“Well, I have found out one thing,” said Jack as, hot, tired, and dusty, he came to his mother.
“What is that?” she asked.
“That there are a great many boys in the world.”
“Didn’t you know that before?”
“Partly; but I didn’t know there were so many more boys than are wanted.”
“Why do you think there are more than are wanted?”
“Because I have been ’round and ’round till I am worn out, trying to find a place to work. Wherever I go, there are more boys than places. Doesn’t that show that there are too many boys?”
“Not exactly,” said his mother, with a smile. “It depends entirely on the kind of boy. A good boy is always wanted somewhere.”
“Well, if I am a good boy, I wish that I knew that I was wanted.”
“Patience, patience, my boy. In such a great world as this is, with so many places and so many boys, it is no wonder some of them do not find their places at once. But be sure, dear,” as she laid a very caressing hand on his arm, “that every boy who wants a chance to do fair, honest work will find it.”
“That’s the kind of work I want to do,” said Jack. “I don’t want anybody’s money for nothing. Let me see, what have I to offer?—All the schooling and all the wits I have been able to get up in thirteen years; good, stout hands; and a civil tongue.”
“And a mind and heart set on doing faithful duty, suggested his mother.
“I hope so,” said Jack. “I remember father used to say: Just as soon as you undertake to work for any one, you must bear in mind that you have sold yourself for the given time. Your time, your strength, your energy, are his, and your best efforts to seek his interests in every way are his due.'”
The earnest tone in which the boy spoke seemed to give assurance that he would pay good heed to the words of the father whose counsel could no more reach him.
For two or three days longer Jack had reason to hold his opinion that there were more boys than the world wanted, at the end of which time he met a business man who, questioning him closely, said: “There are a great many applications for the place, but a large number of the boys come and stay a short time, and then leave if they think they can do a little better. When a boy gets used to our route and customers, we want him to stay. If you will agree to stay at least three years, we will agree to pay you three dollars a week as errand boy.”
“That is just what I wanted to do, sir,” said Jack, eagerly. So he was installed, and proud enough he was to bring his wages home every week, and realize that, small as they were, the regular help was of great value to his mother.
It is not to be wondered at that the faithful carrying out of his father’s admonition after a while attracted the attention not only of his employers, but of others with whom he was brought in contact in the pursuit of his duties. One day he was asked into the office of Mr. Lang, a gentleman to whom he frequently carried parcels of value.
“Have you ever thought of changing your situation?” asked Mr. Lang.
“No, sir,” said Jack.
“Perhaps you could do better,” said the other. “I want a boy who is quick and intelligent, and who can be relied on; and, from what I see of you, I think you are that sort of boy. I want you to drive a delivery wagon, and will pay you five dollars a week.”
Jack’s eyes opened wide.
“It is wonderfully good pay for a boy like me, I am sure. But I promised to keep on with Mr. Hill for three years, and the second year is only just begun.”
“Well, have you signed a regular agreement with Mr. Hill?”
“No, sir; I told him I would stay.”
“You have a mother to assist, you told me. Could not you tell Mr. Hill that you feel obliged to do better, when you have a chance?”
“I don’t believe I could,” said Jack, looking with his straight, frank gaze into the gentleman’s face. “You see, sir, if I broke my word with him, I should not be the kind of boy to be relied on that you want.”
“I guess you are about right,” said Mr. Lang, with a sigh. “Come and see me when your time is out; I dare say I shall want you then.”
Jack went home very much stirred by what had been said to him.
After all, could it be wrong to go where he would do so much better? Was it not really his duty to accept the position? He could then drive the wagon instead of trudging wearily along the streets. They had never felt so hot and dusty as they did just now, when he might escape from the tiresome routine. Might, but how?—By the sacrifice of his pledged word; by selling his truth and his honor. So strongly did the reflection force itself upon him that when he told his mother of the offer he had received, he merely added, “It would be a grand good thing if I could take it, wouldn’t it, mother?”
“Yes, it would.”
“Some boys would change without thinking of letting a promise stand in their way.”
“Yes, but that is the kind of boy who, sooner or later, is not wanted. It is because you have not been that sort of boy that you are wanted now.”
Jack worked away, doing such good work, as he became more and more accustomed to the situation, that his mother sometimes wondered that Mr. Hill, who seemed always kindly interested in him, never appeared to think of raising his pay. This, however, was not Mr. Hill’s way of doing things, even though he showed an increasing disposition to trust Jack with important business.
So the boy trudged through the three years, at the end of them having been trusted far more than is usually the case with errand boys. He had never forgotten the offer made by Mr. Lang, and one day, meeting that gentleman on the street, ventured to remind him that his present engagement was nearly out, adding, “You spoke to me about driving the wagon, sir.”
“Ah, so I did; but you are older now and worth more. Call around and see me.”
One evening, soon after, Jack lingered in Mr. Hill’s office after the other errand boys had been paid and had gone away.
“My three years are up tonight, sir,” he said.
“Yes, they are,” said Mr. Hill, looking at him as if he had remembered it.
“Will you give me a recommendation to some one else, sir?”
“Well, I will, if you are sure that you want to leave me.”
“I did not know that you wanted me to stay, but”—he hesitated, and then went on—”my mother is a widow, and I feel as if I ought to do the best I can for her, and Mr. Lang told me to call on him.”
“Has Mr. Lang ever made you an offer?”
Jack told him what Mr. Lang had said nearly two years before.
“Why didn’t you go then?” asked Mr. Hill.
“Because I had promised to stay with you; but you wouldn’t blame me for trying to better myself now?”
“Not a bit of it. Are you tired of running errands?”
“I’d rather ride than walk,” said Jack with a smile.
“I think it is about time you were doing better than either. Perhaps you think that you have been doing this faithful work for me through these years for next to nothing; but if so, you are mistaken. You have been doing better work than merely running errands. You have been serving an apprenticeship to trust and honesty. I know you now to be a straight-forward, reliable boy, and it takes time to learn that. It is your capital, and you ought to begin to realize it. You may talk to Mr. Lang if you wish, but I will give you a place in the office, with a salary of six hundred dollars for the first year, with the prospect of a raise after that.”
Jack did not go to see Mr. Lang, but straight to his mother, with a shout and a bound.
“You’re right, you’re right, mother!” he cried. “No more hard work for you, mother. I’m wanted, you see, wanted enough to get good pay! All the hardest part is over.”