ADAM HAROLD BROWN
As THOMAS C. SMALL walked from the station to his suburban home his mind raced with jumbled and whirling thoughts—yet they were pleasant thoughts.
After all these years of struggle!
He imagined the surprise of Milly his wife, as he told her . . .how her eyes would shine . . . and the little tilt at the corners of her mouth that wanted to be kissed.
Rather a pity that Joyce, his three-year-old daughter would uot be there, but Milly insisted on small Joyce having her tea at five and going to bed at seven. Milly was a good wife, though: a mighty fine little girl.
She was a wonderful manager, too-—one in a million. Her dresses never looked shabby,
Joyce always had dainty and becoming clothes and their house furnishings ne^er looked wornout. Yes, Milly was a wonderful manager. How she ever made his salary stretch . . .! She put it all over the Dugans, their next door neighbors. Tom guessed that he and Jim Dugan got about the same pay, but Nellie Dugan couldn't make a show equal with Millie.
Turning down his home avenue, shadowed by still green maples he reflected on the past, and the happy-go-lucky life he and his wife had led a few years ago. He was an assistant clerk, then, and lacked all ambition to rise. Why should he, when they expected a legacy from Milly's Aunt Sarah Watt? It was sure to come. Milly was the only heir: Aunt Sarah had brought her up.
They didn't count on a large fortune — just enough for a frontage on Easy Street. So Tom Small had waited.
The end had been sudden. One morning a telegram came that Mrs.
Small was wanted by the lawyers. ‘TU go in the morning,” said Milly, dabbing her eyes. He might as well show up at the office for a few days more, he felt. But not for much longer. Keep working? Jove, no! Not for a rich man. He had kissed his wife and departed for the station.
Vi alkmg to the train his mind dwelt on the treasure-trove. W ould it be twenty-five, fifty or a hundred thousand? Well, no more hiking for him! . . . wonder what style of car was best to choose? At his desk that day he especially resented the chief clerk's nagging, and they almost quarrelled. 'What did Tom care if he was fired. He’d show them. Wait till the will was read. He’d soon be in a position to fire the chief clerk!
On her return Milly had met him with set face. Something was wrong, Tom knew. Then, brokenly, she told him. Her aunt had left nothing. For years she had eaten into her principal and had made some unsuccessful investments. Just sufficient was left to settle her debts and to pay for the funeral. The elderly lawyer had been very nice, said Milly, and had explained that there was no use going into detail or searching over papers. There was nothing.
Tom’s bewilderment deepened to distress, then he became plunged in gloom. His dreams of the future were crushed and for the first time he faced the bald issues of life. Something had to be done. There were bills—and he couldn’t stand poverty. But neither could he let Milly sink! That night he lay awake for hours; Milly, too, was sleepless, but her little hand lovingly encircled his
Some men in business need a “push” before they make a success. Sometimes the “push” takes the form of economic necessity, or it may be a latent ambition, or it may be the unusual animating motive in Mr. Brown's story.
wrist like a mother who comforts her disappointed child.
In the morning he had reached a decision. He would keep his position and increase his energy. He had ability, and he determined to win some sort of success, finding in intense application to his work some relief from his bitter disappointment. He had called it drudgery at first, and cared only for the additional money his efforts brought; then he began to realize the joy of work for its own sake—-the satisfaction of a job well done.
He became a wizard at figures. His monthly computation of current bond prices was read in more than one office. “Give Small a sniff at statistics,” the firm’s accountant once said, “and he’ll run ’em ragged.” Ideas grew in his mind. The head of the firm looked with approval on his schemes, and, with other surety houses, gave them tentative trial. They proved successful. He, who had never dreamed of such a thing before, found real
pleasure in his work. Sometimes he thought of the wasted years when he and his wife were expecting Aunt Sarah’s money, and could have laughed but for the tragedy of it.. Now he had an impetus—a reason for striving—the keen urge of accomplishment which was an inspiration, although Tom never called it that.
It was worth-while, he had told himself many times, to stick at it for Milly’s sake. She was a good girl; tactful; knew when he wanted to rest in the evening, or go to a movie. She had helped. The senior clerk had been left behind, and two years ago Tom Small was made manager of his department. But the memory of his disappointment and of how nearly life had beaten him pricked him like a spur to higher things. He had gone on and on, and now his toil was rewarded. Tom Small had been offered . . .! What would Milly say?
^TWISTING his door handle he determined that he would not speak until the stage was set, and it was nearly dark when he faced his wife across the dining table. She switched on the lights and looked anxiously at him, for the slamming of the front door, his nervous suppression while banging up his hat, and the briskness of his step told her that something unusual was afoot. To conceal her anxiety she smiled at him across the covered dishes.
■ “Well,” he said, slowly after serving the steak, “something big has happened.”
“Yes, Tom—what is it?” Milly asked.
He hesitated for a minute, watching her parted lips and eager eyes, then grinned suddenly.
“live—er—well, the fact is, I’ve been given a partnership in the firm,” he said.
“Oh, Tom!” she cried, coming to him and putting her arms around his neck, “Isn’t that splendid! At last you’ve been rewarded!”
“Yes, at last they’ve done me justice, after slaving most of my life-—”
She corrected him gently.
“Only five years, dear. You’re still a young man. Is your name on the letter-heads?”
“Not yet. Not until next monthly meeting. It’ll mean more money, too. Gosh! I’ve had my nose to the grindstone ever since—well, hang it, Milly!—ever since we were disappointed in your Aunt Sarah’s will.” For a few seconds his mind dwelt in the past. “It makes me feel pretty good, this partnership business. I—”
His wife’s eyes were shining.
“Oh, Tom—its wonderful! But I knew you had it in you. You just needed something to start you.”
“Ye-es—I suppose so. Some fellows’d feel all puffed up about it but I’ve learned to be calm. Just a sort of inward satisfaction if you understand what I mean.”
“You’re a wonder, Tom,” said the wise wife.
“Uh-huh. Of course I’m only a junior partner—yet. Won’t have much say in the firm’s policy—but it’ll mean more money to spend. We can get rid of the old car; maybe have a chauffeur. And you will want—” he looked closer—“is that a new dress? It’s pretty. It becomes you —or, I should say, you become it.”
“You’re getting excited, Tom. That was a compli-
ment,” Milly laughed. She rose gracefully, then posed with hands on hips. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Sure do,” he returned. “It’s easy to look at—but didn’t it cost a good deal? Where did you get it?”
At the double question Milly’s pretty face colored. “Only a month ago—yes, it cost a lot, but I managed— saved, you know . . . what were you saying?”
“Oh,—er—don’t we need a new carpet?” He glanced at the floor. “This looks new, too. When did you get it? Is it Turkish or Persian, or—?”
“Persian, Tom. We got it last summer, don’t you remember? It was a great bargain. Reduced, you know— but I want to talk about your being made a partner. Wouldn’t it be fine if you could make some big bond sales to start with?”
Tom smiled at her earnest, flushed face.
“It would be a fine thing, dear, but easier said than done. Business is depressed, nowadays, and—”
“I don’t pretend to be a business woman, Tom, but don’t you think there’s a great deal of energy and mental force wasted in worrying about what you call business depression, instead of making the best of it and trying to climb over the difficulty?”
“Look here, Milly. What are you driving at, anyway?” Milly’s eyes shone like petals of gold.
“Oh, I can’t argue like a man, Tom, but I feel that if you got hold of somebody who had money to invest and just concentrated on making him buy your securities, you could do it. You have it in you.”
Tom was stirred in spite of himself. “But people with money to spend don’t advertise it,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone offhand—”
“Nellie Dugan’s brother, Felix Dibbs—you know him, Tom,—is investment man of the MacRea Consolidated, and their business would be a great feather in your cap.” “Yes, but hold on, Milly! Remember I’m in the statistical end of the game—not selling.”
“Oh, but Tom, you could sell! You could be anything you wanted!” returned Milly loyally.
“Hmm-m. I’ve a darn good mind to invite Dibbs to lunch at a smart restaurant one of these days. I think he’s rather fond of what he eats, and I’ll feed him well and
couple it with a convincing talk. We bought a million dollars’ worth of Ancastra Gas and Electric Sixes last week and I could give him a splendid price if he’s willing to buy in quantity.” His companion across the table nodded wisely as he proceeded.
“I wish I had some ready money myself, to put into a lot of their common stock. It’s certainly going to skyrocket before long.”
While eating his dessert Tom’s casual glance was held by the framed photograph of his little daughter on a side table.
“That frame around Joyce’s picture—it looks like solid silver, Milly. Is it?”
“Oh, that?” said Milly, quickly. “Why, yes. Nellie Dugan got it the other day and couldn’t pay for it, poor girl, so I took it off her hands.”
Tom laughed. “Jim Dugan gets about the same money I do now, and although he gives his wife more money for dress, she can’t hold a candle to you for management of things, Milly. No one would ever know we’d been poor-as church mice.”
TN HIGH, expectant spirits Tom went to the office
next day. Soon, he told himself—as he had told himself on a never-to-be-forgotten day five years before— he’d have a good, high-powered car, and be through forever with this hustling for trains. Or they might move into the city and have a neat little house—or, perhaps, one of those select apartments. Jove!
At the office nothing unusual was apparent, but Tom had a new mental outlook. The senior partner had gone out of town for a few days, and Tom’s promotion was not yet confirmed. Still, Tom was in no hurry. It was sure. He rang up Felix Dibbs and invited him to lunch at the Trocadero, where the menu would satisfy a Sybarite.
They met, and the food was perfect. The other was an epicure, and Tom could see that he was pleased. Tom edged tactfully onto business subjects and, when he was sure of his ground, talked fluently and quoted attractive prices on the Ancastra issue. The investment man seemed impressed.
“You’re a good salesman, Small,” he said, “and your
proposition sounds gcod. If you’ll send me the company’s reports I’ll go over them.”
A day later Dibbs phoned that the deal was on, and Tom was elated at the success of his first attempt at salesmanship. That night he took Milly to the theatre and bought her a box of chocolates.
'T'HE following day Tom sat in the well-lighted office A from which he directed the statistical affairs of his company, and his new responsibility warmed him like a rising tropic tide. Through the half open door to the outer office came the cheerful clicking of typewriters, the rustling of papers, the opening of books. It sounded good to Tom. He felt like a sailor making a home port after a long, rough voyage. That low, insistent murmur from the outer room was so certain, businesslike, secure. Pity Milly wasn’t a business woman; but there was Joyce. She was only three, of course, but bright! He’d give her the best education money could buy. That cheerful clicking ... no more need to worry; no further trouble about the future; no need to worry about anything.
An elderly clerk who was cleaning out an old filing cabinet to make room for the new partner’s desk looked up, a bundle of papers in his hand.
“What’ll I do with these old letters, Mr. Small?” he asked. “I suppose we’d better keep them—although they’re long out of date. We’ve had them for five or six years, now.”
“What are they?” Tom asked carelessly.
“This one now—I remember when we got it; from the law firm which handled the estate of Mrs. Sarah Watt. They wanted some information about the stocks and bonds she had bought from our company.”
“Stocks and bonds!” Tom almost shouted, “Her securities? Why she left nothing when she died. Let me see that letter!” He nearly tore it from the clerk’s hand. “She didn't leave anything, did she?” he asked in more restrained tones.
“Yes,” was the reply, “my brother-in-law used to be a clerk in their office, and he told me the law firm turned over all her securities to the heiress—a niece.”
“What were they worth?” The new partner’s mouth
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Continued from gage 15
was dry. His wife had been the only niece of Aunt Sarah Watt.
“About seventy-five thousand dollars, I think.”
When the clerk bustled away Tom sat for some time staring coldly at nothing. His mind seemed frozen and incapable of action; then, gradually, one thought took form. He had been deceived. Milly had received the legacy and then lied to him. For five years she had lived the lie. He remembered the new furnishings from time to time; carpets, curtains, her new dresses and hats. He had been too busy slaving, eating out his heart in drudgery to provide for her selfish ambition, to notice at the time. But he saw it all, now. What a blind fool he had been. The thought was bitter. But most cruel was the thought that she had lied to him. Why?
That question throbbed in his mind. Why had she done it? He could think of no reason. He had always been a good husband. A striking clock reminded him
of the long wait until the five-fifteen train. With an effort he dictated a business letter and sorted oyer a number of notes, burying himself in office routine. And so the morning passed.
In spite of every effort to concentrate on his work, however, the memory of Milly’s duplicity pierced like a stiletto. How well he could have invested some ready money now. It would have been like planting a rose bush in a safe spot and sitting back in wait for it to blossom. How and why had Milly squandered that legacy?
Tom left the office at five o’clock. He might as well go home, he thought, although he wasn’t sure of what he wanted to say. Sometimes his tongue ran away with him. When angry he often said things he did not mean and afterward regretted—made accusations that were unjust and which he could not prove. He must watch his speech when the time came, he determined, yet . . . what was the use of going home to that house of lies. What was the use of, anything?
Reaching the station he was still uncertain what to do. -
HE DECIDED he would go home, however. He was curious to hear what Milly would say. In his five years of application he had learned that snap judgments are not always reliable. She had deceived him—lied to him—but he’d let her speak for herself. She knew that he had toiled miserably while she amused herself at his expense. He would see how she would face the music—and if she damned herself he would cast her off.
As he entered the room he strove to collect his thoughts. During the ride out his mind had been in a whirl; now it grew ¡fixed, sullen, morose. He would hold in his anger; just ask a simple question; hear 'her guilty answer; tell her to pack up. That was the only way to do.
Milly stood in the living room, her lips slightly parted. She must have sensed 'that something was wrong -for her face •was white. He faced her from the doorway, face flushed, a smudge of soot on his eheek, his hair awry. The tension between ïthem was instinctive—electric. He spoke first—and was surprised at the dead calmness of his tone.
“I heard to-day how you double-crossed me. Being just a man I want to hear what .you have to say. Go ahead.”
“Oh—Tom! What has happened? I thought—” she stopped.
“Oh, yes—try and put me off,” he sneered. “Years ago you said your Aunt Sarah left nothing, but you lied. Sold me Hike a slave to support you in luxury, híow I learn she left you a fortune. Isn’t that so?”
His hands trembled as he glared at the i.girlish figure in her summer dress. He’d hold himself in, though, until he had the whole truth. She could not deny it.
“Tom, dear,” Milly cried, panicstricken, “however did you find out? I thought—” Again she stopped. His
anger flamed like a bush fire.
“Then it’s true?”
“Partly so. Aunt Sarah did leave me seventy-five thousand—mostly in securities. But I haven’t spent it all as you think. I didn’t tell you because—”
“Because why?” he cut in. “My patience won’t stand much more.” He waited, grim-lipped.
MILLY drew herself up, her hair gleaming in a bar of evening light like beaten gold. Her steady eyes held his and she spoke in quiet dignity.
“I’ll tell you why, Tom,” she said. “Because I knew perfectly well that with that much money to spend you would never have done another stroke of work. You would simply have gone in for pleasure and forgotten everything else.”
“That’s crazy talk! Wouldn’t anyone with a fortune get all the pleasure possible out of life?”
“Not the kind you would have gone after five years ago. You didn’t think, then, that there was anything in life worth while, beyond having an easy time. You used to say pleasure was your one aim. You would have got shiftless; let things go—” her lips trembled “—and oh, Tom, I couldn’t bear that!” Tears fought her dignity. Her husband stared, emotion flooding his face, comprehension dawning in his angry eyes. She gulped once or twice and went bravely on.
“That was my reason for not telling you. I was afraid you’d become^ soft and weak and—oh, give up all trying—and I must hav? a husband whom I can respect. I knew you had cleverness and could make a success in business if only there was something to push you—some powerful motive to really start you getting down to work. Tom, dear, don’t you see?” her voice was tremulous, “I did it all for your sake! And you have made a success. Doesn’t the partnership prove it? Would you have got that if I had given you that money five years ago? Tom— why did you think such terrible things of me.” She sank on a chair and buried her face in her hands.
With a quick revulsion of sentiment Tom watched her slender, shaking shoulders. She was in earnest—no doubt about that. She actually believed that he had needed some sort of push five years ago. Poor little girl. Of course women could never understand a business man. Perhaps he had appeared to be slightly easygoing then but now look at him; junior partner. And the principal of Aunt Sarah’s fortune was intact. His wife had saved it after all.
He stepped to her side and placed a hand on her soft hair. He hated to see her cry.
“Milly dear . . . I’m sorry ” he said.
Milly’s sobbing stopped, but she did not look up.
“I’m sorry, dear,” he said once more, “so look up, girlie, and let me see the stars in your eyes again.”
And Milly raised her head.