“Is there much money to be made that way?” inquired Ben.
“Well, I never knowed anybody get rich in that line. I guess you’d make a livin’.”
“That wouldn’t satisfy me, Tom. What I want most of all is to go to California.”
The bootblack whistled.
“That’s off ever so far, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s a long way.”
“How do you go?”
“There are three ways,” answered Ben, who had made himself familiar with the subject. “The first is to go by land-across the plains. Then there is a line of steamers by way of Panama. The longest way is by a sailing-vessel round Cape Horn.”
“What would you do when you got to California?” asked Tom.
“Go to work. I suppose I would go to the mines and dig gold.”
“I wish it wasn’t so far off. I’d like to go myself. Do you think a feller could work his passage?”
“By blacking boots?”
“I don’t believe he could. Sailors don’t care much about having their boots blacked.”
“How much does it cost to go?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you go to the office and find out?”
“So I will,” said Ben, brightening up at the thought. “Do you know where it is?”
“Will you show me?”
“I would if I’d make enough to buy me some dinner. I only had a five-cent breakfast, and I feel kinder holler.”
“I feel hungry myself,” said Ben. “If you’ll go with me I’ll buy you some dinner to pay you for your trouble.”
“’Nough said!” remarked Tom briefly, as he shouldered his box. “I’m your man. Come along! Where shall we go first?”
“To an eating-house. We might have to wait at the office.”
Tom conducted Ben to a cheap restaurant, not far away, where the two for a moderate sum obtained a plentiful meal. Had either been fastidious, some exception might have been taken to the style in which the dishes were served, but neither was critical. A dapper young clerk, however, who sat opposite Tom, seemed quite disturbed by the presence of the bootblack. As his eye rested on Tom he sniffed contemptuously, and frowned. In truth, our friend Tom might be useful, but in his present apparel he was not fitted to grace a drawing-room. He had no coat, his vest was ragged, and his shirt soiled with spots of blacking. There were spots also upon his freckled face, of which Tom was blissfully unconscious. It didn’t trouble him any to have a dirty face. “Dirt is only matter in the wrong place,” as a philosopher once remarked. Tom was a philosopher in his own way.
The young clerk pulled out a scented handkerchief, and applied it to his nose, looking at Tom meanwhile.
“What’s the matter of yer?” inquired Tom, suspecting the cause of the dandy’s discomfort. “Be you sick?”
“It’s enough to make one sick to sit at the table with you,” answered the clerk.