Chapter XVIII. Mr. King Attends to Matters.
 

Old Mr. King kept on turning the books with a careless hand.

"Father," begged Jasper in a low voice, and putting his hand on the old gentleman's arm, such a world of entreaty in his face, that his father turned in spite of himself.

"After all I much better have it over with now, I really think," said Mr. King; "yes, Jasper, we will go back," with a marked emphasis on the word "back."

"I can't thank you enough, father," exclaimed Jasper gratefully.

"Well, well, say no more," said old Mr. King abruptly, as they reached the private office.

Mr. Marlowe's hands were mechanically adjusting the loose papers on his desk, so as not to lose an instant's time as Mr. King and Jasper came up, but he turned a face, over which a bright smile shot suddenly, lighting up the gray eyes, then quickly whirled around in his office chair. "Glad to see you," he said, putting out a cordial right hand.

Mr. King bowed, but evidently did not see the hand; which Mr. Marlowe not appearing to notice, the old gentleman was more furious than ever.

"Set a chair for your father, Jasper," said Mr. Marlowe quietly, "and get one for yourself." Then he leaned back in his office chair and pleasantly surveyed old Mr. King, waiting for him to speak.

"I have come, sir," said Mr. King, as he settled his courtly old figure in the chair Jasper had put for him beside the desk, "to see you about my son; I am not satisfied with his appearance, nor, I am sorry to say, with his surroundings."

"Indeed,?" said the head of the publishing house of D. Marlowe & Co., still with a pleasant smile on his face.

"I am very sorry," repeated Jasper's father, "to have to say it, but my attention has been called to the fact, and I cannot now ignore it."

"Hardly by Jasper," remarked Mr. Marlowe, bringing the revolving chair so that he could see Jasper's face.

"Indeed, no," cried Jasper involuntarily, "it is something father has heard elsewhere, Mr. Marlowe, and I know he will feel quite differently when he comes to see things as they really are."

The grave look on Mr. Marlowe's face disappeared as he turned back to old Mr. King.

"Well," he said at last, as the other showed no sign of continuing the conversation, and still playing with the paper cutter on his desk.

"Permit me to say, sir," Mr. King broke out, finding to his astonishment it was not an easy matter to talk to this imperturbable man entrenched behind his own desk, "that I am disappointed in the atmosphere in which I find my son. It smells of trade, sir, too much to suit my fancy."

"Did you suppose for an instant, Mr. King," asked Mr. Marlowe, dropping the paper-cutter to pick up the pencil, "that our books came out ready for libraries, without any intervening process?"

"I certainly supposed Jasper was to be in charge of a literary department of the house, when I gave my consent to his coming here--" declared Mr. King very decidedly.

"Father!" exclaimed Jasper, unable longer to keep silent, "how could I take charge of any department, until I had learned it all myself?"

"You have been through Harvard," his father turned on him, "and it seems to me are fully competent to do the literary work required here."

"And as for the manufacturing department," continued Jasper, finding it more difficult to keep still, "it was the only place for me; I had to begin at the bottom, if I'm ever to be a publisher--which is what my work is to be--"

"Not so fast--not so fast," cried the old gentleman excitedly. "You are not to be a publisher, I take it, if I do not wish it. You've given your word you will not."

"I have given my word, father," said Jasper with a long breath, "and I'll not go back on it," but his lips whitened.

All this while Mr. Marlowe still played with the little articles on his desk, sitting very quietly and watching the two. He now threw them down with an abrupt movement, whirled the revolving chair around suddenly and sent a lightning-like glance of stern inquiry toward old Mr. King.

"Be so kind, sir, as to define exactly what your intentions are as to your son's future. Time is very valuable here, and every fraction squandered has to be made up in some way."

"My intentions are," said the old gentleman, in a lofty way, "to take my son out of the business--entirely out, sir," he waved his hand in a stately and comprehensive manner; then glanced to see the effect on the head of the house.

But there was no effect whatever, except a quick business-like acceptance of the situation on Mr. Marlowe's implacable face. "Father!" began Jasper. But old Mr. King was beyond hearing a word.

"I had intended," he went on condescendingly, "to have my son put in a large interest in the business, supposing it turned out to be the proper one for him. In fact, his and my financial support would have made it one of the finest publishing houses in the world."

Mr. Marlowe bowed. "Thank you," he said politely. "James," turning to the window opening into the book-keeping department, "make out Jasper King's account and settle at once. I believe you wish to go as soon as you can, do you not," to Jasper, "that is, after you have given me the report of the business you did on the trip?"

Jasper could not speak for a moment. Then he said: "But I can't leave my work in this way--it's," and he sprang to his feet.

"Jasper," Mr. Marlowe stopped a moment and seemed to swallow something in his throat, then went on, "your father wishes it, and you will make him happy"--Jasper started at Polly's own words--"that's enough for one life time. I'm sorry to lose you, my boy," he suddenly grasped Jasper's hand, "but allow me to say, sir," turning to old Mr. King, "that for you and your money I have very little consideration. You don't own enough to make it worth while for the house of David Marlowe & Co. to extend an invitation to you to enter it. And now, if you will excuse me, I will hear Jasper's account of the business he was sent on."

With that, seeing it was expected of him, old Mr. King got out of his chair, by the side of the desk, and passed into the long salesroom.

"I hope you'll believe," began Jasper brokenly, feeling as if the whole world were going awry, "that this strange idea was never gained from me. Why, I love the business." His gray eyes glowed as he spoke the word.

"My boy," Mr. Marlowe's face was alight with feeling, "don't explain, I understand it all; you've the misfortune to be born into a rich family, and your father probably never had to raise his hand to earn a penny. He isn't to be blamed, only I did hope"--

"That I was different," finished Jasper, his head drooping a bit with the shame of it. "Oh, Mr. Marlowe, father is so splendid--he's just a magnificent man," he added, the head coming up, with Jasper's old habit of throwing it back, "if you only knew him and he could have shown you his old self."

"Don't I know it," responded Mr. Marlowe heartily, "and I also know that you must stick by him. Only I did hope--and now I will finish what I was going to say--that you could stay and help me, for you are after my own heart, Jasper," he added abruptly, a rare tremble in his voice.

Jasper put out his hand instinctively. "Thank you, Mr. Marlowe," he said as the head of the house grasped it warmly, "I shall never forget this."

And then, as if nothing but the ordinary business had occurred, Jasper sat down and went carefully over every detail of the commission he had been sent on, heard Mr. Marlowe's terse, "That's good, Jasper; you've done it all well," and passed out for the last time, from the private office, and joined his father in silence, for the walk to the hotel.

That night Jasper's father wanted to go to a concert, so Jasper got a box, and sat through it all, not seeing anything but Polly's face, and hearing, "I'd make him happy, any way."

Down in the audience sprinkled here and there, or in the galleries, were some of the D. Marlowe & Co. salesmen and workers staring often up at him, and the handsome white-haired old gentleman by his side.

"There's that old snob," they would exclaim at first recognition, to their companions, "look at him," and under pretense of gazing at the stage, the opera glasses would be turned on the box. "Looks as if he owned the whole town, eh?"

"He is awfully handsome, isn't he?" every salesman's companion would exclaim, looking at Jasper pale and quiet, in the most secluded part of the box.

"Yes," said every one of the men, only seeing the old gentleman, "but he's too toploftical to live"--or something to that effect--and then they would forget all about it till the companion's opera glasses leveled in the same direction, brought the conversation around to the old topic.

"They had a flare-up with Mr. Marlowe this morning," confided one salesman to his friend in the entr'acte, "and he's off," with a nod over to Jasper's private box.

"Oh dear me!" exclaimed the young girl, with a pang at her heart, "has he left your business?"

"Yes," said the salesman, and a real regret passed over his careless face, "and it's a shame, for no one would have thought he owned a penny; he was just digging at the business all the time, like the rest of us."

"Is he very rich?" asked the young girl.

"Well, I should say," began the salesman, unable to find words to express Jasper's financial condition. Then the curtain rang up.

The next morning, old Mr. King broke the egg into his cup thoughtfully. "I suppose I might as well look about a bit, now that I'm here, Jasper. I haven't been in this town for twenty years or so."

"Very well, father," said Jasper, trying not to be listless. "Where shall we go to-day?"

"Oh, I'll look around by myself," said his father quickly. "You go to bed--you look all done up," scanning his son's face anxiously.

"Indeed, you will not go alone," said Jasper, rousing himself with shame. "We'll have a good day together."

"Indeed we will not," retorted the old gentleman.

"I shall have a cab and go by myself. You'll go to bed, or I'll call in the doctor. Goodness me, Jasper, you don't look like the same boy that started out in business six months ago; you're all worn out."

Jasper said nothing, only redoubled his efforts on the breakfast before him that now assumed colossal proportions, and as if it could never be eaten in the world, hoping to persuade his father into allowing him to go on the tour of inspection. But it was no use. Mr. King on finishing his morning repast, stalked out to the office, and ordered a carriage, and presently departed, with last injunctions to Jasper, "to lie down and take things easy."

As his father closed the door, Jasper sank into a chair by the table and allowed his head to drop into his hands; but only for a minute, then he sprang to his feet, and paced the floor rapidly.

"If Polly is only happy," he said to himself over and over. How long he walked thus he never knew--it was only by hearing a vigorous knock on the door that he stopped, and called, "Come in."

"They told me," said Jack Loughead, answering the knock, "at the Marlowes,' that I should find you here, unless you had left the town. Are you sick?" he asked with concern.

"No; sit down, do, Loughead," said Jasper, dragging forward a chair, and falling into one himself, just beginning to be conscious of a stiff pair of legs.

Jack Loughead set his hat on the table, and himself in the chair that Jasper proffered. Then he fell to tapping the tip of his shining boot with his walking stick.

"King, I came here to ask you something, that if I didn't trust you so well I could never ask in all the world. But I feel I can trust you."

"Oh, don't--don't," begged Jasper, putting up an unsteady hand to ward off the dreaded subject. "Don't tell me anything, Loughead."

"Well, I will ask you something, then," said Jack Loughead coolly. "I'm a business man, King, and I must come to the point in a business way. First, let me tell you that Uncle and I start for Australia in a fortnight;" Jasper drew a long breath of relief. "Yes, I must get back; and you will see that I cannot go without," Jack Loughead paused--then went on abruptly. "Does Miss Pepper care for Pickering Dodge?"

"How do I know--how can I tell?" cried Jasper desperately, and springing from his chair, he began to pace the floor again. "Excuse me, Loughead, I'm not myself to-day. I've left D. Marlowe & Co. and"--

"Yes, I know," interrupted Jack, and drawing a long breath of relief on his part at being able to speak on this subject now that the ice was broken; "well, I'm glad, of course, King, if you didn't care to stay," he said.

"But I did," cried Jasper, stopping short, to emphasize this. "Mr. Marlowe is a royal man, through and through, and I'd work for him all my life. But my father thought best not; that's enough," he added in the abruptest fashion, beginning to walk again.

"Yes; well, I see," said Jack. "I know a little what well-meaning relatives can do to make a young man's life miserable. I'm sorry, King," and he looked truly wretched over it.

"And you must forgive anything strange about me to-day," said Jasper, walking on hurriedly, "for I am all upset."

"Yes, I know," repeated Jack Loughead, "nothing breaks a man up like wrenching him from his work. King," he sprang to his feet and joined Jasper walking on by his side down the room, "you are Miss Pepper's brother, or as good as one. Can you tell me if I shall wrong Pickering Dodge if I speak to her?"

Jasper was saved from answering by old Mr. King coming in with a "Oh, how d'ye, Loughead? Well, well, Jasper, you've had a good nap, I take it." And then all three went down to luncheon, and Jasper managed not to be left alone with Jack Loughead until at the last when he said, "I shall go and tell the whole story to Mrs. Fisher; of course I must speak to her first."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Halloo, Dave!" It was such a remarkable cry that David turned at once, although he was almost on a dead run across the campus.

"Hey, there!" shouted Percy Whitney as David turned. "Whew! How you do go, Dave."

"What's the matter?" cried David, running lightly back to stand in front of Percy. "Dear me, Percy, you have lost your eyeglasses!" with a glance at the other's flushed face; "wait, I'll find the things."

"I yelled my lungs sore," said Percy in irritation, dropping down on his knees to pass his hands carefully over the campus grass, "and now I've lost these. Bad luck to you, Dave, for it!"

"Oh! go without 'em," said David, getting gingerly down on all-fours to prowl around on the greensward.

"Go without 'em?" repeated Percy, sitting straight in indignation. "How could I see, pray tell? Don't be a donkey, Dave."

David said nothing, but fell to a more diligent search, while Percy bewailed his loss, watching eagerly David's nimble fingers moving in and out of the little tufts of grass.

"Shades of the departed specs," cried David, also sitting straight and peering with his keen blue eyes in a birdlike way along the sward. "It's a mysteri--oh, Great Caesar!" then he fell on his back on the campus, and rolled and laughed, to bring up red and shining, only to tumble over and roll again.

"Of all the idiots in the universe, Dave Pepper," fumed Percy. "What's the matter?"

"Your trouble has gone to your head," said David faintly. "Feel and see; oh dear!"

[Illustration: "HOW YOU CAN SIT THERE AND LAUGH WHEN JOE IS IN DANGER, I DON'T SEE," EXCLAIMED PERCY IRRITABLY.]

Percy's hand flew up to his thick mane of brown hair, that not all his disgust and tireless training could persuade to lie smoothly, when he picked off his beloved glasses, after an angry twitch or two.

"How you can sit there and laugh when Joe is in danger, I don't see," he exclaimed irritably, adjusting them to his nose. "I've nearly killed myself to catch you, and"--

"Joe in danger!" cried David, on his feet in an instant. "Oh, Percy, what do you mean?" his cheeks whitening, and his blue eyes agleam.

"Joel's brought it on himself," said Percy, his irritation not going down. "I must say, Dave, if he'd behave more like the rest of us, he'd be"--

Then Polly's words, "Oh, dear, beautiful Joel!" came to mind, and he coughed violently, holding fast the eyeglasses in their place.

"What danger?" demanded David, in his impatience shaking Percy's arm.

"Well, you must know, after last night's performance over Joe, that they wouldn't let him alone."

"Last night's performance over Joel?" repeated David in astonishment. "What yarn are you spinning now, Percy?"

"Goodness sake, you are yarning yourself," retorted Percy indignantly, "to pretend that you don't know that last night a dozen or more fellows called on Joe, and he handled 'em without gloves, so that Bingley and Dobbs can't hardly step to-day."

"It's the first word I've heard of it," said David slowly, but emphatically, and staggering back a step or two to look at Percy. "I was out all the evening. Oh, magnificent old Joe!"

"Magnificent old Joe!" repeated Percy, "you better say 'poor Joe,' when you know what they are intending to give him."