« ElőzőTovább »
have a shop in the neighborhood, and they ^^^Would give him their patronage.
'Bf. Patrick O'Flannegan, who lived in the basement of the old house on whose steps they were seated, at once invited them to partake of the hospitalities of his mansion, saying he had but nine in his family, and his room was large, and they should be welcome to occupy a corner of it till they could find a better home. Of course the invitation was accepted, and the group followed Patrick down the steep, dirty steps that led to his damp apartment. The tops of the low windows were about upon a level with the sidewalk, bringing almost the entire apartment below the surface of the ground. The dim light that struggled down through the little boxed up, dusty windows, showed a straw-bed in two several corners of the room, three or four ricketty chairs, a rough bench, small table, tea-kettle, frying-pan, and several other articles of household comforts.
"You can lay your things in that corner," said Patrick, pointing to a vacant corner of the room, " and we'll soon get up some good straw for you to sleep on." In short, Bill and his family at once became domesticated in this subterranean tenement, which proved to be not merely a temporary residence, but their home for years. The limits of this history will not allow space to follow the fortunes of Bill through three or four of the first years of his city life. It must be sufficient to state generally, that though he found kindness and sympathy in his new associates, he found little else that was beneficial. The atmosphere around him was not favorable to industry, and his habits in that respect never improved, but rather grew worse. His neighbors did not work, and why should he? His neighbors were fond of listening to his songs, and why should he not sing to them? His neighbors drank beer, and porter, and sling, and gin toddy, and Bill needed but little coaxing to drink with them. And he did drink with them, moderately at first, but deeper and oflener from month to month, and in three years time he became a perfect sot.
The schooling that little Billy received during these three years was eminently calculated to fit him for his future profession. He had slept on the floor, lying down late and rising up early till his frame was as hardy and elastic as that of a young panther. He had been flogged so much by a drunken father, and had his ears boxed so often by a fretted and desponding mother, that he had lost all fear of their blows, and even felt a sort of uneasiness, as though matters were not all right, if by any chance the day passed by without his receiving them. He had lived on such poor diet, and so little of it,
that potatoe-skins had a fine relish, and a crust of bread was a luxury. He had battled with boys in the street till he had become such an adept at fisticuffs, that hoys of nearly twice his size stood in fear of him. And he had so often been harshly driven from the doors of the wealthy, where he had been sent to beg cold victuals, that he had come to regard mankind in general as a set of ferocious animals, against whose fangs it was necessary to be constantly on his guard. In short, Billy had been beaten about from post to pillar, and pillar to post so much, and had rubbed his head against so many sorts of people, that it had become pretty well filled with ideas of the hardest kind.
When Billy was about ten years old he came running in one day in grqat glee, with a sixpence in his hand, which he had found in the street. As soon as his father heard the announcement of it, he started up, and took down a junk bottle from a little shelf against the wall, and told Billy to take the sixpence, and go to the grocer's on the corner, and get the worth of it in rum. Sally begged that he would not send for rum, but let little Billy go to the baker's, and get a loaf of bread, for she had not had a mouthful of anything to eat for the day, and it was then noon. But Bill insisted upon having the rum, and told Billy to go along and get it, and be quick about it, or he would give him such a licking as he had not had for six months. Billy took the bottle and started; but as he left the door, his cheek reddened, and his lip curled with an expression of determination which it had not been accustomed to wear. He walked down the street, thinking of the consequences that would result from carrying home a bottle of rum. His father would be drunk all the afternoon, and through the night. His mother and himself would have to go without food, probably be abused and beaten, and when night came would find no repose. ,
He arrived at the grocer's, but he could not go in. He passed on a little farther, in anxious, deep thought. At last he stopped suddenly, lifted the bottle above his head, and then dashed it upon the pavement with all his might, breaking it into a thousand pieces.
"There," said Billy to himself, " I'll never carry any more rum home as long as I live. But I 'spose father '11 lick me half to death; but I don't care if he does, I'll never carry any more rum home as long as I live."
He brushed a tear from his eye, and bit his lip, as he stood looking at the fragments of the bottle a moment, and then passed on farther down the street. But now the question of what he should do, came home to him with painful force. If he returned back to the house, and encountered his enraged father, he was sure to be half killed. He wandered on, unconscious where he went, till he reached the Park. Here he met a newsboy crying papers, with great earnestness, and tremendous force of lungs. Billy watched him for the space of ten minutes, and saw him sell half a dozen papers. They contained important news by a foreign arrival, and people seemed eager to get hold of them. A new idea flashed across Billy's mind. Why could not he sell newspapers and get money as well as that boy 1 His resolution was at once formed, with almost the strength and firmness of manhood. It required capital, to be sure, to start with, but luckily he had the capital in his pocket. The rum-bottle had been broken, ,and he still retained the sixpence. He hastened immediately to the publishing office of the paper he had just seen sold. When he arrived there he found quite a crowd of newsboys pressing up to the counter, and clamorous for papers; for the publisher could not supply them fast enough to meet the demand. Billy edged his way in among them, and endeavored to aporoach the counter. But he was suddenly pushed back by two or three boys at once, who exclaimed—" What new-comer is this 1 Here's boys enough here now, so you better be off."
Another sung out " Go home you rag-bag, your mother don't know you're out!"
At this, one of the boys looked round that happened to know Billy, and he cried out— "Ah, Billy Snub, clear out of this; here's no place for you. No boys comes to this office that don't wear no hats and shoes!"
Billy felt the force of this argument, for he was bareheaded and barefooted, besides being sadly out at knees and elbows; and looking around, he perceived that all the boys in the room. had something on their heads, and something on their feet. He began to feel j as though he had perhaps got among the aristocracy of the newsboys, and shrank back a little, and stood in a corner of the room. The boys, however, were not disposed to let him rest in peace there. Several of them gathered around him, taunting him with jokes and jeers, and began to crowd against him to hustle him out of the room.
"Now take care," said Billy, "for I won't stand that from none of you."
"You won't, will you?" said the boys, bursting out intoa roar of laughter; and one of them took Billy by the nose, and attempted to pull him to the door. Billy sprang like a young catamount, and although he was considerably smaller and younger than his assailant, he gave him such a well-directed blow upon the chest, that he laid him sprawling upon the floor. Upon this, two or three
more came at him with great fury; but Billy's sleight of hand was exhibited with so much force and skill, that he made his way through them, and kept his coast clear; and when a stronger reinforcement was about to attack him, the publisher interfered, and ordered them to let that boy alone. Still they were disposed to continue their persecutions, till the publisher took up a long whip, and cracked it over their heads, and told them he would horsewhip the first one that dared to meddle with him. And in order to make amends to'Billy for the ill-treatment he had received, he said he should now be served with papers before any of the rest. He accordingly took Billy's six cents, and handed him three papers, and told him to sell them at three cents a-piece.
Billy eagerly grasped his papers, and ran !into the street. He had not been gone more than fifteen minutes, before he returned with nine cents, which he had received for the papers, and one more which he had found in the street. This enabled him to purchase five papers; and he found the publisher ready to wait upon him, in preference to the other boys; so he was soon despatched on his second cruise. He was not many minutes in furning his five papers into fifteen cents cash. This operation was repeated some half dozen times in the course of the afternoon, and when nisdit came, Billy found his stock of cash had increased to about a dollar.
This was a great overturn in Billy's fortune, sufficient to upset the heads of most boys of his age; but though his head swam a little on first ascertaining the great amount of money in his pocket, his strength and firmness of character sustained him, so that he was enabled to bear it with a good degree of composure. As the shadows of night gathered around him, Billy began to turn his thoughts homeward. But what could he do? jHe knew his father too well to venture himself in his presence, and had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that he must now, for the first time in his life, spend the night away from home. Still he instinctively wandered on through the streets that led him towards home, for the thought that his mother had probably been without food the whole day, pressed heavily upon his mind, and he was anxious to contrive some way to afford her relief. As he approached the neighborhood of his home, or rather the place where his parents resided, for it was no longer a home to him, he stopped at a grocer's, and purchased a sixpenny loaf of bread, sixpence worth of gingerbread, and half a dozen herrings, for which he paid another sixpence. With these he turned into the street, and walked thoughtfully and carefully towards the house, hesitating and looking frequently every
around him, lest his father might be out, and suddenly seize him. At last he reached the house. He stopped cautiously on the sidewalk, and looked, and listened. The"re was a dim light in the basement, but he heard no sound. He stepped lightly down the steps as far as the first window, and through the sash, which had lost a pane of glass, he dropped his bundle of provisions, and then ran with all his speed down the street. When he reached the first corner he stopped and looked back, and by the light of the street lamps, he saw his father and mother come out and stand on the sidewalk two or three minutes, looking earnestly around them in every direction. They then went quietly iack to their room, and Billy cautiously reid again to the house. He placed himself as near the window as he could without being discovered from within, and listened to what was going on. His mother took the little bundle to the table, and opened it. Her eyes filled with tears the moment she saw what it contained, for her first thought rested upon Billy. She could not divine by what means she had received such a timely gift, but somehow or other she could not help thinking that Billy was in some way connected with it.
"Come, Bill," said Sally to her husband, "we've got a good supper at last; now sit down and eat some."
Bill drew up to the table, and ate as one who. had been fasting twenty-four hours. After his appetite began to be satisfied, he said, "Now, Sail, where do you think all this come from V
"Well, I'm sure I can't tell any thing about it," replied Sally; "but I should'nt be afraid to lay my life on it, that Billy knows something about it."
"So does your granny know something about it, as much as Billy," said Snub, contemptuously. "All Billy cares about is to spend that sixpence, and eat it up; and now he daresn't come home. I wish I had hold of the little rascal, I'd shake his daylights out; I'd lick him till he could'nt stand."
"Oh, you're too cruel to that boy," said Sally; "Billy's a good child, and would do any thing for me, and for you too, for all you whip him so much. And I believe it's his means that got somebody to give us this good supper to-night. I hope the dear child will come home pretty soon, for I feel worried 'most to death about him."
"I hope he'll come, too," said Snub, " and I've a good mind to go and take a look after him, for I want to lick him most awfully."
At this, Billy began to feel as though it would be hazardous for him to remain any longer, so he hastened away down the street
to seek a resting-place for the night. This he found at last in the loft of a livery stable, where he crept away unobserved, and slept quietly till morning. True, he had one or two golden dreams, excited by his remarkable fortune the previous day, and when he awoke, his first impulse was to put his hand in his pocket, and ascertain whether he was really in possession of the fortune he had been dreaming of, or whether he was the same poor Billy Snub that he was two days before. The three hard, silver quarters wrych he felt in his pocket, roused him to the reality of his situation, and he sprang from his hard couch soon after daylight, resolved to renew the labors he had so successfully followed the day before. He had now a good capital to start wiih, and could work to better advantage than on the previous day. He accordingly soon supplied himself with an armful of papers, and placed himself on the best routs and at the best hours. The result was, that though it was not properly a newsday, there being no subject of special interest to give a demand for papers, yet, by his diligence and perseverance, he managed to clear in the course of the day, almost anothei^dollar, leaving in his pocket, when night came on, nearly a dollar and three quarters.
Having completed his work for the day, his thoughts instinctively turned to the home of his parents. He felt an intense desire to go and share with them the joys of his good fortune; but he dared not meet his father, for he knew well that a severe punishment would be inflicted upon him, and that his money would be taken from him to purchase rum. He could not, however, go to rest for the night, without getting a sight of his mother, if it were possible, and purchasing something for her comfort. He accordingly went and purchased some articles of provision, to the amount of a quarter of a dollar, rolled them in a paper, and made his way homeward. The evening was rather dark, and gave him a favorable opportunity to approach the house without being discovered. He saw his mother through the window, sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the room, with her head reclining on her hand, and apparently weeping. He could also hear his father walking in another part of the room, though he could not see him. He crept carefully to the window, dropped his paper of provisions into the room, and turned away down the street as fast as he could run.
He went again to his solitary lodgings, and rested till morning, when he arose with fresh vigor, and resumed the labors of the day. The same exertions and perseverance produced the same successful results he had met with the two previous days; and the evening saw the table of his parents again spread with a comfortable meal, which was improved this time by the addition of a little fruit.
Thus, day after day, and week after week, Billy successfully followed his new profession of newsboy, working hard and faring hard, in season and out of season, early and late, rain or shine. His lodging was sometimes in a stable, sometimes among the open market stalls, and sometimes under the portico of some public building. His food was of the coarsest and cheapest kind, bread and cheese, and potatoes and tish; and sometimes, when he had done a good day's work, he would treat himself to an apple or two, or some other fruit that happened to be in season.
But Billy never forgot his parents. Regularly every night he contrived tosupply them with a quantity of food sufficient for the following day: sometimes carrying it himself, and dropping it in the window, and sometimes, when the evening was light, and he was afraid of being discovered, employed another boy to carry it for him, while he stood at the corner, and watched to see that his errand was faithfully executed. At the end of three months, Billy found himself in possession of thirty dollars in cash, notwithstanding he had in the meantime purchased himself a pretty good second-hand cap, a little too small to be sure, but nevertheless he managed to keep it on the top of his head; also a secondhand frock coat, which was somewhat too large, but whose capacious pockets he found exceedingly convenient for carrying his surplus gingerbread and apples. He had also, in the meantime, sent his mother calico sufficient to make her a gown, besides sundry other little articles of wearing apparel. He had been careful all this time, not to come in contact with his father, though he once came very near falling into his hands. His father discovered him at a little distance in the street, and ran to seize him, but Billy saw him in time to flee round a corner, and through an alley way that led to another street, and so escaped.
Bill Snub at last came to the conclusion, that his son Billy was doing a pretty fair business in something or other, for he had- become satisfied that the food which he and hisi wife daily received, was furnished by Billy, as well as occasional articles of his wife's clothing. And when he ascertained from some of the boys of Billy's acquaintance, that he had probably laid up some thirty or forty dollars in cash, Bill at once conceived the design of getting possession of the money. As he could not catch Billy in the street, he formed a plan to get the aid of police officers; and, in order to do that, he found it necessary to make a charge against Billy. He
accordingly repaired to the police office, and entered a complaint against his boy for having stolen thirty or forty dollars of his money, which he was spending about the streets. He described the boy to the police officers, who were soon despatched in search of him, with orders to arrest him and see if any money could be found upon him. As Billy was flying about in all parts of the city, selling his papers, it was nearly night before the officers came across him. He had just sold his last paper, and was walking leisurely along the street, eating a piece of gingerbread and an apple, when a constable came suddenly behind him and seized him by the shoulder. Billy looked up in surprise, and asked the man what he wanted.
"I'll let you know what I want, you little rascal!" said the constable, harshly. "Where did you get all that gingerbread and apples, sir?'"
"I bought it," said Billy.
"You bought it, did yel and where did you get the money, sir V
"I earntit," said Billy.
"Youearntit, did ye? and how did you earn it, sir?"
"By selling newspapers," said Billy.
"Tell me none of your lies, sir!" said the constable, giving him an extra shake by the shoulder. "Now, sir, how much money have you got in your pockets?"
"I've got some," said Billy, trembling, and trying to pull away from the man.
"Got some, have you ?" said the constable, holding him by a still firmer grip. "How much have you got, sir 1 Let me see it?"
"I shan't show my money to nobody," said Billy, " so you let me alone."
»" We'll see about that, sir, when we get to the police office," said the constable, dragging Billy away by the shoulder.
It was so late in the day when they arrived at the office, that the examining magistrates had left, and gone home. The constable, therefore, with one of his fellow-officers, proceeded to search Billy, and found something over thirty dollars of good money in his pockets. Billy persisted that he had earned the money by selling papers; but the officers, with much severity, told him to leave off his lying, for boys that sold papers didn't have so much money as that. They knew all about it; he had stolen the money, and he must be locked up till next morning, when he would have his trial. So they took Billy's money from him, and locked him up in a dark gloomy room for the night. A sad night was this for poor Billy. At first he was so bewildered and shocked at the thought of being locked up alone all night, that he hardly realized where he was, or what was going on. As they pushed him into his solitary apartment, and closed the door upon him, and turned the large grating key, he instinctively clung to the door latch, and tried to pull it open. He called to tliem as loud as he could scream, to open the door and let him out, and they might have all the money in welcome. He could get no'answer, however, to his calls; and when he stopped and listened, the silence around him pressed upon him with such appalling power, that he almost fell to the floor. He reeled across the room two or three times, and returned again to the door; but there was no chance to escape, and the conviction was fbrced^upon him, that he was indeed locked up, and all alone, without the power df speaking to any living being. He sank down upon a bench in a corner of the room, and wept a long time mo^t bitterly. When his tears had somewhat subsided, and he roused himself up again so as to look about, the night had closed in and left him in such deep darkness that he could not see across the room. He rose and walked about, feeling his way by the walls, and continued to walk a great part of the night, for there was nothing to rest on but the floor or the little bench, and he could not have slept if he had had the softest bed in the world. He could not imagine the cause of his imprisonment, for he was sure he had injured no one; but what grieved him most, was the thought that his poor father and mother were probably without food, as he had been prevented from carrying anything home that evening. At the thought of his mother, his tears gushed forth again in a copious flood.
Towards morning he sank down exhausted, upon the floor, and fell into a short sleep. Still he was awake again by daylight, and up and walking the room. The morning seemed long, very long, to him, for it was ten o'clock before the officers came to take him before the magistrate. He was glad to see the door open again, even though it was to carry him to court, for the idea of being tried for stealing, was not so horrible to him as being locked up there alone in that dark room.
The money was given to the magistrate, and Billy was placed at the bar to answer to the charge against him. The officer stated that he had found the boy in the street by the description he had of him, and on searching him, the money was found in his pockets.
"Well, that's a clear case," said the magistrate; "precious rogue—large amount for a boy—thirty dollars—that's worth three month's imprisonment—the boy must be locked up for three months."
Billy shuddered and began to weep.
"It's too late to cry now," said the magistrate, "you should have thought of that before; but, after committing the crime, there's no way to escape the punishment. What induced you to steal this money?"
"I didn't steal it, sir," said Billy, very earnestly.
"Ah, that is only making a bad matter worse," said the magistrate; "the best way for you is to confess the whole, and resolve to reform and do better in future."
"But I didn't steal it," said Billy with increasing energy; "I earnt it, every cent of it!"
"You earnt it!" said the magistrate, peering over his spectacles at Billy.; "and how did you earn it?"
"By selling newspapers," answered Billy.
There was something so frank and open in the boy's appearance, that the magistrate began to wake up to the subject a little. He asked the officer if the money had been identified by the loser. The officer replied that the particular money had not been identified, only the amount.
"Well, bring the man forward," said the magistrate; "he must identify his money."
The officer then called up Bill Snub, who was stowed away in a distant corner of the room, apparently desirous of keeping out of sight. This was the first intimation that Billy had that his father was his accuser, and it gave him such a shock, that he sank down upon the seat, and almost fainted away. The magistrate asked Snub if that was his money, found on the boy. Snub said it was.
"Well, what sort of money was it that you lost?" said the magistrate. "You must describe it."
"Oh, it was—it was all good money," said jSnub, coloring.
"But you must be particular," said the magistrate, " and describe the money. What kind of money was it V
"Well, some of it was paper money, and some of it was hard money," said Snub; "it's all good money!"
"But how much of it was hard money?" interrogated the magistrate.
"Well, considerable of it," said Bill; "I don't know exactly how much."
"What banks were the bills on:" asked the magistrate.
"Well, [don't know exactly," replied Bill, "but I believe it was some of the banks of this city."
"How large were the bills?" asked the magistrate.
"Well, some of'em was larger, and: smaller," said Bill.