This is the tale of a wrong that rankled and a great revenge. It is not a moral story, nor yet, measured by the modern money code, is it what could be called immoral. It is merely a tale of sharp wits which clashed in pursuit of business, therefore let it be considered unmoral, a word with a wholly different commercial significance.
Time was when wrongs were righted by mace and battle-ax, amid fanfares and shoutings, but we live in a quieter age, an age of repression, wherein the keenest thrust is not delivered with a yell of triumph nor the oldest score settled to the blare of trumpets. No longer do the men of great muscle lord it over the weak and the puny; as a rule they toil and they lift, doing unpleasant, menial duties for hollow-chested, big-domed men with eye-glasses. But among those very spindle-shanked, terra-cotta dwellers who cower at draughts and eat soda mints, the ancient struggle for supremacy wages fiercer than ever. Single combats are fought now as then, and the flavor of victory is quite as sweet to the pallid man back of a roll-top desk as to the swart, bristling baron behind his vizored helmet.
The beginning of this story runs back to the time Henry Hanford went with the General Equipment Company as a young salesman full of hope and enthusiasm and a somewhat exaggerated idea of his own importance. He was selling shears, punches, and other machinery used in the fabrication of structural steel. In the territory assigned to him, the works of the Atlantic Bridge Company stuck up like a sore thumb, for although it employed many men, although its contracts were large and its requirements numerous, the General Equipment Company had never sold it a dollar's worth of anything.
In the course of time Hanford convinced himself that the Atlantic Bridge Company needed more modern machinery, so he laid siege to Jackson Wylie, Sr., its president and practical owner. He spent all of six months in gaining the old man's ear, but when he succeeded he laid himself out to sell his goods. He analyzed the Atlantic Bridge Company's needs in the light of modern milling practice, and demonstrated the saving his equipment would effect. A big order and much prestige were at stake, both of which young Hanford needed badly at the time. He was vastly encouraged, therefore, when the bridge-builder listened attentively to him.
"I dare say we shall have to make a change," Mr. Wylie reluctantly agreed. "I've been bothered to death by machinery salesmen, but you're the first one to really interest me."
Hanford acknowledged the compliment and proceeded further to elaborate upon the superiority of the General Equipment Company's goods over those sold by rival concerns. When he left he felt that he had Mr. Wylie, Sr., "going."
At the office they warned him that he had a hard nut to crack; that Wylie was given to "stringing" salesmen and was a hard man to close with, but Hanford smiled confidently. Granting those facts, they rendered him all the more eager to make this sale; and the bridge company really did need up-to-date machinery.
He instituted an even more vigorous selling campaign, he sent much printed matter to Mr. Wylie, Sr., he wrote him many letters. Being a thoroughgoing young saleman, he studied the plant from the ground up, learning the bridge business in such detail as enabled him to talk with authority on efficiency methods. In the course of his studies he discovered many things that were wrong with the Atlantic, and spent days in outlining improvements on paper. He made the acquaintance of the foremen; he cultivated the General Superintendent; he even met Mr. Jackson Wylie, Jr., the Sales Manager, a very polished, metallic young man, who seemed quite as deeply impressed with Hanford's statements as did his father.
Under our highly developed competitive system, modern business is done very largely upon personality. From the attitude of both father and son, Hanford began to count his chickens. Instead of letting up, however, he redoubled his efforts, which was his way. He spent so much time on the matter that his other work suffered, and in consequence his firm called him down. He outlined his progress with the Atlantic Bridge Company, declared he was going to succeed, and continued to camp with the job, notwithstanding the firm's open doubts.
Sixty days after his first interview he had another visit with Wylie, senior, during which the latter drained him of information and made an appointment for a month later. Said Mr. Wylie:
"You impress me strongly, Hanford, and I want my associates to hear you. Get your proposition into shape and make the same talk to them that you have made to me."
Hanford went away elated; he even bragged a bit at the office, and the report got around among the other salesmen that he really had done the impossible and had pulled off something big with the Atlantic. It was a busy month for that young gentleman, and when the red-letter day at last arrived he went on to Newark to find both Wylies awaiting him.
"Well, sir, are you prepared to make a good argument?" the father inquired.
"I am." Hanford decided that three months was not too long a time to devote to work of this magnitude, after all.
"I want you to do your best," the bridge-builder continued, encouragingly, then he led Hanford into the directors' room, where, to his visitor's astonishment, some fifty men were seated.
"These are our salesmen," announced Mr. Wylie. He introduced Hanford to them with the request that they listen attentively to what the young man had to say.
It was rather nervous work for Hanford, but he soon warmed up and forgot his embarrassment. He stood on his feet for two long hours pleading as if for his life. He went over the Atlantic plant from end to end; he showed the economic necessity for new machinery; then he explained the efficiency of his own appliances. He took rival types and picked them to pieces, pointing out their inferiority. He showed his familiarity with bridge work by going into figures which bore out his contention that the Atlantic's output could be increased and at an actual monthly saving. He wound up by proving that the General Equipment Company was the one concern best fitted to effect the improvement.
It had taken months of unremitting toil to prepare himself for this exposition, but the young fellow felt he had made his case. When he took up the cost of the proposed instalment, however, Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., interrupted him.
"That is all I care to have you cover," the latter explained. "Thank you very kindly, Mr. Hanford."
Hanford sat down and wiped his forehead, whereupon the other stepped forward and addressed his employees.
"Gentlemen," said he, "you have just listened to the best argument I ever heard. I purposely called you in from the road so that you might have a practical lesson in salesmanship and learn something from an outsider about your own business. I want you to profit by this talk. Take it to heart and apply it to your own customers. Our selling efficiency has deteriorated lately; you are getting lazy. I want you to wake up and show better results. That is all. You might thank this young gentleman for his kindness."
When the audience had dispersed, Hanford inquired, blankly, "Don't you intend to act on my suggestions?"
"Oh no!" said Mr. Wylie, in apparent surprise. "We are doing nicely, as it is. I merely wanted you to address the boys."
"But--I've spent three months of hard labor on this! You led me to believe that you would put in new equipment."
The younger Wylie laughed, languidly exhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke. "When Dad gets ready to purchase, he'll let you know," said he.
Six months later the Atlantic Bridge Company placed a mammoth order with Hanford's rival concern, and he was not even asked to figure on it.
That is how the seeds of this story were sown. Of course the facts got out, for those Atlantic salesmen were not wanting in a sense of humor, and Hanford was joshed in every quarter. To make matters worse, his firm called him to account for his wasted time, implying that something was evidently wrong with his selling methods. Thus began a lack of confidence which quickly developed into strained relations. The result was inevitable; Hanford saw what was coming and was wise enough to resign his position.
But it was the ridicule that hurt him most. He was unable to get away from that. Had he been at all emotional, he would have sworn a vendetta, so deep and lasting was the hurt, but he did not; he merely failed to forget, which, after all, is not so different.
It seemed queer that Henry Hanford should wind up in the bridge business himself, after attempting to fill several unsatisfactory positions, and yet there was nothing remarkable about it, for that three months of intense application at the Atlantic plant had given him a groundwork which came in handy when the Patterson Bridge Company offered him a desk. He was a good salesman; he worked hard and in time he was promoted. By and by the story was forgotten--by every one except Henry Hanford. But he had lost a considerable number of precious years.
* * * * *
When it became known that the English and Continental structural shops were so full of work that they could not figure on the mammoth five-million-dollar steel structure designed to span the Barrata River in Africa, and when the Royal Commission in London finally advertised broadcast that time was the essence of this contract, Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., realized that his plant was equipped to handle the job in magnificent shape, with large profit to himself and with great renown to the Wylie name. He therefore sent his son, Jackson Wylie, the Second, now a full-fledged partner, to London armed with letters to almost everybody in England from almost everybody in America.
Two weeks later--the Patterson Bridge Company was not so aggressive as its more pretentious rival--Henry Hanford went abroad on the same mission, but he carried no letters of introduction for the very good reason that he possessed neither commercial influence nor social prestige. Bradstreets had never rated him, and Who's Who contained no names with which he was familiar.
Jackson Wylie, the Second had been to London frequently, and he was accustomed to English life. He had friends with headquarters at Prince's and at Romano's, friends who were delighted to entertain so prominent an American; his letters gave him the entree to many of the best clubs and paved his way socially wherever he chose to go.
It was Hanford's first trip across, and he arrived on British soil without so much as a knowledge of English coins, with nothing in the way of baggage except a grip full of blue-prints, and with no destination except the Parliament buildings, where he had been led to believe the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission was eagerly and impatiently awaiting his coming. But when he called at the Parliament buildings he failed not only to find the Commission, but even to encounter anybody who knew anything about it. He did manage to locate the office, after some patient effort, but learned that it was nothing more than a forwarding address, and that no member of the Commission had been there for several weeks. He was informed that the Commission had convened once, and therefore was not entirely an imaginary body; beyond that he could discover nothing. On his second visit to the office he was told that Sir Thomas Drummond, the chairman, was inside, having run down from his shooting-lodge in Scotland for the day. But Sir Thomas's clerk, with whom Hanford had become acquainted at the time of his first call, informed him that Mr. Jackson Wylie, the Second, from America, was closeted with his lordship, and in consequence his lordship could not be disturbed. Later, when Hanford got more thoroughly in touch with the general situation, he began to realize that introductions, influence, social prestige would in all probability go farther toward landing the Barrata Bridge than mere engineering, ability or close figuring--facts with which the younger Wylie was already familiar, and against which he had provided. It also became plain to Hanford as time went on that the contract would of necessity go to America, for none of the European shops were in position to complete it on time.
Owing to government needs, this huge, eleven-span structure had to be on the ground within ninety days from the date of the signing of the contract, and erected within eight months thereafter. The Commission's clerk, a big, red-faced, jovial fellow, informed Hanford that price was not nearly so essential as time of delivery; that although the contract glittered with alluring bonuses and was heavily weighted with forfeits, neither bonuses nor forfeitures could in the slightest manner compensate for a delay in time. It was due to this very fact, to the peculiar urgency of the occasion, that the Commissioners were inclined to look askance at prospective bidders who might in any way fail to complete the task as specified.
"If all that is true, tell me why Wylie gets the call?" Hanford inquired.
"I understand he has the very highest references," said the Englishman.
"No doubt. But you can't build bridges with letters of introduction, even in Africa."
"Probably not. But Sir Thomas is a big man; Mr. Wylie is one of his sort. They meet on common ground, don't you see?"
"Well, if I can't arrange an interview with any member of the Commission, I can at least take you to lunch. Will you go?"
The clerk declared that he would, indeed, and in the days that followed the two saw much of each other. This fellow, Lowe by name, interested Hanford. He was a cosmopolite; he was polished to the hardness of agate by a life spent in many lands. He possessed a cold eye and a firm chin; he was a complex mixture of daredeviltry and meekness. He had fought in a war or two, and he had led hopes quite as forlorn as the one Hanford was now engaged upon. It was this bond, perhaps, which drew the two together.
In spite of Lowe's assistance Hanford found it extremely difficult, nay, almost impossible, to obtain any real inside information concerning the Barrata Bridge; wherever he turned he brought up against a blank wall of English impassiveness: he even experienced difficulty in securing the blue-prints he wanted.
"It looks pretty tough for you," Lowe told him one day. "I'm afraid you're going to come a cropper, old man. This chap Wylie has the rail and he's running well. He has opened an office, I believe."
"So I understand. Well, the race isn't over yet, and I'm a good stayer. This is the biggest thing I ever tackled and it means a lot to me--more than you imagine."
Hanford recited the story of his old wrong, to Lowe's frank amazement.
"What a rotten trick!" the latter remarked.
"Yes! And--I don't forget."
"You'd better forget this job. It takes pull to get consideration from people like Sir Thomas, and Wylie has more than he needs. A fellow without it hasn't a chance. Look at me, for instance, working at a desk! Bah!"
"Want to try something else?"
"I do! And you'd better follow suit."
Hanford shook his head. "I never quit--I can't. When my chance at this bridge comes along--"
"Oh, the chance will come. Chances always come; sometimes we don't see them, that's all. When this one comes I want to be ready. Meanwhile, I think I'll reconnoiter Wylie's new office and find out what's doing."
Day after day Henry Hanford pursued his work doggedly, seeing much of Lowe, something of Wylie's clerk, and nothing whatever of Sir Thomas Drummond or the other members of the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission. He heard occasional rumors of the social triumphs of his rival, and met him once, to be treated with half-veiled amusement by that patronizing young man. Meanwhile, the time was growing short and Hanford's firm was not well pleased with his progress.
Then the chance came, unexpectedly, as Hanford had declared chances always come. The remarkable thing in this instance was not that the veiled goddess showed her face, but that Hanford was quick enough to recognize her and bold enough to act. He had taken Lowe to the Trocadero for dinner, and, finding no seats where they could watch the crowd, he had selected a stall in a quiet corner. They had been there but a short time when Hanford recognized a voice from the stall adjacent as belonging to the representative of the Atlantic Bridge Company. From the sounds he could tell that Wylie was giving a dinner-party, and with Lowe's aid he soon identified the guests as members of the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission. Hanford began to strain his ears.
As the meal progressed this became less of an effort, for young Wylie's voice was strident. The Wylie conversation had ever been limited largely to the Wylies, their accomplishments, their purposes, and their prospects; and now having the floor as host, he talked mainly about himself, his father, and their forthcoming Barrata Bridge contract. It was his evident endeavor this evening to impress his distinguished guests with the tremendous importance of the Atlantic Bridge Company and its unsurpassed facilities for handling big jobs. A large part of young Wylie's experience had been acquired by manipulating municipal contracts and the aldermen connected therewith; he now worked along similar lines. Hanford soon learned that he was trying in every way possible to induce Drummond and his associates to accompany him back to America for the purpose of proving beyond peradventure that the Atlantic could take care of a five-million-dollar contract with ease.
"As if they'd go!" Lowe said, softly. "And yet--by Jove! he talks as if he had the job buttoned up."
The Englishman was alert, his dramatic instinct was at play; recognizing the significance of Wylie's offer and its possible bearing upon Hanford's fortunes, he waved the waiter away, knowing better than to permit the rattle of dishes to distract his host's attention.
Meanwhile, with clenched teeth and smoldering eyes Henry Hanford heard his rival in the next compartment identify the State of New Jersey by the fact that the works of the Atlantic Bridge Company were located therein, and dignify it by the fact that the Jackson Wylies lived there.
"You know, gentlemen," Wylie was saying, "I can arrange the trip without the least difficulty, and I assure you there will be no discomfort. I am in constant cipher communication with my father, and he will be delighted to afford you every courtesy. I can fix it up by cable in a day."
Hanford arose with a silent gesture to his guest, then, although the meal was but half over, he paid the bill. He had closed his campaign. Right then and there he landed the great Barrata Bridge contract.
Lowe, mystified beyond measure by his friend's action, made no comment until they were outside. Then he exclaimed:
"I say, old top, what blew off?"
Hanford smiled at him queerly. "The whole top of young Wylie's head blew off, if he only knew it. It's my day to settle that score, and the interest will be compounded."
"I must be extremely stupid."
"Not at all. You're damned intelligent, and that's why I'm going to need your help." Hanford turned upon the adventurer suddenly. "Have you ever been an actor?"
Lowe made a comical grimace. "I say, old man, that's pretty rough. My people raised me for a gentleman."
"Exactly. Come with me to my hotel. We're going to do each other a great favor. With your help and the help of Mr. Jackson Wylie the Second's London clerk, I'm going to land the Barrata Bridge."
Hanford had not read his friend Lowe awrong, and when, behind locked doors, he outlined his plan, the big fellow gazed at him with amazement, his blue eyes sparkling with admiration.
"Gad! That appeals to me. I--think I can do it." There was no timidity in Lowe's words, merely a careful consideration of the risks involved.
Hanford gripped his hand. "I'll attend to Wylie's clerk," he declared. "Now we'd better begin to rehearse."
"But what makes you so positive you can handle his clerk?" queried Lowe.
"Oh, I've studied him the same way I've studied you! I've been doing nothing else for the last month."
"Bli' me, you're a corker!" said Mr. Lowe.
* * * * *
Back in Newark, New Jersey, Jackson Wylie, Sr., was growing impatient. In spite of his son's weekly reports he had begun to fret at the indefinite nature of results up to date. This dissatisfaction it was that had induced him to cable his invitation to the Royal Commission to visit the Atlantic plant. Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., had a mysterious way of closing contracts once he came in personal contact with the proper people. In the words of his envious competitors, he had "good terminal facilities," and he felt sure in his own mind that he could get this job if only he could meet some member of that Commission who possessed the power to act. Business was bad, and in view of his son's preliminary reports he had relied upon the certainty of securing this tremendous contract; he had even turned work away so that his plant might be ready for the rush, with the result that many of his men now were idle and that he was running far below capacity. But he likewise had his eye upon those English bonuses, and when his associates rather timidly called his attention to the present state of affairs he assured them bitingly that he knew his business. Nevertheless, he could not help chafing at delay nor longing for the time to come to submit the bid that had lain for a month upon his desk. The magnitude of the figures contained therein was getting on Mr. Wylie's nerves.
On the tenth of May he received a cablegram in his own official cipher which, translated, read:
Meet Sir Thomas Drummond, Chairman Royal Barrata Bridge Commission, arriving Cunard Liner Campania, thirteenth, stopping Waldorf. Arrange personally Barrata contract. Caution.
The cablegram was unsigned, but its address, "Atwylie," betrayed not only its destination, but also the identity of its sender. Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., became tremendously excited. The last word conjured up bewildering possibilities. He was about to consult his associates when it struck him that the greatest caution he could possibly observe would consist of holding his own tongue now and henceforth. They had seen fit to criticize his handling of the matter thus far; he decided he would play safe and say nothing until he had first seen Sir Thomas Drummond and learned the lay of the land. He imagined he might then have something electrifying to tell them. He had "dealt from the bottom" too often, he had closed too many bridge contracts in his time, to mistake the meaning of this visit, or of that last word "caution."
During the next few days Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., had hard work to hold himself in, and he was at a high state of nervous tension when, on the morning of the fourteenth day of May, he strolled into the Waldorf-Astoria and inquired at the desk for Sir Thomas Drummond.
There was no Sir Thomas stopping at the hotel, although a Mr. T. Drummond from London had arrived on the Campania the day before. Mr. Jackson Wylie placed the heel of his right shoe upon the favorite corn of his left foot and bore down upon it heavily. He must be getting into his dotage, he reflected, or else the idea of a five-million-dollar job had him rattled. Of course Sir Thomas would not use his title.
At the rear desk he had his card blown up through the tube to "Mr. T. Drummond," and a few moments later was invited to take the elevator.
Arriving at the sixth floor, he needed no page to guide him; boots pointed his way to the apartment of the distinguished visitor as plainly as a lettered sign-board; boots of all descriptions--hunting-boots, riding-boots, street shoes, lowshoes, pumps, sandals--black ones and tan ones--all in a row outside the door. It was a typically English display. Evidently Sir Thomas Drummond was a personage of the most extreme importance and traveled in befitting style, Mr. Wylie told himself. Nothing was missing from the collection, unless perhaps a pair of rubber hip-boots.
A stoop-shouldered old man with a marked accent and a port-wine nose showed Mr. Wylie into a parlor where the first object upon which his active eyes alighted was a mass of blue-prints. He knew these drawings; he had figured on them himself. He likewise noted a hat-box and a great, shapeless English bag, both plastered crazily with hotel and steamship labels hailing from every quarter of the world. It was plain to be seen that Sir Thomas was a globe-trotter.
"Mr. Drummond begs you to be seated," the valet announced, with what seemed an unnecessary accent on the "mister," then moved silently out.
Mr. Wylie remarked to himself upon the value of discreet servants. They were very valuable; very hard to get in America. This must be some lifelong servitor in his lordship's family.
There was no occasion to inquire the identity of the tall, florid Englishman in tweeds who entered a moment later, a bundle of estimates in his hand. "Sir Thomas Drummond, Chairman of the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission," was written all over him in large type.
His lordship did not go to the trouble of welcoming his visitor, but scanned him frigidly through his glasses.
"You are Mr. Jackson Wylie, Senior?" he demanded, abruptly.
"That is my name."
"President of the Atlantic Bridge Company, of Newark, New Jersey?"
"You received a cablegram from your son in London?"
"Yes, your lordship."
Sir Thomas made a gesture as if to forego the title. "Let me see it, please."
Mr. Wylie produced the cablegram, and Drummond scanned it sharply. Evidently the identification was complete.
"Does any one besides your son and yourself know the contents of this message?"
"Not a soul."
"You have not told any one of my coming?"
"Very well." Sir Thomas appeared to breathe easier; he deliberately tore the cablegram into small bits, then tossed the fragments into a wastepaper basket before waving his caller to a chair. He still remained very cold, very forceful, although his stiff formality had vanished.
"Do you understand all about this bridge?" he inquired.
Wylie senior took the cue of brusqueness and nodded shortly.
"Can you build it in the time specified?"
"Have you submitted your bid?"
"Not yet. I--"
"What is the amount of your proposal?"
The president of the Atlantic Bridge Company gasped. This was the boldest, the coldest work he had ever experienced. Many times he had witnessed public officials like Sir Thomas Drummond approach this delicate point, but never with such composure, such matter-of-fact certainty and lack of moral scruple. Evidently, however, this Englishman had come to trade and wanted a direct answer. There was no false pose, no romance here. But Jackson Wylie, Sr., was too shrewd a business man to name a rock-bottom price to begin with. The training of a lifetime would not permit him to deny himself a liberal leeway for hedging, therefore he replied, cautiously:
"My figures will be approximately L1,400,000 sterling." It was his longest speech thus far.
For what seemed an hour to the bridge-builder Sir Thomas Drummond gazed at him with a cold, hard eye, then he folded his papers, rolled up his blue-prints, placed them in the big traveling-bag, and carefully locked it. When he had finished he flung out this question suddenly:
"Does that include the Commissioners?"
Up to this point Mr. Jackson Wylie had spoken mainly in monosyllables; now he quit talking altogether; it was no longer necessary. He merely shook his head in negation. He was smiling slightly.
"Then I shall ask you to add L200,000 sterling to your price," his lordship calmly announced. "Make your bid L1,600,000 sterling, and mail it in time for Wednesday's boat. I sail on the same ship. Proposals will be opened on the twenty-fifth. Arrange for an English indemnity bond for ten per cent. of your proposition. Do not communicate in any manner whatsoever with your son, except to forward the sealed bid to him. He is not to know of our arrangement. You will meet me in London later; we will take care of that L200,000 out of the last forty per cent. of the contract price, which is payable thirty days after completion, inspection, and acceptance of the bridge. You will not consult your associates upon leaving here. Do I make myself clear? Very well, sir. The figures are easy to remember: L1,600,000; L1,400,000 to you. I am pleased with the facilities your plant offers for doing the work. I am confident you can complete the bridge on time, and I beg leave to wish you a very pleasant good day."
Jackson Wylie, Sr., did not really come to until he had reached the street; even then he did not know whether he had come down the elevator or through the mail-chute. Of one thing only was he certain: he was due to retire in favor of his son. He told himself that he needed a trip through the Holy Land with a guardian and a nursing-bottle; then he paused on the curb and stamped on his corn for a second time.
"Oh, what an idiot I am!" he cried, savagely. "I could have gotten L1,600,000 to start with, but--by gad, Sir Thomas is the coldest-blooded thing I ever went against! I--I can't help but admire him."
Having shown a deplorable lack of foresight, Mr. Wylie determined to make up for it by an ample display of hindsight. If the profits on the job were not to be so large as they might have been, he would at least make certain of them by obeying instructions to the letter. In accordance with this determination, he made out the bid himself, and he mailed it with his own hand that very afternoon. He put three blue stamps on the envelope, although it required but two. Then he called up an automobile agency and ordered a foreign town-car his wife had admired. He decided that she and the girls might go to Paris for the fall shopping--he might even go with them, in view of that morning's episode.
For ten days he stood the pressure, then on the morning of the twenty-fourth he called his confreres into the directors' room, that same room in which young Hanford had made his talk a number of years before. Inasmuch as it was too late now for a disclosure to affect the opening of the bids in London, he felt absolved from his promise to Sir Thomas.
"Gentlemen, I have the honor to inform you," he began, pompously, "that the Barrata Bridge is ours! We have the greatest structural steel job of the decade." His chest swelled with justifiable pride.
"How? When? What do you mean?" they cried.
He told them of his mysterious but fruitful interview at the Waldorf ten days previously, enjoying their expressions of amazement to the full; then he explained in considerable detail the difficulties he had surmounted in securing such liberal figures from Sir Thomas.
"We were ready to take the contract for L1,300,000, as you will remember, but by the exercise of some diplomacy"--he coughed modestly--"I may say, by the display of some firmness and independence, I succeeded in securing a clean profit of $500,000 over what we had expected." He accepted, with becoming diffidence, the congratulations which were showered upon him. Of course, the news created a sensation, but it was as nothing to the sensation that followed upon the receipt of a cablegram the next day which read:
Newark, New Jersey.
Terrible mistake somewhere. We lost. Am coming home to-day.
Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., also went home that day--by carriage, for, after raving wildly of treachery, after cursing the name of some English nobleman, unknown to most of the office force, he collapsed, throwing his employees into much confusion. There were rumors of an apoplectic stroke; some one telephoned for a physician; but the president of the Atlantic Bridge Company only howled at the latter when he arrived.
What hit the old man hardest was the fact that he could not explain to his associates--that he could not even explain to himself, for that matter. He could make neither head nor tail of the affair; his son was on the high seas and could not be reached; the mystery of the whole transaction threatened to unseat his reason. Even when his sorrowing heir arrived, a week after the shock, the father could gather nothing at first except the bare details.
All he could learn was that the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission had met on the twenty-fifth day of May, for the second time in its history, with Sir Thomas Drummond in the chair. In the midst of an ultra-British solemnity the bids had been opened and read--nine of them--two Belgian, one German, two French, one English, one Scottish, and two American.
The only proposals that conformed to the specifications in every respect were the last named. They were perfect. The Atlantic Bridge Company, of Newark, New Jersey, offered to do the work as specified for L1,600,000 sterling. The Patterson Bridge Company, through its authorized agent, Mr. Henry Hanford, named a price of L1,550,000. The rest was but a matter of detail.
Having concluded this bald recital, Jackson Wylie, the Second, spread his hands in a gesture of despair. "I can't understand it," he said, dolefully. "I thought I had it cinched all the time."
"You had it cinched!" bellowed his father. "You! Why, you ruined it all! Why in hell did you send him over here?"
"I? Send who? What are you talking about?"
"That man with the boots! That lying, thieving scoundrel, Sir Thomas Drummond, of course."
The younger Wylie's face showed blank, uncomprehending amazement. "Sir Thomas Drummond was in London all the time I was there. I saw him daily," said he.
Not until this very moment did the president of the Atlantic Bridge Company comprehend the trap he had walked into, but now the whole hideous business became apparent. He had been fooled, swindled, and in a way to render recourse impossible; nay, in a manner to blacken his reputation if the story became public. He fell actually ill from the passion of his rage and not even a long rest from the worries of business completely cured him. The bitter taste of defeat would not down. He might never have understood the matter thoroughly had it not been for a missive he received one day through the mail. It was a bill from a London shoe-store for twelve pairs of boots, of varying styles, made out to Henry Hanford, and marked "paid."
Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., noted with unspeakable chagrin that the last word was heavily under-scored in ink, as if by another hand. Hanford's bill was indeed paid, and with interest to date.