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A Canadian Bankclerk
by J. P. Buschlen
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"I see," said the new man. "But," he added, "the banks claim they are very hard up for managers."

"That's because the job isn't up to much when you do get it; a good many fellows get out when they find what they're up against. A lot of this talk about the great opportunities of banking originates in head office and is peddled around the country for a purpose. The bank has the greatest advertising system in the country and the least expensive. It carries the biggest bluff on earth. The bank's on a par with political flag-wavers when it comes to handing the people the bunco."

About five o'clock Mr. Willis, the old general-ledger clerk and ex-manager, edged over toward the cash book, with his hat on and a pipe in his mouth.

"Well, Watson," he said, lighting a match, "how's your successor coming along?" The match was burning down, but Willis held it tantalizingly away from the pipe while he added: "Why don't you introduce him?"

While the match threatened to burn the old clerk's fingers he slowly greeted Evan, and puffing a last flickering flame into his bowl, in a way that showed how closely he had, during years of smoking, studied the science of combustion, asked:

"How do you think you are going to like city work, Mr. Nelson?"

"It doesn't look very good to me," said Evan. "I'm off color to-day; my head is bursting."

"Why don't you go home?"

"Yes, go on," said Bill; "I didn't know you were all in. You certainly don't look any too frisky."

"I may be on the job alone to-morrow, though," replied Nelson, "and just yet I don't know the first thing about it."

Neither Willis nor Watson advised him against the wisdom of learning things when he had a chance, so he stayed. No doubt they knew how it felt to be up against a new post in the middle of a day, with everyone too busy to lend a hand, or even a suggestion. The perspiration that has been lost under those circumstances would make quite a stream.

Bill had a bad balance. He worked till ten o'clock, taking half an hour off to eat supper. Evan stuck to it, too. When he got to his hotel he had nervous indigestion and a violent headache. He took quinine and went to bed, more or less disgusted with life. When the drug began to work and the pain of his head was soothed, a peaceful lethargy crept over him, and he wished that he might lie in such repose forever. He dreaded thought of the days to come, for he had had a glimpse of sedentary slavery.

"Oh, pshaw!" he murmured, and ebbed out into Dreamland.

The next morning he awakened late, and did not wait for breakfast. He was the last man to work.

"We begin operations here at nine, Nelson," said Castle, as the new man walked past him.

Evan stopped and looked back, but said nothing. He was not in a humor to explain his semi-sickness to one like Alfred Castle.

"We were waiting for you," said Key; "jump in, old man."

Although he had little idea where he should jump, Evan plunged, like a reckless diver, and fought his way through the previous day's work as best he could. Bill took advantage of a strip of smooth sailing to steal away and have a smoke in the basement. Soon Key found Evan hesitating over the work, and hollered impatiently:

"Hang that man Watson, where is he?"

Stimulated by the slang Evan made a great effort to qualify. Key noticed his earnestness, and softened.

"I beg pardon, old chap," he said, "you'll be all right in a few days."

Thereafter they were good friends. Whenever Evan wanted to know anything he went to the little grey-haired discount clerk and had it explained.

The day after his off-day Robb was on duty, working away silently and morosely. During the slight hill that marked the noon-hour he walked back to the cash-book desk to see Evan. His coming was welcome, for the third teller had just dumped twenty-odd sterling draft requisitions into the cash-book dish.

"Heavens!" said Robb, "they certainly load you down with work, Nelson. Have you eaten lunch yet?"

"No, I forgot to buy one when the kid was in." He didn't say he had also missed breakfast.

"Send out and get something," said Robb; "I'll make out these drafts for you. This isn't work for the cash book, anyway. I don't see why in —— they want to kill a man."

Robb's face was grey. He ground his teeth as he ripped the first draft from the pad. As he worked he talked to Evan, who was swallowing dry slices of bread with mustard and stray ligaments of gristle sandwiched between.

"Nelson," he said, "how would you like to come up and room with me?"

Evan's eyes opened with interest.

"Fine," he replied, "if it wouldn't cost too much."

"How much salary do you draw?"

"Three fifty."

Robb turned and gazed at his young friend.

"By G—!" he cried, "that's a crime. I hope when I die that they send me where I can see the torment of bank officials!"

The elder man's face was paler. The alcohol was not yet entirely out of his system. He trembled slightly after delivering so vehement a remark. Evan knew then—or thought he knew—how deeply Robb hated the bank.

"What would board cost me up there, Mr. Robb?" he asked.

The ex-manager thought for a moment.

"I pay seven dollars," he said, "but I can get you in for a month on about four, I think. By that time you will have found another place."

"That will suit me," said Evan; "I'll still have three dollars a week to live on."

Robb's lip curled, and he made a blot over an "i" instead of a dot; but he offered no comment.

"Come up for supper to-night," he invited, "and I'll show you the room. You might as well move right in, and make a couple of days' hotel expenses out of the bank."

Hurrying through the ordeal called "lunch," in order to let Robb back to his liability, Evan took the Sterling book and figured out exchange.

"Where did you learn that?" asked Robb, watching him do the first draft.

"Watson showed me last night," replied Evan; "we never issued them in the country."

"And they're giving you seven dollars a week. Do you know what this post is worth, Evan? Fifteen hundred dollars a year!"

The figure dazed Evan. He could not conceive of his being worth such a fabulous amount to any corporation.

"It's just as difficult as my job," continued Robb. "There's no difference between one post and another—except in the amount of work done, of energy wasted. It's all a matter of getting into a rut and plugging along there, like a plowman. A fellow needs certain qualifications like accuracy, speed, and a rhinoceros' constitution; but what is there to it, from the standpoint of prospects? Nothing—except work. I began in this very office twenty-five years ago. In two years I was almost as capable of handling the liability as I am now. All I needed was a little practice. I'm just where I started. I've been going round in a circle. That's banking! Do you think for a holy minute that if I was young again I'd give myself another twenty-five-year sentence? Great Heaven! what wouldn't I give to be back at your age? You may flatter yourself with the notion that you're going to have something nice handed to you some day. Well, you'll get it handed to you, all right, but not in a silver salver. You'll get it where the chicken got the a-x-e; you'll get it with the bank guillotine. You're now doing thirty dollars worth of work each week at a salary of seven dollars. What guarantee have you that the bank will ever change its policy toward you? If they tie a can on you to-day, it will be a tin pail to-morrow and a milk-can the next day. Haven't they done it to me, to Willis, to Key, to Levison and a hundred others? My boy, they don't give a fig for you."

So saying, Sam Robb humped his big shoulders and slouched up to his desk, there to bury his head in a gigantic ledger for the balance of the day.

Evan was troubled. He still believed that Robb was exaggerating; had not the ex-manager brought upon himself most of his failure? Evan had heard that pet charge made against disgruntled clerks, and it came to his mind automatically. Still, he had evidence of Robb's faithfulness both at Mt. Alban and here in the city branch, and—he was troubled.

To Evan's surprise, mail from the north brought the cheque Penton had promised to hold in the cash for a week. Not having checked out of his hotel yet, he had not submitted an expense account to Toronto office, and consequently had no funds.

The accountant brought the cheque to Nelson.

"Don't you know that floating cheques is against the rules?" he said, menacingly.

"Yes, sir, but Mr. Penton promised to hold it for me. Besides—"

"That makes no difference," returned Charon, impatiently, "this sort of thing has got to stop."

Evan tried to get a word in, but the accountant, declaring he had no time for parleying, turned away with: "We'll hold it over till to-morrow."

Had Penton tried to get the ex-teller "in bad" by sending the cheque so soon? It would, thought Nelson, be perfectly in harmony with the Banfield manager's knavery. Probably Henty had quit, suddenly; and, angered, Penton had sought revenge on Henty's old associate. However, there was no harm done, thought Evan; and he dismissed the matter from his mind—the cash book was load enough.

The cash book was, in fact, more than enough of a load, at first. On the second day of Evan's city experience, about six o'clock, Robb came around and asked him how he was progressing.

"I'm all balled up," was the answer.

Robb grinned.

"Never mind," he said, "come on up to the house and I'll help you out after supper. Never work—especially on a cash book—when you need nourishment."

Unwillingly postponing work, Evan followed his old manager. He said he knew Robb's boarding-house would suit him, so he went over to the hotel and ordered his luggage sent up. Robb went with him; and, finding a mistake of one dollar in the hotel bill, called the clerk down without blinking. Evan thought he would like to be able to do that. He was going to learn the art away out in Saskatchewan.

Robb's lodging suited his young friend perfectly. It was quite central, just a nice walk from the bank. After dinner the two of them sat in the living-room, smoking.

"This is going to feel like home to me," said Evan. "I don't see how they can put up board like this for four dollars."

"Well, it will only last a month," replied Robb, and whispered: "Don't tell anybody you're getting it so cheap; that's a secret between us and Mrs. Greig."

"All right," Nelson promised.

Mrs. Greig played on the piano, at Robb's request, after the other boarders had dispersed. She was a young widow, good-looking and clever. Robb seemed to like her.

Before long Evan showed signs of restlessness.

"I'll go on down, Mr. Robb," he said, "you can come later, if you wish."

Robb consented. Mrs. Greig's music seemed more suited to a man of forty-two than to one of nineteen, anyway. But the elder clerk was not long in putting in an appearance at the bank. He found the cash-book man in a state of siege. Evan was, in fact, hemmed in on all sides by warlike figures, obstinate and invincible.

Several clerks were working at "night jobs." They looked sideways at Robb and Nelson working with their heads together over at the cash-book desk.

"Sam's taken a notion to Banfield, I guess," said Marks, who was still out in the morning's clearing.

"You boneheaded mutt!" cried Cantel, glaring at his desk-mate.

"What's the matter with you—did you ever see an ex-manager come back to help the cash-book before? Next time we have to tick off we'll press him into our service."

"Get wise," returned Cantel, "or I'll press your mitts into service. Do you see that?"

He held up a cheque, which at first glance looked like $3.74. Its resemblance to that amount had caused all the trouble: the cheque was for $37.40.

"Every cent of our difference!" exclaimed Marks. "By heck, let's all go out and celebrate."

Accepting his suggestion as an invitation, the other "C" man, a junior, and a "supplementary" man banged their books shut and accompanied Marks to the nearest hotel. "Celebrating" is a favorite pastime of bankboys. Every balance found, every inspection finished, almost anything accomplished, requires a celebration. It is easy to get in the swim, and then one makes a fish of himself.

Sam Robb, the ex-manager, was almost as much at sea over the cash-book as Nelson was; but he had been a clerk longer than the young man, and he plodded ahead methodically, without that nervous anxiety that gets young clerks "up in the air." Robb's frequent remarks rendered the strain less intense to Evan; he worked with greater freedom and assurance than he would have done alone. Between them they struck a balance within a reasonable time, and locking up the vault went out to the street.

The lights of Yonge Street, the city environment, the pleasant April air, all revived Evan's spirits. For a while he forgot that he was a bankclerk living in danger of concussion of the brain.

"Let's take in a picture show," he suggested, with interest.

Robb smiled, and agreed. They entered a picture house called "The Rand," in the middle of a film (who ever entered at any other time?). It was one of a popular series of crooked clerk pictures then going the rounds; one of those in which some fellow robs the till and somebody else gets the blame: a woman comes on the screen, snatches her heart out of the villain's hands, and throws herself on the hero's neck.

"I wonder if those things ever really happen," said Evan, when they were on the street again.

"Sure," said Robb. "There isn't anything that can't happen—to a clerk."

Evan laughed. He was now chumming with his old manager; why not be more familiar and confiding?

"You don't think much of a clerical job, do you?" he ventured.

Robb regarded him seriously and with a certain amount of satisfaction.

"No, Evan," he replied, "I do not. I've seen too much of this dependent life. That's what a clerk's life is—dependent. He never knows the day or the hour when the axe will fall. Besides being in constant suspense, he is in danger of actually losing his job, any day. Now, life is too short to spend in dread of losing a position. If I were a young man again I would build on a solid foundation. As it is all I know is the bank. It would keep me guessing, after all these years of banking, to make my present salary anywhere else; and yet I'm not sure, at that, that I will always remain in the business."

They were walking up University Avenue.

"I'm awfully glad to get staying with you," said Evan, suddenly. "I believe I would have had a renewal of homesickness down in that hotel."

"It's a pleasure for me to have you, old man," returned Robb. "That homesickness you speak of is bad, while it lasts. It doesn't last long, though. When you come to my time of life and realize that you have had a different kind of lonesomeness for years and years, you'll begin to think ordinary homesickness wasn't in it."

The ice was broken: Evan asked a question he had long wanted to ask:

"Why didn't you ever marry, Mr. Robb?"

The old bankclerk showed neither annoyance nor surprise. One does not mind being asked a frank personal question out of friendship.

"It was like this," said Robb, unhesitatingly, "I couldn't afford it until I was thirty. I mean to say, the bank wouldn't let me afford it till then. The girl was from my home town, down in Quebec. We wrote to each other for two or three years, but I got discouraged and quit. I figured that it wasn't fair to spoil her chances; it isn't right for a man to do it. There were lots of men as good as I that she could care for, and what right had I to ask her to wait until she was on the shelf? It happened she married a bank man after all, but he was one of those guys with a pull; he drew two hundred dollar increases and that sort of thing. Well, when a fellow gives up in the love-game he usually begins to booze or do something just as danged foolish. Although I might have known she could not wait for me, still it hurt to have her marry somebody else—especially a bank man—and it took me years to get over it. And," he seemed to breathe the memory of it away in a sigh, "you'll find scores and scores of men in the bank in my fix exactly."[1]

Robb's reference to drink reminded Evan that he had not told him about Penton and the Banfield trouble. Why not tell him? As they sat before a grate fire he related the tale of the silver, of Penton's strange actions, and of the inspection.

"Take it from me," said Robb, when the story was finished, "you're a dead one in the bank's eyes from now on. To-morrow the increases come out. Just watch yourself get a lemon. Penton has blackballed you to Castle. Why couldn't it have been Inspector Ward?—he's a good head. I'll bet they give you a measly fifty to-morrow, Evan."

"In that case I'd be justified in quitting the bank, wouldn't I?"

Robb snorted.

"If you don't quit, increase or no increase, you're crazy. If I get you a job somewhere else in town, will you leave the bank?"

"Perhaps," said Evan; "but I'm low in energy now, you know, and I doubt if I would make much of a hit with a strange man on a new line of work."

"If you're feeling like that you'd better go on a farm for the summer and get your feet on solid earth."

The following morning Nelson put in his expense account covering cost of moving from Banfield to Toronto. He did not charge the bank with three days at a hotel, as he might have done. They might be unfair to him, but at least he would be honest with them. Robb saw the debit slip among the charges vouchers lying in the cash-book dish. He walked over to the cash-book man.

"You're hopeless, Evan," he said. "You deserve to be fired."

"What's the matter?" asked Key, who was always nosing around in his good-natured way, trying to find things out and dig clerks out.

Robb told him about the expense voucher.

"God bless the bank," said Key; "it seems to have a faculty for picking honest boys. I wish a few professional crooks or gunmen would slip one over on them occasionally."

Evan smiled and began to say something, when Castle came sailing along and cried, in his high voice:

"It's pretty near time, Nelson, that you knew how to draw a sterling draft. I don't want to have to cross one of these again."

One draft out of fourteen had escaped being red-inked. It was that gigantic omission that brought Castle back from the front of the office. He loved to show authority.

Robb and Key looked at one another, the assistant accountant gone, then burst out laughing simultaneously. Evan joined them.

"There you are," said Robb, turning to the cash-book man; "that's the kind of things the bank soaks you for. They've got a pick against you, Nelson. I have a hunch you and I'll be left out on the increases."

The ex-manager's hunch was not quite strong enough. Evan received an increase of $50, bringing his salary up to $400 per year, less guarantee premiums. Robb was cut down from $1,400 to $1,250, "until he manifested a willingness to accept what head office considered to his interests."

Robb had refused, for personal reasons, to accept an appointment to a place of ostracism, and that, along with the ill-will of the accountant and assistant-accountant of Toronto, was sufficient, in the eyes of head office, to justify the cutting down of his salary $150. It had been reduced $750 when he was first sent to Toronto—after more than twenty years' faithful service.

Sam Robb, that night at dinner, looked like a man who had been through a severe illness. He ate little.

"They want me to resign, Evan," he said gutturally, "or they wouldn't have chopped me again. A nice way of squeezing a fellow out, eh?"

"What are you going to do about it?" asked Evan.

"Get drunk," said Robb.

He did, too.



[1] The writer of this book took statistics in Toronto among eight of the leading banks in the summer of 1912, and found that out of 450 clerks 13.1 per cent. were over thirty, and 13.0 per cent. were married. Among those 450 bankclerks at least, a man had to be thirty before he could afford marriage.



CHAPTER XIV.

POKER AND PREACHING.

A night or two after "Sam's souse," as the staff called it, four of the boys came back to the office and found Evan working, as usual, on the cash-book.

"Still at it?" asked Levison, the paying teller.

"Just struck a balance," replied Nelson.

"Good," said the teller, "we want another man to take a hand in poker. Come up when you're through."

"I don't know how to play," said Evan.

"You'll soon learn."

"I don't think I want to learn."

Sid grinned and Brower, the ledgerman, called:

"Aw, Nelsy, be a sport; we need some of this outside money."

The boys laughed in chorus and trooped through the office in the direction of the back stairway. There were rooms for juniors above the bank, and one of these was the party's destination.

"We'll look for you, kid," whispered Marks in passing the cash-book desk.

Nelson did not reply. He did not like to refuse the boys; besides, he was curious to know just how they acted in a game of poker, and he wanted a little cheap diversion. When his cash-book was ruled up for the following day he locked the vault, and saying to himself that he would just have a look-in for sociability's sake, went upstairs.

The four players were seated at a round table on which were five heaps of matches, one in the centre of the table and one at the elbow of each man. Evan sneaked in quietly and had learned something about poker before he was noticed. Several mysteries, including that attaching to the name "pot," had been solved in his mind before Levison felt the presence of an intruder and turned around with:

"Hello, Nelsy, come right in. Did you bring a little of that outside money?"

Evan smiled.

"I don't even know how to spell money," he said.

"All the more reason why you should take a hand," chimed in Brower. "I was broke the night before last, and now I've got three dollars and seventy-five cents, and am specializing in velvet."

"What's velvet?" asked Evan.

"This here," said three of the boys together, indicating reserve heaps of matches.

"And how much does each match stand for?" continued Nelson.

"We're playing penny," answered Levison, "with a nickel limit. That means fairly small losses for each man and a pretty good clean-up for the winner, with five playing."

"Have you been only two nights making three dollars and six bits?" Evan asked Brower.

"Yes," was the reply, "that's more than I can make in two days in the bank."

"Of course," observed Marks, "when you get a bean for a day's work you make it out of the bank, but this night-pay comes out of us. A slight difference, to use the words of a—"

"Come on," interrupted Brower, "ante and get the game a-going again."

"Sure," said Levison, turning away from the cash-book man.

Evan was coaxed no further, but stayed behind the boys and watched their plays. By and by he asked the teller about certain cards.

"Just a minute and I'll show you," said Sid. "Raise you five—pay me—ace high!"

"By Jupiter," grumbled Marks, "my heap looks like the Farmers Bank clearing."

"See," smiled the teller, while the others enjoyed Marks' ill-luck rather than his joke, "I made enough that time to retrieve half an hour's losses."

Evan looked across at the C man.

"How about Marks, though?" he asked, half-seriously.

"Don't worry about muh," cried Marks, "I see a 'straight' coming this time."

The C man laughed so hard and colored so quickly on seeing his hand that the other boys gaped at him and played carefully. He finally bluffed them out with a pair.

In the laughter and uproar that followed, Evan was studious. He had seen through the play, of course; but the excitement rather than the humor of it appealed to him. Here, he said within himself, was entertainment, company and economy combined. None of the boys were losing much, could lose much, and the pleasure they took out of it was surprising. Still, Evan was not fond of the idea of taking the smallest sum from his companions. He knew how hard they worked for it.

"Well, what about it?" asked the teller, suddenly, looking up at Nelson.

"I'm afraid I'd clean up on you fellows if I started," said Evan. "I think I'd be tempted to hand back my winnings at the end of each game."

Marks laughed and the others smiled.

"Don't consider us," said Brower, "if you want to play and pay for the fun you get, go to it; that's all we're in it for—just the sport."

"But it's gambling," protested Evan.

"So is going to the Island," observed Levison. "Maybe you'll have a good time and maybe you won't, but you pay your money just the same."

The sophisticated argument amused Evan, and helped him believe the boys were in their moderate little game only for amusement, cheap amusement. They could not afford to take girls out often or even go out alone, so they had invented an economic substitute for out-door pleasure. They were trying to take him in with them in their penny-saving pursuit and he wondered if their company were not worth the mental effort it cost him to surrender certain ideas about playing cards for money. In this state of mind he watched the game proceed.

For half an hour longer he stood behind their chairs, studying hands and trying to figure out the percentage of chance against each man. At the end of the time he was surprised to see all their reserves just about even, as they had been at first. Levison saw him intent upon the game.

"You see, Nelsy," he said, expectorating the stub of a cigar, "it's fair to every man. Occasionally somebody has a run of luck, like Brower had last night, and it's worth losing a little to see that happen; but usually we end up pretty much as we started."

"Except me," said Marks; "I just borrowed these chips from Cantel."

Until now Cantel had been silent, bent on earning the price of two theatre tickets for the coming Saturday night; but Marks' words roused him.

"Don't believe it," he said. "In the first place I never have chips to lend, and in the second place I wouldn't take a chance on this guy. I don't mind holding two deuces, but two I.O.U.'s of Marks' are too many for my job."

"Shut up and decorate," growled Brower, who, Evan immediately discovered, was the unhappy possessor of the four, five, six and seven of diamonds and the eight of clubs.

Marks tried a bluff and Levison called it.

"You're too industrious," cried the other C man "this bunch relinquishes its Angora only once a night."

Evan laughed, and felt his fingers itch for a draw. Instead of asking for a hand, though, he took a letter from his pocket and wrote on the back of it something for memorization. Then he told the boys he had not yet eaten supper, and they excused him with good-natured remarks. After indulging in a sandwich, a small bowl of rice-custard, and two slices of brown bread, he went up to the boarding-house. As Robb was not in, he was obliged to entertain himself. He hit on the form of entertainment uppermost in his mind—cards. He took the memorandum he had written above the bank, and dealing out a poker hand to four imaginary players and himself, proceeded to create flushes and other combinations. He was unfair in his playing, however, as he looked at each man's hand and selected cards from it instead of the pack. In this way he managed to deal himself a royal flush three times in fifty minutes. The exercise was tiring, though, and he leaned back in his chair. In that restful attitude a lethargy came upon him, and he day-dreamed about poker.

It was a game of science and chance, but were not all other games also dependent upon science and chance—even to a game of ball? There was something in what Levison had said: in going to the Island one did buy the chance of having a good time. And as to the selfishness of the game, did not the boys want him to join them? If they were going to lose by having him with them it was not likely they would invite him. As far as his own possible losses were concerned, Evan had seen enough to feel sure he would break about even. Thus he would have all the fun for nothing, and would be one among the other fellows. Being without the money to participate much in a city's recreation, he welcomed the opportunity of getting something for nothing, which it seemed he would do in an odd game of poker at one penny ante.

The strain of daily work was severe; one could not think of spending the evenings with a book—that was too much like more work. What one needed was something with many laughs, a few cigarettes, and the company of other bankclerks. But where did bankclerks, on salaries varying from $300 to $800, congregate? At clubs? In the drawing-rooms of society? Under the white lights of theatre facades? No—in a shabby, lonely room somewhere, where a nickel looked like two bits. That was where one must go to be among them, and to be one among them he must buy, with his spare pennies, the chances of pleasure they bought.

Evan's dreaming was bringing him near the dividing-line between sense and nonsense. But what, O Employer of Labor, determined the trend of his dreams? If he had been able to take an occasional trip up to Hometon, only three hours' journey, would he have lain awake nights devising means of filling up the dreary evenings? If he had even been able to take a friend out to the theatre occasionally, those cool spring nights, without borrowing the money, would penny poker have so interested him? But you will not listen, Mr. Employer. You say: "If we raise him $200 instead of $100, he will only spend it anyway!" If your Maker had given you one hand instead of two, because of the possibility of your doing more harm with two than one, would you not doubt His wisdom, to say nothing of justice or mercy? What if the bankclerk does spend all he makes—who made you his guardian? You are his employer, not his father or mother. If he can earn $1,000 a year after three years' service (and in the Star Weekly, Toronto, summer of 1912, a Canadian Bank official declared that a bankclerk was no good unless he could) what right have you to give him only $500 or $600?

Evan dreamed of amusing himself, until sleep came; sleep, almost the only inexpensive and valuable amusement some people get. Next morning he awakened in a sporting frame of mind, and went to work somewhat buoyant for having strangled an awkward scruple.

"Are you going to play again to-night?" he asked the paying-teller.

"Sure," said Levison, "but we've got five already. Bill Watson is coming. I don't think the fellows care for a six-handed game."

Evan did not notice the smile on Sid's face. He went back to his cash-book with the intention of coaxing his way into the evening's game. By and by Brower came along from the accountant's desk.

"Say, Nelsy," he whispered over the cash-book, "Marks got a sure tip from the races through his uncle to-day, and we're all going in on it. It's all right, believe me. He gave us one at the last races and we all made a five to one clean-up. This is a ten to one, sure. If you've got a dollar to throw away give it to Marks."

"I haven't got any to throw away," replied Nelson, annoyed that on top of his recent surrender to poker someone should try to coax him into playing the races.

"Oh, very well," laughed the ledgerman, "no harm done."

Evan made a sudden resolution that he not only would not bet with them that day but that he would pass up the poker game that night: it would show them that he had a mind of his own, even though he did want to be sociable. However, late in the afternoon he began to wonder what he would do in the evening. He almost wished the cash book would not balance before nine or ten o'clock.

Nevertheless, and strange to relate, about six o'clock the big red-backed book did balance. No one was around to hear Evan exclaim: "A first shot!"

He was washing his hands at the tap when a key turned in the front door and Cantel came running in.

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" he shouted, "we're all rich."

Evan asked him if he had gone crazy.

"No," replied Cantel, "but Levison has. He bet ten dollars and cleaned up a hundred. The rest of us made from ten to thirty. Here, Nelsy, here's your ten bucks."

The cash-book man laughed ironically.

"You certainly have gone nutty," he said, wiping his hands on the towel. "I didn't bet anything."

"Listen here," said Cantel, "this is the dollar I owed you. Brower told me you wouldn't bet, and we were so danged sure of cleaning up that I decided to place your bet myself. I made twenty on my own account."

Evan was struck with the sporting generosity of his fellow clerk, but could only decline the money.

"That's going too far, Cant," he said.

Cantel began to swear and continued swearing until several other clerks had clattered down through the office, whooping and laughing. Watson was almost fizzing with gin and lemon. Levison, too, walked with a slant. They gathered around Nelson, telling him what a good cash-book man he was and what a fool for not getting in on some of their "outside money."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Evan at last, "I'll take the dollar out that Cantel owes me and stake you the other nine on a poker game, providing you do not ask me to play."

"You f-foolish f-fellow," stammered Watson.

"Wh-what's s'matter?" asked Sid, thickly, "weren't you asking s'morning about a game?"

"I want to see how it's done once more before playing," parried Evan, who was in reality beginning to hanker after the game. It would, he figured, be almost as much fun looking on as playing—one night longer, anyway.

Upstairs in the little room five reserves and a pot stood before Nelson's eyes. The boys had been playing half an hour. Levison, drunk and reckless because of the day's winnings, bluffed out three jacks with a pair of kings and laughed until he nearly choked. Watson, too, played recklessly, but was singularly lucky. After three successful plays Bill exclaimed:

"Let's raise the limit; I'm sick of this monotony."

"I'm game," laughed Levison.

"Naw!" cried Cantel, who had been losing.

"Come on, be a sport," said Brower and Marks in different phrasing.

"Not for mine," replied Cantel; "I quit the game. Maybe Nelsy will sit in a few hands."

"Sure he will," said Marks, "there's class to him. He's a sport or he never would have thrown away nine bucks on millionaires like us. Come on, Nelson, get in the game."

"Yes, come on," coaxed Levison, in syllables impossible to write, "and if you lose too much we'll give you back something from the pot. It's only for fun—we want your company."

Without taking into consideration the raising of the limit, for the reason that he knew he would not need to bet, and figuring that he could play merely for the fun of it a while at penny losses, Evan gave in at length.

"Well, I'll try it," he said, ashamed of his stubbornness, "just for sport."

As luck would have it he raked in a few pots right on the start; then came odd losses and another succession of gains. His success seemed to please rather than tease the other boys, and, to repay them for their consideration, Evan decided it was up to him to make a few bets. He played rather recklessly after a couple of good winnings, saying to himself that the game was going to be short-lived; and his recklessness brought him luck.

How the time flew! Evan looked at his watch and could not believe his eyes—it was ten minutes to ten. He mentioned the fact to the boys.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Watson, "I must go down and have a swig before the bars close. Come on, Sid."

In a few minutes the two tipplers returned with what Bill declared to be a "full house"—three bottles of beer and two flasks of whiskey. Evan was sorry to see the stuff brought in and told them so.

"Now don't be too hard on us, Nelsy," pleaded Watson, in a drunkenly comical tone, "we won't ask you to drink."

"No, shir-ee," said Sid, "Nelz all right. Good sport."

Flattered in spite of himself, his blood warming up, Evan played on, and tolerated the drinks. Toward the close of the game he proceeded carefully, however, not that he intended to keep the money he had gained and use it for clothes or board, but that he might hold it over for other nights and prolong this newly-found form of amusement! He swore to himself, and told the boys, that when the money he had gained was spent he would not play any more, because he was beginning to see that some of the fellows might lose more than their salaries could afford. This was a special night, and they didn't notice it much, but as a precedent, and so forth, excuses and arguments ad infinitum.

Evan might have been able to stop after losing the sum he had gained, and he might not. Some bankboys had turned away from the exciting pastimes of the majority, to find what pleasure they could in walking the streets and patronizing the picture shows, but whether Evan would have been able to do it or not is not for this story to decide. He was not destined to remain in the bank, to suffer through the years its impositions; he was not going to be saddled with the responsibility of choosing between hopeless monotony and a life of blind recklessness. That miserable lot was for others, whom Nelson would some day assist in throwing off the yoke.

Sid Levison, now thirty years of age and drawing $1,100 a year, had made resolutions like Evan's, believing himself to be stronger than circumstances. He had started off in the bank with just as high ideals as Nelson's, and with a sweetheart just as true as Frankie; but years of disappointment had crushed both his hopes and his ideals, until now he lived for the petty and illusive pleasures of the moment; drink, gambling, and other demoralizing "recreations."

Sid Levison, and other bankclerks like him, were abandoned to a life of waste because they had never been given a fair chance. Had they been honestly paid for service in the early years of their banking life they might have spent, at first, all of their salary and done considerable mischief to themselves and others, but when they came out of their youthful nightmare the future would not have been blank and lustreless—as it often is to Sid Levisons, as matters stand. They open their eyes for a moment to the impossibilities of their situation, and close them again with a sigh or an oath, hating the light of common day, so cold and blinding in comparison with the witching glow of midnight flame.

Bill Watson and those other young poker-players were following in the way of their paying-teller, innocently, naturally. Every day they are following in that way, and the bank is perfectly willing that they should. Does not a man become dependent upon the bank in proportion as he loses his own self-dependence, and in proportion as a man is dependent upon his employer is he not subject to the whims of that employer?

The public often wonders about bankclerks, and about other office-men, too, in fact. Why don't they settle down at a reasonable age and do their part toward building up a nation? Young men in their teens are expected to be silly, but when a man of thirty is still a waster he becomes an enigma.

"What's the matter?" people ask; "where lies the origin of the trouble?"

"In human nature," the capitalist answers. That is the answer that pleases and excuses him. But is it true and sufficient?

Those whom fortune has favored may, until the day of doom, invent sophisms to veil their selfishness, but they cannot get rid of the obligations resting upon them—without discharging them.

When those obligations are ignored injustice is wrought, and oftimes the result is crime.



CHAPTER XV.

FIRED.

The month with Robb was nearly up, and Evan was beginning to look for another lodging. He had a suspicion that his old friend was putting himself out by entertaining another at four dollars a week. He knew it would be useless to mention the matter to Robb; he decided that the only thing for him to do was to vacate, then watch his chance to serve the ex-manager a good turn some day. He really believed Robb was paying Mrs. Greig extra on account of the accommodation.

As they sat, now, talking over trivialities, Evan told his friend that he had found a new boarding-house, which, of course, he had not. The ex-manager drew a breath deep enough to be a sigh.

"I guess it's better, Evan," he said, thoughtfully; "but I hate to see you go. Not only because I will miss your company, but I would like to knock the bank-bug out of your head. That was one reason why I wanted you here in the first place. I haven't been lucky in turning you up a job anywhere else just yet, but I'm going to get one for you, and going to hold you to your promise."

"If you can show me," answered Nelson, "where I'll be better off, it's me for the new job."

The small increase had not affected Evan seriously.

"I've been showing you all along that you couldn't be worse off than you are, haven't I?" said Robb.

Evan was not sure; he had had no business experience outside of the bank; naturally the only job he had ever had looked good to him.

The day after the increases Sam Robb had been off duty again; but the accountant had said nothing, considering, perhaps, that the Mt. Alban ex-manager had been "called" substantially enough in the reduction of his salary.

Robb had been quiet since his latest rebuke, and since the drunk following it had not been absent from duty a single day. All the same, he had been drinking steadily, quietly. Nelson often felt like doing something about it; he had no idea what. Always when the impulse came to him he closed his half-opened lips, leaned back in his chair, and kept his troubled thoughts to himself.

May was past her prime. The "Island" was becoming more popular every night, and the Sunday crowds at Scarboro grew rapidly. Robb and Evan walked down University Avenue to the bank.

"Well, we'll have a rest to-morrow," said Robb. "I'm getting to be an old man, and as long as I remember we've celebrated the 24th."

"I guess we always will remember Queen Victoria," replied Evan, "but I'm going to work tomorrow. Jack has to transfer his ledger, and I promised to help him."

Robb looked daggers at a robin.

"There you are," he said, in a soft, ominous tone; "that's the bank. They give a fellow a post that keeps him going night and day, Sundays and holidays, knowing that if he gets up against it absolutely, some other mark will chip in and help him out. They get the greatest possible labor out of the least possible staff at the lowest possible figure."

Evan smiled, and repeated another bank chestnut handed down from time immemorial among the staff as a valuable exotic intended to satisfy the ambitions of those who had them:

"That's supposed to be good business, isn't it—economy?"

"Economy be hanged!" said Robb, "and good business be ——! Good business, my dear boy, is giving reasonable value. Whether you are a farmer, a merchant, an employe or an employer, good business consists in delivering the goods, or paying cost of delivery, as the case may be. One of the most valuable articles on earth is Labor, and when a man buys it a decent price should be paid. The Bible is a wise old book; doesn't it say that 'the laborer is worthy of his hire'?"

Robb spat against the curbing and went on.

"Do you know why banks build so many fine structures throughout the country, and how it is they can afford to purchase the best locations in all the cities?"

"I have often wondered," said Evan, meekly.

"I'll tell you: it's because of dividends that can't be declared. The banks' profits are so high they couldn't begin to share them in dividends; the public wouldn't stand for it. So they buy property, build buildings, and pile up capital. At the same time they are starving their clerks."

"But," said Evan, feeling obliged to stand up for the institution that gave him employment, whether that employment was respectably paid for or not, "isn't it up to the clerk? If he is willing to work for a certain salary the bank isn't going to throw money at him."

Robb, to Evan's surprise, laughed heartily, then sneered.

"My dear Boob," he said, "they've got you by the whiskers all right..... Now look here: the bank hangs a great big bluff from beginning to end. It tells juniors they will be well paid after a while—as soon as they are experienced. But it doesn't fulfil that promise. When the junior becomes a senior he is told that he would have succeeded if he had done certain things. Isn't that what they told me?"

They were at the bank. The day before a holiday is no time for distracting thoughts. Evan went in and concentrated on his work, and Robb on his. The conversation they had had must come up for future consideration. That is the way with bankclerk "consideration": it is always future.

Four weeks had made Evan fairly familiar with the ways of a city office. On the cash book he had a good opportunity to see the workings of the entire system, for the cash book is a concentration of all business; it is an itemized general ledger. Evan was rushed from morning till night, and worked many a night. Yet he did not find that in the routine which satisfied his intellect. He knew himself to be a machine; not a creative machine—there is no such thing—but a reconstructive instrument. He was a meat-grinder, a fanning-mill, after that a phonograph—nothing more. Yet, from sheer physical and superficially mental activity he was, in a measure, satisfied with his lot. He derived satisfaction from a comparison of his working ability with that of other clerks. He should have compared himself with a star in the sky instead of a knot-hole in the fence. There is a ridiculous, childish satisfaction in measuring one's self by an inferior, or even a peer. It is an ignoble source of content. But, aside from flattering himself into a species of content, in that way, Evan sated his natural ambitions in continuous work. The laborer is reconciled to his place because he really gets something done, though it be to another's benefit almost entirely: Evan knew he could not work so hard without accomplishing something. He did accomplish something—for the bank.

Evan Nelson was wearing himself out, body and brain, for much less than a living wage. The experience he got was no longer of value to him; every day's work was a repetition of the previous day's work. He had no time for study or advancement of any sort. For what then was he working?—the salary. Evan did not realize it, but, he worked night and day for that seven or eight dollars per week. It was all he got, therefore it alone must have been his reward. And year after year in the bank, it would be the same way. If the business did not keep faith with him, if it did not reward him according to his works, in 1907, would it do so in 1908 or 1912? No; it would keep up its policy of delusion and perpetuate for ever and ever its vain promises. Then, some day, it could, with impunity, turn on him and break him.

"Good morning, Nelson," said Key, coming to call; "what time did you get balanced last night?"

"I had a first shot," replied Nelson.

"Hooray!" cried Key.

"At ten o'clock," added Evan, grinning. "I couldn't get things rounded up for a trial till then."

"Oh," said Key, rubbing his chin. "They ought to give you some return work.... How are you feeling these days?"

"Just average," answered Evan; "I had to cut out the cigarettes. I never smoked more than three or four a day at the most, but I find that I have fewer headaches when I leave them alone."

"Fewer headaches," repeated Key, in his peculiar way.

Evan smiled, and dived into the calling, drawing the time-worn battered old Key in with him. After a while the little man said:

"I suppose you count those headaches part of the game."

"Yes," and another chestnut rolled to the floor, "every business has its drawbacks."

"And every horse has its hold-backs," said Key, wondering whether it would sound like a joke or a child-speech. When it seemed to be lost on Evan, he corrected: "I meant 'every jackass.'"

"I see," returned the cash-bookman, "you think I'm a jackass for letting the bank hold me back."

"Yep!"

"So does Mr. Robb."

Key rested his blue pencil on an amount and looked across at Evan.

"You think we're soreheads, don't you, Nelson? Maybe we are. But let me ask you something. Supposing you had worked twenty years in the bank, and then they gave you, with great show, a little branch down in New Brunswick; supposing you went there and found that the bank had practically no business because it wouldn't oblige the community, and you started to lend money on good security, believing that a bank should be an asset to, not a leech on, the country. Supposing you suddenly had the branch taken away from you, because you tried to make it, and were making it, a benefit to the community—and were sent back to a sweat-shop on reduced pay: then supposing a bright young fellow came into the branch with the dreams you used to dream yourself, when a boy—tell me, wouldn't you try to make him understand what a fool he was?"

For answer Evan asked a question:

"Is that what they did to you?"

"Yes, and that's what they've done to dozens of managers. Every other bank has done the same thing to some of its old stand-bys."

"Well," said Evan, "don't they do the same thing in other lines of business, in corporations and so on?"

"I hope not," replied Key, tearing a voucher with his pencil; "but even if they do that doesn't excuse the banks. I suppose all trusts pull off arbitrary stunts, but the bank trust is the only one I happen to have personal experience in."

"A fellow simply has to trust to luck, I suppose," replied Evan. "Some fellows seem to get along well enough in the bank."

Key grunted.

"There are two kinds that eventually get the best that the bank has—that's little enough: First, the willies with a pull, and second, the sissies who siss. The fellow with originality and get-up is choked off, sooner or later. He usually manages to offend head office early in his career, and the rest of his bank life is—like mine! There are occasional lucky ones, as you say; but personally I'm not very strong for charms and stars. A fellow who has nothing stronger than luck to bank on may make a good race-track tout or fortune heeler, but not a business man. Don't work for any corporation or at any job where you're, so far as the position itself is concerned, dispensable; unless you are necessary to your employer, whether he be a magnate or an acre of land, jump the job."

Castle was passing.

"Key," he said, in his falsetto-femina voice, "you're too slow at that calling. The clearing men need Nelson on a machine from now on. You'll have to do less talking and faster work."

The grey-haired clerk reddened, but said nothing, aloud. What he said under his breath was sulphur-tipped.

It seemed to Key that every time the boys took a minute off to discuss personal affairs or the world outside the bank, a jealous bank demon showed its teeth.

The sentiments of Robb and Key made quite an impression on Nelson, but he argued that where there was so much said against the bank there must be a good deal to be said in its favor. He might have used the same argument with reference to a national evil, for instance.

"Hey, Nelson!" called Marks of the C's, "are you nearly through there? We're in an awful mess here with the C—— Bank. Their clearing is balled every day."

"All right," replied the cash-book man, leaving a few odds and ends of his own work, "is it the Queen Street branch again?"

"Yes," said Cantel; "I think it's too near the Asylum grounds."

The savings man turned around and chuckled. "Mutt and Jeff get quite humorous at times," he said, pointing to tall Marks and short Cantel.

The paying-teller laughed, so did Willis and the cash-book man. There are moments of fun in a city bank, but they are brief and reactive. The boys never get acquainted to any extent. They rarely help each other out, either, for they all have their hands full, and every bit of extra work they do reacts on their own post at night, early mornings, or Sundays. Sometimes there is a utility man, but he either dies young or prays for a move to the Maritime Provinces, where he can recuperate in a summer resort.

"That's enough from you, Johnson," said Marks; "crawl into that pipe of a savings and close the cover, or we'll make you smell the leather down cellar."

"You call the savings a 'pipe,' do you? Say, Marks, you'd have seven kinds of delirium tremens if you smoked this pipe."

Cantel tore off a slip and looked up.

"Ninety cents out," he said. "Marks is familiar with seventy times seven snakes already, Johnsy. He's getting to the crocodile stage. Last night at the Gai—"

"Shut up, Cant," whispered Marks, frowning; "it isn't time for the great trump to sound, just yet."

"Who mentioned trumps?" inquired Jack Brower, one of the current ledgermen, who had come around to drum up "stuff."

The boys laughed in chorus.

"Hey, less noise out there," called Levison, already experiencing a "kick" from the laugh of a minute before.

Marks was about to waken Brower to a proper understanding when Charon popped around the paying-cage.

"Look here," he said sharply, "this noise has got to stop. What are you doing here, Brower? Can't they keep you in C's? What's the matter with the clearing anyway? ..... Nelson, I'm going to put this in your charge, and I want you to see that the ledgers have their stuff by ten-thirty at latest."

Thus another responsibility was loaded on the creaking shoulders of the cash-book man; but nothing was said of added remuneration. Every week or month, as a man increases his speed or loses his power of resisting imposition, he is screwed more and more tightly to the "wall," which, in banking, means a desk.

"Do you know what you are?" said Johnson to Evan, when the accountant had gone. "You're a darn idiot. Why don't you kick?"

"Aw, shut up," Marks butted in, "how's a fellow going to get out of it? Why, Johnsy, you'd have a hemorrhage if you ever let yourself dream of talking back to the accountant."

Mr. Charon might stop the noise, but he could never put an end to the conversation of the clearing men. They rattled on, like their adding machines, jabbing back and forth and getting off speeches that are never heard in vaudeville, but still turning out the figures at a rapid rate. They worked mechanically, and their minds had to find diversion. That it was not valuable diversion was due to the environment. In the first place the work was monotonous, and the mind naturally sought a channel of entertainment, rather than of thought; in the second place, one got accustomed to the line of talk popular with the boys and unless he mixed with them he was out of the swim and in a cold, silent current of his own.

Sometimes the diversion Evan permitted himself took the form of Frankie Arling. It was not often, now, that he thought of her seriously—that is, as his wife. Seven years was too long a time to look ahead. He could not, after a good many months in the world of business, realize Frankie as he had done in those old school-days; but he could still think of her, in an ideal way.

Would Frankie be proud of him if she could see him handling that mysterious jumble of figures called the "cash book?" He wondered how the "city" way, which he believed himself to be acquiring, would appeal to the sweet country girl. He smiled as he thought of summer vacation—not such a great while off—when he should go back to Hometon and—and what? He did not know. He couldn't carry back tales of success, for his salary was only four hundred dollars a year. He couldn't go back well dressed, because he was fifty dollars in debt to the bank, and owed a tailor's bill in Banfield.... Invariably thoughts of the girl he knew he loved brought him misery and despondency. Thoughts of home brought him little less. He might have known, from that, that either he or the bank was a failure; but a fellow of nineteen looks through a smoked glass. To say that Evan did not think is scarcely the fact. He did think, but spasmodically. The mind is a dual thing: the superficial mind can be employed on an adding machine and leave the thinking function free to operate in any direction; but before that is possible the superficial mind must be familiar with the object that engages it. It is not an easy matter to figure sterling exchange, for instance, and at the same time think about irrelevant things; but it is easy to run an adding machine, or even to add, and think simultaneously. On the cash book Evan found himself engaged in all kinds of work; on some of it he had to concentrate (although no "brain power" was necessary), while on some of it he worked mechanically. Whenever a period of serious dissatisfaction, brought on by something Robb or Key had said, troubled him, it was of short duration: something always broke into his mind and scattered the argument framing there. By the time he was free to resume the argument foreign thoughts had intervened, and his brain was in a muddle. Before the muddle could be dissipated by a cold point of common sense, something else had come along. And so things went. So the days and weeks went.

When Evan got a night off, sick and tired of struggling with figures and fancies, he indulged in some of the exciting amusements of the city, which were new and attractive to him, and in "quiet little games." He was slipping into a rut, and probably he would have stayed there for months or even years, like hundreds of other young Canadian bankboys, had not the poverty of his existence driven him to the temporary form of relief known among bankclerks as "kiting."

"Bankclerks are always hard up." This is one of the public's chestnuts. It is not a horse-chestnut, however; this one is digestible. It is a fact. The reason is, chiefly—poor pay. It is absolutely necessary for a fellow to either get money from home (even after three years' service) or to borrow and fly kites. Kite-flying is the last resort. It is simply a matter of cashing a cheque on your own bank through some other bank whose clerks are known to you, or through some outlying branch of your own bank, and keeping that cheque out (keeping the kite flying) until pay-day comes and you can deposit to meet it. There is nothing dishonest in the transaction: customers float cheques all the time. The bank cannot lose through the kiting of clerks; only tellers who cash the kite can lose, and they know the "flyer" before taking a chance.

Sometimes a floated cheque floats home sooner than expected, and then there is some sudden high-financing to be done.

It was the custom in Evan's bank for the accountant to look after all clearing items on which exchange had been added by other banks. When the clearing men on the machines registered a bill with exchange they laid it aside for the accountant to see. The clearing of that 23rd of May was very heavy, and everybody was rushed.

"Here are your exchange amounts," said Marks, turning his bunch over to Cantel.

"Do you want them now, Nelson?" asked Cantel, "or shall I rush them up to the accountant and give them to you later?"

"Take them up," said Evan, puzzling over a badly-figured cheque, "and wait for them. He's been holding them back lately, and the ledger-keepers are developing claws."

When Cantel came back he had the exchange items, but he seemed thoughtful, and looked askance at Evan.

"Nelson," he whispered, "come here; I've got something coming.... Whose cheque do you suppose Charon kept back for further investigation?"

"Not mine from Creek Bend, was it?"

"You're on."

The cash-book man's face reddened.

"I didn't expect it in for three or four days yet," he said. "Dunn never would do a trick like that on me; he must have misunderstood."

Cantel laughed.

"I wouldn't take it so hard," he said; "everybody's doing it."

"I know," replied Evan, "but when I first came here Pen——"

"Forget it," said Cantel, turning to his work, "they need guys like you and me around here too much to kick over a kite."

So the "C" man thought. Every junior man seems to think that he is necessary to the bank. The older he grows the smaller he becomes in his own estimation, because in the bank's estimation. The bank understands the advantages of "depreciation" in stocks—and employes.

Before Evan could find a clerk who was willing or able to lend him enough to cover the cheque for eight dollars he had issued to pay board and buy a pair of shoes, Charon had set eyes on him from a distance and was beckoning to him.

The accountant had little glittering eyes. They shone out of his smooth, round face like boot-buttons from a lump of dough. He fixed them on the cash-book man.

"Mr. Nelson," he said politely, "I'm sorry to tell you that head office has just telephoned down and asked for your resignation."

"My resignation!"

"Yes."

"But Mr. Charon, you're not going——"

"It's not my doing at all," said Charon, interrupting; "anything you have to say had better be told to the manager."

Evan had never been introduced to the manager, but he walked into the big private office and started saying he scarcely knew what.

"Oh, are you Mr.—er—, the young man whom head office has asked to resign?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm sorry I cannot do anything for you."

"But won't you tell me why I'm fired?"

The cash-book man gazed fiercely into the manager's eyes. A thought for his personal safety probably decided the pompous old gentleman to compromise a little.

"It's on account of that cheque you issued—and—and—"

"And what?"

"And that Banfield affair!"

The truth dawned on Evan. He stood for a moment oblivious of his surroundings, thinking of his father and mother and friends. He was suspected. It was worse than Robb had said: he was not only under disfavor, but under suspicion. Head office had only waited for a pretext to fire him.

"But I didn't take that money——" he began.

"Those are my instructions," replied the manager, turning to his work.

Evan felt sick. He tried to make the accountant talk, but all Charon would say was:

"You'll have to grin and bear it."

"Well, can I see the inspector?" asked Evan, in desperation.

"I wouldn't advise you to; it will do no good."

Turning away, the cash-book man entered a telephone booth and called up Castle.

"This is Mr. Nelson," he said, "of Banfield. Can I see you, sir?"

"No," snapped Castle; "I'm very busy."

"But I want to tell——"

The receiver clicked. Evan was aware of an answering sound somewhere within himself, as though the ties that bound him to honesty and good-faith had suddenly snapped.



CHAPTER XVI.

BLACKBALLED.

During the progress of the drama in which Nelson played so conspicuous a part and which he regarded as a tragedy, Sam Robb was at the Receiver-General's exchanging money for the paying-teller. He had not returned before Evan was gone from the office for good.

"What am I to do, Mr. Charon?" Nelson asked the accountant, after Inspector Castle's insult.

"Grin and bear it," repeated the accountant, thinking, no doubt, that he had hit upon a very happy phrase.

Evan felt that it would take all his moral valor to "bear it" without the "grinning." He fulfilled that latter half of Charon's command—it seemed like a command rather than a suggestion, to the bank-trained clerk—three or four years later.

"But what about the fifty dollars I owe the bank?" he asked.

"I suppose you'll have to put it up," said Charon, studying the expression of the face before him.

"But there is three months' salary coming to me, according to the Rules and Regulations," replied Evan.

The accountant did not have to scratch his head; apparently he was prepared to act deliberately.

"Well," he said, "since they haven't said anything about the silver you had better say nothing. We are paying you two weeks in advance; let it go at that."

For a moment Evan figured. There is no crisis where a bankclerk can't figure. Three months' salary would be $90. That was coming to him. But he owed the bank $50, and they had paid him $15 more than was due, leaving only $25 due him. It would not pay to fight them for so small an amount. In fact, he did not know how to fight; besides, the vim was knocked out of him and he only wanted to get away from that wretched office. A strong revulsion possessed him; he turned away from the accountant without answering, and his eyes wandered about the dark, bad-smelling office. He suddenly discovered that he hated every desk, every book, and the brazen-faced fixtures.

But coming to his own desk he found the work piling up, and mechanically he lifted a pen to straighten things up a bit before leaving. A good bankman, under any circumstances whatever, cannot endure to see things in a mess. Evan had scarcely taken up his pen to make an entry in the "bank book" when Alfred Castle glided toward him and said in a high-pitched, authoritative tone:

"Never mind that, Nelson; you're through here and we want you to quit."

The fired clerk was too badly wounded, for the moment, to be angry. Later, he wondered why Fate should have been so spiteful as to send Castle, above all others, on that humiliating errand. He suddenly remembered the way Alfred had greeted him on his arrival in Toronto, and came to the conclusion that from the first he had been under suspicion with that respectable nephew of the "Big Eye's."

Evan went down to the basement for his hat, not quite expecting to find it there; in truth, he would not have been much surprised to find the basement itself gone. Certainly, the foundation had disappeared from under a structure mightier and stronger, as he viewed it, than piles of stone and mortar. He had frequently criticized the office slavery of the bank, but he had never lost faith in the institution's magnitude and imperishability. It was the solidity of it that he had banked on and clung to, in spite of blinding work; but now the golden god had crumbled, like the smitten image of Daniel's dream—so far as Evan was concerned. The idol still stood for idolaters, of course, like that other image in the Prophet's time; but to the enlightened, the awakened, it had perished. And, to carry the analogy further, Evan, like Daniel, saw before he understood. He must have his vision interpreted for him. Time would accomplish that. Just now he gazed and wondered. Clearly he saw a ruin, but as yet it was inseparable debris, and the sight of it put his head in a muddle.... While he washed his hands in the basement he stared at the wall, and looking away from that his eyes met those of Bill Watson.

"Hello," said Bill, hurriedly, "what are you fooling away your time down here for at this hour of the day? You must have the c. b. down finer than ever I got it, Nelsy. By gum, you've travelled some since you came here; I was on the job six months——"

Watson paused suddenly.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

Evan saw that Bill was uninformed. Such is the rush of a city office that one man does not know what happens to another, until the pipes are lit and "chewing the fat" commences.

In a few words Nelson told his old desk-mate what had happened. Bill was speechless. He did not even swear. He stood looking at Evan, but his eyes seemed too wide-open to see anything. While he was trying to frame words the voice of Charon sounded at the head of the basement stairs.

"Watson, Watson!" A customer was probably waiting to deposit.

Urgent as was the accountant's voice, Bill delayed long enough to shake hands and say:

"Come up and see me at the boarding-house; I want to tell you something."

Evan half promised—but never went. The next time he saw Bill they were far away from Toronto and banking.

As the cash-book man walked through the office with his hat in his hand, Marks, the C man, shouted:

"Hey, the banks are balanced!"

Evidently the accountant had kept the matter quiet. The boys who happened to see Nelson pass out of the front door probably thought he was taken with one of his violent headaches, and had gone for a druggist's dose. He had done that several times during his cash-book experience. Once he had been taken with an acute indigestion pain and a doctor was called in. The doctor advised him to take a taxi home. A few days later the bankclerk was presented with a bill for $3.50—half a week's salary. The indigestion, needless to say, had been caused by eating a cold lunch under the nervous excitement of waiting work. Another time he had been searching in the vault for a package of old vouchers and a book had fallen on him, breaking both lenses of his glasses: cost $4.50—more than half a week's pay. Those things were all "in a day's work," Willis used to say. So were board and bed. The fact of the matter is, Nelson was given nothing and had nothing outside of a day's work; a day's work was what he lived for. And there are hundreds of Nelsons in the banks now.

As Evan passed Charon, the accountant did not raise his head; nor did Castle lift his. Evan did not care; they were nothing to him now. Neither was the bank anything to him. He cursed it; in oaths he had never expected to use he cursed it.

With the very taste of profanity on his lips, Nelson stood absently gazing into a liquor store. The shiny bottles fascinated him. He wondered if the stuff in them was all that it seemed to men to be; would it drown care and disappointment? Above all, would it bring unconsciousness?

He had seen Robb lying drunk, and the sight had interested him. Robb's sprees were not bestial like Penton's; they were dead, harmless. That was the sort of thing Evan, in his melancholy state of mind, would like. He had tasted liquor and it rather tickled his palate; why not carry a bottle up to the boarding-house and go in soak for the afternoon? He knew it was wrong, but he wanted to do something desperate; also, he wanted to make sure of falling asleep and forgetting everything. He thought of his mother and sister, and of Frankie, as he looked into the liquor store. That was just the trouble, he thought too much about them. What would they think of his dismissal? It would break the mother's heart and the girls could never understand. Evan was in a torture of worry. He wanted to cry, as he would have done ten years before, but that was out of the question—he was twenty; so he repeated an oath that made him shiver and feel penitent, then went deliberately into the wine shop. He bought two flasks of cognac, and slipping one into each hip-pocket turned up Queen Street to University Avenue.

Mrs. Greig was in the kitchen when Nelson reached the boarding-house. He went quietly up the stairs to his room, which had been done up and would not see the maid again that day, and shut himself in. Unscrewing the top of one flask, he put the neck to his mouth and swallowed two gulps. The room was warm, but he did not think to open the window. He sat back in a wicker chair and concentrated his mind on the liquor. How much would it take to make him drunk? how long would it take? He looked for immediate results from the first two mouthfuls, and finding none drank again. Feeling a slight nausea the second time he waited several minutes, and a tingling sensation succeeded the nausea. Then he gulped some more, and the flask was half gone. He settled back in his chair and his eyes grew heavy. Afraid the effect might work off he drank again, after which the room swam so that he had difficulty in catching the bed. His mind was acutely alert to everything for quite a while, although his limbs were incredibly heavy. But by and by he seemed to see his soul retire behind a black drape—and came oblivion.

It was after-hours in the bank. The boys worked away as though nothing had happened. It had been whispered that Nelson was fired, but each clerk had something in his own experience which he considered just as sensational as that. Far from philosophizing on the treatment accorded Nelson, some of the boys made his misfortunes serve to emphasize the reckless awfulness of their own careers, the uncertainty of which was a source of pride and self-congratulation. There are bank-fools who take delight in the very unsubstantiality of their occupation; instead of treating their avocation with the seriousness one's life-work deserves, they look upon it as a game or a joke. These fellows are greatly in the minority, of course; but usually a city office harbors several of the type. Two or three of them had their heads together around the cash-book desk, where Marks was now reigning monarch.

"Shut up, will you," bawled the ex-C man, flushed with the worry of a new post; "it's a wonder they wouldn't fire —— things like you instead of a good man."

Marks was speaking to boys of longer service in the bank than himself; but it is an unwritten law that the cash-book man is supreme in his own circle—and the gabblers mentioned were standing on one of the radii. They glanced at his red face, his burly figure and small ankles, and gradually moved away.

In the furnace-room three old clerks were solemnly conversing, like the ghosts of departed bank-victims once incarcerated there.

"It's the old story, Sam," said Key, referring to something Robb had been saying about the Banfield affair; "Penton has gone there so recently the bank couldn't transfer him without rousing suspicion in the minds of Banfield customers; so they made Nelson the goat."

"They couldn't do it in Banfield, though," suggested Willis, "because everybody there must know the boy is honest. They moved him to the city to get him out of the way, and then waited a chance to fire him on a trumped-up charge."

Robb turned his head and expectorated on the concrete floor.

"Boys," he said, "it's too dirty to talk about. It's like them, by ——, it's like them! They know that Penton is the thief and crook, but they are afraid of losing business if they move him away. Evans tells me another bank had a man up there and thought of opening. Old Castle knows that, and he's afraid of giving a bad impression by shifting managers. But he wants to make Penton believe that head office trusts him, and in order to do that he fires the poor innocent kid. In cases like this, to justify its bluff about seeing and knowing everything that goes on, the bank must have a suspicion, the wrong must be atoned for. If it will not answer to convict the guilty one look for a goat. It doesn't matter a hang to the bank whether a fellow's reputation is ruined or not. Bah! I'm sick of it."

Willis smiled around the stem of his pipe.

"I wonder," he said, "what they'll do with Penton. They certainly must suspect him. They at least must know he's a booze fighter."

"Oh, don't worry," replied Key, "they're watching him. It doesn't suit their present purpose to fire him, therefore they keep him on; but they know perfectly well he won't try any more of his monkey work for a while. They'll soak him some time, when the psychological moment comes. I used to know the son-of-a-gun; he's a yellow dog, and he'll be good now for a while out of pure cowardice. As for drinking, he's not the only bank manager who souses regularly. They'll stand for him a while, until it will look reasonable to move him."

Robb grunted.

"They know Penton wouldn't take a chance on anything big in the way of a personal loan from the cash, and they'd rather have a teller lose fifty now and then than to lose business."

In that strain the three old clerks talked about the Business they had once—and their relatives still—worshipped.

Quite early Sam Robb arrived at the boarding-house. He met Mrs. Greig on the verandah and looked for signs of news in her eyes. But she merely wished him good-evening.

"Has Nelson been home yet?" he asked, forgetting to speak about the beautiful May weather.

"No, I don't think so," said Mrs. Greig.

"I suppose he went over to the Island," thought Robb; "although that wouldn't seem like Evan. I'll bet this thing has bust him all up."

Absent-mindedly Robb turned the knob of his room door and walked in. He uttered a whispered exclamation.

On the bed, in his clothes, lay the ex-cash-book man, dead to the world, as he wanted to be. An uncorked flask almost empty stood on the dresser, and beside it an unopened flask.

For a moment the humor of the situation struck Robb, and he laughed silently in a chair. But by degrees his face sobered, and he gazed pensively out of the window, a shade of sadness reflected in his countenance. At length he rose and taking the flasks from the dresser emptied their contents in a basin. Then he took off the sleeper's shoes and undressed him by degrees. Evan groaned during the exercise but did not waken. He slept through, indeed, until the following morning.

Very early he crawled out of bed and doused himself in the bath-tub. He was sick at his stomach and his head felt like a hogshead; unaccustomed to liquor as he was, the cognac had taken violent effect. He staggered, although perfectly "sober," and wondered if he would ever get his shoes laced. His room-mate in the bed opposite him heard the rummaging.

"Good night, Evan," he said sleepily, as though just turning in.

For a moment Evan was confused and actually thought it must be evening, but a smothered chuckle from beneath the sheets of the other bed notified him that it was really the morning after.

"What time is it?" he asked; "my watch has stopped."

Robb made an effort to keep sober, more than Evan had done the previous day, and told the time. He dressed with his back to the young man, indulging the while in inward bursts of merriment. The soberness of Evan's countenance made it all the more difficult for his friend to contain himself.

Evan did not suspect that Robb was enjoying a one-sided entertainment, until a mirror betrayed the fact; then he, himself, laughed. The louder he laughed, the louder he wanted to laugh. The old clerk joined him frankly, and when they had done, cried—

"Isn't this a ridiculous world?"

Evan agreed that it was. Gradually he lost his sense of humor, however, for after-intoxication is a series of reactions, and a headache reminded him that alcohol was said to be hard on the nerves.

"Where are you going?" Sam asked him, as Evan took his straw hat from a hook.

"Out in the air," he said; "I feel rotten."

"Get some good strong coffee, Evan; that will fix you up sooner than anything. Fresh air is too natural a remedy to cure an unnatural thing like a drunk, especially a fellow's first drunk."

Again the elder man laughed, and this time he begged his young friend's pardon.

"You mustn't be sore on me for having such a good time at your expense," he said; "but really I never saw anything quite so funny in my life. You the temperate and sober-minded cash-book man.... By the way, you must stick around here until you land a job."

Nelson began to say that he was under too great obligation already, and felt that it would hardly be square; but Robb interrupted him with a couple of powerful expletives, and they agreed to another week's companionship.

After coffee Evan thought he would like to walk down University Avenue with Robb, and did so for a few blocks; but the lightness of his head counselled a shady and steady bench. He fell by the wayside.

"Just rest up to-day, old man," advised Sam, "and don't worry. It's very dangerous to stew when you're already pickled."

Evan smiled half-heartedly and promised to spend the day at Island Park.

"I'm glad you're not coming all the way," said Robb, without much humor in his face.

"Why?"

"I wouldn't want your destination to be the bank, for fear it might sometime get to be your destiny—like mine."

"Are you glad they fired me?"

"Not exactly, Evan; but I'm glad you're out."

"What do you think of the way they did it?"

Robb glowered at a passing limousine.

"Don't ask me," he said fiercely. "From now on my daily prayer is for a chance to get back at them. I hope it will come. All my life in the business, Evan, I've seen instances, like this, of the bank's mercilessness. I'm sick and tired of it. It's you who are lucky, my lad, and I who am unlucky."

"Still," said Evan, "it's an awful thing to feel that you're suspected of being a thief."

Robb's eyes flamed.

"They don't think it," he said sharply; "the rascals know you are innocent! It is not their opinion that hurts, Evan, but their influence—I hope—" He did not finish it. "I wonder," he continued, "if these fellows know what it is to hear their hearts beat? They claim to be big men; they make a great display of affection among their own folk, but when it comes to showing humane consideration for someone, they can't do it. They only invest friendship or justice where it will, like the money they invest, bring big returns. The clerk is only one of the many who don't count with them. What does he matter to them?—they wear him out and pay him out for gain."

The ex-manager spoke with emphasis and his lips puckered as after a bitter expectoration.

"I hope," said Evan, "that some day you'll get a chance to quit."

"That sounds good, coming from you," replied Robb. "I only live on that hope myself. Sometimes it seems forlorn enough, though.... By Jove! it's after nine; I must beat it. I'll see you at dinner to-night, eh?"

"All right."

Evan watched the old clerk down the avenue, and he remembered the first time he had seen that gait. It was in Mt. Alban on a May day, too. The juvenile bankman had pictured himself walking down the main street of some town inside a manager's clothes and shoes—just like Mr. Robb.

But thinking made Evan's head thump. He decided it would be a good idea to catch a McCaul car and connect with the ferry for Island Park. He boarded the car, together with one or two women and a little girl carrying a lunch indigestible anywhere but on Centre Island.

The beauty and quietude of Toronto's rest resort and the sparkling freshness of the surrounding water, revived Evan a little; but a stronger liquid than H2O was around his brain somewhere, and the Island became uncomfortable. In spite of the pleasant environment he found himself unable to take his mind off the bank and what it had done to him. Early in the afternoon, he suddenly imagined that he could endure no longer to sit and worry, so he took the ferry back to the city and went to the office of the Star.

After inserting an advertisement for a position as bookkeeper—saying nothing about recommendations—he waited around the Star office with a crowd of other work-seekers until the afternoon edition emanated from the large mouth of a small newsboy. He felt more like crawling away in some alley and dying than hunting a job, but he was anxious to obliterate the bank from his mind; and besides, he wanted to have another situation before writing home that he had quit the bank.

Evan did not have the faintest intention of telling his people he had been fired. They would not understand it, he knew. How could they understand such medieval work? This was not a day of inquisitions or guillotines! But when he was established in a better position than the one he had left, it would be easy to explain that he had resigned. He knew that his father was not much in favor of banking anyway.

The first ad that attracted the ex-clerk belonged to an abattoir company near the lake-front. He wasted no time in getting to their office.

"Where have you been working?" asked the manager.

"In the S—— Bank," replied Evan.

"Why did you leave?"

"My salary was too small."

"Well, I believe you will be all right. Just drop in to-morrow morning at nine o'clock, Mr. Nelson, and I think I can put you to work."

The salary was to be eight dollars a week with good opportunities for advancement. The slaughter-house smelt quite pleasant to Evan as he passed it on his way to the car. He felt joyful at heart, and hopeful for the future.

But, oh, that head, how it ached! What sense was there in drinking to drown sorrow when a fellow suffered so the day after? His stomach was sick, and he couldn't endure the sight of a wine-shop. After all, he thought, the liquor was not a drowner of sorrow, but a procrastinator; and, as in the case of postponed debts, interest was added.

Robb was in their room when Evan arrived at Mrs. Greig's boarding-house.

"Well," said the old bankclerk, "how do you feel now?"

"No more booze for me," replied Evan, smiling.

Robb answered with a smile. "I'm glad you're not worrying anyway, old chap. Things will be all right before long."

"The reason I'm not worrying," said Evan, "is because I've got another job. I go on in the morning."

He explained about the abattoir company's offer.

"Well, you're the limit! What salary?"

"Eight a week. They asked me where I'd been working, and why I left."

Robb asked quickly:

"What did you say?"

"I told them the bank, and said I left because of insufficient salary."

The elder man was thoughtful. "I guess that's about all you could say," he replied.

If Evan had not felt so fagged he would probably have written home that he had a new position: as it was, he went to bed early, and arose next morning feeling like a human being. He walked down the avenue with his room-mate, who wished him good luck at Queen Street.

It was before nine when he reached the office of the abattoir company. The manager came in punctually, and gave the young applicant a cold nod.

"Mr. Nelson," he said, "I'm sorry we cannot give you that position. I telephoned the manager of the bank you worked for and he referred me to head office, who said they could not recommend you."

Thunderstruck, dumb-smitten, unable to say a word in his defence against the lies of head office, Evan turned away. He walked north to King Street, more miserable than he had ever been in his life. He wondered, behind his misery, why the bank would not recommend him; were they intent on making a criminal of him?

The day passed slowly. Evan waited for his old friend at the boarding-house, and nursed a growing headache.

"I was afraid of it," said Robb. "Bank officials justify themselves and the bank no matter what happens. Besides being determined to carry out any bluff they have started they will never admit that they pay a man too little salary. If he quits because of starvation pay they say he was no good as a clerk. The bank must maintain at all costs what it calls its dignity. Dignity be—"

Instead of swearing the old bankclerk sighed. He had often said he was tired; now he thoroughly looked it.

Evan sighed too, but chiefly on account of the pain in his head. He went to bed both sick and discouraged, but in an hour he was too sick to think of discouragement. Mrs. Greig had a doctor in, and the ex-bankclerk was given a hypodermic injection. It drove away his pains and sent him sailing into a pleasant land.

Sam Robb did not rest so blissfully.



CHAPTER XVII.

A BANKCLERK'S GIRL.

After three days' sickness Evan realized, and the doctor emphasized it, that he had been near to nervous collapse.

"The country and outside work for you now, young man," said the physician; "leave offices to men with broad shoulders, like Mr. Robb's."

"Yes," observed Robb, present at the consultation, "let them kill the man who wants to die. I think you're right, doctor; Nelson needs a dose of farming. I have it, Evan! .... I know a fine fellow on a fruit and vegetable farm near Hamilton. He'll be tickled to death to have you, as long as you want to stay; and you'll save money, too."

"A good idea," added the physician, to whose profession money usually looks good.

In a day or two Evan was ready to go in search of health. A telegram from Robb to the Hamilton man brought a phone response that fixed a salary of thirty dollars a month with board. It looked like a fortune to the ex-bankclerk, and he was eager to begin work.

"Before I go, Mr. Robb," he said, somewhat backwardly, "I want to ask you to do something for me."

"Name it," said Sam.

"I don't want my folks to know I'm out of the bank. If they knew I was farming for my health they'd be offended because I didn't go to Hometon. But I can't bear the thoughts of going back home down-and-out—-you know how it is."

Sam nodded. "I understand how you feel about it."

"Well, I'm going to forward the weekly letter I write to mother and let you re-mail it from Toronto, addressed on the typewriter. I'll only be a month getting in shape, and then I'll have an office job somewhere."

An "office job" embodied Evan's conception of success, as it did that of his relatives, and many another golden-calf worshipper. He had yet to be weaned.

"I'll do it, my lad," replied Robb, cheerfully; "now then, off with you. And don't forget to write. If, after a month or so, I run across anything in town that I think would appeal to you, I'll wire. Japers lives right in the suburbs of Hamilton, and has a telephone."

The "T. H. & B." carried westward a considerably happier mortal than had been in Evan Nelson's shoes for many a day.

Japers' farm showed up to advantage on a fine May morning. So did his daughter, Lizzie. She was plump, pretty, and peasant-like. Her efforts to sneak cream and sugar into the new "hand's" tea a second and third time were evidence of her normal good nature, if nothing more.

The first day out the ex-bankclerk did not do much. He was busy admiring the symmetry of gardens and orchards, though not of daughters. In his part of the country those who took any interest in fruit raising allowed the trees to grow up, out, and into each other without molestation, believing in the ever-lasting benevolence of Providence and the frailty of pests; with the result that fruit became wormier and scarcer every year. But in the "Fruit Belt" conditions were different; everywhere was order and care; the budding blossoms made the well-ordered fruit patches fairy groves for beauty. The first day of his sojourn Evan opened his nostrils, closed his eyes, forgot the bank, and thanked God some doctors knew their business.

His employer would have had him rest a second day, and particularly would Miss Japers have done so, but Evan wanted to show that he was a worker, and also had an eye on the coming dollar per day. So he walked manfully up the rhubarb patch and set to work. Occasionally a muscle slipped and he jerked a whole root out of the ground; but this error was remedied immediately by clawing a little dirt around the root and leaving it—to die. Evan, of course, was innocent of harm done: he saw no reason why rhubarb should not grow in loose dirt as well as tight.

In his sleep, the second night, he wandered in a field of burdocks, plucking the largest stalks for Burdock Blood Bitters. He stopped to chat with a buxom girl possessed of an innocent, rustic manner, and thought she laughed at his white, feminine hands. Next day, as a coincidence with his dream, Lizzie Japers did remark about the ex-clerk's hands, but the stains on them and not their whiteness elicited her observations—and decided her to telephone to the grocer's for a box of snap.

When his back got used to bending Evan began to enjoy gardening. He felt like a bird that had flown out of a cellar into a garden. Lake Ontario sent a breeze up to him, to carry his mind away on its wings. Peach blossoms were turning more pink; sight of them and the smell of them made the world irresistibly charming. Was it really he who had wallowed in janitor's dust and vault damps with a monster called "Cash Book?" Was not that but a figment of those vague nightmares he had had as a child, when he fell asleep with his clothes on?

Anyway, it did not exist now; and the superb happiness of that realization made the days fly—and days brought dollars. Of course, money did not matter so much now that he had no landlady to pacify; he would have been satisfied with fifty cents a day and board. Such meals as he got!—onions, radishes, lettuce, cream, butter made from real cream, eggs still bearing traces of the hen, and everything to build without poisoning.

During the first week a letter came from Hometon. It had been addressed in care of Mrs. Greig, Toronto, and forwarded by Robb. It was from Evan's mother. She complained of not having received much news lately, and hoped nothing was wrong. Above all things she hoped her son was not working too hard. The son smiled as he read; if his mother could only see him sitting in a lettuce patch, dairied and sleeves up, what would she think? What would Lou and Frankie think?

The letter Evan answered with was diplomatic. It went, in part, like this: "I am feeling better than I have felt for two years. The work I am doing is not hard on me; I like it mighty well. My health was bad for a while after landing in the city, but now it is changing for the better every day. My appetite is past the decent stage. And what do you know about this?—I'm saving money at last!" There were no committals in the letter.

The second Saturday of Nelson's engagement with Jim Japers, the old gentleman came around and said: "About time you was ringin' off, Mr. Nelson." (He always addressed his new man respectfully: could an ordinary mortal come out of a bank?) "It's Saturday, you know. Me and wife always goes into town a-Saturday, and sometimes the kid. We count it a day off, and now that's what we wants you to do."

A countryman always enjoys getting to anything pleasant in a roundabout manner. Evan felt the good news coming and warmed up to a full appreciation of it. Saturday afternoon in the bank had always been a time for cleaning up loose ends of work.

"Thank you, Mr. Japers," he said, warmly; "I believe a show would do me good. I didn't have time to see many in Toronto."

"That's right, my boy, enjoy yourself. They say them Toronto shows isn't as good as we get here. What do you think, now?"

"I don't imagine they are," replied Evan, quickly; and then, in one of those absurd rushes after an idea to make plausible a consciously absurd utterance, "I suppose it sort of—they sort of—"

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