Chapter XVII. Jasper.
 

"Halloo, King, Mr. Marlowe wants you." Jasper, his hands full of papers, hurried down the long warehouse, through the piles of books, fresh from the bindery, stacked closely to the ceiling. The busy packers who were filling the boxes, looked up as he threaded his way between them. "Mr. Marlowe is down there," indicating the direction with a nod, while the hands kept mechanically at their task.

"I want to see you about that last lot of paper," Mr. Marlowe began, before Jasper had reached him; "it is thin and of poorer quality than I ordered. The loss must be charged back to Withers & Co."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Jasper. "They assured me that everything should be right, and like the sample that we ordered it from."

"And Jacob Bendel writes that the edition we gave him of History of Great Cities to print will be shipped to us within a fortnight, when his contract was to be filled on Thursday. Of course we lose all the Chicago orders by this delay."

"What's the reason?" asked Jasper, feeling all the thrill of the disappointment as keenly as if he were the head of the house.

"Oh! a strike among the printers; his best men have gone out, and he's at the mercy of a lot of inferior workmen who are being intimidated by the strikers; but he thinks he can get the edition to us in ten days or so."

Mr. Marlowe leaned against an empty packing case and viewed the assistant foreman of the manufacturing department calmly, with the air of a man to whom disappointments were in the usual order of things.

"Can't we give it to another printer?" asked Jasper.

"Who?"

"Morse Brothers?"

"They are full and running over with work. I inquired there yesterday; we may want a little extra done as the rush over those Primary Readers is coming on. No, I can't think of a place where we could crowd it in, if we took it away from Bendel."

Jasper's gaze thoughtfully followed the drift of a shaving blown by the draft along the warehouse floor.

"I think I'll send you down to New York to see Bendel, and find out how things are. I don't get any satisfaction from letters," said Mr. Marlowe in a minute. "Beside you can attend to some other matters; and then there is that Troy job; you can do that."

"Very well, sir."

"Can you take the night express?" Mr. Marlowe pulled out his watch. It was ten minutes of three.

"Can I leave the Ransom bills I was checking off? Mr. Parker said they were the most important of the lot."

"Parker must give them to Richard; he knows pretty well how to do them, unless he can find time for them himself."

"I was to be at the Green printing-office at nine to-morrow morning," said Jasper.

"What for?"

"They sent down to Mr. Parker yesterday that we had made a mistake about price for doing those five hundred Past and Present; and wanted him to go to their office, and see Mr. Green himself."

"If Mr. Green thinks any mistake has been made, let him come to us," said Mr. Marlowe coolly. "You tell Parker to send a note to that effect; courteously written, of course, but to the point. We don't go running around after people who think mistakes are made. Let them bring their grievances here, if they have any. Is that all that detains you?"

Jasper held out his hand full of papers. "These were to come in between when they could, sir."

"Hem--hem"--Mr. Marlowe read them over with a practiced eye; rolled them up, and handed the roll to Jasper. "Tell Parker to set Danforth on those. Anything more?"

"I was to go to-morrow if there was time to get prices for best calendered paper of Patterson & Co. and Withers; but the next day will do."

"Parker must attend to all that," said Mr. Marlowe decidedly.

"Very well, sir. I believe that is all that hurries particularly."

"Come this way; I'll give you instructions what to say to Bendel," and Mr. Marlowe led the way out to a quiet corner of the warehouse, where he sat down by a desk, and rapidly laid the points of the business before his assistant.

The next morning in New York, Jasper ran across Mr. Whitney on Broadway.

"Well said; that you, Jasper? Why aren't you up at the house?"

"I came on the night express," said Jasper, finding it hard to wait a minute, "on a matter of importance for Mr. Marlowe. Sorry, Brother Mason, but I can't stop now."

"You'll be up to-night, of course," said Mason Whitney.

"I can't; I'm off for Troy," said Jasper concisely, "and I don't come back this way."

"Goodness! what a man your Marlowe is. And your sister Marian wants to hear about Polly and all the others; you've seen them so lately."

"It's impossible," began Jasper; "you see I can't help it, Brother Mason; Mr. Marlowe's orders must be carried out."

"He's a beast, your Marlowe is," declared Mr. Whitney hotly. "I don't know what Marian will say when I tell her you are here in New York and won't stop for even a word with her."

"Sister Marian will say it's all right," said Jasper, a trifle impatiently, and feeling the loss of every moment a thing to be atoned for. "Mr. Marlowe is loaded up with trouble of all kinds. Now I must go."

"Hold on a minute," cried Mason Whitney. "Well, how are you getting on? Seems to me the publishing business doesn't agree with you. You look peaked enough," scanning Jasper's face closely.

"I'm well enough," said Jasper abruptly. "Tell sister Marian I will write her very soon," pulling out his watch; "good-by," and he was lost in the crowd surging down Broadway. Mr. Whitney standing still a moment to look after him, turned, and went directly to his office.

"That call on Hendryx & Co. can wait," he muttered to himself on the way, "but Jasper can't. The boy looks badly, and his father ought to know it; although it seems funny enough for me to be meddling with Jasper's affairs. But I won't leave anything to worry about afterward; they can't say I ought to have told them."

So a letter went out by next mail from Mr. Whitney's office, saying that Jasper looked poorly enough when he was met in New York; that he seemed incapable of breathing any other air than that saturated with business; that he had evidently mistaken his vocation when he chose to be a publisher. "Beside, there isn't any money now in the publishing business," added Mr. Whitney as a clincher; "there are too many of the fellows cutting each other's throats to make it pay; and books are slaughtered right and left, and Jasper much better get into some other business, in my opinion."

Meanwhile Jasper finished, to the letter, the instructions for Jacob Bendel, did up the other matters entrusted to him, and set out on his Troy expedition. Here he was detained a day or two, Mr. Marlowe's instructions being to wait over and telegraph if the business could not be adjusted satisfactorily. But the fourth day after leaving home, Jasper, just from the night express, mounted the stairs to his hotel in the early morning, his bag in his hand, and the expression on his face of a man who has accomplished what he set out to do.

"There's an old gent up in your room," announced Buttons, tumbling off, a sleepy heap, from one of the office chairs, to look at him.

"An old gentleman in my room," repeated Jasper, turning on the stairs. "Why was any person put in my room?"

"We didn't put the person there," said the boy, yawning fearfully, "he put himself there. He's a tiger, he is, and he blows me up reg'lar 'cause you ain't home," he added.

Jasper scaled the rest of the stairs, and tried the knob of his door with no gentle hand. Then he rapped loudly. "Open the door--this is my room."

"Oh! I'm coming," said a voice he knew quite well, and presently old Mr. King stood before him, his velvet cap and morning jacket both awry from impatient fingers.

[Illustration: "AN OLD GENTLEMAN IN MY ROOM," REPEATED JASPER, TURNING ON THE STAIRS.]

"Father!" ejaculated Jasper. And "Goodness me, Jasper!" from the old gentleman, "what an unearthly hour to come home in."

Jasper hurried in, set his bag in the corner, then turned and looked at his father anxiously. Meanwhile old Mr. King was studying his son's countenance with no small degree of alarm.

"What is it," cried Jasper at last, coming close to him, "that has brought you?"

"What?--why, you."

"Me?" cried Jasper, in amazement.

"Yes; dear me, Jasper, with all the worries I have had lately, it does seem a pity that you couldn't take care of yourself. It really does," repeated Mr. King, his feelings nowise soothed by picking up his watch and finding it half-past six o'clock. When he made sure of the time, he set down the watch quickly, and stared at Jasper worse than ever.

"Now, father," said Jasper, "there's a mistake somewhere, but never mind now; you must get back to bed again. I don't know when you've been up at this hour." He tried to laugh, while he laid his hand on the old gentleman's arm. "Do get back to bed, father."

"It certainly is a most outrageous hour in which to arise," remarked his father, not able to suppress a yawn, "and I don't mind if I do turn in--but where will you sleep, Jasper?" whirling around on his son. "I've come to look after you, and I shouldn't begin very well to monopolize your bed," with a short laugh.

"Oh, I'll camp out on the lounge," said Jasper carelessly; "in two minutes I could be asleep there or anywhere else. Don't mind me, father."

"If you say so, then I will," said the old gentleman, "and you are too tired to talk before you've had a nap." So he lay down on the bed, Jasper dutifully tucking him up, and presently his regular breathing told that he had picked up the threads of his broken slumber.

Jasper threw himself on the lounge, but unable to close his eyes, his gaze fell on a sheet of paper, lying on the floor just within reach. It was impossible to avoid reading the words: "And Jasper better get into some other business, in my opinion," and signed "Mason Whitney."

Jasper jumped to his feet and strode up and down the room in growing indignation; then seized his hat and darted out to cool himself off before his father should awake. When he returned, old Mr. King was half-dressed, and berating Buttons for his failure to have the morning paper at the door.

"Now for breakfast," cried Jasper, his own toilet quickly made, "then I presume you want to see me in my business surroundings, father?" as they went down the stairs together.

"I most certainly do," said the old gentleman decidedly; and they turned into the breakfast room.

So after a meal in which Jasper, by skillful management of all conversational topics, allowed no chance word of business to intrude, old Mr. King and he started for the publishing house of D. Marlowe & Co., Jasper filling up all gaps that might suggest time for certain questions that seemed to be trembling on the tip of Mr. King's tongue, while that gentleman was making a running commentary to himself something in this wise: "Just like Mason; send me off here when there is not the slightest need of it. The boy is well enough; quite well enough," he added, in his energy speaking the last words aloud.

"What is it, father?" Jasper paused in the midst of a descriptive fire concerning the new buildings going up on either hand, with many side stories of the men who were erecting them; and he paused for an answer.

"Nothing--nothing of importance," said his father hastily. "I only observed that you appeared to be doing quite well; and as if the business agreed with you," he added involuntarily.

"I should think it did, father," cried Jasper enthusiastically, while his cheek glowed; "it's the grandest work a man can do, in my opinion."

"Hem, hem! well, we shall see," observed Mr. King drily, determined not to yield too easily. "You've been at it only six months. You know the old adage, Jasper: 'You must summer and winter' a thing before you decide."

Jasper drew a long breath. "I shall never be anything but a publisher, father," he said quietly.

"Hoity, toity! well, that is for me to decide, I take it," responded his father. "You've never disobeyed me yet, Jasper, and I don't believe you ever will. And if I think it's best for you to change your business, of course you'll do it."

Jasper's brow darkened, and he closed his lips tightly for a moment. Then something Polly said once when his father was in a particularly determined mood, came to his mind: "You better make him happy, Jasper, any way." That "any way" carried the day now.

"It shall be as you wish, father," he said, the frown disappearing; "I want you to be pleased, any way," unconsciously using Polly's word.

"I don't know as I should be at all pleased to have you leave the publishing business, Jasper," said old Mr. King, veering around quickly. "I can't tell till I've seen just how it suits you. But I am going to the root of the matter, now that I am here. Oh! is this the place?" as they came up against a large window, behind whose plate glass, rows and rows of books in all styles of bindings, met the view of the passer-by.

"This is it," said Jasper, with a thrill that he was part of the "it," and the satisfaction in his completed commission, that had been lost by his father's words, now bounded high again. "Now then, father, you must meet Mr. Marlowe," turning up the steps.

Old Mr. King walked down the store-length as if he owned the whole with several others of its kind thrown in, and on Jasper's pausing before a small office-door, marked "private," heard him say through its open window, "Good-morning, Mr. Marlowe."

"Ah, good-morning," came back quickly, and Mr. King saw a pleasant-faced gentleman of middle age, whose keen gray eyes seemed to note everything with lightning-like rapidity--"business all right?"

"Yes, sir," said Jasper.

"Very well; you may come to me in a quarter of an hour and report. I shall be through with these gentlemen," indicating one sitting by his side at the desk, and another awaiting his turn.

"Tell him that I am here, Jasper," said Mr. King pompously, with an admonitory touch upon Jasper's arm.

"It's impossible, father; he can't see you now," said Jasper hurriedly, trying to draw his father off to a quieter corner.

"Impossible? Can't see me? What is there to prevent, pray tell?" cried the old gentleman irately.

[Illustration: "GOOD MORNING," SAID MR. MARLOWE QUICKLY. "BUSINESS ALL RIGHT?"]

"He has business men with him; they'll be through in a quarter of an hour," Jasper brought out in distress that was by no means lightened by the knowledge that half of the clerks through the long salesroom were becoming acquainted with the conversation.

"It's atrocious. I never was kept waiting in my life," fumed Mr. King. "He doesn't know I am here--I will announce myself."

He started forward.

"Father," cried Jasper, darting after him, "let me get you a chair over here by the table and some books to look at."

"I want no books," said the old gentleman, now thoroughly determined, by this time looking in the open window of the private office. "Good-morning, sir," stiffly to the middle-aged gentleman sitting before the desk.

This gentleman looked up, nodded carelessly and said, "Excuse me, but I am at present engaged."

"I am Mr. Jasper King's father," announced the old gentleman with extreme dignity; and again the look of being able to buy out this and several other such establishments, spread over his face.

"I shall be very glad to see you, sir," said the middle-aged man imperturbably, "in a quarter of an hour. Excuse me," and he turned back to finish his sentence to the other business man.

"Jasper," cried Mr. King, taking short, quick steps to where Jasper stood, "give me a sheet of paper so that I may write to this fellow, and take you out of his contemptible trade--or stay, I will write from the hotel," and he started for the door.

"Father," exclaimed Jasper in a low tone, but so distinctly that every one standing near might hear, "Mr Marlowe is just right; he always is."

"Eh?" cried his father, turning and grasping the back of a chair to steady himself.

"Mr. Marlowe is just right about these things. He really couldn't see you, father."

"I have never been obliged to wait for any one in all my life, Jasper," declared his father impressively, "and I never will."

"I wonder what Polly would do now," thought Jasper in despair.

"And that you could tolerate such impertinence to me," continued Mr. King with growing anger, "is more than I can understand; but since you've come into trade it's vastly changed you. If you do not choose to come to the hotel with me, I must go alone," which with great dignity he now proceeded to do.

The first business man who had finished his conference with Mr. Marlowe now came down the salesroom. "How d'ye, King," he said cordially to Jasper in passing.

Jasper's face lighted as he gave an equally cordial response.

"Such familiarity, Jasper!" exclaimed his father in a fresh burst of irritation. "Dear me, I only trust you're not completely spoiled before I get you out of this."

The business man turned around and gave a significant look to a knot of the salesmen, but happening to catch Jasper's eye, he said, "It's a fine day, King," carelessly, and passed out, but not before "Stuck-up old money-bag" fell upon the old gentleman's ear.

"We would better go to the hotel now, I think, father," said Jasper quietly. "Frank," to the nearest salesman, "will you tell Mr. Marlowe when it is ten minutes past," glancing at the clock, "that I was obliged to go with my father, but I will be back at ten o'clock?"

"You need give yourself no such trouble, Jasper, as all this," said his father decidedly; "I will wait if it is absolutely necessary that you see him," with a patronizing wave of his gloved hand toward the private office.

"It is absolutely necessary," said Jasper.

"Very well; I wait, then," said his father, accepting with the air of a martyr, the chair by the table of books.

And just then the private office-door opened and out came the other business man, followed by Mr. Marlowe.

"Frank," he called briskly, "ask Jasper's father to step here."