An Operation in Money
In an elegant and lofty bank-parlor there sat in council, on an
autumn morning, fourteen millionaires. They reposed in deep arm-chairs,
and their venerable faces were filled with profound gravity. Before
them, upon a broad mahogany table, were piles of books, sheaves of
paper in rubber bands, bundles of quill pens, quires of waste paper for
calculations, and a number of huge red-covered folios, containing the
tell-tale reports of the mercantile agencies. They had just completed
the selections from the list of applicants for discount, and were now
in that state of lethargy that commonly follows a great and important
The president, with his hands pressed together before him, was
looking at the fresco of Commerce upon the ceiling; his ponderous
right-hand neighbor was stumbling feebly over an addition that one of
the bookkeepers had made upon one of the papers—he hoped to find it
wrong; his left-hand neighbor was doubling his under-lip with his stout
fingers; an octogenarian beyond had buried his chin in his immense
neck, and was going to sleep; another was stupidly blinking at the
nearest coal-fire; two more were exchanging gasping whispers; another
was wiping his gold spectacles with a white handkerchief, now and then
stopping to hold them unsteadily up to the light; and another was
fingering the polished lapel of his old black coat, and saying, with
asthmatic hoarseness to all who would look at him, “F-o-u-r-teen years!
A tall regulator-clock, with its mercury pendulum, ticked upon the
wall; the noise of the heavy rumbling in the streets was softened into
a low monotone, and now and then a bit of coal rattled upon the fender.
The oil-portraits of four former presidents looked thoughtfully down
on the scene of their former labors; the polished wainscots reflected
ragged pictures of the silent fourteen, and all was perfectly in order
and perfectly secure.
Presently, however, there was an end to the stagnation; the white
heads began to move and to look around.
The president's eyes came gradually down from the Commerce, and,
after travelling over the countenances of his stirring confreres,
they settled by accident upon the table before him. There they
encountered a white envelope, inscribed “to the President and Honorable
Board of Directors—Present.”
“Oh gentlemen! gentlemen!” cried the president, seizing the letter,
“one moment more, I beg of you. Here's a—a—note—a
communication—a—I don't know what it is myself, I'm sure, but”—the
thirteen sank back again, feeling somewhat touched that they should be
so restrained. The president ran his eye over the missive. He smiled as
one does sometimes at the precocity of an infant. “The letter,
gentlemen,” said he, slipping the paper through his fingers, “is from
the paying teller. It is a request for”—here the president delayed as
if about making a humorous point—“for a larger salary.” Then he
dropped his eyes and lowered his head, as he might have done had he
confessed that somebody had kissed him. He seemed to be the innocent
mouthpiece of a piece of flagrant nonsense.
There was a moment's silence. Then a heavy-voiced gentleman took up
a pen and said:
“Is this man's name Dreyfus—or—or what is it?”
“Let me think,” returned the president, returning once more to the
Commerce; “Dreyfus?—no—not Dreyfus—yes—no. Paying teller—hum—it's
curious I can't recall—it commences with an F—FIELDS—yes, Fields!
that's his name—Fields, to be sure!”
The questioner at once wrote down the word on the paper.
“This is the second time that he has applied for this favor, is it
not?” formally inquired another of the thirteen, in the tone that a
judge uses when he asks the clerk, “Has he not been before me on a
“Yes,” replied the president, “this is a renewal of an effort made
six months ago.”
There was a general movement. Several chairs rolled back, and their
occupants exchanged querulous glances.
“Suppose we hear the letter read,” suggested a fair soul.
“Perhaps”—a septuagenarian, with snowy hair and a thin body, clad in
the clerical guise of the old school, and who had made a fortune by
inventing a hat-block, arose hastily to his feet, and said:
“I cannot stay to listen to a dun!”
A chorus from the majority echoed the exclamation. All but four
staggered to their feet, and tottered off in various directions; some
to pretend to look out at the window, and some to the wardrobes, where
was deposited their outer clothing.
“Clarks,” stammered the feeble hatter, feeling vainly for the
arm-holes in his great-coat—“clarks presume on their value. Turn 'em
out, say I. Give 'em a chance to rotate. You've got my opinion, Mr.
President. Refuse what's-his-name, Fields. Tell him he's happy and well
off now, without knowing it. Where can be the sleeves to—to
this”—his voice expired in his perplexity.
Fields's cause looked blue. One director after another groped to the
door, saying, as he went, “I can't encourage it, Mr. President—tell
him 'No,' Mr. President—it would only make the rest uneasy if we
allowed it—plenty more to fill his place.”
The hatter's voice stopped further mention of the subject. He stood
at one end of the apartment in a paroxysm of laughter. Tears filled his
eyes. He pointed to another director, who, at the other extremity of
the room, was also puzzling over a coat. “There's Stuart with my
mackintosh! He's trying to put it on—and here am I with his
coat trying to put that on. I—I said to myself, 'This is pretty
large for a slim man like you.'—Great God, Stuart, if I hadn't been
quick-sighted we might have stayed here all night!” He immediately fell
into another fit of laughter, and so did his friend. They exchanged
coats with great hilarity, and those who had gone out of the door
lumbered back to learn the cause of it. The story went round from one
to the other, “Why, Stuart had Jacobs's coat, and Jacobs had Stuart's
coat!” Everybody went into convulsions, and the president drew out his
pocket-handkerchief and shrieked into it.
The board broke up with great good feeling, and Jacobs went away
very weak, saying that he was going to tell the joke against Stuart on
the street—if he lived to get there.
Three gentlemen remained, professedly to hear Fields's letter read.
Two staid because the room was comfortable, and the other because he
wanted to have a little private conversation with the president
Therefore the president wiped away the tears that Stuart's humor had
forced from his eyes, and opened the crumpled letter, and, turning his
back to the light, read it aloud, while the rest listened with looks of
great amusement in their wrinkled faces.
“To the President and Directors of the ——National Bank.
“GENTLEMEN: I most respectfully renew my application for an
of my salary to five thousand dollars per annum, it now being
thousand. I am impelled to do this because I am convinced that
not sufficiently recompensed for the labor I perform; and
other tellers, having the same responsibilities, receive the
sum per annum; and, lastly, because I am about to be married.
“I remember that your answer to my first application was a
refusal, and I blamed myself for not having presented the case
clearly to your distinguished notice. Will you permit me to
that fault now, and to state briefly why I feel assured that my
present claim is not an unreasonable one?
“1. While ten years ago we agreed that three thousand dollars
fair compensation for the work I was then called upon to
and four years later agreed that four thousand dollars was then
pay for my increased tasks, caused by the increase of your
is it not just that I should now ask for a still further
view of the fact that your business has doubled since the date
our last contract?
“It has been necessary for me to acquaint myself with the
and business customs and qualifications of twice the former
of your customers, and my liability to error has also become
in like ratio. But I have committed no errors, which argues
have kept up an equal strain of care. This has made demands
brain and my bodily strength, which I think should be requited
“2. I, like each of you, will one day reach an age when the body
mind will no longer be able to provide for themselves. But
us, should we continue our present relations, there would be
vital difference: You would have made an accumulation of wealth
would be sufficient for your wants, while I would be poor in
of the fact that I labored with you, and next to yourselves did
most to protect your interests. In view of my approaching
incompetence (no matter how far off it is), I am working at a
disadvantage. Would it not be right to enable me to protect
from this disadvantage?
“3. While you pay me a price for my labor and for my skill as an
expert, do you compensate me for the trials you put upon
probity? You pay me for what I do, but do you reward me for
might, but do not do? Is what I do not do
quantity? I think that it is. To prove it, inquire of those
servants have behaved ill, whether they would not have paid
something to have forestalled their dishonesty.
“There is a bad strain to this paragraph, and I will not dwell
it. I only ask you to remember that enormous sums of money pass
through my hands every day, and that the smallest slip of my
or of my care, or of my fidelity, might cause you irreparable
Familiarity with money and operations in money always tend to
the respect for the regard that others hold it in. To resist
subtle influences of this familiarity involves a certain wear
tear of those principles which must be kept intact for
“I beg you to accept what is my evident meaning, even if my
of setting it forth has not been particularly happy. I have
myself that my claim is a valid one, and I await your obliging
“I remain, very respectfully, “Your obedient servant,
”——FIELDS, Paying Teller.”
At the end the president suddenly lowered his head with a smile, and
looked over the top of his glasses at his audience, clearly meaning,
“There's a letter for you!”
But two of the gentlemen were fast asleep, nodding gently at one
another across the table, while their hands clasped the arms of their
chairs. The other one was looking up toward the roofs of the buildings
opposite, absorbed in speculation.
The president said, aloud:
“I think, as long as Fields has made such a touse about it, that I'd
better draft a reply, and not give him a verbal an—”
“Draft!” said the speculator, brought to life by the word. “Draft
did you say, sir? What?—On whom?—”
“I said 'draft a reply' to—to this,” returned the other, waving the
“Oh, a reply! Draft one. Draft a reply—a reply to the letter about
the salary. Oh, certainly, by all means.”
“And read it to the directors at the meeting next Friday,” suggested
The speculator's eyes turned vacantly upon him, and it was full half
a minute before he comprehended. “Yes, yes, of course, read it to the
directors next Friday. They'll approve it, you know. That will be
regular, and according to rule. But about Steinmeyer, you know. When a
man like Steinmeyer does such a thing as—but just come to the window a
He led the president off by the arm, and that was the last of
Fields's letter for that day.
* * * * *
Fields was truly on the anxious-seat.
As he had said in his letter, he was engaged to be married, and he
wanted to be about the consummation of the contract, for he had already
delayed too long. His affiancee was a sweet girl who lived with
her widowed mother in the country, where they had a fine house, and a
fine demesne attached to it. When the time for the marriage was finally
settled upon, the lady instantly set about remodelling her domicile and
its surroundings, and making it fit for the new spirits that were soon
to inhabit it. She drew upon her accumulation of money that had thriven
long in a private bank, and expended it in laying out new lawns,
planting new trees, building new stables, erecting tasteful graperies
and kiosks. This sum was not very large, and it included not only what
had been saved out of the earnings of the farm, but also what had been
saved out of the income from the widow's property, which consisted of
twelve thousand dollars in insurance stock.
Fields had thus far expended nearly all of his salary of four
thousand dollars. He was accustomed to use a quarter of it for his own
purposes, and the rest he applied to the comfort of his aged parents,
whom he maintained. Thus it will be seen that Fields's desire to add to
his own wealth had reason to be.
Just at this time there stepped in the Chicago fire. On the second
day Fields began to be frightened about the twelve thousand dollars in
insurance stock. Telegrams poured into the city by hundreds, and the
tale grew more dismal with each hour.
His fears were realized. The widow's money was swept away, and a
sort of paralysis fell upon the country-house and all its surroundings.
The carpenters went away from the kiosks, the masons from the
face-walls, the smiths from the graperies, the gardeners from the
lawns, and everything came to a stand-still. The extra farm-hands were
discharged, and much of the work was left unfinished.
What was to be done?
The mother and daughter wept in secret. Their careers had been
interrupted. Desolation was out-of-doors, and desolation was in their
hearts. The earth lay in ragged heaps; beams and timbers leaned half
erect; barns were party-colored with the old paint and the new, and the
shrubbery was bare to the frosts. Joys which had smiled had fled into
the far distance, and now looked surly enough; all pleasures were
unhorsed, and hope was down.
It was under these circumstances that Fields wrote a second time to
the honorable board of directors to ask them to pay him better wages.
Friday came. There was a meeting, and Fields knew that his case must
now be receiving consideration.
At eleven o'clock the directors emerged from their parlor, and
passed by his desk in twos and threes, chatting and telling watery
jokes, as most great men do.
“They look as if they had entirely forgotten me,” said Fields to
Pretty soon the cashier came and placed a letter upon his counter.
“Ah!” thought the teller, “I was mistaken. I wonder if I can read it
here without changing countenance?”
He could but try it. He tore off the envelope. It went thus:
“Mr.——Fields, Paying Teller.
“DEAR SIR: The president and directors, to whom you addressed a
request for an increase of salary, must beg to criticise the
arguments advanced in your polite note.
“They do not understand why you should place a new value upon
honesty because in other people there happens to be sometimes
thing as dishonesty. It is a popular notion that honesty among
is rare, but the idea is a mistaken one. Honesty of the purest
as honesty is usually understood, is very common. They cannot
feeling, also, that you somewhat overestimate the value of your
work, which to them seems to be only a higher sort of routine,
calling for no intellectual endeavor, and requiring but little
than an ordinary bookkeeper's care for its perfect performance.
for the differences that do exist between your tasks and
the bookkeeper you will remember you are already compensated by
salary a fourth larger.
“Briefly, they consider their bank a piece of money-making
mechanism, of which you are an able and respected part; but
cannot understand how you could hope to raise their fear of
peculations and villainies when their system of checks and
counter-checks is so perfect. They have never lost a dollar by
immorality of any of their employes, and they are sure that
are so arranged that any such immorality, even of the rankest
could occasion them no inconvenience.
“Nor do they comprehend why your idea that increase of business
justifies a request for an increase of salary may not be met
the suggestion that your hours of labor are the same as your
hours, and that all you were able to perform in those hours, to
best of your capacity, was purchased at the beginning of your
connection with them.
“In regard to the pure question of the sufficiency of your
they hint in the kindest manner that all expenditures are
contractible as well as extensible.
“They hasten to take this opportunity to express to you their
appreciation of your perfect exhibits; and, complimenting you
the care with which you have fulfilled the duties of your post,
remain your obedient servants.”
The teller felt that a more maddening letter could not have been
written. Its civility seemed to him to be disagreeable suavity; its
failure to particularize the points he made to be a disgraceful
evasion; and the liberty it took in generalizing his case to be an
The very first sentence on honesty put him in the light of a
blackmailer—one that threatened mischief if his demands were not
complied with. The next sentence went to show that he was an egotist,
because he thought his labors required wear and tear of brain. The
third called him a sound cog-wheel. The latter part of the same said
that a villain could do no evil if he wished to, for they (the
directors) had protected themselves against villains. Then it went on
to say that the writers did not understand how anxiety and caution
could be involved in the pursuit of his duties; and then it was thrown
out that his marriage was his seeking—not theirs. Finally, they
patted him on the head.
Fields passed a sleepless night. He felt that he had been belittled
to the extremest point, and that there was not a foothold left for his
dignity. His soul was incised and chafed, and he lay awake thinking
that degradation of himself and his office could have proceeded no
Toward morning he hit upon a plan to establish himself in what he
believed to be the proper light. “It will require nerve,” reflected he,
doubtingly, “and not only nerve in itself, but a certain exact quantity
of it. Too much nerve would destroy me, and too little nerve would do
the same thing. I think, however, that I can manage it. I feel able to
do anything. Even a paying teller will turn if—” etc., etc.
* * * * *
On the following Monday there was a special meeting of the directors
for the purpose of examining the books and accounts of the bank. The
bank-controller was expected to call for an exhibit within the coming
week, and it was desirable that the directors should feel assured that
their institution was in the proper order. The call of the controller
was always impending. It might come any day, and it would require an
exhibit of the condition of the bank on any previous day. He was
permitted to make five of these calls during the year, and, inasmuch as
he was at liberty to choose his own days, his check upon the banks was
complete. If he found a bank that had not fulfilled the requirements of
law, he was obliged to take away its charter, and to close it: hence
the examination-meeting in the present case. The accounts of the
tellers were passed upon, the cashier's books were looked over, as were
also those of the regular bookkeepers. There seemed to be no errors,
and the contents of the safes were proved. There was perfect order in
all the departments. The clerks were complimented. “Now,” said Fields
to himself, “is my opportunity.”
On the next day at ten o'clock the directors again assembled—this
time for their regular labors—to examine the proposals for discount.
The day happened to be cold and stormy. The twenty clerks were
busily and silently at work behind their counters and gratings, and the
fourteen directors were shut tight in their mahogany room. There was
but little passing to and fro from the street, though now and then a
half-frozen messenger came stamping in, and did his errand, with
benumbed fingers, through the little windows. The tempest made business
At eleven o'clock Fields wrote a note and sent it to the directors'
room. The boy who carried it knocked softly, and the president
appeared, took the letter, and then closed the door again.
Then there was a moment of almost total silence; the clerks wrote,
the leaves rattled, and it seemed as if it were an instant before an
Presently an explosion came. The clerks heard with astonishment a
tumult in the directors' room—exclamations, hurried questions, the
hasty rolling of chairs on their casters, and then the sound of feet.
The door was hastily drawn open, and those who were near could see
that nearly all the directors were clustered around it, straining their
eyes to look at the paying teller. Most of them were pale and they
called, in one voice, “Come here!” “Come in here at once!” “Fields!”
“Mr. Fields!” “Sir, you are wanted!” “Step this way instantly!” Fields
put down his pen, opened the tall iron gate which separated him from
the counters, and walked rather quickly toward the den of lions. An
opening was made for him in the group, and he passed through the door,
and it was shut once more.
He walked across the room to the fireplace. He took out his
handkerchief, and, seizing a corner between a thumb and forefinger,
slowly shook it open, and then turned around.
“This note, sir! What does it mean?” cried the president, advancing
upon him, waving the paper in his trembling hand.
“Have you read it?” demanded Fields, in a loud voice.
“Yes,” said the president. He was astonished at Fields's manner. He
cast a glance upon his fellow-directors.
“Then what is the use of asking me what I mean? It is as plain as I
can make it.”
“But it says—but it says,” faltered the venerable gentleman,
turning the paper to the light, “that you have only money enough to
last until twelve o'clock. Your statement yesterday showed a balance to
your credit of three hundred and fifty-two thousand dollars. That will
last at least—”
“But I have not got three hundred and seventy-seven thousand
dollars. I have only got twenty-seven thousand dollars!”
“But we counted three hundred and seventy-seven thousand dollars.”
“Yesterday—yes. But not this morning.”
“Great God!” cried Stuart, thrusting himself forward, “what!—” He
fixed his feeble eyes upon Fields, but could speak no further. His arms
fell down by his sides, and he began to tremble. He did not have
sufficient courage to ask the question. Somebody else did.
“What has become of it?”
“That I shall not tell you!” returned Fields, looking defiantly at
one director after another.
“But is it gone?” cried the chorus. Many of the faces that
confronted Fields had become waxen. The little group was permeated with
“Yes, it is gone; I have taken it.”
“You have taken it!” “You have taken it!” “You have
The directors, overwhelmed and confounded, retreated from Fields as
if they were in personal danger from him.
“In Heaven's name, Fields!” exclaimed the president, “speak out!
Tell us! What!—where!—the money! Come, man!”
“You had better lock the door,” said the teller; “some one will be
One of the most feeble and aged of the board turned around and
hastened, as fast as his infirm limbs would permit him, and threw the
bolt with feverish haste, and then ran back again to hear.
“Yes,” said Fields, with deliberation, “I have taken the money. I
have carried it away and hidden it where no one can lay hands upon it
“Then—then, sir, you have stolen it!”
Fields bowed. “I have stolen it.”
“But you have ruined us!”
“And you have ruined yourself!”
“I am not so sure of that.”
“Stop this useless talk!” cried a gentleman, who had heretofore been
silent. He bent upon Fields a look of great dignity. “Make it clear,
sir, what you have done.”
“Certainly. When I left the bank last night I put into my pockets
one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in greenbacks of the
one-thousand-dollar denomination, one hundred thousand dollars in
national-currency notes of the one-hundred-dollar denomination, and one
hundred thousand dollars in gold certificates. I left to the credit of
my account twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and sixty-two dollars
and some odd cents. Eight thousand of these have been already drawn
this morning. It is not unlikely that the whole of what is left may be
drawn within the next five minutes, and the next draft upon you will
find you insolvent. If the balance is against you at the
clearing-house, you will undoubtedly be obliged to stop payment before
Fields's interlocutor turned sharply around and sank into his seat.
At this three of the young members of the board—Slavin, a wool-dealer,
Debritt, a silk importer, and Saville, an insurance actuary—made a
violent onslaught upon the teller, but others interposed.
What was to be said? What was to be done? Somebody cried for a
policeman, and would have thrown up a window and called into the
street. But the act was prevented. It was denounced as childish. After
a moment, everybody but Fields had seated himself in his accustomed
place, overcome with agitation. Those who could see devoured the teller
with their eyes. Two others wept with puerile fear and anger. They
began to realize the plight they were in. It began to dawn upon them
that an immense disaster was hanging over their heads. How were they to
escape from it? Which way were they to turn to find relief? It was no
time for brawling and denunciation; they were in the hands of an
unscrupulous man, who, at this crucial moment, was as cool and
implacable as an iceberg. They watched him carelessly draw and redraw
his handkerchief through his fingers; he was unmoved, and entirely at
“Can it be possible!” said a tall and aged director, rising from his
chair and bending upon the culprit a look of great impressiveness—“can
it be possible that it is our upright and stainless clerk who confesses
to such a stupendous villainy as this? Can it be that one who has
earned so much true esteem from his fellow-men thus turns upon them
“Yes, yes, yes!” replied Fields, impatiently, “that is all true; but
it is all sentiment. Let us descend to business. I know the extent of
my wickedness better than you do. I have taken for my own use from your
bank. I have robbed you of between a quarter and a half million of
dollars. I am a pure robber. That is the worst you can say of me. The
worst you can do with me is to throw me into prison for ten years. By
the National Currency Act of 1865, section 55, you will see that for
this offence against you I may be incarcerated from five to ten
years—not more than ten. If you imprison me for ten years, you do your
worst. During those ten years I shall have ample time to perfect myself
in at least three languages, and to read extensively, and I shall leave
the jail at forty-five a polished and learned man, in the prime of
life, and possessed of enormous wealth. There will be no pleasure that
I cannot purchase. I shall become a good-natured cynic; I shall freely
admit that I have disturbed the ordinary relations of labor and
compensation, but I shall so treat the matter that I shall become the
subject of a semi-admiration that will relieve me from social
ostracism. I have carefully reviewed the ground. I shall go to jail,
pass through my trial, receive my sentence, put on my prisoner's suit,
begin my daily tasks, and all with as much equanimity as I possess at
present. There will be no contrition and no shame. Do not hope to
recover a dollar of your money. I have been careful to secrete it so
that the most ingenious detectives and the largest rewards will not be
able to obtain a hint of its whereabouts. It is entirely beyond your
Fields was now an entire master of the situation. The board was
filled with consternation; its members conferred together in frightened
“But,” pursued Fields, “do you properly understand your
situation? My desk is virtually without money. My assistant at this
instant may discover that he has not sufficient funds to pay the check
he has in his hand. In a moment more the street may be in possession of
the facts. Besides the present danger, have you forgotten the
controller?” Nothing more could now add to the alarm that filled the
“What shall we do, Fields? We cannot go under; we cannot—”
“I will tell you.”
The room became silent again. All leaned forward to listen. Some
placed their hands behind their ears.
“I do not think that the drafts upon us to-day will amount to eighty
thousand dollars. You might draw that sum from the receiving teller,
but that would occasion remark. I advise you to draw from your private
accounts elsewhere one hundred thousand dollars, and quietly place it
upon my counter. I would do it without an instant's delay.”
“But what guarantee have we that you will not appropriate that
“I give you my word,” replied Fields, with a smile.
“And to what end do you advise us to keep the bank intact?”
“That we may have time to arrange terms.”
“For a compromise.”
Here was a patch of blue sky—a glimpse of the sun. Fields was not
insensible to moderation, after all.
“What do you propose?” eagerly demanded three voices.
“I think you had first better insure yourselves against suspension,”
was the reply.
In ten minutes one of the directors hurriedly departed, with five
checks in his wallet. These were the contributions of his fellows. The
president passed out to see how matters stood at the paying teller's
desk. No more drafts had been presented, and the nineteen thousand
dollars were still undisturbed. He returned reassured. He locked the
“Now, sir,” said he to the paying teller, “let us go on.”
“Very well,” was the reply. “I think you all perceive by this time
the true position of affairs. I possess three hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, and your bank has lost that sum. I have detailed the
benefits which will accrue to me, and the trouble which will in all
likelihood accrue to you. It will be unpleasant for you to throw your
selves upon the mercies of your stockholders. Stockholders are
hard-hearted people. Each one of you will, in case this matter is
discovered, find his financial credit and his reputation for sagacity
much impaired; and, besides this, there will be incurred the dangers of
a 'run' upon you, to say nothing of the actual loss to the institution,
which will have to be made good to the last dollar. But let us see if
we cannot do better. Notwithstanding the fact that I have fully made up
my mind to go to prison, I cannot deny that not to go to prison
would be an advantage. Therefore, if you will promise me immunity from
prosecution, I will return to you to-morrow morning a quarter of a
million dollars. I ask you to give me a reply within five minutes. The
proposition is a bare one, and is sufficiently plain. I shall require
your faith as directors and individuals, and in return I will give my
pledge, as a robber of the highest grade—a bond which perhaps is as
good as any that can be made under the circumstances.”
The directors no sooner saw that it lay within their power to regain
five-sevenths of their money than they began, almost with one voice,
threaten Fields with punishment if he did not return the whole.
“Gentlemen,” cried the paying teller, interrupting their
exclamations, “I must impose one more condition. It is that you do not
mention this affair again—that you keep the whole matter secret, and
not permit it to be known beyond this apartment that I have had any
other than the most agreeable relations with you. All that is
imperative. There remain but two more minutes. The president will
signify to me your decision.”
The time elapsed. Fields put his watch into his pocket.
“Well, sir?” said he.
“We accept the terms,” replied the president, bowing stiffly.
Fields also bowed. A silence ensued. Presently a director said to
“May I ask you what led you to this step?”
“Sir,” replied the teller, with severity, “you are encroaching upon
our contract. I may speak of this affair, but you have no right to.”
Then he turned to the board:
“Do you wish me to go back to my work?”
There was a consultation. Then the president said:
“If you will be so kind.”
The business of the day went forward as usual. The teller's
counter-desk was supplied with money, and no suspicion was aroused
among his fellows.
As each director went out of the bank, he stopped at Fields's
window, and addressed some set remark to him upon business matters; and
so intimate did the relations between them seem that the clerks
concluded that the lucky man was about to be made cashier, and they
began to pay him more respect.
In the intervening night there again recurred to the directors the
enormity of the outrage to which they had been subjected. The incident
of recovering so large a part of what they had originally supposed was
gone had the effect of making them partially unmindful of the loss of
the smaller sum which the teller finally agreed to accept in place of
punishment. But in the lapse between the time of the robbery and the
time of the promised restitution, their appreciation of their position
had time to revive again, and when they assembled on the next morning
to receive the money from Fields, they were anxious and feverish.
Would he come? Was he not at this moment in Canada? Would a man who
could steal one hundred thousand dollars return a quarter of a million?
Every moment one of them went to the door to see if Fields had
appeared. The rest walked about, with their hands behind them, talking
together incoherently. The air was full of doubts. The teller usually
came at a quarter past nine, but the hour arrived without the man.
Two or three of the directors made paths for themselves amid the
chairs, and anxiously traversed them. Slavin took a post beside a
window and gazed into the street. Debritt, with his right hand in his
bosom, and with his left grasping the upper rail of a seat, looked
fixedly into the coals. Stuart sipped at a goblet of water, but his
trembling hand caused him to spill its contents upon the floor. No one
now ventured to speak except in a whisper; it seemed that a word or a
loud noise must disturb the poise of matters. The clock ticked, the
blue flames murmured in the grate, and the pellets of sand thrown up by
the wind rattled against the windows.
But yet there were no signs of the paying teller.
Was it possible that this immense sum of money was gone?
Could it be true that they must report this terrible thing to the
world? Had they permitted themselves to become the lieutenants to a
wily scoundrel? Were they thus waiting silent and inactive while he was
being borne away at the speed of the wind, out of their reach?
All at once Fields came in at the door.
He was met with a gladness that was only too perceptible. Every
gentleman emitted a sigh of relief, and half started, as if to take the
delinquent by the hand.
Fields had expected this. He was shrewd enough to act before the
feeling had evaporated.
He advanced to the table. The directors hastened like schoolboys to
take their accustomed places. They bent upon the teller's face the most
“Gentlemen,” said he, “I believe that you fully understand that I
return this large sum of money to you at my own option. You recognize
the fact that most men would endure, for instance, an imprisonment of
ten years rather than lose the control of a quarter of a million of
The directors hastened to signify “Yes!”
“But,” continued Fields, taking several large envelopes from his
inner pockets, “I shall be content with less. There is the sum I
The directors fell upon the packages and counted their contents. The
table was strewed with money. Fields contemplated the scene with
curiosity. Presently it was announced that the sum was complete.
“Now, gentlemen,” said Fields, “you have suffered loss. I have a
hundred thousand dollars which I have forced you to present me with.
That is a large sum, though to us who are so familiar with millions it
seems small, almost insignificant; but, in reality, it has a great
importance. You now see, my friends, what a part of your money-making
mechanism may achieve. There is no bank, even of third-rate importance,
in this city, whose receiving teller or paying teller may not do
exactly as I have done. On any day, at any hour, they may load
themselves with valuables and go away. You, and all directors, depend
servilely upon the pure honesty of your clerks. You can erect no
barrier, no guard, no defence, that will protect you from the results
of decayed principle in them. They are deeply involved in dangerous
elements. Ease, luxury, life-long immunity from toil, wait upon their
resolution to do ill. This resolution may be the determination of an
instant, or the result of long-continued sophistical reasoning. You
cannot detect the approach to such a resolve in your servant, and he,
perhaps, can hardly detect it in himself. But one day it is complete:
he acts upon it. You are bereft of your property; he flees, and there
is the nine days' stir, and all is over. Your greatest surety lies in
your appreciation of your danger. I have proved to you what that danger
consists of; you did not know before. Your best means of defence is to
respect, to the fullest extent, the people upon whom you depend. They
are worthy of it. An instant's reflection will show you that neither of
you would be proof against a strong temptation. For the sake of
recovering a sum of money you have compounded with felony. All of you
are at this moment in breach of the law. You have submitted without a
struggle to the dominant impulse. The principle of exact honor which
you demand in me does not exist in yourselves. But let us end this
disagreeable scene. Perhaps I have demonstrated something that you
never realized. I hope you understand. I now surrender to you the one
hundred thousand dollars, which you thought I had stolen. I had no
intention of keeping it; I only pretended to take it in order to
impress you with my ideas.”
Every director arose to his feet in haste. Fields placed another
packet upon the table, and, in face of the astonished board, left the
An hour afterward he was again summoned to the parlor. He advanced
to his old position at the end of the table. It was clear that the
temper of the assembly was favorable to him.
“Mr. Fields,” said the president, “your attack upon us was singular
and rapid, and I think it has made the mark that you intended it
should. Your mode of convincing us was, one might say, dramatic; and,
though I believe you might have attained your object in another way, we
acknowledge that your letter had but little effect. We now wish to
provide for you as you claim, and as you deserve. But we cannot look
upon you with quietude. It is almost impossible to see you without
shuddering. We must place you elsewhere. If you remained here, you
would always be in close proximity to a quarter of a million dollars.”
“But you believe in my integrity?”
“You understand my motives?”
“And you acknowledge them to be just?”
“But you personify a terrible threat. You are an exponent of a great
danger, and you could not ask us to live with one who showed that he
held a sword above our heads. That would be impossible. We therefore
offer you the position of actuary in the ——Life. Mr. Stuart is about
to resign it, and at our request he has consented to procure you the
chair. Your salary will be thrice that you now receive. Do you accept?”
“Without an instant's hesitation,” replied Fields.
He then shook hands with each director, and they separated excellent
* * * * *
Fields winged his way to the farm in the country, and told the news.
That is, he told the best of it. He told the actual news after hours,
when there was but one to tell it to.
There was a shriek.
“Oh, if they had!”
“Had what—Sun and Moon!”
“Why, sent you to prison.”
“Well, we should have had to wait ten years, that's all. After that,
we should have been worth, with interest added to the capital, five
hundred and sixty thousand dollars.”
“Sir! Can you suppose that I would ever marry a robber, a wretched
“Never! But it is different where one robs for the sake of
“Y—yes, that is true; I forgot that. I think that principle is a
great thing. Don't you?”
In the spring the face-walls and the lawns and the kiosks went
forward according to the original design, and the actuary frequently
brought his city friends, directors and all, down to look at them.End