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Title: The Best Policy
Author: Flower, Elliott
Language: English
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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 "The Best Policy" ***

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[Illustration: “Mrs. Vincent, I have found the insurance policy” _Page
114_]



                            The Best Policy

                          _By_ ELLIOTT FLOWER

                               Author of
                “The Spoilsman,” “Policeman Flynn,” etc.

                             Illustrated By
                              GEORGE BREHM

                          _A. L. BURT COMPANY_
                      _Publishers        New York_



                             Copyright 1905
                       The Bobbs-Merrill Company

                                October



                                TO THOSE
                        FOR WHOSE BENEFIT I HAVE
                             INSURED MY OWN
                                  LIFE



         THE BEST POLICY

           INCLUDING

  An Incidental Comedy             1
  An Incidental Question          25
  An Incidental Tragedy           47
  An Incidental Speculation       73
  An Incidental Favor             99
  An Incidental Error            123
  An Incidental Failure          149
  An Incidental Scheme           167
  An Incidental Courtship        187
  An Incidental Sacrifice        207
  An Incidental Discovery        229
  An Incidental Grievance        251



THE BEST POLICY



AN INCIDENTAL COMEDY


Naturally, when Harry Beckford married he began to take a more serious
view of life. If there is anything at all of thoughtfulness and
consideration in a man, marriage brings it out: he begins to plan. He
has some one dependent upon him, some one for whom he must provide. That
he should trust to luck before was solely his affair; that he should
trust to luck now is quite another matter.

In the case of Beckford, as in the cases of most other young men, this
feeling was of gradual growth. He was optimistic and happy; his future
looked long and bright; he had ample time in which to accumulate a
comfortable fortune; but—he wasn’t even beginning. He and his wife so
enjoyed life that they were spending all he made. It wasn’t a large sum,
but it was enough to make them comfortable and contented, enough to give
them all reasonable pleasures. Later—he thought of this only in a hazy,
general sort of way—they would begin to save. There was plenty of time
for this, for they were both young, and he had proved himself of
sufficient value to his employer to make his rapid advancement
practically certain. The employer was a big corporation, the general
manager of which had taken a deep personal interest in him, and the
opportunities were limitless.

But the feeling of responsibility that came to him with marriage
gradually took practical form, perhaps because the girl who sat opposite
him at the breakfast-table was so very impractical. She was loving,
lovable, delightfully whimsical, but also unreasoningly impractical in
many ways. Before marriage she never had known a care; after marriage
her cares were much like those of a child with a doll-house—they gave
zest to life but could be easily put aside. If the maid proved
recalcitrant, it was annoying, but they could dine at a restaurant and
go to the theater afterward, and Harry would help her with breakfast the
next morning. Harry was so awkward, but so willing, that it all became a
huge joke. Harry had not passed the stage where he would “kiss the cook”
in these circumstances, and an occasional hour in the kitchen is not so
bad when there is a fine handsome young man there, to be ordered about
and told to “behave himself.” So even marriage had not yet awakened
Isabel Beckford to the stern realities of life.

It was her impracticalness, her delightful dependence, that finally
brought Harry to the point of serious thought. What would she do, if
anything happened to him? Her father had been successful but
improvident: he would leave hardly enough for her mother alone to live
in modest comfort; and, besides, Harry was not the kind of youth to put
his responsibilities on another. He began to think seriously about
cutting expenses and putting something aside, even at this early day.
The really successful men had begun at the beginning to do this. Then
there came to his notice the sad case of Mrs. Baird, who was left with
nothing but a baby. Baird had been a young man of excellent promise and
a good income, but he had left his widow destitute. He had put nothing
aside, intending, doubtless, to begin that later.

“Just like me,” thought Harry, as he looked at his girl-wife across the
table.

“Isn’t it frightful?” she asked, referring to the little tragedy
contained in the item he had just read to her from the morning paper.
“Every one thought the Bairds were so prosperous, too.”

“Every one thinks we are prosperous,” he commented thoughtfully.

“Oh, that’s different!” she exclaimed. “You mustn’t talk like that or
you’ll make me gloomy for the whole day! Why, it sounds as if you were
expecting to die!”

“Not at all,” he replied, “but neither was Baird.”

“Please don’t!” she pleaded. “I shan’t have another happy minute—until
I’ve forgotten what you said.”

He laughed at the ingenuousness of this and blew her a kiss across the
table; but he did not abandon the subject.

“Baird was a young man,” he persisted, “but, with a little care and
forethought, he could have left things in fair shape.”

“Perhaps we ought to be saving a little,” she admitted in a tone of
whimsical protest. “I’ll help you do it, if you just won’t make me
blue.”

“He hadn’t even life insurance,” he remarked, “and neither have I.”

“Oh, not insurance!” she cried. “I wouldn’t like that at all.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Why—why, think how much you could do with the money you’d be paying to
the old life insurance company!”

“Wouldn’t it be just the same if you were saving it?” he argued.

“Oh, no; not at all,” she asserted. “Why, you can get money that you’re
saving whenever you want it, but life insurance money is clear out of
your reach.”

“A policy has a cash surrender value,” he explained. “Every cent paid in
premiums adds to its value, if you want to give it up.”

“But then you lose the insurance,” she argued with feminine
inconsistency.

“Of course,” he admitted, “just as you lose your savings when you spend
them.”

“Oh, but you can get at your savings easier, and it’s easier to start
again, if you happen to use them,” she insisted.

“The very reason why life insurance is better for us,” he said. “I want
to make sure of something for you that we’re certain not to touch while
I live.”

But she took the unreasonable view of insurance that some young women do
take, and refused to be convinced.

“If I should die first,” she said, with a little shudder at the very
thought of death for either of them, “all the money you’d paid the
company would be wasted.”

“Not necessarily,” he returned. “There might be—”

“Hush!” she interrupted, blushing so prettily that he went over and
kissed her. Then he dropped the subject temporarily, which was the
wisest thing he could have done. She had the feminine objection to
paying out money for which she got no immediate return, but she wanted
to please her husband. She was capricious, imperious at times and then
meekly submissive—a spoiled child who surrendered to the emotion of the
moment, but whose very inconsistencies were captivating. So when she
decided that victory was hers, she also decided to be generous: to
please him she would make a concession.

“I’ve changed my mind about insurance,” she told him a few days later.
As a matter of fact, she had changed her mind, but not her opinions: she
was not convinced, but she would please him by accepting his plan—with a
slight modification.

“I knew you would see the wisdom of it!” he exclaimed joyously.

“How much insurance did you plan to get?” she asked, with a pretty
assumption of business ways.

“Ten thousand dollars,” he replied.

“Well, we’ll divide it,” she said, “and each get five thousand dollars.”

“You mean that you’ll be insured, too?” he asked doubtfully.

“Of course. Isn’t my life worth as much as yours?”

“More! a thousand times more!” he cried, “but—but—”

Her eyes showed her indignation, and he stopped short.

“You don’t want me to be insured!” she exclaimed hotly. “You don’t think
I’m worth it!”

“Why, dearest,” he protested, “you’re worth all the insurance of all the
people in the world, but it isn’t necessary in your case. It’s my
earning capacity that—”

Unfortunate suggestion! There was an inference that she considered
uncomplimentary.

“Haven’t I any earning capacity?” she demanded. “Don’t I earn every cent
I get? Isn’t the home as important as the office?”

“Surely, surely, darling, but—”

“Doesn’t a good wife earn half of the income that she shares?” she
persisted.

“More than half, sweetheart.”

“Don’t say ‘sweetheart’ to me in the same breath that you tell me I’m
not worth being insured!” she cried. “It’s positively insulting,
and—and—you always said you loved me.”

Her voice broke a little, and he was beside her in an instant.

“You don’t understand,” he explained. “Insurance has nothing to do with
your value to me or my value to you, but there is a more worldly value—”

“Oh, you’re of some account in the world and I’m not!” she broke in, her
indignation driving back the tears.

“Isabel, you’re simply priceless to me!”

“But, if I hadn’t happened to meet you, I suppose I’d be a nonentity!”
she flashed back at him. “I’m just a piece of property that you happen
to like, and—why, Harry Beckford, men insure property, don’t they?”

“Of course, but—”

“And I’m not worth insuring, even as property!” she wailed. “Oh, I
didn’t think you could ever be so cruel, so heartless! You might at
least let me think I’m worth something.”

The young husband was in despair. He argued, pleaded, explained in vain;
she could only see that he put a value on his life that he did not put
on hers, and it hurt her pride. Besides, they were partners in
everything else, so why not in insurance?

“But I wouldn’t want the insurance on your life,” he urged.

“Do you think I’m any more mercenary than you?” she retorted. “I don’t
want the insurance, either; I want you—when you’re nice to me.”

“We’ll think it over,” he said wearily.

“I’ve thought,” she returned decisively. “If it’s such a good thing, I
think you’re mean not to let me share it with you.” Then, with sudden
cheerfulness: “It would be rather jolly and exciting to go together,
just as we go to the theater and—and—all other amusements.”

He laughed at her classification of life insurance among the pleasures
of life, and then he kissed her again. Her unreasoning opposition
distressed him, but resentment was quite out of the question. There was
momentary exasperation, and then a little love-making, to bring the
smiles back to her face. All else could wait.

It is a noteworthy fact, however, that life insurance takes a strong
hold on a man the moment he really decides he ought to have it, and
opposition only adds to his determination. He who finds that, because of
some unsuspected physical failing, he can not get it, immediately is
possessed with a mania for it. So long as he considered it within his
reach, he turned the agents away; now he goes to them and lies and
pleads and tries desperately to gain that which he did not want until he
found he could not get it.

Thus, in a minor degree, the opposition of Beckford’s wife served only
to impress on Beckford’s mind the necessity and advantage of some such
provision for the future. Perhaps the explanation of this is that in
trying to convince her he had convinced himself. At any rate, the
subject, at first taken up in a desultory way, became one of supreme
importance to him, and he went to see Dave Murray. Dave, he was solemnly
informed by a friend who claimed to know, probably had been christened
David, but the last syllable of the name had not been able to stand the
wear and tear of a strenuous life, in addition to which Murray was not
the kind of man to invite formality. He was “Dave” to every one who got
past the “Mr. Murray” stage, and it never took long to do that.
“Anyhow,” his informant concluded, “you have a talk with him. There
isn’t a better fellow or a more upright man in the city. The only thing
I’ve got against him is that he’ll insure a fellow while he isn’t
looking and then make him think he likes it. But if you want insurance,
go to him.” So Beckford went, and presently he found himself telling
Murray a great deal more than he had intended to tell him.

“The fact is,” he explained, “my wife was violently opposed to the idea
at first.”

“Not unusual,” said Murray, and then he added sententiously: “Wives
don’t care for insurance, but widows do.”

Beckford smiled as he saw the point.

“It doesn’t do a widow much good to care for insurance, if she objected
to it as a wife,” he suggested.

“It may,” returned Murray. “It isn’t at all necessary that a wife should
know what’s coming to her when she becomes a widow. She may be provided
for in spite of herself.”

“That would be rather difficult in my case,” said Beckford, “for my wife
knows just what my salary is, and we plan our expenditures together.
It’s a pretty good salary, but we have been living right up to the limit
of it, so I can’t provide for premiums without her knowledge, although I
can do it easily with it.”

“That complicates matters a little,” remarked Murray.

“Besides,” Beckford added, “we have been so frank with each other that I
should be unhappy with such a life-secret, and, if I acted on my own
judgment and took the policy home to her, she says she would tear it up
and throw it away.”

“I knew a woman to do that once,” said Murray reflectively. “Her husband
insured his life before going on the excursion that ended in the
Ashtabula disaster. A few days later her little boy came in to ask if
anything could be done about the policy that she had destroyed.”

“I don’t think Isabel would really destroy it,” said the troubled
Beckford, “but it would distress her very much to have me go so contrary
to her wishes in a matter that we had discussed.”

“It would distress her very much to be left penniless,” remarked Murray.

“I think,” said Beckford thoughtfully, “I really think, if I had known
that she was going to take this view of the matter, I would have insured
myself first and talked to her about it afterward. Then the situation
wouldn’t be so awkward. But I thought that all women favored life
insurance.”

“Not at first,” returned Murray, “but usually there comes a change.”

“When?” asked Beckford hopefully.

“When they begin to think of the needs and the future and the possible
hardships of the first baby,” replied Murray, whereat Beckford blushed a
little, even as his wife had done a few days before, for young people do
not consider and discuss prospective family problems with the same
candor that their elders do.

“Woman, the true woman,” Murray continued, “is essentially unselfish;
she thinks of others. Careless for her own future, she plans
painstakingly for those she loves. The insurance premium that is for her
own benefit she would rather have to spend now, but you never hear her
object to the investment of any money that is to benefit her husband or
children, even when she has to make sacrifices to permit it.”

“But that doesn’t help me,” complained Beckford. “I don’t want any
insurance on her life; I don’t need it, and there is no reason to think
that I ever shall need it. It’s for her that I am planning, but she
won’t listen to anything but this dual arrangement.”

“I quite understand the situation,” returned Murray. “What insurance you
are able to take out must be to protect her.”

“Precisely; and I never knew before that a woman could be so
unreasoningly wilful in opposition to her own interests.”

“My dear sir,” said Murray, with some feeling, “you have a great deal to
learn about women. I have more than twenty thousand dollars charged up
to them in commissions that I have lost, after convincing the men
interested. But if I can help you to provide for this one perverse
sample of femininity, in spite of herself, I shall feel that I have
taken a Christian revenge on the whole sex.” Beckford rather objected to
this reference to his wife, but there was nothing of disrespect in the
tone, and somehow the quaintness of the sentiment made him smile.

“I wonder,” Murray went on, “if we could refuse the risk without
frightening her.”

“I’m afraid not,” returned Beckford, “but”—and a sudden inspiration
lighted his face, “couldn’t you put in some restrictions that would
frighten her away?”

Murray leaned back in his chair and gave the matter thoughtful
consideration. Somehow he had become unusually interested in this young
man’s effort to do a wise and generous thing for his wife in the face of
her opposition. If the man had been seeking to gain some benefit for
himself, Murray would not have listened to even a suggestion of deceit.
But the aim was entirely unselfish, and Beckford had brought a letter of
introduction that left no doubt as to his responsibility and integrity.
Then, too, the situation was amusing. Here were two business men
plotting—what? Why, the welfare of their opponent, and that only.

“So many women have beaten me,” said Murray at last, “that I should
really like to beat one of them, especially when it’s for her own good.
Bring your wife up here, and I’ll see what I can do.”

But here again feminine capriciousness was exemplified. Having
apparently won her point, Isabel Beckford began to wish she had lost it.

“I’m afraid,” she said. “Suppose I should find that something frightful
was the matter with me? Those insurance doctors are awfully particular,
and—and—I’d rather not know it, if I’m going to die very soon.”

“Oh, very well,” acquiesced her husband. “We’ll go back to my original
plan and put the whole ten thousand dollars on my life.”

“No, no, no!” she protested. “It would be even worse, if I learned that
there was anything wrong with you. I couldn’t bear it, Harry; I
couldn’t, really! There wouldn’t be anything left in life for me. Let’s
not go at all.”

“That’s foolish, Isabel,” he argued. “I’m all right, and the very fact
that I am accepted as a good risk will remove every doubt.”

“That’s so,” she admitted. “We’ll be sure, then, won’t we?”

“Of course.”

“Then we’ll both go,” she announced, with a sudden reversal of judgment.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I’ll feel a lot better and
stronger when I’m insured, because the companies are so particular, and
it will be comforting to know that you are all right. It’s worth
something to find that out, isn’t it? And sometimes a family physician
won’t tell you the truth, because it won’t do any good and he doesn’t
want to frighten you. We’ll go right away and see about it now.”

“Hardly this evening,” he answered, smiling, although he was sorely
troubled. “We’ll go to-morrow afternoon.”

“But it’s so long to wait until to-morrow,” she pouted.

He regretted the delay quite as much as she did, for his experience up
to date led him to think that there might be another change. First she
had refused to consider the matter at all; then she had insisted they
should go together; after that she had backed out; next she had demanded
he should give up the idea, also; and now she was again determined it
should be a joint affair.

“No man,” he muttered, as he dropped off to sleep, “knows anything about
a woman until he marries, and then he only learns enough to know that he
knows nothing at all.”

Then he mentally apologized to his wife for even this mild criticism,
and dreamed that, through some complication, he had to insure the cook
and the janitor and the grocer’s boy before he could take out a policy
on his own life, and that, when he had attended to the rest, he had no
money left for his own premiums, so he made all the other policies in
favor of his wife and hoped to thunder that the cook and the janitor and
the grocer’s boy would die a long time before he did.

However, she was still of the same mind the next day, so they went to
see Murray.

“Of course,” she said, as they were on the way, “if this thing wrecks
our happiness by showing that the grave is yawning for either of us, it
will be all your fault.”

That made him feel nice and comfortable—so nice and comfortable that he
heartily wished he never had mentioned life insurance. Still, he cheered
up a little when Murray took charge of matters in a masterly, confident
way.

“I understand, Mrs. Beckford,” said Murray, “that both you and your
husband wish to have your lives insured.”

“Yes,” she replied, “and for some reason he has selfishly wanted to put
all the insurance we can afford on his own life.”

“So he has told me.”

“What right had he to discuss family matters with you?” she demanded
with asperity.

Thus Murray was jarred out of his air of easy confidence the first
thing.

“Why—why, he didn’t exactly tell me,” he explained, “but my experience
enabled me to surmise as much. Most men are like that.”

“I never thought Harry would be,” she said, looking at him
reproachfully. “But it’s all right now,” she added.

“Yes, it’s all right now,” repeated Murray. He had intended to argue
first the advisability of accepting her husband’s plan, but he deemed it
unwise. He had suddenly lost faith in his powers of persuasion, so he
resorted to guile. “Of course, you understand that life insurance is
hedged about by many annoying restrictions,” he went on.

“I didn’t know it,” she returned.

“Oh, yes,” he said glibly, with a wink at Beckford. “Do you use gasoline
at all?”

“Why, I have used it occasionally to take a spot out of a gown,” she
admitted.

“Barred!” asserted Murray.

“I can’t do even the least little mite of cleaning with gasoline!” she
exclaimed in dismay.

“None at all! It’s dangerous! Might just as well fool with
nitroglycerin. People who handle it at all become careless.”

There were indications of a rising temper. That a mean old insurance
company should have the audacity to tell her what she could or could not
do was an outrage!

“And you can’t use street-cars,” added Murray.

“Can’t use street-cars!” she cried. “What will Harry do?”

“Oh, that rule doesn’t apply to men,” returned Murray calmly, “for men
don’t get off the cars backward and all that sort of thing. Street-cars
are considered, in our business, a danger only for women.”

“Well, it’s a hateful, insulting, unfair business!” she cried, rising in
her indignation. “I wouldn’t let such a contemptible lot of people
insure me for anything in the world.”

“But please don’t blame me,” urged Murray insinuatingly. “I want to do
the best I can for you.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you,” she returned magnanimously.

“I admit that it sounds unfair,” Murray persisted, “but there was a time
when we wouldn’t take risks on women at all, so, even with the
restrictions, it’s quite a concession.”

“Oh, very likely, very likely,” she admitted, “but I have too much pride
to accept any such humiliating conditions. Harry can do as he pleases,”
with dignity, “but nothing could induce me to be insured now. I’m going
home.”

Harry took her to a cab, and then returned to Murray’s office.

“Well, it’s settled,” said Murray, with a sigh of relief.

“Yes, it’s settled,” returned Beckford, “but I don’t feel just
comfortable about it.”

“She sort of bowled me over the first thing,” commented Murray. “I
haven’t quite recovered yet. But it’s her welfare that we’re
considering. Better put in your application and take the examination
before there are any more complications.”

“Perhaps that’s wise,” admitted Beckford gloomily, for he was not at all
at ease about the matter. She had said he could do as he pleased, but
there had been something in her tone that was disquieting; she might
think there was disloyalty in his patronage of a company that had so
offended her. And this was the first cloud that had appeared in the
matrimonial sky; in all else there had been mutual concession and
perfect agreement.

He was thinking of this when he went home—and found her in tears.

“I know what’s the matter,” she wailed. “I didn’t think of it at first,
but I did afterward, and I’ve been crying ever since. I have heart
trouble; that’s why he didn’t want to give me a policy.”

“Nonsense!” he protested vigorously.

“Oh, I know it! I know it!” she cried. “He didn’t want to tell me, so he
put in all that about street-cars and gasoline. But it’s heart trouble
or consumption! Those insurance men are so quick to see things that no
one else notices. Why, I could see that he was worried the very first
thing!”

Beckford got on his knees beside the bed on which she was lying and
tried to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. He insisted that she was
the strongest and healthiest woman of her size in the world; that he
knew it; that Murray himself had commented on it later; that the company
physician, who happened to be in the outer office as they passed
through, had spoken of it; that even the clerks were impressed; but he
failed to shake her conviction that she had some fatal, and hitherto
unsuspected, malady. Finally, assuring her that he would have that
matter settled in thirty minutes, he rushed to the nearest cab-stand and
gave the driver double fare to run his horse all the way to Murray’s
house.

Murray was just sitting down to dinner, but Beckford insisted that he
should return with him immediately.

“You’ve got to straighten this matter out!” he told him excitedly.
“You’ve got to give her all the insurance she wants without any
restrictions! Make it fifty thousand dollars if she wants it! I’ll pay
the premiums, if we have to starve!”

“But I can’t give her a policy to-night!” protested Murray.

“You can tell her about it to-night, can’t you?” demanded Beckford. “And
you can take her application to-night, can’t you? Why, man, she has
convinced herself that she’s going to die in a week! We can settle the
details later, but we’ve got to do something to-night.”

“Oh, well, I’ll come immediately after dinner,” said Murray.

“You come now!” cried Beckford. “If you talk dinner to me, I’ll brain
you! Insurance has made a wreck of me already.”

“I haven’t been getting much joy out of this particular case myself,”
grumbled Murray, but he went along.

The moment he reached home, Beckford rushed to his wife’s room.

“It’s all a mistake!” he exclaimed joyfully. “You—you mustn’t cry any
more, dearest, for it’s all right now. Mr. Murray didn’t understand at
first—thought you were one of these capricious, careless, thoughtless
women that do all sorts of absurd and foolish things on impulse—but he
knows better now. There aren’t any more restrictions for you than for
me, and he’s waiting in the parlor to take your application for all the
insurance you want.”

“Really?” she asked, as the sobs began to subside.

“Really.”

“And there isn’t anything the matter with me?”

“Of course not, sweetheart.”

“Well,” she said, after a pause, “I can’t see him now, because my eyes
are all red, but I wish he’d write that out for me. I’d feel so much
more comfortable.”

“Indeed he will,” asserted Beckford, “and we can fill out the
application in here, and I’ll take it back to him.”

Hopefully and happily the young husband returned to Murray and told him
what was wanted. Murray sighed dismally. He had missed his dinner for a
woman’s whim, and the woman was merely humiliating him. Still, he felt
in a measure responsible for the trouble; he ought never to have
resorted to duplicity, even for so laudable a purpose. So he wrote the
following: “Investigation has convinced me that the restrictions
mentioned this afternoon are unnecessary in your case, and I shall be
glad to have your application for insurance on the same terms as your
husband’s.”

Mrs. Beckford read this over carefully. Then she read the application
blank with equal care. After that she wrote at the bottom of the note:
“Insurance has almost given me nervous prostration now, and I don’t want
to have anything more to do with it. If Harry can stand the strain, let
him have it all.”

“Give him that, Harry,” she said, “and get rid of him as soon as
possible, for I want you to come back and comfort me. I’m completely
upset.”

Murray lit a cigar when he reached the street, and puffed at it
meditatively as he walked in the direction of the nearest street-car
line.

“What’s the matter with nervous prostration for me?” he muttered. “One
more effort to defeat a woman who is fighting against her own interests
will make me an impossible risk in any company; two more will land me in
a sanatorium.”



AN INCIDENTAL QUESTION


Dave Murray, general agent, leaned back in his chair and looked
thoughtfully at the young man before him.

“So you have run up against an unanswerable argument?” he remarked.

“It seems so to me,” said the inexperienced Owen Ross.

“My dear boy,” asserted Murray, “in the life insurance business the only
unanswerable argument is a physician’s report that the applicant is not
a good risk. What is the particular thing that has put you down and
out?”

“Faith,” replied the young man; “just plain faith in the Almighty.
Perhaps, some time in your career, you have run across a religious
enthusiast who considers it a reflection on the all-seeing wisdom of the
Almighty to take any measures for his own protection or the protection
of his family.”

“I have,” admitted Murray, “but generally it has been a woman.”

“This is a man,” said Ross; “a sincere, devout man. If he were a
hypocrite, it would be different, but it is a matter of religious
conviction—a principle of faith—with him to trust in the Lord. Life
insurance he considers almost sacrilegious—an evidence of man’s doubt in
the wisdom of his Maker, and an attempt, in his puny insignificant way,
to interfere with the plans of the Great Master. To all arguments he
replies, ‘The Lord will provide for His children.’”

“And you consider that unanswerable?” asked Murray.

“In his case, yes. Even his wife is unable to move him, although she
wants insurance as a provision for the future of the children and was
instrumental in getting me to talk to him. How would you answer such a
contention as that?”

“I wouldn’t answer it; I would agree with him.”

“And give up?”

“Quite the contrary. While there can be no doubt that he is right as far
as he goes, he does not go far enough. I would turn his own argument
against him.” Murray leaned forward in his chair and spoke with earnest
deliberation. “The Lord provides for His children through human
instrumentality. Why should not the man be the human instrument through
which the Lord provides for that man’s family? The Lord does not
directly intervene—at least, not in these days. If, in the hour of
extremity, an unexpected legacy should come to relieve the necessities
of that man’s family, he would say the Lord had provided. But it would
be through human instrumentality: the legacy, and the method and law by
which it reached them would be essentially human. If, when poverty
knocks at the door, some generous philanthropist were moved to come to
their relief, he would hold again that the Lord had provided; if some
wealthy relative sought them out, it would be through the intervention
of the Lord; if, through his own wise action, they are saved from want,
is he more than the human instrument through which the Lord provides?
May not an insurance company be the chosen instrument? I say this with
all due reverence, and it seems to me to answer his objections fully. Is
it only in unforeseen ways that He cares for His children? Has He
nothing to do with those cases in which reasonable precautions are taken
by the children themselves?”

Ross, the young solicitor, looked at his chief with unconcealed
admiration.

“By George!” he exclaimed, “you’ve got the theory of this business down
to a science. I’ll try the man again.”

“It’s not a business,” retorted Murray somewhat warmly, for this was a
point that touched his pride; “it is a profession—at least, it lies with
the man himself to make it a business or a profession, according to his
own ability and character. There are small men who make a business of
the law, and there are great men who make a profession of it; there are
doctors to whom medicine is a mere commercial pursuit, and there are
doctors to whom it is a study, a science, a profession. You may make of
life insurance a cheap business, or you may make of it a dignified
profession; you may be a mere annoying canvasser, or you may be a man
who commands respect; but, to be really successful, you must have, or
acquire, a technical knowledge of the basis of insurance, a knowledge of
law, and, above all, a knowledge of human nature,—and even that will
avail little if you are not temperamentally suited to the work. You can
no more make a good insurance man of unpromising material than you can
make a good artist.”

Ross caught some of the enthusiasm and earnestness of Murray, and
unconsciously straightened up.

“You have made me look at the subject from a new point of view,” he
said. “I confess I was rather ashamed of the soliciting part of the work
at first—felt a good deal like a cripple selling pencils to support a
sick wife.”

“And very likely you acted like it,” remarked Murray, “in which case the
people you approached would so class you. It isn’t necessary to have the
‘iron nerve,’ so long identified with that branch of the work; it isn’t
even helpful, for it makes a man unpopular, and the most successful men
are the most popular ones. You’ve lost ground when you have reached a
point where any man you know is not glad to see you enter his office. At
the same time,”—musingly,—“nerve and persistence become forethought and
wisdom when time proves you were right. I have known of cases where a
man afterward thanked the solicitor who had once made life a burden to
him; but it is always better to change a man’s mind without his
knowledge.”

“Rather difficult,” laughed Ross.

“But it has been done,” said Murray. “As a matter of fact, you are
working to save men and women from their own selfishness or
heedlessness. If you think of that, you will be more convincing and will
raise your work to the dignity of a profession; if you think only of the
commissions, you will put yourself on the level of the shyster lawyer
whose interest centers wholly in the fees he is able to get rather than
in the cases he is to try. There are pot-boilers in every business and
every profession, but success is not for them: they can’t see beyond the
needs of the stomach, and the man who works only for his belly never
amounts to much. He will stoop to small things to gain a temporary
advantage, never seeing the future harm he is doing; he is the kind of
man who hopes to rise by pulling others down. Remember, my boy, that
insinuations as to the instability of a rival company invariably make a
man suspicious of all: when you have convinced him that the rival’s
proposition and methods are not based on sound financial and business
principles, you have more than half convinced him that yours aren’t,
either, and that very likely there is something radically wrong with the
whole blame system.”

“I’m glad you spoke of that,” said Ross. “There have been cases where
insinuations have been made against our company, and I have been tempted
to fight back the same way. A man is at a disadvantage when he is put on
the defensive and is called upon to produce evidence of what ought to be
a self-evident proposition.”

“Never do it, unless the question is put to you directly,” advised
Murray. “You must defend yourself when attacked, but, in every other
case, go on the assumption that your company is all right, and that
everybody knows it is all right. The late John J. Ingalls once said,
‘When you have to offer evidence that an egg is good, that egg is
doubtful, and a doubtful egg is always bad.’ It’s worth remembering.
Many a man is made doubtful of a good proposition by ill-advised efforts
to prove it is good.”

“If that is invariably true,”—with a troubled scowl,—“I fear I have made
some mistakes.”

“The man who thinks he makes no mistakes seldom makes anything else.”

Ross brightened perceptibly at this.

“You’ve made them yourself?” he asked.

“Lots of them,” replied Murray, and then he added whimsically: “Once I
placed a risk that meant a two-hundred-dollar commission for me, and my
wife and I went right out and ordered two hundred dollars’ worth of
furniture and clothes. The risk was refused, and I never got the
commission.”

Ross laughed.

“I’m beginning to develop enthusiasm and pride in the business—I mean
profession.”

“Oh, call it a business,” returned Murray, “but think of it as a
profession. It’s the way you regard it yourself that counts, and you
can’t go far astray in that if you stop to think what is required of a
good insurance man. Sterling integrity, for one thing, and tact and
judgment. A man who brings in a good ten-thousand-dollar risk is more
valuable than the man who brings in one hundred thousand dollars that is
turned down by the physicians or at the home office. And the first
requisite for advancement is absolute trustworthiness. There are
temptations, even for a solicitor—commission rebates to the insured that
are contrary to the ethics of the business—and there are greater
temptations higher up. You will learn, as in no other line, that a man
wants what he can’t get, even if he didn’t want it when he could get it,
and he will pay a high price for what he wants. Collusion in a local
office might give it to him, in spite of all precautions taken; such
collusion might be worth ten thousand dollars to a man who had no record
of refusal by other companies against him, and ten thousand dollars
could be split up very nicely between the local agent and the company’s
physician. So integrity, unswerving integrity, is rated exceptionally
high, and the least suspicion of trickery or underhand dealing may keep
a capable man on the lowest rung of the ladder for all time, even if it
doesn’t put him out of the business entirely. You are paid to protect
your company, so far as lies in your power, and to get business by all
honorable means; if you resort to dishonorable means, even in your
company’s interests, there is always the suspicion that you will use the
same methods against its interests whenever that may be to your personal
advantage.”

Owen Ross pondered this deeply on his way home. It gave a new dignity to
his occupation. He had taken up insurance because it happened to be the
only available opening at a time when he was out of employment. He had
been a clerk for a big corporation that had recently combined two branch
offices, thus materially reducing its office force, and Ross had been
one of those to suffer. His father, a prosperous merchant, had expressed
himself, when consulted, in this way:

“I will give you a place here whenever that is necessary to enable you
to live, but I prefer that you should complete your preliminary business
training under some one else. No boy can consider himself a success
until he has proved his independence, and no boy can be sure he has
proved that until he has made a secure place for himself outside the
family circle.”

So Ross, being wise enough to see the reason and justice of this,
endeavored to show his independence by securing a position with Murray.
And, although fairly successful from the start, he was only just
beginning to take a real interest in his work. Murray liked him and
encouraged him: there was, he thought, the making of a good and
successful man in him, and he frequently went to considerable trouble to
explain the theory and practice of insurance. Then, too, he knew that
Ross had married just before he lost his other position, and that he was
living in a modest little flat on his own earnings, in spite of the fact
that he had a father who would be much more ready to assist him
financially than he was to take him into his own office at that
particular time. In fact, the elder Ross was quite willing that his son
and his son’s wife should live with him, holding only that the family
influence should not extend to his first business connections, but Owen
deemed the flat a necessary evidence of his independence.

“I’ll get that sanctimonious optimist to-morrow,” he mused as he walked
along. “He can’t answer those arguments that Murray gave me. He is
content because the Lord will provide, but why may not I be the human
instrument through which the Lord makes provision? That sounds
presumptuous, but why not? Hasn’t He provided for others in just this
way? Hasn’t many a man, convinced against his will, protected the future
of those he loved barely in time?” He laughed quietly at a thought that
occurred to him. “If this man should be insured to-morrow and die the
next day,” he went on, “he would think the Lord had provided, but if he
has to pay the premiums for twenty years, he’ll think it all very human.
I’m beginning to understand him.”

He was still smiling at this quaint conceit when he entered his flat and
was informed by his wife that Mrs. Becker had been there to see him.
Mrs. Becker was a woman who did washing and occasional cleaning for
them.

“To see me!” he exclaimed. “Why, her dealings are all with you.”

“It has something to do with insurance,” his wife explained. “She knows
you’re in that business, of course, and she is in deep distress. She was
crying when she was here this afternoon, but I couldn’t understand what
the trouble was. She said she’d come back this evening.”

Ross puzzled over this a good deal during dinner, and even tried to get
some additional information by questioning his wife closely. Exactly
what did the woman say? Her words might be “all Greek” to his wife and
still be intelligible to him, if only she could repeat them.

“But I can’t,” she insisted. “I was so sorry for her and so helpless
that I really didn’t hear it all, anyway. I only know that it had
something to do with an application or a premium or a policy, and her
husband is very sick and she needs money.”

Ross began to speculate. The ignorant have strange ideas of insurance,
and very likely this woman thought she could insure a dying husband. His
backbone began to stiffen at once. Of course such a thing was actually,
as well as ethically, impossible, but it was going to be a very
difficult matter to explain it to her, and he anticipated a distressing
scene. His wife was interested in the woman, spoke frequently of her
hardships and her courage, and had helped her to such trifling extent as
they could afford. No doubt the woman had some wild notion that he,
being an insurance man, could do this for her and would do it as a
matter of charity. Ethical questions do not trouble such people.

When she came, he was prepared for a request that was impossible in
honor and in fact, and he was ready to refuse it with such gentleness as
he deemed due to a weary and desperate woman who did not realize what
she was asking—the gentleness of sympathy coupled with the firmness of
principle. Ross was a young man, inclined to exaggerate the importance
and difficulties of problems that confronted him, and he was
disconcerted when he found he had made an error in the basis from which
he had reached his conclusion; the woman did not wish to insure a dying
husband, but to protect insurance he already carried.

“Oh, good Mr. Ross,” she wailed, “you must fix it for me some way. If we
don’t pay to-morrow, we’ll lose everything. And we haven’t the money,
Mr. Ross, not enough to pay the doctor even, and it’s worrying Peter
more than the sickness. But you can fix it for us—of course you can fix
it for us,”—with appealing hopefulness.

“Sit down, Mrs. Becker, and tell me about it,” he urged. “I don’t
understand.”

She sank into a chair, and looked at him with anxious, tearful doubt and
hope. Worn out with work and watching, she was a prey to conflicting
emotions. Never doubting that he could help her, she feared he might
refuse. Her anxiety was pitiable, and it was some time before he could
get the details of the story from her. Finally, however, he learned that
in more prosperous days her husband had insured his life for five
thousand dollars, and, even in adversity, had succeeded in keeping up
the payments, until stricken by this last illness. The sum he had saved
up for the next premium—the one due the following day—had been used for
medicines and other necessaries, and now he was near death. The doctor
held out no hope; he might live a few days, but hardly more than that,
for he was slowly but surely sinking. Until the previous night, when
there came a turn for the worse, his recovery had been confidently
expected, and his wife had worried little about the premium; the
insurance company would be glad to take it when he was well.

“But _he_ worried,” she said with unconscious pathos; “he worried and
asked about it until—he couldn’t any more. He’s too sick to know now.
But,”—hopefully,—“he’ll understand when I tell him it’s all right.”

Ross was as much distressed as the woman, but he could give her little
comfort. He could protect the insurance only by paying the premium
himself, and he was not able to do that. Still, almost all policies
provided for the payment of something proportionate to the amount paid
in, even when the premiums were not kept up, so—He paused uncomfortably
at this point, for the woman’s attitude and expression had changed from
tearful anxiety to dull, sullen suspicion. She did not believe him; like
all insurance men, he was ready to seize any opportunity to defraud her;
she was helpless, and a rich company would take advantage of her
helplessness.

“You can get the money, Owen,” his wife urged, almost in tears herself.

[Illustration: “Perhaps I can arrange it,” he said at last. “In what
company is he insured?”]

“I’ll pay it back to you—when he dies!” cried the woman, and Ross gave
her a quick glance. It seemed heartless, but he saw it was not. The
woman was tried beyond her endurance; she, with her two children, faced
a future that was absolutely devoid of hope; she was sick, wretched,
despairing, and the husband she had striven so hard to keep with her was
already beyond recall. She spoke of his approaching death merely as
something certain, that could not be prevented, and that force of
circumstances compelled her to consider. She had to think for herself
and children, plan for herself and children, even at this fearful time,
for there was no one to do it for her, no one to relieve her of any part
of the burden. The problem of the larder and the problem of burial would
confront her simultaneously; she had to face these cold, hard, brutal
facts, in spite of the grief and sorrow of the moment.

All this Ross saw and appreciated, and he gave his attention to various
possible ways of raising the necessary money.

“Perhaps I can arrange it,” he said at last. “In what company is he
insured?”

It proved to be his own company. Instantly, his talk with Murray flashed
through his mind. “You are paid to protect your company, so far as lies
in your power,” Murray had said. Absolute loyalty to its interests was
imperative. Would it be honorable for him to enter into any arrangement
with this woman that would cost his company money? Had he any right to
do more than the company would do itself? What would be thought of an
employee in any other line of business who advanced money that was to be
used to the financial disadvantage of his employer, however proper it
might be in the case of some one else?

“I can do nothing,” he announced shortly.

“Oh, Owen!” cried his wife reproachfully.

“It is impossible!” he insisted. “If it were a proper thing to do,
Murray would do it for her himself.”

“Mr. Murray doesn’t understand the situation,” urged his wife.

“Murray would understand my situation and his,” he returned. “We are
taking money from this company, we are its trusted agents, and we can
not do anything that would be to its disadvantage. It is a matter of
business integrity.”

The woman did not weep now, but the look she gave him haunted him all
that night. And his wife’s entreaties and reproaches added to his
unhappiness.

“Why, Jennie,” he explained, “I stand alone between the company and a
loss of over four thousand dollars. I know that this man is dying; I
know that, if I pay this premium, the company will have to pay out the
full amount of the insurance within a few days; I know that the premiums
paid to date amount to only about five hundred or six hundred dollars,
which, under the terms of the policy, the woman will not wholly lose.
For me, an employee, to conspire to get the rest of the money for her
would be like taking it from the cash drawer. I won’t do it; I can’t do
it after Murray’s talk to me to-day about business integrity!”

“The company can afford it,” persisted Mrs. Ross, “and the woman needs
it so badly.”

“There are lots of companies and individuals who could afford to let the
woman have five thousand dollars,” replied Ross.

Still, Mrs. Ross could not understand. If he had been willing to pay the
premium to another company, why not to his own?

“Resign and pay it!” she exclaimed suddenly, feeling that she had solved
the problem; but that was a greater sacrifice than he was prepared to
make. He was sincerely sorry for the woman; the case was on his mind all
the following morning; but Murray’s talk had made a deep impression.
This was one of the severe temptations of the business—the more severe
because there was no question of corruption, but only of sympathy, in
it. Such, he had read, were the temptations that led men of the best
intentions astray in many of the affairs of life.

He was thinking of this when he called to see the “sanctimonious
optimist”; he was thinking of it when he advanced the arguments Murray
had given him; he was still thinking of it when the man said he was
almost convinced and would telephone him after talking with his wife.
Consequently, this success failed to elate him.

“The law of humanity,” he told himself, “is higher and more sacred than
the law of business.”

He had walked unconsciously in the direction of his father’s office,
and, still arguing with himself, he went in.

“Father,” he said, “I want to borrow a hundred dollars.” The premium was
a little more than that, but he could supply the remainder.

“For what?” asked the senior Ross.

“There is something I may wish to do,” was the enigmatical reply. “I
will repay it as rapidly as possible.”

“Commissions few and small?” laughed the senior Ross. “Well, a young man
never finds out exactly what he’s worth, while working for a relative or
a friend, so this experience ought to be valuable.”

Still undecided, but with the money in his pocket, Ross left his
father’s office and went to his own. He wanted to pay that premium, but
it seemed to him a very serious matter, ethically and actually. The
woman faced a future of privation; he faced what seemed to him a crisis
in his business career. He revolted at the thought of being false to his
employer, but to let the woman suffer would be heartless.

“A letter for you, Ross,” said one of the clerks, as he entered the
office. “Your wife left it.”

He opened it with nervous haste, and a notice of a premium due dropped
out.

“You must find some way to help this woman, Owen,” his wife wrote. “I
went to see her to-day, and the situation is pitiable. She has used up
every cent she had and is in debt. Her husband is conscious at
intervals, and he looks at you so wistfully, so anxiously, that it makes
your heart bleed. Oh! if I could only tell him that the insurance is all
right! It would give him peace for the little time that is left to him
on this earth. _Owen! resign, if necessary, but do what I ask!_”

Ross crumpled the note in his hand and walked into Murray’s private
office.

“Mr. Murray,” he said, “please accept my verbal resignation.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Murray.

“I have no time to explain now,” said Ross. “I want to be released from
my obligations to the company at once.”

“You’re excited,” said Murray. “Sit down! Now, what’s the matter?”

Ross hesitated a moment, and then blurted out the whole story.

“You wish to pay this premium?” asked Murray.

“I’m going to pay it!” said Ross defiantly. “It will stick the company
for more than four thousand dollars, but I’m going to pay it!”

“And you wish to resign to do it honorably?”

“Yes.”

“Pay it!” said Murray. “But your resignation is not accepted. I wouldn’t
lose such a man as you for ten times four thousand dollars.”

“It is all right?” asked Ross, bewildered.

“Of course it’s all right,” asserted Murray. “As a matter of sympathy
and justice, it is not only right but highly commendable; as a matter of
financial profit to you, it would be despicable. Pay that premium, and I
tell you now that the company will never pay a death benefit with less
hesitation than it will pay this one. What is one risk more or less? We
do business on the general average, and any sum is well invested that
uncovers so conscientious an employee. Pay it, and come back to me.”

Three minutes later, Ross, with the receipt in his pocket, was at the
telephone.

“It’s all right,” he told his wife. “The premium is paid.”

“Oh, Owen!” exclaimed Mrs. Ross, and her voice broke a little, “you
don’t know what comfort you have given a dying man! If you could only
see—”

“Get a cab!” he broke in. “He doesn’t know it yet, and you must tell
him. Get a cab and drive like—”

He stopped short, but his wife knew what he almost said, and she forgave
him without even a preliminary reproach.

His eyes were bright and his heart was light when he went back to
Murray. Mrs. Becker’s situation was sad enough, but surely he had
lessened the gloom of it by removing one great source of anxiety. He
felt that he had done something worthy of a man, and it was a joy that
he could do this without transcending the rules of business integrity
and loyalty.

“I want you,” said Murray, and there was something of admiration in his
tone; “I want you so much that I am going to put you in the way of
making more money. You have a great deal to learn about the insurance
business before you will cease making unnecessary problems for yourself,
but you have one quality that makes you valuable to me.” He paused and
smiled a little at the recollection of what had passed. “I would
suggest,” he went on, “that you bear this in mind: life insurance is not
for one life only or for one generation only, but for the centuries.
Otherwise, we could not do business on the present plan. We exist by
reducing the laws of chance to a science that makes us secure in the
long run, although, on the basis of a single year, there may be
considerable losses. And a good company will no more stoop to shabby
tricks than you will; nor will it seek to escape obligations through
technicalities or petty subterfuges. That’s why I told you to pay that
premium, and I respect you for doing it.”

Murray picked up a memorandum on his desk.

“By the way,” he added, glancing at it, “you must have made good use of
the arguments I gave you, for your sanctimonious optimist telephoned
that, if you would call this afternoon or to-morrow, he would arrange
with you for a ten-thousand-dollar policy.”

Grateful as Murray’s praise was to his ears, the greeting from his wife
gave Ross the most joy.

“He was conscious for a moment and understood,” she said, as she put her
arms around her husband’s neck, “and there was such an expression of
restful peace on his face that it made me happy, in spite of the shadow
of death hovering over. It made him a little better, the doctor said,
but nothing can save him. And I’m so proud of you, Owen!”

“To tell the truth, dearest,” he replied tenderly, “I’m almost proud of
myself.”



AN INCIDENTAL TRAGEDY


Dave Murray stretched his legs comfortably under the table, blew rings
of smoke toward the ceiling, and waited for Stanley Wentworth to speak.

Having his full share of worldly wisdom, Murray knew that there was a
reason for Wentworth’s most urgent invitation to lunch with him at his
club. While they had been friends for years and had lunched together on
many previous occasions, there was a formality about this invitation
that presaged something of importance. So, when they reached the cigars,
Murray smoked and waited.

“You win, Dave,” Wentworth announced at last.

“I knew I would—when you married,” returned Murray. “It was only a
question of time then.”

“Especially after you got the ear of my wife,” said Wentworth. “You
worked that very nicely, Dave. Do you remember the story you told her
about the man who couldn’t give any time to life insurance during the
busy season and who was on his death-bed when the date he had set for
his examination arrived?”

“It was true, too,” asserted Murray. “The man was a good risk when I
went after him, and there would have been ten thousand dollars for his
wife if he hadn’t procrastinated. There’s no money in the policy that a
man was just going to take out, Stanley.”

“Well, you win, anyway,” said Wentworth. “We’ve been jollying each other
on this insurance business for six or eight years, and I’ve stood you
off pretty well, but I can’t stand against the little woman at home. I
was lost, Dave, the day I took you up to the house and introduced you to
her.”

“I guess I played the cards pretty well,” laughed Murray. “I told you at
the beginning that I was going to insure you before I got through, and a
good insurance man doesn’t let a little matter like the personal
inclinations of his subject interfere with his plans. Why, I’ve been
known to put a man in a trance, have him examined, and abstract the
first premium from his pocket before he waked up. But you were the
hardest proposition I ever tackled. You ought to have taken out a policy
ten years ago.”

“I couldn’t see any reason for it,” explained Wentworth. “I thought I
was a confirmed bachelor: had no family and never expected to have one.
That was at twenty-five, and at thirty I considered the matter
absolutely settled, but at thirty-five the little woman just quietly
reached out and took me into camp—and I’m glad of it. Never knew what
real life was before. Still, I hate like thunder to surrender to you
after our long, harmonious and entertaining fight, Dave; I wouldn’t do
it if you hadn’t taken advantage of my hospitality to load my wife up
with insurance ghost stories. If you want to be fair, you’ll pay her
half the commission.”

“I’ll do it!” exclaimed Murray; “not in cash, of course, but I’ll make
her a present that will cover it—something nice for the house. You won’t
be jealous, will you?”

“Jealous!” returned Wentworth with a hearty laugh. “Well, I guess not!
Why, I’ll help out by making the policy worth while: I’ll take out one
for twenty-five thousand. I tell you, Dave, I’m not going to run any
risk of leaving the little woman unprovided for, and I lost four
thousand in the last month.”

The conversation had been jocular, with an undercurrent of seriousness
in it, but Wentworth became really serious with the last remark. Murray
saw that this loss had had more to do with the decision than any
arguments that had been advanced, and he, too, dropped his bantering
tone.

“I never could see,” Wentworth went on, “why insurance was any better
than an investment in good stock—”

“A little more certain,” suggested Murray, “so far as your wife is
concerned. No stock is safe while a man lives and continues in business.
It is too convenient as collateral and can be reached too easily in the
case of failure. You will take risks with stock that you will not take
with insurance, even when you can; you will sell stock to get ready cash
for a business venture that may prove disastrous, but it’s like robbing
your own widow to touch life insurance money. No man ever raised money
on his policy without feeling meaner than a yellow dog, for he is
gambling with the future of the one he loves, or at least should love.
He has taken money that he promised her; money that she will sadly need
in case of his unexpected death. That she consented to it does not ease
his conscience, if he is any sort of a man, for no woman ever freely
consents to jeopardizing any part of her husband’s life insurance money;
she is led to do it, against her better judgment, by love and faith, and
he knows that he has demanded of her what may prove to be a great
sacrifice. That is why insurance is a better investment than stocks for
the purpose you have in mind, Stanley; whatever your business needs, you
never can ask your wife to join you in hypothecating the policy without
feeling like a mean heartless sneak.”

“I never looked at in that way,” returned Wentworth thoughtfully, “but
you’re right, Dave. The policy will have a sacredness that no stock can
possess. To touch it, to risk any part of it in business, would seem
like taking money out of the baby’s bank. Still,” he added whimsically,
“a game in which you have to die to win never did appeal to me very
strongly.”

“A game in which you are sure to win when you die is better than a game
in which you are likely to lose twice,” retorted Murray, “or one in
which you have to live to win, so long as life is something over which
you have no jurisdiction. With insurance you win when you lose, but with
stocks you may lose both ways and leave nothing but a reputation for
selfish improvidence. Of course, I am looking at it from the family,
rather than the personal, point of view.”

“Surely,” acquiesced Wentworth. “I am thinking of the little woman and
the baby.” He settled back in his chair and smoked dreamily for a few
moments, his thoughts evidently wandering to the home that had given him
so much of happiness during the last eighteen months. And Murray was
silent, too. The affair was as much one of friendship as of business
with him. It had been largely a joke when he had first declared that he
would write a policy on Wentworth’s life, although he believed
implicitly that every man should have insurance and should get it when
he is young enough to secure a favorable rate. At that time Wentworth
had no one dependent upon him, but Murray had kept at him in a bantering
way, telling him that he would surely have need of insurance later and
that he had better prepare for it while the opportunity offered. Then,
when celibacy seemed to have become a permanent condition with him, he
had married, and thereafter, while still treating the subject lightly
and humorously, Murray had conducted a campaign that was really founded
on friendship. No one knows better than a man who has been long in the
insurance business of the tragedies resulting from procrastination and
neglect; no one can better appreciate how great a risk of such a tragedy
a friend may be running. So Murray, jolly but insinuating, was actuated
by something more than purely business interest when he made whimsical
references to his long campaign in the presence of Mrs. Wentworth and
incidentally, apparently only to tease her husband, described some of
the sad little dramas of life that had come to his notice. And he had
won at last.

“Get the application ready,” said Wentworth, suddenly rousing himself,
“and let me know when your doctor wants to see me.”

That evening Wentworth told his wife that he had arranged to take out a
twenty-five-thousand-dollar policy, and she put her arms around his neck
and looked up at him in an anxious, troubled way.

“You don’t think I’m mercenary, do you, Stanley?”

“Indeed, I don’t, little woman,” he replied, as he kissed her; “I think
you are only wise.”

“It seems so sort of heartless,” she went on, “but you know I’m planning
only for the baby. There is something sure about life insurance, and
everything else is so uncertain. Some of the stories Mr. Murray told
were very sad.”

“Oh, Murray was after business,” he said with a laugh. “He told me long
ago that he intended to insure me, and it’s been a sort of friendly duel
with us ever since. But he has convinced me that he is right in holding
that every married man should carry life insurance, and, aside from
that, I would cheerfully pay double premiums to relieve you of any cause
for worry. The insurance company is going to get the best of me, though:
I’ll live long enough to pay in more than it will have to pay out.”

“Of course you will!” she exclaimed confidently. “You’re so big and
strong it seems foolish—except for the baby. That’s why we mustn’t take
any chances.”

So cheerful and confident was Wentworth that he failed to notice the
solemnity of the physician who examined him the next day. The doctor
began with a joke, but he ended with a perplexed scowl.

“You certainly look as strong as a horse,” he said. “But you’re not,” he
added under his breath.

Then he made his report to Murray.

“Heart trouble,” he explained. “The man may live twenty or thirty years
or he may die to-morrow. My personal opinion is that he will die within
two years.”

Murray was startled and distressed. Wentworth was his close personal
friend, and to refuse his application after he had striven so hard to
get it seemed heartless and cruel, especially as the refusal would have
to be accompanied by an explanation that would be much like a
death-warrant. Of course, he was in no way responsible for the
conditions, but it would seem as if he were putting a limit on his
friend’s life.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Positive,” replied the physician. “It is an impossible risk.”

“Did you tell him?”

“No.”

“And I am to dine with him and his wife to-night,” said Murray. “They
will be sure to ask about the policy.”

Murray was tempted to send word that he could not come, but it was
rather late for that. Besides, the information would have to be given
some time, so what advantage could there be in procrastinating? But it
came to him as a shock. The news of actual death would hardly have
affected him more seriously, for it seemed like a calamity with which he
was personally identified and for which he was largely responsible. He
knew that he was not, but he could not banish the disquieting feeling
that he was. He closed his desk and walked slowly and thoughtfully to
Wentworth’s house, wishing, for once, that he had been less successful
in the “friendly duel.”

It was a long walk; he could easily have put in another half-hour at the
office had he chosen to take the elevated; but he was in no humor for
business and he preferred to walk. It gave him additional time for
thought. He must decide when and how he would tell Wentworth, and it is
no easy task to tell a friend that his hold upon life is too slight to
make him a possible insurance risk.

He would not do it to-night. It would be nothing short of brutal so to
spoil a pleasant evening. Wentworth would have the knowledge soon
enough, even with this respite, and he was entitled to as much of
joyousness and pleasure as could be given him.

Murray was noticeably dispirited. He tried to be as jovial as usual, but
he found himself looking at his friend much as he would have looked at a
condemned man. There was sympathy and pity in his face. He wondered when
the hour of fate would arrive. Might it not be that very evening? A
moment of temporary excitement might be fatal; anything in the nature of
a shock might mean the end. Indeed, the very information he had to give
might be the one thing needed to snap the cord of life. If so, he would
feel that he had really killed his friend, and yet he had no choice in
the matter: he must refuse and he must explain why he refused. If it had
been his own personal risk, he would have taken it cheerfully, but even
had he so desired, he could not take it for the company in the face of
the doctor’s report.

“What makes you so solemn?” asked Mrs. Wentworth. “You look as if you
had lost your best friend.”

“I feel as if I had,” Murray replied thoughtlessly, and then he hastened
to explain that some business affairs disturbed and worried him.

“But your victory over Stanley ought to make you cheerful,” she
insisted. “Think of finally winning after so long a fight!”

“When shall I get the policy?” asked Wentworth.

“Policies are written at the home office,” answered Murray evasively.

“But the insurance becomes effective when the application is accepted
and the first premium paid, doesn’t it?” asked Wentworth.

“Yes,” answered Murray.

“Well, now that I am at last converted to insurance I am an enthusiast,”
laughed Wentworth. “We won’t waste any time at all. Get out your little
check-book, Helen, and give Murray a check for the first premium. I’ll
make it good to you to-morrow.”

“I don’t believe I could accept it now,” said Murray hesitatingly.
“There are certain forms, you know—”

“Oh, well, I’ll send you a check the first thing in the morning,”
interrupted Wentworth. “Perhaps it isn’t just the thing to turn a little
family dinner into a business conference.”

“Better wait till you hear from me,” advised Murray, and his face showed
his distress. He wished to avoid anything unpleasant at this time, but
he was being driven into a corner.

“Is—is anything wrong?” asked Mrs. Wentworth anxiously.

“There is an extraordinary amount of red tape to the insurance
business,” explained Murray, and the fact that he was very ill at ease
did not escape the notice of Wentworth. The latter said nothing, but he
lost his jovial air and he watched Murray as closely as Murray had
previously watched him. It did not take him long to discover that Murray
was abstracted and uncomfortable; that he was a prey to painful thoughts
and kept track of the conversation only by a strong effort of will.

Mrs. Wentworth, too, discovered that something was wrong, and when the
men retired to the library to smoke she went to her own room in a very
unhappy frame of mind. She was sure that Murray had some bad news for
her husband, but it did not occur to her that it concerned the insurance
policy; it probably related to some business venture, she thought, for
she knew that her husband had recently lost money and had still more
invested in a speculative enterprise. Well, he would get the news from
Murray, and she would get it from him.

Murray did not remain long, and he went out very quietly. Usually the
two men laughed and joked at parting, but there was something subdued
about them this time. As they paused for a moment at the door, she heard
her husband say, “That’s all right, old man; it isn’t your fault.” Then,
instead of coming to her, he put on his hat and left the house almost
immediately after Murray had gone.

It was late when he came back, but she was waiting for him, and his face
frightened her. He seemed to have aged twenty years in a few hours; he
was haggard and pale and there was something of fear in his eyes.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You look sick.”

“A little tired,” he answered with an attempt at carelessness. “I’ll be
all right to-morrow.”

“Mr. Murray was troubled, too,” she persisted. “What’s it all about?”

“Oh, Murray has been unfortunate in a little business affair,” he
explained.

“And you’re concerned in it, too,” she said.

“Yes,” he admitted. “But it’s all right, so don’t worry.”

More he refused to say, but later in the night, waking suddenly, she
heard him in the library, and, stealing down stairs, found him pacing
the floor in his dressing-gown and slippers. He meekly went back to bed
when she gently chid him, but he was restless and slept little.

The next morning he held her in his arms several minutes before leaving
for the office, and he knelt for some time beside the baby’s crib. It
was such a leave-taking as might have been expected if he were going on
a long journey. And she knew that he was withholding something from her.

At the office he shut himself up for nearly the whole morning.

“It must be a mistake,” he kept muttering. “That doctor is a fool. I’ll
try another company.”

In the afternoon he put in an application and suggested that, as a
matter of business convenience, he would like to be examined at once.
Two days later he was politely informed that the company, on the advice
of its physician, felt constrained to decline the risk. But the man who
is condemned to death does not give up hope: he appeals to a higher
court, holding to the last that an error of law or of fact will be
discovered. Wentworth appealed his case, but the verdict of the
specialist he consulted was the same: he might live many years, but he
might die at any moment.

“I would advise you,” said the physician, “to give up active business
and to get your financial affairs in the best possible shape. If you are
to live, you must take unusual precautions to avoid excitement and
worry.”

Avoid worry! What a mockery, when he was deprived of the opportunities
to make proper provision for the little woman and the baby! He was
well-to-do, but only so long as he continued to live and make money.
Some investments he had, but they were neither numerous nor large, and
not of a character that would be considered absolutely safe. He had
invested to make money rather than to save it in most instances, so the
amount that he had in really first-class securities was comparatively
trifling.

“If I continue in business, how long can I expect to live, Doctor?” he
asked.

“It is problematical,” was the reply. “Frankly, I don’t think I would
give you more than two or three years of active business life, with the
possibility of death at any moment during that time. Still, if you are
careful, you ought to last two years.”

Wentworth shuddered. He had told the physician to speak frankly, but it
was horrible to have the limit of life set in this way.

“Retire from business,” the doctor added, “go to some quiet place, and
you _may_ live as long as any other.”

“But I can’t!” cried Wentworth. “I haven’t the money, and I must provide
for the little woman and the baby. My God! how helpless they would be
without me!”

Wentworth went from the doctor’s office to the safe-deposit vaults where
he kept his securities. He was a desperate man now—a man who had
deliberately decided to sacrifice his life for those he loved. He would
continue in business another year—two years, if necessary and the Lord
permitted—and he would bend every energy to making provision for his
little family. It might—nay, probably would—kill him, but what matter?
To buy life at the expense of their future would be supremely selfish.
And he might succeed before the fatal summons came: he might get his
affairs in such shape in a year that he could retire with almost as good
a chance of life as he had now—if he could stand the strain so long. But
in his heart he felt he was pronouncing his own doom. He might put the
optimistic view of the situation in words, but he did not believe the
words. A great fear—a fear that was almost a certainty—gripped hard at
his heart.

“_Hic jacet!_” he said to himself, as he went over the securities and
estimated the amount of available cash he could command. He had
speculated before and had been reasonably successful in most instances;
he must speculate again, for in no other way could he bring his
resources up to the point desired within the time limitations. The
moment he reached this point he would put everything in stocks or bonds
that would be absolutely safe. Indeed, he would do this as fast as he
got a little ahead of the game.

Wentworth had speculated previously only with money that he could afford
to lose; but he was speculating now with his entire surplus. It had been
a divertisement before; it was a business now. He had to win—and he
lost. No one could be more careful than he, but his judgment was wrong.
When he had given the markets no particular attention he had taken an
occasional “flier” with success; when he made a study of conditions and
discussed the situation with friendly authorities he found himself
almost invariably in error.

There was something pathetic and disquieting in the affection and
consideration he displayed for his wife and child during this time. He
endeavored to conceal his own distress, but morning after morning his
wife clung to him and looked anxiously into his face. He spoke
cheeringly, but he grew daily more haggard, and she knew he was
concealing something. Once she asked for news about the life insurance
policy.

“Oh, that’s all settled,” he replied, but he did not tell her how it was
settled.

Finally she went to see Murray. He had brought the news that had made
this great change in her husband, and he could tell her what was
worrying him. Murray had not called since that evening. While in no
sense responsible for it, he had been so closely identified with this
blow that had fallen on his friend that he felt his presence, for a time
at least, would be only an unpleasant reminder.

“I must know this secret,” she told Murray with earnest directness of
speech. “It is killing Stanley. He is worried and anxious, and he is
working himself to death in an effort to straighten out some
complication.”

“He mustn’t do that!” exclaimed Murray quickly. “Work and worry are the
two things for him to avoid.”

“Why?” demanded Mrs. Wentworth.

Murray hesitated. He knew why Wentworth had kept this from his wife, but
was it wise? The man was deliberately walking to his grave. Ought not
his wife to be informed in order that she might take the necessary steps
to save him? It would be a breach of confidence, but did not the
circumstances justify it? Wentworth was his friend, and he had a sincere
regard for Mrs. Wentworth. Surely he ought not to stand idly by and
witness a tragedy that he might prevent.

[Illustration: “You—you didn’t insure him?” she said inquiringly]

“Mrs. Wentworth,” he said at last, “the thing that is worrying Stanley
is the fact that we had to decline him as a risk.“

“You—you didn’t insure him?” she said inquiringly, as if she did not
quite comprehend.

“No.”

“He let me think you had.”

“Because he did not wish to distress you, and I assure you, Mrs.
Wentworth, I would not tell you this myself, were it not for the fact
that Stanley is doing the most unwise thing possible.”

“I am very glad you did tell me,” she said quietly. She was not an
emotional woman, but the pallor of her face and something of anxious
fright in her eyes told how deeply she felt. “What must I do?”

“Get him out of business and away from excitement,” replied Murray
promptly. “In a quiet place, if he takes care of himself, he may live as
long as any of us.”

When Wentworth reached home that evening, the little woman, always
affectionate, greeted him with unusual tenderness. She said nothing of
her visit to Murray, but later she brought up the subject of moving to
the country.

“I’m dreadfully worried about you, Stanley,” she said. “You must take a
vacation.”

“I can’t,” he replied.

“But you must,” she insisted. “You’ve been working too hard lately.”

“Next year,” he said, “I hope to get out of this city turmoil and take
you away to some quiet place, where we can live for each other and the
baby.”

She went over and knelt beside him, as he leaned wearily back in his big
arm-chair.

“Why not now?” she pleaded.

“My God! I can’t, Helen!” he cried. “I want to, but I can’t! If you only
knew—”

“I only know that you will break down, if you don’t take a rest,” she
interrupted hastily. It would only add to his distress to learn that she
knew his secret. “Don’t you suppose I can see how you are overtaxing
your strength? We must go away for a time, anyway.”

“Little woman,” he said, putting an arm round her, “it’s a question of
finance, and you never could understand that very well. When I get
things in shape we will go, but not yet. I have some investments to
watch, and,”—wearily,—“things have gone rather against me lately. There
are lots of things to be done before I can take any extended vacation,
and it is even a more serious matter to retire permanently. My earning
capacity is about all we have to live on now.”

“I thought you had money invested,” she remarked.

“I had,” he replied, “but it was not enough, and in trying to make it
enough I made some wrong guesses on the market.”

“Never mind,” she said cheerily. “We’ll make the best of what’s left. We
won’t need much if we get away from this fearful life. It isn’t money
that the baby and I want, it’s you; and we don’t want you to die for us,
but to live for us.”

Wentworth gave his wife a quick glance, for this was hitting very close
to his secret; but he saw in her only the very natural anxiety of a
loving wife, who knew that her husband was overtaxing his strength.

“You mean well,” he said, “but you don’t know.”

Mrs. Wentworth was not a business woman, and she knew little of her
husband’s affairs, but she had a feeling that this question of life
insurance was all that stood in the way of the precautions that he ought
to take. He could get something for his interest in the business, if he
retired, but not enough to make proper provision for her. He could take
up some quiet pursuit and continue to make a little money as long as he
lived, but he could leave only the most trifling income. And, in his
efforts to improve matters, he had only made them worse. She understood
so much.

There was an undercurrent of sadness, but still something beautiful, in
the life that followed this conversation. All the little sympathetic
attentions that love can suggest, each gave to the other, while each
worried in secret, seeking only to make life a little easier and more
cheerful for the other.

But Mrs. Wentworth was becoming as desperate as her husband, and even
more unreasoning. Was not her husband’s life worth all the money of all
the insurance companies? And were they not condemning him to death by
their action? It was more than a risk that depended upon life; it was a
life that depended upon the risk. In a little time she convinced herself
that the insurance companies could save him and would not, failing
utterly to appreciate the fact that, even with the greatest precautions,
the chances were against him; that there was only a possibility that he
might live longer than a few years, the probability being quite the
reverse.

Murray was shocked when she called to see him again. The change in her
husband was no greater than the change in her. Was not the man she loved
committing suicide before her eyes? And was he not doing this for love
of her and the baby? Would not such a condition of affairs make any
woman desperate and unreasoning?

“Mr. Murray,” she said, “if you are as good a friend to my husband as he
has always been to you, you will save his life.”

“I will do anything in my power, Mrs. Wentworth,” replied Murray.
“Nothing in life ever has so distressed me as this.”

“Then give him the policy he wants.”

“Impossible! Why, the doctor—”

“You can fix it with the doctor; you know you can! Or you can get
another doctor to pass him! Oh, Mr. Murray! I am not asking for money; I
am asking for life—for his life! It’s suicide—murder! I want to get him
away! I must get him away! But I can’t while he fears for our future—the
baby’s and mine! He must provide for us, and he’s losing the little he
had! He can’t stand it a month longer! Give him the policy, Mr. Murray,
and I’ll swear to you never to present it for payment! It’s only for him
that I ask it! You can give him life—give your friend life! Won’t you do
it?”

The tears were running down the little woman’s cheeks, and Murray could
not trust himself to speak for a moment.

“Mrs. Wentworth,” he said at last, “every cent I have is at your
husband’s disposal, if he needs it, but what you ask is utterly
impossible. The risk would be refused at the home office, even if I
passed it, for the fact that he has been refused by two other companies
would be reported there.”

In the case of another, Murray would have said more, but he knew that
Mrs. Wentworth was quite beside herself and did not really appreciate
that she was asking him to be dishonest with the company that employed
him.

“He wouldn’t touch a cent of the money of such a friend!” she exclaimed
with sudden anger. “He’s not a beggar, and neither am I! All I seek for
him is the tranquility that means life; all I ask is the removal of the
anxiety that means death. And this little you will not do for a friend!”
She was beside herself with desperation.

It was bitter, it was harsh, it was unjustifiable, but Murray had
forgiven her before she had ceased speaking. The depth of her feeling
and the excitement under which she was laboring were sufficient to
excuse her. But he felt as if he really were condemning his friend to
death. Yet what could he do? He would cheerfully give a thousand dollars
out of his own pocket to make things easier for the two suffering ones,
but it was not a matter of ready cash. Wentworth had enough of that.

In the deepest distress Murray was pacing back and forth when the door
opened and Wentworth himself staggered in. Murray was at his side in a
moment and guided him to a chair.

“What’s the matter, old man?”

“Lost everything,” Wentworth gasped. “Tried to protect—margined to
limit—all gone!”

“But your interest in the business?”

“Sold it—to protect deal.” He seemed almost at the point of collapse,
but he rallied for a moment. “Insurance!” he cried. “I must have it!
Damn the company! You must put it through for me! You hear, Murray!” The
man was almost crazy, and he spoke fiercely. “You’ve got to do it—for
humanity’s sake! Can’t leave them penniless!”

“We’ll talk about it to-morrow,” said Murray soothingly.

“You lie, Murray!” the excited man cried. “You won’t do it at all;
you’ll see them starve first, you—you dog! I’ll kill you, if you don’t—”

Wentworth had risen in frenzied fury, as he pictured the future of his
loved ones; he swayed for an instant, and Murray caught him as he fell.
He was dead before Murray could get him back into the chair.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Murray did all that anyone could do for the bereaved woman, and more
than any one else would have done, for the next day he sent her this
letter:

  Dear Mrs. Wentworth: After a conference with our physician we decided
  that a small risk on Mr. Wentworth would be justified, and the matter
  was closed up yesterday afternoon just previous to his death. As a
  result of my close personal relations with him, I know that he left
  his affairs in rather a complicated condition, so, as it will take a
  little time to file the necessary proofs and get the money from the
  company, I am taking the liberty of sending you my personal check for
  the amount of the policy, one thousand dollars, and I hope that you
  will not hesitate to call on me for any service that is in my power to
  render. With the deepest sympathy, I am,

                                                 Very sincerely yours,
                                                         David Murray.

“A lie,” he muttered, referring to the insurance item; “a cold,
deliberate lie, but I feel better for telling it.”



AN INCIDENTAL SPECULATION


Just when the Interurban Traction Company thought the successful
culmination of its plans in sight it woke up to the fact that there had
been a miscalculation or an oversight somewhere. It had the absolute or
prospective control of all the principal lines embraced in its elaborate
scheme of connecting various towns and cities by trolley, which means
that it had bought a good deal of the necessary stock and had options on
most of the rest; but there was one insignificant little road that it
had left to the last. This road had been a losing venture from its
inception, and its stock was quoted far below par, with no buyers. As a
matter of business policy, the more successful roads should be secured
first, for the moment the secret was out their stocks would soar. They
represented the larger investments, and their stock-holders could hold
on, if they saw the advisability of it, without making any financial
sacrifice; they were in a position to “hold up” the new company in the
most approved modern style. But the Bington road was weak and
unprofitable, valuable only as a connecting link in the chain.

“Of course,” said Colonel Babington, who was at the head of the new
venture, “we’re sure to be held up somewhere on the line, and these
people can hold us up for less than any of the others. They haven’t much
as a basis for a hold-up, and they can’t afford to go on losing money.
We can buy their road cheap the first thing, but the discovery of the
purchase will give our plans away and add a million dollars to the cost
of carrying them out. Any fool would know that we were not buying that
road for itself alone. Why, the mere rumor that negotiations were opened
would add fifty or a hundred per cent. to the value of the other stocks
we want. We can’t afford even to wink at that road until we get control
of the others.”

So they went about their work very secretly, hoping so to conceal their
design that they would be able to get the last link at the bed-rock
price; but, when the time came, entirely unexpected difficulties were
encountered. The stock-holders might have been tractable enough, but the
stock-holders themselves had been fooled.

“Why, there was a young fellow here last week,” they explained, “and he
got a sixty-day option on enough stock to control the road.”

“Who was he?” asked the startled Colonel Babington.

“His name is Horace Lake,” they told him.

“I’ll have to look Horace up,” remarked the colonel thoughtfully.

Meanwhile, Horace was congratulating himself on having done a good
stroke of business, and further amusing himself by figuring his possible
profit.

“I’ve been looking for just such a chance as this,” he told Dave Murray,
the insurance man.

“Have you got the money to carry it through?” asked the practical
Murray.

“I had enough to put up a small forfeit to bind the option and convince
them that I mean business, and I don’t need any more,” returned Lake.

“Once in a great while,” said Murray, “a man makes a good lot of money
on a bluff, but even then he usually has some backing. It takes money to
make money, as a general rule. You will find that most successful men,
even those who are noted for their nervy financiering, got the basis of
their fortunes by hard work and rigid economy. Wind may be helpful, but
it makes a poor foundation.”

“This is one of the times when it is about all that is necessary,”
laughed Lake. “I got a little inside information about the Interurban
Traction Company’s plans in time to secure an option on one link in its
chain of roads, and it has simply got to do business with me before it
can make its line complete. For twenty thousand dollars, paid any time
within sixty days, I can control the blooming little line, and the
option to buy at that price is going to cost the traction company just
twenty-five thousand dollars, which will be clear profit for me.”

“It sounds nice,” admitted Murray, “but, if I were in your place, I’d
feel a good deal better if I had the money to make good. If they don’t
buy, you lose your forfeit, which represents every cent you could scrape
up.”

“They will buy,” asserted Lake confidently.

“They may think it cheaper to parallel your line,” suggested Murray.

“I’m not worrying,” returned Lake confidently. “I’m just waiting for
them to come and see me, and they’ll come.”

Lake’s prophecy proved correct. They came—at least Colonel Babington
came, he being the active manager of the company’s affairs. But Colonel
Babington first took the precaution to learn all he could of Horace
Lake’s financial standing and resources. This convinced him that it was
what he termed a “hold-up,” but, even so, it was better to pay a
reasonable bonus than to have a fight.

“We will give you,” said Colonel Babington, “a thousand dollars for your
option on the majority stock of the Bington road.”

“The price,” replied Lake, “is twenty-five thousand dollars.”

“My dear young man,” exclaimed the colonel, when he had recovered his
breath, “you ought to see a specialist in mental disorders. You are
clearly not right in your mind.”

“The price,” repeated Lake, “is twenty-five thousand dollars now, and,
if I am put to any trouble or annoyance in the matter, the price will go
up.”

“A bluff,” said the colonel, “is of use only when the opposing party
does not know it is a bluff. We happen to know it. You haven’t the money
to buy that road, and you can’t get it.”

“You speak with extraordinary certainty,” returned Lake with dignified
sarcasm.

“The road,” asserted the colonel, “is valuable only to us, and we can
parallel it, if necessary. No conservative capitalist is going to
advance you the money to buy it in the face of such a risk as that, so
we have only to wait until your option expires to get it from the men
who now own it, and I may add that we have taken a second option at a
slightly higher price. Therefore, your only chance to get out of the
deal with a profit is to let us acquire the road under the first option
at something less than the second option price. To avoid any unnecessary
delay, we might be willing to pay you a bonus of two thousand dollars.”

“The price,” said Lake, “is now twenty-six thousand.”

“Sixty days—less than fifty now, as a matter of fact—is not such a long
time,” remarked the colonel. “We will wait.”

Lake told Murray later that he “had them in a corner,” but Murray was
inclined to be doubtful; fighting real money with wind, he said, was
always a risky undertaking, and the Interurban Traction Company had
plenty of real money. Lake, however, being in the “bluffing” line
himself, was inclined to think all others were doing business on the
same basis, and he confidently expected the colonel to return in a few
days. But the colonel came not.

Then Lake made another trip to Bington, to look the ground over, and he
was disturbed to find that the colonel had been sounding the people on a
proposition to put a line through the town on another street. This was
only a tentative plan, to be adopted in case of failure to get the
existing line, but it showed that the company was not disposed to be
held up without a fight. Fortunately, the people did not take kindly to
the idea. The principal shops were on the line of the trolley now, and
the proprietors did not wish to have travel diverted to another street.

Lake devoted several days to missionary work in Bington, pointing out
the great depreciation of property that would follow such a move, and he
finally left with a feeling that the company would have an extremely
difficult time getting the necessary legislation from the town
officials. Still, he was not entirely at ease, for officials are
sometimes “induced” to act contrary to the wishes of the people they are
supposed to represent. But he believed he had made the situation such
that Babington would come back to him. Surely, it would be cheaper to
deal with him than to buy an entire town board.

Thirty of the sixty days slipped away, and Lake grew really anxious. The
Interurban Traction Company could not be a success without a connecting
link between the two main stretches of its line, and Lake had not
believed that it would dare to proceed with its plans until this was
assured. Consequently, he had expected all work to stop, pending
negotiations with him. But work did not stop. There were two or three
trifling gaps at other places, and the company was laying the rails to
bridge them, in addition to improving the road-beds of the lines it had
bought. It even began to build a half-mile of track to reach one
terminus of his little road. Clearly, there was no anticipation of
trouble in ultimately beating him.

“It’s my lack of money,” he soliloquized. “I’ve got the basis of a good
thing, if I only had the money to make it good, but I haven’t, and they
know it. Murray was right.”

His thoughts being thus turned to Murray, he went to see him, in the
faint hope that he might interest him in the plan. Murray had money to
invest. But Murray deemed the risk too great in this instance.

“They can beat you,” said Murray. “They have unlimited resources, and
they’ll certainly get through Bington on another street, if you persist
in making your terms too stiff. Very likely, they would have given you
three thousand or possibly even five thousand for your option when they
first came to you, and they may do it now.”

“I tell you, it’s a good thing,” insisted Lake.

“If it’s really as good a thing as you think it is,” said Murray, “you
will have no difficulty in getting somebody with money to take it off
your hands at a good margin of profit to you, but I can’t see it.”

In this emergency, Lake recalled a man of considerable wealth who had
known him as a boy and had taken an interest in him. It was humiliating
not to be able to put the scheme through himself, after all his planning
and confident talk, but it was better to turn it over to some one else
than to fail entirely. So he went to see Andrew Belden.

“There is a remote chance of success,” declared Belden, “but I would not
care to risk twenty thousand on it.”

“The company can’t get through Bington, except on that franchise,”
insisted Lake.

“That may be so,” admitted Belden, “but I have learned not to be too
confident in forecasting the action of public officials and
corporations. The company could make a strong point by threatening to
cut out Bington entirely and carry its line to one side of it.”

“That would make a loop in their road that would be costly in building
and in the delays it would occasion,” argued Lake. “They can’t make any
circuits, if they are to do the business.”

“Nevertheless,” returned Belden, “their actions show that they are very
sure of their ground.”

“Simply because I haven’t the ready cash,” said Lake bitterly. “Will you
loan it to me, Mr. Belden? If you won’t go into the deal yourself, will
you loan me the money to put it through? I’ll give you the stock as
security, and I think you know me well enough to know that I’ll repay
every cent of it as rapidly as possible.”

“My dear Horace,” exclaimed Belden with frank friendliness, “I haven’t
the least doubt of your integrity, but I have very serious doubts of
your ability to repay any such sum, and it is more than I care to lose.
You never have had a thousand dollars at one time in your life, and I
may say, without intending to be unkind, that it isn’t likely you ever
will. As for the security, its value depends entirely on the success of
your plans: if you fail, it won’t be worth ten cents. Now, if you had
any real security, upon which I could realize in case anything happened
to you, I would cheerfully let you have the money for as long a time as
you wish. Although your plan does not appeal to me, I am sincerely
anxious to be of assistance to you as far as possible, but I can’t make
you a gift of twenty thousand dollars. Convince me that it will be
repaid ultimately—no matter in how long a time—and I will let you have
it.”

Lake departed, discouraged. He had no security of any sort to offer, and
had only asked for the loan as a desperate last resort, without the
slightest expectation that he would get it. The company, he decided, had
beaten him, just because no one else was clear-headed enough to see the
opportunity, and he might as well get what little profit he could while
there was still time. With this object in view, he went to see the
colonel.

“I have decided,” he said, “to let you have the road for a bonus of five
thousand dollars.”

“That is very kind of you,” returned the colonel, “but we can get it
cheaper. You see,” he explained, with the disagreeable frankness of one
who thinks he holds the winning hand, “the minority stock-holders were a
little disgruntled when they learned of your deal—thought they had been
left out in the cold—and they were ready to make very favorable terms
with us. As we have a second option on the majority stock, at a somewhat
higher figure, we have only to wait until your option expires and then
take the little we need to give us control.”

“I’ll let you have my option for the two thousand you offered a month
ago,” said Lake in desperation.

“It’s not worth that to us now.”

“One thousand dollars.”

“Why, frankly, Mr. Lake,” said the colonel still pleasantly, “we men of
some experience and standing in the business world don’t like to have
half-baked financiers interfering with our plans, and we aim to
discourage them as effectually as possible whenever possible.” Then,
with a sudden change of tone: “We won’t give you a damn cent for your
option. You were too greedy.”

“Of course, you men of money and high finance are not greedy at all,”
retorted Lake sarcastically.

Lake was too depressed to see it at the moment, but later it began to
dawn on him that the colonel, usually astute, had made a grievous
mistake. In his anxiety to impress upon the young man the futility of
his avaricious schemes, in the face of such wise and resourceful
opposition, he had mentioned the fact that the minority stock had been
brought within their reach. Had they already bought it, or had they only
secured options on it? If already purchased, the purchase price would
prove a dead loss, unless they were able to get enough more to secure
control. To parallel the road would be to kill a company in which they
were financially interested, in addition to incurring the considerable
expense necessary for a new connecting link.

Lake went to Bington that afternoon, and returned the following morning.
The game was his, if he could raise the money; they had bought most of
the minority stock outright, being unable to get options on it. He was
sure of victory now, if he could raise the money. He no longer wished to
turn the deal over to any one else on any terms: he wished to carry it
to the conclusion himself. But the money, the money!

He tried Belden again, but Belden still considered the security utterly
inadequate for a loan of twenty thousand dollars. In truth, although
Belden considered the outlook a little more promising now, he doubted
the young man’s ability to handle such a deal, and it would take very
little to upset all calculations. The company’s investment was not
sufficient to prevent the abandonment of the road in some very possible
circumstances, although it was ample evidence of a present plan to use
it. Murray took the same view of the situation.

“It begins to look like a good speculation,” said Murray, “but I haven’t
the money to invest in it, and I never was much of a speculator, anyway.
I have discovered that, as a general thing, when the possible profit
begins to climb very much over the legal rate of interest, the
probability of loss increases with it. However, if you want to take the
risk, that’s your affair, provided you have the money.”

“But I haven’t,” complained Lake; “that’s the trouble.”

“Too bad you’re not carrying enough insurance to be of some use,”
remarked Murray.

“What good would that do?” asked Lake.

“Why, then you’d only have to convince your wife that you have a safe
investment, and it’s always easier to convince your wife than it is to
convince some coldblooded capitalist. Insurance ranks high as security,
but of course the beneficiary has to consent to its use.”

“I never had thought of insurance as a factor in financiering,” said
Lake. “I had regarded it more as a family matter.”

“It plays an important part in the business world,” explained Murray,
“and it might even play a part in speculation. There is partnership
insurance, you know.”

“I may have heard of it, but I never gave it any consideration.”

“It’s not a speculation, but a business precaution,” said Murray. “The
partners are insured in favor of the firm. If one of them dies, it gives
the firm the ready cash to buy his interest from the widow, without
infringing on the business capital. Partnership insurance may sometimes
prevent a failure; it may prevent several. Many interests may depend
temporarily upon the operation of one man, and his sudden death might
spell ruin for a number of people, unless they were protected by
insurance. The policy is playing a more important part in the business
world every day. There are lots of strange things that can be done when
you fully understand it.”

“But that doesn’t help me,” asserted Lake impatiently.

“No,” returned Murray, “I don’t see how insurance could help you just
now, unless you were to die. A policy won’t be accepted as security for
a sum in excess of the premiums paid, for you might default.”

“I’m not the kind of man who dies to win,” said Lake rather sharply.

“Of course not,” replied Murray. “I was merely considering the financial
possibilities of policies.” All insurance questions being of absorbing
interest to Murray, he straightway forgot all about Lake’s predicament,
and busied his mind with his own speculations. “There is so much that
can be done with insurance,” he went on, “but I guess it’s just as well
the public doesn’t know it all. Do you remember the case of Rankin, the
banker who committed suicide?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Rankin couldn’t have done anything with our company, because the
element of premeditation is assumed if death by suicide occurs within
two years from the time the policy is issued. After that the manner of
death cuts no figure, for the courts have held that an insurance company
takes a risk on the mind as well as the body of a policy-holder, and,
anyway, competition has cut out the old suicide restrictions. But there
are companies that issue policies incontestable after the date of issue.
Suppose Rankin, when he found his affairs in such shape that he no
longer dared to face the world, had gone to one or more of these
companies. A hundred thousand dollars—very likely less—would have
protected his bank and provided for his family. He had already decided
to kill himself, for his operations had been such that he could not hope
to escape the penitentiary when discovery came, but he was ostensibly
still a prosperous man. Many men of his standing insure themselves for
extraordinarily large sums, to protect legitimately their business
interests as well as their families.

“Not so very long ago we issued a paid-up policy for fifty thousand
dollars on the life of one man, who died within three years, and we
thought nothing of it. He was taking a risk on his own life then, for he
thought he was going to live long enough to make a paid-up policy
cheaper than the aggregate of annual payments, whereas there would have
been a saving to his estate of a good many thousands of dollars if he
had followed the other plan. However, that has nothing to do with this
case; I mention it only to show that a man of Rankin’s apparent standing
could have got insurance to any amount without creating comment. And,
with an incontestable-after-date-of-issue policy, he could have
protected his business associates and his family by the very culmination
of his overwhelming disgrace. Why, a defaulter could use part of his
stolen money in this way to provide for his family when the moment of
discovery and death shall come, or a dishonest business man, facing
ruin, could use his creditors’ money to make such provision, for
insurance money is something sacred, that can not be reached like the
rest of an estate. Oh, there are great dramatic possibilities in this
business, Lake—tragedies and comedies and dramas of which the public
knows nothing.”

“How does that help me?” demanded Lake gloomily, and the question
brought Murray back to the realities of the moment.

“It doesn’t help you,” Murray replied, “but it’s an intensely
interesting subject to one who gives it a little time and thought.”

Yet it did help Lake, although not at that moment. It was a new field,
and Lake liked to explore new fields. A novelty that taxed his ingenuity
appealed to him especially. True, he had enough to occupy his mind
without entering upon idle speculation, but, when every other avenue to
success seemed closed, his thoughts would revert to insurance.

“If it holds out such opportunities for others, why not for me?” he
asked. “If others have entirely overlooked the possibilities, why may
not I be doing the same thing?”

He met the colonel on the street occasionally, and the way the colonel
smiled at him was maddening. There could be no doubt that the colonel
considered the game won, but he was not a man to take chances: he had
Lake watched, and the latter’s every move was reported to him. Even when
Lake made another trip to Bington and endeavored to arrange a shrewd
deal with some of the majority stock-holders, the colonel promptly heard
of it.

“Accept my notes in payment for the stock,” Lake urged on that occasion,
“and I’ll let you in on the profits of the deal. The traction company
has got to get this road, but you can’t hold it up for a big price,
because you were foolish enough to give it a second option. I can do it,
however. Let me have the stock, and you can divide up among yourselves
half of all I get in excess of the option price. My notes will be paid,
and you will have a bonus of twelve or fifteen thousand dollars.”

But the stock-holders were conservative and cautious men, and the very
fact that Lake could not command the money that he needed made them
suspicious. As matters stood, they were sure of getting out of a losing
venture with a small profit—at least, so it seemed to them—and they
preferred that to the risk of losing everything in an effort to secure a
larger profit. Furthermore, they were now on the side of the colonel,
for his option was at a larger price. And the colonel was very
confident—so confident that work was being rushed on details that would
prove valueless without the Bington road. This was what made Lake
desperately angry; it was humiliating to be treated as a helpless
weakling.

As valuable time passed, his mind reverted again to the insurance field.
His opportunity—the opportunity of a lifetime—was almost lost. The
colonel, wishing to lose no time, had arranged for a meeting with
certain of the majority stock-holders the day the first option expired.
The option expired at noon, and the colonel would be ready to take over
what stock he needed at one minute after the noon hour. This would not
be very much, in view of the minority stock he already held, but the
sanguine stock-holders did not know this: they expected him to take all
of it.

“Some of them are going to find they’re tricked, just as I am,” Lake
grumbled. “If I could only convince Belden of the ultimate absolute
security of a loan! He wants to help me; he’s ready to be convinced;
but—”

People passing saw this moody, depressed young man stop short in the
street and his eye light with sudden hope.

“By thunder!” he exclaimed. “Of course, I can protect him against
unforeseen disaster, if he has confidence in my integrity!”

He was almost jubilant when he entered Belden’s office.

“Got the money?” asked Belden.

“No; but I know how to get it,” replied Lake. “You believe in my
honesty, don’t you?”

“Implicitly.”

“You merely doubt my ability?”

“Your financial ability,” explained Belden. “You will do what you agree
to do—if you can. I have no earthly doubt of your willingness, even
anxiety, to repay every obligation you may incur, but, added to other
risks, there is the possibility of accident.”

“If I eliminate that?”

“You may have the money.”

“On long time?”

“The time and the terms are immaterial.”

“I’ll come for it later,” announced Lake, and he departed, leaving
Belden puzzled and curious.

Once outside, Lake stopped to do a little mental figuring before taking
up the other details of his plan.

“I advanced five hundred to bind the option,” he reflected. “That leaves
nineteen thousand five hundred necessary to put the deal through. Twenty
thousand from Belden will give me just the margin I need.”

Murray was as much puzzled and surprised by the change in the man as
Belden had been, and Murray, like Belden, was anxious to help him in any
reasonably safe way.

“Am I good for five hundred for thirty days, if I give you my positive
assurance that I know exactly how I am going to pay it in that time?”
asked Lake.

“Why, yes,” replied Murray. “On short-time figuring you’re a pretty safe
man.”

“Draw me a check for it, and I’ll give you my thirty-day note,” said
Lake, “and my verbal assurance that it’s a cinch.”

Murray noted the confidence of Lake’s tone and manner, and drew the
check.

“What are you going to do with it?” he asked.

“Pay a life insurance premium,” laughed Lake. “Give me an application
blank and round up a medical examiner. I want a twenty-year endowment
policy for twenty thousand dollars, and I want it put through like a
limited express that’s trying to make up time.”

“I suppose you know what you’re doing,” said Murray doubtfully.

“You bet I do!” Lake spoke confidently.

“Oh, very well,” remarked Murray. “I don’t see how I can refuse business
for the company, even if I stand to lose.”

“You won’t lose,” declared Lake with joyous enthusiasm. “I’m going to
show you a new trick in the line of insurance financiering.”

After that, Lake haunted Murray’s office, and grew daily more anxious.
He was a good risk, but certain formalities were necessary, and these
took time, although Murray did his utmost to shorten the routine. Lake’s
nervousness increased; he had Murray telegraph the home office; he grew
haggard, for he had not counted on this delay; but finally, in the
moment of almost utter despair, the policy was delivered to him. An hour
later he was in Belden’s office.

“I want twenty thousand at four per cent., payable at the rate of one
thousand a year, with interest!” he cried. “I’ll pay it, to a certainty,
within sixty days, but I’m trying to make it look more reasonable, to
satisfy you. You believe I can pay one thousand a year, don’t you?”

“If you live.”

“If I don’t,” exclaimed Lake, “there is insurance for twenty thousand in
my wife’s favor, and duly assigned to you,” and he banged the policy
down on the desk in front of the astonished Belden. “You can trust me to
take care of the premiums, can’t you?”

“Your integrity I never doubted,” replied Belden, “and that obligation
should be within your means.”

“My rule of life shall be: the premiums first, the payments on the note
next,” declared Lake. “If I fall behind in the latter, the security will
still be good. I only ask that anything in excess of what may be due
you, in case of my death, shall go to my wife, and she, of course,
becomes the sole beneficiary the moment you are paid. But, for the love
of heaven, hurry!”

Instead of hurrying, Belden leaned back in his chair and looked at the
young man with bewildered admiration.

“Such ingenuity,” he said at last, “ought not to go unrewarded. As a
strict business proposition, your plan would hardly find favor with a
conservative banker, but, as a matter of friendship and confidence—” He
reached for his check-book. “Such a head as yours is worth a risk,” he
added a moment later.

Lake reached the office of the Bington road at 11:30 on the day his
option expired. The colonel was already there, waiting. So were some of
the majority stock-holders. The colonel was confident and unusually
loquacious.

“Now that the matter is practically settled,” he remarked with the
cheerful frankness of a man who has won, “I may admit that the young man
had us up a tree. He succeeded in putting the other route through
Bington practically beyond our reach, and forced us to take the risk of
doing business with the minority stock-holders at a possible dead loss.
But we knew he didn’t have the money, so we went ahead with our plans
and our work without delay. A little ready cash—”

It was then that Lake entered and deposited a small satchel on the long
table.

“I will take the stock under my option,” he announced briefly to such of
the majority stock-holders as were present. “I think I have got all I
need, with the exception of what is represented by you gentlemen. It has
been a pretty busy morning for me.” He emptied the stock certificates
already acquired and some bundles of bank-notes on the table. “Colonel,”
he said with a joyous and triumphant laugh, “you’d better sit up and
begin to take notice.”

The colonel’s attitude and air of easy confidence already had changed,
and his look of amazement and dismay was almost laughable.

“Quick, gentlemen,” cautioned Lake, with a glance at the clock. “I’ve
tendered the money in time, but I’ll feel a little more comfortable when
I have the rest of the needed stock.”

Like one in a dream the colonel leaned over the table and watched the
transaction.

“Do—do you want to sell some of that stock?” he asked at last.

“No,” replied Lake; “I don’t want to sell some of it; I want to sell all
of it.”

“We don’t need all of it,” said the colonel.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” returned Lake magnanimously. “I’ll
sell you all or any part of it for fifty thousand dollars.”

“On the basis of fifty thousand for your entire holdings?” asked the
colonel.

“No; at the set price of fifty thousand for whatever you take.”

“Too much,” said the colonel.

“As you please,” said Lake carelessly. “The price of the control of the
Bington road goes up one thousand dollars a day. It’s dirt cheap at
fifty thousand now, but, of course, if you don’t need it, Colonel, the
bargain price doesn’t interest you.”

The colonel did need it; in fact, the company, in its sublime
confidence, had put itself in a position where failure to get it meant a
considerable loss.

“On second thought,” remarked Lake, “I’ll have to add a thousand to
compensate me for the indignity of being called a half-baked financier.
Do you remember that, Colonel?”

“We’ll take it,” said the colonel resignedly. Then he added
reflectively: “You’ve made a pretty good thing out of this, Lake.”

“Fair, fair,” replied Lake. “After I’ve repaid the twenty thousand five
hundred that I borrowed, I’ll have thirty thousand five hundred left,
not to mention an insurance policy for twenty thousand in favor of my
wife, with the first premium paid. You ought to study the insurance
question, Colonel. There are wonderful financial possibilities in it,
and some day, perhaps, you will wake up to the fact that insurance beat
you in this deal.”



AN INCIDENTAL FAVOR


On the same day two women called to see Dave Murray in regard to the
same matter, and that was the beginning of the trouble.

The first was Mrs. Albert Vincent. The obituary columns of the morning
papers had given a few lines to the death of Albert Vincent, but Murray
had not expected to hear from his widow so promptly, and she was a
little too businesslike to meet his idea as to the proprieties of the
occasion. In fact, there was no indication of either outward mourning or
inward grief.

“Perhaps you will recall,” she said, without the slightest trace of
emotion, “that I wrote to you some time ago to ask if the premiums on my
husband’s insurance had been fully paid.”

“I recall it,” replied Murray.

“And you answered that they had been paid.”

“I recall that also,” said Murray.

“Well, he died last night,” explained the widow, “and I would like to
know when I can get the insurance money.”

Murray looked at her in amazement. He had had to deal with many people
whom necessity made importunate, but never before had he met such
cold-bloodedness as this woman displayed in tone and manner. Apparently,
it was no more to her than a business investment, upon which she was now
about to realize.

“There are certain formalities necessary,” he said, “but there will be
little delay after proper proof of death has been filed. You will, of
course, have the attending physician—”

“I don’t know who he is,” interrupted the woman.

“You don’t know who he is!” repeated Murray in astonishment.

“No. But I will find out and see him at once. It is important that there
shall be as little delay as possible.”

Previous experiences made Murray quick at jumping to conclusions in such
cases, and he now thought he had the explanation of this unusually
prompt call. The woman was stylishly dressed, but that was no proof that
she had the ready cash essential at such a time.

“I think I understand,” said Murray delicately. “You can not meet the
expenses incident to—”

“I have nothing to do with any expenses,” the woman again interrupted
coldly. “_She_ looked after him in life, and she can look after him
now.”

“She!” exclaimed Murray. “Who?”

“The nurse,” replied the woman scornfully. “But she can’t have the
insurance—not a cent of it. And that’s what she has been after.”

“Let me understand this,” said Murray thoughtfully. “You and your
husband have not been living together?”

“Not for five years.”

“And this other woman?”

“She was an old flame, and she went to him when he became ill.”

“Did he send for you?”

“No. He knew better than to do that. But the insurance is in my name,
and I’m going to have it—all of it. That’s my right, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” replied Murray slowly; “I’m sorry to say that is your absolute
right.” The supreme selfishness and heartlessness of the woman were
revolting to Murray. “The policy names you as beneficiary, and when it
is presented, with proof of death, the money will have to be paid to
you.”

“How am I to get the policy?” asked the woman. “He had it put away
somewhere.”

“That is a matter upon which I can not undertake to advise you,” replied
Murray.

“Anyhow,” declared the woman defiantly, for Murray’s words and
expression showed his disapprobation, “I want to serve notice on you
that not one cent of the money is to be paid to any one else. It would
be just like that nurse to try to get it.”

“You shall have every cent to which you are entitled,” replied Murray
with frigid courtesy, “but nothing is to be gained by further
discussion.”

“I suppose,” exclaimed the woman with sharp resentfulness, “that your
sympathies are with that shameless nurse.”

“I don’t know,” returned Murray quietly. “I’m not at all sure that your
husband was not the one who was most entitled to sympathy.”

It was unlike Murray to speak thus brutally, but the woman irritated
him. Many were the examples of selfishness that had come to his notice,
but this seemed to him a little worse than any of the others. That she
had been living apart from her husband might be due to no fault of hers,
but she impressed him as being a vain, vindictive, mercenary woman, with
no thought above the rather gaudy clothes she wore—just the kind to
demand everything and give nothing. Certainly her actions showed that
she lacked all the finer sensibilities that one naturally associates
with true women. No matter what might lie back of it all, common decency
should have prevented her from making such a display of her own small
soul at such a time. At least, so Murray thought.

“She is the kind of woman who marries a man’s bank account,” he mused,
“and considers the inability to supply her with all the money she wants
as the first evidence of incompatibility of temper. Some women think
they want a husband when they really only want an accommodating banker.”

Murray was still musing in this strain when the second woman called.
Unlike the first, this woman gave some evidence of grief and mourning:
her eyes showed that she had been weeping, and her attire, although not
the regulation mourning, was as near to it as a scanty wardrobe would
permit on short notice. But she was self-possessed, and spoke with
patient resignation.

“Necessity,” she explained, “has compelled me to come to see you at this
time about Albert Vincent’s life insurance policy.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Murray thoughtlessly, “you are the nurse!”

“Yes,” she replied quietly, after one startled look, “I am the nurse. I
infer that Mrs. Vincent has been here.”

“She has just left,” said Murray.

“Her attentions,” said the nurse bitterly, “have been confined to an
effort to get prompt news of her husband’s death.”

Murray knew instinctively that a little drama of life was opening before
him, but his duty was clear.

“Nevertheless,” he said, “the policy is in her name.”

“In her name!” cried the nurse. “Why, he told me—” Then she stopped
short. She would not betray his perfidy, even if he had been false to
her.

“What did he tell you?” asked Murray kindly.

“No matter,” answered the nurse. “I—I only wanted enough to defray
the—the necessary expenses. That’s why I came. There isn’t a cent—not a
cent. Even the little money I had has been used, and there are debts—But
she’ll pay, of course.”

Murray was deeply distressed. Mrs. Albert Vincent was so bitter—possibly
with justification, although he did not like to believe it—that she
would do nothing; her feeling was simply one of deep resentment that
even death could not allay. But he hesitated to say so.

“Let me understand this matter a little better,” he said at last. “I am
sincerely anxious to be of any assistance possible, but the
circumstances are unusual.”

The nurse fought a brief battle with herself in silence. To bare the
details of the story was like uncovering her heart to the world, but she
saw the sympathy in Murray’s eyes, and she was personally helpless in a
most trying emergency. She sorely needed a guiding hand.

“Albert and I were engaged to be married,” she said at last, with simple
frankness. “We had some trifling quarrel, and then this woman came
between us. He was not rich, but he had some property and excellent
prospects, and—well, they were married. It was an elopement—a matter of
momentary pique, he told me afterward. God knows I never tried to
interfere with their married life, and she had no reason to be jealous
of me. I did not even see either of them, except at rare intervals, for
a long time, but she could not forget or forgive the fact that we had
been a great deal to each other. And she was selfish and extravagant. I
am merely repeating the judgment of her own friends in this, for I do
not wish to be unjust to her, even now. After I had forsaken society and
become a trained nurse I heard something of their troubles: they were
living beyond his income, and his income did not increase according to
expectations. Perhaps the worry of such conditions made him less capable
of improving his opportunities. At any rate, her extravagance created a
great deal of comment, and he has told me since that they quarreled
frequently over financial matters. Then I heard that they had separated
and that he had given her nearly all of the little he had left. I was
not trying to keep track of them or pry into their affairs, but there
were mutual friends, and I could not help hearing what was common
gossip. But I studiously avoided any chance of meeting either of
them—until I heard that he was sick and alone. Then I went to him and
cared for him. It was not proper, you will say? Perhaps not. It put me
in a false position and invited scandal? Perhaps it did. But I went, and
I would go again; I was there to soothe his last moments; I was with him
when all others had forsaken him, and there is nothing in this life that
I would not sacrifice for the glory of that memory!”

The light of self-sacrificing love shone in her eyes as she made this
final declaration, and Murray did not trust himself to speak for a
moment or two. The story had been told so quietly, so simply, that the
sudden emphasis at the conclusion was almost irresistible in the
sublimity of its self-denying love. The great contrast between the two
women made it all the stronger.

“I shall consider it my personal privilege,” replied Murray, “to see
that everything possible is done.”

“Thank you,” said the nurse.

“But there are still some points that will have to be cleared up,”
continued Murray. “What made you think the policy was in your name?”

“He told me he would have it changed, so that I could pay all the bills
in case of his death,” said the nurse.

“Possibly,” remarked Murray, “he thought he could, but to permit a
change in the beneficiary without the consent of the original
beneficiary would be a blow at the very structure of life insurance. It
would put a true and devoted wife at the absolute mercy of an
unscrupulous or thoughtless husband: he could change the policy without
her knowledge; he could sell it for the cash-surrender value; he could
transfer it to a loan-shark to meet his personal or business needs—in
fact, it would be no more than so much stock that could be reached by
any creditor, and the trusting wife might find herself penniless. In
this particular case the inability to make such a change may work
injustice, but the ability to make it would work far greater injustice
in practically all other instances. Mr. Vincent may have thought he
could do this, and it is the very exceptional case when I most heartily
wish it had been possible, but he doubtless made inquiries and found
that it was not. When the beneficiary can be deprived of her interest
without her knowledge and consent the value of insurance will be gone.”

“Then that is what he learned,” she remarked, as if a question had been
answered. “He was dreadfully worried before he became too ill to give
much thought to business matters,” she added by way of explanation. “I
thought it was because I was using my own little hoard to pay expenses,
and, on the doctor’s advice, I went with him twice in a cab to see about
some things that were worrying him, although even then he had no
business to leave his bed. It was the lesser of two evils, the doctor
said, for his mental distress was affecting his physical condition
seriously. He said he never could rest until he had provided for those
who had been good to him in adversity. But he didn’t mean me!” she
exclaimed quickly. “He meant the doctor and some others who had been
generous in the matter of credit. He knew why I—” She paused a moment,
and then added: “But he wanted the others paid, and there was no one
else he could trust.”

“I quite understand,” said Murray encouragingly.

“He made me stay in the cab both times,” she went on, “and the second
time—when he had me sign his wife’s name—he seemed—”

“Had you sign his wife’s name!” exclaimed Murray. “To what?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “It was a formality, he said, to
straighten out some tangle, so I did it. I would have done anything to
ease his mind and get him back to bed.”

Murray gave a low whistle. He was beginning to understand the situation.

“Pardon me, Miss—” he said.

“Miss Bronson—Amy Bronson,” she explained.

Murray had heard of Miss Bronson some years before. She had suddenly
given up society to become a trained nurse, and there had been vague
rumors of an unhappy love affair. Later, her father’s death had left her
dependent upon her own resources, and society had commented on what a
fortunate thing it was that she had already chosen an occupation and
fitted herself for it. He never had known her, and only a bare
suggestion of the story had come to his notice, but it was sufficient to
make him more than ever her champion now.

“Miss Bronson,” he said, “I fear there are greater complications here
than I had supposed. Did Mr. Vincent get any money on either of those
trips?”

“Yes. On the second he told me that he closed up an old deal, and he was
more contented after that. After the first he was so dreadfully
disturbed, that I never dared ask him any questions.”

“Do you know where the insurance policy is?”

“No. I searched for it before coming here, but could find no trace of
it.”

Murray was as considerate as the circumstances would permit, but he had
become suddenly business-like. Aside from the question of sympathy, the
matter was now one to interest him deeply. He had been groping blindly
before, but with light came the possibility of action.

“You are alone?” he asked.

“Entirely so.”

“If you will go back,” said Murray, reaching for his desk telephone,
“Mrs. Murray will be there as soon as a cab can carry her. I would go
myself, but I think I can be of better service to you for the moment by
remaining here.”

As soon as she had gone and he had telephoned to his wife, Murray made
some inquiries of the clerks in the outer office and learned of a sick
man who had asked about the possibility of changing the beneficiary of a
policy. The visit had been made some time before, but the man was so
evidently ill and in such deep distress that the circumstances had been
impressed on the mind of the clerk who had answered his questions.

“That accounts for one trip,” mused Murray. “Now for the loan-shark that
he saw on the other. We’ll hear from him pretty soon, and then there
will be some lively times.”

Murray had had experience with the ways of loan-sharks before, and he
was confident that he now had the whole story. Vincent was out of money
and desperate; he knew that Miss Bronson had been using her own money,
and that not one cent of it would his wife pay back; he had tried to
have the beneficiary of the policy changed, and had failed. Then,
determined to get something out of the policy, he had gone to a
loan-shark. The unscrupulous money-lender, getting an exorbitant rate of
interest, could afford to be less particular about the wife’s signature.
He would run the risk of forgery, confident that the policy would be
redeemed to prevent a scandal, no matter what happened. Indeed, in some
cases a loan-shark would a little rather have a forgery than the genuine
signature, for it gives him an additional hold on the interested parties
and lessens the likelihood of a resort to law over the question of
usurious interest.

“The scoundrel will come,” said Murray, and the scoundrel came by
invitation. A formal notification that he held an assignment of the
policy arrived first, and that gave his name and address and enabled
Murray to telephone him. A loan-shark does not lose much time in matters
of this sort. Neither did Murray in this case, for his invitation to
call was prompt and imperative, even to setting the exact time for the
call. And a message was sent to Mrs. Albert Vincent, also.

“What’s your interest in that policy?” asked Murray.

“A thousand dollars,” replied the money-lender.

“A thousand dollars!” ejaculated the startled Murray. “What the devil
did he do with the money?”

“That is something that does not concern me,” said the money-lender
carelessly.

The confidence and carelessness of the reply recalled Murray to a
consciousness of the situation. He had a sharp and hard game to play
with a clever and unscrupulous man.

“How much did you loan him?” he demanded.

“The note is for a thousand dollars,” was the prompt reply.

“How much did you loan him, Shylock?” repeated Murray, and the
money-lender was startled out of his complacent confidence.

“I didn’t come here to be insulted!” he exclaimed. “I hold the policy
and the assignment of it as security. If you can’t talk business, as man
to man, I’ll quit and leave the matter to a lawyer.”

“If you put one foot outside of that door,” retorted Murray, “we’ll
fight this matter to a finish, Shylock, and we’ll get some points on
your business methods. Come back and sit down.”

The money-lender had made a pretense of leaving, but he paused and met
the cold, hard look of Murray. Then he came back.

“Of course, we take risks,” he said apologetically.

“Mighty few,” commented Murray uncompromisingly.

“If a man has security that is good at the bank he won’t come to us,”
persisted the money-lender. “We have to protect ourselves for the
additional risk.”

“By getting a man to put himself in the shadow of the penitentiary,”
said Murray. “I know all about you people, Shylock. How much did you
loan?”

The money-lender was angered almost to the point of defiance—but not
quite. Loan-sharks do not easily reach that point: the very nature of
their business makes it inadvisable, except when some poor devil is in
their power.

“Oh, of course, if it’s a personal matter with you,” he said, “I might
scale it a little. The note is for a thousand dollars, with various
incidental charges that make it now a thousand and eighty dollars. I
might knock off a hundred from that.”

“How much did you loan him, Shylock?” repeated Murray.

“Nine hundred dollars,” answered the money-lender in desperation.

“Shylock,” said Murray with cold deliberation, “I know you people. If I
didn’t, I might ask to see the canceled check, but that would prove
nothing. You give a check for the full amount, but the man has to put up
a cash bonus when he gets it. How much did you loan him?”

“I’ll stand on the note,” declared the money-lender angrily. “I know my
rights, and I can be as ugly as you. The note is signed by himself and
his wife, and you’ll have a hard time going back of it.”

Murray touched a bell and a boy answered.

“Ask Mrs. Vincent to step in here,” said Murray.

The money-lender was plainly disconcerted, but he was not unaccustomed
to hard battles, so he nerved himself to bluff the thing through, it
being too late to do anything else.

“Mrs. Vincent,” said Murray, when the woman appeared, “I have found the
insurance policy.”

“Where is it?” she asked eagerly.

“Mr. Shylock,”—with a motion toward the money-lender,—“holds it.”

“Give it to me, Mr. Shylock,” demanded Mrs. Vincent, who was not a woman
to grasp the bitter insult of the name, and her innocent repetition of
it added to the anger of the man. Still, the habit of never letting his
personal feelings interfere with business was strong within him.

“I must be paid first,” he said.

“Paid!” she cried. “What is there to pay? The insurance money is mine!”

“I hold a note,” insisted the money-lender.

“What’s that to me?” she retorted. “Do you think I’m going to pay his
debts? I didn’t contract them; I wasn’t with him; he left me years ago!
Let _her_ look out for the debts! Give me the policy or I’ll have you
arrested!”

The woman was wildly and covetously excited: she would not rest easy
until the actual possession of the money assured her that there was no
possibility of a slip. The money-lender, too, was anxious. Murray alone
seemed to be taking the matter quietly, for these two were now playing
the game for him, although the details required his close attention. A
very slight miscalculation might carry it beyond his control.

“It’s assigned to me,” said the money-lender with a pretense of
confidence. “I have your signature.”

“It’s a lie!” she cried.

“Oh, no,” interrupted Murray quietly; “it’s a forgery.”

“That woman!” exclaimed Mrs. Vincent. “She stole my name as well as my
husband!”

“That man,” corrected Murray. “He did it for the woman who did so much
for him. He would have given her all, if he could.”

Murray had reason to know that it was the nurse, but he lied cheerfully
in what he considered a good cause. They were getting to the critical
and dangerous point in the game he was playing: the widow would be
merciless to the nurse.

“It’s a forgery, anyway!” declared Mrs. Vincent. “I won’t pay a cent!”

“I’ll sue,” said the money-lender threateningly.

“Well, sue!” she cried. “What do I care? You can’t get anything on a
forgery. I guess I know that much.”

“It will make a scandal,” said the money-lender insinuatingly.

“Let it,” she retorted angrily.

They were again making points for Murray, each showing the weakness of
the other’s position, so Murray merely watched and waited.

“If there is another woman in the case,” persisted the money-lender, who
had been quick to grasp the significance of the previous remarks, “the
shame and disgrace—”

“What do I care?” she interrupted. “The disgrace is for her.”

“And for him,” said the money-lender. “I can make him out a forger.”

“It won’t give you the money,” she argued.

“It will make you the widow of a criminal,” he threatened. “How would
you like the disgrace of that? And the other things! If I have to go to
court the whole scandal will be revealed and the very name you bear will
be a shame! The widow of a forger! A woman who could not hold her
husband! An object of pitying contempt, so small that she would not pay
an honest debt to protect the name that is hers!” In his anxiety not to
lose, the money-lender became almost eloquent in picturing possible
conditions. No other sentiment or emotion could have given him this
power. And he saw that the effect was not lost upon the woman, for no
one knew better than she the harm the exploitation of the whole
miserable story would do. Even a blameless woman can not entirely escape
the obloquy that attaches to the name she bears, and there had been
enough already to make it difficult for Mrs. Vincent to retain a
position on the fringe of society. “Of course,” he went on, “if you’d
rather stand this than pay, there is nothing for me to do but leave and
put the matter in the hands of a lawyer.”

“Wait a minute, Shylock,” interrupted Murray. “Mrs. Vincent is going to
pay—something.”

“Pay money that he got for _her_!” she exclaimed with sudden
resentfulness. “She’s the forger, anyway; I know it!”

“Did you ever see her, Shylock?” asked Murray.

“He came alone,” replied the money-lender, “with the assignment of
policy ready, and he swore to it.”

“That settles that,” said Murray with apparent conviction. “It would be
a thankless task to try to prove that any one else forged the signature,
and neither one of you is in a position to seek any court notoriety.
Now, Shylock, after deducting the bonus and all trumped-up charges, how
much did you loan?”

“Nine hundred dollars,” said the money-lender desperately.

“Try again, Shylock,” urged Murray. “You never loaned any such sum under
any such circumstances.”

“If you don’t stop insulting me,” exclaimed the money-lender angrily,
“I’ll quit right now and take my chances with the law.”

“You haven’t any chances with the law, Shylock,” retorted Murray. “You
can make a scandal, but you can’t get a damn cent. That’s why you’re
going to be reasonable. How much did you loan? You’d better be honest
with me, for it’s your only chance.”

“I’ll take eight hundred dollars, with the interest charges.”

“You’ll take an even seven hundred dollars,” said Murray.

“But the interest!” cried the money-lender. “Don’t I get any interest?”

“Aha!” exclaimed Murray. “I guessed it right, didn’t I? That’s just what
you loaned. You see, others have hypothecated policies with you people,
and I’ve learned something of the business. There are more peculiar
deals tried with insurance policies than with any other form of
security. But you don’t get any interest, Shylock: you get your
principal back, and you’re lucky to get that.”

“It’s robbery!” complained the money-lender.

“It’s generosity,” said Murray. “You ought to lose it all.”

“I won’t pay it!” declared Mrs. Vincent, and Murray turned sharply to
her.

“Mrs. Vincent,” he said, “you will pay this sum to Shylock out of the
policy, and you will pay all the bills, including the cost of the
funeral, which I advanced. You will not do this as a matter of
generosity, or even of justice, but from purely selfish motives. If you,
being able to prevent it, permitted this scandal to come to light, you
would be eternally disgraced: doors would be closed to you everywhere.
God knows it is bad enough as it is, but this would make it infinitely
worse. Even where no real blame attaches to her, there is always
criticism and contempt for the woman who lets another take her husband
from her, and a repudiation of the expenses of his last illness or any
other bills, when you are getting the insurance, would condemn you
absolutely in the eyes of all people who knew the circumstances. For
this reason, you are going to do what I say, and you are going to make
the necessary arrangements now. For similar selfish reasons, Shylock is
going to do what I say, and he is going to make the necessary
arrangements now. If either of you balk at the terms, I’ll drop the
whole matter and let you fight it out, to your mutual trouble and loss.”

Neither dared take the risk, for each feared that, without Murray, the
other would gain the advantage. Neither was in a position to defy the
other, and Murray had forced concessions from each that the other could
not. He was clearly master of the situation.

“Do you accept the terms?” he demanded. “If not, get out!”

“It’s brutal, outrageous!” declared the woman.

“A swindle!” exclaimed the man.

“That will do, Shylock,” cautioned Murray. “There is nothing to be said
except ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and only thirty seconds in which to say that. I’ve
reached the limit of my patience.”

He took out his watch and began to count the seconds.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When they were gone Murray sent for Amy Bronson, the nurse.

“I was just coming to see you,” she explained when she arrived. “I
finally found a note hidden away among Albert’s effects. It contained
five one hundred-dollar bills and the scribbled line, ‘I have tried to
do more for you, but can not.’”

“I didn’t see how he could have spent all the money,” mused Murray.

“Now I can pay the bills,” she said.

“No,” said Murray. “A memorandum of all that he owed is to be sent to
me. Mrs. Vincent will pay everything.”

“Mrs. Vincent!” cried the nurse. “Impossible! I couldn’t have so
misjudged her.”

“I don’t think you misjudged her,” returned Murray,
“but,”—whimsically,—“I’m a wonder at argument. You ought to hear me
argue. Mrs. Vincent decided to take my view of the matter with the
insurance.”

“But the five hundred dollars!” said Miss Bronson.

“Keep it,” said Murray. “He intended it for you, and it is little
enough. I’m only sorry that the ten-thousand-dollar policy is not for
you, also, but it is one of the incidental hardships that arise from an
ordinarily wise provision of the law.”

The nurse’s lip quivered and the tears came to her eyes.

“I was an entire stranger to you, Mr. Murray,” she said, “but you have
been very good to me when I most needed a friend. I—I don’t know how I
can—”

“I have been amply repaid for all I have done,” said Murray.

“How?” she asked in surprise.

“I have had the royal satisfaction,” he answered, “of compelling an
unscrupulous man and a selfish woman to do a fairly creditable thing; I
have had the joy of showing my contempt for them in my very method of
doing this.”

She did not quite understand, her gratitude making her blind to all else
at the moment.

“And also,” added Murray to himself, when she had gone, “the great
satisfaction of saving a devoted woman from the consequences of at least
one of her acts of devotion. Forgery is a serious matter, regardless of
the circumstances.”



AN INCIDENTAL ERROR


“It’s mighty awkward,” said Owen Ross, the insurance solicitor.

“It is,” admitted Dave Murray.

“I’ve been after him for over six months,” persisted Ross, “and now,
after urging him persistently to take out a policy, I have got to tell
him that we won’t give him one. That would be hard enough if he had
sought us out, and it’s ten times as hard when we have sought him. Why,
it looks as if we were playing a heartless practical joke on him.”

“But it can’t be helped,” said Murray. “It’s one of the disagreeable
features of the business. We convince a man that it’s to his interest to
carry life insurance, and then we tell him he can’t have any. Naturally,
from his prejudiced viewpoint, we seem to be contemptibly insincere and
deceitful.”

“Of course, we are in no sense shortening his life,” remarked Ross, “but
it seems like pronouncing a sentence of death, just the same. He is sure
to make an awful row about it.”

“One man,” said Murray reminiscently, “fell dead in this office when his
application was refused. The shock killed him, but there was no way to
avoid giving him the shock. However, that was an exceptional case: I
never knew of another to succumb, although it must be admitted that the
news that one is destined not to live long is distressing and
depressing.”

“What’s the reason for refusing Tucker?” asked Ross.

“There are several reasons,” replied Murray. “The physician reports
heart murmur, which indicates some latent trouble that is almost certain
to develop into a serious affection.”

“May not the physician be wrong?”

“He is paid to be right, but, of course, we are all liable to make
mistakes, and it can’t be denied that heart murmur is deceptive. I’ve
known men to be the subject of unfavorable reports at one hour of the
day and most favorable ones at another. The occupation immediately
preceding the examination may develop symptoms that are normally absent.
However, I would not feel justified in accepting this application, even
if the report were favorable.”

“Why not?” demanded Ross.

“The amount of insurance he wishes to carry would make him worth more
dead than alive, which is a condition of affairs that an insurance
company dislikes.” Murray became reminiscent again. “I recall one such
risk,” he went on. “The man found the premiums a greater burden than he
could carry, so he died.”

“Suicide!” exclaimed Ross.

“Oh, no,” replied Murray, with a peculiar smile; “merely a mistake. But,
if you will put yourself in that man’s place, you will see how the
mistake could happen. He was carrying twenty-five thousand dollars of
insurance, and he wasn’t worth twenty-five cents at the time, owing to
some recent reverses. He was ill, but was not considered dangerously
ill. Still, he was depressed, believing apparently that he would not
recover and knowing that he had not the money for the next premium. If
he died before a certain date there would be twenty-five thousand
dollars for his wife and children; if he died after that date there
would be comparatively little. Now, in imagination, just assume the
problem that confronted that man on a certain night: twenty-four hours
of life for him meant a future of privation for his wife, if he did not
recover and prosper, while immediate death for him meant comfort for
those he loved. Picture yourself contemplating that prospect while lying
weak and discouraged in the sick-room, with various bottles—one labeled
‘Poison’—within reach. A poison may have medicinal value when properly
used, you know, but what more natural than that you should make a
mistake in the gloom of the night while the tired nurse is dozing? It is
so easy to get the wrong bottle—to take the poison instead of the
tonic—and it solves a most distressing problem. A drop of the poison is
beneficial; a teaspoonful is death; and the tonic is to be taken in
large doses.” Murray paused a moment to let the terrible nature of the
situation impress itself on Ross. Then he added quietly: “We paid the
insurance, although the timeliness of the accident did not escape
comment. The same mistake twenty-four hours later would not have had the
same financial result. Now, do you understand why I would not care to
put fifty thousand dollars on the life of Tucker, even if he were
physically satisfactory? Unexpected reverses may make any man worth more
dead than alive, but we seldom contribute knowingly to such a condition
of affairs. It isn’t prudent. While the average man is not disposed to
shorten his life to beat an insurance company, it isn’t wise to put the
temptation in his way unless you are very sure of your man.”

“Well, we needn’t explain that to Tucker,” said Ross.

“No,” returned Murray. “We can put the whole thing on the basis of the
physician’s report.”

“I wish you would break the news to him,” urged Ross. “You can do it
with better grace, for you were not instrumental in getting him to put
in his application. He’ll be up here to-day.”

“Oh, very well,” returned Murray. “I’ll see him when he comes.”

Though the task was far from pleasant, Murray had been long enough in
the business to take matters philosophically. One must accustom oneself
to the disagreeable features of any occupation, for there is none that
is entirely pleasurable.

Tucker, however, did not make this interview disagreeable in the way
that was expected: instead of becoming discouraged and depressed, he
became indignant.

“What’s that?” he cried. “You don’t consider me a good risk?”

“I am sorry to say,” returned Murray, “that our physician does not
report favorably on you.”

“Oh, he doesn’t!” exclaimed Tucker. “Well, that’s a good joke on the
doctor, isn’t it?”

“What!”

“You’d better discharge him and get a man with some sense.”

“I thought,” said Murray dubiously, “that it might seem rather hard on
you.”

“Hard on me!” ejaculated Tucker. “Hard on the company, you mean! You’re
letting a little two-by-four doctor steer you away from a good thing.
Why, say! I’m good for as long a life as an elephant!”

“I’m sure I hope so.”

“It’s robbery—plain robbery—for that doctor to take a fee from you for
making such a report on me. I’ll show him up!”

“How?” asked Murray curiously.

“By living!” declared Tucker. “It’s going to give me infinite pleasure
to report to you from time to time and show you one of the healthiest
men that ever was turned down by an insurance company. He can’t scare me
into a decline—not any! And, say! he looks to me like a young man.”

“He is.”

“A young man in fine physical condition.”

“He is.”

“Well, I’ll go to his funeral, and I’ll be in prime condition when he’s
put away! You tell him that, will you? I’ll be walking when he has to be
carried.”

Now, this was rather annoying to Murray. It was preferable to the
despair that overwhelmed some men in similar circumstances, but it
seemed to him that Tucker was overdoing it.

“Anyhow,” said Murray resentfully, “we would not care to put fifty
thousand dollars on your life, for it’s more than a man in your position
ought to carry. You’ll never be worth as much alive as you would be
dead, with that insurance.”

“Oh, I won’t!” retorted Tucker sarcastically. “Well, now, instead of
making the girl I am to marry a present of a policy on my life, I’ll
just make her a present of your whole blamed company in a few years. You
watch what I do with the money you might have had!”

“You are about to marry?” asked Murray with interest. “It’s a serious
matter, in view of the physician’s report.”

“Marriage is always a serious matter,” asserted Tucker. “I don’t have to
have a doctor tell me that. But he can’t scare me out with flubdub about
heart murmur, for I know the heart was murmuring, and the prospective
Mrs. Tucker does, too. She’ll interpret that murmur for him any time he
wants a little enlightenment.”

Murray laughed when Tucker had gone. The man’s indignation had been
momentarily irritating, but there was something amusing about it, too.

“He’s going to live to a green old age, just to spite the company,”
mused Murray. “It’s a matter of no great personal interest to him, but
he’d like to make the company feel bad. If a man could order his life as
he can his business affairs, there would be mighty little chance for
us.”

Meanwhile, Tucker was hastening to the home of Miss Frances Greer.

“I’ve come to release you,” he announced cheerfully.

“But I don’t want to be released,” she returned.

“Of course not,” he said. “I didn’t suppose you would. But you might
just as well know that you’re getting a poor risk.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Why, I wanted to put fifty thousand dollars on my life, as a precaution
for the future, and the fool of an insurance doctor turned me down.”

“What do I care about the doctor!” she exclaimed.

“Not a thing, of course.”

“Or insurance!”

“Still less.”

“And,” she said happily, “you’re a good enough risk for me.”

Then they went into executive session and decided that insurance doctors
didn’t know anything, anyway. But they did not forget Dave Murray, and
they did not let Dave Murray forget them: he heard from them indirectly
in the most annoying ways. His wife informed him less than a week later
that she had met Miss Greer at a reception.

“A most extraordinary girl!” his wife remarked. “I can’t understand her
at all. She asked me in a most ingenuous way if I ever had noticed any
indications of heart murmur about you.

“‘Never,’ said I.

“‘Not even in the engagement days when he was making love?’ she
insisted.

“‘Not even then,’ I answered, bewildered.

“‘He couldn’t have been much of a lover,’ she remarked.”

Murray laughed and explained the situation to his wife. But Murray would
have been better pleased if the two women had not met, for he had no
desire to have this case perpetually present in the more intimate
associations of life. However, he had to make the best of it, even when
he was invited to the wedding, to which his wife insisted that he should
go. She had discovered that the bride was related to an intimate friend
of her own girlhood days, and the bride further showed flattering
gratification in this discovery. She was especially gracious to Murray.

“I want to ask you a question,” she told him.

Thereupon Murray made heroic efforts to escape before she could find a
suitable opportunity, but she beckoned him back whenever he got near the
door.

“Mama,” she said finally, for this happened during the wedding
reception, and her mother stood near her, “I wish you would take charge
of Mr. Murray and see that he doesn’t run away. I have something very
important to say to him before Ralph and I leave.”

Thus the unhappy Murray was held until the bride and groom were ready to
depart, when the bride finally succeeded in getting him alone for a
minute.

“I wanted to ask you, as a particular favor to me,” she said
appealingly, “to let Ralph live a little while—that is, if your doctor
won’t make too big a row about it.”

Then she laughed merrily. There could be no doubt at all that Mrs. Ralph
Tucker refused absolutely to worry about the health of Mr. Ralph Tucker;
she had simply put the doctor down as an ignoramus. And Mr. Ralph
Tucker’s appearance certainly was not that of a man in poor physical
condition. However, Murray knew how deceptive appearances may be, and,
while no physician is infallible, it is necessary to rely on their
judgment. Nor was it a joking matter, in his opinion. He was glad that
the young people could look at the future without misgivings, but a
really serious matter ought not to be treated so lightly.

It was about a week later that a note came to Murray from Mrs. Tucker.

“So grateful to you for sparing Ralph so long,” it read.

Murray crumpled it up and, with some rather warm remarks, threw it in
the waste-basket.

“Why did I relieve Ross of his disagreeable task?” he grumbled.

Then he began to count the days that would precede their return from the
bridal trip, for he was sure they would call on him. There could be no
doubt that Mrs. Tucker had deliberately planned to make things as
uncomfortable for him as possible, and there was every reason to believe
that Tucker himself was aiding and abetting her.

“It isn’t fair,” he muttered, “to make it appear that this is a personal
matter with me. The Lord knows I haven’t anything to do with his lease
of life.”

This was just after he had received a telegram to the effect that “the
patient is doing as well as can be expected,” and Ross, who happened in
the office at the time, noticed that his chief looked at him
reproachfully.

“What’s the matter?” asked Ross.

“Hereafter,” returned Murray morosely, “my solicitors have got to carry
their own burdens. If Tucker and his wife put me in an insane asylum,
the administrator of my estate will surely sue you for big damages. I
never thought I was getting a life sentence when I let you unload on
me.”

The physician also noticed a growing coolness and was moved to ask what
was wrong.

“Didn’t you make a mistake in the Tucker case?” Murray inquired by way
of reply. “I don’t wish Tucker any harm, but I’m doomed to an early
death if he isn’t.”

“I don’t see what his life has to do with yours,” retorted the doctor.

“That’s because you don’t know Mrs. Tucker,” replied Murray.

“He was an impossible risk,” asserted the doctor. “The indications of
serious trouble may entirely disappear, under favorable conditions of
life, but they were there when I made the examination. Ours is not yet
an exact science, and the human system frequently fools us. You recall
the Denton case, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“At twenty the doctors, including his family physician, gave him not
more than two or three years to live, and at twenty-five he was
considered a good risk for any insurance company. He is nearly
thirty-five now, has one policy in this company, and we would be glad to
let him have another.”

“Oh, you’re all right, Doctor, of course,” returned Murray. “We must be
careful to err on the safe side, if we err at all, in this business. But
I wish the Tuckers would transfer their attentions to you. I’ll be
tempted to jump out of the window when I see them coming in the door.”

The Tuckers, however, were not to be escaped. After an interval of about
three weeks they sent him another telegram, which read: “If we retire to
a ranch, will you lengthen the lease of life a little?” Then they came
back and called on him.

“So kind of you to let us have this trip,” said Mrs. Tucker with every
evidence of deep gratitude. “Poor Ralph appreciates it.”

Poor Ralph was looking as big and strong and happy as it was possible
for a man to look, and Murray was correspondingly uncomfortable.

“The premiums on fifty thousand dollars would have been pretty heavy,”
remarked Tucker with a cheerful grin.

“Yes,” admitted Murray weakly.

“I had a tidy little sum put aside to care for them,” Tucker explained.
“We thought it would interest your company to know that we put that
money into a small ranch out west, so it is entirely out of reach now.
You don’t mind my choosing a restful place for my early demise, do you?”

“Now, see here!” cried Murray, but Mrs. Tucker interrupted him.

“Oh, he wouldn’t be so cruel as that!” she exclaimed. “Show him what the
doctor said, Ralph.”

Tucker spread a sheet of paper on the desk before Murray, and the latter
read: “This is to certify that I have made a careful examination of
Ralph Tucker, and I believe him to be in excellent physical condition. I
attach slight importance to the indications of incipient heart trouble,
which, with reasonable care and proper treatment, should disappear
entirely.” This was signed by a noted specialist.

“And the next,” said Mrs. Tucker.

Thereupon Tucker laid this before Murray: “The heart murmur noted I
believe to be due to temporary causes and not to any permanent
affection. On the occasion of one examination there were no indications
of it at all.” This also was signed by a well-known physician.

“Poor Ralph!” sighed Mrs. Tucker, and Murray felt that the burden of
this case was greater than he could bear.

“They don’t agree entirely,” he asserted aggressively.

“No,” admitted Tucker, “but I understand that’s not unusual in such
cases.”

“And they don’t agree with your doctor at all,” added Mrs. Tucker. “But,
of course, your doctor is right. Poor Ralph!”

“Please don’t do that,” pleaded Murray.

“Poor Ralph!” sighed Mrs. Tucker again. “The doctors don’t think he’ll
live more than a lifetime.”

“Put in another application and take another examination,” urged Murray
in despair. “The doctor may have been misled by some trifling temporary
trouble.”

“What would be the use?” asked Tucker. “I’ve already invested the
premium money in a small ranch.”

“It’s too bad,” remarked Mrs. Tucker lugubriously. “That money would
have done the company so much good.”

“This has ceased to be a joke!” declared Murray earnestly.

“A joke!” exclaimed Mrs. Tucker. “Has it ever been a joke with you?”

“No, it hasn’t,” said Murray.

“I didn’t think you could be so heartless,” asserted Mrs. Tucker. “One
has only to look at poor Ralph—”

“Don’t, don’t!” cried Murray. “On what terms will you quit this?”

“Oh, if you want to get down to business,” put in Tucker, “I’d like to
begin delivering this company to Frances. You know I said I was going to
do it. I don’t care for policies, but I might take some stock.”

“You said you had no money.”

“No premium money,” corrected Tucker. “I invested that in the ranch, but
I was notified this morning of a legacy from a bachelor uncle that will
give me some ready cash.”

“The stock of this company gets on the market very seldom,” explained
Murray. “I have a little myself, but I don’t care to part with it.”

“Oh, very well,” replied Tucker in careless tones; “it’s quite
immaterial to us for the moment. In fact, I’d be in no hurry about it at
all if I only had a longer time to live.”

“Poor Ralph!” sighed Mrs. Tucker, as they departed.

When they had gone, Murray rang for his office-boy.

“You tell Mr. Ross,” he said to the boy, “to keep out of my way for a
few days. I’m not in a mental condition to stand the sight of the man
who loaded this trouble on me.”

For the next three days Murray saw as little of his office as he
possibly could, fearing another call from Mr. and Mrs. Tucker. Then he
learned that they had left again for the West, and he breathed more
freely. But, shortly thereafter, a stock-broker called upon him.

“I am commissioned,” said the broker, “to buy some stock in your
company, and I thought possibly you might know of some that is for
sale.”

“I do not,” replied Murray. “As you know, it is not a speculative stock,
but is held, for the most part, by conservative investors. A little gets
on the market occasionally, when some estate is being settled or some
holder becomes financially embarrassed, but that is about your only
chance.”

“So my client informed me,” said the broker, “but he also informed me
that he was sure he could get some himself, and he wished me to use
every effort to add to his prospective holdings.”

“Mr. Tucker, your client, tried to buy some from me before he left for
the West,” said Murray, for he had no doubt as to the identity of the
man who wanted the stock.

“Indeed!” returned the broker. “I didn’t know that. He explained his
anxiety for prompt action by the rather extraordinary statement that he
wished to get the stock before somebody foreclosed on his life!”

“By thunder!” cried Murray, “somebody _will_ foreclose on his life, and
take the Limited west to do it, if he keeps this thing up!”

In some amazement, the broker apologized and retired, and Murray began
to wonder what would happen to him if Mrs. Tucker ever did get enough of
the stock to make her influence felt. Of course, there was little chance
of that, but even a small stock-holder could be annoying when so
disposed. He began to dream about the Tucker case, and an incidental
mention of it in the office would make the atmosphere unpleasant for the
day. Every clerk and solicitor understood that it was a dangerous topic.
Once the name “Tucker” was mentioned in the ordinary course of business,
and Murray had things at a fever heat before it could be explained to
him that it was another Tucker. Then came a letter from the West, with a
Tucker return card on the envelop. A council of war was held before it
was delivered to Murray, and even then a time was chosen when he was
absent to lay it on his desk. It was very brief—just an announcement
that “the patient” had rallied splendidly after the fatigue of the
journey and exhibited “really wonderful vitality for a sick man.” No one
cared to go near Murray all the rest of that day.

Soon after the first of the following month another missive arrived—a
mere formal affidavit, headed “Certificate of Life,” and solemnly
averring that “Ralph Tucker’s heart has not ceased to murmur along in
the land of the living.” This was followed a month later by a
certificate from a physician to the effect that “a restful ranch life is
especially conducive to longevity, and Mr. Tucker’s health continues to
show all the improvement that can be expected in a man who had nothing
the matter with him in the first place.”

These facetious reports continued to arrive at monthly intervals for a
period of nearly a year. Usually they were brief, but occasionally the
doctor, who seemed to enter into the spirit of the affair, would go into
such details as weight, endurance, appetite, lifting power, respiration
and—heart murmur. “The heart,” he wrote at one time, “seems to be too
well satisfied to murmur now, and the patient was able to sit up and eat
a large steak to-day, after which a little gentle exercise—about twenty
miles on horseback—seemed to do him some good.”

Murray promptly turned this over to the company doctor, and the latter
sighed. Almost the only satisfaction in life that Murray had during this
time arose from his ability to make the doctor miserable.

“He was not a good risk when I examined him,” the doctor insisted, “but
he may be a good one now. We can’t be certain of results in such a case,
and the law of probabilities frequently works out wrong. He could not
have done a better thing, under the circumstances, than to go in for a
simple, outdoor life. The basis of trouble was there, in my judgment,
but it may have been overcome.”

“The basis of trouble is still there,” declared Murray; “not only the
basis of trouble, but the whole blame structure, and it’s resting on us.
I can feel the weight.”

“So can I,” replied the doctor disconsolately.

Less than a week after this Tucker telegraphed to know if Murray had
changed his mind about disposing of any stock.

“No,” was the reply sent back.

“All right,” Tucker answered. “I just wanted to give Mrs. Tucker another
slice of your company. She has a little of it already.”

Investigation showed that the broker had succeeded in picking up a few
shares, but hardly enough to exert any considerable influence. Still, it
was disquieting to find the Tuckers so persistent.

“I’ll bet,” said Murray, “that mental worry has put me where you
wouldn’t pass me for a risk.”

“If your wife,” returned the doctor, “is anything like Mrs. Tucker I’d
pass you for any kind of risk rather than incur her displeasure. They’ll
begin to take a stock-holder’s interest in the affairs of this
particular office pretty soon.”

“The affairs are in good shape,” declared Murray.

“But a real determined stock-holder can stir up a devil of a rumpus over
nothing,” asserted the doctor. “If she should send all those physicians’
reports to headquarters, they would rather offset my report on which he
was turned down, and the company would feel that it had lost a good
thing. The company will not stop to think that my report may have been
justified by conditions at the time.”

“And the risk that I thought too big for him then may not seem too big
for him now,” commented Murray ruefully.

“I’d like to examine him again,” said the doctor.

“I don’t think it would be safe,” returned Murray, “unless you were
searched for weapons first.”

So the doctor and Murray settled down to await, with some anxiety, the
next move in the game, and their patience was rewarded by the receipt of
five certificates of health from as many different physicians, each
certificate having a message of some sort scribbled across the top. “The
patient had to ride a hundred miles to get these,” Mrs. Tucker had
written on the first. “There were a few shares of this stock in my late
lamented uncle’s estate,” appeared in Tucker’s handwriting on the
second. “The president of your company is rusticating a few miles from
here,” Mrs. Tucker asserted on the third. “Better come out here for a
few days,” Tucker urged on the fourth. “Poor Ralph!” was Mrs. Tucker’s
comment on the fifth.

“Poor Dave Murray!” grumbled Murray, and he and the doctor started West
the next day. “Might as well get this thing settled,” he said. “You and
I have got to be on harmonious terms with the stock-holders. Besides,
there’s an early grave yawning for me if I don’t succeed in making peace
with Mrs. Tucker. I tell you, Doctor, when a woman decides to make
things uncomfortable for a man,—well, the man might just as well resign
himself to being perpetually uncomfortable.”

And yet, no one could have greeted them more graciously than did Mrs.
Tucker.

“I’m so glad you’ve come,” she said, “and brought the doctor. It is
particularly pleasing to have the doctor here, for I want him to see if
something can’t be done for poor Ralph. I’m sure I don’t know what’s
going to become of the poor fellow. He doesn’t sleep any better than a
baby, and he can’t ride over a hundred miles without getting tired. His
muscles aren’t a bit harder than iron, either, and his heart beats all
the time.”

“Mrs. Tucker,” said Murray appealingly, “what can we do to make peace
with you?”

“Without even seeing your husband again,” added the doctor, “I am
willing to concede that he will live to be three thousand years old.”

“We are beaten,” asserted Murray. “You have humbled our business and
professional pride. We give Mr. Tucker none of the credit; it all
belongs to you. We claim to be the equals of any man, but of no woman.
Now, on what terms can we have peace?”

“I did want your insurance company for a sort of belated wedding
present,” said Mrs. Tucker thoughtfully.

“I’d give it to you if I could,” said Murray with the utmost sincerity.
“I assure you, that company has been nothing but an annoyance to me ever
since you cast longing eyes on the stock.”

“Oh, I’ve become more modest in my expectations,” replied Mrs. Tucker
cheerfully. “I don’t expect much more than we’ve got now.”

“How much have you got?” asked Murray.

“Well, our broker picked up a few shares, and there were some more in
the estate of Ralph’s uncle, and the president of the company kindly
arranged it so that we could get a little more. Such a delightful man he
is, too! It was when I heard he had a place in this vicinity, where he
came for an outing every year, that I insisted upon Ralph’s buying this
ranch. I thought it would be nice to be near him—and it was. We’re great
friends now, although he’s only here for a little while in the spring
and fall.”

“Did—did you tell him about the insurance?” asked Murray.

“What insurance?” asked Mrs. Tucker blandly. “We haven’t any insurance.
Poor Ralph—”

“Mrs. Tucker,” interrupted Murray, “if you say ‘Poor Ralph’ again, you
will see a driveling idiot making streaks across the prairie. I have
reached the limit of endurance. All I want is peace, peace, peace, and
I’ll pay the price for it. Do you want some of my stock?”

“Oh, dear, no,” she replied. “We’ve got it fixed now so that Ralph is
pretty sure to be a director next year. We talked it over with the
president.”

“Does Mr. Tucker still want a policy?” asked Murray.

“Certainly not,” said Mrs. Tucker. “If he’s going to die so soon, it
would be beating the company, and we’re part of the company now, so we—”

“Stop it! stop it!” pleaded Murray. “I’ll bet you couldn’t kill him with
an ax!”

“Sir!”

“I beg your pardon, but this is the climax of a year of torment that I
didn’t suppose was possible this side of the infernal regions,”
explained Murray dismally, “and I’m just naturally wondering why you
brought me out here.”

“Oh, I didn’t tell you that, did I?” returned Mrs. Tucker ingenuously.
“I just wanted to tell you that, now that we’re stock-holders to a
reasonable amount—Ralph retained a few shares, you know, and holds a
proxy for mine—we look at the matter from an entirely different
viewpoint, and we think that every reasonable precaution should be taken
to avoid poor risks, as you call them. We are highly gratified by the
evidence of caution that has inadvertently come under our notice, even
if there was an incidental error that baffled human foresight.”

The sudden and startling changes of position by this young woman were
too much for both Murray and the doctor; they could only look at her in
amazement as she calmly commended their course.

“You have brought us all this distance to tell us that!” ejaculated
Murray at last.

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s worth the trip!” he announced, as he recalled the events of
the last year.

Then Tucker appeared, big, strong, bronzed, hearty, and shook hands with
them. Never a weakling in appearance, his year of outdoor life had made
him the embodiment of health. He beamed upon his guests with hearty good
nature as he gave them each a grip that made them wince. His wife
regarded him critically for a moment.

“Poor Ralph!” she said mischievously, and then she hastily assured them
that this was really the last of the joke.



AN INCIDENTAL FAILURE


Adolph Schlimmer’s wink was of the self-satisfied variety that plainly
says to the person at whom it is directed, “They’re mostly fools in this
world—except you and me, and I’m not quite sure about you.” Adolph
Schlimmer was a small man, but he thought he had enough worldly wisdom
and sharpness for a giant. “You bet you, I don’t get fooled very much,”
he boasted.

Just now his wink was directed at Carroll Brown, an insurance solicitor.

“How much iss there in it for you?” he asked.

“Oh, I get my commission, of course,” replied Brown.

“Sure, sure,”—and again Adolph winked. “You don’t need it all, maybe.”

“Why not?” asked Brown with disconcerting frankness. “I’m entitled to
what I earn.”

“Sure, sure,” admitted Adolph, somewhat annoyed. “It’s vorth something
to you to make the money, ain’t it, yes? I gif you the chance. It might
be vorth something to me, perhaps, maybe.”

“Oh, if you want me to divide my commission with you,” exclaimed Brown,
“we might as well quit talking right here. It would cost me my job, if
anybody found it out.”

“Who iss to find it out? I bet you, if people could find out things,
we’d haf more people in jail than out. Some big men, vorth millions,
would haf to live a century to serf their time out. The boss discharges
hiss clerk for doin’ what he iss doin’ himself.”

“It’s against the law,” argued Brown. “It’s a rebate on premiums and is
prohibited.”

“Sure, sure,” conceded Adolph again. “But you got to do something to
make business, ain’t it? I gif premiums and I get discounts. There don’t
nobody fool me very much.”

“Well, I’m taking no chances with either my job or the law,” announced
Brown, “even if I wanted to sacrifice part of my legitimate commission.
I’m offering you a policy in a first-class company on the same terms
that we give them to all others, and that’s the best I can do. If you’re
looking for an advantage over your neighbors, you’ll have to go
elsewhere. The very first rule of straight business is to treat all
alike.”

“Sure it iss,” returned Adolph. “Look at the railroads and the big
shippers.” Again he winked wisely. “I bet you, your boss ain’t such a
fool as you. Make the big money when you can, but don’t run avay from
the little money. I gif you a chance for the little money because I’m
smart; some other feller let you haf it all because he issn’t.”

Therein lay the measure of Adolph. It was beyond his comprehension that
any man should treat all fairly: some one surely was “on the inside,”
and his first thought in any transaction was to make a quiet “deal” with
some interested party that would give him a trifling advantage over
others. He was shrewd in a small and near-sighted way, and he had an
idea that all men, except fools, looked at things as he did. He believed
there was “graft” in everything. That being the case, it was the duty of
a sharp man to get a share of it, even if, as in this instance, it only
lessened his own expense somewhat. So Adolph Schlimmer went to see
Brown’s boss, who happened to be Dave Murray.

“I get me some insurance,” he announced.

“All right,” returned Murray agreeably. “You look like a good risk.”

“Risk?” repeated Adolph. “No, _nein_. I’m a sure thing.”

Murray laughed.

“That’s bad,” he said banteringly. “Sure things are what men go broke on
in this world; they’re the biggest risks of all.” Then, explanatorily:
“I mean you seem to be in good physical condition, so that our physician
is likely to pass you.”

“You bet you,” returned Adolph, “but it’s my vife what counts. If I die,
I leaf her the money; if she die, she leaf me nothing.”

“Oh, you want to get a policy on your wife’s life,” said Murray
thoughtfully, not favorably impressed with the other’s commercial tone.
“How much?”

“_Zwei_ t’ousand dollars.”

“Not very much,” commented Murray. “A man of sense would prefer a good
wife to two thousand dollars any day. Is she a worker?”

“You bet you, yes,” replied Adolph earnestly. “If she die, I looss money
on her at that price. I figger it all out. She safe me the wages uf a
clerk and a cook and some other things. I count up what she safe me and
what she cost me and she’s vorth fifteen dollars a week easy in work and
ten dollars a week in saving. I can’t afford to looss that. I insure the
store and the stock, and now I insure this. I watch out for myself
pretty close.”

Murray was both disgusted and amused. Such a character as this was new
to his experience, but the risk might be, and probably was, a perfectly
good and legitimate one.

“Well, you bring your wife in,” he said after a moment of thought, “and
I’ll talk to her.”

“Sure,” said Adolph. Then he winked in his wise way. “I safe you the
commission. What iss there in it for me?”

“What?” exclaimed Murray.

“I haf a talk with Brown,” explained Adolph. “It’s vorth something to
him to get the business, but he don’t make it vorth nothing to me to
give it.”

“If he did we’d discharge him.”

“Sure, sure,” returned the imperturbable Adolph. “We got to watch the
boys or there won’t be nothing left for us. So I safe the commission for
you. What iss there in it for me?”

“Not a damn thing!”

“You play it that way with the fool,” advised Adolph complacently. “It’s
a bully bluff for the feller that don’t know how things was done in
business. Then we go splits, yes?”

The ignorance and effrontery of the man so amazed Murray that he forgot
his indignation for a moment and undertook to explain.

“There is no commission on business that comes to the office,” he said.

“Sure!” laughed Adolph, again resorting to that sagacious wink. “You let
the company make it, yes? I stay home, you send man to tell me get
insured, I say yes, man get paid—ain’t it so? I come here to get
insured, and you give that man’s pay to the company, the men vorth
millions—oh, yes, sure!” Adolph laughed at the absurdity of the thing.
“Iss there anything in my eye?” he asked suddenly.

“You sit down there!” ordered Murray, for Adolph was now leaning
familiarly over Murray’s desk. “I ought to kick you out, but I’m going
to tell you a few things. Sit down and keep still. I’m several sizes
bigger than you are and it’s my turn.” Murray spoke so aggressively that
Adolph promptly returned to his seat. “Now, to begin with, you make a
mistake in judging everybody else by yourself; there are a lot of decent
people in this world. A good many may worship the almighty dollar, and
that’s bad enough, but God help the few who get down to worshiping the
almighty cent. A good many keep a lookout for graft, but you are the
first one I ever saw who seemed to think everybody was crooked.”

“No, _nein_; only business—”

“Keep still! You insult everybody you try to do business with by acting
on the assumption that he is in your class. You have absorbed some of
the tricky commercialism that is prevalent these days, and you’ve got
the idea that there isn’t anything else—not even common sense. You would
break the law for a trifle. What you propose is morally wrong, but we
won’t discuss that, because you can’t understand it.”

“I don’t like—”

“Keep still! I’m doing you a favor, but I’ve got to tell you first what
a libel you are on the average human being. The law that you want to
break was made for the protection of just such financially insignificant
people as you. It prohibits giving rebates in any form on insurance
premiums and provides that the acceptance of such a rebate by the
policy-holder shall invalidate his policy, and that the giving of such a
rebate by a company or any of its agents shall subject the company to a
fine. Do you understand?”

“Sure; but who iss to know?”

Murray was discouraged, but he had set out to drive a lesson home to
this dull-witted fellow who thought he was smart, and he valiantly held
to his task. He could feel nothing but contempt for the man, but he had
become rather interested in convincing him how foolish he was. Besides,
Murray was a bitter opponent of the rebate evil in all lines of
business—every one knows how it fosters monopoly—and he attacked it
whenever and wherever he could.

“If rebates on insurance premiums were not unlawful,” he asked, “do you
think people of your kind are the ones who would get them? Well, hardly.
The millionaires, the rich men, the men who take out the big policies,
would get them, and you little fellows would pay the full price, just as
you do wherever else the rebate evil exists. This law was made to
protect you, and you want to break it down. Well, I suppose there are
others just as bad. The men for whose benefit a law is made frequently
insist upon playing with it until they drop it and break it, and then
they wonder why the splinters won’t do them as much good as the original
law.” Having warmed up to a subject that interested him, Murray was
talking for himself now. Adolph could understand in a general way what
he meant, but many of the remarks were entirely beyond his
comprehension. “Look at it in another way,” Murray went on. “As a
speculation, the insurance rebate is a mistake. The man who gets or
accepts a rebate is taking a risk. ‘Well,’ he argues, ‘so is the man who
buys wheat or stocks or undeveloped real estate of problematical future
value.’ Quite right; but when you speculate you want to be sure that
your probable or possible profits bear a fair proportion to the risk and
your possible losses. It’s all right to make a secured loan of one
thousand dollars at five per cent., but when you put your thousand into
a scheme where there is a chance of losing every cent of it, you also
want a chance of making a good deal more than the legal rate of
interest. Russell Sage is said to look as closely after the small
profits as the large, but Russell would shy away from an investment—a
real safe _investment_—that promised only a ten cent profit on five
dollars; and if it were a _speculation_, where he might lose the whole
five, he would want to see a possibility of winning at least half as
much. The man who accepts an insurance premium rebate is going into a
speculation—a flimsy, cheap speculation, with a chance of loss so
entirely out of proportion to the slight advantage he gains over other
policy-holders that no man with a grain of sense would consider it for a
moment. To secure a discount on his premium he risks his whole policy.
Why, in your case you would put a two-thousand-dollar policy in danger
to save a few miserable dollars. It isn’t cleverness, it isn’t
shrewdness, it isn’t business, it isn’t sense; it isn’t anything but
damn foolishness. Do you understand?”

“Sure,” answered Adolph. “If we iss found out, I looss the policy and
you looss a fine. We both looss.”

“That’s it exactly.”

“Vell, if we both looss by telling, who iss going to find it out?”
demanded Adolph triumphantly. “You bet you, I take the chance. Go ahead
with her.”

Murray leaned wearily back in his chair.

“You’d better get out of here,” he said. “This company wouldn’t issue a
policy in which you had any sort of interest on any terms. I was curious
to discover if I could not stir up just a glimmer of business sense in
you, and my curiosity is satisfied. You seem to me like a man who would
risk all his money to win a fly-speck, if he thought he was going to win
it by some underhand deal. Get out as quick as you can! But I tell you
again, don’t fool with rebates!”

Adolph stopped in the doorway.

“You got to haf the whole commission, yes?” he remarked with accusing
bitterness. “I take you for a hog.”

Then he disappeared very suddenly, for he feared Murray would pursue.

Here again was the measure of Adolph. In spite of Murray’s explanation,
he could see nothing except a chance to win by saving a part of the
commission. He could not comprehend that he was running any unusual risk
or doing anything that another would not do, if the other had the sense
to see the chance. In fact, he was fully convinced in his own mind that
Murray was merely talking for effect and really desired the whole
commission for himself. This made him the more determined to gain this
small advantage for himself—partly because his little business world was
made up of such devious methods, and partly because it would be an
evidence of his own cleverness.

Now, occasionally a solicitor for a company of high standing, acting on
his own responsibility, will divide his commission in order to get some
one to take out a policy. If he is trying to make a record, the
temptation is considerable. If the policy is large, his half of this
commission may be more than his whole commission in most other cases. He
does this secretly, but he is inviting three kinds of trouble: his own
discharge, a fine for his company, and a loss for the policy-holder.
These three things will follow discovery, but he takes the chance. And
there are irresponsible or unscrupulous companies or agencies (so it is
said) that will tacitly approve such a course in some instances, taking
the necessary risk in order to get business. Of course, no first-class
or reliable company will sanction or even tolerate such methods.

Nevertheless, Adolph, the shrewd fool, finally found the man for whom he
was searching. A man may nearly always find trouble if he searches for
it industriously, and Adolph was industrious. Unfortunately for him,
however, he treated several other solicitors to his knowing wink before
he met the one who agreed to his proposition, and, when it was learned
that Adolph was taking out a policy on his wife’s life, they were quick
to reach conclusions. But it was none of their business, and they said
nothing. What they knew merely made it easier to prove the case, if the
question should ever arise. The solicitor who finally entered into the
deal was one who had done the same thing before. He was “broke” a good
part of the time, and, when in that condition, he did not question
closely the ethics of any proposition that promised an early, even
though small, cash return. He was an outcast among such of the many
conscientious men of the fraternity as knew him, but the local agent of
the company that employed him was not particular, and there were rumors
that the company itself might have been more strict.

Anyhow, Adolph got the policy he wanted. His wife was disposed to object
at first, for she had not been consulted until Adolph had made his
bargain. There was no use, he argued, in telling her about it until he
knew what he was going to do.

“I buy you a policy,” he finally told her in the tone that a man—another
man—might tell his wife he would buy her a sealskin coat.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It pays _zwei_ t’ousand dollars,” he explained.

Mrs. Schlimmer was not enthusiastic.

“When?” she asked.

[Illustration: “What’s the use to me?” she persisted]

“When you are in the grafe,” he answered after a pause.

“What’s the use to me?” she persisted.

“My dear,” he said, with such gallantry as he could command, “it shows
what you iss vorth.”

Somehow, she was not flattered. She was a good wife, who worked hard,
and she herself thought she was worth it, but she was selfish enough to
think she ought to realize on her own value.

“No, _nein_,” he argued, “it ain’t the vay it’s done. You got yourself,
ain’t it, yes? When you ain’t got yourself, you ain’t here, but I am.
You don’t looss yourself when you die, but I looss you, and you’re vorth
a lot.”

“There’s other women,” she retorted.

“But they ain’t vorth what you are by _zwei_ t’ousand dollars,” he
insisted, and this delicate bit of flattery won the day. After all, it
made no difference to her. She rebelled a little at going to the
insurance office to be examined, however.

“You tell ’em I’m all right,” she urged. “You know.”

But a new gown—a cheap one—gained this point, and she went.

Adolph prided himself very much on this stroke of business. His great
aim in life was to pay a little less than the market price for
everything, and he was never convinced that he was really doing this
unless the deal had to be carried out in some underhand way. When he
could buy for less than others he was making so much more money, and it
was his experience that the biggest profit lay in shady transactions. In
others he had made, or saved, much more than in this, but the
difficulties he encountered in this instance convinced him that it was
an especially notable achievement. He was proud of his success.

“You bet you, they don’t fool me very much,” he asserted frequently.

And, in time, he told how clever he was. Not at first, however; he was
very cautious at first, for Murray’s words had made an impression on
him. But, after he had paid a few premiums, the lapse of time gave him a
feeling of security, and one day, in boasting of his business
shrewdness, he mentioned that he was even sharp enough to get life
insurance at a bargain. After that, it was easier to speak of it again,
and he finally told the story. The news spread in his own little circle.
It was quite a feat, and he was held to have demonstrated remarkable
cleverness. When another told of some sharp business deal, some one
would remark, “Yes, that was clever, but you never got life insurance at
a bargain.” And, in the course of time—six months or more from the time
the story was first breathed—it came to the ears of one Daniel Grady.
This was unfortunate, for Daniel at once jumped to the conclusion that
he had been cheated. Daniel had a small policy in the same company, and
this policy was costing him the full premium without rebate of any kind
from any insurance solicitor or anybody else. Daniel did not like this,
and neither did he like Adolph; in fact, he would have been willing to
pay a little higher premium for the privilege of making trouble for
Adolph. Failing that, Daniel would like to get on even terms with him.

“It’s th’ divil iv a note,” said Daniel, “that I sh’u’d be payin’ more
than that little shrimp, an’ me only thryin’ to take care iv Maggie an’
th’ childhern. I’ll go down to th’ office an’ push th’ face iv th’ man
in if he don’t give me th’ same rate, I will so.”

But Daniel wisely did nothing of the kind, for he recalled that there
were a number of clerks in the office and a police station not far away,
and he had no wish to add a fine to his expenses. Instead, after
pondering the matter a few weeks and growing steadily more indignant, he
went to see a little lawyer who had an office over a saloon, next to a
justice of the peace. Daniel planned only to get his premiums reduced,
but the lawyer saw other opportunities.

“It’s a great chance,” said the lawyer. “You’re a policy-holder—”

“Who says so?” demanded Daniel, for this sounded to him like an
accusation.

“I mean,” explained the lawyer, “that you are insured in the company.”

“What iv it?” asked Daniel.

“Why, the other policy-holders are the ones discriminated against in a
case like this,” said the lawyer, “and any one of them can file a
complaint.”

“I’m not the kind iv a man to do much complainin’,” declared Daniel. “I
niver see that it did much good. If I c’u’d give Schlimmer a bad turn—”

“That’s it; that’s it exactly. You can knock his insurance sky-high and
get some money yourself.”

“Say that wanst more,” urged Daniel. “Me hearin’ seems to be playin’
thricks.”

“The law,” said the lawyer slowly, “fines a company for doing that—”

“How much?”

“I’ll have to look it up. Pretty stiff fine, though, and the informer—”

“I don’t like th’ word.”

“Well, the man who makes the complaint gets half the fine. Do you
understand that? Let me take charge of the matter for you, and we’ll
divide the money.”

“Will it hurt me own insurance?” asked Daniel.

“Not a bit.”

“I’m not lukkin’ to l’ave Maggie an’ th’ childhern without money whin I
die, jist to land a dollar-twinty f’r me own pocket now. That’s a
Schlimmer thrick.”

“Your insurance will be just as good as it ever was,” the lawyer
asserted.

“Will there be twinty dollars in it f’r me?” Daniel persisted.

“There’ll be a good deal more than that—exactly how much I can’t say.”

“Go ahead,” instructed Daniel. “Put the little divil through.”

The lawyer investigated and found his task comparatively easy, for
Adolph had now personally told the story to several people. Indeed, by
the exercise of a little ingenuity, the lawyer got him to tell it to
him. Then he acted.

When the news reached the local agency of the company there was no
indecision as to what should be done. Unnecessary publicity in a matter
of that kind was the very last thing sought. The solicitor was called
in, put on the rack, and promptly confessed. Then he was discharged
without further questioning. Perhaps the local agent was afraid he might
learn of other similar instances if he pressed the matter too far, and
he was quite content to remain in ignorance of anything else of that
nature, so long as the public also remained in ignorance. The company
promptly acknowledged its fault, showed that it had cleared itself
morally by discharging the offending agent, and proceeded to clear
itself legally by paying the necessary fine.

When the news came to Adolph, however, there was wailing prolonged, for
his policy was annulled.

“I bet you,” said Adolph, “that feller Murray put up the job. He iss a
great hog; he iss like those mono_pol_ists that puts smaller people out
of business and gobbles it all.”

Then Adolph got a pencil and a sheet of paper and began to figure his
losses.

“_Zwei_ t’ousand dollar insurance,” he groaned, “and maybe she wouldn’t
lif long. And I gif her a dress, too—a new dress. _Ach, Himmel!_ it’s
hard when a man’s vife beats him. A new dress for nothing at all but to
looss money. That law iss a shame. It iss a—what you call
it?—restriction of business.”

Thereafter, for some time, the sight of the new gown would make Adolph
morose and gloomy, and his friends found him unusually modest and
unobtrusive.



AN INCIDENTAL SCHEME


There came to Dave Murray one day a young man who was looking for a job.
He was a bright young fellow and seemed to be very earnest.

“I have been a clerk,” he explained, “but there is little prospect for
the future where I am now, and I want to get something that has some
promise in it. In fact, I must do so. I am making barely enough to
support my mother and myself, and I may want to marry, you know.”

Murray readily admitted that young men frequently were attacked by the
matrimonial bacillus and that, there being no sure antidote, the disease
had to run its course. “Which is a good thing for the world,” he added,
“so you are quite right to prepare yourself for the attack. But are you
sure that insurance is your field?”

“I have given the subject a good deal of thought,” was the reply, “and
insurance interests me.”

“That’s a good sign,” commented Murray. “Success is for the man who is
interested in his work, and not merely in the financial results of that
work.”

“Oh, I want to make money, too,” said the young man frankly.

“We all do,” returned Murray, “but the man who has no other aim than
that would better stick to business and let the professions alone. Life
insurance has become a profession, like banking. Time was when anybody
with money could be a banker, but now it is conceded to require special
gifts and a special training. I place life insurance right up in the
front rank of the professions, for it is semi-philanthropic. We are not
in it for our health, of course, but, if we are conscientious and
earnest, we may reasonably flatter ourselves that we are doing a vast
amount of good in line with our work. The life insurance solicitor has
been the butt of many jokes. Perhaps he himself has been responsible for
this, but times have changed and so have methods. If I ever caught one
of my men slipping into an office with an apologetic air, like a
second-rate book-canvasser, I’d discharge him on the spot. The insurance
solicitor of to-day wants to consider himself a business man with a
business proposition to make; he must have self-respect and show it. The
best men plan their work carefully, do not attempt to hurry matters, and
usually meet those that they expect to interest in their proposition by
appointment, instead of trying to force the thing upon them by pure
nerve. When a fellow becomes a nuisance he is hurting himself, his
company and all others in his line. Do you still think insurance the
line for you?”

“I can begin,” said the young man, by way of reply, “with an application
from my present employer. I’ve been talking insurance to him for
practice, and he has agreed to take out a policy. He’s a pretty good
fellow. He says I’m worth more than he can afford to pay me and he wants
to help me along.”

“I guess you’re all right,” laughed Murray. “At any rate, you impress me
as being the kind of man I want. Leave your references and come in again
tomorrow.”

Murray was unusually particular as to the character of the men he
employed. It was not enough for him that a man could get business, but
he had his own ideas as to the way business should be secured. Absolute
integrity and the most painstaking care to state a proposition fairly,
without exaggeration, were points upon which he insisted.

“A dissatisfied policy-holder,” he said, “is a dead weight to carry; a
satisfied policy-holder is an advertisement. If a man finds he is
getting a little more than he expected, he is so much better pleased; if
he finds he is getting a little less, he feels he has been tricked.
Insurance is a good enough proposition, so that you don’t have to gild
it.”

Murray himself, in his younger days, had once secured an application for
a large policy by refusing to expatiate on the merits of the particular
form of insurance he was advocating.

“Well, let’s hear what a beautiful thing it is,” the man had said.

“My dear sir,” Murray had replied, “it is a straight business
proposition, with no frills or twists of any kind. You have the facts
and the figures. If you, with your business training, can’t see the
merit of it, it would be a waste of time for me to attempt any
elucidation. I have not the egotism to think I can _talk_ you into
taking out a policy. As a matter of fact, this proposition doesn’t need
any argument, and it would be a reflection on the plain merit of the
proposition for me to attempt one.”

Different methods for different men. This man never before had seen an
insurance solicitor who would not talk for an hour, if he had the
chance, and he was impressed and pleased. This was business,—straight
business and nothing else. He straightway took out a large policy.

Something of this Murray told the young man when he came back the next
day, for he was anxious to impress upon him the fact that life insurance
was not like a mining scheme, which has to be painted with all the
glories of the sunset in order to float the stock, and that the man who
overstated his case would inevitably suffer from the reaction.

Murray had been favorably impressed with the young man—Max Mays was the
name he gave—and the employer of Mays had spoken well of him. He was
rather a peculiar fellow, according to the employer—always busy with
figures or financial stories and seemingly deeply interested in the
details of the large business affairs that were discussed in the
newspapers and the magazines. Aside from this, he was about like the
average clerk who hopes for and seeks better opportunities, and
meanwhile makes the best of what he has—reasonably industrious and yet
far from forsaking the pleasures of this life.

All in all, Mays seemed like good material from which to make a life
insurance man, and the fact that he did not propose to desert his
present employer without notice was in his favor. Possibly the fact that
he was getting his first commission through the latter had something to
do with this, but, anyhow, he planned to continue where he was until a
successor had been secured; and too many young men, contemplating such a
change, would have let their enthusiasm lead them to quit without notice
when they found the new place open to them. This is mentioned merely as
one of the things that led Murray to think he had secured a thoroughly
conscientious, as well as an ambitious, employee.

When he finally reported for duty Murray gave him certain general
instructions, principal among which was this: “Never make a statement
that will require explanation or modification later. Any time you decide
that the proposition you are making is not good enough to stand squarely
on its merits, without exaggeration or deception, direct or inferential,
come into the office and resign. Any time you find yourself saying
anything that you yourself do not believe implicitly, it is time for you
to quit. When you have to explain what you really meant by some certain
statement, you are creating doubt and distrust, for the unadulterated
truth, of course, does not have to be explained.”

For a time Murray watched Mays rather closely—not in the expectation of
finding anything wrong, but rather with the idea of giving him helpful
suggestions—but the young man seemed to be unusually capable and
unusually successful for a beginner. He seemed to be working a
comparatively new field—a field that turned up no large policies but
that seemed to be prolific of small ones. This, however, was quite
natural. Every new man works first among those he happens to know, and
Mays was doing business with his old associates. In time, Murray ceased
to give him any particular attention, except to note the regularity with
which he turned in applications for small policies, and there probably
would have been no deviation from the customary routine had it not been
for an unexpected and apparently trivial incident.

An application for a small policy had come in through one of the other
solicitors. Mays happened to be in the office when the applicant called
for his physical examination, but they exchanged no greetings.
Apparently they were strangers. Yet Mays slipped out into the hall and
intercepted the other as he came from the doctor’s office. Murray,
emerging suddenly from his own room, saw them talking together and
caught this question and answer:

“Is it all right?”

“Of course. I’m a bully good risk, as you call it.”

Then, seeing Murray, they hastily separated and went their ways.

Now, why should a friend of Mays apply for insurance through another
solicitor? Well, he might have been ignorant, when he made his
application, of the fact that Mays was in the insurance business. But
why did they give no sign of recognition when they met in the main
office? It was quite natural that Mays should be anxious to learn how
his friend came out with the physician, but why should he sneak out into
the hall to ask the question?

Any evidence of secrecy and underhand work always annoyed Murray. He did
not like this, although he could see nothing in it to cause him any
anxiety. Nevertheless, he looked up the papers of the man who had just
been examined and found that his name was John Tainter and that he lived
near Mays. He was a good risk, however, and he got his policy. There was
no earthly reason why it should be refused. But Murray watched Mays more
carefully and gave painstaking attention to the risks he brought in.

The applicants were generally small tradesmen—usually foreigners—but
there was nothing in the least suspicious in any case. Indeed, it was
difficult to see how there could be anything wrong, for the safeguards
made it practically impossible for a mere solicitor to put up any
successful scheme to beat the company, and certainly it would not be
tried with any trifling policy. But it annoyed Murray to find that a man
he had believed so frank and straightforward was tricky, and he could
not, try as he would, find any reason for this trickiness.

Then, one day, while he was waiting in a hotel office for his card to be
taken up to the room of a man with whom he had some business, he heard a
strangely familiar voice near him making a strangely familiar assertion.

“You bet you, they don’t fool me very much,” said the voice.

Murray turned to see who it was, but a big square column was in the way.
Murray’s chair was backed up to one side of this, and the speaker was on
the other.

“I can’t just place that voice,” mused Murray, “but I have heard it
somewhere.” There was silence for an instant.

“It’s going to be vorth something, ain’t it, yes?” inquired the voice at
last.

“It looks like a big thing and no mistake,” was the reply.

“By George!” muttered Murray, “it’s that Adolph Schlimmer who tried to
get a rebate on his policy, and the fellow with him is Max Mays.”

Just then word came that Murray’s man would see him, and he had to
leave. He was careful, however, to keep the column between him and the
two he had found in conversation. It was just as well not to let them
know of his presence, for he preferred not to have their suspicions
aroused.

There was now little doubt in his mind that some scheme was being worked
out. But what? What could these two men, neither of whom was versed in
the theory and details of life insurance, do that would be in any way
hurtful to the company or advantageous to them? Of course, it was only a
surmise that their confidential business concerned him in any way, but
association with Schlimmer would be sufficient to make Murray uneasy
about any of his men, and the strange action of Mays in the Tainter
matter added to his uneasiness.

His first move was to investigate Mays thoroughly, and, to his
astonishment, he discovered that, far from having a mother to support,
Mays was living with a married brother and had no one to look after but
himself. He had told the truth about his business record, but he had
lied about his personal responsibilities. That lie had been an artistic
one, however, for it had helped materially to get him a position with
Murray.

Further investigation showed that there was a light-headed, frivolous
young girl, to whom he was devoted and with whom he attended
Saturday-night dances in various public halls, but it had to be
admitted, to his credit, that he never let these interfere with business
and was always on hand with a clear head. At the same time, it threw an
entirely new light on his character, and showed him to be not at all the
sort of fellow his business record had indicated.

Murray was tempted to discharge him at once, but he refrained for two
reasons: first, his action would be dictated by his own disappointment
in the man rather than by anything he knew that was definitely
derogatory, aside from his falsehood about his mother; second, he wanted
a chance to investigate further the association with Schlimmer, and the
only way to do this was to pretend to be entirely unsuspicious and
entirely satisfied. If there was any kind of scheme that could be put up
by two such men, he was interested in finding it out, especially if they
had already taken any action. Until the thing was clear, he wished to
have Mays within reach.

Mays was shadowed for a few days, but nothing was learned except that he
unquestionably had business relations with the unscrupulous Schlimmer,
and that they occasionally met in the office of a lawyer in that
district.

“A lawyer!” mused Murray. “Now, what the devil do they need of a lawyer?
I can’t see where he comes in.”

“Tainter was with them once,” replied the “shadow.”

“I certainly never had anything puzzle me like this,” remarked Murray.
“The separate incidents are so trifling that it seems absurd to attach
any importance to them, and yet, taking them all together, I am
convinced there is something wrong. I’d like to hear what they have to
say to each other.”

“That,” said the shadow, “can be easily arranged, for they are to meet
next Sunday afternoon, and I can get the janitor easily to let us into
the adjoining office.”

“I’ll be there,” said Murray.

Now, Murray, in spite of his good nature, was a dignified man, but he
knew when to sacrifice his dignity. He was an “office man,” but he
rather enjoyed an excuse for getting outside and occupying himself in
some unusual way. In fact, Murray had the making of a “strenuous” man in
him, if fate had not decreed that he should devote his energies to the
less exciting task of directing the destinies of a life insurance
agency. So he rather enjoyed the mild excitement of getting into the
adjoining office unobserved and lying prone on his stomach to get his
ear close to the crack under the door. But the reward was not great. The
lawyer—a big blustering fellow—was there, and so were Schlimmer, Tainter
and Mays, but the meeting seemed to be one for jubilation rather than
for planning.

“I got the papers all ready,” said the lawyer. “Sign ’em, Tainter, and
then we’re ready to go ahead the moment Mays gives the word. We want to
land all we can.”

And that was the only business transacted. The rest of the time was
given to gloating over some scheme that was not put in words.

“You bet you, I make that Murray sit up and take notice, yes?” remarked
Schlimmer. “I gif him his chance once and I get the vorst of it, but I
even up now.”

“It’s great,” commented the lawyer. “You’ve got a great head on you,
Schlimmer. Not one man in a thousand would have thought of it. We’ll all
even up, but they would have been mighty suspicious if I had let
Tainter’s application go in through Mays. That’s where you get the
advantage of having a lawyer in the deal.”

And more to the same effect, but no definite explanation of the scheme.

Murray was at his office unusually early Monday morning, and the first
thing he did was to have a clerk look up the Schlimmer case. Some
company, he knew, had got into trouble over a Schlimmer policy, and he
wanted to know all about it. He learned that Schlimmer had taken out a
policy on his wife’s life, had demanded and secured a rebate from the
solicitor, and that another policy-holder had taken action that resulted
in nullifying the policy and imposing a fine on the company.

“I think I understand it now,” mused Murray, “but it looks to me as if
pretty prompt action might be necessary.”

All doubt, all hesitation had disappeared. Murray was wide awake and
active. He called in his private messenger.

“When Mr. Mays reports,” he said, “he is to wait until I have had a talk
with him before going out. I shall send for him when I am ready.” Then,
giving the boy a slip of paper with a name and an address on it, “I want
to see that man here at once. Take a cab and bring him. Tell him the
validity of his life insurance depends upon it.”

While the boy was gone, Murray slipped out himself, and, when he
returned, a stranger accompanied him. The stranger was secreted in a
room adjoining, and then Murray took up the routine of his regular work.
The only interruption came when a clerk informed him that Mays was
waiting.

“Let him wait,” said Murray. “I’m not quite ready for him yet. If he
tries to leave, jump on his back and hold him.”

After a time the messenger returned with the man for whom he had been
sent, and Murray immediately took him into his private office and shut
the door.

“Mr. Leckster,” he said abruptly, “how much of a rebate did Mays give
you on the policy you took out with us?”

Leckster was plainly mystified and frightened.

“Out with it!” commanded Murray. “Your policy isn’t worth the paper it’s
written on unless the matter is straightened out mighty quick. How much
was the rebate?”

“I don’t understand,” said Leckster, already nearly terror-stricken.

“How much of his commission did he give to you to get you to take out a
policy?”

“Oh, he give me a half.”

“Leckster,” said Murray, “that was against the law. If any other
policy-holder hears of it and wants to go into court, he can nullify
your policy and get half of the fine that will be assessed against us
for the act of our agent. If you want to make your policy unassailable,
you must refund that rebate. Now, go home and think it over.”

Then he sent word to Mays that he was ready to see him.

“Mays,” he said abruptly, “what was your scheme?”

“Sir!” exclaimed Mays.

“What was your scheme?”

“Surely you must be joking, sir,” protested Mays. “I have no scheme.”

“Why did Tainter,” replied Murray in deliberate tones, “a friend of
yours, put in his application through another solicitor?”

“He didn’t know I was in the insurance business until he came up here to
be examined.”

“Then why did you fail to recognize each other until you got out in the
hall where you thought you were unobserved?”

Mays did not even hesitate. Evidently he had prepared himself for this.

“Another man had got his application,” he said, “and I was afraid it
would look as if I were trying to interfere in some way. I did nod to
him, but very likely it wasn’t noticed.”

“What are your relations with Schlimmer?” persisted Murray.

“Oh, I got into a little business deal with him, for which I am
sincerely sorry. I’m trying to get out now.”

“Insurance?” asked Murray.

“No, sir; it had nothing whatever to do with insurance.”

Murray was thoughtful and silent for several minutes.

“Mays,” he said at last, speaking slowly, “I don’t know whether you’re
worth saving or not. You’ve got in with a bad crowd and you’re mixed up
in a bad deal. But you impressed me favorably when you came here, and I
think you are capable of being legitimately successful. Of course, you
lied to me about your mother—”

“I was very anxious for the job, sir.”

“I quite appreciate that, although your motive for wanting the job will
hardly bear close scrutiny. Still, you are young and I am anxious to
give you another chance. Now, tell me the whole story.”

“There is nothing to tell, sir,” Mays replied with an ingenuous air.
“Your words and insinuations are a deep mystery to me.”

“Think again,” advised Murray. “I know the story pretty well myself.”

“I shall be glad to have you tell it, sir,” said Mays. “Your earnestness
leads me to think it must be interesting.”

“If I tell it,” said Murray, “it removes your last chance of escaping
any of the consequences.”

“Go ahead,” said Mays.

At least, he had magnificent nerve.

“Schlimmer,” said Murray, fixing his eyes sharply on Mays, “was once
mixed up in a little trouble over rebates, which are unlawful. He tried
to get me to give him a rebate on a policy, but I refused, and he seems
to have got the idea that I was directly responsible for the failure of
his scheme elsewhere. He learned, however, that the informer gets half
of the fine assessed against the company in each case, but that only
another policy-holder is empowered to make the necessary complaint. It
occurred to Schlimmer that, if he could find enough rebate cases, there
would be a good bit of money in it on the division of the fines. Being a
man of low cunning, it occurred to Schlimmer that these cases might be
manufactured, if he could get hold of a complaisant insurance solicitor,
for the company is held responsible for the act of the agent, and the
easiest way to get hold of a complaisant solicitor was to make one. So
he went to a young man who was absorbed in the study of tricky finance
and who couldn’t see why he couldn’t do that sort of thing himself, and
the young man got a job in this office. The young man, Max Mays by name,
immediately began preparing rebate cases for future use. He worked among
a class of people who knew little of insurance or insurance laws and who
are in the habit of figuring very closely, and this rebate proposition
looked pretty good to them.

“Next, Schlimmer and Mays got a lawyer into the scheme, because they
would need him when it came to the later proceedings, and they further
prepared for their _coup_ by having a confederate, named Tainter, take
out a policy in the company, so that he would be in a position to make
the necessary complaint. In order to avert suspicion, when the time for
action came, Tainter applied for his policy through another solicitor. I
think that is about all, Mays, except that you were ready to spring your
surprise as soon as the policies had been issued on two or three
applications now under consideration. I was in the next room to you when
you held your meeting yesterday, Mays.”

Mays had grown very white during this recital, but he still kept his
nerve, although he now showed it in a different way.

“Yes,” he said, “that is about all. There are some details lacking, but
the story is practically correct. What do you intend to do with me?”

Then Mays was suddenly conscious of the fact that a man, a stranger, was
standing beside him. The man had emerged quietly from the room in which
he had been concealed.

“There are the warrants for the whole crowd, including this man,” said
Murray, handing the stranger a number of documents. “The charge is
conspiracy, and, if they could have secured half the fine in each of the
cases they prepared so carefully, they would have made a pretty good
thing. Now, I’ve got the job of straightening this matter out so that
both the policies and the company will be unassailable under the rebate
law. But, at any rate, Schlimmer has got his second lesson, and it’s a
good one. Look out for him especially, officer. If you keep this man
away from the telephone, you’ll have no difficulty in getting Schlimmer
and all the others.”



AN INCIDENTAL COURTSHIP


Harry Renway was the kind of man that people refer to as “a simple
soul.” He might feel deeply, but he did not think that way. As a matter
of fact, it was stretching things a little to call him a man, for he was
hardly more than a boy—a youth in years, but a boy in everything else.
Nevertheless, it is worth recording that he was a reasonably thrifty
boy, although his earning capacity had not permitted him to put aside
anything resembling a fortune.

Love, however, visits the poor as well as the wealthy, the simple as
well as the wise. Indeed, sometimes it seems as if Love rather avoids
the wealthy and wise and chooses the companionship of less-favored
mortals. So, perhaps, it is not at all extraordinary that Harry Renway
was in love, and the object of his affections was one of the most
tantalizing specimens of femininity that ever annoyed and delighted man.

She said frankly that she was mercenary, but it is probable she
exaggerated. She had been poor all her life, but she had no dreams of
great wealth and no ambition for it: she merely wanted to be assured
reasonable comfort—that is, what seemed to her reasonable comfort. A
really mercenary girl would have deemed it poverty and hardship.
Somehow, when one has been poor and has suffered some privations, one
learns to give some thought to worldly affairs, and it is to the credit
of Alice Jennings that she did not grade men more exactly by the money
standard. Harry’s modest salary would be sufficient to meet her
requirements, but Harry had nothing but his salary. A larger salary
might give something of luxury, in addition to comfort, but, assured the
comfort and freedom from privation, she would be guided by the
inclinations of her heart. So, perhaps, she was wise rather than
mercenary. Love needs a little of the fostering care of money, although
too much of this tends to idleness and scandal.

“But if anything should happen to you,” argued Alice, when Harry tried
to tell her how hard he would work for her.

“What’s going to happen to me?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” she answered lightly. “You’re a dear, good boy, Harry,
and I like you, but I’ve had all the poverty I want.”

“Who’s talking about poverty?” persisted Harry stoutly. “I’ve got more
than two hundred dollars saved up, and I’ll have a bigger salary pretty
soon.”

“What’s two hundred dollars!” she returned. “We’d use that to begin
housekeeping. Then, if anything should happen to you—Why, Harry, I’d be
worse off than I am now. I don’t want much, but I’ve learned to look
ahead—a little. I’ve neither the disposition nor the training to be a
wage-earner, and I’ll never go back home after I marry. Dad has a hard
enough time of it, anyhow.” There was raillery in her tone, but there
was also something of earnestness in it. “Now, Tom Nelson has over two
thousand dollars,” she added.

“Oh, if you’re going to sell yourself!” exclaimed Harry bitterly.

“I didn’t say I’d marry him,” she retorted teasingly, “but, if I did and
anything happened to him—”

“You’d probably find he’d lost it in some scheme,” put in Harry.

“He might,” admitted Alice thoughtfully, “but he’s pretty careful.”

“And too old for you,” added Harry angrily. “Still, if it’s only money—”

“It isn’t,” she interrupted more seriously; “it’s caution. I’ve had
enough to make me just a little cautious. You don’t know how hard it has
been, Harry, or you’d understand. If you knew more of the
disappointments and heartaches of some of the girls who are deemed
mercenary, you wouldn’t blame them for sacrificing sentiment to a
certain degree of worldliness. ’I just want to be sure I’ll never have
to go through this again,’ says the girl, and she tries to make sure. It
isn’t a question of the amount of money she can get by marriage, nor of
silks or satins, but rather of peace and security after some years of
privation and anxiety. She learns to think of the future, if only in a
modest way—that is, some girls do. I’m one of them. What could I
do—alone?”

“Then you won’t marry me?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Then you will marry me?”

“I didn’t say that, either. There’s no hurry.”

Thus she tantalized him always. It was unfair, of course—unless she
intended to accept him eventually. In that case, it was merely unwise.
It is accepted as a girl’s privilege to be thus perverse and
inconsistent in her treatment of the man she intends to marry, but
sometimes she goes too far and loses him. However, Alice Jennings was
herself uncertain. She had known Harry a long time, and she liked him.
She had known Tom Nelson a shorter time, and she liked him also. It may
be said, however, that she did not love either of them. Love is
self-sacrificing and gives no thought to worldly affairs. Alice Jennings
might have been capable of love, if she could have afforded the luxury,
but circumstances had convinced her that she could not afford it, so she
did not try. She would not sell herself solely for money, and her
standard of comfort was not high, but she was trying hard to “like” the
most promising man well enough to marry him. As far as possible, she was
disposed to follow the advice of the man who said, “Marry for love, my
son, marry for love and not for money, but, if you can love a girl with
money, for heaven’s sake do so.”

As a natural result of her desire to make sure of escaping for all time
the thraldom of poverty that was so galling to her, she was irresolute
and capricious. She dressed unusually well for a girl in her position,
but this was because she had taste and had learned to make her own
clothes, so the money available for her gowns could be put almost
entirely into the material alone. She was a capable housekeeper, because
necessity had compelled her to give a good deal of time to housework in
her own home. She had no thought of escaping all these duties, irksome
as they were, but she did not wish to be bound down to them. A
comfortable flat, with a maid-of-all-work to do the cooking and
cleaning, and a sewing girl for a week once or twice a year, was her
idea of luxury. This, even though there was still much for her to do,
would give her freedom, and this, with reasonably careful management,
either of the men could give her. But she looked beyond, and hesitated;
she had schooled herself to go rather deeply into the future.

Tom Nelson found her quite as unreasonable and bewildering as did Harry.
Tom was older and more resourceful than Harry, but he was not so steady
and persistent. Harry was content to let his money accumulate in a
savings’ bank, but Tom deemed this too slow and was willing to take
risks in the hope of larger profits. He made more, but he also spent
more, and, all else aside, it was a question as to whether Harry would
not be able to provide the better home. Then, too, Tom occasionally lost
money, while nothing but a bank failure could endanger Harry’s modest
capital. So Tom had his own troubles with the girl. He knew her dread of
poverty—amounting almost to a mania—and he made frequent incidental
reference to his capital.

“But that isn’t much,” she said lightly. Her self-confessed
mercenariness was always brought out in a whimsical, half-jocular way
that seemed to have nothing of worldly hardness in it. “And there’s no
telling whether you’ll have it six months from now,” she added. “As long
as I had you to take care of me, it would be all right, but—”

She always came back to the same point. Yet one of these two she
intended to marry, her personal preference being for Harry, and her
judgment commending Tom. The former would plod; the latter might be
worth twenty thousand in a few years, or he might be in debt. Harry
never would have much; Tom might have a great deal—enough to make the
future secure, no matter what happened.

“Will you invest the money for me?” she asked.

“Why, no,—I must use it to make more.”

Thus she flirtatiously, laughingly, but with an undertone of
seriousness, kept them both uncertain, while she impressed upon them her
one great fear of being left helpless. Yet even in this her ambition was
modest: no income for life, but only something for her temporary needs
until she could adjust herself to new conditions, if that became
necessary. Anything more than that was too remote for serious thought.

Harry finally told his troubles to a friend, when these exasperating
conditions had continued for some time. He wanted consolation; he got
advice.

“A little too worldly to suit me,” commented the friend. “Still, it
might be better if some of the girls who marry hastily had just a little
of such worldliness. There would be fewer helpless and wretched women
and children.”

“That’s just it,” returned Harry. “She knows what it means, and that two
thousand of Tom Nelson’s looks awful big to her. If I had as much I’d
invest it for her outright, and that would settle it.”

“Doesn’t want it to spend, as I understand it?” queried the friend.

“Oh, no—just to know that she has something in case anything happens.”

“Why don’t you try life insurance?” asked the friend.

It took Harry a moment or two to grasp this. Then his face lighted up.

“By thunder! I never thought of that!” he cried.

“That’s the trouble with lots of men,” remarked the friend dryly.
“Marriage is considered a dual arrangement when it should be a
triple—man, woman and life insurance. That’s the only really safe
combination. The thoughtful lover will see that the life insurance agent
and the minister are interviewed about the same time.”

“Where did you learn all that?” asked the astonished Harry.

“Oh, it’s not original with me,” was the reply. “I heard Dave Murray
talk about insurance once. He’s an enthusiast. He claims that the best
possible wedding gift is a paid-up life insurance policy, and I guess
he’s right. It would be a mighty appropriate gift from the groom’s
father to the bride—a blame sight better than a check or a diamond
necklace. A paid-up policy for five thousand would look just as big as a
five-thousand-dollar check, and it wouldn’t cost nearly as much—unless
the old man plans to sneak back the check before it can be cashed. And
what a lot of good it might do at a time when the need may be the
greatest! If the bride is the one to be considered in selecting a
wedding gift, as I understand to be the case, what better than this?”

“I guess Dave Murray is the man for me,” said Harry in admiration of the
originality of this idea.

“Of course he is,” asserted the friend. “And if you want to make the
argument stronger for your wavering girl, get an accident insurance
policy, with a sick benefit clause, also, and then take out a little old
age insurance. There ought to be no trouble about giving her all the
assurance necessary to allay her fears.”

Harry was a good risk, and he had no difficulty in getting a policy. He
saw Murray personally, but, as he did not explain his purpose or
situation, their conference was brief: Murray merely asked if he thought
a thousand-dollar policy was all he could afford.

“Because,” said Murray, “when you go after a good thing it’s wise to
take all you can of it. There ought to be enough so that something can
be found after your estate is settled.”

“I’d make it five hundred if I could,” said Harry.

“Most of the good companies,” said Murray, “wisely protect a man from
his own economical folly by refusing to issue a policy for less than a
thousand.”

“It’s an experiment. A fellow doesn’t want to put too much money into an
experiment.”

Murray, the resourceful Murray, was bewildered. Life insurance an
experiment! Surely he could not mean that.

“Well,” he said, “your widow will be pretty sure to think the experiment
a success.”

“I haven’t got a widow,” asserted Harry.

“Of course not; but you may have.”

“How can I have a widow when I am dead?” asked Harry. “How can I have
anything when I am dead?”

“You can’t tell by the looks of an electric wire how highly it is
charged,” mused Murray. “I guess I touched this one too recklessly.”
Then to Harry: “But there may be _a_ widow.”

“There may,” returned Harry.

“Well, she’ll be sorry you didn’t experiment on a larger scale, because
it really isn’t an experiment at all. There’s only one thing surer than
insurance.”

“What’s that?” asked Harry with interest.

“Death; and, with the popular gold bonds or any limited payment policy,
you have a chance to beat death by some years. But suit yourself.”

So Harry took the physical examination and got the policy, payable to
his estate. Then he promptly assigned it to Alice.

“There’s one thousand dollars sure, if anything should happen to me,” he
said. “That beats any old elusive two thousand that Tom Nelson may
have.”

“You’re a dear, good, faithful boy, Harry,” she said impulsively, and
she gave him a kiss.

That was happiness enough for that day and the next, but on the third he
began to get down to earth again and deemed the time propitious.

“You’ll marry me?” he suggested.

“Perhaps,” was her reply.

“Perhaps!” he cried. “It’s always perhaps.”

“Perhaps it won’t be always perhaps,” she returned.

In truth, she had wavered so long that she found it difficult to make up
her mind. Besides, Tom was prospering, Tom was devoted, and Tom was a
nice fellow. True, he was twenty-six while she was only eighteen, and
Harry, at twenty, was nearer her own age, but—well, aside from any
question of the future, it was rather nice to have two men so devotedly
attentive. Then, too, Tom spent his money more freely, and she derived
the benefit in present pleasures. There was no hurry; the future was now
brighter, whichever she chose, and, things being so nearly equal, there
was even less reason for haste. Alice, in addition to her dread of
poverty, was a natural flirt: she enjoyed the power she exerted over
these two men. But she said nothing to Tom of Harry’s latest move;
perhaps she thought it would be unfair, or perhaps she was a trifle
truer to Harry than to Tom.

Harry, in his “simple” way, misinterpreted this irresolution. He was too
devoted to criticize; he had begun to understand her dread and to think
that she was quite right in taking such a very worldly view of the
situation. Why should she not, so far as possible, endeavor to make her
future secure? It was for him to convince her of his thoughtfulness and
his ability to provide for her. Thereupon he got an accident insurance
policy.

“You’re awfully thoughtful, Harry,” she said. “I like you.”

“I don’t want you to worry,” said Harry, flattered and pleased.

“I’m not worrying,” she told him.

“But I am,” he retorted ruefully.

“Men,” she asserted, “are _so_ impatient.”

Harry could not quite agree to this—he thought he had been wonderfully
patient. In his straightforward way he began to ponder the matter
deeply. It had seemed to him he was doing a wonderfully clever thing
that ought to settle the matter definitely. Had he made a mistake? If
so, what was necessary to rectify it? Incidentally, he heard that some
of Tom Nelson’s little speculations had turned out favorably, and Tom
was still quite as devoted as ever and seemed to be received with as
much favor. Then to Harry came an idea—a really brilliant idea, he
thought.

“Perhaps,” he told himself, “I ought not to have assigned that policy to
her; perhaps I ought to have kept it in my control so that a wedding
would be necessary to give her the benefit of it. As it is now, she has
the policy, no matter whom she marries. I don’t think she would—”

Without finishing the sentence, Harry knitted his brow and shook his
head. It was not a pleasant thought—he told himself it was an unjust
thought—but, as he had gone in to win, he might as well take every
precaution. If the conditions were a little different, it might put an
end to her flirtatious mood and compel a more serious consideration of
his suit; it might have a tendency to emphasize his point and “wake her
up,” as he expressed it. Possibly, it was just the argument needed.

With this in mind, he again called upon Murray.

“I’m in a little trouble,” he explained. “I ought to have had that
policy made out to my wife.”

“It makes no difference, unless the estate is involved in some way,”
explained Murray. “She’ll get it through—”

“It makes a big difference,” interrupted Harry. “You see, I’ve got to
get the wife.”

“What!” ejaculated Murray. “Say that again, please.”

“Why, if I had an insurance policy in favor of my wife, it would make it
easier to get the wife, wouldn’t it?”

“Thunder!” exclaimed Murray. “I thought I was pretty well up on
insurance financiering, but this beats me. Are you hanging an insurance
policy up as a sort of prize package?”

“That’s it, that’s it!” cried Harry, pleased to find the situation so
quickly comprehended. “The other fellow is worth more, but insurance
looks bigger than anything else I can buy for the money, and I want to
show her how much safer she will be with me than with him.”

“You’re all right,” laughed Murray, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to marry
first. We can’t very well make a policy payable to a person who doesn’t
exist, and you have no wife now. When you have one, bring the policy
back if you’re not satisfied to have it payable to the estate, and—”

“But she’s got it.”

“Who?”

“The girl. I assigned it to her, so she doesn’t have to marry me to get
the benefit. That wasn’t good business.”

Murray leaned back in his chair and looked at the youth with amusement
and curiosity.

“No,” he said at last, “that may have been good sentiment, but it wasn’t
good business. And,” he added jokingly, “I don’t know that this
transaction is quite legal.”

“Why not?” asked Harry anxiously.

“Well, we’re not allowed to give prizes, and, if a girl goes with the
policy, it looks a good deal like a prize-package affair. I’m not sure
that that wouldn’t be considered worse than giving rebates on premiums.”

“You’ve got the wrong idea,” argued Harry with solemn earnestness. “The
girl doesn’t go with the policy, but the policy goes with me. At least,
that’s what I intended.”

“Better try it again with another policy,” suggested Murray. “Make it
payable to your estate, and then hang on to it until you get the girl.
Let me give you a word of advice, too, although it’s not exactly to my
interest.”

“Well?”

“Well, the policy that you gave to her doesn’t amount to much if you
stop paying premiums on it. You might suggest that to her.”

“By George! I never thought of that!” exclaimed the youth. “I guess I
haven’t much of a financial head.”

“Oh, you’re all right,” returned Murray. “You’re the first fellow I ever
knew who made a matrimonial bureau of an insurance office. I’ve got
something to learn about this business yet.”

With his second policy in his pocket, Harry reverted quite casually to
the subject of insurance, although he had first taken the precaution to
have a lot of insurance literature sent to Alice. From this she learned
that nothing could quite equal it in making the future secure.

“I have decided,” said Harry in an offhand way, “that the best
investment for a young man who has any one dependent upon him is life
insurance. I have just taken out another policy for a thousand dollars.”

“How thoughtful of you!” exclaimed Alice.

“It’s on the twenty-year endowment plan,” explained Harry. “At the end
of twenty years the whole sum may be drawn down or it may be left to
accumulate. As provision for the future, I guess that makes any two or
three thousand in the bank look like thirty cents.”

“You’re awfully good to me,” said Alice, for this apparent evidence of
unselfish devotion, in addition to what had preceded it, really made her
reproach herself for her capriciousness. But it was such jolly fun to
keep two men anxious!

“The insurance,” Harry went on, “is payable to my estate.”

“What does that mean, Harry?” she asked.

“It means,” replied Harry, “that a girl has got to marry me to get a
chance at it.”

“I always did like you, Harry.”

“Yes?”

“But you’re so impatient.”

Harry was beginning to develop a little strategical ingenuity.

“There is no need,” he said, “to make a secret of this. I’m not ashamed
to have all the girls know that I am making proper provision for the one
who becomes my wife.”

“Harry Renway,” exclaimed Alice, “if you make our private affairs a
subject of public gossip I’ll never speak to you again as long as I
live.”

Thereupon Harry demonstrated that he was not as “simple” as he was
supposed to be, for he promptly returned the kiss that she had given him
on a previous occasion. There could be no misinterpreting “our” private
affairs.

“When?” he asked.

“Oh, pretty soon,” she replied, for the flirtatious instinct was still
in evidence. Besides, under the circumstances, too much haste might be
in poor taste. However, their friends were told of the engagement, and
that was something. Tom Nelson was angry and disgusted.

“The fool!” he exclaimed. “A live man wants to have the use of his
money, and he has tied himself up with insurance. That isn’t my way.”

“But he got the girl,” some one suggested.

“Not yet,” retorted Tom, “and you never can tell.”

In truth, it seemed as if Tom’s insinuation was almost prophetic, for
Alice procrastinated and postponed in a most tormenting way, and Harry
took it all in good part for two or three months. There was no
particular reason for this delay, as the preliminaries of such a wedding
as they would have could be arranged very quickly, and in time it tried
the patience even of Harry.

“The semi-annual premium on that first policy is due the day after
to-morrow,” he remarked one evening.

“Well?” she returned inquiringly.

“If the premium isn’t paid the policy lapses,” he went on.

“But you’ll pay it?”

“For my wife I will.”

She gave him a quick look and knew that he was not going to be swayed
this time by her little cajoleries.

“But, Harry,” she protested, “that’s so—so soon.”

“I have the license in my pocket,” he said; “there’s a church within two
blocks, and I saw a light in the pastor’s study as I came by. I guess
we’ve waited long enough. Let’s go out for a little stroll.”

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was six months later that Harry again met Dave Murray, but Murray
remembered him.

“Did you get the prize with your policy?” asked Murray.

“Sure,” replied Harry.

“Was it a good prize?”

“Bully!” said Harry. “A little hard to handle just at first, but you can
do almost anything with insurance.”

“You certainly have made good use of it,” laughed Murray.

“You bet I have,” answered Harry with some pride. “Why, say! an
insurance policy is the greatest thing in the world for family
discipline.”

“For what!” exclaimed Murray.

“Family discipline. The first time we had a little rumpus she had me
going seven ways for Sunday until I thought of the insurance policies.
‘Well,’ said I, ‘if I’m not the head of the house there’s no reason why
I should be paying insurance premiums, and I’ll default on the next one.
The head of the house looks after things of that sort,’ I told her, and
that settled it. I’m the head of the house, and, if I don’t play it too
strong, I’ve got the thing to maintain discipline.”

“Don’t you want another policy?” laughed Murray.

“Well,” returned Harry thoughtfully, “if I could get the same kind of
prize with another, and if it wasn’t against the law, I rather think I
might be tempted to do it. Anyhow, there can’t anybody tell me there’s
nothing in insurance, for I know better.”



AN INCIDENTAL SACRIFICE


“I guess it’s all up with us,” said Sidney Kalin despairingly.

“It looks that way,” admitted his brother, Albert Kalin.

The father, Jonas Kalin, sat at his desk with his head half-buried in
his hands.

“There is no chance for an extension, of course,” he said wearily.

“I should say not,” returned Sidney. “Telmer bought up the mortgage for
just one purpose, and his only hope of success lies in foreclosing. He
wants to get his hands on the invention.”

“Will he take an interest in the business?” asked Jonas.

“Why should he, when he can get the only thing he wants without?”
returned Sidney.

“What does Dempsey say?” persisted the senior Kalin.

“It’s out of his line,” answered Albert, to whom the question was
addressed. “If five thousand would straighten the thing out, he might
risk it, but he wouldn’t put up a cent more than that, and he’d want a
twenty-five per cent. interest in the business for that sum.”

“And, if we can save it, the thing is worth a fortune,” groaned Jonas.
“We’ve got a start already, and there’s almost no limit to the
possibilities. It ought to be worth fifty thousand a year inside of
three years. He doesn’t want much.”

“Well, he’s out of the question, anyway,” said Sidney. “We’ve got to
have twenty-five thousand, and we’ve got to have it mighty soon.”

“My life insurance is more than that,” mused Jonas.

“What good does that do?” retorted Sidney rather sharply. “Even if you
wanted to surrender it, the cash surrender value is less than ten
thousand at the present time.”

“That would help,” argued Jonas.

“Nothing will help that doesn’t put the full sum needed within our
reach,” asserted Albert. “We’re about due to begin life over again with
a little less than nothing.”

“I’ll think it over,” said Jonas, rising and wearily reaching for his
hat. “I’ve always weathered the storms before. Perhaps I’ll find a way
to weather this one.”

Jonas Kalin once had been accounted a successful real estate man, but he
had lost a good deal of money in speculation, and the time and thought
he gave to speculation had had an injurious effect upon his business.
One of the sons had been for a time in the employ of a manufacturer of
fountain pens. Later the elder Kalin had started both boys, as an
independent firm, in that line of business, their pen differing
sufficiently from others to avoid any infringement of patents on
patented features. They had made no great amount of money, indeed barely
a living income, but they had kept out of debt until Sidney invented a
machine for finishing the shell or case of the pen.

His experiments had been rather costly, and the machine had been costly
to construct, but he had convinced his father that it was a good thing,
and Jonas had given up his dwindling real estate business and put what
money he had left into his sons’ firm, becoming a partner in the
enterprise. Even then it had been found necessary to borrow twenty-five
thousand dollars in order to establish the business on the new and
larger basis, giving a mortgage on the entire plant, which included the
new machine, and this mortgage had passed into the hands of a more
prosperous business rival at a time when the value of the invention was
just becoming apparent. This invention largely reduced the cost of
production, but the exploiting so far done, although expensive and
reasonably successful, had not enabled the Kalins to accumulate anything
to meet their obligation. Indeed, believing they would have no
difficulty in securing an extension, they had not worried about this
until they found themselves in the power of a rival.

The machine had not been patented, for reasons that most successful
inventors will readily understand. While a patent is supposed to protect
the inventor, it does not do so in many instances; on the contrary, it
frequently gives a rival just the information he needs to duplicate the
device with technical variations that will at least make the question of
infringement a difficult one to decide. The inventor of limited means,
opposed by a company with almost unlimited capital, is at a serious
disadvantage when he gets into the courts, and there are cases where the
value of an invention has been largely destroyed by having the market
flooded with the article before the legal rights can be definitely
determined. There is hardly a single patented device of great value that
has not been the basis of long and costly litigation, involving either
the unauthorized use or manufacture of the device as it is or the use or
manufacture of a device suggested by the original and differing from it
only enough to give technical plausibility to the plea that it is not an
infringement. Even the great Edison is reported to have said that he has
made practically no money on his patents, but has had to enter the
manufacturing business to get any material benefit from his inventions.

“When you patent an invention,” the Kalins had been informed by a man of
experience in such matters, “you are furnishing ammunition to the enemy.
You are giving him your secret, and he will put some smart men at work
to discover some method of using it himself. Edison is still busy with
inventions, but you don’t see his name in the patent reports any more.
He has become too wise for that. Secrecy is the best protection,
provided you have something that can be kept secret.”

All this Jonas Kalin reviewed as he walked slowly and with bowed head
toward his club. They had kept their invention secret, they had
advertised extensively, and now, just as they were beginning to get
returns on their investment, the dream was shattered. They had tried to
interest various capitalists, but capitalists could not see the future
as they saw it. Capital is exceptionally conservative when there is a
question of investing in inventions that it does not understand, for
inventors are proverbially optimistic and not infrequently cost capital
a good deal of money.

“Thirty thousand dollars of life insurance!” muttered Jonas, as he
settled himself in a corner of the reading-room. “If we could have the
use of that money for a year we would be all right.”

Jonas was a widower, but his wife had been living when he had taken out
this insurance. Now it would go to the sons eventually, if they survived
him, but, meanwhile, they would lose a fortune. Since the death of his
wife, Jonas had given his every thought to the boys and their future. He
reproached himself for the speculations that had deprived him of the
power of helping them as he had planned in earlier days; he felt that
somehow he had defrauded them. So deeply did he feel this that from the
day he gave up his real estate business he never had put one dollar into
a speculation of any kind, except so far as his investment in their
business was a speculation.

“If we could make that go,” he mused, as he crouched miserably in the
big chair, “I should be content. I owe it to the boys to see them fairly
started. I was in a position to do it once and I lost the money
foolishly—their money, by rights, for I had put it aside for them. And
here am I, almost useless—a business wreck—too old to begin again as an
employee and lacking the capital to be an employer or to do business of
any sort for myself. Instead of helping my boys, I am to be a burden to
them—until I die. I am of value only in the grave.” He shuddered and
seemed to sink still lower in the chair. “It is my duty to do what I can
for them,” he added. “I am useless, but life is before them—a
continuation of my life. I must be a success through my sons.”

Benson, a friend, stopped near him.

“What’s the matter, Kalin?” asked Benson. “You look blue.”

Kalin looked up at Benson in a dazed way, and for a moment seemed to be
unable to grasp the fact that he had been addressed.

“Benson,” he said at last, his eyes wandering dreamily about the room,
“is a man ever justified in committing suicide?”

Benson was startled, but he replied promptly and emphatically, “Never.”

“Suppose,” Kalin went on, “that your life intervened between those you
love and happiness; suppose that your life meant misery and failure for
them, while your death meant success and—and comfort.”

Benson drew up a chair and placed his hand on Kalin’s arm as if to
emphasize his words.

“_The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away_,” he quoted earnestly.
“Life is God’s gift and should be treasured as such. You may not return
it until He calls, unless you would doubt His wisdom.”

Kalin nodded his head thoughtfully.

“Men have gone to certain death for those they love and been glorified
for so doing,” he argued.

“A man may _give_ his own life to save the life of another and be a
hero,” returned Benson, “but he may not _take_ his own life for any
cause and be aught but a coward.”

“What matters it whether he takes it or gives it, so long as the purpose
is the same?” asked Kalin.

Benson gripped the arm on which his hand lay and shook Kalin.

“Wake up!” he commanded sharply. “What’s the matter with you to-day?”

Kalin roused himself, as if from a dream, and laughed in a forced,
dreary way.

“Nothing is the matter with me,” he replied. “I must have been reading
something that gave my thoughts a morbid turn. Still, your reasoning
seems to be that of a man who never has been tested. Your view has been
my view, but I can see how a man’s views may change when he is
confronted by the actual conditions concerning which he has previously
only theorized. I don’t think you’re right.”

“It’s a disagreeable subject, even for abstract consideration,” asserted
Benson. “Let’s drop it.”

“All right,” said Kalin. “I’m going in to lunch.”

In the dining-room he got into an obscure corner and the waiter had to
joggle his elbow to rouse him from the reverie into which he immediately
fell. Then, after barely tasting the lunch he ordered, he went to the
office of the club and asked that all charges against him be footed up.

“There’s nothing against me at all now?” he said inquiringly as he paid
the bill.

“Nothing at all, sir,” replied the clerk.

“I’d hate to leave any club debts,” he remarked, as if talking aloud to
himself.

At his office he found his sons still gloomily discussing the situation.

“I think,” he said, “that I have found a way to save the business.”

“How?” they asked eagerly.

“The details are not quite clear in my mind yet,” he replied. “I would
like to give them a little more thought before explaining the matter.
But, if I succeed in pulling you through, you boys must be mighty
careful in the future. A concern doesn’t get out of this kind of hole
twice, and I’m going to turn it all over to you.”

“Why?” asked Albert in surprise.

“I ruined one business,” was the reply. “One is enough. Be cautious. Go
slow. You’ve got a good thing—a fortune—if you handle your finances
properly and don’t try to spread out too fast.”

He shook hands with both the boys, to their great bewilderment.

“Where are you going?” asked Sidney. “One would think you were starting
on a long journey.”

“I’m taking leave of the business,” he answered, with a laugh that had
something of pathos in it. “I’m going to shut myself up for a day or so
until I get my little scheme elaborated, and then you shall have the
benefit of it, but I am out of active business.”

Sidney and Albert were silent for some time after he had left. Jonas
Kalin always had been a rather eccentric man, and they were accustomed
to letting his whims and peculiarities of word and action pass without
comment, but there was something in this parting that made them feel
uncomfortable.

“I don’t like it,” remarked Sidney. “I wonder if the worry and
disappointment have been too much for him.”

“It is a hard blow to him—not for himself, but for us,” returned Albert.
“However, we’ll see him this evening.”

Mrs. Albert Kalin was the housekeeper for the three men. Sidney, being a
bachelor, had always lived with his father, but Albert had married and
moved away from the parental roof. Then, when his mother died, Jonas had
called him back and practically turned the house over to him and his
wife, reserving only one large room for himself. In this he had his own
little library, and to this he frequently retired for long evenings of
solitude, for, while not a recluse, he was a man who really needed no
other companionship than his own thoughts and often seemed to avoid the
society of others.

He was not at home, however, when his sons arrived for dinner. Mrs.
Albert Kalin said he had brought home two or three bundles early in the
afternoon, had gone directly to his room, where he remained for about an
hour, and had then appeared with a valise.

“I never saw him look so haggard and distressed,” she explained. “He
kissed me most affectionately and said he had some business to attend to
and would not be home to-night.”

Late that evening Sidney Kalin went to his father’s club, where he saw
Benson and learned enough to send him to police headquarters. There was
no publicity, but a search for the missing man was begun at once. The
circumstances were, to say the least, disquieting.

At the moment this search was begun Jonas Kalin was crossing Lake
Michigan on one of the large steamers, and his actions were such as to
attract the attention of some of the other passengers. It was a Friday
night boat and was crowded with excursionists bound for a Saturday and
Sunday outing in Michigan. Jonas had a state-room, but he merely put his
valise in it, and then paced the deck, occasionally stopping to lean
over the rail and look down at the water. Once or twice he sought a
secluded corner and sat for a time buried in thought, but he moved away
the moment others stopped near him. About eleven o’clock, as he passed
through the main cabin, he saw a woman putting a little boy to bed on a
sofa, and he offered her his state-room.

“I’m very grateful to you, sir,” she replied, “but we couldn’t think of
taking it. You’ll need it yourself.”

“I shall not sleep to-night,” he said. “It will be vacant unless you
take it. Shove the valise into a corner somewhere and I’ll get it in the
morning.”

He dropped the state-room key on a chair and disappeared through a door
leading to the deck before she could make further protest, but his face
haunted her all that night. In the morning, after some search, she found
him huddled up on a camp-stool against the rail of the forward deck, and
she thanked him again.

“You don’t look well,” she ventured. “Can I do anything for you?”

“It’s not a question of what any one can do for me,” he answered, “but
of what I can do for others.”

“I don’t understand you, sir,” she said.

“It’s a good thing you don’t,” he returned, and, fearing that she had to
deal with a crazy man, she left him.

After landing, he went directly to a hotel, engaged a room, and shut
himself up in it until afternoon. Then he went to the dock and wandered
nervously back and forth, looking out over the water and occasionally
down into it. The dock men watched him curiously, and one of them
loosened a life-preserver that hung near, but he went back to the hotel
without giving them an opportunity to use it.

He kept close to his room at the hotel, and was so unobtrusive that the
clerks and the other guests hardly realized he was there, and, being
registered under an assumed name, not one of them recognized him as the
Jonas Kalin who was described in the Sunday papers as being missing.
For, the secret search Friday night and Saturday failing to reveal any
trace of him, his sons had decided to try the effect of publicity.

It was not until he had surrendered his room Sunday night that his
identity was established. On the table was found a letter, sealed,
addressed to Sidney Kalin.

“Kalin!” cried the clerk, when the letter was brought to him. “Good
Lord! that’s the man who disappeared. And there’s a reward for
information. I remember, too, he had all the Sunday papers sent to his
room, and then kept out of the way until the moment he left.”

The clerk looked at the letter, uncertain as to what he ought to do.
Finally, he decided to get the Chicago police department on the
long-distance telephone.

“Jonas Kalin has been here for two days under an assumed name,” he
reported, “but his identity was discovered only after he had taken the
night boat back to Chicago. He left a letter. It is sealed and addressed
to Sidney Kalin.”

“We’ll notify Kalin and meet the boat,” was the prompt reply. “Hold the
letter until you hear from Kalin.”

A little later Kalin called up the hotel and instructed that the letter
be mailed to him at once. As Jonas was already on his way back, nothing
would be gained by having its contents transmitted by telephone. He was
beyond reach until the boat arrived.

It was an anxious little crowd that waited at the wharf for the arrival
of the boat. There were Albert and Sidney Kalin, two detectives and some
newspaper men. The news of Jonas Kalin’s sojourn across the lake was
already in the morning papers, having come by telegraph, and there was
natural curiosity to learn the reason for this strange procedure. In
addition, there was an undefined and unexpressed feeling that there
might be a tragedy back of it. In any event, there was a mystery.

The boat reached its dock before five o’clock, but the state-room
passengers had the privilege of sleeping until seven, so only the
excursionists who had been obliged to sit up all night left the boat at
once. There were many of these, however—a weary and disheveled lot of
individuals, groups and couples straggling along to the dock. They were
talking of something that had happened during the night, or was supposed
to have happened. Something or some one certainly had gone over the
rail, for the splash was distinctly heard, and an excitable passenger
had raised the cry of “Man overboard!” The boat had been stopped, but
investigation had failed to discover an actual witness to any such
accident, although two people were sure they had seen something in the
water just after the splash. The captain, however, insisted that it was
all the result of some nervous person’s imagination.

To Albert and Sidney Kalin these rumors brought sinking hearts and a
great dread. It took them a little time to locate the state-room that
had been occupied by their father, but a description of him, coupled
with the name he had used at the hotel, enabled them to do it.

His valise alone was found.

Several people remembered the haggard man who had tramped the deck so
restlessly. He seemed to be in great mental distress, anxious only to
keep away from all companionship, and no one could recall having seen
him after the cry of “Man overboard!” Even the captain had finally to
admit that it was probable he had lost a passenger, although, of course,
no blame whatever attached to him or to any of the boat’s crew.

Then came the letter that had been forwarded from the hotel. It was
pathetically brief and to the point, as follows:

  “My Dear Sons: The insurance money will pull you through. It is all
  that I can give you. Your success is dearer to me than anything else
  in the world. Your affectionate father,

                                                          Jonas Kalin.

Of course, Dave Murray read the story in the papers—all but the letter.
That was brought to him later by Albert Kalin.

“We wish to give you all the facts, without reservation,” Albert
explained. “Father did this for us to save the firm, to save an almost
priceless invention.” The young man choked a little. “We have hoped
against hope that his letter might prove to be capable of some other
interpretation, or that he may have changed his mind after writing it,
and we have left no stone unturned—”

“Neither have we,” said Murray quietly. “Perhaps we know more than you.”

“Have you got trace of him?” asked Albert quickly, and his face showed a
dawn of hope that could not be misunderstood: he actually believed his
father dead and would welcome any evidence to the contrary. It was not
the expression of a man who was principally interested in the payment of
the insurance money, although he was naturally presenting his and his
brother’s claim.

“I am sorry to say we have not,” replied Murray, “but neither have we
any proof of death.”

Albert plainly showed his disappointment at Murray’s first statement,
and it was a moment or two before he replied to the second.

“I do not know your rules or aims,” he said, “but it is possible—indeed
almost probable, under the circumstances—that there never will be any
absolute proof of death. It—it happened in mid-lake, you know.”

“Our aim,” returned Murray, “is to pay every claim that we are convinced
is just, without resorting to any quibbling or technical evasions, but
we have to be careful. In saying this, I am merely stating a general
proposition, without particular reference to this affair. Indeed, I
concede that the presumption of death is unusually strong in this case.
I shall be glad to have any facts bearing on it that you can give me.”

Albert fully reviewed the circumstances as he knew them, to all of which
Murray listened attentively.

“I shall make a complete report to the home office,” said Murray at the
conclusion of the recital. “Of course, after the lapse of a certain
period there is a legal presumption of death, anyhow, but it is possible
that the circumstantial evidence may be deemed strong enough to warrant
an earlier settlement. Knowing the ostensible motive, I appreciate the
value of time to you, and I assure you the company has no desire to
delay matters longer than is necessary to assure itself of the justice
of the claim.”

After Albert had departed, Murray went over the case carefully, and the
evidence seemed quite convincing. In the first place, there could be no
question as to a very strong motive. There was the certainty of ruin,
which the death of Jonas alone could avert, and, after a lapse of two
years from the date of the policy, suicide did not invalidate it.
Therefore, by his own sacrifice, he could purchase a bright future for
his sons. Then there could be no doubt that he had been depressed and
worried for some time, and latterly unquestionably had brooded on the
subject of self-destruction. In a talk with one man he had spoken of it
as “self-elimination,” but he had spoken more bluntly to Benson at the
club. There could be no doubt now that he contemplated such action at
that time, and that he had reference to it when he told his sons he had
discovered a way to raise the necessary money. Everything indicated that
his troubles had made him temporarily insane.

Then there was the evidence of the woman to whom he had resigned his
state-room on the boat, and of various other passengers who had noted
his restlessness and his misery. One woman even asserted that she had
said to a companion at the time that there was a man who contemplated
some desperate act. It seemed probable that he had planned to jump
overboard that first night, but had been deterred, either by lack of a
favorable opportunity or because his courage failed him. His actions at
the hotel, and especially at the dock, were wholly consistent with this
theory, and the blunt note he left was further evidence of mental
derangement. Although his purpose in no way affected his policy, a man
in his right mind would hardly have stated it so frankly; indeed, a sane
man probably would have tried to give the appearance of accident to his
death. Finally, he had boarded the return boat and was missing when the
boat reached Chicago, although his strange actions had directed
particular attention to him during the early part of the trip.

After a brief delay the company paid the policy. The circumstantial
evidence could hardly be more convincing, and the body of a man who
drowned himself in mid-lake might never be recovered.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was several years later that Albert Kalin called upon Murray and
introduced himself a second time.

“We have just heard from father,” he said.

“What!” cried Murray.

“He died in South America,” explained Albert; “died there miserably—not
because of any poverty, but because he was an exile and felt that he was
a swindler. He left a letter which was forwarded to us. His life, he
said, had been one long torture since that night on the boat, and he had
a thousand times regretted that he did not actually throw himself into
the lake. I fear,” added Albert sadly, “that he really did commit
suicide finally. He made one dying request. I would like to read it to
you.”

Albert took a letter from his pocket and read this paragraph:

“My life as an exiled swindler has been hell, but I have seen the
Chicago papers and I know that I saved the firm and the invention and
that you have prospered. That has been my only consolation. It would
have been some relief if I could have communicated with you, but I would
not make you a party to my crime. Now, at last, I ask you to do
something for the old man: Refund to the insurance company every cent
you received, less the premiums I actually paid. Refund it all, if
necessary, but make my record clear. That was the only dishonest act of
a long business career, and God only knows how I have suffered for it.
You have prospered, you can do this, and I know you will. It is that
alone that gives me consolation as my period of punishment at last draws
to a close.”

“How did he do it?” asked Murray, before Albert could speak.

“He purchased and took with him a second-hand suit of clothes and a
wig,” explained Albert. “He cut off his whiskers and mustache, so that
he appeared as a man who had neglected to shave for a week—a pretty good
disguise in itself, for father was always neat and clean. The clothes he
had worn went overboard with a weight attached, which accounts for the
splash, and he himself raised the cry of ‘Man overboard!’ After that he
kept out of the light, and he had little difficulty in slipping ashore
while we were hunting his state-room. His mental distress was real, for
he was leaving all he held dear and condemning himself to exile.”

“Well,” commented Murray, “I guess the circumstances would have fooled
any one, for his whole previous life made him about the last man who
would be suspected of anything of that sort.”

“And now,” said Albert, “my brother and I are prepared to make a cash
settlement with you on any basis that you deem satisfactory.”



AN INCIDENTAL DISCOVERY


The applicant for insurance was nervous and ill at ease, but that alone
was not sufficient to make Dave Murray suspicious. A man taking out his
first policy is very often nervous—he dreads the physical examination in
many instances. He may think he is all right, but he fears the
possibility of some serious latent trouble. If there is anything
radically and incurably wrong with the average man, he prefers not to
know it. He may not say so, but he does. He goes before the medical
examiner with the fear that he may learn something disagreeable.

“I’m fairly contented now,” he says to himself, if he happens to be
practical enough to put his thoughts into words, “but life will be a
haunting hell to me if I learn that I am not a good risk. That will mean
at least the probability of an early death. It will not change
conditions, but it will seem to bring death nearer.”

These thoughts do not come to the very young man, but they do come to
the man who has passed, or is passing, the optimism of youth. In the
words of Dave Murray, “One of the great annoyances of the life insurance
business is that the very young man is too well and strong to want to be
insured, and the man of middle age is afraid of learning that he is not
as well and strong as he thinks he is. We have to fight optimism first
and cowardice later. Theoretically, the ‘risk’ ought to be caught young,
but, practically, it is easier to catch him when he has begun to
appreciate the responsibilities of life. The optimism is more difficult
to overcome than the cowardice.”

Nevertheless, the man who has neglected to take out insurance when he
could get the best rate is likely to be nervous when he applies for it
later, however hard he may try to conceal the fact. And Elmer Harkness
was nervous. He was a year short of forty, apparently in the best
physical condition, but he was unusually nervous. He hesitated over his
answers to the most ordinary questions, he corrected himself once or
twice, and he betrayed a strong desire to get through with the ordeal in
the quickest possible time. When, at last, he was able to leave, the
physician having completed his examination, he gave a very audible sigh
of relief.

“There’s something about this I don’t like,” commented Murray a little
later.

“What?” asked the doctor.

“That’s the trouble,” returned Murray. “I can’t say exactly what it is,
but I have a feeling that something is wrong. We’ve had nervous men here
before. Remember the fellow who was brought up by his wife and who would
have ducked and run if he could have got the chance? He was nervous
enough, but not in the same way. He was afraid he would find he was
going to die next week, but this fellow was shifty. How does he stand
physically, doctor?”

“Fine,” answered the doctor. “You couldn’t ask a better risk.”

“Well, he doesn’t get the policy until I’ve made a pretty thorough
investigation, in addition to the usual investigation from
headquarters,” announced Murray.

It took a good deal really to disturb Murray, but this case disturbed
him before he got through with it. His first discovery was that Elmer
Harkness had been refused insurance by another company some years
previous. This information came from the home office, which had secured
it through the “clearing-house.”

“The risk was refused,” said the report, “on the advice of the company’s
physician.”

“Must be another Harkness,” said the doctor, when Murray told him about
it. “This man was in splendid physical condition.”

“The Elmer Harkness refused,” said Murray, consulting the papers before
him, “was born at Madison, Indiana, January twentieth, 1866, and that is
the place and date of birth given by the man who applied to us. You
don’t suppose there were twins, do you?”

“Might look it up,” suggested the doctor.

“Of course, I’ll look it up,” returned Murray. “It’s mighty funny that a
man who was refused on physical grounds five years ago should be a
superb risk now.”

“There’s one satisfaction,” remarked the doctor. “With the safeguards
thrown around the business in these modern days, a man can’t very well
beat us.”

“There’s no game that can’t be beaten,” asserted Murray emphatically.
“There is no burglar-proof safe. With improvements in safes there has
come a corresponding improvement in cracksmen’s methods. No man is so
much superior to all other men that he can devise a thing so perfect
that some other can not find the flaw that makes it temporarily
worthless. The burglar-proof safes have to be watched to keep burglars
away from them. The insurance system is as good as we now know how to
make it, but it has to be watched to keep swindlers from punching holes
in it. When we further improve the system they will further improve
their methods, and we’ll have to keep on watching. The business concern
that thinks it has an infallible system to protect itself from loss is
then in the greatest danger.”

“Do you think this case a swindle?” asked the doctor.

“It’s better to get facts before reaching conclusions,” replied Murray.
“It may be only an extraordinary coincidence. The man who was refused
insurance was not then living where the man who applied to us is now
living. That’s worth considering.”

But investigation only made the case the more puzzling. From Madison,
Indiana, a report was received that Elmer Harkness was born there on the
date given, and that nothing was known of any second Elmer Harkness. The
father of the Elmer born at Madison had been Abner Harkness, who was now
dead. The name of the father of the man who had applied to Murray was
given as Abner, and that also was the name of the father of the man
whose application had been previously refused. Elmer, after the death of
his parents, had left Madison, and nothing had been heard of him since,
although he was supposed to be in Chicago.

“Strange!” commented Murray. “This Madison Harkness is our Harkness,
beyond question, and he also corresponds, except physically, to the
Harkness who was refused.”

So far as was known at Madison, Harkness was physically sound and well.
He certainly had been considered a strong, healthy man.

“That,” said Murray, “answers the description of the man who was here,
but it really means nothing, as far as the other refusal is concerned.
Heart trouble was the cause of that refusal, and there hardly would have
been any indication of that to the casual observer. This Madison
Harkness may well have been the man who was refused or the man who
applied to us, but he can hardly be both—unless you have made a mistake,
Doctor.”

“I’ll examine him again,” said the doctor.

So he sent for Harkness again, on the plea that he had mislaid the
record of the previous examination, and this time he gave particular
attention to the heart.

“Normal and strong,” he reported. “No trouble there. It’s possible he
had some slight temporary affection when he was examined for the other
company. The heart is sometimes most deceptive, and there are
occasionally apparent evidences of a serious malady where none really
exists. In some cases I’ve discovered symptoms of heart trouble at one
examination and found them absolutely lacking a little later. This man
is all right.”

Nevertheless, Murray questioned Harkness closely.

“Are you sure,” he asked, the question having been previously answered
when the application was made, “that you never were refused by any other
company?”

“I never applied for insurance before,” replied Harkness, but there was
the same shifty look in his eyes.

“Did you ever know another Harkness at Madison, Indiana?”

Harkness looked frightened, but he answered promptly in the negative.

“Where have you been since you left Madison?”

Harkness told briefly of his movements.

“Did you ever live at 1176 Wabash Avenue?”

“No.”

The case became even more mystifying. There was a record of only one
Elmer Harkness at Madison, but it was evident that two had applied for
insurance, for the Harkness who had been refused had given his address
as 1176 Wabash Avenue.

“I am tempted,” said Murray later, “to make a strong adverse report. At
the same time I don’t want to do an injustice and refuse a man who is
rightfully entitled to insurance. My refusal, coupled with the
mystifying record, would make it practically impossible to get insurance
anywhere at any time, and he may be all right.”

“If there’s a fraud in it anywhere,” remarked the doctor, “there are
some clever and experienced people behind it.”

“Quite the contrary,” returned Murray. “The experienced people are the
people we catch, because they do things the way one naturally expects.
As a general thing, you will find that the police are fooled, not by the
professional criminal, but by the novice who is ignorant of the ways of
the crook, and the same rule applies to insurance swindles. If there is
anything wrong here our difficulty lies in the fact that this fellow and
those behind him are not experienced and are not going at the thing the
way an experienced swindler would.”

An attempt to identify the Harkness who had applied for insurance as the
Harkness who had lived at 1176 Wabash Avenue failed utterly, owing to
the fact that the woman who had formerly conducted a boarding-house at
that number had moved and it was impossible to find her. It was a simple
matter, however, to verify other statements made by Harkness. He was now
living at 2313 Wesson Street, and was employed by a large wholesale
grocery firm. His employer spoke highly of him, but knew nothing of his
personal affairs. He might or might not be married. The employer had
been under the impression that he was a bachelor, but could not recall
that Harkness ever had said so. This confusion was partly explained at
the Wesson Street boarding-house, for Harkness had recently told the
landlady that he expected his wife to join him soon. He explained that
she had been visiting relatives during the six months he had been at
this house, but that they were planning to take a small flat. They had
previously had a flat, the address of which he gave, and the agent for
the building remembered that Elmer Harkness had been among his tenants
for two years. He knew very little about them, except that Harkness had
paid his rent promptly and had been a model tenant.

“And there you are!” grumbled Murray. “He’s all right, and I wouldn’t
hesitate a minute, except for this other Harkness who hailed from the
same place, lived in Wabash Avenue, and was refused insurance. Who was
he? How can there be two Elmers from a town that produced only one?”

“Possibly it is the same Elmer,” suggested the doctor. “Possibly he was
refused owing to some temporary trouble that deceived the first
physician. Possibly he did live at the Wabash Avenue place, but thought
his chance of getting insurance would be better if he denied that he
ever had been refused, and, having once told that story, he has had to
stick to it. Of course, he had no means of knowing our facilities for
getting information.”

“I don’t see,” returned Murray, “that our facilities have succeeded in
doing more than confuse us in this case. However, I’ll submit the whole
matter to the home office.”

After taking some time for consideration, the home office decided that
there was no reason for refusing the risk.

“If you are sure this man is physically all right,” was the reply
received, “and that he is the man he represents himself to be, there
would seem to be no reason for refusing the risk. There may have been
some attempt at fraud, with which he had nothing to do, in the other
case, and none in this. In any event, if the man who applied to you is a
good risk physically, and a man of good reputation, as your report
indicates, we are willing to give him the policy.”

In these circumstances there was no reason for refusal. Harkness was a
man of good reputation. Because of the other apparently mythical
Harkness, he had been investigated more thoroughly than was usually
deemed necessary, and his references had proved to be good. The
inquiries had been made cautiously and circumspectly, to avoid giving
offense, and the replies had been generally satisfactory. Nevertheless,
Murray had another talk with him before delivering the policy.

Harkness told whom and when he married, and the truthfulness of this
statement was capable of easy verification. His wife, he said, had been
away for some time, but was now returning.

“We shall take a small flat again,” he explained. “I have already
selected one in Englewood—on Sixty-fourth Street. A fellow can get more
for his money out there than he can nearer the city.”

Then Harkness got his policy, and a little later he notified the company
that he had moved to the Sixty-fourth Street flat. Murray puzzled his
head a little over the mysterious Harkness, and once took the trouble to
learn that the Harkness he had insured was still employed by the
wholesale grocery firm. Then other matters claimed his attention, and
the Harkness case was forgotten. There seemed to be no doubt that it was
a good risk, even if there was a mystery back of it somewhere.

It was six months later that he was notified of the sudden death at the
Sixty-fourth Street flat of Elmer Harkness, who had a policy in his
company. Instantly the details of the case, and his misgivings at the
time, returned to him. Yet the proof of death, signed by a reputable and
well-known physician, was flawless. A latent heart trouble had developed
suddenly, and Harkness had died within forty-eight hours after he was
stricken. The physician who had attended him never had been called for
Harkness before, but he had been at the flat a number of times to
prescribe for the trifling ailments of Mrs. Harkness, and he had become
well acquainted with the husband. They had moved into the neighborhood
about six months before.

“It all fits in with what we know of the case,” commented Murray,
“except the heart trouble. That sounds like the mysterious Harkness.
Could you have possibly made any mistake in your examination, Doctor?”

“Certainly I could,” admitted the company’s physician ruefully. “None of
us is infallible, but I’ll swear there were no indications of any heart
trouble when I examined him. Still, the heart is a mighty deceptive
organ. There may be trouble without any indications of it and there may
be indications without any trouble. I once knew of a man whose heart
seemed to skip a beat once in so often, but the best of medical talent
was unable to discover the cause of it, and the man lived to a good old
age. I don’t claim infallibility, but I never examined a man who seemed
freer from any indications of heart trouble.”

“I wonder,” said Murray thoughtfully, “if Harkness’ employer has heard
of his death.”

An insurance company is merciless in following up evidence of attempted
fraud, but, lacking such evidence, it is wise to conduct investigations
with extreme delicacy. A reputation for unnecessary intrusion or
harshness, for a lack of sympathy with the bereaved, for any action that
implies a suspicion of dishonesty when the proof is lacking, may do a
great deal of harm. Every reputable company is anxious to pay all honest
claims with as little inconvenience to the beneficiaries as is
compatible with safety. Such investigation as may be necessary in some
exceptional case is conducted as unobtrusively as possible.

In this instance, the ordinary proof of death would have been accepted
without question were it not for the mystery of the “heart trouble” that
was supposed not to exist. This, combined with the report on the other
Harkness, was annoying, and, to satisfy himself, Murray sent a man to
the wholesale house where Harkness had been employed. The result was
reassuring, so far as any question of fraud was concerned. The other
clerks were then taking up a subscription to send some flowers to the
funeral, and his illness and death had been reported promptly to the
head of the department in which Harkness had worked. Furthermore, he was
registered as living at the Sixty-fourth Street flat, to which place he
had moved from 2313 Wesson Street.

“It seems to be all right,” remarked Murray. “This is the man we insured
on the strength of your report, Doctor, and I guess the only thing we
can do is to charge you up with an error of judgment. Fortunately, it’s
only a three-thousand-dollar policy.”

“I don’t understand it,” said the doctor gloomily. “I wish we could
demand an autopsy.”

“Hardly justifiable, in view of the circumstances,” returned Murray. “We
have the affidavit of a first-class physician, and we know that it’s the
same man, so the autopsy would be only to satisfy your curiosity. My own
curiosity deals with the Wabash Avenue man who was refused. I wish we
could locate him, although I don’t see that it would have any bearing on
this case. He seems to have disappeared utterly. Perhaps he’s dead.”

Before dismissing the matter from his mind, Murray reviewed the facts
carefully. There had been an application to another company from a man
living at 1176 Wabash Avenue, which had been refused because of heart
trouble, but the city directory for that year gave no Harkness at that
address. It did give an Elmer Harkness at another address, however,
which coincided with the story told by the Harkness he had insured.

“Somebody,” mused Murray, “must have been trying to beat the other
company. That’s the best I can make out of it, although I can’t see why
he should have assumed this Elmer’s name and antecedents. It’s a most
extraordinary case.”

The latest city directory gave Elmer Harkness as living at 2313 Wesson
Street, which certainly was his address at the time the directory was
issued. So much Murray had looked up before. Now, further to satisfy
himself, he went through all the directories for the interval between
the two years, and he was rewarded by finding the name of Elmer Harkness
twice in one of them. Both were clerks, the addresses of the employers
not being given, and the residence of one of them was put down as the
address of the Harkness who had secured insurance.

“Then there are, or at least there were, two,” thought Murray, “but only
one came from Madison. And what has become of the missing Harkness? Why
is he in only one directory? The fact that there were two helps to clear
up the record of the one I insured, so far as that Wabash Avenue address
is concerned, but how did both happen to give the same place and date of
birth? And did both have heart trouble?”

Murray straightened up suddenly and sent for the clerk who had made the
previous inquiries for him.

“Harry,” he said, “I want you to go to the funeral of Elmer Harkness
to-morrow. Go early, and get a look at him, if possible. If not, get a
description of him from some of the neighbors.”

Murray reproached himself for not having searched all the directories
before, although it would have made little difference. The fact that
another Harkness had lived in Chicago would have had no bearing on the
case, so long as the record of the one who applied for insurance was
clear. In fact, it would have explained everything, except the
coincidence of the alleged birth records. Still, it would have given a
new line of investigation, which might have cleared up the mystery.

Harry reported promptly the next day, and almost his first words aroused
Murray.

“I couldn’t get a glimpse of the late lamented,” he said flippantly,
“for the casket was closed, but I learned that he had hair slightly
tinged with gray and—”

“Gray!” exclaimed Murray. “Does a man get gray hair in six months? The
man we insured hadn’t a gray hair in his head.”

“He was rather stout—”

“Our man was not.”

“I couldn’t learn much else—”

“You’ve learned enough.”

“—except that when he was stricken his wife’s first thought seemed to be
to get a message to some mysterious man, who responded in person, had a
short talk with the wife, and then disappeared. A neighbor who had come
in was somewhat impressed by this, because she called him ‘Elmer,’ which
was her husband’s name.”

“What!” cried Murray, startled out of his usual imperturbability by the
evidence thus unexpectedly accumulating. Then, more calmly, “Harry, you
didn’t get the address to which she sent, did you?”

“The messenger,” said Harry, proud of his success, “was a neighbor’s
boy. I found him. Here is the address.”

Murray took the slip of paper, looked at the address, and then sent for
the company’s physician.

“We’ll make identification sure,” he said, “for we both know the man,
and we’ll take an officer and a warrant along with us.”

Elmer Harkness was sitting on his trunk, waiting for an expressman, when
the party appeared at the door of his room in a little out-of-the-way
boarding-house.

“I thought you were dead,” said Murray.

“I wish I was,” said Harkness. He had almost fainted at the first sight
of Murray, but had recovered himself quickly, and, having once decided
that the case was hopeless, he resigned himself to the inevitable and
spoke with a frank carelessness that had been entirely lacking when he
was playing a part and trying to stick to the details of a prepared
story.

“Any weapons?” asked the policeman, making a quick search.

“No weapons,” replied Harkness. “I’m not that kind.”

“I don’t see,” said Murray, “why you waited here to be arrested.”

“Why, I had a little interest in that insurance,” explained Harkness,
“and I rather wanted to get it before leaving. However, waiting here was
a little trying to the nerves, even if everything did seem to be going
all right, and I was just about to slip up to Milwaukee until the case
was settled. I ought to have gone the day Elmer was stricken.”

“What Elmer?” demanded Murray.

“Elmer Harkness, my cousin,” the other replied promptly.

“And who are you?”

“I’m Elmer Harkness, his cousin,” he returned with equal promptness.

“Which of you was born at Madison, Indiana?” pursued Murray.

“He was,” replied Harkness, and added, “I was born at Matteson,
Illinois.”

“There’s a nice pair of names for a tangle,” commented Murray as the
possibilities of the situation began to dawn on him. “No wonder my
inquiries failed to untangle it. Would you mind telling me how you
happened to try this thing?”

“No trouble at all,” returned Harkness. “It was my cousin’s scheme. He
had tried to get insurance when he was living on Wabash Avenue and had
failed. He had a heart trouble that was likely to culminate fatally
almost any time. Still, I don’t think it occurred to him to try to beat
an insurance company until we happened to be thrown together about a
year ago. We were cousins, although we never had met before, and the
similarity of names seemed to make a great impression on him. He had
just returned to Chicago after a year or more in St. Louis, and he
already had had one heart attack, with a warning from his doctor that
the next would almost certainly be fatal. He was also told that the next
was not likely to be long delayed. Now, I suppose you’ll think I’m
lying, but I did not take kindly to his scheme, and the money alone
would not have tempted me to go into it. I was sorry for his wife. He
had been able to make only a bare living; he could leave her absolutely
nothing. She never had had to support herself and there seemed to be
mighty little chance that she could do it. I finally agreed to go into
it for her sake. It looked easy and I was glad to make the try on her
account.”

“But you wouldn’t refuse a little something for yourself on the side, so
to speak,” suggested Murray sarcastically.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Harkness frankly admitted. “To carry out the plan it
would be necessary for me to give up my job, change my name and make a
fresh start somewhere else. The job was not such an all-fired good one,
but it might be some time before I got another as good, and I would need
something for expenses while I was losing myself. I was to get five
hundred of the three thousand dollars insurance. The rest was to go to
the widow.”

“That wouldn’t last her very long,” remarked Murray.

“It would help a little,” said Harkness, “and we thought we would stand
a better chance if we didn’t ask for too big a sum.”

“An insurance company,” said Murray, “has to be as particular with a
small risk as with a large one, and it will follow up a suspicious case
as closely in one instance as in the other. It’s a matter of principle.”

“I think I understand that now,” remarked Harkness regretfully.

“But I am curious to know,” persisted Murray, “how in the world you
arranged such a mystifying record.”

“It was easy,” replied Harkness. “I gave you my cousin’s place and date
of birth, his parents, his marriage and his life up to the time he left
Madison. Then I gave you my record up to the finish, with the exception
of one year, when he was in the Chicago directory. We put that year in
so you could get trace of the wife in case you made any investigation. I
have no wife, and it was rather important, of course, that there should
be a record of a wife somewhere.”

“It was a wise provision,” admitted Murray. “We got trace of the wife at
that flat.”

“It was after leaving there,” Harkness continued, “that my cousin went
to St. Louis. When he returned we met and a little later fixed up the
job. As soon as I got the policy I rented the Sixty-fourth Street flat,
and my cousin and his wife moved in. That’s all, I think, except that
you ought to be a little easy on me, I think, for giving you such an
entertaining story.”

Murray turned to the doctor with a pardonable air of triumph.

“Was I right, Doctor,” he asked, “in saying that it takes the novice to
devise the really confusing scheme?”

“You were right,” said the doctor.



AN INCIDENTAL GRIEVANCE


Jane Moffat, widow, was sore distressed.

“Without Tom,” she said, “I don’t know what I’ll do. Tom was a good man,
but unlucky. There was better providers than Tom, but he was better than
none.”

This apparent reflection on her late husband did not mean that Mrs.
Moffat confined herself to the financial point of view, for she had been
a true and devoted wife, but her present need was great and her present
resources were nothing. Furthermore, Tom Moffat certainly had been
either unlucky or incapable. Mrs. Moffat, out of her affection for him,
chose to attribute their misfortunes to ill luck; another, less
considerate, might have said that Tom lacked ability and stability; no
one, however, could have said that he was neglectful or indifferent—he
did the best he could, and his family always had all he could provide.
Nevertheless, Tom Moffat had drifted from one thing to another, and his
wife and two children had drifted with him. He had worked at many
things, and in many places, and there had been times when he lacked work
entirely. So he left Mrs. Moffat practically nothing when he died.

“The neighbors was good,” continued Mrs. Moffat, “an’ I’ve got some
sewing to do. I was pretty good at that in my younger days, but the
children don’t give me time to earn much, even if the pay was what it
should be. I had to sell some furniture already, an’ I don’t know what
I’ll do. We’ve been going from bad to worse.”

“Didn’t he have no insurance?” asked the sympathetic Mrs. Crimmins,
whose husband was a member of one of the fraternal organizations.

“Not when he died,” answered Mrs. Moffat. “Didn’t I say he was unlucky?
He had insurance when it didn’t mean anything but paying out money, but
there ain’t any when the time comes for getting it back.”

“They can’t take your money an’ not give you nothing for it,” declared
Mrs. Crimmins.

“Sure they can!” said Mrs. Moffat.

“I say they can’t,” insisted Mrs. Crimmins. “There can’t nobody do that,
if you got the sense to fight. There was a lawyer once told my man so.”

“Well, Tom paid the money, an’ it ain’t come back to me, has it?”
demanded Mrs. Moffat, as if that settled the question.

“You ain’t tried to get it, that’s why!” retorted Mrs. Crimmins. “You go
see a lawyer. He’ll make ’em pay, an’ he won’t charge you a cent if he
don’t get the money. Some might, but I’ll tell you one that won’t.”

Mrs. Moffat was not in a position to overlook even a slight chance to
get any money, especially if it cost nothing to make the attempt. She
knew less about insurance than Mrs. Crimmins, and Mrs. Crimmins had only
wild, weird, second-hand notions. Still, Mrs. Crimmins talked
confidently, and Mrs. Moffat finally took the address of the lawyer
recommended to her. This, of course, was a mistake—it would have been
better to go direct to the insurance company. But the impression
prevails in some quarters that insurance companies are ready to take
advantage of any technicality to escape the payment of claims, and that
a lawyer’s services are necessary to compel them to pay anything that
can possibly be questioned. Some lawyers, for their own purposes,
encourage this idea. Isaac Hinse, to whom Mrs. Moffat went, was one of
this class.

“You did well to come to me,” he said pompously, as soon as she had
stated her errand. “What chance has a woman, with no knowledge of the
law, against a great corporation that has big lawyers engaged for the
sole purpose of bulldozing or fooling the ignorant? Fortunately, I know
how to deal with them. Now, where is this policy?”

“Tore up,” answered Mrs. Moffat.

“What!” cried Hinse.

“Tom tore it up when he couldn’t pay any more on it. I ain’t looking for
the whole thousand dollars, but only to get back what he paid in. Mrs.
Crimmins said I could do that.”

Hinse leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“Well,” he said at last, “that makes more trouble, of course. An
insurance company can’t escape its obligations because the policy has
been destroyed, but it makes it more difficult to prove the claim. Do
you know what kind of policy it was?”

“How should I?” returned Mrs. Moffat. “I’m no lawyer nor no insurance
man. I come to you to learn my rights.”

“Quite right, quite right,” conceded Hinse; “but I must know something
of the circumstances. When was this policy taken out?”

“Fifteen or sixteen years ago,” answered Mrs. Moffat. “We was doing
pretty well then. Tom’s aunt left him a bit of money, an’ Tom was
workin’ steady an’ I got some money a little later. But Tom was always
unlucky. He didn’t seem to hold on well, an’ we kept movin’ an’ movin’
an’ gettin’ harder up—”

“And he finally let the policy lapse,” suggested Hinse.

“Lapse!” exclaimed Mrs. Moffat, as if she had made an important
discovery unexpectedly. “That’s it; that’s what he said when he tore it
up an’ threw it in the fire. I only knew he didn’t think it was good,
but Mrs. Crimmins says they got to pay back what he paid them.”

“That depends on the policy and circumstances,” said Hinse in his most
impressive way—and Hinse prided himself upon being impressive. “How long
did he pay premiums?”

“Eight or ten years.”

“Ha!” exclaimed Hinse. “There is a chance, but it is a desperate
chance—so desperate that I really can’t afford to take this on my usual
contingent fee.”

“What’s that?” asked Mrs. Moffat.

“I mean,” explained Hinse, “that I’ll get the money for you if any one
can, but I’ll have to charge five dollars in advance.”

Mrs. Moffat hesitated.

“I got it,” she said, “but it’s rent money.”

“There’s more than rent in this,” declared Hinse, “but why should I take
all the risk? It is a hard case and will take a great deal of my time,
but I know these people, and I think I can work it out of them. You
happened to come to just the right man.”

Mrs. Moffat was sitting on the opposite side of the desk from Hinse,
which she deemed fortunate at this critical moment.

“There ain’t any safe place to leave money at home,” she explained
apologetically, “an’ a woman don’t have safe pockets like a man.”

She made a dive down behind the desk, there was a sound of moving
skirts, and she straightened up with three bills in her hand—a five and
two ones. She handed the five to Hinse, who promptly tucked it away in
his vest pocket.

“I don’t know what I’ll do about the rent,” she sighed.

“Think of the insurance,” suggested Hinse, “and remember that you’ve got
the best man cheap. I’ll see these insurance people to-day.”

Hinse was a large pompous man, who wore a long rusty frock coat, because
he thought that kind of coat properly impressed his police-court
clients. His speeches also were for his clients, rather than for the
judge—he wanted to show them he was not afraid of the court. He talked
loud and aggressively. His whole life being what is popularly termed a
“bluff,” it naturally followed that he considered bluffing the main
element of success.

That is where he made his mistake when he went to see Dave Murray about
Mrs. Moffat’s claim. Murray was not in particularly good humor that day.
A friend had been arguing to him that corporations are notoriously
ungrateful for services rendered, and another friend had endeavored to
demonstrate that life insurance companies had a way of forcing a man to
the limit of his endurance, of squeezing all the life and energy out of
him in a few years, and then dropping him.

The worst of it was that some of the cases cited Murray knew to be true:
men were “forced” and then left to seek other avenues of employment when
insurance had got the best that was in them. He had argued that it was
the universal business rule of “the survival of the fittest”; that the
man who had the ability to get near the top need have no fear, and that
men who could stand the pace prospered wherever they might be in the
great system. But an unexpected and rather harsh criticism from
headquarters had given him a more pessimistic view of the situation: it
could not be denied that comparatively few men grew old in the service.
Then there was a gloomy outlook for a promotion he had expected, to add
to his annoyance, and—well, Murray, the energetic and enthusiastic
Murray, was momentarily dissatisfied. He was in no humor to be “bluffed”
by a pompous shyster lawyer.

“I am representing Mrs. Jane Moffat,” announced Hinse.

“What about her?” asked Murray shortly.

“She has a claim against your company.”

“Policy?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s see it.”

“There will be time enough for that,” said Hinse in his most impressive
tones, “when we have settled what is to be paid on it.” Hinse was so
constituted morally that he could not possibly be frank and
straightforward. “It is a policy for a thousand dollars on the life of
her late husband, Thomas Moffat. He failed to pay some of the last
premiums, but there is a value to it.”

“Is there?”

“There is. Will you look it up and see how the matter stands, or shall I
take legal proceedings to force a settlement?”

“Better sue,” said Murray. “Good day.”

“You will regret this interview,” announced Hinse.

“I regret it already,” returned Murray. Then, his professional instinct
overcoming his dislike of the man, he added: “If premiums have not been
paid, the policy may have lapsed, or it may be non-forfeitable. I must
see the policy and know the details. I never heard of Thomas Moffat that
I recall. Give me the facts.”

“Ah,” said Hinse, settling himself comfortably in a chair, “I thought
you would see the wisdom of being reasonable.”

“Reasonable!” exploded Murray. “Damn it! I’m having trouble enough being
patient. Who was he, where did he live, and when did he die?”

There was something in the way this was said that led Hinse to change
his tactics, and he partly explained the situation in a confidential
way. Premiums had been paid on the policy for at least eight years, he
said, but the widow had supposed that everything was forfeited when her
husband failed to pay the later premiums: she knew nothing about cash
surrender values or non-forfeitable clauses.

“She’ll do what I say,” he said significantly in conclusion. “She’ll
compromise for any figure that I say is right.”

He waited for Murray to reach for this bait, but Murray was merely
fighting an impulse to throw the man out of the office.

“Oh, she will!” said Murray at last. “Well, you’ll talk more frankly
than you have, if you want to do business with me. Where’s the proof of
death and the proof of identity? Where’s the policy?”

Hinse ignored the last question. He wished to find out certain things
about that policy himself before he admitted that it had been destroyed,
and he thought he was handling the matter with consummate skill.

“There will be no trouble about the proof of death,” he said. “In fact,
I have that with me. But Moffat and his family moved many times during
the years that have elapsed since he stopped paying premiums, living in
two or three different cities, and they were not always known to their
neighbors.”

“I thought so,” remarked Murray sarcastically. “Somebody died, and you
want me to take it on faith that he was the Thomas Moffat who once was
insured in this company. Although I haven’t looked it up, I have no
doubt that a Thomas Moffat did take out a policy, for I don’t believe
even you would have the nerve to come to me without at least that much
foundation for your claim. Perhaps it was the same Thomas Moffat who
died; perhaps it was a man who was merely given that name in the
certificate of death. Perhaps he left a widow; perhaps you are
representing that widow, but perhaps you are representing a woman who
merely claims to be that widow. She has moved so often that she can’t
produce any satisfactory evidence of her identity. Doesn’t it strike you
that you are telling a rather fishy story? Doesn’t it occur to you that
you ought to have ingenuity enough to concoct something more plausible?”

“This insult, sir—” Hinse shifted again to his pompous manner, but
Murray interrupted him.

“Insult!” exclaimed Murray. “That wasn’t an insult, but I’ll give you
one. I think you’re a tricky scoundrel. You have virtually offered to
sell out your alleged client. I think you’re a swindler. I don’t believe
you have or can produce any such policy.”

“The loss of a policy, sir—”

“I knew it!” broke in Murray. “Policy lost, of course! In other words,
your client hasn’t a policy and never did have one. She’s an impostor!
You or she learned that there had been such a man and such a policy, and
you thought there was a chance to get some money. You must think
insurance companies are easy.”

“I shall take this matter to court!” declared Hinse.

“Do!” advised Murray. “Take it anywhere, so long as you take it out of
this office.”

“You shall hear from me again!” said Hinse at the door.

“I’d rather hear from you than see you,” retorted Murray. “You annoy
me.”

Nevertheless, when Hinse had departed, Murray had the matter looked up,
and found that such a policy actually had been issued, that it was
non-forfeitable after three years, and that about four hundred dollars
was due on it as a result of the premiums that had been paid. Murray was
eminently a just man—he wished to take unfair advantage of no one. There
might be merit in the claim advanced, and some woman, entitled to the
money, might be in great want. Still, it was not his business to seek
for ways of disbursing the company’s funds. He reported the matter to
the home office, and was advised to give it no further attention unless
suit actually was brought. Then it should be fought. Insurance companies
do not like lawsuits, but they like still less to pay out money when
there is doubt as to the justice of a claim. When one of them goes into
court, however, it fights bitterly. Hinse knew this, and he had not the
slightest intention of bringing suit.

If Mrs. Moffat had had any more money, so that there would have been a
chance to exact further fees, he might have sued for the mere sake of
getting the fees, but she could not even advance court costs. So Murray
waited in vain for the threatened suit, but the possibility of it kept
the case in his mind. The claim probably was fraudulent, but, if not,
the woman unquestionably was poor and unfortunate: the very fact that
she had taken the case to such a shyster as Hinse was proof of that.
Somehow, the well-to-do people do not get into the hands of shysters.
Murray believed it was a fraud, but he always came back to the
possibility of being mistaken in this. And injustice—the injustice of
passivity as well as of activity—was abhorrent to him.

The day Murray ran across a newspaper item to the effect that a Mrs.
Thomas Moffat had been evicted for the non-payment of rent, he disobeyed
the instructions from the home office and looked her up. In theory it
was all right to wait for a beneficiary to bring in the necessary
proofs; in practice it was horrible to think of taking advantage of the
ignorance or helplessness of a woman in trouble.

Murray found Mrs. Moffat and her two children in a little back room near
the somewhat larger apartment from which she had just been evicted. She
was trying to sew and care for the children at the same time. It was
evident, however, that she had long since overtaxed her strength and was
near the point of physical collapse.

“The neighbors has been good to me,” she explained, “but they got their
own troubles an’ they can’t do much.”

Murray had primed himself with such facts as to Thomas Moffat as the
books of the company and the old insurance application gave, and, after
explaining his errand, he asked when and where Thomas Moffat was born.
The weary woman, too long inured to disappointment to be really hopeful
now, brought out a little old Bible and showed him the entries relating
to birth and marriage. They corresponded with the dates he had. Murray
took up the little Bible reverently, and he then and there decided that
this woman was the widow of the Thomas Moffat who had been insured in
his company. Even her maiden name, as given in the Bible, corresponded
with the name he had taken from the books. Nevertheless, he questioned
her closely on all the other details that he could verify. She gave the
address at which they were living when the policy was taken out, and
also told of the various changes of residence during the time that the
premiums were being paid.

“He kep’ the big paper with the seals on it for ‘most three years after
he quit paying,” she said. “Then he tore it up an’ burned it. He said it
wasn’t no more use, for he’d lost it all when he quit paying. It seemed
mighty hard, but I thought he knew.”

“There isn’t even a scrap of it left?” queried Murray.

“No, sir. He burned the scraps. I saw him do it.”

“That’s unfortunate,” said Murray. “If there was barely enough to
identify the policy it would help. It would be annoying to have it turn
up after we had settled the matter, for the custom is to surrender the
policy to the company when the payment is made.”

“You needn’t to worry over that,” Mrs. Moffat assured him anxiously. “It
was burned to the very last piece. I saw it myself.”

“I don’t doubt it,” returned Murray. “Have you your marriage
certificate?”

“Have I!” exclaimed Mrs. Moffat in surprise. “You didn’t never know an
honest married woman who would lose that, did you? A man don’t think
much of it, but a woman does. It’s the proof she’s respectable.”

Mrs. Moffat produced the certificate, but Murray merely glanced at the
names.

“I think you may rely on getting the money, Mrs. Moffat,” he said. “It
isn’t much, but—”

“I got a chance to start a little school store if I had a bit of money,”
she interrupted eagerly. “I don’t need only two hundred or two hundred
and fifty, an’ it’s better than sewing.”

“I am so confident that this is all right,” said Murray, ignoring the
interruption, “that I am going to advance you a little money now. I
imagine you need it.”

“Indeed I do!” exclaimed the grateful and now hopeful woman. “The lawyer
got most of the rent money.”

“Damn the lawyer!” ejaculated Murray. “If he hears that you’ve got
anything he’ll probably put in another claim, but you’re not to pay him
a cent. Do you understand that? Send him to me. I’ll settle with him.”

“Yes, sir,” returned Mrs. Moffat meekly. “He helped me—”

“Helped you! He did more to hurt you than any other ten men could have
done. He ought to be made to pay damages.”

Then Murray laughed at his own heat and gave Mrs. Moffat a twenty-dollar
bill.

“When we get the matter settled,” he said, “you can repay this.”

“Indeed I will!”

Murray noted that there were tears in her eyes, and, disliking a scene
of any description, he picked up his hat and hastily withdrew.

The matter, however, was not settled as easily as he expected. He stated
frankly what he had done, and the officials at headquarters seemed to
think he had taken unnecessary pains to make trouble. It was not that
they objected to paying any just claim against the company, but they
held that he had put life into a slumbering claim that was at least open
to suspicion. Such evidence as she produced might have fallen into the
hands of an impostor, and there was a considerable interval during which
the connection between the real beneficiary and the present claimant was
lost, the only explanation being that they had made frequent changes of
residence and had been among strangers. In brief, the company did not
consider the claims satisfactorily established and criticized the whole
affair as being irregular.

Murray was disappointed and annoyed. He was entirely satisfied in his
own mind, and he resented the criticism. Nevertheless, he sought for
further evidence, and Mrs. Moffat was finally able to supply it in the
shape of a receipt for the last premium paid. This, it seemed, had not
been destroyed with the policy. Mrs. Moffat had discovered it among some
old papers. This Murray also reported.

“We are not satisfied with the evidence produced,” was the reply that
came back.

“I am satisfied,” was Murray’s answer, as he recalled the woman’s tears
of gratitude, “and I have settled the claim and paid the money. Is my
action to be upheld or is my resignation desired?”

There was a long interval of silence on the part of the officials at
headquarters. This Murray understood to be an evidence of their
displeasure. Having thus made their displeasure very apparent, the
report was finally returned with the single word, “Approved,” written
across it.

“Nevertheless,” mused Murray, “I fear I am not long for this business—at
least with this company. Either I am becoming both headstrong and
sensitive or else my superiors are becoming inconsiderate and
dissatisfied.”

That evening he took a long street-car ride, at the end of which he
entered a little store opposite one of the big public schools. He wanted
to see the result of his work.

When he reappeared, a little woman followed him to the door, and there
was a quaver in her voice as she said, “You’ve been so good to us, Mr.
Murray, and we’re so happy.”

“Well,” returned Murray with a smile, “I’m happy myself. And,” he added,
as he was returning home, “it’s worth all that it ever can cost me.”



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