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THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT



[Illustration: I'm in for some of the severest drubbings of my life]




THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT

Being a Record of the Adventures of a Live American Young Man


_By GEORGE RANDOLPH CHESTER_


AUTHOR OF

"Get Rich Quick Wallingford," "The Cash Intrigue," Etc.


WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

BY JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG AND F. R. GRUGER


_A. L. BURT COMPANY_
_Publishers New York_




COPYRIGHT 1908

THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY

COPYRIGHT 1909

THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

JUNE





DEDICATION

To the Handicapped Sons of Able
Fathers, and the Handicapped
Fathers of Able Sons,
with Sympathy for
each, and a
Smile for
both




THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT




CHAPTER I

BOBBY MAKES SOME IMPORTANT PREPARATIONS FOR A COMMERCIAL LIFE


"I am profoundly convinced that my son is a fool," read the will of
old John Burnit. "I am, however, also convinced that I allowed him to
become so by too much absorption in my own affairs and too little in
his, and, therefore, his being a fool is hereditary; consequently, I
feel it my duty, first, to give him a fair trial at making his own
way, and second, to place the balance of my fortune in such trust that
he can not starve. The trusteeship is already created and the details
are nobody's present business. My son Robert will take over the John
Burnit Store and personally conduct it, as his only resource, without
further question as to what else I may have left behind me. This is my
last will and testament."

That is how cheerful Bobby Burnit, with no thought heretofore above
healthy amusements and Agnes Elliston, suddenly became a business man,
after having been raised to become the idle heir to about three
million. Of course, having no kith nor kin in all this wide world, he
went immediately to consult Agnes. It is quite likely that if he had
been supplied with dozens of uncles and aunts he would have gone first
to Agnes anyhow, having a mighty regard for her keen judgment, even
though her clear gaze rested now and then all too critically upon
himself. Just as he came whirling up the avenue he saw Nick Allstyne's
white car, several blocks ahead of him, stop at her door, and a figure
which he knew must be Nick jump out and trip up the steps. Almost
immediately the figure came down again, much more slowly, and climbed
into the car, which whizzed away.

"Not at home," grumbled Bobby.

It was like him, however, that he should continue straight to the
quaint old house of the Ellistons and proffer his own card, for,
though his aims could seldom be called really worth while, he
invariably finished the thing he set out to do. It seemed to be a sort
of disease. He could not help it. To his surprise, the Cerberus who
guarded the Elliston door received him with a smile and a bow, and
observed:

"Miss Elliston says you are to walk right on up to the Turkish alcove,
sir."

While Wilkins took his hat and coat Bobby paused for a moment
figuratively to hug himself. At home to no one else! Expecting him!

"I'll ask her again," said Bobby to himself with determination, and
stalked on up to the second floor hall, upon which opened a delightful
cozy corner where Aunt Constance Elliston permitted the more
"family-like" male callers to smoke and loll and be at mannish ease.

As he reached the landing the door of the library below opened, and in
it appeared Agnes and an unusually well-set-up young man - a new one,
who wore a silky mustache and most fastidious tailoring. The two were
talking and laughing gaily as the door opened, but as Agnes glanced up
and saw Bobby she suddenly stopped laughing, and he almost thought
that he overheard her say something in an aside to her companion. The
impression was but fleeting, however, for she immediately nodded
brightly. Bobby bowed rather stiffly in return, and continued his
ascent of the stairs with a less sprightly footstep. Crestfallen, and
conscious that Agnes had again closed the door of the library without
either herself or the strange visitor having emerged into the hall, he
strode into the Turkish alcove and let himself drop upon a divan with
a thump. He extracted a cigar from his cigar-case, carefully cut off
the tip and as carefully restored the cigar to its place. Then he
clasped his interlocked fingers around his knee, and for the next ten
minutes strove, like a gentleman, not to listen.

When Agnes came up presently she made no mention whatever of her
caller, and, of course, Bobby had no excuse upon which to hang
impertinent questions, though the sharp barbs of them were darting
through and through him. Such fuming as he felt, however, was
instantly allayed by the warm and thoroughly honest clasp she gave him
when she shook hands with him. It was one of the twenty-two million
things he liked about her that she did not shake hands like two ounces
of cold fish, as did some of the girls he knew. She was dressed in a
half-formal house-gown, and the one curl of her waving brown hair that
would persistently straggle down upon her forehead was in its
accustomed place. He had always been obsessed with a nearly
irresistible impulse to put his finger through that curl.

"I have come around to consult you about a little business matter,
Agnes," he found himself beginning with sudden breathlessness, his
perturbation forgotten in the overwhelming charm of her. "The
governor's will has just been read to me, and he's plunged me into a
ripping mess. His whole fortune is in the hands of a trusteeship,
whatever that is, and I'm not even to know the trustees. All I get is
just the business, and I'm to carry the John Burnit Store on from its
present blue-ribbon standing to still more dazzling heights, I
suppose. Well, I'd like to do it. The governor deserves it. But, you
see, I'm so beastly thick-headed. Now, Agnes, you have perfectly
stunning judgment and all that, so if you would just - - " and he came
to an abrupt and painful pause.

"Have you brought along the contract?" she asked demurely. "Honestly,
Bobby, you're the most original person in the world. The first time, I
was to marry you because you were so awkward, and the next time
because your father thought so much of me, and another time because
you wanted us to tour Norway and not have a whole bothersome crowd
along; then you were tired living in a big, lonely house with just you
and your father and the servants; now, it's an advantageous business
arrangement. What share of the profits am I to receive?"

Bobby's face had turned red, but he stuck manfully to his guns.

"All of them," he blurted. "You know that none of those is the real
reason," he as suddenly protested. "It is only that when I come to
tell you the actual reason I rather choke up and can't."

"You're a mighty nice boy, Bobby," she confessed. "Now sit down and
behave, and tell me just what you have decided to do."

"Well," said he, accepting his defeat with great philosophy, since he
had no reason to regard it as final, "of course, my decision is made
for me. I'm to take hold of the business. I don't know anything about
it, but I don't see why it shouldn't go straight on as it always has."

"Possibly," she admitted thoughtfully; "but I imagine your father
expected you to have rather a difficult time of it. Perhaps he wants
you to, so that a defeat or two will sting you into having a little
more serious purpose in life than you have at present. I'd like,
myself, to see you handle, with credit to him and to you, the splendid
establishment he built up."

"If I do," Bobby wanted to know, "will you marry me?"

"That makes eleven times. I'm not saying, Bobby, but you never can
tell."

"That settles it. I'm going to be a business man. Let me use your
'phone a minute." It was one of the many advantages of the
delightfully informal Turkish alcove that it contained a telephone,
and in two minutes Bobby had his tailors. "Make me two or three
business suits," he ordered. "Regular business suits, I mean, for real
business wear - you know the sort of thing - and get them done as
quickly as you can, please. There!" said he as he hung up the
receiver. "I shall begin to-morrow morning. I'll go down early and
take hold of the John Burnit Store in earnest."

"You've made a splendid start," commented Agnes, smiling. "Now tell me
about the polo tournament," and she sat back to enjoy his enthusiasm
over something about which he was entirely posted.

He was good to look at, was Bobby, with his clean-cut figure and his
clean-cut face and his clean, blue eyes and clean complexion, and she
delighted in nothing more than just to sit and watch him when he was
at ease; he was so restful, so certain to be always telling the truth,
to be always taking a charitably good-humored view of life, to turn on
wholesome topics and wholesome points of view; but after he had gone
she smiled and sighed and shook her head.

"Poor Bobby," she mused. "There won't be a shred left of his tender
little fleece by the time he gets through."

One more monitor Bobby went to see that afternoon, and this was Biff
Bates. It required no sending in of cards to enter the presence of
this celebrity. One simply stepped out of the elevator and used one's
latch-key. It was so much more convenient. Entering a big, barnlike
room he found Mr. Bates, clad only in trunks and canvas shoes,
wreaking dire punishment upon a punching-bag merely by way of
amusement; and Mr. Bates, with every symptom of joy illuminating his
rather horizontal features - wide brows, wide cheek-bone, wide nose,
wide mouth, wide chin, wide jaw - stopped to shake hands most
enthusiastically with his caller without removing his padded glove.

"What's the good news, old pal?" he asked huskily.

He was half a head shorter than Bobby and four inches broader across
the shoulders, and his neck spread out over all the top of his torso;
but there was something in the clear gaze of the eyes which made the
two gentlemen look quite alike as they shook hands, vastly different
as they were.

"Bad news for you, I'm afraid," announced Bobby. "That little
partnership idea of the big gymnasium will have to be called off for a
while."

Mr. Bates took a contemplative punch or two at the still quivering
bag.

"It was a fake, anyway," he commented, putting his arm around the top
of the punching-bag and leaning against it comfortably; "just like
this place. You went into partnership with me on this joint - that is,
you put up the coin and run in a lot of your friends on me to be
trained up - squarest lot of sports I ever saw, too. You fill the place
with business and allow me a weekly envelope that makes me tilt my
chin till I have to wear my lid down over my eyes to keep it from
falling off the back of my head, and when there's profits to split up
you shoves mine into my mitt and puts yours into improvements. You put
in the new shower baths and new bars and traps, and the last thing,
that swimming-tank back there. I'm glad the big game's off. I'm so
contented now I'm getting over-weight, and you'd bilk me again. But
what's the matter? Did the bookies get you?"

"No; I'll tell you all about it," and Bobby carefully explained the
terms of his father's will and what they meant.

Mr. Bates listened carefully, and when the explanation was finished he
thought for a long time.

"Well, Bobby," said he, "here's where you get it. They'll shred you
clean. You're too square for that game. Your old man was a fine old
sport and _he_ played it on the level, but, say, he could see a marked
card clear across a room. They'll double-cross you, though, to a
fare-ye-well."

The opinion seemed to be unanimous.




CHAPTER II

PINK CARNATIONS APPEAR IN THE OFFICE OF THE JOHN BURNIT STORE


Bobby gave his man orders to wake him up early next morning, say not
later than eight, and prided himself very much upon his energy when,
at ten-thirty, he descended from his machine in front of the old and
honored establishment of John Burnit, and, leaving instructions for
his chauffeur to call for him at twelve, made his way down the long
aisles of white-piled counters and into the dusty little office where
old Johnson, thin as a rail and with a face like whittled chalk,
humped over his desk exactly as he had sat for the past thirty-five
years.

"Good-morning, Johnson," observed Bobby with an affable nod. "I've
come to take over the business."

He said it in the same untroubled tone he had always used in asking
for his weekly check, and Johnson looked up with a wry smile.
Applerod, on the contrary, was beaming with hearty admiration. He was
as florid as Johnson was colorless, and the two had rubbed elbows and
dispositions in that same room almost since the house of Burnit had
been founded.

"Very well, sir," grudged Johnson, and immediately laid upon the
time-blackened desk which had been old John Burnit's, a closely
typewritten statement of some twenty pages. On top of this he placed a
plain gray envelope addressed:

_To My Son Robert,
Upon the Occasion of His Taking Over the Business_

Upon this envelope Bobby kept his eyes in mild speculation, while he
leisurely laid aside his cane and removed his gloves and coat and hat;
next he sat down in his father's jerky old swivel chair and lit a
cigarette; then he opened the letter. He read:

"Every business needs a pessimist and an optimist, with ample
opportunities to quarrel. Johnson is a jackass, but honest. He
is a pessimist and has a pea-green liver. Listen to him and
the business will die painlessly, by inches. Applerod is also
a jackass, and I presume him to be honest; but I never tested
it. He suffers from too much health, and the surplus goes into
optimism. Listen to him and the business will die in horrible
agony, quickly. But keep both of them. Let them fight things
out until they come almost to an understanding, then take the
middle course."

That was all. Bobby turned squarely to survey the frowning Johnson and
the still beaming Applerod, and with a flash of clarity he saw his
father's wisdom. He had always admired John Burnit, aside from the
fact that the sturdy pioneer had been his father, had admired him much
as one admires the work of a master magician - without any hope of
emulation. As he read the note he could seem to see the old gentleman
standing there with his hands behind him, ready to stretch on tiptoe
and drop to his heels with a thump as he reached a climax, his
spectacles shoved up on his forehead, his strong, wrinkled face stern
from the cheek-bones down, but twinkling from that line upward, the
twinkle, which had its seat about the shrewd eyes, suddenly
terminating in a sharp, whimsical, little up-pointed curl in the very
middle of his forehead. To corroborate his warm memory Bobby opened
the front of his watch-case, where the same face looked him squarely
in the eyes. Naturally, then, he opened the other lid, where Agnes
Elliston's face smiled up at him. Suddenly he shut both lids with a
snap and turned, with much distaste but with a great show of energy,
to the heavy statement which had all this time confronted him. The
first page he read over laboriously, the second one he skimmed
through, the third and fourth he leafed over; and then he skipped to
the last sheet, where was set down a concise statement of the net
assets and liabilities.

"According to this," observed Bobby with great show of wisdom, "I take
over the business in a very flourishing condition."

"Well," grudgingly admitted Mr. Johnson, "it might be worse."

"It could hardly be better," interposed Applerod - "that is, without
the extensions and improvements that I think your father would have
come in time to make. Of course, at his age he was naturally a bit
conservative."

"Mr. Applerod and myself have never agreed upon that point," wheezed
Johnson sharply. "For my part I considered your father - well, scarcely
reckless, but, say, sufficiently daring! Daring is about the word."

Bobby grinned cheerfully.

"He let the business go rather by its own weight, didn't he?"

Both gentlemen shook their heads, instantly and most emphatically.

"He certainly must have," insisted Bobby. "As I recollect it, he only
worked up here, of late years, from about eleven fifty-five to twelve
every other Thursday."

"Oftener than that," solemnly corrected the literal Mr. Johnson. "He
was here from eleven until twelve-thirty every day."

"What did he do?"

It was Applerod who, with keen appreciation, hastened to advise him
upon this point.

"Said 'yes' twice and 'no' twelve times. Then, at the very last
minute, when we thought that he was through, he usually landed on a
proposition that hadn't been put up to him at all, and put it clear
out of the business."

"Looks like good finessing to me," said Bobby complacently. "I think I
shall play it that way."

"It wouldn't do, sir," Mr. Johnson replied in a tone of keen pain.
"You must understand that when your father started this business it
was originally a little fourteen-foot-front place, one story high. He
got down here at six o'clock every morning and swept out. As he got
along a little further he found that he could trust somebody else with
that job - _but he always knew how to sweep_. It took him a lifetime to
simmer down his business to just 'yes' and 'no.'"

"I see," mused Bobby; "and I'm expected to take that man's place! How
would you go about it?"

"I would suggest, without meaning any impertinence whatever, sir,"
insinuated Mr. Johnson, "that if you were to start clerking - - "

"Or sweeping out at six o'clock in the morning?" calmly interrupted
Bobby. "I don't like to stay up so late. No, Johnson, about the only
thing I'm going to do to show my respect for the traditions of the
house is to leave this desk just as it is, and hang an oil portrait of
my father over it. And, by the way, isn't there some little side room
where I can have my office? I'm going into this thing very earnestly."

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Applerod exchanged glances.

"The door just to the right there," said Mr. Johnson, "leads to a room
which is at present filled with old files of the credit department. No
doubt those could be moved somewhere else."

Bobby walked into that room and gaged its possibilities. It was a
little small, to be sure, but it would do for the present.

"Just have that cleared out and a 'phone put in. I'll get right down
to business this afternoon and see about the fittings for it." Then he
looked at his watch once more. "By George!" he exclaimed, "I almost
forgot that I was to see Nick Allstyne at the Idlers' Club about that
polo match. Just have one of your boys stand out at the curb along
about twelve, will you, and tell my chauffeur to report at the club."

Johnson eyed the closed door over his spectacles.

"He'll be having blue suits and brass buttons on us two next," he
snorted.

"He don't mean it at all that way," protested Applerod. "For my part,
I think he's a fine young fellow."

"I'll give you to understand, sir," retorted Johnson, violently
resenting this imputed defection, "that he is the son of his father,
and for that, if for nothing else, would have my entire allegiance."

Bobby, meanwhile, feeling very democratic and very much a man of
affairs, took a street-car to the Idlers', and strode through the
classic portals of that club with gravity upon his brow. Flaxen-haired
Nick Allstyne, standing by the registry desk, turned to dark Payne
Winthrop with a nod.

"You win," he admitted. "I'll have to charge it up to you, Bobby. I
just lost a quart of the special to Payne that since you'd become
immersed in the cares of business you'd not be here."

Bobby was almost austere in his reception of this slight.

"Don't you know," he demanded, "that there is nobody who keeps even
his social engagements like a business man?"

"That's what I gambled on," returned Payne confidentially, "but I
wasn't sure just how much of a business man you'd become. Nick, don't
you already seem to see a crease in Bobby's brow?"

"No, that's his regular polo crease," objected lanky Stanley Rogers,
joining them, and the four of them fell upon polo as one man. Their
especially anxious part in the tournament was to be a grinding match
against Willie Ashler's crack team, and the point of worry was that so
many of their fellows were out of town. They badly needed one more
good player.

"I have it," declared Bobby finally. It was he who usually decided
things in this easy-going, athletic crowd. "We'll make Jack Starlett
play, but the only way to get him is to go over to Washington after
him. Payne, you're to go along. You always keep a full set of regalia
here at the club, I know. Here, boy!" he called to a passing page.
"Find out for us the next two trains to Washington."

"Yes, sir," said the boy with a grin, and was off like a shot. They
had a strict rule against tipping in the Idlers', but if he happened
to meet Bobby outside, say at the edge of the curb where his car was
standing, there was no rule against his receiving something there.
Besides, he liked Bobby, anyhow. They all did. He was back in a
moment.

"One at two-ten and one at four-twenty, sir."

"The two-ten sounds about right," announced Bobby. "Now, Billy,
telephone to my apartments to have my Gladstone and my dress-suit togs
brought down to that train. Then, by the way, telephone Leatherby and
Pluscher to send up to my place of business and have Mr. Johnson show
their man my new office. Have him take measurements of it and fit it
up at once, complete. They know the kind of things I like. Really,
fellows," he continued, turning to the others, after he had patiently
repeated and explained his instructions to the foggy but willing
Billy, "I'm in serious earnest about this thing. Up to me, you know,
to do credit to the governor, if I can."

"Bobby, the Boy Bargain Baron," observed Nick. "Well, I guess you can
do it. All you need to do is to take hold, and I'll back you at any
odds."

"We'll all put a bet on you," encouraged Stanley Rogers. "More, we'll
help. We'll all get married and send our wives around to open accounts
with you."

In spite of the serious business intentions, the luncheon which
followed was the last the city saw of Bobby Burnit for three days. Be
it said to his credit that he had accomplished his purpose when he
returned. He had brought reluctant Jack Starlett back with him, and
together they walked into the John Burnit Store.

"New office fitted up yet, Johnson?" asked Bobby pleasantly.

"Yes, sir," replied Johnson sourly. "Just a moment, Mr. Burnit," and
from an index cabinet back of him he procured an oblong gray envelope
which he handed to Bobby. It was inscribed:

_To My Son,
Upon the Fitting-Out of New Offices_

With a half-embarrassed smile, Bobby regarded that letter thoughtfully
and carried it into the luxurious new office. He opened it and read
it, and, still with that queer smile, passed it over to Starlett. This
was old John Burnit's message:

"I have seen a business work up to success, and afterward add
velvet rugs and dainty flowers on the desk, but I never saw a
successful business start that way."

Bobby looked around him with a grin. There _was_ a velvet rug on the
floor. There were no flowers upon the mahogany desk, but there _was_ a
vase to receive them. For just one moment he was nonplussed; then he
opened the door leading to the dingy apartment occupied by Messrs.
Johnson and Applerod.

"Mr. Johnson," said he, "will you kindly send out and get two dozen
pink carnations for my room?"

Quiet, big Jack Starlett, having loaded and lit and taken the first
long puff, removed his pipe from his lips.

"Bully!" said he.




CHAPTER III

OLD JOHN BURNIT'S ANCIENT ENEMY POINTS OUT THE WAY TO GRANDEUR


Mr. Johnson had no hair in the very center of his head, but, when he
was more than usually vexed, he ran his fingers through what was left


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe making of Bobby Burnit → online text (page 1 of 22)