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Under the Star-Spangled Banner By F. S. Brereton Characters: 13333

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Seen in the glare of the furnace flames as he emerged from the foundry, Hal Marchant was a very different individual from the workman who had been so diligent in the casting-pit.

Then he had been much like his fellows-just a roughly clad artisan, covered with sand, and with hands and face streaked with soot and dirt. Now that he was ready to go into the town, however, he was a spruce and dapper young gentleman. He had the manners of his father, and though not a prig, nor less given to mirth than others of his age, he was a very respectable and creditable member of society.

But Hal was genuinely grieved about his father, and as he walked home, his thoughts were busy wondering what he would do, and how he could possibly extricate himself from his difficulties.

"Surely this man will allow father to work off the debt," he murmured. "I know for a matter of fact that we have numerous orders, and must be making money. Why, then, should he not be allowed to remain? It might take a few years to work off the amount, but it would be done."

But Hal did not know the world very well. If he had he would have realized that this was a business transaction, and that when the creditor had a power over the profits of the foundry, and particularly one with such a reputation, he was not likely to forego his claims.

"We must just make the best of a bad matter," Hal at length remarked. "I'll do my utmost to help, and all I make shall go to the funds to keep up the house."

He turned into the gates of the big mansion and, mounting the steps, opened the door with a latch-key. He paused on the threshold to listen, but there was not a sound in the house.

"Strange!" he murmured. "The guv' said he was returning at once, and these last few weeks one has usually known immediately whether he was at home by hearing his steps as he paced up and down the floor of his room. That was what first gave me an idea that something was wrong. But perhaps he is in, and has fallen asleep in his chair, as I have often known him to do."

Hal walked across the fine hall, and opening the door on the left, looked into an apartment which was evidently library and smoking room in one. He put his head through the doorway and inspected the apartment. But there was no sign of his father, and he was about to withdraw when a faint groan fell upon his ear. In an instant he darted in, and discovered a figure huddled in a chair in a dark portion of the room. It was Mr. Marchant.

Hal sprang to his side and looked eagerly in his face, but there was no sign of recognition, for the eyes were closed. He placed his hand on the wrist and felt for a pulse without success. Then the truth dawned upon him-slowly at first, and then with a whirl, and with all its cruel force.

"Dead!" he gasped. "Father dead!"

There was no doubt about it, and Hal had to face the matter. Once more he felt for a pulse, and then he went to the bell and pressed the button.

"Send for the doctor at once, please," he said when the servant arrived. "I am afraid that my father is dead."

"Dead, sir? Dead!" the girl exclaimed in a whisper.

"Yes, that is the case," Hal answered. "Send for Dr. Harding."

Five minutes later the doctor arrived. He pronounced life extinct. "A stroke," he said. "He died painlessly and swiftly. May we all do the same, for it is a merciful ending. But tell me, Hal, was there cause? Was there any sudden shock that you know of?"

"Yes; there was a great one," Hal answered slowly. "Father was ruined. To-morrow he would have been in the position of his manager, instead of the employer of hundreds of hands."

"Then he has had a merciful escape," said the doctor. "The blow was a heavy one, and the life to follow would have been extremely hard. And what of yourself, my boy?"

"I, too, have lost all my prospects," Hal answered steadily. "But I am hardly more than a boy. The world is before me, and I will make my way in it. This house will be sold, I suppose, and if all the debts cannot be met, someone will have to wait. It shall be my business to work, make money, and clear my father's name."

"A resolution to be proud of. Face troubles like a man, and half the battle is already won," exclaimed the doctor. "But I hope that when all is sold no debts will remain. Then you will be free to rise solely on your own account."

He pressed Hal's hand and left the house.

A week passed and found Hal in lodgings in the town, for Mr. Marchant's house had been sold, and, to Hal's relief, it was ascertained that not a penny was owing to any man.

"Now for myself," he said as he sat over the fire. "What to do is the question."

There was a knock at the door, and Mr. Tomkins put his head into the room. "Hallo!" he said. "Do you feel inclined for a chat?"

"Yes; come in. I'm wondering what to do with myself."

"And so am I," was the answer. "That is, I'm wondering what would be good for you. How about the foundry? Will you stick to it?"

"On no account," Hal replied. "I could not bear to go there now. In fact, I mean to leave Birmingham, for it would bring back these last few days every time I passed the old home. I must work, and pay my way, for at present I possess fifteen pounds and a few suits of clothes; that is all."

"I thought you'd not go back to the works," said Mr. Tomkins. "I've been there boy and man these twenty years, and I've risen to be manager. But I am leaving with my old master, for I cannot fancy the new. I'm lucky, too, for I've accepted the post of manager to another foundry in the north. Come along with me, and I'll see that you get something good."

Hal thanked him, and thought the matter over before answering.

"I scarcely know what to say," he said. "But I am determined to leave Birmingham. I couldn't stand it."

"It would be rough, I own," Mr. Tomkins said. "But what about coming north?"

"It is very good of you to suggest it, Tomkins," Hal answered, "but, before deciding, there is something that I should like to know about. Of course, I am not very well up in trade affairs, but I do happen to know that the Americans are very go-ahead in the matter of iron-works. They undertake bridge-building to a great extent, and I thought that it might be worth my while to cross the water. I certainly ought to get a job. They pay well out in America, Tomkins. What do you say to the plan?"

"Those Yanks are hard at work," he said. "They are go-ahead people, as you say, and there's no doubt that they can show us a thing or two in the way of bridges. Yes, anything to do with iron and engineering is booming across the Atlantic, and there must be lots of op

enings for youngsters. There's something else besides. In good old England we're overcrowded, but in America there's a demand for chaps who know a little above the ordinary. I should say it would be a good thing, Hal, and if you decide upon it, the traveling there, and the new life, will rouse you a bit, and help you to forget present troubles."

"You think well of it," said Hal. "Then I shall go to America and try my luck. I may as well start as soon as possible, and I wish very particularly to do so, for while in this city I run the chance of meeting old friends. Besides, if I went to see any of them, they might think that I was looking for help, and I want to make a place for myself."

"And quite right too. Independence is the thing," the manager cried, patting him on the back. "Now, look here, youngster, are you willing to rough it from the very commencement? If so, I can help you get to America."

"Quite," Hal answered promptly.

"Then come along with me to the office of a shipping firm I know. They've carried many a time for the foundry, and I've only to drop the manager a hint that you are wanting to get across at the cheapest rate possible, and I'll be bound he'll arrange."

"I've no cousins or relatives of any sort," he said, "and I've come to the conclusion that this is the best thing I can do."

"That's good! I'm certain you are doing what is right," Mr. Tomkins answered.

They went into the street, and within a few minutes were at the shipping office.

"Good-day, Mr. Tomkins. What can we do for you this time?" asked the clerk.

"A good deal, if you care. Can we come in behind? I want to speak to you about my young friend here."

"To be sure," the clerk replied. "Step in. Now, what is it?" he asked. "I recognize your companion. He is the son of the late Mr. Marchant."

"Quite so; and he wishes to go abroad to America, to make his way in the world. Can you do anything for him in the way of a cheap passage?"

"He could go for nothing, or rather, could earn a pound and food besides the berth. But he'd have to rough it."

"I'm ready for that, any day; in fact, I'd like to start right away," Hal said, eagerly.

"Then I may as well tell you that there is a vacancy for a greaser aboard the Mohican. Will you take that? There! A passage, your grub, and a pound at the end of the trip."

"You can put my name down for it," said Hal. "I'll go on the Mohican; and I thank you for your kindness."

"Not at all; it's nothing after the freights we got from your father's foundry. Good-day, sir; good-day, Tomkins. Excuse me, but I'm very busy." The clerk nodded in a friendly way, and departed.

"I put that down as a good omen," said Tomkins as they emerged into the street. "You're in luck, Hal, for right from the commencement you get what you want. The rest will come just the same, let us hope. Now I'll leave you, as I have matters to attend to."

He shook Hal's hand and walked up the street.

Hal returned to his rooms, and hunted out his belongings. It was getting dark as he went into the street with a bundle over his shoulder. He entered a shop which he had noticed on former occasions, wondering what class of people patronized it.

"How much for these?" he asked, opening his bundle, and displaying five suits which he had been in the habit of wearing in Birmingham.

"They're not much good to me," he said. "They're not the class o' togs I want. Six shillings the lot."

"Six shillings!" said Hal quietly. "They cost four times as many pounds, and that quite recently. Bid again."

"Six the figure. Not a penny more," exclaimed the man.

"I'll take four pounds for the lot," said Hal.

"You may, but not from me, young man. Good a'ternoon to yer."

"Good-day; I'll go elsewhere," said Hal quietly, and at once did up the fastenings of his bundle. Then he lifted it, and walked calmly out of the shop.

"Hold hard there!" cried the man, arresting him at the door. "Let's see the togs again." He inspected them closely; but it was merely a pretense, for anyone could see with half an eye that they were really good. "I'll make it three ten," he said.

"Very well, you can have them," Hal replied, glad to get so good a price.

Next day he was told that the Mohican would sail on Saturday.

"She's one of the intermediate boats," said the clerk. "Of course, she carries very few passengers-some thirty in all. You'd better be aboard on Friday, for she leaves the river early the following day. Good luck to you."

"And many thanks to you," Hal answered. "I'll do my best to fill the place you have obtained for me."

Hal took a cheap ticket to Liverpool, and trudged from the station to the dock in which the Mohican was lying.

Hal picked his way to the wide and slippery gangway, and began to cross it. A notice above an alleyway caught his eye. "Engineers only," it said.

He entered the alleyway, and walked along it till he came to a door on the left, where he knocked.

"Who's there? Come right in," someone cried in a sleepy voice.

Hal entered, and found a big man reclining full length on the settee. He was dressed in an old uniform, and had a handkerchief tied round his neck.

"Wall, what aer it?" he asked. "A feller can't no more get ter sleep upon this hulk than fly. Who aer yer?"

He sat up and surveyed Hal sleepily.

"I'm sorry I roused you. I'm the new hand-the greaser," said Hal.

"Oh, you're the greaser! Wall, yer aint the sort as ships aboard the Mohican every time. What aer it? Rows with the boss? High jinks at home? Broke; aint that it?"

"Not quite, but nearly," Hal answered with a smile. "I'm working my passage."

"So; then you've come to right ship ter do it. But you'd better get to your quarters; there, along the alleyway. So long, young 'un, and when yer want a bit of a help, come along to me. I'm Old Yank, the boss of the engine-room."

Closing the door, Hal went along the alleyway till he came to a large cabin, above which was painted "Greasers." No one was in, but one of the bunks had evidently not been appropriated.

"That will do for me," thought Hal. "I'll put my bundle here, and then have a look round."

Five minutes later he descended the ladder which led to the depths of the ship. Beneath him was a maze of machinery. Down below were one or two figures moving about. A wave of hot air ascended, while a loud whir, caused by the revolving armature of the dynamo, filled the engine-room.

Hal felt somewhat out of his element; but, congratulating himself on the fact that he had some right to be where he was, he hastened down the ladder, and dropped to the floor.

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