Ragged Dick, or, Street Life in New York. Chapter 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
DICK’S EARLY HISTORY
“Have you always lived in New York, Dick?” asked Frank, after a pause.
“Ever since I can remember.”
“I wish you’d tell me a little about yourself. Have you got any father or mother?”
“I ain’t got no mother. She died when I wasn’t but three years old. My father went to sea; but he went off before mother died, and nothin’ was ever heard of him. I expect he got wrecked, or died at sea.”
“And what became of you when your mother died?”
“The folks she boarded with took care of me, but they was poor, and they couldn’t do much. When I was seven the woman died, and her husband went out West, and then I had to scratch for myself.”
“At seven years old!” exclaimed Frank, in amazement.
“Yes,” said Dick, “I was a little feller to take care of myself, but,” he continued with pardonable pride, “I did it.”
“What could you do?”
“Sometimes one thing, and sometimes another,” said Dick. “I changed my business accordin’ as I had to. Sometimes I was a newsboy, and diffused intelligence among the masses, as I heard somebody say once in a big speech he made in the Park. Them was the times when Horace Greeley and James Gordon Bennett made money.”
“Through your enterprise?” suggested Frank.
“Yes,” said Dick; “but I give it up after a while.”
“Well, they didn’t always put news enough in their papers, and people wouldn’t buy ’em as fast as I wanted ’em to. So one mornin’ I was stuck on a lot of Heralds, and I thought I’d make a sensation. So I called out `GREAT NEWS! QUEEN VICTORIA ASSASSINATED!’ All my Heralds went off like hot cakes, and I went off, too, but one of the gentlemen what got sold remembered me, and said he’d have me took up, and that’s what made me change my business.”
“That wasn’t right, Dick,” said Frank.
“I know it,” said Dick; “but lots of boys does it.”
“That don’t make it any better.”
“No,” said Dick, “I was sort of ashamed at the time, ‘specially about one poor old gentleman,–a Englishman he was. He couldn’t help cryin’ to think the queen was dead, and his hands shook when he handed me the money for the paper.”
“What did you do next?”
“I went into the match business,” said Dick; “but it was small sales and small profits. Most of the people I called on had just laid in a stock, and didn’t want to buy. So one cold night, when I hadn’t money enough to pay for a lodgin’, I burned the last of my matches to keep me from freezin’. But it cost too much to get warm that way, and I couldn’t keep it up.”
“You’ve seen hard times, Dick,” said Frank, compassionately.
“Yes,” said Dick, “I’ve knowed what it was to be hungry and cold, with nothin’ to eat or to warm me; but there’s one thing I never could do,” he added, proudly.
“I never stole,” said Dick. “It’s mean and I wouldn’t do it.”
“Were you ever tempted to?”
“Lots of times. Once I had been goin’ round all day, and hadn’t sold any matches, except three cents’ worth early in the mornin’. With that I bought an apple, thinkin’ I should get some more bimeby. When evenin’ come I was awful hungry. I went into a baker’s just to look at the bread. It made me feel kind o’ good just to look at the bread and cakes, and I thought maybe they would give me some. I asked ’em wouldn’t they give me a loaf, and take their pay in matches. But they said they’d got enough matches to last three months; so there wasn’t any chance for a trade. While I was standin’ at the stove warmin’ me, the baker went into a back room, and I felt so hungry I thought I would take just one loaf, and go off with it. There was such a big pile I don’t think he’d have known it.”