THE STORY SO FAR: -John MacPhee, 72, bachelor, recluse, millionaire bottle manufacturer, and Bargrave's wealthiest citizen, must cease work—or die. Ida, favorite niece, is employed in his office. Jim Douglas, Ida’s suitor, was works manager, but quarreled with MacPhee, calling him old fashioned. He goes to U.S., later returning to see Ida.
I THOUGHT you said it was to be golfing?” he remarked.
“I have a match already arranged. You see I didn’t know you were coming,” she answered.
"Call it off,” he said ruthlessly.
“That wouldn’t do,” she replied. “Go up and see Uncle Jim. He will be quite alone. Then you might come along to the links ’round four o’clock, if you want to, and I'll give you tea.”
“All right, if I must—I mean if I must go up and see Mr. MacPhee,” he agreed, rather grumblingly. “We’ll probably scrap all afternoon, but a bit of his favorite diversion may do him good and make me feel philanthropic. I suspect he had few people to fight with since I went away. But—I don’t go with a cheerful spirit. I came to Bargrave to see you, Ida.”
He reached out his hand and took possession of hers. The corner table was a very secluded sort of place, Ida looked bewitchingly charming, and Jim had not seen her for all of three months.
She allowed her hand to remain prisoned for a little while, then withdrew it and put on her gloves.
“Tea at four,” she said smilingly as she left him.
“At four—nearly three hours off,” he replied with doleful kind of resignation. “But I say, Ida, clean off the engagement slate for the next week or two.”
His arrogance and presumption did not appear to shock her very greatly. She made no promises though. It is not good for a young man to assume monopolistic proprietorship of a girl too soon.
They were not engaged, though both had a fairly good idea of what rested in the mind of the other. Perhaps if Jim had not gone back to the road, things might have advanced a stage, but the break with MacPhee had halted plans somewhat.
She stepped into the street car, waved her hand, and B a r g r a v e seemed instantaneously to become a dull old place to Jim Douglas. MacPhee answered the summons of the brass knocker for the maid and Mrs. Dawson were out attending to their afternoon shopping for Sunday. The old man blinked uncertainly when he saw who his visitor was, then a grin swept over his face.
“Come in, Jim,” he said. “What wind blows you to Bargrave?”
“Taking a few days off,” Douglas replied, staring about the hall that had been newly painted and decorated. MacPhee noticed the look, and his face registered gratification.
“Ida lives here now,” he said. “She’s house mistress, and this is some of her doings. Pretty nifty, what think you? But come and look into the drawing room and the dining room. I scarce think a lick of paint had been put on either since father and mother came here just wedded. You needn’t look for the old furniture. It’s all cleared out, and we’re putting lots of dog on. You can’t say I’m unprogressive at home, whatever you may think of me in the bottle trade.”
He led Jim about the room, pointing out the varied new glories of it, stopping to punch the seat of a sofa to show what excellent springs they had.
“House plenishing isn’t much in my line. Bottles I think I know something about, but you want a woman for this kind of work. See the new pictures? Maybe if you come up some time when Ida’s here, you shall hear some real music from that piano.
“Cost me close on a thousand, and, by Jehoshaphat, I’ve had value for it already. Ida’s taken off the ban on smoking in this room. That’s the kind of a woman she is. I sit in that fine chair, feet cocked up on the rest, and smoke while she plays and sings to me. I tell you, Jim, a woman can make a whole lot of difference in the life of a man and the comfort of a house. Of course there was Mrs. Dawson, but she’s another breed.”
“I guess she can,” admitted Jim readily. “Pity you didn’t get hold of some of that sound doctrine these fifty years back, Mr. MacPhee.”
MacPhee laughed at the graceless audacity. He liked Jim’s candid speech. It made him feel younger to chaff and be chaffed by his juniors.
“Maybe so,” he replied. “None of us knows it all, even the young ones. None of us is infallible, not even the youngest. But who’d have thought that at seventy-two, with one foot in the grave, I’d be trimming up this fashion?”
“Nobody,” said Jim positively. “But I thought you gave the credit of it to Miss MacPhee.”
“So I do, but you’ll allow me some marks for being willing to be shown. It isn’t everybody who has brains to understand when lie’s shown the way of wisdom. But come on into the snuggery. There’s been no change in it yet, but no telling what’ll happen there now we’ve got fairly started. Ida hasn’t come home yet. She’s off golfing. Think of it, Jim, she wants me to start in at that game. She says she’s going to teach me. Me, Jim—old MacPhee! Wouldn’t it be a sight for sore eyes, MacPhee playing with a long stick and a little white ball ?” he laughed.
“It would,” said Jim. “When I see you at it I’ll take back much of what I once said about unprogressiveness. Guess you’ll be giving Miss MacPhee a free hand in the works presently.”
“Light your pipe and quit your slurs,” MacPhee bade him. “How do you find trade as you go round the country?”
They proceeded to discuss the glass bottle industry at large, and this kept them busy for some time, then the conversation became personal.
“I was going to call at the works this afternoon,” said Jim. “But I met Miss MacPhee on the street and she told me you had not been feeling well lately.”
“I’ve felt better in my time,” MacPhee replied. “Just a bit run down, and like a fool I went to see the doctor. If there’s nothing wrong with you, they’ll make out you’re a walking hospital ward before they’ve done with you. They say I’ve got to rest, go away. How can I go away?”
“How can’t you?” responded Jim. “If you’re short of the price I might lend it to you. Some day the world will have to struggle on without either you or me, it might as well get used to it a bit ahead of time.”
“You talk like a fool, Jim,” said MacPhee irritably.
“That’s always said of those who speak bed-rock wisdom,” laughed Douglas. “I suppose it’s the choice of a short rest if we’re reasonable, or the long one under the six feet of earth, if we’re unreasonable. The choice is up to us.”
“Whom can I leave to manage things if I get out for two or three months?” whimpered the old man.
“You’d be amazed and perhaps hurt to think how easily you could be spared,” said Jim heartlessly. “The world can do without any of us for a short or a long term or altogether, only it suits our vanity to think it can’t. Just give it a trial and we’ll be wiser and humbler maybe.”
“How are you making out on the road?” asked MacPhee changing the uncomfortable topic.
“Pretty well,” the other answered.
“Yes, I’ll admit freely that you could sell bottles at the North Pole where the liquids are cut with an axe, but I should think that to go back to the road after holding down a manager’s job isn’t all sugar,” said MacPhee.
“There’s no job all sugar that ever I met with,” replied Jim. "But anyway, I’ve got a free hand, and if I see anything wrong that can be righted my people back me up in righting it. That’s something.”
“Still the road’s but a stage in a business man’s development, and one of these days you’ll be getting a notion that a bed at home is better than taking chances in any kind of a shack they call a hotel.”
“That’s right. It isn’t all solid comfort on the road,” responded Jim.
There was a long pause, in the course of which MacPhee shrouded himself in a screen of tobacco smoke. “When the doctor told me his opinion, there were three ways, that I could see, open to me. The first was to take no notice of him and his warnings: the second was to quit and sell out— there’s a syndicate that would buy me out any time I want to lift my finger, and at a handsome figure too; the third was to bring in new blood, a helper to hold the fort while I am away. I guess there’s some truth in what the doctor says, at seventy-two a man doesn’t fight as he did at thirty-two, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. I can’t quit, as I was saying to Ida; to do that would be to finish me right off. More men, especially those who have worked, are killed by idleness than by business. I’ve seen that place grow from a little one-room fish shack to what it is now.”
He drew Jim to the window and they looked across the little dip of the broad valley to the height beyond where stood the MacPhee factories.
“It isn’t only my money’s there, but my heart, and mind—God forgive me!—I’d almost said my soul,” he continued. “Sometimes in the battling days, when I was sore pinched for money, and the game, for want of it, seemed up, I was tempted to take a partner. There were lots I might have had, men who wanted to throw their money in with me because they had faith in me, but I held out. If I took their money that place would belong to them and me, but I wanted it to belong just to me, and it’s mine now, a success, at the end of the day. I made a mistake, I ought to have married and raised sons. They’d be about me this day, and their sons, but I’m a dying tree and with me my line falls. There’s just the lassie.
“Jim, she’s a MacPhee in brains and courage and independence. I tried her out, for her father, poor man, was a failure. A man with gifts of a sort, just gifts enough to miss the mark. If he’d had less brains he would have been all right, have made money, but he was just clever enough to miss the higher mark he shot at.
“I brought the girl down here, because she was of my own stock, bore my name. I was afraid of spoiling her by letting her think that she might look to my estate for what it might be worth after I had done with it. I gave her the start, and the rest she has done for herself. She’s all that I’d have a lassie of my own to be. When I’m done with, and a few bits of gifts to Bargrave charities are set aside, she’ll have everything there is. I’d like her to marry a big man, to match her own brains and spirit. When the world knows that she’ll have more than two or three millions of her own, she’ll be able to have her pick among the best.
“I WANT the factories for her, the next MacPhee to me. She knows nothing of this, and I don’t want her to know—yet. Not that it would spoil her, but it might make it appear that her kindness to me was inspired by what I intend to do for her. My own daughter could not be kinder, and what I like about it is that she doesn’t let the thought of my wealth enter into our relationship at all.
“She’s as independent as—well, as I was in my young day. Jim it’s been very wonderful. She’s almost made me believe that she likes me for what I am, and that’s the big marvel of it all. It’s the big mystery of these late days.
“That brings me to the third alternative, I want a man who can send MacPhee’s to the front again. I can’t do it, I’m past it. I’ve no man about me can—in my judgment. I once had a man I’d confidence in. If you were free I’d do what I never did before in my life, and never expected to do, ask a man who’d left me to come back again."
“I’m free, if that’s what you’re driving at,” said Jim, after some quiet reflection. “That is I can go on with the firm I’ve been with, but my contract ended with this trip. But it’s no use going into the thing blindfold, or hiding difficulties. I still hold to what I said before. The place hasn’t been kept up to date. With some modernizing MacPhee’s could be sent to the top of the tree again, but I wouldn’t come back if I was to have my hands tied behind my back. I don’t mean that I shouldn’t consult you, or take your opinion and try to follow it as far as I thought it could be done, but, as you’d expect me to make good, I’d want you to let me choose my way of doing it. If you are afraid of this, you’d better say so, and no harm would be done."
MacPhee did not reply at once. He wanted Jim, knew that he must have him, but to abdicate was not an easy thing after fifty years of unquestioned rule.
“How would a couple of years’ contract do?” he asked. “You’d have a free hand.”
It was not a very generous offer, considering the magnitude of the task that had to be accomplished, but Jim was satisfied to have the chance. He would risk a great deal to be able to convince the old man and the world that he could put back into MacPhee’s what it had lost. If he could not in two years show that he was right, he would be content to drop out again.
“That would be all right,” he said. He knew that MacPhee, having given his word, would stand by it during the term the contract ran.
THERE was little else to settle. The two clasped hands and the matter was concluded. “I’ll go over to the links. I promised Miss MacPhee to be there at four,” said Douglas presently. He seemed quieter, more reserved than he had been half an hour before. MacPhee, also, was not in a talkative mood. He accompanied Jim to the door and watched him as he walked along the road.
Away from the house Douglas looked at his watch. Having time on his hands he took a roundabout way to the golf course, strolling through the strip of woodland that fringed the links. He walked slowly, reflecting on all that MacPhee had said. It was not the business side of the conversation that occupied his mind. The new contract he had made was allowed to take a back place. His thought rested on what MacPhee had said regarding Ida. He wished the old man had kept the story of his plans and purposes regarding the girl to himself. It seemed to cloud things needlessly. The very last thought in his mind had been that MacPhee was likely to leave money to her. The old man had always shunned his relatives.
There were distant connections who had sought to ingratiate themselves, and find jobs on the works. MacPhee would have none of them until he fetched Ida from his dead brother’s home. Relatives were to the old man as a red rag is supposed to be to a bull. They stirred up all the resentful animosity there was in him. He had let it be known that when he died his money would not provide snug nests for his kin, in which they might bask in the rays of the prosperity he had worked for and earned. It was the general expectation in Bargrave that when MacPhee died and his will was read, he would be found to have done something ingeniously exasperating with his millions.
In common with most Bargrave people he had anathematised the brutality of the old man in denying Ida a place in his home, and placing her in lodgings. Then, as if he meant that she must not look to him for anything without working for it, he had brought her into the offices. Of course, working in an office was creditable enough, and it was well for a girl to be independent, but MacPhee might have done something better for his brother’s girl. Jim had begun by liking the girl, her fresh beauty, her clear, forth-looking, brown eyes, the trimness of her, her quick, alert capability, and then, being an impetuous and headlong sort of man, had fallen in love with her.
He had a young man’s dreams of a home to be made. In his own mind he had practically fixed the spot on which this bit of heaven should be located and anchored down. It was on the edge of the very woodland he was treading, with a view of the woods and fields on the one side, Bargrave on the other, and, past the houses and factories, in the distance the silver line of the sea. There he would build a house, not a very big one yet—but a house with expansive possibilities—and there one day he and she would come riding up from Bargrave, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, and eternal felicity would start in right then and there. No more office for Ida, no more listening to the grouches of her Uncle, no more dull rooms in a lodging house. And he could do it all, he wanted to do it, he ached to do it. What would they care for MacPhee and his millions? He could do what he wanted with them. In a world in which MacPhee had made money, he, Jim Douglas, could make money.
WHEN Ida had spoken to him at lunch of MacPhee’s illness and the doctor’s orders, his vision of home for Ida and himself had revived somewhat. He knew pretty well what MacPhee thought of him, and was conceited enough to fancy that if a bridge could be laid down between them, Mac would walk over. So far so good, but he wished the old man had kept his confidences about his confounded will to himself. Let him keep his millions, or give them, if he wished, to found a university in Patagonia for the teaching of Volapuk to the benighted natives. Why thrust this money on his niece who could, with Jim Douglas, get on very well without it? She would be an heiress now, and it seemed to cloud everything. Jim did not despise money. He had had his dreams of millions. They had not yet been banished from his mind by any means. He hoped that one day he and Ida would enjoy them, the fruits of his labor. He had all the jealousy of sensitive young love, and in his eyes the man should be the giver, the woman the receiver. There was something cheap and mean in a man with nothing at his back but his salary marrying a woman of large fortune. It was now nearing four o’clock, so he walked on more smartly and reached the links in time to watch the finish of a foursome in which Ida and none other than Mulhouse opposed the Wingates, husband and wife. All three of Ida’s companions were familiarly known to Douglas, and they gave him a pleasant greeting, the Wingates particularly so. Mulhouse was the big Bargrave rival of the MacPhee concern. He was a lean, keen-looking man of little more than the age of Douglas. With money at his back, for he belonged to an influential family, he had started a glass factory on a big scale, and had made good. He was not the practical man that Jim was, nor so good a salesman, but he was a strenuous contender for whatever business loomed up. Some of the trade said that he w;s unscrupulous in his methods of going after it, hut, of course, that is said by the defeated of every winner.
Jim was rather astonished to find him playing with Ida, for he had been only a little while back one of MacPhee’s pet aversions. The old man had been inclined, at first, to scoff at the presumption of this inexperienced youngster of aristocratic family who believed he could jump into a highly technical business and succeed against men who had been almost born in the trade. However, Mulhouse had made a success of the business as far as he had gone. He knew enough to surround himself with men who could supply the practical knowledge he lacked, and he himself went out to attend to trade hunting, the diplomatic side of the business. To MacPhee all fights were for blood. He could not understand two men, in the ring or in trade, pawing at each other with big gloves on their fists. If a competitor came into one’s field, that was a challenge direct.
The trade he got was something you might have had and your business was to dispose of him as swiftly as possible. Wingate was one of the most important customers of the MacPhee firm, and had been for several years. He was widely known over a large part of the continent as the manufacturer of the famous medicinal specific, Wingate’s Wine of Life. The contract for the bottles in which the celebrated remedy was put up kept an important part of the MacPhee plant going steadily throughout the year. He was the kind of man whom Mulhouse would court assiduously, and Jim found no fault with him for that. A man had the right to all the trade he could corral fairly, no matter who fancied he had proprietary rights to it. All the players gave Jim an invitation to join them at tea in the Club House.
“Been back long?” Wingate asked as they strolled toward the nineteenth hole.
“Only came back this morning,” the other answered. “Ran down from Detroit to see how things were looking.” He did not wish to speak of his new engagement until he had told Ida of it.
Mulhouse was very agreeable. Jim knew that he could have picked up a good job with the new firm any time after he left MacPhee, but he had a kind of loyalty to the old concern that kept him from identifying himself with the big local rival of the old man with whom he had been all his working life.
The conversation ran on golfing and Bargrave topics, just over-the-teacups talk, but Jim was surprised to notice how friendly Ida and Mulhouse were. He fancied that the head of the rival business had hardly known her twelve months before. Mulhouse was rather superior in his manners, and had a keen perception of the difference there was between people in his social station and those who occupied humble positions and worked for small salaries. He was not at all snobbishly offensive, but understood all about the lines of social demarcation, and would not have been at all likely to be on very friendly terms with a girl who was a kind of superior stenographer for old MacPhee, no matter how agreeable she might be. It was the kind of thing that people like Mulhouse did not do in the small town society of Bargrave.
As Jim listened to the light chatter he guessed that Mulhouse made a difference between the office girl and the niece and only near relative of MacPhee. The young hustler never overlooked a bet, and there was no telling what kind of a mapped-out plan might be found if one could get below the neatly-parted and brushed fair hair of the rival of MacPhee.
Jim knew Mulhouse, and as the five of them gossipped for a half hour, a great many thoughts flitted through his mind. Presently the party broke up. It was understood that Jim had come to meet Ida, for Bargrave had known of their friendship, and had prophesied the altar way as the probable outcome of it, so the Wingates went off after giving an invitation to the two, laughingly, into their car, and Mulhouse had business in another direction.
"I shall see you again. Miss MacPhee this evening," he said at parting. "Mr. MacPhee was good enough to ask me to dinner."
Decidedly, thought Jim Bargrave was moving mysteriously. Mulhouse took himself off and Ida and Jim set out to walk home.
She thought Jim a little quieter than usual, much more subdued than when she had lunched with him at midday. Perhaps she guessed the cause accurately, and was not displeased with it. Sometimes a little jealousy in man is the most delicate kind of compliment, or at least a strengthening of the tribute to the woman of his heart. Now and again she shot a little glance at her companion as they passed along the narrow trail. There was the trace of laughter on her lips, the sunshine of mischievous happiness in her eyes, the laughter and sunshine of a woman who loves.
He was silent so long that she had to speak.
“You went up to see Uncle Jim?" she asked.
“Yes. I had quite a long chat with him,” he replied. “You certainly have turned the place upside down. It’s nothing less than a revolution. He was as hard to stir before as a bear in his winter lair, but he’s all for the changes now. He is wonderfully cheerful for an ailing man.”
“What chance had he to be cheerful before?” she asked. “Nothing but business all these years, life just bottles, till it seemed as if he had been thrust into one and stoppered. He had no friends to take him out of the groove, no family to warm his heart and take his thought away from himself. If a man lives in an ice-house he is pretty sure to freeze.”
“No one put him in an ice-box; he got there himself,” said Jim.
“Jim, you are getting flinty,” she rebuked him. “Of course nobody makes a man grouchy, he just get’s that way himself. Tell me, what did you talk about?” she went on, perceiving the hopelessness of his abstraction.
“Well, the wonderfully changed house. He is as pleased with it as a child with a new toy,” said Jim.
“Why shouldn’t he be? That shows he is coming back to what he always ought to have been,” she replied.
“Then of you, the wonder you are, and the wonders you have wrought,” he went on warming up under the influence of the subject.
“And that of course was news to you, newer than the changed house gave you?” she responded, her eyes in turn looking straight ahead, so that when his rested upon them there was no real interchange.
“No, I knew most of it long before he woke up to make the discovery,” said Jim.
“And then?” she pursued.
“Just one thing and another, but the wind-up amounted to this, that I am coming back to the works under a two-year contract. I am to have a free hand, the one thing asked of me being that I make good; how I am to do it is left to me,” he replied.
“I am glad, Jim,” she said at length. “Glad for you and for Uncle.” She said it very soberly and very earnestly, but he could not catch her eyes.
“And for nobody else?” he asked.
“Yes, for the workpeople,” she smiled. “You were always popular with them, and they will be pleased to know you are returning, as they were sorry when you left.”
“And is that all?” he demanded, against his better judgment.
“Who else is there to consider?” she laughed. “Of course I told you, did I not, that I was glad?”
THIS time their eyes did meet. There was demure laughter, smiling challenge in hers. Jim almost followed the impulse of heart and brain ; very nearly did what common-sense bade him do, suspend argument and word bickering, take her in his arms and kill romantic fooleries with romance itself.
“If only MacPhee had kept the story of his intention to himself,” was the thought that clouded everything else in his mind.
Three or four hours ago he would have obeyed the impulse with swift promptness, but now, in a way, she seemed different to him. She was sweet and pretty and friendly and approachable as ever, and yet there seemed to be about her a barrier—a barrier of money. As MacPhee had said, a woman with the factories and his millions virtually in hand might pick and choose among men. She had known few of them, and none so intimately as she had known him. What in marriage would seem suitable for a girl working in an office for a small weekly salary would not be suitable for a woman with millions in her pocket and the big world before her, a world in which there are quite a number of desirable men. He, Douglas, had come up from the ranks. His people had been ordinary working folks.
According to their standards he had been a big success, his salary seemed huge, but according to the standard fixed by her position as MacPhee’s heiress, he would not amount to a great deal. And, thinking it all over, Douglas decided that he might be all kinds of an undesirable person, but he was not the kind who would be content to live on a woman’s money; and to keep up an establishment such as she ought to have in the light of her new position would mean more than he could tackle right away.
To speak to her now of love would be to take advantage of her ignorance of what the future had in store for her. MacPhee, in the sneering way he had at times, would not be afraid to suggest that the knowledge of what was coming to Ida had influenced his precipitateness. Then the same notion might enter Ida’s mind when she found out. He thought she liked him, and sometimes he dared hope that the feeling was more than liking, but—well, this money affair had changed everything. He cast about for a subject that would act as a safety valve to love, and found one.
“I was surprised to see Mulhouse one of the foursome,” he smiled. Ida could have laughed outright. There was the delicious little touch of jealousy appearing again. Silly Jim! But this silliness was not a bit disagreeable.
“Why?” she asked. “He plays a good game and is very nice and agreeable.”
“I thought the Jews had no dealing with the Samaritans,” he answered. “In other words, that the MacPhees and the Mulhouses were Bargrave’s Montagus and Capulets. Your uncle used to take business rivalries to very far extremes; a competitor was more or less an enemy— generally more.”
“But since the Association was formed, all that has been changed. There are no more business rivalries, as there once were. The lion lies down with the lamb now,” she replied.
“That’s all new to me,” he said.
“The glass people hereabouts have joined together in this association. Their idea is to establish an approximation to standardizing prices, and so to eliminate cutthroat competition,” she explained. “There is a sort of understanding about each respecting what might be called the other’s sphere of influence, and while there is still competition, in a way, its sting has been drawn to a large extent by the uniform schedule of prices.”
“I should think that came pretty near an illegal combination in restraint of trade, as the lawyers put it,” he commented.
“I don’t know about that,” she replied. “It is a sort of gentlemen’s agreement to prevent price-slashing. The suggestion came in the first place, I believe, from Mr. Mulhouse, and uncle thought, after consideration, that it might be a good thing.”
“And how does it work?” he asked.
“There is some dissatisfaction, I understand, among the members,” she answered. “Some of them complain that the agreement is not being loyally kept by all, that there is secret price-slashing so that those who are faithful to the agreement are injured by those who do not stand by it. It has been said that Mr. Mulhouse has not adhered to the compact, but there has been no proof whatever, nothing but suspicion and the talk of jealous people. I don’t believe a single word of it, but you know how envyings spring up among those who are left behind in a contest. Mr. Mulhouse is a successful man, and, of course, there are those who think and suggest evil things of him. It is a compliment to his abilities and accomplishments.”
BY THIS time they had reached the gate of the MacPhee residence. There they paused for a few minutes. “You are coming up to dinner to-night?” she asked, almost as a matter of course. She supposed that probably her uncle had already invited him.
"No, I am afraid I shan’t be able to,” he replied.
“There is a great deal to be done in connection with the sudden changing of my plans.”
“Yes, I am sure there must be,” she said, after a pause, trying to keep the disappointment out of her tones. A few hours before she would have been certain that no mortal business would have kept him away from her this first evening, after months of absence. What was the matter with Jim? It was not like him to be morose and sulky. Then she put away the thought as silly and unreasonable and unjust to Jim. A few hours earlier he had not anticipated the swift change in circumstances.
There must be a great deal for him to do. Still—well, Jim, this afternoon wasn’t quite like the Jim she had known.
“When do you expect to take up your position at the works?” she asked.
“Right away, on Monday,” he told her. “Well, I must hurry in. I also have a great deal to do, and since Mr. Mulhouse is to be here for supper, everything must look nice. We have not been accustomed to do much in the way of social entertainment, and you’d laugh to find how fussy uncle is about it. He makes the life of Mrs. Dawson positively miserable. Perhaps I’ll see you at church tomorrow.” She gave him her hand at parting and, shaking it rather indifferently, Jim took himself off with the idea flitting about his mind that he had made rather an ass of himself.
Confound Mulhouse, and equally confound old MacPhee, he grumbled to himself as he went down the street. He had no business to attend to that could not be settled any time in an hour or so. Of course he wanted to let the firm he had been working for know his decision not to take another contract with them, but there was no immediate hurry about that—none that would prevent him eating dinner in a friend’s house. When he neared his lodgings he came back to his normal state of intelligence and told himself he was a fool and a sullen idiot not to have accepted what was practically an invitation for the evening. He hoped that MacPhee would call him on the ’phone and bid him come up, and to his great joy, this happened shortly after he reached the house.
“What’s this Ida tells me about your not coming up, Jim?” demanded the old man over the wire.
“Well, there’s quite a bit to do,” Douglas responded.
“No more than when you quit me,” snapped the voice of MacPhee. “You did it all inside three minutes. Come along up, we’re waiting for you, and I tell you, Jim, Ida’s been spreading herself to some tune. She’ll be mad as hops if you aren’t here to see it all.”
“Don’t you believe a word of it, Jim,” Ida broke in, her voice mingling with old MacPhee’s chuckles. “I’d hate to have you postpone your work, especially such very important work, but, if you found on second thought that it might be put off a few hours, well, you know we’d be glad to see you. Uncle has insisted that we lay a place at table for you.”
“It’s mighty good of you, Ida,” Jim responded humbly. “I’d like to come, as you know, and if you’ll forgive me, and let me change my decision, I’d be glad to come. It sounds a bit kiddish, but—well, I want to see the wonders of the place.”
“Hurry, then, so that things won’t spoil. I’m glad, Jim, you can come.” Douglas imagined there was more in the gratification than the mere words expressed. He rushed off to change his clothes and smarten himself up for the occasion.
And meantime Ida was busily occupied. There was the table to decorate, for the tastes of Mrs. Dawson did not run much in the direction of ornament. The table to her was a place for food, and as the average human being does not eat flowers, pretty shades, and dainty linen, these articles seemed so much useless trumpery to her.
MR. MULHOUSE came first, and Mr. MacPhee took him off into the snuggery till dinner was ready. The younger man knew how to make himself agreeable and, latterly, much of the antipathy toward him that the old man had formerly entertained had vanished.
“Jim Douglas will be up presently,” said the old man in a lull of the conversation. “Perhaps you haven’t heard that Jim is coming back to me?”
“No, when was that fixed?” asked Mulhouse, genuinely astonished.
“Just this afternoon,” replied MacPhee, enjoying slyly the other’s surprise. “As a matter of fact he never ought to have left me, but we had a spat, the fur flew a bit, and then Jim flew after it. Touchy as a barrel of gunpowder, and independent as Lucifer himself. But I always had a notion of getting him back. I really bred him to the trade, he was mine all the time, and now I’m getting down the hill, he’s the one of all I’ve had about me that can step into my shoes with some degree of satisfaction to myself.”
“Yes, it’s a good stroke,” answered Mulhouse. “I’d like to have got him myself, and, between us I can tell you I tried a while back, but couldn’t land him. A good man.”
“A star,” amended MacPhee cheerily. “That boy could nose out business underground, and when he got after it he wanted some shoving aside. Then he was unlike a bunch of so-called salesmen who are good finders, but no more. He could close out a deal, it didn’t slip from him just when the cup was at the lip, and you know how many can do that. Most of ’em have no notion how to finish a trade and clinch it up, but Jim had' it. He’s a big time man, and, of course, with a big time man, like one of these opera singing women, you’ve got to stand a lot of what they call temperament. I guess that both Jim and I were born with our share of it, so we scrapped, but I’m taking a back seat now. I’m benched, Mulhouse.”
“Benched! I guess so,” grinned the other. “A bench won’t hold you, Mr. MacPhee, unless they have chains on it and fasten them to you. I guess Jim will be out to make us hustle.”
“You bet,” chuckled MacPhee. “You’ll have it pretty much to yourselves, and you’re both young and scrappy. It’ll be fun watching for me anyway. Both of you "big time men—nothing of the busher, or ten, twenty, thirty show about you, eh? Jim’s come back on his own terms, and he’s going to turn MacPhee’s inside out. Lucky to be able to do it on another man’s money, but there it is, some folks may say it’s sign of senile decay on my part, and sometimes I think, myself, that it is, but Jim’s going to have a show.”
"We’ll get on all right,” smiled Mulhouse. '“With the Association agreement to smooth things out, we’ll work like Damon and Pythias.”
TO IDA’S vast satisfaction the dinner turned out a most wonderful success. She was much excited in her quiet way, and the pink flush made her cheeks all the prettier. Mulhouse was very complimentary in a pleasantly quiet way, and she liked his praise. Jim did not say much but she was satisfied with what she read in his eyes. He thought she had never looked so charming. She had dressed her smartest for the occasion.
At first, when she thought that Jim was not coming, she had almost resolved not to wear her newest and prettiest dress. She had put it on, and surveyed herself in the glass, and then, her disappointment about Jim was so great that she had almost decided to take it off again. She had intended Jim to be the first to see her in it. It was a very special dress, and had cost more than any other three dresses she had ever owned. She had almost made up her mind to put on an old one instead of it, and then came the conversation over the ’phone that brought the brightness into her eyes again. The homage of the three men added to her pretty embarrassment for a moment. There was compliment in the gaze of Mr. Mulhouse as the dainty little figure, charmingly clad, entered the room. Jim’s eyes feasted on her as those of one who finds new beauty in a much loved woman. MacPhee beamed with unconcealed pride, and his spoken praises were very brief, very tactful, and very pleasant.
Mulhouse noted the pride in the old man’s eyes. The girl was not the poor relative, placed in the position of honor as a makeshift, but the daughter of the house who could scarcely have been more to the rich old man had she been verily his own flesh and blood. The girl had touched a long-covered spring in the tough old heart of John MacPhee, the door of the treasure-house had sprung open, and the rich hoard of affection, so long buried, was lavished on her.
There was a pleasant old-fashioned evening in the new-fashioned drawingroom. It was a cosy spot, nothing formal or precise about it, but a place planned and furnished for comfort. MacPhee banned the pipe in this room and smoked cigars, no inconsiderable sacrifice for him. There was music; Ida played and sang. Mulhouse was known for his all round musical ability, and he not only sang, but amused them by clever, popular improvisations of his own on the piano. He was a born entertainer, and this night he laid himself out, with no small measure of success, to amuse the little company. Jim was no hand at the piano, but he could sing a rousing good song, and so contributed his part to the evening’s pleasure. Old MacPhee sat in his armchair and had the time of his life. There was nothing wonderful about the evening or the entertainment, but so barren and colorless had been the old man’s life that he enjoyed the evening’s amusement as a small boy becomes enraptured with a pantomine. The two visitors left early, for the morrow was the Sabbath, and MacPhee an invalid.
“A grand night, Ida! A grand night, lassie!” he said, after the men had gone. “There’s a mighty lot of life I’ve missed, but it’s good to catch up with any of it. A couple of classy lads, big time men both of ’em. I misjudged Mulhouse for a long while, but I’ve got to like him. Brains, some money, and social standing, and, best of all—drive. That’s what your aristocrat usually lacks. If he had it he’d sweep the board and prove himself that he’s aristocrat by right. Blood counts, there’s a lot in breed, and when with blood and breed you have vision, grip, and drive there’s little mortal on this earth can stop such a man. They say he’s crooked some ways, over-keen, but what man is there who elbows his way out of the ruck they don’t say the same of? If the mob can’t keep up with a man they chuck mud after him. It’s the only weapon they have. I’m glad Jim came up. Of course you knew Jim was coming back to me?” he added.
“Yes, he said you had come to an agreement,” she said.
“Had to, honey. There was the doctor against me, and there was Ida, my girl, anxious for the old man, and there was the feeling I had away down that both were a little bit right, and so I agreed to let Jim have his head for a couple of years, just to see how he can make out. We’ll see what will be done. New brooms sweep clean, so they say. In some ways I feel better already, I guess that’s because I know that a strong pair of young shoulders are under the load, and it was heavy at times, honey, terrible heavy. So I’m superannuated, pensioned, shelved for two years. Old MacPhee is to be seen and not heard, to stay put. I’ve to sit on the bleachers watching the young blood work. I’m going to be critic instead of a subject for critics, maybe the critic of a critic, for Jim always fancied these late years that he knew more than I did.”
“No, I don’t think that, uncle,” she answered. “There was a difference of opinion in some matters.”
“Well, call it what you like,” he smiled. “We couldn’t hit it off, but that’s all done with and by gone. Fifty years I’ve had of it, starting in from nothing, adding to the place brick by brick, machine by machine. The young think their word the essence of the wisdom of the ages, and that the universe was a kind of chaos, without form and void, with darkness over the face of the waters, until they came into a saying, ‘Let there be Light!’
“In my young days I thought all before me twilight folk; Jim now thinks that of me; and Jim’s children will think that of him when their turn comes. So, Ida, girl, I’m just going to sit quietly and watch the new man who’s going to revolutionize MacPhee’s. I’ll be loyal to my word. He shall have his head and go his own gait this side the bankruptcy court. My motto, when I plank down my bet on man or horse is the old one: ‘Be man or mouse, hedge nought.’ So we’ll hang round here a few weeks so as to let Jim get going and give him the kind of start off he wants, and then we’ll be off and join the ranks of the idle rich, the non-producers, those who toil not, neither do they spin. Maybe Jim will be all the happier when we are out of his way, and he has all the floor to himself to spread round in.”
“You mean you want me to go with you, uncle?” she asked, for this had never entered her mind.
“Of course I do,” he replied. “Who am I, in my semi-dotage to go rambling off by myself? That is, honey, I want you to go if you can put up with me.”
He said it, not jocularly, but with a pathetic humility that touched her.
“Why, of course, dear, I’d love to go with you. But, it is so wonderful. I had not thought of it,” she said.
AS SHE laid aside her work and was preparing to go upstairs for the night, he bade her farewell, and at the same time thrust a cheque into her hand.
“Spend it, lassie, every cent of it, and as much more, and as often as you want it. There’s been nobody to spend it on before. All scraping it together and hoarding it up. Like the Man with the Muckrake in Bunyan, perhaps you know. Sometimes I think I am that man. He scraped and raked among the sticks and straws, his head downbent, his eyes on the muck pile, so that he never was able to behold the glittering crown held out to him from above. The money is a little token of thanks for the sunshine you’ve brought into a dour old man’s gloomy life. Good-night!”
It was a four-figure cheque, more money than all the earnings of a twelvemonth. She wanted to see the world, for she was a normal girl, just arrived at womanhood, eager, reasonably fond of pleasure, wishful to see the wider life and all the marvel of it, and yet, as she sat by her open window looking toward the town, and strip of moonlit sea beyond, Bargrave had a mighty hold on her, more so than yesterday, for it was now to be the home town of Jim Douglas. She realised that it meant more to her than all the wonders of the world. How would he make out with his new big task?
In a sense it would not be new to him, but now all the responsibility would rest alone on his shoulders. He would have to make big decisions involving great outlay, and nothing but great success would justify him. Two years was not a long time in which to work cut a great commercial problem, that would have to be carried in detail on a great scale. Much pulling down would have to be done before there could be upbuilding. Her uncle would keep his word to the very letter, but she knew him.
The MacPhees did not go away at once, hut remained at home two weeks after Jim had entered on his task. The latter cordially, in his own mind, wished the old man would go away, for he was getting the least bit on Jim’s nerves. There was a docility about him that was positively uncanny to those who had known him in his pre-retirement days.
He listened to all his new chief had to say about machinery and rearrangement with an exasperating good humor.
“If you think so, Jim, then so it must he,” he would say when Douglas would have preferred a little discussion, or even mild opposition.
“But what do you think about it?” Douglas would ask.
“What I think in a matter like this counts for nothing,” MacPhee’s reply would be. “My notion of a real autocrat, is one who commands others and does not let what the rank and file think bother him at all.”
After a time Douglas gave up asking his opinion, and MacPhee would look on the changes that were being wrought in profound silence, pottering about here and there, and eyeing the alterations as if he were the most casual and uninformed visitor. This new humility on the part of the one-time martinet galled Jim more than open fighting would have done, and MacPhee appeared to understand and enjoy it. He was proud of his amazing meekness with a pride that none but the meek ever have.
Ida kept on with her work at the office until two days before she and her uncle took their departure. She did not view her approaching holiday with unmixed pleasure. She felt that she would have liked to stand by, and give Jim all the silent encouragement in her power. He had not been to the house very often recently and when he did come the conversation was mostly with her uncle, and concerning the business with which his mind was fully occupied.
“So you leave us in two days, Ida,” he said, on the last occasion she went down to the office. “The change will be very pleasant for you.”
“Yes, I am looking forward to it with a great deal of pleasure. I’d be a queer girl if I didn’t,” she replied. “Of course I like Bargrave. I am a small town person. Some people say that it’s dull, but I never find it so. Perhaps I shall after I have seen more of the world.”
She laughed and looked at Jim a little mischievously; “Then I shall miss the works and my little corner of the big business. I have liked to imagine that I was of some little importance. Vanity, you know. But I have always had a wish to travel, though I never imagined the opportunity would come my way.”
“We shall miss you, Ida, at the works. The office won’t seem quite the same with you out of it,” he said.
“Jim, you’re beginning to flatter, and I’ve always thought of you as a truthful man before, but it’s very nice to be flattered in that way,” she sighed. “I’m awfully susceptible to flattery. I like to think I am of some importance. It never had occurred to me until recently. It’s all uncle’s fault, and now you follow in his steps."
“It's true enough,” he replied. “I don’t think I shall let anybody else take that room. It shall remain just as it is till you get back. Then, I suppose, we shall not see much of you at the works.”
“And why not?” she inquired.
"Oh, I don’t know,” he answered lamely.
“I don’t suppose you do,” she reproved him with severity. “But, Jim, I want to say that I wish you all kinds of good luck with your work. I know how hard it will be especially at first, and how discouraging until you get things where you want them to be, but I believe in your plans, and feel sure that you will win out and justify yourself.”
"That’s mighty nice of you, Ida,” he responded warmly. "Sometimes I fancy that Mr. MacPhee would like me to trip up, just as a rebuke to my conceit, as he thinks of it. He has become so polite and sugary to me all at once. I can’t suggest anything, hut it’s mine for me as soon as the hint is dropped. There’s nothing too good for me. I know your uncle, Ida, and it isn’t natural. When the East wind begins to blow zephyrs, it's high time to get ready for squalls. The thing’s ominous.”
She laughed with him.
“But don’t you see how uncle is changing every way?” she asked. “Who would have expected him to give me a free hand in the house as he has done, and to enjoy our little social entertainments? He has come out of his shell, renewed his youth, and with the renewal has come a change of disposition. No, I don’t want to say that. He always had that kind of disposition, but it never had a chance to come out into the daylight before. Why, Jim, if he’d met and married some nice girl fifty years ago, he’d have been an utterly different man.”
“I suppose he would. I hinted something of the kind to him the other day’ when we were talking about my coming back to the works,” he laughed.
THEY had rambled up the road slowly in the gathering dusk, and at the gate they lingered. It was a pleasant, shady spot, with tall trees spreading their branches above them. The autumn leaves were falling, not drearily. A high hedge separated the MacPhee garden from the highroad. There was much that Jim would have liked to say, much that would have harmonized with place and hour and heart of the girl. She looked very alluring in the half light. There was a prolonged expectant kind of silence, broken at last by Ida.
“And you mustn’t take too much notice of Uncle’s manner,” she said. “At heart he wants you to win. Of course his ways provoke me a little sometimes, especially lately about the works, but if I were you I would take all his oddities as but an emphasis of the challenge thrown out to you. He will be the first and the loudest to sing your praises when you come off victorious, as I know you will. There is nothing cheap or mean about him, and that’s why he sticks to his opinion the way he does. He’s got to be shown, the thing has to be proved, and you can and will, I know, prove it to him.”
“Ida, you’d put heart into a stone man,” he smiled down on her. “I’ll surely miss you tremendously when you’ve gone, not only from the office but everywhere. The town won’t be the same. It will be a changed Bargrave. I suppose I’ll hear from you sometimes?”
It seemed to her that it was a new, humbler Jim who was thus speaking to her. Somebody besides Mr. MacPhee had changed. Jim, who used to be so frank and outspoken, seemed to be getting tongue-tied. He who had been most spontaneous was making polite conversation.
“Why, of course I’ll write, as I have always done,” she answered. “I shall be very keen to know what is happening here, not through your letters to uncle only, but in direct report tome.”
“You shall have reports,” he laughed. “I want to make good, Ida, in order to show Mr. MacPhee that what I have said could be done has been actually accomplished, but I think I wish it every bit as much in order to show my friends, and you especially, that faith in me was not misplaced. I shall see you off at the station when you leave the day after tomorrow.” And he held out his hand to her.
It was an awkward, abrupt kind of parting, but Ida went into the house much happier than she had been for some time. She knew that Jim cared—cared in a different way than even a few weeks before. He would miss her. He had said so twice, and it had been in all else he had spoken, as it had been in his unusual awkward silences. She guessed why he had been silent on the topic that was uppermost, she felt, in the heart of each of them. He was the kind of man who would wait until he had accomplished his task and and had made good. With that confidence held close in her heart, she was abundantly content. The ultimate victory would be hers as well as his.
The day before departure Jim and MacPhee were in the latter’s office clearing up some odds and ends of business. The main part of the work done, the old man swung his chair round and lighted his pipe.
“Jim,” he said. “I think you might as well be looking round for a new secretary. I don’t want to dictate to you about your office arrangements. Maybe you may not want a secretary, but I thought I might as well tell you that Ida won’t be likely to come back into the office. I’ve said nothing to her about it yet, but later on I’ll let her know what’s in my mind on the matter. As things are going to be with her, she’ll want to be settling down in her place in the new world she’ll belong to. After all a MacPhee lass has no business to be just a kind of superior stenographer. I haven’t been much of a society light myself, but then I’m nothing to go by.”
Which Jim thought, socially speaking, was abundantly true.
“I’ve always been old Jack MacPhee,” he continued, “and will be till I’m dead and done for, and a good while, maybe, after that, but it will be a different sort of a world for the lass. She’s got to go into society, meet folks of her own grade. There’ll be plenty to welcome her, first for what they know she’s going to have, and then, when they get to know her, for what she is. She can’t he mixing up with folks like you and me and the rabble and roughnecks we have round the office. Maybe you think I’m a snob, and maybe, for the lass, I am. I’ll find the sinews of war, and she can do all the social campaigning she wants, Toronto, Montreal, London, England, or anywhere else. She’ll have the ammunition for big town work. Bargrave will be all right as the pile where she digs her stuff, but she’s to be no small town woman.”
“I’ll see about it, the secretary, I mean,” answered Jim quietly. “I don’t know that I’ll want one. One of the office clerks can do what I’ll require.”
“That’s as you please and see fit,” said MacPhee. “A lass with a hundred thousand a year or more maybe can find other diversion, if she wants it, beside working in a bottle factory.”
JIM made no response, for none was needed. He had much the same kind of view about Ida working in the office, but he would have preferred to solve the problem in another way.
“We’ll be back, I should guess, in round about three months, maybe in December, if we don’t take a notion to follow the birds south for the cold days,” continued MacPhee. “We’re heading for the Canadian Rockies for a starter. We shall be at Banff or thereabouts for a while, and I’ll acquaint you with our movements after that. When once we get on the fly there’s no telling when or where, we’ll fetch up, for this gay life has a wonderful attraction, so they say. I think I’ll take to it like a cat to cream. And who’d have thought it? I’ve always had the collar on till now, and I’m getting used to the pleasure of having it off. Shouldn’t wonder, before I finish, if I didn’t turn out one of them swell society lizards you hear about. Fancy me a kind of remittance man, Jim!
“And, by the way, did you hear that Ida and I were to have company on our way West? Just sprung on us last night. It seems that Mulhouse is going up to Lake Louise for two or three weeks, and so we are travelling together. He’ll come in handy, for he’s used to that; kind of life and all the frills that go with it. Ida seems to like him, what with his music and his golf, and one thing and another. It will be pleasant for her to have a change of company after being so much with an old hermit-let-loose like me. So long, Jim. You’ve got your head, and may the Lord have mercy on us both. I’ve built the place up from nothing, it's something now, and I want to keep it something, with the flag flying clear in all winds and against all comers for the time to be when I’m gone the way of my fathers, and the lassie reigns in my stead.”
And with the new information, and the final charge which came home to Jim like the placing in his hands of a great and solemn trust, old MacPhee left the office.
MULHOUSE returned at the end of his short trip, bringing reports of the good times the MacPhees were having in the West. To judge from his conversations, the friendship between the travellers and himself had ripened into almost intimacy during the two weeks they had spent together. He dropped into Jim’s office the day after he returned and spent the better part of an hour detailing the experiences of the MacPhees and himself. The old man was having the time of his life and Ida enjoying every minute of the trip. He, Mulhouse, had never spent a better two weeks.
He made no secret of his admiration for Ida. It was ridiculous that such a girl should have been boxed up in a place like Bargrave, holding a stenographer’s job, and knowing only the limited circle of old MacPhee’s acquaintances. She was pretty and clever, and Jim ought to have seen how popular she became with those they met in the West.
Jim doubtless ought to have been gratified by the news, but he was selfish enough to feel a bit gloomy. It was not that he grudged Ida all the fun she could have but from the way Mulhouse talked, one might read between the sentences that he had much more than a fellow townsman’s interest in the girl, and that she and he were on better terms than Jim cared to realise. To intensify his uncomfortable feelings, a letter came from MacPhee telling of his doings as social butterfly and general sport. There was nothing within it about business. MacPhee might have consigned the bottle business to perdition, so far as one might gather from his voluminous epistle. He told about his travels, the scores he had made on the golf links, and how much better he would have done had it not been for this or that unprecedented bit of ill-luck. That was all right, the thought of MacPhee as a sporting man was distinctly amusing, and brought a grin to Jim’s face.
Then the grin faded as he read on about Mulhouse. The business rival was a regular man, one of the most agreeable travelling companions he and Ida could have dropped on, seemed to know almost everybody and every place, and had the hang of things. There had been a time when he, MacPhee, thought him a light weight, but it had been a mistake. A man might be a swell socially and yet have brains. The fact seemed to have struck MacPhee as an amazing revelation. There were lots of surprising discoveries the old man was making now that he had crawled out of his shell. It had been his notion that a man whose folks had kept a servant, and who had been himself at a college was a rather inferior brand of numskull. Of course there were exceptions, but that was the general rule. On the whole, MacPhee reflected in his letter, this did not seem to be so. Anyway, Mulhouse was a thundering good chap, a real sport, a hot business proposition, and he and Ida seemed to have hit up a very pleasant sort of friendship.
THEN there came a letter from Ida herself, and she had much the same story to relate. She was having a most gorgeous time and enjoying herself vastly. Her uncle was spoiling her, and it had been very nice to have Mr. Mulhouse with them. They were inexperienced small town folks, but he was a cosmopolitan sort of person, who knew most people, or something about them, or some friends of theirs, and appeared as much at home in distant parts as on the High Street in Bargrave.
Her golf had improved under the tuition of Mr. Mulhouse, and they had— the three of them—gone for the most delightful trips in the mountains. Altogether, as Jim Douglas viewed the matter, there was a whole lot too much Mulhouse about the letters. He was not, he told himself, jealous; what had he to be jealous about? Ida and he were good friends, and if she had stuck in her old place, MacPhee’s stenographer or secretary, things might have been different, but everything had changed. Why shouldn’t she have a good time, and why shouldn’t Mulhouse be nice and agreeable and attentive to her? It was the natural thing, for she was a delightful girl who would be likely to attract any man, and no one knew better than this same Mulhouse how well old man MacPhee’s nest was feathered. Then no one could deny that Mulhouse came of good folks. His people had been on the topmost social rung not only in Bargrave but on a much more important ladder, not amazingly rich perhaps, but what counted even for more in the general esteem, democractic as the world is supposed to be. Jim gave him credit for keenness in business and for hustling, driving ability that made him the warmest competitor MacPhee’s had.
Jim had his hands fuller than they had ever been in the course of his busy life. For a long time—before he had thrown up his job -the replanning of the MacPhee plant had been one of his constant dreams, so that when he tackled the task he had a finished idea in his mind of just what he wanted. The place had the faults of plants that have been added to piecemeal. Here a building had been added, there a shop had been run up to meet the pressing emergencies of an expanding business.
Considering that the place was the sum of a dozen different emergencies, it was surprisingly efficient, but Jim saw it with clearer eyes than did MacPhee, whose idol it was, and who therefore could not judge it as impartially as others might. The arrangement was necessarily bad. Instead of each process standing compactly by itself in the most convenient order, there was part of it here, another part in a later building, making for confusion, disorder and useless cost. Jim wanted to have the place so that a man might start in with the basic materials for glassmaking at one end of the place, and walk on, step by step, following each process, till he came, without turnings back or side trips, to the finished article, ready to put on the cars.
MacPhee had been oddly conservative for so clear thinking a man. He hated to pull down what had at one time seemed to be the solution of a pressing problem. In his palmy days labor had been cheaper, the output was slower, there was not the fierce competition that had risen later. A little extra time, a bit more labor, did not seem to make much difference. Jim had shown him over and over again the big waste on the manufacturing cost, and how it might be cut down If the place was sorted out, and everything put in machine-like order. MacPhee would admit that the thing looked right on paper, but paper calculations and practical demonstration were two very different things.
If the changes had involved a small outlay it would not have been so bad, but it meant the partial stoppage of work for a certain time, and a very big outlay. Perhaps if Jim’s ideas had occurred to the old man himself in the first case he would have set to work to realise them, but Jim was a youngster. MacPhee had been glass-blower and bottle-maker before Jim was thought of, and it did not come easy for the veteran to take advice and push the plans of the man he still thought of as a recruit, or, at best, a subordinate officer. Few generals like to scrap their own plans and substitute for them those of an inferior in rank. Then not only had the plant to be rearranged, and its various departments brought into one efficient, economically working whole, but a lot of the machinery was out of date. It had done good service, and, years past, had been regarded as wonderful. It still remained so with MacPhee.
He had been an innovator in his young days, had substituted machine work for the slow and cumbersome manual labor, and it was hard for him to be convinced that what had been a world wonder in his younger days was old stuff to the later time. What had been to him a marvel of ingenuity, and time and money saving skill in his youth was the same to him still. The new advances in machinery were just clever contraptions that might seem to be all right, but would not stand up to the old machines in the long run. MacPhee had small opinion of the brains of the last generation, they were new-comers, and how could they know more than those who had been in the trade years before they were born?
Jim had shown him the work of a sample new machine that had been installed, and the old man regarded it with doubtful eye. It might be all right, perhaps it was, hut there was not enough difference to warrant the outlay involved. Jim had come to The conclusion, just before their split, that MacPhee did not want to be shown, and would not be convinced. He had decided that the old man figured that as his time was about done, and he had no sons to take the business up, he was going to let things go on as they were, and let those who came after, whoever they might be, do as they had a mind to do. It was this hopelessness rather than irritation with the obstinate manufacturer, that had induced Jim to leave.
NOW, MacPhee had given him a free hand, and the reassembling of the plant began. It was a difficult task t,o accomplish without a complete suspension of its activities, but Jim was managing it as best he could. New machinery had been ordered, not on a very large scale at once, but was being brought in gradually, a group of machines pulled down and sent to the scrap heap and the new ones substituted quickly so as to interfere as little as possible with the running of the place. There was enough to fill the hands of one man in this planning, scrapping, and replacing.
Then there was outside work that took up a great deal of attention. Since he had jumped into the saddle he had been brought into close contact, necessarily, with the working of the association, and it had not impressed him favorably. It seemed to him that a live wire, as Mulhouse undoubtedly was, had. by reason of his forceful activity, thrust this new arrangement down the throats of his competitors. He had a powerful personality, and made a powerful appeal to their interests. It. was the day of combinations, he pointed out. The old time individualism was dead and done for. Instead of each firm battling against the rest, price slashing, profit shaving in order to grab business, those whose interest it was should seek to eliminate competition, standardize prices within reasonable limits, and adjust matters so that the field of business would be equitably divided, as far as was possible, between them. The plan sounded well, and no man ever yet turned readily away from a project that promised to add to the sum of his profits. The association had been formed, a schedule of prices had been drawn up, and there was no doubt that the members as a whole had adhered strictly to their agreement.
There had been some complaints about Mulhouse. Firms that had been accustomed to handle a particular customer’s trade for years woke up to find that it had been taken away from them, or, at least, had been lost to them. Almost invariably the business had drifted to Mulhouse. He had been taxed with disloyalty, but had denied and ridiculed the accusation, and had done it so impressively that those who did not feel the real pinch had been inclined to believe him.
It was true he hustled after business, that was permissible under the terms of the agreement, but he had done his work within the limits of the honorable understanding they had. He demanded proof of what was alleged, and those who complained found it much easier to guess and suspect than to prove and convict. Going over the order books for the year or so past—covering the time the association had been in existence -Jim made certain discoveries that were important, not because of their magnitude, but on account of what they indicated. There were contracts, here and there, not very large or important ones, but old standing, that had apparently slipped away from MacPhee. Making investigations in order to ascertain, if possible, to whom the trade had gone, Jim found that Mulhouse had been invariably the successful rival.
“Anything wrong with the way we filled the last contract?” he would ask his undermanager.
“Nothing that ever I heard of—no complaint at all. The order just went somewhere else when renewal time came round. Mulhouse picks up most things he finds lying round,” was the answer.
“What was this lying round for?” snapped Jim. “No complaints, you say, and customer we have held for years without a break, and a schedule of prices agreed on between competitors! What’s the answer, Maxwell?”
The other man shrugged his shoulders.
“Mulhouse overlooks few bets,” he said. “I never had much opinion of that association. It seems to me, between ourselves, that Mulhouse just hypnotized the rest of the hunch with this talk about eliminating competition, and while they were hypnotized, he tied them all fast, leaving himself free. He’s eliminated competition all right, so far as he’s concerned. A gentlemen’s agreement may be all right when the parties to if are gentlemen, but when a gentleman, square-acting, and a man who isn’t square enter into a deal of that kind, it doesn’t want a whole lot of guessing to find out what the result is going to be. The gentleman is going to be In the soup. There’s nothing of the Simple Simon about Mr. Mulhouse. He’s played the bunch for suckers, and I guess he sized 'em up about right.”
Jim nodded. Maxwell’s ideas and his own coincided.
“The old man seemed to get a bit slack these late years, you know,” the undermanager went on. “Time was when he’d have gone rarin’ tarin’ wild if a contract like some of those, if it was only for a thousand grass went astray. He’d yell like a shepherd whose pet sheep have been stolen. But he let things slide latterly. The contracts weren’t big enough to make a fuss over. When he began to talk like that I knew he was slipping. Why, time was, not far back, when the loss of a measly little contract like that you’re looking at would have made him raise Cain. He’d have waked the dead about it, and the man who had made the grab from him would have had John MacPhee on his trail for the rest of his days. Talk about game preserves! a pheasant-preserving squire in the Old Country couldn’t have made more fuss over the poaching of one of his long-tails than John MacPhee would over a lost order from a regular customer, no matter how small it was.”
JIM remembered what Ida had told him about the grumblings of members of the association, and, since he had got into the swim again in Bargrave, he had heard not infrequent complainings that centred round the actions of Mulhouse. There had been, however, nothing more tangible than suspicion, and Jim had thought that all the talk might be the natural jealousy over business that had been taken away legitimately by a smarter man. The loser generally registers a kick, if he has been able to do nothing more. There was plenty of room within the borders of the agreement for business to be lost and won, even old business.
The goods of Mulhouse might be of better quality, he might be a more persuasive seller, his percentage of breakages might be shown to be lower, he might be prompter in delivery, his terms might be better, without infringing his agreement. Many considerations besides price might enter into the giving and getting of an order. And not one of the grumblers had the least shred of proof against the accused man. There was only the bare but impressive fact that business others had regarded as safely their own had been annexed by the hustler.
MacPhee had suffered less than any other firm, and the losses had been, from a money point of view, comparatively trivial. There was not one of the contracts Jim could not explain the loss of without charging Mulhouse with bad faith. Sometimes a buyer takes a notion to change his mind, old MacPhee had a sharp tongue that sometimes lost him trade, a dozen things might happen to make a buyer decide to give the other man a chance. Still, Jim did not lose sight of the main fact that business had been lost, business that ordinarily ought to have been kept, and that Mulhouse had raked it in. It was something to remember, for if Mulhouse was playing fox, the prowler that snaps up a stray chicken now and again may take a fancy to a prize turkey. Efficiency takes as much heed of the little as the big business items, the one rule should apply to all, the thousand gross customer and the man who’ll order hundreds of thousands.
BY FAR the biggest customer of the MacPhee firm was Wingate. He was one of the biggest bottle buyers on the continent. His famous medicinal specific was known wherever civilized humanity fancied it had ailments. For that “tired feeling” it was reputed to be invaluable. If you rose in the morning with the feeling that the writer of Ecclesiastes had when he intimated that “All is vanity and vexation of spirit,” a nip of Wingate’s Wine of Life would make you think you were the writer of the Song of Solomon, a second nip would make a saloon keeper think that Prohibition wasn’t half as bad as some folks thought it was, since there have been left alleviations of the general aridness. Travel by rail and “Wingate’s Wine of Life” greeted you from the landscape. Open your newspaper, and its advertisement hit you squarely between the eyes.
Prize-fighting champions won their battles by its aid, eloquent preachers were made more eloquent by its influence, famous actresses owed no inconsiderable portion of their success to it. In short, if you would travel the pilgrimage from cradle to late grave comfortably, always have a bottle of the Wine of Life handy. That the public, or a fair proportion of it, took the advice seriously might, be demonstrated by the millions of bottles the MacPhee Company manufactured each year as containers of this precious Elixir Vitae, or Vinum Vitae, to be , pedantically correct. The contract usually ran for a year.
Round about November Wingate would draw up an estimate of his requirements for the following year, giving quantities and sizes, specifying times and places of delivery. This would be given out to the trade and prices would be submitted. Latterly this procedure had come to be regarded more as a bit of correct business form than anything else. Wingate was a man who knew what he wanted, and also had a shrewd notion of when he was well off. For seven or eight years the contract had gone to MacPhee without any break. It had come to be regarded by the trade generally as MacPhee business, so that few rivals cared to waste time on bidding. Usually the matter was closed up with a glance at prices, which varied little from year to year. MacPhee understood the Wingate requirements, supplied excellent goods, made his deliveries promptly, and these features counted with Wingate a great deal. Price was not the only matter looked to by the big medicine man when placing his bottle order.
When Jim Douglas brought up the matter of the new contract in the course of a visit to Wingate’s office, he learned that a departure was to be made this year, and that the order would be given out only for a six months’ supply. The reason given was some important change in the kind and shape of the bottles to be used. Jim received the usual list of quantities and other details, discussed the new shapes for some time, then went back to his own office and in the course of the next few days figured on the varicus items, the price being much the same as for the previous term, sent in his bid, and then awaited, without much anxiety, the awarding of the new contract. He did not expect to get away with the contract without any challenge, for he knew that Mulhouse had been courting Wingate rather assiduously, and felt sure that his big rival would not let the prize go without putting up the semblance of a fight for it. Still, after the years cf complete satisfaction on each side, he did not doubt that Wingate would stick to the old firm that had served him so efficiently.
Just about the time when the contract might be expected to be awarded, Jim looked in at Wingate’s place. The big man was in and would see him, so Douglas was ushered into the presence of the manufacturing philanthropist whom he had known all his life.
The moment he stepped into the room and saw Wingate, Jim sensed trouble. The big customer, a florid, hearty man, the best imaginable advertisement of his Wine of Life, was ordinarily very jovial in his greeting of MacPhee’s right hand man. But this morning he looked the least hit awkward—the shy buyer—as if things were running a bit outside the ordinary rut. He did not beat about the bush however, being the kind of man who thinks that unpleasant business is best not approached easily, but dashed upon at once and throttled; so he went straight at the hurdle.
“You’ve come about the new contract, I guess, Jim,” he saluted his friend. “I have been going over the matter carefully and have come to a decision. This time I’ve got to go past MacPhee. As a matter of fact that contract has been placed elsewhere. Gave it out this morning.”
“That so?” answered Jim, sparring for wind. “And what was the trouble with MacPhee?”
If anybody had told him that the main building in the works had suddenly collapsed, his astonishment and discomfiture could not have been greater. To lose the Wingate contract—the mainstay, latterly, of MacPhee’s business, was a catastrophe of the first magnitude. He took the facer well, though. Wingate looked kindly at him, understanding what it meant. It was rough on the youngster to get dropped this way before he had more than got into action.
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’d have been sorry any time because we have always had the completest satisfaction from MacPhee, and I hate breaking a satisfactory connection,” he said. “But I’m more sorry this year because it’s your starter with MacPhee, and I can guess what it means to you. If it had only been a little matter, I’d have waived that and let it go, but the difference was too big to pass by.”
“Where was the hitch?” asked Jim. “Our prices were much as usual, a bit give and take here and there. There has been no trouble that I know of and really I shaved price a hit, when it should have been higher.”
Wingate laughed and shook his head. Then he shoved the cigar box over to Jim and the two men lit up.
“No trouble at all, Jim, not the least mite, but you’re just licked licked to a frazzle. I guess you were wanting a hit too much velvet, and so a more frugal competitor got ahead of you,” the medicine man answered. “It’s much too bad that we could not continue with MacPhee, but we are not in the business altogether for philanthropy.
“The difference on our big order between what you want and what I have agreed to give the other man will mean a good many thousands of dollars a year to me, and I can do with them just as well as old MacPhee can. That’s just how the matter lies. I weighed up everything, your excellent service and all the rest; I know it’s taking a chance when a man shifts under such conditions, but the difference in price in this case is big enough to outweigh the rest."
Now that he had broken the tidings there was a grin of deep satisfaction on the face of Wingate. Perhaps he was sorry that the trade relations had been broken off just when Jim had got into the saddle, for he liked the youngster, and, other things being equal, would have liked to help him along, but there was much in the affair that gave him big satisfaction. The Bottle Makers’ Association had been an eyesore and a heart-ache to him. It had been a pistol levelled at his head, and naturally he had little use for the organization which had been framed for the purpose of stiffening prices he would have to pay. Naturally, also, he would break it up if he could.
As Wingate smiled, the thought flashed through Jim’s mind that perhaps Wingate was putting up rather a tidy little bluff, in order to insinuate a powerful element of discontent among the members of the association. Perhaps there had been no price cutting at all, and Wingate was letting him put his own interpretation on the reason for a change in order to break up the combination leagued against him. Might it not be that the big man, who was a clever diplomat, had shifted the contract and given it to a rival at prices no ; lower than MacPhee’s just to make the loser feel that he had been double-crossed by a supposed friend and ally? That would be legitimate business politics, and it was Wingate’s right to meet the entente against himself as he thought best. If the association, undermined by the feeling ! of mutual distrust, broke up, all the better for the bottle buyers. Nothing would be more likely to smash the combination than the defection of MacPhee. Without him the association would not hang together a month, and once the units broke loose there would be keener rivalry than ever.
“Any harm in asking who the lucky man is?” inquired Jim, depositing the ash of his cigar in the tray.
“No, there’s no secret pact about it,” grinned Wingate. “Open pacts openly arrived at. Mulhouse landed out in front.” Of course Jim had known before the answer was given. “Beat the rest of you out of the field. Eclipse first, the rest nowhere. Some difference, Jim, too.”
“Price isn’t everything,” observed Douglas casually, curious to have it established ¡ that price had been the decisive matter.
“Who said anything about price,” responded Wingate with a laugh. “Fishing's out of season just now. There are quite a number of ways in which a saving may be made on a contract apart from price. I’ve had a good figure quoted me before to-day, have accepted it on price only, and lost out on my choice because of the breakage percentage perhaps."
“That wasn’t in dealing with MacPhee,” Jim replied. He would have liked i to ask what element beside price could have affected the present decision, but it was no part of his policy to corner Wingate. There was another day after to-day, and Jim had very fair long-distance sight.
“I didn’t say it was MacPhee," Wingate retorted. "I do say though, that Mulhouse has got the bunch of you skinned a mile. I am out, as perhaps you know, for Wingate, not MacPhee and not Mulhouse, they are both able to look after themselves, so far as I can understand things, and —why, Jim, what’s the use of talking, you are not in the same part of the track with Mulhouse. He's under the wire while the rest of you are rounding the corner into the stretch."
"Any objection in telling me what you got the stuff for?” asked Jim, his eyes on the document Wingate had picked from his desk, and held in his fingers while he ran his eyes over its contents.
(To be Continued)