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The Face and the Mask/Crandall's Choice


XX. CRANDALL'S CHOICE

John Crandall sat at his office desk and thought the situation over. Everybody had gone and he was in the office alone. Crandall was rather tired and a little sleepy, so he was inclined to take a gloomy view of things. Not that there was anything wrong with his business; in fact, it was in a first-rate condition so far as it went, but it did not go far enough; that was what John thought as he brooded over his affairs. He was making money, of course, but the trouble was that he was not making it fast enough.

As he thought of these things John gradually and imperceptibly went to sleep, and while he slept he dreamt a dream. It would be quite easy to pretend that the two persons who came to him in the vision, actually entered the office and that he thought them regular customers or something of that sort, while at the end of the story, when everybody was bewildered, the whole matter might be explained by announcing the fact that it was all a dream, but this account being a true and honest one, no such artifice will be used and at the very beginning the admission is made that John was the victim of a vision.

In this dream two very beautiful ladies approached him. One was richly dressed and wore the most dazzling jewelry. The other was clad in plain attire. At first, the dreaming Mr. Crandall thought, or dreamt he thought, that the richly dressed one was the prettier. She was certainly very attractive, but, as she came closer, John imagined that much of her beauty was artificial. He said to himself that she painted artistically perhaps, but at any rate she laid it on rather thick.

About the other there was no question. She was a beauty, and what loveliness she possessed was due to the bounties of Providence and not to the assistance of the chemist. She was the first to speak.

"Mr. Crandall," she said, in the sweetest of voices, "we have come here together so that you may choose between us. Which one will you have?"

"Bless me," said Crandall, so much surprised at the unblushing proposal that he nearly awoke himself, "bless me, don't you know that I am married?"

"Oh, that doesn't matter," answered the fair young lady, with the divinest of smiles.

"Doesn't it?" said Mr. Crandall. "If you had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Crandall I think you would find that it did—very much indeed."

"But we are not mortals; we are spirits."

"Oh, are you? Well, of course that makes a difference," replied Mr. Crandall much relieved, for he began to fear from the turn the conversation had taken that he was in the presence of two writers of modern novels.

"This lady," continued the first speaker, "is the spirit of wealth. If you choose her you will be a very rich man before you die."

"Oh, ho!" cried Crandall. "Are you sure of that?"

"Quite certain."

"Well, then I won't be long making my choice. I choose her, of course."

"But you don't know who I am. Perhaps when you know, you may wish to reverse your decision."

"I suppose you are the spirit of power or of fame or something of that sort. I am not an ambitious person; money is good enough for me."

"No, I am the spirit of health. Think well before you make your choice. Many have rejected me, and afterwards, have offered all their possessions fruitlessly, hoping to lure me to them."

"Ah," said Mr. Crandall, with some hesitation. "You are a very pleasant young person to have around the house. But why cannot I have both of you? How does that strike you?"

"I am very sorry, but I am not permitted to give you the choice of both."

"Why is that? Many people are allowed to choose both."

"I know that; still we must follow our instructions."

"Well, if that is the case, without wishing to offend you in the least, I think I will stand by my first choice. I choose wealth."

As he said this the other lady advanced toward him and smiled somewhat triumphantly as she held out her hand. Crandall grasped it and the first spirit sighed. Just as the spirit of wealth seemed about to speak, there was a shake at the office door, and Mr. John Crandall saw the spirits fade away. He rubbed his eyes and said to himself: "By George! I have been asleep. What a remarkably vivid dream that was."

As he yawned and stretched his arms above his head, the impatient rattle at the door told him that at least was not a part of the dream.

He arose and unlocked the door.

"Hello, Mr. Bullion," he said, as that solid man came in. "You're late, aren't you."

"Why, for that matter, so are you. You must have been absorbed in your accounts or you would have heard me sooner. I thought I would have to shake the place down."

"Well, you know, the policeman sometimes tries the door and I thought at first it was he. Won't you sit down?"

"Thanks! Don't care if I do. Busy tonight?"

"Just got through."

"Well, how are things going?"

"Oh, slowly as usual. Slowly because we have not facilities enough, but we've got all the work we can do."

"Does it pay you for what work you do?"

"Certainly. I'm not in this business as a philanthropist, you know."

"No. I didn't suppose you were. Now, see here, Crandall, I think you have a good thing of it here and one of the enterprises that if extended would develop into a big business."

"I know it. But what am I to do? I've practically no capital to enlarge the business, and I don't care to mortgage what I have and pay a high rate of interest when, just at the critical moment, we might have a commercial crisis and I would then lose everything."

"Quite right; quite right, and a safe principle. Well, that's what I came to see you about. I have had my eye on you and this factory for some time. Now, if you want capital I will furnish it on the condition that an accountant of mine examines the books and finds everything promising a fair return for enlarging the business. Of course I take your word for the state of affairs all right enough, but business is business, you know, and besides I want to get an expert opinion on how much enlargement it will stand. I suppose you could manage a manufactory ten or twenty times larger as easily as you do this one."

"Quite," said Mr. Crandall.

"Then what do you say to my coming round to-morrow at 9 with my man?"

"That would suit me all right."

Mr. John Crandall walked home a very much elated man that night.

*****

"Well, doctor," said the patient in a very weak voice, "what is the verdict!"

"It is just as I said before. You will have to take a rest. You know I predicted this breakdown."

"Can't you give me something that will fix me up temporarily? It is almost imperative that I should stay on just now."

"Of course it is. It has been so for the last five years. You forget that in that time you have been fixed up temporarily on several occasions. Now, I will get you 'round so that you can travel in a few days and then I insist on a sea voyage or a quiet time somewhere on the continent. You will have to throw off business cares entirely. There are no ifs or buts about it."

"Look here, doctor. I don't see how I am to leave at this time. I have been as bad as this a dozen times before. You know that. I'm just a little fagged out and when I go back to the office I can take things easier. You see, we have a big South American contract on hand that I am very anxious about. New business, you know."

"I suppose you could draw your cheque for a pretty large amount, Mr. Crandall."

"Yes, I can. If money can bridge the thing over, I will arrange it."

"Well, money can't. What I wanted to say was that if, instead of having a large sum in the bank, you had overdrawn your account about as much as the bank would stand, would you be surprised if your cheque were not honored?"

"No, I wouldn't."

"Well, that is your state physically. You've overdrawn your vitality account. You've got to make a deposit. You must take a vacation."

"Any other time, doctor. I'll go sure, as soon as this contract is off. Upon my word I will. You needn't shake your head. A vacation just now would only aggravate the difficulty. I wouldn't have a moment's peace knowing this South American business might be bungled. I'd worry myself to death."

*****

The funeral of Mr. Crandall was certainly one of the most splendid spectacles the city had seen for many a day. The papers all spoke highly of the qualities of the dead manufacturer, whose growth had been typical of the growth of the city. The eloquent minister spoke of the inscrutable ways of Providence in cutting off a man in his prime, and in the very height of his usefulness.