It’s really harder to tell what you’re getting when you hire a boy than when you hire a man. I found that out for keeps a few years ago, when I took on the Angel Child. He was the son of rich parents, who weren’t quite rich enough to buy chips and sit in the game of the no-limit millionaires. So they went in for what they called the simple life. I want to say right here that I’m a great believer in the simple life, but some people are so blamed simple about it that they’re idiotic. The world is full of rich people who talk about leading the simple life when they mean the stingy life. They are the kind that are always giving poorer people a chance to chip in an even share with them toward defraying the expenses of the charities and the entertainments which they get up. They call it “affording those in humbler walks an opportunity to keep up their self-respect,” but what they really mean is that it helps them to keep down their own expenses.
The Angel Child’s mother was one of these women who talk to people that aren’t quite so rich as she in the tone of one who’s commending a worthy charity; but who hangs on the words of a richer woman like a dog that hopes a piece of meat is going to be thrown at it, and yet isn’t quite sure that it won’t get a kick instead. As a side-line, she made a specialty of trying to uplift the masses, and her husband furnished the raw material for the uplifting, as he paid his men less and worked ’em harder than any one else in Chicago.
Well, one day this woman came into my office, bringing her only son with her. He was a solemn little cuss, but I didn’t get much chance to size him up, because his ma started right in to explain how he’d been raised—no whipping, no—but I cut it short there, and asked her to get down to brass tacks, as I was very busy trying to see that 70,000,000 people were supplied with their daily pork. So she explained that she wanted me to give the Angel Child a job in my office during his summer vacation, so that he could see how the other half lived, and at the same time begin to learn self-reliance.
I was just about to refuse, when it occurred to me that if he had never really had a first-class whipping it was a pity not to put him in the way of getting one. So I took him by the hand and led him to headquarters for whippings, the bench in the shipping department, where a pretty scrappy lot of boys were employed to run errands, and told the boss to take him on.
I wasn’t out of hearing before one kid said, “I choose him,” and another, whom they called the Breakfast-Food Baby, because he was so strong, answered, “Naw; I seen him first.”
I dismissed the matter from my mind then, but a few days later, when I was walking through the shipping department, it occurred to me that I might as well view the remains of the Angel Child, if they hadn’t been removed to his late residence. I found him sitting in the middle of the bench, looking a little sad and lonesome, but all there. The other boys seemed to be giving him plenty of room, and the Breakfast-Food Baby, with both eyes blacked, had edged along to the end of the bench. I beckoned to the Angel Child to follow me to my private office.