Wait and Hope: or, A Plucky Boy's Luck
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Ben and His Aunt
Five o'clock sounded from the church clock, and straightway the streets of Milltown were filled with men, women, and children issuing from the great brick factories huddled together at one end of the town. Among these, two boys waked in company, James Watson and Ben Bradford. They were very nearly of an age, James having just passed his fifteenth birthday, and Ben having nearly attained it.
Both boys looked sober. Why, will appear from their conversation.
"It's rather hard to get out of a job just now," said James.
"Why couldn't the superintendent discharge somebody else?"
"I suppose it's all right," said Ben. "We were taken on last, and we haven't as much claim to remain as those that have been in the mill longer."
"I don't believe there was any need of discharging anybody," complained James.
"You know business is very dull," said Ben, who was more considerate, "and I hear they have been losing money."
"Oh, well, they can stand it," said James.
"So can you," said Ben. "Your father is pretty well off, and you won't suffer."
"Oh, I shall have enough to eat, and so on; but I shan't have any spending money, and I can't get a new suit, as I expected to this fall."
"I wish that was all I had to fear," said Ben; "but you know how it is with me. I don't see how Aunt Jane is going to get along without my earnings."
"Oh, you'll get along somehow," said James carelessly, for he did not care enough about other people's prospects to discuss them.
"Yes, I guess so," said Ben, more cheerfully. "There's no use in worrying. Wait and Hope – that's my motto."
"You have to wait a thundering long time sometimes," said James. "Well, good night. Come round and see me to-morrow. You'll have plenty of time."
"I don't know about that. I must look up something to do."
"I shan't. I am going to wait till the superintendent takes me on again. There's one comfort. I can lie abed as long as I want to. I won't be tied to the factory bell."
The house which James entered was a good-sized two-story house, with an ample yard, and a garden behind it. His father kept a dry-goods store in Milltown, and was generally considered well-to-do. James entered the mill, not because he was obliged to, but because he wanted to have a supply of money in his pocket. His father allowed him to retain all of his wages, requiring him only to purchase his own clothes. As he was paid five dollars a week, James was able to clothe himself with half his income, and reserve the rest for spending-money. He was very fond of amusements, and there was no circus, concert, or other entertainment in Milltown which he did not patronize.
Ben kept on his way, till he reached the small house where his aunt lived, and which had been his own home ever since his parents died, when he was but five years of age.Two years before, Mr. Reuben Bradford, his uncle, died, and since then the family had been supported chiefly by Ben's wages in the mill. His aunt got some sewing to do, but her earnings were comparatively small.
There was one thing Ben dreaded, and that was, to tell his aunt about his loss of employment. He knew how she would take it. She was apt to be despondent, and this news would undoubtedly depress her. As for Ben, he was of a sanguine, cheerful temperament, and always ready to look at the bright side, if there was any bright side at all.
His little cousin Tony, seven years old, ran out to meet him.
"What makes you late, Ben?" he asked.
"I am not so very late, Tony," answered Ben, taking the little fellow's hand.
"Yes you are; it's half-past five o'clock, and supper's been ready quarter of an hour."
"I see how it is, Tony. You are hungry, and that has made you tired of waiting."
"No, I am not, but I wanted you to come home. It's always pleasanter when you are at home."
"I am glad you like my company. Good evening, Aunt Jane."
"Good evening, Ben. Sit right down at the table."
"Wait till I've washed my hands, aunt. I came home by Mr. Watson's, and that made me a little longer. Have you heard any news?"
Ben asked this, thinking it possible that his aunt had already heard of the discharge of some of the factory hands; but her answer satisfied him that she had not.
"Butter's a cent higher a pound," said Mrs. Bradford. "I declare, things seem to be going up all the time. Thirsty-five cents a pound! It really seems sinful to ask such a price."
"I wish that wasn't the worst of it," thought Ben.
"I'm afraid even at twenty-five cents it will be hard for us to pay for butter, if I don't get something to do soon."
"I guess I won't tell Aunt Jane till after supper," Ben decided. "After a good cup of tea, perhaps it won't make her feel so low-spirited."
So he ate his supper, chatting merrily with his little cousin all the time, just as if he had nothing on his mind. Even his aunt smiled from time to time at his nonsense, catching the contagion of his cheerfulness.
"I wish you'd split a little wood for me, Ben," said Mrs. Bradford, as our hero rose from the supper table. "I've had some ironing to do this afternoon, and that always takes off the fuel faster."
"All right, Aunt Jane," said Ben.
"I guess I'll wait till I've finished the wood before telling her," thought Ben. "It won't be any worse than now."
Tony went into the woodshed, to keep him company, and his aunt prepared to clear away the supper dishes.
She had scarcely commenced upon this when a knock was heard at the door. The visitor proved to be old Mrs. Perkins, a great-aunt of James Watson, who was an inveterate gossip. Her great delight was to carry news from one house to another.
"How do you do, Mrs. Bradford?" she began. "I was just passin' by, and thought I'd come in a minute."
"I am very glad to see you, Mrs. Perkins. Won't you have a cup of tea?"
"No thank you. The fact is, I've just took tea at my nephew Watson's. There I heard the news, and I couldn't help comin' right round and sympathizin' with you."
"Sympathizing with me! What for?" asked Mrs. Bradford, amazed. On general principles, she felt that she stood in need of sympathy, but her visitor's tone seemed to hint at something in particular.
"It ain't possible you haven't heard the news?" ejaculated Mrs. Perkins, feeling that she was indeed in luck, to have it in her power to communicate such important intelligence to one who had not heard of it.
"I hope it isn't anything about Ben," said Mrs. Bradford alarmed.
"Yes, I may say it is something about Benjamin," answered Mrs.
Perkins, nodding in a tantalizing manner.
"He hasn't got into any scrape, has he? He hasn't done anything wrong, has he?" asked Aunt Jane startled.
"No, poor child!" sighed the old lady. "That's the wust on't. It ain't what he has done; it's because he won't have anything to do."
"For mercy's sakes, tell me what you mean, Mrs. Perkins."
"Hasn't Benjamin told you that he's lost his place at the factory?"
"Is this true, Mrs. Perkins?" asked Mrs. Bradford, turning pale.
"Yes, business is dull and fifty men and boys have been turned off.
James Watson and your Benjamin are among them."
"Ben never told me anything about it," faltered Mrs. Bradford.
"Heaven only knows what we shall do."
"Oh, I guess you'll get along someway," said Mrs. Perkins, complacently. She was not herself affected, having sufficient property to live upon. "Well, I must be going," said the old lady, anxious to reach the next neighbor, and report how poor Mrs. Bradford took it. "Don't you be too much worried. The Lord will provide."
"I am afraid we shall all starve," thought Mrs. Bradford mournfully.
She opened the shed door, and said: "Ben, is it true that you've lost your place at the mill?"
"Yes, aunt," answered Ben. "Who told you?"
"Old Mrs. Perkins. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"There's no hurry about bad news, aunt."
"I am afraid we'll all have to go to the poorhouse," said Aunt Jane, sighing.
"Perhaps we may, but we'll see what else we can do first. Wait and
Hope, aunt – that's my motto."
Mrs. Bradford shook her heard mournfully.
"I don't mind it so much for myself," she said; "but I can't help thinking of you and Tony."
"Tony and I are coming out all right. There's lots of ways of making money, aunt. Just do as I do – 'Wait and Hope.'"
Before going further it may be as well to explain exactly how the Bradfords were situated. To begin with, they had no rent to pay. The small house in which they lived belonged to an old bachelor uncle of Mrs. Bradford, living in Montreal, and all they were required to do was to pay the taxes, which amounted to very little, not more than twelve dollars a year. Ben had earned at the factory five dollars a week, and his aunt averaged two. To some readers it may seem remarkable that three persons could live and clothe themselves on seven dollars a week; but Mrs. Bradford was a good manager, and had not found the problem a difficult one.
Now, however, the question promised to become more difficult. If Ben found nothing to do, the family would be reduced to two dollars a week, and to live comfortably on that small sum might well appal the most skilful financier.
Ben woke up early, and immediately began to consider the situation. His motto was "Wait and Hope"; but he knew very well that he must work while he was waiting and hoping, otherwise he would differ very little from the hopeful Micawber, who was always waiting for something to turn up.
"Aunt Jane," he said, after a frugal breakfast, over which Mrs. Bradford presided with an uncommonly long face, "how much money have you got on hand? I want to know just how we stand."
Mrs. Bradford opened her pocketbook with a sigh, and produced two one-dollar bills and thirty-seven cents in change.
"There's only that between us and starvation," she said mournfully.
"Well, that's something," said Ben cheerfully. "Isn't it, Tony?"
"It's a lot of money," said the inexperienced Tony. "I never had so much in all my life."
"There, somebody thinks you are rich, Aunt Jane," laughed Ben.
"What should the poor child know of household expenses?" said
"To be sure. Only we may get some money before that is used up.
They owe me at the factory for half a week – two dollars and a half.
I shall get it Saturday night. We won't starve for a week, you see."
"Where are you going, Ben?" asked Tony; "won't you stay and play with me?"
"I can't, Tony. I must go out, and see if I can find something to do."
Milltown was something more than a village. In fact, it had been incorporated two years before as a city, having the requisite number of inhabitants. The main street was quite city-like, being lined with stores.
"I wonder if I can't get a change in a store," thought Ben. So he made his way to the principal street, and entered the first store he came to – a large dry-goods store.
Entering, he addressed himself to a small, thin man, with an aquiline nose, who seemed to have a keen scent for money.
"What can I do for you, young man?" he asked, taking Ben for a customer.
"Can you give me a place in your store?" asked Ben.
The small man's expression changed instantly.
"What do you know of the dry-goods trade?" he inquired.
"Nothing at present, but I could learn," answered our hero.
"Then, I'll make you an offer."
Ben brightened up.
"If you come into the store for nothing the first year, I'll give you two dollars a week the second."
"Do you take me for a man of property?" asked Ben, disgusted.
The small man replied with a shrill, creaking laugh, sounding like the grating of a rusty hinge.
"Isn't that fair?" he asked. "You didn't expect to come in as partner first thing, did you?"
"No, but I can't work for nothing."
"Then – lemme see – I'll give you fifty cents a week for the first year, and you can take it out in goods."
"No, thank you," answered Ben. "I couldn't afford it."
As he went out of the store, he heard another grating laugh, and the remark: "That's the way to bluff 'em off. I offered him a place, and he wouldn't take it."
Ben was at first indignant, but then his sense of humor got the better of his anger, and he said to himself: "Well, I've been offered a position, anyway, and that's something. Perhaps I shall have better luck at the next place."
The next place happened to be a druggist's. The druggist, a tall man, with scanty black locks, was compounding some pills behind the counter.
Ben was not bashful, and he advanced at once, and announced his business.
"Don't you want a boy?" he asked.
The druggist smiled.
"I've got three at home," he answered. "I really don't think I should like to adopt another."
"I'm not in the market for adoption," said Ben, smiling. "I want to get into some store to learn the business."
"Have you any particular fancy for the druggist's business?" asked the apothecary.
"No, sir, I can't say that I have."
"I never took much, but enough to know that I don't like it."
"Then I am afraid you wouldn't do for experiment clerk."
"Oh, it his duty to try all the medicines, to make sure there are no wrong ingredients in them – poison, for instance."
"I am afraid I shouldn't like that," said Ben.
"You don't know till you've tried. Here's a pill now. Suppose you take that, and tell me how you like it."
The druggist extended to Ben a nauseous-looking pill, nearly as large as a bullet. He had made it extra large, for Ben's special case.
"No, I thank you," said Ben, with a contortion of the face; "I know I wouldn't do for experiment clerk. Don't you need any other clerk? Couldn't I learn to mix medicines?"
"Well, you see, there would be danger at first – to the customers, I mean. You might poison somebody, and then I would be liable for damages. If you will get somebody to sign a bond, forfeiting ten thousand dollars in any such case, I might consider your application."
"I don't think I could find any such person," said Ben.
"Then I am afraid I can't employ you. You are quite sure you don't want to be experiment clerk?"
"And swallow your medicines? I guess not. Good morning."
"Good morning. If you want any pills, you will know where to come."
"I would rather go where they make 'em smaller," said Ben.
Ben and the druggist both laughed, and the former left the shop.
"That's the second situation I have been offered today," soliloquized our hero. "They were not very desirable, either one of them, to be sure, but it shows there's an opening for me somewhere."
The next was a cigar store.
"I might as well go in," thought Ben.
A little hump-backed man was behind the counter.
"Want to hire a boy?" asked Ben.
"Are you the boy?"
"What can you do?"
"I am willing to do anything."
The hunchback grinned.
"Then perhaps I can give you a situation. Will you work for three dollars a week?"
"That will do, with strict economy," he thought, "till the factory takes me on again."
"I'll come for a few weeks, at that rate," he said.
"But perhaps you won't like your duties," said the hunchback, grinning in a curious manner.
"What would be my duties?"
"I should paint you red, and have you stand outside the door, as an
Indian," was the answer.
Ben didn't relish the joke.
"You'd better take that position yourself," he retorted. "Nobody'd know the difference."
"Get out!" roared the cigar dealer angrily.
Ben left at once.
"That's the third situation I've been offered," he said: "I'd give 'em all three for a decent one."
At Lovell's Grounds
On the way home Ben met James Watson.
"How are you, James?" he said. "What have you been doing this morning?"
"The fact is," he said, "I have only just got up and had my breakfast."
"I don't see how you can lie abed so late."
"Oh, I can do it just as easy. I guess I was born sleepy."
"You look so," retorted Bed, with a laugh.
"What have you been doing?" inquired James lazily.
"I've been about in search of a place."
"You have!" said James, with sudden interest. "Did you find any?"
"Yes, I found three."
"What!" exclaimed James, in surprise.
"I was offered three places."
"Which did you take?"
"I didn't take any; I didn't like them."
"You are too particular, Ben. Just tell me where they are; I'll accept one."
"All right!" said Ben. "I'll give you all the information you require.
The first is a dry-goods store."
"I'd like to be in a dry-goods store. What's the pay?"
"Fifty cents a week for the first year."
"Faugh!" ejaculated James, disgusted. "What's the second place?"
"Experiment clerk at the druggist's."
"I don't know."
"What are the duties?"
"To taste all the medicines, to make sure there's no poison in them. The druggist offered me a pill, to begin with, about as large as my head."
"I wouldn't take it for a hundred dollars a week. What's the third?"
"In a cigar store. The pay is three dollars a week."
"That's better than nothing. Where is it? I guess I'll take it."
"I don't think you'll like the duties," said Ben, laughing.
"I wouldn't mind selling cigars."
"That isn't what you're wanted for. You are to be painted red, and stand outside as an Indian."
"That's the worst yet. I don't wonder you didn't take any of those chances. What are you going to do this afternoon?"
"Try and find some more places."
"Leave that till tomorrow. You know there's going to be a big picnic at Lovell's Grounds, with all sorts of athletic sports. There are prizes for wrestling, jumping, and so on."
"I would like it well enough, but I can't afford to go."
"There'll be nothing to pay. Father subscribed for two tickets, so I've got a spare one. Come, will you go?"
"Yes, I will, and thank you."
"Then come round to the house as soon as you've got through dinner."
"All right! I'll come."
"I suppose you haven't found a place?" said Mrs. Bradford when Ben entered.
"I don't know what's going to become of us if you don't," said Aunt
"Don't get discouraged so quick, aunt. I've only been looking round one forenoon. Besides, I've been offered a place, and declined it."
"Declined it! What could you have been thinking of?"
Ben then told his aunt of the place at the druggist's. He thought he would not mention the others.
"If you'd taken it, we might have got our medicine cheaper," said Aunt Jane, who did not comprehend a joke, and understood the offer literally.
"I should have got mine for nothing," said Ben, laughing, "and more than I wanted, too."
"What pay would you get?"
"I didn't ask. The first pill the druggist offered me was too much for me. So I respectfully declined the position."
"Pills are excellent for the constitution," said Mrs. Bradford, in a rather reproachful tone. "I never could get you to take them, Benjamin. Some day you'll lose your life, perhaps, because you are so set against them."
"I can't say I hanker after them, aunt," said Ben good humoredly. "However, you see, I might have had a place, so you mustn't get discouraged so quick."
"Will you stay at home this afternoon, Ben?" asked little Tony.
"I can't Tony; I have an engagement with James Watson. Aunt Jane, if I am late to supper, don't be frightened."
Ben found James ready and waiting. They set out at once.
Lovell's Grounds were situated a mile and a half away; they comprised several acres, sloping down to a pond, which was provided with pleasure boats. The grounds were frequently hired by parties from neighboring towns, having been fitted up especially for the enjoyment of a crowd. To-day they were engaged by a young people's association, and the program included, among other things, some athletic sports.
The grounds were pretty well filled when the two boys arrived. In fact, the performance had already commenced.
"You're just in time for the fun, boys," said George Herman, a mutual acquaintance, coming up to meet them.
"Why, what's up George?"
"There is to be a fat man's race of two hundred yards, for a prize of five dollars."
"Who are going to enter?"
"Tom Hayden, the landlord of the Milltown House, and Jim Morrison, the tailor. One weighs two hundred and fifty, the other two hundred and forty-three."
"Good!" laughed Ben. "That will be fun. Where do they start from?"
"There! Don't you see that chalk-mark? And there come the men."
There was a level track laid out, extending two hundred yards, which was used for such occasions, and this was one of the attractive features of Lovell's Grounds.
The two men advanced to the starting-line, each accoutered for the race. They had divested themselves of their coats, and stood in shirt-sleeves, breathing hard already, in anticipation of the race. Their bulky forms appeared to great advantage, and excited considerable amusement. Tom Hayden, who was rather the heavier of the two, had encircled his waist with a leather strap, which confined it almost as closely as a young lady's waist. This was by advice of Frank Jones, a young fellow noted as a runner.
"I don't think I can stand it, Frank," said Hayden, gasping for breath.
"Oh, yes, you can, Mr. Hayden. You'll see how it will help you."
"I can hardly breathe. You've got it too tight."
Frank Jones loosened it a little, and then turned to Morrison.
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