Paul was not slow in following Mike. He was a good runner, and would have had no difficulty in keeping up with his enemy if the streets had been empty. But to thread his way in and out among the numerous foot passengers that thronged the sidewalks was not so easy. He kept up pretty well, however, until, in turning a street corner, he ran at full speed into a very stout gentleman, whose scanty wind was quite knocked out of him by the collision. He glared in anger at Paul, but could not at first obtain breath enough to speak.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Paul, who, in spite of his desire to overtake Mike, felt it incumbent upon him to stop and offer an apology.
"What do you mean, sir," exploded the fat man, at last, "by tearing through the streets like a locomotive? You've nearly killed me."
"I am very sorry, sir."
"You ought to be. Don't you know better than to run at such speed? You ought to be indicted as a public nuisance.
"I was trying to catch a thief," said Paul.
"Trying to catch a thief? How's that?" asked the stout gentleman, his indignation giving way to curiosity.
"I was selling packages in front of the post office when he and another boy came up and stole my basket."
"Indeed! What were you selling?"
"Prize packages, sir."
"What was in them?"
"Could you make much that way?"
"About a dollar a day."
"I'd rather have given you a dollar than had you run against me with such violence. I feel it yet."
"Indeed, sir, I'm very sorry."
"Well, I'll forgive you, under the circumstances. What's your name?"
"Well, I hope you'll get back your basket. Some time, if you see me in the street, come up and let me know. Would you know me again?"
"I think I should, sir."
"Well, good-morning. I hope you'll catch the thief."
"I thank you, sir."
They parted company, but Paul did not continue the pursuit. The conversation in which he had taken part had lasted so long that Mike had had plenty of time to find a refuge, and there would be no use in following him.
So Paul went home.
"You are home early, Paul," said his mother. "Surely you haven't sold out by this time."
"No, but all my packages are gone."
"How is that?"
"They were stolen."
"Tell me about it."
So Paul told the story.
"That Mike was awful mean," said Jimmy, indignantly. "I'd like to hit him."
"I don't think you would hurt him much, Jimmy," said Paul, amused at his little brother's vehemence.
"Then I wish I was a big, strong boy," said Jimmy.
"I hope you will be, some time."
"How much was your loss, Paul?" asked his mother.
"There were nearly forty packages. They cost me about a dollar, but if I had sold them all they would have brought me in twice as much. I had only sold ten packages."
"Shall you make some more?"
"No, I think not," said Paul. "I've got tired of the business. It's getting poorer every day. I'll go out after dinner, and see if I can't find something else to do."
"You ain't going out now, Paul?" said Jimmy.
"No, I'll stop and see you draw a little while."
"That's bully. I'm going to try these oxen."
"That's a hard picture. I don't think you can draw it, Jimmy."
"Yes, I can," said the little boy, confidently. "Just see if I don't."
"Jimmy has improved a good deal," said his mother.
"You'll be a great artist one of these days, Jimmy," said Paul.
"I'm going to try, Paul," said the little boy. "I like it so much."
Little Jimmy had indeed made surprising progress in drawing. With no instruction whatever, he had succeeded in a very close and accurate imitation of the sketches in the drawing books Paul had purchased for him. It was a great delight to the little boy to draw, and hour after hour, as his mother sat at her work, he sat up to the table, and worked at his drawing, scarcely speaking a word unless spoken to, so absorbed was he in his fascinating employment.
Paul watched him attentively.
"You'll make a bully artist, Jimmy," he said, at length, really surprised at his little brother's proficiency. "If you keep on a little longer, you'll beat me."
"I wish you'd draw something, Paul," said Jimmy. "I never saw any of your drawings."
"I am afraid, if you saw mine, it would discourage you," said Paul. "You know, I'm older and ought to draw better."
His face was serious, but there was a merry twinkle of fun in his eyes.
"Of course, I know you draw better," said Jimmy, seriously.
"What shall I draw?" asked Paul.
"Try this horse, Paul."
"All right!" said Paul. "But you must go away; I don't want you to see it till it is done."
Jimmy left the table, and Paul commenced his attempt. Now, though Paul is the hero of my story, I am bound to confess that he had not the slightest talent for drawing, though Jimmy did not know it. It was only to afford his little brother amusement that he now undertook the task.
Paul worked away for about five minutes.
"It's done," he said.
"So quick?" exclaimed Jimmy, in surprise. "How fast you work!"
He drew near and inspected Paul's drawing. He had no sooner inspected it than he burst into a fit of laughter. Paul's drawing was a very rough one, and such a horse as he had drawn will never probably be seen until the race has greatly degenerated.
"What's the matter, Jimmy?" asked Paul. "Don't you like it?"
"It's awful, Paul," said the little boy, almost choking with mirth.
"I see how it is," said Paul, with feigned resentment. "You're jealous of me because you can't draw as well."
"Oh, Paul, you'll kill me!" and Jimmy again burst into a fit of merriment. "Can't you really draw any better?"
"No, Jimmy," said Paul, joining in the laugh. "I can't draw any better than an old cow. You've got all the talent in the family in that line."
"But you're smart in other ways, Paul," said Jimmy, who had a great admiration of Paul, notwithstanding the discovery of his artistic inferiority.
"I'm glad there's one that thinks so, Jimmy," said Paul. "I'll refer to you when I want a recommendation."
Jimmy resumed his drawing, and was proud of the praises which Paul freely bestowed upon him.
"I'll get you a harder drawing book when you've got through with these," said Paul; "that is, if I don't get reduced to poverty by having my stock in trade stolen again."
After a while came dinner. This meal in Mrs. Hoffman's household usually came at twelve o'clock. It was a plain, frugal meal always, but on Sunday they usually managed to have something a little better, as they had been accustomed to do when Mr. Hoffman was alive.
Paul was soon through.
He took his hat from the bureau, and prepared to go out.
"I'm going out to try my luck, mother," he said. "I'll see if I can't get into something I like a little better than the prize-package business."
"I hope you'll succeed, Paul."
"Better than I did in drawing horses, eh, Jimmy?"
"Yes, I hope so, Paul," said the little boy.
"Don't you show that horse to visitors and pretend it's yours, Jimmy."
"No danger, Paul."
Paul went downstairs and into the street. He had no definite plan in his head, but was ready for anything that might turn up. He did not feel anxious, for he knew there were plenty of ways in which he could earn something. He had never tried blacking boots, but still he could do it in case of emergency. He had sold papers, and succeeded fairly in that line, and knew he could again. He had pitted himself against other boys, and the result had been to give him a certain confidence in his own powers and business abilities. When he had first gone into the street to try his chances there, it had been with a degree of diffidence. But knocking about the streets soon gives a boy confidence, sometimes too much of it; and Paul had learned to rely upon himself; but the influence of a good, though humble home, and a judicious mother, had kept him aloof from the bad habits into which many street boys are led.
So Paul, though his stock in trade had been stolen, and he was obliged to seek a new kind of business, was by no means disheartened. He walked a little way downtown, and then, crossing the City Hall Park, found himself on Broadway.
A little below the Astor House he came to the stand of a sidewalk-merchant, who dealt in neckties. Upon an upright framework hung a great variety of ties of different colors, most of which were sold at the uniform price of twenty-five cents each.
Paul was acquainted with the proprietor of the stand, and, having nothing else to do, determined to stop and speak to him.