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


Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 11103

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

My father was gloomy and sad, and I disliked to say anything more on the painful topic; but I was so thoroughly in earnest that I could not postpone some decided action. It seemed criminal to permit such a matter to rest any longer, and I wondered how I had been able to keep quiet two years with the consciousness that I had a mother whom I had seen only with my baby eyes. Something seemed to reproach me for my coldness and neglect, though in fact I had done all I could to solve the difficulty. My grandfather appeared to be suspicious, and even heartless; but I knew that my mother was not so.

Far away she was wandering in foreign lands, and though surrounded by the gayest of friends, and surfeited in luxury, I could not help thinking that now and then, in the still watches of the night; her motherly heart recurred to the little one she had lost. What a joy it would be to her to know that her son, her lost one, was still alive! If in her maternal heart she had ever pictured that babe as becoming a stalwart young man, I felt that I could already realize her hope. If she had ever anticipated the time when her first-born, as his beard began to grow, would lavish upon her all the tenderness which a mother has a right to claim, I felt that I could amply reward her desire, and realize her ambition.

My father was silent. I knew he was considering what more he could do to gratify the longings of my soul. Perhaps he was weighing my proposition to go to Chicago, and speak for myself and for him. I could not say that my plan was the best, or that any good would come of it; and I mentioned it because I could think of nothing else that looked like decided action. I glanced at him, and he saw that I was desirous of resuming the topic.

"Philip, it is my fault that I am separated from your mother, and your words sound like so many reproaches to me," said he, with emotion. "But I deserve it all, for though I feel that God has forgiven me, he will not spare me from all the consequences of my folly and sin."

"Do not say that, father. Far be it from me to utter a reproach for anything you have done," I replied, disturbed by his words and his manner. "Let the past go-'let the dead bury their dead.'"

"But the dead will not bury their dead, Philip. Your mother left me when she could no longer live with me. I do not blame her. It was my fault alone."

"I only wish to let my mother know what has happened; that you are now a good and true man. I am sure, if she knew this, she would hasten to us without a single day's delay."

"Of course she is under the influence of her father and her brothers. I do not even know where she is. If I did I would write to her. She will return one of these days, and then I will try to see her."

"It may be years before she returns, father. They say it will be three years at least."

"What can we do?"

"I will go to Chicago."

"What good can that possibly do? Will you force yourself into the presence of your grandfather, and then tell him that you are the son of his daughter? He would not believe you; he would kick you out of his house."

"I shall not be rash or indiscreet."

"But what will you do? What can you do?" demanded my father, earnestly.

"I don't know; that will depend upon circumstances. In spite of my mishaps, fortune has favored me in the long run," I replied; but I had no plan whatever for my future action.

"You do not know your grandfather."

"I never even saw him."

"He is not a bad man, by any means; on the contrary, he is upright and liberal. But he is eminently solid and practical. He is old-fashioned, full of dignity and self-respect. He believes that the world and all the affairs of mankind move in deep-worn ruts. He follows only legitimate and recognized channels. He rejects anything that is strange and out of the common course, and for that reason your story would find no favor with him. I doubt whether he ever read a novel in his life. If you should take all the public officers in St. Louis to Chicago with you, and let them swear in court that you were the long-lost son of Edward and Louise Farringford, he would not believe them. He may be convinced, but not by anything you can say or do."

"Nevertheless, father, I wish to go to Chicago. I have seen but little of the world, and I have heard a great deal about that city."

"I have no objection to your going to Chicago-not the least; but I hope you will not flatter yourself that you can produce an impression upon the mind of Mr. Collingsby, or his son Richard, who is as near like his father as one pea is like another pea. I should even like to have you travel for two or three months. It would do you good. You might go east-to New York and Philadelphia."

"I don't care about going farther than Chicago."

"Go, by all means; but don't get into a quarrel with your grandfather."

"I'm not quarrelsome, father."

"But Mr. Collingsby would be if you went to him with your story, though every word of it is true."

And so it was settled that I should go to Chicago. I intended at least to find out who and what my grandfather was. I wanted to see him with my own eyes, though he was evidently what is regarded as "a hard customer." The fact that he was so afforded me a new sensation, and I began to glow with an unwonted excitement. It was my mission to see and convince Mr. Collingsby that I was his grandson, unless he should be able to prove that I was not so; and one cannot reasonably be required to prove a negative. It was a problem, a

difficulty; and I felt, as I had in the field and forest, a new life and vigor when there was a real obstacle to be overcome.

My father was certainly very considerate towards me, and was willing to trust me anywhere that I pleased to go. I had not many preparations to make; a small valise held my wardrobe, and on Monday morning I crossed the river and took the train for Chicago. A journey of two hundred and eighty miles, accomplished in about twelve hours, was not a very great event, even a dozen years ago; but somehow, I do not know why, I felt as though I was setting out in a new career of existence. I expected to return in a week, or in two weeks, at the most; yet, in spite of my exertion to make myself believe that the trip was quite a commonplace affair, it continued to thrust itself upon me as one of great importance.

I had taken a few short trips with my father on holidays by railroad, so that a train of cars was not quite a new thing to me. However, I was no traveller then, and being of an inquiring mind, I was disposed to examine minutely everything I saw, and to understand the use of every new object. I bought my ticket, and stepping back, I amused myself in watching the ticket-seller, anxious to solve the mystery of a stamping machine he continually used. Before I had solved the problem to my satisfaction, I heard the bell ring.

"All aboard for Chicago and way stations!" shouted the conductor.

That meant me, and I hastened to obey the summons, but rather vexed that I had not penetrated the working of the stamping machine. I was rather late, and I found the car I entered quite full; indeed, there was only a single vacant seat, and that was by the side of an old woman whose company did not appear to be particularly desirable. However, I had made up my mind that it is not best to be too particular in this world, and I walked up the aisle with the intention of taking the seat. I found it was already appropriated to the old lady's numerous bundles.

"Is this seat taken, madam?" I ventured to ask.

"Well, yes; don't you see it's taken?" said she, rather sourly.

"I don't see any other vacant seat in the car," I added.

"I can't move all them things," snapped the matron.

"I will place them in the rack above your head," I suggested.

"I've fixed 'em all once, and I don't want to move 'em agin. You are a young feller, and you can find a seat in some other car," added the old lady, very decidedly.

Some of the passengers laughed at the answers of the old lady. I did not care to get up a quarrel with her, and I decided to stand up, in deference to the old lady's bundles, until the train stopped at the first station, when I could safely look for a seat in some other car. After this exhibition of rudeness, I did not think my seat at her side would be comfortable; I was afraid her bristles would annoy me, and it was more comfortable to stand. The train moved off; but it had gone only a very short distance before the conductor appeared, followed by a very dignified-looking gentleman, for whom he was evidently seeking a seat; and this assured me that the cars were all full forward.

"Here is just one seat," said the gentlemanly conductor, as he stopped beside the vacant place, and began to pick up the old lady's bundles.

"Don't you tech them things," interposed their legal owner.

"This gentleman wants a seat," added the polite official.

"He can find one somewhere else. I don't want my bundles tipped round, as though they didn't cost nothing."

"But we must have the seat, madam," insisted the conductor. "I believe you pay for only one seat."

"Sakes alive! Can't a body have a place to put her things?"

"I will put them in the rack for you."

"I don't want them put in the rack."

"Well, madam, you can put them where you please, but this gentleman must have the seat."

"I don't think much of them gentlemen that want to go a pestering a poor lone woman like me. You let them things alone, sir!" snapped the old lady.

"I will wait a reasonable time for you to dispose of them; but if you don't take care of them, I shall put them in the baggage-car."

"I should like to see you do it! Hain't you got nothin' better to do than tormenting an unprotected woman?"

Finding that he had a hard subject to deal with, the gentlemanly conductor packed up the bundles, and tossed them into the rack, heedless of the protest of the indignant owner. I confess that I rather enjoyed the discomfiture of the old lady, who had compelled me to stand for the accommodation of her bundles. She was unreasonable, and utterly selfish, and I thought she deserved the defeat to which she was compelled to submit.

"Here is a seat for you, Mr. Collingsby," continued the conductor, with a great deal of deference in his tone and manner.

Mr. Collingsby! I straightway forgot all about the old lady in the interest awakened by this name. The snaps, snarls, and growls with which the woman saluted her new seat-mate were lost upon me, whether they were or not upon the unfortunate subject of them. The name was not a very common one, and I jumped to the conclusion that the dignified gentleman was my uncle.

"Thank you," replied the traveller, rather coldly, after the hard battle the official had fought for his sake.

"There will be plenty of seats when we reach the next station," added the conductor, as he passed me.

For my own part, I was glad I had no seat, for I could now choose my own position to study the features of Mr. Collingsby.

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