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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 1
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 1 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :2556

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 1

PART II CHAPTER I

"A friend in need is a friend indeed."--_Old Proverb_.


I have often thought that the biggest bit of good luck (and I was lucky), which befell me on my outset into the world, was that the man I sat next to in the railway carriage was not a rogue. I travelled third class to Liverpool for more than one reason--it was the cheapest way, besides which I did not wish to meet any family friends--and the man I speak of was a third-class passenger, and he went to Liverpool too.

At the time I was puzzled to think how he came to guess that I was running away, that I had money with me, and that I had never been to Liverpool before; but I can well imagine now how my ignorance and anxiety must have betrayed themselves at every station I mistook for the end of my journey, and with every question which I put, as I flattered myself, in the careless tones of common conversation, I really wonder I had not thought beforehand about my clothes, which fitted very badly on the character I assumed, and the company I chose; but it was not perhaps to be expected that I should know then, as I know now, how conspicuous all over me must have been the absence of those outward signs of hardship and poverty, which they who know poverty and hardship know so well.

I wish _I had known them, because then I should have given the man some of my money when we parted, instead of feeling too delicate to do so. I can remember his face too well not to know now how much he must have needed it, and how heroic a virtue honesty must have been in him.

It did not seem to strike him as at all strange or unnatural that a lad of my age should be seeking his own fortune, but I feel sure that he thought it was misconduct on my part which had made me run away from home. I had no grievance to describe which he could recognize as grievous enough to drive me out into the world. However, I felt very glad that he saw no impossibility in my earning my own livelihood, or even anything very unusual in my situation.

"I suppose lots of young fellows run away from home and go to sea from a place like this?" said I, when we had reached Liverpool.

"And there's plenty more goes that has no homes to run from," replied he sententiously.

Prefacing each fresh counsel with the formula, "You'll excuse _me_," he gave me some excellent advice as we threaded the greasy streets, and jostled the disreputable-looking population of the lower part of the town. General counsels as to my conduct, and the desirableness of turning over a new leaf for "young chaps" who had been wild and got into scrapes at home. And particular counsels which were invaluable to me, as to changing my dress, how to hide my money, what to turn my hand to with the quickest chance of bread-winning in strange places, and how to keep my own affairs to myself among strange people.

It was in the greasiest street, and among the most disreputable-looking people, that we found the "slop-shop" where, by my friend's orders, I was to "rig out" in clothes befitting my new line of life. He went in first, so he did not see the qualm that seized me on the doorstep. A revulsion so violent that it nearly made me sick then and there; and if some one had seized me by the nape of my neck, and landed me straightway at my desk in Uncle Henry's office, would, I believe, have left me tamed for life. For if this unutterable vileness of sights and sounds and smells which hung around the dark entry of the slop shop were indeed the world, I felt a sudden and most vehement conviction that I would willingly renounce the world for ever. As it happened, I had not at that moment the choice. My friend had gone in, and I dared not stay among the people outside. I groped my way into the shop, which was so dark as well as dingy that they had lighted a small oil-lamp just above the head of the man who served out the slops. Even so the light that fell on him was dim and fitful, and was the means of giving me another start in which I gasped out--"Moses Benson!"

The man turned and smiled (he had the Jew-clerk's exact smile), and said softly,

"Cohen, my dear, not Benson."

And as he bent at another angle of the oil-lamp I saw that he was older than the clerk, and dirtier; and though his coat was quite curiously like the one I had so often cleaned, he had evidently either never met with the invaluable "scouring drops," or did not feel it worth while to make use of them in such a dingy hole.

One shock helped to cure the other. Come what might, I could not sneak back now to the civil congratulations of that other Moses, and the scorn of his eye. But I was so nervous that my fellow-traveller transacted my business for me, and when the oil-lamp flared and I caught Moses Cohen looking at me, I jumped as if Snuffy had come behind me. And when we got out (and it was no easy matter to escape from the various benevolent offers of the owner of the slop-shop), my friend said,

"You'll excuse me telling you, but whatever you do don't go near that there Jew again. He's no friend for a young chap like you."

"I should have got your slops cheaper," he added, "if I could have taken your clothes in without you."

My "slops" were a very loose suit of clothes made of much coarser material than my own, and I suppose they were called "slops" because they fitted in such a peculiarly sloppy manner. The whole "rig out" (it included a strong clasp-knife, and a little leathern bag to keep my money in, which I was instructed to carry round my neck) was provided by Mr. Cohen in exchange for the clothes I had been wearing before, with the addition of ten shillings in cash. I dipped again into the leathern bag to provide a meal for myself and my friend; then, by his advice, I put a shilling and some coppers into my pocket, that I might not have to bring out my purse in public, and with a few parting words of counsel he wrung my hand, and we parted--he towards some place of business where he hoped to get employment, and I in the direction of the docks, where the ships come and go.

"I hope you _will get work," were my last words.

"The same to you, my lad," was his reply, and it seemed to acknowledge me as one of that big brotherhood of toilers who, when they want "something to do," want it not to pass time but to earn daily bread.

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