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


Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 11364

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

My work on the building was no lighter than it had been the day before; but I had done so much hard labor in the field and forest that it did not wear upon me. I observed everything that was done by the skilled workmen, and endeavored to profit by what I saw. I felt that I was learning something every hour, and I was pleased to know that Mr. Clinch was entirely satisfied with me. At noon I hastened home, anxious to know the condition of my father.

"How is your patient, Mrs. Greenough?" I asked, as I entered the kitchen where she was cooking the dinner.

"I am sorry to tell you, Phil, that he is gone."


"Yes; I had to go over to the provision store for something for dinner. Mr. Farringford promised faithfully to remain in the house; but when I came back he had left. I was not absent more than fifteen minutes."

"I am very sorry for it; but it can't be helped," I replied, sadly.

"I am to blame, Phil. I ought to have locked the door, and taken the key with me."

"Don't blame yourself at all, Mrs. Greenough," I interposed. "You have been very kind to him and to me, and I am greatly obliged to you."

"Perhaps you will be able to find him again."

"I will try this evening. I'm sorry I have not more time to take care of him."

"If you will get him back again I will do the best I can, and when I go out I will lock the door."

"Perhaps it is no use to try to do anything for him," I added.

"He is your father, Phil; and you must do and keep doing for him. Let us hope and pray that he may be saved."

After dinner I went to my work again; and that afternoon we finished boarding the building.

"Can you lay shingles, Phil?" asked Mr. Clinch.

"I never did lay any, but I know I can after I have seen how it is done."

"Conant shall show you how," he added.

I went upon the roof with my fellow-workman. As, in the short time I had worked with him, I had carefully observed all his instructions, and been obliging and respectful to him, Conant was very willing to show me how to work. But the operation of laying shingles is very simple, though it requires considerable care and skill in breaking joints, so that the water shall not work through. I saw how it was done, and, though I worked rather slowly at first, I was soon able to lay the shingles to the satisfaction of my instructor. As I got the "hang of the thing" I worked more rapidly, and before night I could lay as many as Conant. We lined the length of the roof, and while he began at one end, I began at the other. At first we came together pretty near my end, but I gradually increased the distance until we met in the middle, showing that I did as much work as my instructor.

"Well, Phil, how did you get along shingling?" asked Mr. Clinch, when I went down the ladder at six o'clock.

"Pretty well, I think, sir," I replied. "I shall learn how in time."

"Learn how!" added Conant; "he can lay as many shingles in a day as I can."

"If I can it is all because Conant showed me so well that I couldn't help doing it," said I, wishing to acknowledge my obligations to my kind instructor.

I saw that he was pleased with the compliment; and I have always found that a pleasant word, even from a boy, helps things along amazingly in this world. It was better and fairer to attribute a portion of my success to Conant's careful and patient teaching than to claim all the credit of it myself. It was doing justice to him without injuring me, and was a cheap way to make a strong friend.

"I'm glad to have a fellow like you to work with, Phil," said Conant, as we walked up the street together. "Clinch put that Morgan Blair into my charge to show him how to work; but he knew so much more than I did that I couldn't teach him anything. His head is made of wood."

"I'm always very thankful to any one who will show me how to do anything."

"I see you are, Phil, and it's a real pleasure to teach you anything."

"Thank you; I think we shall agree together first rate."

"So do I; but I don't like these boys who know more than the law allows."

We parted at the corner of the next street, and I went home to supper. My father had not returned to the house, and I did not expect he would do so. I was sorry I had not inquired about my mother when he was with me; but I had no good opportunity, and was confident that I should see him again. After supper I left the house, and went to the Planters' Hotel, where I expected to find him; but it was only when he had a dollar or two that he went there.

"Have you seen Mr. Farringford to-day?" I timidly asked one of the bar-tenders, who was disengaged.

"He has been here two or three times to-day," replied the man.

"Do you know where he is now?"

"I haven't the least idea. He hangs round Forstellar's, I think."

"Where is that?"

"It is a gambling-house," he added, giving me the street and number.

"What does Mr. Farringford do?" I asked, rather startled at being directed to a gambling-house.

"Do? Nothing," said the man, contemptuously. "He used to be a runner for a gambling-house, and followed this business as long as he could keep sober enough to do it."

"What is a runner?"

"One that ropes in customers to a gambling-saloon," laughed the bar-tender. "Farringford used to make money enough to pay for his liquor at it; but lately he keeps so drunk that no one will go with him. What do you want of him?"

"I wanted to see him."

"Do you know him?"

"I did not know him till yesterday. He knows a man who has some money that belongs to me," I replied.

But I was thankful that a customer came to prevent him from asking me any more questions. I was s

hocked to hear that my father had been connected with a gambling-house. He evidently did not think that the business of a "runner" was disreputable, when he assured me that no one could accuse him of a dishonest or a dishonorable deed. But he was only the wreck of a man, and it would have been strange indeed if his moral perception had not been impaired by his long course of dissipation. I hastened to the place which had been described to me by the bar-tender. The establishment had a bar-room on the lower floor, with a private staircase to the apartments above, where games of chance were played.

I went into the bar-room, and saw well-dressed gentlemen passing through the private door to the stairs. I looked about the place a short time. If my father was in the building, he was up stairs, and I decided to attempt the passage. At the foot of the stairs a man stopped me, and told me that no boys were allowed in the rooms above. I was willing to believe that, considering the character of the house, this was a very wholesome regulation; but I wished to find my father. I asked the sentinel if Mr. Farringford was up stairs. He did not know; if he was I couldn't see him. I inquired for Lynch then, but could obtain no satisfaction. I insisted upon seeing one or both of these men with so much zeal that the inside sentinel ordered me to leave the premises. I gently and respectfully remonstrated; but the fellow took me by the arm, and walked me out into the street. As I had no rights there, I did not resist.

I was rather indignant at this treatment, though I ought not to have expected decent conduct on the part of the officials of such an establishment. I decided not to abandon my purpose, though any satisfactory result was rather hopeless just then. I planted myself on the opposite side of the street, and watched the house, taking note of every one who went in or came out. I meant to stay there till midnight if necessary, for I judged from the answers of the inside sentinel that the persons for whom I had inquired were there.

My patience held out till the clock struck eight, when a policeman, by some strange fatality, happened to pass the place. He was on the other side of the street, and glanced into the bar-room as he passed. I determined to walk at his side, and tell him my story, so far as it related to the loss of my money. I crossed over for the purpose of joining him, hoping to induce him to enter the gambling-house with me. As I reached the front of the establishment, two men came out, both of them making use of rather sharp language. Their voices attracted my attention.

One of them was Lynch, and the other was Farringford.

"I will not have my steps dogged by such a fellow as you are?" exclaimed the former, angrily.

"Don't make a noise, Lynch," said Farringford. "If you do, I'll refer the matter to a policeman, and send for the boy."

"Nonsense! I've told you I know nothing about the boy or his money," added Lynch, moving down the street in the direction of the river.

Deeply interested in the discussion, I followed the parties closely enough to hear every word they spoke. From what Lynch said I learned that they had already discussed the subject at the gambling-house; and I judged that the robber had fled in order to escape the importunity of the other.

"The boy speaks the truth, and if you don't give his money back I will make St. Louis too warm for your comfort," retorted Farringford, warmly.

"I don't want to be bored with this matter any more," said Lynch. "If you will clear out I will give you a dollar to get drunk upon."

"I ask no man to give me anything. That won't do; I want the money for the boy."

"Why should you bother your head about the boy?"

"He's my boy, and I won't see him wronged by any one."

"Your boy!"

"Yes, my boy! He's my son," persisted Farringford.

"Nonsense! You have lost your wits."

I thought I had lost mine too. I could not believe that Farringford intended to speak the truth when he said I was his son. He could not possibly have known that I was his son. But my heart leaped up into my throat when it flashed upon my mind that my father had opened the bureau drawer in my room, where I had placed the locket and the little clothes I had worn when I was picked up on the Missouri River. Yet this was not probable, for I had locked the drawer, and put the key in a safe place. I was more inclined to think that Farringford called me his son in order to explain his interest in my affairs. I followed the two men to the levee, where they suddenly halted near a street lamp. I dodged out of their sight, and kept walking back and forth near them; but, as I was a boy, they did not seem to notice me, or at least to consider my presence of any importance.

"I am willing to get rid of you, Farringford, at any reasonable price," said Lynch. "I will not be dogged another foot farther."

"Then give me back the ninety-seven dollars and a half you stole from my boy," added Farringford.

"Don't say that thing again to me. I will give you five dollars if you will bore me no more."

"No; I want the whole."

"Once for all, then, will you clear out, or not?"

"Once for all, I will not till you give up the money you stole from my boy."

"Then take the consequences," said Lynch, as he sprang upon the tottling Farringford.

My blood boiled then, and leaping upon Lynch, I bore him to the ground. He released his hold upon my father when he felt my grasp upon him.

"Police!" I shouted, as I lay upon my victim.

He struggled to shake me off; but I held on, for I knew that I must keep the advantage or lose my man.

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