The Cash Boy/Chapter XVIII

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The Cash Boy by Horatio Alger
Chapter XVIII: "Over the Hill to the Poorhouse"

We are compelled for a time to leave our hero in the hands of his enemies, and return to the town of Crawford, where an event has occurred which influences seriously the happiness and position of his sister, Grace.

Ever since Frank left the town, Grace had been a welcome member of Mr. Pomeroy's family, receiving the kindest treatment from all, so that she had come to feel very much at home.

So they lived happily together, till one disastrous night a fire broke out, which consumed the house, and they were forced to snatch their clothes and escape, saving nothing else.

Mr. Pomeroy's house was insured for two-thirds of its value, and he proposed to rebuild immediately, but it would be three months at least before the new house would be completed. In the interim, he succeeded in hiring a couple of rooms for his family, but their narrow accommodations would oblige them to dispense with their boarder. Sorry as Mr. and Mrs. Pomeroy were to part with her, it was obvious that Grace must find another home.

"We must let Frank know," said Mr. Pomeroy, and having occasion to go up to the city at once to see about insurance, he went to the store of Gilbert & Mack, and inquired for Prank.

"Fowler? What was he?" was asked.

"A cash-boy."

"Oh, he is no longer here. Mr. Gilbert discharged him."

"Do you know why he was discharged?" asked Mr. Pomeroy, pained and startled.

"No; but there stands Mr. Gilbert. He can tell you."

Mr. Pomeroy introduced himself to the head of the firm and repeated his inquiry.

"If you are a friend of the lad," said Mr. Gilbert, "you will be sorry to learn that he was charged with dishonesty. It was a very respectable lady who made the charge. It is only fair to say that the boy denied it, and that, personally, we found him faithful and trusty. But as the dullness of trade compelled us to discharge some of our cash-boys, we naturally discharged him among the number, without, however, judging his case."

"Then, sir, you have treated the boy very unfairly. On the strength of a charge not proved, you have dismissed him, though personally you had noticed nothing out of the way in him, and rendered it impossible for him to obtain another place."

"There is something in what you say, I admit. Perhaps I was too hasty. If you will send the boy to me, I will take him back on probation."

"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Pomeroy, gratefully "I will send him here."

But this Mr. Pomeroy was unable to do. He did not know of Frank's new address, and though he was still in the city, he failed to find him.

He returned to Crawford and communicated the unsatisfactory intelligence. He tried to obtain a new boarding place for Grace, but no one was willing to take her at two dollars a week, especially when Mr. Pomeroy was compelled to admit that Frank was now out of employment, and it was doubtful if he would be able to keep up the payment.

Tom Pinkerton managed to learn that Grace was now without a home, and mentioned it to his father.

"Won't she have to go to the poorhouse now, father?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes," said Deacon Pinkerton. "There is no other place for her that I can see."

"Ah, I'm glad," said Tom, maliciously. "Won't that upstart's pride be taken down? He was too proud to go to the poorhouse, where he belonged, but he can't help his sister's going there. If he isn't a pauper himself, he'll be the brother of a pauper, and that's the next thing to it."

"That is true," said the deacon. "He was very impudent in return for my kindness. Still, I am sorry for him."

I am afraid the deacon's sorrow was not very deep, for he certainly looked unusually cheerful when he harnessed up his horse and drove around to the temporary home of the Pomeroys.

"Good-morning, Mr. Pomeroy," he said, seeing the latter in the yard. "You've met with a severe loss."

"Yes, deacon; it is a severe loss to a poor man like me."

"To be sure. Well, I've called around to relieve you of a part of your cares. I am going to take Grace Fowler to the poorhouse."

"Couldn't you get her a place with a private family to help about the house in return for her board, while she goes to school?"

"There's nobody wants a young girl like her," said the deacon.

"Her brother would pay part of her board--that is, when he has a place."

"Hasn't he got a place?" asked the deacon, pricking up his ears. "I heard he was in a store in New York."

"He lost his place," said Mr. Pomeroy, reluctantly, "partly because of the dullness of general trade."

"Then he can't maintain his sister. She will have to go to the poorhouse. Will you ask her to get ready, and I'll take her right over to the poorhouse."

There was no alternative. Mr. Pomeroy went into the house, and broke the sad news to his wife and Grace.

"Never mind," she said, with attempted cheerfulness, though her lips quivered, "I shan't have to stay there long. Frank will be sure to send for me very shortly."

"It's too bad, Grace," said Sam, looking red about the eyes; "it's too bad that you should have to go to the poorhouse."

"Come and see me, Sam," said Grace.

"Yes, I will, Grace. I'll come often, too. You shan't stay there long."

"Good-by," said Grace, faltering. "You have all been very kind to me."

"Good-by, my dear child," said Mrs. Pomeroy.

"Who knows but you can return to us when the new house is done?"

So poor Grace went out from her pleasant home to find the deacon, grim-faced and stern, waiting for her.

"Jump in, little girl," he said. "You've kept me waiting for you a long time, and my time is valuable."

The distance to the poorhouse was about a mile and a half. For the first half mile Deacon Pinkerton kept silence. Then he began to speak, in a tone of cold condescension, as if it were a favor for such a superior being to address an insignificant child, about to become a pauper.

"Little girl, have you heard from your brother lately?"

"Not very lately, sir."

"What is he doing?"

"He is in a store."

"I apprehend you are mistaken. He has lost his place. He has been turned away," said the deacon, with satisfaction."

"Frank turned away! Oh, sir, you must be mistaken."

"Mr. Pomeroy told me. He found out yesterday when he went to the city."

Poor Grace! she could not longer doubt now, and her brother's misfortune saddened her even more than her own.

"Probably you will soon see your brother."

"Oh, do you think so, sir?" asked Grace, joyfully.

"Yes," answered the deacon, grimly. "He will find himself in danger of starvation in the city, and he'll creep back, only too glad to obtain a nice, comfortable home in the poorhouse."

But Grace knew her brother better than that. She knew his courage, his self-reliance and his independent spirit, and she was sure the deacon was mistaken.

The home for which Grace was expected to be so grateful was now in sight. It was a dark, neglected looking house, situated in the midst of barren fields, and had a lonely and desolate aspect. It was superintended by Mr. and Mrs. Chase, distant relations of Deacon Pinkerton.

Mr. Chase was an inoffensive man, but Mrs. Chase had a violent temper. She was at work in the kitchen when Deacon Pinkerton drove up. Hearing the sound of wheels, she came to the door.

"Mrs. Chase," said the deacon, "I've brought you a little girl, to be placed under your care."

"What's her name?" inquired the lady.

"Grace Fowler."

"Grace, humph! Why didn't she have a decent name?"

"You can call her anything you like," said the deacon.

"Little girl, you must behave well," said Deacon Pinkerton, by way of parting admonition. "The town expects it. I expect it. You must never cease to be grateful for the good home which it provides you free of expense."

Grace did not reply. Looking in the face of her future task-mistress was scarcely calculated to awaken a very deep feeling of gratitude.

"Now," said Mrs. Chase, addressing her new boarder, "just take off your things, Betsy, and make yourself useful."

"My name isn't Betsy, ma'am."

"It isn't, isn't it?"

"No; it is Grace."

"You don't say so! I'll tell you one thing, I shan't allow anybody to contradict me here, and your name's got to be Betsy while you're in this house. Now take off your things and hang them up on that peg. I'm going to set you right to work."

"Yes, ma'am," said Grace, alarmed.

"There's some dishes I want washed, Betsy, and I won't have you loitering over your work, neither."

"Very well, ma'am."

Such was the new home for which poor Grace was expected to be grateful.