Stories by American Authors, Volume 1

Part 3 out of 3

had kissed him. He seemed to be the innocent mouthpiece of a piece of
flagrant nonsense.

There was a moment's silence. Then a heavy-voiced gentleman took up a
pen and said:

"Is this man's name Dreyfus--or--or what is it?"

"Let me think," returned the president, returning once more to the
Commerce; "Dreyfus?--no--not Dreyfus--yes--no. Paying teller--hum--it's
curious I can't recall--it commences with an F--FIELDS--yes, Fields!
that's his name--Fields, to be sure!"

The questioner at once wrote down the word on the paper.

"This is the second time that he has applied for this favor, is it not?"
formally inquired another of the thirteen, in the tone that a judge uses
when he asks the clerk, "Has he not been before me on a former

"Yes," replied the president, "this is a renewal of an effort made six
months ago."

There was a general movement. Several chairs rolled back, and their
occupants exchanged querulous glances.

"Suppose we hear the letter read," suggested a fair soul. "Perhaps"--a
septuagenarian, with snowy hair and a thin body, clad in the clerical
guise of the old school, and who had made a fortune by inventing a
hat-block, arose hastily to his feet, and said:

"I cannot stay to listen to a dun!"

A chorus from the majority echoed the exclamation. All but four
staggered to their feet, and tottered off in various directions; some to
pretend to look out at the window, and some to the wardrobes, where was
deposited their outer clothing.

"Clarks," stammered the feeble hatter, feeling vainly for the arm-holes
in his great-coat--"clarks presume on their value. Turn 'em out, say I.
Give 'em a chance to rotate. You've got my opinion, Mr. President.
Refuse what's-his-name, Fields. Tell him he's happy and well off now,
without knowing it. Where _can_ be the sleeves to--to this"--his
voice expired in his perplexity.

Fields's cause looked blue. One director after another groped to the
door, saying, as he went, "I can't encourage it, Mr. President--tell him
'No,' Mr. President--it would only make the rest uneasy if we allowed
it--plenty more to fill his place."

The hatter's voice stopped further mention of the subject. He stood at
one end of the apartment in a paroxysm of laughter. Tears filled his
eyes. He pointed to another director, who, at the other extremity of the
room, was also puzzling over a coat. "There's Stuart with my mackintosh!
He's trying to _put it on--_and here am I with _his_ coat trying to put
_that_ on. I--I said to myself, 'This is pretty large for a slim man
like you.'--Great God, Stuart, if I hadn't been quick-sighted we might
have stayed here all night!" He immediately fell into another fit of
laughter, and so did his friend. They exchanged coats with great
hilarity, and those who had gone out of the door lumbered back to learn
the cause of it. The story went round from one to the other, "Why,
Stuart had Jacobs's coat, and Jacobs had Stuart's coat!" Everybody went
into convulsions, and the president drew out his pocket-handkerchief and
shrieked into it.

The board broke up with great good feeling, and Jacobs went away very
weak, saying that he was going to tell the joke against Stuart on the
street--if he lived to get there.

Three gentlemen remained, professedly to hear Fields's letter read. Two
staid because the room was comfortable, and the other because he wanted
to have a little private conversation with the president afterward.

Therefore the president wiped away the tears that Stuart's humor had
forced from his eyes, and opened the crumpled letter, and, turning his
back to the light, read it aloud, while the rest listened with looks of
great amusement in their wrinkled faces.

"_To the President and Directors of the ---- National Bank._

"GENTLEMEN: I most respectfully renew my application for an increase
of my salary to five thousand dollars per annum, it now being four
thousand. I am impelled to do this because I am convinced that I am
not sufficiently recompensed for the labor I perform; and because
other tellers, having the same responsibilities, receive the larger
sum per annum; and, lastly, because I am about to be married.

"I remember that your answer to my first application was a definite
refusal, and I blamed myself for not having presented the case more
clearly to your distinguished notice. Will you permit me to rectify
that fault now, and to state briefly why I feel assured that my
present claim is not an unreasonable one?

"1. While ten years ago we agreed that three thousand dollars was a
fair compensation for the work I was then called upon to perform,
and four years later agreed that four thousand dollars was then fair
pay for my increased tasks, caused by the increase of your business,
is it not just that I should now ask for a still further advance in
view of the fact that your business has doubled since the date of
our last contract?

"It has been necessary for me to acquaint myself with the signatures
and business customs and qualifications of twice the former number
of your customers, and my liability to error has also become greater
in like ratio. But I have committed no errors, which argues that I
have kept up an equal strain of care. This has made demands upon my
brain and my bodily strength, which I think should be requited for.

"2. I, like each of you, will one day reach an age when the body and
mind will no longer be able to provide for themselves. But between
us, should we continue our present relations, there would be this
vital difference: You would have made an accumulation of wealth that
would be sufficient for your wants, while I would be poor in spite
of the fact that I labored with you, and next to yourselves did the
most to protect your interests. In view of my approaching
incompetence (no matter how far off it is), I am working at a
disadvantage. Would it not be right to enable me to protect myself
from this disadvantage?

"3. While you pay me a price for my labor and for my skill as an
_expert_, do you compensate me for the trials you put upon my
probity? You pay me for what I do, but do you reward me for what I
_might_, but do _not_ do? Is what I do _not_ do a marketable
quantity? I think that it is. To prove it, inquire of those whose
servants have behaved ill, whether they would not have paid
something to have forestalled their dishonesty.

"There is a bad strain to this paragraph, and I will not dwell upon
it. I only ask you to remember that enormous sums of money pass
through my hands every day, and that the smallest slip of my memory,
or of my care, or of my fidelity, might cause you irreparable loss.
Familiarity with money and operations in money always tend to lessen
the respect for the regard that others hold it in. To resist the
subtle influences of this familiarity involves a certain wear and
tear of those principles which _must_ be kept intact for your sake.

"I beg you to accept what is my evident meaning, even if my method
of setting it forth has not been particularly happy. I have assured
myself that my claim is a valid one, and I await your obliging reply
with anxiety.

"I remain, very respectfully, "Your obedient servant,

"----FIELDS, _Paying Teller."_

At the end the president suddenly lowered his head with a smile, and
looked over the top of his glasses at his audience, clearly meaning,
"There's a letter for you!"

But two of the gentlemen were fast asleep, nodding gently at one another
across the table, while their hands clasped the arms of their chairs.
The other one was looking up toward the roofs of the buildings opposite,
absorbed in speculation.

The president said, aloud:

"I think, as long as Fields has made such a touse about it, that I'd
better draft a reply, and not give him a verbal an--"

"Draft!" said the speculator, brought to life by the word. "Draft did
you say, sir? What?--On whom?--"

"I said 'draft a reply' to--to this," returned the other, waving the

"Oh, a reply! Draft one. Draft a reply--a reply to the letter about the
salary. Oh, certainly, by all means."

"And read it to the directors at the meeting next Friday," suggested the

The speculator's eyes turned vacantly upon him, and it was full half a
minute before he comprehended. "Yes, yes, of course, read it to the
directors next Friday. They'll approve it, you know. That will be
regular, and according to rule. But about Steinmeyer, you know. When a
man like Steinmeyer does such a thing as--but just come to the window a

He led the president off by the arm, and that was the last of Fields's
letter for that day.

* * * * *


Fields was truly on the anxious-seat.

As he had said in his letter, he was engaged to be married, and he
wanted to be about the consummation of the contract, for he had already
delayed too long. His _affiancee_ was a sweet girl who lived with her
widowed mother in the country, where they had a fine house, and a fine
demesne attached to it. When the time for the marriage was finally
settled upon, the lady instantly set about remodelling her domicile and
its surroundings, and making it fit for the new spirits that were soon
to inhabit it. She drew upon her accumulation of money that had thriven
long in a private bank, and expended it in laying out new lawns,
planting new trees, building new stables, erecting tasteful graperies
and kiosks. This sum was not very large, and it included not only what
had been saved out of the earnings of the farm, but also what had been
saved out of the income from the widow's property, which consisted of
twelve thousand dollars in insurance stock.

Fields had thus far expended nearly all of his salary of four thousand
dollars. He was accustomed to use a quarter of it for his own purposes,
and the rest he applied to the comfort of his aged parents, whom he
maintained. Thus it will be seen that Fields's desire to add to his own
wealth had reason to be.

Just at this time there stepped in the Chicago fire. On the second day
Fields began to be frightened about the twelve thousand dollars in
insurance stock. Telegrams poured into the city by hundreds, and the
tale grew more dismal with each hour.

His fears were realized. The widow's money was swept away, and a sort of
paralysis fell upon the country-house and all its surroundings. The
carpenters went away from the kiosks, the masons from the face-walls,
the smiths from the graperies, the gardeners from the lawns, and
everything came to a stand-still. The extra farm-hands were discharged,
and much of the work was left unfinished.

What was to be done?

The mother and daughter wept in secret. Their careers had been
interrupted. Desolation was out-of-doors, and desolation was in their
hearts. The earth lay in ragged heaps; beams and timbers leaned half
erect; barns were party-colored with the old paint and the new, and the
shrubbery was bare to the frosts. Joys which had smiled had fled into
the far distance, and now looked surly enough; all pleasures were
unhorsed, and hope was down.

It was under these circumstances that Fields wrote a second time to the
honorable board of directors to ask them to pay him better wages.

Friday came. There was a meeting, and Fields knew that his case must now
be receiving consideration.

At eleven o'clock the directors emerged from their parlor, and passed
by his desk in twos and threes, chatting and telling watery jokes, as
most great men do.

"They look as if they had entirely forgotten me," said Fields to

Pretty soon the cashier came and placed a letter upon his counter.

"Ah!" thought the teller, "I was mistaken. I wonder if I can read it
here without changing countenance?"

He could but try it. He tore off the envelope. It went thus:

"_Mr.----Fields, Paying Teller._

"DEAR SIR: The president and directors, to whom you addressed a
request for an increase of salary, must beg to criticise the
arguments advanced in your polite note.

"They do not understand why you should place a new value upon your
honesty because in other people there happens to be sometimes such a
thing as dishonesty. It is a popular notion that honesty among men
is rare, but the idea is a mistaken one. Honesty of the purest kind,
as honesty is usually understood, is very common. They cannot help
feeling, also, that you somewhat overestimate the value of your
work, which to them seems to be only a higher sort of routine,
calling for no intellectual endeavor, and requiring but little more
than an ordinary bookkeeper's care for its perfect performance. But
for the differences that _do_ exist between your tasks and those of
the bookkeeper you will remember you are already compensated by a
salary a fourth larger.

"Briefly, they consider their bank a piece of money-making
mechanism, of which you are an able and respected part; but they
cannot understand how you could hope to raise their fear of
peculations and villainies when their system of checks and
counter-checks is so perfect. They have never lost a dollar by the
immorality of any of their employes, and they are sure that matters
are so arranged that any such immorality, even of the rankest kind,
could occasion them no inconvenience.

"Nor do they comprehend why your idea that increase of business
justifies a request for an increase of salary may not be met with
the suggestion that your hours of labor are the same as your former
hours, and that all you were able to perform in those hours, to the
best of your capacity, was purchased at the beginning of your
connection with them.

"In regard to the pure question of the sufficiency of your salary,
they hint in the kindest manner that all expenditures are
contractible as well as extensible.

"They hasten to take this opportunity to express to you their
appreciation of your perfect exhibits; and, complimenting you upon
the care with which you have fulfilled the duties of your post, they
remain your obedient servants."

The teller felt that a more maddening letter could not have been
written. Its civility seemed to him to be disagreeable suavity; its
failure to particularize the points he made to be a disgraceful evasion;
and the liberty it took in generalizing his case to be an enormous

The very first sentence on honesty put him in the light of a
blackmailer--one that threatened mischief if his demands were not
complied with. The next sentence went to show that he was an egotist,
because he thought his labors required wear and tear of brain. The third
called him a sound cog-wheel. The latter part of the same said that a
villain could do no evil if he wished to, for they (the directors) had
protected themselves against villains. Then it went on to say that the
writers did not understand how anxiety and caution could be involved in
the pursuit of his duties; and then it was thrown out that his marriage
was _his_ seeking--not theirs. Finally, they patted him on the head.

The devil!

Fields passed a sleepless night. He felt that he had been belittled to
the extremest point, and that there was not a foothold left for his
dignity. His soul was incised and chafed, and he lay awake thinking that
degradation of himself and his office could have proceeded no further.

Toward morning he hit upon a plan to establish himself in what he
believed to be the proper light. "It will require nerve," reflected he,
doubtingly, "and not only nerve in itself, but a certain exact quantity
of it. Too much nerve would destroy me, and too little nerve would do
the same thing. I think, however, that I can manage it. I feel able to
do anything. Even a paying teller will turn if--" etc., etc.

* * * * *


On the following Monday there was a special meeting of the directors for
the purpose of examining the books and accounts of the bank. The
bank-controller was expected to call for an exhibit within the coming
week, and it was desirable that the directors should feel assured that
their institution was in the proper order. The call of the controller
was always impending. It might come any day, and it would require an
exhibit of the condition of the bank on any previous day. He was
permitted to make five of these calls during the year, and, inasmuch as
he was at liberty to choose his own days, his check upon the banks was
complete. If he found a bank that had not fulfilled the requirements of
law, he was obliged to take away its charter, and to close it: hence the
examination-meeting in the present case. The accounts of the tellers
were passed upon, the cashier's books were looked over, as were also
those of the regular bookkeepers. There seemed to be no errors, and the
contents of the safes were proved. There was perfect order in all the
departments. The clerks were complimented. "Now," said Fields to
himself, "is my opportunity."

On the next day at ten o'clock the directors again assembled--this time
for their regular labors--to examine the proposals for discount.

The day happened to be cold and stormy. The twenty clerks were busily
and silently at work behind their counters and gratings, and the
fourteen directors were shut tight in their mahogany room. There was but
little passing to and fro from the street, though now and then a
half-frozen messenger came stamping in, and did his errand, with
benumbed fingers, through the little windows. The tempest made business

At eleven o'clock Fields wrote a note and sent it to the directors'
room. The boy who carried it knocked softly, and the president appeared,
took the letter, and then closed the door again.

Then there was a moment of almost total silence; the clerks wrote, the
leaves rattled, and it seemed as if it were an instant before an
expected explosion.

Presently an explosion came. The clerks heard with astonishment a tumult
in the directors' room--exclamations, hurried questions, the hasty
rolling of chairs on their casters, and then the sound of feet.

The door was hastily drawn open, and those who were near could see that
nearly all the directors were clustered around it, straining their eyes
to look at the paying teller. Most of them were pale and they called,
in one voice, "Come here!" "Come in here at once!" "Fields!" "Mr.
Fields!" "Sir, you are wanted!" "Step this way instantly!" Fields put
down his pen, opened the tall iron gate which separated him from the
counters, and walked rather quickly toward the den of lions. An opening
was made for him in the group, and he passed through the door, and it
was shut once more.

He walked across the room to the fireplace. He took out his
handkerchief, and, seizing a corner between a thumb and forefinger,
slowly shook it open, and then turned around.

"This note, sir! What does it mean?" cried the president, advancing upon
him, waving the paper in his trembling hand.

"Have you read it?" demanded Fields, in a loud voice.

"Yes," said the president. He was astonished at Fields's manner. He cast
a glance upon his fellow-directors.

"Then what is the use of asking me what I mean? It is as plain as I can
make it."

"But it says--but it says," faltered the venerable gentleman, turning
the paper to the light, "that you have only money enough to last until
twelve o'clock. Your statement yesterday showed a balance to your credit
of three hundred and fifty-two thousand dollars. That will last at

"But I have not got three hundred and seventy-seven thousand dollars. I
have only got twenty-seven thousand dollars!"

"But we counted three hundred and seventy-seven thousand dollars."



"Yesterday--yes. But not this morning."

"Great God!" cried Stuart, thrusting himself forward, "what!--" He fixed
his feeble eyes upon Fields, but could speak no further. His arms fell
down by his sides, and he began to tremble. He did not have sufficient
courage to ask the question. Somebody else did.

"What has become of it?"

"That I shall not tell you!" returned Fields, looking defiantly at one
director after another.

"But is it gone?" cried the chorus. Many of the faces that confronted
Fields had become waxen. The little group was permeated with a tremor.

"Yes, it is gone; I have taken it."

"You have _taken_ it!" "_You_ have taken it!" "_You have taken it!_"

The directors, overwhelmed and confounded, retreated from Fields as if
they were in personal danger from him.

"In Heaven's name, Fields!" exclaimed the president, "speak out! Tell
us! What!--where!--the money! Come, man!"

"You had better lock the door," said the teller; "some one will be
coming in."

One of the most feeble and aged of the board turned around and
hastened, as fast as his infirm limbs would permit him, and threw the
bolt with feverish haste, and then ran back again to hear.

"Yes," said Fields, with deliberation, "I have taken the money. I have
carried it away and hidden it where no one can lay hands upon it but

"Then--then, sir, you have stolen it!"

Fields bowed. "I have stolen it."

"But you have ruined us!"


"And you have ruined yourself!"

"I am not so sure of that."

"Stop this useless talk!" cried a gentleman, who had heretofore been
silent. He bent upon Fields a look of great dignity. "Make it clear,
sir, what you have done."

"Certainly. When I left the bank last night I put into my pockets one
hundred and fifty thousand dollars in greenbacks of the
one-thousand-dollar denomination, one hundred thousand dollars in
national-currency notes of the one-hundred-dollar denomination, and one
hundred thousand dollars in gold certificates. I left to the credit of
my account twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and sixty-two dollars and
some odd cents. Eight thousand of these have been already drawn this
morning. It is not unlikely that the whole of what is left may be drawn
within the next five minutes, and the next draft upon you will find you
insolvent. If the balance is against you at the clearing-house, you
will undoubtedly be obliged to stop payment before one o'clock."

Fields's interlocutor turned sharply around and sank into his seat. At
this three of the young members of the board--Slavin, a wool-dealer,
Debritt, a silk importer, and Saville, an insurance actuary--made a
violent onslaught upon the teller, but others interposed.

What was to be said? What was to be done? Somebody cried for a
policeman, and would have thrown up a window and called into the street.
But the act was prevented. It was denounced as childish. After a moment,
everybody but Fields had seated himself in his accustomed place,
overcome with agitation. Those who could see devoured the teller with
their eyes. Two others wept with puerile fear and anger. They began to
realize the plight they were in. It began to dawn upon them that an
immense disaster was hanging over their heads. How were they to escape
from it? Which way were they to turn to find relief? It was no time for
brawling and denunciation; they were in the hands of an unscrupulous
man, who, at this crucial moment, was as cool and implacable as an
iceberg. They watched him carelessly draw and redraw his handkerchief
through his fingers; he was unmoved, and entirely at ease.

"Can it be possible!" said a tall and aged director, rising from his
chair and bending upon the culprit a look of great impressiveness--"can
it be possible that it is our upright and stainless clerk who confesses
to such a stupendous villainy as this? Can it be that one who has earned
so much true esteem from his fellow-men thus turns upon them and--"

"Yes, yes, yes!" replied Fields, impatiently, "that is all true; but it
is all sentiment. Let us descend to business. I know the extent of my
wickedness better than you do. I have taken for my own use from your
bank. I have robbed you of between a quarter and a half million of
dollars. I am a pure robber. That is the worst you can say of me. The
worst you can do with me is to throw me into prison for ten years. By
the National Currency Act of 1865, section 55, you will see that for
this offence against you I may be incarcerated from five to ten
years--not more than ten. If you imprison me for ten years, you do your
worst. During those ten years I shall have ample time to perfect myself
in at least three languages, and to read extensively, and I shall leave
the jail at forty-five a polished and learned man, in the prime of life,
and possessed of enormous wealth. There will be no pleasure that I
cannot purchase. I shall become a good-natured cynic; I shall freely
admit that I have disturbed the ordinary relations of labor and
compensation, but I shall so treat the matter that I shall become the
subject of a semi-admiration that will relieve me from social ostracism.
I have carefully reviewed the ground. I shall go to jail, pass through
my trial, receive my sentence, put on my prisoner's suit, begin my
daily tasks, and all with as much equanimity as I possess at present.
There will be no contrition and no shame. Do not hope to recover a
dollar of your money. I have been careful to secrete it so that the most
ingenious detectives and the largest rewards will not be able to obtain
a hint of its whereabouts. It is entirely beyond your reach."

Fields was now an entire master of the situation. The board was filled
with consternation; its members conferred together in frightened

"But," pursued Fields, "do you properly understand _your_ situation? My
desk is virtually without money. My assistant at this instant may
discover that he has not sufficient funds to pay the check he has in his
hand. In a moment more the street may be in possession of the facts.
Besides the present danger, have you forgotten the controller?" Nothing
more could now add to the alarm that filled the room.

"What shall we do, Fields? We cannot go under; we cannot--"

"I will tell you."

The room became silent again. All leaned forward to listen. Some placed
their hands behind their ears.

"I do not think that the drafts upon us to-day will amount to eighty
thousand dollars. You might draw that sum from the receiving teller, but
that would occasion remark. I advise you to draw from your private
accounts elsewhere one hundred thousand dollars, and quietly place it
upon my counter. I would do it without an instant's delay."

"But what guarantee have we that you will not appropriate that also?"

"I give you my word," replied Fields, with a smile.

"And to what end do you advise us to keep the bank intact?"

"That we may have time to arrange terms."

"Terms--for what?"

"For a compromise."


Here was a patch of blue sky--a glimpse of the sun. Fields was not
insensible to moderation, after all.

"What do you propose?" eagerly demanded three voices.

"I think you had first better insure yourselves against suspension," was
the reply.

In ten minutes one of the directors hurriedly departed, with five checks
in his wallet. These were the contributions of his fellows. The
president passed out to see how matters stood at the paying teller's
desk. No more drafts had been presented, and the nineteen thousand
dollars were still undisturbed. He returned reassured. He locked the
door again.

"Now, sir," said he to the paying teller, "let us go on."

"Very well," was the reply. "I think you all perceive by this time the
true position of affairs. I possess three hundred and fifty thousand
dollars, and your bank has lost that sum. I have detailed the benefits
which will accrue to me, and the trouble which will in all likelihood
accrue to you. It will be unpleasant for you to throw your selves upon
the mercies of your stockholders. Stockholders are hard-hearted people.
Each one of you will, in case this matter is discovered, find his
financial credit and his reputation for sagacity much impaired; and,
besides this, there will be incurred the dangers of a 'run' upon you, to
say nothing of the actual loss to the institution, which will have to be
made good to the last dollar. But let us see if we cannot do better.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have fully made up my mind to go to
prison, I cannot deny that _not_ to go to prison would be an advantage.
Therefore, if you will promise me immunity from prosecution, I will
return to you to-morrow morning a quarter of a million dollars. I ask
you to give me a reply within five minutes. The proposition is a bare
one, and is sufficiently plain. I shall require your faith as directors
and individuals, and in return I will give my pledge, as a robber of the
highest grade--a bond which perhaps is as good as any that can be made
under the circumstances."

The directors no sooner saw that it lay within their power to regain
five-sevenths of their money than they began, almost with one voice,
threaten Fields with punishment if he did not return the whole.

"Gentlemen," cried the paying teller, interrupting their exclamations,
"I must impose one more condition. It is that you do not mention this
affair again--that you keep the whole matter secret, and not permit it
to be known beyond this apartment that I have had any other than the
most agreeable relations with you. All that is imperative. There remain
but two more minutes. The president will signify to me your decision."

The time elapsed. Fields put his watch into his pocket.

"Well, sir?" said he.

"We accept the terms," replied the president, bowing stiffly.

Fields also bowed. A silence ensued. Presently a director said to

"May I ask you what led you to this step?"

"Sir," replied the teller, with severity, "you are encroaching upon our
contract. I may speak of this affair, but you have no right to."

Then he turned to the board:

"Do you wish me to go back to my work?"

There was a consultation. Then the president said:

"If you will be so kind."

Fields complied.

The business of the day went forward as usual. The teller's counter-desk
was supplied with money, and no suspicion was aroused among his

As each director went out of the bank, he stopped at Fields's window,
and addressed some set remark to him upon business matters; and so
intimate did the relations between them seem that the clerks concluded
that the lucky man was about to be made cashier, and they began to pay
him more respect.

In the intervening night there again recurred to the directors the
enormity of the outrage to which they had been subjected. The incident
of recovering so large a part of what they had originally supposed was
gone had the effect of making them partially unmindful of the loss of
the smaller sum which the teller finally agreed to accept in place of
punishment. But in the lapse between the time of the robbery and the
time of the promised restitution, their appreciation of their position
had time to revive again, and when they assembled on the next morning to
receive the money from Fields, they were anxious and feverish.

Would he come? Was he not at this moment in Canada? Would a man who
could steal one hundred thousand dollars return a quarter of a million?

Every moment one of them went to the door to see if Fields had appeared.
The rest walked about, with their hands behind them, talking together
incoherently. The air was full of doubts. The teller usually came at a
quarter past nine, but the hour arrived without the man. Intolerable

Two or three of the directors made paths for themselves amid the chairs,
and anxiously traversed them. Slavin took a post beside a window and
gazed into the street. Debritt, with his right hand in his bosom, and
with his left grasping the upper rail of a seat, looked fixedly into the
coals. Stuart sipped at a goblet of water, but his trembling hand caused
him to spill its contents upon the floor. No one now ventured to speak
except in a whisper; it seemed that a word or a loud noise must disturb
the poise of matters. The clock ticked, the blue flames murmured in the
grate, and the pellets of sand thrown up by the wind rattled against the

But yet there were no signs of the paying teller.

Was it possible that this immense sum of money was _gone?_ Could it be
true that they must report this terrible thing to the world? Had they
permitted themselves to become the lieutenants to a wily scoundrel? Were
they thus waiting silent and inactive while he was being borne away at
the speed of the wind, out of their reach?

All at once Fields came in at the door.

He was met with a gladness that was only too perceptible. Every
gentleman emitted a sigh of relief, and half started, as if to take the
delinquent by the hand.

Fields had expected this. He was shrewd enough to act before the feeling
had evaporated.

He advanced to the table. The directors hastened like schoolboys to
take their accustomed places. They bent upon the teller's face the most
anxious looks.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I believe that you fully understand that I return
this large sum of money to you at my own option. You recognize the fact
that most men would endure, for instance, an imprisonment of ten years
rather than lose the control of a quarter of a million of dollars."

The directors hastened to signify "Yes!"

"But," continued Fields, taking several large envelopes from his inner
pockets, "I shall be content with less. There is the sum I mentioned."

The directors fell upon the packages and counted their contents. The
table was strewed with money. Fields contemplated the scene with
curiosity. Presently it was announced that the sum was complete.

"Now, gentlemen," said Fields, "you have suffered loss. I have a hundred
thousand dollars which I have forced you to present me with. That is a
large sum, though to us who are so familiar with millions it seems
small, almost insignificant; but, in reality, it has a great importance.
You now see, my friends, what a part of your money-making mechanism may
achieve. There is no bank, even of third-rate importance, in this city,
whose receiving teller or paying teller may not do exactly as I have
done. On any day, at any hour, they may load themselves with valuables
and go away. You, and all directors, depend servilely upon the pure
honesty of your clerks. You can erect no barrier, no guard, no defence,
that will protect you from the results of decayed principle in them.
They are deeply involved in dangerous elements. Ease, luxury, life-long
immunity from toil, wait upon their resolution to do ill. This
resolution may be the determination of an instant, or the result of
long-continued sophistical reasoning. You cannot detect the approach to
such a resolve in your servant, and he, perhaps, can hardly detect it in
himself. But one day it is complete: he acts upon it. You are bereft of
your property; he flees, and there is the nine days' stir, and all is
over. Your greatest surety lies in your appreciation of your danger. I
have proved to you what that danger consists of; you did not know
before. Your best means of defence is to respect, to the fullest extent,
the people upon whom you depend. They are worthy of it. An instant's
reflection will show you that neither of you would be proof against a
strong temptation. For the sake of recovering a sum of money you have
compounded with felony. All of you are at this moment in breach of the
law. You have submitted without a struggle to the dominant impulse. The
principle of exact honor which you demand in me does not exist in
yourselves. But let us end this disagreeable scene. Perhaps I have
demonstrated something that you never realized. I hope you understand. I
now surrender to you the one hundred thousand dollars, which you
thought I had stolen. I had no intention of keeping it; I only pretended
to take it in order to impress you with my ideas."

Every director arose to his feet in haste. Fields placed another packet
upon the table, and, in face of the astonished board, left the

An hour afterward he was again summoned to the parlor. He advanced to
his old position at the end of the table. It was clear that the temper
of the assembly was favorable to him.

"Mr. Fields," said the president, "your attack upon us was singular and
rapid, and I think it has made the mark that you intended it should.
Your mode of convincing us was, one might say, dramatic; and, though I
believe you might have attained your object in another way, we
acknowledge that your letter had but little effect. We now wish to
provide for you as you claim, and as you deserve. But we cannot look
upon you with quietude. It is almost impossible to see you without
shuddering. We must place you elsewhere. If you remained here, you would
always be in close proximity to a quarter of a million dollars."

"But you believe in my integrity?"


"You understand my motives?"


"And you acknowledge them to be just?"

"Unqualifiedly just."


"But you personify a terrible threat. You are an exponent of a great
danger, and you could not ask us to live with one who showed that he
held a sword above our heads. That would be impossible. We therefore
offer you the position of actuary in the ---- Life. Mr. Stuart is about
to resign it, and at our request he has consented to procure you the
chair. Your salary will be thrice that you now receive. Do you accept?"

"Without an instant's hesitation," replied Fields.

He then shook hands with each director, and they separated excellent

* * * * *

Fields winged his way to the farm in the country, and told the news.
That is, he told the best of it. He told the actual news after hours,
when there was but one to tell it to.

There was a shriek.

"Oh, if they _had_!"

"Had what--Sun and Moon!"

"Why, sent you to prison."

"Well, we should have had to wait ten years, that's all. After that, we
should have been worth, with interest added to the capital, five hundred
and sixty thousand dollars."

"Sir! Can you suppose that I would ever marry a robber, a wretched

"Never! But it is different where one robs for the sake of principle."

"Y--yes, that is true; I forgot that. I think that principle is a great
thing. Don't you?"

"Exceedingly great."

In the spring the face-walls and the lawns and the kiosks went forward
according to the original design, and the actuary frequently brought his
city friends, directors and all, down to look at them.


Back to Full Books