The Wooing Of Bettina by W. Y. Sheppard

A Story of Finance

Mr. Paul Strumley stood on the veranda of Mr. Richard Stokes's sumptuous home in the fashionable suburb of Lawrenceville and faced the daughter of the house indignantly. The daughter of the house was also plainly perturbed. Their mutual agitation was sharply accentuated by the fresh calmness of the spring morning, which seemed to hover like a north-bound bird over the wide, velvety lawn.

"Bettina," announced Mr. Strumley suddenly, "your father is—is——"

"An old goose."

"No, a brute!"

This explosion appeared momentarily to relieve his state of mind. But in his breast there was still left a sufficiency of outraged dignity to warm his cheeks hotly, and not by any means without an abundance of cause. Scarcely an hour before he had nervously, yet exultantly, alighted from his big touring car in front of the Commercial Bank, to seek the president of that institution in the sanctity of his private office. There, briefly but eloquently, he announced the engagement of Miss Bettina Stokes to Mr. Paul Strumley, and naïvely requested for the happy young people a full share of the parental sanction and blessing. And his callow confidence can hardly be condemned on recalling that he was one of the wealthiest and most popular young swains in the city. Mr. Stokes, however, did not seem to take this into consideration. On the contrary, he rose to the occasion with an outburst of disapprobation too inflammatory to be set on paper, and quickly followed it with a picturesque and uncompromising ultimatum. In the confused distress of the unexpected Mr. Strumley found himself unable to marshal a single specimen of logical refutation. He could only retreat in haste, to recover, if possible, at leisure.

But this leisure, the time it had taken him to hurl the machine across town to Bettina, had proven sadly insufficient. When he rushed up the steps to the veranda, where sat the object of his affections rocking in beautiful serenity, he was still choking from indignation, and had found it hard to tell her in coherent sentences that her father had energetically refused the honor of an alliance with the highly respectable Strumley family.

The grounds, however, on which had been based this unreasonable objection were of all things under the sun the most preposterous. Mr. Stokes had emphatically declared that his daughter's happiness was too dear to him to be foolishly entrusted to one who could not even manage his own affairs, let alone the affairs of a wife, and, presumably later, of a family. Mr. Strumley was rich at present, so much was readily conceded; but he was not capable himself of taking care of what a thrifty parent had laid by for him. He in his weak-mindedness was compelled to hire the brains of a mere substitute, a manager, if you prefer. Should anything happen, and such things happen every day, where would Mr. Strumley be? And where, pray, would be his wife and family? In the poorhouse!

"My daughter is too good for a man who cannot manage his own concerns," the irate father had summed up. "When you have shown yourself capable, my lad, of competing in the world with grown-up intellects, then there will be time enough for you to contemplate matrimony—and not until then. Good morning to you, Mr. Strumley."

"And he snapped his jaws together like a vise," recalled Paul, coming out from his gloomy retrospection.

"If he shut them so," and Bettina worked her pretty chin out to its farthest extension, "well, that means he is like the man from Missouri; you've got to show him before he changes his mind one iota."

"I ought to have been humping over a desk from the start," regretted Mr. Strumley, feeling his bulging biceps dolefully. "It's all right stroking a crew, and heaps of fun, too, but it doesn't win you a wife. Now there's your dad, he couldn't pull a soap box across a bath tub; but he can pull through a 'deal' I couldn't budge with a hand-spike."

Miss Bettina sighed sympathetically, and smiled appreciatively. She felt deeply for her lover, and was justly proud of such a capable parent. "Every one does say papa is an excellent business man," she remarked; "and he certainly can swing some wonderful deals. Only yesterday I accidentally overheard him telling Mr. Proctor that he held an option—I think that was the word—from Haynes, Forster & Company on thousands and thousands of acres of timber land in Arkansas. He said it would expire to-day at two o'clock, but that he was going to buy the land for cash—'spot cash' he said was what they demanded."

Mr. Strumley smiled ruefully. "And I guess it will be some of my 'spot cash,'" he ruminated. "I am not saying anything against your father, Bettina, but if it wasn't for such idle good-for-nothings as myself, who let their money accumulate in his bank, I doubt if he could swing many of these 'big deals.' If we were like he wanted us to be, we'd be swinging them ourselves."

After Mr. Strumley had finished his bit of philosophy, he fell to communing with himself. Apparently his own wisdom had stirred a new thought within his breast. It had. He was beginning to wonder what would happen if Bettina's father suddenly found himself bereft of sufficient "spot cash" to take advantage of this option. Anyone having a second call on same might be fortunate enough to swing the "big deal"—and profit by it, according to his intentions!

"Paul," Bettina broke in upon his meditations, a little note of hopeful pleading in her voice, "it might not be too late for you to—to reform?"

Mr. Strumley aroused himself with difficulty, and looked into her bewitching face before replying. Then: "Maybe you are right," he mused; "at any rate I have an idea." And kissing her thoughtfully, he strode down the steps toward where encouragingly panted his car.

The car proudly bore Mr. Strumley and his idea to the brand-new offices of a certain young friend of his who had himself only recently metamorphosed from the shell to the swivel chair. Mr. Greenlee looked up in mute surprise. But Mr. Strumley ignored it and came to the point with a rush. Did Mr. Greenlee have twenty thousand dollars in cash to spare? He did? Good! Would he lend it to Mr. Strumley on gilt-edge collateral? Never mind exclamations; they had no market value. Eight per cent. did. Then Mr. Greenlee was willing to make the loan? That was talking business; and Mr. Strumley with the securities would call in two hours for the cash. That would give Mr. Greenlee ample time in which to get it from his bank—the Commercial.

When outside Mr. Strumley allowed himself to smile. Suddenly this evidence of inward hilarity broadened into a heartily exploded greeting, as a familiar figure turned the corner and advanced directly toward him. It was another wealthy customer of the aforesaid bank.

"I was just on my way to your office, Mr. Proctor," Paul announced pleasantly, at the same time cautiously drawing to one side the customer of the Commercial. "I intend investing heavily in real estate," he vouchsafed with admirable sang-froid; "and need, right away, in spot cash, about thirty thousand dollars. Have you got that much to spare at 8 per cent., on first class security?"

Eight per cent! Mr. Proctor's expression expanded. He made his living by lending money for much less. If dear Mr. Strumley would call at his office within two hours he should have it every cent—just as soon as he could get a check cashed at the Commercial.

Next the faithful machine whirled Paul to the rooms of his staid attorney and general manager, Mr. John Edwards.

That elderly gentleman welcomed him with his nearest approach to a smile. But the young man was in no mood for an elaborate exchange of exhilarations. Without preface he inquired the amount of his deposit subject to check in the Commercial Bank. Fifty thousand dollars! A most delightful sum. He needed it every cent within an hour. Also he wanted from his safe-deposit box enough A1 collateral to secure loans of twenty and thirty thousand, respectively. But first would Mr. Edwards kindly call up and get second option on all Arkansas timber lands represented by Haynes, Forster & Company? Mr. Strumley believed that the first option was held by a local party. Furthermore he knew it expired to-day; and had reasons to believe that a local party would not be able to take advantage of it, and he, Mr. Strumley, thought that he could handle the property to a good purpose.

For the first time Mr. Edwards learned that his young client had a will of his own. After a few fruitless exhortations he rose to obey, but remarking: "Right much money in these hard times to withdraw in a lump from the bank." Then, with a sidelong glance at the grave, boyish face, he added significantly: "Know you would not do anything to jeopardize Mr. Stokes's financial standing."

"Oh, a bagatelle like that wouldn't embarrass as shrewd and resourceful a business man as he," assured Paul breezily.

"Money is pretty tight," mused the lawyer. But he called up Haynes, Forster & Company without further remonstrances and afterward went out to perform his commissions. Soon Mr. Strumley lighted a cigar and followed. There would be something doing in the way of entertainment presently in the neighborhood of the musty old Commercial Bank.

In front of that institution he had the good fortune to meet the town miser, who seldom strayed far from the portals behind which reposed his hoard. Mr. Strumley halted to liberally wish the local celebrity an abundance of good health and many days of prosperity. Incidentally he noted through the massive doors that his three cash-seeking friends were in the line before the paying teller's window, the lawyer being last and Mr. Greenlee first. When the latter came out, still busily trying to cram the packages of bills properly in the satchel he carried, Paul remarked confidentially to his companion:

"Must be something doing to-day. The big guns are drawing all of theirs out."

The old fellow gave a start as the suggestion shot home. Before Paul could nurse it further, he had sprinted off up the street like mad, chattering to himself about the desirability of returning immediately with his certificates of deposit.

It is an old adage that no one knows the genesis of a "run on the bank." Maybe Mr. Strumley was the exception which proves the validity of the rule. At any rate he considered with large satisfaction the magical gathering of a panic-inoculated crowd, which, sans courage, sans reason, sans everything but a thirst for the touch of their adored cash, clamored loudly, despairingly, for the instant return of their dearly beloved.

At last through the meshes of the mad throng appeared the shiny pate of Mr. John Edwards. He uttered an exclamation of relief at the sight of his calm client.

"Hope you got it before the storm broke?" Mr. Strumley greeted amiably.

"S-s-sh!" cautioned the attorney dramatically. "I was about to go in search of you." Then he added in even a lower key: "Mr. Stokes asked me to persuade you not to withdraw the money until he had had a chance to get the flurry well in hand."

"But the money is mine, and I want it now," expostulated the young man.

"Come with me, please, and listen to reason," beseeched the lawyer, drawing him resolutely in the direction of a side entrance. "It would be a dire misfortune, sir, a calamity to the community, if the bank were forced to close its doors. So far, however, it is only the small depositors who are clamoring; but the others will quickly enough follow if you do not let your fifty thousand remain to help wipe out this first rush. The bank, though, is as sound as a dollar."

In another instant they were through the door, and before Mr. Strumley could reply, for the second time that morning he stood in the presence of Bettina's father.

"As Mr. Edwards will tell you," explained Paul, unable altogether to suppress his nervousness, "I hold second option for to-day on large timber tracts in Arkansas, represented by Messrs. Haynes, Forster & Company. The first option, I was advised, will expire at two o'clock; and my party was of the belief it would not be closed. It is a big deal, Mr. Stokes,"—Mr. Stokes winced perceptibly—"and I was extremely anxious to swing it, because—er—well, because it's my first big venture and much depends on its success."

"Yes," mused Mr. Stokes sadly, "it is quite probable the first option may be allowed to lapse, and I understand good money is to be made in Arkansas timber." His face had grown a trifle ashy. "Of course, this being the case, I feel in honor bound, Mr. Strumley, to instantly recall my request."

Paul gave a gasp of admiration. He was glad Bettina's father was "game." So was Bettina. In the up-boiling of his feelings he emphatically vetoed the determination of the banker. Indeed, so well and eloquently did he argue for the retention and use of his funds by the Commercial, that even the self-effacing man of "deals" could not resist the onslaught. He rose with unconcealed emotion and grasped the hand of the young man whose generosity would save the credit of the old financial institution.

Later, flushed with victory, Mr. Strumley returned to the cushions of his touring car; and the jubilantly chugging machine whizzed him off in the direction where, surrounded by cash, awaited the 8 per cent. expectations of Messrs. Proctor and Greenlee. Later still he descended with said cash upon the offices of Haynes, Forster & Company. And even later, after an exhilarating spin in the country, he arrived safe and blithesome at his well-appointed rooms in the Hotel Fulton, ready to remove with good soap and pure aqua the stains of mart and road before calling on Miss Bettina Stokes.

The first thing that attracted his eyes on entering his little sitting room was a neatly wrapped parcel on the table. On the top of it reclined a dainty, snowy envelope. Mr. Strumley approached suspiciously. Then he recognized the handwriting and uttered an exclamation of joy. It was from Bettina.

In the short time he held the missive poised reverently in his hand Paul permitted a glow of satisfaction to permeate his being. He had done well and was justly entitled to a moment of self laudation. Mr. Stokes—Bettina's father—would no longer be against him, for who could not say he was not capable of competing in the world-arena with full-grown, gladiatorial intellects? He had even successfully crossed blades with Mr. Stokes's own best brand of Damascene gray matter. And he had won the fray, for the everlasting good and happiness of all parties concerned. In anticipation he already felt himself thrilling proudly beneath the crown of Bettina's love and her father's benediction.

The crackle of the delicate linen beneath his grasp brought him sweetly back to the real. What delicious token could Bettina be sending him? Of course her father had told her all. How happy she, too, must be! Mr. Strumley broke the seal of the envelope and read:

"Mr. Paul Strumley,
City.

"Dear Sir:

"I herewith return your letters, photographs, etc. Papa has told me all. It was at first impossible to believe you capable of taking such a base advantage of my confidence about the Arkansas option; but I am at last thoroughly convinced that you incited the run on the bank to embarrass poor papa and compel him to let the deal fall into your traitorous hands. And the by-play of yours in returning the money you did not really need, though it has completely deceived him, has in my eyes only added odium to your treachery. I trust that I have made it quite clear that in the future we can meet only as strangers.

"Bettina Stokes."

Mr. Strumley let the letter slip unnoticed through his palsied fingers. He sat down with heavy stupefaction. So this was the sud-spray of his beautiful bubble? It was incomprehensible! Bettina! Bettina! Oh, how could she? Where was her faith? No small voice answered from within the depths of his breast; and Mr. Strumley got clumsily to his feet. He was painfully conscious that he must do something—think something. But what was he to do? What was he to think? Could he ever make her understand? Make her believe? At least he could go and try.

Mr. Strumley finished his toilet nervously; and repaired to the home of Bettina, to cast his hope on the waters of her faith and charity. The butler courteously informed him that she was "not in." But Mr. Stokes was in the library. Would Mr. Strumley like to see him? Mr. Strumley thought not.

It was a bad night for Paul. From side to side he tossed in search of inspiration. Day came; and he rolled wearily over to catch the first beams of the gladsome spring sunshine. From its torrid home ninety-three million miles afar it hurried to his bedside. It shimmered in his face and laughed with warm invigoration into the torpid cells of his brain. It awakened them, filled them with new life, hope—inspiration!

Mr. Strumley leaped from his bed to the bath-tub, and fluttered frolicsomely in the crystal tide. When he sprang out there was the flush of vigorous young manhood on his skin and the glow of an expectant lover's ardency in his breast. Everything was arranged satisfactorily in the space beneath Mr. Strumley's water-tousled hair, wherein sat the goddess of human happiness—reason.

Mr. Strumley, after a hurried stop-over at the office of his astounded charge d'affaires, reached the Commercial Bank before the messenger boys. While waiting in the balm of the spring morning for the doors to open he circumnavigated the block nine times—he counted them. Coming in on the last tack he sighted the portly form of the banker careening with dignified speed around the corner. Another instant he had crossed the mat and disappeared into his financial harbor. Mr. Strumley steered rapidly in his wake.

Again he stood in the presence of Bettina's father. This time, however, he was calm. In fact, the atmosphere about the two men was heavily charged with the essence of good fellowship. Mr. Stokes held out his hand cordially. The younger man pressed its broad palm with almost filial veneration. He noted, too, with a slight touch of remorse, that the banker's countenance was harassed. Evidently his heart still ached for the lost Arkansas timber. Mr. Strumley smiled philanthropically.

He had something to say to Mr. Stokes, and began to say it with the easy enunciation of one who rests confident in the sunshine of righteousness. He spoke evenly, fluently. Of course Mr. Stokes at first might be a trifle perplexed. But please bear with him, hear him through, then he himself should be the sole judge.

He, Mr. Strumley, did not care a rap—no, not a single rap, for every tree that grew in the entire state of Arkansas. What he wanted to do was to show Mr. Stokes—Bettina's father—that he was worth the while. That is, he wanted to demonstrate—it was a good word—to demonstrate that he had brains in his cranium as good as many another variety that boasted a trade mark of wider popularity. Had he done it? And if what he had done did not concur with the elements of high finance, he would like Mr. Stokes—Bettina's father—to tell him what it did concur with. Now, there was the whole story from its incipiency. And as conclusive proof that he did not mean to profit by the deal financially, would Mr. Stokes kindly examine those papers?

Mr. Stokes looked at the documents tossed on the desk before him; and saw that they were several warranty deeds, conveying to Richard Stokes, his heirs and assigns forever, all titles and claims of all kinds whatsoever in certain therein-after described tracts or parcels of land in the state of Arkansas, for value received.

Mr. Strumley leaned back and contentedly watched a flush overspread the banker's face. His automobile waited at the door to whisk him to Bettina, and he was ready to carry on the campaign there the moment her father had finished his effusions of gratitude. Meanwhile the flush deepened; and, all impatience to fly to his lady-love, Paul egged on the speech.

"You will note, Mr. Stokes," he volunteered, "that the price is exactly the same you had proposed paying. At your convenience, of course, you can remit this amount to my attorney, Mr. Edwards."

Mr. Stokes rose slowly. The flush had become apoplectic.

"Mr. Strumley," he began, his large voice trembling, "this trick of yours is unworthy of an honorable man. Here, sir, take these papers and leave my office immediately."

Mr. Strumley rose also. Like the banker's voice, he, too, was trembling.

"But, sir——" he commenced to expostulate.

"Go!" thundered the father of Bettina.

Dazed, confused by the suddenness of the blast, Paul groped his way through the bank to the refuge of his car. Mechanically he put one hand on the lever and glanced ahead for obstacles. Crossing the street, not twenty yards ahead, tripped the most dangerous one conceivable—the beautiful Bettina herself!

Mr. Strumley's hand fell limply to his knee. Fascinated he watched her reach the curb and with a little skip spring to the pavement. Then she came straight toward him; but he could see she was blissfully oblivious of his nearness. Suddenly an odd wave of emotion surged through his brain. His heart leaped with primitive savagery of love, and every fibre in him rebelled fiercely against the decrees and limitations of modern courtship. He had failed in the game as governed and modified by the rules of polite society and high finance. The primogenital man-spirit in him cried out for its inning. Mr. Strumley, as umpire, hearkened to its clamor.

"Bettina!" he called, as that young lady came calmly abreast of the car, "wait a moment. I must speak with you."

She started with a half-frightened exclamation; but met his look, at first defiantly, scornfully, then hesitatingly, faltering as she tried to take another step onward.

"Bettina!" Mr. Strumley's voice vibrated determinedly, "I said I wished to speak with you. I can explain—everything."

She halted reluctantly, and partly turned. In a moment he was at her side, his hand upon her arm. His glance had in it all the compelling strength of unadulterated, pristine manhood. She seemed to feel its potency, and without remonstrance suffered him to lead her toward the machine.

For a moment, for a single moment, Mr. Strumley was exhilaratingly conscious of being borne aloft on a great wave of victorious gladness. Then the waters of triumph let him down with a shock.

"Bettina!"

At the word they both pivoted like pieces of automata. Mr. Stokes, large and severe, was standing between the portals of his financial fortification.

"Bettina!" His voice was almost irresistible in the force of its parental summons.

At the sound of it the primeval lover, newly renascent in Mr. Strumley's breast, cowed before the power of genitorial insistency. Then it came back into its own exultantly.

"Bettina, my darling, get in," he commanded.

She faltered, turned rebelliously, turned again and obeyed.

"Bettina!" The voice of the childless banker faded off in the distance, its last echo drowned in the full-throated: "Bettina, we are going to be married at once," that broke joyously from Mr. Strumley's lips. "I have followed the example of the Romans, and taken me a wife from the Sabines."

Bettina peeped up at him from beneath the dark screens of her lashes. "Then I, like the wise Sabian ladies, shall save the day for peace and for Rome," she smiled archly.

And the machine laughed "Chug-chug!"