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The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success, a fiction by Horatio Alger

Chapter 20. Left Out In The Cold

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Of course Phil was utterly ignorant of the audacious attempt to deprive him of his rights and keep him apart from the father who longed once more to meet him. There was nothing before him so far as he knew except to continue the up-hill struggle for a living.

He gave very little thought to the prediction of the fortune-teller whom he had consulted, and didn't dream of any short-cut to fortune.

Do all he could, he found he could not live on his wages.

His board cost him four dollars a week, and washing and lunch two dollars more, thus compelling him to exceed his salary by a dollar each week.

He had, as we know, a reserve fund, on which he could draw, but it was small, and grew constantly smaller. Then, again, his clothes were wearing out, and he saw no way of obtaining money to buy new.

Phil became uneasy, and the question came up to his mind, "Should he write to his step-mother and ask her for a trifling loan?" If the money had been hers, he would not have done so on any condition; but she had had nothing of her own, and all the property in her hands came through Mr. Brent, who, as he knew, was attached to him, even though no tie of blood united them. He certainly meant that Phil should be cared for out of the estate, and at length Phil brought himself to write the following letter:

"NEW YORK, March 10, 18--.

"DEAR MRS. BRENT: I suppose I ought to have written you before, and have no good excuse to offer. I hope you and Jonas are well, and will continue so. Let me tell you how I have succeeded thus far.

"I have been fortunate enough to obtain a place in a large mercantile establishment, and for my services I am paid five dollars a week. This is more than boys generally get in the first place, and I am indebted to the partiality of an old gentleman, the senior member of the firm, whom I had the chance to oblige, for faring so well. Still I find it hard to get along on this sum, though I am as economical as possible. My board and washing cost me six dollars a week, and I have, besides, to buy clothing from time to time. I have nearly spent the extra money I had with me, and do not know how to keep myself looking respectable in the way of clothing. Under the circumstances, I shall have to apply to you for a loan, say of twenty-five dollars. In a year or two I hope to earn enough to be entirely independent. At present I cannot expect it. As my father--Mr. Brent--undoubtedly intended to provide for me, I don't think I need to apologize for making this request. Still I do it reluctantly, for I would prefer to depend entirely upon myself.

"With regards to you and Jonas, I am yours truly, PHILIP BRENT."



Phil put this letter in the post-office, and patiently waited for an answer.

"Mrs. Brent surely cannot refuse me," he said to himself, "since I have almost wholly relieved her of the expense of taking care of me."

Phil felt so sure that money would be sent to him that he began to look round a little among ready-made clothing stores to see at what price he could obtain a suit that would do for every-day use. He found a store in the Bowery where he could secure a suit, which looked as if it would answer, for thirteen dollars. If Mrs. Brent sent him twenty-five, that would leave him twelve for underclothing, and for a reserve fund to meet the weekly deficit which he could not avoid.

Three--four days passed, and no letter came in answer to his.

"It can't be that Mrs. Brent won't at least answer my letter," he thought uneasily. "Even if she didn't send me twenty-five dollars, she couldn't help sending me something."

Still he felt uneasy, in view of the position in which he would find himself in case no letter or remittance should come at all.

It was during this period of anxiety that his heart leaped for joy when on Broadway he saw the familiar form of Reuben Gordon, a young man already mentioned, to whom Phil had sold his gun before leaving Gresham.

"Why, Reuben, how are you?" exclaimed Phil joyfully. "When did you come to town?"

"Phil Brent!" exclaimed Reuben, shaking hands heartily. "I'm thunderin' glad to see you. I was thinkin' of you only five minutes ago, and wonderin' where you hung out."

"But you haven't told me when you came to New York."

"Only this morning! I'm goin' to stay with a cousin of my father's, that lives in Brooklyn, over night."

"I wanted to ask you about Mrs. Brent and Jonas. I was afraid they might be sick, for I wrote four days ago and haven't got any answer yet."

"Where did you write to?"

"To Gresham, of course," answered Phil, in surprise.

"You don't mean to say you hain't heard of their leavin' Gresham?" said Reuben, in evident astonishment.

"Who has left Gresham?"

"Your mother--leastwise, Mrs. Brent--and Jonas. They cleared out three weeks ago, and nobody's heard a word of them since--that is, nobody in the village."

"Don't you know where they've gone?" asked Phil, in amazement.

"No. I was goin' to ask you. I s'posed, of course, they'd write and let you know."

"I didn't even know they had left Gresham."

"Well, that's what I call cur'us. It ain't treatin' you right accordin' to my ideas."

"Is the house shut up?"

"It was till two days ago. Then a brother of Mrs. Brent came and opened it. He has brought his wife and one child with him, and it seems they're goin' to live there. Somebody asked him where his sister and Jonas were, but they didn't get no satisfaction. He said he didn't rightly know himself. He believed they was travelin'; thought they might be in Canada."

Phil looked and felt decidedly sober at this information. He understood, of course, now, why his letter had not been answered. It looked as if he were an outcast from the home that had been his so long. When he came to New York to earn a living he felt that he was doing so voluntarily, and was not obliged to do so. Now he was absolutely thrown upon his own resources, and must either work or starve.

"They've treated you real mean," said Reuben.

"I never did like Mrs. Brent, or Jonas either, for that matter.

"Where are you working?"

Phil answered this question and several others which his honest country friend asked, but his mind was preoccupied, and he answered some of the questions at random. Finally he excused himself on the ground that he must be getting back to the store.

That evening Phil thought seriously of his position. Something must be done, that was very evident. His expenses exceeded his income, and he needed some clothing. There was no chance of getting his wages raised under a year, for he already received more pay than it was customary to give to a boy. What should he do?

Phil decided to lay his position frankly before the only friend he had in the city likely to help him--Mr. Oliver Carter. The old gentleman had been so friendly and kind that he felt that he would not at any rate repulse him. After he had come to this decision he felt better. He determined to lose no time in calling upon Mr. Carter.

After supper he brushed his hair carefully, and made himself look as well as circumstances would admit. Then he bent his steps toward Twelfth Street, where, as the reader will remember, Mr. Carter lived with his niece.

He ascended the steps and rang the bell. It was opened by Hannah, who recognized him, having admitted him on the former occasion of his calling.

"Good-evening," said Phil pleasantly. "Is Mr. Carter at home?"

"No, sir," answered Hannah. "Didn't you know he had gone to Florida?"

"Gone to Florida!" repeated Phil, his heart sinking. "When did he start?"

"He started this afternoon."

"Who's asking after Uncle Oliver?" asked a boy's voice.

Looking behind Hannah, Phil recognized the speaker as Alonzo Pitkin. _

Read next: Chapter 21. "They Met By Chance"

Read previous: Chapter 19. A Narrow Escape From Detection

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