No plummet ever sank so deep as Jamie sank the thoughts of those few months. No oblivion more vast than where he buried it. No human will so strong as that he bent upon it, bound it down with. No sin absolved was ever so forgotten. One wonders if Jamie, at the day of judgment even, will remember it. Perhaps’t will then be no more the sin he thought it. For Jamie’s nature, like that of spiny plants, was sensitive, delicate within, as his outer side was bent and rough; and he fancied it, first, a selfishness ; then, as his lonely fancy got to brooding on it, an actual sin. James Bowdoin’s unlucky laugh had taught him how it seemed to others ; and was not inordinate affection, to the manifest injury of the object loved, a sin ? Jamie felt it so: and he had the Prayer Book’s authority therefor. “ Inordinate and sinful affections,” — that is the phrase ; both are condemned.
But he kept it all the closer from Mercedes. It did not grow less; he had no heart to cease loving. Manlike, he was willing to face his God with the sin, but not her. He sought to change the nature of his love ; perhaps, in time, succeeded. But all love has a mystic triple root; you cannot unravel the web, on earth at least. Religious, sexual, spiritual, — all are intertwined.
Jamie and Mercedes lived on in the little brick house, as he had promised. Only one thing the Bowdoins noticed : he now dressed and talked and acted like a man grown very old. His coats were diff erent again ; his manner was more eccentric than ever. His hair helped him a little, for it really grew quite white. He asked Mercedes now to call him father.
“ Jamie is posing as a patriarch,” said Mr. Bowdoin ; he smiled, and then he sighed.
Old Mr. Bowdoin did not forget his promise to have his granddaughters call upon Mercedes. Now and then they sent her tickets for church fairs. But it takes more love than most women have for each other to give the tact, the self-abnegation, that such unequal relations, to be permanent, require. The momentary gush of sympathy that the Bowdoin girls felt upon their grandfather’s account of Sadie’s loneliness was chilled at the first haughty word Mercedes gave them. It takes an older nature, more humbled by living, than is an American young lady’s, to meet the poor in money without patronizing, and the proud at heart without seeming rude. So this attempted intimacy faded.
Jamie gave his life to her. His manner at the office altered; he became proud and reserved. More wonderful still, he shortened his time of attendance ; not that he was inattentive while there, but he no longer observed unnecessary hours, as he had been wont to do, after the bank closed ; as soon as Mr. James Bowdoin left, he would lock up the office and go himself. His life was but waiting upon Mercedes.
When he was in the office he would sit twiddling his thumbs. The pretense at bookkeeping, unreal bookkeeping, he abandoned. The last old ship, the Maine Lady, had served him in good stead for many years ; he had double-entered, ledgered, and balanced her simple debits and credits like a stage procession. But now he made no fiction about the vanished business.
It was characteristic of Jamie that still he did not hanker for more money. He recognized his adopted daughter’s need for sympathy, for emotions, even for love, if you will ; but yet it did not occur to him that he might earn more money. His salary was ample, and out of it he had made some savings. And Mercedes had that impatience of details, that ennui of money matters, that even worldly women show, who care for results, not processes.
It had always been the custom of the McMurtagh family to pass the summers, like the winters, in the little house on Salem Street; but this year Jamie rented a cottage at Nantasket. He told the Bowdoins nothing of this move until they asked him about it, observing that he regularly took the boat. To Jamie it was the next thing to Nahant, which was of course out of the question. But the queer old clerk was not fitted to shine in any society and Mercedes found it hard to make her way alone. They wandered about the beach, and occasionally to the great hotel when there was a hop, of evenings, and listened to the bands ; but Mercedes’ beauty was too striking and her manners were too independent to inspire quick confidence in the Nantasket matrons ; while Jamie missed his pipe and shirt-sleeves after supper. He had asked, and been forbidden, to invite John Hughson down to stay. Still less would Sadie have her girl acquaintances ; and all Salem Street’s kindliest feelings were soured in consequence. There was an invitation from Nahant that summer, but it seemed, to Mercedes’ quick sense, formal, and she would not go.
She had had her piano moved down “ to the beach,” at much expense ; and for a week she played in the afternoons. But even this accomplishment brought her no notice. People would look at her, in passing, and then, more curiously, at her foster-father: that was all. Mercedes, in her youth, could not realize how social confidence is a plant of slow growth. The young girls of the place were content with saying she “ was not in their set; ” the young men who desired her acquaintance must seek it surreptitiously, and this Mercedes would not have. The people of the great hotel were a more mixed set, and among them our couple was much discussed. Something got to be known of Jamie : that he was confidential clerk to the well-known firm of Boston’s older ship-owners, and that she was his adopted daughter. Soon the rumor grew that he was miserly and rich.
Poor Jamie ! He thought more of all these things than Mercedes ever supposed. What could he do to give her friends of her own age ? What could he do to find her lovers, a husband ? McMurtagh slept not nights for thinking on these things. John Hughson he now saw to be impossible ; Harley Bowdoin was out of the question ; but were there not still genteel youths, clerks like himself, but younger, some class of life for his petted little lady ? Jamie had halfthoughts of training some nice lad to be fit for her,—Jamie earned money amply; of training him, too, to take his place and earn his salary. Every discontented look in Mercedes’ lovely face went to Jamie’s heartstrings.
One day, going home by the usual boat, he saw his dear girl waiting for him on the wharf. It always lightened Jamie’s heart when she did this, and he hurried down to the gangplank, to be among the first ashore and save her waiting. But as he stepped upon it he saw that she was talking to a gentleman. There was a little heightened color in her cheeks; she was not watching the passengers in the boat. Jamie turned aside through the crowd to walk up the road alone. He looked over his shoulder, and saw that they were following. When nearly at their cottage, he turned about irresolutely and met them. Mercedes, with a word of reproach for walking home alone (at which Jamie’s old eyes opened), introduced him; “Mr. David St. Clair — my father.”
“ I made Miss McMurtagh’s acquaintance at the Rockland House last night, — she plays so beautifully.” Then Jamie remembered that he had gone out to smoke his pipe upon the piazza.
He looked at the newcomer. St. Clair was dressed expensively, in what Jamie thought the highest fashion. He wore kid gloves and a high silk hat; he had a white waistcoat and a very black mustache. Mercedes had blushed again when she presented him, and suddenly there was a burst of envy in poor Jamie’s heart.
No girl, before she came to love, ever scrutinized a suitor so closely as old Jamie did St. Clair. The little old Scotch clerk was quicker far to see the first blossoms of love in her heart than Mercedes herself, than any mother could have been ; for each one bore a pang for him; and he, who had renounced, and then set his heart to share each feeling with her, who had wanted but her confidence. wanted but to share with her as some girl might her heart histories, now found himself far outstripping her in conscious knowledge. He did not realize the impossibility of the sympathy he dreamed. He had fondly thought his man’s love a justification for that intimacy from which, in natures like Mercedes’, even a mother’s love is excluded.
All Jamie’s judgment was against the man, and yet his heart was in touch with hers to feel its stirring for him. The one told him he was not respectable ; the other that he was romantic. His career was shadowy, like his hair. In those days still a mustache bore with it some audacity, and gave a man who frankly lived outside the reputable callings something of the buccaneer. St. Clair called himself a gentleman, but did not pretend to be a clerk, and frankly avowed that he was not in trade. Jamie could not make him out at all. He hoped, indeed, he was a gentleman. Had he been in the old country, he could have credited it better; but gentlemen without visible means of support were, in those days, unusual in Boston.
Poor Jamie watched his daughter like any dowager, that summer. But the consciousness of his own sin (for so now he always thought of it) troubled him terribly. How could he urge his lady to repel the advances of this man without being open to the charge of selfishness, of jealousy ? Jamie forgot that the girl had never known he loved her.
He made feeble attempts to egg on Hughson. The honest teamster was but a lukewarm lover. His point of view was that the girl looked down upon him, and this chilled his passion. He had come to own his teams now. He never drove them. He was a capitalist, an employer of labor; and, at Jamie’s request, he came down one night, in black broadcloth and red-handed, to pass the night. But it did not work. When Mr. St. Clair called in the evening, he adopted a tone of treating both Jamie and Hughson as elderly pals, so that the latter lost his temper, and, as Mercedes claimed, insulted his elegant rival.
Then Jamie bade Hughson to come no more, for his love for Mercedes was so true that he felt in his heart why St. Clair appealed more to hers.
But the summer was a long and anxious one, and he was glad when it was over and they were back in Salem Street. They had made no other acquaintance at Nantasket. “ Society ” to Jamie remained a sealed book. Clever Mercedes was not clever enough to see he knew she blamed him for it. St. Clair only laughed. “ These people are nobody,” said he ; and he talked of fashionable and equipaged friends he had known in other places. Where? Jamie suspected, racecourses ; his stories of them bore usually an equine flavor. But he was not a horse-dealer; his hands were too white for that.
Poor old Mr. Bowdoin had had a hangdog feeling with old Jamie ever since that day his son had laughed. He had dared criticise nothing he noticed at the office, and Jamie grew more crusty and eccentric every day. James Bowdoin was less indulgent, and soon saw that something new was in the wind. But the last thing that both expected was a demand on Jamie’s part for an increased salary. Jamie made it respectfully, with his hat off, twirling in his hand, and the Bowdoins eyed him.
“ It isna that I’m discontented with the place or the salary in the past,” said Jamie, “ but our expenses are increasing. I have rented a house in Worcester Square.”
“ In Worcester Square ? And the one in Salem Street ? ”
“ ’T is too small for me family needs,” said Jamie. “ I have sold it.”
“ Too small ? ”
“ Me daughter is about to be married,” said Jamie reluctantly.
“ Dear me! ” exclaimed the Bowdoins in a breath. "May we congratulate her ? ”
“Ye may do as ye like,” said Jamie. “ ’T is one Mr. Davitl St. Clair, — a gentleman, as he tells me.”
“ Is he to live with you, then ? ”
“Yes, sir. He wants work — that is ” — Jamie hesitated.
“ He has no occupation ? ”
Jamie was visibly irritated. “ If I bring the gentleman down, ye may ask him your ain sel’.”
“ No, no,” said Mr. James. "That is, we should, of course, be glad to meet the gentleman any time. What is his name t ’ ’
“David St. Clair.”
“ David Sinclair,” repeated the old gentleman.
“Mercedes Silva, said Mr. James musingly.
“McMurtagh, if you please,” said Jamie.
“Jamie,” said old Mr. Bowdoin, “ our business is going away. The steamers will ruin it. For a long time there has not been enough to occupy a man of your talents. And the old bookkeeper at the bank — the Old Colony Bank — has got to resign. 1 ’ve already asked the place for you. The salary is — more than we here can afford to pay you. In fact, we may close the counting-room.”
Jamie rubbed his nose and shifted his feet. “Ta business is a goot business, and t’ firm is a fine old firm.” It was evident he was in the throes of unexpressed affection. In all his life he had never learned to express it. “ Ye ’ll na be closing the old counting-room ? ”
“ I may come down here every day or so, just to keep my trusts up. I '11 use it for a writing-room; it’s near the bank ” —
“ An’ I ’ll come down an’ kep’ the books for you, sir,” said Jamie ; and the "sir ” from his lips was like a caress from another man.
Jamie took his place on the high stool behind the great ledgers of the Old Colony Bank, and the house on Worcester Square was even bought, with his savings and the price of the house on Salem Street. Only one thing Jamie flatly refused, and that was to permit Mercedes’ marriage until St. Clair had some visible means of support. She pouted at this and was cruel; but for once the old clerk was inflexible, even to her. Mercedes would perhaps have married against his will ; but Mr. St. Clair had his reason for submitting.
And that gentleman was particular in his choice of occupation, and Mercedes yet more particular for him. The class of which St. Clair came is a peculiar one ; hardly known to the respectable world, less known then than now; and yet it has often money, kindliness, reputability even, among its members ; they marry and have children among their own class ; they are not church-going, but yet they are not criminal. As actor families maintain themselves for many generations (not the stars, but the ordinary histrionic families ; you will find most of the names on the playbills to-day that were there in the last century, neither above nor below their old position), so there are sporting families who live in a queer, not unprosperous world of their own, marry and bring up children, and leave money and friends behind them when they die. And Sinclair came of people such as these. “ St. Clair ” was his own invention. Of course Jamie did not know it, nor did Mercedes; and in fact he was honestly in love with her, to the point of changing his way of life to one of routine and drudgery.
But no place could be found (save indeed a retail grocer’s clerkship), and Mercedes began to grow worried, and occasionally to cry. St. Clair spent his evenings at the house ; and at such times Jamie would wander helplessly about the streets. St. Clair’s one idea was to be employed about the bank, to become a banker. Had he been competent to keep the books. I doubt not Jamie would have given them up to him.
Great is the power of persuasion backed by love, even in a bent old Scotchman. Will it be believed, Jamie teased and schemed and promoted until he made a vacancy of the place of messenger, and got it for his son-in-law. Perhaps old Mr. Bowdoin had ever had a slight feeling of remorse since he had seen nipped in the bud that affair with young Harleston. He did not approve of the present match. Yet he fancied the bridegroom might be a safer spouse with a regular occupation and a coat more threadbare than he habitually wore.
Nothing now stood in the way of the marriage ; and it took place with some eclat, — in King’s Chapel, indeed, with all the Bowdoins, even to Mrs. Abby. Jamie gave the bride away. Hughson (to Mercedes’ relief) took it a bit rusty and would not come. Then the pair went on a wedding journey to Niagara and Trenton Falls ; and old Jamie, the day after the ceremony, came down looking happier than he had seemed for years. There was a light in his lonely old face ; it comes rarely to us on earth, but, by one who sees it, it is not forgotten. Old Mr. Bowdoin saw it ; and, remembering that interview scarce two years gone by, his nose tingled. It is rare that natures with such happy lives as his are so “ dowered with the love of love.” But when old Jamie looked at him, he but asked some business question; and Jamie marveled that the old gentleman blew his nose so hard and damned the weather so vigorously.
When the St. Clairs came back, Jamie moved to an upper back room, and gave them the rest of the new house. Mercedes was devotedly in love with her husband. She would have liked to meet people, if but to show him to them. But she knew no one worthy save the Bowdoins, and they did not get on with him. His own social acquaintance, of which he had boasted somewhat, appeared to be in other cities. And ennui (which causes more harm in the world than many a more evil passion) began imperceptibly to take possession of him.
However, they continued to live on together. St. Clair was fairly regular at his work ; and all went well for more than a year.
No year, probably, of James McMurtagh’s life had he been so happy. It delighted him to let St. Clair away early from the bank ; and to sit alone over the ledgers, imagining St. Clair’s hurrying home, and the greeting kiss, and the walk they got along the shells of the beach before supper, with the setting sun slanting to them over the wide bay from the Brookline hills. When they took the meal alone, it delighted Jamie to sit at Mercy’s right and have her David help him; or, when they had “ company,” it pleased the old man almost as much to stay away and think proudly of them. Such times he would sit alone on the Common and smoke his pipe, and come home late and let himself in with his latch-key, and steal up quickly to his own bedroom at the top of the house.
Now that he was so happy, and had left his old friends the Bowdoins, a wave of unconscious affection for them spread over his soul. Under pretext of keeping their accounts straight — which now hardly needed balancing even once a month — old Jamie would edge down to the counting-room upon the wharf, after hours, or even for a few minutes at noontime (perhaps sacrificing his lunch therefor), to catch old Mr. Bowdoin at his desk and chat with him (under plea of some omitted entry needing explanation), and tell him how well David was doing, and Mercedes so happy, and what company they had had to tea the night before. So that one day Mr. Bowdoin even ventured to give him a golden bracelet young Harleston Bowdoin had sent, soon after the wedding, from France ; and Jamie took it without a murmur. “ Ah, ’t is a pity, sir, ye din’t keep the old house up. for the sake of the young gentlemen, if nothing more,” said he ; and “ Ah, Jamie,” was Mr. Bowdoin’s reply, “ it’s all dirty coal-barges, now ; the old house would not know its way about in steamers. We ’ll have to take to banking, like yourself and Sinclair there.”
Jamie laughed with pleasure ; and father and son went each to a window to watch him as he sidled up the street.
“Caroline never would have stood it.”said the old man.
“Neither would Abby,”said the younger one. “ Yet you made me marry her ; ” and they both chuckled. It was the habit of the Bowdoin males to marry them to women without a sense of humor, and then to take a mutual delight in the consequences.
“ You only married her to get a house,” said the old man. (This was the inexhaustible joke they shared against Mrs. Abby that in nearly twenty years had never failed to rouse her serious indignation.) “ I saw her coming out of that abolitionist meeting yesterday.”
“ That’s cousin Wendell Phillips got her into that,” said Mr. James. "Old Jamie was there, too.”
“ Old Jamie has got so much love to spare that it spills around,” said Mr. Bowdoin, “ even on comfortable niggers just decently clothed. That’s not your wife’s trouble.” To which the son had no other repartee than “ James ! ” drawled in the solemn bass of amazed indignation that his mother’s voice assumed when goaded into speech by his father’s sallies. It was his boast that
“Abby ” never yet had ventured to address him thus. And so this precious pair separated ; the father going home to his grandchildren, and the son to the club for his afternoon rubber of whist. They still took life easy in the forties.
Why was it that old Jamie, who should by rights have had his heart broken, was happier than fortunate David ? Both loved the same woman ; and no tenor hero ever loved so deeply as old Jamie, and he had lost her. But he came of the humble millions that build the structure of human happiness silently, by countless, uncounted little acts. David was of the ephemera, the pleasure-loving insects. Now these will settle for a time ; but race will tell, and they are not the race of quiet labor.
One almost wonders, in these futureless times, that so many of the former still remain. For the profession of pleasure is so easy, so remunerative ; even of money it often has no lack. St. Clair came of a family that from horse-racing, bar-keeping, betting, had found money easier to get than ever had Jamie’s people, and (when they had chosen to invest it) had invested it in less reputable but more productive ways. One fears the spelling-books mislead in their promise of instant, adequate reward and punishment. The gods do not keep a dameschool for us here on earth, and their ways are less obvious than that. One hazards the suggestion, it is fortunate if our multitudes (in these socialistic, traditionless times) do not yet discover how comfortable, for hedonistic ends, their sons and daughters still may be without respectability and reputability.
St. Clair lived before them ; and his mind was never analytic. The word “ bore ” had not yet been imported, nor the word “ ennui ” naturalized in a civilization whence two hundred years of Puritans had sought to banish it. But although Adam set the example of falling to the primal woman, it may be doubted whether Eve, at least, had not a foretaste of the modern evil. And more souls go now to the devil (If they could hope there were one !) for the being bored than any other cause.
David did not know what ailed him. He loved his wife (not too exclusively ; that was not in his shallow nature) ; he had a fine house and the handling of money. To his friends he was a banker. They were at first envious of his reputability, and that pleased him while it lasted. But it annoyed him that it had not dawned on their untutored minds that handling money was not synonymous with possession. A banker ! At least he had the control of money ; could lend it; might lend it to his friends.
There was, in those days, an outpost of Satan — overrated perhaps in importance by the college authorities, with proportionate overawing effect upon the students — on the riverside, over against Cambridge. Here “ trials of speed,”trotting speed, were held ; bar-rooms existed ; it was rumored pools were sold. Hither the four hundred, the liberal four hundred, of Boston’s then existent vice were wont to repair and witness contests for “ purses.”It was worth, in those days, a bank clerk’s position or an undergraduate’s degree ever to be seen there.
It may be imagined with what terror, a terror even transmuting itself to pity dictating a refusal on Mercedes’ part, old Jamie heard of a proposition, one holiday, that David should take his wife there. Mercedes would not go ; and St. Clair laughed at her, in private, and went alone. She was forced to be the accomplice of his going.
The fact is, St. Clair, from the tip of his mustache to his patent-leather shoes, was bored with regular hours, respectability. and the assurance of an income adequate to his ordinary spending. Something must be done for joy of life. He gave a champagne supper to his old cronies, at a tavern by the wayside, and bore their chaff. Then he bet. Then he stayed away from home a day or two.
A butterfly cares but for sunshine. His love for Mercedes was quite animal; he cared nothing for her mind ; all poor Jamie’s expensive schooling was wasted, more unappreciated by him than it would have been by John Hughson. .So. one day, St. Clair came home to find her crying ; and his love for her then ended.
Mercedes, remember, lived in the earlier half of this strange century, now so soon to go to judgment. In these last years, when women seek men’s rights in exchange for woman’s reason, reactionary males have criticised them as children swapping old lamps for new, fine instruments for coarser toys. As a poet has put it, why docs
Dowered by God with power of life or death
Now cry for coarser tools,”
and seek to exchange the ballot for Prospero’s wand ? Like other savages, she would exchange fine gold for guns and hatchets. (Beads, trinkets, the men might pardon them !)
A woman of power once said she had rather reign than govern. But reigns, with male St. Clairs, so soon are over ! Mercedes’ dynasty had ended. She knew it before St. Clair was conscious of it, and poor Jamie knew it when she did.
It was his custom to stay late at the bank, after hours. It closed at two o’clock ; and in those days all merchants then went home to their dinner. Jamie, unknown to the cashier, would assume what he could of St. Clair’s work, to get him home the sooner to Mercedes. It is to be hoped he always went there.
As one looks back on the days of great events, one wonders that the morning of them was not consciously brightened or shadowed by the happening to come. For, after many years, that morning,— of the meeting, or the news, or whatever it was, — dull and gray as in fact it was, seems now all glorified in memory, illumined with the radiance it bore among its hours. Jamie never could remember what he did that morning or that day.
It was close to half past four by the clock ; the cashier, the other clerks, had gone ; the charwoman was sweeping. He was mechanically counting over the cash in the cash drawer (it had been counted over before by the teller, so Jamie’s count was but excess of caution) ; he was separating the gold and silver and Massachusetts bills from the bills that came from banks of other States. (These never were credited until collected, and so not counted yet as cash, but credited to the collection account ; in Jamie’s eyes, bank-bills of other States were not so honest as Massachusetts issues, any more than their merchants were like James Bowdoin’s Sons.) He was thinking, with a sadness not admitted to himself, of Mercedes; trying to believe his judgment a fancy; trying to see, in his mind’s eye, David’s arrival home (he had sent him off the half an hour before), hoping even for kisses by him for Mercedes (for he grudged him not her love, but wished his the greater). And now, with half his mind, he was adding up the long five columns of figures, as he could do almost unconsciously, thinking of other things. He had carried down the third figure, when suddenly there came that warm stirring at the roots of the hair that presages, to the slower brain, the heart’s grasp of a coming disaster.
The figure was a 4 he carried down. His count of the cash had made it a 2.
Nonsense. He passed his hand to his quickened heart and made an effort to slow his breath. It was his mistake ; he had been thinking of other things, of Mercedes. He leaned back against the high desk and rested. Besides, what foolish fear to jump at fault for error, at fault of David St. Clair ! He had not been near the cash drawer.
It was the teller’s mistake. And this time poor Jamie added up like a schoolboy, totting each figure. No thought of his Mercedes now.
Fourteen thousand four hundred and twelve, sixty-four cents. The teller’s addition was right.
Jamie looked at the cash again. There were two piles of bank-bills, one of gold and silver. Among the former was one packet of hundred-dollar bills in a belt, marked “ $5000.” This wrapper lie had not (as he now remembered) verified when he had made his count. His heart stood still; prompting the head to remember that it was a package collected by the bank’s messenger on a discount, by David St. Clair.
Poor Jamie tore off the band. He sat down, and counted the bills again with a shaking hand.
There were only forty-eight of them.
The packet was two hundred dollars short. And David had brought it in.
Two hundred dollars ! Only two hundred dollars ! In God’s name, why did he not borrow it, ask me for it ? thought poor Jamie. He must have known it would be at once discovered. And mixed curiously with Jamie’s dismay was a business man’s contempt for the childishness of the theft. And yet they called such men sharpers !
For never from that moment, from that time on, did poor Jamie doubt the sort of man Mercedes had married. Never for one moment did the idea occur to him that the robbery might be overlooked, the man reformed. Jamie’s heart was as a little child’s, but his head was hard enough. He had seen too much of human nature, of business methods and ways, to doubt what this thing meant or what it led to. He had been trying to look through Mercedes’ eyes. He had known him for a gambler all along ; and now it appeared that he was a man not to be trusted even with money. And he had given him Mercedes !
There had been Harley Bowdoin. She had liked him first: and but for them, his employers— But no ; old Jamie could not blame his benefactor, even through his wife. It was not that. No one was at fault but he himself. If he had even loved her less, it had been better for her : ’t was his fault, again his fault.
Sobbing, he went through the easy form of making good the theft; this with no thought of condoning the offense, but for his little girl’s name. It was simple enough : it was but the drawing a check of his own to cover the loss. Oh, the fool the scoundrel had been !
Jamie drew the check, and canceled it, and added it to the teller’s slip. Then he closed the heavy books, put the cash drawer back in the safe, closed the heavy iron doors, gave a turn of his wrist and a pull to the handle, said a word to the night watchman, and went out into the street. It was the soft, broad sunlight of a May afternoon ; by the clock at the head of the street he saw that it was not yet six o’clock. But for once Jamie went straight home.
Mr. St. Clair had not come in, said the servant. (They now kept one servant.) Mrs. St. Clair was lying down. Jamie went into the parlor, contrary to his wont, and sat down awkwardly. It was furnished quite with elegance : Mercedes had been so proud of it ! His little girl! And now he had married her to a thief ! People might come to scorn her, his Mercedes.
They had tea alone together ; and Jamie was very tender to her. so that she became frightened at his manner, and asked if anything was wrong with David.
“ No,” said Jamie. "Has he not been home ? Do you not know where he is ? ”
“ No,” sighed the wife. “ He has always told me before this.”
Jamie touched her hand shyly. “ Do you still love him, dear ? ”
But she flung away from him angrily, and went upstairs. And old Jamie waited. He dared not smoke his pipe in the parlor, nor even on the doorstep (which was a pleasant place ; there was a little park, with trees, in front), for Mercedes thought it ungenteel. The present incongruity of this regard for appearances never struck Jamie, and he waited there. After eleven o’clock he fancied he might venture ; the neighbors were not likely to be up to notice it. So he lit his pipe and listened. There was still a light in her window ; but David St. Clair did not come. Her window stood open, and Jamie listened hard to hear if she were crying. Shortly after midnight the birds in the square began to twitter, as if it were nearly dawn. Then they went to sleep again, but Jamie went on smoking.
It was daylight when St. Clair appeared, in a carriage. He had the look of one who has been up all night, and started nervously as he saw Jamie on the doorstep. Then he pulled himself together, buttoning his coat, and, giving the driver a bill, he turned to face the old clerk.
“ Taking an early pipe, Mr. McMurtagh ? ”
“ I know what ye ha’ done,” said Jamie simply. "I ha’ made it guid; but ye must go.”
St. Clair’s bravado collapsed before Jamie’s directness.
“ Make what good ? ” he blustered.
“ The two hundred dollars ye took,” said Jamie.
“ Two hundred dollars ? I took ? Old man, you ’re crazy.”
“ I tell ye 1 ha’ made it guid,” said Jamie.
“ Made it good ? I could do that myself, if — if ” —
“Perhaps ye ’ll be having the money about ye now ? ” said Jamie. "Can ye give it me ? ”
St. Clair abandoned pretense. Perhaps curiosity overcame him, or his morning nerves were not so good as Jamie’s. “ Of course I ’ll get the money. I lent it to a friend. But how did you ever know the d—d business was short ? ”
Jamie looked at him sadly. This was the man he had hoped to make a man of business. “ Mon, why did n’t ye ask me for it ? Do ye suppose they didna count their money the nicht ? ”
“You’re so d—d mean!” swore St. Clair. “ Have you told my wife ? ”
“ Ye ’ll not be telling Mercy ? ” gasped Jamie, unmindful of the result. “ I have told no one.”
“ I ’ll make it all right with the teller, then,” said the other.
“ Ye ’ll na be going back to the bank ! ” cried Jamie.
“ Not go back ? Do you sujipose I can’t be trusted with a matter of two hundred dollars ? ”
“Ye ’ll not be going back to the bank ! ” said Jamie firmly. “ Ye’ll be taking Mr. Bowdoin’s money next.”
“ If it were n’t for the teller — He’s not a gentleman, and last week I was fool enough to tell him so. Did the teller find it out ? ”
“ I found it out my own sel’.”
“ Then no one else knows it ? ”
“ Ye canna go back.”
“Then I '11 tell Sadie it’s all your fault,” said David.
Poor Jamie knocked his pipe against the doorstep and sighed. The other went upstairs.
It was some days after this that old Mr. Bowdoin came down town, one morning. in a particularly good humor. To begin with, he had effected with unusual success a practical joke on his auguster spouse. Then, he had gone home the night before with a bad cold ; but (having given a family dinner in celebration of his wife’s birthday and the return to Boston of his grandson Harley, and confined himself religiously to dry champagne) he had arisen quite cured. But at the counting-room he was met by son James with a face as long as the parting glass of whiskey and water he had sent him home with at eleven the previous evening. “ James Bowdoin, at your time of life you should not take Scotch whiskey after madeira,” said he.
“You seem fresh as a May morning,” said Mr. James. “Did the old lady find out about the bronze Venus ? ”
Son and father chuckled. The old gentleman had purchased in his wife’s name a nearly life-size Venus of Milo in bronze, and ordered it sent to the house, with the bill unreceipted, just before the dinner; so the entire family had used their efforts to the persuading old Mrs. Bowdoin that she had acquired the article herself, while shopping, and then forgotten all about it.
“ ‘ Mrs. J. Bowdoin, Dr. To one Bronze Venus. One Thousand Dollars. Rec’d Paym’t ’ — blank! ” roared Mr. Bowdoin. “ I told her she must pay it out of her separate estate, — I could n’t afford such luxuries ! ”
“ ‘ Why, James ! ’ ” mimicked the younger.
“ ‘ I never went near the store,’ ” mimicked the older.
“ And when we told her it was all a sell, she was madder than ever.”
“ Your mother never could see a joke,” sighed Mr. Bowdoin. “ She says the statue’s improper, and she’s trying to get it exchanged for chandeliers. She would n’t speak to me when I went to bed ; and I told her I’d a bad cold on my lungs, and she ’d repent it when I was gone. But to-day she’s madder yet.”
Mr. James Bowdoin looked at his father inquiringly.
Mr. Bowdoin laughed aloud. “ She had n’t a good night, she says.”
“ Dear me,” said the younger man, “ I ’m sorry.”
“ Yes. I ’d a bad cold, and I spoke very hoarsely when I went to bed. And in the night she woke up and heard a croupy sound. It was this,” and Mr. Bowdoin produced a compressible rubber ball with a squeak in it. “ ’James,’ said she — you know how she says ’James ’ ? ”
Mr. James Bowdoin admitted he had heard the intonation described.
“ ’James,’ says she, ‘ is that you ? ’ I only squeaked the ball, which I had under the bedclothes. ’James, are you ill ? ’ ‘ It’s my chest,’ I squeaked faintly, and squeezed the ball again. I think I ’m going to die,’said I, an’d I squeaked it every time I breathed.’ And Mr. Bowdoin gave audible demonstration of the squeak of his rubber toy. “ Well, she was very remorseful, and she got up to send for the doctor ; and faith, I had to get up and go downstairs after her and speak in my natural voice before she ’d believe I was n’t in the last gasp of a croup. But she won’t speak, herself, this morning,” added the old gentleman rather ruefully. “ What’s the matter here ? ”
Jamie has been down ; and he says his son-in-law has decided to leave the bank.”
“ Dear me ! dear me ! ” The old gentleman’s face grew grave again. “ Nothing wrong in his accounts, I hope ? ”
“ He says that he has decided to go to New York to live.”
“ Go to New York ! What ’ll become of the new house ? ”
“ He has friends there. They are to sell the house.”
“ What ’ll become of Jamie ? ”
“Jamie’s going back to Salem Street.”
The old gentleman gave a low whistle. “ I must see him,” and he took his hat again and started up the street.
But from Jamie he learned nothing. The old man gave no reason, save that his son-in-law “ was going to New York, where he had friends.” It cost much to the old clerk to withhold from Mr. Bowdoin anything that concerned his own affairs ; particularly when the old gentleman urged that he be permitted to use his influence to reinstate David at the bank. Jamie grew churlish, as was the poor fellow’s manner when he could not be kind, and tried even to carry it off jauntily, as if St. Clair were bettering himself. Old Mr. Bowdoin’s penetration went behind that, or he might have gone off in a huff. As it was, he half suspected the truth, and forbore to question Jamie further.
But it was harder still for the poor old clerk when he went home to Mercedes. For it was St. Clair who had sulked and refused to stay in Boston. He had hinted to his wife that it was due to Jamie’s jealousy that he had lost his place at the bank. Mercedes did not believe this; but she had thought that Jamie, with his influence, might have kept him there. More, she had herself, and secretly, gone to the counting-room to see old Mr. Bowdoin, as she had done once before when a child, and asked that St. Clair might be taken back. “ Do you know why he lost the place ? ”
She did not. Perhaps he had been irregular in his attendance ; she knew, too, that he had been going to some horseraces.
“ Jamie has not asked me to have him taken back,” said Mr. Bowdoin.
And she had returned, angry as only a loving woman can be, to reproach poor Jamie. But he would never tell her of her husband’s theft. St. Clair was sharp enough to see this. Jamie had settled the Worcester Street house on Mercedes when they were married; and now St. Clair got her to urge Jamie to sell it and let him invest the money in a business opening he had found in New York with some friends; stock-brokerage he said it was. This poor Jamie refused to do; and Mercedes forgave him not. But St. Clair insisted still on going. Perhaps he boasted to his New York friends of his banking experience ; it was true that he had got some sort of an opening, with two young men of sporting tastes whom he had met.
Preparations for departure were made. The furniture was being taken out, and stored or sold ; and each piece, as it was carried down the stairs, brought a pang to Jamie’s heart. The house was offered for sale ; Jamie drew up the advertisement in tears. He did not venture to sit with them now of evenings ; it was Jamie, of the three, who had the guilty feeling.
The evening before their going came. St. Clair was out at a farewell dinner, “ tendered him,” as he proudly announced, by his friends. Jamie, as he passed her door, heard Mercedes crying. He could not bear it ; he went in.
“ My darling, do not cry,” the old man whispered. “Is it because you are going away ? All I can do for you — all I have shall be yours! ”
“ What has David done ? I know he has done something ” —
“ Nothing — nothing is wrong, dear ; I assure you ” —
“ Then why are you so hard to him ? Why will you not put the money in the business ? ”
Jamie was holding her hand. “ My little Mercy,” said he, “ my little lady. Forgive me —do you forgive me ? ”
Mercedes looked at him, coldly, perhaps.
“ For the love of God, do not look like that! In the world or out of it, there ’s none I care for but just you, dear.” Then Mercedes began to cry again, and kissed him. “ And as for the money, dear, he ’ll have it as soon as I find the business is a decent one.”
Of course they had the money, and in some months the people at the bank began to hear fine accounts of St. Clair’s doings in New York. Not so much, perhaps, from Jamie as from one or two other clerks to whom St. Clair had taken the trouble to write a letter or two. As for Jamie, he went back to live in the little house on Salem Street. He was too old, he said, to board, at his time of life.
All the same, he grew thin and olderlooking. He did not pretend to take the same interest in his work. Many and grave were the talks the two Bowdoins, father and son, had about him. The first few weeks after the departure of the St. Clairs, they feared actually for his life. He seemed to waste away. Then, one week, he went on to New York himself. and after that grew better. This was when he carried on to St. Clair the money coming from the sale of the house. Up to that time he had had no letter from Mercedes, though he wrote her every week.
He took care to place the money in Mercedes’ name as special capital. But the other two men seemed to be active, progressive fellows. They reposed confidence in St. Clair, and they had always known him. After all, the old man tried to think, the qualities required to keep moneys separate were not those that went best to make it, and stock-broking was suited to a gambler as a business. For Jamie shared intensely the respectable prejudices against stock-broking of the elders of that day.
After this, he occasionally got letters from his Mercedes. They came addressed to the bank (as if she never liked to recognize that he was back in Salem Street), and it grew to be quite a joke among the other clerks to watch for them ; for they had noticed their effect on Jamie, and they soon learned to identify the handwriting which made him beam so that half the wrinkles went, and the old healthy apple-color came back to his cheeks.
Sometimes when the letter came they would place it under his blotter, and if it was a Tuesday (and she generally wrote for Tuesday’s arrival) old Jamie’s face would lengthen as he turned his mail over, or fall if he saw his desk empty. Woe to the clerk who asked a favor in those moments ! Then the clerk next him would slyly turn the blotting-paper over, and Jamie would grasp the letter and crowd it into his pocket, and his face would gleam again. He never knew they suspected it, but on such occasions the whole bank would combine to invent a pretext for getting Jamie out of the room, that he might read his letter undisturbed. Otherwise he let it go till lunch-time, and then, they felt sure, took no luncli; for he would never read her letters when any one was looking on. They all knew who she was. Tt was the joke of years at the Old Colony Bank. They called Mercedes “ old Jamie’s foreign mail.”
She never wrote regularly, however; and if she missed, poor McMurtagh would invent most elaborate schemes, extra presents (he always made her an allowance), for extorting letters from her. The sight of her handwriting at any time would make his heart heat. Harley Bowdoin had by this time been taken into the counting-room. He was studying law as a profession (there being little left of the business), and Jamie appeared to be strangely fond of him. Often, by the ancient custom, he would call Harleston “ Mr. James,” Mr. James Bowdoin having no sons. Mr. James himself spoke of this intimacy once to his father. “ Don’t you see, it’s because the boy fell in love with his Mercedes? ” said the old gentleman. Certain it is, the two were inseparable. One fancies Harleston heard more of Mrs. St. Clair than either of Jamie’s older friends.
For Jamie, in her absence, grew to love all whom she had ever known, all who had ever seen her; how much more, then, this young fellow who had shown the grace to love her, too! Jamie was fond of walking to the places she had known, and he even took to going to church himself, to King’s Chapel, where she had been so often. When his vacation came, the next summer, he went on to New York, and stayed at a cheap hotel on Fourth Avenue, and would go to see her; not too often, or when other people were there, for he was still modest, and only dared hope she might not hate him. It was all his fault, and perhaps he had been hard with her husband. But she suffered him now, and Jamie returned looking ten years younger. St. Clair seemed prosperous, and Jamie even mentioned his son-in-law to the other clerks, which was like a boast for Jamie.
Perhaps at no time had the two Bowdoins thought of him so much. He lived now as if he were very poor, and they suspected him of sending all his salary to Mercedes. “ It makes no difference raising it; ’t would all go just the same,” said Mr. Bowdoin. “ Man alive, why didn’t you let him take the money, that day down the wharf, and take the girl yourself? You used to be keen enough about girls before you got so bald,” added the old gentleman, with a chuckle. He was rather proud of his own shock of soft white hair.
“ That’s why you were in such a haste to marry me. I suppose,” growled Mr. James. “ You had no trouble of that kind yourself.”
“Trouble? It’s only your mother protects me. I was going down town in a ’bus to-day, and there I saw your mother coming out of one of those abolition meetings of her cousin, Wendell Phillips, — I told her he ’d be hanged some day, — and there opposite sat an old gentleman, older than I, sir, and he said to me, ’Married, sir ? So am I, sir. Married again only last week. Been married fifty years, but this one’s a great improvement on the first one. sir, I can assure you. She brushes my hair ! ’ That’s more than you can get a wife to do for you, James ! ”
The father and son chirruped in unison.
“ Did you tell my mother of your resolve to try again, sir ? ”
“ I did, I did, and that my next choice was no incendiary abolitionist, either. I told her I’d asked her already, to keep her disengaged, — old MissVirginia Pyncheon, you know; and, egad! if your mother didn’t cut her to-day in the street! But what do you think of old Jamie ? ”
“ I don’t know what to think. He certainly seems very ill.”
“ Ah, James,” said the old man, “ why did you laugh that day? If only the fairy stories about changing old clerks to fairy princes came true ! She could not have married any one to love her like old Jamie.”
Jamie had had no letter for many weeks. The clerks talked about it. Day by day he would go through the pile of letters on his desk in regular order, but with trembling fingers; day by day he would lay them all aside, with notes for their answers. Then he would go for a moment into the great dark vault of the bank, where the bonds and stocks were kept, and come out rubbing his spectacles. The clerks would have forged a letter for him had they deemed it possible. There was talk even of sending a round-robin to Mrs. St. Clair.
It was a shorter walk from Salem Street than it had been from his daughter’s mansion, and poor Jamie had not so much time each day to calculate the chances of a letter being there. Alas, a glance of the eye sufficed. Her notes were always on squarish white notepaper sealed in the middle (they still used no envelopes in those days), and were easy to see behind the pile of business letters and telegrams. And the five minutes of hope between breakfast and the bank were all old Jamie had to carry him through the day, for her letters never arrived in the afternoon.
But this foggy day Jamie came down conscious of a certain tremor of anticipation. It has been said that he had no religion, but he had ventured to pray the night before, — to pray that he might get a letter. He was wondering if it were not wrong to invoke the Deity for such selfish things. For the Deity (if there were one, indeed) seemed very far off and awful to Jamie. That there was anything trivial or foolish in the prayer did not occur to Jamie; it probably would have occurred to Mercedes.
But he got to the office at the usual time. The clerks were not looking at him (had he known it, a bad sign), and he cast his eye hastily over the pile. Then his face grew fixed once more. No letter from her was there, and he began to go through them all in routine order, the telegrams first.
The next thing that happened, the nearest clerk heard a sound, and looked up, his finger on the column of figures and “ carrying ” 31 in his head. Old Jamie spoke to him. “I — I — must go out for an hour or two,” he said. "I have a train to meet.” His face was radiant, and all the clerks were looking up by this time. No one spoke, and Jamie went away.
“Did you see, he was positively blushing,” said the teller.
There was a momentary cessation of all business at the bank. When old Mr. Bowdoin came in, on his way down to the wharf, he was struck at once with the atmosphere of the place.
“What’s the matter ? ” he asked. “ You look like you ’d all had your salaries raised.”
“ Old Jamie’s got his foreign mail,” said the cashier.
But Jamie went out into the street to think of it undisturbed. It was a telegram: “ Am coming on to-morrow. Meet me at five, Worcester depot. MEKCEDES.” She did not say anything about St. Clair, and Jamie felt sure he was not coming.
The fog had cleared away by this time, and he went mechanically down to the old counting-room on the wharf. Harleston Bowdoin was there alone, and Jamie found himself facing the young man before he realized where his legs had carried him.
“ What is it, Jamie ? ” said Harley.
“ She’s coming on to make me a visit,” said Jamie simply. “ Mercedes — Mrs. St. Clair, I mean.” Then he wandered out, passing Mr. Bowdoin on the stairs. He did not tell him the news, and the old gentleman nearly choked in his desire to speak of it. As he entered the office, “ Has he told you ? ” cried Havleston.
“ Has he told you ? ” echoed the old gentleman. Harley told. Then Mr. Bowdoin turned and bolted up the street after Jamie.
“ Old fellow, why don’t you have a vacation, —just a few days ? The bank can spare you, and you need rest.” His hand was on the old clerk’s shoulder.
“ Master Harley wull ha’ told ye ? But I’m na one to neglect me affairs,’ said Jamie.
“ Nonsense, nonsense. When is she coming ? ”
Jamie told him.
“ Why don’t you take the one-forty and meet her at Worcester? She may have to go back to-morrow.”
Jamie started. It was clear he had not thought of this. As they entered the bank, Mr. Bowdoin cried out to Stanchion, the cashier, "I want to borrow McMurtagh for the day, on business of my own.”
“Certainly, sir,” said Mr. Stanchion.
’There is no happiness so great as happiness to come, for then it has not begun to go. If the streets of the celestial city are as bright to Jamie as those of Boston were that day, he should have hope of heaven. It was yet two hours before his train went, but he had no thought of food. He passed a florist’s ; then turned, and went in, blushing, to buy a bunch of roses. He was not anxious for the time to come, such pleasure lay in waiting. When at last the train started, the distance to Worcester never seemed so short. He was to come back over it with her !
In the car he got some water for his roses, but dared not smell of them lest their fragrance should be diminished. After reaching Worcester, he had half an hour to wait; then the New York train came trundling in. As the cars rolled by he strained his old eyes to each window; the day was hot, and at an opened one Jamie saw the face of his Mercedes.
The next morning, old Mr. James Bowdoin got up even earlier than usual, with an undefined sense of pleasure. As was his wont, he walked across the street to sit half an hour before breakfast in the Common. The old crossing-sweeper was already there, to receive his penny; and the orange-woman, expectant, sold her apex orange to him for a silver thripenny bit as his before-breakfast while awaiting the more dignified cunctation of his auguster spouse.
The old gentleman’s mind was running on McMurtagh ; and a robuster grin than usual encouraged even others than his chartered pensioners to come up to him for largess. Mr. Bowdoin’s eyes wandered from the orange-woman to the telescope-man, and thence to an old elm with one gaunt dead limb that stretched out over the dawn. It was very pleasant that summer morning, and he felt no hurry to go in to breakfast.
Love was the best thing in the world ; then why did it make the misery of it? How irradiated old Jamie’s face had been the day before ! Yet Jamie would never have gone to meet her at Worcester, had he not given him the hint. Dear, dear, what could be done for St. Clair, as he called himself ? Mr. Bowdoin half suspected there had been trouble at the bank. Mercedes such a pretty creature, too! Only, Abby really never would do for her what she might have done. Why were women so impatient of each other? Old Mr. Bowdoin felt vaguely that it was they who were responsible for the social platform ; and he looked at his watch.
Heavens! five minutes past eight! Mr. Bowdoin got up hurriedly, and, nodding to the orange-woman, shuffled into his house. But it was too late ; Mrs. Bowdoin sat rigid behind the coffee urn. Harley looked up with a twinkle in his eye.
“ James, I should think, at your time of life, you ’d stop rambling over the Common before breakfast, — in carpet slippers, too, — when you know I ’ve been up so late the night before at a meeting in behalf of ” —
A sudden twinkle flashed over the old gentleman’s rosy face ; then he became solemn, prefernaturally solemn. Harley caught the expression and listened intently. Mrs. Bowdoin, pouring out cream as if it were coals of fire on his head,, was not looking at him.
“ There ! ” gasped old Mr. Bowdoin, dropping heavily into a chair. “ Always said it would happen. I feel faint! ”
“ James ? ” said Mrs. Bowdoin.
“ Always said it would happen — and there’s your cousin, Wendell Phillips, out on the Common, hanging stark on the limb of an elm-tree.”
“ James ! ”
“Always said it would come to this. Perhaps you ’d go out in carpet slippers, if you saw your wife’s cousin hanged before your eyes ” —
“ JAMES ! ” cried Mrs. Bowdoin. But the old lady was equal to the occasion ; she rose (— “ and no one there to cut him down ! ” interpolated the old gentleman feebly) and went to the door.
The two men got up and ran to the window. There was something of a crowd around the old elm-tree ; and, pressing their noses against the pane, they could see the old lady crossing the street.
“I think, sir,” said Mr. Harley to his grandfather, "it’s about time to get down town.” And they took their straw hats and sallied forth. But as they walked down the shady side of the street, old Mr. Bowdoin’s progress became subject to impediments of laughter, which were less successfully suppressed as they got farther away, and in which the young man finally joined. “ Though it’s really too bad,” he added, by way of protest, now laughing harder than his grandfather.
“ I ’m going to get her that carriage to-day,” said the elder deprecatingly. Then, as if to change the subject, “ Did you see old Jamie after he left, yesterday ? ”
“ I think I caught him in a florist’s, buying flowers,” answered Harley.
“ Buying flowers ! ” The old gentleman burst into such a roar that the passers in the crowded street stopped there to look at him, and went down town the merrier for it. “ At a florist’s ! But what were you doing ? “ he closed, with sudden gravity.
“ All right, governor, quite all right. I was buying them for grandma’s birthday. That’s all over. Though I’m sorry for her, just the same. How does the man live, now ? ”
“Jamie says he’s doing well,” answered the other hurriedly. “ By the way, stop at the bank and tell them to give old Jamie a holiday to-day. He’d never take it of himself.”
“ Are n’t you coming down ? ” Harley spoke as he turned in by Court Square ; a poor neighborhood then, and surrounded by the police lodging-houses and doubtful hotels.
“Not that way,” said Mr. Bowdoin. “ I hate to see the faces one meets about there, poor things. Hope the flowers will get up to your grandmother, Harley ; she ’ll need ’em ! ” And the old man went off with a final chuckle. “ Hanging on a tree ! Well, ’t would be a good thing for the country if he were.” Of such mental inconsistencies were benevolent old gentlemen then capable.
But when Harley reached the bank, though it was late, Jamie had not yet arrived. Harley thought he knew the reason of this ; but when old Mr. Bowdoin came, at noon, the clerk was still away ; and the old gentleman, who had been merry all day, looked suddenly grave, and waited. At one Jamie came in, hurrying.
“I hoped you would have taken a holiday to-day,” said Mr. Bowdoin.
“I have come down to close the books,” replied Jamie, not sharply. Mr. Bowdoin looked at him.
“ Mr. Stanchion could have done that. Stanchion ! ”
“ The books are nearly done, sir,” said that gentleman, hurrying to the window.
“ I prefer to stay, sir, and close the books myself, if Mr. Stanchion will forgive me.” He spoke calmly; he gave both men a sudden sense of sorrow. Mr. Bowdoin accompanied him behind the rail.
“ Come, Jamie, you need the rest, and Mercedes ” —
“ She has gone back, sir — and I — have business in New York. I must ask for three days off, beginning to-morrow.”
“You shall have it, Jamie, you shall have it. But why did you not go back with Mercedes ? ”
Jamie made no reply but to bury his face in the ledger, and the old gentleman went away. The bank closed at two o’clock ; by that time Jamie had not half finished his figuring. The cashier went, and the teller ; each with a goodnight,” to which Jamie hardly responded. The messenger went, first asking, “ Can I help you with the safe ? ” to which Jamie gave a gruff “ I am not ready.” The day watchman went, and the night watchman came, each with his greeting. Jamie nodded. “ You are late to-day.” “ I had to be.” Last of all, Harley Bowdoin came in (one suspects, at his grandfather’s request), on his way home from the old counting-room on the wharves.
“ Still working, Jamie ? ”
“ I must work until I finish, Mr. Harley.”
“ It ’s late for me,” said Harley, “ but a ship came in.”
“ A ship ! ”
“ Oh, only the Maine Lady. Well, good-night, Jamie.”
“ Good-night, Mr. Harley.” Jamie had never used the “ Mr.” to Harley before, of all the Bowdoins ; and now it seemed emphasized, even. The young man stopped.
“ Tell me, Jamie, can I help you in anything ? ”
“No ! ” cried old Jamie ; and Harley fled.
Left alone, Jamie laid down his pen. It seemed his figuring was done. But he continued to sit, motionless, upon his high stool. For Mercedes had told him, between Worcester and Boston, that her David would be in prison, perhaps for life, unless he could get him twenty thousand dollars within forty-eight hours.
She had pleaded with him all the way to Boston, all the way in the carriage down to the little house. His roses had been forgotten in the car. In vain he told her that be had no money.
She could not see that St. Clair had done anything wrong ; it was a persecution of his partners, she said ; the stock of a customer had been pledged for his own debt. Jamie understood the offense well enough. And then, in the evening, he had known that she was soon to have a child. But with this money all would be forgiven; and David would go back to New Orleans, where his friends urged him to return, “ in his old profession.” Could not Jamie borrow it, even? said Mercedes.
It was not then, but at the dawn, after a sleepless night, that Jamie had come to his decision. After all, what Was his life, or his future, yes, or his honor worth to any one ? His memory, when he died, what mattered it to any one but Mercedes herself ? And she would not remember him long. Was it not a species of selfishness — like his presumption in loving her — to care so for his own good name ? So he had told Mercedes that he “ would arrange it.” After her burst of tears and gratitude, she became anxious about David ; she feared he might destroy himself. So Jamie had put her on the morning train, and promised to follow that night.
The clock struck six, and the watchman passed by on his rounds. Still there ?””
“ I ’m nearly done,” said Jamie.
The cash drawer lay beside him ; at a glance he saw the bills were there, sufficient for his purpose. He took up four rolls, each one labeled “ $5000 ” on the paper band. Then he laid them on the desk again. He opened the day-book to make the necessary false entry. Which account was least likely to be drawn upon ? Jamie turned the leaves rapidly.
“ James Bowdoin’s Sons.” Not that. "The Maine Lady.” He took up the pen, started to make the entry ; then dashed it to the floor, burying his face in his hands.
He could not do it. The old bookkeeper’s whole life cried out against a sin like that. To falsify the books! Closing the ledger, he took up the cash drawer and started for the safe. The watchman came in again.
“ Done ? ” said he.
“ Done,” said Jamie.
The watchman went out, and Jamie entered the roomy old safe. He put the ledgers and the cash drawer in their places ; but the sudden darkness blinded his eyes. In it he saw the face of his Mercedes, still sad but comforted, as he had left her at the train that morning.
He wiped the tears away and tried to think. He looked around the old vault, where so much money, idle money, money of dead people, lay mouldering away; and not one dollar of it to save his little girl.
Then his eye fell on the old box on the upper shelf. A hanged pirate’s money ! He drew the box down ; the key still was on his bunch ; he opened the chest. There the gold pieces lay in their canvas bag ; no one had thought of them for twenty years. Now, as a thought struck him, he took down some old ledgers, ledgers of the old firm of James Bowdoin’s Sons, that had been placed there for safe-keeping. He opened one after another hurriedly ; then, getting the right one, he came out into the light, and, finding the index, turned to the page containing this entry : —
June 24, 1829 : To account of whom it may concern (pp. 8/8 & doubloons) $20,911.00
He dipped his pen in ink, and with a firm hand wrote opposite:
June 22, 1848. By money stolen by James McMurtagh, to be accounted for $20,911.00
Then the old clerk drew a line across the account, returned the ledger to its place in the safe, and locked the heavy iron doors. The canvas bag was in his hands ; the chest he had put back, empty.
F. J. Stimson.