"I want an hour of your time this morning," said Mr. Smith, as he entered the counting-room of his neighbour, Mr. Jones.
"Will it pay?" inquired Mr. Jones, smiling.
"Not much profit in money," was answered.
Mr. Jones shrugged his shoulders, and arched his eye-brows.
"Time is money," said he.
"But money isn't the all-in-all of life. There's something else in the world besides dollars."
"Oh yes; and the man that has the dollars can command as much of this 'something else' that you speak of as he pleases."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Mr. Smith. "I can tell you something that money will not procure."
"A contented mind."
"I'll take that risk at a very low percentage, so far as I am concerned," answered Mr. Jones.
"But, as to this hour of my time that you ask? What is the object?"
"You remember Lloyd who used to do business on the wharf?"
"Yes; what of him? I thought he died in New Orleans a year ago."
"So he did."
"Not worth a dollar!"
"Not worth many dollars, I believe. He was never a very shrewd man, so far as business was concerned, though honourable and kind-hearted. He did not prosper after leaving our city."
"Honourable and kind-hearted!" returned Mr. Jones, with a slight air of contempt. "Such men are as plenty as blackberries. I can point them out to you by the dozen in every square; but it does not pay to be on too intimate terms with them."
"You are very apt to suffer through their amiable weaknesses."
"Is this your experience?" inquired Mr. Smith.
"My experience is not very extensive in that line, I flatter myself," said Mr. Jones; "but I know of some who have suffered."
"I was speaking of Mr. Lloyd."
"Yes--what of him?"
"I learned this morning that his widow arrived in our city yesterday, and that she needs friendly aid and counsel. It seems to me that those who knew and esteemed her husband ought not to regard her with indifference. I propose to call upon her and inquire as to her needs and purposes, and I want you to accompany me."
"Can't do it," answered Mr. Jones, very promptly.
"It won't pay," returned Mr. Jones.
"I don't expect it to pay in a business sense," said Mr. Smith; "but, surely, humanity has some claim to consideration."
"Humanity! humph. Humanity don't pay, Mr. Smith; that's my experience. I've helped two or three in my time, and what return do you suppose I received?"
"The pleasing consciousness of having done good to your neighbour."
"Not a bit of it. I lost my money for my pains, and made enemies into the bargain. When I demanded my own, I received only insult--that's my experience, Mr. Smith, and the experience of ninety-nine in a hundred who listen to the so-called claims of humanity. As I said before--it doesn't pay."
"Then you will not go with me to see Mrs. Lloyd?"
"No, sir. You don't catch me hunting up the widows of broken merchants. Let them go to their own friends. I'd soon have plenty of rather unprofitable business on my hands, if I were to engage in affairs of this kind."
"I hardly think it will pay to talk with you on this subject any longer," said Mr. Smith.
"I'm just of your opinion," was the laughing answer, "unless I can induce you to let Mrs. Lloyd remain in ignorance of your benevolent intentions, and mind your own concerns, like a sensible man."
"Good morning," said Mr. Smith.
"Good morning," replied Jones; "in a week or two I shall expect to hear your report on this widow-hunting expedition."
"It will pay, I reckon," said Mr. Smith, as he passed from the store.
"Pay," muttered Jones, a sneer now curling his lip, "he'll have to pay, and roundly, too, unless more fortunate than he deserves to be."
A little while after the departure of Mr. Smith, a sallow, sharp-featured man, with a restless eye, entered the store of Mr. Jones.
"Ah, Perkins!" said the latter, familiarly, "any thing afloat to-day?"
"Well, yes, there is; I know of one operation that is worth looking at."
"Will it pay, friend Perkins? That's the touchstone with me. Show me any thing that will pay, and I'm your man for a trade."
"I can get you fifty shares of Riverland Railroad stock, at eighty-two!"
"Can you?" The face of Jones brightened.
"All right. I'll take it."
"Give me your note at sixty days, and I'll have the shares transferred at once."
In five minutes from the time Perkins entered the store of Mr. Jones, he left with the merchant's note for over four thousand dollars in his hand. The shares in the Riverland Railroad had been steadily advancing for some months, and Mr. Jones entertained not the shadow of a doubt that in a very short period they would be up to par. He had already purchased freely, and at prices beyond eighty-two dollars. The speculation he regarded as entirely safe, and one that would "pay" handsomely.
"I think that will pay a good deal better than hunting up the poor widows of insolvent merchants," said Mr. Jones to himself, as he walked the length of his store once or twice, rubbing his hands every now and then with irrepressible glee. "If I'd been led off by Smith on that fool's errand, just see what I would have lost. Operations like that don't go a begging long. But this gentleman knows in what quarter his interest lies."
Not long after the departure of Perkins, a small wholesale dealer, named Armor, came into the store of Mr. Jones.
"I have several lots that I am anxious to close out this morning," said he. "Can I do any thing here?"
"What have you?" asked Mr. Jones.
"Ten boxes of tobacco, fifty prime hams, ten boxes Havana cigars, some rice, &c."
Now, these were the very articles Mr. Jones wanted, and which he would have to purchase in a day or two. But he affected indifference as he inquired the price. The current market rates were mentioned.
"No temptation," said Mr. Jones, coldly.
"They are prime articles, all; none better to be had," said the dealer.
"If I was in immediate want of them, I could give you an order; but"----
"Will you make me an offer?" inquired Armor, somewhat earnestly. "I have a good deal of money to raise to-day, and for cash will sell at a bargain."
Mr. Jones mused for some time. He was not certain whether, in making or requiring an offer, he would get the best bargain out of his needy customer. At last he said--
"Put down your prices to the very lowest figure, and I can tell you at a word whether I will close out these lots for you. As I said before, I have a good stock of each on hand."
For what a small gain will some men sacrifice truth and honour!
The dealer had notes in bank that must be lifted, and he saw no way of obtaining all the funds he needed, except through forced sales, at a depression on the market prices. So, to make certain of an operation, he named, accordingly, low rates--considerably below cost.
Mr. Jones, who was very cunning, and very shrewd, accepted the prices on two or three articles, but demurred to the rest, and these the most important of the whole. Finally, an operation was made, in which he was a gainer, in the purchase of goods for which he had almost immediate sale, of over two hundred dollars, while the needy merchant was a loser by just that sum.
"That paid!" was the self-congratulatory ejaculation of Mr. Jones, "and handsomely, too. I should like to do it over again, about a dozen times before night. Rather better than widow speculations--ha! ha!"
We shall see. On leaving the store of his neighbour, Mr. Smith went to the hotel at which he understood Mrs. Lloyd had taken lodgings, and made inquiry for her. A lady in deep mourning, accompanied by two daughters, one a lovely girl, not over twenty years of age, and the other about twelve, soon entered the parlour.
"Mrs. Lloyd, I believe," said Mr. Smith.
The lady bowed. As soon as all parties were seated, the gentleman said--
"My name is Smith. During your former residence in this city, I was well acquainted with your husband. Permit me to offer my heartfelt sympathy in the painful bereavement you have suffered."
There was a slight pause, and then Mr. Smith resumed--
"Hearing of your return to this city, I have called to ask if there are any good offices that I can render you. If you have any plans for the future--if you want advice--if a friend in need will be of service--do not hesitate to speak freely, My high regard for your husband's memory will not suffer me to be indifferent to the welfare of his widow and children."
Mr. Smith had not purposed making, when he called, so general a tender of service. But there was something in the lady's fine countenance which told him that she had both independence and decision of character, and that he need not fear an abuse of his generous kindness.
Touched by such an unexpected declaration, it was some moments before she could reply. She then said--
"I thank you, in the name of my departed husband, for this unlooked-for and generous offer. Though back in the city, which was formerly my home, I find myself comparatively a stranger. Yesterday I made inquiry for Mr. Edward Hunter, an old and fast friend of Mr. Lloyd's, and to my pain and regret learned that he was deceased."
"Yes, madam; he died about two months ago."
"With him I purposed consulting as to my future course of action; but his death has left me without a single friend in the city to whose judgment I can confide my plans and purposes."
"Mr. Hunter was one of nature's noblemen," said Mr. Smith, warmly; "and you are not the only one who has cause to mourn his loss. But there are others in our city who are not insensible to the claims of humanity--others who, like him, sometimes let their thoughts range beyond the narrow sphere of self."
"My object in returning to this place," resumed Mrs. Lloyd, "was to get started in some safe and moderately profitable business. A short time before my husband's removal, by the death of a distant relative I fell heir to a small piece of landed property, which I recently sold in New Orleans. By the advice of my agent there, I have invested the money in fifty shares of Riverland Railroad stock, which he said I could sell here at a good advance. These shares are now in the hands of a broker, named Perkins, who is authorized to sell them at eighty-two dollars a share."
"He'll find no difficulty in doing that, ma'am. I would have taken them at eighty-three."
At this stage of the conversation, Perkins himself entered the parlour.
"Ah, Mr. Smith!" said he, "I called at your place of business this morning, but was not so fortunate as to find you in. I had fifty shares of Riverland stock, the property of Mrs. Lloyd here, which I presumed you would like to buy."
"You were not out of the way in your presumption. Have you made the sale?"
"Oh yes. Not finding you in, I saw Mr. Jones, who took the shares at a word."
"At what price?"
"Eighty-two. I have his note at sixty days for the amount, which you know is perfectly good."
"Mrs. Lloyd need not have the slightest hesitation in accepting it; and if she wishes the money, I can get it cashed for her." Then rising, he added, "I will leave you now, Mrs. Lloyd, as business requires both your attention and mine. To-morrow I will do myself the pleasure to call on you again."
As Mr. Smith bowed himself out, he noticed, more particularly, the beautiful smile of the elder daughter, whose eyes, humid from grateful emotion, were fixed on his countenance with an expression that haunted him for hours afterward.
"I hardly think that paid," was the remark of Mr. Jones, on meeting Mr. Smith some hours afterward.
"What?" asked the latter.
"Your visit to Lloyd's widow."
"Why do you say so?"
"You lost a bargain which came into my hands, and on which I could get an advance of a hundred dollars to-morrow."
"Ah, what was it?"
"Perkins had fifty shares of Riverland stock, which he was authorized to sell at eighty-two. He called on you first; but instead of being on hand, in business hours, you were off on a charity expedition. So the ripe cherry dropped into my open mouth. I told you it wouldn't pay, neighbour Smith."
"And yet it has paid, notwithstanding your prophecy," said Smith.
"In what way?"
But Mr. Smith was not disposed to cast his pearls before swine, and so evaded the direct question. He knew that his mercenary neighbour would trample under foot, with sneering contempt, any expression of the pure satisfaction he derived from what he had done--would breathe upon and obscure the picture of a grateful mother and her daughter, if he attempted to elevate it before his eyes. It had paid, but beyond this he did not seek to enlighten his fellow-merchant.
Three days later, Mr. Jones is at his desk, buried in calculations of profit and loss, and so much absorbed is he, that he has not noticed the entrance of Perkins the broker, through whom he obtained the stock from Mrs. Lloyd.
"How much of the Riverland Railroad stock have you?" inquired the broker, and in a voice that sent a sudden fear to the heart of the merchant.
"A hundred shares. Why do you ask?" was the quick response.
"I'm sorry for you, then. The interest due this day is not forthcoming."
"What!" Mr. Jones starts from his desk, his lips pale and quivering.
"There's something wrong in the affairs of the company, it is whispered. At any rate, the interest won't be paid, and the stock has tumbled down to thirty-five dollars. If you'll take my advice you'll sell. The first loss is usually the best in these cases--that is my experience."
It is very plain that one operation hasn't paid, for all its golden promise--an operation that would hardly have been effected by Mr. Jones, had he accompanied Mr. Smith on the proposed visit to Mrs. Lloyd. The fifty shares of stock, which came, as he thought, so luckily into his hand, would, in all probability, have become the property of another.
And not a week glided by ere Mr. Jones became aware of the fact that another operation had failed to pay. A cargo of coffee and sugar arrived one morning; the vessel containing it had been looked for daily, and Mr. Jones fully expected to receive the consignment; he was not aware of the arrival until he met the captain in the street.
"Captain Jackson! How are you? This is really an unexpected pleasure!" exclaimed the merchant, as he grasped the hand of the individual he addressed, and shook it warmly.
Captain Jackson did not seem equally gratified at meeting the merchant. He took his hand coldly, and scarcely smiled in return.
"When did you arrive?" asked Mr. Jones.
"Indeed! I was not aware of it. For over a week I have been expecting you."
The captain merely bowed.
"Will you be around to my store this afternoon?" asked Mr. Jones.
"I presume not."
There was now, on the part of Mr. Jones, an embarrassed pause. Then he said--
"Shall I have the sale of your cargo?"
"No, sir," was promptly and firmly answered.
"I have made the consignment to Armor."
"To Armor!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, in ill-concealed surprise.
"He's a perfectly fair man, is he not?" said the captain.
"Oh yes. Perfectly fair. He'll do you justice, without doubt. Still I must own to being a little disappointed, you were satisfied with the way your business was done last time."
"Not altogether, Mr. Jones," said Captain Jackson. "You were a little too sharp for, me--rather too eager, in securing your own advantage, to look narrowly enough to mine. Such was my impression, and it has, been confirmed since my arrival this morning."
"That's a grave charge, Captain Jackson," said Mt. Jones; "You must explain yourself."
"I'm a plain spoken, and a straightforward sort of a man, sir." The captain drew himself up, and looked particularly dignified. "The truth is, as I have said, I thought you were rather too sharp for me the last time. But I determined to try you once more, and to watch you as closely as a cat watches a mouse. I was on my way to your store, when I met an old friend, in business here, and, put to him the direct question as to what he thought of your fairness in trade. 'He's sharp,' was the answer. 'He will not take an undue advantage?' said I. 'Your idea as to what constitutes an undue advantage would hardly agree with that of Mr. Jones,' replied my friend. And then he related the circumstance of your finding Armor in a tight place last week, and getting from him a lot of goods for two hundred dollars less than they were worth. I went to Armor, and, on his confirming the statement, at once placed my cargo in his hands. The commissions will repair his loss, and give him a few hundred dollars over. I'm afraid of men who are too sharp in dealing. Are you satisfied with my explanation?"
"Good morning, sir," said Mr. Jones.
"Good morning," returned, Captain Jackson. And bowing formally, the two men separated.
That didn't pay," muttered Jones between his teeth, as he moved on with his eyes cast to the ground, even in his chagrin and mortification using his favourite word--
"No, it, didn't pay," And, in truth, no operations of this kind do really pay. They may seem to secure advantage, but always result in loss--if not in lose of money, in loss of that which should be dearer to a man than all the wealth of the Indies--his self-respect and virtuous integrity of character.
On the evening of that day, a pleasant little company was assembled at the house of Mr. Smith, made up of the merchant's own family and three guests--Mrs. Lloyd and her daughters. Through the advice of Mr. Smith, and by timely action on his part, a house of moderate capacity had been secured, at a great bargain, for the sum of three thousand dollars, to which it was proposed to remove, as soon as furniture, on the way from New Orleans, should arrive. The first story of this house was already fitted up as a store; and, as the object of Mrs. Lloyd was to get into business in a small way, the purchase of the property was made, in order as well to obtain a good location as to make a safe investment. With the thousand dollars that remained, it was proposed to lay in a small stock of fancy dry-goods.
In the few interviews held with Mrs. Lloyd by the merchant, he was struck with the beautiful harmony of her character, and especially with her womanly dignity. As for the eldest daughter, something about her had charmed him from the very beginning. And now when, for the first time, this interesting family were his guests for a social evening--when he saw their characters in a new aspect--and when he felt, through the quick sympathy of a generous nature, how grateful and happy they were--he experienced a degree of satisfaction such as never pervaded the breast of any man whose love of mere gain was the measure of his good-will toward others.
How different was the social sphere in the house of Mr. Jones on that evening! The brow of the husband and father was clouded, and his lips sealed in silence; or if words were spoken, they were in moody tones, or uttered in fretfulness and ill-nature. The wife and children caught from him the same repulsive spirit, and, in their intercourse one with the other, found little sympathy or affection. There was a chilling shadow on the household of the merchant; it fell from the monster form of his expanding selfishness, that was uplifted between the sunlight of genuine humanity and the neighbour he would not regard. Alas! on how many thousands and thousands of households in our own land rests the gigantic shadow of this monster!
"Will it pay?" is the eager question we hear on all sides, as we mingle in the business world.
"Has it paid?" Ah, that is the after-question! Reader, is the monster's shadow in your household? If so, it has not paid.
Return to the Mary Roberts Rinehart library