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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXII. Going up Higher.
by Thayer, William M.
|Not many days after Benjamin replied to the letter of Captain Homes,
an unusual scene transpired at Keimer's office.
"There's Governor Keith on the other side of the street," said Keimer
to Benjamin, as they stood looking out of the window. "That tall man
with a gentleman walking with him."
"I see," replied Benjamin. "I should think they were coming here."
"Sure enough, they are crossing the street; they must be coming here;
I wonder what for." And Keimer ran down stairs to meet them before the
last words, as above, were off his lips. He supposed, of course, that
they were coming to see him. He met them politely at the door, for it
was not every day that he had the privilege of welcoming a governor to
his printing office, but was somewhat taken aback when the governor
"Does Benjamin Franklin work here?"
"He does; do you wish to see him?" Keimer was almost bewildered when
he answered. "What can the governor want of that boy?" he thought.
"Can I see him?"
"Certainly, walk in."
They walked in and took seats. Benjamin was called.
"This is the young man you wanted to see," said Keimer, introducing
him. "Governor Keith, Benjamin."
"I am very happy to make your acquaintance," responded the governor."
I met your brother-in-law, Captain Homes, at Newcastle, the other day,
and I promised to call and see you. And this is Colonel French, of
Newcastle, who, also, promised Captain Homes to call with me,"
introducing the colonel.
Benjamin was too much astonished to feel at ease. He would not have
been so amazed if an officer from Boston had called to arrest him as a
runaway. What the governor of Pennsylvania could want of him was
beyond his wildest dreams.
"If Mr. Keimer can spare you a short time, we would like you to go
with us for an interview, as we promised Captain Homes," added the
"I am at your service," Benjamin replied, collecting his scattered and
wondering thoughts. "Mr. Keimer can spare me, no doubt."
Within a few minutes, he was with the governor and Colonel French at a
tavern on the corner of Third Street, in a room by themselves.
"I am very glad to meet a young man of your abilities," remarked the
governor, "and I want to talk with you about setting up the printing
business for yourself in this town. Captain Homes told me of your
experience and ability, on this and other lines, and I am sure that
you can start a printing house of your own, and make a success of it."
"But I have nothing to start such a business with. It requires
"True, very true; but I think we can arrange that. Perhaps your father
could give you a start, judging from what Captain Homes says."
"I suppose that he might if he was so disposed; but I doubt whether he
would do it." Benjamin was querying, as he spoke, whether Captain
Homes had disclosed the fact of his being a runaway.
"I can write a letter to him, setting before him the excellent
opportunity for a printer here who understands the business as you do,
and advise him to render you aid." The governor did not hint that he
knew about his leaving home clandestinely.
"That is very kind on your part; but is it not true, that two printing
houses are as many as this town can support well?"
"It would be if they were first-class; but they are not. The
proprietors do not understand their business; they have poor
equipments, too; and their outfit does not enable them to do
"The governor will see that you have the government printing of
Pennsylvania to do," suggested Colonel French; "and I have no question
that I can secure the government printing of Delaware for you, also.
This will give you patronage as well as business."
"I thank you both very much for your kindness and confidence; and I
should like nothing better than to have a printing house of my own."
"How would this plan do?" continued the governor. "You return to
Boston by the first vessel that goes, taking a letter from me to your
father, in which I will lay the whole matter before him, so that he
can understand it, recommending that he set you up in business here."
"Well," replied Benjamin, after some hesitation, "the plan is good
enough; but I fear it will not work."
"It will do no hurt to try it," retorted the governor; "and you will
have an opportunity to see your friends, and they will have an
opportunity to see you."
"Yes, and I shall enjoy that; but I could not honorably leave Mr.
Keimer at present."
"It will not be necessary to leave him at present. It may be three
months before a vessel is billed for Boston. You can work for him at
present, notifying him that you shall return to Boston on a visit by
the first vessel that goes."
"Yes, I can do that," said Benjamin.
"You will not, of course, divulge your plan of establishing a printing
house of your own," suggested the governor. "Keep that a secret. Your
plan may not work, so that it will be wise to keep it a secret for the
"Well, I will defer to your judgment, and return to Boston by the
first vessel that sails. If the plan works, and Benjamin Franklin
should run a successful business house in this town, the credit of it
will belong to you."
They separated, with the understanding that Benjamin would return to
Boston by the first vessel sailing for that port. The governor and his
friend retired, and Benjamin returned to his work at the printing
The reader will make special note of this unusual scene. Here was the
governor of Pennsylvania and a leading public man of Delaware in
conference with a boy of seventeen years, about establishing a
printing house of his own in Philadelphia, with the promise of the
government patronage! What sort of a boy must he be? Not one of common
mould or capacity; but one, as the sequel will show, who shall rule in
the councils of the nation!
Keimer's curiosity was on tiptoe; he wanted to know what business
Governor Keith could have with his young employe.
"Why," replied Benjamin, "he met my brother-in-law, who is captain of
a sloop, at Newcastle, and learned of him that I was working in this
town, and so he called."
"All that may be; but governors are not in the habit of calling upon
boys as a matter of courtesy." And Keimer looked very unbelieving when
he said it.
"He told my brother-in-law that he should call, and my brother-in-law
urged him to do so. Colonel French was a personal friend, who came
with him; and he, too, promised Captain Homes that he would call."
"That is all right; but you are the first boy that ever lived in
Philadelphia, who has attracted the governor's patronage to himself."
Keimer was somewhat jocose, while, at the same time, he was evidently
suspicious that Benjamin was withholding the real object of the
"My brother-in-law had written to me to take the first opportunity I
could to make a trip to Boston to see my friends," continued Benjamin,
"and he talked with the governor about it. The governor thinks as he
"Not at present. If I go, I must go by sea, and not by land. Can't
afford to go by land; and I am told that vessels do not often sail
from here to Boston. I shall have to wait to get more money than I
have now before I go."
"Perhaps the governor will charter a vessel to take you there if you
ask him," suggested Keimer, who was evidently chagrined that the
governor called to see his employe instead of himself.
"Perhaps I shall ask him when I become more familiar with him,"
Benjamin replied, with a twinkle in his eye. "When I get to be a
member of his staff I may be cheeky enough to suggest it."
Keimer found that he could not make out much by quizzing his young
printer, so he dropped it and dismissed the subject for the time
Benjamin's thoughts were all the while concentrated on this unexpected
turn of affairs. It would not be strange if such interest in his
welfare by the highest officer in the state appealed to his vanity
somewhat, although Keimer could discover nothing of the kind. The
latter gentleman, however, concluded that he had a mysterious
character in his employ, and he was greatly puzzled to know just what
he was. He might be the son of some great man, for whose sake the
governor interested himself in his welfare. Possibly he might have
left Boston in some trouble, and his influential friends, together
with Captain Homes, induced the governor to look after him. Many
theories, by way of explanation, occupied his thoughts. At any rate,
he was an enigma to his employer, who was becoming more and more
interested in him. The governor's visit served to magnify his
abilities and worth in Keimer's view. He thought more of him than he
did before. He discovered more talent and efficiency in him. But he
could get little satisfaction out of him. Once in a while he would
indulge in a spasm of quizzing, and then he would subside into silent
musing over the curious boy who was setting type for him.
Benjamin continued to work early and late, interesting himself in
Keimer's business as if it were his own, thereby becoming an
indispensable assistant to him. But he embraced the first opportunity
to write to his boon companion in Boston, John Collins, and disclose
the unexpected change in his affairs, as follows:
"DEAR JOHN: You will be surprised to learn that I expect to make a
visit to Boston by the first vessel that sails for that port. It
may be three or four months before one sails, but look for me on
board. I will tell you how this new order of things was brought
about. My brother-in-law, Capt. Robert Homes, was at Newcastle,
Delaware, and found out, in some way, that I was living in
Philadelphia; and he wrote to me. I replied to his letter, and he
showed it to Governor Keith of Pennsylvania, who lives in this
town, and told him about me, and interested him in my welfare. So
the governor came to see me, and urged me to establish a printing
house of my own here, promising me the state printing, and offering
to write a letter to my father that I shall take with me when I go
to Boston, in which he will set forth the prospects of my success,
and urge him to furnish me with money to start. This is the
substance of the story, the details of which I will rehearse when I
see you. In the mean time continue to keep the secret. I suppose
that Captain Homes will disclose the place of my residence, so that
it will be a mystery to them no longer; but do not let any thing
get abroad from you. When we meet I shall have much to tell you.
Until then, good-bye.
Governor Keith sent for Benjamin to dine with him.
"Your old friend,
"I wanted to talk with you a little more about your visit to Boston,"
he remarked at the dinner-table. "How long will you be gone?"
"That will depend upon the voyage. There and back will occupy from
three to four weeks on the vessel. I do not care about spending over a
week in Boston. I shall want to get back as soon as I can to start in
"Does Mr. Keimer suspect that any thing in particular is on the tapis?
I did not know but my visit might awaken his curiosity to learn what
it was for."
"It did, and he plied me with questions in order to find out for some
time. Once in a while now, he is very inquisitive, evidently thinking
that I am withholding something from him. He is quite an intelligent
man, without any surplus of honesty."
"So I understand. Bradford is very ignorant, but honest; while Keimer
is bright and well-informed, but unscrupulous."
"That is about as near the truth as one can get," continued Benjamin.
"I have a pleasant time with Mr. Keimer, however, and have nothing to
complain of on that line."
"Can you give me any idea of the time it will take, after you return,
to get a printing house in running order?"
"Not exactly. If my plans succeed, and I bring back a printing-press
and materials with me, I think a month will be ample time to put the
whole thing in running order."
The enterprise was canvassed at the table, the governor conversing
with his young guest in the most familiar manner, dropping many
complimentary words. Whenever he wanted to see him thereafter, he
invited him to dine, which was quite often; all of which Benjamin
enjoyed very much. In his old age, referring to these interviews with
Governor Keith, Franklin said: "The governor sent for me now and then
to dine with him, which I considered a great honor; more particularly
as he conversed with me in the most affable, familiar, and friendly
A novelist would portray the advantages of running away from home when
representing Benjamin, the runaway, at the governor's table. If he had
remained in Boston, attacking the officials of the English Government
with his pen, the governor might have put him in prison, as he did his
brother. But Benjamin never justified the use he made of his legs at
that time--that is, he never excused it in his years of maturity. He
always spoke of it regretfully. Very few runaways possess as much
talent and character as he did, and few ever had so much cause for
running away; and here is found the only reason that the act was
overruled to his advantage.
At length a small vessel was announced to sail for Boston.
"I am ready to go in her," he said to Governor Keith. "She sails in
about a week."
"I am very glad," answered the governor; "you have waited long enough
for it. I will have my letter to your father ready in time; and I hope
your mission will be successful. Is there any thing more I can do for
"Nothing; I have been getting myself in readiness all along, so that I
have little to do now. As the time draws near I am very anxious to go.
My father and mother will be very happy in looking into my face
"And I think you will be as happy in looking into their faces again,"
responded the governor. "Captain Homes spoke in the highest terms of
your parents, and of your standing in Boston."
Benjamin wondered more than ever whether his brother, Homes, disclosed
the fact of his leaving home clandestinely to the governor. No words
were dropped to indicate that he did. But Governor Keith was a wise
man, and thought it was not best to divulge his acquaintance with that
part of the affair.
Benjamin improved the first opportunity to announce his departure to
"Going to see my parents," he said; "a vessel sails for Boston in
about a week."
"You have not been away from home long yet. I should think that you
might wait a year, at least."
"No, I can't wait longer, though I do not intend to stay long. I am
attached to Philadelphia, and I shall want to return as soon as I can
after letting my father and mother look me over a few days."
"Has the governor of the Massachusetts Province sent for you?" Keimer
asked jocosely. The fact was he could not get over Governor Keith's
interest in Benjamin, because he could not yet understand it. As the
weeks rolled on, his employee grew to be more and more an object of
"No; nor any body else," answered Benjamin. "I shall take the governor
by surprise, so that he will have no time to get up a reception. I
prefer the governor of Pennsylvania to the governor of Massachusetts."
If Keimer had known all the circumstances, he might have replied, "You
have reason to feel so; for the governor of Massachusetts would rather
see you in prison than running a printing house."
Benjamin purchased a nice suit of clothes, also a watch, before
starting on his trip; and then had quite a sum of pocket money to take
with him. He bade Mr. Keimer good-bye, took leave of the governor with
many thanks for his kindness, receiving from him a long, complimentary
letter to his father; nor did he forget to call upon the Bradford
family, to make known his purpose and thank them again for their
hospitality; and, of course, Mr. Read and family received a good share
of his thankfulness, especially the daughter, in whom Benjamin had
become quite interested.
Once on board the vessel, under way, Benjamin began to reflect upon
his novel experiences. It appeared to him somewhat like a dream. He
could hardly realize that he was on his way back to his home, by the
governor's patronage. He took out the governor's letter to his father
and read it. He found that it was very complimentary to himself, fully
as much so as he had expected; and the prospects of a new printing
house, under his care, were set forth strongly. He had scarcely
finished reading the letter, when the vessel struck on a shoal; for
they were not out of the bay yet. She sprung a leak, and there was
considerable excitement on board before the crew could remedy the
"A hard storm is near by," said the captain. "You will have a rough
passage this time, young man," addressing Benjamin.
"Well, I am used to it; I have encountered as many storms as any body
of my age," replied Benjamin figuratively, which the captain did not
"Then you have followed the sea, have you?"
"No; I have followed the land mostly; but there are hard storms on the
land, are there not?"
"Of course"; and the captain thought only of rain storms and snow
storms when he answered.
"All I meant was," added Benjamin by way of explanation, "that I have
had rather of a rough life so far; have seen a good deal of trouble
for one of my years; and have rather got accustomed to rough usage. A
storm at sea will only vary the experience a little. I think I can
"You will have to stand it any way. Not much chance to choose when a
storm overtakes us out to sea. If I am any judge of weather, a
terrible storm is brewing, and it will be on us in a hurry."
"Well, I like the water; I meant to have become a sailor once, but my
father put his veto on it. If I had been allowed my own way, I should
have been serving before the mast now." Benjamin never spoke truer
words than these.
"Hard life," responded the captain; "if I could live my life over
again I should chose any thing on land rather than the best on the
sea. I would not command a vessel another day, if there was any thing
else I could do; but this is all I know."
They had scarcely emerged from the bay when the storm burst upon them.
It was the beginning of a long, violent, tempestuous spell of weather,
such as mariners encounter on the sea; a new and exciting experience
"I have heard a great deal about storms at sea, and----"
"And you will see one now," interrupted the captain. "What you have
heard about it gives you a poor idea of the reality, compared with
"I confess to a kind of desire to see a real hard one," answered
Benjamin coolly. "If I should be frightened half out of my wits, I
shall be as well off as the rest of you."
"The vessel is leaking badly," cried out one of the crew.
"Man the pumps," replied the captain. "Enough for all hands to do
"Including me," responded Benjamin. "I can do as much as any of you at
the pump," and he went to work with the crew.
Suffice it to say, that the storm continued for days, tossing their
small craft about like a shell, keeping all hands busy, night and day,
sometimes the sea threatening to swallow the vessel and all it
contained in its hungry maw. The vessel was two weeks on its way to
Boston, encountering stormy weather nearly the whole time. Most of the
voyage the leaky craft was kept from sinking by pumping, in which
Benjamin took his turn, proving himself as efficient as any one of the
crew; and he was as cool and self-possessed as any one of the number.
At the end of two weeks they sailed into Boston harbor; and Benjamin
was at home.