"Here's your prize packages! Only five cents! Money prize in every package! Walk up, gentlemen, and try your luck!"
The speaker, a boy of fourteen, stood in front of the shabby brick building, on Nassau street, which has served for many years as the New York post office. In front of him, as he stood with his back to the building, was a small basket, filled with ordinary letter envelopes, each labeled "Prize Package."
His attractive announcement, which, at that time, had also the merit of novelty—for Paul had himself hit upon the idea, and manufactured the packages, as we shall hereafter explain—drew around him a miscellaneous crowd, composed chiefly of boys.
"What's in the packages, Johnny?" asked a bootblack, with his box strapped to his back.
"Candy," answered Paul. "Buy one. Only five cents."
"There ain't much candy," answered the bootblack, with a disparaging glance.
"What if there isn't? There's a prize."
"How big a prize?"
"There's a ten-cent stamp in some of 'em. All have got something in 'em."
Influenced by this representation, the bootblack drew out a five-cent piece, and said:
"Pitch one over then. I guess I can stand it." An envelope was at once handed him.
"Open it, Johnny," said a newsboy at his side. Twenty curious eyes were fixed upon him as he opened the package. He drew out rather a scanty supply of candy, and then turning to Paul, with a look of indignation, said:
"Where's the prize? I don't see no prize. Give me back my five cents."
"Give it to me. I'll show you," said the young merchant.
He thrust in his finger, and drew out a square bit of paper, on which was written—One Cent.
"There's your prize," he added, drawing a penny from his pocket.
"It ain't much of a prize," said the buyer. "Where's your ten cents?"
"I didn't say I put ten cents into every package," answered Paul.
"I'd burst up pretty quick if I did that. Who'll have another package? Only five cents!"
Curiosity and taste for speculation are as prevalent among children as with men, so this appeal produced its effect.
"Give me a package," said Teddy O'Brien, a newsboy, stretching out a dirty hand, containing the stipulated sum. He also was watched curiously as he opened the package. He drew out a paper bearing the words—Two Cents.
"Bully for you, Teddy! You've had better luck than I," said the bootblack.
The check was duly honored, and Teddy seemed satisfied, though the amount of candy he received probably could not have cost over half-a-cent. Still, he had drawn twice as large a prize as the first buyer, and that was satisfactory.
"Who'll take the next?" asked Paul, in a businesslike manner. "Maybe there's ten cents in this package. That's where you double your money. Walk up, gentlemen. Only five cents!"
Three more responded to this invitation, one drawing a prize of two cents, the other two of one cent each. Just then, as it seemed doubtful whether any more would be purchased by those present, a young man, employed in a Wall street house, came out of the post office.
"What have you got here?" he asked, pausing.
"Prize packages of candy! Money prize in every package! Only five cents!"
"Give me one, then. I never drew a prize in my life."
The exchange was speedily made.
"I don't see any prize," he said, opening it.
"It's on a bit of paper, mister," said Teddy, nearly as much interested as if it had been his own purchase.
"Oh, yes, I see. Well, I'm in luck. Ten cents!"
"Ten cents!" exclaimed several of the less fortunate buyers, with a shade of envy.
"Here's your prize, mister," said Paul, drawing out a ten-cent stamp from his vest pocket.
"Well, Johnny, you do things on the square, that's a fact. Just keep the ten cents, and give me two more packages."
This Paul did with alacrity; but the Wall street clerk's luck was at an end. He got two prizes of a penny each.
"Well," he said, "I'm not much out of pocket. I've bought three packages, and it's only cost me three cents."
The ten-cent prize produced a favorable effect on the business of the young peddler. Five more packages were bought, and the contents eagerly inspected; but no other large prize appeared. Two cents was the maximum prize drawn. Their curiosity being satisfied, the crowd dispersed; but it was not long before another gathered. In fact, Paul had shown excellent judgment in selecting the front of the post office as his place of business. Hundreds passed in and out every hour, besides those who passed by on a different destination. Thus many ears caught the young peddler's cry—"Prize packages! Only five cents apiece!"—and made a purchase; most from curiosity, but some few attracted by the businesslike bearing of the young merchant, and willing to encourage him in his efforts to make a living. These last, as well as some of the former class, declined to accept the prizes, so that these were so much gain to Paul.
At length but one package remained, and this Paul was some time getting rid of. At last a gentleman came up, holding a little boy of seven by the hand.
"Oh, buy me the package, papa?" he said, drawing his father's attention.
"What is there in it, boy?" asked the gentleman.
"Candy," was the answer.
Alfred, for this was the little boy's name, renewed his entreaties, having, like most boys, a taste for candy.
"There it is, Alfred," said his father, handing the package to his little son.
"There's a prize inside," said Paul, seeing that they were about to pass.
"We must look for the prize by all means," said the gentleman. "What is this? One cent?"
"Yes sir"; and Paul held out a cent to his customer.
"Never mind about that! You may keep the prize."
"I want it, pa," interposed Alfred, with his mouth full of candy.
"I'll give you another," said his father, still declining to accept the proffered prize.
Paul now found himself in the enviable position of one who, at eleven o'clock, had succeeded in disposing of his entire stock in trade, and that at an excellent profit, as we soon shall see. Business had been more brisk with him than with many merchants on a larger scale, who sometimes keep open their shops all day without taking in enough to pay expenses. But, then, it is to be considered that in Paul's case expenses were not a formidable item. He had no rent to pay, for one thing, nor clerk hire, being competent to attend to his entire business single-handed. All his expense, in fact, was the first cost of his stock in trade, and he had so fixed his prices as to insure a good profit on that. So, on the whole, Paul felt very well satisfied at the result of his experiment, for this was his first day in the prize-package business.
"I guess I'll go home," he said to himself. "Mother'll want to know how I made out." He turned up Nassau street, and had reached the corner of Maiden lane, when Teddy O'Brien met him.
"Did you sell out, Johnny?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Paul.
"How many packages did you have?"
"That's bully. How much you made?"
"I can't tell yet. I haven't counted up," said Paul.
"It's better'n sellin' papers, I'll bet. I've only made thirty cents the day. Don't you want to take a partner, Johnny?"
"No, I don't think I do," said Paul, who had good reason to doubt whether such a step would be to his advantage.
"Then I'll go in for myself," said Teddy, somewhat displeased at the refusal.
"Go ahead! There's nobody to stop you," said Paul.
"I'd rather go in with you," said Teddy, feeling that there would be some trouble in making the prize packages, but influenced still more by the knowledge that he had not capital enough to start in the business alone.
"No," said Paul, positively; "I don't want any partner. I can do well enough alone."
He was not surprised at Teddy's application. Street boys are as enterprising, and have as sharp eyes for business as their elders, and no one among them can monopolize a profitable business long. This is especially the case with the young street merchant. When one has had the good luck to find some attractive article which promises to sell briskly, he takes every care to hide the source of his supply from his rivals in trade. But this is almost impossible. Cases are frequent where such boys are subjected to the closest espionage, their steps being dogged for hours by boys who think they have found a good thing and are determined to share it. In the present case Paul had hit upon an idea which seemed to promise well, and he was determined to keep it to himself as long as possible. As soon as he was subjected to competition and rivalry his gains would probably diminish.