By Horatio Alger
Public Domain Books
Chapter VIII. Dick’s Early History
“Have you always lived in New York, Dick?” asked Frank, after a pause.
“Ever since I can remember.”
“I wish you’d tell me a little about yourself. Have you got any father or mother?”
“I aint got no mother. She died when I wasn’t but three years old. My father went to sea; but he went off before mother died, and nothin’ was ever heard of him. I expect he got wrecked, or died at sea.”
“And what became of you when your mother died?”
“The folks she boarded with took care of me, but they was poor, and they couldn’t do much. When I was seven the woman died, and her husband went out West, and then I had to scratch for myself.”
“At seven years old!” exclaimed Frank, in amazement.
“Yes,” said Dick, “I was a little feller to take care of myself, but,” he continued with pardonable pride, “I did it.”
“What could you do?”
“Sometimes one thing, and sometimes another,” said Dick. “I changed my business accordin’ as I had to. Sometimes I was a newsboy, and diffused intelligence among the masses, as I heard somebody say once in a big speech he made in the Park. Them was the times when Horace Greeley and James Gordon Bennett made money.”
“Through your enterprise?” suggested Frank.
“Yes,” said Dick; “but I give it up after a while.”
“Well, they didn’t always put news enough in their papers, and people wouldn’t buy ’em as fast as I wanted ’em to. So one mornin’ I was stuck on a lot of Heralds, and I thought I’d make a sensation. So I called out ’GREAT NEWS! QUEEN VICTORIA ASSASSINATED!’ All my Heralds went off like hot cakes, and I went off, too, but one of the gentlemen what got sold remembered me, and said he’d have me took up, and that’s what made me change my business.”
“That wasn’t right, Dick,” said Frank.
“I know it,” said Dick; “but lots of boys does it.”
“That don’t make it any better.”
“No,” said Dick, “I was sort of ashamed at the time, ’specially about one poor old gentleman,–a Englishman he was. He couldn’t help cryin’ to think the queen was dead, and his hands shook when he handed me the money for the paper.”
“What did you do next?”
“I went into the match business,” said Dick; “but it was small sales and small profits. Most of the people I called on had just laid in a stock, and didn’t want to buy. So one cold night, when I hadn’t money enough to pay for a lodgin’, I burned the last of my matches to keep me from freezin’. But it cost too much to get warm that way, and I couldn’t keep it up.”
“You’ve seen hard times, Dick,” said Frank, compassionately.
“Yes,” said Dick, “I’ve knowed what it was to be hungry and cold, with nothin’ to eat or to warm me; but there’s one thing I never could do,” he added, proudly.
“I never stole,” said Dick. “It’s mean and I wouldn’t do it.”
“Were you ever tempted to?”
“Lots of times. Once I had been goin’ round all day, and hadn’t sold any matches, except three cents’ worth early in the mornin’. With that I bought an apple, thinkin’ I should get some more bimeby. When evenin’ come I was awful hungry. I went into a baker’s just to look at the bread. It made me feel kind o’ good just to look at the bread and cakes, and I thought maybe they would give me some. I asked ’em wouldn’t they give me a loaf, and take their pay in matches. But they said they’d got enough matches to last three months; so there wasn’t any chance for a trade. While I was standin’ at the stove warmin’ me, the baker went into a back room, and I felt so hungry I thought I would take just one loaf, and go off with it. There was such a big pile I don’t think he’d have known it.”
“But you didn’t do it?”
“No, I didn’t and I was glad of it, for when the man came in ag’in, he said he wanted some one to carry some cake to a lady in St. Mark’s Place. His boy was sick, and he hadn’t no one to send; so he told me he’d give me ten cents if I would go. My business wasn’t very pressin’ just then, so I went, and when I come back, I took my pay in bread and cakes. Didn’t they taste good, though?”
“So you didn’t stay long in the match business, Dick?”
“No, I couldn’t sell enough to make it pay. Then there was some folks that wanted me to sell cheaper to them; so I couldn’t make any profit. There was one old lady–she was rich, too, for she lived in a big brick house–beat me down so, that I didn’t make no profit at all; but she wouldn’t buy without, and I hadn’t sold none that day; so I let her have them. I don’t see why rich folks should be so hard upon a poor boy that wants to make a livin’.”
“There’s a good deal of meanness in the world, I’m afraid, Dick.”
“If everybody was like you and your uncle,” said Dick, “there would be some chance for poor people. If I was rich I’d try to help ’em along.”
“Perhaps you will be rich sometime, Dick.”
Dick shook his head.
“I’m afraid all my wallets will be like this,” said Dick, indicating the one he had received from the dropper, “and will be full of papers what aint of no use to anybody except the owner.”
“That depends very much on yourself, Dick,” said Frank. “Stewart wasn’t always rich, you know.”
“When he first came to New York as a young man he was a teacher, and teachers are not generally very rich. At last he went into business, starting in a small way, and worked his way up by degrees. But there was one thing he determined in the beginning: that he would be strictly honorable in all his dealings, and never overreach any one for the sake of making money. If there was a chance for him, Dick, there is a chance for you.”
“He knowed enough to be a teacher, and I’m awful ignorant," said Dick.
“But you needn’t stay so.”
“How can I help it?”
“Can’t you learn at school?”
“I can’t go to school ’cause I’ve got my livin’ to earn. It wouldn’t do me much good if I learned to read and write, and just as I’d got learned I starved to death.”
“But are there no night-schools?”
“Why don’t you go? I suppose you don’t work in the evenings.”
“I never cared much about it,” said Dick, “and that’s the truth. But since I’ve got to talkin’ with you, I think more about it. I guess I’ll begin to go.”
“I wish you would, Dick. You’ll make a smart man if you only get a little education.”
“Do you think so?” asked Dick, doubtfully.
“I know so. A boy who has earned his own living since he was seven years old must have something in him. I feel very much interested in you, Dick. You’ve had a hard time of it so far in life, but I think better times are in store. I want you to do well, and I feel sure you can if you only try.”
“You’re a good fellow,” said Dick, gratefully. “I’m afraid I’m a pretty rough customer, but I aint as bad as some. I mean to turn over a new leaf, and try to grow up ’spectable.”
“There’ve been a great many boys begin as low down as you, Dick, that have grown up respectable and honored. But they had to work pretty hard for it.”
“I’m willin’ to work hard,” said Dick.
“And you must not only work hard, but work in the right way.”
“What’s the right way?”
“You began in the right way when you determined never to steal, or do anything mean or dishonorable, however strongly tempted to do so. That will make people have confidence in you when they come to know you. But, in order to succeed well, you must manage to get as good an education as you can. Until you do, you cannot get a position in an office or counting-room, even to run errands.”
“That’s so,” said Dick, soberly. “I never thought how awful ignorant I was till now.”
“That can be remedied with perseverance,” said Frank. “A year will do a great deal for you.”
“I’ll go to work and see what I can do,” said Dick, energetically.