A Visit From Father
( Originally Published 1917 )
DURING this trying month old Cyrus Martin, the soap king, had sat in his library in Fifth Avenue, or in his swivel chair at his office, and wondered how things were going with the boy, anyway. From such information as reached him, he was not so encouraged as he would have liked to be. A month was not long enough to tell, of course, in the normal course of things, but that fool advertising made another matter of it. Those huge billboards and electric signs and balloons and sandwich men : piffle, all of it, but Martin knew what such things cost, and was sure that Rodney's company could not possibly stand it. He was worried. And he was annoyed too. These abominable sandwich men; he had had one set of them arrested that afternoon on the Avenue. He couldn't stand it. People might know who were in this ridiculous 13 Soap Company, and he should be well laughed at.
Another and contradictory thing was the rumor he had heard down town yesterday that the Ivory Soap people were backing Rodney's company, going to build a plant for them. In fact putting one thing and another together he decided he would drop down and give the boy a call at his office. It wouldn't be bad to see him again, and Mary Grayson too. So he presented himself at the new soap company's office, on Broadway, and was kept waiting for his pains. A Miss Burke took in his name and he guessed that it caused some excitement, for he could hear Rodney's voice and another's chatting inside while he cooled his heels. It was a foolish thing to keep import-ant visitors cooling their heels : Rodney should have known better than to do that.
When he was at last ushered in the place looked like a real office, on the whole, and there at a desk sat Rodney, talking through the telephone; his father caught something about " not considering it," and " not having any stock for sale "-" quite out of the question," et cetera, et cetera, as he took a chair.
" Well, well," thought Mr. Martin, rather pleased and proud. What's this? "
Rodney in a moment dropped the telephone and espied his father.
" Why, hello, father," he greeted him genially.
" Hello, son," said Mr. Martin. He observed with astonishment that Rodney was very busy filing papers, opening and closing drawers, and that every now and then he signed a typewritten letter viciously with a rubber stamp.
" Sit down, won't you? " said Rodney presently. " I'll be with you in just a moment."
" Thanks," said his father drily.
" Have a cigar? " said Rodney, handing the old gentleman a box in an absent-minded way.
Thanks," said Mr. Martin, biting off the end and lighting it at the match which Rodney held for him. Rodney lighted one too.
"Surprised to see me, I suppose," said his father presently.
" Not a bit," said Rodney, flourishing a con-tract and signing it. Mr. Martin had some curiosity to see what it could be, this thing which really looked like a contract, but his son turned it upside down and blotted it ostentatiously on his desk pad.
" There, that's done," he added. Now, father, what can I do for you? "
" Well, my boy," said Mr. Martin. " I just dropped in for a social call. The fact is I've rather missed you."
" I've missed you too, father," said Rodney.
" Thought I'd have a look in and find out how
things were going," said Mr. Martin abruptly.
" Fine — fine," said Rodney, " everything
breezing right along. Of course, I'm always glad to see you," he added, pushing the buzzer, " but right now, father, I'm pretty busy, so you'll excuse me if —"
He got very busy indeed again with his papers.
" Well, if you can spare the time, I'd like a little business talk with you, Rodney," said Mr. Martin, with a certain sarcasm.
" Certainly, in just a minute," said Rodney, still preoccupied with his papers, but pricking up his ears.
Ambrose Peale, coming in, stopped suddenly when he saw who their visitor was. Rodney looked up at him.
"That's all right, come right in," he said. " Father, you remember Mr. Peale? Peale, my father -"
" Indeed yes, I recall very well —" began Peale effusively.
Mr. Martin gruffly cut him off.
" How are you? " he said.
" A bit tired," said Peale, sitting down comfort-ably; just back from Buffalo where we're conducting a big campaign."
" Is that so? " said Martin, senior, crustily.
" Perhaps you've heard about it? " inquired Rodney, looking at his father.
" No. Why should I hear about it? " said that gentleman for Peale's benefit especially.
" I don't know," said Peale helplessly.
" You see, Mr. Peale handles all our advertising, and perhaps —" began Rodney.
" Oh, he does—does he?" said Mr. Martin dangerously. " Then it is to him I should address myself."
"Either or both of us," chirped Rodney.
Then both of you listen to me," Martin began. " You've got to cut out this nonsense you call advertising —"
" What nonsense? " asked Rodney.
" Yes, what? " echoed Peale weakly.
" This morning there was a parade of sandwich men in front of my house for two hours," Mr. Martin went on indignantly. " I had to have them arrested. I got to the office to find another bunch. It annoys me."
" I'm sorry, father," said Rodney.
" You're trying to make a fool of me," said his father. " I open a letter. It's a circular for 13 Soap. I open my newspaper—you have a page ad. I look out of the window—there's a bill-board. I take a train—the damned porter apologizes because he's all out of 13 Soap."
"Well, of course, all that proves how wonderful our publicity is," said Rodney bravely.
" You're a grand young bluff, my son," said Martin grimly.
" Why, father, what do you mean? "
" I'll tell you exactly what I mean. I've let you ramble on to see just how far you would go, but you've been spending a lot of money advertising, hoping that by annoying me I'd buy out your business to get rid of you. Well, I'm not going to. Now what have you got to say to that?"
" Nothing— absolutely nothing," said Peale, taking heart again, and Rodney resumed quickly:
But I have — a lot to say. We may not have a big business now, but we have got a trade-mark:— the catchiest trademark ever invented for Soap. We're a growing concern. Just be-cause our advertising annoys you you mustn't think it's valueless. Why, it's so good that capital is chasing us.— Our money is practically unlimited.— Is that a fair statement, Peale? "
"Very fair—very fair, indeed," agreed Peale, dazed at Rodney's daring.
" Bluff, son, bluff," Mr. Martin repeated.
" Not at all," protested Rodney, " and since
you're so skeptical, father, I don't mind letting you see the plans for our new factory."
New factory? "
"Yes, father. These are the offices. Here is the power house, and this is my office, and here is Mr. Peale's —"
" Aren't you going to make any soap? " Rodney looked blank.
" Who's putting up the money? "
" Now, father," said Rodney reprovingly, " you cannot expect me to divulge a business secret to you, a rival manufacturer."
" Oh, why not tell him. He is your father," said Peale nobly.
" Well, Peale, if you really think it's wise?" said Rodney.
Oh, yes, I think it's quite wise," said Peale. It's the Ivory Soap people," declared Rodney boldly.
Mr. Martin was at once impressed and annoyed.
" The Ivory Soap people," he repeated, flicking the ash from his cigar.
" Yes, the Ivory Soap people," echoed Peale, rubbing it in.
You mean John Clark? " asked Mr. Martin, getting out of his chair.
" Yes," said Rodney.
" Absolutely," said Peale.
Mr. Martin turned and reflectively walked up and down. Peale very obviously picked up a push button and pushed the buzzer twice.. There was a pause and then in a moment Ellery Clark stuck his head through a door on the left. Mr. Martin did not know it, but this was all by prearrangement with Ellery. Peale, when he had come in just now, was fresh from tutoring Ellery in a little speech. The idea was to impress Mr. Martin overpoweringly on the subject of the Clark family's connection with the new factory. But Ambrose was, to tell the truth, a little nervous as to Ellery's ability to overpower the soap magnate. Ellery's first idea too seemed to be of bolting.
" Oh, excuse me, I didn't know your father was here," he began politely.
" That's all right, Ellery," said Rodney very genially.
" Yes, come right in," said Peale.
Ellery came in.
" How do you do, Mr. Martin? " he inquired. " How are you, Ellery? " Mr. Martin responded gruffly.
He didn't like all this, but what was the mat-ter with Ellery?
" Well, I really can't wait any longer," began that youth. " The party down stairs in the taxi — you follow me? "
" Yes, Ellery, you told us that," said Peale, shutting him off.
" Well, good-by, then," said Ellery.
" Was that all you came in to say? " Rodney took him up hastily, looking at Peale, and Peale added sharply :
" Yes, have you decided about that deal? " Ellery's mouth fell open, and a look came over his face as of one remembering a lesson.
" Oh, of course. If you'll keep it open until Monday I'll have the money for you then," he said.
" But we can't wait till Monday," said Rodney. " But Mr. Peale told me —" Ellery answered, puzzled.
Peale came quickly to his rescue:
" We'll see what we can do, but just now, Ellery, we're very much occupied," he said, taking him by the arm and starting toward the door.
Oh, just a minute," said Rodney. " You'd better give your father back the plans—say they're quite satisfactory."
" What plans? " queried Ellery helplessly.
" Oh, didn't he tell you about them?" Peale put in. " Perhaps after all, Rodney, I'd better give 'them to Mr. Clark myself. You remember I have an appointment with him to-day?"
" Oh, yes, it was today, wasn't it? said Rodney.
" But father's out of town," Ellery protested. " I know he is otherwise I could have kept the appointment," said Peale.
We'll give you a definite answer tomorrow," added Rodney.
" But I don't understand," Ellery persisted; " really now, you say one thing and Mr. Peale came in and —"
But already Peale was leading Ellery gently and firmly to the door.
" We'll have to see you later in the afternoon, Ellery," he said politely.
" But what did you want me to come in for? " quavered Ellery.
" Don't you see?" said Peale.
" No `"
" That's too bad; — well, good-by, Ellery." "I say, I do find business very confusing —I prefer the Countess," murmured Ellery, going out.
" Ellery talks too much," said Rodney when Peale came back.
" He is very indiscreet," Peale agreed; " if it had been anybody but your father he'd have given our whole plan away."
"What's he doing here—acting for his father?" inquired Mr. Martin. His ideas of Ellery were undergoing a change.
"Absolutely," said Peale.
" You're not going to take him in," said Mr. Martin, " that pinhead? Why, he didn't even seem to know what he was trying to get at."
" No, he didn't, did he? " agreed Peale.
" But after all, he does represent Ivory Soap," said Rodney.
" Great soap — Ivory — ninety-nine and forty-four hundredths per cent. pure," said Peale.
Mr. Martin grunted. There was something funny here, some kind of play-acting, though he couldn't quite make out what it was. Old Clark's Ellery was a fool; you could see that with your eyes shut. Yet a fool made a good go-between sometimes, and you never could tell what John Clark would be up to. Ellery sounded for all the world as if he were trying to recite some piece that Rodney and that fellow Peale had taught him. And yet what did he happen to be doing there in the 13 Soap Company's offices? That couldn't have been prearranged. John Clark was up to anything. Cyrus Martin made the mistake that shrewd men often make of attributing too much subtlety to his rivals. The idea of cutting the whole thing out was taking shape in his mind; it came to the same thing whether he was fighting Clark or Rodney. If he bought Rodney out the boy could be said to have made money in the year's time that had been set for the wager, and in that case whatever he paid for the fool concern would be reduced by thirty thousand dollars. And those awful sandwich men !
As he paced up and down the office, revolving these ideas in his head, he caught an exchange of gleeful glances between Peale and Rodney. That decided him.
"Ivory Soap!" he grunted. Then to Rodney, in a more propitiatory -tone, he added: " Have a cigar?"
Rodney took one of his father's Havanas and threw away his own stub.
" Thanks," he said.
There was a pause.
" Have a cigar, young fellow? " said Mr. Martin to Peale next.
" Thanks," said Peale, surprised.
" Allow me," said Mr. Martin, lighting his cigar and then walking over to Rodney.
" Well, thinking things over, why should you and I fight? " he began.
" You started it, father," said Rodney.
" Quite true," said Martin, " and therefore I should be the one to call it off. Now, son, here's the idea:— I'd rather have you with me than against me—the money doesn't matter much. In your way, while I don't endorse that kind of publicity, I suppose you boys have done some good advertising."
" Thank you, sir —" chimed in Peale.
" Not at all," said Martin; then added to Rodney, " and if you're going to have a backer, shouldn't I be better than the Ivory Soap people?"
Rodney's throat gave an involuntary cluck of pleasure.
" After all, blood is thicker than business; what do you suggest? " he said.
Suppose I buy you out," Mr. Martin said; " including your trademark and good will? "
" Oh, you have our good will, now, sir," put in Peale.
" Buying us out might be expensive for you, father."
" Oh, I guess it won't take all the money I've got; — what's your proposition? "
" What's yours? "
"How is the business—what are the assets and the liabilities? "
"How fortunate ! It was only this morning that Mr. Peale roughly copied off the totals from our books," said Rodney.
" I try to keep up with every detail of the business," chirped Peale.
Rodney passed out the pink statement.
" There you are, father," he said.
" Hm, liabilities one hundred and thirty-three dollars and thirteen cents — assets twenty-two thousand eight hundred and eighteen dollars," read Mr. Martin.
" And nine cents," added Peale.
" That's a remarkably good showing," admitted Mr. Martin. " Well, I'll give you fifty thousand dollars for your business as it stands."
Rodney took a good hold of himself.
" But we don't want to give up our business," he protested; " I like business. I wish you'd made me go into it years ago, father."
" We wish to continue in our chosen profession," added Peale grandly.
" Well, suppose you take twenty-five per cent. of the profits," suggested Mr. Martin.
" It's wonderful weather, isn't it," said Rodney; " these crisp, cold, bracing mornings."
" Well, I hardly thought you'd grab at that," said Martin; " what will you take?
Rodney rose to the occasion quickly.
" One hundred thousand dollars cash," he said; "you assume all the contracts and obligations of this company, give us forty per cent. of the profits, a contract for me at twenty thousand a year, for Miss Grayson at ten thousand "— Peale coughed audibly behind him -" and another for Mr. Peale at the same figure."
Mr. Martin looked at the two men a moment, chewing his cigar:
" Done," he said finally. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, Peale and Rodney exchange looks and shake hands. Well, he had come down to buy them out.
" I congratulate you, father," Rodney said.
" You needn't," said Mr. Martin. " As a business proposition I don't think much of it, but I guess it'll show old John Clark he can't butt into my family affairs or get Ellery mixed up with my boy's business."
" Yes, father, we'd much rather have you than Ellery," asserted Rodney.
" Oh, much rather," echoed Peale.
This important deal was no sooner agreed on than Miss Burke came in inopportunely, and conveyed to Rodney the information that the agent of the landlord wanted to see him,: indeed that he wanted to see him immediately.
" Yes," said Rodney. " You see, father, we're thinking of taking larger offices," he added. " Come, Peale — we'll be right back, father."
" Yes, father, we'll be right back," echoed Peale, as they went out precipitately.
Mr. Martin stood there watching them proudly.
" Bully kid! " he said; then changing to a contemptuous tone : " Ellery Clark!
Well, that was a load off his mind, at any rate, he reflected contentedly. Of course he had bought a pig in a poke, more or less; you couldn't tell whether their books were carefully audited or not. If Mary Grayson kept them they were probably pretty straight. He was glad to have the boy back again anyway. That was the truth. And there would be no more sandwich men parades.
Altogether he was in a quite mellow mood when Mary Grayson opened the door and came in, looking as sweet as ever, he thought. From the look on her face she was glad to see him, and extraordinarily relieved too. Alas, for the soap king ! He did not realize how short his satisfaction was to be.
" Why, Mr. Martin," cried Mary happily. "Hello, Miss Grayson," he said, " it's mighty good to see you again."
"Oh, Mr. Martin," responded Mary, " I'm so glad Rodney finally sent for you."
Sent for me? " repeated Mr. Martin in surprise.
"Have you talked to him?" Mary asked.
" Oh yes, he's just gone out for a minute to see the agent of the landlord."
" Oh, then he told you about that too?"
" Yes, he told me — why not?" asked Mr. Martin, puzzled.
Oh, I'm so glad you've settled with him. You have settled, haven't you? "
" Yes, sure."
" Oh, good. Isn't it wonderful for him?"
The relief in Mary's voice was genuine; — absolutely, as Ambrose Peale would have said. Poor Mary had had a trying day. There had been that dreadful man McChesney, to begin with. Rodney's twenty-five hundred dollar check must have gone through the clearing house in double quick time, Mary had thought, as the advertising dun appeared again. The fact was, it seemed that he had gone to the bank to get it certified, and was furious to find that there were no funds there of the great 13 Soap Company to meet it with. He roared loudly about the sheriff: unless the check was made good at his office in an hour he would have the sheriff round and sell them out, cover up their billboards and send them all to jail. Mary didn't know much about sheriffs, and they sounded terrifying. She had heard about the law's delay, but the law sounded swift and terrible as interpreted by the irate McChesney. She couldn't laugh about it and chaff about a cell with a sunny exposure, as Ambrose Peale did. That awful Countess too ! A woman swindler, who had tried to get into them for five thousand dollars. And the Edison man threatening to turn off the light from all their beautiful signs if he wasn't paid at once. How unreason-able people were ! How could you pay them when you hadn't any money? And now, last of all, the rent agent making a fuss. No wonder Mary had begged Rodney to send for his father and give in, She did want him to succeed, she told him, but there was no use fighting odds like these. He hadn't any money. He was awfully in debt. He mustn't be disgraced publicly. She was sure old Mr. Martin would help Rodney if he was sent for. Rodney had seemed to waver, and Peale too, even the dauntless Ambrose. Very naturally Mary thought, on seeing Cyrus Martin smoking his cigar there contentedly that he had come in answer to Rodney's summons. She went on, sighing :
" Just think, without you he couldn't have lasted out the day."
" Couldn't what?" ejaculated the astonished soap king; then recovering himself swiftly he added, " Quite so, quite so. Oh, by the way, in our negotiations the, one thing Rodney didn't go into fully was the nature of the assets."
" The assets ! " laughed Mary gayly. " They must have amused you. Why, we haven't any." "Ha, ha ! Haven't any?" echoed Mr. Mar-tin, trying to laugh with her.
" But everything's all right now," went on Mary sweetly.
"Oh, yes; great, great," said Mr. Martin; "by the way, there was a report on the street to-day that the Ivory Soap people were going to make a deal with Rodney—build him a factory—''
" Oh, there's nothing in that," said Mary innocently.
" Are you sure? As I got here I thought I saw Ellery Clark."
" Oh, that wasn't business; he just came to try to borrow some money from Rodney. Wasn't that funny?"
"Oh, yes, very funny," said Martin; then, changing his whole manner, he added angrily: " The young scoundrel ! "
"What!" said Mary.
"Thank you, Miss Grayson, for telling me," said Mr. Martin. Do you know what he tried to do to me? Hold me up for a hundred thousand dollars, and but for you he'd have succeeded."
" Oh, what have I done?" cried Mary in distress.
" You've saved me a lot of money and kept me from being a fool. That's what you've done. Thank you. Good morning."
" You mean at last he had succeeded in getting you to back him? " cried Mary.
" At last! So that was his scheme all the time —was it? He didn't go into business on the level, but just for my benefit? And you were helping him. Well, he can thank you again for having failed."
" It's all my fault," cried Mary, breaking down.
" Yes, it was from the start. You got up the plan of my pretending to put him out of the house — a mighty silly idea."
" Oh, but I tell you, you must help him," pleaded Mary.
" Help him yourself. You've got five thousand dollars."
But I gave it to him," cried Mary.
" My son took money from you! "
" He didn't know — I pretended it was from a friend. It made him awfully jealous too," blubbered Mary.
" Well, you got him in — now you can get him out," declared the soap king.
" But your bet," asked Mary ! " you bet thirty thousand with John Clark. You don't want to lose that, do you? "
" Well, if Ellery's trying to borrow money from Rodney it looks like an even break. And anyhow I'd lose the bet twice over rather than have my own son think he could make a fool of his father."
"But he is a good business man," pleaded Mary bravely; "he'd make you proud of him. If he could keep on a little longer, I know he'd succeed. If you'll just help him he'll make money, you'll see he will."
"Of course, you want him to make money," said Mr. Martin brutally. " You're thinking of that percentage contract with me."
"I'm not — oh I'm not!" cried Mary. " I can't see him fail. I don't want you to pay me. I'll try to give you back what you've given me. I don't care anything about the contract. I'll tear it up now — if you'll just help him."
Mr. Martin looked at her more leniently.
" By George, I believe you really are in love with him, Mary."
" Yes, I am — now," admitted Mary proudly. " But that doesn't matter. We've got to save him - save his business."
" I won't give him a nickel — good-by!" said Mr. Martin, growing stern again.
But you can't go like this," Mary cried; " he'll be disgraced — he's in debt— in danger."
" Let him get out of it himself then," said this Roman father. "It'll do him good. I've been a sentimental fool.. I've made it all too easy for him."
" But that's your fault too," persisted Mary.
" Yes, it is, and I don't propose to repeat the error; he's lied to me all the way through. We'll let him face the truth now; we'll see what he's made of."
Mary just sat and looked at him quite limply, letting her hands fall idle in her lap. What could she do? To make matters worse she could hear the rumble of men's voices outside as Rodney and Peale tried to soothe the rent agent's righteous indignation. With all her other troubles she must count on this one too. Oh, dear, she thought crossly. She only hoped they would keep on talking till Mr. Martin was gone. But her wish was wasted, for the next minute the outer door swung open and Rodney and Peale came back, trying to look cheerful, but really quite crest-fallen, as Mary could see very well.
" Well, we're going to move," said Rodney, going back to his desk.
" Yes, nice chap, that fellow," said Peale.
" Well, Mary, have you heard about our deal? " asked Rodney next.
" The deal's off," Mr. Martin interrupted brusquely.
" But —" began Mary.
" Off ? " cried Rodney.
" Off ? " echoed Peale-
Yes, off," repeated Mr. Martin brusquely. " But why — why? " asked Rodney.
" Because you took me for a bigger fool than I am," said his father. " My own son can't do that to me. I've found out now that you're broke."
" Oh, Mr. Martin," protested Mary, crying.
But Mr. Martin stopped her with a wave of his hand, and went on, addressing Rodney.
" And all the time you were lying to me about the Ivory Soap people and the factory they were going to put up. You thought you could make an ass of me—get the best of me, did you? Well, you can't. I'm finished with you and your 13 Soap. You've got a swelled head, you're a smart Alec, you're a complete fake, you're a cheat, young man —"
" I guess you're right," said Rodney in utter t dejection.
" Ah ! " said Mr. Martin with some satisfaction.
I did try to be smart," Rodney said. " I was stuck on myself. I thought business was a cinch. But you're right. I have been a fake. This whole thing never seemed real — it was just fun — like a game — but I've waked up, and now it's serious. I tried to get the best of you, but I'll take my licking. I don't want any charity. I know what's coming to me, and I'll take my medicine."
His father looked him over curiously.
" Well, maybe I've said a little too much," he said, relenting a little.
" No, it's all true," said Rodney.
" But see here, I don't want you disgraced," said his father. " I —"
" You told me never to come back to you for a nickel," said Rodney bravely, " and I won't. I told you too that I wouldn't snivel. Well, I'm not going to. Good-by, father."
" Now see here," began Martin.
" Please, father," Rodney went on; " it's up to me, and nobody else, to get out of this. Please go."
He held out his hand and Mr. Martin shook it.
" Good-by, son —" he said gently, and went out. His head was bent but he did not look back once.
" Oh, Rodney, Rodney," cried Mary, when the office door had closed on the old man's back.
" What have I done? And I wanted to help you so."
" Never mind, Mary dear," said the young business mats; " you couldn't help it. If you love me everything's all right."
Mary did love him now, she knew. Pity is akin to love, and she pitied the boy, but was proud of him, as she saw him courageously meeting his defeat. She came over to him and kissed him. It was the first time she had ever given him one of her own accord. Rodney hugged her greedily in his arms, before everybody, while Miss Burke coughed and Ambrose Peale blew his nose loudly.