And David . . . Took Thence a Stone
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
Marion's father called young Johns' pluck “goldarn obstinacy"—but it takes a bit of both to make a success in business these days.
YOUNG Mr. Oliver Johns leaned back in his office chair and raised his rather prominent blue eyes ecstatically toward the ceiling. “Gosh!—eh? . . . gosh!—eh?” he asked himself, and became lost for a minute in roseate dreams. Then he hoisted himself to his feet and performed a few creditable movements of a foxtrot, the full beauty thereof being marred, however, by the sudden entry of his office boy, a diminutive and righteous youth in spectacles.
“Your mail, sir,” he announced, veiled reproof in his tone.
“Ah! Quite so—thank you, Tipkin!—er—lovely day, Tipkin, eh?”
As the heavy rains of late March were, at the moment, lacing the window panes, and a blustering half gale harried the pedestrians of St. James street, below, to cover, the remark was not sufficiently accurate to secure the assent of the veracious Tipkin. He shuffled a bit, if so decorous a soul could be said to shuffle, and said no word. On this day, however, nothing could damp the matutinal ardor of Mr. Johns.
“Do you smoke, Tipkin?” he asked genially.
“No, sir,” said Tipkin, firmly.
The innocent boy shook a scandalized head.
“Perhaps you swear?”—hopefully.
“Oh! no, sir! never!” replied Tipkin, deeply shocked. “Ah—too bad! too bad! I was about to suggest that you take a half-holiday, Tipkin, but I see that such a giddy procedure would never do. However, there’s a good fight on to-night at the Amateur Athletic. Here’s a dollar, and—”
Tipkin, clutching the dollar reproachfully, withdrew, whereupon his master, resuming his seat and swinging about to face the streaming window, cocked his feet upon the sill and hummed; from all of which one might gather that Mr. Johns was in high fettle. He was. He was happy; gloriously, wildly happy—for had he not, upon the previous evening, proposed and been accepted, by the dearest, sweetest, most wonderful— but such rhapsodies are Mr. Johns’ sole prerogative, now!
Shorn of its verbiage, the case stood thus:— after eighteen months of unremitting devotion he was, at last, firmly and irrevocably engaged to Marion Winter, society beauty, and only daughter of “Old Sam” Winter, the shipping king. True, Old Sam was not, as yet, aware of the honor that had been thrust upon him and, to do Mr. Johns justice, that gentleman was too modest not to know that the magnate might not regard him altogether in the light of an unmixed blessing. Still, an interview would allay all doubt. Mr. Johns was a cheery young soul and hoped for the best.
THE telephone interrupted his musing and for an hour thereafter he was busy. While so engrossed we may gain closer knowledge of the outer man. He was of medium height, his stocky figure being saved from corpulence only by the amazing depth and breadth of his chest. His hair was prematurely thin, his face full and healthy, with a small, sandy moustache, a strong, short nose, a firm jaw and, his greatest charm, an ingenious and disarming smile. He had a trick of gazing at one with his mild, protruding blue eyes in so innocent and bovine a way as led folk to erroneous conclusions regarding his intelligence. His voice was mild—almost effeminate— yet, as Lieut. Oliver Johns in the late European fracas, he had been known to his gratified and admiring platoon as “Bloody Mary.” The death of his father late in 1918 left him heir to a small but profitable shipping business, known as the Redskin Line, composed of three rather ancient ocean-going steamers, the Iroquois Brave, the Onondaga Brave and the Mohawk Brave, all plying the jute trade between Calcutta, New York and Montreal.
Mr. Johns made a note on a scratch pad, pushed aside the correspondence on his desk and lit a cigarette. Again he tilted his chair back, his head in a maze of gauzy smoke and, in the exuberance of his heart, was about to lift up his voice in song, when, without warning, the door flew open, admitting the formidable person of “Old Sam” Winter.
Mr. Winter was heavy of jowl and purse, keen of eye, and deep versed in lore of men and ships. Head of a gigantic shipping corporation, his uncanny knowledge of freights and markets and his ruthlessness in crushing competition had made him feared and hated in the business world of Montreal. Ordinarily calm and of few words, he seemed, this morning, to be fairly swelling with a suppressed something, wfflich the astute Mr. Johns unerringly diagnosed as wrath. Always the gentleman, however, he greeted his visitor with urbanity, not to say ingratiation, and offered him a chair.
Old Man Winter sank into it and favored Mr. Johns with a long and hostile stare. An incoherent muttering arose to his grim lips.
“Beg pardon, sir?” said Mr. Johns, politely.
The shipping baron made a visible effort at restraint but, failing, reached forward and struck the desk with a bang that rattled the very bookcase in the corner.
“What the hell is this nonsense about Marion and 'you, Johns?” he demanded.
“Ah—yes—what, I wonder,” said Mr. Johns, vaguely, “You—you wonder! You fat porpoise—sneaking like a snake in the grass into my house,” said the Old Man not very lucidly, “—and presuming to make up to my daughter. What d’ye mean by it, hey?”
“I expect you know, sir!” returned Mr. Johns, placatingly.
“Know? Yes, by ginger! I do know! But let me tell you—it won’t do! d’ye hear? It won’t do! So you can dig that flea out of your lug for keeps, my man!”
“I’m sorry, sir. I hoped you would be pleased. I’m sure we will be happy, Marion and I. At any rate, I intend to do my utmost. We’ll be very glad to see you I’m sure, when we’re—hum!—if we’re married.” Mr, Johns’ tone was mild; almost appealing. “I—I hope you won’t forbid it. But if you do, then, of course—,r The irate father was deceived. He had expected surrender, certainly, but after a bit of bluster from the young cub, first. Evidently he was too frightened tcx kick up much fuss. The fellow would listen to reason. A heroic effort brought his voice and temper under control once more. Mr Johns observed it.
“Have a cigar, sir,” he suggested eagerly, passing a humidor which the other ignored.
“Now listen to me, and get it straight, Johns,” he rumbled, not unkindly, “I tell you flat, once and for all, for your own good, keep away from my girl. Your common sense should have told you that I’d never consent to such a dam-fool match!” Here his choler again threatened to overcome him at the mere thought of the other’s presumption. “Marion won’t go against, my will; by the old hickory, she don’t dare!—and if there’s any more monkey business from you—well-— I’m an ugly man to cross, that’s all. Get it out of your head, boy, if you know what’s good for you—eh? What: say?”
“Do you mind telling me, sir,” said Mr. Johns, meekly, “exactly your objections to me as a son-in-law?”“It would take too long,” the Old Man snorted, “but
I’ll tell you some of ’em. You know the style of living to which Marion is accustomed. What have you to stack up against that, hey?”
“Well—I’m not exactly a pauper, sir—”
“No. Not exactly—not yet, at least—but by gum, if you begin to buck me—never mind that now, though! They say you’re clever. Oh, yes. I’ve heard it—from men who should know better! Excuse me if I can’t see it. Your father—a man I admired, if he did run foul of me once or twice—left you three ships—-rustbitten old tin-pots, of course, but doing fairly well in a good trade which he established when you were a brat. What have you done since you got ’em, hey? Have you built up? Have you enlarged the business? Hey? Not by a damn sight! You’ve sat on your hunkers and let the business fall off! Against competition you’d snuff it in a month. I know shipping, don’t forget!”
HERE, in the blindness of his dislike, the Old Man did Mr. Johns something less than justice, for, in spite of after-war depression, the most bitter in the history of shipping, he had kept his vessels moving, and earning a small profit, where older and more experienced companies had been forced to the wall. His only reply to his critic’s diatribe, however, was an interested “ah!”. Winter continued:
“As for Marion, love in a cottage won’t do for that Miss!
—not by a long chalk, and don’t you forget it! Just settle her bills for a month, and see!”
His chest expanded with grim pride. “I guess you see the light now. Here's my last word. I don’t like to jump a young fellow, just starting life, so to speak. You take your ring back, and we’ll call it quits.”
For the first time in the interview Mr. Johns showed lively interest.
“She—did she give it to you?” he asked, uncertainly. “Er—no-o,” with a touch of temper, as of an unpleasant reminiscence, “—not exactly—but she will! She will! Well?—you leave her alone, and I leave you alone. What d’ye say? Hey?”
Mr. Johns beamed.
“No, sir,” he replied happily.
“Hey? What?” bellowed the Old Man, “You refuse?” “Yes, sir.”
“Yes, sir? What the--?”
“I mean, no, sir—I refuse!”
Blind fury arose and choked the older man. His voice sank. Every word was laden with venom.
“You young fool! D’ye think you can fight Old Sam Winter with your damned old fair-weather rattle traps, hey?”
“Yes, sir," Mr. Johns opined, modestly.
There was white-hot silence for a moment, then: “You really intend to carry on with this—this—to defy me?”
“I hope you’ll come round in time, sir.”
“Never, by gad, sir! Neverl Take your choice, you young ass! Stack up against me and I’ll show you no quarter! I’ll wipe your miserable stink-pots off the ocean, so help me! I’ll ruin you, Johns! I’ll crush you flatter’n a cockroach, by gad!”
“A cockroach, sir,” pointed out Mr. Johns, amiably, “is a fairly lively lad to put your foot on. Of course, Marion and I—” his voice lost none of its mildness— “would prefer to have your bless—your approval, but it’s really not essential. We expect to be very happy. Sure you won’t reconsider, sir? Take your own time, of course,” he ended kindly.
Passion and a shrewd suspicion that the younger man had out-played him drove the old gentleman from his chair.
“We’ll see!” he shouted, “I give you warning, you young sprout! Sam Winter’s after your scalp and by the hookey he’ll have it!” Purple of face, he moved toward the door.
“Your hat, sir,” Mr. Johns reminded him.
He retrieved it.
“Your gloves, sir.”
They were snatched.
“Your umbrella, sir,” suggested Mr. Johns, politely. “Go the the devil!” the Old Man roared.
The door slammed.
“What a lovable child he must have been!” Mr. Johns ruminated. He pressed a buzzer. The scared, white face of Tipkin appeared, his spectacles at a most indecorous angle on his pinched little nose.
“Are you acquainted with modern literature, Tipkin?” his master asked.
“Er—fairly well, sir—with the better sort, of course,” said that excellent youth.
“Then tell me, Tipkin—if Winter comes, can spring
be far behind?”
When his puzzled henchman withdrew, Mr. Johns again leaned back in his chair, faced the storm-drenched street and whistled softly through his teeth. Just so had “Bloody Mary” whistled, in the years gone by, in the cold, wet dawn of a zero hour.
On a fine, sun-flooded afternoon, three months later,
when the whole green world had drunk deep of the flowing sap and the leaves of the chestnuts still held their vivid crispness, Mr. Oliver Johns sat at his desk. A vagrant sprite of a breeze, despairing of carrying her fragrance the length of the dingy street, slipped through the open window and gently stirred the placid tendrils of Mr. Johns’ scant coiffure, distilling perfume of gardens and fields the while. But the thoughts of that ordinarily cheerful, young man were miles—nay, leagues—away from vain flirtation with summer’s idling couriers. They were centred on a ramshackle, sun-baked, salt rimed cargo steamer alongside the Kidderpur docks in far-away Calcutta, beneath the cloudless, breathless blue of an Indian sky—a steamer with silent winches and an empty hold, and bearing upon her heat-blistered funnel the feathered likeness of a North American warrior head, and upon her battered counter the words—Onondaga Brave . . . Montreal. Nearby, he saw, with imagination’s telescope, a fine, clean, modern twelve-knot ship, with -the large white “W” of the Winter Line upon her green funnel, her cargo booms lifting and dipping ceaselessly as they transferred great bales of jute into the fast-filling holds.
Young Mr. Johns essayed a whistle which, somehow, trailed off into a sigh, as his eyes dropped to the cablegram which he held in his hand. He fumbled for a match, lit a cigarette and perused the typed form for the sixth time. It read:
“Redskin-Montreal Winter Agent undercut freight
below our lowest authorized figure. No cargo here.
“Signed, C. W. Allen, Master.”
For a moment after he read, the muscles at the corners of Mr. Johns’ firm jaw bulged. Then he grinned, the light of battle in his prominent blue eyes, and brought his feet from the desk to the floor with a bang. During the next half hour he was busy with telephone, wire and cable. When he left the office he drove to the golf links where he beat his previous best by three, for his lively fancy was pleased to assume that every round white ball with which his swinging club connected, was the round, white pate of “Old Sam” Winter. He felt much better when he returned to town for dinner.
The following morning he found upon his desk a sheaf of return messages, fruit of his activity of the afternoon before. Principal, and most satisfactory among them, were one from Saigon, in French IndoChina, the other from Cuba. He read them through, considered for a moment, pressed the key for a telegraph messenger and buzzed for his stenographer.
“Take a cable, Miss Cranston,” he directed, and dictated:
“Allen, S.S. Onondaga Brave, care Welker, and Sons Co., Ltd., Calcutta. Proceed Saigon. Load rice for Havana. Discharge. Load sugar for Montreal.
This was the happiest day’s work that had fallen to Mr. Johns in many moons for, by the merest fluke, he had secured cargoes out of the heavy season in both places and, at the same time, relieved Winter’s crowd of a neat slice of their pet trade.
“That’ll make up a bit for past favors!” he chirped. Yet, in spite of his luck, a slight depression settled upon him—for it was luck—that was the rub—not cleverness, not business acumen, just plain, dog-gone luck—and, being the peculiar young gentleman that Providence had made him Oliver Johns was not content to beat “Old Man” Winters on that basis. Lick him with his own weapons—shipping genius—that was the stunt!
LD MAN WINTER was making himself felt. He was beginning to hurt, and to hurt badly. The Onondaga Brave was the second of young Mr. Johns’ ships to be underbid on its cargo in Calcutta, a “Winter” boat having cut out the Mohawk Brave within a month of his memorable tiff with the father of his adored. Winter’s policy now was clearly defined. He had diverted certain of his ships to the job of crushing the Redskin Line. Whenever a Redskin vessel entered Calcutta, a big white “W” was its neighbor, and, although Welker & Sons Co., ' Ltd., Johns’ agents, bid almost to the minimum of profit, the others’ agents dug below them. Obviously, the shipping king was out to obliterate the Redskins and, incidentally, to secure the highly profitable North American jute trade even though, at first, he had to carry the stuff at a dead loss. The building up of the business had been the life work of Johns, Senior, and to see it slipping into hostile hands was a knife-blade in the debonair heart of his son. Still, such a cut-throat game could have but one conclusion. The smaller man could not hope to survive against the millions under control of the Winter Syndicate, unless—!
For the remainder of the day Mr. Johns remained in his office, inaccessible alike to callers and to staff. Cigarette after cigarette he consumed, groping, in the thickness of the smoke cloud and the innermost crannies of his brain, for a feasible weapon of defence. The afternoon wore on and the long summer twilight deepened into a night of singular beauty. But he had no eyes for nature’s artistry.
Sheet after sheet he covered with figures and calculated schemes, which followed each other in rapid succession to the waste paper basket. When it became too. dark to see he switched on the lights and, collarless and in his shirt sleeves, wrestled with his problem. Then, suddenly, a strange, wild exhilaration flamed within him and, resurrecting a satisfactory expression or two from the long disused vocabulary of “Bloody Mary,” he used them with soul-slacking delight—for he had it! He had stormed his objective and captured his idea!
HALF stupid from fatigue he glanced at his watch.
It was a quarter past eight. He buttoned on his collar, resumed his coat and, sticking on his hat at a doggish angle, swaggered to the door. He essayed an airy skip or two on the way, but found that too strenuous for his cramped muscles. He went into the outer office, then, about to leave, stopped abruptly and made toward a solitary light which gleamed in a far corner. Slumped over his desk, his pale, pinched features resting on his arm and indulging, now and then, in a chaste snore, was Tipkin. His employer touched him on the shoulder. He jumped to guilty wakefulness, his weak eyes blinking owlishly through their thick glasses.
“Hello,” said Mr. Johns, facetiously. “Enjoying a night out, Tipkin?”
“No, sir,” responded the youth, his natural propriety swimming rapidly to the surface, “I knew that you were staying late, sir, and I thought you wouldn’t mind if I stayed too—in case you required anything.”
A feeling akin to admiration surcharged the tongue and breast of young Mr. Johns. It was something to have inspired the loyalty of even such a one as Tipkin. “Faithful Rover!” he murmured.
“Beg pardon, sir?”
“Nothing—I—er—better cut along, now, and get
Continued, on page 48
And David . . . Took Thence a Stone
Continued from page 14
some supper, and—er—Tipkin—think you can handle a clerk’s job, eh?”
“Yes, sir, but—”
“Ah! Then tell Mr. Hyslop, in the morning, to find you a successor at the end of the week. But mind—” he added severely, “you don’t get drunk on your raise!”
“Oh! no, sir!” exclaimed the noble lad, horrified at the bare suggestion.
Mr. Johns walked to the elevator whistling.
He drove home, had dinner, packed a bag and took the midnight train to New York, where he spent a busy three days, going from there to Philadelphia where, for thirty-six hours, his cheerful countenance embellished the marts of trade. _ He returned via Toronto, where he put in a day—then, tired, but deeply satisfied in the consciousness of a good piece of work well done, he returned to Montreal, where, for the first time in weeks, he enjoyed a deep, unbroken slumber.
When, on the following day, Mr. Johns telephoned Marion Winter, she, her quick intuition sharpened by love, recognized immediately a note in his voice that had been long absent—a note of suppressed jubilation—almost of triumph—and that same mysterious intuition told her, and it tingled through her veins like wine, that for two pins, or even half that amount, young Mr. Johns was quite prepared to carry her off in complete defiance of fathers and the whole Book of Canons, if need be. Yet his words held none of that glowing ardor, rather the reverse, for what he said, was;
“Can you wait a few months, dearest?”
“For as long as you like, Oliver,” then, added, feminine-like, “—but not for too long, dear.” Yet with this equivocal reply he seemed quite content.
NOW, in his renunciation of the immediate delights of hymenal bliss young Mr. Jones had shown not a little fortitude but, among other qualities, good and bad, he had been endowed by his parents with a liberal portion of stubborn pride—a pride which, despite his longing, would not allow him to marry Marion against her father’s will, until he had proved to that old rhinoceros that he could hold up his end against him in the “Old Man’s” chosen field. Notwithstanding his insouciance on the day of their interview. Winter’s words and evident contempt of himself as a businessman had bitten deep and he was determined to stay in the fight to a finish. If he went under, he had determined, he would sink alone and not drag down with him the star upon whom his brightest hopes set. Despite her many lovable qualities, a girl, accustomed to the luxuries with which she had been surrounded, might ill become a lowlier state and, although his intimates had often assured him otherwise, young Mr. Johns was not a fool. -On the contrary, he was a singularly hardheaded, if soft-hearted, young man and was taking no chances. But now he was in high hopes of weathering the storm, for, as he had said, there was light ahead and once past the shoals, with the open sea before him, he could capture his prize despite her convoy.
Some weeks later, in response to urgent, anguished queries, Messrs. Welker & Sons’ Co., Ltd., Calcutta, received instructions which confirmed them ip an opinion long entertained, that young' Mr. Johns was completely, incurably mad. They realized, far better, it seemed, than that rash young gentleman, the hopelessness of his fight against the tremendous odds against him. Cargo after cargo had been secured by the big white “W” at rates with which it was folly to compete, for, with the low overhead and tremendous buying power of the Winter Corporation, as opposed to the inevitably higher operating costs of a smaller business, “Old Sam” Winter’s agents bid for and carried the jute, at a price which, while it left a margin of profit to the big concern, would have meant heavy loss to the Redskin Line.
There were other trades into which the Redskin Line could break; not so profitable nor so certain as the business which now was lost to it, but which would at least pay expenses and a little over and would certainly stave off certain ruin. In his genuine interest in young Mr. Johns, Welker Senior repeatedly had suggested
this course, even though it meant the loss of a client. In reply he had received the following:
“Continue present polfej?. Force W. to lowest possible rate but don’t underbid.
“Futile young idiot!” snapped Mr. Welker, as he tossed the paper to his son. “How’s that for the acme of lunacy? How long does he think he can keep this up? The North American jute people aren’t asleep—not by a damn sight! They’ll take advantage of this blasted rate war and call for prices on a time charter. _ When that happens, Johns can chuck his hand in—and I’m dashed if he doesn’t deserve all he gets. Here’s the Iroquois Brave due in two days and no chance of a cargo, yet he sends her to save face with the Winter lot, by jove! Thank God it’s his money, not mine, he’s throwing away!”
The incomprehensible tactics of young Mr. Johns were the cause of considerable interest and a vast amount of criticism among his Montreal contemporaries. The outcome of the fight was foregone, of course, but the majority of the independent shipping men, with whom he was popular, tempered the frankness of their opinions with compassion. But the intrepid Johns kept on his course, smiling, out war dly un perturbed.
Came a day when “Old Sam” Winter, comfortably ensconced iff. the battered depths of his old leather, chair, so out of keeping with the expensive-furnishings of his private office, with its polished woodwork and priceless blue Manchurian carpet, put down his morning paper, lay back, and laughed. It was not a free, joyous, ringing laugh such as would have become the cold and sunny day, but rather a series of hoarse staccato chuckles, not at all musical, yet the best to be expected of one so out of practice.
“Got 'im! by ginger!4’ hechortled, “Now we’re making the young devil squeak! heh! heh! heh!—by gad!”
He picked up his paper, foldçd'it, read once again the item which* had excited. his mirth, then summoned his' ’general manager, Mr. Blake. When Blake entered the Old Man was turning over the pages of Lloyd’s Register. He paused, with his finger marking a place.
“Seen the papers this morning, Joe?” he questioned.
“What, particularly?” asked the other, puzzled.
The Old Man pointed out a paragraph in the shipping column.
“The Iroquois Brave is up for sale,” he said, with a grim smile. “That’s an uppercut for our ambitious young champion, eh? Saw him in the street, yesterday. Thought he didn’t look so damn cocky as he’s been looking lately. It’s costing us something but, by ginger, we’ll punch his meal ticket for him!”
THE other thought for a minute, tiny lines in the corners of his not unkindly eyes.
“Don’t you think you’re a bit too hard on the lad, Sam?” he asked slowly. “It seems—well—rather a pity in a way. The beggar is plucky, after all. He’s been taking his medicine like a man, and—” “Plucky! Gol-darn obstinacy—that’s what I call it! Think of it! No more chance than a feather in hell, begad, yet he hangs on for sheer spite! But I’ll scotch him if it takes half I’ve got! Marion’s nearly as bad! Can’t get him out of her silly young head! Flaunts his confounded ring before my very eyes, if you please, and swears she’ll marry him if he’s poor as Lazarus! Well, she’ll have her chance if he tries to hang out much longer. This thing this morning gives me another shot at him. But I’ll hit his pride this time, as well as his pocket!” The Old Man continued his perusal of the Register.
“What’s the idea?” asked Blake.
“I’m going to buy his bundle of tin cans and scrap iron and sail her down the river for a cargo of Indian jute with the big white ‘W’ on her funnel and Iroquois Brave on her stern! That’s the idea!” said Winter savagely. And, buying through an agent, that is exactly what he did.
The viciousness and petty spite of his move aroused the general indignation of shipping men. It was not playing the game. It savored too much of kicking a man when he was down. But young
Mr. Johns bore (-he humiliation well. He tyas besieged with sympathy and more than one offer of disinterested, financial help. But, although faint, new lines appeared in his good-humored face, and his lips were rather tight, he shed sympathy and declined assistance. It was his scrap and he’d fight it out alone. rT
HIS most bitter critic as well as staunchest friend was Gren Deacon, a prominent young grain man and former fellow-officer in Johns’ battalion.
“You’re a pot-bellied numskull, ‘Mary,’ my lad,” he announced coolly on the day when the Iroquois Brave, her ancient plates spotted with red lead as if blushing for very shame, surged down-stream under the enemy flag. “You’ve put up a good fight, and no one would blame you for chucking it now. You haven’t a chance of winning out, you won’t accept help, you won’t listen to advice, and you will play into Winter’s hands. The old devil’s out for guts, and he’ll have ’em if you don’t take cover, yet all you do is sit tight, grin all over your fat head and take the gaff, instead of retiring with honor and playing safe for the future. You’re mad, man! you’re crazy! you’re off your nut!”
“Have a cigarette, old worm,” said young Mr. Johns.
His visitor arose in helpless wrath.
“I’m going out to pick you a nice, kind keeper,” he snorted.
Mr. Johns fixed his prominent blue eyes vacantly upon him.
“Go in the corner and wash your ears,” he said, “I want to whisper something.” Mr. Deacon regarded him suspiciously. “What is it?” he asked, drawing near, whereupon Mr. Johns entertained his friend’s auricular appendage with several moments of low-pitched dialogue and, as he proceeded, Mr. Deacon’s not unhandsome countenance underwent a series of ludicrous changes, terminating in a broad grin and a tendency to whoop. But Mr. Johns restrained him.
. “Not yet,” he said. “I’m not dead sure of my ground. It seems to be working, but it depends on how far he will go to stamp me out. My game is to keep his temper up. Marion helps by flashing the ring, now and then. Now, if you’ll do your little bit, Gren, I believe, between us, that we can pull it off.”
“Bet your Granny’s nightie, I will!” swore the indelicate Mr. Deacon, and calling his friend several coarse, admiring names, departed jubilant.
This may explain why, a few nights later, there was a convivial gathering of young bloods in the cafe of an expensive apartment hotel wherein Samuel Winters and daughter were living. At a table adjacent to the merry party, which was headed by Mr. Deacon, sat “Old Man” Winter, alone. At the momentary gusts of hilarity that floated across to him, he frowned and fixed the offenders with an indignant eye. Then!, suddenly, his grim old mouth was compressed with anger and the dull blood surged into his downy old ears as, during a lull, the voice of Mr. Deacon arose, clear as a bell, then, cautioned by a discreet companion, fell to a buzz, which was followed by a gale of laughter heartier than any before. The shipping magnate strode across to the party and glared at the culprit. Then he thundered forth;
“Johns told ÿou he could lick Old Sam Winter with a rowboat, and forks for oars, hey?” he bellowed. “Said for every dollar I took from his hand I put two in his pocket, did he?—the insolent young jackass! You tell him from me, Mister, that I’ll flatten him lower’n a snake’s keel— and when he’s down and out I’ll send my lawyers to pick his bones! Now you tell him that, young feller, d’you hear!”—and, leaving the astounded group he stamped from the room.
Next morning the gratified tones of Mr. Deacon floated across the wire to his friend.
“It worked great!” he announced. “He frothed at the mouth and threw seven fits. What’s the next move?”
“Nothing, thanks,” said Mr. Johns. “We’ll let nature take her course.”
TN MID-NOVEMBER, Welker, in A Calcutta, received a cablegram from young Mr. Johns.
“Mohawk Brave en route. Secure full, jute cargo. Undercut W. any cost.”
Mr. Welker was too profoundly disgusted for words, but his eloquent hands denoted hopelessness, desolation and contempt. However, when the Mohawk
Bmve arrived he did as he was bid. For the first timé, then, in nine months, a Redskin Line ship sailed from Calcutta with a full cargo below hatches and a heavy deficit on the shoulders of her young owner.
The news was not without its effect upon the Winter Syndicate. The Old Man chewed savagely at his cigar, then conferred with Blake.
“It’s a dying kick, Joe.” he told the latter. “Just a final bluff before he cashes in. He’s losing money on every cargo he gets, and just about tw'd voyages more on that basis’ll ¿-fry his onions for him. Anyway, we’vé got him where we want him. Look at this; from the North American Jute Importers, Limited, of New York and Philly. They want figures on two-year time charters. Here’s their contract form, giving the terms of the charters. Its as good as ours, of course. Johns is a fool, but I don’t believe even he will sew himself up for two years at the price to which we could force him down, hey?”
“We’ll have to shave it pretty low, ourselves, at that rate then.” reminded Blake.
“Oh, that’s all right. We can afford to take a small profit for a couple of years. Long before that, Johns will be through, and we’ll have the business in our own hands, and at renewal time we can get our own price. I’ll buy up his other two ships and keep ’em in the trade. Their names are well-known out there and may help business. Got any suggestions, Joe? Oh, they want our figure by the twentyfifth of the month. I’ll go down myself and attend to it. I’ve got some business to attend to there around that time, anyway.”
At about eight-thirty o’clock on the night of November twenty-fourth, while “Old Sam” Winter was speeding to New York, a small figure hurried along St. Catherine Street, Montreal. The bitterness of the air was extreme, the pavements were slippery underfoot, and two tears, forced By the cold, rolled from the eyes of the scurrying figure, while a dew-drop trembled, pendillent, from the very tip of a glossy red nose, which peeped out above the top of a thick, grey scarf, like a holly berry over a wall. Entering the sudden warmth of a telegraph office, the change of atmosphere befogged his thick spectacles.. He . removed them and unwound his woollen scarf, revealing the benumbed and innocuous features of the steadfast Tipkin, trusted henchman and courier of young Mr. Johns.
WIPING his glasses, and replacing them upon his diminutive nose, he seized a telegraph form, and wrote, thereon, as neatly and rapidly as his frost-stiffened fingers would allow. When he had done he handed the message across the counter. The clerk glanced at it and shoved it back.
“You’ve forgotten the address,” he said. “—here—I’ll write it if your hands are numb.”
“Thank you—” said Tipkin, who had a heavy cold in the head, “Bister Sab Binter—no, S-A-eb—Sab, dubbed you —I-èd-T-E-R-Binter, care North Americad Jute Importers, Limited, Dew York.” He paid the charges and departed once more into the frost-bound night.
On the following morning at about tenthirty o’clock, “Old Sam” Winter entered the offices of the North American Jute Importers; Ltd., on lower Broadway near the Battery. His card gave him immediate admittance into the room of the general manager, Chappell, who was somewhat inclined to corpulence, but whose keen, brown eyes, humorous moüth and smooth skin made him appear younger than he was.
He received his visitor courteously, even cordially, and waved him to a seat. Cigars were lighted and they proceeded to business. Old Sam noted, appreciatively, that it did not take the other long to get to the nub.
“I propose,” said the jute man, “to acquire ships under two-year time charters for this trade. Here is the original contract covering the terms of the charters. I sent you a copy, so I suppose you are now familiar with the conditions. We will run the ships between jute seasons as well. What’s your proposition, Mr. Winter?”
The Old Man named his figure. The other shook his head.
“I will be frank with you,” he said, “in
telling you that your only competitor is
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Continued from page 49
the Redskin Line with which we have done business for years. I know of the rivalry between you, of course, and I tell you, flat, I’m out to take advantage of it. This, I will say, though, that although we’ve had dealings of long standing with the other company, Mr. Johns is young, and—er—well, we prefer a change. Still, of course, if you are not prepared to meet his figure we have no option but to award him the contract. There is the Redskin Line offer.”
HE HANDED the Old Man a letter bearing the hated crest of his rival and, as he read, his heavy countenance flushed to a deeper hue.
“The man’s mad, Chappell!” he snapped angrily. “It’s—it’s—why it’s impossible! He’d have to carry the stuff, not merely at a loss, but for next to nothing! Why, damn it, it’s equivalent to carrying it free! The thing’s a farce! He couldn’t run one ship two voyages on those terms! It’s childish to entertain a bid like that!” Chappell shrugged.
“Childish or no,” he countered, “it’s an offer and if he fails, well, we are protected, anyway, under the contract. As for being unable to carry it out—I’m not so sure of that! I hear he’s got someone back of him—just a rumor, of course, but I’m inclined to give it credence, because, well, plainly, no one would be fool enough to make such an offer without heavy support. Oh, I don’t mind admitting that his figure is ridiculous, but it suits us. The rest is his funeral.”
For several minutes the shipping magnate sat in furious reflection. He was seething inwardly, for he knew that he could not touch his enemy’s figure without losses that he did not like to contemplate. Surely there was some other way in which he could block his game.
“Will you give me a few hours to think it over?” he asked, finally.
“Can’t do it, Mr. Winter! We’d like to do business with you, but we must be fair to Johns—and I have to make my report to the board of directors at lunch to-day. Sorry!”
The Old Man attacked for forty-five minutes, with proposition and counterplan, but the jute man was immovable.
“Mind you,” he told Winter at length, “the contract is for two years only and then another will have to be made. Should you sign this you would be in a more favorable position at time of renewal—but —” he looked at his watch, “it is now nearly a quarter of twelve. I have an appointment at noon, so—” he hesitated.
Bitter, vindictive passion swayed “Old Man” Winter. His face was apoplectic; his hands gripped the chair arms until his knuckles cracked. To suffer defeat at the hands of that young cub Johns, after all his boasting!—for if the Redskin Line got the charters it was defeat for the big white “W”, even though the younger man went smash, afterward— and then this talk of a mysterious backing of Johns. There must be something in it, otherwise not even such an ass as Johns would venture on the game he was playing. The Old Man remembered the other’s invariable cheerfulness, his habitually unworried mien; he well knew that this was not the attitude of a young business man facing financial ruin. He might keep it up for a while but not for so long as Johns had done. No, there was something in it, he decided. A counter-thought gripped him. What would his own partners say to sacrificing their interests to the satisfying of private grudges? Powerful as he was, he was not anxious to incur the concerted enmity of his business associates. No! He was up against it! His voice shaking with anger, he declined.
“I can’t do it, Chappell, damn it!” he said savagely. “I’ve got to let the young devil have it!”
Chappell spread his hands. “I’m sorry, of course, but we can do nothing to help you, although—come in!” as a tap on the door interrupted him.
His secretary entered, bearing a night lettergram.
“For Mr. Winter,” he said.
“Old Man” Winter excused himself to Chappell and opened it. Reading, his face took on the fury of a demon incarnate. His eyes bulged, bloodshot and his working features became a deep purple. He crushed the paper in his fist and sank back in his chair as though overcome. Alarmed at his appearance, Chappell went to him.
“What is it, Winter? Bad news? Anything I can do?”
“Yes!” the Old Man almost screamed, “give me that damned contract! I’ll sign it now and beggar him if it breaks me, and every man in the syndicate, by —! Give it to me. Quick. D’ye hear, man!”
When he had gone, Chappell went to the window and looked out, through the lightly falling snow, to where the harbor lay, with its faint outlines of moving shipping, sketched like an etching against the wintry distance, and, looking, a slow smile curved about the corners of his humorous lips. As he turned his eye caught the crumpled ball of the lettergram where it had fallen from the Old Man’s working fingers. He picked it up and, pardonably, under the circumstances, read it. It said:
“Dear Father, Marion and I married to-day. Both send love and hope for your blessing. (Signed) Son Oliver Johns.”
THINGS had indeed gone badly with the Redskin Line. In fact, that old and respected business was at an end. Efvery prediction of the most pessimistic of onlookers regarding the wreck of the concern had been fulfilled. The Mohawk Brave had been sold—to “Old Man” Winter, of course—and the Onondaga Brave, no longer sufficiently seaworthy to pass the requirements of Lloyd’s, was to be scrapped for junk, or turned into a coal hulk and the proud warrior heads, that for so long had traveled the wide sea spaces, were known in their old haunts no more.
Yet, despite these crushing visitations of ¡fortune, the rather prominent blue eyes of young Mr. Johns lost none of their brightness, his tongue none of its indolent good humor and his engaging smile none of its charm. Nor, in any way, did his material comforts seem to have suffered. His appearance gave none of the evidences of the ruined man. In fact, if anything, his blessings seemed to have increased. His office, augmented by additional staff, was never so busy; the faithful Tipkin, his salary and position increased by additional honors and trust, flourished as never before, even to the extent, it was rumored, of venturing on a cigarette—only one, of course, in a spirit of unbridled deviltry— and young Mr. Johns’ charming wife filled to brimming the chalice of his content.
Really, you know, it was hardly decent —certainly not orthodox—for one without a cent to his name to be able to hang on, for so long, in such a manner. Montreal society, looking daily for that versehonored fringe on the cuffs of his well-cut pants, daily was disappointed. He attended his old clubs, drove his old car— and a new one, besides—and went his cheerful way with an outward prosperity truly astounding to those who knew that, by all the rules of life’s game, as he was shipless, so should he be comparatively, jobless, penniless and miserable.
AND so, “Old Man” Winter, unreconciled and bitter, seeing, month by month, the debits of his victory piling up against him—for he, personally, had assumed liability for all losses in the affair of the jute contract; not that they even temporarily embarrassed the plutocratic old alligator—felt, somehow that the fruits of his triumph were but as ashes between his expensive dental plates. Daily, he found himself, much against his tough old will, longing, more and more, for the sound and touch of one, who, even in her disobedience and determination to have her own way, was his all upon earth, to a very lonely, cantankerous, formidable forlorn old man.
Then, too, as the story of young Mr. Johns’ unchanging fortune—unchanging, except, mayhap, for the better—came to his ears and, in various ways, he learned that his daughter lacked nothing of the refinements to which she had been accustomed since birth, he underwent a peculiar, psychological change in respect to that gentleman—to this extent, that, although he would allow no word from others in his favor and outwardly expressed his implacable enmity, yet he gratified his own half-sensed inclinations to the degree, sometimes, of desiring a little chat—on strictly impersonal terms, mind you—in order that he might come at the bottom of young Mr. Johns’ secret. In extenuation perhaps of what some might have condemned as a most un-Sam-like weakening on his part, he told himself that, although many months had passed, he had not yet crowed, as he had intended to crow, over his triumph of nearly a year
before. But it was not until news of a most interesting coming event filtered to his ears through the medium of his housekeeper, Marion’s old nurse, who visited her regularly in defiance of the Old Man’s orders, that he resolved, at length, to go to that unchastened young devil Johns and extract his moment of supremacy.
So that Mr. Johns and charming young Mrs. Johns, who was lightening by her presence, his weary round, his trivial task, were greatly surprised and not a little confounded when the door opened and, following close upon the heels of the protesting but unavailing Tipkin, “Old Sam” Winter stepped into the room.
Now, somehow, firm as had been his resolve and viciously as his stick had tapped the pavement on his way hither, the words of cutting sarcasm and lofty triumph, with which, so cleverly, he had larded his caustic old tongue were singularly hard to utter; unaccountable, too, it was that, as Marion went quickly to him and laid a hand on his arm, and a soft arm about his withered neck, his damfool old eyes got so dad-blamed blurred that he could hardly see through ’em—and strangest of all, perhaps, it somehow transpired that the very fist with which he had firmly resolved to titivate the principal adornment of young Mr. Johns’ countenance, in the event of any cheek from him, should now be so firmly and so cordially clasped within that young man’s own. Bound he was and delivered, guns, foot and horse, begad, into the camp of the Israelites—and yet his surrender seemed more precious, far, than any amount of glory. But, after a bit, he recollected the explanation which he felt was due him, if for no other reason than that he had allowed them to make up to him again. So he brought his guns into action once more and for all that they were charged with blank, instead of in earnest, they were none less noisy for that.
“Your turn, now, you cross-grained young son of-a-gun!” he stated, a half hour later, as, with his daughter perched on the arm of his chair, her slim fingers caressing his cheek, he faced young Mr. Johns across his desk. “Come clean! How did you work it? You put one over on me somehow and I want to get at the bottom of it. Yes, confound you, we’ll forget all about the other—although my pocketbook will remember it for some time to come! However, never mind that. Give me the details—your busy office—and so on!”
MR. JOHNS showed a modest disinclination to reply, the reason for which soon became evident.
“Well, you see, sir—in a way, you’re paying for it, do you see?” he began.
“No! I don’t! But I’d like to, by hookey!” the Old Man grunted.
“You will, sir!” promised Mr. Johns, cheerfully. “When you—er—decided to jump me, I had to think out a counter scheme. You had me stumped for awhile but I got it finally. When you cut prices in Calcutta, I cut too, but generally, you may have noticed, you got away with the cargo, as I intended you should. You see, you had to become really interested in the thing and to be really annoyed with me, for my plan to develop. Do you follow me?”
The Old Man snorted. Mr. Johns warmed to his work.
“When you figured you had me strapped, I sold the Iroquois Brave, which gave me some badly needed capital— capital I had to have to swing a deal I had put over in New York. When I got rid of the ship you thought I was retreating. I was simply retiring to a better line of defense, as we used to say in the good old days. My greatest worry at this time was that you might forgive me, for, if you did, I was dished. Even the sailing of the Iroquois Brave under the big white ‘W’ didn’t bother me. I knew that, although you owned her, she was still working for me.”
At this point the Old Man had the grace to look uncomfortable. _ As young Mr. Johns continued, his voice bore a shade of deprecation.
“In order to keep you thoroughly vexed with me—”
“In order to get me damn good and mad, you mean!” the Old Man interrupted.
“Maybe so,” admitted Mr. Johns, with a grin, “anyway, to keep you that way, I arranged that you should overhear, through certain pals of mine, my opinion of you at that time.”
“Humph!” said Old Sam' sourly, “that
accounts for the rowboat and the fork— and paying you two dollars for every one I took away, hey?”
“Yes, sir,” admitted Mr. Johns, cheerfully, “—but that was true enough as I shall convince you in a minute. At about this time I had to inject a grain of doubt into your machinery, so I had the Mohawk Brave underbid you—at a goodish cost to me, I must admit—but it was necessary, with this North American Jute contract coming on, to make sure of your interest. I think I accomplished it, eh? Please tell me, sir, if I am wrong.”
YOUNG Mr. Johns’ manner was now a combination of a ringmaster and a famous surgeon, demonstrating the scalpel to a class. The Old Man, deeply interested and with, as yet, but a glimmering of the truth, forgot to be annoyed. He nodded. His son-in-law went on.
“When the jute people sent you their contract my time was ripe. But you are, if you’ll forgive the expression, Mr. Winter, a difficult subject. It was necessary to have a last jolt in reserve in case you jibbed at the contract, for I had forced the price so low that no one but a desperate man would touch it. The day you left for New York, as you know, Marion and I were married.” Here Marion squeezed her father’s arm. “That night, Tipkin sent you the lettergram. That was my last and strongest shot. I took steps to see that it was delivered at the crucial moment. Then, when Chappell phoned me that you had signed, I—” he glanced with an apologetic grin at Marion, “that, is, Gren and I, went out together and got lickered up, for I knew that I had won!” In the excitement of the narrative, Mr. Johns’ voice recovered a trace of the glorious jubilation of that night.
“But what—” Old Man Winter was on his feet, “how the devil do you figure that out? I smash your business, force you to sell your ships, beat you to time charters that you were after, yet you’ve got the confounded cheek to say you’ve won!”
“Yes, sir,” said young Mr. Johns, modestly, “and, if you’ll promise not to grow excited and to forgive us both, I’ll tell you.”
“Go on!” said the Old Man grimly, but there was a twinkle in his cold blue eye that might have meant danger—or amusement.
“Well, you see, sir, it was I who arranged that you should have the privilege of bidding on that charter contract. When you underbid my second ship in Calcutta several months previous, I immediately went to New York and bought the controlling interest of the North American Jute Importers, Limited, of which I am now president. I paid for it with my note and met that with the ' proceeds of the sale of the Iroquois Brave which you so kindly took off my hands. Every dollar that my ship forced yours to undercut, even months before you signed that contract, therefore, was so much in my pocket.”
“Then you mean to tell me,” said “Old Man” Winter in a hollow voice, “that all the jute I have been carrying practically for nothing for months past belongs—” “To me! Exactly, sir! And because of those cheap freight rates I have been able to pretty well corner the jute market of North America. But I hope, sir—” young Mr. Johns’ voice dropped, and young Mrs. Johns put her velvet cheek very softly against the Old Man’s own, “—I hope you won’t hold it against me!”
“Against you!” Old Man Winter roared, “against you! No!—damme, you young dog, I’m proud of you!—so help me, Hannah, I am!” and he blew his nose with a violence which seriously threatened the stability of that embellishment, Then, quite unexpectedly, he took the young man by the arm and led him to one side, out of the direct and mellow rays of the failing sun, and there, in the soft, grey shadow, whispered industriously for several seconds into Mr. Johns’ receptive and approving ear. The effect was magical.
“Why, sir,” cried that elated gentleman, “how did you guess it? That is exactly what we already had decided to call him, hadn’t we, Marion? Samuel Oliver Johns!”
“By heck!” amended the Old Man.