The Autobiography of a Dollar
by Francis Clement Kelley
I was born in a beautiful city on the banks of a charming river, the
capital of a great nation. Unlike humans, I can remember no childhood,
though it is said that I had a formative period in the care of artists
whose brains conceived the beauty of my face and whose hands realized
the glory of their dreams. But to them I was only a pretty thing of
paper with line and color upon it. They gave me nothing else, and I
really began to live only when some one representing the Great Nation
stamped a seal upon me. Though a bloodless thing, yet I felt a throb
of being. I lived, and the joy of it went rioting through me.
I remember that at first I was confined in a prison, bound with others
by an elastic band which I longed to break that I might escape to the
welcoming hands of men who looked longingly at me through the bars.
But soon one secured me and I went out into a great, wide and very
Of the first months of my life I can remember but very little, only
that I was feverishly happy in seeing, and particularly in doing. I
was petted and admired and sought after. I went everywhere and
everything. So great was my popularity that some even bartered their
peace of mind to obtain me, and others, forced to see me go, shed
tears at the parting. Some, unable to have me go to them otherwise,
actually stole me. But all the time I cared nothing, for I was living
and doing—making men smile and laugh when I was with them and weep
when I went away. It was all the same to me whether they laughed or
cried. I only loved the power that was in me to make them do it and I
believed that the power was without limit.
I was not yet a year old when I began to lose my beauty. I noticed it
first when I fell into the hands of a man with long hair and pointed
beard, who frowned at me and said: "You poor, faded, dirty thing, to
think that I made you!" But I did not care. He had not made me. It was
the Great Nation. Anyhow I could still do things and make even him
long for me. So I was happy.
I was one year and a half old when I formed my first great partnership
with others of my kind, and it came about like this: I had been in the
possession of a poor woman who had guarded me for a week in a most
unpleasant smelling old purse, when I heard a sharp voice ask for
me—nay, demand me, and couple the demand with a threat that my
guardian should lose her home were the demand refused. I was given
over, I hoped, to better quarters, but in this I was sadly
disappointed, for my new owner
confined me in a strong but
ill-favored box where thousands like myself were growing mouldy and
wrinkled, away from the light of day. Sometimes we were released at
night to be carefully counted by candle-light, but that was all. Thus
we who were imprisoned together formed a partnership, but even then we
were not strong enough to free ourselves. One night the box was opened
with a snap and I saw the thin, pale face of my master looking down at
us. He selected me and ninety-nine of my companions and placed us
outside the box.
"There's the money," he said, "as I told you. It's all yours. Are you
satisfied now?" I looked across the table at a young girl with a
white, set face that was very, very beautiful. She did not answer.
"If you want it why don't you take it?" he snarled at her. "I can tell
you again that there is nothing else for you."
The girl had something in her hand that I saw. I see more than most
men. The thing she had made a sharp noise and spit a flame at him. He
fell across the table and something red and warm went all over me. I
began to be unhappy, for I thought I saw that there was something in
the world that could not be bought. For him I cared nothing.
It was strange that after my transfers I was at last used to pay the
judge who tried the girl. I was in the judge's pocket when he
sentenced her to death. He said: "May the Lord have mercy on your
But I knew, for I told you I could see more than most men,
that he didn't believe in the Lord or in souls. He left the court to
spend me at a ——, but I think that I will not mention that shameful
change. There was nothing strange about my falling into the hangman as
part of his pay. I had been in worse hands in the interim.
I saw her die. Not a word did she say about the man she killed, though
it might have saved her to tell of the mock marriage and the other
things I knew she could reveal. She thought it better to die, I
suppose, than be shamed. So she died—unbought. It made me still more
unhappy to think of it at all. The dark stain never left me, but I
cared nothing for that. What troubled was that I knew she wanted me,
was starving for what I could buy, but spurned me and died rather than
take me. There was something that had more power than I possessed.
I made up my mind to forget, so my next effort was the greatest I had
yet made—my partnership with millions of others. I traveled long
distances over and over again. I dug gold from the earth and so
produced others like myself. I built railroads, skyscrapers,
steamships and great public works. I disguised myself, in order to
enhance my power, under new forms of paper and metal, coin, drafts,
checks, orders and notes. Indeed I scarcely knew myself when I
returned to the bill with the red stain upon it. My partners were
nearly all with us one
day when the master came in with a man and
pointed us out to him. The man shook his head. It was a great, massive
head, good to look at. My master talked a long time with him but he
never changed. Then he placed a great roll of us in his hand. He threw
us down, kicked us, and went out without a look back. I was more
unhappy than ever. He had spurned me, though I knew by his look that
he wanted me. I felt cursed. I had not much power at all. There was
another thing I could not buy.
But a curse came in good earnest two days later. The terror of that
has never left me. I saw a man die who loved me better than his honor
or his God. He refused, dying, to give me back to the man from whom he
had stolen me. The priest who stood by his bed implored him. He
refused and the priest turned from him without saying the words of
absolution. When the chill came on him he hissed and spit at us, and
croaked his curses, but the death rattle kept choking them back into
him, only to have him vomit them into our faces again and again till
he died. The priest came back and looked at him.
"Poor fool!" he said to him, but to me and my companions he said: "YOU
sent him to Hell."
Ah! What a power that was, but while I rejoiced in it I was not glad
enough. He could have conquered had he only willed it. I knew he was
my master long before I mastered him.
His dissipated and drunken children fought for us beside his very bed.
I was wrenched from one hand to the other, falling upon the dirty
floor to be trampled on again and again. When the fight ended I was
torn and filthy, so that, patched and ugly, my next master sent me
back to the great capital to be changed; to have the artists work
again on me and restore my beauty. They did it well, but no artist
could give me new life.
Again I went forth and fell into the hands of a good man. I knew he
was good when I heard him speak to me and to those who were with me.
"God has blessed me," he said, "with riches and knowledge and
strength, but I am only His steward. This money like all the rest
shall be spent in His service." Then we were sent out, thousands of
us, returning again and again, splitting into great and small parties,
but all coming and going hither and thither on errands of mercy.
Now I felt my love of doing return. Never did I now see a tear that I
did not dry. Never did I hear a sigh that I did not change to a laugh;
never a wound that I did not heal; never a pain that I did not soothe;
nor a care I did not lighten. Where the sick were found, I visited
them; where the poor were, I bought them bread. Out on the plains and
in the desert I lifted the Cross of Hope and the Chalice of Salvation.
To the dying I sped the Minister of Pardon. Into the darkness and the
of death I sent the Light of love and hope and truth, till,
rich in the deeds of mercy I did in my master's name, I felt the call
to another deathbed—his own. I saw my companions flying from the
bounds of the great earth to answer the call. They knew he needed them
now with the rich interest of good deeds they had won for him. Fast
they came and the multitude of them filled him with wonder. The enemy
who hated him pointed to them in derision. "Gold buys hell, not
heaven," he laughed, but we stood around the bed and the enemy could
not pass us. Then we, and deeds we did for him at his command, began
to pray and the prayer was like sweetest music echoing against the
very vault of heaven; and other sounds, like the gentle tones of
harps, were wafted over us, swelling louder and louder till all seemed
changed to a thousand organs, with every stop attuned to the praying.
They were the voices of the children from parts and regions where we
had lifted the Cross. One by one they joined the mighty music till on
the wings of the melody the master was borne aloft, higher and higher
as new voices coming added of their strength. I watched till he was
far above and still rising to heights beyond the ken of dreams.
An Angel touched me.
"Be thou clean," he said, "and go, I charge thee, to thy work. Thy
master is not dead, but only begins his joy. While time is, thou shalt
work for him and
thy deeds of good shall be his own. Wherever thou
shalt go let the Cross arise that, under its shadow, the children may
gather and the song find new strength and new volume to lift him
nearer and nearer the Throne."
So I am happy that I have learned my real power; that I can do what
alone is worth doing—for His sake.