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- Youth Challenges - 2/62 -
idea," said Rangar, "of a gentleman in business is one who refuses to make use of abbreviations in his correspondence."
Bonbright was looking about the busy room, conscious that he was being covertly studied by every occupant of it. It made him uncomfortable, uneasy.
"Let's go on into the shops," he said, impatiently.
They turned, and encountered in the aisle a girl with a stenographer's notebook in her hand; indeed, Bonbright all but stepped on her. She was a slight, tiny thing, not thin, but small. Her eyes met Bonbright's eyes and she grinned. No other word can describe it. It was not an impertinent grin, nor a familiar grin, nor a COMMON grin. It was spontaneous, unstudied--it lay at the opposite end of the scale from Bonbright Foote VI's smile. Somehow the flash of it COMFORTED Bonbright. His sensations responded to it. It was a grin that radiated with well wishes for all the world. Bonbright smiled back, awkwardly, and bobbed his head as she stepped aside for him to pass.
"What a grin!" he said, presently.
"Oh," said Rangar. "Yes--to be sure. The Girl with the Grin--that's what they call her in the office. She's always doing it. Your father hasn't noticed. I hope he doesn't, for I'm sure he wouldn't like it."
"As if," said Bonbright to himself, "she were happy--and wanted everybody else to be."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Rangar. "She's competent."
They passed outside and through a covered passageway into the older of the shops. Bonbright was not thinking about the shops, but about the girl. She was the only thing he had encountered that momentous morning that had interested him, the only thing upon which Bonbright Foote, Incorporated, had not set the stamp of its repressing personality.
He tried to visualize her and her smile that he might experience again that sensation of relief, of lightened spirit. In a measure he was able to do so. Her mouth was large, he saw--no small mouth could have managed that grin. She was not pretty, but, somehow, attractive. Her eyes were bully; intelligent, humorous sort of eyes, he decided.
"Bet she's a darn nice kid," he concluded, boyishly. His father would have been shocked at a thought expressed in such words.
"The business has done wonders these last five years," said Rangar, intruding on Bonbright's thoughts. "Five years ago we employed less than a thousand hands; to-day we have more than five thousand on the payroll. Another few years and we shall have ten thousand."
"Axles?" asked Bonbright, mechanically.
"Axles," replied Rangar.
"Father doesn't approve of them--but they must be doing considerable for the family bank account."
Rangar shot a quick glance at the boy, a glance with reproof in it for such a flippancy. Vaguely he had heard that this young man had done things not expected from a Foote; had, for instance, gone in for athletics at the university. It was reported he had actually allowed himself to be carried once on the shoulders of a cheering mob of students! There were other rumors, also, which did not sit well on the Foote tradition. Rangar wondered if at last a Foote had been born into the family who was not off the old piece of cloth, who might, indeed, prove difficult and disappointing. The flippancy indicated it.
"Our inventory," he said, severely, "five years ago, showed a trifle over a million dollars. To-day these mills would show a valuation of five millions. The earnings," he added, "have increased in even greater ratio."
"Hum," said Bonbright, his mind already elsewhere. His thought, unspoken, was, "If we've got so blamed much, what's the use piling it up?"
At noon they had not finished the inspection of the plant; it was well toward five o'clock when they did so, for Rangar did his duty conscientiously. His explanations were long, careful, technical. Bonbright set his mind to the task and listened well. He was even interested, for there were interesting things to see, processes requiring skilled men, machines that had required inventive genius to devise. He began to be oppressed by the bigness of it. The plant was huge; it was enormously busy. The whole world seemed to need axles, preferably Foote axles, and to need them in a hurry.
At last, a trifle dazed, startled by the vastness of the domain to which he was heir apparent, Bonbright returned to the aloof quiet of his historic room.
"I've a lot to learn," he told Rangar.
"It will grow on you. ... By the way, you will need a secretary." (The Footes had secretaries, not stenographers.) "Shall I select one for you?"
"Yes," said Bonbright, without interest; then he looked up quickly. "No," he said, "I've selected my own. You say that girl--the one who grinned--is competent?"
"Yes, indeed--but a girl! It has been the custom for the members of the firm to employ only men."
Bonbright looked steadily at Rangar a moment, then said:
"Please have that girl notified at once that she is to be my secretary."
"Yes, sir," said Rangar. The boy WAS going to prove difficult. He owned a will. Well, thought the man, others may have had it in the family before--but it has not remained long.
"Anything more, Mr. Foote?"
"Thank you, no," said Bonbright, and Rangar said good evening and disappeared.
The boy rested his chin on his hand again, and reflected gloomily. He hunched up his shoulders and sighed. "Anyhow," he said to himself, "I'll have SOMEBODY around me who is human."
Bonbright's father had left the office an hour before he and Rangar had finished their tour of the works. It was always his custom to leave his business early and to retire to the library in his home, where daily he devoted two hours to adding to the manuscript of The Philosophical Biography of Marquis Lafayette. This work was ultimately to appear in several severe volumes and was being written, not so much to enlighten the world upon the details of the career of the marquis as it was to utilize the marquis as a clotheshorse to be dressed in Bonbright Foote VI's mature reflections on men, events, and humanity at large.
Bonbright VII sat at his desk motionless, studying his career as it lay circumscribed before him. He did not study it rebelliously, for as yet rebellion had not occurred to him. The idea that he might assert his individuality and depart from the family pattern had not ventured to show its face. For too many years had his ancestors been impressing him with his duty to the family traditions. He merely studied it, as one who has no fancy for geometry will study geometry, because it cannot be helped. The path was there, carefully staked out and bordered; to-day his feet had been placed on it, and now he must walk. As he sat he looked ahead for bypaths--none were visible.
The shutting-down whistle aroused him. He walked out through the rapidly emptying office to the street, and there he stood, interested by the spectacle of the army that poured out of the employees' entrances. It was an inundation of men, flooding street from sidewalk to sidewalk. It jostled and joked and scuffled, sweating, grimy, each unit of it eager to board waiting, overcrowded street cars, where acute discomfort would be suffered until distant destinations were reached. Somehow the sight of that surging, tossing stream of humanity impressed Bonbright with the magnitude of Bonbright Foote, Incorporated, even more than the circuit of the immense plant had done.
Five thousand men, in a newspaper paragraph, do not affect the imagination. Five thousand men in the concrete are quite another matter, especially if you suddenly realize that each of them has a wife, probably children, and that the whole are dependent upon the dynasty of which you are a member for their daily bread.
"Father and I," he said to himself, as the sudden shock of the idea impacted against his consciousness, "are SUPPORTING that whole mob."
It gave him a sense of mightiness. It presented itself to him in that instant that he was not a mere business man, no mere manufacturer, but a commander of men--more than that, a lord over the destinies of men. It was overwhelming. This realization of his potency made him gasp. Bonbright was very young.
He turned, to be carried on by the current. Presently it was choked. A stagnant pool of humanity formed around some center, pressing toward it curiously. This center was a tiny park, about which the street divided, and the center was a man standing on a barrel by the side of a sign painted on cloth. The man was speaking in a loud, clear voice, which was able to make itself perfectly audible even to Bonbright on the extreme edge of the mass.
"You are helpless as individuals," the man was saying. "If one of you has a grievance, what can he do?... Nothing. You are a flock of sheep. ... If ALL of you have a grievance, what can you do? You are still a pack of sheep. ... Bonbright Foote, Incorporated, owns you, body and soul. ... Suppose this Foote who does you the favor to let you earn millions for him--suppose he wants to buy his wife a diamond necklace. ... What's to prevent him lowering your wages next week to pay for it?... YOU couldn't stop him!... Why can an army beat a mob of double its numbers? Because the army is ORGANIZED! Because the army fights as one man for one object! ... You are a mob. Capital is organized against you. ... How can you hope to defend yourselves? How can you force a betterment of your conditions, of your wage? ... By
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