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

Fred Sargent's Revenge

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_ Fred Sargent, upon this day from which my story dates, went to the head of his Latin class, in the high school of Andrewsville. The school was a fine one, the teachers strict, the classes large, the boys generally gentlemanly, and the moral tone pervading the whole, of the very best character.

To lead a class in a school like this was an honor of which any boy might have been proud; and Fred, when he heard his name read off at the head of the roll, could have thrown up his well-worn Latin grammar, which he happened to have in his hand just at that moment, and hurrahed. It was quite a wonder to him afterward that he did not.

As a class, boys are supposed to be generous. I really don't know whether they deserve to be considered so or not, but some four or five only in this large school envied Fred. The rest would probably have hurrahed with him; for Fred was a "capital good fellow," and quite a favorite.

"Bully for you!" whispered Ned Brown, his right-hand neighbor; but Ned was instantly disgraced, the eye of the teacher catching the words as they dropped from his lips.

When school was over several of the boys rushed to the spot where Fred--his cap in his hand, and his dark hair blowing about every way--was standing.

"I say," said James Duncan, "I thought you would get it. You've worked like a Trojan and you deserve it."

"It's as good as getting the valedictory," said Joe Stone.

"And that is entering into any college in the land without an examination," said Peter Crane.

Now Peter had run shoulder to shoulder with Fred and it does him great credit that, being beaten, he was thoroughly good-natured about it.

"I say, Fred, you ought to treat for this;" and Noah Holmes, standing on tiptoe, looked over the heads of the other boys significantly at Fred.

"I wish I could; but here's all the money I've got," said Fred, taking about twenty-five cents from his pocket--all that was left of his monthly allowance.

"That's better than nothing. It will buy an apple apiece. Come on! Let's go down to old Granger's. I saw some apples there big as your head; and bigger, too," said Noah, with a droll wink.

"Well, come on, then;" and away went the boys at Fred's heels, pushing and shouting, laughing and frolicking, until they came to Abel Granger's little grocery.

"Now hush up, you fellows," said Noah, turning round upon them. "Let Fred go in by himself. Old Grange can't abide a crowd and noise. It will make him cross, and all we shall get will be the specked and worm-eaten ones. Come, fall back, there!"

Very quietly and obediently the boys, who always knew their leader, fell back, and Fred went into the little dark grocery alone.

He was so pleasant and gentlemanly that, let him go where he would and do what he would, in some mysterious way he always found the right side of people and got what he wanted, in the most satisfactory manner.

Now Abel Granger was "as cross as a meat axe." Noah said, and all the boys were afraid of him. If the apples had been anywhere else they would have been much surer of their treat; but in spite of their fears, back came Fred in a few moments, with a heaping measure of nice red apples--apples that made the boys' mouths water.

Fred said that old Abel had given him as near a smile as could come to his yellow, wrinkled face.

"Treat 'em," he said, "treat 'em, eh? Wal, now, 'pears likely they'd eat you out of house and home. I never see a boy yet that couldn't go through a tenpenny nail, easy as not."

"We ARE always hungry, I believe," said Fred.

"Allers, allers--that's a fact," picking out the best apples as he spoke and heaping up the measure. "There, now if you'll find a better lot than that, for the money, you are welcome to it, that's all."

"Couldn't do it. Thank you very much," said Fred.

As the boys took the apples eagerly and began to bite them, they saw the old face looking out of the dirty panes of window glass upon them.

Fred loved to make everybody happy around him, and this treating was only second best to leading his class; so when, at the corner of the street turning to his father's house, he parted from his young companions, I doubt whether there was a happier boy in all Andrewsville.

I do not think we shall blame him very much if he unconsciously carried his head pretty high and looked proudly happy.

Out from under the low archway leading to Bill Crandon's house a boy about as tall as Fred, but stout and coarse, in ragged clothes, stood staring up and down the street as Fred came toward him.

Something in Fred's looks and manner seemed especially to displease him. He moved directly into the middle of the sidewalk, and squared himself as if for a fight.

There was no other boy in town whom Fred disliked so much, and of whom he felt so afraid.

Sam Crandon, everybody knew, was a bully. He treated boys who were larger and stronger than himself civilly, but was cruel and domineering over the poor and weak.

So far in his life, though they met often, Fred had avoided coming into contact with Sam, and Sam had seemed to feel just a little awe of him; for Mr. Sargent was one of the wealthiest leading men in town, and Sam, in spite of himself, found something in the handsome, gentlemanly boy that held him in check; but to-day Sam's father had just beaten him, and the boy was smarting from the blows.

I dare say he was hungry, and uncomfortable from many other causes; but however this may have been, he felt in the mood for making trouble; for seeing somebody else unhappy beside himself. This prosperous, well-dressed boy, with his books under his arm, and his happy face, was the first person he had come across--and here then was his opportunity.

Fred saw him assume the attitude of a prize fighter and knew what it meant. Sam had a cut, red and swollen, across one cheek, and this helped to make his unpleasant face more ugly and lowering than usual.

What was to be done? To turn and run never occurred to Fred. To meet him and fight it out was equally impossible; so Fred stopped and looked at him irresolutely.

"You're afraid of a licking?" asked Sam, grinning ominously.

"I don't want to fight," said Fred, quietly.

"No more you don't, but you've got to."

Fred's blood began to rise. The words and looks of the rough boy were a little too much for his temper.

"Move out of the way," he said, walking directly up to him.

Sam hesitated for a moment. The steady, honest, bold look in Fred's eyes was far more effective than a blow would have been; but as soon as Fred had passed him he turned and struck him a quick, stinging blow between his shoulders.

"That's mean," said Fred, wheeling round. "Strike fair and in front if you want to, but don't hit in the back--that's a coward's trick."

"Take it there, then," said Sam, aiming a heavy blow at Fred's breast. But the latter skillfully raised his books, and Sam's knuckles were the worse for the encounter.

"Hurt, did it?" said Fred, laughing.

"What if it did?"

"Say quits, then."

"Not by a good deal;" and in spite of himself Fred was dragged into an ignominious street fight.

Oh, how grieved and mortified he was when his father, coming down the street, saw and called to him. Hearing his voice Sam ran away and Fred, bruised and smarting, with his books torn and his clothes, too, went over to his father.

Not a word did Mr. Sargent say. He took Fred's hand in his, and the two walked silently to their home.

I doubt whether Mr. Sargent was acting wisely. Fred never had told him an untruth in his life, and a few words now might have set matters right. But to this roughness in boys Mr. Sargent had a special aversion. He had so often taken pains to instill its impropriety and vulgarity into Fred's mind that he could not now imagine an excuse.

"He should not have done so under any circumstances," said his father sternly, to himself. "I am both surprised and shocked, and the punishment must be severe."

Unfortunately for Fred, his mother was out of town for a few days--a mother so much sooner than a father reaches the heart of her son--so now his father said:

"You will keep your room for the next week. I shall send your excuse to your teacher. Ellen will bring your meals to you. At the end of that time I will see and talk with you."

Without a word Fred hung his cap upon its nail, and went to his room. Such a sudden change from success and elation to shame and condign punishment was too much for him.

He felt confused and bewildered. Things looked dark around him, and the great boughs of the Norway spruce, close up by his window, nodded and winked at him in a very odd way.

He had been often reproved, and sometimes had received a slight punishment, but never anything like this. And now he felt innocent, or rather at first he did not feel at all, everything was so strange and unreal.

He heard Ellen come into his room after a few minutes with his dinner, but he did not turn.

A cold numbing sense of disgrace crept over him. He felt as if, even before this Irish girl, he could never hold up his head again.

He did not wish to eat or do anything. What could it all mean?

Slowly the whole position in which he was placed came to him. The boys gathering at school; the surprise with which his absence would be noted; the lost honor, so lately won; his father's sad, grave face; his sisters' unhappiness; his mother's sorrow; and even Sam's face, so ugly in its triumph, all were there.

What an afternoon that was! How slowly the long hours dragged themselves away! And yet until dusk Fred bore up bravely. Then he leaned his head on his hands. Tired, hungry, worn out with sorrow, he burst into tears and cried like a baby.

Don't blame him. I think any one of us would have done the same.

"Oh, mother! mother!" said Fred aloud, to himself, "do come home! do come home!"

Ellen looked very sympathizing when she came in with his tea, and found his dinner untouched.

"Eat your tea, Master Fred," she said, gently. "The like of ye can't go without your victuals, no way. I don't know what you've done, but I ain't afeared there is any great harm in it, though your collar is on crooked and there's a tear in your jacket, to say nothing of a black and blue place under your left eye. But eat your tea. Here's some fruit cake Biddy sent o' purpose."

Somebody did think of and feel sorry for him! Fred felt comforted on the instant by Ellen's kind words and Biddy's plum cake; and I must say, ate a hearty, hungry boy's supper; then went to bed and slept soundly until late the next morning.

We have not space to follow Fred through the tediousness of the following week. His father strictly carried out the punishment to the letter No one came near him but Ellen, though he heard the voices of his sisters and the usual happy home sounds constantly about him.

Had Fred really been guilty, even in the matter of a street fight, he would have been the unhappiest boy living during this time; but we know he was not, so we shall be glad to hear that with his books and the usual medley of playthings with which a boy's room is piled, he contrived to make the time pass without being very wretched. It was the disgrace of being punished, the lost position in school, and above all, the triumph which it would be to Sam, which made him the most miserable. The very injustice of the thing was its balm in this case. May it be so, my young readers, with any punishment which may ever happen to you!

All these things, however, were opening the way to make Fred's revenge, when it came, the more complete.


Fred Sargent, of course, had lost his place, and was subjected to a great many curious inquiries when he returned to school.

He had done his best, in his room, to keep up with his class, but his books, studied "in prison," as he had learned to call it, and in the sitting-room, with his sister Nellie and his mother to help him, were very different things. Still, "doing your best" always brings its reward; and let me say in passing, before the close of the month Fred had won his place again.

This was more easily done than satisfying the kind inquiries of the boys. So after trying the first day to evade them, Fred made a clean breast of it and told the whole story.

I think, perhaps, Mr. Sargent's severe and unjust discipline had a far better effect upon the boys generally than upon Fred particularly. They did not know how entirely Fred had acted on the defensive, and so they received a lesson which most of them never forgot on the importance which a kind, genial man, with a smile and a cheery word for every child in town, attached to brawling.

After all, the worst effect of this punishment came upon Sam Crandon himself. Very much disliked as his wicked ways had made him before, he was now considered as a town nuisance. Everybody avoided him, and when forced to speak to him did so in the coldest, and often in the most unkind manner.

Sam, not three weeks after his wanton assault upon Fred, was guilty of his first theft and of drinking his first glass of liquor. In short, he was going headlong to destruction and no one seemed to think him worth the saving. Skulking by day, prowling by night--hungry, dirty, beaten and sworn at--no wonder that he seemed God-forsaken as well as man-forsaken.

Mr. Sargent had a large store in Rutgers street. He was a wholesale dealer in iron ware, and Andrewsville was such an honest, quiet town ordinary means were not taken to keep the goods from the hands of thieves.

Back doors, side doors and front doors stood open all the day, and no one went in or out but those who had dealings with the firm.

Suddenly, however, articles began to be missed--a package of knives, a bolt, a hatchet, an axe, a pair of skates, flat-irons, knives and forks, indeed hardly a day passed without a new thing being taken, and though every clerk in the store was on the alert and very watchful, still the thief, or thieves remained undetected.

At last matters grew very serious. It was not so much the pecuniary value of the losses--that was never large--but the uncertainty into which it threw Mr. Sargent. The dishonest person might be one of his own trusted clerks; such things had happened, and sad to say, probably would again.

"Fred," said his father, one Saturday afternoon, "I should like to have you come down to the store and watch in one of the rooms. There is a great run of business to-day, and the clerks have their hands more than full. I must find out, if possible who it is that is stealing so freely. Yesterday I lost six pearl-handled knives worth two dollars apiece. Can you come?"

"Yes, sir," said Fred, promptly, "I will be there at one, to a minute; and if I catch him, let him look out sharp, that is all."

This acting as police officer was new business to Fred and made him feel very important, so when the town clock was on the stroke of one he entered the store and began his patrol.

It was fun for the first hour, and he was so much on the alert that old Mr. Stone, from his high stool before the desk, had frequently to put his pen behind his ear and watch him. It was quite a scene in a play to see how Fred would start at the least sound. A mouse nibbling behind a box of iron chains made him beside himself until he had scared the little gray thing from its hole, and saw it scamper away out of the shop. But after the first hour the watching FOR NOTHING became a little tedious. There was a "splendid" game of base ball to come off on the public green that afternoon; and after that the boys were going to the "Shaw-seen" for a swim; then there was to be a picnic on the "Indian Ridge," and--well, Fred had thought of all these losses when he so pleasantly assented to his father's request, and he was not going to complain now. He sat down on a box, and commenced drumming tunes with his heels on its sides. This disturbed Mr. Stone. He looked at him sharply, so he stopped and sauntered out into a corner of the back store, where there was a trap-door leading down into the water. A small river ran by under the end of the store, also by the depot, which was near at hand, and his father used to have some of his goods brought down in boats and hoisted up through this door.

It was always one of the most interesting places in the store to Fred; he liked to sit with his feet hanging down over the water, watching it as it came in and dashed against the cellar walls.

To-day it was high, and a smart breeze drove it in with unusual force. Bending down as far as he could safely to look under the store, Fred saw the end of a hatchet sticking out from the corner of one of the abutments that projected from the cellar, to support the end of the store in which the trap-door was.

"What a curious place this is for a hatchet!" thought Fred, as he stooped a little further, holding on very tight to the floor above. What he saw made him almost lose his hold and drop into the water below. There, stretched along on a beam was Sam Crandon, with some stolen packages near him.

For a moment Fred's astonishment was too great to allow him to speak; and Sam glared at him like a wild beast brought suddenly to bay.

"Oh, Sam! Sam!" said Fred, at length, "how could you?"

Sam caught up a hatchet and looked as if he was going to aim it at him, then suddenly dropped it into the water.

Fred's heart beat fast, and the blood came and went from his cheeks; he caught his breath heavily, and the water, the abutment and even Sam with his wicked ugly face were for a moment darkened. Then, recovering himself, he said:

"Was it you, Sam? I'm sorry for you!"

"Don't lie!" said Sam, glowering back, "you know you're glad!"

"Glad? Why should I be glad to have you steal?"

"Cause I licked you, and you caught it."

"So I did; but I am sorry, for all that."

"You lie!"

Fred had thought very fast while this conversation was going on. He had only to lift his head and call his father, then the boat would be immediately pushed in under the store, Sam secured and his punishment certain. There were stolen goods enough to convict him, and his mode of ingress into the store was now certain. This trap-door was never locked; very often it was left open--the water being considered the most effectual bolt and bar that could be used; but Sam, a good swimmer and climber, had come in without difficulty and had quite a store of his own hidden away there for future use. This course was very plain; but for some reason, which Fred could not explain even to himself, he did not feel inclined to take it; so he sat looking steadily in Sam's face until he said:

"Look here, Sam, I want to show you I mean what I say. I'm sorry you have turned thief and if I can help you to be a better boy, I should be glad to."

Again Fred's honest kindly face had the same effect upon Sam that it had at the commencement of their street fight; he respected and trusted it unconsciously.

"Here!" said he, crawling along on the beam and handing back the package of knives, the last theft of which his father had complained.

"Yes, that is right," said Fred, leaning down and taking it, "give them all back, if you can; that is what my father calls 'making restitution,' and then you won't be a thief any longer."

Something in the boy's tone touched Sam's heart still more; so he handed back one thing after another as rapidly as he could until nearly everything was restored.

"Bravo for you, Sam! I won't tell who took them, and there is a chance for you. Here, give me your hand now, honor bright you'll never come here again to steal, if I don't tell my father."

Sam looked at him a moment, as if he would read his very soul; then he said sulkily:

"You'll tell; I know you will, 'cause I licked you when you didn't want me to; but you've got 'em all back, and I s'pose it won't go very hard."

"What won't go very hard?"

"The prison."

"You sha'n't go to prison at all. Here, give me your hand; I promise not to tell if you will promise not to steal any more. Ain't that fair?"

"Yes," said Sam, a sudden change coming over his face, "but you will!"

"Try me and see."

Sam slowly and really at a great deal of peril, considering his situation, put his rough, grimed hand into Fred's--a dishonest hand it was, and that more than the other thing made Fred recoil a little as he touched it; but that clasp sealed the compact between these two boys. It began Fred Sargent's revenge.

"Now be off, will you, before the clerks come? They will see the things and catch you here. I'll be round to your house soon and we will see."

Even in this short time Fred had formed a general plan for saving Sam.

The boy, stretching himself out flat, slipped down the transverse beam into the water, dived at once and came up under the bridge a few rods distant, then coolly passed down the river and swam to shore under a bunch of alder-bushes, by which he was concealed from the sight of the passers-by.

Fred sought his father, told him the story, then brought him to the spot, showed the goods which the boy had returned, and begged as a reward for the discovery to be allowed to conceal his name.

His father of course hesitated at so unusual a proposition; but there was something so very much in earnest in all Fred did and said that he became convinced it was best, for the present at least, to allow him to have his own way; and this he was very glad he had done when a few days after Fred asked him to do something for Sam Crandon.

"Sam Crandon?" he asked in surprise. "Is not that the very boy I found you fighting in the street with?"

"Yes, sir," said Fred, hanging his head, "but he promises to do well, if he can only find work--HONEST work; you see, sir, he is so bad nobody helps him."

Mr. Sargent smiled. "A strange recommendation, Fred," he said, "but I will try what can be done. A boy who wants to reform should have a helping hand."

"He does want to--he wants to heartily; he says he does. Father, if you only will!"

Fred, as he stood there, his whole face lit up with the glow of this generous, noble emotion, never was dearer to his father's heart; indeed his father's eyes were dim, and his voice a little husky, as he said again:

"I will look after him, Fred, for your sake."

And so he did; but where and how I have not space now to tell my readers. Perhaps, at some future time, I may finish this story; for the present let me say there is a new boy in Mr. Sargent's store, with rough, coarse face, voice and manners; everybody wonders at seeing him there; everybody prophesies future trouble; but nobody knows that this step up in Sam Crandon's life is Fred Sargent's revenge. _

Read next: The Smuggler's Trap

Read previous: Chapter 40. A Scene Not On The Bills

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