Chapter 3




PAUL HAS COMPETITORS

The next morning Paul took his old place in front of the post office. He set down his basket in front, and, taking one of the packages in his hand, called out in a businesslike manner, as on the day before, "Here's your prize packages! Only five cents! Money prize in every package! Walk up, gentlemen, and try your luck!"

He met with a fair degree of success at first, managing in the course of an hour to sell ten packages. All the prizes drawn were small, with the exception of one ten-cent prize, which was drawn by a little bootblack, who exclaimed:

"That's the way to do business, Johnny. If you've got any more of them ten-cent prizes, I'll give you ten cents a piece for the lot."

"Better buy some more and see," said Paul.

"That don't go down," said the other. "Maybe there'd be only a penny."

Nevertheless, the effect of this large prize was to influence the sale of three other packages; but as neither of these contained more than two-cent prizes, trade began to grow dull, and for ten minutes all Paul's eloquent appeals to gentlemen to walk up and try their luck produced no effect.

At this point Paul found that there was a rival in the field.

Teddy O'Brien, who had applied for a partnership the day before, came up with a basket similar to his own, apparently filled with similar packages. He took a position about six feet distant from Paul, and began to cry out, in a shrill voice:

"Here's your bully prize packages! Best in the market! Here's where you get your big prizes, fifty cents in some of 'em. Walk up boys, tumble up, and take your pick afore they're gone. Fifty cents for five!"

"That's a lie, Teddy," said Paul, who saw that his rival's attractive announcement was likely to spoil his trade.

"No, 'tisn't," said Teddy. "If you don't believe it, just buy one and see."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Paul, "I'll exchange."

"No," said Teddy; "I ain't a-goin' to risk givin' fifty cents for one."

"More likely you'd get ten for one. You're a humbug."

"Have you really got any fifty-cent prizes?" asked a newsboy, who had sold out his morning stock of papers, and was lounging about the post office steps.

"Best way is to buy, Johnny," said Teddy.

The boy did buy, but his prize amounted to only one cent.

"Didn't I tell you so?" said Paul.

"Just wait a while and see," said Teddy. "The lucky feller hasn't come along. Here, Mike, jest buy a package!"

Mike, a boy of fifteen, produced five cents, and said, "I don't mind if I do."

He selected a package, and, without opening it, slipped it into his pocket.

"Why don't you open it?" said Teddy.

"What's the use?" said Mike. "There ain't no fifty cents inside."

However, he drew it out of his pocket, and opened it.

"What's this?" he exclaimed, pulling out a piece of scrip. "Howly St. Patrick! it's I that's in luck, anyhow I've got the fifty cents!"

And he held up to view a fifty-cent scrip.

"Let me look at it," said Paul, incredulously.

But there was no room for doubt. It was a genuine fifty cents, as Paul was compelled to admit.

"Didn't I tell you so?" said Teddy, triumphantly. "Here's where you get fifty-cent prizes."

The appeal was successful. The sight of the fifty-cent prize led to a large call for packages, of which Teddy immediately sold ten, while Paul found himself completely deserted. None of the ten, however, contained over two cents. Still the possibility of drawing fifty cents kept up the courage of buyers, while Paul's inducements were so far inferior that he found himself wholly distanced.

"Don't you wish you'd gone pardners with me?" asked Teddy, with a triumphant grin, noticing Paul's look of discomfiture. "You can't do business alongside of me."

"You can't make any money giving such big prizes," said Paul. "You haven't taken in as much as you've given yet."

"All right," said Teddy. "I'm satisfied if you are. Have a package, Jim?"

"Yes," said Jim. "Mind you give me a good prize."

The package was bought, and, on being opened, proved to contain fifty cents also, to Paul's great amazement. How Teddy's business could pay, as it was managed, he could not comprehend. One thing was certain, however, his new competitor monopolized the trade, and for two hours Paul did not get a solitary customer.

"There's something about this I don't understand," he pondered, thoughtfully. "He must lose money; but he's spoiled my trade."

Paul did not like to give up his beat, but he found himself compelled to. Accordingly he took his basket, and moved off toward Wall street. Here he was able to start in business without competitors, and succeeded in selling quite a number of packages, until a boy came up, and said:

"There's a feller up at the post office that's givin' fifty-cent prizes. I got one of 'em."

There was a group of half-a-dozen boys around Paul, two of whom were about to invest; but on hearing thus they changed their intention, and walked of in the direction of the post office.

Looking up, Paul saw that the boy who had injured his trade was Mike, who had drawn the first fifty-cent prize from his competitor.

"Can't you stop interfering?" he said, angrily. "I've lost two customers by you."

"If you don't like it, you can lump it," said Mike, insolently. "This is a free country, ain't it?"

"It's a mean trick," said Paul, indignantly.

"Say that ag'in, and I'll upset your basket," returned Mike.

"I'll say it as often as I like," said Paul, who wasn't troubled by cowardice. "Come on, if you want to."

Mike advanced a step, doubling his fists; but, finding that Paul showed no particular sign of fear, he stopped short, saying: "I'll lick you some other time."

"You'd better put it off," said Paul. "Have a prize package, sir? Only five cents!"

This was addressed to a young man who came out of an insurance office.

"I don't mind if I do," said the young man. "Five cents, is it? What prize may I expect?"

"The highest is ten cents."

"There's a boy around the post office that gives fifty-cent prizes, mister," said Mike. "You'd better buy of him."

"I'll wait till another time," said the young man. "Here's the money, Johnny. Now for the package."

"Look here," said Paul, indignantly, when his customer had gone away; "haven't you anything to do except to drive off my customers?"

"Give me two cents on every package," said Mike, "and I'll tell 'em you give dollar prizes."

"That would be a lie, and I don't want to do business that way."

Mike continued his persecutions a while longer, and then turned the corner into Nassau street.

"I'm glad he's gone," thought Paul. "Now there's a chance for me."

He managed after a while to sell twenty of his packages. By this time it was twelve o'clock, and he began to feel hungry. He resolved, therefore, to go home to dinner and come out again in the afternoon. He didn't know how much he had made, but probably about fifty cents. He had made more than double as much the day before in less time; but then he did not suffer from competition.

He began to doubt whether he could long pursue this business, since other competitors were likely to spring up.

As he walked by the post office he had the curiosity to look and see how his competitor was getting along.

Teddy had started, originally, with seventy-five packages; but of those scarcely a dozen were left. A group of boys were around him. Among them was Mike, who was just on the point of buying another package. As before, he put it in his pocket, and it was not till Teddy asked, "What luck, Mike?" that he drew it out, and opening it again, produced fifty cents.

"It's the big prize!" he said. "Sure I'm in luck, anyhow."

"You're the boy that's lucky," said Teddy, with a grin.

As Paul witnessed the scene a light broke upon him. Now he understood how Teddy could afford to give such large prizes. Mike and the other boy, Jim, were only confederates of his—decoy ducks—who kept drawing over again the same prize, which was eventually given back to Teddy. It was plain now why Mike put the package into his pocket before opening it. It was to exchange it for another packet into which the money had previously been placed, but which was supposed by the lookers-on to be the same that had just been purchased. The prize could afterward be placed in a new packet and used over again.

"That ain't the same package," said Paul, announcing his discovery. "He had it all the while in his pocket."

"Look here," blustered Mike, "you jest mind your own business! That's the best thing for you."

"Suppose I don't?"

"If you don't there may be a funeral to-morrow of a boy about your size."

There was a laugh at Paul's expense, but he took it coolly.

"I'll send you a particular invitation to attend, if I can get anybody to go over to the island."

As Mike had been a resident at Blackwell's Island on two different occasions, this produced a laugh at his expense, in the midst of which Paul walked off.



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