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


Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 10882

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The next day my father was quite sick; but Mrs. Greenough was an angel at his bedside, and I went to my work as usual. I was filled with hope that the wanderer might yet be reclaimed. Though I longed intensely to see my mother, I think if I had known she was in the city I should not have sought to find her, for I desired to carry to her the joyful news of the salvation of my father. When I could say that he was no longer a drunkard, I should be glad to meet her with this intelligence upon my lips. But she was wandering in distant lands. Plenty and luxury surrounded her, while I was struggling to earn my daily bread, and to take care of my father. The fact that she was in affluence was consoling to me, and I was the more willing to cling to my father in his infirmities.

When I went to work that morning I was introduced to a plane and a plank-to test my ability, I supposed, for the men had not yet finished shingling the roof. A plank partition was to be put up in order to make a counting-room in one corner of the storehouse. I had never in my life seen a plane till I came to St. Louis; but I had carefully observed the instrument and its uses. Conant told me how to handle it with ease and effect, and instructed me in setting the iron, so as to make it cut more or less deeply, according to the work to be done.

It was hard work, harder than boarding or shingling; but I made it unnecessarily severe for the first hour, and though it was a cool day, the sweat poured off me in big drops. I had not yet got the hang of the thing; but when Conant came from the roof for a bundle of shingles, he looked in to see how I succeeded. A little more instruction from him put me on the right track, and I worked much easier; in a word, I learned to use the plane. After removing the rough side from the plank, it was a relief to handle the smoothing-plane, and I polished off the wood to my own satisfaction and that of my employer.

In the afternoon I was sent upon the roof again to lay shingles, and we finished that part of the job before night. At six o'clock all the hands were paid off for their week's work. I felt considerable interest in this performance. I had worked three days, and at the price agreed upon I was entitled to a dollar and a half.

"I shall not want you any longer, Blair," said Mr. Clinch to the young fellow of whom Conant had spoken so disparagingly to me. "I owe you six dollars; here is the amount."

"You don't want me any longer?" replied Blair, as he took his wages.


"Why not?"

"You don't suit me. I can't afford to pay you six dollars a week for what you do," answered the employer, bluntly. "You don't understand the business, and you don't try to learn it. That boy there does twice as much work in a day as you do."

I did not think it right to hear any more of this conversation, and moved away. Though I was pleased with the compliment, I was sorry to have it bestowed upon me at the expense or to the disparagement of another. I walked around the building, but I was soon sent for to receive my wages.

"Phil, you have done remarkably well," said Mr. Clinch; "and I want to use you well. You handle a plane well for one who never saw one before, and I think you were born to be a carpenter."

"Thank you, sir," I replied. "You give me all the credit I deserve."

"And I give you a dollar a day for your work, for you have done twice as much as I expected of you," he added, handing me three dollars. "I supposed you would be in the way at first, and I only took you to oblige Captain Davis."

"I have done the best I knew how, and shall always do so; but I don't ask any more than you agreed to give me. I am entitled to only half of this."

"Yes, you are. I agreed to give you more if you were worth it. Conant says you have done a man's work most of the time. Of course you can't do that on the average. But you will be worth about a dollar a day to me, now that I have discharged Morgan Blair."

"Thank you, sir; you are very kind."

"Kind! Nonsense! I am only doing the fair thing by you. When I think you are worth more than a dollar a day, I shall give it to you. On the other hand, I shall discharge you when I don't want you, or when you are lazy or clumsy. I always speak my mind."

I saw that he did, to Blair as well as to me, and I was very thankful for having obtained so good an employer. I was determined to merit his good will by doing my duty faithfully to him.

I went home, and found my father more comfortable than in the morning; but he was still very sick, and unable to leave his bed. In the evening I went out to purchase a suit of clothes, which I so much needed. I obtained a complete outfit, which would enable me to attend church the next day, looking like other young men of my age, in the humbler walks of life. Mrs. Greenough had been very particular in urging me to be prepared for church and Sunday school, and had even offered to lend me money to purchase the needed articles. I told her I had never been to church in my life, and I was very glad of the opportunity.

When my bundle was ready I turned to leave the store. A young man, whose form and dress looked familiar to me,-though I did not see his face, for he was looking at the goods in a glass case,-followed me into the street.

"Phil," said he; and I recognized the voice of Morgan Blair, the young man who had been discharged that afternoon by M

r. Clinch.

I paused to see what he wanted, though I was not very anxious to make his acquaintance after what I knew of him.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I want to see you about a matter that interests me," he added.

"What is that?"

"They say you came from way up the Missouri River. Is that so?"

"That's so."

"Conant said you did. I want to know something about the country up there, and I suppose you can tell me."

"What do you want to know?"

"I have an uncle up there somewhere, and I want to find him if I can."

"Do you know in what region he is located?" I inquired.

"I do not; that is what I want to ascertain. Conant told me you came from that country, and I meant to talk with you about it; but you put my pipe out, and I was discharged to-day. I saw you go into that store, and I thought I would wait for you."

"What do you mean by putting your pipe out?"

"Didn't you put my pipe out?"

"I didn't even know that you smoked."

"You are rather green, but you have just come from the country. I meant that you caused me to be discharged."

"I did?"

"You heard Clinch say that I did not do half as much work as you did?"

"Yes; I heard that; but it was not my fault."

"I didn't do any more than I could help, and you put in all you knew how. If you hadn't come, Clinch never would have suspected that I wasn't doing enough for a boy. I don't believe in breaking your back for six dollars a week. But never mind that now. When can I see you and talk over this other matter with you?"

"I can tell you now all I know," I replied.

"I think I shall go up the Missouri, if I have any chance of finding my uncle."

"You can't go up this season. No steamers leave so late as this. When did you see your uncle?"

"I never saw him, and I shouldn't know him if I met him to-night. He has been up in the woods for twenty years, I believe."

"What is his name?"


"Rockwood!" I exclaimed, startled by his answer.

"Yes; my mother was his sister."

"What was his other name?"

"Matthew. He left Illinois before I was born; but my mother heard from him about ten years ago. Somebody-I don't know who it was-saw him at a wood-yard, and he sent word by this person that he was alive and well, but did not think he should ever come back to Illinois. His name was Matthew Rockwood. Did you ever hear of such a man?"

"I have, and I knew him well."

"You don't say so!" replied he, astonished in his turn. "Where is the place?"

"On the Missouri, between Bear and Fish Creeks."

"Well, I don't know any better now than I did before. What was the old man doing?"

"He has been hunting, trapping, and selling wood; but he is not living now."

"Dead-is he?"

"Yes; he died last spring."

"You don't say it!"

"There was some trouble with the Indians in that region, and he was shot in a skirmish with them."

"The last of them is gone, then," added Blair.

"Matt Rockwood had a brother-did he not?"

"He did have-but he is dead; and my mother died two years ago. And so uncle Matt is dead too?"


"The man that told my mother about him thought he must be making money out there, for he sold a great deal of wood to the steamers. Do you know anything about it?"

"I know all about it."

"You lived near him, then?"

"I lived with him. To tell the whole story in a few words, I was brought up by Matt Rockwood, and I was at his side when he was killed by the Indians. But here is my boarding-house, and I don't care about going any farther."

"But I want to know more about my uncle."

"Come in, then."

I conducted him up stairs to Mrs. Greenough's kitchen; and, after ascertaining that my father was still very comfortable, I seated myself with Morgan Blair.

"It is a little odd that I should stumble upon you," said he.

"Rather," I replied; and it seemed to be another of my mishaps, for in him had appeared an heir to Matt Rockwood's little property, which had come into my possession.

I told him all about his uncle; how he had lived and how he had died.

"Did he have any property?" asked Blair.

"Why do you ask?"

"Why do I ask? Well, that's a good one! My father and mother are both dead, and I suppose I am the last of the Rockwoods. I am now out of business, with less than ten dollars in the world; and why do I ask whether my uncle had any property?"

"He had his farm-a quarter section of land," I added.

"How much is it worth?"

"Perhaps it is worth as much as it would cost you to go up there and back."

"That's hopeful."

"There were a couple of horses, a lot of hogs, a log house and barn, and the farming tools."

"Well, what are they worth?"

"They are worth considerable to a person who wishes to live up there."

"But I don't wish to live up there."

"Then they are worth whatever you can sell them for. Kit Cruncher has the farm; but I think you will find that squatter sovereignty prevails up there; and a man in possession, without any claim, is better off than a man with a title, but not in possession."

"Then I have no chance, you think?"

"On the contrary, I know that Kit Cruncher is an honest man, and if you prove your claim, he will either pay you the fair value of the place, or give it up to you."

"But didn't my uncle have any money?"

"Yes; he left about nine hundred dollars in gold," I replied.

"Whew!" exclaimed Blair, opening his eyes.

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