[Frontispiece: "The Conscientious Clerk" From drawing by Paul N. Craig, Omaha, Neb., 1913]
J. P. BUSCHLEN
Copyright, Canada, 1913, by
J. P. BUSCHLEN
My box is full of others' cash, My pocket full of air, My head is crammed with cleric trash, Layer upon layer.
I gaze upon the business mob That throngs before my cage, And watch their human pulses throb In greed, fear, rage.
Yet through the vapor and the must I often catch a smile— As though someone had lost the lust, And, for a while,
Regarded me, the shoveller, As greater than the gold, Which, after all, belongs to her— Old Mother Mould.
The story herein told is true to life; true, the greater part of it, to my own life. Also, I am convinced that my experience in a Canadian Bank was but mildly exciting as compared with that of many others.
My object in publishing "Evan Nelson's" history is to enlighten the public concerning life behind the wicket and thus pave the way for the legitimate organization of bankclerks into a fraternal association, for their financial and social (including moral) betterment.
Bank officials, I trust, will see to it that my misrepresentations are exposed.
To mothers of bankclerks who attach overmuch importance to the gentility of their Boy's avocation; to fathers who think that because the bank is rich its employes must necessarily become so in time; to friends who criticize the bankclerks of their acquaintance for not settling down—this story is addressed.
To the men of our banks who are dissatisfied with the business they have chosen, or someone else has chosen for them; to Old Country clerks who come out to Canada under the impression that Five Dollars is as good as One Pound; to bank employes in the United States, and to office men everywhere—I am telling my tale.
Finally, I appeal to "the girls we have known." Be sure you study the subject thoroughly before accusing that inscrutable, proud and procrastinating clerk of yours of inconstancy.
PREFACE I. OUR BANKER II. SWIPE DAYS III. A MAN OF THE WORLD IV. BEING A SPORT V. MOVED VI. THE VILLAGE MAIDEN VII. A BANK HOLIDAY VIII. A SPORT GONE TO SEED IX. THE SEED MULTIPLIES X. TROUBLE COMES XI. JOYS OF BANKING XII. SOME WHEEL-COGS COME TOGETHER XIII. THE MACHINERY GRINDS XIV. POKER AND PREACHING XV. FIRED XVI. BLACKBALLED XVII. A BANKER'S GIRL XVIII. IN THE COUNTRY OF OUR COUSINS XIX. FAR-AWAY GREEN FIELDS XX. HIGH FINANCE AND PROMOTING XXI. THE ASSOCIATED BANKCLERKS OF CANADA XXII. SHE WAITS FOR US
A CANADIAN BANKCLERK
The Ontario village of Hometon rested. It had been doing for so many years. There, in days gone by, pioneers with bushy beards—now long out-of-date, but threatening to sprout again—had fearlessly faced the wolf-haunted forests, relying, no doubt, upon the ferocity of their own appearance to frighten off the devourer.
A few old elm trees still remained in the village, to protect it from the summer sun; and still lived also an occasional pioneer, gnarled and rugged like the old elms, to sigh and shake his head at the new civilization, and shelter whom he might from the power of its stroke.
One of these ancient fathers meandered across the main street and into a grocery store. He plucked a semi-petrified prune from its sticky environment and drew a stool up to the counter.
"Well, Dad," greeted the grocer, "what's new in the old town?"
The old gentleman worried the stolen morsel into one cheek and replied:
"Our boys keep a-leavin' on us, John; keep a-goin'."
While the grocer stood wondering whether the "keep a-goin'" referred to himself or "our boys," a customer entered.
"How d'you do, Mrs. Arling," he smiled, leaving the old man to his quid-like mouthful.
But, in the case of a lady shopper, where business interferes with the telling of a story—or anything—postpone business.
"Ah yes, Grandpa Newman," she sighed, "the town will soon be deserted."
The grey-haired man looked at her as much as to ask: "Pray, how did you manage to overhear what I was saying?" What he did ask was:
"How does his mother feel, Mrs. Arling?"
"I'm just on my way there now," replied the lady-shopper; "give me a can of pork-and-beans, will you, John?"
The grocer, whom almost everyone in town called by his first name, climbed nimbly up the side of his store and fished out the desired article. Meanwhile Mrs. Arling winked at the old man and whispered:
"He looks like a boy, Grandpa, the way he scales that shelf; but he's past forty!"
"Aye, so he is, Mary; but you both seem like chits to me."
Grandpa Newman smiled when "Mary" had gone, then shook his head and sighed. The grocer proceeded to wheedle more news out of the village information bureau.
"Who's leaving us now, Dad?" he asked.
"Young Nelson; he's goin' away out here to Mt. Alban to j'in one of them banks."
"You don't say!"
"Yes," drawled the grandsire, "it beats the Old Scratch how these youngsters have got new-fangled idears into their heads. Now, when I was a boy—"
But the observation Mrs. Arling was, a few minutes later, making to Mrs. Nelson, is more to the point:
"My dear Caroline, I just dropped in to tell you how sorry and how glad I am."
Mrs. Arling was fair, round and vivacious. The woman to whom she talked was dark and slender, but also vivacious. The latter smiled.
"It is lonesome, Mary; but you know we can't keep them home forever."
"No, indeed," agreed Mrs. Arling, "that's what I tell my silly old man when he gets to worrying about our boy, who's only twelve. Let them go—they'll be glad to come back."
"It's all very well for you to sit there and act brave," laughed Mrs. Nelson, "but wait till the day arrives."
The force of the argument told on Mrs. Arling.
"Maybe you're right, Caroline," she admitted. "But it must be a great consolation to see Evan enter such a splendid business."
"That is what consoles me, Mary. Banking is such a respectable, genteel occupation!"
The dark woman's eyes were bright; she spoke with great pride.
"You're right, Caroline, it is genteel. Bank boys get into such nice society. And they can always—you know—look so nice!"
"You know, Mary," rejoined the slender woman, "his pa almost repented giving him permission to quit school. Evan was getting along so well. He would have taken both his matric. and his second this summer; but he would go in a bank, and when a vacancy occurred so near home we thought perhaps it would be as well to let him go, in case he should not get so good a chance again."
Mrs. Arling sat in thought.
"Caroline," she said at length, "do you think Evan ever cared much about our girl?"
Mrs. Nelson blushed before one who had been a school-chum.
"I was going to mention that," she said, bashfully.
"You think there is something between them, then?"
"Why, Mary, they are only children. And yet, I often wish that Evan would some day get serious."
"Wouldn't it be lovely!"
The conversation drifted, like ocean-tide, into many fissures and along innumerable channels. The May afternoon ebbed away.
"I really must be going," said Mrs. Arling, suddenly. "Let us know how he gets along. I'm sure the whole town misses Evan, and is proud of him."
Mrs. Nelson smiled fondly.
"And we, too, are proud of Our Banker."
It was the second day of "our banker's" apprenticeship. According to the chronology of homesickness he had been in the banking business about a year. He stood at a high desk in the back end of a dark office, gazing blankly on a heap of letters addressed, or to be addressed, everywhere. An open copying-book lay at his elbow, the pages of which were smeared with indelible streaks. Clerical experts had invented that book for the purpose of recording letters, but Nelson had applied too much water, and the result of his labors was chaos; worse—oblivion.
"Just gaze on that!" cried the teller-accountant, Alfred Castle.
While Alfred gazed a pencil artist might have made a good sketch of him—if the artist, of course, had been any good. The sketch, to be perfect, would need to portray a tall, slim, blonde person with feminine features. But no crayon could convey an idea of the squeaky voice and the supercilious manner.
"I can't understand how anyone could ball things up like that," he continued.
But assertions seemed incapable of rousing Evan from his stupid lethargy. A question might help.
"Why didn't you stop before you had spoiled the whole bunch?" asked the teller sharply.
"I kept thinking," he stammered, "that each one—"
Castle turned away impatiently, refusing to hear the speaker out. He entered his cage and closed the door, leaving Evan to his nightmare. The manager strolled back through the office.
"Where's Perry?" he asked the new junior.
"Out with the drafts, sir," replied Evan, weakly.
The manager was worthy of description also. He was short, heavy of shoulders and slightly knock-kneed. He was perhaps forty years old, his hair was getting thin, and his dark eyes snapped behind a pair of glasses. Just now, instead of snapping, his eyes twinkled.
"What in thunder have you been trying to do?" he exclaimed.
As he leafed over the pages of the copying-book his mirth came nearer and nearer the surface, until at last he was laughing aloud and with much enjoyment.
"Cheer up," he said, seeing the expression of Evan's face, "we'll let them go this time without re-writing."
Then he showed the young clerk how to copy a letter without spoiling both the letter and the tissue-paper pages.
"Thank you, Mr. Robb," said Evan, earnestly.
While the dainty teller fretted in his cage, like a rare species of wild animal, the manager dug Nelson out of his mess and tried to make light of the disaster.
"We all have to learn," he said kindly.
Sam Robb might have been either a diplomat or merely a good-hearted human being. At any rate, Evan Nelson resolved, after the tone of Robb's words had penetrated, that he would always do his utmost to please the manager.
The return of Porter Perry, alias the "Bonehead," was heralded by loud scuffling over by the ledgers. A string of oaths escaped ("escaped" is hardly the way to express it) the ledger-keeper, William Watson, as Porter approached.
"You ——! why didn't you get back here sooner?"
The teller raised his blonde head.
"Enough of that profanity, Watson," he said, peremptorily.
Perry, also called "the porter," dodged Watson, and, muttering a savage growl, shot across the office to the collection desk.
"Here, you," said Mr. Robb, "get busy on this mail. Where have you been—playing checkers in the library or shooting craps on the sidewalk?"
Porter still had his hat on. He took the hint when the manager said, half-mischievously, "Judging by the size of the mail, don't you think you had better stay a while?"
The remainder of the day's work meant confusion and headaches for Evan. Before going to his boarding-house for supper he took a walk by himself along one of the back streets of Mt. Alban. A song his sister used to sing seemed to dwell in the very air about him. It associated itself with home memories and sent a thrill through him.
Mt. Alban was only thirty miles from Hometon, and yet Evan felt that he was gone from home forever. So he was—if he continued to work in the bank. He knew that he would be able to get home only for an occasional week-end; nor were the Hometon trains convenient to bank hours. There was no branch of the bank in Hometon, and he would, consequently, never be located there. When the first move came it would take him still further away.
Evan sauntered, with his thoughts, past comfortable homes fronted with lawns and shaded by weeping willows. There is a peculiar melancholia about a May day; it had an effect on the young bankclerk. He walked by hedges beyond the end of Mt. Alban's asphalt out into the suburbs. Spring birds sang their thanks to Nature, and to the homesick heart a bird's singing is sadness. It is natural for such a heart to seek quiet. Evan had no desire for company. He wanted to think, all by himself. His mind travelled in the one circle, the arcs of which were home, school and the bank. Yes, and Frankie Arling!
Although only seventeen he had a tenacious way of liking a girl; and Frankie had always appealed to him. He thought of her as he walked by the hedges. It was she, indeed, who helped him, more than anything else, to forget the ordeal of his first few days' clerkship. He shuddered when he thought of the hundred and one inscrutable books in the office, so well known to the teller and Watson, and a shiver accompanied thought of mail and copying-books; but he viewed matters from a different angle when Frankie came forward in his mind. How worldly-wise he would be when he went home, and what a hit he would make with his own money in the ice-cream places of Hometon! Wouldn't Frankie be proud of him!
Exclamation marks hardly do justice to Evan's enthusiasm as he allowed himself to speculate on the future. Being "good stuff" at bottom, he forced himself, finally, on this May-day walk, to look at the sunlight on the lawns and trees; and when he doubled back to the boarding-house it was with a good imitation of his old football energy. At table he spoke blithely to the guests, and was quite gay during soup. Cold roast beef brought a slight chill with it. Cake had something of a sour flavor. He drank his tea in silence.
In the evening he declined an invitation to a party, extended to him over the telephone, at the bank. After sweeping out the office he perched himself on a stool and wrote a long letter home. Before daylight had quite disappeared he "wound" the vault combination, seriously, faithfully, and crept up the back stairs to his bed above the bank's treasure. He soberly inspected a heavy revolver, placed it on a chair beside the bed, and retired with a sound not unlike a groan.
Perry came in late and raised a dreadful hubbub. He smoked cigarettes in the room, whistled the raggiest rags and tried his best to make things uncomfortable for the new man. Nelson ground his teeth beneath the sheets and wished he had been born strong.
The first official question Evan was asked the following morning concerned the winding of the combination.
"Never forget that," enjoined Watson.
"Mr. Nelson," called the teller from his cage, "come here." Evan obeyed the summons.
"Go over to the B—— Bank and ask them for their general ledger."
"All right, sir," said Nelson, meekly, and taking his cap from a peg went out to execute the commission.
He had hardly disappeared when Watson walked to the phone and called up the B—— Bank, informing them of Nelson's mission and asking them to send him on to some other bank. It was half an hour before the junior returned; he had been all over town; the report he brought with him was this:
"I found out it had just been sent back here."
Now the general ledger of a bank contains a summary of all business done. It would not do for one bank to see the general ledger of another. Neither the branches nor the clerks of one bank may have business secrets in common with another bank; of course it is all right for head offices and general managers to get their heads together in such small matters as keeping down the rate of interest and curtailing loans—but then all competitors should unite against that great enemy, the public.
Evan was given a copy of "Rules and Regulations" to study while waiting for the "Bonehead" to get his drafts ready for delivery. He was pointed to the clause on secrecy and commanded to memorize it forthwith.
The new junior soon discovered that Porter Perry was something of a joke among Mt. Alban merchants. The "Bonehead" had sometime and somewhere earned the dignity of his title. The way he approached customers about a draft was ridiculous even to Evan—and it meant something for Evan to have a definite idea about anything these apprenticeship days. Remarks passed between store clerks, and the giggles and smirks of girls behind counters, did not relieve the embarrassment Nelson felt at being sub-associated with Perry, and worse still, the compulsory recipient of loudly bawled pointers. In proportion as Nelson felt humiliated did Perry feel dignified and important.
The Bonehead had a wonderful faculty for calling people by their first names on the street. This, he doubtless argued, would impress the new "swipe" with a sense of his (Porter's) popularity. It does not take long for boys in a bank to conceive a high and mighty regard for position.
Back to the office from their morning round, Perry took it upon himself to teach Evan the mysteries of the Collection Register. After half an hour's faithful instruction the teller came along and inspected the work. Two dozen drafts had been entered wrong; "Drawer" was mixed up with "Endorser," dates of issue were confused with dates of maturity, and everything but the amounts was topsy-turvy.
"You are, without a doubt," said Castle, turning away, as was his habit, without trying to pull the boys through their trouble, "the worst mess I ever came across." His remarks were addressed to Perry, particularly.
Evan went flat. It is thrillingly unpleasant to find yourself an incompetent in the routine of an office when you could with ease recite Hugo's verses in French and write a long treatise on the Punic Wars. Evan inwardly shuddered. Perry stood beside him grinning and muttering imprecations on the teller.
"What difference does it make how you enter them?" he said, and grabbing a handful of drafts, stamped them at random with the bank's endorsement stamp and the "C" stamp.
Evan stood looking out of the back window. A robin, digging for food on a grassy plot, raised his bright little eyes to the bankclerk, as much as to say:
"Come on out, old chap. You'll never find anything to eat in that dark, musty place!"
As he gazed on the gay bird Evan remembered lessons from his childhood reader. His mind persisted in flying back to school-days. Why? Did he still crave knowledge? Was he hungry for something he knew the bank would never give him?
Years later Evan knew why his mind had dwelt upon the dear days of school life. At school he had had scope for his imagination and his genius, in the writings of poet and historian, inventor and novelist. He could drink as deeply as he would of the fountain of learning, and still the springs would be there for him, soothing, refreshing.
Not so in the bank. Although he knew little or nothing of the business as yet, something told him that here was a shorn pasture. He could find plenty of work for his hands, and bewildering, tiring work for his head; but where was there occupation and recreation for the mind?
Perhaps the fact that he was associated with a boy of Perry's calibre made the contrast between school and office wider. He recalled examination-days when he had sat before a long paper with a feeling of power and security. His pen could not travel fast enough, so familiar was he with French and Latin vocabulary and construction, Ancient History, Modern Literature, English Grammar, and other subjects. But here in the bank he stumbled over a sight draft for $4.17 drawn by a grocery firm and accepted by one Jerry Tangle.
Of course Evan exaggerated matters. Everyone who is homesick paints home in beautiful colors and daubs every other place with mud-grey. He forgot lamplight hours when he had wrested groans from Virgil and provoked the shade of Euclid, and remembered only the good old friends and the favorite studies of school-days. He did not know that Time would bring familiarity with bank routine and that he would learn to like the brainless labors of a clerk. He only knew that he felt hungry, empty; that he had given up something illimitable for a mathematical thing hedged about with paltry figures.
Evan was roused from his reverie by the feminine voice of Castle.
"Here you, get me ten three-dollar bills."
The teller handed him six fives. Evan was, for a moment, doubtful of the existence of the denomination asked for, but he reasoned that Castle would not give him the thirty dollars and look so serious if it were only a joke. He went around among the banks on a wild-goose-chase for the second time that day. A sympathizing junior from another bank met him on the street.
"Say, Bo," he said, grinning; "don't let 'em kid you any more."
Evan's eyes suddenly opened. He made a confidant of this fellow and asked him about the initiation tricks of bankclerks. He was warned against winding combinations, ringing up fictitious numbers on the telephone, and other misleaders.
Evan did not smile when he handed the six fives back to the teller. He said nothing in reply to Castle's question, until the teller grew intolerable; then he growled:
"Go to hell!"
Evan was not a profane individual, as a rule, but there were times when drastic measures seemed justifiable.
Castle looked at him with real anger, and came out of his cage.
"You darn young pup!" he exclaimed menacingly.
Watson raised his voice in a loud laugh, and drew the teller's attention to the new man. Mr. Robb came back to the cage for some change,—and the storm did not mature.
Evan was not relieved. He wanted to have a row with Castle. But it was not the teller he worried about back at his own desk: it was himself. He was ignorant! With all his high-school education and his big marks in languages he did not know that combinations should not be wound, or that three-dollar bills were not somewhere in circulation. There was knowledge for him in the bank, after all!
And he decided to make that knowledge his. He applied himself to the office books, after that, and fought against the desire to quit and go back to school. He would ask questions about everything and know all there was to know.
When Nelson was able to take out the collections Porter found himself in line for the savings ledger. It never occurred to the Bonehead that elevation was apt to bring added responsibilities; he thought only of the promotion. Nothing now mattered except the fact that J. Porter Perry was a ledger keeper. He managed to drop the information in every store on his last trip round with the bills, and proclaimed his successor in a tone that was very irritating to the new "swipe."
Evan ground his teeth—but thought of Frankie. He spoke respectfully to all the bank's customers, and tried to act like a gentleman, on the street. In a week's time he knew every merchant in town well enough to speak to him, and had overcome the giggles and whisperings of counter girls.
Mornings were always bright enough to him. When he first wakened a kind of pall usually settled about his lonesome crib, but the May sunlight soon helped him forget that he was "out in the world alone." He knew that his father would gladly send him money and stand by him no matter what happened. This was great consolation, although Evan did not admit to himself that it was. He wanted to be an independent man, as his forefathers had been; he was unwilling to have his father support him any longer by store-labor. When he reflected that soon he would be able to keep himself and make little gifts to his mother and sister he took courage and forged through whatever difficulty happened to be in the way.
Evan had seen college boys fritter away their time, miss examinations repeatedly and get into trouble that cost their fathers dearly. He determined that he would keep clear of youthful mixups and try to save his money, to show his parents that he appreciated what they had done for him, and to repay them, as well as he could, for what they had given him. Sometimes he thought he had made a mistake in going into a bank, but he felt, at that, that it was a brave and unselfish thing to do, and he thought he saw wherein banking had many advantages over school life. He could get an education behind the wicket and the iron railing that would make him self-reliant. This idea fixed itself firmly in his mind.
Homesickness still bothered him, of course. It made itself most strongly felt after meals, like a species of gout. A youth, especially a bankclerk, usually enjoys a good appetite; there is considerable excitement about satisfying it. But when bodily hunger is appeased the mind has leisure to satisfy itself or to feel dissatisfied. Evan could not throw off the gloom that settled on him in the afternoons and evenings. He saw and heard constantly that which reminded him of home and those he loved best. But he did not succumb to the torture. He faced his trials and resolved to make good.
While Nelson was battling against foes seen and unseen, Perry was engaged in gladiatorial combat with a savings ledger. In the space of a week he had developed a singularly profane vocabulary. Probably the contiguity of Watson had something to do with it. He was under the special tutelage of Watson, and the handling he received was anything but gentle. It surely did require patience to instill anything into that head of Porter's. His instructor would stand over him and tell him in a dozen words just exactly what entries to make in a customer's passbook. Porter would stare into oblivion during the lesson and when it was done make a dab at his ink-pot, enter up a cheque as credit, cross it out and make it a debit, then reverse the entry—all before Watson could interfere. The Bonehead was not slow; in fact, he was too rapid—but his swiftness was a serious detriment since the direction taken was usually wrong. Porter acted on impulses, and they seemed destined forever to be senseless. A swift inspiration came to him, he made a slash with his heavily inked pen, there was a blot, a figure with heavy lines drawn crookedly through it, an exclamation of despair—and then the blank look. The vacant expression seemed to be behind all his woes, and an empty mind was undoubtedly behind that.
"You missed your calling, Port," said Bill Watson on one occasion; "you should have been a sign painter. Those aren't figures you are making, you know."
Perry looked hopelessly at his work and then into the ledger keeper's face. Watson indulged in a spasm of mirth.
"I can hardly wait till balance day," he stammered, with difficulty controlling himself; "that nut of yours will crack—and I don't think there'll be enough kernel to excite a squirrel."
"Aw, cut it out and show me this," grumbled the savings-man.
"Yes," interrupted the teller, in his mandatory way, "don't be kidding him all the time, Watson."
The ledger keeper looked at Castle through the wire of the cage.
"Oh, hello, Clarice," he said, "when did you get back?"
The teller reddened, but made no reply. He was not accustomed to impudence, for he was a near relative of Inspector Castle's. This time, though, he could not find words to support his dignity, so he remained silent.
Evan heard him speaking to the manager about it, later.
"I simply won't stand it, Mr. Robb," he was saying; "they've got to show respect."
"Well, you know, Alf," said the manager carelessly, "they're only boys. Don't be too hard on them.... By the way, how do you like Nelson?"
"Oh, he's no worse than the general run," replied Castle impatiently; "I suppose he'll get there in time."
"Yes," said Robb, reflectively, "like the rest of us.... You know, I rather like the boy; he seems anxious to do his best."
Castle made no reply, but left the manager's office suddenly, as though disgusted at not having found satisfaction there. The manager sighed, deeply enough for Evan to hear, and murmured audibly:
"Mollycoddles, all of us!"
With that he slammed down his desk-top and reached for his hat with one hand and a half-smoked cigar with the other. When the front door closed behind him Watson and Perry engaged in a rough-and-tumble. A heavy ruler rolled to the floor with a bang, Porter's big boot struck a fixture, and various other accidents contributed to the hubbub.
"My ——, cut it out!" shrieked the helpless teller, glowing with wrath.
Watson made a grab for him, but he rushed into his cage and locked the door. The combatants were puffing too hard to speak, or one of them at least would probably have vented some sarcasm. Evan eyed the proceedings approvingly; it was a relief to witness a little disorder where the orderly teller-accountant ruled. Porter, with all his boneheadedness, was a match for any man in the office, including the manager, when it came to the primitive way of "managing" affairs; Evan was compelled to admire his physique and the tenacity with which he clung to an opponent. After all "the porter" possessed certain qualities not to be despised. But Watson hit the point uppermost in Nelson's mind.
"Port," he said gasping, "if you would wrestle with your job as gallantly as you do with an antagonist you'd soon be chief inspector."
"Come on, Bill," he coaxed, "put me next to this dope."
Bill bent over him and laid down the law. Evan finished his mail. The teller brushed the office from him with a whisk, and, adjusting his tie and hat to a nicety, walked out into the streets to be admired by the female population of Mt. Alban.
An hour later the "swipe" was diligently dusting the front office, his back to the door, when someone entered the bank. Thinking it was Porter he did not look up, but went on with his work. There was a sickening dusty smell in the office: the aftermath of a broom.
"Hello, there," said Robb; "do you work all the time, Nelson?"
Evan looked up with an apologetic smile, and, hurriedly dusting the manager's chair, made as though to leave the sanctum.
"Don't run away, my boy," said the manager; "I came in on purpose to see you. Sit down."
The junior obeyed.
"How do you like banking by this time?"
"Pretty well, sir, thank you," said Evan timidly.
Mr. Robb looked at him disconcertingly during a pause.
"Who advised you to join a bank staff, Nelson?" he asked, slowly.
"It was my own idea, Mr. Robb. I felt as though I had gone to school long enough at my father's expense. He earns his bread hard and I began to feel it was up to me to do something for myself."
"Oh, I see," said the manager, pensively. Again he was silent.
"Did you say you wanted to see me about something?" ventured the new junior.
"Well—I—I was just wondering, Nelson, if you had taken up with the bank just as a sort of notion, and if you had I was going to discourage you."
"Don't you think it's a good business, Mr. Robb?"
"Sure—sure—it's all right. That is, for certain ones. You'll probably be quitting it when you get older."
Evan did not reply immediately. He was trying to figure out what the manager meant.
"I hope I'll get along well," he said, finally.
"I hope so, Nelson; you deserve it; I'll do all I can for you. But the bank is rather uncertain, you know. We are all—well, more or less servants. Even I get my call-downs regularly. You didn't know that, eh? Well, you'll get wise to a whole lot of things as time goes on. However, I don't want to discourage you. Do your best wherever you are."
Mr. Robb puffed his cigar into life before continuing.
"Don't take things too seriously, though. Now Mr. Castle, for instance—anything he says just swallow it with a few grains of salt. He's got bank blue-blood in his veins, you know. And this sweeping and dusting—don't be so particular. You should be out playing ball or tennis. I must get a woman to clean up from now on. The last manager here started this business, but I'm going to stop it. I didn't say anything while Perry was on the job because it helped break him in to the habit of discipline—but you don't need a schoolmaster; in fact, you need a sporting coach.... Here, do you smoke?"
Evan declined the cigar with thanks.
"You're right," said Robb, "it's a poor habit.... Was there nothing in your home town that attracted you?" he asked suddenly.
"What do you mean—a business?"
"No, sir. There doesn't seem to be anything so good as the bank for a young fellow."
"That's right," smiled the manager; "there doesn't seem to be. The only thing some people in this country can see is the bank."
The junior looked surprised. Robb smiled satirically.
"A little of it won't do you any harm though, Nelson. Stay with it for a while, since you have left school for good, and something else will come along.... How do you like your boarding-house?"
"All right, sir."
When the manager had gone Nelson sat submerged in thought. He came to the conclusion that Mr. Robb had "some kick coming" or he would not give the banking business such cheap mention. He was swayed by the prejudice of his boyhood days when the bank boys of Hometon were the big dogs; and by the well-remembered expectations of his dear mother: "We're going to have a banker in our family!"
The same evening Evan was perched on a stool stamping a pad of "forms" when Watson entered.
"Hello, Nelson," casually. "There wasn't a phone call for me, was there?"
"No, I didn't hear any, Mr. Watson."
Bill turned his face and grinned. By and by he focused his black eyes on the new "swipe."
"How do you like banking by this time?" he asked soberly.
"I'm beginning to like it better," said Evan.
After a pause: "You know, they're apt to move a fellow any time; even you might be moved. You've got along a whole lot better than most juniors, and I wouldn't be sur——"
The ledger keeper broke off—the telephone was ringing. He took down the receiver and began to talk loudly enough for Evan to hear.
"Yes, long distance. Where? Toronto! All right. Hello. Yes, this is the S—— Bank, Mt. Alban. Yes, this is one of the clerks. Who? ..."
Watson put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered excitedly to the staring junior:
"It's the inspector!" Then he continued to speak: "Yes, sir, we have two junior men here. Yes, sir, one of them is here now. Three weeks. Yes, he's pretty good. You want to speak to him, sir?"
Watson turned to Evan.
"Inspector wants you," he said in a businesslike way.
Evan felt his knees weaken. He stared at the ledger keeper despairingly, but bucked up when Watson said:
"Don't keep him waiting—remember he's the inspector."
"Hello," said Nelson, feebly. "Yes, sir. I—I suppose so, sir, if the b-bank wants me to. Report there at once?—all right, sir, I'll try—I mean I'll report—"
He hung up the receiver and murmured: "Berne!"
"Well," said Watson, like one who had been waiting in suspense for the news, "does he want to move you?"
The ledger keeper laughed very hard and called it a good joke.
"But it will mean more money for me, won't it?" asked Evan, anxiously.
"Sure, your salary will probably be doubled. They may put you on the cash there. It's an out-of-the-way place, you know, and you're practically an experienced man by now."
A few minutes later two of the boys from another Mt. Alban bank came to the front door and were admitted by Watson. They formed a semicircle around the latest man of the hour in bank moves, and plied him with questions. They appeared to enjoy the thought of his being moved to a remote quarter of the province. The thing finally struck Evan himself as funny, and they all indulged in a very satisfactory laugh. It developed later, but not before Evan had telegraphed the exciting news home to his mother, that only three out of the four had known what they were laughing at.
Soon after a boy enters the bank he begins to look for something exciting, in the form of promotion, or a move. He is given to understand that many interesting and profitable changes await every bankclerk; he knows not the day nor the hour when he may be transferred to far-off green fields, filled with strange girls and other "things" to make life pleasant. It is this ever-growing expectancy which gives banking a fascination for young men, especially country boys. They cannot see the day of weariness and monotony that is coming, the day of poverty and celibacy, because between that time and the present there is a golden glamor, a flame of luring light. This flame is fanned by the windy tongues of reckless clerks and fed with the "oxygen" that escapes from head office envelopes.
Evan believed it possible for his reputation to reach the ears of the inspector after three weeks' service, and, although he was surprised for the moment, he considered it reasonable enough that one of the high-up officials should communicate with him over the telephone. All night he counted cash in a nightmare and saw himself signing letters to head office as "pro-accountant." Early the following morning he packed his trunk and mentally bade his room good-bye. On his way to the telegraph office, before eight o'clock, he was surprised to meet Mr. Castle, the teller.
"I heard about it, Nelson," said Castle, stopping him on the street, "and came down to inform you. This funny work has got to stop."
The teller-accountant was partial to verbs of command.
"What's that?" said Evan, bewilderedly.
Then Castle explained the frame-up, and, leaving the junior to console himself on his first big disappointment, went up town to breakfast. "Long distance" had meant across the street in a competitive bank.
The feelings of humiliation and chagrin experienced by the poor "swipe" were exactly those that come to all bankboys in the days of their initiation. It was the beginning of wisdom for Evan: though the end was a long way off. Just as he had fallen from the position of pro-accountant to junior, and from $400 to $200, in one minute, would he tumble off many another pinnacle, on his way to solid ground.
It was a week before the Berne sensation died out in the "banking circles" of Mt. Alban. It expired one balance night, the end of the month of May. Everything but work must be forgotten in a bank when balance day comes.
The manager was back at his desk by seven o'clock, the teller in his cage a few minutes later, Watson turned up about seven-thirty—the savings-man had taken no nourishment at all. With a pair of red ears and a mouth full of indelible he sat propped up to his savings ledger, the picture of idiocy. His lips moved unintelligibly as he slowly crawled up a long row of figures, smearing the sheet en route. At regular intervals he stopped in the middle of a column, muttered profane repetitions, and started at the bottom again. Watson cast a twinkling eye on poor Perry.
"Hadn't you better graze, Port?"
No reply. This was a fight to the finish with Porter. His opponent had him throttled, but still he was game. The current-account ledgerman laughed ecstatically to himself. Castle was annoyed.
"Don't laugh, Watson," he said, again using his favorite imperative, "you'll have to balance the savings yourself anyway."
Bill Watson squinted through the wire at his fellow-clerk.
"The 'Rules and Regulations' put that up to the accountant," he said, still smiling. Castle ripped a blotted sheet out of his "blotter," but made no answer.
Evan had hurried through with his mail and his supper, and was now intensely occupied in adding the interest table. He was shown an out-of-date table with figures at the bottom of each page, and told that every month the junior had to add those stereotyped columns. Like all bank beginners, Nelson did not use his brains. Juniors are taught (1) to obey, (2) to work, (3) to ask no foolish questions. No matter how absurd a task appears, perform it without a kick. The happy-go-lucky boys take a chance and ask questions rather than do what seems to be unnecessary work; but Evan was the conscientious kind, the kind that obeys unquestioningly and never lets up until fully convinced of error. There is a noble six hundred in the bank, as well as the army; but in the bank the number is greater than six hundred.
Perry was working hard this balance-night, but not from a sense of duty—he wanted to show the management that he could balance that savings ledger. Porter was a bulldog; Evan more like a sleigh-dog.
The manager and the teller-accountant left the office about eleven o'clock. Watson was "out" a small amount in the current ledgers, but had left them to take down a new set of balances for Porter. Yawning hopelessly, Perry leaned against the desk, wondering how on earth he had ever managed to be out $396,492.11 in a ledger with deposits of only $400,000.....
The town of Mt. Alban was silent. The main street was in darkness, except for the gleam that came from the windows of three bank buildings. It was past midnight, but out of twenty bankboys in the town, fifteen were still working.
In one of the banks a young clerk slept, with his head on his hands and his hands on an interest table. The ledger-keeper found him thus.
"Too dang bad," he said to Perry; "I forgot all about him.... Hey, Nelson, it's morning!"
Evan raised his head and opened his eyes. Watson smiled good-naturedly.
"It's a shame to kid you," he said. "This was another bum steer. But the practice in adding won't hurt you, eh?"
Nelson stumbled up the back stairs and fell asleep on his bed to the tune of an adding-machine, run by Porter. In his dreams he stood at the foot of a mighty column—of figures. It reached to the clouds. A ghostly friend of Jack-in-the-Beanstalk's whispered to him that he must climb that column if he would reach Success. Evan began the ascent.
A MAN OF THE WORLD.
Miraculous as it seemed to Evan, the ledgers were finally made to balance. Porter lengthened his stride a foot and walked once more well back on his heels—just as if his bad work had not been responsible for a three days' dizzy mixup. A certain Saturday afternoon came round.
"I guess we can do without you till Monday noon," said the manager, over Nelson's shoulder, as the latter pondered over an unwritten money-order.
It was welcome news to Evan. He had come to feel, however, that his presence was indispensable to the well-being of the collection register and other books of record. It appeared to him that in one afternoon and a forenoon the hand of any other but himself must irrevocably "ball" the junior post.
"You mean you don't want me to drive back Sunday night?" he asked Mr. Robb, doubtingly.
"That's what. You'd better take all the holidays you can get now, Nelson; you'll be tied tighter than wax-end before you're in the business long."
Evan seemed still perplexed.
"Who'll take out the drafts Monday morning, Mr. Robb?" he asked, seriously.
The manager looked at him with an expression half humor and half pity.
"Do you suppose," he said with a grin, "that the merchants will be very badly offended at not getting these bills at the earliest moment?"
Evan smiled. Robb still stood beside him.
He looked up, surprised to hear himself addressed so familiarly by the manager; but the latter was speaking:
".... Remember this: extra holidays never save you labor. The work is always waiting for your return, piling up through every hour of your pleasure."
Mr. Robb sighed and walked into his office, leaving the new junior to absorb another impression. The words spoken did impress Nelson. He sat gazing before him at the wall, wondering why the manager was so friendly toward him and so cynical on matters of business. From looking at nothingness his eyes gradually focused on a calendar, and at an "X" mark in pencil thereon. The mark indicated the day when he would make a trip home to tell about "the world": that day had come.
With a smile he laid aside the money-order he had been examining and began straightening up his desk, whistling as he did so. Castle, out in his cash, was annoyed.
"Will you kindly stop that whistling," he commanded in his high tones.
"Excuse me," said the junior quickly, "I wasn't thinking."
"Well you want to think," returned Castle.
"No you don't," called Watson; "you'll get h—l if you dare to think. As the hymn says, 'Trust and obey'—but for heaven's sake don't think. Now I think—"
"Shut up, Bill," interposed Perry, "I've been up this column twice already."
Bill opened his eyes and leered down on the savings man.
"Look who's here," he said, facetiously. "Why, it's the new ledger keeper; the great-grandson of Burroughs, and inventor of the new system of adding—the system which says: Go up a column three times and if the totals agree there is something wrong; mistrust them; get the other man to add it."
Porter scowled. Castle could scarcely repress a smile, but he dug his nose into a bunch of dirty money, and managed to turn his thoughts to microbes and other sober subjects.
Evan, his grip packed, stood apologetically behind the cage, waiting for the teller to turn around.
"What do you want?" said Castle.
"Cash this cheque, will you, please?"
A smile wavered on Watson's lip. Porter felt in his pockets. The teller grinned.
"Hardly worth while keeping that in an account," he said, with the intention of joking. It was a wonder, too, for he seldom tried to be funny with inferiors.
"I wouldn't have even that," replied Evan, "if it weren't for the account."
"You're no humorist, Castle," he said.
The teller was red and white in an instant. The ledger keeper never had shown him any respect; he had called him Mister but a few times, and that was just after Bill had come from another branch. Castle was smaller than Watson and possessed an inferior personality. Bill was big and humorous—and reckless. It was the joy of his life to torment the teller; and yet he was not mean; he was not even obstreperous; he got along splendidly with the manager, and showed him respect.
The teller's anger exhausted itself inwardly. Evan still stood with his grip in his hand looking at the boys working behind their desks. He felt that he ought to bid them good-bye, but he did not like to do it individually, and it was almost as hard to say a general farewell.
"Good-bye," he called faintly from the front door. Castle did not raise his head. Porter and Bill lifted theirs, but only to grin. The manager stepped out of his office and extended his hand with a smile.
"Have a good time," he said, and whispered: "Monday night will do, if your mother kicks very hard."
"Thank you, Mr. Robb, I——"
"That's all right."
On the train Evan rejoiced. He thought of the sad day he had landed at the station of Mt. Alban with lonesomeness and misgivings; of the thrills of discouragement and homesickness that had tortured him for the first two weeks; of the blank explanations of "the porter," and ensuing jumbles of figures and bills; and of his first look at that bed above the vault. It all seemed to have happened at a remote period in his life—probably in the pre-existent land; even balance day, but three days past, was remote.
It was not in these seemingly ancient memories that Evan had his rejoicing, but in the realization that they were memories. As the train carried him buoyantly toward Hometon he recounted the accomplishments he had acquired in four or five weeks. He could add twice as rapidly as any high-school student in the average collegiate; he knew the collection register and diary; he could enter up a savings-bank passbook better than Perry—with a clearer hand and a much clearer comprehension; he could draw a draft, reckon dates of maturity without a calendar; and so on. But, what he prized most, he was familiar with a host of technical terms, used in the banking business the world over. And after buying his ticket and purchasing a hat-pin for his sister, Lou, he had two dollars of his own money in his pocket. That would buy up most of the ice-cream in Hometon, for one evening anyway.
Such thoughts and reflections as these kept Evan interested until the brakeman shouted "Hometon next!" Then a lofty and exulting happiness took the place of interest. He looked on the approaching spires and humble cupolas of his home town with an expression possibly similar to that of an eagle in flight over a settlement of earthy creatures. He felt a sudden loyalty for Mt. Alban, and suspected that it would be part of his professionalism to maintain the honor of his business-town in Hometon.
The bankclerk straightened his back and marched down the aisle of the train. Alfred Castle and the interest table seemed a thousand miles away. Two happy faces smiled at him from the station platform. Frankie Arling and Sister Lou ran up to him.
"Gee, but isn't he a sport?" said Lou, sweeping him in from tip to toe, and addressing herself to her companion.
"Yes, indeed," laughed Frankie, taking his raincoat from his arm, and throwing it over her own. Lou seized his suitcase.
He submitted to the hold-up with a kind of dignity; looked about him with the air of a tourist; and paid less attention to the questions of the girls than he might have done.
"The old town's just the same," he soliloquized aloud.
Lou was speaking to a passer-by and did not hear the remark. Frankie had been paying better attention. She smiled and looked into his face coyly.
"Does it seem so very long since you left, Evan?"
"Well—I don't know, Frank." He regarded her critically. Lou was attending now.
"I expected to find you with a moustache," she said.
The remark fitted so well into Frankie's thoughts it amused her very much. Both girls laughed to each other without restraint. In fact, they were not very sedate for the main street of Hometon.
Mrs. Nelson had the house as clean and cheerful as mother and a summer's day can make a home. She sat on the front verandah with the material for a pair of pyjamas on her white-aproned lap. Long before the three youngsters were within hailing distance she waved the light flannelette above her head.
Evan's kiss made the mother blush. There never had been much demonstration of affection in the family: there had been no excuse for it. But now matters were different. Evan, too, was a trifle embarrassed.
"Well, I like that," said Lou; "he never kissed me, mother!"
He caught his sister and bestowed a gentle bite on her cheek; she squirmed and would not let him away without a conventional kiss. When he had satisfied her, Lou glanced at the brother and then at Frankie.
"Someone else to be smacked," she said, stopping Frankie's flight by winding her arms around the twisting waist.
Evan was ready to turn the whole affair into a joke, and shouting "I'm game," he caught Frankie and pressed his lips to hers.
Again Mrs. Nelson blushed. So did Miss Arling.
"Gee!" cried Lou; "I just thought that's what the bank did for fellows."
Evan was thus acknowledged a regular bankclerk, and the laugh he vented was well tinctured with exultation.
Then began a series of questions and answers, recitations and interruptions, commendations and exaggerations. For two hours the mother, the son and the two wide-eyed girls listened and looked, or asked and received. The expressions Evan used puzzled them, but he shook his head deprecatingly when they asked for definitions which he knew would be unintelligible to them. He had not been talking with them long before he discovered how to interest them—by saying mysterious things. From the moment of his discovery he revelled in the clerical technical phrases that he had picked up at the Mt. Alban office, and the women justified the assertion of that circus man who said: "Humanity likes to be humbugged."
Lou, with a new and sudden affection for housework, insisted on getting the supper. Mrs. Nelson, of course, could not consent to it on this the night of her banker's return; nobody's hands but her own must lay the cloth and mix the salad. But Lou was strangely insistent, and the upshot of the competition was co-operation. Evan was left on the verandah with Frankie.
No doubt there is a time for everything. That was the time for Evan to tell how lonesome he had been.... And this is the time to make a brief sketch of Miss Arling. Her face was sweet, then it was thoughtful; her eyes were blue-green, bright. She looked not unlike Love's incarnation. She bore a strong resemblance to a baby. In short, she was—what her best friends called her—a dear.
"You don't know how I have missed you, Frank," said Evan, and when she gave him a scrutinizing look, he hurriedly added: "a fellow gets so lonesome, you know."
"Do you like the bank, Evan?" she asked, fencing.
"You bet. A fellow gets such a good insight into—things."
"You were a dandy at school," she observed seriously.
He eyed her suspiciously. He was no longer a school-boy. He repeated a remark he had heard in the office:
"If a fellow goes to school all his life he misses the education of business. That's how it is so many professional men fall down when it comes to collecting accounts."
Frankie regarded him with a smile in which considerable admiration shone. She was just a girl of seventeen.
"I suppose it must be nice to make your own living," she said, and, after thinking a moment, "awfully nice!"
"You bet. I got tired of seeing Dad come home for meals all tuckered out, to find me playing ball on the lawn or reading literature on the verandah."
He cast his eyes toward Main Street. The village bell announced the evening meal, and a familiar figure walked toward the home of George Nelson, village merchant.
"There he comes, Frankie," said Evan, unconsciously sighing; "that step will always remind me of summer evenings and studious noon hours."
The bankclerk felt a sudden desire to work hard and repay his father for the consideration shown him at school. The village merchant would have been willing to help his boy through any college in the country, and the boy knew it. He felt proud of his start in business, of the paltry two dollars in his pocket, as he watched his father approach.
Mr. Nelson waved his hat when he saw Evan on the verandah; and when he came up,—
"Hey," he laughed, "it's a wonder you wouldn't call into a fellow's store and say good-day."
Evan shook hands heartily, smiling into the blue eyes that had more than once cowed him with a glance, when he was performing some ridiculous feat of boyhood.
"I understand," said the father, before Evan could make an excuse; "it's up to Ma. I'm surprised she leaves you alone out here with a young lady."
Perceiving the effect of his remark on Frankie, George Nelson laughed merrily and pinched the girl's cheek.
Soon the glad family was seated at a supper table, Mrs. Nelson's table—that is description enough. Frankie knew she was not an intruder. She was there as Lou's companion, not as Evan's sweetheart. She knew Evan wanted her to be there, her mother knew it, his mother knew it, everybody knew it. The whole town knew it. Things might as well be done in the open, in Hometon, for they would out anyway.
"How's business, Dad?" asked Evan, in quite a business tone.
"Oh, just the same. We continue to buy butter for twenty-five cents and sell it retail at twenty-three cents. Joe breaks about the same number of eggs a day, and John is still good opposition. Well—how do you like the bank?"
"Fine," said Evan immediately; "the manager says he is going to push me along."
"Isn't that just splendid," exclaimed the mother, joyously.
"That depends," said Mr. Nelson, mischievously, "what is meant by being pushed along. If it means a move some hundreds of miles away——"
Mrs. Nelson sighed after vainly trying to smile. She was singularly quiet for a while. Her husband was enjoying himself immensely. He was an optimist, his wife inclined to pessimism. George Nelson believed in making the best of things that had already happened and making nothing of things to come until they came. Caroline, his wife, lived a great many of her troubles in advance. At the same time, the father was as "sentimental" as the mother in the teeth of happenings. He could suffer as much beneath a smile as she could behind tears. Encouraging the boy, however, was making the best of matters, and Mr. Nelson was going to do his part.
"Perhaps it's just as well you did quit school, Evan," he said cheerfully; "they say the new principal isn't up to much."
After that the conversation alternated between school and the bank, and Evan was enabled to gather valuable material for the institution of comparisons. He launched out in the direction of a bank and kicked back-water schoolward. He managed so well no one had the heart to duck him; his friends had compassion on him in his young enthusiasm. But in spite of the consent silence is supposed to lend, Evan felt that he was scarcely convincing. An atmosphere of good old days was thrown about him; Frankie seemed to be dropping suggestions continually that took him back to the classroom, where Literature and History charmed, or upon the ball field, where Mike Malone swung his long leg and his barnyard boot. A little opposition would have given the bankclerk a keener interest in the conversation; the reiteration of "yes" seemed to make him doubt his own arguments.
But Evan was not to be disheartened by imaginings. He used more of his technical talk on the "Dad," though with less effect than he had observed on the women, and, as a sort of clincher, divulged a little of the bank's business. The father took an interest there.
"Do you mean to say they've got deposits amounting to that?" he said, postponing a bite.
Mrs. Nelson lighted up. Evan was coming out.
"Isn't it grand," she cried, "to think your bank is so strong, Evan. Just think of all those deposits."
"Humph!" grunted the father, "and a fellow can't get a loan to save his neck."
He stole a look at his son, but Evan was not familiar with loans, yet. His first business in that direction was going to be done with Watson, a few days later. Mr. Nelson's hint affecting the management of a bank passed over Evan's head, for Evan was a clerk, not a banker. When it came to actual banking the father knew much more than our banker did, but his knowledge was not comprehensible to the boy, much less to Mrs. Nelson. The "Dad" could only eat his baked potato, look at his dish of strawberries—and trust to the future.
Saturday evening was a small triumph for Evan. He walked up and down the village street with Frankie and Lou, ravaged the refreshment parlors, chatted at every crossing with a bevy of old schoolmates, and spent an enjoyable and typically "village" night.
Sunday morning was bright, and the Nelson family was gay. The word "bank" reverberated throughout the kitchen, the dining-room and parlor, floated around the verandah, tinkled among the Chinese jingles clinking in the breeze, and bounced like a ball on the lawn. Evan was happy all forenoon. And he talked a great deal at dinner.
After dinner, though, Our Banker's mind took a business turn. He thought of what the manager had said to him about work piling up and waiting for the clerk. While he sat for a few moments alone on the verandah he mentally sorted over a bunch of bills, entered them up wrong, heard Castle's squawking voice, and eventually yawned over a heap of mail. He found several envelopes returned from wrong banks and was (still mentally) expecting a memo from head office about them.
His father came quietly out of the house and took a chair beside him, driving away his routine ruminations.
"Evan," he said seriously, "I had a talk with your old teacher not long ago and he said it was a shame for you to quit school just when you did. He said you should have got your matric. at least, so that if ever you tired of the bank you could jump right into college. Now, if ever you feel like quitting, remember I'll be only too glad to send you back to school."
Those words had an effect exactly the contrary to what was intended. Evan felt the force of his father's generosity and unselfishness; he was strengthened in his resolve to be independent; not only independent, but a help to his father.
"No, Dad," he said; "I'm very fond of bank work, and I know I'll succeed."
Both encouragement and discouragement had the effect of spurring Evan on. There was no hope for him: he must go in and play the game—or, rather, fight the fight—to a finish. Then he would know what others knew but could not tell him; what Sam Robb knew and would have been happy to make every prospective bankclerk understand.
In spite of himself and his surroundings Evan felt the old homesickness creeping over him Sunday night. He had decided to take the first train on Monday back to work; he told himself that the hardest way was the best way, and he sought a short cut to success. After church Frankie found it difficult to elicit cheerful words from him.
The two strolled along a side street. Those dear old Ontario villages and towns where the boys and girls walk on Sunday nights along tree-darkened ways, how long will they listen to the repetitions of lovers? Evan's and Frankie's parents had said the same "foolish" things to each other that Evan and Frankie were now saying, and on the very same street. History repeats, but not with the accuracy of Love.
"Some day I'll come home a manager, Frankie," he was saying, "and then you and I will get married."
"Oh, I hope so," she answered.
She went to bed that night with a happy young heart, and Evan retired feeling sure he loved and would some day marry Frankie Arling.
BEING A SPORT.
A sickening sensation took possession of Evan as he boarded the train Monday forenoon for Mt. Alban. He found it hard to banish from his thoughts the invitation his father had given him, to return to school and the pleasant experiences that made up a school education.
The two young girls waved him good-bye from the platform of Hometon station, and it afterwards became known that a tear had stood for a second in the bankclerk's eye.
"You needn't have come till night," said the manager, as Evan walked solemnly into the office.
The words made Evan more homesick than ever. One characteristic of the disease known as homesickness is a strong tendency toward a relapse. One may imagine himself cured, he goes out of his environment,—and comes back with a new attack.
Because of the pain occasioned by visiting home Evan decided he would stay away several months before making another excursion among home-folk. In this resolve he was unintentionally selfish; his mother and his other friends loved to see his face, if it were but for an hour. But young men are always inconsiderate of their loved ones' affections. They probably fear that in humoring their parents and kin they will humor themselves to the point of losing their grit. What Evan considered self-preservation was, from the standpoint of the folk at home, something resembling neglect or indifference. When his mother received a note from him saying he would not be home till fall, she had a "good" cry. Mr. Nelson smiled, while the women-folk were looking, and sighed later.
"Let him go it," he said, cheerily; "it takes these things to make a man, you know."
Mrs. Nelson was more resigned after that; she was most anxious to see her son "a man."
Frankie was also notified of the rigid resolve. She felt chilly while reading the letter, and postponed an answer for two weeks. The letter she wrote was as follows:
"Dear Evan,—I don't see why you should make yourself any further away than you really are. It may not be very much pleasure for you to come back to this little burg, but it is nice for us.
"I wrote off my Latin and German papers to-day; to-morrow it's French and Literature. Do you remember how you used to help me guess the passages for memorization? You surely were a lucky guesser.
"If you are dead certain you don't want to come home for all those months, you will at least write occasionally and tell us how you are getting along. Mother is calling me now, and I must close. I hope you won't be offended at this letter.
When Evan received the note from "his" girl he was much excited. Perry had been moved, a new junior had come, and the old junior was promoted to savings bank. Not only was he excited, he was confused. Besides having to actually wait on customers he was obliged to break in the new "swipe"; and the latter, sad to tell, was about Porter's speed.
The reply Evan sent Frankie was busy. It was rushed off to convey the good news of promotion, and must necessarily have a business ring. In spite of its brevity, however, it contained two or three new bank idioms.
Real work began for Nelson. Not to say that a juniorship is a sinecure: some swipes earn their salaries several times over. One was once known to write the inspector as follows:
"Dear Sir,—I could make more money sawing wood than I can banking."
The following reply came back, through the manager, of course:
"Tell M—— he could earn more money at the job he mentions, but that it would not take him so long to learn wood-sawing as it will to learn banking."
The inspector might have gone one step further and got to the truth of the matter. One requires no education to saw wood, and no intellect; but both education and a certain degree of intelligence must appertain to him who would make successful application to a bank; and education itself requires an expenditure of time and money. The ability a young man possesses has cost him something and has cost his father or widowed mother a great deal. What right has the bank to use it without paying what it is worth? It ought to be worth a bare living, at least—like wood-sawing.
Time flew, for Evan, on his new post. There is certain excitement about bank work, just as there is in playing checkers. It is said of both occupations that they develop the faculties. Counting the stars also strengthens certain brain-tissues. In fact, there are many educational agencies in the world and the universe: it is no trouble to find one or a thousand—the difficulty comes in selecting. He who can choose, with open eyes, the factors that shall enter into his education, is going to be among the fittest. But few boys of seventeen know where to look; certainly Evan Nelson did not. He was naturally a specialist; that is, he was one to put his whole heart into anything. If he had been left to the moulding influence of a university he would have fastened upon literature or science and created something for the world; but, unfortunately, he was thrown headlong into a counting-house, and, being an enthusiast, began to dig among musty books with an energy that was, in great measure, wasted—except, to the beneficiaries of the concern.
The life he had led at home had given Evan scope for his imagination. The life he now led made no demand on his creative powers, with the result that his imagination turned away from great things and concentrated on little things—like pleasure.
It was the old story, the story that Sam Robb and others knew. With Nelson it began later than usual, but came with a rush in the following way:
One night in his room above the vault he sat reading in French a story from De Maupassant, a dictionary beside him. Bill Watson walked into the room and sat down with a grunt, and a cigarette. He lounged back in a chair, well-dressed and glossy-looking, and puffed white rings upward toward the ceiling.
"Why don't you go out a little, Evan?" he said, casually.
The ledger keepers had become pretty well acquainted by now. Evan's sincerity and energy were telling on the books, too. Even Castle had spoken nicely to him one day.
"Out where?" asked Evan, looking away from the French fiction.
"To parties. Where did you think I meant—out in the back yard?"
"I don't know many people yet," replied the savings man.
"You never will, either, unless you make a break. Say, kid, there's a party on to-night. I can get you a pass. Will you come?"
"It's too late," parried Evan.
Bill regarded him with a look of pity.
"Don't ever make a break like that to a girl in this town," he said, smiling, "or she'll take you for a greeny. People don't go to dances at eight o'clock, you know—not in Mt. Alban."
Nelson felt embarrassed. Watson was talking on:
"It helps business, you know. Customers like to know the fellows who are looking after their money. They like to think you take an interest in them."
Evan closed his book quickly.
"I'm not afraid to go to the hanged party," he said suddenly.
"That's talking, Nelsy. Get busy, then. You've got nothing to shave, so it shouldn't take you long to get ready."
Before long the new savings man presented himself dressed for the dance. Bill regarded him with concealed amusement.
"Say, Evan," he said softly, "could you lend us a dollar? I think there's something in my account, but I forgot to draw it this afternoon."
Evan knew there was nothing in Bill's account, but he could not refuse the trifling loan. He wondered how Watson could spend eight dollars a week, when his board only cost him three dollars and a half.
In return for the loan Bill did his best to make Evan feel comfortable at the dance. Now the savings man knew nothing about dancing, and he was equally ignorant of cards. He found girls at the party anxious to teach him the former, and married ladies ready to give him "a hand." With thought of Watson's recently delivered words fresh in his mind, he began to learn new ways of making himself valuable to the bank. He would ingratiate himself with the customers.
Two members of the party were particularly agreeable "customers." Evan discovered that there were some very interesting girls in Mt. Alban. One of the two belles paid Watson great attention and the other seemed partial to Evan himself; both treated him exceedingly well.
"She's a bird, isn't she, Nelson?" observed Watson, when the two bankclerks were alone for a moment.
"You bet. That dark hair of hers is mighty becoming."
"I mean the other, you jackass. Mine."
"Oh," said Nelson, absently.
The following day Julia Watersea came into the bank and deposited some money with the teller. Evan felt his face fill up when he saw the red passbook—it meant she would have to face him before the transaction was finished.
"How are you to-day?" he asked, working hard on the book and trying to look professional.
"Very well, thank you, Mr. Nelson. By the way, do you like picnics?"
Bill kicked him from behind.
"Yes—yes, indeed," said Evan, quickly.
"Well, we girls are getting one up for Saturday afternoon. Could you and Mr. Watson come?"
Bill rushed up to the savings wicket.
"Could we?" he cried, smiling at the dark-haired girl. "Can we?"
"All right," said Julia, with color; "we're going to meet at our place."
De Maupassant and the dictionary were doomed. Bill warmed up to the junior ledgerman now that the latter was growing sociable. He periodically forgot to put a cheque through during bank hours, preferring to do his business through Evan.
Miss Watersea's picnic happened, and it was a good one. Evan enjoyed himself so well he forgot to write Frankie her weekly letter. He would have had to mention Julia in it, anyway, and perhaps it was as well to omit writing altogether.
The girl Bill called his was something like Lou Nelson. Evan felt at home in her company, but she did not attract him in the same way Julia did. Hazel Morton had more fire in her than either Lou or Julia—that, Evan said to himself, was how it was she held Bill Watson. Bill was not at all easy to hold.
In the day when Evan Nelson was a savings ledgerman, bankclerks in Eastern towns were nicknamed "village idols." The title was quite appropriate, too. Even yet bankboys are looked for and looked after in those towns. It is quite natural that they should be, for they are a good class of fellows. The worst that can be said about them, as a rule, concerns their prospects; and it is to the credit of young women that they do not take a man's means into account when they want to fancy him.
After the picnic Bill and Evan were alone above the vault. The current-account man was moody.
"Kid," he said, impulsively, "it's —— to be poor, isn't it? Why don't you kick once in a while? The only decent kicker we have around this dump is Robb. He's all right."
Evan smiled pensively.
"—— it," continued Watson, "I don't see why a fellow can't earn enough to—to—"
"Get married on?" suggested Evan, who was, at the same moment thinking of an ideal composed of Frankie Arling and Julia Watersea.
"Sure! Why not?"
"Would you really like to get married, Bill?"
"Yes, I would."
"So would I."
Watson was forced to laugh. He was twenty—that was bad enough. But Nelson was not yet eighteen. Bill continued to gaze at the serious face of his companion until his own countenance changed. Instead of speaking or sighing he lighted a cigarette.
"Will you have one, Nelsy?"
Evan shook his head.
"Do you think Julia would object?"
"What's she got to do with me?" challenged Nelson.
"Why, she's your girl, man. Sailors have sweethearts in every port, you know, and bankers in every town."
Evan tried to connect sailors and sweethearts with cigarettes, but just at that time was unable to establish anything but a far-fetched relationship. Later in life, on the Bowery, he thought he saw the connection.
In the midst of parties and picnics balance day loomed up. Castle's frame of mind, like a special make of barometer, registered the event a day or so in advance.
"Have you got your ledger proved up?" he asked Evan.
"Pretty well, I think."
Under Bill's tutelage, Evan had dropped the "sir" when speaking to Castle.
"Remember, the interest has to be computed this month. Watson, it will be up to you to check it."
"I'm not the accountant," said Bill, chewing gum with a smacking noise. "I'll help him make it up, though."
Mr. Robb came to the cage door for some change, and the teller referred the matter to him.
"Oh, do your best with it, boys," he said. "I'm strong for co-operation. There isn't enough of it among the staff."
Castle turned away with a sneer.
"I've got the liability," he said, sulkingly.
"I'll take charge of that this time," returned Robb; "give the boys a hand at the savings, Alf. And say, Watson, get the cash book written up early so that I can post the general, will you?"
"All right, sir," said Bill, cheerily.
Evan experienced a thrill as these orders were passed around. He felt that he was part of a great system. The names of ledgers and balance-books sounded pleasant to him, for he was daily learning considerable about them. Their puzzles were solving and their mysteries dissolving before his constant gaze. He felt like an engineer lately on the job, or a new chauffeur, only more mighty.
His sense of greatness waned, though, toward midnight on balance day. The savings ledger was out an ugly amount. Bill was also in straits.
"It's a wonder to me," he growled, as the two plodded along alone in the semi-darkness, "that bankclerks don't go nutty."
Evan was scaling a column and did not answer. Watson continued, keeping time with the adding machine.
"Work, work, work; doggone them, it's a wonder they wouldn't ask for a few more particulars on this ledger-sheet. Why, in heaven's name, do they want the names of customers down at head office? They don't know these ginks here, and never will. If they don't believe our totals, why don't they come and look over the books? Oh, ——!"
"Hurrah!" shouted Nelson, cavorting around his desk.
Bill knew the savings man must have struck a balance, but he was too sorely irritated to show enthusiasm.
"Why don't you pat me on the back, Bill?"
"Shut up. Anybody could balance that passbook of a ledger."
Evan cooled down and remained quiet a while. Bill, thinking he had offended his companion, soon looked across with an apologetic smile. Nelson was staring wildly at his totals.
"What's the matter?" asked Watson, well acquainted with vacant looks in bankclerk faces on balance night.
"I—I thought I was balanced. It seems to be one cent out."
The reaction struck Bill as funny, because it duplicated experiences he had had and seen, but he made an effort to suppress his mirth. He laughed silently upon his own unbalanced return-sheet until his nervous system was satisfied, then he spoke.
"What do you want?" sourly.
"Did you ever hear the story about the maid who counted her chickens before they were?"
Evan scowled and raced up and down his columns in search of the stray cent. He did not find it. Bill took pity, seeing that he would not have to go past the units column, and proved Evan's totals. But the cent still hid.
"I'll bet it's in the calling," he said, grinning. "Do you know what that means?"
"It means you will have to tick off a whole month's work. And remember, we've got the interest to make up, too. No parties this week, kiddo. No more Julias for yours. She'll have another fancier by the time you're unearthed from this junk-heap."
Nelson wondered how Watson could make light of so gloomy a matter. He took his own work very seriously, as most bankboys have to. Bill often worried, but not about his work. When he changed pillows it was a question of finance.
"Cheer up, Nelsy," he said, carelessly, "things always turn up. Remember the old motto: 'It took Noah six hundred years to learn how to build an ark; don't lose your grit.' I'll fish you out if you get too far under water."
Evan was not fond of the idea of being fished out. He wanted to swim unaided.
But he failed. All next day he worried over his "difference," giving a start whenever one cent detached itself from an amount. In the evening Bill called off the ledger to him. When they were nearing the end he called an amount one cent wrong.
"What's that, what's that?" Evan repeated, excitedly.
Bill called it again, but rightly. He chuckled quietly for a little space, greatly to Nelson's aggravation.
It was midnight the first of the month. The savings man struggled alone with his balance; the desks swam around the office and figures danced like devils before him.
"D—!" he muttered.
That was one of his first legitimate swear-words at Mt. Alban—but others would come. The recording angel up above might as well open an account first as last, for one more human being had entered a bank.
The front door jarred and some of the bankboys entered. Bill was not quite sober, and one of his companions had, what he himself insisted was, "about half a bun."
"Don't work all night, Nelsy," said Watson, "th-there's another d-day coming."
"Sure, lots 'em," said the half-intoxicated one.
A teller from one of the other Mt. Alban banks extended a box of cigarettes toward Nelson.
"By heck, it helps a fellow a whole lot when he's tired," said the teller; "come on—just one."
Even felt fagged from hours of bootless labor. He hesitated, almost stupidly, and the bankclerk pushed the box rapidly into his hand. He figured it would be childish to refuse after that—and accepted his first cigarette.
It did help him, for the moment. After a few puffs he began to be amused at Bill's words and actions.
"Close up shop," said Bill, recklessly; "to —— with honest endeavor."
"How much are you out?" asked the alien teller.
"One dirty little copper," said Bill, answering for his desk-mate.
"Let's have a look," said the teller. "This is against the rules, I know—"
"Aw, bury the rules," cried Watson.
While the teller looked Evan's difference loomed up as big as a mountain. The tired savings clerk had stumbled over it many times.
"By Jove!" he shouted, "give us another cigarette!"
A moment later he was sorry he had asked for it, but he was obliged to smoke it. It brought him such pleasant sensations he decided it would be a good medicine to take in crises of hard work.
Immediately after Nelson's difference was found, the boys planned a dance. They had been treated well by the girls of Mt. Alban, and it was up to them to reciprocate.
"Don't you think so?" asked the semi-drunk.
"Sure," said Evan, choking on an inhale.
"Who'll start the fund?" asked Bill.
"I will," responded Nelson, producing a five-dollar bill—all he had.
"That's the kind of a sport," said the foreign teller. "Gee! I haven't seen a real five outside my cage for a month."
"I wish I was on the cash like you, Jack," grinned Watson.
"What would you do?"
"Why, borrow a little occasionally. You didn't get me wrong, I hope?"
"No chance, Bill; we know you're honest."
The dance given by the bankboys of Mt. Alban was a success—in all but a financial way. The thing did not pay for itself, and there was an extra draft on each banker for two dollars. Even wrote home for a loan of five dollars. He also hinted that he needed a new suit, that he felt shabby at parties beside the private banker's son and the haberdasher's nephew. A cheque came signed "George Nelson"; it was twenty-five dollars high. Evan sighed. Then he slowly folded the cheque into his wallet.
He ordered a suit from one of the town tailors and paid ten dollars down.
Bill Watson usually wrote the cash book and the cash items. He saw the cheque from Hometon and made mental note of it. A day or two later he asked Evan for a loan to pay the bank guarantee premium, and got five dollars.
When his suit was finished Nelson was a few dollars short. He went on the tailor's books. The same night Julia Watersea called him up and asked him down. He felt obliged to take some candy along.
"How much should I spend for a box of chocolates, Bill?" he asked.
"Nothing less than a buck, kid," replied Bill, almost rendering his speech ambiguous.
Evan's salary was still two hundred a year—dollars, not pounds. The box of candy he bought consumed almost two days' earnings.
While Evan and Julia ate their candy and put their digestive organs out of tune, Frankie Arling sat reading stray poems from her French reader. She repeated to herself, in the little nook she called her study, a verse of De Musset's:
"J'ai perdu ma force et ma vie, Et mes amis et ma gaiete; J'ai perdu jusqu'a, la fierte Qui faisait croire a mon genie."
That was about how she felt. She had cried considerably when Our Banker first went away. Now she did not yield to the temptation of tears, but she was miserably lonesome and sad—the more so since his letters grew less and less frequent and less intimate.
Frankie was a girl of seventeen and as romantic as those young creatures are made. She had always been Evan's "school girl," and he had always been her juvenile hero. Perhaps theirs was the commonest form of love-affair, but the character of the affection could never rightly be called "common." Incompatibility makes affection commonplace and mean, but Frankie and Evan were suited to each other. They both knew they were, and that knowledge made them feel sure of the ideals they cherished.
Because she clung to her ideals so tenaciously Frankie was often very wretched; she was so on the night of Evan's visit to the Waterseas with the box of candy. Not that she knew about it—but she began to doubt the impossibility of such happenings. His letters had gradually fed a suspicion in her mind.
An idea occurred to Frankie. She would call up Mr. Dunlap, the Hometon teller, and invite him up to spend the evening; then she would question him concerning the fickleness of bankclerks.
Dunlap answered her telephone call with the words: "Well, Miss Arling, I'm working to-night—but I'll gladly postpone work for you." He accepted the invitation with alacrity and seemed quite pleased with the verandah welcome he received. Mrs. Arling was out, and he could not occupy the parlor alone with the daughter; but still he had reason to be thankful.
"How is Evan getting along?" was one of the first questions the bankclerk asked.
"Very well, I think," answered Frankie; then, settling immediately to business: "Tell me, Mr. Dunlap, is bank work very exciting?"
"Oh, I don't know. There are some things about it that keep up your spirits. Not so much the bank work itself as the associations."
"What do you mean by 'associations'?"
"Well—when a fellow gets moved, for instance, he meets new—"
"Girls?" suggested Frankie, smiling faintly.
Miss Arling did not recognize the attempt at gallantry.
"I suppose you have been moved pretty often, haven't you, Mr. Dunlap?"
"Six times in four years."
"Have you a girl in every place where you lived?"
"Not exactly," he laughed. "Of course, I write an odd letter to somebody in every one of those towns."
The school-girl had found out what she wanted to know. If Dunlap had come to visit her with any idea that she had forgotten her school-"fellow," Nelson, he could not have cherished the illusion long, for she seemed to lose interest in everything, all very suddenly, and when he suggested that he probably ought to go back and balance the ledger-keeper's books she encouraged him in so generous an undertaking. A man with six girls knows when he is wanted.
Frankie went in to her piano and played "Sleep and Forget." That was a strange selection for a young school-girl to choose; but young girls are born dramatists. Darkness had fallen and the stars were beginning to peep. She was on the verandah again, looking at the evening sky, wondering why people left home and loved ones for the other things, wealth, fame, pleasure, change. The night had sadness in its countenance—which it reflected to the girl's. She was quite like a summer's evening. She should have been, perhaps, more like a summer morning.
While the Hometon girl stood on her father's verandah, gazing and philosophizing, Evan stood on the Watersea verandah at Mt. Alban, gazing also, but not reflecting. He was looking into the eyes of Julia, rather steadily for a lad of less than eighteen, and talking.
"Mighty good of you to take in a stranger like me," he was saying.
"My dear boy" (Julia was past nineteen), "we just love to have your company. Come any time you can."
He had a sudden impulse to take her hand, but she seemed to detect it, and subdued him with a powerful smile.
"Call me 'Julia,' won't you?"
"All right, I will." (But he didn't.) "I think you are a good sport."
"Call me 'Evan,' will you?"
"What a nice name," she smiled; "it's odd. All right, Evan, but you mustn't call me a 'sport.'"
He had thought it was going to be considerable of a compliment.
"You know what I mean, Miss—Julia!"
"Oh, don't call me 'Miss Julia,'" she laughed; "that sounds like a maiden aunt."
He colored; his breaks were coming too thickly.
They wandered down the lawn-walk to the gate, and there Nelson bade her good-night by shaking hands. He knew she would be in the bank next day, but handshakes are always in order after nine o'clock p.m.
As he walked along Mt. Alban's quietest and prettiest street toward the bank a peculiar sense of loneliness and guilt possessed him. He suggested to himself that he only regarded Julia as a friend, and that knowing people like the Waterseas was necessary to his success as a banker. Of course he intended to pay his way along; he would always give Julia candy and take her out, in return for her kindness to him. The thought that he might be involving her in one of those attachments more easily made than broken did not enter Evan's head. He was too inexperienced to worry over such matters. Others were too experienced.