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- Youth Challenges - 1/62 -


Youth Challenges

By

CLARENCE BUDINGTON KELLAND

AUTHOR OF

"The Little Moment of Happiness," "The High Flyers," "Sudden Jim," "The Source," "The Hidden Spring," etc.

CHAPTER I

Bonbright Foote VI arose and stood behind the long table which served him as a desk and extended his hand across it. His bearing was that of a man taking a leading part in an event of historic importance.

"My son," said he, "it gratifies me to welcome you to your place in this firm." Then he smiled. When Bonbright Foote VI smiled it was as though he said to himself, "To smile one must do thus and so with the features," and then systematically put into practice his instructions. It was a cultured smile, one that could have been smiled only by a gentleman conscious of generations of correct antecedents; it was an aristocratic smile. On the whole it was not unpleasant, though so excellently and formally done.

"Thank you, father," replied Bonbright Foote VII. "I hope I shall be of some use to you."

"Your office is ready for you," said his father, stepping to a door which he unlocked with the gravity of a man laying a corner stone. "This door," said he, "has not been opened since I took my place at the head of the business--since I moved from the desk you are to occupy to the one in this room. It will not be closed again until the time arrives for you to assume command. We have--we Footes--always regarded this open door as a patent token of partnership between father and son."

Young Foote was well acquainted with this--as a piece of his family's regalia. He knew he was about to enter and to labor in the office of the heir apparent, a room which had been tenantless since the death of his grandfather and the consequent coronation of his father. Such was the custom. For twelve years that office had been closed and waiting. None had ventured into it, except for a janitor whose weekly dustings and cleanings had been performed with scrupulous care. He knew that Bonbright Foote VI had occupied the room for seventeen years. Before that it had stood vacant eleven years awaiting for Bonbright Foote VI to reach such age and attainments as were essential. Young Foote realized that upon the death of his father the office would be closed again until his son, Bonbright Foote VIII, should be equipped, by time and the university founded by John Harvard, to enter as he was entering to-day. So the thing had been done since the first Bonbright Foote invested Bonbright Foote II with dignities and powers.

Father and son entered the long-closed office, a large, indeed a stately room. It contained the same mahogany table at which Bonbright Foote II had worked; the same chairs, the same fittings, the same pictures hung on the walls, that had been the property of the first crown prince of the Foote dynasty. It was not a bright place, suggestive of liveliness or gayety, but it was decorously inviting--a place in which one could work with comfort and satisfaction.

"Let me see you at your desk," said the father, smiling again. "I have looked forward to seeing you there, just as you will look forward to seeing YOUR son there."

Bonbright sat down, wondering if his father had felt oppressed as HE felt oppressed at this moment. He had a feeling of stepping from one existence into another, almost of stepping from one body, one identity, to another. When he sat at that desk he would be taking up, not his own career, but the career of the entity who had occupied this office through generations, and would occupy it in perpetual succession. Vaguely he began to miss something. The sensation was like that of one who has long worn a ring on his finger, but omits to put it on one morning. For that person there is a vague sense of something missing throughout the day. Bonbright did not know what he felt the lack of--it was his identity.

"For the next month or so," said his father, "about all you can hope to do is to become acquainted with the plant and with our methods. Rangar will always be at your disposal to explain or to give you desired information. I think it would be well if he were to conduct you through the plant. It will give you a basis to work from."

"The plant is still growing, I see," said Bonbright. "It seems as if a new building were being put up every time I come home."

"Yes, growing past the prophecy of any of our predecessors," said his father. He paused. "I am not certain," he said, as one who asks a question of his inner self, "but I would have preferred a slower, more conservative growth."

"The automobile has done it, of course."

"Axles," said his father, with a hint of distaste. "The manufacturing of rear axles has overshadowed everything else. We retain as much of the old business--the manufacturing of machinery--as ever. Indeed, THAT branch has shown a healthy growth. But axles! A mushroom that has overgrown us in a night."

It was apparent that Bonbright Foote VI did not approve of axles, as it was a known fact that he frowned upon automobiles. He would not own one of them. They were too new, too blatant. His stables were still stables. His coachman had not been transmuted into a chauffeur. When he drove it was in a carriage drawn by horses--as his ancestors had driven.

"Yes... yes..." he said, slowly, with satisfaction, "it is good to have you in the business, son. It's a satisfaction to see you sitting there. ... Now we must look about to find a suitable girl for you to marry. We must begin to think about Bonbright Foote VIII." There was no smile as he said this; the observation was made in sober earnest. Bonbright saw that, just as his ancestors looked to him to carry on the business, so they looked to him to produce with all convenient dispatch a male successor to himself. It was, so to speak, an important feature of his job.

"I'll send in Rangar," said his father, not waiting for Bonbright to reply to the last suggestion, and walked with long-legged dignity out of the room.

Bonbright rested his chin on his palm and stared gloomily at the wall. He felt bound and helpless; he saw himself surrounded by firm and dignified shades of departed Bonbright Footes whose collective wills compelled him to this or prohibited that course of action.

Adventure, chance, were eliminated from his life. He was to be no errant musician, improvising according to his mood; the score he was to play was before him, and he must play it note for note, paying strict attention to rests, keys, andantes, fortissimos, pianissimos. He had been born to this, had been made conscious of his destiny from babyhood, but never had he comprehended it as he did on this day of his investiture.

Even the selection and courting of a mate, that greatest of all adventures (to the young), was made humdrum. Doubtless his mother already had selected the girl, and presently would marry him to her. ... Somehow this was the one phase of the situation that galled him most.

"I'll see about that," he muttered, rebelliously, "I'll see about that."

Not that marriage was of importance to him yet, except as a thing to be avoided until some dim future. Women had not assumed consequence to him; his relations with them had been scant surface relations. They were creatures who did or did not please the eye, who did or did not dance well, who did or did not amuse one. That was all. He was only twenty-three.

Rangar, his father's secretary, and the man who stood as shield between Bonbright Foote VI and unpleasant contacts with his business and the world's business, entered. Rangar was a capable man whose place as secretary to the head of the business did not measure his importance in the organization. Another man of his abilities and opportunity and position would have carried the title of general manager or vice president--something respect-carrying. As for Rangar, he was content. He drew the salary that would have accompanied those other titles, possessed in an indirect sort of way the authority, and yet managed to remain disentangled from the responsibilities. Had he suddenly vanished the elder Foote would have been left suspended in rarefied heights between heaven and his business, lacking direct contact with the mills and machine shops and foundries; yet, doubtless, would have been unable to realize that the loss of Rangar had left him so. Rangar was a competent, efficient man, if peculiar in his ambitions.

"Your father," said he, "has asked me to show you through the plant."

"Thank you--yes," said Bonbright, rising.

They went out, passing from the old, the family, wing of the office building, into the larger, newer, general offices, made necessary by the vastly increased business of the firm. Here, in a huge room, were bookkeepers, stenographers, clerks, filing cabinets, desks, typewriters--with several cubicles glassed off for the more important employees and minor executives.

"We have tried," said Rangar, "to retain as far as possible the old methods and systems. Your father, Mr. Foote, is conservative. He clings to the ways of his father and his grandfather."

"I remember," said Bonbright, "when we had no typewriting machines."

"We had to come to them," said Rangar, with a note of regret. "Axles compelled us. But we have never taken up with these new contraptions --fads--like phonographs to dictate to, card indices, loose-leaf systems, adding machines, and the like. Of course it requires more clerks and stenographers, and possibly we are a bit slower than some. Your father says, however, that he prefers conducting his business as a gentleman should, rather than to make a mere machine of it. His


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