Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Skinner's Dress Suit
Author: Dodge, Henry Irving
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Skinner's Dress Suit" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT

by

HENRY IRVING DODGE

With Illustrations



[Frontispiece: "I won't take your order unless you throw in that trout
dinner"]



Toronto
Thomas Allen
Publisher
1916

Copyright, 1916, by the Curtis Publishing Company
Copyright, 1916, by Henry Irving Dodge
All Rights Reserved



TO

MY WIFE



CONTENTS

    I. SKINNER ASKS FOR A RAISE
   II. HOW SKINNER GOT HIS RAISE
  III. SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT
   IV. SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT BEGINS TO GET IN ITS FINE WORK
    V. THE OPERATING EXPENSES OF THE DRESS SUIT
   VI. DODGING A MAGNATE AND WHAT CAME OF IT
  VII. SKINNER AND THE "GOLD BUGS"
 VIII. CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST
   IX. SKINNER FISHES WITH A DIPLOMATIC HOOK
    X. SKINNER LANDS A CURMUDGEON
   XI. THE OSTRICH FEATHER



ILLUSTRATIONS

"I WON'T TAKE YOUR ORDER UNLESS YOU THROW IN
  THAT TROUT DINNER" . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"IT'S COME AT LAST! SKINNER'S ASKED FOR A RAISE"

"THE GENERAL EFFECT DOESN'T SEEM RIGHT!"

"THERE," SHE CRIED, "YOU CAN CREDIT YOUR
  DRESS-SUIT ACCOUNT WITH THAT!"

"MRS. SKINNER, DAUGHTER OF THE LATE ARCHIBALD RUTHERFORD,
  OF HASTINGS-ON-THE-HUDSON, ACCOMPANIES HER HUSBAND"

"WHY CAN'T _I_ GO WITH THOSE PEOPLE," SHE SNIFFLED


_From Drawings by F. Vaux Wilson_



SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT


CHAPTER I

SKINNER ASKS FOR A RAISE

Skinner had inhabited the ironbound enclosure labeled "CASHIER" at
McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., so long, that the messenger boys had dubbed
him the "cage man."  To them he had become something of a bluff.
Skinner's pet abomination was cigarettes, and whenever one of these
miniatures in uniform chanced to offend that way, he would turn and frown
down upon the culprit.  The first time he did this to Mickey, the
"littlest" messenger boy of the district, who was burning the stub of a
cigarette, Mickey dropped the thing in awe.

But Jimmie of the Postal said, "Don't be scared of _him_!  He's locked up
in his cage.  He can't get at you!"

So the sobriquet "cage man" was evolved from this chance remark, and the
wit of the thing had spread until everybody had come to think of Skinner
as the "cage man"--a fact which did not add greatly to his dignity.

But on this particular morning the "cage man" was even more harmless than
usual.  There was n't a frown in him.  He sat at his tall desk and stared
abstractedly at the open pages of his cash-book.  He did n't see the
figures on the white page, and he paid no more heed to the messenger
boys, whose presence he was made aware of by the stench of burning paper
and weed, than he did to the clicking, fluttering, feminine activity in
the great square room to his left, over which he was supposed to keep a
supervising eye.

Skinner had stage fright!  He had resolved to ask McLaughlin for a raise.
Skinner was afraid of McLaughlin--not physically, for Skinner was not
afraid of anybody that way.  He was afraid of him in the way that one man
fears another man who he has hypnotized himself into believing holds his
destiny in his hands.  If Skinner had been left to himself, he would
never have asked for a raise, for no advance he could hope to get could
compensate him for the stage fright he'd suffered for months from
thinking about it.  No one knew how often he had closed his cash-drawer,
with resolution to go to McLaughlin, and then had opened it again weakly
and gone on with his work.  The very fact that he _was_ afraid disgusted
Skinner, for he despised the frightened-rabbit variety of clerk.

It was his wife!  She made him do it!  Skinner's wife was both his idol
and his idolater.  He 'd never been an idol to any one but her.  No one
but Honey had ever even taken him seriously.  Even the salesmen, whom he
paid off, looked on him only as a man in a cage.  But to his wife he was
a hero.  When he entered their little house out in Meadevllle, he entered
his kingdom.  All of which made it imperative with Skinner to do his very
utmost to "make good" in Honey's eyes.

The Skinners had a little bank account for which they had skimped and
saved.  Honey had denied herself new gowns, and Skinner had gone her one
better.  If she would not spend money on herself, then he would not spend
money on himself.  He had gone positively shabby.  But Skinner did n't
mind being shabby.  The sacrifice he was making for Honey and the bank
account, the self-denial of it, had exalted his shabbiness into something
fine,--had idealized it,--until he'd come to take a kind of religious
pride in it.  Skinner and his wife had watched their little bank account
grow, bit by bit, from ten dollars up.  It had become an obsession with
them.  They had gone without many little things dear to their hearts that
it might be fattened.  Surely, it was a greedy creature!  But, unlike
most greedy creatures, it gave them a great deal of comfort.  It was a
certain solid something, always in the background of their consciousness.
It stood between them and the dread of destitution.  Thus it had become a
sacred thing, and they had tacitly agreed never to touch it.

But what made it imperative for Skinner to ask for a raise was, he had
been bragging.  Skinner was only human, and being a hero to his wife had
made him a little vain.  He was a modest man, a first-rate fellow, but no
man is proof against hero-worship.  He had bragged--a little at
first--about his value to the firm, which had increased the worship.  He
had given his wife the idea that he was a most important man in
McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., that he had only to suggest a raise in order
to get it.  They could n't do without him.

Several times Honey had hinted to Skinner that the firm was slow to show
its appreciation of his indispensable qualities; but on such occasions
Skinner had urged that the psychological moment had not yet arrived, that
the wave of prosperity that was spreading over the country had not up to
the moment engulfed his particular firm.  But one evening, he
ill-advisedly admitted that the waves of the aforesaid prosperity were
beginning to lap the doorstep of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.  That was
enough!  Next morning Honey gently urged that further delay would be
inexcusable, that the bank account was n't growing fast enough to suit
her, that he must ask for a raise.

Now that Honey had put it up to him to "make good,"--to act,--doubt
entered Skinner's heart.  He argued that, if the firm had considered him
worth more money, they would have advanced him.  But on the other hand
was the well-known meanness of the partners.  Nothing short of a threat
to quit by one or another of their valuable men had ever served to pry
them loose from any cash.

Presently Skinner stepped out of his cage and locked the door behind him.
As he entered the long passageway that led to McLaughlin's office.
Skinner felt like a man who had emerged from a bath-house and was about
to traverse a long stretch between himself and the icy water into which
he was to plunge.  Within a few paces of the great glass door marked "MR.
MCLAUGHLIN," Skinner hesitated and listened, hoping to hear voices, which
would give him an excuse to retreat.  But there was no sound.  Skinner
tapped at the door, turned the knob, and took the plunge into the icy
water!

When he came to the surface and partially recovered his senses, he found
himself facing McLaughlin, president of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.
McLaughlin sat at his desk, rotund, red-faced, and pig-eyed, his stubbly
hair bristling with chronic antagonism.  Those pig eyes and that stubbly
hair were a great asset to McLaughlin when it came to an "argument."
They could do more fighting than his tongue or his fists, for that matter.

"Hello, Skinner," he said; then waited for the cashier to state his
business.

Skinner had outlined a little argument, but he forgot it, and to cover
his confusion he dragged a chair close to his employer's desk, a
proceeding which rather puzzled the boss.

"What's the row?" he asked.

On his way down the long passageway that led to McLaughlin's office,
Skinner had made up his mind to "demand" a raise.  Then he thought it
might be better to "ask" for a raise.  Then he decided on second
thoughts, that to "demand" would be a little too stiff, while to "ask"
would put him in the suppliant class.  So he compromised with himself and
concluded merely to "suggest" a raise.

"Mr. McLaughlin, I came in to see how you felt about giving me a little
more money."

McLaughlin flushed and swung around in his swivel-chair with a ready
retort on his lips; but, meeting the quiet, gray eyes of his subordinate,
he said simply, "Raise your salary?"

Skinner nodded.  "I just wanted to know how you feel about it."

"You know how we feel about it.  We have n't done it, have we?"

Skinner saw that the "merely suggest" scheme did n't work.  He might have
urged as a reason for his demand his value to the house, but, like most
men, he was a good advocate for others but a poor advocate for himself.
Besides, if he did so, he would give McLaughlin a chance to depreciate
his services, which would be very humiliating.  At the mere thought of it
he became nervous, and decided to plead rather than argue.

"My expenses are increasing and--"

But McLaughlin cut him short.  "So are ours."  The boss was going to add
his customary excuse when tackled for more money, "And times are hard
with us, our customers don't pay up, and our creditors--" but he suddenly
remembered that he was speaking to his cashier.

He turned away and looked into space and drummed on his desk with an
ivory paper-cutter.  Thus he remained, apparently pondering the matter
for some seconds, while hope and fear chased each other up and down
Skinner's spinal column.  Then the boss turned to his papers.

"I'll talk it over with Perkins.  Stop in on your way home, Skinner."

McLaughlin did n't even look up as he spoke, and Skinner felt that
somehow a chasm of antagonism had yawned between him and the boss, that
their relations had suddenly ceased to be harmonious, that they were no
longer pulling together, working against a common competitor, but were
scheming against each other.

"Why the devil does he want to keep me on the rack for seven hours more?"
thought Skinner on his way back to his cage.  "Why could n't he say 'yes'
or 'no'?"

Well, anyway, the die was cast.  He was n't going to worry about it any
more.  Let McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., do that!  The "cage man" opened
his cash-book and went to work.

After Skinner had gone, McLaughlin rang the bell on his desk, and when
the boy appeared, he said, "Ask Mr. Perkins please to step in here."

The junior partner, immaculately dressed and twirling his tawny mustache
with a proper Harvard affectation of poise, entered a few moments later
and found McLaughlin with his feet on the desk, staring ahead with
humorous intentness.

"Well," said McLaughlin, "it's come at last!"  With true Irish dramatic
instinct, he paused, then plumped out, "Skinner's asked for a raise!"

[Illustration: "It's come at last!  Skinner's asked for a raise"]

He turned to note the effect of his words.

"What?" said the junior, taken by surprise, then hastening to suppress
any suggestion of emotion.  "That great, big, long-eared, over-grown
rabbit?  Did he dare come in here and beard the hound in his kennel?"

"He did that same," said McLaughlin, who had never quite lost his
California vernacular.

"That hair of yours did n't scare him?"

McLaughlin grinned.  "I guess it's lost its power."  He got up and looked
in the mirror over the mantel.  "It _is_ fierce, ain't it?  I think I'll
let it grow."

"Don't, Mac.  It's your best asset as a bluffer."  He shrugged his
shoulders languidly.  "You'd look like a philanthropist.  They'd _all_ be
asking for a raise!"

"Wonder why he asked just _now_?  He does n't know about that new
contract with the Hudson & Erie people, does he?"

"Even if he did, he would n't dare to hold you up on it."

"He _ain't_ that kind, is he?"

"No, Mac, it just occurred to him, that's all--it just occurred to him."
Perkins paused, looked out of the window, then turned.  "What do you
think, Mac?"

"We can't start in raising salaries just now, Perk.  If one gets it, the
others 'll want it, too.  They 'll all be dissatisfied."

"Don't do it--that's all."

McLaughlin reflected a moment.  "Did you ever hear of such a thing as a
worm turning?"

"Yes, but a worm does n't turn very fast.  There'd be plenty of time to
see the indications and head it off."

McLaughlin drummed with his paper-cutter.  "Somehow, I 've always been
afraid of worms.  They 're so damned humble," he said presently.

Perkins laughed.  "I believe you're afraid you 'll lose Skinner."

"Somebody might have got after him--Billings or Humphreys."

"Nobody's after a man that dresses like that!"

"But he might get after them."

"He does n't want to change.  He has no ambition, no initiative.  Take it
from me, Mac, any man that wears such clothes has resigned himself to
permanent, innocuous, uninteresting mediocrity."

"But--" McLaughlin protested.

Perkins cut him short.  "Any man that wears clothes like a doormat will
let you make a doormat of him!"

"That's just what puzzles me.  A good-looking man--fine eyes and a
figure.  The only thing that stands between him and one of your Harvard
dudes is a first-class tailor.  Perk, why _does_ he dress like that?"

"He began by skimping for that little house out in Meadeville.  Then he
got used to going without good clothes and he did n't care."

"It's notorious," McLaughlin commented.

"Nobody cares much whether a cashier in his cage is well dressed," said
Perkins.  "You can't see him below the waist-line.  He might not have on
either trousers or shoes for all the public knows or cares."

"What kind of a wife has he got?"

"She's just as thrifty as he is.  They've got the poverty bug, I guess.
Don't worry about Skinner, Mac.  The fear of the poorhouse has kept many
a good man in his place."

McLaughlin turned to Perkins.  "But we can't afford to lose him.  He's
too honest, too faithful, too loyal."

"I know his value as well as you do, but we don't want to put wise
goggles on him."

"We've got to raise him sometime," McLaughlin urged mildly.

"Yes, but we won't do it till we have to.  If he were a salesman, he'd
make us do it.  But a man in a cage--why the very fact that he stays in a
cage--can't you see?"

"Then you would n't do it?"

"Of course not!"

"But how?"

"Bluff him--in a tactful way.  Let him think we've nothing but his
welfare at heart; that we love him too much to stand in his way; that
it's breaking our hearts to lose him.  Still, if he can better himself
we'll have to stand the pain.  You're an old poker-player, Mac; you know
how to handle the situation."

"But supposing you're mistaken in Skinner?  Supposing he hangs out for a
raise?"

"If he does, we'll have to give it to him.  Offer him ten dollars a week
more.  But remember, Mac, only as a last resort!"

So when Skinner stepped in at five o'clock, McLaughlin made the bluff.
Skinner did n't call it.  Instead, he bowed submissively, almost with
relief, and without a word left for home.

Everything contributed to the drab occasion for Skinner.  The weather was
bad, the ferryboat steamier and smellier than ever.  As he took his seat
in the men's cabin, he was full of drab reflections--disappointment, deep
disgust.  Abysmal gloom surrounded him.  His thoughts were anything but
flattering to his employers, or to himself, for that matter, for Skinner
was a just man.  They were the cussedest, meanest people that he'd ever
known.  But what was the matter with him, Skinner?  Why had n't he made a
fight for the raise?  It was that old, disgusting timidity that had been
a curse to him ever since he was a boy.  Others had pushed ahead through
sheer cheek, while he held back, inert, afraid to assert himself.  By
gad, why had n't he made a fight for a raise?  They could only sack him,
hand him the blue envelope!

Sack him!  The thought brought back the days when he had wandered from
office to office, a suppliant, taking snubs, glad to get anything to do.
The memory of the snubs had made more or less of a slave of him, for
Skinner was a proud man, a man of very respectable family.  Perhaps he
ought to be glad that McLaughlin had n't done any worse than refuse him a
raise.

Skinner did not stop to think that it would be easier for him to get a
job now than it had been in those suppliant days.  He was now
experienced, skillful, more level-headed.  His honesty and loyalty were a
by-word in the business district.

His thoughts took another turn, and he looked at himself in the mirror.
Gad!  He had all the earmarks of back-numberhood.  His hair was gray at
the temples and he was shabby, neat but shabby.  But he was only
thirty-eight, he reflected,--the most interesting period of a man's life;
he was wise without being old.  And he was not bad-looking.  He studied
the reflection of his face.  The picturesqueness of youth was lined--not
too deeply lined--by the engraving hand of experience.  What was the
matter with him, then?  Why was he not more of a success?  Was it because
he had been a "cage man" too long, always taking orders, always
acquiescing subserviently, never asserting?

He looked out of the window.  The river was gray, everything was
gray--nothing pleased him.  But the river used to be blue, always blue,
when he first crossed it, a buoyant youth.  The river had n't changed.
It was the same river he had always loved.  Then the change must be in
him, Skinner.  Why had he gradually ceased to enjoy things?  Who was to
blame for the drab existence he was suffering?  Was it the outside world
or himself?

As a boy, things were new to him--that was why the river was blue.  But
there were many things new to him to-day--peoples, countries,
customs--yes, a thousand things new and interesting right in New York,
close at hand, if he'd only take the trouble to look them up.  Why was
his ability to appreciate failing?  Other men, much older than he and
only clerks at that, were happy.  He sighed.  It must be himself, for,
after all, the world had treated him as well as he had treated the world,
he reflected, being a just man.

Unfortunately, on the train Skinner got a seat in the very center of a
circle of social chatterboxes, male commuters, and female shoppers.  Some
talked of their machines and rattled off the names of the makers.  There
was the Pierce-Arrow, the Packard, the Buick, and all the rest of the
mechanical buzz-wagons.  There was an inextricable mass of
phrases--six-cylinder, self-starter, non-puncturable, non-skiddable.  But
he did n't hear any such terms as non-collidable, non-turnoverable, or
non-waltz-down-the-hillable.  Nor did they spare him the patriarchal
jokes about the ubiquitous Ford.  They talked about the rising cost of
gasoline which brought John D. in for a share of wholesome abuse.  At the
mention of John D. everybody turned to golf and Skinner got that
delightful recreation _ad infinitum, ad nauseam_.

Skinner felt that this talk about machines was only to impress others
with the talkers' motor lore.  For familiarity with motor lore means a
certain social status.  It is part of the smart vernacular of to-day.
Any man who can own a car has at least mounted a few steps on the social
ladder.  The next thing to owning a car is to be able to talk about a
car, for if a man can talk well about a machine everybody 'll think that
he must have had a vast experience in that line and, therefore, must be a
man of affairs.

Girls chattered about autos, not to give the impression that they owned
them, but that they had many friends who owned them, that they were
greatly in demand as auto companions--thus vicariously establishing their
own social status.

There was something fraternal about it, Skinner thought, like golf.  The
conceit occurred to him that it would be a good scheme to get up a
booklet full of glib automobile, golf, and bridge chatter, to be
committed to memory, and mark it, "How to Bluff One's Way into Society."
It might have a wide sale.

Skinner suddenly realized that his thoughts were a dark, minor chord in
the general light-hearted chatter, for he cordially hated the whole
blooming business of automobiles, golf, and bridge.  He was the raven at
the feast.  Everybody seemed to be talking to somebody else.  Only he was
alone.  He wondered why he had not been a better "mixer."  Several of the
boys in Meadeville that he knew of had got better positions through the
friendship of their fellow commuters, because they were good "mixers,"
good chatterers.

There was Lewis, for instance, who was just going into the Pullman with
Robertson, the banker.  Lewis was nothing but a social froth-juggler.  He
had n't half Skinner's ability, yet he was going around with the rich.
Cheek--that was it--nothing but cheek that did it.  Skinner detested
cheek, yet Lewis had capitalized it.  The result was a fine house and
servants and an automobile for the man who used to walk in the slush with
Skinner behind other men's cars and take either their mud or their
gasoline stench.

Skinner wondered if Lewis and others like him could afford their way of
living.  He had always looked forward with a certain satisfaction to the
time when the smash would come to some of these social butterflies, with
their mortgaged automobiles, and then he, Skinner, with his snug little
bank account, would be the one to laugh and to chatter.  This reflection
greatly consoled him for wearing cheap clothes.  He'd rather have his
money in the bank than on his back.  But the smash had n't come to any of
them as yet, he reflected.  On the contrary, the more money they seemed
to spend, the more they seemed to make.  He wondered how they managed.



CHAPTER II

HOW SKINNER GOT HIS RAISE

Presently, Wilkes, in the seat just ahead of Skinner, folded his
newspaper and turned to his neighbor.  "Are you going to the reception
to the new pastor at the First Presbyterian?"

"Am I going?  You bet I am.  We're all going."

The remark brought Skinner back to the things of the moment with a
jerk.  By Jove!  Honey was going to that reception and she'd set her
heart on his going with her.  She'd been making over a dress for it.
It seemed to Skinner she was always making something over.  He had made
up his mind that she'd buy something new--a lot of new things--when
he'd got his raise.  But now--well, it was a deuced good thing she
_was_ handy with her needle.

He could see her waiting for him at the door with her customary kiss.
Hang it! how was he going to break the news to her?  If he had n't been
so asininely cock-sure!--a "cinch," he thought contemptuously.  He'd
talked "cinch" to her so much that he'd almost come to believe it
himself.  But, after all, must he tell her to-night?  Why not
temporize?  Say McLaughlin was out of town?  Also it would never do to
tell her that he'd been afraid to go to the boss.  But she'd have to
know it sometime, why not right away?  Like having a tooth out, it was
better done at once.

The thought of Honey's disappointment was overshadowed by an awful
realization that suddenly came to Skinner.  How could he square the
fact that McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., had turned him down with the way
he'd bragged about his value to the firm?  Skinner frowned deeply.
McLaughlin had no business to refuse him--a percentage of the money he
handled was his by rights.  Somehow he felt that he had been denied
that which was his own.

What would Honey think of him?  He could n't bear the idea of falling
in her esteem.  He pondered a bit.  By Jove, he _would n't_ fall in her
esteem.  He sat up straight from his slouching position and squared his
shoulders.  He would n't disappoint her, either!  Everybody had
disappointed him, but that was no reason why he should disappoint
_her_!  He suddenly laughed aloud.  If they would n't raise his salary,
he'd take things into his own hands.  He'd be independent of the firm.
He'd raise it himself.  If he were going to lie to Honey, why not lie
to some effect?  He sat back, chuckling!

Why hadn't he thought of it before?  It would be dead easy!

He'd raise himself five dollars a week!  All he had to do was to take
it out of his own bank account.  Every week he'd cash a check for five
dollars in New York.  He always kept his personal check-book in the
firm's safe.  When he handed Honey his salary, he would give her the
"extra five" to deposit to the credit of their account in the
Meadeville National.  It would work out beautifully.  Nobody would be
any the wiser and if nobody would be any the richer, surely nobody
would be any the poorer, and--he would not have to disappoint Honey.

Skinner began to look at the scheme from various angles, as was his
custom in every business transaction.  Was there any danger of Honey
finding him out?  No.  She never saw the check-book, only the
bank-book, and when he had that balanced he'd be careful to attend to
it himself.  She 'd never even see the canceled checks.  Surely, there
was no sin in it.  He had a right to do what he liked with his own
money.  And he was n't really doing _anything_ with it, after all,
simply passing it around in a harmless circle.  But would n't he be
deceiving her, his best friend?--putting her in a fool's paradise?
Well, by jingo, he _would_ put her in a fool's paradise and let her
revel in it, for once in her life, and before she had a chance to find
out, he'd make it a _real_ paradise--he did n't know just how, but he
would!

Skinner stepped off the train at Meadeville and threaded his way
between the glaring, throbbing automobiles to the slush-covered
sidewalk.  He no longer felt his customary resentment of these social
pretenders that whizzed by him in their devil-wagons--leaving him to
inhale the stench of their gasoline.  In a way, he was one of them now.
By his ingenious little scheme of circulating his own money, strictly
in his own domestic circle, he had elected himself to the bluffer
class, and he felt strangely light-hearted.  Besides, he was no more of
a "four-flush" financier than most of the automobile contingent, at
that.

When he reached his house, he ran up the steps with a radiant face.
Honey was waiting for him at the door, her lithe little figure and mass
of chestnut hair, done up on top of her head, silhouetted against the
light in the hall.  She kissed him, and in her eagerness literally
dragged him into the hall and shut the door.

"Dearie, you've done it!  I know by your face you've done it!"

"Eh-huh!"

"Now, don't tell me how much till I show you something!"

She drew him into the dining-room and pointed to the table where a
wonderful dinner was waiting.  "Look, Dearie, oysters to begin with,
and later--beefsteak!  Think of it!  Beefsteak!  And, look--those
flowers!  Just to celebrate the occasion!  I was so sure you'd get it!
And, now, Dearie, tell me--how much did they appreciate you?"

Skinner was swept off his feet by her enthusiasm.  He threw caution to
the winds--that is, after he'd made a lightning calculation.  It would
n't cost any more, so why be a "piker"?

"Ten dollars," he said with affected quiet.

Honey came over to Dearie, flung her arms around his neck, put her head
on his shoulder, and looking up into his face, with eyes brimming with
happiness, sighed, "Dearie, I'm so happy!  So happy for _you_!"

And Skinner felt that the lie was justified.  He put his hand up and
pressed her glossy head close to his breast and looking over her
shoulder winked solemnly at the wall!

"And now, Dearie," said Honey, when they were seated at the table,
"tell me!  You actually bearded that old pig in his pen--my hero?"

"Eh-huh!"

"You told him you wanted a raise?"

"Eh-huh!"

"And what did _he_ say?"

"First, he said he'd see Perkins."

"And he _saw_ Perkins, and what then?"

Skinner threw his hands apart and shrugged his shoulders.  If he had to
lie, he'd use as few words as possible doing it.

"Was that all?"

"Eh-huh!"

"It _was_ a 'cinch,' just as you said, was n't it, Dearie?"

Skinner imperceptibly winced at the word.

"Eh-huh!"

"I knew you'd only have to hint at it, Dearie!"

"If I 'd hung out, I might have got ten dollars more," said Skinner
loftily.

Honey was silent for a long time.

"Well," said Skinner presently, "what's going on in that little bean of
yours?"

"I was just figuring, Dearie.  Let's see--ten dollars a week--how much
is that a year?"

"Five hundred and twenty dollars."

"Five hundred and twenty dollars a year--that'd be more than a thousand
dollars in two years!"

"Yes," Skinner affirmed.

"And in four years?  Think of it--over two thousand dollars?"

"Better not count your chickens, Honey,--I'm superstitious, you know."

Skinner began to see his ten-dollar raise growing to gigantic
proportions.  He had visions of himself at the end of four years
hustling to "make good" "over two thousand dollars."  For the first
time he questioned the wisdom of promoting himself.  But he could n't
back out now.  He almost damned Honey's thrift.  He would be piling up
a debt which threatened to become an avalanche and swamp him, and for
which he would get no equivalent but temporarily increased adulation.
How could he nip this awful thing in the bud?  He did n't see any way
out of it unless it were to throw up his job and cut short this
accumulating horror.  But at least he had a year of grace--two years,
four years, for that matter--before he would have to render an
accounting, and who could tell what four years might bring forth?
Surely, in that time he'd be able to get out of it somehow.

However, he had cast the die, and no matter what came of it he would
n't back out.  If he did, Honey would never believe in him again.  His
little kingdom would crumble.  So he grinned.  "I think I'll have a
demi-tasse, just to celebrate."

So Honey brought in the demi-tasse.

Then Honey took her seat again, and resting her elbows on the table,
placed her chin in the cup of her hands and looked at Skinner so long
that he flushed.  Had her intuition searched out his guilt, he wondered.

"And now, I've got a surprise for you, Dearie," she said, after a
little.

After what Skinner had gone through, nothing could surprise him, he
thought.  "Shoot!" said he.

"You thought I got you to get that raise just to build up our bank
account--did n't you?"

"Sure thing!" said Skinner apprehensively, "Why?"

"You old goosie!  I only got you to think that so you'd go _after_ it!
That is n't what I wanted it for--at all!"

Skinner's mouth suddenly went dry.

"We've been cheap people long enough, Dearie," Honey began.  "We've
never dressed like other people, we've never traveled like other
people.  If we went on a trip, it was always at excursion rates.  We've
always put up at cheap hotels, we've always bargained for the lowest
rate, and we've always eaten in cheap restaurants.  Have n't we,
Dearie?"

"Yes," said Skinner.  "But what has that got to do with it."

"As a result, we've always met cheap people."

"You mean poor people?" said Skinner quickly.

"Goodness, no, Dearie,--I mean _cheap_ people,--people with cheap
minds, cheap morals, cheap motives, cheap manners, and worst of
all,--cheap speech!  I'm tired of cheap people!"

"What are you going to do about it?" said Skinner, his apprehension
growing.

"We're not going to put one cent of this new money in the bank!  That's
what I 'm going to do about it!  Instead of waiting a year for that
five hundred and twenty dollars to accumulate, we're going to begin
now.  We'll never be any younger.  We're going to draw on our first
year's prosperity!"

"What the deuce are you talking about?" said Skinner, staring at Honey,
wild-eyed.  "What do you mean?"

She clapped her hands.  "Now, don't argue!  I've planned it all out!
We're going to have a good time--good clothes!  We 're going to begin
on you, you old dear!  You're going to have a _dress suit_!"

"Dress suit?" Skinner echoed.  "Why dress suit?  Why dress suit now at
this particular stage of the game?  Why dress suit at all?"

"Why?  For the reception at the First Presbyterian, of course.  I 'm
tired of having you a sit-in-the-corner, watch-the-other-fellow-dance,
male-wallflower proposition!  You old dear, you don't think I 'm going
to let you miss that affair just for the sake of a dress suit, now that
we've got a whole year's raise to spend--do you?"

"How much does a dress suit cost?" Skinner murmured, almost
inarticulately.

"Only ninety dollars!"

Skinner reached for his demi-tasse and gulped it down hot.  "I see," he
said.  Then, after a pause, "Couldn't we hire one?  It's only for one
occasion."

"My Dearie in a hired dress suit?  I guess not!"

Skinner pondered a moment, like a cat on a fence with a dog on either
side.  "Could n't we buy it on the installment plan?"

"We might buy a cheap suit on the installment plan.  But remember,
Dearie, we're not going to be cheap people any more!"

"One can see that with half an eye," said Skinner.

"Now, Dearie, don't be sarcastic."

"I think I 'll have another demi-tasse," said Skinner, playing for
time, and held out his cup.

"It'll keep you awake, Dearie."

"If I don't sleep, it won't be the coffee that keeps me awake," said
Skinner enigmatically; so Honey brought in the second demi-tasse.

When dinner was over, the Skinners spent the rest of the evening in
front of the open fire.  Honey put her arms about Dearie and smiled
into the flames.  Skinner looked at her tenderly for a few moments,
pressed her soft, glossy hair with his lips, and began to realize that
he 'd have to do some high financing!

That night, as Skinner lay staring at the ceiling and listening to
Honey's gentle and happy breathing, he reflected on the beginnings of a
life of crime.  Ninety dollars right off the bat!  Gee whiz!  He had
not included any such thing in his calculations when he had hit upon
his brilliant scheme of self-promotion.  Great Scott!--what
possibilities lurked in the background of the deception he'd practiced
on Honey!  He 'd heard of the chickens of sin coming home to roost, but
he'd never imagined that they began to do it so early in the game.  He
no longer felt guilty that he had deceived Honey, for had n't her
confession that she had deceived _him_ about putting that money in the
bank made them co-sinners?  And one does n't feel so sinful when
sinning against another sinner!

Ninety dollars!  Gee whiz!  But, after all, ninety dollars was n't such
an awful lot of money--and he'd see to it that ninety dollars was the
limit!



CHAPTER III

SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT

Honey went to the city with Skinner the next day, and during the
lunch-hour a high-class tailor in the financial district measured
Skinner for his dress suit.  Honey had sensed from Dearie's protest the
night of the "raise" that it would be hard to pry him loose from any
more cash than the first ninety dollars, so she did n't try to--with
words.  She would let him convince himself.  So, when the wonderful
outfit arrived a few days later, and Skinner put it on, she pretended
to admire the whole effect unqualifiedly.

"Beautiful!" she cried; "perfectly beautiful!"

But she chuckled to herself as she noted the look of perplexity that
gradually came into Skinner's eyes as he regarded himself in the mirror.

"These clothes are very handsome," he said presently, "and they're a
perfect fit--but the general effect does n't seem right."

[Illustration: "The general effect does n't seem right!"]

Honey remained discreetly silent.

Presently Skinner turned to her with a suggestion of trouble in his
eyes.  "Say, Honey, what do dress shirts cost?"

"I don't know exactly.  Four dollars, perhaps."

"Four dollars!"  There was a suggestion of a snarl in Skinner's tone,
the first she'd ever heard.  "Four dollars!--the one I've got on only
cost ninety cents."

"But that is n't a dress shirt, Dearie."

"No, you bet it is n't!  But it's good enough for me!"  Then with a
touch of sarcasm in his tone, "I suppose a certain kind of collar and
tie are necessary for a dress shirt?"

"A dollar would cover that."

"How _many_ collars?" he almost shouted.

"One."

Another pause; then, "I've got to have studs?"

Honey nodded.

Another pause.  "And, holy smoke, cuff-buttons?  Say, where do we get
off?"

"They 're not expensive, Dearie."

"But have you any idea how much?" he insisted.

"Four dollars ought to cover that."

"By gosh!  Well, I guess that's all," he said quietly.  Just then he
glanced down at his shoes.  "It is n't necessary to have patent
leathers, too?" he appealed.

"It's customary, Dearie, but not absolutely necessary."

"People don't see your feet in a reception like that," he urged.

Honey smiled.  "They might without difficulty, Dearie, if you chanced
to walk across the floor in some vacant space.  Remember, you're not in
the subway where everybody stands on them and hides them."

"Don't be funny," said Skinner.  "Mine are only in proportion.  How
much?  That's the question, while we're at it--how much?"

"You know the price of men's shoes better than I do, Dearie."

"I saw some patent leathers on Cortlandt Street at three dollars and a
half."

"Those were n't patent leathers--only pasteboard.  They'd fall to
pieces if the night happened to be moist.  And you'd reach the party
barefooted.  Think of it, Dearie, going in with a dress suit on and
bare feet!"

Her giggle irritated Skinner.

"It may be very funny to you but--how much?  That's the question!"

"Not more than six dollars for the best."

"I see," said Skinner, making an effort to be calm.  "Silk hosiery?"

"A dollar will cover socks and garters both."

"Garters?" Skinner snapped.  "Garters are a luxury.  Besides, I never
had any success with garters.  Safety pins for mine."

"My Dearie a safety-pin man--in a dress suit--not much!"

"Thank goodness, I don't have to have a high hat!"

"If there's anything that's really funny," Honey observed, "it's the
combination of a fine dress suit and a cheap hat.  Six dollars will
cover that."

"That's a darned sight more than the hat'll cover if I don't stop
spending money!  But why a hat, anyway?" he continued; "you don't wear
it in the house.  That's the only time your dress suit shows.  When
you're out of doors you wear it under an overcoat."  He paused
abruptly.  "An overcoat!  Great Scott!  Have I got to have a new
overcoat?"

"You seem to _think_ you have, and, honestly, I agree with you.  It
would never do, Dearie, to be fine at both ends and shabby in the
middle."

Skinner grunted.  "An overcoat will cost forty dollars!  Do you
hear?--forty dollars!"

"I did n't say anything about an overcoat, Dearie.  It's your own
suggestion."

"You did n't say anything about it--oh, no--you only said enough to
cinch my suggestion!  Forty dollars," he repeated, "and a hat--six
dollars more!  Well, by thunder, I 'll _get_ a hat!  Gee whiz!  What
have you let me in for, anyway?"

"_I_ let you in for, Dearie?"  Honey's baby-blue eyes stared at him.
"You let _yourself_ in for it when you got your raise."

Skinner said nothing for a moment, then burst out, "Say, I have n't got
to get new underclothing, have I?  Now, don't you even admit that I
have!  Don't you dare admit it!  People can't see my underclothes
unless I take my coat off and turn up my shirt-sleeves or roll up my
trousers as if I were going in wading."

"Of course, you have n't got to get new underclothes, Dearie.  But
there's a psychology to it.  If you don't _feel_ well dressed, you
won't _look_ well dressed.  You don't want to be a fraud, with a
beautiful dress suit and cheap underneath--and my old Dearie's no
fraud."

Skinner passed quickly over the remark.  "How much?"

"You can get the best for four dollars a garment."

"Gosh!"

For a moment Skinner pondered; then abruptly, "Say I 'll be hanged if I
don't buy new underclothes.  For the first time in my life, I 'll be
well dressed all through--hide, hoofs, and horns!--socks, drawers,
undershirt, shoes, trousers, waistcoat, coat, hat, overcoat!  Is there
anything else?" he shouted.

"Let me think."

"Yes, think hard!" Skinner retorted.  "Don't leave a stone unturned to
make me the one, great, perfect tailor's model!"

"There are gloves and a monocle chain.  You can get them both for three
dollars," Honey added sweetly, affecting not to notice Skinner's
reproachful irony.

"A monocle chain?" Skinner shouted.  "What's that?  Something to lead
me by?  Am I going to be a monkey?"

"Don't be silly, Dearie!"

Skinner laughed with deep disgust.  "Why be a 'piker,' Skinner?  You
got your raise, did n't you?  Damn you, you got your raise!  Why be a
'piker'?"

"Piker?" Honey exclaimed.  "It'll be a regular debauch in clothes!"

"Debauch!" Skinner cried.  "It'll be a riot!"

Honey clapped her hands delightedly.

"Is that all?  Are you through with me?  Are you finished with me
absolutely?"

Honey nodded.

"You're not holding anything in reserve to spring on me?  If you've got
anything to say, say it now while I 'm in my agony--you can't hurt me
any more!"

"My love, you're the finished product!"

"Good!" Skinner paused; then with quiet, grim resolution: "Now, we'll
begin on you!"

"Me?" Honey cried.

"Yes, you!  You don't suppose I 'm going to be the only one in this
outfit to be decked out in gay attire?  What would they think if they
saw a resplendent individual like me and a shabby little wife?  It
would be as bad as the man that went on his wedding trip alone because
he was too darned mean or too darned poor to take his wife along!"

"But _me_!  I'm all right!"

"What have you got?" Skinner insisted grimly.  He had borne the
gaff--now it was his turn to do some of the punishing, and he enjoyed
it.  "What have you got?" he repeated.

"The beautiful pink dress I made over."

"Get it," said Skinner.

Already his tone was taking on an unaccustomed authority, and Honey
hastened to do as she was bid.  She got the pretty, home-made thing and
laid it on the table.

"Put it on," Skinner ordered.

Honey got into the dress as quickly as her trembling fingers would
permit.

Skinner stood off and inspected her.

"That's a beautiful little dress for the house," he said finally, "but
it does n't match this dress suit.  Incompatible is n't the word."

"Would n't this humble dress set off your clothes by contrast?" Honey
said, affecting meekness, her sense of humor getting the uppermost.

"Yes, but these clothes of mine would also set off that humble dress by
contrast, and that I won't have for a minute!  You're the beauty spot
in this outfit, my dear," Skinner said tenderly, "not I.  I 'm not
going to do the peacock act.  I'm the quiet, dignified one.  That's
what I affect.  It rests with you to keep up the pulchritudinous end of
it.  That's it!  You've got to dress up to _this_!"

He smiled fondly at the shrinking Honey.

Honey began to tremble.  Dearie had no idea of the cost of women's
clothes!

"Look here," Skinner went on, resuming the imperative, "I got this
dress suit at a first-class tailor's--you go to a first-class
dressmaker and get a gown to correspond with it.  To correspond with my
patent leathers, you get evening shoes at a first-class bootmaker's.
To correspond with my overcoat, you get an evening cloak.  Piece for
piece, you must do just as I do.  We'll be a symphony in clothes!  Silk
stockings, long gloves, silk underwear, and all the rest of it--that's
what you're going to have!"

"But silk underwear?  No one can see it, Dearie," Honey protested.

"There's a psychology to it, remember.  I want you to _feel_ well
dressed."

Honey's face went white.

"Have you any idea what these things will cost?"

"No!--and I don't care!" Skinner burst out.  "It's all on me!  _I_ got
the raise, did n't I?  You did n't, did you?  Very well, _I'll_ take
the consequences--and be damned to 'em!"

Then Skinner swung around and shook his finger at Honey.

"And I want you to understand, we're going to _ride_ to that
reception--in a cab!  For one night in his life Skinner will not be a
walk-in-the-slush man!"



CHAPTER IV

SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT BEGINS TO GET IN ITS FINE WORK

Meadeville was a suburb once removed--a kind of second cousin to the
big city--the only kind of a suburb that could really be aristocratic.
Meadeville was populated considerably by moneyed New Yorkers and the
First Presbyterian was the smartest church in town.  The men who passed
the plate all belonged to the millionaire class.

But no church congregation was ever made up entirely of aristocrats.
It needs a generous sprinkling of the poor and the moderately
well-to-do to keep up the spiritual average.  This was the case with
the First Presbyterian.  Its gatherings were eminently democratic.  It
was the only occasion when the "upper ten" felt that they could mix
with the other "hundreds" without any letting-down of the bars.  The
ultra-fashionable rarely attended the church gatherings.  But this was
a special occasion.  A new pastor was to be introduced.  So, prompted
by curiosity and a desire to make a good impression on the future
custodian of their morals, the smart set attended in full force.

Skinner knew every one of the smart set by sight.  But the smart set
did n't know Skinner, for he was only a clerk, and no clerk ever had
individuality enough to stamp himself on the memory of a plutocrat.

There were a large number of clerks present, fellow commuters, and
Skinner noticed with some embarrassment that a considerable number of
these gentlemen were not in evening dress.

As like attracts like,--on the same principle that laborers in a car
foregather with other laborers,--so Skinner began to foregather with
the dress-suit contingent.  Their clothes attracted his clothes.  He
felt that he belonged with them.  Furthermore, he had a painful
consciousness of being conspicuous among the underdressed men.  He
also wished to escape a certain envy which he sensed in a few of his
fellow clerks, because of his dress suit.  While this was a novel
sensation to Skinner--the walk-in-the-slush, sit-in-the-corner,
watch-the-other-fellow-dance, male-wallflower proposition--he did n't
like it, for he was a kind-hearted man, always considerate of the
feelings of others.  And for the moment it threatened to check the
pleasure he was beginning to take in his new clothes.

As Skinner aligned himself with the dress-suit contingent, he realized
that many of these were clerks who had risen in the world and owned
their own machines, while the under-dressed men still belonged to the
bicycle club.

Many of the newly rich men were old acquaintances of Skinner's who had
passed him, left him behind, as it were, years before.  To these, his
dress suit was a kind of new introduction.  They seemed pleased to see
him.  They clapped him on the shoulder.  It struck his sense of humor
that they were like old friends who had preceded him to heaven and were
waiting to welcome him to their new sphere.

He thrust his hands into his pockets--as he saw the others do--and
strode, not walked or glided pussy-footedly, as became a "cage man."
And he began to feel a commiseration for the men who were not in dress
suits.

Skinner found himself taking a sudden interest in the social chatter
about him.  It did not bore him now.  Why had he always hated it so, he
asked himself?  Probably because he had never taken the trouble to
understand it--but he was a rank outsider then.  He began to wonder if
social life were really so potent of good cheer, physical and mental
refreshment.  He began to realize that he had permitted himself to
dislike a great institution because of a few butterflies whose chatter
had offended him.

But he now saw that important business men were social butterflies, at
times.  Surely, they must see something in it.  And if these clever and
able men saw something in it, then he, Skinner, must have been
something of an ass to deny himself these things.

When McLaughlin came up and greeted him cordially, McLaughlin seemed a
changed man.  His eyes were genial, and even his hair was conciliatory.
And social intercourse had done that!  "Gee whiz!" said Skinner to
himself.

And Honey!  Skinner took a brand-new pride in her.  She was radiantly
happy, radiantly beautiful in a gown designed by a clever dress-builder
to exploit every one of her charms.  She was blooming like a rose whose
bloom had been arrested by the sordid things of life.  Honey had been
"taken up."  She was now the very center of a group of some of the
"best" people there.  By Jove, McLaughlin's wife had thrust her arm
through Honey's and was leading her off to another group.  As he
watched her, Skinner felt that even sin--when undertaken for
another--has its compensations!

"Who is that very distinguished man over there?" said Mrs. J. Smith
Crawford, the wife of the senior deacon of the First Presbyterian.

Miss Mayhew adjusted her lorgnette.  "_What_ very distinguished man?"

"There's only one," replied Mrs. Crawford.  "The man over there who
looks like a cross between a poet and an athlete."

"Oh, that's Skinner, of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.  The Skinners are
great friends of ours."

As a matter of fact, Miss Mayhew had never taken the trouble to notice
the Skinners, but now that Skinner had made an impression on the
exclusive Mrs. Crawford, that altered the case.

"I'm glad," said Mrs. Crawford.  "Go get him."

Skinner found Mrs. Crawford most engaging.  She was neither haughty nor
full of the pedantry with which social leaders try to disabuse the mind
of the ordinary citizen that the rich must necessarily be dubs.  Twenty
minutes later, Deacon Crawford came up and Skinner was presented.

"I'm mighty glad to know you, Mr. Skinner," said the deacon.  "Some
views I heard you expressing just now were quite in accord with my own."

Skinner left the Crawfords presently with his head in the clouds.  But
he was brought down to earth by some one plucking him by the sleeve.

"Gee, Skinner, where did you get it?" said Allison, who stood there in
a sack suit, grinning.

"Like it?" said Skinner, pleased.

"You bet!  It's a Jim Lulu!"

"My wife made me get it," said Skinner, winking at Allison.

"Well, I hope you'll continue to recognize us," said Allison--and
Skinner again felt the touch of envy, but he did n't like it, for
Skinner was no snob.

As Skinner and Honey were departing, Lewis touched him on the arm.
"We'll drop you and Mrs. Skinner at the house," he said.  "We've plenty
of room in our car."

The Lewises and the Skinners bade each other a very cordial, if not
affectionate, good-night when Lewis's car pulled up at Skinner's door.

"Can you beat it?" said the "cage man" as they closed the door behind
them.  "Lewis has scarcely noticed me for two years."

"It was the dress suit, Dearie."

"It's earned a dollar and a half already."

"How?" said Honey, surprised.

"Cab fare!  Say, I'm going to keep an account of what this dress suit
actually cost me and what it brings in," said Skinner.

"And to think of it, Dearie,--it's all because of your getting that
raise."

Honey laid her head on Dearie's shoulder, as she always did when she
felt sentimental.

"Eh-huh," said Skinner absently.

"I'm so grateful to think you got it--I just couldn't help telling Mrs.
McLaughlin--"

"Huh?" Skinner interrupted.  "You did n't mention that raise to Mrs.
McLaughlin, did you?"

"Why should n't I?"

"But _did_ you?" said Skinner, with apprehension.

"Why, no.  I simply told her I was so grateful for the mark of
appreciation they'd shown!"

"And what did Mrs. McLaughlin say?"

"She asked me what I meant."

"And what did _you_ say?"

"I told her her husband would understand and I wanted him to know just
how I felt about it."

"The devil you did," said Skinner.

True to his word, Skinner proceeded to keep a little book marked
"Dress-Suit Account."  He was probably the only man, he reflected, who
had ever done such a thing, and he did it at first more as a joke than
anything else.  But he found that the "Dress-Suit Account" developed
serious as well as humorous possibilities.  He first entered carefully,
item by item, the cost of the dress suit and its accessories.


                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  Dress suit .........   $90.00
  Dress shirt ........     4.00
  Tie ................      .50
  Collar .............      .25
  Shoes ..............     6.00
  Gloves .............     1.50
  Studs and cuff-links     4.00
  Hat ................     6.00
  Overcoat ...........    40.00
  Hose ...............      .50
  Garters ............      .50
  Underwear ..........     8.00
  Monocle chain ......     1.50
                       --------
  Total ..............  $162.75


To that he added the cost of Honey's outfit:

           _Debit_                         _Credit_


  Gown ...............  $100.00
  Underwear ..........    10.00
  Hose ...............     3.00
  Corset .............    15.00
  Slippers ...........    10.00
  Wrap ...............    50.00
  Gloves .............     4.00
                       --------
  Total ..............  $192.00

  Explanatory comment:
  Honey's outfit not directly
  descended from, but
  collaterally related
  to "Dress-Suit
  Account"--an inevitable
  expenditure.


Skinner noted that everything was on the debit side until the night of
the First Presbyterian reception.  Then he put down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Beginning of social education.


And he did n't neglect to add the relatively unimportant item:--

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Cab fare saved: $1.50.


From that time on, both debit and credit items were put down as they
occurred to Skinner.

While Skinner was thus directly concerned with the dress-suit account,
that potent affair was rapidly developing ramifications in an
unsuspected direction.

"I say, Perk," said McLaughlin to the junior partner, the day after the
reception, "I saw Skinner and his wife at the First Presbyterian affair
in Meadeville last night, and, by jingo, they were all dressed up to
the nines."

"There's nothing startling in that."

"No--but what do you suppose Skinner's wife said to Mrs. Mac?"

Perkins sighed heavily at the bare suggestion.  "What the deuce has
that got to do with me?"

"Wait till I tell you.  She almost wept on Mrs. Mac's neck while she
told her how grateful she was--grateful for the way we had shown our
appreciation of Skinner!"

Perkins pricked up his ears.  "The deuce you say!"

"I thought you'd come to," said McLaughlin.

"What did she mean by that?"

"Don't know.  Mrs. Mac asked her what she was driving at--and she said
I 'd understand.  She wanted me to know how she felt about it--that's
all!"

Perkins's only comment was, "Curious!"

"Say, Perk," McLaughlin went on, "do you reckon she was trying to be
sarcastic--trying to give us a sly dig for turning Skinner down?"

"He'd never tell her that."

"Then what _did_ she mean?"

Perkins shrugged his shoulders.

McLaughlin knitted his brows.  "I don't understand it."  He drummed on
the table with the paper-knife.  "I told you I was afraid of worms," he
said after a pause.

"He has n't begun to turn yet."

"How do you know?  Hang it!  A worm is always turning.  There's no
telling when he begins.  He crawls in curves."

"Oh, rats!" was Perkins's only comment.

"Rats, eh?  Skinner asked for a raise, did n't he?  He did n't get it,
did he?  Right on top of it he comes out in gay attire--both of 'em!
You ought to have seen 'em, Perk.  No hand-me-down!  The real thing!"
McLaughlin paused longer than usual.  He looked troubled.  "Say, Perk,"
he said presently, "somehow, I'm afraid this particular worm of ours is
pluming for flight."

"That's a dainty metaphor, Mac, but it's a little mixed."

McLaughlin glared at Perkins.  He hated these petty corrections.

"Ain't a caterpillar a worm, my Harvard prodigy?"

"I grant you that."

"Don't he turn into a butterfly?  Don't he plume for flight?"

McLaughlin nailed each successive argument with a bang of his fist on
the desk.

"Ain't Skinner getting to be a social butterfly?  Get the connection?
My metaphor may be mixed, as you say,--which I don't understand,--but
my logic is O.K.  Say, ain't it?"

"Your metaphor, Mac, suggests a picture.  Imagine Skinner with wings
on--those long legs drooping down or trailing behind him--like a great
Jersey mosquito!"

At which they both laughed.

"Well," said McLaughlin, resignedly turning to the papers on his desk,
"it beats me, that's all!"

Skinner had accurately reckoned that McLaughlin's wife would repeat
Honey's cryptic remarks to the boss, and so, next day, he felt a
natural constraint when in the presence of the senior partner.
Constraint in the one reacted upon and caused constraint in the other,
until it looked as if McLaughlin and Skinner, who had once been quite
sociable as boss and clerk, would be little more than speaking
acquaintances, after a time.

At any rate, that night Skinner jotted down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  A certain constraint on the
  part of McLaughlin.


"Have _you_ noticed anything in Skinner's conduct, Perk?" said
McLaughlin, two days later.

"You're getting morbid about Skinner, Mac."

"No, I ain't, either.  But he acts--somehow, I can't get it out of my
head that his wife meant--you know what!"

"You think Skinner told her we raised him?"

"That's it!"

"Suppose he did," said Perkins; "what of it?"

"How could he square it with her?" said McLaughlin slowly.

The partners looked at each other with a certain understanding, not too
definite--just a suggestion.

"You think I'm morbid, Perk.  You think I see things that ain't so.
Just you keep your eye on him.  See how he acts to you."

But Skinner had more than any constraint on the part of McLaughlin to
worry him.  His real concern found its source in the domestic circle.
At first, he was exuberant, intoxicated with the vision of social
possibilities.  But now a reaction had set in, a reaction promoted by
the attitude of Honey.  Honey, too, was now constrained.  Skinner
persistently pressed her to tell him what was the matter.  She finally
admitted that she was frightened by the plunge into extravagance they'd
taken.  They had made a big hole in their bank account.  To her, it was
like blasting a rock from under the foundation of the wall which for
years they had been building up, stone by stone, to stand between them
and destitution.

At times, when Skinner allowed his mind to dwell on it, he was shocked.
But being the chief sinner in the matter, he felt it incumbent on him
to bolster up the faltering spirits of Honey.  He would not for a
moment admit to her that they had acted unwisely.  Even so, he was
protesting against the conviction that was gradually deepening within
him that he'd made something of a fool of himself!

Invariably, it was during these fits of abstraction, superinduced by
the doubt that was broadening in Skinner's consciousness as to the
wisdom of his scheme of self-promotion, that either McLaughlin or
Perkins encountered him--so curiously does fate direct our affairs with
a view to promoting dramatic ends.  Once, in the depths of abstraction,
Skinner actually passed Perkins in the passageway without so much as a
nod of recognition.

"By Jove," said the junior partner to McLaughlin later on, "I believe
there _is_ something in your talk about Skinner.  He actually passed me
in the passageway just now without speaking!"

And because they had begun to watch him, every little thing Skinner did
took on an artificial significance--was given undue weight.



CHAPTER V

THE OPERATING EXPENSES OF THE DRESS SUIT

Skinner's feelings were not of the most amiable when on Saturday he
drew his first check on his own private bank account to pay himself his
first week's raise.  And he swore lightly as he realized that this
would be a weekly reminder of his folly, perhaps for years to come.

But Honey chirked up wonderfully when he handed her the "extra ten."
"I'll deposit this the first thing Monday morning," she cried.  "I'm so
glad we're beginning to put money back into the bank--we've drawn so
much out.  And we 'll do it every week until we've paid back every cent
we took out!"

And Skinner was glad that she was glad, although he reflected that her
process of putting money back into the bank as fast as he drew it out
would be about as effectual as the efforts of a squirrel in a little
wire treadmill!

At dinner the Skinners opened their hearts to each other.  Dearie took
out his little book containing the dress-suit account and read off the
items to Honey.  The balance seemed to be heavily on the debit side.

"Well," said Skinner, "there won't be any more debits, anyway.  We've
spent all we're _going_ to spend--and don't you forget it!  I promise
you that!"

"We don't _need_ to spend any more," said Honey.  "We have our clothes."

"Yes," said Skinner, "so we have."

"Cheer up, Dearie.  There's one thing you forgot to put down to the
credit of that dress-suit account.  It has made your little wifey very,
very happy!"

Honey put her head on Dearie's shoulder.

"For that reason," said Skinner, "and for that alone"--he winked
solemnly at the wall over Honey's shoulder--"it has made _me_ very
happy!"

He stroked Honey's glossy hair and held her close.

"No," said Honey, resuming her place at the table, which she had left
in her exuberance to give Dearie a hug, and knitting her brows,
"there's no way of spending any more money.  We've made our original
investment."

"The initial cost," Dearie corrected.

"We've invested in ourselves," Honey went on.

"Yes, and we've bought our own bonds," Skinner added.

"And they'll pay better than any old bank," cried Honey.  Then quickly,
"But we won't buy any more!"

"There are other financial stunts besides putting money in the bank,"
observed Skinner.  "Look at Lewis.  He invested in himself."

"Just as we're doing," Honey broke in.

"Er--not precisely," Skinner qualified.  "But his investment has
already returned self-respect, social opportunity, enhanced efficiency."

"And he has n't half as much brains as you have!"

"I don't know about that," said Skinner, rather dubiously.  "Anyhow,
what he's got are live ones."  Then, after a pause, "Look here, Honey,
we don't need to worry.  We've already invested so much.  It's going to
continue to bring us in good things--and it is n't going to cost us any
more."

"No, indeed, it isn't, Dearie.  I'll see to that!" said Honey with
firmness.

"And I 'll see to it that you _see_ to it.  That'll double cinch it,"
said Skinner.

Honey held up a finger; then turned and listened.

"That's the postman's whistle.  I'll go."

A moment later, she burst into the room, her face radiant.  "There,"
she cried, throwing a large, square envelope down in front of Skinner,
"you can credit your dress-suit account with that!"

[Illustration: "There," she cried, "you can credit your dress-suit
account with that!"]

It was an invitation to a dance at the J. Smith Crawfords' on the
fifteenth--just two weeks off.

"I'll put it down in my little book.  It is n't exactly tangible, but
you can bet your life it may _lead_ to something tangible."

"Tangible?" echoed Honey.  "It's a social triumph!"

In his fine, round hand, Skinner inscribed in the little book the
following:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    One social triumph.


He passed the record over for Honey's approval.

"And, oh, goodie," Honey cried, "we're all prepared for it!  Not a
penny to spend!  Now, don't you dare to think of anything!--is there?"

"You're right, Honey, you're right," Skinner almost shouted.

He paused abruptly; then, in a hoarse whisper, "Say, Honey, you know
how to dance?"

Honey stared at him wide-eyed.

"Why--ye-es--I waltz."

"That's archaic.  Do you know the new things, those cubist proposition
dances where you glide and side-step and pause and back up and go ahead
again and zigzag like an inebriated politician?"

"You mean the turkey trot and the tango and the one-step and the fox
trot and the hesitation?" Honey rattled off glibly.

"Is it necessary to learn them all?" said Skinner.

They looked at each other for a few moments without a word.

"No use--we've got to do it, Honey."

"But that means money.  We've only got two weeks, and that means
private lessons!  And private lessons mean lots of money!"

"Honey," said Skinner solemnly, "we've invested in this dress-suit
engine of conquest.  It's no good unless we use it.  We must learn the
most effective way to use it or all the first cost will be wasted.
Besides, it won't cost much to learn to dance.  There are places on
Sixth Avenue--"

Honey held up both hands.

"Mercy, Dearie, if you learn to dance on Sixth Avenue, you'll have the
Sixth-Avenue stamp to you.  The men who dance on Sixth Avenue hire
their dress suits on Third Avenue--it all goes together.  Heavens," she
sighed, breaking off abruptly, "have we built up a Frankenstein
monster?  Is that dress suit of yours going to prove as voracious as
the fabled boa constrictor?"

"This dress suit is going to get all it wants to eat," said Skinner
with finality.

Honey was frightened at Dearie's newly developed stamina.  Skinner, the
acquiescent one, putting his foot down like that!

"But, Dearie," she urged, "it isn't absolutely necessary for us to
learn to dance.  And, remember, you promised not to spend any more
money."

"I told you my dress suit was our engine of conquest--plant!  You buy
your machinery--your plant.  That's the initial cost.  Then you have to
learn how to run it."

He took out his little book and put down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  Operating expenses.


"But you _promised_," Honey persisted.

"That was before we got this invitation.  Things have changed.
_Promised_ not to spend any more money?  What about my being a
sit-in-the-corner, watch-the-other-fellow-dance, male-wallflower
proposition, eh?"--and Honey was convicted by her own words.

"But, Dearie, what _will_ this dress suit get us into?"

"Debt!--if we don't look out!"

Honey crossed to Dearie, put her head on his shoulder, and began to cry
softly.

"There, there," said Skinner, stroking her glossy hair, "don't you cry,
Honey.  There's nothing to worry about."

She lifted her face and smiled.  "There _is n't_ anything to worry
about, is there?  We have n't anywhere near spent that five hundred and
twenty dollars, have we?"

"No," said Skinner grimly, "not yet!"

He disengaged himself from Honey's reluctant arms and slowly mounted
the stairs.  Once inside his room, he turned and locked the door, still
smiling grimly.  He strode to the closet, flung the door open, lifted
his dress suit from its peg, and held it at arm's length where it
swayed like a scarecrow.

"My God, you're a Nemesis!" he growled.  "There's one for you--there's
another!"

He punched the thing hard and fast.

"That's you, Skinner--that's you--for being an ass--a blooming, silly
ass!"

When he rejoined Honey in the dining-room he was smiling, not grimly
now, but placidly.

"What is it, Dearie?" she asked.

"Just got something off my chest, that's all."

The words suggested something to Skinner; whenever his exasperation at
his folly was too great for him to bear, he'd go upstairs and take it
out on the dress suit.  And the idea comforted him not a little!

So the Skinners put themselves in charge of a first-class dancing
instructor just off Fifth Avenue.  For two solid weeks, every day Honey
met Dearie after office hours and they practiced trotting the fox trot,
stepping the one-step, and negotiating the tango and the hesitation.
Skinner was thorough in his dancing, as in everything else.  He was
quick to learn, light on his feet, and soon was an expert and graceful
dancer.

At the end of the brief term Skinner wrote down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  Instruction in dancing            A certain stimulation
  for two, since the dress-         due to dancing which
  suit engine of conquest           quickens the mental
  needs two to run it ... $60.00    forces and makes one
                                    happier and more alert
                                    at his work.


The two weeks' loyal devotion to the art of Terpsichore made Skinner at
the Crawford dance no less conspicuous as a dancer than as a man of
distinguished presence.  He found himself greatly in demand, and he
made the quick calculation that this new enhancement of his value was
due to his dancing--which, in turn, was due to--the dress suit!

Early in the evening Mrs. Crawford, the hostess, introduced Skinner to
Mrs. Stephen Colby, the magnate's wife, and Skinner asked for a dance.
And as he led that lady to the ballroom, he formulated the following
entry in his notebook to be jotted down at the first opportunity:
"Credit, dress-suit account, one dance with the wife of a
multi-millionaire--a social arbiter.  An event undreamed of, even in my
most ambitious moments!  What next, I wonder?"

Mrs. Colby had a way of commenting upon other persons present with a
certain cynical frankness--as became a social arbiter--that amused
Skinner, and he took a genuine fancy to her.  The wine of the dance got
into his blood, and when the music ceased, he begged for another dance.

"Certainly," said Mrs. Colby, "two, if you like.  That's all I've got
left.  Anything to get rid of that devilish bore, Jimmy Brewster.  He's
coming over here now."

The doubtful nature of the compliment struck Skinner's sense of humor,
and he laughed outright.

"What's up?" asked the social arbiter.

"Of two evils--" Skinner began.

"But you're a devilish good dancer, and you don't chatter to me all the
time."

Later in the evening.  Skinner made the following entry in his little
book;--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Two more dances with a
                                    social arbiter.  That's what's
                                    next!  Going some, I reckon.

Between dances, young Crawford took Skinner by the arm.  "Come into the
den and have a wee nippie."

In the den Skinner found a group of millionaires and
multi-millionaires, smoking, drinking casually, and talking in quiet,
good-natured tones.  For the first time in his life, he was really
mixing with the rich.  No one there knew what Skinner's position in the
business world was.  Nor would they have cared if they had known.  But
Skinner was not trumpeting the fact that he was only a "cage man."
Skinner had many original ideas, which, because of a certain lack of
assertiveness, he'd never been able to exploit.  McLaughlin and Perkins
had always looked upon him only as a counter of money and a keeper of
accounts.  But now he was out of his cage.  He talked with these men as
he never knew he could talk.

As a "cage man," Skinner had always dealt with men of small caliber,
who were ever in a hurry.  If he chanced to meet one of these on the
street or in a restaurant and undertook to exploit his ideas, the other
always seemed bored.  His attitude was, "Skinner is only a
machine--what does he know about real business?"  But the men he was
now mixing with in the den seemed to have the leisure of the gods on
their hands.  They were not bored.  They listened with keen interest to
what he had to say.

Skinner observed that these men were good listeners and later noted the
fact:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Important discovery!  Big
                                    men of affairs better listeners
                                    than talkers.


But when they did talk at all, they talked in big figures--millions.
And later Skinner jotted down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    One new experience.  Heard
                                    much big talk that was not
                                    hot air!


There was a fascination to it all.  Skinner felt that somehow he was
sitting in a big game--sitting on the edge, perhaps, but rubbing
shoulders with some of the men who actually shaped the affairs of the
business world.  The realization stimulated him, lifted him up.  And
when he went to claim his next dance with the social arbiter, he felt
more of an equal with "bigness."

When Skinner that night put the dress suit away, he patted the coat
fondly.  "Sorry, Skinner, old chap,--you know what for," he murmured.
Then he made the note in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    One important lesson!
                                    Never prematurely vent
                                    spleen on an inanimate
                                    object.  Only silly ass does
                                    that.



CHAPTER VI

DODGING A MAGNATE AND WHAT CAME OF IT

Next morning, good commuter that he was, Skinner made his customary
dash for his train.  Honey was used to this, but she was not prepared
for what followed on this particular morning.

Skinner had only got halfway down to the gate when he saw Stephen
Colby's car coming down the road.  Here was the multi-millionaire, with
whom he had talked on terms of equality the night before, making for
the Pullman end of his train--here was he, Skinner, in his shabby old
clothes.  Would Colby recognize him or would n't he?  First, Skinner
was afraid he would n't, then he was afraid he would.  He decided not
to chance it.  He darted back into the vestibule, drew the door half
to, and waited until the magnate's car had passed; then he emerged from
his hiding-place and made one of his characteristic heel-and-toe
sprints for the depot.  When he got there, he hurried into the
smoker--the laboring man's club.

Skinner repeated this somewhat eccentric advance, retreat, and quick
dash maneuver for three successive days, dodging the formidable car of
the magnate, and hoping that Honey might not be at her customary place
at the front window to watch him off to his train.  At first, he was
amused.  It was a joke on himself, he thought.  But repetition
presently dulled the edge of comedy.  On the fourth occasion of this
apparently unaccountable behavior on Skinner's part, the "cage man"
began to meditate the matter.

Would he have to do this dodging act every day, like a fugitive, he
wondered?  It was dawning upon him that his shabby clothes had made him
a fugitive from respectability.  By jingo!  He sat up straight as he
realized for the first time that he was the only poorly dressed
commuter of whom Meadeville might boast.  He had prided himself that
he'd never given a cuss what other people thought of his clothes, so
long as his bank account was intact.  By Jove!  Perhaps he'd never
known what they thought because they were too polite to tell him!

If he'd had no one but himself to consider, Skinner would have made the
plunge and bought a new business suit right away--even in the face of
what that might entail.  And his experience with the dress suit had
taught him that every purchase was fraught with complex possibilities.
But how could he spring it on Honey--chief guardian of the bank account?

Honey, too, pondered Skinner's curious dash out and back, the first day
he did it.  She had her suspicions, but said nothing.  She simply
waited until the following morning to confirm them.  And when the whole
combination of circumstances--Skinner's advance, Colby's car appearing
down the road, Skinner's retreat--was repeated, it was as plain as an
open book to the perspicacious little lady.  Dearie was shabby, and for
the first time in his life he had realized the disadvantage of it.  She
was secretly glad, for she had always felt that Dearie's thrift with
regard to clothes was misplaced.  But she could never get him to see it
that way.  The mere flashing by of Stephen Colby had done more for
Skinner in that particular than years of affectionate solicitude on her
part.  "Really," she mused, "some men have to be blasted out of a rut
with dynamite!"

From recent experience, Honey deduced that Skinner would shy at any new
purchase, with its ramifying possibilities.  Then how to prepare the
way?  Honey was an arch diplomat--and--Honey was a great cook.

Honey met Skinner at the door the evening of the fourth day and gently
drew him into the dining-room.

"Look!" she cried, pointing to the table.  "Oysters!--and
later--beefsteak!  Think of it!  Beefsteak!"

Skinner noted with some relief that it was the same formula she had
used on a previous memorable occasion.  What could it presage?  Was it
possible that his soul and her soul had but a single thought?  Had he
betrayed himself by his shuttle-like performance of the past four
mornings?  Had she observed him, and was she "wise"?

The matter of the business suit was upper-most in the mind of each.
But as it was something that involved a further assault upon their
financial stronghold, it was a subject that must be approached with
great tact.  Each, dreading an avalanche of reproach, waited for the
other to speak.  And it was not until Skinner had finished his second
demi-tasse that he began, using the suggestive rather than the
assertive form of speech, a form frequently used in the "feeling-out"
process.  He knew that he could tell by the way Honey received his
suggestion whether to go ahead or gracefully to change the subject and
save his face.

"I notice, Honey, that Colby and Crawford and the rest of that bunch
wear dark business suits," he ventured.

"Dark, but generally with a fine, threadlike stripe, and ties to match
always," Honey said softly.  "And the simplest jewelry," she went
on,--"inexpensive jewelry!"

Then they both fell silent.

"I know what you're thinking about," Skinner ventured again, not
unwilling to shift the burden.

"What?"

"You want me to get a new business suit.  Now, don't deny it."

He made the "don't deny it" suggest a warning, almost a threat.  But
now that the ice was broken, Honey did n't take the plunge.  Instead,
she felt her way in.

"You have n't had one for ever so long--and that was only a _cheap_
one."

"I would n't need one now if I did n't have to live up to that darned
dress suit you made me buy."

Honey sighed.

"Think of the cost," Skinner went on, still using the suggestive form
and leaving himself an avenue of escape, if necessary.

Honey threw her head back and looked resolutely into Skinner's eyes.
"Cost or no cost, you must have one!"  Skinner had accomplished his
purpose and had at the same time avoided the odium of doing so.  But
Honey had no such scruples.  She had taken the initiative and she was
going to see the thing through to the limit.  "But we must be very
careful about the socks and ties--for, of course, you know, Dearie, you
must get socks and ties," she went on.  "I have figured it all out."

"You have, you fraud?" said Skinner.

Honey pouted reproachfully, and he hastened to add, "I, too, have
figured it all out."

"You fraud!"  Honey came over and put her head on Skinner's shoulder.

"Are n't we the great little conspirators, you and I?" said Dearie, as
he stroked Honey's glossy hair.

"Yes, each one conspiring all alone by himself against the other."

Next day Skinner bought a new business suit, and accordingly jotted
down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  Extension dress-suit plant!
  One business suit! .... $50.00


The first morning Skinner wore his new suit to business, he left the
house for the depot with head erect.  He did n't give a rap whether
Colby saw him or not.  But good luck always attends the indifferent in
spirit.  Colby's car flashed by and the multi-millionaire nodded
genially to the "cage man," which elated the latter, for he liked
Colby--felt that in a way he was a man after his own heart.  But
Skinner was too wise to attempt to force himself on the magnate.  If
there were to be any further cultivation of mutual acquaintance, he
resolved to let Colby take the initiative.  He would wait.

As Skinner entered the office of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., conscious
of his new clothes and suffering somewhat from stage fright, he sensed
something in the air of the great room that was devoted to the
fluttering femininity of the concern, something humorous.  But as he
was a man of authority there, there was no outward manifestation of the
same.  The messenger boys from outside, however, were not subject to
the rules of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.

"Gee," Skinner heard Mickey, the "littlest," whisper to Jimmy of the
Postal, "pipe de new glad rags on de cage man!"

And Postal, duly impressed, admonished, "You better not burn any wood
in here now 'cause he'll git after you."  Then, in a whisper, "He never
did before 'cause he never had any breeches on an' he did n't dare to
run out."

"How do you know dat?"

"You never seen him below de middle of his vest, did you?"

"From down here, lookin' up, wid dat winder in de way, I never seen him
much below his collar," whispered Mickey, the "littlest."

"Well, den, you never knew whether he had breeches on or not," pursued
the young logician.

Skinner's lips trembled as he overheard, but he took no official
notice.  Instead, he frowned hard at his cash-book.  But when the boys
had gone, he turned his face away from the fluttering femininity in the
big room and his form shook with emotion.

After a bit, he took out his little book and wrote:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    The best laugh I ever
                                    had--in this or any of my
                                    previous existences.

Later in the day, Skinner crossed to the office of Ransome & Company,
on a matter of business for the firm.  There was no one there when he
entered but the office boy.  But the youngster, from force of habit,
when he saw Skinner, the acquiescent one, said, "Mr. Ransome's very
busy this morning."

"So am _I_ very busy," Skinner jerked out.  "Just tell him I'm here."

The boy looked at Skinner in surprise, then without a word shambled
into the inside office.  Presently, a tall, pompous man entered and
looked about for somebody to take his name to Ransome.  As the boy
emerged from the private office, he caught sight of this gentleman and
darted back.  In a few moments he returned and spoke to Skinner.

"Mr. Ransome'll see _you_ just as soon as he's finished with this
gentleman," indicating the pompous one.

But the new business clothes had knocked all the acquiescence out of
Skinner.  In their spic-and-spanness they fairly shrieked for respect.

"See here, boy," Skinner exclaimed angrily, "you tell Mr. Ransome that
I was here before this gentleman and that I want him to see me now or
not at all!"

"But--"

"Go!" said Skinner.  "My firm is important if I'm not," he muttered as
the boy disappeared.

And as Ransome was seller to, instead of a buyer from, McLaughlin &
Perkins, Inc., he came out immediately, rubbing his hands.

"Why, Mr. Skinner, I did n't know you were in a hurry."

"Personally, I'm not," replied Skinner, "but my firm's time is
valuable."

"Of course--of course--come right in."

When he got back to his cage, Skinner jotted down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    One victory over detested
                                    office boy!  Good moral effect.
                                    Shan't waste any more time
                                    hereafter just to accommodate
                                    pompous individuals!


"Say, Mac," said Perkins at luncheon, "did you notice our Skinner's
brand-new attire?"

"Yes, Perk," said the senior partner, "and I 'm mighty glad of it.  I
was always ashamed of him--the way he dressed."



CHAPTER VII

SKINNER AND THE "GOLD BUGS"

A new and unforseen, but perfectly logical, development from the
purchase of the new business suit awaited Skinner a few days later.  It
came about in this way.  He was making his customary heel-and-toe
sprint for the depot when Stephen Colby came bowling along in his 60
H.P.  That gentleman nodded to Skinner, pulled up, and took him in.

"You're late," he said genially.

"I am, by Jove, and thank you for the lift," said Skinner.

"I've been wanting to tell you a story," said Colby.  "I had it on my
list the other night, but somehow I did n't get to it.  You know, you
can't always follow the list you make out.  Stories have got to be
apropos of something somebody else says, so my list always gets mixed
up and I miss telling some of the best ones."

It was one of the multi-millionaire's pleasures to regale his friends
with anecdotal matter of his own experience.  But before he had
finished this particular story, they had reached the depot.  The train
had already pulled in and Colby, still talking, led the way into the
Pullman.  Skinner hesitated on the threshold of that unaccustomed
domain, but he felt that the magnate expected him to go in with him,
and he followed.

In the "cage man" Colby found a fresh audience.  All the way into town
he talked about his past efforts, from the time he slept under the
grocery-store counter until he reached the Presidency of the Steel
Company, and Skinner, fascinated and sympathetic, "listened" his way
into the magnate's esteem.

Quite a number of the other "gold bugs"--as Skinner had dubbed
them--whom he had seen at the Crawford affair were in the Pullman.
They nodded to Skinner in a cordial way, which put him at once at his
ease, and he soon felt quite as much at home in the Pullman as he had
in the smoker.

That night he told Honey all about it.

"It only costs twenty-five cents extra," he said apologetically.

"That's nothing.  I'm glad you did it, Dearie.  You must do it every
day."

"Very well," said Skinner.

A few days later Skinner said to Honey, as he stretched his long legs
under the table and sipped his second demi-tasse, "Well, Honey, I've
joined the Pullman Club for keeps.  It only costs a dollar and a half a
week."

"It's well worth the money," said Honey.

Skinner regarded his beautiful little wife through half-closed eyes.
He was puzzled.  What curious change had been wrought in this
exponent--this almost symbol--of thrift that she should actually
encourage him in the pursuit of the ruinous course into which he'd been
thrust by the wonderful dress suit!  He said nothing, but he jotted
down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  To operating expenses:
    $1.50 a week.


The trip into town in the Pullman each day was a social event with
Skinner.  He looked forward to it and what he learned was each night a
subject of gossip at the dinner table.

"It's a regular 'joy ride' and I'm getting all kinds of good out of
it," said he enthusiastically one evening.  "By Jove, clothes are a
good commercial proposition."

"Don't talk about the commercial side of it, Dearie.  Tell me about the
'gold bugs.'"

"They're wonderful fellows," said Skinner, with the air of a man who
had always been accustomed to traveling with such people and was now
unbending to confide familiar items of special interest to some
unsophisticated listener.  "You'd find them fascinating."

"They 're just like other men, are n't they?"

Skinner rather pitied her inexperience.  "No, they're not.  They're
just like great, big boys.  The most natural talkers in the
world--simple, direct, clear."

"Do you ever talk?"

This question brought Skinner back to earth again.  He was just Dearie
now.

"_Do_ I?  Say, Honey, I've been isolated in that cage of mine so long
that I thought I'd forgotten how to talk.  But you'd be surprised to
hear me--right in with the rest of them!"

"But you can't talk big things, Dearie, like them.  You don't _know_
big things."

"Bless you, they don't talk big things.  They tell anecdotes.  And they
talk about the time when they were boys--and their early struggles.
Every darned one of them came from a farm or a blacksmith shop.  They
all love to tell how often their fathers licked 'em.  And they gossip
about their old friends and things.  The ride in is not business,
Honey, it's social.  There's one thing I've discovered in that Pullman
Club," he went on.  "These fellows are n't any cleverer than many a man
in my position, but they've realized that it's just as easy to play
with blue chips as with white ones--and they've got the nerve to do it."

"I don't catch on."

"It's just as easy to play with dollars as with dimes--just as easy to
write an order for a thousand as for ten.  And it's easier to do
business with big men.  They're more imaginative, quicker to grasp."

"That's how they got there," Honey interjected.

"But particularly, Honey, these men are all keen students of human
nature.  They can size a man up--gee!  'Brown's able,' says one.  'Yes,
but he's tricky,' says another.  'Carpenter's honest, but he's a fool.'
With the 'gold bugs' credit is a combination of honesty and ability."

Skinner sipped his demi-tasse reflectively.

"Honey, you remember what Russell Sage said in reply to Horace
Greeley's, 'Go West, young man!'  No?  Well, this is what he said: 'If
you want to make money, go where the money is.' _I 've_ begun to go
where the money is.  See the connection?"

"I'm glad you have," said Honey, nodding her head.  "Those clerks you
used to travel with never thought big thoughts or they would n't have
been clerks."

"But remember, Honey, I'm only a clerk."

"But you never did belong in the clerk class."

"You're right!  I never did!  I'm beginning to realize it now.  Why, do
you know,"--leaning over the table and counting off his words with his
finger,--"I've had ideas that if I 'd only been able to carry out,
ideas that I got right in that little cage of mine--"

Thus Skinner's education progressed.  He took as enthusiastic a delight
in studying the "gold bugs" as a naturalist would in some very ancient,
but recently discovered, insect.

"I 'm finding out lots of good things in that Pullman Club, Honey,"
said Skinner a week later at the dinner table.  "Every one of these
'gold bugs' has something under his skin.  They may be Dick Turpins and
Claude Duvals and Sam Basses, their methods of getting things may not
be ideal, but you can't beat their methods of giving.  They've all got
lovable qualities.  They do a lot of things that show it--and they
don't use a brass band accompaniment either."

"For instance?" said Honey, simply and sweetly.

"Well," said Skinner, "take old John Mackensie.  He's so close that
they say his grandfather was the man who chased the last Jew out of
Aberdeen."

Skinner picked up the paper.

"See those initials, honey?  'D. C. D.'"

"I've noticed them."

"Old Mackensie, when he was a boy, came near starving to death.  A
reporter got hold of his case and printed a paragraph about it just
like those you see every day.  I got it on the quiet.  Mackensie was
saved by an anonymous friend who signed himself 'D. C. D.'  He never
could find out who it was.  Several years passed.  He watched the
papers, but these initials never appeared again.  So Mackensie
concluded that his unknown savior was dead.

"But he made up his mind to pass the good deed along and here's the
romance of it.  He wants whoever it was that helped him to get all the
credit for it.  He wants him to be reminded--if he happens to be alive
and 'broke'--that the good thought started is being pushed along.  So
to-day a newspaper tells a story of an unfortunate girl--a starving boy
picked up by the police--a helpless widow--a friendless old man.  The
next day you read, 'Rec'd from D. C. D. $20.'--'D. C. D. $50'--as the
case may be.  That's old man Mackensie."

"And yet they say money kills romance."  Honey's eyes shone with
appreciation.

"And there's Solon Wright," Skinner went on, "another 'gold bug.'  For
years every night he has handed a dollar to a certain shambling fellow
outside the ferry gate."

"How curious!"

"Briscom told me about it.  The strange thing is, it's a man Wright
used to detest when he was flush.  He does n't like him even now.
That's why he gives him the money.  Moral discipline, the way he puts
it.  Can you beat it?"

As a result of these observations in the Pullman, Skinner jotted down
in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Interesting discovery of
                                    generally unsuspected facts
                                    in the habits of "gold bugs."


While Skinner was sailing over a fair sea, untroubled by anything but
the growing fear that some day Honey might find him out,--about the
"raise,"--storm clouds were gathering in a wholly unsuspected quarter.

"I saw our Skinner getting out of the Pullman this morning," said
Perkins to the senior partner.

"What of it?" said McLaughlin.

"I see him getting out of it every morning."

"Still what of it?" persisted McLaughlin.  "The Pullman habit isn't
expensive--only a quarter from Meadeville."

"Oh, nothing," observed Perkins.  "Nothing in itself, but new clothes
and traveling round in a Pullman don't square with the fact that
Skinner did n't get his raise."

McLaughlin swung around in his chair.  "Say, Perk, what do you mean by
these hints?  You never _did_ like Skinner."

"You're mistaken, Mac.  It was his clothes I did n't like."

"You've been throwing out hints," McLaughlin reiterated, "and bothering
me so much lately about Skinner, I wish to goodness I _had_ raised his
salary."

"I know," Perkins persisted, "but see what our Skinner's habits have
been in the past--penurious.  Why the sudden change?  You know just as
well as I do that a clerk can't travel around with the rich."

"Why not?  The man's been saving money for years--got a bank account.
All these little things we've noticed you could cover with a few
hundred dollars.  Come, Perk, out with it!  Just what do you mean?"

"It's only a suggestion, Mac, not even a hint--but Pullman cars are
great hot-beds for hatching all kinds of financial schemes.  That's
where you get your Wall Street tips--that's where they grow."

McLaughlin looked serious.  He drummed on his desk with the
paper-cutter and waited.

"Tips are very good when they go right," Perkins went on, "but when
they go wrong--"  He hesitated.

"I get you.  They're dangerous to a man who is employed in a fiduciary
capacity," said McLaughlin very quietly.

"I believe as you do," urged Perkins, "that Skinner is the most honest
and loyal man in America--but other honest and loyal men--well, darn
it, they're all human."

"Well?" McLaughlin observed, and waited.

"It's a part of wisdom to be cautious.  It's just as much for his good
as it is for ours.  An ounce of prevention, you know.  Besides, it's
_our_ money he's handling."

"You may be right," said McLaughlin, rising.  "But go slow--wait a
little.  I'll keep my eye on the Meadeville end of it for a while."

Skinner not only "listened" himself into the affections of Stephen
Colby, but into the affections of other members of the "gold-bug" set
as well.  He won his way more with his ears than with his tongue.  He'd
only been a member of the Pullman contingent a fortnight when he and
Honey were invited to dine with the Howard Hemingways.  There they met
all the vicarious members of the Pullman Club--the wives.

The Hemingway dinner was an open sesame to the Skinners.  The ladies of
the "walled-in" element began to take Honey up.  They called on her.
She was made a member of the bridge club.

It cost Honey something to learn the game,--some small money
losses,--but these were never charged to the dress-suit account, for a
very obvious reason.

So popular did the Skinners become that it was seldom they dined at
home.  Skinner, methodical man that he was, put down in his little book
to the credit of the dress-suit account, not the value of the dinner
they got, but what they'd actually saved on each occasion.  And he
began to feel that the dress suit was earning good interest in cash on
the investment.

The Skinners, now that they had engaged in active social life, learned
one valuable lesson, which was something of an eye-opener to them both.
They found that they had constantly to be on dress parade, as it were,
and that in the manners of the social devotee, no less than in his
clothes, there can be no letdown.  Also, they found that, on occasions,
their dining out cost them more in the wear and tear on their patience
than a dinner at home would have cost them in cash.  For instance, when
they returned from the Brewsters' dinner one night.  Skinner jotted
down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  Never again!

  One bad evening!

  When you go to the Brewsters,
  you've got to talk all
  the time about their prodigy
  son who writes plays.

  Anything else bores them,
  and if you do talk about him,
  you 're bored.

  Damned if you do, damned
  if you don't!  It's a draw, and
  a draw is a waste of time!


"Well, Perk," said McLaughlin one morning, "I've got an interesting bit
for you.  The Skinners are doing the society stunt: bridge and that
sort of thing."

"That's not enough to convict."

"They're splurging.  They're buying rugs and pictures!"

As a matter of fact, Honey had bought one modest rug and one modest
picture to fill up certain bare spaces over against the meeting of the
bridge club at her house, and being a good manager she could make any
purchase "show off" to the limit.  But the Skinners' ice man in
detailing the thing to the McLaughlins' maid had assiduously applied
the multiplication table.

McLaughlin paused.

"Well," said Perkins, "what do you make of it?"

"He's getting too big for his breeches."

"Well?" said Perkins.

"I hate to do it," said McLaughlin, "but--"

"Well?" said Perkins.

"Don't stand there saying 'well,' Perk.  Help me out."

"What are you going to do about it, Mac?"

"Did you notice him this morning?  He looks as worried as the devil!"
McLaughlin drummed on his desk with the paper-cutter.  "Perk, we've got
to do something--and we've got to do it sudden."

McLaughlin turned.  "Come in!" he shouted.

The boy entered and handed the senior partner a card.

"Send him in."  He turned to Perkins.  "It's Billings.  Just you think
this over to-night, Perk."

"Hello, Billings."



CHAPTER VIII

CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST

Skinner _did_ look worried, but what ailed him was very foreign to the
cause that McLaughlin and Perkins suspected.  He was worrying about his
diminishing bank account.  But it was n't the actual diminution of funds
that worried him so much--he was afraid Honey would find him out.

For a long time this fear had haunted him.  Like a wasp, it had buzzed
constantly about his ears, threatening to sting him at any moment.  It
had become a veritable obsession, a mean, haunting, appetite-destroying,
sleep-banishing obsession.

There were many ways in which this fear might be realized.  For instance,
Honey had told him that she was thinking of studying finance so as to
find out all the little leakages and help them save, and that she was
going to ask Mr. Waldron, the teller of the Meadeville National, to
instruct her in the intricacies of banking.

What inadvertent remark might not that functionary drop and thus sow
suspicion in Honey?  At first, Skinner had thought of warning the teller
not to discuss these things with Honey.  But he made up his mind that
that might direct Waldron's attention to their account and lead him to
suspect something from the new process of circulation which Skinner had
set going when he promoted himself.  No--better let sleeping dogs lie in
that direction.  Instead, Skinner persuaded Honey that it would be an
imposition on Mr. Waldron, take up too much of his time.  He, Skinner,
would give her what instruction she needed.

The more the "cage man" schemed to keep his wife from finding out the
deception he'd practiced on her, the more possibilities of exposure
developed, and the more apprehensive he became.

No sooner did Honey promise not to bother Mr. Waldron than another danger
popped up.  By Jingo!  There was Mrs. McLaughlin!  Honey might again
mention to her something about his raise, reiterate what she had hinted
at on the night of the First Presbyterian reception.  No doubt, if she
did, Mrs. McLaughlin would quiz her this time, find out what she was
driving at, and report it to McLaughlin and make him, Skinner, a
laughing-stock in the eyes of the boss.  Then, by a series of recoils,
McLaughlin would deny it to his wife, Mrs. McLaughlin would deny it to
Honey, and there'd be the devil to pay.  And paying the devil, in this
particular instance, Skinner apprehended, would be a hard proposition.

Instigated by this fear, ever since the night of the First Presbyterian
affair Skinner had schemed to keep Mrs. McLaughlin and Honey apart.  It
was easy enough at first, when they were only invited to a few affairs,
but with the enlargement of their social horizon the danger loomed bigger.

Skinner knew enough about women not to warn Honey against talking
confidentially with Mrs. McLaughlin, since this would excite her
suspicions and recoil upon him, Skinner, with a shower of inconvenient
questions.  The only thing he could do, then, was to see to it that he
and Honey should avoid places where the McLaughlins were liable to be.
Skinner had been put to all sorts of devices to find out if the
McLaughlins were going to certain parties to which he and Honey had been
invited.  He could n't do this very well by discussing the thing with the
boss.  So he had endeavored to determine the exact social status of the
McLaughlins in that community and avoid the stratum in which they might
circulate.

But this rule had failed him once or twice, for in communities of the
description of Meadeville social life was more or less democratic and
nondescript.  When he had thought himself secure on certain occasions, he
had bumped right into the McLaughlins and then it behooved him to stick
pretty close to Honey all the evening.

This was not what he counted on, for Skinner was beginning to enjoy the
sweets of broader social intercourse.  He was beginning to like to talk
with and dance with other women.

At times, when Skinner had received information at the last moment that
the McLaughlins were to be at a party, he had affected a headache.  On
one of these occasions, Honey had set her heart on going and told Skinner
that the Lewises had offered to take her along with them in case he
should be delayed at the office--for Skinner had even pretended once or
twice to be thus delayed.  Presto! at Honey's words about the Lewises,
Dearie's headache had disappeared.

Skinner thought with a humorous chuckle how Honey had said, "Dearie, I
believe you're jealous of Tom Lewis."

"Perhaps I am," the miserable Skinner had admitted.

Skinner pictured the effect of exposure in all sorts of dramatic ways.
But not once did he see himself suffering--only Honey.  That's what
worried him.  He could bear pain without flinching, but he could not bear
seeing other persons bear pain--particularly Honey.  He knew he could
throw himself on her mercy and confess and that she would forgive him
because she'd know he did it on her account.  But the hurt, the real
hurt, would be hers to bear--and Skinner loved Honey.

Whenever Skinner had felt apprehensive or blue because of his
self-promotion and the consequent difficulties he found himself plunged
into, he had looked at his little book, and the credit side of the
dress-suit account had always cheered him.  But this infallible method
was not infallible to-night.  Going out on the train Skinner had the
"blues" and "had them good."  Gloom was closing in on all sides; he could
n't tell why, unless the growing fear of exposure to Honey was taking
hold on his subconsciousness and manifesting itself in chronic,
indefinite apprehension.

At Meadeville, he purposely avoided Black, his next-door neighbor, with
whom he customarily walked home from the depot--for Skinner was not the
man to inflict an uncordial condition upon an innocent person.

When Skinner reached home, Honey drew him gently into the dining-room and
pointed to the table.  As she began, "Look, Dearie, oysters, and
later--beefsteak!  Think of it!  Beefsteak!"--the now familiar formula
that had come to portend some new extravagance,--Dearie stopped her.

"Don't, Honey, don't tell me what you've got for dinner, course by
course.  Give me the whole thing at once, or give me a series of
surprises as dinner develops."

"I think you're horrid to stop me," Honey pouted reproachfully.  "If I
tell you what I 've got, you'll enjoy it twice as much--once in
anticipation, once in realization."

"But what does this wonderful layout portend or promise?"

"To do good is a privilege, is n't it?"

"Granted."

"Then it's a promise," was Honey's cryptic answer.

Honey had certain little obstinacies, one of which was a way of teasing
Dearie by making him wait when he wanted to know a thing.  It was no
use--Skinner could n't budge her.

"I'll wait," said he.

But all the circumstances pointed to the probability of a new "touch,"
which did not add greatly to his appetite.

After his demi-tasse, Skinner said to Honey, "Come, Honey, spring it."

"Not till you 've got your cigar.  I want you to be perfectly
comfortable."

Skinner lighted up, leaned back in his chair, and affected--so far as he
was able--the appearance of indulgent nonchalance.

"Shoot."

Honey leaned her elbows on the table, rested her chin in the little
basket formed by her interlacing fingers, and looked at Dearie in a way
that she knew to be particularly engaging and effective.

"I 've always wanted to do a certain thing," she began.  "_You_ have
always been my first concern, but now--I want to do something very
personal--very much for my own pleasure.  Will you promise to let me do
it?"

"You bet I will," said Skinner; "nothing's too good for you!"

Skinner was genuinely and enthusiastically generous.  Also, it would be a
good scheme to indulge Honey, since he might have to ask her indulgence
later on.

"I had a letter from mother this morning."

"Indeed?"  There was little warmth in Skinner's tone.  "I suppose she
spoke pleasantly, not to say flatteringly, of me."

"Now, Dearie, don't talk that way.  I know mother is perfectly
unreasonable about you."

"She came darned near making me lose you.  That's the only thing I've got
against her."

"She has n't really anything against you--she only thinks she has,"
observed Honey.

"The only thing she's got against me is that she acted contrary to my
advice and lost her money.  She's hated me ever since!"

"It _is_ wrong of her, but we 're not any of us infallible.  Besides,
she's my mother--and I can't help worrying about her."

"Why worry?"

"The interest on her mortgage comes due and she can't pay it."

"If she'd only listened to me and not taken the advice of that scalawag
brother-in-law of yours, she would n't have any mortgage to pay interest
on."

"She only got a thousand dollars.  At five per cent, that's fifty dollars
a year."

Skinner swallowed hard to keep down the savage impulse that threatened to
manifest itself in profanity whenever he thought of Honey's mother and
his weakling brother-in-law.

"Honey," he said grimly, "does your mother in that letter ask you to help
her out with that interest?"

Honey lifted her head proudly.  "She does n't ask me anything.  She does
n't have to.  She only tells me about it."

"Yes, she does n't have to."

"You know I 've always wanted to do something for her, and I've never
been able to.  I'm ashamed to neglect her now, when we're living so well
and dressing so well--and you have your raise.  It's only a dollar a
week."

"Have you any more relatives who have a speculative tendency?" Skinner
began with chill dignity.

"Now, Dearie!"  Honey began to cry and Skinner got up from the table and
went over and kissed her.

She had married him against mother's advice and had stood by him like a
brick, and he'd do anything for her.  He stroked her glossy hair.  "You
_have_ always wanted to do something for her, have n't you?  You're a
good girl!  Do it!  Send her a dollar a week!"

Skinner resumed his place at the table.  This was the climax, he thought,
the _ne plus ultra_ of it all!  He was to contribute a dollar a week to
his mother-in-law to make up a loss caused by the advice of a detested,
silly-ass brother-in-law, who had always hated him, Skinner.  Surely, the
dress-suit account had reached the debt limit!  He took out his little
book and jotted down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

  One important lesson!
  Never take the first false step!
  It's apt to lead, one knows not
  whither!


"You don't know how happy you've made me," said Honey, "and I 'm so proud
of you--such strength of character--just like old Solon Wright, you're
doing this for one you positively dislike, Dearie!--moral discipline!"

"Moral discipline, your grandmother!" snapped Skinner; then softly, "I'm
doing it for one I love."

"I would n't have mentioned it if you hadn't got your raise.  You know
that!"

His raise!  Skinner thought much about "his" raise as he lay in bed that
night.  Had he gone too far to back out, he wondered?  By Jove, if he did
n't back out, his fast-diminishing bank account would _back_ him out!
The thing would work automatically.  Probably in his whole life Skinner
had never suffered so much disgust.  Think of it!  He must go on paying
mother-in-law a dollar a week forever and ever, amen!  No, he'd be hanged
if he'd do it!  He'd tell Honey the whole thing in the morning and throw
himself on her mercy.  The resolution gave him relief and he went to
asleep.

But he did n't tell Honey in the morning.  He was afraid to hurt her.  He
thought of his resolution of the night.  It's so easy to make
conscience-mollifying resolves in the night when darkness and silence
make cowards of us.  No, he could n't tell her now.  He'd tell her when
he got home to dinner.

Meantime, things were doing in the private office of McLaughlin &
Perkins, Inc.

"I've thought it over this far, Perk," said McLaughlin.

"Well?"

"Understand, I believe in Skinner absolutely--but--"

"Even _your_ judgment is not infallible, you mean?"

"Exactly."

"So do I believe in him," Perkins said.

"I couldn't offend him for the world," McLaughlin went on.  "He's as
sensitive as a cat's tail.  I would n't even dare to go into that cage of
his."  McLaughlin paused, "Yet we've got to do _something_.  We can't
wait till summer when he goes on his vacation.  All kinds of things might
happen before then.  Time and Wall Street don't wait for anybody--except
magnates!"

"You mean, have an expert accountant go over his books?" said Perkins.

"Certainly, that's what I mean--that's what you mean--that's what's been
in both our minds from the time he began to travel with that Pullman
crowd."

"It ought to be done at once," said Perkins.  "If things are not
regular--well, we must protect ourselves.  I'm puzzled how to get rid of
him while we're doing it.  It's a delicate business," Perkins urged.

"I've got that all figured out, Perk." McLaughlin paused to register the
comedy line that was to follow.  "I'm going to send Skinner to St.
Paul--after Willard Jackson!"

The partners were silent for a few moments; then Perkins said, "You
can't, Mac."

"Why not?"

"It's a joke!"

"Of course it's a joke!  But it's a harmless joke.  You and I are the
only ones that are 'on.'  Skinner won't suspect.  We'll put it up to him
in dead earnest."

"The worst Jackson can do is to insult him the way he did you," said
Perkins.

"The old dog!" said McLaughlin.  He paused.  "We'll get Skinner out of
his cage for a while.  It'll cost us so much money--we'll add that on to
the expert accountant's bill.  Can you think of a better way, Perk?"

"Mac, you're a genius!"

McLaughlin pressed the button marked "cashier."

Perkins put out his hand.  "Don't call him yet, Mac.  Wait till I get
through laughing."

McLaughlin turned as the "cage man" entered.

"Hello, Skinner.  Sit down."  He paused a moment to register his next
words.  "Skinner, Mr. Perkins and I want you to do something for us."

Skinner looked from one partner to the other.  "Yes," he said quietly.

"Two years ago we lost the biggest customer we ever had," McLaughlin
proceeded.

"I know.  Willard Jackson--St. Paul."

"Lost him through the stupidity of Briggs," snapped McLaughlin.

Skinner nodded.

"We've been trying to get him back ever since, as you know.  We sent our
silver-tongued Browning out there.  No good!  Then Mr. Perkins went out.
Then I went out.  All this you know."

The "cage man" nodded.

McLaughlin paused.  "Skinner, we want _you_ to go out to St. Paul and get
him back."

Skinner looked curiously from one partner to the other, but both seemed
to be dead serious.

"But--I'm--I'm not a salesman," the "cage man" stammered.

"That's just it," said McLaughlin earnestly.  "There must be something
wrong with the policy or the method or the manners of our salesmen, and
Mr. Perkins and I have thought about it till we're stale.  We want to put
a fresh mind on the job."

"Jackson's gone over to the Starr-Bacon folks.  They do well by him.  How
am I going to pry him loose?" said Skinner.

"We'll do even better by him," said McLaughlin.  "You know this business
as well as I do, Skinner.  I 'm darned if I don't think you know it
better.  You know how closely we can shave figures with our competitors,
I don't care who they are.  I 'm going to make you our minister
plenipotentiary.  Do as you please, only get Jackson.  I don't care if
you take a small loss.  We can make it up later.  But we want his
business."

Skinner pondered a moment.  "Really, Mr. McLaughlin, I don't know what to
say.  I'm very grateful to you for such confidence.  I 'll do my best,
sir."

"It'll take rare diplomacy, rare diplomacy, Skinner," McLaughlin warned.

"What kind of a man is Mr. Jackson?" Skinner asked presently.  "I know
him by his letters, but what kind of man is he to meet?"

"The worst curmudgeon west of Pittsburg," said McLaughlin.  "He'll insult
you, he'll abuse you, he might even threaten to assault you like he did
me.  But he's got a bank roll as big as Vesuvius--and you know what his
business means to us.  Take as much time as you like, spend as much money
as you like, Skinner,--don't stint yourself,--but _get_ Jackson!"

"Have you any suggestions?" said Skinner.

"Not one--and if I had, I would n't offer it.  I want you to use your
wits in your own way, unhampered, unencumbered.  It's up to you."

"When do you want me to go?"

"Business is business--the sooner the quicker!"

Skinner thought a moment.  "Let's see--to-morrow's Sunday.  I'll start
Monday morning, if that is satisfactory."

"Fine!" said McLaughlin, rising and shaking hands with his cashier.

Skinner walked to the door, paused, then came halfway back.  "What kind
of a woman is Mrs. Jackson, Mr. McLaughlin?"

"Well," said McLaughlin, staggered by the question, "she don't handsome
much and she ain't very young, if that's what you mean."

Skinner blushed.  "I didn't mean it that way."

"The only thing I've got against Mrs. Jackson is she's a social climber,"
Perkins broke in.

"The only thing I 've got against her," said McLaughlin, "is--she don't
climb.  She wants to, but she don't."

"Is there any particular reason why she does n't climb?" said Skinner.

"Vulgar--ostentatiously vulgar," said McLaughlin.

Skinner smiled.  He pondered a moment, then ventured, "Say, Mr.
McLaughlin, it'd be a big feather in my cap if I landed Jackson, wouldn't
it?"

"One of the ostrich variety, my son,--seeing that the great auk is dead,"
said McLaughlin solemnly.

Skinner's voice faltered a bit.  "You don't know, Mr. McLaughlin, and
you, Mr. Perkins, how grateful I am for this opportunity.  I--I--"  He
turned and left the room.

"It's pathetic, ain't it?  I feel like a sneak, Perk," said McLaughlin.

"Pathetic, yes," said Perkins.  "But it's for his good.  If he's all
right, we're vindicating him--if he is n't all right, we want to know it."

The "cage man" whistled softly to himself as he reflected that the awful
day of confessing to Honey was deferred for an indefinite period.  It was
a respite.  But what gave him profound satisfaction was the fact that
McLaughlin and Perkins were beginning to realize that he could do
something besides stand in a cage and count money.  They had made him
their plenipotentiary, McLaughlin said.  Gad!  That meant full power!  By
jingo!  He kept on whistling, which was significant, for Skinner rarely
whistled.

And for the first time in his career, when he smelt burning wood pulp and
looked down at the line of messenger boys with a ready-made frown and
caught the eyes of Mickey, the "littlest," smiling impudently at him,
Skinner smiled back.

For the rest of the day, as Skinner sat in his cage, three things kept
running through his head: he's a curmudgeon; she's a climber; and she
_doesn't_ climb.  From these three things the "cage man" subconsciously
evolved a proposition:--

Three persons would go to St. Paul, named in order of their importance:
First, Skinner's dress suit; second, Honey; and third, Skinner.



CHAPTER IX

SKINNER FISHES WITH A DIPLOMATIC HOOK

The first step in the scheme which Skinner had evolved for the
reclamation of Willard Jackson, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was to be taken
Sunday morning, after services, at the First Presbyterian Church of
Meadeville, New Jersey.

Skinner had not told Honey he was going to take her on his trip West.
He would do that after church, if a certain important detail of his
plan did not miscarry.  Although he paid respectful attention to the
sermon, Skinner's thoughts were at work on something not religious, and
he was relieved when the doxology was finished and the blessing asked.
Unlike most of the others present, Skinner was in no hurry to leave.
Instead, he loitered in the aisle until Mrs. Stephen Colby overtook him
on her way down from one of the front pews.

"Why, Mr. Skinner, this _is_ a surprise," exclaimed the social arbiter.
Then slyly, "There's some hope for you yet."

"I thought I'd come in and make my peace before embarking on a railroad
journey," Skinner observed.

"Going away?  Not for long, I hope."

"St. Paul.  I'm not carrying a message from the Ephesians--just a
business trip."

"St. Paul's very interesting."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"You've never been there?"

"No."

"Goodness--I know it well."

"What bothers me is, I'm afraid Mrs. Skinner 'll find it dull.  I'm
taking her along.  You see, I 'll have lots to do, but she does n't
know anybody out there."

The social arbiter pondered a moment.  "But she _should_ know somebody.
Would you mind if I gave her a letter to Mrs. J. Matthews Wilkinson?
Very old friend of mine and very dear.  You'll find her charming.
Something of a bore on family.  Her great-grandfather was a kind of
land baron out that way."

"It's mighty good of you to do that for Mrs. Skinner."

"Bless you, I'm doing it for you, too.  You have n't forgotten that
you're a devilish good dancer and you don't chatter all the time?"
Then, after a pause, "I'm wishing a good thing on the Wilkinsons,
too,"--confidentially,--"for I don't mind telling you I've found Mrs.
Skinner perfectly delightful.  She's a positive joy to me."

"You're all right, Mrs. Colby."

"That's the talk.  Yes, I'm coming along."  She waved her hand to
Stephen Colby.  "When do you go?"

"To-morrow morning."

"I'll send the letter over this afternoon--and if you don't mind, I 'll
wire the Wilkinsons that you're coming on."

Skinner impulsively caught her hand.  "Mrs. Colby, you're the best
fellow I ever met!"

When the letter arrived at the Skinner's house that afternoon, Honey
knitted her brows.

"I don't understand it."

"You ought to.  It's for you."

"Dearie," said Honey, rising, her eyes brimming, "you mean to say that
I'm going to St. Paul with you?"

"Don't have to say it.  Is n't that letter enough?"

"Dearie, you're the most wonderful man I ever saw.  Think of it!--a
letter from Mrs. Colby!  I'll bet those Wilkinsons are swells!"

"They breathe the Colby stratum of the atmosphere.  It's a special
stratum, designed and created for that select class."

"It's quite intoxicating."

"Special brands usually are."

"I thought those Western cities did n't have classes."

"My dear, blood is n't a matter of geography.  There's not a village in
the United States that does n't have its classes.  The more loudly they
brag of their democracy, the greater the distance from the top to the
bottom."

As Skinner said this, he jotted down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    One "open sesame" to the
                                    smartest set west of the
                                    Alleghanies!


and Honey clapped her hands.

And as he put Mrs. Colby's letter in his inside pocket, Skinner
muttered to himself, "A climber, but does n't climb.  She'll climb for
this all right!"

The Skinners reached St. Paul Tuesday night and registered at The
Hotel.  When he had deposited Honey in the suite which had been
reserved by wire for them, Skinner proceeded to execute the next step
in his scheme for the reclamation of Willard Jackson.  He returned to
the desk.

"I wish," he said to the chief clerk, "that you 'd see to it that a
paragraph regarding my arrival is put in the morning papers, just a
little more than mere mention among hotel arrivals"--he took pen and
paper and wrote--"something like this: 'William Manning Skinner, of
McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., New York, reached town last evening and is
stopping at The Hotel.'  There's a lot of people here I want to see,
but I might overlook 'em in the rush of business.  If they know I'm
here, they'll come to see me."

"Very good, Mr. Skinner," said the clerk.  "I'll see to it."

Skinner paused a moment.  "By Jove, I've almost forgotten the principal
thing."  He added a few words to the copy.  "Put that in, too, please.
Can you read it?  See: 'Mrs. Skinner, daughter of the late Archibald
Rutherford, of Hastings-on-the-Hudson, accompanies her husband.'
That's just to please her."

[Illustration: "Mrs. Skinner, daughter of the late Archibald
Rutherford, of Hastings-on-the-Hudson, accompanies her husband"]

"'Rutherford'--'Hastings-on-the-Hudson'--swagger name," commented the
clerk.

Skinner smiled at the clerk's comment.  If it impressed this dapper,
matter-of-fact, know-everybody man-of-affairs that way, how much more
would it appeal to Mrs. Curmudgeon W. Jackson's social nose.
Veritably, it augured well for his scheme.

But he only said, "It reads a devilish sight better than plain Skinner,
does n't it?"

"Well," said the clerk, trying to be consoling and diplomatic and
failing in both, "you must n't always judge a man by his name."

After breakfast next morning Skinner and Honey remained in their rooms,
waiting for the message that was to come from the Wilkinsons, for
Skinner had reckoned that any friend of the Colbys would receive prompt
attention.

"She'll call you up, Honey, and ask us to dine to-night.  There, there,
don't ask any questions.  I've figured it all out.  But we're engaged
until Saturday."

"Engaged every night?  Why, Dearie, this is only Wednesday.  You had
n't told me anything about it."

"Quite right," said Skinner, "I had not."

"What are we going to do?"

"I have no plans.  I suppose we'll sit in our rooms or go to the
theater."

"Well," said Honey, "it beats me."

On reading the morning paper, Mrs. J. Matthews Wilkinson said to her
husband, "They're here--the Skinners--Jennie Colby's friends, you know.
We must have them to dinner."

"When?" said Wilkinson, looking up from his paper.

"I dare say they'll be here but a short time.  Better make it to-night."

"You're the doctor," said Wilkinson, resuming his paper.

"We'll send out a hurry call for the Armitages and the Bairds and the
Wendells," said Mrs. Wilkinson, mentally running over her list of the
most select of St. Paul's inner circle.  "We'll show these people that
we're not barbarians out here."

"Can you corral all those folks for to-night?  Is n't it rather sudden,
my dear?"

"I've dined with them on shorter notice than that, just to accommodate
them.  I 'll call up the Skinners right away."

Honey answered the 'phone.  Of course they'd be delighted to dine at
the Wilkinsons, but every night was filled up to Saturday.  A pause.
Hold Saturday for them?  She should say they would.

There was another pause.  Then Honey clapped her hand over the receiver
and turned to Skinner.

"Can we take a spin with them this afternoon, Dearie?"

"You bet.  We've nothing else to do."

"You fraud," said Honey, when she had hung up the receiver, "you said
you had engagements."

"I tried to convey to you," observed Skinner, somewhat loftily, "that
we couldn't dine at the Wilkinsons' before Saturday.  That covers it, I
think."

According to Skinner's plans, the dinner at the Wilkinsons' was to be
the big, climactic drive at the fortress of Willard Jackson's
stubbornness.

As Skinner had reckoned, Mrs. Curmudgeon W. Jackson nosed out the
paragraph in the morning paper, first thing.

"Who is this Mr. Skinner, Willard?  Do you know him?"

"What Skinner?"

"William Manning Skinner."

"Never heard of him."

"He's of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.,--your old friends."

Jackson pricked up his ears.

"What's he doing here?  Does it say?"

"No."

"I know," said Jackson shrewdly.  "He's out here after me."  He
chuckled.  "They've been sending emissaries to get me back ever since I
quit 'em.  Even the partners came out, one at a time.  That shows what
they think of my trade."

"Skinner's got his wife with him."

"I don't blame him.  It's a devilish mean business going on the road
without some one to look after you."  Jackson paused.  "But he can't
disguise his fine Italian hand that way.  I know those fellows."

"She's some swell," said Mrs. Jackson.  "Daughter of the late Archibald
Rutherford, of Hastings-on-the-Hudson."

"That don't mean anything.  The way they write it makes it _look_
aristocratic.  Rutherford!--he might have been a butcher!  And
Hastings-on-the-Hudson!  Well, they have butchers there as well as
Astors!"

"Mebbe you're right."

"I'll bet you a new dress Skinner'll be after me to-day," said Jackson,
folding his newspaper and preparing to leave for his office.  "Trust
your Uncle Dudley here--I know."

The very first words that greeted Jackson that night when he reached
home were, "I get the dress, don't I?"

"How do you know?"

"Skinner didn't get after you to-day.  Look!"

Mrs. Jackson held up the evening paper and read aloud.  "'A belated
honeymoon--that's what we're here for more than anything else,' said
Mr. William Manning Skinner, of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., of New
York, to a reporter this afternoon.  The Skinners had just returned
from a spin over beyond Minneapolis with the J. Matthews Wilkinsons--"

"The devil you say!" said Jackson, reaching over and taking the paper.
"Aw!"  He chucked the paper aside.  "That don't establish their social
status any more than living in Hastings-on-the-Hudson or being a
Rutherford.  It don't amount to anything.  It's just business.  Fellows
like Wilkinson, when some outsider is n't quite good enough socially
and they want to swell his head without committing themselves, take him
in their car or to the club.  In that way they save their business
faces without sacrificing their social faces.  I know," he growled.

"But how did he get in with the Wilkinsons?  They have n't any
business."

"Wilkinson is in all sorts of things that nobody knows of but himself."
He glanced over the sub-caption.  "Skinner sees no difference socially
between the St. Paul and the New York people.  Puts St. Paul first," he
observed, "thanks for that."  He read further.  "'But the Western
people are more frankly hospitable'!"

"Moonshine!  Moonshine!" he commented.  "Hospitality ain't a matter of
location.  You'll find generous people and devilish mean people, no
matter where you go.  That's soft soap.  It reads well--but--I know."

"It don't look as if he'd have much time for you, Willard."

"He ain't through yet," said Jackson, lighting a stogie.  "I'll bet you
another dress that to-morrow--"

"Taken!"

Mrs. Jackson turned again to the paper.

"That girl knows how to _dress_, all right!"

But it was n't Honey's dress that stirred Mrs. Jackson's soul to the
depths.  These Skinners were hand in glove with the inaccessible
Wilkinsons, and--the devil take it--Jackson was no longer a customer of
McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.

Skinner read the evening paper with great satisfaction.  The inky seed
disseminated through the press was, he felt, bound to take strong root
in the fertile consciousness of Mrs. Curmudgeon W. Jackson, and
therefrom was sure to react effectively upon the decidedly active
consciousness of Jackson himself.

With this end in view, as per plan of campaign for the reclamation of
Willard Jackson, Skinner had had himself interviewed on a subject dear
and flattering to the Middle West, especially flattering to St. Paul.
He had written his "first impressions of St. Paul" on the way out from
New York, and had permitted the same to be extracted by the
reporters--with great cunning--from his modest and reluctant self.
Honey was present--designedly present--while the young newspaper men
were quizzing Skinner, dressed in her very latest, which was carefully
noted and described in the interview, for decorative purposes.

"We just looked in _en passant_," Skinner observed to the reporters,
using his French to the limit.  "It's a kind of belated honeymoon.
We've seen Mr. Hill's residence and we ran over and looked at those
wonderful flour mills in Minneapolis, your neighbor"--  He paused.

A frozen atmosphere seemed suddenly to enshroud the reporters.  Their
pencils ceased to record.

"Oh, yes, let's get back to St. Paul."

Instantly the temperature rose about a hundred degrees, and the
reporters' pencils began to move again.

When the newspaper men were gone, Skinner jotted down:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Useful hint!  When you're
                                    in St. Paul, talk about
                                    _St. Paul_!


And when he read his interview in the evening paper, Skinner made this
entry:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    A certain remarkable
                                    authority in discussing social
                                    matters which I never thought
                                    I possessed.  In fact, which I
                                    never did possess until I got
                                    the dress suit.


The Skinners devoted the days between Wednesday and Saturday to loafing
or sight-seeing, principally the former.  They drove over to
Minneapolis again and took in the wonderful flour mills, for anything
that pertained to machinery fascinated Skinner.  Then they went out to
the Lake and had a trout dinner and all the rest of it.  But after a
time, this unaccountably useless routine got on Honey's nerves.

"Dearie," she protested, "this is our honeymoon, to be sure, but don't
you think you ought to get after business?"

"Don't worry.  Business will get after _us_ pretty soon."

"But time is flying."

"Time is doing just what I want it to do.  It takes time for plans to
develop.  It takes time for seed to grow.  I started business getting
after us Sunday morning at the First Presbyterian Church in Meadeville.
I prepared some of the seed on the way out here.  I began sowing the
evening we arrived.  I fanned the flame with a big puff,"--he held up
the paper with the interview in it.  "Jingo, that's funny.  I did n't
mean it literally."

"Your metaphors are fearfully mixed, Dearie."

"Does n't matter.  They're graphic."

"But they're not clear to me."

"They are to me, which is enough," said Skinner, with a suggestion of
finality.

Honey pouted reproachfully at the snub, and Skinner's heart instantly
smote him.

"Don't worry, Honey.  It's all right."  He paused.  "Now, I'm going to
make a prophecy."  He pointed impressively at her with his forefinger.
"And you mark my words!  Things will begin to happen right after the
Wilkinson dinner."

"That's Sunday morning."

"Things have happened on Sunday," observed Skinner quietly.

"When do you expect to start for home?"

"I 'm not sure, but I 'm counting strongly on Tuesday morning."

While the Skinners were talking, something pertaining to the same
business was developing in another part of the city.

"Do I get another dress?" Mrs. Jackson asked as the famous curmudgeon
entered the dining-room Thursday evening.

"You do," he growled.  "I'll be hanged if I understand it."

"It's too bad," Mrs. Jackson began.

The curmudgeon held up his finger.  "Stop right where you are.  I know
what you're going to say."  He growled out the accustomed formula:
"'You'd give me dresses all day long and diamonds and a magnificent
house, but you don't give me what is dearest in the world.  I want to
go with the people I 'm fit to go with!'  In the future, just to save
time, cross your fingers and I'll know you mean formula number two."

"But Mr. Skinner," Mrs. Jackson persisted.

The curmudgeon cut her short.  "What's _Skinner_ got to do with it?"

"Got to do with it?  Why, he's a regular missing link!"

"Missing link?"  Jackson looked at her in surprise.  "Have you seen
him?"

"I don't mean that--I mean connecting link."

"Some difference," Jackson grunted.

"If you hadn't gone and broken with McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc."

"That's enough.  It's too late now.  I don't want to hear anything more
about it."

Mrs. Jackson said nothing.  She knew that silence at such a time was
her most effective weapon.  Jackson waited for her to speak, but as she
did not speak he immediately felt sorry that he'd been short with her.
She was the only person in the world he really cared for.  But he must
show no outward sign of weakness, so he repeated, "It's too late now, I
tell you!"

But, being a resourceful man, Jackson never considered anything too
late.  He would never take defeat for granted until he should be in his
coffin.  As a matter of fact, he had often regretted that he had broken
with McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.  If it had n't been for that fresh
salesman, Briggs, he never would have.  And after he _had_ broken with
them, his stupid obstinacy had stood in the way of resuming friendly
relations, for McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., had always delivered the
goods.



CHAPTER X

SKINNER LANDS A CURMUDGEON

With his head full of these reflections but without any definite method
to accomplish a rather indefinite purpose, Jackson strolled into the
lobby of The Hotel the next morning.

"Who is this Skinner that was interviewed?" he asked the chief clerk,
whom he had known for a long time.

Glibly the clerk recounted to Jackson all he knew about their guest,
who had suddenly become illustrious through the magic touch of the J.
Matthews Wilkinsons.

"Point him out to me," said Jackson.  "I always like to look over these
Eastern guys that know so much that ain't so about us Middle West
people."

"The Skinners don't get down to breakfast before ten," said the clerk.

An hour later Jackson strolled in casually and took a chair opposite
the desk.  Here was an opportunity for the clerk, an opportunity which
Jackson had arranged for him without his knowing it.  He passed around
from behind the desk and intercepted Skinner as he and Honey were about
to step into the elevator.

"Mr. Skinner," he said, "I'd like you to meet one of our prominent
citizens."  He led Skinner over to where the curmudgeon was sitting.
"Mr. Skinner, I want you to shake hands with Mr. Willard Jackson."

"How do you do, Mr. Skinner?" said Jackson, rather reservedly; for now
that the game was going the way he had designed it should go, he wanted
to make it appear that the clerk, and not he, had taken the initiative.

"I'm very glad to meet you, Mr. Jackson," said Skinner, with his
accustomed cordiality.

"I saw your little squib in the paper," said Jackson.  "You must belong
to the Boost Club."

"It never does any harm to tell pleasant truths," said Skinner.

Presently Jackson remarked, "You're with McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., I
see."

"You know them?"

"Why, yes.  I'm Willard Jackson."

"Oh, yes," laughed Skinner, "how stupid of me.  Of course I know.
Certainly I know."  He caught Jackson's coat and drew him over and
added confidentially, "I'm a little bit abstracted.  You see, this is a
kind of junketing expedition.  Just what they said in the paper--a
belated honeymoon.  I've never had a chance before, and I'm devoting my
whole time to giving the wife a good time."  He pulled out his watch.
"Say, you'll excuse me.  We've got a date."

"Of course," said Jackson.

Skinner grasped Jackson's hand cordially.  "Say, won't you run in again
and have a chat?  I'm awfully glad to have met you."

"Well, I'll be jiggered," said Jackson to himself as he left The Hotel.
Anyhow, he reflected, as he walked downtown to his office, he'd taken
the first step, he'd broken the ice.  It had gone against the grain to
do it, but it was entirely on the wife's account.  He'd let Skinner
take the next step.  He'd be darned if _he_ would.

But as usual in social matters, the woman's domain entirely, the man in
the case reckoned without his host!

For two whole days Jackson waited in his office for Skinner to
appear--waited in vain.  He dreaded going home to dinner, dreaded
formula number two.  Each night he half determined to 'phone some
excuse and dine at the club, but put the suggestion aside as petty,
shirking.  However, nothing was said at dinner by the good Mrs.
Curmudgeon, and Jackson began to feel that the incident was closed.

If only the departure, the sudden departure, of Skinner would be as
conspicuously recorded as his advent had been, what a relief it would
be.  Nothing further appeared in the papers about Skinner, however, and
Jackson was flattering himself that that gentleman had folded his tent
like the Arab.  A great calm prevailed in the heart of Jackson.  But
this proved to be only a weather-breeder.

Sunday morning when Jackson entered the breakfast room, he found his
wife in tears.  "Look," she cried, holding up the paper and pointing to
the great headline.

"What's the matter?  Some accident?  Somebody dead?"

"I should say not!  Somebody's very much alive!  We're the dead ones!"

Jackson took the paper from her hand and read: "Important Social Event.
The West dines the East.  Mr. and Mrs. J. Matthews Wilkinson entertain
at a quiet, select dinner Mr. and Mrs. William Manning Skinner, of New
York.  The dinner guests were Mr. and Mrs. Philip Armitage, Mr. and
Mrs. Almeric Baird, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Wendell--"

Jackson put the paper down.  Somehow he felt guilty.  He avoided his
wife's reproachful eyes.  But he did n't dare cover up his ears, and
the ear is not always so successful at avoiding as the eye.  The eye
can see only straight ahead, but the ear can hear from all around.

"Think of it," sniffled Mrs. Jackson, her sniffle developing into a
blubber as she went on.  "I'm not a snob, but why can't _I_ go with
those people?  We've got lots of money!  I want to see the best kind of
life, but I've never had the chance, and now these Skinners come here,
are taken up,--wined and dined,--and we're left out in the cold!"

[Illustration: "Why can't _I_ go with those people?" she sniffled]

"How can I help that?" Jackson grunted.  But he knew what was coming
and it came.

"You _could_ have helped it.  Traded with McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.,
for years and then broke off--spoiled this chance!"

"How the deuce could I see two years ahead and know that Skinner was
coming out here?" Jackson snapped.  "Besides, he could n't have got us
an invitation to that dinner anyhow!"

"The Wilkinsons have taken him up.  They've established his social
status.  It was n't a public dinner, such as a politician gives to
another politician; it was n't an automobile ride or a club affair.  It
was a private dinner, very private!  They introduced him to the select
few, the inner circle,--him and his wife,--his wife!!" she wailed.

"But what does that lead to?"

"We might not go there, but we could have had the Skinners here."

"What good would that do?  It would n't put you in direct touch with
the Wilkinsons, even if you did have the Skinners here."

"No, but it would help.  The J. Matthews Wilkinsons dine them one day,
the Willard Jacksons dine them another day.  See--the connecting link?"

"Oh, damn these social distinctions," said Jackson.  "It's you women
that make 'em.  We men don't!"

"I can't eat any breakfast," Mrs. Jackson sobbed.  "I'm too upset.  I
must go to my room!"

Jackson did n't eat much breakfast either.  When his wife had gone, he
threw the paper to the floor and kicked it under the table, then he
jammed his hat on to his head, and with a whole mass of profanity
bubbling and boiling within him, he left the house.  In the calm that
succeeded the storm within, Jackson reflected that his present domestic
tranquillity was threatened by the presence of these Skinners, and not
only that, but their coming, if he could not avail of it, would be a
source of reproach for years to come.  Being something of a bookkeeper,
he figured out that if, on the one hand, he might be compelled to eat a
bit of humble pie,--not customarily a part of the curmudgeon's
diet,--on the other hand, he would gain perhaps years of immunity from
reproaches and twitting.

Many times he passed and re-passed The Hotel, first with a grim
determination to go in, and then with as grim a determination not to go
in.  But at last his wife's troubled, haunting eyes won, as they always
did, and he went in.

Jackson waited an hour before Skinner appeared.  Skinner had reckoned
that about that time the curmudgeon would be lounging around
downstairs, waiting to meet him quite accidentally, so he permitted
himself a cigar and a stroll in the office, which stroll was made to
appear casual.

The curmudgeon had disposed himself in a huge armchair, which commanded
a view of the elevator, and no sooner did he see Skinner emerge than he
busied himself assiduously staring at, but not perceiving, the pages of
the Sunday magazine section.  With equal assiduity, Skinner, who as
soon as he had left the elevator had observed Jackson, avoided seeing
him, although he clearly perceived him.

Thus they played at cross-purposes for a while, these two overgrown
boys.

"Hello," said Jackson, looking up from his paper as Skinner strolled
past for the fourth time.  "You here yet?"

"I hate to tear myself away," said Skinner.  "Have a cigar?"

Jackson took the weed and indicated a chair next his own.

"By Jove," said Skinner, seating himself and crossing his legs
comfortably, "I like this town.  Wonderful climate, fine
people--and"--he turned to Jackson--"devilish good grub."

"Have you had a trout dinner yet?" said Jackson.

"Yes.  Out at the Lake the other day."

"I mean a _real_ one--cooked by a _real_ cook--all the trimmings."

"No, I can't say that I have."

Jackson paused, drummed on the arm of his chair, and swallowed hard.
"I've got the best cook in the Middle West," he observed.

"That's going some."

"You think you've eaten, don't you?  Well, you haven't.  You ought to
try _my_ cook."

"That would be fine," said Skinner.

Skinner knew exactly what Jackson would say next.  It was wonderful, he
thought, almost uncanny, how the curmudgeon was doing just what he had
schemed out that he would do--willed him to do.  He felt like a
magician operating the wires for some manikin to dance at the other end
or a hypnotist directing a subject.

Things were going swimmingly for Jackson, too.  He felt that he had
executed his little scheme very well, without any danger of being found
out or even suspected, yet he had never known things to fall in line as
they were doing now.  Still, he flattered himself it was good
management.  For Jackson was not a believer in luck.

"How long are you going to stay here?" he asked abruptly.

"Tuesday morning."

"You and the Missus had better come out and try that cook of mine
before you go."

Jackson affected indifference, but his heart was beating high, higher
than it had beaten for years, for he was a man that had always had his
own way, and was not given to argument or diplomatic finessing.  Having
shot his bolt, Jackson waited.

Skinner turned in his chair.  "That's mighty good of you, old chap," he
said cordially.  "You're just like these other hospitable Westerners.
You've bragged about your cook and you want to show me that you can
make good.  But I'll let you off--I'll take your word for it this time."

"I don't want you to take my word for it," Jackson retorted.  "Besides,
I'd like to have your wife meet my wife!"

"So would I," said Skinner.  He paused a moment.

Right here was the bit of humble pie that Jackson had prepared to eat,
if necessary, but taken from the hand of a cordial fellow like Skinner,
it would n't be so hard, after all.

"Skinner, you 're a good fellow--so am I a good fellow.  I like you.
There's no reason why we should n't be friends--personally--you
understand."

"Mr. Jackson," said Skinner, "you're a frank man.  I'm going to be
frank with you.  I don't feel that it would be loyal to my firm if I
should accept your hospitality, under the circumstances.  It's all well
enough to be impersonal, separate business life from social life
but"--and here he began to butter the humble pie that he had felt it to
be inevitable that Jackson should eat--"you stood mighty well with our
house.  You've got a great reputation.  It was most important to us.
We did everything we could to please you.  After the break came, we
went the limit in the way of eating humble pie to get you back again.
But you set your face against us hard.  I might even waive that, but
just you look at it yourself."  Skinner laughed.  "You know you did n't
treat McLaughlin very well--and the curious part was, McLaughlin was
always very fond of you personally."

At the last words Jackson capitulated.  "See here, you and the Missus
come out to dinner to-morrow night and we'll talk things over."

Skinner hesitated.

"I've thought this all out," said Jackson.  "The Starr-Bacon folks have
been figuring on that bunch of machinery that I'm going to get in.
Here's what they say.  Can you meet those figures?"

Skinner looked over the memorandum Jackson handed him and made a quick
calculation.  "Yes," said he, "we can meet them."

"The order is yours."

"I won't take it," said Skinner, "unless you throw in that trout
dinner."

That night Skinner wired McLaughlin and Perkins, Inc., that he'd caught
the bear and was bringing the hide home with him--the hide being the
fattest order that that concern had had for many a day.

Then he jotted down in his little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    Landed one curmudgeon!

                                    Bait used--domestic
                                    tranquillity!

                                    Method--did n't use any!
                                    Just stood off and waited,
                                    and he landed himself.



CHAPTER XI

THE OSTRICH FEATHER

When Skinner entered the office of McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc., two days
later, he found that the partners had arranged a reception committee of
two to welcome him.

Both shook hands cordially and McLaughlin said, "Skinner, we're not
only convinced that you're a thoroughly honest and methodical man"--he
glanced knowingly at Perking--"but that you're a very able man as well.
We--"

Skinner cut him short.  "Mr. McLaughlin, do I get the ostrich feather?"

"You do, indeed,--and I'm only sorry that the great auk is dead!"

Skinner blushed.  "You don't know how good you 've made me feel, really
you don't--giving me this chance to show what I could do."

"You had your chance and you showed what you could do, all right,"
McLaughlin broke in.  He paused, then, "Now, tell us, Skinner, how did
you do it?"

Skinner hesitated.  "I'd rather not."

"Why?" said McLaughlin.  "Ain't you got it patented?"

"Secret process," said Skinner.

"It's more than that, it's an _effective_ process.  But what's
important to us, Skinner, is--could you work it on other folks besides
Jackson?"

"Yes--that is, most other men--middle-aged men."

"Why middle-aged men?"

"Because they're married--most middle-aged men are."

McLaughlin turned to Perkins.  "I'm darned if he ain't gone and mashed
the climber.  That's what I think!"

Skinner thrust his hands into his pockets, walked over to the window,
then turned and slowly came back to within a few feet of where
McLaughlin was sitting.

"On my way back from St. Paul, Mr. McLaughlin," he said--and Perkins,
recognizing the premonitory symptoms, crossed to the window and stood
with his back to his partner and "the cage man"--"Mr. McLaughlin,"
Skinner repeated after a pause, "I've been thinking that the most
valuable man to any concern is the one that gets the business for it."

"Right-o!" said McLaughlin.

"And the hardest man to get," Skinner went on, "is the customer you get
back.  You not only have to pry him loose from some other concern with
better figures, but you have his personal pride to overcome.  To come
back is a surrender."

"All of which means that you expect a raise, eh, Skinner?"

"I was only going to suggest--"

"You don't have to suggest.  We've already decided to raise you
twenty-five dollars a week.  How does that strike you?  Just as a mark
of appreciation."

"I can't see any appreciation in it unless you take me out of the
cage--for this reason," said Skinner.  "As a 'cage man' I'm not worth
much more than I 've been getting.  In order to earn that extra
twenty-five dollars a week I 've got to have a chance to show what I
can do further.  Take me out of the cage."

"Skinner," said McLaughlin, "you didn't for a minute think that we were
going to keep a man that could pull off such a trick as that in a cage,
did you?  We're going to make you a salesman."

The idea of going on the road did n't appeal to Skinner.

"To be frank, Mr. McLaughlin, I want something better than that."

"Better?"

"Yes.  I want to be put in charge of the sales department.  You see, I
not only know the business from beginning to end, but I want to show
our salesmen that selling goods means something more than rattling off
a list of what you've got, dilating like a parrot.  I want to teach
them the value of knowledge of the personal equation and how to apply
that knowledge effectively.  Does n't that telegram from Jackson show
that I know something about it?"

"What do you think of Skinner's proposition?" McLaughlin said to the
junior partner.

Perkins turned and came back to the table.  "Skinner seems to have the
goods."

"Mr. McLaughlin," Skinner urged, "it is n't that I feel big about what
I've done, it is n't that I think I know more than anybody else, but
I've had ideas about things I've always wanted to put into practice.
When you sent me out to St. Paul, I formulated a little scheme of
attack on Jackson, and you saw how it worked.  I think that entitles my
opinion to some respect.  I've got the good of this concern at heart
and I want to show what can be done along original lines."

McLaughlin looked at Perkins and Perkins nodded affirmatively.

"Skinner, I 'm going to let you see what you can do," said the senior
partner; then paused.  He turned to Perkins.  "The devil of it is, what
to do with Hobson."

"Let him take charge of the San Francisco office," Perkins suggested.

"I don't like to hurt the old chap's feelings."

"Hurt his feelings?  Why, he's always wanted to go back to the
Coast--where he belongs."

All that day, while Skinner was instructing the young man who was to
succeed him as "cage man," he was very happy.  He was happy that the
field of his activities was broadening, that he'd have a chance to show
what was in him.  But he was particularly happy that now he would never
have to tell Honey that he'd deceived her.

This, however, would involve a negative deception, worse luck, he
mused, for he would not be able to tell her about the twenty-five
dollars advance he'd just got.  He would go right along as he had been
doing, each week giving Honey ten dollars to deposit in the Meadeville
National.  Then he, himself, would deposit ten dollars a week until
he'd made up for the number of weeks that had elapsed since he'd
promoted himself.  Thus their little bank account would remain intact,
and Honey would not know unless--his heart slowed down--McLaughlin
should take to bragging about him and how they'd shown their
appreciation of what he'd done in St. Paul, and Mrs. McLaughlin should
get hold of it and pass it along to Honey--which would have the effect
of perpetuating his original, devilish raise.

But he was n't going to cross that bridge yet!

And so it came about that eight months later, one beautiful morning in
December, McLaughlin said to the junior partner, "That which I feared
has come upon us!"

"What's the matter?  Has Skinner asked for another raise?"

"Worse'n that.  The Starr-Bacon people have made him an offer!"

"I see!  That's because he pried Willard Jackson and others loose from
that concern.  Probably they want him to use the same method to get
those people away from us and back in to the S.-B. fold."

"It's clear what _they_ want.  It is n't so clear what we've got to do."

"Raise his pay again," Perkins suggested.

"That ain't enough.  Skinner claims he wants broader fields of
opportunity."

"I hope he's willing to let you and me run things a while longer."

"I don't know what to do.  You see, Skinner proved to be an awfully
good man, just so soon as we gave him his head.  He's an all-round man.
When he was cashier, he not only could collect money from anybody who
had a cent, and without losing business either, but he steered us away
from some very bad risks that those two enterprising young salesmen,
Briggs and Henderson, tried to 'put over' on us."

"That was his business.  He was cashier."

"But see what he's done since we made him manager of the sales
department," urged McLaughlin.  "He has not only opened up new
territory and got in new customers, but he's reclaimed old, abandoned
fields of operation and got back a lot of old fellows.  He's delivered
the goods all along the line, Perk.  Besides that, it was Skinner that
got us to put in that new machinery over in Newark.  Why, it's already
saved a quarter of its cost in fuel.  Also, Perk, he's a great little
adviser."

"I know his value, Mac, as well as you do."

McLaughlin laughed.  "We did n't either of us know it till we sent him
out West.  He kept his light under a bushel so long."

"Kept it in a cage, you mean."

"If he goes over to the Starr-Bacon people, he takes his methods with
him, and you know--customers follow methods."

"What we want to do," said the junior, "is to offset the Starr-Bacon
offer without you and me having to sell our machines and take to the
subway in order to pay his salary.  How would it do to make him general
manager?  Skinner's ambitious--he's looking for honor."

"No," said McLaughlin, after pondering a few moments, "if we keep him
on a salary and he remains an employee only, he will still be
susceptible to outside offers.  The only thing to do is to make him a
partner!  That's the only way to keep him!"

"Make him a partner, Mac?  This isn't a firm any more; it's a
corporation."

"Same thing--you and I own it, don't we?"

"Quite so."

"Well, all we've got to do's to give him a block of stock--ain't it?"

"Question 's, how much?"

"Enough to hold him."

"But how much would that be?" Perkins insisted.

"I 'll have to feel him out."

"I guess you 're right."  Perkins paused a bit,--then, "Well, Mac, the
worm turned--you didn't head him off?"

"Who wants to head off such a worm?  Let him turn!  The more he turns
the better for us!  Do you know what his first turn meant in terms of
cash?  No?  Just ring for Millard."

Millard was chief bookkeeper.

That night, as Skinner sipped his second demi-tasse, he looked across
the table at his beautiful wife, who was assiduously studying an
automobile catalogue.  The suggestion it conveyed gave Skinner a touch
of apprehension.  But the aforesaid touch lasted only a moment.  He
banished it and all other cares by making the following entry in his
little book:--

                   _Dress-Suit Account_

           _Debit_                         _Credit_

                                    A one-third interest in
                                    McLaughlin & Perkins, Inc.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Skinner's Dress Suit" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home