The Errand Boy by Horatio AlgerOr, How Phil Brent Won Success

But, though he lived in an unfashionable street, it could not be said that Phil, in his table manners, showed any lack of good breeding. He seemed quite at home at Mrs. Pitkin’s table, and in fact acted with greater propriety than Alonzo, who was addicted to fast eating and greediness. “Couldn’t you walk home
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1888
Collection:
Tags:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

But, though he lived in an unfashionable street, it could not be said that Phil, in his table manners, showed any lack of good breeding. He seemed quite at home at Mrs. Pitkin’s table, and in fact acted with greater propriety than Alonzo, who was addicted to fast eating and greediness.

“Couldn’t you walk home alone, Uncle Oliver?” asked Mrs. Pitkin presently.

“Yes.”

“Then it was a pity to trouble Mr. Brent to come with you.”

“It was no trouble,” responded Philip promptly, though he suspected that it was not consideration for him that prompted the remark.

“Yes, I admit that I was a little selfish in taking up my young friend’s time,” said the old gentleman cheerfully; “but I infer, from what he tells me, that it is not particularly valuable just now.”

“Are you in a business position, Mr. Brent?” asked Mrs. Pitkin.

“No, madam. I was looking for a place this morning.”

“Have you lived for some time in the city?”

“No; I came here only yesterday from the country.”

“I think country boys are very foolish to leave good homes in the country to seek places in the city,” said Mrs. Pitkin sharply.

“There may be circumstances, Lavinia, that make it advisable,” suggested Mr. Carter, who, however, did not know Phil’s reason for coming.

“No doubt; I understand that,” answered Mrs. Pitkin, in a tone so significant that Phil wondered whether she thought he had got into any trouble at home.

“And besides, we can’t judge for every one. So I hope Master Philip may find some good and satisfactory opening, now that he has reached the city.”

After a short time, lunch, which in New York is generally a plain meal, was over, and Mr. Carter invited Philip to come up-stairs again.

“I want to talk over your prospects, Philip,” he said.

There was silence till after the two had left the room. Then Mrs. Pitkin said:

“Alonzo, I don’t like this.”

“What don’t you like, ma?”

“Uncle bringing this boy home. It is very extraordinary, this sudden interest in a perfect stranger.”

“Do you think he’ll leave him any money?” asked Alonzo, betraying interest.

“I don’t know what it may lead to, Lonny, but it don’t look right. Such things have been known.”

“I’d like to punch the boy’s head,” remarked Alonzo, with sudden hostility. “All uncle’s money ought to come to us.”

“So it ought, by rights,” observed his mother.

“We must see that this boy doesn’t get any ascendency over him.”

Phil would have been very much amazed if he had overheard this conversation.

CHAPTER IX.

THE OLD GENTLEMAN PROVES A FRIEND.

The old gentleman sat down in an arm-chair and waved his hand toward a small rocking- chair, in which Phil seated himself.

“I conclude that you had a good reason for leaving home, Philip,” said Mr. Carter, eying our hero with a keen, but friendly look.

“Yes, sir; since my father’s death it has not been a home to me.”

“Is there a step-mother in the case?” asked the old gentleman shrewdly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Any one else?”

“She has a son.”

“And you two don’t agree?”

“You seem to know all about it, sir,” said Phil, surprised.

“I know something of the world–that is all.”

Phil began to think that Mr. Carter’s knowledge of the world was very remarkable. He began to wonder whether he could know anything more–could suspect the secret which Mrs. Brent had communicated to him. Should he speak of it? He decided at any rate to wait, for Mr. Carter, though kind, was a comparative stranger.

“Well,” continued the old gentleman, “I won’t inquire too minutely into the circumstances. You don’t look like a boy that would take such an important step as leaving home without a satisfactory reason. The next thing is to help you.”

Phil’s courage rose as he heard these words. Mr. Carter was evidently a rich man, and he could help him if he was willing. So he kept silence, and let his new friend do the talking.

“You want a place,” continued Mr. Carter. “Now, what are you fit for?”

“That is a hard question for me to answer, sir. I don’t know.”

“Have you a good education?”

“Yes, sir; and I know something of Latin and French besides.”

“You can write a good hand?”

“Shall I show you, sir?”

“Yes; write a few lines at my private desk.”

Phil did so, and handed the paper to Mr. Carter.

“Very good,” said the old gentleman approvingly.

“That is in your favor. Are you good at accounts?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Better still.”

“Sit down there again,” he continued. “I will give you a sum in interest.”

Phil resumed his seat.

“What is the interest of eight hundred and forty- five dollars and sixty cents for four years, three months and twelve days, at eight and one-half per cent?”

Phil’s pen moved fast in perfect silence for five minutes. Then he announced the result.

“Let me look at the paper. I will soon tell you whether it is correct.”

After a brief examination, for the old gentleman was himself an adept at figures, he said, with a beaming smile:

“It is entirely correct. You are a smart boy.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Phil, gratified.

“And you deserve a good place–better than you will probably get.”

Phil listened attentively. The last clause was not quite so satisfactory.

“Yes,” said Mr. Carter, evidently talking to himself, “I must get Pitkin to take him.”

Phil knew that the lady whom he had already met was named Pitkin, and he rightly concluded that it was her husband who was meant.

“I hope he is more agreeable than his wife,” thought Philip.

“Yes, Philip,” said Mr. Carter, who had evidently made up his mind, “I will try to find you a place this afternoon.

“I shall be very much obliged, sir,” said Philip gladly.

“I have already told you that my nephew and I are in business together, he being the active and I the silent partner. We do a general shipping business. Our store is on Franklin Street. I will give you a letter to my nephew and he will give you a place.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Wait a minute and I will write the note.”

Five minutes later Phil was on his way down town with his credentials in his pocket.

CHAPTER X.

Phil CALLS ON MR. PITKIN.

PHIL paused before an imposing business structure, and looked up to see if he could see the sign that would show him he had reached his destination.

He had not far to look. On the front of the building he saw in large letters the sign:

ENOCH PITKIN & CO.

In the door-way there was another sign, from which he learned that the firm occupied the second floor.

He went up-stairs, and opening a door, entered a spacious apartment which looked like a hive of industry. There were numerous clerks, counters piled with goods, and every indication that a prosperous business was being carried on.

The nearest person was a young man of eighteen, or perhaps more, with an incipient, straw-colored mustache, and a shock of hair of tow-color. This young man wore a variegated neck-tie, a stiff standing-collar, and a suit of clothes in the extreme of fashion.

Phil looked at him hesitatingly.

The young man observed the look, and asked condescendingly:

“What can I do for you, my son?”

Such an address from a person less than three years older than himself came near upsetting the gravity of Phil.

“Is Mr. Pitkin in?” he asked.

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Can I see him.”

“I have no objection,” remarked the young man facetiously.

“Where shall I find him?”

The youth indicated a small room partitioned off as a private office in the extreme end of the store.

“Thank you,” said Phil, and proceeded to find his way to the office in question.

Arrived at the door, which was partly open, he looked in.

In an arm-chair sat a small man, with an erect figure and an air of consequence. He was not over forty-five, but looked older, for his cheeks were already seamed and his look was querulous. Cheerful natures do not so soon show signs of age as their opposites.

“Mr. Pitkin?” said Phil interrogatively.

“Well?” said the small man, frowning instinctively.

“I have a note for you, sir.”

Phil stepped forward and handed the missive to Mr. Pitkin.

The latter opened it quickly and read as follows:

The boy who will present this to you did me a service this morning. He is in want of employment. He seems well educated, but if you can’t offer him anything better than the post of errand boy, do so. I will guarantee that he will give satisfaction. You can send him to the post-office, and to other offices on such errands as you may have. Pay him five dollars a week and charge that sum to me. Yours truly,
OLIVER CARTER.

Mr. Pitkin’s frown deepened as he read this note.

“Pish!” he ejaculated, in a tone which, though low, was audible to Phil. “Uncle Oliver must be crazy. What is your name?” he demanded fiercely, turning suddenly to Phil.

“Philip Brent.”

“When did you meet–the gentleman who gave you this letter?”

Phil told him.

“Do you know what is in this letter?”

“I suppose, sir, it is a request that you give me a place.”

“Did you read it?”

“No,” answered Phil indignantly.

“Humph! He wants me to give you the place of errand boy.”

“I will try to suit you, sir,”

“When do you want to begin?”

“As soon as possible, sir.”

“Come to-morrow morning, and report to me first.”

“Another freak of Uncle Oliver’s!” he muttered, as he turned his back upon Phil, and so signified that the interview was at an end.

CHAPTER XI.

PHIL ENTERS UPON HIS DUTIES.

Phil presented himself in good season the next morning at the store in Franklin Street. As he came up in one direction the youth whom he had seen in the store the previous day came up in the opposite direction. The latter was evidently surprised.

“Halloo, Johnny!” said he. “What’s brought you here again?”

“Business,” answered Phil.

“Going to buy out the firm?” inquired the youth jocosely.

“Not to-day.”

“Some other day, then,” said the young man, laughing as if he had said a very witty thing.

As Phil didn’t know that this form of expression, slightly varied, had become a popular phrase of the day, he did not laugh.

“Do you belong to the church?” asked the youth, stopping short in his own mirth.

“What makes you ask?”

“Because you don’t laugh.”

“I would if I saw anything to laugh at.”

“Come, that’s hard on me. Honor bright, have you come to do any business with us?”

It is rather amusing to see how soon the cheapest clerk talks of “us,” quietly identifying himself with the firm that employs him. Not that I object to it. Often it implies a personal interest in the success and prosperity of the firm, which makes a clerk more valuable. This was not, however, the case with G. Washington Wilbur, the young man who was now conversing with Phil, as will presently appear.

“I am going to work here,” answered Phil simply.

“Going to work here!” repeated Mr. Wilbur in surprise. “Has old Pitkin engaged you?”

“Mr. Pitkin engaged me yesterday,” Phil replied.

“I didn’t know he wanted a boy. What are you to do?”

“Go to the post-office, bank, and so on.”

“You’re to be errand boy, then?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the way I started,” said Mr. Wilbur patronizingly.

“What are you now?”

“A salesman. I wouldn’t like to be back in my old position. What wages are you going to get?”

“Five dollars.”

“Five dollars a week!” ejaculated Mr. G. Washington Wilbur, in amazement. “Come, you’re chaffing.”

“Why should I do that? Is that anything remarkable?”

“I should say it was,” answered Mr. Wilbur slowly.

“Didn’t you get as much when you were errand boy?”

“I only got two dollars and a half. Did Pitkin tell you he would pay you five dollars a week.”

“No; Mr Carter told me so.”

“The old gentleman–Mr. Pitkin’s uncle?”

“Yes. It was at his request that Mr. Pitkin took me on.”

Mr. Wilbur looked grave.

“It’s a shame!” he commenced.

“What is a shame; that I should get five dollars a week?”

“No, but that I should only get a dollar a week more than an errand boy. I’m worth every cent of ten dollars a week, but the old man only gives me six. It hardly keeps me in gloves and cigars.”

“Won’t he give you any more?”

“No; only last month I asked him for a raise, and he told me if I wasn’t satisfied I might go elsewhere.”

“You didn’t?”

“No, but I mean to soon. I will show old Pitkin that he can’t keep a man of my experience for such a paltry salary. I dare say that Denning or Claflin would be glad to have me, and pay me what I am worth.”

Phil did not want to laugh, but when Mr. Wilbur, who looked scarcely older than himself, and was in appearance but a callow youth, referred to himself as a man of experience he found it hard to resist.

“Hadn’t we better be going up stairs?” asked Phil.

“All right. Follow me,” said Mr. Wilbur, “and I’ll take you to the superintendent of the room.”

“I am to report to Mr. Pitkin himself, I believe.”

“He won’t be here yet awhile,” said Wilbur.

But just then up came Mr. Wilbur himself, fully half an hour earlier than usual.

Phil touched his hat politely, and said:

“Good-morning.”

“Good-morning!” returned his employer, regarding him sharply. “Are you the boy I hired yesterday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come up-stairs, then.”

Phil followed Mr. Pitkin up-stairs, and they walked together through the sales-room.

“I hope you understand,” said Mr. Pitkin brusquely, “that I have engaged you at the request of Mr. Carter and to oblige him.”

“I feel grateful to Mr. Carter,” said Phil, not quite knowing what was coming next.

“I shouldn’t myself have engaged a boy of whom I knew nothing, and who could give me no city references.”

“I hope you won’t be disappointed in me,” said Phil.

“I hope not,” answered Mr. Pitkin, in a tone which seemed to imply that he rather expected to be.

Phil began to feel uncomfortable. It seemed evident that whatever he did would be closely scrutinized, and that in an unfavorable spirit.

Mr. Pitkin paused before a desk at which was standing a stout man with grayish hair.

“Mr. Sanderson,” he said, “this is the new errand boy. His name is–what is it, boy?”

“Philip Brent.”

“You will give him something to do. Has the mail come in?”

“No; we haven’t sent to the post-office yet.”

“You may send this boy at once.”

Mr. Sanderson took from the desk a key and handed it to Philip.

“That is the key to our box,” he said. “Notice the number–534. Open it and bring the mail. Don’t loiter on the way.”

“Yes, sir.”

Philip took the key and left the warehouse. When he reached the street he said to himself:

“I wonder where the post-office is?”

He did not like to confess to Mr. Sanderson that he did not know, for it would probably have been considered a disqualification for the post which he was filling.

“I had better walk to Broadway,” he said to himself. “I suppose the post-office must be on the principal street.”

In this Phil was mistaken. At that time the post- office was on Nassau Street, in an old church which had been utilized for a purpose very different from the one to which it had originally been devoted.

Reaching Broadway, Phil was saluted by a bootblack, with a grimy but honest-looking face.

“Shine your boots, mister?” said the boy, with a grin.

“Not this morning.”

“Some other morning, then?”

“Yes,” answered Phil.

“Sorry you won’t give me a job,” said the bootblack. “My taxes comes due to-day, and I ain’t got enough to pay ’em.”

Phil was amused, for his new acquaintance scarcely looked like a heavy taxpayer.

“Do you pay a big tax?” he asked.

“A thousand dollars or less,” answered the knight of the brush.

“I guess it’s less,” said Phil.

“That’s where your head’s level, young chap.”

“Is the post-office far from here?”

“Over half a mile, I reckon.”

“Is it on this street?”

“No, it’s on Nassau Street.”

“If you will show me the way there I’ll give you ten cents.”

“All right! The walk’ll do me good. Come on!”

“What’s your name?” asked Phil, who had become interested in his new acquaintance.

“The boys call me Ragged Dick.”

It was indeed the lively young bootblack whose history was afterward given in a volume which is probably familiar to many of my readers. At this time he was only a bootblack, and had not yet begun to feel the spur of that ambition which led to his subsequent prosperity.

“That’s a queer name,” said Phil.

“I try to live up to it,” said Dick, with a comical glance at his ragged coat, which had originally been worn by a man six feet in height.

He swung his box over his shoulder, and led the way to the old post-office.

CHAPTER XII.

MR. LIONEL LAKE AGAIN.

Phil continued his conversation with Ragged Dick, and was much amused by his quaint way of expressing himself.

When they reached Murray Street, Dick said:

“Follow me. We’ll cut across the City Hall Park. It is the shortest way.”

Soon they reached the shabby old building with which New Yorkers were then obliged to be content with as a post-office.

Phil secured the mail matter for Pitkin & Co., and was just about leaving the office, when he noticed just ahead of him a figure which looked very familiar.

It flashed upon him of a sudden that it was his old train acquaintance, Lionel Lake. He immediately hurried forward and touched his arm.

Mr. Lake, who had several letters in his hand, started nervously, and turned at the touch. He recognized Phil, but appeared not to do so.

“What do you wish, boy?” he asked, loftily.

“I want to speak a word with you, Mr. Lake.”

The young man shrugged his shoulders.

“You are mistaken in the person,” he said. “My name is not Lake.”

“Very likely not,” said Phil significantly, “but that’s what you called yourself when we met on the train.”

“I repeat, boy, that you are strangely mistaken. My name is”–he paused slightly–“John Montgomery.”

“Just as you please. Whatever your name is, I have a little business with you.”

“I can’t stop. My business is urgent,” said Lake.

“Then I will be brief. I lent you five dollars on a ring which I afterward discovered to be stolen. I want you to return that money.”

Mr. Lake looked about him apprehensively, for he did not wish any one to hear what Phil was saying.

“You must be crazy!” he said. “I never saw you before in the whole course of my life.”

He shook off Phil’s detaining hand, and was about to hurry away, but Phil said resolutely:

“You can’t deceive me, Mr. Lake. Give me that money, or I will call a policeman.”

Now, it happened that a policeman was passing just outside, and Lake could see him.

“This is an infamous outrage!” he said, “but I have an important appointment, and can’t be detained. Take the money. I give it to you in
charity.”

Phil gladly received and pocketed the bank-note, and relinquishing his hold of Mr. Lake, rejoined Dick, who had been an interested eye-witness of the interview.

“I see you’ve got pluck,” said Dick. “What’s it all about?”

Phil told him.

“I ain’t a bit s’prised,” said Dick. “I could tell by his looks that the man was a skin.”

“Well, I’m even with him, at any rate,” said Phil.

“Now I’ll be getting back to the office. Thank you for your guidance. Here’s a quarter.”

“You only promised me ten cents.”

“It’s worth a quarter. I hope to meet you again.”

“We’ll meet at Astor’s next party,” said Dick, with a grin. “My invite came yesterday.”

“Mine hasn’t come yet,” said Phil, smiling.

“Maybe it’ll come to-morrow.”

“He’s a queer chap,” thought Phil. “He’s fit for something better than blacking boots. I hope he’ll have the luck to get it.”

Phil had been detained by his interview with Mr. Lake, but he made up for it by extra speed, and reached the warehouse in fair time. After delivering the letters he was sent out on another errand, and during the entire day he was kept busy.

Leaving him for the moment we go back to the Pitkin mansion, and listen to & conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Pitkin.

“Uncle Oliver is getting more and more eccentric every day,” said the lady. “He brought home a boy to lunch to-day–some one whom he had picked up in the street.”

“Was the boy’s name Philip Brent?” asked her husband.

“Yes, I believe so. What do you know about him?” asked the lady in surprise.

“I have engaged him as errand boy.”

“You have! What for?” exclaimed Mrs. Pitkin.

“I couldn’t help it. He brought a letter from your uncle, requesting me to do so, and offering to pay his wages out of his own pocket.”

“This is really getting very serious,” said Mrs. Pitkin, annoyed. “Suppose he should take a fancy to this boy?”

“He appears to have done so already,” said her husband dryly.

“I mean, suppose he should adopt him?”

“You are getting on pretty fast, Lavinia, are you not?”

“Such things happen sometimes,” said the lady, nodding. “If it should happen it would be bad for poor Lonny.”

“Even in that case Lonny won’t have to go to the poor-house.”

“Mr. Pitkin, you don’t realize the danger. Here’s Uncle Oliver worth a quarter of a million dollars, and it ought to be left to us.”

“Probably it will be.”

“He may leave it all to this boy. This must be prevented.”

“How?”

“You must say the boy doesn’t suit you, and discharge him.”

“Well, well, give me time. I have no objection; but I suspect it will be hard to find any fault with him. He looks like a reliable boy.”

“To me he looks like an artful young adventurer,” said Mrs. Pitkin vehemently. “Depend upon it, Mr. Pitkin, he will spare no pains to ingratiate himself into Uncle Oliver’s favor.”

It will be seen that Mrs. Pitkin was gifted–if it can be called a gift–with a very suspicious temperament. She was mean and grasping, and could not bear the idea of even a small part of her uncle’s money going to any one except her own family. There was, indeed, another whose relationship to Uncle Oliver was as close–a cousin, who had estranged her relatives by marrying a poor bookkeeper, with whom she had gone to Milwaukee. Her name was never mentioned in the Pitkin household, and Mrs. Pitkin, trusting to the distance between them, did not apprehend any danger from this source. Had she known Rebecca Forbush was even now in New York, a widow with one child, struggling to make a living by sewing and taking lodgers, she would have felt less tranquil. But she knew nothing of all this, nor did she dream that the boy whom she dreaded was the very next day to make the acquaintance of this despised relation.

This was the way that it happened:

Phil soon tired of the room he had taken in Fifth Street. It was not neatly kept, and was far from comfortable. Then again, he found that the restaurants, cheap as they were, were likely to absorb about all his salary, though the bill-of-fare was far from attractive.

Chance took him through a side-street, between Second and Third Avenues, in the neighborhood of Thirteenth Street.

Among the three and four-story buildings that lined the block was one frame-house, two-story-and- basement, on which he saw a sign, “Board for Gentlemen.” He had seen other similar signs, but his attention was specially drawn to this by seeing a pleasant-looking woman enter the house with the air of proprietor. This woman recalled to Philip his own mother, to whom she bore a striking resemblance.

“I would like to board with one whose face recalled that of my dear dead mother,” thought Phil, and on the impulse of the moment, just after the woman had entered, he rang the door-bell.

The door was opened almost immediately by the woman he had just seen enter.

It seemed to Phil almost as if he were looking into his mother’s face, and he inquired in an unsteady voice:

“Do you take boarders?”

“Yes,” was the answer. “Won’t you step in?”

CHAPTER XIII.

PHIL’S NEW HOME.

The house was poorly furnished with cheap furniture, but there was an unexpected air of neatness about it. There is a great difference between respectable and squalid poverty. It was the first of these that was apparent in the small house in which our hero found himself.

“I am looking for a boarding-place,” said Philip. “I cannot afford to pay a high price.”

“And I should not think of asking a high price for such plain accommodations as I can offer,” said Mrs. Forbush. “What sort of a room do you desire?”

“A small room will answer.”

“I have a hall-bedroom at the head of the stairs. Will you go up and look at it?”

“I should like to do so.”

Mrs. Forbush led the way up a narrow staircase, and Philip followed her.

Opening the door of the small room referred to, she showed a neat bed, a chair, a wash-stand, and a few hooks from which clothing might be hung. It was plain enough, but there was an air of neatness which did not characterize his present room.

“I like the room,” he said, brightening up. “How much do you charge for this room and board?”

“Four dollars. That includes breakfast and supper,” answered Mrs. Forbush. “Lunch you provide for yourself.”

“That will be satisfactory,” said Phil. “I am in a place down town, and I could not come to lunch, at any rate.”

“When would you like to come, Mr.—-?” said the widow interrogatively.”

“My name is Philip Brent.”

“Mr. Brent.”

“I will come some time to-morrow.”

“Generally I ask a small payment in advance, as a guarantee that an applicant will really come, but I am sure I can trust you.”

“Thank you, but I am quite willing to conform to your usual rule,” said Phil, as he drew a two-dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to the widow.

So they parted, mutually pleased. Phil’s week at his present lodging would not be up for several days, but he was tired of it, and felt that he would be much more comfortable with Mrs. Forbush. So he was ready to make the small pecuniary sacrifice needful.

The conversation which has been recorded took but five minutes, and did not materially delay Phil, who, as I have already said, was absent from the store on an errand.

The next day Phil became installed at his new boarding-place, and presented himself at supper.

There were three other boarders, two being a young salesman at a Third Avenue store and his wife. They occupied a square room on the same floor with Phil. The other was a female teacher, employed in one of the city public schools. The only remaining room was occupied by a drummer, who was often called away for several days together. This comprised the list of boarders, but Phil’s attention was called to a young girl of fourteen, of sweet and attractive appearance, whom he ascertained to be a daughter of Mrs. Forbush. The young lady herself, Julia Forbush, cast frequent glances at Phil, who, being an unusually good-looking boy, would naturally excite the notice of a young girl.

On the whole, it seemed a pleasant and social circle, and Phil felt that he had found a home.

The next day, as he was occupied in the store, next to G. Washington Wilbur, he heard that young man say:

“Why, there’s Mr. Carter coming into the store!”

Mr. Oliver Carter, instead of making his way directly to the office where Mr. Pitkin was sitting, came up to where Phil was at work.

“How are you getting along, my young friend?” he asked familiarly.

“Very well, thank you, sir.”

“Do you find your duties very fatiguing?”

“Oh, no, sir. I have a comfortable time.”

“That’s right. Work cheerfully and you will win the good opinion of your employer. Don’t forget to come up and see me soon.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You seem to be pretty solid with the old man,” remarked Mr. Wilbur.

“We are on very good terms,” answered Phil, smiling.

“I wish you had introduced him to me,” said Wilbur.

“Don’t you know him?” asked Phil, in surprise.

“He doesn’t often come to the store, and when he does he generally goes at once to the office, and the clerks don’t have a chance to get acquainted.”

“I should hardly like to take the liberty, then,” said Phil.

“Oh, keep him to yourself, then, if you want to,” said Mr. Wilbur, evidently annoyed.

“I don’t care to do that. I shall be entirely willing to introduce you when there is a good chance.”

This seemed to appease Mr. Wilbur, who became once more gracious.

“Philip,” he said, as the hour of closing approached, “why can’t you come around and call upon me this evening?”

“So I will,” answered Phil readily.

Indeed, he found it rather hard to fill up his evenings, and was glad to have a way suggested.

“Do. I want to tell you a secret.”

“Where do you live?” asked Phil.

“No.—- East Twenty-second Street.”

“All right. I will come round about half-past seven.”

Though Wilbur lived in a larger house than he, Phil did not like his room as well. There being only one chair in the room, Mr. Wilbur put his visitor in it, and himself sat on the bed.

There was something of a mystery in the young man’s manner as, after clearing his throat, he said to Phil:

“I am going to tell you a secret.”

Phil’s curiosity was somewhat stirred, and he signified that he would like to hear it.

“I have for some time wanted a confidant,” said Mr. Wilbur. “I did not wish to trust a mere acquaintance, for–ahem!–the matter is quite a delicate one.

Phil regarded him with increased interest.

“I am flattered by your selecting me,” said he. “I will keep your secret.”

“Phil,” said Mr. Wilbur, in a tragic tone, “you may be surprised to hear that I am in LOVE!”

Phil started and wanted to laugh, but Mr. Wilbur’s serious, earnest look restrained him.

“Ain’t you rather young?” he ventured to say.

“No; I am nineteen,” answered Mr. Wilbur.

“The heart makes no account of years.”

Whether this was original or borrowed, Phil could not tell.

“Have you been in love long?” asked Phil.

“Three weeks.”

“Does the lady know it?”

“Not yet,” returned Mr. Wilbur. “I have worshiped her from afar. I have never even spoken to her.”

“Then the matter hasn’t gone very far?”

“No, not yet.”

“Where did you meet her first?”

“In a Broadway stage.”

“What is her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know much about her, then?”

“Yes; I know where she lives.”

“Where?”

“On Lexington Avenue.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Between Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth Streets. Would you like to see her house?”

“Yes,” answered Phil, who saw that Mr. Wilbur wished him so to answer.

“Then come out. We might see her.”

The two boys–for Mr. Wilbur, though he considered himself a young man of large experience, was really scarcely more than a boy–bent their steps to Lexington Avenue, and walked in a northerly direction.

They had reached Twenty-eighth Street, when the door of house farther up on the avenue was opened and a lady came out.

“That’s she!” ejaculated Mr. Wilbur, clutching Phil by the arm.

Phil looked, and saw a tall young lady, three or four inches taller than his friend and as many years older. He looked at his companion with surprise.

“Is that the young lady you are in love with?” he asked.

“Yes; isn’t she a daisy?” asked the lover fervently.

“I am not much of a judge of daisies,’ answered Phil, a little embarrassed, for the young lady had large features, and was, in his eyes, very far from pretty.

CHAPTER XIV.

CONSULTING THE ORACLE.

Phil did not like to hurt the feelings of his companion, and refrained from laughing, though with difficulty.

“She doesn’t appear to know you,” he said.

“No,” said Wilbur; “I haven’t had a chance to make myself known to her.”

“Do you think you can make a favorable impression upon–the daisy?” asked Phil, outwardly sober, but inwardly amused.

“I always had a taking way with girls,” replied Mr. Wilbur complacently.

Phil coughed. It was all that saved him from laughing.

While he was struggling with the inclination, the lady inadvertently dropped a small parcel which she had been carrying in her hand. The two boys were close behind. Like an arrow from the bow Mr. Wilbur sprang forward, picked up the parcel, and while his heart beat wildly, said, as he tendered it to the owner, with a graceful bow and captivating smile:

“Miss, I believe you dropped this.”

“Thank you, my good boy,” answered the daisy pleasantly.

Mr. Wilbur staggered back as if he had been struck. He fell back in discomfiture, and his face showed the mortification and anguish he felt.

“Did you hear what she said?” he asked, in a hollow voice.

“She called you a boy, didn’t she?”

“Yes,” answered Mr. Wilbur sadly.

“Perhaps she may be near-sighted,” said Phil consolingly.

“Do you think so?” asked Mr. Wilbur hopefully.

“It is quite possible. Then you are short, you know.”

“Yes, it must be so,” said G. Washington Wilbur, his face more serene. “If she hadn’t been she would have noticed my mustache.”

“True.”

“She spoke kindly. If–if she had seen how old I was, it would have been different, don’t you think so?”

“Yes, no doubt.”

“There is only one thing to do,” said Mr. Wilbur, in a tone of calm resolve.

“What is that?” inquired Phil, in some curiosity.

“I must wear a stove-pipe hat! As you say, I am small, and a near-sighted person might easily suppose me to be younger than I am. Now, with a
stove-pipe hat I shall look much older.”

“Yes, I presume so.”

“Then I can make her acquaintance again, and she will not mistake me. Phil, why don’t you wear a stove-pipe?”

“Because I don’t want to look any older than I am. Besides, an errand-boy wouldn’t look well in a tall hat.”

“No, perhaps not.”

“And Mr. Pitkin would hardly like it.”

“Of course. When you are a salesman like me it will be different.”

Mr. Wilbur was beginning to recover his complacency, which had been so rudely disturbed.

“I suppose you wouldn’t think of marrying on your present salary?” said Phil. “Six dollars a week wouldn’t support a married pair very well.”

“The firm would raise my salary. They always do when a man marries. Besides, I have other resources.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes; I am worth two thousand dollars. It was left me by an aunt, and is kept in trust for me until I am twenty-one. I receive the interest now.”

“I congratulate you,” said Phil, who was really pleased to hear of his companion’s good fortune.

“That money will come in handy.”

“Besides, I expect SHE’S got money,” continued Mr. Wilbur. “Of course, I love her for herself alone–I am not mercenary–still, it will be a help when we are married.”

“So it will,” said Phil, amused at the confident manner in which Mr. Wilbur spoke of marriage with a lady of whom he knew absolutely nothing.

“Philip,” said Mr. Wilbur, “when I marry, I want you to stand up with me–to be my groomsman.”

“If I am in the city, and can afford to buy a dress-suit, I might consent.”

“Thank you. You are a true friend!” said Mr. Wilbur, squeezing his hand fervently.

The two returned to Mr. Wilbur’s room and had a chat. At an early hour Phil returned to his own boarding-place.

As time passed on, Phil and Wilbur spent considerable time together out of the store. Mr. G. Washington Wilbur, apart from his amusing traits, was a youth of good principles and good disposition, and Phil was glad of his company. Sometimes they went to cheap amusements, but not often, for neither had money to spare for such purposes.

Some weeks after Phil’s entrance upon his duties Mr. Wilbur made a proposal to Phil of a startling nature.

“Suppose we have our fortunes told, Phil?” he said.

“If it would help my fortune, or hurry it up, I shouldn’t object,” said Phil, smiling.

“I want to know what fate has in store for me,” said Wilbur.

“Do you think the fortune-tellers know any better than you do?” asked Phil incredulously.

“They tell some strange things,” said Wilbur.

“What, for instance?”

“An aunt of mine went to a fortune-teller and asked if she would ever be married, and when? She was told that she would be married before she was twenty-two, to a tall, light-complexioned man.”

“Did it come true?”

“Yes, every word,” said Mr. Wilbur solemnly. “She was married three months before her twenty- second birthday, and her husband was just the kind of man that was predicted. Wasn’t that strange?”

“The fortune-teller might easily have guessed all that. Most girls are married as young as that.”

“But not to tall, light-complexioned men!” said Wilbur triumphantly.

“Is there anything you wish particularly to know?” asked Phil.

“I should like to know if I am going to marry– you know who.”

“The daisy?”

“Yes.”

Phil was not much in favor of the scheme, but finally agreed to it.

There was a certain “Veiled Lady,” who advertised her qualifications in the Herald, as the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and therefore gifted with the power to read the future. Mr. Wilbur made choice of her, and together they went to call upon her one evening.

They were shown into an anteroom, and in due time Mr. Wilbur was called into the dread presence. He was somewhat nervous and agitated, but “braced up,” as he afterward expressed it, and went in. He wanted Phil to go in with him, but the attendant said that madam would not allow it, and he went forward alone.

Fifteen minutes afterward he re-entered the room with a radiant face.

“Have you heard good news?” asked Phil.

Mr. Wilbur nodded emphatically and whispered, for there were two others in waiting:

“It’s all right. I am to marry her.”

“Did the fortune-teller say so?”

“Yes.”

“Did she give her name?”

“No, but she described her so that I knew her at once.”

“Will it be soon?” asked Phil slyly.

“Not till I am twenty-four,” answered Mr. Wilbur soberly. “But perhaps she may be mistaken about that. Perhaps she thought I was older than I am.”

“Do you doubt her knowledge, then?”

“No; at any rate, I can wait, since she is to be mine at last. Besides, I am to be rich. When I am thirty years old I am to be worth twenty thousand dollars.”

“I congratulate you, Wilbur,” said Phil, smiling. “You are all right, at least,”

“The next gentleman!” said the attendant.

Phil entered the inner room, and looked about him in curiosity.

A tall woman sat upon a sort of throne, with one hand resting on a table beside her. A tall wax- taper supplied the place of the light of day, which was studiously excluded from the room by thick, dark curtains. Over the woman’s face was a black veil, which gave her an air of mystery.

“Come hither, boy!” she said, in a clear, commanding voice.

Phil advanced, not wholly unimpressed, though he felt skeptical.

The woman bent forward, starting slightly and scanned his face eagerly.

CHAPTER XV.

PHIL AND THE FORTUNE-TELLER.

Do you wish to hear of the past or the future?” asked the fortune-teller.

“Tell me something of the past,” said Phil, with a view of testing the knowledge of the seeress.

“You have left an uncongenial home to seek your fortune in New York. You left without regret, and those whom you have left behind do not miss you.”

Phil started in amazement. This was certainly true.

“Shall I find the fortune I seek?” asked our hero earnestly.

“Yes, but not in the way you expect. You think yourself alone in the world!”

The fortune-teller paused, and looked searchingly at the boy.

“So I am,” returned Phil.

“No boy who has a father living can consider himself alone.”

“My father is dead!” returned Phil, growing skeptical.

“You are mistaken.”

“I am not likely to be mistaken in such a matter. My father died a few months since.”

“Your father still lives!” said the fortune-teller sharply. “Do not contradict me!”

“I don’t see how you can say that. I attended his funeral.”

“You attended the funeral of the man whose name you bear. He was not your father.”

Phil was much excited by this confirmation of his step-mother’s story. He had entertained serious doubts of its being true, thinking it might have been trumped up by Mrs. Brent to drive him from home, and interfere with his succession to any part of Mr. Brent’s property.

“Is my step-mother’s story true, then?” he asked breathlessly. “She told me I was not the son of Mr. Brent.”

“Her story was true,” said the veiled lady.

“Who is my real father, then?”

The lady did not immediately reply. She seemed to be peering into distant space, as she said slowly:

“I see a man of middle size, dark-complexioned, leading a small child by the hand. He pauses before a house–it looks like an inn. A lady comes out from the inn. She is kindly of aspect. She takes the child by the hand and leads him into the inn. Now I see the man go away–alone. The little child remains behind. I see him growing up. He has become a large boy, but the scene has changed. The inn has disappeared. I see a pleasant village and a comfortable house. The boy stands at the door. He is well-grown now. A lady stands on the threshold as his steps turn away. She is thin and sharp-faced. She is not like the lady who welcomed the little child. Can you tell me who this boy is?” asked the fortune-teller, fixing her eyes upon Phil.

“It is myself!” he answers, his flushed face showing the excitement he felt.

“You have said!”

“I don’t know how you have learned all this,” said Phil, “but it is wonderfully exact. Will you answer a question?”

“Ask!”

“You say my father–my real father–is living?”

The veiled lady bowed her head.

“Where is he?”

“That I cannot say, but he is looking for you.”

“He is in search of me?”

“Yes.”

“Why has he delayed it so long?”

“There are circumstances which I cannot explain which have prevented his seeking and claiming you.”

“Will he do so?”

“I have told you that he is now seeking for you. I think he will find you at last.”

“What can I do to bring this about?”

“Do nothing! Stay where you are. Circumstances are working favorably, but you must wait. There are some drawbacks.”

“What are they?”

“You have two enemies, or rather one, for the other does not count.”

“Is that enemy a man?”

“No, it is a woman.”

“My step-mother!” ejaculated Phil, with immediate conviction.

“You have guessed aright.”

“And who is the other?”

“A boy.”

“Jonas?”

“It is the son of the woman whom you call your step-mother.”

“What harm can they do me? I am not afraid of them,” said Phil, raising his head proudly.

“Do not be too confident! The meanest are capable of harm. Mrs. Brent does not like you because she is a mother.”

“She fears that I will interfere with her son.”

“You are all right.”

“Is there anything more you can tell me?” asked Phil. “Have I any other enemies?”

“Yes; there are two more–also a woman and her son.”

“That puzzles me. I can think of no one.”

“They live in the city.”

“I know. It is Mrs. Pitkin, my employer’s wife. Why should she dislike me?”

“There is an old man who likes you. That is the cause.”

“I see. She doesn’t want him to be kind to any one out of the family.”

“That is all I have to tell you,” said the fortune- teller abruptly. “You can go.”

“You have told me strange things,” said Phil. “Will you tell me how it is you know so much about a stranger?”

“I have nothing more to tell you. You can go!” said the veiled lady impatiently.

“At least tell me how much I am to pay you.”

“Nothing.”

“But I thought you received fees.”

“Not from you.”

“Did you not take something from my friend who was in here before me?”

“Yes.”

“You told him a good fortune.”

“He is a fool!” said the fortune-teller contemptuously. “I saw what he wanted and predicted it.”

She waved her hand, and Phil felt that he had no excuse for remaining longer.

He left the room slowly, and found Mr. Wilbur anxiously awaiting him.

“What did she tell you, Phil?” he asked eagerly. “Did she tell you what sort of a wife you would have?”

“No. I didn’t ask her,” answered Phil, smiling.

“I should think you’d want to know. What did she tell you, then?”

“She told me quite a number of things about my past life and the events of my childhood.”

“I shouldn’t have cared about that,” said Wilbur, shrugging his shoulders. “Why, I know all about that myself. What I want to know about is, whether I am to marry the girl I adore.”

“But you see, Wilbur, I don’t adore anybody. I am not in love as you are.”

“Of course that makes a difference,” said Wilbur. “I’m glad I came, Phil. Ain’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Phil slowly.

“You see, it’s such a satisfaction to know that all is coming right at last. I am to marry HER, you know, and although it isn’t till I am twenty- four—-“

“She will be nearly thirty by that time,” said Phil slyly.

“She won’t look it!” said Mr. Wilbur, wincing a little. “When I am thirty I shall be worth twenty thousand dollars.”

“You can’t save it very soon out of six dollars a week.”

“That is true. I feel sure I shall be raised soon. Did the fortune-teller say anything about your getting rich?”

“No. I can’t remember that she did. Oh, yes! she said I would make my fortune, but not in the way I expected.”

“That is queer!” said Mr. Wilbur, interested. “What could she mean?”

“I suppose she meant that I would not save a competence out of five dollars a week.”

“Maybe so.”

“I have been thinking, Wilbur, you have an advantage over the young lady you are to marry. You know that you are to marry her, but she doesn’t know who is to be her husband.”

“That is true,” said Wilbur seriously. “If I can find out her name, I will write her an anonymous letter, asking her to call on the veiled Lady.”

CHAPTER XVI.

MRS. BRENT’S STRANGE TEMPTATION.

Now that Phil is fairly established in the city, circumstances require us to go back to the country town which he had once called home.

Mrs. Brent is sitting, engaged with her needle, in the same room where she had made the important revelation to Phil.

Jonas entered the house, stamping the snow from his boots.

“Is supper most ready, mother?” he asked.

“No, Jonas; it is only four o’clock,” replied Mrs. Brent.

“I’m as hungry as a bear. I guess it’s the skating.”

“I wish you would go to the post-office before supper, Jonas. There might be a letter.”

“Do you expect to hear from Phil?”

“He said nothing about writing,” said Mrs. Brent indifferently. “He will do as he pleases about it.”

“I did’nt know but he would be writing for money,” chuckled Jonas.

“If he did, I would send him some,” said Mrs. Brent.

“You would!” repeated Jonas, looking at his mother in surprise.

“Yes, I would send him a dollar or two, so that people needn’t talk. It is always best to avoid gossip.”

“Are you expecting a letter from anybody, mother?” asked Jonas, after a pause.

“I dreamed last night I should receive an important letter,” said Mrs. Brent.

“With money in it?” asked Jonas eagerly.

“I don’t know.”

“If any such letter comes, will you give me some of the money?”

“If you bring me a letter containing money,” said Mrs. Brent, “I will give you a dollar.”

“Enough said!” exclaimed Jonas, who was fond of money; “I’m off to the post-office at once.”

Mrs. Brent let the work fall into her lap and looked intently before her. A flush appeared on her pale face, and she showed signs of restlessness.

“It is strange,” she said to herself, “how I have allowed myself to be affected by that dream. I am not superstitious, but I cannot get over the idea that a letter will reach me to-night, and that it will have an important bearing upon my life. I have a feeling, too, that it will relate to the boy Philip.”

She rose from her seat and began to move about the room. It was a, relief to her in the restless state of her mind. She went to the window to look for Jonas, and her excitement rose as she saw him approaching. When he saw his mother looking from the window, he held aloft a letter.

“The letter has come,” she said, her heart beating faster than its wont. “It is an important letter. How slow Jonas is.”

And she was inclined to be vexed at the deliberation with which her son was advancing toward the house.

But he came at last.

“Well, mother, I’ve got a letter–a letter from Philadelphia,” he said. “It isn’t from Phil, for I know his writing.”

“Give it to me, Jonas,” said his mother, outwardly calm, but inwardly excited.

“Do you know any one in Philadelphia, mother?”

“No.”

She cut open the envelope and withdrew the inclosed sheet.

“Is there any money in it?” asked Jonas eagerly.

“No.”

“Just my luck!” said Jonas sullenly.

“Wait a minute,” said his mother. “If the letter is really important, I’ll give you twenty-five cents.”

She read the letter, and her manner soon showed that she was deeply interested.

We will look over her shoulders and read it with her:

“CONTINENTAL HOTEL, PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 5. “DEAR MADAM:–I write to you on a matter of the greatest importance to my happiness, and shall most anxiously await your reply. I would come to you in person, but am laid up with an attack of rheumatism, and my physician forbids me to travel.

“You are, as I have been informed, the widow of Gerald Brent, who thirteen years since kept a small hotel in the small village of Fultonville, in Ohio. At that date I one day registered myself as his guest. I was not alone. My only son, then a boy of three, accompanied me. My wife was dead, and my affections centered upon this child. Yet the next morning I left him under the charge of yourself and your husband, and pursued my journey. From that day to this I have not seen the boy, nor have I written to you or Mr. Brent. This seems strange, does it not? It requires an explanation, and that explanation I am ready to give.

“To be brief, then, I was fleeing from undeserved suspicion. Circumstances which I need not detail had connected my name with the mysterious disappearance of a near friend, and the fact that a trifling dispute between us had taken place in the presence of witnesses had strengthened their suspicions. Knowing myself to be innocent, but unable to prove it, I fled, taking my child with me. When I reached Fultonville, I became alive to the ease with which I might be traced, through the child’s companionship. There was no resource but to leave him. Your husband and yourself impressed me as kind and warm-hearted. I was specially impressed by the gentleness with which you treated my little Philip, and I felt that to you I could safely trust him. I did not, however, dare to confide my secret to any one. I simply said I would leave the boy with you till he should recover from his temporary indisposition, and then, with outward calmness but inward anguish, I left my darling, knowing not if I should ever see him again.

“Well, time passed. I went to Nevada, changed my name, invested the slender sum I had with me in mining, and, after varying fortune, made a large fortune at last. But better fortune still awaited me. In a poor mining hut, two months since, I came across a man who confessed that he was guilty of the murder of which I had been suspected. His confession was reduced in writing, sworn to before a magistrate, and now at last I feel myself a free man. No one now could charge me with a crime from which my soul revolted.

“When this matter was concluded, my first thought was of the boy whom I had not seen for thirteen long years. I could claim him now before all the world; I could endow him with the gifts of fortune; I could bring him up in luxury, and I could satisfy a father’s affectionate longing. I could not immediately ascertain where you were. I wrote to Fultonville, to the postmaster, and learned that you and Mr. Brent had moved away and settled down in Gresham, in the State of New York. I learned also that my Philip was still living, but other details I did not learn. But I cared not, so long as my boy still lived.

“And now you may guess my wish and my intention. I shall pay you handsomely for your kind care of Philip, but I must have my boy back again. We have been separated too long. I can well understand that you are attached to him, and I will find a home for you and Mr. Brent near my own, where you can see as often as you like the boy whom you have so tenderly reared. Will you do me the favor to come at once, and bring the boy with you? The expenses of your journey shall, of course, be reimbursed, and I will take care that the pecuniary part of my obligations to you shall be amply repaid. I have already explained why I cannot come in person to claim my dear child.

“Telegraph to me when you will reach Philadelphia, and I will engage a room for you. Philip will stay with me. Yours gratefully,
“OSCAR GRANVILLE.”

“Mother, here is a slip of paper that has dropped from the letter,” said Jonas.

He picked up and handed to his mother a check on a Philadelphia bank for the sum of one hundred dollars.

“Why, that’s the same as money, isn’t it?” asked Jonas.

“Yes, Jonas.”

“Then you’ll keep your promise, won’t you?”

Mrs. Brent silently drew from her pocket-book a two-dollar bill and handed it to Jonas.

“Jonas,” she said, “if you won’t breathe a word of it, I will tell you a secret.”

“All right, mother.”

“We start for Philadelphia to-morrow.”

“By gosh! that’s jolly,” exclaimed Jonas, overjoyed. “I’ll keep mum. What was in the letter,
mother?”

“I will not tell you just now. You shall know very soon.”

Mrs. Brent did not sleep much that night. Her mind was intent upon a daring scheme of imposture. Mr. Granville was immensely wealthy, no doubt. Why should she not pass off Jonas upon him as his son Philip, and thus secure a fortune for her own child?

CHAPTER XVII.

JONAS JOINS THE CONSPIRACY.

Later in the evening Mrs. Brent took Jonas into her confidence. She was a silent, secretive woman by nature, and could her plan have been carried out without imparting it to any one, she would gladly have had it so. But Jonas must be her active accomplice, and it was as well to let him know at once what he must do.

In the evening, when Jonas, tired with his day’s skating, was lying on the lounge, Mrs. Brent rose deliberately from her seat, peeped into the adjoining room, then went to each window to make sure there was no eavesdropper, then resumed her seat and said:

“Jonas, get up. I want to speak to you.”

“I am awfully tired, mother. I can hear you while I lie here.”

“Jonas, do you hear me? I am about to speak to you of something no other person must hear. Get a chair and draw it close to mine.”

Jonas rose, his curiosity stimulated by his mother’s words and manner.

“Is it about the letter, mother?” he asked.

“Yes, it relates to the letter and our journey to- morrow.”

Jonas had wondered what the letter was about and who had sent his mother the hundred-dollar check, and he made no further objection. He drew a chair in front of his mother and said:

“Go ahead, mother, I’m listening.”

“Would you like to be rich, Jonas?” asked Mrs. Brent.

“Wouldn’t I?”

“Would you like to be adopted by a very rich man, have a pony to ride, plenty of pocket-money, fine clothes and in the end a large fortune?”