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The office of the steamer was on the wharf from which it was to start. Already a considerable amount of freight was lying on the wharf ready to be loaded. Joe made his way to the office.
"Well, boy, what's your business?" inquired a stout man with a red face, who seemed to be in charge.
"Is this the office of the California steamer, sir?"
"What is the lowest price for passage?"
"A hundred dollars for the steerage."
When Joe heard this his heart sank within him. It seemed to be the death-blow to his hopes. He had but fifty dollars, or thereabouts, and there was no chance whatever of getting the extra fifty.
"Couldn't I pay you fifty dollars now and the rest as soon as I can earn it in California?" he pleaded.
"We don't do business in that way."
"I'd be sure to pay it, sir, if I lived," said Joe. "Perhaps you think I am not honest."
"I don't know whether you are or not," said the agent cavalierly. "We never do business in that way."
Joe left the office not a little disheartened.
"I wish it had been a hundred dollars Aunt Susan left me," he said to himself.
Joe's spirits were elastic, however. He remembered that Seth had never given him reason to suppose that the money he had would pay his passage by steamer. He had mentioned working his passage in a sailing-vessel round the Horn. Joe did not like that idea so well, as the voyage would probably last four months, instead of twenty-five days, and so delay his arrival.
The afternoon slipped away almost without Joe's knowledge. He walked about, here and there, gazing with curious eyes at the streets, and warehouses, and passing vehicles, and thinking what a lively place New York was, and how different life was in the metropolis from what it had been to him in the quiet country town which had hitherto been his home. Somehow it seemed to wake Joe up, and excite his ambition, to give him a sense of power which he had never felt before.
"If I could only get a foothold here," thought Joe, "I should be willing to work twice as hard as I did on the farm."
This was what Joe thought. I don't say that he was correct. There are many country boys who make a mistake in coming to the city. They forsake quiet, comfortable homes, where they have all they need, to enter some city counting-room, or store, at starvation wages, with, at best, a very remote prospect of advancement and increased risk of falling a prey to temptation in some of the many forms which it assumes in a populous town. A boy needs to be strong, and self-reliant, and willing to work if he comes to the city to compete for the prizes of life. As the story proceeds, we shall learn whether Joe had these necessary qualifications.
When supper was over he went into the public room of the Commercial Hotel, and took up a paper to read. There was a paragraph about California, and some recent discoveries there, which he read with avidity.
Though Joe was not aware of it, he was closely observed by a dark-complexioned man, dressed in rather a flashy manner. When our hero laid down the paper this man commenced a conversation.
"I take it you are a stranger in the city, my young friend?" he observed, in an affable manner.
"Yes, sir," answered Joe, rather glad to have some one to speak to. "I only arrived this morning."
"Indeed! May I ask from what part of the country you come?"
"From Oakville, New Jersey."
"Indeed! I know the place. It is quite a charming town."
"I don't know about that," said Joe. "It's pretty quiet and dull—nothing going on."
"So you have come to the city to try your luck?"
"I want to go to California."
"Oh, I see—to the gold-diggings."
"Have you ever been there, sir?"
"No; but I have had many friends go there. When do you expect to start?"
"Why, that is what puzzles me," Joe replied frankly. "I may not be able to go at all."
"I haven't got money enough to buy a ticket."
"You have got some money, haven't you?"
"Yes—I have fifty dollars; but I need that a hundred dollars is the lowest price for a ticket."
"Don't be discouraged, my young friend," said the stranger, in the most friendly manner. "I am aware that the ordinary charge for a steerage ticket is one hundred dollars, but exceptions are sometimes made."
"I don't think they will make one in my case," said Joe. "I told the agent I would agree to pay the other, half as soon as I earned it, but he said he didn't do business in that way."
"Of course. You are a stranger to him, don't you see? That makes all the difference in the world. Now, I happen to be personally acquainted with him. I am sure he would do me a favor. Just give me the fifty dollars, and I'll warrant I'll get the ticket for you."
Joe was not wholly without caution, and the thought of parting with his money to a stranger didn't strike him favorably. Not that he had any doubts as to his new friend's integrity, but it didn't seem businesslike.
"Can't I go with you to the office?" he suggested.
"I think I can succeed better in the negotiation if I am alone," said the stranger. "I'll tell you what—you needn't hand me the money, provided you agree to take the ticket off my hands at fifty dollars if I secure it."
"Certainly I will, and be very thankful to you."
"I always like to help young men along," said the stranger benevolently. "I'll see about it to-morrow. Now, where can I meet you?"
"In this room. How will that do?"
"Perfectly. I am sure I can get the ticket for you. Be sure to have the money ready."
"I'll be sure," said Joe cheerfully.
"And hark you, my young friend," continued the stranger, "don't say a word to any one of what I am going to do for you, or I might have other applications, which I should be obliged to refuse."
"Very well, sir. I will remember."
Punctually at four the next day the stranger entered the room, where Joe was already awaiting him.
"Have you succeeded?" asked Joe eagerly.
The stranger nodded.
"Let us go up to your room and complete our business. For reasons which I have already mentioned, I prefer that the transaction should be secret."
"All right, sir."
Joe got his key, and led the way up-stairs.
"I had a little difficulty with the agent," said the stranger; "but finally he yielded, out of old friendship." He produced a large card, which read thus:
Is Entitled to One Steerage Passage
Below this was printed the name of the agent. Joe paid over the money joyfully.
"I am very much obliged to you," he said gratefully.
"Don't mention it," said the stranger, pocketing the fifty dollars. "Good day! Sorry to leave you, but I am to meet a gentleman at five."
He went down-stairs, and left Joe alone.
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