Gateway to the Classics: Conversations on Government by Jane Marcet
Conversations on Government by  Jane Marcet

The Story Concluded

T HE next day Mamma went on with her story as follows:—

"One day a lady with two children came to Harry's stall, and he recollected that she was the lady who had given him the sovereign; but she did not know him again, because he was so much better dressed. She bought six oranges; but when she was going to pay him, he would not take the money, saying, 'All these oranges I owe to you, Ma'am.' The lady then looked full in his face, and knew him, and expressed great pleasure at seeing him again, and so much improved in his condition. 'You have, indeed, turned your money to good account,' said she. 'It was owing to your desiring me to do so, Ma'am,' replied Harry; 'and my father told me how to do it.' The lady accepted the oranges, because she knew it would give Harry pleasure, and it did so; for though he knew that the lady could afford to pay for them, it was the only means he had of showing her his gratitude. It happened that the lady lived in the neighbourhood, and whenever she wanted oranges, she sent to buy them at Harry's stall, so that she became one of his best customers.

"Harry had a friend named Robert Dixon: he liked him, because he was a good-natured and a clever boy; but he was heedless and idle, and Harry's father had sometimes warned him that he was a dangerous companion, as he might lead him into bad habits; but this was before Harry sold oranges, for now he was too busy at his trade to be in any danger of growing idle.

"One day that Robert was lounging about the stall, and yawning for want of something to do, Harry thought to himself, I wish I could make poor Robert industrious, then he would be as happy as I am; and he asked him whether he would like to sell oranges? 'To be sure I should,' replied Robert; 'but how can I? I am not so lucky as to get a sovereign.'  'And if I were to lend you one,' said Harry, 'would you mind and attend to your business?'  'Oh, that I would, I promise you,' replied Robert. So it was settled, and the two friends agreed to keep their stalls close together, that they might have a little chat when there were no customers. 'But then,' said Robert, 'I must not sell oranges, for I might take away some of your customers, and I am sure that would be an ill return for your kindness.'

" 'True,' said Harry, 'we should hurt each other's trade; but then what can you sell?' They thought about it a good while, and at last decided that Robert should sell hot coffee for labourers' breakfasts before they went to work. 'And chestnuts, too,' added Robert; 'for I can roast them by the same fire that boils the coffee; and people will not want coffee all day long.' But then it required more than a sovereign to set Robert up in this trade; for he must buy a stove, and charcoal to light it, a coffee-pot, teacups, and several other things besides the coffee and chestnuts he meant to sell. So Harry consulted his father, who approved of his son's intention of reclaiming Robert from his idle habits. 'But,' said he, 'it will cost two sovereigns to buy all that will be required to set up a coffee-stall: you are now rich enough to be able to lend him that sum, but he must pay you interest for it.'

"Harry knew not what interest meant; and his father explained to him that it was paying for the use of the money. 'You have learnt now, Harry,' continued he, 'that money makes money. If you had not had the sovereign to begin with, you would not have made all the money you possess; nor can Robert, you see, set up in his trade without money to buy what he wants: as he has got no money, he must borrow it, if he can find a friend who will be kind enough to lend it; but it is only fair that he should pay something for the use of it, for, while he is using it, you cannot use it and make a profit by it yourself.'

" 'But how can Robert make profits by his trade if he pays for the use of the money? It will run away with all his profits?'

" 'Oh no,' replied his father. 'The proper interest for two sovereigns is two shillings a year, and you know he will be able to make much greater profits than that, if he minds his business.'

" 'A great deal more, indeed, in a whole year,' cried Harry; 'for I make as much as two shillings in a day.'

"Robert soon after set up his stall close to Harry's, and the two boys were very happy together. Harry sometimes, when he had an over-ripe orange, would cut it open, and share it between himself and his friend; and he often cut out a piece to give to a poor child who looked with longing eyes, but had not a halfpenny to buy one. As the summer came on, Harry found that oranges were going out of season, and that it would be necessary for him to change his trade. So he consulted with his friend what he should deal in, and they settled it should be strawberries, and then cherries, and all the different fruits as they came in season, till he returned to oranges the next winter. This was very agreeable; for, besides the profits Harry made, he and his friend could eat a little fruit every now and then; for, when it was growing stale, they ate it, instead of letting it rot and be good for nothing.

"One day, Robert was so busy talking and laughing that he forgot his coffee-pot, which boiled over, and some of it was lost. He put in more water to fill it up; but this made it weaker, and his customers complained that it was not so good as usual; and they threatened to go and breakfast at another stall, if he did not serve them better in future. Then Harry said, 'You see, Robert, what it is not to mind your business: if this happens again, you will lose many of your customers, and then how are you to make profits?' Robert was more attentive and careful afterwards for a considerable time.

One summer's evening, as the two boys were walking out, after having put away their stalls, they passed by Astley's Theatre, and were tempted to go in. They had money in their pockets, and could afford to give themselves such a treat, and a great one it was, but it kept them up late at night. Harry was so much afraid of not rising in time the next morning, that he begged his father to awaken him. Robert was not so prudent, and overslept himself; and about six in the morning, when most of his customers came for their breakfast, he was not there. Harry made the best excuses for him that he could; but they were much displeased, and went to breakfast at another stall, and some of them were so angry that they would not return to his stall another day, which lessened Robert's profits considerably, so that, the next time he went to the grocer's to buy a stock of coffee, he had not money enough to pay for it. Robert was much at a loss what to do, for he did not like to borrow more money of his friend Harry; and the grocer, seeing his distress, said, that, as he believed him to be an honest boy, he would give him credit for the sum. 'But,' added he, 'you must pay me interest for it; for giving you credit is just the same as lending you money, only I lend you coffee instead of money; and the coffee, you know, is worth as much as the money it costs.'

"Robert agreed to this: as he grew older, he became more steady and prudent and, in the course of time, not only paid the grocer, but also Harry the two sovereigns he had borrowed of him. Some years after, Harry grew rich enough to set up a fruiterer's shop: he was then of an age to marry, and his wife helped to keep the shop and serve the customers. Robert always remained at his stall; for, though he had the good sense to see his errors, and to improve in steadiness of conduct, he could never entirely get over his old habits of carelessness."

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