Horatio Alger.

Tom, the bootblack : or, The road to success online

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[Illustration: "Your forged document will help you little," said Mr.
Grey, triumphantly. "I have torn it into a hundred pieces." - Page 138.]





_Author of "Joe's Luck," "Frank Fowler, the Cash Boy," "Tom Temple's
Career," "The Errand Boy," "Tom Turner's Legacy," etc., etc._






"How do you feel this morning, Jacob?" asked a boy of fifteen, bending
over an old man crouched in the corner of an upper room, in a poor
tenement-house, distant less than a quarter of a mile from the New York
City Hall.

"Weak, Tom," whined the old man, in reply. "I - I ain't got much

"Would you like some breakfast?"

"I - I don't know. Breakfast costs money."

"Never you mind about that, Jacob. I can earn money enough for both of
us. Come, now, you'd like some coffee and eggs, wouldn't you?"

There was a look of eager appetite in the old man's eyes as he heard
the boy speak.

"Yes," he answered, "I should like them; but we can't afford it."

"Don't you be afraid of that. I'll go and ask Mrs. Flanagan to get some
ready at once. I've earned thirty cents this morning already, Jacob,
and that'll pay for breakfast for the two of us. I think I could eat
some breakfast myself."

Jacob uttered a feeble remonstrance, but the boy did not stop to hear
it. He went down the rough staircase, and knocked at the door of the
room below. It was opened by a stout, wholesome-looking Irish woman,
who saluted the boy heartily.

"Well, Tom, and how's your grandfather this mornin'?"

"He's weak, Mrs. Flanagan; but he'll be the better for some breakfast,
and so shall I. I'll go and buy half a dozen eggs, if you'll be kind
enough to cook them, and make some coffee for us. I'll pay you for your

"Of course I will, Tom. And for the eggs you needn't go out, for I've
got the same in the closet; but I'm short of bread, and, if you'll buy
a loaf, I'll have the coffee and eggs ready in no time."

While Tom is on his way to the baker's shop, a few words of explanation
and description may be in place. First, for our hero. I have already
said he was fifteen. Let me add that he was stout and strongly built,
with an open, prepossessing face, and the air of one who is ready to
fight his own battles without calling for assistance. His position in
life is humble, for he is a street bootblack. He has served, by turns,
at other vocations; but he has found none of them pay so well as this.
He has energy and enterprise, and few of his comrades secure so many
customers as he. For years he has lived with the old man introduced as
Jacob, and is popularly regarded as his grandson; but Jacob has never
made claim to that relationship, nor has he ever volunteered any
information to the boy as to what originally brought them together.
Occasionally Tom has tried to obtain some information, but on such
occasions Jacob has been very reticent, and has appeared, for some
reason, unwilling to speak. So, by degrees, Tom has given up asking
questions, and has been much more concerned about the means of living
than about his pedigree.

Jacob has done little or nothing for their common support, though at
times, greatly to the annoyance of Tom, he has gone out on the street
and asked alms. Tom, being high-spirited and independent, has resented
this, and has always interfered, in a very decided manner, to prevent
Jacob's figuring as a beggar. Though only a bootblack, he has an honest
independence of feeling, in which any one is justified who works,
however humbly, for his support.

Old Jacob is, moreover, a miser, so far as he can be. Whatever money he
may have acquired by begging, he has kept. At all events, he has
offered nothing of it for the common expenses. But Tom has not troubled
himself about this. He suspects that Jacob may have a few dollars
secreted somewhere, but is perfectly willing he should keep them for
his own satisfaction. His earnings average over a dollar a day, and
with this sum he is able to pay the small rent of their humble
apartment, and buy their food.

In ten minutes Tom reappeared with a loaf under his arm. The door of
Mrs. Flanagan's room was partly open, and he entered without ceremony.
The good woman was bustling about preparing the eggs. The coffee-pot
was already on the stove.

"It'll be ready in a minute, Tom," she said. "A cup of hot coffee'll do
the poor craythur, yer grandfather, a power of good. So he's fable, is

"Yes, Mrs. Flanagan."

"He won't last long, to my thinkin'."

"Do you think he's going to die?" asked Tom, thoughtfully.

"Yes, poor craythur. It's all he can do to drag himself up and down

"I shall be sorry to have him die," said Tom, "though I don't believe
he's any relation to me."

"Isn't he your grandfather, then?" asked Mrs. Flanagan, in surprise.

"No; he never said he was."

"Then what makes the two of you live together? Maybe he's your uncle,
though he looks too old for that."

"I don't think he's any relation. All I know is, I've lived with him
ever since I was so high."

And Tom indicated with his hand the height of a boy of six.

"Then he's never told you anything?"

"No. I've asked him sometimes, but he didn't seem to want to speak."

When Tom re-entered the room he found the old man crouching in the
corner, as at first.

"Come, Jacob," he said, cheerfully, "get up; I've got some breakfast
for you."

The old man's features lighted up as he inhaled the grateful odor of
the coffee, and he rose with some effort to his feet, and seated
himself at the little table on which our hero placed it.

"Now, Jacob," said Tom, cheerfully, "I'll pour you out a cup of coffee.
Mrs. Flanagan made it, and it's bully. It'll put new life into you.
Then what do you say to a plate of eggs and some roll? I haven't got
any butter, but you can dip it in your coffee. Now, isn't this a nice

"Yes, Tom," said the old man, surveying the coffee and eggs with eyes
of eager desire. "It's nice; but we can't afford to live so all the

"Never you mind about that; we can afford it this morning; so don't
spoil your appetite with thinkin' how much it costs."

"Now," said Tom, after he had helped the old man, "I don't mind takin'
something myself. I ain't troubled with a delicate appetite, 'specially
when I've been up and at work for two hours."

"Did you make much, Tom?"

"Well, I ain't made my fortune yet. I've earned thirty cents, but I'll
make it up to a dollar before noon."

"You're a good boy, Tom," said the old man, approvingly. "Don't be
afraid of work; I'd work, too, if I wasn't so old. It costs a sight to
live, and I don't earn a cent."

"There ain't no need of it, Jacob; I can earn enough for the two of us.
I'm young and strong. You are old and weak. When I'm an old man, like
you, I won't want to work no more."

"I ain't so very old," said Jacob, jealously. "I'm only turned
sixty-five. There's a good many years of life in me yet."

"Of course there is, Jacob," said Tom, though as he looked at his
companion's thin, wasted face and shaking hand, he felt very doubtful
on this point.

"My father lived to be seventy-five," said Jacob.

"So will you," said Tom, though, to the boy of fifteen, sixty-five
appeared a very advanced age, and but little younger than eighty.

"I'll be stronger soon," said Jacob. "The weather ain't suited me."

"That's it, Jacob. Now let me give you another cup of coffee. It goes
to the right spot, don't it? Don't you be afraid; there's plenty of

So he filled Jacob's cup once more, and the old man drank the contents
with evident relish.

"Now don't you feel better?" asked Tom. "Why, you look ten years
younger'n you did before you sat down. There's nothing like a bully
breakfast to make a feller feel tip-top."

"Yes, I do feel better," said Jacob. "I - I think you're right, Tom. If
I was rich, I'd always have a good breakfast."

"So you shall now, Jacob. It don't cost much. Now lie down again, and
I'll take these dishes down to Mrs. Flanagan."

Tom speedily reappeared, and said, cheerfully:

"If there's nothing more you want, Jacob, I'll go out and look out for
work. Mrs. Flanagan will bring you up some toast at noon, and I'll be
back at six o'clock."

"All right, Tom. Go to work, there's a good boy. It costs a sight of
money to live."

Tom seized his blacking-box and hurried down stairs. He had delayed
longer than he intended, and was resolved to make up for lost time.



No sooner had Tom left the room than the old man rose slowly from his
couch, and, walking feebly to the door, bolted it; then, going to a
corner of the room, he lifted a plank from the flooring, and, thrusting
his hand beneath, drew up a tin box. He opened this with a small key
which he wore about his neck, suspended by a cord, and revealed a heap
of silver and copper coins, filling the box two-thirds full. Upon this
his eyes were fixed with eager and gloating satisfaction.

"It's all mine!" he muttered, joyfully. "Tom doesn't know about it. He
mustn't know - he might want me to spend it. I will count it."

He took it out by handfuls, and began to count it for at least the
hundredth time, putting together coins of similar value in little
piles, till there was a circle of silver and copper about him.

It was a work of time for the old man, and probably half an hour was
consumed before he had finished his task.

"Ninety-nine dollars!" he exclaimed, in alarm, at the end of the
calculation. "Somebody has robbed me; I ought to have twenty-five
cents more. Could Tom have got at the box? Maybe I have made a mistake.
I will count again."

With nervous fingers he recommenced the count, fearing that he had met
with a loss. He was half through his task, when a knock was heard at
the door. The old man started in agitation, and glanced apprehensively
at the door.

"Who's there?" he asked, in quivering accents.

"It's I," answered a hearty voice, which Jacob readily recognized as
that of Mrs. Flanagan.

"You can't come in," said the old man, peevishly. "What do you want?"

"I only came to ask how ye are, and if I can do anything for ye."

"No, you can't. I'm well - no, I'm sick, and I'd rather be left alone."

"All right," said the good woman, in no wise offended, for she pitied
the old man. "If you want anything, jist _stomp_ on the floor, and I'll
hear ye, and come up."

"Yes," said Jacob, hastily. "Now go down - that's a good woman. I want
to go to sleep."

"Poor craythur!" said Mrs. Flanagan, to herself. "It's little he enjoys
the world, which is a blessin', as he will soon have to lave it."

"I hope she isn't looking through the keyhole," thought Jacob, in
alarm. "She might see my money."

But the footsteps of the good woman descending the stairs came to his
ears, and reassured him.

"It's well I locked the door," he said to himself. "I wouldn't want it
known that I had all this money, or it wouldn't be safe. It's taken me
a long time to get it, and it isn't quite a hundred dollars. If I had
seventy-five cents more" - he had by this time found the missing
quarter - "it would make just a hundred. If Tom wouldn't mind, I could
get it easily by begging. I might have it by to-morrow. I wonder if he
would care much," muttered the old man, as he put back the coins
carefully into the tin box. "I - I think I'll go out a little while.
He'll never know it."

By this time he had locked the box and replaced it beneath the
flooring, restoring the plank to its original place.

"I'll lie down a little while till I feel strong," he muttered, "then
I'll go out. If I go up on Broadway, Tom won't see me. He ought not to
mind my begging. I am too weak to work, and it's the only way I can get

He lay down on the bed, and, after his exertion, small as it was, the
rest was grateful to him. But the thought haunted him continually that
he needed but seventy-five cents to make up his hoard to a hundred
dollars, and the eager desire prompted him to forsake his rest and go
out into the streets.

After awhile he rose from his bed.

"I am rested enough now," he said. "I think I can go out for a little
while. I will get back before Tom comes home."

He took an old battered hat from a nail on which it hung, and with
feeble step left the room, grasping the banister to steady his steps as
he descended the stairs.

Mrs. Flanagan's door was open, and, though the old man made but little
noise, she heard it.

She lifted both hands in amazement when she saw him.

"Shure ye are too wake to go out," said she. "Come, now, go up and lie
on the bed till ye are better. Tom'll be mad if he knows ye have gone

"Ye needn't tell him," said Jacob, hastily. "I want to breathe the
fresh air; it'll do me good."

"Shure you're not fit to go alone; I'll send my Mike wid you. He's only
six, but he's a smart lad."

"I'd rather go alone," said Jacob, who was afraid the little boy would
report his begging. "I - I am stronger than you think. I won't be gone

Mrs. Flanagan saw that he was obstinate, and she did not press the
point. But after he had got down stairs she called Mike, and said:

"Mike, dear, go after the old man, and see where he goes; but don't you
let him see you. I'll give you a penny to buy candy when you get back."

Mike was easily persuaded, for he had the weakness for candy common to
boys of his age, of whatever grade, and he proceeded to follow his
mother's directions.

When Jacob got to the foot of the lowest staircase he felt more
fatigued than he expected, but his resolution remained firm. He must
have the seventy-five cents before night. To-morrow he could rest. Let
him but increase his hoard to a hundred dollars, and he would be

It was not without a painful effort that he dragged himself as far as
Broadway, though the distance was scarcely quarter of a mile. Little
Mike followed him, partly because his mother directed him to do it,
partly because, young as he was, he was curious to learn where Jacob
was going, and what he was going to do. His curiosity was soon
gratified. He saw the old man remove his battered hat, and hold it out
in mute appeal to the passers-by.

It was not long before Jacob received ten cents.

"What's the matter with you?" asked another passer-by, five minutes

"I'm sick and poor," whined Jacob.

"Well, there's something for you," and the old man, to his joy, found
his hoard increased twenty-five cents. This he put into his pocket,
thinking that he would be more likely to inspire compassion, and obtain
fresh contributions, if only the ten cents were visible.

He did not get another contribution as large. Still, more than one
passer-by, attracted by his wretched look, dropped something into his
hat, till the sum he desired was made up. He had secured the
seventy-five cents necessary to make up the hundred dollars; but his
craving was not satisfied. He thought he would stay half an hour
longer, and secure a little more. He was tired, but it would not take
long, and he could rest long enough afterward. An unlucky impulse led
him to cross the street to the opposite side, which he fancied would be
more favorable to his purpose. I say unlucky, for he was struck down,
when half way across, by some stage horses, and trampled under foot.

There was a rush to his rescue, and he was lifted up and carried into a
neighboring shop.

"Does anybody know who he is, or where he lives?" asked a policeman.

"I know him," said little Mike, who had witnessed the accident, and
followed the crowd in. "His name is old Jacob, and he lives in Carter's

"Is there anybody to take care of him - any wife or daughter?" asked the

Mike explained that he had only a grandson, and the physician thereupon
directed that he be carried to Bellevue Hospital, while Mike ran home
to bear the important news to his mother.



Tom, of course, knew nothing of Jacob's accident. He fancied him safe
at home, and was only concerned to make enough money to pay the
necessary expenses of both. He felt little anxiety on this score, as he
was of an enterprising disposition, and usually got his fair share of
business. He stationed himself near the Astor House, and kept an eye on
the boots of all who passed, promptly offering his services where they
appeared needed. Of course, there were long intervals between his
customers, but in the course of two hours he had made fifty cents,
which he regarded as doing fairly.

Finally a gentleman, rather tall and portly, descended the steps of the
Astor House, and bent his steps in Tom's direction.

"Shine yer boots?" asked Tom.

The gentleman looked down upon the face of the boy, and a sudden
expression swept over his own, as if he were surprised or startled. His
boots were tolerably clean; but, after a moment's hesitation, he said:


Tom was instantly on his knees, first spreading a piece of carpet,
about a foot square, to kneel upon, and set to work with energy.

"How long have you been in this line of business, boy?" asked his

"Four or five years," answered Tom.

"Do you like it?"

"I have to like it," said Tom. "I've got to do somethin' for a livin'.
Bread and meat don't grow on trees."

"What's your name?" asked the stranger, abruptly.


"Haven't you got but one name?"

"Tom Grey's my whole name; but everybody calls me Tom."

"Grey? Did you say your name was Grey?" asked the stranger, in a tone
of some excitement.

"Yes," said Tom, surprised at the gentleman's tone.

In his surprise he looked up into his customer's face, and for the
first time took notice of it. This was what he saw: a square face, with
a heavy lower jaw, grizzled whiskers, and cold, gray eyes. But there
was something besides that served to distinguish it from other faces - a
scar, of an inch in length, on his right cheek, which, though years
old, always looked red under excitement.

"Grey," repeated the stranger. "Is your father living?"

"I don't know," said Tom. "If he is, he's too busy to call round and
see me."

"You mean that you don't know anything about your father?"

"That's about so," said Tom. "I'm ready to adopt a rich gentleman as a
father, if it's agreeable."

And he looked up with a smile in the face of his customer.

But the latter did not respond to the joke, but looked more and more

"That smile," he said to himself. "He is wonderfully like. Is it
possible that this boy can be - - "

But here he stopped, and left the sentence unfinished.

"Are you sure your name is Tom?" asked the stranger.

"Why shouldn't it be?" demanded the boy, in natural surprise.

"To be sure," returned the gentleman. "Only I have a theory that there
is a connection between faces and names, and you don't look like my
idea of Tom."

This was rather philosophical to be addressed to a New York bootblack;
but Tom was smart enough to comprehend it.

"If I don't look like Tom, what do I look like?" he asked.

"John, or Henry, or - or Gilbert," said the gentleman, bringing out the
last name after a slight pause.

"I like Tom best," said the boy; "it's short and easy."

"Do you live alone, or have you any friends?" asked the stranger.

"I live with an old man, but he ain't any relation to me."

"What's his name?"


"What other name?" asked the customer, quickly.

Tom had by this time completed his task, and was standing erect, facing
the speaker.

"He's got an inquirin' mind," thought Tom; but, though rather surprised
at the questions, he had no objection to answer them.

"I don't know," he said.

"Don't know?"

"He never told me. Maybe it's Grey, like mine. Some call him my
grandfather, but he isn't."

"It is he," thought the stranger; "but things are well as they are. He
knows nothing, and need know nothing. I am safe enough, since between
us there is a great gulf of ignorance, and more than a thousand miles
of space."

"Well, my boy," he said, aloud, "I suppose you want to be paid?"

"That's what's the matter," answered Tom.

The stranger put in his hand a half dollar, and Tom, plunging his hand
in his pocket, prepared to give change.

"Never mind," said his late customer, with a wave of his hand.

"Thanks," said Tom, and he mentally wished he might be as well paid
every day for answering questions.

Tom shouldered his box, and walked a few steps down Broadway. It was
some time before another customer appeared, and meanwhile another
bootblack came up. The name of the newcomer was Pat Walsh. He enjoyed a
bad reputation among his comrades - as one who would take a mean
advantage, if he dared, and was at all times ready to bully a smaller
boy. He had long cherished an ill feeling toward Tom, because the
latter had interfered, on one occasion, to protect a smaller boy whom
Pat tried to cheat out of a job. As Tom's prowess was well known, Pat
had contented himself hitherto with uttering threats which he hesitated
to carry into execution. It was shrewdly suspected by his companions
that he was afraid to contend with Tom, and they had taunted him with
it. Finding his authority diminishing, Pat decided to force a quarrel
upon Tom at the first opportunity. He had no great appetite for the
fight, but felt it to be a disagreeable necessity.

Just as he came up a gentleman approached with a valise in his hand.
His boots were decidedly dirty, and he was hailed as a prize by the

"Shine yer boots?" exclaimed Tom and Pat, simultaneously.

"I don't know but they need brushing," said the traveler.

Instantly both bootblacks were on their knees before him, ready to
proceed to business.

"I don't need both of you," he said, smiling.

"Take me," said Pat; "I'll give you a bully shine."

"I'll give you the bulliest," said Tom, good humoredly. "I spoke

"Lave wid yer, or I'll mash yer!" said Pat.

"Better not try it," said Tom, not in the least intimidated. "The
gentleman will choose between us."

"I'll choose you," said the traveler, decidedly more prepossessed by
Tom's appearance than by that of his competitor.

There was no appeal from this decision, and Pat rose to his feet, his
face wearing a very ugly scowl. He remained standing near, while Tom
was engaged with his job, watching him with an aspect which betokened

"Thank you, sir," said Tom, as he received pay for his services.

The customer had no sooner left the spot than Pat strode up to Tom.

"I want that money," he said, menacingly.

"Do you?" returned Tom, coolly, as he thrust it into his vest pocket,
for, unlike the majority of his companions, he indulged in the luxury
of a vest.

"Yes, I do. It was my job."

"I don't see it."

"I spoke first."

"The gentleman chose me."

"You stuck yourself in where you wasn't wanted. Give me the money."

"Come and take it," said Tom, unconsciously making the same answer that
was once returned by a heroic general to an insolent demand for

"I'll do it, then," said Pat, who had been nursing his rage till he was
grown reckless of consequences.

He threw down his box and sprang at Tom. The latter also quickly rid
himself of the incumbrance, and the two were soon wrestling at close
quarters. Pat, by his impetuous onset, came near upsetting his
adversary; but, by an effort, Tom saved himself.

Then commenced a determined contest. Both boys were unusually strong
for their ages, and were, in fact, very evenly matched. But at length
Tom, by an adroit movement of the foot, tripped his opponent, and came
down on top of him. He did not hold him down, for he was fond of fair
play, but rose immediately.

"You didn't do it; I slipped," said Pat, in anger and mortification,
and he instantly threw himself upon Tom again. But our hero kept cool,
while Pat was excited, and this placed him at an advantage. So the
second contest terminated like the first.

Cheers from a crowd of boys greeted this second victory - cheers to
which Pat listened with mortification and rage. He was half tempted to
renew the battle, but a cry from the boys, "A cop! a cop!" warned him
of the approach of his natural enemy, the policeman, and he walked

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Online LibraryHoratio AlgerTom, the bootblack : or, The road to success → online text (page 1 of 13)