Bound to Rise

by Horatio Alger

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Chapter XXIII. The Ventriloquist

The boys went into the public room of the tavern. In the center was a stove, around which were gathered a miscellaneous crowd, who had assembled, as usual, to hear and talk over the news of the day. At the farther end of the room was a bar, where liquor and cigars were sold. The walls of the room, which was rather low-studded, were ornamented by sundry notices and posters of different colors, with here and there an engraving of no great artistic excellence--one representing a horse race, another a steamer of the Cunard Line, and still another, the Presidents of the United States grouped together, with Washington as the central figure.

"Have a cigar, Walton?" asked Frank Heath.

"No, thank you, Frank."

"You haven't got so far along, hey?"

"I don't think it would do me any good," said Harry.

"Maybe not; but jolly comfortable on a cold night. The worst of it is, it's mighty expensive."

Frank walked up to the bar and bought a ten-cent cigar. He returned and sat down on a settee.

"The magician isn't here," said Harry.

"Hush, he is here!" said Frank, in a low voice, as the door opened, and a tall, portly man entered the room.

Professor Henderson--for it was he--walked up the bar, and followed Frank Heath's example in the purchase of a cigar Then he glanced leisurely round the apartment. Apparently, his attention was fixed by our hero, for he walked up to him, and said: "Young man, I would like to speak to you."

"All right, sir," said Harry, in surprise.

"If you are not otherwise occupied, will you accompany me to my room?"

"Certainly, sir," returned Harry, in fresh wonder.

"Perhaps he's going to take in Walton as partner," Frank Heath suggested to Tom Frisbie.

"I wonder what he want anyway?" said Frisbie. "Why didn't he take you?"

"Because I'm too sharp," said Frank. "I should see through his tricks."

Meanwhile, Harry had entered the professor's chamber.

"Sit down," said the magician. "I'll tell you what I want of you. I want you to take tickets at the door of hall to-night. Can you do it?"

"Yes, sir," said Harry, promptly.

"It seems easy enough," said the professor; "but not everyone can do it rapidly without making mistakes. Are you quick at figures?"

"I am usually considered so," said our hero.

"I won't ask whether you are honest, for you would so, of course."

"I hope--" commenced Harry.

"I know what you are going to say; but there is no need of saying it," interrupted the magician. "I judge from your face, which is an honest one. I have traveled about a good deal, and I am a good judge of faces."

"You shall not be disappointed, sir."

"I know that, in advance. Now, tell me if you are at work, or do you attend school?"

"I have been at work in a shoe shop in this village, sir."

"Not now?"

"No, sir; business is dull, and work has given out."

"What are you going to do next?"

"Anything by which I can earn an honest living."

"That's the way to talk. I'll take you into my employ, if you have no objection to travel."

Objection to travel! Who ever heard of a boy of fifteen who had an objection to travel?

"But will your parents consent? That is the next question. I don't want to entice any boys away from home against their parents' consent."

"My parents do not live here. They live farther north, in the town of Granton."

"Granton? I never was there. Is it a large place?"

"No, sir, it is a very small place. My father consented to have me leave home and he will have no objection to my earning my living in any honest way."

"Well, my young friend, I can assure you that my way is an honest one, though I frankly confess I do my best to deceive the people who come to my entertainments."

"What is it you want me to do, sir?"

"Partly what you are going to do to-night--take tickets at the door; but that is not all. I have to carry about considerable apparatus and I need help about arranging it. Sometimes, also, I need help in my experiments. I had a young man with me; but he is taken down with a fever and obliged to go home. It is not likely, as his helath is delicate, that he will care to resume his position. I must have somebody in his place. I have no doubt you will answer my purpose."

"How much pay do you give, sir?"

"A practical question," said the professor, smiling.

"To begin with, of course I pay traveling expenses, and I can offer you five dollars a week besides. Will that be satisfactory?"

"Yes, sir," said Harry, his heart giving a great throb of exultation as he realized that his new business would give him two dollars week more than his work in the shop, besides being a good deal more agreeable, since it would give him a chance to see a little of the world.

"Can you start with me to-morrow morning?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then it is settled. But it is time you were at the hall. I will give you a supply of small bills and, change, as you may have to change some bills."

He drew from his side pocket a wallet, which he placed in the hands of our hero.

"This wallet contains twenty dollars," he said: "Of course you will bring me back that amount, in addition to what you take at the door this evening."

"Very well, sir."

"You can wait for me at the close of the evening, and hand me all together. Now go over to the hall, as the doors are to be open at half past seven o'clock."

When Frank Heath and his companion went over to the Town Hall they found Harry making change.

"Hello, Walton!" said Frank. "Are you the treasurer of this concern?"

"It seems so," said Harry.

You'll let in your friends for nothing, won't you?"

"Not much. I charge them double price."

"Well here's our money. I say, Tom, I wonder the old fellow didn't take me instead of Walton."

"That's easily told. You don't look honest enough."

"Oh, if it comes to that, he passed over you, too, Tom."

"He wouldn't insult a gentleman of my dignity. Come on; there's room on the front seat."

Harry was kept busy till ten minutes after eight. By that time about all who intended to be present were in the hall and the magician was gratified by seeing that it was crowded. He was already well known in the village, having been in the habit of visiting it every for years and his reputation for dexterity, and especially for ventriloquism, had called out this large audience.

The professor's tricks excited great wonder in the younger spectators. I will only dwell slightly on his ventriloquism. When he came to this part of the entertainment, he said: "Will any young gentleman assist me?"

Frank Heath immediately left his seat and took up his position beside the professor.

"Now, sir," said the professor, "I want to ask you a question or two. Will you answer me truly?"

A gruff voice appeared to proceed from Frank's mouth, saying: "Yes, sir."

"Are you married, sir?"

Again the same gruff voice answered: "Yes, sir; I wish I wasn't;" to the great delight of the small boys.

"Indeed, sir! I hope your wife doesn't make it uncomfortable for you."

"She licks me," Frank appeared to answer.

"I am sorry. What does she lick you with?"

"With a broomstick."

Frank looked foolish and there was a general laugh.

"I hope she doesn't treat you so badly very often, sir."

"Yes, she does, every day," was the answer. "If she knowed I was up here telling you, she'd beat me awful."

"In that case, sir, I won't be cruel enough to keep you here any longer. Take my advice, sir, and get a divorce."

"So I will, by hokey!"

And Frank, amid hearty laughter, resumed his seat, not having uttered a word, the professor being responsible for the whole conversation.

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