CHAPTER I ON A LOG
I made the acquaintance of Ben Mayberry under peculiar circumstances. I had charge of the Western Union’s telegraph office in Damietta, where my duties were of the most exacting nature. I was kept hard at work through the winter months, and more of it crowded on me during the spring than I could manage with comfort.
I strolled to the river bank one summer afternoon, and was sauntering lazily along when I noticed a young urchin, who was floating down-stream on a log, which had probably drifted thither from the lumber regions above. The boy was standing upright, with a grin of delight on his face, and he probably found more real enjoyment in floating down-stream in this style than any excursionist could obtain in a long voyage on a palace steamer.
He had on an old straw hat, through the crown of which his brown hair protruded in several directions; his pantaloons were held up by a single suspender, skewered through them in front by a tenpenny nail—an arrangement which caused the garments to hang in a lopsided fashion to his shoulders. He was barefooted, and his trousers were rolled up to his knees. He wore no coat nor vest, and his shirt was of the coarsest muslin, but it was quite clean.
This boy was Ben Mayberry, then ten years old, and he was a remarkable fellow in more than one respect. His round face was not only the picture of absolutely perfect health, but it showed unusual intelligence and brightness. His figure was beautiful in its boyish symmetry, and no one could look upon the lad without admiring his grace, of which he was entirely unconscious.
In addition to this, Ben Mayberry was known to possess two accomplishments, as they may be called, to an extraordinary degree—he was very swift of foot and could throw with astonishing accuracy. Both of these attainments are held in high esteem by all boys.
I had met Ben at intervals during the year past, but could hardly claim to be acquainted with him. I usually bought my morning paper of him during the cold weather, and I knew that his father was killed by a blasting accident some years before. Ben was the only child of his widowed mother, who managed to eke out a subsistence somehow with the aid of the little fellow, who was ever ready and cheerful with his work.
While I stood looking at Ben, drifting slowly down-stream, and reflected that the water was fully two fathoms deep at that point, three other boys stopped on the bank below me to view him. They were strangers to me, but I observed they were unusually well dressed. They had that effeminate, exquisite appearance which satisfied me they were visitors from Boston, sauntering along the river in order to learn whether there was anything in our town worthy of their attention. They were apparently of nearly the same age, and each was certainly one or two years older than Ben Mayberry.
“Hello,” exclaimed one, as the three came to an abrupt halt, “look at that country boy out on that log over there; he thinks he’s smart.”
“He’s trying to show off, Rutherford,” said another....