Try and Trust by Horatio Alger
Chapter II. Introducing the Hero
If my young readers do not find the town of Waverley on the map of Ohio, they may conclude that it was too small to attract the notice of the map-makers. The village is small, consisting of about a dozen houses, a church, a schoolhouse, and, as a matter of course, one of that well- known class of stores in which everything required for the family is sold, from a dress-pattern to a pound of sugar. Outside of the village there are farmhouses, surrounded by broad acres, which keep them at respectable distances from each other, like the feudal castles of the Middle Ages. The land is good, and the farmers are thrifty and well-to- do; but probably the whole town contains less than a thousand inhabitants.
In one of the houses, near the church, lived Dr. Kent, whose letter has already been referred to. He was a skillful physician, and a very worthy man, who would have been very glad to be benevolent if his limited practice had supplied him with the requisite means. But chance had directed him to a healthy and sparsely-settled neighborhood, where he was able only to earn a respectable livelihood, and indeed found himself compelled to economize at times where he would have liked to indulge himself in expense.
When Mrs. Mason died it was found that the sale of her furniture barely realized enough to defray the expenses of her funeral. Herbert, her only son, was left wholly unprovided for. Dr. Kent, knowing that he had a rich uncle in New York, undertook to communicate to him the position in which his nephew had been left, never doubting that he would cheerfully extend a helping hand to him. Meanwhile he invited Herbert to come to his house and make it his home till his uncle should send for him.
Herbert was a handsome, well-grown boy of fourteen, and a general favorite in the village. While his mother lived he had done all he could to lighten her tasks, and he grieved deeply for her loss now that she was gone. His father had ten years before failed in business in the city of New York, and, in a fit of depression, had emigrated to this obscure country village, where he had invested the few hundred dollars remaining to him in a farm, from which he was able to draw a scanty income. Being a man of liberal education, he had personally superintended the education of his son till his death, two years before, so that Herbert's attainments were considerably in advance of those of other boys of his age in the neighborhood. He knew something of Latin and French, which made him looked upon as quite a model of learning by his playmates. After his father's death he had continued the daily study of the languages, so that he was able to read ordinary French with nearly as much ease as if it were English. Though studious, he was not a bookworm, but was distinguished in athletic sports popular with boys of his age.
Enough has been said of our hero by way of introduction. Herbert's faults and virtues will appear as the record of his adventures is continued. It may be hinted only that, while he was frank, manly, and generous in his disposition, he was proud and high-spirited also, and perhaps these qualities were sometimes carried to excess. He would not allow himself to be imposed upon if he could help it. Being strong for his age, he was always able to maintain his rights, but never abused his strength by making it the instrument of tyrannizing over weaker boys.
Of course Herbert felt somewhat anxious as to his future prospects. He knew that the doctor had written to his Uncle Benjamin about him, and he hoped that he might be sent for to New York, having a great curiosity to see the city, of which he had heard so much.
"Have you heard from my uncle, Dr. Kent?" he inquired, a few days after the scene recorded in our first chapter.
His question was prompted by seeing the doctor coming into the yard with an open letter in his hand.
"Yes," said Dr. Kent, with troubled expression and perplexed took.
"What does Uncle Benjamin say?" asked our young hero, eagerly.
"Nothing very encouraging, Herbert, I am sorry to say," returned the doctor. "However, here is the letter; you may read it for yourself."
Herbert received the letter from the doctor's hands and read it through with feelings of mortification and anger.
Here it is:
"DEAR SIR: I have to acknowledge yours of the 10th inst. I regret to hear of my sister's decease. I regret, also, to hear that her son, Herbert, is left without a provision for his support. My brother-in-law I cannot but consider culpable in neglecting to lay up something during his life upon which his widow and son might depend. I suspect that he must have lived with inconsiderate extravagance.
"As for myself, I have a family of my own to provide for, and the expense of living in a city like this is very great. In justice to them, I do not feel that it would be right for me to incur extra expense. You tell me that he is now fourteen and a stout boy. He is able, I should think, to earn his own living. I should recommend that he be bound out to a farmer or mechanic. To defray any little expenses that may arise, I enclose ten dollars, which I hope he may find serviceable. Yours etc.,
This cold and selfish letter Herbert read with rising color, and a feeling of bitterness found a place in his young heart, which was quite foreign to him.
"Well, Herbert, what do you think of it?" asked the doctor.
"I think," said Herbert, hotly, "that I don't want to have anything to do with an uncle who could write such a letter as that."
"He doesn't seem to write with much feeling." acknowledged the doctor.
"Feeling!" repeated Herbert; "he writes as if I were a beggar, and asked charity. Where is the money he inclosed, Dr. Kent?"
"I have it here in my vest pocket. I was afraid it would slip out of the letter, and so took care of it."
"Will you let me send it back to my uncle?" asked Herbert.
"Send it back?"
"Yes, Dr. Kent; I don't want any of his charity, and I'll tell him so."
"I am afraid, Herbert, that you are giving way to your pride."
"But isn't it a proper pride, doctor?"
"I hardly know what to say, Herbert. You must remember, however, that, as you are left quite unprovided for, even this small sum may be of use to you."
"It isn't the smallness of the sum that I mind," said Herbert. "If Uncle Benjamin had written a kind letter, or showed the least feeling in it for me, or for--for mother [his voice faltered a moment], I would have accepted it thankfully. But I couldn't accept money thrown at me in that way. He didn't want to give it to me, I am sure, and wouldn't if he hadn't felt obliged to."
Dr. Kent paced the room thoughtfully. He respected Herbert's feelings, but he saw that it was not wise for him to indulge them. He was in a dependent situation, and it was to be feared that he would have much to suffer in time to come from the coldness and selfishness of the world.
"I will tell you what to do, Herbert," he said, after a while. "You can accept this money as a loan, and repay it when you are able."
"Yes, with interest, if you prefer it."
"I shall be willing to accept it on those terms," said Herbert; "but I want my uncle to understand it."
"You may write to your uncle to that effect, if you like."
"Very well, Dr. Kent. Then I will write to him at once."
"You will find some paper in my desk, Herbert. I suppose you will not object to my seeing your letter."
"No, doctor, I intended to show it to you. You won't expect me to show much gratitude, I hope?"
"I won't insist upon it, Herbert," said the doctor, smiling.
Herbert in about half an hour submitted the following note to the doctor's inspection. It had cost him considerable thought to determine how to express himself, but he succeeded at last to his tolerable satisfaction.
"UNCLE BENJAMIN [so the letter commenced]: Dr. Kent has just shown me your reply to his letter about me. You seem to think I wish you to support me, which is not the case. All I should have asked was your influence to help me in obtaining a situation in the city, where I might support myself. I am willing to work, and shall probably find some opportunity here. The ten dollars, which you inclose, I will accept AS A LOAN, and will repay you as soon as I am able, WITH INTEREST. HERBERT MASON."
"Will that do?" asked Herbert.
Dr. Kent smiled.
"You were careful not to express any gratitude, Herbert," he said.
"Because I don't feel any," returned Herbert, promptly. "I feel grateful to you, Dr. Kent, for your great kindness. I wish I could pay you for that. I shall never forget how you attended my mother in her sickness, when there was small prospect of your being paid."
"My dear boy," said the doctor, resting his hand affectionately on Herbert's shoulder, "I have been able to do but very little. I wish I could do more. If you wish to repay me, you can do it a hundred times over by growing up a good and honorable man; one upon whom your mother in heaven can look down with grateful joy, if it is permitted her to watch your progress here."
"I will do my best, doctor," said Herbert.
"The world is all before you," proceeded Dr. Kent. "You may not achieve a brilliant destiny. It is permitted to few to do that. But whether your sphere is wide or narrow, you may exert an influence for good, AND LEAVE THE WORLD BETTER FOR YOUR HAVING LIVED IN IT."
"I hope it may be so," said Herbert, thoughtfully. "When I am tempted to do wrong, I will think of my mother."
"It is the very best thing you can do, Herbert. And now for your plans. I wish I were in a situation to have you remain with me. But as that cannot be, I will do my best to get you a place."
"I ought to be at work," said Herbert, "as I have my living to get. I want you to take that ten dollars, doctor, as part payment of the debt I owe you."
The doctor shook his head.
"I can't do that, Herbert, not even to oblige you. You were too proud to accept a favor from your uncle. You will not be too proud, I hope, to accept one from me?"
"No, doctor; I am not too proud for that. You are my friend, and my uncle cares nothing for me."
When Herbert's letter reached New York, his uncle felt a momentary shame, for he saw that his nephew had rightfully interpreted his own selfishness and lack of feeling, and he could not help involuntarily admiring the independent spirit which would not allow him to accept the proffered money, except as a loan. But mingled with his shame was a feeling of relief, as he foresaw that Herbert's pride would not suffer him to become a burden upon him in the future. He hardly expected ever to see the ten dollars returned with interest; but even if he lost it, he felt that he should be getting off cheap.