A Poor Man's Daughter
( Originally Published 1917 )
MISS MARY GRAYSON was as pretty as her name. Her big round eyes, that were too full of merry shrewdness to be merely doll-like, her dazzling teeth, her clear and rosy skin, her well-bred figure and way of dressing, made up a whole that old Martin never saw without some inward breathing of contentment. It was one of the minor economic mysteries of existence how she managed to dress so well on her stenographer's pay. There was no note of extravagance in it, at all; she was too clever for that. Her clothes, like her demeanor, were just modestly well bred and appropriate to her condition in life. She had that excellent thing in woman, according to Shakespeare, a sweet voice, and she was probably that other excellent thing in woman, according to Cyrus Martin, a good manager. Old Martin looked up at her now with a sigh.
" Well, how are you to-day, Mistress Mary? " he said aloud.
" Very well indeed, thank you, Mr. Martin.
I'm always well," said Miss Grayson. "Have you any letters for me today? "
They had gotten into the way for the last six weeks or so of having her come up to the house occasionally, when Mr. Martin did not feel equal to going to the office. He could not have been quite sure who. had made the suggestion originally; he had never really given in to his gout before she came; he salved his conscience by attributing the idea to Mary, for it was an arrangement which even now the soap king never executed without a slightly guilty feeling. There is no greater punishment for a healthy business man of sixty-five than his periods of enforced leisure. His absences from the office, where everybody else is probably shirking work, are a long drawn out infliction visited upon him for his sins. Mary Grayson, with her brisk pretty ways, and her pencil poised above her stenographic pad, brought back a sense of activity and efficiency to the soap king.
" Yes, a few. But there's no hurry," he an swered presently, tasting the joys and irritations of his business letters in prospect a bit.
" Oh, by the way, Miss Grayson,'' he went on, " Johnson tells me you were here when that Countess called this afternoon. What did you make of her? "
" Nothing, I'm sorry to say, Mr. Martin," replied Mary, laughing. " It was really too funny. I feel, as Johnson said, that my education has been neglected. I regret that I was not better educated, ma'am,' he said to me."
Mary went on in imitation of Johnson's inimitable manner. " `Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, Miss, but I can't make her comprehend anything I say. She just sits and waits.' "
" What was she like ? " demanded Mr. Martin, laughing too, then checking himself as his fears with respect to Rodney and some designing female came back to him.
" Well, she was really rather fascinating," Mary began, taking her cue from this encouragement. " And stunning, too. The French always are, don't you think? And she had on a duck of a dress. She walked straight in and looked straight at me, and began to jabber like a streak of lightning. She never made a movement, just stood with her hands on the handle of her umbrella, while the French fairly flew out of her mouth. I told her it was impossible for her to see Mr. Martin — that he was confined to the house by a severe attack of gout, and couldn't she leave her message? "
" And did she? "
" Well, her message sounded something like this:
` JedesireparleramonsieurmartinaproposdesAFFAIRES. Jesuisrichemaisonpeuttoujoursetreplus-RICHE. Sijepouvaisobtenirleagencedusavonmartinpourlaf rancecaseraiunebelle AFFAIRE. Jedonneraicinquantemillefrancspour CETTEEAGENCE. . .' "
Mr. Martin's mouth fell open with amused astonishment during this tirade. He had once met a young woman who could make a noise like Sara Bernhardt, without knowing more than half-a dozen words of French. But Mary Grayson beat her.
" Well, well," laughed Mr. Martin; " it's a wonderful language, French."
" Isn't it," said Mary. " So finally we tried signs and pantomime. I made a wild, sweeping gesture at her to show that you were out. She rattled on worse than before. Then I pretended Johnson was you, Mr. Martin, and I shoved him out of the door, and shrieked `out!' Sometimes if you talk loud enough it seems as if they might understand you, but this one didn't. And then she began to act at Johnson and me too. She evidently wanted to know when you'd be back. She walked to the door, and we thought she was departing at last. But she came back again at once, and our hearts sank. I caught something about ` quelle heure' and ` rentrera-t-il,' and she took her watch out and waved it at me. So I made up my mind she wanted to know at what hour you'd reenter, so to speak; whereupon I ran over to the clock and pointed violently to the figure eight. I hope I may be forgiven for the white lie."
" Forgiven so far as I am concerned," said Mr. Martin genially. He encouraged Mary some-times to rehearse the little incidents of the day, be-cause she did them well, and he liked to watch her.
" I told Johnson never to let her in again unless Marie was here to interpret her," said Mary, in conclusion.
" Quite right," said Mr. Martin. " By the way," he added, eyeing his pretty secretary shrewdly, " do you think she was after Rodney? Was she young enough for that? "
Mary went back to her chair and began preening her feathers and fingering her pad and pencil with a demure look that she could assume at will.
" Some women are never too old for that, are they, Mr. Martin?" she said coolly.
He glanced at her furtively a moment, as she patted back her hair, looking pleasantly at the crackling fire. There had been a time in those early days, when she had first come to him, to try her hand at a secretaryship, when she had reminded him alternately of her two parents. It was in loyalty to one of them that he had given her a chance. Sometimes, in a flash, there would be a curiously vivid suggestion of her mother in her -- something in the way she raised her head and looked at him, a sound in the tone of her voice as she said good morning. Such moments, for a long time, gave old Martin a sharp pang that he could not ignore even in his inmost heart. Then there was that even sharper twinge, and a curiously less pleasant one, when she reminded him of her father: he had been a handsome dog in his day, Rob Grayson—there was no denying that. Old Martin hoped, and as he knew Mary better he began to believe and be sure of it, that the girl had got nothing from her father but his regular features and his pleasant personality. Her narration of the visit of the Countess had suggested her father, who was a capital mimic. Well, Rob had had his good points too. Probably after all the combination of the two strains had been a successful one, thought old Cyrus, with some dim notion of this new fad they called eugenics floating through his mind. But the time had long ago arrived when Mary had developed into just herself, a successful blend that had its own name and flavor with those who knew her. If only Mary could be made to care for Rodney in the proper way, thought old Cyrus. Maybe she could be made to. care, or did already. Rodney was not unattractive to women, by all accounts, An idea was taking shape in Mr. Martin's brain pan; — if only he could put it over.
" Well, if you're ready, my dear, here goes," he began briskly.
To John Clark, Esq.
" Ivory Soap Works,
" New York, N. Y.
" Dear Sir:
" Confirming our conversation of even date I send you a line to record the bet made this morning between us in re our sons, Ellery Clark and Rodney Martin respectively; namely, that if my boy, by his own unaided efforts, isn't making more money at the end of a year from November i next than your boy makes, I pay you thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) in cash; and if he is, then you pay that sum to me; the books of their several business concerns, duly audited, to be the deciding factor.
" Yours very truly,
" Got that? " he added, darting a keen glance at Mary beneath his thick eyebrows.
" Yes, Mr. Martin," said that young lady, in a voice which she was evidently trying to make as colorless as possible.
" Well, what do you think of it?" demanded Mr. Martin, breaking a short pause.
" I think Mr. Rodney has more brains than you give him credit for," said Mary impulsively. " Oh, you do, do you ? "
" Yes, sir, I do. But isn't thirty thousand dollars a good deal of money to lose on a bet? Somebody always loses, you know. And Mr. Rodney has never had any business experience to speak of. You wouldn't have him in your own works, you know."
" Of course I wouldn't. I didn't want Rod posing there as the boss's son, interfering with the good discipline of the establishment. Besides, I didn't want them all down there to see what a nincompoop he was in business. I've got more pride than that."
" Aren't you a little hard on Rodney, Mr. Mar-tin? " asked Mary gently.
" Are you a little sweet on Rodney, Miss Mary? " retorted the, soap king gruffly.
She had her head bent over her work, and he couldn't see her features during this colloquy. He would have to carry the plummet line a little deeper.
" Because if you are," he went on, " I warn you, you'll have to marry him for love. He'll get no money from me unless he makes good. I shall make a will leaving him only an annuity, the principal to go to charity when he has idled himself into his grave. And I'll see to it that the annuity isn't quite enough for two, let me tell you, let alone a family of kids. I don't propose to have him, or a lot of worthless grandbrats, making ducks and drakes of my money when I'm gone."
" I see," said Miss Grayson demurely. " Of course it's none of my business. Anything else, sir? "
A motor bus, screeching along outside, came to a full stop at the corner. Mr. Martin, who had begun to pace the room as he talked, forgetting his convenient or inconvenient gout, lingered at the window, and saw two women alight and stand talking indefinitely on the sidewalk. In one of the windowpanes where the curtains darkened it and made a mirror, he could see Mary's pretty head drooping a little, giving her body a suddenly pensive air as she gazed abstractedly into the dying fire. He turned and spoke again and was pleased to see that she started involuntarily.
" Would you mind ringing for Johnson, my dear?" he asked, more pleasantly.
Mary rose and pressed the button, and then sat down again as before. Johnson came presently, and obediently replenished the fire, while Cyrus Martin twiddled his keys and small change in his trousers pockets. When Johnson's stiff back had disappeared through the doorway he began again on another tack.
" Look here, Mary," he demanded, in a franker tone; " I want your help. You can help me if you will. And if you benefit by it yourself, why so much the better. Pitch in and catch Rodney, if you want him. I should be glad of it. Only there would be one condition."
Beneath this direct attack the girl did finally blush a little. She gathered herself together again, however, and folded up her book by way of recapturing her composure.
" Why, Mr. Martin," she said, " what an idea! "
" Why is it such an idea? Is there nothing to attract a young fellow and a good-looking girl like you to each other? You're too modest, Miss Mary."
" I'm not a judge of that, Mr. Martin," said Mary.
Oh, yes, you are," retorted her employer; " and I'm not so sure you're not quite willing, myself."
" But I think you're very unkind to me," protested Mary, taking another cue. " You appeal to my woman's curiosity. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that your son and I are madly in love with each other, what are your conditions? "
" Well," said her employer, " I tell you frankly, I don't want to lose that thirty thousand dollars to John Clark, and I do want to stir Rodney up. He needs an incentive, and I've been ransacking my brains to find the right one. And I think I've found it. I think it's you."
" I, Mr. Martin? Do you really think so? " she expostulated demurely.
" Yes, I do really think so, Miss Grayson," he mimicked.
"Don't you think it's just perversity? " persisted Mary. " Do you think Rodney would really care about me if he could have me just for the asking? I don't see how I can help you at all, Mr. Martin."
" Oh, yes, you can, and I'll tell you just how," went on old Martin trenchantly. " I want Rodney to work for his money and his wife together. I'm going to turn him out of here —"
" Turn him out, Mr. Martin? Whatever do you mean? "
" Just what I say; turn him out, throw him overboard. Didn't you ever hear of the old admiral who taught his children to swim by throwing them overboard? The girls as well as the boys. If they didn't drown they swam, he said. But they usually swam ! "
" But they might have drowned," objected Mary with a pretty shudder.
" No," said old Cyrus with a villain's chuckle, " I've got it all doped out. I'll turn him out, right enough. I'll find a good excuse for it. I'm mad enough with him half the time. Look here, Mary, has Rodney proposed to you yet?"
"Well, really, Mr. Martin," stammered the secretary, " do you really think —"
" Well, the next time he proposes, you're to accept him. See? You're to tell him you'll have him if his father consents, and then send him to ask me. That'll be my big scene."
" You'll say yes—you'll refuse?" stuttered Mary, showing some concern in the success of the plot, despite her efforts to be detached and business-like.
" Consent? No! That's my cue for turning him out of my house forever," roared the stage father, working himself up into quite an advanced condition of parental fury. " Let him marry a typewriter? (Don't let that hurt your feelings, my dear.) Let some designing woman get her hands on him for a rich man's son? (Business of indignation, my dear.) I'll turn him down and out in proper fashion. Upon my, word I feel like doing it this minute."
" But there's one chance you've overlooked, Mr. Martin," resumed Mary, pursing her pretty mouth slightly at the corners.
" What's that?"
" That he may not propose to me again — I mean at all," she corrected.
"Well, then, I'll disinherit him for sure," roared the soap king. " Now be off with you too, before I lose my temper."
But as Mary turned to go he called after her again:— what a flat pretty back she had, he thought, subconsciously, as he watched her lay her hand on the door knob :
" No, don't go yet. There's one thing more. We must make a bona fide deal of this thing. You want to hear my terms, of course, don't you ? "
" Your terms? "
" Yes, terms : and here they are. You needn't expect anything better: I'll pay you twenty-five hundred dollars down if you turn the trick. Twenty-five hundred dollars ! You could use it, I suppose, couldn't you?"
At these "terms" Mary turned all the way round and leaned her pretty back against the dark mahogany door, her figure in its gray dress prettily outlined against it, and her hand still clinging to the cut-glass knob. Twenty-five hundred dollars ! Twenty-five hundred dollars from Mr. Martin ! Her face and eyes, if not her lips, repeated the fat and racy words. But could she? fluttered from her pretty eyes. And yet she would, said the set mouth and chin. But no, she couldn't, said her shell-like ears, blushing as pink as coral. But yes, why not, said the firm mouth at last; and Mr. Cyrus Martin, watching this delicate by-play across her lovely features, that found more favor in his sight than ever this minute, despite his gruff demeanor, knew that the fates were playing on his side.
" Very well, Mr. Martin," said Mary Grayson finally; " it's a bargain then."
" A bargain," said old Cyrus, chuckling inwardly, and rubbing his hands together like an old fashioned actor doing the part of Shylock. " Come here, and I'll give you my blessing."
He stooped and kissed her respectfully on her white forehead, and could not resist the temptation to let his hand linger a moment on the firm roundness of her upper arm and shoulder before he released her. " A bargain," he resumed, with suddenly returning gruffness. " So now go to it."