Of course, Mr. Everton was considerably disturbed by the occurrence, and thoughts of retaliation arose in his mind. The style was not that of the editor, and so, though he felt incensed at that personage for admitting the article, he went beyond him, and cast about in his mind for some clue that would enable him to identify the writer. In this he did not long find himself at a loss. He had a man in his employment who possessed all the ability necessary to write the article, and upon whom, for certain reasons, he soon fixed the origin of the attack.
"Have you seen that article in the Gazette?" asked an acquaintance, who came into Everton's office while he sat with the paper referred to still in his hand.
"I have," replied Everton, compressing his lips.
"Well, what do you think of it?"
"It'll do no harm, of course; but that doesn't touch the malice of the writer."
"Nor make him any the less base at heart."
"Do you know the author?"
"I believe so."
"Who is he?"
"My impression is, that Ayres wrote it."
"Why, he is indebted to you for his bread!"
"I know he is, and that makes his act one of deeper baseness."
"What could have induced him to be guilty of such a thing?"
"That's just what I've been trying to study out, and I believe I understand it all fully. Some six months ago, he asked me to sign a recommendation for his appointment to a vacant clerkship in one of our banks. I told him that I would do so with pleasure, only that my nephew was an applicant, and I had already given him my name. He didn't appear to like this, which I thought very unreasonable, to say the least of it."
"Why, the man must be insane! How could he expect you to sign the application of two men for the same place? Especially, how could he expect you to give him a preference over your own nephew?"
"Some men are strangely unreasonable."
"We don't live long in this world ere becoming cognisant of that fact."
"And for this he has held a grudge against you, and now takes occasion to revenge himself."
"So it would seem. I know of nothing else that he can have against me. I have uniformly treated him with kindness and consideration."
"There must be something radically base in his character."
"I'm afraid there is."
"I wouldn't have such a man in my employment."
Everton shrugged his shoulders and elevated his eyebrows, but said nothing.
"A man who attempts thus to injure you in your business by false representations, will not hesitate to wrong you in other ways," said the acquaintance.
"A very natural inference," replied Everton. "I'm sorry to have to think so badly of Ayres; but, as you say, a man who would, in so base a manner, attack another, would not hesitate to do him an injury if a good opportunity offered."
"And it's well for you to think of that."
"True. However, I do not see that he has much chance to do me an ill-turn where he is. So far, I must do him the justice to say that he is faithful in the discharge of all his duties."
"He knows that his situation depends upon this."
"Of course. His own interest prompts him to do right here; but when an opportunity to stab me in the dark offers, he embraces it. He did not, probably, imagine that I would see the hand that held the dagger."
"But I am not so blind as he imagined. Well, such work must not be permitted to go unpunished."
"It ought not to be. When a man indulges his ill-nature towards one individual with entire impunity, he soon gains courage for extended attacks, and others become sharers in the result of his vindictiveness. It is a duty that a man owes the community to let all who maliciously wrong him feel the consequences due to their acts."
"No doubt you are right; and, if I keep my present mind, I shall let my particular friend Mr. Ayres feel that it is not always safe to stab even in the dark."
The more Mr. Everton thought over the matter, the more fully satisfied was he that Ayres had made the attack upon him. This person was engaged as reporter and assistant editor of his newspaper, at a salary of ten dollars a week. He had a family, consisting of a wife and four children, the expense of whose maintenance rather exceeded than came within his income, and small accumulations of debt were a natural result.
Everton had felt some interest in this man, who possessed considerable ability as a writer; he saw that he had a heavy weight upon him, and often noticed that he looked anxious and dejected. On the very day previous to the appearance of the article above referred to, he had been thinking of him with more than usual interest, and had actually meditated an increase of salary as a compensation for more extended services. But that was out of the question now. The wanton and injurious attack which had just appeared shut up all his bowels of compassion, and so far from meditating the conferring of a benefit upon Ayres, he rather inclined to a dismissal of the young man from his establishment. The longer he dwelt upon it, the more inclined was he to pursue this course, and, finally, he made up his mind to take some one else in his place. One day, after some struggles with himself, he said, "Mr. Ayres, if you can suit yourself in a place, I wish you would do so in the course of the next week or two."
The young man looked surprised, and the blood instantly suffused his face.
"Have I not given you satisfaction?" inquired Ayres.
"Yes -- yes -- I have no fault to find with you," replied Mr. Everton, with some embarrassment in his air. "But I wish to bring in another person who has some claims on me."
In this, Mr. Everton rather exceeded the truth. His equivocation was not manly, and Ayres was deceived by it into the inference of a reason for his dismissal foreign to the true one.
"Oh, very well," he replied, coldly. "If you wish another to take my place, I will give it up immediately."
Mr. Everton bowed with a formal air, and the young man, who felt hurt at his manner, and partly stunned by the unexpected announcement that he must give up his situation, retired at once.
On the next day, the Gazette contained another article, in which there was even a plainer reference to Mr. Everton than before, and it exhibited a bitterness of spirit that was vindictive. He was no longer in doubt as to the origin of these attacks, if he had been previously. In various parts of this last article, he could detect the particular style of Ayres.
"I see that fellow is at work on you again," said the person with whom he had before conversed on the subject.
"Yes; but, like the viper, I think he is by this time aware that he is biting on a file."
"Ah! Have you dismissed him from your service?"
"You have served him right. No man who attempted to injure me should eat my bread. What did he say?"
"Nothing. What could he say? When I told him to find himself another place as quickly as possible, his guilt wrote itself in his countenance."
"Has he obtained a situation?"
"I don't know; and, what is more, don't care."
"I hope he has, for the sake of his family. It's a pity that they should suffer for his evil deeds."
"I didn't think of them, or I might not have dismissed him; but it is done now, and there the matter rests."
And there Mr. Everton let it rest, so far as Ayres was concerned. The individual obtained in his place had been, for some years, connected with the press as news collector and paragraph writer. His name was Tompkins. He was not a general favourite, and had never been very highly regarded by Mr. Everton; but he must have some one to fill the place made vacant by the removal of Ayres, and Tompkins was the most available person to be had. There was a difference in the Journal after Tompkins took the place of assistant editor, and a very perceptible difference; it was not for the better.
About three months after Mr. Everton had dismissed Ayres from his establishment, a gentleman said to him,
"I am told that the young man who formerly assisted in your paper is in very destitute circumstances."
"Yes. That is his name."
"I am sorry to hear it. I wish him no ill; though he tried to do me all the harm he could."
"I am sorry to hear that. I always had a good opinion of him; and come, now, to see if I can't interest you in his favour."
Everton shook his head.
"I don't wish to have any thing to do with him."
"It pains me to hear you speak so. What has he done to cause you to feel so unkindly towards him?"
"He attacked me in another newspaper, wantonly, at the very time he was employed in my office."
"Yes, and in a way to do me a serious injury."
"That is bad. Where did the attack appear?"
"In the Gazette."
"Did you trace it to him?"
"Yes; or, rather, it bore internal evidence that enabled me to fix it upon him unequivocally."
"Did you charge it upon him?"
"No. I wished to have no quarrel with him, although he evidently tried to get up one with me. I settled the matter by notifying him to leave my employment."
"You are certain that he wrote the article?"
"Oh, yes; positive."
And yet the very pertinence of the question threw a doubt into the mind of Mr. Everton.
The gentleman with whom he was conversing on retiring went to the office of the Gazette, with the editor of which he was well acquainted.
"Do you remember," said he, "an attack on Mr. Everton, which, some time ago, appeared in your paper?"
The editor reflected a few moments, and then replied:
"A few months since, two or three articles were published in the Gazette that did refer to Everton in not a very kind manner."
"Do you know the author?"
"Have you any reasons for wishing to conceal his name?"
"None at all. They were written by a young man who was then in my office, named Tompkins."
"You are certain of this?"
"I am certain that he brought them to me in his own manuscript."
"Everton suspected a man named Ayres to be the author."
"His assistant editor at the time?"
"Yes; and what is more, discharged him from his employment on the strength of this suspicion."
"What injustice! Ayres is as innocent as you are."
"I am glad to hear it. The consequences to the poor man have been very sad. He has had no regular employment since, and his family are now suffering for even the common necessaries of life."
"That is very bad. Why didn't he deny the charge when it was made against him?"
"He was never accused. Everton took it for granted that he was guilty, and acted from this erroneous conclusion."
"What a commentary upon hasty judgments! Has he no employment now?"
"Then I will give him a situation. I know him to be competent for the place I wish filled; and I believe he will be faithful."
Here the interview ceased, and the gentleman who had taken the pains to sift out the truth returned to Everton's office.
"Well," said he, on entering, "I believe I have got to the bottom of this matter."
"What matter?" asked Everton, looking slightly surprised.
"The matter of Ayres's supposed attack upon you."
"Why do you say supposed?"
"Because it was only supposed. Ayres didn't write the article of which you complain."
"How do you know?"
"I've seen the editor of the Gazette."
"Did he say that Ayres was not the author?"
"Who wrote it then?"
"A man named Tompkins, who was at the time employed in his office."
Everton sprang from his chair as if he had been stung.
"Tompkins!" he exclaimed.
"So he says."
"Can it be possible! And I have the viper in my employment."
"Yes; he has filled the place of Ayres nearly ever since the latter was dismissed from my office."
"Then you have punished the innocent and rewarded the guilty."
"So much for taking a thing for granted," said Everton, as he moved, restlessly, about the floor of his office.
So soon as the editor of the -- -- Journal was alone, he sent for Tompkins, who was in another part of the building. As the young man entered his office, he said to him, in a sharp, abrupt manner, --
"Do you remember certain articles against me that appeared in the Gazette a few months ago?"
The young man, whose face became instantly red as scarlet, stammered out that he did remember them.
"And you wrote them?"
"Ye -- ye -- yes; bu -- but I have regretted it since, very much."
"You can put on your hat and leave my employment as quickly as you please," said Mr. Everton, angrily. He had little control of himself, and generally acted from the spur of the occasion.
Tompkins, thus severely punished for going out of the way to attack a man against whom he entertained a private grudge, beat a hasty retreat, and left Mr. Everton in no very comfortable frame of mind.
On being so unceremoniously dismissed from employment, Mr. Ayres, who was by nature morbidly sensitive, shrank into himself, and experienced a most painful feeling of helplessness. He was not of a cheerful, confident, hopeful disposition. He could not face the world, and battle for his place in it, like many other men. A little thing discouraged him. To be thrust out of his place so unceremoniously -- to be turned off for another, stung him deeply. But the worst of all was, the supply of bread for his family was cut off, and no other resource was before him.
From that time, for three months, his earnings never went above the weekly average of five dollars; and he hardly knew on one day where he was to obtain employment for the next. His wife, though in poor health, was obliged to dispense with all assistance, and perform, with her own hands, the entire work of the family. This wore her down daily, and Ayres saw her face growing thinner, and her step becoming more feeble, without the power to lighten her burdens.
Thus it went on from week to week. Sometimes, the unhappy man would grow desperate, and, under this feeling, force himself to make applications -- to him humiliating -- for employment at a fair compensation. But he was always unsuccessful.
Sickness at last smote the frame of his wife. She had borne up as long as strength remained, but the weight was too heavy, and she sank under it.
Sickness and utter destitution came together. Ayres had not been able to get any thing at all to do for several days, and money and food were both exhausted. A neighbour, hearing of this, had sent in a basket of provisions. But Ayres could not touch it. His sensitive pride of independence was not wholly extinguished. The children ate, and he blessed the hand of the giver for their sakes; yet, even while he did so, a feeling of weakness and humiliation brought tears to his eyes. His spirits were broken, and he folded his arms in impotent despair. While sitting wrapt in the gloomiest feelings, there came a knock at his door. One of the children opened it, and a lad came in with a note in his hand. On breaking the seal, he found it to be from the publisher of the Gazette, who offered him a permanent situation at twelve dollars a week. So overcome was he by such unexpected good fortune, that he with difficulty controlled his feelings before the messenger. Handing the note to his wife, who was lying on the bed, he turned to a table and wrote a hasty answer, accepting the place, and stating that he would be down in the course of an hour. As the boy departed, he looked towards his wife. She had turned her face to the wall, and was weeping violently.
"It was very dark, Jane," said Ayres, as he took her hand, bending over her at the same time and kissing her forehead, "very dark; but the light is breaking."
Scarcely had the boy departed, when a heavy rap at the door disturbed the inmates of that humble dwelling.
"Mr. Everton!" exclaimed Ayres in surprise, as he opened the door.
"I want you to come back to my office," said the visitor, speaking in a slightly agitated voice. "I never ought to have parted with you. But to make some amends, your wages shall be twelve dollars a week. And here," handing out some money as he spoke, "is your pay for a month in advance."
"I thank you for the offer, Mr. Everton," replied the young man, "but the publisher of the Gazette has already tendered me a situation, and I have accepted it."
The countenance of Mr. Everton fell.
"When did this occur?" he inquired.
"His messenger has been gone only a moment."
Mr. Everton stood for a few seconds irresolute, while his eyes took in the images of distress and destitution apparent on every hand. His feelings no one need envy. If his thoughts had been uttered at the time, his words would have been, "This is the work of my hands!" He still held out the money, but Ayres did not touch it.
"What does he offer you?" he at length asked.
"Twelve dollars a week," was replied.
"I will make it fifteen."
"I thank you," said Ayres, in answer to this, "but my word is passed, and I cannot recall it."
"Then take this as a loan, and repay me when you can."
Saying this, Everton tossed a small roll of bank bills upon the floor, at the feet of the young man, adding as he did so -- "And if you are ever in want of a situation, come to me."
He then hurriedly retired, with what feelings the reader may imagine.
The reason for this suddenly awakened interest on the part of Mr. Everton, Ayres did not know until he entered the service of his new employer. He had the magnanimity to forgive him, notwithstanding all he had suffered; and he is now back again in his service on a more liberal salary than he ever before enjoyed.
Mr. Everton is now exceedingly careful how he takes any thing for granted.