Putting Your Hand in Your Neighbor's Pocket
"Do you recollect Thomas, who lived with us as waiter about two years ago, Mary?" asked Mr. Clarke, as he seated himself in his comfortable arm-chair, and slipped his feet into the nicely-warmed, embroidered slippers, which stood ready for his use.
"Certainly," was the reply of Mrs. Clarke. "He was a bright, active fellow, but rather insolent."
"He has proved to be a regular pickpocket," continued her husband, "and is now on his way to Blackwell's Island."
"A very suitable place for him. I hope he will be benefitted by a few months' residence there," returned the lady.
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Joshua Clarke, an uncle of the young couple, who was quietly reading a newspaper in another part of the room. "There are many of high standing in the world, who deserve to go to Blackwell's Island quite as much as he does."
"You are always making such queer speeches, Uncle Joshua," said his niece. "I suppose you do not mean that there are pickpockets among respectable people?"
"Indeed, there are, my dear niece. Your knowledge of the world must be very limited, if you are not aware of this. Putting your hand in your neighbor's pocket, is one of the most fashionable accomplishments of the day."
Mrs. Clarke was too well acquainted with her uncle's peculiarities to think of arguing with him. She therefore merely smiled, and said to her husband:
"Well, Henry, I am glad that neither you nor myself are acquainted with this fashionable accomplishment."
"Not acquainted with it!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "I thought you knew yourselves better. Why, you and Henry are both regular pickpockets!"
"I wonder that you demean yourself by associating with us!" was the playful reply.
"Oh, you are no worse than the rest of the world; and, besides, I hope to do you some good, when you grow older and wiser. At present, Henry's whole soul is absorbed in the desire to obtain wealth."
"In a fair and honorable way, uncle," interrupted Mr. Clarke, "and for honorable purposes."
"Certainly," replied Uncle Joshua, "in the common acceptance of the words fair and honorable. But, do you never, in your mercantile speculations, endeavor to convey erroneous impressions to the minds of those with whom you are dealing? Do you not sometimes suppress information which would prevent your obtaining a good bargain? Do you never allow your customers to purchase goods under false ideas of their value in the market? If you saw a man, less skilled in business than yourself, about to take a step injurious to him, but advantageous to you, would you warn him of his danger — thus obeying the command to love your neighbor as yourself?"
"Why, uncle, these questions are absurd. Of course, when engaged in business, I endeavor to do what is for my own advantage — leaving others to look out for themselves."
"Exactly so. You are perfectly willing to put your hand in your neighbor's pocket and take all you can get, provided he is not wise enough to know that your hand is there."
"Oh, for shame, Uncle Joshua! I shall not allow you to talk to Henry in this manner," exclaimed Mrs. Clarke perceiving that her husband looked somewhat irritated. "Come, prove your charge against me. In what way do I pick my neighbor's pockets?"
"You took six shillings from the washerwoman this morning," coolly replied Uncle Joshua.
"Took six shillings from the washerwoman! Paid her six shillings, you mean, uncle. She called for the money due for a day's work, and I gave it to her."
"Yes, but not till you had kept her waiting nearly two hours. I heard her say, as she left the house, 'I have lost a day's work by this delay, for I cannot go to Mrs. Reed's at this hour; so I shall be six shillings poorer at the end of the week.'"
"Why did she wait, then? She could have called again. I was not ready to attend to her at so early an hour."
"Probably she needed the money today. You little know the value of six shillings to the mother of a poor family, Mary; but, you should remember that her time is valuable, and that it is as sinful to deprive her of the use of it, as if you took money from her purse."
"Well, uncle, I will acknowledge that I did wrong to keep the poor woman waiting, and I will endeavor to be more considerate in future. So draw your chair to the table, and take a cup of tea and some of your favorite cakes."
"Thank you, Mary; but I am engaged to take tea with your old friend, Mrs. Morrison. Poor thing! she has not made out very well lately. Her school has quite run down, owing to sickness among her scholars; and her own family have been ill all winter; so that her expenses have been great."
"I am sorry to hear this," replied Mrs. Clarke. "I had hoped that her school was succeeding. Give my love to her, uncle, and tell her I will call upon her in a day or two."
Uncle Joshua promised to remember the message, and bidding Mr. and Mrs. Clarke good evening, he was soon seated in Mrs. Morrison's neat little parlor, which, though it bore no comparison with the spacious and beautifully furnished rooms he had just left, had an air of comfort and convenience which could not fail to please.
Delighted to see her old friend, whom she also, from early habit, addressed by the title of Uncle Joshua, although he was no relation, Mrs. Morrison's countenance, for awhile beamed with that cheerful, animated expression which it used to wear in her more youthful days; but an expression of care and anxiety soon over shadowed it, and, in the midst of her kind attentions to her visitor, and her affectionate endearment to two sweet children, who were playing around the room, she would often remain thoughtful and abstracted for several minutes.
Uncle Joshua was an attentive observer, and he saw that something weighed heavily upon her mind. When tea was over, and the little ones had gone to rest, he said, kindly,
"Come, Fanny, draw your chair close to my side, and tell me all your troubles, as freely as you used to do when a merry-hearted school-girl. How often have I listened to the sad tale of the pet pigeon that had flown away, or the favorite plant killed by the untimely frost. Come, I am ready, now as then, to assist you with my advice, and my purse, too, if necessary."
Tears started to Mrs. Morrison's eyes, as she replied.
"You were always a kind friend to me, Uncle Joshua, and I will gladly confide my troubles to you. You know that after my husband's death I took this house, which, though small, may seem far above my limited income, in the hope of obtaining a school sufficiently large to enable me to meet the rent, and also to support myself and children. The small sum left them by their father I determined to invest for their future use. I unwisely entrusted it to one who betrayed the trust, and appropriated the money to some wild speculation of his own. He says that he did this in the hope of increasing my little property. It may be so, but my consent should have been asked. He failed, and there is little hope of our ever recovering more than a small part of what he owes us. But, to return to my school. I found little difficulty in obtaining scholars, and, for a short time, believed myself to be doing well, but I soon found that a large number of scholars did not insure a large income from the school. My fees were moderate, but still I found great difficulty in obtaining what was due to me at the end of the term.
"A few paid promptly, and without expecting me to make unreasonable deductions for unpleasant weather, slight illness, etc., etc. Others paid after long delay, which often put me to the greatest inconvenience; and some, after appointing day after day for me to call, and promising each time that the bill would be settled without fail, moved away, I knew not where, or met me at length with a cool assurance that it was not possible for them to pay me at present — and if it was ever in their power, they would let me know."
"Downright robbery!" exclaimed Uncle Joshua. "A set of pickpockets! I wish they were all shipped for Blackwell's Island."
"There are many reasons assigned for not paying," continued Mrs. Morrison. "Sometimes the children had not learned as much as the parents expected. Some found it expedient to take their children away long before the expiration of the term, and then gazed at me in astonishment when I declared my right to demand pay for the whole time for which they engaged. One lady, in particular, to whose daughter I was giving music lessons, withdrew the pupil under pretext of slight sickness, and sent me the amount due for a half term. I called upon her, and stated that I considered the engagement binding for twenty-four lessons, but would willingly wait until the young lady was quite recovered. The mother appeared to assent with willingness to this arrangement, and took the offered money without comment. An hour or two after I received a laconic epistle stating that the lady had already engaged another teacher, whom she thought preferable — that she had offered me the amount due for half of the term, and I had declined receiving it — therefore she should not offer it again. I wrote a polite, but very plain, reply to this note, and enclosed my bill for the whole term, but have never heard from her since."
"Do you mean to say that she actually received the money which you returned to her without reluctance, and gave you no notice of her intention to employ another teacher?" demanded the old gentleman.
"Certainly; and, besides this, I afterwards ascertained that the young lady was actually receiving a lesson from another teacher, when I called at the house — therefore the plea of sickness was entirely false. The most perfect satisfaction had always been expressed as to the progress of the pupil, and no cause was assigned for the change."
"I hope you have met with only a few cases as bad as this," remarked Uncle Joshua. "The world must be in a worse state than even I had supposed, if such robbery is common."
"This may be an extreme case," replied Mrs. Morrison, "but I could relate many others which are little better. However, you will soon weary of my experience in this way, Uncle Joshua, and I will therefore mention but one other instance. One bitter cold day in January, I called at the house of a lady who had owed me a small amount for nearly a year, and after repeated delay had reluctantly fixed this day as the time when she would pay me at least a part of what was due. I was told by the servant who opened the door that the lady was not at home.
"What time will she be in?" I inquired.
"Not for some hours," was the reply.
Leaving word that I would call again towards evening, I retraced my steps, feeling much disappointed at my ill success, as I had felt quite sure of obtaining the money. About five o'clock I again presented myself at the door, and was again informed that the lady was not at home.
"I will walk in, and wait for her return," I replied.
The servant appeared somewhat startled at this, but after a little delay ushered me into the parlor. Two little boys, of four and six years of age, were playing about the room. I joined in their sports, and soon became quite familiar with them. Half an hour had passed away, when I inquired of the oldest boy what time he expected his mother?
"Not till late," he answered, hesitatingly.
"Did she take the baby with her this cold day?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am," promptly replied the girl, who, under pretense of attending to the children, frequently came into the room.
The youngest child gazed earnestly in my face, and said, smilingly,
"Mother has not gone away, she is upstairs. She ran away with baby when she saw you coming, and told us to say she had gone out. I am afraid brother will take cold, for there is no fire upstairs."
"It is no such thing," exclaimed the girl and the eldest boy. "She is not upstairs, ma'am, or she would see you."
But even as they spoke, the loud cries of an infant were heard, and a voice at the head of the stairs calling Jenny.
The girl obeyed, and presently returned with the child in her arms, its face, neck, and hands purple with cold.
"Poor little thing, it has got its death in that cold room," she said. "Mistress cannot see you, ma'am, she is sick and gone to bed."
"This last story was probably equally false with the other, but I felt that it was useless to remain, and with feelings of deep regret for the poor children who were so early taught an entire disregard for truth, and of sorrow for the exposure to cold to which I had innocently subjected the infant, I left the house. A few days after, I heard that the little one had died with croup. Jenny, whom I accidentally met in the street, assured me that he took the cold which caused his death from the exposure on the afternoon of my call, as he became ill the following day. I improved the opportunity to endeavor to impress upon the mind of the poor girl the sin of which she had been guilty, in telling a falsehood even in obedience to the commands of her mistress; and I hope that what I said may be useful to her.
"The lack of honesty and promptness in the parents of my pupils often caused me great inconvenience, and I frequently found it difficult to meet my rent when it became due. Still I have struggled through my difficulties without contracting any debts until this winter, but the sickness which has prevailed in my school has so materially lessened my income, and my family expenses have, for the same reason, been so much greater, that I fear it will be quite impossible for me to continue in my present situation."
"Do not be discouraged," said Uncle Joshua; "I will advance whatever sum you are in immediate need of, and you may repay me when it is convenient to yourself. I will also take the bills which are due to you from various people, and endeavor to collect them. Your present term is, I suppose, nearly ended. Commence another with this regulation: That the price of tuition, or at least one-half of it, shall be paid before the entrance of the scholar. Some will complain of this rule, but many will not hesitate to comply with it, and you will find the result beneficial. And now I would leave you, Fanny, for I have another call to make this evening. My young friend, William Churchill, is, I hear, quite ill, and I feel desirous to see him. I will call upon you in a day or two, and then we will have another talk about your affairs, and see what can be done for you. So good night, Fanny; go to sleep and dream of your old friend."
Closing the door after Uncle Joshua, Mrs. Morrison returned to her room with a heart filled with thankfulness that so kind a friend had been sent to her in the hour of need; while the old gentleman walked with rapid steps through several streets until he stood at the door of a small, but pleasantly situated house in the suburbs of the city. His ring at the bell was answered by a pretty, pleasant-looking young woman, whom he addressed as Mrs. Churchill, and kindly inquired for her husband.
"William is very feeble today, but he will be happy to see you, sir. His disease is partly owing to anxiety of mind, I think, and when his spirits are raised by a friendly visit, he feels better."
Uncle Joshua followed Mrs. Churchill to the small room which now served the double purpose of parlor and bedroom. They were met at the door by the invalid, who had recognized the voice of his old friend, and had made an effort to rise and greet him. His sunken countenance, the hectic flush which glowed upon his cheek, and the distressing cough, gave fearful evidence that unless the disease was soon arrested in its progress, consumption would mark him for its victim.
The friendly visitor was inwardly shocked at his appearance, but wisely made no allusion to it, and soon engaged him in cheerful conversation. Gradually he led him to speak openly of his own situation — of his health, and of the financial difficulties with which he was struggling. His story was a common one.
A young family was growing up around him, and an aged mother and invalid sister also depended upon him for support. The small salary which he obtained as clerk in one of the most extensive mercantile establishments in the city, was quite insufficient to meet his necessary expenses. He had, therefore, after being constantly employed from early morning until a late hour in the evening, devoted two or three hours of the night to various occupations which added a trifle to his limited income. Sometimes he procured copying of various kinds; at others, accounts, which he could take to his own house, were entrusted to him. This incessant application had gradually ruined his health, and now for several weeks he had been unable to leave the house.
"Have you had advice from an experienced physician, William?" inquired Uncle Joshua. The young man blushed, as he replied, that he was unwilling to send for a physician, knowing that he had no means to repay his services.
"I will send my own doctor to see you," returned his friend. "He can help you if any one can, and as for his fee, I will attend to it, and if you regain your health I shall be amply repaid. — No, do not thank me," he continued, as Mr. Churchill endeavored to express his gratitude. "Your father has done me many a favor, and it would be strange if I could not extend a hand to help his son when in trouble. And now tell me, William, is not your salary very small, considering the responsible situation which you have so long held in the firm of Stevenson & Company?"
"It is," was the reply; "but I see no prospect of obtaining more. I believe I have always given perfect satisfaction to my employer, although it is difficult to ascertain the estimation in which he holds me, for he is a man who never praises. He has never found fault with me, and therefore I suppose him satisfied, and indeed I have some proof of this in his willingness to wait two or three months in the hope that I may recover from my present illness before making a permanent engagement with a new clerk. Notwithstanding this, he has never raised my salary, and when I ventured to say to him about a year ago, that as his business had nearly doubled since I had been with him, I felt that it would be but just that I should derive some benefit from the change, he coolly replied that my present salary was all that he had ever paid a clerk, and he considered it a sufficient equivalent for my services. He knows very well that it is difficult to obtain a good situation, there are so many who stand ready to fill any vacancy, and therefore he feels quite safe in refusing to give me, more."
"And yet," replied Uncle Joshua, "he is fully aware that the advantage resulting from your long experience and thorough acquaintance with his business, increases his income several hundred dollars every year, and this money he quietly puts into his own pocket, without considering or caring that a fair proportion of it should in common honesty go into yours. What a strange world we live in! The poor thief who robs you of your watch or pocket-book, is punished without delay; but these wealthy defrauders maintain their respectability and pass for honest men, even while withholding what they know to be the just due of another.
"But cheer up, William, I have a fine plan for you, if you can but regain your health. I am looking for a suitable person to take charge of a large sheep farm, which I propose establishing on the land which I own in Virginia. You acquired some knowledge of farming in your early days. How would you like to undertake this business? The climate is delightful, the employment easy and pleasant; and it shall be my care that your salary is amply sufficient for the support of your family."
Mr. Churchill could hardly command his voice sufficiently to express his thanks, and his wife burst into tears, as she exclaimed,
"If my poor husband had confided his troubles to you before, he would not have been reduced to this feeble state."
"He will recover," said the old gentleman. "I feel sure, that in one month, he will look like a different man. Rest yourself, now, William, and tomorrow I will see you again."
And, followed by the blessings and thanks of the young couple, Uncle Joshua departed.
"Past ten o'clock," he said to himself, as he paused near a lamp-post and looked at his watch. "I must go to my own room."
As he said this, he was startled by a deep sigh from some one near, and on looking around, saw a lad, of fourteen or fifteen years of age, leaning against the post, and looking earnestly at him.
Uncle Joshua recognized the son of a poor widow, whom he had occasionally befriended, and said, kindly,
"Well, John, are you on your way home from the store? This is rather a late hour for a boy like you."
"Yes, sir, it is late. I cannot bear to return home to my poor mother, for I have bad news for her tonight. Mr. Mackenzie does not wish to employ me any more. My year is up today."
"Why, John, how is this? Not long ago your employer told me that he was perfectly satisfied with you; indeed, he said that he never before had so trusty and useful a boy."
"He has always appeared satisfied with me, sir, and I have endeavored to serve him faithfully. But he told me today that he had engaged another boy."
Uncle Joshua mused for a moment, and then asked,
"What was he to give you for the first year, John?"
"Nothing, sir. He told my mother that my services would be worth nothing the first year, but the second he would pay me fifty dollars, and so increase my salary as I grew older. My poor mother has worked very hard to support me this year, and I had hoped that I would be able to help her soon. But it is all over now, and I suppose I must take a boy's place again, and work another year for nothing."
"And then be turned off again. Another set of pickpockets," muttered his indignant auditor.
"Pickpockets!" exclaimed the lad. "Did anyone take your watch just now, sir? I saw a man look at it as you took it out. Perhaps we can overtake him. I think he turned into the next street."
"No, no, my boy. My watch is safe enough. I am not thinking of street pickpockets, but of another class whom you will find out as you grow older. But never mind losing your place, John. My nephew is in need of a boy who has had some experience in your business, and will pay him a fair salary — more than Mr. Mackenzie agreed to give you for the second year. I will mention you to him, and you may call at his store tomorrow at eleven o'clock, and we will see if you will answer his purpose."
"Thank you, Sir, I am sure I thank you; and mother will bless you for your kindness," replied the boy, his countenance glowing with animation; and with a grateful "good night," he darted off in the direction of his own home.
"There goes a grateful heart," thought Uncle Joshua, as he gazed after the boy until he turned the corner of the street and disappeared. "He has lost his situation merely because another can be found who will do the work for nothing for a year, in the vain hope of future recompense. I wish Mary could have been with me this evening; I think she would have acknowledged that there are many respectable pickpockets who deserve to accompany poor Thomas to Blackwell's Island;" and thus soliloquizing, Uncle Joshua reached the door of his boarding-house, and sought repose in his own room.