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   Chapter 2 WHEREIN MR. TURNER PLUNGES INTO

The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 16854

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


THE BUSINESS OF RESTING

At Meadow Brook Sam Turner found W. W. Westlake, of the Westlake Electric Company, a big, placid man with a mild gray eye and an appearance of well-fed and kindly laziness; a man also who had the record of having ruthlessly smashed more business competitors than any two other pirates in his line. Westlake, unclasping his fat hands from his comfortable rotundity, was glad to see young Turner, also glad to introduce the new eligible to his daughter, a girl of twenty-two, working might and main to reduce a threatened inheritance of embonpoint. Mr. Turner was charmed to meet Miss Westlake, and even more pleased to meet the gentleman who was with her, young Princeman, a brisk paper manufacturer variously quoted at from one to two million. He knew all about young Princeman; in fact, had him upon his mental list as a man presently to meet and cultivate for a specific purpose, and already Mr. Turner's busy mind offset the expenses of this trip with an equal credit, much in the form of "By introduction to H. L. Princeman, Jr. (Princeman and Son Paper Mills, AA 1), whatever it costs." He liked young Princeman at sight, too, and, proceeding directly to the matter uppermost in his thoughts, immediately asked him how the new tariff had affected his business.

"It's inconvenient," said Princeman with a shake of his head. "Of course, in the end the consumers must pay, but they protest so much about it that they disarrange the steady course of our operations."

"It's queer that the ultimate consumer never will be quite reconciled to his fate," laughed Mr. Turner; "but in this particular case, I think I hold the solution. You'll be interested, I know. You see-"

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Turner," interrupted Miss Westlake gaily; "I know you'll want to meet all the young folks, and you'll particularly want to meet my very dearest friend. Miss Hastings, Mr. Turner."

Mr. Turner had turned to find an extraordinarily thin young woman, with extraordinarily piercing black eyes, at Miss Westlake's side.

"Indeed, I do want to meet all the young people," he cordially asserted, taking Miss Hastings' claw-like hand in his own and wondering what to do with it. He could not clasp it and he could not shake it. She relieved him of his dilemma, after a moment, by twining that arm about the plump waist of her dearest friend.

"Is this your first stay at Meadow Brook?" she asked by way of starting conversation. She was very carefully vivacious, was Miss Hastings, and had a bird-like habit, meant to be very fetching, of cocking her head to one side as she spoke, and peering up to men-oh, away up-with the beady expression of a pet canary.

"My very first visit," confessed Mr. Turner, not yet realizing the disgrace it was to be "new people" at Meadow Brook, where there was always an aristocracy of the grandchildren of original Meadow Brookers. "However, I hope it won't be the last time," he continued.

"We shall all hope that, I am certain," Miss Westlake assured him, smiling engagingly into the depths of his eyes. "It will be our fault if you don't like it here;" and he might take such tentative promise as he would from that and her smile.

"Thank you," he said promptly enough. "I can see right now that I'm going to make Meadow Brook my future summer home. It's such a restful place, for one thing. I'm beginning to rest right now, and to put business so far into the background that-" he suddenly stopped and listened to a phrase which his trained ear had caught.

"And that is the trouble with the whole paper business," Mr. Princeman was saying to Mr. Westlake. "It is not the tariff, but the future scarcity of wood-pulp material."

"That's just what I was starting to explain to you," said Mr. Turner, wheeling eagerly to Mr. Princeman, entirely unaware, in his intensity of interest, of his utter rudeness to both groups. "My kid brother and myself are working on a scheme which, if we are on the right track, ought to bring about a revolution in the paper business. I can not give you the exact details of it now, because we're waiting for letters patent on it, but the fundamental point is this: that the wood-pulp manufacturers within a few years will have to grow their raw material, since wood is becoming so scarce and so high priced. Well, there is any quantity of swamp land available, and we have experimented like mad with reeds and rushes. We've found one particular variety which grows very rapidly, has a strong, woody fiber, and makes the finest pulp in the world. I turned the kid loose with the company's bank roll this spring, and he secured options on two thousand acres of swamp land, near to transportation and particularly adapted to this culture, and dirt cheap because it is useless for any other purpose. As soon as the patents are granted on our process we're going to organize a million dollar stock company to take up more land and handle the business."

"Come over here and sit down," invited Princeman, somewhat more than courteously.

"Wait a minute until I send for McComas. Here, boy, hunt Mr. McComas and ask him to come out on the porch."

The new guest was reaching for pencil and paper as they gathered their chairs together. The two girls had already started hesitantly to efface themselves. Half-way across the lawn they looked sadly toward the porch again. That handsome young Mr. Turner, his back toward them, was deep in formulated but thrilling facts, while three other heads, one gray and one black and one auburn, were bent interestedly over the envelope upon which he was figuring.

Later on, as he was dressing for dinner, Mr. Turner decided that he liked Meadow Brook very much. It was set upon the edge of a pleasant, rolling valley, faced and backed by some rather high hills, upon the sloping side of one of which the hotel was built, with broad verandas looking out upon exquisitely kept flowers and shrubbery and upon the shallow little brook which gave the place its name. A little more water would have suited Sam better, but the management had made the most of its opportunities, especially in the matter of arranging dozens of pretty little lovers' lanes leading in all directions among the trees and along the sides of the shimmering stream, and the whole prospect was very good to look at, indeed. Taken in conjunction with the fact that one had no business whatever on hand, it gave one a sense of delightful freedom to look out on the green lawn and the gay gardens, on the brook and the tennis and croquet courts, and on the purple-hazed, wooded hills beyond; it was good to fill one's lungs with country air and to realize for a little while what a delightful world this is; to see young people wandering about out there by twos and by threes, and to meet with so many other people of affairs enjoying leisure similar to one's own.

Of course, this wasn't a really fashionable place, being supported entirely by men who had made their own money; but there was Princeman, for instance, a fine chap and very keen; a well-set-up fellow, black-haired and black-eyed, and of a quick, nervous disposition; one of precisely the kind of energy which Turner liked to see. McComas, too, with his deep red hair and his tendency to freckles, and his frank smile with all the white teeth behind it, was a corking good fellow; and alive. McComas was in the furniture line, a maker of cheap stuff which was shipped in solid trains of carload lots from a factory that covered several acres. The other men he noticed around the place seemed to be of about the same stamp. He had never been anywhere that the men averaged so well.

As he went down-stairs, McComas introduced his wife, already gowned for the evening. She was a handsome woman, of the sort who would wear a different stunning gown every night for two weeks and then go on to the next place. Well, she had a right to this extravagance. Besides it is good for a man's business to have his wife dressed prosperously. A man who is getting on in the world ought to have a handsome wife. If she is the right kind, of Miss Stevens' type, say, she is a distinct asset.

After dinner, Miss Westlake and Miss Hastings waylaid him on the porch.

[Illustration: They waylaid him on the porch]

"I suppose, of course, you are going to take part in the bowling tournament to-night," suggested Miss Westlake with the engaging directness a

llowable to family friendship.

"I suppose so, although I didn't know there was one. Where is it to be held?"

"Oh, just down the other side of the brook, beyond the croquet grounds. We have a tournament every week, and a prize cup for the best score in the season. It's lots of fun. Do you bowl?"

"Not very much," Mr. Turner confessed; "but if you'll just keep me posted on all these various forms of recreation, you may count on my taking a prominent share in them."

"All right," agreed Miss Hastings, very vivaciously taking the conversation away from Miss Westlake. "We'll constitute ourselves a committee of two to lay out a program for you."

"Fine," he responded, bending on the fragile Miss Hastings a smile so pleasant that it made her instantly determine to find out something about his family and commercial standing. "What time do we start on our mad bowling career?"

"They'll be drifting over in about a half-hour," Miss Westlake told him, with a speculative sidelong glance at her dearest girl friend. "Everybody starts out for a stroll in some other direction, as if bowling was the least of their thoughts, but they all wind up at the alleys. I'll show you." A slight young man of the white-trousered faction, as distinguished from the dinner-coat crowd, passed them just then. "Oh, Billy," called Miss Westlake, and introduced the slight young man, who proved to be her brother, to Mr. Turner, at the same time wreathing her arm about the waist of her dear companion. "Come on, Vivian; let's go get our wraps," and the girls, leaving "Billy" and Mr. Turner together, scurried away.

The two young men looked at each other dubiously, though each had an earnest desire to please. They groped for human understanding, and suddenly that clammy, discouraged feeling spread its muffling wall between them. Billy was the first to recover in part.

"Charming weather, isn't it?" he observed with a polite smile.

Mr. Turner opined that it was, the while delving into Mr. Westlake's mental workshop and finding it completely devoid of tools, patterns or lumber.

"The girls are just going to take me over to bowl," Mr. Turner ventured desperately after a while. "Do you bowl very much?"

"Oh, I usually fill in," stated Mr. Westlake; "but really, I'm a very poor hand at it. I seem to be a poor hand at most everything," and he laughed with engaging candor, as if somehow this were creditable.

The conversation thereupon lagged for a moment or two, while Mr. Turner blankly asked himself: "What in thunder does a man talk about when he has nothing to say and nobody to say it to?" Presently he solved the problem.

"It must be beautiful out here in the autumn," he observed.

"Yes, it is indeed," returned Mr. Westlake with alacrity. "The leaves turn all sorts of colors."

Once more conversation lagged, while Billy feebly wondered how any person could possibly be so dull as this chap. He made another attempt.

"Beastly place, though, when it rains," he observed.

"Yes, I should imagine so," agreed Mr. Turner. Great Scott! The voice of McComas saved him from utter imbecility.

"You'll excuse Mr. Turner a moment, won't you, Billy?" begged McComas pleasantly. "I want to introduce him to a couple of friends of mine."

Billy Westlake bowed his forgiveness of Mr. McComas with fully as much relief as Sam Turner had felt. Over in the same corner of the porch where he had sat in the afternoon with McComas and Princeman and the elder Westlake, Sam found awaiting them Mr. Cuthbert, of the American Papier-Maché Company, an almost viciously ugly man with a twisted nose and a crooked mouth, who controlled practically all the worth-while papier-maché business of the United States, and Mr. Blackrock, an elderly man with a young toupee and particularly gaunt cheek-bones, who was a corporation lawyer of considerable note. Both gentlemen greeted Mr. Turner as one toward whom they were already highly predisposed, and Mr. Princeman and Mr. Westlake also shook hands most cordially, as if Sam had been gone for a day or two. Mr. McComas placed a chair for him.

"We just happened to mention your marsh pulp idea, and Mr. Cuthbert and Mr. Blackrock were at once very highly interested," observed McComas as they sat dawn. "Mr. Blackrock suggests that he don't see why you need wait for the issuance of the letters patent, at least to discuss the preliminary steps in the forming of your company."

"Why, no, Mr. Turner," said Mr. Blackrock, suavely and smoothly; "it is not a company anyhow, as I take it, which will depend so much upon letters patent as upon extensive exploitation."

"Yes, that's true enough," agreed Sam with a smile. "The letters patent, however, should give my kid brother and myself, without much capital, controlling interest in the stock."

Upon this frank but natural statement the others laughed quite pleasantly.

"That seems a plausible enough reason," admitted Mr. Westlake, folding his fat hands across his equator and leaning back in his chair with a placidity which seemed far removed from any thought of gain. "How did you propose to organize your company?"

"Well," said Sam, crossing one leg comfortably over the other, "I expect to issue a half million participating preferred stock, at five per cent., and a half-million common, one share of common as bonus with each two shares of preferred; the voting power, of course, vested in the common."

A silence followed that, and then Mr. Cuthbert, with a diagonal yawing of his mouth which seemed to give his words a special dryness, observed:

"And I presume you intend to take up the balance of the common stock?"

"Just about," returned Mr. Turner cheerfully, addressing Cuthbert directly. The papier-maché king was another man whom he had inscribed, some time since, upon his mental list. "My kid brother and myself will take two hundred and fifty thousand of the common stock for our patents and processes, and for our services as promoters and organizers, and will purchase enough of the preferred to give us voting power; say five thousand dollars worth."

Mr. Cuthbert shook his head.

"Very stringent terms," he observed. "I doubt if you will interest your capital on that basis."

"All right," said Sam, clasping his knee in his hands and rocking gently. "If we can't organize on that basis we won't organize at all. We're in no hurry. My kid brother's handling it just now, anyhow. I'm on a vacation, the first I ever had, and not keen upon business, by any means. In the meantime, let me show you some figures."

Five minutes later, Billy Westlake and his sister and Miss Hastings drew up to the edge of the group. Young Westlake stood diffidently for two or three minutes beside Mr. Turner's chair, and then he put his hand on that summer idler's shoulder.

"Oh, good evening, Mr.-Mr.-Mr.-" Sam stammered while he tried to find the name.

"Westlake," interposed Billy's father; and then, a trifle impatiently, "What do you want, Billy?"

"Mr. Turner was to go over with us to the bowling shed, dad."

"That's so," admitted Mr. Turner, glancing over to the porch rail where the girls stood expectantly in their fluffy white dresses, and nodding pleasantly at them, but not yet rising. He was in the midst of an important statement.

"Just you run on with the girls, Billy," ordered Mr. Westlake. "Mr. Turner will be over in a few minutes."

The others of the circle bent their eyes gravely upon Billy and the girls as they turned away, and waited for Mr. Turner to resume.

At a quarter past ten, as Mr. Turner and Mr. Princeman walked slowly along the porch to turn into the parlors for a few minutes of music, of which Sam was very fond, a crowd of young people came trooping up the steps. Among them were Billy Westlake and his sister, another young gentleman and Miss Hastings.

"By George, that bowling tournament!" exclaimed Mr. Turner. "I forgot all about it."

He was about to make his apologies, but Miss Westlake and Miss Hastings passed right on, with stern, set countenances and their heads in air. Apparently they did not see Mr. Turner at all. He gazed after them in consternation; suddenly there popped into his mind the vision of a slender girl in green, with mischievous brown eyes-and he felt strangely comforted. Before retiring he wired his brother to send some samples of the marsh pulp, and the paper made from it.

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