Slightly Deaf by Bracebridge Hemming

Mr. Loyd was a retired shopkeeper residing at The Lodge, Norwood. He had amassed a fortune of thirty thousand pounds in the grocery business, principally by sanding his sugar and flouring his mustard, and other little tricks of the trade. Yet he went to church every Sunday with a clear conscience. At the time I introduce him to you he was a widower with one son, Joseph, aged eighteen.

Joseph was a shy, putty-faced youth, who had the misfortune to be deaf. "Slightly deaf," his father called him, but he grew worse instead of better, and threatened to become as deaf as a post or a beetle in time. Of course his infirmity stood in the way of his getting employment, for he was always making mistakes of a ludicrous and sometimes aggravating nature. Add to this that Joseph was very lean and his father very fat, and you will understand why people called them "Feast and Famine," or "Substance and Shadow."

One morning after breakfast, Mr. Loyd, who had been looking over some paid bills, exclaimed, "Joe."

Joseph was reading the paper, and made no answer.

"Joe," thundered his father.

This time the glasses on the sideboard rang, and Joseph got up, walked to the window and looked out.

"What are you doing?" shouted Mr. Loyd.

"I thought I heard the wind blow," replied Joseph.

"Well! I like that; it was I calling."


"Yes, sir."

Joseph invariably grew very angry if he did not hear anybody, for he was ashamed of his deafness; but he often fell into a brown study and was as deaf as an adder.

Besides this he was more deaf on one side than on the other, as is often the case, and he happened to have his very bad ear turned to his father.

"Why don't you speak out?" said he.

"I did," replied Mr. Loyd.

"You always mumble."

"I halloaed loud enough to wake the dead."

"You know I'm slightly deaf."

"Slightly! You'll have to buy an ear-trumpet."

"Trumpet be blowed," answered Joseph.

"Here, put these bills on the file," exclaimed Mr. Loyd, pointing to the bundle.

Joseph advanced to the table, took up the bills, and deliberately threw them into the fire, where they were soon blazing merrily.

Mr. Loyd uttered a cry of dismay, sprang up and ran to the grate, but he was too late to save them.

"You double-barrelled idiot!" he cried.

"What's the fuss now?" asked Joseph calmly.

He always was as cool as a cucumber, no matter what he did.

"You'll never be worth your salt."

"What's my fault?"

"I said salt."

"Keep quiet and I'll get you some."

"No!" roared Mr. Loyd.

"What did you say so for then? It seems to me you don't know your own mind two minutes together."

Mr. Loyd stamped his foot with impatience on the carpet.

"Oh dear! what a trial you are," he exclaimed. "They are receipted bills, and I told you to put them on the file. F. I. L. E. Do you hear that?"

"I hear it now," responded Joe. "It's a pity you won't speak up."

"So I do."

"They'll never call you leather-lungs."

"Oh Joe, Joe! you'll be the death of me. You're a duffer, and it is no use saying you're not. I was going to tell you I'd got a berth for you, but I'm afraid you could not keep it."

"What is it?"

"Clerk in the office of my old friend, Mr. Maybrick, the stockbroker."

"Eh!" said Joseph. "What's a mockstoker?"

"A stockbroker," shouted Mr. Loyd.

"Why didn't you say so at first. Do you think I don't know what that is? I'm not quite such a fool as that comes to."

"You'd aggravate a saint, Joe."

"Paint your toe! Have you gone mad?"

"Great heavens! I shall hit you; get out," shrieked his father.

"Got the gout. Oh! that's another thing. I thought you'd have it. You drink too much port after dinner."

"I say, Joe," cried Mr. Loyd, "are you doing this on purpose? You don't understand a word I say; in fact, you misconstrue everything."

"If that is so I can't help it."

"You're getting worse."

"Don't do that," replied Joe gravely.


"Don't curse me. If I am deaf, that is to say slightly deaf, it is my misfortune, not my fault; you ought to make allowance for me, and speak louder."

"Do you want me to be a foghorn, or a river steam tug?"

"Certainly not."

"Or a cavalry man's trumpet, or a bellowing bull?"

"No, father."

"Or," continued Mr. Loyd with rising temper, "a spouting whale, an Old Bailey barrister, a town-crier, a grampus, a locomotive blowing off steam, an Australian bell-bird, or a laughing jackass?"

"I'm sure I never laugh, so you needn't fling that at me."

"I wish you were dumb as well as deaf," groaned Mr. Loyd.


"Because I might then get you into the asylum."

"File 'em," muttered Joseph. "He's still thinking of the bills."

"Confound him," muttered his father. "He's worse than a county court judgment. I don't know what to do with him."

To soothe his nerves he lighted a cigar, and looking in the fire puffed away at the weed, while Joe again took up the paper and went on reading.

Half-an-hour passed.

Then Mr. Loyd said, "You know you're getting worse, but you're so obstinate you won't admit it, and it's six to four you'll not yield."

Joseph looked up with irritating calmness.

"No, thanks," he exclaimed.

"What do you mean?"

"I never bet."

"Who talked about betting?" yelled his father.

"You offered six to four on the field, and——"

"I didn't. Yah!"

"Never mind; I sha'n't take you," replied Joseph.

Mr. Loyd got up and did a war dance.

"Who asked you to?"

"You did. It only wants six weeks to the Derby, and——"

Mr. Loyd lost all control over himself for the moment. He took up the coal-scuttle and threw it at his son, which was a very reprehensible thing to do; but it did not hurt Joseph, for that intelligent youth saw it coming, and ducking his head, it went with a crash through the window into the street.

"That's a clever thing to do," said Joseph, without so much as winking. "You need not get mad because I won't bet."

His father shook his fist at him.

"You'll be my death," he replied, sinking into a chair with a gasp.

"I can't help it if I am deaf," rejoined the imperturbable Joseph.

"You're sharper than a serpent's tooth."

"It wasn't very sharp of you to break the window."

"Go to Putney!"

"Where am I to get putty?" said Joseph. "Send for a glazier."

"Bless us and save us!" groaned Mr. Loyd.

"There isn't much saving in having a broken window to catch cold by."

Mr. Loyd rushed into the hall, and taking down his hat and coat from the rack, put them on.

"Come up to town at once," he exclaimed; "we'll go and see Mr. Maybrick."

"What's the good of a hayrick?" asked Joseph simply.


"You can't stop a hole in a window with a hayrick."

"I said Maybrick, the broker," roared Mr. Loyd, putting his hands to his mouth.

"I do wish you'd speak out."

"Get a trumpet. Yah!"

"Trump it! we're not playing whist."

"Oh dear!" sighed Mr. Loyd. "He must be apprenticed to Maybrick. I'll pay a premium if it's a hundred pounds. I'm not a hog, and don't want to enjoy this all by myself. I'll share it with another. It's too much for one to struggle with. I can't undertake the worry single-handed, it's too much."

He had to go close up to Joseph and bawl in his ear to make him understand what he wanted, for he had never found his son's deafness so bad as it was that day.

Joseph was quite willing to go, and quitting the house, they took the train and went to town together.

It was yet early in the day, and they reached the broker's office about twelve, finding him in and at leisure. During the journey, Mr. Loyd had impressed upon Joseph the necessity of keeping his ears open as well as he could, for if he made any mistakes he would soon get "chucked," as they say in the City, and Joe promised to be as wideawake as his infirmity would permit him.

How wideawake this was, we shall see.

Mr. Maybrick had done business with Mr. Loyd for many years, and received him in his private office with all the cordiality of an old friend.

"Brought my boy to introduce to you," exclaimed the retired grocer.

"Very glad to know the young gentleman," replied Mr. Maybrick; "take a chair. Have a cigar. Quite a chip of the old block, I see; what's his name?"

"Joseph. Joe for short."

"Very good; now what can I do for you, are you going to open stock?"

"Not to-day."

"Markets are very firm."

"I didn't come for that purpose, Maybrick; I want to get the youngster into your office."

"Oh! yes," answered the broker, "I forgot; you spoke about it a little while ago."

"Last time I was up, when I bought those 'Russians'!"

"Against my advice, and burnt your fingers over them."


"Well, I'll take him. One hundred pounds premium, no salary first year, then seventy pounds and an annual rise according to ability."

"That will do."

"I hope he's smart."

"Smart as a steel trap, though sometimes he's a little absent-minded; and you've got to speak loudly, maybe more than once, but that's only now and again. I'll write you a cheque and leave him here, so that he will know the ropes."

"Very well, I daresay we shall get on. I've ten clerks, and I've only changed once in ten years."

"That speaks well for you."

"I read character, and I'm kind," said Mr. Maybrick. "Sit at my table, you'll find pen and ink."

While Mr. Loyd was getting out his cheque-book and writing the draft, Mr. Maybrick turned his attention to his new clerk.

"Have you ever been out before?" he queried.

"Go out of the door?" replied Joe. "Yes sir, if you want to say anything of a private nature, I'll go with pleasure."

"No! no! do you understand work?"

"I beg your pardon, I sha'n't shirk anything."

"Bless me!" cried the broker, "I mean do you know business?"

"No business," answered Joseph, with a solemn shake of the head; "I am sorry for that; times are dull though, all round."

"I've got plenty, you mistake me, don't run away with that idea, you won't find this an easy place."

"Got a greasy face, have I?" responded Joseph. "It's not very polite of you to tell me that."

"What the——" began Mr. Maybrick, when Joe's father handed him the cheque.

"There's the needful," exclaimed Mr. Loyd.

"Thanks," replied the broker, adding, "I say, old friend isn't Master Joseph a little hard of hearing?"

"Oh! ah! not that exactly."

"What then?"

"He's got a cold in his head."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, he got his feet wet," said Mr. Loyd confidentially, "and I had to bawl at him this morning."

"I thought he was, ahem! a little deaf."

"Bless you no, raise your voice, that's all you've got to do."

"Ah! I see. It's bad to be like that," answered Mr. Maybrick, whose doubts were removed. "The weather's been so bad, everyone has had cold more or less."

Telling the intelligent Joseph that he should expect him home to dinner at seven, Mr. Loyd took leave of the broker, who gave his new clerk some accounts to enter in a book, saying that he might sit in his office for the remainder of that day and he would find him desk-room on the morrow, after which he hurried away to see what was going on in the general room.

Joseph hung up his hat and coat, and set to work. He certainly meant to do his best. They say a certain place, which the Hebrews call Sheol, is paved with good intentions; anyhow the fates were against him. Never before had his deafness been so bad. It seemed to have swooped down upon and swamped him all at once.

Scarcely had he begun his work than he was startled by the ringing of a bell.

It was just over his head and proceeded from the telephone.

Now Joseph knew just as much about a telephone as he did about the phonograph or the dot-and-dash system of telegraphy.

He sprang from his chair, turned ghastly pale, and fancied it was an alarm of fire.

What should he do?

For fully a minute he stood gazing vacantly at the box and the bell.

Then it rang again.

Joseph jumped half-a-foot in the air.

Then he rushed into the general room, where he found Mr. Maybrick talking to a client.

"Please sir, can I disturb you for a moment?" he said.

"I'm very particularly engaged, Loyd," replied the broker.

"Excuse me, but——"

"What is it?"

"There's a bell ringing."

"Oh! the telephone. I forgot to tell you to attend to it."

"It's rung twice."

"Then somebody is in a hurry. Answer and come and tell me what it is."

"How do you do it, sir?"

"Speak through the instrument, ask who it is, and what he wants, and put the tube to your ear."

The fright had somewhat stimulated Joseph's powers of hearing, for he caught these instructions and hastened back to the inner office. After a little experimenting he put himself in communication, and the following colloquy ensued.

"Who is it?" asked Joe.

"Oliphant," was the reply.

"Elephant," mused Joe. "That's funny."

But he went at it again.

"What do you want?"

"By one o'clock, sell 10,000 Mex. Rails."

Joe heard this order imperfectly.

"Buy 10,000 ox-tails," he said to himself. "This is a queer business."

Yet he was not discouraged.

Joe had not come into the City for nothing. He meant to do his duty or perish in the attempt.

"Right," he answered. "Is that all?"

"Yes. I'll call after lunch for the contract note."

"Very well, sir."

Having received his instructions, Joe, very proud of his success in manipulating such a peculiar instrument as the telephone, sought his employer.

"Well, Loyd," exclaimed that gentleman.

"It's all right, sir," replied Joe.

"What is?"

"The elephant wants you to buy him 10,000 ox-tails."

Mr. Maybrick elevated his eyebrows.

"Who did you say?" he demanded in a loud voice.

"The elephant."

"Mr. Oliphant, I suppose you mean."

"Ah! it might have been Oliphant, or Boliphant, it was something like that."

"Ox-tails. Why not Mex. Rails.? Mexican Railways, you know."

"Humph," said Joe, "very likely."

"Are you sure he said 'buy?'"

"Oh! yes, sir, that was distinct enough, and he said he'd come after lunch for the distracting note."

"Contract note."

"It may be that. The gentleman did not speak very distinctly."

"Oliphant has a low voice," said Mr. Maybrick, thoughtfully, "but he's one of my best customers. Perhaps he's heard something; he must have got some information. I'll have a bit in this myself. Oliphant is a very shrewd and careful speculator. That will do, Loyd."

Joseph departed, highly delighted.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Mr. Maybrick when Joe had gone, "my new clerk is an odd one; 'Buy 10,000 ox-tails for the elephant,' that's good. I must tell that story in the House."

He beckoned to his manager, who was a man named Mappin, and told him to buy the required quantity of Mexican railway stock.

"Market's very weak, sir. It's fallen to-day one half already in anticipation of a bad dividend," replied Mappin.

"Can't help that."

Mappin went away to execute the order.

An hour elapsed, and a special edition of an evening paper was brought into the office.

It contained a telegram from Mexico, stating that there had not been one revolution, and two earthquakes in that country before breakfast, as usual, that morning. The railway dividend was remarkably good, and Mexican Preference Stock went up five per cent., at which price the broker took upon himself to close the account, thinking his client would be well satisfied with his profits.

"Clever fellow, Oliphant," muttered Mr. Maybrick; "up to every move on the board. Deuced clever!"

At that moment Mr. Oliphant, who was a stout, red-faced man, inclined to apoplexy, rushed into the office.

He was agitated, and looked as if he was going to have a fit.

"Close the account," he gasped.

"I have done so," was the reply.

"What at?"

"A rise of five per cent."

"It will ruin me," groaned Oliphant.

"How? you telephoned me to buy."

"I said 'sell.'"

"Then my clerk made a mistake," exclaimed Maybrick; "but it's a lucky mistake for both you and I, for I followed your lead."

"You're joking!"

"Never was more serious in my life. I'll give you a cheque at once."

Mr. Oliphant's face brightened.

"And I'll give your wooden-headed clerk a ten pound note," he said.

"That may console him for his dismissal," said Maybrick, dryly.

"Are you going to get rid of him?"

"Most decidedly. I cannot afford to keep a clerk who makes errors of that kind. This time it has come out all right; next time it may be all wrong."

"Just so," replied Mr. Oliphant.

He handed Maybrick the ten pounds, which the broker gave to Mappin, telling him to present it to Joseph, and inform him that his services would not be any longer required, and the premium his father had paid should be returned by post. Then the broker gave Mr. Oliphant his unexpected profits, and they went out to have a bottle of champagne together.

Mappin sought Joseph.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Doing sums," replied Joe, which was his idea of book-keeping.

"Well, you need not do any more."

"No, I don't think it a bore," said Joe. "It's all in the day's work, don't you know?"

"You're not wanted here."

"Can't I hear? what do you know about it?"

"The fool's deaf," cried Mappin, raising his voice. "Take this tenner and go."

Joe heard this plain enough.

"Sacked!" he said, laconically.

"Yes," replied Mappin, nodding his head vigorously.

"What for?"

"Playing the fool with the telephone. We've no use for you."

"Oh! very well. I thought I shouldn't answer."

"You see, we don't run our business on the silent system."

Joe put on his hat and coat, with that perfect unconcern which always distinguished him.

"Good morning," he said, pocketing the note. "I say, I don't think much of telephones, do you?"

"Yes, it's a very clever invention."

"Ah! there's no accounting for taste."

With these words Joseph quitted the office, and took a walk in the City.