The Man of Ice
The Man of Ice
by Manning J. Rubin
and Octavus Roy Cohen
THE main office of the Dodge Manufacturing Company hummed with activity.
Six typewriters were trembling under a high-speed pounding; shipping-clerks scurried hither and thither; bookkeepers buried their noses deeper in the pages of stuffy ledgers and ostentatiously displayed ink-smeared finger-tips. Even the office-boy temporarily paused in his enthralling pastime of carving the credit man's quartered-oak desk to answer the stentorian call of the filing-clerk, an underling ordinarily beneath his notice.
Then Mr. Thaddeus Dodge, president of the company, finished his stroll through the general office and slammed the door of his private sanctum.
Six typewriter keys were hit with a final aggressive bang; six stenographers leaned back and rearranged their hair into more fluffy array. Bookkeepers straightened their bent backs and drummed tattooes with their pens. The office-boy abruptly paused in his mission for the filing-clerk and consigned that worthy to the lower regions.
One of the bookkeepers shivered slightly.
"When the old man sails through this here office," he vouchsafed, "I gets the shivers!"
His fellow slaves of the high stools tittered—with one exception. To Jim Lynch, the head bookkeeper, any mention of the great Dodge in terms other than those of reverence savored of heresy. Yet Jim said nothing. Mechanically he dipped his pen in the ink-well and prepared for more of the never-ending grind.
For his untiring services Jim received the enviable sum of one hundred dollars per month from the powers that were in the Dodge Manufacturing Company. But what is one hundred dollars a month? Not much these days. Deduct such expenses as motion pictures, car-fare. Palm Beach suit, and dimes for the relief of war-sufferers—to say nothing of such inevitable things as board, laundry, and tobacco—and there is little left of the original hundred.
The man who contemplates marriage on a salary of such microscopic dimensions must expect to live the life of a Belgian refugee.
Jim Lynch was avowedly ambitious. In all likelihood he would long since have forgotten this, had it not been for the fact that he had allowed it to become a habit. He liked to think that he was ambitious, and to tell people about it, else the spark would have died during his years of toil.
Being a bookkeeper, Jim was not specially infatuated with his job. His position was similar to that of the man who finds himself married to a woman he cannot love. He found that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He knew that he was rapidly disintegrating into three equal parts—one an ink-well, one a ledger, and one a servile "Yes, sir."
Jim's ambition soared above that—far above. At least there was no tax on daydreaming. He longed for the day when he should receive a percentage of the net profits and be paying salaries to others. He wanted his own office, with the word "Private" lettered starkly over the door. He wanted a quartered-oak desk with its pigeonholes filled with important papers.
He dreamed of the day when he could give orders in the clear, crisp, incisive, impelling tones of Thaddeus Dodge; when he would participate in conferences, receive visitors, shake hands with big customers, smoke heavy, gold-banded cigars, see his name at the head of committee lists, be elected president of the local chamber of commerce. In short, he wanted to be a power.
But he had long since ceased working toward that end. True, he still hoped for it, but the passing of each day brought home to him more forcibly the realization that it was beyond his reach. It is an easy matter to imagine what one desires to be, to attain any such end is another matter.
Being fairly well read, Jim eventually came to believe himself possessed of a dual personality. Hour after hour, during the droning time of the afternoons, he reveled in contemplation of his other and powerful self. Then would come an abrupt command, a summons, a call, and he would be brought to earth again. The pen, the ink, the ledger, the "Yes, sir"—and once again he was Jim Lynch, head bookkeeper.
Jim knew that to Dodge he was a bit of office furniture, as little capable of thinking as the dictating-machines. As for Jim's idea of Dodge—Dodge, the man of ice, Dodge, the man of success. Dodge, at the sound of whose voice the force kotowed—Dodge was Jim's ideal.
He was tall, handsome, in the prime of life, prosperous, mighty. He had but to wish for a thing, and lo, it came to pass. Two hundred human beings moved at his beck and call, and the welfare of many hung upon his whim. From his office in New Jersey he guided the destinies of men in California. His voice was cold and businesslike. His business was run on business lines—sentiment played no part in his workaday world. It was this very iciness which Jim so much admired.
The office-boy leaped to answer the buzzer from the private office. In a second he was back and at Jim's desk. As his narrow little eyes met those of the head bookkeeper, they shone with a light of additional respect.
"Mr. Dodge wants t' see you, Mr. Lynch."
In a flash Jim was aroused from his lethargic state. In a split second he assumed an impenetrable mantle of pomposity. Dodge, the great man, had commanded his presence!
Jim's first flush of enthusiasm at being haled into the private office faded suddenly under a terrifying thought. Suppose something had gone wrong? Suppose the great man had decided to retrench on the expense question?
As he crossed the threshold, he was alternately in the clouds and the depths. Dodge's keen gray eyes seemed to pierce his very flesh, and he quivered. Then Dodge spoke, his voice kind and friendly, his grim mouth twisting at the corners until the contortion resembled a smile—and a very human, pleasing one.
"Have a seat."
Jim exhaled in one great, relieving puff. So nothing was wrong! Well, he hadn't really thought so, anyway. Jim settled himself in the enveloping depths of a heavily cushioned chair. Ah, that he might dream of the day—
But Dodge was speaking, in his same even, kindly, almost paternal tone.
"You are James Lynch?"
Jim tried to speak evenly, but somehow a lump managed to hop into his throat with every word—with every thought of a word. He tried his best to meet squarely the piercing yet kindly glance of his employer, and he was gratified and somewhat emboldened by the fact that Dodge seemed unaware of his nervousness. There was something pleasant about Dodge; it warmed him strangely.
"How long have you been working with me?"
"A trifle over five years, sir."
"One hundred dollars a month, sir."
"Been a bookkeeper from the first?"
"Yes, sir. I started in at twenty-five dollars a month."
"Um-hum! Ever tried to better yourself, or are you content to be a bookkeeper always?"
"Why, I—I—" Lynch was momentarily nonplused. "I—you see, sir, I've tried, but somehow there never seemed to be any opening; and when there was, an outside man always filled it. But I'm hoping there will be an opening some day."
"Ever studied anything about this business except the bookkeeping?"
"Not—not thoroughly, sir. You see, one is kept tied down very closely—"
"Are you tired of your job?"
Jim flushed painfully.
"No, sir—and yet, sir, if I may be honest, I must say that I cannot like it particularly. I'm always hoping that something else will turn up—though, of course sir, this place is all right, and I guess I've been treated very well."
Dodge leaned back in his chair and clipped the end from a black perfecto with a gold cigar-cutter. He seemed to be staring at the ceiling, yet Jim knew that those keen gray eyes had not left his face for an instant. Dodge thought carefully; then he spoke, as always, with a predominant tone of positiveness in his voice.
"A young man like you," he remarked evenly, "should never be content merely to hold a job such as you have. You should be ambitious—"
"I am, sir."
"I'm afraid you don't show it. Now I'm going to speak very frankly to you, young man. I'm afraid the past five years have tended to edge you into a rut, and I never like to see a man in a rut. Of course, there are some men in this world who are simply born to work in that way, just as in an army only a small number of men may be officers. But no man with ambition need stay in a rut. There isn't a man in my employ who cannot advance if he shows the right spirit. I don't mean merely wishing for a thing—I mean laboring for it. You have a splendid opportunity here for advancement. By the way," he went on sharply, "have you ever done any special studying at night?"
"Not much, sir."
"You've been throwing away valuable time for the past five years. I'm talking to you straight from the shoulder, because I wish to help you. You have a good face, a square jaw. You seem to be a man who could accomplish things by hard work; but you evidently lack initiative. You lack foresight. Suppose"—Dodge transfixed Jim's eyes; then he spat the words out suddenly—"could you fill a position of responsibility?"
"I—I—why, yes, sir, I'd try my very best."
Jim's voice unconsciously assumed a note of determination. Dodge's vitality seemed to be contagious.
"That's the way to talk," smiled the great man. "Try your best; no one can do more than that. Now I'll come right down to brass tacks. If you will promise me that you will work hard, very hard— that you will study me, and men, and business—then I think I shall find myself in a position to offer you a post of responsibility, of authority, with the Dodge Manufacturing Company."
"Just that," continued Dodge bruskly. "I think you are the right man. I believe I can train you to my methods of business. Anyway, I'm willing to try, if you are. I have here a contract. Under its terms you would have, for a trial period, what is really a managerial position, immediately under me and directly over the working force. The salary is five thousand dollars a year. If you make good—and it will mean hard work—that salary will be increased, and with the increase you will be allowed to buy an interest in the business on favorable terms. As you may or may not know, I am virtually the only stockholder in the company; the other two have holdings which are merely nominal. What do you say?"
Jim passed his hand across a perspiring forehead. He assumed a smile which under any other circumstances might have been called silly.
"I—I—you see, I'm dumfounded, Mr. Dodge. I—"
"Do you accept my offer? It means hard work—the hardest kind of work."
Dodge's expression was very grave, but his eyes were dancing quizzically.
"Why, yes, sir—I'm overwhelmed. I accept—yes, sir!"
Jim extended his hand, and Dodge gripped his fingers in a bone-crushing grasp.
"That's settled. The new order of things will go into effect to-morrow morning. Of course, I had my reasons for this. You see, I didn't want a one-man concern any longer. The business is getting very large, and more than one man is required to look after it. There are a great many minor details and loose ends which, at first, will constitute your province. Meanwhile you must be studying, studying, studying. I have been looking for a man who is a plugger, who is ambitious, whom I can trust, and who will appreciate his responsibilities. I have watched you carefully. With the proper amount of work and application, I believe you can fill the bill."
Somehow, when there was so much to be said at this hour of the realization of his wildest dreams, Jim found himself at a loss for words.
"There's money in it—good money," continued Dodge; "but it won't be a snap. The work you have been doing for the past five years will be easy in comparison. You'll have to learn to keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut. You've been recommended to me as industrious, sober, and sensible. Of course, you'll have to cultivate a little more pepper and git-up-and-git—and I believe you can do it. I suppose you accept?"
"Accept?" Jim laughed ripplingly—delight, surprise, wonder in his voice. "Yes, sir. I hardly need to say that!" Dodge's manner—his friendliness, frankness, encouragement—was inspirational to the young man. "I—I'd like to say how thankful I am, Mr. Dodge—"
"Don't say it," snapped Dodge. "Show it! You'll have plenty of chance."
"But I must say something. You—you're bringing true my wildest dreams. You've made me realize things. I'm going to work harder than I ever dreamed a man could work; and if I have it in me, I'll guarantee that I shall not disappoint you. I want you to keep on top of me all the time, sir, and haul me over the coals if I do things wrong. I really want to learn. I really want to make good—to do more than make good."
"That's the spirit!" beamed Dodge. "You'll do, if your enthusiasm doesn't temper down. Go outside, get your books in shape to turn over to your successor, and this afternoon you may take a holiday. I'll announce it to the force at closing time."
Jim rose. He was weak in the knees from his sudden good fortune, yet—it was true, true, true! The word rang through his ears as a chant of success.
Once more they clasped hands—equals now, no longer master and slave. Then Jim stepped out into the general office.
Those few minutes in the private sanctum had worked wonders with the young man. First one, then all the rest of his associates, marveled at the new manner of him—his expression of inexpressible content, the manner in which he seemed to radiate confidence and efficiency.
He walked with shoulders thrown back. His step was firm. His eyes had profited by contact with those of Dodge, and they met the inquiring glances of his desk-mates unswervingly. With difficulty he repressed a boyish and natural desire to shout, to yell, to kick his heels together in glee. To him had come his moment of supreme triumph—the moment which comes to all of us at some time in our lives, if we can recognize its advent.
As if by magic his universe had altered. From the slave he had been made the potentate. His castles in Spain had become hard, solid facts. All that he had wished for, all his ambitions, which for five years had been growing vaguer and more vague, had now come true.
Why had Dodge—but Jim was in no mood for close and connected thought as yet. It was true—that was all he cared about. Perchance he really had greater ability than he had dreamed. Anyhow, he would make good—he knew he would make good. Dodge believed in him, and Dodge was never wrong. He would work his fingers to the bone for his benefactor.
His eyes met those of Marian Carter, the head stenographer; and through him there surged a great gladness. She would be happy. He restrained an impulse to tell her then and there, deciding to wait until they were alone. He strolled with assumed nonchalance to her desk.
"Leave promptly for your lunch, Marian," he said happily. "I'll be waiting for you. I want you to take lunch with me, so that I can tell you something."
Her eyes sparkled into his.
"Tell me now," she begged.
He smiled in a superior manner.
"It will keep—thank goodness!"
"You're cruel! I'm terribly excited."
"Don't beg, but punch the time-clock on the stroke."
Back to his desk went Jim. He turned a deaf ear to a flood of questions from his companions as he buried himself in the books. For the first time in five years the figures took on a significance to him. They meant income and outgo—profit and loss— business. From this moment on he was the hub, not merely a spoke, of the wheel.
Jennings, an under-bookkeeper, sidled to Jim complainingly.
"I just can't make this balance," he half whined. "I've gone over it and over it—"
"Go over it again!" snapped Jim in a new voice. "The thing can and will balance. Stick to it!"
Jennings looked at the other man; then his loose-hanging jaw snapped shut.
"Needn't get huffy about it," he said shortly. "And you needn't think I can't get it, either—'cause I will!"
Dodge, who had started through the outer office unknown to Lynch, heard the dialogue. With an effort he concealed a smile of satisfaction.
"That chap's going to make good," he told himself.
At two minutes before twelve Jim closed his books, carefully wiped his pen-point, donned his coat and hat, and stood waiting near the street door. Five minutes later Marian crossed the shipping-room to his side.
Jim's heart beat faster at sight of her. Small she was, and shapely. Fluffy brown hair peeped tantalizingly from under a tiny straw hat; a middy blouse disclosed pink-white skin and rounded throat. And her looks were not belied by her personality.
Marian, and not mere empty fame or fortune, was the goal of Jim's ambition. Their love-story had been a idyl of trust and confidence.
She slipped her hand through his arm.
"Now please tell me," she begged prettily.
He smiled in man's superior manner.
"Miss Impatience!" he teased. "I'm running things my way this noon-hour."
And run them his own way he did. He took her to the best restaurant in the city; he selected a table for two, cunningly concealed by palms; he ordered lavishly yet tastefully. Then he leaned across the snowy table-top and laughed into the girl's radiant face.
"Now I'll tell you," he announced.
"I'm perishing with curiosity."
"Well"—he grinned boyishly, making his announcement as dramatic as possible—"what would you say if I were to tell you that I am to be made assistant general manager of the Dodge Manufacturing Company at a salary of five thousand dollars a year—"
"And," he continued, "that when I make good my salary is to be increased, and the increase used to buy me an interest in the business?"
"True as Gospel, little girl. And it means—" Covertly his hand found hers under the table in a warm grip.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Marian said happily.
"Marvelous! And he's certainly treating me white. I never dreamed that he had been watching me. Honestly, it was like a bomb. It's to start to-morrow—"
"Yes. I have a half-holiday this afternoon, and to-morrow I become the assistant general manager of the firm. Won't the boys be envious? And just think, Marian—he could easily have got a trained, experienced man for the same money. I guess it's because I know his ways so well, and he wants to teach me to run the business as he runs it."
"He's a darling!" bubbled the girl. Then her face grew serious and her voice more subdued. " And that brings on another subject I guess I'd better tell you, Jim dear."
The waiter served the lunch and departed quietly.
"A few days ago," the girl said slowly, "Mr. Dodge—asked me to marry him."
"Yes, really. Oh, he was mighty nice about it, Jim—mighty nice. It hurt me to say no; but he took it like the man he is. I'd suspected it—a woman can always tell, you know. He pressed me for my reason, and so, finally—I know you won't be mad, Jim—I told him that I was engaged to you!"