After working for an hour or so, Dick begins to get hungry. He’s earned some money, so he can afford breakfast. He purchases it at a ramshackle restaurant that the narrator compares unfavorably to Delmonico’s. There, Dick meets an old friend, Johnny. Fourteen-year-old Johnny isn’t as industrious as Dick and struggles to find work. As such, he can’t afford breakfast, so Dick buys one for him.
Delmonico’s seems to have been a particular obsession of Alger’s, as it’s mentioned multiple times in Ragged Dick. He clearly expects his readers to have heard of it, and, what’s more, to want to be able to eat there. Here Alger also contrasts Dick’s work ethic with Johnny’s lack thereof, in an effort to further establish the connection between hard work and financial success.
After their breakfast is over, Dick and Johnny begin to go their separate ways, when Johnny suddenly takes cover in an alley. He’s spotted a man who tried to help him once by finding him a home in the country on a farm. Johnny didn’t like this, however, because the farm’s work required him to get up quite early in the morning rather than sleeping in. Furthermore, Johnny had an alcoholic father living in the city who relied on him. Thus, Johnny stowed away on a railroad car back into the city. Once the man has passed, Dick and Johnny part ways.
As much as fortune favors the industrious in the novel, it’s also true that those who lack ambition don’t know what to do when fortune plays them a good card. The underlying assumption here is an old one: that the poor are poor because they choose to be. Recognizing the harshness of blaming a young man for his own homelessness, Alger also always mentions the failures of Johnny’s parents.
Dick thinks to himself that, while he probably wouldn’t like country life either, he’s glad that he’s not as lazy as Johnny is. While pondering this, he stumbles on another customer. Yet again, Dick can’t make change for the customer. This time, however, the customer’s large bill forces him to go into a store to get the necessary change.
The seemingly humdrum fact that Dick can’t make change for his customers is a direct result of the fact that Dick spends every penny he makes. This means that his customers have to bear the burden of his bad habits—hardly a good business model.
Dick presents the bill to the store’s clerk for change. However, when the clerk takes it he declares it a counterfeit. He refuses to return the bill to Dick and insists that Dick leave immediately, lest the clerk call the police. Stunned, Dick tries to explain that the bill belongs to one of his customers, and he either needs it back or his change. The clerk, however, ignores him.
Dick faces a harsh reality. In most cases, he will witness conmen trying to swindle people because they appear rich and thus naïve. Here, however, Dick is being swindled because he appears quite poor and thus powerless.