By Horatio Alger
Public Domain Books
Chapter II. Johnny Nolan
After Dick had finished polishing Mr. Greyson’s boots he was fortunate enough to secure three other customers, two of them reporters in the Tribune establishment, which occupies the corner of Spruce Street and Printing House Square.
When Dick had got through with his last customer the City Hall clock indicated eight o’clock. He had been up an hour, and hard at work, and naturally began to think of breakfast. He went up to the head of Spruce Street, and turned into Nassau. Two blocks further, and he reached Ann Street. On this street was a small, cheap restaurant, where for five cents Dick could get a cup of coffee, and for ten cents more, a plate of beefsteak with a plate of bread thrown in. These Dick ordered, and sat down at a table.
It was a small apartment with a few plain tables unprovided with cloths, for the class of customers who patronized it were not very particular. Our hero’s breakfast was soon before him. Neither the coffee nor the steak were as good as can be bought at Delmonico’s; but then it is very doubtful whether, in the present state of his wardrobe, Dick would have been received at that aristocratic restaurant, even if his means had admitted of paying the high prices there charged.
Dick had scarcely been served when he espied a boy about his own size standing at the door, looking wistfully into the restaurant. This was Johnny Nolan, a boy of fourteen, who was engaged in the same profession as Ragged Dick. His wardrobe was in very much the same condition as Dick’s.
“Had your breakfast, Johnny?” inquired Dick, cutting off a piece of steak.
“Come in, then. Here’s room for you.”
“I aint got no money,” said Johnny, looking a little enviously at his more fortunate friend.
“Haven’t you had any shines?”
“Yes, I had one, but I shan’t get any pay till to-morrow.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Try me, and see.”
“Come in. I’ll stand treat this morning.”
Johnny Nolan was nowise slow to accept this invitation, and was soon seated beside Dick.
“What’ll you have, Johnny?”
“Same as you.”
“Cup o’ coffee and beefsteak,” ordered Dick.
These were promptly brought, and Johnny attacked them vigorously.
Now, in the boot-blacking business, as well as in higher avocations, the same rule prevails, that energy and industry are rewarded, and indolence suffers. Dick was energetic and on the alert for business, but Johnny the reverse. The consequence was that Dick earned probably three times as much as the other.
“How do you like it?” asked Dick, surveying Johnny’s attacks upon the steak with evident complacency.
I don’t believe “hunky” is to be found in either Webster’s or Worcester’s big dictionary; but boys will readily understand what it means.
“Do you come here often?” asked Johnny.
“Most every day. You’d better come too.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“Well, you’d ought to, then,” said Dick. “What do you do I’d like to know?”
“I don’t get near as much as you, Dick.”
“Well you might if you tried. I keep my eyes open,–that’s the way I get jobs. You’re lazy, that’s what’s the matter.”
Johnny did not see fit to reply to this charge. Probably he felt the justice of it, and preferred to proceed with the breakfast, which he enjoyed the more as it cost him nothing.
Breakfast over, Dick walked up to the desk, and settled the bill. Then, followed by Johnny, he went out into the street.
“Where are you going, Johnny?”
“Up to Mr. Taylor’s, on Spruce Street, to see if he don’t want a shine.”
“Do you work for him reg’lar?”
“Yes. Him and his partner wants a shine most every day. Where are you goin’?”
“Down front of the Astor House. I guess I’ll find some customers there.”
At this moment Johnny started, and, dodging into an entry way, hid behind the door, considerably to Dick’s surprise.
“What’s the matter now?” asked our hero.
“Has he gone?” asked Johnny, his voice betraying anxiety.
“Who gone, I’d like to know?”
“That man in the brown coat.”
“What of him. You aint scared of him, are you?”
“Yes, he got me a place once.”
“Ever so far off.”
“What if he did?”
“I ran away.”
“Didn’t you like it?”
“No, I had to get up too early. It was on a farm, and I had to get up at five to take care of the cows. I like New York best.”
“Didn’t they give you enough to eat?”
“Oh, yes, plenty.”
“And you had a good bed?”
“Then you’d better have stayed. You don’t get either of them here. Where’d you sleep last night?”
“Up an alley in an old wagon.”
“You had a better bed than that in the country, didn’t you?”
“Yes, it was as soft as–as cotton.”
Johnny had once slept on a bale of cotton, the recollection supplying him with a comparison.
“Why didn’t you stay?”
“I felt lonely,” said Johnny.
Johnny could not exactly explain his feelings, but it is often the case that the young vagabond of the streets, though his food is uncertain, and his bed may be any old wagon or barrel that he is lucky enough to find unoccupied when night sets in, gets so attached to his precarious but independent mode of life, that he feels discontented in any other. He is accustomed to the noise and bustle and ever-varied life of the streets, and in the quiet scenes of the country misses the excitement in the midst of which he has always dwelt.
Johnny had but one tie to bind him to the city. He had a father living, but he might as well have been without one. Mr. Nolan was a confirmed drunkard, and spent the greater part of his wages for liquor. His potations made him ugly, and inflamed a temper never very sweet, working him up sometimes to such a pitch of rage that Johnny’s life was in danger. Some months before, he had thrown a flat-iron at his son’s head with such terrific force that unless Johnny had dodged he would not have lived long enough to obtain a place in our story. He fled the house, and from that time had not dared to re-enter it. Somebody had given him a brush and box of blacking, and he had set up in business on his own account. But he had not energy enough to succeed, as has already been stated, and I am afraid the poor boy had met with many hardships, and suffered more than once from cold and hunger. Dick had befriended him more than once, and often given him a breakfast or dinner, as the case might be.
“How’d you get away?” asked Dick, with some curiosity. “Did you walk?”
“No, I rode on the cars.”
“Where’d you get your money? I hope you didn’t steal it.”
“I didn’t have none.”
“What did you do, then?”
“I got up about three o’clock, and walked to Albany.”
“Where’s that?” asked Dick, whose ideas on the subject of geography were rather vague.
“Up the river.”
“About a thousand miles,” said Johnny, whose conceptions of distance were equally vague.
“Go ahead. What did you do then?”
“I hid on top of a freight car, and came all the way without their seeing me.* That man in the brown coat was the man that got me the place, and I’m afraid he’d want to send me back.”
* A fact.
“Well,” said Dick, reflectively, “I dunno as I’d like to live in the country. I couldn’t go to Tony Pastor’s or the Old Bowery. There wouldn’t be no place to spend my evenings. But I say, it’s tough in winter, Johnny, ’specially when your overcoat’s at the tailor’s, an’ likely to stay there.”
“That’s so, Dick. But I must be goin’, or Mr. Taylor’ll get somebody else to shine his boots.”
Johnny walked back to Nassau Street, while Dick kept on his way to Broadway.
“That boy,” soliloquized Dick, as Johnny took his departure, “aint got no ambition. I’ll bet he won’t get five shines to-day. I’m glad I aint like him. I couldn’t go to the theatre, nor buy no cigars, nor get half as much as I wanted to eat.–Shine yer boots, sir?”
Dick always had an eye to business, and this remark was addressed to a young man, dressed in a stylish manner, who was swinging a jaunty cane.
“I’ve had my boots blacked once already this morning, but this confounded mud has spoiled the shine.”
“I’ll make ’em all right, sir, in a minute.”
“Go ahead, then.”
The boots were soon polished in Dick’s best style, which proved very satisfactory, our hero being a proficient in the art.
“I haven’t got any change,” said the young man, fumbling in his pocket, “but here’s a bill you may run somewhere and get changed. I’ll pay you five cents extra for your trouble.”
He handed Dick a two-dollar bill, which our hero took into a store close by.
“Will you please change that, sir?” said Dick, walking up to the counter.
The salesman to whom he proffered it took the bill, and, slightly glancing at it, exclaimed angrily, “Be off, you young vagabond, or I’ll have you arrested.”
“What’s the row?”
“You’ve offered me a counterfeit bill.”
“I didn’t know it,” said Dick.
“Don’t tell me. Be off, or I’ll have you arrested.”