( Originally Published 1917 )
MEANWHILE, in far away Chicago, some-thing of importance to the little company had taken place. The soap had begun to sell. One demand after another had come in, and finally made an impression. It was as if a stone had been dropped in the puddle and the circles had widened out and out. The last ripple reached New York and Mr. Martin when Johnson came one day to the library and announced :
I beg pardon. A gentleman to see you, sir," handing his master a card on a silver tray.
" Mr. Charles Bronson," read Martin; " what's he want? "
" He says he's from Marshall Field, Chicago," said Johnson.
" Oh, a kick, I suppose. Send him in."
He had to confess, however, that Mr. Bronson of Chicago did not look like a kick when he came in, though his first words were ominous.
Mr. Bronson of Chicago was one of those smooth-faced, well-groomed, business men who come in hordes out of the West at certain intervals, at the time of the automobile show, for instance, and stop at the big hotels with or without their wives. Some of the maitre d'hotels of New York's largest caravanserais are said to be clairvoyant on this latter point. Their greeting, " Are you alone this trip? when the 'Westerner swells into the dining-room, means really: " Have you left your wife behind you?" And strangely enough, if he has, the maitre d'hotel gets larger tips. But today, with Mr. Martin, this Mr. Bronson seemed very full of business and his business, it seemed, was about 13 Soap.
" Well, what about it? " Mr. Martin demanded, not too graciously.
Mr. Bronson took his cue and was off. While of course they understand that the 13 Soap was made by Mr. Martin's son, Mr. Rodney Martin, at the same time, as he wired he would be responsible for that order, Marshall Field felt that some one should first see him in the matter. They realized, of course, that Mr. Martin was backing his son.
" Well, why shouldn't I back him? interrupted Martin gruffly.
"Of course, of course," Bronson agreed. " That is why we'd like to place our order through you.
Mr. Martin paused with his cigar in mid air.
" Place your what?" he repeated in amazement as he beheld Mr. Bronson snap back the elastic from his russet leather order pad and hold his pencil over it.
" Through some error we received only five thousand cakes," explained Bronson, "instead of fifty thousand; but that's all gone."
"All gone? What happened to it?"
" We've sold it."
Martin could not believe his ears. " Sold it ! " he ejaculated.
"Yes, and we want the balance of the original order you were kind enough to throw our way, and as much more soap as we can get," went on Mr. 'Bronson briskly.
Mr. Martin could not understand it.
" But only the other day I had a letter from Marshall Field saying they hadn't sold a cake," he said, puzzled.
Mr. Bronson laughed.
" I know, I know," he said. " We felt at first that of course there could be no popular market for a dollar soap — we weren't as far sighted as you were."
Mr. Martin cleared his throat.
" But of course, when those extraordinary advertisements appeared, so different from your usual conservative publicity, well, the sales began immediately; we sold the five thousand cakes in two days."
"And the' advertising did it?" Mr. Martin :ventured to inquire.
"Of course, what else ? " said Bronson. He proceeded with further explanations. Now we want to handle your goods exclusively in the West, with extensive immediate deliveries. Can that be arranged?"
The soap king paused a moment to reflect.
" It ought to be. What do you offer? " he said.
" I dare say we would contract for a quarter of a million cakes of soap," began Bronson glibly.
" A quarter of a million! " repeated Martin in an astonishment which Mr. Bronson evidently misunderstood, for he added:
"Of course we might do a little better if we could settle the matter at once."
" I should have to consult my son first," said Mr. Martin at last, quite truthfully.
" Oh, then perhaps I ought to go see him,"
said Mr. Bronson, rising. Mr. Martin rose also. "Not at all — not at all. I'll attend to it," he said.
" But we thought that you would have full power," began Bronson, puzzled.
" As a matter of courtesy," Mr. Martin explained, " I should like to talk things over with my own boy."
" But you control the product? "
" Mr. Bronson, you can trust me to handle this thing."
" Of course, of course ; when can I see you again?"
" In half an hour," Mr. Martin answered.
" Very well," said Mr. Bronson. " I've some matters to attend to. I'll be back in half an hour. It's a wonderful soap, Mr. Martin," he vouchsafed as he went out.
" Oh, wonderful," agreed Mr. Martin dryly, watching Mr. Bronson go.
A wonderful soap indeed; plain pink castile. But he would have to get in on this. He stepped hastily to the telephone.
1313 Worth—Hello, is this the 13 Soap Company? " he shouted in the receiver. " Just a minute. Is Mr. Rodney Martin in? No? Never mind who I am. Goodbye. Johnson," he added as the butler appeared again, " call up my son's office every ten minutes and let me know the minute he comes in. Don't tell 'em who's calling."
" Yes, sir," said Johnson docilely.
" And when Mr. Bronson comes back, be sure to have him wait for me."
Yes, sir," said Johnson. " There's a lady to see you, sir. She speaks English now."
" She does, eh?" said Mr. Martin. " That's unusual, isn't it?
" I mean, sir," said Johnson, " when she was here two months ago she could only talk French."
" Indeed. Well, I'm not interested. in the languages she speaks. Who is she—what does she want? "
" She wishes to see you about the French rights of the 13 Soap," said Johnson.
" The what? " echoed Mr. Martin.
" The French rights," repeated Johnson.
" Great Scott — send her right in," replied his master.
He went out immediately and re-entered, followed by the Countess gowned as usual in a charming frock and very fluent in her line of talk.
" The Countess de Bowreen," said Johnson.
Paris and Chicago met that afternoon in the library.
" How do you do? " began the clever Countess, still at her games.
" How do you do? " said Mr. Martin politely.
" I am the Countess de Beaurien. Your son have told you of me? "
" I bet he have not. He is a cheat — he trick me."
Well, well, thought Rodney's father: this was serious.
Now, my dear lady," he began.
" Attendez, you listen to me," the Countess rattled on. . . " Two months ago, I buy the French rights for the 13 Soap. I pay him fifteen thousand dollar and now I cannot get any soap."
" You will have to see my son," said Martin, rather disgusted.
" But I have seen him," shrieked the Countess, " and he give me no satisfaction. If I cannot get any soap, I must have my money, one or the other or I put him in the jail. He is a cheat. I have here ze contract. I sue him in the court."
"My dear lady, you mustn't feel that way," said Martin, trying to soothe her.
" Feel ! Ah, mon dieu," she cried. " I trick no one, I play fair, I am an honest woman. And she went off into a long speech in French at the end of which she took out an alleged contract and waved it at him frantically.
" But I don't understand French," said Mr. Martin.
" Pardon, Monsieur," said the Countess; " always when I am excited I speak the French. But! if you love your son, you pay me back, or else he go to jail. What you say? "
" But fifteen thousand dollars is a lot of money," remonstrated the soap king, too acute of course to give in at once.
" Yes. But it is more to me than it is to you," argued the lady. " You pay me, or he go to prison. Now what you say?"
At this crucial moment Ambrose Peale made his entrance, and old Martin for once in his life was glad to read his name on the card in Johnson's tray.
By George, just the man I want to see," he said, in great relief, but fortunately not mentioning Peale's name aloud. " Show him right in. Hold on, hold on. Now, Duchess, if you don't mind, just step into this room a minute," he added, showing the unwelcome lady of title out through a door on the left.
" Very well," said the lady. " I go. I wait. But in fifteen minutes, if I do not get the fifteen thousand dollars, I go to my lawyers and your son —goof! he is done."
Meanwhile Mr. Martin turned to Johnson. Did you get my son's office? " he asked.
" Yes, sir — he hasn't come in yet," said John-son.
" If you reach him while Mr. Peale's here don't mention Rodney's name; just call him ` that party.' I'll understand."
" Yes, sir."
Peale entered, and he and the soap king struck fire almost at once.
" Now see here, young man," began Martin, quite indignant at the Countess's story.
" Now one moment, Mr. Martin," Peale began. " I just want to say that I am a man of a few words. This isn't advertising— it's personal. I know you don't like me."
"Why do you say that?" Martin asked curiously.
" Because I'm a pretty wise gink," said Peale.
" Well, you are a bit fresh," Mr. Martin agreed.
" Fresh? Well, I guess that's right too," Peale went on. " But that's me —I'm not your style. Here's the idea — your son has been immense to me. Great kid, and it struck me the reason you wouldn't back him was because I was mixed up in his business. So I just came to say if that's the situation why I'm out, that's all — and you go ahead with him alone."
This was Ambrose's great moment, his big emotional scene. But when it came at last, after all his pondering and planning, it seemed very flat and unimportant. And for the life of him he could not have told how the old magnate was taking it.
You're not a partner?" the soap king asked him at last.
" I should say not. I'm just a hired hand. He could can me any moment, but he's not the kind of guy who'd do that —"
" Then you haven't power to sign — to make a deal —"
" I should say not," said Peale. " Why, he and Miss Grayson do all the signing. If I could have signed contracts, I'd have spent a million dollars, in advertising. And, believe me, you ought to back him, because honest, Mr. Martin, it's a great scheme — the 13 Soap. On the level, if it's handled right and the publicity end is —"
" Now don't get started on advertising," Martin interposed, holding up his hand.
"That's right too," said Ambrose lamely. " Well, I guess that's all. I wanted to tell you how I stood about Rodney. That's off my chest, so good afternoon."
Mr. Martin gave a good look at this young man, who was willing to sacrifice himself for Rodney, but outwardly he did not relent.
"Wait a minute," he said presently. " What did you boys mean by trimming that poor Countess on the French rights? "
" Jumping Jupiter, has she been here? " asked Peale, again alert.
Mr. Martin explained that she was here now, that she said she'd put Rodney in jail for fraud unless Mr. Martin made good that fifteen thou-sand dollars.
" I've got to pay her—can't see the boy disgraced," he concluded.
"Say, if you'd like to save that fifteen thousand dollars — I'll fix it for you," spoke up Peale.
But she's got a contract," said Mr. Martin.
I'll get it for you cheap," Peale answered him. " Pardon me, sir, but I know how to handle dames like her."
Mr. Martin looked at him again. Ambrose's
mission had succeeded in a way he did not suspect. " Mr. Peale, I like you," said old Martin. "Huh? " said Peale.
"Have a cigar?" asked Martin.
Ambrose took it, feeling better than he had felt for many days. Confession is good for the soul, and self-sacrifice sometimes helps one's self. He bit his cigar and stuck his hands in his trousers pockets, strutting up and down comfortably. His feet hit the thick rug that covered the soap king's floor with a satisfactory sensation that mounted upward. On the whole Ambrose Peale felt a good deal better.
He wondered idly what that butler guy meant presently when he stuck his head in and announced to his master that he had telephoned that party, who was at his office now. He heard Martin mutter:
" Good, good. Peale, I've got to go out on an important soap deal. Oh, by George, I nearly forgot," he added. " There's another matter I must attend to first. Peale, you'll find the Countess in there — do the best you can. We'll settle the details when I get back. Make yourself at home."
" Sure. This cigar's great company," said Peale.
" Good cigar, eh? "
" Johnson," said Mr. Martin, " send over half a dozen boxes of those cigars to Mr. Peale's house."
" Say, Johnson," said Peale, as Mr. Martin went out, " wrap 'em up now and I'll take 'ern with me."
It was a very pleasant, comfortable world, thought Ambrose. He was enjoying his cigar. He had the prospect of many good cigars out of that box Johnson was wrapping up and the retrospect of a good impression made on Rodney's father. It was a relief to know he was not a handicap to the boy. He strutted up and down cockily on the thick rug.
Presently the telephone rang. Peale looked at it. It rang again, and he went over to the desk and raised the receiver:
" Yes, Sweetie --- this is the garage. How long does it take to go to Coney Island? How in hell do I know? "
Ambrose was himself again.
But he must attend to the Countess, he re-membered, and no fooling. So he went over to the door behind-which she was hiding, and threw it open with a flourish of fake French.
" Countess de Bull Run," he rattled on. juie — de joie — politern noblesse oblige." The Countess came in demurely.
" You ought to take up French, Ambrose," she said sweetly; your accent's immense. Well,
Iittle sweetheart" Say, what are you doing in these parts?"
Peale interrupted her.
" Oh, I came to see Mr. Martin," she said lightly.
" What for?
What do you think? "
See here now, if you're aiming to trim the old man I won't stand for it," protested Ambrose.
"Ambrose, do me another favor," the-Countess ^begged.
What is it? "
" Don't tell old Martin what I tried to do to you boys. He's the kind that would put me in jail. I'll be on the level. I did come here to try to trim him, but I'll cut it out. Honest, I will. Oh, Ambrose, I don't like being a grafter."
" Nix, nix," said Peale.
" He left me here to settle it. Where's the contract? Come on — gimme gimme —"
" You mean you've been on all the time? " cried the Countess.
"And you let me sit there a-moultin' all over the place again? "
" Gimme — gimme —"
" Oh, I suppose I've got to. Oh, I'm sick of soap anyhow. Thirteen may be lucky for you boys, but it has been a hoodoo for me."
She handed over the contract to him gracefully enough.
" And now, my little Hearts of Lettuce," Peale chanted, " this concludes your portion of the evening's entertainment."
" But at that, don't give me away, will you? " the girl pleaded.
Ambrose looked at her curiously, wondering, though he did not say so, just how to take her. He wasn't sure there wasn't some good in her for all her play acting. She attracted him. He treasured her address. He didn't relish playing second fiddle to Ellery Clark, but he kept the ad-dress. He didn't believe Ellery would last, with all his money, and the address might come handy. But aloud all he would say was :
" I like you. You've got brains. Most chickens are just chickens."
" And you are an eighteen karat kid," said the Countess. " Ta — ta," she added. " Ring me up some day."
" So long," said Ambrose. " Be good."
And so he assisted at the dismissal of one of Mr. Martin's callers that afternoon. Of the first, of Mr. Bronson of Chicago and his fifty thousand cakes, he had not heard yet. Perhaps this was just as well; the mood of Ambrose this Saturday afternoon had grown far too genial anyway.
Into the middle of this mood, just as he was showing the Countess to the door, with no intervention by the faithful Johnson, burst Mary, followed by Rodney in a tearing hurry. They stopped abruptly when they saw Ambrose.
" Oh, have you seen father?, " Rodney asked. " Is he here?
" I'm waiting for him now," Peale answered.
" It's most important," said Mary breathlessly.
" You remember the Countess," Peale put in cautiously.
They all bowed, embarrassed, and there was an awkward pause, which the Countess broke.
" Well, I guess I'm not wanted," she said perspicaciously, looking shrewdly at the trio, " so I'll trot. I'll trot. So long, you 13, soap-suds."