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


Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 11116

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was quite a shock to me to find that one whom I had supposed to be honest was guilty of a deliberate attempt to defraud the railroad company out of the sum of twelve dollars; who had resorted to gross lies and mean deception to carry her point. Upon my honor and conscience, I would rather have lost the twelve dollars I had advanced than had the old woman turn out to be a swindler. She might be fussy, she might be disagreeable, she might be a dozen things that are uncomfortable and unpleasant, if she had only meant to be true and honest, and I could have respected her.

I was amazed; first, that she could be guilty of such a vile trick; and second, that she had had the hardihood to acknowledge it, even to a boy like me. My respect for the knowledge and penetration of the gentlemanly conductor rose about ten degrees, and I was tempted to say to myself that I would never again interfere in behalf of another "lone woman," especially if she was the mother of one as smart as her son Charles.

"You needn't tell that nasty conductor what I say," said Mrs. Whippleton, as if conscious that she had been imprudent in revealing so much to me.

"I don't think he needs to be told. It appears now that he understood the case perfectly," I replied, disgusted with my seat-mate. "He said you did not have any ticket, and that it was all a trick to evade paying your fare."

"He didn't know that. He may say just the same thing six times, and be mistaken five on 'em."

"Didn't you intend to pay your fare?"

"Perhaps I should, if they hadn't pussicuted me so in the beginning."

"But you didn't buy a ticket."

"No, I didn't. You are a green boy. What difference does it make to this railroad company whether I paid my fare or not? They've got money enough."

"But they wouldn't make much if people didn't pay."

"It don't make no difference if one don't pay now and then. You hain't seen much of the world yet, my boy. When you have lived to be as old as I am, you'll know more."

"I hope I shall not live so long as to be proud of being dishonest," I replied, with considerable spirit.

"Dishonest? What do you mean by that? Do you pretend to say I'm dishonest?"

"Well, madam, we needn't quarrel about words; but, if I had tried to cheat the railroad company out of twelve dollars, or twelve cents, I should call it being dishonest."

"You are a silly boy."

"I hope I always shall be silly, then. I should think God had forsaken me, if I could deliberately try to wrong any one."

"You haven't seen the world. I have worked hard in my time. It took me a good while to earn twelve dollars; and when I see a chance to save twelve dollars, I generally always does so."

"You don't steal twelve dollars-do you-when you get a chance?"

"Steal! I hope not. I never did such a thing in my life. No, I'm an honest woman; everybody that knows me will say that. If that nasty conductor had used me well, I should have paid my fare; but it won't make no difference to the company whether I did or not. Why shouldn't Mr. Collingsby pay his fare as well as me?"

"He did; I saw him give up his ticket."

"You are a green boy. His ticket! It was a free pass. His father is a great railroad man, and the whole family ride for nothing whenever they please. It is just as right that I should go free as he; and I can tell you, if I can get over the road for nothing, it is my duty to do so-a duty I owe to myself and to my son Charles. You must live and learn, young man; and when you can go over the road for nothing, don't waste twelve dollars."

I did not like the old lady's philosophy, though I have since learned that there are a great many people in the world who think it is no sin to cheat a railroad corporation out of a few dollars, more or less. I once heard a man, who pretended to be a gentleman, boasting that he evaded paying his fare in the train because the conductor did not call for it. I hold him to be a swindler, just as much as though he had been called upon for his ticket. When he got into the car, he virtually bargained with the railroad company to convey him a certain distance for a certain price. No matter if the conductor did not formally demand payment; it was his duty to pay, and he was just as much a swindler and a thief, as though he had stolen or cheated some individual out of the money.

I feel better now, after venting my righteous indignation on this subject. I have a good deal more respect for the thief who steals your money, or the gentlemanly swindler who plunders you of it by the polite tricks of his art, than for these pretentious knaves who lie without uttering a word, and steal without lifting a finger.

Mrs. Whippleton continued, for an hour, to assure me that I was extraordinarily green, imparting a lesson on worldly wisdom, which, I am happy to say, at the age of twenty-eight, has been utterly wasted upon me.

"You haven't seen much of the world, and you don't know what's what yet; but I like you, young man. You have behaved very well to a lone woman, and you shan't lose nothing by it," she continued.

"I am entirely satisfied," I replied.

"I didn't mean you should lose anything by me. I might have cheated you out of twelve dollars just as easy as nothing."

I was certainly very much obliged to her for her kind consideration in this respect; and I was forced to acknowledge the truth of her proposition. Though I despised her, I could not help seeing that she had been just towards me.

"I am very much obliged to you for not doing it,"

I replied.

"No; I never cheat nobody; and I hate mean folks. It would have been mean in me to let you lose twelve dollars after what you did for me. If it hadn't been for you I should have been put out of the car."

"But you had money to pay your fare."

"I wouldn't pay that nasty conductor after I had told him I had no money. One has to be persistent."

"I think you have been consistent all the way through."

"Thank'ee. After what you did, and the tea you fetched, I felt an interest in you; and it ain't many folks I do feel an interest in."

Of course not! Not many people would have done anything for her to induce her to feel an interest in them.

"I reckon you don't belong in Chicago," she continued.

"I do not. I never was there."

"Well, it's a wicked place."

Any place must be wicked from her stand-point.

"I suppose it is no worse than any city of its size."

"I don't know's it is. I suppose you have friends there."


"Well, where you goin' to stop, then?"

"I don't know yet. I shall go to some hotel, I suppose."

"Hotels are awful dear."

"I think I can stand it for a week or so at a cheap hotel. I don't mean to go to the Tremont House."

"Don't waste your money in that way, you silly boy. It will cost you a dollar and a half a day to live at any hotel."

"What shall I do?" I asked, willing to profit by the old lady's knowledge, while I abhorred her principles.

"I keep boarders myself; and I only charge 'em four dollars a week. I don't take none for a week or two; but I'll take you, after what's happened, at the same price. You can save six or seven dollars in this way."

"I thank you, Mrs. Whippleton. I'm very much obliged to you, and will go to your house."

I was really relieved by this friendly offer, for I did not like to go to a hotel among total strangers. Whatever Mrs. Whippleton was morally could not affect me as a boarder for a brief period, while the saving of expense was a great item to me. When the train arrived at Chicago, the old lady gathered up her bundles, with my assistance, and we walked to her house, which was at a considerable distance from the station. The dwelling was a large, plain house. I found that it was furnished in a very cheap style. The landlady called a servant girl, who conducted me to a small room over the entry, in which there was a narrow bed. It did not compare favorably with my quarters at Mrs. Greenough's, but I thought I could stand it for a week. When I went down stairs, I was invited to tea with the old lady. I came to the conclusion that the boarders in the house paid full price for all they had, for the butter was very strong, and the dishes were not particularly clean.

Before we had finished our supper, Mr. Charles Whippleton was announced. He came into the room where the old lady was sipping her tea, and after casting a sharp look at me, he threw himself into a large rocking-chair, which was evidently kept for the especial use of his mother. He was well dressed, and after I had heard so much about the man, I scrutinized his features quite closely. I was not favorably impressed, for there was an expression of sharpness and cunning in his face which did not suit me. Mrs. Whippleton did not take the trouble to introduce me.

"Got home, mother?" said he, without wasting any of his breath in affectionate terms.

"I have, thank fortin; but I didn't expect to get home."

"Why, what's the matter now?" demanded the dutiful son, whose question implied that something was always the matter.

Mrs. Whippleton informed him what was the matter now, including a detailed account of her grievances. To my surprise, the affectionate son informed her that she was an old fool, glancing at me, as though, after a day's experience with his maternal parent, I ought to be able to confirm his rash statement in the fullest manner.

I prudently held my peace.

"I may be an old fool, but I know when I am insulted."

"I would rather given fifty dollars than had you appeal to Mr. Collingsby."

"He's a mean man."

"Perhaps he is; but I must keep on the right side of him."

"You can keep on the right side of him, Charles; but don't ask me to do so, for I hate mean folks. If I should meet that man in the street to-night, I wouldn't speak to him."

"He wouldn't cry if you didn't," sneered Mr. Charles.

"I don't know as I should ever have got home, if this young man had not took care on me."

Mr. Whippleton glanced at me again, as though he thought I was as big a fool as his maternal parent.

"Well, let all that go," continued the dutiful son. "Did you see Rufus in St. Louis?"

"I did see him; and only to think on't, after I had taken all that trouble and spent all that money, he wouldn't come," replied the old lady, indignantly.

"I hope you are satisfied now," added Mr. Charles, with much disgust.

"Well, I had my visit, any how."

"What's the reason Rufus won't come?"

"His folks don't want him to leave home. They say he isn't very well-just as though I couldn't take care on him!"

"Very well; you've kept me out of a clerk for three weeks for his sake, and that is all it amounts to."

Mr. Charles departed in disgust; and Mrs. Whippleton explained that she had been to St. Louis to induce her nephew's son, a young man of eighteen, to take the place of entry clerk in the counting-room of the firm. That was just such a place as I wanted; and, while the garrulous landlady was detailing the particulars, I considered whether I should apply for it.

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