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To Harrington Surtaine, life had been a game with easy rules. Certain things one must not do. Decent people didn't do them. That's all there was to that. In matters of morals and conduct, he was guided by a natural temperance and an innate sense of responsibility to himself. Difficult questions had not come up in his life. Consequently he had not found the exercise of judgment troublesome. His tendency, as regarded his own affairs, was to a definite promptness of decision, and there was an end of the matter. Others he seldom felt called upon to judge, but if the instance were ineluctable, he was prone to an amiable generosity. Ease of living does not breed in the mind a strongly defined philosophy. All that young Mr. Surtaine required of his fellow beings was that they should behave themselves with a due and respectable regard to the rights of all in general and of himself in particular--and he would do the same by them. Rather a pallid attenuation of the Golden Rule; but he had thus far found it sufficient to his existence.
Into this peaceful world-scheme intruded, now, a disorganizing factor. He had brought it home with him from his visit to the "shop." An undefined but pervasive distaste for the vast, bustling, profitable Certina business formed the nucleus of it. As he thought it over that night, amidst the heavily ornate elegance of the great bedroom, which, with its dressing-room and bath, his father had set aside for his use in the Surtaine mansion, he felt in the whole scheme of the thing a vague offense. The air which he had breathed in those spacious halls of trade had left a faintly malodorous reminiscence in his nostrils.
One feature of his visit returned insistently to his mind: the contrast between the semi-contemptuous carelessness exhibited by his father toward the processes of compounding the cure and the minute and insistent attention given to the methods of expounding it. Was the advertising really of so much more import than the medicine itself? If so, wasn't the whole affair a matter of selling shadow rather than substance?
But it is not in human nature to view with too stern a scrutiny a business which furnishes one's easeful self with all the requisites of luxury, and that by processes of almost magic simplicity. Hal reflected that all big businesses doubtless had their discomforting phases. He had once heard a lecturing philosopher express a doubt as to whether it were possible to defend, ethically, that prevalent modern phenomenon, the millionaire, in any of his manifestations. By the counsel of perfection this might well be true. But who was he to judge his father by such rigorous standards? Of the medical aspect of the question he could form no clear judgment. To him the patent medicine trade was simply a part of the world's business, like railroading, banking, or any other form of merchandising. His own precocious commercial experience, when, as a boy, he had played his little part in the barter and trade, had blinded him on that side. Nevertheless, his mind was not impregnably fortified. Old Lame-Boy, bearer of dollars to the bank, loomed up, a disturbing figure.
Then, from a recess in his memory, there popped out the word "genteel." His father had characterized the Certina business as being, possibly, not sufficiently "genteel" for him. He caught at the saving suggestion. Doubtless that was the trouble. It was the blatancy of the business, not any evil quality inherent in it, which had offended him. Kindest and gentlest of men and best of fathers as Dr. Surtaine was, he was not a paragon of good taste; and his business naturally reflected his personality. Even this was further than Hal had ever gone before in critical judgment. But he seized upon the theory as a defense against further thought, and, having satisfied his self-questionings with this sop, he let his mind revert to his trip through the factory. It paused on the correspondence room and its attractive forewoman.
"She seemed a practical little thing," he reflected. "I'll talk to her again and get her point of view." And then he wondered, rather amusedly, how much of this self-suggestion arose from a desire for information, and how much was inspired by a memory of her haunting, hungry eyes.
On the following morning he kept away from the factory, lunched at the Huron Club with William Douglas, Elias M. Pierce, who had found time to be present, and several prominent citizens whom he thought quite dully similar to each other; and afterward walked to the Certina Building to keep an appointment with its official head.
"Been feeding with our representative citizens, eh?" his father greeted him. "Good! Meantime the Old Man grubbed along on a bowl of milk and a piece of apple pie, at a hurry-up lunch-joint. Good working diet, for young or old. Besides, it saves time."
"Are you as busy as all that, Dad?"
"Pretty busy this morning, because I've had to save an hour for you out of this afternoon. We'll take it right now if you're ready."
"Quite ready, sir."
"Hal, where's Europe?"
"Europe? In the usual place on the map, I suppose."
"You didn't bring it back with you, then?"
"Not a great deal of it. They mightn't have let it through the customs."
Dr. Surtaine snapped a rubber band from a packet of papers lying on his desk. "Considering that you seem to have bought it outright," he said, twinkling, "I thought you might tell me what you intend doing with it. There are the bills."
"Have I gone too heavy, sir?" asked Hal. "You've never limited me, and I supposed that the business--"
"The business," interrupted his father arrogantly, "could pay those bills three times over in any month. That isn't the point. The point is that you've spent something more than forty-eight thousand dollars this last year."
Hal whistled ruefully. "Call it an even fifty," he said. "I've made a little, myself."
"No! Have you? How's that?"
"While I was in London I did a bit of writing; sketches of queer places and people and that sort of thing, and had pretty good luck selling 'em. One fellow I know there even offered me a job paragraphing. That's like our editorial writing, you know."
"Fine! That makes me feel easier. I was afraid you might be going soft, with so much money to spend."
"How I ever spent that much--"
"Never mind that. It's gone. However, we'll try another basis. I'd thought of an allowance, but I don't quite like the notion. Hal, I'm going to give you your own money."
"My own money? I didn't know that I had any."
"Well, you have."
"Where did I get it?"
"From our partnership. From the old days on the road."
"Rather an intangible fortune, isn't it?"
"That old itinerant business was the nucleus of the Certina of to-day. You had a profit-sharing right in that. You've still got it--in this. Hal, I'm turning over to you to-day half a million dollars."
"That's a lot of money, Dad," said the younger man soberly.
"The interest doesn't come to fifty thousand dollars a year, though."
"More than half; and that's more than plenty."
"Well, I don't know. We'll try it. At any rate, it's your own. Plenty more where it comes from, if you need extra."
"I shan't. It's more than generous of you--"
"Not a bit of it. No more than just, Boyee. So let the thanks go."
"All right, sir. But--you know how I feel about it."
"I guess I know just about how you and I feel toward each other on anything that comes up between us, Boyee." There was a grave gentleness in Dr. Surtaine's tone. "Well, there are the papers," he added, more briskly. "I haven't put all your eggs in one basket, you see."
Going over the certificates Hal found himself possessed of fifty thousand dollars in the stock of the Mid-State and Great Muddy Railroad: an equal sum in the Security Power Products Company; twenty-five thousand each in the stock of the Worthington Trust Company and the Remsen Savings Bank; one hundred thousand in the Certina Company, and fifty thousand in three of its subsidiary enterprises. Besides this, he found five check-books in the large envelope which contained his riches.
"What are these, Dad?" he asked.
"Cash on deposit in local and New York banks. You might want to do some investing of your own. Or possibly you might see some business proposition you wanted to buy into."
"I see some Security Power Products Company certificates. What is that?"
"The local light, heat, and power corporation. It pays ten per cent. Certina never pays less than twenty. The rest is all good for six, at least and the Mid-and-Mud averages eight. You've got upwards of thirty-seven thousand income there, not counting your deposits. While you're looking about, deciding what you're going to do, it'll be your own money and nobody else's that you're spending."
"Do you think many fathers would do this sort of thing, Dad?" said Hal warmly.
"Any sensible one would. I don't want to own you, Boyee. I want you to own yourself. And to make yourself," he added slowly.
"If I can make myself like you, Dad--"
"Oh, I'm a good-enough piece of work, for my day and time," laughed the father. "But I want a fine finish on you. While you're looking around for your life-work, how about doing a little unpaid job for me?"
"Anything," cried Hal. "Just try me."
"Do you know what an Old Home Week is?"
"Only what I read in to-day's paper announcing the preliminary committee."
"That gave you enough idea. We make a big thing of Old Home Week in Worthington. This year it will be particularly big because it's the hundredth anniversary of the city. The President of the United States will be here. I'm to be chairman of the general committee, and I want you for my secretary."
"Nothing I'd like better, sir."
"Good! All the moneyed men in town will be on the committee. The work will put you in touch with the people who count. Well, that settles our business. Good luck to you in your independence, Boyee." He touched a bell. "Any one waiting to see me, Jim?" he asked the attendant.
"Yes, sir. The Reverend Norman Hale."
"Send him in."
"Shall I go, Dad?" asked Hal.
"Oh, you might take a little ramble around the shop. Go anywhere. Ask any questions of anybody. They all know you."
At the door, Hal passed a tall, sinewy young man with heavy brows and rebellious hair. A slight, humorous uptilt to his mouth relieved the face of impassivity and saved it from a too formal clericalism. The visitor was too deeply concerned with some consideration of his inner self to more than glance at Hal, who heard Dr. Surtaine's hearty greeting through the closing door.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Hale. Take a chair."
The visitor bowed gravely and sat down.
"You've come to see me about--?"
"Your subscription to the East End Church Club Fund."
"I am heartily in sympathy with the splendid work your church is doing in the--er--less salubrious parts of our city," said Dr. Surtaine.
"Doubtless," returned the young clergyman dryly.
"Seems to be saving his wind," thought Dr. Surtaine, a little uneasily. "I suppose it's a question," he continued, aloud, "of the disposition of the sum--"
"No: it is not."
If this bald statement required elucidation or expansion, its proponent didn't seem to realize the fact. He contemplated with minute scrutiny a fly which at that moment was alighting (in about the proportion of the great American eagle) upon the pained countenance of Old Lame-Boy.
"Well?" queried the other, adding to himself, "What the devil ails the man!"
The scrutinized fly rose, after the manner of its kind, and (now reduced to normal scale) touched lightly in its exploratory tour upon Dr. Surtaine's domed forehead. Following it thus far, the visitor's gaze rested. Dr. Surtaine brushed off the insect. He could not brush off the regard. Under it and his caller's continued silence he grew fidgety.
"While I'm very glad," he suggested, "to give you what time you need--"
"I've come here because I wanted to have this thing out with you face to face."
"Well, have it out," returned the other, smiling but wary.
The young clergyman drew from his pocket a folded newspaper page to which was pinned an oblong of paper. This he detached and extended to the other.
"What's that?" asked the doctor, making no motion to receive it, for he instantly recognized it.
"You're returning it?"
"You mean to turn down two thousand dollars!" demanded the other in slow incredulity.
"Is that question asked in good faith?"
"Then you haven't seen the letter written by the superintendent of our Sunday School to the Certina Company."
"What kind of a letter?"
"A testimonial letter--for which your two thousand dollars is payment, I suppose."
"Two thousand for a church testimonial!" Dr. Surtaine chuckled at his caller's innocence. "Why, I wouldn't pay that for a United States Senator. Besides," he added virtuously, "Certina doesn't buy its testimonials."
"Then it's an unfortunate coincidence that your check should have come right on top of Mr. Smithson's very ill-advised letter."
By a regular follow-up mechanism devised by himself, every donation by Dr. Surtaine was made the basis of a shrewd attempt to extract from the beneficiary an indorsement of Certina's virtues, or, if not that, of the personal character and professional probity of its proprietor. This is what had happened in the instance of the check to Mr. Hale's church, Smithson being the medium through whom the attempt was made.
The quack saw no occasion to explain this to his inquisitor. So he merely said: "I never saw any such letter," which was, in a literal sense, true.
"Nor will you know anything about it, I suppose, until the name of the church is spread broadcast through your newspaper advertising."
Now, it is a rule of the patent medicine trade never to advertise an unwilling testimonial because that kind always has a kick-back. Hence:--
"Oh, if you feel that way about it," said Dr. Surtaine disdainfully, "I'll keep it out of print."
"And return it to me," continued the other, in a tone of calm sequentiality, which might represent either appeal, suggestion, or demand.
"Don't see the point," said the quack shortly.
"Since you do not intend to use it in your business, it can't be of any value to you," countered the other.
"What's its value to you?"
"In plain words, the honor of my church is involved. The check is a bribe. The letter is the graft."
"Nothing of the sort. You come here, a minister of the gospel," Dr. Surtaine reproached him sorrowfully, "and use hard words about a transaction that is perfectly straight business and happens every day."
"Not in my church."
"It isn't your letter, anyhow. You didn't write it."
"It is written on the official paper of the church. Smithson told me so. He didn't understand what use would be made of it when he wrote it. Take your check back, Dr. Surtaine, and give me the letter."
"Persistency, thy name is a jewel," said Dr. Surtaine with an air of scholarliness. "You win. The letter will be returned to-morrow. You'll take my word, I suppose?"
"Certainly; and thank you."
"And now, suppose I offered to leave the check in your hands?" asked the Doctor curiously.
"I couldn't take it," came the decisive reply.
"Do you mind telling me why?"
The visitor spread out upon the table the newspaper page which he had taken from his pocket. "This morning's 'Clarion,'" he said.
"So that's the trouble! You've been reading that blackmailing sheet. Why, what's the 'Clarion,' anyway? A scandal-mongering, yellow blatherskite, on its last legs financially. It's for sale to any bidder who'd be fool enough to put up money. The 'Clarion' went after me because it couldn't get our business. It ain't any straighter than a corkscrew's shadow."
"Do I understand you to say that this attack is due to your refusal to advertise in the 'Clarion'?"
"That's it, to a T. And now, you see, Mr. Hale," continued Dr. Surtaine in a tone of long-suffering and dignified injury, "how believing all you see in print lures you into chasing after strange dogs."
The visitor's mouth quivered a little at this remarkable paraphrase of the Scripture passage; but he said gravely enough:
"Then we get back to the original charges, which the 'Clarion' quotes from the 'Church Standard.'"
"And there you are! Up to three years ago the 'Standard' took all the advertising we'd give them, and glad to get it. Then it went daffy over the muckraking magazine exposures, and threw out all the proprietary copy. Now nothing will do but it must roast its old patrons to show off its new virtue."
"Do you deny what the editor of the 'Standard' said about Certina?"
Dr. Surtaine employed the stock answer of medical quackery when challenged on incontrovertible facts. "Why, my friend," he said with elaborate carelessness, "if I tried to deny everything that irresponsible parties say about me, I wouldn't have any time left for business. Well, well; plenty of other people will be glad of that two thousand. Turn in the check at the cashier's window, please. Good-day to you."
The Reverend Norman Hale retired, leaving the "Clarion's" denunciation lying outspread on the table.
Meantime, wandering in the hallway, Hal had encountered Milly Neal.
"Are you very busy, Miss Neal?" he asked.
"Not more than usual," she answered, regarding him with bright and kindly eyes. "Did you want me?"
"Yes. I want to know some things about this business."
"Outside of my own department, I don't know much."
"Well; inside your own department, then. May I ask some questions?"
With a businesslike air she consulted a tiny watch, then glanced toward a settee at the end of the hall. "I'll give you ten minutes," she announced. "Suppose we sit down over there."
"Do the writers of those letters--symp-letters, I believe, you call them--" he began; "do they seem to get benefit out of the advice returned?"
"What advice? To take Certina? Why, yes. Most of 'em come back for more."
"You think it good medicine for all that long list of troubles?"
The girl's eyes opened wide. "Of course it's a good medicine!" she cried. "Do you think the Chief would make any other kind?"
"No; certainly not," he hastened to disclaim. "But it seems like a wide range of diseases to be cured by one and the same prescription."
"Oh, we've got other proprietaries, too," she assured him with her pretty air of partnership. "There's the Stomachine, and the headache powders and the Relief Pills and the liniment; Dr. Surtaine runs 'em all, and every one's a winner. Not that I keep much track of 'em. We only handle the Certina correspondence in our room. I know what that can do. Why, I take Certina myself when there's anything the matter with me."
"Do you?" said Hal, much interested. "Well, you're certainly a living testimonial to its efficacy."
"All the people in the shop take it. It's a good tonic, even when you're all right."
The listener felt his vague uneasiness soothed. If those who were actually in the business had faith in the patent medicine's worth, it must be all that was claimed for it.
"I firmly believe," continued the little loyalist, "that the Chief has done more good and saved more lives than all the doctors in the country. I'd trust him further than any regular doctor I know, even if he doesn't belong to their medical societies and all that. They're jealous of him; that's what's the matter with them."
"Good for you!" laughed Hal, feeling his doubts melt at the fire of her enthusiasm. "You're a good rooter for the business."
"So's the whole shop. I guess your father is the most popular employer in Worthington. Have you decided to come into the business, Mr. Surtaine?"
"Do you think I'd make a valuable employee, Miss Milly?" he bantered.
But to Milly Neal the subject of the Certina factory admitted of no jocularity. She took him under advisement with a grave and quaint dubiety.
"Have you ever worked?"
"Oh, yes; I'm not wholly a loafer."
"For a living, I mean."
"Unfortunately I've never had to."
"How old are you?"
"I don't believe I'd want you in my department, if it was up to me," she pronounced.
"Do you think I wouldn't be amenable to your stern discipline?"
Still she refused to meet him on his ground of badinage. "It isn't that. But I don't think you'd be interested enough to start in at the bottom and work up."
"Perhaps you're right, Miss Neal," said Hal, a little startled by the acuteness of her judgment, and a little piqued as well. "Though you condemn me to a life of uselessness on scant evidence."
She went scarlet. "Oh, please! You know I didn't mean that. But you seem too--too easy-going, too--"
"Too ornamental to be useful?"
Suddenly she stamped her foot at him, flaming into a swift exasperation. "You're laughing at me!" she accused. "I'm going back to my work. I won't stay and be made fun of." Then, in another and rather a dismayed tone, "Oh, I'm forgetting about your being the Chief's son."
Hal jumped to his feet. "Please promise to forget it when next we meet," he besought her with winning courtesy. "You've been a kind little friend and adviser. And I thank you for what you have said."
"Not at all," she returned lamely, and walked away, her face still crimson.
Returning to the executive suite, the young scion found his father immersed in technicalities of copy with the second advertising writer.
"Sit down, Boyee," said he. "I'll be through in a few minutes." And he resumed his discussion of "black-face," "36-point," "indents," "boxes," and so on.
Left to his own devices Hal turned idly to the long table. From the newspaper which the Reverend Norman Hale had left, there glared up at him in savage black type this heading:--
CERTINA A FAKE
Religious Editor Shows Up Business and Professional
Methods of Dr. L. André Surtaine
The article was made up of excerpts from a religious weekly's exposé, interspersed with semi-editorial comment. As he skimmed it, Hal's wrath and loyalty waxed in direct ratio. Malice was obvious in every line, to the incensed reader. But the cause and purpose were not so clear. As he looked up, brooding upon it, he caught his father's eye.
"Been reading that slush, Hal?"
"Yes, sir. Of course it's all a pack of lies. But what's the reason for it?"
"Do they expect to get money out of you this way?"
"No. That isn't it. I've always refused to have any business dealings with 'em, and this is their way of revenge."
"But I didn't know you advertised Certina in the local papers."
"We don't. Proprietaries don't usually advertise in their own towns. We're so well known at home that we don't have to. But some of the side lines, like the Relief Pills, that go out under another trade name, use space in the Worthington papers. The 'Clarion' isn't getting that copy, so they're sore."
"Can't you sue them for libel, Dad?"
"Hardly worth while. Decent people don't read the 'Clarion' anyway, so it can't hurt much. It's best just to ignore such things."
"Something ought to be done about it," declared Hal angrily.
Stuffing the paper into his pocket he took his wrath out into the open air. Hard and fast he walked, but the farther he went the hotter burned his ire.
There was in Harrington Surtaine a streak of the romantic. His inner world was partly made up of such chimerical notions as are bred in a lively mind, not in very close touch with the world of actualities, by a long course of novel-reading and theater-going. Deep within him stirred a conviction that there was a proper and suitable, nay, an almost obligatory, method made and provided for just such crises as this: something that a keen-spirited and high-bred youth ought to do about it. Suddenly it came to him. Young Surtaine returned home with his resolve taken. In the morning he would fare forth, a modern knight redressing human wrongs, and lick the editor of the "Clarion."
Overnight young Mr. Surtaine revised his project. Horsewhipping would be no more than the offending editor deserved. However, he should have his chance. Let him repent and retract publicly, and the castigation should be remitted. Forthwith the avenger sat him down to a task of composition. The apology which, after sundry corrections and emendations, he finally produced in fair copy, was not alone complete and explicit: it was fairly abject. In such terms might a confessed and hopeless criminal cast himself desperately upon the mercy of the court. Previsioning this masterly apologium upon the first page of the morrow's "Clarion,"--or perhaps at the top of the editorial columns,--its artificer thrilled with the combined pride of authorship and poetic justice.
On the walls of the commodious room which had been set aside in the Surtaine mansion for the young master's study hung a plaited dog-whip. The agent of just reprisals curled this neatly inside his overcoat pocket and set forth upon his errand. It was then ten o'clock in the morning.
Now, in hunting the larger fauna of the North American continent with a dog-whip, it is advantageous to have some knowledge of the game's habits. Mr. Harrington Surtaine's first error lay in expecting to find the editorial staff of a morning newspaper on duty in the early forenoon. So much a sweeper, emerging from a pile of dust, communicated to him across a railing, further volunteering that three o'clock would be a well-chosen hour for return, as the boss would be less pressed upon by engagements then, perhaps, than at other hours.
In the nature of things, the long delay might well have cooled the knightliest ardor. But as he departed from the office, Mr. Surtaine took with him a copy of that day's "Clarion" for perusal, and in its pages discovered a "follow-up" of the previous day's outrage. Back home he went, and added to his literary effort a few more paragraphs wherein the editorial "we" more profoundly cringed, cowered, and crawled in penitential abasement. Despite the relish of the words, Hal rather hoped that the editor would refuse to publish his masterpiece. He itched to use that whip.
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