Chapter XVII. Getting Acquainted.
 

When Richard reached Williams & Mann's he found Frank Massanet already hard at work. He had told the stock-clerk of the robbery in Park Row, and now he related its sequel in the shape of the incident of the morning.

"Well, maybe you did right," said Frank; "although the majority of the street boys are not to be trusted beyond sight. You will find out by this evening if the boy's word is worth anything."

"I think I can trust that boy," replied Richard. "I believe he was truly penitent. My treating him as I did may be the making of him."

Williams & Mann employed in their various departments between fifteen and twenty clerks. They were mostly young fellows, and outside of a tendency to play practical jokes, because he was a new-comer, they treated Richard very well, and the boy was, with one exception, on good terms all round.

This one exception was a young man of twenty.

His name was Earle Norris, and he was head of the shipping department. Richard's duties brought him into daily contact with the shipping-clerk, but though the latter treated him fairly well, there was something in the other's manner that he did not like, and consequently he did not associate as freely with Norris as that young man seemed to desire.

Norris was something of a dandy in his way, and rarely appeared at the store otherwise than faultlessly dressed. Of course when at work he changed his coat, cravat, collar, and so forth, so as not to soil them, but he never left without looking as much "fixed up" as when he had arrived.

"You're a new fellow here," he said to Richard when the latter came down to see if a certain box of books had as yet been sent away.

"Yes; new here and new in New York," Richard replied, smiling,

"I thought you weren't a New Yorker," Norris went on. "How do you like things in the city?"

"First-rate. I haven't seen much of the place yet, though."

"Where do you live?"

"I board with the Massanets."

"Oh, a relative?"

"Oh, no. I never knew them until I got acquainted with Frank here."

"Rather slow at their house, I imagine."

"Oh, I like it very well."

"My folks live in Yonkers," said Norris, "but I couldn't stand it there, though I had a good position. I like New York life. You ought to be over at our boarding-house. There are six of us young fellows, and we're out every night and have lots of sport."

"Thank you; I am very well content where I am," said Richard coldly. He did not like the manner in which the shipping-clerk had spoken of Frank and his family.

"I did not think the Massanets kept boarders," continued Norris. "I thought they were too retired for that."

"I am the only one, and am treated like one of the family."

"Frank has got a sister, hasn't he?"

"Yes."

"Maybe that's the attraction," suggested Norris. "My landlady has a pretty daughter, too."

"It is not the attraction," said Richard flushing, "though she, like her mother, treats me nicely," he added stoutly, and with a certain amount of loyalty.

"Oh, well, it's all right," put in the shipping-clerk hastily. "I don't want you to change if you're satisfied. Only if you get tired of being quiet let me know. I tell you, there's lots of fun to be had if you only know how to get it."

"I guess I won't change, at least for the present," replied the boy.

When he returned to the stock-room he related to Frank what Norris had said about keeping too quiet.

"I don't agree with him," said the stock-clerk. "I don't know what he means by having lots of sport and all that, but I never believed in being out late nights. It isn't right, and besides it doesn't pay. Haven't you noticed the deep circles around Norris's eyes? They come from a want of sleep, and how long do you suppose he can stand that sort of thing and his work here without breaking down? Why, I remember when he came here, a year ago, he looked twice as healthy as he does now."

"Then he is foolish," said Richard. "I wouldn't want to run the risk of ruining my health, especially needlessly."

"Of course if our way of living is too quiet for you--I suppose it would be for most young fellows--you are at liberty to leave at any time."

"Thank you, Frank; I know I can, but I reckon I'll stay just as long as you care to keep me, or at least until I can afford to bring the family here."

"Norris has approached me several times on the subject of joining him in some of his frolics," went on Frank, "but I have never gone out with him."

"Does he get a very large salary?"

"No more than I--ten dollars a week."

"I should think it would take every cent he had after his board was paid to dress him. His clothing is more fashionable than Mr. Mann's."

"He certainly isn't saving any money," replied Frank.

Frank Massanet had his own idea about Earle Norris and his peculiar ways. He was almost certain that there would some day be a startling development at Williams & Mann's, but, having as yet no proofs, he kept quiet concerning his suspicions.

During the afternoon Richard had occasion again to visit the packing-room, and once more Norris, who was the only one present, approached him.

"How would you like to go to Niblo's Garden with me to-night?" he asked. "I have two tickets, and I would be pleased to have your company."

"I am much obliged, I'm sure, but I have an errand to-night," replied Richard. "I must deliver two letters."

"Well, that ought not to take you all the evening. Come along; I don't want to have the extra ticket and not use it. A friend of mine from Brooklyn was going with me, but he has just dropped me a postal card saying he is sick."

"Can't you sell the extra ticket?"

"Oh, I suppose I might; but I don't care to go alone," explained Norris. "Come, you'll enjoy it, I know."

Richard was sorely tempted. The play at the theater was a standard one, and the leading actor one of renown. Surely there wouldn't be much harm in going.

If any other person than Norris had asked him, he would probably have accepted.

Yet his reasoning on the point was remarkably clear. He was sure that there had been nothing in his own manner to draw him to Norris, and this being so, why did the latter take such an interest in one who was but a step removed from a stranger to him?

"No, I guess not," he replied, after a pause. "I don't care to go."

"Oh, well, don't then," replied Norris coldly. "I only asked you out of kindness, being as you were a stranger."

And he turned his back on the boy and walked away.

Richard told Frank where he was to meet Pep, and added that if the stolen letters were forthcoming he would take them to Doc Linyard's before returning to the Massanets'.

At six o'clock the two quitted the store together and walked over to the Bowery. Pep was already waiting for Richard. He had a big bundle of evening papers under his arm, and seemed to have improved both his capital and his time.

"Here's de letters, mister," he said, holding out the two envelopes and the slip. "I'm sorry I got 'em dirty."

For his unwashed hands had left many marks upon the white paper.

Richard took the letters eagerly, and put them in an inside pocket.

"How have you done to-day?" he asked.

"First-rate. Had luck ever since yer started me. I'm worth sixty cents now. Say," he went on in a whisper, "I'm going to pay yer back that two dollars soon as I kin."

"And how is your father?"

"He is a bit better to-day--he was awful yesterday. Can I see yer here in a few days?"

"Why?"

"About that money. I want yer to have it back. It's the first time I took anything."

"Yes, you can see me," replied Richard, somehow pleased at the idea of becoming better acquainted with the urchin, in whom he found himself taking a strong interest. "You can generally meet me at the same time you've met me to-day."

"All right. I'll have der chink in a few days, see if I don't. Have an Evening Telegram or Mail and Express?" "I haven't any change," replied Richard.

"Ho! what yer take me for?"

And, thrusting a copy of each paper in Richard's hand, Pep darted across to the Elevated Station, crying his wares as he went.

"Not such a bad chap, I guess," said Frank. "I have seen worse fellows than him reform. I must see if we can't get him in our mission."

"I'll go right down to West Street with these letters," returned Richard. "They may be very important."

"I'm sorry I can't go with you," said Frank, "but I'm going out with mother. Will you be long?"

"I guess not. Of course I can't tell. Doc Linyard may want me to do something for him--write a letter or so, and that all takes time. I'll be back by nine, I guess."

And with these words the two separated, Frank hurrying up town, and Richard to carry his news to the old sailor.