Wherein an old man proves that while worldly gain may promise much, true Christmas gladness is of the heart
There Is a Santa Claus
Wherein an old man proves that while worldly gain may promise much, true Christmas gladness is of the heart
THE OLD man in the shabby grey suit and the drab overcoat who came one noon into the customers' room of Plindell, Bart & Plindell—Stocks and Bonds—looked around in a diffident sort of a way, then took a chair and watched with fascinated gaze the trans-lux tape travelling jerkily across the board as it recorded the day's sales on the floor of the exchange.
Murchinson, the manager, frowned. The old man wasn't at all the sort of an individual that Murchinson liked to see occupying a chair in his customers’ room. He wasn’t up to the standard of Plindell, Bart & Plindell’s clientele, men and women of affiuence who bought their securities in five hundred and thousand share blocks and stuck them away in their vaults and forgot about them. When the old man took out a stub of a pencil and began figuring on the back of an envelope, Murchinson had him pretty well tagged. He wasn’t even an odd lot trader. He was nothing but a chair-warmer, one of those old birds who s]xmd their lunch hours sitting in brokers’ offices and speculating with theoretical millions. Murchinson was not by nature an unsympathetic person, but even so Plindell, Bart & Plindell were paying five and a half dollars a square foot for office space, and he considered how he might tactfully convey to the old man that there must be some less exclusive brokerage concern where he would be more welcome.
When eventually the old man rose and stopped at Murchinson’s desk on the way out to say, “Thank you.” with unmistakable sincerity, Murchinson felt a little ashamed. He wondered, too, at the eager, almost tense light in the old man’s eyes. The old man came again the next day, and for two weeks regularly thereafter, without Murchinson finding it in his heart to ask him to take his patronage elsewhere. He was such a nice old codger, always came and left with a friendly shy smile. But, of course, Murchinson had been right—the old man played the market on paper only.
But one day Murchinson got a surprise. The old man stopped and spoke to him as he came in.
“The reason I come here,” he said, “is that I've heard your firm so highly spoken of. I want to open an account.” Murchinson felt a little sorry. He would have to tell him that they didn't handle small accounts, and probably that bright expectant look would go out of the old man’s eyes, his sparse, slightly bent figure would sag a little more, and ...
The old man had taken out a slip of paper and placed it in front of Murchinson: Jt was a cheque for twenty
thousand dollars issued by the Gibraltar Mutual Life Insurance Company in favor of John H. Williams.
“I haven’t any checking account.” the old man explained simply, “so I just endorsed it over to you.”
A little dazed, Murchinson pulled over a chair and invited the old man to sit down, then heard himself say, “We will be very glad to open an account for you. Mr. Williams. Could you give us a reference or so, just as a matter of form?”
John Williams nodded and gave Murchinson the name of the firm for which he worked. Olney & Blodgett. Murchinson excused himself and disappeared in an inner office. He called up Olney & Blodgett. Yes. they had a John H. Williams working for them in their accounting department, a very trustworthy employee, had been with them for years, more years in fact than the head accountant could say off hand. No. Williams didn’t have much of a job, not any more. What with the installation of modern bookkeeping machines . . .
Murchinson called up the Gibraltar Mutual Life Insurance Company and after some delay succeeded in getting the information he sought. The life insurance companyhad issued a cheque for twenty thousand dollars to John II. Williams. It was in payment of a twenty-year endowment policy. The cheque was good.
Murchinson went back to the customers’ room. He felt inwardly pleased that everything was in order, not that the account meant much to Murchinson. It was one of the
smallest in the office, and on the face of things would never grow any bigger, wouldn't be productive of many commissions. Old Williams would probably invest it in nothing more speculative than small-interest bonds, and that would be the last they'd see of him. But once more Murchinson was mistaken.
Old John Williams wanted to buy Barada Gold, one of the most speculative stocks on the board. He wanted to invest every cent in it on margin—a conservative margin. Barada Gold was selling at around fifteen, and a little gravely Murchinson told him that they would carry him for two thousand shares.
Old Williams did some figuring on the back of his worn envelope. “If it goes up to thirty.” he mused half aloud. “I’ll have fifty thousand altogether. It ought to go to thirty . . ”
Murchinson bought him the two thousand shares, wondering whether old Williams really knew something or whether he was just a prey to the current rumors that
Barada was due to skyrocket—a vein of surface ore discovered. and that sort of thing.
A week went by, a week during which old Williams came during his lunch hour and watched the tape, watched Barada climb to seventeen, to nineteen and cross twentytwo.
Murchinson had taken a great liking to the old man, felt he knew just what he was trying to do. He was trying to accumulate fifty thousand dollars SÍ) that he could retire. A lonely, unattached old bird like that could live comfortably on the income from that.
But for the third time Murchinson was wrong in his estimate of the old man. who wasn't thinking of himself at all. He was thinking of his married daughter Millie and her husband Ed. They had been so kind to him all these years since his wife liad died, years during which they had made a home for him out in their little place at Bayville. Perhaps it svas natural for Millie to be SÍ) kind to him, but Continued on page 30
Continued from page 11
Ed, his son-in-law, was if possible even more considerate. Ed had only been cross with him once, and that was when he, Williams, had suggested that he had better I take a room somewhere and live by I himself. That was when the baby, Ed and Millie’s third child, had come, and he had thought the place was getting a little crowded and that they might like his room. At least they ought to let him pay a little more board, what with the doctor’s bills and the fact that Ed's salary had been cut twice . . .
But neither Ed nor Millie would hear of it. So old Williams had stayed on. a warm glow deep inside him, his eyes a little moist whenever he thought of them and eager and expectant when he considered what he was going to do for them. They didn’t know about his life insurance policy. He wasn’t going to give them the twenty thousand; the income from that wouldn’t be much; but the income from fifty thousand, that would help a lot. Millie could have some clothes and Ed, who worked so hard and never had much fun, could join that inexpensive little golf club instead of going out into a stubbly field to knock old balls around with the two rusty irons somebody had given him. And little Eddie, Junior, and his younger sister Alice and the baby . . .
During the second week in December the steady risein BaradaGold carne toa halt. Ithovered between twenty-fourand twentyfive. Murchinson suggested to old Williams that he had a nice profit, but the old man only smiled, said he believed in Santa Claus. And a few days later it looked as though he were right. The report of more favorable earnings, decreased cost of operations, once more sent Barada on its way.
And then the awful thing happened. Barada Gold fell out of bed. It dropped five points at a time.
Frantically Murchinson tried to get hold of old Williams. The old man hadn’t given I him his home address. He only knew his ! place of business, and when he called i there he was told that John Williams was home ill. His daughter had telephoned that morning. No, they didn't know where he lived. He had been with them so long . . .
Murchinson held out for him as long as he could, longer than he should have, in fact. There seemed to be no limit to the speed, with which Barada Gold dropped. I le put in an order to sell it at twelve, and the reix^rt came back from the floor that it was now selling at eight. He tried again at that figure and found that in the few minutes it had gone down farther. At last he sold him out at the market and hoped he wouldn’t be there on the day the old man came in. It had taken old John Williams twenty years to save that money . . .
That was two days before Christmas. John Williams came in the next day.
Murchinson, looking out the window, said, “I tried to get hold of you. I did everything I could.”
John Williams, looking into space, nodded. “Is there anything—is there anything left?”
Murchinson shook his head, glanced at a ! slip on his desk and said, “Eighty-six I dollars and fifty cents. I tried every way.
! The stock has been taken off the board; appears to have been just a stock-jobbing proposition. There’s talk of indicting the officers. ”
He forced himself to look at John Williams. The old man’s thin, lined face i was a little bewildered.
“Could I have it.” he said in a distrait ; sort of way, “in cash?”
Murchinson got him his eighty-six j dollars and fifty cents in cash. He couldn’t > think of anything to say until the old man
had gone, and then to no one in particular he said, “A fine Merry Christmas'.”
OUT IN the street old John Williams was walking uptown . . . thinking. There was a faint flurry of snow and he drew the collar of his coat up to protect his sore throat. Christmas Eve, and he had the rest of the afternoon off. He ought to get home and help with the tree. Ed and Millie always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. They had told him and they had told the children that it wouldn’t be much of a Christmas this year—what with the salary cuts, the doctor’s bills . . .
John Williams remembered that now; how he had smiled to himself when he had heard Ed say that. Wouldn’t he much of a Christmas, huh? They hadn’t known what he had in store for them. He kept on walking and thinking. No. it wouldn’t'be much of a Christmas; not now.
It was dark by the time he arrived at Bayville. Ed and Millie were waiting for him. They had been a little anxious. Eddie, Junior, and little Alice were clamoring to be let inside to see the tree and their presents, and the baby was gurgling in its crib just outside the living room door.
The tree was lit, not a very large tree this year, but it seemed adequate to the two older children who gazed at it starryeyed, and the baby made happy, meaningless little noises. Then there was a feverish unwrapping of the little five-and-ten-centstore gifts that Ed and Millie had accumulated for them. F?d gave the old man a new pipe and Millie gave him a can of tobacco, and they stood with their arms around him watching the children.
And then John Williams said, “Wait.” He went to the door and called to a waiting taxi driver to bring in the bundles. The taxi driver brought them—a stack of boxes, and something else that made Ed’s eyes pop.
Ed and Millie couldn’t seem to grasp it at first. Ed just stood there mute, holding the golf bag with its set of shiny clubs, while Millie draped the fur piece about her neck and stroked it, looking meanwhile at her father with dazed, misty eyes.
Eddie, Junior, let out a shout. “Boy, look at them skates! Regular hockeys!” He almost drowned out little Alice’s ecstatic squeal as she mothered the big doll that opened and shut its eyes and said “Ma-ma.” The baby waved vague little hands at the tinkling music box at its feet in the crib.
Finally Ed, with a catch in his voice, said, “Thanks, Pop; they’re swell—you didn’t—you didn’t win the sweepstakes or something?”
And Millie came and put her hands on the old man’s shoulders, then hugged him. “You shouldn't have done it,” she said. She nuzzled the soft fur. “I bet you've spent every cent you’ve ever saved— haven’t you?”
John Williams’ eyes were smiling. If he thought of the twenty years, if his heart ached, there was nothing to show it. His tone was careless and steady.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.