Read CHAPTER XV of The Tale of Timber Town , free online book, by Alfred Grace, on

Dealing Mostly with Money.

Pilot Summerhayes stood in his garden, with that look on his face which a guilty schoolboy wears when the eye of his master is upon him.

In his hand he held a letter, at which he glanced furtively, as if he feared to be caught in the act of reading, although the only eyes that possibly could have detected him were those of two sparrows that were discussing the purple berries of the Portuguese laurel which grew near by.

I enclose the usual half-yearly allowance of L250. The Pilot was reading from the letter. Damnation take him and his allowance! ejaculated the irascible old sailor, which was a strange anathema to hurl at the giver of so substantial a sum of money. I suppose he thinks to make me beholden to him: I suppose he thinks me as poor as a church-rat, and, therefore, Im to be thankful for mercies received his mercies and say what a benefactor he is, what a generous brother. Bah! it makes me sicker than ever to think of him.” He glanced at the letter, and read, “’Hoping that this small sum is sufficient for yourself and my very dear niece, to whom I ask to be most kindly remembered, I remain your affectionate brother, Silas Summerhayes.’” A most brotherly epistle, containing filial expressions, and indicating a bountiful spirit; and yet upon reading it the Pilot swore deep and dreadful oaths which cannot be recorded.

Every six months, for at least fifteen years, he had received a similar letter, expressing in the same affectionate terms the love of his brother Silas, which was accentuated by a like draft for L250, and yet the Pilot had persistently cursed the receipt of each letter.

There was a footstep on the verandah behind him. With a start the old man thrust the epistle and draft into his pocket, and stood, with a look on his face as black as thunder, confronting almost defiantly his charming daughter.

“Have you got your letters, father? I heard the postman’s knock.” As she spoke, Rose looked rather anxiously at her frowning parent. “Good news, I hope the English mail arrived last night.”

“I daresay it did, my gal,” growled the Pilot. “But I don’t see what you and me have to do with England, seeing we’ve quit it these fifteen years.”

“But we were born there! Surely people should think affectionately of their native country.”

“But we won’t die there, please God at least, I won’t, if I can help it. You’ll not need to, I hope. We’re colonials: this is our country.”

The girl turned to go indoors, but, a sudden impulse seizing her, she put her arms around the old man’s neck, and kissed his weather-beaten cheek.

“What’s been troubling you, father? I’ll drive the worry away.” She held his rough hand in hers, and waited for him to speak.

“You’re a good gal, Rosebud; you’re a great comfort. But, Lord bless me, you’re as sensitive as a young fawn. There’s nothing the matter with me, except when now and again I get a fit of the blues; but you’ve drove ’em away, da’rter; you’ve drove ’em clean away. Now, just you run in and attend to your house; and leave me to go into town, where I’ve a bit of business to attend to there’s a good gal.” He kissed his daughter’s smooth, white forehead, and she ran indoors, smiling and happy.

The Pilot resettled the peaked cap on his head, stumped down the garden-path, and passed out of his gate and along the road. His steps led him to the main street of the town, where he entered the Kangaroo Bank, the glass doors of which swung noiselessly behind him, and he stood in front of the exquisite clerk of Semitic origin, who dealt out and received over the broad counter the enormous wealth of the opulent institution.

“Good morning, Captain Summerhayes.”

“’Mornin’,” said the Pilot, as he fumbled in the inside pocket of his coat.

At length he drew out the draft and handed it to the clerk, who turned it over, and said, “Please endorse it.”

The old sailor took a pen, and with infinite care wrote his name on the back of the document.

When the clerk was satisfied that everything was in order, he said, “Two-hundred-and-fifty pounds. How will you take it, Captain?”

I don’t want to take it,” answered the Pilot gruffly. “I’ll put it along with the other.”

“You wish to deposit it?” said the clerk. “Certainly. You’ll need a form.”

He drew a printed slip from a box on the counter, and filled it in. “Sign here, please,” he said, indicating with his finger the place of signature.

“No, no,” said the old man, evidently annoyed. “You’ve made it out in my name. It should be in my da’rter’s, like all the rest have been.” The clerk made the necessary alteration, and the Pilot signed.

“If you call in this afternoon, I’ll give you the deposit receipt,” said the clerk.

“Now, really, young man, an’t that a bit slow? D’you think I’ve got nothing better to do than to dodge up and down from the port, waitin’ for your precious receipts?”

The clerk looked surprised that anyone should question his dictum for one moment, but he immediately handed the signed form to a neighbouring clerk for transmission to the manager, or to some functionary only one degree less omnipotent.

“And while we’re waiting,” said the Pilot, “I’d be much obliged if you’d show me the book where you keep the record of all the monies I’ve put into your bank.”

The clerk conferred with another clerk, who went off somewhere and returned with a heavy tome, which he placed with a bang on the counter.

The Jew turned over the broad leaves with a great rustling. “This inspection of our books is purely optional with us, Captain, but with an old customer like yourself we waive our prerogative.”

“Very han’some of you, very han’some indeed. How does she stand?”

The clerk ran his fingers down a long column of figures, and said, “There are a number of deposits in Miss Rose’s name. Shall I read the amounts?”

“I’ve got the receipts in my strong-box. All I want is the total.”

“Ten thousand, five hundred pounds,” said the clerk.

“And there’s this here new lot,” said the Pilot.

“Ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty altogether.”

The Pilot drew the heavy account book towards him, and verified the clerk’s statements. Then he made a note of the sum total, and said, “I’ll take that last receipt now, if it’s ready.”

The clerk reached over to a table, where the paper had been placed by a fellow clerk, and handed it to the gruff old sailor.

“Thank you,” said Pilot Summerhayes. “Now I can verify the whole caboodle at my leisure, though I hate figures as the devil hates holy water.” He placed the receipt in his inside pocket and buttoned up his coat. “Good-day,” he said, as he turned to go.

“I wish you good morning, Captain.”

The Pilot glanced back; his face wearing a look of amusement, as though he thought the clerk’s effusiveness was too good to be true. Then he nodded, gave a little chuckle, and walked out through the swinging, glass doors.

The Jew watched the bulky sailor as he moved slowly, like a ship leaving port in heavy weather, with many a lurch and much tacking against an adverse wind. By the expression on the Semitic face you might have thought that Isaac Zahn was beholding some new and interesting object of natural history, instead of a ponderous and grumpy old sailor, who seemed to doubt somewhat the bona fides of the Kangaroo Bank. But the truth was that the young man was dazzled by the personality of one who might command such wealth; it had suddenly dawned on his calculating mind that a large sum of money was standing in the name of Rose Summerhayes; he realised with the clearness of a revelation that there were other fish than Rachel Varnhagen in the sea of matrimony.

The witching hour of lunch was near at hand. Isaac glanced at the clock, the hands of which pointed to five minutes to twelve. As soon as the clock above the Post Office sounded the hour, he left the counter, which was immediately occupied by another clerk, and going to a little room in the rear of the big building, he titivated his person before a small looking-glass that hung on the wall, and then, putting on his immaculate hat, he turned his back upon the cares of business for one hour.

His steps led him not in the direction of his victuals, but towards the warehouse of Joseph Varnhagen. There was no hurry in his gait; he sauntered down the street, his eyes observing everything, and with a look of patronising good humour on his dark face, as though he would say, “Really, you people are most amusing. Your style’s awful, but I put up with it because you know no better.”

He reached the door of Varnhagen’s store in precisely the same frame of mind. The grimy, match-lined walls of the merchant’s untidy office, the litter of odds and ends upon the floor, the antiquated safe which stood in one corner, all aroused his pity and contempt.

The old Jew came waddling from the back of the store, his body ovoid, his bald head perspiring with the exertion he had put himself to in moving a chest of tea.

“Well, my noble, vat you want to-day?” he asked, as he waddled to his office-table, and placed upon it a packet of tea, intended for a sample.

“I just looked round to see how you were bobbing up.”

“Bobbin’ up, vas it? I don’t bob up much better for seein’ you. Good cracious! I vas almost dead, with Packett ill with fever or sometings from that ship outside, and me doin’ all his vork and mine as well. Don’t stand round in my vay, ven you see I’m pizzy!” Young Isaac leisurely took a seat by the safe, lighted a cigarette, and looked on amusedly at the merchant’s flurry.

“You try to do too much,” he said. “You’re too anxious to save wages. What you want is a partner to keep your books, a young man with energy who will look after your interests and his own. You’re just wearing yourself to skin and bone; soon you’ll go into a decline, and drop off the hooks.”

“Eh? Vat? A decline you call it? Me? Do I look like it?”

The fat little man stood upright, and patted his rotund person.

“It’s the wear and tear of mind that I fear will be fatal to you. You have brain-tire written large over every feature. I think you ought to see a doctor and get a nerve tonic. This fear of dying a pauper is rapidly killing you, and who then will fill your shoes?”

My poy, there is one thing certain you won’t. I got too much sense. I know a smart feller when I see him, and you’re altogetter too slow to please me.”

“The really energetic man is the one who works with his brains, and leaves others to work with their hands.”

“Oh! that’s it, eh? Qvite a young Solomon! Vell, I do both.”

“And you lose money in consequence.”

“I losing money?”

“Yes, you. You’re dropping behind fast. Crookenden and Co. are outstripping you in every line.”

“Perhaps you see my books. Perhaps you see theirs.”

“I see their accounts at the bank. I know what their turn-over is; I know yours. You’re not in it.”

“But they lose their cargo the ship goes down.”

“But they get the insurance, and send forward new orders and make arrangements with us for the consignors to draw on them. Why, they’re running rings round you.”

“Vell, how can I help it? My mail never come I don’t know vat my beobles are doing. But I send orders, too.”

“For how much?”

“Dat’s my pizz’ness.”

“And this is mine.” The clerk took a sheet of paper from his pocket.

I don’t want to know your pizz’ness.”

“But you’d like to know C. and Co.’s.”

“Qvite right. But you know it perhaps you know the Devil’s pizz’ness, too.”

Young Zahn laughed.

“I wish I did,” he said.

“Vell, young mans, you’re getting pretty near it; you’re getting on that vay.”

“That’s why it would be wise to take me into your business.”

“I dare say; but all you vant is to marry my taughter Rachel.”

“I want to marry her, that’s true, but there are plenty of fish in the sea.”

“And there are plenty other pizz’ness besides mine. You haf my answer.”

The bank-clerk got up. “What I propose is for your good as well as mine. I don’t want to ruin you; I want to see you prosper.”

You ruin me? How do you do that? If I change my bank, how do you affect me?”

“But you would have to pay off your overdraft first.”

“That vill be ven the manager pleases but as for his puppy clerk, dressed like a voman’s tailor, get out of this!”

The young man stood, smiling, by the door; but old Varnhagen, enacting again the little drama of Luther and the Devil, hurled the big office ink-pot at the scheming Isaac with full force.

The clerk ducked his head and ran, but the missile had struck him under the chin, and his immaculate person was bespattered from shirt-collar to mouse-coloured spats with violet copying-ink. In this deplorable state he was forced to pass through the streets, a spectacle for tittering shop-girls and laughing tradesmen, that he might gain the seclusion of his single room, which lay somewhere in the back premises of the Kangaroo Bank.