A Wasted Day
by Richard Harding Davis
Public Domain Books
Other men followed, and in the fortune of each Mr. Thorndike found himself, to his surprise, taking a personal interest. It was as good as a play. It reminded him of the Sicilians he had seen in London in their little sordid tragedies. Only these actors were appearing in their proper persons in real dramas of a life he did not know, but which appealed to something that had been long untouched, long in disuse. It was an uncomfortable sensation that left him restless because, as he appreciated, it needed expression, an outlet. He found this, partially, in praising, through Andrews, the young judge who had publicly rebuked him. Mr. Thorndike found him astute, sane; his queries intelligent, his comments just. And this probation officer, she, too, was capable, was she not? Smiling at his interest in what to him was an old story, the younger man nodded.
“I like her looks,” whispered the great man. “Like her clear eyes and clean skin. She strikes me as able, full of energy, and yet womanly. These men when they come under her charge,” he insisted, eagerly, “need money to start again, don’t they?” He spoke anxiously. He believed he had found the clew to his restlessness. It was a desire to help; to be of use to these failures who had fallen and who were being lifted to their feet. Andrews looked at him curiously. “Anything you give her,” he answered, “would be well invested.”
“If you will tell me her name and address?” whispered the banker. He was much given to charity, but it had been perfunctory, it was extended on the advice of his secretary. In helping here, he felt a genial glow of personal pleasure. It was much more satisfactory than giving an Old Master to his private chapel.
In the rear of the court-room there was a scuffle that caused every one to turn and look. A man, who had tried to force his way past the tipstaffs, was being violently ejected, and, as he disappeared, he waved a paper toward Mr. Thorndike. The banker recognized him as his chief clerk. Andrews rose anxiously. “That man wanted to get to you. I’ll see what it is. Maybe it’s important.”
Mr. Thorndike pulled him back.
“Maybe it is,” he said dryly. “But I can’t see him now, I’m busy.”
Slowly the long line of derelicts, of birds of prey, of sorry, weak failures, passed before the seat of judgment. Mr. Thorndike had moved into a chair nearer to the rail, and from time to time made a note upon the back of an envelope. He had forgotten the time or had chosen to disregard it. So great was his interest that he had forgotten the particular derelict he had come to serve, until Spear stood almost at his elbow.
Thorndike turned eagerly to the judge, and saw that he was listening to a rotund, gray little man with beady, bird-like eyes who, as he talked, bowed and gesticulated. Behind him stood a younger man, a more modern edition of the other. He also bowed and, behind gold eye-glasses, smiled ingratiatingly.
The judge nodded, and leaning forward, for a few moments fixed his eyes upon the prisoner.
“You are a very fortunate young man,” he said. He laid his hand upon a pile of letters. “When you were your own worst enemy, your friends came to help you. These letters speak for you; your employers, whom you robbed, have pleaded with me in your favor. It is urged, in your behalf, that at the time you committed the crime of which you are found guilty, you were intoxicated. In the eyes of the law, that is no excuse. Some men can drink and keep their senses. It appears you can not. When you drink you are a menace to yourselfand, as is shown by this crime, to the community. Therefore, you must not drink. In view of the good character to which your friends have testified, and on the condition that you do not touch liquor, I will not sentence you to jail, but will place you in charge of the probation officer.”
The judge leaned back in his chair and beckoned to Mr. Andrews. It was finished. Spear was free, and from different parts of the courtroom people were moving toward the door. Their numbers showed that the friends of the young man had been many. Mr. Thorndike felt a certain twinge of disappointment. Even though the result relieved and pleased him, he wished, in bringing it about, he had had some part.
He begrudged to Isaacs & Sons the credit of having given Spear his liberty. His morning had been wasted. He had neglected his own interests, and in no way assisted those of Spear. He was moving out of the railed enclosure when Andrews called him by name.
“His honor,” he said impressively, “wishes to speak to you.”
The judge leaned over his desk and shook Mr. Thorndike by the hand. Then he made a speech. The speech was about public-spirited citizens who, to the neglect of their own interests, came to assist the ends of justice, and fellow-creatures in misfortune. He purposely spoke in a loud voice, and every one stopped to listen.
“The law, Mr. Thorndike, is not vindictive,” he said. “It wishes only to be just. Nor can it be swayed by wealth or political or social influences. But when there is good in a man, I, personally, want to know it, and when gentlemen like yourself, of your standing in this city, come here to speak a good word for a man, we would stultify the purpose of justice if we did not listen. I thank you for coming, and I wish more of our citizens were as unselfish and public-spirited.”
It was all quite absurd and most embarrassing, but inwardly Mr. Thorndike glowed with pleasure. It was a long time since any one had had the audacity to tell him he had done well. From the friends of Spear there was a ripple of applause, which no tipstaff took it upon himself to suppress, and to the accompaniment of this, Mr. Thorndike walked to the corridor. He was pleased with himself and with his fellow-men. He shook hands with Isaacs & Sons, and congratulated them upon their public spirit, and the type-writer firm upon their public spirit. And then he saw Spear standing apart regarding him doubtfully.
Spear did not offer his hand, but Mr. Thorndike took it, and shook it, and said: “I want to meet your mother.”
And when Mrs. Spear tried to stop sobbing long enough to tell him how happy she was, and how grateful, he instead told her what a fine son she had, and that he remembered when Spear used to carry flowers to town for her. And she remembered it, too, and thanked him for the flowers. And he told Spear, when Isaacs & Sons went bankrupt, which at the rate they were giving away their money to the Hebrew Hospital would be very soon, Spear must come back to him. And Isaacs & Sons were delighted at the great man’s pleasantry, and afterward repeated it many times, calling upon each other to bear witness, and Spear felt as though some one had given him a new backbone, and Andrews, who was guiding Thorndike out of the building, was thinking to himself what a great confidence man had been lost when Thorndike became a banker.
The chief clerk and two bank messengers were waiting by the automobile with written calls for help from the office. They pounced upon the banker and almost lifted him into the car.
“There’s still time!” panted the chief clerk.
“There is not!” answered Mr. Thorndike. His tone was rebellious, defiant. It carried all the authority of a spoiled child of fortune. “I’ve wasted most of this day,” he declared, “and I intend to waste the rest of it. Andrews,” he called, “jump in, and I’ll give you a lunch at Sherry’s.”
The vigilant protector of the public dashed back into the building.
“Wait till I get my hat!” he called.
As the two truants rolled up the avenue the spring sunshine warmed them, the sense of duties neglected added zest to their holiday, and young Mr. Andrews laughed aloud.
Mr. Thorndike raised his eyebrows inquiringly. “I was wondering," said Andrews, “how much it cost you to keep Spear out of jail?”
“I don’t care,” said the great man guiltily; “it was worth it.”