The High Calling/Chapter 10
FELIX BAUER sat at his bench in the electrical machine shop at Burrton just about to open a letter which had been left there late in the afternoon. The shop men sometimes brought one another's mail up from the village and Bauer, who often worked at his task without going out to tea, was glad to get his occasional letters before he finished his bench work late into the night.
Bauer's mail was not very frequent nor very heavy. After that vacation at the Douglas home, he had come back to Burrton and plunged into the work in a vain endeavour to forget Helen Douglas. He did not forget her in the least and did not try to pretend that he ever could. He had never ventured to ask if he might write to her, but Mrs. Douglas had dropped a friendly note now and then for which he was grateful and Paul had sent him a copy of Heine, which Bauer had admired on the library shelves at Milton.
The only additional letters he received were those which belonged to his correspondence with the people in Washington who were interested in his electrical patent. The circular glass incubator was finally completed, and Bauer had experimented on it to such satisfaction that it was a common joke with the boy that Bauer's electrical chickens were so thick they ate up all the currents in the shop.
Bauer could afford to take all the criticism, even the caustic remarks of Anderson the foreman, because it began to look now very much as if the stubborn, dogged, plodding German were on the road to financial success. He had been through the regular struggles necessary to make his model and get his patent. But he had finally succeeded in all the preliminary stages, his model was in the patent office, and he had even begun to receive letters from two or three manufacturing firms about putting the incubator on the market.
He was totally inexperienced in this business and needed much counsel from older heads. Anderson the foreman finally saw that Bauer had really invented a very valuable article and he came to his assistance in the final correspondence over the patent, but Bauer had some reluctance about sharing with him the correspondence over the actual manufacture and sale of the incubators, because of Anderson's unfortunate habit of antagonising the shop men in various matters. He had never been able to overcome a general distrust on the part of the students, and Bauer shared that distrust so keenly that he did not feel willing to risk any great amount of confidence in him.
Since his return from Milton, Bauer had brooded over money matters. A small inheritance from his grandfather's estate in Lausbrachen had helped him through school, and his living wants were so few that he had not suffered any from privations which most of the rich men's sons at Burrton would have considered absolutely impossible.
But a new and unknown ambition had invaded Bauer's hitherto placid and somewhat passive soul since Helen Douglas had come into his circle of interest. What was it the girl had said during that talk in the library that day when she had made a vow not to speak first and had broken it? Bauer remembered every phase of that incident; the girl's real sparkle of interest in his invention; her eager questions; her coming up to the library table and bending over Bauer's plan; her head so close to his that a stray curl of her hair had almost touched his cheek; her startled drawing back at Bauer's solemn remark about the eggs having to be good before they could hatch; her frank but entirely innocent questioning of him about his home life, and how she unknowingly hurt him; her swift realisation of something wrong and her tactful change of conversation; and then her remark about the power of money when she had asked Bauer about the possibility of his becoming rich. The girl's enthusiasm, her perfect physical animal health, her smile, her unquestioned interest in his work, her ingenuous and pure joy in life,--all affected poor Bauer so deeply that he felt as if he were walking through an apple orchard in full bloom, his feet pressing through fragrant red clover, and the apple blossom petals floating down gently, caressing his face and hands, the sky a robin egg blue and the air elixir of heaven--and then, he was suddenly recalled to the plain, dusty, weed-bordered road he was actually travelling, he, Felix Bauer, German, poor, homely, with a dishonoured family history, with no prospects worth considering and no future worth dreaming over. And the road became very dusty, and the weeds very coarse, and the sky very grey and the air very heavy for Bauer, as Helen went out of the library and left him there staring intently at the place where she had been and recalling what she had said about money.
After all, money was the great power of the world. It could buy anything, even a wife, even in these modern times. But could it buy love? Had it ever bought so divine a thing as that since the foundation of the world?
Bauer's question did not go much farther. Somehow he shrank from trying to answer it. But he brooded over the utter hopelessness of his thought of Helen as he stood, penniless and obscure, and dishonoured, as he believed, through the sin of his parents. And as his patent grew under his hands and the possibility of his really making money from it became more possible, he found himself growing possessed with the "auri fames" and nourishing it as if it were the one indispensable factor in his final possession of the one being in the whole world worth living for. He believed he could never win such a life without money. There might be some hope for him or any man with it.
The letter which he was about to open bore the Washington postmark and he took for granted it was from someone interested in the purchase of his patent rights. He opened it in his usual slow deliberate manner, but the moment he began to read his whole manner changed. It was as if one had opened a cage door to take a pet bird in his hand suddenly to find his fingers in contact with a snake.
He rose from his bench so abruptly that his chair fell over, and he threw the letter down, eyeing it as if it were alive and dangerous to the touch. Then after a few seconds he picked up the letter and yielding to a very unusual passion tore the paper clear across, and threw the two pieces down on the bench. Then he seemed to be aware of yielding to an unusual outburst and picking up his chair he sat down.
There were only a few students in the shop. Walter had gone out an hour before. It was almost seven o'clock and the foreman was just going out of his little office room at the other end of Bauer's section of benches.
Bauer sat there until the foreman had gone out and then he picked up the two pieces of the letter and with a flush of colour on his face as unusual as his recent outburst of feeling, he slowly read. The handwriting was very peculiar even for German script and the tearing of the letter in two made its intelligent perusal doubly difficult.
When he reached the end he hesitated and at last put the two pieces of the letter into its envelope and the envelope in his pocket and then he sat staring at the stuff on his bench with a hard look in which scorn and shame and perplexity were mingled. He sat there until he was all alone. Then he got up and tried to go on with his work. He was on the track of another invention,--a spring coil to prevent the jar to a tungsten lamp. But after picking up a tool and making one or two efforts to continue his task, he threw his material down on the bench and after a moment of indecision closed up the locker, put on his coat and went out.
He and Walter had rooms opposite each other in the same hall. As he went up to the landing he stopped at Walter's door and finding it open, went in. Walter was writing to his father. Bauer waited until he was through and then in his usual direct simple manner said:
"Walter, I want your advice. I'm in a hard place and I don't know just what I ought to do."
"All right. Fire away," said Walter frankly. The friendship of the two was now on a perfect basis and Bauer had lost all reserve although he had never up to this time taken Walter into complete confidence in his family matters, partly owing to an honest feeling of independence and a courageous reluctance to burden Walter with it.
"I want to read you a letter from my father," said Bauer, eyeing Walter wistfully.
Walter nodded, and Bauer took out the letter and read in his slow almost stammering fashion.
"Washington, D. C., "October 5, 1909.
"Undoubtedly this letter will cause you surprise. It is only after much painful contemplation of all the facts that I venture to send you this communication. It is not an easy matter for myself after the experiences through which I have passed to approach you with a proposition which may seem altogether impossible to you. Before you judge me, hear me. Whatever may have been the mistakes I have made you have never been involved in them in any way, and I am writing you now to assure you of my real affection for you and to hasten to dispel any ill will you may have for me on account of the deep shadow which has fallen on my life.
"I am living here in Washington and have opened a law office on H street. A few days ago I had occasion to go to the patent office and there I saw your model of the electric incubator. There were two men standing there looking at the model and I overheard one of them saying, 'That thing is good for a fortune to someone.' I learned by inquiry that the speaker was Halstead of the manufacturing firm of Halstead, Burns & Co. He does not know me, and I am sure he did not see me or notice me while he was in the patent office.
"Now what I am writing you for is simply this. If you will put the business of this patent into my hands, I am confident I can manage it for you to your satisfaction. I am confident you have made a very valuable invention and it ought to bring you a good sum of money. I am willing to do all the work of negotiating between you and the parties interested and charge you only a fair price for my services. As you know, I have had some experience in business affairs and I am not without ability. There will be two offers made you no doubt, one to buy your patent outright, and the other to contract for a share of the manufactured sales. In the first case a lump sum would be offered. In the other you would be obliged to wait a long time for any returns. I would be inclined to favour the sale of the patent rights and hold to a stiff price. But that is a matter for deliberation. You may not agree with me. However, very much would depend on the amount the patent right could bring. If this man Halstead, who is one of the largest manufacturers in the east, is right in his judgment it is possible the sum he will offer you would decide the matter for you and give you a sum of ready money which I have no doubt you could well use in your education.
"I do not offer any apologies for this missive as I do not consider that it calls for any. My offer is purely a business one and I make it partly on my own account as well as yours. If the patent turns out a success we would both benefit by it. I am confident, as I say, that I can serve your interests better than any mere stranger. I am here on the ground, I am familiar with the patent laws and I believe I can make good terms with a man like Halstead. If you decide to accept my offer, write me at once, giving me authority to act for you. The sooner the better, for I believe Halstead is going to make you an offer if he has not already done so. But he does not know that anyone knows what he really thinks of the value of your work and he will do what they all do, try to get your patent for the lowest possible figure.
"My address is 427 H Street East.
When Felix had finished reading, there was a moment of silence. Then Walter said, to give Bauer time to let him into his confidence if he chose:
"Has this man Halstead corresponded with you yet?"
"No, I have had no letters from him."
"You probably will hear from him soon, then?"
"Why, yes, if what he says is true?"
Bauer all through this talk with Walter never mentioned his father's name directly but spoke of him using the personal pronoun.
"What do you suppose the patent is worth?"
"I have no imagination about it. But say, Walter, what do you think I ought to do about this letter?"
"I don't know. You have never told me----" Walter began slowly.
"I know, of course you can't advise me unless I tell you more. He--well, he deserted mother. She was involved in some similar disgrace. From all I could learn while in Washington that time I went, he turned over all his property to her. That was the only redeeming thing abut the wretched business. But at any rate he has been obliged to go back to his old law business. He is very capable. Brilliant. My mother--I can't talk of her."
Poor Bauer put his face in his hands. Walter was silent. What could anyone say?
After a little, Walter said gently, "Why do you hesitate about accepting your father's offer?"
"I don't wish to be under any obligations to him."
"But he makes you a purely business proposition. Can't you trust him to handle it?"
"Oh, I suppose so, I never knew of his being dishonest. And you know the old proverb: 'Wer lugt, der stiehlt auch'; 'show me a liar and I'll show you a thief.' His faults were always of a different sort. But you can see how I would naturally hesitate to correspond with him or have any dealings with him."
"I think you are wrong about that," said Walter positively. "This is a purely business affair. You ought to treat it as such. He can handle the matter for you, being on the ground, far better than you can do it through correspondence at this distance."
"Do you think so?"
"I know it. If I were in your place I wouldn't hesitate a minute. You are totally at the mercy of the manufacturers unless you can make them understand your ability to take care of yourself. Isn't it true that the great majority of inventors die poor? The manufacturers make the money, not the inventors."
"That's true. But I don't want to die poor. I won't die poor. I have not the ambition of a Carnegie or a Rockefeller."
"You need a good friend at Washington to protect your interests. My! Won't it be great if your incubator should make you rich! I don't know why it shouldn't. The way the chickens hatched out of it was wonderful. Just think, old man. Most everyone nowadays has electricity in his house. Thousands of people could just as well as not be raising chickens on the side. Ministers, doctors, college professors, newspaper men, lawyers, school teachers,--no end. The sun would never set on your incubator any more than hens have to. I tell you, old man, there's money in your electric birds if you manage the business end of this thing right. And I don't see why your father's offer isn't just--well, providential."
"I never knew anything about him to be 'providential,'" said Bauer in almost the only bitter tone Walter had ever known him to use. "But I don't want to take any chances on this. Perhaps he is sent along at this time to help me out."
Walter looked curiously at his friend.
"You seem to be awfully anxious to make money, Felix. Never knew you that way before. What you going to do? Get married? And start a chicken ranch?"
Over Bauer's face a great flood of colour swept. There was one confidence he had determined never to make to Walter, and that was his feelings towards Helen. He believed Walter had no hint of it. And as a matter of fact that was true. Walter had so far had no love experiences and Bauer had never by so much as a look or a word in Walter's presence betrayed his secret.
"I don't expect to get married. At least not very soon," Bauer managed to say. "But I want money. You can borrow of me," he added with one of his rare smiles, "if you need it for your own nuptials."
"No immediate need," said Walter, laughing. "I have never seen the girl my mother would like to welcome."
"Ah! Your mother. But she would be kind to the girl you would choose."
"Or the one that would choose me, you mean. I don't know. Mother would be pretty particular about the people that got into the Douglas family. Did I ever mention old man Damon who came around courting Helen last winter. He wears a wig and deals in rubber goods. Old enough to be Helen's father. I never saw mother so upset. And as for Helen--why--I would as soon think of her taking you for a suitor as Damon. But you never can tell what a girl will do. They generally do the opposite of what you expect."
Bauer managed to say--"That's fortunate for some of us perhaps. Else there might be no hope for unfortunate and homely people if there was any fixed rules by which girls acted."
Walter stared at Bauer as he sometimes had to when Bauer opened his philosophy unexpectedly.
"I wonder what will happen to you, old man, when you fall in love, really and deeply?"
"I wonder," said Bauer softly.
"It will be interesting to watch you," said Walter laughing.
"Same to you," said Bauer with some spirit.
"We can watch each other," Walter continued.
"I have no doubt you will bear watching," was Bauer's reply, wrung from him by the tense situation.
Walter roared, and did not venture to say any more on that subject. But he went on to urge Bauer to answer his father's letter at once and give him power of attorney to act for him and make the best possible terms for his invention. Bauer promised before he left the room to do so, and on reaching his own room he at once set to work on the difficult business of answering his father on purely business grounds. Without making any definite promises or giving his father any authority to act for him, with characteristic caution he asked several questions about the patent laws, and especially about the possibility of undertaking the manufacture of the incubators on shares. He enclosed the letters he already had received from companies interested, none of which however had made him any positive offer, only sounding him in general as to his disposition to sell the patent rights on certain terms which had no very promising prospects of ready money. And it was money Bauer wanted,--not dim future prospects of the all-powerful medium of happiness or unhappiness.
After his letter had been mailed, he felt a little uncertain about it all, but he was of a direct, straight-forward habit and once started in a course of action he seldom changed it. Once committed to the correspondence with his father he would hold to it, keeping it all on a cold business basis as if his father had no other relation to him, and letting the heartache take care of itself. It is astonishing how many heartaches do take care of themselves in this old world. Only, like Bauer's, they are apt to take care of themselves so poorly that the ache starves the heart out of house and home.
Two days later, Walter, who was in his room going over some complicated formulae connected with Rausch's Dynamics, was interrupted by Bauer who came running in from his room across the hall waving a little slip of paper.
"What do you think of that," he exclaimed with unusual excitement.
Walter looked at the little yellow slip and read "One Thousand Dollars payable to Felix Bauer by Halstead, Burns & Co., of Washington."
"They offer me that for my patent right, with a small percentage of profit on certain sales."
Walter was excited in his turn and started to offer congratulations. But Bauer's next words broke in on him.
"I'm going to send the check back. It's not enough and they know it."
"I believe you're right," said Walter, after a stare at Bauer in this new light of money hunger. "The fact that they sent a check shows their eagerness to get into the business and their faith in its value. What will you hold them up to?"
"I don't know. But I am going to put the matter up to--to him."
"You mean your father?"
"Yes," said Bauer hastily. "The more I think of it the more I believe he can get more than I can. I'll mail him Halstead's correspondence."
That same afternoon Bauer returned the check to Halstead, Burns, & Co. with a brief business note saying that he was not prepared to sell out at such a small figure. He added that he had placed the business connected with the patent in the hands of his father, giving street number and office. In the same mail he sent his father Halstead's letter and told of his return of the check, at the same time authorising his father to have full power to act for him with Halstead or any other firm.
"I do not know just what I ought to receive for my patent." Bauer wrote. "But I am not going to act hastily nor sell at a sacrifice. I trust you to make terms that will at least be some measure of the real value of the article."
A week passed by during which time Bauer's father wrote acknowledging Bauer's letters, thanking him for accepting his offer, commending his action in returning the check to Halstead, Burns & Co., and assuring Felix that the business would receive prompt and careful attention.
A week later as Walter and Bauer were in the shop a telegraph messenger came in with an envelope for Felix Bauer.
Bauer opened and read and without a word passed the message over to Walter. It read, "Halstead offers $5,000 cash down and percentage on American sales. Shall I close with offer? Adolph Bauer."
Walter could hardly speak--he was so excited.
"Better close with it. You can't do better. That father of yours must be a------"
Bauer smiled faintly. "Perhaps I can't expect more. I believe I will wire accept."
"Better find out what the percentage is, and why European sales are not included."
"Yes," said Bauer briefly. He was strangely calm and not particularly overjoyed by his unexpected good fortune. Walter recalled that afterwards.
He answered the telegram with a letter, asking for details which his father furnished promptly. The European sales were subject to such expense and delay that the manufacturers explained the unusual risk and made a plausible showing why royalty terms were difficult to arrange. After two weeks correspondence, Bauer finally telegraphed his father-- "You are authorised to close with Halstead on their terms. Take your commission out of the $5,000."
By the business arrangements made between them Bauer's father was to receive five per cent on any cash offer. Bauer felt kindly towards him for the way the affair had come out and in a letter written the same day he sent the telegram he authorised his father to take out ten per cent commission instead of the five agreed upon in their formal contract.
"I don't want to get too money mad," he said to himself with a grim smile as he posted the letter, and with a great feeling of weariness upon him went into the shop.
Felix Bauer was one of the few students at Burrton who never subscribed to a daily paper and seldom read one. He kept up with the news of the world by dropping into Walter's room and hearing him dribble out the events of the day from a New York daily which Walter took. The edition reached Burrton eight hours after the date line.
Three days after Bauer had authorised his father to close the contract on the patent for him Walter opened up his New York Daily for his usual skim over its contents. It was two o'clock. He had heard Bauer come up the stairs and go into his room and had not heard him go out.
He glanced down over the usual political and sporting news and then his eye caught a headline that made him start.
"LEAVES ON THE KAISER WILHELM UNDER SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES."
"Adolph Bauer, ex-attache of the Consular service, sailed yesterday on the Kaiser Wilhelm for Bremen. Bauer will be remembered as the brilliant but shady member of the Washington coterie of unsavory reputation in connection with the Jaynes-Buford scandal. Before sailing, Bauer cashed a check for $5,000 on Halstead, Burns & Co., payment it is said on a patent right owned by himself and son for a new invention in the incubator line. The son is a student at Burrton Electrical School. There is no charge of crookedness at the bank. The check had the regular endorsement of Halstead. But parties who are interested in Bauer's movements socially, have taken steps to track him to Europe. Interesting developments are promised by those who know Bauer's antecedents and especially his treatment of his wife from whom he is separated pending a divorce."
Walter was tremendously downcast by this bit of news.
"Poor Bauer! Poor old man!" he said over and over. "What an unmitigated rascal that father of his must be to steal that money. Bauer will never get a cent. And I advised him to take up with his precious father's offer! But how could I foresee a thing as black as this. Oh, I don't know what I ought to do! How can I tell him! I can't do it! But he will find it out in a day or two! It can't be kept. Blame it! Why are there such things in the old world! And Bauer has been so eager to get money lately. Oh, I can't tell him! I just can't."
Walter paced his room in great agitation. He dreaded to see Bauer. How could he break this to him? He dreaded to see his friend come out of the room. And he waited. But after an hour, Bauer had made no move and Walter, recalling his strength of character and mindful that the news would have to come to him some time, finally shook himself together, went out, crossed the hall and knocked on Bauer's door.
The knock was a faint one and there was no reply. He knocked again a little louder, and getting no answer, he did what he often did, opened and went in.
Bauer was standing over by his washbowl, leaning over and as he raised his head and turned around, Walter was startled at the look that greeted him.
"What!" He took a stride over to his friend and put one hand on his shoulder. In the other hand he held the New York paper.
Bauer smiled back at him.
"I was going to tell you. It's too much bother to hide it. But this hemorrhage is worse than the others. I've been to see the doctor and he says I'll come out all right if I can get into the painted desert and stay there a year or two."
Walter stared at Bauer without a word.
The paper slipped out of his fingers, and he was hardly conscious of the fact that Bauer had stepped on it as he had walked over to his couch to lie down there.
"You see," he said, lying on his back, looking up at Walter and speaking in his usual slow fashion, "I've only had the flow three times. First time I never minded it. Next one took me three weeks ago while you were gone to the Harrisburg Exhibition. The doctor says I will come out all right if I go out there. My money will come in a day or two and I'll start for Canyon Diablo. I ought to have a pretty good time on $4,500. Living is cheap in the painted desert. And any way, 'Wir mussen alie einmal sterben?' 'We must all die sometime,' you know."
Walter's eyes travelled from Bauer's face to the newspaper on the floor and back again. And Bauer mistaking his look said, "Don't take it so hard. It might be worse. Money salves the wound you know. Perhaps you can go out with me for a few weeks. Can you? Of course I'll foot all the bills if you'll go." And he smiled at Walter as he spoke.