We’re destined to make our own way in life, whether for the good or bad. Of that I’ve been convinced since I was left an orphan to fend for myself as a child.
So, what’s an orphan to do when he finds himself alone in a new world? If he has sense he seeks a benefactor, preferably one who is wealthy. That’s what I should have done had I known what lay ahead. But what child has sense?
Fortunately, or so some would say, an old clockmaker who was our neighbor, learning I had no kin to claim me, took me under his charge. Oh, it wasn’t compassion on his part; he saw in me the makings of an apprentice.
How he determined that I at that age, still a puling, runny-nosed infant, would grow up possessing the sense and dexterity of finger necessary to be a clockmaker, I cannot fathom. In the time I spent with Jacob Kugler he did manage to drum into me the rudiments of his craft. But there are only two things I learned from him for which I am truly grateful. One was a knowledge of the Pennsylvania German tongue, and the other was the advisability of avoiding, at whatever cost possible, ‘honest toil.’
Perhaps I should think more kindly of Herr Kugler for taking me in, but there were times in my younger years when I hated him as I have hated no man since. At the tender age of four. When other children were occupied with nothing more urgent than play, I was sweeping the floor of his shop and greasing mechanisms to earn my daily ration of gruel and a pallet in his attic.
Still, his wife was kind, slipping me a sweetmeat whenever she dared and doing her best to shield me when he chose to cuff me.
“Jacob,” she would cry out when he was applying the lash with fervor, “if you kill the boy, who will do the work?” That would stay his hand. Thank Heaven for the woman’s compassion.
Mrs. Kugler had no children of her own, and she tried her best to be a mother to me. When her husband wasn’t around, she was as kind as ever a mother could be. And it’s thanks to her I learned to read and cipher. Though I hold naught against her to this day and loved her in my own peculiar way, the memory of my own sweet mother was too fresh for her efforts to succeed entirely. Still, for her sake and the fact I had nowhere else to go, I stayed with Herr and Frau Kugler for near nine years.
With the passage of time, I learned the clockmaker’s trade. Yet, though my work increased, my rations did not and I never once saw a shilling in pay for my labors.
Seeing no chance of improvement in my situation, on my thirteenth birthday I ran away and enlisted as a drummer in a company of British dragoons. Of course I couldn’t play the drum. But then, the dragoons didn’t need a drummer either. What they sought was some one to care for their horses, grease their saddles and trimmings, polish their brass, or to boot in the rear when the spirit moved them.
The clockmaker soon learned my whereabouts and came to see me. His anger was understandable since he knew it would be difficult to find another to do chores for as little as my service had cost him. He also knew there was nothing under the law he could do about my enlistment; particularly as he’d never got round to having me sign an indenture statement.
“Ye’ll be sorry,” he told me. “One day ye’ll come crawling back, asking forgiveness. But I’ll not forgive ye. After all I’ve done for ye? I should think not! Ye’ll regret yer treachery, ye little barstard.”
I took no offense at his remarks. After all, who knew better that I was no bastard? I could have replied that all the work I’d done over the years easily repaid the bit he’d put out in food and shelter. Instead, I had my revenge in the look on his face when he tripped and fell into a pile of manure on his way out of the stable. My only regret was I’d not had time that morning to freshen the pile before his arrival.