Going Down to Jericho
“Is that all? ”
The surprise in John Strathmore’s voice seemed, as the words passed his lips, to condense into indignation. Every man of the group seated about the long table in Willet & Grey’s counting room felt an instant change in the colloquial atmosphere, and the glances of several of them followed the question to its destination, much as though it were a visible missile.
The Hon. Hadley Garwood slowly removed his gold-rimmed spectacles, and deposited them upon the typewritten pages lying open before him. The question had been inevitable.
“ That is the complete list, Mr. Strathmore, as prepared by the special committee. Of course,” he added, after the slightest of pauses, and with a little deprecatory gesture of the open hands, “ this meeting may turn the whole thing upside down, if it so desires.”
The tone and gesture might have been interpreted either as the most complete submission to the will of the meeting, or as presenting the utter absurdity of any attempt to improve upon the work already performed. Strathmore, however, was not just then studying the fine art of ambiguity.
“ All of which means, I suppose, Mr. Chairman, that the Oak Creek Mill is to be shut out of the deal ? ”
Mr. Garwood sat a little more erect in his stiff-backed chair. The introduction of the stock gambler’s slang as descriptive of such an industrial combination as the United Paper Mills Association, with the Hon. Hadley Garwood at its head, came very near to offensive flippancy. There was a note of protest in the reply, which he directed, not to his questioner, but to the entire meeting :
“ Gentlemen, the whole thing is a plain matter of business. We have organized, on behalf of ourselves and those we represent, for the purpose of rescuing the paper - manufacturing industry from its present demoralized condition. That, at least, is the view of the committee which you appointed six weeks ago to look over the general situation and recommend a line of action.”
He settled a little more comfortably in his chair, and paused for a moment, that the soundness of his fundamental position might become perfectly clear to his hearers.
“ Your committee, after a most thorough and painstaking investigation, has now presented its report. The climax of that report, if I may so express it, is the list of those concerns which, in the judgment of your committee, and for the best interests of the paper industry, should now be united under a single management. Such a combination, moreover, we believe to be entirely feasible. It was a matter of serious regret to all of us that, even after giving the fullest weight to Mr. Strathmore’s recommendation, we were unable to include the Oak Creek Mill in that list.”
“ Why not ? ”
Again Strathmore’s question seemed to pass visibly up the length of the table.
“Well,” replied the chairman, “in the first place, because the concern is a water-power mill, dependent upon a comparatively small stream. But even if it could be run at its best all the year round, its capacity is so small that it could be of no practical value to us. Last year it turned out less than thirteen tons for each of its working days.”
“ May I ask, Mr. Chairman,” persisted Strathmore, “ how it compares in capacity with the Morgan & Vance Mill ? ”
“ Ah ! but the Morgan & Vance is a steam-power mill, with capital enough back of it to run for two years, and keep the paper market unsettled every day it blows its whistle* The cases are widely different. I tell you, gentlemen, we’ve been over the whole ground with a microscope, and there is n’t a name on that list that it’s safe to drop.”
“ Well, gentlemen,” and Strathmore, in turn, abandoned all show of parliamentary formality, “ I suppose every man here has understood my position from the first. I mean, of course, as to the Oak Creek Mill. Mr. Cardwell, you remember what I said at our second meeting ? ”
The gentleman thus suddenly dragged “ out into the open ” found Strathmore’s eyes upon him with a directness that rendered his memory uncomfortably accurate upon the point in question.
“Oh yes—yes. 1 suppose we all understand Mr. Strathmore’s—er — general views, as ” —
“ Anyway,” broke in Strathmore, apparently satisfied by Cardwell’s dubious manner, “ you all know what sort of a hole I’m in. No green country boy ever stumbled upon a better friend than Daniel Avery was to me. Why, if he had n’t taken me into his mill and his home, — and God only knows by what token he did it, — I reckon I’d still be out there on Upper Doe Run, planting potatoes on the same old ten-acre lot. It’s by his kindness, gentlemen, that I’m here this day, helping to ' rescue the paper-manufacturing industry from its present demoralized condition.’ ”
Mr. Garwood glanced at him quickly, but there was nothing in Strathmore’s face to justify offense. Indeed, at that moment the last vestige of irritation vanished from his tone.
“ Mr. Chairman, I ask that the matter of the Oak Creek Mill be allowed to go over to our next meeting. Of course I want to do the square thing by the man who stood by me, but I pledge myself not to ask any further delay.”
This frank avowal met with the same cordial assent which greets the-man who asks for an open window in an overcrowded room. It relieved the strain of a situation which was even more awkward than appeared upon the surface.
John Strathmore was a man whose influence in his trade had very far outgrown the value of his property. Fifteen years before, he had come to the city with a very small capital, reinforced by a robust body, a clear brain, and a blunt habit of telling the truth. Continuous application to a rapidly growing business had subdued the color in his cheeks, but his aversion to a lie — even when clothed in the conventional garb of a trade custom — still savored strongly of disgust. People who knew him best trusted him most, and his withdrawal from the scheme of the United Paper Mills Association would have aroused suspicions quite beyond the true significance of the act.
“I’m very sure, gentlemen,” remarked Mr. Garwood feelingly, as he readjusted his spectacles and squared himself to resume consideration of the report, “ that, whatever differences of policy we may have, we can all testify to Mr. Strathmore’s loyalty to his friend.”
And when the meeting had adjourned, the chairman made it his personal concern to see that the minutes, which would be read for approval at the next session, set forth in ample detail Mr. Strathmore’s exertions on behalf of the Oak Creek Mill. Forty-eight hours later, however, he looked back upon his bit of official zeal with something less than complacence.
He had just emerged from the office of the great Keystone Trust Company, of whose Board of Directors he had long been an honored member. In the language of the street, this company, with Mr. Garwood as its special representative, was believed to be “ back ” of the new paper trust. Strathmore was coming down the street, and the two men stopped and shook hands cordially. In point of fact, Strathmore had come in search of Garwood for a purpose which he at once explained. Fumbling in his pocket, he drew forth a letter.
It was very short, but as Mr. Hadley Garwood glanced at its contents his face assumed that hue which the irreverent sometimes describe as turkey - gobbler red, and he inadvertently blustered something about it being all “ grossly irregular.” Strathmore suggested that the irregularity could be easily remedied by a formal vote at the next meeting. The note was a request, in explicit terms, that the name of the Oak Creek Mill be added to the list of concerns which were to be absorbed by the United Association. It was signed by four of the seven gentlemen who attended the meeting at Willet & Grey’s, and who were to constitute the first Board of Directors of the new corporation.
A moment’s further reflection enabled the chairman to grasp the altered situation. Refolding the letter, he deposited it carefully in his pocket. His face had resumed its natural color, and, breaking into a hearty laugh, he held out his hand.
“ Strathmore, I used to be that way myself, but I’ve learned, by a rather varied experience, that sentiment and business don’t mix. It’s too bad, but it’s a cold, hard fact. I hope, by the way, that you have n’t any more ancient friends with little old water-power mills for sale ? ” t
“ Daniel Avery’s the best man I ever knew,” replied Strathmore, with unexpected earnestness, “ and I said in the beginning that if I was in the deal he must be taken care of. You may call that sentiment, but from my standpoint it’s only decency.”
Garwood looked at him dubiously for an instant, half suspecting him of acting. Then, tapping him knowingly upon the shoulder with the head of his cane, he concluded with almost paternal candor:
“ Remember what I tell you. The two things won’t mix without going sour. Put your business and sentiment in separate bottles, cork tightly, and keep in a cool place. Sooner or later you ’ll come to it, like all the rest of us. Good-day.”
No formal vote was ever taken upon Strathmore’s motion. In local political circles, before he had dedicated his talents to the cause of industrial reform, Mr. Garwood had been familiarly known as “ Uncle Had,” and it had never been his custom needlessly to thrust his head against a stone wall. Having, by a little quiet investigation, satisfied himself that the four votes were “ solid,” he made half a virtue of a whole necessity and promptly complied with the written request. And so it happened that a few days later, out in their quiet country home, Daniel Avery and his household were treated to a surprise.
It came during the noon hour of a bright summer day. The midday meal had been eaten, and Mr. Avery was seated upon his front porch, awaiting the foreman’s gong which should ring all hands to the afternoon’s run. A newspaper lay in his lap, and the voice of his daughter Margaret, mingling with the noise of the dishes, came cheerfully out through the open door and windows. Tho old man’s gaze wandered a bit drowsily over the familiar landscape before him.
There had been a shower during the morning, and down by the bank of the creek the roof of the mill shone red and clean in the sunlight. For more than thirty years, to Daniel Avery, that roof had symbolized the broad acres of personal independence. The mill had been part of the home to which, in his young manhood, he had brought his bride. The ponderous bass of the big water wheel, the vibrating hum of the carriers, and the low monotone of the great calenders had mingled with the voice of his wife and the prattle of his babies to make the very heartheats of his domestic life. Time, and marriage, and birth, and death had hallowed the place.
His eyes lingered a moment upon the familiar walls, and then passed over across the gentle sweep of the valley to the long ridge beyond, clothed in the dark green of the chestnut and hickory. The spirit of reverie must have been strong upon him, for Henry Avery, who had been for the mail, was halfway up the walk before his father became conscious of his presence.
“ Have Cardwell & Co. found out what they want yet ? ” he queried, as he leaned forward and received a small batch of letters over the balustrade.
“ There seems to be nothing from them to-day,” replied the younger man, as* he came up the steps. “Here, Margie,” and he held out a letter to his sister, standing on the threshold.
“ For me ? ”
“Yes, unless Jack has made a mistake and written your name on somebody else’s letter.”
He smiled as he spoke ; but instantly his thoughts and his face turned to his father, and the smile faded from his lips. As was his custom, he had opened the mill letters on his way from the post office, and already knew their contents. While Margaret was examining her own envelope her father uttered an exclamation of wrath, and shoved his chair back from the railing.
“ What is it, father ? ”
She hurried to his side, while her brother stood by, silent and troubled. There were but few secrets in the little family, even as to matters of business. In point of fact, Margaret herself, under her father’s instruction, conducted most of their small correspondence.
“ What is it ? What is it ? ” he echoed, in a fit of tremulous excitement. “ Why, hang me if I know what it is! Maybe an offer for the old mill, or else an order to deliver it up. Gads ! You’d imagine it was a bag of stale potatoes for sale on the sidewalk. Fixes the price — tells me how to behave ” —
“ Oh, it’s just somebody’s prank, father. Somebody knows how you feel about the mill, and is having his joke.”
She glanced, half smiling, into her brother’s face for confirmation of her words ; but Harry remained silent. Then the clang of the big gong came up from the mill, and he hurried off to his work.
“ The man that wrote that,” her father replied slowly, and as if speaking to himself, “ is n’t doing overmuch joking these days. But, thank God, he is n’t my master. He can’t put his orders on me.”
Margaret’s left arm had fallen loosely about the old man’s neck, and now, as she bent to read the open letter in his lap, her comely face pressed lightly against his sun-tanned cheek. She read : —
580 Minor Street, PHILADELPHIA, PA.,
June 10, 189-.
MR. DANIEL AVERY :
DEAR SIR, — As the representative of the United Paper Mills Association, I am directed to submit to you the following proposition. This corporation will purchase your plant, known as the Oak Creek Paper Mill, and in payment therefor will issue to you one hundred and fifty shares of its capital stock, full paid and non-assessable. The raw material at the mill and all orders actually accepted prior to this date will be taken off your hands at an appraised valuation of cost price, with an added profit of five per cent.
If this meets your favorable consideration, it may be proper to add that, in view of the present condition of the paper market, the Oak Creek plant will be shut down immediately upon its transfer by you. As a part of the transaction, therefore, you will enter into no new contracts for delivery of paper, but will refer all future orders directly to the undersigned.
The United Paper Mills Association is organized under the laws of New Jersey, with an authorized capital of $2,800,000, and a par value of $100 per share.
Asking an early response, I remain
Very sincerely yours,
“ And vou know Mr. Ganvood, father ? ”
“ Hadley Garwood ? Yes, I know him. He’s one o’ th’ breed that are making their millions by taking hold of our great American industries, — I believe that’s the phrase. Why, they don’t know what honest labor means.”
He arose from his chair, and, with hands clasped behind his back, once more turned his eyes on the old mill.
“ * Taking hold of our industries.’ ” He echoed his own words with a heat of scorn that brought an expression of sudden anxiety to Margaret’s face. “ They take an industry by the throat, and rob it of every element that makes for honest manhood. They change men and women to mere flesh-and-blood machines. And all that they may pile fortune on fortune, a hundredfold beyond their needs. Why, those fellows will scourge honest industry from the face of the earth.”
“ But, father, why need we mind it so much now ? You will write and tell Mr. Garwood that the mill is not for sale. That will be all.”
Her father gazed at her blankly for a moment, as though in doubt of her meaning, but the soothing note in her voice stilled the tumult of his own mind. His passion died as suddenly as it had been born. Drawing her to him, he kissed her fondly.
“ Margaret, how I have been ranting to you ! ” he said, as he refolded Garwood’s letter and thrust it into his pocket. “ AH your own fault, though,” he went on more cheerfully. “ You never give me anything to growl at here at home, so, every once in a while, I have to turn loose at those fellows in town.”
Picking up Iris hat, he started for his work, but paused halfway down the steps, and drew the letter from his pocket.
“ Here, Margaret, just you answer this yourself. Tell Garwood that the Oak Creek Mill is not in the market. If I do it, I ’ll go on and tell him a lot of other things that he has n’t asked about.”
And as if to escape further speech, he turned hastily and strode off to the mill.
Later in the afternoon Henry Avery and his father had a long and earnest conference, begun in the cramped little office, and finished as they strolled out together along the bank of the mill race. When they returned, Henry passed at once to his post of duty. The old man paused by the press rolls to inspect the broad flowing sheet, which just there was transformed from dripping pulp to steaming paper. From mere force of habit he tore a fragment from the ragged edge as it passed, and touched it to his tongue to test the sizing. As he did so, a hand was laid upon his arm.
“Why, Margaret!” he exclaimed, as he turned ; and then, as he looked into Margaret’s eyes, “ Daughter, are you ill ? ”
Margaret smiled reassuringly, but there was a touch of anxiety in her eyes that justified the question. The two walked together out through the side door and up the gently sloping bank.
“ Father, I want you to read John’s letter, — you and Harry. It’s all very confusing, and somehow 1 ’m afraid I don’t understand it. John seems to have something to do with the new company, and he urges ” —
“ Is John Strathmore tying to that fellow Garwood ? ” The old man stopped as by the force of the mere surprise, and all the gentleness faded from his face.
“ Why, father, is it so very wrong, — their getting up this new company ? Nothing could be more kindly than the way John writes about you, and all of us.”
She handed him the letter. As he took it, she caught his hand affectionately and held it for a moment in both of hers.
“ Now, father, you must n’t worry so. I can’t allow it. Of course you and Harry know better than John what’s best for us ; and if you don’t want to sell the mill, — and I’ll be ever so glad if you don’t, — why, I ’ll write to Mr. Garwood to-night, and that will end it.”
There was a touch of maternal command in her voice, and the half frown and half smile on her face was just that motherly mask which so often beguiles the wayward child. It was not in the old man’s nature to harbor bitter thoughts very long at a time, and he readily yielded.
“Yes, yes, my dear. Harry and I will go over Jack’s letter, and then we ’ll put an end to the business. I suppose I’m foolish about it, but somehow it seemed to me just like being ordered to leave the head of my own table. I guess perhaps I ’m growing old.”
“ Not a bit of it,” retorted Margaret; “ but I’ve no doubt you ’re growing hungry, which is a good deal worse,” and she hurried back to her belated household duties.
That night, in Daniel Avery’s room, the father and son read and re-read John Strathmore’s letter. It began “ Dear Sis,” and from beginning to end breathed the best of good will. Very gently it set about explaining how the last decade had all but revolutionized the paper industry ; how new methods and the introduction of wood pulp had demanded and attracted greater capital than was needed in the old days; and how these changes must inevitably injure the smaller mills, still working under the old system. He closed with as urgent an appeal as he dared to make that the Oak Creek Mill should join the newer movement, and so keep abreast of the industrial advance.
But between the lines Daniel Avery read the inexorable facts. For him, and others like him, joining the industrial advance meant sitting helplessly by while his mill wheel rotted from its axle; it meant the utter destruction in a single day of that intangible structure known in the business world as the “ good will,” — a structure into whose building had gone all the life blood of his younger and better years; it meant, in fact, the sudden tearing from his own nature of all those habits of thought and action which long ago had come to constitute the very fibre of his life.
For it all he was to pocket just such pittance as Hadley Garwood—who had no more kinship with actual industry than with the angels in heaven — had seen fit to name. There could be but one result. The next day’s mail carried to the city a letter which caused John Strathmore to lose somewhat in both temper and sleep, and went far toward restoring the slightly damaged complacency of the Hon. Hadley Garwood.
During the sultry weeks which followed, Margaret Avery tried to believe that the episode of the United Mills Association, which had come upon them without warning, had passed from their lives and left no mark. Yet the mere persistence of her mental effort proclaimed the doubt in her own mind. One less sympathetic than she might have failed to note the change which was slowly coming over her father and brother.
In her presence they spoke to each other less and less frequently of business matters ; and when they did, it was with a guardedness of manner wholly new in their simple home life. But what went yet more keenly to her heart was the look, partly of appeal and partly of grim determination, which settled upon her father’s face in his moments of thoughtful silence. It would come back to her at night, and behind her closed eyelids would slowly merge into another expression, as to whose interpretation there could be no mistake, — despair.
Instinctively, when such a look was on her father’s face, she found excuse for going to him, — to smooth the tablecloth beneath his plate, to make sure that the napkin in his ring was really his, or to readjust the collar of his coat. And always, for some brief moment, her palm or cheek would rest in loving contact with the troubled face, and its tenser lines would melt away.
So the summer dragged its hot length through, and brought no outward change to the little mill on Oak Creek. Business had been stagnant, but that was to have been expected. Autumn passed, and to Margaret’s eyes the work seemed much as it had during all the autumns which had gone before. There were some canceled contracts, and now and then an old customer would postpone placing his order, with perhaps no very satisfactory reason for the delay. But such things were part of every year’s experience.
Near the middle of December, however, there came a letter that was something more than any of these. It was the conclusion of a correspondence of which Margaret had had no earlier knowledge. It explained the failure to forward a long-expected order from one of their oldest customers, by the statement that the same grade of paper was now being offered in the Philadelphia market at three fourths of a cent a pound below the price quoted by the Oak Creek Mill.
To Margaret Avery this seemed no very serious matter.
“ Why, of course, Harry, we must sell just as cheap as the rest. We cannot expect to receive more than the market price, no matter how low that may be.”
Their father had gone early to his room, and the brother and sister were talking over business affairs in their old frank way. Henry drew from his pocket an envelope, upon which were some figures in lead pencil.
“ Margie,” he said, “ to sell at that price would mean the loss of one quarter of a cent a pound, or five dollars on every ton of paper sent out of the mill. We generally turn out about twelve tons a day, and our daily loss would be something like sixty dollars.”
“ But I don’t understand, Harry. I don’t understand,” repeated Margaret impulsively. ' How can they make money, when we should lose at the same price ? ” she went on, before Henry could explain.
“ Make money ? ” repeated Henry slowly. “ They don’t expect to make money, now. It’s worse than that.”
There was something in his voice which caused Margaret to look more keenly into her brother’s eyes, and then, involuntarily, her hand reached forth and lay soothingly across his own upon the table. Not yet did she understand the full meaning of the disaster which had come upon them, but her brother’s distress went straight to her heart.
“ Harry, Harry, you must n’t mind it so much! We knew we should have to meet just such competition, and” —
“ ‘ Competition ’ ? Good God ! ”
The word seemed to sting him beyond endurance. Roughly withdrawing his hand, he arose from his seat and turned away. For a full minute he stood by the window, gazing sightlessly out into the darkness. One hand gripped the window post, while the other hung tightly clenched by his side, his whole attitude telling of an inward struggle against his overwrought emotions. Never before had Margaret seen him so deeply moved, and she dared not intrude upon his silence. Presently, however, he returned to the table, but he did not resume his seat. He had recovered himself, and seemed bent upon the simple purpose of explanation.
“ Margaret, would it have been competition if these men had waylaid father in the night-time, and wounded him so badly that he could never again have competed with them in business, and had done it for that very purpose ? Would that be competition ? ”
“ John Strathmore would never do a thing like that,” she replied quickly.
“ But he is doing a thing like that,” retorted Henry bitterly. “ They’ve put their money together, he and his friends, not to make better paper or cheaper paper, but just to starve us, and others like us, out of existence. Call that competition ? Why, it’s the very death of competition.”
Margaret was silent for a long time, and when she spoke there was only gentleness in her voice : —
“ I ni very sorry, Harry. I ’m sorry for you, but sorrier still for father. I believe even now he’s sitting up there in the dark, trying to bear his trouble all by himself. I must go to him.”
With that she arose and took a candle from the mantelpiece. When she had lighted it, she turned again to her brother.
“ Good-night.” Then she added something which had been growing heavier and heavier upon her mind during all these months: “ We did wrong, Harry, in not answering John’s letter in the same spirit in which it was written. We have chosen to see only one side. I don’t believe he has meant us any wrong.”
Again, at the mention of John Strathmore, bitter words came to Henry’s lips, but something in his sister’s face checked his speech. He knew that, to her, the boy who had grown to a brave and generous manhood in their home must be brave and generous to the end. So strong was Margaret Avery’s faith in the better side of human nature that it sometimes seemed rather a compelling force for good than a mere belief. Something of the dignity of her mood must have fallen upon her brother now, for a gentler light came to his eyes as he saw her depart, and heard her firm, light step upon the floor above.
The next morning, at the breakfast table, Mr. Avery startled them with the announcement that he must go to the city. He must go at once. During the long hours of the night some straw of hope had seemed to float within the old man’s reach, and he felt that he must grasp it while he might. In vain his children sought to dissuade him. Finally, at a hint from Henry, Margaret asked that she might be allowed to go along. For half a year she had not been in town.
Beyond the suggestion that she might be kept indoors by the coming storm, he made no great objection ; only she must not delay his going. So, an hour later, Henry drove them to the station, and the middle of the afternoon found them in Philadelphia, ensconced in a small hotel well down on Chestnut Street. During their journey, Margaret had tried in vain to induce her father to go for the night to the home of a cousin living but a short distance uptown, and who always gave them welcome. No, he must be near the big paper dealers. With an almost tremulous haste he saw his daughter to her room, and then, leaving her to her own devices, set forth upon his mission.
It was early evening before the old man returned, weary and slow of speech. While they were at supper, Margaret tried, with but scant success, to learn the results of his visit. Had he seen John Strathmore? No ; he had called at his place of business, but Strathmore was out. Had be left word that they were in town ? No ; he had not thought of that.
After supper Margaret led him to a seat by one of the parlor windows, through which they could look down upon the street, with its throng of hurrying people. It was snowing. Off to the left they had a glimpse of Independence Hall, looming dim and ghostly through the white gloom. Then, suddenly, on either hand, the great arc lights sprang into life, hissing and sputtering, as though in protest at their own creation. The holidays were approaching, and beneath the gleam of the electric lights the shop windows bloomed forth in their brief glory of tinsel and bright colors.
The lights in the parlor were turned low, and Margaret drew a hassock and seated herself close by her father’s side. With his hand in hers, she led him to tell how the big city had looked to her mother and himself, long ago, on their wedding journey. Then, delving yet deeper into the mine of his memory, he spoke of the experiences of his childhood : how he remembered, once when he was a little fellow, his father leading him along the outskirts of a great crowd, gathered in honor of a famous statesman who had just died. The old Liberty Bell was tolling, and the people were very solemn. Of a sudden everybody stopped and looked up at the snow-white belfry. In an instant the voice of the bell had changed beyond recognition, and soon they learned that it had cracked in the ringing, and that its voice was stilled forever.
So for a long time they sat there together ; he talking quaintly of the old times and the vanished scenes, and she happy in his contentment. Suddenly, with the striking of the State House clock, he checked his speech, and drew a long, deep breath which ended in a groan. It needed no word to tell Margaret that in that instant, in her father’s mind, the “ present ” had rudely driven out the “past.” She stroked his roughened palm with her own and tried to soothe him ; but the magic wand of memory had snapped beyond repair.
He arose abruptly, and stood for a moment looking silently out at the warp and woof of the storm, — the falling snow shot through and through with the gleaming rays of electric light. His hat was in his hand.
“ Margie, I ’m going out for a bit. Don’t wait up for me.”
At the door he sent back some halfintelligible reply to his daughter’s hasty protest, and passed out. She heard his heavy footfalls as he strode down the long hall.
For a moment she hesitated. There was but little time for reflection, and none whatever for preparation. She had thrown a heavy cape about her shoulders, to guard against the chill from the big window. Drawing its hood close over her head, she hurried down the hallway and out into the street.
Mr. Garwood early learned two things about John Strathmore which he found worthy of careful consideration : the first was that Strathmore was exceedingly popular among the paper dealers of eastern Pennsylvania, and that his influence was constantly increasing ; the other was that the Strathmore clay, if we may use the term, possessed certain characteristics of its own, which could not be safely ignored in the handling. Most conspicuous among these was an occasional hardening into inflexibility. As far as Garwood could make out, this came without warning, and it was neither accompanied nor followed by the usual symptoms of failing temper. After many months of careful observation, this feature of Strathmore’s disposition was still as puzzling as on that first day at Willet & Grey’s.
Daniel Avery’s blunt rejection of the offer which he had been at such pains to secure left its mark upon John Strathmore. Garwood had promptly sent the letter to him, and asked for advice.
“You know A very better than I. Perhaps I have made some sort of a slip in putting the case. If you think so, and will give me a hint, I 'll try again.”
But Strathmore was in no mood for carrying the matter further without some word of desire from the mill. He had written to Margaret with the genuine solicitude of one seeking to avert a danger from his own household, and his letter had been interpreted as the act of a common speculator, bent on his own selfish ends. With the hope that, in some calmer mood, Daniel Avery might reconsider his hasty action, and at least open the way for further negotiations, he held the chairman’s suggestion long in abeyance. But week followed week, bringing no sign, and hope died out. Garwood had been patient, but at last he insisted upon a definite answer. With a dull pain at his heart, Strathmore told him that he had no further suggestions as to the Oak Creek Mill.
As the words passed his lips, he felt that something was going out of his life that he could hardly spare. The familiar faces, the quaint old house, the mill, the gnarled orchard, the shady road winding along the bank of the creek, the noise of the mill race, — every angle and shadow and voice of his old home swept powerfully in upon his senses. Never had it all seemed half so dear as at that moment.
From that day the chairman lost no opportunity for bringing the younger man to the fore. The name was a good one to conjure with, and no man knew better than Hadley Garwood how to use it. Very soon, in the counting rooms of the big firms, on the street, and in the pages of the trade journals, John Strathmore’s name was being coupled with the new paper trust hardly less prominently than that of the Hon. Hadley Garwood himself.
With the United Association all had gone exceedingly well. There had been months of doubt, and some unforeseen obstacles by the way, but in the end Mr. Garwood’s leadership stood fully vindicated. Practically, he held the paper market in the hollow of his hand. When, as he expressed it, “ the water in the lobster kettle had really reached the boiling point,” the result was remarkable. Mill after mill yielded to the inevitable. On the selfsame Monday morning the two mills which, from the first, had caused him the greatest concern gave up the fight. The treasurer of one of them, who happened to be the principal stockholder, thinking doubtless to save time, gave up two fights at once : he closed his mill and his life in the same hour. The few staggering concerns that still claimed to be doing business were so weak as hardly to require a thought. The campaign, when once fairly under way, had been short, sharp, and decisive.
In view of the success which had thus crowned his labors, and of flic very pleasant relations which had grown up between himself and his fellow directors, Mr. Garwood invited those gentlemen to a quiet little supper in the Green Room at Downer’s. He wanted the privilege, he said, of meeting with them once, at least, when business would be ruled out of order. Life is dry enough at best, and he believed in an occasional frolic. And when at last the evening had arrived, and the little company were assembled, they found their host in his jolliest mood.
“ Gentlemen,” he explained, when the Blue Points had been disposed of, “ this is my night, and let no man forget the fact. During all these months you’ve banged me right and left. You’ve appealed from my decisions, voted down my pet motions, and mutilated my most carefully prepared plans. The sourest part of it has been the fact that the plans have generally been improved by mutilation. I’ve taken my medicine without a squeal, and now you’ve got to take yours. For once I propose to run this board on my own lines.”
His aspect was so stern, and he spoke with such orotund solemnity, that William, the attendant waiter, hastened back to the culinary department with rumors of impending war.
Upon his return, however, all was changed. The Hon. Hadley Garwood had given place to the genial Uncle Had ; and between the courses of the banquet anecdote followed anecdote, peppered and riddled by question and repartee, and all drowned in a rising flood of mirth. No one counted the passing hours.
It was while their host, in his own inimitable style, was confessing certain odd experiences which befell him during his first term in Congress that there came a hesitating knock at the door. No one heard it, and after a momentary pause the door was pushed open. With an odd mixture of doubt and determination in his manner, Daniel Avery slowly advanced to the foot of the table.
He had faced the storm, and the wet snow still clung to his garments. Strathmore, Cardwell, and others who knew him attempted a greeting, to which the old man made no direct response.
“ I heard about town that you would be here to-night,” he said, speaking with the simple directness of a child, “ and I thought I ’d like to see you once, — all of you together.”
He paused, one hand touching the edge of the table, and the other still grasping his hat, while his glance passed from one to another of the faces before him. Yet he did not look at Strathmore, who, pale and silent, sat within easy reach of his hand. Physical weariness shone so clearly in the old man’s face and poise that some one — not Garwood — asked him to be seated. He did not seem to hear.
“ Then I thought perhaps you’d like to know — all of you — that the Oak Creek Mill has shut down. I’ve stopped trying to make paper.”
His tone was as dry and passionless as though he were announcing the most commonplace detail as to the future management of his business, and yet, with something like a flash of alarm, Hadley Garwood became conscious of an odd discomfort. It may have sprung wholly from his own imagination, but beneath the simplicity of old Avery’s speech he seemed to detect something hot and scorching, something which might suddenly burst into flame. He had seen that infernal nondescript sort of oratory carry the raw members of a congressional committee clear off their feet, and produce the most unexpected results. In that same instant he decided to make an end of the scene with the least possible delay. Unfortunately, however, the indulgences of the evening had left his brain so hot and clouded as to be incapable of its native finesse. When he spoke, it was with an arbitrary note in his voice which was but little calculated either to soothe or to persuade.
“ Mr. Avery,” he began, cutting off the old man’s impending speech, “last summer, at Mr. Strathmore’s urgent request, we made you an offer for your mill. D’you remember it ? You treated it with contempt.”
“ I had no thought of contempt,” responded Avery, with an expression of slow surprise overspreading his features. “ I did not wish to sell. It was my purpose to keep the mill for my children.”
“And ever since then you’ve fought us tooth and claw, and now — well, it’s expecting a little too much to suppose that the same terms are to be offered at the end of the fight.”
“ There is no question of terms between us, Mr. Garwood. I am not here to sell my mill to you. I have no wish to be a partner in what you are doing.”
The voice was not quite so slow now, and Avery’s eyes lingered more definitely on the man at the head of the table. The man at the head of the table caught the gleam of a little tongue of flame, but thought, perhaps, it was just as well. There had been something in the manner of the last speech that carried conviction of its exact truth. Garwood belioved it himself, and feared its effect upon the others.
“ I suppose,” he replied, with a touch of forced irony in his voice, “you mean by that, that you ’re entirely above the business we Te engaged in ? Would n’t make a cent beyond the exact value of your time and material, would you ? Don’t take much stock in the advance of industry, I reckon ? ”
Garwood paused for an instant, but was dissatisfied with his own eloquence. He must put on more steam.
“ There’s no use whining around me. You’ve had a chance to get in out of the wet, and you had n’t sense enough to take Strathmore’s advice. As far as the United Association’s concerned, you can go to — to Jericho.”
Thrusting his thumbs deep into the armholes of his vest, the chairman leaned back and assumed an air of contemptuous indifference. That his anger was simulated rather than genuine only emphasized the insolence of his purpose.
All his life Daniel Avery had been accustomed to the kindly deference of those about him ; and the deliberate arrogance of this man, already deep in his scorn, aroused the hot blast of his anger. As he straightened to his full six feet of gaunt height, a score of years seemed to fall from his shoulders, and his gaze fastened upon Garwood’s wineflushed face with a keenness that stripped off its nonchalance like a flimsy mask.
“ A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him. And when they had robbed him, they too, I suppose, bade him go on his way — to Jericho. How the old history repeats itself, with a new Jericho and a new set of thieves —
“ Oh, don’t mind that,” he interposed deprecatingly, as Garwood laid a hand upon the arm of his chair as if about to rise ; “ that’s only the text. It is you and your miserable like, with the money itch in your blood, that are debauching the young manhood of the industrial world you prate so much about. Talk of your wealth ! Why, your gains are mere plunder.”
“ Do you mean to say, sir ” — shouted Garwood, going husky with sudden wrath.
“ Yes, I ’m going to speak the truth.”
Avery paused for an instant, as if to gather his words, but the grip of his eyes never loosened upon the man before him. Leaning forward, he spoke again in a voice that rang in every nook and corner of the room : —
“ Hadley Garwood, the pickpocket skulking in the byways of this great city to-night teaches better morals than you. He leaves thievery what he finds it, — a crime. You and your breed are making it respectable, and spreading it, like a disease, among honest men. And all for a wealth you do not know how to use ! Do you understand this ? ” cried the old man, carried away by the rush of sudden emotion, and shaking his bony hand down the long table. “ Can you understand me when I tell you that I valued my mill and its business not so much for what my children could get out of it as for the thought and industry they must put into it ? Do you know what that means ? Do you ? Why, rather than have my son ” —
“ Father ! ”
The whirlwind of feeling which, while it was sweeping the old man off his feet, was holding his listeners in astonished silence ceased as by a breath. John Strathmore uttered some half-articulate exclamation, which fell upon heedless ears. Margaret Avery, unable longer to endure the distress of the scene, entered through the open door. Looking neither to right nor left, she hastened to her father’s side. For a moment Avery gazed at her like one rudely awakened from sleep. Then, as if overwhelmed by the consciousness of his own weakness, his glance fell before hers, and he stood silent.
And while the two were standing there speechless, those sitting near saw a singular thing. Margaret Avery’s hand, hanging loosely by her side, brushed against the sleeve of a man’s coat. In spite of her preoccupation she must have known, for the next instant the vagrant hand was resting lightly upon John Strathmore’s shoulder. In the act was neither stealth nor deliberation, but the unchecked impulse of a woman who had never doubted. Those who saw his face knew that, subtle and swift as the electric current, the touch had stirred something new and powerful in John Strathmore’s soul. In that instant, some things which, during all these strenuous years, had been silently filling the man’s life with a new ambition withered in his sight.
“ Surely, father, this can do no good,” she said, as the fire faded from her father’s eyes. “ Let us go home.”
Daniel Avery drew a long breath, and looked into her face as a child might have appealed to a chiding mother.
“ Yes,”he replied weakly, " let us go.”
Without further speech Margaret led her father from the room, and expectation settled upon the group about the table. Then that happened which some of them, at least, were expecting. John Strathmore pushed back his chair and arose.
“ Mr. Chairman,” he said, speaking as lightly as though he were but excusing himself for the hour, “ I will ask to be counted out of the further proceedings of the United Paper Mills Association.”
It required but slight vision to see that his lightness of manner was only a mask, yet it was a mask behind which none might penetrate.
Garwood laughed aloud, but checked himself abruptly. Strathmore had asked for his overcoat.
“ You don’t mean it ? Why, see here, Strathmore.” The chairman’s fingers were gripping his knife and fork a bit nervously now, and odd blotches of pallor appeared near the corners of his mouth. “ You must n’t let a little thing like that get on to your nerves. I believe it was the parable that did it. Ha ! ha ! It’s queer how those things do take hold of a man sometimes. Sit you down. Waiter, fill Mr. Strathmore’s glass.”
He attempted to summon the jocular, and fell barely short of the ghastly. Strathmore was thrusting his arms into the sleeves of his overcoat. When he had received his hat, he turned for the last time to the group at the table.
“ Of course I shall see that my share of the expenses to date is fully settled, but from now on the Strathmore concerns are withdrawn from the trust.”
“ But, my dear fellow,” exclaimed Garwood, still attempting the tone of familiar companionship, “this is simply preposterous! ”
“ I know it,” replied Strathmore sympathetically, “but — it’s true. I’m out.” Then a smile broadened his features for an instant, and he spoke yet more lightly : “Following the parable which our chairman has so happily introduced, I want to say, on my own behalf, that I really think I might have done a minor part — say the priest or the Levite — in fair shape, but the other rôle is entirely too much for me. I see it myself. Good-night.”
The Hon. Hadley Garwood slipped back in his chair, limp, sullen, and panting. He knew now that the Strathmore clay had hardened beyond all possibility of further manipulation, and he realized that the next new moon would find the United Paper Mills Association a bubble that had burst.
Paschal H. Coggins.