Concerning a lesson in steel-mill strategy and a hold-up that wasn’t all it seemed
CLYDE E. CAMPBELL
OBVIOUSLY, the quarrel had been of more than passing moment, for the highly polished nile-green roadster had run about bewilderedly, this way and that, among the shaded loops and turns of St. Matthew’s Country Club, as if it didn’t quite know what to do about it, before twinkling off hurriedly through the brilliant afternoon sunshine to tee number one, and setting down its flushed occupants, as much as to say,
“There, now ! For goodness’ sake, say it with clubs!”
The personable young couple teed their golf-balls in charged silence.
“I’m not just playing around,” the tall, hazel-eyed young man was saying presently, as one making a reluctant defense of a compromising situation. “As a matter of fact, I have been working like the devil. You see, the whole silly business had its origin in one of A. J.’s old mutton-chop hangovers. By heck!” he sighed, as the. girl preserved a chill unresponsiveness, “I suppose that sounds like so much hooey to you!”
It wasn’t until the fourth green that the young lady permitted herself a brief enquiry into the “silly business.”
“This mutton-chop hang-over,
Frank,” she reminded him abruptly. “What’s it like?”
The young man was startled into missing a two-foot putt.
“Well, Eileen, to quote A. J.’s own immortal words,” he said with a wry smile, “no selfrespecting young man with my opportunities has any right to ask a banker’s daughter to marry him, until he has demonstrated his class in some gainful manner.”
Eileen pondered this a moment; then she said judiciously:
“I don’t see anything so frightfully mutton-choppish about that!”
“You wouldn’t,” he told her gravely,
“unless you knew how he interprets ‘class’ and ‘gainful manner’ !”
“Oh, ten, fifteen thousand dollars, tra-la!”
“Overalls and lunch-bucket, starting in the foundry at a hundred berries per!”
Eileen drew back and studied his face.
“Ten or fifteen thousand dollars, by way of overalls, at a hundred per!” She rolled expressive eyes and pantomimed a severe headache. “For crying’s sake!” she exclaimed, the enormity of the outrage suddenly overwhelming her, “How does the old fruit get that way?”
“How does any parent get that way?” countered
“Why, I think that’s positively ghastly!” she cried, still staring at him incredulously. “And you with an engineering degree!” Then, impulsively: “You’ll forgive me for being so darned dumb, dear?”
He folded her tightly in his arms and forgave her— twice, quickly, on the lips.
“Be careful, dear!” she warned, looking hastily around. “Someone might see!” Then: “What are you going to do about it?”
Frank grinned a superior, male grin.
“Plenty! Just leave it to me ! But you mustn’t be too hard on the old egg—he’s just the victim of cold storage!”
“But that doesn’t answer my question !” she insisted, giving his coat sleeve an admonishing tweak. “Don’t tease—this is important!”
He continued silently to regard her with his mysterious grin, a warm glow deepening in his eyes.
Eileen dropped his sleeve and snuggled closer—a coaxing little gesture.
“Please, Frank,” she said, “I’m just dying to know.”
Her weight, cozily warm against him—the tantalizing fragrance of her hair—the exquisite cream and coral confection which was her ear—golf-links or no golf-links —such devastating propinquity was too much! His impetuous arms shot out and closed fiercely around— the thinnest of air: an eddy of scented skirt, a tinkling rush of tiny, laughing chimes, as of a coy, little windbell starting at the caress of a vagrant breeze, and behold!—there she was, elsewhere! Frank slipped his abortive gesture smoothly into a series of subsiding shrugs, murmuring something about his “darned coat.” “Let’s be sensible, Frank!” entreated Eileen, coming up again, and waggling him briskly by his lapels. “I’m just perishing to know what it is you’re going to do!” “Can you wait a day or two longer?”
“I should be able to, Frank . . . we’ve been engaged since just after you were graduated, last June . . . and this is May, again, dear.”
He made an impatient gesture.
“Do we have to tangle about that, all over again?” Eileen ignored the query; something in his face—she had caught a look.
“I knew you’d make good, dear,” she said quite
simply, and gave his arm a happy squeeze. Then, with a rush of enthusiasm: “We’ll show the squint-eyed old world we know where it’s hiding the bacon! Won’t we, dear—especially A. J.?”
“Why ‘especially A. J.,’ Eileen?” There was still a bit of a ruff in his voice.
“Well—” she paused generously to recall what she had once read in a book on psychology; and, having found what she sought, “I suppose it does get his goat to see his big, indolent offspring sprawled all over his charity—if you know what I mean—I know it does, mine.”
Frank’s warm, spring tan gave way slowly to a lovely, rich gardenia.
“So you’ve already remarked once before, today, I believe,” he reminded her with considerable heat.
“O migosh! Frank!”—her hand flew to her lips— “that was an awful slip ! I meant in past tense, of course ! Honest, dear ! But you know, yourself—”
“I’ll say I do!” he interpolated swiftly, grinning down into her confusion. “I ought to! But just continue being easy on A. J. The poor old scout has been beating it back and forth along the heights for nearly a year now, getting pop-eyed from shouting directions at me; he imagines I’m completely lost in the Valley of Buried Ambitions.”
Eileen pursed her lips as if to speak, thought better of it, and said instead, by way of a happy diversion, “Isn’t that George Wilkinson? There—coming down the hill.”
Frank turned and shaded his
“Yes, that’s George. He’s another total loss according to the pater. You ought to hear his line about him. It’s good!”
“Listen, Frank,” interposed the girl, “he’s shouting something.” “Hello, you two!” called the dark, athletic young fellow they had been observing. “Fighting out your score?”
“Hello, yourself!” greeted Eileen. “How’s your game?” “Rotten and interrupted,” said Wilkinson, coming up. “I just got word your dad wants me on the phone, Frank. Suppose something’s up?”
“Rather!” rejoined Frank with marked emphasis. Then, turning to the girl: “Mind if I slip over to the clubhouse with George, Eileen?”
“No. Slip along,” she responded cheerfully. “I’ll restore George’s foursome in the meantime. See you later.”
"^TOW, you might have said, perhaps, that Eileen
^ Richards wasn’t the very prettiest girl you had ever seen, for you may not greatly care for ivory, pink and gold. But to Frank Dale she was the sweetest, the most winsome, and incomparably the most delicious morsel in all the wide world. If Mother Nature had set her off with sheeny, iridescent wings, it is quite certain nothing could have prevented him pinching her up, and extinguishing the glow of her lips, her cheeks, as he would have extinguished a luscious, exotic fruit.
A sentiment, however, which was not entirely shared by Dale, Senior, who, while conceding the exquisite joy to be derived from engorging oneself upon a pretty maiden, also maintained one should have his own table, so to speak, to do it on; and suggested that if he, Frank, did not care to come into the Dale Steel & Foundries through the cupolas, in an orderly and decent fashion, to a more strengthening and preliminary menu of iron and cinders, he’d have to take up the South American selling end at Buenos Aires.
“Buenos Aires!” His echo had almost been a cry of pain and incredulity, as though A. J. with malicious intent had suddenly pricked him deep with a shining lethal weapon. “Buenos Aires!” he repeated, staring at his father—they were at breakfast—and then paused. He was about to protest vigorously that Buenos Aires wasn’t so much a “selling end” as it was a crafty wedge of nice blue water, devised to ease him smoothly some eight thousand miles from Her whom the gross and blind vulgarly referred to as Eileen Richards, when he thought better of it, and substituted: “Why, A. J., I’ve only just returned from the university! You must want to get rid of me mighty bad !”
“Well, how about coming into the plant, then?”
“But I don’t like iron the way you want to serve it to me !”
“What do you like, anyway?” exploded the old man. “Blessed if I know, exactly,” his son had confessed. “I’d like to take a crack at efficiency work, though.” “Efficiency fiddlesticks!” A. J. had snorted wrathfully, quick to recall the memory of an “Efficiency Engineer” he had once hired to cut overhead. “You’ve got to know things yourself before you can—The devil! Our purchasing agent is entirely competent to look after the paper, ink, lavatory towels, soap, and so on!”
“I’d like the responsibility—” began Frank quietly. “Responsibility!” scoffed A. J. “Wanting responsibility isn’t what’s ailing you ! What you want is to get by!—a nice smooth short-cut!”
“Yes, that’s so! Absolutely so!” He leaned slowly across the table as if to join issue at punishing quarters. “Look here, son—if you’ve got any fool notions that you can cut engineering costs in Dale Steel & Foundries with your absolute lack of practical experience—” He paused, and his face, of a sudden, was a red battle-ground of warring emotions. Then out trundled mirth with a roar. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he shouted, lying back in his chair. “That’s what I call a genuine classic in modern selfdepreciation !”
“I’m glad it gets a laugh for you, A. J., ”he said, soberly. “But I’d like tremendously to take a shot at it.”
The old man stared hard; then alter a moment he said jovially: “Son, if you can go into our plant and write off a dollar against any department in the whole blamed shebang, I’ll—darned if I don’t instruct our costaccountant to credit you with the totals! There, now! Hop to it! But not a penny of salary, mind!” he warned sternly. “If you’re bound to bump your head off against a stone wall I guess I can’t stop you!”
“For how long, A. J.?”
“Six months—three months—a year! As long as you like! You’ll get your bellyfull of the job before you’ve been at it long!”
“Is that a pleasantry or a challenge?” queried Frank.
“You’ll find it isn’t a pleasantry when you go up against my gang of roughnecks right down in their own bailiwicks! Why, son, those men were operating forges, furnaces, making steel, making steam, before you were born! Cut costs! Just a second—I’ve got to laugh!” And he did—great gusty ho-ho’s that brought old Peters, the butler, slippering along, grinning, from the pantry, to listen and to laugh, too, discreetly, just outside the breakfast-room door.
“Then it’s a go, A. J.?” Frank enquired patiently— he had failed to be infected with his father’s glee.
“A go?” shouted old Dale, wiping his eyes. “Of course it’s a go !”
“Then that’s that,” said Frank briskly, extending his hand. “Shake on it!”
TLTAD he been minded, A. J. could have indicated offhand any number of difficulties and embarrassments waiting for Frank in his self-imposed rôle, particularly, say, in the person of the congenitally outraged MacPherson, whose frosty, horizon-peeping eyes pinched the shrewdest sort of bargains in steam out of a car of the most expensive coal. Or Jordon, for instance, who presided with sooty dignity over the battery of mighty ten-ton hammers that pounded out a slogan “Made in Canada” deep into the markets of the world; and who could, himself, with one of his ten-ton hammers, it is said, stick a postage-stamp on a watch crystal without cracking it; and who would regard a time-and-motion study of his way with a billet as unemotionally as would a petted prima donna a disparaging comment on her most passionate aria. And so,
through the plant; craftsmen as instantly outraged as ever a new mother over her first-born.
V\ 7'ELL, how’s the thing coming?” A. J. enquired one ’ * day several weeks later, coming upon his son down in the boiler-room, deeply engrossed with a hierorlyphicriddled page of a well-thumbed notebook. “Cutting the overhead?”
Frank finished a computation he wäs entering and looked up.
“I might, if—” he hesitated. “The men know their stuff all right,” he admitted, as though he grudged the concession.
“You started to say you might, if—” reminded the old man, shrewdly. “What’s the difficulty—the men?”
“No, it’s not the men,” said Frank hastily, smiling over his father’s shoulder at MacPherson, the powerplant superintendent, who merely glared frostily in return and gritted down the coal-crumbed cement floor in wintry unresponse. “I think I can hold my own with the men—” Again, he seemed reluctant to continue.
“Say it!” barked A. J. impatiently.
“Well, if I had official standing with them,” protested the young man. “You can’t expect the men to take me seriously when you don’t!”
“So that’s it, is it? If you can’t pry a chunk out of the plant treasury with performance, you mean to nick it with a title, eh? Pretty slick, that, young fellow! But there’s nothing doing, positively!”
“That’s hardly what I had in mind, A.J.” rejoined Frank. He surveyed his parent pleasantly. “I don’t mind telling you, though, that when I do nick the exchequer, you’ll think I accomplished the dredging with a steam shovel !”
“P-st! Also, tut, son, tut! As for the men, you’ll find them taking you seriously enough, when you’re ready to jump into overalls and buckle down to brass tacks.”
“But with official standing—” began Frank.
“Nothing doing! That’s final!” snapped A. J., turning to go.
Frank shrugged at that, and waited until his father’s burly figure had dwarfed in pigmy silhouette against the burnished screen of the bright afternoon sun shining through the open doorway at the opposite end of the boiler room. Then he turned briskly in the direction he had seen McPherson moving some moments before.
SEVERAL times later, during the fall and winter, A. J. had come upon his son wandering about the plant with his ubiquitous notebook—replaced now with a larger and fatter one—jotting down the ridiculous hieroglyphics he called data; and always returning the same answers and innuendo regarding his threatened dredging operations in the Dale treasurebox—threats that nevertheless seemed slow to materialize; until, by spring, the old man had become more than a bit unpleasant. And as the days warmed and lengthened into May, Frank suddenly gave over even this seeming of desultory research to the commanding and more present problems of stance and sand-trap.
WE ALL make mistakes, son,” A. J.
felt moved to say one day, when Frank had come into his office from an early morning session of golf with Eileen. “Mistakes are human and natural. But some of us recognize them before we drop dead with old age!”
“Meaning?” offered Frank indulgently, setting his golf bag in a corner and drawing up a chair.
“You know what I mean, well enough !” A. J. jerked out his watch. “Here!” he rumbled, dangling the time-piece for Frank’s inspection. “This watch is something useful. It’s busying itself with the most precious thing there is—time! Haven’t you any regard at all for time?” “Some,” returned Frank, stretching out comfortably in his chair. “In fact, lots.” A. J. glared a long half-minute. Then at length: “What does Eileen think of your idling?”
“I don’t know, I am sure, A. J. I haven’t discussed it with her.” Then reflectively, and studying his father’s face: “It occurs to me you need a vacation; your nerves aren’t what they should be.”
“Vacation!” sputtered the old man, thinly, like a sudden jet of high-pressure steam straining through a boiler seam. “Why, blast my scale and clinkers, a vacation like you’ve been taking, with a nerve like you’ve got, is enough for all the generations of Dales from Hell to Hanover!
“You are really not up to yourself, A. J.,” murmured Frank, pulling in his long legs and crossing them.
“Oh I ain’t, ain’t I! Now, look here, young man!”—his tone was no longer a thin jet of steam; it was a tremendous volume of steam turned through a determined and enthusiastic foghorn—“I’ll order my vacations when, and as, I need ’em : We won’t discuss nerve, anyway.
I don’t feel qualified to go into that subject with you! But one matter I am going to discuss, and that’s you!”
Frank tapped back a yawn, and slumped a little lower in his chair.
“Golf’s pleasanter, don’t you think, A. J.?”
“No, I don’t think!” bellowed the incensed old man. “I mean I do think! And I’ve thought to some purpose!” He snatched up an open letter from his desk and trembled it into his son’s languid hand. “Read that!”
Frank made a show of running through the letter.
“H’m,” he murmured, folding the communication, and tossing it back on the desk. “Looks as though you could buy this little plant for a song.”
“We’re going up to Scarborough and buy that plant—you and me!” roared the irate old gentleman; “and you’re going to chip in that money your mother left you—every last red cent! There’s a sixtyday option on the property held by a Roumanian or something, by the name of Elad Knarf; but we’re going to buy his
option! And then do you know what I am going to do? I’m going to give you operating expenses for one year. You’re going to wallow out or sink! You bellyached about wanting responsibility, didn’t you? Huh? Well, blast my scale and clinkers, you’re going to get it! And when you bust, as you certainly will bust, and you want to come back here as a common laborer and learn steel, from the cupolas to the ledger, I’ll talk to you! Until then I’m done! Absolutely!”
During this fervid recital, Frank had gradually come to the edge of his chair, as though he had been irresistibly drawn into the suck of his father’s wrath.
“I thought that would fetch you!” Thus hoarsely A. J., sitting back and mopping his brow.
“You said a dozen times, the past six months—” Frank started to protest.
“I remember everything I said, young man!” interjected A. J., pocketing his handkerchief and coming to the edge of his chair again. “I also remember what you said: you said—good lord, what wasn’t it you didn’t say! But you didn’t produce! There’s the point! You didn’t make good! Cut costs in Dale’s! I’ve never known whether to laugh or get mad at that!”
“But you’ve never given me a chance to check up with you! You always—” “Ain’t one man stalling around here making a fool of himself enough clown for one family, I’d like to know?”
“I assure you, A. J.—”
“Them’s my cards!” thundered the old gentleman, thumping the little blue-andgold clock on his desk into a dancing jiggle. “Are you laying down?”
“Not yet,” rejoined Frank evenly, his long well-turned jaw giving thrust to the retort. “Quite the contrary.” Then: “I’ll throw in with you and take over the plant,” he went on quietly; “but I could have saved you something—your temper, for instance. You will recall, later I hope, I said I could.” He sat back in his chair.
“I guess I can manage to stagger along with the loss,” retorted Dale, Senior, also relaxing. Then, after a brief pause: “Do you suppose you can find time off from golf long enough to hang around the office, while I look up this Elad Knarf?” “Not this afternoon,” said Frank, hastily. He got to his feet and shook down his trousers. “Tomorrow. This afternoon, Eileen and I are playing nine holes at St. Matthew’s. Won’t you join us?”
“All right—tomorrow, then,” growled the old man, ignoring his son’s perfunctory invitation.
A. J. REACHED for his desk phone as Frank was disappearing through the
“Miss Helen,” he boomed into the instrument, “long distance. Scarborough Spring & Axle Company.” Presently: “Hello, Scarborough, Dale talking, Dale Steel & Foundries. About your Mr. Elad Knarf. I want an appointment with him ... Yes . . Where can I meet him . . . His attorney . . . Spell it, please . . . Wilkinson ... I got it. Here in the city? . . . Thanks. That’s all. You will hear from me later. Good-by.” He hooked his receiver and found his telephone book.
“They don’t answer,” city exchange operator was cooing to him a moment later.
“Give him another ring, please,” and, suddenly, recalling the time: “Never mind. I’ll try later,” and hung up. Twothirty. Not returned to his office yet, he’d bet a tractor! The young idler! Playing golf, he supposed. Huh! Mebbe with Frank and Eileen. He’d find out, directly.
“Miss Helen,” that young lady was hearing, an hour later. “Get the clubhouse, St. Matthew’s. I want to talk to Mr. George Wilkinson. Have them send out for him. Tell them it’s Dale.” And thus flickered forth the word of Dale along the singing wires to St. Matthew’s, there to be transmuted into two long legs, surmounted with a freckled grin, and hurried on its way.
“Don’t loiter!” called the house manager after Buttons, as he popped through the door. “Mr. Dale’s holding the wire!” “Thank you, Cupid,” Mr. George Wilkinson was saying to the panting Mercury, ten minutes later. “I’ll be there straight off.”
“Mr. Wilkinson for you, Mr. Dale,” Helen of the wires was breathing into that impatient person’s ear presently.
“Hello, Wilkinson, Dale talking. Can you drop into my office on your way home? . . . Thanks . . . And say,
Wilkinson, if you run across Frank out there, fetch him along with you . . . There now? . . . No, I don’t want to talk to him. Just fetch him along . . . All right . . . Good-by.”
A. J. hung up, and glanced at the little blue-and-gold clock fussing with its laggard minutes. “Four-ten,” it seemed to apologize nervously, “but I’ll soon have it five for you!” Four-thirty. Fourforty. At exactly five minutes of the hour, the door opened.
“Hello, Wilkinson, have a chair,” greeted Dale heartily. “Smoke?” He tossed a long black cigar to Wilkinson and offered one to Frank. “Find a seat, son. I won’t keep you fellows long.” Then briskly: “I understand you’ve got a client by name of Elad Knarf who’s holding an option on Scarborough Spring & Axle. Will he sell?”
Wilkinson lit his smoke and got it going.
“He might—” returned Wilkinson, punctuating his words with long, hard pulls at his cigar “—-if the consideration were sufficiently attractive.”
“What are they holding the property at?”
“Their inventory runs around seventy thousand, Mr. Dale.”
“Who mentioned their inventory!” returned the old man, testily. “I’m enquiring their asking price!” Then, “Never mind that! Tell me: where can I get hold of this Knarf?”
“Mr. Knarf is transacting this purchase through his lawyer, Mr. Dale,” said Wilkinson; “and I have been honored with his power of attorney.”
“Just what do you mean by this option, Wilkinson? —and don’t hold your breath !” “Ten thousand dollars,” enunciated the young attorney, clearly.
“Ten thousand dollars!” A. J.’s face purpled. “That’s grand larceny!”
Wilkinson puffed at his cigar a moment. “The Mid-West Forge & Axle Company are considering the option at that figure, Mr. Dale,” he smiled, at length.
“What’s the consideration of purchase, then?” exploded the old man.
“Forty-five thousand—plus the option, less bills payable.”
“Subject to an umpire commission’s inventory, eh?”
“Their sworn statements are in my office, Mr. Dale.”
“All right, Wilkinson. Fetch ’em up! Fetch all your papers up!”
Wilkinson slapped on his cap, and got to his feet.
“I’ll return in ten minutes, Mr. Dale,” he promised.
“Very well.” Then: “Frank! A word with you!”
Frank also had risen and was making for the door.
“I’ve got an important engagement, A. J.,” said that young man.
“You have,” retorted his father. “Right here!” And turning to Wilkinson lingering uncertainly in the door: “Ten minutes, I think you said !”
Wilkinson vanished .into the corridor. “Now,” said A. J., after the door had closed. “When can you get ready to go down to Scarborough?”
“Just as soon as I’ve got an estimate on the difference in cost between the new brick stack you’ve let out to the Allendale Construction Company for the new forgeshop power-plant—”
“What in all creation are you talking about!” burst out the old man.
“—and a twenty-foot steel job we can put up ourselves at one-tenth the cost,” Frank continued, unperturbed.
“Are you crazy?”
“Then, with the forced-draft, sealed ash-pit, and automatic control Mac and I installed in number one—”
“You and Mac!” wheezed A. J.
“Sure. Mac and I,” returned Frank calmly. “We found with three separate evaporative tests, running through twenty-four hours each, that we could get more horsepower per hour—”
“Hold on! That’ll do!” commanded A. J., swinging around to his desk. He snatched up his phone.
“Give MacPherson a ring. If he isn’t there, get him. I want him right away.” And when the power-plant superintendent came in: “Mac,” roared A. J. at him, “do you know anything about evaporative tests on number one?”
MacPherson blinked and broke into eloquence. “Yup,” he said; then began delivering himself of the longest oration in all his twenty-five years at the plant.
“T’ree tes’s o’ a t’ousan’ gallon, each, Mr. Dale, on num’mer one, like she look; an’ t’ree wi’ th’ ash-pit sealed, settin’s doped—”
“Did you witness these tests, yourself?” thundered the old man.
“Ay, sir. It were me set on th’ hotwater meter an’ weighed th’ coal.” “When?”
“Nights mostly, sir.”
“Nights!” repeated A. J., blinking. “H-m! H-r-mph! Well! Did your
forced-draft contraption show a saving?” “T’irty-eight per cent, sir,” answered MacPherson.
“Fifty dollars a day!” chimed in Frank. It was almost a duet.
“That’ll be all, Mac—for the present.” This, significantly. And, turning to Frank: “Anything else to report?”
Frank drew a formidable-looking notebook from his pocket.
“Several things, A. J. Would you care to hear them?”
“Run ’em off!” ordered the old man, sitting back attentively.
Twice he interrupted Frank sharply about a point not quite clear, and once he stopped him abruptly with: “How’d you check that?”
Frank looked up.
“Your cost sheets.”
“Has our cost accountant been checking you?”
“Certainly, A. J. Andrews checks everything.”
The door opened unceremoniously and Wilkinson rushed in.
“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Dale!” he announced, breezing across the room and tossing some papers on A. J.’s desk. “Hubbard of the Mid-West was waiting in my office to take over Knarf’s option, when I returned! They’ve been mighty keen about getting that plant. My congratulations, sir!”
“Thanks,” returned A. J. dryly. He swung around to his desk and adjusted his glasses.
“All right,” he affirmed, after a few minutes, laying down the papers and picking up a pen. “Just sign your power of attorney.”
Young Wilkinson’s eyes twinkled mischievously.
INASMUCH as my client is present to affix his own signature—Frank, put your John Henry on the dotted line, will you?”
A. J. grabbed up the option and stared at it incredulously.
“Elad Knarf,” he read aloud. Then, with a start: “Oh, ho ! Uhhuh! H-r-mph! Pretty slick! Elad Knarf, eh! E-l-a-d K-n-a-r-f,” he spelled. “F-r-a-n-k D-a-l-e reversed, eh? Well, blast my scale and clinkers!” Frank walked over to the desk.
“I can’t resist recalling,” he said pleasantly, as he plucked the instrument from his father’s unresisting fingers and inscribed his name on the dotted line, “I can’t resist recalling that I mentioned something about a dredging operation into the plant exchequer, A. J.”
The old man came out of his daze with a roar.
“You’ve tricked me!” he shouted, jumping to his feet. The men—you pretended—”
“Now,” interrupted Frank, indulgently, motioning his father to a chair; “just sit down quietly, and we’ll discuss business.”
The old man fixed his eyes upon his son and found a seat with difficulty.
“Business!” he whispered, staring. “Business !”
“Yes,” smiled Frank. “I wish to buy your Scarborough plant with my credits, as shown on your cost accountant’s records for the past six months.”
A. J.’s hand found a button on his desk.
“I’ll get Andrews in here,” And, when the cost accountant appeared: “I want the totals charged to cost, over the past six months. I want the totals accredited to plant-cuts over the same period. Hurry!”
“I can give you the latter now, sir,” said the man. “Forty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty-two dollars and fiftyeight cents, sir.”
“That’ll do, Andrews.” Then: “Fortyfive thousand dollars!” His voice was growing stronger. “That’s a lot of money, young man !”
“I’m willing to pay you that for the Scarborough Spring & Axle property, if you’ll sell.”
“I’ll see,” returned A. J. promptly.
“Thanks,” murmured Frank. Then, to Wilkinson: “Make out a memorandum of agreement, conveyance of title, and soon George.”
“A memorandum of agreement isn’t necessary!” cut in the old man. “My word’s my bond !”
“It is with me, Dad,” rejoined Frank, smiling. “But I’m afraid the Mid-West Forge & Axle Company will require something more substantial than your word.”
A. J. uttered a little exclamation.
Wilkinson broke in: “They’ll snap it up, Frank! Let me get Hubbard ! I asked
him to wait!” He plucked up the phone and got his office. “Bert, is Mr. Hubbard still there? . . . Good! Ask him to step to the phone . . . Hello, Mr. Hubbard. Wilkinson speaking. Sorry I had to keep you waiting . . . Scarborough’s still on the market . . . Fifty-five thousand . . . Yes . . .1 shouldn’t take a chance, either, if I were you. It’s like finding it, at fifty-five thousand . . . Yes . . . I’ll be right over! G’by.” He hung up, and executed a difficult step or two of a dance never seen on land or sea. “Hook, line creel, and my other old pair of pants!” he announced gleefully.
A. J. cleared his throat.
“Might I enquire why you’re selling that plant, son?” came his meek enquiry.
“There is too infernally much to do at Dale Steel & Foundries, dad,” said Frank, grinning up from an entry he was making in his notebook. “I’ve got a solid year’s work ahead of me, starting right at the cupolas!”
AN HOUR later, A. J. still sat in his TV. swivel-chair where Frank and his attorney had left him. He had missed lunch that day, and his eyes looked very tired. The lights were not on; and in the soft shadows, a little group of dingy men were sitting awkwardly about him in attitudes of respectful attention, their grimy faces blobs of grey.
“Seems like it worked out fine, Mr. Dale,” one of the men was saying.
“Yes, it has worked, Jordon,” returned the old man wearily, “and it has cost me a pretty penny! But just the same, boys, I proved you can lead a horse up to water and make him drink, too, without losing him his self-respect—if you know your carrots ! And I got you boys to thank for giving me a hand.”
“Wa’an’t nothin’ much we could o’ done, t’ help ’r hinder, Mr. Dale,” spoke up another. “Th’ boy’s just nat’rally one houn’ pup fer worryin’ out leaks!”
“An’ it ain’t perhaps, ’r mebbe, w’at I mean!” chipped in another.
“He certainly is, boys,” assented the old man, opening a certain locked lower drawer in his desk, and straightening with a square bottle from which he poured a libation into a small glass. He then got to his feet and passed around the room, pausing briefly before each man. Presently: “Here’s luck to Dale & Son, men !”
“Ay, to Dale & Son!” came the growling response, as elbows crooked and heads tipped back.