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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Eleven WE SEEK AND OBTAIN CONSENT
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During that winter and early spring the business, under Knowlton's shrewd management, was making good progress. It was clear that, although it would take a much greater investment of capital to turn the factory into a producer of fortunes, nevertheless the plant was now on the way to becoming a steady income-maker for its owners. Knowlton thought it might be possible to get local capital and expand; he exchanged several letters and cables with my father in London on the subject. One day authorization came to him to go ahead.

"That will be one of your jobs, Ted," he remarked to me one evening in my room, as he tossed over my father's cable for me to read.

"What will?" I asked.

"Going around and talking to our local magnates. They are all your social friends out at the country club. Let's see what your friends are worth to you," and he grinned one of his favourite grins.

"H'm," I said, studying the cable. "What have we got to put up to them?"

"Listen to Teddy," shouted Knowlton, chuckling. "Talking like a regular business man! You wouldn't have used that language six months ago."

"I am beginning to pick up a few scraps of the vernacular," I retorted, a little nettled. Knowlton grinned number two grin. He proceeded to lecture me on the present merits and future possibilities of our company. It was all to be put down in black and white for me to study, with what he called "the best talking points" underlined.

"Go after them hard," he advised at the conclusion. "Don't take 'no' for an answer, and don't be afraid of their questions. We are as promising-looking an outfit as there is in town. Why, they ought to swing this thing for us as a matter of local pride. We'll bring money to the place."

"Since we are making a fairly good thing of it as we stand, why not leave well enough alone?" I queried by way of final objection.

"My boy, it can't be done. If you try to stand still, you only slide down hill. It's a law of business. Get on or get out—that's our American jungle law. Besides, it's a question now of obeying the old man's orders."

"You mean my father?" I suggested.

Knowlton grinned: "I beg your pardon. It's our master's voice."

I got up and hunted for my tobacco. "The devil with you, Knowlton, is that every time I begin to imagine everything is all right, you have some infernal new anxiety to thrust under my nose."

"Shove your pipe under it instead and shut up," he laughed. "That's life, my boy. You can't sit it out in a rocking chair. If you try, they take away the front porch from under you when you aren't looking."

I filled my pipe and studied Knowlton's face as I did so. It came to me with a start that I had been taking him for granted for several months now. I no longer analysed him, or tried to, as I had done at first. Suppose Knowlton was not himself on the square and I had been careless? The idea was disturbing. There he sat, characteristically enough, with his legs crossed, the tips of his fingers together, a big cigar in his mouth, and his sharp eyes puckered at the corners with crows' feet. He was oblivious to my scrutiny, for he was turning over the new proposition in his mind. He could day dream in arithmetic as a poet could upon hearing the song of a lark. His face was hard, but there was a rugged honesty in it, a touch of the old Scots' stock from which he sprang, with the superimposed keenness and alertness of the trail-following American. Besides, I remembered his confidences to me that Christmas Eve out at the country club. He too was a sentimentalist—and such as we, who are sentimentalists, are apt to be dishonest only to ourselves or to those we love; the money form of dishonesty is abhorrent to an emotional man. Knowlton was of the common type who masked deep feeling by an outward hard glamour of efficiency. I must have gone on too long staring at him, for he suddenly turned around with a slight narrowing of the eyes.

"Wondering if I am big enough for the job, Ted?" he asked casually, as he tried to remedy the faulty burning of his cigar. "I wondered it about you. It's only fair for you to have your turn," he went on.

"I don't know," I answered. "I don't know whether either of us is. It's a big responsibility we are starting out to face."

"Everything is. It's a responsibility to buy a basketful of hot dogs and sell them at a street corner. It might rain," he countered.

"I know," I laughed. "Hotspur said the same thing."

"Shakespeare again?"

I nodded. He suddenly laid down his cigar. "By God, Ted," he exclaimed, "were you thinking I might not be on the square?"

I hesitated for a second, puzzled. Either he was a very clever man, or—I did not know what to think.

"You once told me to take no one for granted," I fumbled slowly, "if it was a question of business. There were to be no exceptions, you said." I saw the twinkle gathering in the corners of his eyes. "I've known you, Knowlton, nine months, but I don't know very much about you."

He laughed long and loud. "That's having a man's teaching come home and howl on his own doorstep!" he laughed. "Sometimes, Ted, I think you are the biggest damn fool I ever knew, and then you'll do something else, and I say, 'No, cuss it all, the boy has brains after all.'"

"Meaning that now I am in the damn fool stage?" I snorted, rather irritated. He had a way of making one feel as if he held one in his hand.

"It penetrates," he shouted. "The boy is getting intelligent again," and he laughed some more. "Ted," he said, growing instantly serious, "since I earned my first dollar, you are the only man who has ever to my face doubted my honesty." He went off into a laugh again. "And to think," he roared, "that I promised myself that I'd bust the first one who did on the nose."

I pulled at my pipe, waiting for him to finish. I was conscious of an unpleasant glow at the back of my neck.

"Ted, you raised this issue. Let's have it out." I waved my pipe deprecatingly. "No, sir," he went on, "you asked for a dog fight. We'll have one. Have you ever studied the books of the company?"

"No," I muttered. "It wouldn't do me any good if I did. I don't know bookkeeping."

A trace of a grin returned to his face. "Well, you can hire chartered accountants to do it for you," he said. "If ever you do look at them, you will discover that I am a salaried man and haven't one penny interest in this company except the professional one of making good on a job."

I was out of my depth and lacked the technical vocabulary to make a suitable reply.

"Now, Ted, if we do put over this new proposition, all it will mean to me will be a letter of thanks from your father. I mean, legally speaking, I'll have no special claims for anything I do. I have no financial interest at stake except the purely human one of making a good job a better one."

I got up and held out my hand. "I'm sorry, Knowlton."

His old grin returned, as he took my hand. "It's all right, kid," he said. "I'm glad you're learning."

Deep Harbor I suspected to be a difficult spot in which to do new financing. Probably our absentee ownership would be a handicap. I went first to Mr. Claybourne to ask his advice. He received me in his little office, which was upstairs in his own factory. His face grew serious as he listened to me, and I saw him watching a switch-engine through the window.

"I don't know, Ted," he said at length, after my story was done. "I'll be frank with you. This isn't the time to think of you as a future son-in-law. We are talking now about Deep Harbor and business. We don't know much about you. The company is directed from London. We don't like that. On the grounds we have you and Knowlton. Now I dare say you are all right as a chemist, Ted—out in your laboratory. But you don't know any more about American business than a babe unborn."

"That leaves Knowlton," I suggested.

"Yes, that leaves Knowlton," he echoed. "Knowlton is a salaried man. He has no financial interest in your concern. Supposing some one offers him a bigger salary and he ups and leaves you. Where would you be?"

"Knowlton?" I gasped incredulously. "Leave us?"

"It has happened," said Mr. Claybourne drily. "And after all, why not? Why should Knowlton stick with you, if he can make more somewhere else?"

"But—but loyalty," I protested, "good faith—a dozen things make it out of the question!"

Mr. Claybourne shook his head slowly. "Ted, you are going to get some hard knocks some day. The world isn't run the way you think it is. And I don't mean any discredit to Knowlton, either. It would only be sound sense for him to jump at a better offer."

My faith in Knowlton was unshaken, but I turned Mr. Claybourne's words over in my mind. "If that is an objection," I said at last, "I'll cable my father to give Knowlton an interest in the business."

"You ought to have done that long ago," replied Mr. Claybourne. "Well, Ted, I'm sorry I can't encourage you. Coming to dinner tonight?"

From Mr. Claybourne's factory I walked straight to the telegraph-and-cable office. "Do it now, as Knowlton would say," I smiled to myself as I walked along the street. It was quite a different thing for me to walk along Deep Harbor's streets now from what it had been the first few months. It almost seemed as if half the persons I met knew me. "Hello, Ted!" passing men would call with cheery friendliness—from the barber at the Otooska House to the president of the country club, I was "Ted." Young ladies waved friendly hands at me from front porches, or would ask after Helen as I went by. It was a curiously intimate town, where men often fought each other bitterly in business and played golf together afterwards at the country club. We had no secrets from each other, and the young people wandered in and out of each other's homes as into clubs. It was a frightfully public way to live, and yet not unpleasant.

There was a special free masonry among the men. They knew each other's financial standing and bank account down to the last cent. They also knew each other's business capacity and reliability with astounding accuracy. One heard at the club startlingly frank revelations about all that was going on, and nothing that happened remained long unknown or undiscussed. There were some things talked about which did not reach the ears of the women—whom So-and-so visited on his last trip to New York, for example. The men knew and laughed at much that their code kept from their wives. On the whole, Deep Harbor was a reasonably moral place, in spite of much cocktail drinking and free and easy manners. But there were a few notorious exceptions. And others, less notorious, indulged in occasional flings in distant towns. I never heard of any "prominent citizen" who kept a double establishment in Deep Harbor. A double life there meant a train journey. An actual local scandal was a six months' wonder and carried with it almost complete ostracism to boot. We had had a few famous divorces, but none during my time.

I was thinking of all this as I walked to the telegraph office on State Street. The greetings along the way had started me on my train of thought. I was a long time wording my cable to my father and still longer reducing it to a business code. A cable or telegram in plain language was not advisable. Deep Harbor knew everything, even the secrets you sent or received by wire. I had been casually questioned more than once about sending messages in code. One advantage of so thoroughly transparent a glass house was that no one cared particularly about casting stones. The infinite gossip of the men, while frank and outspoken in its opinions, was rarely malicious. It was simply that a naked truth, deprived of the last fig leaf, circulated concerning every one.

"All right, Mr. Jevons," said the telegraph girl, as she took my coded message. "Charge it to the company?"

"No—personal," I answered. Knowlton had a way of making me account for every cable. A company cable had to have a copy filed at the office.

"Shall I 'phone an answer out to the Claybournes'?" she asked, as if it were a perfectly ordinary matter for her to have an intimate knowledge of my evening movements.

"Yes," I said, for one got accustomed to Deep Harbor's ways, "but make certain you give the reply to me in person. Do not leave a message or 'phone it to any one else in the house."

I took the electric car out to the factory to report to Knowlton.

"Claybourne is rather pessimistic," I began.

"He would be," said Knowlton. "He doesn't want to make himself personally responsible for your campaign. If he were first in, it would commit him to us as a venture which he was backing. Almost too bad you are to be his son-in-law. It ties his hands."

I said nothing about Mr. Claybourne's real objections.

Mr. Claybourne left early after dinner, as was his custom, to play bridge at the club. Mrs. Claybourne knitted in the front room, and Helen and I had thus our evening to ourselves. Leonidas curled up on a goatskin rug and snored while we alternately talked and read. Spring was coming on, although April, with its cold winds off the lake, was not very spring-like. But the approach of spring made us look forward more definitely to a possible date for our marriage. So far I had not been able to gain my father's permission either to return to England or to set an actual date for the wedding. He hoped that it could be arranged by mid-summer. Beyond that, he refused to commit himself. Helen thought June, as the most conventional time, would probably please her mother best. Already Mrs. Claybourne was threatening to go to the coast of Maine at the end of June and carry Helen with her. We knew that nothing but a definite date could forestall this plan. We figured that we could almost live upon my salary, but there were practical difficulties in the way of taking temporary quarters, if we were going to England soon afterwards. We were therefore a little reluctant to defy matters and get married at once. At least, so Helen's commonsense concluded. We could not afford to quarrel with either family, and a matter of a few extra weeks seemed hardly worth general displeasure. I agreed with Helen, chiefly because it never occurred to me to disagree with her. We were each so sure of the other's love that we did not pass through those agonies of suspense, petty jealousies, and quarrels that seem to be, according to novels, the stock-in-trade of lovers' conduct. We were simply, insanely, and also calmly happy. We lived in our own world, allowed no one across its threshold, and never dreamed of stepping outside it ourselves. Leonidas alone was privileged to share our bliss.

As we sat and talked in whispers of the days to come, the telephone bell rang. It was a cable from my father, and, like mine, in code. The girl at the other end spelled it out to me while Helen wrote it down. At last we had it all, and it was a fairly long one. I walked into the hall to get my copy of the code book, and discovered that I had left it at the telegraph office. Helen scolded me soundly, for our evening was spoiled. It meant that I had to go back down town after the book, and it would then be too late to return. There was nothing for it but to go.

The girl at the office was quite sorry for me. She had found and kept my book.

"You might have sent it out by messenger," I said reproachfully.

"I thought of it, Mr. Jevons," she said, "but I didn't know if you would want it that bad. A messenger costs thirty cents."

"Yes," I agreed, "but some evenings are priceless."

With this rather flat remark, I left her. I went home to decode the message at my leisure. Another postponement awaited me there, for I found Knowlton ensconced in my study, reading one of my books, his feet upon my table. He came and went as he pleased at my rooms, an arrangement to which I had never objected. But I could not tell him about my father's cable until I knew what answer I had received. If my father refused my suggestion, obviously I could not let Knowlton know anything about it. He sat and talked until well past midnight, while the unread cable burned a hole in my pocket.

"By the way," said Knowlton suddenly, "a cable came through for you this evening. Anything in it?"

"From the family," I replied, mentally damning Deep Harbor's skill in publicity. "But how did you know?"

Knowlton grinned. "I happened to be sending a telegram, and the young lady with the auburn hair mentioned that she had just 'phoned one out to you at the Claybournes'. In code, she said. It was all by way of making conversation, Ted. She thought I'd be interested to know. I'll bet she knows the day I leave off my flannels and put on my summer underwear," Knowlton added, with his trenchant vulgarity. He got upon his feet, stretched himself, and said good-night. I saw him to the door and well on his way to the Otooska House, and then returned to my code book. It was a slow job. Each word in the code stood for either a phrase or a complete sentence. I had to look each one up in the book and then fit the meanings together, bit by bit, like a mosaic. At last the whole was clear. I could hardly believe my eyes. Here is what I saw:

"Good offer received for sale of business. Cancel any subscriptions of local capital. Give K. five per cent bonus net proceeds above salary. Necessary papers follow first mail. T. sail England August first. Bring H."

And all because I was such a blithering, blistering idiot as to leave my code book at the telegraph office, Helen missed hearing the good news that night. Twice my hand reached for the telephone, and twice I paused. I couldn't call Helen up at one-thirty in the morning, not even to tell her she was to be married in July. At least, I couldn't with Mrs. Claybourne in the house. It would have meant an all-night session of hysterics, I felt sure, and I had to spare Helen that. But I could tell Knowlton! I grabbed the telephone and demanded the Otooska House until the central operator must have thought there was a madman at the other end. At last I heard Knowlton's sleepy voice.

"What the hell is it, Ted? Factory on fire or Prospero's ghost haunting you?"

"Neither," I shouted at him. "I'm going to be married."

"Great God, kid, are you drunk?" he came back. "Go to bed and let a man sleep. It's a dirty joke getting me up at this hour."

"It's the cable from father—I've decoded it."

"Hello," his voice came sharper. "I knew darned well you were lying to me earlier in the evening. What is it?"

"The business has been sold," I said, waiting to hear what the effect would be.

There was a moment's pause; then his voice came steady. "I'm glad to hear it, kid. I guess that means your uncle Dudley is out of a job."

"No, it doesn't," I cut in, a little regretful that I had teased him. "I'm instructed to pay you a bonus of five per cent of the net proceeds over and above your salary. Looks as if my father thought enough of you to put you on something else."

There was another pause—so long a one that Central almost cut us off.

"Listen, kid," came Knowlton's voice, when vigorous protests from us both had restored connection again. "What did you cable your father early this afternoon?"

"None of your darned business," I replied. "How did you know I cabled him?"

"The auburn haired little bird whispered it to me when she told me about the reply that came." I could almost feel Knowlton's grin travelling over the wire to me. "What did you say?"

"It's a long story. I'll tell you in the morning."

I heard him laugh. "You won't be at the factory in the morning."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you'll be out on Myrtle Boulevard telling some one the big news."

"Honest?" I said. "I can have the morning off?"

"Say," he came back, "for gosh' sake cut out this me-the-boss stuff. I don't give a darn if you never come out again. Yes, I do; I'll take that back. You'll tell me some time tomorrow what you cabled your father, or I'll sit on the door step at Myrtle Boulevard until I find out. Seriously, kid, one day off, then we get things in shape to turn the works over. No Norwood stunts for us. It'll be a healthy, going concern. August, did you say? That gives us three months clear. Put your back in it and give my love to Helen in the morning," and he hung up the receiver with a crash in my ear.

I thought sleep was going to be impossible that night, but about four o'clock, as my mind seemed in a perfect welter which defied all efforts at reduction to order, I fell into a dreamless slumber. It was after eight when I awoke, with a curse at myself for forgetting to set the alarm. After a hasty shower and omitting breakfast I dashed out Myrtle Boulevard as rapidly as decorum permitted. I arrived a little after nine. Mr. Claybourne had already gone to his office. Mrs. Claybourne was anything but pleased to see me at that hour. Her forehead was still adorned with one or two iron clamps in which her hair was tightly wound. I tried to get past her to call for Helen. Mrs. Claybourne was firm. Helen was assisting Jane with the house work, and I was on no account to disturb her. Besides, I ought to be out at the factory at work, like other sensible men. It was bad enough my calling every night. If I was to be underfoot in the morning, too, things might just as well stop where they were. There was a limit to a mother's patience. She was accustomed to the fact that neither Helen nor I ever showed her the slightest consideration, but there was a bound set up by decency which no one had a right to cross, and that bound she would defend at all costs.

Not for anything would I have told her the object of my call, until Helen had first heard the news, and I was ruefully considering going home and telephoning Helen, when this young lady herself stuck her head over the banisters.

"What in the world, Ted, are you quarrelling with mother for just after breakfast? Come upstairs and be scolded at once."

Mother let out a shocked "Helen! The rooms aren't done!" but I bounded by her and upstairs before Mrs. Claybourne could clutch me. Helen looked adorable in a boudoir cap with little pink roses on it and a Japanese kimono that trailed on the floor.

"Well," she said with mock severity, "what do you mean, sir, by forcing your way into the house in this fashion?"

Belowstairs Mrs. Claybourne was repeatedly ordering me to come down. I wondered how long I dared ignore her.

"Helen," I gasped, "I must see you alone—my father's cable—the best news—urgent."

Helen caught my arm, and the strength of her grasp surprised me. "Ted—you don't mean?—is it true?"

"Yes," I choked, "as soon as we can make all arrangements."

She planted a sudden kiss square on my mouth just as Mrs. Claybourne toiled to the top of the stairs, in breathless and exasperated pursuit.

"Helen, I'm surprised at you—and at Edward. You are not properly dressed—go to your room at once."

By way of reply, Helen did the most surprising thing. She deliberately kicked as high as the rather tight kimono would permit, threw her arms around her mother's neck, and, frantically kissing her, bore Mrs. Claybourne heavily to ground in a sitting posture on top of a cedar clothes chest. I had never seen Helen before in a reckless state of high spirits. Mrs. Claybourne energetically fought off her daughter's embraces.

"Helen Claybourne," she exclaimed, "don't you dare tell me that you and Edward are going to be married. I won't hear it!"

"We are, mother, we are!" cried the excited child, and flung her arms about me, leading me around the hall in a wild and undignified dance. I feebly protested, fearing at least double-woman-power hysterics from Mrs. Claybourne. But "mother" was made of sterner stuff when it came to a pinch. Her lips narrowed to an ominous straight line as she got upon her feet.

"Helen," she commanded in a changed tone of voice. "Go to your room! Your father will deal with you presently. Edward, you will oblige me by leaving my house instantly!"

Helen released me, for we saw that, in the phraseology of Deep Harbor, Mrs. Claybourne "meant business." I bowed and started downstairs. I looked back at Helen from the landing, and over her mother's shoulder I saw her mouth form silently the word "dad." I took the hint, going straight to Mr. Claybourne's office as rapidly as I could get there.

I rather precipitately upset the office boy's theory of etiquette and literally banged into his office. He was talking over the telephone with a serious face. I realized that "mother" had beaten me in reaching him, thanks to the curse of the modern machine.

"Sit down, Edward, and keep quiet," he commanded, adding through the mouthpiece, "Yes. He's here. He has just come."

After what seemed an hour, although it was only a few minutes, he hung up the receiver. Not by a single word had he indicated his own state of mind, but the look upon his face made me most uneasy.

"Ted, you and Helen both show a strange lack of appreciation for a mother's point of view," he began, and I thought, "O Lord, I'm in for a sermon on filial conduct." "I grant you mother is very nervous and difficult to handle, but a little show of affection, a little tact even, would work wonders."

We sat in silence for a moment. I felt rather uncomfortable.

"What possible excuse have you," he went on, "for going out to my house early in the morning and upsetting Helen's mother when I wasn't there?"

"I wished to see Helen. I've had an important cable from my father, and I didn't stop to think of anything else."

He adjusted his glasses carefully. "No," he said, "you and Helen never stop to think of any one but yourselves. Show me your father's cable."

I laid my copy before him. He read it slowly, turning it over once or twice. Then he handed it back to me.

"I suppose it is useless to ask you to wait until Helen is twenty-one," he said, peering at me over his glasses.

"Quite," I answered firmly, for I began to feel it was time we spoke for ourselves and ceased to play children to please the family.

"I suppose you know that in this state a minor has to have the consent of her parents before she can be married?" he said, still looking steadily at me.

"Yes." I spoke rather impudently. "Helen and I looked up the law for ourselves. But there is another state not far away where eighteen is the legal age."

"You will do me a favour if you do not speak in that tone." It was not often that he spoke sharply.

"I beg your pardon," I apologized. "Helen and I intend to get married—that's all I meant to imply."

"Ted"—he relaxed just a little—"when I gave my consent to your engagement, I did so with the understanding that you two children loved each other and intended to marry. I am sorry, more sorry than I can tell you or than either of you would understand, that it has happened when Helen is so young. Only last year she was at school," and he looked out the window at the dusty street. "I want my daughter to be happy—" he paused. "There isn't a great deal of happiness to be found in this world, Ted. I want her to have her share—that's all." Once more he paused. "As for the date of the wedding, you must settle that with Helen's mother. Your father expects you in August?"

"Yes, sir," I replied, getting to my feet.

"I suppose that means it will have to be the end of July. Ted, you are asking a great deal of me—she's all the happiness I have." He looked around at his office. "I've never refused her anything she's asked—if I could give it her. I shan't now," and he held out his hand. I could think, of nothing to say, except silly-sounding words, so I said nothing, but took his hand.

"I think I can trust her to you, Ted—that's all I'll say about you, and I could hardly say more," he added. "I've got to clear up the morning's mail. And Ted, when you come out to dinner tonight—be as nice as you know how to Helen's mother. Tell Helen, too. It will pay."

"Mr. Claybourne—," I stammered, turning at the door.

"Don't try to say it, Ted," he called cheerily from his desk. "I guess I know. I love Helen, too." He pretended to write as if a matter of urgency were before him. I watched him for a moment more, cursing words for their feebleness, and went.

I called Helen up from the nearest telephone pay-station to give her a summary of her father's talk, but again I had been forestalled. He had talked to his daughter direct from his desk, as soon as I left. A few words only, but he had told her it was "all right." Meanwhile, it seemed, "mother" had issued an ultimatum that I was not to be admitted to the house again. It would be necessary for me to come in through the kitchen, Helen giggled over the telephone, or else to climb over the railing of the side porch. There was no use in my coming at all until her father returned at dinner-time. We agreed to make the best of out temporary separation.

I went next to Knowlton's office.

"Have you set the day?" he grinned, as I entered.

"Don't be an ass, Knowlton," I answered, taking the visitor's chair.

"How's 'mother'?" he went on, ignoring my admonition. "Did she raise the roof?"

I laughed, for Knowlton had an annoyingly successful way of disarming one's dignity by hitting upon the exact truth. We went into a minute examination of the company's affairs, after this preliminary. Or rather Knowlton explained while I listened. The stock was held by a small group of men, of whom my father was the principal and the majority stockholder. Selling the company was, therefore, a simple matter of the transfer of the stock to a new owner. We had neither bonds nor mortgages, and we had paid off our indebtedness to the bank in March. Our business was showing a healthy growth, and the ultimate value of our chemical patents would be considerable, if additional capital were put up for development work. As Knowlton said: "At any price within reason, this outfit is a damned good buy."

Until further letters and papers arrived, we had, of course, no knowledge of who the new owners were to be.

"Well," remarked Knowlton, at the end of his summary, "our little job in Deep Harbor is nearly over. Remember how you hated to come out here? It isn't such a bad place, is it? Old Hélène, Prospero's gymnastic friend, wasn't so far wrong when she said 'Home is where you find it,' eh, Ted?"

I nodded in agreement. I couldn't talk about things I felt the way he could. Once more he grinned. "Now, Ted. What did you cable your father yesterday?"

Briefly I told him of my talk with Mr. Claybourne and the latter's suggestion that, as Knowlton had no interest in the business, he might leave us. Knowlton's face clouded when I had ended my story.

"So Claybourne told you I might play the skunk and leave you flat, eh?"

I tried to soften this epitome of Mr. Claybourne's remarks. After a second or two, Knowlton's grin returned.

"It would be plain murder to leave you in Deep Harbor with a factory on your hands. No, sir, you can always count on six months' notice from me, if you need it. And under the circumstances I won't touch a cent of your father's bonus. He's sending it under false pretences."

I had much argument to convince Knowlton that we were not doubting his good faith. It was simple justice, I explained. The company owed everything to his ability and good service, from the time he discovered that Norwood had sold us a rather prettily plated gold brick to the success which out of all difficulties had since been achieved. We ended with a compromise: he would himself send my father a complete statement of the matter from his point of view, and if, after that, my father thought the bonus earned, then it would be accepted.

"I'm not going to push good money out into the yard, Ted," he concluded. "All I want to know first is whether or not it's mine. You meant well, but you may have given your father the idea I'm trying to hold you people up."

That evening Mr. Claybourne himself opened the door for me when I rang.

"Come right in, Ted," he greeted me cheerfully. "Don't worry if mother doesn't act very pleased to see you. We'll bring her around in time."

Once inside, I found Mrs. Claybourne sitting red-eyed upon the sofa, flanked by Miss Hershey on one side and Helen on the other. The air was slightly electrical; I walked gingerly for fear of touching something off. From Helen's eyes mischief gleamed as she sent a welcoming smile in my direction.

At dinner the vext subject was not mentioned. Mrs. Claybourne steadily refused food; otherwise we all tried to act as if nothing unusual was toward. Helen sat next me, and her foot played a silent and sympathetic tattoo upon mine all through the meal. Mr. Claybourne read the evening paper, or pretended to. Miss Hershey gave an occasional sigh to indicate that her sympathies were entirely with Mrs. Claybourne. Helen and I ate with splendid appetites.

After dinner we seated ourselves in a solemn circle in the drawing room—a disposition of the household that revealed a careful plan on Mr. Claybourne's part.

"Now, mother," he began to his wife when we were all seated, "these two young people want to get married."

At this simple statement of fact Mrs. Claybourne collapsed. Through many sobs Miss Hershey at last inserted a bottle of smelling salts. Mr. Claybourne waited patiently for the first paroxysm to pass. I held Helen's hand.

"It will have to be some time in July," Mr. Claybourne resumed, "as Ted's father has ordered him to sail for England on August first."

"I—I—didn't expect you to turn against me too," sobbed and choked Mrs. Claybourne, "and stand by while our only da—daughter was ca—carried off to—to England."

Mr. Claybourne returned gently and patiently to the attack. "Now, mother, we went all through this before when they were engaged. It is natural for two engaged people to get married."

"N—not when one of them is a ch—child," she wailed. "I'll never consent—never—not until Helen is twenty-one."

There was a lot more of this, but it was repetition of the same statements and objections. By some mysterious process of feminine tact, Helen inserted the date of July 30th into the discussion, and to my intense and overwhelming amazement, Mrs. Claybourne suddenly sat up and announced that there wasn't a moment to lose. True, this was at the end of about two hours' futile struggle; nevertheless it was the unexpectedness of the surrender that left me speechless. Mrs. Claybourne at once launched into the subject next nearest her heart—clothes; her own imaginary ailments were number one.

Helen entered the debate in earnest at this point, and once more I was surprised, this time at Helen's powers of argument.

In the middle of this new controversy, which was after all but guerilla fighting now the main action had been won, Mr. Claybourne arose and announced his departure for the club. As I seemed to have no share in what was going on, I likewise deemed it prudent to go.

"Poor Ted," whispered Helen to me at the door, "I feel awfully sorry for you. You've been a lamb."

With this enigmatic compliment and a kiss, I was thrust into the night at Mr. Claybourne's side.

"Thank you," I said lamely, as we parted at the corner of State Street.

"Good-night, Ted. It's been quite a day's work."

Mine wasn't over. I sat up half the night writing a letter to my father. That was hard, too.


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