After supper Paul brushed his clothes carefully and prepared to go to the address given him by Mr. Preston. He decided to walk one way, not wishing to incur the expenses of two railroad fares.
The distance was considerable, and it was nearly eight o'clock when he arrived at his destination.
Paul found himself standing before a handsome house of brown stone. He ascended the steps, and inquired, on the door being opened, if Mr. Preston was at home.
"I'll see," said the servant.
She returned in a short time, and said: "He says you may come upstairs."
Paul followed the servant, who pointed out a door at the head of the first staircase.
Paul knocked, and, hearing "Come in" from within, he opened the door and entered.
He found himself in a spacious chamber, handsomely furnished. Mr. Preston, in dressing-gown and slippers, sat before a cheerful, open fire.
"Come and sit down by the fire," he said, sociably.
"Thank you, sir, I am warm with walking," and Paul took a seat near the door.
"I am one of the cold kind," said Mr. Preston, "and have a fire earlier than most people. You come about the shirts, I suppose?"
"Will your mother undertake them?"
"With pleasure, sir. She can no longer get work from the shop."
"Business dull, I suppose?"
"Then I am glad I thought of giving her the commission. How's business with you to-day, eh?"
"Pretty good, sir."
"How many neckties did you sell?"
"And how much do you get for that?"
"Nine shillings and a half—a dollar and eighteen cents."
"That's pretty good for a boy like you. When I was of your age I was working on a farm for my board and clothes."
"Were you, sir?" asked Paul, interested.
"Yes, I was bound out till I was twenty-one. At the end of that time I was to receive a hundred dollars and a freedom suit to begin the world with. That wasn't a very large capital, eh?"
"But the death of my employer put an end to my apprenticeship at the age of eighteen. I hadn't a penny of money and was thrown upon my own resources. However, I had a pair of good strong arms, and a good stock of courage. I knew considerable about farming, but I didn't like it. I thought I should like trade better. So I went to the village merchant, who kept a small dry-goods store, and arranged with him to supply me with a small stock of goods, which I undertook to sell on commission for him. His business was limited, and having confidence in my honesty, he was quite willing to intrust me with what I wanted. So I set out with my pack on my back and made a tour of the neighboring villages."
Paul listened with eager interest. He had his own way to make, and it was very encouraging to find that Mr. Preston, who was evidently rich and prosperous, was no better off at eighteen than he was now.
"You will want to know how I succeeded. Well, at first only moderately; but I think I had some tact in adapting myself to the different classes of persons with whom I came in contact; at any rate, I was always polite, and that helped me. So my sales increased, and I did a good thing for my employer as well as myself. He would have been glad to employ me for a series of years, but I happened to meet a traveling salesman of a New York wholesale house, who offered to obtain me a position similar to his own. As this would give me a larger field and larger profits, I accepted gladly, and so changed the nature of my employment. I became very successful. My salary was raised from time to time, till it reached five thousand dollars. I lived frugally and saved money, and at length bought an interest in the house by which I had been so long employed. I am now senior partner, and, as you may suppose, very comfortably provided for.
"Do you know why I have told you this?" asked Mr. Preston, noticing the eagerness with which Paul had listened.
"I don't know, sir; but I have been very much interested."
"It is because I like to give encouragement to boys and young men who are now situated as I used to be. I think you are a smart boy."
"Thank you, sir."
"And, though you are poor, you can lift yourself to prosperity, if you are willing to work hard enough and long enough."
"I am not afraid of work," said Paul, promptly.
"No, I do not believe you are. I can tell by a boy's face, and you have the appearance of one who is willing to work hard. How long have you been a street peddler?"
"About a year, sir. Before that time my father was living, and I was kept at school."
"You will find the street a school, though of a different kind, in which you can learn valuable lessons. If you can get time in the evening, however, it will be best to keep up your school studies."
"I am doing that now, sir."
"That is well. And now, about the shirts. Did your mother say how long it would take her to make them?"
"About three weeks, I think, sir. Will that be soon enough?"
"That will do. Perhaps it will be well, however, to bring half the number whenever they are finished."
"All right, sir."
"I suppose your mother can cut them out if I send a shirt as a pattern?"
Mr. Preston rose, and, going to a bureau, took therefrom a shirt which he handed to Paul. He then wrote a few lines on a slip of paper, which he also handed our hero.
"That is an order on Barclay & Co.," he explained, "for the requisite materials. If either you or your mother presents it, they will be given you."
"Very good, sir," said Paul.
He took his cap, and prepared to go.
"Good-evening, Mr. Preston," he said.
"Good-evening. I shall expect you with the shirts when they are ready."
Paul went downstairs and into the street, thinking that Mr. Preston was very sociable and agreeable. He had fancied that rich men were generally "stuck up," but about Mr. Preston there seemed an absence of all pretense. Paul's ambition was aroused when he thought of the story he had heard, and he wondered whether it would be possible for him to raise himself to wealth and live in as handsome a house as Mr. Preston. He thought what a satisfaction it would be if the time should ever come when he could free his mother from the necessity of work, and give little Jimmy a chance to develop his talent for drawing. However, such success must be a long way off, if it ever came.
He had intended to ride home, but his mind was so preoccupied that he forgot all about it, and had got some distance on his way before it occurred to him. Then, not feeling particularly tired, he concluded to keep on walking, as he had commenced.
"It will save me six cents," he reflected, "and that is something. If I am ever going to be a prosperous merchant, I must begin to save now."
So he kept on walking. Passing the Cooper Institute, he came into the Bowery, a broad and busy street, the humble neighbor of Broadway, to which it is nearly parallel.
He was still engaged in earnest thought, when he felt a rude slap on the back. Looking round, he met the malicious glance of Mike Donovan, who probably would not have ventured on such a liberty if he had not been accompanied by a boy a head taller than himself, and, to judge from appearances, of about the same character.
"What did you do that for, Mike?" demanded Paul.
"None of your business. I didn't hurt you, did I?" returned Mike, roughly.
"No, but I don't care to be hit that way by you."
"So you're putting on airs, are you?"
"No, I don't do that," returned Paul; "but I don't care about having anything to do with you."
"That's because you've got a new shirt, is it?" sneered Mike.
"It isn't mine."
"That's what I thought. Who did you steal it from?"
"Do you mean to insult me, Mike Donovan?" demanded Paul, angrily.
"Just as you like," said Mike, independently.
"If you want to know why I don't want to have anything to do with you, I will tell you."
"Because you're a thief."
"If you say that again, I'll lick you," said Mike, reddening with anger.
"It's true. You stole my basket of candy the other day, and that isn't the only time you've been caught stealing."
"I'll give you the worst licking you ever had. Do you want to fight?" said Mike, flourishing his fist.
"No, I don't," said Paul. "Some time when I haven't a bundle, I'll accommodate you."
"You're a coward!" sneered Mike, gaining courage as he saw Paul was not disposed for an encounter.
"I don't think I am," said Paul, coolly.
"I'll hold your shirt," said Mike's companion, with a grin, "if you want to fight."
Paul, however, did not care to intrust the shirt to a stranger of so unprepossessing an appearance.
He, therefore, attempted to pass on. But Mike, encouraged by his reluctance, stepped up and shook his fist within an inch of Paul's nose, calling him at the same time a coward. This was too much for Paul's self-restraint. He dropped the shirt and pitched into Mike in so scientific a manner that the latter was compelled to retreat, and finally to flee at the top of his speed, not without having first received several pretty hard blows.
"I don't think he will meddle with me again," said Paul to himself, as he pulled down the sleeves of his jacket.
He walked back, and looked for the shirt which he had laid down before commencing the combat. But he looked in vain. Nothing was to be seen of the shirt or of Mike's companion. Probably both had disappeared together.