I had quite a time with the money while it lasted, went out to the old Bowery Theatre, and had a good time in general. I little thought then that in after years I would be sitting on the old Bowery steps, down and out, without a cent in my pocket and without a friend in the world.
I was a boy of fourteen at this time, working in a civil engineer’s office for three dollars per week, but I knew, young as I was, that as a profession engineering was not for me. I knew that to take it up I needed a good education, and that I did not have. I didn’t like the trade, anyway, and didn’t care whether I worked or not. That is the reason I lost my job.
One afternoon my employer sent me up Newark Avenue for a suit of clothes that had been made to order. He told me to get them and bring them back as soon as I could. I must say right here that my employer was a good man, and he took quite a liking to me. Many a time he told me he would make a great engineer out of me. I often look back and ask myself the question, “Did I miss my vocation?” And then there comes a voice, which I recognize as God’s, saying, “You had to go through all this in order to help others with the same temptations and the same sins,” and I say, “Amen.”
After getting the clothes I went back to the building where I worked—No. 9 Exchange Place, Jersey City—and found the door locked. I waited around for a while, for I thought my employer wanted his clothes or he would not have sent me for them. Finally I got tired of waiting, and after trying the door once more and finding it still locked, I said to myself, “I’ll just put these clothes in the furniture store next door and I’ll get them to-morrow morning.” I left them and told the man I would call for them in the morning, and started for home.
I was in bed dreaming of Indians and other things, when mother wakened me, shouting, “Where’s the man’s clothes?” I couldn’t make out at first what all the racket was about. Then I heard men’s voices talking in the yard, and recognized Mr. M., my Sunday-school teacher, and my employer, the man that was going to make a great engineer out of me. I went out on the porch and told him what I had done with the clothes, and he nearly collapsed. He was very angry, and drove off, saying, “You come to the office and get what’s due you in the morning.” I went the next morning, got my money, and bade him good-by. That was the last of my becoming one of the great engineers of the day.
I was glad, and I went back to school determined to study real hard, and I did remain in school for a year. Then the old craze for work came on me again. Father had died in the meantime, and mother was left to do the best she could, and I got a job with the determination to be a help to her.