carry."
"I get my papers from the 'American News Company' on Nassau Street."
"I know the place well enough."
"What papers do you think I could sell best?" asked Ben.
"The picture papers go off as fast as any," said the street dealer. "But I'll tell you what, my lad, maybe I can make an arrangement for you to sell papers for me."
"I don't think I'd like to stand here all day," said Ben, supposing the other to mean to engage him to tend the stand.
"I don't mean that."
"Well," said Ben, "I'm open to an offer, as the old maid of sixty told a feller that called to see her."
"I'll tell you what I mean. I'll give you a bundle of papers every morning to take with you. You will sell what you can, and bring back the rest at night."
"I like that," said Ben, with satisfaction. "But how much will I get?"
"It will depend on the price of the papers. 'Harper's Weekly' and 'Frank Leslie' sell for ten cents. I will allow you two cents on each of these. On the 'Ledger' and 'Weekly,' and other papers of that price, I will allow one cent. You'd make rather more if you bought them yourself; but you might have them left on your hands."
"That's so," said Ben.
"Did you ever sell papers?"
"I used to sell the mornin' and evenin' papers before I went to baggage-smashin'."
"Then you know something about the business. When do you want to begin?"
"Very well; I will make you up a bundle of a dozen papers to begin on. I'll put in three each of the illustrated papers, and fill up with the story papers."
"All right, mister, you know better than I what people will buy."
The dealer began to collect the papers, but paused in the middle of his task, and looked doubtfully at our hero.
"Well, what's up?" asked Ben, observing his hesitation.
"How do I know but you'll sell the papers, and keep the money yourself?" said the dealer.
"That's so," said Ben. "I never thought of that."
"That wouldn't be very profitable for me, you see."
"I'll bring back the money or the papers," said Ben. "You needn't be afraid."
"Very likely you would; but how am I to know that?"
"So you don't want to trust me," said Ben, rather disappointed.
"Have you got any money?"
"Very well, you can leave enough with me to secure me against loss, and I will give you the papers."
"How much will that be?"
After a little thought, the dealer answered, "Seventy-five cents." He had some doubt whether Ben had so much; but our hero quickly set his doubts at rest by drawing out his two half-dollars, and demanding a quarter in change.
The sight of this money reassured the dealer. Ben's ragged clothes had led him to doubt his financial soundness; but the discovery that he was a capitalist to the extent of a dollar gave him considerable more respect for him. A dollar may not be a very large sum; I hope that to you, my young reader, it is a very small one, and that you have never been embarrassed for the want of it; but it is enough to lift a ragged street boy from the position of a penniless vagabond to that of a thrifty capitalist. After seeing it, the dealer would almost have felt safe in trusting Ben with the papers without demanding a deposit of their value. Still it was better and safer to require a deposit, and he therefore took the dollar from Ben, returning twenty-five cents in change.
This preliminary matter settled, he made up the parcel of papers.
"There they are," he said. "If you're smart, you can sell 'em all before night."
"I hope so," said Ben.
With the papers under his arm, Ben made his way westward to the Cortlandt Street ferry, which was a favorite place of resort with him.
He did not have long to wait for his first customer. As he was walking down Cortlandt Street, he met a gentleman, whose attention seemed attracted by the papers he carried.
"What papers have you got there, my lad?" he inquired.
"'Harper's Weekly,' 'Frank Leslie,' 'Ledger,' 'Weekly,'" repeated Ben, glibly, adding the names of the other papers in his parcel.
"Give me the two picture papers," said the gentleman. "Twenty cents, I suppose."
"Yes," said Ben, "and as much more as you want to pay. I don't set no limit to the generosity of my customers."
"You're sharp," said the gentleman, laughing. "That's worth something. Here's twenty-five cents. You may keep the change."
"I'll do it cheerfully," said Ben. "Thank you, sir. I hope you'll buy all your papers of me."
"I won't promise always to pay you more than the regular price, but you may leave 'Harper's' and 'Leslie' at my office every week. Here is my card."
Ben took the card, and put it in his pocket. He found the office to be located in Trinity Building, Broadway.
"I'll call every week reg'lar," he said.
"That's right, my lad. Good-morning."
Ben felt that he had started well. He had cleared nine cents by his sale, four representing his regular commission, while the other five cents might be regarded as a donation. Nine cents was something. But for his idea about the papers, he would have made nothing so far. It is a very good thing to have two strings to your bow, so Ben thought, though the thought did not take that precise form in his mind. He kept on his way till he reached the ferry. There was no train in on the other side, and would not be for some time, but passengers came over the ferry, and Ben placed himself where he could be seen. It was some time before he sold another paper however, although Ben, who improved some of his spare time by looking over the pictures, was prepared to recommend them.
"What papers have you got, boy?" asked a tall, lank man, whose thin lips and pinched expression gave him an outward appearance of meanness, which, by the way, did not belie his real character.
Ben recited the list.
"What's the price of 'Harper's Weekly'?"
"Ten cents is too much to pay for any paper. I don't see how they have the face to ask it."
"Nor I," said Ben; "but they don't consult me,"
"I'll give you eight cents."
"No you won't, not if I know it. I'd rather keep the paper for my private readin'," answered Ben.
"Then you are at liberty to do so," said the gentleman, snappishly. "You'd make profit enough, if you sold at eight cents."
"All the profit I'd make wouldn't pay for a fly's breakfast," said Ben.
The gentleman deigned no response, but walked across the street in a dignified manner. Here he was accosted by a boot-black, who proposed to shine his boots.
"He'll get 'em done at the wholesale price, see if he don't," thought Ben. He kept an eye on the boot-black and his patron until the job was finished. Then he witnessed what appeared to be an angry dispute between the two parties. It terminated by the gentleman lifting his cane in a menacing manner. Ben afterwards gained from the boy particulars of the transaction, which may be given here in the third person.
"Shine yer boots?" asked the boot-black, as the gentleman reached his side of the street, just after his unsuccessful negotiations with Ben.
"What do you charge?" he inquired.
"That's too much."
"It's the reg'lar price."
"I can get my boots blacked for five cents anywhere. If you'll do it for that, you can go to work."
The boy hesitated. It was half price, but he had not yet obtained a job, and he yielded. When the task was finished, his generous patron drew four cents from his pocket.
"I haven't got but four cents," he observed. "I guess that'll do."
The boy was indignant, as was natural. To work for half price, and then lose one-fifth of his reduced pay, was aggravating. What made it worse was, that his customer was carefully dressed, and bore every appearance of being a man of substance.
"I want another cent," he demanded.
"You're well enough paid," said the other, drawing on a kid glove. "Four cents I consider very handsome pay for ten minutes' work. Many men do not make as much."
This reasoning did not strike the little boot-black as sound. He was no logician; but he felt that he had been defrauded, and that in a very mean manner.
"Give me my money," he screamed, angrily.
"I'll hand you over to the authorities," said the gentleman,—though I hardly feel justified in calling him such,—lifting his cane menacingly.
What could the boy do? Might was evidently on the side of the man who had cheated him. But he was quick-witted, and a characteristic mode of revenge suggested itself. The street was muddy (New York streets are occasionally in that condition). The boot-black stooped down and clutched a handful of mire in his hand, fortunately having no kid gloves to soil, and, before his late customer fathomed his intention, plentifully besprinkled one of the boots which he had just carefully polished.
"That's worth a cent," he remarked, with satisfaction, escaping from the wrath of the injured party.
His victim, almost speechless with rage, seemed disposed to pursue him; but the boy, regardless of the mire, had run across the street, and to follow would only be to make matters worse.
"If I ever catch you, I'll break every bone in your body, you little vagabond," he said, in a voice almost choked by passion, shaking his cane energetically.
Ben, who had witnessed the whole, burst into a hearty laugh, which drew upon his head a portion of wrath. After a pause, the victim of his own meanness turned up a side street. The reader will be glad to learn that he had to employ a second boot black; so that he was not so much better off for his economical management after all. It may be added that he was actuated in all his dealings by the same frugality, if we may dignify it by that name. He was a large dealer in ready-made under-clothing, for the making of which he paid starvation prices; but, unfortunately, the poor sewing-girls, whom he employed for a pittance, were not so well able to defend themselves against imposition as the smart little boot-black, who "knew his rights, and knowing, dared maintain."
THE HEAVY VALISE.
Ben had sold half his papers when the arrival of the train from Philadelphia gave him an opportunity to return to his legitimate calling.
"Smash your baggage, sir?" asked Ben of a dark-complexioned man of thirty-five, who carried a moderate-sized valise.
"Yes," said the other.
"Where shall I carry it?"
"To——" Here the man hesitated, and finally answered, "There is no need of telling you. I will take it from you when we have got along far enough."
Ben was about to walk beside the owner of the valise; but the latter objected to this.
"You needn't walk beside me," he said. "Keep about a block ahead."
"But how will I know where to go?" asked Ben, naturally.
"You know where Broome Street runs into the Bowery?"
"Of course I do."
"Go there by the shortest route. Don't trouble yourself about me. I'll follow along behind, and take the valise from you there. If you get there before I do, wait for me."
"I suppose I'm too ragged to walk alongside of him," thought Ben.
He could think of no other reason for the direction given by the other. However, Ben's pride was not very much hurt. Although he was ragged now, he did not mean to be long. The time would come, he was confident, when he could lay aside his rags, and appear in a respectable dress.
The valise which he carried proved to be considerably heavier than would have been imagined from its size.
"I wonder what's in it," thought Ben, who found it tugging away at his arms. "If it's shirts they're cast-iron. Maybe they're just comin' in fashion."
However, he did not perplex himself much about this point. Beyond a momentary curiosity, he felt no particular interest in the contents of the valise. The way in which it affected him principally was, to make him inwardly resolve to ask an extra price, on account of the extra weight.
After walking a while he looked back for the owner of the valise. But he was not in sight.
"I might carry off his baggage," thought Ben, "without his knowin' it."
He kept on, however, never doubting that the owner would sooner or later overtake him. If he did not care enough for the valise to do this, Ben would not be responsible.
He had just shifted the heavy burden from one hand to the other, when he felt himself tapped on the shoulder. Looking round, he saw that the one who had done this was a quiet-looking man, of middle size, but with a keen, sharp eye.
"What's wanted?" asked Ben.
"Where did you get that valise, my lad?" asked the new-comer.
"I don't know as that's any of your business," answered Ben, who didn't perceive the other's right to ask the question.
"Is it yours?"
"Maybe it is."
"Let me lift it a moment."
"Hands off!" said Ben, suspiciously. "Don't try none of your tricks on me."
The other did not appear to notice this.
"I take it for granted that the valise is not yours," he said. "Now tell me where you got it from."
There was something of authority in his manner, which led Ben to think that he had a warrant for asking the question, though he could not guess his object in doing so.
"I'm a baggage-smasher," answered Ben. "I got this from a man that came by the Philadelphia train."
"Where is he?"
"I guess he's behind somewheres."
"Where are you carrying the valise?"
"Seems to me you want to know a good deal," said Ben, undecided as to the right of the other to ask so many questions.
"I'll let you into a secret, my lad; but you must keep the secret. That valise is pretty heavy, isn't it?"
"I'll bet it is."
"To the best of my information, the man who employed you is a noted burglar, and this valise contains his tools. I am a detective, and am on his track. I received a telegram an hour ago from Philadelphia, informing me that he was on his way. I got down to the wharf a little too late. Now tell me where you are to carry this;" and the detective pointed to the valise.
"I am to meet the gentleman at the corner of Broome Street and the Bowery," said Ben.
"Very well. Go ahead and meet him."
"Shall you be there?" asked Ben.
"Never mind. Go on just as if I had not met you, and deliver up the valise."
"If you're goin' to nab him, just wait till I've got my pay. I don't want to smash such heavy baggage for nothin'."
"I agree to that. Moreover, if I succeed in getting hold of the fellow through your information, I don't mind paying you five dollars out of my own pocket."
"Very good," said Ben. "I shan't mind takin' it, not by no means."
"Go on, and don't be in too much of a hurry. I want time to lay my trap."
Ben walked along leisurely, in accordance with his instructions. At length he reached the rendezvous. He found the owner of the valise already in waiting.
"Well, boy," he said, impatiently, "you took your time."
"I generally do," said Ben. "It aint dishonest to take my own time, is it?"
"I've been waiting here for a quarter of an hour. I didn't know but you'd gone to sleep somewhere on the way."
"I don't sleep much in the daytime. It don't agree with my constitution. Well, mister, I hope you'll give me something handsome. Your baggage here is thunderin' heavy."
"There's twenty-five cents," said the other.
"Twenty-five cents!" exclaimed Ben, indignantly.
"Twenty-five cents for walkin' two miles with such a heavy load. It's worth fifty."
"Well, you won't get fifty," said the other, roughly.
"Just get somebody else to carry your baggage next time," said Ben, angrily.
He looked round, and saw the quiet-looking man, before referred to, approaching. He felt some satisfaction in knowing that his recent employer would meet with a check which he was far from anticipating.
Without answering Ben, the latter took the valise, and was about moving away, when the quiet-looking man suddenly quickened his pace, and laid his hand on his arm.
The burglar, for he was really one, started, and turned pale.
"What do you want?"
"You know what I want," said the detective, quietly. "I want you."
"What do you want me for?" demanded the other; but it was easy to see that he was nervous and alarmed.
"You know that also," said the detective; "but I don't mind telling you. You came from Philadelphia this morning, and your name is 'Sly Bill.' You are a noted burglar, and I shall take you into immediate custody."
"You're mistaken," said Bill. "You've got hold of the wrong man."
"That will soon be seen. Have the kindness to accompany me to the station-house, and I'll take a look into that valise of yours."
Bill was physically a stronger man than the detective, but he succumbed at once to the tone of quiet authority with which he spoke, and prepared to follow, though by no means with alacrity.
"Here, my lad," said the detective, beckoning Ben, who came up. "Come and see me at this place, to-morrow," he continued, producing a card, "and I won't forget the promise I made you."
"All right," said Ben.
"I'm in luck ag'in," he said to himself. "At this rate it won't take me long to make fifty dollars. Smashin' baggage for burglars pays pretty well."
He bethought himself of his papers, of which half remained unsold. He sold some on the way back to the wharf, where, after a while, he got another job, for which, being at some distance, he was paid fifty cents.
At five in the afternoon he reported himself at the news-stand.
"I've sold all the papers you gave me," he said, "and here's the money. I guess I can sell more to-morrow."
The news-dealer paid him the commission agreed upon, amounting to eighteen cents, Ben, of course, retaining besides the five cents which had been paid him extra in the morning. This made his earnings for the day ninety-eight cents, besides the dollars promised by the detective.
Ben had certainly met with good luck so far. Even his temporary detention at the station-house he regarded as a piece of good luck, since he was paid handsomely for the confinement, while his bed there was considerably more comfortable than he often enjoyed. His adventure with the burglar also brought him in as much as under ordinary circumstances he would have earned in a week. In two days he was able to lay aside fifteen dollars and a half towards his fund.
But of course such lucky adventures could not be expected every day. The bulk of his money must be earned slowly, as the reward of persistent labor and industry. But Ben was willing to work now that he had an object before him. He kept up his double business of baggage-smasher and vender of weekly papers. After a while the latter began to pay him enough to prove quite a help, besides filling up his idle moments. Another good result of his new business was, that, while waiting for customers, he got into the habit of reading the papers he had for sale. Now Ben had done very little reading since he came to New York, and, if called upon to read aloud, would have shown the effects of want of practice, in his frequent blunders. But the daily lessons in reading which he now took began to remedy this deficiency, and give him increased fluency and facility. It also had the effect of making him wish that his education had not been interrupted, so that his Cousin Charles might not be so far ahead of him.
Ben also gave up smoking,—not so much because he considered it injurious, but because cigars cost money, and he was economizing in every possible way. He continued to sleep in the room under the wharf, which thus far the occupants had managed to keep from the knowledge of the police. Gradually the number had increased, until from twenty to thirty boys made it a rendezvous nightly. By some means a stove had been procured, and what was more difficult, got safely down without observation, so that, as the nights grew cooler, the boys managed to make themselves comfortable. Here they talked and told stories, and had a good time before going to sleep. One evening it was proposed by one of the boys that each should tell his own story; for though they met together daily they knew little of each other beyond this, that they were all engaged in some street avocation. Some of the stories told were real, some burlesque.
First Jim Bagley told his story.
"I aint got much to tell, boys," he said. "My father kept a cigar store on Eighth Avenue, and my mother and sister and I lived behind the shop. We got along pretty well, till father got run over by a street-car, and pretty soon after he died. We kept the store along a little while, but we couldn't make it go and pay the rent; so we sold out to a man who paid half down, and promised to pay the rest in a year. But before the year was up he shut up the shop, and went off, and we never got the rest of the money. The money we did get did not last long. Mother got some sewin' to do, but she couldn't earn much. I took to sellin' papers; but after a while I went into the match business, which pays pretty good. I pay mother five dollars a week, and sometimes more; so she gets along well."
"I don't see how you make so much money, Jim," said Phil Cranmer. "I've tried it, and I didn't get nothin' much out of it."
"Jim knows how," said one of the boys. "He's got enterprise."
"I go off into the country a good deal," said Jim. "There's plenty of match boys in the city. Sometimes I hire another boy to come along and help me. If he's smart I make money that way too. Last time I went out I didn't make so much."
"How was that, Jim?"
"I went up to Albany on the boat. I was doin' pretty well up there, when all to once they took me up for sellin' without a license; so I had to pay ten dollars afore they'd let me off."
"Did you have the money to pay, Jim?"
"Yes, but it cleaned me out, so I didn't have but two dollars left. But I travelled off into the country towns, and got it back in a week or two. I'm glad they didn't get hold of Bill."
"Who was Bill?"
"The feller that sold for me. I couldn't have paid his fine too. That's about all I have to tell."[B]
"Captain Jinks!" called out one of the boys; "your turn next."
Attention was directed to a tall, overgrown boy of sixteen, or possibly seventeen, to whom for some unknown reason the name of the famous Captain Jinks had been given.
"That aint my name," he said.
"Oh, bother your name! Go ahead."
"I aint got nothing to say."
"Go ahead and say it."
The captain was rather taciturn, but was finally induced to tell his story.
[B] The main incidents of Jim Bagley's story are true, having been communicated to the writer by Jim himself, a wide-awake boy of fifteen, who appeared to possess decided business ability and energy. The name only is fictitious.
"My father and mother are dead," he said. "I used to live with my sister and her husband. He would get drunk off the money I brought home, and if I didn't bring home as much as he expected, he'd fling a chair at my head."
"He was a bully brother-in-law," said Jerry. "Did it hurt the chair much?"
"If you want to know bad, I'll try it on you," growled the narrator.
"Good for Captain Jinks!" exclaimed two or three of the boys.
"When did you join the Hoss Marines?" asked Jerry, with apparent interest.
"Shut up your mouth!" said the captain, who did not fancy the joke.
"Go ahead, Jinks."
"I would not stand that; so I went off, and lived at the Lodge till I got in here. That's all."
Captain Jinks relapsed into silence, and Tim McQuade was called upon. He had a pair of sparkling black eyes, that looked as if he were not averse to fun.
"Maybe you don't know," he said, "that I'm fust cousin to a Markis."
"The Markis of Cork," suggested one of the boys.
"And sometimes I expect to come in for a lot of money, if I don't miss of it."
"When you do, just treat a feller, will you?" said Jerry.
"Course I will. I was born in a big castle made of stone, and used to go round dressed in welvet, and had no end of nice things, till one day a feller that had a spite ag'in the Markis carried me off, and brought me to America, where I had to go to work and earn my own livin'."
"Why don't you write the Markis, and get him to send for you?" asked Jerry.
"'Cause he can't read, you spalpeen! What 'ud be the use of writin' to him?"
"Maybe it's the fault of your writin', Tim."
"Maybe it is," said Tim. "When the Markis dies I'm going back, an' I'll invite you all to come an' pass a week at Castle McQuade."
"Bully for you, Tim! Now, Dutchey, tell us your story."
Dutchey was a boy of ten, with a full face and rotund figure, whose English, as he had been but two years in the country, was highly flavored with his native dialect.
"I cannot English sprechen," he said.
"Never mind, Dutchey. Do as well as you can."
"It is mine story you want? He is not very long, but I will tell him so goot as I can. Mine vater was a shoemaker, what makes boots. He come from Sharmany, on der Rhein, mit my moder, and five childer. He take a little shop, and make some money, till one day a house fall on his head mit a brick, an he die. Then I go out into der street, and black boots so much as I get him to do, and the money what I get I carry home to mine moder. I cannot much English sprechen, or I could tell mine story more goot."
"Bully for you, Dutchey! You're a trump."
"What is one trump?" asked the boy, with a puzzled expression.
"It is a good feller."
This explanation seemed to reconcile Dutchey to being called a trump, and he lay back on the bed with an expression of satisfaction.
"Now, Ben, tell us your story."
It was Ben, the luggage boy, who was addressed. The question embarrassed him, for he preferred to keep his story secret. He hoped ere long to leave his present haunts and associates, and he did not care to give the latter a clue by which they might trace him in his new character and position. Yet he had no good reason to assign for silence. He was considering what sort of a story he could manufacture, that would pass muster, when he was relieved from further consideration by an unexpected occurrence.
It appears that a boy had applied for admission to the rendezvous; but, on account of his unpopular character, had been refused. This naturally incensed him, and he determined to betray the boys to the policeman on the beat. The sight that greeted Ben, as he looked towards the entrance, was the face of the policeman, peering into the apartment. He uttered a half exclamation, which attracted the general attention. Instantly all was excitement.
"The copp! the copp!" passed from mouth to mouth.
The officer saw that the odds were against him, and he must summon help. He went up the ladder, therefore, and went in search of assistance. The boys scrambled up after him. Some were caught, and ultimately sentenced to the Island, on a charge of stealing the articles which were found; but others escaped. Among these was Ben, who was lucky enough to glide off in the darkness. He took the little German boy under his protection, and managed to get him safely away also. In this case the ends of justice were not interfered with, as neither of the two had been guilty of dishonesty, or anything else rendering them amenable to the law.
"Well, Dutchey, we're safe," said Ben, when they had got some blocks away from the wharf. "How do you feel?"
"I lose mine breath," said the little boy, panting with the effort he had made.
"That's better than losin' your liberty," said Ben. "You'll get your breath back again. Now we must look about and see where we can sleep. I wonder if Jim Bagley's took."
Just then a boy came running up.
"Why, it's Ben and Dutchey," he said.
"Jerry, is it you? I'm glad you're safe."
"The copp got a grip of me, but I left my jacket in his hands. He can carry that to the station-house if he wants to."
Jerry's appearance corresponded to his statement, his jacket being gone, leaving a dilapidated vest and ragged shirt alone to protect the upper part of his body. He shivered with the cold, for it was now November.
"Here, Jerry," said Ben, "just take my vest an' put over yours. I'll button up my coat."
"If I was as fat as Dutchey, I wouldn't mind the cold," said Jerry.
The three boys finally found an old wagon, in which all three huddled up together, by this means keeping warmer than they otherwise could. Being turned out of their beds into the street might have been considered a hardship by boys differently reared, but it was not enough to disturb the philosophy of our young vagrants.
Ben worked away steadily at his double occupation, saving money as well as he could; but he met with no more profitable adventures. His earnings were gradual. Some weeks he laid by as much as a dollar and a half, or even two dollars, but other weeks he barely reached a dollar. So the end of March came before he was able to carry out the object which he had in view.
One morning about this time Ben carefully counted up his deposits, and found they amounted to fifty dollars and thirty-seven cents. It was a joyful moment, which he had long looked forward to. He had been tempted to rest satisfied with forty when he had reached that sum, but he resisted the temptation.
"I aint goin' to do things by halves," he said to himself. "I can't do it for less'n fifty dollars. I must wait awhile."
But the moment had arrived when he could accomplish his purpose. As Ben looked down at his ragged attire, which was in a considerably worse condition then when he was first presented to the reader, he felt that it was high time he got a new suit.
The first thing to be done was to get his money. He made his way to the savings-bank, and presented himself at the counter.
"I want all of my money," he said.
"I hope you're not going to spend it all," said the bank officer, who by this time had come to feel acquainted with Ben, from his frequent calls to make deposits.
"I'm goin' to buy some new clothes," said Ben. "Don't I look as if I needed some?"
"Yes, you are rather out at elbows, I must admit. But new clothes won't cost all the money you have in the bank."
"I'm goin' home to my friends," said Ben, "after I've got dressed decently."
"That's a good resolution, my boy; I hope you'll stick to it."
"It's what I've been workin' for, for a long time," said Ben.
He filled out the order for the money, and it was delivered to him.
The next thing was to buy a new suit of clothes. Usually Ben had procured his outfit in Chatham Street, but he soared higher now. He made his way to a large ready-made clothing warehouse on Broadway, and entered. The main apartment was spacious, the counters were heaped with articles of dress, and numerous clerks were ready to wait upon customers.
"Well, what's wanted?" asked one, glancing superciliously at the ragged boy entering.
"Have you got any clothes that will fit me?" asked Ben.
"I guess you've lost your way, Johnny, haven't you?"
"What makes you think so?" asked Ben.
"This isn't Chatham Street."
"Thank you for the information," said Ben. "I thought it was when I saw you here."
There was a laugh, at the clerk's expense, among those who heard the retort.
"What are you here for, any way?" demanded the clerk, with an air of insulted majesty.
"To buy some clothes," said Ben; "but you needn't show 'em to me. I'll go to somebody else."
"Have you got any money?"
"You'll know soon enough."
He went to another part of the store, and applied to a salesman whose appearance he liked better. After some hesitation, Ben made choice of a suit of substantial warm cloth, a dark mixed sack-coat, vest of the same material, and a pair of pants of neat pattern.
"I won't trouble you to send 'em," said Ben, "as my house is closed for the season."
The bundle was made up, and handed to him. The price of the entire suit was twenty dollars, which was a good price for those days. Ben took the bundle under his arm and went out.
His purchases were not yet all made. He went next to a furnishing store, and bought three shirts, three pairs of stockings, some collars, and a necktie, finishing up with a pair of gloves. These cost him eight dollars. A neat felt hat and a pair of shoes, which he procured elsewhere, completed his outfit. On counting up, Ben found that he had expended thirty-six dollars, leaving in his hands a balance of fourteen dollars and thirty-seven cents.
Before putting on his new purchases, Ben felt that he must go through a process of purification. He went, therefore, to a barber's basement shop, with which baths were connected, and, going down the steps, said to the barber's assistant, who happened to be alone at the time, "I want a warm bath."
"Pay in advance," said the young man, surveying the ragged figure before him with some hesitation.
"All right," said Ben. "How much is it?"
"Here it is," said Ben, producing the exact amount from his vest-pocket.
Such ragged customers were not usual; but there seemed to be no good excuse for refusing Ben, as he had the money to pay. In five minutes the bath was declared to be ready, and Ben, entering the small room assigned to him, joyfully divested himself of the ragged garments which he was never again to put on, and got into the tub. It probably will not excite surprise when I say that Ben stood in need of a bath. His street life had not been particularly favorable to cleanliness, nor had he been provided with such facilities for attending to his toilet as are usual in well-regulated families. However, he was quite aware of his deficiencies in this way, and spared neither pains nor soap to remedy them. It was a work of time; but finally he felt satisfied with the result of his efforts, and, after drying himself, proceeded to put on his new clothes. They proved to fit excellently. Indeed, they wrought such a change in our hero's appearance that he could hardly believe in his own identity when he stood before the glass, and saw reflected the form of a well-dressed boy, in place of the ragged figure which he saw on entering. The only thing which marred his good appearance was his hair, which had grown to undue length. He determined to have it cut before he left the barber's shop.
He tied up the clothes he had taken off in the paper which had contained his new suit, and, opening the door, went out into the main room with the bundle under his arm.
Meanwhile the proprietor of the shop had returned.
"Who is taking a bath?" he asked of his assistant.
"A ragged street boy," said the latter.
"What did you let him in for?"
"He paid in advance."
"I don't care about such customers any way," said the barber. "Remember next time."
At this moment Ben made his appearance; but that appearance was so much altered that the young man looked at him in astonishment. He looked thoroughly well dressed, and might have passed readily for the scion of a wealthy family.
"Were two bath-rooms occupied?" asked the proprietor.
"I thought you said—"
"I was never so surprised in my life," said the assistant. "Did you get changed in the bath?" he asked of Ben.
"Yes," said Ben.
"What made you wear such a ragged suit?"
"I was in disguise," said Ben; "but I've got tired of it, and thrown it off. I think I'll have my hair cut."
"Take a seat," said the proprietor. "I'll cut your hair myself. How will you have it cut?"
"I want to be in the fashion," said Ben. "Make it look as well as you can."
He took his seat, and the task commenced. The barber was skilful in his art, and he saw at once what style would become Ben best. He exerted himself to the utmost, and when at the end of half an hour he withdrew the cloth from around our hero's neck, he had effected a change almost marvellous in Ben's appearance.
I have already said that Ben was naturally good-looking. But even good looks need fair play, and rags and neglect are apt to obscure the gifts of nature. So Ben had never looked his best till now. But when his hair was cut and arranged, and he looked in the mirror to observe the effect, he was himself surprised. It was some like the change that transformed Cinderella into a princess.
"I shan't be ashamed to tell my cousin who I am now," he said.
BEN MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN.
Ben went out into the street with two bundles under his arm. One contained the ragged clothes which he had just taken off. The other, which was much smaller, contained his extra shirts and stockings. The first he did not care to keep. He therefore lost no time in throwing it into an alley-way.
"It'll be a lucky chap that finds it," thought Ben.
He next put on his gloves, and considered what he should do next. It was half-past twelve o'clock already, for he had not been able to get his money from the bank till ten, and the purchases and bath, as well as the hair-cutting, had taken up considerable time. He began to feel hungry, and appetite suggested that he should first of all go to a restaurant and get some dinner.
On the way thither he met two of his street acquaintances, who passed him without the slightest mark of recognition. This pleased Ben, for it assured him that the change which he had effected in his appearance was a considerable one.
While eating dinner, he deliberated what he should do. It was Saturday, and it would be almost too late to start for his Pennsylvania home. He decided to go to his sister's house on Madison Avenue, and make himself known there first of all. He was influenced to this partly by the desire he had to meet his cousin, who, as he knew, was making his home, while attending school, at the house of Mr. Abercrombie. He had more than once been up to that part of the city in the hope of catching a glimpse of the cousin for whom he retained his old, boyish love; but he had always shrunk, even when seeing him, from attracting his observation. He did not wish to be remembered in his rags, and so denied himself the pleasure for which he yearned. But now he was satisfied with his appearance. He felt that he was as well dressed as Charles himself, and would do no discredit to him if they were seen in the street together.
He got on board an omnibus, and took his seat. A lady soon after entered, and sat down beside him She drew out some money from her purse, and, passing it to Ben, said, "Will you have the kindness to pass up my fare, sir?"
"Certainly," said Ben, politely.
It was a small incident, but he felt, from the young lady's manner of addressing him, that she looked upon him as her equal socially, and this afforded him not a little pleasure. He wondered how he could have been content to drift about the streets so long, clothed in rags. New hopes and a new ambition had been awakened within him, and he felt that a new life lay before him, much better worth living than the old life.
These thoughts occupied him as he rode up Broadway.
At length he left the omnibus, and took the shortest route to his sister's house. When he ascended the steps, and rang the bell, he felt rather a queer sensation come over him. He remembered very well the last time he had ascended those same steps, carrying his cousin's valise. His heart beat quick with excitement, in the midst of which the door was opened by the servant.
He had already decided to ask for his cousin, preferring to make himself known to him first.
"Is Charles Marston in?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir," said the servant. "Won't you come in?"
She threw open the door of the parlor, and Ben, entering, seated himself in an arm-chair, holding his hat in his hand.
"I wonder if she'd asked me in here if I'd come in my rags?" he asked himself, with a smile.
The servant went upstairs, where she found Charles in his own room, writing a French exercise.
"Master Charles," she said, "one of your school-mates is in the parlor. He wants to see you."
"All right. I'll go right down."
The mistake was quite a natural one, as boys who attended the same private school frequently called for Charles.
Charles went downstairs, and entered the parlor. Ben rose as he entered.
"How are you, Charlie?" said Ben, rising, and offering his hand.
Charles looked in his face with a puzzled expression. It was not one of his school-mates, as he had supposed; but it must be some one that knew him intimately, or he would not have addressed him so familiarly.
"I ought to know you," he said, apologetically; "but I can't think who it is."
"Don't you remember your Cousin Ben, Charlie?" asked our hero.
"Ben!" exclaimed Charles, in the greatest astonishment. He looked eagerly in our hero's face for a moment, then impulsively threw his arms around Ben's neck, and kissed him.
"I am so glad to see you, Ben," he said. "Where have you been all the time?"
"Then you didn't forget me, Charlie?" said Ben, returning the embrace.
"No, Ben. I've thought of you many and many a time. We used to be such good friends, you know. We will be again,—will we not?"
"I hope so, Charlie. That was one of my reasons for coming back."
"How did you know I was here?"
"I will tell you some time, Charlie; but not now. Is my sister at home?"
"Yes. I will call her. She will be very much surprised. We all thought you—"
"Dead, I suppose."
"Yes; but I always hoped you would come back again."
"Don't tell Mary who it is. See if she recognizes me."
Summoned by Charles, Mrs. Abercrombie came down to the parlor. She was merely told that a gentleman desired to see her.
When she entered the parlor, Ben rose from his seat.
She looked at him for a moment, and her face lighted up.
"It's Ben," she said. "O Ben, how could you stay away so long?"
"What, do you remember me, Mary?" asked our hero, in surprise.
"Yes. I knew you by your resemblance to Charles. We always remarked it when you were young boys together."
As the two boys were standing side by side, the resemblance of which she spoke was quite striking. Ben was the larger of the two; but their features were similar, as well as the color of the hair and eyes, and the similarity of their dress completed the illusion. Mrs. Abercrombie surveyed her brother with satisfaction. She had been afraid he would be coarse and vulgar after so many years of neglect, if he should ever return; but here he was, to all appearance, a young gentleman of whom she need not feel ashamed.
"Ben must share my room, Cousin Mary," said Charles. "We've got so much to say to each other."
"I didn't know I was to stay," said Ben, smiling.
"You mustn't leave us again, Ben," said his sister. "Monday you must start for home. Poor mother has mourned for you so long. She will be overjoyed to see you again."
When Mr. Abercrombie came home, his new brother-in-law was introduced to him. He received Ben cordially, and in a way to make him feel at home. In the course of the morning Mr. Sampson called, and Ben was introduced to him.
"There's something in your brother's voice that sounds familiar," he said to Mrs. Abercrombie. "I think I must have met him before."
"He has not been with us for some years," said Mrs. Abercrombie, who did not care to reveal that Ben was a returned prodigal.
"Probably I am deceived," said Mr. Sampson.
Ben, however, knew that Mr. Sampson had good cause to remember him. He was afraid the servant who had brought him his breakfast some months before in the basement might remember him; but there was no danger of that. She never dreamed of associating the young gentleman, her mistress's brother, with the ragged and dirty boy who had brought the valise for Master Charles.
THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN.
On Sunday evening, Ben, in company with his sister, her husband, and Charles, attended a sacred concert in Steinway Hall. As he stepped within the vestibule, he saw two street boys outside, whom he knew well. Their attire was very similar to that which he had himself worn until the day before. They looked at Ben, but never thought of identifying him with the baggage-smasher with whom they had often bunked together.
"See what it is," thought Ben, "to be well dressed and have fashionable friends."
As he sat in a reserved seat but a little distance from the platform, surrounded by well-dressed people, he was sometimes tempted to doubt whether he was the same boy who a few days before was wandering about the streets, a friendless outcast. The change was so complete and wonderful that he seemed to himself a new boy. But he enjoyed the change. It seemed a good deal pleasanter resting in the luxurious bedchamber, which he shared with Charles at his sister's house, than the chance accommodations to which he had been accustomed.
On Monday he started for Philadelphia, on his journey home.
We will precede him.
Mrs. Brandon sat in an arm-chair before the fire, knitting. She was not old, but care and sorrow had threaded her dark hair with silver, and on her brow there were traces of a sorrow patiently borne, but none the less deeply felt. She had never recovered from the loss of her son. Her daughter Mary had inherited something of her father's self-contained, undemonstrative manner; but Ben had been impulsive and affectionate, and had always been very near his mother's heart. To feel that he had passed from her sight was a great sorrow; but it was a greater still not to know where he was. He might be suffering pain or privation; he might have fallen into bad and vicious habits for aught she knew. It would have been a relief, though a sad one, to know that he was dead. But nothing whatever had been heard of him since the letter of which the reader is already aware.
Since Mary's marriage Mrs. Brandon had been very much alone. Her husband was so taciturn and reserved that he was not much company for her; so she was left very much to her own thoughts, and these dwelt often upon Ben, though six years had elapsed since he left home.
"If I could see him once more," she often said to herself, "I could die in peace."
So Mrs. Brandon was busily thinking of Ben on that Monday afternoon, as she sat knitting before the fire; little thinking that God had heard her prayer, and that the son whom she so longed to see was close at hand. He was even then coming up the gravelled walk that led to the house.
It may be imagined that Ben's heart beat with unwonted excitement, as the scenes of his early boyhood once more appeared before him. A thousand boyish memories returned to him, as he trod the familiar street. He met persons whom he knew, but they showed no recognition of him. Six years had wrought too great a change in him.
He rang the bell.
The summons was answered by the servant, the only one employed in Mrs. Brandon's modest establishment.
"Is Mrs. Brandon at home?" asked Ben.
"Yes," answered the girl. "Will you walk in?"
Ben stepped into the entry, and the girl opened the door of the room in which Mrs. Brandon was seated.
Mrs. Brandon looked up.
She saw standing at the door a well-grown lad of sixteen, with a face browned by long exposure to the sun and air. It was six years since she had seen Ben; but in spite of the changes which time may have wrought, a mother's heart is not easily deceived. A wild hope sprang up in her heart. She tried to rise from her chair, but her excite was so great that her limbs refused their office.
"Mother!" exclaimed Ben, and, hurrying forward he threw his arms around his mother's neck.
"God be thanked!" she exclaimed, with heartfelt gratitude. "I have missed you so much, Ben."
Ben's heart reproached him as he saw the traces of sorrow upon his mother's face, and felt that he had been the cause.
"Forgive me, mother!" he said.
"It is all forgotten now. I am so happy!" she answered, her eyes filled with joyful tears.
They sat down together, and Ben began to tell his story. In the midst of it his father entered. He stopped short when he saw Ben sitting beside his mother.
"It is Ben come back," said his mother, joyfully.
Mr. Brandon did not fall on his son's neck and kiss him. That was not his way. He held out his hand, and said, "Benjamin, I am very glad to see you."
In the evening they talked together over the new plans which Ben's return suggested.
"You must stay with us, Ben," said his mother. "I cannot part with you now."
"I am getting old, Benjamin," said his father. "I need help in my business. You must stay and help me, and by and by you shall have the whole charge of it."
"I am afraid I don't know enough," said Ben. "I haven't studied any since I left home. I don't know as much as I did when I was ten."
"You shall study at home for a year," said his father. "The teacher of the academy shall give you private lessons. You can learn a great deal in a year if you set about it."
To this arrangement Ben acceded. He is now studying at home, and his abilities being excellent, and his ambition excited, is making remarkable progress. Next year he will assist his father. Mr. Brandon seems to have changed greatly. He is no longer stern and hard, but gentle and forbearing, and is evidently proud of Ben, who would run a chance of being spoiled by over-indulgence, if his hard discipline as a street boy had not given him a manliness and self-reliance above his years. He is gradually laying aside the injurious habits which he acquired in his street life, and I confidently hope for him a worthy and useful manhood.
From time to time Ben visits New York, and renews his intimacy with his Cousin Charles, who returns his warm affection. Charles, in turn, spends the summer at Cedarville, where they are inseparable.
So we bid farewell to Ben, the Luggage Boy, hoping that he may be able to repay his mother in part for the sorrow which his long absence occasioned her, and that she may live long to enjoy his society. To my young readers, who have received my stories of street life with so much indulgence, I bid a brief farewell, hoping to present them ere long the sixth volume of the Ragged Dick Series, under the title of
RUFUS AND ROSE;
THE FORTUNES OF ROUGH AND READY.
* * * * *
FAMOUS ALGER BOOKS.
RAGGED DICK SERIES. By HORATIO ALGER, JR. 6 vols. 12mo. Cloth.
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TATTERED TOM. PHIL THE FIDDLER. PAUL THE PEDDLER. SLOW AND SURE.
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TRY AND TRUST. RISEN FROM THE RANKS. BOUND TO RISE. HERBERT CARTER'S LEGACY.
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BRAVE AND BOLD. SHIFTING FOR HIMSELF. JACK'S WARD. WAIT AND HOPE.
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THE YOUNG ADVENTURER. THE YOUNG EXPLORERS. THE YOUNG MINER. BEN'S NUGGET.
ATLANTIC SERIES. By HORATIO ALGER, JR. 4 vols.
THE YOUNG CIRCUS RIDER. HECTOR'S INHERITANCE. DO AND DARE. HELPING HIMSELF.
WAY TO SUCCESS SERIES. By HORATIO ALGER, JR. 4 vols. 12mo. Cloth.
BOB BURTON. LUKE WALTON. THE STORE BOY. STRUGGLING UPWARD.
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Other Volumes in Preparation.
* * * * *
COPYRIGHT BY A. K. LORING, 1870.
COPYRIGHT BY HORATIO ALGER, JR., 1898.
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Across Texas. Adventures in Canada; or, Life in the Woods. By John C. Geikie.
Alison's Adventures. By Lucy C. Lillie.
American Family Robinson, The; or, The Adventures of a Family Lost in the Great Desert of the West. By W. D. Belisle.
Bear Hunters of the Rocky Mountains, The. By Anne Bowman.
Ben's Nugget; or, A Boy's Search for a Fortune. By Horatio Alger, Jr.
Bob Burton; or, the Young Ranchman of the Missouri. By Horatio Alger, Jr.
Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden. By G. A. Henty.
Brave Billy. By Edward S. Ellis.
Brave Tom; or, The Battle that Won. By Edward S. Ellis.
By England's Aid; or, The Freeing of the Netherlands (1585-1604). By G. A. Henty.
By Pike and Dyke; A Tale of the Rise of the Dutch Republic. By G. A. Henty.
By Right of Conquest; or, With Cortez in Mexico. By G. A. Henty.
By Love's Sweet Rule. By Gabrielle Emelie Jackson.
Cabin in the Clearing, The. A Tale of the Frontier. By Edward S. Ellis.
Camping Out, As Recorded by "Kit." By C. A. Stephens.
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Cornet of Horse, The. A Tale of Marlborough's Wars. By G. A. Henty.
Cruise of the Firefly. By Edward S. Ellis.
Dear Days, A Story of Washington School Life. By Ada Mickle.
Diccon the Bold. A Story of the Days of Columbus. By John Russell Coryell.
Do and Dare; or, A Brave Boy's Fight for Fortune. By Horatio Alger, Jr.
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Dog of Cotopaxi, The. By Hezekiah Butterworth.
Doris and Theodora. By Margaret Vandegrift.
Dr. Gilbert's Daughters. By Margaret H. Matthews.
Dragon and the Raven, The; or, The Days of King Alfred. By G. A. Henty.
Elam Storm, the Wolfer; or, The Lost Nugget. By Harry Castlemon.
Elinor Belden; or, The Step Brothers. By Lucy C. Lillie.
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Four Little Indians. By Ella Mary Coates.
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Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands, The. By R. M. Ballantyne.
For Honor's Sake. By Lucy C. Lillie.
Four Boys; or, The Story of the Forest Fire. By Edward S. Ellis.
Fox Hunting, As Recorded by "Raed." By C. A. Stephens.
Freaks on the Fells. By R. M. Ballantyne.
Gascoyne, the Sandalwood Trader. By R. M. Ballantyne.
Girl's Ordeal, A. By Lucy C. Lillie.
Gorilla Hunters, The. By R. M. Ballantyne.
Great Cattle Trail, The. By Edward S. Ellis.
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Hector's Inheritance; or, The Boys of Smith Institute. By Horatio Alger, Jr.
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Helen Glenn; or, My Mother's Enemy. By Lucy C. Lillie.
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In Freedom's Cause. A Story of Wallace and Bruce. By G. A. Henty.
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Jack Midwood; or, Bread Cast Upon the Waters. By Edward S. Ellis.
Joe Wayring at Home; or, The Adventures of a Fly Rod. By Harry Castlemon.
Kangaroo Hunters, The; or, Adventures in the Bush. By Anne Bowman.
King's Rubies, The. By Adelaide Fulaer Bell.
Lady Green Satin. By Baroness Deschesnez.
Left on Labrador; or, The Cruise of the Yacht "Curlew." By C. A. Stephens.
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Lenny, the Orphan. By Margaret Hosmer.
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