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The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 13701

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The rest of that week was a worried and an anxious one for Sam. He sent daily advices to his brother, and he received daily advices in return. The people upon whom he had originally counted to form the Marsh Pulp Company had set themselves coldly against the matter of control, and on comparing the apparent situation in New York with the situation at Meadow Brook, he made sure that he could secure more advantageous terms with the Princeman crowd. He spent his time in wrestling with his prospective investors both singly and in groups, but they were obdurate. They liked his company, they saw in it tremendous possibilities, but they did not intend to invest their money where they could not vote it. That was flat!

This was on the business side. About the really important matter of Miss Stevens, since his most recent bad performance, the time when he had made the special trip to see her and had spent his time in talking business with her father, he had not been able to come near her. She was always engaged. He saw her riding with Hollis; he saw her driving with Princeman; he saw her playing tennis with Billy Westlake, but the greatest boon he ever received was a nod and a pleasant word. He industriously sent her flowers. She as industriously sent him nice, polite little notes of thanks.

In the meantime, alternating with his marsh pulp wrangles, he worked like a Trojan at the athletic graces he should have cultivated in his younger days. He rode every morning; he practised every day at tennis and croquet; every evening he bowled; and every time some one sat at the piano and played dance music and the young people fell into impromptu waltzes and two-steps on the porch, he joined them and danced religiously with whomsoever he found to hand; usually Miss Hastings or Miss Westlake.

The latter ingenious young lady, during this while, continued to adore business, and with increasing fervor every day, and regretted, quite aloud, that she had never paid sufficient attention to this absorbing amusement, out of which all the men, that is, those who were really strong and purposeful, seem to derive so much satisfaction! On the following Monday at Bald Hill, when Hollis Creek and Meadow Brook fraternized together, in the annual union picnic, she found occasion for the most direct tête-à-tête of all anent commercial matters.

Under Bald Hill were any number of charming natural retreats, jumbles of Titanically toy-strewn, clean, bare rocks, screened here and there by tangles of young scrub oak and pine which grew apparently on bare stone surfaces and out of infinitesimal chinks and crannies, in utter defiance of all natural law. Go where you would on that day, there were couples in each of the rock shelters; young couples, engaged in that fascinating pastime of finding out all they could about each other, and wondering about each other, and revealing themselves to each other as much as they cared to do, and flirting; oh, in a perfectly respectable sort of a way, you know; legitimate and commendable flirting; the sort of flirting which is only experimental and necessary, and which may cease at any moment to become mere airy trifling, and turn into something intensely and desperately serious, having a vital bearing upon the entire future lives of people; and there were deeply solemn moments, in spite of all the surface hilarity and gaiety, in many of these little out of way nooks kindly provided by beneficent nature for this identical purpose.

In one of these nooks, a curious sort of doll's amphitheatre, partly screened by dwarf cedars, were Miss Westlake and Mr. Turner, and Sam could not tell you to this day how she had roped him out of the herd, and isolated him, and brought him there.

"Business is just perfectly fascinating," she was saying. "I've been talking a lot to papa about it here lately. He thinks a great deal of you, by the way."

"He does," Sam grunted in non-committal acknowledgment, with the sharp reflection that he had better look out for himself if that were the case, since the most of Westlake's old friends were bankrupt, he being the best business man of them all.

"Yes; he says you have an excellent business proposition, too, in your new Marsh Pulp Company." She said marsh pulp without an instant's hesitation.

"I think it's good myself," agreed Sam; "that is, if I can keep hold of it." Inwardly he added, "And if I can keep old Westlake's clutches off."

She laughed lightly.

"Papa mentioned that very thing," she informed him. "I don't think I quite understand what control of stock means, although I've had papa explain it to me. I gather this much, however, that it is something you want very much, but can scarcely get without some large stockholder voting his stock with you."

Sam inspected her narrowly.

"You seem to have a pretty good idea of the thing after all," he admitted, wondering how much she really knew and understood. "But maybe your father wouldn't like your repeating to me what you accidentally learned from him in conversation. Business men are usually pretty particular about that."

"Oh, he wouldn't mind at all," she said airily. "I'm having him explain a lot of things to me, because he's making separate investments for Billy and me. All his new enterprises are for us, and in the last two or three years he's turned over lots of stock to us in our own names. But I've never done any actual voting on it. I've only given proxies. I sign a little blank, you know, that papa fills out for me and shows me where to put my name and mails to somebody or other, or else takes it and votes it himself; but I'd rather vote it my own self. I should think it would be ever so much fun. I'm trying to find out about how they do such things, and I'd be very glad to have you tell me all you can about it. It's just perfectly fascinating."

"Yes, it is," Sam admitted. "So you think you may eventually own some stock in the Marsh Pulp Company?" and he became quite interested.

"If papa takes any I'm quite sure I shall," she returned; "and I think he will, from what he said. He seems to be so enthusiastic about it that I'm going to ask him for this stock, and let Billy have the next that he buys. I hope he does take a good lot of it. Isn't this the dearest place imaginable?" and with charming na?veté she looked about the tiny amphitheatre-like circle, admiring the projecting stones which formed natural seats, and the broad shelving of slippery rock which led up to it.

"Yes, it is," said Sam with considerable thoughtfulness, and once more inspected Miss Westlake critically.

There was no question that she would be as stout as her mother and her father when she reached their age. However, personal attractiveness is an essence and can not be weighed by the pound. Sam was bou

nd to admit, after thoughtful judgment, that Miss Westlake might be personally attractive to a great many people, but really there hadn't seemed to be anything flowing from him to her or from her to him, even when he had held tightly to her hand to help her up the steep slope of the rock floor.

"Yes, it is a charming place," he once more admitted. "Looks almost as if this little semi-circle had been built out of these loose rocks by design. Of course, your father wouldn't take the original stock in your name."

"Oh, no, I don't suppose so," she said. "He never does. He takes out the stock himself, and then transfers it to us."

"Of course," Sam agreed; "and naturally he'd hold it long enough to vote at the original stock-holders' meeting."

"I couldn't say about that," she laughed. "That's going beyond my business depth just yet, but I'm going to learn all about such things," and she looked across at him with apparent shy confidence that he would take pleasure in teaching her.

"Hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo!" came a sudden call from down in the road, and, turning, they saw Miss Hastings and Billy Westlake, who both waved their hands at the amphitheatre couple and came scrambling up the rocks.

"Mr. Princeman and Mr. Tilloughby are looking for you everywhere, Hallie," said Miss Hastings to Miss Westlake. "You know you promised to make that famous salad dressing of yours. Luncheon is nearly ready, all but that, and they're waiting for you over at the glade. My, what a dear little place this is! How did you ever find it?" Miss Hastings was now quite conspicuously panting and fanning herself. "I'm so tired climbing those rocks," she went on. "I shall simply have to sit down and rest a bit. Billy will take you over, Hallie, and Mr. Turner will bring me by and by, I am sure."

Mr. Turner stated that he would do so with pleasure. Miss Westlake surveyed her dearest friend more in anger than in sorrow. It was such a brazen trick, and she gazed from her brother to Mr. Turner in sheer wonder that they were not startled into betrayal of how shocked they were. Whatever strong emotions they might have had upon that subject were utterly without reflection upon the outside, however, for Billy Westlake and Sam Turner were eying each other solely with a vacuous mutual wish of saying something decently polite and human. Mr. Turner made a desperate stab.

"I hope you're in good form for the bowling tournament to-night," he observed with self-urged anxiety. "Hollis Creek mustn't win, you know."

"I'm as near fit as usual," said Billy; "but Princeman is the chap who's going to carry off the honors for Meadow Brook. Bowled an average last night of two forty-five. I'm sorry you couldn't make the team."

"I should have started fifteen years ago to do that," said Sam with a wry smile. "I think I would get along all right, though, if they didn't have those grooves at the side of the alleys."

Billy Westlake looked at him gravely. Since Sam did not smile, this could not be a joke.

"But they are absolutely necessary, you know," he protested, as he took his sister's arm and helped her down the slope.

Miss Westlake went away entirely out of patience with the two men, and very much to Billy's surprise gave him her revised estimate of that Hastings girl. Miss Hastings, however, was in a far different frame of mind. She was an exclamation point of admiration about an endless variety of things; about the dear little amphitheatre, about how well her friend Miss Westlake was looking and how successful Hallie had been this summer in reducing, and how much Mr. Turner was improving in his tennis and croquet and riding and bowling and everything. "And, Mr. Turner, what is pulp? And do they actually make paper out of it?" she wound up.

Very gravely Mr. Turner informed her on the process of paper making, and she was a chorus of little vivacious ohs and ahs all the way through. She sat on the side of the stone circle from which she could look down the road, and she chattered on and on and on, and still on, until something she saw below warned her that she was staying an unconscionable length of time, so she rose and told Mr. Turner they must really go, and held out her hand to be helped down the slope. That was really a very slippery rock, and it was probably no fault of Miss Hastings that her feet slipped and that she had to throw herself squarely into Mr. Turner's embrace, and even throw her arm up over his shoulder to save herself. It was a staggery place, even for a sturdily muscled young man like Mr. Turner to keep his footing, and with that fair burden upon him he had to stand some little time poised there to retain his balance. Then, very gently and carefully, he turned straight about, lifting Miss Hastings entirely from her feet and setting her gravely down on the safe ledge below the sloping rock; but before he had even had time to let go of her he glanced down into the road, toward which the turn had faced him, and saw there, looking up aghast at the tableau, Mr. Princeman and Miss Stevens!

The sharp and instantly suppressed laugh of Princeman came floating up to them, but Miss Stevens turned squarely about in the direction of the glade, and being instantly joined by Princeman, they walked quietly away.

Mr. Turner suddenly found himself perspiring profusely, and was compelled to mop his brow, but Miss Hastings disdained to give any sign that anything unusual whatsoever had happened, except by walking with a limp, albeit a very slight one, as she returned to the glade. That limp comforted Mr. Turner somewhat, and, spying Miss Stevens in a little group near the tables, he was very careful to parade Miss Hastings straight over there and place her limp on display. Miss Stevens, however, walked away; no mere limp could deceive her!

Well, if she wanted to be miffed at a little accident like that, and read things falsely, and think the worst of people, she might; that was all Sam had to say about it! but what he had to say about it did not comfort him. He rather savagely "shook" Miss Hastings at his first opportunity, and Vivian's dearest friend, who had been hovering in the offing, saw him do it, which was a great satisfaction to her. Later she seized upon him, although he had savagely sworn to stick to the men, and by some incomprehensible process Sam found himself once more tête-à-tête with Miss Westlake, just over at the edge of the glade where the sumac grew. She made him gather a lot of the leaves for her, and showed him how they used to weave clover wreaths when she was a little girl, and wove one for him of sumac, and gaily crowned him with it; and just as she was putting the fool thing on his head he glanced up, and there Princeman, laughing, was just passing them a little ways off, in company with Miss Josephine Stevens!

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