Chapter 8




A STROKE OF ILL LUCK

Paul transferred his frame of goods to a neighboring office at the end of the afternoon, the arrangement having been made by George Barry, on first entering into business as a street merchant. This saved a good deal of trouble, as otherwise he would have been compelled to carry them home every night and bring them back in the morning.

"Well, Paul," asked his mother, when he returned to supper, "have you found anything to do yet?"

"I have got employment for a few days," said Paul, "to tend a necktie stand. The man that keeps it is sick."

"How much does he pay you, Paul?" asked Jimmy.

"Half the profits. How much do you think I have made this afternoon?"

"Forty cents."

"What do you say to ninety-three cents? Just look at this," and Paul displayed his earnings.

"That is excellent."

"I had good luck. Generally, I shan't make more in a whole day than this."

"That will be doing very well."

"But I shall make more, if I can. One fellow bought six neckties of me this afternoon. I wish everybody would do that. Now, mother, I hope supper is most ready, for selling neckties has made me hungry."

"Almost ready, Paul."

It was a humble meal, but a good one. There were fresh rolls and butter, tea and some cold meat. That was all; but the cloth was clean, and everything looked neat. All did justice to the plain meal, and never thought of envying the thousands who, in their rich uptown mansions, were sitting down at the same hour to elaborate dinners costing more than their entire week's board.

"Are you going out, Paul?" asked Mrs. Hoffman, noticing that he took his hat.

"Yes, I must go and see George Barry, and carry the money I have received for sales."

"Where does he live?"

"In Bleecker street. I shan't be gone long."

Paul reached the number which had been given him. It was a large, four-story house, with the appearance of a barracks.

"Mr. Barry," said the servant, in answer to his question—"he lives upstairs on the fourth floor. Room on the right."

Paul plodded his way upstairs, and found the room without difficulty.

On knocking, the door was opened by Mrs. Barry, who looked at him inquiringly.

"Does George Barry live here?" asked Paul.

"Yes. Are you the one he left in charge of his business?"

Paul answered in the affirmative, adding, "How is he?"

"He seems quite feverish. I am afraid he is going to have a fever. It's fortunate he came home. He was not able to attend to his business."

"Can I see him?"

"Come in," said Mrs. Barry.

The room was covered with a worn carpet, but looked neat and comfortable. There was a cheap sewing-machine in one corner, and some plain furniture. There was a bedroom opening out of this room, and here it was that George Barry lay upon the bed.

"Is that Paul Hoffman, mother?" was heard from the bedroom.

"Yes," said Paul, answering for himself.

"Go in, if you like," said Mrs. Barry. "My son wishes to see you.

"How do you feel now, George?" asked Paul.

"Not very well, Paul. I didn't give up a minute too soon. I think I am going to have a fever."

"That is not comfortable," said Paul. "Still, you have your mother to take care of you."

"I don't know how I should get along without her. Can you look after my business as long as I am sick?"

"Yes; I have nothing else to do."

"Then that is off my mind. By the way, how many ties did you sell this afternoon?"

"Fifteen."

"What!" demanded Barry, in surprise. "You sold fifteen?"

"Yes."

"Why, I never sold so many as that in an afternoon."

"Didn't you?" said Paul, gratified. "Then you think I did well?"

"Splendidly. How did you do it?"

"You see, there was a young man from the country that I persuaded to buy six, as he could not get them so cheap at home. That was my first sale, and it encouraged me."

"I didn't think you'd sell more than six in the whole afternoon."

"Nor did I, when I started; but I determined to do my best. I don't expect to do as well every day."

"No, of course not. I've been in the business more than a year; and I know what it is. Some days are very dull."

"I've got the money for you. The fifteen ties came to three dollars and seventy-five cents. I keep one-fourth of this as my commission. That leaves two dollars and eighty-two cents."

"Quite correct. However, you needn't give me the money. You may need to change a bill, or else lose a sale. It will do if you settle with me at the end of the week."

"I see you have confidence in me, George. Suppose I should take a fancy to run away with the money?"

"I am not afraid."

"If I do, I will give you warning a week beforehand."

After a little more conversation, Paul withdrew, thinking he might worry the sick man. He offered to come up the next evening, but George Barry said, "It would be too much to expect you to come up every evening. I shall be satisfied if you come up every other evening."

"Very well," said Paul. "Then you may expect me Saturday. I hope I shall have some good sales to report, and that I shall find you better."

Paul descended to the street, and walked slowly homeward. He couldn't help wishing that the stand was his own, and the entire profits his. This would double his income, and enable him to save up money. At present this was hardly possible. His own earnings had been, and were likely to continue, very fluctuating.

Still, they constituted the main support of the family. His mother made shirts for an establishment on Broadway at twenty-five cents each, which was more than some establishments paid. She could hardly average more than one shirt a day, in addition to her household work, and in order to accomplish this, even, she was obliged to work very steadily all day. Jimmy, of course, earned nothing. Not that he was too young. There were plenty of little newsboys who were as small as he—perhaps smaller. I have seen boys, who did not appear to be more than four years old, standing at the corners, crying the news in their childish treble. But Paul was not willing to have Jimmy sent out into the streets to undergo the rough discipline of street life. He was himself of a strong, robust nature, and did not shrink from the rough and tumble of life. He felt sure he could make his way, and give as well as receive blows. But Jimmy was shy and retiring, of a timid, shrinking nature, who would suffer from what would only exhilarate Paul, and brace him for the contest. So it was understood that Jimmy was to get an education, studying at present at home with his mother, who had received a good education, and that Mrs. Hoffman and Paul were to be the breadwinners. "I wish mother didn't have to sit so steadily at her work," thought Paul, many a time. He resolved some time to relieve her from the necessity; but at present it was impossible.

To maintain their small family in comfort required all that both could earn.

The next morning Paul started out after breakfast for the street stand, wondering what success he was destined to meet with.

About the middle of the forenoon Mrs. Hoffman prepared to go out.

"Do you think you can stay alone for an hour or two, Jimmy?" she asked.

"Yes, mother," answered Jimmy, who was deep in a picture which he was copying from one of the drawing-books Paul had bought him. "Where are you going mother?"

"To carry back some work, Jimmy. I have got half-a-dozen shirts done, and must return them, and ask for more."

"They ought to pay you more than twenty-five cents apiece, mother. How long has it taken you to make them?"

"Nearly a week."

"That is only a dollar and a half for a week's work."

"I know it, Jimmy; but they can get plenty to work at that price, so it won't do for me to complain. I shall be very glad if I can get steady work, even at that price."

Jimmy said no more, and Mrs. Hoffman, gathering up her bundle, went out.

She had a little more than half a mile to go. This did not require long. She entered the large door, and advanced to the counter behind which stood a clerk with a pen behind his ear.

"How many?" he said, as she laid the bundle upon the counter.

"Six."

"Name?"

"Hoffman."

"Correct. I will look at them."

He opened the bundle hastily, and surveyed the work critically. Luckily there was no fault to find, for Mrs. Hoffman was a skillful seamstress.

"They will do," he said, and, taking from a drawer the stipulated sum, paid for them.

"Can I have some more?" asked Mrs. Hoffman, anxiously.

"Not to-day. We're overstocked with goods made up. We must contract our manufacture."

This was unexpected, and carried dismay to the heart of the poor woman. What she could earn was very little but it was important to her.

"When do you think you can give me some more work?" she asked.

"It may be a month or six weeks," he answered, carelessly.

A month or six weeks! To have her supply of work cut off for so long a time would, indeed, be a dire misfortune. But there was nothing to say. Mrs. Hoffman knew very well that no one in the establishment cared for her necessities. So, with a heavy heart, she started for home, making up her mind to look elsewhere for work in the afternoon. She could not help recalling, with sorrow, the time when her husband was living, and they lived in a pleasant little home, before the shadow of bereavement and pecuniary anxiety had come to cloud their happiness. Still, she was not utterly cast down. Paul had proved himself a manly and a helpful boy, self-reliant and courageous, and, though they might be pinched, she knew that as long as he was able to work they would not actually suffer.



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