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The Young Adventurer, Plot Summary

The Young Adventurer, New York: A. K. Loring, 1878

Young Adventurer cover image is borrowed from the Dime Novels Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          Hero Tom Nelson's father, Mark, is indebted to miser Squire Hudson for a two thousand dollar mortgage on his farm. Hudson desires greatly to foreclose in revenge on Mrs. Nelson's refusing his hand in marriage years earlier. The farm is not making enough money to support the family, so Tom reveals his wish to go to California to raise money in the gold mines. Fortunately, he finds the Squire's wallet and promptly returns it. For a reward, the Squire offers to loan Tom the money to get to California, provided the debt is added to the mortgage. His parents agree, and they borrow the money from Hudson. With his resources now in place, and his ambition high, Tom heads to Pittsburgh.
          En route, he is taken in by a villain and con man calling himself Milton Graham. They room in adjacent rooms in a hotel in Pittsburgh that evening. Milton leaves the hotel early; when Tom goes out to explore, the desk clerk tells Tom that he should be wary of his company. For protection, the clerk allows Tom to put his money into the hotel safe. As feared, Milton attempts to rob Tom during the night, but when he cannot find any money, he leaves for another hotel, fearing prosecution. The next morning, Tom makes the sober acquaintance of a man whom he helped to the hotel last night, Nicholas Waterbury, who had been drunk and in danger of robbery had Tom not helped him. Nicholas is thankful to Tom and promises to be a trustworthy friend.
          On the riverboat to Cincinnati, Tom and Waterbury make the acquaintance of Mrs. Watson and her daughter Jane, who takes a fancy to Tom. Milton, on the same riverboat, has fallen in with another villain, a black-whiskered individual named Vincent. The two plan to rob Nicholas and Tom. Although Milton succeeds in entering the two travelers' stateroom that evening and getting a wallet from Waterbury's clothing, he is tricked with a false wallet. Waterbury announces publicly that he had been robbed of a false wallet, and claims that he does not know who the thief is. Although the criminal pair plans to remedy their error by falsely accusing Tom, Nicholas confronts them. The villains plan to wait until the two separate and Tom is defenseless. The boat lands in Cincinnati; Tom plans a two-day break in the company of Nicholas and the Watsons. Tom independently-minded chooses to pay his own way rather than rely on Waterbury, although his friend does offer to put him up at a fine hotel.
          While in Cincinnati, Tom foils crimes by both Milton and Vincent; Vincent tries again to falsely accuse Tom, but his nature and his friendship with Nicholas prevent any charges. The next day, Tom leaves for Missouri with a temperate Scotsman named Ferguson, a friend of Nicholas. The two virtuous men bond quickly, and considering the dangers before them, each designates the other executor of his will. They fall in with a family caravan from Illinois to make the trip across the plains.
          At home, the Nelsons continue to hope, fearing for their son's safety and their own financial well-being; Squire Hudson shows uncharacteristic ambivalence towards Tom's chances, while clearly displaying disfavor towards his wife and foppish son. Although he wants to hurt Tom's mother and father vengefully, he respects the honorable and ambitious nature of their son.
          In the journey across the plains, a good-natured fop named Lawrence Peabody joins the caravan. As the caravan faces trials, it is shown that Lawrence is soft and weak where Tom is strong, pessimistic when Tom is optimistic, and a poor rider where Tom is good. Although he is older, the other members of the caravan consider Lawrence a boy in comparison to Tom.
          As the journey continues, Indians kidnap Tom while he hunts for a lost horse. His manly body persuades them to keep him alive, and his congenial manner (and some schoolboy magic tricks) endears him to the tribe. Despite his interesting surroundings, Tom is at the depth of despair. He fears that he will never see his family again, and that he will never return triumphantly as he wished. He worries that even should he escape, he will be lost on the plains until he is captured again, since it will be impossible to find the caravan. However, he refuses to give in to despondency: one morning he escapes; though chased, he narrowly passes a buffalo stampede, which tramples his pursuers. He finds that the caravan waited for him; it is overjoyed at his return.
          Some weeks later, they crest the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and see "the land of gold at their feet." Tom remarks stoutly, "If hard work will win success, I mean to succeed" (288-9).