Two boys, named Jacob Peters and Ralph Gilpin were passing along Chestnut Street one evening about ten years ago, when one of them, stopped, and said,--
"Come, Ralph, let us have some oysters. I've got a quarter." They were in front of an oyster-cellar.
"No," replied Ralph, firmly. "I'm not going down there."
"I didn't mean that we should get anything to drink," replied the other.
"No matter: they sell liquor, and I don't wish to be seen in such a place."
"That's silly," said Jacob Peters, speaking with some warmth. "It can't hurt you to be seen there. They sell oysters, and all we should go there for would be to buy oysters. Come along. Don't be foolish!" And Jacob grasped the arm of Ralph, and tried to draw him towards the refectory. But Ralph stood immovable.
"What harm can it do?" asked Jacob.
"It might do at great deal of harm."
"In what way?"
"By hurting my good name."
"I don't understand you."
"I might be seen going in or coming out by some one who know me, and who might take it for granted that my visit, was for liquor."
"Well, suppose he did? He would be wrong in his inference; and what need you care? A clear conscience, I have heard my uncle say, is better than any man's opinion, good or bad."
"I prefer the clear conscience and the good opinion together, if I can secure both at the same time," said Ralph.
"O, you're too afraid of other people's opinions," replied Jacob, in a sneering manner. "As for me, I'll try to do right and be right, and not bother myself about what people may think. Come, are you going to join me in a plate of oysters?"
"Very well. Good by. I'm sorry you're afraid to do right for fear somebody may think you're going to do wrong," and Jacob Peters descended to the oyster-cellar, while Ralph Gilpin passed on his way homeward. As Jacob entered the saloon he met a man who looked at him narrowly, and as Jacob thought, with surprise. He had seen this man before, but did not know his name.
A few weeks afterwards, the two boys, who were neighbor, sat together planning a row-boat excursion on the Schuylkill.
"We'll have Harry Elder, and Dick Jones, and Tom Forsyth," said Jacob.
"No, not Tom Forsyth," objected Ralph.
"Why not? He's a splendid rower."
"I don't wish to be seen in his company," said Ralph. "He doesn't bear a good character."
"O, well; that's nothing to us."
"I think it is a great deal to us. We are judged by the company we keep."
"Let people judge; who cares?" replied Jacob; "not I."
"Well, I do, then," answered Ralph.
"I hate to see a boy so 'fraid of a shadow as you are."
"A tainted name is no shadow; but a real evil to be afraid of."
"I don't see how our taking Tom Forsyth along is going to taint your name, or mine either."
"He's a bad boy," Ralph firmly objected. "He uses profane language. You and I have both seen him foolish from drink. And we know that he was sent home from a good place, under circumstances that threw suspicion on his honesty. This being so, I am not going to be seen in his company. I think too much of my good name."
"But, Ralph," urged Jacob, in a persuasive manner, "he's such a splendid rower. Don't be foolish about it; nobody'll see us. And we shall have such a grand time. I'll make him promise not to use a wicked word all day."
"It's no use to talk, Jacob. I'm not going in company with Tom Forsyth if I never go boating."
"You're a fool!" exclaimed Jacob, losing his temper.
Ralph's face burned with anger, but he kept back the sharp words that sprung to his lips, and after a few moments said, with forced composure,--
"There's no use in you're getting mad about it, Jacob. If you prefer Tom to me, very well. I haven't set my heart on going."
"I've spoken to Tom already" said Jacob, cooling off a little. "And he's promised to go; so there's no getting away from it. I'm sorry you're so over nice."
The rowing party came off, but Ralph was not of the number. As the boys were getting into the boat at Fairmount, Jacob noticed two or three men standing on the wharf; and on lifting his eyes to the face of one of them, he recognized the same individual who had looked at him so intently as he entered the oyster saloon. The man's eyes rested upon him for a few moments, and then turned to the boy, Tom Forsyth. Young Peters might have been mistaken, but he thought he saw on the man's face a look of surprise and disapprobation. Somehow or other he did not feel very comfortable in mind as the boat pushed off from shore. Who was this man? and why had he looked at him twice so intently, and with something of disapproval in his face?
Jacob Peters was fifteen years old. He had left school a few weeks before, and his father was desirous of getting him into a large whole-sale house, on Market Street. A friend was acquainted with a member of the firm, and through his kind offices he hoped to make the arrangement. Some conversation had already taken place between the friend and merchant, who said they wished another lad in the store, but were very particular as to the character of their boys. The friend assured him that Jacob was a lad of excellent character; and depending on this assurance, a preliminary engagement had been made, Jacob was to go into the store just one week from the day on which he went on the boating excursion. Both his own surprise and that of his father may be imagined when a note came, saying that the firm in Market Street had changed its views in regard to a lad, and would not require the services of Jacob Peters.
The father sent back a polite note, expressing regret at the change of view, and asking that his son should still be borne in mind, as he would prefer that situation for him to any other in the city. Jacob was the bearer of this note. When he entered the store, the first person he met was the man who looked at him so closely in the oyster saloon and on the wharf at Fairmount. Jacob handed him the note, which he opened and read, and then gave him cold bow.
A glimpse of the truth passed through Jacob's mind. He had been misjudged, and here was the unhappy result. His good name had suffered, and yet he had done nothing actually wrong. But boys, like men, are judged by the company they keep and the places in which they are seen.
"I'm going into a store next week," said Ralph Gilpin, to his friend Jacob, about a week afterwards.
"Where?" asked Jacob.
"On Market Street."
"In what store?"
"In A. & L.'s," replied Ralph.
"O, no!" ejaculated Jacob, his face flushing, "not there!"
"Yes," replied Ralph. "I'm going to A. & L.'s. Father got me the place. Don't you think I'm lucky? They're very particular about the boys they taking that store. Father says he considers their choice of me quite a compliment. I'm sure I feel proud enough about it."
"Well, I think they acted very meanly," said Jacob, showing sonic anger. "They promised father that I should have the place."
"Are you sure about that?" asked the young friend.
"Certainly I am. I was to go there this week. But they sent father a note, saying they had changed their minds about a boy."
"Perhaps," suggested Ralph, "it you were seen going into a drinking saloons or in company with Tom Forsyth. You remember what I said to you about preserving a good name."
Jacob's face colored, and his eyes fell to the ground.
"O, that's only your guess," he replied, tossing his head, and putting on an incredulous look; but he felt in his heart that the suggestion of Ralph was true.
It was over six months before Jacob Peters was successful in getting a place, and then he had to go into a third-rate establishment, where the opportunity for advancement was small, and where his associates were not of the best character.
The years passed on; and Ralph continued as careful as in the beginning to preserve a good name. He was not content simply with doing right; but felt that it was a duty to himself, and to all who might, in any way be dependent on him, to appear right also. He was, therefore, particular in regard to the company he kept and the places he visited. Jacob, on the, contrary, continued to let inclination rather than prudence govern him in these matters. His habits were probably as good as those of Ralph, and his business capacity fully equal. But he was not regarded with the same favor, for he was often seen in company with young men known to be of loose morals, and would occasionally, visit billiard-saloons, tenpin-alleys, and other places where men of disreputable character are found. His father, who observed Jacob closely, remonstrated with him occasionally as the boy advanced towards manhood; but Jacob put on an independent air, and replied that he went on the principle of being right with himself. "You can't," he would say, "keep free from misjudgment, do what you will. Men are always more inclined to think evil of each other than good. I do nothing that I'm ashamed of."
So he continued to go where he pleased, and to associate with whom he pleased, not caring what people might say.
It is no very easy thing for as young man to make his way in the world. All the avenues to success are thickly crowded with men of talent, industry, and energy, and many favorable circumstances must conspire to help him who gets very far in advance. Talent and industry are wanted in, business, but the passport of a good character must accompany them, or they cannot be made rightly available to their possessor. it is, therefore, of the first importance to preserved a good name, for this, if united with ability and industry, with double your chances of success in life; for men will put confidence in you beyond what they can in others, who do not stand so fairly in common estimation.
In due time Ralph Gilpin and Jacob Peters entered the world as men, but not at equal advantage. They had learned the same business, and were both well acquainted with its details; but Ralph stood fairer in the eyes of business men, with whom he had come in contact, because he had been more careful about his reputation.
While Jacob was twenty-three years of age, he was getting a salary of one thousand dollars a year; but this was too small a sum to meet the demands that had come upon him. His father, to whom he was tenderly attached, had lost his health and failed in business. In consequence of this, the burden of maintaining the family fell almost entirely on Jacob. It would not have been felt as a burden if his income had been sufficient for their support. But it was not, unless their comfortable style of living was changed, and all shrunk together in a smaller house. He had sisters just advancing towards womanhood, and for their sakes, particularly, did he regret the stern necessity that required a change.
About this time, the death of a responsible clerk in the house of A. & L. left a vacancy to be filled, and as Jacob was in every way competent to take the position, which commanded a salary of eighteen hundred dollars he made application; Ralph Gilpin, who was a salesman in the house, said all that he could in Jacob's favor; but the latter had not been careful to preserve a good name, and this was against him. The place was one of trust, and the members of the firm, after considering the matter, decided adversely. Nothing as to fact was alleged or known. Not a word as to his conduct in life was said against him. But he had often been seen in company with young men who did not bear a solid reputation, and where doubt existed, it was not considered safe to employ him. So that good opportunity was lost--lost through his own fault.
Poor Jacob felt gloomy and disappointed for a time; talked of "fate," "bad luck," and all that kind of nonsense, when the cause of his ill-success was to be attributed solely to an unwise disregard of appearances.
"We shall have to remove," he said to his mother in a troubled way, after this disappointment. "If I had secured the situation at A. & L.'s all would have been well with us. But now nothing remains but to seek a humbler place to remain here will only involve us in debt; and that, above all things, we must avoid. I am sorry for Jane and Alice; but it can't be helped."
His mother tried to answer cheerfully and hopefully: but her words did not dispel a single shadow from his mind. A few days after this, a gentleman said to Jacob Peters,--
"I'll give you a hint of something that is coming in the way of good fortune. A gentleman, whose name I do not feel at liberty to mention, contemplates going into your business. He has plenty of capital, and wishes to unite himself with a young, active, and experienced man. Two or three have been thought of--you among the rest; find I believe it has been finally settled that Jacob Peters is to be the man. So let me congratulate you, my young friend, on this good fortune."
And he grasped the hand of Jacob, and shook it warmly. From the vale of despondency, the young man was at once elevated to the mountain-top of hope, and felt, for a time, bewildered in prospect of the good fortune awaited him.
Almost in that very hour the capitalist, to whom his friend referred, was in conversation with Mr. A., of the firm of A. & L.
"I have about concluded to associate with myself in business young Jacob Peters," said the former; "but before coming to a final conclusion, I thought it best to ask your opinion in the matter. You know the young man?"
"Yes," replied Mr. A., "I have known him in a business way for several years. We have considerable dealing with the house in which he is employed."
"What do you think of him?"
"He is a young man of decided business qualities."
"So it appear's to me. And you think favorably of him?"
"As to the business qualification I do," replied Mr. A., placing an emphasis on the word business.
"Then you do not think favorably of him in some other respect?"
Mr. A. was silent.
"I hope," said the, other, "that you will speak out plainly. This is a matter, to me, of the first importance. If you know of any reason why I should not associate this young man with me in business I trust you will speak without reserve."
Mr. A. remained silent for some moments, and then said,--
"I feel considerably embarrassed in regard to this matter. I would on no account give a wrong impression in regard to the young man. He may be all right; is all right, perhaps; but--"
"But what, sir?"
"I have seen him in company with young men whose characters are not fair. And I have seen him entering into and coming out of places where it is not always safe to go."
"Enough, sir, enough!" said the gentleman, emphatically, "The matter is settled. It may be all right with him, as you say. I hope it is. But he can never be a partner of mine. And now, passing from him, I wish to ask about another young man, who has been in my mind second to Peters. He is in your employment."
"Ralph Gilpin, you mean."
"In every way unexceptionable. I can speak of him with the utmost confidence. He is right in all respects--right as to the business quality, right as to character, and right as to associations. You could not have a better man."
"The matter is settled, then," replied the gentleman. "I will take Ralph Gilpin if neither you nor he objects."
"There will be no objection on either side, I can answer for that," said Mr. A., and the interview closed.
From the mountain-top of hope, away down into the dark vale of despondency, passed Jacob Peters, when it was told him that Ralph Gilpin was to be a partner in the new firm which he had expected to enter.
"And so nothing is left to us," he said to himself, in bitterness of spirit, "but go down, while others, no better than we are, move steadily upwards. Why should Ralph Gilpin be preferred before me? He has no higher ability nor stricter integrity. He cannot be more faithful, more earnest, or more active than I would have been in the new position. But I am set aside and he is taken. It is a bitter, bitter disappointment!"
Three years have passed, and Ralph Gilpin is on the road to fortune, while Jacob Peters remains a clerk. And why? The one was careful of his good name; the other was not.
My young reader, take the lesson to heart. Guard well your good name; and as name signifies quality, by all means guard your spirit, so that no evil thing enter there; and your good name shall be only the expression of your good quality.