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Chapter 31


There had not been many changes in the little town of Hampton since Ben left it. It was one of those quiet New England villages where life moves slowly, and a death or a marriage is an event.

Uncle Job still lived in his plain little cottage with his wife and daughter, and still plied his humble task as the village cobbler, essaying sometimes to make shoes when there were none to be repaired. There was a plat of land belonging to his house rather more than an acre in extent, but land was cheap in Hampton, and it is doubtful whether both house and lot would have brought, if thrown into the market, over one thousand dollars. Uncle Job had at one time about a hundred dollars in the savings bank in a neighboring town--a fund to draw from in an emergency--and this money with his plain home constituted his entire wealth.

Eleven hundred dollars all told! It was not a very brilliant result for forty years' labor, beginning with the days of his boyhood; but Job Stanton was not ambitious, and he actually felt well-to-do. He earned enough to supply the simple wants of his family, and had something over, and this satisfied him.

But one day a strong temptation came to Job Stanton, and he yielded to it.

A trader came riding over from a neighboring town and called on Uncle Job. The good man thought he had come to order a new pair of shoes, and felt flattered that such a dashing man should have gone so far out of his way to patronize him.

"I'm glad to see you, Mr. Richmond," he said. "Won't you set down?"

He should have said sit, but Job Stanton's educational advantages had been very limited.

"I don't care if I do. Snug place you've got here, Mr. Stanton."

"It's very plain and humble, but it's home, and I set by it," answered Job, who was busily engaged in tapping a shoe belonging to Eliphalet Nourza, a farm-laborer.

"I've come over to see you on a little business, Mr. Stanton," said the trader, affably.

"Jest so!" returned Uncle Job cheerfully, glancing over his spectacles at the trader's shoes to see if they looked much worn. "Want a pair of new shoes, I reckon?"

"I shall need a new pair soon," said Richmond, "but that isn't exactly what I meant."

It flashed across Job Stanton's mind that his visitor might be going to make him an offer for the old place, but he felt that he could not bear to part with it. He had lived there ever since he was married, thirty-five years ago, and there Jennie, the child of his old age, had been born.

But the trader's next sentence relieved him of this thought.

"The fact is, Uncle Job," proceeded the trader, adopting the title by which the shoemaker was generally known in Hampton, "I've got a favor to ask of you."

"'A favor to ask of me'?" repeated Job, looking up with some surprise at the well-dressed merchant, who seemed by his presence to honor the homely little shop.

"Yes," continued Richmond, with gravity; "I want you to indorse my note for five hundred dollars."

"What made you come to me?" asked Job Stanton in surprise. "I am not a capitalist; I am a poor man."

"Oh, well, you're good for five hundred dollars."

"Yes," answered Job with some complacency; "my place here is worth twice that, let alone the money I've got in the savings bank."

"Of course it is."

"Still, I don't want to run no risk. You'd better go to some moneyed man--like Major Sturgis, for instance."

"Why, the fact is, Uncle Job, it's the major that lets me have the money on my note, but he stipulated that I should have an indorser, and he particularly mentioned you."

"That's cur'us!" said Job. "Why should he think of me?"

"Oh, he knew you were a reliable man."

"How does it happen that you need money?" asked Job, bluntly. "Isn't your business good?"

"That's just it," said Richmond, glibly. "It's so good that I've got to extend my stock, and that takes money. I'm turning money over all the time, and it won't be long before I am able to retire."

"I'm glad of that, but I don't quite understand, if that's so, why you're short of funds."

"It's clear you are not a business-man," said Richmond, laughing, "but I think I can explain to you how it is."

He did explain, and the explanation seemed very plausible, yet Job Stanton, who was a cautious man, hesitated.

This brought the trader to his closing argument: "You mustn't think, Uncle Job, that I expect this service for nothing. I am ready to pay you ten dollars for the accommodation, and to order a pair of shoes at your own price."

"That's handsome!" said Job; "and all I've got to do is to sign my name?"

"Just so. It's a mere formality. I shall have the money to pay the note twice over before it comes due."

"Then I wonder the major wants an indorser."

"Oh, it's his invariable custom. 'I know it isn't necessary, Mr. Richmond,' he told me, 'but it's my rule, and I won't break over it, even in your case. If you will get Job Stanton to indorse for you, it will be perfectly satisfactory. I know he is a poor man, but then it's only a form.'"

"Well, I don't know," said Job, doubtfully. "If Ben was here I would ask him."

"You mean your nephew, don't you?"

"Yes, the boy that went to California."

"I'm glad you mentioned him. As soon as he gets back send him to me and I'll give him a place in my store. I've heard he's very smart."

"So he is," said Job, "and I'd like to have him with you, so that he could come to see us once in a while. There ain't no openin' in Hampton."

"Of course not."

"And you'll give Ben a place when he gets home?"

"Certainly; that is, if you indorse my note. I am ready to pay you the ten dollars down."

He drew a crisp bank-note for ten dollars from his pocket, and Job Stanton yielded, for it was a great deal of money to him. I think, however, that he was more influenced by the prospect of obtaining a good place for Ben that would keep him from wandering farther away from home. If he had been shrewder, it would have occurred to him that a prosperous business-man, such as Richmond claimed to be, was unusually anxious for a small accommodation. However, to him five hundred dollars represented a large sum, and it didn't seem at all strange.

So Uncle Job took off his leather apron, ushered his visitor into the sitting-room, and sitting down at the table indorsed the note.

"Thank you," said Richmond. "Here is the ten."

"I don't know as I ought to ask you so much," said Job, with conscientious scruples.

"Oh, that's all right. Now, I'll go into the shop, and you may take my measure for a pair of shoes."

"This has been a lucky day for me," thought Job Stanton. "I've got ten dollars for writing my name, and it isn't often I earn as much as that in a week."

The trader seemed equally pleased, and the two parted in mutual good spirits.

The note was for three months, or ninety days, and Job Stanton thought no more about it. Why should he? Richmond had expressly told him that it was a mere form, and he supposed that this was the case. The ten dollars went to buy new dresses--not very expensive, of course--for his wife and Jennie, and that seemed to be the end of it.

But Job was destined to be undeceived, and that very rudely.

One day he was surprised by a call from his dignified fellow-townsman, Major Sturgis.

"Good-morning, Mr. Stanton," said the major, condescendingly.

"Good-morning, major. I hope your family are quite well."

"Quite well, I thank you."

"What's he come about?" thought Job, wonderingly.

"You indorsed a note for Richmond, the dry-goods man, three months since."

"So I did. Is it really three months?"

"Close upon it, Mr. Stanton. I regret to say that I shall be obliged to call upon you to pay it."

"Me! to pay it!" ejaculated Uncle Job, thunderstruck. "Why, I only indorsed it."

"Precisely. That means that you are to pay it if Richmond doesn't."

"But he will pay it," said the poor shoemaker, eagerly. "He said it was only a matter of form."

"Then he deceived you. I have just received a note from him telling me to look to you."

Horatio Alger