I OPENED my pay-envelope and mechanically pulled out the bills. I knew what they were without running through them. Four fivedollar notes. That had been my Saturday portion for over a year.
“John!” came a sudden exclamation beside me as I was about to stuff the thin roll into my pocket.
I turned and faced the shipping clerk. Tie had his hat on, a suit-case in his hand, and seemed in a hurry.
“John,” he repeated quickly. “Will you give me the five spot you owe me? Pve got to go out of town over Sunday, and I need all I can get.”
I slipped off one of the bills from the inside of the roll and, without looking at it, handed the money over. He stuffed it hurriedly into his pocket and went out at the door, calling back his thanks.
Then it was that I suddenly remembered my resolution to keep him off for another week. But the demand had been so sudden that I was surprised into paying my just debt in spite of the fact fhat I had decided not to do so.
You see, it was like this: My rent was due that day. I paid it by the month. It was sixteen dollars for the two rooms occupied by my wife and myself in an obscuie part of Brooklyn.
In returning the borrowed five to the shipping clerk. I laid myself open to a week of poverty ; for besides the fifteen left of my pay, I had only a dollar bill and some odd cents.
That left the “odd cents” as the
only visible means of livelihood for the coming week. I had a vision of free lunches and walking to and from work.
I knew that the landlady would be open to no compromise. I had tried it too often, and it was either pay or move, for the money was two or three days overdue.
The really serious side of the thing did not appeal to me for some time. Then I found that most of the office force had gone, and there was no one left from whom I could borrow so much as a dollar.
I sat down despondently on a shipping-case and began to figure.
The loose change in my pocket, I found, amounted to twenty-seven cents, besides the dollar bill, which would have to go to the landlady, together with the fifteen left of my pay.
I smoothed the dollar bill between my fingers and tried to figure how I could live on four cents a day for a week, or even on twenty-seven cents over Sunday.
Then I took out the thin roll, from which I had skinned the note for the shipping clerk, and put the dollar bill with the fives.
As I sat thumbing the bills over in my most disconsolate manner I had a sudden shock.
I felt as though a million needles were pricking me. I jumped off the box and stared at the money.
Great Heavens ! I found to my dismay that I had only two five-dollar bills and a single one.
Eleven dollars ! My rent was sixteen. What had become of the other five ?
1 made a frantic search throught the office. It was nowhere to be found.
Could J have given the shipping clerk two fives by mistake? No! I remembered the feeling of the single bill that 1 had passed to him; I had handled money during the cashier's absence once, and 1 knew the feel of it. I could not be mistaken on that.
In my mind 1 went back over sixty or more pay-days. Always the four five-dollar bills in my envelope. The cashier could have no mistake.
Just at that moment the latter entered the door.
‘‘Hallo, John,” he said. “Come back after my umbrella.”
I jumped at a straw and asked him if there could have been any mistake, if he cotdd have put only fifteen dollars in my envelope.
“No, nothing like that, John," was his reply. “The pay is always doublechecked you know, and there is no possible chance for error."
“Maybe the boss reduced my salary!” 1 cried.
“.Ño. It isn't likely. You're still on the list at twenty.”
The thing was inexplicable.
I wanted to believe that 1 had given the shipping clerk two fives, but I knew very well I hadn’t.
The cashier slipped out at the back door before I could ask him for a loan, and the janitor came around to close up. I tried to borrow a quarter from him; my pride was losing its footing.
He gave me twenty-five excuses; but those could not be converted into cash. So I went out into the street in a very miserable condition.
Ten cents car fare home would leave me with seventeen cents. That would buy a handsome meal : and ni)wife waiting at home until 1 returned with the money for Sunday provisions.
Thereupon I took a mightv vow never to pay another debt as long as 1 lived. Borrowing money had never
got me into the trouble that returning it had.
1 was just dabbling in a delicate decision between a suicide's grave or enlisting in the navy and deserting my wife, when a sudden shower came up.
Looking quickly around for shelter I espied the wide-open door of an auction store. Several people were hurrying in out of the storm, and I trailed in with them.
Absently I gazed at the resplendent auctioneer.
“Stay out of the wet. That’s right. This is as good a place as any. It doesn't cost anything. In fact, you make money by coming in. Everything for nothing to-day. Something for evervbodv. Presents given away to-dav. Articles of intrinsic worth selling for a song."
Not being much of a singer, and having nothing else with which to purchase articles of intrinsic worth. I was interested in the sale merely as a haven of refuge in time of storm.
The crowd jostled and shoved as the place filled up with those driven in by the rain. I was finally pushed to a point near the front and next to the cashier's desk.
Such things as umbrellas, jupes, vases, canes, and knicknacks held no interest for me. At that moment a coffin would have more nearly suited my taste.
f turned and watched the goodlooking cashier taking in the money that deluged down for the trilles.
In a whimsical way 1 estimated my chances if 1 should be led to reach out and grab one of the five-dollar bills to make uji my loss.
Por want of better amusement. I watched the caslr.er. She seemed worried. The money was coming in too fast for her. and most of it was in bills. She seemed to be new at the work and was having an awful time making change.
She turned to one of the boys that helped carry out the purchased articles.
“lohn." she said, "tell Mr. Hackett that I must have some change. I'm all out of small bills. Tell him to send you out for some fives, twos, and ones.”
The boy went at once, and the girl continued to take in money hand over hand. Finally she was swamped with large bills, and Mr. Hacket, who proved to be a silent partner in the auction-room, supplied her with all the change from his pocket.
The supply didn't last long, and a few minutes later 1 noticed somebody proffer a ten-dollar bill.
“I can't change it," she said hopelessly.
The girl was pretty, and caught me looking at her that moment. Something in my manner must have told her that 1 had two five-dollar bills. Anyway, she raised her heavy eyebrows in my direction, shifted her wad of gum, and said :
“You couldn’t change a ten-dollar bill, could you?”
It was the smile that made me obliging. I reached into my pocket and handed her the two fives. I figured that I might do one good deed to stand out like a bright spot in all the trouble I'd had.
She thanked me with her lips and the gum, and I tucked the ten-dollar bill she gave me into my pocket.
A little ambition seemed to creep upon me unawares. I still had eleven dollars and twenty-seven cents. That wasn’t so bad ; I’ve known poorer people. I began to expand a bit and look around for some way to g'et enough money to make up my loss.
Then the auctioneer held up a dazzling array of dishes.
“Every piece hand-painted by Takahara in Tokyo. Guaranteed genuine. See the print on the bottom !”
He slipped a tea-cup from the Japanese set over a glaring electric light bulb. The china looked like egg-shell, and on the bottom appeared the scraggly signature of Takahara, of Tokyo.
I had never heard of the Japanese gentleman, but it seemed to me that my aunt, who was a great collector of
china, had mentioned his name in her holiest and most awful voice.
“Fifty cents." offered some unappreciative person in the audience.
The auctioneer fixed a baleful eve on the offender and paused for effect. Then he delivered a deluge of sarcasm, and finally held up one cup and saucer.
“I will sell them separately," he announced. “They ought to bring fifty dollars apiece. Any collector of china would pay that for them. Here, I’ll sell two cups and two saucers this time. What do I hear?”
“One dollar," said somebody, emboldened by the auctioneer's argument and doing his best to show proper appreciation.
The auctioneer smiled in that expressive way they have. Then he fixed a piercing eye on me.
“You'd give two dollars, wouldn’t you ?”
I was as wax in his hands; an auctioneer can always hypnotize me. Suddenly I heard the birds sing, and all was spring-time.
I thought of my Aunt Elizabeth, who collected china. I could buy the things for a mere song and sell them to her for a grand opera.
“Yes,” I murmured meekly, the great scheme beating at my heart.
“Sold!" barked the auctioneer the moment the words had left my mouth.
I reeled and felt that I was sold, but wouldn’t admit It.
Stepping over to the smiling cashier, T preferred the ten-dollar bill.
“He hasn't come back with the change yet. Here, maybe I can make it. though. How much was your purchase : two dollars ?”
She dived into a little drawer at the back of her desk and brought out three coins. With these she put a fifty-cent piece and handed them over to me.
I noted that the 'three coins were two-dollar-and-a-half gold pieces. I had never seen one before and was rather suspicious of them, not being peifectly sure that the United States issued a gold piece of 'that amount. "Haven’t you any bills?" I protested.
"No; you’ll have to take those or wait till the boy comes back,”
“Are they good?” I faltered.
“Of course,” she cried. "1 just took them in.”
Taking my precious tea-cups, painted by Takahara, of Tokyo, I left before the auctioneer could fix his eye on me again and sell me a Brazilian diamond.
Aunt Elizabeth evidently had been cultivating a grouch.
When 1 uncovered the gorgeous genuine articles and offered them to lier for ten dollars, stating that was just what I paid for them, she denounced me for a fraud and led me by the car to the nearest five-and-tencent store, where she showed me specimens of the same art, with the same name and design, on the fiveccnt counter.
That took the wind out of my sails. I started back to throw the china at the auctioneer’s head and get put in jail, possibly as a murderer. That would be a good finish.
I still had nine dollars and twentyseven cents ; that could go to my heirs; I was determined to be buried at public expense.
I reviewed the whole sad, sweet story as 1 returned to the auctionhouse, with murder in my eye and the tea-cups in my hand.
As I neared the auctioneer's place, and was planning the most sensational way in which to throw my china bomb, a sign in a street-window attracted by attention.
1 drew up and looked at the articles exposed. Then 1 dived into my pocket and pulled out the three twodollar-and-a-half gold pieces that T had been doubting all along.
I compared them with the ones on display in the window. I gave one wild whoop of joy and read the sign again :
l'HKMIUM OX $200 GOUD 1MKGKS.
The United States has called in the issue of fwo dollar and a-half gold pieces, and \\c are in the market for them.
We offer a premium of five dollars apiece. Bring in your gold pieces and get seven dollars and fifty cents in greenbacks for each one.
I dashed into the coin-and-stamp stoie, and in two minutes by the clock was standing on the curb, holding in my trembling hand $22.50. which I had received in exchange for the three gold pieces.
I still had $1.77, making a total of $24.27.
I felt like a billionaire. I blessed the cashier in the auction-store who had been pressed by the lack of change to give me gold pieces. It was lucky she had not seen the sign or heard of the sudden recall of the little gold coins.
My landlady beamed on me that night when I paid the rent.
My wife was wreathed in smiles when I presented her with two handpainted china tea-cups, done by Takahara of Tokyo, which I told her were valued at fifty dollars apiece.
Monday morning I went back to work with new zest. I had forgotten about the five dollars missing from my pay. The lucky purchase at the auction had more than made up for it.
“lohn," came a sudden voice, as I was absorbed in my duties.
I looked up and beheld the shipping clerk extending a five-dollar bill in my direction. I took it, forgetting to ask what it was for until he explained.
“John," he said, “you gave me a ten-dollar bill instead of a five last Saturday. I never noticed till I was on the train.”
Then I understood. The cashier had for once departed from his regular rule of four five-dollar bills, and slipped two fives and one ten in my envelope.
I blessed him for the mistake. Tt had put me on the road to \\ ell ville. It had netted me just thirteen dollars clear profit, to say nothing of the handsome pair of tea-cups. \\ e still have them in a conspicuous place on the plate-rack.
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