It was not until evening that Harry had a chance to look at his prize. It was a cheap book, costing probably not over a dollar; but except his schoolbooks, and a ragged copy of "Robinson Crusoe," it was the only book that our hero possessed. His father found it difficult enough to buy him the necessary books for use in school, and could not afford to buy any less necessary. So our young hero, who was found of reading, though seldom able to gratify his taste, looked forward with great joy to the pleasure of reading his new book. He did not know much about Benjamin Franklin, but had a vague idea that he was a great man.
After his evening "chores" were done, he sat down by the table on which was burning a solitary tallow candle, and began to read. His mother was darning stockings, and his father had gone to the village store on an errand.
So he began the story, and the more he read the more interesting he found it. Great as he afterwards became, he was surprised to find that Franklin was a poor boy, and had to work for a living. He started out in life on his own account, and through industry, frugality, perseverance, and a fixed determination to rise in life, he became a distinguished an in the end, and a wise man also, though his early opportunities were very limited. It seemed to Harry that there was a great similarity between his own circumstances and position in life and those of the great man about whom he was reading, and this made the biography the more fascinating. The hope came to him that, by following Franklin's example, he, too, might become a successful man.
His mother, looking up at intervals from the stockings which had been so repeatedly darned that the original texture was almost wholly lost of sight of, noticed how absorbed he was.
"Is your book interesting, Harry?" she asked.
"It's the most interesting book I ever read," said Harry, with a sigh of intense enjoyment.
"It's about Benjamin Franklin, isn't it?"
"Yes. Do you know, mother, he was a poor boy, and he worked his way up?"
"Yes, I have heard so, but I never read his life."
"You'd better read this when I have finished it. I've been thinking that there's a chance for me, mother."
"A chance to do what?"
"A chance to be somebody when I get bigger. I'm poor now, but so was Franklin. He worked hard, and tried to learn all he could. That's the way he succeeded. I'm going to do the same."
"We can't all be Franklins, my son," said Mrs. Walton, not wishing her son to form high hopes which might be disappointed in the end.
"I know that, mother, and I don't expect to be a great man like him. But if I try hard I think I can rise in the world, and be worth a little money."
"I hope you wont' be as poor as your father, Harry," said Mrs. Walton, sighing, as she thought of the years of pain privation and pinching poverty reaching back to the time of their marriage. They had got through it somehow, but she hoped that their children would have a brighter lot.
"I hope not," said Harry. "If I ever get rich, you shan't have to work any more."
Mrs. Walton smiled faintly. She was not hopeful, and thought it probable that before Harry became rich, both she and her husband would be resting from their labor in the village churchyard. But she would not dampen Harry's youthful enthusiasm by the utterance of such a thought.
"I am sure you won't let your father and mother want, if you have the means to prevent it," she said aloud.
"We can't any of us tell what's coming, but I hope you may be well off some time."
"I read in the country paper the other day that many of the richest men in Boston and New York were once poor boys," said Harry, in a hopeful tone.
"So I have heard," said his mother.
"If they succeeded I don't see why I can't."
"You must try to be something more than a rich man. I shouldn't want you to be like Squire Green."
"He is rich, but he is mean and ignorant. I don't think I shall be like him. He has cheated father about the cow."
"Yes, he drove a sharp trade with him, taking advantage of his necessities. I am afraid your father won't be able to pay for the cow six months from now."
"I am afraid so, too."
"I don't see how we can possibly save up forty dollars. We are economical now as we can be."
"That is what I have been thinking of, mother. There is no chance of father's paying the money."
"Then it won't be paid, and we shall be worse off when the note comes due, than now."
"Do you think," said Harry, laying down the book on the table, and looking up earnestly, "do you think, mother, I could any way earn the forty dollars before it is to be paid?"
"You, Harry?" repeated his mother, in surprise, "what could you do to earn the money?"
"I don't know, yet," answered Harry; "but there are a great many things to be done."
"I don't know what you can do, except to hire out to a farmer, and they pay very little. Besides, I don't know of any farmer in the town that wants a boy. Most of them have boys of their own, or men."
"I wasn't thinking of that," said Harry. "There isn't much chance there."
"I don't know of any work to do here."
"Nor I, mother. But I wasn't thinking of staying in town."
"Not thinking of staying in town!" repeated Mrs. Walton, in surprise. "You don't want to leave home, do you?"
"No, mother, I don't want to leave home, or I wouldn't want to, if there was anything to do here. But you know there isn't. Farm work wont' help me along, and I don't' like it as well as some other kinds of work. I must leave home if I want to rise in the world."
"But your are too young, Harry."
This was touching Harry on a tender spot. No boy of fourteen likes to be considered very young. By that time he generally begins to feel a degree of self-confidence and self-reliance, and fancies he is almost on the threshold of manhood. I know boys of fourteen who look in the glass daily for signs of a coming mustache, and fancy they can see plainly what is not yet visible. Harry had not got as far as that, but he no longer looked upon himself as a young boy. He was stout and strong, and of very good height for his age, and began to feel manly. So he drew himself up, upon this remark of his mother's, and said proudly: "I am going on fifteen"--that sounds older than fourteen--"and I don't call that very young."
"It seems but a little while since you were a baby," said his mother, meditatively.
"I hope you don't think me anything like a baby now, mother," said Harry, straightening up, and looking as large as possible.
"No, you're quite a large boy, now. How quick the years have passed!"
"And I am strong for my age, too, mother. I am sure I am old enough to take care of myself."
"But you are young to go out into the world."
"I don't believe Franklin was much older than I, and he got along. There are plenty of boys who leave home before they are as old as I am."
"Suppose you are sick, Harry?"
"If I am I'll come home. But you know I am very healthy, mother, and if I am away from home I shall be very careful."
"But you would not be sure of getting anything to do."
"I'll risk that, mother," said Harry, in a confident tone.
"Did you think of this before you read that book?"
"Yes, I've been thinking of it for about a month; but the book put it into my head to-night. I seem to see my way clearer than I did. I want most of all, to earn money enough to pay for the cow in six months. You know yourself, mother, there isn't any chance of father doing it himself, and I can't earn anything if I stay at home."
"Have you mentioned the matter to your father yet, Harry?"
"No, I haven't. I wish you would speak about it tonight, mother. You can tell him first what makes me want to go."
"I'll tell him that you want to go; but I won't promise to say I think it a good plan."
"Just mention it, mother, and then I'll talk with him about it to-morrow."
To this Mrs. Walton agreed, and Harry, after reading a few pages more in the "Life of Franklin," went up to bed; but it was some time before he slept. His mind was full of the new scheme on which he had set his heart.