The Errand Boy

Author: Horatio Alger

Chapter I. - Phil Has a Little Difficulty.

Phil Brent was plodding through the snow in the direction of the house where he lived with his step-mother and her son, when a snow-ball, moist and hard, struck him just below his ear with stinging emphasis. The pain was considerable, and Phil’s anger rose.

He turned suddenly, his eyes flashing fiercely, intent upon discovering who had committed this outrage, for he had no doubt that it was intentional.

He looked in all directions, but saw no one except a mild old gentleman in spectacles, who appeared to have some difficulty in making his way through the obstructed street.

Phil did not need to be told that it was not the old gentleman who had taken such an unwarrantable liberty with him. So he looked farther, but his ears gave him the first clew.

He heard a chuckling laugh, which seemed to proceed from behind the stone wall that ran along the roadside.

"I will see who it is," he decided, and plunging through the snow he surmounted the wall, in time to see a boy of about his own age running away across the fields as fast as the deep snow would allow.

"So it’s you, Jonas!" he shouted wrathfully. "I thought it was some sneaking fellow like you."

Jonas Webb, his step-brother, his freckled face showing a degree of dismay, for he had not calculated on discovery, ran the faster, but while fear winged his steps, anger proved the more effectual spur, and Phil overtook him after a brief run, from the effects of which both boys panted.

"What made you throw that snow-ball?" demanded Phil angrily, as he seized Jonas by the collar and shook him.

"You let me alone!" said Jonas, struggling ineffectually in his grasp.

"Answer me! What made you throw that snowball?" demanded Phil, in a tone that showed he did not intend to be trifled with.

"Because I chose to," answered Jonas, his spite getting the better of his prudence. "Did it hurt you?" he continued, his eyes gleaming with malice.

"I should think it might. It was about as hard as a cannon-ball," returned Phil grimly. "Is that all you’ve got to say about it?"

"I did it in fun," said Jonas, beginning to see that he had need to be prudent.

"Very well! I don’t like your idea of fun. Perhaps you won’t like mine," said Phil, as he forcibly drew Jonas back till he lay upon the snow, and then kneeling by his side, rubbed his face briskly with snow.

"What are you doin’? Goin’ to murder me?" shrieked Jonas, in anger and dismay.

"I am going to wash your face," said Phil, continuing the operation vigorously.

"I say, you quit that! I’ll tell my mother," ejaculated Jonas, struggling furiously.

"If you do, tell her why I did it," said Phil.

Jonas shrieked and struggled, but in vain. Phil gave his face an effectual scrubbing, and did not desist until he thought he had avenged the bad treatment he had suffered.

"There, get up!" said he at length.

Jonas scrambled to his feet, his mean features working convulsively with anger.

"You’ll suffer for this!" he shouted.

"You won’t make me!" said Phil contemptuously.

"You’re the meanest boy in the village."

"I am willing to leave that to the opinion of all who know me."

"I’ll tell my mother!"

"Go home and tell her!"

Jonas started for home, and Phil did not attempt to stop him.

As he saw Jonas reach the street and plod angrily homeward, he said to himself:

"I suppose I shall be in hot water for this; but I can’t help it. Mrs. Brent always stands up for her precious son, who is as like her as can be. Well, it won’t make matters much worse than they have been."

Phil concluded not to go home at once, but to allow a little time for the storm to spend its force after Jonas had told his story. So he delayed half an hour and then walked slowly up to the side door. He opened the door, brushed off the snow from his boots with the broom that stood behind the door, and opening the inner door, stepped into the kitchen.

No one was there, as Phil’s first glance satisfied him, and he was disposed to hope that Mrs. Brent— he never called her mother—was out, but a thin, acid, measured voice from the sitting-room adjoining soon satisfied him that there was to be no reprieve.

"Philip Brent, come here!"

Phil entered the sitting-room.

In a rocking-chair by the fire sat a thin woman, with a sharp visage, cold eyes and firmly compressed lips, to whom no child would voluntarily draw near.

On a sofa lay outstretched the hulking form of Jonas, with whom he had had his little difficulty.

"I am here, Mrs. Brent," said Philip manfully.

"Philip Brent," said Mrs. Brent acidly, "are you not ashamed to look me in the face?"

"I don’t know why I should be," said Philip, bracing himself up for the attack.

"You see on the sofa the victim of your brutality," continued Mrs. Brent, pointing to the recumbent figure of her son Jonas.

Jonas, as if to emphasize these words, uttered a half groan.

Philip could not help smiling, for to him it seemed ridiculous.

"You laugh," said his step-mother sharply. "I am not surprised at it. You delight in your brutality."

"I suppose you mean that I have treated Jonas brutally."

"I see you confess it."

"No, Mrs. Brent, I do not confess it. The brutality you speak of was all on the side of Jonas."

"No doubt," retorted Mrs. Brent, with sarcasm.

"It’s the case of the wolf and the lamb over again."

"I don’t think Jonas has represented the matter to you as it happened," said Phil. "Did he tell you that he flung a snow-ball at my head as hard as a lump of ice?"

"He said he threw a little snow at you playfully and you sprang upon him like a tiger."

"There’s a little mistake in that," said Phil. "The snow-ball was hard enough to stun me if it had hit me a little higher. I wouldn’t be hit like that again for ten dollars."

"That ain’t so! Don’t believe him, mother!" said Jonas from the sofa.

"And what did you do?" demanded Mrs. Brent with a frown.

"I laid him down on the snow and washed his face with soft snow."

"You might have given him his death of cold," said Mrs. Brent, with evident hostility. "I am not sure but the poor boy will have pneumonia now, in consequence of your brutal treatment."

"And you have nothing to say as to his attack upon me?" said Phil indignantly.

"I have no doubt you have very much exaggerated it."

"Yes, he has," chimed in Jonas from the sofa.

Phil regarded his step-brother with scorn.

"Can’t you tell the truth now and then, Jonas?" he asked contemptuously.

"You shall not insult my boy in my presence!" said Mrs. Brent, with a little spot of color mantling her high cheek-bones. "Philip Brent, I have too long endured your insolence. You think because I am a woman you can be insolent with impunity, but you will find yourself mistaken. It is time that you understood something that may lead you to lower your tone. Learn, then, that you have not a cent of your own. You are wholly dependent upon my bounty."

"What! Did my father leave you all his money?" asked Philip.

"He was NOT your father!" answered Mrs. Brent coldly.


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Chicago: Horatio Alger, "Chapter I. - Phil Has a Little Difficulty.," The Errand Boy in The Errand Boy Original Sources, accessed May 25, 2024,

MLA: Alger, Horatio. "Chapter I. - Phil Has a Little Difficulty." The Errand Boy, in The Errand Boy, Original Sources. 25 May. 2024.

Harvard: Alger, H, 'Chapter I. - Phil Has a Little Difficulty.' in The Errand Boy. cited in , The Errand Boy. Original Sources, retrieved 25 May 2024, from