The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
But Bob was no quitter. The next morning he tramped down to the office, animated by a new courage. Even stupid boys learn, he remembered. It takes longer, of course, and requires more application. But he was strong and determined. He remembered Fatty Hayes, who took four years to make the team--Fatty, who couldn't get a signal through his head until about time for the next play, and whose great body moved appreciable seconds after his brain had commanded it; Fatty Hayes, the "scrub's" chopping block for trying out new men on! And yet he did make the team in his senior year. Bob acknowledged him a very good centre, not brilliant, but utterly sure and safe.
Full of this dogged spirit, he tackled the day's work. It was a heavy day's work. The mill was just hitting its stride, the tall ships were being laden and sent away to the four winds, buyers the country over were finishing their contracts. Collins, his coat off, his sleeve protectors strapped closely about his thin arms, worked at an intense white heat. He wasted no second of time, nor did he permit discursive interruption. His manner to those who entered the office was civil but curt. Time was now the essence of the contract these men had with life.
About ten o'clock he turned from a swift contemplation of the tally board.
"Orde!" said he sharply.
Bob disentangled himself from his chair.
"Look there," said the bookkeeper, pointing a long and nervous finger at three of the tags he held in his hand.
"There's three errors." He held out for inspection the original sealers' report which he had dug out of the files.
Bob looked at the discrepant figures with amazement. He had checked the tags over twice, and both times the error had escaped his notice. His mind, self-hypnotized, had passed them over in the same old fashion. Yet he had taken especial pains with that list.
"I happened, just happened, to check these back myself," Collins was saying rapidly. "If I hadn't, we'd have made that contract with Robinson on the basis of what these tags show. We haven't got that much seasoned uppers, nor anything like it. If you've made many more breaks like this, if we'd contracted with Robinson for what we haven't got or couldn't get, we'd be in a nice mess--and so would Robinson!"
"I'm sorry," murmured Bob. "I'll try to do better."
"Won't do," said Collins briefly. "You aren't big enough for the job. I can't get behind, checking over your work. This office is too rushed as it is. Can't fool with blundering stupidity."
Bob flushed at the word.
"I guess you'd better take your time," went on Collins. "You may be all right, for all I know, but I haven't got time to find out."
He rang a bell twice, and snatched down the telephone receiver.
"Hullo, yards, send up Tommy Gould to the office. I want him to help me. I don't give a damn for the scaling. You'll have to get along somehow. The five of you ought to hold that down. Send up Gould, anyhow." He slammed up the receiver, muttering something about incompetence. Bob for a moment had a strong impulse to retort, but his anger died. He saw that Collins was not for the moment thinking of him at all as a human being, as a personality--only as a piece of this great, swiftly moving machine, that would not run smoothly. The fact that he had come under Fox's convoy evidently meant nothing to the little bookkeeper, at least for the moment. Collins was entirely accustomed to hiring and discharging men. When transplanted to the frontier industries, even such automatic jobs as bookkeeping take on new duties and responsibilities.
Bob, after a moment of irresolution, reached for his hat.
"That will be all, then?" he asked.
Collins came out of the abstraction into which he had fallen.
"Oh--yes," he said. "Sorry, but of course we can't take chances on these things being right."
"Of course not," said Bob steadily.
"You just need more training," went on Collins with some vague idea of being kind to this helpless, attractive young fellow. "I learned under Harry Thorpe that results is all a man looks at in this business."
"I guess that's right," said Bob. "Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Collins over his shoulder. Already he was lost in the rapid computations and calculations that filled his hours.