Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The Young Merchant

After Patrick had clerked for a year, his father bought some tea and coffee and spices, some woolen and cotton cloths, and some tin and iron ware from a British trader. Then he gave all that he had bought to Patrick and his elder brother, William, to set up business for themselves.

The boys were very proud of their new shop. They swept it out and dusted it every morning, and put samples of their goods in the window where the light streamed through many small panes of glass.

Now, the shop was not in a city nor even in a village. It was on the edge of their father's small farm.

For miles around there were large farms or plantations, each with a fine house where a planter lived. About the houses clustered the log cabins of the negro slaves. Farther off in the skirts of the forest stood the huts of the poor whites.

The place was rather lonesome for business. Sometimes a fine coach stopped at the little shop and a pompous planter made a purchase. But the rich did not buy much there. They traded at their own wharves with the British merchants who came in shallops up the river.

They exchanged bales of tobacco for boxes and barrels of goods which they kept in the store-rooms of their houses. The slaves did not buy anything, for their masters clothed and fed them. It was only the small farmers and the poor whites who lived from hand to mouth that traded with the Henry boys.

This class of people did not have much money. They often paid their bills by making friendly visits. They lounged about the shop telling stories, cracking jokes, and quarreling with one another.

Patrick lay on the counter watching them. He did not talk much himself, but when he returned home he amused the rest of the family by screwing his face around and changing his voice until he looked and spoke like each one of his customers.

As the days went by, the boys found it very tiresome waiting for trade. William went sometimes behind the shelves to drink from a bottle of rum. Patrick never drank rum. When he heard the birds calling, he skipped away for a tramp through the woods.

If he chanced to see the tracks of deer, he followed them far into the underbrush. Perhaps he returned after several hours to find his brother asleep and somebody waiting to buy a penny's worth of something.

Of course, business could not be a success when carried on in that way. Before the year was out the brothers found their goods all gone and their shop closed up.

William went more and more to a grog shop, and became a very worthless fellow indeed. But Patrick was kind and gentle in his manners; he played well on the violin and was a great favorite with the young people in the neighborhood.

And so the years passed by, and he grew up to be a tall young man, without having learned any useful business whereby he might earn a living through honest labor.