The Efficiency Christmas
ON IMPATIENT men like Bennings, cashier for the Glenn Office Supplies Corportion, Nemesis delights to work through trifles.
In this case it began with a pencil grown too short.
He had been furiously working with it, his speed up so to say, when the cramp in his fingers distracted
Formerly, under the regime of “Pop” Glenn and up to his sudden death two weeks before, Bennings would have reached out in the midst of his figuring, taken any one of a dozen ready pencils before him and gone on working. Now, under the newly-formed Corporation headed by Jasper Glenn, “Pop’s” heir and nephew, Bennings would have to present the stub of his old pencil at the supply department before he received a new one. The same applied to nubbins of erasers, pad-backs, typewriter-ribbons and other hitherto unconsidered trifles.
The change from "Pop’s” friendly personal reign to the efficiency system introduced by Jasper Glenn had settled on Bennings’ mind and spirits like gathering clouds. Now it threatened to affect his work. He slapped the pencil down on his desk in annoyance, and the breaking point was an added jab to his nerves.
Then an idea struck him, born of sarcasm and irritation. The two pencils allotted to him at a time had been used up to about three inches each. With his penknife he made four short stubs of them: These he solemnly presented at
the window of the supply department and pronounced a ceremonious “Thank you” to the clerk for the four new pencils received. It sharpened the tang of the joke a little that the man who supervised the supply clerk should l)e looking on at the moment.
With a sardonic smile at his booty of two extra pencils, Bennings again bored into his work, only to be again interrupted.
“Mr. Glenn wants to see you at once,” a messenger
Bennings put away his work. He had not yet come into close contact with Jasper Glenn. “Pop” Glenn, who had built up the business from a tiny stationery store, used to go among his employees like one of themselves. The new chief was a being apart. When he summoned an employee to his private office in work hours it was for some important, or disagreeable reason.
BENNINGS’ knock on the president’s door brought a a sharp summons. Jasper Glenn speared Bennings with a look as he entered. His eyes, quick and gray, swept over him as though looking for expected physical defects. Glenn w as still a youngish man, but hard with the quality of an efficiency machine. He flipped four short pencil-stubs together—Bennings had noticed them on his desk at once—and demanded:
"How many pencils do these represent?”
"Two.” Bennings had to take hold of himself strongly. "And I worked the supply department for four. I’m
Glenn fixed his eyes upon the cashier’s, scenting insubordination.
“And the meaning of this peculation—is what?” he
snapped, leaning* forward impatiently for tlje reply.
Bennings turned red and pale.
“To save my time and youfs.” He spoke under severe control. He had a wife and child to consider. “It breaks up my work every time the two pencils allotted to me get used up and I have to take them to the supply department.” He choked down something he was about to say of the word “peculation.”
“Mr. Bennings. ...” Glenn was clearly touched on the raw, “we have highly-paid supervisors to decide on ways of saving time. All we demand of you is that you obey orders.”
Bennings bowed stiffly and hoped the interview was at an end. But Glenn picked up a catalogue card and asked.
“You have been cashier here for a year and eight months?”
“And you are not yet bonded?”
Glenn made a memorandum on a pad.
“You may return to your work,” he said without another look at Bennings.
Back at his desk Bennings took out his work. But a hot anger would not let him concentrate. His indignation was less at Glenn than at the circumstances that deterred him from answering back as his nerves clamored to do.
Under “Pop” Glenn he had been able to rent a fiveroom bungalow in Glenn Park, a suburb “Pop” had developed, and with his wife’s wise management there had been slowly accumulating in the local bank the money which would some day send their boy Len to college. Then, two years before, when Len was five, an epidemic swept over the land. Its malignant wings touched the child, leaving his arms partly paralyzed. He could run and play simple games. But it was more than Bennings could bear to see him standing on the fringe of a boys’ baseball game, hands in pockets, looking on with wistful eyes. Their patiently accumulated savings went rapidly for a costly electrical treatment that brought slow progress to the boy but consumed their last cent of reserve. The treatments went on and the Bennings got into debt. But “Pop”
who liked Bennings, learned of the matter and ordered that thereafter all bills for the treatment were to be sent to him. That left still the debt to be paid. By close economy in household expenses—and Alice was clever at it; by going without practically every little luxury dear to a woman’s heart she made his salary yield weekly a tiny surplus. With frequent “o vertime,” for which “Pop” paid liberally and with the bonuses and salary increases he distributed at Christmas, Bennings would have been clear of the debt in a year or less. But now that a railroad disaster had taken the kindly old man there was every reason in the world why Bennings’ hot resentment against the new regime and Jasper Glenn did not dare express itself.
HE WAS still angry from the interview, though his mind and fingers had resumed work, when his assistant, Sutton, came in with a paper in his hand and a smile on his lips. Sutton had not thrived under “Pop”, partly because he had intrigued so cleverly to rise. “Pop” had an aversion to employes who courted him.
“Something the chief just sent me,”“ said Sutton, laying the slip down for Bennings to read.
It was a memorandum from Jasper Glenn, promoting Sutton to cashier, making him a co-ordinate with Bennings.
“Congratulations,” the latter said, resuming his work. Sutton’s campaigns for promotion were usually based on slyly advanced claims that Benning’s work was no more important than his own.
“That’s as good as a turkey,” Sutton laughed. “You know, don’t you, that the firm’s not giving turkeys this
Bennings paused pencil in air. "No,” he said shortly. The news was a cruel touch. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, would be another reminder that the generous days of “Pop” Glenn were over. Alice and little Len had discussed that “turk” already in an orgy of anticipation as to its stuffing. Alice would have to be told in time. At noon, therefore, Bennings took up the telephone and called a num-
“Business call?” came the operator’s soprans.
“No,” said Bennings in an irritated tone, “Why?” “None but business calls allowed on house phones hereafter,” said the girl; and Bennings slammed down the receiver.
At lunch hour he telephoned Alice from a drugstore and told her about the turkey. “But I’ll buy one in the city and bring it out,” he said a little doubtfully.
“Oh, no, don’t, dear,” she put in quickly. They’re much too high this year. I’ll—I’ll get something at Sim-
Bennings hesitated. He didn’t want to tell her it was for appearance’ sake he wanted to get a turkey in town and take it out with him on the 6.10 express. On the 6.10 were his fellow workers from the office, his neighbours at Glenn Park, acquaintances and friends made in the years of travel between the pretty suburb and the great city. He knew their little successes and their defeats, their touches of prosperity and their losses and sorrows—and they knew his. Most of them would be on the 6.10 that
■day, taking home turkeys for Thanksgiving. They would know what Bennings’ empty hands meant, and he couldn’t bear their understanding, their feeling sorry for him, and the implication of failure their pity would mean.
“All right, dear,” he said after a pause. “By the way, I may be late for the 6.10, so don’t you and Len bother to meet me.”
“I’ll keep dinner warm,” said Alice cheerily. But underneath, and quite clear to Benning’s ear. was a note of worry that cut to his heart.
He walked about the streets till it was time for the 6.50 local. All the commuting world was hurrying home with armfuls of holiday parcels. But it was not his home world and he was glad to see no familiar face.
He was barely seated in the train, however, than he heard familiar voices. Just his luck to have been seen.
“Hello, Bennings, what kept you? I’ve been marketing.” Sutton’s voice, a little bragging, cut across Bennings’ nerves like a rasp. He saw in Sutton’s arms a large expertly-trussed turkey, several appetizing-looking parcels and a musical hoop for his boy. Haskell, who worked in the same department with them, was with Sutton, also bearing festive bundles—Haskell, who used to speak spitefully of Bennings as “ ‘Pop’s’ little blue-eyed Willie.”
“Errands kept me,” Bennings said shortly.
“Highway robbery, the prices they charge,” said Sutton comfortably, indicating the opulent bird, as the two sat down with Bennings’. “But I wouldn’t deprive my little •establishment of their Thanksgiving excitement for a good deal. Luckily I’ve something to be thankful for this year. Young Jasper’s a keen business man from head to toe nail. Knows values, that boy does, whether in pencils or people, hey, Bob?” he asked Haskell.
“Well—I’m waiting for him to recognize my value,” Haskell grunted.
“Chirk up, old hoss!’-’ laughed Sutton. “They can’t keep a good man down, and young Jasper doesn’t want to either!”
The local was only half an hour slower than the 6.10 but Bennings thought it would never arrive. Deliberately or not, Sutton and Haskell rendered raw every living nerve in him. He was thankful not to have to face his family at the station.
He was appalled therefore, when the train pulled into the station at Glenn Park, to see his little son Len on the platform. He was looking out eagerly for his father his hands as always, in his pockets, with a brave casualness. The sight of his boy in the midst of other boys always brought a poignant emotion to Bennings. He hurried to him now, put an arm about his shoulder and led him off.
“What brought you down to the station, Major?” he asked. “I phoned mother not to have you bother meeting me.”
Len rubbed his cheek against the hand on his shoulder.
, “Thought I’d help bring home the things—if you had any,” he murmured.
Alice had not had the heart, then, to tell him
YOO-HOO! Oh, Len! Look-ud!”
Sutton’s son Freddy called.
Len turned. Freddy was galloping up to them, the heavy turkey over his shoulder, and trundling the hoop which tinkled as it rolled.
“My father got promoted,” he bragged. “And lookud the turk!
Bet he weighs a ton! Here, Len, you c’n roll the hoop far’s my garden if you wanna.” Of course Freddy was unconscious of his cruelty, and Len was a plucky child.
But Bennings knew what his silence meant.
He caught the eye of the town’s one hack-driver who drew up his rig at the signal. He lifted Len to the seat.
“Thank Freddy, Major,” he said,
“and tell him you haven’t time tonight to roll the hoop —you’ve got to go to the Emporium with your dad to buy a turkey—and an Indian
It was only when Len had faltered out these things to the now envious Freddy that Bennings saw on his boy’s face at the same time with a radiant smile, the glint of tears.
When they got home half an hour later with the turkey, and Len, clad in his Indian suit essayed a warwhoop, Alice was about to ask questions. A warning look over Len’s bead stopi>ed her in time. It was not till Len was asleep
and they were alone in the living room that Bennings told her of the day's doings. He told the story with a quiet bitterness, picking up small objects from the table as he spoke, and throwing them down again with a little fling. He told it with a repression which made his wife more uneasy than had even the evening’s serious outbreak of spending. But when he had finished she put her arm about him and led him across the room to the opposite wall. There, on the frame of the door, about four feet from the floor, were some horizontal pencil-marks. The highest mark was three inches above the rest. Alice pointed it out triumphantly, her eyes wide and beautiful.
“He reached up to this today,” she said. “Three inches in two weeks is better progress than anything he’s done so far! He’ll do it for you tomorrow, when he’s rested.
Harry--1” she smoothed out the tight lines about his
mouth, “is’nt that better to think about than anything else that happened today?”
Bennings kissed the hand at his lips. But the anger did not leave his eyes.
“It is,” he said heavily. "And Len's going on with these treatments, no matter what it costs roe. He’s going to swim and play ball and do handsprings if I have to.... ” He drew in his breath sharply and closed his fists till the knuckles went white. “If Sutton,” he went on grimly, “is the kind of man Glenn wants and I’m the kind he doesn’t, I’ll either become a Suttonor get out. If I can, I’ll get out. If not—-well, w'e’ll see!” Some ugly visitant from the jungle of the repressed in the man’s nature showed in his face for an instant. Then, repenting --“Now let’s forget it honey.”
But Alice could not forget it. She thought of the fleeting look in his eyes as she lay awake mest of the long night, and wondered howmuch the rash, impetuous young fellow she had married with her eyes open had been tamed by eight years of marriage and responsibility—if at all.
BENNINGS came to work on Monday morning determined “to be a Sutton,” a “good” employee who took care that his goodness did not remain unknown in the right quarter. But his first attempt at it brought
forth in him without warning such a violent revulsion of feeling that, had Jasper Glenn been in the building at the time, there would have been an outbreak.
Then he began a dogged search for work elsewhere. He came to the city an hour earlier every morning and went through the “Help Wanted” advertisements down to the most forlorn hope. But the economic aftermath of the great war was sweeping the world and what few chances offered meant even less money than at Glenn’s. Bennings dared not consider them. There was the debt to pay back, and after that there were Len’s treatments to be resumed the moment the loan was cancelled. For the time being, the treatments would have to stop.
When the outward search for escape proved hopeless. Bennings turned within himself. Over and over he covered the ground, back and forth, with the pathetic repetition of the newly-caged wild thing. Bars everywhere. But he was becoming too saturnine to mind the trifles with which Nemesis had been amusing itself.
Whereupon, one morning, three weeks before Christmas, a clerk brought him what he saw at once was a bill for Len’s treatments. It covered the period of three months, up to “Pop’s” death, and came to $450. It had evidently not reached the old man in time and had been referred to Jasper Glenn for payment. It bore in pencil the comment which the clerk could see,
The bill was an obligation contracted by “Pop.” Bennings could make out a case in court; or he could perhaps move Jasper Glenn to pay without a lawsuit. So far as his pride permitted him, he could with equal ease prostrate himself on the Persian rug at Jasper Glenn’s feet.
“Some mistake,” he grinned at the clerk, and put the Hill away in his wallet.
ÍT HAD been the practice under “Pop” at this time of year for the staff to submit memorandums showing why bonuses and increases in salary should be given them at Christmas. As no instructions came to the contrary, the employees of the Glenn Office Supplies Corporation did the same this year. For indications as to the outcome, they watched Jasper Glenn in the infrequent glimpses they caught of him. The outlook did not seem promising. Besides the man’s curtness there seemed to have been added of late a greater aloofness, an effect of distrust. At the same time, little as he came in contact with them, he gave the impression of keeping closer watch over them than ever. Which was actually the
For some days there had been coming to him reports of a puzzlingleak in funds somewhere in his organization. The sums were not large, ranging from $25 to $50 at a time. As yet the accountants could not tell the total; nor had they traced the source of trouble. The system of accounting under “Pop” had placed much trust in the employes, and there were openings through which a clever thief could steal small sums for some time before discovery.
Jasper Glenn responded exactly as he had when an enemy threatened his country. He went to war. The enemy in this case had invaded his private property. Glenn lost no time; indeed there was no time to lose. Christmas was only a few days off; and the threeday holiday might give the thief, should he choose to escape them, just that much start. It looked as though that were indeed his plan. For the sums taken were now growing larger; and there was reason to believe they would reach a climax on the day before Christmas.
Glenn was hot on the trail of the embezzler. His determination was to give no quarter, to make an example of him. The thief was striking at the heart of his cardinal principle “Dividendsand Discipline.” In addition, his Christmas threatened to be shadowed by a vague sense of Continued oA page 45
Continued from paye 25
something unsatisfactory in the working of his efficiency system. He could not lay his finger on the cause. The execution was strictly according to theory. Yet the I product somehow missed the perfection I of an ideal.
On the morning before Christmas the pay envelopes were distributed to give the employees a chance to do shopping ! (luring the lunch hour. When Sutton opened his, he did a little soft-shoe jig.
“I’ve got a bonus,” he caroled. “I tell you it means a heap coming from Jasper this lean year?”
“I’ve got one too,” said Haskell. “It won’t buy me a Rolls-Royce. But I suppose it’s better than a slap in the eye with a burnt stick. How about you. Bennings?” he added with a sidelong look not devoid of malice.
Bennings had not intended to open bis envelope under their eyes but he did not dare decline the challenge in Haskell’s
1 He found bis usual salary and a note: ; “In view of the fact that your responsibilities have been considerably lessened by reorganization, the president regrets he must deny your application for increase in salary at this time.”
Bennings looked up. “I’m going shop! ping,” he grinned, and put on his hat and I coat.
"What, now?’’ Sutton cried, "why,
it's only quarter to eleven! You sure must have got a love letter from the
Bennings nodded, a little sneer on his lips, as he left.
He returned an hour later, his arms full of Christmas bundles. Their amorphous forms were gaily clad in holly paper, ribbon and colored seals. Wisps of gold and silver tinsel showed from one bag. The label of a costly confectioner was on a big box. A burlap covered bundle bulged like the sack of Santa Claus himself.
“Some resplendence there!” Sutton exclaimed, his eyes greedy. “But say, Bennings, the boss sent for you while you were out. Better go see him at once.”
Bennings put down his tilings. "Did he say I am to go to his office?” be asked quickly.
“No, but of course he expects you."
Bennings put away the packages under bis desk. "He'll send for me again if he wants me,” he said.
BUT instead of sending. Jasper Glenn came himself. It was during lunch hour, and he had waited till he was sure Bennings would be out. The special auditors had made speed in their hunt which had narrowed down to the cashier's denartment and one other. One by one. Glenn had called the suspected men before him on some pretext, but to none did he
intimate the real reason. At the suggestion of the auditors he asked questions so conceived that the guilty man would, without knowing it, accelerate the hunt for himself. All but Bennings had been interviewed. When Glenn learned the cashier bad been out of the building during business hours his first impulse was to order him to report at once. Instead, he decided to pay a personal visit to Bennings’ desk when the man was at lunch.
He waited till he thought the last lingerer had left the accounting department. Then he went down to Bennings’ cage. He was surprised to see him still there. He was busy wrapping up a parcel.
Glenn saw the gaily-dressed Christmas, packages under the desk. In bulk and appearance they promised an opulent celebration. But what interested him even more was the glimpse he caught of the package Bennings was tying. It was his gray mohair working coat. Glenn entered the cage so quietly that Bennings whisked about and looked a startled inquiry.
“’Morning,” Glenn said drily, “I wanted to see you.”
Bennings continued tying a neat double bow in the string. His face was averted.
“What about?” he asked stiffly.
“I see you’ve packed up your work coat,” Glenn said. “Thinking of leaving us?”
Bennings gave the bundle a little finishing slap and turned to Glenn. “Yes,” he said deliberately, his face paling.
Glenn nodded. “Ah. May I ask when”?
Bennings put on his hat and coat. “Today.”
Like an accusing finger, Glenn shot out, “ Why are you leaving?”
• ' ï, cf°n’t have to tell you why I’m leaving.” The cashier drew on his gloves slowly as he spoke, trying to control his voice. “But I’ll take great pleasure in doing so. I am leaving because I don’t hke you, your ideas, your corporation. Where your uncle had a heart you keep a cash-box. Where he had imagination you have a miser’s passion. Where he made people glad to work for him you make it a punishment. You’ve got the nature of a cheese-paring little shopkeeper. You are so grasping that it would give any man pleasure to see you lose every damn c®nt. you’ve got. You’re a corporation, all right, without a soul; and anyone who treats you as though you had one is a fool. Your religion is, every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost, eh? Well, don t blame anyone for taking a leaf out of your bible. And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care how fast you go to hell!’
He turned to leave, Glenn following his movements like a hawk. “Going for good? he asked.
Bennings laughed. “Set your heart at rest. _I m coming back to work till train time, he said going to the door.
, Glenn made JIO effort to stop him. That s right, Bennings, enjoy yourself while you can,” he said. “I know the thrill it gives a man to tell his boss to go to hell. It’s a luxury, but if you can afford it I guess I can.”
When the cashier had gone down in the elevator, Glenn bent down and, scooping up the Christmas parcels under Bennings’ desk, spread them on a table. Stripping their Christmas finery, he examined the' contents, his brows knitted. For some time he stood looking at them. Then with even more care he packed them up again and putting them back under the desk returned to his office. From there he telephoned a private detective agency to send a man over at once.
The detective arrived soon after. Glenn explained the situation. Then he gave the man certain minute directions as to what he wanted done.
AT CLOSING-TIME, in the general X le,ave - taking and well - wishing throughout the offices, Bennings was inconspicuous. He told no one of his interview with Glenn, nor that he had resign®“. Gathering up his Christmas parcels, he left the first minute he was officially free. He walked in a detour to the station as though anxious to escape notice. But on the crowded 6.10 express, the train that brought Christmas from the great city to more than a score of towns and villages on the railroad line, Bennings seemed another man.
With his parcels disposed upon his lap and between his knees, he looked as gay with the coming holiday as anyone else
on the train. He sat as usual with Sutton and Haskell, who too had their laps full of Christmas. The fourth man in the group, apparently absorbed in his newspaper, was a stranger.
Bennings chatted constantly, in high humor. But there was a caustic strain in his comments when he spoke of the Glenn Office Supplies Corporation.
“Why the lemon flavor in your remarks?” Haskell asked with a sidelong look. “Did you draw a blank for your bonus?”
“Does this look like it?” Bennings asked, nodding at his packages. “The citron is for Jasper Glenn’s methods. They’re about as fool-proof as he thinks Pop’s methods were. But my Christmas goose is hanging high. I’ve had him specially grown on a farm at Baronville. Eleven pounds of him? I think I’ll need the 6.45 all to myself and the goose. Here’s Baronville now, so I’ll have to leave you boys. A Merry Christmas to both of you!” With a jaunty nod of farewell, he took up his packages and maneuvered his way out of the car.
The étranger got off also.
Bennings’ face lost its gaiety as soon as he thought himself alone. Working through the crowd at the station, he struck off across the tracks as though for a" short cut. A water-tank and a high pile of cinders cut him off from the view of those on the platform.
At the foot of the cinder-pile he threw down several of the richest-looking of his packages. Scooping out a cave in the cinders, he pressed them into it and covered them until there was not a vestige of the bundles to be seen. Then he boarded a trolley for Glenn Park.
When Len heard his father’s step on the gravel path he ran out to meet him. He was dressed in his Indian costume and skipping with excitement. But when the lamplight fell on the few packages his father carried, he checked himself with a little cry.
Slowly he took his father’s arm'and rubbed his cheek against it with a muttered, “’Lo, Dad.”
“Hello, son,” Bennings responded heavily, and kissed Alice who met him at the door. Len tugged at him.
“But, Dad—Mr. Sutton told us at the station that you were up to your chin with presents, and that you got off at Baronville to get a goose you’d ordered special for us. Where is everything?”
“Len!” Alice reproached him. “You know father’s brought all he could!”
_ Len, ashamed and depressed, squeezed his father’s arm. Hq_seemed ready to cry but with an effort he smiled up at him. Alice taking from her husband the two bags he had brought, gave them to Len to carry into the sitting-room.
The room was brave with light and make-shift gaiety. The tree, a small one, was on a little stand near the window, the street side the most gaily decorated. Home-fashioned ornaments, gallant cardboard soldiers, chains of colored paper such as Alice used to make in the kindergarten when a teacher, demanded to be admired like a child in its party dress. It would have taken a woman’s shrewd eye to guess the contriving Alice had done. With the tinsel Bennings nad brought and the dozen oranges, which comprised his other package, the tree.reached its climax.
The dinner was a masterpiece of economy and skill. Garnished with sprigs of parsley, trimmed with Christmas greens and shining with an immaculateness her own hands had wrought at tub and ironing board, the table looked a festival. Among the plates there wandered a little herd of pigs made of potatoes, big and tiny, with match-sticks for legs, bits of clove for eyes and raisin-stems for tails.
Len rocked with laughter at the personal remarks Alice made about each separate pig, and ran as train-bearer every time she entered from the kitchen with a new dish, all carried in after the manner of a boar’s head.
Bennings achieved a degree of gaiety that gave his wife moments of uneasiness. His face was too animated and too pale. His movements had not the repose of a man home on holiday. Occasionally when he thought she was not looking, Alice even caught an expression on his face that shocked her. But Len was none the wiser. He too was playing a little part, shouting down with laughter the occasional plaint he felt rising.
When he had hung up his stocking and been kissed to bed, his mother stayed at his side a moment......The tired woman
knew that before her lay some ordeal— she knew not what—slowly she went down to the living-room where her husband sat before their little fire. Drawing up a chair beside him, she said:
"Now tell me.”
SHE saw a nerve in his cheek quiverHis fingers were tightly clasping and unclasping, and he looked at them instead of at her.
“I’ve quit the job,” he said.
The firelight was on her face and did not reveal the quick ebb and flow of color. No sound escaped her to betray the sick shock she felt at his words. But a woman reacts first to the immediate, personal, possessive thing. Disastrous as the announcement was, it was not as immediate a thing to her as the fear and pain she sensed in him. Instinctively she reached out and enclosed him in the protective shelter of her arms. A flock of invisible creatures of prey—the vision of economic terrors— circled and swooped about them. As though these were trying to separate her from her man, she pressed him the harder
“All right, Harry,” she said slowly, “if you’ve quit you’ve quit. I know you’ve done your very best. If worst comes to worst, we still have our limbs and our health. We can do anything that’s necessary. I should still be worth something in a kindergarten—”
“Harry!” She seized his face in her hands, startled at the look in it. So a man looks who sees the complete wreck of hopes and plans, pride and courage.
“My Christmas present to you and Len!” he laughed brokenly. Then feverishly his mood changed. “We’ll have to pull up stakes, honey. I’m not going to stay penned—in poverty.”
Vaguely Alice had been aware of a knocking on the outer door. Now the insistence of it broke in on them.
“Who can it be?” she whispered. “Don’t get up—I’ll go.”
Going to the street door she opened it. The man who stood there she had never seen before. “Sorry to disturb you, Madam,” he said, “but I have something for Mr. Bennings.”
He handed her a large envelope. “Won’t you come in?” she said, wondering.
“Thanks—I think I’ll wait out here.” His glance went out to an automobile standing in front of the house.
Alice took the envelope into the living room. Bennings raised a haggard face from his hands. “Something for you, dear,” she said, “I don’t 'know from whom.”
“Please read it.” Bennings’ voice was lifeless.
Alice tore open the envelope, glanced at the signature and read:
“It has come to my notice that sums aggregating $3,500. have been embezzled from the Glenn Office Supplies Corporation. Things pointed in your direction. I have had special audits made and a detective put on your
Bennings sprang up with a hoarse cry. * Alice pressed a clenched hand to her lips to keep from crying out. She forced herself to go on.
“—I have looked thoroughly into your private affairs. I even opened your Christmas parcels while you were out to lunch. I engaged a detective to follow you home. He saw you leave some bundles in the cinder-pile at the Baronville station. He opened them after you had left and found, as I had found at the office, that they contained nothing but waste
“Bennings, I may be as you called me a ‘cheeseparing little shopkeeper.’
It is true I hate waste. But I am not so bad as to be indifferent to what I have done to your Christmas. I have made you, a self-respecting, hardworking man, resort to a pathetic pretence of prosperity before your neighbors--a prosperity to whieh you are thoroughly entitled.
“If I have done you grave injustice—and I have—the fault is partly yours. You antagonized me at the outset by ridiculing my efficiency system. The fact that you were not altogether wrong did not make me feel the more kindly toward you. So that when the scoundrel who stole the money doctored the accounts tQ throw suspicion upon you I was only too ready to believe.
“As to the bill for your child’s treatment, if you had condescended a word of explanation that my uncle had contracted to pay it, I should not have sent it to you. As it is, I have arranged for the continuance of this treatment until the boy is completely cured.
“Come, Bennings, I want my Christmas as much as you want yours. Don’t be the ghost at my table. Accept my offer of peace. If you don’t I shall have to appeal to your wife. Merry Christmas—to all of us! Jasper Glenn.”
' I 'HE Benningses stared at each other,
A Alice through misted eyes, her lips quivering. He felt strengthless and shaken to the heart. But he caught his wife to him and kissed her breathless. . . .
The tramp of heavy feet between the walk and the porch drew them out into the hallway. Piled there were pyramids of bundles, swathed shapes of great toys, a giant goose, fat market-baskets crammed to bursting—the excessive gifts of a contrite rich man.
When the men had gone—the Benningses insisted on bringing in the presents themselves—Alice, still dazed, picked up the letter to read it again. Then she saw she had overlooked something on the inside page.
“P.S. I have fired Haskell.
“P.P.S. If you have nothing better to do tomorrow afternoon, come up to the house and let us have a talk.