Laughing Bill Hyde and Other Stories
Rex Beach

Part 2 out of 6

guided him straight to Folsom. He had appeared at a psychological
moment in the latter's affairs, two disastrous seasons having almost
broken Folsom and rendered him eager to grasp at anything which
promised quick returns; moreover, the latter had just had a serious
quarrel with his wife. Harkness had offered a half interest in his
Kobuk claims for a grubstake and a working partner, and, smarting
under the unaccustomed sting of domestic infelicity, the other had
accepted, feeling sure in his own mind that Lois would not let him
leave her when the time came to go. But the time had come, and Lois
had offered no objection. She had acted strangely, to be sure, but she
had made no effort to dissuade him. It seemed as if the proposal to
separate for the winter had offended rather than frightened her. Well,
that was the way with women; there was no pleasing them; when you
tried to do the decent thing by them they pretended to misunderstand
your motives. If you paid them the compliment of utter confidence they
abused it on the pretext that you didn't love them; if you allowed
your jealousy to show, they were offended at your lack of trust.

So ran the husband's thoughts. He hoped that six months of widowhood
would teach Lois her own mind, but it hurt to hit the trail with
nothing more stimulating than a listless kiss and a chill request to
write when convenient. Now that he was on his way he began to think of
the pranks played by malicious nature during the long, dark nights,
and to wonder if he had acted wisely in teaming up with this footless
adventurer. He remembered the malice that rides the winter winds, the
mischief that comes to Arctic widows, and he grew apprehensive.

The travelers put up that night at the Tin Road-house, a comfortless
shack sheathed with flattened kerosene cans, and Folsom's irritation
at his new partner increased, for Harkness was loud, boastful, and
blatantly egotistical, with the egotism that accompanies dense

The weather held cold, the snow remained as dry as sand, so they made
slow progress, and the husband had ample time to meditate upon his
wrongs, but the more he considered them the less acutely they smarted
him and the gentler became his thoughts of Lois. The solitudes were
healing his hurt, the open air was cooling his anger.

At Kougarok City, a miserable huddle of cottonwood cabins, Harkness
escaped his partner's watchful eye and got drunk. Folsom found the
fellow clinging to the bar and entertaining a crowd of loafers with
his absurd boastings. In a white fury he seized the wretch, dragged
him from the room, and flung him into his bunk, then stood guard over
him most of the night.

It was during the quieter hours when the place rumbled to snores that
Folsom yielded to his desire to write his wife, a desire which had
been growing steadily. He was disgusted with Harkness, disappointed
with the whole Kobuk enterprise, and in a peculiarly softened mood,
therefore, he wrote with no attempt to conceal his yearning, homesick

But when he read the letter in the morning it struck him as weak and
sentimental, just the sort of letter he would regret having written if
it should transpire that Lois did not altogether share his feelings.
So he tore it up.

Those were the days of faint trails and poor accommodations; as yet
the road to the Arctic was little traveled and imperfectly known, so
Harkness acted as guide. He had bragged that he knew every inch of the
country, but he soon proved that his ideas of distance were vague and
faulty--a serious shortcoming in a land with no food, no shelter, and
no firewood except green willows in the gulch-bottoms. Folsom began to
fear that the fellow's sense of direction was equally bad, and taxed
him with it, but Harkness scoffed at the idea.

Leaving the last road-house behind them, they came into a hilly
section of great white domes, high hog-backs, and ramifying creeks,
each one exactly like its neighbor; two days' travel through this,
according to Harkness, should have brought them to the Imnachuck,
where there was food and shelter again. But when they pitched camp for
the second night Folsom felt compelled to remind his partner that they
were behind their schedule, and that this was the last of their grub.

"Are you sure you're going right?" he inquired.

"Sure? Of course I'm sure. D'you think I'm lost?"

Folsom fed some twisted willow-tops into the sheet-iron stove. "I
wouldn't recommend you as a pathfinder," said he. "You said we'd sleep
out one night. This is two, and to-morrow we'll walk hungry."

"Well, don't blame me!" challenged the other. "I'm going slow on your

Now nothing could have galled Folsom more than a reflection upon
his ability to travel. His lips whitened, he was upon the point of
speaking his mind, but managed to check himself in time. Harkness's
personality rasped him to the raw, and he had for days struggled
against an utterly absurd but insistent desire to seize the little
coxcomb by the throat and squeeze the arrogance out of him as juice is
squeezed out of a lemon. There is flesh for which one's fingers itch.

"I notice you're ready to camp when I am," the larger man muttered.
"Understand, this is no nice place to be without grub, for it's liable
to storm any hour, and storms last at this season."

"Now don't get cold feet." Harkness could be maddeningly patronizing
when he chose. "Leave it to me. I'll take you a short cut, and we'll
eat lunch in a cabin to-morrow noon."

But noon of the next day found Harkness still plodding up the river
with the dogs close at his heels. The hills to the northward were
growing higher, and Folsom's general knowledge of direction told him
that they were in danger of going too far.

"I think the Imnachuck is over there," said he.

Harkness hesitated, then he nodded: "Right-o! It's just over that
low saddle." He indicated a sweeping hillside ahead, and a half-mile
further on he left the creek and began to climb. This was heavy work
for the dogs, and mid-afternoon came before the partners had gained
the summit only to discover that they were not upon a saddleback
after all, but upon the edge of a vast rolling tableland from which a
fanlike system of creeks radiated. In all directions was a desolate
waste of barren peaks.

Folsom saw that the sky ahead was thick and dark, as if a storm
impended, and realizing only too well the results of the slightest
error in judgment he called to Harkness. But the latter pretended
not to hear, and took advantage of the dogs' fatigue to hurry out of
earshot. It was some time before the team overhauled him.

"Do you know where you are?" Folsom inquired.

"Certainly." Harkness studied the panorama spread before him. "That
blue gulch yonder is the Imnachuck." He pointed to a valley perhaps
four miles away.

A fine snow began to sift downward. The mountain peaks to the
northward became obscured as by thin smoke, the afternoon shortened
with alarming swiftness. Night, up here with a blizzard brewing, was
unthinkable, so after a while the driver called another halt.

"Something informs me that you're completely lost," he said, mildly.

"Who, me? There she is." Harkness flung out a directing hand once

Folsom hesitated, battling with his leaping desires, and upon that
momentary hesitation hinged results out of all proportions to the
gravity of the situation--issues destined to change the deepest
channels of his life. Folsom hesitated, then he yielded to his
impulse, and the luxury of yielding made him drunk. He walked around
the sled, removing his mittens with his teeth as he went. Without a
word he seized his companion by the throat and throttled him until his
eyes protruded and his face grew black and bloated. He relaxed his
stiff fingers finally, then he shook the fellow back to consciousness.

"Just as I thought," he cried, harshly. "That's not the gulch you
pointed out before. You're lost and you won't admit it."

Harkness pawed the air and fought for his breath. There was abject
terror in his eyes. He reeled away, but saw there was no safety in

"Own up!" Folsom commanded.

"You--said this was the way," the pathfinder whimpered. "You made
me--turn off--" Folsom uttered a growl and advanced a step, whereupon
his victim gurgled: "D-don't touch me! That's the Imnachuck, so help
me God! I'm--I'm almost sure it is."

"_Almost_!" The speaker stooped for his mittens and shook the snow out
of them; he was still struggling to control himself. "Look here, Mr.
Know-It-All, I've never been here before, and you have; somewhere in
your thick skull there must be some faint remembrance of the country.
You got us into this fix, and I'm going to give you one more chance
to get us out of it. Don't try to think with your head, let your feet
think for you, and maybe they'll carry you to the right gulch. If they
don't--" Folsom scanned the brooding heavens and his lips compressed.
"We're in for a storm and--we'll never weather it. Take one look while
there's light to see by, then turn your feet loose and pray that they
lead you right, for if they don't, by God, I'll cut you loose!"

It soon proved that memory lay neither in Harkness's head nor in his
feet; when he had veered aimlessly about for half an hour, evidently
fearing to commit himself to a definite course, and when the wind came
whooping down, rolling a twilight smother ahead of it, Folsom turned
his dogs into the nearest depression and urged them to a run. The
grade increased, soon brittle willow-tops brushed against the speeding
sled: this brush grew higher as the two men, blinded now by the gale,
stumbled onward behind the team. They emerged from the gulch into a
wider valley, after a while, and a mile further on the dogs burst
through a grove of cottonwoods and fetched up before a lighted cabin

Harkness pulled back his parka hood and cried, boastfully: "What did I
tell you? I knew where I was all the time." Then he went in, leaving
his partner to unhitch the team and care for it.

Friendships ripen and enmities deepen quickly on the trail, seeds of
discord sprout and flourish in the cold. Folsom's burst of temper had
served to inflame a mutual dislike, and as he and Harkness journeyed
northward that dislike deepened into something akin to hatred, for the
men shared the same bed, drank from the same pot, endured the same
exasperations. Nothing except their hope of mutual profit held
them together. In our careless search for cause and effect we are
accustomed to attribute important issues to important happenings,
amazing consequences to amazing deeds; as a matter of fact it is the
trivial action, the little thing, the thing unnoticed and forgotten
which bends our pathways and makes or breaks us.

Harkness was a hare-brained, irresponsible person, incapable of
steadiness in thought or action, too weak to cherish actual hatred,
too changeable to nurse a lasting grudge. It is with such frail
instruments that prankish fate delights to work, and, although he
never suspected it, the luxury of yielding to that sudden gust of
passion cost Folsom dear.

Arrived finally at the Kobuk the miner examined the properties covered
by his option, and impressed by the optimism of the men who had made
the gold discovery he paid Harkness the price agreed upon. The deal
completed, he sent the fellow back to Candle Creek, the nearest
post, for supplies. Folsom's mood had altogether changed by now, so,
strangling his last doubt of Lois, he wrote her as he had written at
Kougarok City, and intrusted the letter to his associate.

Harkness, promptly upon his arrival at Candle, got drunk. He stayed
drunk for three days, and it was not until he was well started on his
way back to the Kobuk that he discovered Folsom's letter still in his

Now, to repeat, the man was not malicious, neither was he bad, but as
he debated whether he should back-track there came to him the memory
of his humiliation on the Imnachuck divide.

So! His brains were in his feet, eh? Folsom had strangled him until he
kicked, when, all the time, they had been on the right trail. Harkness
felt a flash of rage, like the flare of loose gunpowder, and in the
heat of it he tore the letter to atoms. It was a womanish, spiteful
thing to do, and he regretted it, but later when he greeted the
husband he lied circumstantially and declared he had given the missive
into the hands of the mail-carrier on the very hour of his departure.
By this time, doubtless, it was nearly to Nome. Soon thereafter
Harkness forgot all about the incident.

Folsom was a fast worker. He hired men and cross-cut the most
promising claim. Bed-rock was shallow, and he soon proved it to be
barren, so he went on to the next property. When he had prospected
this claim with no better results than before he wrote his wife
confessing doubts of the district and voicing the fear that his
winter's work would be wasted. Again he let his pen run as it would;
the letter he gave to a neighbor who was leaving for Candle Creek in
the morning.

Folsom's neighbor was a famous "musher," a seasoned, self-reliant man,
thoroughly accustomed to all the hazards of winter travel, but ten
miles from his destination he crossed an inch-deep overflow which
rendered the soles of his muk-luks slippery, and ten yards further on,
where the wind had laid the glare-ice bare, he lost his footing. He
fell and wrenched his ankle and came hobbling into Candle half an hour
after the monthly mail for Nome had left.

Three weeks later Folsom wrote his wife for the third time, and again
a month after that. All three letters joined company in Candle Creek;
for meanwhile the mail-man's lead dog had been killed in a fight with
a big malamute at Lane's Landing, causing its owner to miss a trip.
Now dog-fights are common; by no logic could one attribute weighty
results to the loss of a sixty-pound leader, but in this instance it
so happened that the mail-carrier's schedule suffered so that his
contract was canceled.

Meanwhile a lonely woman waited anxiously in Nome, and as the result
of a stranger's spite, a wet muk-luk, and a vicious malamute her
anxiety turned to bitterness and distrust.

It is never difficult to forward mail in the north, for every "musher"
is a postman. When news came to Candle Creek that the Government
service had been discontinued the storekeeper, one end of whose bar
served as post-office, sacked his accumulated letters and intrusted
them to some friends who were traveling southward on the morrow. The
trader was a canny man, but he loved to gamble, so when his friends
offered to bet him that they could lower the record from Candle to
Nome he went out into the night, sniffed the air and studied the
stars, then laid them a hundred dollars that they could not.

Excited to recklessness by this wager the volunteer mail-men cut
down their load. They left their stove and tent and grub-box behind,
planning to make a road-house every night except during the long jump
from the Imnachuck to Crooked River. They argued that it was worth a
hundred dollars to sleep once under the open sky.

The fruits of that sporting enterprise were bitter; the trader won his
bet, but he never cashed it in. Somewhere out on the high barrens a
storm swooped down upon the travelers. To one who has never faced an
Arctic hurricane it seems incredible that strong men have died within
call of cozy cabins or have frozen with the lashings of their sleds
but half untied. Yet it is true. The sudden awful cold, the shouting
wind, the boiling, blinding, suffocating rush of snow; the sweaty
clothes that harden into jointless armor; the stiff mittens and the
clumsy hands inside--these tell a tale to those who know.

The two mail-carriers managed to get into their sleeping-bags, but the
gale, instead of drifting them over with a protective mantle of snow,
scoured the mountain-side bare to the brittle reindeer moss, and they
began to freeze where they lay. Some twenty hours they stood it, then
they rose and plunged ahead of the hurricane like bewildered cattle.
The strongest man gave up first and lay down, babbling of things
to eat. His companion buried him, still alive, and broke down the
surrounding willow-tops for a landmark, then he staggered on. By some
miracle of good luck, or as a result of some unsuspected power of
resistance, he finally came raving into the Crooked River Road-house.
When the wind subsided they hurried him to Nome, but he was
frightfully maimed and as a result of his amputations he lay gabbling
until long after the spring break-up.

Folsom did not write again. In fact, when no word came from Lois, he
bitterly regretted the letters he had written. He heard indirectly
from her; new-comers from Nome told him that she was well, but that
was all. It was enough. He did not wish to learn more.

Spring found him with barely enough money to pay his way back. He was
blue, bitter, disheartened, but despite the certainty that his
wife had forsaken him he still cherished a flickering hope of a
reconciliation. Strangely enough he considered no scheme of vengeance
upon the other man, for he was sane and healthy, and he loved Lois too
well to spoil her attempt at happiness.

It so happened that the Arctic ice opened up later this spring than
for many seasons; therefore the short summer was well under way before
the first steam-schooner anchored off the Kobuk. Folsom turned his
back upon the wreck of his high hopes, his mind solely engaged with
the problem of how to meet Lois and ascertain the truth without undue
embarrassment to her and humiliation to himself. The prospect of
seeing her, of touching her, of hearing her voice, affected him
painfully. He could neither eat nor sleep on the way to Nome, but
paced the deck in restless indecision. He had come to consider himself
wholly to blame for their misunderstanding, and he wished only for a
chance to win back her love, with no questions asked and no favors

When there were less than fifty miles to go the steamer broke her
shaft. There was no particular reason why that shaft should break,
but break it did, and for eighteen hours--eighteen eternities to
Folsom--the ship lay crippled while its engine-room crew labored

Folsom had been so long in the solitudes that Nome looked like a
big city when he finally saw it. There were several ships in the
roadstead, and one of them was just leaving as the Kobuk boat came to
anchor. She made a splendid sight as she gathered way.

The returning miner went ashore in the first dory and as he stepped
out upon the sand a friend greeted him:

"Hello there, old settler! Where you been all winter?"

"I've been to the Kobuk," Folsom told him.

"Kobuk? I hear she's a bum."

"'Bum' is right. Maybe she'll do to dredge some day."

"Too bad you missed the _Oregon_; there she goes now." The man pointed

"Too bad?"

"Sure! Don't you know? Why, Miz Folsom went out on her!"

Folsom halted; after a momentary pause he repeated, vaguely, "Went

"Exactly. Didn't you know she was going?"

"Oh yes--of course! The _Oregon_!" Folsom stared at the fading plume
of black smoke; there was a curious brightness in his eyes, his face
was white beneath its tan. "She sailed on the _Oregon_ and I missed
her, by an hour! That broken shaft--" He began to laugh, and turning
his back upon the sea he plodded heavily through the sand toward the
main street.

Folsom found no word from his wife, his house was empty; but he
learned that "the man" had also gone to the States, and he drew his
own conclusions. Since Lois had ordered her life as she saw fit there
was nothing to do but wait and endure--doubtless the divorce would
come in time. Nevertheless, he could not think of that broken shaft
without raving.

Being penniless he looked for work, and his first job came from a
small Jewish merchant, named Guth, who offered him a hundred dollars
to do the assessment work on a tundra claim. For twenty days Folsom
picked holes through frozen muck, wondering why a thrifty person like
Guth would pay good money to hold such unpromising property as this.

The claim was in sight of Nome, and as Folsom finished his last day's
labor he heard bells ringing and whistles blowing and discovered that
the town was ablaze. He hurried in to find that an entire block in
the business center of the city had been destroyed and with it Guth's
little store, including all its contents. He found the Jew in tears.

"What a misfortune!" wailed the merchant. "Ruined, absolutely--and by
a match! It started in my store--my little girl, you understand?
And now, all gone!" He tore his beard and the tears rolled down his

The little man's grief was affecting, and so Folsom inquired more
gently than he intended, "I'm sorry, of course, but how about my money
for the Lulu assessment?"

"Money? There's your money!" Guth pointed sadly into the smoldering
ruins. "Go find it--you're welcome to anything I have left. Gott! What
a country! How can a man get ahead, with no insurance?"

Folsom laughed mirthlessly. His hard luck was becoming amusing and
he wondered how long it would last. He had counted on that hundred
dollars to get away from Nome, hoping to shake misfortune from his
heels, but a match in the hands of a child, like that broken propeller
shaft, had worked havoc with his plans. Well, it was useless to cry.

To the despairing Hebrew he said: "Don't lose your grip, old man. Buck
up and take another start. You have your wife and your little girl, at
least, and you're the sort who makes good."

"You think so?" Guth looked up, grateful for the first word of
encouragement he had heard.

"It's a cinch! Only don't lose your courage."

"I--I'll do what's right by you, Mr. Folsom," declared the other.
"I'll deed you a half interest in the Lulu."

But Folsom shook his head. "I don't want it. There's nothing there
except moss and muck and salmon berries, and it's a mile to bed-rock.
No, you're welcome to my share; maybe you can sell the claim for
enough to make a new start or to buy grub for the wife and the kid.
I'll look for another job."

For a month or more the lonesome husband "stevedored," wrestling
freight on the lighters, then he disappeared. He left secretly, in the
night, for by now he had grown fanciful and he dared to hope that he
could dodge his Nemesis. He turned up in Fairbanks, a thousand miles
away, and straightway lost himself in the hills.

He had not covered his tracks, however, for bad luck followed him.

Now no man starves in Alaska, for there is always work for the
able-bodied; but whatever Folsom turned his hand to failed, and by and
by his courage went. He had been a man of consequence in Nome; he
had made money and he had handled other men, therefore his sense of
failure was the bitterer.

Meanwhile, somewhere in him there remained the ghost of his faith
in Lois, the faintly flickering hope that some day they would come
together again. It lay dormant in him, like an irreligious man's
unacknowledged faith in God and a hereafter, but it, too, vanished
when he read in a Seattle newspaper, already three months old, the
announcement of his wife's divorce. He flinched when he read that it
had been won on the grounds of desertion, and thereafter he shunned

Spring found him broke, as usual. He had become bad company and men
avoided him. It amused him grimly to learn that a new strike had been
made in Nome, the biggest discovery in the camp's history, and to
realize that he had fled just in time to miss the opportunity of
profiting by it. He heard talk of a prehistoric sea-beach line, a
streak of golden sands which paralleled the shore and lay hidden below
the tundra mud. News came of overnight fortunes, of friends grown
prosperous and mighty. Embittered anew, Folsom turned again to the
wilderness, and he did not reappear until the summer was over. He came
to town resolved to stay only long enough to buy bacon and beans, but
he had lost his pocket calendar and arrived on a Sunday, when the
stores were closed.

Even so little a thing as the loss of that calendar loomed big in the
light of later events, for in walking the streets he encountered a
friend but just arrived from the Behring coast.

The man recognized him, despite his beard and his threadbare mackinaws
and they had a drink together.

"I s'pose you heard about that Third Beach Line?" the new-comer
inquired. Folsom nodded. "Well, they've opened it up for miles, and
it's just a boulevard of solid gold. 'Cap' Carter's into it big, and
so are the O'Brien boys and Old Man Hendricks. They're lousy with

"I did the work on a tundra claim," said Folsom; "the Lulu--"

"The _Lulu_!" Folsom's friend stared at him. "Haven't you heard about
the Lulu? My God! Where you been, anyhow? Why, the Lulu's a mint! Guth
is a millionaire and he made it all without turning a finger."

Folsom's grip on the bar-rail tightened until his knuckles were white.

"I'm telling you right, old man; he's the luckiest Jew in the country.
He let a lay to McCarthy and Olson, and they took out six hundred
thousand dollars, after Christmas."

"Guth offered me a--half interest in the Lulu when his store burned
and--I turned it down. He's never paid me for that assessment work."

The Nomeite was speechless with amazement. "The son-of-a-gun!" he
said, finally. "Well, you can collect now. Say! That's what he meant
when he told me he wanted to see you. Guth was down to the boat when I
left, and he says: 'If you see Folsom up river tell him to come back.
I got something for him.' Those were his very words. That little Jew
aims to pay you a rotten hundred so you won't sue him for an interest.
By Gorry, I wouldn't take it! I'd go back and make him do the right
thing. I'd sue him. I'd bust him in the nose! A half interest--in the
Lulu! My God!" The speaker gulped his drink hastily.

After consideration, Folsom said: "He'll do the right thing. Guth
isn't a bad sort."

"No. But he's a Jew; trust him to get his."

"I wouldn't ask him to do more than pay his debt. You see I refused
his offer."

"What of that? I'd give it a try, anyhow, and see if he wouldn't
settle. There's lots of lawyers would take your case. But say, that's
the toughest tough-luck story I ever heard. You've sure got a jinx on

"I'm going back, but I won't sue Guth. I'm sick of Alaska; it has
licked me. I'm going out to God's country."

Folsom indeed acknowledged himself beaten. The narrow margin by which
he had missed reward for his work and his hardships bred in him such
hatred for Alaska that he abruptly changed his plans. He had no heart,
perversity had killed his courage. It exasperated him beyond all
measure to recall what little things his luck had hinged upon, what
straws had turned his feet. A moment of pique with Lois, a broken
piece of steel, a match, a momentary whim when Guth offered him
payment. It was well that he did not know what part had been played by
his quarrel with Harkness, that wet muk-luk, that vicious lead dog,
and the storekeeper's wager.

Folsom carried cord-wood to pay for a deck passage down river. He
discovered en route that Guth had really tried to get in touch with
him, and in fact appeared greatly concerned over his failure to do so,
for at Tanana he received another message, and again at St. Michaels.
He was grimly amused at the little Jew's craftiness, yet it sorely
offended him to think that any one should consider him such a welcher.
He had no intention of causing trouble, for he knew he had no legal
claim against the fellow, and he doubted if he possessed even a moral
right to share in the Lulu's riches. To play upon the Hebrew's fears,
therefore, savored of extortion. Nevertheless, he was in no agreeable
frame of mind when he arrived at his destination and inquired for

The new-made millionaire was in his office; Folsom walked in
unannounced. He had expected his arrival to create a scene, and he was
not disappointed. But Guth's actions were strange, they left the new
arrival dazed, for the little man fell upon him with what appeared to
be exuberant manifestations of joy.

"Mr. Folsom!" he cried. "You have come! You got my letters, eh? Well,
I wrote you everywhere, but I was in despair, for I thought you must
be dead. Nobody knew what had become of you."

"I got your message in Fairbanks."

"You heard about the Lulu, eh? Gott! She's a dandy."

"Yes. I can hardly believe it. So, you're rich. Well, I congratulate
you, and now I can use that hundred."

Guth chuckled. "Ha! You will have your joke, eh? But the Lulu is no
joke. Come, we will go to the bank; I want them to tell you how much
she has yielded. You'll blame me for leasing her, but how was I to
know what she was?"

"I--Why should I blame--" Folsom stared at the speaker. "It's none of
my business what the Lulu has yielded. In fact, I'll sleep better if I
don't know."

Little Guth paused and his mouth opened. After a moment he inquired,
curiously: "Don't you understand?" There was another pause, then he
said, quietly, "I'm a man of my word."

Folsom suddenly saw black, the room began to spin, he passed his hand
across his eyes. "Wait! Let's get this straight," he whispered.

"It is all very simple," Guth told him. "We are equal partners in
the Lulu--we have been, ever since the day my store burned. It was a
little thing you said to me then, but the way you said it, the fact
that you didn't blame me, gave me new heart. Did you think I'd renig?"
When Folsom found no answer the other nodded slowly. "I see. You
probably said, 'That Guth is a Jew and he'll do me up if he can.'
Well, I am a Jew, yes, and I am proud of it; but I am an honest man,
too, like you."

Folsom turned to the wall and hid his face in the crook of his arm,
but with his other hand he groped for that of the Hebrew.

The story of the Lulu is history now; in all the north that mine is
famous, for it made half a dozen fortunes. In a daze, half doubting
the reality of things, Folsom watched a golden stream pour into his
lap. All that winter and the next summer the Lulu yielded wondrously,
but one of the partners was not happy, his thoughts being ever of the
woman who had left him. Prosperity gave him courage, however, and when
he discovered that Lois had not remarried he determined to press his
luck as a gambler should.

When the second season's sluicing was over and the ground had frozen
he went outside.

The day after he sailed Lois arrived in Nome, on the last boat. She
was older, graver; she had heard of the Lulu, but it was not that
which had brought her back. She had returned in spite of the Lulu to
solve an aching mystery and to learn the why of things. Her husband's
riches--she still considered him her husband--merely made the task
more trying.

Advised that Folsom had passed almost within hailing distance of her,
she pressed her lips together and took up her problem of living. The
prospect of another lonely Alaskan winter frightened her, and yet
because of the Lulu she could not return by the ship she had come on.
Now that Folsom was a Croesus she could not follow him too closely--he
might misunderstand. After all, she reflected, it mattered little to
her where she lived.

Guth called at her cabin, but she managed to avoid seeing him, and
somehow continued to avoid a meeting.

Late in December some travelers from Candle Creek, while breaking a
short cut to the head of Crooked River, came upon an abandoned sled
and its impedimenta. Snow and rain and summer sun had bleached its
wood, its runners were red streaks of rust, its rawhide lashings had
been eaten off, but snugly rolled inside the tarpaulin was a sack
of mail. This mail the travelers brought in with them, and the Nome
newspapers, in commenting upon the find, reprinted the story of that
tragic fight for life in the Arctic hurricane, now almost forgotten.

Folsom's three letters reached their destination on Christmas Day.
They were stained and yellow and blurred in places, for they were
three years old, but the woman read them with eyes wide and wondering,
and with heart-beats pounding, for it seemed that dead lips spoke to
her. Ten minutes later she was standing at Guth's door, and when he
let her in she behaved like one demented. She had the letters hidden
in her bosom, and she would not let him see them, but she managed to
make known the meaning of her coming.

"You know him," she cried, hysterically. "You made him rich. You've
lived alongside of him. Tell me then, has he--has he--changed? These
letters are old. Does he still care, or--does he hate me, as he

Guth smiled; he took her shaking hands in his, his voice was gentle.
"No, no! He doesn't hate you. He has never mentioned your name to me,
or to any one else, so far as I know, but his money hasn't satisfied
him. He is sad, and he wants you. That is what took him to the States,
I'm sure."

Lois sank into a chair, her face was white, her twisting fingers
strained at each other. "I can't understand. I can't make head or tail
of it," she moaned. "It seems that I wronged him, but see what ruin he
has made for me! Why? Why--?"

"Who can understand the 'why' of anything?" inquired the little
Hebrew. "I've heard him curse the perversity of little things, and
rave at what he called the 'malice of the north wind.' I didn't dare
to ask him what he meant, but I knew he was thinking of the evil which
had come between you two. Who was to blame, or what separated you, he
never told me. Well, his bad luck has changed, and yours, too; and I'm
happy. Now then, the wireless. You can talk to him. Let us go."

An hour later a crackling message was hurled into the empty Christmas
sky, a message that pulsed through the voids, was relayed over ice and
brine and drifted forests to a lonely, brooding man three thousand
miles away.

The answer came rushing back:

"Thank God! Am starting north tomorrow. Love and a million kisses.
Wait for me."

Folsom came. Neither ice nor snow, neither winter seas nor trackless
wastes, could daunt him, for youth was in his heart and fire ran
through his veins. North and west he came by a rimy little steamer, as
fast as coal could drive her, then overland more than fifteen hundred
miles. His record stands unbroken, and in villages from Katmai to the
Kuskokwim the Indians tell of the tall white man with the team of
fifteen huskies who raced through as if a demon were at his heels; how
he bored headlong into the blizzards and braved January's fiercest
rage; how his guides dropped and his dogs died in their collars. That
was how Folsom came.

He was thin and brown, the marks of the frost were bitten deep into
his flesh when, one evening in early March, he drove into Nome. He
had covered sixty miles on the last day's run, and his team was
staggering. He left the dogs in their harnesses, where they fell, and
bounded through the high-banked streets to Lois's cabin.

It was growing dark, a light gleamed from her window; Folsom glimpsed
her moving about inside. He paused to rip the ice from his bearded
lips, then he knocked softly, three times.

As he stood there a gentle north wind fanned him. It was deadly cold,
but it was fresh and clean and vastly invigorating. There was no
malice in it.

At his familiar signal he heard the clatter of a dish, dropped from
nerveless fingers, he heard a startled voice cry out his name, then he
pressed the latch and entered, smiling.


"The science of salesmanship is quite as exact as the science of
astronomy," said Mr. Gross, casting his eyes down the table to see
that he had the attention of the other boarders, "and much more
intricate. The successful salesman is as much an artist in his line as
the man who paints pictures or writes books."

"Oh, there's nothing so artistic as writing books," protested Miss
Harris, the manicurist. "Nothing except acting, perhaps. Actors are
artistic, too. But salesmen! I meet lots in my business, and I'm not
strong for them."

Mr. Gross smiled at her indulgently; it was an expression that became
him well, and he had rehearsed it often.

"The power to sell goods is a talent, my dear Miss Harris, just like
the power to invent machinery or to rule a city, or--or--to keep a set
of books. Don't you agree with me, Mrs. Green?"

Mrs. Green, the landlady, a brown, gray woman in black, smiled
frigidly. "You're _so_ original, Mr. Gross," said she, "it's a
pleasure to hear you, I'm sure."

Gross was an impressive talker, due to the fact that he plagiarized
office platitudes; he ran on pompously, dropping trade mottoes and
shop-worn bits of philosophy until young Mitchell, unable longer to
endure the light of admiration he saw in Miss Harris's eyes, rolled
up his napkin to the size of a croquette and interrupted by noisily
shoving back his chair and muttering under his breath:

"That stuff comes on printed cards. They give it away."

Mrs. Green called to him, "It's bread pudding, Mr. Mitchell, and very

"Thanks! My gout is bad again," he said, at which some of the more
frivolous-minded boarders snickered.

"Mitchell is a bright boy--in many ways," Gross remarked, a moment
later, "but he's too fresh. I don't think he'll last long at the

Instead of climbing to his hall kennel on the fourth floor rear, Louis
Mitchell went out upon the rusty little porch of the boarding-house
and sat down on the topmost step, reflecting gloomily that a clerk has
small chance against a head bookkeeper.

Life at Mrs. Green's pension--she called it that, rates six dollars
up, terms six dollars down--had not been the same for the youthful
hermit of the hall bedroom since Gross had met him and Miss Harris in
the park a few Sundays before and, falling under the witchery of the
manicurist's violet eyes, had changed his residence to coincide with
theirs. Gross now occupied one of the front rooms, and a corresponding
place in the esteem of those less fortunate boarders to whom the mere
contemplation of ten dollars a week was an extravagance. Mitchell had
long adored the blonde manicurist, but once the same roof sheltered
her and the magnificent head bookkeeper, he saw his dream of love and
two furnished rooms with kitchenette go glimmering.

Time was when Miss Harris had been content with Sundays in the park,
vaudeville--first balcony--on Wednesdays, and a moving picture now and
then. These lavish attentions, coupled with an occasional assault upon
some delicatessen establishment, had satisfied her cravings for the
higher life. Now that Gross had appeared and sown discord with his
prodigality she no longer cared for animals and band concerts, she had
acquired the orchestra-seat habit, had learned to dance, and, above
all, she now possessed a subtle refinement in regard to victuals. She
criticized Marlowe's acting, and complained that cold food gave her
indigestion. No longer did she sit the summer evenings out with
Mitchell, holding his hand in her lap and absent-mindedly buffing his
nails, warning him in sweet familiarity that his cuticle was "growing
down." In consequence of her defection, fierce resentment smoldered in
the young man's breast. He was jealous; he longed to out-squander
the extravagant Mr. Gross; he lusted to spend money in unstinted
quantities, five dollars an evening if or when necessary.

But there seemed little hope of his ever attaining such a purse-proud
position, for while he loomed fairly large in the boarding-house
atmosphere of Ohio Street--or had so loomed until the advent of the
reckless bookkeeper--he was so small a part of the office force of
Comer & Mathison, jobbers of railway supplies, as to resemble nothing
multiplied by itself. He received twelve dollars a week, to be sure,
for making telephone quotations and extending invoices between times;
but when, as the evening shadows of pay-day descended and he drew his
envelope, the procedure reminded him vaguely of blackmail, for any
office-boy who did not stutter could have held his job.

When at seven forty-five Miss Harris appeared upon the porch with her
hat and gloves and two-dollar-ticket air, and tripped gaily away in
company with Mr. Gross, young Mitchell realized bitterly that the cost
of living had increased and that it was up to him to raise his salary
or lose his lady.

He recalled Gross's words at supper-time, and wondered if there really
could be a science to business; if there could be anything to success
except hard work. Mr. Comer, in his weekly talks to the office
force, had repeatedly said so--whence the origin of the bookkeeper's
warmed-over wisdom--but Mitchell's duties were so simple and so
constricted as to allow no opening for science, or so, at least, it
seemed to him. How could he be scientific, how could he find play for
genius when he sat at the end of a telephone wire and answered routine
questions from a card? Every day the General Railway Sales Manager
gave him a price-list of the commodities which C. & M. handled, and
when an inquiry came over the 'phone all he was required, all he
was permitted, to do was to read the figures and to quote time of
delivery. If this resulted in an order the Sales Manager took the
credit. An open quotation, on the other hand, made Mitchell the
subject of brusque criticism for offering a target to competitors, and
when he lost an order he was the goat, not the General Railway Sales

No one around the office was too lowly to exact homage from the
quotation clerk, and no one was tongue-tied in the matter of
criticism, hence his position was neither one of dignity nor one
that afforded scope for talent in the money-making line. And yet if
salesmanship really were a science, Mitchell reasoned, there must
be some way in which even a switchboard operator could profit by
acquiring it. What if he were buckled to the end of a wire? Human
nature is the same, face to face or voice to voice; surely then, if
he set his mind to the task, he could make himself more than a mere
string of words over a telephone. Heretofore he had been working
wholly with his fingers, his ear-drums, and his vocal cords; he
determined henceforth to exercise his intelligence, if he had any. It
was indeed high time, for Miss Harris was undoubtedly slipping away,
lured by luxuries no clerk could afford, and, moreover, he, Mitchell,
was growing old; in a scant two years he would be able to vote. He
began forthwith to analyze the situation.

There wasn't much to it. His telephone calls came almost wholly
from the purchasing departments of the various railroads. Daily
requisitions were filled by the stenographers in those railway
offices, young ladies who through their long experience were allowed
to attend to the more unimportant purchases. It was in quoting prices
on these "pick-ups" that Mitchell helloed for eight hours a day.
Of course no large orders ever came over his wire, but this small
business carried an unusual profit for supply houses like Comer &
Mathison, and in consequence it was highly prized.

After a period of intense and painful thought the young man realized,
for the first time, that it was not the telephone itself which asked
for price and time of delivery, but a weak, imaginative human being,
like himself, at the other end of the wire. He reasoned further that
if he could convince that person that the voice from Conner & Mathison
likewise issued from a human throat, then it might be possible to get
away, in a measure at least, from the mechanical part of the business
and establish altogether new relations. If there were really a
science to salesmanship, it would work at long distance as well as at
collar-and-elbow holds, and Mitchell's first task, therefore, should
be to project his own personality into the railroad offices. He went
to bed still trying to figure the matter out.

His opportunity to test his new-born theory came on the following
morning when an irritable female voice over at the Santa Fe asked the
price on twenty kegs of rivets.

"Good morning, Santa Fe-male," he answered, cheerily.

There was a moment of amazed silence, then the young lady snapped:
"'Good morning'? What is this, the Weather Bureau? I want Comer &

"Gee! Can't a fellow display a little courtesy in business?" Mitchell
inquired. "I'd rather be nice to you than not."

"All right, Mr. Comer," the voice replied, sarcastically. "Make a nice
price on those rivets--and cut out the kidding."

"Listen; my name's not Comer; it's Mitchell. I'm not kidding, either.
I want you to ask for me whenever you call up. Every little bit helps,
you know."

"Oh, I see. You want the carriage man to call your number. All right,
Mitch. If you're out at lunch with Mr. Carnegie the next time I want a
dozen number ten sheets I'll have you paged at the Union League Club."

If the speaker liked this kind of blank verse, she had called up the
right supply house, for Mitchell came back with:

"Say, if I ever get _your_ number, I'll do the calling, Miss Santa

"_W-what_?" came the startled reply.

"I mean what I say. I'd love to call--"

"Is that so? Well, I do all the calling for our, family, and I'm going
to call you right now. What's the price of those rivets?"

"Two sixty-five."

"Too high! Good-by."

"Wait a minute." Mitchell checked the lady before she could "plug out"
on him. "Now that you've got those rivets out of your system, may I
get personal for an instant?"

"Just about an instant."

"I could listen to _you_ all day."

"Oops, Horace; he loves me!" mocked the lady's voice.

"See here, I'm a regular person--with references. I've been talking to
you every day for six months, so I feel that we're acquainted. Some
pleasant evening, when your crew of hammock gladiators palls on you,
let me come around and show you the difference."

"What difference?"

"I'll show you what a real porch-climber is like."

"Indeed! I'll think it over."

Ten minutes later Miss Santa Fe called up again.

"Hello! I want Mitchell, the junior partner."

"This is Mitchell."

"Did you say those rivets were two-fifty?"

"Should they be?"

"They should."

"They are."

"Ship them to Trinidad."

"That's bully of you, Miss Santa Claus. I want to--" But the wire was

Mitchell grinned. Personality did count after all, and he had proved
that it could be projected over a copper wire.

An hour later when Miss Northwestern called him for a price on
stay-bolt iron she did not ring off for fifteen minutes, and at the
end of that time she promised to take the first opportunity of having
another chat. In a similar manner, once the ice had been broken at
the C. & E.I., Mitchell learned that the purchasing agent was at West
Baden on his vacation; that he had stomach trouble and was cranky;
that the speaker loved music, particularly Chaminade and George Cohan,
although Beethoven had written some good stuff; that she'd been to
Grand Haven on Sunday with her cousin, who sold hats out of Cleveland
and was a prince with his money, but drank; and that the price on
corrugated iron might be raised ten cents without doing any damage.

On the following afternoon Murphy, the Railroad Sales Manager, stopped
on his way past Mitchell's desk to inquire:

"Say, have you been sending orchids to Miss Dunlap over at the Santa
Fe? I was in there this morning, and she wanted to know all about

"Did you boost me?" Louis inquired. "It won't hurt your sales to plug
my game."

"She said you and she are 'buddies' over the wire. What did she mean?"

"Oh, wire pals, that's all. What kind of a looker is she, Mr. Murphy?"

The Sales Manager shrugged his shoulders. "She looks as if she was
good to her mother." Then he sauntered away.

Mitchell, in the days that followed, proceeded to become acquainted
with the Big Four, and in a short time was so close to the Lackawanna
that he called her Phoebe Snow. The St. Paul asked for him three times
in one afternoon, and the Rock Island, chancing to ring up while he
was busy, threatened to hang crepe on the round-house if he were not
summoned immediately to enter an order for a manhole crab.

Within a week he became the most thoroughly telephoned person in the
office, and had learned the tastes, the hopes, the aims, and the
ambitions of his respective customers. Miss C. & E.I., for instance,
whose real name was Gratz, was a bug on music; Miss Northwestern was
literary. She had read everything Marion Crawford ever wrote, and
considered her the greatest writer Indiana had produced, but was sorry
to learn from Mitchell that her marriage to Capt. Jack Crawford had
turned out so unhappily--some men were brutes, weren't they? There was
a hidden romance gnawing at the Big Four's heart, and Phoebe Snow
had a picture of James K. Hackett on her desk and wanted to start a
poultry farm. The Santa Fe had been married once, but had taken her
maiden name, it was so much pleasanter in business.

As Mitchell's telephone orders piled up, day after day, Murphy began
to treat him more like an employee than a "hand," and finally offered
him a moderate expense account if he cared to entertain his railroad
trade. When the young man's amazement at this offer had abated
sufficiently for him to accept he sent the office-boy around to the
Santa Fe on the run, instructing him to size up Miss Dunlap and
report. It was the first order he had ever issued in the office, and
the news spread quickly that he had been "raised."

Mr. Gross took occasion to congratulate the despised underling with
pompous insincerity, whereat Louis admonished him scowlingly to beat
it back to his trial balance or he'd bounce a letter-press on his

When the office-boy reappeared he turned in a laconic report, "She's a

Mitchell sweated the lad for further details, then nearly strained a
tendon in getting to the telephone booth.

"Hello, Miss Dunlap," he called. "Are you tied up for to-night?"

"I'm knot. The k is silent."

"Will you go to the theater with me?"


"No, Montgomery and Stone."

The lady muttered something unintelligible, then she tittered
nervously. "Those top balconies make me dizzy."

"How about the orchestra--sixth row? Could you keep your head there?"

"You must own a bill-board."

"No, it's a bank-book; same initials, you see. I'm an heiress."

"See here, Mitch"--Miss Dunlap became serious--"you're a good little
copper-wire comedian, but I don't know you nor your people."

"Well, I come from one of the oldest families in Atwood, Michigan, and
that town was settled over thirty years ago."

"But you don't know me," the lady demurred.

"I do, too. You're a tall blonde, gray eyes, blue dress; you have a

"Well, I declare! All right, then; seven-thirty to-night, six hundred
and twelve Filbert Street, fourth apartment, and many thanks."

Fifteen minutes before the appointed time Louis Mitchell was fidgeting
nervously outside the Filbert Street cold-water "walk-up" known as
Geraldine Manor, wondering if Miss Dunlap would notice his clothes.
Twelve dollars a week had starved his wardrobe until it resembled the
back-drop for a "Pity the Blind" card; but promptly on the minute
he punched the button at the fourth apartment. An instant later he
realized that no matter how he looked he had it on Miss Dunlap by
eighty per cent.

She was a blonde, to be sure, for the time being, and by the grace of
H_{2}O_{2}. One glance convinced her caller of two things--_viz_.,
that his office-boy did not care much for peaches, and that the Santa
Fe purchasing agent had a jealous wife. The most that possibly could
be said in praise of Miss Dunlap's appearance was that she was the
largest stenographer in Chicago. Then and there, however, her caller
qualified as a salesman; he smiled and he chatted in a free and easy
way that had the lady roped, thrown, and lashed to his chariot in
three minutes by her alarm-clock.

They went to the theater, and when Montgomery sprang a joke or Stone
did a fall Miss Dunlap showed her appreciation after the fashion of a
laughing hyena. Between times she barked enthusiastically, giving vent
to sounds like those caused when a boy runs past a picket fence with a
stick in his hand. She gushed, but so does Old Faithful. Anyhow, the
audience enjoyed her greatly.

At supper Mitchell secured parking space for his companion at the
Union Cafe, and there he learned how a welsh rabbit may be humiliated
by a woman. During the _debacle_ he fingered the money in his pocket,
then shut his eyes and ordered a bottle of champagne, just to see if
it could be done. Contrary to his expectation, the waiter did not
swoon; nor was he arrested. Root-beer had been Mitchell's main
intoxicant heretofore, but as he and the noisy Miss Dunlap sipped the
effervescing wine over their ice-cream, they pledged themselves to
enjoy Monday evenings together, and she told him, frankly:

"Mitch, you're the nickel-plated entertainer, and I'll never miss
another Monday eve unless I'm in the shops or the round-house. You
certainly have got class."

At breakfast Miss Harris regarded Lotus darkly, for Mr. Gross had told
her just enough to excite her curiosity.

"Where were you last night?" she inquired.

"I went to a show."

"Were the pictures good?"

"They don't have pictures at the Grand."

"Oh--h!" The manicurist's violet eyes opened wide. "Louis--you _drank_
something. You're awful pale. What was it?"

"Clicquot! That's my favorite brand."

Miss Harris clutched the table-cloth and pulled a dish into her lap.
After a moment she said: "Maybe you'll take me somewhere to-night. We
haven't been out together for the longest time."

"Oh, I see! This is Gross's night at the Maccabbees', isn't it?" Louis
gloated brutally over her confusion. "Sorry, but I'll probably have to
entertain some more customers. The firm is keeping me busy."

At the office things went most pleasantly for the next few weeks;
sixty per cent. of the city's railroad business came to Comer &
Mathison; the clerks began to treat Mitchell as if he were an equal;
even Gross lost his patronizing air and became openly hateful, while
Murphy--Louis no longer called him Mister--increased his assistant's
expense account and confided some of his family affairs to the latter.
Mr. Comer, the senior partner, began to nod familiarly as he passed
the quotation clerk's desk.

Nor were Louis's customers all so eccentric as Miss Dunlap. Phoebe
Snow, for instance, was very easy to entertain, and the Northwestern
took to his custody like a hungry urchin to a barbecue. He gave them
each one night a week, and in a short time all his evenings were
taken, as a consequence of which he saw less and less of Miss Harris.
But, although he and his manicurist were becoming strangers, he soon
began to call the waiters at Rector's by their given names, and a
number of the more prominent cab-drivers waved at him.

One morning when, for the tenth successive time, he slid into his
desk-chair an hour late, Mr. Comer bowed to him, not only familiarly,
but sarcastically, then invited him to step into his private office
and see if he could locate the center of the carpet. It was a
geometrical task that Louis had been wishing to try for some time.

The senior partner began with elaborate sarcasm. "I notice you're
not getting down until nine o'clock lately, Mr. Mitchell. Is your
automobile out of order?"

"I have no automobile, Mr. Comer," the youth replied, respectfully.

"No? I'm surprised. Well, if eight sharp is too early, you may set
your time."

Mitchell tried his best to appear disconcerted. "You know I'm busy
every evening with my trade," said he.

"Nonsense. I've seen you out with a different dressmaker every night
that I've been down-town."

"Those are not dressmakers, they are stenographers from the railroad
offices. I'm sorry you're not satisfied with me, but I'm glad you
called me in, for I've been meaning to speak to you about this very
thing. You see, I have practically all the railroad business in the
city, and it takes too much of my time keeping it lined up. I have no
leisure of my own. I'll quit Saturday night, if convenient."

Mr. Comer grunted like a man who has stepped off a flight of stairs
one step too soon. "I didn't know it was really business. Of course,
if it is, why, you needn't quit--exactly--"

"I'm afraid I'll have to." Mitchell dropped his eyes demurely. "I've
had a number of offers, and in justice to myself--"

"Offers? _You_? How much?"

"One hundred a month and expenses."

Mr. Comer removed his glasses, he polished them carefully, then he
readjusted them and leaned forward, looking the young man over from
head to foot, as if he had never until this moment seen more than his
vague outlines.

"Um-m! You're nineteen years old, I believe!"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, then, an hour's delay won't be serious. Now you go back to
your desk and send Mr. Murphy here. I'll let you know shortly whether
Saturday night or this noon will be convenient."

It was perhaps a half-hour before lunch-time when Mr. Comer again
called for Mitchell, greeting him with the gruff inquiry:

"See here, do you think I'm going to advance you from twelve to
twenty-five a week at one clip?"

"No, sir."

"Humph! I'm not. I had a talk with Murphy. I think he's a liar, but
I'm going to make it fifteen hundred a year and expenses. Now get busy
and work your 'trade' for all it's worth."

Young Mitchell's knees wabbled, but, having learned the value of a
black mask and a gun, he went through his victim thoroughly while he
had him down.

"I'd like a traveling position the first of the year, sir, if you
don't mind."

"All right! If you hold your present gait I'll give you the Western
roads. Anything else you'd like? Well, then, git!"

That day Louis switched from the narrow-countered bakery-lunch route
to regular standard-gauge restaurants; he ordered clothes like a
bookmaker's bride and he sent a cubic foot of violets to Miss Harris.
At dinner-time he patronized Mr. Gross so tantalizingly that the
latter threatened to pull his nose out until it resembled a yard of
garden hose.

The whole boarding-house was agog at Mitchell's good fortune and
Miss Harris smiled on him in a manner reminiscent of the good old
ante-bookkeeper--one might say "ante-vellum"--days. She hinted that
Mr. Gross's company did not wholly satisfy her soul-hunger, and even
confessed that she was lonely; but this was Mitchell's Rock Island
evening, and although the frank surrender in Miss Harris's eyes caused
him to gasp as if he were slowly settling into a barrel of ice-water,
he tore himself from her side.

Louis's batting average would have reached one thousand had it not
been for the Monon. Miss Day, the young lady there, had a vocabulary
limited to "Hello," "Too high," and "Good-by," and it became
particularly galling to learn that the fellow at James & Naughten's
was pulling down the business, so Mitchell went to Murphy with a
proposition which showed that his mental growth had kept pace with his
financial advancement.

"You need a new stenographer," he declared.

"Oh, do I? Why do I need a new stenographer, Mr. Bones?"

"Well, it would be a good investment, and I know a corker."

"Who is she?"

"Miss Day, of the Monon."

"I didn't know you cared for Miss Day."

"I don't. That's the reason I want her to work for you."

Murphy coughed slightly, then he agreed. "You're learning the game.
We'll give her a three-dollar raise, and take her on."

Shortly thereafter Mitchell began to get acquainted with the new Miss
Monon along the right lines, and gave her Thursday nights. She was a
great improvement over Miss Day; she was, in fact, quite different
from any of the others. She was small and winsome, and she didn't care
to run around. She liked her home, and so did Mitchell after he had
called a few times. Before long he began to look forward eagerly
to Thursday nights and Miss Monon's cozy corner with its red-plush
cushions--reminiscent of chair-cars, to be sure--and its darkness
illumined dimly by red and green signal lamps. Many a pleasant evening
the two spent there, talking of locomotive planished iron, wire
nails, and turnbuckles, and the late lunch Miss Monon served beat the
system's regular buffet service a city block. Of course they lit the
red fire in front of James & Naughten's and turned the green light
Mitchell's way. He had the right of way on the Monon after that, and
other salesmen were side-tracked.

But this was too easy to last. Human affairs never run smoothly; it is
a man's ability to surmount the hummocks and the pressure ridges that
enables him to penetrate to the polar regions of success. The first
inkling of disaster came to Mitchell when Miss Dunlap began to tire
of the gay life and chose to spend her Monday evenings at home, where
they might be alone together. She spoke of the domestic habits she had
acquired during her brief matrimonial experience; she boldly declared
that marriage was the ideal state for any man, and that two could live
as cheaply as one, although personally she saw no reason why a girl
should quit work the instant she became a wife, did he? She confessed
that Monday evenings had become so pleasant that if Louis could
arrange to drop in on Fridays also, the week would be considerably
brightened thereby and her whole disposition improved. Now Fridays
were cinched tightly to the Big Four, but the young man dared not
acknowledge it, so he confessed that all his evenings except Monday
were taken up with night school, whereupon Miss Dunlap, in order
to keep abreast of his mental development, decided to take a
correspondence course in Esperanto.

It transpired also that his attentions toward the Lackawanna had
been misconstrued, for one night when Phoebe bade him adieu in the
vestibule she broke down and wept upon his shoulder, saying that his
coldness hurt her. She confessed that a rate clerk in the freight
department wanted to marry her, and she supposed she'd have to accept
his dastardly proposal because a girl couldn't go on working all
her life, could she? Then Miss Gratz, of the C. & E.I., following a
red-letter night at Grand Opera, succeeded by a German pancake and a
stein at the Edelweiss and a cab-ride home, took Louis gravely to task
for his extravagance and hinted that he ought to have a permanent
manager who took an interest in him, one who loved music as he did and
whose tastes were simple and Teutonic.

When the literary lady of the Northwestern declined a trip to the
White City and began to read Marion Crawford aloud to him Louis awoke
to the gravity of the situation.

But before he had worked the matter out in his own mind that rate
clerk of whom Miss Lackawanna had spoken dropped in at Comer &
Mathison's, introduced himself to Mitchell and told him, with a degree
of firmness which could not be ignored, that his attentions to Miss
Phoebe Snow were distasteful. He did not state to whom. Louis's caller
had the physical proportions of a "white hope," and he wasted few
words. He had come to nail up a vacate notice, and he announced simply
but firmly that Miss Snow's Wednesday evenings were to be considered
open time thereafter, and if Mitchell elected to horn his way in it
was a hundred-to-one shot that he'd have to give up solid foods for a
month or more and take his nourishment through a glass tube.

Nor were the young man's troubles confined to the office. Miss Harris,
it seemed, had seen him with a different lady each night she and Mr.
Gross had been out, and had drawn her own conclusions, so, therefore,
when he tried to talk to her she flared up and called him a dissipated
roue, and threatened to have the head bookkeeper give him a thrashing
if he dared to accost her again.

Now the various apartments where Mitchell had been calling, these past
months, were opulently furnished with gifts from the representatives
of the various railway supply houses of the city, each article being
cunningly designed to cement in the mind of the owner a source of
supply which, coupled with price and delivery, would make for good
sales service. He was greatly surprised one day to receive a brass
library lamp from the Santa Fe the initial destination of which had
evidently been changed. Then came a mission hall-clock in the original
package, redirected in the hand of Miss Gratz, of the C. & E.I., and
one day the office-boy from the Lackawanna brought him a smoking-set
for which Miss Phoebe Snow had no use. Gifts like these piled
up rapidly, many of them bearing witness to the fact that their
consignment originated from Mitchell's very rivals in the railroad
trade. Judging from the quantity of stuff that ricocheted from the
Santa Fe it was Miss Dunlap's evident desire to present him with a
whole housekeeping equipment as quickly as possible. Louis's desk
became loaded with ornaments, his room at Mrs. Green's became filled
with nearly Wedgwood vases, candlesticks, and other bric-a-brac. He
acquired six mission hall-clocks, a row of taborets stood outside of
his door like Turkish sentinels, and his collection of ash-receivers
was the best in Chicago.

Miss Harris continued to ignore him, however, and he learned with a
jealous pang that she was giving Mr. Gross a gratuitous course of
facial massage and scalp treatments. No longer did Mitchell entertain
his trade; they entertained him. They tried to help him save his
money, and every evening he was forced to battle for his freedom.

In desperation he finally went to Murphy begging quick promotion to a
traveling position, but the Sales Manager told him there was no chance
before the first of the year, then asked him why he had lost his grip
on the Lackawanna business.

As a matter of fact, since Miss Phoebe's rate clerk had declared
himself Mitchell had slipped a few Wednesday nights, trusting to
hold the Lackawanna trade by virtue of his past performances, but he
realized in the light of Murphy's catechism that eternal visiting is
the price of safety. He sighed, therefore, and called up the lady,
then apprehensively made a date.

That visit issued in disaster, as he had feared. The rate clerk,
gifted with some subtle second sight, had divined his treachery and
was waiting. He came to meet the caller gladly, like a paladin. Louis
strove to disarm the big brute by the power of the human eye, then
when that did not work he explained, politely, earnestly, that his
weekly calls were but part and parcel of his business, and that there
was nothing in his mind so remote as thoughts of matrimony. But the
rate clerk was a stolid, a suspicious person, and he was gnawed by
a low and common jealousy. Reason failing, they came together,
amalgamating like two drops of quicksilver.

On the following morning Mitchell explained to Mr. Comer that
in stepping out of the bathtub he had slipped and wrenched both
shoulders, then while passing through the dark hall had put his face
into mourning by colliding with an open door. His ankles he had
sprained on the way down-town.

About nine-thirty Miss Dunlap called up, but not to leave an order.
When she had finally rung off Louis looked dazedly at the wire to see
if the insulation had melted. It seemed impossible that rubber and
gutta-percha could withstand such heat as had come sizzling from the
Santa Fe. From what the lady had said it required no great inductive
powers to reason that the rate clerk had told all. Coming victorious
to Miss Lackawanna's door to have his knuckles collodionized he had
made known in coarse, triumphant language the base commercialism of
his rival.

The result had been that Phoebe arose in her wrath. Just to verify the
story she had called up the other railroad offices this morning,
and the hideous truth had come out. It had come out like a herd of
jack-rabbits ahead of a hound. Miss Dunlap was shouting mad, but
Phoebe herself, when she called up, was indignant in a mean, sarcastic
manner that hurt. The Northwestern rang Mitchell to say good-by
forever and to hope his nose was broken; the Big Four promised that
her brother, who was a puddler in the South Chicago steel mills, would
run in and finish the rate clerk's job; Miss Gratz, of the C.&E.I.,
was tearfully plaintive and, being German, spoke of suicide. Of course
all business relations with these offices were at an end.

During that whole day but one 'phone order came, and that was from
Miss Monon. Mitchell had been steeling himself to hear from her, but
it seemed that she took the whole thing as rather a good joke. She
told him she had known all the time why he came to see her, and when
he reminded her that it was Thursday she invited him to call if he
thought it worth while.

When he saw Miss Harris at supper-time and undertook to explain his
black eyes she assured him coldly that he and his ebony gig-lamps
mattered nothing in her young life, as evidence of which she flashed a
magnificent three-quarter carat diamond solitaire on her third finger.
She and Mr. Gross expected to be married inside of two or three years
if all went well, she told him.

At eight o'clock, disguised behind a pair of blue goggles, Louis
headed for Miss Monon's door, glad that the cozy corner was so dimly
lighted. When he arrived she bathed his battle-scarred features with
hamamelis, which is just the same as Pond's Extract, but doesn't cost
so much, and told him the other girls had acted foolishly. She was
very sweet and gentle with him and young Mitchell, imperfect as was
his vision, saw something in her he had never seen before.

A week went by, during which it seemed that all the railroads except
the Monon had suddenly gone out of business. It was as if a strike had
been declared. Another week passed and Mitchell's sales were scarcely
noticeable, so Mr. Comer called him in to ask:

"Is your 'phone disconnected?"

"No, sir."

"Do you know the price of our goods?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't you sleep well at home?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then what has become of those pick-ups?"

"I seem to have lost--my trade."

"Your 'trade'! Bah! Young man, you've been dissipating. That expense
account turned your head. You've been blowing in our money on your
friends and you've let your customers go. If you can't hold the
railroad business we'll get some fellow who can. Cut out your
sewing-circle wine suppers and your box parties to the North Shore
debutantes and get busy. You've got a week to make good. One week."

There wasn't the slightest chance, and Mitchell told Miss Monon
so when Thursday came around. He told her all about that promised
position on the road and what it meant to him, and then he told her
that beginning Monday he'd have to hunt a new berth at twelve dollars
per. She was very quiet, very sympathetic--so sympathetic, in fact,
that he told her some other things which no young man on a diminishing
salary should tell. She said little at the moment, but she did
considerable thinking, and she got busy on her 'phone early the next
morning. The first number she called was the Santa Fe's. When she had
finished talking with Miss Dunlap that hempen-haired sentimentalist
was dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief and blowing her nose,
assuring Miss Monon, at the same time, that she was a dear and that
it was all right now that she knew the truth. Miss Monon blushed
prettily, thanked her, and confessed that she had felt it coming on
for some time. Thereupon they took turns calling the others, from the
Big Four to the C.&E.I., with the result that Mitchell's wire began to
heat up.

Phoebe Snow called him to say that she hadn't meant what she said,
that he was a good old scout, and that the rate clerk was sorry also,
and wanted to stand treat for a Dutch lunch. Then she left an order
for a ton and a half of engine bolts.

Miss Gratz cried a little when she heard Mitchell's voice and told him
to make his own price on forty kegs of washers and suit himself about

Miss Dunlap confessed that it was her pride which had spoken, and,
anyhow, she knew altogether too much about marriage to take another
chance. She'd rather have one man friend than three husbands.

One by one the flock returned, and Saturday night Mitchell sent five
pounds of chocolates and a sheaf of red roses to the one who had made
it all come out right. He got his share of business after that, and
when the holidays came they brought him his promotion.

Murphy, who knew most of the facts, was the first to congratulate him.
"Jove!" he said, "that little Monon lady saved your bacon, didn't she?
By. the way, you never told me what her name was."

Young Mitchell's cheeks assumed a shell-pink shade as he replied: "It
doesn't matter what her name was, it's Mitchell now. We were married
yesterday and--all the roads were represented at the wedding."


Louis Mitchell knew what the telegram meant, even though it was brief
and cryptic. He had been expecting something of the sort ever since
the bottom dropped out of the steel business and prices tobogganed
forty dollars a ton. Nevertheless, it came as an undeniable shock, for
he had hoped the firm would keep him on in spite of hard times. He
wondered, as he sadly pocketed the yellow sheet, whether he had in him
the makings of a good life-insurance agent, or if he had not better
"join out" with a medicine show. This message led him to think his
talents must lie along the latter line. Certainly they did not lie in
the direction of metal supplies.

He had plenty of time to think the situation over, however, for it is
a long jump from Butte to Chicago; when he arrived at the latter place
he was certain of only one thing, he would not stand a cut in salary.
Either Comer & Mathison would have to fire him outright or keep him on
at his present wage; he would not compromise as the other salesmen had
done and were doing.

Twenty-five hundred a year is a liberal piece of money where people
raise their own vegetables, but to a man traveling in the West it is
about equal to "no pair." Given two hundred dollars a month and a fair
expense account a salesman can plow quite a respectable furrow around
Plymouth Rock, but out where they roll their r's and monogram their
live stock he can't make a track. Besides the loss of prestige and all
that went with it, there was another reason why young Mitchell could
not face a cut. He had a wife, and she was too new, too wonderful;
she admired him too greatly to permit of such a thing. She might, she
doubtless would, lose confidence in him if he took a step backward,
and that confidence of hers was the most splendid thing in Mitchell's
life. No, if Comer & Mathison wanted to make any change, they would
have to promote him. Ten minutes with the "old man," however, served
to jar this satisfactory determination to its foundation. Mr. Comer
put the situation clearly, concisely.

"Business is rotten. We've got to lay all the younger men off or we'll
go broke," he announced.

"But--I'm married," protested the young salesman.

"So am I; so is Mathison; so are the rest of the fellows. But, my boy,
this is a panic. We wouldn't let you go if we could keep you."

"I can sell goods--"

"That's just it; we don't want you to. Conditions are such that we
can't afford to sell anything. The less business we do the fewer
losses we stand to make. Good Lord, Louis, this is the worst year the
trade has ever known!"

"B-but--I'm married," blankly repeated Mitchell.

Comer shook his head. "We'd keep you in a minute if there was any way
to do it. You go home and see the wife. Of course if you can show
us where you're worth it, we'll let you stay; but--well, you can't.
There's no chance. I'll see you to-morrow."

Ordinarily Mitchell would not have allowed himself the extravagance
of a cab, but to-day the cars were too slow. He wondered how the girl
would take this calamity, their very first. As a matter of fact, she
divined the news even before he had voiced his exuberant greetings,
and, leading him into the neat little front room, she curled up at his
side, demanding all the reasons for his unexpected recall. He saw that
she was wide-eyed and rather white. When he had broken the bad news
she inquired, bravely:

"What is your plan, boy?"

"I haven't any."


"I mean it. What can I do? I don't know anything except the steel
business. I can lick my weight in wildcats on my own ground--but--"
The wife nodded her blonde head in complete agreement. "But that lets
me out," he concluded, despondently. "I can sell steel because I know
it from the ground up; it's my specialty."

"Oh, we mustn't think about making a change."

"I've handled more big jobs than any man of my age and experience on
the road, and yet--I'm fired." The husband sighed wearily. "I built
that big pipe line in Portland; I sold those smelters in Anaconda, and
the cyanide tanks for the Highland Girl. Yes, and a lot of other jobs,
too. I know all about the smelter business, but that's no sign I can
sell electric belts or corn salve. We're up against it, girlie."

"Have people quit building smelters?"

"They sure have--during this panic. There's nothing doing anywhere."

The wife thought for a moment before saying, "The last time you were
home you told me about some Western mining men who had gone to South

"Sure! To the Rand! They've made good, too; they're whopping big
operators, now."

"You said there was a large contract of some sort coming up in

"Large! Well, rather! The Robinson-Ray job. It's the biggest ever, in
my line. They're going to rebuild those plants the Boers destroyed. I
heard all about it in Montana."

"Well!" Mrs. Mitchell spoke with finality. "That's the place for you.
Get the firm to send you over there."

"Um-m! I thought about that, but it scared me out. It's too big. Why,
it's a three-million-dollar job. You see, we've never landed a large
foreign contract in this country as yet." Mitchell sat up suddenly.
"But say! This panic might--" Then he relaxed. "Oh, what's the use?
If there were a chance the firm wouldn't send me. Comer would go
himself--he'd take the whole outfit over for a job like that. Besides,
it's too big a thing for our people; they couldn't handle it."

Mrs. Mitchell's eyes were as round as buttons. "Three million dollars'
worth of steel in one contract! Do you think you could land it if you

"It's my line of work," the young man replied, doubtfully. "I'll bet
I know more about cyanide tanks than any salesman in Europe, and if I
had a decent price to work on--"

"Then it's the chance we've been waiting for."

The girl scrambled to her feet and, fetching a chair, began to talk
earnestly, rapidly. She talked for a long time, until gradually the
man's gray despondency gave way to her own bright optimism. Nor was
it idle theory alone that she advanced; Mitchell found that she knew
almost as much about the steel business as he did, and when she had
finished he arose and kissed her.

"You've put new heart into me, anyhow. If you're game to do your
share, why--I'll try it out. But remember it may mean all we've got in
the bank, and--" He looked at her darkly.

"It's the biggest chance we'll ever have," she insisted. "It's worth
trying. Don't let's wait to get rich until we are old."

When Mr. Comer returned from lunch he found his youngest salesman
waiting for him, and inside of ten minutes he had learned what
Mitchell had on his mind. With two words Comer blew out the gas.

"You're crazy," said he.

"Am I? It's worth going after."

"In the first place no big foreign job ever came to America--"

"I know all that. It's time we got one."

"In the second place Comer & Mathison are jobbers."

"I'll get a special price from Carnegie."

"In the third place it would cost a barrel of money to send a man to

Mitchell swallowed hard. "I'll pay my own way."

Mr. Comer regarded the speaker with genuine astonishment. "_You'll_
pay your way? Why, you haven't got any money."

"I've got a thousand dollars--or the wife has. It's our nest-egg."

"It would take five thousand to make the trip."

"I'll make it on one. Yes, and I'll come back with that job. Don't you
see this panic makes the thing possible? Yes, and I'm the one man
to turn the trick; for it's right in my line. I'll see the Carnegie
people at Pittsburgh. If they quote the right price I'll ask you for a
letter, and that's all you'll have to do. Will you let me go?"

"What sort of a letter?"

"A letter stating that I am your general sales manager."

The steel merchant's mouth fell open.

"Oh, I only want it for this London trip," Mitchell explained. "I
won't use it except as a credential. But I've got to go armed, you
understand. Mr. Comer, if I don't land that Robinson-Ray contract, I
won't come back. I--I couldn't, after this. Maybe I'll drive a 'bus--I
hear they have a lot of them in London."

"Suppose, for instance, you should get the job on a profitable basis;
the biggest job this concern ever had and one of the biggest ever let
anywhere--" Mr. Comer's brow was wrinkled humorously. "What would you
expect out of it?"

Mitchell grinned. "Well, if I signed all those contracts as your
general sales manager, I'd probably form the habit."

"There's nothing modest about you, is there?" queried the elder man.

"Not a thing. My theory of business is that a man should either be
fired or promoted. If I get that job I'll leave it to you to do what's
right. I won't ask any questions."

"The whole thing is utterly absurd," Mitchell's employer protested.
"You haven't a chance! But--Wait!" He pressed a button on his desk.
"We'll talk with Mathison."

Louis Mitchell took the night train for Pittsburgh. He was back in
three days, and that afternoon Mr. Comer, in the privacy of his own
office, dictated a letter of which no carbon copy was preserved. He
gave it to the young man with his own hand, and with these words:
"You'd better think it over carefully, my boy. It's the most idiotic
thing I ever heard of, and there isn't one chance in a million. It
won't do you any good to fail, even on a forlorn hope like this."

But Mitchell smiled. "I can't fail--I'm married." Then when the other
seemed unimpressed by this method of reasoning, he explained: "I guess
you never saw my wife. She says I can do it."

It was only to this lady herself that Mitchell recited the details of
his reception at Pittsburgh, and of the battle he had fought in the
Carnegie office. The Carnegie men had refused to take him seriously,
had laughed at him as at a mild-mannered lunatic.

"But I got my price," he concluded, triumphantly, "and it sure looks
good to me. Now for the painful details and the sad good-bys."

"How long will you be gone?" his wife inquired.

"I can't stay more than a month, the bank-roll is too small."

"Oo-oo-h! A month! London is a long way off." Mrs. Mitchell's voice
broke plaintively and her husband's misgivings at once took fire.

"If I fail, as they all feel sure I will, what then?" he inquired.
"I'll be out of a job! I'll be a joke in the steel business; I'll be
broke. What will you do?"

She gave him a ravishing, dimpled smile, and her eyes were brave once
more. "Why, I haven't forgotten my shorthand, and there are always the
department stores." In a high, querulous tone she cried "Ca--a--sh!"
then laughed aloud at his expression. "Oh, it wouldn't hurt me any.
But--you won't fail--you can't! We're going to be rich. Now, we'll
divide our grand fortune." She produced a roll of currency from her
purse and took four twenty-dollar bills from it.

"Only eighty dollars?" he queried.

"It's more than enough for me. You'll be back in a month." She thrust
the remaining notes into his hand. "It's our one great, glorious
chance, dear. Don't you understand?"

Faith, hope and enthusiasm, the three graces of salesmanship, thrive
best in bright places. Had it not been for his wife's cheer during
those final hours young Mitchell surely would have weakened before it
came time to leave on the following day. It was a far cry to London,
and he realized 'way back in his head that there wasn't one chance in
a million of success. He began to doubt, to waver, but the girl seemed
to feel that her lord was bound upon some flaring triumph, and even
at the station her face was wreathed in smiles. Her blue eyes were
brimming with excitement; she bubbled with hopeful, helpful advice;
she patted her husband's arm and hugged it to her. "You're going to
win, boy. You're going to win," she kept repeating. For one moment
only--at the actual parting--she clung to him wildly, with all her
woman's strength, then, as the warning cry sounded, she kissed him
long and hungrily, and fairly thrust him aboard the Pullman. He did
not dream how she wilted and drooped the instant he had gone.

As the train pulled out he ran back to the observation car to wave
a last farewell, and saw her clinging to the iron fence, sobbing
wretchedly; a desolate, weak little girl-wife mastered by a thousand
fears. She was too blind with tears to see him. The sight raised a
lump in the young husband's throat which lasted to Fort Wayne.

"Poor little thoroughbred," he mused. "I just can't lose, that's all."

The lump was not entirely gone when the luncheon call came, so
Mitchell dined upon it, reasoning that this kind of a beginning
augured well for an economical trip.

Now that he was away from the warmth of his wife's enthusiasm
contemplation of his undertaking made the salesman rather sick. If
only he were traveling at the firm's expense, if only he had something
to fall back upon in case of failure, if only Comer & Mathison were
behind him in any way, the complexion of things would have been
altogether different. But to set out for a foreign land with no
backing whatever in the hope of accomplishing that which no American
salesman had ever been able to accomplish, and to finance the
undertaking out of his own pocket on a sum less than he would have
expected for cigarette money--well, it was an enterprise to test
a fellow's courage and to dampen the most youthful optimism. His
proposal to the firm to win all or lose all, he realized now, had
been in the nature of a bluff, and the firm had called it. There was
nothing to do, therefore, but go through and win; there could be no
turning back, for he had burned his bridges.

When one enters a race-horse in a contest he puts the animal in good
condition, he grooms it, he feeds it the best the stable affords,
he trains and exercises it carefully. Mitchell had never owned a
race-horse, but he reasoned that similar principles should apply to a
human being under similar conditions. He had entered a competition,
therefore he decided to condition himself physically and mentally for
the race. A doped pony cannot run, neither can a worried salesman sell

In line with this decision, he took one of the best state-rooms on the
_Lucania_, and denied himself nothing that the ship afforded. Every
morning he took his exercise, every evening a rub-down. He trained
like a fighter, and when he landed he was fit; his muscles were
hard, his stomach strong, his brain clear. He went first-class from
Liverpool to London; he put up at the Metropole in luxurious quarters.
When he stopped to think about that nine hundred and twenty, already
amazingly shrunken, he argued bravely that what he had spent had gone
to buy condition powders.

On the way across he had posted himself so far as possible about the
proposed Robinson-Ray plant. He learned that there were to be fifteen
batteries of cyanide tanks, two high--eighty-four in all--supported
by steel sub- and super-structures; the work to be completed at
Krugersdorpf, twenty miles out of Johannesburg, South Africa.
The address of the company was No. 42-1/2 Threadneedle Street.
Threadneedle Street was somewhere in London, and London was the
capital of a place called England.

He knew other African contracts were under consideration, but he
dismissed them from his thoughts and centered his forces upon
this particular job. Once he had taken a definite scent his early
trepidations vanished. He became obsessed by a joyous, purposeful,
unceasing energy that would not let him rest.

The first evening in London he fattened himself for the fray with a
hearty dinner, then he strove to get acquainted with his neighbors and
his environment. The nervous force within him needed outlet, but he
was frowned upon at every quarter. Even the waiter at his table made
it patent that his social standing would not permit him to indulge
in the slightest intimacy with chance guests of the hotel, while the
young Earl who had permitted Mitchell to register at the desk declined
utterly to go further with their acquaintance. Louis spent the evening
at the Empire, and the next morning, which was Sunday, he put in on
the top of a 'bus, laying himself open to the advances of anybody who
cared to pay him the slightest attention. But he was ignored; even
the driver, who spoke a foreign language, evidently considered him a
suspicious character. Like a wise general, Louis reconnoitered No.
42-1/2 Threadneedle Street during the afternoon, noting the lay of the
land and deciding upon modes of transportation to and from. Under
the pressure of circumstance he chose a Cannon Street 'bus, fare

Now garrulity is a disease that must either break out or strike inward
with fatal results. When Sunday night came, Mitchell was about ready
to fare forth with gun and mask and take conversation away from
anybody who had it to spare. He had begun to fear that his vocal cords
would atrophy.

He was up early, had breakfasted, and was at 42-1/2 Threadneedle
Street promptly at nine, beating the janitor by some twenty minutes.
During the next hour and a half he gleaned considerable information
regarding British business methods, the while he monotonously pounded
the sidewalk.

At nine-thirty a scouting party of dignified office-boys made a
cautious approach. At nine-thirty-five there came the main army of
clerks, only they were not clerks, but "clarks"--very impressive
gentlemen with gloves, spats, sticks, silk hats and sack coats. At
this same time, evidently by appointment, came the charwomen--"char"
being spelled s-c-r-u-b, and affording an example of how pure English
has been corrupted out in the Americas.

After the arrival of the head "clarks" and stenographers at
nine-forty-five, there ensued fifteen minutes of guarded conversation
in front of the offices. During this time the public issues of the day
were settled and the nation's policies outlined. At ten o'clock the
offices were formally opened, and at ten-thirty a reception was
tendered to the managers who arrived dressed as for any well-conducted
afternoon function.

To Mitchell, who was accustomed to the feverish, football methods of
American business life, all this was vastly edifying and instructive;
it was even soothing, although he was vaguely offended to note that
passers-by avoided him as if fearful of contamination.

Upon entering 42-1/2 Threadneedle Street, he was halted by an
imperious office-boy. To him Louis gave his card with a request that
it be handed to Mr. Peebleby, then he seated himself and for an hour
witnessed a parade of unsmiling, silk-hatted gentlemen pass in and out
of Mr. Peebleby's office. Growing impatient, at length, he inquired of
the boy;

"Is somebody dead around here or is this where the City Council

"I beg pardon?" The lad was polite in a cool, superior way.

"I say, what's the idea of the pall-bearers?"

The youth's expression froze to one of disapproval and suspicion.

"I mean the parade. Are these fellows Congress- or minstrel-men?"

His hearer shrugged and smiled vacuously, then turned away, whereupon
Mitchell took him firmly by the arm.

"Look here, my boy," he began. "There seems to be a lot of information
coming to both of us. Who are these over-dressed gentlemen I see
promenading back and forth?"

"Why--they're callers, customers, representatives of the firms we do
business with, sir."

"Is this Guy Fawkes Day?"

"No, sir."

"Are these men here on business? Are any of them salesmen, for

"Yes, sir; some of them. Certainly, sir."

"To see Mr. Peebleby about the new construction work?"

"No doubt."

"So, you're letting them get the edge on me."

"I beg pardon?"

"Never mind, I merely wanted to assure you that I have some olive
spats, a high hat, and a walking-stick, but I left them at my hotel.
I'm a salesman, too. Now then let's get down to business. I've come
all the way from America to hire an office-boy. I've heard so much
about English office-boys that I thought I'd run over and get one.
Would you entertain a proposition to go back to America and become my

The boy rolled his eyes; it was plain that he was seriously alarmed.
"You are ragging me, sir," he stammered, uncertainly.

"Perish the thought!"

"I--I--Really, sir--"

"I pay twenty-five dollars a week to office-boys. That's five 'pun' in
your money, I believe. But, meanwhile, now that I'm in London, I have
some business with Mr. Peebleby." Mitchell produced an American silver
dollar and forced it into the boy's hand, whereupon the latter blinked
in a dazed manner, then hazarded the opinion that Mr. Peebleby might
be at leisure if Mr. Mitchell had another card.

"Never mind the card; I can't trust you with another one. Just show me
the trail and I'll take it myself. That's a way we have in America."

A moment later he was knocking at a door emblazoned, "Director
General." Without awaiting an invitation, he turned the knob and
walked in. Before the astonished Mr. Peebleby could expostulate he had
introduced himself and was making known his mission.

Fortunately for Mitchell, Englishmen are not without a sense of
humor. The announcement that this young man had come all the way from
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., to bid on the Krugersdorpf work struck Mr.
Peebleby as amusing. Not only was the idea in itself laughable, but
also the fact that a mere beardless youth should venture to figure on
a contract of such gigantic proportions quite convulsed the Director
General, and in consequence he smiled. Then fearing that his dignity
had been jeopardized, he announced politely but firmly that the
proposition was absurd, and that he had no time to discuss it.

"I've come for that job, and I'm going to take it back with me,"
Mitchell averred, with equal firmness. "I know more about this class
of work than any salesman you have over here, and I'm going to build
you the finest cluster of cyanide tanks you ever saw."

"May I ask where you obtained this comprehensive knowledge of tank
construction?" Mr. Peebleby inquired, with some curiosity.

"Sure!" Mitchell ran through a list of jobs with which the Director
General could not have been unfamiliar. He mentioned work that caused
that gentleman to regard him more respectfully. For a time questions
and answers shot back and forth between them.

"I tell you, that is my line," Mitchell declared, at length. "I'll
read any blueprints you can offer. I'll answer any queries you can
formulate. I'm the accredited representative of a big concern, and I'm
entitled to a chance to figure, at least. That courtesy is due me."

"I dare say it is," the other reluctantly agreed. "I'm very busy, but
if that is the quickest way to end the discussion I'll give you the
prints. I assure you, nevertheless, it is an utter waste of your time
and mine." He pushed a button and five minutes later a clerk staggered
back into the room with an armful of blueprints that caused Mitchell
to gasp.

"The bid must be in Thursday at ten-thirty," Peebleby announced.

"Thursday? Why, good Lord! That's only three days, and there's a
dray-load of drawings!"

"I told you it was a waste of time. You should have come sooner."

Mitchell ran through the pile and his heart grew sick with dismay.
There were drawings of tanks, drawings of substructures and
superstructures in every phase of construction--enough of them
to daunt a skilled engineer. He realized that he had by no means
appreciated the full magnitude of this work, in fact had never figured
on a job anything like this one. He could see at least a week's hard,
constant labor ahead of him--a week's work to be done in three days.
There was no use trying; the time was too short; it was a physical
impossibility to formulate an intelligent proposition in such a
short length of time. Then to Mitchell's mind came the picture of
a wretched, golden-haired girl clinging to the iron fence of the
Pennsylvania depot. He gathered the rolls into his arms.

"At ten-thirty, Thursday," said he.

"Ten-thirty, sharp."


Back to Full Books