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Wait and Hope; or, a Plucky Boy's Luck, Plot Summary

Wait and Hope; or, A Plucky Boy's Luck, New York: Street and Smith, 1900

          The novel opens with fourteen-year-old hero Ben Bradford fired from work at the mill. His good-natured spendthrift friend James Watson does not take the news as poorly as Ben, who is an orphan raised by his aunt and late uncle. However, Ben does not despair, despite the effect the loss of his wages will have on his small household. Instead, he says only that he is certain something good will come to him: "Wait and Hope- that's my motto" (6). The narrator adds, "His motto was 'Wait and Hope'; but he knew very well that he must work while he was waiting and hoping, otherwise he would differ very little from the hopeful Micawber, who was always waiting for something to turn up" (12).
          Although he spends the better part of the day looking for employment, Ben takes the time to enter a race at the town fair. He competes against a Boston fop named John Miles, and wins without too much difficulty. Miles is humiliated and claims that he suffered from a cramp, and demands a rematch, a proposition to which Ben agrees only when John promises to match the prize winnings from the official race. Ben wins again, a result of a personal shortcoming of Miles: "In spite of all his training...[he had] a shortness of breath which was constitutional with him" (36).
Wait and Hope cover image is borrowed from the Dime Novels Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          Still failing to find work, Ben spends three days sawing and splitting wood for a local miser, Deacon Sawyer. Ben fears that he will not be amply recompensed for his labors; however, the deacon's daughter is a good person. She warns Ben to accept payment without complaint, and to come to her after for the difference. He does and she gives him food.
          Next, Ben's industry impresses a wealthy stranger named Mr. Manning, who offers pay and food to the family to take charge of a five-year-old girl, to whom he is guardian. Manning says that Ben "has plenty of self-reliance," and trusts the young man to go to New York City to get the girl (71).
          On the train to New York, Ben encounters Professor Crane, a phrenologist, who remarks on Ben's physiognomy:
"This lad has a excellent head. All organs are well balanced, none being in great excess. His temperament is nervous-sanguine. Hope predominates with him. He will not be easily discouraged, but when he has an object in view he will pursue it perseveringly to the end. He is not quarrelsome, but will not allow himself to be trodden upon. He has plenty of courage. He is not bashful, but respectful to his elders and superiors. He is conscientious, and more likely to do right than wrong. Of course he might yield to temptation, but it would have to be a powerful one. He has a fondness for pets, and will be kind to younger children. He will find no pleasure in ill-treating or tyrannizing them. He has not much invention, and would make a poor machinist, but is likely to succeed in general business. He will probably be steady and reliable, and faithful to the interests of his employer" (96-7).
The Professor adds on the subject, "Nature has stamped her impress upon each one of us, and declares unmistakably what we are" (99).
          Ben reaches the city and takes Emma into his care with little difficulty. On the return trip, they stop in Boston for dinner. While there, a dining companion, Otis Johnson, offers a sales position to Ben. After dinner, the two travelers still have some time before they must leave, so they go sightseeing. Ben wants to climb the Bunker Hill monument. As Emma is too little, he accepts a woman's offer to watch her while he goes. She is consequently kidnapped. The narrator reveals that the woman is sorely grieving the loss of her own daughter, and thinks Emma to be her. Luckily, the woman's sister sees what has happened and returns Emma to Ben, though not until they have missed the final train for the evening.
          Meanwhile, Ben has encountered a patron while searching for Emma, Mr. Somerby. Somerby invites Ben and Emma to stay at his house for the evening; he also gives Ben an envelope to open at home, which holds fifty dollars. Ben puts it in savings and plans on attending school while business remains slow.
          At school, Ben performs admirably. In an honors competition, he vies for first place against fop Sam Archer, the son of the mill owner. Mr. Archer tries to bribe the principal on his son's behalf, but Ben wins. Humiliated, Sam convinces his father not to re-hire Ben.
          Unfortunately, this revenge does not sate Sam. Next, the young man forges an employment letter to Ben from Boston. Sam plans to make Ben waste money traveling and remain unemployed. Unwittingly, Ben goes, but luckily along the way meets an employee and relative of one of the partners, Henry Porter. When Henry hears of the deceit, he sympathizes greatly with Ben and becomes another patron. He convinces his uncle to hire Ben, and offers to pay his salary himself. He finds Ben a room, and makes a secret arrangement with the landlady to pay for a third of the rent himself. When Sam hears of Ben's terrific luck, he is consumed with jealousy. He gets his father to offer Ben his old position to get his enemy back under his power, but Ben refuses. He writes a letter to Ben's employers, slandering him, but they refuse to believe him and alert Ben to his attempts.
          Time passes; Mr. Archer embezzles fifty thousand dollars from the mill and goes to Europe, leaving his family much poorer. Ben shows sympathy towards Sam, as does his friend, James Watson. Both boys swear friendship to Sam, and Ben works to get him a place in Boston. Sam recognizes his previous poor behavior and apologizes to Ben profusely.
          Next, Emma gets sick and must go on a sea-voyage. The loss of the income threatens Ben and his aunt, but Ben reckons his funds will support his aunt for the duration of the sea-voyage. Henry Porter is so impressed by his magnanimity that he gives him twenty dollars to help.
          Further bad luck strikes: Mrs. Bradford's uncle, who lived in Montreal, dies under mysterious circumstances, an apparent suicide by drowning, although no body is ever found. Although he owned the house, he had told his niece that she would not have to pay rent. Now, the attorney of the late uncle says that he cannot find any documentation to this effect, and asserts that she must pay all of the back rent. The attorney also reveals the existence of a surprise sole heir, John Tremlett. The Bradfords are uncertain of what to do, but Ben continues to work in Boston.
          One day, Ben helps an old man find a room in his own boarding house. The two men become close acquaintances, and Ben expresses his difficulties. Ben's employers are also aware of his troubles and offer to send him to Montreal on business as well as to resolve his personal matters. Once in Montreal, Ben goes to the attorney's office. The attorney says that he cannot help Ben unless he can provide proof of his uncle's agreement. While there, he also meets John Tremlett, who, the narrator states, bears "the marks of dissipation" (231). Tremlett demands money from the lawyer and shows himself to be a dissolute and utterly greedy spendthrift.
          Just when things appear bleakest, the old man reveals himself to be Uncle Matthew Baldwin, who was only testing John Tremlett. Knowing now what John Tremlett is, Matthew is prepared to right his wrongs. He goes to Montreal and shows himself to his lawyer, and casts Tremlett away with only five hundred dollars, which all expect him to waste.
          In conclusion, Matthew returns to Boston, and gives Ben a trust of one thousand dollars per annum. Using the money, Ben stops working and enters school full time. Years pass; Ben goes to Harvard, and enjoys a friendship with the now-reformed Sam Archer. Mrs. Bradford lives happily and securely with her uncle in a new large house that he bought for them in Boston.