Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter X
A wonderful change came over Mike Flynn. Until he met Rodney he seemed quite destitute of ambition. The ragged and dirty suit which he wore as bootblack were the best he had. His face and hands generally bore the marks of his business, and as long as he made enough to buy three meals a day, two taken at the Lodging House, with something over for lodging, and an occasional visit to a cheap theater, he was satisfied.
He was fifteen, and had never given a thought to what he would do when he was older. But after meeting Rodney, and especially after taking a room with him, he looked at life with different eyes. He began to understand that his business, though honorable because honest, was not a desirable one. He felt, too, that he ought to change it out of regard for Rodney, who was now his close companion.
"If I had ten dollars ahead," he said one day, "I'd give up blackin' boots."
"What else would you do?"
"I'd be a telegraph boy. That's more respectable than blackin' boots, and it 'ould be cleaner."
"That is true. Do you need money to join?"
"I would get paid once in two weeks, and I'd have to live till I got my first salary."
"I guess I can see you through, Mike."
"No; you need all your money, Rodney. I'll wait and see if I can't save it myself."
This, however, would have taken a long time, if Mike had not been favored by circumstances. He was standing near the ladies' entrance to the Astor House one day, when casting his eyes downward he espied a neat pocketbook of Russia leather. He picked it up, and from the feeling judged that it must be well filled.
Now I must admit that it did occur to Mike that he could divert to his own use the contents without detection, as no one had seen him pick it up. But Mike was by instinct an honest boy, and he decided that this would not be right. He thrust it into his pocket, however, as he had no objection to receiving a reward if one was offered.
While he was standing near the entrance, a tall lady, dressed in brown silk and wearing glasses, walked up from the direction of Broadway. She began to peer about like one who was looking for something.
"I guess its hers," thought Mike.
"Are you looking for anything, ma'am?" he asked.
She turned and glanced at Mike.
"I think I must have dropped my pocketbook," she said. "I had it in my hand when I left the hotel, but I had something on my mind and I think I must have dropped it without noticing. Won't you help me look for it, for I am short sighted?"
"Is this it?" asked Mike, producing the pocketbook.
"Oh yes!" exclaimed the lady joyfully. "Where did you find it?"
"Just here," answered Mike, indicating a place on the sidewalk.
"I suppose there is a good deal of money in it?" said Mike, with pardonable curiosity.
"Then you didn't open it?"
"No, ma'am, I didn't have a chance. I just found it."
"There may be forty or fifty dollars, but it isn't on that account I should have regretted losing it. It contained a receipt for a thousand dollars which I am to use in a law suit. That is very important for it will defeat a dishonest claim for money that I have already paid."
"Then I'm glad I found it."
"You are an honest boy. You seem to be a poor boy also."
"That's true, ma'am. If I was rich I wouldn't black boots for a livin'."
"Dear me, you are one of the young street Arabs I've read about," and the lady looked curiously at Mike through her glasses.
"I expect I am."
"And I suppose you haven't much money."
"My bank account is very low, ma'am."
"I've read a book about a boy named `Ragged Dick.' I think he was a bootblack, too. Do you know him?"
"He's my cousin, ma'am," answered Mike promptly.
It will be observed that I don't represent Mike as possessed of all the virtues.
"Dear me, how interesting. I bought the book for my little nephew. Now I can tell him I have seen `Ragged Dick's' cousin. Where is Dick now?"
"He's reformed, ma'am."
"Yes, from blackin' boots. He's in better business now."
"If I should give you some of the money in this pocketbook, you wouldn't spend it on drinking and gambling, would you?"
"No, ma'am. I'd reform like my cousin, Ragged Dick."
"You look like a good truthful boy. Here are ten dollars for you."
"Oh, thank you, ma'am! you're a gentleman," said Mike overjoyed. "No, I don't mean that but I hope you'll soon get a handsome husband."
"My young friend, I don't care to marry, though I appreciate your good wishes. I am an old maid from principle. I am an officer of the Female Suffrage Association."
"Is it a good payin' office, ma'am?" asked Mike, visibly impressed.
"No, but it is a position of responsibility. Please tell me your name that I may make a note of it."
"My name is Michael Flynn."
"I see. You are of Celtic extraction."
"I don't know, ma'am. I never heard that I was. It isn't anything bad, is it?"
"Not at all. I have some Celtic blood in my own veins. If you ever come to Boston you can inquire for Miss Pauline Peabody."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Mike, who thought the lady rather a "queer lot."
"Now I must call upon my lawyer, and leave the receipt which I came so near losing."
"Well, I'm in luck," thought Mike. "I'll go home and dress up, and apply for a position as telegraph boy."
When Rodney came home at supper time he found Mike, dressed in his Sunday suit.
"What's up now, Mike?" he asked. "Have you retired from business?"
"Yes, from the bootblack business. Tomorrow I shall be a telegraph boy."
"That is good. You haven't saved up ten dollars, have you?"
"I saved up two, and a lady gave me ten dollars for findin' her pocketbook."
"That's fine, Mike."
There chanced to be a special demand for telegraph boys at that time, and Mike, who was a sharp lad, on passing the necessary examination, was at once set to work.
He was immensely fond of his blue uniform when he first put it on, and felt that he had risen in the social scale. True, his earnings did not average as much, but he was content with smaller pay, since the duties were more agreeable.
In the evenings under Rodney's instruction he devoted an hour and sometimes two to the task of making up the deficiencies in his early education. These were extensive, but Mike was naturally a smart boy, and after a while began to improve rapidly.
So three months passed. Rodney stood well in with Mr. Goodnow, and was promoted to stock clerk. The discipline which he had revived as a student stood him in good stead, and enabled him to make more rapid advancement than some who had been longer in the employ of the firm. In particular he was promoted over the head of Jasper Redwood, a boy two years older than himself, who was the nephew of an old employee who had been for fifteen years in the house.
Jasper's jealousy was aroused, and he conceived a great dislike for Rodney, of which Rodney was only partially aware.
For this dislike there was really no cause. Rodney stood in his way only because Jasper neglected his duties, and failed to inspire confidence. He was a boy who liked to spend money and found his salary insufficient, though he lived with his uncle and paid but two dollars a week for his board.
"Uncle James," he said one day, "when do you think I will get a raise?"
"You might get one now if it were not for the new boy."
"You mean Ropes."
"Yes, he has just been promoted to a place which I hoped to get for you."
"It is mean," grumbled Jasper. "I have been here longer than he."
"True, but he seems to be Mr. Goodnow's pet. It was an unlucky day for you when he got a place in the establishment."
"Did you ask Mr. Goodnow to promote me?"
"Yes, but he said he had decided to give Archer's place to Ropes."
Archer was a young clerk who was obliged, on account of pulmonary weakness, to leave New York and go to Southern California.
"How much does Ropes get now?"
"Seven dollars a week."
"And I only get five, and I am two years older. They ought to have more regard for you, Uncle James, or I, as your nephew, would get promoted."
"I will see what we can do about it."
"I wish Ropes would get into some scrape and get discharged."
It was a new idea, but Jasper dwelt upon it, and out of it grew trouble for Rodney.