By Horatio Alger
Public Domain Books
Chapter IX. A Scene in a Third Avenue Car
The boys had turned into Third Avenue, a long street, which, commencing just below the Cooper Institute, runs out to Harlem. A man came out of a side street, uttering at intervals a monotonous cry which sounded like “glass puddin’.”
“Glass pudding!” repeated Frank, looking in surprised wonder at Dick. “What does he mean?”
“Perhaps you’d like some,” said Dick.
“I never heard of it before.”
“Suppose you ask him what he charges for his puddin’.”
Frank looked more narrowly at the man, and soon concluded that he was a glazier.
“Oh, I understand,” he said. “He means ’glass put in.’”
Frank’s mistake was not a singular one. The monotonous cry of these men certainly sounds more like “glass puddin’,” than the words they intend to utter.
“Now,” said Dick, “where shall we go?”
“I should like to see Central Park,” said Frank. “Is it far off?”
“It is about a mile and a half from here,” said Dick. “This is Twenty-ninth Street, and the Park begins at Fifty-ninth Street.”
It may be explained, for the benefit of readers who have never visited New York, that about a mile from the City Hall the cross-streets begin to be numbered in regular order. There is a continuous line of houses as far as One Hundred and Thirtieth Street, where may be found the terminus of the Harlem line of horse-cars. When the entire island is laid out and settled, probably the numbers will reach two hundred or more. Central Park, which lies between Fifty-ninth Street on the south, and One Hundred and Tenth Street on the north, is true to its name, occupying about the centre of the island. The distance between two parallel streets is called a block, and twenty blocks make a mile. It will therefore be seen that Dick was exactly right, when he said they were a mile and a half from Central Park.
“That is too far to walk,” said Frank.
“’Twon’t cost but six cents to ride,” said Dick.
“You mean in the horse-cars?”
“All right then. We’ll jump aboard the next car.”
The Third Avenue and Harlem line of horse-cars is better patronized than any other in New York, though not much can be said for the cars, which are usually dirty and overcrowded. Still, when it is considered that only seven cents are charged for the entire distance to Harlem, about seven miles from the City Hall, the fare can hardly be complained of. But of course most of the profit is made from the way-passengers who only ride a short distance.
A car was at that moment approaching, but it seemed pretty crowded.
“Shall we take that, or wait for another?” asked Frank.
“The next’ll most likely be as bad,” said Dick.
The boys accordingly signalled to the conductor to stop, and got on the front platform. They were obliged to stand up till the car reached Fortieth Street, when so many of the passengers had got off that they obtained seats.
Frank sat down beside a middle-aged woman, or lady, as she probably called herself, whose sharp visage and thin lips did not seem to promise a very pleasant disposition. When the two gentlemen who sat beside her arose, she spread her skirts in the endeavor to fill two seats. Disregarding this, the boys sat down.
“There aint room for two,” she said, looking sourly at Frank.
“There were two here before.”
“Well, there ought not to have been. Some people like to crowd in where they’re not wanted.”
“And some like to take up a double allowance of room,” thought Frank; but he did not say so. He saw that the woman had a bad temper, and thought it wisest to say nothing.
Frank had never ridden up the city as far as this, and it was with much interest that he looked out of the car windows at the stores on either side. Third Avenue is a broad street, but in the character of its houses and stores it is quite inferior to Broadway, though better than some of the avenues further east. Fifth Avenue, as most of my readers already know, is the finest street in the city, being lined with splendid private residences, occupied by the wealthier classes. Many of the cross streets also boast houses which may be considered palaces, so elegant are they externally and internally. Frank caught glimpses of some of these as he was carried towards the Park.
After the first conversation, already mentioned, with the lady at his side, he supposed he should have nothing further to do with her. But in this he was mistaken. While he was busy looking out of the car window, she plunged her hand into her pocket in search of her purse, which she was unable to find. Instantly she jumped to the conclusion that it had been stolen, and her suspicions fastened upon Frank, with whom she was already provoked for “crowding her,” as she termed it.
“Conductor!” she exclaimed in a sharp voice.
“What’s wanted, ma’am?” returned that functionary.
“I want you to come here right off.”
“What’s the matter?”
“My purse has been stolen. There was four dollars and eighty cents in it. I know, because I counted it when I paid my fare.”
“Who stole it?”
“That boy,” she said pointing to Frank, who listened to the charge in the most intense astonishment. “He crowded in here on purpose to rob me, and I want you to search him right off.”
“That’s a lie!” exclaimed Dick, indignantly.
“Oh, you’re in league with him, I dare say,” said the woman spitefully. “You’re as bad as he is, I’ll be bound.”
“You’re a nice female, you be!” said Dick, ironically.
“Don’t you dare to call me a female, sir,” said the lady, furiously.
“Why, you aint a man in disguise, be you?” said Dick.
“You are very much mistaken, madam,” said Frank, quietly. “The conductor may search me, if you desire it.”
A charge of theft, made in a crowded car, of course made quite a sensation. Cautious passengers instinctively put their hands on their pockets, to make sure that they, too, had not been robbed. As for Frank, his face flushed, and he felt very indignant that he should even be suspected of so mean a crime. He had been carefully brought up, and been taught to regard stealing as low and wicked.
Dick, on the contrary, thought it a capital joke that such a charge should have been made against his companion. Though he had brought himself up, and known plenty of boys and men, too, who would steal, he had never done so himself. He thought it mean. But he could not be expected to regard it as Frank did. He had been too familiar with it in others to look upon it with horror.
Meanwhile the passengers rather sided with the boys. Appearances go a great ways, and Frank did not look like a thief.
“I think you must be mistaken, madam,” said a gentleman sitting opposite. “The lad does not look as if he would steal.”
“You can’t tell by looks,” said the lady, sourly. “They’re deceitful; villains are generally well dressed.”
“Be they?” said Dick. “You’d ought to see me with my Washington coat on. You’d think I was the biggest villain ever you saw.”
“I’ve no doubt you are,” said the lady, scowling in the direction of our hero.
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Dick. “’Tisn’t often I get such fine compliments.”
“None of your impudence,” said the lady, wrathfully. “I believe you’re the worst of the two.”
Meanwhile the car had been stopped.
“How long are we going to stop here?” demanded a passenger, impatiently. “I’m in a hurry, if none of the rest of you are.”
“I want my pocket-book,” said the lady, defiantly.
“Well, ma’am, I haven’t got it, and I don’t see as it’s doing you any good detaining us all here.”
“Conductor, will you call a policeman to search that young scamp?" continued the aggrieved lady. “You don’t expect I’m going to lose my money, and do nothing about it.”
“I’ll turn my pockets inside out if you want me to,” said Frank, proudly. “There’s no need of a policeman. The conductor, or any one else, may search me.”
“Well, youngster,” said the conductor, “if the lady agrees, I’ll search you.”
The lady signified her assent.
Frank accordingly turned his pockets inside out, but nothing was revealed except his own porte-monnaie and a penknife.
“Well, ma’am, are you satisfied?” asked the conductor.
“No, I aint,” said she, decidedly.
“You don’t think he’s got it still?”
“No, but he’s passed it over to his confederate, that boy there that’s so full of impudence.”
“That’s me,” said Dick, comically.
“He confesses it,” said the lady; “I want him searched.”
“All right,” said Dick, “I’m ready for the operation, only, as I’ve got valooable property about me, be careful not to drop any of my Erie Bonds.”
The conductor’s hand forthwith dove into Dick’s pocket, and drew out a rusty jack-knife, a battered cent, about fifty cents in change, and the capacious pocket-book which he had received from the swindler who was anxious to get back to his sick family in Boston.
“Is that yours, ma’am?” asked the conductor, holding up the wallet which excited some amazement, by its size, among the other passengers.
“It seems to me you carry a large pocket-book for a young man of your age,” said the conductor.
“That’s what I carry my cash and valooable papers in,” said Dick.
“I suppose that isn’t yours, ma’am,” said the conductor, turning to the lady.
“No,” said she, scornfully. “I wouldn’t carry round such a great wallet as that. Most likely he’s stolen it from somebody else.”
“What a prime detective you’d be!” said Dick. “P’rhaps you know who I took it from.”
“I don’t know but my money’s in it,” said the lady, sharply. “Conductor, will you open that wallet, and see what there is in it?”
“Don’t disturb the valooable papers,” said Dick, in a tone of pretended anxiety.
The contents of the wallet excited some amusement among the passengers.
“There don’t seem to be much money here,” said the conductor, taking out a roll of tissue paper cut out in the shape of bills, and rolled up.
“No,” said Dick. “Didn’t I tell you them were papers of no valoo to anybody but the owner? If the lady’d like to borrow, I won’t charge no interest.”
“Where is my money, then?” said the lady, in some discomfiture. “I shouldn’t wonder if one of the young scamps had thrown it out of the window.”
“You’d better search your pocket once more,” said the gentleman opposite. “I don’t believe either of the boys is in fault. They don’t look to me as if they would steal.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Frank.
The lady followed out the suggestion, and, plunging her hand once more into her pocket, drew out a small porte-monnaie. She hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry at this discovery. It placed her in rather an awkward position after the fuss she had made, and the detention to which she had subjected the passengers, now, as it proved, for nothing.
“Is that the pocket-book you thought stolen?” asked the conductor.
“Yes,” said she, rather confusedly.
“Then you’ve been keeping me waiting all this time for nothing,” he said, sharply. “I wish you’d take care to be sure next time before you make such a disturbance for nothing. I’ve lost five minutes, and shall not be on time.”
“I can’t help it,” was the cross reply; “I didn’t know it was in my pocket.”
“It seems to me you owe an apology to the boys you accused of a theft which they have not committed,” said the gentleman opposite.
“I shan’t apologize to anybody,” said the lady, whose temper was not of the best; “least of all to such whipper-snappers as they are.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” said Dick, comically; “your handsome apology is accepted. It aint of no consequence, only I didn’t like to expose the contents of my valooable pocket-book, for fear it might excite the envy of some of my poor neighbors.”
“You’re a character,” said the gentleman who had already spoken, with a smile.
“A bad character!” muttered the lady.
But it was quite evident that the sympathies of those present were against the lady, and on the side of the boys who had been falsely accused, while Dick’s drollery had created considerable amusement.
The cars had now reached Fifty-ninth Street, the southern boundary of the Park, and here our hero and his companion got off.
“You’d better look out for pickpockets, my lad,” said the conductor, pleasantly. “That big wallet of yours might prove a great temptation.”
“That’s so,” said Dick. “That’s the misfortin’ of being rich. Astor and me don’t sleep much for fear of burglars breakin’ in and robbin’ us of our valooable treasures. Sometimes I think I’ll give all my money to an Orphan Asylum, and take it out in board. I guess I’d make money by the operation.”
While Dick was speaking, the car rolled away, and the boys turned up Fifty-ninth Street, for two long blocks yet separated them from the Park.