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“Ah, there, Dodger!”
Dodger, who had been busily and successfully selling evening papers in front of the Astor House, turned quickly as he heard his name called.
His glance rested on two men, dressed in soiled white hats and shabby suits, who were apparently holding each other up, having both been imbibing.
He at once recognized Hooker and Briggs, for he had waited upon them too many times in Tim’s saloon not to recognize them.
“Well,” he said, cautiously, “what do you want?”
“Tim has sent us for you!” answered the two, in unison.
“What does he want of me?”
“He wants you to come home. He says he can’t get along without you.”
“He will have to get along without me,” said the boy, independently. “Tell him I’m not goin’ back!”
“You’re wrong, Dodger,” said Hooker, shaking his head, solemnly. “Ain’t he your father?”
“No, he ain’t.”
“He says he is,” continued Hooker, looking puzzled.
“That don’t make it so.”
“He ought to know,” put in Briggs.
“Yes; he ought to know!” chimed in Hooker.
“No doubt he does, but he can’t make me believe he’s any relation of mine.”
“Just go and argy the point with him,” said Hooker, coaxingly.
“It wouldn’t do no good.”
“Maybe it would. Just go back with us, that’s a good boy.”
“What makes you so anxious about it?” asked Dodger, suspiciously.
“Well,” said Hooker, coughing, “we’re Tim’s friends, don’t you know.”
“What’s he goin’ to give you if I go back with you?” asked the boy, shrewdly.
“A glass of whiskey!” replied Hooker and Briggs in unison.
“Is that all?”
“Maybe he’d make it two.”
“I won’t go back with you,” said Dodger, after a moment’s thought; “but I don’t want you to lose anything by me. Here’s a dime apiece, and you can go and get a drink somewhere else.”
“You’re a trump, Dodger,” said Hooker, eagerly holding out his hand.
“I always liked you, Dodger,” said Briggs, with a similar motion.
“Now, don’t let Tim know you’ve seen me,” said the newsboy, warningly.
And the interesting pair ambled off in the direction of the Bowery.
“So Tim sent them fellers after me?” soliloqized Dodger. “I guess I’ll have to change my office, or maybe Tim himself will be droppin’ down on me some mornin’. It’ll be harder to get rid of him than of them chumps.”
So it happened that he used to take down his morning papers to the piers on the North River, and take his chance of selling them to passengers from Boston and others ports arriving by the Fall River boats, and others from different points.
The advantage of this was that he often got a chance to serve as guide to strangers visiting the city for the first time, or as porter, to carry their valise or other luggage.
Being a bright, wideawake boy, with a pleasant face and manner, he found his services considerably in demand; and on counting up his money at the end of the week, he found, much to his encouragement, that he had received on an average about a dollar and twenty-five cents per day.
“That’s better than sellin’ papers alone,” thought he. “Besides, Tim isn’t likely to come across me here. I wonder I didn’t think of settin’ up for myself before!”
In the evening he spent an hour, and sometimes more, pursuing his studies, under the direction of Florence. At first his attention was given chiefly to improving his reading and spelling, for Dodger was far from fluent in the first, while his style of spelling many words was strikingly original.
“Ain’t I stupid, Florence?” he asked one day, after spelling a word of three syllables with such ingenious incorrectness as to convulse his young teacher with merriment.
“Not at all, Dodger. You are making excellent progress; but sometimes you are so droll that I can’t help laughing.”
“I don’t mind that if you think I am really gettin’ on.”
“Undoubtedly you are!”
“I make a great many mistakes,” said Dodger, dubiously.
“Yes, you do; but you must remember that you have taken lessons only a short time. Don’t you think you can read a good deal more easily than you did?”
“Yes; I don’t trip up half so often as I did. I’m afraid you’ll get tired of teachin’ me.”
“No fear of that, Dodger. As long as I see that you are improving, I shall feel encouraged to go on.”
“I wish I knew as much as your other scholar.”
“You will in time if you go on. You mustn’t get discouraged.”
“I won’t!” said Dodger, stoutly. “If a little gal like her can learn, I’d ought to be ashamed if I don’t—a big boy of eighteen.”
“It isn’t the size of the boy that counts, Dodger.”
“I know that, but I ain’t goin’ to give in, and let a little gal get ahead of me!”
“Keep to that determination, Dodger, and you will succeed in time, never fear.”
On the whole, Florence enjoyed both her pupils. She had the faculty of teaching, and she became very much interested in both.
As for Dodger, she thought, rough diamond as he was, that she saw in him the making of a manly man, and she felt that it was a privilege to assist in the development of his intellectual nature.
Again, he had picked up a good deal of slang from the nature of his associates, and she set to work to improve his language, and teach him refinement.
It was necessarily a slow process, but she began to find after a time that a gradual change was coming over him.
“I want you to grow up a gentleman, Dodger,” she said to him one day.
“I’m too rough for that, Florence. I’m only an ignorant street boy.”
“You are not going to be an ignorant street boy all your life. I don’t see why you should not grow up a polished gentleman.”
“I shall never be like that de Brabazon young man,” said he.
“No, Dodger; I don’t think you will,” said Florence, laughing. “I don’t want you to become effeminate nor a dude. I think I would like you less than I do now.”
“Do you like me, Florence?” asked Dodger, brightening up.
“To be sure I do. I hope you don’t doubt it.”
“Why, it don’t seem natural-like. You’re a fashionable young lady——”
“Not very fashionable, Dodger, just at present.”
“Well, a high-toned young lady—one of the tip-tops, and I am a rough Bowery boy.”
“You were once, but you are getting over that rapidly. Did you ever hear of Andy Johnson?”
“Who was he?”
“He became President of the United States. Well, at the age of twenty-one he could neither read nor write.”
“At twenty-one?” repeated Dodger. “Why, I’m only eighteen, and I do know something of readin’ and writin’.”
“To be sure! Well, Andy Johnson was taught to read and write by his wife. He kept on improving himself till, in course of time, he became a United States Senator, Vice-President, and afterward, President. Now, I don’t expect you to equal him, but I see no reason why you should not become a well-educated man if you are content to work, and keep on working.”
“I will keep on, Florence,” said Dodger, earnestly.
“If I ever find my relations I don’t want them to be ashamed of me.”
It was not the first time he had referred to his uncertain origin.
“Won’t Tim Bolton tell you anything about your family?”
“No; I’ve asked him more’n once. He always says he’s my father, and that makes me mad.”
“It is strange,” said Florence, thoughtfully. “I had a young cousin stolen many years ago.”
“Was it the son of the old gentleman you lived with on Madison Avenue?”
“Yes; it was the son of Uncle John. It quite broke him down. After my cousin’s loss he felt that he had nothing to live for.”
“I wish I was your cousin, Florence,” said Dodger, thoughtfully.
“Well, then, I will adopt you as my cousin, or brother, whichever you prefer!”
“I would rather be your cousin.”
“Then cousin let it be! Now we are bound to each other by strong and near ties.”
“But when your uncle takes you back you’ll forget all about poor Dodger.”
“No, I won’t, Dodger. There’s my hand on it. Whatever comes, we are friends forever.”
“Then I’ll try not to disgrace you, Florence. I’ll learn as fast as I can, and see if I don’t grow up to be a gentleman.”
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