The Store Boy
By Horatio Alger, Jr.
Public Domain Books
Chapter XVI - Ben Finds Temporary Employment
“Oh, Ben, what shall we do?” exclaimed Mrs. Barclay, when she heard Mr. Crawford had sold out his business.
“We’ll get along somehow, mother. Something will be sure to turn up.”
Ben spoke more cheerfully than he felt. He knew very well that Pentonville presented scarcely any field for a boy, unless he was willing to work on a farm. Now, Ben had no objections to farm labor, provided he had a farm of his own, but at the rate such labor was paid in Pentonville, there was very little chance of ever rising above the position of a “hired man,” if he once adopted the business. Our young hero felt that this would not satisfy him. He was enterprising and ambitious, and wanted to be a rich man some day.
Money is said, by certain moralists, to be the root of all evil. The love of money, if carried too far, may indeed lead to evil, but it is a natural ambition in any boy or man to wish to raise himself above poverty. The wealth of Amos Lawrence and Peter Cooper was a source of blessing to mankind, yet each started as a poor boy, and neither would have become rich if he had not striven hard to become so.
When Ben made this cheerful answer his mother shook her head sadly. She was not so hopeful as Ben, and visions of poverty presented themselves before her mind.
“I don’t see what you can find to do in Pentonville, Ben,” she said.
“I can live a while without work while I am looking around, mother," Ben answered. “We have got all that money I brought from New York yet.”
“It won’t last long,” said his mother despondently.
“It will last till I can earn some more,” answered Ben hopefully.
Ben was about to leave the house when a man in a farmer’s frock, driving a yoke of oxen, stopped his team in the road, and turned in at the widow’s gate.
It was Silas Greyson, the owner of a farm just out of the village.
“Did you want to see mother?” asked Ben.
“No, I wanted to see you, Benjamin,” answered Greyson. “I hear you’ve left the store.”
“The store has changed hands, and the new storekeeper don’t want me.”
“Do you want a job?”
“What is it, Mr. Greyson?” Ben replied, answering one question with another.
“I’m goin’ to get in wood for the winter from my wood lot for about a week,” said the farmer, “and I want help. Are you willin’ to hire out for a week?”
“What’ll you pay me?” asked Ben.
“I’ll keep you, and give you a cord of wood. Your mother’ll find it handy. I’m short of money, and calc’late wood’ll be just as good pay.”
Ben thought over the proposal, and answered: “I’d rather take my meals at home, Mr. Greyson, and if you’ll make it two cords with that understanding, I’ll agree to hire out to you.”
“Ain’t that rather high?” asked the farmer, hesitating.
“I don’t think so.”
Finally Silas Greyson agreed, and Ben promised to be on hand bright and early the next day. It may be stated here that wood was very cheap at Pentonville, so that Ben would not be overpaid.
There were some few things about the house which Ben wished to do for his mother before he went to work anywhere, and he thought this a good opportunity to do them. While in the store his time had been so taken up that he was unable to attend to them. He passed a busy day, therefore, and hardly went into the street.
Just at nightfall, as he was in the front yard, he was rather surprised to see Tom Davenport open the gate and enter.
“What does he want, I wonder?” he thought, but he said, in a civil tone: “Good-evening, Tom.”
“You’re out of business, ain’t you?” asked Tom abruptly.
“I’m not out of work at any rate!” answered Ben.
“Why, what work are you doing?” interrogated Tom, in evident disappointment.
“I’ve been doing some jobs about the house, for mother.”
“That won’t give you a living,” said Tom disdainfully.
“Did you expect to stay in the store?” asked Tom.
“Not after I heard that your father had bought it,” answered Ben quietly.
“My father’s willing to give you work,” said Tom.
“Is he?” asked Ben, very much surprised.
It occurred to him that perhaps he would have a chance to remain in the store after all, and for the present that would have suited him. Though he didn’t like the squire, or Mr. Kirk, he felt that he had no right, in his present circumstances, to refuse any way to earn an honest living.
“Yes,” answered Tom. “I told him he’d better hire you.”
“You did!” exclaimed Ben, more and more amazed. “I didn’t expect that. However, go on, if you please.”
“He’s got three cords of wood that he wants sawed and split,” said Tom, “and as I knew how poor you were I thought it would be a good chance for you.”
You might have thought from Tom’s manner that he was a young lord, and Ben a peasant. Ben was not angry, but amused.
“It is true,” he said. “I am not rich; still, I am not as poor as you think.”
He happened to have in his pocketbook the money he had brought from New York, and this he took from his pocket and displayed to the astonished Tom.
“Where did you get that money?” asked Tom, surprised and chagrined.
“I got it honestly. You see we can hold out a few days. However, I may be willing to accept the job you offer me. How much is your father willing to pay me?”
“He is willing to give you forty cents a day.”
“How long does he expect me to work for that?”
“That is four cents an hour, and hard work at that. I am much obliged to you and him, Tom, for your liberal offer, but I can’t accept it.”
“You’ll see the time when you’ll be glad to take such a job,” said Tom, who was personally disappointed that he would not be able to exhibit Ben as his father’s hired dependent.
“You seem to know all about it, Tom,” answered Ben. “I shall be at work all next week, at much higher pay, for Silas Greyson.”
“How much does he pay you?”
“That is my private business, and wouldn’t interest you.”
“You’re mighty independent for a boy in your position.”
“Very likely. Won’t you come in?”
“No,” answered Tom ungraciously; “I’ve wasted too much time here already.”
“I understand Tom’s object in wanting to hire me,” thought Ben. “He wants to order me around. Still, if the squire had been willing to pay a decent price, I would have accepted the job. I won’t let pride stand in the way of my supporting mother and myself.”
This was a sensible and praiseworthy resolution, as I hope my young readers will admit. I don’t think much of the pride that is willing to let others suffer in order that it may be gratified.
Ben worked a full week for Farmer Greyson, and helped unload the two cords of wood, which were his wages, in his mother’s yard. Then there were two days of idleness, which made him anxious. On the second day, just after supper, he met Rose Gardiner coming from the post office.
“Have you any correspondents in New York, Ben?” she asked.
“What makes you ask, Rose?”
Because the postmaster told me there was a letter for you by this evening’s mail. It was mailed in New York, and was directed in a lady’s hand. I hope you haven’t been flirting with any New York ladies, Mr. Barclay.”
“The only lady I know in New York is at least fifty years old," answered Ben, smiling.
“That is satisfactory,” answered Rose solemnly. “Then I won’t be jealous.”
“What can the letter be?” thought Ben. “I hope it contains good news.”
He hurried to the post office in a fever of excitement.