( Originally Published 1917 )
MARY fell asleep with the memory of Rodney Martin's kisses on her lips, and felt his arms around her in her dreams, but woke to disillusion in the morning. What had she been thinking of to coquette with this nice boy like that? Was she a bold, designing woman, she asked her-self again? It was too ridiculous. It was all very well to call it an elaborate ruse on old Mr. Martin's part to scare his son to work. She was ashamed of the part she had performed in it; she would drop the whole thing now, and just claim her money. She dressed and ate her breakfast and went out in a very virtuous and shamefaced state of mind.
She half looked forward, as she clung to her strap in the subway train going downtown, to finding the old gentleman in a tantrum at the office because she had taken him at his word. The sooner she extricated herself from the fantastic plot the better, she decided. When Cyrus Martin met her at his office he would find a curious change in her. He would summon her into his private room, she supposed, ostensibly to take some letters, and look her over quizzically, and perhaps re-mark: " Well, what happened?" and all that sort of thing.
As a matter of fact he did do and say all this, and added, a bit peevishly:
" You left me in suspense all night. The boy's gone too, I suppose you know."
The gout had been so benefited by the explosion of yesterday that he had gone down to his office next morning, as Mary guessed he would, and the two met there on somewhat more impersonal terms than in the Fifth Avenue library. Very impersonal indeed Mary tried to make it seem to the wily magnate, and threw something unwonted and chilly into the manner with which she greeted him. There was no longer that pleasant little feeling of conspiracy between them that he had enjoyed yesterday afternoon. What ideas were running through his old head? Mary wondered, as she surveyed him with an outward calm that was quite complete. She thought she could guess. Was her money going to turn her head so soon, she could fancy him thinking, or rather was it the mere prospect of some money? For it had not been turned over to her quite yet. He hoped that she had truly won it just the same, and that Rodney's departure was not just a bluff, for he believed twenty-five hundred dollars must be something of a boost to a girl in her position, and his manoeuvre was at least one way of not letting her left hand know what his right hand did for her. He would take some credit to himself for the transaction, of course, like most other rich men, and would not mind if his generosity were uncovered, provided the discovery came about in such a way as to leave him unjostled in his pose of modesty before Miss Mary Grayson. He liked the girl. But what was the matter with the little minx this morning? She could read all this more or less plainly on his hardened but sometimes transparent countenance.
"Well," he began again presently, " do you think our scheme is going to work? "
" Yes," said Mary quietly, " I do."
" You really think you have got him to go to work?" he demanded eagerly.
" I have," said Mary.
" By George, that's great! " said Mr. Martin gleefully.
" Isn't it?" said Mary.
" You're sure he wasn't just talking?"
" No, he went upstairs to pack and go out and Make a name for himself."
" You're a wise girl, Mary. Isn't it wonderful?"
" And you said I couldn't do it," said Mary, coldly.
" I said I didn't think you could, but you have, and I owe you twenty-five hundred dollars."
" Oh, there's no hurry," said Mary, still quite coolly.
" Never put off till to-morrow the money you can get to-day," said the millionaire.
" Aren't you proud I've been so successful," said Mary presently.
" Proud ! I'm so darned happy I'm making this check out for five thousand dollars."
" Oh, Mr. Martin," Mary cried, quite taken aback.
" It's worth fifty thousand dollars to me to have my boy really want to work, not just to do it to please me," said the old man, really moved beneath his gruff exterior. " What a difference an incentive makes."
" Doesn't it? " said Mary, smiling at her check.
" Especially if it's a girl," Martin went on; " and to think I begged and threatened Rodney, for months, and then you plan this scheme, you rehearse me. Bing — you make him fall in love with you."
"Well, the idea, Mr. Martin," cried Mary. " The scheme was yours."
" Nonsense, my dear, it was yours. And is he really in love with you? "
" He thinks he is."
" But what about your marriage? "
" He said he wouldn't marry me till he'd made good- if I'd just wait."
Her employer looked at her a little anxiously. Do you think perhaps he may really love you ? " he asked.
" Of course not," said Mary.
" It's the first time he's actually wanted to marry anybody," said his father.
" Oh, it's just that I've been very blue-eyed and baby-faced," said the secretary modestly.
" I guess you're right! " agreed Martin.
" Of. ,course I am. Why, dear Mr. Martin, even for this," she said, pointing to her check, " I wouldn't give your son one real pang. He's too nice a boy. When I break our engagement he may feel a bit lonely, and be very sorry for him-self for a few days, and give up women forever; but pretty soon some charming girl of his own position-- of his own world, who needs to be petted and spoiled and protected, some limousine lady — will come along, and they'll live happily, ever after."
" Nonsense," said Mr. Martin, " I don't agree with you at all. I begin to wish this marriage were going to be on the level."
" It wouldn't work out," Mary interrupted. " I'm a business woman. Marriage and the fire-side and leaning on some man are not for me. I've been independent too long. I couldn't stop my work for a man, and there can't be two heads in a family — two happy heads. Even if your son did love me — really love — I wouldn't marry him. Just now he's twenty-four, with an India rubber heart that is easy to stretch and easier to snap back. All men at twenty-four are like that."
" I suppose so," Mr. Martin commented reminiscently. " I remember when I was a young man, there was a girl — my heart was broken for a week — perhaps ten days—however, how-ever —" Then, abruptly changing the subject, he inquired, " What's my son going to work at?
" I don't know yet," Mary said truthfully.
" Do you think he'll make good? "
He will if he keeps at it."
" Well, you'll keep him at it? Won't you? " " That wasn't our agreement," said Mary, " I only undertook to get him to start to work."
" Hm —," went Mr. Martin, tapping the arm of his chair.
" Isn't that true?" demanded Mary quietly.
" Quite— quite," said Martin cannily ; " I was just thinking we might make some agreement to have you keep him on the job."
" To keep him on the job? " echoed Mary faint-heartedly. Here was a new complication, if the soap king was proposing a second chapter in the deception. She had honestly meant to give the whole thing up; she truly did not want Rodney to get permanently interested in her. She had let him kiss her — the memory of his kisses still trembled on her lips — but she had done that for the boy's own good. Poor little secretary, pretty little Mary Grayson, what was she to think of things, how cleave her way through this tangle of motives that bound her heart and hands? She had let him kiss her, yes, but had it really been wrong in her? — Was it — bad? No, she found her whole soul protesting, it was not wrong or bad. It had been for the boy's own good, she told herself again. She hugged the thought greedily, tasting a portion of that joy of women in giving herself up to some man for his good. But she would not spoil his life; she had been firm as to that. And now here was old Mr. Martin coming back at her with this hateful power of money and trying to bribe her to go on. What should she do?
Suddenly, by a complete change of venue, her thoughts attacked the case from a different angle. She had been enough in the business world to know the power and use of money, and from a French grandfather she had inherited a streak of keen and honest thrift. Let the rich people look out for themselves: the poor had to. Curiosity, too, set in, and helped dictate her answer when she finally made it.
" Well," she said at last, enigmatically, I'm a business woman."
Mr. Martin looked at her delightedly.
" What strikes you as fair? " he asked her.
" I'd rather the proposition came from you," rejoined Mary.
" What do you say to your present salary, and at the end of the year I will personally give you a check for twenty-five per cent. of what he has made? "
" That wouldn't interest me," said Mary.
" What's your proposition then?" asked Mar-tin. " State your terms."
" My present salary doubled," said the business woman promptly.
" Um — that's pretty steep."
" You told me what I'd done already was worth fifty thousand dollars to you," retorted Mary.
" Merely a figure of speech, my dear," said Martin. " Let's see, you're getting forty dollars a week, and —" " Fifty dollars, and I want one hundred." " Sounds like a hold up."
" Then let's drop it. This new contract was your idea, not mine. Good evening —"
With that she moved over to the door behind him, which she banged shut as if she had gone., She remained, however, in the room and watched him keenly.
" Hold on, hold on," Martin cried after her. He turned and saw her, and then chuckled at her joke on him, as she laughed too.
"I was simply figuring," he explained; "tell you what I'll do. Seventy-five dollars a week and ten per cent. of what he makes."
" All right, I'll go you," said Mary.
"Good," said Mr. Martin.
" Will you just write me a note stating the facts and the consideration?" Mary pursued. "Certainly."
He began to write, and as his pen moved across the paper Mary went on:
" As soon as you see Rodney, you'll have to discharge me. He may come in here to-day, thinking you're home."
" I will, violently. I'm a pretty good actor under your direction."
" You needn't make the note long," said Mary. Just a memorandum."
" How's that? " he said, holding up a paper. Mary read it, and remarked, " I think that covers it; — if you'll sign it."
" Didn't I sign it? " he asked in some confusion. " No, and never put off till to-morrow what you can sign to-day," said Mary, smiling.
Martin signed it, and handed it to her with a hearty, " There you are ! "
It had developed after all into a brisk and businesslike interview, and old Martin seemed quite pleased at the way he had put it through. He would be sorry to have her go, really, as she must if she was going to help Rodney in his money-making. It wasn't so easy to make money, as they both knew, and the boy would need all the help he could to keep him on the job.
As for Mary, she had discerned that Rodney would demand her services when she should be discharged— of course; and began to wonder how the next scene should be arranged. Mr. Martin was as good at making scenes as a typical stage father, he told her with a chuckle. He would watch over the boy a bit, of course, and play fairy godfather now and then, without showing his hand. The boy would need some capital, he rattled on. Let's see, how should he get it? Well, he could raise some money selling his aeroplane — silly thing it was, anyway; and his three cars. It would be a good thing to get rid of all that junk, anyway. In addition Rodney had perhaps a thousand in the bank, the remnants of the check his father had bestowed on him. Then there was old Uncle William Smith. Martin would arrange to have Smith advance some money to the boy if he were approached, as he would be, probably, in the guise of the oldest friend of the family.
He summed all this up to his confederate, Mary, and altogether things looked pretty good to the soap king, as he closed his desk, and stepped gingerly out of the office on his way home at three o'clock. He didn't have his car come all the way down town for him except on very stormy days; he considered it too soft and luxurious. But then he did not ride in the subway at the time of its greatest crush either. Mary could see him smiling benevolently as he glanced over the headlines in his Evening Post, and thought how cleverly he had managed. As for poor Mary herself she viewed the future with much less complacency, being less certain of her own mind. She was not sure that old Martin had not laid the train for more troubles than either of them was aware of at that moment.