The Errand Boy

Author: Horatio Alger

Chapter II. - A Strange Revelation.

Philip started in irrepressible astonishment as these words fell from the lips of his step-mother. It seemed to him as if the earth were crumbling beneath his feet, for he had felt no more certain of the existence of the universe than of his being the son of Gerald Brent.

He was not the only person amazed at this declaration. Jonas, forgetting for the moment the part he was playing, sat bolt upright on the sofa, with his large mouth wide open, staring by turns at Philip and his mother.

"Gosh!" he exclaimed in a tone indicating utter surprise and bewilderment.

"Will you repeat that, Mrs. Brent?" asked Philip, after a brief pause, not certain that he had heard aright.

"I spoke plain English, I believe," said Mrs. Brent coldly, enjoying the effect of her communication.

"I said that Mr. Brent, my late husband, was not your father."

"I don’t believe you!" burst forth Philip impetuously.

"You don’t wish to believe me, you mean," answered his step-mother, unmoved.

"No, I don’t wish to believe you," said the boy, looking her in the eye.

"You are very polite to doubt a lady’s word," said Mrs. Brent with sarcasm.

"In such a matter as that I believe no one’s word," said Phil. "I ask for proof."

"Well, I am prepared to satisfy you. Sit down and I will tell you the story."

Philip sat down on the nearest chair and regarded his step-mother fixedly.

"Whose son am I," he demanded, "if not Mr. Brent’s?"

"You are getting on too fast. Jonas," continued his mother, suddenly turning to her hulking son, on whose not very intelligent countenance there was an expression of greedy curiosity, "do you understand that what I am going to say is to be a secret, not to be spoken of to any one?"

"Yes’m," answered Jonas readily.

"Very well. Now to proceed. Philip, you have heard probably that when you were very small your father—I mean Mr. Brent—lived in a small town in Ohio, called Fultonville?"

"Yes, I have heard him say so."

"Do you remember in what business he was then engaged?"

"He kept a hotel."

"Yes; a small hotel, but as large as the place required. He was not troubled by many guests. The few who stopped at his house were business men from towns near by, or drummers from the great cities, who had occasion to stay over a night. One evening, however, a gentleman arrived with an unusual companion—in other words, a boy of about three years of age. The boy had a bad cold, and seemed to need womanly care. Mr. Brent’s wife----"

"My mother?"

"The woman you were taught to call mother," corrected the second Mrs. Brent, "felt compassion for the child, and volunteered to take care of it for the night. The offer was gladly accepted, and you— for, of course, you were the child—were taken into Mrs. Brent’s own room, treated with simple remedies, and in the morning seemed much better. Your father—your real father—seemed quite gratified, and preferred a request. It was that your new friend would take care of you for a week while he traveled to Cincinnati on business. After dispatching this, he promised to return and resume the care of you, paying well for the favor done him. Mrs. Brent, my predecessor, being naturally fond of children, readily agreed to this proposal, and the child was left behind, while the father started for Cincinnati."

Here Mrs. Brent paused, and Philip regarded her with doubt and suspense

"Well?" he said.

"Oh, you want to know the rest?" said Mrs. Brent with an ironical smile. "You are interested in the story?"

"Yes, madam, whether it is true or not."

"There isn’t much more to tell," said Mrs. Brent.

"A week passed. You recovered from your cold, and became as lively as ever. In fact, you seemed to feel quite at home among your new surroundings, which was rather unfortunate, FOR YOUR FATHER NEVER CAME BACK!"

"Never came back!" repeated Philip.

"No; nor was anything heard from him. Mr. and Mrs. Brent came to the conclusion that the whole thing was prearranged to get rid of you. Luckily for you, they had become attached to you, and, having no children of their own, decided to retain you. Of course, some story had to be told to satisfy the villagers. You were represented to be the son of a friend, and this was readily believed. When, however, my late husband left Ohio, and traveled some hundreds of miles eastward to this place, he dropped this explanation and represented you as his own son. Romantic, wasn’t it?"

Philip looked searchingly at the face of his stepmother, or the woman whom he had regarded as such, but he could read nothing to contradict the story in her calm, impassive countenance. A great fear fell upon him that she might be telling the truth. His features showed his contending emotions. But he had a profound distrust as well as dislike of his step-mother, and he could not bring himself to put confidence in what she told him.

"What proof is there of this?" he asked, after a while.

"Your father’s word. I mean, of course, Mr. Brent’s word. He told me this story before I married him, feeling that I had a right to know."

"Why didn’t he tell me?" asked Philip incredulously.

"He thought it would make you unhappy."

"You didn’t mind that," said Philip, his lips curling.

"No," answered Mrs. Brent, with a curious smile. "Why should I? I never pretended to like you, and now I have less cause than ever, after your brutal treatment of my boy."

Jonas endeavored to look injured, but could not at once change the expression of his countenance.

"Your explanation is quite satisfactory, Mrs. Brent," returned Philip. "I don’t think I stood much higher in your estimation yesterday than today, so that I haven’t lost much. But you haven’t given me any proof yet."

"Wait a minute."

Mrs. Brent left the room, went up-stairs, and speedily returned, bringing with her a small daguerreotype, representing a boy of three years.

"Did you ever see this before?" she asked.

"No," answered Philip, taking it from her hand and eying it curiously.

"When Mr. and Mrs. Brent decided that you were to be left on their hands," she proceeded, "they had this picture of you taken in the same dress in which you came to them, with a view to establish your identity if at any time afterward inquiry should be made for you."

The daguerreotype represented a bright, handsome child, dressed tastefully, and more as would be expected of a city child than of one born in the country. There was enough resemblance to Philip as he looked now to convince him that it was really his picture.

"I have something more to show you," said Mrs. Brent.

She produced a piece of white paper in which the daguerreotype had been folded. Upon it was some writing, and Philip readily recognized the hand of the man whom he had regarded as his father.

He read these lines:

"This is the picture of the boy who was mysteriously left in the charge of Mr. Brent, April, 1863, and never reclaimed. l have reared him as my own son, but think it best to enter this record of the way in which he came into my hands, and to preserve by the help of art his appearance at the time he first came to us. GERALD BRENT."

"Do you recognize this handwriting?" asked Mrs. Brent.

"Yes," answered Philip in a dazed tone.

"Perhaps," she said triumphantly, "you will doubt my word now."

"May I have this picture?" asked Philip, without answering her.

"Yes; you have as good a claim to it as any one."

"And the paper?"

"The paper I prefer to keep myself," said Mrs. Brent, nodding her head suspiciously. "I don’t care to have my only proof destroyed."

Philip did not seem to take her meaning, but with the daguerreotype in his hand, he left the room.

"I say, mother," chuckled Jonas, his freckled face showing his enjoyment, "it’s a good joke on Phil, isn’t it?" I guess he won’t be quite so uppish after this."


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Chicago: Horatio Alger, "Chapter II. - A Strange Revelation.," The Errand Boy in The Errand Boy Original Sources, accessed June 2, 2023,

MLA: Alger, Horatio. "Chapter II. - A Strange Revelation." The Errand Boy, in The Errand Boy, Original Sources. 2 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Alger, H, 'Chapter II. - A Strange Revelation.' in The Errand Boy. cited in , The Errand Boy. Original Sources, retrieved 2 June 2023, from