"Wake up there, youngster," said a rough voice.
Ragged Dick opened his eyes slowly, and stared stupidly in the faceof the speaker, but did not offer to get up.
"Wake up, you young vagabond!" said the man a little impatiently;"I suppose you'd lay there all day, if I hadn't called you."
"What time is it?" asked Dick.
"Seven o'clock! I oughter've been up an hour ago. I know what 'twasmade me so precious sleepy. I went to the Old Bowery last night, anddidn't turn in till past twelve."
"You went to the Old Bowery? Where'd you get your money?" asked theman, who was a porter in the employ of a firm doing business onSpruce Street. "Made it by shines, in course. My guardian don'tallow me no money for theatres, so I have to earn it."
"Some boys get it easier than that," said the porter significantly.
"You don't catch me stealin', if that's what you mean," said Dick.
"Don't you ever steal, then?"
"No, and I wouldn't. Lots of boys does it, but I wouldn't."
"Well, I'm glad to hear you say that. I believe there's somegood in you, Dick, after all."
"Oh, I'm a rough customer!" said Dick. "But I wouldn't steal.It's mean."
"I'm glad you think so, Dick," and the rough voice sounded gentlerthan at first. "Have you got any money to buy your breakfast?"
"No, but I'll soon get some."
While this conversation had been going on, Dick had got up. Hisbedchamber had been a wooden box half full of straw, on which theyoung boot-black had reposed his weary limbs, and slept as soundlyas if it had been a bed of down. He dumped down into the strawwithout taking the trouble of undressing.
Getting up too was an equally short process. He jumped out of thebox, shook himself, picked out one or two straws that had foundtheir way into rents in his clothes, and, drawing a well-worn capover his uncombed locks, he was all ready for the business of theday.
Dick's appearance as he stood beside the box was rather peculiar.His pants were torn in several places, and had apparently belongedin the first instance to a boy two sizes larger than himself. Hewore a vest, all the buttons of which were gone except two, out ofwhich peeped a shirt which looked as if it had been worn a month.To complete his costume he wore a coat too long for him, datingback, if one might judge from its general appearance, to a remoteantiquity.
Washing the face and hands is usually considered proper incommencing the day, but Dick was above such refinement. He had noparticular dislike to dirt, and did not think it necessary to removeseveral dark streaks on his face and hands. But in spite of his dirtand rags there was something about Dick that was attractive. It waseasy to see that if he had been clean and well dressed he wouldhave been decidedly good-looking. Some of his companions were sly,and their faces inspired distrust; but Dick had a frank,straight-forward manner that made him a favorite.
Dick's business hours had commenced. He had no office to open. Hislittle blacking-box was ready for use, and he looked sharply inthe faces of all who passed, addressing each with, "Shine yerboots, sir?"
"How much?" asked a gentleman on his way to his office.
"Ten cents," said Dick, dropping his box, and sinking upon his kneeson the sidewalk, flourishing his brush with the air of one skilledin his profession.
"Ten cents! Isn't that a little steep?"
"Well, you know 'taint all clear profit," said Dick, who had alreadyset to work. "There's the _blacking_ costs something, and I have toget a new brush pretty often."
"And you have a large rent too," said the gentleman quizzically,with a glance at a large hole in Dick's coat.
"Yes, sir," said Dick, always ready to joke; "I have to pay such abig rent for my manshun up on Fifth Avenoo, that I can't afford totake less than ten cents a shine. I'll give you a bully shine, sir."
"Be quick about it, for I am in a hurry. So your house is on FifthAvenue, is it?"
"It isn't anywhere else," said Dick, and Dick spoke the truth there.
"What tailor do you patronize?" asked the gentleman,surveying Dick's attire.
"Would you like to go to the same one?" asked Dick, shrewdly.
"Well, no; it strikes me that he didn't give you a very good fit."
"This coat once belonged to General Washington," said Dick,comically. "He wore it all through the Revolution, and it got tornsome, 'cause he fit so hard. When he died he told his widder to giveit to some smart young feller that hadn't got none of his own; soshe gave it to me. But if you'd like it, sir, to remember GeneralWashington by, I'll let you have it reasonable."
"Thank you, but I wouldn't want to deprive you of it. And did yourpants come from General Washington too?"
"No, they was a gift from Lewis Napoleon. Lewis had outgrown 'emand sent 'em to me,--he's bigger than me, and that's why theydon't fit."
"It seems you have distinguished friends. Now, my lad, I suppose youwould like your money."
"I shouldn't have any objection," said Dick.
"I believe," said the gentleman, examining his pocket-book, "Ihaven't got anything short of twenty-five cents. Have you gotany change?"
"Not a cent," said Dick. "All my money's invested in the ErieRailroad."
"Shall I get the money changed, sir?"
"I can't wait; I've got to meet an appointment immediately. I'llhand you twenty-five cents, and you can leave the change at myoffice any time during the day."
"All right, sir. Where is it?"
"No. 125 Fulton Street. Shall you remember?"
"Yes, sir. What name?"
"Greyson,--office on second floor."
"All right, sir; I'll bring it."
"I wonder whether the little scamp will prove honest," said Mr.Greyson to himself, as he walked away. "If he does, I'll give himmy custom regularly. If he don't as is most likely, I shan't mindthe loss of fifteen cents."
Mr. Greyson didn't understand Dick. Our ragged hero wasn't a modelboy in all respects. I am afraid he swore sometimes, and now andthen he played tricks upon unsophisticated boys from the country,or gave a wrong direction to honest old gentlemen unused to thecity. A clergyman in search of the Cooper Institute he once directedto the Tombs Prison, and, following him unobserved, was highlydelighted when the unsuspicious stranger walked up the front stepsof the great stone building on Centre Street, and tried to obtainadmission.
"I guess he wouldn't want to stay long if he did get in," thoughtRagged Dick, hitching up his pants. "Leastways I shouldn't. They'reso precious glad to see you that they won't let you go, but boardyou gratooitous, and never send in no bills."
Another of Dick's faults was his extravagance. Being alwayswide-awake and ready for business, he earned enough to havesupported him comfortably and respectably. There were not a fewyoung clerks who employed Dick from time to time in his professionalcapacity, who scarcely earned as much as he, greatly as their styleand dress exceeded his. But Dick was careless of his earnings. Wherethey went he could hardly have told himself. However much he managedto earn during the day, all was generally spent before morning. Hewas fond of going to the Old Bowery Theatre, and to Tony Pastor's,and if he had any money left afterwards, he would invite some ofhis friends in somewhere to have an oyster-stew; so it seldomhappened that he commenced the day with a penny.
Then I am sorry to add that Dick had formed the habit of smoking.This cost him considerable, for Dick was rather fastidious about hiscigars, and wouldn't smoke the cheapest. Besides, having a liberalnature, he was generally ready to treat his companions. But ofcourse the expense was the smallest objection. No boy of fourteencan smoke without being affected injuriously. Men are frequentlyinjured by smoking, and boys always. But large numbers of thenewsboys and boot-blacks form the habit. Exposed to the cold and wetthey find that it warms them up, and the self-indulgence grows uponthem. It is not uncommon to see a little boy, too young to be outof his mother's sight, smoking with all the apparent satisfactionof a veteran smoker.
There was another way in which Dick sometimes lost money. There wasa noted gambling-house on Baxter Street, which in the evening wassometimes crowded with these juvenile gamesters, who staked theirhard earnings, generally losing of course, and refreshing themselvesfrom time to time with a vile mixture of liquor at two cents aglass. Sometimes Dick strayed in here, and played with the rest.
I have mentioned Dick's faults and defects, because I want itunderstood, to begin with, that I don't consider him a model boy.But there were some good points about him nevertheless. He was abovedoing anything mean or dishonorable. He would not steal, or cheat,or impose upon younger boys, but was frank and straight-forward,manly and self-reliant. His nature was a noble one, and had savedhim from all mean faults. I hope my young readers will like him asI do, without being blind to his faults. Perhaps, although he wasonly a boot-black, they may find something in him to imitate.
And now, having fairly introduced Ragged Dick to my young readers,I must refer them to the next chapter for his further adventures.