Paul went up Centre street and turned into Pearl. Stopping before a tenement-house, he entered, and, going up two flights of stairs, opened a door and entered.
"You are home early, Paul," said a woman of middle age, looking up at his entrance.
"Yes, mother; I've sold out."
"You've not sold out the whole fifty packages?" she asked, in surprise.
"Yes, I have. I had capital luck."
"Why, you must have made as much as a dollar, and it's not twelve yet."
"I've made more than that, mother. Just wait a minute, till I've reckoned up a little. Where's Jimmy?"
"Miss Beckwith offered to take him out to walk with her, so I let him go. He'll be back at twelve."
While Paul is making a calculation, a few words of explanation and description may be given, so that the reader may understand better how he is situated.
The rooms occupied by Paul and his mother were three in number. The largest one was about fourteen feet square, and was lighted by two windows. It was covered with a neat, though well-worn, carpet; a few cane-bottomed chairs were ranged at the windows, and on each side of the table. There was a French clock on the mantel, a rocking chair for his mother, and a few inexpensive engravings hung upon the walls. There was a hanging bookcase containing two shelves, filled with books, partly school books, supplemented by a few miscellaneous books, such as "Robinson Crusoe," "Pilgrim's Progress," a volume of "Poetical Selections," an odd volume of Scott, and several others. Out of the main room opened two narrow chambers, both together of about the same area as the main room. One of these was occupied by Paul and Jimmy, the other by his mother.
Those who are familiar with the construction of a New York tenement-house will readily understand the appearance of the rooms into which we have introduced them. It must, however, be explained that few similar apartments are found so well furnished. Carpets are not very common in tenement-houses, and if there are any pictures, they are usually the cheapest prints. Wooden chairs, and generally every object of the cheapest, are to be met with in the dwellings of the New York poor. If we find something better in the present instance, it is not because Paul and his mother are any better off than their neighbors. On the contrary, there are few whose income is so small. But they have seen better days, and the furniture we see has been saved from the time of their comparative prosperity.
As Paul is still at his estimate, let us improve the opportunity by giving a little of their early history.
Mr. Hoffman, the father of Paul, was born in Germany, but came to New York when a boy of twelve, and there he grew up and married, his wife being an American. He was a cabinetmaker, and, being a skillful workman, earned very good wages, so that he was able to maintain his family in comfort. They occupied a neat little cottage in Harlem, and lived very happily, for Mr. Hoffman was temperate and kind, when an unfortunate accident clouded their happiness, and brought an end to their prosperity. In crossing Broadway at its most crowded part, the husband and father was run over by a loaded dray, and so seriously injured that he lived but a few hours. Then the precarious nature of their prosperity was found out. Mr. Hoffman had not saved anything, having always lived up to the extent of his income. It was obviously impossible for them to continue to live in their old home, paying a rent of twenty dollars per month. Besides, Paul did not see any good opportunity to earn his living in Harlem. So, at his instigation, his mother moved downtown, and took rooms in a tenement-house in Pearl street, agreeing to pay six dollars a month for apartments which would now command double the price. They brought with them furniture enough to furnish the three rooms, selling the rest for what it would bring, and thus obtaining a small reserve fund, which by this time was nearly exhausted.
Once fairly established in their new home, Paul went out into the streets to earn his living. The two most obvious, and, on the whole, most profitable trades, were blacking boots and selling newspapers. To the first Paul, who was a neat boy, objected on the score that it would keep his hands and clothing dirty, and, street boy though he had become, he had a pride in his personal appearance. To selling papers he had not the same objection, but he had a natural taste for trade, and this led him to join the ranks of the street peddlers. He began with vending matches, but found so much competition in the business, and received so rough a reception oftentimes from those who had repeated calls from others in the same business, that he gave it up, and tried something else. But the same competition which crowds the professions and the higher employments followed by men, prevails among the street trades which are pursued by boys. If Paul had only had himself to support, he could have made a fair living at match selling, or any other of the employments he took up; but his mother could not earn much at making vests, and Jimmy was lame, and could do nothing to fill the common purse, so that Paul felt that his earnings must be the main support of the family, and naturally sought out what would bring him in most money.
At length he had hit upon selling prize packages, and his first experience in that line are recorded in the previous chapter. Adding only that it was now a year since his father's death, we resume our narrative.
"Do you want to know how much I've made, mother?" asked Paul, looking up at length from his calculation.
"A dollar and thirty cents."
"I did not think it would amount to so much. The prizes came to considerable, didn't they?"
"Listen, and I will tell you how I stand:
One pound of candy . . . . . . . . .20 Two packs of envelopes . . . . . . . .10 Prize. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .90 —— That makes . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.20
I sold the fifty packages at five cents each, and that brought me in two dollars and a half. Taking out the expenses, it leaves me a dollar and thirty cents. Isn't that doing well for one morning's work?"
"It's excellent; but I thought your prizes amounted to more than ninety cents."
"So they did, but several persons who bought wouldn't take their prizes, and that was so much gain."
"You have done very well, Paul. I wish you might earn as much every day."
"I'm going to earn some more this afternoon. I bought a pound of candy on the way home, and some cheap envelopes, and I'll be making up a new stock while I am waiting for dinner."
Paul took out his candy and envelopes, and set about making up the packages.
"Did any complain of the small amount of candy you put in?"
"A few; but most bought for the sake of the prizes."
"Perhaps you had better be a little more liberal with your candy, and then there may not be so much dissatisfaction where the prize is only a penny."
"I don't know but your are right, mother. I believe I'll only make thirty packages with this pound, instead of fifty. Thirty'll be all I can sell this afternoon."
Just then the door opened, and Paul's brother entered.
Jimmy Hoffman, or lame Jimmy, as he was often called, was a delicate-looking boy of ten, with a fair complexion and sweet face, but incurably lame, a defect which, added to his delicate constitution, was likely to interfere seriously with his success in life. But, as frequently happens, Jimmy was all the more endeared to his mother and brother by his misfortune and bodily weakness, and if either were obliged to suffer from poverty, Jimmy would be spared the suffering.
"Well, Jimmy, have you had a pleasant walk?" asked his mother.
"Yes, mother; I went down to Fulton Market. There's a good deal to see there."
"A good deal more than in this dull room, Jimmy."
"It doesn't seem dull to me, mother, while you are here. How did you make out selling your prize packages?"
"They are all sold, Jimmy, every one. I am making some more."
"Shan't I help you?"
"Yes, I would like to have you. Just take those envelopes, and write prize packages on every one of them."
"All right, Paul," and Jimmy, glad to be of use, got the pen and ink, and, gathering up the envelopes, began to inscribe them as he had been instructed.
By the time the packages were made up, dinner was ready. It was not a very luxurious repast. There was a small piece of rump steak—not more than three-quarters of a pound—a few potatoes, a loaf of bread, and a small plate of butter. That was all; but then the cloth that covered the table was neat and clean, and the knives and forks were as bright as new, and what there was tasted good.
"What have you been doing this morning, Jimmy?" asked Paul.
"I have been drawing, Paul. Here's a picture of Friday. I copied it from 'Robinson Crusoe.'"
He showed the picture, which was wonderfully like that in the book, for this—the gift of drawing—was Jimmy's one talent, and he possessed it in no common degree.
"Excellent, Jimmy!" said Paul. "You're a real genius. I shouldn't be surprised if you'd make an artist some day."
"I wish I might," said Jimmy, earnestly. "There's nothing I'd like better."
"I'll tell you what, Jimmy. If I do well this afternoon, I'll buy you a drawing-book and some paper, to work on while mother and I are busy."
"If you can afford it, Paul, I should like it so much. Some time I might earn something that way."
"Of course you may," said Paul, cheerfully. "I won't forget you."
Dinner over, Paul went out to business, and was again successful, getting rid of his thirty packages, and clearing another dollar. Half of this he invested in a drawing-book, a pencil and some drawing-paper for Jimmy. Even then he had left of his earnings for the day one dollar and eighty cents. But this success in the new business had already excited envy and competition, as he was destined to find out on the morrow.