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


Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 11546

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I intended to be a clerk, but I had not thought of such a thing as applying for a situation in Chicago. I did not like the idea of being separated from my father; but, when I learned that there was a vacancy in the counting-room of Messrs. Collingsby and Whippleton, I was tempted to obtain it if I could. I did not expect or desire to make a violent assault upon my grandfather, but to reach him by easy and gradual approaches. A situation in the house of which he was the silent partner I thought would help me amazingly. It seemed to me that I could not plan anything better to accomplish my purpose.

I could get acquainted with my uncle and my grandfather. I hoped that I might even be able to do something to win their regard and favor. Certainly the first step towards such a result was to place myself in a position where I could see them occasionally. I did not like the looks of Mr. Whippleton, and I was afraid he had imbibed the worldly wisdom of his mother. But this feeling was not to weigh against the immense advantages I might derive from meeting the Collingsbys. The more I thought of the matter, the more I was inclined to apply for the place. I believed that I was fully competent to keep a set of books by double entry, and certainly I was fit for an entry clerk.

"What kind of a place is it that you wished your nephew to fill, Mrs. Whippleton?" I asked, after Mr. Charles had gone.

"Well, I don't know much about it, but Charles called it an entry clerk. I suppose he has to do his work out in the entry because the counting-room isn't big enough, or because he ain't smart enough to come into the presence of such mighty men as that Mr. Collingsby."

"How much do they pay him?"

"I don't know exactly; but not more'n four or five dollars a week-just enough for him to starve on. You see, I heard that my nephew's son wanted a place, and couldn't get one in St. Louis. I thought, this would be a good chance for him. I wanted to make 'em a visit, for they owed me some money I lent 'em. I told Charles he must take Rufus, and I put him off till I was able to go to St. Louis. The spring business was comin' on, and he couldn't wait; so I hurried off. I got the money my nephew owed me; but they wouldn't let the boy come to Chicago, though I told 'em I went down purpose arter him. Charles fretted a good deal because I made him wait; but Charles minds his mother, if he is sassy sometimes. He knows I've got some money that I can't take with me when I leave this world for a better one."

I thought it was rather impudent for her to talk about a better world, when she was doing all she could to make this a mean one; and I doubted whether, unless she mended her ways, the other would be a better one to her.

"I have two merried daughters that need what little I've got more than Charles does; and he owes me now for what I let him have to set up in business. He owes all he has in this world to me," continued the old lady, complacently.

"He wants an entry clerk immediately?" I suggested.

"Yes; Charles has had to do all the work himself, for, you see, he keeps the books of the firm. Well, he does all the business, for that matter. He's all there is of the firm, except the money the Collingsbys put in. Howsomever, I suppose it's just as well that Rufus didn't come, for ef he had, I should had to board him for three dollars a week; and he's a growin' boy, and eats more'n a man."

"Do you think I could get this place?"

"You! My stars! I don't know!" exclaimed the old lady. "Can you write?"


"Good at figgers?"

"Pretty good, I think."

"They want somebody that's smart. Charles was afraid Rufus wouldn't do, but I desisted on having on him; and Charles knows I'm smart enough to make a will now if I take a notion."

"I didn't think of looking for a place in Chicago," I added; "but this looks like a good chance."

"Why didn't you say so before Charles went off? If you want the place, you shall have it. I say so, and I know what I'm saying; and Charles has been afraid all along that I might make a will."

"I should like to go on trial; but I don't know that I can stay in Chicago a great while."

"They want somebody right off, and somebody that's smart."

"I think I could suit them. I can keep books; and besides, I have worked at carpentering for two years, and I know something about lumber. Where is your son now? Is he in the house?"

"Sakes, no!" exclaimed the old lady, beginning to be excited. "He don't board here; 'tain't smart enough for him; but I'll go with you and see him."

"Thank you, Mrs. Whippleton."

"I'm pretty tired; but I'm allus willin' to do what I can for a feller-cretur. I went clear down to St. Louis to help my nephew's son; and I'll do as much for you as I would for him."

"I won't trouble you to go with me. If you will tell me where he is, I will go alone."

"That won't do. I must lay down the law to Charles; and if he dares to do any different from what I tell him, he won't touch any more of my money-that's all."

I did not exactly like the idea of having Mr. Charles placed under compulsion to take me, whether he liked me or not; and I decided, if he objected to the arrangement, to take myself out of his way. We walked to the residence of Mr. Charles, which was a genteel house in a good section of the city. He had a parlor and bed-room, and seemed to live in good style. Before she said anything about me, Mrs. Whippleton took her son into the entry, where, I suppose, she "laid down the law" to him."

"My mother says you want a place as entry clerk," said Mr. Charles, when they returned to the parlor, where I was seated.

"Yes, sir," I replied, with becoming deference.

"When can you go to work?"

"At once,


"To-morrow morning?"

The Examination in Book-keeping.

Page 73.

"Yes, sir."

He then questioned me in regard to my knowledge of book-keeping and arithmetic, and wanted to know if I understood board measure, and could read lumber marks. I told him I had been a carpenter, and knew all about lumber. I could keep a set of books by double entry, and thought I was competent to perform all sorts of mercantile calculations. But he was too shrewd and suspicious to take me on my own recommendation. He gave me a sheet of paper, pen, and ink, and told me to write my name.

"Farringford!" exclaimed he, as he read what I wrote.

"Yes, sir; that is my name."

"Do you belong to the Farringfords of St. Louis?"

"Yes; but I was brought up on the upper Missouri."

"Well, your name is nothing in your favor; however, that isn't your fault," he added, magnanimously; but fortunately he said no more on that subject. "Now, what is the interest on two thousand dollars for six months at eight per cent?"

"Eighty dollars," I replied, as soon as he had the question out of his mouth, for my father had practised me thoroughly in all the short methods of computing interest.

He gave me half a dozen other problems; but, as he selected only those which he could solve in his own mind, I was very prompt in my replies. He then wrote out an example in averaging accounts, and as it was not a difficult one, and involved only round numbers, I did it very readily.

"But the most important thing with us," added Mr. Whippleton, "is simple addition. I don't like to wait half an hour for a clerk to run up a column of figures."

He then wrote about twenty sums of money, each having five or six figures, and told me to add them. My father had always assured me that simple addition tried the young accountant more than anything else, and he had insisted that I should practise it until I could run up a column as rapidly as my eye could take in the figures. I had used this exercise for months, until I flattered myself I could give the sum of a column as quick as any practised book-keeper. At the same time, he had taught me his own method, that of taking two figures at once, and adding their sum to the result already obtained. It was just as easy for one quick at figures to add thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, or nineteen, as it was to add three, six, eight, or nine. Thus, if the figures in the column were 6, 5, 4, 7, 9, 3, 8, 2, 9, 1, my father added them in couples, for it required no effort of the mind to add six and five, four and seven, nine and three, eight and two, or nine and one; and the mental process was eleven, twenty-two, thirty-four, forty-four, fifty-four.

I had practised this system until I could carry it along as rapidly as I could by adding a single figure at a time. Mr. Whippleton made his figures in duplicate when he wrote them, and added one himself to prove that I was right or wrong. Before he was half done, I had my result.

"You are wrong," said he, decidedly, when he had finished. "I would rather have you use twice as much time, and have the result right, than do it quick, and have it wrong. Accuracy first, and speed next."

That was just what my father had always told me, and I was rather mortified at the failure. I went over the columns again, with the same result.

"I get it so again, sir," I replied, when I had added the columns in an opposite direction from that taken the first time.

Mr. Whippleton added his figures a second time; but there was still two hundred dollars' difference in the two amounts.

"You add mine and I will add yours," said he, as we exchanged papers.

This time I made his figures come out right; but I was also astonished to find that he too made mine come out correctly.

"I see it, sir," I added. "In the fourth item the five on your paper is a three on mine, and we are both right."

"Exactly so! You'll do, young man, though I should like to see you make out a bill. We sell Tobey Tinkum forty-two thousand Michigan pine boards, clear, at thirty dollars;" and he proceeded to give me several items, which I could not have written down if I had not been a carpenter, for the technical terms would have bothered and defeated me.

When my late employer, Mr. Clinch, found that I had some knowledge of arithmetic and accounts, he used to set me at work on his bills, to see if they were cast up correctly. This experience had prepared me for precisely the ordeal I was at present undergoing. I wrote the bill as handsomely as I could, though without straining over it, and figured up the prices, extending them and adding them. The examiner seemed to be very much pleased, and wanted to know where I had learned so much about the lumber business. I explained, and told him I had used about all my evenings for two years in studying.

"You'll do," said he. "Now, what wages do you expect?"

"I don't know; what do you pay?"

"Well, we pay three or four dollars a week. As you are pretty good at figures, we will give you four."

"I made more than that at my trade. I can't afford to work for four dollars a week, sir. It would only pay my board."

"What do you ask?"

"I will work eight weeks, say, at six dollars a week."

Mr. Whippleton objected; but I was firm. He evidently thought I was just the person he wanted, and he finally consented to my terms, but insisted upon making the time a year. I told him I could not agree for a longer time than I had named without consulting my father. He yielded this point also, and I promised to be at the counting-room of Collingsby and Whippleton the next morning.

I walked home with Mrs. Whippleton, who again assured me that she was always willing to do what she could for a "feller-cretur."

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