A Man Of Affairs
When, with some eighteen dollars in his pocket, Don on Sunday ordered Nora to prepare for him on that day and during the following week a breakfast of toast, eggs, and coffee, he felt very much a man of affairs. He was paying for his own sustenance, and with the first money he had ever earned. He drew from his pocket a ten-dollar bill, a five-dollar bill, a two-dollar bill, and some loose change.
"Pick out what you need," he ordered, as he held the money toward her.
"I don't know how much it will be, sir. I'll ask the cook, sir."
"Very well; ask the cook. About dinners--I think I'd better wait until I see how I'm coming out. Dinners don't matter so much, any way, because they come after I'm through work."
Don ate his breakfast in the dining-room before the open fire, as his father used to do. In smoking-jacket and slippered feet, he enjoyed this as a rare luxury--even this matter of breakfasting at home, which until now had been merely a negative detail of routine.
When he had finished he drew his chair closer to the flames and lighted a cigarette. He had been cutting down on cigarettes. He had always bought them by the hundred; he was now buying them by the box. Until this week he never realized that they represented money. He was paying now twenty-five cents for a box of ten; and twenty-five cents, as he had learned in the restaurant in the alley, was a sum of money with tremendous possibilities. It would buy, for one thing, five egg sandwiches; and five egg sandwiches would keep a man from being uncomfortably hungry a good many hours.
Thus a quarter, from being merely an odd piece of loose change, took on a vital, tangible character of its own. Translated into smokes, it gave a smoke a new value. He had started in to make a box of cigarettes last a day; but he was now resolved to make them last two days. This allowed him one after each meal and two in the evening.
If at first he had considered this a hardship, he was beginning to appreciate the fact that it had its compensating advantages. This morning, for instance, he felt that he had never tasted such good tobacco in his life. Like his breakfast, it was a pleasure to be prolonged--to give his thought to. He smoked slowly and carefully and keenly. With his head against the back of his chair, he watched the white cloudlets curl upward after he had inhaled their fragrance. This was no dull habit indulged in automatically.
In this moment of indulgence his thoughts turned to Miss Winthrop. It was nearing twelve, and perhaps this had something to do with it. He was going to miss that luncheon hour. He had come to look forward to it as quite the most interesting event of the day. From his comfortable position before the fire, he wondered why.
It was impossible to say she had any definite physical attractions, although her eyes were not bad. They piqued a man's curiosity, those eyes. One remembered them. That was true also of her mouth. Don had no very definite notion of its exact shape, but he remembered how it surprised one by changing from the tenderness of a young girl's mouth to the firmness of a man's a dozen times in the course of a few minutes' conversation.
It was quarter-past twelve. If he had known her telephone number he would have called her up now, just to say "Hello." He would be taking a chance, however; for, as likely as not, she would inquire what he was doing, and would, he felt sure, scold him for having so late a breakfast.
Odd, that a woman should be so energetic! He had always thought of them as quite the opposite. Leisureliness was a prerogative of the sex. He had always understood that it was a woman's right to pamper herself.
Undoubtedly she would object to his sitting on here before the open fire. Farnsworth would not waste a morning like this--he seemed to hear her telling him so. If he wanted that ten thousand a year, he ought to be working on those circulars. A man was not paid for what he didn't know. Here, with nothing else to do, was a good time to get after them. Well, he had gone so far as to bring them home with him.
He rose reluctantly, went upstairs to his room, and brought them down. He began on the electric company which was offering gold bonds at a price to net four and a half per cent. Then Nora came in to call him to the telephone.
"Who is it, Nora?"
"Miss Stuyvesant, sir."
He hurried to the telephone.
"Dad and Mother have gone to church and it's very stupid here," she complained. "Can't you come over?"
He hesitated the fraction of a second.
"Oh, of course,--if you don't want to,--" she began quickly.
"It isn't that, Frances. Of course I want to come; only, there were some papers I brought home from the office--"
"I can go over them some other time. I'll be right up."
A discovery that encouraged Don the following week was that by some unconscious power of absorption he grew sufficiently familiar with the financial jargon of the office to feel that it really was within the possibilities that some day he might understand it fully. He found several opportunities to talk with Powers, and the latter, after recovering from his surprise at the primitive nature of some of Don's questions about notes and bonds, went to some trouble to answer them. Not only that, but he mentioned certain books that might supply fuller and more fundamental information.
"I know these sound like fool questions," Don apologized, "but I've never been down in this end of the town much."
"That's all right," replied Powers. "Come to me any time you're stuck."
After Powers went out, Don sat down and tried to recall some of the things he had been told. He remembered some of them and some of them he didn't. But that day at lunch Miss Winthrop handed him a stenographic report of the entire conversation. Don looked over it in amazement. It was in the form of question and answer.Mr. Pendleton:
Say, old man, what is a gold bond, anyway?Mr. Powers:
I beg your pardon?
And so on down to Don's final apology.Mr. Pendleton:
I know these sound like fool questions--Mr. Powers:
That's all right--
"Read it over in your spare time," advised Miss Winthrop; "then you won't ask him the same questions twice."
"But how in thunder did you get this?" he inquired.
"I wasn't busy just then, and took it down. I knew you'd forget half he told you."
"It was mighty good of you," he answered. "But I wish you had left out my talk. Now that I see it in type, it sounds even more foolish than I thought it was."
"I've seen a lot of things that didn't turn out well in type," she nodded. "But you needn't read that part of it. What Powers said was worth while. He knows what he's talking about, and that's why he's the best bond salesman in the house."
"What sort of a salary does he
"I don't know," she answered. "And if I were you I'd forget the salary end of my job for a while."
"It's a mighty important end," he declared.
"I don't see it," she returned frankly. "I suppose you're starting on twenty-five?"
"That's all," he admitted.
"It's all you're worth. Any one to support besides yourself?"
"Then what you worrying about?"
"But, good Heavens, a man can't live on that--any length of time."
"Can't? I know men who support a wife and children on less."
"And do it decently," she nodded. "I live on half of that myself."
"Of course. Did you think I drew a salary like Farnsworth?"
She laughed at his open astonishment. It appeared genuine.
"You live on half of twenty-five dollars a week?" he repeated.
She did not care to pursue the subject. It was a bit too personal.
"So do hundreds of thousands of others," she informed him. "On that and less than that. Now, you put that paper away in your pocket, and don't ask Powers another question until you know it by heart. Then get after him again. When you run across something you don't know, why don't you write it down?"
He took out his engagement-book on the spot and made an entry.
"I've written down that you say it's possible to live on twenty-five dollars a week," he informed her, as he replaced the book in his pocket.
"Don't be silly," she warned. "You'd better write down something about not worrying about your salary at all."
"I'll do that," he returned.
He took out his engagement-book again and scribbled a line.
"Miss Winthrop says not to worry about my salary."
"CAN'T? I KNOW MEN WHO SUPPORT A WIFE AND CHILDREN ON LESS"
"I didn't say it," she protested.
"Them's your very words."
"I mean--" she grew really confused. "I mean--you needn't put it down that I said it. You ought to say it to yourself."
He shook his head. "That's too deep for me."
"Then let's drop the subject," she answered curtly. "Only don't get the idea that it's I who am worrying about your salary, one way or the other."
"No need of getting peeved about it," he suggested.
"Not in the slightest," she agreed.
But she did not wait for her éclair, and went back to the office in anything but a good humor.
On the whole, Miss Winthrop was rather disappointed in him as a result of this last interview--the more so because he had begun the day so well. Her hopes had risen high at the way he approached Powers, and at the seriousness with which he had listened to what Powers had to say. He had acted like a man eager to learn. Then he had spoiled it all by placing undue emphasis on the salary end.
This new development in Pendleton came as a surprise. It did not seem consistent with his nature as she read it in his eyes. It was not in character. It left her doubting her judgment about him along other lines. She did not object to his ambition. That was essential. He ought to work for Farnsworth's position--but for the position, not the salary. The position stood for power based upon ability. That was the sort of success she would be keen about if she were a man.
Curious, too, that Mr. Pendleton should be so keen about money in this one direction. She had thought his tendency all the other way, and had made a mental note that sometime she must drive home to him a few facts about having a decent respect for money. A man who would return the loan of a two-dollar bill in five dollars' worth of roses was not the sort of man one expected to have a vaulting ambition for thousands for their own sake. One thing was sure--he was not the type of man who ought to occupy so much of her attention on a busy afternoon.
At a few minutes before five, just as Miss Winthrop was jabbing the last pin into her hat, a messenger boy hurried into the office with a parcel bearing a noticeable resemblance to a one-pound candy box. He inquired of Eddie for Miss Winthrop, and Eddie, with considerable ceremony, escorted the boy to the desk of that astonished young woman.
"Sign here," the boy ordered.
Miss Winthrop gave a swift glance around the office. Mr. Pendleton was at work at Powers's desk and didn't even look up. It was a remarkable exhibition of concentration on his part. Blake, however, swung around in his chair and raised his brows.
Miss Winthrop seized the pencil and wrote her name, dotting the "i" and crossing the "t" with vicious jabs. Then she picked up the box and hurried toward the door.
"From a devoted admirer?" inquired Blake, as she passed him.
Don saw the color spring to Miss Winthrop's cheeks, but she hurried on without a word in reply. He understood now what it was she did not like about Blake. Don was not at all of an aggressive nature, but at that moment he could have struck the man with the greatest satisfaction. It seemed the only adequate way of expressing himself. Blake was still smiling.
"Sort of caught her with the goods that time, eh?" observed Blake.
"I don't get you," answered Don.
"Candy by messenger? Well, I've been looking for it. And when those haughty ones do fall, believe me, they fall hard."
"Maybe," answered Don. "But I'll bet you five dollars to a quarter you're wrong about her."
Blake's eyes narrowed a trifle.
"I'll take you," he answered. "What's your proof?"
"I sent her that stuff myself."
"You? Holy smoke, that's going some!"
"I sent her that to pay for some typewriting she did for me and because I knew she wouldn't take any money."
"I lose. Come out and have a drink?"
"Thanks," answered Don. "I'm on my way uptown. Give that quarter to Eddie."