This Horatio Alger novel is set in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. It begins when sixteen-year-old Herbert Ross arrives at school a little early so he’d have time to go over his Latin lesson, since he hadn’t bothered to study it the night before.
He entered a classroom, where janitor Andy Gordon was sweeping so vigorously that he caused a cloud of dust, which settled on Herbert’s clothing. Andy earned free tuition, plus a dollar a week, for his work. His widowed mother received a twenty dollar a month government pension because her husband had been an officer killed at Gettysburg.
Herbert, the son of the village of Hamilton’s only lawyer, grabbed Andy’s broom and hit him with it, and then Andy pushed Herbert to the floor. When the teacher, Dr. Euclid, came into the room and sided with Andy, Herbert told his father a ruffian janitor has assaulted him. That evening Mr. Ross, one of the school’s trustees, called on Dr. Euclid and demanded that Andy be fired from his janitorial job. The teacher refused to do so and said Herbert had been the one at fault.
Mr. Ross went home in a foul mood. Miser Joshua Starr came to see him, and asked him to collect money from Widow Gordon. Her husband had borrowed a hundred dollars from Mr. Starr, and had never paid it back. Now Starr wanted the money, plus interest, or else all of the Gordons’ furniture was to be sold to pay off the debt. A look of “malicious satisfaction” was on the lawyer’s face as he accepted the collection task. Losing everything would teach the young janitor not to push his son to the ground.
The next day Mr. Ross called on Mrs. Gordon and told her she needed to pay a hundred-thirty dollars immediately, but the widow declared her husband had paid off the loan the day before he left for war. He’d been given a receipt but, alas, she didn’t know where it was now. Ross gave her a week to find the receipt, and if she couldn’t do so all of her belongings would be sold.
Andy and his mother were in dire straits but, fortunately, this is a Horatio Alger novel, so there’s always a coincidence when most needed. The next day Andy stopped at the post office and was given a package addressed to his mother. Inside was his father’s wallet. There was also a letter from an army veteran, who said that as Andy’s father was dying from his wounds he’d given the man his wallet to send to Mrs. Gordon. Alas, the veteran was then wounded, and he was sent to a hospital while his personal effects were sent home. Just a few days ago the man found the misplaced wallet in an old trunk, and so mailed it off.
Inside the wallet was forty-five dollars and the receipt signed by Joshua Starr. Andy told his mother not to tell anyone about it until the day when Starr and Ross came to collect the money.
Susan and Sally Peabody, two old-maid sisters, made a Saturday call on the Gordons. Someone had just paid them five hundred dollars in cash, and since they couldn’t deposit it into the bank until Monday they wanted Andy to sleep at their house and guard the money. He said that he would.
During the conversation a desperate character named Mike Hogan was walking by the house, and decided to sneak up to a window and listen to what people might be saying. He heard about the money, and when the Peabody sisters left he followed behind them to find out where they lived.
That night Hogan tried to break into the Peabody’s house, but Andy wouldn’t let him. The youth went to the cook stove, which had a low fire burning in it, grabbed a tea kettle off the stove and poured scalding water on the villain. That ended the break-in attempt, but Mike Hogan now considered Andy his enemy.
The Peabody’s gave Andy fifty dollars as a reward, and asked him to travel six miles and deposit the remaining money in the bank. Andy went to a friend’s father, asked to borrow his horse and buggy for the bank trip, and received permission to do so.
One mile into the journey to the Cranston bank Andy came upon a well dressed young man “with a ready smile and a set of dazzling white teeth” who said he was also traveling to Cranston, and would pay fifty cents if Andy would let him ride with him in the buggy. Who wouldn’t help a traveler with dazzling white teeth? Andy agreed. All went well until they came to a lonely stretch of road, and the traveling companion pointed a gun at Andy’s head and demanded all his money. Andy took a fat wallet out of his pocket and tossed it onto the roadside. The man with white teeth demanded the youth stop the buggy, then he jumped out and ran towards the wallet, as Andy raced away from the scene.
The would-be thief discovered the tossed wallet was filled with nothing but brown paper, because young school janitors know how to take precautions. The man had to walk through a nearby woods to where his boss, Mike Hogan, was waiting. The two men decided to wait for Andy’s return in order to give him a terrible beating.
Andy arrived at the bank, deposited the money and told the teller about his adventures. As they were talking Perkins the Detective, a short, slender man “with hair that inclined to be red,” came into the bank and was informed about Andy’s troubles. The detective asked to ride back with Andy, then he left for a few minutes and came back dressed as a woman, for he felt the villains would not be afraid of a youth and a woman. On the return journey the buggy was stopped by the bad men, and Andy and the detective were able to capture Hogan, though the man with dazzling teeth was able to escape.
You might think it was now time for Starr and Ross to come and try to collect on the already-paid loan, but before that happened another adventure began. Mrs. Gordon received a letter containing a fifty-dollar bill and a letter from her wealthy Uncle Simon Dodge, whom she hadn’t heard from in twenty-five years. The letter told how the seventy-five-year-old man was suffering from what would now be called elder abuse.
The no-good widower of Uncle Simon’s only daughter had remarried a nasty widow with four nasty children, and everyone had moved into Simon’s home. He had not been well, and was tormented into signing over his farm to Brackett, the former son-in-law. Now Brackett’s family is trying to force him to make a will leaving them all his money. He is watched closely, but was able to sneak out a letter. If Mrs. Gordon could send his son, using the enclosed money for travel expenses, and have him accept the farm boy job that pays only fifty cents a week, then Uncle Simon would be able to carry out a plan to keep the nasty family from getting all his money.
It was decided that Andy should go under an assumed name so only Uncle Simon would know who he was. And after the troubles were over Uncle Simon would be asked to come and spend the rest of his days with his niece and her son.
Just as soon as Joshua Starr and the lawyer, Mr. Ross, came and were shown the receipt proving the debt had been paid, Andy set out to save his great-uncle from that dreadful Brackett family.
Would it seem too much of a coincidence if I told you that, soon after Andy was hired as a farm boy, Mrs. Brackett’s younger brother came for a visit, and the brother was the well-dressed man with dazzling white teeth who had tried to rob Andy on the way to the bank? (I was bracing myself for Perkins the Detective to make a return appearance, but that didn’t happen.)
Will Andy be able to save Uncle Simon from the clutches of the conniving Brackett family? If Uncle Simon comes to live with his niece, will the Gordon family become so well-off that schoolmate Herbert Ross will want to become Andy’s best friend?
I found this novel to be an entertaining read. Events aren’t likely to occur in real life, but Andy, his mother and uncle are likable characters, and with each chapter I wanted to know what happened next. If you would like to read Andy Gordon, or The Fortunes of a Young Janitor it can be read free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/52097