Telepathic waves reached him from Hometon. He saw Frankie's face clearly outlined inside the Little Dipper. He remembered his words to her, words containing a promise. Yes, indeed, he would be true—
But still he felt the warmth of Julia's hand. Why had he taken it in his, and why had he felt buoyant when she blushed?
He was vaguely conscious of a conflict in his heart. Yet he swore to himself that everything would be all right. Young men are usually quite sure that nothing unpleasant can come of anything.
Bill Watson was sitting in the manager's office when Evan entered. He greeted the savings man with a puff of smoke followed by no words.
"Something new for you to be in so early, Bill," said Evan.
Bill opened his mouth in the shape of a cave, and kept the white smoke revolving within it—like some sort of mysterious and legendary white fleece.
"How did she like the chocolates?" he said suddenly.
"They seemed to go all right."
Bill puffed a while.
"Shame to blow good coin like that," he said, musingly.
"Well, when a fellow thinks of the blots he makes earning a bean he should be gentle with it."
Nelson laughed derisively.
"You're not getting economical, are you, Bill?"
"No, but, I'm sore on myself to-night. About once a month I take a night off to repent."
Evan pinched his pal's knee-cap.
"A fellow can't be a piker, Bill," he said, with the air of a profligate young millionaire escapading in the columns of the press. "You can't go to parties and things without spending money."
Watson looked at his desk-mate.
"Evan," he said, thoughtfully, "in about two years more you'll be just where I am."
"In debt, and a spendthrift—if you can call me a spendthrift for getting away with $400 a year."
Nelson sighed. It was unusual for Watson to turn monitor. What he said was all the more effective on that account.
The Hometon boy thought of his tailor's account. He would have to be writing home for more money before long—unless he could borrow it. The very caution Bill had sounded suggested to Nelson a way out. He would borrow from a stranger. He could pay his father back the cheque, and also he could settle the tailor's bill. Just how he would settle the real debt itself was not for present consideration. It never is. It is the humanest thing in the world to borrow money.
Evan turned the light on his desk and wrote a letter to his father. It thanked the merchant for his loan, in rather a businesslike manner, and assured him he would get the money back. This was the letter of an ostensibly self-made son to his merchant father, reversing the title of a well-known story.
Another letter Evan wrote—to Frankie Arling. This one was as follows:
"Dear Frank,—It is quite a while since I wrote you. I hope you have not been accusing me of negligence. I am pretty busy, you know.
"The people up here are mighty kind to us bank-fellows. There is one family in particular that uses us white. Miss Watersea—that is the daughter—told me last night I was to come up as often as I could. They have a magnificent home. I wish I were making more money so that I could take Julia (that's her name) out more.
"How are you getting along at school? It's surprising how soon a person forgets those lessons you are now learning. Bill is calling me—I must close for this time.
"Yours, as before, "EVAN."
If he had known the comments Frankie would make on a conspicuous sentence of one of his paragraphs, Evan would have made the letter still shorter than it was. It was natural that he should refer to Julia. One should never write a letter to anyone when someone else is on his mind, unless the third party is a mutual friend. Letters, like young children just able to talk, have a habit of telling tales. Often we say to a sheet of paper what we would scarcely tell by word of mouth to the one to whom it is addressed; and yet the letter is mailed and forgotten with the profoundest nonchalance.
The following day a long envelope came from head office to the Mt. Alban office. It contained the "increases."
Castle's salary was raised from $650 to $800. Watson got $100; Evan a raise of $50. The junior did not expect any, and he was not disappointed in his expectations. Nevertheless he was disappointed.
Mr. Robb was snubbed! He said nothing. Bill emulated the manager's stoicism—another two dollars per week made little difference to Bill; it would all have to go out in debts, anyway.
Castle "took" his increase with dignity, making no comments and voicing no rapture. Bill watched him from his ledger.
"Say, Alf," he said at last, under a growing deviltry, "you seem to be a favorite. Now I don't think you're worth eight hundred dollars a year—honestly, do you?"
The teller's delicate skin became pink.
"I don't blame you for being sore, Watson," he retorted, gingerly for him, "when head office shows discrimination; it hurts, I suppose."
Watson grinned. He rarely lost his temper. He sighed comically.
"I can't help if my name isn't Castle," he said, coolly.
The teller opened the door of his cage and rushed into the manager's room.
"Mr. Robb," he cried, in his tenor tones, "I'm not going to stand for the insults of Watson any longer."
"What's the matter now?" asked Robb, not encouragingly.
"Watson's talking of favoritism and that sort of rot. He knows I earn all I get from head office."
"That's right enough, Alf," said Robb, calmly. "You earn what you get, but you also get what you earn. The rest of us don't."
The teller was dumfounded. The way the manager spoke would have halted him even had he considered the words unjust—which he could not. But Castle's sense of dignity was too great to endure argument at that moment; he flushed with humiliation and withdrew unceremoniously from Robb's office.
Robb would not give his teller the satisfaction of calling Watson on the carpet, but when Castle had quit work for the day, the manager accosted Bill.
"Were you rubbing it into Alf to-day?" he asked, leaning against the ledger desk.
"Just a little," said Bill, smiling.
"You want to go easy, Watson. Some day Alf will be an inspector or something, and then he'll remember thee."
Bill looked up from his work quickly.
"Surely we don't have to curry the favor of a brat like that!" Then, in a moment, "His preaching against me to-day didn't seem to get him in very strong with the manager, Mr. Robb?"
Robb made a face.
"Oh, I don't pay much attention to him. Sometimes I feel sorry for him, and then again I can't help despising him. He's got bank aristocracy in him, and that makes it hard for him among us common fellows. I think I insulted him this afternoon—"
Bill interrupted with:
"Wouldn't be surprised if he squealed it to the Big Eye."
The boys called Inspector I. Castle the "Big Eye," because of his initial and of his facility for seeing things; also for other reasons.
"Oh, no," said the manager, sceptically, "I don't think he's that much of a cad."
"Well, you know, Mr. Robb, he'd soothe his poor little conscience with the thought that it is a fellow's duty to report any treason against head office. That's the policy the bank itself pursues. Why should Castle have any more honor than he is taught to have?"
Evan pretended to be busy, but he was listening.
Mr. Robb laughed.
"I'm ashamed of you, Watson," he said, and still smiling, walked away. Once inside his office, however, his face straightened and he looked steadily at a corner of the ceiling.
When Castle left the bank, about four-thirty, he walked soberly up town to the Coign Hotel and ascended to his room. It was a nice room for the teller of a town bank to occupy, boasting a wicker chair, a leather couch and a brass bed. A couple of rather pretentious pictures hung on the walls, otherwise decorated with pennants. The pennants were all Alfred knew about colleges. A desk filled one corner of the room, and there was the atmosphere of an office over all. The wonder is that Alf didn't have his bed encaged.
To his desk the nifty bankman turned his eyes. After washing his hands and adjusting his tie, he sat down to write.
Twenty-four hours after the letter he had written was mailed Inspector I. Castle received one addressed in his nephew's handwriting.
Before a week had passed Sam Robb enjoyed the privilege of reading a circular. It dealt with loyalty to the bank. One paragraph read as follows:
"We wish to warn the managers and staff against the common tendency to ridicule bank customs and establishments. Some of our employes have gone so far as to criticize head office indiscriminately in the matter of salaries, etc. We think it only fair that instances of disaffection should be reported to us, so that we may ascertain who is and who is not loyal to the bank, and reward accordingly."
The circular did not say "punish accordingly." That would not have been diplomatic.
Robb's face grew white—not with fear. All day he was silent, although it could not be said that he was irritable. He seemed uninterested in business and quiet—merely that.
Evan found him sitting moodily in his office late that evening. The savings man had been proving up his ledger. He did not greet the manager; he was going to pass on in silence when he heard his name spoken from the armchair.
"Yes, sir." He turned toward Mr. Robb.
"Are you in a hurry?" There was no sarcasm in the tone.
Evan sat down.
"No, sir; my time isn't worth much, I guess."
The manager looked at him analytically.
"You're beginning to realize it, are you?"
Nelson explained that he meant nothing by the remark, and Robb grunted discontentedly.
"I want you to see the circular we got to-day, Evan. Here, read that and tell me what you think of it."
While the young man read, the man of forty, the bachelor banker, waited. Robb was a lonesome man. He should have had a son almost as old as Evan, but he had none—and Evan would have to answer. It was somewhat comforting to have a confidant like him.
"Looks as if Castle did write, after all," said Evan, suddenly.
The manager smiled grimly.
"You've guessed it, I think," he said. "How would you like the current ledger, Evan?"
It never took Evan long to decide anything when his success was at stake. He had unlimited faith in promotions and quite a strong confidence in his own powers. The clerical quirks of banking were day by day disappearing before his persistent faculties, and he was always ready to take on new work for the sake of experience.
"Well," continued the manager, "I'm going to suggest to head office that Alf is drawing too big a salary for this branch to support. It may get me in bad, but after all is said and done I'm manager here, and deserve a little say. If they move him the staff will be raised one notch all round. Watson ought to make a capital teller, and—I like him."
Before long the Mt. Alban manager wrote about the matter, without consulting his teller. The reply he got from head office read:
"Please instruct Mr. Evan Nelson to report at once to Creek Bend, Ontario. By taking on a new junior you can cut down expenses and still keep your present teller.
"(Signed) I. CASTLE."
When Bill Watson saw the inspector's instructions he cursed volubly behind his ledger and exclaimed:
"That settles it; me for a move, too."
Mr. Robb called him on the carpet.
"Watson," he said, "you have a nice job in this office. I heard you talking to Nelson a while ago about a move. Now if you shift from here it won't help your salary any, and it may involve you in a bunch of work. Besides, you have a free room here."
Bill thought a while.
"I guess that's a fact," he said finally. "I won't say anything. I guess you and I can hold the fort against Mr. Alfred Castle, eh?"
The manager laughed and extended his hand.
"Bill," he said (usually he called the ledger-keeper "Watson"), "I'm in wrong already, and if you asked to leave, head office might think there was something wrong with my management."
"I get you," said Bill, unconsciously speaking as he would to a pal. "By the way, do you suppose the Big Eye knows that Alf has a girl here?"
"Sure—likely," said Robb; "I'm now convinced that that boy chirrups to his dear uncle about everything."
After musing a bit Bill observed:
"I wish I could make him blow on me. No, I don't, either—he hasn't got the physique to stand it."
Robb chuckled. They spoke of Nelson.
"He's a good scout," said Bill. "How is it they always move the decent heads away?"
"I give them up," said the manager; "the older I grow the more head office puzzles me."
Nelson rapped at the door and was invited in. "Well," grinned the manager, "our pipe-dream didn't mature, did it?"
But Evan was having one of his own, and while he did not like to leave so kind a manager as Robb, he was thinking almost entirely of himself.
"I'll probably be teller in Creek Bend, won't I?"
"Yes," said Bill, "if there's anything to be 'told.'"
The manager laughed quietly.
"Take care you don't get lazy, Evan," he said. "They won't leave you there forever. It will be a city office for yours in due course, and then you'll need to be in practice. You'll be sure to hit a bees'-nest before you quit the bank."
"If they always use me right," said Evan, "I won't ever quit."
"Well," yawned Watson, "if you're satisfied, Nelsy, I guess they are."
Nelson waited a minute before making the request he came with the intention of making.
"Mr. Robb," he asked, "could I take a day off to run home and see the folks? Creek Bend is a hundred miles away and hard to get at—so the station agent says."
"Sure," said the manager, "but I'll have to 'fix' the head office travel-slip."
"What's that?" asked Evan.
Mr. Robb showed him a slip of paper to be signed by the manager of the branch left and the branch arrived at, also by the transient clerk. This slip records the time to a minute and allows no stop-over or visits en route. Neither does it permit of delay in leaving.
Evan suddenly decided he would not bother going home. He explained to Watson later that he considered it crooked to tamper with the travel-slip and thought he would be a cad to let the manager run the chance of further incurring head office displeasure by altering it.
"By heck," said Bill, "you've got to let some of that good conscience run out if you ever expect to stay in the bank."
"Well, Bill," was the reply, "when I find that I can't be honest in the bank I'll get out of it."
Watson remembered that remark years afterwards.
Evan wrote letters home, one to his mother and one to Frankie Arling. Then he packed his trunk and bade good-bye to Mt. Alban. Within four hours after receiving notice from head office he was on the train bound for Creek Bend.
Mrs. Nelson cried over her son's letter, and went to her husband for consolation.
"Carrie," he said, "it will do the boy good."
"But why didn't they let him say good-bye to us?" she cried.
"Well," answered George Nelson, "business is business, you know."
In his store-office the father used profanity. Men swear. He voiced a wish that all banks were made of sand and situated in the neighborhood of Newfoundland.
Frankie swallowed something in her throat as she read her letter. There was one grain of comfort in it, though, prompting the utterance:
"That ends Julia!"
THE VILLAGE MAIDEN.
Months had passed. Western Ontario was turning brown; heaps of leaves had already fallen. The village of Creek Bend was sleeping through the Indian Summer day. So was Evan Nelson—he lay sprawled on a hammock swung between two apple-trees behind the bank.
It is not to be inferred, however, that Evan was lazy, or that he had spent the summer lazily. Every morning before seven he had been out for a three-mile run, and every evening it had been football with the village team or a ride on the bicycle. He knew that physical exercise was necessary to health, and he took it as regularly as his mother used to make him take a spring tonic.
The work of the Creek Bend branch was ludicrously light. The manager was not a real one—he signed "acting." The branch had been opened for the sole purpose of keeping another bank out. Evan signed "pro-accountant." The first time he decorated a money order after that fashion a thrill made itself felt along his spine and in his hair.
Nelson's duties at first consisted of doing what little ledger work there was to do, writing settlement drafts and so forth, and attending to the mail. By degrees the manager, E. T. Dunn, initiated him into other work, until at last he did practically everything, even to the writing of returns.
As he sprawled now in the hammock between the apple-trees he gradually became conscious and his mind resumed the thread of thought sleep had broken off. He thought, with his eyes shut, about clerical work. Mentally he took a deposit from a customer, entered it in his "blotter," wrote it in the supplementary, and posted it in a ledger; it was included in the cash-book total, and from there found its way to the general ledger. So it was with every entry, credit or debit. "Returns" were merely copies of general-ledger balances, or parts thereof. Evan saw his way from beginning to end of the routine, and wondered that anything so simple as bank work could ever worry a man. He recalled the first week of his clerkship in Mt. Alban, and a grin crept over his somnolent features.
But Evan was not only musing—he was thinking. He knew the banking system was uniform throughout; and until he should be manager, he saw himself spending years working out some part of the routine now so simple to him. Mr. Dunn had worked at head office, and he told Nelson that there were clerks down there who did nothing from morning till night but add. Others there were who spent every hour of the day "checking" branch figures. What an existence! he thought; what a brainless life! Human automatons!
Thinking in these channels made Evan dissatisfied, and sometimes he offered pointed observations to the acting-manager. Dunn would smile and agree with anything that was said—but invariably settled down to his pipe and paper again, contented to let the business take care of him as it would. Dunn was one of a large class, in the bank, who are satisfied with six cigars a day, a bed each night, and seventy-five dollars a month.
The exercise Evan had accustomed himself to gave him increased vitality, and there being neither work nor social life enough in Creek Bend to satisfy this new vim he fell into the habit of reading and studying considerably. Dunn frequently expressed his surprise at seeing a bankclerk labor so, but the junior officer paid no attention, since the senior raised no objection. Evan gave his mind an excursion every day into the large world beyond him; the further he travelled the more ridiculous his present occupation seemed. But he encouraged reaction from these fits of treason and in the end criticized his own imagination more than those things, which, like the bank, are generally recognized to be tangibly great.
A book lay beneath the hammock this dreamy Autumn afternoon. It was "The Strenuous Life," by Roosevelt. One would have thought the reclining figure had grown weary of ambition and had cast the incentive from him. An Indian Summer day is not conducive to aspirations: mellow late-Autumn is more tolerant of beauty and love.
A flesh-and-blood combination of both came upon Evan unawares.
"Wow!" he shouted, rubbing the top of his head.
The girl laughed until she was ashamed of herself; then hid her face and started to run off.
"Don't go 'way, Lily," he called; "I want to say something to you."
She stopped, and eyed him suspiciously.
"What is it, Mr. Nelson?"
"Come here and I'll tell you."
She ventured near.
"Won't you stay a while?" he said, turning his eyes on hers. "I can't empty it all out in a minute, you know."
"Is it important?" asked Lily, slyly.
"Sure," he laughed; "I wouldn't waste your valuable time if it weren't."
"You think I have nothing to do, I suppose, Mr. Nelson!"
Evan was Mr. to her chiefly because he was a bankclerk.
"Oh no, not that. But you don't seem to be cut out for a post-office ornament. Do you ever feel dissatisfied here?"
"I was just wondering—I'm beginning to get sick of it myself."
"So am I," she said; "and it's my home, too."
She had settled down on the grass, and her eyes were on a level with the bankclerk's.
"Still you'll likely settle down here and get married at last," said Evan, soberly.
"No chance,"—haughtily. "Do you think I would have one of these dubs around here?"
"What's the matter with them?"
"Oh, they're slow. When I get married I'm going to have a smart, up-to-date fellow."
Evan had a smile ready for her when she looked at him. She colored radiantly.
"I must go," she said, rising, and skipped away, not to be stopped this time.
A few minutes later the acting-manager came out with a highly illustrated magazine.
"Say, Bo," he yawned, "things are getting pretty thick. You can't do much on that $250, you know."
"A bank fellow's not in much danger," he said.
"No," replied Dunn, "but what about the girl?"
Nelson revolved the remark in his mind a while. He decided he would not be so friendly with Lily from that time on.
"It's funny," observed Dunn, again, "how village girls fall for a bankclerk—when we are made of the very stuff their own brothers are made of. Most of us came from a farm or a village. The bank has fitted us out with a shine and a shave, also has made us more useless year after year, and when we degenerate sufficiently the girls begin to adore us. I used to correspond with ten girls in different towns, regularly."
A strange feature of banking life, and which goes to emphasize the peculiar fascination of it, is that every man knows he is degenerating and understands why, but he seldom does anything about it. He sails carelessly along with Ulysses' crew, enjoying the voyage as much as possible, and worrying not about a landing.
"Still you wouldn't be anything but a banker, would you?" asked Nelson.
"I couldn't if I would," said Dunn, lazily; "I've been at it eight years. That's all I know."
"Well, supposing you were back on my salary, do you think you would stay in the bank?"
"I suppose so," answered the other; "I was on $250 once, and I didn't quit."
Dunn's indifferent contentment had considerable influence over Nelson. It caused the junior man to severely criticize his own restlessness. One of the acting-manager's slogans was about the rolling stone and the moss. The effect of that obsolete aphorism on moss-backs is pitiful. It impressed Evan, not because of his mossiness altogether, but because of his youth, and of youth's anxiety to make good. The lad of eighteen had an example of banking in his manager, Dunn, but his eyes were not yet opened. He could see the $75 a month very plainly, but he could not comprehend the eight long years of service that had made Dunn's salary what it was—and that had made him the laggard he was. Dunn had not entirely lost ambition, any more than a hundred Dunns in every bank to-day have lost it; but eight years' specialty service makes a young man useless for anything else but his specialty, and when he does muster enough strength to sit up in the bed he has made, he sinks back on the pillow again, exhausted, because of the weight on his chest.
But Dunn's predicament was, chiefly, Dunn's lookout—and, to some extent, the lookout of tradition-bound relatives. Had he been an exceptional man his attitude toward the business would have been different, and Evan, in the beginning of his awakening, would probably have benefited by contact with him. As it was, Evan scolded his complaining brain and forced it back into bed, as a mother does her baby; in fact, it is to be feared he gave it a dose of soothing-syrup, too.
The Hometon boy actually saved a little on his five dollars per week. The manager frequently borrowed a dollar or two from him. But Evan had not yet paid back the money his father had given him—George Nelson warned him not to try.
"Keep it, my boy," he wrote, "and start an account. Try and put away a certain amount each week." This sentence was stroked out, vetoed by saner afterthought. The father doubtless realized the absurdity of asking a young man away from home earning five dollars a week to save. "Keep yourself if possible," said the letter, "on the salary you draw; but if you run shy I am always ready to help you out." Evan thought of his tailor's bill, and decided to pay it before settling with his father.
Among the great economists at the head of the Canadian banking business there are some who seem to make a specialty of the following sermon to employes: "It matters not what you make, you can always save something." Sure! You can steer clear of a young lady on the street in case you might have to buy her an ice-cream, and you can always raise a headache on garden-party or picnic nights. The class of economists mentioned seem unable to realize that a man, young or old, is worth his salt, if he works honestly, whether he be a sewer-digger or a clerk who spends half his income on laundry.
Sometimes not only dissatisfaction but resentment took possession of Nelson. He was, in the first place, obliged to go where the bank sent him; and in the second place, to take what the bank gave him. He would receive a certain increase yearly, no matter where or what he was in the business—and the Bonehead (wherever he was) would get the same or better. Discrimination according to ability was unknown in banking—except on reports: and there it was a joke to every man in the service.
But youth is very pliant. Employers of young men are familiar with the fact. Something always came along to quiet Evan's mind before he had gone so far as to write an "indiscreet" letter to head office. What a grand thing it is to be discreet! Why was mention of this attribute, discretion, omitted from the Apostle's list? What anxiety and sorrow possession of this virtue would save us—and what enlightenment! .... Had Evan written an impulsive letter to head office he would have been ousted from the bank; he would very likely have been metaphorically kicked out. The kick would have hurt for a while, but not like the sting that must burn later on. Yet, how was he to foresee that which was coming? He might have estimated his chances by the experience of others; but boys, like young nations, do not suffer themselves to be guided in that way.
The excitement of saving money, as much as anything, now held Evan to his desk. He was putting away a dollar weekly. By Thanksgiving he would be able to take a trip home, and incidentally make his mother a present of the turkey for dinner. If the gobbler Evan plotted against could only have known how safe his neck was he would have put all the roosters in the barnyard out of business, and whetted his bill for the drake. A calamity was destined to befall the young Creek Bend teller; yet, viewed from the standpoint of its frequency in the business, this "calamity" deserved only the name of a "professional accident"—for which there is no provision made in the Rules and Regulations. It happened in this wise:
A black-whiskered man came in, accompanied by the village hotel-keeper, with a cheque to be cashed. It was "marked good" by a bank in London, Ontario. Evan paid it without showing it to the manager. Dunn saw it afterwards and let it pass for seventy dollars, the amount the customer received. The figures were a compromise between $20 and $70, but the "body" of the cheque (what a teller goes by) looked very much like Seventy. Evan thought no more about the strange-looking customer whom the hotel-keeper had identified, until the cheque came back from London, with the following memo: "This was marked for Twenty Dollars only."
The teller rushed out to the hotel and asked about the man of beard. The hotel-keeper said he only knew him as an occasional drinker; and because the hotel-keeper had not endorsed the cheque and needed no loan from the bank, he waxed impolite. Evan gathered that the shark had left town and would not be back.
Dunn, although he had not had the matter referred to him, felt sorry for Nelson and comforted him with the offer to pay half.
"I would have cashed it myself for seventy," he said.
Evan was in the depths.
"Do you think head office would let us debit it to charges?" he asked hopelessly.
The manager looked at him in dismay.
"My dear boy," he smiled, "they would almost fire you for suggesting such a thing. I tried that once and they wrote back telling me to be more careful, and insinuating that no good clerk need lose money on the cash. Never look to them for sympathy, because you won't get it."
Nelson swallowed a lump and drew a cheque on his account for all he had—$22. He thought it very decent of Dunn to make up half the shortage—and it was. The acting-manager was a good sport—too good for his own good. Evan figured that the Mt. Alban tailor would have to wait.
Mrs. Nelson was advised by letter that "seeing there are only two of us running this branch, and the manager wants to go to Toronto for the holiday, we have decided that I must stay. I'm very sorry, mother—but it won't be long till Christmas."
There was truth in the manager's wanting to go away for the holiday: Evan encouraged him in the desire, because he wanted to express appreciation of Dunn's kindness in putting up $25 of the loss.
The manager left his "combination" in an envelope in case he should miss a train back, and Evan was entrusted with several thousand dollars in cash. Dunn left at noon Saturday and would be gone until ten o'clock Monday morning.
"Don't run off with the safe," he laughed as he said good-bye.
"No, I'll only take the contents," answered Evan, cheerily.
But he felt not the least bit cheery. He thought of the last Thanksgiving spent in Hometon, of mother, sister and Frankie—and the dinner. It must be confessed that, in his memory, the dinner shared with Frankie.
If Evan had been crooked, instead of turkey-dressing and home-scenes he would have been thinking of the money within his grasp. As it was, the filthy lucre never entered his head. He did think of the double responsibility, and it made him proud; but that was the extent of his money speculations.
While he sat in the acting-manager's chair dreaming of home and wondering why he had not written Frankie a letter this week, a gentle tap came to the front door of the bank, which was always locked at noon on Saturdays. Evan peeked out to ascertain whether or not it was a customer who could be avoided. A bright eye met the bare spot in the frosted glass he was utilizing, and with a laugh he opened the door.
"Mr. Nelson," said Lily, blushing; "I beg your pardon, but could you let me have a little mucilage?"
"Sure," he said; "come in. We'll have to shut the door or some gink will be coming along for a loan."
Lily hesitated a moment, but seeing no way out finally entered. Evan went behind his desk to get the mucilage. While he was rummaging there another rap came to the door, and Lily peered out.
"It's a farmer," she whispered, running back to where Evan was.
"Don't let him know we're here then," said the clerk; "I can't open up for him."
The disappointed customer hung around, hoping, no doubt, to be humored, as he had often been. Nelson and the young girl from the post-office stood behind a high desk waiting for the intruder to leave.
"Just think," whispered Lily, "what the gossips of this town would say if they knew—"
"They won't know," said Evan, reassuringly.
"It would hurt your business, Mr. Nelson, wouldn't it?"
The sweet face was turned up to him. There was the confidence of innocence in her eyes. Fate had denied the lonely bankclerk a trip home, but it had placed a pair of baby lips within easy reach. He gazed, flushed—and kissed Lily. She trembled and the tears came into her blue eyes.
"Oh, Mr. Nelson!" she cried, crimson with excitement and pleasure.
He drew away, feeling ashamed and guilty. His embarrassment was ten-fold greater than the girl's: she was acting consistently with her childish fancies of the past few months, while Evan was betraying a girl in Hometon.
Beginning to realize the futility of waiting at the bank door, the farmer dragged himself away, muttering anathemas on high collars and patent locks.
"Here's your mucilage," said Evan, handing Lily a small bottle. "Don't get it on your clothes."
He uttered the last sentence for want of something to say.
"You must think I'm a regular baby," she replied, with a touch of scorn. When a young girl has just been kissed by a young man she wants him to understand she is a woman, full-grown.
Evan laughed and said she was anything but a baby.
That afternoon a letter arrived, by stage mail, from Frankie Arling. It was another of her school compositions.
"Dear Evan: Your letter just came, telling us you can't get off for Thanksgiving. I think it is real mean of your manager to treat you like that. I don't think the bank is fair with its clerks at all.
"Now, there's a young fellow here (an awfully clever and nice chap) who counted on getting down to the city, but he was out in his books, so the manager couldn't let him off. His name is Reade: we are going to have him up to the house for tea. Father likes him, and so do all of us.
"I'm going to a dance to-night; that is why I am sending this letter away in such a hurry. You don't deserve a very long one, though, do you? Hoping you spend a decent Thanksgiving, and wishing you success.
Yours sincerely, "FRANK."
"Success be darned!" mumbled Evan. The smile with which he had begun the letter had died down to an emaciated grin and finally evaporated between compressed lips. "I hope Reade enjoys himself!"
He went to the telephone and rang up two longs and three shorts—the post-office. Had he reread Frankie's letter and sat down to analyze it and to think, he probably would not have telephoned; but when a fellow has lost a summer's savings and a Thanksgiving dinner all at once, it is, perhaps, natural that he should feel uncertain even of his sweet-heart, and act accordingly.
"Hello," said Evan; "is that you, Lily?"
"Yes, this is me!"
"How would you like to go for a drive? You would? All right, I'll call for you after supper."
Evan rented a livery, and Lily's folk raising no objection, the young girl went out to advertise the fact that she had a banker beau. All the town wondered.
It is easy to condemn Evan for his flirtations with Julia Watersea and Lily Allen. If he had stayed at school, matters would have been different. When the mind is wading through study it turns readily to pleasure, but does not dwell upon it. In the simple routine of the bank, in spite of the books he read, Evan found his mind drifting to excitement of some sort continually. When he brought it up, there was nothing for it to settle upon. When he left Mt. Alban he was being gradually drawn into what was called the "social life"—a life that would make him an ideal bankclerk, but nothing bigger. Now, after a few months of ease, he found himself craving the whirl again; and he must seize any small pleasure at hand.
So he seized Lily Allen around the waist and acted sentimentally.
"You mustn't," she murmured, making no effort to release herself.
"I must," said he. That was the way he felt.
When winter had come Evan had saved enough to take him home for Christmas. He was very careful with strangers, especially when they wore whiskers. He knew everybody in Creek Bend; especially did he know the Allens. After that night of the drive he and Lily had spent many an hour together. The result of it was that he let his correspondence with Frankie fall off, soothing his conscience with Reade. Occasionally he sent a picture-postal to Julia Watersea, too, and when it was answered in like manner he always felt better.
Christmas was nearing now. The snow stayed, to prepare the roads for Santa's outfit. The two stores of Creek Bend had decorated their fronts with tissue-paper and pressed raisins, and the post-office emitted holly stickers.
A village post-office is always interesting. That of Creek Bend interested Evan, not because of curious loiterers—themselves curiosities—but principally on account of its fair clerk. He admitted as much to himself. The village had him married to Lily, and he began to wonder if she really hadn't points over Frankie.
"Another of those bank letters you all look for so anxiously, Evan," she smiled, handing him an envelope from the Inspector's Department.
A few minutes later he called in the post-office again and beckoned Lily to the money-order wicket.
"I'm moved!" he whispered, excitedly.
Tears came into the young girl's eyes. Evan brushed them away that night with his handkerchief, but they would come again.
"I'll not forget you, Lily," he whispered.
And he never would forget her. In moments of introspection, in times of deepest thought, all his life through, he would remember her.
A BANK HOLIDAY.
Christmas had come—again. A year had gone by.
Evan Nelson was preparing to go home for a two days' visit.
"Here, Henty," he said, "put your finger on this money parcel while I tie it."
The junior at Banfield branch had a large finger, just the sort for holding down a thong, although it guided a pen badly. He was a big, red-faced, shaggy-haired fellow, born to the physical strain of a practical agriculturalist.
"Henty," said the teller, as he waxed the money parcel, "how did you ever get into the bank?"
"Why?" grinned the junior.
"Oh, I don't know. You're too strong or too something for this business. If I had your frame I'd go into the ring."
"This is ring enough for me," said Henty. "I can have a round here any time—with the cash book and savings."
The ledger keeper spoke up. (Henty's initials were A. P.)
"Say, Ape—I'll bet you lose more good sweat making out a settlement draft than you would covering a pig-pen with old tin."
"Aw, forget it," said A. P., smiling good-naturedly; "the bank has worse dubs than me. I mean than I. Take yourself for example——"
"Impossible," replied Filter, the ledger keeper.
Gordon Filter was tall, lean and pale. He was a sedentary person and loved meddling with figures. He swore continually about his salary and blasphemed against the bank, but his work was always perfect and he was always watching over it with pride. Filter was what was known as a "fusser." He worked slowly, mechanically, and without originality, but he made few mistakes. He was a good clerk—that was about the best he would ever be.
There was the strongest contrast between Henty and Filter. One was as "sloppy," clerically speaking, as the other was neat, and as healthy as the other was unhealthy. A. P. would seal the last envelope of his day's mail with a bang and rush out of the office to a game of baseball; Gordon would hover over his ledger in hope of finding an account unproved or untransferred. He always closed his book gently and allowed his hand to rest on it affectionately before consigning it to the vault. The junior drew $150 a year, and Filter $250.
Evan's salary was, by this time, $350. He had been in the bank almost two years. No man can be in the business that long without earning at least ten dollars a week. In office dictionaries, however, the words "earn" and "get" are a long distance apart. Nelson was teller and accountant in a branch of four. The manager was delicate and could not do very much work. Evan ran the cash, liability and general ledgers, looked after most of the loans, wrote nearly all returns, and superintended every department of the office routine. He worked three nights a week and every day from 8.30 until 6.30, eating lunch in his cage while he handed out infectious bank notes.
His was the only bank in Banfield, a village of nine hundred inhabitants. There was a good farming district around the village; a big load of stock was shipped every week, and poultry and dairy products were profitably handled. The bank did an uncommonly large business, but owing to the size of the town, head office would not allow H. H. Jones, the manager, more than three of a staff. Jones relied on the faithfulness and assiduousness of his teller-accountant, and Evan struggled through each day as best he could.
The Christmas season is always busy. Fortunately for Evan, however, the manager was feeling better as the holiday neared; he took over the cash to let the teller away. Filter was too poor to go home for turkey, and the junior was waiting in great suspense for a cheque from home. Deposits do not constitute all the money that is paid into the coffers of Canadian banks: farmers and townsmen help the bank feed, clothe and provide recreation for its employes; they send remittances regularly to bankclerk sons who must keep up an appearance in spite of starvation pay.
"Leave the twenty-third returns for me, Mr. Jones," said the teller, with holiday courage and generosity, "and let anything wait you can. I'll be back the twenty-sixth."
"All right, Nelson, we'll get along some way."
The manager's words indicated that Evan was indispensable, which was practically the case. He did the work of two men—on the salary of half a man or less. He had been working slavingly at Banfield for a year on less than a living wage, learning practically nothing that would fit him for anything but bank life. He had even missed summer furlough, because of the manager's illness. The bank thanked him by letter for the sacrifice, and promised him "an extra two weeks later on."
What had kept Nelson interested for a solid year in the village of Banfield? Chiefly work; after that a lake and girls. How many years of faithful service do branch banks owe to the attractiveness and amiability of town girls!
His work alone provided Evan with all the excitement he needed, and when reactions came there was always a young lady to be paddled out on the water. Bank work is entertaining; few clerks do not enjoy it, once they have mastered the routine. Time flies when a fellow is on the cash in a busy office; it vanishes when he is also in charge of the office as acting-accountant. Figuring out entries and chasing balances is a fascinating occupation, like vaudeville, and just as precarious a specialty.
A conscientious bankclerk cannot look on a heap of accumulated work with indifference; when he is also ambitious he rolls up his sleeves and forgets everything in the debris of vouchers and figures. Like a mole he works away, his eyes blinded (to keep out the muck); unlike the mole he never succeeds in building a nest for himself. The heap diminishes gradually before him and he thinks he sees rock-bottom, when suddenly an avalanche comes down, obliterating marks of previous effort and storing up labor for days, weeks, or months to come.
Surely, there are few occupations more all-possessing than banking. A boy is under a heavy responsibility; the thought makes him proud; pride spurs him to his best; he forgets—really forgets—to exercise. Often he is so worn out he cannot take exercise without physical suffering. Moreover, the clerical strain makes him sleepy, and, as social affairs and night work prevent early retiring, he must get his sleep in the morning; thus out-door recreation is neglected. Whether or not it should be, it is. Excessive inside work takes away the inclination to exercise, and only those who know a large number of bankclerks understand how serious are the results of this diseased lethargy.
As he sat in the station waiting for his train to Toronto, Evan tried to recall one night in the year past when he had had nothing to do. He could not remember one. When he had not been working there had always been a village function of some sort to take up his time and consume his vitality.
His head ached now, for he had labored harder than ever during the past week, to clear the way for Christmas. There would be pleasure in seeing his folk, but none in the trip—although he was fond of travel. He dreaded now the long train-ride. He yawned and felt miserable.
In the coach he was unable to sleep, and too tired to read. He had no disposition to talk; the only pastime left was to think. He wondered if Frankie still cared for him; if his parents would be impressed with his knowledge of banking, and if the bankboys of Hometon would acknowledge him a pal. Selfish as it may seem, his thoughts of Frankie were indefinite, and confused with memories of Julia and Lily.
The motion of the train gradually rocked him to sleep in his seat. He dreamt he was being moved to another branch. When he awoke the conductor was shouting "Toronto."
Evan changed cars at Union Station. This was the second time he had been through the city, but he had seen nothing of its life.
The train out Hometon way was crammed with excursionists. The weary bankclerk was obliged to stand for over fifty miles. He was more than half sick when he reached Hometon. The train was two hours late.
Mrs. Nelson and Lou were at the station to meet Our Banker. Both of them kissed him. His mother was so happy to see him the tears gleamed in her eyes. Lou sized him up in her old way.
"Say, you look like a city chap, Evan!"
He smiled half-heartedly.
"Gee, I feel rotten," he said; "my head is splitting and I'm sick at my stomach."
"You look thin, dear," said Mrs. Nelson, examining him in detail.
"Oh, I'll be all right after a snooze," he replied, lightly, seeing that his mother felt considerable anxiety.
The 'bus was full; the Nelsons walked from the depot to their home. Evan answered the questions asked him on the way, endeavoring to appear cheerful, but took little interest in the old town. He drank a cup of his mother's tea, when they arrived home, then begged off to bed. Lou spread wet cloths on his forehead until he was asleep, and afterwards went downstairs to load his stocking.
"Mother, dear," she said, cracking a nut, "Evan looks fierce. I believe he is either worked or worried to death."
Mrs. Nelson sighed.
"This is a funny world," she observed petulantly; "it looks good from the outside, but when you come to find out it is a disappointment."
"Oh, mamma," laughed the daughter, "you sound melancholy. It isn't as bad as all that, you know. His headache will be gone in the morning. Christmas trains would put anyone out of commission."
"He looked fagged though, Louie."
"Most bankers do," observed Lou, casually.
Mrs. Nelson looked quizzically at the girl.
"Maybe I should never have encouraged him to enter a bank," she said, doubtfully.
The father came in, covered with snow.
"Hello, Santa," cried Lou.
"Did he come?" asked Nelson, returning his daughter's smile, but looking somewhat anxiously about.
"Yes," said Mrs. Nelson, "but he was tired and went to bed. Don't wake him up till morning."
"He isn't sick, is he?" asked the father.
"No, just a headache," said Lou.
By and by she went off to bed, upon which Nelson proceeded to unwrap several parcels he carried, and fill her stocking.
"It doesn't seem long," he said pensively, "since these two stockings weren't big enough to hold anything worth while."
"No, indeed, George. I often wish they were both children again."
How many times a day is that impossible wish voiced by the mothers of every nation!
Christmas morning found Lou awake early. She repeated the pranks of childhood, stealing downstairs in the dark to find her stocking. Evan slept on. His sister peeked into his room at daylight, hoping to find him conscious; but he breathed so satisfactorily she overcame the temptation to frighten him awake. Mrs. Nelson would not allow anyone to disturb him until breakfast was set, then she went herself to his room.
In his dreams he heard his mother calling him, and it seemed to be away back in irresponsible days.
"Yes," he answered unconsciously, "I'm up, mother!"
Mrs. Nelson enjoyed his dozing prevarication. It made her forget that he was no longer a sleep-loving schoolboy. She went quietly to his bedside and laid a hand on his forehead. His eyes opened.
"How are you this morning?" she asked.
"All right mother, thanks. Is it late?"
She told him breakfast was ready, and he jumped out of bed, whistling with surprise.
"I guess I'd better go," she laughed, when he seemed to forget the presence of a lady.
"Oh, that's all right," he said, cheerily. He was feeling good after a night's sleep in the bed of his boyhood.
Mr. Nelson was waiting anxiously in the kitchen—they always breakfasted there in winter—for Evan and breakfast. The former soon arrived, and the latter was then ready.
"Bon jour," said the father, without nasal and with a hard "j."
"Good morning, George," laughed Evan, using a phrase then popular in the "funny" papers.
Our Banker led the way to table.
"I'm as hungry as a cougar," he said.
Lou regarded him in consternation. "Why, Evan," she cried, "haven't you forgotten something?"
He looked at her blankly. "What?"
"I got mine before daylight," holding up her stocking.
"Oh," he grinned; "I've been away so long I forgot there ever was such a thing as Christmas."
"By the way," asked his father, "how did you spend your last?"
"Working," said Evan.
The mother sighed softly.
"You look as though that's all you ever did," continued Mr. Nelson.
"Oh, no," said Evan, promptly, "I've had some good times since that Sunday, a year and a half ago, that I spent here. I have had it sort of tough lately and maybe I'm a little run down, but things will ease off after awhile."
It is characteristic of the bankman that he lives on the hope that work will fall off. Someone is always telling him, as he is always telling himself, that things will slacken; but, somehow or other, the strings stay taut.
Evan was quite a different lad now from the schoolboy who first came home with bank idioms to tickle his mother with and dumfound his sister. As he sat at the Christmas breakfast table his countenance was subdued, almost worried. The long balance-night orgies were registered there; the fixed expression that comes from searching out differences and the strain that accompanies each day's balancing of the cash. Something more as well—debts!
All bankclerks contract debts. The careless ones do so thoughtlessly, the careful ones reluctantly—both necessarily. Evan owed about sixty dollars, tailor and other bills. A bankclerk must make a good impression on people; he must have a good appearance—head office makes that its business. The clerk's salary—that is nobody's business, not even his own. Evan did not mention the fact that he was in debt, when his father asked, good-humoredly,
"Making much money?"
"I'm living," smiled the son.
Lou thoughtlessly said something ill-advised.
"Got a new girl, brother?"
Mrs. Nelson blushed, but her Banker did not. He laughed.
"That's one thing we learn to forget," he said, brazenly.
The caresses of "sweethearts in every town" had had their effect. His sister gave him a rebuking look. He saw a question in her eyes and the shape of it resembled Frankie Arling's contour.
Some women prefer suspense to disappointment. Mrs. Arling evidently did not, for she asked, palpitatingly:
"When are you going back?"
Evan was embarrassed. He evaded the question.
"It's too early to speak of that, mother," he fenced. "Our manager is delicate and apt to break down at any time. I promised to be back—soon. I am the whole thing up at Banfield."
"Are you teller yet?" asked Lou.
"Sure," said Evan, "and then some. I'm pro-manager."
"Let's see," said his father, dropping a hot egg, "what are they paying you now?"
"Three fifty," replied Evan humbly.
It was not the diminutiveness of the figure that sounded so mean to him, but its association with the word "pro-manager." He was not ashamed of a low salary, but of a humble position. If he could convince his father that the position he held was responsible and man-worthy, he would not mind about the salary. Bankclerks are constantly fed with promotion when it is money they need, but they are so trained that elevation practically stands for increase, to them.
"I often run the office for days at a time when the manager is in bed," said Evan.
"And the cash—it's in your charge entirely, isn't it?"
"Yes," said the son, proudly.
Mr. Nelson took a deep draught of strong tea. Mrs. Nelson sat silent. Lou passed her brother a piece of fresh toast she had made for herself.
She got her brother alone after breakfast, ostensibly to show him her presents.
"Evan," she said, eyeing him as she used to years before when he had done something to puzzle her, "you don't seem very anxious about somebody."
He did not parry with a question.
"What's the use, Lou?" he said.
She thought a moment: "I guess there is no use of getting serious on seven dollars a week."
Her reasonableness comforted him and he told her so. They became as intimate as when they were children.
"You don't suppose Frank still—well, thinks she is in love with yours truly, do you, Lou?" he asked.
"Well—she doesn't act like it," replied Lou, rather indignantly. "You won't be surprised if I tell you something?"
He said he wouldn't.
".....Frankie is going with another fellow!"
Evan drew a silver case of cigarettes from his pocket, took out a "smoke" and replaced the case. Lou regarded him in amazement.
"Why, Evan!" she exclaimed.
He laughed. His mother smelt the smoke.
"My boy, I'm ashamed of you," she said, coming into the parlor.
He smiled around the cigarette, and said inarticulately:
"I don't smoke many."
"Why don't you use a pipe?" came a deep voice from the kitchen.
"I have a pipe," said Evan.
"Here, take a cigar," returned the father immediately, coming in to rarefy the atmosphere.
Promptly Evan twirled his cigarette into the grate and accepted a cigar with an adult air. Lou began laughing, but soon checked herself and endeavored to give the youthful debauchee a look of scorn. Unable to carry it out, she gazed out of the window.
"Oh, brother," she said, "come here and see."
He walked to the window. Strolling down the opposite side of the street, apparently on their way to church, were two young people—a boy and a girl. A glance told Evan who the girl was, but he did more than glance at the fellow. The two were coming nearer.
"For Heaven's sake!" said Evan, "I know that guy. Let's call them in."
Opening the front door he shouted:
"Hey, come on up and see us!"
Frankie hesitated, but her brave escort insisted and she walked shamefacedly toward Nelson's home. Evan allowed himself a few moments of rash merriment which greatly surprised his mother and sister. His strange actions were justified—if the women had only known! The chap who stepped in with Frankie was Porter Perry.
Acting on manners he had learned somewhere, the Bonehead grabbed Evan's hand before the latter had a chance to greet Frankie.
"Where on earth did you come from?" asked Evan.
"Oh, I left your bank," said Porter, importantly, "because they paid such bad salaries. Then the U—— moved me here."
Frankie distracted Evan's attention.
"How are you, Frank?" he said, feeling mean as he took her little hand and saw her blushing face.
"Just the same old way," she replied bravely; "you have changed an awful lot though——"
She did not mean anything sentimental, but that kind of an interpretation presented itself to her a moment after she had spoken and she hurriedly added: "You are thin and paler than you used to be." Her eyes alighted on the cigar smoking between his fingers. "Maybe that's the reason," she said, laughingly.
Lou drew her chum off to exhibit those trinkets again. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were chatting in the kitchen, where the turkey sizzled.
"What post are you on, Evan?" asked Perry.
"Teller and accountant," was the casual reply.
"Gee," exclaimed the Bonehead disconsolately. He went in search of consolation.
"What do they give you?"
"Three fifty," was the still more humble reply.
Porter's face lighted up.
"I draw four fifty," he said, grandly.
"What post?" asked Evan, anxiously.
This was the first time Evan had had one of the bank's chief shortcomings brought home to him—it makes little difference what a clerk's intelligence or what his position and responsibility, he will be paid according to the time he has served. He is not rewarded according to his works, but paid for length of service. The business offers no incentive to excel. Why work hard and honestly if you are going to get the dead-level wage each year anyway? Good clerks suffer because of the negligence of indifferent ones; but the former bring up the average of work—and that is all the bank cares. The staff of a bank is something to be worked en masse; the individual is an insignificant part of the works.
Perry seemed fated to be a humiliation to Evan. Bank luck had thrown the Bonehead into the spot where Evan longed to be, and had given him enough salary to live on, humbly. But more ironical still was the apparent attachment between Evan's old girl and Perry.
"If she could only have seen him balancing that savings in Mt. Alban," thought Evan, smiling. Then puffing out a mouthful of smoke, he murmured: "Bah! what do I care!"
From that moment he was jolly, to the point of humor. It was the mood of mixed feelings, prominent among which is jealousy, where one waxes jocose in spite of himself. Evan even rallied Frankie on certain personal matters. She did not take it amiss; it rather relieved the situation for her.
"Where's Bill, do you know, Evan?" asked Porter.
"No; his signature at Mt. Alban has been cancelled, but I don't know what they did with him."
"Either resigned or gone to a city," Perry supposed.
"I think we had better go, Mr. Perry," said Frankie, turning away from Lou's Christmas gifts.
"Why, what's your hurry—won't you stay for dinner?" asked Mrs. Nelson.
"Oh, no," said Frankie, "thank you. Mother has invited Mr. Perry up to our place. He wasn't able to go home."
"How was that?" asked Nelson, poking his nose in the room.
"Work," said Perry, professionally.
"Ledger!" murmured Evan, smiling inwardly. Notwithstanding, he felt more disgusted than amused—he scarcely knew at what.
"We'll see you again before we go, I hope," he said, addressing Frankie and her escort as one.
"When do you go?" she whispered to him aside, while the Bonehead was laughing at a joke he perpetrated on Lou. Frankie was beginning to weaken. Evan felt it, and it made him harden his heart. Such is man's disposition.
"Soon," he said, knowing it hurt.
She gazed into his unsmiling eyes a moment, then turned to Lou and Perry without speaking.
When she was gone, and Perry, Mrs. Nelson looked disconcertingly at her son. He mentally searched for something to hide his uneasiness and divert their minds from Frankie——
"Did you hear me say I must go soon, mother?"
"Yes, how soon, Evan?"
Mrs. Nelson's dinner was luxurious, but to the whole family it tasted flat. Our Banker must leave early Christmas night. His Banfield friends had wished him "A Merry Christmas."
And he left without saying good-bye to Someone.
A SPORT GONE TO SEED.
The manager at Banfield sighed in relief when Evan entered the office. An afternoon rush was on.
"Can you take this over, Nelson?" he asked, edging away from a cackling woman-customer.
Without a word the teller threw his overcoat on a stool and entered the cage with his hat on. Before the wicket farm-folk stampeded, struggling to get their noses against the iron railing and to blow their breath on the weary-looking teller. A heap of germ-laden money lay temptingly within reach of the rustics, only separated from those grimy, grasping fingernails by plate glass.
A shudder passed over Evan as he took his stand in front of the crowd. He felt something of what a martyr must feel who faces trial at the hands of a mob. It was market-day. The Banfield bank had made a practice of cashing the tickets of hucksters who came from Toronto and bought up the people's produce on a margin. These tickets had to be figured up by the teller, cashed and afterwards balanced. Many of the customers made small deposits, after blocking the way to leaf over their money with badly soiled fingers (surely they needn't have been quite so dirty!); bought money-orders, opened new accounts "in trust" for relatives, asked questions—did everything thinkable to harass the teller.
Besides the produce tickets there was the ordinary banking business of the day. Occasionally a regular customer came in to cash a cheque, and finding himself unable to get near the wicket went out in considerable of a rage, trying to slam the automatically-closing door. Evan was supposed to keep his eye open for these "regulars," but to-day his head swam and he was obliged to concentrate on the tickets to avoid mistakes. An error on his part might easily involve him in personal loss; but if he "made" anything on the cash, that went to Cash Over Account.
A loud voice was heard in the manager's office.
"I won't stand for it," said the voice. "If you can't wait on me ahead of these old women you can do without my business."
"Give me your cheque, Mr. Moore, I'll have it cashed for you," said Mr. Jones, conciliatingly.
"No, sir, if I can't——"
The manager, more than half ill, lost his temper.
"Go then and be ——!" he shouted, and left his office to the burly intruder.
Moore shouted after the manager, making sure every gossip in the office would hear:
"I'll report you! I'll report you—you're no kind of a manager, and I'll have you kicked out of here."
Storming, the big farmer strode from the bank. Henty, the husky junior, was red in the face. Evan looked at him and smiled.
"What's the matter, A. P.?"
"I was just spoiling for the fray," said Henty, comically; "another minute and I'd have thrown that yap out."
After office hours Evan discovered that the cash had not been balanced for Saturday the 24th. He had, therefore, two days' balances on his hands—hands that were weary already. It is always hard work to balance after Christmas; but when your head aches, the office air is bad, there has been an upheaval with a customer, and you have two balances to find—well, it is no fun. Added to his other troubles, there were the returns for the 23rd; they had not yet been written. Head office would be sending a memo.
Even a winter's day, in a Canadian bank, is not all gloomy, however. Nelson's boarding mistress soothed him at suppertime with a cup of her good tea. Mrs. Terry was a kind soul and a good housekeeper. She was the oasis in Banfield's dusty desert. Notwithstanding, no cup of tea on the most welcome of oases could have prepared Evan for the intelligence awaiting him at the office when he got back to work in the evening. The manager sent for him.
"Nelson," he said, "I'm going to resign. My health won't stand this business. I'm going on a farm."
The young bankclerk was dumfounded. To think of a man giving up a $1,100 position for a farm! Evan was not old enough to appreciate the value of health. He thought Jones must have had something organically wrong with him before ever entering a bank, and that now he acted on the promptings of a sour stomach.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Jones," he said quietly; "I've had great experience under you."
"Yes," returned the manager, "you're a wonder for your age, Nelson. Do you know how much you are worth to the bank?—just about what I'm getting."
Evan felt his head swim. He forgave Jones the unbalanced "blotter," and had a sudden notion that he could dig up, at that moment, any difference that ever happened.
"I'm tired," said Jones, "of being worried by unreasonable asses on the one hand and head office on the other. I'm sick of being a servant."
"How long have you been in the bank?" asked Evan, pensively.
"Twenty years, and my salary is $1,100 with free rent. I was pushed into the business when about sixteen. At that time banking was a profession that all young fellows envied. I was the proudest man alive when they accepted me. And my folk, they didn't do a thing but plume themselves on it."
The teller was silent a while.
"Things change fast in the bank, don't they?" he observed, reflectively, thinking of himself and his career.
"You bet they do," replied Jones. "Banking isn't the same business it used to be at all. Salaries haven't kept up with the times. A bunch of junior men are now employed to fill posts that experienced clerks used to occupy. The bank makes a policy of recruiting—even going to Europe, where clerks think five dollars is equal to a pound sterling—to keep down expenses. A boy like yourself can, by heavy plodding, do the work of a ten-year clerk. He may not do it so accurately, but he gets it done at last, and that is what the bank wants. He does it, too, on a wage that should frighten future battalions, no matter how brave and countrified, away from the business."
Evan felt, for the moment, that Sam Robb was speaking. He thought of the day he had accused Robb of cherishing a grudge against the business, of being "sore on his job." But here was meek little Jones repeating the sentiments of the Mt. Alban bachelor manager. It was enough to make one think. Evan did think, and he began to open his mind to a wider criticism of the business. He began to wonder if he had been cut out for a bankclerk. Why had Robb repeatedly made anti-banking suggestions to him? Had he seen incapacity for clerical work in the Mt. Alban swipe? Did Jones discern a similar inaptitude for bank service and hint things for the teller's benefit? Was there a chance that he (Evan) possessed faculties that must die in the business of his mother's choice, and that these qualifications were plainly visible to men older in life and the banking business than himself? At times Evan felt underfitted for the bank, and at other times overfitted. His spirits varied accordingly. Most of the time, however, his mental attitude "balanced," and inactivity of thought was the result. He had reached inertia of mind before his conversation that night with Jones was finished.
"Sometimes," he confessed, "I wonder where I am at."
"That describes the average bankboy," replied Jones, promptly. "He drifts along for years in just that frame of mind. When he rouses himself to thought a flood of work comes along and drowns him. Then he sleeps for another month or two. I don't believe there is a class of boys on earth who do less thinking and planning for their future than Canadian bankclerks."
"That's funny," said Evan to himself, "I had a hunch when I joined the bank that that was the case. Guess I've grown used to their ways."
Automatically his mind reverted to the work out there in the office waiting for him.
"Here I am, wasting time," he said, jokingly, "while two days' balances and a mess of other work are waiting for me. Is there anything else you want to speak about, Mr. Jones?"
The manager looked at him with eyes so unprofessional they might never have focused on anything so mean as a past-due bill, or a head office bull.
"Nelson," he said frankly, "you are the right sort of stuff to succeed. You will succeed in the bank: but take my advice and get out of it. If you stick you will some day be a city manager—but get out. How long have you been in the service?"
"Almost two years."
"Well, if you had labored in some other business two years, with the intelligence and ballast you have shown around here, you would now have had a desk somewhere and a phone at your elbow."
The teller smiled embarrassedly, and rising, asked:
"When will your resignation go?"
While the manager and teller were discussing the philosophy of banking, the ledger-keeper and junior were worrying a battered-looking savings. Henty was leaning on his elbows and yawning. His eyes followed endless columns of figures, while the ledger-keeper called from the ledger. Filter purposely called an amount wrong, and kept going. When he was five accounts past the "baited" balance Henty shouted:
"Hold on, call No. 981 again!"
"Well, I must hand it to you, Ape," said the ledger-keeper sarcastically. "You certainly have a remarkable pair of eyes. You travel several miles behind, like an echo or something, but you always get there. Why don't you save your memory all that extra work?"
The good-natured junior laughed.
"Don't be cross, Gordon," he teased. "To tell the truth I was thinking of Hilda Munn."
Filter looked exasperated.
"How in —— do you ever expect me to find that difference if you travel blindfolded? I'll bet a dollar we've passed over it."
Nelson came in the office.
"How much are you out?" he asked.
"Ten cents," said Filter; "this book—"
"Wait," interrupted Evan, "do you remember that deposit slip we changed after the calling about two weeks ago? Was it fixed in the ledger?"
Filter's eyes brightened. He looked up the account and found his difference. Henty regarded the teller with unsophisticated admiration, then, on the impulse, grabbed him by the muscles and commenced backing him around the office.
"Gee, you're a horse!" said Evan, wrenching himself free; "where did you get all that gristle?"
"In the back pasture," interpolated Filter, in jovial spirits now that he was balanced.
"Wrong there," said Henty. "I put on this stock of beef in the rear end of a mow one hot summer when the sow-thistles were bad."
While the boys were in good tune Nelson broke to them the news of Jones' resignation.
"The deuce!" exclaimed Filter, who rarely went higher.
"We don't need a manager," observed the junior, grinning, "when we've got a man who can remember deposit slips for two weeks."
Evan said nothing, but naturally he liked Henty for the flattering speech, the more so since Henty usually meant more than half of what he said. Praise is apt to be dangerous to one who draws Evan's salary; he felt himself growing more and more dissatisfied. Evan was awakening to a realization of his superiority as a bankclerk. He was a successful clerk, and he knew it; but he also knew, by now, that his success was due to labor rather than to special aptitude for that kind of work. He could not banish Jones' words from his mind; if he had expended the same amount of energy on some other business he would probably have achieved far greater efficiency than would ever be possible in banking. He doubted more and more that climbing steps into the bank was equal to shinning it up a beanstalk.
For a few days after Jones' conversation with him he was silent and thoughtful at his work. Instead of making poetic memos, like Service, in his cage, he made note of the work he waded through, and tried to picture himself in a private office. That was going one further than Jones' imaginary desk with the telephone at one's elbow, but the imagination is fertile territory.
It is difficult to say where Evan's speculations would have landed him—it is difficult to say, although the probability is he would have arrived where dissatisfied bank-boys usually do, Nowhere—had not W. W. Penton, the new manager, put in a sudden appearance.
It took Penton quite a while to get in the bank door, as he had with him a wife and two poodle-dogs, the latter property especially requiring much attention and considerable coaching before they would condescend to enter the office. Possibly their pampered puppy noses sniffed some of the trouble that was to come. Dogs are prophetic when there is something undesirable to be foretold.
Mr. Jones had gone out on the morning train and would not be back for a day or two. Consequently Evan, next in charge of Banfield branch, was obliged to receive the new dictator: such it was Penton's disposition to be.
He strutted through the office to the cage, where Evan was busy with a customer, and spoke half civilly:
"Are you the accountant here?"
The teller turned around, with a bunch of counted bills in his hand.
"Yes, sir," he said, "just a minute and I'll be out."
"Come out now," said Penton.
Evan finished waiting on the customer, who had been standing in front of the wicket long enough, and then obeyed the manager. The two looked at each other challengingly. Penton's expression was almost a glare. The teller stood his ground. He conceived a ready dislike for the tall figure before him. At length Penton extended his hand. It was bony and cold. Evan discarded it as quickly as possible and called over the rest of the staff for introduction.
Filter shook hands methodically, scarcely raising his eyes to meet the bulging, colorless eyes of Penton. Henty blushed, but his gaze was unwavering. The dogs barked uproariously, scampering to and fro like rats. Mrs. Penton, from the manager's office, tried to quiet them, but they seemed bent on carrying out the bluff they had started, imitating in that respect their male master.
"I've got an infernal toothache," said Penton, speaking to the junior, "would you run across to the hotel and get me some brandy? If that doesn't stop it I'll have to see a doctor."
His tone was more polite now. Henty left his work and went for the liquor. While he was away the manager and his wife took a hasty glance at their living quarters. She remained there with the terriers, but Penton soon came back for his remedy. When Evan went in he found three-fourths of the liquor gone, but the tooth was still aching. Mr. Penton was evidently in agony; he swore.
"Ask Mrs. Penton to come with me to a doctor's, will you?" he said.
Nelson rapped on a door at the end of the hall leading from the office into Penton's apartments. The dogs set up another hullabaloo. From his office the pained manager cursed them heartily. Henty was ready to bubble over with merriment, but the teller motioned him sober.
Mrs. Penton hesitated as she entered her husband's office. She could not have seen the flask, for it was not now in sight.
"Come with me to the doctor's, won't you?" he asked, with the suspicion of a whimper in his tone.
She looked behind her before answering. Evan was hovering near, to run errands or show them the way to a physician's.
"All right, Pen." She spoke timidly. Evan was sorry for her.
Penton was uneasy; he hesitated when Evan said: "If you don't mind, I'll be glad to go with you."
Mrs. Penton spoke out:
"It's awfully good of you, Mr. Nelson. Mr. Penton may have to take gas."
He did. Nor did ever a youngster take senna less gracefully. The gas alone probably would not have made a madman of him, but mixed with the liquor it did. In the earlier stages of unconsciousness Penton jumped from the table and threatened to kill the doctor. The country physician only laughed at the wild and, to Evan, appalling curses and threats of the temporary lunatic. It mattered not to that rustic doctor whether his patient carried a stiff neck or a limber one—he would do his work just the same. He happened to be a dentist, which was fortunate, for he needed dental knowledge to extract a great tooth from the patient. The further skill of a veterinary surgeon would scarcely have been superfluous, Evan thought, amid so much horse-play.
Mrs. Penton seemed very much upset, but she shed no tears. The teller wondered how she could look on at all. It was the first case of gas he had seen, and it not only awed him but filled him with repugnance. Painfully was this the case when Penton madly expectorated over an incredible distance upon the poor doctor's curtains.
Nelson had always had profound respect for whatever manager he worked under. He looked upon bank officials as something more than men. The reverence of his mother for institutions and things traditional held to him. But as he gazed on the squawking Penton, lying stretched out on a board while the village dentist-doctor dragged at a tooth, he had a sudden conception of man's equality and his likeness to the beast. Even bank-managers were poor, puling cowards in the face of pain, or under the influence of a little gas.
Having slept out his unnatural sleep Penton jumped dazedly from his board and rushed to the door. Before anyone could stop him (the doctor did not seem anxious to do so) he had reached the street. Evan ran after him, and Mrs. Penton after Evan. The long form of the new manager wobbled across the street toward the bank. Evan came up with it and steadied it. Mrs. Penton's face was burning red when they arrived under cover.
"I'm so sorry this has happened, Mr. Nelson," she said, "for your sake."
"Oh, that's all right, Mrs. Penton," he replied; "I always sympathize with anyone who is suffering."
She looked him her thanks.
"Mr. Nelson," she whispered, "did Pen have anything to drink before going to the doctor's?"
Evan hesitated before answering.
"A flask of brandy."
"That's what is the matter with him, then," she said, looking sadly toward the groaning unfortunate on the couch.
Penton was in a peculiar shade of mind. He made weird remarks at times, spoke sanely occasionally, and groaned continually. He kept his hand to his cheek and swore at the tooth and the doctor alternately. Mrs. Penton did not allow his oaths to embarrass her.
"I hope you won't mind," she apologized; "I won't ask you to remain more than a few minutes."
"I'm ready to stay as long as you wish, Mrs. Penton," he said.
"Thank you very much. It is so good of you. It's awfully nice to have a teller like you, Mr. Nelson. Mr. Penton was afraid—we were afraid we mightn't—you know, like the staff. I am so glad to find you so kind; I'm sure you will get along splendidly with Pen."
Again Evan was flattered. Here was a manager hoping he would not have to quarrel with his teller! That was, virtually, Mrs. Penton's admission.
Evan did not need this additional evidence of Penton's weakness. The toothache episode had satisfied him. He heard for days the manager's squawking, and saw before him the manager's cravenness.
Jones had come and gone: the new manager had taken over the bills and the cash. Penton's tooth was better, but he was in a bullying humor. One night he called the teller before him for review.
"Now, Mr. Nelson," he said, assuming an imperious tone, the absurdity of which amused the steady-eyed listener, "as you know, I am appointed manager here. This is my first branch, and I want to make it a success. Needless to say, I need your help, since you are my teller. I want you to see that the junior men perform their duties properly."
The flattery intended to be conveyed in "junior men" did not appeal to Evan. He sat silent, observing, never taking his eyes from the manager's.
"I want my branch to pay, and I want my town to appreciate the fact that a trained banker is running things here now. I am a friend of Mr. Jones, but I tell you he did things in an unprofessional way. I want things done according to the standard rules of banking. I am a disciplinarian, and the sooner my staff realizes that the better it will be for them."
The teller reddened with anger. Penton probably thought it was timidity. But as Nelson did not speak the other was not enlightened.
"Now," continued Penton, "I want you to be my mouthpiece to the junior men. Make them understand I am here to do things my own way. No more private banking methods—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Penton," interrupted Nelson, vibrantly, in spite of a desire to ignore with silence, "Mr. Jones had twenty years' banking experience."
Penton altered his tone.
"Don't misunderstand me, Mr. Nelson," he said, smiling a smile of defiance and diplomacy, "I am not knocking Mr. Jones. But you will soon see the results of my more professional methods. I got my training in the oldest and most aristocratic banking house in the country."
The lecture eventually came to an end. It was on a par with anything Penton was liable to say or do. Exhausted after the effort, he withdrew to his apartments behind the bank. Evan entered his box and slammed the door. Two faces flattened themselves against the sides of the cage.
"Boys," said the teller coolly, but in a tone they were not used to from him, "there's going to be —— to pay around here."
"What's wrong?" asked Filter.
"Nothing," said Evan, "but this new manager is going to get in wrong. I for one won't stand for his bluffing."
The teller went on to deliver the message given him. He scarcely fulfilled Penton's wishes in the delivery, however.
"I'm with you, Nelson," said Henty, very red in the face and ludicrously serious.
"You bet," said Filter, forgetting his ledger for the moment.
After locking up, that afternoon, Nelson went for a walk around the pond. He was sick at heart. He wondered what would happen under Penton's regime, he was certain something disastrous would. After supper he went to the post office, hoping to hear from home. He wanted to forget the bank and its worries for a while. Two letters were in the mail for him, one from Julia and the other from Lily. He dropped into the bank to read them and sat in the manager's office. A rap came to the office door.
"Come in," he cried. Mrs. Penton entered, wretched-looking.
"Oh, Mr. Nelson," she cried, softly, "I need your help."
He arose from his chair and stood gazing at her.
"He's drinking again," she said; and the tears flowed when Evan's interest was apparent.
"Where is he?"
"At the hotel," she sobbed.
Evan went out and hurried to the town bar. There he was, the tall manager, laughing insanely at the vile talk of Banfield's worst characters; drinking to the health of debauchees who pictured Heaven as an eternal beer-garden surrounded by living fountains and falls of whiskey.
THE SEED MULTIPLIES.
Henty was accessible by telephone. He answered Evan's excited summons. Between them the boys got Penton home and in bed. It was no simple task, either. The manager was obstreperous, but at the same time he showed the white feather. Drink could not have made him so ridiculous: there must have been something ridiculous in his nature.
"Why don't you let me alone?" he whined.
"Because," said Evan, "you're disgracing the bank. If you don't come home I'll report you to head office."
They were on the street. Penton shuddered and went with them more willingly when the threat had penetrated his clogged brain.
"You won't report me, will you? You won't report me?" he repeated in a fawning manner, fearful and pitiful.
"Not if you cut this out," said the teller.
"I'll c-cut it out, old c-cock," laughed Penton raspingly, swaying to the poison in his blood, "me f-for the water wagon after this."
He raved about himself until they had him in bed, then he raved about everything.
"Do you want me to stay a while, Mrs. Penton?" asked the teller.
"No thank you, Mr. Nelson," she replied, wearily; "he will be all right now. Oh, I'm so afraid this will be talked of all over town. Do you think so?"
"Nobody saw him," said Nelson consolingly, "but a few drunks, and anything they say won't matter."
"Oh, I hope so," she said; "it would be dreadful if the town turned against us. This is our first branch, you know, and a scandal like this might ruin us."
"Don't worry, Mrs. Penton; people are kind in this town, if they are behind the times. They always forgive the first offence, and sometimes more. During the two weeks Mr. Penton has been here he has made lots of friends."
Mrs. Penton began to be comforted, for what the teller said was true. Penton had a way with him among people; it was a hypocritical way, of course, but the affectation of it was not clear to the kind, simple people of Banfield. His ignoble flattery passed for amiability and good-will.
"It won't occur again," said Mrs. Penton, thoughtfully; "this will be a lesson to him. I wish you would frighten him, Mr. Nelson."
Henty had to smile. The manager's wife also smiled then. It was impossible to look worried or cross in the face of what Filter called "the ape's grin." Evan, however, was the first to sober. He was thinking of the day he had entered the bank, and how he had thrilled at sight of a living manager, an appointee of head office. Now he was asked to frighten one of these potentates into subjection.
"I'll make him believe the people of the town are sore," said the teller, pensively.
As they walked to their boarding-houses up the frosty street, the two boys discussed matters.
"I feel kind of sorry for him," said Henty; "he must be a regular booze-fighter."
"Yes. I wonder did head office know it when they sent him up here?"
Henty had no idea. Being simply a junior he did not venture an opinion concerning head office. He did express himself about the unofficial Penton, however.
"I don't like him, Nelson."
"No," said Evan, "he is a mistake. I see trouble ahead for us. I can't understand why the bank sent him up here. He has evidently been used to a fast life, and there's no excitement here for him except booze."
Henty had reached his lodging. With a "good-night" and a sigh he entered the cold storage where he put in the nights.
Evan, drawing one hundred and fifty dollars a year more than the junior, went further up the hill and landed in a warmer room. He lighted a lamp and prepared to thoroughly peruse a couple of letters. They were more than a couple, they were a pair. Julia reminded him of the "perfectly lovely" times they had spent together, and Lily spoke of the "grand evenings" they had walked or driven in. The Mt. Alban girl intimated that she was without "such a friend" now, and the Creek Bend girl spoke about the scarcity of "the right kind of fellows." Both letters were a challenge for Evan to act consistently with smile or kiss bestowed in the past, and a reminder that girls do not forget so readily as bankclerks might wish.
Folding the two little love-notes together, he held them above the lamp chimney and watched them burn. He did not wear the expression of a Nero, but of an Abram offering up that which was part of himself. He was not burning sheets of paper, but leaves from his life: sheets that he declared must become ashes to him—and to them.
"Yes," he thought, "it is better to make them angry than to string them along and break their hearts at last."
He continued to reason with himself:
"In the first place, I can't tell which of them I like best; therefore I don't love either of them. In the second place, it will be years before I shall draw enough money to marry on."
There was a third place, but Evan wanted to avoid it, for in that "place" sat Frankie Arling. The Bonehead also sat there, with his arms around Frankie.
Unable to banish this picture from his imagination, Evan finally delivered himself up to thoughts of Frankie: only in that way could he depose the redoubtable Porter.
The more Evan compared Frankie with Julia Watersea and Lily Allen, and with others whom he had met, the surer he felt, of her superiority. He regretted having hurt her at his home on Christmas Day, and knew he had done it because he cared for her. Thoughts of Perry gave him a sick feeling in his vitals, but he could not convince himself that Frankie cared anything about "the porter." What had become of all the other Hometon bankclerks she had temporarily tantalized?
In his quiet room the Banfield teller mused. After two years of banking he felt himself further from Frankie Arling than he had felt the day he went away. He was within a few days of nineteen now; his views on everything had undergone a change. Yet, he knew that he was more desirous than ever of marrying Frankie. There are moments when we see our hearts before us under an X-ray more wonderful than that used in medicine. Evan was given a glimpse of his inmost self, and what he saw was startling to him. He knew he loved Frankie Arling, and that he would be happy if he married her, even at nineteen! Age probably has less to do with the proper kind of marriage than is often supposed. There are boys of seventeen who would make good husbands, whereas some men are never fit. Evan knew he could have settled down at nineteen and made a success of marriage—if he could only have afforded it.
Knowing, though, the futility of dreaming against such odds as seven dollars a week and the bank system of increases, he forced his mind off matrimony and thought of Frankie only as an unattainable object he loved. In the midst of his dreaming loomed up again visions of other girls, chiefly Julia and Lily. He felt guilty for having shown them attention. He experienced remorse, for it was possible he had (the phrase passed facetiously through his brain) "built better than he knew." The letters just burnt were not at all comforting in this connection.