HotFreeBooks.com
From Boyhood to Manhood
by William M. Thayer
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Your old friend,

"B. FRANKLIN."

Governor Keith sent for Benjamin to dine with him.

"I wanted to talk with you a little more about your visit to Boston," he remarked at the dinner-table. "How long will you be gone?"

"That will depend upon the voyage. There and back will occupy from three to four weeks on the vessel. I do not care about spending over a week in Boston. I shall want to get back as soon as I can to start in business."

"Does Mr. Keimer suspect that any thing in particular is on the tapis? I did not know but my visit might awaken his curiosity to learn what it was for."

"It did, and he plied me with questions in order to find out for some time. Once in a while now, he is very inquisitive, evidently thinking that I am withholding something from him. He is quite an intelligent man, without any surplus of honesty."

"So I understand. Bradford is very ignorant, but honest; while Keimer is bright and well-informed, but unscrupulous."

"That is about as near the truth as one can get," continued Benjamin. "I have a pleasant time with Mr. Keimer, however, and have nothing to complain of on that line."

"Can you give me any idea of the time it will take, after you return, to get a printing house in running order?"

"Not exactly. If my plans succeed, and I bring back a printing-press and materials with me, I think a month will be ample time to put the whole thing in running order."

The enterprise was canvassed at the table, the governor conversing with his young guest in the most familiar manner, dropping many complimentary words. Whenever he wanted to see him thereafter, he invited him to dine, which was quite often; all of which Benjamin enjoyed very much. In his old age, referring to these interviews with Governor Keith, Franklin said: "The governor sent for me now and then to dine with him, which I considered a great honor; more particularly as he conversed with me in the most affable, familiar, and friendly manner."

A novelist would portray the advantages of running away from home when representing Benjamin, the runaway, at the governor's table. If he had remained in Boston, attacking the officials of the English Government with his pen, the governor might have put him in prison, as he did his brother. But Benjamin never justified the use he made of his legs at that time—that is, he never excused it in his years of maturity. He always spoke of it regretfully. Very few runaways possess as much talent and character as he did, and few ever had so much cause for running away; and here is found the only reason that the act was overruled to his advantage.

At length a small vessel was announced to sail for Boston.

"I am ready to go in her," he said to Governor Keith. "She sails in about a week."

"I am very glad," answered the governor; "you have waited long enough for it. I will have my letter to your father ready in time; and I hope your mission will be successful. Is there any thing more I can do for you?"

"Nothing; I have been getting myself in readiness all along, so that I have little to do now. As the time draws near I am very anxious to go. My father and mother will be very happy in looking into my face again."

"And I think you will be as happy in looking into their faces again," responded the governor. "Captain Homes spoke in the highest terms of your parents, and of your standing in Boston."

Benjamin wondered more than ever whether his brother, Homes, disclosed the fact of his leaving home clandestinely to the governor. No words were dropped to indicate that he did. But Governor Keith was a wise man, and thought it was not best to divulge his acquaintance with that part of the affair.

Benjamin improved the first opportunity to announce his departure to Mr. Keimer.

"Going to see my parents," he said; "a vessel sails for Boston in about a week."

"You have not been away from home long yet. I should think that you might wait a year, at least."

"No, I can't wait longer, though I do not intend to stay long. I am attached to Philadelphia, and I shall want to return as soon as I can after letting my father and mother look me over a few days."

"Has the governor of the Massachusetts Province sent for you?" Keimer asked jocosely. The fact was he could not get over Governor Keith's interest in Benjamin, because he could not yet understand it. As the weeks rolled on, his employee grew to be more and more an object of curiosity.

"No; nor any body else," answered Benjamin. "I shall take the governor by surprise, so that he will have no time to get up a reception. I prefer the governor of Pennsylvania to the governor of Massachusetts."

If Keimer had known all the circumstances, he might have replied, "You have reason to feel so; for the governor of Massachusetts would rather see you in prison than running a printing house."

Benjamin purchased a nice suit of clothes, also a watch, before starting on his trip; and then had quite a sum of pocket money to take with him. He bade Mr. Keimer good-bye, took leave of the governor with many thanks for his kindness, receiving from him a long, complimentary letter to his father; nor did he forget to call upon the Bradford family, to make known his purpose and thank them again for their hospitality; and, of course, Mr. Read and family received a good share of his thankfulness, especially the daughter, in whom Benjamin had become quite interested.

Once on board the vessel, under way, Benjamin began to reflect upon his novel experiences. It appeared to him somewhat like a dream. He could hardly realize that he was on his way back to his home, by the governor's patronage. He took out the governor's letter to his father and read it. He found that it was very complimentary to himself, fully as much so as he had expected; and the prospects of a new printing house, under his care, were set forth strongly. He had scarcely finished reading the letter, when the vessel struck on a shoal; for they were not out of the bay yet. She sprung a leak, and there was considerable excitement on board before the crew could remedy the accident.

"A hard storm is near by," said the captain. "You will have a rough passage this time, young man," addressing Benjamin.

"Well, I am used to it; I have encountered as many storms as any body of my age," replied Benjamin figuratively, which the captain did not quite understand.

"Then you have followed the sea, have you?"

"No; I have followed the land mostly; but there are hard storms on the land, are there not?"

"Of course"; and the captain thought only of rain storms and snow storms when he answered.

"All I meant was," added Benjamin by way of explanation, "that I have had rather of a rough life so far; have seen a good deal of trouble for one of my years; and have rather got accustomed to rough usage. A storm at sea will only vary the experience a little. I think I can withstand it."

"You will have to stand it any way. Not much chance to choose when a storm overtakes us out to sea. If I am any judge of weather, a terrible storm is brewing, and it will be on us in a hurry."

"Well, I like the water; I meant to have become a sailor once, but my father put his veto on it. If I had been allowed my own way, I should have been serving before the mast now." Benjamin never spoke truer words than these.

"Hard life," responded the captain; "if I could live my life over again I should chose any thing on land rather than the best on the sea. I would not command a vessel another day, if there was any thing else I could do; but this is all I know."

They had scarcely emerged from the bay when the storm burst upon them. It was the beginning of a long, violent, tempestuous spell of weather, such as mariners encounter on the sea; a new and exciting experience to Benjamin.

"I have heard a great deal about storms at sea, and——"

"And you will see one now," interrupted the captain. "What you have heard about it gives you a poor idea of the reality, compared with seeing it."

"I confess to a kind of desire to see a real hard one," answered Benjamin coolly. "If I should be frightened half out of my wits, I shall be as well off as the rest of you."

"The vessel is leaking badly," cried out one of the crew.

"Man the pumps," replied the captain. "Enough for all hands to do now."

"Including me," responded Benjamin. "I can do as much as any of you at the pump," and he went to work with the crew.

Suffice it to say, that the storm continued for days, tossing their small craft about like a shell, keeping all hands busy, night and day, sometimes the sea threatening to swallow the vessel and all it contained in its hungry maw. The vessel was two weeks on its way to Boston, encountering stormy weather nearly the whole time. Most of the voyage the leaky craft was kept from sinking by pumping, in which Benjamin took his turn, proving himself as efficient as any one of the crew; and he was as cool and self-possessed as any one of the number.

At the end of two weeks they sailed into Boston harbor; and Benjamin was at home.



XXIII.

THE SURPRISE, AND ITS RESULTS.

Benjamin hastened to the corner of Hanover and Union Streets, where the sign of the familiar blue ball hung, and entered with a fluttering heart.

"Benjamin!" exclaimed his father, "can that be you?" and he grasped one of his hands in both of his. "How glad I am to see you!"

"No more glad than I am to see you," responded the son, shaking his father's hand heartily. "I am glad to get home."

The words were scarcely off his tongue when his mother appeared upon the scene.

"Mother!"

"O, Benjamin!"

And his mother threw her arms about his neck, weeping tears of joy. Benjamin wept, too. He began to realize what months of agony his absence had caused the woman who bore him.

"Can it be you, my son? I have mourned for you as dead," she said, as soon as she could command her feelings. "Where have you been?"

"In Philadelphia. Has not Captain Homes told you where I was?"

"Not a word from him about it."

"He wrote to me from Newcastle three months ago, and I replied to his letter. I supposed that you had heard all about it before this time."

"We have not heard the least thing from you since you left," said his father; "and they have been seven very long and painful months."

"How painful, Benjamin, you can never know," added his mother. "Sometimes it has seemed as if my old heart would break with grief; but I have tried to cast my burden on the Lord. If you had staid at home and died, my sorrow could not have been so great."

"Let it end now," replied Benjamin, with a smile, "for I am here again."

"Yes, I thank my God, for 'this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.'" And his mother came almost as near to death with joy, as she had been before with sorrow.

They sat down together, when Benjamin rehearsed his experience since leaving Boston, not omitting to state the cause of his sudden departure, and the reason of his return. And then he put the letter of Governor Keith into his father's hand.

"How is James? I suppose he is at the printing office? I must go to see him."

Benjamin's words and tone of speech indicated only good will towards his brother.

"I am glad to hear you say that, Benjamin. It has grieved me terribly that he should treat you so unbrotherly; I do hope that you will now be reconciled to each other." His mother spoke with much feeling.

"I trust we shall; I am ready to forgive and forget. I have learned a good lesson from experience since leaving Boston."

So saying, he started for the printing office, not knowing what sort of a reception awaited him there He hoped for the best, however.

"James!" He extended his hand as he spoke. James would not have been more astonished over one who rose from the dead, but he took his hand in a cold, reserved sort of a way, merely saying:

"Benjamin!"

After surveying him from head to foot a few moments, he turned back to his work again, without another word. The act pierced Benjamin's heart, it was so unkind and cruel. But soon he rose above the situation, and seemed to say, by actions, "I can stand it if you can."

The journeymen were delighted to see him. Leaving their work, they pressed around him with a whole catechism of questions.

"Where have you been, Ben?"

"In Philadelphia."

"What kind of a place is it?"

"It is a fine place; I like it better than Boston."

"Going back?"

"Yes; very soon, too. No place like that for the printing business."

"Good pay?"

"Yes, better pay than in Boston."

"How large is the place?"

"Seven thousand inhabitants; smaller than Boston, but smarter."

"What kind of money do you have there?"

There was no established currency in the country at that time, and paper money only was used in Boston. His interrogator wanted to know what they used in Philadelphia.

"They use that," replied Benjamin, taking from his pocket nearly five pounds sterling in silver and laying it on the table. "Rather heavier stuff to carry than your Boston paper money."

"It looks as if you had struck a silver mine, Ben," remarked one.

"Some lucky hit, Ben," said another. "The printing business bring you that?"

"No other did. I was a printer when I left, and I am now, and I expect to be in the future. And, what is more, I have no desire for another business."

"You sport a watch, I see," said one of the number.

"Yes, such as it is; a good companion, though."

"Let us see it," one suggested.

"You can." And Benjamin passed it to him, and all examined it.

"Can't afford such luxuries in Boston," one printer remarked.

"It is not a luxury by any means; it is a necessity," replied Benjamin. "I should not know how to get along without a watch now."

"Well, Ben, you can afford to have a watch," added one; "for you can live on bread and water, and never want a day of pleasure, and never drink liquors."

"And he can afford to treat us all, since he has fared so well," suggested one of the men.

"I always did treat you well, and always intend to," was Benjamin's answer, as if he did not understand that treating with intoxicating liquors was meant.

"That is so, Ben; but now just treat us with something stronger than water, for old acquaintance' sake."

At that time the use of intoxicating liquors was almost universal. Benjamin did not use them, and, once in a while was found a person who did not. Most people were habitual drinkers, and there was little or no opposition to the custom; and the habit of treating was general.

"There is a dollar," replied Benjamin, throwing out a dollar in silver. "Take that and drink what you want for old acquaintance' sake."

Replacing his watch and money, he left the office with the promise to come around again. While this interview with the men was going on, James would occasionally look up from his work "grim and sullen," as Benjamin said, evidently as unreconciled to his brother as ever. The next day James said to his father and mother, at their house:

"It was an insult. He meant to insult me when he came to the office."

"No, James," replied his mother; "Benjamin meant no such thing. He told us that he was ready to forgive and forget."

"He has a poor way of showing it, then," retorted James, who was too revengeful to be reasonable.

"Well, you are brothers," interrupted his father, "and you should act as brothers toward each other. It has a bad look for one brother to be resentful toward another."

"And it not only has the look" added his mother, "but it is a most wicked state of heart to cherish. You will never prosper, James, so long as you treat your brother so; and you never ought to prosper."

Mrs. Franklin spoke with great plainness. She had never justified James at all in his treatment of Benjamin; and now that the former was adding injury to injury by falsely accusing the latter, she could not suppress her feelings. She magnified the severity of her words, by quoting:

"Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."

"My advice to you, James, is to let the dead past bury the dead. It will do no good to revive old memories. Make the future as bright as you can—that is the only wise course. I am quite sure that Benjamin will meet you more than half way, in erasing old scores."

Mr. Franklin spoke this with much feeling as he turned away to his work. James continued to be resentful, and failed to reduce his father's counsel to practice.

Benjamin soon found his old friend, John Collins; and there was mutual satisfaction in their meeting. As soon, however, as the first pleasure of meeting was over, Benjamin discovered that his friend had become intemperate, and he was both surprised and grieved. However, he gratified John with a detailed account of his experience, from the time they separated, not omitting a glowing description of his prospects in Philadelphia.

"How soon will you return?" John inquired.

"I want to leave here within two weeks if I can. I ought not to stay but a week."

"How will it do for me to return with you?"

"I think it will do well if you stick closely to business. That is the only way we can succeed in any thing."

"I can do that. Work never hurt me, or any thing else." John did not take the hint in Benjamin's last remark.

"But strong drink has hurt a great many. I should never expect to succeed in any thing if I used it as many do."

"Nor I," answered John, who was blind to his own danger, as all intemperate men are.

"We have no need of any such beverage at all," continued Benjamin. "I discard it entirely now, as you know that I did when I lived here in Boston. Water is the best beverage for us both."

"You may be right, Ben; you are, generally. But are you not a little odd in discarding what nearly every one uses?" John was trying to find an excuse for himself.

"Better be odd than to be disqualified for business. You know, as well as I do, that rum disqualifies more men for business than all other evils put together. Once you were of my opinion, John; but your habits have been changing your opinion."

"Well, that is neither here nor there," replied John, who found that Benjamin was becoming rather personal. "What do you think of my going to Philadelphia with you?"

"If your habits now are what your personal appearance indicates, you will not succeed in Philadelphia any better than you can in Boston. An intemperate man is a failure anywhere."

"Then you don't think I am good enough to go back with you?" said John, with a degree of warmth.

"I did not say so, John. To tell you the plain truth, I am shocked at the change drink has wrought in your appearance. You are fast becoming a wreck, I should say; and I don't want a wreck of a friend on my hands."

"Then you don't want I should go with you?"

"Not if you continue to drink as you do now. Sober John Collins I should delight to have accompany me, especially if he looks upon strong drink as the enemy of mankind. I am your friend now, as much as ever; but I am disappointed, and even shocked, by your appearance. You are fast becoming a wreck."

"You are complimentary, Ben, I must confess; but I can't say that you are wrong. You have been about right so far in life; perhaps your views are correct about drink."

"I don't ask you to accept my views; but I entreat you to let strong drink alone for your own sake, and my sake, too. If you can give a wide berth to all sorts of intoxicating liquors, as I do, I should be delighted to have you return to Philadelphia with me."

"That is, become a water-drinker, you mean, Ben?"

"I did not say so; become a reasonable being and not indulge to excess. I do not ask any body to live exactly as I do, though I believe that every person who discards liquors will be better off."

At that day, when the temperance cause was not born, and the use of intoxicants was universal, it was generally believed that moderate drinking could be followed without leading to excessive drinking. It is plain that Benjamin had that idea. For himself, he practised entire abstinence from intoxicants, because he thought it was better for him. Another person might drink moderately, in his view, and be just as well off. But intemperance he abhorred, and he thought that every body else ought to abhor it.

"I will tell you what it is, Ben," continued John. "There is some sense in what you say; you did not leave it all in Philadelphia when you came away, that is sure. I want to go back with you badly; and I will think it over."

"That is it, John. Sober John Collins is an old friend of mine, and I shall enjoy his society in Philadelphia, or any other part of the world. Think it over, and I will see you again."

Mr. Franklin read the letter of Governor Keith over and over. It was a good letter to cheer a father's heart, if it was genuine. Evidently he had some doubts whether the affair was all right. While he was querying about the genuineness of the letter from Governor Keith, Captain Homes arrived in Boston, and first of all called upon his father Franklin.

"Benjamin is here," said Mr. Franklin, "and according to his story, he has a good prospect before him in Philadelphia. And here is a letter from Sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania, that he brought with him"; and he passed the letter to the captain.

"I met Governor Keith at Newcastle, and showed him a letter I received from Benjamin," replied Captain Homes, "which satisfied me that he had more reason than I had supposed for running away. I interested the governor in his welfare. On his return to Philadelphia, after having met Benjamin, he wrote to me how much pleased he was with him, and what he had proposed."

Captain Homes read the governor's letter through and remarked, "That is substantially what he wrote to me; and it appears to me that there is a good opening for him in Philadelphia."

"You think that Sir William Keith is reliable, do you?"

"He ought to be. I can't think of any reason why a man in his position should be saying and doing what he don't mean."

"Nor I. And yet it seems almost strange that he should favor a boy of eighteen engaging in such an enterprise, without money and without experience."

"You are wrong, father," answered the captain; "very few young men twenty-two years of age have had the experience he has had. He has occupied positions and met emergencies every time with the promptness and ability of one ten years older."

"That may be so. I think it is so; and it gives me great pleasure that Sir William Keith can write as he does about him. But it can't be expected that a boy of eighteen can have the judgment and wisdom to conduct business for himself, as he will at twenty-two."

"I think it can be expected, and should be expected, if these qualities are as fully developed at eighteen as they are in other young men at twenty-two." The captain was emphatic in his endorsement of Benjamin.

This conversation was interrupted by Benjamin's appearance. He was delighted to meet Captain Homes, and this gentleman was delighted to meet him. The satisfaction was mutual. One of the first questions that Benjamin asked was:

"How did you learn that I was living in Philadelphia?"

"From a citizen of that town, of whom I was inquiring about the business of the place. Incidentally he spoke of a young printer from Boston, who had come there. I met him in Newcastle. He even knew your name."

"'Murder will out' is an old maxim that finds confirmation in my case," responded Benjamin. "But it is all for the best, I think. I am glad that the way was opened for me to return to Boston."

"I have just read Governor Keith's letter to your father, and I hope that he will be able to give you a start in Philadelphia." The captain said this in the presence of Mr. Franklin.

While Mr. Franklin was considering the proposition contained in Governor Keith's letter, Benjamin was busy in calling upon old friends and visiting old resorts. He had been absent seven months, and, in that time, had added two or three times that number of months to his personal appearance. He appeared like a young man twenty-one years of age, and his new apparel imparted to him a grace and comeliness that he lacked when he left Boston. He had developed into a handsome, gentlemanly, intelligent, and witty young man.

It was during this visit to Boston that he called upon Dr. Increase Mather, to whose preaching he listened when a resident of the town. The doctor received him cordially and invited him into his library, where they chatted for some time about books, Philadelphia, and other matters. When Benjamin arose to go, the doctor said:

"Come this way, and I will show you a nearer way out," pointing to a narrow passage with a beam crossing it overhead. They were still talking, the doctor following behind Benjamin, when the latter turned partly about to speak to the former.

"Stoop! Stoop!" shouted the doctor.

Benjamin did not understand what he meant until his head struck the beam overhead with considerable force.

"There," said the doctor, laughing, "you are young and have the world before you; stoop as you go through it, and you may miss many hard thumps."

Nearly seventy years afterwards the recipient of this counsel wrote as follows:

"This advice, thus beaten into my head, has frequently been of use to me; and I often think of it when I see pride mortified, and misfortunes brought upon people by carrying their heads too high."

John Collins was a clerk in the post-office. He revolved the matter of going to Philadelphia with Benjamin a sober youth, or remaining in Boston a drunken one. The more he pondered the more he was inclined to accept Benjamin's advice. The appeal from Collins drunk to Collins sober finally met his approval.

"I have decided to go with you," he said to Benjamin, the next time they met.

"Glad to hear it, John, if you take my advice and leave the drink-habit in Boston. I shall enjoy your company hugely."

"You shall have it. I have given up my position in the post-office, and am packing up now. I want to carry my books with the rest of my traps."

"And I shall take my books this time. I shall ship to New York, where I have some business, and thence to Philadelphia."

"And I want to go by the way of Providence, Rhode Island, to visit friends, and will meet you in New York," responded John.

"Agreed; but remember, John, that you and I are going to steer clear of strong drink. Give it a wide berth, and the way is open before you to success."

"I see it, and mean to act accordingly." John really meant what he said, but the poor fellow did not understand how weak he was. Neither was Benjamin aware that the drink habit was fastened upon him so tightly.

Mr. Franklin had taken a plenty of time to consider the advice of Governor Keith, and Benjamin was getting uneasy to return.

"I have considered the matter long and carefully," said Mr. Franklin to Benjamin, "having a desire to aid you if possible; but have come to the conclusion, finally, that I can not do it at present."

"I told Governor Keith that I doubted whether you would assist me now, so that your conclusion is not altogether unexpected." Benjamin's reply was cool—almost indifferent.

"When you become twenty-one years of age, and need assistance to start in business for yourself, I will gladly render it; but it is hardly safe for a boy of eighteen to engage in such an enterprise. Get more experience." These words were indicative of Mr. Franklin's caution.

"Well, I have no great desire to rule a printing house. I am content to serve," and these words expressed Benjamin's real feelings.

"At the same time," continued his father, "I am highly gratified that you have conducted yourself so well as to gain the good opinion of even the governor. I trust that you will continue to conduct yourself with propriety. At twenty-one you will save money enough to set up business for yourself, if your economy holds out."

"I think it will," responded Benjamin. "My wants are few, and so my expenses are small. And I like work as well as ever."

"There is one thing I hope you will avoid, Benjamin. You will, no doubt, be writing for the public press, as you did here. My advice is to avoid lampooning and libeling. You erred in that way here, and furnished occasion for just and severe criticism."

"We have not time to discuss that matter now," answered Benjamin; "but if I were to live my life over again, and edit the Courant in the same circumstances, I should repeat the same thing. But for that fight there would be a censorship over the press of Boston to-day."

"Possibly," rejoined his father; "but I think there is a wiser course. You must live and learn."

"I regret exceedingly that James can not be reconciled to you," interrupted his mother. "He is indulging a very bad spirit, and my prayer is that he may see the folly of it, before you leave, and be at peace with you."

"I met him more than half way," replied Benjamin, "and he seemed to stand aloof all the more. Whenever he returns to reason he will find me ready and waiting to forget the past."

"It is so painful to see brothers disagree!" And a deep, doleful sigh escaped her heart as his mother said it.

Benjamin's separation from his parents was tender and affectionate. They scarcely expected to see his face again on this side of the River, and they presented him with several gifts as tokens of their undying love. With their sincere blessing upon him he turned away from the old home, where so many of his happiest hours had been spent, and, wiping unbidden tears from his eyes, found himself again out on the world's great highway alone, seeking his fortune.



XXIV.

HIS RETURN, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.

John left Boston two or three days before Benjamin. The sloop in which Benjamin sailed stopped at Newport, where his brother John lived, affording him the opportunity to visit him. John was well-nigh overcome by the sight of Benjamin, for whom he ever had the most sincere affection. Their meeting was as glad to him as it was unexpected. There he met a Mr. Vernon, who said:

"I have a bill of thirty-five pounds currency in New York, which I have no doubt can be collected readily—could you collect it for me?"

"I will do it with pleasure," replied Benjamin.

"You can collect and keep it until I write what disposition to make of it. I am not quite certain just now."

"Very well; I will hold it subject to your direction."

"And I will give you an order for the money, which will be necessary."

"Yes, I suppose that is the business way."

His stay in Newport was very brief. On returning to the sloop in season to sail, he found that several passengers had been taken on board from that town. Among them was a motherly sort of a Quaker lady, and, also, two young women traveling together. Benjamin was a polite young man, and sought to be of service to them. The old Quaker lady was attended by two servants, yet Benjamin found an opportunity to be of some service to her, and she appreciated his kindness. Nor was he indifferent towards the two young women. He made their acquaintance, and showed them some attention; and they, in turn, showed him attention, with interest. The Quaker lady looked on, understanding the situation better than he did; and finally she called him aside, by some kind of a motion, and said:

"Young man, beware of those girls, or they will lead you astray."

"How so?" inquired Benjamin, considerably surprised.

"They are bad girls, and thee is not much acquainted with the ways of the world."

"You are right, madam; I am not much acquainted with the women world, and I dare say they might easily lead me astray." Benjamin did not exactly believe what the Quakeress said, but he was a little given to humor, and so he spoke as he did.

"It is a serious matter, young man; thee may depend on that. I know that they are bad girls by their actions. They mean to set a snare for thee."

"Well, I assure you that I will not fall into it. They have not caught me yet."

"And I hope they won't," added the good lady. "If I were in your place I would cut their acquaintance at once. And she stated some things she had observed of their acts, and a remark one of them made, all of which convinced Benjamin that she was right.

"I thank you for your interest," said Benjamin "I will not keep up an acquaintance with them, but will follow your advice."

The good lady kept her eye on Benjamin, and so did the girls. The latter plied their arts with considerable ingenuity to lure him on, but his eyes were opened now, and he avoided them as much as he could. Before reaching New York, however, the girls managed to inform him where they lived, and gave him a very pressing invitation to call. The outcome was as follows, given in his own language, as related in his "Autobiography":

"When we arrived at New York, they told me where they lived, and invited me to come and see them; but I avoided it, and it was well I did. For the next day the captain missed a silver spoon and some other things, that had been taken out of his cabin, and, knowing that these were a couple of strumpets, he got a warrant to search their lodgings, found the stolen goods, and had the thieves punished. So, though we had escaped a sunken rock, which we scraped upon in the passage, I thought this escape of rather more importance to me."

When Benjamin arrived in New York, John Collins was waiting there for him, but it was John Collins drunk.

"Waitin' for you, Ben, old fellow," said John, patting him on the back, too much under the power of drink to know exactly what the said or did. "Goin' to Philadelphy; come on."

Benjamin was taken by surprise, and scarcely knew what to say. Rallying himself, however, he replied:

"You are not the John Collins I invited to accompany me to Philadelphia. I don't wish for your company."

"You are joking, Ben, old fellow"; and another pat on his back.

"I invited John Collins sober to go to Philadelphia with me; you are John Collins drunk."

"Complimentary again," answered John, with a show of temper.

"It is time," retorted Benjamin, "It is putting me into an embarrassing situation to be tied to a drunken companion. I rather be excused."

"Don't see how I can 'scuse you, Ben. It is too late now." And the boozy fellow appeared not to imagine that he was making a fool of himself.

On reaching John's boarding place, the landlord said:

"He has been drunk ever since he reached New York; and he has gambled, too, I judge."

"What makes you think he has gambled?"

"Because he is out of money now; every cent he had is gone, I think."

"And he owes you for board and lodgings?"

"Yes; he has not paid me any thing. His appetite is complete master of him."

"Well, I scarcely know what to do," remarked Benjamin thoughtfully; and he rehearsed to the inn-keeper the circumstances of his connection with John, not omitting to repeat his fair promises.

"Promises!" retorted the landlord. "What does he care for promises! A fellow with no more control over his appetite than he has don't care for any thing. He's a goner, if I am any judge."

Benjamin embraced the first opportunity to canvass the matter with John; and, from his own account, he was satisfied that the case was full as bad as the landlord had represented. John had not a cent left, and he was in a maudlin state of mind, such as Benjamin did not observe in Boston. His self-respect was gone, and he appeared to glory in his shame.

While Benjamin was considering what to do, and attending to some matters of business, particularly collecting the thirty-five pounds for Mr. Vernon, the captain of the sloop came to him, saying:

"Governor Burnet wants to see you."

"Who is Governor Burnet, that he should want to see me?" responded Benjamin in surprise. One governor had been after him, and now that another was seeking his patronage was almost too much to believe.

"Governor of New York," answered the captain. "I had some business with him, and I happened to say that a passenger on board my sloop had a large quantity of books with him; and this interested him so much that he wanted I should bring you to his house."

"I will go," replied Benjamin; "and I must go at once if I go at all."

They posted off, Benjamin querying on the way whether the governor of New York would prove as friendly to him as the governor of Pennsylvania.

It was a pleasant call he had upon the governor. This dignitary gave him a cordial welcome, took him into his library, conversed with him about books and authors, complimented him for his love of learning and his evident high aims, and invited him to call whenever he should visit New York. Benjamin began to think that governors had a particular passion for him; and what little vanity he possessed became inflated. Many years thereafter, referring to the experience, he said: "This was the second governor who had done me the honor to take notice of me; and, for a poor boy like me, it was very pleasing." If he had been as foolish as some youth, and some men, too, he would have concluded that it pays to run away, since the only boy that two governors were known to patronize especially was a runaway. But we repeat what we have said before, that Benjamin, the wise son, never concluded that it pays to run away from home. He met with some pleasant experiences, but they came, not through his runaway qualities, but through his aspiring and noble aims.

Collins was not too drunk to understand that Benjamin went to see the governor by invitation, and he was on tiptoe to learn what it all meant.

"Been to see the governor, hey?" he said.

"Yes; and I should have taken you if you had not been drunk."

"Good on you, Ben; you'll be governor yourself yet." And John laughed at his own suggestion as only a silly drinker will.

"You will not, John, unless you change your course. I have a mind to leave you here in New York; then I shall not be disgraced by you in Philadelphia. If you can't keep sober for your own sake nor mine, I want nothing more to do with you."

This was a revelation to John. He had not dreamed of being left penniless and friendless in New York. So he was ready to make promises of the most flattering kind, in order to proceed with Benjamin to Philadelphia.

"But you promised me as squarely as possible in Boston that you would not drink any more," continued Benjamin. "Your promise is not worth any thing to me, when it is worth nothing to you; and it is not worth as much to you as a glass of brandy. I am tempted to leave you and all your truck in the sloop here in New York."

John begged and entreated Benjamin not to desert him now, and promised by all that was great and good that he would stop drinking and lead a sober life. In the circumstances, Benjamin could scarcely do otherwise than to pay his bill at the inn and take him along with him, though he very reluctantly decided to do so. Having collected the thirty-five pounds for Mr. Vernon, paid John's bill, and transacted some other business, by the time the sloop was ready to sail, they proceeded to Philadelphia.

There is no record preserved of his experience on the sloop between New York and Philadelphia, except a paragraph in a letter written by Doctor Franklin to Doctor Priestley, in 1780, when the former was seventy-four years of age. He related the experience in order to illustrate the truth, "that all situations in life have their inconveniences." The paragraph is as follows:

"In my youth, I was passenger in a little sloop, descending the river Delaware. There being no wind, we were obliged, when the ebb was spent, to cast anchor and wait for the next. The heat of the sun on the vessel was excessive, the company strangers to me, and not very agreeable. Near the river-side I saw what I took to be a pleasant green meadow, in the middle of which was a large shady tree, where, it struck my fancy, I could sit and read (having a book in my pocket), and pass the time agreeably till the tide turned. I therefore prevailed with the captain to put me ashore. Being landed, I found the greatest part of my meadow was really a marsh, in crossing which, to come at my tree, I was up to my knees in mire; and I had not placed myself under its shade five minutes, before the mosquitoes in swarms found me out, attacked my legs, hands, and face, and made my reading and my rest impossible; so that I returned to the beach, and called for the boat to come and take me on board again, where I was obliged to bear the heat I had strove to quit, and also the laugh of the company. Similar cases in the affairs of life have since frequently fallen under my observation."

In these modern days, it would be said that, when Benjamin arrived in Philadelphia, he "had an elephant on his hands." The most unmanageable and dangerous sort of an elephant on one's hands is a dissolute friend. Benjamin scarcely knew what to do with John. It troubled him exceedingly. But he was wont to make the best of everything, and so he did in this case.

He took John with him to his boarding place, promising to pay his bills until he could find work in some counting-room. John was well qualified for such business, and Benjamin supposed that he could readily find a situation. His estimate of Collins, before and after he began to drink to excess, is given by his own pen, as follows:

"At New York I found my friend Collins, who had arrived there some time before me. We had been intimate from children, and had read the same books together; but he had the advantage of more time for reading and studying, and a wonderful genius for mathematical learning, in which he far outstripped me. While I lived in Boston, most of my hours of leisure for conversation were spent with him, and he continued a sober as well as industrious lad; was much respected for his learning by several of the clergy and other gentlemen, and seemed to promise making a good figure in life. But, during my absence, he had acquired a habit of drinking brandy and I found by his own account, as well as that of others, that he had been drunk every day since his arrival at New York, and behaved himself in a very extravagant manner. He had gamed, too, and lost his money, so that I was obliged to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses on the road and at Philadelphia; which proved a great burden to me."

Benjamin called upon Governor Keith as soon as possible, with a letter from his father, in which the governor was thanked and praised for his kindness to his son.

"Your father is too cautious," remarked the governor, after reading the letter. "Some young men are better qualified to do business for themselves at eighteen than others are at twenty-one."

"He said that he would assist me at twenty-one if I should need assistance," replied Benjamin.

"Yes; he says so in this letter. But I think you will be established in a good business three years from now, and need no help. Some aid now will do more for you than at any future time."

"I dare say that is true; but, as father declines to do it, that ends the matter, I suppose."

"No; not by any means," replied the governor, earnestly. "If your father will not set you up in business, I'll see what I can do for you. I want a first-class printing house in this town; and a young man like you, capable of running it, should be encouraged."

"That is more than I expected, and I shall feel myself under great obligations to you for aid of that kind, if you deem it best." Benjamin spoke in a tone of grateful feeling, but without the least show of importunity.

"I do deem it best; and I will give you a start in business. You can keep the matter a secret; continue at work for Keimer, and use your first leisure moments to make out an inventory of what a first-class printing establishment requires. That will be the first thing."

"How soon will you want the inventory of articles?"

"As soon as you can make it out. I shall be obliged to send to England for them, and that will take considerable time."

It was a lengthy interview that Benjamin had with the governor, and he was very much elated by this turn of affairs. It looked now as if he would start the printing business in Philadelphia under the patronage of the governor himself! That seemed to promise more than to go into business by the aid of only a tallow-chandler.

He reported next to Keimer, who was glad to welcome him back, especially so because he had considerable work on hand, and no person could turn it off like Benjamin.

"Glad to see you, Ben. I suppose the governor will be round to see you when he hears of your arrival." Keimer spoke in a vein of pleasantry rather than as a fling.

"Possibly, unless he should send for me to call on him. The governor of New York sent for me—Governor Burnet—what do you think of that?"

"You are joking now, Ben; it can't be that all the governors are after you."

"Well, the governor of New York was, and I went to see him." And Benjamin went on to describe his interview with Governor Burnet in detail, and how it came about, to which Keimer listened with the greatest interest and wonder.

"Governor Burnet has the largest library in this country," continued Benjamin, "and judging from the number of books I had on the sloop, he concluded that I loved books, and so wanted to show me his."

"Well," answered Keimer, after being in a sort of reverie some minutes, "if this thing goes on, you will not be willing to associate long with us fellows in the printing business."

"I will give you due notice when I get to that. I will not cut your acquaintance suddenly." Benjamin could treat the matter jocosely as well as Keimer.

To return to John Collins. He sought a position as clerk or bookkeeper in several stores; but was unsuccessful. Then he tried other kinds of work; but no one appeared to want him. Benjamin went with him to several places, to introduce him and intercede for him; but there was no opening for him. Days passed away, and still he was without a position; and he kept on drinking, too, not so beast-like as he did in New York, but enough to be more or less disguised.

"It is your disgusting habit of intemperance; they smell your breath or study your face, and then don't want you around. I told you in Boston, that no one wants a drinking employee about." Benjamin's patience was nearly exhausted, and he spoke as he felt.

"That is your surmise; you are a fanatic on drink, and are not capable of exercising sound judgement when you come to that," John replied with considerable temper.

"And you would not be capable of keeping your soul and body together if it were not for my money. You have no regard at all for your word; a promise amounts to nothing with you, and never will until you stop drinking."

"I shall not stop drinking until I get ready," retorted John, becoming very angry. "You are an insulting dog, when you get to attacking brandy."

Brandy was John's favorite beverage in Philadelphia, as it was in Boston. He frequently borrowed money of Benjamin; the latter not having the heart to deny him, with which he continued to gratify his appetite. Benjamin often remonstrated with him, and threatened to complain of him; but the old friendship of former days always came in to favor John. Frequently they had serious difficulties, for John was very irritable, and daily grew more so. Yet, Benjamin continued to pay his board, and loan him a little money from time to time, though Collins continued unsuccessful in his search for a position.

Several young men were enjoying a pastime on the Delaware one day, boating, among them Benjamin and John. The latter was under the influence of drink sufficiently to be very irritable; and he refused to take his turn rowing.

"I will be rowed home," he said in anger.

"No, you won't, unless you do your part," replied Benjamin, who thought it was quite time to teach the boozy fellow a lesson.

"Then we will stay here all night on the water," snapped out John.

"Just as you please; I can stay as long as you can," said Benjamin, who had endured about as much of John's impudence as he could.

"Come, Ben, let us row him; he don't know what he is about," said one of the other boys; "what signifies it?"

"Not one stroke," replied Benjamin emphatically; "it is his turn to row, and he shall row, if he is full of brandy."

"I'll make you row, you insulting dog," exclaimed John, as he rose and made for Benjamin. "I'll throw you overboard if you don't row."

Approaching Benjamin with the vehemence of a mad bull, determined to throw him into the river, Benjamin clapped his head under his thighs, when he came up and struck at him, and, rising, pitched him head foremost into the river.

"He'll drown," shouted one.

"No, he won't," answered Benjamin, "he is a good swimmer, and he is not too drunk to swim."

"Will you row, John?" shouted another.

"No, you ——," he shouted back, with an oath.

"We'll take you in when you will promise to row," said Benjamin.

"I shall not promise to row; I'll drown first." He turned about to reach the boat, but just as he was ready to grasp it with his hand, the rowers pushed it forward out of his reach.

"Will you row now?" shouted Benjamin.

"No; but I will give you a thrashing when I can get at you." And he continued to swim after the boat, the rowers pushing it forward out of his reach, whenever he got near enough to seize it. Then Benjamin would cry out:

"Will you row now, John?" and back the defiant answer would come:

"Never; but I'll throw you into the river if I can get at you."

Then forward the rowers would push the boat beyond his reach. For twenty minutes this game was played with the miserable fellow in the water, when one of the number said:

"He is giving out, we must take him in, or he'll drown."

"Well, we don't want to drown him," replied Benjamin; "I guess we better take him in." Then, turning to John, he continued:

"Say, John, we'll take you in now; you are soaked outside as much as you were inside," and, stopping the boat, they hauled the poor fellow in, too much exhausted to throw Benjamin or any one else overboard.

"John!" shouted Benjamin, as they laid him down, dripping wet, on the bottom of the boat, "it don't pay to drink too much brandy. You are the only one in the crowd who can't take care of himself."

Benjamin was rather severe, but then he had endured insult and ingratitude so long from his old friend, that his patience was exhausted. The outcome of this scrape on the Delaware Benjamin shall tell in his own words:

"We hardly exchanged a civil word after this adventure. At length a West India captain, who had a commission to procure a preceptor for the sons of a gentleman at Barbadoes, met with him and proposed to carry him thither to fill the situation. He accepted, and promised to remit what he owed me out of the first money he should receive; but I never heard of him after."

Probably he died, a miserable sot, in Barbadoes, without a friend to mark his grave or write the story of his shame. Benjamin lost, of course, all the money he had loaned him. In later life he referred to the end of John Collins, and said that he (Benjamin) received retribution for his influence over Collins, when he made him as much of a skeptic as himself in Boston. It was there that he unsettled his mind as to the reality of religion. At that time he was industrious, temperate, and honest. But, losing his respect for religion, he was left without restraint and went rapidly to ruin. Benjamin was the greatest sufferer by his fall, and thus was terribly rebuked for influencing him to treat religion with contempt.

Governor Keith frequently sent for Benjamin to dine with him, that he might converse with him about the proposed printing house. At length Benjamin was able to take with him an inventory of all the articles necessary for establishing a printing house.

"It is not on a large scale," said Benjamin. "I think I better begin moderately. I can enlarge as business increases."

"That is wise," answered the governor; "but you want a suitable outfit for a first-class printing office."

"Yes; and my inventory contemplates that. The cost will be about one hundred pounds sterling, I judge."

"Not so expensive as I supposed," remarked Governor Keith. "I have been thinking whether you better not go to England to purchase these articles. You understand what is wanted."

"I had not thought of that," replied Benjamin, both surprised and pleased by the proposition to visit London. "I should defer to your judgment in that as in other things."

"If you go it will be necessary for you to sail with Captain Annis, who makes a trip once a year from here to London. It will be some months before he will sail, so that you have plenty of time to think and plan."

"I think favorably of the proposition now," continued Benjamin. "I could select the types and see that every thing ordered was good of the kind, and this would be of advantage."

"That is what I thought. And more than that; while there you can establish correspondences in the book-selling and stationery line."

"I think I could; and such acquaintance might prove of advantage to me in other respects."

"It certainly would; and I decide that you get yourself ready to sail with Captain Annis. You can continue to work for Keimer, still keeping the secret, but completing your plans."

This was the final agreement, and Benjamin never dreamed that Governor Keith was not honest. If he had divulged to Mr. Read, or Bradford, or even to Mr. Keimer, what the governor proposed, they would have exposed his deceitful, unreliable character, and the enterprise would have been abandoned.



XXV.

WORKING, READING, AND COURTING.

Benjamin continued to work for Keimer, who did not suspect that his employee was planning to set up business for himself. Keimer was a very singular, erratic man, believing little in the Christian religion, and yet given to a kind of fanaticism on certain lines.

"Thou shalt not mar the corners of thy beard," he quoted from the Mosaic law, as a reason for wearing a long beard, when Benjamin inquired of him:

"Then you think that passage means 'Thou shalt not shave,' if I understand you?" asked Benjamin.

"Yes, that is about it; and I feel religiously bound to observe it."

"Well, I prefer a religion that is seated in the heart instead of the beard." And there was a twinkle in Benjamin's eye when he said it.

He enjoyed arguing with Keimer, and frequently had a contest with him in argument. Keimer had come to respect his abilities. Indeed, he considered Benjamin the most remarkable young man he ever met.

"It is the religion of the heart that settles the length of the beard, my youthful Socrates." By this reference to Socrates, Keimer meant to slap Benjamin's Socratic method of argument, about which he talked much. "Can't you see it?"

"And it ought to settle the appetite, also; and the quantity and kind of food that goes into the stomach," rejoined Benjamin, quickly.

Keimer was a large eater—never more satisfied than when devouring a good dinner that was exactly to his taste. On the other hand, while Benjamin had abandoned his "vegetable diet," he cared very little about a good dinner, and seemed to eat one thing with about as good relish as another. He often discussed the subject with Keimer, and always maintained that most people ate too much meat. His last remark hit, and Keimer knew where.

"I shall not dispute you on that point," Keimer answered; "if we had religion enough in our hearts, I suppose it would regulate all our acts."

"It ought to; but there is not much prospect of its regulating you and me at present. Neither of us has much to boast of in that respect."

"Perhaps not. I don't propose to carry my religion so far as many people do, and be fanatical," replied Keimer.

"Not much danger of it, I think," retorted Benjamin. "You and I will never be charged with that."

Benjamin was as much of a skeptic as Keimer, only his skepticism took a different turn. Keimer believed two things thoroughly: first, to wear the beard long, and, second, to keep the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. Benjamin, on the other hand, regarded these and kindred dogmas as of little consequence, compared with morality and industry. He believed in work, self-improvement, and uprightness; and that was more than Keimer believed or practised. So their disputes were frequent and animated. Of the two, Benjamin's skepticism was the less dangerous.

"I am seriously thinking of establishing a new sect," continued Keimer; "if you will join me, I will. I can preach my doctrines, and you can confound all opponents by your Socratic method."

"I shall want some latitude if I join you. It is narrowing down a little too much when a creed contains but two articles, like yours, and both of those grave errors."

"In starting a sect I should not insist upon those two articles alone; minor doctrines will naturally gather about them. But I am really in earnest about a new sect, Ben; and I am only waiting to win you over."

"Well, perhaps I will join you after you adopt my creed, to use no animal food. Your head will be clearer for running your sect, and such respect for your stomach will show more religion than a long beard does."

"My constitution would not withstand that sort of a diet; it would undermine my health."

"Temperance in eating and drinking never undermined any body's constitution," retorted Benjamin. "You will live twenty years longer to practise it, and possess a much larger per cent, of self-respect."

"Perhaps I will try it, if you will; and also, if you will adopt my creed, and go for a new sect."

"I am ready to join you any time in discarding animal food; and, if you succeed well, then I will talk with you about the rest of it."

"Agreed," responded Keimer, thinking that Benjamin was really inclined to embrace his scheme, whereas he was only laying his plans for sport. He knew that a man, who liked a good meal as well as Keimer did, would have a hard time on the diet he proposed. Referring to it in his "Autobiography" he said:

"He was usually a great eater, and I wished to give myself some diversion in half-starving him. He consented to try the practice, if I would keep him company. I did so, and we held it for three months. Our provisions were purchased, cooked, and brought to us regularly by a woman in the neighborhood, who had from me a list of forty dishes, which she prepared for us at different times, in which there entered neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. This whim suited me the better at this time from the cheapness of it,—not costing us above eighteen pence sterling each per week. I have since kept several lents most strictly, leaving the common diet for that, and that for the common, abruptly, without the least inconvenience. So that, I think, there is little in the advice of making those changes by easy gradations. I went on pleasantly, but poor Keimer suffered grievously, grew tired of the project, longed for the flesh pots of Egypt, and ordered a roast pig. He invited me and two women friends to dine with him; but, it being brought too soon upon the table, he could not resist the temptation, and ate the whole before we came."

The trial resulted about as Benjamin anticipated, and he got out of it as much fun as he expected. Keimer proved himself a greater pig than the one he swallowed. At the same time, the result left Keimer without a claim on Benjamin to advocate the new sect. So the scheme was dropped.

Keimer was no match for Benjamin in disputation. With the use of the Socratic way of reasoning, Benjamin discomfited him every time; so that he grew shy and suspicious. In his ripe years, Benjamin wrote of those days, and said:

"Keimer and I lived on a pretty good familiar footing, and agreed tolerably well; for he suspected nothing of my setting up. He retained a great deal of his old enthusiasm, and loved argumentation. We therefore had many disputations. I used to work him so with my Socratic method, and had trepanned him so often by questions apparently so distant from any point we had in hand, yet by degrees leading to the point and bringing him into difficulties and contradictions, that at last he grew ridiculously cautious, and would hardly answer me the most common question, without asking first, 'What do you intend to infer from that?' However, it gave him so high an opinion of my abilities in the confuting way, that he seriously proposed my being his colleague in a project he had of setting up a new sect. He was to preach the doctrines, and I was to confound all opponents."

Benjamin found pleasant literary associates in Philadelphia. A gifted young man usually attracts to himself bright young men near his age. Such was the case with Benjamin. Three young men especially became his boon companions, all of them great readers. Their literary tendencies attracted Benjamin, though their characters were not deficient in high aims and integrity. Their names were Charles Osborne, Joseph Matson, and James Ralph. The first two were clerks of Charles Brockden, an eminent conveyancer of the town, and the other was a merchant's clerk. Matson was a pious young man of sterling integrity, while the others were more lax in their religious opinions and principles. All were sensible young men, much above the average of this class in intellectual endowments. Osborne and Ralph were imaginative and poetical, and frequently tried their talents at verse-making.

They formed a literary club, and spent their leisure time together, reading to each other, discussing questions, and, in other ways, seeking self-improvement. Sundays they devoted chiefly to intellectual pastime, strolling along the banks of the Schuylkill, except Matson, who was too much of a Christian to desecrate the Sabbath. He always went to the house of God on Sundays; nor was he esteemed any less highly by his skeptical associates for so doing.

"You estimate your talent for poetry too highly," said Osborne to Ralph, at one of their literary interviews. "Poets are born, not made; and I hardly think you was born one."

"Much obliged for your compliment," replied Ralph, not at all disconcerted by Osborne's rather personal remark; "but I may become poet enough for my own use. All poets are not first-best when they begin. It is practice that makes perfect, you know."

"Practice can't make a poet out of a man who is not born one; and you are not such," continued Osborne. "That piece that you just read is not particularly poetical. It is good rhyme, but it lacks the real spirit of poesy."

"I agree with you; I do not call it good poetry; but every poet must begin; and his first piece can not be his best. Poets improve as well as clerks."

"Real poets!" responded Osborne, with a peculiar smile at the corners of his mouth. And he continued:

"You seem to think that a fortune awaits a poet, too; but you are laboring under a great mistake. There is no money in poetry in our day, and there never was."

"Perhaps not; nevertheless I am confident that a poet may readily win popularity and a livelihood. At any rate, I am determined to try it, in spite of your decidedly poor opinion of my abilities."

"Well, my advice is that you stick to the business for which you were bred, if you would keep out of the poor-house." Osborne said it more to hector Ralph than any thing. "A good clerk is better than a poor poet; you will agree to that."

Benjamin listened with a good deal of interest to the foregoing discussion, and he saw that, from jealousy or some other cause, Osborne was not according to Ralph the credit to which he was entitled; and so he interrupted, by saying:

"You set yourself up for a critic, Osborne; but I think more of Ralph as a poet than I do of you as a critic. You are unwilling to grant that his productions have any merit at all; but I think have. Moreover, it is a good practice for him, and for all of us, to write poetry, even if it does not come quite up to Milton. It will improve us in the use of language."

"Fiddlesticks! It is simply wasting time that might be spent in profitable reading; and good reading will improve the mind more than rhyming." Osborne spoke with much earnestness.

"Not half so much as your empty criticisms are wasting your breath," replied Benjamin, with a smile. "But, look here, I have just thought of a good exercise that we better adopt. At our next meeting each one of us shall bring in a piece of poetry of our own composition, and we'll compare notes and criticise each other."

"I should like that," responded Ralph; "it is a capital proposition. Perhaps Osborne may think it will be a waste of time and breath."

"Not at all," answered Osborne; "I agree to the plan, provided the subject shall be selected now, so that all shall have fair play."

"We will do that, of course," said Benjamin. "Have you a subject to suggest?"

"None whatever, unless it is a paraphrase of the Eighteenth Psalm, which describes the descent of the Deity."

"That is a grand subject," responded Benjamin. "What do you say to taking that, Ralph?"

"I think it is an excellent subject, and I am in favor of adopting it."

Thus it was understood that each one should write a poetical paraphrase of the Eighteenth Psalm for their next meeting, and, with this understanding, they separated.

Just before the time of their next meeting Ralph called upon Benjamin with his paraphrase, and asked him to examine it.

"I have been so busy," remarked Benjamin, "that I have not been able to write any thing, and I shall be obliged to say 'unprepared' when my turn comes to read. But I should like to read yours."

Benjamin read Ralph's article over, and then reread it.

"It is excellent; better than any poetry you have ever written," remarked Benjamin, when he had finished reading. "Osborne will have to praise that."

"But he won't; you see if he does. Osborne never allows the least merit in any thing I write. His envy, or jealousy, or something else, hatches severe criticism, whether there is reason for it or not. He will do that with this article; see if he don't."

"If he does, it will be proof that he is prejudiced against you, or is no judge of poetry," replied Benjamin.

"Suppose we try a little game," continued Ralph. "I think we can put his judgment to a test. He is not so jealous of you as he is of me. Now you take this article, and produce it as your own, and I will make some excuse for not being prepared. We shall then get at his real opinion of the composition."

"A very ingenious test, Ralph," exclaimed Benjamin. "I will enter into the plan with all my heart. But I must transcribe the article, so that he will see that it is in my own handwriting."

"Certainly; and be careful that you do not let the secret out."

So they waited, almost impatiently, for the time of meeting, both feeling almost sure that Osborne would fall into their net. The appointed time came. Matson was the first to read his production. Osborne came next; and his piece was much better than Matson's. Ralph noticed two or three blemishes, but pointed out many beauties in it.

Next it was Ralph's turn to read. "I am sorry to confess that I have nothing to read; but I promise to atone for this failure by doing my part faithfully in future."

"Poets ought to be ready at any time," remarked Osborne humorously, looking at Ralph.

"It is in order for them to fail sometimes, I think," replied Ralph; "especially if they are not born poets."

"Well, Ben, we must have yours, then. You will not disappoint us."

"I think you must excuse me this time," Benjamin answered, feigning an unwillingness to read.

"No, Ben, no excuse for you," said Osborne. "You have it written; I saw it in your hand."

"That is true; but after listening to such fine productions as we have heard, I am not ambitious to read mine. I think I must correct it, and dress it up a little before I submit it for criticism."

"That was not in the arrangement, Ben, when you suggested the exercise," remarked Ralph.

"You are prepared, and, of course, we shall not excuse you."

After much bantering and urging, Benjamin proceeded to read his, apparently with much diffidence; and all listened with profound attention.

"You must read that again," said Osborne, when he finished reading it. "Two readings of such a poem as that are none too much. Come, read it again."

Benjamin read the article again, apparently with more confidence than at first.

"You surprise me, Ben," exclaimed Osborne, when the second reading was finished. "You are a genuine poet. I had no idea that you could write like that."

"Nor I," added Matson. "It is better than half the poetry that is printed. If the subject had not been given out, I don't know but I should have charged you with stealing it."

"What do you say, Ralph?" inquired Osborne. "You are a poet, and poets ought to be good judges of such matters." Another fling at Ralph's claim to poetical ability.

"I don't think it is entirely faultless," remarked Ralph, after some hesitation. "I think you have commended it full as highly as it deserves. Not being a born poet, however, I may not be a good judge," glancing his eye at Osborne.

"Well done, Ralph!" exclaimed Osborne. "Your opinion of that production is proof positive that you are destitute of real poetical taste, as I have told you before."

Osborne was fairly caught. Ralph and Benjamin exchanged glances, as if to inquire if their time of avowed triumph had not come; but both appeared to conclude to keep the secret a little longer. They controlled their risibles successfully, and allowed Osborne to go on and express himself still more strongly in favor of the composition.

Ralph walked home with Osborne, in order to play the game a little more, and their conversation was very naturally about Benjamin's poetry.

"I had no idea," remarked Osborne, "that Ben could write poetry like that. I was ashamed of my own when I heard his. I knew him to be a talented fellow; but I had no idea that he was a poet. His production was certainly very fine. In common conversation he seems to have no choice of words; he hesitates and blunders; and yet, how he writes!"

"Possibly he might not have written it," suggested Ralph; a very natural suggestion in the circumstances, though Osborne thought it was an outrageous reflection.

"That is the unkindest cut of all," retorted Osborne; "to charge him with plagiarism. Ben would never descend to so mean a thing as that."

They separated for that night; but Ralph embraced the first opportunity to call on Benjamin, to exult over the success of their little scheme. They laughed to their hearts' content, and discussed the point of revealing the secret. They concluded finally, that the real author of the article should be known at their next meeting.

Accordingly, the affair was managed so as to bring the facts of the case before their companions at their next gathering. Osborne was utterly confounded when the revelation was made, and knew not what to say for himself. Matson shook his whole frame with convulsive laughter at poor Osborne's expense, and Benjamin joined him with a keen relish. Never was a fellow in a more mortifying predicament than this would-be critic, since it was now perfectly manifest that he was influenced by blind prejudice in his criticisms of Ralph's poetry. For now, disarmed of prejudice, he had given it his most emphatic endorsement.

A few years later, Matson died in Benjamin's arms, much lamented by all of his companions, who regarded him as "the best of their set." Osborne removed to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer, but died just past middle life. Of the others we shall have occasion to speak hereafter.

Benjamin always spoke well of that literary club. It was an excellent way of using leisure time. It contributed much to his self-advancement, as it did to that of his companions. Such an arrangement converts spare moments into great blessings.

The time was drawing near for Benjamin to leave for England; and there was one thing above all others, that he wished to do, viz.: to be betrothed to Deborah Read. They had fallen in love with each other, but were not engaged. He had not opened the subject to her parents; but he must, if he would win her hand before going to England. So he ventured.

"Both of you are too young," replied Deborah's mother. "You are only eighteen! You can not tell what changes may occur before you are old enough to be married."

"But that need not interfere with an engagement," suggested Benjamin. "We only pledge each to the other against the time we are ready to be married. Sometimes parties are engaged for years before they are married."

"It is not a good plan, however. And why, Benjamin, do you deem an engagement necessary in the circumstances?"

"Simply because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," answered Benjamin, laughing. Mrs. Read laughed, too.

"I have not quite satisfied myself that it is best to give up my daughter to a printer," she added.

"How so?" inquired Benjamin with some anxiety.

"Because there are already several printing houses in the country, and I doubt whether another can be supported."

"If I can not support her by the printing business, then I will do it by some other," responded Benjamin, emphatically.

"I do not call in question your good intentions, by any means; but you may not realize the fulfillment of your hopes. I think you had better leave the matter as it is until you return from England, and see how you are prospered."

"Of course, I shall yield to your judgment in the matter," said Benjamin, very politely, "though I shall be somewhat disappointed."

"You and Deborah can have such understanding with each other as you wish; but I object to a formal engagement. Leave that until you return." Mrs. Read was decided in her opinions. Her husband died five or six weeks before this interview.

So Benjamin had to leave his bird in the bush, instead of having it in hand. And the bird promised to stay there, and sing for him on his return.



XXVI.

A BOGUS SCHEME.

"I'm thinking of going to England with you," said Ralph to Benjamin, one day in October, 1724.

"You don't mean it."

"I do mean it. I am thinking seriously of going."

"I shall be delighted to have your company, but the news is almost too good to be true," continued Benjamin.

"I have been looking the matter over ever since you told me that you expected to go; and now it is settled in my own mind that I shall go."

"Going out for your employer?"

"No, going out to establish a correspondence, if possible, and arrange to obtain goods to sell on commission."

"That is a capital scheme, it seems to me, Ralph. I think you can establish a good business with your tact and experience. You'll have to hurry up; for I expect that Captain Annis will sail in three weeks." Benjamin's words showed his gladness that one of his intimate companions would accompany him.

"It won't take me long to get ready; I have been arranging matters for some time with reference to going, though I have spoken to no one about it." Ralph was careful not to divulge the real reason of his going, lest Benjamin should disapprove.

At length it was announced that the London Hope, Captain Annis, master, would sail about the 10th of November. And now, Benjamin was full of business. He made known his intentions to Keimer and other friends, without disclosing the real object of his trip, or that he was going under the patronage of Governor Keith. Considerable surprise and regret were expressed by several friends that he was going, and yet they were free to say that it would prove an excellent school for such a young man as Benjamin. Governor Keith was lavish in his attentions and interest.

"You will want letters of introduction from me; and I shall have some instructions, which I will write out carefully," he said.

"The letters will be indispensable; and the instructions I shall most surely need to relieve my lack of experience," Benjamin replied.

"I will have them all ready two or three days before Captain Annis sails," added the governor, "and you can call for them. I may want to see you again before I get them ready, and I will send for you."

Benjamin thanked Governor Keith for his great kindness, assuring him that he should always feel himself under a heavy debt of gratitude, never dreaming that the scheming politician was luring him into a snare. He put his whole heart and soul into preparation to leave. To him it was the great event of his life; and it would have been, if Sir William Keith had been an honest man instead of a rogue. For an American youth, eighteen years of age, to represent the governor of Pennsylvania in the city of London, to consummate a business enterprise of the greatest importance to a thriving American town, was an unusual occurrence. Any youth of considerable ability and ambition must have realized the value and dignity of the enterprise; but to such a youth as Benjamin was,—talented, aspiring, coveting success, striving for the best,—the opportunity of this business enterprise, proposed and patronized by the highest officer in the colony, must have appealed strongly to his manly and noble nature. We shall see, however, as it turned out, that all the honesty and high-minded purpose that invested it was in Benjamin's soul. Treachery, dishonesty, and perfidy blackened the soul of his patron, loading him down with infamy almost without a parallel.

Three days before Captain Annis set sail, Benjamin called for his letters.

"My time has been so thoroughly occupied by public business that I have not been able to prepare them, but I will attend to it."

"I can call again without any trouble," answered Benjamin, exceedingly grateful for the governor's patronage.

"I am sorry that I have not been able to prepare them; but I will not disappoint you again. Call day after to-morrow." The more the governor said and promised, the more thankful Benjamin felt that he had fallen into such generous hands.

"I will call in the afternoon, day after to-morrow," replied Benjamin; and thanking him again for his great kindness, took his leave.

He called as he promised for the letters and other papers. Instead of being ushered into the governor's presence, as usual, his secretary, Colonel French, came out to announce:

"The governor regrets exceedingly that he has not the documents ready yet, and desires that you shall call again to-morrow, just before the vessel sails."

"Very well, I will call," replied Benjamin, without the least suspicion that any trouble was brewing for him.

On the next day, with all his baggage on board, and the "good-bye" said to all his friends, he hastened to the governor's head-quarters for his papers. Again Colonel French met him with the announcement:

"The governor desires me to say that he is really ashamed to disappoint you again; but a constant pressure of business has prevented. But the vessel will stop at Newcastle, and he will meet you and deliver yours with other letters he has to send; and he hopes that you will have a pleasant voyage and meet with great success."

"Please convey my thanks to him for his many kindnesses and present good wishes," answered Benjamin, "and say to him that I will execute his commands to the very best of my ability, and report at the earliest possible time."

So saying, Benjamin returned and boarded the vessel, which soon dropped down the Delaware, thinking all the while of his good fortune in having so great and good a man as Governor Keith for his friend.

At Newcastle, Benjamin landed and hastened to see the governor, whom he expected to be there, as Colonel French said; but he met only the secretary, who announced again:

"The governor is now writing the last dispatch, and will send your documents, with others, on board before the ship weighs anchor. He would be glad to see you again before you leave, but requires me to say that every moment of his time will be occupied to the very last minute, so he must content himself with sending to you, by me, his last words of confidence and his best wishes."

"Convey mine, also, to him," Benjamin replied, as he turned away to go to the vessel.

Just as the ship was about to sail, a bag of letters and other documents came on board from the governor. Benjamin supposed that it contained his indispensable letters, and, at a suitable time, he went to the captain and said:

"Governor Keith was to furnish me with letters of introduction to friends in London, and I suppose they are in the bag which he sent aboard. Can I look them over for my letters?"

"Just now I am too busy to give the matter any attention," Captain Annis said; "but I assure you that, long before we reach London, you shall have the opportunity to examine and take what belongs to you."

"That will do; I thank you," replied Benjamin, perfectly satisfied that all was right; and he settled down to enjoy the voyage.

When the vessel entered the English Channel, Captain Annis brought out the bag of documents from the governor for Benjamin to inspect. He was surprised beyond measure not to find any letters addressed to himself. He found several addressed to other parties with his name written upon them, as under his care, but not one addressed to himself. It was very singular, he thought, but he concluded that one of the number was devoted to his mission, as it was addressed to Baskett, the king's printer. He found seven or eight letters addressed to different parties, "Care of Benjamin Franklin," and he took them all from the bag. He still supposed that every thing about his mission was correct.

They arrived in London on the 24th of December, when Benjamin lacked about a month of being nineteen years old. With Ralph, he proceeded to find lodgings at once; and just as soon as that arrangement was made, he hastened to deliver the letters submitted to his care. The first party upon whom he called was a stationer.

"I have the honor of bringing a letter to you, sir, from Governor Keith of Pennsylvania, America," he said, with considerable assurance.

"I have not the honor of his acquaintance," answered the stationer. "Pray, tell me who Governor Keith may be."

"The letter will inform you, no doubt," replied Benjamin, giving him the letter.

The stationer opened it; but read scarcely three lines before he exclaimed, to Benjamin's consternation:

"Oh, this is from Riddlesden! I have lately found him to be a complete rascal, and I will have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him," and he handed the letter back to Benjamin without reading all of it, turned upon his heel and went back to his work.

Benjamin's feelings can be imagined better than described. He was well-nigh dumbfounded to learn that the letter was not from Governor Keith. And then it was that the first flash of suspicion that he had been deceived entered his mind. He was still more surprised to learn, on examination, that not one of the letters he had taken from the bag was written by Governor Keith. There he was without one letter of introduction to any person in London, the scheme of establishing a printing house in Philadelphia discovered to be a myth, a mere boy, friendless and without work, in a great city, three thousand miles from home. If another American youth was ever lured into a baser trap, by a baser official, his name has never been recorded. Benjamin was at his wits' end—he knew not what to do. His feelings bordered upon despair. Had he not been a wonderful youth to rise superior to difficulties, he must have yielded to overwhelming discouragement.

To add to his troubles, when he disclosed his situation to Ralph, he learned that his old companion had abandoned his wife and child, never intending to return to America.

"You are a hard-hearted wretch; I never would have thought such a thing of you, Ralph," he exclaimed. "Such meanness ought to be left to baser men than you are."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse