THE BIG TIME MAN
A THREE-PART STORY—PART III
C. W. STEPHENS
'pHE 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 quarrelled with MacPhee, calling him old fashioned. He goes to U.S., later reluming to see Ida. MacPhee, though it galls him, decides to quit work and goes West with Ida, giving Douglas a two-year contract to ‘‘make good”—as business has been slumping—and promises him an absolutely free hand. Mulhouse, a personable young Bargrave citizen, looms up as rival for Ida’s hand, and also as the leading competitor in the bottle business. He gels the biggest MacPhee contract away from Douglas.
SKINNED a mile!” he mused, smiling, as if to impress the fact still more deeply on his visitor. “What’s that you said? Price? Personally I’d have no objection, whatever. On the other hand, I’d like to tell you just to impress it on you that you folks are doing the Rip van Winkle stunt. But, loving peace and amity as I do, I’d fairly hate to be the cause of dissensions among that lovefeast party that makes up the Gougers’ Club. I ought to be glad to get in a swipe at it, a thug organization framed to throttle innocents like myself, but I’ll resist the temptation and hold my tongue. When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own. Nothing personal at all in this, Jim, because you came into the inheritance of the association through old MacPhee, and had nothing at all to do with its formation. Oh, I love it.”
“I guess you do,” laughed Jim. “The same kind of love that sent the man by night to sow tares in the other fellow’s wheat patch.”
Wingate understood the implication and laughed aloud. "I’m bluffing, eh? I want to spoil the charitable organization? Lord, but it’s a funny world,” he said.
He laid the paper down on the table and got to his feet. “You haven’t lunched yet, Jim?” he asked. “If you’ll wait for me just a couple of minutes while,1 step into the main office, we’ll go over to the Club, and show to the hard world that there’s no bad feeling.”
He left the room, closing the door behind him. Once or twice Douglas paced the length of the office in no enviable frame of mind. Wingate might joke over the matter, for he stood on the laughing side, but it was no humorous event to Jim. The realization of the full force of the smashing blow now began to come on him. What would MacPhee say about the new efficiency that was to revolutionize things? Jim could guess without much difficulty. The news of the loss of the Wingate contract would crash on him like a thunderbolt. The first big contract, a dead-sure thing, that had come up for renewal, had been lost by the new man!
It would furnish a topic of conversation for weeks to business Bargrave. Mulhouse would be extolled, Douglas put in the also-ran class. Those who heard about it would not bother about details, would not be concerned so much with the way the big order had been lost; the outstanding fact would be that it had been lost and that Mulhouse had grabbed it. A day after the epochal battle the world ceases to bother about the how and why and wherefore. On such a day a battle was fought, so-and-so won it, so-and-so lost. That’s all the world outside a few experts cares about, the great essential fact.
Had Mulhouse really played the traitor? Jim honestly did not like to believe it. He wasn’t a whining sportsman who yells “Foul play” every time the decision goes against him. He would rather know that he had been put down by the fair blow of a man who had been cleverer for the moment, than think the other fellow had used a slung-shot. Was Mulhouse a crook, a dirty fighter, or was Wingate just playing a clever, justifiable bit of business politics? Was Mulhouse price-slashing, in defiance of his pledged word, or was Wingate letting him think that the other had underquoted? He came to a halt in his pacing near the window. Close to him was the desk Wingate had just risen from. On the desk lay the paper—the Mulhouse estimate, Jim did not doubt for an instant.
ORDINARILY the last thing Douglas would have done would have been to scrutinize the private papers on another man’s desk. He had principles, and quite robust
Sneaking in any shape or form he detested. Then the thought flashed through his mind that Wingate had drawn his attention to the paper, had laid it on the desk, and left the room in order that he might see it. Not wishing to give him the figures quoted by Mulhouse directly, he would not be displeased if his visitor saw them for himself. Wingate was not the man to go out of his office and leave an important paper that he wished to keep secret lying openly on his desk, and the omission to put it away had not been accidental but purposed. Mulhouse had often been accused of breaking the terms of his agreement, and had always denied it, demanding proof, which could not be
procured. Here, then, was proof one way or another. Either Mulhouse was false to his pledged word, a traitor to his associates, or he was a smarter man than the rest, but much maligned.
That paper lying on Wingate’s desk would furnish the proof one way or the other. It would show that Mulhouse got what he deserved by his keen cleverness, or that he was a common crook, who had fettered his rivals by their words of honor, and then had broken his own to go out and filch from their fields.
Jim hesitated no longer, but bending over the desk ran his eyes along the quotations.
It was the work of a few seconds to findoutwhat he wan ted to
There was the unquestionable evidence over the signature of Mulhouse. He had shaved prices, all down the list a full ten per cent, below schedule figures. The man was a crook of the meanest and cheapest type.
When Wingate returned presently, he found Jim again pacing the floor.
Out of the corner of his eye the visitor saw the other pick up the paper from his desk and put it away, casting, as he did so, an inquiring glance in the direction of Douglas. Then, without further reference to the lost? contract, they went out to lunch.
When he reached his own office in the afternoon,
Jim dropped into a chair to think things out. Here, on MacPhee ground, the defeat seemed worse than -it had done in Wingate’s office. The whole town would laugh at him, for
there was nothing much secret in a business way in Bargrave. It would be talked about in the Club, in social gatherings, on street corners. Beaten by the craft of Mulhouse, who had trimmed many another before! When some other glass manufacturers had been beaten out by the young Napoleon of Bargrave, there had been loud lamentations and wailings over crooked work. Jim hated a squealer as much as he hated a quitter. No matter how much reason the squealer might have for squealing, it was not the action of a straight-bred sportsman. There should be no mourning either in public or private over this set-
Jim resolved on his own tactics in the matter. One might get hysterical, heap reproaches on the successful man, and condemn the action by which he had won the victory.
In his heart Jim was a bit ashamed of the way by which he had obtained his proof, but he would keep it to himself, or, at most, tell it only to MacPhee or someone very close to him in business affairs. This was only the first round of a fight that might last for quite a time. There should be no whimpering, no outcries, but recuperation and preparation for the next round. What benefit would it be to him to have the wordy sympathy of other stung members of the association, who would very likely laugh at him behind his
back? He had been ambushed, but while the ambushing might have been treacherous, the main point was that he had been licked, and no amount of explanation as to the unfair tactics of the winner would alter the fact in the smallest degree.
He rose at last from his chair, with his mind fully made up. It was a bitter dose to swallow. Mulhouse had been so much cracked up by MacPhee, and the old man would take this latest accomplishment as further — evidence of the smartness of his rival. It would not hurt Mulhouse in the esteem of old Mac the least bit to have pinched away the contract from himself. He was a good loser under such circumstances, and he might conceivably regard the humiliation as an all-round benefit to Jim.
LET those talk about the shiftJ ing of the contract who might, nothing should fall from his lips that would advertise his sorrows or condemn Mulhouse. The matter demanded more than the medicine of sympathetic words, more than the censures that might be hurled against the fox that had raided the roost so profitably.
As Jim had anticipated, Bargrave had the news before nightfall, but as the days went by it was unable to make out exactly the mind of Jim Douglas about the loss. Some, beholding Jim’s unmoved attitude, came to believe that for this time MacPhee had not tendered at all. Probably the fact that the big alterations were going on had made the old firm pass up this shorter term contract for once. There were those who asserted that he had been double-crossed by Mulhouse, but that he belonged to the bull-dog breed that neither whines nor whimpers over his wounds, but holds and fights on, biding his time, and a better finisher than starter. All were firmly of the opinion, with the possible exceptions of Wingate and Mulhouse himself, that the catastrophe, if it was a catastrophe, could not and would not have happened if MacPhee had been at home.
The first time he took a real holiday, things fell to pieces in the works. If this was the outcome of holidaying, it would be more to his interest to stay around instead of gallivanting abroad at his time of life. Jim, they said, was smart enough in his way, but you could not put old heads on young shoulders.
Jim met Mulhouse almost daily and they appeared to be as distantly friendly as they had ever been. Some who observed the association of the two said that Jim Douglas was a bit of a disappointment, and that he had less fighting spirit than they had thought possible.
Meantime letters arrived with fair frequency from the old man on his travels and Ida. MacPhee kept up the rôle of having abandoned all business, even in thought. To read his epistles one might imagine that he had forgotten that ever there was such a commodity as a bottle in the world. He talked of minerals and canneries and woodlots, and lumber limits, and town sites. He enlarged on the beauties of Nature, the large, magnificent calm of these days of rest he was enjoying. He had abandoned the strenuous life in favor of tbe serene life.
Not a page of them, however, deceived Jim. He knew there was not an incident connected with the daily routine of the works MacPhee was not fully acquainted with. Jim sent him formal reports every week, but while the old man acknowledged the receipt of them he never commented on their contents.
Not even the fateful news of the loss of the Wingate contract stirred him to words. Ida wrote to Jim very sympathetically, though she knew no exact details, and attributed the loss to the embarrassments of reconstruction and renovation. A woman will always find an excuse for the failings of the man of her regard. Not until the last letter MacPhee wrote from the West did he break the business silence.
“I noted in your letter of some time ago that Mulhouse had taken the Wingate contract from MacPhee’s. We had it seven years. I think I can find it in my heart these days to write him a word of congratulation. Time was when I couldn’t have done this; I must be mellowing; other folks give it a different name.”
November had come when the MacPhees returned to Bargrave. Jim did not know they were actually back until, the -,. . ~
afternoon of their arrival, the old man strolled into the office. He was bronzed, as much as his wrinkled and tanned old face could be, but seemed stronger, and said he had never felt fitter in all his days. He was cordial to Jim, and gave him a rather gaudy cigar case he had brought all the way from Vancouver as a present. Ten minutes after he had entered the place he was off to have a look at the works, going first to the departments in which the changes were taking place.
Much had been done, and much was in the process of being done.
MacPhee examined the new machinery minutely, but expressed no opinion about it, watched such of it as was already in operation with interest, asked a question or so as to its working, but nothing more than—nor even as much as—a casual visitor who had never seen a bottle made before. When he got back to the office, he dropped into his favorite chair and began to talk about golf and some fishing he had managed to get in the later part of the season, and a copper mine he had seen somewhere in British Columbia, which he said was a bit of a wonder. He talked about most things besides bottles and the home business.
“And the man who was promoting this copper proposition,
Jim, looked like a bishop or something of that sort, solemn and sober and real good. He gave you the impression that he was floating this mine solely in the interests of the needy public, and he yearned to have them come in on the ground floor, right now, because a week from next Monday, if he didn’t miss his guess, the stock that was being offered at five cents a share would be offered at a dollar or more, and then, if you hadn’t bought at five cents you’d be mad enough to drown yourself. A real philanthropist with a real copper mine. He made me a fine offer, he’d shave it down to four cents if I’d take a wad. I guess I looked the part all right. No, I didn’t buy, told him I had enough of the sinful stuff, and that I’d hate to rob the real needy. It’s a strange world, Jim, taking it by and large.”
So he rambled on, with Jim all fidgets about home business.
“We’ll have most of the new machinery in place by Christmas,”
he broke in on another recital of experience in strange parts.
“That will be nice,” said MacPhee. “The main thing, then, will be to scare up some work for this swell new machinery to do. Maybe you’ve got lots of it. I was just saying what came to my mind.”
Jim knew what he was driving at, and resolved to have it out with him then and there.
“Yes, we have enough to keep us going, but we could handle more. The loss of that Wingate contract made a mighty big gap in business,” he said.
“I guess so. After seven years, too! Seven years without a break we had it,” mused MacPhee. “Never any bother of any kind. We made him fair prices, the percentage of breakages was never excessive, and we were on the dot with our deliveries. This is history, Jim, not busi-
ness brag. So far as I know there was never a wrong word between us. Wingate is a member of my church, my lodge, my club. Used to be one of my best friends.”
“I don’t doubt that he is such still,” Jim answered. “Maybe so,” the other answered. “Seven years is quite a spell, when you come to think of it. When you’ve had business as long as that, you sort of expect you’ll keep it right up to the close of the chapter, that is, if you do the right thing by your customers. If you can’t hold that kind of a contract, what can you hold? I don’t mean any reflection on you by that, Jim, there may be something I don’t understand, and, after all, it’s none of my business in a way. I sort of abdicated for a while, and that being so I’ve got to sit by mum.”
“There’s no need for that,” said Jim. “It’s your business after all, and I’m your man. You agreed to let my word be decisive about policies, but that didn’t mean that you were not to have a word at all. I don’t claim to know it all.” “There was a time, Jim, when it seemed to me that I fancied you might think you did,’’grinned MacPhee. “Responsibility—sole responsibility, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, eh?”
“I’m not shirking it,” replied Jim. “I lost the contract all right, and another man got it. It runs just six months, and it will be time presently to figure on another one; I’m figuring al-
“That’s the stuff,” approved MacPhee. “One knock-down doesn’t finish the battle, that is if you’re wise from the knock-down and understand the run of things.”
“There’s one thing I wanted to ask you,” said Jim. “What provision is there for a member of the association pulling out?”
‘Who wants to pull out?” snapped the old man roused out of his gossipy mood.
“I for one,” Jim re-
“What for?” asked MacPhee.
“Because I think I can put up a better fight with my hands loose than with them tied,” said Douglas.
“Jim, you’re not like the rest, squealing in the pinches, are you?” asked MacPhee.
“I don’t think so,” replied Douglas evenly. “But I think I’d like a game with the cards on the table.”
Wingate matter in your craw, eh?” sniffed MacPhee. “Tell you what, Jim, I like a good scrap, nobody likes it more, and folks have said that I was a keen fighter, and some have said—it was a lie—that I was a bad loser. I’m a bad loser just this way that when a man sends me to the mat, I get up hungering for blood. 1 want to reverse positions, wipe out the first mischance. If that’s bad losing then I’m one of the worst losers ever was. But I’m not a bad loser in this way that I hum round for excuses, or try to take away the credit from the other fellow when I’ve been trimmed. I don’t know how you came to lose the contract, all I know is that you did lose it, and that Mulhouse got it.
“That’s the essential part,” Jim answered. “Good loser or bad, I want to be out of that association.”
“Which means that you are like the rest, when you’re beaten you won’t play any more,” said MacPhee. “Every man who’s lost a gross order to Mulhouse has talked the same way. He’s challenged them to furnish proof.”
“Well, I haven't talked the way you speak of," retorted Douglas. “You are the only one I have spoken to about
quitting the association. It lost us the Wingate contract, and that should be enough reason between you and me.”
“You mean that Mulhouse cut prices? that’s your excuse?” snarled MacPhee.
“Since you put it so plainly, yes, I do mean that,” replied Jim. “I have told it to nobody else, and wouldn’t have spoken of it to you, but you asked. That association is being run for the benefit of just one man. He dopes the rest with talk and fine pocket-appealing sentiment, ties them up with a schedule in black and white and then goes to work on his own.”
“I’ve heard it all before, Jim. Every single man who loses out to him talks just the same way. He’s challenged them to furnish proof,” said MacPhee.
“How can you furnish proof ordinarily?” Douglas asked. “The buyers who are profiting by his welshing are not likely to give a game away that runs in their favor. I want to be free from the bunch. A ten per cent, handicap, as things are, is a bit too much to carry.”
“Of course with the proof in your hand you laid it before the association?”
“I laid nothing before it,” Jim replied. “You are the only one I’ve laid it before, and the business is yours, you ought to know. A licking is a licking, and no amount of excuse for you or censure for the other chap will make it any the less a licking. I’m saying nothing more about that part. It’s history. A man may be sand-bagged once and have the excuse of unexpectedness, but if he gets laid out the same way a second time, he lays himself open to the accusation of being a bit slack. Somebody told me that we.can pull out by giving a month’s notice at the end of the year, and that’s just what I am going to do. I don’t mind a fight, but I don’t care to have my hands tied behind my back while the other fellow slips a horseshoe into his mitt.”
MacPhee said nothing more about it and presently took himself off home. He firmly believed that Jim was squealing. It was the whimper of a defeated man trying to rob the winner of praise. MacPhee didn’t believe any of the tales about Mulhouse. He liked the fellow, and did not grudge him his win over MacPhee’s.
“A terrible mess the place is in, Ida,” said the old man when he reached home. “Everything topsy-turvy.”
“I suppose that is bound to be, considering the changes that are being made,” she replied.
“And the loss of that Wingate contract is nothing short of a calamity. At the rate Jim’s going on he’ll wreck MacPhee’s inside his two years,” he continued. “All for change, just for the sake of change, and while he’s spending hand over fist he’s losing contracts that have helped us to pay our way.”
“Did you ask him up to supper?” she inquired smilingly.
“Supper, no. Why should I?” he demanded. “I’ve half a mind not to go down to the place again as long as he is in charge. He’s going to pull out from the association— that’s the latest whimsy he has got.”
“And perhaps that will not be an altogether bad thing,” she replied. “It has caused quite a lot of bickering, one person accusing theother of unfaithfulness to its provisions. I always thought it a rather one-sided arrangement, and depended too much on the strict integrity of the others. Too much like a new kind of blind man’s bluff, with this difference, that only one person has his eyes unbandaged and the rest are hoodwinked.”
“Have you been talking to Jim?” he asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Not a word,” she laughed. “I haven’t had the chance yet. But I never did think much about that agreement.”
“If you want you can call Jim up and bid him come up to supper,” he said.
“No, you might ask him some other time,” she said. “I have quite a lot to do this evening, and there are two or three people I must run out and see.”
WHEN they had finished supper Ida went out. She had a call to pay at the parsonage. The place was on the opposite hilltop, just past the MacPhee works. The night was clear and cold, the stars shining frostily. There was another new baby at the minister’s house, and Ida, who was very friendly with the mother, had decided that she could not possibly wait to see the marvel until the morning. Mr. MacPhee wanted to have her driven down, but Ida preferred to walk. It was quite dark by the time she reached the town and began the ascent of the slope that led to the parsonage.
She had with her some presents she had brought front her trip for her friend and the children. There was a light in the window of the factory office as she flitted by. She peeped through the windows, and saw Jim seated at his big table-desk, a wilderness of papers about him. She would have liked to go in and help him sort them out He looked rather tired and anxious, she fancied. Then, fearful lest she be discovered peeping, she hurried on. was introduced to and duly rhapsodized over the new baby, narrated some of the experiences of her trip, gladdened the hearts of the recipients with her presents, then came away. The minister offered to escort her back home, but she declined company. She knew the road well and everybody knew her. Bargrave had the eminent respectability of the small town. Re-passing the works, she could not resist the temptation to glance again through the uncurtained office window. Jim had risen, had put on his overcoat, and, as she looked, he put out the light and came toward the door. She walked along very sedately, turning her head at the sound of the bang of the office door. Then she waited.
"Why, Jim!” she exclaimed, as he came swiftly up to her. “What are you doing at the office at this hour? You will have your union after you.”
“Ida!” he responded, grabbing her hand and volleying a dozen questions at her.
“Yes, we got back this afternoon. Of course you know that, for you saw uncle. Yes, I had a most glorious time, better even than I anticipated. I just ran up to the parsonage to see Mrs. Fenton and the wonderful new baby. I had a peep in at your window as I went by. Y ou seemed to have the cares of the whole world on your shoulders,” she ran on brightly.
“Not quite that,” he smiled soberly. “Of course this reconstruction means that everything is in rather a muddled condition yet, but it is getting straightened out. By the time the year turns I think we shall be ready to move forward a little faster. And it is going to turn out all that I expected, Ida. It will simplify our work, there will be no more of this zigzagging to and fro, but things will run on a straight edge from start to finish. There will be a great saving of labor. Then the new machinery is going to do great things for us. Six months after we get into full swing we’ll marvel that we waited so long to make the changes. MacPhee’s will no longer be a kind of puzzle you have to furnish a guide or solution for, but a real man’s establishment that will repay the cost of the outlay quicker than ever we dreamed.”
“I’m glad, Jim, but I always knew it would turn out right. It was, of course, a big change to effect, especially for one who was so deeply attached to the old order of things as uncle was,” she said.
“And then when the difficulties came they brought the company with them they usually bring,” he continued, cheered by her congratulations. “That matter of the Wingate contract was a blow right from the shoulder. It hurt,
Ida, hurt mightily, and I can feel the bruising yet.”
“Yes, it was bad,” she answered. “I knew how you would feel, but that is the way events of the kind seem to fall, isn’t it? It is as if Fate was just trying you out all it could, putting the final bit on you to see if you had the heart and strength to bear it. Still it was only a six months’ contract this time, was it not? By the time you are ready to go ahead with the new plant, the present contract will expire. Of course you’ll go after it again?” she said.
"i^F COURSE,” he answered. “Your uncle seemed almost to delight in the facer I got, and was so charmed by the astuteness of the Mulhouse firm that it took away the sting of loss from him.”
"You can’t judge uncle from what he says, always,” she said. “Sometimes I think he employs language to conceal thought. He felt the loss, but of course he is a pretty good sportsman.”
“The kind that cracks up the adversary at the expense of his own side,” he observed a little bitterly. “I thought that perhaps you had all come back Mulhouse rooters.”
“Then you thought wrong,” she laughed. “Jim, I believe you’re getting a little bit grouchy, a lot more so than you used to be. I’m a MacPhee rooter all the way and then some. You’ve got to bring that contract back, Jim, it has to be done, and it is going to be done.”
“That sounds good,” he laughed.
“Next time it won’t be my fault if it does not come back to us.” He did not speak boastfully, but with fighting resolution it w'as good to hear. “Of course I didn’t expect smooth sailing the first year, but it has been a bit rougher than I had looked for. Still, I think the worst is over, and with the plant modernized and in fine running shape the hardest task will be finished. Then we can get after the outside work. We are going to free-lance from this time forward, at least as long as my contract holds.”
He made no further reference to the association, and neither spoke of Mulhouse. The conversation left the topic of business, of which, this night, he was very weary, and they talked of her travels and the wonders she had seen.
"Oh, Jim, it is good to have money,” she said, “to be able to go away and see the world. It is good for this in itself, but it is better because it makes you like your own home, your town and the people who belong to it, more than ever before. I never quite realized how much I liked
Bargrave till 1 came back this afternoon. We have travelled in the most luxurious way, stopped at the best hotels, seen everything that was to be seen, bought all kinds of expensive things, and met all sorts of people from all over the world. It was very pleasant, but—you’ll laugh at mo, Jim—there were times when I positively hungered for this quiet humdrum Bargrave, for the house that has become my home, for the view of the woods and fields, the harbor and the sea. Mind, I enjoyed every minute of the trip, but homecoming has been the pleasantest of all.”
“I thought, perhaps, you would forget us all, among the new friends you made,” he teased her.
“I have a good memory,” she replied rather soberly. “The new friends are pleasant to meet, but they are mostly bird-of-passage acquaintances. It is the old ones you turn to when you get tired and homesick. Uncle talked of going to Florida for the season, but I don’t want to go."
“It would be mighty pleasant for you,” said Jim. “You’d miss the cold and the snow and the bitter frost of this Northland.”
They were now standing at the gate, and she glanced up at him. Had he been able to see her face clearly he would have found a suggestion of wonder in her eyes.
TIM DOUGLAS went to his rooms that evening very *-* much rested, and with a quieter mind than he had enjoyed for many a long day. He did not know why this should be, for nothing that Ida had said had altered their relationship. There was the wide gulf between them still, but the problems that had harrassed him seemed now but the ordinary roughness of every-day life. He had been magnifying them in his loneliness and seclusion. The burdens that had appeared to be almost too wearing had become scarcely perceptible. He did not know why the disappointments he had worried over should so suddenly have lost their power to vex, but it was so. There had come to him new strength, a wonderful reviving. The cheery courage, the earnest simplicity, the strong faith of the girl in him, had imparted their virtues to him.
“You’re late, Ida,” MacPhee observed to the girl asghe entered his gnuggery, where he was reading his newspaper.
“Yes, rather. I met Jim as I was coming back from the Feltons, and he came along with me. We stood at the gate chatting for quite a while,” she said in her frank way.
“What’s Jim got to say?” he asked rather gruffly.
“I’m afraid it was I who did most of the talking,” she laughed. “Jim is a good listener.”
“That’s a discovery,” he grunted. “I guess it depends who does the talking.”
“I was telling him how glad I was to get back, and what a gorgeous time I had been given, and that while it was nice to have lots of money and to go about and see places, I likedBargrave and my own home best of all.’’she went on.
“Humph! Incurable little rube.”
“I don’t want to be cured.”
“But you liked seeing the big sights, and enjoyed the fun you had?”
“Every one of them and every bit of each one," she said. “But you know how good home-made bread and real home butter taste after you have been living on cake and confectionery. Do you know, uncle, there was something on the tip of my tongue that I wanted to ask Jim, but for some reason or other I didn’t dare to.”
“What was that?” he asked.
“I wanted to ask him if I could have my place back in the office. I don’t see why I should be fired because I happen to go off for a holiday.”
“You can’t go back into the office again, Ida; it wouldn’t be fitting now,” he answered.
“But why not?” she asked. “Jim didn’t say he didn’t want me, did he?”
“What Jim wants or what Jim doesn’t want, so far as you are concerned, is no matter. You are not part of the plant he is boss of,” he said. “I told him some time back, just before we went away, that he needn’t expect you down there again.”
"But I’d like to go back. When I’m dismissed in this way it looks as if I was no good there before,” she told him “You don’t object, do you, uncle?”
“TF YOU were my real daughter, Ida, I wouldn’t care to have you there,” he replied. “And, you see, dear, you are practically my daughter now. I am getting on in years and when I am gone you will be in my place. I’m not a poor man, as I daresay you know by this time, and the world one day will regard you as a rich woman, a verbrich woman. A rich woman has duties and obligations and rights. There is place for her, all other things being equal. in a bigger world than ours here. She ought to get to know people of her own class and kind. I don’t think I am » snob, but there are ranks, social ranks in the world’s army, and money has a great deal to do with admission to the higher ranks, though folks will tell you, in their hypocritical way, that this is not so. Then one of these days you’ll likely think about getting married. Single life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, certainly not for a woman, and I don’t think you are cut out for an old maid. You ought to have the chance of meeting the right people. You can see why it would not do for you to be a sort of stenographer in the office of a firm that, not very far off, you -will be mistress of. I pointed all this out to Jim just before we went away, because I thought he might want somebody to take your place, and—”
“You talked about this to Jim? About the money you intended to leave me, this new life I was to enter, and— the—the suitable kind of person for me to marry?” she interrupted.
“Something of the sort,” he admitted. “And I guess he understood how reasonable it all was. Jim can see as far through an inch board as the average.”
“I see,” she replied quietly. “What did he say about it?”
“What could he say?” he rejoined. “In a way it was none of his business, but it was right he should understand about it, so that he could fill your place. Any man with brains might know that a young woman with a few millions to play with has to plan differently from one who expects to marry a fifteen dollar a week quill driver.”
“I suppose so,” she observed in an absent sort of way, and there the conversation terminated. To Ida it war very illuminating. It cast a light on much that had been dark to her. Since the afternoon of Jim’s return there had been a perceptible cloud over their friendship, some barrier that kept out the sunshine. Much of the old warm candor had died out of it. He had nol been the Jim who greeted her so joyously on the day of his return from Detroit, and had held her hand in the restaurant.
She guessed now whence the cloud had come. She had been set before him as a woman of wealth, with big plans and ambitions, seeking a place in a new world, and turning her back on the old one. She knew that if she had remained as she was before her uncle brought her into his home, the girl working for her bread, living in cheap rooms, pounding a typewriter and taking down dictation, Jim would have lifted her out of that place and set her in a home of their own. He would have stooped to lift her to his own level in the world of Bargrave. She almost wished she was as she had been, and then banished the feeling. She could be as big and generous as Jim, and money was not be despised.
There were times during those fall months when Wingate realized that low prices are not always cheap prices. Mulhouse had cut his quotations down to the point at which profits were small, and, after the first deliveries of the goods, he cast about to see if his margin might not be increased. A man who will break his engagement to his associates will not scruple to break it, if he can, on the contract he has made with his customer. The quality of the goods he supplied began to deteriorate. Breakages, which on the MacPhee goods had never exceeded the three per cent, customary allowance, began to assume large proportions. Accidents in handling the bottles by Wingate’s fillers became more numerous, and complaints and wranglings over these troubles were sources of annoyance to the buyer. Douglas heard from time to time of the dissatisfaction, but held his peace. It was for Wingate and Mulhouse to settle their disputes in their own way. and it was no part of the
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Douglas policy to seek to make direct capital out of their difficulties. Now and again Wingate dropped to Jim an irritated remark about the stuff Mulhouse was delivering to him, hut the MacPhee commander-in-chief had something else to do than—in the popular phrase—knocking his adversary or uttering the Peeksniffian “I told you so!”
Toward the end of the year, when the Mulhouse contract was nearing completion, the latter braced up the quality of his goods again, with an eye to the future. By this time the fact of the withdrawal of the MacPhee concern from the association had become generally known, and had created a mild sensation. As soon as he heard of it Mulhouse went to see Jim, but could get no satisfaction there.
“The agreement is illegal anyway,” said Douglas. “It is clearly a combination in I restraint of trade, and I’ve no hankering after the costs of a Government suit and possibly a stiff fine. Besides that I like ! an open market. I’ve got a good plant I here now, and I want to get the benefit of it. If I want to cut prices, and am able to do it why should I have to keep myself to the pace set by the slowest craft in the bunch?”
FROM now on the fight would be in the open, each man out for blood, and Mulhouse didn’t relish the idea -of a relentless scrap with the kind of dreadnought MacPhoe’s was. Now that the fetters were off his hands, Jim Douglas had the resources at his disposal that would enable him to run the Mulhouse concern off its feet in very short order. Altogether Mulhouse began to feel that welshing does not pay, that to ignore the rules isn’t the best policy.
He had reason for anxiety, for his business campaigns had been expensive ones. He had started out with good financial backing, friends and relatives had invested largely in his stock, making the firm pretty much a family affair. His ideas had been large, and had cost money. The plant he had established had involved a bigger outlay than he had anticipated, and he had gone after business regardless of price and profit. His idea was that if he could secure trade he would be able to scrape through with sufficient margin in his favor to show something for his work, and, later on, soundly established, he would be able to recoup what he had foregone in the early years. Business at all costs had been his motto, and when he secured a contract he set to work to see how he could so manipulate it that he might increase his margin.
The more Mulhouse reflected the clearer the conviction that the solution of the problem was capital. Not much guessing about that. The next point was, where to get it? He had a plant, and a good one, but the kind of business statement of affairs that an accountant would draw up after going through the books would not be much of an inducement to investors. There were two or three strings on the plant itself, a few obligations to one of the Bargrave Banks—nothing more, he told himself than the ordinary commercial house incurs. He was solvent all right, that is if his assets were figured up as those of a going concern. Of course, one never knows what the most valuable property will yield if put up at forced sale. He got up andwent through the offices, then through the works. It seemed to him that from every side one word was shouted to him repeatedly.
ILJ E WENT home earlier than usual that -*■ -*■ afternoon, for he wanted some place of retirement where he might think things out without interruptions. After a dull dinner he disconnected his telephone, told the servants he was not at home to anybody, and retired to his library. He lit his pipe and lay back in a comfortable chair, watching the smoke wreaths curl and twist sinuously toward the ceiling. They made fantastic shapes, sometimes seemed to form letters. That one looked like a big C.
“Capital!” said Mulhouse to himself. “More Capital!”
There was another method of combination besides that directed against the windpipe of a customer. Apart from business, MacPhee had shown a sympathetic side toward him, Mulhouse reflected. The old man was like not a few of his kind. Risen from the ranks, and keeping socially to the ranks when he might have gone up higher, Old Mac did not think that what was good enough for him would be good enough for the girl.
He had dreams for her, and when a man like MacPhee dreamed, he dreamed big. The Mulhouses were people who had counted and still counted in the social world. There was an old title in the famiily dating back to Elizabethan times in the old land, some of the members of the house that had established an overseas branch had been prominent in the political and social world this side the Atlantic. All the way from the Maritime Provinces to British Columbia there were traces of the work and influence of the family. They had given soldiers and lawyers and clergymen to the new country, and though not wealthy their present eminence proved that, even in a new world, something counts besides money.
Mulhouse of the Glassworks had been the first to leave the professions or farming for trade in the manufacturing sense. MacPhee, who knew his Canada as well as most people, and was the odd combination that blends essential democracy with staunch belief in monarchial and aristocratic institutions, had regard for lineage, family name and social prestige. He would doff his hat to a ruler, not as to the man so much as to his office; he considered himself, as a man, the equal of any other who breathed, but there was a broad streak in him that made for belief in social order and respect for those who had written their names on the foundation stones of the building of Empire. Men were no more equal than horses. Mulhouse believed that if he went to MacPhee and told him that he had won the promise of Ida to marry him, he would be more than satisfied, and then—! The dreams became golden.
THERE was a business meeting at the church of which MacPhee was member and office-holder, and the old man pever failed in his attendance at the services or at meetings connected with its welfare. Mulhouse from the windows of his house saw the old man drive by, and knew the business that took him out at night. Putting on overcoat and hat he set out to walk to the house on the hillside. Ida was chatting with Mrs. Dawson in her sittingroom when the knock came at the door. The housekeeper answered it and Ida heard the voice of Mulhouse. She went into the hall and greeted him.
“Is Mr. MacPhee at home?” he asked with perhaps pardonable casuistry.
“No, there is a meeting down at the church,” she replied. “But come in, Mr. Mulhouse, perhaps he won’t be very long, and he would be sorry to miss you. If it is anything important I can get him on the telephone.”
“Pray don’t,” he laughed. “I was just dull and lonely and thought I’d step up and have a sociable hour or two with him.” “I didn’t imagine you could ever be dull and lonely,” she laughed. “You always seem to have so much to do. Won’t you take off your coat and come in and wait for him? I had a lot of new music sent up to-day, and I’d like you to try some of it over.”
“That will be delightful,” he answered. Mrs. Dawson went into the drawingroom, turned on the lights, and left them. A wood fire was burning on the hearth. Ida called to the maid to bring in more wood and replenish it. Seated on the sofa side by side the two looked over the new music, and presently went over to the piano. Of the two. Mulhouse was much the better musician. He played really well at sight and presently the house was enlivened by the merry music. They banned the more serious items in favor of frivolous jazzy things, for Bargrave life was serious enough in its way, and the light opera songs and syncopated stuff seemed to match the place and hour and moods of the two.
For an hour thu continued, then the two withdrew toward the fire and began to chat, reviving experiences of the Western trip. Mulhouse was a good conversationalist, and this night he was more entertaining than usual. There was a pleasant note of intimacy in his light gossip. Some of her masculine callers were very stiff and formal, throwing the burden of their entertainment on her. Mulhouse, however, was the entertainer, never at loss for a topic, touching most things with a light humor, and illustrating from a wonderful repertoire of stories. Toward ten o’clock, he became a little more quiet and serious, she thought that perhaps he was finding the long wait for her uncle rather tiresome.
“I think I had better call up uncle and tell him you are here,” she said. “He is a terrible gossip when he meets his church cronies, and there is no telling how long he’ll be if Mr. Fenton inveigles him into a game at chess.”
She rose from her chair to go over to the telephone that stood on a table near the fireplace. He got up at the same time.
“I hope you won’t disturb him,” he smiled. “It has been one of the most delightful evenings I have ever spent. A man living alone as I do realises what loneliness is and therefore can appreciate the charm and comfort of a place like this with such companionship."
A SMILE dimpled lier face. There was a touch of formality in what he said, and in his manner, that contrasted with his earlier gaiety.
“That is very nice and polite of you, Mr. Mulhouse,” she answered. “I never supposed that you knew what a lonely ten minutes could be. You always seem to have so much to do and to be in everything there is in Bargrave.”
“But a man may be lonely in the midst of a busy life,” he answered. “That sounds rather moony, doesn’t it?” and he smiled across at her. He was standing now with an elbow on the mantelpiece, she by the side of the telephone. “Now and again I get really serious fits, and tonight when I was a bit dumpy I began to recall the pleasant time we had in the Rockies, and the recollection drove me up
“I am very much obliged to it,” she laughed. “If you had called up before you came uncle probably would have given up the church meeting, which is only a business affair.”
“I knew he wasn’t here,” he smiled. “I happened to be looking out of my window and saw him drive by, then I made up my mind to come up here.”
“I don’t know whether I ought to take that as a nice little compliment to myself, or censure it as a slight to uncle,” she responded.
“As a compliment to yourself, and as a great kindness to me,” he replied. “1 have wanted to come to see you very often lately, Ida, but for one reason or another I stayed away. I have had dreams lately, day dreams, very delightful dreams, the kind of dreams that draw you on and then check and hold you back. Until a few months ago all my visions were of business, for I am ambitious. I am not a very rich man and from the time I embarked on my enterprise here all my thought has been centered in it, that is, until very recently .”'
“There is nothing evil in the ambition to succeed,” she said. Sometimes he had been a trifle gaily flirtatious, as many of the young men were she met. It had all been good fun. But this seriousness on personal topics was new to her in him.
He took a step nearer to her, then stop-
“Ida,” he said. “I have come to know that the old ambition will not suffice, it is outworn, and a new one has taken its place. Away there, in the hills, I came to know you, and to know you was to love you. Can you wonder that I have found business tame and dull, and life lonely? So when I saw Mr. MacPhee drive by this evening, I came up at once, that I might tell you this. I love you, dear, and I want you. That is my ambition now. What have you to say to me?” He stretched out his hands toward her. and waited.
THE color flushed her cheeks. She had not in her remotest thought ever imagined that he would fall in love with her. Perhaps her mind and heart were so centered on Jim Douglas that she had never thought of any other man.
“But I had never dreamed of any such thing, Mr. Mulhouse,” she replied. "It was very pleasant out there in the West, you were wonderfully kind to us, but—” “Kind!” he smiled. “I suppose love is kind, but I had not thought of it in that way. I have surprised you, Ida, perhaps I have spoken too soon.”
“No, it isn’t that,” she answered quickly. "I like you as a friend, but not—not as you say you think of me.”
“Perhaps I did not expect you would, at once. I ask you to let me have a chance, to think of me as nicely and kindly as you can, and to think of me, knowing that all I want is to make you the best loved and happiest woman in the world.” he said.
She shook her head slowly; he read finality in it.
“I wish you hadn’t told me, I wish you hadn’t thought of it,” she replied. “It seems to spoil everything. I like you as a friend, as a friend of uncle, but there can never be anything more than that. I don’t want you to feel hurt, but, but— let things be as they were before, and let all this be forgotten.”
His face grew harder, his lips were dra» n tightly together. He knew that her decision was final. There was a decisiveness, more in her manner than her speech, that convinced him, the same decisive quality that one met with in her uncle. “I am sorry,” he said. “No, I won’t ! wait for Mr. MacPhee. Good-night.”
He did not offer his hand, to her great satisfaction. She stood by the fireside till she heard the door open and close, and knew that he had gone. She was really sorry for him. The thought that he was a fortune hunter in need never occurred to her straightforward mind. No pride came to her at the thought of his offer. What was there to be proud about? Only one thing, as far as she could see, and that was the thought that another man’s ambition was centered in her, that of Jim Douglas.
Halfway to town Mulhouse saw MacPhee’s car approaching. He drew more deeply into the shadows of the tree-lined walk and waited till the old man went by.
“Damn MacPhee!” muttered Mulhouse irritably as he took his homeward way
Ida met her uncle at the door and helped him off with his overcoat and muffler, then esconeed him in his chair, gave him his pipe, and knelt down on the rug to take off his shoes.
“Hold on there!” said the hustled old man. “I never had a woman take off my shoes, and I won’t—”
“Yes, you will, so please keep quiet,” she replied.
“All right, if you say so, but never was a man so put upon since Xantippe pulled the hair of Socrates,” he yielded. “Ay, that’s comfortable, after all. It’s a longer distance to my feet than it used to be. By the way I thought I saw Mulhouse on the sidewalk as I drove up. I waved to him but he didn’t seem to notice me. What could he be doing up this way?” “He was here,” she told him. The brevity of her reply and something in her voice that his quick ear caught made him look up. There was a little extra color in her face.
“He was, eh!” he commented. “Anything special he wanted to see me about, or just a social look in?”
“A social call,” she replied, a faint smile curving about her lips. “I wanted to ring up, thinking you might be gossiping,
“A lot he’d want with me,” he interrupted. ( “Anything new he’d got to say?” ‘Yes,” she told him, dusting some imaginary untidiness from the mantelshelf. “He asked me to marry him.” “Like his impudence,” he replied, his keen eyes twinkling. “And the rest of the story.”
There’s no rest to it,” she said. “You know that. I don’t want to marry Mr. Mulhouse, or—”
“Be careful about sweeping statements,” he grunted. “So you gave Mulhouse the mitten. Darn his impudence coming poaching round my place. I hope you gave him his answer as a MacPhee should. How did he take it, honey? He’s not the kind that is used to getting set-backs.” “I don’t know what made him so silly,” she said, irritably for her. “He was nice and agreeable as a friend.”
“It’s a way young men have, they tell me,” he replied. “I never fell in with it, perhaps to my own loss. But you can’t blame ’em. A bonnie lass is the most upsetting creature in God’s wide universe. If she smashed up the first Eden for the first man, there’s no wonder the habit stuck. But Mulhouse comes of good stock—real big-time folks, generals and bishops and judges. Real society folk both sides the water. You gave it thought,
I suppose, Ida?”
“It didn’t need thought. You didn’t want me to marry him, uncle, did you?” she asked, a trifle impatiently.
‘Marry him! Not I. Do you think I want to pass on my sunshine to another man s house? I’d sooner take a shotgun to him, that’s so far as I’m concerned, but I can’t expect to keep you always, and I’d like you—when you do weed ’em out—to get the right man,” he replied. “To my mind there’s none I’ll think good enough for you, but I’d like you, when you do settle things, to take the least undesirable.
I 11 have to tell Jim Douglas about this, he’ll—”
“You musn’t do any such thing,” she answered sharply. “Or anybody else.
It s just a secret between us, and, if you * ^ ^ never entrust another to you.”
“As you say,” he surrendered. “But it would have interested Jim, I think.”
\X7INGATE heard of the withdrawal v ’ of the MacPhee concern from the association with great delight. - He was annoyed with Mulhouse on account of the way he had handled his contract. Being a man of strict business honor himself, he bad small opinion of one who would play
traitor to his associates, even though Wingate’s might profit by the crookedness. It was early in December, a couple of months before the Mulhouse contract was due to expire, that the big manufacturer spoke about business to Douglas.
“I’m making a departure in my way of putting up some of my stuff for a special market,” he said. “It is for foreign trade and I want a distinctive kind of a bottle for it.” He went on to explain in detail just what his ideas were, and indicated that he wished to take no chances about the quality of the container. There would be, probably, a large number of these specials in the next big contract, but for the present he had need of thirty thousand gross, and wished them to be hurried on and delivered as quickly as possible. Could Douglas handle the matter?
Jim jumped at the offer, a price was fixed then and there of four dollars and eighty-five cents a gross. Within the next few days Wingate gave out the quantities and specifications for the next contract. It was the biggest Jim had ever seen from one customer, and covered practically all the bottles the big firm would require for a twelve-month’s output of its medicine. In it was a large instalment of the specials on which Jim had taken the emergency order. When MacPhee dropped into the office the morning after Jim had made his deal with Wingate, he glanced over the terms of the order. These late days he was showing more interest in the fight.
“I see you haven’t lowered prices, Jim,” he said. “Four, eighty-five is fair. We could aways make a fair profit at round that figure.”
“It will be a better one now with the new machinery, you’ll see. We’ll knock that off in little more than half the time, at round the same overhead,” replied Jim.
“And as to the next year’s contract. If I’m not too inquisitive, how are you going to quote on that?” inquired MacPhee.
“Much the same as last time,” Douglas replied.
“Not scared of Mulhouse getting away with it again?”
“He may, and again he may not,” said Jim dourly. “He made nothing at all, if he didn’t lose money on the last, and, I guess when Wingate starts in to shave down the invoice on account of breakages, there won’t be much to show for all the work. We are asking fair prices, and better lose the contract than work for nothing. Any fool can throw money out of the window.”
“That’s so,” agreed MacPhee philosophically.
“I’ll have a bit of a rush to get this order —the special—out for Wingate in time, I find,” Douglas resumed. “I was so eager to grab it that I wasn’t over particular about figuring delivery. I’ve a sort of notion that I’ll ask Mulhouse to take a few thousand gross off my hands.”
MacPhee stared at his manager speechlessly, opened his mouth as if to say s omething, then shut it again for a while. He lit his pipe, enveloped himself in smoke with a dozen terrific puffs, then delivered his soul.
“Jim, I don’t pretend to follow all the curves and zigzags of your actions. Likely enough there’s method in them, but I’m getting old and dull and slowish. You take an order from Wingate, and then shove a slice of it over to your keenest rival, knowing that this same bottle is going to figure largely in the next year’s contract. To the naked eye it would seem that you are giving your adversary a chance to get on the inside with the job. Mulhouse will slick up that small quantity of stuff just to get ahead of you to the wire.”
“I’LL have to take chances on that,”
Jim replied. “Mulhouse will be doing the job for us, and he will deliver to us, not direct. That arrangement will ease things, for we have about all we can handle this side the New Y ear.”
MacPhee said no more. Jim was in the saddle, and he could ride to the -well, wherever he fancied.
The same afternoon Jim called Mulhouse on the telephone. u..* V)
“I’ve taken an emergency order on some specials for Wingate,” he said. “A small affair to tide him over till the new con; tract’s given out. We are pretty busy ! just now, and considering our crippled state are rather rushed. I wondered if ; you could do a few thousand gross for us?’
"Why, I think so,” replied Mulhouse, a little surprised at the request, and taking it as a friendly overture. “I’ll look in and see you about it as I come up-town.”
An hour or two later he called and had his talk with Douglas.
“I’ve gone over the matter, and I can manage to squeeze you in a few thousand gross,” he intimated.
“What are you going to ask me for them?” Jim wanted to know.
“I’ve looked over that. It is a special bottle, and prices are stiffening a little. I can do them for you, say, at five dollars and thirty-five cents a gross,” Mulhouse replied.
Jim tapped the blotting pad on his desk with the pencil he had in hand. He did not flinch, not by the flicker of an eyelash did he intimate his feelings. He wanted the help and Mulhouse was skinning him. The price was sheer robbery.
“A trifle stiff, isn’t it?” Douglas suggested.
“I don’t think so,” the other replied. “That is, considering it is a special and an emergency special.”
“It’s stiff, but I’ve got to have the goods,” said Jim. “I’ll take ten thousand gross at your figure.”
They chatted about delivery for a minute or two, then Mulhouse took himself off. On his way downtown he met MacPhee on the street.
“Just up at your place for a talk with Douglas,” he said. “I’m helping him out with ten thousand gross of that Wingate special.”
“What’s he giving you for them?” asked the old man.
“Five dollars and thirty-five cents,” replied Mulhouse cheerfully.
Old MacPhee’s cast-iron face and imperturbability of spirit never stood him in better stead than in that moment. He did not betray his thought that Jim had taken leave of his senses for a single moment, but acted like the straight bred man he was.
“Isn’t the price a mite stiff?” he observed, using almost the exact words of Jim. “Where do you think we get off on a rate like that?”
“No fear of Jim Douglas overlooking that factor,” Mulhouse grinned.
“Well, neighborliness at that figure is surely profitable,” remarked MacPhee. “But we’ll have to get back at you one of these days.”
When Mulhouse had gone away, the old man turned to go up to the works to have a word with Jim about this last suggestion of imbecility, then suddenly changed his mind and marched off home. It was Jim’s affair, not his. He should have his head, come what might. Yet, it wasn’t a bit like Jim. Fifty cents a gross for the sub-contractor, more than Wingate was paying MacPhee’s for the stuff! This was truly a world of wonders.
MACPHEE went away, taking Ida with him, for the early weeks of December. Three days before Christmas they returned. It was old-fashioned Christmas weather, deep snow on the ground, clear skies, frosty air. On Saturday evening Douglas received a call on the phone at his hotel and heard the voice of MacPhee.
“We’re back these four hours. Come up for supper, Jim, will you?” the old man
And up Jim went. Ida thought he looked more cheery than when they went away. There was reason for this, as he told them that the new machinery was now about all installed, and he was pretty sure that after the holidays MacPhee’s would be able to give the “Full Steam Ahead” order.
“Any more sub-contracting at a loss of fifty cents a gross, Jim?” MacPhee inquired, nervy enough to touch lightly on such a tragedy.
“No, we’ve had no more of that kind,” Douglas laughed. It wasn’t his money, reflected MacPhee, or he wouldn’t grin so readily about it.
“When does Wingate decide about that big year’s contract?” the old man wanted to know.
“It was altered,” replied Jim. “Instead of putting it out for a year, he made it for three years. He has decided it— this morning. Everything closed up,” Douglas spoke with unusual seriousness.
“And Mulhouse got it again?” demanded MacPhee, showing his teeth like a dog from whom a bone has been snatched. “Who said he got it?” retorted Jim.
February 1, 19211
“He did not. It has come back to MacPhee’s.” Crash went a plate on the floor. MacPhee rose to his feet and gave a whoop that brought Mrs. Dawson and the littlemaid from the kitchen in wild alarm “And no price cutting either?” he demanded.
“Not the shadow of a shaving. The figures are just as you saw them before you went off,” answered Douglas. “You see, Mr. MacPhee, Mulhouse queered himself with Wingate when he quoted the specials at five dollars and thirty-five cents a gross, and the other items, all the way down the list, at about an average fifty cents advance.
“That five thousand wasn’t altogether wasted. It was worth while baiting with the sprat to catch the whale. Y ou can see how Mulhouse figured, as I thought he might. When he offered to make the ten thousand gross of the specials for us, and quoted five, thirty-five, it was just a bit of angling to find out what I was getting “When I took his thieving bid, he calculated that I must be getting my margin of profit above that, and so, when he figured on the big deal, he took these prices to guide him. Wingate was disgusted with him, and, of course, saw through the game. He suggested that instead of this annual' agreement, we make it a three-year termon the same quantities, with an option,, in his favor, to increase up to a certain point, if he wants to do so. There was a neat profit at the rates with the old machinery, but wait till you see the new plant in action! We’ve had most of it in operation this week, and it runs slick as oil.” “Crow away, kid, crow!” shouted theold man. “You’re the big IT and I’m the has-been. I’ll step into the snuggery and think over what you’ve said. Mrs. Dawson, I’m sorry I broke that plate, but it’s a great day for old MacPhee. And, if you, Ida, and Jim, are in no hurry for supper, we’ll hold it back for an hour or so.”
The wood fire was burning in the drawing-room, ‘and as yet the lamps had not been lighted.
“Don’t light them, if you don’t mind," Jim said to Ida. “I like this time of evening.”
And they sat, not very far from each other. Outside the dark clouds had almost covered the sky, the last ray of thesetting sun had faded away. Round thecomers of the house the night wind whistled. The glowing embers on thehearth took curious shapes, dissolved, reformed their fairy stage tableaux.
“And so,” said Ida, looking into the red heart of the fire. “You have justifiedyour hopes and our faith, Jim. We knew you would—I was certain of it. And scatter the holidays the whole plant starts up again?”
“Yes, the whole of it,” he answered.
“I feel terribly out of it. I’ve beenwondering if I could have my place again down in the office. I am sure I could ' persuade uncle to let me go back. I am. not a bit of the social-light woman, itisn’t in me, and I never could grow intoone. I am just a small town woman with small town ideas and small town tastes and likings,” she said.
“Afraid I can’t do it, Ida,” and he shook his head gravely. “One of the clerks from, the main office has been promoted to theposition, and it wouldn’t be right to take it away from him.”
“No, I suppose not,” she said.
“And if I could give it you, I don’t think I would.”
“You wouldn’t, Jim?”
“No, I wouldn’t. There’s another place vacant, though, Ida girl. It has beer, vacant quite a while, and it will remain vacant till you make up your mind to fill it.
“I don’t want a secretary, Ida, but I do want a wife, a sweet, trim, small-town wife. I’ve wanted her a long time, and waited till I thought I’d made good. Then 1 was afraid. I heard she was to be a verbrich woman, not a small-town woman at all, and it seemed to cloud everything up I wished you had never been the heiress. I wanted the girl from the office, from the boarding house, the girl who worked for her living, and it was an awful disappointment to me, selfish äs I was, to find that she was to be rich. I wonder, Ida, if—?” Then he stopped.
“And, Jim. I’ve been wondering much the same—if?" she laughed, as he drew nearer to her.
Then a deep silence fell over the room.