Sloan peered at the speaker’s face. “Isn’t this Mr. Wilbram? You were at the Bee office to-day, sir. May I have a word with you about the Willie Downey matter?”
“Come in,” said Mr. Wilbram.
On the first pay-day in May the impending sword cut its thread. Said a messenger to Jacob Downey: “They want you on the eighth floor.” Downey set his jaws and followed.
In the mahogany-panelled room A. Lincoln Wilbram turned from the window and transfixed his servitor with eyes that bored like steel bits.
“Downey, I understand you have a literary son.”
Jacob held his breath, eyed his accuser steadily, and assured himself that it would soon be over now.
“How about it, Downey?”
“I know what you mean, sir.”
“Did you say the things printed there?”
The little man wasted no time in examining the newspaper clipping.
“Yes, sir, I did. If it has come to your lady’s ears what I called her, I beg her pardon. But what I said I’ll stick to. If I stand fifteen minutes in line in a meat store or any other kind of store, I’ve got a right to be waited on ahead of anybody that rings up, I don’t give a ding who she is.”
“Good for you, Downey. Let me see, how long have you worked for us?”
“Twenty-three years next January, sir.”
“Floor salesman all the while?”
“Since 1900. Before that I was a wrapper.”
“How many men have been promoted over your head?”
“Four,” Wilbram corrected. “First was Miggins.”
“I don’t count him, sir. Him and I started together.”
“Miggins was a failure. Then Farisell; now in prison. Next, McCardy; he ran off to Simonds & Co. the minute they crooked a finger at him. Last, young Prescott, who is now to come up here with his father. Could you run the department if you had it?”
“Between you and I,” replied Jacob Downey, sick, dizzy, trembling, “I been running the department these fifteen years.”
“How’d you like to run it from now as manager? When I find a man with convictions and courage I advance him. The man who stands up is the man to sit down. That’s evolution. If you could stand up to a big butcher like Myers and talk Dutch to him the way you did, I guess we need you at a desk. What do you say?”
A desk! A chance to rest his feet! Jacob Downey stiffened.
“Mr. Wilbram, I—I got to tell the truth. I never said those things to Myers. I just walked out.”
“But you said them. You acknowledge it.”
“I said ’em, yes—after I got home. To the family I said ’em. When I was in the meat shop I only thought ’em.”
“So Myers has told me,” said Jove, smiling. “Downey, my man, you’ve got more than moral courage. You’ve got common sense to go with it. Tell young Prescott to give you his keys.”