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Jack's Ward; Or, The Boy Guardian

Jack's Ward; Or, The Boy Guardian

Author:Jr. Horatio Alger


"Look here, boy, can you hold my horse a few minutes?" asked a gentleman, as he jumped from his carriage in one of the lower streets in New York....
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  "Look here, boy, can you hold my horse a few minutes?" asked agentleman, as he jumped from his carriage in one of the lower streetsin New York.

  The boy addressed was apparently about twelve, with a bright face andlaughing eyes, but dressed in clothes of coarse material. This was JackHarding, who is to be our hero.

  "Yes, sir," said Jack, with alacrity, hastening to the horse's head;"I'll hold him as long as you like."

  "All right! I'm going in at No. 39; I won't be long."

  "That's what I call good luck," said Jack to himself. "No boy wants ajob more than I do. Father's out of work, rent's most due, and AuntRachel's worrying our lives out with predicting that we'll all be inthe poorhouse inside of three months. It's enough to make a fellow feelblue, listenin' to her complainin' and groanin' all the time. Wonderwhether she was always so. Mother says she was disappointed in lovewhen she was young. I guess that's the reason."

  "Have you set up a carriage, Jack?" asked a boy acquaintance, coming upand recognizing Jack.

  "Yes," said Jack, "but it ain't for long. I shall set down again prettysoon."

  "I thought your grandmother had left you a fortune, and you had set up ateam."

  "No such good news. It belongs to a gentleman that's inside."

  "Inside the carriage?"

  "No, in No. 39."

  "How long's he going to stay?"

  "I don't know."

  "If it was half an hour, we might take a ride, and be back in time."

  Jack shook his head.

  "That ain't my style," he said. "I'll stay here till he comes out."

  "Well, I must be going along. Are you coming to school to-morrow?"

  "Yes, if I can't get anything to do."

  "Are you trying for that?"

  "I'd like to get a place. Father's out of work, and anything I can earncomes in handy."

  "My father's got plenty of money," said Frank Nelson, complacently."There isn't any need of my working."

  "Then your father's lucky."

  "And so am I."

  "I don't know about that. I'd just as lieve work as not."

  "Well, I wouldn't. I'd rather be my own master, and have my time tomyself. But I must be going home."

  "You're lazy, Frank."

  "Very likely. I've a right to be."

  Frank Nelson went off, and Jack was left alone. Half an hour passed, andstill the gentleman, who had entered No. 39, didn't appear. The horseshowed signs of impatience, shook his head, and eyed Jack in anunfriendly manner.

  "He thinks it time to be going," thought Jack. "So do I. I wonder whatthe man's up to. Perhaps he's spending the day."

  Fifteen minutes more passed, but then relief came. The owner of thecarriage came out.

  "Did you get tired of waiting for me?" he asked.

  "No," said Jack, shrewdly. "I knew the longer the job, the bigger thepay."

  "I suppose that is a hint," said the gentleman, not offended.

  "Perhaps so," said Jack, and he smiled too.

  "Tell me, now, what are you going to do with the money I give you--buycandy?"

  "No," answered Jack, "I shall carry it home to my mother."

  "That's well. Does your mother need the money?"

  "Yes, sir. Father's out of work, and we've got to live all the same."

  "What's your father's business?"

  "He's a cooper."

  "So he's out of work?"

  "Yes, sir, and has been for six weeks. It's on account of the panic, Isuppose."

  "Very likely. He has plenty of company just now."

  It may be remarked that our story opens in the year 1867, memorable forits panic, and the business depression which followed. Nearly everybranch of industry suffered, and thousands of men were thrown out ofwork, and utterly unable to find employment of any kind. Among them wasTimothy Harding, the father of our hero. He was a sober, steady man, andindustrious; but his wages had never been large, and he had been unableto save up a reserve fund, on which to draw in time of need. He had anexcellent wife, and but one child--our present hero; but there wasanother, and by no means unimportant member of the family. This wasRachel Harding, a spinster of melancholy temperament, who belonged tothat unhappy class who are always prophesying evil, and expecting theworst. She had been "disappointed" in early life, and this had somethingto do with her gloomy views, but probably she was somewhat inclined bynature to despondency.

  The family lived in a humble tenement, which, however, was neatly kept,and would have been a cheerful home but for the gloomy presence of AuntRachel, who, since her brother had been thrown out of employment, wasgloomier than ever.

  But all this while we have left Jack and the stranger standing in thestreet.

  "You seem to be a good boy," said the latter, "and, under thecircumstances, I will pay you more than I intended."

  He drew from his vest pocket a dollar bill, and handed it to Jack.

  "What! is all this for me?" asked Jack, joyfully.

  "Yes, on the condition that you carry it home, and give it to yourmother."

  "That I will, sir; she'll be glad enough to get it."

  "Well, good-by, my boy. I hope your father'll find work soon."

  "He's a trump!" ejaculated Jack. "Wasn't it lucky I was here just as hewanted a boy to hold his horse. I wonder what Aunt Rachel will have tosay to that? Very likely she'll say the bill is bad."

  Jack made the best of his way home. It was already late in theafternoon, and he knew he would be expected. It was with a lighter heartthan usual that he bent his steps homeward, for he knew that the dollarwould be heartily welcome.

  We will precede him, and give a brief description of his home.

  There were only five rooms, and these were furnished in the plainestmanner. In the sitting room were his mother and aunt. Mrs. Harding was amotherly-looking woman, with a pleasant face, the prevailing expressionof which was a serene cheerfulness, though of late it had been harderthan usual to preserve this, in the straits to which the family had beenreduced. She was setting the table for tea.

  Aunt Rachel sat in a rocking-chair at the window. She was engaged inknitting. Her face was long and thin, and, as Jack expressed it, shelooked as if she hadn't a friend in the world. Her voice harmonized withher mournful expression, and was equally doleful.

  "I wonder why Jack don't come home?" said Mrs. Harding, looking at theclock. "He's generally here at this time."

  "Perhaps somethin's happened," suggested her sister-in-law.

  "What do you mean, Rachel?"

  "I was reading in the _Sun_ this morning about a boy being run overout West somewhere."

  "You don't think Jack has been run over!"

  "Who knows?" said Rachel, gloomily. "You know how careless boys are, andJack's very careless."

  "I don't see how you can look for such things, Rachel."

  "Accidents are always happening; you know that yourself, Martha. I don'tsay Jack's run over. Perhaps he's been down to the wharves, and tumbledover into the water and got drowned."

  "I wish you wouldn't say such things, Rachel. They make me feeluncomfortable."

  "We may as well be prepared for the worst," said Rachel, severely.

  "Not this time, Rachel," said Mrs. Harding, brightly, "for that's Jack'sstep outside. He isn't drowned or run over, thank God!"

  "I hear him," said Rachel, dismally. "Anybody might know by the noisewho it is. He always comes stamping along as if he was paid for makin' anoise. Anybody ought to have a cast-iron head that lives anywhere withinhis hearing."

  Here Jack entered, rather boisterously, it must be admitted, in hiseagerness slamming the door behind him.