Draper was silent, and Mr. Spence once more addressed himself to his secretary. “Millner, you’re a reader: I’ve caught you at it. And I know this boy talks to you. What have you got to say? Do you suppose a Bible Class ever hurt anybody?”
Millner paused a moment, feeling all through his nervous system the fateful tremor of the balance. “That’s what I was just trying to tell him, sir—”
“Ah; you were? That’s good. Then I’ll only say one thing more. Your doing what you’ve done at this particular moment hurts me more, Draper, than your teaching the gospel of Jesus could possibly have hurt those young men over in Tenth Avenue.” Mr. Spence arose and restored his watch to his pocket. “I shall want you in twenty minutes, Millner.”
The door closed on him, and for a while the two young men sat silent behind their cigar fumes. Then Draper Spence broke out, with a catch in his throat: “That’s what I can’t bear, Millner, what I simply can’t bear: to hurt him, to hurt his faith in me! It’s an awful responsibility, isn’t it, to tamper with anybody’s faith in anything?”
THE twenty minutes prolonged themselves to forty, the forty to fifty, and the fifty to an hour; and still Millner waited for Mr. Spence’s summons.
During the two years of his secretaryship the young man had learned the significance of such postponements. Mr. Spence’s days were organized like a railway time-table, and a delay of an hour implied a casualty as far-reaching as the breaking down of an express. Of the cause of the present derangement Hugh Millner was ignorant; and the experience of the last months allowed him to fluctuate between conflicting conjectures. All were based on the indisputable fact that Mr. Spence was “bothered”—had for some time past been “bothered.” And it was one of Millner’s discoveries that an extremely parsimonious use of the emotions underlay Mr. Spence’s expansive manner and fraternal phraseology, and that he did not throw away his feelings any more than (for all his philanthropy) he threw away his money. If he was bothered, then, it could be only because a careful survey of his situation had forced on him some unpleasant fact with which he was not immediately prepared to deal; and any unpreparedness on Mr. Spence’s part was also a significant symptom.
Obviously, Millner’s original conception of his employer’s character had suffered extensive modification; but no final outline had replaced the first conjectural image. The two years spent in Mr. Spence’s service had produced too many contradictory impressions to be fitted into any definite pattern; and the chief lesson Millner had learned from them was that life was less of an exact science, and character a more incalculable element, than he had been taught in the schools. In the light of this revised impression, his own footing seemed less secure than he had imagined,