He rose slowly from his desk, exchanging with the office boy who brought the message a long, severe look, under which something very comic lurked, though neither knew what.
“And don’t miss J.B.’s socks,” said the boy.
Mr. Honaton—J.B.—was considered in his office a very beautiful dresser, as indeed in some ways he was. He was a tall young man, built like a greyhound, with a small, pointed head, a long waist, and a very long throat, from which, however, the strongest, loudest voice could issue when he so desired. This was his priceless asset. He was the board member, and generally admitted to be an excellent broker. It always seemed to Pete that he was a broker exactly as a beaver is a dam-builder, because nature had adapted him to that task. But outside of this one instinctive capacity he had no sense whatsoever. He rarely appeared in the office. He was met at the Broad Street entrance of the exchange at one minute to ten by a boy with the morning’s orders, and sometimes he came in for a few minutes after the closing; but usually by three-fifteen he had disappeared from financial circles, and was understood to be relaxing in the higher social spheres to which he belonged. So when Pete, entering Mr. Benson’s private office, saw Honaton leaning against the window-frame, with his hat-brim held against his thigh exactly like a fashion-plate, he knew that something of importance must be pending.
Benson, the senior member, was a very different person. He looked like a fat, white, pugnacious cat. His hair, which had turned white early, had a tendency to grow in a bang; his arms were short—so short that when he put his hands on the arms of his swing-chair he hardly bent his elbows. He had them there now as Pete entered, and was swinging through short arcs in rather a nervous rhythm. He was of Irish parentage, and was understood to have political influence.
“Wayne,” said Benson, “how would you like to go to China?”
And Honaton repeated portentously, “China,” as if Benson might have made a mistake in the name of the country if he had not been at his elbow to correct him.
“Well,” he said, “I have nothing against China.”
Benson outlined the situation quickly. The firm had acquired property in China not entirely through their own choice, and they wanted a thorough, clear report on it; they knew of no one—no one, Benson emphasized—who could do that as impartially and as well as Wayne. They would pay him a good sum and his expenses. It would take him a year, perhaps a year and a half. They named the figure. It was one that made marriage possible. They talked of the situation and the property and the demand for copper until Honaton began to look at his watch, a flat platinum watch, perfectly plain, you might have thought, until you caught a glimpse of a narrow line of brilliants along its almost imperceptible rim. His usual working day was over in half an hour.