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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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 7 of 9)
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We banished this lottery, which never
deceived us into believing that it offered
us more than a gambler's chance, and
which only made its monthly demands
on the gambling instinct; and, in its
stead, we have a thousand others, whose
doors are always open, whose beguilings
never cease, whose lyings would cause
Sapphira to blush for very shame, and
whose allurements would make the Sirens

152 The Teller's Tale

weep for envy. They are not lotteries,
but worse, giving not even a chance.
When they give anything it is for the
purpose of leading us to destruction.

Is it not an open national shame that,
instead of protecting the people and
their mail against these frauds, public
officials often participate in them, or levy
blackmail for allowing them to go on ?

At first, I threw these gambling prop-
ositions into the waste-basket without
reading them, and generally without
breaking the seals; and Albert told me
he did the same. But I noticed, about
the time I took charge of the bank's
books, that he preserved his for careful
reading. Then he began to tell me about
them and their offers. Presently, I began
to save mine also; and in the evenings
we would read them over and discuss
them together. We saw so much money
every day, and observed how much some
people had, and how easily they seem to
acquire it. In contrast, was the little we
had and the slow process of acquiring



Practising to Deceive

DY and by I discovered that Albert
J ' had already invested a few dollars,
and with results quite encouraging. He
was anxious that I should join him, for,
as the circulars all explained, the pros-
pects were much greater for large sums,
per each dollar invested, than for small
sums. To this specious argument I
yielded, and took the first downward
step by investing with him. Not that
the sum invested amounted to much. It
was very small, only a few dollars ; and,
being my own money, its loss could harm
no one but myself. But it evidenced a
disposition of discontent with the natural

i54 The Teller's Tale

order of things, and a desire, or at least a
willingness, to depart from the straight
and narrow way of business. It showed
that I was growing tired of the toil which
never ceases, and which brings such slow

I was not free from misgivings at the
step I had taken, and, for that reason,
did not bring any enthusiasm into the
partnership which Albert and I thus
formed for growing rich in a fortnight.
The truth is that I was nursing my
doubts and looking for light, like a con-
victed sinner at a protracted meeting.
Albert, on the contrary, was very active
in forwarding our joint interests by
taking a little of any number of "good
things" which were offered us from
various sources.

The business went on for a few weeks,
alternately making and losing, until I
was informed by Albert one day that my
savings, which had been put into his
hands, were exhausted, and that, in
order to make good my part of a balance
due on over-exhausted margins (how

Practising to Deceive 155

clever of the broker to pay the margins
for us!), it would be necessary to over-
draw my account with the bank, thereby
appropriating a portion of the bank's
money to my use. Albert explained how
this had become necessary, and he read
a beautifully written letter from the
broker giving the most plausible reasons
why we had not profited by that time,
assuring us that fortune was then in
sight, and deploring (for our sake, he
said), in advance, any disposition or
influence which might cause us to
"weaken" on the very eve of success!

I thought over the matter until I re-
turned from luncheon that day, where,
instead of the steak and eggs of Aunt
Betty's chop-house, I saw, alternately,
the large check which should be my half
of the prospective profits from our in-
vestment, and the red-ink figures which
were to represent my defalcation that
night. I was converted at that lunch
table. In ten minutes after I left there
I had borrowed from a friend an amount
necessary to discharge my matured obli-

156 The Teller's Tale

gations in the partnership with Albert,
and had placed the money in his hands.
By great persuasion, I also induced him
to agree to retire from the business.

Never since that hour have I been
strongly tempted, on my own account,
to engage in any character of speculation.
I have ever since been satisfied that
total abstinence from speculative trans-
actions is a part of the banker's moral
character. I do not mean by this to
erect a different standard for others, for
the same rule should apply to every man.
I only wish to emphasize it as a neces-
sary, cardinal virtue of him who sustains
a fiduciary relationship to his employer
or the public.

For the following two years or more,
Albert and I continued our work in the
accustomed way, and, as you know, gave
satisfaction to the bank and its patrons.
We also took part in the social diversions
of the place. But Albert was not the
same. He had been confident and happy
at the office, and the very life of society.
He now became anxious and nervous in

Practising to Deceive 157

business, indifferent to society and its
obligations, and, generally, ill at ease. I
can now see reasons for the changes
which had come over him which I did
not then understand.

In the meantime, I was happy in the
love of my mother, and well contented
with my work. While I had troubles of
my own (who does not have?), I had no
cause to complain of Albert, for toward
me he was as kind and thoughtful as a

About a year after our little spurt
at speculation, several banking failures
occurred in two or three of our large
cities, while there were a number of
failures in small banking towns. As will
be remembered, most of these failures
occurred from the dishonesty of trusted
employees. It occurred the same way in
New York that it did elsewhere.

The strangest part about the trans-
actions was the helplessness of the banks
and their inability to so conduct their
business as to provide against the repe-
tition of such occurrences. Any book-

158 The Teller's Tale

keeper, or any teller in a bank, acting
either independently or with another,
could transfer a portion of the credit of
an inactive account and make it appear
to belong to himself or another, and in
that way, place an almost unlimited
amount of funds within his reach, with-
out the fear of immediate detection.
With hundreds or thousands of deposit-
ors, many of them unknown to the
president and cashier, it was found to
be impossible for the bank's officers or
stockholders to check up the work of sub-
ordinate employees and know the condition
of the bank.

You are familiar with the agitation of
the question of how to protect the banks
against dishonest employees, and the law
which was passed for that purpose.
Though the first of the kind ever passed
by any Legislature, it is a wise law. Had
it not been passed, dishonest employees,
having the easy methods of others
pointed out to them, would have been
tempted to prey upon the banks from
one end of the land to the other; and

Practising to Deceive 159

depositors and stockholders would have
suffered greatly, in spite of themselves.
Whereas, now, by observing the law, the
depositor may protect his money, and
the stockholder may save both his money
and the morals of his employees.

Long after the stir over the bank fail-
ures, and the agitation, and passing of
the law, I recall that Albert was very
much interested, in fact, agitated, not
only at the failures and defalcations, but
also at the proposition to apply a reme-
dial law, such as was passed. I recalled
that he was busier than usual, and took
some of my work off my hands, giving
me opportunity for social pleasures which
had been denied me in the busy season.

We inaugurated the new system under
the publication law, on April ist, and
required every depositor to come to the
bank within a month, and receive the
printed rules and have them pasted in
his pass-book for his guidance. There
were a few who did not come in person
but entrusted their business to others.
Some communicated their wishes and

160 The Teller's Tale

sent their pass-books by mail, addressing
their letters to Mr. Price, or to Albert
or myself.

I remember distinctly the letter which
came from Mrs. Wilmot addressed to
Albert, enclosing her pass-book which
was to be supplanted by a new one duly
signed and attested. I did not see the
new one as it went out in the mail.

I remember also the occasion of the
visit of Mrs. Wilmot and Miss Alice to
the bank, when the checks for Colonel
Wilmot 's life-insurance policies were de-
posited, and how, after having this at-
tended to by Albert, Miss Alice had me
see that it was properly done. Well do I
recall, also, the expression of trust which
filled her eyes, as she seemed to accept
my judgment with such confidence.



A Tangled Web

ON July 1 4th, fifteen months after the
law was put into operation, Albert
was absent from his accustomed place at
the teller's wicket, the word coming that
he was confined to his room with a chill.
I took his place, and, as it was the dull
season, easily performed his duties and
my own. I called to see him the follow-
ing evening, and the next, and so on to
the end of the week. He was despondent
from the first, and more so on the seventh
day, when Dr. Baird pronounced his case
typhoid fever. His severe illness from
the start, and sad death, are fresh in the

minds of us all ; but sadder to me, by far,


162 The Teller's Tale

than to any other person on earth, for
the reasons I am about to give.

When I entered his room two days be-
fore his case became hopeless, he said to
his mother, after greeting me, "Go, my
dear, and rest a little, while Arthur sits
by my side and tells me the news.

"Arthur," said he, when we were quite
alone, "I have a great secret lying on my
heart, which must be known to you alone.
I want you to promise, before I begin to
tell, that you will hold it sacred within
your own bosom as long as mother lives,
and not divulge it then save for your own
protection; and that you will, so far as
possible, undo the great wrongs I have
done to others."

As he turned his hectic face to mine,
and grasped my hands in his burning
palms, speaking with a voice already
weak and unsteady, I realized for the
first time that my friend had fallen
among the shadows which separate time
from eternity, bearing burdens more
frightful than death itself. Before either
of us had spoken again, my mind re-

I used the money of the bank, and lost, time after time.

A Tangled Web 163

viewed all the circumstances of his life
known to me, and I felt, as by intuition,
the full force of all he had to say. Readily
and solemnly, I gave the requested prom-
ise, reserving the right to make a full dis-
closure to you, in case I should need your

Albert continued, "You remember,
Arthur, our little dash on the 'Boards,'
and how you conquered the temptation
to speculate so easily ? Well ; from that
hour of your triumph, our lives have
been diverging at an ever - increasing

"I used the money of the bank, and
lost, time after time; each investment
being made in the vain hope of winning
enough to pay it all back again. Oh,
how inviting have been the green fields
into which I have gone for fruit, to find
nothing but leaves! At first it was
copper, in which Daly and Clark made
their fortunes, promising five hundred
per cent. ! After that came other things ;
and finally, Gold Coin, the last of my
plunges, which was more of an invest-

164 The Teller's Tale

ment proper than any of the others.
You will find all those certificates in my
private box in the vault. I yet have
every faith and confidence in some of
these stocks, and only wish I could live
to see them declare the first dividends
and win me back my self-respect and the
money of others which I have lost.

"I never intended to use the money of
widows and orphans and the helpless.
But when the publication law was put
into force, I was compelled to take the
money of non-residents and ignorant
home people, to pay back the abstrac-
tions already made from intelligent local
depositors who would watch the publica-
tions and complain if their accounts were

"This is the commission I place upon
you: Take this property and hold it in
trust for those I have betrayed; keep
them in ignorance of the true condition
of their accounts until a sale of some
successful stock will reimburse them. In
my safety box, you will find a statement
showing the names of those whose funds

A Tangled Web 165

I have taken and the amounts taken
from each. In all, it amounts to nearly
sixty thousand dollars. I know I am
asking a good deal of you, and that in
yielding to my request you put in jeop-
ardy your good name and future safety.

"But remember that a discovery of
these transactions, at this time, would
grieve my mother to certain death, and
perhaps ruin the bank, while conceal-
ment may mean fortune to you and
others, and a preservation of our good
name, with only the possibility of damage
to you. I would not ask this of you, did
I not believe it would be for your final
good. I want you to have the balance
of the stocks after selling enough to pay
our depositors the full amount due them.
We have already struck a small vein in
Gold Coin and are sure to run into the
great solid layers that made millions for
our neighbors of the Independent. When
this is done your fortune will be assured.

"I know that in making this request
I ask more than I have any right to
ask. I know that in granting it you will

166 The Teller's Tale

conceal from your employers facts which,
ordinarily, they have the right to know.
You also conceal from your depositors
facts about the bank's true condition
which they have the right to know, and
you fail to disclose to certain depositors
losses they have sustained, a knowledge
of which would cause them to change
their methods of living.

"I have thought of all this, and more.
I know it is contrary to our teaching that
any one should do evil that good may
follow. But certainly you will not hurt
any one seriously, if at all, by granting
my request. No additional losses are
likely to occur. The bank's management
is now perfect, and its assets will suffer
no further impairment. If you should
disclose the real condition of the things
and make it known to the public, con-
fidence in the Bowers law would be
shaken, and a panic would result, to the
serious injury of the bank and the busi-
ness community, not counting the dam-
age which would be done all over the

A Tangled Web


" I make these requests as a dying man,
for I feel that I shall never rise from this
bed. I leave in your hands and keeping,
mother's happiness and my good name,
and I hope and trust you will guard both
with all your ability as long as you can
do so without great harm to yourself or
others; and may God bless you in all
that you do."


Conflicts of Conscience

THIS was the pitiful and pathetic
story which he related pathetic,
because it disclosed a sorrowful tragedy
of suffering and sin; pitiful, because he
had no power to retrace the steps of a
misspent life and blot out the wrongs he
had done. His lost Lenore the inno-
cence and honesty of childhood had
gone out of his life forever.

To say that I was shocked at the con-
fession and its disclosures would be stat-
ing the case mildly. I was overwhelmed,
not only at the sudden and wholly un-
expected knowledge which his words
conveyed, but also at the critical, contra-


Conflicts of Conscience 169

dictory, and altogether unenviable posi-
tion I occupied, as his friend, and, at the
same time, the servant and trustee of the
bank and others.

Doubts, fears, resolution, and irre-
solution, with other conflicting emotions,
surged through my brain with the force
and rapidity of electrical discharges ; and
so powerful were the influences of one
moment of time that I seemed to run the
gamut of human experiences and reason-
ing in less time than I can tell you, and to
have found myself transferred from the
field of earnest, but youthful endeavor,
to the work and responsibility of age a
burden which God alone in His wisdom
and power could have helped me bear.

What could I do? To have refused
would have been cruel and inhuman; to
agree was kind, but criminal. I agreed.
At Albert's request, I wrote down his
statement that night and submitted it
next morning for his signature. He in-
sisted that I should do this for my pro-
tection hereafter.

When I entered the door of the bank

1 70 The Teller's Tale

after Albert's death, I had that old feel-
ing of disquietude which I felt when I
was about to overdraw my account to
continue a speculative contract, and in
a greater degree. But having promised
him, in his dying hour, that his secret
and good name should have my protec-
tion, I intended to 'tread the winepress
alone,' as I have done, rather than break
faith with the dead.

I at once inspected Albert's invest-
ments, and was disgusted and disheart-
ened to look upon the many snares
which had been set for his entrapment,
and with what worthless trash his box
was filled. His Arkansas zinc and Gold
Coin were absolutely the only stocks
which he had from which I could have
any reasonable expectation of realizing
any collection whatever, at any time, and
the prospects for these were not flattering.
They have since proven to be absolutely
worthless. Albert's confidence was but
the drowning man catching at a straw;
his hope, the manifestation of a ruling
passion strong in death.

Conflicts of Conscience 171

To assume the necessary false position
which he had occupied ; to take his place
as deceiver of employers and customers;
to adopt the false entries made by him;
and with no better hope that the end of
it would be peace and honor than the
mere chances that the two speculative
stocks would bring a windfall, where
scores of others had failed these were
considerations to stagger a stronger heart
than mine ; and but for the courage that
comes from desperation I should never
have withstood the ordeal.

There are other things of which Albert
spoke, which were too sacred to be
written then, and are too precious now
for the ears of even a sympathizing pub-
lic of love unrequited, and of the am-
bition which lay at the bottom of all his

Let us draw the curtain of charity over
his faults and commend his virtues.

The light will surely break for me at
last. So long as Albert's mother lives,
there will be a barrier between myself and
freedom, which cannot be broken down;

172 The Teller's Tale

but I hope and trust that I may live until
Providence provides for my deliverance.
Whatever the future has in store for me,
I have the consolation of knowing that
my sins have not been selfish ones, and
that I have been guided by the spirit of
charity, although the letter of the law
condemns me.

The End of Arthur's Story



r HUNG on every word of this narra-
* tive, and could think of nothing else
while it was being told, and for days
afterwards. I was carried off my feet,
and off my head as well, into an atmos-
phere of astonishment and delight. In
but one story-book even A Tale of Two
Cities had I read of such self-sacrifice
for friendship's sake. Never before had
I seen it exemplified in the flesh. Here
was a young man who, out of mere
friendship and camaraderie, willingly took
the place of a criminal and allowed him-
self to be adjudged a felon by the com-
munity and the State. He not only put
aside every selfish motive that prompted
him to reveal the guilty one, but likewise

174 The Teller's Tale

caused the deepest of pain to his mother
and others who loved him. He justified
himself by saying that time would ap-
prove his course, and that his relatives
and friends would then forget that they
had sorrowed for his sake. Certainly, if
he had revealed the author of the wrong,
Mrs. Ward would have gone to her grave
broken-hearted. In the meantime, he
assured his mother that all would be well
with him in the end, and that no blot
would be left on their name. She be-
lieved in him, and this abiding faith was
her sole consolation.

Arthur St. John had been convicted of
furnishing untrue statements of deposit-
ors' accounts for publication, and was
awaiting his trial on the charge of em-
bezzlement. He had not testified in his
behalf; and, indeed, it would have been
useless, as he could have done little less
than plead guilty to the charge. ' ' Silence
gives consent," everybody said; and his
closest friends could see but little reason
for going through the form of an appeal
to the higher court, thereby consuming

In the Toils 175

the small property which his mother

Nevertheless, the day following his
narration to me, I went to the court-
house and entered a motion for a new
trial, which the court continued, in order
(as was intimated) to allow the larger
punishment for the more serious of-
fence (embezzlement) to supersede the
smaller punishment which, under the
law, would follow the conviction already
had. I also signed Arthur's bond in the
sum of twenty thousand dollars, and be-
came responsible for his appearance in
court when required to be there.

Upon being released from confinement,
Arthur went immediately home to his
mother, remaining there and denying
himself to every one save a few friends,
to none of whom did he then even inti-
mate the guilt of Albert. And, as he
made no claim of innocence, they won-
dered that I should have caused his

Alice Wilmot was frequently at the St.
John home, before and after Arthur's

176 The Teller's Tale

release, and was the one source of good
cheer which sustained Mrs. St. John dur-
ing all the trying times that fell upon
her. She said long afterwards that she
believed with a woman's intuition that
Arthur was innocent. The fact that
Arthur had apparently taken advantage
of the absence of herself and her mother
to misappropriate and embezzle their
money, did not seem to have any effect
on her bearing toward the family.

The trial of the case of John M. Parker,
Guardian of Alice Wilmot, against the
bank, came on to be heard; the bank
pleaded the law which freed it from lia-
bility after having published for thirty
days, without objection, the balance
shown by the books to be due.
The guardian replied:
i. That the death of Mrs. Wilmot be-
fore the publication was com-
pleted, and the descent of her
estate to her daughter, a minor,
took the case from under the op-
eration of the statute, thereby
rendering the bank liable.

In the Toils 177

2. (a) No printed notice was delivered
to Mrs. Wilmot with her pass-book,
as required by Section 4 of the law ;
(b) Neither was any notice ever pub-
lished in the community in which
she resided at the time, as required
by Section 7.

(Although not mentioned before in
this narrative, Mrs. Wilmot and Alice
went to reside in Boston for the comple-
tion of the musical education of the latter,
soon after the death of Colonel Wilmot.
Mrs. Wilmot died there some time
afterward. Alice continued at the con-
servatory, and only returned after the de-
falcation of Arthur was discovered. She
not being yet of age, a guardian was ap-
pointed for her, to bring suit against the
bank for the money embezzled from her
mother's account.)

The Circuit Court said that the plea
was bad; that the rights of minors were
not exempted by the statute from its
terms, and that the court could not make
exceptions of its own. The court also
declined to hold that the bank was

1 78 The Teller's Tale

required to run down with its publica-
tions every depositor who should change
his residence or choose to reside in a dis-
tant place.

Three weeks afterwards, the Supreme
Court reversed the decision of the Circuit
Court, deciding that the law of bank
publications, inasmuch as it failed to
protect the rights of infants, was, as to
them, contrary to that section of the
State Constitution which declared that,
"the property of all persons shall be en-
titled to the equal protection of the law,"
and that ' ' no person shall be deprived of
his property without due process of law."

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