still more cheerfully, and Jack looked at him inquiringly. "Are you open to an offer?" "I'm open to almost anything," Jack answered, with a puzzled look. "Well," and Mr. Fletcher settled back in his chair, "I can give you the situation in five minutes. I've been in this business over thirty years --yes; over thirty-five years. It has grown, little by little, until it's a pretty big business. I've a partner, a first-rate man--he is in Europe now--who attends to most of the buying. And the business keeps spreading out, and needs more care. I'm not as young as I was I shall be sixty-four in October--and I can't work right along as I used to. I find that I come later and go away earlier. It isn't the 'work exactly, but the oversight, the details; and the fact is that I want somebody near me whom I can trust, whether I'm here or whether I'm away. I've got good, honest, faithful clerks--if there was one I did not trust, I wouldn't have him about. But do you know, Jack," it was the first time in the interview that he had used this name--"there is something in blood." "Yes," Jack assented. "Well, I want a confidential clerk. That's it." "Me?" he asked. He was thinking rapidly while Mr. Fletcher had been speaking; something like a revolution was taking place in his mind, and when he asked this, the suggestion took on a humorous aspect--a humorous view of anything had not occurred to him in months. "You are just the man." "I can be confidential," Jack rejoined, with the old smile on his face that had been long a stranger to it, "but I don't know that I can be a clerk." Mr. Fletcher was good enough to laugh at this pleasantry. "That's all right. It isn't much of a position. We can make the salary twenty-five hundred dollars for a starter. Will you try it?" Jack got up and went to the area window, and looked out a moment upon the boxes in the dim court. Then he came back and stood by Mr. Fletcher, and put his hand on the desk. "Yes, I'll try." "Good. When will you begin?" "Now." "That's good. No time like now. Wait a bit, and I'll show you about the place before we go to lunch. You'll get hold of the ropes directly." This was Mr. Fletcher's veteran joke. At three o'clock Mr. Fletcher closed his desk. It was time to take his train. "Tomorrow, then," he said, "we will begin in earnest." "What are the business hours here?" asked Jack. "Oh, I am usually here from ten to three, but the business hours are from nine till the business is done. By-the-way, why not run out with me and spend the night, and we can talk the thing over?" There was no reason why he should not go, and he went. And that was the way John Corlear Delancy was initiated in the string business in the old house of Fletcher & Co. XXII Few battles are decisive, and perhaps least of all those that are won by a sudden charge or an accident, and not as the result of long-maturing causes. Doubtless the direction of a character or a career is often turned by a sudden act of the will or a momentary impotence of the will. But the battle is not over then, nor without long and arduous fighting, often a dreary, dragging struggle without the excitement of novelty. It was comparatively easy for Jack Delancy in Mr. Fletcher's office to face about suddenly and say yes to the proposal made him. There was on him the pressure of necessity, of his own better nature acting under a sense of his wife's approval; and besides, there was a novelty that attracted him in trying something absolutely new to his habits. But it was one thing to begin, and another, with a man of his temperament, to continue. To have regular hours, to attend to the details of a traffic that was to the last degree prosaic, in short, to settle down to hard work, was a very different thing from the "business" about which Jack and his fellows at the club used to talk so much, and to fancy they were engaged in. When the news came to the Union that Delancy had gone into the house of Fletcher & Co. as a clerk, there was a general smile, and a languid curiosity expressed as to how long he would stick to it. In the first day or two Jack was sustained not only by the original impulse, but by a real instinct in learning about business ways and details that were new to him. To talk about the business and about the markets, to hear plans unfolded for extension and for taking advantage of fluctuations in prices, was all very well; but the drudgery of details-- copying, comparing invoices, and settling into the routine of a clerk's life, even the life of a confidential clerk--was contrary to the habits of his whole life. It was not to be expected that these habits would be overcome without a long struggle and many back-slidings. The little matter of being at his office desk at nine o'clock in the morning began to seem a hardship after the first three or four days. For Mr. Fletcher not to walk into his shop on the stroke of ten would have been such a reversal of his habits as to cause him as much annoyance as it caused Jack to be bound to a fixed hour. It was only the difference in training. But that is saying everything. Besides, while the details of his work, the more he got settled in them, were not to his taste, he was daily mortified to find himself ignorant of matters which the stupidest clerk in the office seemed to know by instinct. This acted, however, as a sort of stimulus, and touched his pride. He determined that he would not be humiliated in this way, and during office hours he worked as diligently as Mr. Fletcher could have desired. He had pledged himself to the trial, and he summoned all his intelligence to back his effort. And it is true that the satisfaction of having a situation, of doing something, the relief to the previous daily anxiety and almost despair, raised his spirits. It was only when he thought of the public opinion of his little world, of some other occupation more befitting his education, of the vast change from his late life of ease and luxury to this of daily labor with a clerk's pay, that he had hours of revolt and cursed his luck. No, Jack's battle was not won in a day, or a week, or a year. And before it was won he needed more help than his own somewhat irresolute will could give. It is the impression of his biographer that he would have failed in the end if he had been married to a frivolous and selfish woman. Mr. Fletcher was known as a very strict man of business, and as little else. But he was a good judge of character, and under his notions of discipline and of industry he was a kindly man, as his clerks, who feared his sharp oversight, knew. And besides, he had made a compact with Edith, for whom he had something more than family affection, and he watched Jack's efforts to adjust himself to the new life with sympathy. If it was an experiment for Jack, it was also an experiment for him, the result of which gave him some anxiety. The situation was not a very heroic one, but a life is often decided for good or ill by as insignificant a matter as Jack's ability to persevere in learning about the twine and cordage trade. This was a day of trial, and the element of uncertainty in it kept both Mr. Fletcher and Jack from writing of the new arrangement to Edith, for fear that only disappointment to her would be the ultimate result. Jack's brief notes to her were therefore, as usual, indefinite, but with the hint that he was beginning to see a way out of his embarrassment. After the passage of a couple of weeks, during which Mr. Fletcher had been quietly studying his new clerk, he suddenly said to him, one Saturday morning, after they had looked over and estimated the orders by the day's mail, "Jack, I think you'd better let up a little, and run down and see Edith." "Oh!" said Jack, a little startled by the proposal, but recovering himself; " I didn't suppose the business could spare me." "I didn't mean a vacation, but run down for over Sunday. It must be lovely there, and the change will make you as keen as a brier for business. It always does me. Stay over Monday if the weather is good. I have to be away myself the week after." As Jack hesitated and did not reply, Mr. Fletcher continued: "I really think you'd better go, Jack. You have hardly had a breath of fresh air this summer. There's plenty of time to go up-town and get your grip and catch the afternoon train." Jack was still silent. The thought of seeing Edith created a tumult in his mind. It seemed as if he were not quite ready, not exactly settled. He had been procrastinating so long, putting off going, on one pretext or another, that he had fallen into a sort of fear of going. At first, absorbed in his speculations, enthralled by the company of Carmen and the luxurious, easy-going view of life that her society created for him; he had felt Edith and his house as an irritating restraint. Later, when the smash came, he had been still more relieved that she was out of town. And finally he had fallen into a reckless apathy, and had made himself believe that he never would see her again until some stroke of fortune should set him on his feet and restore his self-respect. But since he had been with Fletcher & Co. his feelings had gradually undergone a change. With a regular occupation and regular hours, and in contact with the sensible mind and business routine of Mr. Fletcher, he began to have saner views of life, and to realize that Edith would approve what he was now attempting to do much more than any effort to relieve himself by speculation. As soon as he felt himself a little more firmly established, a little more sure of himself, he would go to Edith, and confess everything, and begin life anew. This had been his mood, but he was still irresolute, and it needed some outside suggestion to push him forward to overcome his lingering reluctance to go home. But this had come suddenly. It seemed to him at first thought that he needed time to prepare for it. Mr. Fletcher pulled out his watch.
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