By Horatio Alger
Public Domain Books
Chapter XIX. Fosdick Changes His Business
Fosdick did not venture to wear his new clothes while engaged in his business. This he felt would have been wasteful extravagance. About ten o’clock in the morning, when business slackened, he went home, and dressing himself went to a hotel where he could see copies of the “Morning Herald” and “Sun,” and, noting down the places where a boy was wanted, went on a round of applications. But he found it no easy thing to obtain a place. Swarms of boys seemed to be out of employment, and it was not unusual to find from fifty to a hundred applicants for a single place.
There was another difficulty. It was generally desired that the boy wanted should reside with his parents. When Fosdick, on being questioned, revealed the fact of his having no parents, and being a boy of the street, this was generally sufficient of itself to insure a refusal. Merchants were afraid to trust one who had led such a vagabond life. Dick, who was always ready for an emergency, suggested borrowing a white wig, and passing himself off for Fosdick’s father or grandfather. But Henry thought this might be rather a difficult character for our hero to sustain. After fifty applications and as many failures, Fosdick began to get discouraged. There seemed to be no way out of his present business, for which he felt unfitted.
“I don’t know but I shall have to black boots all my life,” he said, one day, despondently, to Dick.
“Keep a stiff upper lip,” said Dick. “By the time you get to be a gray-headed veteran, you may get a chance to run errands for some big firm on the Bowery, which is a very cheerin’ reflection.”
So Dick by his drollery and perpetual good spirits kept up Fosdick’s courage.
“As for me,” said Dick, “I expect by that time to lay up a colossal fortun’ out of shines, and live in princely style on the Avenoo.”
But one morning, Fosdick, straying into French’s Hotel, discovered the following advertisement in the columns of “The Herald,"–
“WANTED–A smart, capable boy to run errands, and make himself generally useful in a hat and cap store. Salary three dollars a week at first. Inquire at No. – Broadway, after ten o’clock, A.M.”
He determined to make application, and, as the City Hall clock just then struck the hour indicated, lost no time in proceeding to the store, which was only a few blocks distant from the Astor House. It was easy to find the store, as from a dozen to twenty boys were already assembled in front of it. They surveyed each other askance, feeling that they were rivals, and mentally calculating each other’s chances.
“There isn’t much chance for me,” said Fosdick to Dick, who had accompanied him. “Look at all these boys. Most of them have good homes, I suppose, and good recommendations, while I have nobody to refer to.”
“Go ahead,” said Dick. “Your chance is as good as anybody’s.”
While this was passing between Dick and his companion, one of the boys, a rather supercilious-looking young gentleman, genteelly dressed, and evidently having a very high opinion of his dress and himself turned suddenly to Dick, and remarked,–
“I’ve seen you before.”
“Oh, have you?” said Dick, whirling round; “then p’r’aps you’d like to see me behind.”
At this unexpected answer all the boys burst into a laugh with the exception of the questioner, who, evidently, considered that Dick had been disrespectful.
“I’ve seen you somewhere,” he said, in a surly tone, correcting himself.
“Most likely you have,” said Dick. “That’s where I generally keep myself.”
There was another laugh at the expense of Roswell Crawford, for that was the name of the young aristocrat. But he had his revenge ready. No boy relishes being an object of ridicule, and it was with a feeling of satisfaction that he retorted,–
“I know you for all your impudence. You’re nothing but a boot-black.”
This information took the boys who were standing around by surprise, for Dick was well-dressed, and had none of the implements of his profession with him.
“S’pose I be,” said Dick. “Have you got any objection?”
“Not at all,” said Roswell, curling his lip; “only you’d better stick to blacking boots, and not try to get into a store.”
“Thank you for your kind advice,” said Dick. “Is it gratooitous, or do you expect to be paid for it?”
“You’re an impudent fellow.”
“That’s a very cheerin’ reflection,” said Dick, good-naturedly.
“Do you expect to get this place when there’s gentlemen’s sons applying for it? A boot-black in a store! That would be a good joke.”
Boys as well as men are selfish, and, looking upon Dick as a possible rival, the boys who listened seemed disposed to take the same view of the situation.
“That’s what I say,” said one of them, taking sides with Roswell.
“Don’t trouble yourselves,” said Dick. “I aint agoin’ to cut you out. I can’t afford to give up a independent and loocrative purfession for a salary of three dollars a week.”
“Hear him talk!” said Roswell Crawford, with an unpleasant sneer. “If you are not trying to get the place, what are you here for?”
“I came with a friend of mine,” said Dick, indicating Fosdick, “who’s goin’ in for the situation.”
“Is he a boot-black, too?” demanded Roswell, superciliously.
“He!” retorted Dick, loftily. “Didn’t you know his father was a member of Congress, and intimately acquainted with all the biggest men in the State?”
The boys surveyed Fosdick as if they did not quite know whether to credit this statement, which, for the credit of Dick’s veracity, it will be observed he did not assert, but only propounded in the form of a question. There was no time for comment, however, as just then the proprietor of the store came to the door, and, casting his eyes over the waiting group, singled out Roswell Crawford, and asked him to enter.
“Well, my lad, how old are you?”
“Fourteen years old,” said Roswell, consequentially.
“Are your parents living?”
“Only my mother. My father is dead. He was a gentleman,” he added, complacently.
“Oh, was he?” said the shop-keeper. “Do you live in the city?”
“Yes, sir. In Clinton Place.”
“Have you ever been in a situation before?”
“Yes, sir,” said Roswell, a little reluctantly.
“Where was it?”
“In an office on Dey Street.”
“How long were you there?”
“It seems to me that was a short time. Why did you not stay longer?”
“Because,” said Roswell, loftily, “the man wanted me to get to the office at eight o’clock, and make the fire. I’m a gentleman’s son, and am not used to such dirty work.”
“Indeed!” said the shop-keeper. “Well, young gentleman, you may step aside a few minutes. I will speak with some of the other boys before making my selection.”
Several other boys were called in and questioned. Roswell stood by and listened with an air of complacency. He could not help thinking his chances the best. “The man can see I’m a gentleman, and will do credit to his store,” he thought.
At length it came to Fosdick’s turn. He entered with no very sanguine anticipations of success. Unlike Roswell, he set a very low estimate upon his qualifications when compared with those of other applicants. But his modest bearing, and quiet, gentlemanly manner, entirely free from pretension, prepossessed the shop-keeper, who was a sensible man, in his favor.
“Do you reside in the city?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Henry.
“What is your age?”
“Have you ever been in any situation?”
“I should like to see a specimen of your handwriting. Here, take the pen and write your name.”
Henry Fosdick had a very handsome handwriting for a boy of his age, while Roswell, who had submitted to the same test, could do little more than scrawl.
“Do you reside with your parents?”
“No, sir, they are dead.”
“Where do you live, then?”
“In Mott Street.”
Roswell curled his lip when this name was pronounced, for Mott Street, as my New York readers know, is in the immediate neighborhood of the Five-Points, and very far from a fashionable locality.
“Have you any testimonials to present?” asked Mr. Henderson, for that was his name.
Fosdick hesitated. This was the question which he had foreseen would give him trouble.
But at this moment it happened most opportunely that Mr. Greyson entered the shop with the intention of buying a hat.
“Yes,” said Fosdick, promptly; “I will refer to this gentleman.”
“How do you do, Fosdick?” asked Mr. Greyson, noticing him for the first time. “How do you happen to be here?”
“I am applying for a place, sir,” said Fosdick. “May I refer the gentleman to you?”
“Certainly, I shall be glad to speak a good word for you. Mr. Henderson, this is a member of my Sunday-school class, of whose good qualities and good abilities I can speak confidently.”
“That will be sufficient,” said the shop-keeper, who knew Mr. Greyson’s high character and position. “He could have no better recommendation. You may come to the store to-morrow morning at half past seven o’clock. The pay will be three dollars a week for the first six months. If I am satisfied with you, I shall then raise it to five dollars.”
The other boys looked disappointed, but none more so than Roswell Crawford. He would have cared less if any one else had obtained the situation; but for a boy who lived in Mott Street to be preferred to him, a gentleman’s son, he considered indeed humiliating. In a spirit of petty spite, he was tempted to say,
“He’s a boot-black. Ask him if he isn’t.”
“He’s an honest and intelligent lad,” said Mr. Greyson. “As for you, young man, I only hope you have one-half his good qualities.”
Roswell Crawford left the store in disgust, and the other unsuccessful applicants with him.
“What luck, Fosdick?” asked Dick, eagerly, as his friend came out of the store.
“I’ve got the place,” said Fosdick, in accents of satisfaction; “but it was only because Mr. Greyson spoke up for me.”
“He’s a trump,” said Dick, enthusiastically.
The gentleman, so denominated, came out before the boys went away, and spoke with them kindly.
Both Dick and Henry were highly pleased at the success of the application. The pay would indeed be small, but, expended economically, Fosdick thought he could get along on it, receiving his room rent, as before, in return for his services as Dick’s private tutor. Dick determined, as soon as his education would permit, to follow his companion’s example.
“I don’t know as you’ll be willin’ to room with a boot-black,” he said, to Henry, “now you’re goin’ into business.”
“I couldn’t room with a better friend, Dick,” said Fosdick, affectionately, throwing his arm round our hero. “When we part, it’ll be because you wish it.”
So Fosdick entered upon a new career.