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The Lost Receipts by Rev. Horatio Alger, Jr.

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: The Lost Receipts.
In: Vickery's Fireside Visitor. Augusta, Me. : P.O. Vickery, 1896. Vol. 22, no. 21 (Dec. 1896)
Published: Augusta, Me. : P.O. Vickery, 1893.
Format: p. 4 ; 39 cm.
Other Name: Miller, Paul.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Vickery's Fireside Visitor
Location: PS 1029 .A3 L68 1896a (Special Collections Ovsze)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Edited by Sam S. Manivong
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
10-June-1999


"But I am sure, Mr. Palmer, that my husband made several payments on the house. I remember his telling me he bought it for twelve hundred dollars, and was to pay two hundred dollars a year, besides interest, until the whole should be paid. That was four years before his debt, and if he had failed to do this he would certainly have told me. I feel quite confident that he has paid eight hundred dollars toward the price."

"In that case," said the other coolly, "you are of course prepared to show the receipts. It is not likely your husband would have neglected to take them."

"That is what puzzles me, Mr. Palmer. I have hunted everywhere and cannot find them. My husband had no regular place of deposit for his papers. He was rather apt to be careless about such matters, and my search hitherto has been fruitless."

"For a very good reason, I am inclined to think," said Mr. Palmer, with a sneer, "That which never existed probably will not be found."

"But surely, Mr. Palmer, you have found among your uncle's papers some record of the payments. Surely you have?"

Mrs. Owen looked beseechingly at the hard face of Mr. Palmer, but he had too little heart to be affected.

"If I had, Mrs. Owen," he replied, "I should not be very apt to come and exact the movey over again. No, I tell you, the payments were never made. The interest was paid, and that was all. As I have before said, I have occasion for the house, as I have promised to let it to another person, and as you, by your husband's failure to meet the terms of the contract, can have no claim to it, I must request you to move out by the first of the month."

"O Sir, have you no pity -- no other house will seem like this. Here my happiest days have been spent -- here my child was born. If you will not admit that the payments have been made, at least give me the preferences as tenant. Let the house to me rather than the other you spoke of."

"I cannot, Mrs. Owen," was the cold reply. "My promise has already been given. Besides, after your fraudulent attempt to cheat me out of my rights, I have no disposition to oblige you."

This last cruel remark aroused Mrs. Owen's indignation, gentle as she ordinarily was.

"Sir," she said with energy, "your taunt is undeserved, and you know it. If I am unjust to you I hope to be forgiven; but I cannot help feeling that you know more of this matter than you are willing to acknowledge, and that if you should tell all you know, my husband's right would be triumphantly vindicated."

John Palmer turned livid with passion, as these indignant words were poured upon out upon him, and, if he had dared, such was his cowardly nature and want of manliness, he would have struck Mrs. Owen, woman as she was.

"You will repent of this," he muttered fiercely. "Fail not at your peril to move out of this house by the first of next month, or I will have your furniture pitched into the street. Remember that!"

With these words he left the house, leaving Mrs. Owen plunged in deep despondency.

A few words will be sufficient to make plain the position of these two.

The house to which reference has been made, was purchased of old Squire Palmer, the uncle of the present owner. The squire had died, and the property had descended to the newphew. The latter was a man of no principle, having a hard, grasping nature, and very little benevolence to counteract it.

He had heard of Mr. Owen's carelessness about important papers, and considerd how he might take advantage of it. Incidentally he learned that the receipts were missing, and although he knew that his claim was unfounded, determined to ignore the payments already made to his uncle, and demand the entire property.

When Mrs. Owen learned this, she was in the greatest distress. Her husband had left her little else beside the house which he had partially paid for; but having only one child she felt confident of being able to get along by taking a few boarders, which had been already promised her. But if in addition she must pay rent, this would make an essential difference, and diminish her chances of self-support.

Therefore Mr. Palmer's warning to move out by the first of next month, filled her with dismay.

What else could she do?

Nothing, unless the receipts were found.

To this object she lent all her energies. They must be somewhere in the house, she thought. Her husband's carelessness and want of regularity had been such that she scarcely knew where to begin in her search. She first examined with the greateds care, the desk chich had been a sort of receptacle for anything and everything. In it she found plenty of papers, letter, and bills, but the most important were missing.

She next searched in all the books in the house, thinking the papers might possibly have been slipped in between the leaves as a book-mark, for singular as it may seem, such was not an unusual custom with her husband when he wished to retain the place. This, however, proved fruitless, and her search now became of a more general character. She hunted in every corner and crevice where she supposed it possible that the papers could have been secreted.

This search was kept up for two days, during which she devoted all her leisure time to the search, but at the end of that time she was obliged with a feeling of bitter disappointment, to own herself vanquished. The missing receipts could nowhere be found. Where they had found their way seemed a profound mystery, which to her mind there seemed no possible way of unravelling.

Let us say to the reader, privately, that it was little matter of surprise that she did not find the papers; the truth was, they were not in the house at all. Where then were they?

Not long before Mr. Owen's death, a peddler had come to the house, with vases to sell, for which he expressed his willingness to receive old clothes in exchange.

Mr. Owen chanced to be at home, and thought it would be a good opportunity to exchange an old coat, which he had thrown aside and would never wear again, for something ornamental.

Although it was rather shabby it was not torn in any way, and the peddler offered in exchange a small vase.

"Agreed!" said Mr. Owen. "I'm glad to get rid of the coat on any terms."

Accordingly the peddler carried off the coat, and the vase was placed on the parlor mantel. But Mr. Owen little knew what a fearfully bad bargain he had made for himself.

In the pocket of this coat were all the receipts he had received from Squire Palmer, in acknowledgment of his payments on the house. When the coat found its way to the second-hand dealers in the city, some papers were found in the pocket but, without examination, were thrown into the fire, where a minute was sufficient to consume them.

So, as the reader will see, Mrs. Owen's position was a really desperate one; there seemed not one chance in ten that her rights would be acknowledged. But all human chances and probabilities are as nothing in the eye of Providence, which orders all things aright. Mr. Palmer in his self-complacency, little anticipated a blow which would overwhelm him with the discovery of his intended fraud.

One night the village was startled from its slumbers by the electric cry of "Fire." With the utmost rapidity the intelligence spread until all were made aware that Mr. Palmer's house, the finest in the town, was burning. The engine, manned by a company of villagers, at once proceeded to the scene of conflagration. But it was a bad night for a fire. The wind was fresh, and the flame spread from one part of the house to another, with frightful rapidity. The firemen battled manfully against the destructive element, and did themselves the greatest credit by their intrepidity; but for once they had found their master. They had two elements to contend with—fire and wind—and the contest was unequal. At the end of an hour nothing was left of the costly ruins.

Watching the progress of the conflagration, with haggard looks and fierce despair, stood the owner.

"Five thousand dollars!" he muttered— "the half of my possessions, and not insured. 0 what a consummate fool I was to neglect it. I intended to do it next week, but now—now all is in ruin. Five thousand dollars gone at one swoop."

It was indeed a hard blow for John Palmer. He was a hard, grasping man, as I have said, and his god was his wealth. To its acquisition he had devoted all the energies of his being, and now to have one half of that for which he had sacrificed so much, swept away was to him a fearful thing.

But in the midst of his grief, there came this consolation. He could clear eight hundred dollars by his contemplated fraud upon Mrs. Owen. This would give him back a, part of what he had lost. Two days only remained to the end of the month, and then he would enter into possession.

Meanwhile Mrs. Owen, finding her search fruitless had consulted a lawyer. The lawyer listened to her story with sympathy, for he knew both parties, and had no doubt of her being in the right. At the same time he could not conscientiously encourage her to hope for a favorable issue.

"Frankly," he said, ''Mr. Palmer will have the advantage unless you can produce the receipts. That I consider your only hope.''

"But his uncle no doubt had the payments entered on his book," suggested Mrs. Owen.

"Yes, but there is no livelihood of our getting hold of that. Probably Mr. Palmer has destroyed it."

On the morning after the fire, Mrs. Owen was sitting in an attitude of despondency in her sitting-room, which she must vacate the next day, when a little girl came running in.

"Mrs. Owen," said she, "I was passing the place of the fire this morning, when I, found a piece of paper with your husband's name on it. I thought I would bring it to you, as perhaps it might concern you."

Mrs. Owen took the paper and glanced at it carelessly; but in a moment her carelessness was gone, and she exclaimed excitedly, "Thank heaven! thank heaven!"

To explain her joy let me transcribe the contents of the paper.

"April 1, 18—. Received of Richard Owen two hundred dollars—being the first instalment towards the purchase of his house.

"April 1, 18—. Received from the same two hundred dollars—being the second instalment."

Like acknowledgment was made of two more payments. This paper was in the handwriting of the deceased, and there were upon the same leaf other records to his business.

The next day John Palmer called at the cottage. He found Mrs. Owen was at home, and a lawyer with her.

"Well," said he, "are you ready to move?"

"No," said Mrs. Owen. "Surely you will not force me to this step?"

"Surely I will, madam."

"Have you no humanity, sir?" asked the lawyer.

''I conceive, sir," sneered John Palmer, "that this is no affair of yours. Madam, unless you move out within an hour, I will pitch your furniture into the street."

"Do so at your peril!" said the lawyer, sternly.

"Who will prevent me?" demanded Palmer, furiously.

"This paper," said the lawyer, displaying the four payments. "This acknowledgment in your uncle's handwriting of my client's rights."

With a muttered curse John Palmer left the house. The story got about, and the contemptuous looks with which he was greeted on every side drove him from town. So the house remained in Mrs. Owen's possession, and in two years she was enabled to clear off all incumbrances.