DICK OGDEN surveyed the retreating backs of Burns and Pritchard and Stevens with a calculating interest. For the briefest fraction of a second he wondered, if they left the same impression with his father that they did with him. One glance, however, at Silas Ogden, bending heavily over his desk, made it evident that, at the moment, they made no impression whatever. He was serenely oblivious of their existence.
To Dick, theirs were eloquent backs. They suggested an immensity of relief. Each said, as plainly as a back can be expected to say: “Now that’s all over we can get back to something important.”
Dick Ogden smiled, indulgently.
Silas Ogden, head of the Ogden Machine Tool Company, looked up, suddenly, and noticed for the first time that his son had not left with the others.
“Anything you want?” he demanded, and returned to the interested study of the papers on his desk.
“These laddies,” young Ogden announced, somewhat argumentatively, “are too affirmative.”
Silas Ogden relinquished his papers, and gazed, sharply, at his son. There was surprise and the hint of dawning impatience on his face.
“Are you beginning to talk in parables?” he demanded, shortly.
Dick Ogden shook his head. . “This conference stuff,” he said— “You suggest something, and they all look wise and say; ‘yes sir’, and the service is over for the day. No one crowds into the argument; no one asks what you mean; no one adds a trimming anywhere, or picks the odd flaw; they just agree.”
A look of puzzled surprise settled on Silas Ogden’s rather heavy countenance, surprise mixed with annoyance. He rose and faced his son.
“Suppose,” he said, “that instead of sitting there in Olympian wisdom, you pick this odd flaw yourself.”
“I’ve picked it,” young Ogden announced, pleasantly. “They’re all ‘yes, yessers’.”
An inarticulate growl was the only answer, and young Ogden rightly interpreting this as an indication that the argument was concluded, for the time at least, drifted out of the office. But when he had gone Silas Ogden did not, immediately, return to his work. The argument had died a natural death but the substance of it stayed with him. Dick had called his staff, ‘yes, yessers’. He snorted with annoyance. It seemed a reflection on himself—on his management. That young pup is getting out of hand, he reflected, needs pulling up sharp. But, despite this comforting reflection, the challenge stayed in his mind. Nothing in it of course; young fellows liked to say sharp things, like that—too much of that sort of thing now-a-days—too little respect for authority. They were comforting reflections but they couldn’t quite down that suggestion. “‘Yes, yessers,’ ” he snorted again, “if he’s got anything to say, why can’t he say it in plain English?”
ALMOST without his own volition, his mind returned to the consideration of his staff. Pritçhard—He had always liked the way Pritchard had thrown himself into an idea. You never have to wrangle with him. He remembered that he had often thought, just that. It had seemed to him, a virtue. “By all that’s holy!” he exploded into words, “it is a virtue.”—And yet, he reflected relieved by this outburst, Pritchard hadn’t originated much. Now that he came to think of it, dispassionately, he couldn’t remember an instance where he had done more than agree. He turned from the consideration of Pritchard with a grunt of disgust. Burns?—Burns was the same, and so was Stevens. As a matter of fact, his own son’s voice was the first discordant note in that uniform chorus of agreement. He stabbed, with a savage finger, at the bell that called his secretary.
The girl who entered was young and fresh looking, and quietly and neatly dressed. In another setting, she might have been called beautiful, but the word does not go with business; and Eileen Burke certainly did go with business by reason of a very shrewd and capable little head. Silas Ogden had chosen the head because of its shrewdness.
He was an eminently sane and practical businessman but the fact that there went with it a very winsome face did not displease him. He looked up and smiled. Then his face grew serious.
“Miss Burke,” he said, almost shortly, “you have been present at a good many of our conferences; do you remember Mr. Pritchard ever disagreeing with my judgment?”
MISS BURKE was generous by nature. There was something that was not quite pleasant in the tone of that enquiry; there was something, indeed, that suggested trouble. She liked Pritchard and was, consequently, glad that her reply could be so harmless.
“No, Mr. Ogden,” she said, “I don’t remember the slightest disagreement.”
Silas Ogden scanned her narrowly. “You’re sure he hasn’t ever disagreed?”
“Quite sure, Mr. Ogden.”
“And Burns and Stevens?”
She was puzzled by his enquiries. “I don’t remember anything,” she said, “and I think I would have remembered. You discussed the Elgin Company proposals in conference, and they all agreed with you about that,” she continued. “Of course they would, though, you couldn’t very well accept after the treatment we have had from them in the past. Mr. Stevens, of course, wasn’t at that conference,” she added as an afterthought.
“Neither he was.” Silas Ogden reflected with interest. “Ask him to come here for a moment, please; and come back yourself.”
“Mr. Stevens,” he said, when the latter had responded to the summons. “I’ve about decided to accept the Elgin people’s proposal.”
Miss Burke made as though to interrupt, but Ogden raised a warning hand. “What do you think?” he asked.
A look of surprise crossed Stevens’ face, and he hesitated, then: “Yes,” he said, slowly, “I think that should be quite all right.”
Silas Ogden eyed him, balefully, “Stevens,” he exploded, “You’re a fool!”
“Yes, sir,” he said, the words escaping him without premonition. Then he flushed scarlet. “Is there anything else, sir,” he asked, stiffly.
“No. Just thought I’d like to tell you.”
Silas Ogden sat, fuming at his desk after Stevens had departed. “You think I was rude to that fellow, don’t you?” he demanded, after a pause.
“I wasn’t thinking about it at all, Mr. Ogden.”
“Oh, yes, you were,” he announced, belligerently, "and more than that—you were right. You see,” he continued, “I got mad because Dick—my son—you know—told me what he would say.”
She looked up in surprise.
“He said,” Silas Ogden continued, “that these fellows had developed the habit of saying ‘yes’ to everything I suggested. I called Stevens in, just to prove that what the boy said was wrong, and there he goes ‘yes, yessing’ all over the shop. And the man,” he fumed, “knows, as well as I do, that what I said was wrong.”
“By the way,” he demanded, suddenly, “what do you think of Dick?”
“He’s a nice boy,” she answered, with a smile.
“You said it!” he flared back, the annoyance of the moment luring him into unaccustomed words. “He’s a nice boy, when he should be a man. He’s just playing round with life.”
“Perhaps,” she said, pleasantly, “he’s hardly had a chance, yet.”
Silas Ogden received the suggestion with every evidence of disfavor. “Are you taking sides, too?” he demanded.
“I didn’t know that there were any sides to take, Mr. Ogden.”
“Well, there are,” he snapped. “Not had a chance, eh? Well he’s going to get it.”
WHEN Silas Ogden announced that his son was to have his chance, he hadn’t the slightest notion of what that chance would be. Indeed, until that moment, any change from the present order had not presented itself as a possibility. The announcement was born of the asperity of the moment, and to meet an implied criticism. But it had, he realized, rather crowded him into a corner.
He went home that night a little uncertain in his mind. It was certain that Dick had to have his chance, if only to prove to Miss Burke that he was that kind of a father. But as he sat opposite his son, at the evening meal, listening to his cheerful comments on the occurrences of the day, any happy inspiration, as to the manner of that chance, failed to materialize: nor did it come to him in his later hours of rumination.
LUNCHING with Dick, a week or so later, he broached the subject that was uppermost in his mind. “You were right, at least, partly right, in what you said awhile ago,” he announced.
Dick Ogden, dealing at the moment with a steak that was dear to his heart, looked up with interest. “I don’t aim to be a hundred per center,” he said cheerfully, “ ‘partly right’ is pretty fair for me. But what was it that I said?”
“About them being too affirmative—Stevens and Pritchard and the others, you know. I’ve tried ’em out a little since. There’s something in it. I don’t want you to join that chorus.”
“Not me!” Dick announced with fervor.
“I rather fancy you were right, too, that a little opposition would be a good thing,” the older man continued reflectively.
Dick Ogden surveyed his father as though he were an individual not quite familiar. Then, with a diffidence that was strange for him: “If you really want it, dad,” he said, “after the laddies have gone home—you know, I’d like to drop in and whangle things around with you a bit. I’m getting rather interested in this business myself.”
“Yes, do,” said Silas Ogden.
DICK OGDEN was as good as his word. Every few days, after the staff had left for the night, he would drift into his father’s office and raise some question.
Silas Ogden was of a fighting breed, and he was not used to opposition. He defended his opinions with much hoarse roaring and pounding of desk; so that the janitor, catching the far-off sound of tumult, opined to the lift man that the “Old Man was giving the young fellow Hell.”
“You’re taking too much on yourself, young man,” Ogden roared, on one occasion.
“Yes, sir,” Dick responded, quietly.
“Don’t you ‘yes-yes’ me!” Silas Ogden turned on his son with smouldering eyes. Then, on a sudden, he quieted. “I’m a pig-headed old fool, Dick,” he said. “What was it you were saying?”
But these gentler moods came infrequently. On a few points he did give way but, in the main, he held to his own course. He justified this by a genuine confidence that his own course was right. But, on one or two occasions, he was not quite so sure, and this troubled him.
What chance is there, he said to himself later in the privacy of his own study, of listening to these other fellows, if I can’t listen, patiently, to my own son?
In this mood, he was ready to admit that the “yes yessing” might be, largely, his own fault. It was in this mood that he came upon his big idea. It was the solution of his two problems, and something beyond as well, that left him with a sense of well-being.
HE WALKED to the office in the morning with a jaunty air. He was wearing a new tie, of a more obtrusive pattern than he usually permitted himself; and there was a sense of excitement in his movements.
When Miss Burke arrived he called her into his office. “Miss Burke,” he asked, “have you any particular engagement for this evening?”
“No—Mr. Ogden,” she replied in some surprise; the new tie and the general air of excitement had not escaped her notice.
“I would like to see you then—this evening—if I might.”
Then he noticed her startled look. “Miss Burke,” he said, crossly, “I’m sixty years old, with an odd scattering of months and weeks as well—would it make it any clearer if I suggested that I would like to see you at your own home? I have a matter—a business matter —that I would like to discuss with you. It is difficult to do so here.”
She smiled at him, then. “I’ll be glad to have you come,” she said. “But you will have to start early. It’s a long way.”
“At eight-thirty, then,” he replied, with restored cheerfulness.
IT WAS somewhat after that hour when he, at last, arrived at 10 Grove Park. The house was different from what he had expected, and he had almost missed it in the dark. He had pictured her as living in a rather severe and uncompromising terrace. But the house, when he found it, was quite different from what he had imagined; a roomy old place, set well back from the road in a wide expanse of tree-shaded lawn. As he made his way up the walk, he had an uneasy feeling that he had made a mistake. Even when she opened the door for him, he did not recognize her, at once. He had thought of her always, unconsciously, as garbed in the severe black of her work-a-day clothes. But this girl, young and smiling, in her woman’s birthright of soft, beautiful things, was new to him. The surprise left him diffident and ill at ease.
It was the girl who was composed and sure. “Did you have much difficulty in finding us?” she .asked as she ushered him in.
“I didn’t quite expect to find you here,” he admitted. She nodded, understandingly. “We shouldn’t really be here,” she acknowledged, in a low voice. “But we’ve been here so long. You see, when father died— five years ago—we found that there wasn’t as much money as we thought—not enough, really, to keep up this place. But it means so much to mother. When you see her you will realize how much—so I went to work,” she concluded, “to make up part of what we needed; and we’ve managed.”
She said it laughingly, but Silas Ogden, who was not slow of understanding, caught the suggestion of light-hearted courage that left him without words.
“Why is it,” he demanded, unexpectedly, “that young fellows like my son, don’t meet girls like you instead of those empty headed dolls that dance and flirt and frivol?”
She laughed, then, a soft, girlish laugh, and Silas Ogden caught the infection of it and laughed in unison. “I was an empty-headed doll myself, not so long ago,” she said, the hint of laughter still in her voice, “and I danced and frivolled as much as anyone. I liked it, too,” she ended, with just the hint of wistfulness in her voice. “But you had something you wanted to discuss?”
“My son,” he said.
“But I thought—I thought you said it was a business matter?”
“My son, and the business,” he amended.
“You and Dick,” he continued, reflectively, “are the only two people in the business who don’t seem to be afraid of me; probably that’s the reason that you are the only ones who have given me an idea in a longer time than I like to think about.”
“But what idea could I possibly have given you?”
“I’m coming to that. But we’ll take up Dick’s first. The scheme I have in mind develops better that way.”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to wait,” she said with a laugh.
HE NODDED, abstractedly. “Dick,” he continued, “says that Pritchard and Burns and Stevens are just a yes, yes chorus’.”
“A look of profound astonishment crossed Eileen Burke’s face. “A what?” she asked. “I don’t think I understand.”
“You remember Stevens,” he said. “You remember what I asked him about the Elgin Company. I told him I had decided to do—what no person in his sane senses, after our experience, would have done—and he almost tripped himself in his hurry to agree. Well, they’re all like that—waiting for me to say something, and then just bubbling over with enthusiasm for the idea. They don’t analyze; they don’t add anything; they just say: ‘yes, yes, that’s right.’ Perhaps it is right, and then perhaps it isn’t. What I mean is that, the fact that it is right or isn’t right, isn’t what decided them; it’s just that I say it. They’re too good men for that sort of thing; but it’s become a habit with them. And I'm just as bad. It’s a habit with me, too. I wouldn’t like it if they did criticise. I’ve tried it, and I know. I’m an opinionated old fogey,” he admitted.
“You see, I’m not the one to change it, and yet, it has to be changed. Dick was right, you know. A business like that is marked for the scrap heap.”
“Young lady,” he turned on her sharply. “Perhaps you remember telling me, once, that Dick hadn’t had a chance.
“Well, he gets his chance. He picked a weakness, and he’s going to cure it.” He looked at her with something of a scowl on his face. “You were partly responsible, young lady,” he said suddenly. “You’ve got to help.”
“I’m going away for awhile,” he explained. “Giving him the business to manage. Dick’s got brains. I hadn’t suspected it—came as quite a surprise. But he has—business brains. He’ll pull through all right.”
“Do you mind going back a little way,” she asked, "and telling me how I am part of the plan?”
“You,” he said, “are to keep me posted on how things are going.”
SHE was silent for a moment, her brows drawn together in earnest thought. “I’m not quite sure that I like my part,” she said. “It seems almost like spying, doesn’t it?”
“Not at all! Not at all!” he fumed. “I’m not asking you to spy. You are to use your own discretion as to what you care to tell me. When I said I was resigning, temporarily, I meant just that. I don’t want to know the details—just how things are going. If these fellows are to make suggestions,” he continued, with renewed warmth, “why shouldn’t I?”
The annoyance faded from his voice. “Miss Burke,” he continued, soberly, “this business means a good deal to me. I made it. I put a good part of my life into it. I don’t want it to suffer. Perhaps I can help to keep it from suffering. But Dick—he’s more than the business. I want him to succeed. Perhaps I can help him, too. That’s all I want—a chance to help, without him knowing that I’m helping.”
She smiled at him, then, a smile of friendliness and appreciation. “I think I understand better, now, Mr. Ogden, and I’ll be glad to help.”
“Then that’s settled,” he said with a laugh, “and next week I’m going away for three or four months. There’s a little place a hundred miles or so from here. There’s an old college chum of mine there—a doctor—a good fellow —not too chatty. There’s good fishing and good golf. And, if you will permit me, I’ll come here, like this, in the evening, every week or so and talk things over with you. Only, all this is between you and me. As far as Dick is concerned, I’m going to Florida.”
She smiled at him, a little timidly. “I’ll do my best,” she said.
SEATED at the breakfast table, a morning or so later, Silas Ogden gazed at his son with unappreciative eyes. He was one of those who do not awake to the full pleasantness of living until after ten a.m.
Dick was different. To him the eggs and coffee and marmalade were always invitingly friendly and he returned their friendship with his undivided interest.
“I’m taking a few months’ vacation.” The words came in a growl from behind Silas Ogden’s newspaper.
Dick, preparing his offensive against a third egg, dropped it as though it had been born of an adder. He surveyed the paper with open-mouthed astonishment. When no further words came from that direction he arose and skirmished around to where he could get a good look at his father. “I’m hearing things ” he announced. “You didn’t, by any chance, say anything, did you?”
“Said I was taking a holiday,” Silas Ogden retorted, glumly.
“Nothing wrong is there, dad? I mean—engine not missing anywhere?” There was a worried look on his face.
“Never felt better in my life, if that’s what you mean. I’m taking a holiday, that’s all. I’m putting you in charge,” he snapped, with an asperity due to the breakfast hour. “I hope you won’t wreck it; I’m not over-confident.”
Dick considered the suggestion, thoughtfully. “At least, dad,” he said, “you can say this, your confidence outstrips mine.”
“Not afraid are you?”
“Not to say, exactly afraid,” Dick considered the word with care. “No, not afraid—doubtful would be a better word. As a matter of fact, as I consider doubtful, it seems a word made for this particular occasion.”
“We’ll agree on doubtful,” Silas Ogden growled. “But just remember this. I’m not handing this business over as a gift. You go into debt to me for it, and I expect you to return it with interest.”
“I remember,” Dick remarked, reflectively, “that in one of your wiser moments you let fall a pearl of thought that really belongs in this setting. Robbed of its do-dabs, it ran something like this: ‘a debt is only good to the debtee when it is collectable.’ ”
“It’s collectable, all right,” growled Silas Ogden.
JUST one thing,” he said, when, later in the morning, Dick strolled into his office. “Miss Burke—she can help you a good deal, if you give her a chance. Knows more of this business than all the rest of them put together—and she’s got a head.”
“A very attractive one,” Dick responded, gallantly, “though I don’t suppose you’ve noticed it.”
“It’s what’s inside that matters,” Silas Ogden growled. Then he stopped suddenly. “How old do you think I am anyway?” he demanded.
FOR the first week after Silas Ogden’s departure, matters conducted themselves with an amazing smoothness. It fitted in, almost too well, with the brief line that had come ten days after his father’s departure.
“All successful business,” wrote the elder Ogden, “is based on ideas. Putting these ideas into effect is important, but it is secondary. You have a secondary crew about you. You have to supply the ideas. They haven’t any. I’ve tried them.” Then, as though as an after-thought. “If you haven’t, either, ask Miss Burke.”
A nifty thought, reflected young Ogden.
IT WAS that night that Silas Ogden paid his second visit to the home of Eileen Burke, and listened to her enthusiastic comments on the business.
“Has Dick revolutionized things yet?” he asked, when, at last she paused.
“Not yet,” she countered with spirit, “but he may. At least he’ll give it back in as good condition as he found it.”
“He’d better.” There was almost a snarl in Ogden’s voice. “See this!” He drew a black-leather note book from his pocket and handed it to her at an opened page.
She studied the items with contracted brows. They continued, apparently, endlessly. She turned to Ogden with a puzzled air.
“Dick’s account,” he explained. “I started this when he was eighteen—I was taking care of myself, and others beside, before I was that age. Yes, that’s his account. The last trial balance,” he explained, somewhat grimly, ‘‘shows that he is debited to date with twenty thousand three hundred and fifty-six dollars, and that account has been running just seven years.”
“But you, surely, don’t mean that you will make him pay all that back again?” she said, aghast.
“Every cent,” Silas Ogden retorted, firmly.
“Then I don’t think it is fair.” Her young face was flushed. “If that’s the way you feel,” she continued, slowly, “I don’t think I want to be connected with this— this conspiracy against your son.”
Silas Ogden laughed, boomingly, as though at some hidden significance in her words. Then, suddenly, he quieted. “My dear,” he said, and there was something almost gentle in his voice. “If I were to tell you how much that boy means to me, you wouldn’t believe it. I haven’t thought very much of anything else—since his mother died. I’ve watched over him in her place. I’ve given him every chance I could. I’ve tried to make of him something of which anyone might be proud. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded; sometimes, I don’t know. But I know this,” he continued in firmer tones. “Every man has to pay back, in some way, for what he receives. And he has to pay back, even if he is my son.”
“There are credit items,” he said, suddenly. “It’s not all against him. I know a man—Tom Watson. He has a son—Bob—same age as Dick. This Bob was out one night with a fast crowd—more liquor than was good for them. Ran over a man and nearly killed him. It cost Tom Watson a thousand dollars to square that business— told me so himself. Dick might have done that sort of thing,” he said, slowly, “and I’d have had to pay. I’m charging him with his just debts and his foolishnesses; but I’m crediting him with a thousand dollars, because he isn’t like Bob Watson. There are other items like that, too.”
DICK OGDEN was in his office. Facing him Pritchard sat with his mouth set in a mirthless smile. A little back of him Burns lounged, somnolently, while Stevens looked on, from the background, with stolid indifference.
“Boys,” said Ogden, suddenly, “there’s too little general prattle at these gatherings.”
The trio regarded him with three different shades of amazement.
“Let’s lay the deck face up,” young Ogden continued, "like this— I’ve suggested three new ideas. Two of them are rather ripe little schemes; but one of them, to my way of thinking, is a sprig of poison ivy. But you’ve ‘yes, yessed’ the whole cluster, ivy and all. What’s the idea?”
“Let’s take it in turns,” he suggested pleasantly,
“How about it, Pritchard?”
Pritchard smiled wanly. He had schooled himself into respectful submission, and it was disturbing to be hauled into the open and urged to insubordination. “I’m afraid,” he said, “I haven’t thought of these suggestions carefully enough to venture an opinion.” And then, in his old precise tone: “I’m sure that we’ll do our best to ah—make them successful.”
“Sure you will,” Ogden retorted, a little impatiently, “But why spend your time rooting for a lame horse?”
“Suppose,” he continued, sharply, “suppose you forget that I’m my father’s son. Suppose we put it this way— that the four of us are equal partners in this business—”
“Partner Burns,” he demanded, suddenly, “you don’t agree with all these plans?”
“I do not,” admitted Burns.
Dick glanced at him, hopefully. “Your words are heartening,” he said, “proceed partner.”
Burns faced him with a certain hesitation. His admission had been startled out of him. “You asked for it,” he said, uncertainly.
“I’m still asking for it,” Dick responded, pleasantly.
“I think,” Burns said, slowly, “that your first two ideas are all right. They look that way to me.” He hesitated.
“Number three?” Dick enquired, helpfully.
“Number three,” snorted Burns, thus pressed into a corner, “isn’t worth a hoot! You asked for it,” he said again. “That’s my opinion.”
“Partner Stevens?” Dick enquired, in an even voice. “I agree with Burns,” Stevens admitted in a rather sullen tone.
Dick turned to Pritchard, and Pritchard nodded sombrely.
“Then why,” he demanded, “didn’t you say so?"
HE SAT pondering this question for a while after the others had left. He was engaged in these reflections when Miss Burke entered the office looking, as she always did, very cool and composed and manifestly efficient. Dick did not quite approve of that air of efficiency. He rather liked the certain sense of dependence that was part of the stock-in-trade of most of the girls he had known. Still, Miss Burke was, undeniably, an attractive picture. Dressed, as she should be dressed, he reflected, in long, slithery silky things with that jet hair against bare shoulders, she would be beautiful—entirely beautiful— the sort of girl a chap would like—
He saw her flush slightly under his steady gaze, and he turned away. “The mummies are coming to life,” he announced, pleasantly.
She smiled back at him. She had always liked him, he seemed so frank and boyish, but she was coming to understand him and, which was more, to understand his thoughts and to admire his judgments. There was something almost proprietary in her interest. She put it down to her desire to see him win out. She would not admit, even to herself, that her interest went beyond that.
As for Dick, after Miss Burke had cleared his main basket and had left the office, he sat thinking. He was not thinking of Burns and Stevens, but of Miss Burke. She was just a secretary, a very efficient cog in the business machinery, that was all. But it wasn’t quite all, or why did the cog begin to step out as a personality. “Laddie,” he admonished himself, “best beware.” But despite that admonition he sat thinking for quite some time without arriving at any definite conclusion. It was a chance happening, after all, that brought him to that conclusion. Coming into the office one afternoon he surprised Stevens bending over Miss Burke’s desk, with an evident admiration showing in his face. Dick’s voice, when he spoke, held a sharpness that surprised himself. He went into his own office, fuming. He threw himself into his chair, and sat glowering at the orderly array of papers before him. “He can’t have her, that’s all,” he said.
* * *
IT WAS Burns who turned his thoughts, for a time, into other channels. He came into Ogden’s office with a rather stubborn look on his face.
“I want to open an account with the Perkins Carrol people,” he announced. “Other firms are doing a good business with them and I have it from Carrol himself that we can get some of it if we give them a decent line of credit.”
He had come, evidently primed for opposition, and Ogden’s question, “And what’s to hinder?” rather left him at a loss.
“The chief,” he admitted, with some hesitation, "always seemed to have the axe out for them.”
Dick Ogden nodded. "The chief,” he conceded, "is a deft axeman. But did you ever suggest it to him?’’
Burns grinned, rather sheepishly. “I haven’t been much of a suggester,” he admitted. ‘‘They’re moving a lot of stuff, though, and paying on the nail—at least, that’s what I hear.”
Dick Ogden was puzzled. He had a feeling that if his father hadn’t been favorably disposed, then it probably wasn’t a good bet.
“Stevens thinks they’re all right,” Burns continued, argumentatively. “He should know.”
Dick nodded. “Yes,” he admitted. He had no facts on which to found a judgment, but he did wish that he knew just why his father had not opened that account. He wondered if they were trying him out. It was a chance—well chances were often necessary to effect a cure. “Bill,” he said, “remember that partnership idea?—If it were your business, would you open that account?”
“Surest thing in the world,” Burns announced with decision.
“Then hop to it, partner. Only,” he continued more soberly, “don’t let them get in over their necks.”
WHEN, a night or so later, Silas Ogden made his customary call, Eileen Burke greeted him with a happy laugh. “The mummies are coming to life,” she announced.
“Young woman,” he retorted, severely, "don’t go taking to that spiritualistic nonsense.”
“It’s a quotation,” she retorted happily, "from your son.”
“I might have recognized it.” There was no enthusiasm in his reply. “Do you happen to know what it means?”
“Oh, yes. It means that the men are beginning to talk back and give suggestions.
“Anything definite?” he asked, with evident interest.
“Plenty of things. Just for instance,” she said, in response to his skeptical glance, “Mr. Pritchard is changing the office system, at his own suggestion, too. He thinks it will save quite a bit of money It will, too,” she announced, with decision.
“Hm!” growled Silas Ogden. “If he liked his system so much, why didn’t he say so before?”
“Perhaps,” she suggested, with a hint of malice, “because you said you liked yours, so much louder.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he conceded in a quieter voice. “That’s a credit item. What else?”
She thought for a moment. “They opened an account with the Perkins Carrol Company. Mr. Burns wanted that.”
“Burns,” he thundered, “I might have known that a fool is bound to do something foolish.” He got up and paced about the room, growling to himself.
“I’m sorry I told you,” she said, slowly. Silas Ogden came to a halt before her, and the anger died out of his face.
“No, no, my dear,” he said, in a quieter voice. “I can’t expect to put in improvements without them costing me something. But you might drop a hint to Dick. Tell him—tell him that giving credit on a basis of outside appearances is like sending an invitation to the receiver. Tell him, too, that ideas need weeding; every new sprout isn’t, necessarily, a good one.”
Miss Burke did pass on these thoughts the very next day.
“Who said that?” Dick demanded, suspiciously.
She hesitated for a moment, as though at a loss for a reply. “A friend of mine,” she said, with a ghost of a smile; “we sometimes talk business together.”
AT HOME that night, in the big house, Dick Ogden sat at his father’s desk and wrote to him of the business. It was a long letter. “Your peaceful family is all shot,” he wrote. “They’ve pretty well forgotten the ‘yes, yes chorus’—Don’t know if you’ll like it; but they seem to. They’re getting a lot more interested.” He sat, for a while, studying what he had written. It didn’t sound very convincing. It will be convincing enough, he reflected, with a grin when he gets back into harness. He turned to the letter again. “About Miss Burke,” he wrote, “I’ve followed your advice—at least, I’ve tried to; but there’s a persistent laddie, somewhere in the offing, who doesn’t seem to think very much of me. She’s rather inclined to pick on me, after she’s seen him. It sounds funny,” he added, “but it isn’t—not to me.”
The letter journeyed to Florida and turned back, and a week later reached Silas Ogden, in that pleasant northern town. He read it with interest; was caught by that last sentence, and sat pondering it, with a somewhat troubled face. Things weren’t working out quite as he had hoped. For almost the first time in his life, he had to admit that one of his own plans might go wrong. It was natural that a girl like Eileen Burke should have other friends—men friends. He might have thought of that. That was what the letter suggested. He put it in his pocket with a rather heavy heart.
It was still in his pocket when, a night or so later, he made his accustomed call. At the first sight of her all that uncertainty came back to him, with renewed force; she was so young and beautiful.
“You shouldn’t be working,” he said, slowly. “It’s no life for you, cooped up all day long in an office.”
“But I like it,” she answered in some surprise. “It isn’t being cooped up—not really. It’s being part of something.” He didn’t continue the argument.
“Dick seems to enjoy it,” he said, “mostly. Here’s his letter. It’s rather sketchy. I wish you’d read it and fill in the details.”
HE SAT watching her as she read. The light from a shaded lamp fell across her shoulder, outlining the clear oval of her face. He studied that face with care; noted the sensitive mouth; the clear eyes, quick to laughter; the firm little chin that hinted at determination. She’s beautiful, he thought, as though the idea had come to him for the first time.
Eileen read the last paragraph and handed the letter back with a laugh. “He’s a nice boy,” she said gently.
“He’s getting to be a man,” Silas Ogden answered, with his eyes still on her face.
“We lost money on that Anderson tender,” she announced, suddenly. “I’ve been trying to get up courage to tell you, but I haven’t any, so I can only blurt it out like that.”
Silas Ogden’s brows drew together, stormily. “You shouldn’t have,” he growled, “bad figuring.”
He took the black leather book from his pocket. “How much?” he demanded. “We’ll call it—education.”
“He’s got to pay it,” Ogden persisted, stubbornly.
A sudden flush mounted the girl’s face. “It’s five hundred dollars.”
Ogden scowled again. “And he should have made a thousand,” he said, “that makes it fifteen hundred in round figures.”
“He’ll pay every cent of it,” she flared, her face white with anger.
Silas Ogden noted the amount, and put the book away in his pocket. Then he looked down at the flushed young face beside him. He touched her arm, gently. “Of course he will, my dear,” he said, confidently.
Her anger faded at the gentleness in his voice. “I don’t understand you, Mr. Ogden. You are so hard sometimes, and then so gentle.”
“You will some day,” he laughed.
“By the way,” he asked, as he was leaving, “would you think it impertinent of an old man, if he were to ask who is the —the ‘persistent laddie’?”
She looked at him with mockery in her eyes. “The only ‘persistent laddie’ I know,” she laughed, “is—you.”
“If I were thirty years younger, young lady—” he said.
He turned, with his hand on the door. “You might tell Dick—tell him that the man who wants to avoid mistakes must keep his mind on one thing, and one thing only; and that thing is the business.”
“If I know my son,” he reflected, happily, as he turned away, “he’s just stubborn enough to fly in the face of that bit of wisdom,” and then: “Dick’s thirty years younger,” he reflected; and he stepped out jauntily to the measure of a discordantly whistled tune.
DICK OGDEN arrived at the office, somewhat earlier than usual. It might have been due to his growing interest in the business, and then it might have been the result of a recently made discovery, that it was Miss Burke’s custom to see that things were ship-shape in his office before his arrival.
It was not with undiluted pleasure, therefore, that he saw the heavy form of Burns awaiting him. There was dejection in his very attitude.
Dick studied the mournful picture. “Why all the funeral trappings?” he asked.
Burns pulled himself erect. His voice was hoarse as he answered. “Perkins and Carrol—they’re going to assign— You knew that?”
“No, I hadn’t heard anything of it.” He looked up at the jaunty Burns, and was startled at the sober look on that usually cheerful face. “Are we in much?” he asked, quietly.
“We thought this out—Stevens and I,” Burns began stumblingly, and stopped. “Mind if I call the others?” he asked, unsteadily. “We’d better talk this over.”
“It doesn’t begin very gaily, does it?” Dick turned to Miss Burke as Burns closed the door. His tone belied the lightness of his words. He saw that her face had gone white.
Before she could answer the others trooped into the office.
Dick looked up with a smile, a smile that died on his lips. “So it really is serious,” he said slowly.
Pritchard nodded, heavily. “Yes,” he said, “serious, very serious.” He turned to Burns, evidently waiting for him to speak.
Burn’s eyes sought the faces of the others, then returned to Dick’s. “I "sold them,” he said, thickly. “Told the boys to let them have what they wanted. It’s up to me. I’d resign,” he said, suddenly, “but there’s got to be a scape-goat here, and I’m it.”
“Not altogether,” Stevens broke in. “There’s a pair of us. I could have stopped it. I’m credit manager here. No, I’m in it too. I thought it was all right,” he continued apologetically. “I’d have put my own money in it just as readily if I’d had it. They were doing a big business, opening three new branches too. They seemed good. I took a chance too. We’re both in it.”
“You’ll need to do something to square matters with the Chief,” Burns interjected. “It won’t help much, but you might as well fire me. I don’t know about Stevens.”
“It’s not very clear,” Dick smiled at them through white lips, “but from the way that you are all hinching away from figures I judge that it’s pretty bad; but before we go into that I want you to get the right slant on this. I can’t go into all the wherefores and whereases, but what I said awhile back still goes. We’re all partners in this and whatever happens it’s my fight.”
“You’re taking on a pretty big one,” Burns’ voice broke in heavily; “we’re in fifty thousand dollars.”
FROM her place in the background Eileen Burke gave a gasp of dismay.
“Better think again and unload us,” Burns broke in.
Dick frowned at him. “No!” he said sharply, “we’re all in this. You should have known better, Burns, and you, too, Stevens; but I—I, most of all should have known. It’s out of Pritchard’s line, still he’s been here a long time, he should have known something about it. So he’s in it too. Partners,” he said, somewhat wanly, “it’s up to us to fight.”
“Fight? How?” Stevens and Burns spoke, almost in unison.
“I don’t know. That’s what we have to find out. But we’ve got to save some of that, somehow.”
‘Yes, that’s the thing now,” Stevens spoke slowly. ‘We’re all in this, of course,” he turned sharply on Dick Ogden, “but you and Pritchard are in cleaner than we are. You did check up, you know. You checked me and you checked Burns, and we gave you a wrong steer. We thought they were good, and we thought,” he continued with some hesitation, “that—if you knew how deep we were in—you might shut down on them. We were gambling that they were good. We gave you a wrong steer. You had a right to trust us; we’ve been here three times as long as you have. But we went bad on you. We meant it right, but we went bad.”
“Dick shook his head. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “not now.”
“When did the last order go through?” Dick demanded, suddenly.
“Ten days ago; should be there by now. Deliveries have been slow, though.” Burns was not optimistic.
“I thought of that,” Stevens broke in, “wired along the line to catch that car, last night—soon as I heard. Haven’t had a confirmation yet, but I expect we can stop delivery of that lot anyway.”
“Good!” Dick said. “Let me have a full statement, as soon as you can, of how that account stands. And I think that’s all now.”
WHEN they had filed out, he turned to Miss Burke. “I’ve climbed into rather a mess, haven’t I?” he said, ruefully. “I thought that all I had to do was to make them think for themselves; but you can’t push any idea too far, and I did. I wonder what your friend would say about this?”
“I have a message from him,” she said, “but I don’t know that I want to give it to you, now.”
“Then it’s not pleasant. Well, let’s have it. This isn’t a pleasant morning.”
“He said,” she quoted carefully, “ ‘if you want to avoid mistakes, you must keep your mind on one thing, and one thing only, and that’s the business.’ ”
He was silent for a while. “I don’t seem to warm up to this friend of yours,” he said, slowly. “He’s wrong, too.” His voice was sober. “Business isn’t an end. It is only a means to an end. I’m not denying its importance. It’s a big thing, it ought to call out big things in any man. Only,” he hesitated, “there are sympathies and appreciations and—affections, that are bigger still.”
He sighed a little. “Will you wire the dad?” he said. “Tell him about this thing. Don’t let him think that I’m calling for help. It’s just a warning—so that he can take over, if he wants to.”
Miss Burke did send a wire, but it said none of those things. It said, simply “Come and see me, to-night.”
“'YOU must have some big news, to bring an old man hurrying across country like this,” Silas Ogden said as he greeted her that night.
“It’s bad news,” she said, soberly, when they were seated before the fire. “Perkins and Carrol are going to fail, and they owe us $50,000. They need you now. Of course you’ll come back.”
He sat silent so long that she began to think he had not heard. “Of course you’ll come back, now,” she said again.
Silas Ogden studied her anxious face for a while, then he shook his head.
“But you don’t mean that you’ll see him in trouble and not come to help?”
“Did he ask me to come?”
“No, he didn’t. But you’ll come anyway, wont you?”
He shook his head again. There was a faint smile on his lips, but the eyes behind that smile looked soberly into hers, and the face was drawn and white. “That would be the easiest way; the way I would like to take. It’s a big loss, $50,000, a crippling loss, this year. It’s almost a disaster. Perhaps it is disaster. We can’t afford that loss. And,” he continued, more slowly, “I can’t afford to go back and prevent it, even if it weren’t too late.”
“But you’ll still expect him to pay?” she said, fiercely.
Once more he nodded, with the same sober look on his face. “Don’t get to thinking too hardly of me, it isn’t only I who demand repayment—it’s life. It’s the repayment that means character.”
“I’d like to go back,” he snapped, a sudden harshness in his voice. “I’d like to hang that fellow Carrol’s hide on the fence.” The harshness died out of his voice. “It wouldn’t be fair to Dick,” he said. “If I went now, just because trouble has broken, I’d get all the credit for anything that was done. They’d all think— the men in the business, and outside— that I had to come to pull him through. No! I turned the business over to him, and I’d rather lose the whole thing than steal his chance. He’s my son,” he said, proudly. “He’ll fight back.”
There was silence in the big room as Silas Ogden sat staring into the fire.
Eileen watched him from the shadows. The flame had died out of his face leaving it white and haggard. For the first time, it occurred to her that he was old.
“You’re giving him a pretty hard fight to face alone,” she said. His words had not convinced her. To her woman’s sense of loyalty it seemed impossible that he could withhold his help; but that suggestion of age had softened, unconsciously the harshness of her judgment.
“Yes, a hard fight,” he admitted. “But I’ve given myself a harder to stay outside that fight. But tell me what he has done.”
She outlined with care the conference, of the morning, and he nodded his approval. “Tell him, from yourself, to look up that fellow Carrol. He failed once before. It looked queer to me then, but I didn’t go into it. It wasn’t my business. But it might help now. What a man does once, successfully, he’s likely to try again in the same way. Tell him that.”
SHE did tell him in the morning when he came in looking very white and tired. He had evidently not slept, but he had resumed his light air.
He smiled at her when she told him. “It’s funny,” he said, “but you are getting to talk and think just like the dad.”
But the suggestion had evidently fallen on fruitful ground. For two weeks she hardly saw him, save for hurried visits to the office. He was thinner and more tired looking, and his eyes had an unnatural brightness. It made her think, somewhat bitterly, of his father.
And then, one day, he resumed his regular routine. “You were right,” he said, when later in the day they were alone in his office. “He did do it again—the same way. I found out the old way, and that made it easy to find the new. He’d opened two new places in Portland and Ashley—took delivery of our goods for his new branch stores, carted the stuff across the city and re-shipped it, by another line, to those real places. The branch stores were only a blind. The liquidators have attached all that stuff; and we’ll get a good deal out of it. As close as I can figure, with what we saved in stopping that last shipment, and what we’ll recover from these places, we’ll actually lose fifteen thousand. That’s bad enough, isn’t it?”
“I’m a bit tired,” he said, suddenly, "lonesome, too, I think with the dad away—he’s a companionable laddie, though you mightn’t suspect it.” He hesitated. “Couldn’t we run out to the lake and have supper there, to-morrow? It’s Saturday, you know.” There was an eagerness in his tired voice that caught her attention.
She was silent for a while, and then: “I’d love to,” she said.
DICK OGDEN stopped at the Grove Park house with the same sense of surprise that had been with his father. Only, unlike his father, he recognized her at once, when she greeted him in the dim light of the hall.
“You look just as I knew you would look,” he said slowly, and she flushed at the tone of his voice.
At the lake they secured a table on the terrace overlooking the water; and he ordered, lavishly, deaf to her laughing protests. They talked, lightly, of many things; of places they had visited, people they had known in common. It did not cross his mind to wonder that she had seen and known so much. It was enough that she could talk with understanding and appreciation, and a light touch of sentiment. They found likes in common and quarrelled, happily, over differences. And often their talk returned to the business, as though it were a lodestone that drew both their thoughts; and would drift away again to the gay surroundings about them.
“I love it,” she said, “the open air, the people, the gaiety. I haven’t had much of it lately.” There was no hint of complaint in her words, just a statement of fact.
“Like it better than the business?”
She thought over that for a while. “No, I don’t think so. I love the business, too.” He was silent for a while. “There’s something I want to say to you,” he said slowly, “something I didn’t know till just lately. But I know it now. I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
He felt her hand rest, lightly, on his arm, saw her eyes, soft and luminous, fixed on his face. “Not to-night, Dick,” she said, a little tremulously. “It wouldn’t be quite fair.”
His grave eyes scanned her face, hungrily.
“Not now, Dick. Not for a little while,” she said again.
“Why?” he asked soberly.
She gave a little, helpless gesture. “I can’t tell you, not now.”
He did not press her for any further explanation. “Then you know what it is I want to say?”
Her voice was hardly above a whisper. “Yes, I know,” she said.
IT WAS just a week later that Eileen, answering the door, saw Silas Ogden standing on the step.
“But I wasn’t expecting you,” she said, almost breathlessly. “Dick—Dick is coming to-night. I thought I told you.”
“Yes, I know,” he replied, in a heavy voice. “I’ve decided to come home.”
“But they don’t need you, now.”
“Tell me about that,” he said, as he entered the living-room.
“Dick says that they will lose about fifteen thousand.”
“So I’m not needed,” he growled, “for a little thing like the loss of fifteen thousand.”
“That isn’t quite fair, Mr. Ogden.”
“No, it isn’t,” he admitted. “It’s good work. Better than. I could have hoped. But it’s a big loss. Still, I fancy it will be worth it. It has taught all of us something.”
A moment later, there came a ring at the door, and Eileen went to open it. He heard his son’s voice in the hall. There was a thrill of eagerness in it, and Silas Ogden smiled with satisfaction. Then Dick entered the room, and saw his father sitting there.
He strode forward with outstretched hand. “Dad, by all that’s wonderful!” he exclaimed. “What brought you here?” There was unfeigned pleasure in his voice.
“I’ve come home, Dick,” Silas Ogden said, soberly. “I came here to do a little checking up with Miss Burke, before going back to the office. How have things been going?”
Dick’s eyes sought Eileen’s with a puzzled expression. “The ‘yes, yes chorus’ is cured,” he said, dully, “but at a big cost. It wasn’t all quite as simple as I thought. I’ve learned something, too,” he added, “but I don’t know that you will think it worth while, when you know it all.”
“I know about Perkins and Carrol,” Silas Ogden interrupted, sternly. “That’s Burns’ work, I know. I’ll deal with him.”
Dick Ogden faced his father, wonderingly. He stood very straight and still, and the weary lines showed in his face. “It’s my work,” he said, slowly. “You put me in charge, and I’m responsible.”
“Then you’ll pay for it,” snapped Silas Ogden.
A dull flush mounted the younger man’s cheek. He gazed steadily at his father. “Willingly,” he said, with slow emphasis.
EILEEN crossed the room and stood beside him. Her hand slipped round his arm and held it close.
“Are you taking sides, Miss Burke?” Silas Ogden demanded.
“Yes,” she said, her bright eyes fixed on his face, which expressed utter bewilderment. “Our agreement is over. I can take sides, now.”
“You know what I told you,” he said, almost roughly. “It has all got to be paid. Let him see how the record stands.”
“I’ll help him to pay it,” she said. “There are some things bigger than just business ...”
And Dick Ogden looked down at her and smiled.
A throaty chuckle sounded in the room and they turned, again, to Silas Ogden in surprise and uncertainty. “Read it,” he said, holding out the leather-bound book. “The record,” he repeated, impatiently, “read it.”
Eileen took the book from his hand, with something of reluctance. It opened at a back page. They bent over it, together and read the careful script:
“A man’s wife may make or break his business,” it said, “and a good wife, therefore, cancels many obligations.” and below:
“This account is paid in full, with interest.”
“But you couldn’t have known?” Eileen spoke the words hardly above a whisper.
“I planned it all,” he said, happily.
“Dick, my boy,” he called back from the hallway, “it was my plan. You’re one of the ‘yes, yes chorus’ after all.”