John Henry and the Restless Sex
John Henry and the Restless Sex
ILLUSTRATED BY JAMES M. PRESTON
IN THE far-off, placid days, when woman's place was still the home, the love story was a much less complicated affair. Then Grace or Mabel or Genevieve, returning from the school that had finished her, curled up on a sofa in the parlor in the genial company of a box of chocolates and a copy of When Knighthood Was in Flower. There she waited, disturbed only by the occasional rattle of dishes manipulated by mother in the kitchen.
Between this dear girl and the grave intervened but a single possibility—the arrival of the young knight on his milk-white charger. At the first faint sound of Cupid paging her she leaped to her feet, rearranged her hair and ran out on the porch with open arms. Unless the competition happened to be unusually keen the knight had little difficulty in persuading her to desert the parlor. She had never liked the wall paper, anyhow. The first thing father knew he was paying for a trousseau and sweeping rice off the front walk.
But times have altered. The parlor is deserted. Grace and Genevieve and Mabel are abroad in the marts of trade, and doing very well, thank you. The young man who would catch the eye of one of them must swap his charger for a touring car—and he must be able in argument. Can he persuade his lady that matrimony offers the same thrills and excitement as a good job downtown? Can he prove his ability to support her in the style to which she has been accustomed by her own weekly pay envelope?
In the long list of stumbling-blocks that may detain the eager lover that pay envelope has taken its place, the greatest of them all. The handsome commoner who fell for the Crown Princess of Ruritania had considerable chasm to span. The poor but honest ribbon clerk who adored the millionaire's only daughter was in for a bit of bridge building. But in all history there has been no such gulf as this—the frowning, impassable gulf between the young man who gets forty dollars a week and the girl of his choice in the same office who is getting sixty.
On the worried side of such a gulf John Henry Jackson sat at his desk in the office of the Phœnix Advertising Agency. A tall young man of twenty-five or so with keen blue eyes—not bad-looking, if you came right down to it. In fact, had the Phœnix people paid young men according to their looks—but they didn't. They had it on a more sordid basis, and forty a week was regarded as good money for a copy writer new to the game.
John Henry glanced across to the desk that stood just outside the door marked "George H. Camby, President." There she sat, on the pleasanter side of the chasm, Miss Myra Dalton, old Camby's secretary. Affectionately John Henry regarded the back of that head, which was, he knew, fairly buzzing with efficiency. Somewhere around on the other side shone her face, very lovely, but at the moment stern and preoccupied.
For these were business hours, and how she reveled in them! Not because she was decorative did old Camby pay her that sixty a week. The best secretary in town, said Camby, who was no idle boaster. She was, too. She had that passion for detail, for accuracy, which is the vice of so many otherwise charming women. And dog-gone it, reflected John Henry, how she loved her job!
Only the night before he had taken her to dinner—a strained moment when he paid the check—and then to the theater, seats down in front, an extravagance she could have managed so much more easily. The play was a sort of holdover from an earlier day, when the mating of man and maid was a matter of moonlight and soft glances, strong arms that clasped and fair cheeks mantling with blushes. It had thrown John Henry a little off his balance.
They decided to dispense with the crowded trolleys and walked home. Up above shone a cold October moon in a setting of bright, glittering stars. What the play had begun the heavens now completed. John Henry went quite mad. He resolved to turn back the clock, ignore the chasm, put his fate to one supreme test.
"It's a wonderful night, isn't it?" he began. "Just look at that moon!"
"Cold, though," said Myra. "Do you think Mr. Camby will land that new chewing-gum account?"
"I—I don't know. How should I?" John Henry's ardor cooled. "Can't you forget Camby—on a night like this?"
"I can't forget my work. I love it."
"Silly old work!" sneered John Henry jealously.
"If you feel that way," she rebuked, "you'll never get on."
"Perhaps not. But aren't there other things in life besides getting on? In that play to-night——"
"Oh, yes—the play! Very nice. Very pretty—but fifty years behind the times."
John Henry made no answer. Twenty minutes later at her door he said good night, himself as chill and distant as the moon. Now in the cold gray light of the morning after he was glad she had foiled his purpose. After all, some gulfs were not so easily bridged. A man might ask a girl to desert all her loved ones, to go with him to a far land, to make his people her people, his life her life. But could he ask her to exchange two hundred and forty dollars a month for a half interest in one hundred and sixty—with apartment rents where they were? Well, hardly!
There was, John Henry reflected, only one way by which he could span the chasm. He must climb and climb until he had passed her on the pay roll. Even then, he felt, it would be no easy matter to alienate her affections from her job, but without that advantage on his side the attempt was impossible.. Not that he thought her mercenary, but she was a business woman—she faced facts.
John Henry looked about the office of the Phœnix agency, which must be the scene of his triumph. His heart sank. How was he to rise above these other men, all faithful, clever, industrious? Why, it would take years! And he was young, impatient.
He thought of the business stories he had read in magazines. There it was always so simple for the young hero in need of immediate cash to deliver. He merely snooped around the business until he found a flaw in it, then he went boldly to the boss and began, "Now lookit here, Mr. Blank——"
The boss would hear him out with increasing admiration, and in the end make him treasurer of the concern.
John Henry smiled. He pictured himself setting Camby right on the business. In many ways Camby was a regular business man. He took three hours for lunch, eating more than was good for him, then smoking big black cigars and outlining impossible schemes on the tablecloth with a fork. When at the office he was always in an important conference. Miss Dalton would open his door and hear him saying: "You know that third hole out at Idlewild? Well, I got a long clean drive off the tee——"
Whereupon she would close the door softly and solemnly announce: "Mr. Camby is in an important conference. He mustn't be disturbed."
Yes, Camby was the regular type. But in one way he appeared to differ from the business men of the stories. He knew more about his business than even the lowest man on his pay roll. It was inconsiderate of him, but it was true.
Sighing, John Henry began to scribble on the pad of paper before him. He gave little thought to what he was doing:
All Aboard for Happiness!
Five Cents a Ride
He read it over, laughed, and copied it out under the heading, "Memorandum for Mr. Camby." Rising, he walked over and laid the yellow slip on Miss Dalton's desk.
"Please give it to the chief," he directed.
"He's in an important——"
"——conference. I know. But when he holes out on the eighteenth hand him this message from his faithful slave."
Miss Dalton's face rebuked him. She did not approve of such levity—in business hours. But John Henry only laughed, and went out to lunch. He forgot all about his childish memorandum.
Some days later George H. Camby, returning from lunch, picked up John Henry in the outer room of the agency and escorted him into the sacred precincts.
"Sit down," directed the eminent president.
He removed his overcoat, releasing from undeserved obscurity a prominent stomach. Rubbing his hands briskly as a sign that he was back on the job and all was consequently well with the world, he took his place behind his desk and picked up a yellow slip of paper.
"'All aboard for happiness! Choo-Choo Gum, five cents a ride,'" he read. "Jackson, are you responsible for this deathless masterpiece?"
"I—I'm afraid I am," admitted John Henry. He reflected that he ought to be fired.
"Well," said Camby, leaning back and patting his stomach with a rather touching show of affection, "it sounded silly to me—downright silly. But—you never can tell. I showed it to Foster—he's advertising man for the Cladox people, who are putting out that new gum—and it hit him hard."
John Henry laughed. His employer frowned at this lack of reverence in the younger generation.
"Yes, sir," he went on, "Foster thought it just simple and elementary enough to appeal to the great army of gum chewers. His company has decided to adopt the name and the slogan. Of course that means we get the account."
"But," cried John Henry, appalled, "couldn't you reason with him—show him how wrong he is?"
"I'm not sure he is wrong," replied Camby. "The silly thing keeps running through my head. 'All aboard for happiness—Choo-Choo Gum'—may be something in it after all. Anyhow, I'll not antagonize a man who's going to give me half a million dollars to spend for advertising."
He stopped. He had said too much, and knew it.
"Half a million!" gasped John Henry. He had brought an account of that size into the office!"
"Wait a minute," said Camby. "Before you ask for it let me give it to you. This thing shows you may have a trace of selling brains after all. Somehow I don't think you've been overworking them here. Would a raise to fifty a week speed you up, do you think?"
"Sure to, "smiled John Henry. "And—thank you very much."
Camby pressed a button on his desk. Myra Dalton's pretty face at the door was the answer. A. 3 John Henry went out he heard Camby's first words to the secretary:
"Miss Dalton, please tell the cashier that, beginning next Saturday, Mr. Jackson's salary——"
John Henry returned to the corner with his plum. He was pleasantly thrilled. Half the gulf bridged! He would show Miss Myra Dalton! She rather gave the impression that she did lot believe he could catch up with her—and now, by writing a dozen words on a paper, he had cut off ten dollars. Only ten remained. After all, the thing began to look absurdly simple. He had a momentary twinge of conscience as he thought of millions of jaws moving in unison—all aboard the Choo-Choo, chewing hard. Beside the point. The point was that he was creeping up on Myra.
It was Saturday. The office closed early, and John Henry won the privilege of walking home with her. The autumn air colored her cheeks and put a new sparkle in her eyes. There was no longer a pencil in her shinning hair or absurd tortoise-shell spectacles on her charming nose. She was transformed r from a human machine to a frail young girl, feminine, teasing, desirable.
"Congratulations," she said. "Of course I couldn't help knowing—about the raise, I mean."
"Oh, that!" said John Henry carelessly. "Yes, I'm getting on in my chosen profession. Before very long they'll foolishly think me worth as much to them as you are."
"Perhaps," she answered. "But if that is your ambition"—she smiled mischievously—"you ought to be warned that you must move a bit faster."
"Wha—what do you mean?" asked John Henry.
"I had a raise, too—several weeks ago. Since I know your salary it's only fair you should know mine. Mr. Camby is paying me seventy-five a week!"
John Henry stopped dead in his tracks amid the fallen leaves and stared at her. This was a knock-out blow.
"Well," he said sadly, "that ends my hour of glory." They walked on. "I ought to be delighted for your sake, I know. But confound it"—there was the gulf wider than ever, five dollars wider, even with his raise; what was the use?—"it spoils everything!" he finished.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "But why are you so anxious to—to catch up with me?"
If she had asked that a moment before he would have told her, wildly, fiercely, convincingly. But now—on the wrong side of a twenty-five-dollar gulf—not now. He said nothing.
"I think I know," Myra went on. "You're just like all the men—it hurts your pride to feel that a poor, weak, worthless woman is of more value to your concern than you are. That's it, isn't it? Come on—confess!"
"Whatever I feel," replied John Henry warmly, "I can see one thing: That office is no place for me. Ten dollars a week raise! Too slow—altogether too slow! I'm going to break away—get out on my own. You hear me?"
"I do! But what stroke of genius do you contemplate?"
"That's all right. I don't know yet. But the idea will come. And when it does—watch my smoke! Choo-Choo Gum. Baby talk! I'm wasting my talents! I'm through!"
"Sounds thrilling," commented Myra sweetly. "By the way, Mr. Camby asked me to stop at the Coopers' with some papers. Tom Cooper is home, you know—sick with the grip. Want to come along—or are you too busy?"
"I'll come," said John Henry.
They turned down a quiet residential street and arrived presently at the house of Cooper, head copy writer for the Phoenix agency.
Mabel Cooper was at the door, in the act of dragging inside two wild hyenas who were unaccountably her off-spring. The youngest, a girl, was screaming shrilly.
"Why, hello, Myra!" called Mrs. Cooper. "And Mr. Jackson—how are you? I'm so glad—Nellie, in heaven's name, will you stop that noise?"
"He kicked me!" announced Nellie, pointing to her brother.
"She bit me first," countered Tommy Cooper, scraping muddy shoes along the hallway.
"Go upstairs, both of you," their mother ordered, "and start getting undressed. It's bath time."
Two voices now joined in yells of rage and pain.
"Want supper first!" screamed Tommy.
"You never have supper first," said Mabel Cooper wearily. "Now we're not going all over that old argument again to-night. Will you obey me, or must I get the hairbrush?"
She herded them to the stairs and started them up. On each step they paused for renewed objections, fresh yells.
"Please excuse this little picture of domestic bliss," Mabel said. "Do you want to see Tom? I'll call him."
Tom Cooper, from above, replied that he would be down in a minute. The children faded from view, but not from hearing.
Mabel Cooper dropped down upon a chair. She had been a gay and pretty girl five years before, buyer for the smartest gift shop in the city, accustomed to her yearly trip to Europe or the Orient in search of novelties. Now she looked utterly wearied, utterly married—captured, but not quite tamed.
"Oh, I am tired!" she sighed. "I've had that all day. And it's the cook's night out. We can't even go out to dinner—Tom sick, and no one to leave with the children if he wasn't."
"You poor thing!" sympathized Myra.
"My dear"—Mabel Cooper was unusually frank in this, her zero hour—"if a man ever asks you to marry him, run for your life! Even if he's the dearest man in the world—and Tom is all of that. But after a woman has held down an interesting job—been her own master—spent her own money—you've no idea the let-down marriage can be! That tied-down feeling! You know how I used to run off to Tokio, to Paris, every fall. And now I can't even run down to the corner for a loaf of bread!"
Tom Cooper came down the stairs, wearing a dressing gown, looking weak and pale. He accepted Camby's roll of documents.
"Awfully good of you to bring these, Myra," he said. "I see you haven't been able to shake John Henry——"
From above came the sound of a slap, then roars of primeval anger.
"Children, children, please!" Mabel called.
"Mabel, in heaven's name, can't you keep those kids quiet?" said Cooper.
Mabel Cooper's face flushed.
"Keep them quiet! I like that! If you think yon can do any better why don't you lend a hand? All day all day I've had them, while you—you——" Words appeared to fail her. "Children, what is it now?" she called, and without a word to her guests she ran upstairs.
"Poor old girl!" said Tom Cooper uncomfortably. "Just about done up. Three nursemaids in the past month—two utterly incompetent slatterns and one trained children's nurse, as autocratic as the Kaiser used to be. You've no idea—wouldn't allow us in the nursery! What's the world coming to anyhow?"
"We'd better be getting along," suggested John Henry.
"Oh, must you hurry? Well, of course——" He went to the foot of the stairs. "Mabel, they're going!" he called. But Mabel heard nothing above the din.
"Please don't disturb her," Myra said.
"No, better not," Cooper agreed. He saw them to the door. "I hope to get down to the office Monday," he said with a glance over his shoulder toward the stairs that was eloquent in meaning.
For a time the two young people walked along in silence.
"Poor Mabel!" said Myra presently.
"My mother," said John Henry slowly, "had six children. But I never heard her talk about that tied-down feeling."
"No?" The girl smiled up at him. "Your mother was a dear, I'm sure, but the world has changed since her day. Woman's horizon has broadened. She wants to be something more than a mere household drudge. She wants to be independent—now and then, at any rate. She's had a taste of freedom, and she's found she likes it."
"I suppose it's the war," mused John Henry. "Poor Tom! Wants to know what the world's coming to. Who can tell him? Women are all upset—restless. I notice it everywhere I go. By the way, you'd probably have that tied-down feeling yourself if you—if some man——"
"I'm sure I should," smiled Myra. "I adore the office."
They walked on.
"Tied down!" murmured John Henry. "Want to get away now and then. No one to leave with the children." He stopped suddenly. "By Gad, why couldn't somebody capitalize that restlessness? Be a pioneer, I mean. Find a way out—do the human race a favor—and incidentally make a lot of money. Why couldn't I?"
"Hire out as a nursemaid, you mean?" asked Myra.
"Not exactly," he laughed, and resumed the walk. "Though I do like children—always have. But here I've been looking for an opportunity, and an idea begins to stir. This city is full of women with that tied-down feeling. If I could do something to help them I'd be a hero."
"Do you think so?"
"I know it!" he answered blithely. They had reached her door. "All I've got to do is think of some plan—some scheme——"
"That's all!" she said sarcastically.
"Easiest thing in the world," he assured her.
For once he was glad to leave her. He wanted to be alone. He went on his way down the street, fiercely thinking.
ALL that evening John Henry paced the floor of his room. He was deep in the throes of a big idea. But was it a big idea? He couldn't decide. Would it lead him on to fortune—or to the door of a home for the unsettled of mind? At times it seemed practicable, magnificent. At others it struck him as utterly silly.
He unlocked his trunk and took from a tin box at the bottom four Liberty Bonds, each for five hundred dollars. He turned to the bond quotations in the evening paper. About seventeen hundred there. In his savings account two hundred and sixteen more. Should he risk it all on one desperate throw?
The first few days of the following week at the office he seemed feverish, distraught Frequently he rushed out for conferences—and these were really important conferences, for he had decided on the throw.
It was Thursday, however, before he took anyone into his confidence. Then, descending on Mr. Camby late in the afternoon, he announced his resignation from the Phœnix forces, to take effect on Saturday. Camby seemed genuinely distressed.
"Someone else giving you more money?" he asked.
"No, sir," said John Henry. "I'm going into business for myself."
"I don't want you to misunderstand me," Camby replied, "but I think you're making a mistake. You lack experience. It may not seem so to you, but running an advertising agency requires a lot of executive brains, special knowledge——"
"I'm not starting a rival agency," interrupted John Henry.
"No? Then—h'm— may I ask—that is, if you want to tell me——"
"The business I am about to set up," said John Henry, a bit uncertainly, "is a rather peculiar one. It may not hit you very hard at first glance. But—I've thought it over very carefully, and it strikes me it will fill a long-felt want. I'll I be jollied at the start, but in time I'll make good. I think so anyhow. I'm risking all my savings on it."
"Yes, yes!" Mr. Camby was acutely curious. "What are you talking about?"
John Henry took a roll of paper from his inner coat pocket and spread it out before his chief.
"Here," he announced, "is the advance proof of my first advertisement, to run in the papers next Monday morning. Please read it over and tell me what you think of it."
Mr. Camby complied eagerly. On the blurred paper he discovered this:
THE CHILDREN'S INN
A New Idea—But This is a New World
Mr. John Henry Jackson announces the opening, on Monday, the first, of his Inn for Children at 2375 Euclid Avenue, within easy reach of the shopping and theatrical district. House renovated and refurnished throughout. Meals prepared by an expert dietitian. Your little ones under the care of a staff of trained yet kindly nurses from the time they register until they check out. Better care than at home.
IS THE LITTLE WOMAN RESTLESS?
DOES SHE COMPLAIN ABOUT THAT TIED-DOWN FEELING?
WHY NOT TAKE HER ON A SECOND HONEYMOON?
The children? Leave them with us. Daily bulletins on health and conduct furnished absent parents by wire at our expense. We will take the little darlings off your hands for an hour, a day, a week, a year—while you are shopping or at a matinée; or overnight, while you are at dinner and the theater. Never a moment's justified worry for the most devoted mother. Rates are reasonable, and may be had on application. American plan, with bath at the hands of experienced nurse.
THE CHILDREN'S INN
John Henry Jackson, Manager
YOU HAVE THE BABY—WE DO THE REST!
"It's a little long," apologized John Henry as he perceived the popping eyes of Mr. Camby reading the last line, "but I had so much to say. Once I've established the idea I can make 'em more snappy."
"My boy," said Mr. Camby, staring at him, "you're crazy—as crazy as a loon!"
"That's your first reaction, of course," smiled John Henry. "I'm a pioneer. I'm opening a new field. Men who do that must expect to be called insane. But think it over! Haven't I a real basis for this thing? Aren't the women more restless to-day than ever before in history? Don't they suffer more acutely from that tied-down feeling?"
"They seem to," sighed Mr. Camby. 'My son's wife—er—my own wife, for that matter——"
"There you are!" cried John Henry. Mr. Camby, once this idea gets started it'll be a riot. That's why I'm hoping to patent the name, along with a little drawing for a trade-mark. Before I get through I'll have a Children's Inn in every city in the Middle West. I'll go East——"
Mr. Camby shook his head.
"Somehow," he said, "I feel you're doing about it the wrong way. Now that one, 'Better care than at home.' Women will resent it."
"I'll cut it out," said John Henry, drawing his pencil through it.
"And—er—oh, well, the whole tone of it! I—I don't know. I can't make up my mind whether you're a smart boy or a doggone fool."
"I hope I'm a smart boy," said John Henry feelingly. "If I'm not, poof go the savings of a young life! You've no idea lie expense! Three hundred a month I'm laying for the old Judge Carter house, and coal! It chills me to think of it! The cook is an expert all right—an expert at high finance. And I have to pay Miss Brooks fifty a week. She's the trained nurse—used to have charge of a children's hospital. That space at the top is reserved for her picture. It'll give people confidence. She looks mighty competent in her uniform."
Again Mr. Camby shook his head.
"You need a woman's opinion on this," he said. "Have you showed it to Miss Dalton? There's a fine womanly little girl."
"I'm going out and show it to her now," John Henry replied.
"Yes, you'd better. And tell me what she says."
It was after hours and, except for Myra Dalton, the office was deserted. John Henry sat down beside her.
"Myra," he said, "I've got it!"
"That idea I promised you I'd have."
He laid his advertising proofs before her.
She read. Her cheeks flushed and an angry light came into her eyes.
"Well?" asked John Henry as she finished.
"You're crazy—absolutely crazy!" she informed him.
"This—this is an insult—an insult to all women! Just because the women of to-day have a broader vision than women used to have, because they want to get more out of life than drudgery—slavery to some man—you have the effrontery to call them restless!"
"But—I only want to help them."
"Help them!" She took up her hat and pinned it on. "Do you suppose any mother worthy of the name would trust her precious baby to you—you and some prim, heartless trained nurse? A baby's place is at home."
"A fine opinion you've got of women! I'm glad to find it out."
"I'm sorry. This is a serious matter for me. Everything I have in the world is at stake."
"I'm sorry, too, because you're going to lose it." She snatched up her coat and, lest he seek to help her with it, she carried it with her out of the room.
John Henry sat down at his desk. Already the clouds were gathering about his great venture. Was he crazy after all? Myra's attitude amazed him—flying off like that. And he had been going to take her with him to a department store in search of toys for the big play room on the third floor of the Children's Inn!
Mr. Camby emerged from the inner room on his way home.
"Ah—er—what did Miss Dalton say?" he inquired.
"She seemed annoyed," John Henry admitted.
"Precisely," said Mr. Camby. "My boy, it's not too late to turn back. Stay on with us. You seem to have ideas, but you need a balance wheel."
"Thank you, Mr. Camby," said John Henry. "But I'm going to show Miss Dalton. I'm going to show you too."
"All right, my boy," agreed Mr. Camby with amazing friendliness. "But if anything happens your job will still be here."
"Mighty good of you," murmured John Henry.
"Not at all. You've got ideas." And Mr. Camby went out.
John Henry gloomily donned his overcoat and sought the department store, where he was astounded by the price of toys.
The next morning, his last but one with the Phœnix people, he arrived early at the office. Myra Dalton was already there, clearing her desk in happy anticipation of a day's action. When she saw John Henry she came to him at once.
"Good morning," he said stiffly.
"Good morning." She smiled, and it was impossible for him to remain haughty and aloof. "I want to apologize for what I said yesterday," she went on. "I can't imagine why I flew off like that."
"Doesn't matter," said John Henry.
"Oh, yes, it does!" Her face was serious. "I worried about it nearly all night. I realized everything you have at stake, and what a good sport you are to risk all you have on an idea, and I felt that the least you had a right to expect from your friends was sympathy and understanding. Can you forgive me?"
"Without a struggle," smiled John Henry.
"That's sweet of you. Tell me what I can do to help."
"You might come up with me and look the inn over this evening," John Henry suggested. "Probably I've forgotten a lot of things that a woman would think of at once."
That night at dusk, when he had shown her all over his establishment, they came out and stood together on the veranda of the old Carter mansion. Below them twinkled the lights of the city John Henry hoped to convert to a new idea.
"I think it's darling," Myra said. "I'm sure it will be a big success."
"It's got to be," he told her. "It will be a hard pull at first, but I'll just keep hammering away, and in time I'll put it over. You must know, without my telling you, why I'm so anxious to make good."
"I don't believe I do."
"Myra! No, I won't say it—yet. But you wish me luck, don't you?"
"With all my heart!" she said softly.
"Better than a full-page ad," John Henry answered.
JOHN HENRY'S first announcement in the newspapers appeared as scheduled on the following Monday morning. It was greeted by a laugh of derision that ran from one end of the city to the other. Men stopped him on the street with what they considered witty comment. Old friends called him up to jibe at him.
"That's all right," he reflected. "Just hammer away—that's the secret. Tell 'em about it daily. The joke will wear off in time. Then the big moment when some woman, somewhere, simply has to find a place to leave the kids. She remembers the Children's Inn. The ball starts rolling." And he signed contracts for daily space in all the papers.
But it was rather disheartening—the reluctance of the ball to start. A week passed—two weeks. The register at the inn was still untouched by an entry. John Henry sat in his office, a very worried young man. He announced a reception day for mothers on which they might examine the facilities of his establishment. One would have thought there were no mothers in the town. John Henry began to doubt the power of the press—and then the pulling qualities of his advertising copy.
One day he met Tom Cooper on the street. Cooper asked him how the inn was going.
"Well, it's slow starting," admitted John Henry. "By the way, I expected to entertain your offspring long before this. Have you got a nursemaid, or doesn't Mabel feel tied down any more?"
"It's a funny thing," said Cooper. "I thought you'd got hold of a big idea—I really did. Several times I've suggested leaving the kids with you. But somehow—well, old man, I'm afraid your idea doesn't make much of a hit with the women."
John Henry's heart sank.
"Why not?" he asked. "Tom, you're a good advertising man—what's wrong with me?"
"Well, it's just a case of feminine psychology," Cooper answered. "Women may be restless, they may suffer from that tied-down feeling, but it makes 'em furious to have a mere man come along and talk about it. Right there, it seems to me, is the weak point in your armor. The only reaction your advertising has stirred up among the women is one of acute annoyance. They seem to think you're finding fault with them as mothers. And the idea appears to be that any woman who'd trust her children to you would be disgraced for life."
"Then I'm finished!" said John Henry. "I might as well close up shop."
"I'm telling you," Cooper said, "because it's possible you may be able to save yourself yet. I mean by taking an entirely new tack."
"For instance," suggested John Henry.
"Good Lord, I don't know! Who am I to tell you how to win the ladies? They're a mystery to me. Well, good luck."
"Ha, ha! Thanks," replied John Henry, and went sadly on his way.
To Myra Dalton, whom he saw frequently, he never admitted the imminence of his defeat. Things were going as well as he could expect, he said. He did not confess that he was sitting alone in his great house, save for the expert dietitian and the rather stern trained nurse, waiting for a business that declined to begin to commence. If Myra suspected she said nothing.
He had thought that his money would carry him along for two months at least, but the cost of getting started had been beyond his most generous estimates. On November thirtieth, the close of his first month, he sat in his office staring at a bank balance of two hundred and seventy-three dollars. To-morrow three hundred dollars would be due for rent.
Rising, he walked on tiptoe to the door and closed it tight. Then he reached for his telephone, called the Phœnix agency and asked for Mr. Camby. Miss Dalton answered. Trying to disguise his voice, John Henry demanded her chief.
"This is Jackson talking," he said, when he heard Mr. Camby, in a snappy, business-like mood, on the other end. "I called up to ask if you don't want to buy a half interest in the Children's Inn. Let you in on the ground floor—twenty-five hundred."
"Twenty-five hundred!" Camby repeated. "What are your profits so far?"
"Profits? Why—er—we're just getting started——"
"I don't want to be unkind, John Henry," said Camby, "but you're never going to get started. Your wild venture is a flivver—everybody knows that. Of course I'm not one to say I told you so."
"Of course not!"
"But you were all wrong from the start. I felt it. I said so, you may remember. Now close up and come back to your job."
"No, thanks. I'll stick it out a little longer."
"You're crazy!" snapped Mr. Camby, and hung up.
Stick it out? How? Again John Henry studied his bank balance. His venture was a failure—everybody knew it. He shut his lips tightly and began to construct an extra-large spread for the next morning's papers.
That advertisement brought his first response. A frivolous-looking woman appeared the next noon with two remarkably unattractive children, whom she desired to leave while she attended a bridge. John Henry was elated. But when, later in the day, she had collected her offspring and left with John Henry a soiled, unpleasant dollar bill, he knew that the ball had begun to roll too late. He was done for, finished!
He sat for a long time in his office facing facts. The rent was due. He couldn't pay it. The Children's Inn was doomed. One last long laugh at his expense and it would be a memory. Why hadn't he been warned by Myra's reception of his big idea? Why hadn't he listened to Camby? Too late now! Well, he wouldn't go back to the Phœnix office. He would leave the city, strike out for himself somewhere else. Here the joke would stick to him all his life. If he had succeeded—ah, what a difference! Then he would have been a smart young fellow, a hustler, a man with big ideas. But his world had no use for the failure.
He closed his bank book and walked gloomily into the front hall. His employees must be given their notice of dismissal. Probably they would demand two weeks' pay. That would be pleasant!
Aimlessly he walked to a window and looked out. A plump, smiling little old lady was coming up the walk of the Children's Inn. John Henry met her at the door. She beamed at him genially through her spectacles.
"Can I see Mr. Jackson, the manager?" she said.
"You're looking at him," John Henry answered. In spite of his serious mood, he smiled. "Won't you come in and sit down?"
She perched on the edge of a chair.
"Might as well git acquainted," she said. "I'm Grandma Biddle—live down in Berea. Leastways, I did until a while ago, when I let my children drag me to the city. Ever been in Berea?"
"I'm afraid not."
"It's jest a little town—sort of homy—everybody knows everybody else. But lawsy, so much more friendly than a big city like this! I was born in Berea, and I married there. All my ten children was born there, too, an' the eight that lived I brought up in Berea. Turned out a credit to me, every last one of 'em. But they're married now—married and gone—and I'm lonesome. Of course there's the grandchildren, but trained nurses are terrible official."
"I see," smiled John Henry.
"No, I'm afraid you don't. I'm so long getting to it. I guess you understand, though. I love children—I want 'em round me. Seems like I ain't really happy unless I got one of 'em in my lap. An' when I read your advertisement, 'That's the place for me,' I says. 'That Children's Inn—it's a beautiful name.' I just pictured 'em to myself running about this place, getting into mischief—the little darlings! I guess you see what I mean—I want a job here. Scrubbing floors, anything, jest so you let me pet the children. I'd work for almost nothing."
John Henry was touched.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "You've come to the wrong place. The Children's Inn is a failure. I'm closing up in a day or so. We've had only two guests since we opened."
"You poor child!" said the old lady. She beamed her pity. "You know, I was afraid of it. The advertisement was wrong somehow."
"It must have been," John Henry admitted, and laughed bitterly.
Brilliant young advertising man, he was, when even Grandma Biddle could pick flaws in his copy!
"I'm afraid you jest rubbed the women the wrong way," the old lady continued. "They got the idea you was making fun of them. An' then that picture of a trained nurse—I hope you won't mind my talking this way—that's wrong too."
"It is?" asked John Henry with interest.
"Wrong as wrong," said Grandma Biddle gently. "A woman's reason ought to tell her a trained nurse is the proper person to leave her babies with. But land sakes, we ain't ruled by reason in this world! It's our emotions does it. An' the picture of that starched, prim, cross-looking woman—why, a mother would jest as soon leave her little one at a hospital for an operation as at your Children's Inn!"
"By Gad, I believe you're right!" John Henry cried.
"Do you think so?" the old lady asked. She fumbled in her voluminous skirt and found a pocket. Her plump little hand came out with a huge roll of bills. She held it out.
"Take this," she said.
"What is it?" asked the astonished John Henry.
"Twenty-five hundred dollars," she replied. "The savings of a lifetime. Take it and let it buy an interest in this place. You and me together—we could make a go of it."
"Say, that's fine of you!" John Henry cried. "I—I appreciate it. But I wouldn't touch your money. No, sir! I've lost mine, but I'm not going .to risk yours and probably lose £hat too."
"That's all right. My boys will take care of me."
"No, I couldn't. Not that I don't thank you—you're a dear, and no mistake." He stood staring at her. She had the most wonderful ace, broad and kind and friendly. She had eyes that twinkled, and capable little hands, and a lap that was meant for climbing into. "I'll bet you make the most delicious cookies!" said John Henry suddenly.
"I used to when I had my own kitchen. My boys was so fond of them! I've got my receipt book—in my trunk," she finished wistfully.
For another long moment John Henry studied her face. And in that moment his brilliant scheme was born. He reached out for the money.
"I'll take it," he said. "It entitles you to a half interest in the inn. We'll put that down on paper later on. I just want to say that if we fail I'll pay it back to you, so much a week. But we won't fail, because you've solved my difficulties, Grandma Biddle—you certainly have!"
"That's fine!" said Grandma Biddle. "Just wait here till I get my hat and coat."
He went to a closet and put them on. Returning, he seized the old lady by the hand. "Come on, we're going downtown!" he cried.
"What for?" she asked.
"We're going down to have your picture taken," John Henry said.
Two days later John Henry sat in his office staring at his newest advertisement. At the top, in place of the trained nurse, was a portrait of Grandma Biddle, smile and spectacles and all. It was a face that inspired confidence, affection. It carried one back. One could fairly smell cookies baking! Underneath, John Henry followed his new hunch:
THE CHILDREN'S INN
Grandma Biddle, Manager
Grandma Biddle wishes to announce that she has taken over from Mr. John Henry Jackson the management of the Children's Inn, which will continue at the same address. Mr. Jackson may have been all right as a business manager, but land sakes, what should a man know about children! Grandma Biddle knows all about them. She brought up eight of her own, and she loves all children, everywhere. Seems like she isn't happy without a dozen of 'em in her lap.
MOTHERS, ARE YOU ALL TIRED OUT?
Grandma Biddle understands, as no man ever can or will, what hard work it is to keep a home going nowadays. Sometimes you feel completely done up. And no wonder! If a man had half your worries and responsibilities, he'd curl up and die! Bring your problems to Grandma Biddle. She'll be delighted to take the children off your hands now and then. They'll get the same love and care they would on a visit to their own grandmother's house. They'll tease to come back.
Fresh Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday—
Grandma Biddle's Delicious Cookies!
COME AND LEAVE THE CHILDREN IN
GRANDMA BIDDLE'S LAP
THERE'S ROOM FOR ALL THE TOTS IN
John Henry leaped to his feet and feverishly walked the floor. "By the Lord Harry," he cried, "I think I've hit it new!"
WHERE is the man who can chart and explain the psychology of the mob? In the days that followed John Henry was vouchsafed a faint glimmer of understanding that was to make him a better advertising man thenceforth. He discovered that by completely eliminating himself from public connection with the inn and substituting Grandma Biddle he had performed a master stroke.
From the first women had resented John Henry. They had visualized him as a flippant young man making light of their problems. When he talked about their restlessness, their hunger for freedom, they felt that, intentionally or not, he was ridiculing them.
But Grandma Biddle! Grandma showed daily in the advertisements new understanding of woman's tasks and worries. She was so sympathetic! Most important of all, her picture remained in the reader's mind long after the newspaper was cast aside. She had such a friendly face, filled with a desire to help, eloquent with compassion!
It was that picture did the trick. Grandma Biddle became in the public mind a real personality, the ideal guardian for the children of harassed mothers who simply must have, now and then, the diversion of a shopping tour, a bridge, a matinée or a dance at the country club.
Almost from the appearance of the first advertisement announcing the change of management little guests began to appear at the inn. Grandma received them at the door with a welcoming smile that was balm to an anxious mother's heart. John Henry and the trained nurse remained discreetly in the background. The latter, haughty at being supplanted by an unscientific old lady, had given notice, but John Henry was not worried. He knew it would be easy to replace her. Only Grandma Biddle was essential to success.
During the week preceding Christmas, when frantic women were combing the department stores, the business of the inn touched capacity. Strangely enough, there was no after-the-holidays lull. Tom and Mabel Cooper brought their pair of whirlwind terrors in for a two weeks' stay. They were going to New York, they announced, on what they proposed to make an annual honeymoon.
"Well, John Henry," Cooper said, "you've put it over. I knew you could if you just hit the right note. But where in the world did you find Grandma Biddle?"
"The Lord sent her to me," smiled John Henry.
"Lucky lad!" said Cooper.
When John Henry met Myra Dalton, as he frequently did, she did not need to ask how his venture was going. Its success was written in his face. She grew sweeter with every passing day, he told himself, and eagerly studied his profits, longing for the moment when he should be her equal at the bank and could ask her to give up that weekly pay envelope and accept him in its place.
He never realized so completely his success as the day he met Mr. Camby at the luncheon hour in the leading hotel. Mr. Camby seized his hand with vigor, and his admiration was not concealed.
"Congratulations!" he cried. "You've made good, and no mistake! But then I always said you would."
"So you did," laughed John Henry. "By the way, we entertained a couple of your grandchildren the other day."
"I know you did, and they've been teasing ever since to come back. My wife is actually jealous of Grandma Biddle. She tried to bake some cookies herself, but they didn't come through very well."
"In a way," said Mr. Camby, I'm sorry you've put the inn over. I was sort of hoping we'd get you back some day. No hope of that, I suppose?"
"Well, hardly," John Henry told him.
"No, I suppose not." Mr. Camby seemed crestfallen. "Well, all the luck in the world, my boy."
He went on his way. John Henry smiled at his broad back. Camby was a worshiper of success.
If he had failed there would have been none of this warm eagerness to have him return to the Phœnix agency. And how close he had been to failing!
But he was far from it now. The January business at the inn was splendid. John Henry had an opportunity to acquire a secondhand automobile, and he took a step he had been contemplating for some time. It was not always convenient for parents to escort their little ones to the door of the inn.
Then, too, there was the problem of getting the older guests to and from school. So these lines were added to the advertising.
Our Motor Bus Goes Into Commission on Monday
Driven by a Careful, Competent Man
Children Called for and Delivered
On the first of March John Henry sat in his office computing his February profits. He had cleared more than six hundred dollars, and this in the shortest month of the year! Half to Grandma Biddle, half to himself—and what did that mean? It meant that, financially, he was Myra Dalton's equal at last; that he could go to her and ask her to give up her job for John Henry Jackson!
He called her up and invited her to dinner. She graciously accepted. This was the moment of John Henry's triumph, and he was enjoying it to the full. As an afterthought, he wrote a check for half the profits and, hunting up Grandma Biddle, laid it before her.
"What's all this?" she asked, studying it through her spectacles.
"Your profits for last month—that's all it is. Of course we ought to hold 'em to the end of the year, but I thought perhaps you'd feel safer——"
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Grandma Biddle, handing back the check. "I don't want it! The salary you pay me is enough. And besides——"
She stopped and looked at him queerly.
"I never was much of a fibber," went on the old lady. "But then—it wasn't a fib, as I remember. I said the money was the savings of a lifetime, but I didn't say whose lifetime."
"You mean that twenty-five hundred wasn't yours?"
"Land sakes, of course it wasn't mine!"
"Then whose was it?"
"You got to find that out yourself. I've said too much already. I'm afraid she won't like it."
"She!" John Henry went back to his desk and for a long time sat lost in thought. "She?" Who was his silent partner in this enterprise? For the first time he realized how pat, how opportune, was Grandma Biddle's appearance with twenty-five hundred dollars on the day after he had called up Mr. Camby and offered him a half interest in the Children's Inn for precisely that sum.
Camby hadn't sent her. Some mysterious she—John Henry's heart sank. Loving a business woman was a good deal of an undertaking.
He tore up the check made out to Grandma Biddle and wrote another. Fifteen minutes later he strode into the office of the Phœnix Advertising Agency and up to Myra Dalton's desk. He laid the check before her.
"What's this?" she asked innocently.
"That," said John Henry, "represents your profits on the Children's Inn for the month of February. You're half owner, you know—or is it news to you?"
"Then Grandma Biddle's told!"
"Not precisely. She put me on the track, however, and I'm glad she did. It would have been too bad to let me go on thinking that my brains had put this thing over when all the time it was you."
"John Henry, don't be absurd! I did send Grandma Biddle to you—that's true. I used to know her down in Berea, and I thought of her merely as a means of getting my money to you—of helping you. I never dreamed that you could write such wonderful advertising around her, that you could change the whole course of your business from failure to success. It was your man's brains did that, John Henry—real advertising brains. Mr. Camby said so himself."
John Henry smiled.
"You're kidding me," he said. "But I sort of like it."
"Oh, no, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that all the time I thought I was getting ahead of you you were pulling along right at my side, and I never knew it. But, by golly, I'm not licked yet!"
It was five o'clock; the office force was leaving.
"Will you wait here till I come back?"
John Henry's partner in the inn smiled and nodded.
"I'll wait," she said.
The door of Camby's office stood open, and John Henry passed on into the great man's room.
Mr. Camby was in the act of putting on his overcoat. He gave it one final shake about his portly form and came forward, all smiles.
"Hello, John Henry, this is an honor! How's the inn?"
"Booming as usual," said John Henry. "Mr. Camby, I'd like to ask your advice about something."
"Certainly, my boy, certainly!"
"The fact is," John Henry went on, " I'm not needed at the inn any more. The staff I have there can more than manage things. A little attention to advertising and accounts—say, an hour's work each evening or a full Saturday afternoon—will take care of my end of it. I feel in the way there during the day—just sit in my office and read newspapers. So I'm looking about for more worlds to conquer. I'm going to start other inns later, but the time isn't propitious. So I've been thinking of setting up for myself—an advertising agency, you know."
Mr. Camby came quickly over and laid a hand on John Henry's shoulder. He seemed hurt.
"My boy, why do that? You know we want you here. I'll start you at a hundred a week."
"Yes, but I rather like being my own master."
"Make it five hundred a month. And all the time you need for the inn you can take off, and welcome. Come, what do you say?"
"All right, I'll try it. When do I start?"
"Suits me," smiled John Henry.
Mr. Camby took down his hat, and the two left the inner office together. John Henry stopped at Myra Dalton's desk. His hour of triumph had come! He waited until the door closed behind Mr. Camby. The two were alone.
"Well, Myra," said John Henry, "I'm coming here to work next Monday—at a big advance. Of course I'll still handle things at the inn. I can do that nights. This is a big moment for me. At last I'm making more money than you are, counting the inn and everything."
"Money!" she said. "What does money matter?"
"It matters a lot these days. Besides, I had my pride. I couldn't come to you and offer you a share in an income smaller than yours; but that's all fixed now, so I want to tell you that I—er—love you. When will you marry me, honey?"
He waited for her to stand up so he could take her in his arms. Instead she leaned over her desk and burst into bitter tears.
"Why, wha—what's the matter?" John Henry asked. Somehow the thing wasn't going right.
"Matter!" she sobbed. "Has any girl ever had such an unsatisfactory courtship? Money, money, money! Is there nothing else in the world any more? What do I care about money? You've never once told me I'm the dearest girl that ever lived. You've never once said you worship the very ground I walk on My hair—boys have told me I have beautiful hair. Have you ever noticed it? Do you miss me when we're separated? Do you——"
"But, Myra, I thought all that sort of thing had gone out of fashion!" John Henry cried. "You've always seemed so efficient, so businesslike——"
"You poor blind thing! Can't you see, I'm really just an old-fashioned woman—and I want to be loved—I want to be loved by a human being—not by a business man."
"All right," said John Henry, "I can love you that way, too, if you prefer it."
"You! Don't be foolish, John Henry! You haven't got a spark of romance in you! Now, please go away!"
"Then you won't marry me?
"Marry you! I'd as soon marry a certified check!"
"Oh!" said John Henry.
He looked so dazed and woebegone that she smiled up at him through her tears. "On second thought," she said, "I'll give you a trial—a six months' trial. But you'll have to show speed as a lover you've never shown before. You must tell me daily that you can't live without me. You must say it as though you meant it. You must talk about the moon and the poets and my eyes like twin pools of light, and—and if you mention money once in that time I'll run away and you'll never see me again. Is it a go?"
"Anything you say, honey, replied John Henry humbly. "I have been a mighty poor excuse in the Romeo rô1e, I know. Please don't put those silly spectacles on again—your eyes are wonderful. I was thinking of them only this afternoon, when I should have been figuring up—I mean, all at once I seemed to be looking into them, and it was thrilling! Now, we're going to dinner, and afterwards we'll walk home together—just you and I and the stars." He got down on his knees on the dusty floor.
"Walk over me," he said. "I deserve it. Darling, I've got to make you understand how much I care. Of all the girls since the world began, you are the sweetest, the most precious."
"Not so bad, for a beginner,' smiled Myra Dalton. "But can you keep it up for six months?"
"Forever!" he cried.
Still on his knees, he seized her hand and kissed it. Mrs. Grogan, the cleaner, who entered at that moment to do the office, said afterwards that it was as good as the movies.