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Chapter 22

THE YOUNG TEA MERCHANT


The next morning, at breakfast, one of the gentlemen, who had been running his eyes over the morning paper, said, suddenly:

"Ah! I see they have caught one of the gang who robbed the house of Mr. Percival, on Madison Avenue, a week ago."

"Read the paragraph, Mr. Smith," said one of the boarders.

Mr. Smith read as follows:

"About noon yesterday a boy entered the banking house of Jones & Robinson, in Wall Street, and offered for sale two one-hundred-dollar government bonds. On inquiry, he said that the bonds belonged to a man in the street, whom he had never before met, and who had offered him a dollar to sell them. This naturally excited suspicion, and a policeman was sent for. Before he could arrive the man had hastily departed, requesting the boy to meet him at a specified hour in front of the Astor House and hand him the money. He came to the rendezvous, but in disguise, and, while talking to the boy, was arrested. It is understood that he has agreed to turn State's evidence, and probably the entire sum stolen, amounting to several thousand dollars, will be recovered."

Frank listened to this paragraph with interest. He was glad that his name was not mentioned in the account, as he didn't care for such publicity. He ventured to ask a question.

"Is Mr. Percival a rich man?" he asked.

"Very rich," answered Mr. Smith. "He is not now in the city, but is expected home from Europe in three or four weeks. His house was left in charge of an old servant—a coachman—and his wife; but the burglars proved too much for them."

"I am glad they are caught," said Mrs. Fletcher. "It makes my blood run cold to think of having the houses entered at night by burglars."

"Preston," said Mr. Smith, jokingly, "I hope you have your bonds locked securely up."

"I don't believe the sharpest burglar can find them," said Preston. "I only wish I could get hold of them myself."

"The boy who helped to capture the burglar ought to be well rewarded," said one of the boarders.

"Don't you wish it had been you, Courtney?" said Mr. Preston.

"It was," answered Frank, quietly.

There was a great sensation upon this announcement. All eyes were turned upon our hero—most, it must be admitted, with an expression of incredulity.

"Come, now, you are joking!" said Preston. "You don't really mean it?"

"I do mean it," assured Frank.

"Tell us all about it," said Mrs. Fletcher, who had her share of curiosity. "I didn't suppose we had such a hero in our house."

"It didn't require much heroism," said Frank, smiling.

"Tell us all about it, at any rate."

Frank told the story as simply as he could, much to the satisfaction of the company.

"You'll come in for a handsome reward, when Mr. Percival gets home," suggested Mr. Smith.

"I don't expect anything," said Frank. "I shall be satisfied if I get the dollar which was promised me. I haven't received that yet."

"I wish I were in your shoes—that's all I've got to say," said Preston, nodding vigorously. "Will you sell out for five dollars?"

"Cash down?" asked Frank, smiling.

"Well, I'll give you my note at thirty days," said the Sixth Avenue salesman, who seldom kept five dollars in advance of his liabilities.

"I won't sell what I haven't got," said Frank. "Probably I shall hear nothing from Mr. Percival."

After breakfast Frank went downtown and sought the store of the Great Pekin Company.

After half an hour's delay—for there were others in advance of him—he was fitted out with samples and started for Brooklyn.

It was his first visit to that city, but he had received some directions which made his expedition less embarrassing.

At the ferry he took a Flatbush Avenue car, and rode up Fulton Street, and past the City Hall, up Fulton Avenue, for nearly a mile.

Here were interesting streets, lined with comfortable houses—for Frank had made up his mind first to try private houses. He had with him a few pound parcels of tea, which he thought he could perhaps succeed in disposing of at such places.

He selected a house at random, and rang the bell.

A servant answered the ring.

Frank felt rather embarrassed, but there was no time to hesitate.

"I have some samples of tea with me," he began, "of excellent quality and at reasonable prices."

"It's no use," said the girl, abruptly. "We never buy of peddlers," and she closed the door in his face.

"Not a very good beginning," thought Frank, rather mortified. "So I am a peddler," he said to himself, and he called to mind the agents and peddlers who in past years had called at the Cedars.

With some compunction, he remembered that he had regarded them with some contempt as traveling nuisances. Now he had entered the ranks of this despised class, and he began to see that they might be perfectly respectable, and were estimable persons, animated by a praiseworthy desire to make an honest living.

Thus thinking, he called at another door.

It was opened, not by a servant, but by an elderly maiden lady, who had rather a weakness for bargains.

"I've got some nice tea," said Frank, "which I should like to sell you. It is put up by the Great Pekin Company."

"Are you sure it's nice?" asked the elderly lady. "We've been getting ours at the grocery store on the avenue, and the last wasn't very good."

"You'd better try a pound of ours," said Frank.

"I don't know but I will," said the lady. "How much do you charge?"

"I have some at fifty cents, some at sixty and some at seventy."

"I guess I'll take the sixty."

Frank had a pound parcel ready, which he delivered to her, and received his money.

"Seems to me you are pretty young for a peddler," said the lady, regarding Frank with curiosity.

"Yes, ma'am."

"How old be you?"

"Sixteen."

"Been long in the business?"

"No, ma'am; I've only just commenced."

"You don't say so! Do you make much money at it?"

"I haven't made much yet. I should be glad to supply you with some more tea when this is gone."

"Well, you can call if you are round this way. If I like it, I will try you again."

Frank's spirits rose.

His profits on the pound of tea were twelve cents. This was not much, certainly, but it was a beginning.

At the next three houses he sold nothing, being rather rudely rebuffed at one. At the fourth house, the servant called her mistress, a kind, motherly-looking woman, who seemed to regard Frank with more interest than his merchandise.

"I hope you are succeeding well," she said, kindly.

"This is my first day," said Frank, "and I have made one sale."

"I have a son who is an agent like you, but he didn't begin so young. He is now traveling in the West."

"What is he selling?" asked Frank, with interest.

"Dry goods. He travels for a wholesale house in New York."

"I suppose he is a young man."

"Yes; he is twenty-five, but he began at nineteen in a small way. He sometimes got quite discouraged at first. That is why I feel interested in any who are passing through the same experience."

These pleasant words cheered Frank. Only at the nearest house he had been called a tramp, but here he found that he was regarded with consideration.

"It is rather uphill work," said Frank.

"And you seem very young."

"I am sixteen."

"Are you entirely dependent on what you earn?" asked the lady, sympathizingly.

"Not entirely," answered the young merchant, "but I hope to make a living in this or some other way. Can I sell you any?" he asked, hopefully.

"I believe we have some on hand. Still tea will always keep, and I would like to help you along."

The kind-hearted lady took three pounds—two at sixty cents and one at seventy. This gave Frank a profit thirty-eight cents and put him in good spirits.

He worked his way back to the avenue on the other side of the street, and coming to a grocery store, entered.

It occurred to him that he would try to sell some at wholesale.

Frank was so young that the dealer did not suppose him to be an agent, and asked what he would like to buy.

"I came to sell, not to buy," said Frank.

"What are you dealing in?" asked the grocer.

"I have several samples of tea," said our hero. "If you will give me an order, I will have it sent to you to-morrow."

The grocer found, upon examination, that his stock was getting low, and gave Frank an order, but he was obliged to sell below the regular price, and only cleared three cents a pound. Still, on a sale of twenty-five pounds, this gave him seventy-five cents, which was very encouraging.

Adding up his profits, thus far, Frank found that his commission amounted to a dollar and a quarter, which exceeded his anticipations.

He continued his calls, but sold only one pound besides, at fifty cents, netting him ten cents more.

Horatio Alger