Chapter XXIV. Finding a Boarding Place
 

Herbert left the counting-room of Godfrey & Lynn, not a little depressed in spirits. The two days which must elapse before he could see Mr. Godfrey were to him a formidable delay. By that time his money would be almost exhausted. Then, suppose, which was very probable, Mr. Godfrey could do nothing for him immediately, but only hold out his promise of future assistance, how was he to live in the meantime? After all, he might have to realize his thought of the morning, and join the ranks of the bootblacks. That was not a pleasant thought to a boy of his education. All labor is honorable, to be sure, but, then, some occupations are more congenial than others.

If Greenleaf had not robbed him so basely, he could have afforded to wait. He felt sore and indignant about that. Nobody likes to own that he has been victimized, but Herbert was obliged to confess to himself that such was the case with him.

He walked about rather aimlessly, feeling miserable enough. But, all at once, it occurred to him, "Would it not be cheaper for him to take board by the week in some boarding-house?" Reckoning up, he found that his hotel bill would be three dollars and a half a week, while his meals, even if he were quite abstemious, would make as much more; in all, seven dollars. Surely, he could be boarded somewhere for less than that.

In the reading-room of the hotel he found a daily paper, and carefully ran his eye down the advertisements for boarders and lodgers. The following attracted his attention:

"BOARDERS WANTED.--A few mechanics may obtain comfortable rooms and board at No. ---- Stanton Street, at three dollars per week."

This, be it remembered, was previous to the war, and before the price of board had doubled.

"Three dollars a week!" repeated Herbert. "Less than half my present rate of expense. I must go at once and secure it."

He found the way to Stanton Street, and found that No. ---- was a shabby-looking house in a shabby neighborhood. But he could not afford to be fastidious. He accordingly stepped up without hesitation, and rang the bell, which emitted a shrill sound in reply.

A middle-aged woman, with a red handkerchief tied around her head, and a broom in her hand, opened the door and looked inquiringly at our hero.

"What's wanted?" she said.

"I saw your advertisement for boarders," said Herbert.

"Yes; I advertised in the paper this morning."

"Will you let me see your rooms?"

"Who are you looking for?"

"Myself."

"I don't know as you'll be suited. My price is low, and I can't give first-class accommodations for three dollars."

"No; I suppose not."

"Come up, if you would like to see what I've got."

The interior of the house was shabby like the outside, the oilcloth carpet faded, and the wall paper torn off in places. The stairs, too, were narrow and uncarpeted. All this Herbert observed, but he could not afford to be critical.

On the third floor, his guide threw open the door of a dark, little hall bedroom, meagerly furnished.

"I could give you this room by yourself," she said, "or a larger room with someone else."

"I would rather be alone."

"That's the only single room I have. Will you take it?"

"I think so," said Herbert, though he did not anticipate much enjoyment in such a poor place.

"When do you want to come?"

"To-morrow morning."

"Very well. I shall expect a deposit, so that I may be sure the room is let."

"How much?"

"A dollar will do."

Herbert drew a dollar from his pocket, and handed it to Mrs. Morgan, for such, she informed him, was her name.

Then he went downstairs and out into the air again.

"Well," he said to himself, "I'm sure of a home, such as it is, for a week. In that time something must turn up."

Examining his pocketbook he found that he had two dollars and a half left. Of that sum, two dollars must be reserved to pay the balance of his week's board. Out of the remaining fifty cents he must pay for his meals until the next morning, when he would take possession of his new boarding place. He wished that he had proposed to come to breakfast, but it was too late now.

With such a small sum in hand, he could not afford to dine on the same magnificent scale as he had breakfasted, but he must be rigidly economical. He decided that the cheapest food he could buy was a five- cent loaf at some baker's. This would probably last him through the day, and might prove sufficient for breakfast also, since he would take a regular dinner, though he doubted, from what he had seen of the establishment in Stanton Street, whether it would be a very inviting repast. But it was the best he could afford, and that was all he need consider.

Late in the afternoon, it occurred to Herbert to wonder where, in the city, his Uncle Stanton lived. Not that he had any intention of applying to him for assistance, even if matters came to a crisis, but he felt a natural curiosity as to how his uncle was situated. He found the directory readily, and, turning to the letter S, ran down the list of names till he came to Stanton, Benjamin.

He learned that his uncle's store was in the lower part of Broadway, while his house was in West Seventeenth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

"I should like to see what sort of a house Uncle Benjamin lives in," thought Herbert.

There was nothing to prevent his gratifying this wish, as he had plenty of time on his hands. If he had had more money, he would have taken the horse cars, but in his present circumstances this would be imprudent. He decided, as it was only five o'clock, to take a leisurely walk up Broadway, noticing his uncle's place of business on the way.

A few minutes brought him in front of the latter--an imposing-looking building, with all the appearance of belonging to a prosperous merchant. Appearances are deceitful, to be sure, and no doubt there are some merchants, as outwardly prosperous, who might profitably change places with their head clerks. But Herbert naturally judged from appearances, and he could not help contrasting in his mind his own condition with that of his uncle's. But he was too manly to be despondent on this account, and thought rather, "I am young and ready to work, Some time, if I am patient and work hard. I may be as well off as Uncle Benjamin." The thought of applying to him for assistance was as far off as ever.

He pursued his way uptown, finding it a longer walk than he anticipated, arriving at half-past five at Union Square. At the upper end he turned off, and went down Seventeenth Street.

Carefully noting the numbers, he at length found his uncle's house. It was a handsome, substantial city mansion, and seemed appropriate as the residence of a rich New York merchant.

"So my uncle lives here," thought Herbert, and there rose involuntarily in his mind the memory of the humble Western home where he and his mother had struggled against poverty, while his uncle, who was evidently so amply provided with the world's goods, coldly held aloof, and forbore to offer the assistance which he could so well afford.

"If I had a sister, I could never treat her like that," thought Herbert, indignantly. "He would not help my mother. I will starve before I ask him to help me."

He paused a moment on the opposite side of the street to look at his uncle's house. While he was standing there, a boy of about his own age, apparently, came down the street whistling, and ascended the steps of his uncle's house.

"I wonder if that is my cousin Tom," thought Herbert. He knew the names of his cousins from his mother, though he had never seen them.

While he looked, he was struck by something familiar in the appearance of this boy. Where had he seen him before?

All at once it flashed upon him. It was the same boy he had seen in the counting-room of Godfrey He knew him by his dandified dress and his face, which he had noticed at the time.

This was certainly a strange coincidence, that his cousin, for it was doubtless he, should be the first boy he encountered after reaching New York. It would be still stranger if Mr. Godfrey should offer him employment, and he should find himself a clerk in the same office as the son of his rich uncle. But it was by no means certain that he would be lucky enough to obtain such employment. Therefore there was no need of wondering whether, under such circumstances, Tom would recognize him as a relation.

Herbert walked thoughtfully back, and on reaching his room ate the remainder of the loaf which he had purchased at the baker's in the morning. It was not a very luxurious repast, but his walk had given him an appetite, and he had no difficulty in disposing of all that was left.