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From Boyhood to Manhood
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 his rascality."

"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 it."

Keimer's business had increased largely, and he had added many facilities for doing work, so that the establishment presented a more attractive appearance.

"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 liberty."

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 passengers.

"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 friend.

"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 fortune now.

"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 language.

"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 you."

"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 elsewhere."

"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 importance.

"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 for me."

"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 with him."

It was settled that they should enter into partnership, and start their business as soon as the necessary outfit could be obtained from England.

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