Oliver Optic.

Now or Never online

. (page 7 of 11)
Online LibraryOliver OpticNow or Never → online text (page 7 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Bobby protested with all his might; but the bookseller insisted that he
should give Annie this beautiful edition, and he was obliged to yield
the point.

That evening he was at the little black house again, and his mother
examined his ledger with a great deal of pride and satisfaction. That
evening, too, another ten dollars was indorsed on the note, and Annie
received that elegant copy of Moore's Poems.



During the next four weeks Bobby visited various places in the vicinity
of Boston; and at the end of that time he had paid the whole of the
debt he owed Squire Lee. He had the note in his memorandum book, and
the fact that he had achieved his first great purpose afforded him much
satisfaction. Now he owed no man any thing, and he felt as though he
could hold up his head among the best people in the world.

The little black house was paid for, and Bobby was proud that his own
exertions had released his mother from her obligation to her hard
creditor. Mr. Hardhand could no longer insult and abuse her.

The apparent results which Bobby had accomplished; however, were as
nothing compared with the real results. He had developed those
energies of character which were to make him, not only a great business
man, but a useful member of society. Besides, there was a moral
grandeur in his humble achievements which was more worthy of
consideration than the mere worldly success he had obtained. Motives
determine the character of deeds. That a boy of thirteen should
display so much enterprise and energy was a great thing; but that it
should be displayed from pure, unselfish devotion to his mother was a
vastly greater thing. Many great achievements are morally
insignificant, while many of which the world never hears mark the true

Our hero was not satisfied with what he had done, and far from
relinquishing his interesting and profitable employment, his ambition
suggested new and wider fields of success. As one ideal, brilliant and
glorious in its time, was reached, another more brilliant and more
glorious presented itself, and demanded to be achieved. The little
black house began to appear rusty and inconvenient; a coat of white
paint would marvellously improve its appearance; a set of nice
Paris-green blinds would make a palace of it, and a neat fence around
it would positively transform the place into a paradise. Yet Bobby was
audacious enough to think of these things, and even to promise himself
that they should be obtained.

In conversation with Mr. Bayard a few days before, that gentleman had
suggested a new field of labor; and it had been arranged that Bobby
should visit the State of Maine the following week. On the banks of
the Kennebec were many wealthy and important towns, where the
intelligence of the people created a demand for books. This time the
little merchant was to take two hundred books, and be absent until they
were all sold.

On Monday morning he started bright and early for the railroad station.
As usual, he called upon Squire Lee, and informed Annie that he should
probably be absent three or four weeks. She hoped no accident would
happen to him, and that his journey would be crowned with success.
Without being sentimental, she was a little sad, for Bobby was a great
friend of hers. That elegant copy of Moore's Poems had been gratefully
received, and she was so fond of the bard's beautiful and touching
melodies that she could never read any of them without thinking of the
brave little fellow who had given her the volume; which no one will
consider very remarkable, even in a little miss of twelve.

After he had bidden her and her father adieu, he resumed his journey.
Of course he was thinking with all his might; but no one need suppose
he was wondering how wide the Kennebec River was, or how many books he
should sell in the towns upon its banks. Nothing of the kind; though
it is enough even for the inquisitive to know that he was thinking of
something, and that his thoughts were very interesting, not to say

"Hallo, Bob!" shouted some one from the road side.

Bobby was provoked; for it is sometimes very uncomfortable to have a
pleasant train of thought interrupted. The imagination is buoyant,
ethereal, and elevates poor mortals up to the stars sometimes. It was
so with Bobby. He was building up some kind of an air castle, and had
got up in the clouds amidst the fog and moonshine, and that aggravating
voice brought him down, _slap_, upon terra firma.

He looked up and saw Tom Spicer seated upon the fence. In his hand he
held a bundle, and had evidently been waiting some time for Bobby's

He had recovered from the illness caused by his broken arm, and people
said it had been a good lesson for him, as the squire hoped it would
be. Bobby had called upon him two or three times during his
confinement to the house; and Tom, either truly repentant for his past
errors, or lacking the opportunity at that time to manifest his evil
propensities, had stoutly protested that he had "turned over a new
leaf," and meant to keep out of the woods on Sunday, stop lying and
swearing, and become a good boy.

Bobby commended his good resolutions, and told him he would never want
friends while he was true to himself. The right side, he declared, was
always the best side. He quoted several instances of men, whose lives
he had read in his Sunday school books, to show how happy a good man
may be in prison, or when all the world seemed to forsake him.

Tom assured him that he meant to reform and be a good boy; and Bobby
told him that when any one meant to turn over a new leaf, it was "now
or never." If he put it off, he would only grow worse, and the longer
the good work was delayed, the more difficult it would be to do it.
Tom agreed to all this, and was sure he had reformed.

For these reasons Bobby had come to regard Tom with a feeling of deep
interest. He considered him as, in some measure, his disciple, and he
felt a personal responsibility in encouraging him to persevere in his
good work. Nevertheless Bobby was not exactly pleased to have his fine
air castle upset, and to be tipped out of the clouds upon the cold,
uncompromising earth again; so the first greeting he gave Tom was not
as cordial as it might have been.

"Hallo, Tom!" he replied, rather coolly.

"Been waiting for you this half hour."

"Have you?"

"Yes; ain't you rather late?"

"No; I have plenty of time, though none to spare," answered Bobby; and
this was a hint that he must not detain him too long.

"Come along then."

"Where are you going, Tom?" asked Bobby, a little surprised at these

"To Boston."

"Are you?"

"I am; that's a fact. You know I spoke to you about going into the
book business."

"Not lately."

"But I have been thinking about it all the time."

"What do your father and mother say?"

"O, they are all right."

"Have you asked them?"

"Certainly I have; they are willing I should go with _you_."

"Why didn't you speak of it then?"

"I thought I wouldn't say any thing till the time came. You know you
fought shy when I spoke about it before."

And Bobby, notwithstanding the interest he felt in his companion, was a
little disposed to "fight shy" now. Tom had reformed, or had pretended
to do so; but he was still a raw recruit, and our hero was somewhat
fearful that he would run at the first fire.

To the good and true man life is a constant battle. Temptation assails
him at almost every point; perils and snares beset him at every step of
his mortal pilgrimage, so that every day he is called upon to gird on
his armor and fight the good fight.

Bobby was no poet; but he had a good idea of this every-day strife with
the foes of error and sin that crossed his path. It was a practical
conception, but it was truly expressed under the similitude of a
battle. There was to be resistance, and he could comprehend that, for
his bump of combativeness took cognizance of the suggestion. He was to
fight; and that was an idea that stood him in better stead than a whole
library of ethical subtleties.

Judging Tom by his own standard, he was afraid he would run - that he
wouldn't "stand fire." He had not been drilled. Heretofore, when
temptation beset him, he had yielded without even a struggle, and fled
from the field without firing a gun. To go out into the great world
was a trying event for the raw recruit. He lacked, too, that prestige
of success which is worth more than numbers, on the field of battle.

Tom had chosen for himself, and he could not send him back. He had
taken up the line of march, let it lead him where it might.

"March on! in legions death and sin
Impatient wait thy conquering hand;
The foe without, the foe within -
Thy youthful arm must both withstand."

Bobby had great hopes of him. He felt that he could not well get rid
of him, and he saw that it was policy for him to make the best of it.

"Well, Tom, where are you going?" asked Bobby, after he had made up his
mind not to object to the companionship of the other.

"I don't know. You have been a good friend to me lately, and I had an
idea that you would give me a lift in this business."

"I should be very willing to do so: but what can I do for you?"

"Just show me how the business is done; that's all I want."

"Your father and mother were willing you should come - were they not?"

Bobby had some doubts about this point, and with good reason too. He
had called at Tom's house, the day before, and they had gone to church
together; but neither he nor his parents had said a word about his
going to Boston.

"When did they agree to it?"

"Last night," replied Tom, after a moment's hesitation.

"All right then; but I cannot promise you that Mr. Bayard will let you
have the books."

"I can fix that, I reckon," replied Tom, confidently.

"I will speak a good word for you, at any rate."

"That's right, Bob."

"I am going down into the State of Maine this time, and shall be gone
three or four weeks."

"So much the better; I always wanted to go down that way."

Tom asked a great many questions about the business and the method of
travelling, which Bobby's superior intelligence and more extensive
experience enabled him to answer to the entire satisfaction of the

When they were within half a mile of the railroad station, they heard a
carriage driven at a rapid rate approaching them from the direction of

Tom seemed to be uneasy, and cast frequent glances behind him. In a
moment the vehicle was within a short distance of them, and he stopped
short in the road to scrutinize the persons in it.

"By jolly!" exclaimed Tom; "my father!"

"What of it?" asked Bobby, surprised by the strange behavior of his

Tom did not wait to reply, but springing over the fence, fled like a
deer towards some woods a short distance from the road.

Was it possible? Tom had run away from home. His father had not
consented to his going to Boston, and Bobby was mortified to find that
his hopeful disciple had been lying to him ever since they left
Riverdale. But he was glad the cheat had been exposed.

"That was Tom with you - wasn't it?" asked Mr. Spicer, as he stopped the
foaming horse.

"Yes, sir; but he told me you had consented that he should go with me,"
replied Bobby, a little disturbed by the angry glance of Mr. Spicer's
fiery eyes.

"He lied! the young villain! He will catch it for this."

"I would not have let him come with me only for that. I asked him
twice over if you were willing, and he said you were."

"You ought to have known better than to believe him," interposed the
man who was with Mr. Spicer.

Bobby had some reason for believing him. The fact that Tom had
reformed ought to have entitled him to some consideration, and our hero
gave him the full benefit of the declaration. To have explained this
would have taken more time than he could spare; besides, it was "a
great moral question," whose importance Mr. Spicer and his companion
would not be likely to apprehend; so he made a short story of it, and
resumed his walk, thankful that he had got rid of Tom.

Mr. Spicer and his friend, after fastening the horse to the fence, went
to the woods in search of Tom.

Bobby reached the station just in time to take the cars, and in a
moment was on his way to the city.



Bobby had a poorer opinion of human nature than ever before. It seemed
almost incredible to him that words so fairly spoken as those of Tom
Spicer could be false. He had just risen from a sick bed, where he had
had an opportunity for long and serious reflection. Tom had promised
fairly, and Bobby had every reason to suppose he intended to be a good
boy. But his promises had been lies. He had never intended to reform,
at least not since he had got off his bed of pain. He was mortified
and disheartened at the failure of this attempt to restore him to

Like a great many older and wiser persons than himself, he was prone to
judge the whole human family by a single individual. He did not come
to believe that every man was a rascal, but, in more general terms,
that there is a great deal more rascality in this world than one would
be willing to believe.

With this sage reflection, he dismissed Tom from his mind, which very
naturally turned again to the air castle which had been so ruthlessly
upset. Then his opinion of "the rest of mankind" was reversed; and he
reflected that if the world were only peopled by angels like Annie Lee,
what a pleasant place it would be to live in. She could not tell a
lie, she could not use bad language, she could not steal, or do any
thing else that was bad; and the prospect was decidedly pleasant. It
was very agreeable to turn from Tom to Annie, and in a moment his air
castle was built again, and throned on clouds of gold and purple. I do
not know what impossible things he imagined, or how far up in the
clouds, he would have gone, if the arrival of the train at the city had
not interrupted his thoughts, and pitched him down upon the earth again.

Bobby was not one of that impracticable class of persons who do nothing
but dream; for he felt that he had a mission, to perform which dreaming
could not accomplish. However pleasant it may be to think of the great
and brilliant things which one _will_ do, to one of Bobby's practical
character it was even more pleasant to perform them. We all dream
great things, imagine great things; but he who stops there does not
amount to much, and the world can well spare him, for he is nothing but
a drone in the hive. Bobby's fine imaginings were pretty sure to bring
out "now or never," which was the pledge of action, and the work was as
good as done when he had said it.

Therefore, when the train arrived, Bobby did not stop to dream any
longer. He forgot his beautiful air castle, and even let Annie Lee
slip from his mind for the time being. Those towns upon the Kennebec,
the two hundred books he was to sell, loomed up before him, for it was
with them he had to do.

Grasping the little valise he carried with him, he was hastening out of
the station house when a hand was placed upon his shoulder.

"Got off slick - didn't I?" said Tom Spicer, placing himself by Bobby's

"You here, Tom!" exclaimed our hero, gazing with astonishment at his
late companion.

It was not an agreeable encounter, and from the bottom of his heart
Bobby wished him any where but where he was. He foresaw that he could
not easily get rid of him.

"I am here," replied Tom. "I ran through the woods to the depot, and
got aboard the cars just as they were starting. The old man couldn't
come it over me quite so slick as that."

"But you ran away from home."

"Well, what of it?"

"A good deal, I should say."

"If you had been in my place, you would have done the same."

"I don't know about that; obedience to parents is one of our first

"I know that; and if I had had any sort of fair play, I wouldn't have
run away."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Bobby, somewhat surprised, though he
had a faint idea of the meaning of the other.

"I will tell you all about it by and by. I give you my word and honor
that I will make every thing satisfactory to you."

"But you lied to me on the road this morning."

Tom winced; under ordinary circumstances he would have resented such a
remark by "clearing away" for a fight. But he had a purpose to
accomplish, and he knew the character of him with whom he had to deal.

"I am sorry I did, now," answered Tom, with every manifestation of
penitence for his fault. "I didn't want to lie to you; and it went
against my conscience to do so. But I was afraid, if I told you my
father refused, up and down, to let me go, that you wouldn't be willing
I should come with you."

"I shall not be any more willing now I know all about it," added Bobby,
in an uncompromising tone.

"Wait till you have heard my story, and then you won't blame me."

"Of course you can go where you please; it is none of my business; but
let me tell you, Tom, in the beginning, that I won't go with a fellow
who has run away from his father and mother."

"Pooh! What's the use of talking in that way?"

Tom was evidently disconcerted by this decided stand of his companion.
He knew that his bump of firmness was well developed, and whatever he
said he meant.

"You had better return home, Tom. Boys that run away from home don't
often amount to much. Take my advice, and go home," added Bobby.

"To such a home as mine!" said Tom, gloomily. "If I had such a home as
yours, I would not have left it."

Bobby got a further idea from this remark of the true state of the
case, and the consideration moved him. Tom's father was a notoriously
intemperate man, and the boy had nothing to hope for from his precept
or his example. He was the child of a drunkard, and as much to be
pitied as blamed for his vices. His home was not pleasant. He who
presided over it, and who should have made a paradise of it, was its
evil genius, a demon of wickedness, who blasted its flowers as fast as
they bloomed.

Tom had seemed truly penitent both during his illness and since his
recovery. His one great desire now was to get away from home, for home
to him was a place of torment. Bobby suspected all this, and in his
great heart he pitied his companion. He did not know what to do.

"I am sorry for you, Tom," said he, after he had considered the matter
in this new light; "but I don't see what I can do for you. I doubt
whether it would be right for me to help you run away from your

"I don't want you to help me run away. I have done that already."

"But if I let you go with me, it will be just the same thing. Besides,
since you told me those lies this morning, I haven't much confidence in

"I couldn't help that."

"Yes, you could. Couldn't help lying?"

"What could I do? You would have gone right back and told my father."

"Well, we will go up to Mr. Bayard's store, and then we will see what
can be done."

"I couldn't stay at home, sure," continued Tom, as they walked along
together. "My father even talked of binding me out to a trade."

"Did he?"

Bobby stopped short in the street; for it was evident that, as this
would remove him from his unhappy home, and thus effect all he
professed to desire, he had some other purpose in view.

"What are you stopping for, Bob?"

"I think you better go back, Tom."

"Not I; I won't do that, whatever happens."

"If your father will put you to a trade, what more do you want?"

"I won't go to a trade, any how."

Bobby said no more, but determined to consult with Mr. Bayard about the
matter; and Tom was soon too busily engaged in observing the strange
sights and sounds of the city to think of any thing else.

When they reached the store, Bobby went into Mr. Bayard's private
office and told him all about the affair. The bookseller decided that
Tom had run away more to avoid being bound to a trade than because his
home was unpleasant; and this decision seemed to Bobby all the more
just because he knew that Tom's mother, though a drunkard's wife, was a
very good woman. Mr. Bayard further decided that Bobby ought not to
permit the runaway to be the companion of his journey. He also
considered it his duty to write to Mr. Spicer, informing him of his
son's arrival in the city, and clearing Bobby from any agency in his

While Mr. Bayard was writing the letter, Bobby went out to give Tom the
result of the consultation. The runaway received it with a great show
of emotion, and begged and pleaded to have the decision reversed. But
Bobby, though he would gladly have done any thing for him which was
consistent with his duty, was firm as a rock, and positively refused,
to have any thing to do with him until he obtained his father's
consent; or, if there was any such trouble as he asserted, his mother's

Tom left the store, apparently "more in sorrow than in anger." His
bullying nature seemed to be cast out, and Bobby could not but feel
sorry for him. Duty was imperative, as it always is, and it must be
done "now or never."

During the day the little merchant attended to the packing of his
stock, and to such other preparations as were required for his journey.
He must take the steamer that evening for Bath, and when the time for
his departure arrived, he was attended to the wharf by Mr. Bayard and
Ellen, with whom he had passed the afternoon. The bookseller assisted
him in procuring his ticket and berth, and gave him such instructions
as his inexperience demanded.

The last bell rang, the fasts were cast off, and the great wheels of
the steamer began to turn. Our hero, who had never been on the water
in a steamboat, or indeed any thing bigger than a punt on the river at
home, was much interested and excited by his novel position. He seated
himself on the promenade deck, and watched with wonder the boiling,
surging waters astern of the steamer.

How powerful is man, the author of that mighty machine that bore him so
swiftly over the deep blue waters! Bobby was a little philosopher, as
we have before had occasion to remark, and he was decidedly of the
opinion that the steamboat was a great institution. When he had in
some measure conquered his amazement, and the first ideas of sublimity
which the steamer and the sea were calculated to excite in a poetical
imagination, he walked forward to take a closer survey of the
machinery. After all, there was something rather comical in the
affair. The steam hissed and sputtered, and the great walking beam
kept flying up and down; and the sum total of Bobby's philosophy was,
that it was funny these things should make the boat go so like a race
horse over the water.

Then he took a look into the pilot house, and it seemed more funny that
turning that big wheel should steer the boat. But the wind blew rather
fresh at the forward part of the boat, and as Bobby's philosophy was
not proof against it, he returned to the promenade deck, which was
sheltered from the severity of the blast. He had got reconciled to the
whole thing, and ceased to bother his head about the big wheel, the
sputtering steam, and the walking beam; so he seated himself, and began
to wonder what all the people in Riverdale were about.

"All them as hasn't paid their fare, please walk up to the cap'n's
office and s-e-t-t-l-e!" shouted a colored boy, presenting himself just
then, and furiously ringing a large hand bell.

"I have just settled," said Bobby, alluding to his comfortable seat.

But the allusion was so indefinite to the colored boy that he thought
himself insulted. He did not appear to be a very amiable boy, for his
fist was doubled up, and with sundry big oaths, he threatened to
annihilate the little merchant for his insolence.

"I didn't say any thing that need offend you," replied Bobby. "I meant

"You lie! You did!"

He was on the point of administering a blow with his fist, when a third
party appeared on the ground, and without waiting to hear the merits of
the case, struck the negro a blow which had nearly floored him.

Some of the passengers now interfered, and the colored boy was
prevented from executing vengeance on the assailant.

"Strike that fellow and you strike me!" said he who had struck the blow.

"Tom Spicer!" exclaimed Bobby, astonished and chagrined at the presence

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11

Online LibraryOliver OpticNow or Never → online text (page 7 of 11)