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    How He Won the Bicycle

    by Annie Fellows Johnston
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    (1904)



    ~

    "Looks like everybody in Bardstown has a wheel but us," said Todd Walters, wistfully pressing his little freckled nose against the show-window of the bicycle shop, where a fine wheel was on exhibition.

    It was the third time that day that Todd had walked five blocks out of his way to look in at that window, and each time Abbot Morgan and Chicky Wiggins were with him. In the two weeks that the new store had been open, the boys never failed to stop by on their way from school, and the more they looked at the wheel displayed so temptingly in the window, the more each boy longed to own it.

    None of them had any spending money. Todd might have by and by when school was out, and he began selling fly-paper again, as he had done the summer before; but it was understood in the tumble-down little cottage that Todd called home that every penny thus earned was to be saved toward the purchase of a much needed new suit.

    Chicky Wiggins never could hope to buy the wheel, for he was a district messenger boy, and it took all his weekly earnings to pay for his board and lodging and washing and shoe-leather. Chicky had no family to look after him, or help him make one nickel do the work of three.

    Abbot Morgan was such a well-dressed boy that one might have supposed that his pockets were always supplied with spending money, but those who knew Abbot's uncle, the hard, grasping man with whom he lived, knew better. Peter had worked hard for his little fortune, and, while he was willing to provide a comfortable home for his sister's orphan son, he did not propose that one penny should be spent in foolishness, as he called it. So there was little hope of Abbot ever owning the wheel.

    "But I'll have something to spend as I please this summer," he said, as they stood looking in through the window. "Uncle said that after I have done Aunt Jane's chores every morning, I shall have my time to myself this summer. He let me have the two acres back of the house for a garden, and I've got it planted with all sorts of vegetables. They are coming on fine, and I'm going to sell them and have all the money myself, after uncle has paid for the seed."

    Many a conversation about the wheel took place in front of that window, and old Judge Parker, who had his law-office next door, soon began to look for the boys' visit as one of the most interesting happenings of the day. Everybody in Bardstown knew old Judge Parker. He was as queer as he was kind-hearted, which was saying a great deal, as he was the most benevolent old soul that had ever lived in the little town. There was a kindly twinkle in his blue eyes as he laid down his paper and beckoned the boys to come into his office. He had been making inquiries about them for several days, and one of the queerest of his many queer plans was soon unfolded to the wondering boys.

    "I've noticed that you seem to admire that wheel in the window of Stark Brothers a good deal," he said, "and I'm going to give you each a chance to win it. I'll offer it as a prize if you are willing to work for it on my conditions. I've heard that you will each be in business for yourselves in a small way this summer, and I'll make this offer. If each of you boys without any help from any one, will choose a good proverb or text out of the Bible for a business motto, I'll give the wheel to the boy who makes the best choice. You can select any three business men in Bardstown to be the judges; but the proof of a pudding is in the eating, you know, so you must apply that motto to your own business faithfully for two months, and the excellence of the motto will be judged by the results."

    The boys looked at the judge in open-mouthed surprise. They thought he surely must be joking, but nothing could be more serious or dignified than the way in which the white-haired old gentleman repeated his offer. So, after awhile, the boys succeeded in naming three business men to be the judges, who were satisfactory to all of them. They chose a grocer, a druggist, and a livery-stable proprietor, who were located on the same street with Stark Brothers.

    "Ain't it the funniest thing you ever heard of?" said Chicky Wiggins, when they were once more on the street. "It'll be a long time to keep a secret, and I'll be aching to know what mottoes you kids have picked out. I'll bet it's just a trap to get us to read the Bible. He's one of your pious kind."

    "Well, it's a trap worth walking into," answered Abbot, "if it's baited with something as tempting as a bicycle. The only trouble is that it will take so long to find a motto. The Bible is so full of them that a fellow'd feel like he ought to read it clear through, for fear of skipping the very one that might take the prize, and we have only a week to make a choice."

    Abbot did not have to search long for his verse. He found it the second day, and chose it the instant his eye caught the sentence on the page. "Why, I've heard uncle say that a dozen times!" he exclaimed, as he read the familiar line, "'The hand of the diligent maketh rich.' That worked all right in uncle's case, and it will be an easy one to live up to, for, if I buckle down to it, and sell a whole lot of vegetables, I can prove my motto is the best." From that day Abbot began to feel a sense of ownership in the wheel in Stark Brothers' show-window.

    Todd Walters worried nearly a week over his choice. It was the last week of school, and he sat with a little pocket Bible hidden between the covers of his geography many an hour when he should have been learning the rivers of Asia, or doing long sums in the division of fractions. Six days of the seven went by before he found a motto to his liking. He was lying stretched out on the old lounge in the tiny sitting-room that noon, waiting for dinner. Todd and his mother lived alone in this little cottage, and she was busy all summer making preserves and pickles and jellies to sell. It was their only means of support.

    As the delicious odour of strawberry preserves floated in from the kitchen, Todd thought of his sweet-faced little mother bending over the steaming kettle, and wished he could tell her the secret of the prize wheel. "I wisht I could ask her for a verse," he said. "She must know pretty near the whole Bible off by heart. I never knew anybody that could say so many verses in a string without stopping."

    Just then his eye fell on the old family Bible, lying in state on the marble-topped centre table, and remembering how boldly the big type always seemed to stare out at him when he used to look at the pictures in it, he got up from the lounge to walk across the room and open it. The leaves opened as of their own accord at a chapter in Proverbs, where an old-fashioned cardboard book-mark kept the place. It had been years since his grandfather's trembling hand had placed that book-mark there, the last time he led in family prayers, and his mother had never allowed it to be moved. So the book opened now at the chapter that had been read on that memorable morning, and Todd's eye caught the text at the top of the page: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour than silver and gold."

    "I'll take that," said Todd, softly, to himself, as he closed the great volume, "for I remember just what mother said about it when she explained it to me."

    So that was the motto which found its way to Judge Parker's office in a sealed envelope, as he had directed they should be sent, with each boy's name signed to the verse of his choice.

    It was not so easy for Chicky Wiggins to make a decision. To begin with, nobody in the cheap lodging-house that was his only home had a Bible, and he was ashamed to ask for one from the other boys. Still the daily sight of that wheel in Stark Brothers window finally nerved him to borrow a little old dog-eared Testament from the Swede who swept out the office. The young Swede had gotten it at a mission school he faithfully attended. There was no back on it, and several of the leaves were missing, but some reverent hand had heavily underscored some of the verses, and these were the ones that Chicky spelled out when no one was looking.

    "Here's one in Luke that somebody has marked," he said to himself. "That ought to bring good luck, 'cause Luke is my real name, and it was daddy's, too. Everybody that knew daddy says that he was a good man. I believe I'll take this just because it is in Luke, and somebody seemed to think it was an extra good one, or he wouldn't have put three lines under it. The other verses that are marked have only one. 'He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.' I reckon that that's about as good a motto for the district messenger business as any. I'll take this and sign myself Luke. Folks have called me Chicky so long they must have forgotten I have any other name."

    The Monday after school was out found Abbot in a pair of old overalls, hoeing away in his garden as if his life depended on getting rid of the last weed. Several of the boys stopped at the back fence to beg him to go fishing with them, but he gave them a laughing refusal.

    "I'm after bigger fish than your little brook trout," he said, in a mysterious way. "I've got my line set for a whaling big fish that will make you all green with envy. You just wait and see what I get on the end of my line."

    He chuckled as he spoke. The line he meant was in a sealed envelope on Judge Parker's desk, and he was sure that it would draw the prize which would be envied by every boy in the neighbourhood.

    "I'll bet it's tied to a bean-pole," was the mocking answer. "Come along, boys, no use wasting time on an old dig like Ab."

    He stood leaning on his hoe-handle a moment, watching the boys file down the alley with their fishing-poles over their shoulders, and thought of the shady creek bank where they would soon be sitting. How much pleasanter to be where the willows dipped down into the clear, still pools than here in the rough furrows of the garden, with the hot sun beating down on him. It was only for a moment he stood there, longing to follow, then he fell to work again.

    Every thud of the hoe, as it struck into the rich earth, kept time to the refrain which repeated itself over and over in his mind: "The hand of the dil-i-gent ma-keth rich!" That was the tune to which he set everything during the two months that followed. He hurried through his Aunt Jane's chores in an impatient way, doing as little as possible in order to get back to his own work. She wondered why he was so absorbed in his garden. When he was not weeding or watering or planting, he was counting the number of pea-pods on every vine, or the ears of corn as they tasselled out on each stalk. He had put brains as well as muscle into his summer's work, asking questions and advice of every gardener in Bardstown, and carefully reading the agricultural papers one of them loaned him. Every vegetable he attempted to raise was a success, and he carried them all three miles down the road toward the city, to some rich customers that he found in the elegant suburban homes there. They were willing to pay nearly double the price that the Bardstown people offered him, everything he had was so fresh and good.

    It was a long way to trudge with his heavy baskets, and he longed every day for the wheel he was trying so hard to win. "Won't I spin along then!" he said to himself on more than one occasion, as he dragged his tired feet homeward.

    His Aunt Jane wanted to buy some of his vegetables, and hinted several times that he might supply the table once in awhile for nothing; but beyond an occasional contribution in the way of a few inferior vegetables that he could not sell, he would not part with any at the price she offered.

    "He's a boy after your own heart, Peter Morgan," she complained to her husband. "He's closer than the bark on a tree."

    "Well, that's nothing against him," was the answer. "That's business. He'll be rich some day. Keep all you get and get all you can is the only way to get along in the world, according to my notion."

    It was the Monday after school was out that Todd Walters also started to work. He was selling fly-paper on commission for his friend, the druggist. It was that sticky kind, called "Tanglefoot," that promises such a pleasant path to the unwary insect, but proves such a snare and a delusion at the last.

    Mrs. Walters waved him good-bye from the kitchen door as he started hopefully off, bare-footed and happy, with a smile all over his little, round, honest face. He came back at noon with forty cents and a glowing account of his morning's work.

    "I might have made more," he said, "but Mrs. Carr asked me to play with the baby while she ran across the street to ask about another cook. Hers is gone, and she was afraid to leave the baby by itself while she hunted another. Then when I stopped at Mrs. Foster's, the professor's wife, you know, she was nearly crying. She had lost a ring in the grass that she thought everything of. It had belonged to the professor's grandmother. I helped her look for it for nearly an hour, and at last I found it on the tennis-court. It was a beauty, and she was so glad she fairly hugged me, and wanted to pay me for finding it, but of course I wouldn't take anything for a little work like that."

    "Of course not," echoed his mother. "Well, what else hindered you?"

    "Old Mr. Beemer for one thing. He is too blind to read, you know, and he was sitting out under a tree, with a letter in his hand. His daughter told me she had read it to him five times this morning, but he wants to hear it every half-hour. He is so old and childish. She had bought several sheets of fly-paper, so I stopped and read it through twice, and he seemed so pleased, and called me the light of his eyes. I hope I can do better than this this afternoon."

    Mrs. Walters took the four dimes he handed her to put away, and, as they jingled down into the old cracked ginger jar that served for Todd's bank, she said: "Well, under the circumstances, I'm glad you didn't earn any more this morning, if it would have kept you from doing those little kindnesses. You need your clothes bad enough, in all conscience, but it is better to smooth out the way for people as you go along. Old Solomon was right, loving favour is better than silver and gold."

    Todd's sunburned face grew so red, as his mother unconsciously stumbled upon the motto that he had chosen, that he turned a somersault on the kitchen floor to hide his embarrassment. He need not have been so confused, for she was always saying such things.

    Sales were not always so good as they were the first hot morning. Many a day Todd wandered all over the little town, stopping at every door, only to be met by a disappointing "no." Many a time, when the hot pavements burned his bare feet and he was tired and discouraged, he longed for the wheel which he hoped would some day be his; and every evening, on his way home, he stopped to look in at Stark Brothers' window, to feast his eyes on that bicycle inside.

    One evening, as he stood looking in, Chicky Wiggins slipped up and slapped him on the back in his friendly way. "Hullo, Todd," he called, "admiring my wheel, are you? I'm letting it stay in there awhile to accommodate Stark Brothers, but the truth is I've been thinking seriously of having to take it out. The company sends me on such long errands that I seem to be getting more walking than the doctor prescribed. It doesn't agree with me."

    "You mean my wheel," laughed Todd. "I'll lend it to you sometimes, Chicky, my son, if you'll promise to be good."

    "I say, Todd," said Chicky, giving him a quizzical glance, "I'd give a doughnut to know what motto you and Ab chose."

    Todd grinned. "You won't have much longer to wait," he said. "Time is nearly up, and we'll know our fate in another ten days."

    The last week in August, the three men whom the boys had selected to decide their case met in Judge Parker's office.

    "If you want my opinion," said the grocer, when he was called upon, "I think Ab Morgan has worked the hardest for this prize. He has proved the truth of his motto beyond a doubt, for he has made a success of his garden, and has never slacked up a day. He has made a nice little pile of money, too, and I would recommend him to any business man in this town as an example of diligence. I'll be glad to have him clerk for me any time he gets ready to come."

    "I think that little Todd Walters has made the best choice," said the druggist. "You see, he has been selling fly-paper for me all summer on commission, and I've had a chance to see the inner workings. People are always coming to me with some pleasant thing to say about him. He's certainly won the 'loving favour' of all he's had anything to do with, whether they were his customers or not, and the good name he has made for himself will stick to him all his life.

    "He had a lemonade stand at the baseball game last week, and I heard Doctor Streeter say to a friend: 'Come on, Bill, let's go over and get a glass,--patronize the little fellow.' The man said, 'No, thank you, doc, none of that weak circus stuff for me,--acid and colouring matter and sweetened water. I've been an enterprising boy myself, and know how it's done.'

    "'I assure you it's all right if Todd Walters made it,' answered the doctor. 'I'm willing to guarantee him to any extent. He's "all wool and a yard wide" in everything he does, and, if you don't find his lemonade is pure stuff, made of real lemons, my name is not James Streeter. That little fellow has the respect and confidence of everybody who knows him, and I'd trust him with anything I've got.'"

    "That's all right as far as it goes," interrupted the grocer, "but he hasn't made as much money as Ab. Ab has furnished straight goods, too, and has never misrepresented things."

    "Yes," answered the druggist, "but the almighty dollar has been his sole aim and ambition. He has been selfish and miserly in the pursuit of it, and money is all he has gained. Now Todd has been industrious enough, and gone about his business quite as faithfully as Ab, but instead of putting his head down like a dog on the scent of a rabbit, he has had some thought of the people he passed. I like that in a business man. Aside from any ethical consideration, a man makes more in the long run if he cares for the good-will of his customers as well as their cash."

    "What have you to say on the subject, Mr. Brown?" asked the judge, turning to the proprietor of the livery-stable.

    "Well, my choice is for Chicky Wiggins," answered the man, tipping back his chair and thrusting his hands in his pockets. "I may not have as much book-learning as these other gentlemen, but there's one thing that I do know when I see it, and that's a good steady gait either of a horse or a man. Now Chicky is no thoroughbred, and he'll probably never beat the record of them that is, but I've kept an eye on him this summer, and I tell you he's developing the traits that win every time. Last spring, when the judge made this offer, he was as skittish and unreliable as a young colt. I wouldn't have trusted him around the corner to do an errand for me. I've known him ever since he put on the district messenger uniform, and I wouldn't have given one of his own brass buttons for him. I've come across him too many times, when he'd been sent on an errand, stopping to play marbles and fly kites with the other boys.

    "But since he's took up with that motto of his, he's settled down in the harness as steady as a ten-year-old horse. Now I notice if there's anything specially important to be done, Chicky's the one they pick out. There's something almost pitiful in the way he's been trying, when you recollect he has never had any raising, and has shifted for himself all his life. I don't really believe that it's to get the wheel that has made such a change in him as the idea of being faithful in every little thing has taken such a holt on him. I've known him to walk two miles to straighten out the matter of a penny or a postage-stamp.

    "I'm not saying but that the other fellows' mottoes are best for them that likes them, but, if I was a-hunting somebody that I could tie to through thick and thin, in any kind of business, and under every kind of circumstance, I'll be blamed if I wouldn't rather choose somebody that was a-living up to Chicky's text in dead earnest."

    "He certainly does seem to have made more improvement than the others personally," admitted the grocer, "but in a business way the results do not show so plainly."

    "Well, there's still a week," said Judge Parker, finally. "We'll wait a little longer before we decide."

    Several days later, Todd Walters ran breathlessly up the alley that led to the back of the Morgan place, and scrambled over the high board fence. "Hi, Ab!" he called, as he dropped lightly to the ground. "Have you heard the news?"

    "No," answer Ab, dropping the basket he was carrying, and straightening up to listen.

    "Chicky is in luck. He's had a perfectly splendid position offered him in an express-office in another town. He'll make as much in one month there as he did here in a whole year. I'm going down after dinner to ask all the particulars. All I know now is that some strange gentleman telephoned down to the District Messenger Office a few days ago for them to send the trustiest employee that they had up to the hotel as quick as possible. Something important had to be attended to, and he didn't want anybody that couldn't be trusted in every way. And out of the whole bunch Chicky was the one they picked, as the most reliable one in the office.

    "The gentleman was sick and couldn't go to take some important papers somewhere that they had to go, and he was a stranger, and didn't know anybody in town. But he told Chicky it was very particular that they should get there on time, and he would make it all right with the company for sending him out of town. Then he gave him some money to buy a railroad ticket, and told him just where to go, and what to do and everything.

    "Well, there was a wreck on the road, somewhere along in the night, and lots of people were hurt. Chicky got a bad cut on his head that bled awfully, and sprained his shoulder besides. But when he shook himself together, and got somebody to tie up his head, he found that the train would be seven hours behind time on account of that smash-up. And that kid just started off on foot. He walked all the rest of the night, and, when he got to the town where he was to leave the papers, he was so near done for that he had to hire a hack to haul him up to the man's house. It turned out that he got there just in time to save the stranger a big lot of property in some way or another, and the man said he'd been looking for years for a boy like that, who could be faithful to a trust, and now that he'd found him he intended to stand by him. I think it was real brave of Chicky to go all that way in the dark, all alone on a strange road. I'll bet it will be in all the papers."

    "And I'll bet he'll get the bicycle now," said Ab, gloomily, as he sat down on the wheel-barrow and kicked his heels against it. "I feel it in my bones. All my summer's work's gone for nothing."

    "I wanted it awfully bad, too," said Todd, with a sigh and a sudden clouding of his bright little face. "Of course, I'd be glad for Chicky to have it, when he hasn't any home or nothing, but I've worked so hard for it, and I can't help feeling disappointed."

    All the way home his heart felt as heavy as lead, and, when he came in sight of the little tumble-down cottage, his eyes were blurred with tears for a moment.

    "Todd, dear," called his mother, running out to meet him, "guess who has been here. It was Judge Parker's wife. Yes, I know all about your secret now. She told me the men have finally decided that Luke Wiggins has won the wheel. But she is so disappointed on your account, and told me so many nice things that people have said about you that I just sat down and cried. I was so proud and happy. And, Todd, what do you think she left here for you to take care of? She'll pay you well for doing it, and it will be yours to use just as if it were your own,--a pony! A beautiful little Shetland pony. It was her little grandson's, and they have kept it since he died, because they could not bear to part with anything he had been so fond of. Now they are going away from Bardstown for a long, long time. They have been looking around for somebody to take care of it, and they say they would rather trust it to you than any one they know. You can have it to pet and love and use just as long as you want it."

    "Oh, it's too good to be true!" cried Todd, giving his mother a hug of frantic joy before he rushed off to the stable. There she found him a little later with his arms around the pony's neck, saying over and over: "Oh, you dear, beautiful old thing! You're better than a thousand wheels!"

    "It's all because of your living up to your motto, sonny boy," she said, as she held out a lump of sugar for the pretty creature to nibble. "It was your 'good name' that brought you into Mrs. Parker's 'loving favour.'"

    Abbot Morgan's disappointment was not tempered by any such great happiness as came to little Todd, but it was a proud moment when he showed his uncle his bank-book, and heard his hearty praise. Judge Parker and the grocer were there also at the time.

    "I came to tell you," said the grocer, "that there is a man in my store who has a first-class wheel that he wants to sell cheap. You have earned more than enough to pay the price he asks for it, so you see your summer's work has not been in vain. And I want to say that any time you want to put that 'hand of the diligent' into my business. I'll make a place for you."

    There was a gratified smile on Ab's face as he thanked him. "I'll go right down now and buy that wheel," he exclaimed.

    "Well," said the judge, as he took his departure, "every one of those texts worked out just as true as preaching, and brought its own reward, but I rather think Luke's is the best one to tie to."

    As he turned the corner, he met Chicky himself, who was coming to find him on the new bicycle that had just been sent to him.

    "Oh, Judge Parker!" he cried, jumping off the wheel, cap in hand. "I was just coming to thank you, but," he stammered, "I--I--don't know where to begin. I'm tickled nearly to death. It's a beauty, sure!"

    He looked down, growing red in the face, as he dug his toe in the gravel. Then he said, bashfully: "You've more than put me on a wheel, Judge Parker. I can't help feeling that you've started me on the right track for life, too. I'm glad you had that put on it."

    His stubby fingers rested caressingly on the little silver plate between the handle-bars, on which was engraved the motto that had come to mean so much: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much."
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