Does it pay to be ethical in business to-day? John Milton Layers, millionaire manufacturer, comes to realize that war leaves inner as well as outer scars—and glimpses his own soul.
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
THE cigarette between David Strand’s fingers had burned to a curving ash, grey and brackish as his thoughts.
At the far end of the grill a jazz orchestra was playing The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. The sob of saxaphone and shrill whine of muted cornet jarred stabbingly on his shattered nerves. The players under the crimson flood thrown by the spotlight, with their grotesque motions and extravagant and blatant notes seemed like the Inferno scene from Faust.
The hour was early. A few only of the younger diners had responded to the first urge of the music. The older and wiser would satiate their material wants before dancing.
Strand glanced at his check and with his left hand drew a wallet from an inner pocket. His right arm hung at his side, its hand in the pocket of his dinner-jacket. His fingers fumbled clumsily on the clasp. The waiter stepped forward.
“Shall I assist you, sir?” he asked.
“If you don’t mind,” Strand answered.
The man opened the purse and returned it to its owner. With a murmured word of thanks Strand extricated a five dollar note and placed it on the silver tray beside his dinner check.
His pre-occupied gaze followed the waiter’s sablegarbed figure as it passed swiftly down between the long rows of tables and disappeared behind a green baize door in the lower end of the room. Then he pushed back his chair and stood up.
He was of medium height and slender. Beneath thick, black hair shot with grey at the temples, was a pale face set with the deep eyes of a dreamer—a face from which much of youth had been wiped by the eraser of bitter experience.
As he turned from the table his lips twitched as if in a sudden spasm of pain; his left hand swept swiftly down to rest upon its mate hidden in the jacket pocket.
He swayed slightly, jolting against a table occupied by a man of middle age and a young, over-dressed woman. “Sorry,” he murmured in apology.
“A few drinks too many,” he heard the man remark to his companion. “Can’t blame him; those returned chaps have seen more hell than they’ve got years before them to forget in. Sometimes—when I see a thing like that— I’m almost glad my Tommy—”
“Now for heaven’s sake,” the woman broke in sharply, “don’t get off on that tack to-night. If you do, so help me, I'll never come out with you again.”
Strand smiled distortedly as he fought his way doorward. At the check-room he got his hat and coat. He remained for a brief time leaning against the counter, then with unsteady steps walked toward the revolving doors.
The orchestra was playing an encore to The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. The blatant notes seared his soul like heated copper.
Once outside he breathed a sigh that was almost a sob. Slowly he descended the granite steps to the street. There he paused. Above him shimmered an arc of rainbow lights; below, in the wan glow of an October moon, lay the bay. This bay seemed to be the only thing about his old home town that had not been changed; everything else reflected the bounty of Mountboro’s great man, John Milton Layers. Layers had given the town a magnificent park, a library. The gilded palace of amusement he had just quitted belonged to him; that bronze tablet glowing palely up through the night mists, yonder, he had erected as a memento to Mountboro’s heroic dead.
A burning lump rose in Strand’s throat. Strange that the world should give so much to her fighting sons who had found peace, so little to those who had survived and to whom j-.eace was a stranger. With lips grimly compressed he turned down the granite walk toward the bay.
TWO gentlemen seated at a table in the far end of the A Ardanac dining-room had seen Strand on his way out. The older of the two spoke to his companion.
“That’s David Strand, V.C. You’ve heard about him?”
“Sure. A wonderful draughtsman before he lost the use of his right hand, I understand,” the other returned. “Claims old Layers defrauded him out of something he had patented, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. Layers certainly gave the boy a shabby deal. Strand, before war was declared, was head draughtsman in Layers’ factory. He invented a muffling device for use on gas engines. Before the patent could be secured he enlisted and went overseas, leaving Layers’ power of attorney to act for him. There had been no legal agree-
ment between the two; simply a verbal one to the effect that Strand was to receive from Layers ten thousand for his patent and a royalty on every device used.”
“And the old fox put one over on the boy?” The other nodded. “Up to the present, yes. I’m not so sure, however, that he’ll get away with it.”
“You’re acting for him, Sills?”
“In a sense only. I’ve known Strand for many years. He’s white clean through. He sacrificed his right hand for his country and with it every hope of a brilliant career, for he was a wizard with the pencil. He was also wounded and shell-shocked and off and on spent nearly three years in European hospitals. Six months ago he came home and he’s working now as a common clerk for that prince of big-hearted men, old Dick Billings.”
“Whose business, I hear, is in rather a precarious condition.”
“Yes, I’m afraid that’s true enough.”
Sills rose. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I think I’ll try and overtake Strand.”
“By all means go,” said his companion. “I'll stick here a few minutes longer.”
AS STRAND walked slowly bayward a cheerful voice spoke behind him.
“Let me give you a hand with that coat, David.”
He turned quickly about.
“Thanks, Mr. Sills,” he said, “I think I’ll carry it. I’m going to walk home.”
“Would you mind if I came along with you?” asked the lawyer. “I want to have a little chat with you.”
“I’ll be glad to have your company,” Strand responded. “But I warn you, you'll find me anything but companionable to-night.”
“That’s all right.” Sills adjusted his step to the other’s. “Is the hand paining badly to-night, David?”
“Damnably,” the younger man grated. “But it isn't pain exactly. If it were only pain I could endure it better, I think. You see,” as the other remained sympathetically silent, “it’s hard to explain just what it is: only one with a hand like it or perhaps one who had lost a hand could understand.”
They had reached the wide walk that followed the curving shore of the bay. The spray from the windwhipped waves fell with dank coolness on their faces. Strand continued:
“Only this afternoon I was talking to a lad who left a
leg in France. He told me that it suffered horribly from cold and called to him incessantly to cover it up.”
Sills shivered. “Poor fellow,” he said, commiseratingly. “Of course his pain must be purely imaginary, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Strand answered, “and for that reason the more unbearable. Wait a moment.”
They had reached a cluster of lights that threw their rays obliquely through the opalescent mists.
Strand held out his left hand. Resting in it, hideously shrivelled and misshapen, lay what had once been his right. The fingers were shrunken and twisted; the thumb which had alone escaped the blasting shrapnel, stood stiffly out from its maimed fellows.
“Merciful heaven!” murmured the lawyer, aghast. “Why, David, you would be better off without it.”
Strand shook his head dumbly. “That’s what it keeps telling me,” he said, “but it would be like murdering a crippled child that was flesh of my flesh, a child whose cry is that it has lost its usefulness and can no longer serve.”
They passed on from the golden halo of bay mists into the wave-sprayed shadows.
“And now you know,” Strand spoke after a long silence, “that there is a fiercer pain than mere physical. When this poor maimed thing calls out to me so I find myself trying to soothe it. I talk to it—tell it not to worry that some day it will do me a wonderful service and then we will be quits.”
The other’s arm went about his shoulders. “Never mind, David, I think I understand.”
“But I want you to be sure,” Strand cried sharply. “It cried out to me to-night in that place which belongs to Layers. How it hurt! I tried to console—I don’t know what I said. Those nearest me thought me drunk. I had to get out of there or go mad.”
Strand’s left hand pressed against his right jacket pocket. “It’s quiet now,” he said. “It’s like that. Sometimes it doesn’t worry me for days.”
They had turned from the board walk onto a wide street hedged with maples. A few dead leaves were fluttering down t’ ci:pelden lining shimmering in the glow of the street lights.
No further words passed between them until they had reached Strand’s rooming-house. Then he said:
“You told me you wished to talk to me, Mr. Sills. I’m afraid I have monopolized most of the conversation.”
The lawyer roused himself from his abstraction.
“I’m glad you did,” he replied. “I know what it must have cost you to tell me what you have, David. It has made me understand.”
“I had to tell somebody,” Strand said, quickly. “You have been kind to me, have done your best to help me.” The lawyer looked away.
“David,” he said, “I want to be of real service to you. I’m sure I can bring John Milton Layers to time if you will allow me to enter suit against him.
You see I know the man—”
“But not so well as I know him,” Strand interrupted. “Mr. Sills, believe me, I can never get redress from Layers in that way.”
“Then, if nothing can change your mind on that point,” the lawyer sighed, “we’ll say no more about it.”
Strand’s left hand sought the hand of his friend. “I’ll always be grateful to you for what you have done and all you are willing to do,” he said.
“It hasn’t been much,” Sills spoke quickly. “I’d like to make Layers do the right thing. I’m afraid, however, that without your co-operation the law can’t make him pay.”
“Then I’ll make him pay in another way,” Strand said quietly, so quietly that Sills did not realize the import of the words until he was some distance down the street.
He half turned as though he would retrace his steps. But Strand had entered his rooming-house.
MR. JOHN MILTON LAYERS pressed the fingers of his fat white hands together and turned cold eyes on the sales manager of the Billings Paint and Varnish Company.
“Absolutely nothing doing, Mr.
Puggsley,” he declared with frigid finality. “I told your salesmen repeatedly that I won’t use your paints, and now I’m telling you.
Perhaps from what I have said you can guess the reason.”
He turned to the papers on his desk and Mr. Puggsley, pocketing an unsigned order sheet, beat a humiliating retreat.
Mr. John Milton Layers had made two million dollars in the manufacturing of steel during the war. He had gone into the building of motor-boats as a hobby—one that would pay him dividends. He bought his cypress standing, built his own engines and motors. He knew the Billings’ paints and varnishes to be the best on the market; but he also knew that his patronage just at this time would practically mean salvation to Richard Billings who had been hard hit by the general business depression. And the truth was John Milton longed to put his white, blunt thumb on Billings’ neck and watch him squirm, as was his custom to serve all who were foolish and fearless enough to attempt to thwart his whims. Billings, Layers considered, had done him an unforgivable injury. He had given his former employee, David Strand, a position in his office after that young man had indignantly accused him of a rank betrayal of trust, of refusing to live up to a verbal agreement he had made with Strand six years before. True, he had patented Strand’s invention and was willing enough to admit it was what gave his engines the supreme lead over all competitors in his line—but as for paying the inventor the ten thousand verbally promised—well, he was just a little too shrewd a business man to do anything quite so foolish.
Strand didn’t have anything on him; not a single thing!
After the boy had returned from France—helplessly crippled, someone had told him—the fellow had certainly displayed a cool nerve by demanding his old position back. Why, a whole man didn’t any more than earn what he, John Milton Layers, paid him in good money, and he’d be hanged, any way, if he’d have a returned soldier with his war-perverted ideas sowing dissention among his workmen. Some of the chaps who had gone to France had returned with damned queer notions. One had only to glance through the papers of a morning to find that out. Not only did they seem possessed of peculiar ideas as to what were their rights but they had rubbed backs with the English bulldog long enough to have caught the contagion of fearlessly asserting those rights. Some of these returned men certainly held life cheaply and had a way of taking the law into their own hands.
Layers rubbed a fat finger nervously beneath his number seventeen collar. All great men in history have had their weakness. Napoleon had a strong antipathy against black cats. Abraham Lincoln, it was said, would turn pale at sight of a small, harmless snake. Mr. Layers’ great fear was of firearms. Particularly, he dreaded the sight of a revolver. Of course nobody had ever guessed his weakness. No doubt those who knew him considered him immune to fear of any sort; but the fact was that the very “plop” of a Victoria Day fire-cracker was sufficient to throw' him into a cold sweat of fear. Yes, he dreaded firearms just that much.
He hadn’t seen young Strand since his return. He didn’t desire to see him. He had simply given his foreman orders not to allow the fellow on the factory grounds and had let it go at that.
Billings had taken Strand up: had given him a job. And now Billings v'anted to contract with him to take on his paints; had even agreed to shave the price to production cost to demonstrate their superior qualities.
MR. JOHN MILTON LAYERS as he leaned back in the swivel chair in his w'ell-appointed office, chuckled until the wrinkles in his fat neck shook like pale folds of mist under the touch of a soothing zephyr.
“Fool!” he murmured exultingly, “I’ve got him just about where I want him.”
Looking on the man as he sat curved in his chair, the round head thatched with reddish brown hair thrust aggressively forward from between massive shoulders, one was reminded of a white grub grown fat amidst the decay of once good timber. Which is precisely what Mr. John Milton Layers had done; for along the trail of his relentless climb to his present prosperity lay the husks of more than one promising business his borers had sapped of life.
Now' as his gaze strayed through the window to fasten on the slate w'aters of the bay, foam-flecked by a lashing autumn wind, the chuckle subsided to a hard, gloating smile.
Then, suddenly, as on the street directly beneath his window a motor backfired with a sharp report, he jumped as though he had been pricked by a needle. His hand shook as a finger pressed frantically one of a row of pearl buttons beneath his desk top.
“Thompson." he sternly addressed the subdued-looking per.-on who responded to the ring. >l,u know the rules about permitting cars to park in these grounds? V ell, damn it all." as the other gulped something unintelligible. there s one down there now. and it s making more noise than a machine gun. Get rid of it. d'ye hear ?
Thompson turned away, then hesitated.
“It's Mr. Sills, sir. of the firm Trembley and Sills." he vouchsafed apologetically. "He’s asked to see vou, sir.”
Continued on page 52
Continued from page 17
Layers glared at the man.
“Tell him I refuse to see him,” he growled.
Thompson went softly out. Mr. Layers settled back comfortably in his chair and lit a cigarette.
ITe squirmed erect as a brisk step sounded without and the door opened to admit the lawyer.
“Good morning,” accosted Mr. Sills pleasantly, dropping into a chair.
Layers’ small, grey eyes searched his visitor’s face. Then he gripped the arms of his chair and ponderously arose.
“Didn’t Thompson tell you that I refused to see you?” he asked with measured arrogance.
The lawyer smiled. “He did,” he replied easily. “But you see, I wasn’t sure but Thompson—like his illustrious employer—sometimes took too much for granted.”
He hitched his chair forward and leaned his elbows on the desk. Layers, his face an angry crimson, resumed his seat.
“Now just what do you mean by that?” he demanded truculently. “What makes you think I sometimes take too much for granted, Mr. Sills?”
“Don’t you?” the lawyer asked meaningly.
“In what respect, pray?”
Mr. Layers had curled himself into his old grublike attitude of imperturbability. He had a colossal if well-disguised respect for this man before him who was conceded to be the greatest lawyer in the province.
“The last time I had the pleasure of speaking to you,” resumed Mr. Sills, “you told me, I believe, that a certain client whose interests I was discussing with you, would come cringing to you on his knees within twenty-four hours. Am I right?”
Mr. Layers remained silent.
“Also you said, I think, that my client had about as much chance of winning a breach of contract suit against you as a snowball has of—”
“Hold on!” snarled Layers. “Just a minute now. I not only said it then but I say it again. Strand hasn't the shadow of a chance—and what’s more—you know it.”
“Excuse me,” interjected the lawyer. “I don’t remember having said that I considered he had a chance.”
“No,” grumbled the other, “you didn’t just say it in words. You must have thought it, though. You hinted that I might expect something of the kind, didn’t you?”
“Perhaps I did,” conceded Mr. Sills. “As a matter of fact I believe he could win against you, too.”
Layers laughed, sneeringly.
“He hasn’t the nerve, Sills,” he spoke gloatingly. “These returned men are all alike; full of whine but no grit in their craws.”
HE BANGED his fist on the table.
“Strand knows better than to attempt to buck me,” he snarled. “Why, I break better men than him every day— every day, I tell you. There’s none of ’em dare go up against John Milton Layers.” “Nevertheless,” spoke the lawyer quietly, “you know and I know that you gave Strand the rawest of raw deals.” “Bah!” jibed Layers. “Prove that I did. Prove it!”
“You deliberately stole his invention, the product of his brain, didn’t you?” “That’s a lie!” thundered the other. “Í—”
“Wait, I’ll put it another way. You promised verbally, to pay him ten thousand dollars for his muffler—and a royalty on each one installed.”
“He can’t prove that I made any such promise,” declared Layers.
“Look here,” he grated, a sullen threat in his voice, “you can’t come any of your cunning lawyer’s tricks on me, Sills. Don’t you try it. If young Strand can prove anything let him do it. That's my last word on the subject.”
He made a movement as though he considered the interview at an end. Sills held up a hand.
“My client,” he said levelly, “absolutely refuses to enter suit. So you are safe on that count.”
Mr Layers’ thin lips curved derisively. “As to that,” he returned airily, “I’m safe from that fourflusher any way you care to put it. He’s a liar, and he knows it. If you’re fool enough to believe him—” “I do believe him,” broke in the lawyer, “as all others who know him believe him. You’re going to find out that this is the most expensive double-cross you have ever put over, Mr. Layers.” The millionaire's pale orbs blinked. He sank back into his seat with almost a gasp. Sills allowed him to squirm for a time. Then he spoke decisively.
“I came here this morning to suggest that you do the square thing, Mr. Layers. As an employee, young Strand served' you faithfully for years. He trusted you implicitly; left his unpatented device in your hands when he enlisted for service overseas, believing you were a man of your
word. He returned a cripple to find his position in your office filled and you many thousands of dollars richer from what is morally his. You have refused steadfastly to see him, have given orders to your watchdogs to keep him away from you. You have deliberately robbed him of his invention and his faith in man.” Layers rose unsteadily. He waved a hand towards the door.
“Now, then,” he panted, “you get out of hereand stay out. I’m not going to he called a thief in my own office. If you t hink—”
Sills, too, had risen, was pointing a long finger at the manufacturer, sighting along it with slitted eyes. His tones, too, when he spoke again had in them something of the wispy sharpness of a report.
“If my client would listen to me, Layers, you’d not only agree to sign this agreement 1 hold here, hut you’d jump at the chance. Hut—he won't listen to me, and as far as I am concerned I’m through. I’ve told him so.”
Layers gave a wheezing laugh. “Too bad you’re going to miss your bit, Sills,” he sneered. “And what did he say when you told him that?” he asked.
Sills looked at the man with eyes that were contemptuously pitying.
“You don't deserve to know what he said,” he answered, “but I’m going to tell you. He said that he wasn’t exactly depending on the law to make you pay. His words were, ‘I'll make Layers pay in another way.' "
The wind-whipped branch of a tree slapped sharply against the window. John Milton Layers jumped as though he had felt the shock of a bullet.
Sills tossed a legal-looking document on the table. “You may as well have this to place among your other mementoes of victory,” he commented, and walked out of the office.
Left to himself Mr. Layers sat curved in his chair for many minutes. His face was back in its old fog-grey mask. He was again a fat grub secure amid the quiet of his borings.
By and by he stirred, sat heavily up and reached for the paper. Frowningly he read it through.
“I, J. M. Layers, Motor Boat Manufacturer of the city of Mountboro, Ontario, do hereby agree to pay to David Strand for all rights on the muffling device invented by him, the sum of ten thousand dollars. Also I agree to pay said David Strand two dollars royalty on every muffler installed.
With a muttered growj, Layers tossed the agreement into the waste-paper basket. Then he sat back and rubbed his fat hands together exultantly.
MR. RICHARD BILLINGS, tall, cadaverous, with tufted eyebrows that lifted enquiringly whenever he shot a question and fell scowlingly whenever that question was not answered to his satisfaction, leaned across his rosewood table and fixed his bright eyes on his sales manager, Puggsley.
“So that’s your excuse for not having secured the order from the Layers Motor Boat Company?” he asked, scathingly.
Puggsley squirming from tip to toe of his portly, well-groomed person, raised half-indignant orbs to the big boss of the Billings Paint and Yarnish Company.
“As I have told you, sir,” he replied, “it isn’t a question of product. Layers knows our paints are superior to those he now uses; in fact he admits as much; but—” Mr. Billings had dropped into his swivel-chair. “But what?” he asked sharply.
“He seems to hold some personal grievance against yourself, sir, if you will pardon my saying so," Puggsley finished.
At the words Mr. Billings’ tufted brows ceased shooting shutterlike up and down his corrugated brow. He sat very still, the tips of his long knobby fingers pressed together. To the sales manager his silence was ominous. For a full minute Mr. Billings sat looking away into distance. When he spoke again it was in quiet, unemotional tones.
“That being the case, Puggsley, the onus of failure switches from your shoulders to mine, it would seem.”
He reached for the morning letters. Puggsley inwardly congratulating himself on the clever manner in which he had muzzled the lion, rose with alacrity.
“There is nothing further, sir?” he asked.
“Nothing. You might give Miss Hope this memo, on your way out.”
MISS EVELYN HOPE was slight, brown-haired and brown-eyed; one of those demure, thrushlike girls at once the embodiment of efficiency and shyness that amounted almost to effacement. She was Richard Billings’ secretary. He had a colossal respect for her opinion of things, perhaps the more so because she never gave ifc until requested. To his friends he confessed that she knew quite as much about the business as he himself did. He might have gone farther and said quite truthfully that she knew infinitely more. For instance, Miss Hope knew that Puggsley, the sales manager, took himself a trifle too seriously and that Depiew, head of the advertising department, was not the man for the place; facts which worried her greatly because she wanted to see the Billings Paint and Yarnish Company forge ahead instead of losing ground among live competitors as it was now doing.
Billings, however, put every dependence in the heads of his departments; he believed each to be a select high-grade man. If any one of them failed to hit what he was aiming at he was promptly pulled on the carpet, questioned, and his explanation, if logical, accepted.
“I’ve got my finger on the pulse of this business, by George!” he used to tell them. “And I’ve got my eyes open, too.” But Miss Evelyn Hope had a finger on the pulse of the business also, a slim, sensitive finger—and her alert eyes were capable of seeing much that Billings’ eyes failed to see.
This morning she did not so much as glance up from her work as Puggsley laid the memo, before her on the desk. The sales manager lingered shooting his cuffs nervously and applying his handkerchief to a face now slightly puckered with the drawstrings of worry.
“The old man’s up in the air over that Layers order,” he vouchsafed at length.
Miss Hope was perusing the memo. “Indeed,” she answered absently.
“He got the plain facts from me. Gave ’em to him straight from the shoulder.” Puggsley manoeuvered hoping to get a glimpse of the memo., but a slim brown hand interposed itself between his line of vision and the faintly penciled words.
“So you gave it to him straight from the shoulder, did you?”
Miss Hope folded the slip of paper and placed it between the leaves of her notebook. Puggsley knew that she was smiling.
“Oh, hell,” he grated, mentally and turned on his heel.
He swung about at the sweetly uttered words, came slowly back to the mahogany desk. There was in his attitude something of the guilt of a fat setter who having committed a misdemeanor is being called to heel.
MISS HOPE was standing, a slender streak of tweed-clad femininity, beside her chair. There was no smile upon her face now. It was grave and a little reproachful, Puggsley thought.
“I couldn’t help it, Miss Hope,” he blurted, “honest, I couldn’t. He simply would have the truth, and it was only fair to my staff that I give it to him.”
She nodded with sympathetic understanding. It was this that made her beloved and feared in every department of the business; her wonderful understanding of its intricate machinery, her frequent readjustment of wheels that sometimes failed to function properly.
“I can understand Mr. Billings' disappointment,” she said slowly. “Naturally just at this time the Layers’ order would mean a great deal to us.”
“It would,” nodded Puggsley, moodily. “With business slacker than a politician’s conscience and our salesmen not making expenses, a ten thousand dollar order would be a plum worth the picking. Besides, once old Layers gave our paints a trial he’d never use any other brand.” “And there’s no chance of securing the order, you think?"
Puggsley threw out his hands. "Absolutely none.”
Miss Hope frowned. If there was anything she detested, it was a showing of surrender.
“I’m sure,” she said sweetly, turning
her brown eyes full upon him, "you could
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 54
book that order ■ if you went after it
yourself, Mr. Puggsley.”
The sales manager shook his head. He was fully conscious of the compliment conveyed in the statement, a compliment he considered well-deserved. He was certainly some little “go-getter,” he believed.
“But you see, Miss Hope,” he explained, “it simply can’t be done. Old Layers holds a personal grudge against Mr. Billings. In some manner the boss, has stepped on his corns. I saw Layers only this morning, hoping I might talk him over—and that’s what he told me, not in so many words y’understand, but by his manner. Layers is just another example of a good man spoiled by the war. He used to be half-decent, but now he’s a human octopus. Since reaching out his tentacles and amassing millions by drawing into his maw the smaller competitors in his line, he’s become so arrogant and big-headed he’s well-nigh unapproachable.”
Miss Hope was gazing absent-mindedly through the doorway which commanded a partial view of the advertising department. Her eyes were on a slight young man standing before a long wall-desk. His head, crowned with a shock of thick, black hair, was bent in an engrossed manner above some papers. His right arm hung loosely by his side, the hand hidden in his coat pocket.
“Spoiled by the war,” she repeated Puggsley’s words half sadly.
PUGGSLEY stood as though waiting for her to say more. Then, as she resumed her seat at her desk, he turned to leave the office. At the door he paused and boring a stubby forefinger of his right hand into the palm of his left, spoke in a voice meant to be thoroughly convincing.
“What we need, Miss Hope, and what we’ve got to have, is a line of advertising dope that will make the trade sit up and hearken. You can’t just sell a commodity on mere horse-power and personality. My salesmen are all A-l men with records to prove it. But they’re having their hearts broken because a bunch of dud copy-writers out there can’t get sufficient live advertising over to secure them a hearing, let alone pave the way to the dotted line. I’m not throwing any bricks, y’ understand,” as Miss Hope looked up slowly, “nor making any personal insinuations. I’m simply stating a bald fact that must be faced if Billings’ paints and varnishes are to continue to be a commodity on the market.”
With a vicious yank he drew from a pocket a green trade journal and returning to Miss Hope’s desk, snatched it open.
“Look here,” he exclaimed, disgustedly. “Just lamp that go-cinch-’em line the Smotherdove paint people are throwing. That’s the kind of advertising talk that greases the thorny track of the salesman.” He handed her the journal and stood frowning down as she perused the advertisement.
“Great stuff, eh?” he enthused as she looked up.
“Very good, indeed,” Miss Hope agreed, “but no better I think than what I have here.”
She drew from a pigeon-hole a few typed sheets of foolscap and passed them to Puggsley.
Her eyes were fastened upon his face as he read. She saw his moody eyes suddenly light, a grin wipe the grouch-lines from his mouth.
“Say!” he chuckled, figuratively hugging himself as he dropped into a chair, “this is sure the diamond-dust stuff that’ll light the way to orders. By cracky! Miss Hope, it’s great. Who wrote this dope, anyway? I’m betting my life it wasn’t Depiew!"
Miss Hope did not answer. She was gazing through the door to where a young man stood beside the wall-desk in the advertising room.
Mr. Puggsley’s eyes followed her gaze. “Gosh!” he spoke, in an awed whisper. “Did he write it?”
Miss Hope simply nodded. There was a faint flush on lier olive-tinted cheeks. Puggsley leaned toward her eagerly. “It’s a sure guess you didn't find that, out from Depiew,” he said dryly. “He’d want to hog all the credit for himself. Say!” he exclaimed, “that young Strand must have brains. I’d like to steal him for mv department.”
'“No doubt you could use him,” Miss Hope murmured, gently.
Continued on page 59
Puggsley gave a start. “Eh? What’s that?” he asked, reddening.
“I was just wondering,” said Miss Hope, “if it might not be a good move to transfer him from Depiew’s department to your own.”
She smiled winsomely. But for once Mr. Puggsley dodged its radiance like a tried old swimmer who glimpses rocks ahead.
“Nothing doing, my dear,” he said firmly. “I’ll admit Strand is a fine chap, clever and deserving of every consideration; a darned good worker too, in spite of his handicap—but—”
His right finger again bored his left palm to emphasize his point.
“He doesn’t know paint well enough to sell it and that’s all there is to that. Besides,” he added quickly, as the girl’s lips framed themselves to speak, “our selling force is top-heavy now. I’m thinking of bringing Grantley and Wylde into the office until the present depression lifts a little.”
“Excuse me,” said Miss Hope sweetly, “but I hadn’t quite finished. I wasn’t suggesting that Mr. Strand be given a permanent place on your staff, but only long enough to secure the Layers order.”
Mr. Puggsley gasped in sheer amazement. Surely his ears had deceived him. Miss Hope wasn’t at all inclined to joke— and yet she had just uttered one huge one. Was it possible that she seriously believed young Strand capable of hypnotizing old John Milton Layers—who had turned down three of his star salesmen and himself —into appending his signature to a real order? Say! This was a trifle thick. Mr. Puggsley rose with dignity.
Miss Hope’s brown hand reached out. Her slender fingers slipped through a buttonhole of his checked coat.
“Don’t be cross,” she coaxed. “He is really a wonderful boy, Mr. Puggsley.”
The sales manager’s face rippled in an understanding smile.
“My dear girl,” he said, giving the holding hand a fatherly pat, “of course he is, if you say so.”
His smile grew into an unholy chuckle.
“Poor Depiew,” he murmured, and pinching one of the flushed cheeks trotted from the room.
OUT in the hall Mr. Puggsley all but collided with a tall, immaculatelydressed young man who carried a brown Burberry on his arm and wore a rose-bud in his lapel. He stepped aside favoring the sales manager with a cool, supercilious stare.
“Why the self-satisfied smirk, Puggsley?” he drawled. “Looks as though with your aptitude for dodging issues, you’ve managed to keep outside of the sweep of the old lion’s claws again, what?” “Why, as to that,” returned Puggsley, amicably, “it wasn’t at all necessary to dodge; there were no claws in evidence, my dear Depiew. The boss simply called me in to discuss a certain matter—with which you will no doubt become conversant in good time, as it affects your department of the business to some extent.” “That so?”
The advertising manager transferred his coat from his right arm to his left and produced a monogrammed cigarette case.
“And since when, might I ask, has the boss seen fit to bestow upon Mr. E. R. Puggsley the complimentary radiance of his confidence?” he sneered.
“Why, ever since Mr. E. R. Puggsley discovered the real reason for the decline in orders for his paints and varnishes, it would seem,” grinned Puggsley. “Which I might say—was only recently.”
Depiew spoke between puffs, as he lit his cigarette.
“It must have been—quite a blow—to —your pride, old man, to be obliged to confess the weakness of your department. Rather a come-down from the high horse, eh?”
“Oh,” returned Puggsley, pleasantly, “nothing at all like that, my friend. You see, the old man is pretty shrewd himself; as a matter of fact he had already concluded that the advertising department was responsible. He simply wanted my corroboration, that’s all.”
With an ironical bow he made as though he would pass on. Depiew caught him by the arm.
“So,” he flared, “you’ve descended to that sort of thing, eh? Trying the doublecross method, are you? We’ll see how far you get with it.”
“Easy now,” Puggsley jerked himself free. “I haven’t tried anything of the
sort, Depiew. You know and I know that your advertising is punk and always has been. If you and your staff were to pool your brains you couldn’t scrape up one original business-cinching idea among you.”
“Hold on there!”
Depiew, his anger somewhat cooled by the cold douche of unrefutable fact, was his old, sneering self again.
“I’m not claiming much for the ads. we’ve been running recently, Puggsley, but I’ve been writing a line of my own lately that isn’t so bad. It’s bound to make a killing. You cast your fishy eyes on it, my fat little disturber of the peace, and see if you’ve got vision enough to see its fetching qualities. I don’t think you’ve got it, Puggsley, but anyway, drop in on Miss Hope and ask her to let you see the new copy.”
“I’ve already seen it,” Puggsley returned. “And it is good stuff.”
“Oh, you admit that it’s good, do you?” Depiew pushed his tweed hat further back on his well-poised head and rocked to and fro on his heels.
“Too bad you couldn’t be fair-minded enough to tell the old man that.”
“I only this minute saw the copy,” Puggsley bridled. “Miss Hope showed it to me. By the way,” he asked quizzically, “how does she happen to have it by her? You don’t as a rule give everybody a opportunity of reading your dynamic effusions before they are in print, do you?” Depiew smiled mockingly.
“My dear, fat, little man,” he said sardonically, “Miss Hope is the one person in this museum of antiques capable of judging and appreciating real creative genius when she sees it. She’s a mighty clever girl.”
“She is,” conceded Puggsley. “Too clever to allow you to fool her into thinking you wrote that copy, my boy.”
He turned on his heel—then stood considering.
“Depiew,” he spoke worriedly, “this isn’t any time for you and I to be spatting. Do you know that the Billings Paint and Varnish Company—•?”
“I know,” shrugged Depiew. “It’s up to you, Puggsley. Cinch old John Milton Layers’ order or—”
He threw out his hands in a gesture of resignation.
“Depiew,” Puggsley confided, dismally, “it simply can’t be done. Old Layers has it in for Billings and won’t unbend an inch.”
“What’s the old money-grub’s grouch?” he asked.
“David Strand,” Puggsley answered. “You know the story. Well, old Layers as much as told me that not until Billings fired Strand would he consider doing business with us.”
“Then why doesn’t Billings fire the fellow?” he asked. “It’s the only thing to do.”
Puggsley shook his head.
“I guess you don’t know Dick Billings very well. He’ll never fire young Strand. He loves the boy like a son.”
“Rubbish,” scoffed Depiew. “You and the boss make me sick, Puggsley. You’re not fit for business. You should be keeping an Old Man’s Home.”
HE SWUNG away down the hall to his own department. He walked straight across to where David Strand stood working beside the wall-desk.
“Strand,” he spoke abruptly, “step into my office.”
He went on and Strand followed. Depiew closed the door after them.
“Sit down,” he invited, pointing to a chair.
“Strand,” he said, as they seated themselves, “when you applied to Mr. Billings for a job I agreed to take you in this department for a month on probation. Remember?”
Strand nodded. He was gazing through the window at a white launch ploughing up the bay beneath leaden skies, swiftly silently, cleaving the wind-whipped waves. He did not hear Depiew’s next words.
The advertising manager repeated them. “I say the month is up to-day, | Strand.”
“And I’m afraid—”
“You needn’t go on, Mr. Depiew,” Strand interrupted quietly, “I have made up my mind to resign.”
“What’s that?” Depiew sat bolt up| right in his chair.
"I’m leaving on Saturday,” Strand told
Depiew relaxed, fumbled for his cigarette-case. This greatly simplified matters.
"Of course if you’ve decided to quit,” he said "that’s your affair. Might I ask what you intend to do?”
"1 haven’t decided.”
Strand made as though to rise but Depiew held up his hand.
"Just a minute,” he spoke condescendingly. “Times, as you are aware, are deplorably dull. You might find difficulty in fitting in somewhere, you know. It lias just occurred to me that you might undertake to write me some advertising copy on the side, as it were. It would he a personal arrangement between the two of us and I would pay you well for any stuff accepted. What do you say?”
“That’s very considerate of you.” Depiew’s color deepened; his quick eyes flashed to the other’s pale, impassive face. There was nothing there to indicate that the reply had been meant for a barb.
“Then supposing we consider it settled,” he suggested.
Strand arose and walked slowly out of the office.
RICHARD BILLINGS was seated at his desk, his knobby fingers clasped above a sheet of paper bearing long arrays of figures, when the door opened and Strand entered. He walked straight to the desk and stood before his employer. His right hand was in his coat pocket and as he gazed into the questioning eyes gleaming up from that lean rugged face, his left swept down to rest upon its maimed mate.
“What is it, David?”
The voice was gentle. The eyes raised to his were weary-looking and very patient. Strand was reminded of an aged lion he had once seen in a London zoo; a grand old monarch who had ceased to dream of his desert wastes, and, caged, awaited the end. Something gripped stranglingly at his throat. This big, kindly man had been his friend and counsellor for years. A mist swam before his eyes. When it cleared he saw that strong, lined face hack again in its impenetrable fighting-mask. The tones were almost stern as the question came again. “What is it, David?”
“Mr. Billings,” said Strand, “I wish to ask you something which I fear you may consider presumptuous.”
“Ask it, my boy.”
“To-day,” continued Strand, “I heard that unless we secure the contract from the Layers Motor Boat Company this company must close its doors. Is that true?”
Billings crashed a bony fist on the desk. “Who told you that,” he growled. “Nobody told me. I simply chanced to overhear it.”
“Well, there’s no use denying it. It’s true enough.”
Strand leaned across the table toward the man slumped in his chair.
“I,” he said, “alone am responsible for the loss of that order.”
“You?” Billings swayed upright in his seat. “You’re crazy, David.”
Strand shook his head. “Layers would like to use vour paints, Mr. Billings, but he’s sore a: you for giving me a helping hand wher he did his best to drive me out of town.”
“Now look here, my hoy,” Billings’ laugh was well-feigned, “just you use a little common sense. Can you imagine a man in John Milton Layers’ position doing anything quite so childish as that? Nonsense, David, sheer nonsense! Put that idea straight out of that rattle head of yours.”
“Mr. Billings ” Strand’s voice wasn’t just steady, “you, yourself, are too big a man to he capable of understanding just what a man of Layers’ type might do. I know him through and through. I know that he’s holding out on you on account of some personal grudgeand I know what that particular grudge is.”
Billings sighed deeply. He loved this hoy standing before him as he loved a son. Perhaps for that very reason he found it impossible to dissemble further.
A folded order-form lay on the desk before him. He reached for it, his knobby fingers closing on it fumhlingly.
“If we could only induce Layers to write his name on the dotted line,” he spoke wearily, “we would have a new lease of life. Put he won’t sign, David.”
Strand reached for the paper, fingered it open on the desk and with frowning eyes perused what was there written.
“At manufacturer’s cost for one year,” he read.
He tapped the paper angrily. Scratch those words out,” he ordered crisply, “and substitute, ‘at market price for a period of three years.’ ”
Billings looked up slowly, stared for a long moment into Strand’s set face, then with a shrug and as though indulging the whim of a child, dipped a pen in ink and made the suggested change in the wording of the agreement.
“Now then,” he smiled wryly, “is. there anything else I can do to oblige you, David?”
“Yes,” shot back Strand. You can fire me.”
“Just that, sir.”
Billings’ head went up with a jerk.
“I’ll be damned if I will,” he roared. “What the Sam Hill do you take me for, David? I’ll see Milton Layers in—”
“Mr. Billings,” Strand’s voice interrupted, “please let me have my way. I know what I’m doing, sir. You admit the securing of this order means being able to continue in business. I believe I can secure it.” _ . , _
“But I’ll not fire you, David, if I never get the order,” Billings declared.
“Very well, sir. You needn’t. I resign; but I’m going to tell Layers I got kicked out, and if he asks corroboration of you, you’re to back me up.”
He smiled and held out his hand.
“Wish me good luck, sir.”
Billings gripped the hand. His lean face was working. He tried to say something, failed, and swung back to the desk.
As the door creaked he recovered his voice.
“David,” he spoke without turning, “you’re sure an optimist; but you re going to learn you have undertaken something you can’t finish.”
AFTER he had closed the door behind him Strand stood for a moment in the dark, silent corridor. A whimsical smile relieved the sadness of his face. He fully realized the significance of his action and what it must cost him. What he had inadvertently learned from the conversation between Depiew and Puggsley had at first stunned him. He had been deeply touched by the generous sacrifice of the man who had befriended him. At least he would always have that sustaining knowledge to buoy him when the unfriendly sea received its bit of driftwood again.
He intended to go straight to John Milton Layers and tell him that Billings had discharged him. He would make a bargain with the man. If Layers would sign the order on which the very life of the Billings Paint and Varnish Company depended, he would agree to withdraw all claim against him and go out from this place and its people forever.
He believed Layers would do it. He figured that in spite of the order Layers had given not to allow him on the premises, it would not be difficult for him to reach the millionaire. He had friends in the office.
Like a man groping his way, he went on down the corridor, his left hand pressed against the one in his right pocket. Reaching Miss Hope’s office he glanced in through the half-open doorway. He glimpsed Depiew’s graceful form leaning above her desk.
Strand went on, his face a trifle whiter. Once he spoke agonizingly below his breath to the quivering thing beneath his left hand.
The blonde copy-typist stared as he lifted down his h t and coat from its peg.
“Good gracious!” she whispered. “What’s the matter, Mr. Strand?”
“Nothing,” he answered. “I’m going out for an hour or so, Miss Neilson. Please be good enough to tell Mr. Depiew.”
Her blue eyes followed him from the room.
“You poor, plucky little devil,” she murmured.
Just outside the room Strand met Depiew face to face. The advertising manager was frowning. He looked like a man who had received unwelcome news.
“Where are you off to?” he accosted Strand sharply.
“Out,” answered Strand shortly, and proceeded on his way.
Depiew gazed somberly after him. “It’s a damned pity you ever came in,” he grated.
Miss Hope’s soft voice called to Strand as he passed her door.
He paused and from the doorway gazed in at her.
She came over to him and put her hands on his shoulders.
“I was just going to Mr. Billings,” she said. “He phoned me that—”
The brown eyes fell. The scarlet lips were trembling. Strand looked away. This was the hardest thing of all. The unfriendly sea which was to receive him once more would not seem so cold and unfriendly if only he might occasionally glimpse his beacon-light. But his light must be left behind.
His hand swept down to close on the two that had fallen and clung tightly clenched before her. Gently he led her to a chair. He closed the door and returning, stood beside her. Strangely, his maimed hand had ceased its protests.
“Evelyn,” he spoke strainedly, “Can it be possible—?”
She was silent. Her face was buried in her hands. He withdrew them, lifted the face until the brown, swimming eyes looked into his.
“You care?” he murmured, hoarsely.
She withdrew her hands from his clasp, raised them to his face, let them rest warmly against his cheeks.
“Didn’t I tell you—once, David?” she questioned softly.
“But,” he groaned, “that was—before I—. Look at me now, Evelyn. A fragment of what I then was. Oh—” He broke from himself, strained her to him. “Don’t you understand?”
“I am a woman, David,” she whispered. “There are some things no woman can ever understand.”
“But Depiew?” he spoke quickly. “I thought—seeing you so much together—”
She laughed a soft gurgling laugh of happiness.
“David, dear,” she said, “there are some things no man can ever understand either.”
She stepped a pace back from him, shook a finger admonishingly as he made to follow.
“Wait, David. I’m a business woman. These are business hours; consequently— let’s talk business. Let me tell you, then, that if you leave this firm—I leave, too.”
He stared at her in bewilderment.
“You care enough for that?” he asked wonderingly.
She picked up his coat and hat from the chair where he had thrown them.
“Man,” she cried with mock sternness, “we are stealing our boss’s time. Tonight will be our own. Go now—and David, boy, remember I believe that you can get anything you go after.”
She threw the coat over his arm, placed the hat upon it. Then one hand rested for an instant on his bowed head, the other touched with tender sympathy his own pressed against his jacket pocket.
Tenderly, reverently he kissed her.
Then, head up, walking on air, he strode out and slammed the door behind him.
MR. JOHN MILTON LAYERS, as he drove from his palatial home on Bayview Drive to his office, was in an exceedingly bad humor. He had slept illy and his breakfast had been spoiled completely by a cursory, between-sips perusal of the morning paper. Lurid accounts of three hold-ups and an attempted murder by a gunman were more than sufficient to rob any man, hating firearms as did Mr. Layers, of his appetite.
Usually he walked to and from his office. He was getting too heavy and needed the exercise. But this morning he wasn’t walking. No sir! The world was upside down; was being run by a lot of fanatical murderers who had taken the law into their own hands; returned soldiers for the most part, likely. Yes, sir! He would be willing to wager a million that ninety per cent, of those fellows were responsible for the crime happening in the country to-day. They ought to ostracize the whole bunch. Jail ’em. Throw them in lunatic asylums.
It was ten-thirty when Mr. Layers arrived at his office. He waddled past the busy staff of clerks with a scowl on his face that made each member bend closer above his desk. Once ensconced in his lair, as his hard-working subordinates called it, he settled himself before his desk and summoned Thompson.
“Have you drawn the week’s salary money yet?” he asked as that meek and wholly-trusted individual appeared.
"Yes, sir,” Thompson answered.
“Then go fetch it.”
Thompson effaced himself. Layers curved low in his chair and smiled. He loved to see his help grovel, loved to see them fairly fall over themselves to obey his commands.
He was still smiling when Thompson returned with a black leather club bag.
"The usual amount, 1 presume?” Layers asked, reaching for it.
"Yes, sir. Ten thousand dollars.”
“Allright. Get out.”
Mr. Layers’ smile vanished as his fingers felt the oily smoothness of the hills, lie loved money and he hated to pay it out; what if every dollar of this before him represented ten, say, earned for him by its recipient? Gang it, money was money.
Two years previous the cash drawn for the weekly payroll had been found to be two dollars short. Since that time Layers himself had always counted it.
This morning it was correct to a cent. As he replaced it in the bag his eyes fell on a legal-looking document lying on his desk. It was the insulting parchment which Sills had hurled at him as a parting shot yesterday; the agreement which he had suggested Layers sign in favor of David Strand. The fool janitor in cleaning up must have found it in the wastepaper basket and thought it had got dropped in there by mistake. That, John Milton told himself furiously, would cost the meddler his job.
It was with something of the curiosity of a bully to gloat on his helpless victim that Mr. Layers picked up the paper and settling back in his chair read it through for the second time! It thrilled him to think that he had been able to beat the cleverest lawyer in the province. He was surprised that a man of Sills’ reputation for business astuteness should have harbored the vaguest hope that he would be such a fool as to sign this thing, and pay over his good money to a crippled down-and-outer.
John Milton Layers bent and opened the bottom drawer of his desk. In that drawer were papers of a nature similar to this one he held. He would keep it also to read and enjoy from time to time as he did the others.
As he unlocked the drawer to the left of him something clicked metallically, wispyclear as the cocking of a pistol.
WITH a gasp Layers started up.
White-faced he stared at the man who stood with his back against the door, his right hand in his coat pocket.
Layers’ staring eyes were on the man’s sinisterly-bulging pocket. That’s how they all did it; those assassins. Shot from the pocket.
David Strand approached the desk slowly. There was a strange gleam in his eyes.
Layers, his fat jaw sagging slowly until its treble folds brushed his chest, was the first to speak, his voice raspy and thin, weak as the heart within him.
"I’m going to do the right thing—by you—Strand, as God’s my Judge.”
He pointed a shaking finger at the paper on the desk.
“I—was just about to sign-—this agreement. Oh God!—Don’t look at me like that,” he whined. “See, I’ll sign it now.”
Eagerly, tremblingly, he unfolded the agreement and dipping a pen in ink wrote his name quaveringly across its bottom.
Still David Strand did not speak. His left hand swept down to rest upon his right, that was all.
Layers recoiled, holding his hand before his eyes.
“Don’t,” he pleaded. “See,” eagerly, “I have your money ready. The ten thousand dollars that 1 promised you.” He pushed the bag toward Strand.
“If there’s anything else I can do I’m willing to do it.” he whimpered.
“Wait,” spoke Strand levelly. “Let me get this straight. You mean to tell me that this money—ten thousand dollars you say—is mine?”
Strand picked up the agreement and glanced through it hurriedly. “And you fully agree to the terms of this contract?" “Yes.”
“You are willing to do more—you say?" “Yes, yes.”
From an inner pocket Strand drew another contract. He threw it on the table. With his burning gaze holding Layers, he spoke.
“Sign on the dotted line.”
“What—what is this?” Layers asked cringingly.
“A plain order for Billings’ paints and varnishes,” Strand replied. “Going to sign it?”
For answer Layers seized a pen and wrote his name on the dotted line.
“All right,” Strand placed both contracts in his pocket. He snapped the bag shut and holding it in his left hand gazed down at the limp man in the chair.
“Look here, Strand,” quavered the wretched Layers, “for a long time I’ve suffered the torments of the damned. I’ve been afraid you would gun me. You’re feeling all right now, though? We’re—friends again?”
To this Strand made no answer.
“You won’t shoot me, Strand,” pleaded Layers. “I have your promise?”
“I never had any intention of shooting you,” he said.
Layers struggled up in his chair.
“Why, Strand, you’ve been holding a gun on me ever since you entered this
office. For God’s sake take your hand out of your pocket.”
Strand removed the maimed hand and thrust it before the other’s eyes.
Slowly, as he gazed, the pallor of fear left Layers’ cheeks. A deep flush—as of shame—leaped from throat to brow.
“And,” he whispered wonderingly, “you held me up with that'.”
“Isn’t it enough?” Strand asked, huskily.
John Milton Layers struggled up from his chair.
“Enough?” he repeated. “Yes, by God! More than enough.”
He felt beaten, humiliated—small.
Perhaps in his inner consciousness he was realizing that war leaves inner as well as outer scars. He had been given a glimpse of his own soul.
He pointed to the door.
“Take your money, and go,” he spoke, pantingly. “And remember, Strand— we’re quits.”
Strand’s eyes were on his maimed hand. He seemed to address it rather than the man before him as, softly, he repeated, “we’re quits.”