« AnteriorContinuar »
hero who died for their ideas, but not, in himself, the only ' lawful minister' between Tweed and Cape Wrath.
Other times, other manners.' All the Kirks are perfectly loyal; now none persecutes; interference with private life, 'Kirk discipline,' is a vanishing minimum; and, but for this recent garboil' (as our old writers put it) we might have said that, under differences of nomenclature, all the Kirks are united at last, in the only union worth having, that of peace and goodwill. That union may be restored, let us hope, by good temper and common sense, qualities that have not hitherto been conspicuous in the ecclesiastical history of Scotland.
A TEN-THOUSAND-POUND NOTE.
ONE Saturday afternoon in April, Mr. James Bellamy, bank clerk, was working in his front garden at Teddington. The wind was blowing hard, and the neat flower-beds were littered with drifting paper. .
'I wish people would burn their confounded waste-paper,' muttered Mr. Bellamy, 'instead of chucking it into my road.'
He bent to the task of cleaning up, and as he crushed the scraps of paper into tight balls, he tossed each one over his front fence. Mr. Bellamy was not more consistent than his neighbours. Suddenly, in the midst of this useful labour, he stopped, while in the act to throw one of the balls into the road. He was a bank clerk, and his highly educated fingers recognised the familiar texture of that which they held. Therefore, instead of throwing the bit of paper away, Mr. Bellamy straightened it out and looked at it carefully. Then he crumpled it up again, cast it on the ground, and seized a hoe. For some minutes he worked frightful havoc among the roots of his rose-trees.
‘Hullo!' he cried, staring at the ruin. “This will not do. I must be calm. Some neighbour is playing a joke upon me.'
Once more he picked up the piece of white paper and went with it into his house.
'I must look into this,' he murmured, smiling. 'For a moment I was quite taken in. It is really a very creditable imitation.'
He unfolded the banknote without emotion. The sum is handsome,' said he. Ten thousand pounds! The joker might have made it a million while he was about it. But the joke is lost upon me. Most men, who had not been trained in a bank, would really have believed it to be genuine. That is not the case with me, for when I hold it up to the light, the imitation - The clerk turned pale and gasped. “Bless my soul!' he muttered. For fully five minutes he held the £10,000 note against a windowpane, and then dropped, exhausted, into a chair.
* Bless my soul !' he whispered again. “It is the real thing.'
When his faculties had reshaped themselves, Bellamy was able to observe that the note had been issued by the Bank of England just three days before, and that it bore no marks of ownership upon it. Then, in order to gain time for thought, he locked the valuable document in his cashbox, and returned to his garden.
One is pained to have to record that Mr. Bellamy instantly decided to say nothing to his wife of his surprising discovery. This secrecy was due not to lack of affection, but to distrust of the female moral instinct. He felt sure that Mrs. Bellamy would give expression to an inconsiderate eagerness to discover the true owner of the note; whereas he himself, though strictly honest in all his dealings, was more than willing to give his luck a chance.
During the next few days, Mr. Bellamy's placid face gave no sign of the agitation which it concealed, and he continued to cast long columns of figures with accuracy. Habit had taught him how to fulfil his daily duties without drawing upon his intelligence, and the mind of the man was thus conveniently set free to think in the midst of his work. His experience as a bank clerk was a sound guide to him. “The chances,' thought Bellamy, are at least 1,000 to 1 that the note has been stopped, and that it is waste paper except in the hands of a bona fide holder for value. Now I am emphatically not a bonâ fide holder for value. Picking up property in one's garden does not carry a title to it; such is the scandalous partiality of the law. One who picks up, say a sovereign, may keep it without much hurt to his conscience, because an unmarked coin cannot be claimed by its owner. A banknote, on the other hand, is as easily identified as a house. It is possible that even now my silent retention of this note brings me within the shadow of punishment. This is a grave matter, and from minds less far-sighted than mine the future might conceal dangers. Let me trace the probable course of events.
“As soon as the owner of the note discovered his loss he would telegraph to the Bank of England particulars of its number and date. He would then either wait for an ignorant finder to present it, and to be detained by the Bank, or he would advertise, offering a reward for the return of his property. He has not advertised in any newspaper which I have watched ; therefore, he is waiting for presentation. Now, not being a fool, I shall not present it. Neither shall I attempt to send the note abroad. It is too big, ten times too big. How, then, can I make a profit out of my discovery? Clearly by myself discovering the owner, and by putting discreet moral pressure upon him in order to extract an adequate reward
say £500. I could do nicely with £500 just now. Honesty such as mine is surely worth an adequate reward.'
Being satisfied of the shrewdness of this reasoning, Mr. Bellamy drew up an advertisement and sent it to several London journals, prudently avoiding that one which was commonly favoured by his wife. He had doubts whether Mrs. Bellamy's untrained moral sense would grasp the commercial integrity of his plans; that she would fully appreciate the propriety of accepting a reward, when it took the desirable form of £500, he had no doubt whatever. With these subtle reasonings did Bellamy justify his secrecy.
His advertisement was ingeniously drafted. He announced the discovery in Teddington of a wandering banknote for a large amount, and he invited the owner to send full particulars for identification to 'J. B.' at a certain address in London. The address was that of his tobacconist. Thus he aimed at getting the name of the owner before he himself disclosed his own.
The advertisement appeared, and Bellamy awaited an answer. To his immense astonishment, not one came.
'Well, I'm blowed!' said he, after another week had passed. * This clean beats me.'
A far cleverer man than our Bellamy might reasonably have felt astonishment. That a £10,000 note should wander about near London on the wings of the wind without any attempt being made by its owner to recover it was beyond ordinary British experience. There was quite an Oriental flavour about this placid indifference to legal tender.
'I am beginning to doubt,' said Bellamy, after yet another blank week, 'whether this amazing owner has even troubled to stop payment of his note. What is £10,000 to him! The income of a day, an hour, a minute! Let the finder keep it, and be happy! The man must be a billionaire.' A momentary distrust of his own practised sense drove him to a renewed scrutiny of the note. 'There is no doubt of its genuineness,' he concluded. 'I would accept it any day at the office, and I have been a cashier for fifteen years. It is a Bank of England note, sure enough.'
The failure of his efforts to find the owner brought him some feelings of disappointment. He had reckoned to clear £500 without risk, and he not unreasonably held that five hundred sovereigns in hand were worth twenty times that sum in paper of doubtful negotiability. The chances,' he observed, are still heavily in favour of the note being stopped, though they are not nearly 80
great as they were. Why, in thunder, is not my advertisement answered ?' He had friends in the Issue Department of the Bank of England, and he had some thought of getting the list of stopped notes examined on his behalf, but he shied at the risk. No issue clerk would endanger his situation to gratify the mere curiosity of an acquaintance, and Bellamy shrank from giving a better reason than curiosity. Indeed, Bellamy was rapidly finding himself in the suspicious man's dilemma—he could not move without trusting someone, and he feared that trusting anyone would take him a long stride towards a prison.
Many readers may wonder why Mr. Bellamy did not walk boldly to the Bank of England and present the note for payment. He had done no wrong. The note had been blown into his garden, and he had made a real effort to discover its lawful possessor. The spoils of discovery were then fairly his due. If the note were stopped, he could explain how he was driven to present it; if it were not, he would be the richer by a couple of hundredweight of sovereigns. There was no danger, and a prospect of vast reward ! A man without Bellamy's special knowledge would very probably have taken this bold course, and, perhaps, have retired from business on the spoils of his courage. But in Bellamy, the bank clerk, knowledge was too great for such courage. He was aware that he ought at once to have carried the lost note to the Bank, explained how he had found it, and left it to the Bank itself to trace the owner. And being a bank clerk, no plea of ignorance would avail with a British jury if he sought to negotiate the note as his own. He was not a dishonest man—-gold flowed through his hands every day, and not a coin had ever stuck to them—still it must be admitted that his conduct in the matter of the £10,000 note was not honest, either in that which we have told or in that which we have yet to tell. But he had only £250 a year and a rising family, and £10,000 put a heavy strain on virtue.
Mr. Bellamy found the note in April, and though all his plans concerning it were fully thought out before summer came, yet the piece of paper lay hidden in his cashbox until the last week in July. On the 25th of that month his annual holiday began. “I will run over to Boulogne for a week,' said he to his wife, and then take you and the boys to Deal for a fortnight.' He embraced Mrs. Bellamy in farewell, and as her pretty eyes filled with tears at the shock of parting, his heart grew sore within him. He longed to tell her why he was going, and the risk he was about to run, but he