The Banker’s Secret
A story of parental dignity, a daughter in love and a suitor who didn’t suit father
HIS WORSHIP Mayor Henry J. Rankin, chief magistrate of the Municipality of Vaughan, closed and locked the door of his place of business for the night and chuckled as he gave it a trial shake. He took a last glimpse through the windows at the night light left glowing softly over the dialled wall safe, wherein reposed the worldly fortunes of Rankin’s coal and wood business, and chuckled again as he walked to his car.
His Worship eased his six-foot, two-hundred-pound figure behind the wheel, and drove off through the five o’clock twilight of the late fall afternoon. His course took him through the well-to-do sections of Vaughan -"The Friendly Town; Industrial Sites, Cheap Power” -and he looked about him with pardonable fatherly pride. From time to time he laughed softly in the semi-darkness within the car.
The mayor had a secret—a delightful, splendid secret—that leaped within him for utterance.
He would announce it tomorrow, he decided. He would let it be known unofficially when he went down to the post office lor the morning mail and stopped as usual for a moment’s chat with the other business men assembled there. He would let it leak out then—and he guessed it would take the wind out of some of their sails. In the meantime he would drop the bombshell gently at home. With proper injunctions for secrecy, of course. He was not going to have his best coup in years spoiled through premature exposure.
He sat straight and erect behind the steering wheel, maintaining the air of dignity and pomposity he deemed incumbent on a man in his position. He kept an expression of genial reserve on his florid, handsome face, lifted a hand in fatherly greeting to the voting public when it passed in the gloom, and all the time allowed his mind to dwell with satisfaction on the announcement he would make to his wife and daughter. He pictured himself saying with studied casualness: "Well, my dears”—he always called the ladies “My dears” since attaining the mayoral chair—"Well, my dears, Vaughan is coming on. We’re going to have a new factory here.”
Mr. Rankin chuckled as he said the words mentally. "A new factory.” He liked them.
It was something for which mayors less illustrious than Mr. Rankin had striven for years. Something for which, it was generally agreed. Vaughan had long known a crying need. A new factory. It had remained for Mr. Rankin to accomplish.
The mayor still glowed with the pleasant surprise he had received on opening the Regal Company’s letter that afternoon.
The Regal Pencil Company, Makers of Lead Pencils and Crayons of Quality, had. it seemed, somehow awakened to the splendid possibilities inherent in the town of Vaughan. When they had looked around for a suitable place in which to establish a Canadian branch, they had noticed at once the admirable qualities of Mayor Rankin's municipality, and of the old Pail and Bucket works, defunct these many years, with its woodworking machinery, as a shop in which to begin their operations.
They had written two weeks ago, enquiring as to taxation, assessments, bonuses and the like, and the mayor had rushed a reply in which he had outlined strikingly generous terms—terms which the council would ratify, when the time came, or he would know the reason why. He had kept the correspondence secret, hugging it to himself and hardly daring to hope, and today the answer had come. The Regal Pencil Company, provided the mayor’s terms were guaranteed, and provided the Pail and Bucket works was as suitable as they had been led to believe, were prepared to establish their branch at Vaughan. Men would be employed and wheels would turn within the month.
THE mayor chuckled again as he swung the car into his own street. For a moment he wondered who had been pointing out to the Regal people the advantages of the old Pail and Bucket works as a place in which to manufacture pencils, but he passed over the thought as inconsequential. Bob Wilson, the banker, probably, or some of the other fellows on the Board of Trade. A good thing, a live Board of Trade, he reflected. A splendid thing. He must call up Bob Wilson tomorrow and give him a pat on the back.
Another thing he must do tomorrow was to see old Charley Dennis, his wife’s third cousin, who owned the Pail and Bucket plant, and tell him that he would soon be rid of his white elephant. He guessed that would give the sarcastic old devil something to think about; there wouldn’t be so much heard from that quarter, after this, about the ineffectiveness, incompetency, and general undesirability of the town council. His Worship had been yearning to put a spoke in old Charley’s wheel, as he privately termed it. for a long time; ever since, in fact, the time, years ago, when young Henry Rankin, quivering on the verge of bankruptcy, had approached Charley for aid and been sent away emptyhand«!.
The mayor turned from the paved smoothness of Huron Street and swept grandly around the crushed stone curve of the only completely circular driveway in Vaughan. Midway around, he was struck by another pleasant aspect of the Regal people’s decision : A flourishing industry in the town certainly wouldn’t do the local coal and wood business any harm. No harm whatever.
The mayor laughed aloud as he swept around the curve of the Rankin driveway.
Things were looking fine. He hadn’t felt so pleased with himself since the bankruptcy scare years ago, when he had hurriedly assigned his house and lot to his wife, thereby outwitting several predatory creditors.
His Worship Mayor Rankin, wholly satisfied with himself and the world at large, completed the curve and swept up to the pillared front porch of the mayoral residence.
As he did so, a chuckle died on his lips and a frown creased his pontifical brow. He had arrived just in time to see the red tail light of a roadster pull away from the front steps and disappear down the other curve.
Mr. Rankin set his lips. That would be young Spragg; the nincompoop who came to call on Mary Rankin and drink tea with her and Mrs. Rankin. Mr. Rankin did not like Jim Spragg. For one thing, Jim never failed to be somehow tacitly and intangibly unimpressed by Mr. Rankin’s relative importance in the scheme of things. For another thing, he drank tea in the afternoons, apparently with unfeigned enjoyment. And Mr. Rankin did not approve of men who drank afternoon tea. Finally, as a companion with possibly serious intentions, for the daughter of the mayor of Vaughan, young Jim Spragg would not do at all. 11c was idle, worthless, brainless, and he —he drank tea in the aftenxxins.
Mr. Rankin allowed displeasure to settle firmly over his countenance as he stepp'd out of the car and mounted the front steps. He had laid down the law to the women privately; he had even intimated to young Spragg himself that they might manage to struggle along without his frequent presence. And yet Spragg had been here again.
The mayor let himself in, and draped hat and coat and muffler on the hall tree. Before the hall mirror he adjusted the set of the business suit on his imposing slv>ulders and centred his maroon tie. While doing so he glanced once at the reflected displeasure on his face and approv«!. It would do.
In the doorway of the living room, holding the curtains aside with one hand, His Worship paused and surveyed the scene. 1 lis wife, and daughter still chatted over empty cups and devastated piles of sandwiches and cakes. 1 lis Worship eyed the scene with marked and obvious distaste.
Mary Rankin was a dark and quiet, gravely humorous girl, in whom her father’s stature appeared as feminine grace of figure. After almost twenty years in the Rankin household, Mary was never surprised at anything.
Mrs. Rankin, mayoress of Vaughan, was a white-haired and per]X‘tually lxnvildered little body who lived in constant awe of all the appurtenances of the mayoral position such as the two maidservants her husband insisted on providing for her. Secretly, she cherished memories of the days when men liad call«! her young husband “Hank” and not ’T our Worship”; when he had dried his socks on a chair back by the kitchen stove while lie toasted his bare toes at the open oven door.
His Worship the Mayor of Vaughan, shxxl in the doorway of the living room and radiated displeasure. He did not, tonight, greet the ladies as “My dears.”
The ladies smiled at him. He did not respond in kind.
.“Some tea. dad?” enquired Mary, with gentle irony.
“Thank you. no,” repli«! Mr. Rankin heavily. “1 don’t care for afternoon tea.”
TJTE ADVANCED into the room, took a chair, eased the ■*crease of his trousers, and allowed the mayoral personality to loom portentously over the others’ heads. Immediately Mrs. Rankin began to fuss gently and pick at lier frock ; Mary slouched lower in her stuffed chair, dropjxxl her head
back to the upholstery, placed her arms along the fat sides of the chair, and studied the ceiling.
Mr. Rankin opened the investigation.
“I see,” he began, “young Spragg has been here again.” “Yes,” agreed Mary. While her mother’s agitation increased, Mary admired her own shapely hands and continu«!: “He intended to be gone earlier—before you came but he had so much to tell us.”
“H’m,” said the mayor, with narrowing eyes. “And if he had left earlier, I suppose I wouldn’t have known anything about it.”
"I suppose not,” agreed Mary.
There was an instant of silence, while Mr. Rankin allowed displeasure to emanate still more strongly.
“You knew I didn’t want him to come here?” he said presently, with interrogative inflection.
His wife began to exhibit signs of pronounced distress.
“We can’t turn him from the door, you know, dad.” Mary still refused to meet his glance.
“H’m." said the mayor again. He grasped an elbow in one hand and pinched his lower lip between thumb and finger of the other bringing the mayoral consideration to bear upon the problem.
After a prolonged silence in which he allowed it to be understood that lie was mentally dealing with the case and arriving at a decision. His Worship rest«l elbows on the chair arms and brought his fingertips together.
“I guess.” he announced presently, with considered gravity of tone. “I'll have to attend to this fresh Mr. Spragg. What d(x*s he do? Cub lawyer or something, isn’t he?”
"Barrister and Solicitor, his sign says," Mary quoted. Now that the crisis was past, she became more pleasant. “His office is up over Mollenhauer's grocery store, next to the dentist’s.”
“So?” said the mayor. “You seem to know a lot about it. 1 suppose.” he added with the essence of sarcasm, "that you've been visiting him in his office, as you call it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Mary artlessly. “I’ve been there several times.”
His Worship, taken aback as if punched in the eye, suppressed an unmayoral exclamation. He stared unbelievingly at his daughter for an instant, recovered himself, and allowed himself to become really angry.
“You have, eh?” he gritted. He was alx>ut to say that he would put a stop to that in short order, but checked himself. Past experience in dealing with his daughter had made him wary in adopting any hard and fast attitude.
He had refuge, pro tern, in further sarcasm.
“It must be fine to have nothing to do at one’s office but entertain women.”
“Well, he hasn’t had a great deal to do so far,” Mary agreed. “He’s just out of Osgoode, and it takes time to build up a business. He’ll have more to do after he gets better acquainted. I told him you’d send some business his way after you get to know him better, and that will help some.” His Worship took a deep breath, but no words came. While he was still groping, Mary continued:
"And then, of course, he’ll be a lot busier after the new factory comes to town.”
THE mayor uttered the single word in a kind of yelping bleat, jerked forward in his chair and slapped his hands on his knees, all in the same startling instant. His wife started violently at the explosion.
“What?” repeated the mayor, leaning forward and staring incredulously at his daughter. “What did you say?”
“I said.” she repeated, “that Jim would be busier after the new factory comes to town.” “What—what new factory?” demanded the mayor weakly.
Mary gazed at him in mild surprise.
“The Regal Pencil Works, or something.” Mr. Rankin definitely wilted. He slumped in his chair and gasped, a trifle wild-eyed. But only for an instant. He rallied quickly and straightened again.
“What do you know about the new factory?” he demanded.
“Jim was just telling us.”
“And how does he know anything about it? Eh?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure.” Mary was inclined to be Just a little aloof and reserved at her father’s vehemence. “I didn’t ask him.” “What did he say about it? How did he come to be talking about it?”
“Why,” said Mary, now definitely mounting her high horse, “he simply said that he would be busier after the Regal people move in. He’s to be legal adviser for the local branch, or whatever you call it.”
Mr. Rankin gaped and goggled. He was for the moment stricken speechless. And when his tongue loosened, he began to air his views of the absent Jim Spragg in a manner quite bereft of his usual dignity.
“Why—why—why—” he sputtered. His face crimsoned ; he started from his chair and began to rage up and down the room. “Why, the young—the young jackanapes. The confounded, impudent young jackanapes. Legal adviser, huh? I’ll see about that. I’ll fix him. The young whelp. Legal adviser !”
He whirled on Mrs. Rankin.
“How did this young pup know anything about the factory? Eh? Did you tell him?” “Oh, dear!” wailed Mrs. Rankin. Her hands began to flutter and she fell a-trembling.
“Dad !” exclaimed Mary imperiously. She sprang to her feet and confronted her father haughtily. “There’s no need to bully mother. She didn’t tell him, because she didn’t know. She didn’t know anything about it until he told us himself this afternoon.” She fixed her father with a withering eye and extended a hand to Mrs. Rankin. “Come, mother.”
Mr. Rankin stood in the middle of the room with his hands locked behind his back and his mouth open, watching the ladies while they left the room. From the hall his wife's quavering voice trailed back to him.
“But James is such a nice boy ...”
“Arr-r-r,“said His Worship the Mayor, through clenched teeth.
USUALLY the matter of going to the post office for the morning mail was a pleasant and enjoyable experience. A man could stop and chat with the business men on Main Street, could revel secretly in their patent appreciation of the fact that he was nobody less than the mayor and was therefore entitled to homage, could unbend sufficiently so that he could not fail to be recognized as just a big, funloving, good fellow who was only prevent«! from joining into the life and laughter of the community by the necessary dignity encumbering one in his office. The morning visit to the post office was usually a histrionic occasion, and the mayor never failed to enjoy himself thoroughly in the Cellar rôle.
On the morning after the startling revelations in the lx>som of his household, however, it was not as pleasant as usual. To begin with. His Worship flad passed a bad night. He had spent tossing, restless hours in wondering where young Spragg that young whippersnapper, of all people had got his news. Then, after a solitary and grouchy breakfast. he had gone down to the office to endure a long succession of jangling telephone rails. People wanted to know if it
were true about the factory; people wanted him to be sure that Cousin Dick and Brother Joe got good positions with the new concern; people wanted to know if the mayor could send them any boarders after things were started. It seemed to Mr. Rankin that everybody in town telephoned him— except people who wanted to order coal or wood.
The mayor turned the telephone over to his assistant and fled. lie would go to the post office, and from there to salvage at least one gleam of pleasure from the wreck of his mental satisfaction. He would, he decided, go to see old Charley Dennis, the old buzzard; he would rub it into the old boy about having at last secured a prospect on which to unload* the Pail and Bucket works, through the good offices of the very mayor he had criticized so long. The mayor had been waiting for this moment for years.
His Worship drew up at the post office, fixed the expression of mayoral benevolence on his face, and stepped out of the car. He was immediately besieged. Merchants and citizens and tradesmen gathered in knots to waylay him. There was a considerable outpost at the dœrs, and a really formidable guard within. When he got as gracefully as he could past one group, another met him with a barrage of questions.
They wanted information about the new factory. Was the rumor true? Was it definitely settled? In their eagerness to know, they occasionally forgot who Mr. Rankin was. Sam Hooker, the dry goods merchant, for instance, so far forgot himself as to address the Mayor of Vaughan as “Hank,” just as he had done when they were boys together.
“Heard about the new factory. Hank?”
It was most provoking, and the mayor did not linger. With reckless disregard for perfectly good votes, he rebuffed the advances of honest, if dull, citizens, procured his mail, and took his red-faced self haughtily to his car. I lis Worship the Mayor was annoyed, and he didn’t care who knew it.
When the big car shot away from the curb, headed for Charley Dennis’s place, the heavy pontifical brow boded no good for old Charley. However, Mr. Rankin was an old campaigner; before he arrived the frown was replaced by a wide smile of utmost good nature.
'T'HE car swept up with its customary verve and flourish before the clipped hedges and trimmed lawns and neat flowerbeds of the Dennis home. Charley himself, his spare, bony little arms enveloped in shirt sleeves, and a faded and shapeless linen hat covering his bald dome, was squatted over a bare flower bed, digging gladiolus bulbs. When the
gate in the cedar hedge clicked shut behind the mayor, the old man looked up, called a greeting, and resumed his digging.
At the sound of his voice Mr. Rankin winced inwardly. The caustic tone recalled a score of painful verbal exchanges, from none of which the mayor had emerged covered with glory.
Old Charley’s greeting was characteristic.
“Well, how’s the big toad in the little puddle?”
From long and painful experience the mayor had learned that it was best not to hear such things. He ignored it. With his best mayoral smile on his face, he advanced across the lawn, booming:
“Well, well. well. Getting the old place fixed up a bit, eh?”
He paused beside the squatting figure. Old Charley sniffed and dug.
“Getting them in for the winter, eh?” His Worship persisted.
“Yep,” said Charley tersely, plumping a bulb into the basket.
Mr. Rankin shifted his polished «hoes on the clipped turf and pinched his lower lip.
He was not °ure about how to begin.
“Well,” he announced presently, “if you knew what I’ve come to tell you, you’d stand up and take notice.”
“H’mph,” said Charley, without looking up. “Gonna increase the tax rate again or somep’n?”
Mr. Rankin allowed the Rankin laugh to boom out. Charley Dennis, that laugh said, might have his little joke, but he was not going to worry the mayor.
“No, no, Charley.” he chortled. “It’s good news this time.” He waited for Charley to exhibit interest, and when the old man continued to dig, he added: “It concerns you, too, Charley.”
Mr. Dennis rose stiffly, trowel in hand, and surveyed the gladiolus bed.
“Well.” he snapped, “let’s have it then.”
“Think you can stand a shock?” chuckled the mayor.
“H’mph. Stood lots of ’em before.”
Charley moved around the circle of the bed, prepared to stoop laboriously once more.
Mr. Rankin followed him hastily. He wanted
to get in his shot while the enemy was still standing; he was not to be robbed of the effect.
“It’s about the Pail and Bucket shop.”
The eff ect was not as pronounced as he had hoped. The keen eyes under the shaggy old brows shot him one sharp glance and went back to consideration of the flower-bed.
“So?” said Charley.
“Yes, sir,” said the mayor triumphantly, and tossed out his trump card. “I think we’ve found you a tenant for it.”
He fixed victorious eyes on old Charley and waited, inwardly bubbling with delight. He would savor this moment to the full, and then revel in his own magnanimity.
Charley’s sharp-eyed glance was longer this time. For an instant his eyes were puzzled; and as he looked away, humorous comprehension dawned in them.
“The young devil !” he breathed softly.
“Eh?” said the mayor, bewildered.
Charley stooped rheumatically over the flower-bed and resumed his labor.
Continued on page 46
Continued from page 9
"Well," he said crisply as he trowelled, “anything you got to say about the Pail and Bucket shop don’t interest me."
There was a finality in his tone which indicated that, as far as he was concerned, the interview was over.
“What?” shouted His Worship at the bent back. It required an instant for the old man’s meaning to crystallize in his mind, and then he blazed out: "Don’t interest you? Why, darn your old hide, you’ve been crabbin’ for fifteen years because you could not get a tenant for that place. You’ve groused and growled all the time I been in the council because we didn’t unload that white elephant for you. And now you—” His Worship paused abruptly, checked by the knowledge that this was a decidedly unmayoral outburst. Once again he had allowed this old catamount to shatter his dignity.
“I know. I know,” said Charley patiently, putting bulbs in his basket. “That was when I owned the shop.”
The mayor gulped and goggled.
“Eh? When—when you owned it? Don’t don’t you own it now?”
“Nope,” said Charley placidly. “Sold her last week.”
■DOR the first time during the interview Mr. Rankin was glad that the old man was occupied, that he was not looking. Above the bent back he put up a heroic fight for self-control.
Mainly to put in time, he repeated in a voice that quivered despite his best efforts: “Sold it?”
“Yep,” said Charley.
The mayor, now rapidly recovering himself, asked the inevitable question in his own words.
For the length of time required to dig three bulbs and place them in the basket there was silence on the Dennis lawn. Finally Charley, apparently having considered the matter, spoke.
"Don’t knows it’s any of your business,” he stated, “but if ya want to know, it wras that young Spragg.”
The mayor uttered one startled bleat, and silence again descended. Charley grunted as he moved stiffly on his knees around the flowerbed, and the mayor silently went j through another period of terrific readjustment.
He wanted to talk. He wanted to say a dozen different things at once, to ask a score of questions. He wanted to know how much young Spragg had paid, and where a kid like that would get enough money to purchase even a little plant like the Pail and Bucket works.
But he wouldn’t do it, he resolved. By the great horn spoon, he wouldn’t do it. No, sir. He’d be danged if he would. He wouldn’t give this old curmudgeon the satisfaction of seeing that he cared.
Mayor Rankin, by a tremendous effort, marshalled his wavering faculties sufficiently to congratulate Mr. Dennis on the completion of the transaction, passed a few apt comments on the weather, mumbled about the pressure of business, and retreated from the field with what grace he could muster. The sound of a senile chuckle over the flowerbed as he turned away served only to stiffen his shoulders and increase the dignity with which he strode to his car.
The mayor of Vaughan, feeling very much as if someone had pricked and deflated him. stopped at Rankin’s Coal and Wood office only long enough to inform the assistant that he would not be present any more that day, and drove home.
At home he went into the room known as "father’s den” and closed the door very softly upon the world. The mayor craved solitude, deep and real, in which to lave his battered spirit. The Municipality of Vaughan saw no more of the chief magistrate that day.
It was during the long and stilly hours of
the night that His Worship had another idea. He thought of Bob Wilson. Bob, as manager of the Colonial Bank and chairman of the Board of Trade, would probably know something.
Mr. Rankin would go to see Bob in the morning. That being at least a definite idea in the welter of confused emotions, Mr. Rankin seized upon it and felt somewhat cheered. He settled down to troubled slumber for the rest of the night.
While shaving next morning there popped into his mind a pleasing fact that he had temporarily overlooked. The coal and wood business. Undoubtedly the Regal people would require considerable quantities of fuel, and who was a more logical person to supply it than Mr. Rankin, who was in the business and mayor of the town to boot?
By means of concentrating on this angle of the affair, and with the aid of a rosebud from the breakfast table in his buttonhole, the mayor stimulated and rebuilt his selfesteem until he was able to breeze into Bob Wilson’s office later in the morning with almost all his old verve and flourish.
V\ TELL, Bob?” he boomed heartily at ** the banker behind his desk.
“Well, Your Worship?” replied Bob.
The banker applied a match to his curved pipe, tilted back in his chair, fixed thumbs in his vest, and looked at Mr. Rankin with a gleam in his eye.
“What do you know?” he enquired.
“I know,” said the mayor, taking the visitor’s chair, "that this old town is up and coming at last.”
“Right again,” said Bob Wilson, through a cloud of smoke.
“This factory business will mean a lot to the old town, I tell you,” enthused Mr. Rankin. “A hundred more men and maybe two hundred girls workin’. I tell you. Bob, you’re gonna see a lot of new savings accounts opened up here when it goes through.”
The banker removed one hand from his vest, took the pipe from his teeth, nodded silently, and replaced it.
Mr. Rankin proceeded to give Bob a fatherly pat on the back.
“And all because we got a good live Board of Trade,” he said unctuously. “Workin’ quietly, under cover, as you might say—”
The mayor broke off abruptly and eyed the banker. Bob removed his pipe again, blew a long streamer of smoke, and shook his head at it.
“It wasn’t the Board of Trade,” he said quietly.
Mr. Rankin stared at him silently for a moment and then said :
“No,” said Wilson. “We haven't been doing much lately. Outside of running the usual advertisements, you might say we haven’t done anything. We didn't even know Regal were thinking of a Canadian ¡ branch.” He puffed quietly at his pipe for an , interval and added: “It was a private
In his interest at this revelation, the mayor allowed his mantle of dignity to slip | ever so little. He sat staring at the banker. ¡ The banker continued to smoke.
Finally Mr. Rankin closed his mouth, and immediately opened it again to ask:
"Who was it?”
“You ought to know,” said Wilson. “You’re the mayor of this town, and you’re Mary’s father. If anybody knows the ins and outs of this deal, you ought to be the man.”
Mr. Rankin sat staring. Either Wilson was crazy, or he was crazy, or ... A startling suspicion leaped into his mind. No sooner was it there than it began to grow, magically, until it had assumed hideous proportions. It brought him to his feet and across to Wilson’s desk.
Gripping the edge of the desk, leaning over it, he stared at Wilson in fascination.
“Was it.” he demanded hoarsely, “was it young young Spragg?”
WILSON blew smoke and laughed up into his face.
"Sure it was.”
Mr. Rankin stared for another instant, sat down heavily, and reached for a handkerchief with which to mop his brow. There was a prolonged silence, in which he did his best not to gasp audibly.
“But—but,” he stammered at last, uttering the first thought that occurred to him. “he—Spragg owns the factory.”
Wilson shook his head again.
“Not any more, he doesn’t.”
"But—he bought it. He bought it from old Charley. Charley told me—”
“Sure he did,” Wilson cut in, “but he sold it again. He sold it to the Regal people last night. I witnessed the deal.”
“Do you mean,” cried Mr. Rankin, “that he went out and bought it and then got the Regal people to come here and buy it from him?”
“Oh, no,” chuckled Mr. Wilson, putting his pipe on the desk and shoving hands in pockets. “Not that boy. He’s too canny for that. The Lord knows how he did it, but he went down to New York and persuaded the Regal people to establish here. Then he came back and bought the only place in town that was any good to them—after he knew they were coming.”
“And sold it to them,” added Mr. Rankin, plucking at the handkerchief in his hand and allowing his eyes to rove wildly.
“At a profit of five thousand dollars,” completed Mr. Wilson with satisfaction. Mr. Rankin started violently.
“Five thousand. Why, he only owned the place a week.”
“Eight days,” corrected Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Rankin had recourse to an expression he had not used for years. In the stress of the moment he reverted to type. He said: "Gosh all hemlock !”
For a long time his Worship sat looking about the room with a dazed expression on his face, and Banker Wilson sat looking at him, still with a gleam in his eye. The mayor was striving for sufficient strength to make his departure. He did not care this time whether or not he carried out the retreat with banners high; he wanted only to be gone.
With the return of strength came a recollection of a question he had left unasked. He turned to the banker and enquired feebly:
“How—how much did this kid pay for the — the P. and B. works?”
Mr. Wilson pursed his lips and placed his head on one side.
“Well, I don’t suppose that’s any secret. He paid nineteen thousand.”
“Nineteen thous—whew! Where in tarnation did he get it?”
Wilson shot a searching glance at him. Amazement mingled with unbelief in his eyes.
“Say,” he demanded, “what is this? A game? Are you kidding me?”
Mr. Rankin was in no condition at the moment for mental gymnastics. The banker’s sudden alteration of the viewpoint was too much for him.
“Kidding you?” he repeated dully, staring blankly.
“Do you mean to say,” asked Wilson, “that you didn't know about all this when it happened? You don’t know where he got the money?”
Mr. Rankin stared mutely. For a long moment Mr. Wilson looked searchingly at him. Presently wrinkles of amusement appeared at the corners of the banker’s eyes.
He picked up his pipe, polished the bowl on the heel of his hand, and admired the result with a chuckle.
“The young devil!” he breathed softly. Mr. Rankin started again. Those words . . .
“What? What was that?”
Banker Wilson laid down his pipe, rose, came around the desk, and laid a friendly hand on His Worship’s shoulder.
“Mr. Mayor,” he said kindly, “I can’t tell you where the boy got the money. It’s a
banker’s secret. And.” he added. “I don’t know that I would tell you even if I could."
“No." said the banker firmly, piloting him gently toward the door. “Banker’s secret. Besides, it wouldn’t be safe.”
ALL THINGS considered, it was rather unfair of young Jim Spragg to choose that particular day, of all days, to call on His Worship the mayor. Mr. Rankin was really entitled to a breathing spell, time to recuperate, as far as possible, from his systematic devastation.
However, young Jim, apparently all unaware of his Worship’s inward distress, was waiting when the proprietor of Rankin’s Coal and Wood Company, still groggy and mentally reeling, arrived at his place of business after his visit to the bank.
As the mayor came in the front door he began to shed his coat. Rounding the corner to his private nook, he stopped short and stared, his coat half off, at the young man sitting there, as if Jim were an apparition rather than a clean-cut and likeable young fellow with an ingenuous face and sandy hair inclining to redness. When Jim said “Good morning,” His Worship started as if a stuffed fowl had spoken.
A moment later, when the mayor was seated behind his desk, Jim explained his presence there.
“I happened to be going by,” he said, “so I thought I’d drop in and see you.”
“Oh,” said the mayor vacantly. “I see. You happened to be going by, so you thought—-—-I see.”
The mayor stared drunkenly and nodded his head slowly.
“About the coal,” added Jim cheerfully.
“Oh, yes,” agreed the mayor, in the manner of one entranced. “You were going by. so you thought you’d drop in and see me about the coal. Of course.”
“Yes,” acquiesced Jim. “The coal for the Regal people, after they move in. You see, sir, I have a contract with them to deliver a hundred and ten tons a month at the shop as long as they operate. I fixed it up with them when we made the deal about the factory. They —Are you ill, sir?”
“Oh, no,” gasped Mr. Rankin. “I—I’m all right, I guess.” He pulled himself back up in his chair and made a violent effort to collect his wandering senses. "Facilities,” he panted, plucking at the buttons of his waistcoat. “You have no facilities for handling coal. No siding at the plant.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Jim carelessly. He was evidently relieved to find that the mayor was merely troubled about this minor detail rather than seriously ill. “I'll sublet to somebody who has the facilities. I’ll make a nice slice every month, and of course the sub-contractor will get a little, too, but not as much as I will.”
Once again the mayor used his own words.
“Well, sir,” said Jim, with some diffi¡ dence, “I thought it was only fair to give you first chance at it, knowing Mary so well and all ...”
Ten minutes later the mayor, with the movements of a sleepwalker, signed stupidly where Jim told him to. automatically said good-by. and watched the young man walk away with a copy of the sub-contract in his pocket.
One minute after that Mr. Rankin called out feebly to the assistant:
“Lock up right away,” he directed, “and drive me home.”
HIS WORSHIP the mayor, spent several hours grovelling, fully dressed, on his bed that afternoon. At first he refused the fluttering attentions of Mrs. Rankin, who hovered over and around him like a fussy hen, but by dinnertime he had recovered sufficiently to accept the tray which she brought with her own hands. With his back against piled pillows, he munched moodily and felt faint vestiges of strength growing within him.
Accordingly as they grew, he began to mutter about Jim Spragg. His wife, with an
obvious desire to humor the sick, flutteringly agreed with everything he said.
“What I'd like to know." he mumbled for the tenth time, “is where the deuce he got the money."
"Yes. indeed.” agreed Mrs. Rankin, making needless adjustments of the blankets. "Was it so very much?”
Mrs. Rankin ceased in her fussing and straightened, regarding him sharply. She caught a quick little breath, and her regard turned to a stare. Almost visibly the wheels I went around in her white, innocent, muddled ! head. Suddenly she wailed, “Oh, dear!” and clapped the back of one hand to her mouth. The eyes that looked at him over the hand grew large and round with fright.
Mr. Rankin looked on in astonishment. She clasped her hands before her and looked at him beseechingly.
“Henry, Henry,” she quavered. “I didn’t know. He he didn’t tell me. I didn’t connect the two. Oh. dear.”
The mayor ceased his process of mastication and allowed his mouth to drop open. Slowly, never taking his eyes from his wife, he slipped the tray from his knees and rose from the bed.
In the manner of one whose passion is spent, who is incapable of further storms, he took his wife by the shoulders and forced j her to look at him.
“Martha,” he said quietly and sadly, ‘‘did I you give money to this boy?”
Mrs. Rankin sought refuge in evasion. “But it’s all right. Henry,” she quavered. “It’s all back now. It’s in the bank. He ‘ brought it back today.”
“How much.” insisted the mayor, forcing
his mental wheels to tum just a little bit I farther, “how much did you give him?” ”N-nineteen thousand dollars. Henry."
His Worship started. He wouldn't have | thought himself capable of it, but nevertheless. at mention of the sum, he started. “Nine—But where did you get it?”
Mrs. Rankin took a step backward as if to avoid a blow, and raised a trembling hand to her lips.
“He—James showed me how to make out a mortgage thing on the house. He said there was no use bothering you about it, because you were so busy and all, and you didn't have to sign any papers because you assigned the house to me the time of the bankruptcy thing. He -he said it would be all right. And it was all right, because we’ve got the money back already, you see. And James is sucha nice boy ...”
Her husband dropped his hands. He silenced her with a weak gesture and stood with closed eyes.
Mrs. Rankin hastened with further extenuation.
“Of course, I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t all in the family, Henry.”
The mayor opened his eyes and managed to put an expression of enquiry on his face.
“I mean,” fluttered Mrs. Rankin, ‘‘he and Mary are going to get married. They—they didn’t like to tell you just yet.”
Wordlessly, nervelessly, His Worship stared at her. His thumbs twitched helplessly at the seams of his trousers and his fingers quivered like spent birds.
Mrs. Rankin hastened to soften the blow. “Not right away, of course. James says he won’t be ready to marry till he gets to be mayor.”