THE PARTNERS IN ACTION

“WEE GATES?, Meester Harris?” said Dutch Jake, in a voice so loud that
Guy trembled in apprehension. “How ish dis pisness? You got mine
monish—mine eight tollars und vorty zents?”

“No,” said Guy, “I haven’t got it.”

Jake’s whole appearance changed in a second; his red face grew redder
than ever; he squared himself in front of the counter, planted his feet
firmly on the floor, and doubling up his huge fist, begun flourishing it
in the air above his head in readiness to emphasize the words he was
about to utter.

Guy saw that there was a crisis at hand, Jake was fairly boiling over
with fury, and unless he was appeased on the instant, something dreadful
would happen. Guy thought rapidly, and spoke just in time.

“Hold on!” said he, “and hear me out. I haven’t got the money now, but
I’ll get it as soon as the book-keeper is through with the cash account,
and on my way home I’ll drop in and hand it to you.”

These words produced another magical change in the angry German. The
fierce frown vanished and a genial smile overspread his face. The
sledge-hammer fist was opened and extended in a friendly manner across
the counter toward Guy.

“Dot’s all right, Meester Harris,” said he. “Dot’s _all_ right. Ven you
comes around ve has a glass of peer at mine exbenses, ain’t it? Oh,
yah!”

Jake departed, and then came the hatter, the livery stable keeper, the
jeweler, the man who had furnished the young spendthrift with the fine
shirts and neck-ties he wore, and lastly, the proprietor of the billiard
saloon—all of whom presented bills which greatly exceeded Guy’s
calculations. They all appeared to be satisfied with their debtor’s
promise to pay up at once. But some of them left him with the assurance
that if money were not speedily forthcoming, they would place their
accounts before Mr. Walker.

Guy was utterly confounded. He could not imagine what had caused all his
creditors to become so pressing in their demands. Like one in a dream he
went through his business with the book-keeper, and when it was
completed, hurried away to find his friend and counselor, Mr. Jones.

In the back part of the store was a small apartment which was used as a
wash-room, and to which light was admitted through a single pane of
glass set in the door. In this room Guy found Mr. Jones, busy performing
his ablutions. He had retreated there immediately on the entrance of
Mrs. Willis, and through the pane of glass before mentioned had watched
all that went on in the store. He could not hear what was said, but he
knew by the impatient gestures of some of the creditors and the
despairing expression that frequently overspread Guy’s face, that some
bitter things had been said and some alarming threats made.

“Great Scott!” whispered Guy as he entered and closed the door behind
him. “What does this mean, Jones? The whole city of St. Louis has been
here with bills against me.”

“It means, dear fellow, that these people want their rights,” returned
the commercial traveler in a tone of voice which led Guy to believe that
his friend deeply sympathized with him in his troubles.

“But do they imagine that I am made of money—that I can raise almost
nine months’ wages at a moment’s warning?” cried Guy, whose distress was
painful to behold. “I owe two hundred and seventy-five dollars. Jones, I
am ruined!”

“It certainly looks that way,” was the thought that passed through the
mind of the commercial traveler, but he looked down at the floor and
said nothing.

“If you have the least friendship for me suggest something,” continued
Guy in a trembling voice—“something—_anything_—no matter what it is if
it will only put two hundred and seventy-five dollars in my pocket. I
must have it, for these men have almost all threatened to call upon Mr.
Walker if I don’t settle up at once. If he should hear how I have been
going on he would discharge me.”

“Yes, I believe he would,” answered Mr. Jones, twirling his mustache and
gazing through the window into the store. “It would doubtless make him
angry, for merchants, you know, are very particular in regard to the
habits of their clerks. It is a hard case, Guy—a desperate case; and I
confess that it is one I cannot manage, although I am fruitful in
expedients. I have thought the matter over since I have been in here,
but have hit upon no honest plan to get you out of your difficulties. It
is true,” added Mr. Jones, speaking as if he were communing with
himself, “you handle considerable of the firm’s money, and might borrow
two or three hundred of it just to shut up the mouths of these impatient
creditors.”

“Oh, no,” exclaimed Guy quickly; “I can’t do that.”

“I didn’t suppose you would,” continued the commercial traveler, in his
oily tones, “but it is an expedient often resorted to by business men to
help them out of desperate straits like yours, and I can’t see that
there would be any danger in it in your case. A good many of our
customers are settling their business preparatory to going to war.
Suppose that one of them pays you four or five hundred dollars, goes
into the army and gets killed, and you use the money! Who would be the
wiser for it? Of course you would not be dishonest enough to steal the
money—you would only borrow it until such time as you could replace it
out of your salary; and if you felt any conscientious scruples about it,
you might pay interest for the use of it.”

“But how could I account for the money being in my possession when I got
ready to pay it over?” asked Guy.

“Easily enough. You could say to Mr. Walker some morning: ‘I received a
letter from Mr. So-and-So last night. He went into the service six
months ago, you know, without settling with us. Here’s the amount of his
bill with interest to date.’ That’s all fair and square, isn’t it?”

“But Mr. Walker or the book-keeper would want to acknowledge the receipt
of the money,” said Guy.

“Of course they would. You could give them some fictitious address, and
as you have all the letters to mail, you could easily see that that
particular letter did not go into the office.”

“But you said something about the man being killed. Suppose that happens
before I have had time to save enough out of my salary to replace the
money I have borrowed. Then what? He can’t pay his debt after he is
dead.”

“Of course not; and in that case you’ll be smart enough to say nothing
to nobody about it. Just keep mum. The amount of his bill will go on the
debtor side of the profit and loss account, but you’ll be just that much
ahead.”

As Mr. Jones said this he looked sharply at Guy, and told himself that
his specious arguments were beginning to have their effect. The shipping
clerk was gazing steadily at the floor, and there was an expression on
his face that had never been seen there before.

“I am afraid I couldn’t carry out that plan successfully,” said Guy,
after a few moments’ reflection. “It is somewhat complicated, and my
knowledge of business is so limited that I might make a mistake
somewhere. I would much rather go into partnership with you, as you
suggested last night.”

Mr. Jones hastily seized the towel and buried his face in it to conceal
his exultation. He had Guy under his thumb at last.

“I think myself that it would be the safer plan,” said he, as soon as he
had controlled himself so that he could speak with his usual steadiness
of voice, “and it is the surest way, too.”

“It is a way I don’t like,” said Guy. “It is swindling.”

“But it brings in the money by the handful, and money is what makes the
mare go in these times,” returned Mr. Jones. “We’ll go home and talk it
over.”

“You must be very particular in your explanations,” said Guy. “It is a
new business to me, you know, and I might spoil the whole thing.”

“Never fear. It is easily learned, and I will go over it so often that
you can remember everything I say and do. This is your last chance, you
know, for I leave the city on the eleven o’clock train to-night, to be
gone at least three weeks.”

The commercial traveler had already been more than a quarter of an hour
in making his toilet, and had got no further than the washing of his
hands and face; but now he begun to bestir himself. The most complicated
part of it all—the brushing of his perfumed locks and the adjusting of
his hat and neck-tie before the glass—occupied just one minute, about
one-tenth of the time Mr. Jones usually devoted to it. Then he was ready
to give Guy his first lesson in playing the part of confidence man.

In order that they might be free from all interruption, they went
directly home and locked themselves in their room, where they remained
in close consultation, coming out when the supper-bell rung, and
returning immediately after disposing of a very light meal. By that time
Guy had thoroughly mastered the part he was to perform, and all that
remained to be done was to hunt up somebody with plenty of money, and
try the effect of their scheme upon him. As soon as it begun to grow
dark they left the house, and sauntered away, arm-in-arm, as if they had
determined upon nothing in particular. Arriving at Fourth Street, they
stationed themselves in a dark door-way, and Mr. Jones, settling into an
easy position, closely scrutinized every man who passed, finally
singling out one as an object worthy of their attention.

There was nothing particularly noticeable about this man, either in his
clothing or manners, for he was as well-dressed as the majority of the
pedestrians who were constantly passing along the street, and there was
none of that “country air” about him which seems to be inseparable from
so many who live in the rural districts. From what Guy had learned of
the nature of the business in hand, he inferred that their act could be
practiced with safety and success only on green countrymen, and this
individual seemed to him to be a most unpromising object to operate
upon. But Mr. Jones thought differently.

“He’s the fellow we’re looking for,” said he, in a whisper. “The only
question is whether or not he is well fixed; but that is something we’ve
got to find out. Follow him up and speak to him at the first
opportunity. If he doesn’t give you a chance make one for yourself. Be
careful now.”

With a beating heart Guy stepped down from the door-way and set out in
pursuit of the gentleman; and before he had gone a block an opportunity
to accost him presented itself. When the gentleman reached a crossing he
stopped and looked up at the building, searching no doubt for the names
of the streets. Guy came up behind him and also stopped and looked about
with a bewildered air, as if he did not know which way to turn.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said he; “will you be kind enough to tell me
which way to go to find Robinson’s hardware store?”

“I should be glad to tell you if I knew, but I am a stranger here,” was
the reply.

“Are you, indeed?” said Guy. “So am I; and the worst of it is, I fear I
am lost.”

“I am in the same situation,” said the stranger. “I am trying to find my
hotel, and if I don’t succeed very soon I shall call a carriage.”

“Why, so you can. I never thought of that.”

“Where are you from?” asked the stranger.

“Brattleboro, Vermont,” replied Guy, “and I never before was so far away
from home. I have one friend here, a brother-in-law, if I could only
find him, who owns an extensive hardware store. Where do you live, sir?”

“A few miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and this is my first visit to St.
Louis. I am stopping at the Olive Street Hotel.”

“So am I; but, to tell the truth, I haven’t funds enough to pay for such
expensive lodgings, and that’s another reason why I am so anxious to
find Robinson. My father wouldn’t give me much money for fear I should
fall into the hands of—sharpers, I believe he called them.”

“Yes, that’s what they are,” said the stranger with an air of superior
wisdom. “Your father is a sensible man. It isn’t just the thing to trust
an innocent young fellow like you alone in a great city with plenty of
money in his pocket. He is almost sure to lose it.”

“Are you not afraid?” asked Guy.

“Me? No. I’ve traveled.”

“Then you will let me stay with you, won’t you? I shall feel safe in
your company.”

“Certainly, I will.”

“Well, suppose we go and see if we can find our hotel. I’d rather walk
than call a carriage. Your name is——”

“Whitney,” replied the stranger. “And yours?”

“Benjamin—Rufus Benjamin, at your service,” said Guy.

The embryo confidence man had the satisfaction of seeing that he was
making rapid headway, and when Whitney moved away with him he took his
arm, and the two walked along conversing as familiarly as though they
had been acquainted for years.

Guy seemed so innocent and confiding and made himself appear so ignorant
of city life, that Whitney wondered how his father came to trust him so
far away from home, and repeatedly assured him that it was a fortunate
thing for him that they met just as they did, for had Guy been left to
find his way back to his hotel alone, he would have been almost certain
to get himself into trouble of some kind.

Finally, as they were passing a beer-garden their attention was
attracted by the strains of music, and Whitney proposed that, as it was
yet early in the evening, they should step in and see what was going on.
Guy agreed, and when they had seated themselves at a table in a remote
corner of the garden, he called for cider. He never drank anything
stronger, he said, for his father didn’t allow it. But the German had no
cider, and Guy, after a great deal of persuasion, was at last prevailed
upon to indulge in a glass of soda-water, while Whitney solaced himself
with a mug of beer. For nearly half an hour they sat at the table
conversing upon different topics, smoking their cigars and sipping at
their glasses, and then the door opened and Mr. Jones came in.

“There’s the very man I have been looking for,” said Guy joyfully. “How
very fortunate! Robinson, come here.”

Mr. Jones approached the table at which his partner was sitting, and
after looking at him for a moment as if trying to recollect where he had
seen him before, suddenly seized him by both hands, and began pulling
him about over the floor as if he were overjoyed to meet him.

“Why, Rufus Benjamin, is this you?” he exclaimed. “You don’t know how
glad I am to see you.”

“And neither do you know how glad I am to see you,” returned Guy. “I
have been looking for you all the afternoon. Mr. Robinson, permit me to
introduce my friend, Mr. Whitney, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

“Happy to meet you, Mr. Whitney,” said Jones, extending his hand. “I am
always glad to make the acquaintance of any of Benjamin’s friends.”

“I never met him before this evening,” said Whitney, “but I think I have
acted the part of a friend in taking him under my charge. When I first
saw him he was as pale as a sheet, and trembling as if he had the ague.”

“Well, I was lost,” said Guy, who wondered what Whitney would think if
he knew the real cause of his nervousness and excitement. “I have never
been alone in a big city like this, you know.”

“I don’t suppose the boy has been outside of the State of Vermont half a
dozen times in his life,” said Jones. “How are things prospering in that
out-of-the-way part of the world anyhow, Rufus?”

“We’ve had a very good season in our parts, and the crops have done
well,” replied Guy. “But, Robinson, why didn’t you meet me at the
depot?”

“Why did you not write and tell me when to expect you?” asked Jones.

“I did.”

“Well, I have not received the letter. I have just returned from
Washington, and no doubt I shall find it waiting for me at home. Where
are you stopping, gentlemen? At the Olive Street House, eh? You must
permit me to take charge of you now, and to say that you shall not stop
at a hotel any longer. I will call a carriage presently and take you
home with me. I know that Mollie will be glad to have you come,
Rufus—she’s my wife, you know, Mr. Whitney, Benjamin’s sister—for it is
fully two years since she has seen you.”

The conversation thus commenced continued for a quarter of an hour. Mr.
Jones was in no hurry to begin his business operations, for Guy was
playing a part that was entirely new to him, and he was afraid to trust
him. In a few minutes, however, he had learned a good deal of Whitney’s
history and habits, and having satisfied himself that he was a good
subject to operate upon, he gave Guy the signal, and the latter prepared
for action.

“ROBINSON,” said Guy, after a preliminary cough and a desperate attempt
to subdue his increasing excitement, “I understood you a while ago to
say that you have just returned from Washington. You went there on some
business connected with politics, I suppose?”

“Oh, no,” replied Mr. Jones. “I don’t trouble my head about politics. I
have always made my living honestly, and I always intend to do so. I
went there to take out a patent on a recent invention of mine.”

“What is it?” inquired Mr. Whitney, with some eagerness. “I am
interested in every new invention, for I do a little business in that
line myself sometimes. I own the rights for several washing-machines,
pumps, and scissor-sharpeners in our county.”

“And this is just what you need to complete your list,” said Mr. Jones.
“It is a fine thing, and is bound to make somebody independently rich
one of these days. You know, Rufus, that about a year ago I wrote you
that my store had been entered by burglars, who broke open my safe and
robbed it of six thousand dollars.”

“I recollect the circumstance,” said Guy.

“Well,” continued Mr. Jones, “that convinced me that business men ought
to take more precautions to guard their property from the assaults of
outlaws, so I set my wits at work, and I finally succeeded in perfecting
a burglar-proof lock—an arrangement which is at once simple and
convenient, but which can neither be cut with a cold-chisel, blown open
with gunpowder, or even unlocked by any one who does not understand its
construction. I gave away a good many models while I was in Washington,
but I think I have one or two left.”

So saying, Mr. Jones begun to overhaul his pockets, and finally produced
a small brass padlock, similar in size and shape to those sometimes used
on dog-collars.

“Ah! yes, here is one,” said he, “and I defy any man in the world to
open it without breaking it. This model, you will, of course,
understand, Mr. Whitney, is intended merely to illustrate the principles
of the invention. The locks, when ready for use, will be made of the
best of steel and be large and heavy. I have one attached to the safe at
my store, and to-morrow you will have an opportunity to see how it looks
and operates. I will give it to you on easy terms, and will warrant—by
the way, there’s my partner, Mr. Benton. I want to see him on particular
business, so I beg that you will excuse me. I will return in one
moment.”

As Mr. Jones said this he jumped to his feet, and disappeared through
the door, evidently in pursuit of a gentleman who had just gone out. He
left his invention on the table, and Whitney picked it up and examined
it. The key was tied to it by a piece of ribbon, and this Whitney
inserted in the lock, when, behold! it opened like any other common
padlock. He was astonished at his success. He closed the lock again, and
opened it with all ease. Then he handed it to Guy, and he did the same,
and appeared to be as much surprised thereat as was Mr. Whitney.

At this moment, Mr. Jones came back.

“Well, gentlemen,” said he, hurrying to the table and picking up the
lock. “I have just made an appointment with my partner, and it is
necessary that I should run down to the store for a few minutes. Will
you accompany me?”

“No,” replied Guy; “we’ll stay here. I am too tired to run around any
more to-night.”

“Very well,” said Mr. Jones, without giving Whitney time to say whether
he would go or not. “I’ll return in a quarter of an hour with a
carriage, and then we’ll go round to the hotel after your luggage. In
the meantime, enjoy yourselves to the best of your ability. I will leave
my invention with you, and you can examine it at your leisure.”

“We have already inspected it to our satisfaction,” replied Whitney with
a smile. “I couldn’t make a fortune by selling an arrangement like that.
We opened it very easily.”

“You did!” exclaimed Mr. Jones.

“Certainly,” said Guy. “If I were a burglar, and wanted to get into your
safe, that lock would not keep me out.”

Mr. Jones looked from one to the other of his companions, and then
dropped into a chair, apparently overwhelmed with amazement.

“Is it possible that I have made a failure after all?” said he. “If the
secret mechanism of the invention can be so easily discovered, how does
it come that the officials in Washington did not see through it at once?
Gentlemen, you are either dreaming or joking.”

“No, we are awake and in sober earnest,” said Guy. “We certainly did
open that lock, and to convince you of the fact, we’ll do it again. Hand
it out here.”

Again Mr. Jones was silent.

“I may have made a mistake,” said he, after gazing thoughtfully at the
floor for a few moments, “but I can hardly believe it.”

“Give me the lock,” repeated Guy, “and I will bet you any sum you please
that I will open it at the first trial.”

“Oh, I never bet,” said Jones, quickly rising to his feet and buttoning
up his coat. “I regard the taking of money gained in that way as but
little better than highway robbery.”

“You can’t have much faith in your invention,” said Whitney.

“Yes, I have unbounded faith in it.”

“I left the most of my money at the hotel in charge of the clerk, but
here’s a small amount which says that I did open that lock, and that I
can do it again,” said Guy, drawing from his pocket a twenty-dollar
bill, which his friend and partner had furnished him for this very
purpose.

Jones drummed with his foot on the floor, puffed out his cheeks, and
scratched his head like a man in deep perplexity. He looked first at
Whitney, then at Guy, then down at the money that had been placed on the
table, and finally dropped into his chair again.

“I believe I’ll take a hand in this,” said Whitney. “I don’t often do
things of this kind, in fact never, unless I see a chance to make
something, but I’ll stake twenty-five dollars on it just for luck.”

Mr. Jones again arose to his feet and nervously rubbed his chin as if he
were completely bewildered by this turn of events, all the while
watching the movements of Whitney, who produced his pocket-book and
counted out the sum he had named.

“Gentlemen,” said the commercial traveler, “when I see persons willing
to wager such large sums of money as those you have laid upon the table,
I always know they are betting on a sure thing.”

This remark had just the effect that Mr. Jones intended it should have.
It led Whitney to believe that in spite of all he had said, the patentee
had suddenly lost faith in his invention.

After a moment’s hesitation he brought out his pocket-book again and
counted down twenty-five dollars more, which he also placed upon the
table.

“Now, Robinson, what are you going to do about it?” asked Guy.

“Why, when I am among gentlemen I do as gentlemen do, of course,”
replied Mr. Jones. “But to tell the truth, the confident manner in which
you act and speak convinces me that I have made a grand mistake.”

Having said this Mr. Jones paused in the hope that Whitney would take
courage and go down into his pocket-book after more money. And in fact
this little piece of strategy came very near being successful, for
Whitney put his hand into his pocket, but after thinking a moment he
pulled it out empty.

“I _know_ I have made a mistake,” said Mr. Jones.

Here another long pause was made, but as Whitney showed no disposition
to increase his wager, Mr. Jones continued:

“But it is too late to remedy the matter now, and the invention must
stand or fall according to its merits.”

Mr. Jones counted out seventy dollars with which he covered Guy’s bet
and Whitney’s, after which the money was raked into a pile and placed
under a hat, to hide it from the view of the other people in the garden.
Mr. Jones then put his hand into his pocket and produced his patent
lock—not the one he had exhibited before, but another that was not to be
opened. In shape and size it was so exactly like the first that had they
been seen together no difference could have been detected between them.

“Now,” he said, “if I have made a failure, I am willing to give seventy
dollars to be convinced of the fact.” And as he pushed the lock across
the table toward Whitney, his hand trembled so naturally that the dupe
really believed that this accomplished sharper had made the first bet of
his life, and that it had excited him.

Whitney took the lock with a confident smile and inserted the key into
it, expecting of course to open it as he had opened the other; but his
smile suddenly gave way to a look of astonishment and alarm, and his
face lengthened out wonderfully when he found that the key would not
turn. He tried it over and over again, shook the lock, and even pounded
it on the table, but it was all in vain. Then he handed it to Guy, and
he met with no better success.

“What do you suppose can be the matter with it?” asked the latter, after
he had made several attempts to open the lock.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Whitney. “Let me try again.”

“We opened it without the least trouble before,” continued Guy.

“Oh, you are certainly mistaken, Rufus,” said Mr. Jones blandly.

“No, he isn’t!” exclaimed the dupe. “I am not blind, and I know that we
both opened this lock not ten minutes since. But we can’t do it now,” he
added, handing the invention back to its owner, who put it back into his
pocket and took charge of the money.

“This is the first I ever made by betting,” said he. “Now I must be off
to fulfill my engagement with my partner. I’ll return very shortly, and
then we will go home.”

So saying Mr. Jones disappeared, leaving Guy and Whitney to talk the
matter over at their leisure.

“What an idiot I was to risk my money on that thing,” said the latter
regretfully. “I ought to have known that a man who has spent a whole
year in perfecting an invention is better acquainted with it than a
stranger. I am nearly strapped. I haven’t money enough to pay my fare to
Chicago, and I don’t know a soul this side of there.”

“Don’t let it trouble you,” said Guy soothingly. “Robinson will return
that money in the morning, and then he will read us a long lecture on
betting.”

“Do you really think he will give it back?” asked Whitney, in a more
hopeful tone.

“I am sure of it. He does not intend to keep it, for he was brought up
in New England, and according to his idea, betting is no better than
gambling. Some more cigars, waiter. I’ve got a quarter left.”

The cigars were brought, and Guy, receiving the matches from the hand of
the waiter, deposited them in a little pool of beer upon the table, so
that when he wanted to light their cigars the matches would not burn.
Guy grumbled at this, and said he would go to the bar for a light. He
went; and Whitney, who was deeply occupied with his own thoughts,
bemoaning his folly for risking his money on that patent invention, and
wondering if Robinson would be generous enough to return it in the
morning, did not see him when, after lighting his cigar, he slipped
through the door into the street.

Guy’s first attempt at swindling had met with success, but it did not
bring with it those feelings of happiness and independence which he had
so confidently looked for. There was not a criminal in St. Louis who
felt so utterly disgraced as he did at that moment. The reaction had
come after his hour of excitement, and his spirits were sadly depressed.
He looked upon it now as a most contemptible proceeding to wheedle one’s
way into a stranger’s good graces, and then seize the first opportunity
to do him an injury. Accompanying this reflection was the thought—and
his mind would dwell upon it, in spite of all he could do to prevent
it—that he had rendered himself liable to legal punishment, and that he
was every moment in danger of being arrested and thrust into jail. Had
Whitney’s money been in his pocket just then, he would have lost not a
moment in returning it to its rightful owner; but it was safely stowed
away about the good clothes of his friend and partner, Mr. Jones, who
was seated in a certain bowling alley, which had been designated
beforehand as the place of meeting, solacing himself with a cigar, and
anxiously awaiting Guy’s appearance.

When the latter came in, Mr. Jones beckoned with his finger, and Guy
followed him to the furthest corner of the saloon.

“Well,” said the commercial traveler, “how do you like it as far as you
have gone? Twenty-five dollars for an hour’s work I call pretty fair
wages. If you make that amount every night, it will not take you long to
pay your debts.”

“I don’t like the business at all,” said Guy, “and I will never attempt
it again.”

Mr. Jones settled back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling through
the clouds of smoke that arose from the cigar, and said to himself:

“I don’t know that it makes any difference to me whether you do or not.
If you don’t pay your debts in this way, you must use some of the firm’s
money. When you do that your days as shipping clerk are numbered, and my
brother will step into the position.”

Then aloud he asked:

“How did you get away from him?”

“I did just as you told me,” replied Guy, rather impatiently, for it was
a matter that he did not like to talk about. “I dampened the matches,
went to the bar for a light, and stepped out when he wasn’t looking.”

“He didn’t bleed as freely as I hoped he would,” continued Mr. Jones;
“but, after all, we did very well. Here’s your share of the
spoils—twenty-five dollars.”

It was on the point of Guy’s tongue to refuse to accept it; but he
thought of Dutch Jake, who was probably at that very moment stamping
about his little groggery like a madman, because his eight dollars and
forty cents had not been paid according to promise, and knowing that the
man must at all hazards be prevented from making another visit to the
store, he took the money and put it into his pocket.

“Now I must run down and say good-by to my brother,” said Mr. Jones,
“and by that time the ’bus will be along to take me across the river.
When I return I hope to find you on your feet, and with money in your
pocket. Take care of yourself.”

Mr. Jones hurried out, and in a few moments more was standing in the
presence of his brother, and recounting in glowing language the success
of his plans.

Will was in ecstasies.

“I will put the finishing touch to them,” said he. “I will find Whitney,
tell him that he has been swindled, and put him up to have Guy
arrested.”

“That would be a cunning trick, wouldn’t it?” said Mr. Jones.

“Why, it will bring the matter to the notice of Mr. Walker,” said Will,
“and that’s just what I want.”

“Well, it is just what I _don’t_ want,” said Mr. Jones. “If Guy is
arrested, I lose my situation, for of course he will blow on me. You let
him alone. I’ve given him plenty of rope, and if he doesn’t succeed in
hanging himself by the time I get back, I can easily do it for him.”

The commercial traveler hurried out to catch the omnibus, and Will
tumbled into bed to dream of Guy’s disgrace, and his immediate accession
to the office of shipping clerk.

GUY LEFT the bowling alley shortly after Mr. Jones went out, and
avoiding all the principal thoroughfares, and taking all the back
streets in his way, finally reached Dutch Jake’s saloon. He had ample
time to think over his situation, and was fast giving way to that
feeling of desperation which all criminals are said to experience. He
was ruined beyond all hope of redemption, he told himself, and he might
as well go on. He _must_ go on, for it was too late to turn back.

Guy remained at Dutch Jake’s saloon three hours, apparently the gayest
of the gay, and driven by this spirit of recklessness and desperation
that had taken possession of him to commit excesses that astonished
everybody present. About one o’clock he got into an altercation with
somebody, which threatened for a time to end in a free fight, but Dutch
Jake promptly put a stop to the trouble by dragging Guy out of the
saloon by the collar, throwing him headlong upon the pavement, and then
slamming and locking the door to prevent his return.

The boy’s pockets were empty. The last cent of his ill-gotten gains had
found its way into Jake’s money-drawer, and all Guy had got for it in
return was more alcohol than he could carry and an appellation which, in
his maudlin condition, tickled his fancy wonderfully. Some one had
called him “the prince of good fellows,” and during the last hour his
fuddled companions had dropped his name and addressed him entirely as
“Prince.”

“But if I’m a prince,” stammered Guy, holding fast to a lamp-post and
looking in an uncertain sort of way toward the door that had just been
closed behind him, “wha’s ye use lockin’ m’ out? Do zey want to (hic)
’sult me? Zey’d bet-better mind zer eyes!”

That is the way with saloon-keepers, Guy. It is a part of their
business. They have no respect or friendship for you—it is your money
they want, and when they have emptied your pockets of the last cent, and
the accursed stuff they have sold to you mounts to your brain and steals
away your wits, and the Evil One has taken full possession of you, they
thrust you into the street, leaving you to shift for yourself.

The next few hours were an utter blank to Guy. He did not know how he
got home, but that he got there in some way was evident, for when he
came to himself (about daylight) he was lying across the foot of his bed
with all his clothes on, and the door of his room was standing wide
open.

The instant his eyes were unclosed the events of the night came back to
him, accompanied by a splitting headache and a feeling of nervousness
and prostration that was almost unbearable.

With scarcely energy enough to move, he staggered to his feet and closed
the door; as he did so he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. He
could scarcely recognize himself. Was that pale, haggard countenance,
set off with blood-shot eyes and a black and blue spot on his left
cheek, which he had received by coming in contact with some lamp-post on
his way home—was that face the face of Guy Harris? Without the beauty
spot he looked for all the world as Flint looked on the morning he came
creeping out of the forecastle of the Santa Maria, after sleeping off
the effects of the drug that had been administered to him.

Sick at heart and so dizzy that he could not stand without holding fast
to something, Guy turned and was about to throw himself upon the bed
again, when he heard a light step in the hall and a tap at his door.

“Mr. Harris,” said the landlady’s gentle voice, “it is almost eight
o’clock.”

“Great Scott!” thought Guy, “and I ought to be at the store this very
moment. I don’t see how I can stand it to work all day, feeling as I do.
I’ll have to fill up on beer again before my hand will be steady enough
to hold a pen. Yes, ma’am,” he added aloud. “I will be down immediately.
I declare my voice has changed, too. I’m not myself at all. I feel as if
I were going to drop all to pieces.”

The announcement that it was time for him to be at work infused some
life into Guy. By the aid of a clean shirt and collar and copious
ablutions he made a little improvement in his appearance, but the
general feeling of worthlessness and the overwhelming sense of shame
that pressed upon him, could not be touched by cold water and clean
linen. The thought that he must spend the next ten hours in contact with
his fellow-men was terrible. He did not want to see anybody. He opened
the door very carefully, and went down the stairs with noiseless
footsteps, intending to leave the house before his landlady should see
him; but she was on the watch. She met him in the hall, and there was
something in her eye which told Guy that she knew at least a part of the
incidents that had happened the night before.

“Good morning, Mr. Harris,” said she, with her usual pleasant and
motherly smile, “I have kept your breakfast warm for you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Willis,” said Guy, in a very unsteady voice, “but I
cannot stop to eat anything; I am late now. Besides, I am not hungry.”

“No matter; you can’t work all day without taking something nourishing,”
returned the landlady, and as she spoke she took Guy’s arm, and paying
no heed to his remonstrances led him into the cozy little dining-room,
and seated him at the table.

A tempting breakfast, consisting of his favorite dishes and a cup of
coffee, such as Mrs. Willis only could make, was placed before him, but
Guy could not eat. He wished he could sink through the floor out of the
lady’s sight. He wished she would go away and leave him to the
companionship of his gloomy thoughts; but she had no intention of doing
anything of the kind. She closed all the doors, and then came and stood
by the boy’s side with her hand resting on the back of his chair.

“Guy,” said she sorrowfully, “what made you do it?”

The clerk stirred his coffee, but could make no reply.

“I know you will forgive me for speaking about this,” said Mrs. Willis,
laying her soft, cool hand on Guy’s feverish forehead, “I do it because
I feel a mothers interest in you. I have a son somewhere in the wide
world, and if he should fall into such ruinous habits as these, I should
feel very grateful if some kind soul would whisper a word of warning in
his ear. Stop and think of it, Guy! Stop now, while you can. What would
your dear mother say?”

As Mrs. Willis uttered these words—the first really kind, affectionate
words that had fallen upon his ear from the lips of a woman for long,
long years—Guy’s heart softened, a great lump came up in his throat, and
tears started to his eyes. Mrs. Willis was in a fair way to accomplish
something until she spoke of his mother. Then Guy thought of his
father’s wife, and the old feeling of desperation came back to him.

“I have no mother,” said he. “She is dead.”

“Then think of your father,” urged Mrs. Willis. “What would he say?
Surely he loves you, and you ought to respect his feelings.”

“Well, if he loves me he has never shown it,” retorted Guy bitterly. “I
don’t care what he thinks. He never respected my wishes or feelings
while I was at home, and I don’t see why I should respect his now.”

“Oh, Guy, don’t talk so. There must be some one whose good opinion you
value—some one you love. Who is it?”

Guy was silent. He could not recollect that during the time he had been
absent from home he had thought of more than one of his relations with
any degree of affection.

“I don’t know of anybody,” said he at length, “except my Aunt Lucy—and
you.”

“Then for your aunt’s sake—for my sake, Guy, promise me that this shall
never happen again. Promise me faithfully that, as long as you live, you
will never touch a drop of anything intoxicating, and that you will
never again go inside a billiard saloon or a card-room. Promise me.”

Again Guy was silent, not because he was unwilling to answer, but
because he could not. His heart was too full. Mrs. Willis was satisfied
that if the promise was once made, it would be religiously kept. She had
read Guy as easily as she could read a printed page, and was well enough
acquainted with him to know that when he once fully made up his mind to
a thing, he was like Hosea Biglow’s meeting-house—too “sot” to be easily
moved. So she was resolved to have the promise, and she took a woman’s
way to exert it. She put her arms around Guy’s neck, and drew his face
up so that she could look into it. When she saw that his eyes were
filled with tears, she knew that she had conquered.

“Promise me,” she repeated.

“I promise,” said Guy in a husky voice.

“Heaven help you,” said Mrs. Willis fervently; and as she said it she
kissed him and glided out of the room.

“Great Cæsar!” exclaimed Guy as soon as she had disappeared.

He jumped to his feet, overturning his chair as he did so, ascended the
stairs four steps at a time, entered his room and slammed the door
behind him. He was not accustomed to such treatment as this, and he
hardly knew what to make of it. It was some minutes before he had
collected himself so that he could think calmly.

“I looked for nothing but a good scolding and an invitation to make
myself scarce about this house,” said Guy to himself; “and if Mrs.
Willis had treated me in that way she would have served me just right.
But she has given me a chance for my life. If she will only stand by me
I will come out all right yet, for I’ll keep that promise no matter what
happens. She doesn’t know about my swindling operations, but Mr. Walker
must know of them. I am going to rub this thing all out and begin over
again; and, in order to do it as it ought to be done, I must tell him
everything. If it brings me my walking papers I shall have nobody to
thank but myself.”

Guy put on his hat and went down the stairs and out of the house,
walking with a firm step and his countenance wearing a determined
expression. He scarcely looked to the right or left while he was passing
along the street, and when he arrived at the store he went straight to
the private office, where Mr. Walker sat busy with his correspondence.

“May I have a few minutes’ private conversation with you, sir?” he
asked.

“Certainly, Guy,” replied the merchant, looking up with some surprise.
“Lock the door and sit down.”

Guy did as he was directed, and then, without any preliminary words by
way of apology or excuse for his conduct, begun and told the story of
his mistakes from beginning to end. He kept back nothing except the name
of the confederate who had assisted him in fleecing Mr. Whitney, and
that he revealed only when it was demanded. Mr. Walker was greatly
astonished. When Guy finished his story he sat for some moments in
silence.

“I wish the boy had a pleasant home to go to,” thought the merchant.
“That’s the place he ought to be, and there’s where he would be safe.
But I am sorry to say he hasn’t got it. If he goes back to Norwall his
father’s unreasonable strictness and partiality, and his mother’s
indifference will drive him straight to ruin. He ought to have kind
words now, for he has had more than his share of harsh ones.”

“Don’t hesitate to speak out, Mr. Walker,” said Guy, who believed that
the merchant was thinking how he could best communicate to him the fact
that his services were no longer needed. “If I am to be discharged,
please say so.”

Mr. Walker understood and fully appreciated the situation. Guy was
thoroughly penitent—there could be no question about that; but there was
an ominous glitter in his eye and a determined set to his tightly closed
lips which the merchant did not fail to notice, and which told him as
plainly as words that if there ever was a moment in one’s life when his
future was to be decided for good or ill, that moment in Guy’s life had
arrived. The right word just then would have buried his resolutions of
amendment beyond all hope of resurrection, and sent him down hill with
lightning speed. Mr. Walker was not an instant in deciding on his
course.

“My dear boy,” said he, rising and taking Guy’s hand in his own with a
cordial grasp, “I have no intention of saying anything of the kind. Why
should I discharge you when I have all faith in you? You are a capable,
painstaking clerk, and until yesterday I never knew there was anything
in your conduct with which anybody could find fault. It has been a
bitter lesson, Guy, you know. Will you profit by it?”

“Indeed I shall, sir,” replied the boy with tears in his eyes.

“Then I shall rest perfectly satisfied that you will never make these
mistakes again. My confidence in you is as strong as it ever was, for
there is always hope for one who voluntarily confesses a fault. So take
courage and begin over again. You have the making of a smart man in you,
Guy, and I hope to live to see you honored and respected.”

These words were too much for Guy. Had Mr. Walker upbraided him, as he
knew he deserved, the old spirit of recklessness and desperation, which
Mrs. Willis had so nearly exorcised, would have come back to him, and he
could have kept up a bold front; but the accents of kindness touched his
heart.

He covered his face with his hands and wept bitterly. Mr. Walker waited
until the violence of his grief had subsided and then continued:

“You have made all the amends in your power, Guy, and now I will help
you to do the rest, so that you can begin over again in good shape. In
the first place, you must return Mr. Whitney’s money.”

“Oh, Mr. Walker!” exclaimed Guy.

“It must be done!” said the merchant. “No half-way work will answer. I
will furnish the funds, and I will also provide means for the payment of
all your debts. I will be your only creditor. And when you have settled
with all these men, Guy,” he added earnestly, “make a resolution and
stick to it, that as long as you live you will never again go in debt.
Wear a threadbare coat, if you must, but wear one that is paid for.”

As Mr. Walker said this, he turned to his safe, and counting out a sum
of money in bank-notes, handed it to Guy.

“I don’t deserve this kindness, sir,” said the boy, his tears starting
out afresh.

“Yes, you do, Guy. I regard you as well worth saving.”

The merchant passed out of the private office, and Guy, hastily wiping
his eyes, went into the wash-room, where he spent a few minutes in
removing all traces of his tears, after which he hurried out of the
store and bent his steps toward the Olive Street Hotel.

“Bob Walker was a fool,” thought Guy, feeling of his well-filled
pocket-book to make sure that the scene through which he had just passed
was a reality, and not a dream. “A boy who will run away from a father
like that deserves to be hanged.”

It required the exercise of all the courage Guy possessed to face Mr.
Whitney, but being determined to go through with the good work so well
begun in spite of every hazard, he boldly entered the hotel, and almost
the first man he saw when he entered the reading-room was the swindled
gentleman from Ann Arbor, who was pacing back and forth, with his hands
under his coat-tails, and an expression of great melancholy on his face.
When he saw Guy approaching, he stopped and stared at him as if he could
scarcely believe his eyes.

“Why, Benjamin,” he cried, “is this really you? What made you two
fellows run away and leave me in such a hurry last night?”

Guy did not know what to say to this. He did not want to spoil things by
telling lies, so he concluded that it would be best not to answer the
question at all.

“That man you saw me with last night left the city at eleven o’clock on
business, and I have come to return your money,” said Guy, taking out
his pocket-book.

“Have you!” exclaimed Whitney, so overjoyed that his voice was husky.

“Yes. There are your fifty dollars, and if you will take a friend’s
advice, you will never make another bet with strangers.”

“I don’t think I ever shall,” said Whitney, pocketing his recovered
cash. “You have read me the best lesson I ever received. Do you know, it
had been running in my head all the morning that I fell among thieves
last night? Curious, wasn’t it? Why, I have several times been on the
point of starting for the police headquarters. That burglar-proof
arrangement of Robinson’s is a fine thing, I’ll warrant. I guess it
wasn’t locked when we opened it the first time. I should like to go down
to his store and see how it looks on his safe, but I have just received
a telegram asking me to come immediately, for my mother is very ill, so
I must be off by the first train. I could not have gone through, if you
had not been good enough to return my money. Let’s go and take
something.”

“No, sir; nothing for me,” said Guy.

“A cigar, then?”

“No, I am obliged to you. Good-day. Thank goodness that job is done,”
said Guy, as he left the hotel, “and I am glad to get through with it so
easily. Suppose Whitney had given the police a description of Jones and
myself, and had us arrested. Whew! I’ll not run another such a risk.”

Guy made good use of his time, and by twelve o’clock he had called upon
every one of his creditors and paid all his debts in full. The
invitations to drink and smoke which he received were almost as numerous
as the places he visited, but he firmly declined every one of them. He
carried home with him a much lighter heart than he had brought away. He
went straight to Mrs. Willis with the story of Mr. Walker’s kindness,
and had she been his own mother—as Guy wished from the bottom of his
heart she was—she could not have been more delighted with the turn
affairs had taken.

That day proved most emphatically to be the turning point of Guy’s life.
His choice had been made for all time. His subsequent career showed that
Mrs. Willis had not been mistaken in her estimate of his character. His
stability and fixedness of purpose surpassed her expectations. Never
once did he forget his promise. And his performance in well-doing met
with its reward. Long before he had time to repay the money advanced him
by Mr. Walker, that gentleman promoted him to the position of assistant
book-keeper, and Guy never gave him reason to regret the step.

Will Jones and his brother terminated their connection with the store on
the very day Guy held his memorable interview with Mr. Walker. The
former was discharged, and a dispatch sent after the commercial traveler
commanding his immediate return to St. Louis; but Mr. Jones, scenting
danger from afar, did not see fit to obey. Guy never heard of him
afterward.

The scenes in the life of Guy Harris which I have attempted to describe
in this story were enacted more than twelve years ago, and Guy has now
become a man. Strict regard for truth compels me to say that he is
neither a governor nor a member of the legislature; but he is a
prosperous man and a happy one, and in the city in which he has taken up
his abode there are none who are held in higher esteem than he.

Now and then he visits his father at Norwall, but he does it from a
sense of duty and not for pleasure, for his old home has no more
attractions for him now than it had in the days of his boyhood. Between
him and his relatives there is a great gulf fixed which they can all
see, and which they know can never be bridged over. Mr. Harris is
painfully conscious of the fact, and would willingly give every cent of
his possessions to have it otherwise, but it is too late. “It might have
been,” but the favored hour has gone by. Guy’s affections were long ago
alienated. There are two people in the world, however, upon whom he
bestows all the love of his ardent nature, and they are Mrs. Willis and
Mr. Walker. If there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth,
are there not rich blessings laid up in store for those who lead that
sinner to repentance?

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