MoboReader > Literature > Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk

   Chapter 1 IN WHICH PHIL HAS A TALK WITH HIS FATHER, AND REVIEWS HIS PAST HISTORY.

Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 11045

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"I must go to Chicago, father," said I, one evening, after we had been discussing our domestic relations with more than usual earnestness.

"Why go to Chicago, Philip? What put that idea into your head?" replied my father, with a kind of deprecatory smile.

"I don't feel as though I could live any longer in this state of doubt and uncertainty."

"Really, Philip, I don't think you need worry yourself to that extent."

"I can't help it. I want to know whether my mother is alive or dead. She may have been in her grave for a year for aught we know."

"Not so bad as that, Philip. I am sure if anything had happened to her, we should have heard of it," added my father, mildly; but I saw that he had more feeling on the subject than he chose to manifest.

"It seems to me inhuman and unnatural to live in this way," I persisted, perhaps a little more impatiently than I ought to have spoken.

"It is all my fault, my son," said my father, meekly.

"I don't think so."

"Don't compel me to review the bitter experience of the past. You know it all."

"I don't mean to blame you, father."

"Certainly it is not your mother's fault that an ocean rolls between her and me."

"I am willing to allow that it is your fault, and mine too, in a sense different from what you meant, that our family is still separated."

I perceived that my father was considerably affected by what I had said; and as he relapsed into silence, apparently to give vent to the emotions which disturbed him, I did not press the subject any further at that moment. But I felt all that I had said, and I thought something ought to be done. I was thoroughly in earnest, and I felt that it would be my fault if our little family continued to be separated for a much longer period.

I was nearly sixteen years old; and into that brief space had been crowded a strange and varied experience. In order that my readers may know precisely my relations to the rest of the world, and understand why I was so deeply moved, I must briefly review the events of my life. I was born in the city of St. Louis, though this was a fact which had been patent to me only a couple of years. I had attained unto that worldly wisdom which enabled me to know who my father was; but I was less fortunate in regard to my mother, whom I could not remember that I had ever seen, though it was a comfort for me to know that my baby eyes had gazed into her loving face.

In the burning of the steamer Farringford, on the upper Missouri, in which my father and mother and myself-then a child two years old-were passengers, I had been committed to a raft formed of a state-room door, and bolstered with pillows to keep me from rolling off. By an accident this frail craft was carried away from the burning steamer, then aground, and I was separated from my father, who, I grieve to say, was intoxicated at the time, and unable to do all that he would have accomplished in his sober senses. At this moment the steamer broke from the shore, and was carried swiftly down the mighty river. Parents were thus separated from the helpless child.

But it was not ordered that this little one should perish in the cold waters of the great river in the night and the gloom. An old pioneer, trapper, and hunter, Matt Rockwood, had picked me up, and for years had nursed me and cared for me in his rude log cabin, loving me devotedly, and watching over me with a woman's tenderness. For eleven years I remained in the field and forest, hardened by the rude life of the pioneer, working hard, and winning a large experience in dealing with the elements around me. A well-educated and refined gentleman, driven from the haunts of civilization by a fancied wrong, became our neighbor, and was my instructor, so that I obtained more than a common school education from him. By the seeming guidings of Providence, his wife and daughter were sent to him in the wilderness, and remained there through the season.

My foster-father was killed in an affray with the Indians. Boy as I was, I went through a brief campaign with the savages, and my own rifle had more than once brought down the treacherous foe. I had faced danger and death, and I had rescued the daughter of my excellent friend and instructor, Mr. Gracewood, from the Indians. Ella was then, and is now, one of my best friends. In the autumn, leaving the farm and stock to Kit Cruncher, an old hunter who had been our friend and neighbor for years, I started for the realms of civilization with Mr. Gracewood and his family, taking with me the articles found upon me by the old pioneer when I was rescued from the river.

I had fifteen hundred dollars in cash, after I had paid my fare to St. Louis-the worldly wealth of my deceased foster-father. On the way down I was separated from my friends by an accident, and did not see them again for several weeks. But I found a place in the city to learn the carpenter's trade, in which I had already made considerable proficiency. I received six dollars a week for my work when it was found that I was both able and willing to do nearly as much as an ordinary journeyman.

By a succession of rather singular incidents, I discovered that a dissolute, drunken man about town was my father-which I regarded at the time as the greatest mishap that could possibly befall me. But I took him to my boarding-house, where good-I might even say blessed-Mrs. Greenough took care of him, giving to his body the nursing he needed, and to his spiritual wants the gospel of

Jesus Christ. What my poor father, who had become the moral and physical wreck of what he had been before, could not do of his own strength, he did with the grace and by the help of God-he abandoned his cups, and became a sober, moral, and religious man. He attended every service at the Methodist church, into whose fold Mrs. Greenough had led him, and where, for two years, he had been a faithful, consistent, and useful member.

He was employed as the agent of a very wealthy southern planter, who had large possessions in St. Louis. He had the care of property worth hundreds of thousands, and received and disbursed large sums in rents, repairs, and building. He had a salary of twenty-four hundred dollars a year, more than half of which he saved, for we continued to live at the humble abode of Mrs. Greenough after the dawn of our prosperity. I had saved nearly all my wages, and at the opening of my story I was worth, in my own right, about two thousand dollars, with which, however, I did not purpose to meddle.

Through all my mishaps I had reached the flood tide of prosperity. There was only one thing in the wide world that disturbed me; and that, at last, almost became a burden to me. I had a mother whom I had never seen within my remembrance. She was a beautiful woman, as her miniature in my possession fully testified, as well as those who had known her. Mr. Collingsby, her father, had three children, of whom my mother was the youngest. He was a wealthy man, and formerly a resident of St. Louis, from which he had removed, partly on account of his business, and partly it was said, to avoid the importunities of my father, who made himself very disagreeable in his inebriation. He was largely engaged in railroad and other business enterprises. My mother was travelling in Europe, with her brother, and was not expected to return for several years.

That which had become a burden to me was the desire to see my mother, with the added longing to have our little family reunited. There was no good reason why we should longer be separated. My father was a steady, industrious, Christian man, who had repented in sackcloth and ashes the errors of his lifetime. He had written to Mr. Collingsby several times, but no notice had ever been taken of his appeals. In vain he assured the father of his injured wife that he was an altered man; that he drank no liquor or anything that could intoxicate; that he was a member in good standing of the Methodist church, and that he was receiving a handsome salary. Equally vain was the appeal for his son, whose existence seemed to be doubted, and was practically denied.

My mother, being beyond the ocean, could not be a party to this cold and inhuman silence, as it seemed to me. We were assured by those who had seen my grandfather that he was aware of the facts that were known to our friends in St. Louis. Mr. Lamar, whose acquaintance I had made in the midst of my mishaps, had seen Mr. Collingsby, and told him the whole story. The rich man laughed at it, and declared that it was a trick; that, if he was a poor man, Farringford would not trouble him. After this revelation my father refused to write again. He was sorely grieved and troubled, but he still had a sense of self-respect which would not permit him to grovel in the dust before any man.

I had worked at my trade two years in St. Louis, and considered myself competent to do all ordinary work in that line. But I worked very hard, for I was ambitious to do as much as a man. I was growing, and while I increased in height, I lost flesh, and was lighter in weight than when I had left the field and forest. My father thought I was working too hard, and Mrs. Greenough seconded the argument with all the force of a woman's influence. Still I think I should not have given up my trade then if my employer had not changed his business, thus compelling me to seek a new situation. I had been studying book-keeping for two years, using all my evenings in this and other studies. I practised it with my father, who was an accomplished accountant, until he declared that I was competent to keep any set of books, either of a merchant or a corporation.

Mr. Clinch, my late employer, closed up his affairs at the opening of a new year. I could find nothing to do in the winter; but when I fretted over my inactivity, my father told me to improve my handwriting, which, as a carpenter, had been rather stiff. I took lessons of him, and as he was a practical business man, I escaped the vicious habit of flourishing in my writing. He insisted that I should write a plain, simple, round hand, which I did. As my fingers became limber, I made excellent progress, and I was really proud of my penmanship.

These comparatively idle days were full of thought, almost all of which related to my mother. I had made up my mind that something ought to be done to find her, and inform her of the altered circumstances of her husband. I was sure, after reading so often the gentle expression of her countenance in the picture I had, that she would make us glad as soon as she was assured of the reformation of the wanderer. I meant to do something now, even if I had to spend my two thousand dollars in making a voyage to Europe to search for her. Her father refused to do anything, and it was necessary for us to act in our own behalf. It was not the rich man's money, as he averred, that we sought, but only the calm bliss of domestic happiness, which I knew would come from our reunited family.

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