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- Barriers Burned Away - 6/81 -
standing," and, "as far as he knew, a most worthy young man"--rather meagre capital amid the competitions of a large city. But, with courage bold and high, he strode off toward the business part of the town.
As he passed the depot it occurred to him that an opening might exist there. It would be a good post of observation, and perhaps he would be able to slip home oftener. So he stopped and asked the man in the ticket-office, blandly, "Do you wish to employ a young man in connection with this depot or road in any capacity?"
The ticket-man stared at him a moment through his window, frowned, and curtly said, "No!" and then went on counting what seemed to poor Dennis millions of money. The man had no right to say yes or no, since he was a mere official, occupying his own little niche, with no authority beyond. But an inveterate feud seemed to exist between this man and the public. He acted as if the world in general, instead of any one in particular, had greatly wronged him. It might be a meek woman with a baby, or a bold, red-faced drover, a delicately-gloved or horny hand that reached him the change, but it was all the same. He knitted his brows, pursed up his mouth, and dealt with all in a quick, jerking way, as if he could not bear the sight of them, and wanted to be rid of them as soon as possible. Still these seem just the peculiarities that find favor with railroad corporations, and the man would probably vent his spite against the public throughout his natural life.
From him, however, Dennis received his first dash of cold water, which he minded but little, and went on his way with a good-natured laugh at the crusty old fellow.
He was soon in the business part of the city. Applying at a large dry-good store, he was told that they wanted a cash boy; "but he would not do; one a quarter his size would answer."
"Then I will go where they want the other three-fourths and pay accordingly," said Dennis, and stalked out.
He continued applying at every promising place, but to no purpose. It was midwinter; trade was dull; and with clerks idling about the shops employers were in no mood to add to their number.
At last he found a place where an assistant book-keeper was wanted. Dennis's heart leaped within him, but sank again as he remembered how little he knew of the art. "But I can learn quickly," he thought to himself.
The man looked carelessly at his poor little letter, and then said, in a business-like tone, "Show me a specimen of your handwriting."
Poor Dennis had never written a good hand, but at college had learned to write a miserable scrawl, in rapidly taking notes of lectures. Moreover, he was excited, and could not do himself justice. Even from his sanguine heart hope ebbed away; but he took the pen and scratched a line or two, of which he himself was ashamed. The man looked at them with an expression of mild disgust, and then said, "Mr. Jones, hand me your ledger."
The head book-keeper passed the volume to his employer, who showed Dennis entries looking as from copper-plate, and quietly remarked: "The young man we employ must write like that, and thoroughly understand book-keeping. Good-morning, sir."
Dennis walked out, feeling almost as crestfallen as if he had been convicted of stealing, but the noon-day sun was shining in the sky, the streets were full of life and bustle, and hope revived.
"I shall find the right niche before long," he said to himself, and trudged on.
Some time after he entered a retail dry-goods store.
"Yes, they wanted a young man there, but he was rather old."
Still the merchant saw that Dennis was fine-looking, would appear well behind the counter, and make a taking salesman with the ladies, he stopped to parley a moment more.
"Do you understand the business?"
"No, sir; but I can soon learn, for I am young and strong."
"Strength is not what is needed, but experience. Ours is not the kind of work for Paddies."
"Well, sir," said Dennis, rather shortly, "I'm not a Paddy."
The dapper little retailer frowned slightly at Dennis's tone, and continued: "You spoke as if main strength was the principal thing. Have you had any experience at all?"
But seeing intelligence in the young man's face, and scenting a sharp bargain, he said, "Why, then, you would have to begin at tho very beginning, and learn the name of everything, its quality, etc."
"Yes, sir; but I would do my very best."
"Of course, of course, but nothing can take the place of experience. I expect, under the circumstances, you would look for very little remuneration the first year?"
"How much could you give?"
The man named a sum that would not have supported Dennis alone.
He replied that, though his services might not be worth more than that, he was so situated that he could not take a very small salary.
"Then bring something besides ignorance to the market," said the man, turning on his heel.
Dennis was now hungry, tired, and disappointed. Indeed the calls of appetite became so clamorous that he sought a cheap restaurant. After demolishing a huge plate of such viands as could be had at little cost, he sat brooding over a cup of coffee for an hour or more. The world wore a different aspect from that which it had presented in the morning, and he was lost in a sort of dull, painful wonder.
But the abundant meal and slight element of coffee that colored the lukewarm water quite heartened him again. He resolved to go back to his hotel and find a more quiet and comfortable place in which to lodge until something permanent offered. He made what he considered sufficient inquiry as to the right direction, and resolved to save even the carfare of five cents by walking the distance.
But whether he had not understood the directions rightly, or whether, brooding over the events of the day, his mind had been too preoccupied to heed them, he found to his great disgust, after walking two or three miles, that he had gone away from his destination instead of toward it. Angry with himself, out of humor with all the world, he began to give way to the latent obstinacy of his nature. Though everything went "contrairy," there was one thing under his control--himself--and he would make that do the bidding of his will.
Turning on his heel, he resolved with dogged resolution to walk back the whole distance. He would teach himself a lesson. It was fine business, just when he needed his wits so sorely, to commence blundering in this style. No wonder he had failed during the day; he deserved to fail in other respects, since in this one he had not shown the good sense of a child.
When people are "out of sorts," and things are going wrong, the disposition to blame somebody or something is almost universal. But we think that it will be found a safe general rule, that the nobler the nature, the less worthy of blame, the greater the tendency to blame self rather than anything else. Poor Dennis had no great cause for bitter reproaches, and yet he plodded on with an intense feeling of self-disgust.
To think that after New-England schools and three years in college he should write such a hand and have no definite knowledge of book-keeping! "What have I learned, I'd like to know?" he muttered. Then to go and lose his way like a country bumpkin! and he gnawed his lips with vexation.
The street-cars glided often and invitingly by, but he would not even look at them.
At last, foot-sore and fairly aching with cold and fatigue, he reached the little hotel, which appeared more miserable, obscure, and profane than ever. But a tempting fiend seemed to have got into the gin and whiskey bottles behind the red-nosed bartender. To his morbid fancy and eyes, half-blinded with wind and cold, they appeared to wink, beckon, and suggest: "Drink and be merry; drink and forget your troubles. We can make you feel as rich and glorious as a prince, in ten minutes."
For the first time in his life Dennis felt a strong temptation to drink for the sake of the effects. When was a man ever weak that the devil did not charge down upon him?
But the evil and ruin wrought in one case proved another's safeguard, for the door opened and a miserable wreck of a man entered. As Dennis looked at his blotched, sodden face, trembling hand, shuffling gait, and general air of wretchedness, embodying and suggesting the worst ills of humanity, he decided not to drink for the sake of the effects.
Then came another rush of self-disgust that he had ever entertained such a temptation, and he flung himself off supperless to bed.
As he bowed that night he could not pray as usual. For anger, passion with one's self, as well as with any one else, renders true prayer impossible. But he went through the form, and then wrapped himself up as before. The wearied body soon mastered the perturbed mind, and he fell into a heavy sleep that lasted till morning.
A HORNET'S NEST
Dennis awoke greatly refreshed and strengthened. For half an hour he lay quietly thinking over the scenes of the preceding day; something of his old anger returned, but he compressed his lips, and, with a face expressing the most resolute purpose, determined that the day before him should tell a different story. Every faculty and energy he possessed should be skilfully bent to the attainment of his objects.
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