ONE day, sure enough, not long afterward, Miss Burke tripped into Rodney’s office and handed him something which had not yet become common in the company’s routine namely, a letter with a foreign stamp and postmark. The three partners were standing about as usual when this dramatic little incident occurred. Mary was willing to bet it was another bill, and Peale asked what odds she was giving : would they be as high as one hundred to one? Rodney in the meantime, who had opened the epistle and been reading it, shouted out:
” Hurrah, hurrah, it’s from the Countess! ”
They had pinned their hopes to the Countess’s Parisian skirts, and here she was coming back again in the nick of time; luck was with them.
” What does she say? ” asked Mary, much excited, while Peale grabbed the letter and exclaimed in disgust, when he had glanced at it, ” Oh, French stuff.”
” She says she was delayed abroad but that she’s due on the Imperaytor, or rotter, this morning, and that she’s coming to see us at eleven.”
” It’s half past eleven now,” Mary sighed.. ” Oh, dear. She’s late.”
” Fear not,” said Peale. ” Remember, though a countess, she is still a woman; give her time.”
” Does she say anything about the fifteen thou-sand dollars? ” asked Mary, to which Rodney was obliged to answer No.
Peale, however, had a hunch everything was going to be all right. Unluckily Miss Burke punctured it by entering and saying Mr. McChesney was here to see him and seemed very angry.
” My hunch is wrong,” said Peale. ” Here’s where we take an aeroplane and dig a hole right through the ceiling.”
” Keep a stiff upper lip,” Rodney counseled.
” Oh, sure, I’m full of starch,” Peale retorted. Good luck, Rodney,” said Mary.
” Don’t worry I’ve got a way to square him,” Rodney answered.
They had looked forward to the Countess and her ten thousand dollars, and instead here was McChesney again with his advertising bill. Such were the ways of business life. A colorless, unprepossessing person enough was McChesney, but in truth the soap trio would have been poor judges of any man’s personal magnetism who came of McChesney’s errand. To them he was just the man with the advertising bill.
He entered quite boldly, allowing he’d come right in and not wait to be told they were all out. He was an experienced bill collector.
There was nothing to do but receive him bravely.
” Why, hello, Mr. McChesney,” said Rodney genially, pretending to be quite glad and surprised to see him.
” How are you, Mac” began Peale. He even tried to shake McChesney’s hand, but was thrown off roughly.
” You may be in the soap business, but cut out the soft soap with me,” was his unsympathetic comment. “Where’s my money? Have you got it?”
“Why er — the fact is ” Rodney began. ” That means you haven’t.”
“Well, you see”
” Bury the stall, bury it,” said McChesney, brutally. ” Do you think you can put me off? You can bet your blooming liabilities you can’t. I’m going after you good. I think this whole concern is bunk and I’m on my way to the sheriff now.”
Rodney grew provoked-
” I don’t care for that kind of loud talk. Drop it,” he said sternly.
” Drop it,” repeated Peale.
” What? ” exclaimed McChesney in surprise. ” He said drop it,” repeated Peale.
Rodney stumbled on:
” It’s simply that I haven’t had time to examine your bill in detail. This afternoon, however, I -”
” Old stuff old stuff,” McChesney scoffed.
But something gave Rodney a new resolve.
” Meanwhile,” he went on, ” I’ll give you a check for two thousand five hundred on account,” he said. I presume that will be satisfactory, won’t it? ”
” :Why yes sure but ” McChesney stammered, taken aback; and Rodney turned to Peale and added :
” You understand, Mr. Peale, that not a cent of that fifty thousand dollars we appropriated for our October advertising campaign is to go to him?”
” Absolutely,” said Peale. This was a great word with Ambrose, pronounced always with a strong accent on the loot.”
McChesney was impressed.
” Now, Mr. Martin, I’ll admit I’m hasty tempered. I’m sorry I made a mistake, but a contract is a contract, and ” he began.
” Here’s your check. Good day,” said Rodney… ” But, Mr. Martin ”
” Show Mr. McChesney out,” Rodney went on to Peale, who obeyed with glee.
” Come on, Mac this way to the elevator,” he said.
Poor Mary had observed this scene with renewed dismay.
” Oh, dear,” she said. ” You’ve only got us into more difficulty. You know there’s not money in the bank.”
” But the check won’t go through the clearing house until tomorrow morning, and by then we’ll have the ten thousand dollars from the Countess,” protested Rodney.
Peale looked at his watch and wondered where the Countess was.
” I’ll bet she sank in mid-ocean,” he predicted dolefully. Wasn’t that just the way with money when you wanted it? So things always went, it seemed, when they needed cash. They had looked forward so eagerly and so long to that fifty thousand francs, and instead they had entertained a dun, a very vulgar and demonstrative dun at that.
Rodney could not pretend he liked such scenes, and said so with some vigor. Even Peale looked a little sympathetic, and forgot to spout his advertising gospel.
It was adding injury to misfortune when a card was presently handed to the President of the 13 Soap Company bearing the name of Ellery Clark. How Rodney hated that fellow! He must admit that Ellery had never done anything to him, but he could not bear him, just the same. He said as much to Peale, whose curiosity, seemed to be aroused:
” Let’s have a peek at him,” he said.
” Take a good look at him,” said Rodney as Miss Burke went after Ellery, ” and see what father wanted me to be like. Ellery went into, businessso must I. Ellery loved workso must I.”
” But it was only his pride in you,” said Mary. ” Your father didn’t want old John Clark constantly rubbing it in about Ellery’s success.”
” I didn’t want it rubbed into me either,” said Rodney.
” Well, this is our chance to impress Ellery,” said Peale. “Who knows, too? He may have some money.”
” Meanwhile I’ll go call up the steamship office, again,” said Mary. ” Oh, Rodney,” she called back, ” find out how Ellery’s doing in business, will you? ”
Rodney watched her as she disappeared, and was brought to presently by Peale.
” You’re spoiling that girl she used to be a good business woman. Now, half the time instead of using her brains she sits and looks at you as if you were some marvelous antique work of art.”
Rodney laughed, and as a matter of fact liked this teasing. Above all it was delicious to his heart to hear Peale say that Mary was in love with him. He did think Mary was beginning to show a little more love for him lately, despite their troubles, and Peale’s testimony made him glad. He looked up quite good-naturedly, only forcing a frown on his face as Ellery Clark came in. Ellery bored him awfully at most times.
The truth is John Clark’s Ellery was a real pin-head, and always would be, overdressed in the latest style, affected, aping the English when he remembered to do so, but oftener than not forgetting.
” Hello, Rodney, mind if I come in? ” he called out cheerfully.
” I’m very busy today, Mr. Clark,” said Rodney coolly.
” Oh, I suppose you are,” Ellery agreed. ” Must take a lot of time to get up your advertisements.”
Peale pricked up his ears at this.
” You like ‘ern? I write ’em. My name’s Peale,” he rattled off, coming over to Ellery, who, however, looked right through him as if he were empty air. That sort of treatment was lost on Ambrose, who only walked back to his chair, comically rebuffed, and settled down to the role of listener.
” What is it, Mr. Clark?” Rodney went on.
” You see, it’s like this, old top,” said Ellery. ” I’ve been having rather a time with father lately. Silly old man. Of course with a dad like yours, who’s perfectly satisfied with you, you can’t understand that.”
” No, of course not,” said Rodney dryly.
” You see, my old man’s out of date,” Ellery went on, encouraged. ” Insisted on the absurd idea of my going into business –beastly bore.”
” But you wanted to, didn’t you? ” asked Rodney.
” I should say not.”
” But I thought you loved work? ”
” Work? It’s preposterous, except for the lower classes. Men of intelligence go in for the professions. I paint.”
” You look it,” said Peale, in a half aside.
” I’d heard you were a model son,” said Rodney.
At this Ellery opened his eyes and stared.
” Why, that’s just what father says about you,” he exclaimed. ” He says you’re a great executive.”
” Well, I must admit that business life is very congenial to me,” said Rodney, mussing up some papers on his desk and employing his rubber stamp vigorously.
” Oh, I don’t consider it a compliment to be a success in business. Think of all the blighters who are,” declared Ellery.
” Yes, the bally rotters,” Peale interjected, unable to keep still. He had been observing Ellery all this time as if fascinated by this new specimen., Unconsciously he began to mimic him. If Ellery crossed his legs he crossed his. He even took his handkerchief and stuffed it in his cuffs like Ellery.
” Father keeps reminding me of your success every day,” said Ellery plaintively; ” most irritating. Of course he’s sore because I haven’t bothered much about business. Oh, I’ve tackled a thing or two; but luck was against me just didn’t happen to work out. Not my fault, you understand.”
” I should say not you couldn’t be to blame,” came from Peale, who must talk.
” Of course if I’d really devoted myself to business,” Ellery went on; ” but when you know you can do a thing if you want to, why bother to do it if it bores you? ”
” Good idea that,” echoed Peale.
Ellery proceeded to explain that his father had been particularly offensive lately, so that he had decided to give a little time to business and make a success of it. He could, you know. It was really quite simple. Oh, quite. He had things all figured out. For the scheme he had in mind he had got to raise seventy-five hundred dollars, and he wanted to talk about it. Peale and Rodney exchanged looks.
” I’m very sorry, Ellery,” Rodney answered, ” but money’s tight just now.”
” But not with you,” said Ellery. ” The way you’re working you must be pretty rich. Heaven knows you ought to be manufacturing soap.”
” But all my capital is invested already,” explained Rodney. ” I can’t undertake any outside ventures. Can I, Peale? ”
” Not with my consent,” Peale agreed. ” You ought to see our assets and liabilities.”
But Ellery went right on:
” This idea of mine is an automobile proposition. I really need ten thousand dollars, and I’ve only got two thousand five hundred.”
At the mention of this latter sum Rodney and Peale walked over to Ellery at once, and stood one on each side of him, like a state coat of arms. Money ! They took a good look at him.
” Ellery, why do you want to go into the auto-mobile business? ” began Rodney genially. It’s dangerous unsafe ” The risk’s tremendous,” Peale corroborated.
” Ellery, our families are old friends,” said Rodney. ” Now if you really want to show your father you’re a money maker, why don’t you buy; some shares in our company? ”
” I don’t care much about the idea of being in the soap business,” Ellery protested; ” rather, vulgar.”
” But you don’t have to be in the business,” said Rodney eagerly.
” Absolutely not,” said Peale.
” It’s a very simple proposition,” Rodney began again. ” All you do is invest, and then sit still and deposit your checks when we pay dividends.”
At the word dividend Ellery gave a pleased smile.
” I say, that sounds a bit better,” he agreed.
” We’re not letting the general public in,” Rodney explained; ” but it would be such a joke on your father for you to make money.”
” Yes, wouldn’t it? ” said Ellery with a vacuous )laugh. In fact they all laughed.
” I fancy he’d be mighty glad I had sense enough to go in with you,” added Ellery. ” But is it a safe investment?”
” Why, we’d guarantee you against loss –wouldn’t we, Peale? ” said Rodney.
” Absolutely,” said Peale, with a strong accent on the loot.
” From our assets,” said Rodney.
” From your assets? ” asked Ellery.
” Yes, here’s a statement,” Peale went on, taking his pink version of Mary’s statement off its file.
” Twenty-two thousand eight hundred and eighteen dollars,” Ellery read off from it, holding it in his gloved hand.
” And nine cents,” added Peale.
” That sounds rather ripping,” Ellery admitted. ” Should I have to do any work? ”
” You work? I should say not,” said Peale.
” Of course,” added Rodney, ” before I can promise to let you in Mr. Peale would have to agree.”
” Do you agree?” asked Ellery, addressing Peale for the first time.
” Oh, yes, I agree I agree,” said Peale, perhaps a shade too quickly.
” Now what do you say, Ellery? ” asked Rodney, trying not to appear too anxious.
Ellery put the silver head of his cane in his mouth and sucked at it a long time.
” I’ll do it,” he said at last.
” God’s in His Heaven. All’s right with the world,” chanted Peale.
” Have you the money with you? ” asked Rodney, his heart beating.
” Why no,” said Ellery, opening his eyes.
” Then you’ll send us a check today? ” put in Peale.
But Ellery wouldn’t get the money until next week, it seemed. His father hadn’t promised it till next Monday. He couldn’t ask him for it now, you see. Ellery was afraid he couldn’t really. His father was out of town.
” But we can’t agree to hold the matter open until next Monday,” said Rodney firmly.
” No, not till way next Monday,” Peale agreed. ” Why don’t you telephone him? ”
Yes, that wouldn’t be so distressing, Ellery thought. If he could get him it would be considerably easier to talk to him on the phone. He could always ring off then.
” Come this way then it’ll be quieter for you if he’s noisy,” said Peale eagerly, leading him to a booth. ” Never mind the social chatter,” he added, as Mary came in and Ellery stopped to talk with her. ” Ellery, you don’t mind my calling you Ellery do you, Ellery? You see, Ellery has work to do,” he went on for Mary’s benefit.
” It’s very pleasing to find you both so beastly charming to me,” said Ellery.
And that was a model son, thought Peale. Thank God he was a black sheep himself. That was always the way, with money; it was never in the right hands.
Meanwhile there was still another chance, for Mary informed him that the Countess’s boat had docked three hours ago.
” Oh, Rodney, by the way,” she asked, did you find out how Ellery’s doing? ”
” He’s doing great,” said Rodney. ” Hasn’t made a cent. Wanted to borrow some money from me.”
” Your father would be glad to hear that,” she laughed.
“Where is our wandering Countess? ” sang Peale, just as Miss Burke came in and announced: ” The Countess de Bowreen.”
” By golly, she’s entering on the cue,” said Peale joyfully.
We’re safe now,” said Rodney.
” Oh, I do hope so,” sighed Mary.
It took some maneuvering to manage the coming Countess, with her ten thousand dollars, and Ellery with his prospective twenty-five hundred. They needed either or both of them to cover up that twenty-five hundred they had handed to McChesney. Mary and Rodney dared not think what would happen if new capital could not be obtained in time.
Then just as the Countess was about to be shown in the capable Ellery stuck his head in the door and vowed he could not manage the telephone : he never had run a switchboard: he was not good at mechanical problems. Mary was told off to ring up his father for him, and Peale called after her to hold his hand, or kiss him anything to leave the floor clear for the Countess; needless to say the kiss was not suggested by Rodney.
Rodney ran to a window and pulled down a shade on which was blazoned :
SAVON TREIZE PAS BON
He turned round to greet her full of hope. He was sure he could understand anything she said about money. He would leave to Ambrose the pleasant sensation of spending it on advertising.
When she finally swept in he met her with a delighted air and kissed her hand, which was the way in which he had conceived the part. He also said Bonjour, twice, and pointed to the shade that bore the French advertisement.
The Countess gave a little shriek of appreciation and declared it was magnificent, superb. She was desolated to be so late, but things had been very complicated at the customs. Rodney could make out also that she inquired if they had received her letter? Peale had been listening intently and couldn’t keep still.
” Oh, you little life saver,” he chirped.
He, too, kissed her hand, on Rodney’s telling him it was French stuff. She looked like money, Ambrose thought. She must have it.
” Ask her, ask her! ” he whispered to Rodney. ” Have you the money?” Rodney asked her nervously, thus enjoined.
” Eh? ” said the Countess.
” Come on, kid, say yes, say yes,” whispered Peale, snapping his fingers.
” Vous-avez l’argent? ” Rodney began.
” Oui, oui, j’ai de l’argent,” said the Countess. What does she say?” asked Peale anxiously. ” She says yes,” interpreted Rodney.
Peale gave a suppressed squeal of delight. ” Shall I kiss her? ” he asked.
“The money with you? Rodney asked again. ” Eh? ” said the Countess.
” L’argent avec vous ? ” said Rodney.
Oui, j’ai de l’argent ici,” responded the Countess, opening her bag and taking out a check.
” It’s real,” said Peale in a hushed voice.
” C’est un cheque de Morgan Harjes pour cent milk francs,” said the Countess.
” Draft for twenty thousand dollars,” Rodney interpreted swiftly.
” Slip it to me, kid, slip it to me I’m dying on my feet,” cried Peale, as the Countess jabbered off a few dozen words again to Rodney.
Rodney explained now that she wanted to send the draft to the bank to get it cashed: that she was not known there; and that she would give them their fifteen thousand.
” I’ll make a world’s record getting it cashed,” said Peale, and reached greedily for the check. The Countess pulled it back, however, in surprise, and only gave it up again when Rodney explained that his manager was going over to the bank. Peale grabbed it, then paused, dramatically.
” Say, wait a minute,” he whispered hoarsely.
” What is it? ” asked Rodney.
” Why don’t we stall the Countess off? ” suggested Peale.
” What for? ” asked Rodney.
” Why, borrow the money from her, and keep the whole twenty thousand for a couple of days. Get me? ”
What followed this speech gave Ambrose Peale one of the biggest surprises of his life. The Countess had been watching the conversation eagerly, like a bird, turning her head quickly from Peale to Rodney as they spoke, and looking very innocent and chic. Upon the finale of Peale’s scheme to borrow ” her money she broke out into perfectly good American.
” Why, you cheap grafter ! ” she cried indignantly, with a real Bowery accent.
” She spoke English! ‘ cried Rodney, and the Countess suddenly covered her mouth with her hand, realizing for the first time that she had given herself away.
” Suffering cats, she’s a fake,” Rodney added. Poor Ambrose was hardly able to speak : “And the draft’s a phoney too,” he ventured. The Countess agreed, shrugging her shoulders. ” Sure it is. Gee, you were easy. If I hadn’t lost my temper.” It was curious the entire change that had come over her.
” Well, you’re frank anyhow,” Rodney said to her.
” Why not, it’s all cold now.”
“What was the game, kid?” Peale asked her, taking a professional interest.
” I was going to trim you for the five thousand dollars change from that draft,” said the Countess.
” Great Scott ! ”
” But why pick on us?
” I didn’t start out to; you wished it on your-selves,” said the Countess.. ” I came to trim your father. You remember I wanted to see him,but I looked so soft you thought you’d grab me off and sell me the French agency of your 13 Soap. I didn’t think your father could be as big a boob as you were, so I changed my plans. Do you get me?”
Yes, I get you, and now I’m going to get the cops to get you,” said Peale sternly.
” I should burst into laughter,” cried the Countess. ” Why, you pikers, I’m on; you’re busted. You haven’t got any money, and you have got a phoney company.”
” Now, see here,” expostulated Rodney.
” Preserve it, preserve it,” the Countess interrupted. ” Don’t forget I’ve understood every-thing you two guys were talking about.”
” Whew !”
She proceeded to give them a little scene to illustrate. To Rodney she said:
Kiss her hand it’s French stuff.”
” Ah there, you little life saver.”
” The money with you l’argent avec vous? Gee, your French is rotten.”
To Peale who moved away from her:
Shall I kiss her? ”
Then she added after a pause:
” Send for the cops and I’ll blow the whole thing to the papers.”
She rested her gloved fingers coolly on her umbrella handle and surveyed the two boys. “Well, I guess we’re quits. If you had any money I’d ask for a piece of change to keep me quiet. But as it is I can’t waste my time.”
” You’re not French at all? ” Rodney queried. ” I was educated over there. Immense, wasn’t
I? You never tumbled at all.”
” But why the foreign stuff ?” Peale inquired’. ” Well, I can talk good French, but my English is punk,” explained the Countess.
” You won’t say anything now? ” Rodney pleaded.
“No, I don’t hit a fellow when he’s down. Anyhow we’re all in the same class. Three fakes. I’ll keep mum if you do.”
Oh, money, money !
So much for the ten thousand dollars. The twenty-five hundred was no nearer, as was presently to appear, when Ellery Clark stuck his head
in the door, grinning, and asked to see Rodney a moment. Peale could not help noticing the change that had come over the countenance of Ellery.
” You seem very beastly pleased, Ellery,” he said. ” is everything all right about father?”
” Oh yes, so to speak, in a way,” said Ellery, still grinning.
” What do you mean, so to speak, in a way?” Peale demanded, suddenly suspicious.
Oh, money, money !
And Ellery explained. The trouble was that Ellery couldn’t get father on the telephone, and that did make it so much easier, Ellery thought. He did not fancy talking to father about money: that was the truth, and he couldn’t get father, because father was off on Long island Sound some-where with his yacht, and wouldn’t be back till Monday. Apparently Ellery was relieved by this unavoidable postponement, and so he grinned and thought it was all right.
Poor Ambrose, thinking of the twenty-five hundred dollars, thought it was all wrong.
The Countess, taking in the general appearance of Ellery, thought something might be doing, for she eagerly and promptly dropped her handkerchief. Ellery pounced upon it at once, handing it to her with a flourish.
” Is there no one to take me to my taxi? ” she cried next. It was a general invitation which Ellery accepted on the spot.
” These American buildings are so big I am lost,” she went on, with a more marked accent than she had used a moment ago.
” Ellery, you take the Countess,” suggested Rodney, willing now to get rid of them both.
” Oh, I’d love to,” said Ellery. ” I say charming, what? ”
” Madame la Comtesse de Beaurien Ellery Clark,” said Rodney, introducing them.
” Dee-lighted,” cooed the Countess.
” So am I,” said Ellery, adding audibly, ” Rip ping little filly.”
” You speak the French?” the Countess purred, as they went toward the door.
” No, not at all,” said Ellery.
” A pitee.”
” But I can speak German.”
” Aber prachtvoll ich liebe das schoene deutsche.”
” Ich auch ”
” Warum laden sie nicht zum Biltmore zum Thee ein?”
” Mit dem grossten ”
” Vergnuegen? ”
” Yes,” said Ellery, relieved, ” that’s the word vergnuegen.”
” Au revoir, Mr. Martin,” said the Countess, looking back at Rodney over her shoulder. ” Vous etes trop aimable. Je vous remercie beau-coup de votre politesse. Au revoir.” Then in her American accent she added to Peale in an undertone. ” So long, kid, call me up sometime.”
And chattering a stream of German to Ellery she went out.
In fact it all went, the twenty-five hundred and the ten thousand together. Peale viewed the two departing figures sadly, with mixed emotions. She was a ripping little filly indeed, that ” Countess,” as that silly ass Clark had said, but the silly ass was having a ride with her now in a taxi, and the clever man, Ambrose Peale, was staying behind worrying about his advertising bills. Oh, money, money!