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The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 17119

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


And so the kid was finding the same trouble which he had met. They had been too frank in stating that they intended to obtain control of the company without any larger investments than their patents and their scheme. Sam wandered through the hall, revolving this matter in his mind, and out at the rear door, which framed an inviting vista of green. He strolled back past the barn toward the upper reaches of the brook path, and sitting amid the comfortably gnarled roots of a big tree he lit a cigar and began with violence to snap little pebbles into the brook. If he were promoting a crooked scheme, he reflected savagely, he would have no difficulty whatever in floating it upon almost any terms he wanted. Well, there was one thing certain; at the finish, control would be in his own hands! But how to secure it and still float the company promptly and advantageously? There was the problem. He liked this crowd. They were good, keen, vigorous, enterprising men, fine men with whom to do business, men who would snatch control away from him if they could, and throw him out in the cold in a minute if they deemed it necessary or expedient. Of course that was to be expected. It was a part of the game. He would rather deal with these progressive people, knowing their tendencies, than with a lot of sapheads.

How to get control? He lingered long and thoughtfully over that question, perhaps an hour, until presently he became aware that a slight young girl, with a fetching sun-hat and a basket, was walking pensively along the path on the opposite side of the brook, for the third time. Her passing and repassing before his abstracted and unseeing vision had become slightly monotonous, and for the first time he focused his eyes back from their distant view of pulp marshes and stock certificates and inspected the girl directly. Why, he knew that girl! It was Miss Hastings.

As if in obedience to his steady gaze she looked across at him and waved her basket.

"Where are you going?" he asked with the heartiness of enforced courtesy.

"After ferns," she responded, and laughed.

"By George, that's so!" he said, and ran up the stream to a narrow place where he made a magnificent jump and only got one shoe wet.

He was profuse, not in his apologies, but in his intention to make them.

"Jinks!" he said. "I'm ashamed to say I forgot all about that. I found myself suddenly confronted with a business proposition that had to be worked out, and I thought of nothing else."

"I hope you succeeded," she said pleasantly.

There wasn't a particle of vengefulness about Miss Hastings. She was not one to hold this against him; he could see that at once! She understood men. She knew that grave problems frequently confronted them, and that such minor things as fern gathering expeditions would necessarily have to step aside and be forgotten. She was one of the bright, cheerful, always smiling kind; one who would make a sunshiny helpmate for any man, and never object to anything he did-before marriage.

All this she conveyed in lively but appealing chatter; all, that is, except the last part of it, a deduction which Sam supplied for himself. For the first time in his life he had paused to judge a girl as he would "size up" a man, and he was a little bit sorry that he had done so, for while Miss Hastings was very agreeable, there was a certain acidulous sharpness about her nose and uncompromising thinness about her lips which no amount of laughing vivacity could quite conceal.

Dutifully, however, he gathered ferns for the rockery of her aunt in Albany, and Miss Hastings, in return, did her best to amuse and delight, and delicately to convey the thought of what an agreeable thing it would be for a man always to have this cheerful companionship. She even, on the way back, went so far as inadvertently to call him Sam, and apologized immediately in the most charming confusion.

"Really," she added in explanation, "I have heard Mr. Westlake and the others call you Sam so often that the name just seems to slip out."

"That's right," he said cordially. "Sam's my name. When people call me Mr. Turner I know they are strangers."

"Then I think I shall call you Sam," she said, laughing most engagingly. "It's so much easier," and sure enough she did as soon as they were well within the hearing of Miss Westlake, at the hotel.

"Oh, Sam," she called, turning in the doorway, "you have my gloves in your pocket."

Miss Westlake stiffened like an icicle, and a stern resolve came upon her. Whatever happened, she saw her duty plainly before her. She had introduced Mr. Turner to Miss Hastings, and she was responsible. It was her moral obligation to rescue him from the clutches of that designing young person, and she immediately reminded him that she had an engagement to give him a tennis lesson every day. There was still time for a set before dinner. Also, far be it from her to be so forward as to call him Sam, or to annoy him with silly chattering. She was serious-minded, was Miss Westlake, and sweet and helpful; any man could see that; and she fairly adored business. It was so interesting.

When they came back from their tennis game, hurrying because it was high time to dress for dinner and the dance, she met Miss Hastings in the hall, but the two bosom friends barely nodded. There had sprung up an unaccountable coolness between them, a coolness which Sam by no means noticed, however, for at the far end of the porch sat Princeman, already back from Hollis Creek to dress, and with him were Westlake and McComas and Blackrock and Cuthbert, and they were in very close conference. When Sam approached them they stopped talking abruptly for just one little moment, then resumed the conversation quite naturally, even more than quite naturally in fact, and the experienced Sam smiled grimly as he excused himself to dress.

Billy Westlake met him as he was going up-stairs. To Billy had been entrusted the office of rounding up all the young people who were going over to Hollis Creek, and by previous instruction, though wondering at his sister's choice, he assigned Sam to that young lady, a fate which Sam accepted with becoming gratitude.

He had plenty of food for thought as he donned his costume of dead black and staring white, and somehow or other he was distrait that evening all the way over to Hollis Creek. Only when he met Miss Stevens did he brighten, as he might well do, for Miss Stevens, charming in every guise, was a revelation in evening costume; a ravishing revelation; one to make a man pause and wonder and stand in awe, and regard himself as a clumsy creature not worthy to touch the hem of the garment which embellished such a divine being. Nevertheless he conquered that wave of diffidence in a jiffy, or something like half that space of time, and shook hands with her most eagerly, and looked into her eyes and was grateful; for he found them smiling up at him in most friendly fashion, and with rather an electric thrill in them, too, though whether the thrill emanated from the eyes or was merely within himself he was not sure.

"How many dances do I get?" he abruptly demanded.

"Just two," she told him, and showed him her card and gave him one on which a list of names had already been marked by the young ladies of Hollis Creek.

He saw on the card two dances with Miss Stevens, one each with Miss Westlake and Miss Hastings, and one each with a number of other young ladies whom he had met but vaguely, and one each with some whom he had not met at all. He dutifully went through the first dance with a young lady of excellent connections who would make a prime companion for any advancing young man with social aspirations; he went dutifully through the next dance with a young lady who was keen on intellectual pursuits, and who would make an excellent helpmate for any young man who wished to advance in culture as he progressed in business, and danced the next one with a young lady who believed that home-making should be the highest aim of womankind; and then came his first dance with Miss Stevens! They did not talk very much, but it was very, very comforting to be with her, just to know that she was there, and to know that somehow she understood. He was sorry, though, that he stepped upon her gown.

The promenade, which had seemed quite long enough with the other young ladies, seemed all too short for Sam up to the point when Billy Westlake came to take Miss Josephine away. He was feeling rath

er lonely when Tilloughby came up to him, with a charming young lady who was in quite a flutter. It seemed that there had been a dreadful mistake in the making out of the dance cards, which the young ladies of Hollis Creek had endeavored to do with strict equity, though hastily, and all was now inextricable confusion. The charming young lady was on the cards for this dance with both Mr. Tilloughby and Mr. Turner, and Mr. Tilloughby had claimed her first. Would Mr. Turner kindly excuse her? Just behind her came another young lady whom Mr. Tilloughby introduced. This young lady was on Sam's card for the next dance following this one, but it should be for the eighth dance, and would Mr. Turner please change his card accordingly, which Mr. Turner obligingly did, wondering what he should do when it came to the eighth dance and he should find himself obligated to two young ladies. Oh, well, he reflected, no doubt the other young lady was down for the eighth dance with some one else, if they had things so mixed. Of one thing he was sure. He had that tenth dance with Miss Stevens. He had inspected both cards to make certain of that, and had seen with carefully concealed joy that she had compared them as minutely as he had. He saw confusion going on all about him, laughing young people attempting to straighten out the tangle, and the dance was slow in starting.

Almost the first two on the floor were Miss Stevens and Billy Westlake, and as he saw them, from his vantage point outside one of the broad windows, gliding gracefully up the far side of the room, he realized with a twinge of impatience what a remarkably unskilled dancer he himself was. Billy and Miss Stevens were talking, too, with the greatest animation, and she was looking up at Billy as brightly, even more brightly he thought, than she had at himself. There was a delicate flush on her cheeks. Her lips, full and red and deliciously curved, were parted in a smile. Confound it anyhow! What could she find to talk about with Billy Westlake?

He was turning away in more or less impatience, when Mr. Stevens, looking, in some way, with his aggressive, white, outstanding beard, as if he ought to have a red ribbon diagonally across his white shirt front, ranged beside him.

"Fine sight, isn't it?" observed Mr. Stevens.

"Yes," admitted Mr. Turner, almost shortly, and forced himself to turn away from the following of that dazzling vision, which was almost painful under the circumstances.

By mutual impulse they walked down the length of the side porch and across the front porch. Sam drew himself away from dancing and certain correlated ideas with a jerk.

"I've been wanting to talk with you, Mr. Stevens," he observed. "I think I'll drop over to-morrow for a little while."

"Glad to have you any time, Sam," responded Mr. Stevens heartily, "but there is no time like the present, you know. What's on your mind?"

"This Marsh Pulp Company," said Sam; "do you know anything about pulp and paper?"

"A little bit. You know I have some stock in Princeman's company."

"Oh," returned Sam thoughtfully.

"Not enough to hurt, however," Stevens went on. "Twenty shares, I believe. When I went in I had several times as much, but not enough to make me a dominant factor by any means, and Princeman, as he made more money, wanted some of it, so I let him buy up quite a number of shares. At one time I was very much interested, however, and visited the mills quite frequently."

"You're rather close to Princeman in a business way, aren't you?" Sam asked after duly cautious reflection.

"Not at all, although we get along very nicely indeed. I made money on my paper stock, both in dividends and in a very comfortable advance when I sold it. Our relations have always been friendly, but very little more. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. Only Princeman is much interested in my Pulp Company, and all the people who are going in are his friends. The crowd over at Meadow Brook talks of taking up approximately the entire stock of my company. I thought possibly you might be interested."

"I am right now, from what I have already heard of it," returned Stevens, who had almost at first sight succumbed to that indefinable personal appeal which caused Sam Turner to be trusted of all men. "I shall be very glad to hear more about it. It struck me when you spoke of it yesterday as a very good proposition."

They had reached the dark corner at the far end of the porch, illumined only by the subdued light which came from a half-hidden window, and now they sat down. Sam fished in the little armpit pocket of his dress coat and dragged forth two tiny samples of pulp and two tiny samples of paper.

"These two," he stated, "were samples sent me to-day by my kid brother."

Mr. Stevens took the samples and examined them with interest. He felt their texture. He twisted them and crumpled them and bent them backward and forward and tore them. Then, the light at this window being too weak, he went to one of the broad windows where a stronger stream of light came out, and examined them anew. Sam, still sitting in his chair, nodded in satisfied approval. He liked that kind of inspection. Mr. Stevens brought the samples back.

"They are excellent, so far as I am able to judge," he announced. "These are samples made by yourselves from marsh products?"

"Yes," Sam assured him. "Made from marsh-grown material by our new process, which is much cheaper than the wood-pulp process. Do you know Mr. Creamer of the Eureka Paper Mills?"

"Not very well. I've met him once or twice at dinners, but I'm not intimately acquainted with him. I hear, however, that he is an authority."

"Here's a letter from him, and some samples made by him under our process," said Sam with secret satisfaction. "I just received them this morning." From the same pocket he took the letter without its envelope, and with it handed over the two other small samples.

"That's a fine showing," Stevens commented when he had examined document and samples and brought them back, and he sat down, edging about so that he and Sam sat side by side but facing each other, as in a tête-à-tête chair. "Now tell me all about it."

On and on went the music in the ball-room, on went the shuffling of feet, the swish of garments, the gay talk and laughter of the young people; and on and on talked Mr. Stevens and Mr. Turner, until one familiar strain of music penetrated into Sam's inner consciousness; the Home Sweet Home waltz!

"By George!" he exclaimed, jumping up. "That can't be the last."

"Sounds like it," commented Mr. Stevens, also rising. "It is the last if they make up programs as they did in my young days. I don't remember of many dances where the Home Sweet Home waltz didn't end it up. It's late enough anyhow. It's eleven-thirty."

"Then I have done it again!" said Sam ruefully. "I had the number ten dance with your daughter."

Mr. Stevens closed his eyes to laugh.

"You certainly have put your foot in it," he admitted. "Oh, well, Jo's sensible," he added with a father's fond ignorance. "She'll understand."

"That's what I'm afraid of," replied Mr. Turner ruefully. "You'll have to intercede for me. Explain to her about it and soften the case as much as you can. Frankly, Mr. Stevens, I'd be tremendously cut up to be on the outs with Miss Josephine."

"There are shoals of young men who feel that way about it, Sam," said Mr. Stevens with large and commendable pride. "However, I am glad that you have added yourself to the list," and he gazed after Sam with considerable approbation, as that young man hurried away to display his abjectness to the young lady in question.

Three times, on the arm of Princeman, she whirled past the open doorway where Sam stood, but somehow or other he found it impossible to catch her eye. The dance ended when she was on the other side of the room, and immediately, with the last strains, the floor was in confusion. Sam tried desperately to hurry across to where she was, but he lost her in the crowd. He did not see her again until all of the Meadow Brook folk, including himself, were seated in the carryalls, at which time the Hollis Creek folk were at the edge of the porte-cochère and both parties were exchanging a gabbling pandemonium of good-bys. He saw her then, standing back among the crowd, and shouting her adieus as vociferously as any of them. He caught her eye and she nodded to him as pleasantly as to anybody, which was really worse than if she had refused to acknowledge him at all!

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