It was queer enough, to be sure, to hear this little fellow this rosy-cheeked, ten-year-old boy talking about schemes for the public benefit! Nevertheless, his companions were ready to listen, being assured that Ben's scheme, whatever it was, would be well worth their attention. They remembered how sagaciously he had conducted all their enterprises ever since he had been old enough to wear smallclothes.

They remembered, too, his wonderful contrivance of sailing across the mill pond by lying flat on his back in the water and allowing himself to be drawn along by a paper kite. If Ben could do that, he might certainly do any thing.

" What is your scheme, Ben ? what is it?” cried they all.

It so happened that they had now come to a spot of ground where a new house was to be built. Scattered round about lay a great many large stones, which were to be used for the cellar and foundation. Ben mounted upon the highest of these stones, so that he might speak with the more authority,

“You know, lads,” said he,“ what a plague it is to be forced to stand in the quagmire yonder - over shoes and stockings (if we wear any) in mud and water. Unless we can find some remedy for this evil, our fishing business must be entirely given up. And, surely, this would be a terrible misfortune!”

“ That it would! that it would !” said his comrades, sorrowfully.

“Now, I propose,” continued Master Benjamin, “ that we build a wharf, for the purpose of carrying on our fisheries. You see these stones. The workmen mean to use them for the underpinning of a house; but that would be for only one man's advantage. My plan is to take these same stones and carry them to the edge of the water, and build a wharf with them. This will not only enable us to carry on the fishing business with comfort and to better advantage, but it will likewise be a great convenience to boats passing up and down the stream. Thus, instead of one man, fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand, besides ourselves, may be benefited by these stones. What say you, lads ? Shall we build the wharf ?”

Ben's proposal was received with one of those uproarious shouts wherewith boys usually express their delight at whatever completely suits their views. Nobody thought of questioning the right and justice of building a wharf with stones that belonged to another person.

“ Hurrah! hurrah !” shouted they. 6 Let's set about it.”

It was agreed that they should all be on the spot that evening and commence their grand public enterprise by moonlight. Accordingly, at the appointed time, the whole gang of youthful laborers assembled, and eagerly began to remove the stones. They had not calculated how much toil would be requisite in this important part of their undertaking. The very first stone which they laid hold of proved so heavy that it almost seemed to be fastened to the ground. Nothing but Ben Franklin's cheerful and resolute spirit could have induced them to persevere.

Ben, as might be expected, was the soul of the enterprise. By his mechanical genius, he contrived methods to lighten the labor of transporting the stones, so that one boy, under his directions, would perform as much as half a dozen if left to themselves. Whenever their spirits flagged, he had some joke ready, which seemed to renew their strength, by setting them all into a roar of laughter. And when, after an hour or two of hard work, the stones were transported to the water side, Ben Franklin was the engineer to superintend the construction of the wharf.

The boys, like a colony of ants, performed a great deal of labor by their multitude, though the individual strength of each could have accomplished but little. Finally, just as the moon sank below the horizon, the great work was finished.

“ Now, boys,” cried Ben, “ let's give three cheers and go home to bed. To-morrow we may catch fish at our ease.”

“ Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah !” shouted his comrades.

Then they all went home in such an ecstasy of delight that they could hardly get a wink of sleep.


In the morning, when the early sunbeams were gleaming on steeples and the roof of the town, and gilding the waters that surrounded it, the masons came, rubbing their eyes, to begin their work at the foundation of the new house. But, on reaching the spot, they rubbed their eyes so much the harder. What had become of their heap of stones ?

Why, Sam,” said one to another, in great perplexity, “ here's been some witchcraft at work while we were asleep. The stones must have flown away through the air.”

“More likely they have been stolen,” answered Sam.

“But who on earth would think of stealing a heap of stones ? ” cried a third. “ Could a man carry them away in his pocket ? "

The master mason, who was a gruff kind of man, stood scratching his head, and said nothing at first. But, looking carefully on the ground, he discerned innumerable tracks of little feet, some with shoes and some barefoot. Following these tracks with his eye, he saw that they formed a beaten path towards the water side.

Ah, I see what the mischief is,” said he, nodding his head. “ Those little rascals, the boys, - they have stolen our stones to build a wharf with.”

The masons immediately went to examine the new structure. And to say the truth, it was well worth looking at, so neatly and with such admirable skill had it been planned and finished. The stones were put together so securely that there was no danger of their being. loosened by the tide, however swiftly it might sweep along. There was a broad and safe platform to stand upon, whence the little fishermen might cast their lines into deep water and draw up fish in abundance. Indeed, it almost seemed as if Ben and his comrades might be forgiven for taking the stones, because they had done their job in such a workmanlike manner.

“ The boys that built this wharf understood their business pretty well,” said one of the masons. “I should not be ashamed of such a piece of work myself.”

But the master mason did not seem to enjoy the joke. He was one of those unreasonable people who care a great deal more for their own rights and privileges than for the convenience of all the rest of the world.

“Sam,” said he, more gruffly than usual, “go call a constable.”

So Sam called a constable, and inquiries were set on foot to discover the perpetrators of the theft. In the course of the day warrants were issued, with the signature of a justice of the peace, to take the bodies of Benjamin Franklin and other evil-disposed persons who had stolen a heap of stones. If the owner of the stolen property had not been more merciful than the master mason, it might have gone hard with our friend Benjamin and his fellow-laborers. But, luckily for them, the gentleman had a respect for Ben's father, and, moreover, was amused with the spirit of the whole affair. He therefore let the culprits off pretty easily.

But, when the constables were dismissed, the poor boys had to go through another trial, and receive sentence, and suffer execution, too, from their own fathers. Many a rod, I grieve to say, was put in use on that unlucky night.

As for Ben, he was less afraid of a whipping than of his father's disapprobation. Mr. Franklin, as I have mentioned before, was a sagacious man, and also an inflexibly upright

He had read much for a person in his rank of life, and had pondered upon the ways of the world, until he had gained more wisdom than a whole library of books could have taught him. Ben had a greater reverence for his father than for any other person in the world, as well on account of his spotless integrity as of his practical sense and deep views of things.

Consequently, after being released from the clutches of the law, "Ben came into his father's presence with no small perturbation of mind.


Benjamin, come hither,” began Mr. Franklin, in his customary solemn and weighty tone.

The boy approached and stood before his father's chair, waiting reverently to hear what judgment this good man would pass upon his late offence.

He felt that now the right and wrong of the whole matter would be made to appear.

Benjamin,” said his father," what could induce you to take property which did not belong to you?”

“Why, father," replied Ben, hanging his head at first, but then lifting his eyes to Mr. Franklin's face, “ if it had been merely for my own benefit, I never should have dreamed of it. But I knew that the wharf would be a public convenience. If the owner of the stones should build a house with them, nobody would enjoy any advantage except himself. Now, I made use of them in a way that was for the advantage of many persons. I thought it right to aim at doing good to the greatest number."

“My son," said Mr. Franklin, solemnly, “ so far as it was in your power, you have done a greater harm to the public than to the owner of the stones."

“How can that be, father ?” asked Ben.

“ Because,” answered his father, “ in building your wharf with stolen materials, you have committed a moral wrong. There is no more terrible mistake than to violate what is eternally right for the sake of a seeming expediency. Those who act upon such a principle do the utmost in their power to destroy all that is good in the world.”

“ Heaven forbid !” said Benjamin.

“ No act,” continued Mr. Franklin, “ can possibly be for the benefit of the public generally which involves injustice to any individual. It would be easy to prove this by examples. But, indeed, can we suppose that our all-wise and just Creator 'would have so ordered the affairs of the world that a wrong act should be the true method of attaining a right end? It is impious to think so. And I do verily believe, Benjamin, that almost all the public and private misery of mankind arises

« ElőzőTovább »