Mr. Spendthrift and Mr. Tightwad
Some husbands and wives start out in life to save every penny. Others say: ‘‘What's the use?” This modern short story may seem un-moral, but read between the lines and see which one is really the liver business man.
THE honeymoon had set and it was the gray Monday of workaday reality. The two young men who had emerged from the fragrance of orange blossoms to flowerless office hours were glad to have their brand-new wives come down to lunch with them. Meeting by chance at the same restaurant and being friends, they drifted to the same table and sat together, less because they wanted to than because they were too shy to separate.
They looked into one another’s changed eyes like new members of a secret society—with a sense of being initiated into mysteries that had not proved so mysterious as they had expected. Their one mystery remaining was the future, a rugged mountain, a hard climb, a life-long scramble, with footholds uncertain, the path broken and all to make, across scarps and crags hitherto concealed and flattered by the rosy haze that was now behind them.
Of course they could not discuss the raptures they had endured, and from sheer embarrassment the girls began to gasp at the prices on the bill of fare. They were still girls playing with enlarged dolls and it delighted them to pretend to take life seriously. Before long life would take them seriously.
During their courtships the young men had won prestige with their sweethearts by assuming a hangthe-expensive devil-may-carefulness. They atoned for their duets of extravagance by solos of rigid economy.
But now they had no more privacy, no more solitude, no more secrets. And now it did not look so considerate to waste on a meal what might buy a pair of gloves or stockings.
The young wives set the new key and squealed about the price of foods, the burglarious qualities of caterers and the simplicity of their appetites. They tossed off wise saws about putting something by for their old age —it was exquisite to talk about old age at this distance from it.
The young business men gazed on their wives with a new sort of adoration. A woman can rarely resist the flattery of seeing money spent on her, but a man can never resist the thrill of seeing money saved for him.
During the nuptial flight, each husband had suppressed his anguish at seeing the cash gush out, but now it was wonderful for Sam Starling to hear his priceless Phebe say to the wife of Lucius Pelton:
“It was simply ghastly the way poor Sam spent money on our trip! I felt like an embezzler, robbing my poor hard-working laddie of his life’s blood.”
It was wonderful for Lucius Pelton to hear his priceless Laura agree with Sam’s wife, and go her one better: “Tjust couldn’t stand it. It was highway robbery. I had to put my foot down or my poor husband would have squandered all his savings on me.”
This emboldened Sam Starling to take a serious note: “If we’re going to succeed in life we’ve all got to face this money thing sensibly. My personal angel and I have agreed to conduct our home on a strictly business basis: start a savings account, keep a little tin bank on the home shelf for spare dimes and quarters, run the little old paradise on a little old budget and never spend a cent before we get it. ‘A penny saved is a penny earned,’ is our motto, and the end of the year is going to find us with something between us and the cold west wind.”
Lucius and Laura Pelton looked at each other and nodded sagely. Laura said:
“It’s the only way. A husband who lets his wife run him into debt is doing her no favor.”
.Sam went on eagerly: “It’s the budget that does it. As old B. Franklin put it, ‘Great estates may venture more, but little boats must keep near shore.’ And he said another mouthful: ‘A shilling income, sixpence spent, fortune; sixpence income, a shilling spent, poverty.’ So Mrs. Starling and I are going in for high thinking and low living and all that sort of thing, eh, Phebe?”
“Right, Mr. Gellegher!” said Phebe, who economized on thought by using familiar catchwords.
They rattled on like a quartet of bankers juggling fractional percentages, till the luncheon had arrived at the last course: the bill. Both men fought for the check and each wife hoped that the other’s husband would capture it. When the men compromised on splitting the amount, neither wife could forgive her own husband.
A curious little rivalry had already begun when the couples parted and went to their separate Edens. On the way thither each pair stopped at a toy store and bought a savings bank for the wife to take home. When Sam came in for dinner he smiled at the petty coffer and patted it. Then he emptied his pockets of silver and praised the pleasant rattle of the coins as they dropped:
“Sweetest music in the world!”
Unfortunately when the hall boy ushered in their baggage, Sam had no quarter to tip him or the baggage man with. Sam looked regretfully at the stout little bank and gave each a dollar bill. Phebe wailed at the sight, but Sam explained.
“It’s always a good investment to tip handsomely at the start, angel o’ mine. It keeps the servants on the jump.”
Phebe liked him for this. Since a tip is a gift, she could not bear a man who took off a discount for cash.
About the same time the Pelton trunks were coming in from their train. The modest apartment had no hall boy, but the baggage man lingered so eloquently that Lucius felt in his pocket for a bit of God-speed. He found two dimes and a nickel, and gave the panting giant one of the dimes. When he had shuffled out Laura commented:
“He didn’t even say thank you!”
Lucius, who was inclined to blame himself easily, said: “I really deserve it, my dear. A tip is an insult to a free-born American. It’s ruinous to character. And besides, the company pays him for what he did, and I paid the company for delivering the trunks.” He deposited the remaining coins in the stronghold on the mantel. Laura was pleased with the far-away plunk-plunk they made.
The next noon when Phebe started for the heart of town to lunch with Sam, the hall-boy gave her a smile of homage and asked if he might call her a taxi. She had planned to take the subway, but she was one of those who feel obliged to live up to the expectations of servants, and she nodded. The boy swept her into the cab with a homage that warmed the heart of the driver. He talked cheerily overshoulder all the way down-town and Phebe paid him well for his cordiality.
WHEN Laura set out for her noon rendezvous with Lucius, she remembered that he had told her to take a taxicab: it saved money, shoe leather and risk. He was always thinking of her, and she repaid him by taking the subway. She had so far to walk at both ends of her route that she arrived late. This left them only time for a brief snack at a cheap restaurant near the office, so they did not meet the Starlings. But they were not sorry for this and they made a lark of seeing which could eat the less. Crackers and milk made up Lucius’s fare. They never agreed with him, but he felt that this was his own fault as he had heard them highly recom-
mended. They sat ill on his stomach all afternoon and a nagging headache occupied a good deal of attention. But it was nothing to the headache Laura enjoyed as a result of the solitary salad she ate. Or so Lucius judged from her vivid descriptions when he reached home.
By the time dinner came they were both miserable, but they persevered in their new policy and their dinner was a triumph of simplicity. They spent a profitable evening making a budget. It proved a fascinating topic.
When Sam Starling, the inspirer of budgets, met his own bride that night, he brought home a long face because he had lost an order by a bit of bad luck. Phebe showed what a helpmeet she was by saying:
“I suppose we’ll have to go without any dinner at all to make up for it.”
But Sam was of a different mind. “Not on your life, angel wings! When I’m blue I wants my vittles pretty. We’ll have a good dinner and see a good play and I’ll get my courage back for a hot fight with misfortune to-morrow.”
He forced the protesting Phebe to put on her best bib and tucker and accompany him to a gilded cafe.
The dinner was a feast and it lifted Sam so high that he kept his wife in gales of laughter at nothing but his high spirits. When it came to theatre tickets he telephoned three box-offices in vain. So he called up a speculator and paid double the tariff for two box seats at the reigning success. There were no cheaper seats to be had.
While he and Phebe were rolling down-town in the cascade of automobiles they were laughing at their broken pledges of economy and resolving to be good children on the morrow.
As chance would have it, they were crowded in with a millionaire whom Sam had met at a club. Between
the acts they fell into conversation and when Mr. Pennington presented Sam to his wife, Sam had to present the millionaire to his wife, and the wives to each other.
When the comedy was over the Penningtons dragged the Starlings off to supper at the Ritz. They danced and grew famously acquainted.
At last the check was brought up with its shameful face turned to the plate. Sam seized it before Pennington could lay hold of it and though it made him gulp, Sam paid it and added a tip that convinced the waiter of his importance.
They were taken home in the Pennington limousine and were glad that they had rented an apartment with a good front and a gorgeous lobby. Mrs. Pennington asked Phebe to lunch with her at the Colony Club the next day.
Not being a member of the club, Phebe could not pay the check; so she invited Mrs. Pennington and her husband to dinner the following week.
When she made her confession to Sam that afternoon she expected him to howl bloody murder. But he patted her on the shoulder and said:
“You and I are cut out of the same cloth, cherub cheeks. When a rich man gives me a luncheon, I retort with a dinner. As long as our money lasts, let’s hold up our end. When it’s gone, we’ll hide in the woods.”
Phebe hugged him. There was a quality about him that she found adorable. “We’re a pair of criminals,” she said, “and we’ll end up in the poor-house.”
He clenched her to his bosom and sang: “Ah, poor a house were paradise with thou!” Since they were out on the road to bankruptcy it seemed foolish to put on the brakes. They might as well coast. So on the day before the Pennington dinner Sam called on Auguste, the maitre d’hotel of the costliest tavern in town, and prefaced his remarks with a bill which he folded small and pressed into the ever-ready palm. People sometimes did that to the master in order to conceal the fact that the bill was of the smallest amount printed; but something in Sam’s manner convinced Auguste that Sam was concealing generosity instead of parsimony, and when he had the opportunity to examine it his suspicions were confirmed: it was a double X. In any case, Auguste took as much interest in the composition of the meal as if it were a sonnet for an anthology.
The dinner was concise but artistic; every line was a gem and the lines rhymed magically. The Penningtons, being rich, were not afraid of praise, and being used to simple foods they reveled in the feast as if they were newsboys at a Salvation Army Christmas dinner.
Sam and Phebe learned how grateful a millionaire is when somebody does something for him instead of expecting him to do everything for everybody.
Not to flinch the conclusion, Sam praised the waiter and left him a fitting token for the grace and graciousness of the service. With this money the waiter bought himself a new pair of shoes for his weary feet and whenever Sam appeared in the restaurant he was greeted as royalty. Sam was sane enough to accept this tribute as rather fraternal than financial, and that no bounder flinging twice as much on the plate as if it were a crust for a dog could ever win the peculiar benediction that conscientious waiters confer on people who regard a good restaurant as a temple and its staff as priests.
But virtue has its mornings-after as well as vice, and Sam was so strapped that he borrowed Phebe’s last dime to get him to the office. There he put up a poor mouth about being a bridegroom and got an advance on commissions he.had not.earned.
As for Phebe, she spent the whole forenoon jouncing the inverted savings bank in vain, then fished in its depths with a hairpin-till-she finally burglarized the dollar and thirty-five cents that Sam had poured into it so glibly. This got her to the office, and Sam, seeing how miserable she was over her theft from the savings bank, bought her a gorgeous luncheon with his premature wealth. The two young crooks agreed that whatever might be their ultimate fate they were at present the happiest and luckiest couple alive. They cherished a sneaking hope that a world good enough to bring them together would take care of them in their efforts to enjoy the best it could furnish.
THAT night Sam came home to find grisly news awaiting him. Phebe cried aloud: “What on earth do you suppose has happened? You’ll never guess! Never! Those awful Penningtons have invited us to their country home for the week-end!”
Sam beat his brow with his hand and gasped: “My God! They’ll be our ruin!—uttah, uttah ruin!”
A distant observer might have assumed that ^ the young couple had discovered small-pox in their midst, from the violence of Phebe’s dismay. “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
“Go, of course, my archangel!” said Sam. “We’re becoming nothing more nor less than a pair of wetnurses to a couple of abandoned millionaires.” After a silence in which he chased through his brain all possible borrowers, he asked: “Oh! by the way, has my seraph anything to wear?”
“There’s a bit of my trousseau left.’
“But how to. raise the cash? There’s railroad fare, tips for the servants. And then, of course, we’ll have to return their hostility. We really can’t afford it. We simply must begin that economy gag of ours before it’s everlastingly too late, my angelette. We simply gotter decline.”
Phebe nodded and Sam felt so proud of their magnificent denial that he felt he had done enough for virtue. As soon as a man has conquered a thing and bragged about it, he is ready to relinquish it.
And so thé infatuated Starlings had no sooner taken the pledge not to go than Sam was saying: “After all, cherub, I suppose we’ve got to go.”
“I suppose so. But never again.”
“Never again—oh, never again!”
In this world of delusion, wickedness often seems to win a temporary reward, a devil’s bribe to further indulgence. And the Starlings had, or thought they had, a perfect festival at the country home, a warm revel in a beautiful house in a beautiful land.
The Penningtons spent their money for their comfort, and could afford a luxurious simplicity. Their home was as big, as roomy, as soothing as a great armchair. The servants were cordial and the guests at ease.
They included a famous banker or two, a statesman, a poet who talked excellent prose and never mentioned his own verses, and a painter who raved over Phebe without provoking Sam’s jealousy. They made a picnic •of motoring about the country and raiding various country houses where splendor ministered to comfort, and Sam and Phebe were treated as members of one great happy family. Though some of the financial giants of New York were lolling about, Sam foolishly abstained from seeking to impress himself upon them, and therefore impressed himself upon them.
The Starlings returned to their nest with a fierce ambition to better it at any cost. Sam rumbled:
“Some day I’ll buy you a little heaven like those country houses only more so. I’ve got to buckle down and make a lot of money somehow.”
“And save a little,” Phebe hinted.
“How can we save any till we make some, angel feathers?” Sam complained.
He was so desperately put to it for ways of increasing his income that he beat his brains till sparks flew. In the middle of a sleepless night an insane idea came to him and flitted about inside his weary head like a bat in a lone belfry. He went to his office with his nerves on edge and therefore more sensitive to inspirations. He put over the best financial deal he had yet achieved for his firm.
How different the Monday morning of Lucius, who had spent a Sunday in quietude and repose, taken a long nap in the afternoon, gone early to bed and risen replete with sleep—
Lucius took a •cheap luncheon at a cafeteria and dined with his wife in chaste frugality.
They had a delightful evening going over their expense accounts and Laura devised a way of saving several dollars a month by washing her own handkerchiefs.
It was the old story of the grasshopper and the ant.
While Sam and Phebe went hopping about from party to party, dancing and frivoling the summer away among people who had more money than Sam had debts, Lucius and Laura lived a quiet gray life of industry and heaped up their little savings. They owed nobody a cent and by paying cash for everything added discounts to their pile. They entertained nobody and were not distraught by invitations that had to be repaid.
If old friends dragged them out at first they soon ceased to trouble the Peltons long, for the Peltons never returned the compliment. They felt that while a dinner accepted eaves money, a dinner repaid cancels ithe saving.
Winter brought the moral of the fable. The Starlings were in such desperate estate from trying to keep up with the rich and had run themselves so heavily in debt for moneys borrowed and goods charged that Sam came at last to Lucius for help.
His first light hints were met with
like an ox. And now he bent his neck to the yoke for a good strong all-day pull. no enthusiasm and at last he was driven to a flat appeal for a loan. He explained: “I’ll give you a promissory note, of course, Lucius; and I’ll pay you twice the interest you could get at the bank.”
Laura and Lucius did not need to glance at one another. The word “interest” set their minds to vibrating like two tuning-forks of the same key—tap one and the other twangs too.
Laura and Lucius had found that interest tables made a far more fascinating game than Mah Jong or bridge. They had regretted the exceeding slowness with which Liberty Bonds at four and a quarter per cent, piled up an appreciable sum. The savings banks were miserly in their rewards, while speculative stocks of higher promise were cursed with the fact that they were admittedly speculative. And speculation was a sport that had no charms for the Peltons.
When Sam spoke of doubling the bank rate and adding the guaranty of his note, they listened eagerly. The security looked substantial, for Sam was dressed to the nines, and Phebe, who had come along to make it look like a call rather than a trip to the pawn-shop •—Phebe looked like a million dollars.
So Lucius fell into the trap and wrote Sam a check. Sam wrote him a note for thirty days and Lucius did not refuse it or tear it up.
When the Starlings were gone, the Peltons began to fret a bit. It is the fate of certain ants to delve and save, only to have their hoardings carried off by some plunderer. After all, just how solid were the Starlings? Lucius knew that Sam was in the company of wealthier people than he had met. Laura had read Phebe’s name in the newspapers as present at expensive ceremonies. But what did that prove?
The Pelton’s sought their early couch with sick hearts. And they would have been sicker if they had known that Sam and Phebe were devoting their savings to the quieting of certain restless creditors and the lavish entertainment of certain Croesuses.
Worse yet, on the next morning while Laura was haggling with her grocer over the price of eggs and finally accepting “strictly fresh eggs” at a slightly lower rate than “guaranteed strictly fresh eggs,” Phebe was invading the costliest market in town in search of hothouse strawberries!
And Phebe did not even want them for herself. She was buying them for Mrs. Pennington, who had happened to mention that she longed for them but could not afford them at their out-of-season price. This had stuck in Phebe’s memory and when she told Sam that she thought it would be a nice thing to send Mrs. Pennington a little basket of the rubies of imprisoned rheumatism, Sam, instead of rebuking her for the insanity of sending from her poverty gifts to the rich
that the rich could not afford, struck her on the shoulder with an accolade of approval and said: “You’re a sublime little nut from the tree of paradise!” When the fruit arrived at the house with a pleasant little dedication from Phebe, Mrs. Pennington was as astonished by the exquisiteness of the gift as if the berries had been beryls. She prized them all the more for the twinges they gave her. She was one of those wise persons who never avoid a pleasure merely because there is a penalty attached to it.
THE money Sam borrowed from Lucius had SOOD gone the way of his other borrowings, but it gave him unusual distress. He knew that Lucius could not afford to lose it, and he cherished an affection for him as a fellow bridegroom. This was a debt of honor and as sacred as a gambling I O U.
The thirty-day period drew to a close and Sam made more and more frantic efforts to find the sum. He peddled bonds with indefatigible zeal. He sold them to men whose safe-deposits boxes were already bulging. He persuaded shrewd misers to sell other and better securities in order to purchase his. And so by demoniac arts and with the perseverance for which the Devil gets no praise, he managed to gather together enough money to pay off his note with the interest.
Lucius seemed so relieved at retrieving his principle, and so enchanted by the usury, that Sam made a memorandum of him as an easy victim and a week later borrowed twice as much on the same dubious collateral of his own signature.
He had intended to divide this carefully into a number of small sops to toss to his more pressing creditors, but he and Phebe suddenly realized that they had been so busy of late accepting invitations from their increasing horde of friends that they had repaid none of their social creditors. They felt in honor bound to clean the slate with one stupendous carnival, a banquet and a dance in a private room at a new restaurant that everybody was flocking to.
Sam’s moribund conscience had just enough sensitiveness left for one slight qualm: “Phebe, my morning star, what would your giant intellect say to inviting Lucius and Laura to our little party?”
“But they’re such a pair of sticks. They used to live and breathe, but now they’re numb from the toes up.”
“Yes, but after all, heavenly one, they’re really paying for this party, and it would be only fair to let them horn in on it.”
“Perhaps you’re right for once. And it might waken them to life again. All right; I’ll call up Laura.”
Phebe’s invitation threw the Pelton camp into confusion. There was a certain elation about the social uplift, but Laura had a chill impression that her trousseau, which she had carefully abstained from wearing, had been quietly withdrawing backward out of style. She had provided against the moths, but there are no camphor-balls that keep off time. Her dresses had busily acquired antiquity.
She put it up to Lucius whether they should buy her something new. The cost appalled him, but he almost sprained a tendon in his heart in advising her not to skimp herself. His willingness filled her with misgivings. If he were generous enough to spend a fortune on a frock, she must be generous enough to refuse.
“Besides, my dear,” she said, “the gown would be a useless waste. We never go out and I should never wear it again perhaps. So it would amount to paying at least a hundred and eighty-five dollars for one dinner. That would cover all our bills for a month. We could give a party ourselves for half that much.”
“That’s so!” said Lucius. “Suppose you put on one of your wedding dresses just to see how it would look.”
She slipped into it, and glanced into a mirror. Lucius praised her lavishly, but she knew that she was a caricature. The styles had, made a violent shift of waist-line, length, breadth and treatment. To-day’s tinsel is tomorrow’s trash. The styles of twenty years ago are charming, but yesterday’s fashions are funny without being amusing.
Something must be done about it, and Laura decided to call in a needy sewing-woman who did odd jobs for her. All they accomplished was to spoil an antique by crude revisions.
Still, anything was better than squandering a fortune on mere bodily adornment, and she wore it to Phebe’s dinner. She felt a dowdy dub, and looked it. Phebe greeted her with warm cordiality but kept her eyes off the gown. The other woman guests intuitively knew that Laura’s soul would be as lacking in vivacity as her dress, so they paid her no attention.
The dinner was a rollicking success for everybody but the Peltons. For a year or more Sam and Phebe had been romping with a crowd that made a business of hilarity. They knew how to misbehave without offense. Lucius and Laura had been devoting themselves earnestly to economy, budgeting and dignity. When they tried to unbend, their mental joints were full of rust; they squeaked and grided and stuck.
Phebe took pity on Laura and pleaded with Mrs. Pennington: “Be nice to Laura, won’t you, Theresa, old dear? She’s really awfully nice.”
Theresa made a Samaritan effort to limber up Laura, but Laura was afraid of her and could not respond. She had to be left by the wayside where she had taken root. Theresa fell away baffled, but not until she had invited Laura to lunch with her and Phebe the following Tuesday.
When the party was over, Phebe and Sam rolled away in the smart runabout they had bought on time—or eternity—but Lucius was still trying to scare up a taxicab without the help of the tip-seeking doorman when the Penningtons asked him for the privilege of “dropping” him and his wife at their home.
The Penningtons were tired but game when they learned that the Peltons lived in the opposite direction from their own house; but Lucius and Laura kept elbowing messages of rapture on each other’s ribs over the privilege of limousining home and saving taxi fare at the same time. And then the car slowed to a sickening stop.
The gasoline was all out, and there was nothing for it but to find other transportation. Of course two taxicabs had to come swooping down on them at once out of the Nowhere into the Here. The Penningtons apologized for not completing the delivery of their freight, but Lucius was very handsome about it. “Oh, that’s all right,” he murmured. “Accidents will happen.”
Continued on page 46
Mr. Spendthrift and Mr. Tightwad
Continued from page 21
Misfortunes never travel alone. Pennington, realizing from experience the difficulty of making change in the dark hours before the dawn, looked in his wallet and found nothing smaller than a fifty-dollar bill. Neither taxi man could break it, so the millionaire appealed to Lucius.
“I say, old man, could you lend me two dollars so that I can pay my cab when I get home?”
Lucius always had small bills and he shelled out the necessary dole. Pennington was most grateful. “I’ll return it to-morrow, if you’ll give me your address.” “Oh, there’s no hurry about it,” said Lucius grandly. “But here’s my card with my office address on it.”
As he and Laura went bouncing home, Lucius sighed: “He’ll never remember it. What’s two dollars to him?”
On the second day, however, there arrived a check from Pennington with a note of thanks for having saved his life. But this was only an exasperation, for there was still the luncheon to provide for.
LAURA had been so humiliated by her dowdiness at the dinner that she was really afraid to trot out any more of her trousseau. The mere thought of it made her feel like a Civil War bride. She decided to have a sick headache or something on the day of the luncheon. But Lucius said:
“You’d better go, my dear. We must get in with those people. Pennington has good jobs to give out, and there’s a noticeable chill in my office.”
So Laura went. Phebe turned up looking like a cablegram from Paris and gave Laura the feeling of having stepped out of an old volume of Godey’s Lady’s Book.
The contrast was so marked that Laura had to explain: “I didn’t dare buy anything new because Lucius is worried about his job. If Mr. Pennington could realize what a valuable man Lucius would be in his office he would grab him.”
“Of course he would,” said Phebe. “I’ll see what can be done about it.”
When Mrs. Pennington drifted in, Laura lost no time in talking up Lucius. But she could not help sniffing in the air a feeling that Mrs. Pennington was wondering why, if Lucius were such a genius, his wife was such a shabby bit of windowdressing.
Laura’s eulogy was cut short by the appearance of a cigaret girl dressed like a toy toreador. Mrs. Pennington cried for a smoke, but she had no money; she had left her purse at her club. Phebe began at once to rummage in a chaotic hand valise and Laura, watching calmly, noted how long it took her to extricate a bill from among the powder-puffs, lip sticks, matches and samples. Such a disorderly creature she was!
Seeing that the hostess was too much of a pauper to buy herself a cigaret, Phebe tried to pay the bill for the luncheon, but Mrs. Pennington insisted on signing it, though she had to threaten to cut Phebe’s throat before she got it away.
“Anyhow, you’ve got to let me tip the poor waiter,” Phebe triumphed, and she paid the man enough to spoil him for reasonable people. Laura was aghast at her extravagance, but Mrs. Pennington took it as a huge joke and laughed:
“Thank God, I still have my car outside or I’d have to walk home. I can give you a buggy ride at least.”
She insisted on taking Laura and Phebe to their homes. Laura talked again of Lucius, but when she descended at the entrance to her apartment house she felt that it did not live up to her advertisements of her husband’s financial skill. There was something in ostentation after all. She contrasted it with Phebe’s apartment house, which had an exterior like a cathedral and a lobby like a palace.
But all the way home Phebe was pleading with Mrs. Pennington to make her husband give Lucius a job. Theresa promised, to please Phebe, though her interest in the Peltons varied from tepid to luke. She would have forgotten them altogether if her husband had not come home that very evening trailing clouds of woe. His chief executive, Stukely, had been taken away from him to be made a bank official. Pennington was as much distressed as if he had lost his right hand instead of his right-hand man. When Theresa suggested Lucius Pelton as a substitute, her husband rewarded her with a nasty look.
“I need a new right hand, not a left hind leg. Pelton has all the fire of a cold buckwheat cake. I wish to the Lord I could get Sam to come in with me. It’s a pleasure to have him around. He has imagination, magnetism, high spirits.” “Why don’t you ask him?”
“Oh, he’d turn up his nose at the best I could offer. He must be making a mint of money where he is, from the way that he and Phebe are always entertaining.” When Phebe and Sam met that night Sam was so earnest that Phebe forgot to speak of her efforts in Lucius’s behalf and demanded the cause of her husband’s solemnity. He explained it in his own fashion.
“Well, it’s like this, my fledgling. I’ve been leaving my commissions with the firm for the last few weeks just for the delicious feel of having somebody owe me something. It feels like hell. I haven’t enjoyed it. Some men are born creditors but I’m not one of them. My talent lies along the line of being a debtor. I’m beginning to understand why my creditors always look so pinched and anxious-like. I think I’ll pay off my debts and never run no more.”
“Ha-ha!” said Phebe. “Three hearty ha’s and a tiger!”
“Just to spite you, you hell-kitten, I’ll collect my commissions and distribute them among the trusting tenantry.”
The next night he came home so peculiarly hilarious that Phebe said: “You are cutting up exactly like the clown whose only child has just been run over by a truck. What ails you, anyway?”
“Nothing at all except everything, little stranger. I have been worried about the status of our dear old firm but I haven’t worried you about it. This morning, though, when I said to our dismal cashier, ‘You’ve got about three hundred of mine in your till, and I’ll take it now if you don’t mind,’ the old man blushed like a shrimp and mumbled ‘See the chief!’ I saw the chief and he said, ‘Certainly, my boy. The first of next week.’ In the bright lexicon of Wall Street, the first of next week means the day after never. And I didn’t like that ‘my boy’ stuff. The chief never uses it except in times of cataclysm. I’m afraid our beloved employer is on the rocks.”
“And where does that leave us?” Phebe gasped.
“Right underneath the rocks, cherub lips. Right back in the primeval ooze where the star-fish love to roam.”
There was a misery of silence while they pondered the ocean of debts above them and wondered how they could ever escape to the surface. At last Sam groaned: “It looks like another visit to dear Lucius. I’d rather interview the old sexton in the churchyard, but—”
“But Lucius is in trouble too,” said Phebe. “His own firm is about to chuck him, I think, and Laura asked me to ask Mrs. Pennington to ask Mr. Pennington to take him aboard.”
“Lucius in trouble!” Sam exclaimed. “Well, of all the—why, I’ll make Pen give him a job! Lucius must be a magnificent financier. Just look how easily he’s carried us. He’s always managed to lend me a helping hand.”
“Yes, at twelve percent, a help and a bonus!” Phebe snapped.
“That’s just his little way, star eyes. Besides, what will become of us if we let old Lucius sink? I’ll get him a job tomorrow—if only for our own sake.”
And on the morrow he invited Pennington to luncheon. About the same time Mrs. Pennington was inviting Phebe to luncheon at her club. Pennington proposed that Sam meet him at the Bankers’ but Sam retorted:
“Nay, nay, Pauline. I’m not a member of that lodge, and this is on me.”
He really could not break Pennington’s bread while trying to land a friend of his on Pennington’s pay-roll.
PHEBE had no such qualms. She met Theresa with blood in her eye, determined to establish Lucius in a safe post at any cost, if only for her darling Sam’s sake. To her amazement, before she could broach the matter, Theresa began with a frantic appeal:
“Phebe darling, you and Sam have got to help us out. My poor Penny is in a terrible hole.”
Phebe almost swooned. Was everybody on earth going broke? But Theresa revived her speedily.
“Ever since Penny lost his dear Stukely he’s been flopping about like a chicken with its head off. He can’t get anybody to replace his Stukie. Poor Penny’s righthand men are always taken away from him as soon as he gets them trained to be a real help to him.
“You see, he believes in making money in the grand manner, by brilliant imagination, daring campaigns and fearless battle. He can’t stand the cheese-paring methods ofmostofthesmallfry. He wants generals, not bookkeepers. So does everybody else; and so, as soon as my husband instils his own courage and skill into an executive, some big financial institution offers him a vice-presidency or something. Stukely has just been made chairman of the board of a big trust company.
“Well, my husband thinks that your husband is the ideal man to replace Stukie, but his firm won’t let him pay more than a modest salary to begin with, and he’s afraid he’ll insult Sam if he offers him such a position—a mere lieutenancy, you might say, but with a marshal’s baton in the background, if you know what I mean.”
Phebe began to breathe fast. Was she listening to a fairy story or was she dreaming? How soon would she whack her head on the sharp corner of the bedside table and wake up with nothing left of the dream but a lump on the scalp?
Theresa ran on, and Phebe realized that she was not asleep. And now she was tortured by the realization that Sam, the frivolous saint, was at this very moment trying to sell Lucius to Pen. The irony of it! The irony of it! In her confusion she kept telling herself that whatever happened she must not shatter Theresa’s impression of Sam as the young Napoleon of Austerlitz by confessing that he had already met his Waterloo.
She yielded gradually to Theresa’s prayer and solemnly promised to ask Sam as a favor to accept Pennington’s offer of a golden opportunity at a modest salary. Mrs. Pennington did not know just how modest it would have to be, but Phebe knew that it could not possibly be as modest as Sam’s present less-thannothing-at-all.
But how was she to reach Sam and warn him to drop Lucius and proffer himself as a candidate? She did not even know where he would be lunching. There was nothing to do but excuse herself from Theresa and dash to the rescue. She flew to Sam’s office. He was not. there and there was a sickroom hush about the once so busy corridors that terrified her.
In her desperation, she resolved to search for him through all the restaurants in the Wall Street parish. They were many, and each of them was thronged with men jabbering away worse than any convention of women; all of them fogged with smcfke and shot through with hurrying waiters.
In the meanwhile Sam had been plying Pennington with casual anecdotes of Lucius and, like the skilful salesman he was when he had to be, steering his victim ■craftily toward the waiting trap. He lured Pennington into admitting that the firm had an opening for a financial genius, and then he sprang the noose.
“If you know your business, Pen,” he .said,“ you’ll grab the bestefficiency hound in this man’s town before anybody else gets him. He is none other than Lucius Pelton and he’s so sharp that he takes the scalp off the Indian on every penny that gets within reach of his little snickersnee.”
Pennington nodded, but coldly. “He’s sharp, all right. The night I met him at your party I couldn’t help noticing how modest he was about dropping back to a safe distance when it came to tipping the poor sleepy girl who hands out the hats. I found him out in the street trying to nab a taxi before that poor old asthmatic doorman could call one for him. And when I had to borrow two dollars from him and asked him the address, he was right there with the business card. I sent him a check and he didn’t fail to deposit it.”
“What did I tell you!” Sam cried. “The nickel that gets past him has yet to be born.”
“Very likely,” Pennington grumbled, “but I’m not looking for a nickel-nagger. I want a man who dreams in thousands, a man who knows how big men feel and can talk their language, meet them socially, win their friendship and inspire them to take big chances for big returns. Such a man is always full of the joy of life. He’s never niggardly or picayune. I don’t refer to one of these drunken plungers, these joy-riding pirates, but to the Epicures of life, who drink deep of it without getting drunk.
“What I need is a man I can take anywhere and leave anywhere and be sure that he will never be a cheat, or what is worse, a bore. I want a man I can call my own friend and can trust to be a friend to my friends.”
“A man like me,” Sam smiled. “Exactly! If you weren’t such a highflyer you’d be just the man.”
“I’d ruin you in a month,” said Sam, and misunderstanding the “high-flyer” continued to plead the cause of Lucius. Pennington assumed that Sam had dismissed his hint, and he forebore to press it. But he could not be warmed up to Lucius and remembered another éngagement.
Sam charged the luncheon off as a total loss and went home in a blue funk. Even if he had understoo'd that Pennington was pleading for him, he would have thought it unfair to Lucius to accept the job he was trying to procure for his friend. He was as spendthrift of loyalty as he was of cash.
After Phebe had ransacked the last cafe in the financial realm, she had no place to go but home. She drifted in like a derelict glad of a rock to crash into. She found that Sam had crashed there first. He lay extended on what the maid called the “cheese lounge,” and he was laughing softly to himself. This frightened Phebe into a panic. She ran to him and sank on her knees, clutching him wildly.
“Darling, darling, you’re laughing all by yourself. I just know it’s pneumonia.” “No, my sky-child, it’s the old nomonia. I’m down among the dead men, down among the dead men, down among the-”
“Did you get Lucius the job?”
“I couldn’t even do that. Pen wouldn’t have the poor fish at any price.”
“Thank God! thank God!” said Phebe, and sat back on the floor with a thump, then put up her head and howled.
“Are you imitating the wolf that is now camped upon our door-mat, or singing one of your native hallelujahs?”
“No, you dear old damned darling, I’m rejoicing. You’re Pen’s right-hand man.” “Pen’s right-hand foot. He told me I was too high a flyer for him. I didn’t tell him that it was because I’ve been mated
with an angel, but he--”
“Don’t you understand, you poor idiot of a genius? Can’t you brilliant men ever get anything through your thick skulls? No wonder the Lord had to make us women to lead you out of trouble.”
“Haven’t you got your Sunday-school lessons a little mixed, downy one? I thought--”
“Well, don’t ever think again. Leave all the heavy thinking to mama. You and Pen are simply perfect specimens of male stupidity and you misunderstand each other to perfection. Pen never dreamed that he could afford you, and you never dreamed that he wanted you. So Theresa and I have fixed it all up. I promised her I’d beg you to save Pen’s life by becoming his right hand. And now I’ve begged you and you’re It.”
It took a lot more of explaining, but finally she made him realize the gorgeous truth.
After they had endeavored to break each other’s ribs in a hugging match, their mental processes once more diverged. Sam was all for calling Pen up and accepting the job as a rope from Heaven. Phebe was all for pretending coyness and concealing his financial desperation and jockeying for a maximum salary to begin with.
But Sam protested: “In your heavenly home, such cleverness might work. But down here in the mud, I have found that enthusiasm mixed with truth is better than the loftiest flights of fancy.”
So he held her away from the telephone with one arm while he called up Pen. When he got him on the wire, he said: “I say, Pen old top, Phebe has just told me that you might give me that vacancy you’re holding for a better man. I’ve got no right to it except the fact that I’m stony broke and I need it to save my family from starvation. Any wages you care to pay will be more than fair.”
And this shook Pennington up so that he did not offer Sam the highest salary he had had in mind. He offered him one still higher.
When Sam heard the sum, he called out: “Excuse me, Pen, I have just fainted with a low gurgling cry. If my old woman can bring me back to life I’ll be at the factory tomorrow in time to relieve the night watchman. And what do you say to a little dinner and a little dance together to-night? On one condition: it’s on me! All right. Tell Theresa to put on a decent dress for once, because it’s going to be a party with a capital Q. G’by!”
THIS has been a hideously immoral story in many ways, an insidious and perhaps a dastardly attack on the sanctity of all the copy-book maxims and hoary proverbs doled out to the young and the shiftless. That, however, is the fault not of the author of the story, but of the author of human nature.
After all, in this life, though we get little or nothing of what we want, you can tell what a man really desired by what he got the most of. The real passion of some is for repose, and they get a lot of sleep. Others want quarrels or prayers or solitude or crowds: you will find them in arguments or on their knees, in the desert or on the corners of streets. Some haunt passionately for self-denial and some for self-indulgence. Their faces tell their aims. Some avoid beauty as a curse, others seek it incessantly. You can tell at a glance.
Riches come in two ways: to those who skimp and save, and to those who swim out into debt and are lucky enough not to drown before a roller brings them in on its crest.
Lucius and Laura had improved their natural gifts of parsimony, and they felt a sensuous, a voluptuous thrill in the presence of their hoard. A bank balance was prettier than any painted sunset or any lilting song. Its growth was sweeter than the unfolding of a flower. Phebe and Sam had sought those things for which silkworms are cultivated, looms kept spinning, gardens tended and fine meats bred. They went in for the beauty of this world and this world rewarded them as best it could.
One might write a prophecy, antedate it 1945, and feel safe in saying that, if the two couples, the Peltons and the Starlings, were still alive, they would be just where and what they were a score of years before, though Sam would have less hair and more flesh, Lucius would have saved even his hair but lost a little more weight.
Lucius and Laura would spend their evenings in a somewhat shabby home, croaking over their mortgages and securities and counting up how much interest they had collected from Sam.
Sam would be worth millions and full of honors, a member of all the clubs and a gay figure at all the routs. Phebe would be the white-haired laughing belle of whatever company she enlivened. And when they fell asleep in the architectural masterpiece they decorated with their own graces Sam would yawn:
“To-morrow, angel eyes, we must really begin to put aside a little money. As
Benjamin Franklin said--”
But Phebe would be already smiling in her sleep.