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   Chapter 16 AN INTERRUPTED BUT PROPERLY FINISHED

The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 16956

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE

Jack's first opportunity for a quiet talk with his brother did not occur for an hour after the game.

"I don't like to worry you while you're resting, Sam," he began, "but I'll have to tell you that the Flatbush deal seems likely to drop through. It reaches a head to-morrow, you know."

[Illustration: "I don't like to worry you, Sam"]

Sam Turner grabbed for his watch.

"It can't drop through!" he vigorously declared. "I'll go right up there to-night and look after it."

"But you're on your vacation," protested Jack. "That's no way to rest."

"On my vacation!" snorted Sam. "Of course I am. I'm not losing a minute of my vacation. The proper way to have a vacation is to do the thing you enjoy most. Don't you suppose I'll enjoy closing that Flatbush deal?"

"Certainly," admitted his brother, "and I'll enjoy seeing you do it. I know you can."

"Of course I can. But you're to stay here."

"It's not my turn for an outing," protested Jack. "I haven't earned one yet."

"You're to work," explained Sam. "You see, Jack, in one week I can't become a bowling or golf expert enough to beat Princeman, nor a tennis or dancing expert enough to outshine Billy Westlake, nor a horseback or croquet expert enough to make a deuce out of Hollis. You can do all these things, and I want you to give this crowd of distinguished amateurs a showing up. Jack, if you ever worked for athletic honors in your life now is the time to do it; and in between time stick to Miss Stevens like glue. Monopolize her. Don't give these three or any other contenders any of her time. Keep her busy. Let me know every day what progress you're making; don't stop to write; wire! For remember, Jack, I'm going to marry her. I've got to."

"Well, then you'll marry her," Jack sagely concluded. "Does she know it yet?"

"I don't think she's quite sure of it," returned Sam with careful analysis. "Of course she's thought about it. Sometimes she thinks she won't, and sometimes she thinks she will, and sometimes she isn't quite sure whether she will or not. Don't you worry about that part, though, and don't bother to boost me. Just quietly you take the shine out of these summer champions and leave the rest to your brother Sam."

"Fine," agreed Jack. "Run right along and sell your papers, Sammy, and I'll wire you every time I put over a point."

Sam hunted and found Miss Josephine.

"I'm sorry I have to take a run back to New York for two or three days," he said.

She bent upon him a glance of amusement; the old glance of mingled amusement and mischief.

"I thought you were on your vacation," she observed.

"And I am," he insisted. "I've been having a bully time, and I'll come back here to finish up the couple of days I have left."

"Then the drive which didn't count this morning, and which was postponed again until to-morrow morning, will have to be put off once more," she reminded him with a gay laugh.

"By George, that's so!" he exclaimed. "In all the excitement it had quite slipped my mind."

"I presume you're going up on business," she slyly observed.

"Yes, I am," he admitted.

She laughed and gave him her hand.

"Well, I wish you good luck," she said. "I hope you make all the money in the world. But you won't forget us who are down here in the country dawdling away our time in useless amusements."

"Forget you!" he returned impetuously. "Never for a minute!" and he was in such deadly earnest about it that she hastily checked further speech, although she did not know why.

"Good!" she hurriedly exclaimed. "I'm glad you will bear us in mind while you're gone. Are you going to take your brother along?"

"No," he said with a smile. "I'm putting him in as my vacation substitute, and I'll give him special instructions to call you up every morning for orders. You'll find him in perfect discipline. He'll do whatever you tell him."

"I shall give him a thorough trial," she laughed. "I never yet had anybody to come and go abjectly at the word of command, and I think it will be a delightful novelty."

Jack approaching just then, she took his arm quite comfortably.

"Your brother tells me that during his absence you are to be my chief aide and attaché," she advised that young man gaily; "that you'll fetch and carry and do what I tell you; and the first thing you must do is to call for me when you take Mr. Turner to the train."

It is glorious to part so pleasantly as that from people you have persistently in mind, and Sam, with such cheerful recollections, enjoyed his vacation to the full as he did new and brilliant and unexpected things in closing up the Flatbush deal, keeping, in the meantime, in constant touch with his office and with such telegrams as these:

"Established new tennis record this morning Westlake nowhere and has been snubbed do not know why."

"Bowled two eighty five last night against Princeman two twenty am teaching her."

"Danced six dances out of twelve with her says I'm better dancer than Billy Westlake."

"Jumped Hollis Creek after her hat on horseback this afternoon Hollis dared not follow am to give her riding lessons."

Then came this one:

"Her father just told me she refused Princeman last night she will not talk to Hollis and scarcely to me is dull and does not eat I beat all entries in ten mile Marathon today and she hardly applauded wire instructions."

Sam Turner took the next train. One look at Miss Stevens, after he had traveled two years to reach Restview, made him suddenly intoxicated, for in her eyes there was ravenous hunger for him and he read it, and feeling rather sure of his ground he determined that now was the time to strike. With that decisive end in view he dropped Jack at Meadow Brook and went right on over to Hollis Creek with Miss Josephine. Of course there was no chance to talk quite intimately, with Henry up there ahead listening with all his ears, but there was every chance in the world to look into her eyes and grow delirious; to touch elbows; to look again and gaze deep into her eyes and see her turn away startled and half frightened; to say perfunctory things which meant nothing and everything, and receive perfunctory answers which meant as little and as much; but before they had arrived at Hollis Creek Sam was frankly and boldly holding her hand and she was letting him do it, and they were both of them profoundly happy and profoundly silly, and would just as leave have ridden on that way for ever.

Words seemed superfluous, but yet they were more or less necessary, so Sam got out at Hollis Creek Inn with her, and led the way determinedly and directly into the stuffy little parlor just off the main assembly room. He saw Mr. Stevens in the door of the post-office, but only nodded to him, and then he drew Miss Josephine into the corner freest from observation.

"You know why I came back," he informed her, fixing her with a masterly eye; "I had to see you again. My whole life is changed since I met you. I need you. I can not do without you. I-"

"Beg your pardon, Sam," said Mr. Stevens, appearing suddenly in the doorway, and then he paused, much more confused even than the young people, for Sam was holding both Miss Josephine's hands and gazing down at her with an earnestness which, if harnessed, would have driven a four-ton dynamo; and she was gazing up at him just as earnestly, with an entirely breathless, but by no means displeased expression.

"Excuse me!" stammered Mr. Stevens.

[Illustration: "Excuse me!" stammered Mr. Stevens.]

It was Miss Josephine who first found her aplomb. She smiled her rare smile of mingled amusement and mischief at Sam, and then at her father.

"You're quite excusable, I guess, father," she said sweetly. "What is it?"

"Why, your brother Jack just called you up from Meadow Brook, Sam, and wants to tell you something immediately," stammered Mr. Stevens, plucking at a beard which in that moment seemed to have lost all its aggressiveness. "He called twice before you arrived, and is on the 'phone now."

Sam, as he walked to the telephone, had time to find that his heart was beating a tattoo against his ribs, that his breath was short and fluttery, and that stage fright had suddenly crept over him and claimed him for its own; so it was with no great patience or understanding that he heard Jack tell him in great glee about some tests which Princeman had had made in his own paper mills with t

he marsh pulp, and how Princeman was sorry he had not taken more stock, and could not the treasury stock be opened for further subscription? "Tell him no," said Sam shortly, and hung up the receiver; then he repented of his bluntness and spent five precious minutes in recalling his brother and apologizing for his bruskness, explaining that Princeman was probably trying to plan another attempt to pool the stock.

In the meantime Theophilus Stevens had stood surveying his daughter in contrition.

"I'm afraid I came in at a most inopportune moment," he said by way of apology.

"Yes, I'm afraid you did," she admitted with a smile. "However, I don't think Sam will forget what he wanted to say," and suddenly she reached up and put her arms around her father's neck and drew his face down and kissed him rapturously.

"I'm glad to see you feel the way you do about it," said Mr. Stevens delightedly, petting her gently upon the shoulder with one hand and with the other smoothing back the hair from her forehead. She was the dearest to him of all his children, although he never confessed it, even to himself, and just now they were very, very close together indeed. "I'm glad to hear you call him Sam, too. He's a fine young man and he is bound to be a howling success in everything he undertakes." He smiled reminiscently. "I rather thought there was something between you two," he went on, still patting her shoulder, "and when Dan Westlake told me that his girl thought a great deal of Sam and that he was going to buy enough stock in Sam's company to give Sam control, I turned right around and bought just as much stock as Westlake had, although just before the meeting I had refused to invest as much money as Sam wanted me to. Moreover, Westlake and myself, between us, stopped the move to pool the outside stock, just yet. He's a smart young man, that boy," he continued admiringly. "I didn't see, until I went into that meeting, why he was so crazy to have me buy enough stock to gain control- What's the matter?"

He stopped in perplexity, for his daughter, looking aghast at him, had pushed back from his embrace and was regarding him with perfectly round eyes, while over her face, at first pale, there gradually crept a crimson flush.

"Well, of all things!" she gasped. "Of all the cold-blooded, cruel, barter-and-sale proceedings! Why, father, how-how could you! How could he! I never in all my life-"

"Why, Jo, what do you mean? What's the trouble?"

"If you don't understand I can't make you," she said helplessly.

"Well, I'll be-busted!" observed Mr. Stevens under his breath.

To his infinite relief Sam came in just then, and Mr. Stevens, wondering what he had done now, slipped hastily out of the room. Mr. Turner, coming from the bright office into the dim room and innocent of any change in the atmosphere, approached confidently and eagerly to Miss Josephine with both hands extended, but she stepped back most indignantly.

"You need not finish what you were going to say!" she warned him. "My father has just given me some information which changes the entire aspect of affairs. I am not a part of a business bargain! I refuse to be regarded as a commercial proposition! I heard something from Mr. Princeman of what desperate efforts you were making to secure the command, whatever that may be, of the-of the stock-board-of shares in your new company, but I did not think you would go to such lengths as this!"

"Why, my dear girl," began Sam, shocked.

"I am not your dear girl and I never shall be," she told him, and angrily dabbed at some sudden tears. "I never was. I was only a business possibility."

"That's unjust," he charged her. "I don't see how you could accuse me of regarding you in any other way than as the dearest and the sweetest and the most beautiful girl in all the world, the wisest and the most sensible, the most faithful, the most charming, the most delightful, the most everything that is desirable."

"Wait just a moment," she told him, very coldly indeed; with almost extravagant coldness, in fact, as she beat out of her consciousness the enticing epithets he had bestowed upon her. "Do you mean to say that never in your calculations did you consider that if you married me my father would vote his stock with yours-I believe that's the way he puts it-and give you command or whatever it is of your company?"

"Well," considered Sam, brought to a standstill and put straight upon his honor, "I can't deny that it did seem to me a very satisfactory thing that my father-in-law should own enough stock in the company-"

"That will do," she interrupted him icily. "That is precisely what I have charged. We will consider this subject as ended, Mr. Turner; as one never to be referred to again."

"We'll do nothing of the sort," returned Sam flat-footedly. "I've been composing this speech for the last two weeks and I'm going to deliver it. I'm not going to have it wasted. I've unconsciously been rehearsing it every place I went. Even up in Flatbush, showing a man the superior advantages of that yellow-mud district, I found myself repeating sentence number twelve. It's been the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I thought of at night. It's been with me all day, riding and walking and talking and eating and drinking and just breathing. Now I'm going to go through with it.

"I-I-confound it all! I've forgotten how I was going to say it now! After all, though, it only amounted to this: I love you! I want you to know it and understand it. I love you and love you and love you! I never loved any woman before in my life. I never had time. I didn't know what it was like. If I had I'd have fought it off until I met you, because I could not afford it for anybody short of you. It takes my whole attention. It distracts my mind entirely from other things. I can't think of anything else consecutively and connectedly. I-I'm sorry you take the attitude you do about this thing, but-I'm not going to accept your viewpoint. You've got to look at this thing differently to understand it.

"I know you've been glad I loved you. You were glad the first day we met, and you always will be glad! Whatever you have to say about it just now don't count. I'm going to let you alone a while to think it over, and then I'm coming back to tell you more about it," and with that Sam stalked from the room, leaving Miss Josephine Stevens gasping, dazed, quite sure that he was unforgivable, indignant with everything, still rankling, in spite of all Sam had said, with the thought that she had been made a mere part of a commercial transaction. Why, it was like those barbarous countries she had read about, where wives are bought and sold! Preposterous and unbearable!

While she was in this storm of mixed emotions her father came in upon her, this time seriously perplexed.

"What has happened to Sam Turner?" he demanded. "He slammed out of the house, passed me on the porch with only a grunt, and jumped into his automobile. You must have done something to anger him."

"I hope that I did!" she retorted with spirit. "I refused to marry him."

"You did!" he returned in surprise. "Why, I thought it was all cut and dried between you."

"It was until you blundered into us and spoiled everything," she charged. "But I'm glad you did. You let me know that Sam Turner wanted to marry me because you had bought shares enough in his company to give him the advantage. I'm ashamed of you and ashamed of Sam-of Mr. Turner-and ashamed of myself. Why, you make a bargain-counter remnant of me! I never, never was so humiliated!"

"Poor child!" her father blandly sympathized. "Also, poor Sam. By the way, though, he doesn't need you to secure control of his company. Dan Westlake, as I told you, has bought enough stock to do the work, and Miss Westlake would marry him in a minute. If Sam wants control of his company, he only has to go to her and say the word."

"Father!" exclaimed his daughter with stern indignation. "I don't see how you can even suggest that!"

"Suggest what? Now, what have I said?"

"That Sam-that Mr. Turner would even dream of marrying that Westlake girl, just in order to get the better of a business transaction," and very much to Theophilus Stevens' surprise and consternation and dismay, she suddenly crumpled up in a heap in her chair and burst out crying.

"Well, I'll be busted!" her father muttered into his beard.

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