TEN DAYS A NEWSBOY
By JAMES OTIS
AUTHOR OF "TOBY TYLER" "MR. STUBBS'S BROTHER" "RAISING THE 'PEARL'" ETC.
NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE
HARPER'S YOUNG PEOPLE SERIES.
Illustrated. Square 16mo, Cloth, $1 00 per volume.
CAPTAIN POLLY. By SOPHIE SWETT. UNCLE PETER'S TRUST; or, Following the Drums. By GEORGE B. PERRY. DORYMATES. A Tale of the Fishing Banks. By KIRK MUNROE. CHRYSTAL, JACK, & CO., AND DELTA BIXBY. Two stories. By KIRK MUNROE. DERRICK STERLING. By KIRK MUNROE. THE FLAMINGO FEATHER. By KIRK MUNROE. WAKULLA: A Story of Adventure in Florida. By KIRK MUNROE. STRANGE STORIES FROM HISTORY. By GEORGE CARY EGGLESTON. THE ICE QUEEN. By ERNEST INGERSOLL. PRINCE LAZYBONES, AND OTHER STORIES. By MRS. W. J. HAYS. WHO WAS PAUL GRAYSON? By JOHN HABBERTON, Author of "Helen's Babies." TWO ARROWS. A Story of Red and White. By W. O. STODDARD. THE TALKING LEAVES. An Indian Story. By W. O. STODDARD. INTO UNKNOWN SEAS; or, The Cruise of Two Sailor-Boys. By DAVID KER. THE LOST CITY; or, The Boy Explorers in Central Asia. By DAVID KER. THE FOUR MACNICOLS. By WILLIAM BLACK. THE HOUSEHOLD OF GLEN HOLLY. By LUCY C. LILLIE. JO'S OPPORTUNITY. By LUCY C. LILLIE. ROLF HOUSE. By LUCY C. LILLIE. MUSIC AND MUSICIANS. By LUCY C. LILLIE. NAN. By LUCY C. LILLIE. MILDRED'S BARGAIN, AND OTHER STORIES. By LUCY C. LILLIE. THE COLONEL'S MONEY. By LUCY C. LILLIE. SILENT PETE; or, The Stowaways. By JAMES OTIS. RAISING THE "PEARL." By JAMES OTIS. LEFT BEHIND; or, Ten Days a Newsboy. By JAMES OTIS. TIM AND TIP; or, The Adventures of a Boy and a Dog. By JAMES OTIS. MR. STUBBS'S BROTHER. A Sequel to "Toby Tyler." By JAMES OTIS. TOBY TYLER; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus. By JAMES OTIS. A NEW ROBINSON CRUSOE. By W. L. ALDEN. THE MORAL PIRATES. By W. L. ALDEN. THE CRUISE OF THE "GHOST." By W. L. ALDEN. THE CRUISE OF THE CANOE CLUB. By W. L. ALDEN. THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMY BROWN. Edited by W. L. ALDEN.
PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.
—> Any of the above works will be sent by mail, postage prepaid, to any part of the United States, Canada, or Mexico, on receipt of the price.
Copyright 1884, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
I. PAUL'S INTRODUCTION TO NEW YORK 9
II. STARTING IN BUSINESS 22
III. MAKING ACQUAINTANCES 34
IV. A GREAT ENTERPRISE 48
V. MESSRS. TREAT, JONES, WESTON, AND DOWD 60
VI. THE THEATRICAL ENTERPRISE 73
VII. ARTISTS AND PRINTERS 86
VIII. AN AUTHOR'S TRIALS 99
IX. THE MOMENTOUS OCCASION 111
X. THE FIRST ACT 121
XI. THE EVENING'S ENTERTAINMENT 133
XII. A GENEROUS ACT 146
XIII. A JOYFUL MEETING 159
XIV. A DAY'S PLEASURING 172
XV. THE GREAT SURPRISE 185
XVI. IN CONCLUSION 197
SHE FED HIM PATIENTLY. Frontispiece.
HE SHOWED THEM IN PROOF OF THE TRUTHFULNESS OF HIS STORY. 11
"IF YOU PICK ANY ROW WITH HIM, YOU PICK IT WITH ME AND JOHNNY." 31
PAUL LOOKED ON AT THESE PREPARATIONS WITH THE MOST PROFOUND SURPRISE. 45
"FELLERS! DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO UP HERE?" 57
"MULTIPLICATION IS VEXATION." 67
"HOW'S BIZ, DICK?" 81
ALL COULD SEE THE RESEMBLANCE AT ONCE. 91
"WHO PUT THAT UP?" 103
HOLDING BOTH WEAPONS IN FRONT OF HIM, HE LOOKED READY FOR INSTANT FLIGHT. 127
DICKEY FOUND HIMSELF IN THE MIDST OF A BLOOD-THIRSTY CROWD. 141
"MISTER WESTON," SAID BEN, GRAVELY. 155
THEY STOOD IN A ROW BEFORE THE CLERK OF THE FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL. 163
AT CONEY ISLAND. 179
BEN AND JOHNNY ALONE IN THE NEW STORE. 189
"THREE CHEERS FOR POLLY!" 201
OR, TEN DAYS A NEWSBOY.
PAUL'S INTRODUCTION TO NEW YORK.
He was a stray boy, with a very strange story. The two ragged boys, one of whom had a bundle of papers under his arm, and the other the outfit of a boot-black slung over his shoulder, thought that at the best he was stretching the truth to an alarming degree, even though his manner appeared to bear out what he said.
He had met these two boys at the corner of Cortlandt and West streets, in New York City, and had stated his case to them, believing that they could tell him what to do. This was the story he told:
The family, consisting of his father, mother, sister, and himself, had come from Chicago for the purpose of sailing in a steamer—which one he was unable to say—for Europe. They went directly from the cars to the pier, and had gone on board the huge vessel which was to be their home while crossing the Atlantic. After they had been there some time, and he could see no evidences that the steamer was about to start, he had asked his mother's permission to go on deck for the purpose of making the acquaintance of a boy about his own age, whom he had seen when they first came on board. The attempt at making the acquaintance was so successful that in five minutes they were firm friends, and in as many more had laid all kinds of plans for future enjoyment.
Both the boys claimed to excel in the art of kinging the ring; but, unfortunately, neither one had a top with him. Then this one who was telling the story proposed that he should go on shore and buy two, while the other remained to inform the absent boy's parents where he had gone.
He had had some difficulty in finding a top to suit him, and he thought that he must have spent at least an hour in the search. When at last he had procured two good ones—and he showed them in proof of the truthfulness of his story—he was nearly as long again in finding his way back to the steamer. Not knowing the name of the vessel, nor the line to which she belonged, he was obliged to visit each pier in succession, in order to find the right one.
When, from the appearance of the buildings opposite, he knew that he was back again to the point from which he had started, he learned to his dismay that the steamer had been gone fully an hour. At first he could hardly realize that he had been left behind, while his parents had started on such a long voyage, and he could not account for the neglect of his newly-made friend in not telling them that he had gone on shore, unless it was owing to the fact that he had neglected to point out his father, or to tell what his name was.
After he had fully realized that he was alone in a great city, with no means of providing himself with food and shelter, save through the medium of two very nice tops and six cents, he started in search of the depot which they had arrived at, intending to take the next train back to Chicago, providing the conductor would take his tops in payment. But he could not find the depot, and at nearly seven o'clock in the evening he had stopped to ask advice from two boys of about his own age—neither one of them was over eleven years old—in the hope that they could straighten matters out for him.
These two were very much inclined to doubt his story until he showed the tops as proof, and even then they would have looked upon some portions of it as false had he not also produced the six cents, and with three of them stood treat all round to that sticky delicacy known as "pea-nut taffy."
Then they believed all he had told them, and adjourning to a very broad door-step near by, they sat down to consult upon what it was best for him to do. To begin with, and in order that he might understand the case fully, one of the boys asked, as he struggled with the sticky dainty,
"What's yer name?"
"Paul Weston," replied the stranger.
"Well, my name's Johnny Jones, though the boys call me Shiner," said the boy with the papers under his arm, "an' my chum here's named Ben Treat. Now you know us; an' we'll call you Polly, so's to make you feel more's if you was home."
Paul was not just certain as to how far this nickname would go towards making him feel at home, but he did not venture to make any remark upon it, preferring rather that his own condition, and how he could better it, should be the subject under discussion.
Johnny Jones told him at once that his idea of trying to get home by the cars without money enough in his pocket to buy his ticket was an impossibility; for he and Ben had tried riding on the cars without paying for it, even a short distance, and had always come to grief because of either the conductor or the brakemen, whom they looked upon as the natural enemies of boys. It was useless, therefore, to think of getting to Chicago in that way, and Johnny appealed to Ben to decide whether he was right or not.
"It's jest as Shiner says," replied Ben, rubbing the end of his nose thoughtfully, as if he believed that gave him more of an air of wisdom. "You couldn't git as far as Newark in a week, 'less you walked, an' you'd better not try it."
"But what shall I do?" asked Paul, in such distress that even the candy failed to soothe him.
"I don't see but one way," said Johnny, gravely, as he took the lump of sweetness from his mouth, lest it should dissolve while he was not able to give it his undivided attention, and he thus lose a portion of the treat. "You'll have to stay here till yer earn money enough ter pay for a whole ticket."
"But how much will that be?" asked Paul, astounded at the careless way with which the boy spoke of such an undertaking.
"I dunno; but it'll be a good deal. We'll find out termorrer." Then Johnny turned his attention to the candy again.
"But I can't earn any money;" and now Paul was on the verge of crying.
"Of course yer can," replied Ben, decidedly. "Yer can sell papers like Shiner does, or yer can get a box, an' go inter the same bizness I'm in. Ef yer smart, yer'll git three or four dollars a week, 'cordin' to the weather."
Paul opened his eyes wide with surprise as this enormous amount was spoken of, and he almost forgot his grief in the visions of wealth that floated through his brain.
"Shiner an' I hain't got much money in our pockets," continued Ben, "'cause we're buyin' some real estate, an' we put it all in that 'bout as fast as we git it; but we can patch up an' lend you enough to start with, an' you can pay it back when you git the chance."
Surely Paul thought he was fortunate in having made the acquaintance of two boys who were so well off in this world's goods as Ben and Johnny, and his position did not seem nearly as bad as it had half an hour ago, even though it was nearly dark, and he had no idea where he should sleep that night.
He did not know, any more than his newly-made friends did, that by telling his story to the police he would be taken care of until his relatives in Chicago could be written to, and he believed that he must depend upon his own exertions to get home. Therefore he eagerly accepted the generous offer.
"But where can I live?" he asked, as the thought came to him that even though a chance for making himself rich had suddenly presented itself, he was still without a home.
"Didn't Ben tell yer that we'd been 'vestin' our money in real estate?" asked Johnny, almost impatiently, and speaking rather indistinctly because of his mouth being so filled with candy. "We've got a place we bought of Dickey Spry, an' you can stay with us if you pay your share."
Paul was willing to go into any extravagances for the sake of having a home, provided his two tops, and the three cents still remaining of his wealth, was sufficient to make the first payment. This he told his friends.
"Shiner didn't mean that you was to pay it right down," said Ben, quickly. "After you git to makin' money for yourself, all you've got to do is to buy your share of the things."
As that was only just, Paul agreed to it, and Johnny, who had by this time succeeded in eating the dark-colored mixture that was by courtesy called candy, started off to dispose of the papers he still held under his arm, while Ben led Paul away with him.
"Johnny has got to 'tend right up to biz," said Ben, in a half-explanatory way, "or else he'd git stuck, you know."
"Would he?" asked Paul, in evident alarm. "Who would stick him?"
Ben looked at this young gentleman from Chicago in surprise, and then in pity. He could not understand how any one, and more especially a boy, could be so ignorant of the meaning of one of the most common words of slang. At first he looked as if he was about to reprove such ignorance; but he evidently thought better of it, for he said, instead,
"I mean that he'd be stuck by havin' a lot of this afternoon's papers left over on his hands, an' he couldn't sell 'em termorrer, you know."
Paul really looked relieved to know that no worse danger threatened Johnny; and as he walked along with Ben, the latter said:
"Yer see, Shiner would have been about through work if we hadn't met you, an' fooled away so much of our time. Now it'll take him quite a while to sell out, an' so you an' I might as well go down to ther house. I've had a pretty fair day's work, an' I'll git up such a supper as'll make Shiner's eyes stick out more'n a foot."
Just then they were opposite a grocery store, and he went in to begin the work of making his companion's eyes stick out. It was with the air of one who felt able to purchase at least half the store contained, in case he should want to, that he ordered half a pound of bologna sausage, a pound of crackers, and two candles. He was also very careful to see that he was given full weight.
Paul was a little mystified as to what share the candles could have in extending Johnny's eyes; but he thought it better to wait the course of events, rather than to ask any questions.
When Ben had been served, and there had been quite a delay in paying for the articles, owing to his inability to count his money three times, and have it amount to the same sum each time, he came out and completed his purchases by buying a quart of pea-nuts at a stand near by.
"There," Ben said, with evident satisfaction, as he gave Paul one of the bundles to carry, "I guess when Shiner gets home, an' finds all these things, he'll think we're havin' a reg'lar party."
Paul agreed very mildly to this assertion, for he had not been accustomed to look upon such an assortment as much of a treat, and already he began to have vague misgivings as to the value of the real estate Ben had spoken of so proudly.
To Paul, tired as he was from the walking he had already done, and the excitement through which he had passed, it seemed as if they would never reach this place which Ben called home, for his guide turned up one street and down another until he was quite worn out.
"That's the place, jest ahead there," said Ben, in a cautious whisper, as he halted at the corner of a street, and pointed to a small yard in the rear of what seemed to be a warehouse. "That's the place, but we've got to look out that nobody don't see us."
Paul believed that his companion referred to the building, and he was surprised to find it so large; yet why they had come around to the rear was more than he could understand.
"Now you keep right behind me, an' you come quick," said Ben, as he looked carefully around to assure himself that there was no one in sight.
Paul followed the directions, wondering why one was obliged to use such precautions in getting into his own house, and Ben led the way, not into the building, but over the fence and down into the yard, where was stored empty boxes and barrels of every description.
As if he was perfectly familiar with the way, Ben went among the boxes to the farther end of the yard, where there was a hogshead and a large packing-case close together. He pulled the case a few inches aside—for it had been placed directly in front of the hogshead—and whispered,
"Get in, quick!"
Paul obeyed, hardly believing that this could be the real estate his companions had spoken of, and Ben followed him, pulling the box against the hogshead again so adroitly as to betoken considerable practice.
When one of the candles was lighted, and stuck into an empty ink-bottle that served as candlestick, Paul was able to see the interior, and he stared at it in surprise.
The case was evidently used as a place in which to keep their food, and as a sort of general storehouse, for an old coat was lying neatly folded up in one corner, and opposite it were several tin cans, all showing more or less marks of age, and in a battered condition.
The hogshead had been lined with old newspapers, and from the fact that quite a quantity of straw covered the bottom, it was easy to see that this was the sleeping-room.
"There!" said Ben, triumphantly, "you can stay here an' live off the fat of the land jest as long as you want to."
And Paul never realized that, if he had tried, he could not have hidden himself more completely from those who might be searching for him, than by thus sharing the fortunes of these two Arabs of the street.
STARTING IN BUSINESS.
There was a look of delight on Ben's face as he saw his companion examining their home so carefully, and each moment he expected to hear his exclamation of surprise at the very comfortable manner in which they lived. But since, after waiting some time, no such exclamation was heard, he asked, a trifle impatiently,
"Ain't it a stunner?"
Now Paul did not really think the place merited any such praise. In fact, he was considerably disappointed, and he compromised the matter by saying,
"I should think it might be real kind o' comfortable."
"Kind o' comfortable!" echoed Ben, angrily. "Well, I don't know anything about Chicago, but if you know of any fellers there that have got any better place than this, I'd like to go out an' stay two or three months with 'em."
"Well, you see I don't know much about it," said Paul, conscious that he had hurt his kind-hearted friend's feelings, and anxious to make amends in some way. "I've always lived in a regular house with father and mother, so I don't know how boys do live that haven't got any home."
"You'll see how they live before you get back to Chicago," said Ben, grimly; and then he added, in a softened voice, "I'd like to see how it would seem to have a father an' a mother, an' a house to live in."
"Didn't you ever have any, Ben?"
"No," and the boy's voice trembled now in spite of himself; "I don't s'pose I ever did. Me an' Shiner have been livin' round this way ever since we can remember, an' I reckon we always lived so. We used to sleep 'round anywhere till Dickey Spry got a chance to run a stand over'n Jersey City, an' then he sold us this place for fifty cents, an' I tell you we've fatted right up ever since we had it."
The conversation was taking such a sorrowful turn that Johnny's entrance just then was very welcome. Paul stood very much in need of some cheerful company, to prevent the great lump that was growing in his throat from getting the best of him.
"Well, you are goin' it strong!" exclaimed Johnny, as he closed the door, by pulling one portion of their house against the other. "Why this is 'bout as good as a 'lectric light, ain't it? I tell you we shall be jest as snug as mice when winter comes, for this candle makes the place so warm."
Johnny's idea of the heat from one candle could not be a correct one, if he thought that their house would be as warm in January from it as it was then in August. But January was so far away that no one thought of starting an argument on the subject.
Ben brought forward the dainties he had bought, and although Shiner's eyes did not stick out as far as he had said, there was enough of a pleasant surprise in his face to satisfy Ben for the outlay he had made.
"Now this is what I call livin' high," said Johnny, in a choking voice, as he tried to eat pea-nuts, bologna sausage, and crackers, all at the same time. "Seems like we'd had a reg'lar streak of luck ever since we bought this house, don't it?"
"It was a good trade, that's what it was, an' it's lucky for Polly that we had it, or he'd found out the difference in huntin' round for a place to sleep."
Poor Paul! he was doing his best to eat the portion of the feast that had been set aside as his, but, hungry as he had been, he found it difficult to swallow because of the lump in his throat, that kept growing larger and larger every moment, and which seemed to be doing its best to force the tears from his eyes.
He thought of his parents and his sister, who were probably going farther away from him each moment, grieving quite as much, if not more, because of his absence than he did himself; and when he realized that he might never see them again, the tears would roll from beneath his eyelids. But he brushed them away very quickly, as if ashamed to have his companions see them, honest though they were.
Then, as Ben and Johnny began to talk of their business, leaving him alone, as it seemed, the tears came faster and faster, until he could no longer wipe them away, and putting back into the paper the cracker he was trying to eat, he threw himself upon the straw, crying as if his heart would break.
Paul's hosts seemed bewildered by such singular behavior on his part. They could not understand why a boy who had had the good-fortune to find such a place in which to sleep as they had just offered Paul should cry, and not understanding it, they did the very best thing for him—they let him cry, without trying to console him, though it sadly marred the happiness of their feast.
The tears were a relief to Paul in more ways than one, for before they were done flowing he was sound asleep, and he did not awake to a consciousness of his troubles until Ben shook him the following morning.
"It's time to get up," said the boy, in a kindly tone. "You see, Shiner has to get down about sunrise to buy his papers, an' I go with him, so's folks won't be so likely to see us comin' out of here."
It was some moments before Paul realized where he was, or what had happened to so change his sleeping-room from the neat, cleanly one he called his own at home, to this very rude shelter. But when all that had occurred came back to his mind, he leaped to his feet at once, striking his head against the top of the hogshead with a force that told him he must be careful to get up no higher than his hands and knees.
"You'll see now what a swell house we've got," said Johnny, when they were outside, and while Paul was still rubbing the top of his head. "We've got runnin' water near every room, jest like any place, an' you can come in here an' wash yer face with jest as much water as Astor can git."
Johnny led the way to one corner of the building, where a water-pipe with a faucet jutted out from the brick-work, having evidently been placed there in case of fire, and turning the water on, the three boys scrubbed their faces and hands with the greatest vigor. But Paul found some difficulty in drying himself with straw as his companions did.
During this important ceremony the boys had been careful to screen themselves from the view of any one on the street by the boxes, which they had arranged beforehand. When they were as clean as the water would make them without soap, they started out of the yard at full speed, going over the fence as a rubber ball goes over any projection in its way.
Once on the street, where they were not afraid of any one seeing them, their movements were more leisurely, and they began to discuss plans for starting their guest in business.
But the discussion was not a long one, owing to the fact that but two avenues of trade were open to him—that of blackening boots or selling papers; and when he was called upon to decide, he chose the latter, very much to Johnny's secret delight.
"Now, Ben," said Johnny, who appeared to think it his duty to look out for his guest's business education and welfare, "you'd better kinder lay 'round an' see that the boys don't try to come it on him the first day, an' I'll keep my eye on him too."
Ben nodded assent, and Johnny said to Paul,
"You watch, an' see how I do it, after I git the papers, an' then you do jest as I do. If there is a big lot of news, it won't be a great deal of work; but if there ain't anything very 'portant, then you've got to holler."
After this lesson had been given, and while they were walking towards the newspaper offices, Ben divided what bologna had been left from the feast of the previous evening, and also put in Paul's pocket his share of the pea-nuts which he had not eaten with the others.
On account of finding an early customer who wanted his boots blackened, Ben did not go with them to get the papers, but promised to meet Paul on City Hall Square, where it had been decided he should make his first venture as newsboy.
Now the boys who sell the papers do not buy their stock in the business offices, as Paul had supposed, but are obliged to go into some room nearer the presses, and where they will be out of the way of more important customers. Therefore, when Johnny led him into a room lighted by gas, even though it was in the day-time, and filled by a crowd of noisy, pushing, eager boys, all wanting to be served first, Paul felt quite as much alarmed as surprised.
"It's all right," said Johnny, as he saw his companion was about to draw back; "there won't anybody try to hurt you here, an' you'll git used to it after you've come two or three times."
Paul hardly believed that he should become accustomed to anything of the kind; but before they had finished their rounds—for Johnny carried four of the different morning papers—he could look upon the scene, which was almost the same in each case, with something very nearly approaching interest.
When at last the stock was procured, Johnny divided it, giving half to Paul, and saying, as he did so,
"I'll git all the papers for a while, till you kinder git used to it, an' then you can git 'em for yerself. Now come over here on the Square an' sing out, as loud as you know how, jest what I do."
Then, for example, Johnny began shouting his wares in a way that was more noisy than distinct. But after he had repeated it several times, selling two papers in the meanwhile, Paul had no more idea of what he said than if he had been speaking in a foreign tongue.
Johnny would have lost a good deal of the morning trade, which was quite brisk, in his efforts to start Paul aright, if Ben had not come along, and offered to give the beginner his first lesson.
Paul found it rather difficult to make as much noise as Ben seemed to think necessary, for the sound of his own voice frightened him; but in the course of an hour, during which time his instructor alternately blackened boots and gave him lessons, he had got along so well that he was selling quite a number of papers. His success did a great deal towards helping him fight off the homesick feeling that would come over him.
At first none of the other newsboys paid any attention to him, perhaps because they were too busy; but as trade began to grow dull they commenced to gather around Paul, until he was thoroughly alarmed at some of the demonstrations they made.
One boy, considerably larger than he was, insisted that if he wanted to sell papers he should go somewhere else to do it, because that particular portion of the city was under the immediate control of himself and his friends. Paul made no reply, for the very good reason that he did not know but that the claim which this boy set up was a just one, and he remained silent, which caused his tormentors to think—exactly what was the true state of the case—that he was afraid of them.
One boy, the same who had first spoken, began pushing him aside, and poor Paul, seeing at least a dozen boys, nearly all of them larger than he was, standing in threatening attitudes, looked around in vain for his two friends, who had promised to care for him.
"You want to get out of this, young feller, an' you don't want to show your nose 'round here agin," said the largest member of the party, as he pushed Paul rudely aside with one hand, and with the other attempted to take his papers from him.
It was this, more than anything else, which made Paul resist; for even if he had no right on that particular spot, they surely had no right to take his papers from him; and besides, they were Johnny's property, not his. Therefore he felt he should defend them all the more strongly.
He was trying to call up all his strength and will in defence of his own rights, even though he knew the struggle could not be a long one, owing to the numbers that were opposed to him, when suddenly the crowd were pressed apart at one side, and Ben and Johnny stood ready to defend their guest.
"This feller lives with us," said Ben, defiantly, as he looked fiercely at the boy who had been trying to rob Paul, "an' he's goin' to sell papers here every day. Now don't any of you forget that if you pick any row with him, you pick it with me an' Johnny."
More than one of those present knew just what Ben could do if he should swing that box around in defence of any one who was being imposed upon, and they concluded that it was not best to discuss the matter any further. The crowd fell back, and Paul was safe, for a short time, at least.
Johnny had sold all his own stock out, and taking half of Paul's, the two commenced business again. They had no further trouble from those who had been so eager to drive the new boy away, and by dinner-time all the papers were sold. But Paul was ignorant that in every one was an advertisement setting forth an exact description of himself, together with the promise of a large reward to the person who would take him to his father at police head-quarters.
The first day's work at selling newspapers was particularly hard for Paul Weston, and more than once was it necessary for both Ben and Johnny to interfere, to save him from what might have been serious trouble with that class of newsboys who made it their especial business to drive any new-comer away.
And it would not have been a very long or difficult task to have made Paul retire from the business if he had not had these two friends, so experienced in the ways and hard corners of street life.
According to the best judgment of both Ben and Johnny, the only course which Paul could pursue, with any hope of ever reaching his friends in Chicago, was to earn sufficient money by the sale of papers to pay his fare on there. It is true that while Paul had given himself up to grief on the previous evening, and they had left their hogshead home in order that he might be alone, a wild idea of writing to some of his relatives had crossed their minds; but it had not assumed such shape that they felt warranted in speaking of it to him.
The surest way, they reasoned, to restore him to his home was for him to earn sufficient money to take him there properly, and to that end they labored during the first day of his apprenticeship.
They neglected their own work to make it known among their acquaintances that he was under their immediate care, and that they should resent to the utmost of their power any effort to drive him from his task. They also kept a strict watch over him, and whenever they saw signs of discouragement upon his face, which they did many times, they encouraged him by kind words and advice to continue in his labors, holding before him the hope of meeting his parents once more as the reward of his exertions.
Never once did the thought come to them that by keeping him within their world they were most effectually hiding him from his parents; and since they were doing their best to aid him, even if it was the worst thing they could do, they were none the less friends to him in the truest sense of the word.
That noon, in order to cheer the sorrowful boy as much as possible, they resolved on having such a feast as they allowed themselves only on extra occasions, and that was to go to a cheap restaurant, where a whole dinner (such as it was) could be bought for fifteen cents. To them it was a rare treat; but, greatly to their disappointment, Paul did not enjoy it as they had expected he would.
The afternoon papers were purchased, and even though their new friend was so wholly unacquainted with the business, and they were obliged to spend so much of their time in defending him from the assaults of the more evil disposed of their calling, trade was more than ordinarily good.
The reckless expenditure of forty-five cents for dinner was made up, and when the day's work was over they had a clear profit of forty-three cents; which, to say the least, encouraged them in their good work.
Instead of going directly to the home that Dickey Spry had founded, after their day's work was over, Ben proposed that Paul be introduced to some of their mutual friends, in order that his change in life might be made as agreeable as possible, and then came the question as to who should be honored by the first call.
Ben was in favor of visiting Nelly Green, whose mother kept a fruit-stand on Chatham Square, and who was always to be found acting as clerk, while Johnny was anxious to visit a mutual friend by the name of Mopsey Dowd, who had risen from boot-black to the proud eminence of owning a pea-nut stand near Fulton Market.
There was quite an argument as to which one of their friends Paul would be most pleased to meet, and each one held so strongly to his own views on the matter that the question was only settled by the agreement to call on both.
Mopsey Dowd's place of business being near the corner where they held their consultation, the three concluded to visit there first, and Paul was considerably interested in this work of making acquaintances.
The traffic at the ferry was still quite brisk, and Mopsey was in the full tide of prosperity, selling his goods as rapidly as though he had extensively advertised to close out his entire stock a little below cost.
Between the intervals of waiting upon customers and turning the roaster to keep the nuts from burning, Ben related Paul's story to the pea-nut merchant, and Mopsey was so much interested that he not only favored Paul with a great deal of his attention, but insisted on presenting him with a large handful of the very best and warmest nuts.
Mopsey even went so far as to enter into negotiation with Paul for the purchase of the two tops that had caused him so much trouble in the getting. But owing to a sudden rush of customers the proposed trade was broken off, and the visitors took their leave, promising to call again at some time when they would be less liable to interruption from a pea-nut-hungry public.
Then the three started for Nelly Green's place of business, taking a roundabout course to get there, for the purpose of avoiding the crowd; and by doing this they met another of their acquaintances whom they were rejoiced to see, even though he was a creditor.
This individual was none other than Master Dickey Spry, who had earned his last name because of the quickness of his movements, and who had borne it so long that there was considerable doubt as to whether he remembered his parents' name or not.
Master Spry was leaning against a lamp-post in an attitude of deepest dejection, looking down into the gutter as if he expected to see there some help arise to aid him in his evident trouble.
Now Dickey Spry was the founder of the house in which Ben and Johnny took so much pride. He it was who had discovered that snug place, replete with all needful modern conveniences, and Ben and Johnny had purchased it of him for fifty cents, paying ten cents per week on the instalment plan, and having already made three payments according to agreement.
Dickey had not noticed them when they first came up, and it was not until Ben touched him on the shoulder that he appeared to hear what they said.
"What's the matter with yer?" asked Ben, anxiously. "You look as if somebody'd stole yer an' carried yer off. What's up now?"
"Busted," replied Dickey, mournfully, and then he began surveying the gutter again.
"Busted!" echoed the two boys in the same breath; and Ben asked, eagerly,
"You don't mean to say that you've gone up—failed?"
"That's jest it. I trusted out as much as thirty cents, an' then I got Tim Dooley to 'tend the stand for me this forenoon, an' when I come back I couldn't find anything but the stand, an' that, you know, I hired. All ther nuts an' Tim had gone off."
The boys were so thoroughly overwhelmed by the news of this misfortune that it was some time before Ben could ask,
"But can't you find out where Tim is?"
Dickey shook his head.
"I've been lookin' everywhere, an' I can't hear nothin' 'bout him, an' I can't make any of ther fellers pay me what they owe me, so I'm all cleaned out."
Ben looked at Johnny inquiringly for an instant, and when that young gentleman nodded his head, he said,
"Well, we owe yer twenty cents that ain't due yet, Dickey, but we've got ther money, an' we'll pay it to yer now."
"I don't want it," replied the unfortunate tradesman, "an' I didn't say what I did to make you pay me. If you fellers will let me own twenty cents' worth of ther house I'll be all right, for then I'll have a place to live, an' I kin get back in ther boot-blackin' bizness agin."
It would be crowding rather close to put four into the hogshead; but matters could be arranged by turning their store-room into a bedchamber, and Dickey's request was granted without the slightest show of hesitation.
"We're goin' round town awhile," said Johnny to the bankrupt merchant, "an' you'd better come along with us."
Dickey shook his head very decidedly. He had no desire to mingle with the world while his loss bore so heavily upon him, and he was so emphatic in his determination to go directly to the home he had once sold, that no amount of persuasion could induce him to change his mind.
After promising to return early, in order to cheer him in his troubles, the boys continued their interrupted way to Chatham Square, where, by the greatest good-luck, both Nelly and her mother were found seated behind a huge basket piled high with peaches and pears. They were sure of having a pleasant call at this establishment, for Mrs. Green could attend to the customers while the daughter entertained them.
Nelly was rather diffident before this strange boy, who was dressed so well, and apparently had very little in common with the society in which she moved; but after Ben had given her a detailed account of Paul's circumstances, as he had to Mopsey, the case seemed entirely changed, and she was even more sociable with Paul than with her friends. Johnny and Ben related everything of interest that they had learned since they had seen Nelly last, and concluded the recital by an account of Dickey Spry's misfortunes.
Nelly seemed unusually anxious to know how they could all live in the rather narrow quarters, and after some conversation regarding it, disclosed the reason of her sudden interest by informing the boys that since they had called last her mother had moved, and that their home was larger than formerly.
"We've got two rooms that we sha'n't use," continued Nelly, speaking quickly in her excitement, "an' mother thought perhaps you or some of the boys would come up an' board with us. We'll make it just as pleasant for you as we can, an' it won't cost you much more than it does the way you live now—an' you don't eat more than half as often as you ought to."
Paul looked up with an expression of pleasure in his face, for the nearer the hour of retiring approached, the more distasteful and lonely did the hogshead home seem, he could say nothing against it, for it had served him as shelter when he was utterly alone; but this idea of living in a house, where some of the womankind would care for him, was very agreeable to him.
"Mother says that she'll board you, an' see to your clothes, an' do your washin', for two dollars'n a half a week, an' I think it would be awful nice for us all to live together."
The boys thought so too; but they also thought of their hogshead, which seemed so cheerful to them, if Paul did have a disdain for it, and there was a momentary feeling that they would not like to leave it, no matter what inducement might be offered. Then there arose before them the vision of a "regular home," wherein some one would care for and minister to their comfort, and the advantages of living in a hogshead grew very few indeed.
"Come up to the house in about an hour, an' see how you like it," suggested Nelly, thinking they were hesitating about accepting the offer. Then, after she had told them the street and number at which she lived, she added, "We'll be home in a little while now, an' then if you should think that your house is the nicest, you can still live where you are."
"We'll come," said Ben, decidedly, for he had already made up his mind that he should accept the proposition. Then he led the others away very quickly, as if he had some plan in his mind, as, indeed, he really had.
"We'll go home an' fix up, an' then we'll take the eye right outer them, for they think these are the only clothes we've got."
Johnny was delighted with the proposition of "taking the eye out" of Mrs. Green and her daughter by the splendor of their raiment, and the two walked so fast, in their eagerness to begin the serious operation of dressing, that Paul could hardly keep pace with them.
After they had taken the usual precautions to prevent any one from seeing them when they readied the vicinity of their home, and had succeeded in getting safely into the hogshead unobserved, they found the ruined merchant laying plans for the rebuilding of his shattered fortunes. It was in vain that they urged him to accompany them on their call. To all their arguments he had but one reply, and that was to the effect that he did not believe in their scheme of boarding.
"It's jest nothin' more nor less'n tryin' to put on airs," he said, impatiently. "Anybody'd think you 'xpected to be 'lected aldermen by ther way you're swellin' round; an' old Mother Green'll be tickled most to death when she sees what fools you're makin' of yourselves."
In fact it did look just a little as if they were "swelling" considerably. Ben blackened Paul's, Johnny's, and his own boots until they would have answered for mirrors, and then he attended to his own toilet.
Johnny had red hair, which was quite coarse, and persisted in growing in all directions at the same time; but on this occasion he had reduced it to something like subjection by a vigorous application of the unburned end of the candle, and it clung to his head as if it had been stuck there by glue. His freckled face had been scrubbed until it looked as if it had been polished, and his hands were almost clean.
But it was upon his costume that he depended for the greatest effect. That he did have another coat was shown when he put on one that had evidently been rescued from the oblivion of an ash-barrel. It was very short-waisted and very long tailed; but this last defect, if indeed such a term could be applied, was remedied by one of the skirts having been cut off at least six inches shorter than the other, which gave a jaunty, careless appearance to the entire garment. His vest was the same he wore when at work; but by pinning the collar over so as to make it present more of the passably clean shirt, he changed its entire appearance. The trousers were unaltered, save that where the lower portions had been fringed by long usage, he had cut them off as well as he could with his knife. He deeply mourned the utter absence of a necktie, but consoled himself with the thought that the invitation had come at such a late hour in the day, and at a time when his funds were so low, that Mrs. Green and Nelly would probably understand the fact and overlook the omission.
Ben was clad in quite as startling a fashion, but in exactly the opposite way. Johnny's coat was long, very long, while his was short—so short as to make it look as if it had originally belonged to a boy about half his size. His vest was buttoned snug to the chin, to conceal the ravages made by dirt on his shirt-front, while his necktie was made of the very narrowest and most brilliant red ribbon that could be found.
It would have been impossible to cut anything from the bottom of his trousers, for the very good reason that they were already so short as to give them the appearance of trying to crawl up his legs to get out of sight; but in his eyes the high polish of his shoes had a better chance of being seen. Ben's face and hands were as clean as Johnny's, but he had put none of the candle-grease on his hair, although he had smoothed it with water until two small streams were trickling down either side of his face, giving plenty of employment to his hands, as he tried to prevent it from running down his neck.
Paul looked on at these preparations with the greatest surprise; and when his friends announced that they were ready, and that he was to accompany them, he followed without a word, awed by the general magnificence.
A GREAT ENTERPRISE.
It was not a long walk from the hogshead home to the house which Mrs. Green proposed to turn into a place where meals and lodgings could be procured on a limited scale; but neither Ben nor Johnny lost any opportunity of stopping to gaze in at the lighted windows that served as mirrors, in order to make sure that their attire had not been disarranged in any way by their rapid walk. And when they stood in front of the door, it seemed to Paul as if they never would get ready to ring the bell, so much time did they spend in making sure that their fine toilets were quite in order, and the general effect satisfactory.
But they did ring the bell at last, and when Nelly came to the door there was no mistaking the fact that their appearance was striking in the highest degree; for the girl stood regarding them with so much astonishment that it was some time before she could invite them to walk in.
As Ben told Dickey Spry, when they got home that night, it "jest took the eyes outer Mother Green an' Nelly to see them lookin' as soft as silk an' fine as fiddlers."
After the embarrassment caused by their costumes had passed away in a degree, although Nelly did not seem to recover from her surprise during the entire evening, Mrs. Green proceeded to the business on hand by showing the boys two rooms, furnished with no pretensions to elegance, but as neat as they were bare, which she told them she would let to four boys at the moderate price of two dollars and a half each per week, including meals and washing.
To Paul the difference was so great between the place and the one they were then occupying, that he was anxious to go there at once, and the others were quite as eager as he was. Ben was sure that he could induce Dickey to make the fourth in that perfection of boarding-houses, as he knew it would prove to be; and in case he should not succeed in convincing Master Spry that it would be better for him to live there rather than in his hogshead, he promised to use all his eloquence on Mopsey Dowd, or some other equally eligible party.
Thus it was decided that the boys should change their home on the following day, and all hands were remarkably well pleased; Mrs. Green because four boarders would bring in a weekly amount of ten dollars, and the boys because at last they were to live like other people.
It would not be a difficult matter to move, for two coats, rather the worse for wear, and three old tomato cans were all the property they had to bring; Paul's tops, which constituted his baggage, could be carried in the pocket of his jacket without any trouble.
When they got back to the hogshead that night, and told Dickey of the important change they were about to make, he read them a very severe lesson on the sinfulness of extravagance. It was perhaps a trifle more pointed than it would have been if he had not just been made bankrupt by the perfidy of a friend. But it was both time and labor thrown away to try to induce him to become a fourth boarder at Mrs. Green's. He positively refused to listen to the scheme, after it had been described to him, and the conversation ended by his buying back his old home at the original price, agreeing to pay ten cents each week as soon as he should be once more firmly established in business.
That night Paul had an attack of homesickness; but, being very tired, he went to sleep before it became so bad as to be noticed by his friends.
On the following morning Paul went about his work quite as if he had been accustomed to that sort of thing for some time; and owing to the fact that the papers contained an account of a terrible railroad disaster, trade was remarkably good with him and Johnny, and correspondingly bad with Ben. Three times during the morning they sold out their entire stock, and Paul was so excited by the rush, as well as the amount of money they were making, that he quite forgot his troubles.
When dinner-time came, Paul and Johnny had cleared two dollars and ninety cents, with a fair prospect of making as much more in the afternoon, since additional particulars of the accident were being received hourly. Ben had only made thirty cents; but he and Johnny had always been in partnership, dividing equally the profits of both, and the same arrangement held good after Paul was taken into the concern.
It was decided that Ben should give up his business of boot-blackening that afternoon, and sell papers with the others, so he carried his box to a friend who had a fancy-goods stand in the door-way of an unoccupied store, where he left it until he should finish his day's work. Each paper that Paul sold that day had the same advertisement offering a reward for any tidings of him, but since he never looked at what his wares contained, save to read the head-lines in large letters so as to get an idea what he should cry out, it did him as little good as if it had never been there.
Fortunately for the boys, as the demand for papers was so great and continued so long, Mrs. Green had set eight o'clock as the hour when they would have dinner. By this plan she would have plenty of time to cook it, and all hands would be through work and possessed of plenty of leisure for eating. Therefore they continued the trade in news until half-past seven, and then hurried for the last time to their hogshead, where they found Dickey Spry eating his supper of crackers and cheese.
The process of finding out exactly how much they had made was a long and difficult one for both Ben and Johnny. Each time they counted it over it was with a different result. When they were very warm, almost angry, and quite positive that the fault of the difference in reckoning was in the money itself, Paul took it upon himself to find out the amount of cash on hand.
Four dollars and eighty-three cents was the grand total of their earnings that day, and all hands were pleasantly surprised by the prosperity that had beamed upon them.
Of course they could not expect such a result except on days when the papers contained some important news; but business would be sure to be good on the following morning, because then all the details of the accident would have been received. After that perhaps Ben's business would have an impetus given it by some friendly shower.
At the end of the week they would owe Mrs. Green seven dollars and a half for the board of the firm, and Ben's proposition was unanimously adopted that they pay four dollars of that amount in advance, retaining the eighty-three cents as a working capital for their business the next day.
There was no attempt made to put on any better appearance than usual when they started for Mrs. Green's that night, for now that they were members of her family. They would be obliged to go there just as they were when they finished their work, and they might as well show themselves as they would be on future occasions. Ben attempted to take quite an elaborate and affecting farewell of Master Spry, but that young gentleman refused utterly anything more than the ordinary expressions of parting.
"You'll be back in less'n a month, wantin' to live here agin," he said, as, seated in the farthest corner of the hogshead, he looked out frowningly at their preparations for departure. "You can't swell very long at the rate of two dollars'n half a week, an' you'll be glad to crawl in here agin."
Ben thought that it was not exactly wise to say very much against this assertion of Dickey's, for it was just possible that he was right, and the less that was said about the matter then the easier it would be to take up their abode there again in case they were obliged to.
Each of the three boys took a tomato can, while Ben and Johnny carried, in addition, the coats in which they had arrayed themselves the night before, and in this manner they started for their new boarding-house. They were late; but Mrs. Green, knowing of the activity in the newspaper market, had expected they would be, and had made her preparations accordingly.
Paul felt wonderfully relieved at being able to wash himself with soap once more, and to have a towel to use, while it seemed as if Ben and Johnny never would make themselves ready to go to the table, so interested were they in the very "swell" thing of combing their hair before a looking-glass.
"I tell yer it's high!" said Ben, emphatically, as he took up the towel, and then wiped his hands on the skirts of his coat lest he should soil it—"it's high, an' if we keep on at this rate we shall jest spread ourselves all over the block before we git through with it."
Johnny shook his head sagely, still unable to stop combing his hair in front of the glass, as if he wondered where all this luxury would lead them, while Paul contrasted this poorly furnished room, which his companions thought so magnificent, with what he had been accustomed to at home.
Mrs. Green succeeded in getting her boarders away from the contemplation of their surroundings by reminding them, in a very forcible voice, that everything would be spoiled if they waited much longer. They took their places at the table, and Ben and Johnny were in a dream of surprise during the meal, which was, as Ben afterwards told Mopsey, "one of the swellest dinners ever got up in New York City."
After they had eaten as much as they wanted—and it seemed as if they never would get enough, so good did it taste—Nelly showed the boarders through the rooms, which were above a store. There were two floors divided into five rooms, and an attic which could be of no use except as a store-room, because of the fact that it was hardly more than five feet from the floor to the roof.
Ben was highly delighted with everything he saw, Paul expressed neither surprise nor pleasure, and Johnny was not enthusiastic until he saw the attic. The moment he was taken there, a gigantic idea seemed to have come to him very suddenly, and he stood in the centre of the place almost too much excited to give words to the thoughts that crowded upon him.
"Fellers!" he cried, and he repeated it twice before he could say any more—"fellers! do you know what we can do up here?"
Now it is possible that both Ben and Paul could have thought of very many things they could do in a space as large as that attic; but since they did not know what Johnny referred to, they shook their heads negatively, and waited for him to tell them what it was that had so excited him.
"We can jest fix things up here, an' have a theatre—a reg'lar theatre, an' make more money than—than—well, all we want."
And then in a very excited way he went on to tell them just what could be done to transform the place into as beautiful a theatre, save in one or two unimportant details, as could be found in the city.
Nelly stood by, looking first at one and then the other of the boys in mute surprise, while Paul, delighted at the idea of making a large sum of money at one bold stroke, and being saved thereby from weary days of waiting and working before he could return to his home, listened attentively.
Ben agreed with all his partner said, but he advised that Mrs. Green be consulted as to the scheme before they went very far in deciding what work they would be obliged to do in order to transform the place from a rather dreary attic into a theatre. It then occurred to Johnny that Mrs. Green might object to such a plan, and he hastened down-stairs to consult with her at once. After considerable argument, during which he set forth as prominently as possible the enormous amount of money that could be earned, of which she should have a fair share, Johnny succeeded in gaining Mrs. Green's consent to the plan. After that the boys went to bed, almost too much excited at the prospect of being managers and proprietors of a theatre to be able to sleep.
MESSRS. TREAT, JONES, WESTON & DOWD.
The particular circle of society in which Ben and Johnny moved was shaken to its very centre by the news which was whispered from one to the other on the day after those young gentlemen and Paul had taken up their abode at Mrs. Green's.
Early that morning the most exciting topic of conversation had been Master Spry's misfortune and Tim Dooley's perfidy; and that had hardly begun to be commented upon when the news spread that Ben and Johnny, since the coming of their guest, who was evidently a suspicious sort of a person, as was shown by his clothes and his entire ignorance of the slang of the street, were no longer proud of their neat little bit of real estate, but had made a change which would probably be the means of their financial ruin. That they had been so extravagant as to engage rooms at a regular boarding-house, where they were to spend their substance on three square meals each day, seemed like a reckless disregard of money; and the price which they were to pay for board was stated at various sums from five to ten dollars per week. But that was not the only bit of wonderful news.
Jimmy Sullivan stated—and he was supported by several others as the time wore on—that Johnny himself had told him that they were to start a regular theatre, and had already engaged a hall, which would be converted into a first-class place of amusement as soon as possible. This would have been regarded simply as a rumor started for the purpose of injuring the credit of these young gentlemen, had it not come so directly from one of the parties concerned, and must therefore be true.
Business was in a great measure suspended for that day, and little knots of boys gathered at the street corners, eagerly discussing the news which threatened to destroy the credit, for a time at least, of two merchants who were well known in boot-blackening and news-selling circles.
It was fully understood by the majority of those who discussed this startling intelligence, that it was only three weeks since the firm of Treat & Jones had bought a house on credit, and that there was still a mortgage of twenty cents upon it in favor of the now bankrupt merchant, Mr. Dickey Spry. To be sure, Messrs. Treat & Jones had taken in a new partner very recently; but there were those who knew that this new boy had only brought to the firm three cents and two tops, which could not bring in any very large amount of money, even though a cash customer was found for them at once. It was very clear that this new partner was more of a drawback than a help to the firm, and the mystery seemed greater than ever.
Dickey Spry, on being interviewed on the subject, assumed a wise air and shook his head gravely; which was very much as if he had said that he was sorry to see two promising boys ruining themselves as rapidly as these two were. Regarding the mortgage which he held on the hogshead home he refused to say anything, save that he had bought it back; and those who were better informed regarding transactions in real estate at once came to the conclusion that, having foreseen the coming ruin of his debtors, he had foreclosed the mortgage in order to save what he could.
Owing to the possibility of his becoming a boarder at Mrs. Green's, and a partner in the theatrical enterprise, Mopsey Dowd refused to express any opinion on the matter; but it was said by those who called upon him that he turned the handle of his pea-nut roaster nervously and quickly whenever the subject was mentioned.
Meanwhile those who had caused all these speculations and doubts were doing their best to sell their goods, and reaping almost as rich a harvest as they had the day previous. They could not fail to notice the singular actions of their friends, and also that whenever they approached three or four who were talking earnestly, the conversation would cease entirely, the boys either walking away or maintaining a positive silence until they had passed.
It caused them no little surprise, this singular behavior on the part of their friends; but there was too much money to be made for them to try to understand it then, and they continued the sale of their papers, while the others speculated gloomily as to the future of the rash youths who would change their positions in life by such hazardous ventures.
As a matter of fact, Johnny was the one who was responsible for all this excitement, since it was he who had told of the theatrical enterprise. He had been in such a state of mental excitement since he had first thought of the scheme, that it was almost an impossibility for him to get along ten minutes without speaking of it to some one; and when he told the story he was more apt to speak of the theatre as he hoped they could arrange it than as it would probably be. But it must not be supposed that either Ben or Paul were indifferent to the matter; they were almost as much excited about it as Johnny was, though they were not as eager to consult others regarding it.
As has been said, trade was very good that morning, and when they went home for a lunch, which, by-the-way, they thought was much better than any of the regular dinners they had been buying down town, even Mrs. Green was disposed to think that there might possibly be some chance that they could do as Johnny had proposed.
It had been their intention to call on Dickey Spry that evening, for the purpose of trying to cheer him a little in his troubles; but they were too eager to accomplish their new scheme to think of spending their time anywhere but in that famous attic, which was to afford an opportunity for the display of their histrionic talents as well as to bring in so much wealth.
It was just as well that they did not adhere to their original plan, for when Ben explained to Master Spry the reason why they could not keep their engagement with him, he gruffly told them that it was just as well, for he had already made up his mind to go to Jersey City in search of the defaulter, Tim Dooley. Therefore they were not troubled with any pangs of conscience because they were leaving Dickey to mourn alone while they planned the transformation of the attic, and their dinner was eaten with a celerity that astonished their landlady. Johnny took upon himself the duties of architect, and, considering the difficulties in the way of such labor, the others were not unwilling that he should hold the office.
Master Jones found that there was a vast deal of difference between thinking of what he would like to do in the way of making improvements, and actually planning how to make them. He knew that he wanted a stage at one end of the attic, but when the others waited to hear how he could go to work to build it with the limited amount of capital at his disposal, he was almost at a loss to know what to say or do.
In order that they might set about their work understandingly, Nelly produced what had originally been a tape-measure one foot in length. It had seen such hard usage, however, that only about eight inches remained. With this the amateur architect set about a portion of his work, which was to him very painful.
He decided first that it would be a useless waste of material to build a stage entirely across one end of the attic, since they would not be crowded from lack of room, owing to the small number of performers, and after a great amount of pacing back and forth, as well as mental calculation, he drew two chalk lines at supposed equal distances from the walls. Between these lines he measured with his fragment of a tape-measure, and found that it was exactly thirty times the length of the tape. Thirty times eight inches was, therefore, the length of his proposed stage, or, more properly speaking, his platform, and he seated himself, with a look of perplexity on his face and a remarkably small piece of lead-pencil in his mouth, to figure up the grand total of inches. He could multiply the cipher easily enough, for he was positive that the answer would be the same, however large the multiplier might be; but the question of how much eight times three was troubled him greatly.
After trying in vain to arrive at the correct result by the process of multiplication, he, in his despair, was about to resort to the tiresome expedient of counting the number of inches on the tape-measure thirty times over, when Paul astonished him considerably by giving the result without even using the pencil and paper.
"How nice that is!" said Johnny, with a sigh of relief, as he wiped from his brow the perspiration that had been forced out by his mental exertions, and he began to realize that a knowledge of the multiplication table was very useful to a person in any line of business.
Paul further informed him that two hundred and forty inches were twenty feet; and then he proceeded with greater confidence to calculate the width, which he at first decided should be twelve feet, but afterwards changed to six when Ben suggested that they would require too much lumber if they had it so wide.
After it was settled that the platform should be raised two feet from the floor, and Paul had figured up the exact number of square feet of lumber which would be necessary to cover the proposed space, they commenced a serious discussion as to where the material could be procured.
Ben concluded, finally, that he would call upon a carpenter whom he knew, from having slept in his shop on the shavings several cold nights in the winter when he could find no other shelter, and thus that question was put aside for the time being.
It would be necessary to have some scenery, and that Johnny had already arranged for in his mind. He had decided that it could be made by pasting old newspapers together, hanging them on strings, and coloring them with red, green, and black crayons. For this purpose stout cord was necessary, and Ben went out and bought some, thereby giving tangible form to their enterprise, for this cord was really the only thing they had purchased towards effecting the desired transformation.
Their next step was to gather up all the old newspapers they could find in the house, and Nelly set about making some flour paste, while Johnny went in search of the crayons. Thus they made considerable progress in their enterprise that night; but it yet lacked a system, and, what was more important, capital. In order to remedy this, Johnny called for a strict account of the cash on hand, since they had been too busy to reckon up that day's sales.
By common consent Paul was chosen book-keeper, so far as figuring up the different amounts, whether of money or material desired, was concerned, and, thanks to his knowledge of arithmetic, it was not many minutes before he informed them that the capital of eighty-three cents with which they had commenced that day's business had been increased to three dollars and ninety-five cents—a clear profit of three dollars and twelve cents. Out of this, one dollar and a half was given to Mrs. Green towards the payment of the balance that would be due on their board bill, one dollar was set apart as the working capital of the theatre, and sixty-two cents was to be used in business the following day.
They had hardly settled these financial questions when Mrs. Green's voice from the floor below announced that Master Mopsey Dowd had called to see them, and was already on his way up-stairs.
If Master Dowd had had any doubts as to the desirability of becoming one of Mrs. Green's boarders, they were all dispelled when he saw that attic, every timber of which seemed to be begging to be converted into a theatre. In fact Master Dowd was so impressed with the advantages of that place as a theatre that he did not even speak to his friends until he had paced up and down the room, dreaming of the fame that might be achieved there.
Already the pea-nut merchant seemed to have put all thoughts of his roaster and his wares far from him, and to fancy that he was before an audience of his particular and critical friends, welcomed by them as an artist of whom all the world might be proud.
He was recalled from these pleasant dreams by stepping on a tack that penetrated his shoe at a place where a patch was much needed, and then he appeared to see for the first time his friends, who were anxiously waiting for him to complete his survey of the room.
"It's a stunner!" he said, patronizingly, to Ben, as he seated himself on the floor with easy grace, to remove the tack from his foot—"it's a stunner! an' we can jest set the boys wild if we can play somethin' with plenty of murder in it."
"Then you'll come in with us?" asked Johnny, delighted at the praise of this boy, whom he was anxious to have for a partner because of the influence he wielded, and also because it had been whispered among their immediate circle of friends, not many months before, that Master Dowd had fixed up a play that "laid all over" anything that the world had ever yet seen at the Bowery theatre.
"Yes, I'll join yer," said Mopsey, impressively, looking around as if he expected to see every face light up with joy at his decision—"I'll join yer, an' I'll come here to board to-morrow."
Then, as was perfectly proper, this new partner was informed of the amount of cash capital on hand; and after Paul had ascertained that their dollar represented thirty-three and one-third cents as the share of each one, Mopsey generously counted out thirty-four cents, disdaining any credit for the extra two-thirds of a cent. Thus it was that the firm of Treat, Jones, Weston & Dowd sprang into existence.
THE THEATRICAL ENTERPRISE.
When it became known among that portion of the mercantile world of which Ben and Johnny were members that Mopsey Dowd, the pea-nut merchant of Fulton Ferry, had connected himself with the theatrical enterprise about which so many comments had been made, the matter put on an entirely different aspect, and it was at once shrewdly guessed that he had put in the greater portion of the working capital.
There no longer seemed to be any doubt as to the success of the enterprise, and Ben, Johnny, and Paul found their regular business seriously interfered with by those of their acquaintances who were anxious to become actors. Had they given a position to each of their friends who asked for one, they would have been obliged to have given the entertainment without an audience, for all their acquaintances would have been employed in the theatre.
Master Dowd had foreseen this difficulty, and before he had been a member of the firm five minutes he decided that no actors outside the firm should be employed, and that Nelly should do something towards the entertainment, probably in the way of a song. As to ticket-sellers, door-keepers, ushers, and such officers, Mopsey felt reasonably certain that Mrs. Green would consent to take her knitting and fill all the positions by sitting at the door, where she could collect the money for admissions, keep the audience in order, and keep a general eye to the safety of her house, all at the same time.
Thus, when any one pleaded old friendship, or services rendered, as a reason why they should be admitted as members of the company, everything was made plain and pleasant by referring to the mutual agreement that prevented any more actors, however brilliant they thought they were, from being engaged.
The public, or a certain portion of it, were more than anxious to know what the opening play was to be, and many inquiries were made of the first three of the partners, even before they had succeeded in procuring the material for the stage. Finally they spoke to Mopsey about it, for they thought the curiosity of their expected patrons should be satisfied.
Owing to its being generally understood that Mopsey was an author, making dramatic literature a specialty, the other partners, advised by Nelly Green, had left the important question of what the opening play should be entirely to the pea-nut merchant. When he was questioned on the subject by his partners, he refused to give them any information save that he was thinking up something which would go ahead of anything yet written, and that he would make the result of his thoughts known in due time.
Meanwhile the boys continued their regular business, for they had wisely concluded that it would not do to let the theatrical enterprise interfere with that which they knew would provide them a living, until the new scheme had been shown a success.
Paul had become quite proficient in the work of selling newspapers, and although he had not overcome the feeling of homesickness which would creep over him every night, he was becoming more reconciled to his lot, because each day's work seemed to bring him nearer to the attainment of his object.
Ben and Johnny had forgotten their plan of writing a letter to some of Paul's friends, or of proposing that he should do it, because of the great scheme of the theatre; and if either of them thought of it after it had first been spoken of, it was only as a useless labor, since, as soon as their place of amusement was open, they would all have money enough to go anywhere they wanted to.
Business had been as good as they could have expected. Of course they did not have such a rush as they had been favored with during the first two days that Paul was in partnership with them, because the news was not so exciting; but they did so well that their board was paid for a week before they had been at Mrs. Green's four days, and they had begun to think of adding to the theatrical fund.
Ben had heard of a small lot of timber which could be purchased for one dollar and a half, and Johnny insisted that each member of the firm be called upon for an addition of forty cents to his regular investment, which demand was promptly met. In four days the work on the scenery had advanced so well that Johnny felt sure enough papers had been pasted together, at least until after the stage had been built, and the timber was purchased and carried into the attic at once. It was no slight work to build the stage to their satisfaction, and the four labored hard two entire evenings before it was completed. But when it was up, they were fully repaid for all they had done, so thoroughly business-like did it look, and such a theatrical appearance it gave to the attic.
To be sure, one end was a few inches higher than the other, and there were not boards enough to floor the space completely over; but the first defect could and would be remedied by the scenery, and the second could be gotten over by a little extra care when they walked. Besides, Mopsey was not just certain but that those very holes could be utilized by him in his construction of the play for some very startling and novel effects.
The painting of the scenery was an artistic bit of work, which Johnny was certain he and Nelly, with perhaps some trifling assistance from Paul, could do in such a manner as would delight their patrons and cover themselves with credit. Therefore that portion of the work was left entirely in their hands one evening, while Ben and Mopsey started out to call on Dickey Spry for the purpose of consulting with him as to how they could procure material with which to build seats, for Dickey was supposed to be quite an authority in such matters.
Very little had been seen of Master Spry by this firm of dramatic managers, authors, and actors since the night on which he had purchased his old home. He had gone back to the business of blackening boots, as he had said he should; but he was plying his trade in Jersey City, in the hope that he might learn of the whereabouts of the boy who had ruined him. Therefore it was only right that they should call upon him, because of their friendship, even if they had not wanted his advice. With this twofold purpose in view they started out, fearing that they should not find him at home.
But their fears were groundless, for when they reached the hogshead, Master Spry was discovered at a feast of herrings and crackers. He was not a boy who indulged in any useless conversation; and when he saw who his visitors were, he welcomed them by passing to each a herring and a cracker, which was really more eloquent than words.
While he was eating, Ben glanced around, in order to see what changes the new occupant had made. The only unfamiliar thing he saw was a large sheet of brown paper tacked up at the end of the hogshead. On this paper was printed the following notice, the letters having evidently been made by a chewed stick, with liquid blacking considerably diluted with water:
tiM DooLy RuNNed AWAy WitH ALL THe THInGs i HAD oN My PeNUT STAND IN GeRsey SITe AN i WILL PAy ENNy FelleR TeN CENTS WHAT WILL TeLL Me WHeR He is.
It is impossible to say what good Master Spry thought he could effect by having this notice put up in his own home, where no one would see it but his friends, who knew all the particulars; but it seemed to afford him a great deal of satisfaction to look at it, which Ben concluded was the reason why he had done it.
"Hain't heard nothin' 'bout Tim?" asked Ben, after he and Mopsey had spelled the notice out with considerable difficulty, and many misgivings as to whether Jersey should be spelled with a G or a J.
Dickey shook his head and tried to sigh; but he had such a large piece of herring in his month that he did not dare to attempt it.
"I don't 'xpect I ever shall," he said, sadly, as soon as he had swallowed enough of the fish to admit of his speaking plainly. "I've offered to give ten cents, jest as I've got it there, if anybody will tell me where he is; but I don't hear nothin' of him."
Ben and Mopsey sat for a few moments in silence, as if to better express their sympathy, and then the latter asked,
"How's biz, Dick?"
"Well, it ain't so awful good, nor it ain't so dreadful bad," was the non-committal reply. "I s'pose I shall get along; but I wish I could git a holt of Tim Dooley; then I'd be pretty well fixed."
The visitors looked as if they thought it would be of very little advantage to Dickey if he should succeed in finding the defaulter, and Dickey said, quickly, as if they had spoken their doubts,
"If I can catch him, I'll make him pay me back somehow, whether he's got it or not."
It was rather a rash assertion; but Dickey spoke so confidently that his visitors thought it best not to argue the question, and Ben concluded that it was about time to proceed with the business for which they had come. After he had explained just what it was they needed for the completion of their theatre, during which time Dickey sat rubbing his chin, the personification of wisdom, the two waited for Master Spry to give them the benefit of his knowledge.
It was some time before he condescended to speak; but when he did, it was slowly and emphatically, to show that his mind was fully made up, and could not be changed.
"I know where there's a lot of boards that I could trade for, an' you could put some blocks under each end of them, an' have the best kind of seats. But, yer see, I've bin thinkin' that you oughter taken me inter company with yer, for I can act all round anybody you've got in that crowd. Now I'll git all ther seats yer want, an' carry 'em up there, if you'll let me come in with yer."
It was a sudden proposal, and the two did not know what to say for some moments. It was gratifying to them, because Master Spry was very cautious in making any venture, and that he was anxious to become a partner showed that the public looked with favor upon the scheme, or Dickey Spry would have been the last boy to propose partnership.
"But each one of us have put in seventy-three cents," said Mopsey, hesitatingly, after he had thought the matter over for several moments.
"An' s'posin' I git as many as twenty long boards, an' the blocks to put under 'em, won't that be a good deal more'n that much money?"
Judging from the price they had paid for the timber with which the stage had been built, they knew that Dickey's offer was a good one; and after that young gentleman had gone out into the yard in order to allow them to discuss the matter privately, Mopsey said, as they called him back,
"We're willin' to 'gree to it, an' take you in with us; but of course we've got to see what Johnny an' Polly say to it, an' if you'll come over to the house with us, we'll fix the thing right up quick."
By way of reply, Dickey jammed his hat more firmly on his head, and extinguished the candle—which actions his visitors understood to mean that he would accompany them.
During the walk Ben was anxious to know where and how Master Spry was going to procure this lumber which he offered for an interest in the concern; but Dickey did not hesitate to say that he would not tell them until after the question as to whether he was to be a partner or not had been settled, lest they should take advantage of the information, and then refuse to make him an equal owner.
This seemed to cast a doubt upon their honesty; but they did not take offence at it, because Master Spry was suffering from the wickedness of a boy whom he had trusted, and it was only natural that he should be suspicious.
When they arrived at Mrs. Green's, and ascended to the attic which was the scene of so much industry, they found that the amateur artists had made great progress in their work, although it was shown more by the dense coloring that had been put on the newspaper scenery than from any very fine effects.
Johnny had two wide strips of paper, completely covered with patches of black and green, that were to be placed either side of the stage where the audience would see them, as one sees the wings at a more pretentious theatre. He pointed to his work with evident satisfaction, and assumed an injured look when neither one of the new-comers understood that it was a very fine representation of a forest.
Paul and Nelly were industriously engaged in coloring two other wings with alternate stripes of red and blue; but their work was not sufficiently advanced to render it possible to form any idea as to what it was, and they refused to give any information until they had finished it.
After the coloring of the scenery had been admired, and Dickey had examined with a critical eye all that had been done, Ben stated to Johnny and Paul the proposition which Master Spry had made, declaring himself in favor of accepting it.
Of course, after the advantages of this new connection had been explained, the artists were perfectly willing to admit Mr. Spry as a partner, and he was informed of the fact, with the intimation that it was necessary to have the seats there as quickly as possible.
Dickey promised to begin his labor on the following morning; and then, while the others worked on the scenery, he related to them the success he should make as an actor, provided he was given a part which admitted of his carrying a sword and shield.
ARTISTS AND PRINTERS.
Dickey Spry kept his word, so far as having the timber for the seats at the theatre was concerned; for so anxious was he to fulfil his part of the contract that he devoted all the next afternoon and evening to the work.
He made arrangements with Mrs. Green, whereby he could get into the house during the afternoon while she was attending to her fruit-stand, and by nine o'clock in the evening he had made seats enough to accommodate at least two hundred boys, providing, of course, that they were willing to stow themselves in snugly.
After the work was done, there was not a member of the firm but thought they had a valuable acquisition in the person of Mr. Spry and his timber, and they listened with more attention to his suggestions than they had on the previous evening, when it was possible that he would not carry out his portion of the contract as fully as they desired.