The Twenty-Fourth of June by Grace S. Richmond
Chapter XV. Making Men
"Grandfather, have you a good courage for adventure?"
Matthew Kendrick looked up from his letters. His grandson Richard stood before him, his face lighted by that new look of expectancy and enthusiasm which the older man so often noted now. It was early in the day, Mr. Kendrick having but just partaken of his frugal breakfast. He had eaten alone this morning, having learned to his surprise that Richard was already off.
"Why, Dick? What do you want of me?" his grandfather asked, laying down his letters. They were important, but not so important, to his mind, as the giving ear to his grandson. It was something about the business, he had no doubt. The boy was always talking about the business these days, and he found always a ready listener in the old man who was such a pastmaster in the whole difficult subject.
"It's the mildest sort of weather--bright sun, good roads most of the way, and something worth seeing at the other end. Put on your fur-lined coat, sir, will you? and come with me up to Eastman. I want to show you the new shop."
Mr. Kendrick's eye brightened. So the boy wanted him, did he? Wanted to take him off for the day, the whole day, with himself. It was pleasant news. But he hesitated a little, looking toward the window, where the late March sun was, surely enough, streaming in warmly. The bare branches outside were motionless; moreover, there was no wind, such as had prevailed of late.
"I can keep you perfectly warm," Richard added, seeing the hesitation. "There's an electric foot-warmer in the car, and you shall have a heavy rug. I'll have you there in a couple of hours, and you'll not be even chilled. If the weather changes, you can come back by train. Please come--will you?"
"I believe I will, Dick, if you'll not drive too fast. I should like to see this wonderful new store, to be sure."
"We'll go any pace you like, sir. I've been looking for a day when you could make the trip safely, and this is it." He glanced at the letters. "Could you be ready in--half an hour?"
"As soon as I can dictate four short replies. Ring for Mr. Stanton, please, and I'll soon be with you."
Richard went out as his grandfather's private secretary came in. Although Matthew Kendrick no longer felt it necessary to go to his office in the great store every day, he was accustomed to attend to a certain amount of selected correspondence, and ordinarily spent an hour after breakfast in dictation to a young stenographer who came to him for the purpose.
Within a half hour the two were off, Mr. Kendrick being quite as alert in the matter of dispatching business and getting under way toward fresh affairs as he had ever been. It was with an expression of interested anticipation that the old man, wrapped from head to foot, took his place in the long, low-hung roadster, beneath the broad hood which Richard had raised, that his passenger might be as snug as possible.
For many miles the road was of macadam, and they bowled along at a rate which consumed the distance swiftly, though not too fast for Mr. Kendrick's comfort. Richard artfully increased his speed by fractional degrees, so that his grandfather, accustomed to being conveyed at a very moderate mileage about the city in his closed car, should not be startled by the sense of flight which he might have had if the young man had started at his usual break-neck pace.
They did not talk much, for Matthew Kendrick was habitually cautious about using his voice in winter air, and Richard was too engaged with the car and with his own thoughts to attempt to keep up a one-sided conversation. More than once, however, a brief colloquy took place. One of the last of these, before approaching their destination, was as follows:
"Keeping warm, grandfather?"
"Perfectly, Dick, thanks to your foot-warmer."
"Tired, at all?"
"Not a particle. On the contrary, I find the air very stimulating."
"I thought you would. Wonderful day for March, isn't it?"
"We'll be there before you know it. There's one bad stretch of a couple of miles, beyond the turn ahead, and another just this side of Eastman, but Old Faithful here will make light work of 'em. She could plough through a quicksand if she had to, not to mention spring mud to the hubs."
"The car seems powerful," said the old man, smiling behind his upturned fur collar. "I suppose a young fellow like you wouldn't be content with anything that couldn't pull at least ten times as heavy a load as it needed to."
"I suppose not," laughed Richard. "Though it's not so much a question of a heavy load as of plenty of power when you want it, and of speed--all the time. Suppose we were being chased by wild Indians right now, grandfather. Wouldn't it be a satisfaction to walk away from them like--this?"
The car shot ahead with a long, lithe spring, as if she had been using only a fraction of her power, and had reserves greater than could be reckoned. Her gait increased as she flew down the long straightaway ahead until her speedometer on the dash recorded a pace with which the fastest locomotive on the track which ran parallel with the road would have had to race with wide-open throttle to keep neck to neck. Richard had not meant to treat his grandfather to an exhibition of this sort, being well aware of the older man's distaste for modern high speed, but the sight of the place where he was in the habit of racing with any passing train was too much for his young blood and love of swift flight, and he had covered the full two-mile stretch before he could bring himself to slow down to a more moderate gait.
Then he turned to look at as much of his grandfather's face as he could discern between cap-brim and collar. The eagle eyes beneath their heavy brows were gazing straight ahead, the firmly moulded lips were close-set, the whole profile, with its large but well-cut nose, suggested grim endurance. Matthew Kendrick had made no remonstrance, nor did he now complain, but Richard understood.
"You didn't like that, did you, grandfather? I had no business to do it, when I said I wouldn't. Did I chill you, sir? I'm sorry," was his quick apology.
"You didn't chill my body, Dick," was the response. "You did make me realize the difference between--youth and age."
"That's not what I ever want to do," declared the young man, with swift compunction. "Not when your age is worth a million times my youth, in knowledge and power. And of course I'm showing up a particularly unfortunate trait of youth--to lose its head! Somehow all the boy in me comes to the top when I see that track over there, even when there's no competing train. Did you ever know a boy who didn't want to be an engine driver?"
"I was a boy once," said Matthew Kendrick. "Trains in my day were doing well when they made twenty-five miles an hour. I shouldn't mind your racing with one of those."
"I'm racing with one of the fastest engines ever built when I set up a store in Eastman and try to appropriate some of your methods. I wonder what you'll think of it?" said Richard gayly. "Well, here's the bad stretch. Sit tight, grandfather. I'll pick out the best footing there is, but we may jolt about a good bit. I'm going to try what can be done to get these fellows to put a bottom under their spring mud!"
When the town was reached Richard convoyed his companion straight to the best hotel, saw that he had a comfortable chair and as appetizing a meal as the house could afford, and let him rest for as long a time afterward as he himself could brook waiting. When Mr. Kendrick professed himself in trim for whatever might come next Richard set out with him for the short walk to the store of Benson & Company.
The young man's heart was beating with surprising rapidity as the two approached the front of the brick building which represented his present venture into the business world. He knew just how keen an eye was to inspect the place, and what thorough knowledge was to pass judgment upon it.
"Here we are," he said abruptly, with an effort to speak lightly. "These are our front windows. Carson dresses them himself. He seems a wonder to me--I can't get hold of it at all. Rather a good effect, don't you think?"
He was distinctly nervous, and he could not conceal it, as Matthew Kendrick turned to look at the front of the building, taking it all in, it seemed, with one sweeping glance which dwelt only for a minute apiece on the two big windows, and then turned to the entrance, above which hung the signs, old and new. The visitor made no comment, only nodded, and made straight for the door.
As it swung open under Richard's hand, the young man's first glance was for the general effect. He himself was looking at everything as if for the first time, intensely alive to the impression it was to make upon his judge. He found that the general effect was considerably obscured by the number of people at the counters and in the aisles, more, it seemed to him, than he had ever seen there before. His second observation was that the class of shoppers seemed particularly good, and he tried to recall the special feature of Carson's advertisement of the evening before. There were several different lines, he remembered, to which Carson had called special attention, with the assertion that the values were absolute and the quality guaranteed.
But his attention was very quickly diverted from any study of the store itself to the even more interesting and instructive study of the old man who accompanied him. He had invited an expert to look the situation over, there could be no possible doubt of that. And the expert was looking it over--there could be no doubt of that, either. As they passed down one aisle and up another, Richard could see how the eagle eyes noted one point after another, yet without any disturbing effect of searching scrutiny. Here and there Mr. Kendrick's gaze lingered a trifle longer, and more than once he came close to a counter and brought an eyeglass to bear on the goods there displayed, nodding pleasantly at the salespeople as he did so. And everywhere he went glances followed him.
It seemed to Richard that he had never realized before what a distinguished looking old man his grandfather was. He was not of more than average height; he was dressed, though scrupulously, as unobtrusively as is any quiet gentleman of his years and position; but none the less was there something about him which spoke of the man of affairs, of the leader, the organizer, the general.
Alfred Carson came hurrying out of the little office as the two Kendricks came in sight. Matthew Kendrick greeted him with distinct evidence of pleasure.
"Ah, Mr. Carson," he said, "I am very glad to see you again. I have missed you from your department. How do you find the new business? More interesting than the old, eh?"
"It is always interesting, sir," responded Carson, "to enlarge one's field of operations."
Mr. Kendrick laughed heartily at this, turning to Richard as he did so. "That's a great compliment to you, Dick," he said, "that Mr. Carson feels he has enlarged his field by coming up here to you, and leaving me."
"Don't you think it's true, grandfather?" challenged Richard boldly.
"To be sure it's true," agreed Mr. Kendrick. "But it sometimes takes a wise man to see that a swing from the centre of things to the rim is the way to swing back to the centre finally. Well, I've looked about quite a bit,--what next, Dick?"
"Won't you come into the office, sir, and ask us any questions that you like? We want your criticism and your suggestions," declared Richard. "Where's Mr. Benson, Mr. Carson? I'd like him to meet my grandfather right away. I thought we'd find him somewhere about the place before now."
"He's just come into the office," said Carson, leading the way. "He'll be mightily pleased to see Mr. Kendrick."
This prophecy proved true. Hugh Benson, who had not known of his partner's intention to bring Mr. Kendrick, Senior, to visit the store, flushed with pleasure and a little nervousness when he saw him, and gave evidence of the latter as he cleared a chair for his guest and knocked down a pile of small pasteboard boxes as he did so.
"We don't usually keep such things in here," he apologized, and sent post-haste for a boy to take the offending objects away. Then the party settled down for a talk, Richard carefully closing the door, after notifying a clerk outside to prevent interruption for so long as it should remain closed.
"Now, grandfather, talk business to us, will you?" he begged. "Tell us what you think of us, and don't spare us. That's what we want, isn't it?" And he appealed to his two associates with a look which bade them speak out.
"We certainly do, Mr. Kendrick," Hugh Benson assured the visitor eagerly. "It's our chance to have an expert opinion."
"It will be even more than that," said Alfred Carson. "It will be the opinion of the master of all experts in the business world."
"Fie, Mr. Carson," said the old man, with, however, a kind look at the young man, who, he knew, did not mean to flatter him but to speak the undeniable truth, "you must remember the old saying about praise to the face. Still, I must break that rule myself when I tell you all that I am greatly pleased with the appearance of the place, and with all that meets the eye in a brief visit."
Richard glowed with satisfaction at this, but both Benson and Carson appeared to be waiting for more. The old man looked at them and nodded.
"You have both had much more experience than this boy of mine," said he, "and you know that all has not been said when due acknowledgment has been made of the appearance of a place of business. What I want to know, gentlemen, is--does the appearance tell the absolute truth about the integrity of the business?"
Richard looked at him quickly, for with the last words his grandfather's tone had changed from mere suavity to a sudden suggestion of sternness. Instinctively he straightened in his chair, and his glance at the other two young men showed that they had quite as involuntarily straightened in theirs. As the head of the firm, Hugh Benson, after a moment's pause, answered, in a quietly firm tone which made Richard regard him with fresh respect:
"If it didn't, Mr. Kendrick, I shouldn't want to be my father's successor. He may have been a failure in business, but it was not for want of absolute integrity."
The keen eyes softened as they rested on the young man's face, and Mr. Kendrick bent his head, as if he would do honour to the memory of a father who, however unsuccessful as the world judges success, could make a son speak as this son had spoken. "I am sure that is true, Mr. Benson," he said, and paused for a moment before he went on:
"It is the foundation principle of business--that a reputation for trustworthiness can be built only on the rock of real merit. The appearance of the store must not tell one lie--not one--from front door to back--not even the shadow of a lie. Nothing must be left to the customer's discretion. If he pays so much money he must get so much value, whether he knows it or not." He stopped abruptly, waited for a little, his eyes searching the faces before him. Then he said, with a change of tone:
"Do you want to tell me something about the management of the business, gentlemen?"
"We want to do just that, Mr. Kendrick," Benson answered.
So they set it before him, he and Alfred Carson, as they had worked it out, Richard remaining silent, even when appealed to, merely saying quietly: "I'm only the crudest kind of a beginner--you fellows will have to do the talking," and so leaving it all to the others. They showed Mr. Kendrick the books of the firm, they explained to him their system of buying, of analyzing their sales that they might learn how to buy at best advantage and sell at greatest profit; of getting rid of goods quickly by attractive advertising; of all manner of details large and small, such as pertain to the conduct of a business of the character of theirs.
They grew eager, enthusiastic, as they talked, for they found their listener ready of understanding, quick of appreciation, kindly of criticism, yet so skilful at putting a finger on their weak places that they could only wonder and take earnest heed of every word he said. As Richard watched him, he found himself understanding a little Matthew Kendrick's extraordinary success. If his personality was still one to make a powerful impression on all who came in contact with him, what must it have been, Richard speculated, in his prime, in those wonderful years when he was building the great business, expanding it with a daring of conception and a rapidity of execution which had fairly taken away the breath of his contemporaries. He had introduced new methods, laid down new principles, defied old systems, and created better ones having no precedent anywhere but in his own productive brain. It might justly be said that he had virtually revolutionized the mercantile world, for when the bridges that he built were found to hold, in spite of all dire prophecy to the contrary, others had crossed them, too, and profited by his bridge building.
The three young men did their best to lead Mr. Kendrick to talk of himself, but of that he would do little. Constantly he spoke of the work of his associates, and when it became necessary to allude to himself it was always as if they had been identified with every move of his own. It was Alfred Carson who best recognized this trait of peculiar modesty in the old man, and who understood most fully how often the more impersonal "we" of his speech really stood for the "I" who had been the mainspring of all action in the growth of the great affairs he spoke of. Carson was the son of a man who had been one of the early heads of a newly created department, in the days when departments were just being tried, and he had heard many a time of the way in which Matthew Kendrick had held to his course of introducing innovations which had startled the men most closely associated with him, and had made them wonder if he were not going too far for safety or success.
"Well, well, gentlemen," said Mr. Kendrick, rising abruptly at last, "you have beguiled me into long speech. It takes me back to old days to sit and discuss a young business like this one with young men like you. It has been very interesting, and it delights me to find you so ready to take counsel, while at the same time you show a healthy belief in your own judgment. You will come along--you will come along. You will make mistakes, but you will profit by them. And you will remember always, I hope, a motto I am going to give you."
He paused and looked searchingly into each face before him: Hugh Benson's, serious and sincere; Alfred Carson's, energy and purpose showing in every line; his own boy's, Richard's, keen interest and a certain proud wonder looking out of his fine eyes as he watched the old man who seemed to him to-day, somehow, almost a stranger in his unwontedly aroused speech.
"The most important thing a business can do," said Matthew Kendrick slowly, "is to make men of those who make the business."
He let the words sink in. He saw, after an instant, the response in each face, and he nodded, satisfied. He held out his hand to each in turn, including his grandson, and received three hearty grips of gratitude and understanding.
As he drove away with Richard his eyes were bright under their heavy brows. It had done him good, this visit to the place where his thoughts had often been of late, and he was pleased with the way Richard had borne himself throughout the interview. He could not have asked better of the heir to the Kendrick millions than the unassuming and yet quietly assured manner Richard had shown. It had a certain quality, the old man proudly considered, which was lacking in that of both Benson and Carson, fine fellows though they were, and well-mannered in every way. It reminded Matthew Kendrick of the boy's own father, who had been a man among men, and a gentleman besides.
"Grandfather, we shall pass Mr. Rufus Gray's farm in a minute. Don't you want to stop and see them?"
"Rufus Gray?" questioned Mr. Kendrick. "The people we entertained at Christmas? I should like to stop, if it will not delay us too long. It seems a colder air than it did this morning."
"There's a bit of wind, and it's usually colder, facing this way. If you prefer, after the call, I'll take you back to the station and run down alone."
"We'll see. Is this the place we're coming to? A pleasant old place enough, and it looks like the right home for such a pair," commented Mr. Kendrick, gazing interestedly ahead as the car swung in at a stone gateway, and followed a winding roadway toward a low-lying, hospitable looking white house, with long porches beyond masses of bare shrubbery.
It seemed that the welcoming look of the house was justified in the attitude of its inmates, for the car had but stopped when the door flew open, and Rufus Gray, his face beaming, bade them enter. Inside, his wife came forward with her well-remembered sunny smile, and in a trice Matthew Kendrick and his grandson found themselves sitting in front of a blazing fire upon a wide hearth, receiving every evidence that their presence brought delight.
Richard looked on with inward amusement and satisfaction at the unwonted sight of his grandfather partaking of a cup of steaming coffee rich with country cream, and eating with the appetite of a boy a huge, sugar-coated doughnut which his hostess assured him could not possibly hurt him.
"They're the real old-fashioned kind, Mr. Kendrick," said she. "Raised like bread, you know, and fried in lard we make ourselves in a way I have so that not a bit of grease gets inside. My husband thinks they're the only fit food to go with coffee."
"They are the most delicious food I ever ate, certainly, Madam Gray, and I find myself agreeing with him, now that I taste them," declared Mr. Kendrick, and Richard, disposing with zest of a particularly huge, light specimen of Mrs. Gray's art, seconded his grandfather's appreciation.
They made a long call, Mr. Kendrick appearing to enjoy himself as Richard could not remember seeing him do before. He and Mr. Gray found many subjects to discuss with mutual interest, and the nodding of the two heads in assent at frequent intervals proved how well they found themselves agreeing.
Richard, as at the time of the Grays' brief visit at his own home, devoted himself to the lady whom he always thought of as "Aunt Ruth," secretly dwelling on the hope that he might some day acquire the right to call her by that pleasant title. He led her, by artful circumlocutions, always tending toward one object, to speak of her nieces and nephews, and when he succeeded in drawing from her certain all too meagre news of Roberta, he exulted in his ardent soul, though he did his best not to betray himself.
"Maybe," said she, quite suddenly, "you'd enjoy looking at the family album. Robby and Ruth always get it out when they come here--they like to see their father and mother the way they used to look. There's some of themselves, too, though the photographs folks have now are too big to go in an old-fashioned album like this, and the ones they've sent me lately aren't in here."
Never did a modern young man accept so eagerly the chance to scan the collection of curious old likenesses such as is found between the covers of the now despised "album" of the days of their grandfathers. Richard turned the pages eagerly, scanning them for faces he knew, and discovered much satisfaction in one charming picture of Roberta's mother at eighteen, because of its suggestion of the daughter.
"Eleanor was the beauty of the family, and is yet, I always say," asserted Aunt Ruth. "Robby's like her, they all think, but she can't hold a candle to her mother. She's got more spirit in her face, maybe, but her features aren't equal to Eleanor's."
Richard did not venture to disagree with this opinion, but he privately considered that, enchanting as was the face of Mrs. Robert Gray at eighteen, that of her daughter Roberta, at twenty-four, dangerously rivalled it.
"I could tell better about the likeness if I saw a late picture of Miss Roberta," he observed, his eyes and mouth grave, but his voice expectant. Aunt Ruth promptly took the suggestion, and limping daintily away, returned after a minute with a framed photograph of Roberta and Ruth, taken by one of those masters of the art who understand how to bring out the values of the human face, yet to leave provocative shadows which make for mystery and charm. Richard received it with a respectful hand, and then had much ado to keep from showing how the sight of her pictured face made his heart throb.
When the two visitors rose to go Aunt Ruth put in a plea for their remaining overnight.
"It's turned colder since you came up this morning, Mr. Kendrick," said she. "Why not stay with us and go back in the morning? We'd be so pleased to entertain you, and we've plenty of room--too much room for us two old folks, now the children are all married and gone."
To Richard's surprise his grandfather did not immediately decline. He looked at Aunt Ruth, her rosy, smiling face beaming with hospitality, then he glanced at Richard.
"Do stay," urged Uncle Rufus. "Remember how you took us in at midnight, and what a good time you gave us the two days we stayed? It would make us mighty happy to have you sleep under our roof, you and your grandson both, if he'll stay, too."
"I confess I should like to sleep under this roof," admitted Matthew Kendrick. "It reminds me of my father's old home. It's very good of you, Madam Gray, to ask us, and I believe I shall remain. As to Richard--"
"I'd like nothing better," declared that young man promptly.
So it was settled. Richard drove back to the store and gathered together various articles for his own and his grandfather's use, and returned to the Gray fireside. The long and pleasant evening which followed the hearty country supper gave him one more new experience in the long list of them he was acquiring. Somehow he had seldom been happier than when he followed his hostess into the comfortable room upstairs she assigned him, opening from that she had given the elder man. Cheerful fires burned in old-fashioned, open-hearthed Franklin stoves, in both rooms, and the atmosphere was fragrant with the mingled breath of crackling apple-wood, and lavender from the fine old linen with which both beds had been freshly made.
"Sleep well, my dear friends," said Aunt Ruth, in her quaintly friendly way, as she bade her guests good-night and shook hands with them, receiving warm responses.
"One must find sweet repose under your roof," said Matthew Kendrick, and Richard, attending his hostess to the door, murmured, "You look as if you'd put two small boys to bed and tucked them in!" at which Aunt Ruth laughed with pleasure, nodding at him over her shoulder as she went away.
Presently, as Matthew Kendrick lay down in the soft bed, his face toward the glow of his fire that he might watch it, Richard knocked and came in from his own room and, crossing to the bed, stood leaning on the foot-board.
"Too sleepy to talk, grandfather?" he asked.
"Not at all, my boy," responded the old man, his heart stirring in his breast at this unwonted approach at an hour when the two were usually far apart. Never that he could remember had Richard come into his room after he had retired.
"I wanted to tell you," said the young man, speaking very gently, "that you've been awfully kind, and have done us all a lot of good to-day. And you've done me most of all."
"Why, that's pleasant news, Dick," answered old Matthew Kendrick, his eyes fixed on the shadowy outlines of the face at the foot of the bed. "Sit down and tell me about it."
So Richard sat down, and the two had such a talk as they had had never before in their lives--a long, intimate talk, with the barriers down--the barriers which both felt now never should have existed. Lying there in the soft bed of Aunt Ruth's best feathers, with the odour of her lavender in his nostrils, and the sound of the voice he loved in his ears, the old man drank in the delight of his grandson's confidence, and the wonder of something new--the consciousness of Richard's real affection, and his heart beat with slow, heavy throbs of joy, such as he had never expected to feel again in this world.
"Altogether," said Richard, rising reluctantly at last, as the tall old clock on the landing near-by slowly boomed out the hour of midnight, "it's been a great day for me. I'd been looking forward with quite a bit of dread to bringing you up, I knew you'd see so plainly wherever we were lacking; but you were so splendidly kind about it--"
"And why shouldn't I be kind, Dick?" spoke his grandfather eagerly. "What have I in the world to interest me as you and your affairs interest me? Can any possible stroke of fortune seem so great to me as your development into a manhood of accomplishment? And when it is in the very world I know so well and have so near my heart--"
Richard interrupted him, not realizing that he was doing so, but full of longing to make all still further clear between them. "Grandfather, I want to make a confession. This world of yours--I didn't want to enter it."
"I know you didn't, Dick. And I know why. But you are getting over that, aren't you? You are beginning to realize that it isn't what a man does, but the way he does it, that matters."
"Yes," said Richard slowly. "Yes, I'm beginning to realize that. And do you want to know what made me realize it to-day, as never before?"
The old man waited.
"It was the sight of you, sir--and--the recognition of the power you have been all your life;--and the--sudden appreciation of the"--he stumbled a little, but he brought the words out forcefully at the end--"of the very great gentleman you are!"
He could not see the hot tears spring into the old eyes which had not known such a sign of emotion for many years. But he could feel the throb in the low voice which answered him after a moment.
"I may not deserve that, Dick, but--it touches me, coming from you."
When Richard had gone back to his own room, Matthew Kendrick lay for a long time, wide awake, too happy to sleep. In the next room his grandson, before he slept, had formulated one more new idea:
"There's something in the association with people like these that makes a fellow feel like being absolutely honest with them, with everybody--most of all with himself. What is it?"
And pondering this, he was lost in the world of dreams.