"It isna that I'm discontented with the place or the salary in the past," said Jamie, "but our expenses are increasing. I have rented a house in Worcester Square."
"In Worcester Square? And the one in Salem Street?"
"'Tis too small for me family needs," said Jamie. "I have sold it."
"Me daughter is about to be married," said Jamie reluctantly.
"Dear me!" exclaimed the Bowdoins in a breath. "May we congratulate her?"
"Ye may do as ye like," said Jamie. "'Tis one Mr. David St. Clair,—a gentleman, as he tells me."
"Is he to live with you, then?"
"Yes, sir. He wants work—that is"—Jamie hesitated.
"He has no occupation?"
Jamie was visibly irritated. "If I bring the gentleman down, ye may ask him your ain sel'."
"No, no," said Mr. James. "That is, we should, of course, be glad to meet the gentleman at any time. What is his name?"
"David St. Clair."
"David Sinclair," repeated the old gentleman.
"Mercedes Silva," said Mr. James musingly.
"McMurtagh, if you please," said Jamie.
"Jamie," said old Mr. Bowdoin, "our business is going away. The steamers will ruin it. For a long time there has not been enough to occupy a man of your talents. And the old bookkeeper at the bank—the Old Colony Bank—has got to resign. I've already asked the place for you. The salary is—more than we here can afford to pay you. In fact, we may close the counting-room."
Jamie rubbed his nose and shifted his feet. "Ta business is a goot business, and t' firm is a fine old firm." It was evident he was in the throes of unexpressed affection. In all his life he had never learned to express it. "Ye'll na be closing the old counting-room?"
"I may come down here every day or so, just to keep my trusts up. I'll use it for a writing-room; it's near the bank"—
"An' I'll come down an' keep the books for you, sir," said Jamie; and the "sir" from his lips was like a caress from another man.
Jamie took his place on the high stool behind the great ledgers of the Old Colony Bank, and the house on Worcester Square was even bought, with his savings and the price of the house on Salem Street. Only one thing Jamie flatly refused, and that was to permit Mercedes' marriage until St. Clair had some visible means of support. She pouted at this and was cruel; but for once the old clerk was inflexible, even to her. Mercedes would perhaps have married against his will, but Mr. St. Clair had his reason for submitting.
And that gentleman was particular in his choice of occupation, and Mercedes yet more particular for him. The class of which St. Clair came is a peculiar one, hardly known to the respectable world, less known then than now; and yet it has often money, kindliness, reputability even, among its members: they marry and have children among their own class; they are not church-going, but yet they are not criminal. As actor families maintain themselves for many generations (not the stars, but the ordinary histrionic families; you will find most of the names on the playbills to-day that were there in the last century, neither above nor below their old position), so there are sporting families who live in a queer, not unprosperous world of their own, marry and bring up children, and leave money and friends behind them when they die. And Sinclair came of people such as these. "St. Clair" was his own invention. Of course Jamie did not know it, nor did Mercedes; and in fact he was honestly in love with her, to the point of changing his way of life to one of routine and drudgery.
But no place could be found (save, indeed, a retail grocer's clerkship), and Mercedes began to grow worried, and occasionally to cry. St. Clair spent his evenings at the house; and at such times Jamie would wander helplessly about the streets. St. Clair's one idea was to be employed about the bank, to become a banker. Had he been competent to keep the books, I doubt not Jamie would have given them up to him.
Great is the power of persuasion backed by love, even in a bent old Scotchman. Will it be believed, Jamie teased and schemed and promoted until he made a vacancy of the place of messenger, and got it for his son-in-law. Perhaps old Mr. Bowdoin had ever had a slight feeling of remorse since he had seen nipped in the bud that affair with young Harleston. He did not approve of the present match. Yet he fancied the bridegroom might be a safer spouse with a regular occupation and a coat more threadbare than he habitually wore.
Nothing now stood in the way of the marriage; and it took place with some eclat,—in King's Chapel, indeed, with all the Bowdoins, even to Mrs. Abby. Jamie gave the bride away. Hughson (to Mercedes' relief) took it a bit rusty and would not come. Then the pair went on a wedding journey to Niagara and Trenton Falls; and old Jamie, the day after the ceremony, came down looking happier than he had seemed for years. There was a light in his lonely old face; it comes rarely to us on earth, but, by one who sees it, it is not forgotten. Old Mr. Bowdoin saw it; and, remembering that interview scarce two years gone by, his nose tingled. It is rare that natures with such happy lives as his are so "dowered with the love of love." But when old Jamie looked at him, he but asked some business question; and Jamie marveled that the old gentleman blew his nose so hard and damned the weather so vigorously.
When the St. Clairs came back, Jamie moved to an upper back room, and gave them the rest of the new house. Mercedes was devotedly in love with her husband. She would have liked to meet people, if but to show him to them. But she knew no one worthy save the Bowdoins, and they did not get on with him. His own social acquaintance, of which he had boasted somewhat, appeared to be in other cities. And ennui (which causes more harm in the world than many a more evil passion) began imperceptibly to take possession of him.
However, they continued to live on together. St. Clair was fairly regular at his work; and all went well for more than a year.
No year, probably, of James McMurtagh's life had he been so happy. It delighted him to let St. Clair away early from the bank; and to sit alone over the ledgers, imagining St. Clair's hurrying home, and the greeting kiss, and the walk they got along the shells of the beach before supper, with the setting sun slanting to them over the wide bay from the Brookline hills. When they took the meal alone, it delighted Jamie to sit at Mercy's right and have her David help him; or, when they had "company," it pleased the old man almost as much to stay away and think proudly of them. Such times he would sit alone on the Common and smoke his pipe, and come home late and let himself in with his latch-key, and steal up quickly to his own bedroom at the top of the house.
Now that he was so happy, and had left his old friends the Bowdoins, a wave of unconscious affection for them spread over his soul. Under pretext of keeping their accounts straight—which now hardly needed balancing even once a month—old Jamie would edge down to the counting-room upon the wharf, after hours, or even for a few minutes at noontime (perhaps sacrificing his lunch therefor), to catch old Mr. Bowdoin at his desk and chat with him (under plea of some omitted entry needing explanation), and tell him how well David was doing, and Mercedes so happy, and what company they had had to tea the night before. So that one day Mr. Bowdoin even ventured to give him a golden bracelet young Harleston Bowdoin had sent, soon after the wedding, from France; and Jamie took it without a murmur. "Ah, 'tis a pity, sir, ye din't keep the old house up, for the sake of the young gentlemen, if nothing more," said he; and "Ah, Jamie," was Mr. Bowdoin's reply, "it's all dirty coal-barges now; the old house would not know its way about in steamers. We'll have to take to banking, like yourself and Sinclair there."
Jamie laughed with pleasure, and father and son went each to a window to watch him as he sidled up the street.
"Caroline never would have stood it," said the old man.
"Neither would Abby," said the younger one. "Yet you made me marry her;" and they both chuckled. It was the habit of the Bowdoin males to marry them to women without a sense of humor, and then to take a mutual delight in the consequences.
"You only married her to get a house," said the old man. (This was the inexhaustible joke they shared against Mrs. Abby that in nearly twenty years had never failed to rouse her serious indignation.) "I saw her coming out of that abolitionist meeting yesterday."
"That's cousin Wendell Phillips got her into that," said Mr. James. "Old Jamie was there, too."
"Old Jamie has got so much love to spare that it spills around," said Mr. Bowdoin, "even on comfortable niggers just decently clothed. That's not your wife's trouble." To which the son had no other repartee than "James!" drawled in the solemn bass of amazed indignation that his mother's voice assumed when goaded into speech by his father's sallies. It was his boast that "Abby" never yet had ventured to address him thus. And so this precious pair separated; the father going home to his grandchildren, and the son to the club for his afternoon rubber of whist. They still took life easy in the forties.
Why was it that old Jamie, who should by rights have had his heart broken, was happier than fortunate David? Both loved the same woman; and no tenor hero ever loved so deeply as old Jamie, and he had lost her. But he came of the humble millions that build the structure of human happiness silently, by countless, uncounted little acts. David was of the ephemera, the pleasure-loving insects. Now these will settle for a time; but race will tell, and they are not the race of quiet labor.
One almost wonders, in these futureless times, that so many of the former still remain. For the profession of pleasure is so easy, so remunerative; even of money it often has no lack. St. Clair came of a family that, from horse-racing, bar-keeping, betting, had found money easier to get than ever had Jamie's people, and (when they had chosen to invest it) had invested it in less reputable but more productive ways. One fears the spelling-books mislead in their promise of instant, adequate reward and punishment. The gods do not keep a dame-school for us here on earth, and their ways are less obvious than that. One hazards the suggestion, it is fortunate if our multitudes (in these socialistic, traditionless times) do not yet discover how comfortable, for hedonistic ends, their sons and daughters still may be without respectability and reputability.
St. Clair lived before them, and his mind was never analytic. The word "bore" had not yet been imported, nor the word "ennui" naturalized in a civilization whence two hundred years of Puritans had sought to banish it. But although Adam set the example of falling to the primal woman, it may be doubted whether Eve, at least, had not a foretaste of the modern evil. And more souls go now to the devil (if they could hope there were one!) for the being bored than any other cause.
David did not know what ailed him. He loved his wife (not too exclusively: that was not in his shallow nature); he had a fine house and the handling of money. To his friends he was a banker. They were at first envious of his reputability, and that pleased him while it lasted. But it annoyed him that it had not dawned on their untutored minds that handling money was not synonymous with possession. A banker! At least he had the control of money; could lend it; might lend it to his friends.
There was, in those days, an outpost of Satan—overrated perhaps in importance by the college authorities, with proportionate overawing effect upon the students—on the riverside, over against Cambridge. Here "trials of speed," trotting speed, were held; bar-rooms existed; it was rumored pools were sold. Hither the four hundred, the liberal four hundred, of Boston's then existent vice, were wont to repair and witness contests for "purses." It was worth, in those days, a bank clerk's position or an undergraduate's degree ever to be seen there.
It may be imagined with what terror—a terror even transmuting itself to pity dictating a refusal on Mercedes' part—old Jamie heard of a proposition, one holiday, that David should take his wife there. Mercedes would not go; and St. Clair laughed at her, in private, and went alone. She was forced to be the accomplice of his going.
The fact is, St. Clair, from the tip of his mustache to his patent-leather shoes, was bored with regular hours, respectability, and the assurance of an income adequate to his ordinary spending. Something must be done for joy of life. He gave a champagne supper to his old cronies, at a tavern by the wayside, and bore their chaff. Then he bet. Then he stayed away from home a day or two.
A butterfly cares but for sunshine. His love for Mercedes was quite animal; he cared nothing for her mind; all poor Jamie's expensive schooling was wasted, more unappreciated by him than it would have been by John Hughson. So, one day, St. Clair came home to find her crying; and his love for her then ended.
Mercedes, remember, lived in the earlier half of this strange century, now so soon to go to judgment. In these last years, when women seek men's rights in exchange for woman's reason, reactionary males have criticised them as children swapping old lamps for new, fine instruments for coarser toys. As a poet has put it, why does
"a woman Dowered by God with power of life or death Now cry for coarser tools,"
and seek to exchange the ballot for Prospero's wand? Like other savages, she would exchange fine gold for guns and hatchets. (Beads, trinkets, the men might pardon them!)
A woman of power once said she had rather reign than govern. But reigns, with male St. Clairs, so soon are over! Mercedes' dynasty had ended. She knew it before St. Clair was conscious of it, and poor Jamie knew it when she did.
It was his custom to stay late at the bank, after hours. It closed at two o'clock; and in those days all merchants then went home to their dinner. Jamie, unknown to the cashier, would assume what he could of St. Clair's work, to get him home the sooner to Mercedes. It is to be hoped he always went there.
As one looks back on the days of great events, one wonders that the morning of them was not consciously brightened or shadowed by the happening to come. For, after many years, that morning,—of the meeting, or the news, or whatever it was,—dull and gray as in fact it was, seems now all glorified in memory, illumined with the radiance it bore among its hours. Jamie never could remember what he did that morning or that day. It was close to half past four by the clock; the cashier, the other clerks, had gone; the charwoman was sweeping. He was mechanically counting over the cash in the cash drawer (it had been counted over before by the teller, so Jamie's count was but excess of caution); he was separating the gold and silver and Massachusetts bills from the bills that came from banks of other States. (These never were credited until collected, and so not counted yet as cash, but credited to the collection account; in Jamie's eyes, bank-bills of other States were not so honest as Massachusetts issues, any more than their merchants were like James Bowdoin's Sons). He was thinking, with a sadness not admitted to himself, of Mercedes; trying to believe his judgment a fancy; trying to see, in his mind's eye, David's arrival home (he had sent him off the half an hour before), hoping even for kisses by him for Mercedes (for he grudged him not her love, but wished his the greater). And now, with half his mind, he was adding up the long five columns of figures, as he could do almost unconsciously, thinking of other things. He had carried down the third figure, when suddenly there came that warm stirring at the roots of the hair that presages, to the slower brain, the heart's grasp of a coming disaster.
The figure was a 4 he carried down. His count of the cash had made it a 2.
Nonsense. He passed his hand to his quickened heart and made an effort to slow his breath. It was his mistake; he had been thinking of other things, of Mercedes. He leaned back against the high desk and rested. Besides, what foolish fear to jump at fault for error, at fault of David St. Clair! He had not been near the cash drawer.
It was the teller's mistake. And this time poor Jamie added up like a schoolboy, totting each figure. No thought of his Mercedes now.
Fourteen thousand four hundred and twelve, sixty-four cents. The teller's addition was right.
Jamie looked at the cash again. There were two piles of bank-bills, one of gold and silver. Among the former was one packet of hundred-dollar bills in a belt, marked "$5000." This wrapper he had not (as he now remembered) verified when he had made his count. His heart stood still; prompting the head to remember that it was a package collected by the bank's messenger on a discount, by David St. Clair.
Poor Jamie tore off the band. He sat down, and counted the bills again with a shaking hand.
There were only forty-eight of them.
The packet was two hundred dollars short. And David had brought it in.
Two hundred dollars! Only two hundred dollars! In God's name, why did he not borrow it, ask me for it? thought poor Jamie. He must have known it would be at once discovered. And mixed curiously with Jamie's dismay was a business man's contempt for the childishness of the theft. And yet they called such men sharpers!
For never from that moment, from that time on, did poor Jamie doubt the sort of man Mercedes had married. Never for one moment did the idea occur to him that the robbery might be overlooked, the man reformed. Jamie's heart was as a little child's, but his head was hard enough. He had seen too much of human nature, of business methods and ways, to doubt what this thing meant or what it led to. He had been trying to look through Mercedes' eyes. He had known him for a gambler all along; and now it appeared that he was a man not to be trusted even with money. And he had given him Mercedes!
There had been Harley Bowdoin. She had liked him first; and but for them, his employers—But no; old Jamie could not blame his benefactor, even through his wife. It was not that. No one was at fault but he himself. If he had even loved her less, it had been better for her: 'twas his fault, again his fault.
Sobbing, he went through the easy form of making good the theft; this with no thought of condoning the offense, but for his little girl's name. It was simple enough: it was but the drawing a check of his own to cover the loss. Oh, the fool the scoundrel had been!
Jamie drew the check, and canceled it, and added it to the teller's slip. Then he closed the heavy books, put the cash drawer back in the safe, closed the heavy iron doors, gave a turn of his wrist and a pull to the handle, said a word to the night-watchman, and went out into the street. It was the soft, broad sunlight of a May afternoon; by the clock at the head of the street he saw that it was not yet six o'clock. But for once Jamie went straight home.
Mr. St. Clair had not come in, said the servant. (They now kept one servant.) Mrs. St. Clair was lying down. Jamie went into the parlor, contrary to his wont, and sat down awkwardly. It was furnished quite with elegance: Mercedes had been so proud of it! His little girl! And now he had married her to a thief! People might come to scorn her, his Mercedes.
They had tea alone together; and Jamie was very tender to her, so that she became frightened at his manner, and asked if anything was wrong with David.
"No," said Jamie. "Has he not been home? Do you not know where he is?"
"No," sighed the wife. "He has always told me before this."
Jamie touched her hand shyly. "Do you still love him, dear?"
But she flung away from him angrily, and went upstairs. And old Jamie waited. He dared not smoke his pipe in the parlor, nor even on the doorstep (which was a pleasant place; there was a little park, with trees, in front), for Mercedes thought it ungenteel. The present incongruity of this regard for appearances never struck Jamie, and he waited there. After eleven o'clock he fancied he might venture; the neighbors were not likely to be up to notice it. So he lit his pipe and listened. There was still a light in her window; but David St. Clair did not come. Her window stood open, and Jamie listened hard to hear if she were crying. Shortly after midnight the birds in the square began to twitter, as if it were nearly dawn. Then they went to sleep again, but Jamie went on smoking.
It was daylight when St. Clair appeared, in a carriage. He had the look of one who has been up all night, and started nervously as he saw Jamie on the doorstep. Then he pulled himself together, buttoning his coat, and, giving the driver a bill, he turned to face the old clerk.
"Taking an early pipe, Mr. McMurtagh?"
"I know what ye ha' done," said Jamie simply. "I ha' made it guid; but ye must go."
St. Clair's bravado collapsed before Jamie's directness.
"Made what good?" he blustered.
"The two hundred dollars ye took," said Jamie.
"Two hundred dollars? I took? Old man, you're crazy."
"I tell ye I ha' made it guid," said Jamie.
"Made it good? I could do that myself, if—if"—
"Perhaps ye'll be having the money about ye now?" said Jamie. "Can ye give it me?"
St. Clair abandoned pretense. Perhaps curiosity overcame him, or his morning nerves were not so good as Jamie's. "Of course I'll get the money. I lent it to a friend. But how did you ever know the d——d business was short?"
Jamie looked at him sadly. This was the man he had hoped to make a man of business. "Mon, why didn't ye ask me for it? Do ye suppose they didna count their money the nicht?"
"You're so d——d mean!" swore St. Clair. "Have you told my wife?"
"Ye'll not be telling Mercy?" gasped Jamie, unmindful of the result. "I have told no one."
"I'll make it all right with the teller, then," said the other.
"Ye'll na be going back to the bank!" cried Jamie.
"Not go back? Do you suppose I can't be trusted with a matter of two hundred dollars?"
"Ye'll not be going back to the bank!" said Jamie firmly. "Ye'll be taking Mr. Bowdoin's money next."
"If it weren't for the teller—He's not a gentleman, and last week I was fool enough to tell him so. Did the teller find it out?"
"I found it out my own sel'."
"Then no one else knows it?"
"Ye canna go back."
"Then I'll tell Sadie it's all your fault," said David.
Poor Jamie knocked his pipe against the doorstep and sighed. The other went upstairs.
It was some days after this that old Mr. Bowdoin came down town, one morning, in a particularly good humor. To begin with, he had effected with unusual success a practical joke on his auguster spouse. Then, he had gone home the night before with a bad cold; but (having given a family dinner in celebration of his wife's birthday and the return to Boston of his grandson Harley, and confined himself religiously to dry champagne) he had arisen quite cured. But at the counting-room he was met by son James with a face as long as the parting glass of whiskey and water he had sent him home with at eleven the previous evening. "James Bowdoin, at your time of life you should not take Scotch whiskey after madeira," said he.
"You seem fresh as a May morning," said Mr. James. "Did the old lady find out about the bronze Venus?"
Son and father chuckled. The old gentleman had purchased in his wife's name a nearly life-size Venus of Milo in bronze, and ordered it sent to the house, with the bill unreceipted, just before the dinner; so the entire family had used their efforts to the persuading old Mrs. Bowdoin that she had acquired the article herself, while shopping, and then forgotten all about it.
"'Mrs. J. Bowdoin, Dr. To one Bronze Venus. One Thousand Dollars. Rec'd Paym't'—blank!" roared Mr. Bowdoin. "I told her she must pay it out of her separate estate,—I couldn't afford such luxuries."
"'Why, James!'" mimicked the younger.
"'I never went near the store,'" mimicked the older.
"And when we told her it was all a sell, she was madder than ever."
"Your mother never could see a joke," sighed Mr. Bowdoin. "She says the statue's improper, and she's trying to get it exchanged for chandeliers. She wouldn't speak to me when I went to bed; and I told her I'd a bad cold on my lungs, and she'd repent it when I was gone. But to-day she's madder yet."
Mr. James Bowdoin looked at his father inquiringly.
Mr. Bowdoin laughed aloud. "She hadn't a good night, she says."
"Dear me," said the younger man, "I'm sorry."
"Yes. I'd a bad cold, and I spoke very hoarsely when I went to bed. And in the night she woke up and heard a croupy sound. It was this," and Mr. Bowdoin produced a compressible rubber ball with a squeak in it. "'James,' said she—you know how she says 'James'?"
Mr. James Bowdoin admitted he had heard the intonation described.
"'James,' says she, 'is that you?' I only squeaked the ball, which I had under the bedclothes. 'James, are you ill?' 'It's my chest,' I squeaked faintly, and squeezed the ball again. 'I think I'm going to die,' said I, and I squeaked it every time I breathed." And Mr. Bowdoin gave audible demonstration of the squeak of his rubber toy. "Well, she was very remorseful, and she got up to send for the doctor; and faith, I had to get up and go downstairs after her and speak in my natural voice before she'd believe I wasn't in the last gasp of a croup. But she won't speak herself this morning," added the old gentleman rather ruefully. "What's the matter here?"
"Jamie has been down, and he says his son-in-law has decided to leave the bank."
"Dear me! dear me!" The old gentleman's face grew grave again. "Nothing wrong in his accounts, I hope?"
"He says that he has decided to go to New York to live."
"Go to New York! What'll become of the new house?"
"He has friends there. They are to sell the house."
"What'll become of Jamie?"
"Jamie's going back to Salem Street."
The old gentleman gave a low whistle. "I must see him," and he took his hat again and started up the street.
But from Jamie he learned nothing. The old man gave no reason, save that his son-in-law "was going to New York, where he had friends." It cost much to the old clerk to withhold from Mr. Bowdoin anything that concerned his own affairs, particularly when the old gentleman urged that he be permitted to use his influence to reinstate David at the bank. Jamie grew churlish, as was the poor fellow's manner when he could not be kind, and tried even to carry it off jauntily, as if St. Clair were bettering himself. Old Mr. Bowdoin's penetration went behind that, or he might have gone off in a huff. As it was, he half suspected the truth, and forbore to question Jamie further.
But it was harder still for the poor old clerk when he went home to Mercedes. For it was St. Clair who had sulked and refused to stay in Boston. He had hinted to his wife that it was due to Jamie's jealousy that he had lost his place at the bank. Mercedes did not believe this; but she had thought that Jamie, with his influence, might have kept him there. More, she had herself, and secretly, gone to the counting-room to see old Mr. Bowdoin, as she had done once before when a child, and asked that St. Clair might be taken back. "Do you know why he lost the place?"
She did not. Perhaps he had been irregular in his attendance; she knew, too, that he had been going to some horse-races.
"Jamie has not asked me to have him taken back," said Mr. Bowdoin.
And she had returned, angry as only a loving woman can be, to reproach poor Jamie. But he would never tell her of her husband's theft. St. Clair was sharp enough to see this. Jamie had settled the Worcester Square house on Mercedes when they were married; and now St. Clair got her to urge Jamie to sell it and let him invest the money in a business opening he had found in New York with some friends; stock-brokerage he said it was. This poor Jamie refused to do, and Mercedes forgave him not. But St. Clair insisted still on going. Perhaps he boasted to his New York friends of his banking experience; it was true that he had got some sort of an opening, with two young men of sporting tastes whom he had met.
Preparations for departure were made. The furniture was being taken out, and stored or sold; and each piece, as it was carried down the stairs, brought a pang to Jamie's heart. The house was offered for sale; Jamie drew up the advertisement in tears. He did not venture to sit with them now of evenings; it was Jamie, of the three, who had the guilty feeling.
The evening before their going came. St. Clair was out at a farewell dinner, "tendered him," as he proudly announced, by his friends. Jamie, as he passed her door, heard Mercedes crying. He could not bear it; he went in.
"My darling, do not cry," the old man whispered. "Is it because you are going away? All I can do for you—all I have shall be yours!"
"What has David done? I know he has done something"—
"Nothing—nothing is wrong, dear; I assure you"—
"Then why are you so hard to him? Why will you not put the money in the business?"
Jamie was holding her hand. "My little Mercy," said he, "my little lady. Forgive me—do you forgive me?"
Mercedes looked at him, coldly perhaps.
"For the love of God, do not look like that! In the world or out of it, there's none I care for but just you, dear." Then Mercedes began to cry again, and kissed him. "And as for the money, dear, he'll have it as soon as I find the business is a decent one."
Of course they had the money, and in some months the people at the bank began to hear fine accounts of St. Clair's doings in New York. Not so much, perhaps, from Jamie as from one or two other clerks to whom St. Clair had taken the trouble to write a letter or two. As for Jamie, he went back to live in the little house on Salem Street.
All the same, he grew thin and older-looking. He did not pretend to take the same interest in his work. Many and grave were the talks the two Bowdoins, father and son, had about him. The first few weeks after the departure of the St. Clairs, they feared actually for his life. He seemed to waste away. Then, one week, he went on to New York himself, and after that grew better. This was when he carried on to St. Clair the money coming from the sale of the house. Up to that time he had had no letter from Mercedes, though he wrote her every week.
He took care to place the money in Mercedes' name as special capital. But the other two men seemed to be active, progressive fellows. They reposed confidence in St. Clair, and they had always known him. After all, the old man tried to think, the qualities required to keep moneys separate were not those that went best to make it, and stock-broking was suited to a gambler as a business. For Jamie shared intensely the respectable prejudices against stock-broking of the elders of that day.
After this, he occasionally got letters from his Mercedes. They came addressed to the bank (as if she never liked to recognize that he was back in Salem Street), and it grew to be quite a joke among the other clerks to watch for them; for they had noticed their effect on Jamie, and they soon learned to identify the handwriting which made him beam so that half the wrinkles went, and the old healthy apple-color came back to his cheeks.
Sometimes when the letter came they would place it under his blotter, and if it was a Tuesday (and she generally wrote for Tuesday's arrival) old Jamie's face would lengthen as he turned his mail over, or fall if he saw his desk empty. Woe to the clerk who asked a favor in those moments! Then the clerk next him would slyly turn the blotting-paper over, and Jamie would grasp the letter and crowd it into his pocket, and his face would gleam again. He never knew they suspected it, but on such occasions the whole bank would combine to invent a pretext for getting Jamie out of the room, that he might read his letter undisturbed. Otherwise he let it go till lunch-time, and then, they felt sure, took no lunch; for he would never read her letters when any one was looking on. They all knew who she was. It was the joke of years at the Old Colony Bank. They called Mercedes "old Jamie's foreign mail."
She never wrote regularly, however; and if she missed, poor McMurtagh would invent most elaborate schemes, extra presents (he always made her an allowance), for extorting letters from her. The sight of her handwriting at any time would make his heart beat. Harley Bowdoin had by this time been taken into the counting-room. He was studying law as a profession (there being little left of the business), and Jamie appeared to be strangely fond of him. Often, by the ancient custom, he would call Harleston "Mr. James," Mr. James Bowdoin having no sons. Mr. James himself spoke of this intimacy once to his father. "Don't you see it's because the boy fell in love with his Mercedes?" said the old gentleman. Certain it is, the two were inseparable. One fancies Harleston heard more of Mrs. St. Clair than either of Jamie's older friends.
For Jamie, in her absence, grew to love all whom she had ever known, all who had ever seen her; how much more, then, this young fellow who had shown the grace to love her, too! Jamie was fond of walking to the places she had known, and he even took to going to church himself, to King's Chapel, where she had been so often. When his vacation came, the next summer, he went on to New York, and stayed at a cheap hotel on Fourth Avenue, and would go to see her; not too often, or when other people were there, for he was still modest, and only dared hope she might not hate him. It was all his fault, and perhaps he had been hard with her husband. But she suffered him now, and Jamie returned looking ten years younger. St. Clair seemed prosperous, and Jamie even mentioned his son-in-law to the other clerks, which was like a boast for Jamie.
Perhaps at no time had the two Bowdoins thought of him so much. He lived now as if he were very poor, and they suspected him of sending all his salary to Mercedes. "It makes no difference raising it; 'twould all go just the same," said Mr. Bowdoin. "Man alive, why didn't you let him take the money, that day down the wharf, and take the girl yourself? You used to be keen enough about girls before you got so bald," added the old gentleman, with a chuckle. He was rather proud of his own shock of soft white hair.
"That's why you were in such a haste to marry me, I suppose," growled Mr. James. "You had no trouble of that kind yourself."
"Trouble? It's only your mother protects me. I was going down town in a 'bus to-day, and there I saw your mother coming out of one of those Abolition meetings of her cousin, Wendell Phillips,—I told her he'd be hanged some day,—and there opposite sat an old gentleman, older than I, sir, and he said to me, 'Married, sir? So am I, sir. Married again only last week. Been married fifty years, but this one's a great improvement on the first one, sir, I can assure you. She brushes my hair!' That's more than you can get a wife to do for you, James!"
The father and son chirruped in unison.
"Did you tell my mother of your resolve to try again, sir?"
"I did, I did, and that my next choice was no incendiary Abolitionist, either. I told her I'd asked her already, to keep her disengaged,—old Miss Virginia Pyncheon, you know; and, egad! if your mother didn't cut her to-day in the street! But what do you think of old Jamie?"
"I don't know what to think. He certainly seems very ill."
"Ah, James," said the old man, "why did you laugh that day? If only the fairy stories about changing old clerks to fairy princes came true! She could not have married any one to love her like old Jamie."
Jamie had had no letter for many weeks. The clerks talked about it. Day by day he would go through the pile of letters on his desk in regular order, but with trembling fingers; day by day he would lay them all aside, with notes for their answers. Then he would go for a moment into the great dark vault of the bank, where the bonds and stocks were kept, and come out rubbing his spectacles. The clerks would have forged a letter for him had they deemed it possible. There was talk even of sending a round-robin to Mrs. St. Clair.
It was a shorter walk from Salem Street than it had been from his daughter's mansion, and poor Jamie had not so much time each day to calculate the chances of a letter being there. Alas! a glance of the eye sufficed. Her notes were always on squarish white note-paper sealed in the middle (they still used no envelopes in those days), and were easy to see behind the pile of business letters and telegrams. And the five minutes of hope between breakfast and the bank were all old Jamie had to carry him through the day, for her letters never arrived in the afternoon.
But this foggy day Jamie came down conscious of a certain tremor of anticipation. It has been said that he had no religion, but he had ventured to pray the night before,—to pray that he might get a letter. He was wondering if it were not wrong to invoke the Deity for such selfish things. For the Deity (if there were one, indeed) seemed very far off and awful to Jamie. That there was anything trivial or foolish in the prayer did not occur to Jamie; it probably would have occurred to Mercedes.
But he got to the office at the usual time. The clerks were not looking at him (had he known it, a bad sign), and he cast his eye hastily over the pile. Then his face grew fixed once more. No letter from her was there, and he began to go through them all in routine order, the telegrams first.
The next thing that happened, the nearest clerk heard a sound and looked up, his finger on the column of figures and "carrying" 31 in his head. Old Jamie spoke to him. "I—I—must go out for an hour or two," he said. "I have a train to meet." His face was radiant, and all the clerks were looking up by this time. No one spoke, and Jamie went away.
"Did you see, he was positively blushing," said the teller.
There was a momentary cessation of all business at the bank. When old Mr. Bowdoin came in, on his way down to the wharf, he was struck at once with the atmosphere of the place.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "You look like you'd all had your salaries raised."
"Old Jamie's got his foreign mail," said the cashier.
But Jamie went out into the street to think of it undisturbed. It was a telegram:—
"Am coming on to-morrow. Meet me at five, Worcester depot. MERCEDES."
She did not say anything about St. Clair, and Jamie felt sure he was not coming.
The fog had cleared away by this time, and he went mechanically down to the old counting-room on the wharf. Harleston Bowdoin was there alone, and Jamie found himself facing the young man before he realized where his legs had carried him.
"What is it, Jamie?" said Harley.
"She's coming on to make me a visit," said Jamie simply. "Mercedes—Mrs. St. Clair, I mean." Then he wandered out, passing Mr. Bowdoin on the stairs. He did not tell him the news, and the old gentleman nearly choked in his desire to speak of it. As he entered the office, "Has he told you?" cried Harleston.
"Has he told you?" echoed the old gentleman. Harley told. Then Mr. Bowdoin turned and bolted up the street after Jamie.
"Old fellow, why don't you have a vacation,—just a few days? The bank can spare you, and you need rest." His hand was on the old clerk's shoulder.
"Master Harley wull ha' told ye? But I'm na one to neglect me affairs," said Jamie.
"Nonsense, nonsense. When is she coming?"
Jamie told him.
"Why don't you take the one-forty and meet her at Worcester? She may have to go back to-morrow."
Jamie started. It was clear he had not thought of this. As they entered the bank, Mr. Bowdoin cried out to Stanchion, the cashier, "I want to borrow McMurtagh for the day, on business of my own."
"Certainly, sir," said Mr. Stanchion.
* * * * *
There is no happiness so great as happiness to come, for then it has not begun to go. If the streets of the celestial city are as bright to Jamie as those of Boston were that day, he should have hope of heaven. It was yet two hours before his train went, but he had no thought of food. He passed a florist's; then turned and went in, blushing, to buy a bunch of roses. He was not anxious for the time to come, such pleasure lay in waiting. When at last the train started, the distance to Worcester never seemed so short. He was to come back over it with her!
In the car he got some water for his roses, but dared not smell of them lest their fragrance should be diminished. After reaching Worcester, he had half an hour to wait; then the New York train came trundling in. As the cars rolled by he strained his old eyes to each window; the day was hot, and at an opened one Jamie saw the face of his Mercedes.
The next morning, old Mr. James Bowdoin got up even earlier than usual, with an undefined sense of pleasure. As was his wont, he walked across the street to sit half an hour before breakfast in the Common. The old crossing-sweeper was already there, to receive his penny; and the orange-woman, expectant, sold her apex orange to him for a silver thripenny bit as his before-breakfast while awaiting the more dignified cunctation of his auguster spouse.
The old gentleman's mind was running on McMurtagh; and a robuster grin than usual encouraged even others than his chartered pensioners to come up to him for largess. Mr. Bowdoin's eyes wandered from the orange-woman to the telescope-man, and thence to an old elm with one gaunt dead limb that stretched out over the dawn. It was very pleasant that summer morning, and he felt no hurry to go in to breakfast.
Love was the best thing in the world; then why did it make the misery of it? How irradiated old Jamie's face had been the day before! Yet Jamie would never have gone to meet her at Worcester, had he not given him the hint. Dear, dear, what could be done for St. Clair, as he called himself? Mr. Bowdoin half suspected there had been trouble at the bank. Mercedes such a pretty creature, too! Only, Abby really never would do for her what she might have done. Why were women so impatient of each other? Old Mr. Bowdoin felt vaguely that it was they who were responsible for the social platform; and he looked at his watch.
Heavens! five minutes past eight! Mr. Bowdoin got up hurriedly, and, nodding to the orange-woman, shuffled into his house. But it was too late; Mrs. Bowdoin sat rigid behind the coffee-urn. Harley looked up with a twinkle in his eye.
"James, I should think, at your time of life, you'd stop rambling over the Common before breakfast,—in carpet slippers, too,—when you know I've been up so late the night before at a meeting in behalf of"—
A sudden twinkle flashed over the old gentleman's rosy face; then he became solemn, preternaturally solemn. Harley caught the expression and listened intently. Mrs. Bowdoin, pouring out cream as if it were coals of fire on his head, was not looking at him.
"There!" gasped old Mr. Bowdoin, dropping heavily into a chair. "Always said it would happen. I feel faint!"
"James?" said Mrs. Bowdoin.
"Always said it would happen—and there's your cousin, Wendell Phillips, out on the Common, hanging stark on the limb of an elm-tree."
"Always said it would come to this. Perhaps you'd go out in carpet slippers if you saw your wife's cousin hanged before your eyes"—
"JAMES!" cried Mrs. Bowdoin. But the old lady was equal to the occasion; she rose (—"and no one there to cut him down!" interpolated the old gentleman feebly) and went to the door.
The two men got up and ran to the window. There was something of a crowd around the old elm-tree; and, pressing their noses against the pane, they could see the old lady crossing the street.
"I think, sir," said Mr. Harley to his grandfather, "it's about time to get down town." And they took their straw hats and sallied forth. But as they walked down the shady side of the street, old Mr. Bowdoin's progress became subject to impediments of laughter, which were less successfully suppressed as they got farther away, and in which the young man finally joined. "Though it's really too bad," he added, by way of protest, now laughing harder than his grandfather.
"I'm going to get her that carriage to-day," said the elder deprecatingly. Then, as if to change the subject, "Did you see old Jamie after he left, yesterday?"
"I think I caught him in a florist's, buying flowers," answered Harley.
"Buying flowers!" The old gentleman burst into such a roar that the passers in the crowded street stopped there to look at him, and went down town the merrier for it. "At a florist's! But what were you doing?" he closed, with sudden gravity.
"All right, governor, quite all right. I was buying them for grandma's birthday. That's all over. Though I'm sorry for her, just the same. How does the man live, now?"
"Jamie says he's doing well," answered the other hurriedly. "By the way, stop at the bank and tell them to give old Jamie a holiday to-day. He'd never take it of himself."
"Aren't you coming down?" Harley spoke as he turned in by Court Square,—a poor neighborhood then, and surrounded by the police lodging-houses and doubtful hotels.
"Not that way," said Mr. Bowdoin. "I hate to see the faces one meets about there, poor things. Hope the flowers will get up to your grandmother, Harley; she'll need 'em!" And the old man went off with a final chuckle. "Hanging on a tree! Well, 'twould be a good thing for the country if he were." Of such mental inconsistencies were benevolent old gentlemen then capable.
But when Harley reached the bank, though it was late, Jamie had not yet arrived. Harley thought he knew the reason of this; but when old Mr. Bowdoin came, at noon, the clerk was still away; and the old gentleman, who had been merry all day, looked suddenly grave and waited. At one Jamie came in, hurrying.
"I hoped you would have taken a holiday to-day," said Mr. Bowdoin.
"I have come down to close the books," replied Jamie, not sharply. Mr. Bowdoin looked at him.
"Mr. Stanchion could have done that. Stanchion!"
"The books are nearly done, sir," said that gentleman, hurrying to the window.
"I prefer to stay, sir, and close the books myself, if Mr. Stanchion will forgive me." He spoke calmly; he gave both men a sudden sense of sorrow. Mr. Bowdoin accompanied him behind the rail.
"Come, Jamie, you need the rest, and Mercedes"—
"She has gone back, sir—and I—have business in New York. I must ask for three days off, beginning to-morrow."
"You shall have it, Jamie, you shall have it. But why did you not go back with Mercedes?"
Jamie made no reply but to bury his face in the ledger, and the old gentleman went away. The bank closed at two o'clock; by that time Jamie had not half finished his figuring. The cashier went, and the teller, each with a "good-night," to which Jamie hardly responded. The messenger went, first asking, "Can I help you with the safe?" to which Jamie gave a gruff "I am not ready." The day-watchman went, and the night-watchman came, each with his greeting. Jamie nodded. "You are late to-day." "I had to be." Last of all, Harley Bowdoin came in (one suspects, at his grandfather's request), on his way home from the old counting-room on the wharves.
"Still working, Jamie?"
"I must work until I finish, Mr. Harley."
"It's late for me," said Harley, "but a ship came in."
"Oh, only the Maine Lady. Well, good-night, Jamie."
"Good-night, Mr. Harley." Jamie had never used the "Mr." to Harley before, of all the Bowdoins; and now it seemed emphasized, even. The young man stopped.
"Tell me, Jamie, can I help you in anything?"
"No!" cried old Jamie; and Harley fled.
Left alone, Jamie laid down his pen. It seemed his figuring was done. But he continued to sit, motionless, upon his high stool. For Mercedes had told him, between Worcester and Boston, that her David would be in prison, perhaps for life, unless he could get him seventeen thousand dollars within forty-eight hours.
She had pleaded with him all the way to Boston, all the way in the carriage down to the little house. His roses had been forgotten in the car. In vain he told her that he had no money.
She could not see that St. Clair had done anything wrong; it was a persecution of his partners, she said; the stock of a customer had been pledged for his own debt. Jamie understood the offense well enough. And then, in the evening, he had known that she was soon to have a child. But with this money all would be forgiven; and David would go back to New Orleans, where his friends urged him to return, "in his old profession." Could not Jamie borrow it, even? said Mercedes.
It was not then, but at the dawn, after a sleepless night, that Jamie had come to his decision. After all, what was his life, or his future, yes, or his honor, worth to any one? His memory, when he died, what mattered it to any one but Mercedes herself? And she would not remember him long. Was it not a species of selfishness—like his presumption in loving her—to care so for his own good name? So he had told Mercedes that he "would arrange it." After her burst of tears and gratitude, she became anxious about David; she feared he might destroy himself. So Jamie had put her on the morning train, and promised to follow that night.
The clock struck six, and the watchman passed by on his rounds. "Still there?"
"I'm nearly done," said Jamie.
The cash drawer lay beside him; at a glance he saw the bills were there, sufficient for his purpose. He took up four rolls, each one having the amount of its contents marked on the paper band. Then he laid them on the desk again. He opened the day-book to make the necessary false entry. Which account was least likely to be drawn upon? Jamie turned the leaves rapidly.
"James Bowdoin's Sons." Not that. "The Maine Lady." He took up the pen, started to make the entry; then dashed it to the floor, burying his face in his hands.
He could not do it. The old bookkeeper's whole life cried out against a sin like that. To falsify the books! Closing the ledger, he took up the cash drawer and started for the safe. The watchman came in again.
"Done?" said he.
"Done," said Jamie.
The watchman went out, and Jamie entered the roomy old safe. He put the ledgers and the cash drawer in their places; but the sudden darkness blinded his eyes. In it he saw the face of his Mercedes, still sad but comforted, as he had left her at the train that morning.
He wiped the tears away and tried to think. He looked around the old vault, where so much money, idle money, money of dead people, lay mouldering away; and not one dollar of it to save his little girl.
Then his eye fell on the old box on the upper shelf. A hanged pirate's money! He drew the box down; the key still was on his bunch; he opened the chest. There the gold pieces lay in their canvas bag; no one had thought of them for almost twenty years. Now, as a thought struck him, he took down some old ledgers, ledgers of the old firm of James Bowdoin's Sons, that had been placed there for safe-keeping. He opened one after another hurriedly; then, getting the right one, he came out into the light, and, finding the index, turned to the page containing this entry:—
June 24, 1829: To account of whom it may concern (eagles, pistoles & doubloons) $16,897.00
He dipped his pen in ink, and with a firm hand wrote opposite:—
June 22, 1848. By money stolen by James McMurtagh, to be accounted for $16,897.00
Then the old clerk drew a line across the account, returned the ledger to its place in the safe, and locked the heavy iron doors. The canvas bag was in his hands; the chest he had put back, empty.
PART THREE: RECOVERY.
The customer of St. Clair's firm was paid off, the partnership was dissolved without scandal, and the St. Clairs went to live in New Orleans. Jamie occupied one room in the attic of the old house in Salem Street. He wrote no more letters to Mercedes: he did not feel that he was worthy now to write to her. And a year or two after her arrival in New Orleans her letters ceased. She had thanked Jamie sorrowfully when he had paid over the money in New York, and kissed him with her pale lips (though his face was still paler), and upon the memory of this he had lived. But he had fancied her lips wore a new line; their curves had gone; and her eyes had certainly new depth.
When Mercedes ceased to write, Jamie did not complain. He knew well what the trouble was, and that her husband wished her to write to him for more money. But he could do no more for her. And after this his hope was tired, and Jamie hardly had the wish to write. The only link between them now was his prayer at night. The dry old Scotchman had come to prayer at last, for her if not for himself.
And the office lost their interest in him. Only the Bowdoins were true. For the "foreign mail" no longer came; and Jamie was no longer seen writing private letters on his ledger page. His dress grew so shabby that old Mr. Bowdoin had to speak to him about it. He had no long absences at lunch-time, but took a sandwich on the street. In fact, Jamie had grown to be a miser.
Great things were happening in those days, but Jamie took no heed of them. Human liberty was in the air; love of man and love of law were at odds, and clashed with each other in the streets; Jamie took no heed of them. They jostled on the pavement, but Jamie walked to his task in the morning, and back at night, between them; seeing mankind but as trees, walking; bowed down with the love of one. And he who had never before thought of self could think now only of his own dishonor. As a punishment, he tried not to think of her, except only at night, when his prayers permitted it; but he thought of her always. His crime made him ashamed to write to her; his single-heartedness made him avoid all other men.
Only one man, in all those years, did Jamie seem willing to talk to, at the office, and that man was Harleston Bowdoin. Had he not loved her? Jamie never spoke of her; but Harleston had a happy impulse, and would talk to the old man about Mercedes. Away from business, Jamie would walk in all the places where her feet had trod. He would go to King's Chapel Sundays; and he looked up John Hughson again, and would sit with him, wondering. John had married a stout wife, and had sturdy children. Hughson petted the old man, and gave him pipes of tobacco; for McMurtagh was too poor to buy tobacco, those days. The children on Salem Street feared him, as a miser; which was hard, for Jamie was very fond of little children.
How does a man live whose heart rules his soul, and is broken; whose conscience rules his head, and is dishonored? For men so heavy laden, heaven was, and has been lost. But Jamie never thought his soul immortal until his love for Mercedes came into it; perhaps not consciously now. Such thoughts would have seemed to him childish. How, then, did Jamie live? For no man can live quite without hope, as we believe,—hope of some event, some end of suffering, at least of some worthier act.
With Jamie it was the hope of restitution. He wished to leave behind him, as the score of his life, that he had been true to his employer and had loved his little ward. And if the time could ever come when he could do more for her, it would not be until his theft was made good, and his hands were free, as his heart, to serve her again. For the one thing that Jamie stood for was integrity; that was all the little story of his life.
His salary was eighteen hundred dollars; at the end of the first year after his theft he had spent a hundred and fifty. Then he asked for two days' leave of absence, and went to New York, where he exchanged sixteen hundred and forty dollars for Spanish gold pieces. A less old-fashioned man would have invested the money at six per cent, but Jamie could not forego the satisfaction of restoring the actual gold. Coming back, he opened the old chest, now empty, one day, after hours, and put the pieces in the box. The naked gold made a shining roll in its blackness, just reaching across the lower end; and poor Jamie felt the first thrill of—not happiness, but something that was not sorrow nor shame. And then he pulled down the old ledger, and made the first entry on the Dr. side: "Restored by James McMurtagh, June 9, 1849, $1640." The other ten dollars had gone for his journey to New York.
And that night, as he went home, he looked about him. He bowed (in his queer way) to one or two acquaintances who passed him, unconscious that he had been cutting them for a year. Before supper he went in to see John Hughson, carrying his pipe, and, without waiting to be offered it, asked to borrow a pinch of tobacco against the morrow, when he should buy some. The good Hughson was delighted, pressed a slab of "plug" upon him, and begged him to stay and have something liquid with his pipe. But Jamie would not; he was anxious to be alone.
His little bedroom gave upon the roof of the adjoining house in the rear; and here his neighbor kept a few red geraniums in boxes, and it was Jamie's privilege to smoke his pipe among them. So this evening, after a hasty meal, he hurried up there. Beyond the roofs of the higher houses was a radiant golden sky, and in it the point of a crescent moon, and even as Jamie was lighting his pipe one star came.
Old Jamie breathed hard and sighed, and the sigh meant rest. He took a pleasure in the tobacco, in the look of the sky again.
And with this throb of returning life, in one great pulsation, his love rushed back to his heart, and he thought of Mercedes.... He sat up nearly all the night, and with the first light of dawn he wrote to her.
But Jamie got no answer to his letter, and he wrote again. Again he got no answer; and he wrote a third time, this time by registered mail; so that he got back a card, with her name signed to the receipt.
Jamie's manner, unconsciously to himself, had changed since that first row of gold coins had gone into the black tin box; the tellers and the bookkeepers had observed it, and they began to watch his mail again. What was their glee to see among Jamie's papers, one morning, a letter in the familiar feminine hand! "Jamie's foreign mail has come!" the word went round. "I thought it must be on its way," said the second bookkeeper; "haven't you noticed his looks lately?" "The letter is postmarked New Orleans," said the messenger boy, turning it over. But it was felt this went beyond friendly sympathy.
"Mr. O'Neill," said Mr. Stanchion sternly, "if I see you again interfering with McMurtagh's mail, you may go. What business is that of ours?"
Poor O'Neill hung his head, abashed. But all eyes were on Jamie as he opened his desk. He put the letter in his pocket. The clerks looked at one another. The suspense became unendurable. When old Mr. Bowdoin came in, the cashier told him what had happened. "Jamie's foreign mail has come again. But he will never read it here, sir, and we can't send him out till lunch-time: the chief bookkeeper"—
The old gentleman's eyes twinkled. "McMurtagh!" he cried (Mr. Bowdoin had always called Jamie so since he came into the bank), "will you kindly step down to my counting-room? I will meet you there in a few minutes, and there are some accounts I want you to straighten out for me."
As Jamie hurried down to the Long Wharf, he pressed his coat tight against him. The letter lay in his pocket, and he felt it warm against his breast.
Neither Mr. James Bowdoin nor Harley was in the little room (it was just as Jamie remembered it when he first had entered it, no pretense of business was made there now), and he tore the letter open. Thus it ran:—
NEW ORLEANS, August 30, 1849.
MY DEAR, DEAR JAMIE,—If I have not written to you it was only because I did not want to bring more trouble on you. But things have gone from bad to worse with us. I feel that I should be almost too unhappy to live, only that David is with me now. [Jamie sobbed a little at this.] I wanted never to ask you for money again. But we are very, very poor. I will not give it to him. But if you could send me a little money, a hundred dollars would last me a long time.
Your loving M. ST. CLAIR.
Jamie laid his head upon the old desk, and his tears fell on the letter. What could he do? His conscience told him, nothing. All his earnings belonged to the employers he had robbed.
After a minute he took a sheet of paper and tried to write the answer, no. And Mr. Bowdoin came in, and caught him crying. The old gentleman knocked over a coal-scuttle, and turned to pick it up. By the time he had done so Jamie had rubbed the tears from his eyes, and stood there like a soldier at "Attention."
"Jamie," said Mr. Bowdoin, "I should like to make a little present to your ward, to Mercedes. Could you send it for me? I hope she is well?" And before Jamie could answer Mr. Bowdoin had written out a check for a hundred dollars. "Give her my love when you write. I must go to a directors meeting." And he scurried away hurriedly.
Jamie sat down again and wrote his letter, and told her that the money was from Mr. Bowdoin. "But, dear heart," it ended, "even if I cannot help you, always write." And, going home that night, Jamie began to fancy that some omniscient power had put it into the old gentleman's heart just then to do this thing.
Old Mr. Bowdoin, one morning, some time after this, stood at his window before breakfast, drumming on the pane. The gesture has commonly been understood to indicate discontent with one's surroundings. Mrs. Bowdoin had not yet come down to breakfast. Outside, her worthy spouse could see the very tree upon which cousin Wendell Phillips had not been hanged; and his mouth relaxed as he saw his grandson Harley coming across the Common, and heard the portentous creaking that attended Mrs. Bowdoin's progress down the stairs,—the butler supporting her arm, and her maid behind attending her with shawl and smelling-salts. The old lady was in a rude state of health, but had not walked a step alone for several years. As she entered, Harley behind her, old Mr. Bowdoin gravely and ostentatiously pulled out a silver dollar and put it into the hand of the surprised young man.
"Pass it to the account," said he.
Harley took the coin, and, detecting a wink, checked his expression of surprise.
"It all goes into the fund, my dear, to be given to your favorite charity the first time you are down in time for breakfast. It amounts to several thousand dollars already."
Mrs. Bowdoin snorted, but, with a too visible effort, only asked Harley whether he would take coffee or tea.
"With accumulations, my dear,—with accumulations. But you should not address me from your carriage in that yellow shawl, when I am talking to a stranger on the Common. At least, I thought it was Tom Pinckney, of the Providence Bank, but it turned out to be a stranger. He took me for a bunco-steerer."
"He did indeed, and you for my confederate," chuckled the old gentleman. "'Mr. Pinckney, of Providence, I believe?' said I. 'No, you don't,' said he; and he put his finger on his nose, like that."
"James!" said Mrs. Bowdoin.
"I didn't mind—don't know when I've been so flattered—must look like a pretty sharp old boy, after all, though I have been married to you for fifty years."
"James, it's hardly forty."
"Well, I thought it was fifty. The last time I did meet Tom Pinckney, he asked if I'd married again. I said you'd give me no chance. 'Better take it when you can,' said he. 'That will I, Tom,' says I. 'I've got one in my mind.'"
"Really, grandpa," remonstrated young Harley.
"Don't you talk, young man. Didn't I hear of you at another Abolition meeting yesterday? And women spoke, too,—short-haired women and long-haired men. Why can't you leave them both where a wise Providence placed them? Destroy the only free republic the world has ever known for a parcel of well-fed niggers that'll relapse into Voodoo barbarism the moment they're freed!"
"James, the country knows that the best sentiment of Boston is with us."
"The country doesn't know Boston, then. And as for that crack-brained demagogue cousin of yours, he calls the Constitution a compact with hell! I hope I'll live to see him hanged some day."
"Wendell Phillips is a martyr indeed."
"Martyr! Humbug! He couldn't get any clients, so he took up a cause. Why, they say at the club that he"—
"They said at the meeting last night, sir," interrupted Harley, "that they'd march up to the club and make you fellows fly the American flag."
"It's Phillips wants to pull it down," said the old gentleman.
Mrs. Bowdoin rattled the tea things.
"Don't mind your grandma, Harley, if she is out of temper. She's got a headache this morning. She went to bed with the hot-water bottle under her pillow and the brandy at her feet, and feels a little mixed."
"James! I never took a brandy bottle upstairs with me in my life. And Harleston knows"—
"Do you suppose he knows as well as I do, who have lived with you for fifty years?"
"And I'll not stay with you to hear my cousin insulted!" Majestic, she rose.
"It's too much of one girl," chuckled Mr. Bowdoin. "No wonder men keep a separate establishment."
"James!" Mrs. Bowdoin swept from the room.
"Don't run upstairs alone; consider the butler's feelings!" called her unfeeling spouse after her.
"You're too bad, sir," said Harley.
"I'm trying to develop her sense of humor; it's the one thing I always said I'd have in a wife. Remember it, when you get married. Why the devil don't you?"
"I have too much sense of humor, sir," said Harley gravely. "What is that?" For a noise of much shouting was heard from the Common. Both men rushed to the windows, and saw, surrounded by a maddened crowd, a small company of federal soldiers marching north.
"What are they saying?" cried Mr. Bowdoin.
Every minute the crowd increased: men and women, well dressed, sober-looking, crying, "Shame! shame!" and topping by a head the little squad of undersized soldiers (for the regular army was then recruited almost entirely from foreigners) who marched hurriedly forward, with eyes cast straight before and downward, and dressed in that shabby blue that ten years later was to pour southward in serried column, all American then, to free those slaves whom now they hunted down.
"To the Court House! To the Court House!" cried the mob.
"It's that fellow Simms," said Mr. Bowdoin, but was interrupted by sounds as of a portly person running downstairs; and they saw the front door fly open and Mrs. Bowdoin run across the street, her cap-strings streaming in the air.
"By Jove, if Abolitionism can make your grandma run, I'll forgive it a lot!" cried Mr. Bowdoin.
"Do you know the facts, sir?" suggested Harley.
"No, nor don't want to," said Mr. Bowdoin. "I know that we are jeopardizing the grandest experiment in free government the world has ever seen for a few African darkies that we didn't bring here, and have already made Christians of, and a d——d sight more comfortable than they ever were at home. But come, let's go over, or I believe your grandma will be attacking the United States army all by herself!"
But the rescue was made unnecessary by the return of that lady, panting.
"Now, sir," gasped Mrs. Bowdoin, "I hope you're satisfied, that foreign Hessians control the laws of Massachusetts!"
"I am always glad to see the flag of my country sustained," said Mr. Bowdoin dryly; "though we don't fly it from our club."
"I think you misunderstand, sir," ventured Harley. "This Simms is arrested by the Boston sheriff for stabbing a man; and the Southerners have got the federal commissioner to refuse to give him up to justice."
"If he stabbed a man, it's cheaper to let them sell him as a slave than keep him five years in our state prison."
"The poor man seems to prefer it though," said Harley gently. "Have you seen him?"
"No; what should I see the fellow for?" cried Mr. Bowdoin irritably.
"I understand the State Court House is held like a fort by federal soldiers, and thugs who call themselves deputy marshals."
Mr. Bowdoin growled something that sounded like, "What if it is?"
The two started to walk down town. Tremont Street was crowded with running men, and School Street packed close; and as they came in sight of the Court House they saw that it was surrounded by a line of blue soldiers.
"Let's go to the Court House," said Harley.
The old gentleman's curiosity made feeble resistance.
"I had a case to see about this morning. Why, there's Judge Wells, the very man I want to see."
The judge had a body-guard of policemen, and our two friends joined him as they were slowly forcing a passage through the crowd. When they came before the old gray stone Court House, they saw two cannon posted at the corners, and all the windows full of armed troops; and around the base of the building, barring every door, a heavy iron cable, and behind this a line of soldiers.
"What the devil is the cable for?" said Mr. Bowdoin.
The crowd, which had opened to let the well-known judge go by, were now crying, "Let the judge in! Let the judge in!" and then, "Give him up! Give Simms up! Give him to the sheriff!" and then, "Kidnapped! Kidnapped!" Just ahead of them our party saw another judge stopped rudely before the door by a soldier dropping a bayonet across his breast.
"Can't get in here,—can't get in here."
"I tell you I'm a judge of the Supreme Court of this Commonwealth," they heard him say.
"Go around, then, and get under the chain. But the court can't sit to-day." Mr. Bowdoin bubbled with indignation as he saw the old man take off his high hat, and, stooping low, bow his white hairs to get beneath the chain.
"If I do, I'm damned," said Mr. Bowdoin quietly.
"And if I do, I'm—Drop it down, sir, and let me pass: Judge Wells, of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts."
"And I'm James Bowdoin, of James Bowdoin's Sons, and a good Democrat, and defendant in a confounded lawsuit before his honor."
"Courts can't sit to-day. Keep back."
"They can't?" cried Mr. Bowdoin. "Since when do the courts of Massachusetts ask permission of a pack of slave-hunters whether they shall sit or not?"
Harley was chuckling with suppressed delight. "If only grandma were here!" thought he.
"Let them in! Let Judge Wells in!" shouted the crowd.
The soldier called his corporal, and a hasty consultation followed; as a result of which the chain dropped at one end, and the three men walked over it in triumph.
"Three cheers for Judge Wells! Three cheers for Mr. Bowdoin!" cried the crowd, recognizing him.
When they got into the dark, cool corridor of the old stone fort, "That I should ever come to be cheered by a mob of Abolitionists!" gasped Mr. Bowdoin, mopping his face. "Upon my word, I think I lost my temper."
"Oh no, sir," said Harley Bowdoin gravely. "But where is the court-room?"
"Follow the line of soldiers," replied the judge, and hurried to his lobby.
Up the stone stairs went our friends, three flights in all; soldiers upon every landing, and, leaning over the banisters and carelessly spitting tobacco juice on the crowd below, a row of "deputy" United States marshals, with no uniform, but with drawn swords.
Mr. Bowdoin started. "Harley," said he, stopping by one of them, "I know that fellow. His name's Huxford, and he keeps a gambling-house; I had him turned out of one of my houses."
"Very likely," said Harley.
"Move on there, move on," said the man surlily, pretending not to recognize Mr. Bowdoin.
"What are you doing here, sir?" said that gentleman. "Don't you know I swore out a warrant against you?"
"Who the h——l are you?"
"James Bowdoin, confound you!" answered that peppery person, and swung his fist right and left with such vigor that Huxford went down on one side, and another deputy on the other. Then Harley hurried the old gentleman through the breach into the upper court-room, where they were under the protection of the county sheriff in his swallow-tailed blue coat, cocked hat, gold lace, and sword, and a friendly judge.
"Hang it, sir, they'll be arresting you, next," said Harley.
"By Heaven, I should like to see them do it!" cried our old friend in a loud whisper, if the term can be used. "Sheriff Clark, do you know those fellows are all miserable loafers?"
"They are federal officers, sir; I can do nothing," whispered back that gorgeous official.
"Humph!" returned Mr. Bowdoin. "How about state rights? Do we live in the sovereign State of Massachusetts, or do we not, I should like to know?"
"How about the Union, sir?" whispered Harley slyly.
"Hang the Union! Hang the Union, if it employ a parcel of thugs to do its work!" said Mr. Bowdoin, so loud that there was a ripple of laughter in the court-room; and the judge looked up from the bench and smiled, for had not he dined with old Mr. Bowdoin in their college club once a month for forty years? But a low-browed fellow who was sitting behind the counsel at the table was heard to mutter "Treason." Beside him in the prisoner's dock sat the slave; not cowed nor abject, though in chains and handcuffs, but looking straight before him at the low-browed man who was his master, as a bird might look at a snake.
"Which of those two is the slave?" asked Mr. Bowdoin in an audible voice.
Again the room laughed. The clerk rapped order. The low-browed man looked up angrily, and spoke to a deputy marshal whose face had been turned away from Mr. Bowdoin before. He rose and started toward them.
"By Heaven," cried Mr. Bowdoin, "it is David St. Clair!"
But old Jamie knew naught of this, and the Bowdoins never told him. They consulted much what they should do; but they never told him. And Jamie went on, piling up his money. Three rolls were in the old chest now, and all of Spanish gold. Doubloons and pistoles were growing rarer, and the price was getting higher. But the old clerk was not content with replacing the present value to the credit of "Pirates" on the books; the actual pieces must be returned; so that if any earringed, whiskered buccaneer turned up to demand his money from James Bowdoin's Sons, he might have it back in specie, in the very pieces themselves, that the honor of the firm might be maintained. Until then, he felt sure, there was little chance the box would ever be looked into. Practically, he was safe; it was only his conscience, not his fears, that troubled him.
Since he had sent her that hundred dollars, he had heard nothing from Mercedes. The Bowdoins did not tell him how her husband had sunk to be a slave-catcher; for they knew how miserly old Jamie had become, and supposed that his salary all went to her. While Jamie could take care of her, it mattered little what the worthless husband did, save the pain of Jamie's knowing it. And of course they did not know that Jamie could no longer take care of her, and why.
But one day, in the spring of 185-, a New York correspondent of the bank came on to Boston, and Mr. Bowdoin gave a dinner for him at the house. The dinner was at three o'clock; but old lady Bowdoin wore her best gown of tea-colored satin, and James Bowdoin and his wife were there. After dinner, the three gentlemen sat discussing old madeira, and old and new methods of banking, and the difference between Boston and New York, which was already beginning to assume a metropolitan preeminence.
"By the way, speaking of old-fashioned ways," said the New Yorker suddenly, "that's a queer old clerk of yours,—Mr. McMurtagh, I mean."
"Looks as if he might have stepped out of one of Dickens's novels, does he not?" said Mr. Bowdoin, always delighted to have Jamie's peculiarities appreciatively mentioned.
"But how did you come to know him?" asked Mr. James.
"Why, I see him once a year or so. Don't you send him occasionally to New York?"
"He used to go, some years ago," said Mr. Bowdoin.
"He buys his Spanish gold of us," added the New Yorker. "Queer fancy you have of buying up doubloons. Gold is gold, though, in these times."
"Spanish doubloons?" said Mr. James.
"We have a use for them at the bank," remarked the old gentleman sharply. "Shall we join the ladies?"
"You have to pay a pretty premium for them," added the money-dealer, as he stopped to wipe his lips. "Wonderful madeira, this."
Old Mr. Bowdoin took no squeaking toy to bed with him that night; but at breakfast his worthy spouse vowed he must take another room if he would be so wakeful. For once the old gentleman had no repartee, but hurried down to the bank. Early as he was, he found his son James there before him. And with all his soul he seized upon the chance to lose his temper.
"Well, sir, and what are you spying about for? You're not a director in the bank!"
Mr. James looked up, astonished.
"Got a headache, I suppose, from drinking with that New York tyke they sent us yesterday!"
"Well, sir, when it comes to old madeira"—
"I earned it, I bought it, and I can drink it, too. And as for your Wall Street whippersnappers that haven't pedigree enough to get a taste for wine, and drink champagne, and don't know an honest man when they see one—it's so seldom"—
"Seriously, what do you suppose he wanted with the gold?"
"I don't know, sir, and I don't care. But since you're spying round, come in!" and Mr. Bowdoin led his son into the vault. "There, sir, there's the confounded box," tapping with his cane the old chest that lay on the top shelf.
"I see, sir," said Mr. James, taking his cue.
"And as for its contents, the firm of James Bowdoin's Sons are responsible. Perhaps you'd like to poke your nose in there?"
"Oh no, sir," said Mr. James. And that chest was never opened by James Bowdoin or James Bowdoin's Sons.
"When the pirate wants it, he can have it,—in hell or elsewhere," ended Mr. Bowdoin profanely.
But coming out, and after Mr. James had gone away, the old gentleman went to Jamie McMurtagh's desk. Poor Jamie had seen them enter the vault, and his heart stood still. But all Mr. Bowdoin said was to ask him if his salary was sufficient. For once in his life the poor old man had failed to meet his benefactor's eye.
"It is quite enough, sir. I—I deserve no more."
But Mr. Bowdoin was not satisfied. "Jamie," he said, "if you should ever need more money,—a good deal of money, I mean,—you will come to me, won't you? You could secure it by a policy on your life, you know."
Jamie's voice broke. "I have no need of money, sir."
"And Mercedes? How is she?"
"It is some time since I heard, sir; the last was, she had gone with her husband to Havana."
"Havana!" shouted Mr. Bowdoin; and before Jamie could explain he had crushed his beaver on his head and rushed from the bank.
Jamie's head sank over the desk, and the tears came. If only this cup could pass from him! If Heaven would pardon this one deceit in all his darkened, upright life, and let him restore the one trust he had broken, before he died! And then he dried his eyes, and took to figuring,—figuring over again, as he had so often done before, the time needed, at the present rate, to make good his theft. Ten years more—a little less—would do it.
But old Mr. Bowdoin ran to the counting-room, where he found his son and Harley in that gloomy silence that ends an unsatisfactory communication.
"Say what you will, you'll never make me believe old Jamie is a thief," said Harley.
"Thief! you low-toned rascal!" cried Mr. Bowdoin. "Thief yourself! He's just told me Mercedes is in Havana. Of course he wants Spanish gold!"
"Of course he does!" cried Harley.
"Of course he does!" cried James.
Their faces brightened, and each one inwardly congratulated himself that the others had not thought how much easier it would have been for Jamie to send her bills of exchange.
Meantime, Jamie, all unconscious of his patrons' anxiety, went on, from spring to fall and fall to spring, working without hope of her, to make his honor good to men. If there was one day in the year that could be said to bring him near enjoyment, it was that day when, his yearly salary saved, he went to New York to buy doubloons. One might almost say he enjoyed this. He enjoyed the night voyage upon the Sound; the waking in the noisy city by busy ships that had come, perhaps, from New Orleans or Havana; the crowded streets, with crowds of which she had once been one, crowds so great that it seemed they must include her still. The broker of whom he bought his gold would always ask to see him, and offer him a glass of wine, which, taken by Jamie with a trembling hand, would bring an unwonted glow to his wrinkled cheeks as he hastened away grasping tight his canvas bag of coin. The miser!
Can you make a story of such a life? It had its interest for the recording angel. But it was two years more to the next event we men must notice.
May the twenty-seventh, eighteen fifty-four. Old Jamie (old he had been called for thirty years, and now was old indeed) had finished his work rather early and locked up the books. All day there had been noise and tramping of soldiers and murmurs of the people out on the street before the door, but Jamie had not noticed it. Old Mr. Bowdoin had rushed in and out, red in the face as a cherry, sputtering irascibility, but Jamie had not known it. And now he had come from counting his coin, a pleasure to him, so nearly the old chest lay as full as it had been that day a quarter century before. He had been gloating over it with a candle in the dark vault; but a few rows more, and his work was done, and he might go—to die, or find Mercedes.
As he came out into the street, blinking in the sudden sunlight, he found it crowded close with quiet people. So thick they stood, he could not press his way along the sidewalk. It was not a mob, for there was no shouting or disorder; yet, intermittently, there rose a great murmur, such as the waves make or the leaves, the muttering of a multitude. Jamie turned his face homeward, and edged along by the wall, where there was most room. And now the mutter rose and swelled, and above it he heard the noise of fife and drum and the tread of soldiers.
He came to the first cross-street, and found it cleared and patrolled by cavalry militia. The man on a horse in front called him by name, and waved his sword at him to pass. Jamie looked up, and saw it was John Hughson. He would not have known him in his scarlet coat.
"What is it, John?" said Jamie.
"What is it? The whole militia of the State is out, by G—! to see them catch and take one nigger South. Look there!"
And Jamie looked from the open side street up the main street. There, beneath the lion and the unicorn of the old State House, through that historic street, cleared now as for a triumph, marched a company of federal troops. Behind them, in a hollow square, followed a body of rough-appearing men, each with a short Roman sword and a revolver; and in the open centre, alone and handcuffed, one trembling negro. The fife had stopped, and they marched now in a hushed silence to the tap of a solitary drum; and behind came the naval marines with cannon.
The street was hung across with flags, union down or draped in black, but the crowd was still. And all along the street, as far down as the wharf, where the free sea shone blue in the May sunshine, stood, on either side, a close rank of Massachusetts militia, with bayonets fixed, four thousand strong, restraining, behind, the fifty thousand men who muttered angrily, but stood still. Thus much it took to hold the old Bay State to the Union in 1854, and carry one slave from it to bondage. Down the old street it was South Carolina that walked that day beneath the national flag, and Massachusetts that did homage, biding her time till her sister State should turn her arms upon the emblem. "Shame! shame!" the people were crying. But they kept the peace of the republic.
Old Jamie understood nothing of this. He only saw and wondered; saw the soldiery, saw old Mr. Bowdoin leaning from a window as a young man on the sidewalk tried to drag down a flag that hung from it, with a black coffin stitched to the blue field.
"Young man," cried the old gentleman, "leave that flag alone; it's my property!"
"I am an American," cried the youth, "and I'll not suffer the flag of my country to be so disgraced!"
"I too am an American, and damme, sir, 'tis the flag in the street there that's disgraced!"
The fellow slunk away, but Jamie had ceased to listen, for the negro was now in front of him, and there, among the rough band of slave-catchers, his desperate appearance hid by no uniform, a rough felt hat upon his dissolute face, a bowie-knife slung by his waist, there, doing this work in the world, old Jamie saw and recognized the husband of his little girl,—St. Clair.
 A fact, but the man who thus assaulted the flag lived to command a company in the Union army.
McMurtagh ran out into the street toward him, but was stopped by an officer. He still pressed his way, and when the end of the procession went by they suffered him to go, and he fell in behind the trailing cannon. There he found some others, following out of sympathy for the slave. Some of them he knew, and they took Jamie for an Abolitionist, but Jamie hardly knew what it was all about.
"When Simms was taken," said one, a doctor, "I vowed that he should be the last slave sent back from Massachusetts."
"Did you hear," said another, a young lawyer, "how they have treated him? His master had him whipped, when he got home, for defending his case before our courts."
Jamie tried to find his way through the artillery company, but failed. It was only when they got down to the Long Wharf that the artillery divided, sending two guns to either side of the street, and Jamie and the others hurried to the end. Here was a United States revenue cutter, armed with marines, to take this poor bondsman back to his master. No crowned head ever left a country with more pomp of escort and retinue of flag and cannon. But Jamie's business was with the slave-catcher, not the slave. He found St. Clair standing by the gangway, and called him by name. The fellow started like a criminal; then recognizing the poor clerk, "Oh, it's you, is it?"
"How is Mercedes?" stammered Jamie.
"How the h——l should I know? And what is that to you?"
"But you will tell me where she is?" pleaded the poor old man. "She will not answer my letters. Does she get them? I know she does not get them," he added, as the thought struck him suddenly.
"She gets any that have got money in," retorted St. Clair grimly. "However, I married her, and I suppose I've got to support her. Get out of the way, there!"
The men were already casting off the ropes. Poor Jamie felt in his pocket, but of course he had no money; he never carried money now.
The cordon of soldiers drew across the wharf and presented arms as their commanding officer came ashore, and the stars and stripes rose at the stern of the vessel, and she forged out toward the blue rim of the sea that is visible, even from the wharves, in Boston harbor.
But not a gun was fired. Silently the armed ship left, with its freight of one negro, its company of marines and squad of marshals. Among them St. Clair stood on the lower deck and looked at Jamie. The poor clerk hung his head as if he were the guilty one. And in the silence was heard the voice of a minister in prayer. The little group of citizens gathered around him with bared heads. He prayed for the poor slave and for the recreant republic, for peace, and that no slave-hunter should again tread quietly the soil of Massachusetts. But Jamie heard him not. He was thinking over again the old trouble: how he could not take his salary—that was needed for restitution; how he could not ask the Bowdoins, or they would wonder where his salary had gone.
As he turned his steps backward to the city, he wondered if St. Clair was still living with her. But yes, he must be, or she would surely have come back to him. A hand was laid upon his shoulder; he looked up; it was the minister who had been upon the wharf.
"Be not cast down, old man. 'In his service is perfect freedom,'" quoted the minister. He fancied he was one of the Abolitionist group that had followed Anthony Burns to the last. But Jamie only looked up blankly. He was thinking that in four years more he might go to bring back Mercedes.
Year followed year. This was the twelfth year since Jamie had begun to make up his theft from his own salary; but it had been slower work than he had hoped, for he now had to pay almost a collector's price to get the Spanish gold. He had hurried home one night eagerly, to count his money; for he made his annual purchase and payment in June. Sixteen hundred dollars in bills he had (it was curious that he kept it now in money, and had no longer a deposit in the bank), and he congratulated himself that he had not had the money at the wharf that day: he might have given it to St. Clair, to learn Mercedes' whereabouts; and it would not have reached her, and St. Clair would have lied to him; while the taking of a dollar more than was rightfully the bank's—for so Jamie regarded his salary—would really make him a defaulter.
For the old chest was getting so full now that the clerk could almost hold his head up among men. The next year, but three rows of gold coin remained to fill. The smaller coins had all been purchased long ago. And Jamie (who had only thought to do this, and die, at the first) now began, timidly, to let his imagination go beyond the restitution; to think of Mercedes, of seeing her, of making her happy yet. For she was still a young girl, to him.
The thirteenth year came. Jamie had begun to take notice of the world. He took regularly a New Orleans newspaper. The balance against him in the account was now so small! He looked wistfully at the page. However small the deficit, his labors were not complete till he could tear the whole page out. And he could not do that yet: the transaction must be shown upon the books; he might die.
Die! Suddenly his heart beat at the thought. Die! He had never thought of this, to fear it; but now if he should die before the gold was all returned, and all his sacrifice go for naught, even his sacrifice of Mercedes—
The other clerks had lost their interest in poor Jamie by this time; some of them were new, and to these he was merely an old miser, and they made fun of him, he grew so careful about his health. Life had not brought much to poor Jamie to make him so fond of it; but both the Bowdoins noticed it, and remarked to one another, it was curious, after all, how men clung to life as they grew older.
In 1859 a rumor had reached them all that St. Clair had gone on some filibustering expedition to Cuba. Old Mr. Bowdoin mentioned it to McMurtagh; but he said nothing of sending for the wife. In 1861 the war broke out, and the poor clerk saw the one sober crown of his life put off still a year. He was yet more than a thousand dollars short. He was coming back on a Sound steamer, thinking of this, wondering how he could bear this last delay,—his scanty bag of high-priced gold crowded into a pocket,—reading his New Orleans paper carelessly (save only the births and deaths), when his eye caught a name. Jamie knew there was a war; and the article was all about some fighting of blockade-runners with a federal cruiser near Mobile. But his quick eye traveled to the centre of it, where he read, "Before the vessel was taken, a round shot killed several of the crew, ... among them ... and David St. Clair, well known in this city."