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A Canadian Bankclerk
by J. P. Buschlen
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"Yes, you're right," rejoined Japers, fully believing that he and Nelson between them could outwit most theatrical critics. The gardener and his assistant blathered away until Miss Japers was obliged to float her ribbons out of the front door in a dazzling hint that the family party was ready.

The Japers did not wait for Evan to dress; Lizzie was constrained to do so, but her mother looked so uncomfortably fussed up that the girl had compassion, and left the romantic excitement of a bankclerk's presence for the less alluring sensation of Hamilton's main street.

An hour or so later Evan sauntered up town. He did not feel exactly lonesome, there by himself in the Saturday crowds, but rather out of his environment. It seemed strange to him to have no immediate task on hand, to have nothing to balance or look up. His mind felt almost vacant, for want of something to burden it; but the vacant feeling was, oh, such a relief! Only the weary clerk can understand this thing; he knows so well what it means to carry a burden with him on a pleasure trip. "Pleasure" is not the adjective to qualify such a trip, where trees and flowers are decked with figures and where the mind sees phantoms of accumulated and accumulating work, waiting, waiting like Fate. Stories have been told of criminals carrying the body of a victim around on their backs until they stood on the brink of insanity. Hundreds of bankboys know what it is to feel the weight of corpse-like figures on their backs. One cannot get away from the horrible burden, it clings until the heart is sick and the stomach nauseated. And these monsters are not victims of the bankclerk's, either; the clerk is their victim; nor does he in any way merit the unnatural attachment—someone else digs them out of their graves (the bank "morgue" of accumulated back-work) for plunder, and saddles them on him.....

Evan's mind felt vacant; that was much better than having it loaded with worry, worry that could result in nothing but harm to the clerk and nothing but cold dollars to the bank.

The young ex-banker refreshed himself with a solitary sundae and then took steps in the direction of a theatre advertising the old drama, "East Lynne." He bought an economic half-dollar seat and entered while the orchestra was playing one of the reddest rags out. He had read "Mrs. Henry Wood's" great book, but he searched his memory in vain for a clue to the propriety of ragtime as a preface to the story.

A moment before the curtain lifted a girl came into the theatre and was ushered to a lonesome seat beside Evan. He was, gardener fashion, watching for his money's worth, and paid no attention to the person beside him until first intermission, when a squint told him that here was someone very like Hazel Morton of Mt. Alban. Then he looked fully into her eyes and held out his hand. She seemed surprised.

"Don't you know me, Miss Morton?"

"Why—I'm afraid—why, yes I do!"

They regarded each other a minute.

"You seem to have changed, Hazel!"

He was sorry he had said it. She blushed and did not look him squarely in the face as she replied:

"Hard work."

Evan sat wondering, in silence. Hazel had had a nice home in Mt. Alban. Had she run away from it? And how was it that she looked so subdued?—she used to be a vivacious creature, fond of dresses and gaiety. Now she wore a plain white waist and a skirt of cheap blue serge. The Mt. Alban color was gone, and pensiveness dusked her intelligent face.

It was, doubtless, to break the embarrassing silence creeping between them that Hazel asked Evan if he worked hard in Hamilton. How long had he been in that branch of the bank?

"I'll tell you after the show," he answered, "if you'll have dinner with me at the —— Hotel. We can go for a paddle afterwards."

She smiled and said it was very kind of him and that she would just love to spend the evening in that way.

In the second act Evan noticed that Hazel wiped her eyes frequently with a miniature handkerchief. He felt like doing it himself in the next act, and Hazel sobbed audibly. Of course, she was not the only weeping woman at that matinee.

At dinner a glow of the girl's old-time color came back, and with it a charm that Evan had noticed in her eyes at Mt. Alban dances, when a certain bankclerk was hovering near.

"Do you know what a boarding-house appetite is, Ev—Mr.—?"

"Did you say 'Mr.'? I've been calling you 'Hazel,' you know."

She laughed. "I meant 'Evan.'"

Evan suddenly recalled the last time he had bandied names with a Mt. Alban girl.

"Yes," he replied, "you bet I do. But I'm eating farm-meals now."

She looked surprised, and he told her about resigning from the bank, "because the work was too hard," and about coming to the Fruit Belt to recreate.

"You're what I call a sensible boy, Evan.... I wish....."

Hazel did not finish her wish. She blushed instead.

"You don't know how good it seems to meet you here like this, Hazel," Nelson observed, to relieve the situation. He knew perfectly well that her wish was about Bill Watson.

"I don't think you can enjoy it half so well as I."

"Why?" His question was curious, but thoughtless.

"Well—I'm lonesome," she hesitated; "I hardly ever go out—except when Billy comes over."

It was out at last, and then they became more intimate. As they walked down the street to the wharf, later, Hazel pressed his arm and cried softly:

"Did you see that? Don't you know her?"

"You mean the girl that just passed—the one in green? I was just thinking—wondering if that could be Sadie Hall, Alfy Castle's girl."

"That's who it was."

"Why didn't she speak, Hazel?"

The girl looked up into his eyes as she answered:

"I've met her on the street several times. First time I was with Billy, who had come over for a visit. Sadie nodded, and went on with the friend, at whose home here she is visiting. The second time I was standing in front of a confectionery talking to a girl who—well, who hasn't a very good name in Hamilton; but she works where I do, and anyway I would not snub her for the world."

"And Miss Hall has stopped speaking entirely, eh?"

Hazel smiled impishly.

"I gave her a fine chance to turn up her nose just now; I winked at her."

Evan laughed until his companion caught the contagion.

"They're well mated, Hazel—Castle and she."

"Yes, indeed."

When they were skimming through the bay in a canoe, Miss Morton's mind again reverted to Castle.

"Hasn't he always been a snob?" she asked.

"Don't mention him—it makes me sick to think of him. He takes it after his uncle, I think."

Nevertheless, Evan kept on thinking about the Castles, as he faced Hazel in the canoe, until at last and by degrees his story came out.

"Oh, the criminals!" cried Hazel. "Why do so many boys put up with it!.... Evan," she said earnestly, after a pause, "you have confided in me, now I want to confide in you." A canoe, it is said, affects people like that.

"It's something about Billy," she continued. "Will you tell me what I want to know?"

"If you ought to know, Hazel."

"Well, I should.... I—he—" The tears filled her eyes, and she seemed undecided whether to give them vent or wipe them away and be brave. She wiped them away.

"I left a good home and came here to work just so that I could be near him and help him. I've told him that I'll wait as long as I need to. I didn't want to go to Toronto, because I knew everyone in Mt. Alban would then say I tagged Billy. I'm willing to wait, but Billy seems so discouraged at times I am often afraid he'll run away or do something rash. Tell me, Evan, is he all right? Does he drink or—anything?"

Evan tried to recall something Bill had said that would cheer the waiting girl, but could not think of anything. He did remember the lectures Watson had delivered on the follies of clerkship; but to Hazel they would only indicate recklessness and dissatisfaction. And, too, Bill did take a drink frequently; in fact, Evan suspected that he made a night of it occasionally to "drown his sorrow."

"Hazel," he said seriously, "Bill is one of the finest fellows I ever worked with. I'm sure he's honest and true. He hates Castle and Castle hates him: that's something to his credit—but it may keep him back in the bank. But he'll never be false to a friend or a girl, I'm sure of that."

The girl in the canoe looked wistfully at Nelson. "Somehow I wish you were working in the same office with him. I always felt as though you were—a solid sort of a chap, Evan."

The last few words were accompanied by a little laugh, to counteract the suspicion of flattery that clung to them. But for that feminine interpretation Evan might not have so fully appreciated her meaning. He got a suggestion from her words: would it not be a good idea to write Bill and tell him of the evening spent with Hazel? It might give the slaving city-teller new vim for the eternity of figures and celibacy before him.

On Sunday Evan did write to Watson. He described Saturday's pleasure excursions with Hazel, dwelling on the enjoyment it gave himself and upon the sincerity with which she spoke of "Billy." Evan meant the letter to appeal. He knew that Bill knew him and would not resent perfect candor, when properly mixed with the right brand of sympathy. He thought, as he wrote, of the peculiar independence of character and cynicism of Watson; the combined traits amounting almost to recklessness. But he could not conceive of Bill's going wrong. He reflected that Hazel must love Bill, in spite of her fear that he was weak, and wondered at the tenderness of woman. Why was she so little considered in this world of business?

The Morton girl's companionship, quite naturally, took Nelson back to Mt. Alban, and Mt. Alban was only a few miles from Hometon and Frankie. He did not consider it likely that Julia Watersea or Lily Allen were still thinking of him; but he sighed when a vision of Frankie, with blue skirt and cheap white waist like Hazel's, rose before him. He wrote her a letter, the first in months, wishing her well, but saying nothing of love. A dollar a day with board wasn't much, truly, to apply against the great debit of matrimony, and why mention love at all if it could not be consummated?

To Robb, the vegetable-man also wrote, and to A. P. Henty at his home village.

Sunday night Lizzie Japers again fluttered her ribbons, and dropped a hint about church. Afraid of losing his job, Evan accepted the bait and walked with the fair Liz toward the altar. It must have been hard for the organist to keep his fingers off a wedding march when he saw, in his mirror, the pair walking up the aisle.

Days sped again. June was come. Blossoms were falling and berries grew larger on the vines and bushes. A forwarded note came from Hometon, rejoicing in the promotion Mrs. Nelson had read between the lines of her son's letter, and in the miraculous recuperation spoken of. Lou had enclosed a slip of paper confiding to her brother the opinion that she should have a fellow, being now eighteen, and asking him to seek out an eligible and bring him home for the summer holidays. There was no word from Frankie. A fat, scrawly letter came from Henty.

"Dear Evan," it said, "after you left Banfield, old Penton was like a bear-cat. He tore around the office like something with the pip, took to chewing tobacco and spitting in the waste-baskets, and raised proper —— with the pups. He came up to me one day with Uncle Harry looking out of his eyes and gave me a short biography of myself. I stood it as long as I could, and then I seemed to be pitching in an exciting ball game. My right hand shot out, and before I knew it Penton was lying down at my feet. When he got up he almost cried, and tried to tell me he was just fooling. I noticed that night that the guns were missing from the cage drawer, and fearing that Penton had them in store for me, I packed my grip and beat it. A fellow's foolish to take a chance with a guy like W. W. My father was glad to have me home. He consulted a lawyer about my bond, and the lawyer said the bank wouldn't dare do anything about it under the circumstances; he said it would make too much of a stir and would hurt business. I imagine they'll fire Penton over the head of it; but I hope Filter doesn't lose his job—it would kill him. I wish you were farming like me; it feels mighty good after office work. Write soon. A. P."

When his muscles had grown until he felt the vigor of school days returning, Evan began to look higher than rhubarb and asparagus tops; he even looked beyond the Mountain, and saw himself in an easy chair with a telephone at his elbow and a stenographer in front of him. He wrote an answer to quite a few advertisements in Toronto papers; those to which he got a reply asked for references, as did those written in answer to his own insertions. Disgusted, he stopped advertising and answering ads.

"By Japers," he said to himself one day, "I'll beat it to Buffalo—there are no Canadian Banks over there!"

The idea took root in him. Also, he was counselled to leave the happy home of the Hamilton gardener by the actions of Elizabeth. She not only persisted in her cream-and-sugar attentions, but wheedled the "hired man" into taking her places, and finally began to speak of him as her "friend." Evan was willing to be friendly with most people, but the significant proprietorship implied in the tone with which Liz said "friend" was extremely discomfiting. The ex-clerk saw plainly that he must make a get-away.

Toronto offered nothing, neither did Hamilton; they were both bank strongholds. Buffalo, on the other hand, was in another country—a country to which almost every young Canadian turns his face, if not his steps, at one time or another. It was free from Canadian influence, a new world in fact, and yet only a short distance away. Inquiring at the ticket office as to fare, Evan learned that in two days there was an excursion to New York for only twice as much as the regular fare to Buffalo. New York! The name suggested adventure. Why not go there instead of Buffalo? It was only a night's or a day's journey from Toronto!

New York it would be! Evan sent the news sailing to Henty and Robb, but not home. Hometon would find it out when he had a position in the American metropolis. He called and bade Hazel Morton good-bye, and insisted on taking her out to the theatre. On their way home they dropped into a cafe for ice-cream. Again they met Miss Hall of Mt. Alban. She stared hard at Evan while he was not looking, and kept whispering to her lady companion.

"We don't care, Hazel, do we?" said Nelson.

Miss Morton smiled:

"What if she should go back to the Mount and tell Julia?"

Evan felt his heart sink.

"Hazel," he said, with awe, "you're not serious, are you?"

"Are you, Evan?"

"No. Why, I haven't heard from her in months."

The Morton girl looked at him in surprise.

"Do you think," she asked, wide-eyed, "that months mean anything to a woman?"

He showed his distress unmistakably. Hazel at last began to laugh, softly, with increasing merriment.

"My dear boy," she said, "what a serious fellow you are! The girl who falls in love with you for good and all, well—"

He gazed at her questioningly, gradually feeling a load leave him, a load that he did not know he carried. Hazel was speaking:

"Julia had a habit of juggling with bankers' hearts. She's married now, you know."



CHAPTER XVIII.

IN THE COUNTRY OF OUR COUSINS.

Hall's lawn was decorated with Japanese lanterns. The little Mt. Alban boys who passed in the dusk wondered if the time would ever come in their lives when they should be eligible for a real garden-party. Such a wondrous condition seemed very far off, like Heaven. And the little girls who passed peeked through the hedge, like fairies seeking admittance to a nymph gathering. There was no music as yet, for the evening had scarcely set in, but the tables were set and the lanterns threw a glimmer over the flower-beds and through the trees.

The party was, ostensibly, a welcome to the newly-married couple, James and Julia Watersea Simpson; actually it was to announce that Miss Sadie Hall had returned from Hamilton to accept the boredom of Mt. Alban again for a little season.

It is not for this bank story to enter upon details of that garden party; to spy on the sons of villagers behind dark balsams devouring cigarettes borrowed from the village cut-up; to play dictagraph to the gossips, or to hang around where the girls are chattering. However, there were characters at that lawn social more or less concerned in our story, and of whom we therefore ought to make mention.

Those characters occupied a place of prominence at the function, being seated close to Miss Hall herself. She was paying them flattering attention.

"Mr. Perry," she said, smilingly, "who would have thought you were going to turn out such a sport?"

Far from being offended, Porter grinned gleefully, and incidentally wondered where the money was coming from to pay the rent of the roadster that had brought him up to see his Hometon girl visiting in Mt. Alban.

"Well," he replied, "I never was what you'd call a willy, eh?"

"No," said Sadie, "but—well, you were so young, you know."

Porter's "girl" was talking in a low tone with a new bank junior who was beginning to realize what a juvenile and unromantic affair school had been. Sadie nudged Perry.

"You want to watch out," she whispered, so that the others could hear, "or you'll be losing your friend."

Frankie Arling blushed. The junior did too.

"N-n-no danger," he stammered, without knowing exactly what he said.

"Why no danger?" asked Miss Hall, anxious to say something interesting.

For answer the junior looked at Perry with the deference due a teller. Porter pouted—not like a child, but like a pigeon.

"Have some ice-cream, girls," he suggested, determined to convert the junior's respect into awe.

No one declining, the "porter" played a part long before assigned him in the Mt. Alban bank, and brought back a tray that had cost him eighty cents.

"Do you remember, Miss Hall," he said, to still a beating of the heart occasioned by the admiring glances of two strange girls in the circle, "the social we had here just two years ago?"

"Oh, yes," replied Sadie, after pretending to look backward through a great many sumptuous entertainments; "yes."

"All the boys were here. There was Bill Watson, myself, Mr. Castle, Nel—"

"Yes, that reminds me," interrupted Sadie, "I saw Mr. Nelson on the street in Hamilton the other day, and met him again in a cafe. Both times he was with—"

Sadie hesitated. Frankie was looking astonishedly at her.

"Why, Ev—Mr. Nelson hasn't been moved, has he?"

The question and the expression of voice behind it seemed to give Sadie an idea.

"I forgot—he comes from your town, does he not, Miss Arling?"

"Yes."

"Who was he with?" asked Perry, stupidly, "anyone we know?"

"Why—yes. Hazel Morton."

Frankie's question was not answered; but now she did not care to have it answered. She had been in Mt. Alban three days, therefore she had heard all about the Morton girl leaving a nice home to "be in a city where she can act as she likes,"—which, Mt. Alban females ruled, was wickedly.

It takes a girl, and especially one of Sadie Hall's stamp, to notice embarrassment or disappointment in another girl. Frankie was rather silent and downcast. She never talked much at any time, but even to Perry, with whom she was sometimes quite speechless, she seemed more than commonly quiet during the remainder of the evening. Of course, Porter may have been considerably on the alert.

"Is she related to him or anything?" Sadie asked Perry, on the side.

"Well—no," he hesitated; "their families are old friends, though."

"I could tell her something very interesting about him," replied Sadie; "he's been dismissed from the bank."

"What!"

"Sh-sh! Alfred wrote me about it. And that's not the worst of it—he's suspected of being a crook."

"For G—'s sake!" murmured Perry; and thought a while.

"Had I better tell her?" asked Sadie.

"I guess so; she'll soon find out, anyway."

Miss Hall found Frankie admiring a flower-bed, lonesomely, and approached her with the news she had. She knew that her Alfred hated Evan, who in his turn hated Alfred, and it was quite a satisfaction to circulate the truth about an enemy when it was unpleasant. To give her credit, Sadie was rather sorry she had done it, when she saw the effect produced on Frankie.

The following day Miss Hall met the girl whom Frankie Arling, of Hometon, had been visiting.

"Where's your friend?" she asked.

"Gone," replied the other girl. "She took it into her head to go home on the noon train, and we couldn't coax her out of it. I think she was lonesome."

"No doubt," replied Sadie, abstractedly.

Mrs. Nelson sat reading a letter, with tears in her eyes; another letter lay on the table. The one she read was from a woman-friend in Toronto. One paragraph of it puzzled Mrs. Nelson; it read: "One of the bankboys who boards here told me that your son had been discharged from the S—— Bank on suspicion. I think my boarder has made a mistake; he declares it was Evan Nelson of Hometon, though. Let me hear from you, Caroline, for I'm anxious to know that there has been a blunder."

The letter on the table was from Evan; one of those garden compositions sent through Sam Robb. It spoke about health, a good time and good board.

Frankie and Lou entered the kitchen where Mrs. Nelson sat in misery. She showed them the letter from Evan and the other one from Toronto. Frankie was silent, but Lou exclaimed:

"Why, mother! I'm surprised! Do you think for a minute that Evan would deceive us like that?"

"I can't believe it, dear; but what am I to do?"

"There's a mistake somewhere," replied Lou; "why, even if they have fired him it's all a mistake. 'On suspicion'—imagine! Why brother wouldn't take a—a—"

The thought was too much for Lou. What with lonesomeness for her brother and anger at the mere thought of anyone suspecting him, she gave way to a June storm.

Frankie was not free from signs of lamentation, either. She filled up more and more until there were raindrops from that quarter, too, and Sadie Hall's story came out.

Mrs. Nelson was overcome. Why had not her boy written about the trouble?

"Oh, Louie," she cried, "it's terrible! They suspect him of stealing! And he's discharged! Whatever are we to do?"

Lou raised her lovely face and forced a smile.

"Mother, dear," she said, "you know what a fellow Evan is. He doesn't want us to know about it until the thing is straightened out. It must straighten out, because we know he isn't guilty."

Such is a sister's logic. Mrs. Nelson telephoned her husband to come up at once. He came, and was told the news.

"Good!" he said.

"Why, George, how can you say that? They've ruined our boy."

Mrs. Nelson was taking it badly.

"Tut tut," said her husband, kindly, "don't get all worked up about it. He'll come around. There'll be an explanation from him some of these days. Jerusalem! but I'm glad he's out of it. I knew he'd get a lesson. Blast the banks!"

After this mild explosion Nelson walked to the water-pail and drank a dipper of water.

"But what's he doing in Hamilton?" asked the mother.

"That's only a fifty-cent trip from Toronto," answered Nelson; "the lad was probably over for a boat-ride."

"Well, what's he doing now?"

"I've got no more idea than you have, Carrie. But he won't do anything desperate, be sure of that. If he gets down-and-out he knows we're here."

At last Mrs. Nelson was consoled. She made her husband wire Evan at Toronto to come home. The telegraph operator surmised enough from the telegram to invent a story; it was supplemented by whisperings from Mt. Alban; and eventually the town gabs were wondering where Evan could have deposited the $50,000 he stole.

Besides the telegram, George Nelson sent a letter, telling his son not to worry, and enclosing a cheque for fifty dollars. Frankie Arling, in her little room at home, also wrote a letter:

"Dear Evan,—We have heard that you are out of the bank. I think you were foolish to ever go into it. There are ridiculous rumors floating around that you were dismissed on suspicion. I know they're not true, and everybody else does; but still we are surprised you didn't write home something about it.

"I don't suppose Hometon matters very much to you any more. The town is not so dull as it used to be, though. There is a new bunch of bankboys here, and we have plenty of good times. Mr. Perry rents a car occasionally and gives us girls a ride. He surely is a good-hearted chap. We all like him.

"You will be surprised when I tell you that he has proposed to me. I don't think he'll ever make much money, but he'll always be free with what he has, and mighty good to a girl. He wants me to visit in London during summer vacation; he lives there. If I go he says he'll see that I meet a nice crowd. I haven't asked mother yet.

"I guess you won't be coming home for vacation this summer, now you're out of the bank. It wouldn't be like you to come back a failure. It seems funny that you shouldn't have got along in banking as well as Porter: you are just as smart as he is. That fellow surprises me sometimes, though! I've been at him to quit the bank and go into something else. He shouldn't be proposing on six hundred dollars a year, should he? Well, good-bye. Yours sincerely,

"FRANK."

After signing the letter Frankie dropped the pen and rested her chin on her hands. She gazed into space until the tears rolled down her cheeks; then she hid her face lest the looking-glass might see her.

"To think," she murmured, "that Evan sees girls like that!"

Girl-like, she had said nothing about Hamilton or Hazel Morton in the letter. She wanted to wound. Perry had helped her make Evan jealous once before. She was afraid mention of Hamilton would call forth explanations from Evan, and she didn't want him to explain. Even though he were innocent, she felt that she must hate him now, for she was jealous.

While the Mt. Alban garden party was in progress Evan attended one in New York—the Madison Square Garden party. There were no Chinese lanterns in evidence (although there were some Chinese), and the creatures who participated were not particularly young or care-free: there were the burning lights of Broadway and the Square, and wretched figures huddling on, beside, and under, the benches.

"And this is New York!" murmured Evan.

The melancholy sight fascinated him; he found it hard to leave Madison Gardens, although the White Way called to the youth and love of gaiety within him. He had never before seen so plainly the line of demarcation between sunlight and shadow. The startling proximity of riches to poverty, gladness to sadness, shocked him; he had a vague fear of something, he did not know what. Maybe it was the readjustment to come.

It is quite evident, from his loitering, that Evan was not worrying about himself. He had a job, therefore he sat and pitied those who did not have—and who did not want—work. Realizing at last that it was folly to pity without aiding, and that he was too poor to actually aid the wretches around him, he wandered across to Fifth Avenue and stared in the windows of a book store.

He had come to "town" (his room was in Brooklyn) with the intention of seeing a play, but the Madison garden party had taken away his breath, and left him without a desire to squander money on himself, when he had deliberately held it back from the hungry and the naked. Further reflection brought about a reaction in his mind, and eventually he compromised with himself by going to a ten-cent picture show. Afterwards he took subway and surface cars back to Eastern Parkway and found himself sitting thoughtfully in his little room.

Like a writer who gets "copy" on the streets and fixes it up in his garret, Evan thought the environment of his room would help him to arrange the impressions a trip to town had created, but—again like the writer—he found his head so full of notions that he could not think, and he understood perfectly that ideas apart from thought were poor things. So he turned in, bidding Madison Square and memories of Hometon good-night.

Quite early next morning he arose, fresh and eager, all vain philosophizing gone, prepared to hold his own in a big city. New York had not, from the moment he landed, frightened him. Like the child that looks into the fire, he saw only wonders. He had his health back, he knew he was a good bookkeeper, board in New York was cheap—why worry? He hadn't worried, and he had got work first crack! It is not hard to get a job in New York, unless you are in rags; but it is hard to get a good salary.

For a week now Evan had been engaged. The cashier, Phillips, told him he was going to be a good man for the firm. Phillips did not ask him where he had received his training: New Yorkers have no time for life-stories or autobiographies. Evan was surprised that they did not ask him more about himself, and for recommendations. Instead of saying: "What are your references, sir?" the boss had said: "What can you do?"

"I'm a bookkeeper."

"What experience?"

"Two years and a half in Canadian banking."

"Sounds good. What made you come over here?"

"Like every young Canadian," replied Evan, "I wanted to see New York."

Conscious of no guilt, he felt bold and spoke without fear.

"Well," replied the employer, "we'll give you a chance."

"Do you want a recommendation?" asked the Canadian.

"Nah," grunted the boss; "what good is that? If you can deliver the goods, all right; if you can't, out you go. As for your honesty, we depend on our ability to read character; after all, wouldn't you rather have your own opinion of a fellow than somebody else's? If ever you get to be cashier here we'll know you all right; not from Toronto references, but from daily observation. We learn to spot honesty here in Noo Yo'k: it's so dawn rare."

Evan smiled in spite of a desire to look solemn. He liked the "old man," and knew work with him would be pleasant. The office staff he liked, too, for they were free and easy, though mightily busy. It was a great change from the bank. No one seemed to be afraid of anybody else. The cashier was no bullier; although there was occasional friction, there was no subordination.

Everybody worked fast, but, for Evan, there was not the strain of a Canadian city bank. He knew there was no Alfred Castle watching him, and he knew that if a ledger went wrong requiring night work, the man who worked on it would be paid for every minute of overtime. Already he made fifteen dollars a week, and that was just as big as fifteen dollars would be in Toronto—it was bigger; it would buy more food and pleasure in New York than in any other city on the continent. Evan found it ample.

"If you keep on," said the cashier one day, "we'll be giving you more work to do."

Evan was surprised, and gratified. "I'll keep on," he said.

A few days after determining to keep on he asked for a half-day off to humor a headache. He was allowed an afternoon's leave.

On the way down to the ocean beach, where he hoped to soothe his palpitating cerebellum, he called at the Brooklyn room and found two letters and a telegram awaiting him. They had been forwarded by Sam, who had scribbled on the back of the telegram: "I knew you would have it in a few hours or I would have re-despatched the message." Evan smiled at his mother's anxiety—a letter had gone to her explaining everything; he had told her he was afraid his father would want to fight the bank in the courts, so he had kept the matter quiet until another position turned up. "No one ever wins in a suit against the bank," he said, "and Dad needs his money."

The cheque from home for fifty dollars looked good to Evan, but he hesitated before accepting it. Suddenly, however, he recollected a few little Ontario debts, and slipping the cheque in his pocket he thought what an unbusinesslike father he had. He sent a special letter of thanks, just as he would have done to any benefactor; he was not of the persuasion that everything is coming to the man who happens to be a son.

As a child saves the best bite of cake till the last, the New York clerk stowed Frankie's letter in his pocket until he reached Coney Island. He opened it as he sat on the sand, not far away from a group of attractive girls. Frankie's mention of Perry caused Evan to take note of a chilly breeze that was blowing over the surf. When the letter persisted and persisted in Porter, he suddenly thought the sun was mighty hot for June.

"Let her have him," the reader muttered; "she's welcome to him!"

Evan tried to make himself believe he had meant to say: "Let him have her," but that was not what he had said, and he knew it. He knew, too, that he could not coax himself to say it.

"She makes me mad," he muttered again; "what does she see in that mutt? Confound my head, what's the matter with it, anyway?"

Tearing the letter to bits, he ran into the surf. The girls had been watching him read and had been laughing over the expression on his face. They followed him into the water, and one of them managed to slip over the ropes beside him. The others made a fuss; and, not being used to swimming flirtations, Evan thought a real accident had happened. He bravely swam under the rope and rescued the water-nymph. An hour later, when they were all acquainted, he discovered that she could out-do him thrice over as a swimmer. But he was glad to know somebody in big, busy New York, and Ethel Harris was both pretty and smart.

Thus it was that the ex-bankclerk came to pass over Frankie Arling's letter, which had hurt him, and to take an interest in the pleasures of the present. Frankie and Perry, like the Past, were gone into eclipse.

In the course of months Evan became fairly familiar with New York, and with Miss Harris. The city stood scrutiny, and the girl—she was mighty fine. There was this difference between Ethel and New York, however: she was fathomable, as a girl should not be, and the city was not. Madison Square always reminded Evan of a dream he had dreamt in every fever of childhood—a nightmare in which a great wheel ran smoothly and little wheels crookedly; ran until the sleeper's brain was ready to burst with a sort of frenzy.

The people of New York turned out to be like the people of Toronto—and Hometon. Some were clever, and some were ignorant and dull. All of them were trying to make a living (except the predatory class) just as the farmers in Ontario were. Young men fell in love with girls and married them (occasionally), three meals a day were eaten, and sleep was popular.

And yet there was something about New York that was new and mysterious; its life was extraordinarily exhilarating. So many ten-thousands went to work and came from work every day at the same hours, it was like gazing upon the Creation to watch them. They lost their individuality, their human, insignificant (?) individuality, in the mass, and became a part of Adam's seed. Country people were less interesting than these New Yorkers, because country people were more independent. New Yorkers never looked at each other, but they felt each other; the atoms of the great mass, though separated by never-closing spaces, were held together by an eternal potentiality. There was a sympathy in the mass of city-folk, unspoken and even unobserved by many, but mighty—it was much more wonderful than the simple, verbal friendship between Jake Zeigler and Mat Carrol, neighbors at Bill's Corners. The power that held the atoms of the great mass together was the very same that gave each atom its individuality. Evan was impressed with the magnetism of New York, but he did not comprehend its strength. He came across atoms that had strayed off gradually, and been drawn back like lightning; but he understood but vaguely how the force operated, and why. In fact, who does understand?

The life he led, which was the New York life, kept the Canadian ex-clerk stimulated to a point beyond his power of physical resistance; he worked harder than the cashier wanted him to work. Those crowds that surged in every thoroughfare seemed to be behind him pushing him, and he could not take things easy. The strain was telling on him, though he tried to convince himself that it was not. Probably the lure of a great city would have held him up to the point of a break-down, had not a letter from his father set him thinking thoughts that changed his life once more.

"When you build a house, Evan," said the letter, "you always want to have a solid foundation. So it is with a career. I hope you will, after a while, find your niche—I'm quite sure you have not found it yet. But don't worry—you'll get there: you have Grandpa Nelson in you.

"P.S.—I forgot to tell you that the bank's guarantee company and the general manager of the bank itself have dunned me for your part of the Banfield loss, fifty dollars. I laughed at them and told them to sue."

The postscript took Evan's mind back. It caused a burning in him that he knew must some day flare up. Unable to quench the resentment that filled him he bought some fruit and ate it as he walked along Wall Street, westward.

"Great heavens!" he muttered, waving his hand toward the marble halls of finance around him, "my country's got you backed into East River when it comes to a combination of Trusts!"

A few minutes after muttering this soliloquy he was in the crowds on Broad Street, directly opposite the Stock Exchange. A newsy thrust a paper into his hand, which he took and glanced at automatically. The first thing to catch his eye was a small headline over a news-item in one corner of the front page:

"CANADIAN BANKCLERK SUICIDES."

Evan felt his heart stop and a sickening shudder ran through him as he read:

"Because he lost at the races and could not return money secretly borrowed from his cash, Sidney Levison, of the S—— Bank, Toronto, shot himself last night."

Of all the many thousands of New Yorkers who read that paragraph Evan Nelson, perhaps, was the only one who fully comprehended the meaning of it. He saw, as in a looking-glass, the gloomy series of steps down which the teller had come to where he lay, a suicide.



CHAPTER XIX.

FAR-AWAY GREEN FIELDS.

A germ began to work in Evan's mind. It must have been some relation to the garden-grubs that had infested Jim Japers' vineyard, for it showed a predilection for fresh air and outside work. Two incidents—the firing by the cashier of a clerk ahead of Nelson, and the receiving of a letter from A. P. Henty—did not help matters any.

Henty's handwriting had such a substantial appearance it seemed to indicate that some men were blessed with big fists to fall back on in case their fingers lost employment. A. P.'s composition, too, was solid and matter-of-fact; there were no flourishes, except occasional slang; the letter was plainly the product of a free mind and a steady nerve.

When the clerk who was discharged approached Evan with a smile and said: "Well, kiddo, you're next in line," Evan wondered why the fellow was so unconcerned about it. He asked him.

"Oh," answered the clerk, "we're used to that here, in New York. A fellow can always land another job. I usually manage to get the hook about twice a year; the work gets monotonous, and I suppose I lose ambish."

Evan wondered where one would get to under those circumstances. If he had stayed in the big city nine years instead of nine months he would have ceased to wonder about position hunters; they would have become a distinct element in urban life. As it was, the impression he received was quite true to the actual condition of affairs: a large city was a very precarious place.

However, the Canadian decided to stay in New York for the winter anyway; it was lively then, he was told, with the presence of returned "seasoners" and other summer absentees. He asked the cashier for promotion, and received it, along with two dollars increase in salary. He made up his mind to save five dollars a week; he could live and have considerable pleasure on the other twelve dollars.

Mardi Gras was over; not a straw hat was to be seen; the mornings grew chilly; theatres were in full swing. Then Miss Harris got Evan in with a "crowd"; the department stores hauled out their Christmas things; and with the first flurry of snow the whole town slid into winter.

The New York winter looked, at first, like a bluff. The man from Canada refused to wear an overcoat until one day a breeze came sweeping over the Atlantic and took him in hand; after that he had great respect for the climate.

Ethel Harris made good as a comrade. She knew how to keep things going. Evan was astonished at the ease with which he mixed in things; the boys seemed to have a way of fixing up that he could hardly catch, but they were a jovial bunch. An odd one was after the order of Castle, but most of them resembled Bill Watson in manner. The girls all expected to marry Riverside Drive property owners, but aside from that they were sane and congenial. Evan knew about how much money they made, and consequently took considerable delight in their exaggerations. They were practically all stenographers.

It takes New Yorkers to be friendly. The city is so big it resembles the world. In it there are as many countries as the world boasts, and when the members of a social set meet they come like so many travellers from the ends of the earth, bringing stories with them that Park Row reporters never hear about. There is real life and entertainment in a gathering of young Manhattanites.

Evan took great pleasure in those parties. Often he danced with some girl who had gone on the stage (for about one performance), and there was considerable romance in that. As the winter passed he wondered if he really wanted to leave those friends and that gaiety. Ethel treated him so well he was glad to spend all his spare money on her, at theatres, suppers and so on. But he always put away the five dollars a week just the same. He was led to believe that not many New York lads did that much for their future.

In February a Southerner came on the scene. The first night of his reception in the crowd he succeeded in breaking the hearts of half the girls; the other half succumbed the second night. The Southerner was not a flirt—that may have accounted for his elaborate success. He was so far from being a flirt that he fell in love with Ethel Harris and proposed to her.

Now, the real working-out kind of proposal is not so common in New York as, judging from the population, one might suppose. Ethel began to advise Nelson against spending so much money foolishly. For a while her objections to his "friendship" were overruled; but finally she got desperate and candidly told the Canuck he was up against Kentucky. He had to take the hint.

Thus, again, Evan was impressed with the uncertainty of things in the metropolis. He took Ethel's engagement to heart for a day or two, until an office-girl accidentally slipped while passing his desk and steadied herself on his neck. She proved to be a married woman, however, and Evan turned his attention to spring.

Appearances are against the ex-bankclerk, but he must not be judged too rashly on the head of his Manhattan experiences. It looks as if he had forgotten all about Toronto and Hometon; but he had not. He had never written Frankie, it is true, but he had heard about her from his sister and had a dim idea that some day he would go back and marry her. It is remarkable how a fellow sticks to his home-town girl! Through jealousies about other girls, like Ethel Harris, through the maze of a dance with actresses, he still sees the face that smiled on him across the school-room hack in the old town.

In March a very exciting letter came from Henty.

"Dear Evan," it read, "wire me at once. Tell me if you'll come. I mean to British Columbia. The Nicola Valley is awaiting our arrival. There is a homestead there for each of us. My father will give me five hundred dollars, and I'll share with you, on a loan for life, if you'll come. A fellow only needs to pay ten dollars cash and hold down the land six months a year for three years, and make 'reasonable improvements.' I understand they are very lenient about improvements. Our five hundred dollars will look after that part of it. The soil is very fertile. I'm taking a cow with me and a clucking hen. In the winter months we can get a job bookkeeping or lumbering; or if our crop of onions turns out well this summer we won't need to work at all in winter. Wire. Don't let anything penetrate your nut for the next few hours but the word 'wire.' I must know. Don't let money keep you; if you need some, wire. What I have said goes, if you will come. A. P."

Evan was sitting in the elevated when he read the letter. It had come as he started to work and he had not had time to stop and read it at his lodging. Again at the Bridge he read it. Around him the crowds were surging, rushing to work with that morning vigor that looks as though it would last forever. The merry throng about Evan seemed like his friends; the thought that he should leave them made him lonesome. What would he do without the morning paper? Where would he buy peppermint chocolates at twenty-five cents a pound? Even more trivial questions than these occupied his mind.

Stuffing the letter in his pocket, he boarded the up-town L, and got off at Twenty-third Street. The Metropolitan tower looked disdainfully at him: it was the New York flag-pole, and he was about to desert the colors. At noon-hour he sat in the little restaurant on Twentieth Street West. He had the letter memorized by this time, but he drew a bank-book from his pocket to make sure he was familiar with its contents. Yes, the eighty dollars were still there.

After work he was tired. He was always tired after a day's office work. The hour before supper was always one of yawning, of hurry, dust and reflection. Taking the subway down to the Bridge, he wedged up the steps between two foreigners who had been regaling themselves with garlic, and looked wistfully at Loft's. There was a candy-fiend in his stomach crying for food. He was half way to the candy-shop when he overcame the evil one with a sweet tooth; he turned back toward the Bridge, but seeing a crowd in one of the newspaper offices, stepped in. His ear caught the click of a telegraph instrument. He forgot the crowd gazing at new aeroplane models, and found himself again on Park Row. The ten-thousands faded from before his sight, the yapping of newsies died away, there was no dust and no yawning: he saw a green valley and heard the birds; he saw Henty in chaps astride of a pony; and a shanty loomed up. The blood of Grandpa Nelson bubbled in his veins; he was a proud son of Adam, doing business direct with Nature. There was no car to catch on the morrow, and no hash-house to patronize. His horses neighed to him, and he heard the sizzle of frying ham in a clean frying-pan.

The telegraph instrument continued to click in the young book-keeper's ears. He looked once more on the throng around him: it was the evening throng—tired, nervous, hateful. Men climbed in the cars ahead of pale, helpless girls; an old lady clung to the unwilling arm of a convict-faced son; and a little newsboy cried brokenheartedly in the gutter. Tiny girls wrestled with bundles of papers; a bald magnate cursed his chauffeur for refusing to run down a dog and save time; and a policeman chased half a dozen naked urchins who were puddling in City Hall Fountain. When one is tired these things jar on him. The telegraph still ticked in Evan's ear; the valleys still stretched before his imagination. He was aware, now, of a discord in the music of his dreaming: it was the noise around him, the shouting, the brutal rush. He turned toward Broadway.

Evan had made up his mind. He wired Henty that he would go to British Columbia. He asked A. P. to reply by day-message to Twenty-third Street.

About noon next day the answer came: "Meet me in Buffalo in two days, if possible. I will be staying at my cousin's, — Forest Avenue. If necessary I can wait a week for you."

But it was not necessary. Evan had no difficulty in getting away from his position. The cashier was disappointed, but he did his best to hide it; Evan heard him remark to the assistant cashier:

"When we do land a good man he gets offered more elsewhere. If I wasn't afraid of the boss I'd raise Nelson to twenty-five dollars rather than lose him."

Wondering, for a moment, if he had not done a foolish thing in resigning, Evan scratched his head, but the friction set his imagination aglow again—and he bade the office good-bye.

He met Henty in Buffalo the following night.

"What are you going by way of the States for?" he asked.

"So that the Canadian banks won't get you again," said Henty.

After sending his mother a silk scarf and Lou a pair of stockings and a box of candy, as a partial atonement for the wrong he was doing them in not visiting home, Evan bought a pair of corduroy breeches and heavy boots, subscribed for a farm magazine, and set out, with big A. P., for the far-away fields. They say those fields always look green; sometimes, perhaps, they are green.

Just as that "Overland Limited" sped along must this story speed. The boys fell asleep in New York State and awakened many miles from its border. And here in this story, as in a Pullman, only more obliviously, must the reader sleep—to awaken at a distance.

In a certain part of the Nicola Valley stood a cottage known as the "Bachelors' Bungalow." It, was alone except for the companionship of stables and out-houses. It was evidently not built in a land where lumber was scarce, for wide, heavy verandahs almost surrounded it.

From any of these verandahs one could get a splendid view of the mountains; to the south a green vista of valley stretched away.

A young man sat in the open, not listening to the greybirds or the meadowlarks sing of spring, and not revelling in the beauty before and around him, but working assiduously at a typewriter. On either side of his little table magazines and newspapers lay in heaps; there were Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and other papers, and various Canadian magazines. Now and then he paused in his writing to pick up one of these periodicals and take note of a paragraph he had marked.

"I wonder if Alfy ever stops to read any of these articles?" murmured Evan, and laughed quietly. "Judging from the opinion he always had of my disability I doubt if he would attribute literary efforts to me."

Now that we know who the young man is and what he is doing at a typewriter in the Nicola Valley, it may be well to explain the situation.

Three years had passed since Henty and Nelson landed in the green fields of their dreams. They bought seed and other agricultural necessities on the way out, old man Henty shipped them two cows, two horses, a few hens, a pig, and some farming utensils. They ordered lumber from a Revelstoke company, erected a shack, a temporary shelter for the stock, and built a hen-house with a pig-pen annex.

A. P. showed that he was born to be a farmer. The way he handled the plow put Evan to shame; but Evan made up in willingness to work what he lacked in physical efficiency. He learned to milk cows and make butter; he went irregularly to the village for the raw food they needed, talked the merchant into giving him a line of credit, and surveyed the valley all the way home with the pride of Noah after the flood. He developed into so good a cook that A. P. declared there must have been a chef in the family away back.

The first crop the boys had was good because it was not very big. They sold their early garden-stuff at a big price to the C.P.R., and in the fall got twenty dollars a ton for their potatoes—on the ground. Every drop of milk they could spare found a ready market in the village; often they exchanged it for butter. And those hens of theirs made good; they made very good. A. P. insisted on eating all the eggs, but Evan managed to hide away enough each week to buy sugar, tea and bread. It must be admitted, however, that bread was more frequently absent from than present at the board; crackers and ginger-snaps made edible substitutes.

When the first winter set in the bachelors of "Bachelors' Shack"—it was not a bungalow yet—were prepared for it. They had money in the bank.

"It's me for a Jew's harp and a line of novels," said Henty; "no lumbering for mine this winter. I'm all calloused from wrestling with our valley."

Nevertheless A. P. could not content himself to read longer than a week at a time. He made irregular excursions into the village and juggled scantling in a new lumber yard. Evan wanted to go, too, but Henty grunted in disgust—and Nelson agreed to stay home and tend the stock. The sow old man Henty had given them raised a family. One of the pigs was killed for meat, and the others were dressed and sold to a butcher.

The winter was mild, and there was enough snow to protect and fertilize the ground. It was a good winter for the young bachelors; the wood-chopping they did gave them health abundant, their chores kept Henty's superfluous masculinity worked off and taught Nelson the practical way of things, and the simple food they ate gave their minds an appetite for knowledge.

With all their wood-cutting and chores, though, the boys had more spare time than they knew how to dispose of. Often in the evenings they played cards, sang duets from a book of old songs, or read. To say they were always content would not be true; many a time they felt the weight of the great Silence about them, and above all they longed for the fleeting image of a girl. If they could only just see one—it would be like a drink of water on Sahara!

At long intervals they hired a boy from the village to watch their flocks for a couple of days, while they made an excursion to some town. There they filled up on candy and picture-shows until they were glad to return home.

In many ways the first winter of their squatting in the Nicola Valley was a tester on the ex-bankclerks. They sometimes felt like giving up; not because they needed food or drink, but because of the youth in them. Young men are impetuous animals; they want to be forever shifting. Sometimes Evan had to walk in the beautiful winter night until he was tired out, so that he could forget his yearnings for city life, especially New York life. He felt the lure of the White Way at a distance of three thousand miles. Others had felt it from the ends of the earth, and had succumbed to it.

But Nelson did not succumb. He knew he must take his mind off the East, if he would succeed in the West, and he did so. He read more and more every week. When Henty was away at the scantlings Evan studied and thought. At last he began to write down his thoughts; he discovered that there was great satisfaction in expressing himself to a sheet of paper. He eventually sent to Vancouver for a typewriter, bought a book of instruction, and for twenty-one days studied the touch method. He practised six and eight hours a day, with his eyes on the chart before him. At the end of the twenty-one days he was a touch-typist, accurate and fairly rapid. The typewriter off his mind, he wrote and wrote. His heart was fast wrapping itself in vellum. Henty looked on in silence for a few weeks, then shook his head and said facetiously:

"I'm afraid you don't love me any more, Nelsy."

But spring soon came to A. P.'s relief, with the advent of which Evan had to set aside his typewriter and dream without writing down his dreams. Because of faculties newly awakened, however, he found more beauty and entertainment in Nature than he had ever seen there before. He began to think poems as he worked on the land. The plots of stories came to him, and articles grew upward from the horizon to the sun, or in columns like Oriental writings. At night he would sit up an hour longer than his big red-faced friend, and pour out his imaginings to the typewriter—the poor typewriter. The speed he developed was a detriment to composition; the faster he went the more hyperbolic and awful became his effusions, and so we repeat, the poor typewriter! It had brought about its own terrible punishment.

The summer passed, bringing its crops again, and another batch of pigs. A mare and a cow added to the animal creation, too. Old man Henty sent out a reaper and commanded his son to grow hay the following year instead of buying it from the Okanagan Valley. The boys built another out-house, bought some calves, and kept adding to their effects. The calves gave Evan copy for some humorous stories, several of which were good enough to be rejected by an Eastern magazine. The young "writer" thought the "not available" slip had been written especially for him, and its wording flattered him to further submissions.

The second winter was almost a repetition of the first—for Henty; but not for his companion. They made a trip to Vancouver at Christmas and sent bundles of presents home. A. P. loaded up with novels, and, to Evan's consternation, bought a guitar. But he learned to strum it, although it took him all winter.

Henty was a marvel in his way. Nelson put him in many a sketch and story. Not once during the long months had the Banfield ex-junior acted the part of a weakling. Evan reflected that it was easy enough for himself to keep within bounds, speaking after the manner of Physical Culture, being mentally engaged all the time; but Henty seemed to contain himself by force of will. His virility made a man of him instead of being a snare to him. Evan conceived a hope, founded on the respect he had for his companion, that was some day going to be realized.

A. P. took increased interest in the writings of his friend.

"Evan," he said, one day, in his sudden way, "I should think that a fellow with your habit of writing would tell the story a certain ex-bankclerk has to tell about the bank."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Evan.

He went right to work on a long bank story. He wrote it over and over, and submitted it over and over, but it did not meet with success. One editor told him it was too lurid; another said it was immature. Henty swore it was the best thing he had ever seen. Is it not unfortunate that our manuscripts cannot be finally edited by someone who can appreciate us? Gods of Literature! what a bunch of stuff would be printed. Typewriter companies would do away with the instalment plan entirely.

Between seeding and haying the third spring, the boys built a bungalow, enlarged their animals' quarters, and hired a man. They were blessed with a pretty good crop, and the market was growing. Other settlers had come into the valley, and there was talk of a village springing up near-by. Henty began to wear a smile.

After the fall rush Evan settled down harder than ever to his literary efforts. He wrote articles on the bank. As if his style had suddenly come up to the required standard, editors began to write short letters of excuse with returned manuscripts; then to accept. Why waste words on the thrills Evan, yes, and Henty, experienced when they read the breezy stuff of "X. Bankclerk" in print!

In his letters home Evan intimated that he would have a surprise for them before long, but that was as much as he said. He filled pages describing his and Henty's vines and figtrees, and his father came back with: "I told you your grandfather was in you!" His mother rejoiced in his health but longed for him home; Lou called him a "rube;" and Frankie—Frankie did not have a chance to say anything because Evan had never answered that letter she wrote to New York.

Now, as the young man sat on the verandah of his bungalow, not listening to the greybirds and meadowlarks around him, he felt happy. He and Henty were going to make a trip back to Ontario in the autumn, and then he could meet the editors who had congratulated him on his "good dope," as one of them had described his articles. He rattled over the keys of his machine, after making the observation about Alfy, and was so engrossed in his work that he did not notice the approach of Henty.

A. P. had been to Vancouver, and was back sooner than expected. He seemed excited.

"Evan," he cried, jumping on the verandah, "we're made men! A syndicate wants our land! They're talking of a townsite!"

"The dickens!"

"Yes, sir. They offered me $60,000, half cash."

"You're drunk, A. P.!"

"No, sir. You know the head of the syndicate; his name is William Watson."



CHAPTER XX.

HIGH FINANCE AND PROMOTING.

It took Evan some time to recover from the shock association of Bill Watson's name with a real-estate syndicate naturally produced. Then he asked Henty bewilderedly:

"Are you going to accept the sixty thousand?"

"Am I going to?"

"Yes."

"Not unless my partner is willing," replied Henty. "Isn't one of these quarter-sections your own?"

"Yes, but you're manager of both; I don't know whether they're worth $60,000 or not. Would half of it look good to you?"

"You bet," said A. P. "I'd take a trip around the world, then come back and get married; I believe I'd settle down somewhere out here."

"Who would you marry?"

"Oh, anybody. I feel right now as if I could fall in love with anything."

Evan laughed, but soon sobered in thought,

"I think, A. P.," he said, after a pause, "that I can suggest a better trip than one around the world. I've often dreamed about it since my bank stuff has been well received. You know I've been drumming up the idea of Bank Union pretty strong. Why not bestow an everlasting favor on Bankerdom by travelling into every nook and corner of Canada and organizing the clerks? You and I could do it. They all know me by reputation, and I would give you credentials."

Henty ran his hands through his hair and looked wild.

"By the jumping Jehoshaphat!" he exclaimed, "what a hit that would make! Why, the boys would make a bronze image of you and a stone one of me to pickle our memory forever! Do you think we could do it?"

"Sure," laughed Evan; "haven't we got all the big newspapers in the country on our side? And aren't the banks in the legislative limelight? They couldn't pull off anything mean on us, because we would keep in touch with our editor friends. If they started firing the boys we could appeal to the public."

Henty grew more and more interested, not to say excited.

"You seem to have got the thing all cut and dried!"

"I have," said Evan; "I've been conning it over for months. At first I wondered if I couldn't get some rich man to endow such a movement, and make a real philanthropist of himself. But the trouble with rich men is that they want to get richer, and bucking the banks is no way to do it—in Canada, anyway."

A. P. let his eyes wander over the valley and up the mountain side. A smile gradually spread over his features.

"Nelsy," he said, "are you sure you haven't got an axe to grind?"

"You bet I have. Was there ever any sort of reform started by a man unless he had known the evil in his own experience? My grudge against the bank is going to be the boys' safeguard, and they will know it. They will know I'm out to organize a union because I want to show the banks that they are not supreme. Of course if it were for the satisfaction alone, I wouldn't spend a lot of money working it up. I know it will be a great thing for present and future bankclerks—that's really why I want it. But, you see, the boys will know I'm not out for graft when I have my own story printed and circulated among them. Besides, I won't collect any money; I'll merely carry the union up to a point where organization is possible, and then they can entrust the finances to anyone they choose. The thing must appeal to them as a business proposition; I think they understand already that a union of clerks would be self-supporting. Some of them are suspicious because of past bunco games that have been pulled off under the guise of bank unions; but I will leave them no room for suspicion of us fellows. As to the moral success of the thing,—as soon as they realize it is past the dangerous stage they will be eager to join. Every effort so far made in the direction of an association of bankclerks has been squelched by the head office authorities. There was one instance in Toronto of a bank's firing quite a bunch of clerks who dared to defend themselves against the barbarities of the business. The press didn't even get wind of it. Things would be different now, and the boys would soon understand that; for the whole country is discussing those articles I have submitted, as well as the innumerable letters and articles of endorsation that have come from other clerks and ex-clerks."

"I'm ready to pack up," said Henty suddenly, half-jokingly. "But we haven't got the dough for our land yet. They want word at once; will I go to town and wire them?"

"Yes," replied Evan, mechanically, his whole mind on the bank.

"And how about the girl I'm going to marry?" asked A. P., as he led his horse up to the verandah.

"She's in my home town," said Nelson; "her name is Frankie Arling."

"Some name, too," observed Henty, dreamily; "you're not fooling me, are you?"

"No," replied Evan, smiling inscrutably.

Together they ate a bite of supper, and then Henty set out on horseback for the village. He returned before Evan was in bed. Next morning the hired man was informed that he would be left alone for a day or two, and to watch that the old sow didn't get any more of the hens.

Togged out like the homesteader sports they were, Evan and Henty left for Vancouver. They met the syndicate, who seemed to know every foot of land in the Nicola Valley, signed over their 320 acres, received a cheque for $30,000 and a note with security for another thirty, and refused to participate in a drunk.

"We must get back," said Henty; "I've got the live stock to sell yet."

Bill Watson and Evan excused themselves and went into a side office. It was their first opportunity to speak of old times.

"I can't tell you how glad I am you've made good, Evan," said Bill. "How did it all happen?"

Evan briefly related his experience since quitting the bank. Watson listened with interest until it leaked out who "X. Bankclerk" was, after which his silence changed to: "God love you for that!"

Without heeding the exclamation Evan continued with his story, and finally announced his intention of starting a bank union.

"You can do it," said Bill, enthusiastically, "and I'll back you if you need more money. I knew it would come. It had to come!" Then, "Won't you come down and see Hazel?"

"What, you're married!" cried Evan.

"You bet. I kept her waiting long enough, didn't I? But say—won't you come down and see her? I've got something more startling still to tell you about; two things!"

Evan wanted to see Hazel and to have a visit with Bill. He persuaded A. P. to stay over a day.

Hazel was a changed girl. There was the same old peculiar fire in her eyes, but she was now healthy and happy looking.

"How good it is to see you, Evan," she said, giving his hand a generous squeeze. "Look who's here!"—pointing to a cradle.

Evan got on his knees to the baby, who acknowledged the attention with a coo.

"I'll bet you have started already to spoil him! By the way, Hazel, the little chap reminds me: how did you win Bill all so suddenly?"

Hazel smiled happily:

"Only about a month after you wrote Billy he came down to Hamilton and informed me we were going West—together."

Bill turned and looked at Evan.

After supper, while Henty was dividing his attention between Hazel and the baby, Bill whispered to Evan:

"The boy is one of the surprises I had for you. I've got another—come in the smoking-room."

Nelson followed, excusing himself with Hazel and Henty.

"Haven't you been wondering, Evan," said Bill, puffing in his wonted fashion at a cigarette, "how I got—well, where I am?"

"I admit I have, Bill."

"Well, just listen to my story, and ask questions when I'm through.... Shortly after receiving your Hamilton letter I made up my mind to get some money somewhere and marry Hazel. She was working her head off and worrying herself to death about me; I couldn't stand it any longer. I made up my mind to get money. My chance came. The cash was short one thousand dollars one day—my cash. I explained that I must have paid out two hundred tens instead of fives. It was Saturday; they had transferred me to the second paying-box just a few days before. I figured that here was my chance to make a mistake. Now, being over twenty-one I was my own bondman, and the bank couldn't collect from anybody but me—or the guarantee company. I knew that, of course. Well, I pretended to worry myself sick over the loss, and checked my vouchers over about a dozen times. At last I pretended to give up, and told them I would look no more for it.

"'All right,' said Castle, 'you'll have to put it up.'"

"I said nothing just then, but before long I told them I would go to jail before I'd put it up. I went to the manager, then to the inspector, and hung the bluff around. At last they decided to kick me out of the bank and let the guarantee company make good the loss. I hung around Toronto for a little while, with two five-hundred dollar bills tucked under my shirt. Soon I made a trip to Hamilton, captured Hazel, and came to Edmonton, Alberta. I struck it rich there. I cleaned up ten thousand bucks in a few months. After that it was easy to get fifty thousand. I'm worth a hundred now."

Bill smiled around his cigarette, and waited for his friend to speak. It was no easy matter for Evan to find words, either, although he felt that Bill was telling the truth.

"Did you ever pay them back, Bill?" he asked, expectantly.

"Oh, yes," said Watson, drawing a registered-letter slip from his pocket. The receipt was made out to John Honig, for a thousand dollars. "Some assumed name that, eh, Evan?"

"Yes. How long did you hang on to the coin, Bill?"

"You see the date. I kept it as long as I thought it was coming to me. You know I labored like a lackey for five years on half pay in the bank. They really owed me every cent of the thousand, but I only pinched the interest on it for two years. That wasn't much, eh? It made me rich, though; and so I ought to forgive the bank. What do you think of me, Nelsy, as a one-time Sunday School teacher?"

"I wasn't thinking of the right or wrong of it, Bill, but of your nerve. Just imagine what would have happened if they had caught you."

Bill laughed disdainfully.

"Jail couldn't have been any worse than that office. My conscience troubled me a while—until I found that the thousand was making me more. Then I knew I could pay it back when I liked. When you come to figure it all out, isn't that exactly what the banks do with the people's deposits?"

As the train wound its way along gorges and through tunnels eastward from Vancouver, Henty and Evan were silent. Evan was thinking of what Watson had done, and said. It was a fact that banks gave three per cent. interest on deposits, which they used on speculations in Wall Street and elsewhere; those speculations netting them such high dividends that great buildings had to be erected to conceal them. And how was the customer treated who wanted to borrow a few hundred dollars in an emergency? Even though he had been a depositor for years, getting three per cent., what sort of accommodation was the bank willing to give him when he was temporarily up against it? Evan knew. He remembered too well the old excuse handed out to the customer, year after year: "We have to cut down our loans." Why did they have to? Why do they have to? Who makes them, who wants them to do it? The eternal answer is "Head Office." But who is Head Office?—the bank. The bank commands the bank to cut down its loans, just as it commands the bank to do many things detrimental to the country's good. And why not? Don't the people of Canada stand for it? Don't they give their money and sons to the banks, according to the traditions and idolatries of their fathers?

Evan's mind dwelt upon High Finance. He pondered and pondered on the thing Watson had done, and, in the light of common business morality, could find no fault with it; but in his heart he knew it was wrong. The argument he found against it was a trite one, but true: "The wrongs of others are no palliation of ours." If the banks did wrong in using depositors' money to earn dividends for the rich, that was not the clerk's business—that was the public's business.

What then was the clerk's business? It was the clerk's business to see that he received a decent salary. He did real work, oh very real! and he was entitled to a salary upon which he could both live and, at a reasonable age, support a wife. Why didn't he get it? Because the bank could, by intimidation and repression, by promising and bluffing, get him for less than a living wage. But "why" was not so much to the point as "how." How was he going to get it? How had other workers of every description obtained a bread-and-butter wage? By making themselves indispensable to their employers? Yes. And how accomplish that in banking? If any man thinks he can make himself indispensable to a bank individually, he is mistaken. But men in any trade or calling can make themselves necessary to an employer collectively by co-operating; and co-operation is the only way. Evan knew that it was the only way for bankclerks to obtain their rights. The banks would not do business with an individual because they didn't have to; it was easier to dismiss him. But their offensively arbitrary methods could not be employed where a great number of clerks were concerned. If the bankclerks of Canada were united they could talk as a body, and the banks of Canada would be compelled to listen. It did not occur to Evan for a moment that the boys would go on strike: but they would have the power to strike, and, if the banks were mad enough to resent business negotiations, they would show that they could strike.

Henty wakened out of his reverie and Evan began discussing bank union with him. They had money in their pockets and enthusiasm in their souls. They discussed the workings-out of the scheme, and youthfully pictured scenes that were brightest. Still, had they not dreamed of green fields and seen their dreams come true?

"How much are we going to spend on it, Evan?" asked Henty.

"I figure it will cost us two thousand dollars each to get the thing in motion. Then if the organization ever gets rich enough it may want to pay us back. Do you feel like affording so much?"

"Sure—I don't mind a couple of thou'."

Nelson laughed; he was happy. The spirit of the reformer had somehow got into his system and he thought only of the work before him. He tried to estimate the happiness it would bring to the worn-out clerk, the booze-fighting clerk, the forced-to-be-untrue lover clerk, the poor parents who spent their savings in fitting out juniors for the "glory of the bank," and the girls waiting in home towns.... His imagination came to a halt, for a space, and he very unimaginatively sighed over by-gone illusions. Then he forgot the bitterness of disillusionment in a picture that framed itself on the window of the observation-car, against a dark background of passing rock and pines. He saw himself walking beside Frankie on one of the streets of Hometon. Her dear eyes were downcast, but her hand was willingly in his, and they were speaking of the days when he should come back a manager! A longing made itself felt in his heart, a longing to go back and redeem his pledge; but he hesitated. He knew she was not married to Perry—Porter was no longer in Hometon—but Evan felt unworthy of her after a silence of over three years. He had often thought of writing her and asking forgiveness, but had not been in a position to marry her—until the syndicate came along. He had told himself all along that it was poverty that kept him from renewing his love; but now that poverty no longer stared him in the face, now that he could give her a home, he hesitated. Why?—Because he was afraid! He knew he loved her and he feared to run the risk of a rebuff by mail. Such is the cowardice of a guilty lover's heart. He realized that he had hurt her very deeply; hints from Lou had convinced him of that; and he felt that he would have to go for her in person and in earnest to fully demonstrate his all too mysterious affection. He had a strong impulse to stay on the train, with fifteen thousand dollars in his wallet, and make a run for Hometon; but he knew that would be rash. He wanted to go to Frankie with more than money; he wanted to go in all contrition and to carry news of his triumphs over the bank that had disgraced him.

"Where will we start in?" asked Henty, rousing.

For a moment Evan did not comprehend the question, then he smiled, remembering how readily Henty usually thought things out. A. P. must have been pondering very deeply to take so long a time in evolving that simple question. It was to the point, however; they might as well work from west to east, seeing that they were so near the Pacific and so far from the Atlantic. That consideration had caused Evan to hesitate when his impetuosity suggested Frankie at a single jump.

"Vancouver, I guess, A. P."

"That means," said Henty, grinning, "that I'll be a long time before I meet that Hometon girl of yours—of mine."

"Not so very long."

"What did you say her name was, again?"

"Arling—Frankie Arling. I'm sure you'll fall in love with her."

A. P. stretched, yawned and replied:

"I'm sure I will, too."

They sold out their stock and effects at a good profit—Henty always looked out for the profit. When the people of the village, fifteen miles away, heard that the boys of Bachelors' Bungalow were leaving they gave a dance, at which there were present lumberjacks as chief masters of ceremony and hotel-maids as belles. One of the village storekeepers was there, too, with bitter complaints against Fate.

"Dang you," he said, "how do you think a man's goin' to make a livin' out of these Chinks? Dang me if it ain't a shame as you're leavin'."

"Cheer up, Uncle Dud," said Henty, "I'll be coming back with a wife sometime, and then your sales will double."

In less than a month after they had closed the deal with the syndicate the boys took leave of their bungalow. They still owned it and the little plot of ground on which it stood, but they were loath to leave just the same. A meadowlark sang them a farewell, and the sweetness of his song affected Henty's eyes. Nelson saw it and liked his friend better than ever.

"I don't blame them for wanting to make a townsite of this valley," said A. P., as they drove to the station. "They won't be stinging anybody no matter what they charge for the lots."

Before doing battle in Vancouver the two "farmers" held a day's consultation. They warmed up on a matinee, digested a Chinese dinner of chop suey and foyung, rice-cakes and various uncivilized desserts, went to bed late, and next morning had a plunge in the ocean. By that time they had decided Vancouver was a bad place to begin operations in, and they took boat for Victoria. There they really went to work.

Selecting one of the largest offices, Evan sauntered in and took a view of the staff. Henty was waiting around the corner. Strange to say, two or three of the bankboys were taking a rest by one of the desks. Evan approached them and asked a general question about the town, as a stranger might. He liked the way one of the fellows looked at and talked to him, and made bold to reveal his identity. The clerk held out his hand:

"Put it there!" he said; "will you come up to our rooms to-night? We'll have a bunch there to see you that'll make your hair stand on end."

The ball was about to roll. Evan gave his promise and went out to rejoin Henty.

"A. P.," he said, "we've got them going. I've discovered the best way to proceed. Just spot some fellow who looks good to you and then lead up to the subject of X. Bankclerk. If he is not interested pass him up and keep on looking till you find someone who is; then leave the raising of a crowd to him. In cities like this we can afford to spend two or three days."

Henty was excited. He flushed as only he could flush, and closed his fists with nervous satisfaction.

The Victoria bankclerk got together a crowd, as he had promised; there were old and young fellows, tall and short fellows, but all good fellows. They forced Nelson into a speech, which they cheered and applauded. They insisted on ordering drinks, but Evan told them he would be disappointed if they started off a union that way. They were all anxious to have their names enrolled as first members of "The Associated Bankclerks of Canada." One of the boys went down to a bookstore and returned with a record book in which applications for membership were to be enrolled.

Nelson took the boys into his confidence, and their sympathy was aroused. He suggested that each man present do his best by letter or otherwise to enlist other clerks in the movement. Not only names but signatures were to be collected and pasted in the record book. Nothing was to be done that would put an instrument of destruction in the hands of head office. All letters were to be addressed to Evan Nelson, Hometon, Ontario. He wrote the post-office there to hold his mail for further orders.

The "organizers"—they grinned as they applied the term to each other—spent two nights among the Victoria clerks, who agreed to take charge of Vancouver Island, then departed for Vancouver. There it took them three days and nights to work things up. They got a heap of circulars printed, with the following titles: "What the Bank Did to Me;" "Why Are You a Bankclerk?"; "Bank Union"; "Why Does Head Office Resent Co-operation of Clerks?"; and others, all by "X. Bankclerk." Printed matter was left in the hands of every man who wrote his name in the record book. Head office might get hold of a circular, but what could they do about it?

After finishing Vancouver, Nelson and Henty turned their attention to towns and villages. They carried with them, after less than a fortnight's work, about fifty letters of introduction to clerks all over the Dominion; that bundle was going to increase twenty-fold before they reached Halifax.

Small towns were easy; the boys sometimes did two and three a day. A. P. proved to be a whirlwind talker when he got warmed up to it. He parted from Evan at Sicamous Junction, and went down the Okanagan Valley. Evan went on to Revelstoke and worked the Arrow Lakes. In two weeks they met at Penticton, as glad to see each other as if they had been separated for years. They had many funny incidents to relate and plenty of success to discuss. The ball was rolling even faster than they had expected.

It was Sunday. They walked through the pretty streets of Penticton, enjoying the splendor of an Okanagan day. By and by they passed a graveyard. A man and woman were standing beside one of the graves; they looked up at the boys, but seemed not to recognize either of them. Evan turned pale, momentarily, then walked up to the man and woman. She wept when he told her who he was, and she related to him the story of a girl who had loved too young; who had faded and contracted consumption, back in Huron County, Ontario. They had brought her out to the mountain valleys, hoping the air would cure her, but she must have been too far gone.

In the evening, while Henty was writing letters, Evan went out for a walk. He wandered along a back street until he came again to the cemetery. A greybird sang its sweet song to him—but not only to him. Evan was thrilled with the sad beauty of that song, and of the Song of Life. Until the sun's rays had disappeared and the little greybird's singing was done, he sat, alone, beside Lily's grave.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE ASSOCIATED BANKCLERKS OF CANADA.

It was Labor Day morning. Massey Hall had been rented for the afternoon and evening to accommodate a mass meeting of bankclerks. The newspapers of Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, London and Guelph, as well as the other big towns within a radius of four hundred miles from Toronto, had printed the news.

Notices had come in from over four hundred out-of-town clerks, promising attendance. Evan and A. P. were busy. Girl-friends of Toronto clerks had formed themselves into a club for the making of badges and pennants with which the boys and the assembly room, respectively, were to be decorated.

When the "organizers" arrived at Massey Hall already a score of young ladies were nursing bundles of bunting, anxious to have someone hold the ladders for them.

Before long city clerks began dropping in, bringing telegrams and letters bearing encouraging announcements. Evan called for volunteers to act on a reception committee, to meet all trains and to introduce the fellows. Everybody responded, and ten were selected.

A thousand seats were reserved for bankboys, five hundred for their friends, and the rest were free to the public. The newspapers had discovered two orchestras willing to serve gratis; both of them were accepted, and came in the forenoon for rehearsal under one leader.

During decorations Henty seemed to think that the girls required watching.

"I should think, A. P.," said Nelson, aside, "that when you survived Nova Scotia you ought to stand a few Toronto beauties."

"Believe me," replied Henty, "these are hard to beat. By the way, we ought to have a reception committee for girls. A good many of the fellows will bring their friends along."

"A good idea," laughed Evan; "you look after it, will you?"

"You bet. I wouldn't mind being that committee myself."

A. P. did look after it, and not vicariously.

Time sped. Every train brought in a bunch of town clerks. They came from far and near; from every city and almost every hamlet in Ontario.

Nelson and Henty themselves went down to the Montreal train. Two hundred and fifty boys came in on it. They hailed from Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Peterborough, and points along the line. When they recognized X. Bankclerk, whose common-looking face had been reproduced in most of the big Canadian dailies, they cheered and shouted until holiday travellers stood aghast.

The Windsor train came in about eleven o'clock, shortly after the Montreal, bringing a delegation larger than the Eastern. Union Station was crammed with bankclerks, and a band was waiting for them on Front Street. After a fair display of noise and confusion the boys formed in quadruple line and marched up town. Two men in the van carried a gigantic streamer bearing the inscription: "The A.B.C.'s."

As they marched up Yonge Street Evan saw a figure with a pointed beard and a hand-bag disappear around the corner of Temperance Street, as though afraid to face the music. It is hardly probable the Big Eye was going to the Moon Theatre to buy tickets for an afternoon performance. Nelson would not have been at all surprised at that, but he thought it more likely that Castle would forego the pleasure of a burlesque performance, on that day of his defeat, and crawl into the gallery of Massey Hall.

By noon seven hundred bankclerks were assembled. Henty drew Evan's attention to the fact that it was chiefly the country chaps who brought their lady-friends; the city fellows probably had had a strenuous time of it paying their own fares. Nevertheless, there was present a good representation of the fair sex.

A. P. and Evan had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and Lou, from Hometon. It was a happy reunion.

Mrs. Nelson cried with joy; Lou blushed at the look of admiration her brother gave her; and George Nelson's eyes twinkled.

"And this is Mr. Henty!" cried Mrs. Nelson, after her first little cry.

"Yes," said Evan, looking at Lou, "this is the other rube."

Lou's face burned.

"I didn't include Mr. Henty," she explained, "when I used to call you a rube, brother. In fact, you both look like real sports now."

"Oh, we're sports all right," said A. P., laughing with peculiar animation.

Was there nothing lacking at that lunch-party? Why then did Evan, for brief moments, seem absent-minded? Probably it was the bank union that engaged his thoughts. His sister had so many questions to ask him he could not get a chance to formulate a sufficiently sly question about Hometon, and the people there. When he observed that he was going up, with Henty, to rest a while, his mother said:

"You'll see everything the way you left it; nothing new to tell you, son. Except—oh, well!—How many thousand miles have you travelled?"

"We estimate them in millions," said Henty, soberly.

Noon-hour passed away very rapidly, and the boys escorted the Nelsons over to the Hall. Henty was informed that somebody waited to see him. It was the old gentleman.

He was dressed in typically farmer style, and wore a merry smile. After a brief greeting with his son he turned for an introduction to Lou, and was soon chuckling at everything she said.

One of the reception committee came hurrying up to Evan and whispered that the assembly was waiting.

"We've got a box for your folk," said the bankclerk.

The other boxes were filled with ladies, none of whom were more attractive than Lou Nelson. Old man Henty pushed her chair out where a thousand bankmen might admire her, and it took her several minutes to master the color in her cheeks.

The two "organizers" came on the platform together, and the audience applauded generously. Evan sat down while Henty, his face aflame, announced in quavering voice:

"Ladies and gentlemen, and especially boys of Bankerdom, instead of introducing you to Mr. Nelson and myself we will ask you all to stand and sing the Canadian National Anthem."

The orchestra leader faced the audience, with his baton poised, and one of the players led in the singing. The sound of the pipe organ itself was drowned in the strains of "O Canada" that swelled from so many young Canadian throats.

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