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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXIII. The Surprise, and its Results.
by Thayer, William M.
|Benjamin hastened to the corner of Hanover and Union Streets, where
the sign of the familiar blue ball hung, and entered with a fluttering
"Benjamin!" exclaimed his father, "can that be you?" and he grasped
one of his hands in both of his. "How glad I am to see you!"
"No more glad than I am to see you," responded the son, shaking his
father's hand heartily. "I am glad to get home."
The words were scarcely off his tongue when his mother appeared upon
And his mother threw her arms about his neck, weeping tears of joy.
Benjamin wept, too. He began to realize what months of agony his
absence had caused the woman who bore him.
"Can it be you, my son? I have mourned for you as dead," she said, as
soon as she could command her feelings. "Where have you been?"
"In Philadelphia. Has not Captain Homes told you where I was?"
"Not a word from him about it."
"He wrote to me from Newcastle three months ago, and I replied to his
letter. I supposed that you had heard all about it before this time."
"We have not heard the least thing from you since you left," said his
father; "and they have been seven very long and painful months."
"How painful, Benjamin, you can never know," added his mother.
"Sometimes it has seemed as if my old heart would break with grief;
but I have tried to cast my burden on the Lord. If you had staid at
home and died, my sorrow could not have been so great."
"Let it end now," replied Benjamin, with a smile, "for I am here
"Yes, I thank my God, for 'this my son was dead, and is alive again;
he was lost, and is found.'" And his mother came almost as near to
death with joy, as she had been before with sorrow.
They sat down together, when Benjamin rehearsed his experience since
leaving Boston, not omitting to state the cause of his sudden
departure, and the reason of his return. And then he put the letter of
Governor Keith into his father's hand.
"How is James? I suppose he is at the printing office? I must go to
Benjamin's words and tone of speech indicated only good will towards
"I am glad to hear you say that, Benjamin. It has grieved me terribly
that he should treat you so unbrotherly; I do hope that you will now
be reconciled to each other." His mother spoke with much feeling.
"I trust we shall; I am ready to forgive and forget. I have learned a
good lesson from experience since leaving Boston."
So saying, he started for the printing office, not knowing what sort
of a reception awaited him there He hoped for the best, however.
"James!" He extended his hand as he spoke. James would not have been
more astonished over one who rose from the dead, but he took his hand
in a cold, reserved sort of a way, merely saying:
After surveying him from head to foot a few moments, he turned back to
his work again, without another word. The act pierced Benjamin's
heart, it was so unkind and cruel. But soon he rose above the
situation, and seemed to say, by actions, "I can stand it if you can."
The journeymen were delighted to see him. Leaving their work, they
pressed around him with a whole catechism of questions.
"Where have you been, Ben?"
"What kind of a place is it?"
"It is a fine place; I like it better than Boston."
"Yes; very soon, too. No place like that for the printing business."
"Yes, better pay than in Boston."
"How large is the place?"
"Seven thousand inhabitants; smaller than Boston, but smarter."
"What kind of money do you have there?"
There was no established currency in the country at that time, and
paper money only was used in Boston. His interrogator wanted to know
what they used in Philadelphia.
"They use that," replied Benjamin, taking from his pocket nearly five
pounds sterling in silver and laying it on the table. "Rather heavier
stuff to carry than your Boston paper money."
"It looks as if you had struck a silver mine, Ben," remarked one.
"Some lucky hit, Ben," said another. "The printing business bring you
"No other did. I was a printer when I left, and I am now, and I expect
to be in the future. And, what is more, I have no desire for another
"You sport a watch, I see," said one of the number.
"Yes, such as it is; a good companion, though."
"Let us see it," one suggested.
"You can." And Benjamin passed it to him, and all examined it.
"Can't afford such luxuries in Boston," one printer remarked.
"It is not a luxury by any means; it is a necessity," replied
Benjamin. "I should not know how to get along without a watch now."
"Well, Ben, you can afford to have a watch," added one; "for you can
live on bread and water, and never want a day of pleasure, and never
"And he can afford to treat us all, since he has fared so well,"
suggested one of the men.
"I always did treat you well, and always intend to," was Benjamin's
answer, as if he did not understand that treating with intoxicating
liquors was meant.
"That is so, Ben; but now just treat us with something stronger than
water, for old acquaintance' sake."
At that time the use of intoxicating liquors was almost universal.
Benjamin did not use them, and, once in a while was found a person who
did not. Most people were habitual drinkers, and there was little or
no opposition to the custom; and the habit of treating was general.
"There is a dollar," replied Benjamin, throwing out a dollar in
silver. "Take that and drink what you want for old acquaintance'
Replacing his watch and money, he left the office with the promise to
come around again. While this interview with the men was going on,
James would occasionally look up from his work "grim and sullen," as
Benjamin said, evidently as unreconciled to his brother as ever. The
next day James said to his father and mother, at their house:
"It was an insult. He meant to insult me when he came to the office."
"No, James," replied his mother; "Benjamin meant no such thing. He
told us that he was ready to forgive and forget."
"He has a poor way of showing it, then," retorted James, who was too
revengeful to be reasonable.
"Well, you are brothers," interrupted his father, "and you should act
as brothers toward each other. It has a bad look for one brother to be
resentful toward another."
"And it not only has the look" added his mother, "but it is a most
wicked state of heart to cherish. You will never prosper, James, so
long as you treat your brother so; and you never ought to prosper."
Mrs. Franklin spoke with great plainness. She had never justified
James at all in his treatment of Benjamin; and now that the former was
adding injury to injury by falsely accusing the latter, she could not
suppress her feelings. She magnified the severity of her words, by
"Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in
danger of the judgment."
"My advice to you, James, is to let the dead past bury the dead. It
will do no good to revive old memories. Make the future as bright as
you can--that is the only wise course. I am quite sure that Benjamin
will meet you more than half way, in erasing old scores."
Mr. Franklin spoke this with much feeling as he turned away to his
work. James continued to be resentful, and failed to reduce his
father's counsel to practice.
Benjamin soon found his old friend, John Collins; and there was mutual
satisfaction in their meeting. As soon, however, as the first pleasure
of meeting was over, Benjamin discovered that his friend had become
intemperate, and he was both surprised and grieved. However, he
gratified John with a detailed account of his experience, from the
time they separated, not omitting a glowing description of his
prospects in Philadelphia.
"How soon will you return?" John inquired.
"I want to leave here within two weeks if I can. I ought not to stay
but a week."
"How will it do for me to return with you?"
"I think it will do well if you stick closely to business. That is the
only way we can succeed in any thing."
"I can do that. Work never hurt me, or any thing else." John did not
take the hint in Benjamin's last remark.
"But strong drink has hurt a great many. I should never expect to
succeed in any thing if I used it as many do."
"Nor I," answered John, who was blind to his own danger, as all
intemperate men are.
"We have no need of any such beverage at all," continued Benjamin. "I
discard it entirely now, as you know that I did when I lived here in
Boston. Water is the best beverage for us both."
"You may be right, Ben; you are, generally. But are you not a little
odd in discarding what nearly every one uses?" John was trying to find
an excuse for himself.
"Better be odd than to be disqualified for business. You know, as well
as I do, that rum disqualifies more men for business than all other
evils put together. Once you were of my opinion, John; but your habits
have been changing your opinion."
"Well, that is neither here nor there," replied John, who found that
Benjamin was becoming rather personal. "What do you think of my going
to Philadelphia with you?"
"If your habits now are what your personal appearance indicates, you
will not succeed in Philadelphia any better than you can in Boston. An
intemperate man is a failure anywhere."
"Then you don't think I am good enough to go back with you?" said
John, with a degree of warmth.
"I did not say so, John. To tell you the plain truth, I am shocked at
the change drink has wrought in your appearance. You are fast becoming
a wreck, I should say; and I don't want a wreck of a friend on my
"Then you don't want I should go with you?"
"Not if you continue to drink as you do now. Sober John Collins I
should delight to have accompany me, especially if he looks upon
strong drink as the enemy of mankind. I am your friend now, as much as
ever; but I am disappointed, and even shocked, by your appearance. You
are fast becoming a wreck."
"You are complimentary, Ben, I must confess; but I can't say that you
are wrong. You have been about right so far in life; perhaps your
views are correct about drink."
"I don't ask you to accept my views; but I entreat you to let strong
drink alone for your own sake, and my sake, too. If you can give a
wide berth to all sorts of intoxicating liquors, as I do, I should be
delighted to have you return to Philadelphia with me."
"That is, become a water-drinker, you mean, Ben?"
"I did not say so; become a reasonable being and not indulge to
excess. I do not ask any body to live exactly as I do, though I
believe that every person who discards liquors will be better off."
At that day, when the temperance cause was not born, and the use of
intoxicants was universal, it was generally believed that moderate
drinking could be followed without leading to excessive drinking. It
is plain that Benjamin had that idea. For himself, he practised entire
abstinence from intoxicants, because he thought it was better for him.
Another person might drink moderately, in his view, and be just as
well off. But intemperance he abhorred, and he thought that every body
else ought to abhor it.
"I will tell you what it is, Ben," continued John. "There is some
sense in what you say; you did not leave it all in Philadelphia when
you came away, that is sure. I want to go back with you badly; and I
will think it over."
"That is it, John. Sober John Collins is an old friend of mine, and I
shall enjoy his society in Philadelphia, or any other part of the
world. Think it over, and I will see you again."
Mr. Franklin read the letter of Governor Keith over and over. It was a
good letter to cheer a father's heart, if it was genuine. Evidently he
had some doubts whether the affair was all right. While he was
querying about the genuineness of the letter from Governor Keith,
Captain Homes arrived in Boston, and first of all called upon his
"Benjamin is here," said Mr. Franklin, "and according to his story, he
has a good prospect before him in Philadelphia. And here is a letter
from Sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania, that he brought with
him"; and he passed the letter to the captain.
"I met Governor Keith at Newcastle, and showed him a letter I received
from Benjamin," replied Captain Homes, "which satisfied me that he had
more reason than I had supposed for running away. I interested the
governor in his welfare. On his return to Philadelphia, after having
met Benjamin, he wrote to me how much pleased he was with him, and
what he had proposed."
Captain Homes read the governor's letter through and remarked, "That
is substantially what he wrote to me; and it appears to me that there
is a good opening for him in Philadelphia."
"You think that Sir William Keith is reliable, do you?"
"He ought to be. I can't think of any reason why a man in his position
should be saying and doing what he don't mean."
"Nor I. And yet it seems almost strange that he should favor a boy of
eighteen engaging in such an enterprise, without money and without
"You are wrong, father," answered the captain; "very few young men
twenty-two years of age have had the experience he has had. He has
occupied positions and met emergencies every time with the promptness
and ability of one ten years older."
"That may be so. I think it is so; and it gives me great pleasure that
Sir William Keith can write as he does about him. But it can't be
expected that a boy of eighteen can have the judgment and wisdom to
conduct business for himself, as he will at twenty-two."
"I think it can be expected, and should be expected, if these
qualities are as fully developed at eighteen as they are in other
young men at twenty-two." The captain was emphatic in his endorsement
This conversation was interrupted by Benjamin's appearance. He was
delighted to meet Captain Homes, and this gentleman was delighted to
meet him. The satisfaction was mutual. One of the first questions that
Benjamin asked was:
"How did you learn that I was living in Philadelphia?"
"From a citizen of that town, of whom I was inquiring about the
business of the place. Incidentally he spoke of a young printer from
Boston, who had come there. I met him in Newcastle. He even knew your
"'Murder will out' is an old maxim that finds confirmation in my
case," responded Benjamin. "But it is all for the best, I think. I am
glad that the way was opened for me to return to Boston."
"I have just read Governor Keith's letter to your father, and I hope
that he will be able to give you a start in Philadelphia." The captain
said this in the presence of Mr. Franklin.
While Mr. Franklin was considering the proposition contained in
Governor Keith's letter, Benjamin was busy in calling upon old friends
and visiting old resorts. He had been absent seven months, and, in
that time, had added two or three times that number of months to his
personal appearance. He appeared like a young man twenty-one years of
age, and his new apparel imparted to him a grace and comeliness that
he lacked when he left Boston. He had developed into a handsome,
gentlemanly, intelligent, and witty young man.
It was during this visit to Boston that he called upon Dr. Increase
Mather, to whose preaching he listened when a resident of the town.
The doctor received him cordially and invited him into his library,
where they chatted for some time about books, Philadelphia, and other
matters. When Benjamin arose to go, the doctor said:
"Come this way, and I will show you a nearer way out," pointing to a
narrow passage with a beam crossing it overhead. They were still
talking, the doctor following behind Benjamin, when the latter turned
partly about to speak to the former.
"Stoop! Stoop!" shouted the doctor.
Benjamin did not understand what he meant until his head struck the
beam overhead with considerable force.
"There," said the doctor, laughing, "you are young and have the world
before you; stoop as you go through it, and you may miss many hard
Nearly seventy years afterwards the recipient of this counsel wrote as
"This advice, thus beaten into my head, has frequently been of use
to me; and I often think of it when I see pride mortified, and
misfortunes brought upon people by carrying their heads too high."
John Collins was a clerk in the post-office. He revolved the matter of
going to Philadelphia with Benjamin a sober youth, or remaining in
Boston a drunken one. The more he pondered the more he was inclined to
accept Benjamin's advice. The appeal from Collins drunk to Collins
sober finally met his approval.
"I have decided to go with you," he said to Benjamin, the next time
"Glad to hear it, John, if you take my advice and leave the
drink-habit in Boston. I shall enjoy your company hugely."
"You shall have it. I have given up my position in the post-office,
and am packing up now. I want to carry my books with the rest of my
"And I shall take my books this time. I shall ship to New York, where
I have some business, and thence to Philadelphia."
"And I want to go by the way of Providence, Rhode Island, to visit
friends, and will meet you in New York," responded John.
"Agreed; but remember, John, that you and I are going to steer clear
of strong drink. Give it a wide berth, and the way is open before you
"I see it, and mean to act accordingly." John really meant what he
said, but the poor fellow did not understand how weak he was. Neither
was Benjamin aware that the drink habit was fastened upon him so
Mr. Franklin had taken a plenty of time to consider the advice of
Governor Keith, and Benjamin was getting uneasy to return.
"I have considered the matter long and carefully," said Mr. Franklin
to Benjamin, "having a desire to aid you if possible; but have come to
the conclusion, finally, that I can not do it at present."
"I told Governor Keith that I doubted whether you would assist me now,
so that your conclusion is not altogether unexpected." Benjamin's
reply was cool--almost indifferent.
"When you become twenty-one years of age, and need assistance to start
in business for yourself, I will gladly render it; but it is hardly
safe for a boy of eighteen to engage in such an enterprise. Get more
experience." These words were indicative of Mr. Franklin's caution.
"Well, I have no great desire to rule a printing house. I am content
to serve," and these words expressed Benjamin's real feelings.
"At the same time," continued his father, "I am highly gratified that
you have conducted yourself so well as to gain the good opinion of
even the governor. I trust that you will continue to conduct yourself
with propriety. At twenty-one you will save money enough to set up
business for yourself, if your economy holds out."
"I think it will," responded Benjamin. "My wants are few, and so my
expenses are small. And I like work as well as ever."
"There is one thing I hope you will avoid, Benjamin. You will, no
doubt, be writing for the public press, as you did here. My advice is
to avoid lampooning and libeling. You erred in that way here, and
furnished occasion for just and severe criticism."
"We have not time to discuss that matter now," answered Benjamin; "but
if I were to live my life over again, and edit the Courant in the
same circumstances, I should repeat the same thing. But for that fight
there would be a censorship over the press of Boston to-day."
"Possibly," rejoined his father; "but I think there is a wiser course.
You must live and learn."
"I regret exceedingly that James can not be reconciled to you,"
interrupted his mother. "He is indulging a very bad spirit, and my
prayer is that he may see the folly of it, before you leave, and be at
peace with you."
"I met him more than half way," replied Benjamin, "and he seemed to
stand aloof all the more. Whenever he returns to reason he will find
me ready and waiting to forget the past."
"It is so painful to see brothers disagree!" And a deep, doleful sigh
escaped her heart as his mother said it.
Benjamin's separation from his parents was tender and affectionate.
They scarcely expected to see his face again on this side of the
River, and they presented him with several gifts as tokens of their
undying love. With their sincere blessing upon him he turned away from
the old home, where so many of his happiest hours had been spent, and,
wiping unbidden tears from his eyes, found himself again out on the
world's great highway alone, seeking his fortune.