FICTION

Duress

CLELAND LUNDY May 15 1932
FICTION

Duress

CLELAND LUNDY May 15 1932

Duress

FICTION

CLELAND LUNDY

A fond father learns that sales resistance is a weak reed when Rgmance enters Business

MR. WILLOUGHBY was low in his mind. The world was wrong. Even the traffic lights were conniving against him. After shining in bright green welcome far in advance, they invariably flashed red when he reached them. Reckless drivers cut in ahead, slowing him up, and cars behind tooted insistently and insultingly. Mr. Willoughby wished he had left the car at home.

He bnxxled as he waited for the lights to change. It had been a bad day at the office, a day of worries and disappointments. Of course, in times like these, every day was an ordeal for everybody in general and for sales managers in particular, but today had been especially wracking. The Burch Batteries deal had assumed a very discouraging aspect. In fact. Mr. Willoughby feared the worst. And the Burch Batteries deal would have been an event in the life of any sales manager.

Ás if that were not enough, the general manager had sent for him just before he had left. With shades of emphasis that seemed to the sales manager’s harried senses distinctly sinister, the boss had pointed out that sales were dropping off with consistency and regularity a painful fact which Mr. Willoughby had recognized privately some time before and suggested that it would be very, very convenient if the Burch deal went through.

Mr. Willoughby sighed. Iking a sales manager was bad enough at any time, but being saies manager of The International Office Furniture Company in times of depression was woe unutterable. At least, Mr. Willoughby thought it was. For when normally fat pocketlxxiks become lean and jxxir and subject to lockjaw, who is going to spend money on office fixtures? Evidently not R. B. Burch, at any rate.

A week ago he had received a sure-fire tip that Burch was in the market for office fittings, and at once had called in three star salesmen and put them on the trail. He had even stooped to enter the campaign himself; in times like

these a man couldn't afford to stand on ceremony.

And then, after a week of hotel bills and lengthy telegrams, the answer had been decidedly equivocal.

Much too equivocal to fool a veteran like Mr. Willoughby.

Oh, well.

The lights changed, the car started with a series of diminishing leaps and settled down to an uninterrupted progress of one short block. Mr. Willoughby’s thoughts went shooting off to the fact that if he had as much money as R. B. Burch he wouldn’t have to worry about sides maintenance curves and inadequate support advertising. But he checked himself. Tangential thinking was frowned upon by the best success authorities.

As he turned wearily into his lane, he recollected another problem. Into his mind popped a vision of Fred that morning, remonstrating in pyjamas that he wanted, had to have, the car today.

Fred would be in pyjamas when other men were going to work, and he would be wanting the car.

He sighed again. As executive in charge of sales he had worries aplenty, and as father of a stalwart young son fresh from university he had more. Just when he wanted the soothing quietness and humdrum of home life. Fred had to bring his out-of-town girl for a weekend. And, in spite of earnest protests and puttings down of fatherly feet, she was to have arrived today.

Such was life.

Mr. Willoughby had an inferiority complex about driving. Usually he refused to recognize it, of course, but it frequently rose up and got a stranglehold on his confidence just about the time he was trying to manoeuvre his way into the garage. It did so tonight, to the effect that he became flurried and rammed the end wall, knocking three oil cans and a bottle of distilled water from a shelf to the concrete floor.

T—TE WAS not in gixxl humor when he opened the front d(x>r.

There was luggage. Quantities of it. Cases and boxes of various shapes and sizes, all initialled and expensive-looking, cluttering up the front hall.

Mr. Willoughby bit his lips.

In the kitchen still hatted and coated, he glowered at Mrs. Willoughby. Mrs. Willoughby, however, seemed quite unperturbed. She went placidly about instructing the cook as to the salad.

“Well.” he said accusingly, “I see she’s here.”

“Yes,” said his wife shortly.

I íe was about to speak again when Mrs. Willoughby said, “Just a moment, dear.” He waited while she completed her instructions and then followed her to the deserted dining rcx)m, out of range of cook’s ears. Mrs. Willoughby waited.

“Who is this girl?” he demanded.

“Her name is Nancy Whitton,” said Mrs. Willoughby patiently. “You must have heard Fred speak of her. He met her at college two years ago.”

"Is it serious?”

“I fancy it is, rather. From little things Fred has said, I wouldn’t be surprised if this visit is just a preliminary to the announcement.”

Mr. Willoughby glanced at her sharply.

“Getting married, you mean?”

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

“It’s time, isn’t it?”

“No,” said Mr. Willoughby flatly. “It is not time. Let him get a job first. Let him show some gumption. No, sir. He doesn’t get married yet for a while. Not if I know anything about it.”

His wife looked out the window' and smiled at something unseen.

“What’s she like?” he asked suspiciously.

“Why, from the little I’ve seen of her, I think she’s really delightful, Humphrey. It isn’t often you find such poise in young people nowadays.”

“Poise, eh? A lot of good that will do her. What she’ll need if she marries Fred will be enough money to keep herself. And it’s dollars to doughnuts she hasn’t a nickel. What’s her father do?”

“It seems, according to Fred, that he’s a big manufacturer of some sort.”

“Bah! D'ya think, in my business, that I don’t know everybody that amounts to anything? Big manufacturer, eh? Why, I never even heard the name before. Well, that settles it. This thing is going to be put a stop to right now.

“Humphrey ...”

“She’s a little er-adventuress, I tell you, and I won’t have her running after Fred. I’ve got some authority around here, and it’s time I used it.”

“You re assuming too much, dear.”

“You heard me.” Snappy, decisive, final.

Mrs. Willoughby looked at him kindly for a moment and slightly shook her neat grey head. After that she spoke to him quietly, pointedly, and at some length.

Slipping upstairs to shed his business suit, Mr. Willoughby sighed again. When a man’s own wife turns against him . . .

As he passed down the hall, Fred put his head out of a doorway and asked:

“Put the car in the garage, dad?”

Mr. Willoughby stared bleakly at him for an instant, and passed silently on to his own room.

' I ’HIRTY minutes later the sales manager came downstairs, retrieved the evening paper from the hall table, and went into the living room to be introduced. During the meeting he held the paper in such a way as to hint that he considered this introduction a necessary evil.

Nancy was dark and quiet and taller than he had expected. She stood easily beside broad-shouldered Fred, adequate consort to a fine young man. Her chin was firmly rounded and not in the least deceiving. It gave unmistakable testimony that Nancy had a mind of her own.

She was grave but undeniably sweet. A friendly light glowed deep in the quick black eyes, and gave evidence that she was prepared to like him. Mr. Willoughby took a mental brace on himself. He saw to it that his manner stated positively and beyond doubt that he was not only prepared, but had actually started, to dislike her. He was terse and gruff, and when the introduction was over he treated the magazine lying in his favorite chair with flagrant and unnecessary violence.

Mr. Willoughby opened the paper at the financial page and flipped it very pointedly. Mr. Willoughby, said that flip, was displeased.

Dinner was not pleasant. There was no cordiality. A coldness radiated from the head of the table. Fred and Nancy and Mrs. Willoughby talked laboriously, as if conscious that all three were on thin ice and expected momentarily to be plunged to cold and disagreeable depths. So Mrs. Willoughby broke her rule and had coffee in the living room.

That night, in the privacy of their room, she had further speech with her husband. And a man with red blood in his veins couldn't have done anything but become more surly.

Mr. Willoughby breakfasted alone next morning.

When he came home that evening—Friday evening—he got the impression that while the cat had been away the mice had been playing. There was an air of hushed jollity, of suspended fun.

He saw himself as a wet blanket, and his first impulse was to feel somewhat ashamed, but he argued that down promptly. It was their own faults, he told himself. They had brought this gold-digger here and practically flaunted her in his face. Constituted authority had meant nothing to them then. Let them suffer now.

Anyway, having taken his stand, it was impossible to relinquish it, even if he wanted to—which, of course, he didn’t He couldn’t give in and become one of the party now without loss of face. So he took his place at the table and maintained his position, cold and aloof. It was painful for everybody.

It was not surprising that Fred, after dinner, suggested a theatre for Nancy and himself; nor was it surprising that when he met his father in the hall upstairs, while preparing to go, he looked coldly into the older man's eyes and passed without a word. It was not surprising, but it was disturbing. A man isn’t snubbed by his own son without some rankling.

Mr. Willoughby brooded over it all evening and finally laid the blame at Nancy’s ckx)r. By bedtime his active dislike for her had changed into a cold hatred. At least he told himself that it had.

After casting about in his mind for some time he finally decided on the word "hussy.” He tried it over a few times. Yes; “hussy” was eminently satisfactory. This matter attended to, Mr. Willoughby went to bed.

While punching his pillow he remembered with a mental groan that there was still Saturday and Sunday; still two days in which she must be endured. He punched the pillow rather harder than was necessary.

TLTE WAS lying awake when they came in. There were noises in the kitchen, dull thuds of the refrigerator door, and after that a protracted clinking of cups and saucers, and Willoughby discovered he was hungry. Finally they came upstairs and murmured in the ha:', and said goodnight several times.

Mr. Willoughby had just convinced himself that he wasn’t hungry at all and begun to doze oft when he heard Nancy’s dcx>r open and a moment later there was a tap on Fred’s. Stirrings and creakings as Fred answered.

The door opened and Nancy said: “I think I’ll send it now, after all.”

“Good,” said Fred. “We’ll phone it in.”

“Shall I use the phone downstairs?”

“I guess that would be best. Just a sec. and I’ll come down with you.”

After a moment they went downstairs, and thereafter Mr. Willoughby could hear Nancy at the telephone for some time. Although he couldn’t distinguish what she said, it sounded as if she were dictating.

As he dozed off the second time, it came to him that Nancy had sent a telegram.

While he dressed next morning he lcx>ked out the wn. low, wondered about the weather, and mentally debated whether or not he should go to the office today. He wasn’t obliged to go on Saturdays, but frequently he t&ltx&gtk advantage of the silence at the deserted plant to do a little solitary worrying, alone in his office. Today, however, he wasn’t so sure about it. I le was fed up. Fed up with everything.

The weather was depressing, and he alone in the house was stirring. Life seemed somehow futile and drab this morning.

He went downstairs and slipped out to the verandah for the morning paper. At the gate, a boy on a bicycle was stopping. Two telegrams; one for himself and one for Miss Nancy Whitton. He signed for both and left Nancy’s lying on the hall table.

Mr. Willoughby took his place at the breakfast table and laid the folded paper beside his grapefruit. With a table knife he slit the yellow envelope and pulled out the message.

A very surprising, very delightful message. A message that made him leap up and hurry breakfastless from the room. It said:

Reconsidered may make change to all steel office equipment Burch

While he drove to the office he composed mental telegrams frenziedly and wondered about sending somelxxiy up there. Maybe he should go himself; charter a plane and start right now.

The trouble was, he couldn’t be sure about anything. Burch’s wire had been baffling. There was nothing definite about it, nothing of which to take hold. He didn’t say “Send a man” or “I’m sending a man.” Still, he had said “reconsidered.” That could only mean that he had thought better of the International Company’s proposition. But, even so, Mr. Willoughby wished he had been a little more definite about what he wanted.

At his desk, the sales manager covered sheets of paper with projected telegrams that seemed to fit the case. P'inally he picked out one, telephoned it in, and sat down to wait.

It was an arduous forenoon.

About noon he received the most startling telegram that had ever come his way. It cut the earth away from under his feet, rendered futile all his hurriedly but earnestly laid plans, and left him somewhat dazed. It said:

See Miss Whitton stopping your home for all details

Burch

VXTILLOUGHBY spent a half-hour of terrific readjust’V ment and then drove home.

“Where,” he asked his wife in a subdued tone, “are the

kids?”

The kids, it seemed, had gone somewhere. Probably downtown. And his wife didn’t know when they expected to return.

The long afternoon and the silent dinner hour were even more arduous than the morning had been.

Fred and Nancy, having dined downtown, returned while Mr. Willoughby was shaving. He heard them enter, and heard Fred come upstairs to his room. A little hurriedly, he finished his shave, secured the telegram, took a deep breath and passed downstairs.

He was fortunate in finding Nancy alone before the fire in the living room.

She sat at ease in a big chair before the hearth, gazing quietly into the leaping flames, one graceful leg in black chiffon outstretched and hands at rest on the chair arms. Her head lay back on the stuffed upholstery.

Mr. Willoughby breezed in airily. He was jovial and benign. He was prepared to let bygones be bygones, to start anew, to enter upon a chaff ing, easy-going gixxl fellowship. Two gfxxl fellows, that was what they were.

“Well, well, well,” he boomed. “So here you are at last, eh? I thought I heard you come in.”

Nancy turned slow eyes on him and smiled.

"I got the shock of my young life this morning,” he announced heartily, taking upa wide-legged stance on the hearth, hands in pockets, and beaming. “Yes, sir. The shock of my young life. A wire from R. B. Burch.”

"1 got one too,” said Nancy simply, without lifting her eyes.

“That settles it!” exclaimed Mr.

Willoughby emphatically, with mock relief.

"That settles it. Now I’m convinced it was true. But I couldn’t see how in thunderation you knew old R. B.”

“No?” said Nancy softly, smiling at the fire.

“Why, lie’s a millionaire,” said Mr.

Willoughby, suddenly serious. There was a note of awe in his voice, and another note, almost as if he were accusing her of something indefinite but nevertheless reprehensible.

For the first time he heard Nancy laugh; a low-toned, rippling laugh, quiet, like herself.

"Not quite as bad as that,” she said.

“Prett y close to it, then.”

“You seem to know a lot about him,” said Mr. Willoughby.

"I ought to.”

“You see,” said Nancy, “he’s my father.”

Mr. Willoughby made a sound which suggested that he had just been kicked briskly in the stomach.

He st&ltx>d wide-legged on the hearth, hands in coat pockets, staring blankly at her. Finally he caught his breath and said, "Oh.”

Nancy watched her fingers milling the pile of the chair arm.

“Or perhaps I should say stepfather,” she amended quietly. "He married my mother.

But he regards me as his daughter.”

She let her head drop back and smiled up at him. “And the apple of his eye,” she added.

“I don't doubt that part of it,” said Mr.

Willoughby gallantly but weakly. I le resisted an impulse to mop his brow. Brow mopping would have suggested that he was not completely master of the situation; which, he hastened to assure himself, he was.

Nancy studied the fire, evidently content to leave the next move to him. He remembered suddenly that he had a sales talk to give, and pulled himself together. But just as he was preparing to launch out, a new thought struck him and pulled him up short. Some day this girl w'ould have Burch’s money !

With an effort he roused himself. W. F. Willoughby could lx a jolly good fellow even with a millionaire’s daughter. He knew it. and he was going to see that Nancy knew it, too. He was going to show her right now. Summoning up his Ixst tone, used only on especial occasions, he plunged in.

"Well, sir, that’s what 1 call a coincidence. Yes, sir, a coincidence. Here Fve been trying to sell—trying to interest Mr. Burch in some new' stock for two weeks, and then his daughter comes along to stay here. Can you beat that?” “It might not have seemed so strange if you had analyzed it carefully,” said Nancy.

“Did it ever occur to you. Mr. Willoughby, that Fred might be guilty of dark and deep-laid plots?”

He snorted involuntarily. "Bah ! Not a brain. He hasn’t enough ambition.”

“You may lx mistaken,” said Nancy.

Mr. Willoughby had an uncomfortable feeling that the conversation was getting out of hand. There wras something here he didn’t understand, and since to consider it at the moment would have been tantamount to tangential thinking, he backed away ¿rom it. One thing at a time was sufficient, and good business.

“That's all right,” he declared tolerantly, “but it’s business first with me every time.” fie chuckled throatily. “Now that you’re here and I’m here, what about it?”

“What about it?” repeated Nancy.

I íe remembered to be jovial.

“I suppose there’ll be no difficulty in signing you and your old dad up for a nice little order, eh?”

Nancy pursed her lips and arched her brow's at the leaping fire.

“Why should we?” she asked.

“Eh? Well, now, look here. You know yourself that International puts out the best office furniture on the market. Our stuff speaks for itself. And I can offer you a deal that’ll make you sit up and take notice. That’s why you’re going to sign in the right place. You just won’t be able to help yourself.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Nancy. “Consolidated Office Fittings puts out just as good furniture, and you know it. They have to or they couldn’t live. And on a complete change to all steel equipment, they offered papa a better proposition than you did.”

Mr. Willoughby searched frantically and unsuccessfully for the witty retort that would take the sting from this sally. There w'as one of those pauses.

He knew that his wife and Fred had come into the room in time to hear most of the last remark. Mrs. Willoughby took a chair under the table lamp, and Fred crossed to a bookcase and stexxi riffling the pages of a volume.

Mr. Willoughby loosened his collar with his finger and wished they hadn’t come in for a while.

He had a momentary feeling such as he used to have now and then in the old days on the road; a fleeting presentiment that despite all he could do the fish was going to pull him out of the boat. He felt distinctly uncomfortable, which certainly is no way to feel when a man is completely master of the situation. He took a deep breath with the vague idea of inflating himself physically to meet the moment.

“And furthermore,” continued Nancy, “when Consolidated buys batteries they buy them from us.”

She fell silent, evidently to give him time to seek the significance of that remark. He didn’t, however, need a great deal of time. The significance had occurred to him some time previously. In fact, he had recognized it on the day when he took the trouble to determine the source from which International purchased such inconsequential things as batteries, and found that it was not Burch’s.

Mr. Willoughby felt slightly sick. He was being beaten at his own game, in the presence of his family, by a slip of a girl. He would not have been more nonplussed if Nancy

had suddenly seized him and stood him on his head in the corner.

“You seem to be pretty familiar with the details,” he said.

“Oh, yes.” Nancy was, or appeared to be, rather unconcerned about it. “I often attend to things like this for papa. I find it interesting, don’t you?”

“Y-yes, yes.” Eagerly. Then, inanely: “Well, I’d certainly like to do business.”

“As far as I am see,” said Nancy, “there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”

“Ah-h!” Mr. Willoughby felt warmth creeping into his smile. Instinct told him in a flash that this would be a good moment to sit tight and say nothing. Things had taken a turn for the better; the thing to do now was to wait for them to complete the process. He proved very successful, during the next few moments, at sitting tight and saying nothing.

Nancy sketched briefly the proposition of Consolidated Office Fittings.

“If you can equal or do better than that,” she said, “and if you care to undertake to see that International at least gives our batteries fair consideration, we might come to an agreement.”

She looked at the fire again and dropped her head back to the cushion.

“H’mm,”said Mr. Willoughby. He tapped the telegram in his right hand against his lips, grasped his elbow in his left hand, and studied the ceiling very carefully. A Willoughby decision was in the making.

VWTIAT he was really wondering was VV what the G. M. was going to say when he told him the terms he had quoted. Because he was certainly going to quote terms. He was going to quote terms that would make Consolidated look silly. R. B. Burch and his daughter were going to be Sold, with a capital S.

Finally the sales manager of International spoke. He quoted a price that equalled, if it did not do slightly better than, the figure named by Consolidated. He also mentioned the fact that in future he would bring influence to bear in certain transactions which were mainly the concern of the purchasing department, and managed to convey the impression that said influence would not be inconsiderable. Then he placed his hands behind his back and teetered on his heels and toes and looked at Nancy. There, now, was what he called an offer. Just let her try refusing that one.

Nancy shifted her head on the chair back and looked at the fire. There was silence.

This was the moment. This was the moment about which he was always telling his salesmen, “Don’t overdo it. Give them all the time they want. Give them plenty of line, and don’t attempt to pull in until you’re sure they’re hooked. They always give you some sign. It may be any kind of sign, but there’s no mistaking it.”

Nancy, however, was apparently going to be the exception that proved the rule. She looked at the fire. Moments dragged on. Too long. Mr. Willoughby knew that little beads were starting out on his forehead, and that his hands were fussing nervously with the paper behind his back.

There was no sign. Nor, as far as could be seen, was there going to be.

And then, Fred. Fred, utterly devoid of all sense of tact, of finesse, had to pick this moment to interrupt.

He laid down his book and strolled leisurely across. With a nonchalant elbow on the mantel, he sent a long column of cigarette smoke ceilingward.

Watching it, he asked:

“What do you think of Nancy and me being married, dad?”

After the first moment of surprise, Mr. Willoughby leaped at the opportunity. Here was a vent for his suddenly boiling temper by heaping contumely on Fred’s head; a chance to regain lost prestige by assuming the attitude of a hustling, competent father to a shiftless son.

“Married?” he snorted. “Married? If Nancy has half the common sense I think she has, she’ll see you get a job first. And let me tell you something: if you marry Nancy—which for her sake the Lord forbid—all the brains will be on one side, and it won’t be the Willoughby side. Even if you did take an interest in your father’s business, as Nancy does, you couldn’t handle a deal the way she handled this one in a thousand years.”

“Wrong there,” said Nancy from the chair. “It was his idea.”

“Eh?”

“It was his plan. He thought it up.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Willoughby blankly, and became aware

of the deflated feeling again. He looked from Nancy to

Continued on page 49

Continued from page 22

Fred, and saw one unconcernedly tapping her fingers on the chair arm and the other grinning cheerfully at him.

"I just did what he told me,” continued Nancy. “And so, if we do business, as you call \t, you’ll have to give Fred the credit.” He moved physically, trying to shake off his stupidity. He said, “But I don’t see—” and fell silent again.

Fred looked at his cigarette.

“You see, dad,’’ he said, “I sort of expected opposition.”

“Oh,” said Mr, Willoughby stupidly, “I see.” Although he didn’t see at all.

“About getting married, I mean,” said Fred, and went on; “The Burch order is a plum for the man who gets it, and we like the idea of being married.”

MR. WILLOUGHBY looked at his son vacantly.

Fred blew smoke and looked straight into his eyes and said:

“It would be too bad if you didn’t get the order, dad.”

Mr. Willoughby suddenly saw. And although he was already quite numb, it came with something of a jolt. They had him, these kids. And there didn’t seem to be anything to do atout it; nothing to do but to jump when they pulled the string.

He grasped frantically at the one remaining objection.

"Job,” said Mr. Willoughby weakly. “That’s already taken care of,” said Nancy. “Papa’s son-in-law automatically becomes shop foreman, with a good chance to become eventually quite a personage in Burch Batteries.”

Mr. Willoughby opened his mouth but no words came. It required a tremendous effort to rouse himself sufficiently to get some grip on the thing. And when he did

attempt to grapple with it, oddly enough, his first impulse led him to approach it as a ! father rather than as a salesman.

“Are you sure,” he asked Nancy, almost reverentially, “that you love this—this toy?”

Nancy’s eyes turned on Fred, and for the first time there was some evidence of faltering in her self-assurance. A new light grew in her eyes and she bit her lip, patently to suppress something that camé from her heart.

“I am—sure,” she said simply.

He turned to Fred, but the young man j anticipated him.

“I’m sure, too, dad.”

"Well,” said Mr. Willoughby, frankly mopping his brow, “in that case, I guess I have no objections. And I don’t suppose,” he added, “that it would make much difference even if I had.”

Fred looked at Nancy in the chair and Nancy looked at Fred on the hearth, and both smiled. Fred said, “That simplifies it, doesn’t it?” and Nancy nodded.

“Simplifies it?” repeated Mr. Willoughby, mainly for something to say.

“Yes,” said Fred. “You see, we were married today.”

“My dear!” Mrs. Willoughby, in the background, had been forgotten.

The spell was snapped. Nancy started from the chair and ran to her, and Mr. Willoughby slumped weakly into the empty place. Fred chucked his cigarette into the flames and suddenly was pumping his father’s hand.

“You ought,” said Fred, “to cultivate sales resistance, dad.”

“Sales resistance,” said Mr. Willoughby, watching his hand go up and down, “is no good in the face of duress.”