At the beginning of the scene this grassy space is deserted. It is the far end of the Common, a place not much frequented by loiterers. The first person to cross it is young Benjamin Franklin, who comes slowly in from right. He wears knee-breeches, a loose white shirt, silver buckles on his square-toed shoes, and a three-cornered hat on his head. He is reading from a book which he holds in his right hand, while on his left arm hangs a basket of tallow candles. Slung across his left shoulder is a kite, its string trailing.
He walks slowly, pausing every now and then to turn a page. The old woman enters from right, and comes quickly towards Franklin. She is wonderfully keen-eyed and light of foot, and is clad in a green quilted petticoat, with a green bodice, a touch of white at neck, and a green double cape. A white cap is perched on her snow-white head. She also carries a small market-basket, and a gold-headed cane. Her stockings are scarlet, her low black shoes have gold buckles. She is, withal, arrestingly picturesque, and there hangs about her a slight air of mystery, that is well in accordance with her profession, which is that of soothsayer.
Franklin is so deep in his book that she soon catches up with him, passes him, looks back, and sees that he does not perceive her. Then she stands still and lets him pass her, still staring at him. Then she comes briskly up behind him, and taps him on the arm with her cane.
THE OLD WOMAN. Fare not so fast, young sir. If your book makes you so blind to customers, ’tis not many candles you’ll be selling.
FRANKLIN (at first somewhat startled, then looking up quite calmly). And if I do not mind my books, ’tis naught but candles I’ll be selling all my life.
THE OLD WOMAN. Well spoken, tallow-chandler’s son. Whatever your calling, I see that your wits are not made of wax. Give me a shilling’s worth o’ candles, and tell me what good your toil is like to bring you.
FRANKLIN (putting down book, kite, and basket, and selecting candles). I have ambition to become a printer.
THE OLD WOMAN (paying him and putting candles in her basket). So!
FRANKLIN. And if I do not apply myself, how am I like to learn? There are no gains without pains, and heaven gives all things to Industry. [Footnote: From “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”]
THE OLD WOMAN (holding up her hands). To hear him! (Chuckling to herself.) Keep on! Keep on! You’ll ne’er be sorry for it! Aha, Master Franklin, ’twill take no gazing in the crystal to see that the future of a wise and industrious lad is made of gold. What’s that you’re carrying as carefully as if ’twas your book?
FRANKLIN (dropping book and basket, and showing kite). My kite. To-day was a half-holiday, and I’ve been flying it on Beacon Hill till the wind hath made me sleepy.
THE OLD WOMAN (keenly). You’ve fastened a little key to it.