MR. EMBURY wore his new spring hat, a smart green affair with a little whisk stuck in the band, like the one young Longford had been throwing on the office tree lately. Mr. Embury was glad he had laid aside at last the sedate bowler. This jaunty green thing rejuvenated him. He felt ten years younger.
His companions in the smoking compartment of the 8.15 were quick to notice it. Buxton—Buxton of the Olcott Oil & Lubricants—told him he was looking younger every day. Phelps the lawyer declared he wouldn’t have known Mr. Embury at all except for the hair and the walking stick. Jarvis of the Argus Fire Assurance announced his intention to get a hat exactly like it. The thing was a triumph. Mr. Embury had been a little afraid lest it take away some of the dignity which sat upon him so becomingly in the smoking compartment.
Mr. Embury prized this dignity very much. For him the smoking compartment was a stage on which, twice daily, he played the part life had in fact denied him. His fellow commuters knew that his affairs had to do with the big meat-packing plant on the edge of the city, and by an impressive reticence, broken now and again by some sage remark upon the weightier affairs of “our Company,’’ Mr. Embury had led them to believe his position was one of considerable importance.
Everything about him supported this belief; the gleaming black shoes, the pearl-grey spats, the pin-stripe serge trousers edged like swords, the conservative black overcoat with the plush collar, the huge old-fashioned, starched, gates-ajar collar with its plain cravat and the lodge tie-pin, the large well-kept hands and their long manicured nails, the mass of long, gleaming silver hair that hung almost to his shoulders, the leather brief case with its gilt initials, the silver-headed walking stick.
A business executive of the old school, he got on the 8.15 somewhere well up the line, beyond all the little suburban settlements of the ordinary commuters. Probably had a country estate. One of those keen old gentlemen who simply cannot retire. They looked at him and thought of Confederation and the days of wooden ships and crinolines and Fenian raids.
Now the truth was that Mr. Embury lived in a frowsy boardinghouse at Pottsville. He lived there because it was even cheaper than frowsy boardinghouses in the city, and because the expense of railway fare was more than compensated by the pleasure of journeying twice a day with that select little company in the smoking compartment, a gentleman of the old school among his peers of the new. There were no country estates at Pottsville. There was nothing but the big railway repair shops and a surrounding huddle of wooden houses and poolrooms and grocery stores, with a fringe of down-at-heel tarms. Mr. Embury lived cheaply because “our Company” paid him twenty dollars a week. At one time it had been twenty-five, but that was before The Depression and the twenty-per-cent cut. “Our Company” had given Mr. Embury to understand that he was lucky to have a job at all. After all, he was seventy, and there were plenty of thrusting youngsters eager to work for less than that. Any sixth-grade schoolboy, Mr. Tyrconnel had once told him brutally, could sit at a desk and check invoices.
Mr. Embury did not look his age, hat or no hat. People took him for sixty quite often. He had always dressed well. In his younger days he had been rather fond of the bottle. That was over, of course, except for the single bottle he purchased every Saturday night. With its aid Mr. Embury spent his Sundays in a delightful realm far removed from Mrs. Brannigan’s, although his apparent self lay on a narrow bed behind a locked bedroom door in that tolerant woman’s house.
It was a fine morning in May, and from the window of the smoking compartment Mr. Embury surveyed the flickering landscape with enjoyment. The snow had gone, and the cold, and in a very little while now the trees would be in leaf. The weather had been perfect for two weeks; a little rain, Mr. Embury observed aloud, would be very useful, very useful indeed—in just the right tone, the mild, uncomplaining tone of a gentleman-farmer who does not question the workings of divine Providence but likes a just balance between the needs of town and country. As the 8.15 plunged through the pine woods a hot resinous smell entered the compartment windows and battled strangely with the reek of pipe and cigar. The new spring grass had lost its freshness. The air was so hot and still and parched that the passage of the train shook clouds of pollen from the wire-birch catkins along the right-of-way, hanging like thin yellow smoke for a full minute after the 8.15 had passed.
Toward the city the woods were interrupted more and more frequently by clearings full of new suburban dwellings of all shapes and sizes, a painted wooden riot of peaks, turrets, dormers, oriels, gables and sun porches, like the aftermath of a child’s game with building blocks. Each group had its flag station beside the railway line, a small red doll’s house labelled Leaside, Braemar, Lakeview or Woodvale, where the train ground to a stop and absorbed another quota of smartly dressed men and women bound for the daily toil of an office or shop in the city, all talking in eager, rapid voices of the trout they had caught in the lake last Sunday, or the muskmelons they were setting out, the difference between city and county taxes, and the rising real-estate values of Pinecrest Heights.
In spite of these interruptions the forest extended to the edge of the city, where the meat-packing plant stood like a great brick citadel surrounded by a high fence of steel posts and barbed wire. There the trees rose in a green wave, as if recoiling from the railway track and the brick walls looming beyond, like a sea flung back by a breakwater. Mr. Embury was fond of pointing out that wave.
“Splendid stand of softwood, gentlemen, belonging to our Company. When our people made up their minds to build a new plant, thirty years ago, this site was a mile from the nearest house and three miles from the—um, ah—city proper—in the woods, people said, ha!—and when we moved into our fine new office, B.J.—that’s Bracegirdle, our general manager—B.J. pointed out that stand of timber and said to me, ‘Embury, my dear fellow, whatever happens we must never cut those trees. They are our lungs, Embury, our lungs. Green lungs, that’s what they are. Some day, when the city’s grown out to us—as it will, Embury, as it will—we shall be able to turn our faces westward across the railway tracks and breathe the breath of Nature still.’ And so it stands today, gentlemen, a visible proof—ha!—that there is sentiment in business, and poetry behind the executive’s desk.”
HE GOT off the train as usual at Edgewood, the little red station which now served not merely the meatpacking plant but a flank of the ever-spreading city. From it a spur flowed like a shining steel river through the gateway of the big plant and poured itself over the yard in a delta of little sidings. Employees were arriving at the gate from the city, by bus, car, bicycle and afoot. They called greetings to the watchman at the gate as they passed inside.
Mr. Embury, with the dignity of the 8.15 smoking compartment still heavy upon him, did not call out “Hey, George! Mornin’, George!” like the rest. He inclined the green Tyrolean hat slightly and flourished his walking stick. It was the final act of the morning illusion. From that moment, until the 5.15 picked him up again at Edgewood, Mr. Embury became merely “Hey, Embury!” or “that old fool Embury” to his superiors and “Grampa” to his peers. He had a little desk in a big office. There were twenty other desks, all facing like so many lodestones toward the blank north wall, a vast expanse of painted plaster, unrelieved by window or ornament of any kind. On the other side of that wall was an endless flow of meat in various stages of death and metamorphosis—a scene as remote as China to the occupants of the desks, who could not see through the wall and never ventured to walk around it.
In thirty years Mr. Embury had never been beyond the wall. To the east and south, doors opened upon the offices of department heads and other executives of a calibre large enough to command privacy. Light entered the big room of the small fry through a long skylight, dim with accumulated soot from the plant smokestack, and by windows in the west wall, which looked over the roof and skylight of the shipping room to the high brick side of another building. Thus there was no distraction for the twenty-one human moles at their twenty-one oak-veneer desks. It was, as Mr. Tyrconnel frequently pointed out, a place designed strictly for work.
Mr. Tyrconnel was the office manager, and he sat at an opulent glass-topped desk raised upon a dais like a little throne at the back of the big room, where he could watch every movement of the moles. Ten of the desks arranged thus under the godlike eye of Mr. Tyrconnel were occupied by typists, the rest by male clerks. There were half a dozen telephones. All day long the typewriters clacked and the phone bells rang and an office boy ran up and down between the desks, removing and depositing papers that all looked exactly alike. A rushing, noisy place where a side of beef became a cipher on paper, the final metamorphosis.
On the office steps Mr. Embury paused and took a last sniff of B.J.’s green lung. He looked at his watch. He was a full minute early, but he found most of the office staff at work. The morning mail had been sorted and distributed, and the desks were piled high with orders, bills, statements, cost accounts and correspondence. Mr. Tyrconnel was on his throne. He had a silver desk clock, gift from his wife, and he had an uncomfortable way of glancing at it as he lifted his eyes to greet late-comers.
Mr. Embury shared a hat-tree with three others. He stood his silver-headed walking stick in the corner by his desk. He removed his topcoat, draped it carefully over a wire hanger, and hung it on the north hook. Finally he took off his hat and placed it carefully, not on the hook, where it might be knocked down by young Longford’s carelessness, but on the top of the polished oak tree itself. He disposed of his outer clothing in this manner and in this order every morning and every noon after lunch. It was a ceremony. Young Longford always said Grampa laid his hat on the tree as if he were laying a wreath.
This morning, however, the ceremony halted abruptly just at its climax. “Bless my soul,” said Mr. Embury. “Something’s burnt my hat.”
Miss Partington, who did the Purchasing Department letters, came over from her desk and stared at the hat. “It’s a cinder,” she pointed out.
It was a cinder about the size of a pea, quite round and very black. It had dropped into the crease of Mr. Embury’s fine green hat as a stone drops into a gutter, and it must have been very hot, for it had scorched a large brown patch in the felt before it expired. In fact, even as he felt around for the weak spot inside, his lean finger came right out through it.
Mr. Embury put the hat down carefully on his desk and surveyed cinder and burn in dismay. He felt his ten years come back with a rush. The new hat had cost six carefully saved dollars. The burn was so plain that he could not think of wearing it on the 8.15 again. No gentleman of the old school could wear a charred hat. As he thought of the train he looked out of the window in a melancholy way. The windows were installed at a height sufficient to prevent anyone at a desk from seeing more than a glass-and-copper skylight and a good deal of brick wall, but if you stood up in the corner beside Mr. Embury’s desk you could see between various buildings, as through an embrasure, a short bit of the railway line, the corner of the Company’s steel fence, and a glimpse of the pine and hemlock trees beyond.
And Mr. Embury now saw a wisp of blue smoke hovering over the right-of-way, and a tiny red flicker in the dried bracken just inside the railway fence. He watched it, fascinated, for a moment, saw it creep to the edge of the trees, saw it climb a group of parched firs in a sudden searing rush. Like the puff of an Indian smoke signal a great mass of dun smoke rolled up into the cloudless May sky.
“Fire!” cried Mr. Embury. His high-pitched voice brought the office staff about him in a rush, Mr. Tyrconnel among them, craning to get their heads into the narrow line of view.
“That,” said Mr. Tyrconnel, “is Company timber!” He sprang to the nearest telephone and dialed numbers furiously.
In fifteen minutes the Company timber had surrendered itself, tinder-dry, to a great engulfing flame that spread to right and left and sent a volcano of smoke into the sky to join that first magnificent puff. Fire engines came wailing from the direction of the city and were lined at intervals along the highway past Edgewood Station, pouring a collective Niagara into the smoke. The railway rushed out an engine, a tank car of water, and two flat cars laden with section men and fire fighting equipment. The fire crew of the packing plant, amateurs all, and full of amateur zeal, ran hose lines over the tall steel fence and across the railway tracks.
It was all very magnificent and useless. They were simply pouring water upon the black tail of the fire, which was now roaring off into the far-flung bush. It did not stop for three days. The provincial fire-rangers pursued it and harried its flanks with the thin streams from their portable gasoline pumps and the spray of their hand-pumps, but the fire turned and threw them off again and again as an enraged bull might throw off an attack of yapping puppies. On the third evening rain fell and the fire died. It had consumed ninety square miles of bush and two or three suburban settlements, licking up assorted Swiss, Old English, Cape Cod and Dutch-colonial cottages, bungalows and chalets like an architectural nemesis.
MR. B. J. BRACEGIRDLE was a very angry man. He did not care about the suburban settlements, nor did he shed tears for the other timber owners, but he sent for the Company lawyer and demanded that a suit be started at once against the railway.
“Of course it was the railway!” he snapped. “The fire broke out a few minutes after the train passed our plant. Everybody knows it was the train.”
“Exactly,” said the Company lawyer. “Everybody always knows. But nobody ever proves. Funny, isn’t it? Look here, B.J., all the evidence you’ve got is a black desert extending west of the railway line. A casual hobo walking along the track might have thrown down a match. Anything might have happened—it might have started on your property and burned down to the railway track for all you can prove to the contrary.”
Mr. Bracegirdle considered deeply. There was a grim downward curve at the ends of his powerful mouth. His intensely black eyebrows came together as if for a conference. At last he snapped, “I’m not goin’ to let ’em get off without a squeal. You draw up a claim. I’ll supply the figures. We’ll see what they say.”
The railway said nothing for a month. Delay is valuable in forest-fire cases, where obliteration of evidence droppeth with the gentle rain from heaven. At the end of that time they received a violent letter from Mr. Bracegirdle, and judging the moment ripe they sent down a claims-agent to dispose of the matter. He was a stoutish man with greying hair fringing a bald dome, pince-nez, a heavy, drooping mustache, and a double chin. He had a high voice with a curious whining intonation, but there was nothing abject about the rest of him. He was keen and suave and masterful.
In B.J.’s office he read the claim over aloud in such a way that Bracegirdle felt uncomfortably as if he had signed a confession of attempted blackmail. The agent—his name was Preeping—shot the thing to pieces in a five-minute summary that was a masterpiece of polite sarcasm, and finally demanded: “And where are your witnesses, Mr. Bracegirdle? Come now, where are they? Is there a single one?”
B.J. shifted uncomfortably. “Well, there’s any number of people saw the fire near the railway fence. There’s Miss Partington and—ah—there’s Tyrconnel, who sent in the alarm, and—ah—there’s old Embury, of course. Embury—he saw it first."
He rang for old Embury. Mr. Preeping inspected the old man in a long searching stare. Mr. Embury had once been very tall, but fifty years over an invoice-clerk’s desk had bent his shoulders very much. His nose was extraordinarily long. It came straight down his rectangular face and then turned outward in a broad flat tip like the toe of a boot. There were traces of grog blossoms on it still, but they had withered in the comparative drought of his later years. His lips were full, the lower somewhat out-thrust, and his cheeks deeply lined. His eyes were calm and grey and very large, with a little fan of wrinkles at the outer corners. Aside from his nose, the really remarkable thing about Mr. Embury was his hair. His brow went up, bald and wrinkled like a parchment, to the top of his skull, where a bushy growth of silver hair began and continued down the sides and back. He had cultivated that flowing white mane ever since in middle age someone told him he looked like Sir John A. Macdonald.
“Mr. Bracegirdle tells me you think you know something about the fire across the tracks,” suggested the agent carefully. Mr. Embury turned his mild eyes to B.J. in enquiry.
“Go ahead!” snapped B.J. “Tell him all you know.” It galled Mr. Bracegirdle very much to see how completely the railway man controlled the situation.
“Well, yes,” Mr. Embury said. “I saw the fire. It started from the train.”
The agent stabbed an accusing finger at him. “How d’you know? Hey? Come! Out with it! You only think so, don’t you? D’you realize you may be required to repeat this testimony in court?”
A barrage like this usually fuddled elderly witnesses beyond hope.
“On the contrary,” Mr. Embury said, "I am quite sure. I was a passenger on the 8.15 that morning. I remember looking at the exact spot where the fire started, and I can testify there was no fire there then. It was opposite the south corner of the Company’s steel fence.”
“Where did you sit, Mr. Embury?”
“In the smoking compartment. I always sit there.”
“A curious thing, Mr. Embury. The window of the smoking compartment on that train faced toward the west side of the track—the left side. There’s no view to the right at all.”
“True,” murmured Mr. Embury.
“Now,” said Mr. Preeping sharply, “the Company fence is on the right side of the track. You couldn’t see it, in other words. All you could see, in fact Mr. Embury, was some timber land, a mass of softwood trees, all exactly alike. Would you mind explaining to me, in simple words that I can understand, how you happened to notice and remember that particular spot—exactly opposite the south corner of the steel fence—a fence you couldn’t see?”
IT’S quite simple,” Mr. Embury said amiably. “The train engineer has to blow his whistle for the highway crossing at Edgewood and he invariably—hum yes—always begins to blow when the engine is abreast of the south corner of the Company’s fence. Everybody in the plant knows that. So when the whistle began to blow I knew I was looking at a spot opposite the fence corner. I remember it well. There was a big clump of rhodora, all in bloom, just inside the railway fence. I called it to the attention of my friends.”
“Ah! And who were these friends, may I ask?”
Mr. Embury swelled a little. “Mr. Jarvis of the Argus Fire Assurance Company; Mr. Buxton of the Olcott Oil & Lubricants; and Mr. Phelps, of Phelps, Leavitt, Maclnerney and Phelps, the lawyers.”
“And all very dependable witnesses, no doubt,” said the agent irritably. “Go on.”
“I got off the train at Edgewood Station. The platform is on the west—that is the left side of the train—so I had to wait for the train to pull out before I could cross the tracks toward the gate of my employers’ establishment. There was no wind, exactly, but the air was stirring from the east.”
“Why did you notice the wind?”
“The smoke from the train blew along the platform. The line is all up-grade from Lakeview through Edgewood and on into the city, and I know the fireman has to stoke pretty hard on that stretch. I got a bit of soot in my eye, and just after I crossed the tracks something struck my hat. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when I got in the office I found a coal cinder about the size of a pea in the crease of my new green hat. The felt was badly charred, in fact the hat is ruined, if I may say so—”
“He’s not interested in your hat, Embury!” snapped Mr. Bracegirdle.
“Well, as I w'as saying, I was in the office then, and I happened to look out the window and saw a little wisp of smoke and some flame on the right-of-way.”
“Where? Be careful now', Mr. Embury !” Mr. Preeping fixed him with a beady black eye.
“Opposite the south corner of our Company’s fence. I told you that.”
“A most remarkable coincidence, Mr. Embury, don’t you think?”
“Miraculous, sir. Miraculous is the word. I could see the clump of rhodora very plainly.”
“Humph! Eyesight can be tested, Mr. Embury. You should be cautious. Your office window must be two hundred yards from the railway tracks, and you’re an elderly man. Your eyes—”
“Quite, sir, quite. My eyes are very good. So are Miss Partington’s. She noticed the bushes, too. The rhodora, sir, has a glorious pale purple bloom which appears in spring before the leaves; one of the natural beauties, sir, of our countryside. A clump in blossom against the dark green background of the pines and hemlocks is a most conspicuous object.”
But Mr. Preeping was in no mood for botanical rhapsodies. “Kindly stick to the point, Mr. Embury. You saw this bush from your office very plainly?”
“Yes, sir. Except when the smoke became thick enough to obscure it. You see, the smoke was rising between me and the clump of rhodora.”
“In other words,” broke in Mr. Bracegirdle triumphantly, “the fire was well inside the railway fence!”
“Please don’t interrupt the witness,” rapped the claims-agent fiercely. He had seen so many court actions that a courtroom manner came naturally.
“There’s really nothing more to say,” Mr. Embury murmured. “The fire burned through the dead grass and ferns of the right-of-way, and when it reached the edge of the woods it seemed to explode in all directions. A remarkable sight, sir.”
The agent leaned back in his chair and put his long fingers together. “The gist of your story, then, is this: you found a cinder in your hat and therefore assumed that the train engine was scattering hot particles along the right-of-way. Since the countryside was very dry, such a cinder started the fire. That it?”
“You have put it very concisely, sir. I may add that I can show you the hat and the cinder.”
"No doubt, no doubt. There’s something you don’t know, however, Mr. Embury. All our locomotives are fitted with screens in the smokestack during the summer season.”
Mr. Preeping folded his hands and smiled benignly. With his usual acuteness he had gone right to the heart of the matter and stabbed it with a shrewd home thrust. Mr. Bracegirdle slid back into deepest gloom. Mr. Embury stood with his neat hands folded before him. Nobody had asked him to sit down.
"There seems to be something you don’t know, too, sir,” he suggested gently. “The screens you describe unfortunately affect the draft of the locomotives. The engineers dislike them and the firemen detest them, especially on long up-grades like the 8.15 run. For that reason, sir, the screens are commonly removed, possibly without the knowledge of the management. I don’t understand these technical matters very well, I’m afraid; I’m just repeating what the men have told me.”
Mr. Preeping’s eyes were very wide. So was his mouth. “What men?”
"The mechanics in the roundhouse at Pottsville.”
"Pottsville? Absurd! Name me one, Mr. Embury! Name one man in the railway shop at Pottsville who would testify to that in open court!”
"I could name several,” Mr. Embury said calmly. “There are three in particular who were laid off last week. Like myself they are—ah—paying guests at the home of Mrs. Birdie Brannigan in Pottsville.”
MR. PREEPING put his fingertips together again and blinked his hard black eyes very slowly like a drowsy cat. He was flabbergasted. In all his experience he had never met anything like it. Normally, of course, this concentration of evidence largely in the hands of a single witness would be a weakness to the claimant’s case; but when he thought of this calm, unshakable old man in the witness box, with his gentleman-of-the-old-school air, with his fine hands, his tall stooped figure and that noble head—Mr. Preeping shuddered. He turned to Mr. Bracegirdle suavely. “Without admitting a single bit of your man’s remarkable story, Mr. Bracegirdle, I’m curious to know what sort of value you put on that burned timber. I must warn you that we’ve investigated and found your title to that property not all that it should be; and according to reliable evidence most of the burned land was valueless scrub.”
B. J. Bracegirdle snorted, but he did not mention the “green lung” of Mr. Embury’s 8.15 fancies. "Listen, Preeping! That was a fine stand of spruce, pine and hemlock—a hundred acres such as you wouldn’t find anywhere within a hundred miles. I tell you, Preeping, that was our ace-in-the hole against a sudden shortage in box material. We have our own box factory, see? Buy our logs from farmers and small contractors along the railway. That hundred acres wasn’t much, but it’d tide us over an emergency, right alongside our plant, and all. Why, Preeping, that timber was worth seven or eight thousand dollars to us. But I tell you what we’ll do. These are hard times for railways the same as anybody else. We’ll let you down easy, Preeping. Pay us five thousand and—”
"Ridiculous!” the agent exclaimed. “You know very well you can’t prove your timber worth a cent. Timber’s a very uncertain quantity, on the stump. I could quote cases by the dozen. And there’s the doubtful title. I’m afraid you’re going to have an expensive legal case on your hands, Mr. Bracegirdle. You’re going to wish you’d settled for, say, two thousand.”
But an unholy light shone in B.J.’s eyes. At last he saw the weapon that lay concealed in the smoke as it were of the fire. It was not a very ethical weapon. It was not at all the sort of business weapon B.J. advocated in his frequent speeches to the Boosters’ Club; but times were hard, and B.J. was as hard as the times.
“Yeah?” he said, belligerently. "Listen, Preeping. You can dispute our title, if you like; you can dispute our figures on the value of our timber. Probably, as you say, we’d wind up with a heavy lawyers’ bill on our hands. But we’d have proved, in open court, the railway’s responsibility for the fire! Think, Preeping, think of those new housing developments at Lakeview and Woodvale—all those little ugly bungalows and cottages, the pride of the owners’ hearts—gone up in smoke—your smoke! Eh? Right now they—and the insurance companies—are out of luck. But if we prove our case in court, even though we don’t get a cent out of it, the—well, figure it out for yourself.”
He sat back in his chair, shrugging eloquently. The claims-agent had been afraid of this, from the moment Old Embury mentioned the fatal cinder. He was a man of decision and he had been given wide powers. He pulled a long typed form from an inner coat pocket and with a smile placed it before B. J. Bracegirdle.
“Sign there, please.” He took from his brief case a book of cheque forms marked Special Fund and signed away five thousand dollars with a nonchalance that took Mr. Embury’s breath.
“The Company is to be congratulated,” said the agent icily, "upon the perspicacity, the memory, the friends, and above all the fortuity, of its servants.”
Mr. Bracegirdle, with the cheque in his hands, waving it to dry the ink, looked up at old Embury with wide eyes, as if he had never seen him before. Mr. Embury gave the claims-agent a bow, a queer stiff little bend from the hips, as Sir John Macdonald might have bowed to that fellow Laurier.
B.J. stood up suddenly, clapping him on the shoulder. "Embury! Embury, my dear fellow, you deserve a raise in pay, and by the piper that played before Moses you shall have it ! Five dollars a week, Embury, beginning Monday, and the compliments of the management! Ah-ha, don’t thank me, Embury, don’t thank me at all. The Company has always believed in rewarding faith and—” he paused for a word. Hope and Charity did not seem to be just the thing. “Faith—and fortuity, Embury—in its servants.”
B.J.’s thick black eyebrows made triumphal arches in the furrows of his forehead. He beamed. Five thousand dollars, out of smoke—out of thin air, you might say! The timber had been worth fifteen hundred at most. He knew it, the agent knew it, Mr. Embury—but Mr. Embury could think of nothing but his triumph. He closed the General Manager’s door behind him quietly and walked through the main office toward his desk with that noble white head in air.
Perspicacity! Memory! Friends! Fortuity! He chewed those magnificent words like cuds. A raise of five dollars a week! He could buy another hat. For that matter he could buy a hat almost every week. Or a quart of government whisky every Saturday night. But he put over the debate, hat versus whisky, to another time. B.J. had called him “my dear fellow”! That was the miracle. In a single stroke all those pleasant fictions of the 8.15 acquired a basis in fact.
Beside his desk he paused, unable in the exaltation of the moment to bring his eyes down to the hateful pile of invoice forms. Instead he gazed out of the window, past the dingy skylight of the shipping room, toward the scene of his achievement. It was blurred a little by the smoke that came rolling down from the tall brick chimney of the packing plant.
Evidently the boiler men were stoking up. Through the open window there came an occasional rattle as of hail on the shipping room skylight, and as he watched, a cinder bounced on the sooty glass and came rolling down to a little puddle left by the rain in a depression of the flat, tarred roof. It was about the size of a pea. It lay in the edge of the water, hissing for a moment, and then a thin wisp of steam went up and was blown away in the surging smoke.
“Close the window,” coughed Miss Partington from her desk. “Close the window, Mr. Embury, do! The wind is in the east today.”