Author of "The Man Nobody Knew," etc.
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
As Henry came blithely into the house with a heavy suit-case in one hand and a cumbersome kit-bag in the other, his Aunt Mirabelle marched out like a grenadier from the living-room, and posted herself in the hallway to watch him approach. There was this much to say for Aunt Mirabelle: she was at least consistent, and for twenty years she had worn the same expression whenever she looked at him. During that period the rest of the world and Henry had altered, developed, advanced—but not Aunt Mirabelle. She had changed neither the style of her clothes nor the nature of her convictions; she had disapproved of Henry when he was six, and therefore, she disapproved of him today. To let him know it, she regarded him precisely as though he were still six, and had forgotten to wash his face.
"I suppose," remarked Aunt Mirabelle, in her most abrasive voice, "I suppose you're waiting for me to say I hope you had a good time. Well, I'm not a-going to say it, because it wouldn't be true, and I wouldn't want to have it sitting on my conscience. Of course, some people haven't got much of any conscience for anything to sit on, anyway. If they did, they'd be earnest, useful citizens. If they did, then once in a while they'd think about something else besides loud ties and silk socks and golf. And they wouldn't be gallivanting off on house-parties for a week at a time, either; they'd be tending to their business—if they had any. And if they hadn't, they ought to."
Henry put down the bag and the suit-case, removed his straw hat, and grinned, with a fair imitation of cheerfulness. He had never learned how to handle Aunt Mirabelle, and small wonder; for if he listened in silence, he was called sulky; if he disputed her, he was called flippant; if he agreed with her, she accused him of fraud; and if he obeyed his natural instincts, and treated her with tolerant good-humour, she usually went on a conversation strike, and never weakened until after the twelfth apology. Whatever he did was wrong, so that purely on speculation, he grinned, and said what came to his tongue.
"Maybe so," said Henry, "maybe so, but conscience is a plant of slow growth," and immediately after he had said this, he wished that he had chosen a different epigram—something which wasn't so liable to come back at him, later, like a boomerang.
"Humph!" said Aunt Mirabelle. "It is, is it? Well, if I was in your place, I'd be impatient for it to grow faster."
Henry shook his head. "No, I don't believe you would. I've read somewhere that impatience dries the blood more than age or sorrow." He assumed an air of critical satisfaction. "The bird that wrote that had pretty good technique, don't you think?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "All right, Henry. Be pert. But I know what made you so almighty anxious to sneak off on this house-party; and I know whose account it was you went on, too, and I don't see for the life of me why your uncle hasn't put his foot down." She sighed, as though in deep mourning. "I did hope you'd grow up different from these other boys, Henry, but you're all of you just alike. When you get old enough, do you pick out some pure, innocent, sensible, young woman that's been trained the way girls were trained in my day? No. You go and make fools of yourselves over these short-skirted little hussies all powdered up like a box of marshmallows. And as long as they're spry enough and immodest enough to do all these new bunny dances and what not, you think that's a sure sign they'll make good wives and mothers. Humph. Makes me sick."
In spite of himself, Henry lost his artificial grin, and began to turn dull red. "I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that."
"Well," retorted Aunt Mirabelle, "I didn't hardly expect you would. But you'll go far enough to see one of 'em, I notice.... Well, your uncle's home this afternoon; long's he's paying your bills, you might have the grace to go in and say howdy-you-do to him." She marched upstairs, and Henry, revolving his hat in his hand, gazed after her until she was out of sight. He stood, irresolute, until the echo of her common-sense shoes died into silence; and as he lingered, he was struck for the ten thousandth time by the amazing mystery of the human family.
First, there was his mother, a small and exquisite woman with music in her heart and in the tips of her fingers; his memory of her was dim, but he knew that she had been the maddest and the merriest of all possible mothers—a creature of joy and sunshine and the sheer happiness of existence. And then her sister Mirabelle, who found life such a serious condition to be in, and loved nothing about it, save the task of reforming it for other people whether the other people liked it or not. And finally, her brother John, bald, fat, and good-natured; a man whose personal interests were bounded by his own physical comfort, and by his desire to see everyone else equally comfortable. Whenever Henry thought of this trio, he reflected that his grandparents must have been very versatile.
He drew a long breath, and glanced up the stairway, as though the spirit of his Aunt Mirabelle were still haunting him; then, with a depressing recollection of what she had said about his conscience, and with hot resentment at what she said about his taste, he walked slowly into the library.
His uncle John Starkweather, who had been writing at a big desk between the windows, sprang up to shake hands with him. "Hello, boy! Thought Bob Standish must have kidnapped you. Have a good party?"
"Fine, thanks," said Henry, but his tone was so subdued and joyless that his uncle stared at him for a moment, and then went over to close the door. Standing with his back to it, Mr. Starkweather smiled reminiscently and a trifle ruefully, and began to peel the band from a cigar. "What's the matter? Mirabelle say anything to you?"
His uncle hesitated. "In a good many ways," he said, lowering his voice, "Mirabelle puts me in mind of my father. When he was a boy, out in the country, he'd had to smash the ice in the water-pitcher every mornin', and he was proud of it—thought a boy that hadn't earned some of his godliness with an ice-pick was a dude. Thought what was good enough for his father was good enough for him, and sometimes it was too good. Didn't believe in modern improvements like telephones and easy chairs and three-tined forks; didn't believe in labour-savin' devices because labour wasn't meant to be saved. Bible says for us to work six days a week, and if he ever had any spare time before Sat'day night, he figured he must have forgot somethin'. Business—well, he called advertisin' a rich man's luxury, and said an audit was an insult to his partners. Said he'd welcome a sheriff sooner'n he would an expert accountant—and in the long run, that's exactly what he did. Involuntary bankruptcy—found his sanctimonious old cashier'd been sanctimoniously lootin' the till for eighteen years." He paused, and eyed his cigar. "Well, Mirabelle's cut more or less off the same piece. Lord, I wish she could go through some kind of bankruptcy, if 't would shake her up like it did father."
"It—shook him up, did it?" inquired Henry, fidgeting.
"Well," said his uncle, "after the crash, I don't recollect he ever mentioned the good old times again except once; and that was to praise the good old habit of takin' defaulters and boilin' 'em in oil. No, sir, he wouldn't so much as add two and two together without an addin' machine, and he used to make an inventory of his shirts and winter flannels pretty near every week. And Mirabelle's the same way; she's still tryin' to live under the 1874 rules." He came back to his desk, and sat down thoughtfully. "Well, she's been talkin' to me ever since you went off on this party and as far's most of it's concerned, I'm not on her side, and I'm not on your side; I'm sort of betwixt and between." He looked sidewise at Henry, and discovered that Henry was peering off into space, and smiling as though he saw a vision in the clouds. "Just as man to man, just for the information; suppose you passed up everything I've said to you, and went and got married one of these days—did you expect I'd go on supportin' you?"
Henry came down to earth, and his expression showed that he had landed heavily. "Why—what was that?"
His uncle repeated it, with a postscript. "Oh, I've always told you you could have anything you wanted within reason that I could pay for. But from what I been told"—his eyes twinkled—"wives ain't always reasonable. And it does seem to me that when a young man gets to be twenty five or six, and never did a lick of work in his life, and loafs around clubs and plays polo just because he's got a rich uncle, why, it's a sort of a reflection on both of 'em. Seem so to you?"
Henry glanced up nervously and down again. "To tell the truth, I hadn't thought much about it."
"Say," said his uncle, confidentially. "Neither had I. Not 'till Mirabelle told me you went off on this party because Anna Barklay was goin' to be there.... Now I had pretty hard sleddin' when I was your age; I've kind of liked to see you enjoy yourself. But Mirabelle—Now I said before, I ain't on her side, and I ain't on your side; I had the thing out with you once or twice already, and I guess you know what my angles are. Only if Mirabelle's got any grounds, maybe I ought to say it over again.... You been out of college four years now, and you tried the automobile business for two months and the bond business for two weeks and the real-estate business for two minutes, and there you quit. You spent five, six thousand a year and that was all right, but I admit I don't like the idea of your gettin' married on nothin' but prospects, specially when I'm all the prospects there is. Sound fair to you?"
Henry nodded, with much repression, "You couldn't be unfair if you tried, Uncle John."
"Well, you was always open to reason, even when you was in kindergarten.... Now, in some ways I don't approve of you any more'n Mirabelle does, but she wants me to go too blamed far. She wants me to turn you loose the way my father did me. She wants me to say if you should ever marry without my consent I'll cut you out of my will. But that's old stuff. That's cold turkey. Mirabelle don't know times have changed—she's so busy with that cussed Reform League of hers, she don't have time to reform any of her own slants about things." He rolled his cigar under his tongue.
"Well, I'm goin' to compromise. Before you get involved too deep, I want you to know what's in my mind. I don't believe it's the best thing for either of us for me to go on bein' a kind of an evergreen money-bush. And a man that's earnin' his own livin' don't have to ask odds of anybody. Don't you think you better bundle up your courage and get to work, Henry?"
Henry was twiddling his watch-chain. "It hasn't been a matter of courage, exactly—"
"Oh, I know that. I don't believe you're scared of work; you're only sort of shy about it. I never saw you really afraid of more'n three things—bein' a spoil-sport, or out of style, or havin' a waiter think you're stingy. No, you ain't afraid of work, but you never been properly introduced, so you're kind of standoffish about it. I've always kind of hoped you'd take a tip from Bob Standish—there's one of your own breed that knows where the durable satisfactions of life are. Just as good family's yours; just as much money; just as fond of games;—and workin' like a prize pup in my office and makin' good. He'll tell you.... But if you go get married, boy, before you show you could take care of yourself, and what money I might leave you—oh, I don't say you got to put over any miracle, but I do say you got to learn the value of money first. You'd do that by earnin' some. If you don't, then you and me'd have a quarrel. Sound logical to you?"
Henry was frowning a little, and sitting nearer to the edge of his chair. "Too darned logical," he said.
His uncle surveyed him with great indulgence. "What's the idea?" he asked, humourously. "You ain't gone off and got yourself married already, have you?"
Henry stood up, and squared his shoulders, and looked straight into his uncle's eyes. His voice was strained, but at the same time it held a faint note of relief, as if he had contained his secret too long for his own nerves. "Yes, Uncle John...."
And waited, as before the Court of last appeal.
The older man sat limp in his chair, and stared until the ash of his cigar tumbled, untidily, over his waistcoat. He brushed at it with uncertain, ineffective motions, but his eyes never left his nephew. He put the cigar once more to his lips, shuddered, and flung it away.
"Boy—" he said, at length, "Boy—is that true?"
Henry cleared his throat. "Yes, Uncle John."
"Who is it? Anna Barklay?"
"Yes, Uncle John."
"Does—Judge Barklay know it yet?"
"No, not yet. He's out of town."
His uncle drew a tremendous breath, and pulled himself upright. "Boy," he said, "why in the hell did you ever go and do a thing like that?... Haven't I been pretty decent to you, the best I knew how?... Why'd you ever go, and—have I been mistaken in you all this while? Why, boy, I thought you and me were friends."
There was another heavy silence. "I don't know. It just happened. The way things do—sometimes. We've always been crazy about each other."
Mr. Starkweather was looking at and through his nephew, who was man-grown and presumably a rational human being; but what Mr. Starkweather actually saw was the vision of a little boy dressed in Lord Fauntleroy velvet, with silver knee-buckles and a lace collar; and much as a drowning man is supposed to review, in a lightning flash, every incident of his whole life, so was Mr. Starkweather reviewing the life of Henry, beginning with the era of black velvet, and ending with the immediate present. That history was a continuous record of dashing impulses, and the gayest irresponsibility; and yet, when the time came for an accounting, Henry had offered only explanations, and never excuses. In his glorious pursuit of the calendar, he had paid his penalties as royally as he had earned them; and even now, when he was confessed of the most impetuous and the most astounding act of all his unballasted youth, he had nothing to say in defence. As a climax, marriage had "happened" to him, and he was braced for whatever might happen next.
Presently, Mr. Starkweather, coming out of his daze, began to wonder if, by this very climax, Henry hadn't prescribed his own medicine, and at the same time taken out insurance on his own salvation. For one thing, he had selected the right girl—a girl with no money, and plenty of character—a girl who would manage him so skilfully that Henry would think himself the manager. For another thing, Mr. Starkweather believed that Henry was profoundly in love with her, even though he tried to conceal his seriousness by spreading it with a generous helping of light manner, and modern vocabulary. These facts, together with Mr. Starkweather's control of the finances, might possibly operate as the twin levers which would pry Henry out of his improvidence. The levers themselves were certainly strong enough; it was a question only of Henry's resistance. Mr. Starkweather winced to realize that by the time the minute-hand of his watch had gone twice again around the dial, he should know definitely and permanently whether Henry was worth his powder, or not.
He leaned his elbows on his desk, judicially. "I'm pretty much knocked edgeways, Henry—but tell me one more thing; this wasn't any bet, was it, or—"
"Bet!" flared Henry, and all the youth went out of his features.
"Yes. Nobody dared you to go and get married—it wasn't any kind of a put-up job, was it?"
The younger man was righteously indignant. "Uncle John, I admit I haven't won any medals for—for some things,—and maybe you think I am the kind of bird that would—do this on a bet, or a dare—and if you do think that—I guess we're both mistaken in each other!"
His uncle's hand went up. "Hold your horses! You've answered the question. If you hadn't got mad, I'd have thrown you out the window. Why did you do it, then?... No—never mind." He looked away. "I know. Spring, and impulse and no emergency brakes. I know...." He looked back at Henry, and smiled oddly. "And I was just goin' to tell you, before you sprung it on me, that if you cared two cents about that girl,—and me, too,—you'd want to deserve her:—do somethin' besides be a model to hang expensive clothes on."
"Yes," said Henry, also judicial. "I guess I'm entitled to that wallop."
His uncle nodded. "That one and quite a few more. Still, you never heard anybody accuse me of not bein' a good sport, did you?"
"No, Uncle John. I counted on it."
"Who knows this—besides us?"
"Just Bob Standish. We took him along for a witness."
"So! Bob Standish! Hm. I'd have thought Bob'd had sense enough to try to stop it. I'll have words with him."
"He did try."
Mr. Starkweather rose. "Where's Anna?"
"Out in the car. With Bob."
His uncle froze. "Out there? Waitin' there all this time? For Heaven's sake, Henry, she'll be in a conniption fit! You go bring her in here—and tell her to stop worryin'. I'm sore as the devil, and I'm goin' to make an example out of you, but that ain't any reason to act like a grouch, is it? Sound sensible to you? Bring her in here. Not Bob—I'll see him afterwards."
* * * * *
She was small and intensely feminine, but there was nothing fragile about her, and no slightest hint of helplessness. She was pretty enough, too, and her attractions were more than skin-deep; to the qualities which showed in her eyes—sincerity and humour and imagination—there was also to be added sweetness of disposition and sensitiveness, which were proved by the curves of her mouth; and finally, there was quiet determination, stopping just short of stubbornness, which was evident in the moulding of her strong little chin.
She came in slowly, questioningly, not in fear, but merely poised so as to adjust herself to any style of reception. Mr. Starkweather met her eyes and laughed—a fat, spontaneous, understanding laugh—and blushing furiously, she ran to him, with both her hands outstretched.
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Starkweather, and interrupted himself long enough to kiss her, "I'll say Henry's got a darned sight better judgment 'n you have.... Go on and blush. Make a good job of it. Ashamed of yourself? So 'm I. Sit down there and cringe. You too, Henry." He himself remained on his feet. "Funny thing," he said, after a pause. "Only chance I ever had to get married myself was somethin' like this is—oh, I wasn't a gilt loafer, like Henry is; I was workin' sixteen hours a day, but I wasn't makin' money enough. Both our fathers said so. And she'd have run off, but I wouldn't. Thought it wasn't respectable, I guess. Anyhow, it kind of petered out, and I lost my nerve. Wish to thunder I'd taken a chance when I had it. Worth it, sometimes." He whirled on Henry, abruptly. "Well, you took your chance. Now let's see if you think it's worth it. If you're figurin' on any help from me, you got to work for it first. If you'd waited, I'd kind of made things easy for you. Now, I'm goin' to hand you the meanest job I can think of. It won't be an insult and it won't be a joke, but maybe you'll take it for both—until you learn better."
"What is it, Uncle John?"
"I'll tell you when you get back from your honeymoon."
The two young people stared at each other, and at Mr. Starkweather. "From our—what?" asked the girl, incredulously.
"Honeymoon. Oh, you made a couple of prize fools of yourselves, and if I did what I ought to, I'd cut Henry off sharp this minute. But—guess I better make a fool of myself, so you'll feel more at home." He coughed explosively. "Besides, you're awful young, both of you—and damn it, if you don't cash in on it now, next thing you know you'll be wonderin' where the time's gone, anyway. No sense in robbin' you of the best months of your life, just because you hadn't sense enough to rob yourselves of it—is there? Oh, I suppose I'm a kind of a sentimental cuss, but—must be I like the feelin' of it." He jerked his head toward Henry. "This is April. Take her off somewhere—Italy? South of France?—'till next August. Then you report back here, all fixed and ready to eat crow. Sound fair to you?"
The girl rose, and crossed the room to him. "Mr. Starkweather—"
"Name's Uncle John," he corrected. "You married it."
"Uncle John—I—I don't know how to—" She bit her lip, and he saw the depths of her eyes, and saw that they were filling with tears. She gestured imperatively to Henry. "You know him better—you tell him."
Henry had sprung across to join them. "Uncle John, you're a peach! I'll break rock on the streets if you say so! You're a peach!"
"Well," said Mr. Starkweather, uncomfortably. "If everybody else's goin' to bawl, I guess it'll have to be contagious.... Only when you get back, you're both goin' to pay the piper. I'm goin' to make Henry earn his salt, whether he's got it in him or not; I'm goin' to make him crawl. That goes as it stands, too; no foolin'.... Look here, don't you want me to break it to the Judge? Guess I better. I can put it up to him in writin' twice as good as Henry put it up to me by talkin', anyhow.... And I'll put an announcement in the Herald that'll take the cuss off. Anna, you hustle up some engraved notices to get around to all our friends. You know what's in style.... Oh, you're a couple of champion idiots, and Henry's goin' to sweat for it when he comes home, but—God bless you, my boy, and you too, my dear—only how in blazes am I goin' to get it across to Mirabelle? That's what bites me the worst, Henry; that's what bites me the worst!"
In a small office on the third floor of the City Bank Building Mr. Theodore Mix, broker and amateur politician, sat moodily intent upon his morning newspaper. For thirty years (he was fifty-five) Mr. Mix had been a prominent and a mildly influential citizen, and by great effort he had managed to keep himself excessively overrated. A few years ago he had even been mentioned as a candidate for Mayor, and the ambition was still alive within him, although fulfilment was never so distant. But despite his appearance, which was dignified, and despite his manner, which would have done for the diplomatic corps, and despite his connection with local charities and churches and civic committees, Mr. Mix was secretly a bit of a bounder; and although the past decade or two he had made a handsome income, he had contrived to get rid of it as fast as he conveniently could, and by methods which wouldn't always have stood analysis.
Lately, for no apparent cause, his best customers had edged away from him; he was gliding rapidly into debt, and he knew that unless he clambered out again within six or eight weeks, he should have considerable difficulty in preserving his reputation, both financial and ethical. And like all men in the same position, Mr. Mix was fiercely jealous of his prestige; by long practice he had warped himself into thinking that it belonged to him; and he was ready to defend it with every conceivable weapon.
For the moment, however, Mr. Mix was querulous rather than defensive. He was trying to place the blame for the past two seasons of misfortune, and when he observed that Pacific Refining was twelve points up from Saturday's close, he sighed wearily and told himself that it was all a matter of luck. He had had an appointment, last Saturday at nine o'clock, with his friend John Starkweather, and he had meant to borrow something from him, if possible, and to risk a few hundred shares of Pacific Refining on margin; but he had overslept, and Mr. Starkweather had left his office at nine fifteen and hadn't come back again that day, so that the profit which might so easily have come to rest in Mr. Mix's pockets was now in other quarters.
Luck! The most intangible of assets and the most unescapable of liabilities. On Saturday, Mr. Mix had arrived too late because he had overslept because his alarm-clock had been tinkered by a watchmaker who had inherited a taste for alcohol from a parent who had been ruined by the Chicago fire—and almost before he knew it, Mr. Mix had trailed the blame to Adam and Eve, and was feeling personally resentful. It was plain to him that his failure wasn't in any sense his own fault.
As he resumed his paper, however, his querulousness yielded to a broad sunny optimism, and he turned to the sporting page and hunted out the news from the Bowie track. He had a friend at Bowie, and the friend owned a horse which he swore was the darkest three-year-old in captivity; he had wired Mr. Mix to hypothecate his shirt, and bet the proceeds on the fourth race, this coming Saturday. The odds would be at least 10 to 1, he said, and he could place all the money that Mr. Mix might send him.
Mr. Mix leaned back and built a stable in the air. Suppose he could borrow a couple of thousand. Twenty thousand clear profit. Then a quick dash into the cotton-market (the price was certainly going to break wide open in another month) and the twenty would unfold, and expand, and become fifty. And if a shrewd, cold-blooded man went down to Wall Street with fifty thousand dollars, and played close to his chest, he ought to double his capital in four months. To be sure, Mr. Mix had been losing steadily for a dozen years, but he was confident that he had it in him to be a great and successful plunger. He felt it. Heretofore, he had been handicapped by operating on a shoestring; but with fifty thousand dollars to put his back against—
His stenographer announced a caller, and on the instant, Mr. Mix, put on his other personality, and prepared to silver his tongue. The caller, however, came straight to Mr. Mix's desk, and flipped out one sheet from a large portfolio. "Say," he remarked brusquely. "What's the matter with this bill? Ziegler and Company. Two ninety two sixty—dated November."
Mr. Mix laughed genially, and offered a cigar. "Why, nothing's the matter with it."
"What's the matter with Ziegler and Company? Aren't they solvent?"
The visitor lighted his cigar, and mellowed. "Well it ain't any of my funeral, but Ziegler he says if you don't settle by the fifteenth, he'll give it to his attorney."
For the third time in a week, an attorney had been lugged into the conversation; more than that, Mr. Mix had received four letters from two different collection agencies. "In the words of the Good Book," he said soothingly, "have patience and I will pay thee all."
"What say? Will I come in next week sometime?"
"Now, that," said Mr. Mix, with a rush of approval, "is a first-rate idea. That's first-rate. Come in next week some time."
"Right-o. Only Ziegler, he's pretty hard-boiled, Mr. Mix.... Say, why don't you gimme a check now, and save me from gettin' flat-footed? Two ninety two sixty? Why for you that's chicken-feed."
"Bill hasn't been audited yet," said Mr. Mix, with all the grandeur of an industrial chieftain. "Come in next week."
The visitor went out, and Mr. Mix scowled at the bill, threatened to tear it, and finally put it away in a drawer where it had plenty of companionship. To think that after his lifetime as an important citizen—generally supposed to be well-to-do if not actually rich—he couldn't pay a trifling account of less than three hundred dollars because he didn't have three hundred dollars in the bank. Collection agencies and the warning of suits—and impertinence from young ruffians who were hired to dun him! He scowled more heavily, and then gave his shoulders an upward movement of rancour and disgust.
And yet—the lines receded from his forehead—and yet there was always John Starkweather, and the friend at Bowie. Mr. Mix rose, and went out to the corridor, and down it to a door which was lettered with Mr. Starkweather's name, followed by the inscription: Real Estate and Insurance, Mortgage Loans. And as he entered, and remembered that thirty years ago he and John Starkweather had occupied adjoining stools at the same high desk, and broken their back over the same drudgery, and at the same wage, he was filled with an emotion which made his cheeks warm. Side by side, only thirty years ago, and separated now by the Lord knew what, and the Lord knew why. Mr. Mix knew that he was brainier than John Starkweather; he admitted it. Brainier, smoother, quicker of wit, and more polished. But Starkweather's office handled the bulk of local realty transactions; it wrote more insurance than all of its competitors in a mass; it loaned almost as much money, on mortgage, as the Trust and Savings. And Mr. Mix, Broker, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Luck! No question about it.
At the swinging gate there was a girl-clerk who smiled up at him, flirtatiously. "Want to see the boss? He's busy for a coupla minutes."
"All right," said Mr. Mix in an undertone. "I'll stay here and talk to you."
"The nerve of some folks! Think I'm paid to listen to your line of hot air? Not 'till they double my salary. You go sit down and have a thought. Exercise's what you need."
Mr. Mix rolled his eyes heavenward. "So young, and so heartless!" he murmured, and went sedately forward to the reception room.
The door of the private office was not quite closed; so that the voices of two men were faintly audible. Mr. Mix cast about him, made sure that he was unobserved, and dignifiedly changed his seat—nearer that door.
"Yes," said a voice which at first he couldn't recognize. "The deed's recorded. So legally, Henry owns the property now." Mr. Mix nodded triumphantly; the voice belonged to Mr. Archer, a leading lawyer and Mr. Starkweather's closest friend.
"That's the idea." This was in Mr. Starkweather's familiar bass. "Now how'd you fix the will?"
"Why, it was very simple. Your point was that you didn't want everybody to know what was going on. So—"
"No. And if I put a lot o' conditions like that in a will, why just as soon as it was probated, Henry and Mirabelle'd both get an awful lot o' bum publicity. They'd both be sore, and I'd look like a nut.... Naturally, I don't plan to die off as soon as all this, but better be safe. I just want to fix it up so Henry'll get the same deal no matter what happens."
"Very wise, very wise,... Well, here's what I've done. I've changed the will so that the entire residuary estate is left to me in trust for your sister and nephew to be administered according to the trust-deed we're executing today. They can probate that until they're black in the face, but nobody's going to find out any more than we want them to."
"Sounds all right so far, but don't you have to take a trust agreement like that into Court, too?"
"Sooner or later, yes. But you'll notice that I've covered it so that unless Henry or Miss Starkweather says something, nobody's going to know until the year's out, and I make the accounting. Now for the trust agreement itself—if Henry demonstrates to me that within a year—"
"A year from August first. The lease don't expire 'till then, and Henry won't be home 'till then. August to August's what I'm goin' to put up to him."
"Correct. If he demonstrates to me that within the calendar year he's made a net profit of ten thousand dollars from the property—by the way, isn't that rather steep?"
"No. Man's in there now's made three thousand and manhandled it. Just horse-sense and some alterations and advertising'll bring it up to ten."
"You're the doctor. If Henry makes ten out of it, then he receives from me, as trustee, the whole residuary estate, otherwise it goes to your sister. And during that trial year, she gets the whole income from it, anyway."
Mr. Mix was sitting motionless as a cat.
"Well, then, if you'll just read these over and make sure I've got your meaning, and then get a couple of witnesses in here, we can clear the whole thing up and have it out of the way."
Mr. Mix heard the scrape of chair-legs against the floor, and hastily, on tiptoe, he crossed the room to his original seat, and in passing the centre table he helped himself to a magazine which he was reading with much concentration when the door of the private office opened.
"Why, hello, Mix," said Mr. Starkweather. "Been waitin' long? Be with you in half a second."
"Just got here," said Mr. Mix, as though startled. He returned the magazine to the table, and was still standing when his friend came back, in convoy of young Mr. Robert Standish, his chief assistant.
"Come on in, Mix. Want you to witness a will."
"Anything to oblige," said Mr. Mix, with alacrity.
He spoke cordially to young Mr. Standish and in another moment, to the lawyer. With due solemnity he carried out the function which was assigned to him; he would have loved a peep at the body of the documents, but already he was possessed of some very interesting information, and he kept his eyes religiously in the boat. Mr. Mix believed that in business and society, as well as in war, advance information is the basis of victory; and even while he was blotting his second signature, he was wondering how to capitalize what he had overheard. No inspiration came to him; so that methodically he stowed away the facts for reference.
"Stay right here, Mix. That's all, ain't it, Mr. Archer?"
"That's all." The lawyer was packing up his papers. "Good-morning, gentlemen." He bowed himself away; Standish had long since vanished.
Mr. Starkweather mopped his face. "Hot, ain't it?"
"You aren't looking so very fit," said Mr. Mix, critically. "Feel all right, do you?"
Mr. Starkweather pulled himself together. "Sure," he said, but his voice lacked its usual heartiness. "I feel fine. Well, what can I do for you?"
Mr. Mix, delaying only to close the door (and to see that it latched) began with a foreword which was followed by a preface and then by a prelude, but he had hardly reached the main introduction when Mr. Starkweather put up his hand. "To make a long story short, Mix—how much do you want?"
Mr. Mix looked pained. "Why, to tide me over the dull season, John, I need—let's see—" He stole a glance at his friend, and doubled the ante. "About five thousand."
Mr. Starkweather drummed on his desk. "Any security!"
Mr. Mix smiled blandly. "What's security between friends? I'll give you a demand note."
At length, Mr. Starkweather stopped drumming. "Mix, I don't quite get you.... You've had a good business; you must have made considerable money. You oughtn't be borrowin' from me; that's what your bank's for. You oughtn't be borrowin' money any way. You been too big a man to get in a hole like this. What's wrong—business rotten?"
"Too good," said Mr. Mix, frankly. "It's taking all my capital to carry my customers. And you know how tight money is."
"Oh, yes. Well—I guess your credit's good for five, all right. When do you have to have it? Now?"
"Any time that suits you, suits me."
Mr. Starkweather shook his head. "No, it don't, either. When a man wants money, he wants it. Wants it some particular day. When is it?"
"Why, if you could let me have it today, John, I'd appreciate it."
"Make out your note," said Mr. Starkweather, heavily, "Interest at six percent, semi-annually. I'll have the cashier write you out a check."
Ten minutes later Mr. Mix, patting his breast pocket affectionately, bestowed a paternal smile upon the girl at the wicket; and Mr. Starkweather, alone in his office, drew a prodigious breath and slumped down in his chair, and fell to gazing out over the roof-tops.
It was a fortnight, now, since Henry's last letter. He wished that Henry would write oftener. He told himself that one of Henry's impulsive, buoyant letters would furnish the only efficacious antidote to Mirabelle. And he needed an antidote, and a powerful one, for during the past two weeks Mirabelle had been surpassing herself. That is, if one can surpass a superlative.
Judge Barklay, of course, had taken the revelation like a man. Like a philosopher. He was fond of Henry personally; he had objected to him purely for the obvious reasons. He agreed, however, with Mr. Starkweather—marriage might awaken Henry to complete responsibility. Indeed he had Mr. Starkweather's guaranty of it. To be sure a secret marriage was somewhat sensational, somewhat indecorous—
"Humph!" Mirabelle had interrupted. "I don't know who's insulted most—you or us. Still I suppose you've got one consolation—and that's if two young fools marry each other instead of somebody else it only leaves just the two of 'em to repent at leisure instead of four."
Mr. Starkweather recalled, with chagrin, his own and the Judge's futile attempts at tact. Mirabelle was tact-proof; you might as well try subtle diplomacy on a locomotive. He took another deep breath, and gazed abstractedly out over the roof-tops. He wished that Henry would write. Henry had his defects, but the house was not quite livable without him. Mr. Starkweather was swept by an emotion which took him wholly by surprise and almost overcame him; he sat up, and began to wonder where he could find some occupation which would chink up the crevices in his thoughts, and prevent him from introspection. Eventually he hit upon it, and with a conscious effort, he pulled himself out of his chair, and went over to Masonic Hall to meet his sister Mirabelle.
She had been attending a conference of the Ethical Reform League, and as Mr. Starkweather's car drew in to the curb, the reformers were just emerging to the sidewalk. He surveyed them, disparagingly. First, there was a vanguard of middle-aged women, remarkably short of waist and long of skirt, who looked as though they had stepped directly from the files of Godey's Lady's Book; he recognized a few of them, and judged the others accordingly—these were the militants, the infantry, who bore the brunt of the fighting. Next, there was a group of younger women, and of young men—the men, almost without exception, wore spectacles and white washable ties. These were the skirmishers and the reserves. At one side, there was a little delegation in frock-coats and silk hats, and as Mr. Starkweather beheld them, he lifted his eyebrows; some of those older men he hadn't seen in public for a dozen years—he had forgotten that they were alive. But the majority of them were retired or retiring capitalists; men who in their day, had managed important interests, and even now controlled them. Mr. Starkweather reflected that life must have become very insipid to them; and he further reflected that their place in this organization must be as shock-troops. They would seldom go into action, but when they did, they had the power of consequence to give them an added momentum.
His sister caught sight of him, and waved her hand in greeting; and this astonished him all the more, because since Henry's departure, she had behaved towards him as though his character needed a bath.
Mr. Starkweather made room for her. "Thought I'd give you a lift back to the house," he said.
There was an unusual colour in her cheeks, and her eyes were brilliant. "John, do you know what I am?"
Mr. Starkweather didn't dare to hesitate. "No. What?"
"I'm the—president," she said, and her voice was trembling with pride and bewilderment.
"President? Of the League?"
Transfigured, she nodded again and again. "The nominating committee reported this morning. I'm the only candidate...." She stared at him and stiffened. "Of course, I know you aren't interested in anything helpful or progressive, so I don't expect to be congratulated. Of course not."
Mr. Starkweather made a dutiful struggle to be joyous about it, and succeeded only in producing a feeble smirk. "I'll say one thing—you've got some money represented in that crowd. Those old codgers. I didn't realize it.... Well, what's your program?"
She unbent a little, and began to recite her platform, and as she skipped from plank to plank, her own enthusiasm was multiplied, and Mr. Starkweather was correspondingly encased in gloom. As a mere active member of the League, a private in the ranks, Mirabelle had made his house no more cheerful as a mausoleum; and when he considered what she might accomplish as a president, in charge of a sweeping blue-law campaign, his imagination refused to take the hurdle.
Fortunately, he wasn't expected to say anything. His sister was making a speech. She didn't stop when the car stopped, nor when Mr. Starkweather climbed down stiffly, and held open the door for her, nor even when they had reached the portico of the big brick house. He told himself, dumbly, that if the world would ever listen to Mirabelle, it would certainly reform. Not necessarily in contrition, but in self-defence.
And yet when he sat opposite her, at lunch, his expression was as calm and untroubled as though she had fashioned for him an ideal existence. He was seeing a vision of Mirabelle as a soap-box orator; he was seeing humorous stories about her in the newspapers; he was shuddering at all the publicity which he knew would be her portion, and yet he could smile across the table at her, and speak in his normal voice. Physically, he was distressed and joyless, but he found it easier to rise above his body than above his mind. His smile was a tribute to a dual heroism.
"Got a little present for you," said Mr. Starkweather, suddenly. He tossed a slip of paper to her, and watched her as she examined it. "There's a string to it, though—I want you to hold it awhile."
She looked up, sceptically. "Suppose it's good?"
"Oh, it's perfectly good. Mix is all right. Only I don't want you to press him for awhile. Not for three, four months, anyhow." He pushed away his dessert, untasted. "You know why I'm givin' you these little dibs and dabs every now and then, don't you? So if anything ever happens to me, all of a sudden, you'll have somethin' to draw on. Let's see, I've put about forty in the little trust fund I been buildin' up for you, and given you twelve—" He broke off abruptly; his own symptoms puzzled him. As though somebody had tried to throttle him.
His sister had already been sitting bolt upright, but now she achieved an even greater rigidity. "Did you take my advice about your will? I don't suppose you did."
"I made some changes in it this morning," said Mr. Starkweather, uncomfortably.
"Did you do what I told you to—about Henry?"
He was struggling to keep a grip on himself. "Well, no—not exactly."
"Oh, you didn't?" she said tartly. "Well, what did you do?"
"Mirabelle," said her brother, "don't you think that's—just a little mite personal?"
"Well—I should hope so. I meant it to be. After the way Henry's acted, he don't deserve one bit of sympathy, or one dollar from anybody. And if I've got anything to say, he won't get it, either."
Mr. Starkweather's round, fat face, wore an expression which his sister hadn't seen before. He stood up, and held the back of his chair for support. "Mirabelle, you haven't got a word to say about it. I've made some changes in my will, but it's nobody's damned business outside of mine."
She reached for her handkerchief. "John! To think that you'd swear—at me—"
He wet his lips. "I didn't swear at you, but it's a holy wonder I don't. I've stood this just about as long as I'm goin' to. Henry's my own flesh and blood. And furthermore he wouldn't waste my money a minute quicker'n you would. He'd do a damn sight better with it. He'd have a good time with it, and make everybody in the neighbourhood happy, and you'd burn it up in one of your confounded reform clubs. Well, all I've got's a sister and a nephew, so I guess the money's goin' to be wasted anyhow. But one way's as good's another, and Henry's goin' to get a fair break, and don't you forget it." He took a glass of water from the table, and spilled half of it. "Don't you forget it."
At last, she had perception. "John, you don't know what you're saying! What's the matter? Are you sick?"
He was swallowing repeatedly. "Yes, I am. Sick of the whole thing." His eyes, and the hue of his cheeks, genuinely alarmed her; she went to him, but he avoided her. "No, I don't want anything except to be let alone.... Is the car out there?"
"But John—listen to me—"
He waved her off. "I listened to you the day Henry came home, Mirabelle. That's enough to last me quite some time. I ain't forgot a word you said—not a word. Where's my hat?" He rushed past her, and out of the house, and left her gaping after him.
Half an hour later, young Mr. Standish telephoned to her.
"Miss Starkweather?... Your brother isn't feeling any too well, and I've just sent him home. He looks to me as if he's in pretty bad shape. Wouldn't be a bad idea to have your doctor there, seems to me."
She had the doctor there, and before the night was over, there was another doctor in consultation. There were also two nurses. And to both doctors, both nurses and Mirabelle, Mr. Starkweather, who knew his destiny, whispered the same message at intervals of fifteen minutes. "Don't have Henry come back—don't have Henry come back—no sense his comin' back 'till August. Tell him I said so. Tell him I want him to stay over there—'till August."
And then, in the cool, fresh morning, Mr. Starkweather, who hadn't stirred a muscle for several hours, suddenly tried to sit up.
"Postman!" said Mr. Starkweather, with much difficulty.
He was waiting for a letter from Henry, and when they put it into his hands, he smiled and was content. He hadn't the strength to open it, and he wouldn't let anyone else touch it; he was satisfied to know that Henry had written. And after that, there was nothing worth waiting for.
It never occurred to Henry, when he came home in late July, to take his wife to the big brick house which had been his uncle's. He didn't know whether the house would go to Aunt Mirabelle or to himself, and for the time being, it was immaterial; Aunt Mirabelle was welcome to possession of it, undisturbed. Except for his uncle, there would have been open warfare between them long ago; now that the arbitrator was gone, war was inevitable, but Henry wouldn't fight on sacred ground. He preferred to accept the hospitality of Judge Barklay. The Judge's house was a third the size, and not the least prepossessing, and there really wasn't room for the young Devereuxs in it, but as soon as you stepped inside the door, you knew that you were welcome.
He was sorry for his aunt, and he went to see her immediately, but even in this new situation, she let him know that she disapproved of him thoroughly and permanently. She wasn't reconciled to his marriage; she didn't care to receive Anna; she implied that regardless of Mr. Starkweather's express wishes, Henry was a stony-hearted ingrate for remaining so long abroad. To be sure, his presence at home would have served no purpose whatsoever, but Mirabelle was firm in her opinion. More than that, she succeeded in making Henry feel that by his conduct he had hurried his uncle into an untimely grave; she didn't say this flatly, nor yet by innuendo, but she managed to convey it through the atmosphere.
"Of course," she said, "you've been to call on Mr. Archer, haven't you?"
Henry flushed indignantly. "I hadn't even thought about it."
"Well, when you do, you'll hear some fine news." Her lip curled. "Your friend Bob Standish's bought the business. Some of it, anyway. Bought it on a shoestring's my guess,—but he's bought it."
"I didn't know it, Aunt Mirabelle."
"Well, they only closed the deal a few days ago."
"Good for Bob!" He was thinking that if honest toil were demanded of him, nothing could be more pleasant than an alliance with this same Standish. His uncle had always offered up Standish, subtly, as an illustration of what Henry himself ought to be. And it was a tribute to the mutual affection of all three men that Henry had never been irritated at Mr. Starkweather, nor resentful towards his friend. On the contrary, he admitted that unless he were himself, he would rather be Standish than anyone else. He wondered if his uncle could have planned for him so delightful a penance as a year or two of happy servitude under Bob. He must see Bob and congratulate him. Only twenty-seven, and the head of the most important concern of its type in several counties.
Aunt Mirabelle sniffed. "Good for nothing. He's most as scatter-brained as you are."
Henry declined the combat, and after she sensed his intention, she went on, with increasing acridity.
"The rest of the whole estate's tied up for a year in a trust, to see what you're going to do with some piece of property he deeded to you just before he died, but Mr. Archer wouldn't tell me much about it 'till you came home. I suppose it's part of the business—some department of it. If you can make ten thousand dollars out of it, you're to have everything. All I get's a few thousand outright, and what John gave me in a little separate fund, and a year's income from the whole estate. I suppose you think that's perfectly fair and right and just. Naturally, you would."
In his present mood, Henry was immune to astonishment. "I don't believe it's up to me to criticize Uncle John, whatever he did."
"Not under the circumstances, no. You've got some piece of property—I don't know what it is; he didn't tell me; I'm only his sister—and he's fixed things so it's just a gamble for you. You're going to do the gambling; and I sit back and fold my hands and wait a year to see whether you get everything, or I do. Even this house."
She made a deprecating gesture. "Oh, yes, if you aren't a good enough gambler, then I come into everything. It puts me in such a sweet position, doesn't it? So comfortable for me." Her smile was bitter; she was recalling what her brother had said to her at lunch, on that final day—that he wouldn't listen to her, because already he had heard the worst that she had to say. Originally, as she knew, he had intended to bequeath Henry a fourth of his property, and herself the remainder; and she knew that by her too vigorous indictment of Henry she had egged her brother into a state of mind which, regardless of the cause of it, she still considered to be unfathomable. The memory galled her, and so did the possibility of Henry's triumph. "Well," she said, "I wish you every happiness and success, Henry. I suppose you feel in your conscience you deserve it, don't you?"
When he left her, he was aware that the last tie had been severed.
* * * * *
His friend Bob Standish was a young man who in the past ten years had achieved many different kinds of success by the reason that mere acquaintances, as well as strangers, invariably underestimated him. For one thing, his skin was so tender, his eyes so blue and innocent, his mouth so wide and sensitive, his forehead so white and high, that he gave the impression of almost childish simplicity and ingenuousness. For another thing, he dressed with such meticulous regard for the fashion, and he moved about with such indolent amiability, that his clothes and his manners distracted attention from what was underneath.
And so, at college, a full battalion of kindly sophomores had volunteered to teach him poker, and couldn't understand why the profits went not to the teacher, but to the pupil. Immature professors, who liked to score off idlers and fat-brained sons of plutocrats, had selected him as the perfect target, and some of them had required several terms to realize that Standish, always baby-eyed, beau-attired and apparently dreaming of far distant things, was never lower in rank than the top twenty of his class. Out on the Field, visiting ends and tackles, meeting him for the first time, had nearly laughed in his face, and prepared to slaughter him, only to discover, with alarm and horror which steadily increased from the first whistle to the last, that Standish could explode his muscles with such a burst of dynamic energy that his hundred and sixty pounds felt like two hundred and ten. It was equally discouraging to learn, from breathless experience, that when he was in his stride he was as unpursueable as a coyote; and that he could diagnose the other fellow's tactics even before the other fellow had quite decided what to do next.
In commerce, he had merely continued the same species of career; and by virtue of being thoroughly depreciated, and even pitied, by his customers, he had risen in six years from the grade of city insurance solicitor to that of Mr. Starkweather's principal assistant. And now, as casually as he had ever raked in a jack-pot from the bewildered sophomores, he had bought the Starkweather business, and not on a shoestring, either, as Mirabelle had suspected.
He had roomed with Henry at college; he had been his inseparable companion, out of office hours, ever since; he knew him too well to proffer any trite condolence. But his sympathy was firm and warm in his fingers when he shook hands and Henry got the message.
"Thought probably you'd rather not have me at the train," said Standish, "so I didn't come. Right or wrong?"
"Right, Bob.... Allow smoking in your sanctum?"
"Don't allow anybody not to smoke. What are you doing—borrowing or offering?"
Henry glanced at Standish's brand. "Neither one. Every man for himself—and you've got vile taste. Well, I hear you're the big boss around here. Please, mister, gimme a job?"
"Nothing I'd like better," said Standish. "I've got just the thing for you. Sit over on the window-sill and be a lily. Flowers brighten up an office so."
"You basely misjudge me. Didn't you know I'm going to work?"
Standish's eyes were round and guileless. "See any sea-serpents on your way over? I've heard there are such things."
"Fact, though, I am. And you know it, too. I'm hoping it's here."
His friend shook his head. "Not here, Henry."
"No, and I'm sorry. I'd make you clean inkwells and say 'sir,' and you'd get to be almost as democratic as I am.... Haven't you seen Archer?"
"Oh, just squeamish, I suppose. You sort of hate to think of the—cash end of it."
"That's right, too. But as long as you're in the building, you'd better drop in there. From all the talk there is, you've picked up a mystery."
"Mystery? In what way?"
"Not for me to say. Go find out. And say—you and Anna come and dine with me tonight, will you? I just want to have you all to myself. Mind?"
"Good. Seven o'clock. Now get out of here and see Archer. Come back afterwards, if you want to; but do that first."
As if from pressure of business, he projected Henry into the corridor; and then, meditatively, he returned to his desk. Young Mr. Standish had watched his employer very closely, during those last few days, and in witnessing Mr. Starkweather's will, he had sensed, intuitively, that it contained a stick of dynamite for Henry.
* * * * *
Mr. Archer, who had known Henry since the Fauntleroy days, greeted him with the proper mixture of repression and cordiality. "But I'm afraid," owned Mr. Archer, "I'm afraid you're going to be a little disappointed."
Henry shook his head. "Then you've sized me up all wrong," he said, much subdued. "Because no matter what I get, I'm going to be satisfied that Uncle John wanted me to have it. Besides, I've apparently got to hump myself, or I don't get anything at all. Aunt Mirabelle gave me some idea of it—I'd thought it was probably an interest in the business, but Bob Standish says it isn't."
"No, it's a building. 361 Main Street. But it's rather more than a mere building; it is a business. It's leased until next Monday; after that it's yours to operate. The deed's recorded now. It's yours outright. Did your aunt tell you what the conditions are?"
"All or nothing!"
"Yes. Oh, he made a separate provision for Miss Starkweather; she'll never go hungry; but the bulk of the estate depends on what you do with the business in the next year. And strictly between ourselves, your uncle expected you to finish with a bit to spare."
"I know this much; if it's anything he doped out for me, it's an even bet. It's to make ten thousand dollars?"
"Yes, and without any outside help except straight commercial loans—if you can get 'em. No favours from anybody, and no free keep from your families."
"What building is it, Mr. Archer?"
The lawyer paused to wipe his glasses. "It's one your uncle took over on a mortgage last winter.... You see, Henry, he'd figured out what he was going to do with you, and it would have been this same thing even if he'd lived. He picked out what he thought would do you the most good—get you in touch with different people—break down some of your (excuse me for being blunt) class prejudice—teach you how many dimes there are in a dollar. And for that reason he expressly stipulated that you've got to keep your own books. That'll give you more of a respect for money than anything else would, I guess."
"Keep my own books?"
"That's the way Mr. Starkweather began—only in his case, he kept somebody else's. But I warned you to expect something out of the ordinary."
"Oh, yes," said Henry. "I was all set for some kind of a low-brow job. What is it—a garage?"
"I'm afraid you'll think a garage is fashionable, compared with it."
Henry looked serious. "361 Main? I don't seem to—What on earth is it, Mr. Archer?"
"Go down and look at it. Only don't be shocked, Henry; because it's exactly what he'd have given you to do, anyway. And then let me know what your plans are, will you? By the way—have you any money of your own?"
Henry looked pained. "I'm down to a couple of hundred. Why?"
"Then you'd better not waste any time. Go on down and look it over this morning, and let me know."
"Why—let you know what?"
"Whether you're going to take the dare."
Henry's lips twitched. "Nobody ever beat me by default yet, Mr. Archer."
"Just the same, I wish you'd let me know definitely—won't you? Of course, if you shouldn't feel inclined to go ahead on your uncle's plan—and that would disappoint me—you could simply sell out. I hope you won't, though. I hope very much indeed that you won't. But—go look at it. And one last thing, Henry; your uncle put the thing in this shape so that too many people wouldn't be gossiping about it. I mean, if you and your aunt don't tell—nobody will. That's all—but let me know."
Obediently, Henry proceeded down Main Street to the 300 block. His curiosity was active, but he was warning himself to be on guard, for his uncle's sentences, although invariably fair and invariably appropriate, were also founded on a solid base of humour and surprise. Henry remembered what Mr. Starkweather had said about coming home to eat crow, and what Mr. Archer had said about the comparative aristocracy of a garage, and he prepared himself for a thunderstroke, and got a laugh ready. That book-keeping provision was really clever; Uncle John had palpably framed it up to keep Henry on the job. But Henry would outwit the provision. A few lessons in a commercial-school, a modern card-system, and he could handle the books of any small business in no time at all, as per the magazine advertisements. Of course, the crow and the garage were merely symbols; but whatever the business might be, and however distasteful, there was only a year of it, and after that (so confident was Henry) there was a lifetime of luxury. He was rather glad that his penance came first; it would serve to make the enjoyment of his wealth so much more zestful. He should always feel as though he had worked for it, instead of having it handed out to him on a platter, regardless of his personal deserts. Yes, he would work faithfully, and because the task would be within his capabilities, (for Mr. Starkweather was sane and practical, and Mr. Archer had prophesied a finish with something to spare) he would end his probation in a blaze of glory, and Anna would be proud of him, Judge Barklay would approve of him, and Aunt Mirabelle would have to revise her estimate of him. Altogether, it was a fine arrangement, provided that his business, whatever it was, wouldn't entirely prevent him from keeping up with the procession, socially, and playing enough golf to hold his present form.
He had passed 331 and 341 and 351 and his heart began to beat more rapidly. This was almost as exciting as a Christmas stocking in the Fauntleroy days. His eyes were searching among the numbers; there was a four-story office building (335) and an automobile agency (339) ... and next to that—.... Henry halted, and the laugh dried up in his throat. He had been prepared for anything but the reality. The ark of his fortunes was a shabby little motion-picture theatre.
Gasping, he looked up again at the number, and when he realized that he had made no mistake, his knees turned to gelatine, and he stood staring, fascinated, numbed. His eyes wandered blankly from the crumbling ticket-booth to the unkempt lobby and back to the lurid billing—the current attraction was a seven-reel thriller entitled "What He Least Expected," but Henry missed the parallel. With trembling fingers he produced a cigarette, but in his daze he blew out two matches in succession. He crushed the cigarette in his palm, and moved a few steps towards the lobby. Great Heaven, was it possible that John Starkweather had condemned Henry the fashionable, Henry the clubable, Henry the exclusive to a year of this? Was this his punishment for the past? Was this the price of his future? This picayune sordidness, and vulgarity and decay? Evidently, it was so intended, and so ordered.
His power of reason was almost atrophied. He struggled to understand his uncle's purpose; his uncle's logic. To break down his class prejudice, and teach him the dimes in a dollar, and put him on the level of a workingman? All that could have been accomplished by far less drastic methods. It could have been accomplished by a tour of duty with Bob. To be sure, Mr. Starkweather had promised him the meanest job in the directory, but Henry had put it down as a figure of speech. Now, he was faced with the literal interpretation of it, and ahead of him there was a year of trial, and then all or nothing.
He succeeded in lighting a fresh cigarette, but he couldn't taste it. Previously he had paid his forfeits with the best of good-nature, but his previous forfeits hadn't obliged him to declass himself. They hadn't involved his wife. He hadn't married Anna to drag her down to this. It would stand them in a social pillory, targets for those who had either admired them or envied them. It would make them the most conspicuous pair in the whole community: older people would point to them as an illustration of justice visited on blind youth, and would chuckle to observe Henry in the process of receiving his come-uppance: the younger set would quake with merriment and poor jokes and sly allusions to Henry's ancient grandeur. Even Bob Standish would have to hide his amusement; why, Bob himself had made society and success his fetiches. And Anna—Anna who was so ambitious for him—how could she endure the status of a cheap showman's wife?
And even if she had been willing to ally himself with such a business, how could he conceivably make ten thousand dollars out of it in a single year? Ten? It would take a genius to make five. An inexperienced man, with luck, might make two or three. He couldn't afford to hire a trained man to manage it for him: the place was too small to support such a man, and still to net any appreciable profit. Mr. Starkweather had undoubtedly foreseen this very fact—foreseen that Henry couldn't sit back as a magnate, and pile responsibility on a paid employe. To reach his quota, Henry would have to get in all over, and act as his own manager, and take the resulting publicity and the social isolation. But the business was impossible, the quota was impossible, the entire project from first to last was unthinkable. His uncle, whether by accident or design, had virtually disowned him. There was no other answer.
His laugh came back to him, but there was no hilarity in it. It was merely an expression of his helplessness; it was tragedy turned inside out. Yet he felt no resentment towards his uncle, but rather an overwhelming pity. He felt no resentment towards his friend Standish, who had bought out the perfectly respectable business which Mr. Starkweather might so easily have left to Henry. Mr. Starkweather had schemed to bring about a certain reaction, and he had overplayed his hand. Instead of firing Henry with a new ardour for success, he had convinced him of the futility of endeavour. He had set a standard so high, and chosen a medium so low, that he had defeated his own object.
The next step—why, it was to chart his life all over again. It was to dispose of this ridiculous property, and begin to make a living for Anna. And there was no time to lose, either, for Henry's checking balance was about to slide past the vanishing point.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to meet the gravely sympathetic eyes of Mr. Theodore Mix.
* * * * *
Mr. Mix was fresh from an interview with Miss Mirabelle Starkweather. Her acquaintance with him was slight, but from a distance she had always esteemed him, partly for his mature good-looks, and partly for the distinguished manner which had always been a large fraction of his stock-in-trade, and was now to be listed among his principal assets. Her esteem, however, applied to him merely as an individual, and not as a debtor.
"I wanted to see you about a note," she said, primly. "A five thousand dollar demand note you gave my brother four months ago. He endorsed it over to me, and I wanted to see you about it."
Mr. Mix allowed his mouth to widen in a smile which was disarmingly benevolent. The horse at Bowie had proved dark indeed,—so dark that it had still been merged with the background when the winner passed the judge's stand—and this colour-test had cost Mr. Mix precisely two thousand dollars. Beyond that, he had paid off a few of his most pressing creditors, and he had spent a peculiarly carefree week in New York (where he had also taken a trifling flyer in cotton, and made a disastrous forced landing) so that there was practically nothing but his smile between himself and bankruptcy. Yet Mr. Mix beamed, with almost ecclesiastical poise, upon the holder of his demand note, and tried her with honey.
"Ordinarily, I'm embarrassed to talk business with a woman," said Mr. Mix. "I'm so conscious of the—what shall I say?—of a woman's disadvantage in a business interview. But in your case, Miss Starkweather, when your executive ability is so well known and so universally praised—"
She nodded, and took it without discount, but she wasn't distracted from her purpose. "I hope it's convenient for you to pay it, Mr. Mix."
"If it weren't convenient," said Mr. Mix, soothingly, "I should make it convenient. When the sister of my oldest friend—a man who once sat at the same desk with me, when we were young clerks together—when his sister is in need of funds, I—"
"'T isn't that," she said, quickly. "I want this money for some special reason."
He inclined his head slightly. "One of your favourite charities, I have no doubt. But whatever the reason, the obligation is the same. Now, let's see—I'll have to sell some securities—when must you have it?"
Inwardly, Mr. Mix was startled, but outwardly he looked grieved. "Tuesday? Now—that is—wait a minute." He created the impression that he was juggling vast affairs, in order to gratify a whim of his old friend's sister. As a matter of fact, he was wondering what plausible excuse he could give without revealing any hint of the truth. "Is Tuesday imperative?"
"Tuesday by ten o'clock in the morning."
His face cleared, "You've shared a secret with me," said Mr. Mix, and although he spoke aloud, his attitude was as though he were whispering. "Because I happen to know that every Tuesday at ten o'clock there's a meeting of a—a certain organization of which you're the illustrious president. Needless to say, I refer to the Ethical Reform League." He lowered his voice. "I ask your pardon for the intrusion of anything of such a delicately personal nature, Miss Starkweather, but I must tell you that when a person, such as yourself, even in the midst of inconsolable sorrow, can't forget that great principles and great institutions can never perish, but are immortal, and go on forever—that's true nobility of character, Miss Starkweather, and I honour you for it."
She touched her eyes with her handkerchief. "Thank you, Mr. Mix. Yes, I intend to make a contribution to our League—in memory of my brother. You're—familiar with our League?"
He gestured effectively. "Familiar with it? You might as well ask me if I'm familiar with the Emancipation Proclamation—the Magna Charta." And this was accurate; his knowledge of all three was based on hearsay evidence.
"And are you at all in sympathy with it?"
"My dear lady! I was one of the pioneer supporters of suffrage in this region. I—"
"Yes, I know that, and I know your work in the Associated Charities, and in your church, but—how did you vote on prohibition?"
He side-stepped with great agility. "How would any man of my calibre vote?"
"True, true." She was becoming animated.
"But we've tremendous problems yet to solve.... Do you believe in enforcing the laws, Mr. Mix? The Sunday laws especially?"
Mr. Mix picked up his cue, and gave thanks for the diversion. "Dear lady, I am a citizen. As a citizen, I help to make the laws; they're made by all of us for our own good. Show me a man who doesn't believe in enforcing the laws, and I won't argue with him—I couldn't count on his sincerity."
"It's a pleasure to talk to a man like you," she said. "I wonder if you agree with our other ideals. Er—what do you think about dancing?"
He had a good phrase which he had been saving up for six weeks. "Dancing," he said, "is popular because it's so conspicuously innocent, and so warmly satisfactory to the guilty."
"Good! Good! How about tobacco?"
This, too, he side-stepped. "It's a poison, so the doctors say. Who am I to put any opinion against theirs?"
She was regarding him earnestly, and a little perplexedly.
"How is it, when in spirit you're one of us, you've never joined the League?"
"I-I've never been invited," said Mr. Mix, somewhat taken aback.
"Then I invite you," she said, promptly. "And I know you'll accept. It's men like you we need—men with some backbone; prominent, useful citizens. You sit right there. I've got an application blank in my desk. Read it over when you get home, and sign it and mail it to me."
"I appreciate the distinction of your asking me," said Mr. Mix, with supreme deference. "And if you have time, I wish you'd tell me what your aims are. I am very deeply interested."
He stayed another half hour, and the conversation never swerved from the entertaining subject of reform. Mr. Mix was insufferably bored, and cumulatively restless, but he was convinced that he was making headway, so that he kept his mind relentlessly on the topic, and dispensed honey by the shovelful. When he prepared to leave, he tested out his conviction, and reminded her gently: "Now, in regard to that note—"
Mirabelle was blinded by her own visionings, and deafened by her own eloquence. "Well, we'll have to take that up again—But you come to the meeting Tuesday, anyhow. And here's one of our pamphlets for you to look at in the meantime."
As he went down the steps, she was watching him, from the ambush of lace window-curtains, and she was saying to herself: "Such a nice man—so influential, too.... Now if I could get him persuaded over—"
Mr. Mix, strolling nonchalantly downtown, was also talking to himself, and his conclusions would have astonished her. "What I've got to do," said Mr. Mix, thoughtfully, "is to string the old dame along until I can raise five thousand bucks. But where's it coming from?"
Then, squarely in front of the Orpheum Theatre, he met Henry Devereux.
* * * * *
"Good-morning, Henry," said Mr. Mix, soberly. "First time I've had a chance to speak to you since...." He coughed discreetly. "I don't believe I need to say that if there's anything I can do for you at any time, all you've got to do is to say so."
Privately, Henry had always considered Mr. Mix as a genial poseur, but he knew that Mr. Mix belonged to the Citizens Club, which was the local standard, and that for thirty years he had been on rather intimate business relations with Mr. Starkweather. This was sufficient recommendation for Henry, in the swirl of his agitation, to loose his tongue.
"All right," he said. "Tell me how soon I can sell this overgrown magic-lantern outfit—and what I can get for it—and where I can put the money to bring in the biggest income—and where I can get a good job."
Now all this was intended to be purely in the nature of a rhetorical question: for naturally, if Henry decided to sell, he would want Bob Standish to handle the transaction for him, and to get the commission: and also, if Henry had to find employment, he would go to his friend, and be sure of a cordial reception. But Mr. Mix took it literally.
Mr. Mix started, and his memory began to unfold. It was on the tip of his tongue to blurt out: "And lose your shot at the estate?" but he restrained himself. He wasn't supposed to know the circumstances, and as a matter of fact, as he realized with a thrill of relish, he was probably the only outsider who did know the circumstances. "Why," said Mr. Mix. "Do you own the Orpheum? Well, I should say offhand it's worth a good deal. Twenty thousand. The land, you know: the building's no good."
Henry nodded impatiently. "Yes, but who'd buy it?"
"Well, now, about that—of course, I'm not a real estate man—but you could certainly trade it."
Mr. Mix caught the note of sincerity in Henry's voice, and Mr. Mix thought rapidly. He appeared to deliberate, to waver, to burn his bridges. "Well—say for a third interest in Theodore Mix and Company."
Henry stared. "Are you serious?"
Mr. Mix almost fell over backwards. "Why, yes. It's sudden, but ... why, yes. I could use more capital, and I want a crack salesman. I'll trade—if you're quick on the trigger. I've got two or three people interested so far, but when it's you—"
Henry took him by the arm. "Come on over to the Citizens Club, then, and we'll talk about it."
When Henry went home to his wife and his father-in-law, he was confident that he had a very fine bargain; when he told them what he had heard from his aunt and Mr. Archer, what he had seen with his own eyes, and what he had done with Mr. Mix, he expected first, sympathy, and afterwards, unqualified approval. Within the next five minutes, however, Henry was sitting limp and baffled; and wishing that he had Bob Standish to support him. Bob, at least, would understand.
"Holy Smoke!" he said, weakly. "I didn't suppose you'd take it like that! Why, I—I feel as if I'd been run over by a steam-roller with Taft at the wheel!"
Judge Barklay had long since forgiven his daughter, but he hadn't quite forgiven Henry. "Do you want my honest opinion? I should say you're suffering from two extreme causes—exaggerated ego and cold feet."
Henry flushed. He had the most profound respect for Judge Barklay—a man who had preferred to be a city magistrate, and to be known throughout the whole state for his wisdom and humanity, instead of keeping up his law practice, at five times the income—and Henry, like every one else, valued the Judge's opinions. "You don't mean you think I'd run the miserable little peanut-stand, do you? And keep books on it as if it had been the Federal Reserve Bank?"
"It strikes me," said the Judge, "that both of us would rather have you run a peanut-stand than—I'm using your own analogy—than spend your whole life eating peanuts. Why, Henry, your uncle wanted you to be shocked—wanted you to be mad enough to stand up on your hind legs and fight."
Henry looked at his wife. "What are you going to suggest? Hire a snake-charmer and a wild-man-from-Borneo and an infant pachyderm and a royal ring-tailed gyasticutus, and pull off a side-show after the main tent's closed?"
"Oh, Henry! Can't you see what a lark it would be?"
"Lark?" he repeated, hazily. "Lark? You've got the wrong bird. It's crow."
"No, but Henry dear, you aren't going to be a quitter, are you?"
"Wife of my bosom, do you realize what you're talking about? It would cost a thousand dollars just to make the place clean. It'll cost three or four more to make it attractive enough to get anybody inside of it. And I haven't got the price."
"What's the matter with a mortgage?" demanded the Judge. "And you've got a car, haven't you? You've got a saddle-horse. You've got all kinds of junk you can turn into money."
"On a wild gamble? Why, Anna, we couldn't stay on here with the Judge—that would be getting help I'm not allowed to have—we'd have to go live in some cheap apartment; we couldn't even have a maid for awhile; we couldn't entertain anybody; we couldn't have any outside pleasures; I'd have to work like a dog; you know what the crowd on the hill would say—and then I'm beaten before I start anyway. Quitter! You wouldn't call a man a quitter if he stayed out of a hurdle race because he'd broken a leg, would you?"
"Well," said Anna, "I'm willing to live in such a cheap apartment that the landlord calls it a flat. And you can't get any servants these days; there aren't any. And who cares about entertaining? And for outside pleasures, why couldn't we go to the Orpheum?" They all laughed, but Anna was the first to stop. "I'll work just as hard as you will, Henry. I'll peel potatoes and wash the sink—" She glanced, ruefully, at her hands—"and if it'll help you, I—I'd sell tickets or be an usher or play the piano. Why, Henry, it would be a circus—and we wouldn't need any snake-charmers, either."
"And an education," said Judge Barklay.
"And a gold-mine for us—in just one little year. We could do it; I know we could."
"And if the stupid fool who's had it this last year could make money out of it," added the Judge, "and you used any intelligence on it, you'd come out ahead. John made up his figures very carefully. That's the kind of man he was."
Henry stared at them alternately. "But if I did fall down—"
"Henry!" The Judge was using a professional gesture. "What do you suppose your time is worth, at its present market value? Don't you think you can afford to risk a year of it against half a million dollars?"
"But when I've practically closed with Mix—"
"Sign any agreement?"
"No, he's having one typed."
The judge breathed in relief. "You're lucky. You'd lose money if you took a third interest for a gift, and if you took all of it as a gift you'd lose three times as much. Because you'd have to assume your share of his liabilities. People think he's got money, but he hasn't; he's broke. He must have picked you for a life preserver."
Henry's jaw dropped. "What makes you think so?"
"I don't think so; I know so. Oh, he's pretty shifty on his feet, and he's got a good many people hoodwinked—your uncle always gave him too much credit, incidentally—but his New York correspondents happened to be clients of mine when I was practising law, and they've both asked me about him and told me about him, inside of the last six weeks."
Henry sat unblinking "Is that—a fact!"
"And if you wanted to sell out," continued the Judge, with a trifle of asperity, "why on earth didn't you go to Bob Standish? Why didn't you go to an expert? And why didn't you have an audit made of Mix's company—why didn't you get a little information—why didn't you know what you were buying? Oh, it isn't too late, if you haven't signed anything, but—Henry, it looks to me as if you need a guardian!"
At the sight of his face, Anna went over to him, and perched on the arm of his chair. "That's enough, Dad.... I'm his guardian; aren't I, dear? And he's just upset and dizzy and I don't blame him a bit. We won't say another word about it; we've told him what we think; and tonight he can have a long talk with Bob. You'd want to do that, wouldn't you, Henry? Of course you would. You wish you'd done it before. You're feeling awfully ashamed of yourself for being so hasty. And snobbish. I know you."
Henry looked across at the Judge. "Might as well have my brains where my hair is, mightn't I? She sees it just as easy.... All right; we'll let the whole thing ride 'till I've seen Bob."
His friend Standish, gazing with childlike solemnity out of his big blue eyes, listened to both sides of the story, and to Henry's miscalculation, at no time during the recital did he laugh uproariously, or exclaim compassionately, or indicate that he shared any of Henry's conclusions:
"Oh, yes," he said, "people might giggle a bit. But they always giggle at a man's first shot at business, anyway. Like his first pair of long trousers. It's done. But how many times will they do it? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? At maybe seven dollars a giggle? For less than that, I'd be a comedian. I'd be a contortionist. I'd be a pie-thrower. Henry, old rubbish, you do what they tell you to."
"Would you do it if you were in my place?"
"Would I lie down like a yellow dog, and let people say I hadn't sand enough to stop a wristwatch?"
"I know, but Bob—the Orpheum!"
"I know, but Henry—don't you sort of owe it to Mr. Starkweather? You wouldn't have put on this milk-fed expression if he'd soaked it to you himself, would you?"
At this precise instant, Henry was required on the telephone. It was his Aunt Mirabelle; and even if he had been dining with royalty, she would still have called him—if she could have got the address.
"Henry," she said acidly. "I've just found out what kind of a building it was your uncle deeded you. Theodore Mix told me. I didn't know your uncle was ever messed up in that kind of a thing. He never told me. Good reason he didn't, too. I certainly hope you aren't going to spread this news around town, Henry—it's scandalous enough to have it in the family, even. Of all the hellish influences we've got to contend with in this day and generation—"
"Well," said Henry, "it isn't any of it my fault, is it?"
"That remains to be seen. Are you going to run that—dive?"
"Why—I don't know. If I didn't—"
"Oh, yes, you're probably thinking how selfish I am. You wouldn't recognize a pure motive if you met one in the street. But to think of a Devereux—almost the same thing as a Starkweather—"
"What's your idea? To have me be a jolly little martyr?"
"There's this much to say, Henry—at least I'd put John's money to a nobler use than you ever would."
Henry grimaced. "Your League?"
"Yes, what else?"
He was an impulsive young man, and sometimes he made up his mind by contraries. "I wouldn't count too much on it," he said cheerfully. "I might astonish you."
"You—Henry Devereux! Am I going to see my own sister's son in a polluted enterprise like—"
"You're going to see your own grandfather's great-grandson make P. T. Barnum look a Kickapoo medicine man—if necessary," said Henry. "Only don't you worry about any pollution. That's where I draw the line. I'm not going to stage one single pollute."
"You are going to operate that place?"
"Why certainly," said Henry. "And speaking of operations, I've got a hunch the patient's going to recover. I've just been holding a clinic.... Well—good-bye, Aunt Mirabelle." He turned back to his wife and his friend Standish. "So that's settled," said Henry, and grinned, a trifle apprehensively. "We're off in a cloud of dust.... Waiter, where's those two portions of crow I ordered four months ago? The service in this place is getting something rotten."
Mr. Theodore Mix, sprawled in his desk chair, gazed with funereal gloom at the typewritten agreement which lay before him, unsigned. It was barely twenty minutes ago that Mr. Mix had risen to welcome the man who was to save his credit and his reputation; but during those twenty minutes Mr. Mix, who had felt that he was sitting on top of the world, had been unceremoniously shot off into space.
His creditors surrounded him, (and because they were small creditors they were inclined to be nasty), he owed money to his New York correspondents, whose letters were becoming peremptory, and his brokerage business was pounding against the rocks. Quietly, overnight he had located a purchaser for the Orpheum, and as soon as Henry's name had been safe on the dotted line, Mr. Mix would have been financed for many months ahead. And then came Henry—and Henry, who had been cast for the part of the lamb, had suddenly become as obstinate as a donkey. Mr. Mix, gazing at that agreement, was swept by impotent rage at Henry, and he took the document and ripped it savagely across and across, and crumpled it in both his hands, and jammed it into his scrap-basket.
For the moment, he subordinated his personal problems to his wrath at Henry. He charged Henry with full responsibility for this present crisis; for if Henry had simply scribbled his signature, Mr. Mix would have made a good deal of money. It never occurred to him that in the same transaction, Henry would have changed places with Mr. Mix. That was Henry's look-out. And damn him, he had looked!
"I'm going to get him for that," said Mr. Mix, half-aloud. "I'm going to get him, and get him good. Jockeying me into a pocket! Conceited young ass! And I'd have been square with the world, and paid off that infernal note, and had four ... thousand ... dollars left over." His lips made a straight line. "And he'd have brought fifty thousand dollars' worth of business into this office—he'd have had to—he'd have had to hold up his friends—to protect his ante. Yes, sir, I'm going to get him good."
Mr. Mix sat up, and emitted a short, mirthless laugh. He frowned thoughtfully: and then, after a little search, he examined the pamphlet which Mirabelle had given him, and skimmed through the pages until he came to the paragraph he had in mind. Enforcement of the Sunday ordinances ... hm!... present ordinance seems to prohibit Sunday theatrical performances of all kinds, but city administrations have always been lax. Want the law on the books, don't dare to repeal it, but don't care to enforce it.
Mr. Mix sat back and pondered. He knew enough about the motion-picture business to realize that the Sunday performances made up the backbone of the week. He knew enough about the Orpheum to know that Henry's quota, which under normal conditions would require only diligence, and initiative, and originality to reach, would be literally impossible if Sundays were taken from the schedule. The League's blue-law campaign, if it proved successful, would make Henry Devereux even bluer than Mr. Mix. "Three rousing cheers for reform!" said Mr. Mix, and grinned at the pamphlet.
Another brilliant thought infected him. He had long since passed the stage in which women were a mystery to him: he had long since realized that unless a man's passions intervene, there is nothing more mysterious about women than about men. It was all humbug—all this mummery about intuitions and unerring perception and inscrutability. Women are all alike—all human—all susceptible to sheer, blatant flattery. The only difference in women is in the particular brand of flattery to which, as individuals, they react.
Take Miss Starkweather: he had seen that if he fed her vanity unsparingly—not her physical vanity, but her pride in her own soul, and in her League presidency—she blazed up into a flame which consumed even her purpose in causing the interview. Once already, by no remarkable effort, he had been able to divert her attention; and it was now imperative for him to keep it diverted until he had raised five thousand dollars. And if she were so susceptible, why shouldn't Mr. Mix venture a trifle further? He knew that she regarded him as an important man; why shouldn't he let himself be won over, slowly and by her influence alone, to higher things? Stopping, of course, just short of actually becoming a League partisan? Why shouldn't he feed her fat with ethics and adulation, until she were more anxious for his cooperation than for his money? If he couldn't play hide-and-seek for six months,—if he couldn't turn her head so far that she couldn't bear to press him for payment—he wasn't the strategist he believed himself to be. But in the meantime, where was he to get the money to live on? Still, Mirabelle came first.
On Sunday, he fortified himself from his meagre supply of contraband, ate two large cloves, and went formally to call on her. He remained an hour, and by exercise of the most finished diplomacy, he succeeded in building up the situation exactly as he had planned it. The note hadn't been mentioned; the League hadn't been given a breathing-space; and Mirabelle was pleading with him to see the light, and join the crusade. Finally, she leaned forward and put her hand on his arm.
"Two weeks ago," she said, "I told the League I was going to give it a real surprise this next Tuesday. What I meant was money. The money for that note. But I'd hate to have you sell any securities when they're down so low. And besides, anybody can give money—just money. What we need most is men. Let me do something different. You're one of the big men here. You count for a good deal. We want you. I said I'd give 'em a surprise—let me make the League a present of you." She bestowed upon him a smile which was a startling combination of sharpness and appeal. "I'm certainly going to keep my promise, Mr. Mix. I'm going to give 'em one or the other—you or the five thousand. Only I tell you in all sincerity, I'd rather it would be you."
Mr. Mix sat up with a jerk. The climax had been reached six months too soon. "Dear lady—"
"You can't refuse," she went on with an emphasis which sobered him. "We want you for an officer, and a director. I've taken it up with the committee. And you can't refuse. You believe everything we believe. Mr. Mix, look me in the eye, and tell me—if you're true to yourself, how can you refuse?"
"That isn't it," he said, truthfully enough. "I—I wouldn't be as valuable to you as you think."
"We'll judge of that."
He knew that he was in a corner, and he hunted desperately for an opening. "And—in any event, I couldn't become an officer, or even a director. I—"
"Why not, pray?"
"I haven't the time, for one thing, nor the experience in—"
She swept away his objections with a stiff gesture. "You're modest, and it's becoming. But either you're with us or against us: there's no half-way about morals. If you're with us, you ought to show your colours. And if you are with us, you'll lead us, because you're a born leader. You inspire. You instill. And for the sake of the common welfare—" She paused: he was staring at her as if hypnotized. "For the sake of the city and the state and the nation—" His eyes were wide, and filled with a light which deceived her. "For the sake of civic honour and decency and self-respect—"
Mr. Mix cleared his throat. "Yes, but—"
Again, she leaned out and touched his arm. "For my sake?"
Mr. Mix recoiled slightly. "For your sake!" he muttered.
"Yes, for mine. The sister of your oldest friend."
He owed her five thousand dollars, and if she demanded payment, he was a bankrupt. "Why does it mean so much to you?" he asked, sparring for time.
"It would be an epoch in the history of the League, Mr. Mix."
"You spoke about leadership. No one can hope to replace yourself."
"Thank you—I know you mean it. But no woman can lead a campaign such as the one we're just starting. It takes a strong, dominant man who knows politics. Of course, when we go after dancing and cards and dress-reform, I guess I can do all right, but in this campaign—"
"What campaign is this, Miss Starkweather?"
Mr. Mix pursed his lips. "Really?"
She nodded. "We're going to concentrate on one thing at a time. That's first."
"Close all the theatres and everything?"
"Tight!" she said, and the word was like the lash of a whip. "Tight as a drum."