With Interest To Date
From: Laughing Bill Hyde And Other Stories
This is the tale of a wrong that rankled and a great revenge. It is
not a moral story, nor yet, measured by the modern money code, is it
what could be called immoral. It is merely a tale of sharp wits
which clashed in pursuit of business, therefore let it be considered
unmoral, a word with a wholly different commercial significance.
Time was when wrongs were righted by mace and battle-ax, amid fanfares
and shoutings, but we live in a quieter age, an age of repression,
wherein the keenest thrust is not delivered with a yell of triumph nor
the oldest score settled to the blare of trumpets. No longer do the
men of great muscle lord it over the weak and the puny; as a rule
they toil and they lift, doing unpleasant, menial duties for
hollow-chested, big-domed men with eye-glasses. But among those very
spindle-shanked, terra-cotta dwellers who cower at draughts and eat
soda mints, the ancient struggle for supremacy wages fiercer than
ever. Single combats are fought now as then, and the flavor of victory
is quite as sweet to the pallid man back of a roll-top desk as to the
swart, bristling baron behind his vizored helmet.
The beginning of this story runs back to the time Henry Hanford went
with the General Equipment Company as a young salesman full of hope
and enthusiasm and a somewhat exaggerated idea of his own importance.
He was selling shears, punches, and other machinery used in the
fabrication of structural steel. In the territory assigned to him, the
works of the Atlantic Bridge Company stuck up like a sore thumb, for
although it employed many men, although its contracts were large and
its requirements numerous, the General Equipment Company had never
sold it a dollar's worth of anything.
In the course of time Hanford convinced himself that the Atlantic
Bridge Company needed more modern machinery, so he laid siege to
Jackson Wylie, Sr., its president and practical owner. He spent all of
six months in gaining the old man's ear, but when he succeeded he
laid himself out to sell his goods. He analyzed the Atlantic Bridge
Company's needs in the light of modern milling practice, and
demonstrated the saving his equipment would effect. A big order and
much prestige were at stake, both of which young Hanford needed
badly at the time. He was vastly encouraged, therefore, when the
bridge-builder listened attentively to him.
"I dare say we shall have to make a change," Mr. Wylie reluctantly
agreed. "I've been bothered to death by machinery salesmen, but you're
the first one to really interest me."
Hanford acknowledged the compliment and proceeded further to elaborate
upon the superiority of the General Equipment Company's goods over
those sold by rival concerns. When he left he felt that he had Mr.
Wylie, Sr., "going."
At the office they warned him that he had a hard nut to crack; that
Wylie was given to "stringing" salesmen and was a hard man to close
with, but Hanford smiled confidently. Granting those facts, they
rendered him all the more eager to make this sale; and the bridge
company really did need up-to-date machinery.
He instituted an even more vigorous selling campaign, he sent much
printed matter to Mr. Wylie, Sr., he wrote him many letters. Being a
thoroughgoing young saleman, he studied the plant from the ground up,
learning the bridge business in such detail as enabled him to talk
with authority on efficiency methods. In the course of his studies he
discovered many things that were wrong with the Atlantic, and spent
days in outlining improvements on paper. He made the acquaintance of
the foremen; he cultivated the General Superintendent; he even met Mr.
Jackson Wylie, Jr., the Sales Manager, a very polished, metallic young
man, who seemed quite as deeply impressed with Hanford's statements as
did his father.
Under our highly developed competitive system, modern business is done
very largely upon personality. From the attitude of both father and
son, Hanford began to count his chickens. Instead of letting up,
however, he redoubled his efforts, which was his way. He spent so much
time on the matter that his other work suffered, and in consequence
his firm called him down. He outlined his progress with the Atlantic
Bridge Company, declared he was going to succeed, and continued to
camp with the job, notwithstanding the firm's open doubts.
Sixty days after his first interview he had another visit with Wylie,
senior, during which the latter drained him of information and made an
appointment for a month later. Said Mr. Wylie:
"You impress me strongly, Hanford, and I want my associates to hear
you. Get your proposition into shape and make the same talk to them
that you have made to me."
Hanford went away elated; he even bragged a bit at the office, and the
report got around among the other salesmen that he really had done the
impossible and had pulled off something big with the Atlantic. It was
a busy month for that young gentleman, and when the red-letter day at
last arrived he went on to Newark to find both Wylies awaiting him.
"Well, sir, are you prepared to make a good argument?" the father
"I am." Hanford decided that three months was not too long a time to
devote to work of this magnitude, after all.
"I want you to do your best," the bridge-builder continued,
encouragingly, then he led Hanford into the directors' room, where, to
his visitor's astonishment, some fifty men were seated.
"These are our salesmen," announced Mr. Wylie. He introduced Hanford
to them with the request that they listen attentively to what the
young man had to say.
It was rather nervous work for Hanford, but he soon warmed up and
forgot his embarrassment. He stood on his feet for two long hours
pleading as if for his life. He went over the Atlantic plant from end
to end; he showed the economic necessity for new machinery; then he
explained the efficiency of his own appliances. He took rival types
and picked them to pieces, pointing out their inferiority. He showed
his familiarity with bridge work by going into figures which bore out
his contention that the Atlantic's output could be increased and at
an actual monthly saving. He wound up by proving that the General
Equipment Company was the one concern best fitted to effect the
It had taken months of unremitting toil to prepare himself for this
exposition, but the young fellow felt he had made his case. When he
took up the cost of the proposed instalment, however, Mr. Jackson
Wylie, Sr., interrupted him.
"That is all I care to have you cover," the latter explained. "Thank
you very kindly, Mr. Hanford."
Hanford sat down and wiped his forehead, whereupon the other stepped
forward and addressed his employees.
"Gentlemen," said he, "you have just listened to the best argument I
ever heard. I purposely called you in from the road so that you might
have a practical lesson in salesmanship and learn something from an
outsider about your own business. I want you to profit by this talk.
Take it to heart and apply it to your own customers. Our selling
efficiency has deteriorated lately; you are getting lazy. I want you
to wake up and show better results. That is all. You might thank this
young gentleman for his kindness."
When the audience had dispersed, Hanford inquired, blankly, "Don't you
intend to act on my suggestions?"
"Oh no!" said Mr. Wylie, in apparent surprise. "We are doing nicely,
as it is. I merely wanted you to address the boys."
"But--I've spent three months of hard labor on this! You led me to
believe that you would put in new equipment."
The younger Wylie laughed, languidly exhaling a lungful of cigarette
smoke. "When Dad gets ready to purchase, he'll let you know," said he.
Six months later the Atlantic Bridge Company placed a mammoth order
with Hanford's rival concern, and he was not even asked to figure on
That is how the seeds of this story were sown. Of course the facts got
out, for those Atlantic salesmen were not wanting in a sense of humor,
and Hanford was joshed in every quarter. To make matters worse,
his firm called him to account for his wasted time, implying that
something was evidently wrong with his selling methods. Thus began a
lack of confidence which quickly developed into strained relations.
The result was inevitable; Hanford saw what was coming and was wise
enough to resign his position.
But it was the ridicule that hurt him most. He was unable to get
away from that. Had he been at all emotional, he would have sworn a
vendetta, so deep and lasting was the hurt, but he did not; he merely
failed to forget, which, after all, is not so different.
It seemed queer that Henry Hanford should wind up in the bridge
business himself, after attempting to fill several unsatisfactory
positions, and yet there was nothing remarkable about it, for that
three months of intense application at the Atlantic plant had given
him a groundwork which came in handy when the Patterson Bridge Company
offered him a desk. He was a good salesman; he worked hard and in
time he was promoted. By and by the story was forgotten--by every
one except Henry Hanford. But he had lost a considerable number of
* * * * *
When it became known that the English and Continental structural
shops were so full of work that they could not figure on the mammoth
five-million-dollar steel structure designed to span the Barrata River
in Africa, and when the Royal Commission in London finally advertised
broadcast that time was the essence of this contract, Mr. Jackson
Wylie, Sr., realized that his plant was equipped to handle the job in
magnificent shape, with large profit to himself and with great renown
to the Wylie name. He therefore sent his son, Jackson Wylie, the
Second, now a full-fledged partner, to London armed with letters to
almost everybody in England from almost everybody in America.
Two weeks later--the Patterson Bridge Company was not so aggressive
as its more pretentious rival--Henry Hanford went abroad on the same
mission, but he carried no letters of introduction for the very good
reason that he possessed neither commercial influence nor social
prestige. Bradstreets had never rated him, and Who's Who contained
no names with which he was familiar.
Jackson Wylie, the Second had been to London frequently, and he was
accustomed to English life. He had friends with headquarters at
Prince's and at Romano's, friends who were delighted to entertain so
prominent an American; his letters gave him the entree to many of the
best clubs and paved his way socially wherever he chose to go.
It was Hanford's first trip across, and he arrived on British soil
without so much as a knowledge of English coins, with nothing in
the way of baggage except a grip full of blue-prints, and with no
destination except the Parliament buildings, where he had been led
to believe the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission was eagerly and
impatiently awaiting his coming. But when he called at the Parliament
buildings he failed not only to find the Commission, but even to
encounter anybody who knew anything about it. He did manage to locate
the office, after some patient effort, but learned that it was nothing
more than a forwarding address, and that no member of the Commission
had been there for several weeks. He was informed that the Commission
had convened once, and therefore was not entirely an imaginary body;
beyond that he could discover nothing. On his second visit to the
office he was told that Sir Thomas Drummond, the chairman, was inside,
having run down from his shooting-lodge in Scotland for the day. But
Sir Thomas's clerk, with whom Hanford had become acquainted at the
time of his first call, informed him that Mr. Jackson Wylie, the
Second, from America, was closeted with his lordship, and in
consequence his lordship could not be disturbed. Later, when Hanford
got more thoroughly in touch with the general situation, he began to
realize that introductions, influence, social prestige would in all
probability go farther toward landing the Barrata Bridge than mere
engineering, ability or close figuring--facts with which the younger
Wylie was already familiar, and against which he had provided. It also
became plain to Hanford as time went on that the contract would of
necessity go to America, for none of the European shops were in
position to complete it on time.
Owing to government needs, this huge, eleven-span structure had to be
on the ground within ninety days from the date of the signing of the
contract, and erected within eight months thereafter. The Commission's
clerk, a big, red-faced, jovial fellow, informed Hanford that price
was not nearly so essential as time of delivery; that although the
contract glittered with alluring bonuses and was heavily weighted
with forfeits, neither bonuses nor forfeitures could in the slightest
manner compensate for a delay in time. It was due to this very fact,
to the peculiar urgency of the occasion, that the Commissioners were
inclined to look askance at prospective bidders who might in any way
fail to complete the task as specified.
"If all that is true, tell me why Wylie gets the call?" Hanford
"I understand he has the very highest references," said the
"No doubt. But you can't build bridges with letters of introduction,
even in Africa."
"Probably not. But Sir Thomas is a big man; Mr. Wylie is one of his
sort. They meet on common ground, don't you see?"
"Well, if I can't arrange an interview with any member of the
Commission, I can at least take you to lunch. Will you go?"
The clerk declared that he would, indeed, and in the days that
followed the two saw much of each other. This fellow, Lowe by name,
interested Hanford. He was a cosmopolite; he was polished to the
hardness of agate by a life spent in many lands. He possessed a cold
eye and a firm chin; he was a complex mixture of daredeviltry and
meekness. He had fought in a war or two, and he had led hopes quite
as forlorn as the one Hanford was now engaged upon. It was this bond,
perhaps, which drew the two together.
In spite of Lowe's assistance Hanford found it extremely difficult,
nay, almost impossible, to obtain any real inside information
concerning the Barrata Bridge; wherever he turned he brought up
against a blank wall of English impassiveness: he even experienced
difficulty in securing the blue-prints he wanted.
"It looks pretty tough for you," Lowe told him one day. "I'm afraid
you're going to come a cropper, old man. This chap Wylie has the rail
and he's running well. He has opened an office, I believe."
"So I understand. Well, the race isn't over yet, and I'm a good
stayer. This is the biggest thing I ever tackled and it means a lot to
me--more than you imagine."
Hanford recited the story of his old wrong, to Lowe's frank amazement.
"What a rotten trick!" the latter remarked.
"Yes! And--I don't forget."
"You'd better forget this job. It takes pull to get consideration from
people like Sir Thomas, and Wylie has more than he needs. A fellow
without it hasn't a chance. Look at me, for instance, working at a
"Want to try something else?"
"I do! And you'd better follow suit."
Hanford shook his head. "I never quit--I can't. When my chance at this
bridge comes along--"
"Oh, the chance will come. Chances always come; sometimes we don't see
them, that's all. When this one comes I want to be ready. Meanwhile, I
think I'll reconnoiter Wylie's new office and find out what's doing."
Day after day Henry Hanford pursued his work doggedly, seeing much of
Lowe, something of Wylie's clerk, and nothing whatever of Sir Thomas
Drummond or the other members of the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission.
He heard occasional rumors of the social triumphs of his rival,
and met him once, to be treated with half-veiled amusement by that
patronizing young man. Meanwhile, the time was growing short and
Hanford's firm was not well pleased with his progress.
Then the chance came, unexpectedly, as Hanford had declared chances
always come. The remarkable thing in this instance was not that the
veiled goddess showed her face, but that Hanford was quick enough
to recognize her and bold enough to act. He had taken Lowe to the
Trocadero for dinner, and, finding no seats where they could watch the
crowd, he had selected a stall in a quiet corner. They had been there
but a short time when Hanford recognized a voice from the stall
adjacent as belonging to the representative of the Atlantic Bridge
Company. From the sounds he could tell that Wylie was giving a
dinner-party, and with Lowe's aid he soon identified the guests as
members of the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission. Hanford began to
strain his ears.
As the meal progressed this became less of an effort, for young
Wylie's voice was strident. The Wylie conversation had ever been
limited largely to the Wylies, their accomplishments, their purposes,
and their prospects; and now having the floor as host, he talked
mainly about himself, his father, and their forthcoming Barrata Bridge
contract. It was his evident endeavor this evening to impress his
distinguished guests with the tremendous importance of the Atlantic
Bridge Company and its unsurpassed facilities for handling big jobs.
A large part of young Wylie's experience had been acquired by
manipulating municipal contracts and the aldermen connected therewith;
he now worked along similar lines. Hanford soon learned that he was
trying in every way possible to induce Drummond and his associates
to accompany him back to America for the purpose of proving
beyond peradventure that the Atlantic could take care of a
five-million-dollar contract with ease.
"As if they'd go!" Lowe said, softly. "And yet--by Jove! he talks as
if he had the job buttoned up."
The Englishman was alert, his dramatic instinct was at play;
recognizing the significance of Wylie's offer and its possible bearing
upon Hanford's fortunes, he waved the waiter away, knowing better than
to permit the rattle of dishes to distract his host's attention.
Meanwhile, with clenched teeth and smoldering eyes Henry Hanford heard
his rival in the next compartment identify the State of New Jersey by
the fact that the works of the Atlantic Bridge Company were located
therein, and dignify it by the fact that the Jackson Wylies lived
"You know, gentlemen," Wylie was saying, "I can arrange the trip
without the least difficulty, and I assure you there will be no
discomfort. I am in constant cipher communication with my father, and
he will be delighted to afford you every courtesy. I can fix it up by
cable in a day."
Hanford arose with a silent gesture to his guest, then, although the
meal was but half over, he paid the bill. He had closed his campaign.
Right then and there he landed the great Barrata Bridge contract.
Lowe, mystified beyond measure by his friend's action, made no comment
until they were outside. Then he exclaimed:
"I say, old top, what blew off?"
Hanford smiled at him queerly. "The whole top of young Wylie's head
blew off, if he only knew it. It's my day to settle that score, and
the interest will be compounded."
"I must be extremely stupid."
"Not at all. You're damned intelligent, and that's why I'm going to
need your help." Hanford turned upon the adventurer suddenly. "Have
you ever been an actor?"
Lowe made a comical grimace. "I say, old man, that's pretty rough. My
people raised me for a gentleman."
"Exactly. Come with me to my hotel. We're going to do each other a
great favor. With your help and the help of Mr. Jackson Wylie the
Second's London clerk, I'm going to land the Barrata Bridge."
Hanford had not read his friend Lowe awrong, and when, behind locked
doors, he outlined his plan, the big fellow gazed at him with
amazement, his blue eyes sparkling with admiration.
"Gad! That appeals to me. I--think I can do it." There was no timidity
in Lowe's words, merely a careful consideration of the risks involved.
Hanford gripped his hand. "I'll attend to Wylie's clerk," he declared.
"Now we'd better begin to rehearse."
"But what makes you so positive you can handle his clerk?" queried
"Oh, I've studied him the same way I've studied you! I've been doing
nothing else for the last month."
"Bli' me, you're a corker!" said Mr. Lowe.
* * * * *
Back in Newark, New Jersey, Jackson Wylie, Sr., was growing impatient.
In spite of his son's weekly reports he had begun to fret at the
indefinite nature of results up to date. This dissatisfaction it was
that had induced him to cable his invitation to the Royal Commission
to visit the Atlantic plant. Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., had a mysterious
way of closing contracts once he came in personal contact with the
proper people. In the words of his envious competitors, he had "good
terminal facilities," and he felt sure in his own mind that he could
get this job if only he could meet some member of that Commission who
possessed the power to act. Business was bad, and in view of his son's
preliminary reports he had relied upon the certainty of securing this
tremendous contract; he had even turned work away so that his plant
might be ready for the rush, with the result that many of his men now
were idle and that he was running far below capacity. But he likewise
had his eye upon those English bonuses, and when his associates rather
timidly called his attention to the present state of affairs he
assured them bitingly that he knew his business. Nevertheless, he
could not help chafing at delay nor longing for the time to come to
submit the bid that had lain for a month upon his desk. The magnitude
of the figures contained therein was getting on Mr. Wylie's nerves.
On the tenth of May he received a cablegram in his own official cipher
which, translated, read:
Meet Sir Thomas Drummond, Chairman Royal Barrata Bridge Commission,
arriving Cunard Liner Campania, thirteenth, stopping Waldorf.
Arrange personally Barrata contract. Caution.
The cablegram was unsigned, but its address, "Atwylie," betrayed not
only its destination, but also the identity of its sender. Mr. Jackson
Wylie, Sr., became tremendously excited. The last word conjured up
bewildering possibilities. He was about to consult his associates when
it struck him that the greatest caution he could possibly observe
would consist of holding his own tongue now and henceforth. They had
seen fit to criticize his handling of the matter thus far; he decided
he would play safe and say nothing until he had first seen Sir Thomas
Drummond and learned the lay of the land. He imagined he might then
have something electrifying to tell them. He had "dealt from the
bottom" too often, he had closed too many bridge contracts in his
time, to mistake the meaning of this visit, or of that last word
During the next few days Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., had hard work to hold
himself in, and he was at a high state of nervous tension when, on
the morning of the fourteenth day of May, he strolled into the
Waldorf-Astoria and inquired at the desk for Sir Thomas Drummond.
There was no Sir Thomas stopping at the hotel, although a Mr. T.
Drummond from London had arrived on the Campania the day before. Mr.
Jackson Wylie placed the heel of his right shoe upon the favorite corn
of his left foot and bore down upon it heavily. He must be
getting into his dotage, he reflected, or else the idea of a
five-million-dollar job had him rattled. Of course Sir Thomas would
not use his title.
At the rear desk he had his card blown up through the tube to "Mr. T.
Drummond," and a few moments later was invited to take the elevator.
Arriving at the sixth floor, he needed no page to guide him; boots
pointed his way to the apartment of the distinguished visitor as plainly
as a lettered sign-board; boots of all descriptions--hunting-boots,
riding-boots, street shoes, lowshoes, pumps, sandals--black ones and tan
ones--all in a row outside the door. It was a typically English display.
Evidently Sir Thomas Drummond was a personage of the most extreme
importance and traveled in befitting style, Mr. Wylie told himself.
Nothing was missing from the collection, unless perhaps a pair of rubber
A stoop-shouldered old man with a marked accent and a port-wine nose
showed Mr. Wylie into a parlor where the first object upon which
his active eyes alighted was a mass of blue-prints. He knew these
drawings; he had figured on them himself. He likewise noted a hat-box
and a great, shapeless English bag, both plastered crazily with hotel
and steamship labels hailing from every quarter of the world. It was
plain to be seen that Sir Thomas was a globe-trotter.
"Mr. Drummond begs you to be seated," the valet announced, with what
seemed an unnecessary accent on the "mister," then moved silently out.
Mr. Wylie remarked to himself upon the value of discreet servants.
They were very valuable; very hard to get in America. This must be
some lifelong servitor in his lordship's family.
There was no occasion to inquire the identity of the tall, florid
Englishman in tweeds who entered a moment later, a bundle of estimates
in his hand. "Sir Thomas Drummond, Chairman of the Royal Barrata
Bridge Commission," was written all over him in large type.
His lordship did not go to the trouble of welcoming his visitor, but
scanned him frigidly through his glasses.
"You are Mr. Jackson Wylie, Senior?" he demanded, abruptly.
"That is my name."
"President of the Atlantic Bridge Company, of Newark, New Jersey?"
"You received a cablegram from your son in London?"
"Yes, your lordship."
Sir Thomas made a gesture as if to forego the title. "Let me see it,
Mr. Wylie produced the cablegram, and Drummond scanned it sharply.
Evidently the identification was complete.
"Does any one besides your son and yourself know the contents of this
"Not a soul."
"You have not told any one of my coming?"
"Very well." Sir Thomas appeared to breathe easier; he deliberately
tore the cablegram into small bits, then tossed the fragments into
a wastepaper basket before waving his caller to a chair. He still
remained very cold, very forceful, although his stiff formality had
"Do you understand all about this bridge?" he inquired.
Wylie senior took the cue of brusqueness and nodded shortly.
"Can you build it in the time specified?"
"Have you submitted your bid?"
"Not yet. I--"
"What is the amount of your proposal?"
The president of the Atlantic Bridge Company gasped. This was the
boldest, the coldest work he had ever experienced. Many times he had
witnessed public officials like Sir Thomas Drummond approach this
delicate point, but never with such composure, such matter-of-fact
certainty and lack of moral scruple. Evidently, however, this
Englishman had come to trade and wanted a direct answer. There was no
false pose, no romance here. But Jackson Wylie, Sr., was too shrewd a
business man to name a rock-bottom price to begin with. The training
of a lifetime would not permit him to deny himself a liberal leeway
for hedging, therefore he replied, cautiously:
"My figures will be approximately L1,400,000 sterling." It was his
longest speech thus far.
For what seemed an hour to the bridge-builder Sir Thomas Drummond
gazed at him with a cold, hard eye, then he folded his papers,
rolled up his blue-prints, placed them in the big traveling-bag, and
carefully locked it. When he had finished he flung out this question
"Does that include the Commissioners?"
Up to this point Mr. Jackson Wylie had spoken mainly in monosyllables;
now he quit talking altogether; it was no longer necessary. He merely
shook his head in negation. He was smiling slightly.
"Then I shall ask you to add L200,000 sterling to your price," his
lordship calmly announced. "Make your bid L1,600,000 sterling, and
mail it in time for Wednesday's boat. I sail on the same ship.
Proposals will be opened on the twenty-fifth. Arrange for an English
indemnity bond for ten per cent. of your proposition. Do not
communicate in any manner whatsoever with your son, except to forward
the sealed bid to him. He is not to know of our arrangement. You will
meet me in London later; we will take care of that L200,000 out of the
last forty per cent. of the contract price, which is payable thirty
days after completion, inspection, and acceptance of the bridge. You
will not consult your associates upon leaving here. Do I make myself
clear? Very well, sir. The figures are easy to remember: L1,600,000;
L1,400,000 to you. I am pleased with the facilities your plant offers
for doing the work. I am confident you can complete the bridge on
time, and I beg leave to wish you a very pleasant good day."
Jackson Wylie, Sr., did not really come to until he had reached
the street; even then he did not know whether he had come down the
elevator or through the mail-chute. Of one thing only was he certain:
he was due to retire in favor of his son. He told himself that
he needed a trip through the Holy Land with a guardian and a
nursing-bottle; then he paused on the curb and stamped on his corn for
a second time.
"Oh, what an idiot I am!" he cried, savagely. "I could have
gotten L1,600,000 to start with, but--by gad, Sir Thomas is the
coldest-blooded thing I ever went against! I--I can't help but admire
Having shown a deplorable lack of foresight, Mr. Wylie determined to
make up for it by an ample display of hindsight. If the profits on the
job were not to be so large as they might have been, he would at
least make certain of them by obeying instructions to the letter. In
accordance with this determination, he made out the bid himself, and
he mailed it with his own hand that very afternoon. He put three blue
stamps on the envelope, although it required but two. Then he called
up an automobile agency and ordered a foreign town-car his wife had
admired. He decided that she and the girls might go to Paris for the
fall shopping--he might even go with them, in view of that morning's
For ten days he stood the pressure, then on the morning of the
twenty-fourth he called his confreres into the directors' room, that
same room in which young Hanford had made his talk a number of years
before. Inasmuch as it was too late now for a disclosure to affect the
opening of the bids in London, he felt absolved from his promise to
"Gentlemen, I have the honor to inform you," he began, pompously,
"that the Barrata Bridge is ours! We have the greatest structural
steel job of the decade." His chest swelled with justifiable pride.
"How? When? What do you mean?" they cried.
He told them of his mysterious but fruitful interview at the Waldorf
ten days previously, enjoying their expressions of amazement to the
full; then he explained in considerable detail the difficulties he had
surmounted in securing such liberal figures from Sir Thomas.
"We were ready to take the contract for L1,300,000, as you will
remember, but by the exercise of some diplomacy"--he coughed
modestly--"I may say, by the display of some firmness and
independence, I succeeded in securing a clean profit of $500,000 over
what we had expected." He accepted, with becoming diffidence, the
congratulations which were showered upon him. Of course, the news
created a sensation, but it was as nothing to the sensation that
followed upon the receipt of a cablegram the next day which read:
Newark, New Jersey.
Terrible mistake somewhere. We lost. Am coming home to-day.
Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., also went home that day--by carriage, for,
after raving wildly of treachery, after cursing the name of some
English nobleman, unknown to most of the office force, he collapsed,
throwing his employees into much confusion. There were rumors of
an apoplectic stroke; some one telephoned for a physician; but the
president of the Atlantic Bridge Company only howled at the latter
when he arrived.
What hit the old man hardest was the fact that he could not explain to
his associates--that he could not even explain to himself, for that
matter. He could make neither head nor tail of the affair; his son was
on the high seas and could not be reached; the mystery of the whole
transaction threatened to unseat his reason. Even when his sorrowing
heir arrived, a week after the shock, the father could gather nothing
at first except the bare details.
All he could learn was that the Royal Barrata Bridge Commission
had met on the twenty-fifth day of May, for the second time in its
history, with Sir Thomas Drummond in the chair. In the midst of an
ultra-British solemnity the bids had been opened and read--nine of
them--two Belgian, one German, two French, one English, one Scottish,
and two American.
The only proposals that conformed to the specifications in every
respect were the last named. They were perfect. The Atlantic Bridge
Company, of Newark, New Jersey, offered to do the work as specified
for L1,600,000 sterling. The Patterson Bridge Company, through its
authorized agent, Mr. Henry Hanford, named a price of L1,550,000. The
rest was but a matter of detail.
Having concluded this bald recital, Jackson Wylie, the Second, spread
his hands in a gesture of despair. "I can't understand it," he said,
dolefully. "I thought I had it cinched all the time."
"You had it cinched!" bellowed his father. "You! Why, you ruined
it all! Why in hell did you send him over here?"
"I? Send who? What are you talking about?"
"That man with the boots! That lying, thieving scoundrel, Sir Thomas
Drummond, of course."
The younger Wylie's face showed blank, uncomprehending amazement. "Sir
Thomas Drummond was in London all the time I was there. I saw him
daily," said he.
Not until this very moment did the president of the Atlantic Bridge
Company comprehend the trap he had walked into, but now the whole
hideous business became apparent. He had been fooled, swindled, and in
a way to render recourse impossible; nay, in a manner to blacken his
reputation if the story became public. He fell actually ill from the
passion of his rage and not even a long rest from the worries of
business completely cured him. The bitter taste of defeat would not
down. He might never have understood the matter thoroughly had it not
been for a missive he received one day through the mail. It was a bill
from a London shoe-store for twelve pairs of boots, of varying styles,
made out to Henry Hanford, and marked "paid."
Mr. Jackson Wylie, Sr., noted with unspeakable chagrin that the last
word was heavily under-scored in ink, as if by another hand. Hanford's
bill was indeed paid, and with interest to date.
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