The Lottery Ticket

By Horatio Alger Jr.

TWO young men—or rather boys, for neither had reached the age of eighteen— were walking together on Boston Common. Their names were Harry Eastman and George Forbush, and they were engaged in adjoining stores on Washington Street. They were talking of the compensation they received for their services.

“Don’t you find it pretty hard getting along on your salary, George?” inquired Henry.

“I do, I confess,” answered George. “I am obliged to be very economical."

“And a fellow can’t be that, for you know he is expected to dress well, to do credit to the place.”

“It is a possible thing, though rather difficult. I believe we receive the same amount, and I contrive to make it do.”

“I don’t see how you do it. You always look well, too. But I haven’t the knack; last year I had to call on the governor for an extra hundred.”

“That is a resource I do not have,” said George. “It is as much as my father can do to take care of those at home. He expects me to take care of myself.”

“I’ll tell you what, George, I’ve thought of a plan which I think may be of advantage to us; in fact, I’ve tried it, and I’ve found it work.”

“What is it?” asked George, with some curiosity.

“Do you see that?” said his companion, drawing out a long and narrow strip of paper.

“Yes, I see it; but what has that to do with the matter?”

“A good deal. Why, it is a lottery ticket.”

“A lottery ticket!” exclaimed George, with surprise, and a little dismay, for he had been brought up with a proper suspicion of the system.

“Certainly it is. Why, George, you seem paralyzed with horror.”

“Not quite that. I confess, however, that I have always looked upon lotteries as dangerous, and by all means to be avoided.”

“All a foolish prejudice, my dear fellow, as I will soon convince you. What can be fairer than a number of persons clubbing together, and each contributing an insignificant sum, which he doesn’t feel, while he stands a chance of drawing a considerable amount.”

“Precious little chance of winning a prize.”

“Not so small as you suppose. I’ll tell you of a stroke of luck that happened to my grandmother. Somebody gave her a third of a lottery ticket; she laid it away, and didn’t think much about it, when one fine morning she woke up and found that it had drawn a prize of twenty thousand dollars.”

“Is that a fact?”

“As true as the gospel; I heard it from my grandmother herself. But I’ve got something more to tell you; I have drawn a little prize.”

“You don’t mean so?”

“Yes, I do.”

“How much is it?”

“Oh, it isn’t very large, to be sure—only five dollars.”

“And how much did you pay for the ticket?”

“Two dollars.”

“Then it gives you a profit of three dollars.”

“Not quite. You see they deduct fifteen per cent, from all prizes for their commission, which reduces the value of the prize to four dollars and a quarter.”

“And have you sent on for the money ?”

“Why, no. The fact is, if one only reinvests the amount of the prize, there is no deduction made, but it counts full value. I’ll tell you what I thought of doing; there’s a good deal more chance of winning a prize, if one buys a package of tickets; then he’s about sure of winning something."

“How much does a package cost?”

“Twenty dollars—at least, it costs that in the lottery I want to invest in.”

“You won’t risk that amount?”

“I would fast enough, if I had it. I say, George, why won’t you join me? We’ll divide the risk, and share the profits.”

“I couldn’t, possibly,” returned his companion, startled at the proposition.

Nevertheless, Henry thought he saw that George had been favorably impressed by his glowing representations. To clinch the matter, he drew out of his pocket a lottery paper, full of flattering schemes, and painting glowing pictures of the good fortune of those who had patronized them in the past. We cite one paragraph as a specimen:

“A postmaster of a small place in Indiana, whose office was so far from lucrative that he had to combine a trade with it, in order to procure a scanty subsistence, was attracted by our schemes, and secured a package of tickets in our January drawing. The reader will imagine his delight, when this ‘bread cast upon the waters’ returned to him after a few days only, in the shape of a prize of five thousands dollars. Such cases are occurring every day. Who will remain poor when such golden opportunities surround him?”

It is perhaps needless to say, that it might be difficult to trace out the lucky postmaster, and that it was quite safe and easy for one of a tolerably fertile imagination to produce each cases by the score.

Nevertheless, George Forbush accepted the story as true, and was very strongly persuaded to unite with his companion in the purchase of a ticket. His father’s means had always been straitened, and George, who had experienced the difficulty of obtaining money was fully prepared to appreciate the benefits of its possession. The comparative ease with which this method was attended impressed his imagination powerfully, and it required not much persuasion on the part of his companion to induce him to unite with him. At first, however, he was unwilling to risk more than five dollars, which, added to Henry’s five, was sufficient to procure a half package of tickets. The result of this venture was a prize of ten dollars, which just reimbursed the purchasers.

This, however, was enough to excite them to renewed efforts. They next purchased a whole package, which however, proved to be a blank.

“Never mind," said Henry, “we can't expect to win every time. This is our first loss. The more likely we are to win the next time.”

So it went on. Now they would win a little, then lose more, till at length George had lost some sixty dollars out of his scanty income, and was compelled to go shabbily attired because the money which should have purchased clothes had been devoted to other and less creditable purposes.

He made known his perplexity to Henry. “I’ll tell you what I would do,” said the latter. “Just borrow the amount you need.”

“But I don't know of any one that will lend.”

“Your employer.”

“I shouldn't dare to ask him—”

“Borrow it without his knowing it.”

“What!” exclaimed George, starting back with pale cheek. “You don’t mean steal it?”

“Steal! Of course not. Just take it now, and put it back when you have the means.”

George did not like the suggestion. Yet he felt that he must have money somehow. His clothes were so shabby that he had attracted his employer’s notice, and the latter had delicately hinted to him, that perhaps it would be well for him to order a new suit at the tailor’s.

That night he had an opportunity to follow his companion’s advice. It was left to him to close the store in the evening. The money taken during the day was usually kept in a safe, but by some chance it happened that a large sum had been left in a desk which it was George’s duty to lock. His eye fell upon the money, and at the same time he saw his shabby attire reflected in a mirror opposite.

“I might borrow thirty or forty dollars as well as not,” he murmured. “That would enable me to obtain a suit of clothes, and I could pay back the money next quarter day.”

He drew out his portmonnaie with the intention of placing in it some of the bills, when his fingers came in contact with a letter. Drawing it from his pocket he found it was one he had taken from the office that day, and had not yet had time to read. Was it some good angel that prompted him to read it there and then?

It was a letter from his mother, and contained these sentences among others: “We are so glad dear George, to hear that you are doing so well, and that you make efforts to please your employer. We are quite sure that you will not allow yourself to yield to the numerous temptations which are sure to beset a boy who is employed in the city.”

“What was I about to do?” murmured George. “To betray all this generous confidence and degrade myself to the level of a thief, for who knows whether I could have replaced the money?”

He resolutely put aside the temptation, and formed the manly determination of explaining his embarrassment to his employer. The next morning he sought an opportunity to speak with him in private, and asked him for an advance to purchase clothing with.

“But surely you have not expended your last quarter’s allowance?” said the latter, surprised.

“Yes, sir, I have,” said George, “and I am ashamed to say in an unworthy manner. I have spent it in lottery tickets.”

“Indeed, George, I am pained to hear it,” returned his employer, “but I admire your candor in acquainting me with your shortcomings. I hope you have invested all you intend to in that direction.”

“I have indeed, sir.”

“Then, to encourage you in your good resolution I will increase your salary by a quarter, and authorize you to draw for as much in advance as your needs require.”

“I do not deserve this, sir,” said George, and he related to his employer how near he came to robbing him on the evening previous.

“It is indeed lucky that you forbore,” said the latter, “for those bills were all marked, and detection would have been certain. Since you have so nobly withstood temptation I readily forgive your intention. Only continue as frank and open in your treatment of me, as you have shown yourself this morning, and I will let slip no opportunity of advancing you.”

Ten years have passed. George Forbush is now a partner in the firm which he served as a boy, while his companion, Henry Eastman, having been detected in robbing his employer, is now a fugitive in a foreign land. His downfall may without difficulty be traced to his first Lottery Ticket.

(First published in True Flag, February 11, 1854)