Since the clerk won’t listen, Dick leaves the shop to tell his customer what has happened. The two return, and Dick’s customer confronts the clerk, who seems nervous. The clerk explains that Dick gave him a fake bill and shows the man a counterfeit bill as proof. The counterfeit, however, was drawn on a different bank than the man’s bill was. The clerk suggests that perhaps Dick pocketed the customer’s bill, while supplying a counterfeit to the clerk.
Paper money had long been a part of the U.S. economy, but not in the standardized cash of today. Instead, individual banks were able to create their own paper currency. Having such a bill meant one could go to that bank and retrieve an equivalent amount of silver or gold, but the bills were easy to counterfeit.
Dick offers to turn his pockets inside out to prove that he has no other bills on him, and Dick’s customer demands the same of the clerk. The resulting arguments draws the attention of the store’s manager, who, after hearing the story, demands that the clerk allow himself to be searched.
The idea of private citizens searching other private citizens to determine whether or not a crime has been committed seems a bit odd in modern times, but it comes up over and over again and reflects the norms of the period in which the story takes place.
When the bill is discovered in the clerk’s possession, he is immediately fired. Dick’s customer offers him a handsome reward for all of his trouble—money which Dick quickly decides to spend at the circus that evening. He lists of the many things he hopes to see there, clearly familiar with the attractions on hand.
Dick’s honesty is again rewarded, underscoring the novel’s assertion that morality and good deeds bring about just rewards. Dick plans to attend none other than Barnum’s circus, which at the time was little more than a travelling museum of curiosities with some animal attractions thrown in. Nevertheless, this moment illustrates Dick’s early tendency to immediately part with whatever fortunes befall him.
While searching for his next customer, Dick stumbles upon Mr. Whitney and Frank. Mr. Whitney is apologizing to his nephew, because the older man won’t be able to give the boy a proper tour of the city while he’s there. He’ll have to settle for exploring just around the area of Mr. Whitney’s work. Frank appears disappointed but agrees.
Alger is a strict realist in his descriptions of New York City. He often goes out of his way to evoke real-life buildings and attractions that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but probably appealed to the imaginations of his young readers. This moment also quickly establishes the stark difference in socio-economic circumstances between Dick and Frank.
Dick, listening in on their conversation, offers to be Frank’s tour guide. Both Frank and his uncle are amused by this suggestion, since Dick is so young and quite dirty. Mr. Whitney comments that Dick hasn’t even washed his face yet, to which Dick jokingly replies that there was no soap at the “Box Hotel” he slept at—a.k.a. an actual box on Spring Street. Still, they agree that he looks honest and agree to let him be Frank’s guide. First, however, the two require that Dick accompany them to their hotel room.
It’s interesting that, though Dick lands the job as a tour guide because of his industriousness and honest look, he first discovers the job through the imprudent act of eavesdropping on two family members holding a private discussion. This scene also captures Dick’s humor, which invariably relies on poking fun at his poverty.