THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
“PER C.” “ Mr. Bronson ? Oh yes, you will find him in his private office, up three flights ; turn to the right, No. 5.” “ Thanks,” and the compactly-built, stalwart man in brown linen ulster, thread gloves, and Panama hat, ran, satchel and umbrella in hand, up three flights of black, dusty stairs, up, up through the gloomy halls of the great business; house, turning to the right down a narrow space lined with offices, with open doors to get the circulation from the ' stairways, and paused at “No. 5.” A slight, graceful, palefaced little woman glanced up from a pile of letters. “ Mr. Bronson ? Oh, yes, sir. Walk in, please, Mr. Bronson, a gentleman.” Just a common-place, every-day meeting meeting between two largehearted men who had maintained business relations for years, entertaining the very highest regard' for each other meanwhile, without having once met face to face. -.
“Mr. Sturtevant? Is it possible! lam glad to see you, sir.” And the two sat down and fell into a chat, which settled the Western man in his half-formed opinion, that the genuine, substantial, out-and-out New Yorker is the representative man of America; and xnade the city man say to himself, “ What a hearty frankess your real Western man brings, into everything. Nothing dwarfed or contracted about him. pHis heart and , his opinions are as broad and as breezy as his own rich prairies.” “ Where do you stop ?” as the visitor and long-time customer arose. “ Don’t know? : Allow me to Suggest that you go to the St.iNicholas with me, then. I’m there for aiittle, while my folks are out of town and the house is being brushed out. I will go with you. I was just going, in fact. Miss Clark, I will leave this last account for you to balance—-Oh, I want you to see Miss Clark—This is Mr. Sturtevant from Chicago.” “ Your name and your handwriting are entirely familiar, Mr. Sturtevant,” said the pale-faced young woman, with whom the visitor had first spoken, leaving the desk by which she was standing and coming forward toward the inneroffice, which was formed by heavy jet green curtains, looped back across a windowed niche, making a pleasing delusion of seclusion and of shade.
“We learn to feel acquainted with people from their handwriting,” remarked Mr. Bronson pleasantly, as he drew on his gloves, “On that principle, you two must know each other quite well by .this time.” ' And you. are 1 Per C.’ ?” queried Mr. Sturtevant, looking critically down into the young woman’s delicate, finelycut face. ' “ Now I have a habit of conjuring people up from their handwriting, and the ‘ Per C.’ I have kept in my mind all this time was a methodical clear-headed, old grey-beard whom all the sharpers in Gotham couldn’t get around, and I find the real ‘Per C’ to be but a mere thistle down or frost flower ! Well, well!” “ You was not very far astray in your character estimate, however,” smiled Mr. Bronson, tipping his light hat down over his dusky black eyes.
“ ‘ Per C’ is the most efficient helper'that a perplexed merchant was ever blessed with. The firm would have been bankrupt if it had not been for her. Fact, sir. At my father’s death things were in a bad shape. The head .book-keeper, who was also a partner, had been making false entries, and; the ;accounts were in the most inextricable tangle. They baffled me, and I employed an expert to straighten them, but he gave them up in dispair. Miss Clark, who was then in the lower office, volunteered her assistance. She went through them at odd hours, and brought everything out straight. To prevent exposure the partner refunded, what he had embezzled. I bought in all the stock, and, kept on with the business.” :
P Mr. looked on the quiet little woman with more admiration than if he had just heard she had painted a picture, written a book, or awakened a slumbering, goddess, from a block of marble. “It was not much to do,” she said, in deprecatory tones. “ I had had an experience with my father’s books—only unhappily—and the partner had not the embezzled funds in reserve, and the house went down.”
“ Good afternoon, Miss Clark,” and the handsome; healthy gentleman started, full of life and spirits, to run down the stairs.
Mr, Bronson returned almost immediately’to say ; “ Never mind those last bills. I shall be early in the morning,” and finding the little grey dressed Woman sitting at his desk in the shadow of the deep green curtains in a dejected attitude, looking 'so. like a crushed, wilted flower that he could but wonder what had so quickly changed the bright, pleasant face that had just smiled back at him from the doorway. “ This hot wave is something fearful,” said Mr.’ Stfutevarit, as his companion regained his side, “I don’t see how you can. stand,\t here week after week.” “.Oh, I run up the Hudson,,,where my-mother and"-sisters are, whenever the whim seizes me, knowing the books will not get behindhand in my absence.” “ So you are not a married man ?”
“ No. I have never had time nor inclination to think of matrimony ; and I am very well off in my present home.” “Yet it is all wrong, ”, replied the Western man, in a fatherly way he was apt to fall into towards anyone to whom he took a fancy. “ A-man of your age ought to be settled in a home of his own. The mother will go to heaven somd the sisters will take unto themselves.fhusbands, and • then, my man £ .you will be leftadrift.” ■. Mr, Sturtevant .flitted, in,and out of ‘floor,” every day fpr.a weeh, : ' assiduously ' cultivating the acquaintance of Mr. .Bronson and “ Per C.” as he persisted in calling the fragile little accountant, in the intervals of business, of sight-seeing and of writing to his wife—this last being his favorite way of filling in odd moments. While driving with Mr. Bronson late one sultry July afternoon in Central Park, he broke out abruptly, yet with a tone of peculiar earnestness, which the younger man had learned to understand covered some deep feeling—- “ Your eyes need opening, friend
Bronson ; Oh, not at all in regard to your horsemanship, you hold the reins like an expert. I beg your pardon, but I want to speak to you about your confidential clerk. You look surprised. I suppose I shall surprise you still more, my dear fellow, when I tell you that she_ is djing by inches there in,that stifling office, before your very eyes, and you are so accustomed to her clear, white rose of a face and her gentle ways that you can’t understand that anything is wrong with her. Why, man ! even I, with my broad chest and perfect health, almost lose by breath every time I run up those stairs. She has faded and wilted and lost vitality perceptibly in the week that I have been here. Her lovely face grows more and-more transparent every day. Now Oliver Walker, my confidential clerk, is wild to come to New York. He’s a cute, sharp fellow, conscientious and industrious, and being so well acquainted with my business he would work into yours with little difficulty. Now I want to propose to you that we change confidential clerks. The fresh Western air will brace that little woman right up. I know enough of woman-kind to know that it is a matter of life arid death with her. The change, the journey, the meeting with new people will renew her personality; she won’t know herself in a month’s time, This great city broadens the lives of those who are in constant attrition with their kind, but is more contracting than the most isolated country life can be to a soul moving in a daily rut. I know she. is valuable to you, but when the flower wilts utterly and falls' to the ground you will be obliged to take some one to fill her place.” “ I can’t dispute your argument,” replied the young man thoughtfully, bringing his high-stepping horses down to a walk. “ 1 have no doubt she needs rest and change. The place is a responsible one, and there is a gieat deal put upon her, as there is apt to be upon a person so efficient and obliging. I never saw her out of temper and never heard her complain of weariness. She has no relatives, and never seems to care about taking a vacation, She could never be persuaded to leave us,” he continued, presently with a confidential smile curling his tawny moustasche. We will, however, for the sake of justice, submit the proposition to her. I have no right to dismiss the subject until she has been consulted. I think you are needlessly alarmed in regard to her health, however. She has wonderful powers of endurance, although it is true she has looked as fragile as that lily yonder all the ten years she has been with us.” “ Ten years ? ” “ Ten years last autumn.”
Mr. Sturtevant went back to his airy room at the St. Nicholas, and wrote a long letter to his wife, although he had already sent her a postal card and a telegram that day. He used to say that pent-up enthusiasm would explode, had he had not the safety-valve of writing to Eliza always at hand. The next morning Mr. Sturtevant appeared at the Bronson office just as the old black porter was taking down the shutters. He had not long to wait, however, and disclosed his plan to Miss Clark while she was removing her simple wrap and plain straw hat. “ You say Mr, Bronson is willing to make the exchange ? ” she enquired with a faltering voice, seating herself at her desk and mechanically breaking the seal of the topmost letter of that morning’s mail. “Yes, for your good, remember.” “I will go.” “That was all. Mr. Sturtevant, with a rare knowledge of woman, gained from his own felicitous union with Eliza, went over to a window and sat down to look at the morning papers, while she busied herself with the mail as usual; but with a faint glow on her cheeks, warning ol an inward fire, like the reflection on the showy petals of the gleam in the chalice of a cactus cup. An hour passed thus, and her employer entered, genial and gentlemanly as usual. Mr. Sturtevant threw aside his paper and said breezily : “ It is all settled, my dear Bronson. This is Saturday. We shall start for Chicago Monday, on the 8 a.m. express. I shall telegraph for Oliver to meet us at Niagara where we will stop over a train and take a look at the Falls. He is one of those live, up and coming chaps that wouldn’t ask for more than half an hour’s notice to start on a voyage round the world.” Mr. Bronson gave his accountant a questioning look. She nodded. “ Very well,” he said, coldly, yet with an effort to speak in his usual way. “ You will need all the time there is, off course.” He sat down in the shadow of the rich green curtains and wrote an order on the cashier. She put on her gray hat and gloves again, took the slip of paper in her trembling fingers and went down the dusty stairs without trusting herself to-speak. I don’t know as it occurred to either of them at the time, or for hours afterwards, that their parting, after their years of intimate business relationship was a very strange one, or that it would have been very strange for two men under the same circumstances.
“ Women have not the hearts of men, although it .is the fashion of the time to put them and keep them in place, requiring a man’s strength, judgment, and imperturbability. I must put that in my next letter to Eliza,” said Sturtetd himself, as he ran after the little accountant, overtook her on the second landing, made some necessary arrangements, stood by when the cashier handed her her money and left her on the crowded sidewalk. She did not go home at once, or rather to the boardinghouse which she called home. Instead she walked across to Broadway, and took a Central Park ounibus.
“ I -can be alone in the park for a little while,” she said to herself. • I don’t know that she thought at all as the omnibus thundered and rattled and banged up Broadway; she was only realising the fact that she was going away from him. ■ She strolled about the gravel walks of; the park, sat in the rustic arbors, lingered beside the fountains, ponds, and flour beds, but she saw nothing of the beauties that were delighting thousands of souls famishing for a breath of country summer; she was almost overpowered by a dragging pain at being torn away from the associations of years. ■; (To be continued.)
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 203, 29 November 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 203, 29 November 1880
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