By Robert Barr Edit

Published in Short Stories 1894

When a man has battled with poverty all his life, fearing it as he fought it, feeling for its skinny throat to throttle it, and yet dreading all the while the coming of the time when it would gain the mastery and throttle him — when such a man is told that he is rich, it might be imagined he would receive the announcement with hilarity. When Richard Denham realized that he was wealthy he became even more sobered than usual, and drew a long breath, as if he had been running a race and had won it. The man who brought him the news had no idea he had told Denham anything novel. He merely happened to say, " You are a rich man, Mr. Denham, and will never miss it" 

Denham had never before been called a rich man, and up to that moment he had not thought of himself as wealthy. He wrote out the check asked of him, and his visitor departed gratefully, leaving the merchant with something to ponder over. He was as surprised with the suddenness of the thing as if someone had left him a legacy. Yet the money was all of his own accumulating, but his struggle had been so long, and he had been so hopeless about it, that from mere habit he exerted all his energies long after the enemy was overcome — just as the troops at New Orleans fought a fierce battle, not knowing the war was over. He had sprung from such a hopelessly poor family. Poverty had been their inheritance from generation to generation. It was the invariable legacy that father had left to son in the Denham family. All had accepted their lot with uncomplaining resignation, until Richard resolved that he would at least have a fight for it. And now the fight had been won. Denham sat in his office, staring at the dingy wall-paper so long, that Rogers, the chief clerk, put his head in and said in a deferential voice: 

"Anything more to-night, Mr. Denham ?" Denham started as if that question in that tone had not been asked him every night for years. 

" What's that, what's that ? " he cried. 

Rogers was astonished, but too well-trained to show it 

" Anything more to-night, Mr. Denham." 

" Ah, quite so. No, Rogers, thank you, nothing more." 

" Good-night, Mr. Denham." 

" Eh ? Oh, yes. Good-night, Rogers, good-night." 

When Mr. Denham left his office and went out into the street, everything had an unusnal appearance to him. He walked long, unheeding the direction. He looked at the fine residences and realized that he might have a fine residence if he wanted it He saw handsome carriages ; he, too, might set up an equipage. The satisfaction these thoughts produced was brief. Of what use would a fine house or an elegant carriage be to him ? He knew no one to invite to the house or to ride with him in the carriage. He began to realize how utterly alone in the world he was. He had no friends, no acquaintances even. The running dog, with its nose to the ground, sees nothing of the surrounding scenery. He knew men in a business way, of course, and doubtless each of them had a home in the suburbs somewhere, but he could not take a business man by the shoulders and say to him, "Invite me to your house; I am lonely; I want to know people." 

If he got such an invitation he would not know what to do with himself. He was familiar with the counting-room and its language, but the drawing-room was an unexplored country to him, where an unknown tongue was spoken. On the road to wealth he had missed something, and it was now too late to go back for it Only the day before, he had heard one of the clerks, who did not know he was within earshot, allude to him as " the old man." He felt as young as ever he did, but the phrase, so lightly spoken, made him catch his breath. 

As he was now walking through the park, and away from the busy streets, he took off his hat and ran his fingers through his grizzled hair, looking at his hand when he had done so, as if the gray, like wet paint, had come off. He thought of a girl he knew once, who perhaps would have married him if he had asked her, as he was tempted to do. But that had always been the mistake of the Denhams. They had all married young except himself, and so sunk deeper into the mire of poverty, pressed down by a rapidly-increasing progeny. The girl had married a baker, he remembered. Yes, that was a long time ago. The clerk was not far wrong when he called him an old man. Suddenly, another girl rose before his mental vision — a modern girl — very different indeed to the one who married the baker. She was the only woman in the world with whom he was on speaking terms, and he knew her merely because her light and nimble fingers played the business sonata of one note on his office typewriter. Miss Gale was pretty, of course — all typewriter girls are — and it was generally understood in the office that she belonged to a good family who had come down in the world. Her somewhat independent air deepened this conviction and kept the clerks at a distance. She was a sensible girl, who realized that the typewriter paid better than the piano, and accordingly turned the expertness of her white fingers to the former instrument. Richard Denham sat down upon a park bench. " Why not ? " he asked himself. There was no reason against it, except that he felt he had not the courage. Nevertheless, he formed a desperate resolution. 

Next day business went on as usual. Letters were answered, and the time arrived when Miss Gale came in to see if he had any further commands that day. Denham hesitated. He felt vaguely that a business office was not the proper place for a proposal ; yet he knew he would be at a disadvantage anywhere else. In the first place, he had no plausible excuse for calling upon the young woman at home, and, in the second place, he knew if he once got there he would be stricken dumb. It must either be at his office or nowhere. 

" Sit down a moment, Miss Gale," he said at last; " I wanted to consult you about a matter — about a business matter." 

Miss Gale seated herself, and automatically placed on her knee the shorthand writing-pad, ready to take down his instructions. She looked up at him expectantly. Denham, in an embarrassed manner, ran his finger through his hair. 

" I am thinking," he began, " of taking a partner. The business is very prosperous now. In fact, it has been so for some time." 

" Yes ? " said Miss Gale, interrogatively. 

" Yes. I think I should have a partner. It is about that I wanted to speak to you." 

" Don't you think it would be better to consult with Mr. Rogers ? He knows more about business than I. But perhaps it is Mr. Rogers who is to be the partner ? " 

" No, it is not Rogers. Rogers is a good man. But — it is not Rogers." 

" Then, I think in an important matter like this, Mr. Rogers, or some one who knows the business as thoroughly as he does, would be able to give you advice that would be of some value." 

" I don't want advice, exactly. I have made up my mind to have a partner, if the partner is willing." 

Denham mopped his brow. It was going to be even more difficult than he had anticipated. 

" Is it, then, a question of the capital the partner is to bring in ? " asked Miss Gale, anxious to help him. 

" No, no. I don't wish any capital. I have enough for both. And the business is very prosperous, Miss Gale — and — and has been." 

The young woman raised her eyebrows in surprise. 

" You surely don't intend to share the profits with a partner who brings no capital into the business ? " 

" Yes — yes, I do. You see, as I said, I have no need for more capital." 

" Oh, if that is the case, I think you should consult Mr. Rogers before you commit yourself." 

" But Rogers wouldn't understand." 

"I'm afraid I don't understand either. It seems to me a foolish thing to do — that is, if you want my advice." 

" Oh, yes, I want it. But it isn't as foolish as you think. I should have had a partner long ago. That is where I made the mistake. I've made up my mind on that." 

" Then I don't see that I can be of any use — if your mind is already made up." 

" Oh, yes, you can. I'm a little afraid that my offer may not be accepted." 

" It is sure to be, if the man has any sense. No fear of such an offer being refused. Offers like that are not to be had every day. It will be accepted." 

" Do you really think so, Miss Gale ? I am glad that is your opinion. Now, what I wanted to consult you about, is the form of the offer. I would like to put it — well — delicately, you know, so that it would not be refused, nor give offense." 

" I see. You want me to write a letter to him ? " 

" Exactly, exactly," cried Denham, with some relief. He had not thought of sending a letter before. Now, he wondered why he had not thought of it It was so evidently the best way out of a situation that was extremely disconcerting. 

" Have you spoken to him about it ? " 

" To him ? What him ? " 

" To your future partner, about the proposal ? " 

" No, no. Oh, no. That is — I have spoken to nobody but you." 

" And you are determined not to speak to Mr. Rogers before you write ? " 

" Certainly not. It's none of Rogers's business." 

" Oh, very well," said Miss Gale, shortly, bending over her writing-pad. 

It was evident that her opinion of Denham's wisdom was steadily lowering. Suddenly, she looked up. 

" How much shall I say the annual profits are ? Or do you want that mentioned ? " 

" I — I don't think I would mention that. You see, I don't wish this arrangement to be carried out on a monetary basis — not altogether." 

" On what basis then ? " 

" Well — I can hardly say. On a personal basis, perhaps. I rather hope that the person — that my partner — would, you know, like to be associated with me." 

" On a friendly basis, do you mean ? " asked Miss Gale, mercilessly. 

" Certainly. Friendly, of course — and perhaps more than that." 

Miss Gale looked up at him with a certain hopelessness of expression. 

" Why not write a note inviting your future partner to call upon you here, or anywhere else that would be convenient, and then discuss the matter ? " 

Denham look frightened. 

" I thought of that, but it wouldn't do. No ; it wouldn't do. I would much rather settle everything by correspondence." 

" I am afraid I shall not be able to compose a letter that will suit you. There seem to be so many difficulties. It is very unusual." 

" That is true, and that is why I knew no one but you could help me, Miss Gale. If it pleases you, it will please me." 

Miss Gale shook her head, but, after a few moments, she said, " How will this do ? " 

" Dear Sir " 

" Wait a moment," cried Mr. Denham ; " that seems rather a formal opening, doesn't it ? How would it read if you put it, « Dear friend ? ' " 

" If you wish it so." She crossed out the "sir" and substituted the word suggested. Then she read the letter : 

"Dear Friend : I have for some time past been desirous of taking a partner, and would be glad if you would consider the question and consent to join me in this business. The business is, and has been for several years, very prosperous, and, as I shall require no capital from you, I think you will find my offer a very advantageous one. I will " 

" I — I don't think I would put it quite that way," said Denham, with some hesitation. " It reads as if I were offering everything, and that my partner — well, you see what I mean." 

" It's the truth," said Miss Gale, defiantly. 

" Better put it on the friendly basis, as you suggested a moment ago." 

"I didn't suggest anything, Mr. Denham. Perhaps it would be better if you would dictate the letter exactly as you want it I knew I could not write one that would please you." 

" It does please me, but I am thinking of my future partner. You are doing first-rate — better than I could do. But just put it on the friendly basis." 

A moment later she read : 

" . . . . join me in this business. I make you this offer entirely from a friendly, and not from a financial, standpoint, hoping that you like me well enough to be associated with me. " 

" Anything else, Mr. Denham ? " 

" No. I think that covers the whole ground. It will look rather short, type-written, won't it ? Perhaps you might add something to show that I shall be exceedingly disappointed if my offer is not accepted." 

" No fear," said Miss Gale. " I'll add that, though. « Yours truly,' or i Yours very truly ? ' " 

" You might end it 'Your friend.' " 

The rapid click of the typewriter was heard for a few moments in the next room, and then Miss Gale came out with the completed letter in her hand. 

"Shall I have the boy copy it? " she asked. 

" Oh, bless you, no ! " answered Mr. Denham, with evident trepidation. 

The young woman said to herself, " He doesn't want Mr. Rogers to know, and no wonder. It is a most unbusiness-like proposal" 

Then she said aloud, " Shall you want me again to-day? " 

" No, Miss Gale ; and thank you very much." 

Next morning Miss Gale came into Mr. Denham's office with a smile on her face. 

" You made a funny mistake last night, Mr. Denham," she said, as she took off her wraps. 

" Did I ? " he asked, in alarm. 

" Yes. You sent that letter to my address. I got it this morning. I opened it, for I thought it was for me, and that, perhaps, you did not need me to-day. But I saw at once that you put it in the wrong envelope. Did you want me to-day ? " 

It was on his tongue to say, " I want you every day," but he merely held out his hand for the letter, and looked at it as if he could not account for its having gone astray. 

The next day Miss Gale came late, and she looked frightened. It was evident that Denham was losing his mind. She put the letter down before him and said : 

" You addressed that to me the second time, Mr. Denham." 

There was a look of haggard anxiety about Denham that gave color to her suspicions. He felt that it was now or never. 

" Then why don't you answer it, Miss Gale ? " he said, gruffly. 

She backed away from him. 

" Answer it ? " she repeated, faintly. 

"Certainly. If I got a letter twice, I would answer it." 

" What do you mean ?" she cried, with her hand on the doorknob. 

" Exactly what the letter says. I want you for my partner. I want to marry you, and — financial considerations " 

" Oh !" cried Miss Gale, in a long-drawn, quivering sigh. She was doubtless shocked at the word he had used, and fled to her type-writing room, closing the door behind her. 

Richard Denham paced up and down the floor for a few moments, then rapped lightly at her door, but there was no response. He put on his hat and went out into the street. After a long and aimless walk, he found himself again at his place of business. When he went in, Rogers said to him : 

" Miss Gale has left, sir." 

"Has she?" 

" Yes, and she has given notice. Says she is not coming back, sir." 

" Very well." 

He went into his own room and found a letter marked " personal " on his desk. He tore it open, and read in neatly typewritten characters : 

" I have resigned my place as typewriter girl, having been offered a better situation. I am offered a partnership in the house of Richard Denhatn. I have decided to accept the position, not so much on account of its financial attractions, as because I shall be glad, on a friendly basis, to be associated with the gentleman I have named. Why did you put me to all that worry writing that idiotic letter, when a few words would have saved ever so much bother ? You evidently need a partner. My mother will be pleased to meet you any time you call. You have the address. Your friend, 

"Margaret Gale." 

" Rogers ! " shouted Denham, joyfully. "Yes, sir/' answered that estimable man, putting his head into the room. 

" Advertise for another typewriter girl, Rogers." " Yes, sir," said Rogers. 

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