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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Four I HAVE MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH PROSPERO
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One evening, after we had been a few weeks in Deep Harbor, Knowlton arrived at my rooms as soon as he had had supper.

"Teddy, I've got a new job for you and one that'll keep you—well, it'll keep you pretty busy." There was one comforting thing about Knowlton, he never beat about the bush.

"What is it?" I asked anxiously.

"I've just hired a chemical assistant for you."

"Is that all?"

"No, it's much more complicated than that. This fellow is an old inventor—a kind of genius. At any rate, I've got faith in him. He dreams dreams and sees visions, like the fellow in the Bible—Job, wasn't it? I guess you know what I mean. But he has two serious drawbacks. He isn't practical—not the least idea of the value of money. It's up to you to see he does economically what he's told. The other drawback is that he drinks and is thoroughly unreliable. You've got to keep him straight and keep him away from the booze. His favourite occupation, aside from chemistry, is alternating Bass's ale with brandy and Benedictine. Then he gets ugly and his experiments suffer. When he's sober, he's a wonder."

I still was totally at sea as to what was expected of me.

"He looks like a pirate from the Barbary coast—San Francisco," Knowlton went on, "and when he's full he acts like one. I've rented the bedroom that opens into this study for him. You can share the sitting room and work here evenings on your chemical problems. Also you will be able to keep an eye on him. The first time he comes home pickled, you let me know."

This cool way of supplying me with a roommate staggered me.

"Do you wish me to cable your father to authorize this arrangement?" said Knowlton, with his unerring skill in tracing the course of my thoughts.

"Not if you honestly tell me it is for the good of the business, and not because you want to tie me down."

"Well," he puffed, looking at his cigarette, "I'm frank enough to say it's a mixture of both. We need this man in our business and some one has got to look after him. It's two birds with one barrel."

"It's very inconvenient for me," I objected. "I like to read and experiment with my literary work in the evenings."

"The world is often an inconvenient place," moralized Knowlton. "It might be inconvenient for several of us if old Prospero gets to hitting the booze."

"Prospero?" I enquired, surprised by Knowlton's sudden excursion into literature.

"That's the best name I know for him. I learned a piece about him in school once, something about cloud-capped palaces leaving a wreck behind them, or words to that effect. I have a hunch that if you steer old Prospero right, he'll bring one of those cloud-capped palaces down to earth. The only thing that worries me is the danger of the wreck behind. Shakespeare certainly knew human nature all right. He was a wise boy."

Knowlton achieved his carefully planned purpose of disarming me. I laughed and even began to feel most curious concerning Prospero.

"What is the real name of your genius?" I asked, still postponing my final decision.

"John de Fougère is what he call's himself, since he decided he had French blood. As a matter of fact he took this name to avoid an unnecessary wife in Cripple Creek. That's a piece of information I've salted away for what it may be worth to us. Just now he is living with an ex-circus gymnast. I'm buying the lady off, and persuaded John to pay his alimony to her. He thinks I think this circus woman is his wife. Prospero's right name is Donald McClintock and he hails originally from South Carolina. There's still some Scotch that isn't whiskey in him somewhere."

"I think you have planned a rather heavy contract for me. Won't he get restless without his gymnastic companion?"

"No. You see Prospero is all brains and no physical strength. Lately the lady has taken to practicing her gymnastic skill on him and beats him up every time he stays out nights. He says she is too crassly material to appreciate his knowledge of chemistry. If we can keep him in shape and use his brains for three months, I'll be satisfied."

"All right" I agreed finally. "You may move him in here and I'll stand it as long as I can. When does he arrive?"

"Day after tomorrow."

With this Knowlton rose and took himself off, leaving me to meditate upon this new complication in life.

Wednesday evening brought Prospero. Knowlton escorted him to my apartment, and the door between my study and the extra bedroom was formally opened. Prospero revealed the reason for his name. He was a tall, gaunt, swarthy individual over whose sharp bones a sallow, shrunken skin clung tightly. His eyes, deep sunken and brown, glowed beneath bushy eyebrows. His long, lean face was adorned with a waxed moustache and sharp pointed goatee, which, together with an ample brimmed felt hat, gave him the appearance of a royalist of the ancient régime. He wore a Byronic collar, above which protruded an enormous Adam's apple resting in the folds of a flowing black tie. His hands, tapering like a vulture's claws, were covered with cheap imitation jewelry. A suit of outrageous checked tweeds and patent leather pumps gave the last touch to his bizarre appearance. Any one seeing him would seize upon him as a character newly stepped from some detective story or tale of mystery. His breath was strongly impregnated with alcohol, which the smoke of a Cuban cigarette hanging loosely from a flabby lower lip could not conceal. He seemed even more out of place in Deep Harbor than I did. Some mediaeval alchemist's cell, hung with crocodiles and stuffed owls, was the only natural background for him.

With him he brought infinite luggage—everything from a steamer roll to a canvas dunnage bag, all of it portable. As we shook hands, an act which he performed in a most friendly manner, he crossed the room, opened one of his mysterious overflowing bags, and produced a box of costly chocolates. These he solemnly passed—like the Dodo in "Alice in Wonderland," I thought. Like Alice I took one, fearing to offend him. Then he drew his chair up to a table and announced that he was ready to talk business.

Knowlton evidently understood what was expected, for he took out a roll of bills and counted out a respectable pile. "I think you will find the amount correct—two months' pay in advance as per our agreement," said Knowlton. Prospero made great ceremony of counting and recounting the bills in silence, moistening his fingers frequently and getting the smoke from his cigarette in his eyes at intervals during the process.

"And now, Teddy, my lad," he said suddenly to me, to my intense surprise, calling me by my nickname in this unexpected way, "we'll go out, get something to eat, and see the town."

I looked at Knowlton, and his expression denoted approval. I fetched my hat and the two of us sallied forth. Don Quixote and Sancho were not a more ill-assorted couple, and it was not strange that men turned to stare at us in the street.

"You are French, I believe," I said at last in a desperate effort to start conversation. I didn't believe it, but I wanted to know what he would say. His answer was astounding.

"I am a descendant of Charles Martel," he announced as if he were stating the most ordinary fact. I let the statement pass in silence.

"Are you leading me to the best restaurant in town?" he queried a block further on.

"If you wish," I replied. "The best restaurant in town is a relative question. We'll try the so-called grill room at the Otooska House."

Our entrance together was easily the event of the evening. Prospero demanded a table like an emperor issuing a proclamation. Waiters came upon the run from every nook and cranny and crowded tables upon us. He was content to sit at the most conspicuous. To one waiter he handed his hat, to another his stick, to a third, his gloves, and bade a fourth "Divest my friend of his paraphernalia." There was a distinct touch of Wilkins Micawber in his make-up, I decided; still, one must expect that of a present-day relative of Charles Martel.

"Stout and oysters for two," he commanded. "I have ventured to order stout and oysters in compliment to you," he explained. "The combination is new to me, but I have read about it in Charles Dickens' novels."

"We are rather inland for oysters," I said. "They have an indecent habit here of serving them nude on a plate—without their shell, I mean," I added, as Prospero frowned questioningly.

"You are a chemist, Edward? Am I right?" Prospero's questions sounded like those of Rhadamanthus.

"I'm trying to be one," I modestly rejoined.

"I am the greatest chemist in the world, if I choose to let men know it." It seemed to me rather ill concealed for a secret of such importance. "I have an idea here—" he tapped his forehead—"that will make me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Would you like to know what it is?"

"Very much," I said sipping my stout gratefully.

"Listen!" he proclaimed. "I have discovered the secret of making electricity direct from coal! What do you think of me now?" And he sat back to study the effect of his dramatic announcement on me. I felt that common politeness compelled me in some way to rise to the occasion.

"It sounds marvellous," I said. "Have you ever done it?"

He waved this question aside with a long draft of stout. "Not yet," he sputtered through the brown foam on his moustache, "but that is immaterial, for I know the secret." I contemplated him a bit ruefully, wondering if the hard-headed Knowlton had made a good bargain in saddling us with this.

"You doubt me," he remarked. "That is because you do not know me yet. Do you know"—suddenly dropping his voice to a whisper—"I am not convinced yet that the alchemist's search for the philosopher's stone was vain. It might be possible—locked within the element radium that secret lies. And if men are to find it out, I shall be that man."

"Oh, hell, Mr. Fougère!" I said much nettled, "all this has very little to do with the chemistry we use in our business."

"True, my young materialist, true. He who looks straight before his nose shall see but the dust. My gaze is among the stars. But you need not worry. I shall give you and your father every cent's value that the most exacting business man could ask of me. If you care nothing for my true brains and want only my routine daily labour, that will be your loss—yet I shall not hold it against you. Money is the curse of the age."

"Your big ideas sound reasonably profitable," I retorted, "if you pull them off. How would you escape the curse?"

"I can use money wisely, for I am a great man. If I were rich I should cruise in the South Seas."

"That has been done before," I murmured.

"I shall go to Tahiti and surround myself with beautiful island women. There I will build the world's greatest laboratory and search for the philosopher's stone as I recline against the bronze breasts of flower-decked girls."

I meditated a moment on the vision he had conjured up and concluded he would look rather well in the part as outlined. Finally I ventured. "Isn't Tahiti quite an out of the way place for a chemical laboratory? 'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.'"

"I do not agree with you. The hero of 'Locksley Hall' was wrong. He but reflected sentimentally the materialism of the nineteenth century."

I was amused to have my quotation recognized by him. What was this strange man, and what had he done with himself in the world? I wondered what kind of chemist he would prove.

"In spite of your youth, Edward, I see you are, like me, a thinker and philosopher; on a lower plane, of course, yet our minds have much in common."

He talked after a fashion of the characters in an early Victorian novel or a transpontine melodrama. Where could such a creature have obtained the skill to keep consistently his elaborate pose? I wished to draw him out, so I played back to him: "I find the world a mildly amusing place and always interesting even in its unpleasant phases."

"That is very true, Edward. At one time I was forced by unusual circumstances to apply my chemical skill to the making of what is known as moonshine whiskey. This was in the mountains of North Carolina. Here, if you please, was one of life's unpleasant phases—that I, of all men, should be technically classified by a capitalistic government as a criminal and hence be subjected to annoyances from internal revenue minions. Nevertheless, I was profoundly interested in the problems involved in eluding man-made laws."

He bared his right forearm; across the drum-like skin ran a long seared scar. "That was as near as the law came to me," he said, and emptied a pony of brandy, which he had ordered as soon as his bottle of stout was empty. I made an effort to stop him by referring to the early hour at which work began at the factory. There was as yet no trace of thickness in his speech; only his fiery eyes were shining more and more brightly. With his next brandy he commanded Welsh rabbits and chocolate ice-cream. Fortunately he made no attempt to urge me to keep pace with him in drinking. As for the morrow, he dismissed it with a shrug.

"I work neither in time nor in space, Edward. My ideas are flashes—gleams—from the outer Cosmos, whence time is not. When they come, I work; when they don't, I await the signal."

"It sounds like an irregular schedule to follow," I smiled.

"When the hour strikes, I shall be there, Edward. Waiter! Bring me another brandy."

From this time on he began to get thoroughly drunk. I could only sit and watch hoping that ultimately he would find his way home. When closing time came he wished to fight the entire hotel management for suggesting that he leave. At last I coaxed him to go; and, strange to say, I was not once included in his outbursts of rage. Like a lamb he followed me half way home; and then another whim seized him. He was determined to make an excursion down an unsavoury by-street whose nature he recognized. In vain I sought to detain him. I reminded him that half the night was gone and that there was work to do tomorrow. He would listen to no word of mine, but, wrenching his arm free from me, lurched away. Whether to follow or not I was undecided. He turned into an alley and disappeared. The streets were dark and deserted. With a final imprecation almost as picturesque as one of Prospero's own, I went home and to bed.

At six, with the alarm clock still clanging in my ears, I looked into his bedroom. Prospero lay across the bed with most of his clothes on, unconscious. The sleeve of his left arm was rolled up, and I saw that the skin was covered with small puncture marks. On the floor a hypodermic syringe and his Russia leather wallet, both empty, were lying. I shook him savagely, but a groan was the only response. Damning Knowlton for thrusting such a roommate upon me, I went out to the factory.

Instead of going to work I sat in Knowlton's office waiting for him to arrive. I had made up my mind to have the case of Prospero out with him. Promptly at eight he came, bringing Prospero with him! The latter was as fresh appearing and as amiable as if nothing had happened. He had changed his tweeds for a long frock coat, slightly green with age, and upon his head was a silk hat of a famous vintage.

"Why, Ted, I'm surprised not to find you on the job this morning," grinned Knowlton. "I'm afraid Mr. de Fougère kept you up too late last night. Take him out to the laboratory, and if there's anything needed, wire New York to ship by express. I'll leave you two authority for any reasonable order."

In silence and deep disgust I led the way. As we entered the laboratory Prospero glanced about with an appraising eye.

"Very good, Teddy, very good. A well equipped little workshop," and he removed hat and coat, soaked a towel in fresh water, wrung it out, bound it about his head without further comment, lit a cigarette in defiance of the factory rules staring him in the face, and sat before the long bench table. I outlined the day's work and explained the experiments already under way. He critically picked up a beaker or two, sniffed their contents, and squinted at a rack of test tubes. I waited to see what would happen next. Our problem was one requiring a number of experiments to be performed in sequence. Among the assets of our firm were certain new chemical patents which were not yet in a commercial stage.

De Fougère finished his cigarette and then asked to see the laboratory diary and the inventory of chemicals on hand. These I placed in his hands. He smoked another cigarette in silence while he looked over my records.

"You appear to be a methodical boy, Teddy," he remarked with a yawn, at the same time choosing a Meissen ware dish as an ash tray. "I can't be bothered to write results down. I carry them stored here," and he tapped his forehead.

"All very well," I replied, "but what would happen if you dropped dead?"

Prospero smiled: "That is impossible. I have been sent to this planet to do a great work. Not until all the world rings with the name de Fougère shall I pass away. When that time comes I may pass, like Arthur, into the deep. I have seen my death in dreams, and it is a glorious one. There is no fear of my falling in the street."

All this explanation was not so comforting to me as it was to him, and I decided to add his records to mine, as far as it was possible to get them from observation and question. Was he a megalomaniac, or was his ego an effect of drugs upon a nerve-wracked constitution? Was there any knowledge accompanying this colossal conceit—this ego-centrism of his?

"I grant you, Teddy, that last evening has given you some cause to mistrust me. As soon as this headache clears from my brain, you shall see and marvel at the true de Fougère. You imagine I am often as you saw me last night? You are wrong, young man, wrong. That is the body of de Fougère struggling for freedom from the mind of de Fougère. I make my body so completely my slave that at times it revolts and demands such food as drugs and flesh."

I was fascinated by this pompous speech, which seemed as if it had been written out beforehand and memorized. A hundred questions were on the tip of my tongue. Where had he acquired this language, this farrago of phrases from Godey's Ladies' Magazine? This thought kept recurring to me as the most inexplicable of all the strange things about this man. I turned to my morning's work and abandoned the problem of Prospero.

In the evening I went to Knowlton's room at the Otooska House and laid formal complaint against de Fougère. Knowlton grinned: "It's great experience for you, Teddy boy. You don't meet many jewels like Prospero at your pink teas, I guess. So he hit the booze and worse, in spite of your protests? Tut, tut, Teddy that's bad."

"Not only that, but I tell you he uses morphine," I said, nettled by the way Knowlton took my story.

"Our contract is only for three months, Teddy, and he has forgotten more chemistry than most people will ever know. Now, Ted, keep your hair on. I'm simply gambling on a long chance. If we keep him fairly straight for three months, he can be mightily useful. If we don't, we are only out three months' salary for him. He spent two months' of it last night, which pretty well guarantees us against further blow-ups. I wanted to pay him the whole three in advance, but the old devil was too foxy to take it," Knowlton added reflectively.

Light began to dawn upon me. "So you encouraged him to take that tear last night?"

"Surest thing you know. I thought it would be well to get it out of his system at the start. It has been some time since he has seen that much money. He didn't get you stewed, did he, Ted?"

"No," I said shortly. Knowlton grinned.

"You sound like a hang over, but perhaps it's only your moral sense, Teddy."

"The point is, have I got to have a drug fiend as a roommate?"

"I'm afraid so, Teddy. We must keep as much of an eye on him as possible. He believes you innocent and guileless; and he'll talk more freely to you than to me."

"Talk freely! Great heavens! I should think he did! That's one of the things I complain of. Perhaps you think it amusing to listen to a crazy man talk about himself night and day."

Upon my return to my quarters I found Prospero, in velvet jacket, cap, and slippers, smoking a peculiar pipe of a great size. It was his instinct to wear a suitable costume for everything he did, even for pipe smoking. An old cash ledger lay open before him, and in this he was writing with—trust Prospero for a dramatic effect—a quill pen! He frowned at me as I entered and growled "Silence!" Somewhat bored and more irritated, I lit a candle which I had bought for sealing documents, set it down on the table by his book, and put out the desk light. "I'll make his damned scene complete," I thought.

"I thank you, Edward," he boomed at me. "Candle-light is less fatiguing to the eye. You are very thoughtful." He scratched abominably with his quill, which I suspected he did not know how to use. I endeavoured to read and watch his melodrama at the same time.

"Edward, do you know what I am writing?"

I rejoiced inwardly at this, for I was certain that my literal interpretation of his injunction to silence would prove irksome to him in the end.

"A treatise on chemistry?" I suggested. "Or perhaps a monograph on one of the rare elements?"

"Wrong, Edward, wrong again. I am writing the philosophy."

"The philosophy?" I queried.

"I call it the philosophy, for it is the only true one. I am the only man who can explain mind and matter—of what the universe is made—why it is, and what the nature of the Supreme Being is."

"What is the universe?" I ventured, hoping to draw him out. Mental hallucinations were novelties to me at that time, and for once Prospero had interested me.

"The universe, Edward, is a complex chemical equation which I am solving. On one side of this equation you have material manifestations of energy; on the other, the manifestations which we call mind and spirit."

"I think I have heard something like this before," I said, a little disappointed.

"The germ of my philosophy, Edward, is to be found in Confucius and repeats itself again in the sayings attributed to Buddha."


"Positive matter is the male essence; negative matter, the female. The ultimate quintessence emanating from the supreme source is a wave vibration independent of time and space. As this travels outward through the atoms and molecules of the ultimate solid—these atoms and molecules which we call stars and planets and which compose this solid—the combinations between these positive and negative ions or wave vibrations produce the varying manifestations of mind and matter. They are all self-perpetuating, yet always passing into new forms. Thus matter begets matter; thought, thought."

"It sounds as plausible as any explanation," I said politely, turning over a page of my book. "I'm going to bed," and I shut myself up in my bedroom. I had had philosophy enough for one evening.

For a week or ten days Prospero worked steadily and amazingly in the laboratory. He did his experiments with skill, ease, and rapidity; furthermore, he put no obstacles in the way of my keeping full records of his work. One day, however, when he returned in the afternoon he was much depressed. His cigarette reappeared upon his lower lip and he spilt its ashes into various mixtures, until, in a rage, he hurled an eggshell Bohemian glass beaker partly full of nitric acid into a far corner of the room. By acting promptly I saved the factory from a fire and the room from any serious damage. Prospero contemplated me gloomily when I had finished clearing up his mess.

"That's a little too risky to be funny," I rebuked him, with pardonable annoyance. "It's all right to have nerves for one's personal pleasure, but endangering company property is another matter."

His reply was a series of picturesque and obscene oaths. The final intimation was that the next time I might expect nitric acid or worse at my head, instead of at a corner of the room. He flatly refused to continue any more experiments that afternoon and sat until six o'clock watching a flickering electric current passing through a vacuum tube. I reported the situation to Knowlton at the office.

"What do you make of it, Ted?" Knowlton asked.

"Getting ready to shoot himself full of morphine, I take it."

"He hasn't any money."

"I think he probably has a reserve supply of the drug—a fiend isn't likely to be without it."

"H'm," mused Knowlton. "I wish we could search his baggage. Here, Ted, you'd better have this in case of emergency," and Knowlton took a revolver from his desk and offered it to me. I laughed.

"You are getting as melodramatic as old Prospero himself. Thank you just the same, but I never use them," and I handed it back.

"If he should take a dislike to you, look out, Ted. Let me know if it continues. Paranoia is not a disease to ignore lightly."

"Paranoia?" I gasped in surprise.

"Sure. He's got all the symptoms—big head and the rest."

Evening brought the explanation. It was not quite so bad as we had surmised. Upon entering my study I found a stout middle-aged woman seated there, fanning herself with a palm leaf fan. I was taken aback, I confess it, and at a loss for words. She saved me the trouble by saying, "Now, dearie, don't you worry about me. I'm waiting for Mr. de Fougère. I'm his wife."

"Yes?" I faltered. "Pray make yourself at home."

"You can trust me to do that, dearie, no matter where I am. I've slept twenty-five seasons in a tourist Pullman car. Home is where I find it, I always say."

"Twenty-five seasons in a Pullman?" My fatal curiosity was leading me into conversation in spite of myself.

"Yes, dearie, with the greatest show on earth. Ain't you never heard of la belle Hélène?—well, that's me—Risley act—I've been everything from the apex to the base of the human pyramid."

"Good God," I thought, "the circus woman! What on earth shall we do now?" I sat down rather suddenly.

"When do you expect John home? I sent him a telegraph I was coming this noon, but the skunk didn't meet me to the dép?t as I told him. Left me to find my way as best may be, the dirty hound! But I'll fix him!" and she fanned herself vigorously, for her emotion caused her profuse perspiration. "Has he been boozing again?" she continued.

"Mr. de Fougère should be here now," I said uneasily. "I can't think what's keeping him."

"Well, I can!" she announced with vigour. "He always gets drunk when he knows I'm coming—the coward!"

I thought it took some courage to drink with certain punishment waiting at the other end. Here was more than a mere headache.

"I suppose you're Teddy—just the age my oldest boy was when he made his first hit—I trained him myself. John has written me all about you. You won't mind me calling you Teddy?—I just have to mother something or I'm all at sea."

The conversation was taking an alarmingly intimate turn. At this opportune moment Prospero's voice was heard upon the stairs, carolling at the top of his lungs "Rolling down to Rio."

"That's him," said the ex-gymnast, getting elaborately upon her feet, "and he's pie-eyed!"

There was no exit through which I could retreat; Prospero's entrance would be by the only door. I lacked spirit to make a sudden dash by him. He arrived in the middle of the chorus, his silk hat, ruffled, over one ear.

"This is a nice way to meet me, ain't it? And you call yourself a man!" was his greeting.

"Woman, I defy you!" he challenged, "In the name of my ancestor, Charles Martel, King of France!"

"Go on, you drunken fool! You ain't no more French than what I am, except for your name, which is a fake, same as my stage name."

I edged toward the door, having stealthily secured my hat.

"You stay right where you are, Teddy dearie," the virago commanded. "John and me ain't got no secrets what can't be shouted from the house-tops, and he knows it. You stay and see justice done a poor old woman."

I apologetically referred to an engagement. It was no use.

"I want a witness to my treatment—I'm his legally, lawfully wedded wife, and he deserts me—and sends me no money—and gets drunk to my face. If there's justice on this earth, I'll have the law on him."

"Woman, you lie!" thundered John. "You're not my wife and never was. I'm sick and tired of you," he hiccupped. "You've ruined my life," and he sat heavily in a chair, being now in the maudlin stage. Yet his dramatic instinct did not desert him. He was a fine picture of despair as he sat there.

"Will you listen to him denying his own kith and kin," she shrieked.

"Insult me before my friend—go on, woman," moaned Prospero. "Poison the mind of youth against me."

"Poison your grandfather—I wish I had when he was a boy, and I wouldn't be troubled with you now," was her subtle repartee to this.

"I shall not lower myself to retort that you are old enough to have had your wish"—Prospero uttered this dispassionately and with hardly an alcoholic stumble. There I was anxious to leave them, but the lady chose this opening for peculiarly noisy hysterics. I brought her a glass of water; she knocked it from my hands, smashing the glass to fragments.

"Better let May have it out by herself; it is easiest in the end," muttered Prospero. "Edward, when you learn to know the way of a woman with a man, you will lose all concern. She may do this for hours."

The latter statement caused me to flee. I went to the Otooska House and sought out Knowlton. He listened to my tale of woe with his customary grin. "Don't worry, Teddy," he said when I had finished, "she may prove a Godsend. He'll have something besides himself to think about now."

"But, man alive, they are in my rooms. I can't go on living there with the pair of them on my hands."

"Are you disturbed because of the proprieties?"

"Not entirely," I snapped. "Married or not, I don't care—but one drug fiend plus hysterics and broken crockery is more than I will stand."

"I'll move them in the morning," and that was the best compromise I could get.

Not a sound greeted my return. The lights in the study were out, the bedroom door closed, and all was apparently peace. With many inward maledictions on my companions I went to bed.

The six-o'clock alarm brought me with a start out of a sound sleep. As usual I dashed for a shower in the bathroom, to reach which I had to cross my study. To my consternation I encountered la belle Hélène, in flesh coloured tights and little else, violently exercising in the centre of the room with heavy dumbbells.

"Don't mind me, dearie," she said sweetly. "I'm just having my morning bracer. I get so fleshy if I don't keep trained."

"Heaven forbid her from getting any heavier," I thought, as I ducked by. Upon my return I knocked on the door; the study was again empty.

I looked forward to the day's work with horror. Prospero came punctually at seven and la belle Hélène with him! The latter, I was told, had often assisted him and knew how to keep chemical apparatus clean and do many simple routine things. Prospero appeared resigned to his fate, and the three of us worked briskly and for the most part in silence.

"I always hold a man hasn't any sense with dishes," she said early in the proceedings, "even with these chemical things. Just as like as not you two will get things all mussed up. My land, how that one does smell! Why you don't poison yourselves I never could see."

Knowlton called upon us at eleven after he had finished the morning's mail and was formally introduced to la belle Hélène. Curiosity had evidently overpowered him. He kept a solemn face, but his eyes twinkled during the ceremony of introduction.

"Pleased to meet you," said la belle Hélène to him. "So you are John and Teddy's boss? My, you are a young-looking man to be running a factory like this. Nice seasonable weather, ain't it? Nice location out here, too, where you can see the lake from the windows. I always did like a nice view. I always say it makes a lot of difference what kind of a place you got to work in. In my business you can't be particular, though."

"I'm glad you are so favourably impressed with us," smiled Knowlton.

"My land, I'm used to anything after the life I've had. Brought up three boys to my business—one on 'em's been in vaudeville in Europe—I ain't heard from him in ten years. That's just like boys—off they go. Girls is more consoling, so they say. I ain't never had no experience with girls. Boys is trouble enough. Take things as they come, that's my motto every time. Home is where you find it, I always say."

Knowlton excused himself and departed.

Knowlton kept his word in a measure. Prospero and his companion were moved to a little two-room apartment on the floor above, and I was left in undisputed sway over my study. After they had been settled in the new abode, Knowlton dropped in to see me.

"Business is not in good shape, Ted," he said, lighting his cigar. "I've been all over our orders and books and found we are operating on too close a margin of capital. We have more orders than we have machines or cash to handle."

"That seems a strange difficulty to me. We are too prosperous. Is this the Senegambian you were looking for?"

"Exactly. Our friend Norwood, who sold us the business, loaded the books with orders to make a good showing. Now he has got out, and deliveries are up to us. Frankly, we haven't cash enough to swing it."

"What is the trouble just now?"

"We can't meet Saturday's payroll—we haven't enough at the bank. There's a big payment due us on a complete contract. If that comes in by Saturday noon we are O. K. If not, the bank has got to see us through; and that's where you come in again, Ted. I'm going to send you to talk to the bank president."

"Why me?" I protested. "Wouldn't he pay more attention to you?"

"It's just a hunch of mine, Teddy, and it'll be a good experience for you. If you don't get away with it, I'll try my hand."

Saturday noon was an exciting hour. The mail came at twelve; the men had to be paid off, in cash, at one. I had just sixty minutes to find out whether we pulled through or closed down. The post office was on the corner of State Street and the Park, the latter a large unkempt square with a feeble fountain and some fine old trees. I had made an appointment with the president of the Deep Harbor National Bank for twelve-fifteen. A little before twelve I stood on the post office steps, with the key to the firm's box in my hand, waiting for the mail to be sorted. In my inner pocket was a statement of our resources and a list of our contracts.

The post office at noon was a famous gathering place for the citizenry of Deep Harbor. In front were a line of horses and buggies hitched to posts. The owners congregated mostly on the steps, chewing toothpicks and gossiping. Bootblacks and newspaper boys plied their trades. Every one seemed to know every one else, and each new comer was hailed by his first name or otherwise familiarly greeted. I felt that a stranger was at a great disadvantage in trying to conduct a factory in such an inbred community. Not one of all those men knew me or nodded to me. Yet I judged from the glances directed my way and the whispers that many at least knew who I was. Knowlton had told me that the new owners of the factory had been the subject of many rumours. It was believed we were a blind for one of the large corporations about to begin operations in Deep Harbor on a vast scale.

At last the mail was ready, and I opened our box. Running through the pile of letters, I saw that the check was not there. First I telephoned Knowlton, then crossed the street to the Deep Harbor National Bank, a small box-like building built entirely of white marble in vague resemblance to a miniature Greek temple. My card was unnecessary. The president was seated, for all the world to see, behind a low mahogany railing before a high mahogany desk. He called me by name at my entrance and invited me inside his pen. There was nothing formidable in his appearance. My imagination had pictured the bank president of the stage, an elderly gentleman with white side whiskers, white spats, a sanctimonious air, and a terrible callousness in driving financial bargains. Instead, I beheld a genial young man of thirty-eight to forty with a genial expression on his face. His face was tanned, his hair, just turning grey at the temples, was neatly smoothed down. The eyes were a little too small, almost pig-like, in fact; nevertheless his pleasant smile counteracted the unfavourable impression which his eyes would otherwise have made.

"Have a cigar, Edward?" were his opening words to me. The use of my Christian name encouraged me, for it seemed to imply that I had been admitted to citizenship in good standing. I accepted the greasy, aromatic cigar, although I feared a cigar before luncheon would be disastrous. There seemed, however, no escape in Deep Harbor from the offer of a cigar as a preliminary to any business discussion. As we lighted up and the sickeningly fragrant smoke oozed through my nervous system, he looked keenly at me and said: "Well, Edward, what can we do for you? Money, I suppose," and he glanced at the clock. "You have about forty minutes in which to meet your payroll. Am I right?"

"Absolutely!" I answered promptly. "And here's the reason why you'll meet the payroll for us," and I handed him our statement. He then did a slightly theatrical thing which, I suppose, the r?le of bank president required; it was to produce a pair of tortoise shell goggle spectacles and study our statement through them. I stared about at the onyx and bronze trimmings of the little building and secretly wished I could lose the cigar.

"These contracts look all right on paper, Edward, but you people haven't equipment enough to put them through."

"I don't imagine that we are the first people who have come to you because we are too prosperous—not in a growing town like Deep Harbor," I remarked, surprised at my own diplomacy.

"That's true enough, Edward. But the way I look at it is this. These contracts were made by your predecessors. If you don't make good on them you won't get any more, and you can't make good with your present plant. The friend who sold you the plant, about whom I happen to know a lot, oversold you. In short, you were stung."

"What's to be done?" I asked, rising.

"Sit down, Edward," he replied. "Is there any truth in this story that a big corporation is behind you? I want brass tacks."

"There's not a word of truth in it. We are just what our books show us to be."

He smiled and chewed his cigar. "That's what I thought you would say," he chuckled. "What security do you offer?"

"Our notes at thirty days backed by the contracts which you will take over if we fall down."

"Not good enough, Edward. You must put up the plant."

With this he handed me the telephone which stood on his desk. I got through to Knowlton at the office, the while my financier-friend watched and listened. In the end, we had no option but to give way.

I left his office with our Saturday's payroll in a canvas bag, and I left behind a memorandum concerning the mortgage and security to be formally put up as soon as Knowlton could get down town.


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