The Red Book Magazine/Volume 33/Number 3/The Man Who Sold Himself

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The Man Who Sold Himself (1919)
by Peter Clark MacFarlane
4078148The Man Who Sold Himself1919Peter Clark MacFarlane

TAKE it by and large and both ways from the middle,” said the old man, “this milk of human kindness business can be made to pay. For instance, there's the case of Charley—”



Illustrated by J. J. GOULD

GOOD mornin', gentlemen!”

A young man of medium height and symmetrical figure, with the tan of hot suns upon his cheek, and the soft, Southern drawl upon his words, had delivered the salutation. The brothers Marcy looked up sharply, annoyed that a stranger should have slipped past the outer guard of clerks and bookkeepers and through the entanglements of glass partitions, even though the said stranger addressed them with the agreeable assurance of the gentleman born.

“What can I do for you?”

This inquiry was coldly propounded by Jim, the elder and taller Marcy, a person with long hooked beak, thin lips and a congealing eye, whose age was somewhere in the late thirties.

“Lookin' for a job, suh!” smiled the young man, and it was obviously of no use for Jim to turn loose the battery of his frowns against that smile.

“What's your your name?”

The interrogation was contributed by the younger and shorter Marcy, Joe, to whom Nature had also dealt a nose that curved, lips that adhered closely and an eye that was like the glitter of an ice-ship.

“Charles Clemens—of Texas, suh!” responded the petitioner, his smile still more irresistible.

The sour, cold Marcys looked up and down this strange young man of sunny nature, evaluating his personal assets swiftly. They noted the full, liquid eye, the olive skin, the frank, open features and the youthful contour of a well-knit frame. Neither was it lost upon them that the stiffness of the short-cropped stubble upon his upper lip indicated a certain maturity, nor that the appealing light in the eye was not without its gleam of shrewdness.

“Ever buy wheat?” inquired Jim Marcy with awakening interest.

“Reckon I can, if you-all give me money enough. Reckon it aint so different from buyin' cotton,” purled Mr. Clemens of Texas in that soft, well-bred voice of his.

“Ever sold flour?” speculated Joe Marcy, for his was the selling end.

“Sold a right smart of cotton-seed meal, suh,” ventured the young man hopefully. “Allow I can sell anything you-all can make that's good enough to sell.” This sweeping assumption was accompanied by another ingratiating gleam of white teeth; then Mr. Clemens astutely gave the two brothers time to look him over further and to think.

Illustration: “What salary do you want?” “Evah cent you-all are willin' to pay me,” replied Charles with a playful smile and enlarging emphasis.

“What you been used to doing?” inquired Joe after a moment.

“Last job was cashier of the Short Cotton Bank of Elbridge, Texas,” replied Clemens, who had rolled and lighted a cigarette.

“Sure it wasn't a faro-bank?” demanded Jim Marcy with sudden harshness.

“Not so blamed sure!” laughed Charles with commendable candor and a reminiscent gleam. “But it certain'y didn't make any money for the dealuh!”

“That why you quit?” This was Joe Marcy's cut-in.

“Yes—just got plumb tired of handlin' other people's money. Allowed I'd come off up here and make some of my own.”

“Think the money's in flour?” Jim Marcy was an anxious soul, always seeking confirmation of his hopes.

“I had two guesses,” explained the Texan, blowing reflective rings. “'In a pinch, folks'll eat before they'll wear clothes,' I says to myself; so I took the trail for the wheat-country, pickin' Montana because I heard this was the fastest-growin' State, and the wheat industry was new here.”

“Got any notion of buying us out?” inquired Joe Marcy, partly in humor and partly because it was his turn to relieve the pent-up acid of his system.

“Not now, suh!” was the categorical reply.

“What salary do you want?” This was Jim Marcy's guarded query.

“Evah cent you-all are willin' to pay me,” replied Charles with a playful smile and enlarging emphasis. “I'm not a-goin' to exile myself permanently from the great State of Texas for no small change; but I'm willin' to try out for a month before we settle that, because when we come to fixin' the emoluments, I just naturally want to make sure that we fix 'em high enough.”

This was both fair enough, and fair warning. The Marcys exchanged glances of mutual assurance that they would not get the worst of the bargain whenever it was made.

“We'll let you break in on the buying end,” announced Jim.

“And after that, if you make good, we'll let you take a whirl at selling,” encouraged Joe.

“Sounds good to me!” confessed the young man as a sigh of satisfaction and relief pursed his lips, showing that after all, he had been under a certain strain. “I sure am ambidextrous when it comes to doin' business. It's just my natural talent, you might say.”

As Clemens delivered himself of this, it was not boastful speech; it was like the mere frank revelation of certain details his experience had discovered to himself. Joe tried weakly to throw on the brakes.

“No objections to furnishing a few references, I suppose?”

“No suh,” was the easy response. “I reckon I could mention the names of a few gentlemen who would probably be willin' to answer inquiries concernin' my standin' in that great empire of business—and politics.” With this the young man began casually to recall the names of the Governor, the two United States Senators, half a dozen Congressmen, some bank presidents, and cotton merchants, winding up with a few ranchers of princely possessions.

“Hold on!” said Joe Marcy, overwhelmed. “When do you want to go to work?”

“To-day.” replied Charles with an eager light in his “I'm powerful anxious to get started on these here new fortunes of mine.”

“But we don't know you. Suppose we sent you out on the road this afternoon. You might light out with our expense-money and leave a string of drafts behind you along the road.

Another of Jim Marcy's acidulous and untactful remarks, though it expressed an honest doubt that was in his mind.

“Why, sure, I might,” agreed Clemens quickly, but his tone was noncommittal and the coaxing light in his eyes was replaced by a glance that was straight and hard and seemed to say: “Don't (illegible text) courtesy too far, gentlemen—not too far.”

Both the Marcys felt that glance. Jim laughed immediately, an atmosphere-clearing burst of fake merriment, designed to make him feel that his doubts were all a joke.

“Go out to Simon the bookkeeper,” he directed. “Simmons will plan a route for you; and then you come in to me again, and I'll give you the names of the men to see at all these places, and tell you something about 'em.”

“Where do I find this here Mr. Simmons? inquired Charles.

The office-boy escorted Charles to Simmons desk, but meantime (illegible text) had summoned Simmons to Jim Marcy's presence by another route, where the custodian of facts and figures was instructed to consume all the time possible in making Mr. Clemens familiar with the physical geography of the wheat district. It was because Joe Marcy was already closeted with a stenographer, and making a selective draft from his list of prominent [persons], was shooting short, pithy telegrams at each, inviting reply at his own expense.

In the afternoon while Jim was strategically killing more time, [while he] primed Charles with human-element data for his trip, Joe was reading messages. One thing astonished his thrifty nature greatly. None of these replies came collect. It seemed as if the senders counted testifying for a former citizen of the Lone Star State a privilege for which they were willing to pay; and the gist of these communications, when stripped of the picturesque exuberance of the Texas literary style, was that Charles Clemens was a worthy young man of good lineage and considerable promise whose friends all wished him well.

“It's all right,” nodded Jim along about four o'clock, waving a sheaf of telegrams in his hand which Clemens was supposed not to see because his back was to the door—but which he did see because a framed photograph of a train of flour over Jim's desk acted as a mirror.

But the day in the office brought reassurance to the brothers in other ways. For one thing, it was astonishing how everybody in the place took to Charles. The brothers started out the day calling him Clemens; they finished it calling him Charley. Even the bookkeeper addressed him as Mr. Charles, while Marjorie Bryce, the auburn-haired and altogether charming stenographer, forgot her work and lifted dream-filled eyes whenever he came near. The next morning too, each Marcy, without taking his brother into his confidence, slipped down to the train to see Charles off.

“I like the darned fellah,” apologized Jim, slightly embarrassed at being caught.

“So do I,” admitted Joe, controlling surprise upon his own account. “Guess we know a good live bird when we see one, what?”

“'S what we do!” cackled Jim, slapping his brother on the back. They went to breakfast together and then proceeded to the office, where their behavior made it appear as if they had nothing to do but sit down and wait for word from Charles.

Illustration: “It's from him, and it's dated Spokane. Listen to this!” And Joe read: “'Make no new contracts. Consider plans increase capacity all possible.

But with that handsome, bland, convincing, sunshiny presence of yesterday gone, they had time to reflect in cold blood upon the rashness of that which they had done, and to grow uncomfortable. The degree of this discomfort was increased by the fact that for two days there came no message at all from Charles.

“Not much on the correspond!” grumbled Joe.

The very next mail, however, brought a sheaf of warehouse receipts and other memoranda of purchase, which showed that Charles had been reasonably busy, while the figures demonstrated that when he bought, he was more likely to shade the market than to go above it. The number of these receipts and memoranda of purchase increased surprisingly from day to day.

“Gosh!” ejaculated Jim, beginning to glow (a rare experience). “He's picked up more wheat in a week than I ever tied onto in a month.”

“Bought it better, too—considering,” vouchsafed Joe, studying the figures.

“Just as well, at least,” admitted Jim.

ANOTHER week went by with the enthusiasm of the brothers still climbing; and on the day that Charles was due to return, there came an assortment of odd and sundry packages, all addressed to him and each from a different part of the country he had just been covering. These included, among other samples from the generous outpourings of nature in Montana, a box of late peaches and one of early apples, some baskets of grapes and a mess of mountain trout in ice enough to refrigerate a whale.

“Looks like you'd been buying other things besides wheat,” commented Jim almost in disapproval as he watched Charles, coat off and silk shirt-sleeves rolled up, singing softly to himself as he ripped open boxes and passed fruit around till everybody in the plant clear down to the truckers must have had at least one grape or a bite of peach or apple.

“Buy, nothin'!” beamed Charles. “Mighty nice folks, heah in Montana.”

All this was rather incomprehensible to Jim, who had been accustomed to purchase wheat with faith in nothing but the buying power of money—in consequence of which his deals often left a bad taste in the mouth and sometimes left a heritage of two or three lawsuits.

All afternoon Clemens was downtown, hunting for things in stores, searching through catalogues and sending out merchandizing S.O.S.'s in various directions. The day following he was superintending the shipping of a peculiar kind of monkey-wrench to one man, an auger for a well-boring machine to another, and a whole new windmill to a third; and to a fourth went a part for an out-of-date automobile, to obtain which Charles had ransacked half the garages and service-departments in town.

About mid-afternoon of this second day, with both the Marcy brothers tagging him, the young man found time for some unhurried minutes in the stock of a small department-store while he searched for an unusual shade of worsted for the wife of a certain big farmer up the valley, in order that she might finish her knitting of a particular muffler for a particular sailor somewhere on the Atlantic. Jim Marcy had held in as long as possible.

“But you can't make a practice of wasting time doing all these things for people,” he broke out, exasperated.

“Shucks!” blushed Charles, sensing the rebuke. “That time don't amount to nothin', Mr. Marcy. I just do it when I'm restin'. Besides, when I see a man off his horse, I just naturally got to lope by and see if I can do anything for him.”

“How they come to tell you about wanting these things is what gets me!” confessed Jim. “I've made that trip for the last seven years, and I'm blessed if I ever found 'em wanting anything but money.”

“Well, now, aint that funny?” observed Charles, honestly nonplused.

“Besides,”—and Jim was critical again,—“I don't see how you had any time left to buy wheat.”

“Sho, now, Mistah Marcy!” objected Charles. “Buyin' wheat don't take no time at all, scarcely. “I just spend a couple of hours visitin' with one of them big farmers, gettin' acquainted with his family and lookin' his stock over, and then maybe in the last few minutes, while I'm tellin' him good-by, or he's rushin' me to catch a train, why, he comes round to pricin' his wheat to me, and I take it—favor to him and favor to me, don't you see?”

JIM listened glumly. He did not see, and later expressed his doubts to his brother.

“That's the Texas in him,” decided Joe. “Just warms up to 'em by first intention. There's none of that in our Cape Cod constitution.” And then he added: “I'm awfully anxious to try him out on selling.”

“You can have him for just two weeks,” agreed Jim. “And then I've got something else in mind.”

“Two weeks is a plenty to decide whether I'll ever let you get him back,” taunted Joe. “If he sells as easy as he buys, there isn't wheat enough in the Valley to run us.”

“Seems as if we ought to get that salary matter fixed up when he goes out,” reflected Jim. “He's going to prove an invaluable man for us, and he's likely to reason it out and get his ideas up.”

“Yes, we ought,” said Joe earnestly. But before the two owners could get around to take the matter up with Charles, he with his accustomed directness, had taken the matter up with them. His face was pleasantly aglow with beaming complaisance as he broached the subject.

“Told you-all I was sort of ambidextrous in a business way,” he began with an amused light in his eyes. “And now that we've sort of got acquainted, 'pears to me I'd like to buy into the business.

You could have knocked Joe Marcy down with a grain (illegible text) hard.

“Just what I was afraid of,” Jim's startled eyes whispered to his brother's.

Both men grew instantly stubborn. Give up a share? Give one shingle of this mill to a stranger, when their own hold of it was still so precarious? Never! That was their first reaction. But they had other reactions, and in the meantime Jim had stalled.

“I'm afraid we couldn't take care of you in that way, Charley,” he hemmed. “The old man sits pretty tight. It was only last year that he let me and Joe have a hundred shares each; then he made us put up cash for every dollar of it—ten thousand dollars apiece.”

CHARLES, as frequently, was absorbed in rolling a cigarette,—not that he was a heavy smoker, but the cigarette was a sort of graceful gesture with him—and he listened politely to Jim's objection, but without much show of concern.

“But we'll see what we can do,” volunteered Joe, made somehow anxious by this air of indifference on the young man. “How much money have you to invest, Clemens?”

“'Bout sixty-five hundred,” Charles remarked reflective)

“That would get you sixty-five shares,” calculated Jim, ready to be reconciled, since the amount was no more, “perhaps the old man would let you in.”

But Charles shook his head—decisively. His eyes were with the task of his fingers at the time, but it seemed as if with that headshake he shook himself right out of the employ and concerns of the Adams Milling Company.

“I wouldn't scarcely feel like throwin' myself in, gentlemen, unless I was on an even footin' with you-all as to stock-holdin',” Charles announced.

An even footing? Worse and worse!

“What do you say, Joe?” inquired Jim, temporarily passing the buck, as they say sometimes both in Texas and Montana.

Joe went to bat at once by inquiring bluntly: “How do you expect to pay for one hundred shares if you've only got sixty-five hundred dollars?”

“I can live tol'able cheap,” reflected Charles, wetting with a bland red tongue the lip of the cigarette wrapper and completing the roll. “Suppose you-all let me draw out two hundred per, I'll let my salary for a year pay out on the balance.”

Jim Marcy made figures on the edge of a desk blotter, his long lip curled unpleasantly.

“That's allowing you fifty-nine hundred dollars a year for your services,” he reported, and there was an unpleasant note in voice.

“About that,” confessed Charles, as with a shuttered eyes, he made swift calculations.

“We only draw four thousand apiece, suggested Joe.

Charles became absorbed in his smoking, lids dropped like a mask, his manner an ultimatum. Joe Marcy fidgeted uneasily.

“I'd like to see how you come out out on the selling end,” he objected weakly, “before we agree to pay you what we get ourselves.”

“When you get me sellin', it's goin' to be powerful [back]stop,” intimated Charles. “'Pears to me like we better fix this thing up now, or else turn in our horses.”

This was an ultimatum in so many words, and yet the most unobjectionable ultimatum ever delivered.

Jim Marcy thought he saw a possible way around the ultimatum.

“I see your point, Charley,” he conceded. “We like your ambition, and we appreciate the compliment of your wanting to be our partner, but of course the final say isn't ours. We'll agree to get Mr Adams in here this afternoon and we'll take it up with him. We'll recommend it, and let you know what he says before to-night.”

"Perfectly satisfactory, gentlemen,” declared Charles with an expansive wave of the hand,

And then he went out to talk with the head miller, for his practical brain was beginning to develop an intelligent curiosity regarding the details of flour manufacture.

“The old man'll break it off to him,” speculated Joe, a trifle exultantly but also a trifle apprehensively.

“We must look out that he won't,” warned Jim. “We've got to hold this bird.”

“Sure, we've got to hold him,” assented Joe.

They lured Zachariah in from the fascinations of his royal principality, the Y-Six Ranch, by means of a telephone message so discreetly worded that it expressed urgency without betraying details. Driven at his usual breakneck pace by a Polack who was half cowboy and half chauffeur, Zachariah appeared at the office wearing a disgraceful linen duster which he immediately stripped off, revealing the old man's idea of a business suit—one tan linen shirt with attached collar, and a pair of belted, colorless overalls the bottoms of which were thrust into boots elaborately and scrollfully stitched [belts] to the tops, and furbished [as] to the heels with a pair of silver spurs.

The shirt was tieless and open at the throat, exposing a seamed and parboiled neck; the florid skin of the face, splotched and mottled, stretched tight over bones and wrinkling in the hollows, proclaimed one who had lived his life in the wide, wide open, where Nature's caress was sometimes far from gentle.

The old man stormed at the brothers for taking him away from his ranch on such short notice, then listened to their exposition with amazement and freshly kindling scorn.

“And this young feller, with no more references than the way he rolls a cigarette and a half-dozen telegrams from Texas, where people lie the easiest and the politest of any place in the world, comes in here one day, and you send him out to buy wheat the next; and in weeks more you want me to sell him a piece of the mill, eh?”

“Oh, but Mr. Adams,” argued Jim, made brash by the necessity of defending his own judgment, “there isn't a particle of doubt about the man. There can't be. He's genuineness itself.”

“That's perfectly true, Mr. Adams,” seconded Joe.

Zachariah snorted contemptuously; he thumped the desk and pressed himself in loud, peeved tones.

“Gosh dang it!” he exploded. 'Let me see this here young phenomenon. I can tell you in two minutes whether he's got free-millin' (illegible text) in him or not.”

They brought Charles in, smiling and holding out his hand. “Howdy, Mist' Adams!” he said.

The old fellow reached for the outstretched hand like a drowning man for a life-preserver, and then he turned upon the astonished brothers.

Illustration: “Didn't leave nothin', I suppose?” queried the old man presently. “Nothin' but a daughter, suh!”

“Oh, him? Why in Sam Hill didn't you say it was him?” And then he was at Charles again. “Looky here, you young dude!” he blustered. “Why didn't you say you was working for us? And don't you forget to tell old Hi Ellis, the next time you see him, that I'm sure much obliged for the pheasant-eggs.” Once more he was turning to the surprised Jim and Joe to explain: “I been tryin' all over Montana and clear into Washington to get some pheasant-eggs to set. Couldn't get 'em for money, and finally old Hi Ellis dug 'em up for love and sends 'em in by this hustlin' young thoroughbred that you boys are daffy about. But Charley! Why in the world didn't you tell me then that you was workin' for us?”

“Sho!” stammered Charles, who was always embarrassed by appreciation and now was actually blushing at such effusive gratitude. “There wasn't no use of tellin'; I just done that as a favor to Mr. Ellis.”

“But why aint you been out to see me any more? I got two fine litters of pigs to show you since you was there. The alfalfa's doin' fine; the calves are doin' fine; everything's doin' fine; and I never had a feller to talk to about it all that was half as enthusin' as you are. Doggone you young Indians, an old man like me gets lonesome—lonesome, do you know it? I set up there on my porch and look way across the bench-land and remember when I herded cattle across it thirty years ago; and I think, where are the hands I herded with?

“The valley's full of people now, but not one of 'em thinks of Zach Adams as anything but an old skinflint that's got more money and land than he knows what to do with, and they're all busy tryin' to pry a piece of it off of him. There aint any one of 'em remembers Zach when he was the niftiest hand in a hundred miles at a round-up or a dance—didn't matter which. Young and poplar I was in them days—yes, dang it, and good-lookin', if I do say it myself.”

JIM and Joe Marcy looked at each other in wonder.

“Shucks, now, Mist' Adams,” protested Charles in that soft Southern purr of his, “it's only two days since I was out to see you. Besides, I was 'lowin' to come out again before I took the road, anyhow.”

“See't you do,” glared the old man. “Don't never occur to these two young sprouts here that an old man might be lonesome,” he went on with a nod at Jim and Joe. “They're good boys, all right; they work hard; but they aint no heart in em. It takes heart in business, just the same as in love, if they could only find it out. Come out to-night, Charley, and set with me a spell.”

“I sure will come out this evenin', Mist' Adams, and any spare evenin's I've got when I'm in town.”

It occurred to Zachariah that this, while satisfactory, was mere iteration—that all were waiting for something else to be said, and he turned on the Marcys to say it with a half-hidden twinkle in his eye.

“So it took you two weeks to find out that you wanted this young fellow in the business, hey? Why, darn it, I could 'a' seen that the first time I looked at him. He can have the stock and his own time to pay for it in—except about the salary. He can't have no more'n you boys get, four thousand dollars a year—not until he demonstrates a little more. If he's fair, he'll reconsider on that p'int.”

Both brothers looked at Charles apprehensively, but Charles rose easily to the occasion.

“If you say it isn't fair, Mist' Adams, why, it isn't fair; that's all there is to that,” he conceded with a magnificent wave of his hand as he tossed off nineteen hundred dollars a year of the salary he had modestly fixed for himself.

“That's a man's way of takin' it,” beamed old Zach. “Never knew a good getter yet that wasn't a good giver. It'll come back to you, my son, if you've got the goods, and me and the boys figure that you have. And say? You're goin' to be weavin' over the State a good deal. I wonder couldn't you find old Josh Whipple for me.”

There was a subtle change in the old man's voice and expression as he brought out the name, and Charles, swift discerner of the moods of men, became instantly all gravity and sympathetic attention as he responded:

“I certain'y would try, suh, if you'd tell me who Mr. Whipple is and ow to go about to look for him.”

“Why, Josh is the orneriest old galoot of a Missourian that you'd meet in a million years,” explained Zachariah, talking loudly as if to cover up an emotion of some kind. “Him and me prospected them hills over there for seven years straight. Many's the time we split our last bean together. Then I took to the plains and the cattle, and later I herded the cattle into the hills and left the bench-land to the wheat, makin' money both ways. After that, bein' a covetous cuss, I built the mill to get more out of the wheat. If I'd 'a' been as farseein' as I thought I was, I'd 'a' let the mill go and built a packin'-house instead.

“As fur Josh, he stuck to the mountains. I aint heard on him for near twenty years, but I get to thinkin' of him a heap lately. More'n likely he's broke, as usual. More'n likely, too, he knows jest where I am and jest how easy things is with me, and he's too goshdarned proud to come around and ask for a chew of tobacco, even. Keep an eye out for the slab-sided old runt, will your?”

“I sure will, Mist' Adams,” affirmed Charles solemnly.

A LITTLE later the two Marcys left the office arm in arm. bu

“The old man's dotty about him,” said Jim.

“If anybody's fooled on him, we're all fooled together,” responded Joe.

And for the first week after young Charles Clemens went out on the road to sell flour, it certainly looked as if somebody was fooled. Joe Marcy sat at his desk and snarled and grumbled and fidgeted, after which he would snarl some more, grumble a little louder and grow still further restless in his chair.

“Knew there was a hatch open somewhere,” he peeved. “The fellow's a nut. I sent him out to sell, and he's refusin' to sell. Look at these!” And Joe flung a basketful of letters from the retail trade of Montana upon his brother's desk.

A puzzled frown deepened on Jim's face as he thumbed the letters over. Meantime Joe was rereading that batch of telegrams from Texas.

“There's something those fellows down there all kept from saying,” he deduced after a thoughtful quarter of am hour.

“What? That he's so smooth he's slick?” scowled Jim.

“I can't make out, but by thunder, there's something they didn't tell us!” Joe slammed the bale of cryptic messages into a drawer and was still contemplating them with distaste when his attention was distracted by having another telegram to read.

“It's him, and its dated Spokane,” he communicated to his brother at the first glance.

“Spokane. What's he doing there?”

“Search me! Listen to this!” And Joe read: “'Make no new contracts. Consider plans increase capacity all possible.' Refusing to sell, and increasing capacity! Now I know he's batty.

Joe was profoundly pessimistic. Jim could think of nothing to lighten the gloom.

BUT the next afternoon Charles Clemens himself provided the necessary illumination, bursting on the darkness like a star-shell. Joe's welcome was to fling before him the bundle of distress-signals from customers along the route, complaining that the new man had refused to sell them all the flour they wanted.

“But that's the way to sell,” argued Charles blandly.

“The way to sell is to sell,” snapped Joe, “and you're not doing it.”

“Add up what they-all have asked for,” proposed Charles, quite unoffended, “and see if it isn't more than you ever sold 'em before.”

Joe didn't figure, but he stopped to think, and presently a ray of light broke in upon him; but it was a humbling ray that made him gaze at Charles helplessly.

“Sellin' psychology, these here highbrows call it,” responded Charles in answer to that look. “But I allow it's just plain human nature. I'm not tryin' to see how much I can sell em. I'm askin' them to see how little they can do with. 'What was your consumption last year?' I inquire. 'So much,' they say. 'All right, we'll let you order sixty per cent of last year's consumption, and we'll apportion the balance pro rata according to the applications.' That makes them buyin' mad—don't you see?”

Joe Marcy, with the puzzled, half-humbled look, and Jim, with his mouth slightly ajar, both nodded doubtfully.

“Furthermore, I tell 'em our flour's goin' to be higher, higher than any flour on the market, fifteen cents higher by the sack, and fifty cents by the barrel.”

“But we've always done pretty well to get our flour in a shade under Ashbury's,” protested Joe. “Nobody's goin' to pay a higher price than they can buy his for.”

Charley's expression was one of polite concern for Joe Marcy's lack of an educated perceptive faculty.

“Do you allow, Mr. Marcy, that the people up in this great, opulent country go into a sto' and ask for the cheapest? No suh!” he answered himself emphatically. “They ask for the best.”

“But,” argued Jim Marcy with remarkable honesty, “our flour's no better than anybody's else.”

“Our new-process flour,” affirmed Charles suavely and impressively, “is going to be the best flour ever made west of Omaha or Minneapolis.”

“But we haven't got any new process,” snapped Joe, bewildered and irritated out of all patience.

“We-all are a-goin' to have, Mistah Mahcy,” smiled Charles, more blandly luminous than ever. “I picked up a feller on this trip—a fellah from Belgium, one of these here scientific bugs. He was workin' in a German mill before the war, and suh, what that gentleman don't know about flour aint down in the books at all. He's got all the secrets of the German government catalogued and card-indexed in his brain. I brought him along with me, so's you-all could fix him up some sort of laboratory here in the mill and start him goin'. He'll get more out of a grain of wheat almost than God A'mighty put into it.”

It was somewhere during this long speech that the two Marcys, both open-mouthed now, exchanged glances, tossed every doubt over their shoulders and from that moment leaned forward, hanging on the speech of Charles Clemens, as upon words of glistering light.

“Mr. Marcy! How much flour have you-all ever made in one year?”

“About sixty thousand barrels,”

“If you push her to the limit”

“Eighty thousand, maybe.”

“With another shift, could you make one hundred and fifty thousand?”

“Say!” gasped Joe.

“No,” responded Jim, “the old mill would rattle herself to pieces at that gait. One hundred and twenty thousand is about the outside. But say, you couldn't sell one hundred and twenty thousand in the—”

“Don't figure to,” cut in Charles, whose capacity for self-containment was so great that he seldom interrupted “I can sell every pound of it to a foreign government. I've got an offer now. Fact is, gentlemen, I come acrost a sort of lost soul projectin' round in Spokane like he was plumb misplaced, and with a flour. order on his person that dazzled my eyes when I looked at it.”

NEXT day Charles made this assertion good by producing a gentleman who carried on his conversation by means of a pair of black, explosive eyes and some very mobile shoulders, assisted at times by a vintage breath that was redolent of all the ransacked cellars of Europe. This gentleman sat down with the Marcy brothers, produced credentials that astonished, letters of credit that astounded, and a gold filigree fountain pen with which he signed an agreement to purchase sixty thousand barrels of flour at a price which seemed to indicate that from the hour it was paid for, Jim, Joe and Charles might clip their dividend coupons as frequently and as generously as the Montana farmers are wont to cut their alfalfas in summer. Later, when Charles took the tall-hatted man for a ride round the town, Jim and Joe remained behind to pinch themselves and mull the whole thing over.

“Right there's where he sat the first time he came into the office,” ruminated Joe.

“How the devil does he do it?” queried Jim. “Just fool luck, it looks like.”

“Blamed if it is,” declared Joe. “The fellow's human; he's just naturally go0d-hearted. He warms to people, and people warm to him. Hear how he got acquainted with this Belgian flour-mill bug?”


“Found him cryin' front of a hotel.”

“Go on!”

“Yes sir—grown man cryin', and from sheer lonesomeness. Charley butts in, gets sympathetic, finds he's hungry as well as lonesome, feeds him up, lends him five dollars, and is tryin' to find out what the fellow can do so as to get him a job, when he discovers that the guy is primed to the roots of the hair with the very stuff we need to know—hating Germany so bad he's crazy to blow off her milling secrets anyway, and now so dog-grateful to Charley he wants to tell all he knows to him and to nobody else in the world. That isn't luck; it's genius.”

“There's luck in it, all the same, opined Jim. “I never came across a panhandler like that in all my days of waiting for hotel busses.”

“And I'll bet no hobo ever touched you for a five and got away with it, either,” retorted Joe.

“I don't exactly recall any right now,” admitted Jim with a dry smile.

“Why, there you are,” exulted Joe. “It isn't luck; it's plain humanity. Charley bumped into this tall-hatted guy in the Spokane depot, all fussed up because he couldn't buy a railroad ticket at the Pullman window. Charley straightened things out. Pretty soon they're exchanging cards. In half an hour he's following Charley round like a lost sheep and eating out of his hand.”

“Anyhow, he does it,” admitted Jim, “and it looks great; but all the same I get uneasy spells. It sticks in my craw that there's something those Texas telegrams didn't say.”

WHILE the two brothers talked, Charles was taking a hat-lifting farewell of his foreign friend at the railroad station; and then Mr. Clemens recalled another duty and chartered an automobile to take him out to the Y-Six ranch,

Old Zachariah was discovered upon his wind-blown veranda, enjoying his valleys and his mountains. He greeted Charles warmly and received the first bit of news he had to offer, which was about the foreign contract, with commendable restraint; but what came next provoked 4 burst of wild acclaim.

“No? Gosh dang it!” Zachariah exploded, leaping up, tripping over his spurs and clutching at Charles for support. “How in time did you do it?”

“Easy enough, Mist' Adams! I just give a fellow in Missoula five dollars to look through the votin' registers of the State. He found eleven Josh Whipples, but only two of 'em was born in Missouri, and only one of them was old enough to be your Josh.”

“And where was the durned old galoot?” Zachariah's manner was still one of hilarious excitement.

“Why, suh, he had been keepin' a little pig-ranch down in the cottonwood bottoms, not a hundred miles from here.”

“Ha-ha!” the old man laughed. “Ho-ho!” And he laughed some more. “Josh Whipple keepin a pig-ranch! He-hee!” And Zachariah's merriment threatened to become apoplectic. At the very climax of these cachinnations, however, something in the persistent gravity of the young Texan's face attracted attention.

“Had been—did you say?” he inquired, sobering suddenly, while a serious shade of apprehension entered his voice “Had been keepin' a pig-ranch?”

“Yes, Mist' Adams; I'm sorry to say your old friend Mr. Whipple has passed out.”

“Dead? There was a croak in Zachariah's throat. “Why, that ornery old cuss couldn't die! He was tougher'n rawhide. He may 'a got paralyzed, an' they buried him, but he aint dead.”

Notwithstanding this vehement affirmation, however, that there was no cause for mourning, the plainsman's features wrought themselves into a suspicious pucker, while he dusted his eyes with his handkerchief and had something like an attack of hay fever.

“Didn't leave nothin', I suppose?” queried the old man presently.

“Nothin' but a daughter, suh!”

“A daughter?” Zachariah's features were systematically rearranged in order to express stern disapprobation. “Now, aint that just like that sinful old galoot to go and leave a daughter layin' round somewhere. She's ugly, I'll bet a million dollars! Bet she's slab-sided like him; bet's she's got a white eye; bet, by golly one side of her nose is longer'n tother side.”

“You're mistaken, Mist' Adams,” chuckled Charles. “I have seen the lady, and I certain'y am some touched by her beauty.”

“No?” inquired Zachariah, tones bluff and eyes disbelieving. “No!”

“She certain'y is good to look at,” maintained Charles

“How's she off?” The old man was serious again, and sympathetic.

“Got nothin'. She auctioned of the pigs to pay the debts. I found her sittin' on a trunk on the front porch, with a kind of a way-off look in her eye, wonderin' what she was goin' to do next, so I carried her right along with me. She's in the hotel in town now.”

“Town or country girl?” demanded Zachariah.

“Sort of an open-air girl, I allow. Seemed to be on speakin' terms with the pigs and the horses and a couple of old cows the neighbors had bought in and were takin' away; but she had a parcel of books and some music and a sort of a pony-organ in the shack. 'Peared to me like she cried a little when the Swede family that bid it in loaded the organ into their wagon and drove off.”

"Gosh dang it!” Zachariah was dusting his eyes again. “Gosh dang it! Ugly or pretty, bring her out. I'll get her a whole library. I'll get her a piany and one of these here automatic orchestras like Herman has down at the Prairie Dog. Open-air girl, is she? Josh's daughter, hey?” The old man was chuckling weepily. “Why. darn it, she can have the pick of the whole ranch for hers. You go and bring her out, Charley—bring her out to-night. Here you, Molla! Molla!”

ZACHARIAH went hobbling along the wide porch, hallooing loudly, and presently his Scandinavian housekeeper breathless and alarmed, pattered in.

“Molla! You fix the best room in the house for Josh Whipple's girl. She'll be here in an hour, and she'll stay as long as she wants to. She'll be your boss when she comes—understand that! Mine, too! I been lookin' for somebody to take orders from for a long time, and ths girl of Josh's'll just about fill the bill. Blue eyes, you said, Charley?”

“I didn't say, Mist' Adams,” laughed Charles, “but her eyes sure are blue.”

“What's her name?”


“Theodoshy? What the Sam Hill kind name is that?”

“She says it means the gift Of God.”

Zachariah's features expressed irreverent amazement and then a sort of meek comprehension.

“Her mother must have give it to her,” he decided. “Burn the wind, Charley! Burn it! I'm thirstin' for a look at her.”

During the succeeding weeks, as Charles ran in and out of town, two things claimed his particular attention. One was the Y-Six ranch—to which he went ostensibly to visit its owner. The other part of the time was spent pottering around in the laboratory with the Belgian. There was no doubt that Charles had a sort of “feel” for flour. “See that,” he said one day to the Marcy boys, bringing in a pannikin of flour into which he was stirring water. “Look at it! Kind of blue-looking. Don't you-all notice?”

Joe and Jim admitted that they did.

“That's the flour we're makin' now. Look here!” The enthusiast took another pan from the hand of his helper and instructor, the Belgian, and began to stir water into it. “Get that rich, creamy look? That's the kind we're going to make. That's our new-process flour—the Yellowstone Diamond brand.”

Another day Charles and the Belgian borrowed a piece of the plant of the largest baker in town—mixing machinery, troughs and oven—and held a demonstration before a regular congress of bakers gathered from all over the valley. Jim and Joe Marcy were there, of course, and looking proud approval, for when the demonstration was over, what stood out was that the Yellowstone Diamond bread, while it made a stiffer dough and required more mixing than the average flour produced twenty-five more loaves to the barrel.

“That's why you pay mo' for our flouah and it costs you less,” concluded Charles with a triumphant vocal flourish: and the long spectacled Belgian nodded approval while the bakers crowded round with questions, with offers and with orders.

OFF at one side, and rather with an air of overlooking from a distance the entire proceedings, sat Zachariah Adams. By him was Theodosia. Her wild-rose lips were parted in an interested smile, and she watched every movement of Charles hungrily.

“Gosh!” said Zachariah when the demonstration was over. “It aint just a flivver. Them boys are goin to make real money and keep on makin' it. Now I'm goin' to fix things so't they get what they make.”

In immediate fulfillment of this purpose, and with Theodosia still at his side, he gathered the Marcys, Charles and the two dummy directors—Simmons the bookkeeper, and Bowen the head miller—into his rarely visited office at the mill.

“We're a-goin' to do some high-financin,” he began. “The plant is capitalized at sixty thousand. Now we're a-goin' to reorganize and issue sixty thousand of preferred stock at six per cent, and I'm goin' to hog it all—every darned cent of it. Next we're a-goin' to issue one hundred thousand and split it both ways, one quarter to each of you three boys in exchange for your stock: and then, to sort of distribute the balance of powe,r—for the common stock controls the business,—I'm goin' to give that other quarter to the little girl here. With the contracts you've got on hand, your common figures to be worth par right away, and with your prospects, it'll keep right on travellin'. The consequence is that all you hard-workin' boys have to give the old man is his little thirty-six hundred a year dividends on the preferred, and every dollar you can make beyond that is your own and 'Doshy's. Fair enough, what!”

Theodosia blushed and protested,

“Oh, Uncle Zach!” she gasped.

“It's more than fair!” declared Charles, and then stopped to make some computations with a pencil on his cuff. “Guess we can stand givin' up our own stock,” he chuckled a moment later with an amused glance at the Marcy boys. “I figure we can make the new common pay fourteen per cent this year.”

Those two anxious souls, apprehensive as usual of any change, lest they found themselves cheated, had by this time as similated the idea.

“Guess we can,” they nodded. “We're satisfied if Mr. Adams is.”

“Plumb satisfied,” boasted Mr. Adams. “But it's all conditioned on one thing. That is that the useless, wuthless president of the Adams Milling Company resigns, and a real business man takes the lines. I nominate Charles Clemens of Texas, for president of the Adams Milling Company. You can vote, Theodoshy. Want to second the motion?”

Theodosia blushed again, and more warmly than before, but whispered faintly: “I second the motion.”

The Marcy boys, once more surprised and hesitant, were in a position, where if they objected, they must conceal their objections. They nodded acquiescence, Simmons and Bowen, taking their cue from the situation, mumbled in their throats.

“The ayes have it,” barked the old man. thumping his fist on the table. “That vote aint so darned reg'lar, but I guess I got a lawyer upstairs that can make it reg’lar. Come on, 'Doshy. We been away from the ranch too long a'ready.

THUS did Zachariah plant the stamp of his final approval upon the business sagacities of Charles. The reorganization was carried out in due and legal form. Meantime the modest little mill had taken on its new habit of running night and day. Jim had long been ready to concede to Joe that there was nothing at all left out of those Texas telegrams when one day the westbound transcontinental express dropped off a long, freshly painted coach which a waiting switch-engine promptly kicked in upon a siding.

On one side of this ornate-looking piece of railroad equipment was painted: Texas Trading Company. Beneath this in smaller letters, appeared the words “Business Car,” conveying a suggestion that was heightened by a view which the windows afforded of two young men, one pounding a typewriter methodically, and the other busy at a desk where telephone and telegraph instruments were to be seen. Quite evidently, however, the explanation of the car and its presence there lay not in them but in the man who stood upon the rear platform, tugging a gray cavalierlike mustaches and glancing about him with handsome dark eyes from which came an occasional glint of humor. The man was tall and Indian-straight with strong, regular features and a frank, open expression. He wore a wide black hat; and the air with which he bore himself proclaimed him a person of importance. This suggestion was heightened by the fact that almost at the very instant when the wheels of the car ceased rolling, linemen appeared, and within five minutes had established communication with time and space for both the telephone and the telegraph instruments inside.

THE telephone became busy first, and in response to a call made over it, an automobile presently appeared in the offing. Into this automobile climbed the tall gentleman in the wide hat, and was whirled to the Adams Milling Company. The gentleman, it appeared, had, in a memorandum book, the name of Joseph Marcy, secretary, and he inquired for and obtained immediate audience with that gentleman.

“My name is Clemens, suh,” announced the stranger with a kind of dignified suavity that reminded Joe instantly of some one else, “—Colonel John C. Clemens of Dallas, Texas.”

The possible significance of the name smote upon Joe's consciousness with something of a shock, and he was relieved that at this moment his brother Jim stepped into the office.

“Some six months ago, suh, a Mr. Charles Clemens sought employment with this company, I believe.”

“Yes sir,” admitted Joe weakly.

“And the Adams Mills Company employed him?”

“It did.”

“Well, suh,” announced the gentleman, with both dignity and authority, “I have come to take Charles home. He is my son, and vice-president of the Texas Trading Company.”

Having already deduced the sonship and never having heard of the said trading company, Joe's mind seized on that.

“The Texas Trading Company?” he ejaculated on a rising inflection.

“The T. T. Company, I may explain to you, suh,” responded the polite gentleman, taking his cue instantly, “is a nineteen-million-dollar corporation, and its stock is worth a little better than par. It has large holdings of yellow pine timber; it has oil-leases and oil-wells, railroads and pipe-lines. It operates in cotton and it dabbles in oil. In fact, suh, about anything that's bought and sold in Texas that has the color of money in it, we get into. I may say, suh, that I am the president and practically the sole owner of the Texas Trading Company.”

NINETEEN millions of dollars sitting there before them! A mist, a sheen, a milky way of glory rose before the mind of Joe Marcy and dazzled him like a sunburst. He ventured a glance at his brother, and saw Jim sitting there completely gassed. Suddenly something like indignation took hold of Joe.

“And may I inquire, sir, how comes that your son should be under the necessity of coming out here and applying for a subordinate position in a company like ours and a business of which he knows nothing?”

“Because, suh, his daddy was an hot-tempered idiot where his own flesh and blood was concerned. Again and again my friends and employees have come to me and said: 'Charles is the best young business man in the State of Texas to-day.'”

“The best?” Joe reached out an impulsive hand, and Joe was not given to impulses. “Colonel Clemens, you relieve me greatly. For six months my brother and I have been feeling like a pair of dubs at seeing this young fellow come in here and put it all over us.”

“Put it all over you, suh?” inquired the Texan with lifted brows.

“Colonel Clemens,” broke in Jim, getting into the conversation for the first time, “six months ago your son came to us seeking employment in any capacity. We sent him out to buy wheat. To-day he is president of the Adams Milling Company.”

“President?” Colonel Clemens in his amazement half rose from his chair. “Why, that young adventurer never sold a grain of wheat till—” The Colonel burst into laughter.

“Tell me about it, gentlemen,” he urged.

Joe and Jim collaborated on the narrative, to which the president of the T. T. Company hearkened with a proud and glistening eye.

“That's Charles!” he broke out from time to time, rocking slightly in his chair. “That's Charles! Smart? That boy could see the glint of money in cracks that looked pitch dark to me; and he gets profits out of things that all my life I've been afraid to touch; but he's just as full of the milk of human kindness that people follow him about like flies. Some days I would be scared he was goin' to give the whole Tradin' Company away.”

Jim's left eyelid got a cynic droop upon it. “Yep,” he opined, “Charley's a good-hearted fellow, all right; but anything he gives away in the morning, you can expect to see come floatin' home along toward night towin' a good big wad of interest behind it.”

“Have you noticed that?” inquired the Colonel, his voice an exultant crow. “Aint it amazin' the way money picks up its skirts and runs after that boy! I said,”—and the Colonel sighed—“he and I had a difference. You see, it was Charley this and Charley that till I was just plumb crazy with pride over the boy and I made the mistake of sendin' him down to the Legislature to look after one or two little matters of mine. I don't mind confessin' to you two gentlemen away off here in Montana, that it is one of my ambitions to round out my career with a term in the United States Senate. Well, suh, the people down at Austin just took to that boy of mine till it seemed like the Legislature spent half its time runnin' around tryin' to find what that boy wanted and give it to him. First thing I knew, some fool newspaper was talkin' about runnin' him for Congress. Imagine my feelin's, gentlemen, if my son got to Congresss before I got to the Senate!

“Maybe I was jealous. Maybe I thought that like the young man Absalom, Charley was stealin' away the hearts of the people from his father. Anyhow, suh, I became miffed at that young man, and the next time we met, I just naturally tore into him. 'Charles,' I said, 'you have been tradin' on my name and my money and my reputation long enough. You don't know whether you're a successful man of business or not,' I allowed, 'till you get away off out by yourself and try. So I gave him seven thousand dollars. 'Get plumb away from Texas,' I said. 'Get where they never heard the name of John C. Clemens, if there is such a benighted spot on earth. Get into some business where you haven't got the example and the prestige of your daddy to guide you every step of the way. Then let me see what you can do.'

The next mornin' I was good and sorry that I had talked thataway to Charles, but he took me serious. He was gone. 'Bout a week after, everybody in Texas was a-callin me on the telephone to tell me about your inquiries. He was bein' a regular sport, and I decided to be. 'Give the young man a square deal,' I says, 'and no more, and be sure you don't mention the name of John C. Clemens or the Texas Trading Company nohow.'

“But I can't stand it any longer, gentlemen. Charley hadn't been gone a month before my business began to run dry in the bearin's at various spots. To-day it needs him awful, but not half as bad, suh, as my heart needs him; so here I am, gentlemen, to eat humble pie and ask my son to come back. Would you mind directin' me, suh, to the office of the president of the Adams Millin' Company?”

“The President's not in right now; he's spending the afternoon out at the Y-Six ranch, which belongs to Mr. Adams,” explained Joe, and he could not forbear to add: “Charley's got a side-line out there that's taking a good deal of his time lately.”

“And may I inquire, suh, the nature of this side-line—and the distance to the ranch?”

“The prettiest girl in Montana,” broke in Jim. “Fourteen miles: you can make it in half an hour.”

The Colonel was clearly taken aback for a moment, but his proud spirit rose to the situation

“I shall be interested in seein' the lady,” he said with a dignified bow.

IN the course of an hour the Colonel had seen the lady, and with true Texan gallantry, professed himself enchanted. In the course of another hour he ripened acquaintance with Zachariah, admiring his white-faced cows and his dish-faced hogs, his alfalfa bottoms, his grain-growing bench-lands and the more rugged of the cattle. Incidentally, too, in the Colonel's warm, impulsive fashion, be had folded his son to his bosom.

Having been made fully to apprehend the relations which had grown up between Charles and Zachariah, the Colonel put the situation considerately and at some length to the rare old plainsman.

“But Mr Clemens,” protested Zachariah, “you can't just ride your son plumb off the range and then come sneakin' over and claim your brand ag'in like this. 'Taint fair. Besides, we can't spare him.

Zachariah looked at the girl and found her blushing. Then he turned his honest, piercing gaze on Charles. Charles too was blushing.

“Course, Mist' Adams,” that young man spoke up, “I've done got mysel' mighty attached to you-all; but I don't reckon nobody—leastwise, nobody but one”—Charles faltered in his speech for once, and Theodosia blushed again—"has got the same claim on a man that his own fathuh has; and so, if my fathuh needs me, Mist' Adams, 'pears like I'll have to go. But Dallas aint so far away. I can be up here every few weeks.”

“But doggone it, you don't say nothin' about Theodoshy,” protested Zachariah. “She's been used to seein' you frequent.”

“I did reckon that maybe you'd be willin' to spare Theodosia, Mist' Adams,” ventured Charles. “I was figurin on takin' her to Texas with me.”

“Wha-what!” Old Zachariah's eyes enlarged, according to their habit when he was amazed. “What? Why, doggone my cats! Is that what the Chinook has been blowin' up? Theodoshy, how about that?”

Theodosia seemed to have got past blushing now, and started out boldly.

“You've been awfully good to me, Uncle Zach, and of course I hate to leave you. But Charles—Charles—”

“Qh, don't mind me!” broke in the old man with a kind of mock complaisance. “Sure! Take her, Charley, if you want to. Looks like we've all got the habit of kind of fixing up things to accommodate you, and we got to keep on doing it.”

Colonel Clemens seemed to feel that he had been too long out of the conversation. He got into it by putting an arm around Theodosia and drawing her to him. “They'll come up real often, Mistuh Adams,” he assured the rancher heartily.

A FEW days later the business car of the Texas Trading Company housed a honeymoon. The typewriters and telegraph instruments, the stenographers and secretaries, had been piled out the station platform. The chef had done his best at a wedding breakfast which had been duly eaten, and the westbound train was pulling out with the honeymoon-car on the rear. Charles and Theodosia stood on the observation platform, fluttering handkerchiefs. Uncle Zach and the Colonel waved their hats. Jim and Joe Marcy stood behind them.

“The milk of human kindness pays,” said Jim.

“That's what I've been trying to tell you,” retorted Joe.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1924, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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