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   Chapter 4 MRS. HARDING TAKES A BOARDER

Jack's Ward; Or, The Boy Guardian By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7470

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Jack started for the newspaper offices and bought a supply of papers.

"I don't see why I can't sell papers as well as other boys," he said to himself. "I'm going to try, at any rate."

He thought it prudent, however, not to buy too large stock at first. He might sell them all, but then again he might get "stuck" on a part, and this might take away all his profits.

Jack, however, was destined to find that in the newspaper business, as well as in others, there was no lack of competition. He took his place just below the Astor House, and began to cry his papers. This aroused the ire of a rival newsboy a few feet away.

"Get away from here!" he exclaimed, scowling at Jack.

"What for?" said Jack.

"This is my stand."

"Keep it, then. This is mine," retorted Jack, composedly.

"I don't allow no other newsboys in this block," said the other.

"Don't you? You ain't the city government, are you?"

"I don't want any of your impudence. Clear out!"

"Clear out yourself!"

"I'll give you a lickin'!"

"Perhaps you will when you're able."

Jack spoke manfully; but the fact was that the other boy probably was able, being three years older, and as many inches taller.

Jack kept on crying his papers, and his opponent, incensed at the contemptuous disregard of his threats, advanced toward him, and, taking Jack unawares, pushed him off the sidewalk with such violence that he nearly fell flat. Jack felt that the time for action had arrived. He dropped his papers temporarily on the sidewalk, and, lowering his head, butted against his young enemy with such force as to double him up, and seat him, gasping for breath, on the sidewalk. Tom Rafferty, for this was his name, looked up in astonishment at the unexpected form of the attack.

"Well done, my lad!" said a hearty voice.

Jack turned toward the speaker, and saw a stout man dressed in a blue coat with brass buttons. He was dark and bronzed with exposure to the weather, and there was something about him which plainly indicated the sailor.

"Well done, my lad!" he repeated. "You know how to pay off your debts."

"I try to," said Jack, modestly. "But where's my papers?"

The papers, which he had dropped, had disappeared. One of the boys who had seen the fracas had seized the opportunity to make off with them, and poor Jack was in the position of a merchant who had lost his stock in trade.

"Who took them papers?" he asked, looking about him.

"I saw a boy run off with them," said a bystander.

"I'm glad of it," said Tom Rafferty, sullenly.

Jack looked as if he was ready to pitch into him again, but the sailor interfered.

"Don't mind the papers, my lad. What were they worth?"

"I gave twenty cents for 'em."

"Then here's thirty."

"I don't think I ought to take it," said Jack. "It's my loss."

"Take it, my boy. It won't ruin me. I've got plenty more behind."

"Thank you, sir; I'll go and buy some more papers."

"Not to-night. I want you to take a cruise with me."

"All right, sir."

"I suppose you'd like to know who I am?" said the sailor, as they moved off together.

"I suppose you're a sailor."

"You can tell that by the cut of my jib. Yes, my lad, I'm captain of the Argo, now in port. It's a good while since I've been in York. For ten years I've been plying between Liverpool and Calcutta. Now I've got absence to come over here."

"Are you an American, sir?"

"Yes; I was raised in Connecticut, but then I began going to sea when I was only thirteen. I only arrived to-day, and I find the city changed since ten years ago, when I used to know it."

"Where are you staying-at what hotel?"

"I haven't gone to any yet; I used to stay with a cousin of mine, but he's

moved. Do you know any good boarding place, where they'd make me feel at home, and let me smoke a pipe after dinner?"

An idea struck Jack. They had an extra room at home, or could make one by his sleeping in the sitting room. Why shouldn't they take the stranger to board? The money would certainly be acceptable. He determined to propose it.

"If we lived in a nicer house," he said, "I'd ask you to board at my mother's."

"Would she take me, my lad?"

"I think she would; but we are poor, and live in a small house."

"That makes no odds. I ain't a bit particular, as long as I can feel at home. So heave ahead, my lad, and we'll go and see this mother of yours, and hear what she has to say about it."

Jack took the way home well pleased, and, opening the front door, entered the sitting room, followed by the sailor.

Aunt Rachel looked up nervously, and exclaimed: "A man!"

"Yes, ma'am," said the stranger. "I'm a man, and no mistake. Are you this lad's mother?"

"No, sir!" answered Rachel, emphatically. "I am nobody's mother."

"Oh, an old maid!" said the sailor, whose mode of life had made him unceremonious.

"I am a spinster," said Rachel, with dignity.

"That's the same thing," said the visitor, sitting down opposite Aunt Rachel, who eyed him suspiciously.

"My aunt, Rachel Harding, Capt. Bowling," introduced Jack. "Aunt Rachel, Capt. Bowling is the commander of a vessel now in port."

Aunt Rachel made a stiff courtesy, and Capt. Bowling eyed her curiously.

"Are you fond of knitting, ma'am?" he asked.

"I am not fond of anything," said Rachel, mournfully. "We should not set our affections upon earthly things."

"You wouldn't say that if you had a beau, ma'am," said Capt. Bowling, facetiously.

"A beau!" repeated Rachel, horror-stricken.

"Yes, ma'am. I suppose you've had a beau some time or other."

"I don't think it proper to talk on such a subject to a stranger," said Aunt Rachel, primly.

"Law, ma'am, you needn't be so particular."

Just at this moment, Mrs. Harding entered the room, and was introduced to Capt. Bowling by Jack. The captain proceeded to business at once.

"Your son, here, ma'am, told me you might maybe swing a hammock for me somewhere in your house. I liked his looks, and here I am."

"Do you think you would be satisfied with our plain fare, and humble dwelling, Capt. Bowling?"

"I ain't hard to suit, ma'am; so, if you can take me, I'll stay."

His manner was frank, although rough; and Mrs. Harding cheerfully consented to do so. It was agreed that Bowling should pay five dollars a week for the three or four weeks he expected to stay.

"I'll be back in an hour," said the new boarder. "I've got a little business to attend to before supper."

When he had gone out, Aunt Rachel began to cough ominously. Evidently some remonstrance was coming.

"Martha," she said, solemnly, "I'm afraid you've done wrong in taking that sailor man."

"Why, Rachel?"

"He's a strange man."

"I don't see anything strange about him," said Jack.

"He spoke to me about having a beau," said Aunt Rachel, in a shocked tone.

Jack burst into a fit of hearty laughter. "Perhaps he's going to make you an offer, Aunt Rachel," he said. "He wants to see if there's anybody in the way."

Rachel did not appear so very indignant.

"It was improper for a stranger to speak to me on that subject," she said, mildly.

"You must make allowances for the bluntness of a sailor," said Mrs. Harding.

For some reason Rachel did not seem as low-spirited as usual that evening. Capt. Bowling entertained them with narratives of his personal adventures, and it was later than usual when the lamps were put out, and they were all in bed.

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