Chapter XIII. Richard Calls on Mr. Joyce.

As the hand of the German workman grasped Richard's arm the boy realized that he was in an awkward fix. Appearances were all against him, and as the man glared at him Richard knew not what to say.

"Come now, vat vas you doing here, hey?" demanded the German.

"I--I was after a boy who stole something from me," stammered Richard.

"After a poy?"

"Yes. He ran down here, and I came after him."

"Ton't believe it. Vere ist der poy now?"

"He jumped up there and got through that hole," replied Richard, pointing to the place.

The German uttered an exclamation.

"Dat's nonsense!"

"It's true. He stole two dollars and some letters, and I chased him in here."

The man eyed Richard suspiciously.

"Maype dot vas only a make-believe sthory; I don't know," he declared. "Come, ve go upstairs und see."

But, as Richard surmised, the boy had, by some means, already made his escape. But the marks of his muddy feet, as he had crawled from the hatchway, were still to be seen, and these Richard pointed out.

"Vell, if your sthory is straight dat lafer ain't here now; so you go about your beesness." And with a wave of his arm the stalwart workman motioned for Richard to clear out.

The boy was not loth to leave the place. Nothing was to be gained by remaining, and the German's company was certainly not desirable.

"I suppose I might as well give up the search now," said Richard to himself when outside. "That fellow will know enough to keep out of my sight for a while; and, besides, it must be time to go to Mr. Joyce's. Gracious, how starved that chap did look! If he wants that money to get something to eat with I'm sure he's welcome to it, only I want the letters."

Richard brushed off his clothes as best he could and started off. By the use of the guide-book he had no difficulty in finding the Swamp, as the leather district in New York is called.

Presently he came to a big warehouse, with an office at one side, over which hung the sign:

  Successor to
  Established 1837.

"It's certainly an old firm," thought Richard, as he read the words. "I guess Mr. Joyce is a pretty substantial business man."

The boy found the leather merchant at his desk, deep in his letters.

"Ah! on hand I see," said Mr. Joyce. "I'm not quite ready yet; will be in a quarter of an hour."

"I won't mind waiting," returned Richard.

"Suppose you take a look around the place? I guess you've never seen anything like this before."

"No, sir: and I'll look around gladly."

Richard stepped from the office to the lower floor of the warehouse. The quantity of leather and hides on all sides filled him with wonder.

The place was several stories high, and was filled to overflowing with material soon to be worked up into shoes, pocketbooks, belting, gloves, baseball covers, and a thousand other articles for which this staple material of trade is needed. Several heavy trucks were loading and unloading at the doors, and the boy heard the workmen speak of a consignment to Buffalo, and another to Boston, and of a shipload that had just arrived from South America.

"It's a big business and no mistake," was Richard's conclusion. "I guess a person would have to be here half a lifetime to learn all the ins and outs of it."

When Richard returned to the office he found that Mr. Joyce had just cleared his desk, and was leaning back in his chair.

The leather merchant motioned him to a seat.

"Well, what do you think of it?" he asked abruptly.

"You seem to be doing a big business," returned Richard. "I think you must have enough leather to supply all New York."

"So I have--for a short time. But only a small part stays in the city. It comes and goes all the while. Have you found a place yet?"

"No, sir; I haven't had a chance yet." And Richard related the particulars of his recent misfortune.

"Humph! Well, after all, experience is the only school we all learn in. I don't doubt but what you've seen the last of both money and letters. Keep your eyes open in the future."

"I'll try to. I shall not forget this lesson in a hurry."

"But at the same time don't be too suspicious of everybody with whom you may chance to come in contact."

"I'll remember what you say, sir."

"Now about finding you a situation. I wish I had an opening here for you. I'd make a business chap of you."

"I should like to work for you, Mr. Joyce."

"Unfortunately, there is no room at present--that is, there is nothing I can offer you."

"I'll take anything you'll give me," exclaimed Richard earnestly.

"Yes; but you can't do anything. You can't drive a truck--here in the city--and you don't know a thing about packing hides. Besides, such work would be altogether too heavy for you, and it never pays the wages that lighter but more intelligent labor receives."

"I suppose you are right, sir."

"I am. I don't want to gloss things over for you. It's the worst thing in the world for a young fellow just starting out to have a rosy view of the business world, which is composed of steady work and hard knocks, about equally mixed. You've got too much brains to work altogether with your hands; and one must find out what he is best suited to. How would you like to get into the book and stationery line?"

"Very much indeed."

"Do you think you could make anything out of it? Make it the business of your life, so that you would stand some show of advancement on the strength of the interest you took in it?"

"I think I could," replied Richard slowly, somehow deeply moved by Mr. Joyce's earnestness. "I always liked books--not only to read them, but to handle and to arrange them as well. At home I was the librarian of our Sunday-school, and I got out the catalogue and all that. Of course it was not a great work, but I enjoyed it, and often wished I might have charge of a big library or something like that."

Mr. Joyce eyed the boy thoughtfully.

"Reckon I was right. Thought you'd take to books. Persons with your kind of a forehead always do. Well, come along. I'll see what I can do toward getting you a place with a friend of mine."

Locking up his desk, Mr. Joyce put on his hat and led the way out on the street.

"We'll have to hurry," he said, "or we'll find my friend has gone home."

Richard needed no urging. With a strangely light heart he kept close behind the leather merchant.

They passed along several blocks, and at length turned into Beekman Street.

"Here we are," said Mr. Joyce, finally. "This is my friend's place of business."