McClure's Magazine/Volume 27/Number 4/Casabianca
MR. GOODEL'S desk reflected, in its littered disorder, the need of an office boy, and to the end that one should be procured, he had inserted an advertisement in the morning paper. The applicants blocked the corridor, and from the odor and hue of the atmosphere, the majority of them had been smoking cigarettes, a practice which Mr. Goodel abominated.
At the end of the line that reached from the door to the elevator, stood a shawl-wrapped figure clasping a youth of fourteen by the hand. Mr. Goodel had almost fallen over the latter who reached approximately to his knee and as he forced his way past the candidates for employment, it occurred to him that it might be a good thing to supplement his own feeble ideas of discipline by the stern parental authority which evidenced itself in the forbidding countenance of the lady near the elevator.
He accordingly invited her to enter with her charge, who made the journey to Mr. Goodel's sanctum by a series of short energetic jerks in the wake of his mother.
"Is this your son?" he asked mildly.
"Yes, sir, " she replied and then addressing the boy, "Take yer hands out'n yer pockets, you."
He obeyed with an alacrity that augured well for Mr. Goodel's service.
"How old is he?" Mr. Goodel went on.
"Fourteen," she replied, "an' he just graduated from the grammar-school."
"Is he a good boy?" he inquired perfunctorily.
"He will be that," she said with a tightening of the corners of her mouth. "An' if he ain't," she continued, "just let me know, that's all."
Mr. Goodel tried to think of something else to say and then turned to his desk.
"All right," he said, "I'll engage him."
The lady bowed austerely.
"Thank ye kindly," she murmured. "Now pay attention to the gentleman, Jimmy," she said to the boy, "An' do wot he tells yer. D'ye mind me?"
She nodded again and swept out of the office.
"Sit down at the desk outside, boy," said Mr. Goodel, "and when I want you, I'll ring."
A muffled buzz of conversation without, reminded Mr. Goodel of the unsuccessful candidates.
"Here, boy," he called. "Run outside and tell em all to go away."
Jimmy disappeared and an instant later a piping voice was heard in the corridor.
"Beat it youse," it said. "I got de job."
"Then began a tramping of feet and the sound of scuffling followed by Jimmy's reappearance smoothing his hair with one hand and tenderly fingering a rapidly swelling lip with the other.
Mr. Goodel looked up sharply.
"Boy," he said, severely, "where's your necktie?"
"Oh, Gee!" Jimmy exclaimed and ran out into the hall again returning with his necktie adjusted.
"I dropped it outside," he muttered. It was one of the kind that fasten with an elastic loop to the collar button.
"Can you copy letters?" Mr. Goodel demanded.
"I dunno. Mebbe I could if I seen it foist," he answered.
There was not the faintest trace of impudence on his thin face when he spoke and Goodel, without further comment, showed him how to make a transfer of the letter into a tissue-paper book by means of the conventional copying-press in the corner.
"Now copy this one and let's see how you do it."
Goodel handed him a second letter which Jimmy proceeded to copy in the manner exemplified by his employer. "Evidently he is observant," thought Mr. Goodel. "But a trifle uncouth. He shall be taught politeness."
"Boy," he called again. "What's your name?"
"Jimmy," the boy replied, omitting the expected "Sir."
"Jimmy Brennan," he replied glibly.
"Look here, boy," Goodel thundered. "When you speak to me, say 'Sir.' Do you hear me?"
Jimmy flushed in embarrassment.
"Yes, sir," he muttered.
"Now go out and mail these letters," Goodel concluded and leaned back in his chair.
Mr. Goodel was on the threshold of forty and had the appearance of well-fed prosperity that betokens an easy conscience and no wife. The sign on the door read, "Investment Securities & Commercial Paper," but the care of an estate of some magnitude, inherited from his father, absorbed as much of his time as was not taken up with half a dozen clubs and a taste for writing innocuous verse.
Once in a while, he bought a note of some sound mercantile house, well endorsed, and occasionally purchased railroad bonds and other securities technically known as gilt- edged. Unfortunately for the leisure that he loved, his patrimony had consisted mostly of real property which demanded much of his attention and contrived to detain him from his office; hence the advent of Jimmy as office boy.
When Jimmy returned it was close on to noon and Mr. Goodel rose and prepared to leave for luncheon.
"I shall be back at two, " he said. "If any one calls, get them to stay until I return, or leave a message. Do you understand?"
He delivered this injunction with an air of solemnity that made the words sink in.
"Yes, sir," said Jimmy, dutifully.
"All right," Goodel replied and left the office.
At a quarter to two a messenger-boy came with a draft from Mr. Goodel's bank. He was a slender young man of mild and engaging manner, attired in well-pressed garments. He stood perhaps a head taller than Jimmy who was easily his superior, however, in general physique.
"Is Mr. Goodel in?" the messenger inquired.
"Nah, he ain't," Jimmy replied. "Won't be in till two o'clock."
"All right, I'll be in later," said the messenger.
"D'hell yer will, " rejoined Jimmy. "Yer'll sit here till he comes back or leave a message."
"What's that?" asked the messenger.
"I said," replied Jimmy slowly, "yer got ter leave a message."
"Got to, hey?" the messenger jeered.
"Dat's wot I said," Jimmy answered. "Yer gotter leave a message or stay here till he comes back. Dem's my instructions."
He had risen and stood menacingly between the door and the messenger, who attempted to brush by him. Then followed a very pretty bout, catch-as-catch-can, which ended by Jimmy putting the messenger neatly on his back in the middle of the floor. He was sitting in triumph on his vanquished foe's chest as Mr. Goodel opened the door.
"What's all this about," he shouted. "Get up from there, you young dog."
Jimmy rose to his feet and brushed the dust from his clothes, and the messenger picked himself up painfully.
"What's all this about?" Goodel demanded.
"Dat guy dere wouldn't leave no message and he wouldn't wait till yer came back," Jimmy replied.
"What of that?" Goodel continued.
"Well, you said fer to get 'em to stay or leave a message, an' dat's wot I was doin'," Jimmy said, and commenced to sniffle. He had seen his duty plain before him and the injustice of this rebuke cut him to the heart.
"He's bigger dan I am, anyway," he whimpered.
Mr. Goodel scratched his chin. He distinctly remembered his parting injunctions, and could not therefore blame Jimmy for so literal a construction of them. He took his pocket-book out of his trousers.
"What's the damage?" he inquired of the messenger-boy and without waiting for answer, thrust a five-dollar bill into his hand.
"Don't ever fight in here again," he said to Jimmy, severely, "or I'll fire you on the spot. Now go to lunch."
In hiring an office boy, he hadn't bargained for a Casabianca, but felt well satisfied nevertheless.
"Got any money?" he asked Jimmy, who was going out of the door.
"No, sir," Jimmy replied.
"Well, here's a quarter. Hurry back."
Jimmy took the quarter, and returned in ten minutes wiping the crumbs from his mouth. He handed Goodel twenty cents.
"What's this?" Goodel asked.
"Dat's de change, sir," Jimmy said, and sat down at his desk.
Goodel prepared to go out again.
"Jimmy," he said severely. "I'm going uptown and I'll return at five. If any one calls, ask 'em to leave a message. If they won't do that, ask 'em their names and make a note of it. If they won't leave their names, ask 'em to return and if they won't return—well—if they won't return, I guess you'll have to let it go at that."
"All right, sir," Jimmy said, and smiled for the first time that day.
Mr. Goodel returned at five and with him there entered a benevolent looking man of middle age. Ponderous and dignified was his person and he sat down in Mr. Goodel's easy chair with the calmness and solidity of three hundred pounds.
"The bonds, Mr. Goodel, are absolutely beyond cavil. It is true the concern is not well known," he went on. "But to a person of your financial acumen, investigation as to its condition will present no difficulties. "
"Fifty thousand dollars, Mr. Petrie, is a large sum," Goodel replied. "However, I inquired of Mathias & Company this afternoon and they think well of your proposition. If I confirm their information to-night, I shall send you a certified check to-morrow morning and shall expect to receive the bonds in return."
Mr. Petrie bowed and rose to take leave.
"To-morrow morning at eleven, then, I'll leave you this bond to aid you in your examination," he said and passed heavily out of the room. As he closed the office door behind him, he executed four or five fancy dancing steps with surprising agility for a man of his bulk, and repaired with all haste to his elaborately furnished office on lower Broadway.
Awaiting him there were two gentlemen whose noses negatived the dictum of Burke that a curved line is the foundation of all beauty. They were not beautiful; they were not even passably good looking, but what had been denied them in that respect was compensated for by a very keen gift for trafficking and barter.
"Mr. Feldstein and Mr. Levy I believe," said Mr. Petrie. "I asked you to call so that we might go into the matter of the office fixtures. I have accepted your figure at $500, and shall be ready to give you possession at half past eleven to-morrow morning when I shall expect you to move everything without delay."
He then sat down at his desk and examined, with chuckling satisfaction, forty-eight bonds of the Niagara & Northwestern Power Company for $1,000 each, printed fresh that morning at his request, by his brother in Brooklyn, and one bond of the same company, the handiwork of a reputable bank-note company and authorized by the officers of the Power Corporation.
At a quarter to eleven the next morning, Mr. Goodel called Jimmy into his private office.
"Jimmy," he said carefully, "you followed my instructions yesterday minutely. To-day I desire you to do so absolutely. Here is a certified check for $50,000, and one bond. You are to receive from Mr. Petrie at his office No. 401⁄2 Broadway, forty-nine bonds the same as this which I give you. If they're all right let him have the check."
He looked Jimmy squarely in the eye.
"Do you understand me," he said slowly.
"Yes, sir," Jimmy replied, and went out without further ado.
Goodel smiled as the door closed behind him. He had no doubt of Petrie's standing and the bonds were gilt-edged.
Jimmy had been gone about ten minutes when a man burst wildly into the office.
"Goodel, about those bonds. Petrie's a sharper. We just found it out."
"Great Heavens! Mathias," Goodel cried. "The boy is down there now with the check. He's given it to Petrie by this."
He rose and grabbed his hat.
"Let's go down there and see if we can intercept the scoundrel. "
He sprang for the office door and caught an elevator on the run.
In the meantime Jimmy had entered Petrie's luxurious office and was met by Petrie himself.
"Well boy," he demanded, "got the check?"
"Wot's all the sweat?" Jimmy replied calmly. "Gimme a look at the bonds."
"Here's one of 'em and here are the rest. Look at 'em quick. Now gimme the check," Petrie cried and then muttered under his breath. "Damned young pup!"
Jimmy compared the two genuine bonds leisurely.
"Now gimme de udder ones," he said.
"You young brat," Petrie snorted thoroughly aroused, "give me that check."
He grasped the boy by the shoulder.
"Quit dat, yer fat slob," Jimmy cried, "An' let me see 'em."
Reluctantly he surrendered the remaining bonds and Jimmy thumbed them carefully.
"Well what's the matter with them?" Petrie growled.
"I ain't seen but one uv 'em," Jimmy said calmly, "I'm lookin' at the rest now."
Petrie could stand no more.
"Give me the check I say," he almost screamed, and sprang at Jimmy. They fell heavily to the floor, Jimmy underneath and there they rolled and scuffled for some minutes. To Petrie's surprise, Jimmy made no outcry but kicked and fought with all the vigor of his East-Side training. At length Petrie stunned him with the butt of his revolver just as Goodel and Mathias broke in the door.
Both made a rush for him at once, a fatal move, for he evaded the common onslaught and, as their heads came together with a star-flashing bump, he sprang out of the office and took the stairs three at a jump. Goodel lifted Jimmy whose face showed a ghastly white where it wasn't hidden by blood.
"Did he hurt you?" Goodel cried.
Jimmy shook his head and opening his mouth, voided a little wad of paper.
"No, sir," he said politely, "I ain't hoited."
Goodel undid the wad with trembling fingers. It was a certified check for $50,000.