A rule of the Boy Scouts is every day to do some one a good turn. Not because the copy-books tell you it deserves another, but in spite of that pleasing possibility. If you are a true scout, until you have performed your act of kindness your day is dark. You are as unhappy as is the grown-up who has begun his day without shaving or reading the New York Sun. But as soon as you have proved yourself you may, with a clear conscience, look the world in the face and untie the knot in your kerchief.
Jimmie Reeder untied the accusing knot in his scarf at just ten minutes past eight on a hot August morning after he had given one dime to his sister Sadie. With that she could either witness the first-run films at the Palace, or by dividing her fortune patronize two of the nickel shows on Lenox Avenue. The choice Jimmie left to her. He was setting out for the annual encampment of the Boy Scouts at Hunter's Island, and in the excitement of that adventure even the movies ceased to thrill. But Sadie also could be unselfish. With a heroism of a camp-fire maiden she made a gesture which might have been interpreted to mean she was returning the money.
"I can't, Jimmie!" she gasped. "I can't take it off you. You saved it, and you ought to get the fun of it."
"I haven't saved it yet," said Jimmie. "I'm going to cut it out of the railroad fare. I'm going to get off at City Island instead of at Pelham Manor and walk the difference. That's ten cents cheaper."
Sadie exclaimed with admiration:
"An' you carryin' that heavy grip!"
"Aw, that's nothin'," said the man of the family.
"Good-by, mother. So long, Sadie."
To ward off further expressions of gratitude he hurriedly advised Sadie to take in "The Curse of Cain" rather than "The Mohawks' Last Stand," and fled down the front steps.
He wore his khaki uniform. On his shoulders was his knapsack, from his hands swung his suitcase and between his heavy stockings and his "shorts" his kneecaps, unkissed by the sun, as yet unscathed by blackberry vines, showed as white and fragile as the wrists of a girl. As he moved toward the "L" station at the corner, Sadie and his mother waved to him; in the street, boys too small to be scouts hailed him enviously; even the policeman glancing over the newspapers on the news-stand nodded approval.
"You a Scout, Jimmie?" he asked.
"No," retorted Jimmie, for was not he also in uniform? "I'm Santa Claus out filling Christmas stockings."
The patrolman also possessed a ready wit.
"Then get yourself a pair," he advised. "If a dog was to see your legs----"
Jimmie escaped the insult by fleeing up the steps of the Elevated.
* * * * * * *
An hour later, with his valise in one hand and staff in the other, he was tramping up the Boston Post Road and breathing heavily. The day was cruelly hot. Before his eyes, over an interminable stretch of asphalt, the heat waves danced and flickered. Already the knapsack on his shoulders pressed upon him like an Old Man of the Sea; the linen in the valise had turned to pig iron, his pipe-stem legs were wabbling, his eyes smarted with salt sweat, and the fingers supporting the valise belonged to some other boy, and were giving that boy much pain. But as the motor-cars flashed past with raucous warnings, or, that those who rode might better see the boy with bare knees, passed at "half speed," Jimmie stiffened his shoulders and stepped jauntily forward. Even when the joy-riders mocked with "Oh, you Scout!" he smiled at them. He was willing to admit to those who rode that the laugh was on the one who walked. And he regretted--oh, so bitterly--having left the train. He was indignant that for his "one good turn a day" he had not selected one less strenuous. That, for instance, he had not assisted a frightened old lady through the traffic. To refuse the dime she might have offered, as all true scouts refuse all tips, would have been easier than to earn it by walking five miles, with the sun at ninety-nine degrees, and carrying excess baggage. Twenty times James shifted the valise to the other hand, twenty times he let it drop and sat upon it.
And then, as again he took up his burden, the Good Samaritan drew near. He drew near in a low gray racing-car at the rate of forty miles an hour, and within a hundred feet of Jimmie suddenly stopped and backed toward him. The Good Samaritan was a young man with white hair. He wore a suit of blue, a golf cap; the hands that held the wheel were disguised in large yellow gloves. He brought the car to a halt and surveyed the dripping figure in the road with tired and uncurious eyes.
"You a Boy Scout?" he asked.
With alacrity for the twenty-first time Jimmie dropped the valise, forced his cramped fingers into straight lines, and saluted.
The young man in the car nodded toward the seat beside him.
"Get in," he commanded.
When James sat panting happily at his elbow the old young man, to Jimmie's disappointment, did not continue to shatter the speed limit. Instead, he seemed inclined for conversation, and the car, growling indignantly, crawled.
"I never saw a Boy Scout before," announced the old young man. "Tell me about it. First, tell me what you do when you're not scouting."
Jimmie explained volubly. When not in uniform he was an office-boy and from pedlers and beggars guarded the gates of Carroll and Hastings, stockbrokers. He spoke the names of his employers with awe. It was a firm distinguished, conservative, and long-established. The white-haired young man seemed to nod in assent.
"Do you know them?" demanded Jimmie suspiciously. "Are you a customer of ours?"
"I know them," said the young man. "They are customers of mine."
Jimmie wondered in what way Carroll and Hastings were customers of the white-haired young man. Judging him by his outer garments, Jimmie guessed he was a Fifth Avenue tailor; he might be even a haberdasher. Jimmie continued. He lived, he explained, with his mother at One Hundred and Forty-sixth Street; Sadie, his sister, attended the public school; he helped support them both, and he now was about to enjoy a well-earned vacation camping out on Hunter's Island, where he would cook his own meals and, if the mosquitoes permitted, sleep in a tent.
"And you like that?" demanded the young man. "You call that fun?"
"Sure!" protested Jimmie. "Don't you go camping out?"
"I go camping out," said the Good Samaritan, "whenever I leave New York."
Jimmie had not for three years lived in Wall Street not to understand that the young man spoke in metaphor.
"You don't look," objected the young man critically, "as though you were built for the strenuous life."
Jimmie glanced guiltily at his white knees.
"You ought ter see me two weeks from now," he protested. "I get all sunburnt and hard--hard as anything!"
The young man was incredulous.
"You were near getting sunstroke when I picked you up," he laughed. "If you're going to Hunter's Island why didn't you take the Third Avenue to Pelham Manor?"
"That's right!" assented Jimmie eagerly. "But I wanted to save the ten cents so's to send Sadie to the movies. So I walked."
The young man looked his embarrassment.
"I beg your pardon," he murmured.
But Jimmie did not hear him. From the back of the car he was dragging excitedly at the hated suitcase.
"Stop!" he commanded. "I got ter get out. I got ter walk."
The young man showed his surprise.
"Walk!" he exclaimed. "What is it--a bet?"
Jimmie dropped the valise and followed it into the roadway. It took some time to explain to the young man. First, he had to be told about the scout law and the one good turn a day, and that it must involve some personal sacrifice. And, as Jimmie pointed out, changing from a slow suburban train to a racing-car could not be listed as a sacrifice. He had not earned the money, Jimmie argued; he had only avoided paying it to the railroad. If he did not walk he would be obtaining the gratitude of Sadie by a falsehood. Therefore, he must walk.
"Not at all," protested the young man. "You've got it wrong. What good will it do your sister to have you sunstruck? I think you are sunstruck. You're crazy with the heat. You get in here, and we'll talk it over as we go along."
Hastily Jimmie backed away. "I'd rather walk," he said.
The young man shifted his legs irritably.
"Then how'll this suit you?" he called. "We'll declare that first 'one good turn' a failure and start afresh. Do me a good turn."
Jimmie halted in his tracks and looked back suspiciously.
"I'm going to Hunter's Island Inn," called the young man, "and I've lost my way. You get in here and guide me. That'll be doing me a good turn."
On either side of the road, blotting out the landscape, giant hands picked out in electric-light bulbs pointed the way to Hunter's Island Inn. Jimmie grinned and nodded toward them.
"Much obliged," he called, "I got ter walk." Turning his back upon temptation, he wabbled forward into the flickering heat waves.
* * * * * * *
The young man did not attempt to pursue. At the side of the road, under the shade of a giant elm, he had brought the car to a halt and with his arms crossed upon the wheel sat motionless, following with frowning eyes the retreating figure of Jimmie. But the narrow-chested and knock-kneed boy staggering over the sun-baked asphalt no longer concerned him. It was not Jimmie, but the code preached by Jimmie, and not only preached but before his eyes put into practice, that interested him. The young man with white hair had been running away from temptation. At forty miles an hour he had been running away from the temptation to do a fellow mortal "a good turn." That morning, to the appeal of a drowning Caesar to "Help me, Cassius, or I sink," he had answered, "Sink!" That answer he had no wish to reconsider. That he might not reconsider he had sought to escape. It was his experience that a sixty-horsepower racing-machine is a jealous mistress. For retrospective, sentimental, or philanthropic thoughts she grants no leave of absence. But he had not escaped. Jimmie had halted him, tripped him by the heels and set him again to thinking. Within the half-hour that followed those who rolled past saw at the side of the road a car with her engine running, and leaning upon the wheel, as unconscious of his surroundings as though he sat at his own fireplace, a young man who frowned and stared at nothing. The half-hour passed and the young man swung his car back toward the city. But at the first roadhouse that showed a blue-and-white telephone sign he left it, and into the iron box at the end of the bar dropped a nickel. He wished to communicate with Mr. Carroll, of Carroll and Hastings; and when he learned Mr. Carroll had just issued orders that he must not be disturbed, the young man gave his name.
The effect upon the barkeeper was instantaneous. With the aggrieved air of one who feels he is the victim of a jest he laughed scornfully.
"What are you putting over?" he demanded.
The young man smiled reassuringly. He had begun to speak and, though apparently engaged with the beer-glass he was polishing, the barkeeper listened.
Down in Wall Street the senior member of Carroll and Hastings also listened. He was alone in the most private of all his private offices, and when interrupted had been engaged in what, of all undertakings, is the most momentous. On the desk before him lay letters to his lawyer, to the coroner, to his wife; and hidden by a mass of papers, but within reach of his hand, an automatic pistol. The promise it offered of swift release had made the writing of the letters simple, had given him a feeling of complete detachment, had released him, at least in thought, from all responsibilities. And when at his elbow the telephone coughed discreetly, it was as though some one had called him from a world from which already he had made his exit.
Mechanically, through mere habit, he lifted the receiver.
The voice over the telephone came in brisk staccato sentences.
"That letter I sent this morning? Forget it. Tear it up. I've been thinking and I'm going to take a chance. I've decided to back you boys, and I know you'll make good. I'm speaking from a roadhouse in the Bronx; going straight from here to the bank. So you can begin to draw against us within an hour. And--hello!--will three millions see you through?"
From Wall Street there came no answer, but from the hands of the barkeeper a glass crashed to the floor.
The young man regarded the barkeeper with puzzled eyes.
"He doesn't answer," he exclaimed. "He must have hung up."
"He must have fainted!" said the barkeeper.
The white-haired one pushed a bill across the counter. "To pay for breakage," he said, and disappeared down Pelham Parkway.
Throughout the day, with the bill, for evidence, pasted against the mirror, the barkeeper told and retold the wondrous tale.
"He stood just where you're standing now," he related, "blowing in million-dollar bills like you'd blow suds off a beer. If I'd knowed it was him, I'd have hit him once, and hid him in the cellar for the reward. Who'd I think he was? I thought he was a wire-tapper, working a con game!"
Mr. Carroll had not "hung up," but when in the Bronx the beer-glass crashed, in Wall Street the receiver had slipped from the hand of the man who held it, and the man himself had fallen forward. His desk hit him in the face and woke him--woke him to the wonderful fact that he still lived; that at forty he had been born again; that before him stretched many more years in which, as the young man with the white hair had pointed out, he still could make good.
The afternoon was far advanced when the staff of Carroll and Hastings were allowed to depart, and, even late as was the hour, two of them were asked to remain. Into the most private of the private offices Carroll invited Gaskell, the head clerk; in the main office Hastings had asked young Thorne, the bond clerk, to be seated.
Until the senior partner has finished with Gaskell young Thorne must remain seated.
"Gaskell," said Mr. Carroll, "if we had listened to you, if we'd run this place as it was when father was alive, this never would have happened. It hasn't happened, but we've had our lesson. And after this we're going slow and going straight. And we don't need you to tell us how to do that. We want you to go away--on a month's vacation. When I thought we were going under I planned to send the children on a sea-voyage with the governess--so they wouldn't see the newspapers. But now that I can look them in the eye again, I need them, I can't let them go. So, if you'd like to take your wife on an ocean trip to Nova Scotia and Quebec, here are the cabins I reserved for the kids. They call it the Royal Suite--whatever that is--and the trip lasts a month. The boat sails to-morrow morning. Don't sleep too late or you may miss her."
* * * * * * *
The head clerk was secreting the tickets in the inside pocket of his waistcoat. His fingers trembled, and when he laughed his voice trembled.
"Miss the boat!" the head clerk exclaimed. "If she gets away from Millie and me she's got to start now. We'll go on board to-night!"
A half-hour later Millie was on her knees packing a trunk, and her husband was telephoning to the drug-store for a sponge bag and a cure for seasickness.
Owing to the joy in her heart and to the fact that she was on her knees, Millie was alternately weeping into the trunk-tray and offering up incoherent prayers of thanksgiving. Suddenly she sank back upon the floor.
"John!" she cried, "doesn't it seem sinful to sail away in a 'royal suite' and leave this beautiful flat empty?"
Over the telephone John was having trouble with the drug clerk.
"No!" he explained, "I'm not seasick now. The medicine I want is to be taken later. I know I'm speaking from the Pavonia; but the Pavonia isn't a ship; it's an apartment-house."
He turned to Millie. "We can't be in two places at the same time," he suggested.
"But, think," insisted Millie, "of all the poor people stifling to-night in this heat, trying to sleep on the roofs and fire-escapes; and our flat so cool and big and pretty--and no one in it."
John nodded his head proudly.
"I know it's big," he said, "but it isn't big enough to hold all the people who are sleeping to-night on the roofs and in the parks."
"I was thinking of your brother--and Grace," said Millie. "They've been married only two weeks now, and they're in a stuffy hall bedroom and eating with all the other boarders. Think what our flat would mean to them; to be by themselves, with eight rooms and their own kitchen and bath, and our new refrigerator and the gramophone! It would be Heaven! It would be a real honeymoon!"
Abandoning the drug clerk, John lifted Millie in his arms and kissed her, for next to his wife nearest his heart was the younger brother.
* * * * * * *
The younger brother and Grace were sitting on the stoop of the boardinghouse. On the upper steps, in their shirt-sleeves, were the other boarders; so the bride and bridegroom spoke in whispers. The air of the cross street was stale and stagnant; from it rose exhalations of rotting fruit, the gases of an open subway, the smoke of passing taxicabs. But between the street and the hall bedroom, with its odors of a gas-stove and a kitchen, the choice was difficult.
"We've got to cool off somehow," the young husband was saying, "or you won't sleep. Shall we treat ourselves to ice-cream sodas or a trip on the Weehawken ferry-boat?"
"The ferry-boat!" begged the girl, "where we can get away from all these people."
A taxicab with a trunk in front whirled into the street, kicked itself to a stop, and the head clerk and Millie spilled out upon the pavement. They talked so fast, and the younger brother and Grace talked so fast, that the boarders, although they listened intently, could make nothing of it.
They distinguished only the concluding sentences:
"Why don't you drive down to the wharf with us," they heard the elder brother ask, "and see our royal suite?"
But the younger brother laughed him to scorn.
"What's your royal suite," he mocked, "to our royal palace?"
An hour later, had the boarders listened outside the flat of the head clerk, they would have heard issuing from his bathroom the cooling murmur of running water and from his gramophone the jubilant notes of "Alexander's Ragtime Band."
When in his private office Carroll was making a present of the royal suite to the head clerk, in the main office Hastings, the junior partner, was addressing "Champ" Thorne, the bond clerk. He addressed him familiarly and affectionately as "Champ." This was due partly to the fact that twenty-six years before Thorne had been christened Champneys and to the coincidence that he had captained the football eleven of one of the Big Three to the championship.
"Champ," said Mr. Hastings, "last month, when you asked me to raise your salary, the reason I didn't do it was not because you didn't deserve it, but because I believed if we gave you a raise you'd immediately get married."
The shoulders of the ex-football captain rose aggressively; he snorted with indignation.
"And why should I not get married?" he demanded. "You're a fine one to talk! You're the most offensively happy married man I ever met."
"Perhaps I know I am happy better than you do," reproved the junior partner; "but I know also that it takes money to support a wife."
"You raise me to a hundred a week," urged Champ, "and I'll make it support a wife whether it supports me or not."
"A month ago," continued Hastings, "we could have promised you a hundred, but we didn't know how long we could pay it. We didn't want you to rush off and marry some fine girl----"
"Some fine girl!" muttered Mr. Thorne. "The Finest Girl!"
"The finer the girl," Hastings pointed out, "the harder it would have been for you if we had failed and you had lost your job."
The eyes of the young man opened with sympathy and concern.
"Is it as bad as that?" he murmured.
Hastings sighed happily.
"It was," he said, "but this morning the Young Man of Wall Street did us a good turn--saved us--saved our creditors, saved our homes, saved our honor. We're going to start fresh and pay our debts, and we agreed the first debt we paid would be the small one we owe you. You've brought us more than we've given, and if you'll stay with us we're going to 'see' your fifty and raise it a hundred. What do you say?"
Young Mr. Thorne leaped to his feet. What he said was: "Where'n hell's my hat?"
But by the time he had found the hat and the door he mended his manners.
"I say, 'thank you a thousand times,'" he shouted over his shoulder. "Excuse me, but I've got to go. I've got to break the news to----"
He did not explain to whom he was going to break the news; but Hastings must have guessed, for again he sighed happily and then, a little hysterically, laughed aloud. Several months had passed since he had laughed aloud.
In his anxiety to break the news Champ Thorne almost broke his neck. In his excitement he could not remember whether the red flash meant the elevator was going down or coming up, and sooner than wait to find out he started to race down eighteen flights of stairs when fortunately the elevator-door swung open.
"You get five dollars," he announced to the elevator man, "if you drop to the street without a stop. Beat the speed limit! Act like the building is on fire and you're trying to save me before the roof falls."
Senator Barnes and his entire family, which was his daughter Barbara, were at the Ritz-Carlton. They were in town in August because there was a meeting of the directors of the Brazil and Cuyaba Rubber Company, of which company Senator Barnes was president. It was a secret meeting. Those directors who were keeping cool at the edge of the ocean had been summoned by telegraph; those who were steaming across the ocean, by wireless.
Up from the equator had drifted the threat of a scandal, sickening, grim, terrible. As yet it burned beneath the surface, giving out only an odor, but an odor as rank as burning rubber itself. At any moment it might break into flame. For the directors, was it the better wisdom to let the scandal smoulder, and take a chance, or to be the first to give the alarm, the first to lead the way to the horror and stamp it out?
It was to decide this that, in the heat of August, the directors and the president had foregathered.
Champ Thorne knew nothing of this; he knew only that by a miracle Barbara Barnes was in town; that at last he was in a position to ask her to marry him; that she would certainly say she would. That was all he cared to know.
A year before he had issued his declaration of independence. Before he could marry, he told her, he must be able to support a wife on what he earned, without her having to accept money from her father, and until he received "a minimum wage" of five thousand dollars they must wait.
"What is the matter with my father's money?" Barbara had demanded.
Thorne had evaded the direct question.
"There is too much of it," he said.
"Do you object to the way he makes it?" insisted Barbara. "Because rubber is most useful. You put it in golf balls and auto tires and galoches. There is nothing so perfectly respectable as galoches. And what is there 'tainted' about a raincoat."
Thorne shook his head unhappily.
"It's not the finished product to which I refer," he stammered; "it's the way they get the raw material."
"They get it out of trees," said Barbara. Then she exclaimed with enlightenment--"Oh!" she cried, "you are thinking of the Congo. There it is terrible! That is slavery. But there are no slaves on the Amazon. The natives are free and the work is easy. They just tap the trees the way the farmers gather sugar in Vermont. Father has told me about it often."
Thorne had made no comment. He could abuse a friend, if the friend were among those present, but denouncing any one he disliked as heartily as he disliked Senator Barnes was a public service he preferred to leave to others. And he knew besides that, if the father she loved and the man she loved distrusted each other, Barbara would not rest until she learned the reason why.
One day, in a newspaper, Barbara read of the Puju Mayo atrocities, of the Indian slaves in the jungles and back waters of the Amazon, who are offered up as sacrifices to "red rubber." She carried the paper to her father. What it said, her father told her, was untrue, and if it were true it was the first he had heard of it.
Senator Barnes loved the good things of life, but the thing he loved most was his daughter; the thing he valued the highest was her good opinion. So when for the first time she looked at him in doubt, he assured her he at once would order an investigation.
"But, of course," he added, "it will be many months before our agents can report. On the Amazon news travels very slowly."
In the eyes of his daughter the doubt still lingered.
"I am afraid," she said, "that that is true."
That was six months before the directors of the Brazil and Cuyaba Rubber Company were summoned to meet their president at his rooms in the Ritz-Carlton. They were due to arrive in half an hour, and while Senator Barnes awaited their coming Barbara came to him. In her eyes was a light that helped to tell the great news. It gave him a sharp, jealous pang. He wanted at once to play a part in her happiness, to make her grateful to him, not alone to this stranger who was taking her away. So fearful was he that she would shut him out of her life that had she asked for half his kingdom he would have parted with it.
"And besides giving my consent," said the rubber king, "for which no one seems to have asked, what can I give my little girl to make her remember her old father? Some diamonds to put on her head, or pearls to hang around her neck, or does she want a vacant lot on Fifth Avenue?"
The lovely hands of Barbara rested upon his shoulders; her lovely face was raised to his; her lovely eyes were appealing, and a little frightened.
"What would one of those things cost?" asked Barbara.
The question was eminently practical. It came within the scope of the senator's understanding. After all, he was not to be cast into outer darkness. His smile was complacent. He answered airily:
"Anything you like," he said; "a million dollars?"
The fingers closed upon his shoulders. The eyes, still frightened, still searched his in appeal.
"Then for my wedding-present," said the girl, "I want you to take that million dollars and send an expedition to the Amazon. And I will choose the men. Men unafraid; men not afraid of fever or sudden death; not afraid to tell the truth--even to you. And all the world will know. And they--I mean you--will set those people free!"
Senator Barnes received the directors with an embarrassment which he concealed under a manner of just indignation.
"My mind is made up," he told them. "Existing conditions cannot continue. And to that end, at my own expense, I am sending an expedition across South America. It will investigate, punish, and establish reforms. I suggest, on account of this damned heat, we do now adjourn."
That night, over on Long Island, Carroll told his wife all, or nearly all. He did not tell her about the automatic pistol. And together on tiptoe they crept to the nursery and looked down at their sleeping children. When she rose from her knees the mother said, "But how can I thank him?"
By "him" she meant the Young Man of Wall Street.
"You never can thank him," said Carroll; "that's the worst of it."
But after a long silence the mother said: "I will send him a photograph of the children. Do you think he will understand?"
Down at Seabright, Hastings and his wife walked in the sunken garden. The moon was so bright that the roses still held their color.
"I would like to thank him," said the young wife. She meant the Young Man of Wall Street. "But for him we would have lost this."
Her eyes caressed the garden, the fruit-trees, the house with wide, hospitable verandas. "To-morrow I will send him some of these roses," said the young wife. "Will he understand that they mean our home?"
At a scandalously late hour, in a scandalous spirit of independence, Champ Thorne and Barbara were driving around Central Park in a taxicab.
"How strangely the Lord moves, his wonders to perform," misquoted Barbara. "Had not the Young Man of Wall Street saved Mr. Hastings, Mr. Hastings could not have raised your salary; you would not have asked me to marry you, and had you not asked me to marry you, father would not have given me a wedding-present, and----"
"And," said Champ, taking up the tale, "thousands of slaves would still be buried in the jungles, hidden away from their wives and children, and the light of the sun and their fellow men. They still would be dying of fever, starvation, tortures."
He took her hand in both of his and held her finger-tips against his lips.
"And they will never know," he whispered, "when their freedom comes, that they owe it all to you."
* * * * * * *
On Hunter's Island Jimmie Reeder and his bunkie, Sam Sturges, each on his canvas cot, tossed and twisted. The heat, the moonlight, and the mosquitoes would not let them even think of sleep.
"That was bully," said Jimmie, "what you did to-day about saving that dog. If it hadn't been for you he'd ha' drownded."
"He would not!" said Sammy with punctilious regard for the truth; "it wasn't deep enough."
"Well, the scout-master ought to know," argued Jimmie; "he said it was the best 'one good turn' of the day!"
Modestly Sam shifted the limelight so that it fell upon his bunkie.
"I'll bet," he declared loyally, "your 'one good turn' was a better one!"
Jimmie yawned, and then laughed scornfully.
"Me," he scoffed, "I didn't do nothing. I sent my sister to the movies."
* * * * * * * * * * * *