It was the first of June, and Victor
Jones of Philadelphia was seated in the lounge of
the Savoy Hotel, London, defeated in his first really
great battle with the thing we call life.
Though of Philadelphia, Jones was
not an American, nor had he anything of the American
accent. Australian born, he had started life in
a bank at Melbourne, gone to India for a trading house,
started for himself, failed, and become a rolling
stone. Philadelphia was his last halt.
With no financial foundation, Victor
and a Philadelphia gentleman had competed for a contract
to supply the British Government with Harveyised steel
struts, bolts, and girders; he had come over to London
to press the business; he had interviewed men in brass
hats, slow moving men who had turned him over to slower
moving men. The Stringer Company, for so he dubbed
himself and Aaron Stringer, who had financed him for
the journey, had wasted three weeks on the business,
and this morning their tender had been rejected.
Hardmans’, the Pittsburg people, had got the
It was a nasty blow. If he and
Stringer could have secured the contract, they could
have carried it through all right, Stringer would have
put the thing in the hands of Laurenson of Philadelphia,
and their commission would have been enormous, a stroke
of the British Government’s pen would have filled
their pockets; failing that they were bankrupt.
At least Jones was.
And justifiably you will say, considering
that the whole business was a gigantic piece of bluff well,
maybe, yet on behalf of this bluffer I would put it
forward that he had risked everything on one deal,
and that this was no little failure of his, but a
disaster, naked and complete.
He had less than ten pounds in his
pocket and he owed money at the Savoy. You see
he had reckoned on doing all his business in a week,
and if it failed an idea which he scarcely
entertained on getting back third class
to the States. He had not reckoned on the terrible
expenses of London, or the three weeks delay.
Yesterday he had sent a cable to Stringer
for funds, and had got as a reply: “Am
waiting news of contract.”
Stringer was that sort of man.
He was thinking about Stringer now,
as he sat watching the guests of the Savoy, Americans
and English, well to do people with no money worries,
so he fancied. He was thinking about Stringer
and his own position, with less than ten pounds in
his pocket, an hotel bill unreceipted, and three thousand
miles of deep water between himself and Philadelphia.
Jones was twenty-four years of age.
He looked thirty. A serious faced, cadaverous
individual, whom, given three guesses you would have
judged to be a Scotch free kirk minister in mufti;
an actor in the melodramatic line; a food crank.
These being the three most serious occupations in
In reality, he had started life, as
before said, in a bank, educated himself in mathematics
and higher commercial methods, by correspondence,
and, aiming to be a millionaire, had left the bank
and struck out for himself in the great tumbling ocean
He had glimpsed the truth. Seen
the fact that the art of life is not so much to work
oneself as to make other people work for one, to convert
by one’s own mental energy, the bodily energy
of others into products or actions. Had this
Government contract come off, he would have, and to
his own profit, set a thousand hammers swinging, a
dozen steel mills rolling, twenty ships lading, hammers,
mills and ships he had never seen, never would see.
That is the magic of business, and
when you behold roaring towns and humming wharves,
when you read of raging battles, you see and read of
the work of a comparatively small number of men, gentlemen
who wear frock coats, who have never handled a bale,
or carried a gun, or steered a ship with their own
He ordered a whisky and soda from
a passing attendant, to help him think some more about
Stringer and his own awful position, and was taking
the glass from the salver when a very well dressed
man of his own age and build who had entered by the
passage leading up from the American bar drew his
This man’s face seemed quite
familiar to him, so much so that he started in his
chair as though about to rise and greet him. The
stranger, also, seemed for a second under the same
obsession, but only for a second; he made a half pause
and then passed on, becoming lost to sight beyond the
palm trees at the entrance. Jones leaned back
in his chair.
“Now, where did I see
that guy before?” asked he of himself. “Where
on earth have I met him? and he recognised me where
in the where in the where in
His memory vaguely and vainly searching
for the name to go with that face was at fault.
He finished his whisky and soda and rose, and then
strolled off not heeding much in what direction, till
he reached the book and newspaper stand where he paused
to inspect the wares, turning over the pages of the
latest best seller without imbibing a word of the
Then he found himself downstairs in
the American bar, with a champagne cocktail before
Jones was an abstemious man, as a
rule, but he had a highly strung nervous system and
it had been worked up. The unaccustomed whiskey
and soda had taken him in its charge, comforting him
and conducting his steps, and now the bar keeper,
a cheery person, combined with the champagne cocktail,
the cheeriest of drinks, so raised his spirits and
warmed his optimism, that, having finished his glass
he pushed it across the counter and said, “Give
At this moment a gentleman who had
just entered the bar came up to the counter, placed
half a crown upon it and was served by the assistant
bar keeper with a glass of sherry.
Jones, turning, found himself face
to face with the stranger whom he had seen in the
lounge, the stranger whose face he knew but whose name
he could not remember in the least.
Jones was a direct person, used to
travel and the forming of chance acquaintanceships.
He did not hang back.
“’Scuse me,” said
he. “I saw you in the lounge and I’m
sure I’ve met you somewhere or another, but
I can’t place you.”