"Wasn't that young Sanford?" asked Mrs. Larkin of her husband, as the two stood at a window of their dwelling one Sunday afternoon, noticing the passers by. The individual she alluded to was a young man who had ridden gaily along on a spirited horse.
"Yes," was the reply.
"He rides past here almost every Sunday afternoon, and often in company with Harriet Meadows. He is quite a dashing young fellow."
"He is dashing far beyond his ostensible means. I wonder at Millard for keeping him in his store. I would soon cast adrift any one of my clerks who kept a fast horse, and sported about with the gay extravagance that Sanford does. His salary does not, I am sure, meet half his expenses. I have heard some of my young men speak of his habits. They say money with him is no consideration. He spends it as freely as water."
"Strange that his employer does not see this!"
"It is. But Millard is too unsuspicious, and too ignorant of what is going on out of the narrow business circle. He is like a horse in a mill. He sees nothing outside of a certain limit. He gets up in the morning, dresses himself, goes to his store, and then devotes himself to business until dinner time. Then he goes home and dines. After this he comes back to his store and stays until night. His evenings are either spent in reading or dozing at home, or with a neighbor at checkers. On Sunday morning he goes to church, in the afternoon he sleeps to kill time, and in the evening retires at eight, unless a friend steps in, to sleep away the tedious hours. Of the habits of his clerks, when out of his store, he knows as little as the man in the moon."
"But some one ought to give him a hint."
"It would be a charity."
"Why do n't you do it?"
"Me! Oh, it's none of my business. Let Millard look after his own affairs. I 'm not going to get myself into trouble by meddling with things that do n't concern me. It is his place to see into the habits of his clerks. If he neglects to do so, he deserves to be cheated by them."
"I do n't know. It seems to me that it would be no more than right to give him a hint, and put him on his guard."
"It would be a good turn, no doubt. But I'm not going to do it. It's no affair of mine."
"I do n't think he is fit company for Harriet Meadows," said Mrs. Larkin, after a pause.
"Nor I," returned her husband. "I should be very sorry to see our Jane riding with him, or indeed, associating with him in any way. Surely Harriet's father and mother cannot know that their daughter rides out with him almost every Sunday afternoon."
"Of course not. They are religious people and would think it a sin for her to do so. I am surprised that Harriet should act in such direct violation of what she knows to be their real sentiments."
"Some one ought to give them a hint upon the subject."
"I think so. If it were my child I would take it as a great favor indeed."
"Yes, so would I. Suppose, Ellen, you drop a word in Mrs. Meadows' ear."
"Me!" with a look and tone of surprise. "Oh no, I never interfere in other people's business. Every one ought to look after his or her own concerns. I hate your meddlesome folks. I 'll take good care that my own child do n't form such associations. Let every body else do the same. The fact is, parents are too careless about where their children go, and what kind of company they keep."
"That's very true. Still I think no harm could come of your just giving Mrs. Meadows a hint."
"Oh, no indeed! It's none of my business."
"Well, just as you like," returned Mr. Larkin, indifferently. "Let every one see that his own stable door is locked before the horse is stolen."
Mr. Millard, who was in the same line of business with Larkin, was just the plodding, unobserving, unsuspicious person that the latter had described him. Sanford was an intelligent clerk and an active salesman. These were valuable qualities, for which he was appreciated by his employer. As to what he did or where he went after business hours, Millard never thought. He, doubtless, on the supposition of the merchant, went into good company, and acted with the same prudence that had governed himself under similar circumstances. But in this he was mistaken. The young man's habits were bad, and his associates often of a vicious character. Bad habits and bad associates always involve the spending of money freely. This consequence naturally occurred in the case of Sanford. To supply his wants his salary proved insufficient. These wants were like the horse-leech, and cried continually--" give, give." They could not be put off. The first recourse was that of borrowing, in anticipation of his quarterly receipt of salary, after his last payment was exhausted. It was not long before, under this system, his entire quarterly receipt had to be paid away to balance his borrowed money account, thus leaving him nothing to meet his increasing wants for the next three months. By borrowing again from some friends immediately, and curtailing his expenses down to the range of his income, he was able to get along for two or three quarters. But, of course, he was always behind hand just the amount of three months' salary. At length, as new wants pressed upon him, he was tempted to exceed in his borrowed money account the sum received as his quarterly dues. This made it impossible for him to pay off, when he received his instalments of salary, the whole amount of borrowed money, and caused him to cast about for some new resource. In balancing the cash account one day,--he had charge of this,--he found that there was an error of one hundred dollars in favor of cash--that is, there were on hand one hundred dollars more than was called for by the account. He went over the account again and again, but could not discover the error. For more than an hour he examined the various entries and additions, but with no better success. At last, however, a little to his disappointment, for he had already began to think of quietly appropriating the surplus, he found the error to consist in the carriage of tens--four instead of five having been carried to the third or column of hundreds on one of the pages of the cash book, thus making the amount called for in the book one hundred dollars less than the real sum on hand.
For some time after this discovery, Sanford sat at his desk in a state of abstraction and irresolution. He was vexed that the error had been found out, for he had already nearly made up his mind to keep the overplus and say nothing about it. He did not attempt to change the erroneous figure.--Why should it not remain so?--he at length asked himself. If it had cost him so much time and labor to find it out, it was not probable that any one else would detect it. Indeed, no one but himself and Mr. Millard had any thing to do with the general cash account of the establishment, and he knew very well that the latter did not examine it with a very close scrutiny. Finally, pressing demands for money determined him to put the surplus into his pocket, at least for the present. He did so, and in that act let into his mind a flood of evil counsellors, whose arguments, enforced by his own cupidities, could at any time afterwards have sufficient control to guide him almost at will. With this sum of one hundred dollars, he paid off a portion of what he owed, and retained the rest to meet the demands that would be made upon him before the arrival of the next quarter day. It was a rule with Millard to pay off his clerks only in quarterly instalments. No other payments were allowed them.
It was not long before a deliberate false entry was made, by which another hundred dollars passed into Sanford's pockets. With this increase of income came a freer expenditure. Hitherto he had been in the habit of riding out on Sundays on hired horses; but now he was inspired with a wish to own a horse himself. A beautiful animal just at this time came under his eye. It was offered at one hundred and fifty dollars. The owner, knowing Sanford's fondness for a gay, fast-going horse, urged him to buy.
The temptation was very strong. He looked at the animal again and again, rode him out, talked about him, until, finally, the desire to own him became almost irresistible. He had not twenty dollars, however, and it would be two months before his salary came due, which at any rate was all wanted for current expenses. The cash book was looked at for a week or ten days before he could make up his mind to pen another false entry. At last, however, he picked up the courage to do so. The horse was purchased, and for a few days the thought of possessing so noble an animal was very pleasant.
On the third day after this act of dishonesty, Mr. Millard, who had been looking over the cash book, discovered the erroneous figures.
"Look here, Sanford," said he, "you have made a mistake here. This figure should be nine instead of eight, and this five instead of four."
The young man's heart gave a quick throb, but he controlled himself by a strong effort.
"Where?" he asked, quickly, coming at once to Mr. Millard, and looking over the cash-book.
"Here--just add up these two columns."
Sanford added them up, and then said--
"Yes, that's a fact. I'm glad you have found it out. The cash has been over about two hundred dollars for several days, and I have tried in vain to find where the error lay. Strange, after adding up these columns for some twenty times or more, I should have still been wrong in these figures. Let me strike a balance for you now, so that you can count the cash, and see that there is just this amount over."
This dispelled all suspicions from the mind of Millard, if any had found a place there.
"No," he replied, "I hav n't time now. I have no doubt of it being right. Make the corrections required."
And as he thus remarked, he turned away from the desk.
Sanford trembled from head to foot the moment his employer left him. He tried to make the corrections, but his hand shook so that he could not hold the pen. In a little while he mastered this agitation so far as to be externally composed. He then changed the erroneous figures. But this did not make the matter straight. The cash account now called for two hundred dollars more than the funds on hand would show. If the money should be counted before he could make other false entries, he would be discovered and disgraced. And now that errors had been discovered, it was but natural to suppose that Mr. Millard would glance less casually at the account than he had been in the habit of doing. At last, he determined to erase a few pages back certain figures, and insert others in their places, and carry down from thence the error by a regular series of erasures and new entries. This he did so skilfully, that none but the eye of suspicion could have detected it. It was some weeks before he again ventured to repeat these acts. When he did so, he permitted the surplus cash to remain in the drawer for eight or ten days, so that if a discovery happened to be made, the balance on hand would show that it was an error. But Mr. Millard thought no more about the matter, and the dishonest clerk was permitted to prosecute his base conduct undetected. In this way month after month passed, until the defalcation rose to over a thousand dollars. Nightly Sanford attended places of public amusement, usually accompanied by a young lady, the daughter of some respectable citizen, who knew as little of the habits and character of the young man as did his employer himself. Among those with whom he had become intimate was Harriet Meadows, the daughter of a merchant possessing a high sense of honor and considerable wealth. Mr. Meadows, so soon as the young man began to visit at his house, gave him to understand by his manner that he was not welcome. This was so plainly done that there was no room for mistake in the matter. Piqued at this, Sanford determined that he would keep the daughter's company in spite of her crusty old father. Harriet was gay and thoughtless, and had been flattered by the attentions of Sanford. She met him a few times after his repulse, at balls, and hesitated not to dance with him. These meetings afforded full opportunity for the young man to push himself still farther into her good opinion, and to prevail upon her at length to meet him clandestinely, which she frequently did on Sunday afternoons, when, as has already been seen, she would ride out in his company. This kind of intimacy soon led to a declaration of love on the part of Sanford, which was fully responded to by the foolish girl. The former had much, he thought, to hope for in in a union with Miss Meadows. Her father was well off, and in a very excellent business. His fortune would be made if he could rise to the position of his son-in-law. He did not hope to do this by a fair and open offer for Harriet's hand. The character of Meadows, which was decided, precluded all hope of gaining his consent after he had once frowned upon his approaches. The only road to success was a secret marriage, and to that he was gradually inclining the mind of the daughter at the time our story opened.
It is not always that a villain remains such alone. He generally, by a kind of intuition, perceives who are like him in interiors, and he associates with these on the principle that birds of a feather flock together. He was particularly intimate with one of Larkin's clerks, a young man named Hatfield, who had no higher views of life than himself, and who was governed by no sounder principles. Hatfield found it necessary to be more guarded than Sanford, from the fact that his employer was gifted with much closer observation than was Millard. He, too, rode a fast trotting horse on Sunday, but he knew pretty well the round taken by Larkin on that day, and the hours when he attended church, and was very careful never to meet him. At some place of public resort, a few miles from the city, he would join Sanford, and together they would spend the afternoon.
On Jane Larkin, his employer's only daughter, Hatfield had for some time looked with a favourable eye. But he felt very certain that neither her father nor mother would favor his addresses. Occasionally, with her parents' knowledge, he would attend her to places of public amusement. But both himself and the young lady saw that even this was not a thing that fully met their approbation. Hatfield would, on such occasions, ingeniously allude to this fact, and thus gather from Jane how she regarded their coldness. It was not agreeable to her, he quickly perceived. This encouraged him to push matters further.
Soon the two understood each other fully, and soon after the tacit opposition of the parents to their intimacy was a matter of conversation between them, whenever they could get an opportunity of talking together without awakening suspicion.
Harriet Meadows and Jane Larkin were particular friends, and soon became confidants. They were both quite young, and, we need not say, weak and thoughtless. Sanford and Hatfield, as the reader has seen, were also intimate. In a short time after the latter had made up their minds to secure the hands of these two young ladies, if possible, there was a mutual confession of the fact. This was followed by the putting of their heads together for the contrivance of such plans as would best lead to the effectuation of the end each had proposed to himself. It is a curious fact, that on the very Sunday afternoon on which we have seen Mr. and Mrs. Larkin conversing about the danger and impropriety of Harriet Meadows keeping company with a man like Sanford, their own daughter was actually riding out with Hatfield. In this ride they passed the residence of Mr. Meadows, who, in turn, commented upon the fact with some severity of censure towards Mr. Larkin and his wife for not looking more carefully after their only child.
"They certainly cannot know it," finally remarked Mr. Meadows.
"No, I should think not. It would be a real charity for some one just to mention it to them."
"It certainly would."
"Suppose you speak to Mr. Larkin about it," said Mrs. Meadows.
"Me? Oh no!" was the reply. "It is none of my business. I never meddle with family affairs. It is their duty to look after their daughter. If they don't, and she rides about with Tom, Dick and Harry on Sundays, they have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences."
Thus their responsibility in the affair was dismissed. It was no business of theirs.
In the mean time the two clerks were laying their plans for carrying off the young ladies, and marrying them secretly.
"Have you sounded Jane on this subject?" asked Sanford of his friend one evening, when the matter had come up for serious discussion.
"How does she stand?"
"I think there is no doubt of her. But how is Harriet?"
"All right. That point we settled last night. She is ready to go at any time that Jane is willing to take a similar step. She would rather not go all alone."
"If she will only second me in urging the absolute necessity of the thing upon Jane, there can be no doubt of the result. And she will do that of course."
"Oh yes--all her influence can be calculated upon. But how do you think Larkin will stand affected after all is over?"
"It's hard to tell. At first he will be as mad as a March hare. But Jane is his only child, and he loves her too well to cast her off. All will settle down quietly after a few weeks' ebullition and I shall be as cosily fixed in the family as I could wish. After that, my fortune is made. Larkin is worth, to my certain knowledge, fifty or sixty thousand dollars, every cent of which will in the end come into my hands. And, besides, Larkin's son-in-law will have to be set up in business. Give me a fair chance, and I'll turn a bright penny for myself."
"How are you off for funds at this present time?"
"Low, very low. The old fellow don't pay me half a salary. I'm in debt three or four hundred dollars, and dunned almost to death whenever I am in the way of duns. All the people I owe know better than to send their bills to the store, for if they were to do so, and by thus exposing me cause me to lose my situation, they are well aware that they might have to whistle for their money."
"Can't you make a raise some how? We must both have money to carry out this matter. In the first place, we must go off a hundred or two miles and spend a week. After we return we may have to board for weeks at pretty high charges before a reconciliation can be brought about. During this time you will be out of a situation, for old Larkin won't take you back into the store until the matter is made up. You ought at least to have a couple of hundred dollars."
"And I have n't twenty."
"Bad, very bad. But don't you think you could borrow a couple of hundred from Larkin, and pay him back after you become his son-in-law?"
"Borrow from Larkin! Goodness! He'd clear me out in less than no time, if I were to ask him to loan me even fifty dollars."
"No, but you don't understand me," remarked Sanford after a thoughtful pause. "Can 't you borrow it without his knowledge, I mean? No harm meant of course. You intend borrowing his daughter, you know, for a little while, until he consents to give her to you."
Hatfield looked into the face of his tempter with a bewildered air for some moments. He did not yet fully comprehend his drift.
"How am I to borrow without his knowing it? Figure me that out if you please," he said.
"Who keeps the cash?"
"Ah! so far so good. You keep the cash. Very well. Now is n't it within the bounds of possibility for you to possess yourself of a couple of hundred dollars in such a way that the deficit need not appear? If you can, it will be the easiest thing in the world, after you come back, and get the handling of a little more money in your right than has heretofore been the case, to return the little loan."
"But suppose it possible for me thus to get possession of two hundred dollars, and suppose I do not get back safely after our adventure, and do not have the handling of more money in my own right--what then?"
"You'll only be supporting his daughter out of his own money--that is all."
"Humph! Quite a casuist."
"But is n't there reason in it?"
"I do n't know. I am not exactly in a state to see reasons clearly just now."
"You can see the necessity of having a couple of hundred dollars, I suppose?"
"Oh yes--as clear as mud."
"You must have that sum at least, or to proceed will be the height of folly."
"I can see that too."
"It is owing to Larkin's mean pride that you are driven to this extremity. He ought to pay for it."
"But how am I to get hold of two hundred dollars? That's the question."
"Is there ordinarily much cash on hand?"
"Yes. We deposit some days as high as ten thousand dollars; particularly at this season, when a good many merchants are in."
"The chance is fair enough. Two hundred won't be missed."
"No, not until the cash is settled, and then it will come to light."
"That does n't follow."
"I think it does."
"You may prevent it."
"Miss a couple of tens in your additions on the debit side of the cash book. Do you understand?"
"You are dull. Change a figure in footing up your cash book, so that it will balance, notwithstanding a deficit of two hundred dollars. After you come back, this can be set right again. No one will think of adding up the back columns to see if there is any fraud."
"After Sanford ceased speaking, his friend cast his eyes to the floor, and reflected for some time. There was in his mind a powerful struggle between right and wrong. When the plan was first presented, he felt an inward shrinking from it. It involved an act of fraud, that, if found out, would blast his character. But the longer he reflected, and the more fully he looked in the face of the fact that without money he could not proceed to the consummation of his wishes, the more favorable the plan seemed.
"But," he said, lifting his eyes and drawing a long breath, "if it should be found out?"
"Larkin will not expose his son-in-law for his daughter's sake."
"True--there is something there to hope for. Well, I will think of it. I must have two hundred dollars from some source."
And he did think of it to evil purpose. He found no very great difficulty in getting Jane to consent to run away with him, especially as her particular friend, Harriet Meadows, was to accompany her on a like mad-cap expedition with Sanford.
Nothing occurred to prevent the acts proposed. By false entries, Hatfield was enabled to abstract two hundred dollars in a way that promised a perfect concealment of the fraud, although in doing it he felt much reluctance and many compunctions of conscience.
About ten days after the conversation between the young men, just given, Jane Larkin obtained her mother's consent to spend a few days with a cousin who resided some miles from the city on a road along which one of the omnibus lines passed. Harriet Meadows did not use this precaution to elude suspicion. She left her father's house at the time agreed upon, and joined young Sanford at an appointed place, where a carriage was waiting, into which Hatfield and Jane had already entered. The two couples then proceeded to the house of an alderman, who united them in marriage bonds. From thence they drove to a railroad depot, took passage for a neighboring city, and were soon gliding away, a suspicion unawakened in the minds of the young ladies' friends.
The absence of Harriet on the night following alarmed the fears and awakened the suspicions of her father and mother. Early on the next day, Mr. Meadows learned that his daughter had been seen entering the----cars in company with young Sanford. Calling upon Millard, he ascertained that Sanford had not been to the store on the previous day, and was still absent. To merge suspicion and doubt into certainty, the alderman who had married the couples was met accidentally. He testified to the fact of his having united them. Sick at heart, Mr. Meadows returned home to communicate the sad intelligence to the mother of Harriet. When he again went out, he was met by the startling rumor that a defalcation had been discovered on the part of young Sanford to a large amount. Hurrying to the store of Mr. Millard, he was shocked to find that the rumor was but, alas! too true. Already false entries in the cash book had been discovered to the amount of at least five thousand dollars. An officer, he also learned, had been despatched to----, for the purpose of arresting the dishonest clerk and bringing him back to justice.
"Quite an affair this," remarked Larkin to an acquaintance whom he met some time during the day, in a half-serious, half-indifferent tone.
"About Meadows' daughter and Sanford? Yes, and rather a melancholy affair. The worst part of it is, that the foolish young man has been embezzling the money of his employer."
"Yes, that is very bad. But Millard might have known that Sanford could not dash about and spend money as he did upon his salary alone."
"I do n't suppose he knew any thing about his habits. He is an unsuspicious man, and keeps himself quietly at home when not in his store."
"Well, I did then. I saw exactly how he was going on, and could have told him; but it wasn't any of my business."
"I do n't care so much for Millard or his clerk as I do for the foolish girl and her parents. Her happiness is gone and theirs with it."
"Ah, yes--that is the worst part. But they might have known that something of the kind would take place. They were together a good deal, and were frequently to be seen riding out on Sunday afternoons."
"This was not with the knowledge of her parents, I am sure."
"I do n't suppose it was. Still they should have looked more carefully after their child. I knew it and could have told them how things were going--but it was n't any of my business. I always keep myself clear from these matters."
Just at this moment a third person came up. He looked serious.
"Mr. Larkin," he said, "I have just heard that your daughter and Hatfield, your clerk, were married at the same time that Sanford was, and went off with that young man and his bride. Alderman----, it is said, united them."
Larkin turned instantly pale. Hatfield had been away since the morning of the day before, and his daughter was not at home, having asked the privilege of going to see a cousin who resided a few miles from the city. A call upon Alderman----confirmed the afflicting intelligence. The father returned home to communicate the news to his wife, on whom it fell with such a shock that she became quite ill.
"He might have known that something of this kind would have happened," remarked the person who had communicated the intelligence, as soon as Larkin had left. "No man who does n't wish his daughters to marry his clerks, ought to let them go to balls and concerts together, and ride out when they please on Sunday afternoons."
"Did Larkin permit this with Jane and Hatfield?"
"They were often thus together whether he permitted it or not."
"He could n't have known it."
"Perhaps not. I could have given him a hint on the subject, if I had chosen--but it was none of my business."
On the next day all the parties came home--Sanford compulsorily, in the hands of an officer; Hatfield voluntarily, and in terrible alarm. The two brides were of course included. Sanford soon after left the city, and has not since been heard of. His crime was "breach of trust!" As for Hatfield, he was received on the principle that, in such matters, the least said the soonest mended. In the course of a few months he was able to restore the two hundred dollars he had abstracted. After this was done he felt easier in mind. He did not, however, make the foolish creature he had married happy. Externally, or to the world, they seem united, but internally they are not conjoined. Too plainly is this apparent to the father and mother, who have many a heart-ache for their dearly loved child.