Phil. A. (Philip Augustus) Rush.

The teller's tale; a banking story for bankers, a law story for lawyers, a love story for lovers online

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tion to effort, which the industrious man
cultivates and carries wherever he goes,

124 The Teller's Tale

and which sometimes causes him to
undertake burdens which he can neither
bear nor cast aside the mind being
powerless to rest at will.

Had Colonel Wilmot not burdened
both mind and body with such a com-
plexity of duties that the day's work
passed into the night and prevented him
from returning on the morrow refreshed
by sleep, thus reducing his vitality far
below the normal, he could have with-
stood the attack of disease and lived to
bless his people for many years to come.

But it is not for us to quarrel with fate.
It may be better to wear out than to
rust out. And we have the consolation
of knowing that Colonel Wilmot accom-
plished more in the years of his life than
many others endowed with better health
have accomplished in threescore years
and ten, and that his efforts for the
community and the State will bear fruit
long after his earthly comrades have been
gathered to the stars and the marble
monument erected to his memory has
crumbled into dust.

Part II



OPRING, rising bright and buoyant
^ from her long sleep in the embrace
of winter too cold at first, but later
drinking in the distilled gladness of light,
and knitting together again the tissues of
throbbing life, grew and gambolled and
glowed into the warmth and weariness of
summer-time; and summer, in her turn
and time, disappeared in the golden
glory of autumn days.

But even autumn cannot long remain:
the gold must turn to brown, since beauty
and ripeness only mark that transitory

126 The Teller's Tale

condition between growth and decay,
life and death. Winter is king of the
year, because the other seasons are the
vassal slaves who fill his coffers with
their all. It was in this season that
Prentice wrote :

"Remorseless Time; fierce Spirit of the glass

and scythe;

What power can stay him in his silent course,
Or melt his iron heart to pity ? "

More than one fast-revolving year has
come and gone since that cruel winter
which took Colonel Wilmot from us;
and, as if the loss of him was the begin-
ning of sorrows, these years have brought
to us a train of misfortunes whose mag-
nitude might inspire an Iliad from the
pen of one capable of expressing the full
measure of our woes.

On the 4th of February, a few weeks
after the arrest of Arthur St. John, I
received a note from his mother asking
me to call and see her son who, she

Will Sorrows Never Cease? 127

stated, had sufficiently recovered his com-
posure of spirit to talk with me about
his troubles.

Having been the attorney for Arthur's
father during his lifetime, and for his
estate after death, and having known the
family and appreciated their friendship
and worth for many years, I did not
hesitate to obey the summons, although,
as my clientele was not of that class of
persons who often need the services of
one acquainted with the practice of the
criminal law, I doubted my ability to
handle properly so important a case as
his appeared to be; for, surely, not only
had he violated the laws of the State,
but he had broken the rules of trust and
integrity and brotherhood between man
and man, and the cries and righteous in-
dignation of the wronged were ringing
curses and condemnation on his head!

On arriving at the jail where he had
been confined, I found him lying on a
comfortable couch in one of the larger
rooms which had been furnished for his
use. His face was white from confine-

128 The Teller's Tale

ment, and there were heavy lines of
trouble in his features; but his expres-
sion and voice were better than when I
last saw him, and when he arose to
grasp my hand I saw in the steadier
light of his blue eyes a sign either of re-
turning hope or resignation. There was,
too, something of that old-time bon-
homie if ever so faint which character-
ized his every glance and movement in
the happy days when he was teller at the
bank. I did not know the cause of this
better spirit, but I supposed it to be due
to a desire on his part to meet the world
with a full and frank acknowledgment
of his sins.

In a few moments after my arrival we
were left alone, and he had thrown him-
self into the midst of his story ; and dur-
ing that day and the next he gave me a
history of his life the hidden part, the
true self, the alter ego the good man's
Dr. Jekyll, the bad man's Mr. Hyde
that controlling, responsible conscious-
ness which must be to us either a blessing
or a curse; for

Will Sorrows Never Cease ? 1 29

" Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
The fatal shadows that walk by us still."

There was so much in his story of
wholesome value to others especially
the struggling young man or woman
going out to meet the issues of life for the
first time that I obtained his consent
to preserve it as coming from him to me
in the form of a letter, and to be pub-
lished thereafter, if in my judgment it
should be proper to do so.

I have taken the liberty of pruning the
statement in places, and of engrafting
some of my own thoughts at other
places ; though I do not claim originality
of ideas in the production of any part of
it, for the reason that they are such as
would naturally be suggested by the
things he told me and the experience
which I know to have been his. A few
changes, by way of omission, were made
by him in the completed narrative, at
my request, but it is substantially as
originally told to me; and the state-
ments of fact are just as they occurred,

130 The Teller's Tale

the only fiction being the change of
names and places.

In this connection, I will also state
that this tale originally commenced with
this visit to Arthur at the jail, while
the paper of Colonel Wilmot and the
law passed were introduced later on;
and that it was at the earnest request
almost command of some friends, of
partial, but discriminating judgment,
who were acquainted with many of the
facts, that I went back and began at the
beginning of those events which concern
the people of the story.


Lessons and Reflections


Feeling that the story of my short
but eventful career should some day be
made known, not only for my family
name's sake, and for the sake of those
friends who have, in a certain sense, be-
lieved in me from the beginning of my
troubles, but because of the lessons it
offers to people everywhere, I make this
statement to you, who, next to my dear
mother, have been the best of all my
friends; and it is through you I wish to
speak to the world.

When I was a little boy my father used
to send me to the County Bank for small

132 The Teller's Tale

change and to purchase small drafts for
his remittances ; and I would often stand
for minutes looking through the screen
above the counter at the busy men han-
dling papers and great bundles of bank-
notes and sacks of coin. I thought how
much nicer it was to be in such a place
as that than among the dust and medi-
cine bottles of my father's office over
the drug store. In the one, I could hear
the clink -clink of coin, and see the glim-
mer of new money. In the other, I heard
the despair of the sick in their groanings
even unto death. The one was to me a
typical house of plenty, where none but
the abundant and happy ever went,
while the other was the refuge of the
poor and miserable.

I did not then know I had not learned
that there are compensations in the
work which one may do among the poor
and needy, which compensations are
lacking in the work always measured in
dollars and cents. I did not then under-
stand (as I hope I now do) that it is only
to the extent that we regard ourselves as

Arthur's Story 133

trustees for God and humanity that we
can or will obtain either happiness or
lasting good from that which we possess
that our time, our talents, and our
taels are given us for the one purpose.

Pardon me, will you, when I refer to
the fact that my father never seemed
to catch the spirit of acquisition or ac-
cumulation, as applied to wealth; and
yet he was as busy and untiring among
his books, his medicines, and his sick as
ever the banker was with his notes and
cash. And, as I look back upon him, in
his disposition and demeanor I should
say that he was happier than the banker,
and that his work was more beneficial
because of the disposition and character
it formed within him. As he ministered
to the sick of every condition for miles
around, his love for humanity increased
and became to him a wealth more
precious than the banker's money.

Not that the money-maker may not be
happy. I only mean that the chances
the influences of the life he leads are
against him. In order to acquire money,

134 The Teller's Tale

and to handle business interests from a
money-making standpoint, it is necessary
that he cultivate a certain disposition
and temperament, which disposition and
temperament are not conducive to that
liberality and unselfishness which must
walk hand in hand with our larger and
better happiness.

"Hardly shall they that have riches
enter the kingdom of heaven"; not from
any fault of heaven, nor yet because of
the riches themselves, for heaven itself is
rich, but wholly because of the condition
of mind, or character, which has been
produced along with the riches, and
which can hardly be removed.

I planned to be, if possible, a banker,
that I might have a position on the other
side of that railing, through and over
which I had looked with such longings;
and I wish to give emphasis now to the
statement that this ambition was as
pure as any that ever animated a human
breast. I should have scorned the sug-
gestion that I would ever use, even tem-
porarily, any money which might be

Arthur's Story 135

charged to my keeping. The temptation
to deviate from the straight line of in-
tegrity ever so slightly had not then
touched even the outer door of my con-
sciousness. I hoped to deserve a good
position some day even the best and
to obtain it.

That temptation an unwelcome guest
did ever come to me, whose ancestors
for generations have known and prac-
tised nothing but the strictest rectitude,
should teach a lesson to those who pride
themselves that their sons are above
temptation and do not therefore need
watchful care and instruction.

Such experience should also make
heads of business everywhere understand
that checking an officer's or other em-
ployee's work at regular intervals, is not
an unnecessary espionage, but a duty
owing as much to the worker as to the
work, upon the proper performing of
which duty depends the certain integrity
of the great army of bank and other
fiduciary employees.

But let my story teach its own lesson.

136 The Teller's Tale

Returning by my father's office from
school in the early afternoon, I managed
to call at the bank and ask Mr. Price if I
might carry the letters to the post-office ;
and as he was glad to have me do this, I
repeated it frequently. I also ran on
other simple errands for him from time
to time. During the vacation I made my-
self useful in the pleasant pastime of
folding circulars, notices, and letters, in
learning to address the envelopes in
which we placed them, and in distributing
insurance blotters and other give-away
stationery, and so forth, all of which I
learned to do rapidly and correctly.

I was now on the inside of the bank, a
welcome visitor always; and, although I
was much interested in my studies at
school for a number of sessions following,
I kept in touch with Mr. Price and his
work, and counted myself never so happy
as when helping there and learning how
the fascinating art of making money was
carried on.

There was but one happiness greater
than the joy of being in and about the

Arthur's Story 137

County Bank, and that was the posses-
sion of my mother's love. One summer
I was ill for many months with a con-
suming fever, my life being at times de-
spaired of; and not until then did my
mind know, or my little heart feel, the
depths of a mother's love the tender-
ness, the patience, the devotion, which
never falters and never faints. Her very
life is ours without the asking, and wastes
itself away for our rescue and recovery.
She will watch on, and pray on, and hope
on, even to the very end, without en-
couragement. Ah, yes, heaven lies about
us in our infancy, because mother, the
ministering angel, is there.

I learned then, for the first time, what
love and prayer, and devotion meant,
and I prayed God that my mother's
spirit of self-sacrifice might rest upon me.

Did God allow that sickness to come
in order that I might be drawn closer to
Him just at the time when my forming
character needed a stay against coming
temptations, and chastising preparation
for the trials which the future would bring ?

138 The Teller's Tale

When I was fifteen years old I had
finished the curriculum of the high school,
preparatory to entering the State Uni-
versity where my father desired that I
should take the full course, our school
being affiliated with that institution.
All the arrangements had been made for
my going, when the dreadful yellow fever
came and scourged our community with
sickness and death. Our people, in a
burst of compassion, and supposing that
the altitude of the town was too great for
.the spread of this disease, had invited the
refugees from other places to come and
abide with us. How dearly we paid for
the folly of ignorance !

You know what happened to our
family. Father was stricken down at
his post of duty ministering to the sick.
The plague claimed his life and that of
my little sister Annie, while mother and
myself survived. How easily could we
four have escaped, since the one immune
physician of the place attended on the
early cases; but father would not leave
the poor, who could not get away, to that

Arthur's Story 139

merciless time, and mother would not
go without him.

These occurrences prevented me from
going to the university; for, since my
chosen calling did not absolutely require
that I should go, I would not permit
mother to make such sacrifices of her
personal comforts as my going would
have entailed. When our accumulated
debts were balanced against the small
sum in the bank and the accounts booked
for my father's professional services, there
was too much certainty in the debts, and
too little prospect of realizing on the
accounts, to justify any expectation in
the future, other than close application
to business for myself, and economy and
self-denial for both mother and me.

Of all the women in the world who
need the protection of life insurance
against the pecuniary loss and helpless-
ness which comes to them in the death of
the husband, the physician's wife needs
it most; for there would seem to be, on
the part of his patients, but one incentive
to pay : that he, living, would not attend


The Teller's Tale

them hereafter unless the existing ac-
counts were paid. Being dead, he can-
not cure any more; neither can his
executor collect.


In the Bank

THERE was another circumstance that
shaped my future. Billie West, the
collector at the County Bank, was among
those who died of yellow fever. Two
days after the doors were opened for
business having been closed on account
of the fever I was offered the position,
which I accepted, taking charge of the
desk over in the corner of the front room
on the 1 3th day of October.

To say that I liked my work, would be
putting it mildly. I was absolutely in
love with it from the beginning. To say
that I was diligent in learning my duties
and faithful in performing them, would

142 The Teller's Tale

be, as you know, only telling the truth;
for they voted me (as one of them put it) a
paragon of perfection and persuasiveness,
when it came to inducing people to pay
collections against them, and which was
better gave me increased pay at the
close of the first quarter.

In the position of collector I endeavored
to master and practise the rules of law
and the rules of courtesy or agreeable-
ness. I studied especially how to ap-
proach people so as to make myself
welcome instead of being dreaded. When
I presented a bill the occasion would most
likely call for comment to the effect that
the debtor showed splendid taste in se-
lecting such desirable people to furnish
him with goods, or that it was so much
more satisfactory to have one's receipted
bill in hand at the very time of making
payment. If it were a check against a
deposit of funds, I would comment, if it
seemed necessary to comment at all,
either on the good fortune which the
drawee enjoyed in having such customers
as the drawer, or on the large and growing

In the Bank 143

business which the drawee had built up
and the great success which awaited him
in the future. I found that I could be
truthful in every case and yet say some-
thing especially agreeable.

In this position, and in every one, I
gave cheer to the downcast or disheart-
ened, and helped those who feared the
darkening clouds of hard times to see
the silver lining of prosperity. Like the
banjo man in the song, "I made myself
welcome wherever I 'd go" by trying to
give to the people I visited a measure of
pleasure in excess of the natural pangs
which my coming would engender, leav-
ing a net result satisfactory to them and
to me.

My success as a collector was not due
to any great penetration or unusual adap-
tability, although I was apt enough in
learning where I set my head and heart
together ; but it was due to my constant
study, and consequent knowledge, of
human nature, and my respect for the
same. For instance, how many are there
who seem to know, or will admit, that

144 The Teller's Tale

there is resentment in the debtor's heart
against the creditor and his agent. Yet
it is so. "The borrower is servant to the
lender." Yes; and what servant does
not hate such a master.

How few are there who know that
there is a pang a sigh not always sup-
pressed in the banker's heart for every
dollar of deposits withdrawn, as shown
by the decreasing daily balances, just as
there is in the merchant's bosom when
the cash sales fall off from last year's
figures, and just as there is in the farmer's
mind when the harvest yield fails to fill
the barn? But it is so in each case.
And a wise man will recognize the feelings
and conditions of his fellowmen, which he
is sure to encounter in pursuing his voca-
tion; and a wiser one still, will not only
respect these feelings and conditions, but
make his presence a source of satisfac-
tion no matter what his business is.

A deputy sheriff of no education, in
most respects incompetent, was elected
to succeed his chief at the close of the
term. Some one asked, Why? The re-

In the Bank 145

ply was that he had made a friend of
every man he had ever arrested. Un-
pleasant duties may be pleasantly per-
formed. Conduct can wield the wand
that converts pain into pleasure that
creates joy out of sorrow.

That first period of work at the bank
were days full of youthful hope and
enjoyment: of enjoyment because there
was agreeable and interesting work to
do, with compensation to make me feel
for the first time that I was a factor in
the business of the community; and of
hope in the future which was to bring its
better work, and yet better compensa-
tion. And this enjoyment would have
been less exhilarating had there been no
compensation beyond the weekly credit
which went to mother's account; not
that I cared so much for the praise they
bestowed upon me in saying that I did
my work better than the others, for such
praise usually carries with it an implied
promise to increase the compensation,
and therefore there is selfishness in the
pleasure it gives. The feeling I had was

146 The Teller's Tale

different : I was glad in the very doing of
my work, when it was done well, whether
it ever came under the eye of another or

My hopes were not deferred; neither
were they delayed, for fruition came all
along the way, keeping pace with my
accomplishments. At the close of the
second year I was promoted to the posi-
tion of bookkeeper (the larger part of
which work I had been doing for poor
Mr. Ross for more than a year), and
moved to the long, standing desk by the

I have learned not to have much pa-
tience with the complaining young man
who says the world does not appreciate
him. The only light you can hide is the
one under a bushel ; and the only worker
who will fail to find work equal to his
capacity is he who hides himself from
business and business men. The reason
of this is, that, notwithstanding the
rapidly increasing population, men are
the scarcest commodity on earth.

Albert Ward, who, as you know, was

In the Bank

my intimate friend, had succeeded to the
position of teller but a short while before,
having come up by promotion like my-
self. In those first years I looked up to
him as my model of a business young
man. We worked and ate together ; and
much of the time slept together, either
at his home or mine.




A LBERT was ambitious and confident ;
* and his ambition became vaulting
in its character. His confidence and
imagination carried him to the point of
believing that he could accomplish what-
ever he undertook, however chimerical
might be the undertaking. His virtues
at first were large, and these made him
lovable. His vices were only in the
mind, and did no harm. But, ' ' As a man
thinketh in his heart, so is he " ; and the
mind and heart are such close neighbors
that the guest of the one is likely to be-
come the friend of the other; therefore,
whoever has evil in his mind should cast

Temptations 149

it out, lest it take possession of his heart
also. Evil thoughts become evil deeds.

Albert's principal ambition was to be-
come rich, and, of course, as rapidly as
possible. How often is it that the over-
cultivation of a virtue like ambition, we
will say creates a vice. In fact, are
not most vices only the offsprings of
over-cultivated virtues? Listen to the
fable of the thorn bush: It was once an
apple tree and bore the best and largest
apples, and in great numbers. Its owner
was not satisfied with this abundance,
but tried by cultivation to force it to
bear more apples, and larger apples;
when lo, the apples came not with re-
turning spring, but, in their place, thorns !

The work of Albert and myself con-
tinued to be pleasant ; but as the months
rolled on our growing desires developed
much faster than our hopes, because
expectation did not warrant the belief
that our positions with the bank would
bring us more than a reasonable com-
petency for at least several years to
come. Desire is a dangerous quality of

i5o The Teller's Tale

mind when unsupported by expectation,
for it is only out of the two that hope
is born. And if desire becomes strong
enough to arouse determination to the
point of forcing hope, we may expect a
positive result of good or evil according
to the nature of the desire.

Our aspirations were modest and mod-
erate at first ; but they became poisoned
with greed, if not positively unlawful,
under the influence of the invitations
which every mail brought us to indulge
in the "sure thing" speculations, at
bucket shops, in promoters' offices, and
on the exchanges, including every kind
of stock and other gambling.

How hard it is to be content to earn
two dollars a day when pressed with
assurances that a hundred, or even a
thousand, may be more easily "earned."

Did I say offers to speculate? I
should have said to steal; for what pro-
moter-gambler would be interested in
the bank clerk if his own little savings
marked the limit of his investment ?

Why do not the clergy and the good

Temptations 151

men and women, who lifted their voices
to save the country from the curse of the
Louisiana State Lottery, step into the
breach and rescue the bank clerks, and
those in similar positions, from their
peril by having the privilege of the
mails denied to these baneful things, and
by having contracts for watered stock
and fictitious values declared illegal and
criminal ?

Or have these forces for good ex-
hausted themselves in failure? And
shall we be compelled to admit that the
public conscience is less acute now than
then, and that vice is stronger than ever
before ?

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Online LibraryPhil. A. (Philip Augustus) RushThe teller's tale; a banking story for bankers, a law story for lawyers, a love story for lovers → online text (page 6 of 9)