Mrs. P. P. Bonney wrote several pieces for the Youth’s Companion ; “Going into Business for Himself” emphasizes themes the Companion often explored: that children should respect their parents, who worked so hard for them; that children shouldn’t expect to make important decisions about their lives; and that a good education was essential. That young teens could leave school and find full-time work was typical of the time; what concerned adults was that those jobs were economic dead ends.


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“Going Into Business for Himself,” by Mrs. P. P. Bonney (from The Youth’s Companion, August 31, 1865; p. 137)

Two school-boys are walking down State Street, in the city of S. They are neatly dressed. Some mother’s hand must have fashioned those neck-ties. Yes, and she fastened them both on this morning, thinking how well her dear boys looked, and praying in her heart of hearts that they might grow up to worthy manhood. A care-burdened father is hurrying along, intent upon business, soon after, when he meets the same boys.

“Ah, Freddy and Charlie!” he exclaims, his face beautiful with that happy smile of recognition. “Going to school, eh? Well, do your best, get all the good you can.” And he passes on to labor for them.

How handsome Frederic would be but for that lowering frown upon his brow and that sullen curve about his really fine mouth. Charlie looks much more lovable, although a little disturbed just now; but he is much too apt to reflect the expressions of Fred’s more decided face, much too pliable under Fred’s moulding hand.

“Good,” grumbles Fred, glancing back to make sure he is unheard. “The old man is much mistaken if he thinks we are going to stay poked up there all day for old Robertson to jaw at.”

“Old man!” Can it be that the boy is speaking of his father; of his kind, indulgent, faithful friend; of his best friend? We fear so. We have heard that contemptuous epithet applied to the best of men, and the kindest and truest mothers are familiarly known as the old woman among the boys.

“No,” continued Fred; “I’m not going to school any more. I know what is best for me as well as father does. I’m too old to be ordered round by him and mother as if I didn’t know anything. All the boys say they wouldn’t stand it, and I won’t.”

All the boys? Now the literal truth is, Freddie, that only six or seven have tried to salve over your wounded dignity by such advice; but then let the truth go, one can’t expect to be exact when one has a case of cruelty to make out. Just let me ask you why they stand it? Their parents expect to be obeyed as well as yours.

“Well, Charlie, are you ready? I am going to take the cars in about five minutes. Here, sling those old books under here.” And away went two carpet-bags filled with treasures of wisdom that these poor boys knew not how to value, under a pile of lumber near an unfinished building. “I’m going off and get into some business for myself. I’ll not have father talking about how much it costs to send boys to school. Will you, Charlie?”

“No, indeed!” answered Charlie, who thought Fred knew it all, or at least all that it was manly to know.

“When I get another suit of clothes,” Fred rattled on, “I’ll have some like Tom Freeman’s, instead of those hateful things,” and Fred plucked angrily at the sleeve of a coat which he had no right to at all. What! a high and mighty gentleman about to set up for himself beginning by being dependent on the old man for the very clothes on his back!

In five minutes the two were aboard the cars, and the conductor smiled broadly at the ostentatious way in which Fred held out two tickets for W. Charlie was perfectly irresponsible, he was one of those well-meaning boys that are always at the mercy of bad advisers, and Fred felt competent to advice any body. So they rode on, making the most absurd plans about the future

.

Wouldn’t it be absurd for your little sister Lucy to take a contract for building a hotel, Fred? I do not mean a card house, but a modern marble palace. “Of course,” answers Fred. “She don’t know the first thing about building.” True, but she knows just as much about it as you do about going into business, for you have neglected the books and despised the teachers that would have fitted your for earning a liv[e]lihood.

Arrived at W., our heroes—went to the intelligence office to get situations, of course? No, indeed, they went to a candy shop. One of the privileges of their new life was to be, all the candy they could eat; so they bought several pounds, and ate until they were utterly nauseated. Then they went to a hotel and strutted up and down the piazza while the dinner they had ordered was being prepared. Two dollars for candy, two dollars more for a dinner that they were too sick to eat. Charles tried many dishes, but he thought mother’s gingerbread tasted better than all these dainties, and there was a lump in his throat that made the tears come when he swallowed, but he would not have had Fred know it for the world.

After dinner they sauntered out to see the city. Once a quick-stepping, keen-eyed gentleman passed them. His eyes searched Fred’s face with a look that made him think guiltily of the money he had stolen from his father. Stolen—he would have knocked anybody down that dared call him a thief, and yet the searching glance of a mere stranger’s eye made conscience say loudly, “You are a thief.” Pretty soon the man passed them again. This time he drew up short with a—

“What are you two boys doing down here? Is your father with you?”

“Doing?” exclaimed Fred, bridling up. “Looking round; what should we be doing?”

“Are you in any business?”

“Not—not yet,” stammered Fred.

“When did you come down from S.?”

“That’s our business,” was the saucy answer.

“Perhaps so; but we do not allow any such strolling here. Our policemen look after idle boys.”

“Fred disdained to listen longer. “Come along, Charlie. Charlie Gorham, don’t you hear?” He had forgotten that for the future Charlie was always to call himself John Stevens.

“Is your name Charlie Gorham?” asked the quick-eared stranger, turning back.

“No, John Stevens,” answered Charlie, feeling Fred’s eye upon him but coloring deeply. And then he thought he heard his mother’s sweet voice, saying, “I never knew my Charlie to tell a lie.”

“O dear!” thought the poor boy, swallowing hard. “What would she think?” And he carefully avoided looking at Fred, lest he should see the tears, and sneer at them.

“Charlie Gorham! why, those are Sam Gorham’s boys, as sure as guns. Well, I know what I’ll do. That oldest Young America needs a good lesson, and Gorham will thank me for it,” mused the stranger, as he hurried on.

About nightfall our two boys stood upon the piazza of their hotel pretending not to feel homesick, when a policeman stepped up, and laying his hand on Fred’s shoulder, told him he had orders to take him to the lock-up.

“Me!” cried Fred. “No, sir, I shall stay where I am.”

“Maybe then you’ve got a dollar apiece to pay for your lodgings, and another for breakfast,” was the very mild reply.

Fred’s hand rested on the last bit of currency in his pocket; he knew it was only a fifty-cent shinplaster.

“You’ve run away from somebody, and stolen money to do it,” said the officer, firmly. Charlie burst out crying. Fred still resisted.

“Do you want to have a fuss before all these gentlemen?”

“No, sir,” answered Fred, humbly.

Yes, I am glad to write it, a respectful “No, sir,” to a policeman, looks like progress in a boy who called his father the old man.

Poor Charlie continued to sob. The policeman took his chubby hand in his, and soothed him kindly. Fred was quiet, but very pale. “O, the disgrace of it!” he was inwardly groaning. “O, the shame of it.”

About the same hour the anxious parents received a telegram. “Got your boys safe. Come to W. on the early train.—I. B. Messer.”

You may be sure that Mr. Gorham went. Ah! he would have gone hundreds of miles to reclaim his prodigals. Fred, the proud, the self-willed Fred, was mortified beyond all expression, and, blessed be the great All Father, who watches over such wanderers, the lesson sank deep into his heart. He became another boy.

“Steve, have you heard about Fred and Charlie Gorham?” asked one of the young men in a machine shop at S.

“No! What have they done?”

Edwin Breck, the first speaker, then repeated to him the incident just related. Stephen Lane laughed out heartily once or twice, but before Edwin had done speaking he grew serious, and there was unusual depth and feeling in the tone with which he said,

“Let me tell you, Ed., that Fred did well to get off so. I am glad he has come back with his mind made up to stick to his books, and do better. O, how different it would have been with me now if I had only known enough at his age to get an education! My father knew what it was to be ashamed of his ignorance, although he hadn’t himself to blame for it, as I have. He wanted me to have every advantage, and I did. Father never begrudged the money that went that way. I’ve seen him set with his hands on his head thinking, thinking,—at last he’d break out, ‘Well, I’ve had to work hard, because I did not know how to start right; but it won’t be so with you, Stephen. Only improve your mind, and you’ll have an easier and better lot.’ Why couldn’t I have had sense enough to believe him? I got sick of lessons; I couldn’t see the use of them, and I said it was no use for me to try; learning didn’t come easy to me. Consummate fool! I might have noticed that the fellows that rattled off their lessons so glib, heads up, were always at it, in their seats. But I wanted to quit school; I thought it would be so grand to learn some trade, where I could begin to earn money. A dollar then looked a great deal too large to me. I was green, and no mistake. I began to hint about it to father. The moment my idea struck him he dropped his head and I dropped the subject—the words stuck in my throat. I realized for a minute at least how his heart was set on my knowning something. But it didn’t last long. I got uneasy, and tried him again. My eyes! how he looked at me. I was frightened. ‘Stephen,’ said he, after a spell, ‘just so surely as you go off and learn a trade now, you’ll never learn any thing else, and you never’ll get one step higher, neither. O, my boy, if you will only keep on and study, I’ll do any thing for you,—any thing.’ That wasn’t enough. I ran away; father found me out, and brought me back. ‘Now, Stephen,’ said he, ‘settle down, wait until you know something, and then I will help you into business.’ Well, I tried it, or I thought I did, but I guess there wasn’t much trying about it, for I was set on having my own way. Father saw how it was, and told me to go my own way. I thought it was mighty nice to be in a machine shop, earning my wages like a grown-up man, but the fun didn’t last long. By the time I had got dog-sick of it, and would have given any thing to go to school again, father’s circumstances had changed so much that he couldn’t help me, and so here I am, and I never shall get one step higher. I mean to do my work well;” as he spoke he held up one of the shining tools upon which he had been at work, and looked at it with some pride; “but then what is that? So much a day and no more; no, not one cent more if I should grow grey here. And just as father said, I don’t know how to do any thing else.”

Edwin Breck had been looking at the speaker for some time with an earnestness that made him smile. “You didn’t think that rattle-headed Steve ever had sober thoughts, did you?” he asked, with an effort at carelessness.

“Honestly, Steve,” answered Edwin, “I was thinking, too—thinking how strange it was that we should both stand at work here, side by side, dwelling upon the same subject. My father died while I was young, but my mother was a scholar, and she wanted so much to have me one. She was left a widow, with five children, one a babe, but she wore her troubles bravely. Always cheerful when things looked the darkest, and always so patient with our faults. She knew what learning would be worth to me, but I couldn’t see things right. I hated school; I wanted to go into a shop. Why, I thought I could earn a fortune in three months. Well, as you say, I had my own way, and now here I am. I shall tell George about Fed Graham’s [sic] going into business. He’s my youngest brother, you know, and when he gets uneasy, he thinks he has had enough of school; but I hope he won’t be a fool, like I was.”

“O,” exclaimed a shrewd urchin one day, as he laid aside a book, “how dreadful good boys can talk in a book; real boys never talk so.” Now we make it a rule never to put any thing but real boys into our stories. We have no idea of cheating you into swallowing a moral with the sugar and water of fiction. Hence it follows that the brief life sketches above are literally true. O, my favored school-children, improve the golden opportunities which you enjoy. These youths were forced to learn the value of such privileges in the bitter school of experience, but, alas! they learned it too late.

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