ON THE last Saturday in October Peter Bowers sat on a porch step, puffed at a stubby pipe and watered his front lawn. Peter was playing that it was summer.
Down the street came a lanky boy. Stopping opposite Peter, he gave him a sharp glance and sank back into the shadow of the hedge that divided the Bowers’ house from his own. Peter saw the reason. The lanky boy was putting on his shoes and stockings. He, too, had been playing summer.
“Nice day,” said Peter.
“Bully day,” affirmed the boy.
“Been swimming?” hazarded Peter. The boy looked up. He was a sandy-haired boy with light blue eyes and plenty of freckles. He knew Peter slightly as “the man next door.”
“Naw,” he replied, “just runnin’ barefoot a bit. Mother thinks it’s too late.”
Peter descended from his porch, adjusted the hose nozzle and mounted again.
The boy had shoes and stockings on now but he did not move. He seemed lost in thought. Finally he spoke:
“Yes,” said Peter politely.
“Mother gave me a dime,” said the boy, “and she said she hoped I’d remember to-morrow was Sunday. That means she thinks I ought to put it in at Sunday school.” Peter took his pipe from his mouth and looked at the boy with sympathy.
“Well?” he said.
“It isn’t as if I wasn’t willing,” the boy went on. “I am. But I can’t see giving it all. The Bible fellows didn’t: They gave a tithe, they did and a tithe is ten per cent.” Again he lapsed into silence.
Peter puffed to hide a smile. Ingenious boy this with his tithe. Still, if everyone gave ten per cent.,—suddenly Peter Bowers straightened up and took the pipe out of his mouth.
“I think you’re absolutely right,” he said with conviction. The boy gave him a fleeting upward look.
“Of course,” he assented, as one who expected understanding.
“But she won’t. Well so long.” He rose and swung down to the sidewalk. A moment later Peter heard his whistle from the next back yard.
The hose sprayed on unnoticed. Peter’s pipe had gone out. His good-humored young face with its keen blue eyes was set and his mouth was firm. Back of him came a swish of silk.
“Good gracious, Petey,” exclaimed a deliciously anxious voice. “Come in this minute. It’s not summer, you know.” Peter Bowers rose and regarded his wife. She was a tall slim girl, with a delicate prettiness and the rounded curves of health and youth.
She came towards Peter with an assumed petulance that became her.
“Stop thinking insurance,” she commanded.
Peter started. “I wasn’t thinking business, Squidge,” he said, “not this time.”
“Well, it’s dinner time, if we’re going to the first show,” she replied. “Come on.”
Peter turned off the hose and followed his wife’s trim figure into the house.
He was rather quiet during dinner.
AFTER the first show Mrs. Bowers played and sang. Peter, lounging in the wing chair that had been one of their most acceptable wedding gifts, usually loved to listen. But to-night he did not hear. Even his favorite “Ashes of Dreams,” failed to elicit applause from the wing chair. When Mrs. Bowers turned around her petulance was real.
“Peter Bowers,” she said, “you don’t know what I am singing.”
“I don’t, Squidge, dear,” he said, with penitence.
Mrs. Bowers came towards him, and perched on his knee.
“Tell me what it’s about,” she commanded. Peter winced.
“Oh, I just got thinking,” he said.
“About what?” his wife prompted.
“Somebody had given the kid next door a dime,” began Peter, “and wanted him to give it all to Sunday school. He had it figured out that it ought to be a tenth—-a tithe, like they did in Bible times. And I just got to figuring how it would be if everyone did that, gave a tenth, you know— and it kind of stuck. I was just figuring out, where it would go—and all that.” He halted. His wife was looking at him tenderly and whimsically.
“You want to,” she accused.
“Well, I didn’t intend to say anything,” defended Peter. “You know I get an idea sometimes and it just seems to stick—”
Ray Bowers knew. She also knew that it was these odd ideas that made one of the reasons she loved him.
He stopped. Mrs. Bowers, stealing a furtive look became very sober.
“Suppose,” she said, “we both think it over.”
They thought it over that night, and all next day. Peter thought it over all through the morning sermon. He stared at the carpet at his feet as he thought. It was a shabby carpet and there was a big hole right between his toes that focussed Peter’s glance. Squidge thought it over too. By mutual consent they had put off the declared conclusion until a week should pass. On Saturday night they came home from the first show and stood facing each other.
“Well?” asked Peter.
“Very well,” said Mrs. Bowers, smiling.
“You mean you’ll do it?” asked Peter. But he believed even as he asked and when Squidge got her breath they settled down to consider ways and means.
“It’s a great idea, Squidge,” affirmed Peter. “I’ll start you out now. I had it figured up already, in case, you know,”—he paused, grinning shamefacedly, but Squidge did not seem to notice.
“Our income was four hundred this month,” she said, “wasn’t it? And ten per cent’s forty.”
Peter took out his wallet, gravely counted forty dollars and passed it over.
“Now what are we going to do with it?” he demanded.
“Keep it,” said Squidge promptly. “We want to put it to real use, Peter.”
NEXT morning the Bowers again attended church service. Peter occupied the same seat he had held the Sunday before, and as before he found his attention focussed upon the hole in the carpet at his feet. The pastor’s mellow tones began “I will lift mine eyes unto the hills.” Peter had always liked that psalm. Near the close of the session a trustee of the church made a brief announcement.
“The attention of the church members is called to the fact that the church dues will not suffice to meet all expenses and attend to repairs and replacements. I have not time to enumerate all the needs here, but you need only look at the church carpet to see how badly funds are wanted. For this purpose a subscription will be taken at the close of the service. All church members are asked to remain in their places after benediction is pronounced.” Involuntarily Squidge looked at Peter. He was staring down at something and her eyes followed his. They found the hole in the carpet.
The service was closing. The trustee who had made the announcement mounted to the pulpit platform. Peter and Squidge recognized him as Mr. Lemuel Sanders, a lawyer prominent in city affairs.
“Now fellow members,” he said, cheerfully, “there is no use pretending that this carpet can last another week. It is just one of our needs, and a big one. I am going to begin and run through the ranks of you—the gentleman on the end there, will you mention the sum you desire to subscribe?”
The gentleman on the end was a stout, florid man in the row behind Petey and Squidge. He started a little, made certain that he was the person addressed.
“Ten dollars,” he said, gruffly.
“Thank you,” said the trustee, making a note of the amount and the name cf the donor.
“Next, Mr. Hand?” His voice was blandly expectant.
Squidge counted. Peter’s turn would come in there more. She looked again at the hole in the carpet, and a great longing swelled her breast. If only Peter— she looked again at Peter, who had folded his arms across his chest and seemed lost in thought. The trustee went on. It was Peter’s turn.
“Next,” said the trustee pleasantly. Squidge drew a quick breath. Peter raised his head.
“Forty dollars,” he said, distinctly. The trustee poised his pencil.
“And your name?” he suggested.
Squidge breathed hard. He had done it. The members of the congregation near looked at Peter in curiosity. Peter was quite unconscious of their scrutiny. He had not quite intended to use the whole amount; he had wondered if Squidge would think it right to put it all in one place. But that hole—he had simply said the forty without thinking; it had come out of itself. He followed the amounts given. A number of men subscribed fifty dollars,—seventy-five—a hundred, and two or three two hundred. Peter felt quite humbled by comparison.
The trustee was at the door shaking hands with everyone as they went out.
“New members?” he asked Peter and Squidge.
“We’ve been here a year,” said Peter, “and we’ve been members six months.”
“Glad to have you,” the trustee assured them.
“That gift of Bowers certainly put pep into the subscription,” he said to the treasurer when the church was empty. “The tens and twenties doubled after that. Young fellow. Know anything about him?”
“No,” said Fitzpatrick thoughtfully. “They come pretty regularly.”
“Wonder what business he’s in,” mused the lawyer “Odd amount, forty.”
Outside in the warm sunshine Squidge was squeezing Peter’s arm.
ON WEDNESDAY afternoon Mrs. Peter Bowers called at the Montland Bank. “I’m Mrs. Bowers,” she said, to its president, “I came to pay that forty dollars for the church fund. I went to Mr. Sanders first but he said you were the treasurer.” Mr. Fitzpatrick pushed forward a chair.
“Certainly, Mrs. Bowers,” he said. “Do sit down.” Squidge sat down. She took from her bag four ten dollar bills and handed them to the president.
“Thank you;” he smiled. “I understand that you have your account here, Mrs. Bowers. I hope that the bank has been treating you well.”
“Oh, yes,” said Squidge, rising and flushing. She said good-bye rather hastily.
The president looked after her a moment, then pressed a button.
“Bring me Bowers’ account—Peter Bowers,” he said, to the boy who answered the call. No checks had been drawn that week.
“She paid in cash,” mused the president, “and forty dollars is a large contribution to a church fund, larger than the amount of business shown here justifies. H’m!”
November was a dull month. The net returns were three hundred and twenty-five dollars.
“Do you want to do anything special with it?” asked Squidge, as she took the thirty-two dollars and fifty cents.
“Nothing,” returned Peter. “Christmas this month, you know. We’d better use it for that.”
“I was thinking,” said Squidge, “I’d like to send it back home; the Old Ladies, you know.”
Peter knew that she referred to the Old Ladies’ Home in Davidsville, although that town had not been “home” to either Peter or Squidge for many years. As boy and girl they had grown up to their teens there.
“Are those old ladies still out there?” asked Peter. “Remember the fat one who used to give me lemon sticks?”
“Mrs. Cox,” prompted Squidge, her face alight. “I do remember her. She was the fussy one who dyed her hair. Petey, let’s give the money to them, for Christmas. They might have turkey. I’m sure they don’t have turkey these days; it’s so high.”
“Fodder must be pretty poor at places like that,” agreed Peter. “I’m for it, Squidge. Send a money order to the matron—no! better send it to Mr. Durant, at the bank; he’s trustee; he’ll see they get it.”
On the morning of December thirteenth the matron of the Old Ladies Home at Davidsville rose at the breakfast table and drummed on the side of her cup with a teaspoon for silence.
“Ladies,” she announced, “it gives me pleasure to tell you that Mr. Durant ’phoned in last night to say that Mr. Peter Bowers, a young man who used to live here, has sent a substantial Christmas gift, with the request that it be used for turkeys at Christmas dinner.”
Peter’s history and Peter’s family became the objects of the morning’s discussion.
By afternoon several of the old ladies had decided to write to their friends about the proposed treat.
“I’m a-going to write to Miss Ella,” announced a very old lady who walked with the aid of a cane. “It’ll remind her it’s Christmas,” she continued significantly. At once several other old ladies demanded writing materials.
“You call her Miss Ella yet,” chided the matron as she brought paper to the lame lady. “You ought to stop and call her Mrs. Fitzgerald, Mrs. Lowry, now she’s married so long.”
“I was nurse to her mother and nurse to her,” retorted Mrs. Lowry, “and they was both Ella’s. Expect me to learn new tricks now?”
ON THE morning of December fifteenth, Mrs. Ella Fitzpatrick went over her mail with an exclamation of pleasure.
“There’s a letter from Maggie Lowry in the Old Ladies’ Home,” she said. “Dear old soul, I hope she’s well.” She read through the letter and then settled back with a smile.
“Something nice has happened,” she said to her husband, who was drinking his coffee behind the shelter of the propped-up morning paper.
“Yes,” he replied vaguely, and then listened. “Maggie writes that someone has sent them money for a Christmas dinner. They are to have turkeys for the first time in four years and all sorts of extras. Isn’t that fine? I must get up something for her right away.”
“Very nice,” assented her husband.
“She says it was sent by a Mr. Bowers, a Mr. Peter Bowers, who lives here, but who used to live The newspaper came down.
“Let me see the letter,” demanded Mr. Fitzpatrick. He read it through.
“What is it?” his wife asked.
“He’s the young fellow who gave the forty dollars for the church fund, the one none of us know,” replied Mr. Fitzpatrick.
“H’m, it doesn’t say how much he sent here.”
“Must be quite a sum though to buy turkeys and trimmings for all that crowd.”
“What business is he in?”
“Insurance, fire insurance.”
“They must be well off to do things like these,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald.
“Must be,” assented her husband. “When I call up Durant next I’ll sound him a little.”
It was necessary to telephone the Davidsville bank that very morning and Fitzpatrick seized the opportunity.
“By the way, Durant,” he said to the Davidsville president, “do you know a young fellow named Peter Bowers?”
“Sh’d say I do,” replied Durant. “Fine boy. Why just last week that boy sent me an order for Christmas for the Old Ladies’ Home here, to give them turkeys; those old ladies are as happy as kids over it.”
“A wonderfully nice thing to do,” commented Mr. Fitzpatrick.
“Yes,” assented Durant briefly.
“I was just considering,” added the president of the Montland National, “considering doing some business with Bowers.”
“Well, you won’t make a mistake doing business with that boy,” said Durant. “He’s smart as a steel trap and honest, too.”
“Thank you,” said Fitzpatrick. He put up the receiver, feeling that he, as a banker, had somehow overlooked one of the town’s most promising young citizens.
Three days before Christmas Peter journeyed into the country. As he walked the mile to the railway station on his way homeward a big black touring car slowed up beside him and stopped.
“Hello, Peter,” called Mr. Durant, “jump in, I want to see you. Fitzpatrick of the Montland National called me up the other day and asked me no end of questions about you. He said he was considering doing some business with you. Good man, Peter; better look him up.”
“Thanks awfully,” said Peter. “I’ll get at him right away.”
Peter called at the Montland National at ten-thirty the next morning.
“Good morning, Mr. Bowers,” said the president affably, “What can I do for you?”
“Mr. Durant of the Davidsville bank met me yesterday and advised me to call,” said Peter.
“H’m, why yes,” said Fitzpatrick. He wished he had cautioned Durant. He had not a thing, still he thought rapidly. There was the Eggleston estate to be renewed in January—
“I hadn’t intended doing anything before Christmas,” he said, “but there is an estate—and as long as you are here —I’ll just give you the details and you can look it over and give me your report. Mr. Sanders is one of the trustees with me.”
When Peter left Fitzpatrick telephoned Sanders.
“But Manville and Fisher have always handled that insurance,” protested Sanders.
“Well, they don’t live here,” defended the president, “and anyhow I want to find out more about this young fellow.”
On December twenty-seventh, Mr. Lemuel Sanders, in response to an urgent telephone message, joined Mr. Peter Bowers and Mr. Henry Fitzpatrick at a conference at the Montland Bank.
“I have given you a report on conditions as they are with the Eggleston estate,” said Peter. “But if the trustees see fit to make a few changes, and to demand a little different system of operation from the manufacturer upon the renewal of the lease this month, the fire risk will be less and the insurance rates considerably lower. Now, that oily waste on the second floor—” Peter was well launched and he continued at length. The president and Mr. Sanders looked at each other as Peter dilated on sprinklers, water and sand buckets, waste removal, and regular inspection.
“No man wants a fire,” asserted Peter, “and the manufacturer would welcome these things. When I was there yesterday he asked me to return and make an estimate on insurance for his product and goods and so on. I don’t know what rate you are paying but I feel certain we could lower it.”
“H’m,” reflected Fitzpatrick. “You say Weed asked you to return?”
“I’m going out to look over the stock to-morrow,” affirmed Peter.
“Well, Mr. Bowers,” said Sanders, “I think Mr. Fitzpatrick and I will also go out and see Mr. Weed. If the changes you suggest are possible, I for one will be glad to save the estate the expense you have indicated.”
“Quite so,” agreed the president.
“Say Sanders,” he added, as the door closed after Peter, “looks as if you and I were a pair of bad trustees.”
“If it is as he claims,” said Mr. Sanders. “Let’s get out and look the place over.” Three days later Peter Bowers came into the house fairly bursting with news.
“Squidge,” he called. “Hello, Squidge."
“Here,” replied Mrs. Bowers running down stairs in her kimono with her hair flying.
Peter caught her elbows and held her away from him.
“Squidge,” he said, “I’ve caught on to some real business. They gave me that Eggleston estate, but that isn’t all. Sanders and Fitzpatrick seem to be trustees for a lot of things, which they intimated might be paying too high rates just as this place was. They’re going to give me a chance at them.”
“Oh, Peter,” said Squidge, “it’s glorious. And we’ll have a lot of money for the fund this month, won’t we?”
“Eh?” said Peter. “Oh, yes; what are we going to do with it all, Squidge?”
Mrs. Bowers sat herself on the arm of a chair and meditated.
“We might give more to some things we have always given something to,” went on Peter. “Take the Red Cross. I always feel kind of cheap handing out a solitary dollar to a thing like that, because I know what it did in the war. And then there’s the library here; you can be, a sustaining member for ten dollars instead of just a member for one. Sustaining member, I kind of like the sound of that, Squidge. Sounds prosperous.”
Mrs. Bowers ran her fingers through her hair.
“I must go up and finish dressing,” she said. “Let’s do that, Peter—let’s take the fund this month and join things in a bigger way.”
JANUARY was a prosperous month for Peter Bowers. Sanders and Fitzpatrick tried him out twice in matters in which they had an interest and in both cases he had been able, not only to suggest improvements in protection that would lessen rates, but in reducing fire risk.
“It isn’t only that I’m an insurance man,” he said apologetically to Sanders, as they sat in that gentleman’s office, “but nothing can replace a loss by fire. Nearly always someone is hurt, business is disturbed and everything upset, and just now the world needs all the goods we can give it.”
“You’ve got a civic sense, young man,” accused Sanders. He paused, balanced a paper knife and then asked abruptly.
“Do you and Mrs. Bowers find it lonely here?”
“Oh, no,” said Peter. “You see I was away in the service for three years or so, and then as soon after as we could we were married—and we’ve been pretty contented,” he finished, a dull red creeping into his cheeks. Sanders liked him the better for the flush.
“Mrs. Sanders is not very active socially,” he said. “But I am going to see that she meets Mrs. Bowers.”
Peter mumbled his thanks. He was surprised at Squidge’s enthusiasm when a week later she met him at the door with the news that Mrs. Sanders had called.
“In a big limousine,” she said, joyously. “And she was dressed—oh, just spiffy, Petey! and she is lovely, just lovely. She asked me to tea there next week. Oh, Petey, aren’t you glad I have some nice clothes?”
“I am,” said Peter. “You take a taxi there when you go, Squidge.”
“No, Peter,” said Squidge. “I don’t think so—not in the daytime. Mrs. Sanders knows we haven’t a car and it would look like showing off. It’s only five blocks and I will walk.”
She walked, and the crisp air of winter touched her delicate cheeks and made them glow above her brown furs. As she stood in the doorway of the drawing room several women turned and approved her. Mrs. Sanders hastened forward.
“And from then I had just a lovely time,” Squidge said to Peter that evening. “I hadn’t been to a tea for ever so long. Everyone was so kind. And I wasn’t the only one that walked.”
“It’s the end of the month, Squidge. If business keeps up like this we won’t need to think of taxis.”
“Never mind that car, Peter,” said Squidge, “I don’t care. How much?”
“Sixty dollars for the fund,” boasted Peter. “It isn’t a cloud burst either. There’s more of the same kind coming. Found anything to do with the fund money?”
“No,” said his wife. “Let’s wait.”
They waited. It was fully a month later when Peter, roused himself one night from deep meditation over an empty pipe. “Say, Squidge, don’t children crippled with infantile paralysis ever get well again?” he asked.
“Why, sometimes,” replied his wife. “They have to have treatments, though. A little girl next where we lived in Watertown was lame and they sent her to a sanitarium and she came home cured. Why?”
“I was renewing some insurance on Donnelley’s house to-day,” said Peter. “Donnelley’s the big fellow who is foreman at Patterson’s. Place seemed all run down. His wife has been sick, had to have an operation and while we were there the boy came out, pretty lame—infantile paralysis, Donnelley said. Bright little chap—I don’t suppose they have much, Squidge.” Peter sat erect, “Why can’t we do it?”
Squidge had followed accurately.
“I wonder,” she said, with doubt. “It would take the fund a good many months.”
“Well, what do we care?” argued Peter. “We don’t know what to do with the money. That’s something worth while— to make one child well.”
“But maybe it can’t be done. It isn’t fair to raise false hopes, Peter.”
“That’s so,” agreed Peter. “Hold on though, maybe the doctor can tell. Who’s the best children’s doctor in this town, Squidge?”
“Dr. Evans—but Peter, where are you going?” for Peter was in the hall fumbling with his coat.
“Going to see Dr. Evans,” he retorted. “No time like the present. ’By, Squidge, see you later.”
Eleven o’clock struck before Squidge, curled up in a big armchair, heard Peter’s step on the porch. He came in buoyant.
“Waiting up?” he queried. “Evans was out so I waited. They have him, Squidge. and he says the boy has a good chance, only Donnelley hasn’t the money. Evans offered to do his part for nothing and Donnelley just snarled at him. He’ll try it, Squidge, if I can talk over Donnelley.”
Mrs. Bowers’ chin hardened and her face set.
“You’ve got to do it, Peter,” she said.
And Peter did, although as he told Squidge later he was dripping wet all over when he got through.
“When I told Donnelley I wanted to pay for the boy I thought he’d thrash me, Squidge,” he said. “He’s such a big fellow. I tell you I was plumb scared. ‘What d’ye take me for, a beggar asking for charity?’ he snarled.
“ ‘Lord, man, don’t be such a hog,’ I retorted. I haven’t any boy to do anything for.’ ”
“W-what?” said Squidge. “Why, Peter!”
“Well he didn’t know we’d been married only a year,” said Peter. “And it worked. He looked at me in an odd way and then said pityingly:
“ ‘So you aint,’ and then he got human at once. Then we made a deal. He will pay fifty dollars right now—he has that— and I am to pay the rest and let him pay me back. So that’s fixed.” Peter leaned back and puffed at his pipe with satisfaction.
AT THE end of February there was sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents to add to the fund now waiting to meet the bills on Robert Donnelley. At the end of March Peter said to his wife.
“Say, honey, I’m getting some business that’s making me think.”
Mrs. Bowers paused in the act of removing the roast and stood by the kitchen door.
“How do you mean?” she asked.
“Put on the dessert and I’ll tell you,” said Peter. “I am getting some small houses that I never went out after. Men drift into the office and ask me to come round and estimate for insurance. I asked one of them how he heard of me and he kind of stammered and said one of the men at the plant told him. He works at Patterson’s, Squidge, and Donnelley works there; Donnelley’s a high man in the union, I believe; has a lot of influence.” Mrs. Bowers was thoughtful.
“Well, Peter,” she said, “honestly, it’s not our business.”
“No,” said Peter, “I suppose it isn’t. How’s the boy?”
“He’s bright as a lark,” said his wife. “And they have every hope of a complete recovery. But we may have to mortgage the fund, Peter. There won’t be any left when the next bill for Robert comes.”
“Who cares?” asked Peter, “We’ll catch up.”
During the third week in June the citizens of Montland held a drive for a community house to be placed in the center of a newly made playground park. Peter read the items in the local paper and he and Squidge attended a mass meeting planned to stir up interest.
“This is one enterprising city,” he said, as they walked homeward. “They are planning to combine a lot of things there, branch library, swimming pools, covered music pavilion, dance floor—it’ll cost quite a lot to insure all that, Squidge. By George, why shouldn’t I? I’ll do it!”
Even Squidge’s loving understanding failed here.
“Do what, Petey?” she asked.
“Give ’em the insurance, for the first year. That’ll be my contribution and I hope it’ll be a big one.
On the last Saturday afternoon in June Peter Bowers was watering his lawn when a lady came up the walk, Peter removed his pipe from his mouth.
“Mr. Bowers?” she questioned.
“The same,” said Peter. “Won’t you come in?”
“I’m Miss Fosdick,” she replied, “of the Montland Courier. No, I thank you. I’d like to sit here on the porch if you don’t mind. You know your contribution to the community house?” she went on, “it assumed that the house would be built, and all the other features. Why did you assume all that, Mr. Bowers?”
“Because that’s the kind of town this is,” said Peter promptly. “I came here about a year-and-a-half ago because I picked out Montland as. one of the most progressive towns in the province. And I guessed right. Why, take my own business. Owner after owner of a factory or of a home has put in apparatus to protect himself from fire, changed his scheme of operation sometimes, even when he didn’t reduce his rates, just to keep fire risk away. And take the workingmen. They own their own houses and they take care of them. And take a project like this. How many cities this size think of such things as community houses, and swimming pools and—excuse me, Miss Fosdick, I must move the hose.”
Peter moved the hose and returned to the step and his topic; Squidge had come quietly from the house, where she had been listening through the living room window, and met Miss Fosdick. Peter talked on and on. He smoked now as he talked, and Miss Fosdick, unnoticed, began making a few notes in a small book. After a time Peter’s flow of words ran out. Miss Fosdick rose.
“You’ve given us a most inspiring and interesting interview,” she said. “It will come out to-morrow.”
Peter’s eyes bulged. “What,” he said, “all that? Oh, say, I don’t remember half I’ve said, I just got talking.”
“Mr. Bowers,” said Miss Fosdick, “we need this interview to stimulate the collection for the community house. Won’t you trust me?”
“Of course you’ll trust her, Peter,” said Squidge. “I think it was perfectly splendid.”
The Sunday number of the Montland Courier contained a two-column interview with Peter Bowers that made Peter blush and Squidge glow with pride. It had quite an effect upon a number of other people; on men who remembered the odd gift; on Donnelley who laughed and swore Bowers was the best he’d ever met; on the Fitzpatricks who also laughed and wondered what that astonishing young chap would | do next; on Mr. Frank, who had a more intimate account from his daughter, Sylvia, and who openly avowed he was going to send for that young fellow the next day and see about his insurance, and on Mr. James E. Patterson the great manufacturer of Ever-Wear auto tires, who at the breakfast table, read and grunted to his wife, “There, what’d I tell you.”
In another week the community house and all its additions were assured to the city of Montland. Co-incidentally other things happened. Robert Donnelley, walking as straight as any child, came home from the hospital and Peter closed a deal for insurance on Frank and Burton’s plant that swelled the total for June to seven hundred dollars.
PETER found out about the other interests in July. The fund was this month still mortgaged to the Donnelley bills, although Donnelley was paying off, ten dollars at a time.
“Mrs. Donnelley says they can pay twenty from now on,” Squidge replied. “Patterson’s must be a large place, Peter.”
“It’s a million dollar plant and they’re going to build a new part in the fall,” said Peter. “Squidge, if I ever got the Patterson insurance, we’d be on the road to success.”
By late August Donnelley had paid off so much of the bills for Robert that the fund reported fifty dollars.
“We can look about again, Squidge,” said Peter. They were sitting on the porch enjoying the comparative cool of the evening.
The dusk deepened. Peter left his chair, and, secure from observation, joined Squidge in the hammock. This is sometimes done even after almost two years of married life. Then up the walk toward the house came a tall spare figure. It halted at the porch steps.
Squidge was out of the hammock in an instant.
“Why, Mr. Coulter,” she said. “Come right up.”
The old man mounted the steps stiffly, greeted Peter and fanned himself with his felt hat.
“Hot day,” he said. “I jest stopped to see if you wanted some eggs. We’ve got more than we can use now, and you keepin’ no chickens.”
“I’d be glad of some,” said Mrs. Bowers, “I could use a dozen almost anytime. How are you all at home these warm days?” “Pretty well,” replied the old man. “David, he’s gone down to the Maritimes on a business trip, so Hattie and the children’s there alone. I kind of hankered to go with David, but it didn’t seem as if I could.” He hesitated, then sensing a sympathetic audience he went on.
“I ain’t been there in sixty years, you know, and it jest seems as if I wanted to go home jest once again. I’ve planned it time after time, but something comes up it seems. Well, I’ll be goin’, and I’ll bring the eggs over in the mornin’.”
“I’ll walk down with you and get them, ’"said Peter. Squidge watched them down the street.
Peter stayed quite a time. When he returned he smoked furiously, and he was not talkative. It was long after they had gone to bed that he spoke suddenly in the darkness.
“It isn’t exactly what the fund is for, but it seems as if we might help out old Mr. Coulter, don’t you think?”
“I do, Peter. But they mustn’t know. We must get it to him some way, they will never guess.”
“I’ll get Joe Davis to send it from Montreal,” said Peter. “Joe’s a lawyer and he can say an old friend who prefers to be unknown has sent it. Squidge, I went over a building that’s worth five hundred thousand, to-day. If I get it August will be some month.”
He got the building and as a result the month of August netted nine hundred dollars. Squidge and Peter regarded the total with awe.
They heard a week later that Mr. Job Coulter had received an unexpected gift from an old comrade which would enable him to visit the Maritimes. It was his daughter who told Squidge and the tears stood in her eyes as she spoke.
The old man had wasted no time. He was off a week after he received the check.
Unmarked among the throng Peter and Squidge Bowers were on the platform to see him off.
As the train moved out of sight, the white-haired old man waving a last farewell from the rear platform, Peter turned to Squidge with a straightening of the shoulders.
“Well,” he said, “it went through. I kept thinking we might get caught. Squidge dear, bury this deep. Let’s not even speak of it again—our part, I mean.”
“Yes,” assented Squidge. She knew just how Peter felt.
ON THE third Saturday in September Peter was engaged in removing the hose to a new spot when a tall spare figure, clad in a blue coat, the tails of which flew wildly in the wind rushed up the walk. It was Mr. Coulter.
“Fire!” he gasped. Peter dropped the hose.
“Where?” he asked.
“Patterson’s,” replied the old man. “I knowed you’d want to know right away, so I come up. I’ll go with you.”
Patterson’s was on the other side of Montland, on the edge of the river. A screen of dense smoke rolling in great billows over the entire plant made it impossible to guess the extent of the damage but a man in the crowd of watchers enlightened them.
“There’s only two buildings gone,” he said to Peter; “they got the rest wet in time to save them.”
On Sunday curious citizens in Montland went over to see the ruins. Other manufacturers rolled up in their cars to condole with Mr. Patterson, who stayed at his office all day. Among them was Mr. Frank, senior partner of Frank and Burton.
“Bad luck, Mr. Patterson,” said Frank to the manufacturer. “But I suppose you were well covered.”
Mr. Patterson waved an impatient hand.
“That’s what everybody says,” he replied. “But nobody is ever well covered. It is going to be months before we are in good working order again and we’re loaded with work now. No insurance ever makes up for a fire loss when a factory is working.”
“That’s what Bowers was telling me a couple of months ago,” said Frank. “I never had a fire and I hadn’t thought much about it. Always kept covered, of course. But Bowers went about my place and showed me a lot of things I could do to make risk less. He even organized the workmen into an inspection corps. I didn’t think they’d like it, but they do, Patterson. How’d your place catch fire?”
“Spontaneous combustion in some oil waste,” replied Patterson.
“That’s just what that inspection prevents,” said Frank. “We put all our waste in covered cans now, outside, and get rid of it every day. Why don’t you let Bowers look your place over, Patterson?”
He leaned back and lighted a cigar. Patterson snorted.
“That young Bowers seems to have lots of friends,” he said. “First Fitzpatrick comes this morning and tells how Bowers saved him money on some estates, then Mrs. Patterson urges how generous he was to the community house. Generous, and getting all that advertising! Then you come with this inspection story. Well, send him along. I’d like to find a man that knows enough to prevent a fire like this.”
So on Monday morning, thirty-five minutes after the receipt of a telephone message from Mr. Frank, Peter Bowers presented himself at the office of Mr. James E. Patterson, president of Patterson’s Ever-Wear tire works, and sent in his card.
“Good morning,” said Peter.
“Morning,” said Patterson. “Suppose Frank sent you?”
“ ’Phoned this morning,” said Peter. The manufacturer nodded.
“I notice you didn’t let the grass grow
under your feet,” he said, dryly. “Well, go over the plant. When you’ve got it all in hand, write out a report.”
It took Peter two days to go over the Patterson plant as thoroughly as he wanted. It took two days more to outline and sketch certain changes, additions and an inspection plan. When it was all done he sent it in.
On Saturday morning he kissed Squidge good-bye more affectionately than usual.
“Only did about five hundred this month,” he said. “Seems little after last time.”
“You can’t expect business like that every month,” said Squidge stoutly. Peter laughed. When he got to his office he found on the top of his pile of mail a phone message from Patterson. It said: “Come up.” Peter went.
A LITTLE over an hour later, Peter Bowers, very pale, came up the walk that led to his house.
Mrs. Bowers met him at the door.
“You got him,” she said. “Oh, Peter.” “It’s worth nearly a million,” babbled Peter. “And he’s going to build in the fall. And he’s got an interest in a lumberyard here, and the bank building and factories in Winnipeg and Fort William, and Hamilton and Kingston,” he waved an arm wildly. “Squidge, let me sit down; he’s got ’em all over the world. Think he’s got two in Mars. And he says I’m the best insurance man he ever met!
“But that isn’t what bowled me over, no siree! It was Fitzpatrick. When I came out of Patterson’s office I met Fitzpatrick. And of course I told him. He laughed and slapped me on the back.
“ ‘We knew well enough you were no small man ever since you started them going with that fund for the church carpet,’ he said. He said a lot more and I began to think about all this year. It started with Sandersand Fitzpatrick ,you know, right after that forty dollars. And I followed it up and it looks as if the fund, our fund—”
He pulled Squidge to her favorite place on his knee. Her brow was anxious.
“You, you’re not going to give up the fund, Peter?” she asked, timidly.
Peter’s mouth twisted into a wry smile that melted into a broad grin.
“Give up the fund?” he replied, “I guess you don’t understand yet, young woman, how thoroughly that fund has got me! Why, Squidge, I couldn’t give up the fund if I wanted to. Not that I do want to. I’d be an ingrate if I did. Oh, no, my dear, we’ll keep the fund and your Peter will retire to that little back seat where he belongs and get his chest measurement down. Squidge, you don’t know how small I felt when Fitzpatrick began on me. I just seemed to wither up. I felt about as big as—”
“Ten per cent, Peter?” she ended happily.