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


Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 11530

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I thought that the conductor was rather hard on the old lady, though I was willing to allow that his duty admitted of no compromise.

"Did you ever hear the like on't?" exclaimed the old lady. "Put me out of the car! He's a mean man, and I hate mean folks wus'n pizen."

"I suppose he has his duty to perform," I mildly suggested.

"'Tain't his duty to put a lone and onprotected woman out of the car; and he wouldn't do it if my son Charles was here."

I concluded that if her son Charles were there, he would pay her fare, like a dutiful son as he was. Presently the whistle on the locomotive sounded, and we heard the scraping of the brakes, as the train prepared to stop. The conductor promptly appeared, and again demanded her fare or a ticket. The old lady seemed to be greatly troubled, and I expected to have the whole seat to myself from this station.

"Suthin must be done!" said the old lady.

"That's so; give me your ticket or the twelve dollars," replied the official.

"I can't do one nor t'other. I hain't got the money, and my ticket's gone."

"Very well, madam. Then you must leave the train."

"But I don't know a soul here. Won't you trust me till we get to Chicago?"

"I don't know you, and we do not give credit for fares."

"Mr. Collingsby, over there, knows me. My son's his pardner in business."

"Very well, madam; if that is the case, there will be no trouble about it," added the polite official, as he turned to the dignified gentleman, and stated the case.

Mr. Collingsby glanced at the old lady, and shook his head, with a deprecatory smile.

"I have not the pleasure of the lady's acquaintance," said he, after a hasty glance at her face, as he turned his attention to his newspaper again.

"She says her son is your partner in business," suggested the conductor.

"That may be; but I don't know the lady. I am not aware that I ever saw her," answered the head of the firm, without raising his eyes from his paper.

"What is your name, madam?" demanded the conductor.

"Don't he know my name? Don't he know the name of his own pardner?"

"I asked your name, madam."

"My name's Whippleton-Mrs. Whippleton; and my son's his pardner."

"She says her name is Whippleton, and that her son is your partner," said the conductor, again appealing to the dignified head of the firm.

"I don't dispute it, sir," replied Mr. Collingsby, coldly. "My partner's name is Whippleton, but I don't know that lady. As I said, I am not aware that I ever saw her before."

"Shall I trust her for her fare?"

"Do as you please. As I don't know her, I cannot vouch for her," replied Mr. Collingsby, in a tone which implied that, if the conductor knew what he was about, he would not disturb him any further on the disagreeable subject.

"Mr. Collingsby does not know you, madam."

"That's what I call mean!" ejaculated Mrs. Whippleton, bitterly. "I don't believe he'd know his own father if the old man didn't wear a fashionable hat."

"He doesn't dispute what you say; but he doesn't know you. I must have your fare, madam."

"I keep telling you, I hain't got no money."

"Then you must get out here."

"You don't mean so!"

"Yes, I do. Shall I help you out with your baggage?"

"But I'll pay you when I get to Chicago."

"That won't do. In a word, madam, I don't believe you lost your ticket."

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

"I'm sorry to say I do think so. If I mistake not, you have tried this game on before."

"What imperance!"

"Come, madam, be in a hurry!" persisted the conductor, reaching forward and taking the old lady's largest bundle from the rack.

"I should like to speak to you a moment, Mr. Conductor," I interposed, unable any longer to contain my indignation.

"What do you want?"

I rose, and requested him to go with me to the rear of the car.

"Speak quick, young man. Do you know this woman?" demanded the bustling official.

"No; but I will be responsible for her fare," I replied, with as much dignity as Mr. Collingsby could have assumed. "If she don't pay you when we get to Chicago, I will."

"Will you, indeed! That is very kind of you; but we don't do business in that way," laughed the conductor, with a glance which indicated how much he pitied my greenness. "She has money enough, and she didn't buy any ticket. It is only a trick to get rid of paying her fare."

"I will be responsible for the fare."

"Pay it now, then," added the conductor, shrugging his shoulders.

I do not know what it was that prompted me to this chivalrous action in favor of a very disagreeable old lady; but I felt like a Christian who was fighting the battle of his enemy. I took out my porte-monnaie, and from the fifty-three dollars I had left of the sum I had taken to pay my expenses, I gave the conductor twelve. He handed me a check for the old lady, jumped out, and started the train. He treated me as though he thought I was a fool; and I was myself inclined to believe he was more than half right.

Several passengers had left the car at this station, and when I returned to my seat, I found that Mr. Collingsby had changed his place for one where he had a whole chair to himself, at some distance from the old lady. I had no doubt he was glad to escape from the vicinity of the troublesome passenger; but he still read his newspaper, as though nothing had for a moment ruffled the current of his thoughts.

"I knew he wouldn't dare to put me out of the car!" said Mrs. Whippleton, as I resumed my seat at her side. "Don't talk to me! He didn't dare to perpetuate such an outrage."

"We are all right now," I replied.

"Yes, we are. Put me out! I should like to seen him done it! I should! I reckon my son Charles would

have taught him what it was to perpetuate such an outrage on his mother. As for that Mr. Collingsby, he's a mean man! Only to think that he didn't know me!"

"Have you ever met him?"

"Have I? Yes, I have. I have been in the counting-room when he was there, and he looked right at me! And now he don't know me! No matter; that conductor didn't dare to put me out of the car! He would have lost his place if he had."

I handed her the check which the gentlemanly official had given me.

"What's that?"

"Your check."

"He's gettin' very perlite. How came he to give you this?"

"Because I paid your fare," I replied, in a low tone; for I did not care to expose my innocence to the people around me.

"You did?"

"Yes; he would certainly have put you out of the car if I had not."

"I don't believe a word on't."

"I do, Mrs. Whippleton. He says you have done the same thing before."

"He's a fearful liar. I'll tell my son Charles all about it, and, if he has any influence, that man shall smart for it."

"I don't think the conductor is to blame. He only did his duty."

"Then you think I'm to blame," said she, putting on her dignity.

"If you lost your ticket-"

"Do you think I didn't lose it?" she interposed, quick to catch even an implied imputation.

"Of course I think you did lose it. But the conductor cannot pass every one who says he has lost his ticket."

"Well, I don't care. It was a mean trick, and I'll tell Charles all about it."

"I wouldn't say anything to him about it. It will only worry him; and the conductor isn't to blame."

"Do you think it is right to put a lone woman out of the car because she lost her ticket?"

"The conductor didn't know you."

"Yes, he did know me. I rid over this road only a week ago, when I went down to St. Louis to see my nephew."

It was useless to argue the point with her. Perhaps, if she had made no fuss when she got into the car, the conductor might have entertained a different opinion of her. I wanted to obtain some information of her in regard to the Collingsby family; and I am willing to offer this as the reason for my chivalrous conduct.

"You know Mr. Collingsby, if he does not know you," I said, in order to introduce the subject.

"He's my son's pardner in business."

"Are you personally acquainted with him?"

"Well, I can't say I am much acquainted with him. His folks and ourn don't visit much, for, you see, the Collingsbys are rich and smart."

"He has a brother, I have heard."

"Yes; his brother Joseph is in Europe, with his wife and his sister."

"His sister?" I queried, deeply interested in this branch of the topic.

"Her name's Louise. She merried a good-for-nothin' feller in St. Louis, and left him; so she's a grass widder now."

"Did you ever see her?"

"I never did; but law sake, I've hearn my son Charles tell all about 'em. He knows 'em, root and branch; and they are all on 'em jest about as proud as Lucifer, and as consayted as a pullet over her fust egg. They're rich, and that's all that can be said on 'em. My son Charles does all the business of the firm, and if it wan't for him they'd all gone to ruin long ago."

"But this Mr. Collingsby has a father?"

"Yes; and he's jest like all the rest on 'em. They are all proud and consayted, and they come naterally enough by it, for the old man thinks the ground ain't good enough for him to tread on."

"But he is not in business now?"

"Ain't he, though? Yes, he is. He's the sleepin' pardner of the house of Collingsby and Whippleton. He put some money into it; but my son Charles finds all the brains."

Of course I could not help having a very high estimate of her son Charles; but I was not quite prepared to believe that my grandfather and my uncles were so deficient in everything but pride as she represented. Mrs. Whippleton continued to enlighten me in regard to the character and antecedents of the Collingsbys until the train stopped for dinner. I got out, and took a lunch, after the old lady had refused my invitation to do so. Reflecting that she had no money, I carried her a cup of tea and some sandwiches, which she did not refuse. The tea was hot and strong, and in refined and elegant phrase, she informed me that it "went to the right spot." I returned the cup and saucer as the bell rang, and resumed my place at her side.

"You are a real nice young man, and I'm only sorry I didn't take you into the seat with me when you fust got in," said she, apparently overcome by my chivalrous devotion to her comfort.

"Thank you, madam," I replied. "I remembered that you said you had not money enough even to buy a dinner, and I always like to do as I'd be done by."

"But I ain't so poor as you think for. I will pay you for my fare and for my tea," she continued; and, to my astonishment, she took from the folds of her dress a roll of bills, which had been carefully pinned in.

"I thought you had no money!" I exclaimed, amazed at the sight I saw.

"I didn't want to rob you. I hate mean folks, and I ain't afeered on 'em," she added, as she handed me the twelve dollars I had paid on her account.

"But you may find your ticket," I suggested.

"I don't expect to find it," she replied, with abundant resignation.

"If you do, I will get the money for it."

"I shall not find it. To tell the truth, I didn't have no ticket," she answered, in a low tone, and with a vile chuckling, which indicated that she was not to blame, even if her clever trick had failed.

I took the twelve dollars, and considered myself the luckiest person in the world. I did not blame Mr. Collingsby for not recognizing her, even if he did know her, and I begrudged the quarter I had expended upon her in tea and sandwiches.

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