Sep 26 2009
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Jonah was late.
Three minutes late, by the somber reckoning of the Trinity Church clock. Two, by his reliable old Waltham, which had kept him apace for twelve years while the rest of New York hurried to keep up. It was only on this morning, twisted into disorder by weeks of expectation and anxiety, that he had failed the Waltham and himself.
Braced for the wind, he jumped from the streetcar the instant it stopped, and navigated a path through the muddy slush to the sidewalk. There he stepped into the crowd and, with a tip of his bowler as he passed the churchyard, proceeded down Wall Street fueled by stomach-churning anticipation-’twelve years’ worth.
He had been barely nineteen when Bennet Grandborough had first entrusted him with drafts for collection. It seemed a lifetime ago. From runner to clerk to teller, he had lived up to Mr. Grandborough’s faith in him. Even so, a promotion to ranking bank official had seemed as unattainable as the stars. Though he had performed many of the duties of said position during the years of Mr. Crowe’s increasing fragility-’and taken on all the rest upon Mr. Crowe’s passing-’the formal announcement was yet to be made.
Grandborough naturally wanted a respectful interval in which to honor Crowe’s twenty-seven years of service. But in the four weeks since, the impending announcement had hung as weighty and ripe as an apple in autumn, tormenting Jonah increasingly as each day passed without that bounty dropping into his lap. Then, with Christmas past, the directors met-’which pointed to one thing. Today, with the first business of the new year, was the day.
And he was late. Not an auspicious start, but it couldn’t be helped. He’d awakened earlier than usual, but the well-wishes of his fellow boarders at Mrs. Muncy’s had slowed his progress out of the house. He had missed both the usual omnibus to Broadway and the usual streetcar down. Rather than wait, he’d braved the muck and congestion of that thoroughfare until a car could spare him standing room the rest of the way.
Making up for lost time on foot along Wall Street was not to be thought of. The tide of humanity had grown from the customary seven o’clock tempest to a depth and breadth sufficient to drown a fellow. By the time he rounded William Street and covered the short distance to the bank, no amount of reproach in the Waltham’s minute hand could tip the scales against his own. Still, it would not do for Grandborough Bank’s new cashier to be seen dashing madly into lobby. He took the fourteen steps with barely contained haste and arrived at the landing just as the porter opened the door.
"Good morning, sir."
Jonah nodded. "Good morning, Mr. Satterfield."
The clerks and tellers huddled at the far curve of the long counter. Jonah suspected they had stationed themselves there ever since Mr. Grandborough had gathered his vice president and one of the more vocal directors into Crowe’s office, to meet with someone Jonah couldn’t recognize through the glass partition.
Mr. Satterfield coughed gently. "Out late, celebrating, sir?"
"No-’" Jonah tried to pull his thoughts together. The tableau in the office bewildered him. "I was waylaid this morning and had no means to reach Broadway except by my own locomotion-’" He hesitated, aware that Mr. Satterfield, troubled by a war wound which had left him with a limp, might not sympathize with such a complaint.