“A telegram for you, Robert.”
“A telegram for me?” repeated Robert Frost, as he took the envelope which his fellow clerk, Livingston Palmer, handed him. “I wonder where it can be from?”
“Perhaps it’s from your mother. Your step-father may be sick again, and she may want you at home.”
“No, Mr. Talbot is quite well now; my mother said so in her letter of yesterday. I imagine this is from Timberville, Michigan.”
“Is your friend, Dick Marden, still up there attending to that lumber business for his uncle?”
“Didn’t he want you to stay there with him?”
“He did, but I told him I would rather remain in the city. I like working for Mr. Gray, here in the ticket office, a great deal better than I do lumbering.”
“I can see that. You are an out and out business boy, Robert. I shouldn’t be surprised some day to see you have a cut-rate ticket office of your own.”
“I’d rather be in a bank, or some large wholesale house, Livingston. But excuse me while I read the telegram.”
“Certainly. Don’t mind me.”
Tearing open the envelope, Robert Frost pulled out the bit of yellow paper, upon which was written the following:
“I am called away to California and to Canada on business. May remain for three months. Will write to you later on. My uncle’s case is in a bad mix-up again.
Robert read the brief communication with much interest. Dick Marden was much older than the boy, but a warm friendship existed between the pair.
“No bad news, I hope,” said Livingston Palmer, after waiting on a customer, who had come in to buy a cut-rate ticket to Denver.
“Dick Marden has gone to California. He says the Amberton claim to that timber land is in a bad mix-up again.”
“I see. Well, that doesn’t concern you, does it?”
“Not exactly. But I would like to see Mr. Amberton come out ahead on the deal, for I think he deserves it.”
“I know you worked hard enough to get that map for him,” said Livingston Palmer, laughing. “Have you ever heard anything more of those two rascals who tried to get the map away from you?”
“No–and I don’t want to hear from them. All I want is to be left alone, to make my own way in the world,” concluded Robert.
Robert Frost was a lad of sixteen, strongly built, and with a handsome, expressive face. He had been born and brought up in the village of Granville, some fifty or sixty miles from Chicago, but had left his home several months before to do as he had just said, make his own way in the world.
The readers of the companion tale to this, “Out for Business,” already know why Robert left home. To new readers I would state that it was on account of his step-father, James Talbot, who had married the widow Frost mainly for the purpose of getting possession of the fortune which had been left to her,–a fortune which upon her death was to go to her only child, Robert.
From his first entrance into the handsome and comfortable Frost homestead, James Talbot had acted very dictatorial toward Robert, and the boy, being naturally high-strung, had resented this, and many a bitter quarrel had ensued. At last Robert could stand his step-father’s manner no longer, and, with his mother’s consent, he left home for Chicago, to try his fortunes in the great city by the lakes.
Robert was fortunate in falling in with a rough but kind-hearted miner named Dick Marden, and the miner, who was well-to-do, obtained for the youth a position in the cut-rate ticket office of one Peter Gray, an old acquaintance. Gray gave Robert first five and then seven dollars per week salary, and to this Marden added sufficient to make an even twelve dollars, so the boy was enabled to live quite comfortably.
Dick Marden had an uncle living at Timberville, Michigan, who was old and feeble, and who was having a great deal of trouble about some timber lands which he claimed, but which an Englishman and a French Canadian were trying to get away from him. There was a map of the lands in the possession of an old lumberman named Herman Wenrich, and his daughter Nettie, who lived in Chicago, and this map Robert obtained for Marden and his uncle, Felix Amberton, and delivered it to them, although not until he had had several encounters with the people who wished to keep the map from Amberton. For his services Robert was warmly thanked by both Amberton and Marden, and the lumberman promised to do the handsome thing by the boy as soon as his titles to the lumber lands were clearly established in law.
During the time spent in Chicago Robert had had considerable trouble with his step-father, who was trying his best to get hold of some of Mrs. Talbot’s money, with the ostensible purpose of going into the real estate business in the great city of the lakes. But a stroke of paralysis had placed Mr. Talbot on a sick bed, and upon his recovery he had told both his wife and his step-son that he intended to turn over a new leaf. Mrs. Talbot believed him, but Robert was suspicious, for he felt that his step-father’s nature was too utterly mean for him to reform entirely.
“I hope he does reform, mother,” the boy said to his fond parent. “But if I were you I would not expect too much–at least, at the start. I would not trust him with my money.”
“He has not asked me for money,” had been Mrs. Talbot’s reply.
“But he wanted that ten thousand dollars to open up with in Chicago.”
“That was before he had the attack of paralysis, Robert.”
“He may want it again, as soon as he is himself once more. Take my advice and be careful what you do.” And so mother and son parted, not to see each other again for a long while. But Robert was right; less than two months later James Talbot applied again for the money, stating that he would be very careful of it, so that not a dollar should be lost. He thought himself a keen business man, but thus far he had allowed every dollar that had come into his possession to slip through his fingers.
Robert felt sorry that Dick Marden had gone to California, for he had reckoned on seeing his friend upon his return to Chicago.
“Now, I suppose I won’t see him for a long while,” he thought.
Robert had settled down at the office, expecting the position to be a permanent one, but on the Saturday following the receipt of Marden’s telegram a surprise awaited him. Mr. Gray called him into his private office.
“Robert,” he said, “I have bad news for you.”
“Bad news, Mr. Gray? What is it?”
“I am sorry to say it, but I shall have to dispense with your services from to-night.”
Robert flushed, and felt dismayed. This announcement was like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
“Are you dissatisfied with me, Mr. Gray?” he asked.
“Not at all. Your services have been entirely satisfactory.”
“Then why do you send me away?”
“I cannot very well help it. I have a nephew from the country who wants a place in the city. His father has written me, asking as a favor that I will give Donald a place in my office. He is poor, and I don’t see how I can refuse his request.”
“Yes, sir, I see. I am glad you are not discharging me on account of dissatisfaction.”
“You may be assured of that. I suppose you have some money saved up?”
“And no doubt your friend Mr. Marden will provide for you?”
“Mr. Marden has gone to California for three months.”
“But you know his address there?”
Peter Gray looked sober, for he was a man of good feelings.
“Perhaps I can arrange to keep you,” he said. “You know as much about the business as Mr. Palmer. I can discharge him and keep you.”
“I would not consent to that, sir. Livingston Palmer needs his salary, and I wouldn’t be willing to deprive him of it. I can get along somehow. When do you wish me to go?”
“My nephew arrived at my house this morning. He will be ready to go to work on Monday morning.”
“Very well, sir.”
“Of course I will give you a good recommendation–a first class one.”
“Thank you, sir.”
At six o’clock the broker handed Robert his week’s wages, and Robert went out of the office, out of a place, and with prospects by no means flattering.
Fortunately for Robert he had about twenty dollars in his pocket, so that he was not in any immediate danger of suffering from want. He would have had more, but had bought some necessary articles of wearing apparel, assuming that his position was a permanent one.
Of course he began to seek for another place immediately. He examined the advertising columns of the daily papers, and inquired for anything he thought would suit him. But it so happened that business was unusually quiet, and he met with refusals everywhere, even where it was apparent that he was regarded favorably. There was one exception, however. He was offered three dollars a week in a small furnishing goods store, but this he felt that he could not afford to accept.
As he came back to his boarding place every afternoon, he grew more and more despondent.
“Is there no place open to me in this big city?” he asked himself.
One thing he was resolved upon. He would not go back to his old home. It would be too much of a triumph for his step-father, who had often predicted that Robert would fail in his undertaking to support himself. And yet he must do something.
He began to watch the newsboys near the Sherman House briskly disposing of their merchandise.
“I wonder if they make much,” he thought.
He put the question to one pleasant-looking boy, of whom he bought an evening paper.
“I make about sixty or seventy cents a day,” was the reply.
Sixty or seventy cents a day! That meant about four dollars a week. It was scarcely better than the salary offered in the furnishing goods store, and the employment would not be so agreeable. He felt that he should not like to have his step-father or any one who knew him in his native town seeing him selling daily papers in the street, so he decided not to take up that business except as a last resort.
One day he went into a large dry goods store to purchase a small article. He made his purchase and started to go out.
All at once he heard a cry, proceeding from a lady.
“I have lost my purse.”
“That boy’s got it!” said a voice.
Then much to his bewilderment Robert found himself seized by the shoulder, and a pocket-book was drawn out from the side pocket of his sack coat.
“Send for an officer!” said the floor-walker. “The boy is a thief!”