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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXIX. Ups and Downs of Life.
by Thayer, William M.
|One of the first places that Benjamin visited was the printing house
of Keimer, where he worked before leaving the country. Keimer had made
up his mind that Benjamin would never return to America, so that when
he entered the printing office he was startled.
"Why, Ben! can it be you?" he exclaimed in wonder. "I began to think
that you would never be seen in Philadelphia again."
"Why did you think so?"
"Because you planned to be back here a long time ago; I concluded that
you had forsaken us."
"Not yet; I have seen no place abroad quite equal to Philadelphia. I
did not return as soon as I expected." And Benjamin rehearsed to
Keimer substantially his experience with Governor Keith, that he might
understand why his return was delayed.
"That is what you got for concealing your purpose," said Keimer. "I
could have told you that Keith was wholly unreliable, and so could a
good many other people. He has been turned out of office because of
"I am glad to hear that. I am a little curious to see how he will act,
and hear what he will say, when I meet him."
"He won't meet you if he can help it. I see him occasionally on the
street, and he looks crestfallen."
"He will look more so, I imagine, when he meets me. I propose to talk
matters over very plainly with him."
"That can do no good. The less breath you waste in that way, the
better for you," replied Keimer. "But I suppose you want to go to work
at your old trade? Plenty of work here, and you are just the man to do
Keimer's business had increased largely, and he had added many
facilities for doing work, so that the establishment presented a more
"No; I am a printer no longer," answered Benjamin. "I am booked for
the mercantile business in Philadelphia"
"How is that? Were you not a printer in London?"
"Yes, I followed my trade there, and learned more about it than I ever
knew before. London is a great place for printing. Two printing houses
there, with more than fifty hands in each."
"Think you can do better in trading than printing?" asked Keimer, who
was really anxious for Benjamin's services.
"Not exactly so. But I should be in London now, had not Mr. Denham's
offer to become his clerk brought me home." And Benjamin told the
story of his acquaintance with Mr. Denham and the outcome, which was
his offer to make him his business manager.
"A good opportunity, I should think, if you like that business,"
answered Keimer; "but I should like to put you in manager of my
printing office. You have had the experience, and understand the
business much better than any man I have."
"That is out of the question now, of course, as I am under obligations
to Mr. Denham."
"Of course; I only meant to tell you what I would do if you were at
Benjamin was anxious to learn about Miss Read, whom he was quite
ashamed to meet because of his neglect. Keimer was acquainted with the
family, and first introduced him to them, as was stated in a former
chapter. So that he had no doubt he would know all about Deborah. He
ventured to inquire:
"What can you tell me about Mrs. Read and her daughter?"
"Mrs. Read lives where she did, and continues to take a few boarders.
Her daughter was married to a miserable fellow, nearly a year ago, but
lived with him only a few weeks, when she left him."
"Indeed! That was unfortunate for her," Benjamin answered. "She
deserves a better experience than that."
"She would not have married, had she been left to her own choice, but
her mother and other friends persuaded her. Rogers was her husband's
name, and he was a potter by trade, a first-class workman; and they
thought he was capable of getting a good living, I suppose."
"A good character would have been of more service to him," suggested
Benjamin; "a very unfortunate affair."
"I was going to sway," continued Keimer, "that she had been married
but a few weeks before she found that Rogers had another wife. Of
course her marriage was not legal, and she left him at once."
"Probably her mother made no inquiry about Rogers' character
beforehand," remarked Benjamin. "Mothers ought to be wiser than that."
"We all have to live and learn, and experience is our best
schoolmaster," added Keimer.
Keimer knew nothing of Benjamin's relation to Deborah Read, so that he
spoke freely. The revelation was startling to Benjamin, and it set him
to thinking. He concluded that Mrs. Read inferred from his first and
only letter to Deborah that he would never return, or never be in a
situation to support a wife and family; and, as time went on, and no
other letters were received, she became fixed in her conclusion that
he would not return. Benjamin took all the blame upon himself; and the
honest sympathy of his heart asserted itself for the girl. He resolved
to call upon her as soon as possible and confess his wrong-doing, ask
her forgiveness, and renew his attentions.
"I should have said," Keimer added, "that Deborah has not changed her
name. She refuses to be called Mrs. Rogers, and is still called Miss
Read by her friends. This is all right, I suppose, because her
marriage was illegal."
"Very wise for her, I think," responded Benjamin. "But she may
consider herself fortunate to get released from such a bondage."
He improved the first opportunity to call at Mrs. Read's, to whom he
appeared as one from the dead. She had not heard of his arrival, nor
that he was expected. The American Weekly Mercury, the only
newspaper of the town, announced, "Entered inwards, ship Berkshire,
Henry Clark, from London." That was all; nothing was said about any
"Benjamin Franklin!" exclaimed Mrs. Read in great astonishment,
throwing up her hands at first, as if fearing it was his ghost, and
then giving him a most cordial welcome. "Can it be you?"
"It can be," Benjamin replied, with his old-time familiarity, being
reassured by Mrs. Read's friendly appearance. "If I know myself, this
is Benjamin Franklin."
Deborah made her appearance before the last words were fairly off the
lips of the new comer, equally surprised and glad to see her old
"I am really ashamed to meet you, Deborah, after my inexcusable
neglect," he said, "and first of all I ask you to forgive me. It
scarcely seems possible to myself that I should treat you so."
Before Deborah had time to reply her mother spoke:
"If there is any blame to be attached to any one, it is to me; for I
opposed your engagement, and entreated Deborah to marry that apology
for a man Rogers."
"But all that does not excuse me for not writing to Deborah,"
responded Benjamin "It was very wrong in me to treat her with such
neglect. And I did not intend to do so; I meant to continue the
correspondence, but one thing and another prevented for so long a
time, that I really was ashamed to write."
"Well, it is all over now, and there is no help for what has been
done, except to learn a good lesson from it for the future, if we are
all bright enough to do that."
Mrs. Read swept the deck by these last remarks. There was no obstacle
now to consummate an engagement with Deborah. She did not tell
Benjamin to go ahead and make sure of his bird now, that she would not
interpose the slightest objection; but she might as well have said so;
and he so understood it, so that he felt perfectly at ease.
Deborah Read had never lost her first love, and never wholly abandoned
the idea that her lover would return. She had no love for Rogers when
she married him; she married him to please her mother. Now, her love
for Benjamin was as fresh and strong as ever; and so was his love for
her. Their intimacy was renewed, an engagement consummated.
Benjamin was twenty years old--a fine-appearing, handsome young man.
Mr. Denham thought so, and so did Deborah Read. The first was
fortunate in securing him for his clerk, and the second was equally
fortunate in securing him for her future husband. And Benjamin himself
was as fortunate as either of them in having such an employer as
Denham, and such a betrothed as Deborah. It was a tidal wave of good
"And I am prepared to go to work at once."
"I will pay you extra wages to take the whole charge of the printing
office, so that I can give my attention to the stationer's shop."
"I can do that, or any thing else you desire; am not at all
particular. I am now twenty-one years old, and ought to be a man any
way, and do the best I can wherever I am put."
Keimer's offer was liberal, and Benjamin accepted it, and entered upon
his work as superintendent of the printing house, a very responsible
position. But, in a short time, he had good reason to believe that
Keimer paid him so liberal wages because he wanted the poor printers
to improve under his superintendence; and when that end was
accomplished, he would cut down his wages, or hire another man for
less money. However, he went to work with a will, as he always did,
resolved to do the best he could for his employer.
As the workmen improved under Benjamin's supervision, Keimer evidently
began to think of discharging him, or cutting down his wages. On
paying his second quarter's wages, he told him that he could not
continue to pay him so much. He became uncivil in his treatment,
frequently found fault with him, and plainly tried to make his
situation uncomfortable so that he would leave. At length a rare
opportunity offered for him to make trouble. An unusual noise in the
street one day caused Benjamin to put his head out of the window to
learn what was the matter. Keimer happened to be in the street, and
seeing him, cried out:
"Put your head in and attend to your business," adding some
reproachful words which all the people around him heard. Then
hastening up stairs into the office, he continued his insulting
"Men who work for me must give better heed to their business. If they
care more for a noise in the street than they do for their work, it is
high time they left."
"I am ready to leave any time you please," retorted Benjamin, nettled
by such uncalled-for treatment. "I am not dependent on you for a
living, and I shall not bear such treatment long, I assure you."
"That, indeed!" replied Keimer, derisively. "You would not stay
another day were it not for our agreement, in accordance with which I
now warn you that, at the end of this quarter, I shall cease to employ
"And I will notify you that I shall not work another minute for you. A
man who is neither honest, nor a gentleman, does not deserve the
service of decent men." Benjamin was aroused.
And, as he spoke these last cutting words, he took his hat and left.
As he passed down, he said to Meredith:
"Bring all my things to my lodgings."
In the evening, Meredith carried all the articles belonging to
Benjamin to his boarding-place, where he had a long interview.
"Keimer lost the last claim for respect that he had on his men
to-day," said Meredith. "Not a man in his establishment, who does not
condemn his course."
"Just what I expected. He does not want to pay me my price, now that
the men have learned their business. This was the first occasion he
has had to drive me off." Benjamin spoke with the utmost coolness.
"It is the worst act for himself that he has done," continued
Meredith. "Every man he employs would leave him if work could be had
"I think I shall return to Boston, whether I remain there or not. It
is a good time for me to visit my friends."
"I have something better than that to suggest. My thoughts have been
busy on it all day, and I wanted to see you about it to-night before
you laid any plans." Meredith's manner indicated something of
"What have you to propose? I am ready for any practicable enterprise
you can name."
"I want to set up the printing business for myself, and I am not
sufficiently acquainted with it, and you are. Can we not arrange to go
into business together?"
Meredith's proposition took Benjamin by surprise, and evidently seemed
impracticable to him.
"And have poverty for our capital?" replied Benjamin with a laugh. "I
am about as rich as you are."
"No; have money for our capital, all that is necessary to start us
well in business," answered Meredith.
"That would be fine, I declare; but I would like to see the money
first," added Benjamin, before Meredith could explain.
"Hold on a minute, let me explain, and you will see that my plan is
not so impracticable as you seem to think. My father has money; and he
has always said that he would start me in business whenever I got a
good knowledge of it. He knows, of course, that I have not that
knowledge yet; but he knows, too, that a man who can run Keimer's
establishment has the requisite knowledge, and would be a good partner
"But your father will never advance the necessary capital,"
interrupted Benjamin. "If I was ten years older he might do it."
"I am confident that he will; at any rate, I will consult him about
the matter, and learn just what he will do. I have told him all about
you, and he will think it is a good opportunity for me."
Meredith consulted his father, and received the prompt answer:
"Yes, I will do it gladly. I know of no young man I would select for
your partner in preference to Franklin."
In a subsequent interview with Benjamin, Mr. Meredith said:
"I am all the more ready to furnish the capital, because your
influence over my son has been so good. You influenced him to stop
drinking when he was fast becoming intemperate, and I shall always
feel grateful for it. You are just the one to be intimately associated
It was settled that they should enter into partnership, and start
their business as soon as the necessary outfit could be obtained from