The Thousand Dollar Note

by Francis Clement Kelley

THE three men who sat together around the little library table of the Rectory felt the unpleasant tension of a half-minute of dead silence. The big burly one, with his feet planted straight on the carpet, passed his tongue over his lips and nervously folded and opened the paper in his hands. The tall young chap with creased trousers kept crossing and re-crossing his legs. Neither of them looked at the young priest, who ten minutes before had welcomed them with a merry laugh and had placed them in the most comfortable chairs of his little bookish den, as cordially as if they were the best friends he had in the world. Now the young priest looked old and the half-minute had done it. He was just an enthusiastic boy when the contractor and architect arrived; but he was a care-filled man now, as he sat and nervously passed a handkerchief over his forehead, to find it wet, though the room was none too warm. He seemed to be surmounting an actual physical barrier when he spoke to the big man.

"I do not quite see, Mr. McMurray" (it had been "John" ten minutes before), "I do not quite see,"  he repeated anxiously, "how I can owe you so much. You know our contract was plain, and the bid that I accepted from you was six thousand eight hundred dollars."

"Yes, sur; yes, sur; it was, sur," answered McMurray with shifting embarrassment, "but you know these other things were extras, sur."

"But I did not order any extras, Mr. McMurray," urged the priest.

"Yes, sur; yes, sur, you did, sur. I told you the foundations was sandy, sur, and that we had to go down deeper than the specifications called fur. It cost in labor, sur,"—McMurray did not seem to be enjoying his explanation—"fur diggin' and layin' the stone. Then you know, sur, it takes more material to do it, sur. You said, yes—to go ahead, sur."

"But you did not tell me it would cost more," urged the priest.

"No, sur; no, sur; I didn't, sur; but a child would know that. Now look here at the plans."

"Just a minute, Mr. McMurray," broke in the architect, suavely. "Let me explain. You see, Father, I was your representative both as architect and superintendent of the building. I know that McMurray's bill of extras is right. I passed on them and everything he did was necessary. There are extras, you know, on every building." 

"But," said the priest, "I told you I had only eight thousand dollars, and that the furnishings would take all over the amount called for by the contract. You can not expect to get blood out of a stone. Here now you say I must pay a thousand dollars more; but where can I get the money?"

"Well, Father," said the architect, "I don't think you will have to worry much about that. You priests always manage somehow, and you got off cheap enough. That church is worth ten thousand dollars, if it's worth a cent; and McMurray did you a clean, nice job. Now one thousand dollars won't hurt you; the Bishop will be reasonable and you will get the money in a year or so."

"It looks as if I had to get it, somehow. I don't see how I can do anything else," answered the priest. "This thing has sort of stunned me. Give me one month and let me do my best. I wish I had never started that building at all."

"Yes, sur; yes, sur," said McMurray quickly. "You can have a month, sur. I am not a hard man, sur; but I've got to pay off me workers, you know. But take the month, sur, take it—take it."

McMurray looked longingly at the door.

All three had arisen; but the priest's step had lost its spring as he escorted his visitors out.

Both of them were silent for the distance of a block away from the Rectory, and then McMurray said: 

"Yes, sur; yes, sur; I feel like ——."

"I do too," broke in the architect. "I know what you were going to say. He took it pretty hard."

Not another word was spoken by either of them until the hotel was reached, and they had drowned the recollection of the young face, with the look of age upon it, in four drinks at the bar.

When the priest, with a slight look of relief, closed the door upon his visitors and bolted it after them, he had perhaps seen a little humor in the situation; but the bolting of the door was the only sign of it. His face was still grave when he stood, silent and stunned, staring at the bill on the table.

"The good Lord help me," he prayed. "One thousand dollars and the Bishop coming in two weeks! What can I say to him? What can I do?"

He pulled out a well thumbed letter from his pocket and read it to himself, though he knew every word by heart.

"Dear Father Ryan,—I am pleased at your success, especially that you built the church, as I told you to, without debt. The congregation is too poor for any such burden. I will be there for the dedication on the 26th.

"And by the way. You may get ready for that change I spoke of. I am as good as my word, and will not delay about promoting you. The parish of Lansville is vacant. In a month you may consider yourself its pastor. In the meantime, I will look  around to select one of the young men to take your place and begin the work of building a house. God bless you.

"Sincerely yours in Christ,

Thomas, Bishop of Tolma.

"All these years," whispered the young priest, "all these years, I have waited for that place. I meant to have a home and mother with me, and at least enough to live on after my ten years of sacrifice; but one thousand dollars spoils it all. How can I raise it? I can not do it before the 26th and the Bishop will ask for my report. How can I tell him after that letter?"

He dropped the letter over the contractor's bill and sat down, with discouragement written on every line of his face. He was trying to think out the hardest problem of his life.

The town wherein Father Ryan had built his church had been for years on the down-grade, so far as religion was concerned. There were in it forty indifferent, because neglected, Catholic families. They had just enough religion left in them to desire a little more, and they had a certain pride left, too, in their Faith.

Father Ryan builded on that pride. It was a long and arduous work he had faced. But after ten years he succeeded in erecting the little church. His warnings to the architect had gone without heed; and he  found himself plunged into what was for him an enormous debt, just at the time when promotion was assured.

All night long his problem was before him, and in the morning it was prompt to rise up and confront him.

After breakfast the door-bell rang. He answered it himself, to find two visitors on the steps. One was a very venerable looking old priest, who had a kindly way about him and who laid his grip very tenderly on the floor before he shook hands with Father Ryan. His companion looked vastly different as he flung a little satchel into the corner, and with a voice as big and hearty as his body informed his host that both had come to stay over Sunday.

"Barry and I have been off for two weeks and we got tired of it," said Father Fanning, the big man. "First vacation in ten years for both of us, but there is nothing to it. Barry got worrying over his school, and I got worrying over Barry, so there you are."

"But why didn't both of you go home?" asked Father Ryan.

"Home! confound it, that's the trouble. I would give anything to go on the other ten miles and get off the train at my little burg, and so would Barry, for that matter; but we were both warned to stay away until Wednesday—reception and all that sort of thing. So now we are going to stay here." 

"That's all right," said Father Ryan. "I am glad to have you, but this is Saturday and to-morrow is Sunday, and—"

"Now, now, go easy, young man, go easy. I simply won't preach. It is no use asking me. I am on a vacation, I tell you. So is Barry. He won't talk, so I have to defend him. You wouldn't want a man to work on his vacation, would you?"

"Well, if you won't, you won't," replied Father Ryan, "but you will say the late Mass, anyhow? You'll have to do something for your board."

"All right, I will, then. Barry can say his Mass in private, and you say the first, yourself. Then you can preach as short and as well as you can, which is not saying much for you."

"Well, seeing that it is Seminary Collection Sunday," interrupted Father Ryan, "I won't lack for a subject."

Father Ryan had a great weakness for the Seminary, which was entitled to an annual collection in the entire Diocese. He had studied there for six years and, since his ordination, not one of his old professors had been changed. Then he knew his obligations to the Seminary; he was one of those who took obligations seriously. So Father Fanning was obliged, after hearing the sermon next day, to change his mind regarding his friend's ability to preach well. Father Ryan's discourse was an appeal, simple and heartfelt, for his Alma Mater. 

He closed it very effectively: "I owe the Seminary, my dear friends," he said, "about all that I have of priestly equipment. Nothing that I may ever say or do can repay even a mite of the obligation that is upon me. As for you, and the other Catholics of this Diocese, you owe the Seminary for nine-tenths of the priests who have been successfully carrying on God's work in your midst. The collection to-day is for that Seminary. In other words, it is for the purpose of helping to train priests who shall take our places when we are gone. On the Seminary depends the future of the Church amongst you: therefore, the future of religion in your families. Looking at this thing in a selfish way, for the present alone, there is perhaps no need of giving your little offering to this collection; but if you are thinking of your children and your children's children, and the future of religion, not only in this community but all over our State, and even in the Nation, you will be generous—even lavish, in your gifts. This is a poor little parish. We have struggled hard, God knows, to build our church, and we need every dollar we can scrape together; but I would rather be in need myself than refuse this appeal. I am entitled by the laws of the Diocese to take out of the collection the average amount of the Sunday collection. I would be ungrateful if I took a cent, so I don't intend to. Every dollar, every penny that you put into this collection shall be sent  to the Bishop for the Seminary; to help him educate worthy priests for our Diocese."

After Mass, Father Fanning shook hands with the preacher.

"I feel ashamed of myself, Ryan," he said, "that I never looked at things in such a light before. That was a great appeal you made. My collection is probably postponed until next Sunday, when I get home to take it up; and I tell you I am going to use every bit of that sermon that I can remember."

Father Ryan had had little time to think over his troubles since his two friends arrived; but, somehow, they seemed to worry him now that the sermon was off his mind. The one thousand dollar debt was weighing upon him even when he went to the door of the church to meet some of the people.

A stranger brushed past him—a big, bluff, hearty looking man, all bone and muscle, roughly dressed and covered with mud. There was a two-horse rig from the livery, at the curb. The stranger started for it; but turned back on seeing the priest.

"I am a stranger here, Father," he said. "I have just come down from the mountains, where I have been prospecting. I have to drive over to Caanan to get the fast train. I find that you have no trains here on Sunday. I hadn't been to Mass for three months, for we have no place to go out there where I was; so it was a great consolation for me to drop in and hear a good sermon. And I tell you it  was a good sermon. That was a great appeal you made."

Father Ryan could only murmur, "Thank you. You are not staying very long with us?"

"No, I can't stay, Father. I have to get to New York and report on what I found. I have about fourteen miles of mud before me now, and have driven twenty miles this morning. I don't belong around here at all. I live in New York; but I may be here a good deal later, and you are the nearest priest to me. Take this and put it in the collection."

The rough man shoved a note into Father Ryan's hand. By this time they both had reached the livery rig. A quick "Good-bye" from the visitor, and a "God bless you" from Father Ryan, ended the conversation.

The priest thrust the note into his pocket and returned to the house. When he entered the dining-room, Father Fanning was taking breakfast at the table. Father Barry was occupying himself with a book, which he found difficulty in reading, on account of the enthusiastic comments of his friend on Father Ryan's sermon.

"We were talking about you, Ryan," he said. "And there is no need of telling you what we had to say about you; but there is one thing I would like to ask. What's wrong with you since we came?"

"Why, nothing," said Father Ryan. "Haven't I treated you better than you deserve?" 

"That is all right, that is all right," interrupted his big neighbor, "but there is something wrong. You were worried at first. Then you dropped it, but you started to worry again just as soon as you came out of the sanctuary. You were at it when we came in and you are at it now. Come, Ryan, let us know what it is. If it is money, well—"

Father Barry looked up quickly from his book and said: "Surely, it is not the new church, is it?"

The young pastor sat down in a chair at the table and looked at his friends, before he spoke. "Well, I never could keep a secret," he said. "Therefore, I suppose I never will be a trusted counselor of anybody, and must always be seeking a counselor for myself."

"I always hate a man who can keep a secret," said Father Fanning. "I always believe that the fellow who can keep a secret is the fellow you have to watch. You never know what he is thinking about, so nobody ever is sure of him. Don't be ashamed now of not being able to keep a secret, and don't worry yourself by keeping this one. Out with it."

"Well, it is about the church," said Father Ryan.

And he told his story.

"Well, of all the strange characters I ever met," said Father Fanning, "you certainly are the worst, Ryan. Here you are in a box about that thousand  dollars and yet this morning you gave away your own share of the collection, besides booming the Seminary. Why man, the Seminary ought not ask anything from you, in your present condition. But there is no use trying to pound sense into you. What are you going to do about this? It is too much money for Barry and myself to take care of. Bless your heart, I don't think he has fifty dollars to his name and I wouldn't like to tell you the state of my finances. We have to think out some way. Maybe Barry can see the Bishop."

"Well, we'll have to stop thinking about it," said Father Ryan. "I might just as well settle down where I am. I certainly will not get very much of a promotion now. By the way, did you notice the big man, covered with mud, in the church?"

"No," said Father Fanning, "I did not notice him. Who was he? What about him?"

"He was a stranger," said Father Ryan, "and was very pleasant. He is a prospector from New York. He has been up in the mountains and away from church for the last three months. He must have found something up there, because he is going on to New York to meet his backers; at least, that is what I judged from his talk. He is driving over to Caanan to-day to catch the fast train."

"I wonder if he put anything in the collection?" said Father Fanning. 

"No, he did not," answered the pastor, "but he gave it to me afterward and told me to put it in. By the way, here it is."

He pulled the note out of his pocket and laid it flat on the table. The three men gasped for breath. It was a thousand dollars.

Father Fanning was the first to find words. "Great Scott, Ryan," he said, "you ought to go out and thank God on your knees before the altar. Here is the end of your trouble. Why the man must be a millionaire."

Father Ryan's face was all smiles. "Yes," he said, "it is the end of my trouble. I never dreamed it would come to an end so easily. Thanks be to God for it."

The little old priest with the book in front of him seemed to have no comment to make. He let his two friends ramble on, both overjoyed at the good fortune that had extricated Father Ryan from his dilemma. But he was not reading. He was thinking. By and by he spoke.

"What did you say you preached on to-day, Father Ryan?"

"Why," broke in Fanning, "he preached on the Seminary. Didn't I tell you! And a good sermon—"

"Yes, I preached on the Seminary," said Father Ryan. 

"But did I not hear Father Fanning say that you pledged every dollar that came into the collection to the Seminary."

"Why, surely," said Father Ryan, "but this did not come in through the collection."

"Yes," persisted Father Barry, "but did you not say that the strange man told you to put it into the collection?"

"Why—yes—yes, he did say something like that."

"Well, then," urged Father Barry, "is it not a question to be debated as to whether or not you can do anything else with the money?"

"Oh, confound it all, Barry," cried Father Fanning. "You are a rigorist. You don't understand this case. Now there's no use bringing your old syllogisms into this business. This man is in a hole. He has got to get out of it. What difference is it if I put my money in one pocket or in the other pocket. This all belongs to God anyhow. The thousand dollar note was given to the Church, and the most necessary thing now is to pay the debt on that part of it that's here. Why the Seminary doesn't need it. The old Procurator would drop dead if he got a thousand dollars from this parish."

"Well, so far as I can see," said Father Barry, "what you say does not change matters any. Father Ryan promised every dollar—and every cent for that matter—in that collection to the Seminary.  This money forms part of the collection. I know perfectly well that most men would argue as you do, but this is a case of conscience. The money was given for a specific purpose, and in my judgment, if Father Ryan uses it for any other purpose than the one for which it was given, he simply will have to make restitution later on to the Seminary.

"That's an awful way of looking at things," said Father Fanning. "Confound it, I am glad I don't have to go to you for direction. Why, its getting worse instead of better, you are. The giver of this money would be only too glad to have it go to pay off the debt. What does he know about the Seminary? He was attending the little church out here, and whatever good he got from his visit came through Father Ryan and his people. He is under obligation to them first. Can't you see that it does not make any difference, after all. It is the same thing."

"No, it is not the same thing," said Father Barry. "Perhaps we are too much tempted to believe that gifts of this kind might be interchangeable. We are full of zeal for the glory of God at home, and that means that sometimes we unconsciously are full of zeal for our own glory. Look it up. I may be wrong, and I do not want to be a killjoy; but we would not wish our friend here to act first and do a lot of sorrowful thinking afterward."

It was Wednesday morning when the two visitors left, and the discussions only ended when the  door closed upon them. There was not a theological book in Father Ryan's library left unconsulted.

When Father Fanning was at the door, grip in hand, he said: "Well, I guess we have come to no conclusion, Ryan. You will have to finish it, yourself, and decide for yourself. But there is one thing I can testify to, besides the stubbornness of my venerable friend here, and that is that I have learned more theology out of this three-day discussion than I learned in three years previously. There is nothing like a fight to keep a fellow in training."

His friends gone, Father Ryan went straight to his desk and wrote this letter to his Bishop:

Your Lordship—I am sending herewith enclosed my Seminary collection. It amounts to $1,063.10. You may be surprised at the first figure; but there was a thousand dollar note handed to me for that particular collection. I congratulate the Seminary on getting it.

"The church is ready for dedication as your Lordship arranged.

"Kindly wire me and I will meet you at the train."

Then Father Ryan went to bed. He did not expect to sleep very much that night; but in spite of his worry, and to his own great surprise, he had the most peaceful sleep of all the years of his priesthood. 

The church was dedicated. The Bishop, severe of face, abrupt in manner, but if the truth were known, kindly at heart, finished his work before he asked to see the books of the parish.

Father Ryan was alone with his Lordship when the time for that ordeal came. He handed the books to the Bishop and laid a financial statement before him. The Bishop glanced at it, frowned and then read it through. The frown was still on his face as he looked up at the young priest before him.

"This looks as if you had been practicing a little deceit upon me, Father Ryan," he said. "You wrote me that the church was finished without debt."

"I thought so, my Lord, when I wrote you the letter. I had the money on hand to pay the exact amount of the contract. The architect and the builder came to me later and informed me that there had been extras, of which I knew nothing, amounting to one thousand dollars. I am one thousand dollars behind. I assure your Lordship that it was not my fault, except that perhaps I should have known more about the tactics of the men I was dealing with. I will have to raise the money some way; and, of course, I do not expect your Lordship to send me to Lansville. I am sorry, but I have done the best I could. I will know more about building next time."

The Bishop had no word to say. Though the frown appeared pretty well fixed upon his face, it did not seem quite natural. There was a twinkle in  his eye that only an expert on bishops could perceive.

"But you sent me one thousand dollars more than I could have expected only this week, for the Seminary," he said. That surely indicates that you have some people here who might help you out of your dilemma."

"I am sorry, your Lordship," said Father Ryan, "but it does not indicate that at all. I have no rich people. All of my people have done the best they could for the new church. I will have to give them a rest for a year and stay here and face the debt. The man who gave the thousand dollar bill was a stranger—a miner. I do not know him at all. He did not even give his name, but said the money was for the collection. I could not find any authority for keeping it for the church here, though, to be candid, I wanted to do it. That is all."

The Bishop still kept his eye on him. "Of course you know that your appointment to Lansville was conditional."

"I understand that, your Lordship," said Father Etan. "You have no obligation to me at all in that regard."

"Will you kindly step to the door and ask my Chancellor to come in?"

When the Chancellor entered, the Bishop said to him: "Have you the letter I received from Mr. Wilcox?" 

The Chancellor handed the Bishop the letter, who unfolded it and, taking another glance at the dejected young pastor, read it to him. It was very much to the point.

"Dear Bishop,—You may or may not know me, but I knew you when you were pastor of St. Alexis in my native town. The fact is, you baptized me. I would not even have known where you were, had it not been for a mistake I made this morning. I came down from the mountains and went to Mass at Ashford. When I was going away I gave the young priest a thousand dollar note. If you recognize my name, you will understand that it was not too much for me to give, for though I am a stingy sort of fellow, the Lord has blessed me with considerable wealth. I remember saying to the young priest that I wanted him to put it in the collection, which as I remember now, was for the Seminary. I figured it out that he would be sending the collection to you.

"Now, I don't like to disappoint you, dear Bishop, but I did not intend that money to go to the Seminary, but to the pastor for the little parish. Later on, when developments start in the mountains, and they will start when I get back to New York, I may need that young priest to come up and take care of my men; so I want the money to go to his church, which, from what my driver told me coming over, needs it. I may take care of the Seminary later on,  for I expect to be around your section of the country a great deal in the future.

"Respectfully yours,

"Paul Wilcox."

Through tear-dimmed eyes Father Ryan saw all the sternness go out of the Bishop's face.

"Mr. Wilcox," said his Lordship, "is a millionaire many times over. He is one of the largest mine operators in the world. He likes to do things of this kind. You may go to Lansville, Father Ryan; but I think, if I were you, I would stay here. When Wilcox says things are going to move, they usually do. Think it over and take your choice. Here is your thousand dollars. I do not find it a good thing, Father, to praise people; especially those I have to govern, so I am not going to praise you for what you have done. It was right, and it was your duty. I appreciate it."