Wait and Hope: or, A Plucky Boy's Luck
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A man of about thirty-five, Mr. Jotham Dobson, was admitted. Mr.
Dobson was a man with a brisk, business-like air.
"Won't you come in, Mr. Dobson?" asked Ben, who had answered the knock.
"Is your aunt at home?" inquired Mr. Dobson bruskly.
"Then, I'll step in a minute, as I want to see her on business."
"What business can he possibly have?" thought Ben. "I wish his business lay with me, and that he wanted to employ me."
"Good morning, Mrs. Bradford," said Dobson rapidly. "No, thank you, I really haven't the time to sit down; I have a little business with you, that's all."
"Perhaps he wants to get me to do some sewing," thought Mrs.
Bradford; but she was doomed to be disagreeably disappointed.
"Perhaps you are not aware of it," said Mr. Dobson, "but I am the city collector of taxes. I've got your tax bill made out. Let me see – here it is. Will it be convenient for you to pay it to-day?"
"How much is it?" faltered Mrs. Bradford.
"Eleven dollars and eighty cents, precisely," answered the collector.
Mrs. Bradford looked so doleful that Ben felt called upon to reply.
"We can't pay it this morning, Mr. Dobson," he said.
"Really, you had better make the effort," said Dobson. "You are aware that the tax is now due, and that one per cent a month will be added for default. That's twelve per cent, a year – pretty heavy."
"What shall we do, Benjamin?" asked his aunt, in a crushed tone.
"Wait and hope, Aunt Jane."
"My friends," said Mr. Dobson persuasively, "I really think you'd better make the effort to pay now, and so avoid the heavy interest."
"Perhaps," said Ben, "you'll tell us how to pay without money?"
"You might borrow it."
"All right! I am willing. Mr. Dobson will you be kind enough to lend us twelve dollars to meet this bill?"
Mr. Dobson's face changed. It always did when any one proposed to borrow money of him, for he was what people called a "close" man.
"I really couldn't do it," he answered. "Money's very scarce with me – particularly scarce. It's all I can do to pay my own taxes."
Ben smiled to himself, for he knew how the application would be answered.
"Then of course we can't pay at present," he said. "We've tried to borrow, and can't."
"I didn't expect you'd try to borrow of me – the tax collector," said Dobson; "even if I had the money, it would be very unprofessional of me to lend you the money."
"It would be very unprofessional of us to pay you without money," returned Ben.
"I suppose I must call again," said the collector, disappointed.
He was disappointed less for the city than for his own account, for he received a percentage on taxes collected.
"I suppose you must."
"Benjamin, this is awful," said Mrs. Bradford piteously, after Mr. Dobson had retired. "What is going to become of us? The city will sell the house for taxes."
"They'll wait a year first, at any rate, Aunt Jane; so we won't fret about it yet.There are other things more pressing."
"If we don't get some money within a day or two, we must starve,
"Something may turn up this afternoon, Aunt Jane. Wait and hope!"
Ben put on his hat and went out. In spite of his cheerful answer, he felt rather sober himself.
Ben Gets Employment
When Ben got out into the street, he set himself to consider where he could apply for employment. As far as he knew, he had inquired at every store in Milltown if a boy was wanted, only to be answered in the negative, sometimes kindly, other times roughly. At the factory, too, he had ascertained that there was no immediate prospect of his being taken on again.
"It's a hard case," thought Ben, "when a fellow wants to work, and needs the money, and can find no opening anywhere."
It was a hard case; but Ben was by no means the only one so situated. It may be said of him, at all events, that he deserved to succeed, for he left no stone unturned to procure employment.
"Perhaps," he thought, "I can get a small job to do somewhere. It would be better to earn a trifle than to be idle."
As this thought passed through Ben's mind, he glanced into Deacon Sawyer's yard. The deacon was a near neighbor of his mother, and was reputed rich, though he lived in an old-fashioned house, furnished in the plain manner of forty years back. It was said that probably not fifty dollars' worth of furniture had come into the house since the deacon's marriage, two-and-forty years previous. Perhaps his tastes were plain; but the uncharitable said that he was too fond of his money to part with it.
A couple of loads of wood were just being deposited in the deacon's yard. They were brought by a tenant of his, who paid a part of his rent in that way.
When Ben saw the wood, a bright thought came to him.
"Perhaps I can get a chance to saw and split that wood," he said to himself. "The deacon doesn't keep a man, and he is too old to do it himself."
As Ben did not mean to let any chance slip, he instantly entered the yard by the gate, and, walking up to the front door, rang the bell. The bell had only been in place for a year. The deacon had been contented with the old fashioned knocker, and had reluctantly consented to the innovation of a bell, and he still spoke of it as a new-fangled nonsense.
Nancy Sawyer, an old-maid daughter of the deacon, answered the bell.
"Good morning, ma'am," said Ben politely.
"Good morning, Ben," the deacon's daughter responded. "How's your aunt to-day?"
"Pretty well, thank you."
"Will you come in?"
"I called on business," said Ben. "Don't you want that wood sawed and split?"
"Yes, I suppose it ought to be," said Nancy. "Do you want to do it?"
"Yes," said our hero. "I'm out of work and ready to do anything I can find to do."
"Are you used to sawing and splitting wood?" inquired Nancy cautiously. "We had a boy once who broke our saw, because he didn't understand how to use it."
"You needn't be afraid of my meeting with such an accident," said Ben confidently. "I saw and split all our wood at home, and have ever since I was twelve years old."
"Come in and speak to father," said Nancy; "I guess he'll be willing to hire you."
She led the way into a very plain sitting room, covered with a rag carpet, where the deacon sat in a rocking chair, reading an agricultural paper – the only one he subscribed to. His daughter, whose literary tastes were less limited, had tried to get him to subscribe for a magazine, but he declined, partly on account of the expense, and partly because of the pictures of fashionably dressed ladies, and he feared his daughter would become extravagant in dress.
Deacon Sawyer looked up as Ben entered the room.
"It's Ben Bradford, father," said Nancy, for her father's vision was impaired.
"He ain't come to borrow anything, has he, Nancy?" asked the old man.
"No, he wants you to employ him to saw and split your wood."
"Don't you know I'm a sawyer myself?" said the deacon, chuckling over a familiar joke.
Ben laughed, feeling that it was his policy to encourage what feeble glimmering of wit the deacon might indulge in.
"That's your joke, father," said Nancy. "You'll have to get the wood sawed and split, and you might as well employ Ben."
"I thought you was in the factory, Benjamin," said the old man.
"So I was, but they cut down the number of hands some weeks ago, and I had to leave among others."
"How do you make a livin', then?" inquired the deacon bluntly.
"We've got along somehow," said Ben; "but if I don't get work soon,
I don't know what we shall do."
"Nancy," said the deacon, "seems to me I can saw the wood myself.
It will save money."
"No, you can't father," said Nancy decidedly. "You are too old for that kind of work, and you can afford to have it done."
"You are a sensible woman, even if you are homely," thought Ben, though for obvious reasons he did not say it.
"I dunno about that, Nancy," said her father.
"Well, I do," said Nancy peremptorily.
The fact is, that she had a will of her own, and ruled the deacon in many things, but, it must be admitted, judiciously, and with an eye to his welfare.
"How much will you charge, Benjamin," the deacon asked, "for sawing and splitting the whole lot."
"How much is there of it?" asked Ben.
"I don't know how much I ought to charge, Deacon Sawyer. I am willing to go ahead and do it, and leave you to pay me what you think right."
"That's right," said the deacon in a tone of satisfaction. "You may go ahead and do it, and I'll do the right thing by you."
"All right," said Ben cheerfully. "I'll go right to work."
I am obliged to say that in this agreement Ben was unbusiness-like. There are some men with whom it will answer to make such contracts, but it is generally wiser to have a definite understanding. For the lack of this, disputes often arise, and mean men will take advantage when so fair an opportunity is afforded them.
After Ben left the room, Nancy, who was sensible and practical, and by no means niggardly as her father, said to him; "You ought to have named your terms, Ben. Then you would know just what you are earning."
"I was afraid I might ask too much, and lose the job."
"Now you may get too little."
"Even if I do, I would rather be at work than be doing nothing."
"That's the right way to feel," said Nancy, approvingly. "I like to see a boy at your age industrious. As to the terms, I will try to make my father do you justice."
"Thank you, ma'am. Can you tell me where you keep the saw and ax?"
"You will find them in the woodshed, in the L part."
"How long do you expect the job will take you?"
"I should think two or three days; but I have never undertaken such a large job of any kind before."
"Very well. I didn't speak of it because there is any hurry about it."
"You may not be in a hurry, but I am," thought Ben, "for I want the money."
Ben tackled the wood-pile vigorously. It was not a kind of work he was partial to; but he was sensible enough to know that he must accept what work came in his way without regard to his own preferences.
He had been at work about an hour when he heard his name called from the street. Looking up, he recognized James Watson.
"Is that you, Ben?" asked James, in some astonishment.
"It is supposed to be. Don't I look natural?" asked Ben, smiling.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't you see? I am sawing wood."
"You don't mean you go around from house to house sawing wood?"
"I should think you would be too proud to do it."
"I am not too proud to do any honest work that will put money in my pocket. Isn't it as respectable as working in the factory?"
"Certainly not. I am willing to work in the factory, but I wouldn't go round sawing wood."
"You can afford to be proud, James, but I can't. We are almost out of money, and I must do something."
"I don't believe the deacon will give you much of anything. He hasn't the reputation of being very generous."
"I must take my chance at that."
"I am sorry for it. I wanted you to go fishing with me this afternoon."
"I should like to go, James, but business before pleasure, they say."
"Ben has not pride," thought James, as he went away, disappointed.
But he was mistaken. Ben was proud in his way, but he was not too proud to do honest work.
Deacon Sawyer's Liberality
About four o'clock on the afternoon of the third day, Ben completed his job. Not only had he sawed and split the wood, but carried it into the woodshed and piled it up neatly, all ready for use. He surveyed his work not without complacency.
"The deacon can't find fault with that job," he said to himself. "He ought to pay me a good price."
The shed opened out of the kitchen. Ben rubbed his feet carefully on the mat, knowing that housekeepers had a prejudice against mud or dust, and, ascending a couple of steps, entered the kitchen. Miss Nancy was there, superintending her "help."
"Well, Miss Nancy," said Ben, "I've finished the wood."
"Have you piled it up in the woodshed?" asked the lady.
"Yes. Won't you come and look at it?"
Nancy Sawyer stepped into the shed, and surveyed the wood approvingly.
"You've done well," she said. "And now I suppose you want your money."
"It would be convenient," admitted Ben.
"You'll have to see father about that," said Nancy.
"Can I see him now?" asked Ben, a little anxiously, for he knew that his aunt's stock of money had dwindled to ten cents.
"Yes; you may go right into the sitting-room."
This room was connected by a door with the kitchen.
"Wait a minute," said Nancy; and she looked at Ben in rather an embarrassed way.
Ben paused with his hand on the latch, waiting to hear what Miss
Nancy had to say.
"My father is very careful with his money," she said. "He may not realize how much work there has been in sawing and splitting the wood. He may not pay you what it is worth."
Ben looked serious, for he knew that he needed all he had earned.
"What shall I do if he doesn't?" he asked.
"I don't want you to dispute about it. Take what he gives you, and then come to me. I will make up what is lacking in one way or another."
"Thank you, Miss Nancy. You are very kind," said Ben.
"I don't know about that," said Nancy. "I don't pretend to be very benevolent; but I want to be just, and in my opinion that is a good deal better. Now you may go in."
Ben lifted the latch, and entered the sitting-room. He found that the deacon was not alone. A gentleman, of perhaps thirty-five, was with him.
"I hope I am not intruding," said Ben politely, "but I have finished with the wood."
Though Deacon Sawyer was a very "close" man, he was always prompt in his payments. So much must be said to his credit. He never thought, therefore, of putting Ben off.
"I suppose you want to be paid, Benjamin?" he said.
"Yes, sir, I should like it, if convenient to you."
"Lemme see, Benjamin, how long has it taken you?"
"Two days and a half, sir."
"Not quite. It's only four o'clock now. Have you just go through?"
"We didn't make no bargain, did we?"
"No, sir, I left it to you."
"Quite right. So you did. Now, Benjamin," continued the deacon, "I want to do the fair thing by you. Two days and a half, at twenty-five cents a day, will make sixty-two cents; or we will say sixty-three. Will that do?"
Poor Ben! He had calculated on three times that sum, at least.
"That would only be a dollar and a half a week," he said, looking very much disappointed.
"I used to work for that when I was young," said the deacon.
"At the factory I was paid five dollars a week," said Ben.
"Nobody of your age can earn as much as that," said the deacon sharply. "No wonder manufacturin' don't pay, when such wages are paid. What do you say, Mr. Manning?" continued the deacon, appealing to the gentlemen with him.
Mr. Manning's face wore an amused smile. He lived in the city, and his ideas on the subject of money and compensation were much less contracted than the deacon's.
"Since you appeal to me," he answered. "I venture to suggest that prices have gone up a good deal since you were a boy, Deacon Sawyer, and twenty-five cents won't go as far now as it did then."
"You are right," said the deacon; "it costs a sight for groceries nowadays. Well, Benjamin, I'll pay you a little more than I meant to. Here's a dollar, and that's good pay for two days and a half."
Ben took the money, but for the life of him he couldn't thank the deacon very heartily. He had been paid at the rate of forty cents a day, which would amount to two dollars and forty cents a week, for work considerably harder than he had done at the factory.
"Good afternoon," he said briefly, and reentered the kitchen.
Nancy Sawyer scanned his face closely as he closed the door of the sitting-room. She was not surprised at his expression of disappointment.
"Well," she inquired, "what did father pay you?"
"He wanted to pay me sixty-three cents," answered Ben, with a touch of indignation in his tone. "Twenty-five cents a day."
"Of course that was much too little. What did he pay you?"
"How much were you expecting to get?" asked Nancy, in a business-like tone.
"I was hoping to get seventy-five cents a day. That would be less than I got at the factory."
"I think your work was worth that much myself," said the spinster.
Ben felt encouraged.
"My father is getting old. He forgets that money won't buy as much as it did in his younger days. He means to be just."
"Then I don't think he succeeds very well," thought Ben.
"I understand such things better," proceeded Miss Nancy, "and I try to make up for father's mistakes, as far as I can. Now tell me what are you meaning to do with the money you received for this job?"
"I shall give it all to Aunt Jane," answered Ben.
"You are a good boy," said Nancy approvingly. "And she will buy groceries with it, I suppose?"
"Yes, Miss Nancy. It is about all she has to depend upon."
"Just so. Now, Ben, I will tell you what I will do. Father keeps me pretty close myself, as far as money goes, but we have plenty in the house of groceries and such things as your aunt will need to have. Now, will it do just as well if I give you the balance that you have earned in that form?"
"It will do just as well, Miss Nancy, and I am very much obliged to you for your kindness."
"I am not kind, only just," said Nancy. "I don't think it honest to pay too little for work, nor father, either, for that matter, only he doesn't always set the right value on it. Maggie, you may bring me the large covered basket in the back room up-stairs."
Maggie brought the basket at once, and Miss Nancy went with it into the storeroom, or buttery. She tied up various parcels of sugar, tea, and flour, and added two loaves of bread and a couple of pies, quite filling the basket.
"There," she said, "I guess you'll find a dollar and a half's worth of articles here. Give my love to your aunt, and tell her from me that they are not a gift, but that you have fairly earned them."
"Thank you, Miss Nancy," said Ben, overjoyed at his good luck.
"You may say you are not kind, but I am sure you are."
Miss Nance was really pleased by this recognition of her attempt to do justice.
"If it's kindness," she said, "you are very welcome. Do you find it hard to get along, Benjamin?"
"Pretty hard, since I have lost my place at the factory, Miss Nancy."
"Tell your aunt," said Miss Nancy significantly "that if she ever want to borrow any flour or groceries, to come to me."
"Thank you," said Ben gratefully, and he felt sure that Nance had a kind heart, in spite of her prim and formal demeanor.
With a glad heart, he carried home the basket, and its contents brought great relief to Mrs. Bradford, who, as she told Ben, was "most out of everything."
Mr. Manning's Proposal
After supper Ben sauntered slowly up the street. It was a relief to him after his confinement during the day, and there was always a chance to find something to do. This was desirable, for now that Deacon Sawyer's woodpile was disposed of, Ben had no work engaged.
Ben sauntered along, as I have said, until he found himself in front of the Milltown Hotel.
It was the only hotel in the town, and, though not large, was able to accommodate all who had occasion to visit the town and were not otherwise provided.
"I wonder if Mr. Brockton" – this was the landlord's name – "hasn't got something for me to do," thought Ben.
As this thought occurred to him, he entered by the open door, and stepped into the office.
Mr. Brockton was not in, but, in an armchair at a window, Ben recognized Mr. Manning, the same gentleman whom he had seen two hours before at Deacon Sawyer's.
The recognition was mutual. Mr. Manning removed his cigar from his lips and said, with a smile:
"Your name is Benjamin, isn't it?"
"Have you come to spend some of the money you received from my friend, the deacon?"
"No, sir. It is all the money I have in the world, and I must take good care of it."
"Wages don't seem to be very high in Milltown," remarked Mr.
Manning pleasantly, and he smiled again.
"Not for sawing and splitting wood, sir. They pay very well in the factory.
"Were you ever employed in the factory?"
"How did you happen to lose your place?" inquired Mr.
"It was the dull times, sir. They discharged quite a number, and as I was one of the latest on, of course I was among the first to go."
"You don't complain of that, do you?"
"No, sir; but at the same time, it was unlucky for me."
"Still, it wasn't as bad as if you were a man with a family to support."
"I have a family to support, sir."
"You have?" repeated Mr. Manning, a little surprised. "You are rather young – to have a family," he added, with a smile.
"I am not married yet, if that's what you mean," he said; "but
I have an aunt and cousin to take care of."
"And you find it hard work, eh?"
"Tell me about it. Here sit down next to me, and tell me how you are situated."
Mr. Manning had a sympathetic tone, which invited confidence. So Ben followed his directions, and confided to him all his perplexities.
"We got along well enough," he concluded, "as long as I kept my place at the factory. Five dollars a week went a good way with us. Besides, my aunt made about two dollars a week sewing.
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