MoboReader> Literature > Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic


Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 10610

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"What do you think you shall do for a living, Phil Farringford, when you arrive at St. Louis?" asked Mr. Gracewood, as we sat on the hurricane deck of a Missouri River steamer.

"I don't care much what I do, if I can only get into some mechanical business," I replied. "I want to learn a trade. I don't think I'm very vain when I say that I have about half learned one now."

"Perhaps you have half learned several," added my excellent friend, with a smile. "I have no doubt you will make a good mechanic, for you are handy in the use of tools; and you have been thrown so much upon your own resources that you are full of expedients."

"I am always delighted when I have a difficult job to do. Nothing pleases me so much as to study up the means of overcoming an obstacle," I added.

"The first qualification for any pursuit is to have a taste for it. You will make a good mechanic."

"I am only afraid that after I have learned a trade, I shall not care to work at it."

"That won't do," protested Mr. Gracewood. "You mustn't keep jumping from one thing to another. Frequent change is the enemy of progress. You must not be fickle."

"But, after I have learned my trade, or rather finished learning it, there will be no more difficulties to overcome."

"Yes, there will. What trade do you mean to learn?"

"The carpenter's, I think."

"There may be an infinite variety in the trade."

"I know there may be, but there is not. One house must be very much like every other one, I don't think I could be contented to keep doing the same thing over and over again."

"If you wish to succeed, you must stick to your trade, Phil Farringford."

"Should I stick to it if I can do better at something else?"

"You must, at least, be very sure that you can do better at something else."

"Of course I shall; but, if I learn my trade, I shall always have it to fall back upon."

"That is very true; but I wish to impress it upon your mind that fickleness of purpose is fatal to any real success in morals, in science, and in business."

Our conversation was interrupted by the stopping of the steamer at a wood-yard; for I never lost an opportunity, on those occasions, to take a walk on shore. I was nervously anxious to see everything there was to be seen. All was new and strange; and every day, as the settlements on the banks of the great river increased in number and extent, afforded me a new sensation. As I had been brought up far away from the haunts of civilization, even a house was a curiosity to me; and I gazed with astonishment at the busy scenes which were presented to me in some of the larger towns. At St. Joseph we had taken on board quite a number of passengers, and the scene in the cabin had become much livelier than before.

The addition was not wholly an improvement, for among the new arrivals were not a few gamblers. From this time the tables were occupied by these blacklegs, and such of the passengers as they could induce to join them in the hazardous sport, from early in the morning until late at night. The parties thus engaged were surrounded by a crowd of curious observers, watching the turnings of the game, and perhaps calculating their own chances if they engaged in the wretched business. I had looked on myself with interest, and when I saw a man put five dollars into his pocket on the turn of a card, I thought it was an easy way to make money; but then I had an opportunity to see that it was just as easy a way to lose it.

Mr. Gracewood had called me away from my position near the table, after the gamblers had commenced their operations, and cautioned me never to play for money at any game. He explained to me the nature of the business, and assured me that the gamblers who had come on board at St. Joseph were of the vilest class of men. After his lecture I was not tempted to try my hand with the party at the table. The talk about making and losing money at games of chance introduced the subject of my own finances. I had paid my passage to St. Louis, and had besides nearly one hundred dollars in gold in a shot-bag in my pocket.

While we were talking, I took out the bag, and counted the pieces, as I had done several times on the passage, to assure myself that my funds were all right. My excellent friend told me I must learn prudence, and that I ought not to exhibit my money, especially while we had so many suspicious characters on board. I was alarmed, and looked around to discover who had observed me. One of the passengers, who had come on board at "St. Joe," was promenading the deck, and I had noticed that he passed quite near me several times. He was a young man flashily dressed, but he did not look like a bad man. I put my shot-bag into my pocket, resolved not to show it again, and we continued to discuss the financial question till it led us to the consideration of my future occupation.

The wood-yard where the boat stopped was in a lonely region, and it was just sunset when she touched the shore. Its location was at the mouth of a stream down which the wood was brought in flatboats, though a young forest was growing in the region around the landing. As it was too damp for his wife and daughter to walk, Mr. Gracewood would not go on shore, and I went alone. It was a great luxury to str

etch one's legs for an hour on the hard ground after living for weeks on the steamer.

"How long before you leave?" I asked of the captain, as I went over the plank.

"Perhaps not till morning," he replied.

"Do you stay here all night?"

"It's going to be foggy, and I don't think we can run down to Leavenworth, which is not more than seven miles from here. We should have to lie there till morning if we went on."

I was sorry for this, because Mrs. Gracewood had a friend in the place, where we intended to spend the evening, and I was anxious to see the inside of a civilized house. However, we could make the visit the next day, for the boat was to stay several hours at the town. I went on shore, and several of the passengers did the same.

"It's quite smoky on the river," said a young man, coming up to me as we landed.

"Yes; the captain says he shall probably have to lie here till morning," I replied.

"That's too bad," added my companion, the St. Joe passenger whom I had observed on the hurricane deck when I was counting my money. "I meant to go to a prayer-meeting in Leavenworth this evening."

"A prayer-meeting!" I repeated, my interest awakened; for I had heard Mr. Gracewood speak of such gatherings, though I had never attended one.

"When I came up the river three days ago, they were holding them every evening in the chapel; and I am anxious to attend."

"I should like to go very much."

"I think I shall go as it is," continued the young man, looking at his watch.

"How can you go if the boat remains here?"

"I can walk. It is not more than three or four miles across the bend of the river."

"I should like to go with you very much," I answered.

"I should be very glad of your company."

"If you will wait a few moments, I will speak to Mr. Gracewood."

He consented to wait, and I hastened to the saloon. When I had stated my desire, Mr. Gracewood rather objected.

"You don't know the person with whom you are going," said he.

"I think I can take care of myself, sir. But I don't think there can be any danger in going with a young man who is willing to walk four miles to attend a prayer-meeting."

"Perhaps not. I should really like to go to one myself."

"I don't think there can be any danger," interposed Mrs. Gracewood. "If we could get a vehicle here, we would all go."

"There is the captain. I will ask him if one cannot be obtained," said Mr. Gracewood.

The captain said there was no vehicle suitable to convey a lady, but he would send a party of three in the steamer's boat, if they would pay the expenses of the two oarsmen in Leavenworth for the night.

"But can't you send five as well as three?" asked Mr. Gracewood, who did not object to the expense.

"The boat is hardly large enough to carry them besides the two oarsmen. I lost my boat going up the river, and I had to take such a one as I could find," replied the captain.

"But I would rather walk," I added. "I will meet you in the town."

"Very well, Phil Farringford. Go to the landing when you arrive, and wait for us."

I promised to do so, and joined the young man on the shore. We started immediately for our destination, and passing through the grove of young trees, we reached the open prairie, over which there was a wagon track.

"I don't happen to know your name," said my companion.

"Philip Farringford; but my friends call me Phil."

"Farringford; I know a man of that name in St. Louis," replied he. "He used to be a large steamboat owner, but he has gone to ruin now."

"Gone to ruin?"

"Yes, drank hard, and lost all his property. He is a poor, miserable fellow now."

"Had he a family?"

"He had a wife, but she left him years ago. She was a very pretty woman, they say, though I never saw her."

"Did you ever hear that he and his wife were on board a steamer which was burned on the upper Missouri?"

"Never did."

Very likely this man was the owner of the steamer after which I had been named; but it was not probable that he was in any manner related to me. My curiosity was satisfied, or rather my new friend could give me no further information in regard to him.

"There was a steamer of that name burned on the Missouri about eleven years ago," I added.

"Well, I was a boy then, and did not come to St. Louis till years after."

"I should like to ascertain something about that boat, Mr.-You didn't tell me your name."

"Just so; I did not. My name is-my name is Lynchpinne," he replied, with some hesitation, so that I wondered whether he had not forgotten his name-"Leonidas Lynchpinne."

I thought it was a queer name, but an instinct of politeness prevented me from saying so.

"What do you wish to know in regard to that steamer, Phil?" he asked.

"Some of my relations were on board of her, and I should like to ascertain whether they were saved or not."

"Farringford will know all about it, if you can catch him when he is sober, which is not very often. I will help you out with it when we get to St. Louis."

"Thank you, Mr. Lynchpinne. I shall be under very great obligations to you if you can help me."

I thought my new friend was a very obliging young man, and I was glad to know him, especially as he was in the habit of attending prayer-meetings.

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