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While Miss Manning is seeking a new boarding-place for herself and Rose, events are taking place in Brooklyn which claim our attention. It is here that James Martin, the shiftless and drunken step-father of Rufus and Rose, has made a temporary residence. He had engaged board at the house of a widow, Mrs. Waters, and for two or three weeks paid his board regularly, being employed at his trade of a carpenter on some houses going up near by. But it was not in James Martin's nature to work steadily at anything. His love of drink had spoiled a once good and industrious workman, and there seemed to be little chance of any permanent improvement in his character or habits. For a time Rufus used to pay him over daily the most of his earnings as a newsboy, and with this he managed to live miserably enough without doing much himself. But after a while Rufus became tired of this arrangement, and withdrew himself and his sister to another part of the town, thus throwing Martin on his own resources. Out of spite Martin contrived to kidnap Rose, but, as we have seen, her brother had now succeeded in recovering her.
After losing Rose, Martin took the way back to his boarding-house, feeling rather doubtful of his reception from Mrs. Waters, to whom he was owing a week's board, which he was quite unable to pay. He had told her that he would pay the bill as soon as he could exchange a fifty-dollar note, which it is needless to say was only an attempt at deception, since he did not even possess fifty cents.
On entering the house, he went at once to his room, and lay down on the bed till the supper-bell rang. Then he came down, and took his place at the table with the rest of the boarders.
"Where's your little girl, Mr. Martin?" inquired Mrs. Waters, missing Rose.
"She's gone on a visit to some of her relations in New York," answered Martin, with some degree of truth.
"How long is she to stay?"
"'Till she can have some new clothes made up; maybe two or three weeks."
"That's rather sudden, isn't it? You didn't think of her going this morning?"
"No," answered Martin, with his mouth full of toast; "but she teased so hard to go, I let her. She's a troublesome child. I shall be glad to have the care of her off my mind for a time."
This might be true; but Mrs. Waters was beginning to lose confidence in Mr. Martin's statements. She felt that it was the part of prudence to make sure of the money he was already owing her, and then on some pretext get rid of him.
When supper was over, Martin rose, and was about to go out, but Mrs. Waters was too quick for him.
"Mr. Martin," she said, "may I speak to you a moment?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered Martin, turning reluctantly.
"I suppose you are ready to pay my bill; I need the money particularly."
"I'll pay it to-morrow, Mrs. Waters."
"You promised to pay me as soon as you changed a bill, and this morning you said you should have a chance to change it, as you were going to buy your little girl some new clothes."
"I know I did," said Martin, feeling cornered.
"I suppose, therefore, you can pay me the money to-night," said Mrs. Waters, sharply.
"Why, the fact is, Mrs. Waters," said Martin, awkwardly, "I was very unfortunate. As I was sitting in the horse-car coming home, I had my pocket picked of all the money I got in change. There was some over forty dollars."
"I'm sorry," said Mrs. Waters, coldly, for she did not believe a word of this; "but I need my money."
"If it hadn't been for that, I'd have paid you to-night."
"There's only one word I have to say, Mr. Martin," said the landlady, provoked; "if you can't pay me, you must find another boarding-place."
"I'll attend to it in a day or two. I guess I can get the money to-morrow."
"If you can't pay me to-night, you'll oblige me by giving up your room to-morrow morning. I'm a poor widder, Mr. Martin, and I must look out for number one. I can't afford to keep boarders that don't pay their bills."
There was one portion of this speech that set Mr. Martin to thinking. Mrs. Waters was a widow—he was a widower. By marrying her he would secure a home, and the money received from the boarders would be paid to him. He might not be accepted. Still it would do no harm to try.
"Mrs. Waters," he said, abruptly, wreathing his features into what he considered an attractive smile, "since I lost my wife I've been feeling very lonely. I need a wife to look after me and my little gal. If you will marry me, we'll live happy, and—"
"Thank you, Mr. Martin," said Mrs. Waters, considerably astonished at the sudden turn affairs had taken; "but I've got too much to do to think about marrying. Leastways, I don't care about marrying a man that can't pay his board-bill."
"Just as you say," answered Martin, philosophically; "I've give you a good chance. Perhaps you won't get another very soon."
"Well, if there isn't impudence for you!" ejaculated Mrs. Waters, as her boarder left the room. "I must be hard up for a husband, to marry such a shiftless fellow as he is."
The next morning, Mr. Martin made his appearance, as usual, at the breakfast-table. Notwithstanding his proposal of marriage had been so decidedly rejected the day before, his appetite was not only as good as usual, but considerably better. In fact, as he was not quite clear where his dinner was to come from, or whether, indeed, he should have any at all, he thought it best to lay in sufficient to last him for several hours. Mrs. Waters contemplated with dismay the rapid manner in which he disposed of the beef-steak and hash which constituted the principal dishes of her morning meal, and decided that the sooner she got rid of such a boarder the better.
Mr. Martin observed the eyes of the landlady fixed upon him, and misinterpreted it. He thought it possible she might have changed her mind as to the refusal of the day before, and resolved to renew his proposal. Accordingly he lingered till the rest of the boarders had left the table.
"Mrs. Waters," he said, "maybe you've changed your mind since yesterday."
"About what?" demanded the landlady, sharply.
"About marrying me."
"No, I haven't," answered the widow; "you needn't mention the matter again. When I want to marry you, I'll send and let you know."
"All right!" said Martin; "there's several after me, but I'll wait a week for you."
"Oh, don't trouble yourself," said the landlady, sarcastically; "I don't want to disappoint anybody else. Can you pay me this morning?"
"I'll have the money in a day or two."
"You needn't come back to dinner unless you bring the money to pay your bill. I can't afford to give you your board."
Mr. Martin rose and left the house, understanding pretty clearly that he couldn't return. On reaching the street, he opened his pocket-book, and ascertained that twelve cents were all it contained. This small amount was not likely to last very long. He decided to go to New York, having no further inducements to keep him in Brooklyn. Something might turn up, he reasoned, in the shiftless manner characteristic of him.
Jumping upon a passing car, he rode down to Fulton Ferry, and crossed in the boat to the New York side, thus expending for travelling expenses eight cents.
Supposing that Rufus still sold papers in front of the "Tribune" office, he proceeded to Printing House Square, and looked around for him; but he was nowhere to be seen.
"Who you lookin' for, gov'nor?" inquired a boot-black, rather short of stature, but with an old-looking face.
"Aint you the boy that went home with me Wednesday?" asked Martin, to whom Ben Gibson's face looked familiar.
"S'posin' I am?"
"Have you seen a newsboy they call Rough and Ready, this morning?"
"Yes, I seed him."
"Where is he? Has he sold all his papers?"
"He's giv' up sellin' papers, and gone into business on Wall Street."
"Don't you try to fool me, or I'll give you a lickin'," said Martin, sternly.
"Thank you for your kind offer," said Ben, "but lickings don't agree with my constitution."
"Why don't you tell me the truth then?"
"You said Rufus had gone into business in Wall Street."
"So he has. A rich cove's taken a fancy to him, and adopted him as a office-boy."
"How much does he pay him?" asked Martin, considering whether there would be any chance of getting some money out of his step-son.
"Not knowin' can't say," replied Ben; "but he's just bought two pocket-books to hold his wages in."
"You're a humbug!" said Martin, indignantly. "What's the man's name he works for?"
"It's painted in big letters on the sign. You can't miss it."
James Martin considered, for an instant, whether it would be best to give Ben a thrashing, but the approach of a policeman led him to decide in the negative.
"Shine yer boots, gov'nor?" asked Ben, professionally.
"Yes," said Martin, rather unexpectedly.
"Payment in advance!" said Ben, who didn't think it prudent to trust in this particular instance.
"I'll tell yer what," said Martin, to whom necessity had taught a certain degree of cunning, "if you'll lend me fifty cents for a week, I'll let you shine my boots every day, and pay you the money besides."
"That's a very kind proposal," said Ben; "but I've just invested all my money on a country-seat up the river, which makes me rather short."
"Then you can't lend me the fifty?"
"No, but I'll tell you where you can get it."
"Up in Chatham Street. There's plenty'll lend it on the security of that hat of yours."
The hat in question was in the last stages of dilapidation, looking as if it had been run over daily by an omnibus, and then used to fill the place of a broken pane, being crushed out of all shape and comeliness.
Martin aimed a blow at Ben, but the boot-black dexterously evaded it, and, slinging his box over his back, darted down Nassau Street.
Later in the day he met Rough and Ready.
"I see the gov'nor this mornin'," said Ben.
"What, Mr. Martin?"
"What did he say?"
"He inquired after you in the most affectionate manner, and wanted to know where you was at work."
"I hope you didn't tell him."
"Not if I know myself. I told him he'd see the name on the sign. Then he wanted to borrow fifty cents for a week."
"It's a good investment, Ben. I've invested considerable money that way. I suppose you gave him the money?"
"Maybe I did. He offered me the chance of blacking his boots every day for a week, if I'd lend him the money; but I had to resign the glorious privilege, not havin' been to the bank this mornin' to withdraw my deposits."
"You talk like a banker, Ben."
"I'm goin' to bankin' some day, when boot-blacking gets dull."
Ben Gibson had been for years a boot-black, having commenced the business when only eight years old. His life had been one of hardship and privation, as street life always is, but he had become toughened to it, and bore it with a certain stoicism, never complaining, but often joking in a rude way at what would have depressed and discouraged a more sensitive temperament. He was by no means a model boy, though not as bad as many of his class. He had learned to smoke and to swear, and did both freely. But there was a certain rude honesty about him which led Rufus, though in every way his superior, to regard him with friendly interest, and he had, on more than one occasion, been of considerable service to our hero in his newsboy days. Rufus had tried to induce him to give up smoking, but thus far without success.
"It keeps a feller warm," he said; "besides it won't hurt me. I'm tough."
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