THE BIG TIME MAN:
A THREE-PART STORY
C. W. STEPHENS
J. VERNON McKENZIE, Editor
TORONTO, JANUARY 1, 1921
MACPHEE had been out to see the doctor. All his long life he had held doctors and their art in slight esteem. It was with the utmost reluctance he had permitted the specialist to overhaul him this afternoon. He had endured the searching examination with ill-disguised impatience, had resented the doctor’s conclusions, and now raged inwardly because of the imperative advice given to him.
Perhaps he would have been less moved had he not known that what the doctor said coincided with what he knew of his own physical condition. Really he was furious, in that grimly silent way of his, with the laws of Nature whose spokesman the doctor had been. For so hard-headed and practical a man in most matters, John MacPhee could be oddly unreasonable. Leaving his car in the street, he entered the offices of his glass bottle factory. Passing through the main office, he glanced suspiciously at the clerks working there, speaking no word. He thought they were strangely quiet, exceptionally industrious. He wondered if they knew what the doctor had told him, if they thought that he, MacPhee, who had never known a real day’s sickness in his life, who had been hard as an oak knot, was failing and must coddle himself if he would last much longer. Passing through the little room where his secretary, who was also his niece, Ida MacPhee, sat, he spoke.
“Don’t let anybody disturb me till I ring,” he said.
He fancied there was a trace of something like pity in the girl’s pretty face, and he slammed the door of his private office with a resounding bang.
Putting hat and gloves and stout blackthorn stick on the table, he seated himself in the swivel desk chair, turned to the window and looked abroad. Save for an occasional nervous twitching of eyes and mouth, he sat for some time almost motionlessly.
From the window the bustling town of Bargrave sloped easily to the water front, a forest of houses and shops and factories. MacPhee remembered the place when it was just one long, sleepy, rambling street leading to the tiny harbor of those days. He pictured the harbor, now thronged with shipping, when it was the haven of an insignificant fishing village. He had come to the place fifty years before, a glassblower by trade, with a hundred or two. of hardly saved dollars in his pocket. He had liked it, believed in its future.
Small as it was, it had excellent railroad connections, was near big centres of population, and men with vision said that one day its water-front would be its biggest asset.
MacPhee had been a man with vision. He bought an old wooden shack that had been used for fish curing and started in to manufacture glass bottles. The past fifty years rolled themselves off before him as if on the film of a swiftly moving cinematograph on which was recorded his growth with that of the town.
Then he swung the chair about so that, through the back window, he miglit see the great works that had
taken the place of the old fish-curing shack. Three thousand persons earned their daily bread in his factories. He had built the business himself, taking no partner, holding practically all the stock in it. He liked the significance of the situation of it, perched near the top of the low hill, the most conspicuous building in the town. Those who came into Bargrave from land or water sides were impressed first by the MacPhee place. The situation signified dominance. He had made himself, and done much to make Bargrave. There was pride in the reflection, but this afternoon it was chastened by what the doctor had
COME half-forgotten tag of Scripture now came into his ^ mind about prideful men who fancied their houses would abide for ever, who called their lands by their own names. At the thought of their vanity his lips twitched again. He had been, all his days, a strong, vigorous, tireless man, physically and mentally, a man of rare courage, resolution, independence, one who despised the softnesses of life. His only hobby had been business, he had never needed recreation beyond that which he found in change of employment about his works, he had never taken a holiday, and had never learned to play.
His ruggedness had been matter of pride to him. When he heard men talk of an eight-hour day he sneered, as at weaklings. What would have happened to the world of business, he often asked, if it had been run by those who thought life was
intended to be two-thirds play? That might do for mediocrity, but real men, the backbone of humanity, could not be ruled by the hands of a clock. Though MacPhee was one of the best-known men within a radius of fifty miles of Bargrave, he had no friends. He had never wished for them. They were fetters on a man’s freedom and independence, of smallest benefit at the best, since they flocked about one when there was no need of them, and shied off when they might have been of some use. Taking them by and large MacPhee regarded them as liabilities rather than assets on life’s balance sheet.
Forty years ago he had built himself a small, comfortable house, a house sufficiently large for a single man, who intended, by the grace of God, to remain single. He took small interest in political or social life, beyond approving of the political party that would put the highest tariff rate on imported bottles. His life had been a pendulum that swung between his works and his home, and the latter was more of an adjunct to his office than a place of rest and recreation. So he reviewed the way by which he had come on this afternoon in June seated by the window. It had always been said of him that he had been a wonderfully successful man. Guide books to the town spoke thus of him. The man in the street would tell you of the poor start he had been given, and the millions he now owned. MacPhee himself had believed that he had been a successful man. Perhaps he believed it more than did his eulogisers, for he knew, as they could not, what the fight had meant.
This afternoon, for the first time, MacPhee had the suspicion of a doubt. He wondered if he had been really successful. The fight, of course, had been good fun. He had enjoyed every minute of it. There had been a thousand times more sport in it than men found in the games they played, the diversions they followed; and more in the rough, tough days when fortune balanced on a knife edge than in the easy sailing of these late years. But
what had he got to show for it all? His works and machinery. His stocks and bonds and bank roll. His lands and houses and safe mortgages. There was a sense of pride in owning them, but—three meals a day and a bed were his chief requirements All he had in his fortune was a life estate.
He had brought nothing into the world and would go out as bare as he had entered it. If the guess of the doctor was right, the
y was life estate would terminate before long. It seemed tc MacPhee, thinking - • ” over, that he had been like ¡. child building a grand sandcastle on the beach. It had
castle on the beach. It had taken him, MacPhee, half a century to rear his big structure, and now the tide was creeping in, slowly, but with inexorable certainty. Already the outriders of the
certainty. Already the outriders of the waves were at the gates of his prized structure. Present.': the incoming waters would leap upon his castb, overwhelm it, and withdraw, leaving it level with the rest Of the
MacPhee had never married. He had never seen til« woman he wanted to marry. There had been no sent) ment in his life. With women he had always been sh-
and reserved. They were á mysterious, Unreliable, subtly dangerous folk
HIS first sensation this afternoon was of vast loneliness, physical and spiritual. A few months before he would have scoffed at the suggestion that he was a lonely man. How could a man be lonely who had the concerns of three thousand workpeople on his hands? A wife! He had not been unobservant of his friends. Few marriages, so far as he had been able to see, had risen to a higher plane than that of mutual tolerance and accommodation. To have to live with a woman whose ideals, ambitions, tastes differed from his own would be profoundest misery and endless distraction from the serious concerns of life, and on the other hand to have to live with a woman who was his equal and like would be like setting up a second monarch in a kingdom that could only be ruled successfully as an auto-
Children! They were a gamble. Offener than not they were life’s keenest disappointments. The children of the wisest might be fools one must be apologetic for. If MacPhee could have been sure that marriage would have given him a son, the replica of himself, he would have martyred himself, and married. There was this supreme egotism in him.
He had few near kin. There had been one brother, twenty years his junior, and consequently little known to hjm. Ida was his daughter.
He had never amounted to much, being the spoiled child of elderly parents, a book-worm, dabbling in literature insignificantly. Of course, being a failure, he had married, and his wife had been the kind of woman such a man was sure to select, a pretty, accomplished, unpractical poor man’s wife.
Both had died early, and MacPhee, having a solid foundation of family pride at the base of his nature, went to the girl in her loneliness and poverty, and, in his way, had been kind enough. He sent her to school and business college, and when she graduated, took her into his office as his secretary. He found her to be more of a MacPhee than her father had been. She was quick, capable, clever, and
It was characteristic of the old man that he did not invite her to share his home, though he saw to it that she was well looked after in the home selected for her. Parsimony was not the reason for his aloofness; rather was it an odd shyness
that blended with fear of the distracting influence of a woman relative in his house. As time went by he grew to like her as much as he liked anybody. The highest praise he could lavish upon her in his thought was that she was a MacPhee. She made no advances to him as a relative, did not presume on the fact that she was his brother’s girl, and seemed quite content with her independent position. If she had been a lad instead of a lass—so his thought ran this afternoon— she might have taken the place of the ideal son of his
So he rambled over the concerns of this threatened life. Then his mind flamed up again at thought of the doctor’s unconcerned dictum. The man had spoken of the possible passing of MacPhee as if he had been a common man, one of the
The man was a fool—and yet! MacPhee knew, deep down in his mind, that he was slipping on the far slopes of life. He could not grip things as once he had doue. He tired easily. The ¿idlÇÎrÿ routine of business
left nïm' ^exhausted at the close of the day. The load
he had before-.carried so lightly had become a burden, and his memory was not what it had been. The force and drive seemed .to have gone out of him, strive as he might and did to revive it. He had seen this happen in the lives .of other mefi, some of whom had worked for him. Never had he r-ephzed that the same thing could and would happen^ biin. The big business was showing signs of weakneJd'at the top. It was still successful, flourishing, and profitable, but something of its live aggressiveness had disappeared. MacPhee knew it—none better than he.
Of course conditions had changed. He had been alone in his trade in Bargrave a dozen years before, but since that gime a rival concern had established itself in the town, and
Mulhouse, its head, a younger, more modern and aggressive man, had been taking a lot of business that formerly used to flow into MacPhee’s works.
Some there were who said that Mulhouse was unscrupulous, but MacPhee paid small attention to that. Time had been when he could meet and more than hold his own with all comers, whether they fought by ring rules or not. He knew it was said that MacPhee’s, like many another big concern, had seen its best days, and that with the decline of the old man the business was on the downgrade. The thought roused all the fighting spirit of the tough old warrior, but there was something lacking in him.
AND now, just when he ought to be redoubling his efforts, the doctor intervened and told him that if he did not lay off, take his ease in a rational way, nature would lay him aside permanently. Suppose this was so, who could step into his shoes? f Where could he find the man who would come and put his powerful young shoulders under the load, take the standard from the failing hands?
Then his thought turned to Jim Douglas. It did not do so from inclination but from reason. Douglas had entered the MacPhee works as a factory lad and had worked his way up through all the stages of bottle manufacturing, and then had gone out on the road. In a few years he had established his reputation as the smartest and keenest man in the field in his particular line. He was practical to his finger tips, knew the trade inside and out, was a mixer and a wonderful business-getter. Then MacPhee called him in from the field and made him manager of the plant, subordinate only to the grim old dictator himself.
The experiment had not been a success. Outsiders blamed MacPhee for this, and said that if the old man, who had become conservative and fossilised, had given Douglas a free hand, there would have been a different result. MacPhee, on the other hand, said that Jim was like all other ambitious youngsters whose heads have been turned by high position. He was a revolutionist in business, wanting to turn things upside down and inside out. Jim declared that a lot of MacPhee’s machinery equipment was antiquated and should be scrapped. MacPhee held that
what had been good enough to make the business was good enough to keep it. There were other radical divergencies of opinion and policy. The fact was that Jim Douglas was too much like what MacPhee had been in his younger days.
He had a mind of his own as well as a backbone, and so a break came. Jim quit the old man and went back to the road in the interests of another firm. His going was a surprise to MacPhee, and a great deal more of a blow than he had ever cared to acknowledge directly, even to himself. This June afternoon he felt that if he had Douglas back he would not find it half as difficult as it was to take the advice of the doctor. Of course, he might solve the problem by selling out the business, but that solution was not
to be thought of for a moment. Tie wamtd the business to live. It was more than a money-maker to him. All the sentiment in him centred in it. It was his monument, the only thing men would remember him by. He liked to think that when he was sleeping in his grave the MacPhee works would still live on to testify to the new generations what manner of man their founder and builder had been.
Then his mind went out to the young girl who sat in the little office beyond his room. She was all he had of near kin. He had made his will some little time back. There were some benefactions in it for the good of his adopted town. It had done much for him and, when he was laid away, it would be found that he had not been unmindful of his obligations. But the bulk of his fortune would go to the girl. She was a MacPhee. She had brains. If she had been a doll, a fortune-hunter, seeking to coax and wheedle him as some of his more distant relatives had done, it would have been different, but she was an independent sort of a lassie, did her work capably, asking no favors and never suggesting even remotely that she had expectations from her old uncle.
She and Jim Douglas had been friendly, very friendly, he often thought. And why not? Jim was young, good looking, a driver. Any girl would be likely to take a fancy to him. He wondered just how far their friendship had gone. She was a reticent kind of a girl who did not advertise her affairs to the world, and, of course, he had no claim on her confidence. She had not betrayed, in any way, her thoughts when Jim left. So MacPhee surveyed affairs throughout the afternoon, and was roused from his reflections by a tap at the door and the intimation that his car waited for him. He rose wearily from his chair, took up hat and gloves and stick.
“Ida,” he said to his niece, who was putting on her hat to leave. ‘ ‘Are you going to be busy this evening?”
“Why, no,” she replied.
“I’d like you to come home with me to dinner, that is if you can tolerate the company of a very dull old man for an hour or two,” he said.
“I should be glad to come,” she responded. “If you can drop me at my rooms I’ll dress and follow you to the house.” “Dress! We are very plain folks, Ida. I’m sure you look very smart and nice,”
he said, glancing at her trim dark blue skirt and white waist. He spoke a little awkwardly, with a shyness that sat oddly on a man of his years He was not accustomed to complimenting wo-
“Very well, if I will do
as I am,” she smiled.
She joined him when she had put her papers away and locked up her desk. It was the first time she had been invited to a meal in her relative’s home. The dining-room was oldfashioned, with dark-papered walls and high, dark-painted wainscot. Its furniture was solidly substantial, in keeping with the room’s heavy sombreness. The dinner matched place and atmosphere, being heavy, dull and cheerless. There was cold beef, with soggy boiled potatoes and water-logged cabbage. After that came a stodgy rice pudding. The housekeeper, Mrs. Dawson, seemed to eye the girl as an undesirable addition to the occupants of the quiet house. After dinner MacPhee took Ida into the drawing room. She guessed it was a room used only on state occasions. It was spotlessly neat and tidy, but the air was musty and dead. The pictures on the walls were mostly portraits in oils of dead and gone MacPhees, done no doubt by village geniuses, stiff, ill-painted, formally grotesque productions, MacPhees in their best clothes and ornaments. There were gaudy artificial .flowers in the room, screened from dust by cage-like glass cases. They reminded Ida of the painted iron floral wreaths laid by the economical on the graves of their dead. The solid ehairs were covered with ill-fitting, faded chintz.
ill-fitting, Against one of the walls was a piano. To judge from appearances it must have been one of the earliest of its kind. A slippery, black, horsehair-covered sofa took
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up most of another wall. A huge family Bible occupied the centre of the table, and around it were scattered, in exact order and spacing, a few gaudily-bound books, of the kind with which Sunday Schools used to reward virtue. It was rather a pathetic room, a place of memories and associations with the dead more than one used by the living.
A feeling of pity for the lonely old man came over the girl. With all his great wealth, what did he know of the joy and gladness of life? The humblest of his laborers, with friends and family about him, tasted infinitely more of its goodness. He was the most awkward and pathetic thing in the place.
He showed her faded family photographs, some ancient funeral cards, and the pages of records in the big Bible. These courtesies over, he seemed at a loss to know what to do for the entertainment of his guest.
“You can play the piano, I suppose?” he asked, walking over to the instrument and opening it. “We haven’t much in the
way of music besides this book.” And he took up an ancient volume of Gospel Songs and opened it before her. She touched the yellowed keys; they were stiff with age and dust and damp. Some were dumb, here and there a wire had snapped, all were horribly out of tune. She did her best to play something from memory, something simple and tuneful, but the result was a dreadful jumble of discords.
“That is very nice, Ida. You play well,” her uncle complimented her. Playing was kin to the conjuring art with him, and he watched her nimble fingers rather than listened to the sounds the ancient instrument emitted.
The musical ordeal over, the two sat for some time in awkward silence on the slippery, penitential chairs.
“I am sure you want your pipe, Uncle, and are depriving yourself just to be polite to me. I really like the smell of tobacco,” she said.
“We never smoke in this room,” he said, as if she had suggested that he have a
pipe in some church. “I smoke in my little snuggery. Perhaps you would not mind sitting there.”
HE SEEMED immensely relieved when he dropped into a ricketty old armchair by the side of the bare hearth and lighted his pipe. Ida thought she had smelt more fragrant tobacco, but the pungent reek of the home-grown weed was better than the mustiness of that funereal drawing-room. The room was rather untidy. The only ornaments were long rows of bottles, ranged on improvised shelves, -specimens of the firm’s manufacture, dating back probably to the first produced by MacPhee at Bargrave. Catching the girl’s gaze on them, MacPhee began a dissertation on the history of bottles, so far as they were related to his factory, tracing their evolution from comparatively primitive forms to their latest development. Then he dropped into one of his sudden periods of silence, rousing only when his pipe was finished, and the dingy old clock on the wall chimed the hour of eight. Then he rose and took a bottle of medicine from the desk.
“Doctor’s trash!” he said, with a grim grin. “But if you consult them you have got to humor them just so far. And anyway it’s good for the bottle trade. If it weren’t for patent remedies and medicinal grave-cheaters, we’d all have to go into the bankruptcy courts. Often, my lass, the only honest thing about the stuff is the bottle that holds it.” He poured out a dose, gulped it down, and grinned at her
“But you are better, Uncle?” she asked. She knew that a week or so before he had been compelled to absent himself from business for a whole day.
“I don’t know that I’ve ailed much,” he replied. “Of course the works of a clock better none with age. I’m seventy-two, you know, my lass. Been living on borrowed time these two years past. The doctors say I’ve got to slow up. Slow up! Talk’s easy. If a doctor slows up, who’s the worse off? He just locks his door, takes his ease, and maybe his patients are all the better off for it. But who is to take care of the big ship, with thousands aboard, when the old pilot steps from the wheel? Three thousand folks get their daily bread, and their folks with them, from MacPhee’s. They say the factories are mine. That isn’t so. I don’t own them so much as they own me. I’m their servant, their slave, but, mind you, a very willing one.
“And while I rest and play who is to take the ship’s wheel?” he asked. “Whom have I to put in control? Just men you’ve got to move like pieces on a chess board. They’ll bide where you put them till you pick them up and set them down on another square. And it’s just as well. If once you gave them their head—!” he threw up his hands in a gesture eloquent of total ruin in the event of which he spoke.
“I tell you, Ida, the rarest thing in this world is the top-notch man. You hear folks blate about the equality of men. There isn’t such a thing. If you want to be sure of it, employ a few thousands of them. There’s the aristocrat, there’s the middle class, and there’s the big, big lower class. I can get a million threedollar a day men, but if I want a twenty thousand dollar a year man, can you tell me where to find him? The world’s hunting for him and bigger men still, like men hunt for gold and diamonds. Equality! And so they say if men are not equal, we’ll make them so. All men are pretty much alike so far as their feet go, and when your envious mob wants to equalize them it goes along the rows, and when it finds one taller than the rest, it lops, off his head. Down with brains that make men unequal!
“And then, if you did happen to get hold of a good man, whom you could trust not to play ducks and drakes with the place, he’d be so choked up with conceit and sense of his own importance that you might as well abdicate at once. What king is there who wants to let in another king on his job?”
Ida knew he was thinking about Jim Douglas, but she said nothing. MacPhee puffed away in silence for several minutes, having lighted a fresh pipe.
“There was Douglas—Jim Douglas—” he went on. “He knew the business, upstairs and down below, almost as well as I know it myself after all these years.
“He could handle men, had a hound’s nose for business, he could find it, discuss
it, close it. But, like all youngsters, he thought that wisdom would be burièd at his funeral. New machinery, new methods, new policies. I’ll say this for him, that if he had been reasonable, he could have carried the job, and I could have rested with a fairly easy mind. I wonder if he’s on the old job still? I heard he’d taken to the road again.”
“Yes, I think he is. Sometimes I hear from him,” she replied.
“Star salesman,” he ruminated. “Could make friends as easy as some make enemies, and could close a deal easier than some men I have on the road can lose one. But obstinate as a mule—and worse— when he sets himself.”
OHE laughed as a dour grin spread over ^ MacPhee’s face.
“And when you happen to write to him, you can tell him what I say about him,” he added.
“I will,” she smiled. “He always inquires about you and the business.”
“He does, eh?” he said. “Maybe he realizes by this time that he was hasty and headstrong. I brought him up in a business way, taught and trained him, but he got to have big notions. Knew more than I did. I was old MacPhee, old and done for, and he was the new man, wanting to step into my shoes. You and he pretty thick?”
She colored a little as she smiled under the scrutiny of his keen eyes.
“We are good friends,” she replied.
“Humph!” he grunted, and dropped the subject of Douglas. He began to talk now of family matters, of his father and mother, tales of his boyhood, the early fight he had fought to establish himself—the topics an old man loves to speak of, the tales of life’s morning when the world yet was dew-pearl’d, and God in His heaven, smiling down through blue skies. Really the world never was what it seems to be to age, but there were hope and sunshine, dreams and ideals, that made it very fair. These remain, fragrant, sweet a-nd fresh as first love. Over the sadness and pain and tragedy there spreads a rose-mist that makes the recollection not all unrelieved sorrow.
“I aim glad you came, Ida,” he said as she prepared to leave. “There are just the two.iff us near kin. I am afraid this is a dull place, but it has harbored dull people these many days, people who never were young, maybe, and who never knew how to play. I’ve been wondering this while back if you would be willing to come up here and make this place your home. It might be brightened a bit, and perhaps I might learn how to play after a while. Think it over, lassie. I shall not be hurt if you can’t see your way to come, because I know it’s a dull place. I never seemed to notice it so much as to-night. Perhaps you could brighten it for us, make it prettier and more lively. There’s the money to do it with, and I’d let you do what you want with it. If I’m going to learn to play I guess I’ll have to provide the toys. Oh, lassie, there’s infancy at both ends of life. Good-night! If I had had lass or lad of my own, things might have been different, but it’s been all bottles, glass bottles, till I sometimes think my soul’s one of them, just an empty container.”
He bent over her awkwardly, a flush on his face, and kissed her on the forehead.
“You are my own kin,” he whispered huskily.
There was appeal in the words, the voice. The lonely soul of the old millionaire was crying out for companionship. It was as one in the wilderness, with the darkness closing in, who hungers for the touc’ of the hand, the sound of the voice, th fellowship of the spirit of his own kind. He closed the door of the car and stood watching until the darkness swallowed up the speeding machine.
MACPHEE so far yielded to the doctor’s advice as to absent himself from the works on Saturdays. It was only a matter of three hours, but he casuistically called it a day, and did as much business at home as he would have done in his office. Shortly after twelve one fine Saturday morning, Ida closed her desk and went off to lunch. She planned to spend the afternoon golfing and was hurrying along to snatch a meal when, at the corner of the High Street, she bumped into an impetuously moving young man who was hastening in the opposite direction. He stepped back, an apology on his lips, hat
in hand. Then the formal words were checked. He extended a hand, and held that extended to him by Ida quite a little time longer than was strictly necessary. “Ida!” he exclaimed, as if suddenly confronted by a beatific vision incarnate. “Why, Jim, I thought you were in Detroit,” she replied. “No, thank my stars,” he exclaimed with much sincerity. It did not imply any reflection on Detroit, but simply indicated that Bargrave with Ida MacPhee was worth, in his present esteem, quite a lot of Detroits.
“I was there until last night,” he continued. “Cleaned up there, and then decided to run across the border. I am taking a holiday, so naturally I shaped my course for Bargrave. Good little old town, when all’s said and done. I have just left the train, and was scooting up to the works in the hope of catching you before you left. That’s why I was cutting corners and exceeding the speed limit. Of course you haven’t lunched yet? Fine! We’ll go along to the old place. Ida, you’re looking finer and prettier than ever.”
“Well you needn’t tell all Bargrave about it,” she rebuked him, for the corner, with a Saturday noon crowd swirling by, was scarcely the spot for amatory compliment.
“I’d like to/’ he answered. “Though of course they know it already.”
He turned with her, and they proceeded to Bargrave’s smartest restaurant. The head waiter knew them both, gave Jim a hearty welcome back to the city, and led the way ceremoniously to their favorite corner table. The occasion was so important that some time had to be spent picking out desirable items from the menu, and then it was all of three months since they had met, so there was quite a little conversation sandwiched between the selection of the courses.
“Well, and how’s everything?” Jim asked, when at last the waiter had been despatched to the kitchen with the order. “I thought I might run into Mr. MacPhee at the works.”
“He wasn’t there to-day,” she replied. “He doesn’t come down on Saturdays now. Doctor’s orders.”
“Why. that’s too bad. What’s the matter with him? I can’t imagine him staying away from the works for a whole day,” said Jim.
“He has to. Really he ought not to be there at all. He’s failing fast, Jim. The years are telling on him—the years and the growing burden of the factories. There does not seem to be anyone ’round who can take any of the real load off his shoulders."
“And he’d kill them if they tried,” laughed Jim, not over sympathetically. He knew the kind of job it would be to separate old Mac from any part of the
“He’s changed, Jim. He is beginning to acknowledge that he’s not the man he was,” she said.
“Then he must be thunderingiy sick,” was Jim’s unfeeling observation. The old man was Ida’s uncle, but that fact made Douglas the less well-disposed toward him.
TIM thought, as did many more in Bargrave, that MacPhee had treated his young relative like the curmudgeon he was. “I am getting to understand him better than I did,” she told him, knowing what he thought of her uncle’s chill treatment of her. “I am living up at his house now.” “He must be getting almost human,” laughed Jim. “You have all my sympathy, Ida. It must be rather like dwelling in a particularly dull jail.” “Of course it was quite a change at first, but I soon grew accustomed to it. He has given me a free hand, despite Mrs. Dawson. She attends to the routine work of the place, but I am mistress of it and make what changes I decide on. I’ve had some painting and decorating done, and several of those awful rooms have been refurnished. They look surprisingly nice. The house is really a very pretty one, and if it had a chance it would look well. We got rid of most of the old furniture, that is, packed it away, for it had memories for uncle, and bought some pretty things. Then uncle, without a word to me, had a wonderful baby grand piano sent up for me—my very own. He really likes the change, and is as proud of the new things as if the house had been furnished from the savings of a poor bridegroom instead' of from the crumbs that fall from the table of a millionaire. He
says he is learning to play. Jim, the placeand uncle were pitiable, almost tragic, before.”
And she went on to describe her first
“He is like a man who has never known weakness or defeat, who has just begun to realise that he is failing—can hold uplittle longer. He knows that he is going; the same way as the rest, and it is an amazing surprise to him that this can be so. He wants to fight on, hates to quit, but he knows the foe is too powerful for him. He has always been terribly lonely, but he has never felt the measure and intensity of it until now. His pride drives him back to the tasks, but it is like a battered pugilist, often knocked down, but always getting to his feet again for another try. I think he is sorry you are not with him,. Jim.”
“H’m!” exclaimed Jim doubtfully, helping her to some choice bits from the dish.
“The doctors are urging him to get clear away from everything pertaining to business, but he has no one whom he can leave in charge,” she said.
“Of course he has,” he answered. “The trouble is, he won’t give them a chance.’”
“Well, rightly or wrongly, they haven’t his confidence, not as you had. They may be all right, but if they were in charge he’d worry every minute of night or day he was supposed to be Recuperating. That kind of a holiday would do him small good,” she said.
“Most folks have worse troubles,” observed Jim unfeelingly. “Of course it’s too bad that he’s sick and growing old, for that’s what he’s really troubled about. He ought to think of the fine, long inning» he has had, and not kick when the time comes for him to be benched. He has more money than he knows what to do with, neither chick nor child to look after. When he dies he’ll leave it to some irritating alleged philanthropy to find fat life jobs for a bunch of fellows who couldn’t make a living digging post holes.”
“Jim, whatever’s the matter with you?” asked Ida. • “I never knew you so hard and unsympathetic.”
“With all due respect to your worthy uncle, Ida, he makes me weary. He’s like Joshua at Ajalon, wanting the sun to stand still while he gets on with his fighting. It’s been all self, all along. ■ Too selfish to marry and have a family about him, too selfish to live like an ordinary Christian, would, too selfish to quit when he’s had his turn, filled his pockets with what would be enough to make a hundred men and. their families rich.
“How long was he before he lifted a hand to help you when you needed help?”
“I am sure he was very kind indeed to me,” she answered a little indignantly.
“Of course you think so,” he laughed. “You think well of everybody.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t think well of you, Jim, when you speak like that,” she maintained.
“What has he done? Given you aplace in his office where you earn all you get and more. Persuaded you to live at his house when he feels dull and want» cheering up. I don’t mind a man who is a hard driver in business—that’s what business should be, but I like to see the bijf getter open-handed in his spending, and generous outside,” he said.
“There’s no need for you to take up the cudgels for me, Jim,” she smiled. “Ithas been much pleasanter for me to earn what I have had than to think that I had been the object of charity.” “All right, Miss Independence,” he laughed back at her. “I guess you are MacPhee most of the way through, not all, for there’s something else in you that he never possessed.” “What are you going to do, Jim, after your holiday? Go back on the road again?”“Unless something better crops up,” he said. “And so far there’s nothing in sight. Mulhouse wrote me a while back asking me to look him up when I came this way. I don’t know what he has in mind, but I don’t think it would be anything that would suit me. Mulhouse and I would run together about as balkily as your uncle and I did.” “You’ll run up to see uncle while you are here?” she asked. “I think it’s extremely probable, since you are living at his place,” he answered. “I didn’t mean that,” she said. “Why don’t you go up this afternoon?” He looked at her inquiringly. To be Continued..