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Desk and Debit; or, The Catastrophes of a Clerk By Oliver Optic Characters: 22887

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The conference was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Collingsby, senior, who had been sent for. He gave his granddaughter a very cordial greeting, and the events which had transpired were all rehearsed for his benefit.

"How did you expect to get away in your yacht?" asked the senior partner.

"Waterford was to go with me. A friend in St. Joseph had offered me a thousand dollars for my boat, and I expected to sell her to him. We then intended to sail through the lakes to Collingwood, and proceed to Montreal. Waterford was to have made Marian his wife at St. Joseph."

"The scoundrel!" ejaculated the father.

"He was to return, make his peace with you, and save me from harm. We should have succeeded if Phil had not been so zealous to serve the firm. He upset my calculations no less than three times, and finally broke my head. You have no fault to find with him, Mr. Collingsby, however it may be with me."

"Mr. Philips, I trust you will excuse any harsh words I may have used," said the senior partner.

"Certainly, sir; but my name is not Philips."

"What is it?"

"Philip Farringford, sir."

"Yes, father, and he is my own cousin," added Marian.

"Nonsense! We will talk of that some other time."

"I think you had better open that bag," I suggested.

It was opened, and all the money which the junior partner had gathered together was taken from it. Mrs. Whippleton's treasure was found, just as I had left it, with the seals unbroken.

"That is Phil's, and contains nothing belonging to the firm," said Mr. Whippleton, as the officer produced the package. "I hope you will give it to him."

I explained the nature of the contents, and to my great gratification it was restored to me. The graceless son acknowledged that he had signed his mother's name to the order upon me for its delivery. He had procured the nurse for his mother, and she informed him what had been done during our interview. It appeared that she had placed herself at the door for this purpose.

"Mr. Collingsby, I hope you don't intend to proceed against me, now that I have made all the restitution in my power," said the culprit.

"I don't know; I will see."

"The false invoices cover about forty thousand dollars. My capital in the firm, and my share of the profits, will reimburse you for about thirty thousand. I will give you a deed of my lands for the balance, so that you will lose nothing by me."

"I have lost through you my confidence in mankind," replied Mr. Collingsby. "I have no desire to persecute you."

"I have given up every dollar I took with me. My yacht will bring a thousand dollars. You shall have that."

"I will take the boat at that price, and place the amount to your credit."

"Thank you, sir."

"For the rest, I will consider the matter; but for the present, you must be where I can find you."

The officers conveyed him to the prison, where he had an opportunity to reflect upon the folly of worldly wisdom.

"Philips, you have done well," said Mr. Collingsby, as the door closed upon the departing junior of the firm. "You have been honest and faithful, and I thank you."

"So do I," added the old gentleman. "It seems we haven't lost anything, after all."

"Philips has-"

"Philip, if you please, sir," I interposed.

"Excuse me; Philip has saved us from loss, and as he is very fond of boats, I propose to make him a present of the yacht belonging to Mr. Whippleton, as a testimonial of our gratitude. What do you say, father?"

"Certainly, Richard," replied the patriarch.

"I have already taken Mr. Faxon into the firm, and the business will continue as before. Of course we shall retain you as book-keeper, and your salary will hereafter be one thousand dollars a year."

"I thank you, gentlemen. I am very grateful to you for your kindness and consideration," I replied, satisfied that virtue is its own reward even in this world.

"Beyond this, I am greatly indebted to you for your services to my daughter."

"My cousin was very kind to me," said Marian, archly.

"Your cousin!"

"Yes, father; he is really my cousin."

"Pshaw! How can he be your cousin?"

"His name is Philip Farringford. His mother was your sister."

"Come, come; no more of this. We have had romance enough for one day," said the old gentleman. "I have been annoyed by letters from Farringford in St. Louis, hinting at something of this kind."

"I am sorry the letters annoyed you, sir; but my father wrote only the truth," I replied.

"Your father! Do you mean to assert that my miserable son-in-law is your father?" added the old gentleman, savagely.

"I do, sir."

"But my daughter is not your mother?"

"Yes, sir; she is."

"That's enough. I don't want to hear another word about the matter; and what's more, I will not."

"We can prove all that we assert, sir," I replied, firmly.

"Not another word about it. I want to believe that you are an honest and honorable young man; but I can't do it if you attempt to maintain such a gross imposture. It is ridiculous."

"I am very anxious that you should hear the story, sir. If you are not satisfied with the evidence, you shall never be annoyed again concerning it."

"I won't hear it," protested the senior Mr. Collingsby. "Did you come here, and get a place in our firm, for the purpose of pushing this imposition?"

"I desire to establish my birthright; but there was no conspiracy about my coming."

"My son-in-law is a miserable toper. I never want to see or hear from him again. He has brought disgrace and misery enough into my family. He teased me for money till I was obliged to leave St. Louis, and now he follows me here. Young man, whatever your name may be, I have a high regard for you after what you have done, and we will use you well in the future; but never mention this matter again. If you do, you shall leave us. I say it, and I mean it."

Under the circumstances I could say no more. The time for proving my claim evidently had not come. I made no promises in regard to the forbidden topic; but I decided to wait for a more favorable opportunity to press the subject. I was invited to breakfast with the family, and accepted. I was vexed and mortified to find that I was not acknowledged as a nephew, grandson, and cousin; but I found that I had one believer in Marian. I had convinced her with my unsupported word; but I intended to show her the evidence.

After breakfast I went to my boarding-house, and repaired at once to Mrs. Whippleton's room. She was better than when I had left her, three days before, and was able to open upon me in a volley of reproaches for my treachery and dishonesty, as she bluntly called them.

"I thought there wan't but one honest feller in the world, and I was cheated in him," said she, bitterly.

"Not exactly, Mrs. Whippleton," I replied, handing her the sealed package. "There are your papers and your money."

"No; you don't say it!"

"Open it, and see."

It took an hour for her to count the money and examine the papers. She compared them with the receipt I had given her, and nothing was missing.

"Well, I reckon you be honest, after all," said she, cheerfully. "Who'd 'a thought it! But where is Charles? I didn't know but he might got the papers away from you. He wanted to raise all the money he could to save himself from ruin."

"Not for that; but to set himself up in business in China," I replied; and then I told the story of her son's misdeeds.

"So he's in jail-is he?" exclaimed she. "Well, I was afraid it would come to this, when I heard he was in trouble, for Charles never was as shrewd as he ought to be."

"Shrewd!" I replied, in disgust. "He has followed out your maxims of worldly wisdom, instead of being true to God, himself, and his fellow-beings; and now he has his reward."

"Well, I don't know what all that has to do with it. I say he wan't shrewd," persisted the old lady.

"He has practised just what you taught him."

"No, he didn't!" replied she. "He wan't cunning."

"Good by, Mrs. Whippleton. I only hope you will live long enough to repent of your sins, and learn, before it is too late, that worldly wisdom will not carry an immortal being through this world and the world to come."

I had not patience to hear any more. I went to my room, and I did not leave it for a week. The blow I had received on the head, with the excitement and fatigue of the cruise down the lake, made me sick. I wrote to my father after I had been confined to my chamber three days; and when I was about well enough to go out again, he came to see me, though he started as soon as he received my letter. I had never seen him looking so well; and certainly I should never have suspected that he was the degraded sot whom I had met in front of the Planters' Hotel, in St. Louis. He was dressed in sober black, and was neat, and even elegant, in his appearance. He had grown moderately fleshy under the regimen of total abstinence, and all the toddy-blossoms had disappeared from his face.

We had a long talk in my chamber, and he gave me such advice as the occasion demanded. He thought that, as I had established myself in the good opinion of the firm, I had better stay with them, especially as the salary was very handsome.

"I shall hardly be able to leave the prohibited topic untouched," I added.

"Your own self-respect should induce you to do that. If your grandfather and your uncle will not hear you, there is no law to compel them to do so. Do you know when your mother intends to return?"

"I do not; I cannot even learn where she is; but Marian has promised to ascertain for me. I mean to stay with the firm about a year longer. If my mother don't come by that time, I shall go for her. I will find her."

"Well, a trip to Europe will do you no harm; but she will probably return before the year is out."

We decided to wait the turn of future events because we could not help ourselves, rather than because we were willing. On the following Monday, I took my place in the counting-room again, and it was Desk and Debit once more. My father called there during the day to take leave of me. It so happened that both Mr. Richard Collingsby and his father came in while he was there. They looked at him, but did not recognize him. They appeared to think they knew him, and spoke to him.

"I know your face very well," said Richard, "but I can't call you by name."

"My name is Edward Farringford," replied my father.

"And he is my father," I added.

"I am glad to see you looking so well, Edward," said the old gentleman, coldly. "I hear you are doing well; but don't say a word to me about that silly story."

"I don't intend to do so. I wish to say, sir, that while I plead guilty to all you have charged upon me in the past, I have no occasion to ask any favors for the future, except your kind regard. I wish to see my wife-"

"Never, sir! Never!" protested Mr. Collingsby, senior, as he rushed into his counting-room.

"I wish you well, Ned," added Mr. Richard; "but I am sorry to find you attempting to impose upon our family."

My father bowed, but made no reply, and the son followed the father into the sanctum.

"I can't stay here, father," I protested, cut to the quick by the conduct of my employers.

"Be patient, Philip. When I think what I was, I can hardly blame them. Keep your place. You will be nearer to your mother here, w

hen she returns, than in any other place."

I consented to stay, and I did stay. My father went home that night, and I applied myself diligently to the work of opening a new set of books for Collingsby and Faxon. I was treated with a great deal of consideration by the senior and his father; but I never alluded to my relationship to them. I was sure of a storm if I did so.

Mr. Whippleton was discharged from custody after he had fully indemnified the firm for its losses. There were too many legal doubts in the way of his prosecution to render it advisable to proceed against him, even if the Collingsbys had been disposed to do so. But he was a ruined man. He could not even obtain a situation as a clerk in Chicago. His mother set him up in business in Cincinnati; but he failed, and lost all she had loaned him. His reputation followed him wherever he went. He finally obtained all his mother's property, and both of them were reduced to poverty. The last time I saw the old lady, I am sure she was a better woman, and was willing to confess that worldly wisdom did not insure either success or happiness.

Mr. Waterford was not seen in Chicago again. I afterwards met him in New York. Before his boat was sold, I made an excursion in her to the lagoon where the Florina was moored. Marian and other ladies went with me, and I sailed them home in the yacht, which was now my property. I found time to sail in her occasionally, and the Collingsbys were often passengers. I changed her name, and called her the Ella Gracewood.

I had a week's vacation in the summer, and visited St. Louis. Mrs. Greenough was delighted to see me, and treated me like a son. When I returned, I carried with me the relics of my childhood. One afternoon, on board of the Ella Gracewood, I showed them to Marian and her mother. Mrs. Collingsby recognized the portrait of my mother, and I think she was convinced that I was her nephew; but she was more prudent than Marian, and refused to commit herself.

I was no nearer my mother than when I came to Chicago; but I had a lively hope of the future. I still looked forward with glowing anticipations to the time when our little family should be reunited under the same roof.

* * *

I have told my story, and related all the catastrophes of a clerk. I staid in the counting-room of Collingsby and Faxon a year and a half, when the business was again closed by the death of the junior partner. Mr. Richard decided to retire, as he might have done years before. The new firm, to whom the business was sold, offered me a salary of twelve hundred a year; but I declined it, and was again free from any engagement.

My mother had not yet returned. At the last accounts she was living at Nice, with her brother, whose wife was very feeble. I was eighteen, and I determined to go to her. I could no longer endure the separation; and with this resolve I bade farewell to Desk and Debit.

* * *



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