Horatio Alger.

Digging for Gold


Mother, this is an important day for me, said Grant Colburn, as he entered the kitchen with an armful of wood, and deposited it in the box behind the stove.

His mother looked up from the table where she was cutting out pie crust, and asked in surprise, What do you mean, Grant? Why is to-day any different from ordinary days?

I am sixteen to-day, mother!

So you are, Grant. I ought to have thought of it. I am sorry, she added wistfully, that I havent got a present for you, but you know Mr. Tarbox

Is the stingiest man in the country. Yes, I know that well enough.

I actually havent a cent that I can call my own, Grant.

I know that very well, mother. It was an unlucky day when you married that old skinflint.

Dont call him that, Grant, said his mother, with an apprehensive look in the direction of the door.

Hes all that, and more if possible. When did he give you any money last?

Two weeks ago.

And how much did he give you at that time?

Twenty-five cents.

What a shame! Why, if you had hired out as his housekeeper he would have been compelled to give you more.

Yes, Grant, sighed Mrs. Tarbox, I wish I were his housekeeper instead of his wife. I should be more independent.

He made a good bargain when he married you, mother. But I never understood why you married him.

I acted for the best, as I thought, Grant. You know how your poor father left us. After his affairs were settled, there were only two hundred and fifty dollars left, and you were but twelve years old. I took in sewing, and earned what I could, but at the end of a year I had used up a hundred dollars of our small capital. Then Mr. Tarbox asked me to marry him, and I agreed, for I thought it would give us a comfortable home.

A comfortable home! repeated Grant. We have enough to eat, it is true, but you never worked so hard in your life, and I can say the same for myself. I was barely fourteen when Mr. Tarbox took me away from school, and since then I have had to work early and late. At five oclock, winter and summer, I have to turn out of bed, and work all day, so that when night comes I am dead tired.

That is true, Grant, said his mother, with a look of distress. You work too hard for a boy of your age.

And what do I get for it? continued Grant indignantly. I havent any clothes. Charlie Titus asked me the other day why I didnt go to church. I was ashamed to tell him that it was because I had no clothes fit to wear there. It is a year since I had my last suit, and now I have grown out of it. My coat is too short in the sleeves, and my pantaloons in the legs.

Perhaps I can lengthen them out, Grant.

You did it six months ago. There is no more chance. No, Ill tell you what I am going to do.

Ill ask Mr. Tarbox for a new suit, and as it is my birthday, perhaps he will open his heart and be generous for once.

It is a good plan, Grant. There he is now, out by the well curb.

Then Ill speak at once. Wish me luck, mother.

I do, my son. I heartily wish you good luck now and always.

Grant opened the side door, and went out into the yard. Seth Tarbox looked up, and his glance fell upon his step-son.

Come here, Grant, he said, I want you to turn the grindstone while I sharpen my scythe.

Wait a minute, Mr. Tarbox. I want to speak to you.

Go ahead! You can speak if you want to, said Tarbox, slightly surprised.

It is my birthday to-day.

Is it? How old be you?


A boy of sixteen ought to do a great deal of work. Why, you are most a man.

I do a good deal of work, Mr. Tarbox, but I dont seem to get much pay for it.

Hey? You want pay? Why, dont you get your victuals and clothes?

I get my victuals, yes. But I dont get clothes, and that is just what I want to speak to you about.

Mr. Tarbox began to grow uneasy. He knew what was coming.

What have you got on, Id like to know? he inquired.

Some rags and overalls, answered Grant bluntly.

Theyre good enough to work in. Youve got a suit to wear Sundays.

Have I? Its hardly fit to wear common days. Why, its a year since I had the suit, and Ive outgrown it.

Im afraid youre getting proud, Grant, said his step-father uneasily.

Im not proud of my clothes, I can tell you that. Mr. Tarbox, Ive worked for you the last year early and late, and I think I ought to have a new suit. It will make a nice birthday present.

Moneys very skerce, Grant, said his step-father uneasily, and clothes are very high. I gave twelve dollars for that last suit of yours. It came hard. Think how long it takes to earn twelve dollars. I havent had a suit myself for ten months.

But you can have one if you want it.

Ill tell you what Ill do, Grant, said Mr. Tarbox, with a bright idea. Youre most as big as I am. Youre unusually large for your age. Ill buy a new suit for myself, and give you mine. Your mother can fix it over to fit you.

Grants face assumed a look of disgust.

Thank you, Mr. Tarbox, he said, but I dont want to wear your old clothes. If I cant have a new suit I dont want any.

Pears to me youre mighty particular.

I dont think so. I only want whats right. Most boys of my age have at least two new suits a year. Charlie Titus had three.

Then his fathers very foolish to gratify his love of finery. Come, wed better go to work.

You havent answered my question yet, Mr. Tarbox.

What is it? asked Tarbox peevishly.

Will you buy me a new suit?

Wait two or three months, Grant.

Why should I wait two or three months? I need the clothes now.

Money may be easier then.

I am not willing to wait.

Pears to me youre very headstrong, Grant Colburn, said the farmer in a tone of displeasure.

I want my rights. I wont work if you are going to deal so closely with me.

Seth Tarbox frowned, and looked perplexed. But presently an idea came to him and his face smoothed.

Perhaps we can fix it, Grant, he said in a conciliatory tone.

Grant felt encouraged. It looked as if his request were to be granted.

I shall be very much obliged to you, he said.

Wait a minute! You aint got my idea. Your mother has money.

What if she has? asked Grant suspiciously.

If she will lend you ten or twelve dollars to buy a suit Ill make it up to her in, say three or four months.

Grants face darkened. He knew very well that the money never would be repaid, and he penetrated the crafty design of his step-father.

No, Mr. Tarbox, he said. My mothers money must not be touched. Theres little enough of it, and I dont want her to run the risk of losing it.

But she wont lose it. Didnt I say I would pay it back?

Why cant you advance the money yourself?

Didnt I tell you money was skerce? said Seth Tarbox irritably.

I know youve got money in two savings banks, besides some railroad bonds. Tom Wilson told me the other day that you had over five thousand dollars in money and bonds.

Tom Wilson dont know anything about my affairs, said Tarbox hastily. Ill think it over, Grant, and mebbe I wont promise Ill see what I can do for you. Now well go to work. Its a sin to be idle.


Mr. Tarboxs farm was located in Woodburn, rather a small town in Iowa. He was originally from Connecticut, but at the age of thirty removed to the then frontier Western State. He owned a large farm, which he had bought at the government price of one dollar and a quarter an acre. He also owned a smaller farm a mile and a half west of the one he occupied, and this he cultivated on shares. It had been a lucky purchase, for a railway intersected it, and he had obtained a large price for the land used. Besides his two farms, he had from six to seven thousand dollars in money; yet it seemed that the richer he grew the meaner he became. He had a married daughter, living in Crestville, six miles away, and when he died she and her family would no doubt inherit the miserly farmers possessions. Like her father she was selfish and close so far as others were concerned, but she was willing to spend money on herself. She had a son about the age of Grant, who liked to wear good clothes, and was something of a dude. His name was Rodney Bartlett, and he looked down with infinite contempt on his grandfathers hard-working stepson.

Just before twelve oclock a smart looking buggy drove into the yard. The occupants of the buggy were Rodney and his mother.

Hey, you! he called out to Grant, come and hold the horse while we get out.

Grant came forward and did as he was requested. Had Rodney been alone he would not have heeded the demand, but Mrs. Bartletts sex claimed deference, though he did not like her.

Just go in and tell your mother weve come to dinner.

But Grant was spared the trouble, for the farmer came up at this moment.

Howdy do, Sophia! he said. What sent you over?

I wanted to consult you about a little matter of business, father. I hope Mrs. Tarbox will have enough dinner for us.

I reckon so, I reckon so, said Seth Tarbox, who, to do him justice, was not mean as regarded the table. Hows your husband?

Oh, hes ailing as usual. Hes lazy and shiftless, and if it wasnt for me I dont know what would become of us.

By this time the two had entered the house. Rodney stayed behind, and glanced superciliously at Grant.

Seems to me youre looking shabbier than ever, he said.

Youre right there, said Grant bitterly, but it isnt my fault.

Whose is it?

Your grandfathers. He wont buy me any clothes.

Well, youre not kin to him.

I know that, but I work hard and earn a great deal more than I get.

I dont know about that. Maybe I can hunt up one of my old suits for you, Rodney added patronizingly.

Thank you, but I dont want anybodys cast-off clothes; at any rate, not yours.

Youre getting proud, sneered Rodney.

You can call it that if you like.

Dont you wish you was me, so you could wear good clothes all the time?

I should like to wear the good clothes, but Id rather be myself than anybody else.

Some time I shall be rich, said Rodney complacently. I shall have all grandfathers money.

Wont it go to your mother?

Oh, well, shell give it to me. I hope you dont think you and your mother will get any of it?

We ought to, for mother is making a slave of herself, but I dont think we will. If your grandfather would do more for us now we wouldnt mind inheriting anything.

There was a tapping on the front window.

That means dinner, I suppose, said Grant.

Are you going to sit down with us? asked Rodney, eying Grants costume with disfavor.


In those clothes?

I havent time to change them. Besides my Sunday suit isnt much better.

At the table, toward the close of the meal, Rodney said, Grandfather, Grant isnt dressed very well.

Seth Tarbox frowned.

Has he been complaining to you? he asked. Hes been pesterin all the mornin about new clothes. I told him money was skerce.

I can save you expense, grandfather. I will give him an old suit of mine one I have cast off.

Why, thats an excellent plan, said Tarbox, brightening up. Do you hear that, Grant? You wont need to buy a new suit for yourself now.

I dont care for any of Rodneys old clothes, answered Grant, with an indignant flush.

Sho! sho! Youre acting very contrary. Rodneys suit is a good deal better than yours, Ive no doubt.

I dont know whether it is or not, but Im entitled to new clothes, and I want them.

What do you say to that, Mrs. Tarbox? demanded the farmer, looking over at his wife.

I say that he is right. Grant has worked hard, Mr. Tarbox, and he ought to be decently dressed.

Rodney, said his mother, your kind offer is thrown away.

So I see, said Rodney, extending his plate for another piece of pie.

Im sorry you take Grants part, Mrs. T., said the farmer. I wont countenance no extravagance. Whats the use of spending good money when a suit of clothes is offered for nothing.

If the suit is a good one, retorted Grant, why does Rodney lay it aside?

There is a difference between him and you, said Mrs. Bartlett in an acid tone.

What difference?

Im a gentleman and youre a farm boy, said Rodney, taking it upon himself to answer.

I shant always be a farm boy!

No, you wont be a boy when youre grown up, returned Rodney, looking around to see if his joke were appreciated.

There aint no disgrace in bein a farm boy, said Seth Tarbox. I worked on a farm myself when I was a boy, and Ive worked on a farm ever since.

Im going to college, and be a lawyer, said Rodney in a consequential tone.

It costs a sight of money to go to college, Sophia, said Tarbox deprecatingly.

I shall make a lot of money when I am a lawyer, explained Rodney. Why, I read in the paper that there are some lawyers that make fifty thousand dollars. Besides, I may get elected to Congress. Thats better than working on a farm. When Grant is getting fifteen dollars a month and his board, as a hired man on a farm, I will ride in my carriage, and live like a gentleman.

I may be a rich man myself, interrupted Grant.

You a rich man! Ho, ho! laughed Rodney. You look like it.

No, I dont look like it, but I may get there all the same.

You talk a good deal for a boy of your age, remarked Mrs. Bartlett in a tone of rebuke.

No more than Rodney.

But Grant, looking at his mother, saw that she was disturbed, and refrained from noticing any further speeches of his young antagonist.

By the way, father, said Mrs. Bartlett, you remember John Heywood, of our town?

Yes; what of him?

Hes just got back from California.

Its dreadful expensive goin to California.

That isnt of much account if you can bring back a lot of money.

Did John Heywood bring back a lot of money? asked the farmer, pricking up his ears.

He brought back ten thousand dollars.

Sho! How you talk!

Its true, every word of it.

How did he make it?

Mining, I believe. Hes bought the Ezra Jones place, and is going to put up a nice house.

Among the most interested listeners was Grant Colburn. His color went and came, and he seemed excited.

How long was Mr. Heywood in California, he asked.

About a year. He was gone a good deal longer, for he went across the plains, and it took four months. He came back across the Isthmus.

I would like to go California, said Grant thoughtfully.

You go to California! A boy like you! repeated Mrs. Bartlett scornfully. What could you do?

I could make more money than I do here, answered Grant with spirit.

I reckon you wont go in a hurry, said Seth Tarbox composedly. You havent money enough to get you twenty-five miles, and I spose its as much as two thousand miles from Iowa to Californy.

Grant felt that there was a good deal of truth in his step-fathers words, but the idea had found lodgment in his brain, and was likely to remain there.

I mean to go sometime! he said resolutely.

Youd better start right off after dinner! said Rodney in a sneering tone.


Grant, you may go over to the other farm and ask Luke Weldon for the pitchfork he borrowed of me last week. Theres no knowing how long he would keep it if I didnt send for it.

All right, sir.

Rodney can walk with you if he wants to.

Thank you, said Rodney, shrugging his shoulders, but I dont care to walk a mile and a half for a pitchfork. Ill go part way, though, to the village.

The two boys started out together. Rodney looked askance at his companions poor clothes.

Youre foolish not to take the suit I offered you, he said. Its a good deal better than yours.

I presume it is.

Then why dont you want it?

Because it will prevent your grandfather buying me a new one.

Have you asked him?

Yes, I asked him this morning.

What did he say?

That he would buy a new one for himself, and have his best suit cut down for me.

Rodney laughed.

Youd look like a fright, he said.

I think so myself, assented Grant with a smile.

Youd better take mine than his. Grandfather isnt much like a dude in dress.

No; he tells me that I dress as well as he.

So you do, nearly. However, it does not make much difference how an old man like him dresses.

Rodney rather approved of his grandfathers scanty outlay on dress, for it would enable him to leave more money to his mother and himself.

Do you know how old grandfather is? asked Rodney.

I believe he is sixty-nine.

Thats pretty old. He wont live many years longer probably. Then the property will come to mother and me.

Shall you come to live on the farm?

Not much. Mother says shell sell both farms, and then we may go to Chicago to live.

Grant did not like Mr. Tarbox, but he was rather disgusted to hear his grandson speculate so coolly about his death.

Dont you think grandfather is failing? continued Rodney.

I dont know that he is, answered Grant coldly.

Mother thinks hes got kidney disease. Old men are very apt to have that trouble.

I never heard him complain of being sick.

By this time the two boys had reached the village.

I think Ill drop into the drug store, said Rodney. They keep cigarettes there, dont they?

I believe so.

Mother dont like me to smoke, but I do it on the sly. Ill give you a cigarette, if you want one, he said, in an unusual fit of generosity.

Thank you, but I dont smoke.

Its just as well, for you are poor and couldnt afford to buy cigarettes. Well, I suppose youve got to go on.


So the two boys parted. Rodney entered the drug store, and not only bought a package of cigarettes, but drank a glass of soda water. It did not occur to him to offer Grant soda water, for that would have cost a nickel, while a cigarette was inexpensive.

Somehow I dont like Rodney, said Grant to himself as he walked along. He seems anxious to have his grandfather die in order to get hold of the property. I wouldnt want to feel that way about anybody, though money would be very acceptable.

Grant walked a mile farther till he reached the farm. Luke Weldon, who had taken it on shares, was in the yard.

Well, Grant, have you come to see me? he asked with a good-natured smile.

Yes, Mr. Weldon. Mr. Tarbox wants his pitchfork, which you borrowed last week.

Was the old man afraid he wouldnt get it back?

Perhaps so.

He doesnt mean to let anybody get the advantage of him. Well, come to the barn with me, and Ill give it to you.

Grant followed Luke to the barn, and received the borrowed article.

It beats all how suspicious Seth Tarbox is, continued Luke. You know I run this farm on shares. The old man is dreadfully afraid I shall cheat him in the division of the crop. He comes over spying round from time to time. How do you like working for him?

Not at all, answered Grant bluntly.

Does he pay you any wages?

I work for my board and clothes, but I dont get any clothes. Look at me.

The old man is awful close. I sometimes ask myself how it is all to end. He stints himself and his family, and all his money will go to his daughter Sophia and her boy.

They are over there to-day.

How do you like the boy?

About as much as his grandfather.

Hes a disagreeable young cub, and about as mean as the old man.

He offered me a cigarette this morning, said Grant smiling.

Did you accept?

No, I do not smoke. He offered me one of his old suits, too, but it was only to save his grandfather the expense of buying me a new one.

I suppose you accepted that.

No, I didnt. I will have a new suit or none at all.

I like your spirit. I wish I could have you to work for me.

I would rather work for you than for Mr. Tarbox, but there is one thing I would like better still.

What is that?

To go to California.

What put that into your head?

Mrs. Bartlett was mentioning that John Heywood had just got back, bringing ten thousand dollars in gold.

Sho! You dont say so.

And he bought a farm and is going to put up a new house.

Some men are lucky, thats a fact. Ten thousand dollars, and hes only just turned thirty. Well, I wish I were in his shoes.

I mean to go to California some time.

But how will you go? It costs money to go so far.

Thats true, and I dont know where the money is coming from, but I mean to get there all the same.

If you had the money Seth Tarbox wouldnt let you use it for that.

Id like to see him stop me! said Grant, nodding his head with emphasis.

Well, I wish you luck, Grant, but I reckon itll be a good many years before you get to California.

Privately Grant was of the same opinion, but the idea had entered his mind, and was not likely to be dislodged.

There were two ways of going home, one through the village, the same way he came, and the other across the railroad and over the fields. This was no shorter, but there was a variety in it, and Grant decided that he should take it.

A hundred feet from the place where he crossed the railroad there was a bridge spanning the creek, not wide, but lying some twenty feet below. The bridge was about fifty feet long.

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