Chapter XXX. Mr. Martin's Clerks.
 

The idea of some day going into partnership with Frank Massanet was an attractive one to Richard. He felt that the stock-clerk would not venture into business on his own account unless he was moderately certain of success, and that would mean more money and a certain feeling of independence.

Richard was up early on the following morning and on hand at Mr. Martin's store long before that gentleman put in an appearance. He found the place in charge of the boy, who was busy sorting out the morning papers and folding them.

"I'm waiting for Mr. Martin," said Richard, by way of an explanation for standing around.

"Are you the new clerk?" asked Philip Borne, for such was the boy's name.

"I expect to be," replied Richard. "Did Mr. Martin say anything about me?"

"Said he expected to see you this morning. He'll be here in about half an hour. He's terribly worried over his son Jim, who's sick in Philadelphia. The doctors telegraphed last evening that they were afraid he couldn't live."

"It's too bad. I trust, for Mr. Martin's sake, they are mistaken."

In less than half an hour the proprietor put in an appearance. He looked even more worried than the day previous.

"I am glad you are here, Dare," he said. "I saw Mr. Williams last night and he gave you a good recommendation. But he was almost afraid you had not had enough experience in the retail trade to take charge, which just at present you would have to do, because I must go to Philadelphia by the first afternoon train by the latest."

Richard's hopes fell.

"I will do the best I can, Mr. Martin," he said, earnestly. "Although I'll admit I thought to come here only to help, and--"

"Yes, yes, I understand; and that is all right," interrupted the storekeeper, hastily. "I expected to stay, up to last night, but now I must go. If I could only get some one here besides you, some one who understood customers. Phil can help some, but he is too young."

"I know the very person!" exclaimed Richard. "He has had just the experience you desire, and I can get him at once, too."

And Richard told Mr. Martin about Frank Massanet.

"Ah, yes, Mr. Williams mentioned him to me. Do you think he can come to-day?"

"Yes, sir. I'll go at once and find out."

"Do so; I'll promise that you shall lose nothing by it," returned Mr. Martin.

In a moment Richard was on his way back to the house. He found Frank just finishing breakfast.

"Why, what's up?" asked the stock-clerk. "What brings you back?"

"Nothing only--I've got a situation for you," replied Richard as coolly as he could, although he could not suppress a hearty smile.

"A situation for me!" ejaculated Frank, in undisguised wonder. "Surely you don't mean it!"

"Don't I though? Just come along and see."

"Where?"

"At Martin's."

"But I thought you had accepted--"

"One position. So I have, but there is another for you. Come along, I'll tell you all about it on the way."

And Richard got Frank's hat and put it on his friend's head and had him out on the street almost before he could realize it.

At Mr. Martin's store a general explanation followed, and Richard and Frank were hired at a joint salary of sixteen dollars per week. They were to have entire charge of the business, and with the aid of Phil were to do the best they could until they heard from Mr. Martin again, which the storekeeper hoped would be in a few days. The proprietor spent an hour in giving all the instructions he could in that limited time, and then, half distracted, hurried off to catch an early train for Philadelphia.

"Well, this is a queer go, to say the least," exclaimed Richard, after Mr. Martin had gone. "It's more like a dream than anything else."

"He would never do as he has--leave two entire strangers in charge of his place--if he was not distracted by this bad news about his son," returned Frank; and he hit the exact truth.

"Well, now we are here, we must make the most of the opportunity," said Richard. "Let us consider ourselves partners and push our business for all it is worth."

Both boys started in with a will. The first customer was a little girl, and both Richard and Frank desired the honor of waiting upon her.

But the girl wanted a cent's worth of red chalk, and as neither could find the article in demand the would-be purchaser was turned over to Phil, who in turn handed the cash to Frank, while Richard gravely made the entry upon the daily sales-book.

But the two set diligently at work, and by evening had the stock fairly well located in mind and also the prices. During the day trade had been fairly brisk, and when closing up time came they found they had taken in twenty-eight dollars.

"I don't know if that's good or bad," said Richard. "We certainly sold goods to all who wished them."

"The thing is to sell to those who don't know whether they want to buy or not," observed Frank. "Still I guess twenty-eight dollars is fair enough for Tuesday."

Both were on hand early next morning. According to Mr. Martin's instructions the show-windows were emptied, and after they had been cleaned, Frank, assisted by Richard, dressed them again.

Now, Mr. Martin's window dressing had always been of the plain, old- fashioned kind, not altogether suited to the present times. He only put in a few staple articles and left them unchanged for a long time.

But Frank Massanet proceeded on different lines, and when he and Richard had finished the improvement was apparent. Nearly every class of goods in the store was represented, and anything new or special was given a prominent place.

"That looks hot," said Phil, who was given to slang. "Never saw it so showy before."

And the many people who stopped to gaze at the display seemed to justify his statement.

"How often should a window like that be cleaned?" asked Richard.

"At least once a week," replied Frank. "And twice a week is not too much, if you have the time to spare."

Both Richard and Frank worked diligently all day. Of course many things were strange to them, and they made some laughable blunders; but they invariably took things so pleasantly that none of the customers seemed to mind.

When night came they found that they had taken in five dollars more than the day previous.

"It's on account of fixing up the window," said Richard.

"Partly that, and partly getting used to customers and the run of stock," replied Frank.

They were soon on the way home. Richard had sent his letter to his mother the day previous, and was now expecting one in return.

"Here is your usual letter," said Mattie Massanet, appearing at the door.

"Thank you," replied Richard. "Excuse me if I look at it at once. I want to see if it contains anything important."

Richard tore the letter open and began to read. His eyes had glanced over scarcely a dozen lines when he uttered a cry of dismay.

And no wonder, for the communication contained the startling intelligence that fire had visited Mossvale, the Dare cottage was burned to the ground, and his mother and sisters were left without a home.