by Gulielma Zollinger
One morning Christopher Lightenhome, aged sixty-eight, received an
unexpected legacy of six hundred dollars. His good old face betokened no
surprise, but it shone with a great joy. "I am never surprised at the
Lord's mercies," he said, reverently. Then, with a step to which vigor had
suddenly returned, he sought out Elnathan Owsley, aged twelve.
"Elnathan," he said, "I guess I am the oldest man in the poorhouse, but I
feel just about your age. Suppose you and I get out of here."
The boy smiled. He was very old for twelve, even as Christopher Lightenhome
was very young for sixty-eight.
"For a poorhouse this is a good place," continued Christopher, still with
that jubilant tone in his voice. "It is well conducted, just as the county
reports say. Still there are other places that suit me better. You come and
live with me, Elnathan. What do you say to it, boy?"
"Where are you going to live?" asked Elnathan, cautiously.
The old man regarded him approvingly. "You'll never be one to get out of
the frying-pan into the fire, will you?" he said. "But I know a room. I
have had my eye on it. It is big enough to have a bed, a table, a
cook-stove, and three chairs in it, and we could live there like lords.
Like lords, boy! Just think of it! I can get it for two dollars a month."
"With all these things in it?"
"No, with nothing in it. But I can buy the things, Elnathan, get them cheap
at the second-hand store. And I can cook to beat—well to beat some women
anyway—" He paused to think a moment of Adelizy, one of the pauper cooks.
"Yes," he thought, "Adelizy has her days. She's systematic. Some days
things are all but pickled in brine, and other days she doesn't put in any
salt at all. Some days they're overcooked, and other days it seems as if
Adelizy jerked them off the stove before they were heated through." Then he
looked eagerly into the unresponsive young face before him. "What's the
matter with my plan, Elnathan?" he asked, gravely. "Why don't you fall in
with it? I never knew you to hang off like this before."
"I haven't any money," was the slow answer. "I can't do my share toward it.
And I'm not going to live off of you. Your money will last you twice as
long as if you don't have to keep me. Adelizy says six hundred dollars
isn't much, if you do think it is a fortune, and you'll soon run through
with it, and be back here again."
For a moment the old man was stung. "I sha'n't spend the most of it for
salt to put in my victuals anyway," he said. Then his face cleared, and he
laughed. "So you haven't any money, and you won't let me keep you," he
continued. "Well, those are pretty honorable objections. I expect to do
away with them though, immediately." He drew himself up, and said,
impressively: "'That is gold which is worth gold.' You've got the gold all
right, Elnathan, or the money, whichever you choose to call it."
"Why, boy, look here!" Mr. Lightenhome exclaimed, as he seized the hard
young arm, where much enforced toil had developed good muscle. "There's
your gold, in that right arm of yours. What you want to do is to get it out
of your arm and into your pocket. I don't need to keep you. You can live
with me and keep yourself. What do you say now?"
The boy's face was alight. "Let's go today," he said.
"Not today—tomorrow," decided Mr. Lightenhome, gravely. "When I was young,
before misfortune met me and I was cheated out of all I had, I was used to
giving spreads. We'll give one tonight to those we used to be fellow
paupers with no longer ago than yesterday, and tomorrow we will go. We
began this year in the poorhouse; we will end it in our own home. That is
one of the bad beginnings that made a good ending, boy. There is more than
one of them. Mind that."
The morrow came, and the little home was started. Another morrow followed,
and Elnathan began in earnest to try getting the gold out of his arm and
into his pocket. He was a dreamy boy, with whom very few had had patience;
for nobody, not even himself, knew the resistless energy and dogged
perseverance that lay dormant within him. Mr. Lightenhome, however,
suspected it. "I believe," he said to himself, "that Elnathan, when he once
gets awakened, will be a hustler. But the poorhouse isn't exactly the place
to rouse up the ambition of Napoleon Bonaparte in any boy. Having a chance
to scold somebody is what Adelizy calls one of the comforts of a home. And
she certainly took out her comforts on Elnathan, and all the rest helped
her—sort of deadening to him, though. Living here with me and doing for
himself is a little more like what's needed in his case."
Slowly Elnathan wakened, and Mr. Lightenhome had patience with him. He
earned all he could, and he kept himself from being a burden on his only
friend, but he disliked work, and so he lagged over it. He did all that he
did well, however, and he was thoroughly trustworthy.
Three years went by. Elnathan was fifteen years old, and Christopher
Lightenhome was seventy-one.
The little room had always been clean. There had been each day enough
nourishing food to eat, though the old man, remembering Adelizy's
prediction, had set his face like flint against even the slightest
indulgence in table luxuries. And, although there had been days when
Elnathan had recklessly brought home a ten-cent pie and half a dozen
doughnuts from the baker's as his share of provision for their common
dinner, Mr. Lightenhome felt that he had managed well. And yet there were
only fifty dollars of the original six hundred left, and the poorhouse was
looming once more on the old man's sight. He sighed. An expression of
patience grew on the kind old face. He felt it to be a great pity that six
hundred dollars could not be made to go farther. And there was a
wistfulness in the glance he cast upon the boy. Elnathan was, as yet, only
half awake. The little room and the taste of honest independence had done
their best. Were they to fail?
The old man began to economize. His mittens wore out. He did not buy more.
He needed new flannels, but he did not buy them. Instead he tried to patch
the old ones, and Elnathan, coming in suddenly, caught him doing it.
"Why, Uncle Chris!" he exclaimed. "What are you patching those old things
for? Why don't you pitch 'em out and get new ones?"
The old man kept silent till he had his needle threaded. Then he said,
softly, with a half-apology in his tone, "The money's 'most gone,
The boy started. He knew as well as Mr. Lightenhome that when the last coin
was spent, the doors of the poorhouse would open once more to receive his
only friend. A thrill of gladness went through Elnathan as he recognized
that no such fate awaited him.
He could provide for himself. He need never return. And by that thrill in
his own bosom he guessed the feeling of his friend. He could not put what
he guessed into words. Nevertheless, he felt sure that the old man would
not falter nor complain.
"How much have you?" he asked.
Mr. Lightenhome told him.
Then, without a word, Elnathan got up and went out. His head sunk in
thought, and his hands in his trousers' pockets, he sauntered on in the
wintry air while he mentally calculated how long Mr. Lightenhome's funds
would last. "Not any later than next Christmas he will be in the poorhouse
again." He walked only a few steps. Then he stopped. "Will he?" he cried.
"Not if I know it."
This was a big resolve for a boy of fifteen, and the next morning Elnathan
himself thought so. He thought so even to the extent of considering a
retreat from the high task which he had the previous day laid before
himself. Then he looked at Mr. Lightenhome, who had aged perceptibly in the
last hours. Evidently he had lain awake in the night calculating how long
his money would last. The sight of him nerved the boy afresh. "I am not
going back on it," he told himself, vigorously. "I am just going to dig out
all the gold there is in me. Keeping Uncle Chris out of the poorhouse is
But he did not confide in the old man. "He would say it was too big a job
for me, and talk about how I ought to get some schooling," concluded the
Now it came about that the room, which, while it had not been the
habitation of lords, had been the abode of kingly kindness, became a silent
place. The anxious old man had no heart to joke. He had been to the
poorhouse, and had escaped from it into freedom. His whole nature rebelled
at the thought of returning. And yet he tried to school himself to look
forward to it bravely. "If it is the Lord's will," he told himself, "I will
have to bow to it."
Meanwhile those who employed Elnathan were finding him a very different boy
from the slow, lagging Elnathan they had known. If he was sent on an
errand, he made speed. "Here! get the gold out of your legs," he would say
to himself. If he sprouted potatoes for a grocer in his cellar, "There's
gold in your fingers, El," he would say. "Get it out as quick as you can."
He now worked more hours in a day than he had ever worked before, so that
he was too tired to talk much at meals, and too sleepy in the evening. But
there was a light in his eyes when they rested on Mr. Lightenhome that made
the old man's heart thrill.
"Elnathan would stand by me if he could," he would say to himself. "He's a
good boy. I must not worry him."
A month after Elnathan had begun his great labor of love, an astonishing
thing happened to him. He had a choice of two places offered him as general
utility boy in a grocery. Once he would have told Mr. Lightenhome, and
asked his advice as to which offer he should take, but he was now carrying
his own burdens. He considered carefully, and then he went to Mr. Benson.
"Mr. Benson," he said, "Mr. Dale wants me, too, and both offer the same
wages. Now which one of you will give me my groceries reduced as you do
your other clerks?"
"I will not," replied Mr. Benson, firmly. "Your demand is ridiculous. You
are not a clerk."
The irate Mr. Benson turned on his heel, and Elnathan felt himself
dismissed. He then went to Mr. Dale, to whom he honestly related the whole.
Mr. Dale laughed. "But you are not a clerk," he said, kindly.
"I know it, but I mean to be, and I mean to do all I can for you, too."
Mr. Dale looked at him, and he liked the bearing of the lad. "Go ahead," he
said. "You may have your groceries at the same rate I make clerks."
"Thank you," responded Elnathan, while the gratitude he felt crept into his
tones. "For myself," he thought, "I would not have asked for a reduction,
but for Uncle Chris I will. I have a big job on hand."
That day he told Mr. Lightenhome that he had secured a place at Mr. Dale's,
and that he was to have a reduction on groceries. "Which means, Uncle
Chris, that I pay for the groceries for us both, while you do the cooking
and pay the rent."
Silently and swiftly Mr. Lightenhome calculated. He saw that if he were
saved the buying of the groceries for himself, he could eke out his small
hoard till after Christmas. The poorhouse receded a little from the
foreground of his vision as he gazed into the eyes of the boy opposite him
at the table. He did not know that his own eyes spoke eloquently of his
deliverance, but Elnathan choked as he went on eating.
"Now hustle, El!" he commanded one day on his way back to the store.
"There's gold in your eyes if you keep them open, and in your tongue if you
keep it civil, and in your back and in your wits if they are nimble. All I
have to say is, Get it out."
"Get it out," he repeated when he had reached the rear of the store. And he
began busily to fill and label kerosene cans, gasoline cans, and molasses
jugs. From there he went to the cellar to measure up potatoes.
"Never saw such a fellow!" grumbled his companion utility boy. "You'd think
he run the store by the way he steps round with his head up and them sharp
eyes of his into everything. 'Hi there!' he said to me. 'Fill that measure
of gasoline full before you pour it into the can. Mr. Dale doesn't want the
name of giving short measure because you are careless.' Let's do some
reporting on him, and get him out of the store," he said. "But there's
nothing to report, and there never will be."
But the boy persisted, and very shortly he found himself out of a position.
"You needn't get another boy if you don't want to, Mr. Dale," observed
Elnathan, cheerily. "I am so used to the place now that I can do all he
did, as well as my own work. And, anyway, I would rather do the extra work
than go on watching somebody to keep him from measuring up short or wrong
grade on everything he touches." And Elnathan smiled. He had lately
discovered that he had ceased to hate work.
Mr. Dale smiled in return. "Very well," he said. "Go ahead and do it all if
you want to."
A week he went ahead, and at the end of that time he found, to his delight,
that Mr. Dale had increased his wages. "Did you think I would take the work
of two boys and pay for the work of one?" asked Mr. Dale.
"I didn't think at all, sir," replied Elnathan, joyously; "but I am the
gladdest boy in Kingston to get a raise."
"Uncle Chris," he said that night, "I got a raise today."
Mr. Lightenhome expressed his pleasure, and his sense that the honor was
well merited, but Elnathan did not hear a word he said, because he had
something more to say himself.
"Uncle Chris," he went on, his face very red, "I have been saving up for
some time, and tomorrow's your birthday. Here is a present for you." And he
thrust out a ten-dollar piece, with the words, "I never made a present
Slowly the old man took the money, and again his eyes outdid his tongue in
speaking his gratitude. And there was a great glow in the heart of the boy.
"That's some of the gold I dug out of myself, Uncle Chris," he laughed.
"You are the one who first told me it was in me. I do not know whether it
came out of my arms or my legs or my head."
"I know where the very best gold there is in you is located, Elnathan,"
smiled the old man. "It is your heart that is gold, my boy."
Two months later Elnathan was a clerk at twenty-five dollars a month. "Now
we're fixed, Uncle Chris!" he cried, when he told the news. "You and I can
live forever on twenty-five dollars a month."
"Do you mean it?" asked the old man, tremblingly. "Do you wish to be
cumbered with me?"
"No, I do not, Uncle Chris," answered the boy, with a beaming look. "I do
not want to be cumbered with you. I just want to go on living here with
Then to the old man the poorhouse forever receded from sight. He remembered
Adelizy no more, as he looked with pride and tenderness on the boy who
stood erect and alert before him, looked again and yet again, for he saw in
him the Lord's deliverer, though he knew not that he had been raised up by
his own kind hand.—Gulielma Zollinger, in the Wellspring.