The Store Boy
By Horatio Alger, Jr.
Public Domain Books
Chapter I - Ben Barclay Meets a Tramp
“Give me a ride?”
Ben Barclay checked the horse he was driving and looked attentively at the speaker. He was a stout-built, dark-complexioned man, with a beard of a week’s growth, wearing an old and dirty suit, which would have reduced any tailor to despair if taken to him for cleaning and repairs. A loose hat, with a torn crown, surmounted a singularly ill-favored visage.
“A tramp, and a hard looking one!” said Ben to himself.
He hesitated about answering, being naturally reluctant to have such a traveling companion.
“Well, what do you say?” demanded the tramp rather impatiently. “There’s plenty of room on that seat, and I’m dead tired.”
“Where are you going?” asked Ben.
“Same way you are–to Pentonville.”
“You can ride,” said Ben, in a tone by means cordial, and he halted his horse till his unsavory companion climbed into the wagon.
They were two miles from Pentonville, and Ben had a prospect of a longer ride than he desired under the circumstances. His companion pulled out a dirty clay pipe from his pocket, and filled it with tobacco, and then explored another pocket for a match. A muttered oath showed that he failed to find one.
“Got a match, boy?” he asked.
“No,” answered Ben, glad to have escaped the offensive fumes of the pipe.
“Just my luck!” growled the tramp, putting back the pipe with a look of disappointment. “If you had a match now, I wouldn’t mind letting you have a whiff or two.
“I don’t smoke,” answered Ben, hardly able to repress a look of disgust.
“So you’re a good boy, eh? One of the Sunday school kids that want to be an angel, hey? Pah!” and the tramp exhibited the disgust which the idea gave him.
“Yes, I go to Sunday school,” said Ben coldly, feeling more and more repelled by his companion.
“I never went to Sunday school,” said his companion. “And I wouldn’t. It’s only good for milksops and hypocrites.”
“Do you think you’re any better for not going?” Ben couldn’t help asking.
“I haven’t been so prosperous, if that’s what you mean. I’m a straightforward man, I am. You always know where to find me. There ain’t no piety about me. What are you laughin’ at?”
“No offense,” said Ben. “I believe every word you say.”
“You’d better. I don’t allow no man to doubt my word, nor no boy, either. Have you got a quarter about you?”
“Nor a dime? A dime’ll do.”
“I have no money to spare.”
“I’d pay yer to-morrer.”
“You’ll have to borrow elsewhere; I am working in a store for a very smell salary, and that I pay over to my mother.”
“Simon Crawford’s; but you won’t know any better for my telling you that, unless you are acquainted in Pentonville”
“I’ve been through there. Crawford keeps the grocery store.”
“What’s your name?”
“Ben Barclay,” answered our hero, feeling rather annoyed at what he considered intrusive curiosity.
“Barclay?” replied the tramp quickly. “Not John Barclay’s son?”
It was Ben’s turn to be surprised. He was the son of John Barclay, deceased, but how could his ill-favored traveling companion know that?
“Did you know my father?” asked the boy, astonished.
“I’ve heerd his name,” answered the tramp, in an evasive tone.
“What is your name?” asked Ben, feeling that be had a right to be as curious as his companion.
“I haven’t got any visitin’ cards with me,” answered the tramp dryly.
“Nor I; but I told you my name.”
“All right; I’ll tell you mine. You can call me Jack Frost.”
“I gave you my real name,” said Ben significantly.
“I’ve almost forgotten what my real name is,” said the tramp. “If you don’t like Jack Frost, you can call me George Washington.”
“I don’t think that name would suit, he said. George Washington never told a lie.”
“What d’ye mean by that?” demanded the tramp, his brow darkening.
“I was joking,” answered Ben, who did not care to get into difficulty with such a man.
“I’m going to joke a little myself,” growled the tramp, as, looking quickly about him, he observed that they were riding over a lonely section of the road lined with woods. “Have you got any money about you?”
Ben, taken by surprise, would have been glad to answer “No,” but he was a boy of truth, and could not say so truly, though he might have felt justified in doing so under the circumstances.
“Come, I see you have. Give it to me right off or it’ll be worse for you.”
Now it happened that Ben had not less than twenty-five dollars about him. He had carried some groceries to a remote part of the town, and collected two bills on the way. All this money he had in a wallet in the pocket on the other side from the tramp. But the money was not his; it belonged to his employer, and he was not disposed to give it up without a struggle; though he knew that in point of strength he was not an equal match for the man beside him.
“You will get no money from me,” he answered in a firm tone, though be felt far from comfortable.
“I won’t, hey!” growled the tramp. “D’ye think I’m goin’ to let a boy like you get the best of me?”
He clutched Ben by the arm, and seemed in a fair way to overcome opposition by superior strength, when a fortunate idea struck Ben. In his vest pocket was a silver dollar, which had been taken at the store, but proving to be counterfeit, had been given to Ben by Mr. Crawford as a curiosity.
This Ben extracted from his pocket, and flung out by the roadside.
“If you want it, you’ll have to get out and get it,” he said.
The tramp saw the coin glistening upon the ground, and had no suspicion of its not being genuine. It was not much–only a dollar–but he was “dead broke,” and it was worth picking up. He had not expected that Ben had much, and so was not disappointed.
“Curse you!” he said, relinquishing his hold upon Ben. “Why couldn’t you give it to me instead of throwing it out there?”
“Because,” answered Ben boldly, “I didn’t want you to have it.”
“Get out and get it for me!”
“I won’t!” answered Ben firmly.
“Then stop the horse and give me a chance to get out.”
“I’ll do that.”
Ben brought the horse to a halt, and his unwelcome passenger descended, much to his relief. He had to walk around the wagon to get at the coin. Our hero brought down the whip with emphasis on the horse’s back and the animal dashed off at a good rate of speed.
“Stop!” exclaimed the tramp, but Ben had no mind to heed his call.
“No, my friend, you don’t get another chance to ride with me,” he said to himself.
The tramp picked up the coin, and his practiced eye detected that it was bogus.
“The young villain!” he muttered angrily. “I’d like to wring his neck. It’s a bad one after all.” He looked after the receding team and was half disposed to follow, but he changed his mind, reflecting, “I can pass it anyhow.”
Instead of pursuing his journey, he made his way into the woods, and, stretching himself out among the underbrush, went to sleep.
Half a mile before reaching the store, Ben overtook Rose Gardiner, who had the reputation of being the prettiest girl in Pendleton–at any rate, such was Ben’s opinion. She looked up and smiled pleasantly at Ben as he took off his hat.
“Shall you attend Prof. Harrington’s entertainment at the Town Hall this evening, Ben?” she asked, after they had interchanged greetings.
“I should like to go,” answered Ben, “but I am afraid I can’t be spared from the store. Shall you go?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I hope I shall see you there.”
“I shall want to go all the more then.” answered Ben gallantly.
“You say that to flatter me,” said the young lady, with an arch smile.
“No, I don’t,” said Ben earnestly. “Won’t you get in and ride as far as the store?”
“Would it be proper?” asked Miss Rose demurely.
“Of course it would.”
“Then I’ll venture.”
Ben jumped from the wagon, assisted the young lady in, and the two drove into the village together. He liked his second passenger considerably better than the first.