"Won't you have a girdle, too, Mr. Morrison?" he asked.
"Not much. I don't want to be suffocated before I start. Have you made your will, Hayden?"
"Not yet, I will make it after I have won the prize."
"Are you ready, gentlemen?" asked Frank Jones, who officiated as starter.
"As ready as I ever expect to be," answered Hayden, trying to draw a long breath, and failing.
"Then, start at the word three. One! Two! Three!"
Amid shouts of applause, the two fat men started. It cannot be said they started like arrows from the bow, but they certainly exerted themselves uncommonly. Their faces grew red with the efforts they made, and their colossal legs hurried over the ground as fast as could reasonably be expected.
"I could beat them easily," said James Watson.
"Of course you could. Just wait till you've got as much to carry.
Look! there's Morrison down!"
It was true. Somehow one of Morrison's legs entangled with the other, and he tumbled and rolled over and over.
"Go in and win, Hayden!" shouted fifty voices to his gasping competitor.
About seventy-five yards remained to be traversed. It look as if Hayden could win the race with opposition. But he was quite out of breath. He pressed both hands on his stomach, stopped, and deliberately sat down on the track.
"Don't give it up!" yelled the crowd. "Keep on, and the prize is yours!"
"I can't," gasped Hayden, "and I wouldn't for five times the prize. I don't want it."
So the prize was not awarded, but the crowd had their fun, and the two fat competitors sat down together to rest under a tree. They did not recover from their efforts for at least an hour.
"Is there to be a boys' race?" asked Ben.
"Yes, the boys' race is next in order. You'd better enter."
"I will," said Ben. "What's the prize?"
Ben's eyes sparkled.
"If I could only win it," he thought, "it would be equal to a week's pay at the factory."
Ben felt that his chances of winning the prize were very good. Among his schoolmates he was distinguished for his superiority in all athletic sports. He could jump farther and run faster than any of the boys of his age; and this was a ground of hope. On the other hand, he could not tell how many contestants there might be. He had measured himself against the boys of his acquaintance; but there were hundreds of other boys in the city, and among them it was quite possible that there might be one who surpassed him. However, Ben was always hopeful, and determined to do his best to win.
One of the committee now came forward and announced the boys' race. The distance was to be the same, the prize five dollars, and there was a limitation of age. No boy over seventeen years of age was permitted to enter.
"Are you going to compete, James?" asked Ben.
"I guess not. I don't stand any chance against you."
"I don't know about that.
"I should like the five dollars well enough."
"Then enter your name."
"Well, I will. I may as well try."
So Ben and James were the first to enter their names.
"Are you coming in, George?" asked Ben of George Herman.
"No; I lamed myself in jumping yesterday, and am not in condition; my brother, Frank, is going to enter. Of course he won't stand any chance, for he is too young."
The next to put down his name was Radford Kelso.
"You can't run, Radford. You're too fat," said George Cormack.
"You're as fat as I am," retorted Radford. "I stand as much chance as you."
Next came Arthur Clark and Frank Jones, both tall and long of limb, and looking as if they might be dangerous rivals. Both were strangers to Ben.
"I am afraid one of those fellows will outrun me," said Ben, aside, to
"They are taller, but perhaps they can't hold out as well."
"But the course is only two hundred yards," said Ben; "that is against me."
Just then the announcement was made, on behalf of the committee, that the distance would be increased to three hundred yards, and that there would be a second race of a hundred and fifty yards for boys under fourteen, the prize being two dollars and a half.
"Frank," said George Herman to his brother, "you had better wait and enter the second race."
"I think I will and here is Charlie. He can go in, too."
Edward Kemp, Harry Jones and George Huntingdon next entered their names for the first race. The list was about to be declared complete, when an active, well-made youth advanced, and expressed a wish to compete. He had just reached the grounds, and learned that a race was to be run. He gave his name as John Miles, from Boston.
"Who is he, George? Do you know him?" asked Ben.
"I believe he is visiting some friends in Milltown."
"He looks as if he might run."
"He is well made for running. The question is, has he had any training."
"That's going to decide the matter."
"Take your places, boys!"
At the order, the contestants, whose names have already been given, took their places in line.
John Miles glanced carelessly and rather contemptuously at his rivals.
"I'll show them how to run," he said.
"You are very kind," said Frank Jones, who stood next to him. "We never saw anybody run, you know."
"I have practiced running in a gymnasium," said Miles pompously.
"Running is the same all the world over."
"Perhaps it is; but I run on scientific principles."
Frank Jones laughed.
"You are very condescending to run with us, then."
"Oh, I go in for all the fun I can get."
"I suppose you expect to win the prize?"
"Of course I do. Who is there to prevent? You don't pretend to run, do you?"
"Well, I've always supposed I could run a little, though I have never run in a gymnasium; but there are better runners here than I. That boy" – pointing to Ben – "is said to be a good runner."
"He!" said John Miles contemptuously. "Why, I'm a head taller than he. He's a mere baby."
"Well, we shall see."
Time was called, and the signal to start was given.
The boys started almost simultaneously; Arthur Clark was fastening a girdle about his waist, and that delayed him a little. For a few rods all the boys kept pretty well together. Then three gradually drew away from the rest. These three were John Miles, Frank Jones, and Ben Bradford. Arthur Clark was just behind, but his loss at the start put him at a disadvantage.
When the race was half over, John Miles led, while, fifteen feet behind, Ben Bradford and Frank Jones were doing their best to overtake him. John Miles wore upon his face the complacent smile of assured victory.
At two hundred yards, Frank and Ben had partially closed the gap between themselves and John Miles. Intent though he was on his own progress, Ben had leisure to observe that Miles was beginning to lose ground. It seemed clear that he was inferior to Ben in sustained power.
"There is hope for me yet," thought Ben. "I am not in the least tired. Toward the end I will put on a spurt, and see if I can't snatch the victory from him."
"Go in and win!" exclaimed Frank Jones. "You're got more wind than I. Don't let a stranger carry off the prize."
"Not if I can help it," said Ben.
He was now but four feet behind John, and there were fifty yards to be run.
For the first time, John Miles became apprehensive. He turned his head sufficiently to see that the boy whom he had considered beneath his notice was almost at his heels.
"I can't let a baby like that beat me," he said to himself, and he tried to increase the distance by a spurt. He gained a temporary advantage, but lost more in the end, for the attempt exhausted his strength, and compelled him to slacken his speed farther on.
Twenty yards from the goal the two rivals were neck and neck.
"Now for my spurt!" said Ben to himself.
He gathered himself up, and darted forward with all the strength that was in him. He gained six feet upon his rival, which the latter tried in vain to make up.
The excitement was intense. Popular sympathy was with Ben. He was known to be a Milltown boy, while John Miles was a stranger.
"Put on steam, Milltown!" shouted the crowd.
"Hurrah for Boston!" called out two personal friends of John Miles.
Ben crossed the line seven feet in advance of John, amid shouts of applause.
Frank Jones came in an easy third, and Arthur Clark ranked fourth.
"I congratulate you," said Frank to Ben, who stood, flushed and pleased, at the goal. "You've won the prize fairly."
John Miles stood by, mortified and sullen.
"Better luck next time!" said Frank Jones. "You see we know a little about running."
"I should have won easily enough if I hadn't had a sudden attack of cramp," said John grumbling.
"You didn't run as if you had the cramp."
"You say so, because you don't know how fast I can run. I didn't run at all this morning."
"That's unlucky. I wanted to see some real running."
"I should like to run the race over again," said John.
"Of course, you can't for the prize has been won."
"I don't care about the prize. I've got money enough."
"I haven't," said Ben; "I care more for the money than the victory."
"Look here!" said John. "I'll put up five dollars myself, if you'll run with me again."
"You will?" exclaimed Ben, his eyes sparkling.
"Yes, I will."
"And you won't ask me to put up anything?"
"Then I'll run if the committee will let me."
A ready permission was obtained from the committee; but it was stipulated that the younger boys should have their race first. To this both contestants readily agreed, since it would give them a chance to recover from the fatigue of the race they had just engaged in.
"I am very glad you won," said Frank Jones, in a low voice.
"Thank you; so am I," answered Ben, smiling.
"Of course I should have preferred to win myself," continued Frank candidly; "but, as I saw that it lay between you and John Miles, I sided with you."
"Do you know Miles?"
"No, but I spoke with him just as the race began. I saw that he felt sure of winning. He boasted that he had practiced running at a gymnasium in Boston."
"Then I wonder he didn't beat me."
"He would on a short race; but your wind is better."
"I am glad to win, for the sake of the money," said Ben. "I have lost my place at the factory, and my aunt depends on my earnings."
"Then I am glad for you," said Frank. "I didn't need the money myself. If I had won, I would have given it to you, knowing your circumstances."
"You are very kind," said Ben gratefully.
"You may win another five dollars. I hope you will."
"It will be rather hard on John Miles to lose two races and his money, too."
"You needn't consider that. If I judge him rightly, he has self-conceit enough to carry him through a dozen defeats. He will have some excuse ready, you may be sure. He says he lost the first race by a sudden cramp. He has not more cramp than I."
"There are little boys in line," said Ben. "I recognize Frank and
Charlie Herman. Do you know the others?"
"I know nearly all. Next to Charlie Herman are Aleck Gale, Johnny Clarke, little Vanderhoef, Brooks Gulager, and Charlie Boyd. The end boy is Charlie Snedeker."
"Who will win?"
"One of the Hermans, probably."
The prediction proved correct.
Charles Herman can in first, leading his brother by a few feet.
"You ought to divide the prize with me, Charlie," said Frank. "I didn't like to beat my older brother, or I would have run ahead of you."
"You didn't seem to hold back much," said Charlie. "However, I will be generous and give you a dollar. It will be all in the family."
Proclamation was now made that a supplementary race would be run, for a prize of five dollars, offered by John Miles, the contestants being John Miles and Ben Bradford. The distance by request of Miles, was diminished to two hundred yards. John was shrewd enough to see that the shorter distance was more favorable to himself. Defeat had not diminished his good opinion of himself, not increased his respect for Ben.
"You gained the race by an accident," he said to Ben, as they stood side by side, waiting for the signal.
"Perhaps I did," replied Ben good-humoredly; "all I can say is that it was a lucky accident for me."
"Of course it was. You don't think you can run as fast as I can?"
"I can't tell yet. I will do my best."
"You will have to. I have practiced running in a Boston gymnasium."
"Then you have the advantage of me."
"Of course I have. Besides, I am taller than you."
"For all that, I mean to win your five dollars if I can."
"My money is safe enough. I don't concern myself about that."
"He has a tolerably comfortable opinion of himself," thought Ben; "I begin to want to beat him for something else than the money."
The signal was given, and the boys started.
As in the first race, John Miles soon took the lead. He was nearly three inches taller than Ben. Naturally, his legs were longer, and this was an advantage. Again he put forth all his strength at once; Ben, on the other hand, reserved his strength for the close of the contest. When the race was half over, John Miles was probably twenty feet in advance.
"Boston, will win this time," said Arthur Clark. "See how much Miles leads."
"I am not so sure of that," said George Herman. "I know Ben Bradford. He is very strong, and can hold out well. Miles is using himself up. Do you see how he is panting?"
This was true. In spite of all his training, John Miles had never been able to overcome a shortness of breath which was constitutional with him. It was telling upon him now.
Foot by foot Ben gained upon him. It was the first race over again. Toward the finish he overtook him, and a final spurt won the race – with John Miles full ten feet behind.
"Have I won fairly?" asked our her, turning to John.
"That confounded cramp caught me again," said John sullenly. "If it hadn't been for that, you couldn't have beaten me."
"That was unlucky for you."
"I could beat you by twenty-five yards if I felt all right."
"Boasting is easy," thought Ben, but he did not say it. He felt in too good humor over his second victory.
"We may have a chance to run again some time when you are in better condition," he said cheerfully.
"Maybe so," answered John dubiously. He felt that he had had enough of running against Ben.
Ben's acquaintances gathered about him, and congratulated him over his double victory. Boys whom he did not know sought an introduction, and he found himself quite a lion.
John Miles returned to the two boys who had accompanied him, and began to apologize for his want of success.
"I was awfully unlucky," he said. "I suppose that fellow thinks, because he has beaten me twice when I had the cramp, that he is a better runner than I am. Just see those fellows crowding around him! I suppose he will strut like a turkey-cock."
But this was doing injustice to Ben. He certainly had reason to feel pleased with his success; for it not only brought him a sum equal to two weeks' wages at the factory, but he received the congratulations of the boys so modestly that he won the good opinion of many who had hitherto been strangers to him.
"By George, Ben, you've done well," said James Watson. "I just wish
I were in your place."
"I owe my good luck to you, James."
"How is that?"
"You invited me to come here. I shouldn't have come but for you."
"I am glad of it, Ben. From what you tell me, the money'll come in handy."
"Indeed it will, James."
"It would come in handy to me, too, but you need it more."
Ben was summoned before the committee of the picnic, and asked whether he preferred to take his prizes in money or in the form of a gold medal.
"In money," he said promptly.
"The medal would always remind you of your victory."
"They wouldn't receive it at a grocery store," said Ben.
"Then you are a family man?" said a member of the committee, smiling.
"Yes," said Ben; "I've got an aunt and cousin to provide for."
The money was accordingly placed in his hands. Two five-dollar greenbacks were a rich reward for his afternoon's exertions, he thought.
"I wish I could earn as much money every day," he thought.
"We would have no trouble then about getting along."
About half-past four o'clock, Ben and James left the picnic grounds, and started on their way home. They had occasion to pass the cigar store where Ben had been offered employment. The proprietor was standing at the door.
"Have you made up your mind to accept my offer?" he asked recognizing Ben.
"You don't offer enough," said Ben.
"Isn't three dollars a week enough for a boy like you?"
"Since I last saw you I've earned ten dollars," answered Ben.
"You have!" exclaimed the cigar dealer, in surprise. "I believe you are deceiving me. You don't expect me to believe a story like that."
"There is the proof," said Ben, displaying the greenbacks.
"Are you sure you haven't stolen the money?" asked the dwarf suspiciously.
"I am as sure as that you are no gentleman," retorted Ben, nettled by his tone.
The cigar dealer began to jump up and down with rage, and shook his fist violently at the two boys, who retired laughing.
It was a little after five o'clock when Ben entered his humble home. He was in excellent spirits, as may be imagined. His aunt's face, however, presented a decided contrast to his own.
"Well, Benjamin," she said, with a sigh, "I suppose you haven't found anything to do."
"No, Aunt Jane, I have been to a picnic."
"I don't see how you can have the spirits to go to a picnic when we are on the verge of starvation," said Mrs. Bradford reproachfully.
"Not so bad as that, Aunt Jane; we won't starve this week, anyway."
"Perhaps not; but I look forward to the future."
"So do I, Aunt Jane," Ben replied; "but there is this difference between us. You look forward with discouragement, while I look forward hopefully. You know my motto is, Wait and Hope!"
"You'll have plenty of waiting to do," his aunt retorted; "but there isn't much to hope for."
"Why isn't there?"
"I shouldn't think you'd need to be told. You haven't earned a cent to-day, and – "
"How do you know I haven't?" demanded Ben, smiling.
"How could you? You were going about this morning after a place, and this afternoon you have been at a picnic."
"For all that, aunt, I have earned something – more than if I had been at the factory."
Mrs. Bradford stared at Ben in astonishment.
"How much did you earn, Ben?" asked Tony.
"Haven't I done well enough to earn a dollar, Tony?"
Mrs. Bradford's face assumed a more cheerful look, for a dollar in that little household would go far.
"I don't see how you found time to earn so much, Benjamin," she said.
"Now, just suppose, aunt, that I earned two dollars," said Ben, with a merry twinkle in his eyes.
This was too much for his aunt to believe.
"If supposing would make it so, I should be very glad to suppose; but it won't."
"But it's true, aunt."
"I can't believe it, Benjamin, unless you've found the money somewhere, and then you will have to return it."
"No, I earned it, Aunt Jane, and it's mine fairly."
"I am glad to hear it, Benjamin. Is there any chance to earn any more the same way?"
"I am afraid not, Aunt Jane. However, I've done even better than I told you. I've earned ten dollars this afternoon."
"Benjamin Bradford!" said his aunt sharply. "Do you expect me to believe such a foolish story as that?"
Ben laughed, He was not surprised at his aunt's incredulity; he wouldn't have believed that morning that there was any chance of his making so much money.
"I don't know as I blame you, Aunt Jane; but if you won't believe me, perhaps you'll believe your own eyes," answered Ben, as he drew forth the two five-dollar bills from his pocket, and showed them to Mrs. Bradford.
"Are they good?" she asked suspiciously.
"As good as gold, Aunt Jane; well, not exactly as good as gold, but as good as greenbacks, anyway."
"I can't understand it at all," said Mrs. Bradford, in helpless bewilderment.
"Then I'll tell you all about it," said Ben; and he did so.
"I shall have a high opinion of my legs from this time," he concluded, "for they have earned ten dollars in quicker time than my hands can earn twenty-five cents."
Even his aunt, in spite of her despondent mood, could not help being cheerful over such good fortune as that.
"You see, Aunt Jane, that even if I don't earn anything for the next two weeks, we shall be as well off as if I had been working at the factory all the time. So don't worry any more till that time has passed."
"You certainly have been very fortunate, Benjamin," Mrs. Bradford was forced to admit.
A copious rain is very apt to be followed by a protracted drought, and I am sorry to say that this was the case with Ben's luck. Day after day he went about Milltown, seeking for employment, and night after night he returned home disappointed and empty-handed. If it had depended only on himself, his courage would still have kept up; but his aunt's dismal forebodings affected his spirits. He did not find it quite so easy to wait and hope as he anticipated.
Three weeks passed, and Ben was painfully sensible that there was but a dollar in the house.
They had just risen from the dinner table on the day when their
fortunes were at so low an ebb, when a knock was heard at the door.