Chapter III. Preparing to Start.
 

Two days later the blinds of the little cottage were closed, and crape hung in solemn black upon the front door. The neighbors, and indeed the whole population of the village, came and went continually--some few with genuine grief and sympathy, and the many others to satisfy a morbid curiosity regarding the man whose life had so suddenly ended.

It was a dismal enough time for the inmates. Richard did all a brave boy can do to comfort his mother and sisters, but he himself needed consolation fully as much as any of them. He had thought much of his father, and the cold form lying in the draped coffin in the parlor sent a chill through his heart that would have an effect in all after life.

At last the funeral was over, and the last of the neighbors had gone away. It was nearly sunset, and the entire family had gathered in the little kitchen to partake of a cup of tea, and to talk over the situation. Mrs. Dare sat in a rocking-chair beside the table, her face plainly showing her intense grief, and near her, on a low stool, sat Richard.

"Well, mother, I suppose I will have to do something very soon now," began the boy. "It won't do for me to remain idle when there is no money coming in."

Mrs. Dare sighed.

"I can't think of money matters yet, Richard," she replied, shaking her head sadly. "It is all so sudden, so unexpected, I cannot realize our terrible loss."

"There isn't a chance for any one in Mossvale," put in Nancy. She herself had been secretly wondering what they were going to do for support.

"So I told mother some time ago," responded Richard. "The few places here are all filled."

"Thought you were going to try New York?" said Grace, who was serving the tea.

"So I was. But--" The boy did not finish, but glanced over to where his mother sat.

"I could hardly bear to have you go away," said Mrs. Dare. "It would be so lonely--your father and you both out of the house. I would rather have you home, even if we had a good deal less to live upon."

"To-morrow I will go out and see what Mossvale has to offer," returned Richard. "In our circumstances it would not be right for me to waste any time."

"Do as you think best," was Mrs. Dare's reply. "You are old enough to think and act for yourself."

But Richard did not wait for the next day before he began his hunt. That evening he called upon Dr. Melvin to obtain some medicine for his mother, and after this portion of his errand was over he broached the subject of securing a position.

"You will find it a hard matter," said the doctor kindly, "unless you wish to go on one of the farms. But they are poor pay, even if you can stand the labor, which I doubt."

"I would not go on a farm unless I could find nothing else," replied the boy. "Could you give me a place?" he asked.

Dr. Melvin nodded his head reflectively.

"I might take you in as an office assistant," he replied. "It would be a good chance to learn medicine. But there would not be much to do, and the pay would be necessarily small."

"Then I couldn't afford to accept it," was Richard's prompt reply. "It is kind in you to make the offer, but I have got to earn enough to support the family."

"I suppose so. Well, I wish you success. I have known you for a number of years, and if you need a recommendation I will give it to you gladly."

"Thank you, doctor. I'll remember that," replied the boy, and after a few more words of conversation he left.

On the following morning he called upon Mr. Barrows, the master painter for whom his father had worked. He found the old workman busy in his shed, mixing up colors for his journeymen to use.

"I suppose you've come down for the money due your father," remarked Mr. Barrows after he had expressed numerous regrets over the sad accident. "Well, here it is, the week in full, and I'm mighty sorry he isn't here to receive it himself, and many another besides," and he held out the amount.

"No, I didn't come for this exactly," replied the boy. "Besides there is too much here," he added, as he counted the bills. "Father did not finish out the week."

"Never mind, you take it anyhow," returned Mr. Barrows briefly. "What was it you wanted?"

"Work. I want to earn something to support my mother and sisters on. We can't live on nothing, and what we have saved up won't last long."

"It's hard luck, Dick, so it is!" exclaimed the old painter. "Tell you what I'll do, though. I'll teach you the trade--teach you it just as good as your father knew it, and pay you a little in the bargain."

"How much I don't care about the money for myself, but--"

"Yes, I understand," broke in Mr. Barrows. "Well, I'll tell you. I'll take you to learn the trade for three years, and start you at two dollars a week. I wouldn't give any other boy half of that, but I know you're smart, and I feel it my duty to help you along."

Richard bit his lip in disappointment. He knew that what Mr. Barrows said about the amount was true, but still he needed more, and for that reason, he had, somehow, expected a larger sum to be offered.

"I'm much obliged, but I'll have to think it over before I decide," he said. "Three years is a long time to bind one's self."

"Oh, they'll slip by before you know it. Besides, I'll raise your wages just as soon as you are worth it," said Mr. Barrows.

"I'll see about it," was all the boy could answer.

"Two dollars a week would not go far towards supporting a family of five," sighed Richard, as he walked away. "And then to be a house painter all one's life! I must strike something else."

But "striking something else" was no easy matter, as the boy soon learned. A visit to the two stores, the blacksmith shop and to several people whom he thought might give him employment, brought forth no results of value. Either they had nothing for him to do, or else the pay offered was altogether too small.

Richard returned home late in the afternoon. Grace met him at the end of the lane.

"Any luck, Dick?" she asked eagerly.

"No," he replied, and related his experience.

"Never mind," returned his sister. "Maybe it isn't so bad after all. The minister is here."

"Mr. Cook?"

"Yes, he's in the parlor talking to mamma, and I heard them mention your name, and say something about New York."

Richard's heart gave a bound. He knew that Mr. Cook, who was their old family pastor, had great influence with his mother, and that she would probably go to him for advice.

"Guess I'll go in and hear what he has to say," said Richard, and a moment later he knocked on the parlor door and entered.

Mr. Cook shook him cordially by the hand.

"We have just been speaking about you," he said. "How have you fared in your search for employment?"

The boy told him.

"Mossvale is so small, there is hardly any chance," he added.

"Your mother tells me that you have an idea you could do better in New York," went on the minister. "It is a big place, and nearly every one is almost too busy to notice a new-comer."

"I know that. But I should watch my chances."

"And there are many temptations there that never arise in such a place as this," continued Mr. Cook earnestly; "and it very often takes all the will power a person possesses to keep in the straight and narrow path."

"I wouldn't do what wasn't right!" burst out Richard. "I'd starve first!"

Mr. Cook looked down into the clear, outspoken face before him.

"I believe it," he declared. "You have had a good training, thanks to your mother and father. Well, I have advised her to let you try your luck in the great metropolis."

"Oh, Mr. Cook!"

"Yes. Now don't get excited. She has thought it over, and agrees to let you go for two weeks, at least. The fare is only four dollars and a half, and board for that length of time will not be much. Of course you can't put up at an expensive hotel."

"I won't put up anywhere until I find a job," declared Richard. "I only want my railroad ticket, and a dollar or two extra."

"Indeed not!" put in Mrs. Dare. "I would not have you stay out doors all night, like a tramp. There are plenty of cheap lodging-houses."

"And when can I go?" asked Richard eagerly.

His mother gave a sad little smile.

"Do you want to leave your mother so very soon?" she asked.

"Oh, no, only I want to be doing something--helping you and the rest," he replied quickly.

"Then you shall go bright and early next Monday morning," returned Mrs. Dare, and she turned away to hide the tears that sprang up at the thought of her only boy leaving the shelter of the quiet country home, to mingle with strangers in the great city more than a hundred miles away.

As for Richard he was delighted with the prospects. At last the dream of many months was to be realized. He was to go to New York, to tread the streets of the great metropolis, to find a place for himself, and make a fortune!

Little did he know or care for the many trials and disappointments in store for him. He was striking out for himself, and intended to do his level best.

Would he succeed or fail?

We shall see.