« AnteriorContinuar »
THE COMPENSATION OFFICE.
"Compensations furnished here, at the lowest prices."
SUCH was the legend over a dim ed permission to occupy a remote and
little shop, within whose narrow obscure corner in his dark little shop bounds a quiet old gentleman awaited during the afternoon. customers. In sitting at my window The old shopman granted my petiopposite, during a few weeks while the tion as soon as asked, with a sequent old gentleman occupied his stand, I had readiness which impressed upon me an observed with curiosity the numbers of indistinct notion that he had expected people who resorted thither in the dusk me to make precisely that request; and of the evening, as if seeking to escape I was moreover somewhat discomposed observation. The few whose entry and by the very penetrating look and quiet, exit I had noticed during daylight, had intelligent smile with which he regarded also attracted my attention, inasmuch me as I spoke. Yet, with proper phias they had departed, not with the losophic imperturbation, I next morning satisfied mien of those having made a assumed my seat, which was in a corgood bargain, but as if dissatisfied or ner so dark as to put me almost in the surprised.
situation of a spy, since only a very Now, I surmised at first that the keen eye, or a close investigation would old gentleman was a humbug-a fellow- serve to distinguish my black dress and craftsman to the impostors who vend, brown hair in the dim atmosphere of for one dollar received by mail, post- my corner, and among the old garments paid, “receipts for making an easy liv- which hung just by me. ing by work to be done during the Nobody came to buy compensations afternoon, by any lady or gentleman at for a long time. So I scrutinized the their own house." Yet the departing shop and the shopman. Old garments, customers did not seem indignant, but as I said, hung near me—apparently rather perplexed and doubtful. Nei- cast-off clothes, for they seemed not ther, after all, could I find it in my heart even valuable enough to tempt the buyto attribute the character of a swindler ers of second-hand raiment. The room to so respectable-looking an old man was fitted with one counter, on one side; as the compensation merchant. He for it was too small to afford room for somehow wore, in my eyes, the aspect more ; and behind the counter and beof an emeritus missionary; of a single- fore it were the usual rows of shelves hearted militant Christian, who, having for goods. On these shelves, therefore, expended his youth and strength in be- I looked to see what was the curiously nignant and much-enduring labors of named merchandise of the old man. love among naked Hottentots or wild But for the most part they were empty. Indians, had come home to expend the Here and there, dusty and torn, stood remainder of his years, his enlarged an old pasteboard box, labelled " Jefwisdom and benevolence, his increased ferson Ties," and with the illustrative spiritual power, on a retiring pension of addition of the silhouette of a low-quarnothing per annum among his own peo- tered shoe. Upon the upper shelf were ple. His thick, short, white hair, his also sundry boxes with dingy glass somewhat bent form, his embrowned show-fronts, displaying stratified depofaoe, his quiet, peaceful mouth and sits of varicolored sugars, as if to anchin, his still, half-humorous, bright swer at once by the lusciousness of the black eyes, his whole person and at- material and the learned arrangement, mosphere were lovely and reverend. so like the colors on a geological chart, And I always ended my meditations in the demands of the sensual and the the conviction that he could not be a scientific customer. Behind the counswindler.
ter were small drawers with little woodBut it was evidently impossible for a en knobs, superscribed with dimly-letphilosophical man like myself
, to refrain tered words on tin signs, the titles of from investigating a phenomenon so divers spices and rare drugs and dyes, noticeable and suggestive as this. So, as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, alum, salwithout many words, I easily introduced eratus, indigo, and the like, such as myself to the old gentleman, and, with one might imagine to have been stolen the plea of want of occupation, solicit- by the chief baggage-eunuch of the
Queen of Sheba, running away to set keenly-intelligent smile which just then up
for himself in trade in a free coun- the old man directed toward me in my try, and stealing the labels of her pack- dark corner. I half thought again that ages, for convenience, along with the he knew what I was thinking, so appo precious commodities themselves. site was the gesture and the expression
There was also a can, suggestive of the to the thoughts then in my mind. black art—for what more natural than I was upon the point of beseeching to suppose that for an art so named, him to tell me what was the true nature Cornelius Agrippa, or Michael Scott, of his mysterious employment, when or Virgilius, who is so curiously report- the lower half-door of the old shoped the
prince of all the wizards, should the upper one having been left open for have invented and left in his tomb, to air and light—was hastily pushed inbe found by the light of the everburn- ward, and a lady stepped hurriedly ing sepulchral lamp, and secretly used within. by Day and Martin, or transatlantic “I wish, sir,” said she, advancing Thompson, the recipe for composing without pause to the counter, and bendthe celebrated Oil Paste Blacking ? ing over it with eagerness, " for one of There were many other queer old ar- your fullest compensations, if you
have ticles in the little shop, such as might be any such thing. I was told that you the remnants of the outfit in trade of some furnished such an article ; but I do not old wizened grocer who had never renew- believe it. However, if you are a cheat, ed stock since he first set up his business the police will expose you; so you need in youth, and who had died, leaving not try to practice any imposition on everything untouched, to his successor, me. My husband is a well-known and the Compensation Merchant. But if I influential man, and will take care of should stop to recount all of them, I anything of that sort." should not have time to speak of that The old man looked up calmly at the very respectable old gentleman himself, end of this injurious speech, and annor of his traffic; so let them go—the swered, without reference to the impliblacking to dry up into hard, cracked, cations of probable dishonesty therein, stony lumps; the spices to waste their saying, sweetness on the desert air of the old * You are acquainted with the regudrawers, and the geological candy to
lations of this establishment, are you, await some terrific disruption which in madam?" the coming ages shall accomplish the “Sir? No, sir. I only came to purupheaval and confusion of its strata, to chase
your commodities; I don't know the perplexity of all scientific confec- anything of your regulations.” tionery students.
Ah!" answered the precise old genThe old merchant himself next under- tleman. “I fear you may not have went an examination. But besides the seen our circular, either; nor our adcharacteristics, which I have already vertisements. Allow me to hand you mentioned, of his outward man and reve- a circular, madam." rend aspect, there was little to observe. So saying, he presented to the lady a He said nothing to me, but was ap- document printed upon a small square parently occupied either in adjusting piece of white paper; one of those lithis accounts in certain business-like tle flitting messengers which city tradesleather-backed ledgers and day-books men, concert-givers, and all persons which lay before him, or in meditations. whose business operations are conduct
After a proper Baconian process of ed by the sonorous sounding of paper induction of phenomena, classification, trumpets, are accustomed to insert in and generalized statement, I sought in keyholes, to send up and down in newsvain for a result which should throw papers, to leave on door-mats, to thrust light on the problem of this Compensa- into the band of any transient person tion business. There seemed to be no- whom they or their emissaries can pos. thing to sell; for nobody could want sess thereof, and in any and every posthe musty commodities left in the depo- sible way to bring within the notice of sitories of my hypothetical wizened old that long-eared auditor, The Public. grocer; and a suspicion of knavery The lady read the contents of the again began to creep upon my mind, paper very quickly, and looked upon but so faint and timíd that it straight- the old man in anger, but he prevented way fled before the benignant and yet her by saying, in his quiet way,
"We are obliged to keep a very full haste to “accommodate.” Perhaps she register of the business we do, after had perceived, as I had, the strange the manner of life insurance companies, self-possession and apparent consciousin order that the tabulated results of ness of superiority in the merchant's our operations may enable us both to demeanor. At any rate, she did not trace their success, and to render our remonstrate against this delay, although terms as accommodating as possible, so evidently disappointed, but departed that the business may increase." very much more slowly than she had
“* But,” answered the lady, "what entered, and in a puzzled state of mind. security have I that you will not pub- During the remainder of that day, lish my name, and expose to the world there entered other customers, all of the nature of the business on which I whom were put off by the merchant, in have come?"
like manner, to the next morning, at ". The same security,” said the mer- times, successively, half an hour apart, chant, " that all customers have whose after the hour of eleven. They all acnames their tradesmen know-the inte- quiesced in the formula of registration rest of the seller. But”—and here it and in the delay, with little or no opseemed to me that the old gentleman's position, except one fat, red-faced old eyes showed the same sort of deep, self- gentleman, who somehow impressed me relying intelligence which had impressed with the idea that he was president of me with the belief that he expected my a bank and of a railroad company, and visit—"you need not give your real worth about two millions of dollars. name or residence. That is not neces- He waddled importantly in, brushed up sary to our purposes. Those, if you his gray whiskers in a pompous mannotice, are not required by the terms of ner, and, with a thick and grumpy the circular. We should readily disco- voice, made demand of the old merver you if we should desire to see you chant for one of his very best comon business. Our facilities in that line pensations; throwing, also, upon the are, perhaps, unusually great. The counter, by way of demonstrating his only necessary record, if you will be so ability to pay for what he ordered, a good as to observe, that of the occu- great, over-gorged wallet, which had pation of the applicant, and the circum- swallowed so many notes and bills, and stances causing the application." evidences of money due, as to have
As the lady made no answer to this become bloated into an unhealthy rotunstatement, the old gentleman threw dity, and to look in singular likeness open a weighty volume which lay upon to its master, as if its girths could the counter, aš hotel registers do, with hardly hold it together. the foot of the page turned outside, for The old merchant then made known the convenience of customers. Quickly to his red-faced friend the conditions turning over the leaves, nearly to the of the application, whereupon he end of the book, he dipped his pen in straightway affirmed that the concern ink, and offered it to her. She hesi- was a humbug and fraudulent; that the tated a moment, but accepted it, and design of the delay was to enable the wrote a few lines in the register. Then merchant to secure the funds paid over, the old gentlemen, having read the and to depart at night in the manner of record after her, said,
swindlers. ** I shall be unable to answer the ap- The old merchant, with an animation plication to-day, madam, as our manu- which I had not expected him to show, factory is at a great distance, and I replied, promptly, that no one was happen to be left with no assortment. obliged to trade at that counter, who was But if you will be so good as to call to- dissatisfied with the terms of sale; that morrow, at the eleventh hour, I shall be these terms had been fairly advertised; prepared to furnish you."
that the accusation of swindling had The lady seemed surprised at the rarely been brought against him—and calm and independent manner in which here his bright black eyes resumed that the old gentleman waited upon her. singularly keen and far-seeing expresPerhaps she was astonished by his dis- sion which I have mentioned-except similarity to the smirking clerks whom by some one whose estimate of other she had usually seen jumping over the men was based upon his opinion of his counters, and running against one an- own character; and then, he uncereother, in the dry goods stores, in their moniously asked the fat man if the
causes of his application for compensation were not such that he was ashamed to write them down, even in a register of so confidential a character as that of the Compensation Shop ?
The red face of the rotund applicant became quite empurpled with wrath, for a few seconds; but he soothed himself, rather to my astonishment, and speedily re-addressed the old merchant, in a very bland and sly way, winking at him, withal, in signification that he was a bird of the same feather.
“Well, well, my boy,” said he ; "all right, all right. No use in being musty about it. Always like to see if I can trade, you know. Fact is, I've just been looking at that circular of yours. Now, I think I could help you to an increase of capital, if we can agree on the terms. I haven't any money myself ; times is precious hard, just now; but there's a friend of mine that I s'pose would let me have a little, to accommodate, you know. Don't look as if you had any too much invested," continued the red-faced old gentleman, laughing a thick keckling laugh—as if it were done up in cotton—and peering about the dark, dusty shop.
“Well, sir," said the merchant, steadily; "what proposal would you make ?"
The old railroad president—if such he were — proceeded to develop a shrewdly contrived and comprehensive plan for inflating the existing stock of the concern to a high rate of value, together with a large addition to itwhich he showed would be easy, inasmuch as the enterprise was of a kind easily recommended, especially to people in moderate circumstances—of issuing very many compensations, without the present restrictions; and, at last, of engineering matters so that the stock might suddenly be "beared” in the market, all bought in by those in the secret, at a merely nominal rate, and then either retained in their hands as a bait for fat dividends, or used to accomplish the immediate winding up of the business, with no less gain to the operators.
“I take it," asked the old merchant, gravely, when the President had ended, ** that this is an enterprise of precisely such a character as is daily contrived, and often successfully carried through, in the Exchange?"
“Undoubtedly,” answered the solid
man, “ I salted fifty thousand, not two weeks ago, by just such a little dodge."
“My dear sir," said the old man, “I assure you that the company of which I am agent is based upon the principle of giving every man a fair return for his money, and of discouraging all vain speculation and over-trading."
“Exactly, exactly,” replied the capitalist, with a chuckle of satisfaction. " That's just the ticket, for soup, as the beggar said. You've got it to a dot. I always say just the same, to the outsiders. There couldn't be a safer way of putting it. And perhaps it's just as well to say so, for the sake of being all straight, now. But between you and me, you know, that's all in a horn, of course. Honor bright, though; isn't that a good little programme? Worked that out in half-an-hour, on my word. You'll go it, I see. Just say the word, and I'll draw my check for any amount, short of three hundred thousand. I know it can't fail.”
“My friend,” replied the compensation merchant, with a strong and angry sternness of voice and of eye, which held the red-faced respectability as still as if he had been thrust throngh with a dart, “ I will have neither part por lot in your slimy villainy. I told you the truth. Your eyes are so rotten with swindling, that you cannot see honesty when it stands square before you. If you suggest another word of your devilish plot against widows and orphans, and industrious poor men, I will blow your reputation sky-high to-morrow."
The solid man fairly choked with surprise and rage. Recovering, he defied the old shopman, reviling him with all manner of choice epithets of reproach, and threatening him in turn with suits and exposure ; which being accomplished, without discomposing the old merchant, the irate man of money marched out of the shop.
Those who registered their names, during that day, in my presence, beside the lady who had been the first customer, were a fair and slender girl, a middle-aged man in black, apparently a clergyman, and another younger man, whose occupation I could by no means determine from his appearance, but whose face was at once energetic and thoughtful, and whose step was quick and firm.
I departed early in the evening, to keep an appointment elsewhere; having
first ascertained from the old gentleman It has been so ever since we were mar. that the regulations of his establishment ried. And thus I, who have a loving would not prevent him from permitting heart, and a busy mind withal, am me to occupy my quiet corner, during cruelly shut off from the happiness the day, to the end that I might observe which I sought in marriage. For I exthe results of the applications whose pected happy progress in my husband's registration I had witnessed.
company, in studies and accomplishI came in accordingly, some time be- ments which we both like, and in love fore eleven o'clock, next morning, in and the comparison of experience and order that I might resume my hidden observation. And I remain alone in observatory, in season to avoid embar- life, and am eating up my heart in my rassing any customer, and thus restrict- sorrow." ing those elucidatory conversations - “Have you no children ?" asked the which I expected to overhear, upon the merchant. subject of the transactions in the shop. “Yes, four. But they are away at
Å few minutes before eleven, the lady school. And besides, I have no help whose visit had been appointed at that in training and governing them, and hour, entered the door.
they are strong and self-willed; and I “I have come, sir,” she said, in the almost dread their presence in their same assured and somewhat peremptory home, though I love them well.” tone which she had used the day before, “ Have you faithfully endeavored," * to conclude the transaction which we said this inquisitive merchant,” to commenced yesterday.”
nourish in your loneliness, with the ** Very well, madam," answered the helps which are provided for the lonely, old gentleman. “But before I can make over-brimming fountains of love in your you an entirely definite answer, I shall heart, and to cherish your husband, and be obliged to put a few questions to you, to guide, and attract, and instruct your in order to certify myself of the state of children, and so to make their home your case. You have entered, in the the centre, and yourself its queen and register, your occupation, as a leading beloved source of their happiness ?” lawyer's wife;' and the circumstance This inquiry first perplexed and then occasioning your application, as an vexed the customer. Whatever love unhappy home;' but these items are so might in former days have been in her indefinite, that I hope you will excuse heart, it did not now beam at all within me, for requesting some supplementary her haughty eyes. She must have details.”
been supposing the regretful remem“Is this species of information as to brance of it to be the possession of my private affairs entirely indispens- it. So she answered, with some confuable!” inquired the lady, with some sion, asperity. "I shall be well pleased to “How could I keep love alive in my bargain with you, but I do not choose heart, when I was left alone for years to enter into confidential communica- by the man who had promised to love tions with an entire stranger."
and cherish me? How could I help “I will ask, if you please, such becoming cold and distant myself, when questions as I wish,” returned the old the only human being who was bound merchant, "and you will of course be to love me left me alone." enabled to decline replying, at your “I regret to perceive, madam,” said pleasure. 'An unhappy home, you the compensation merchant, " that you say. Why unhappy!
did not, after all, observe the terms of The lady's proud face flushed with our circular. Your record and explaanger; but reflecting a few moments, nations do not bring you within the she restrained herself beneath the old class of persons with whom our charter man's steady look, and answered him : permits us to deal. I am exceedingly "I am alone, and lonely. My hus
sorry." band is absent all day, in the prosecu- He was interrupted by the voice of tion of a large and gainful business in the haughty lady, who observed, in a the courts. When, therefore, he is at very cold manner, and yet evidently home, whether at the end of the day or with wrath only suppressed, that she the end of the week, he is too utterly had all along been without much confitired to hold any communion with me, dence in his professions, and that now other than what is absolutely necessary. she was sure he was an impostor.