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


Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 10938

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Mr. Collingsby, though not more than forty-two or three years old, was quite stout; indeed, I should say that he was already qualified by his proportions to be an alderman. I was disposed to regard him with great respect, as he was my uncle-at least I had made up my mind that he was. I certainly had no objection to acknowledging such a relation. He corresponded with the description given by my father.

A Man with Capital takes whatever Seat in the Car he fancies.

Page 38.

The dignified gentleman took up a fair half of the seat which was to be divided between him and the old lady, and the latter wriggled, and twisted, and squirmed for some time before she had adjusted her frame and her dress to her own satisfaction. Mr. Collingsby took no notice whatever of her, as it was evidently beneath his dignity to do so, or even to be annoyed by her uneasy motions. Opening the newspaper he carried in his hand, he began to read the leader, totally oblivious of her presence. I rather liked his way of treating a disagreeable subject; and just then, if I had been permitted to vote, I would cheerfully have cast my ballot in his favor for an alderman of Chicago or St. Louis.

The more I studied the face of my presumed uncle, the better I liked him, though perhaps I was biassed by the relationship. He looked like a very substantial man, though I should have regarded it as dangerous to perpetrate a joke upon him. On the whole, therefore, I was entirely satisfied to have him turn out to be the brother of my mother. In about an hour the train stopped; and by this time I was ready to sit down. But only one gentleman left the car in which I was riding; and he sat directly opposite the dignified gentleman. I started for the vacant seat; but, before I could secure it, Mr. Collingsby sprang quite nimbly, for a person of his weight, into the place. Doubtless the rudeness of the old lady had annoyed him, for he made haste to beat a retreat.

However, I had the alternative of taking the seat just vacated, or standing up still longer. I chose the former; and before the old lady could transfer her bundles from the rack to the chair, I dropped into it. I made myself as comfortable as possible, though my porcupine companion hitched violently towards the middle of the seat, so as to make sure that she had her full share of the space. She cast a savage glance at me, as though she thought I had invaded her privileges; but I endeavored to follow the example of my predecessor in the seat, and be too dignified to be annoyed.

"Goodness knows! I am glad that hog has gone!" ejaculated the old lady, with no little venom in her tones, and loud enough to have been heard by Mr. Collingsby, if his dignity had not closed his ears to such an unfeminine expression.

I did not deem it prudent to take any notice of her; and, across the aisle, I read the headings in large type in Mr. Collingsby's newspaper, for I had none of my own to help me in preserving my dignity, or rather in cultivating it.

"Some folks don't know much," added the old lady, spitefully.

I was perfectly willing to grant the truth of this proposition, even without knowing whether it was intended to apply to Mr. Collingsby or to me; though I was compelled to believe it was all in the family, and made no difference. It was undeniable that "some folks didn't know much;" but I was forced to deduce the corollary that the old lady was one of the unfortunates included in the proposition.

"I say, some folks don't know much," repeated the old lady, forcibly. "That Mr. Collingsby needn't put on airs, and pretend he don't know me. I know'd him the moment that conductor-man spoke his name. He ain't no better'n I am. My son's his pardner in business."

I couldn't help looking at her then. Her lips wore pursed up, and she was the very impersonation of offended dignity. Her remark rather startled me, and if it was true, I wished to make her acquaintance.

"Perhaps he didn't recognize you," I ventured to suggest.

"Perhaps he didn't; but none are so blind as them that won't see. Yes, that man is my son's pardner in business; and my son is every bit and grain as good as he is, though I say it, who ought not to say it. My name's Whippleton, and my son's name is Charles Whippleton. I s'pose you've heard of the firm of Collingsby and Whippleton-hain't you?"

"I never did," I replied.

Mr. Collingsby read his newspaper, and did not appear to hear a word that was said; but I fancied his dignity was subjected to a severe trial.

"Where have you been all your life, if you never heard of Collingsby and Whippleton, the biggest lumber firm in Chicago?" added the old lady.

"I never was in Chicago," I replied.

"O, you never was! Well, it's a sight to see! You hain't seen much of the world if you never was in Chicago. Well, you are like a chicken that ain't hatched; all your troubles are to come. There's a great many mean folks in the world; you'll find that out soon enough. For my part, if there's anything in this world that I hate, it's mean folks," continued Mrs. Whippleton, glancing maliciously across the aisle at Mr. Collingsby. "That man's meaner'n gravel-stone chowder."

The old lady dropped her voice a little, as though she meant to be confidential on this point. I was rather sorry to have the character of my presumed uncle damaged in this manner, but I was not sufficiently acquainted with him to attempt a defence.

"It was

meaner'n dirt for him to set down side of me, and not even say how d'ye do! I hate mean folks. I ain't mean myself. There ain't a mean bone in my body-no, there ain't, if I do say it, that oughtn't to say it."

"Probably the gentleman did not recognize you," I suggested again.

"He didn't want to re-cog-nize me," she persisted, throwing a bitter emphasis on the middle of the word. "He didn't even look at me."

I wanted to ask her some questions about the Collingsby family; but I did not like to do so while one of its members was so near me, for I fancied that, deeply as he was absorbed in the newspaper, he heard every word that was said by the garrulous old lady, who appeared to have been talking more for his benefit than mine in some of her remarks. But the appearance of the conductor at the forward end of the car, taking up the tickets, changed the current of her thoughts, and she commenced a violent demonstration upon her bag, her pocket, and her bundles, in search of her ticket.

Most of the passengers produced their tickets, conscious, perhaps, how nervous it makes the "gentlemanly conductor" when compelled to wait for excited men or women to search through all their pockets, and all their portable effects, for the evidence that they had paid their fare. I noticed that Mr. Collingsby continued to gaze unmoved at the columns of his newspaper, and when the conductor reached him, he slowly drew off his kid glove, and deliberately took from his pocket-book the ticket, which his dignity did not permit him to have ready before.

"Tickets, if you please," said the conductor, as he politely bowed to Mr. Collingsby, and turned to the less important people in the car.

I gave up mine, and received a check; but Mrs. Whippleton was still ransacking her bags and parcels.

"As I live and breathe, I've lost my ticket, or else somebody's stole it!" exclaimed the old lady, glancing again towards Mr. Collingsby, who must have been, in her estimation, the root of all evil and all mischief.

"Did you buy one?" asked the conductor.

"Sartin I did," protested Mrs. Whippleton; "and it took nigh on to every cent of money I had. I hain't got enough left to buy my dinner."

"Look round and find it," added the official.

"Look round! I've looked into everything I have. You hustled all my things over, and I reckon it's your fault, more'n 'tis mine."

"Look again, and I will come back," added the conductor, as he passed on his way.

"You hain't seen nothin' of my ticket-have you?" said Mrs. Whippleton, as she commenced another onslaught upon her pockets and bundles.

"I have not."

But I did the best I could to assist her in the search. I got out of my seat, and looked upon the floor in the vicinity. Neither of us was successful in finding the lost pasteboard, for which the handsome sum of twelve dollars had been expended. I really pitied the old lady, for she did not appear to be in good circumstances herself, judging by the quality of her clothing and her baggage. What seemed to make it worse to me was the fact that she had spent all her money.

"I don't see what's become on't!" said she, in despair.

"Are you sure you bought one?" I asked, rather for the want of anything else to say than because this was the most pertinent question.

"Why, do you think I'd lie about it?"

"Certainly not," I protested, alarmed at this violent deduction from my remark.

"If I didn't buy a ticket, where's my money gone to?"

"You may have lost it before you got into the car."

"No, I didn't. I had it, I know, after I sot down here. You don't think I'd try to cheat-do you?"

"Why, no! I didn't think of such a thing."

"Well, madam, have you found your ticket?" asked the conductor, returning from the rear of the car.

"Hain't seen hide nor hair on't."

"Just get out of the seat and shake yourself. If you had a ticket at all, it is here somewhere," added the gentlemanly official.

"Do you think I didn't have no ticket?" demanded Mrs. Whippleton, pursing up her lips to express her wounded feelings.

"I don't know; jump up, and we will see."

I left my seat, and with a labored effort the old lady followed my example. The conductor searched on the floor, and in the chair, overhauled the bundles, and turned up the back of the seat, but with no better success than had attended our previous efforts.

"Sartin 'tain't there," said the old lady, as she worked herself into her seat again.

"No, it is not. Are you sure you had a ticket?"

"Do you think I'd lie about it?"

"Perhaps you lost it before you got into the car."

"No, I didn't. I had it while I sot here. I reckon you lost it when you stirred up my things. If you hadn't teched 'em, it would have been all right."

"Well, madam, I want your ticket or your fare."

"But I hain't got no ticket."

"Then give me twelve dollars."

"Twelve dollars!" ejaculated the old lady. "Do you think I'm made of money?"

"I don't know that I care what you are made of, if you pay your fare."

"But I've spent all my money. I hain't got twelve dollars. Besides, I don't want to pay twice."

"If you find your ticket, I will give you back your money."

"I tell you I hain't got twelve dollars. You can't hatch wooden eggs."

"Then you must leave the car, madam."

"Leave the car! And not go back to Chicago?"

"I must have your ticket or your fare before we stop next time," said the conductor, passing on.

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