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London physician, whose life is in peril. Paul Harley feels the sinister note of danger and regards as significant the theft of a manuscript from Sir Charles's library. At Sir Charles's, home he sees a picture of Phyllis Abingdon, Sir Charles's daughte, , and learns of the attention shown her by an Oriental gentleman. At the dinner table Sir Charles gasps out “Fire-Tongue . . . NicoL BRINN s” and falls dead. Dr. McMurdoch believes the death a result of shock, but Harley, fearing treachery, calls on Brinn, millionaire American traveler and adventurer. Brinn was once attended by Sir Charles, but knew him only slightly. At the word Fire-Tongue Brinn is shaken and warms Harles that to continue the investigation streams putting s's life too in jeopardy.
III.-Phyllis Abingdon Arrives N the following afternoon Paul Harley was restlessly pacing his private office when Innes came in with a letter which had been delivered by hand. Harley took it eagerly and tore open the envelope. A look of expectancy faded from his eager face almost in the moment that it appeared there. “No luck, Innes,” he said gloomily. “Merton reports that there is no trace of any dangerous foreign body in the liquids analyzed.” He dropped the analyst's report into a wastebasket and resumed his restless promenade. Innes, who could see that his principal wanted to talk, waited. For it was Paul Harley's custom, when the clue to a labyrinth evaded him, to outline his difficulties to his confidential secretary, and by the mere exercise of verbal construction Harley would often detect the weak spot in his reasoning. This stage come to, he would dictate a carefully worded statement of the case to date and thus familiarize himself with its complexities. “You see, Innes,” he began suddenly, “Sir Charles had taken no refreshment of any kind at Mr. Wilson's house nor before leaving his own. Neither had he smoked. No one had approached him. Therefore, if he was poisoned, he was poisoned at his own table. Since he was never out of my observation from the moment of entering the library up to that of his death, we are reduced to the only two possible mediums: The soup or the water. He had touched nothing else.” “No wine?” “Wine was on the table, but none had been poured out. Let us see what evidence, capable of being put into writing, exists to support my theory that Sir Charles was poisoned. In the first place, he clearly went in fear of some such death. It was because of this that he consulted me. What was the origin of his fear? Something associated with the term FireTongue. So much is clear from (a) Sir Charles's dying words, and (b) his questioning Nicol Brinn on the point some weeks earlier. “He was afraid, then, of something or some one linked in his mind with the word Fire-Tongue. What do we know about Fire-Tongue? One thing only : that it had to do with some episode which took place in India. This item we owe to Nicol Brinn. “Very well. Sir Charles believed himself to be in langer from some thing or person unknown, associited with India and with the term Fire-Tongue. What else? His house was entered during the night inder circumstances suggesting that burglary was lot the object of the entrance. And next? He was
- "In the first place, Miss Abingdom,” said Paul Harley, speaking very deliberately "do you attach any particular significance to the term "Fire-Tongue’?”
assaulted, with murderous intent. Thirdly, he believed himself to be subjected to constant surveillance. Was this a delusion? It was not. After failing several times, I myself, detected some one dogging my movements last night at the moment I entered Nicol Brinn's chambers. Nicol Brinn also saw this person. “In short, Sir Charles was, beyond doubt, at the time of his death, receiving close attention from some mysterious person or persons, the object of which he believed to be his death. Have I gone beyond established facts, Innes, thus far?” “No, Mr. Harley. So far you are on solid ground.”
“ATOOD. Leaving out of the question those points which we hope to clear up when the evidence of Miss Abingdon becomes available—how did Sir Charles learn that Nicol Brinn knew the meaning of Fire-Tongue?” “He may have heard something to that effect in India.” “If this were so, he would scarcely have awaited a chance encounter to prosecute his inquiries, since Nicol Brinn is a well-known figure in London and Sir Charles had been home for several years.” “Mr. Brinn may have said something after the accident and before he was in full possession of his senses which gave Sir Charles a clue.” “He did not, Innes. I called at the druggist's establishment this morning. They recalled the incident, of course. Mr. Brinn never uttered a word until, opening his eyes, he said: “Hello! Am I much damaged?’” Innes smiled discreetly. “A remarkable character, Mr. Harley,” he said. “Your biggest difficulty at the moment is to fit Mr. Nicol Brinn into the scheme.” “He won't fit at all, Innes! We come to the final
and conclusive item of evidence substantiating my theory of Sir Charles's murder: Nicol Brinn believes he was murdered. Nicol Brinn has known others, in his own words, “to go the same way.” Yet Nicol Brinn, a millionaire, a scholar, a sportsman, and a gentleman, refuses to open his mouth.” “He is afraid of something.” “He is afraid of Fire-Tongue—whatever FireTongue may be I never saw a man of proved courage more afraid in my life. He prefers to court arrest for complicity in a murder rather than tell what he knows ''' “It’s unbelievable.” “It would be, Innes, if Nicol Brinn's fears were personal.” Paul Harley checked his steps in front of the watchful secretary and gazed keenly into his eyes. “Death has no terrors for Nicol Brinn,” he said slowly. “All his life he has toyed with danger. He admitted to me that during the past seven years he had courted death. Isn’t it plain enough, Innes? If ever a man possessed all that the world had to offer, Nicol Brinn is that man. In such a case and in such circumstances what do we look for?” Innes shook his head. “We look for the woman!” snapped Paul Harley.) There came a rap at the door and Miss Smith, the typist, entered. “Miss Phil Abingdon and Dr. McMurdoch,” she said. “Good heavens !” muttered Harley. “So soon? Why, she can only just—” He checked himself. “Show them in, Miss Smith,” he directed. As the typist went out, followed by Innes, Paul Harley found himself thinking of the photograph in Sir Charles Abingdon's library and waiting with an almost feverish expectancy for the appearance of the original.
Almost immediately Phil Abingdon came in, ac- .
companied by the sepulchral Dr. McMurdoch. And Harley found himself wondering whether her eyes were really violet colored or whether intense emotion heroically repressed had temporarily lent them that appearance. Surprise was the predominant quality of his first impression. Sir Charles Abingdon's daughter was so exceedingly vital—petite and slender yet instinct with force. The seeming repose of the photograph was misleading. That her glance could be naive he realized—as it could also be gay, and now her eyes were sad with a sadness so deep as to dispel the impression of lightness created by her dainty form, her alluring, mobile lips, and the fascinating, wavy, red-brown hair. She did not wear mourning. He realized that there had been no time to procure it. She was exquisitely and fashionably dressed, and even the pallor of grief could not rob her cheeks of the bloom born of Devon sunshine. He had expected her to be pretty. He was surprised to find her lovely. Dr. McMurdoch stood silent in the doorway, saying nothing by-way of introduction. But nothing was necessary. Phil Abingdon came forward quite naturally—and quite naturally Paul Harley discovered her little gloved hand to lie clasped between both his own. It was more like a reunion than a first meeting and was so laden with perfect understanding that, even yet, speech seemed scarcely worth while. Thinking over that moment, in later days, Paul Harley remembered that he had been prompted by some small, inner voice to say: “So you have come back?” Yet he had never before set eyes upon Phil Abingdon. It was recognition. Of the hundreds of men and women who came into his life for a while, and ere long went out of it again, he knew, by virtue of that sixth sense of his, that Phil Abingdon had come to stay—whether for joy or sorrow he could not divine. It was really quite brief—that interval of silence —although perhaps long enough to bridge the ages. “How brave of you, Miss Abingdon,” said Harley. “How wonderfully brave of you.” “She’s an Abingdon,” came the deep tones of Dr. McMurdoch. “She only arrived two hours ago and here she is.” “There can be no rest for me, doctor,” said the girl, and strove valiantly to control her voice, “until this dreadful doubt is removed. Mr. Harley”—she turned to him appealingly—“please don’t study my feelings in the least; I can bear anything—now: just tell me what happened. Oh, I had to come. I felt I had to come.”
S Paul Harley placed an armchair for his visitor, his glance met that of Dr. McMurdoch, and in the gloomy eyes he read admiration of this girl who could thus conquer the inherent weakness of her sex and at such an hour and after a dreadful crdeal set her hand to the task which cruel fate had laid upon her. Dr. McMurdoch sat down on a chair beside the door, setting his silk hat upon the floor and clasping his massive chin with his hand. “I will endeavor to do as you wish, Miss Abingdon,” said Harley, glancing anxiously at the physician. But Dr. McMurdoch returned only a dull stare. It was evident enough that this man of stone was as clay in the hands of Phil Abingdon. He deprecated the strain which she was imposing upon her nervous system, already overwrought to the danger point, but he was helpless for all his dour obstinacy. Harley, looking down at the girl's profile, read a new meaning into the firm line of her chin. He was conscious of an insane desire to put his arms around this new acquaintance who seemed in some" indefinable yet definite way to belong to him and to whisper the tragic story he had to tell, comforting her the while. He began to relate what had taken place at the first interview, when Sir Charles had told him of the menace which he had believed to hang over his life. He spoke slowly, deliberately, choosing his words with a view to sparing Phil Abingdon's feelings as far as possible. She made no comment throughout, but her fingers alternately tightened and relaxed their hold upon the arms of the chair in which she was seated. Once, at some reference to words spoken by her father, her sensitive lips began to quiver and Harley, watching her, paused. She held the chair arms more tightly. “Please go on, Mr. Harley,” she said. The words were spoken in a very low voice, but the speaker looked up bravely, and Harley, reassured, proceeded uninterruptedly to the end of the
story. Then: “At some future time, Miss Abingdon,” he concluded, “I hope you will allow me to call upon you. There is so much to be discussed—” Again Phil Abingdon looked up into his face. “I have forced myself to come to see you to-day,” she said, “because I realize there is no service I can do poor dad so important as finding out—” “I understand,” Harley interrupted gently. “But—” “No, no.” Phil Abingdon shook her head rebelliously. “Please ask me what you want to know. I came for that.” He met the glance of violet eyes, and understood something of Dr. McMurdoch's helplessness. He found his thoughts again wandering into strange, wild byways and was only recalled to the realities by the dry, gloomy voice of the physician. “Go on, Mr. Harley,” said Dr. McMurdoch. “She has grand courage.”
AUL HARLEY crossed the room and stood in front of the tall Burmese cabinet. He experienced the utmost difficulty in adopting a judicial attitude toward his beautiful visitor. Proximity increased his mental confusion. Therefore he stood on the opposite side of the office ere beginning to question her. “In the first place, Miss Abingdon,” he said, speaking very deliberately, “do you attach any particular significance to the term “Fire-Tongue’?” Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly at Dr. McMurdoch. “None at all, Mr. Harley,” she replied. “The doctor has already told me of ’’ “You know why I ask?” She inclined her head. “And Mr. Nicol Brimn? Have you met this gentleman?” Miss Abingdon shook her head.
“Never. I know that dad had met him and was very much interested in him.” “In what way?” “I have no idea. He told me that he thought Mr. Brinn one of the most singular characters he had ever known. But beyond describing his rooms in Piccadilly, which had impressed him as extraordinary, he said very little about Mr. Brinn. He sounded interesting and”—she hesitated and her eyes filled with tears—“I asked dad to invite him home.” Again she paused. This retrospection, by making the dead seem to live again, added to the horror of her sudden bereavement, and Harley would most gladly have spared her more. “Dad seemed strangely disinclined to do so,” she added. At that the keen investigator came to life within Harley. “Your father did not appear anxious to bring Mr. Brinn to his home?” he asked eagerly. “Not at all anxious. This was all the more strange, because dad invited Mr. Brinn to his club.” “He gave no reason for his refusal?” “Oh, there was no refusal, Mr. Harley. He merely evaded the matter. I never knew why.” “H'm,” muttered Harley. “And now, Miss Abingdon, can you enlighten me respecting the identity of the Oriental gentleman with whom he had latterly become acquainted?” Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly at Dr. McMurdoch and then lowered her head. She did not answer at once. “I know to whom you refer, Mr. Harley,” she said finally. “But it was I who had made this gentleman's acquaintance. My father did not know him.” “Then I wonder why he mentioned him?” murmured Harley. “That I cannot imagine. I have been wondering ever since Dr. McMurdoch told me.”
“You recognize the person to whom Sir Charles referred?” “Yes. He could only have meant Ormuz Khan.” “Ormuz Khan—” echoed Harley. “Where have I heard that name?” “He visits England periodically, I believe. In fact, he has a house somewhere near London. I met him at Lady Vail's.” “Lady Vail's 2 His excellency moves, then, in diplomatic circles? Odd that I cannot place him.” “I have a vague idea, Mr. Harley, that he is a financier. I seem to have heard that he had something to do with the Imperial Bank of Iran.” She glanced naively at Harley. “Is there such a bank?” she asked. “There is,” he replied. “Am I to understand that Ormuz Khan is a I'ersian'?” “I believe he is a Persian,” said Phil Abingdon, rather confusedly. “To be quite frank, I know very little about him.” Paul Harley gazed steadily at the speaker for a moment. “Can you think of any reason why Sir Charles should have worried about this gentleman?” he asked.
H E girl lowered her head again. “He paid me a lot of attention,” she finally confessed. “This meeting at Lady Vail's, then, was the first of many'?” “Oh, no—not of many ' I saw him two or three times. But he began to send me most extravagrant presents. I suppose it was his Oriental way of paying a compliment, but dad objected.” “Of course he would. He knew his Orient and his Oriental. I assume, Miss Abingdon, that you were in England during the years that your father lived in the East?” “Yes. I was at school. I have never been in the East.” Paul Harley hesitated. He found himself upon dangerously delicate ground and was temporarily at a loss as to how to proceed. Unexpected aid came from the taciturn Dr. McMurdoch. “He never breathed a word of this to me, Phil,” he said gloomily. “The impudence of the man! Small wonder Abingdon objected.” Phil Abingdon tilted her chin forward rebelliously. “Ormuz Khan was merely unfamiliar with English customs,” she retorted. “There was nothing otherwise in his behavior to which anyone could have taken exception.” “What's that!” demanded the physician. “If a man of color paid his heathen attentions to my daughter—” “Hut you have no daughter, doctor.” “No. But if I had—” “If you had,” echoed Phil Abingdon, and was about to carry on this wordy warfare which, Harley divined, was of old standing between the two, when sudden realization of the purpose of the visit came to her. She paused, and he saw her biting her lips
desperately. Almost at random he began to speak.
again: “So far as you are aware, then, Miss Abingdon, Sir Charles never met Ormuz Khan?” “He never even saw him, that I know of.” “It is most extraordinary that he should have given me the impression that this man—for I can only suppose that he referred to Ormuz Khan—was in some way associated with his fears.” “I must remind you, Mr. Harley,” Dr. McMurdoch interrupted, “that poor Abingdon was a free talker. His pride, I take it, which was strong, had kept him silent on this matter with me, but he welcomed an opportunity of easing his mind to one discre et and outside the family circle. His words to you may have had no bearing upon the thing he wished to consult you about.” ; “H'm,” mused Harley. “That's possible. But : such was not my impression.” t! He turned again to Phil Abingdon. “This Ormuz 'Khan, I understood you to say, actually resides in 'or near London?” “He is at present living at the Savoy, I believe. 'He also has a house somewhere outside London.”
photograph. Harley decided
gist, and he perceived clearly enough that Phil Abingdon was one of those women in whom a certain latent perversity is fanned to life by opposition. Whether she was really attracted by Ormuz Khan, or whether she suffered his attentions merely because she knew them to be distasteful to others, he could not yet decide. Anger threatened him—as it had threatened him
when he had realized that Nicol Brinn meant to
remain silent. He combated it, for it had no place in the judicial mind of the investigator. But he recognized its presence with dismay. Where Phil Abingdon was concerned he could not trust himself. In her glance too, and in the manner of her answers to questions concerning the Oriental, there was a provoking femininity—a deliberate and baffling intrusion of the eternal Eve.
I E stared questioningly across at Dr. McMurdoch and perceived a sudden look of anxiety in the physician’s face. Quick as the thought which the look inspired, he turned to Phil Abingdon. She was sitting quite motionless in the big armchair, and her face had grown very pale. Even as he sprang forward he saw her head droop. “She has fainted,” said Dr. McMurdoch. “I’m not surprised.”
“Nor I,” said Harley. “She should not have come.”
He opened the door communicating with his private apartments and ran out. But.. quick as he was, Phil Abingdon had recovered before he returned with the water for which he had gone. Her reassuring smile was somewhat wan. “How perfectly silly of me,” she said. “I shall begin to despise myself.”
• Presently he went down to the street with his visitors. “There must be so much more you want to know, Mr. Harley,” said Phil Abingdon. “Will you come and see me?” He promised to do so. His sentiments were so strangely complex that he experienced a desire for solitude in order that he might strive to understand them. As he stood at the door watching the car move toward the Strand he knew that to-day he could not count upon his intuitive powers to warn him of hidden danger. But he keenly examined the faces of passers-by and stared at the occupants of those cabs and cars which were proceeding in the same direction as the late Sir Charles Abingdon's limousine. No discovery rewarded him, however, and he returned upstairs to his office deep in thought. “I am in to nobody,” he said as he passed the desk at which Innes was at work. “Very good, Mr. Harley.” Paul Harley walked through to the private office and, seating himself at the big, orderly table, reached over to a cupboard beside him and took out a tin of smoking mixture. He began very slowly to load his pipe, gazing abstractedly across the room at the tall Burmese cabinet. He realized that, excepting the extraordinary behavior and the veiled but significant statements of Nicol Brinn, his theory that Sir Charles Abingdon had not died from natural causes rested upon data of the most
o, Z flimsy description. | From Phil Abingdon he had learned J/ nothing whatever. Her evidence mere\\ ly tended to confuse the case more hopelessly.
It was sheer nonsense to suppose that Ormuz Khan, who was evidently interested in the girl, could be in any way concerned in the death of her father. Nevertheless, as an ordinary matter of routine, Paul Harley, having lighted his pipe, made a note on a little block :
Cover activities of Ormot - Khan.
He smoked reflectively for a while and then added another note:
Watch Nicol Brinn.
For ten minutes or more he sat smoking and thinking, his unseeing gaze set upon the gleaming lacquer of the cabinet; and presently, as he smoked, he became aware of an abrupt and momentary chill. His sixth sense was awake again. Taking up a pencil, he added a third note:
Watch yourself. You are in danger.
EEP in reflection and oblivious of the busy London life around him, Paul Harley walked slowly along the Strand. Outwardly he was still the keen-eyed investigator who could pry more deeply into a mystery than any other in England; but to-day his mood was introspective. He was in a brown study. The one figure which had power to recall him to the actual world suddenly intruded itself upon his field of vision. From dreams which he recognized in the moment of awakening to have been of Phil Abingdon, he was suddenly aroused to the fact that Phil Abingdon herself was present. Perhaps, half subconsciously, he had been looking for her. Veiled and dressed in black, he saw her slim figure moving through the throng. He conceived the idea that there was something furtive in her movements. She seemed to be hurrying along as if desirous of avoiding recognition. Every now and again she glanced back, evidently in search of a cab, and a dormant suspicion which had lain in Harley’s mind now became animate. Phil Abingdon was coming from the direction of the Savoy Hotel. Was it possible that she had been to visit Ormuz Khan? Harley crossed the Strand and paused just in front of the hurrying, black-clad figure. “Miss Abingdom,” he said, “a sort of instinct told me that I should meet you to-day.” She stopped suddenly, and through the black veil which she wore he saw (Continued as page 24)
The Play of the Week
Madge Kennedy's Return to the Stage in “Cornered”
By Heywood Broun
moving pictures, it is only natural that dramatic critics should cheer and run around to prepare for her fatted columns of praise. She who was lost is found and has returned from the husks of Los Angeles. And yet there was more than this to the triumph of Miss Madge Kennedy in “Cornered.” It had been reported for some time that the young star was growing weary of the pictures and longed to be again with her own people. She waited, so the report said, only until such time as she could get a good play. Seemingly, she at length grew impatient and appeared in “Cornered.” Years ago—it must be at least three or four sea
HENEVER a beautiful young actress comes back to the stage after a long absence in
should try to make up for her absence by giving two performances in one evening. Still, it is complicated unless you know the plot. Perhaps it will be best to begin at the beginning, which is in a chop suey restaurant in New York City. It seems to be a restaurant of dubious character, for when Nick and Jerry sit down to dine together they are quite open in explaining the fact that they are thieves, and they talk of slack times and readjustment and such things
Madge Kennedy seems to be in a pretty tight place when the detective begins to question her fellow burglar. But she isn't really cornered—until later
sons—Madge Kennedy established herself as the best farce actress in New York, or, as we say, in America. Her reputation was made chiefly in “Fair and Warmer,” by Avery Hopwood, in which she played the part of a young wife who had never tasted a cocktail and then did in the second act. Miss Kennedy is among the few performers who realize that farce may be done easily and quietly without grimaces and without any elaborate process of signaling to the audience each comical intention. Nevertheless, the motion-picture people took her away.
Enter Madge Kennedy
OR seasons and seasons we had nothing left
but Madge Kennedy imitators. One by one they
were discouraged and desisted, and only a memOry remained. It was an event, then, at the Astor Theatre when one of the thieves said to the other: “I wish Mary was here”; and, as if in answer to the wish, Mary Brennan sauntered out upon the stage. Mary Brennan was Madge Kennedy, but Madge Kennedy was also on the program as Margaret Waring. Having been away from the theatre for so long, it seemed only fair that Madge Kennedy
much as if they were woolen merchants. Presently Mary joins them, and the audience learns that the relation between the two thieves and the young girl has been a singularly beautiful one. They have brought her up since she was a tiny orphan child. Their care seems to have been exceptionally wise, for she is virtuous, loyal, and ambitious. They have even taught her to wear her hair becomingly. Her only vice seems to be a tendency to slang. Presently the three friends go into a booth, and soon after a slumming party comes to the restaurant. With this party is Margaret Waring, and, lo and behold, Madge Kennedy has put on another dress, bustled into a new accent, and become a different person. Naturally, Mary Brennan and Margaret Waring resemble each other strikingly. The thieves notice it, and later in the act they try to
"induce Mary to impersonate Margaret and aid them
in stealing the Waring jewels. Likable and highminded as the two thieves are, it must be admitted that there is this one flaw in their characters—they will steal. So will Mary, but we should not overlook the fact that she could find no honest employment and that she had not eaten for days. In the second act we find that Mary Brennan has
Edward Thayer Monroe
"Cornered” supplies Madge Kennedy with two roles, but that isn't a bit too much for the audience
gained access to the Waring home and has carried on the deception so well that both maid and butler believe her to be the heiress. She admits her friends the burglars, but while they are hard at work upon the safe the real Miss Waring comes in, and Nick, the less puritanical of the two burglars, shoots her. Mary is so distressed that she refuses to escape, but stays in the house to learn the fate of the wounded girl. It is well to explain that in the scenes in which it is necessary to have both girls on the stage at the same time, Madge Kennedy plays only the part of the thief. The other rôle is not difficult, since the actress has little to do but lie on a sofa and keep her head averted from the audience. When Mary decided to stay at the scene of the crime it seemed as if she must be detected, but when the third act begins we find that everybody in the house still believes that she is the heiress and that the real Miss Waring, who has been wounded, is the thief. Even the hero thinks this. We forgot to say that in the second act he came in and made love to Mary, thinking she was Margaret. This is important. The detective is suspicious, but whenever he asks Mary a hard question she falls back on a talent which she has for mind reading and gives him the right answer. But the hero eventually learns the truth. Still he won't tell. He shields Mary.
N the last act the suspicions of the audience are confirmed. Even with all the facts in his possession, the hero loves the thief. However, there seem to be difficulties. A house has been entered, a young lady has been shot, and it seems as if somebody ought to go to jail. Fortunately, just before the final curtain, the discovery is made that Mary and Margaret are twins and that the rich Warings have been searching for Mary for years, ever since she was temporarily mislaid when a steamer sank in the Pacific. Margaret's wound turns out not to be serious, and the police are persuaded " (Continued on page 23)
C Ollie r S THE NATIONAL WE E KLY
Vol. 67 No. 2 January 8, 1921
Harford Powel, jr., Editor Loren Palmer, Managing Editor P. F. COLLIER & SON COMPANY 416 W. 13th Street, New York, N. Y. 6 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London, W. C.
George D. Buckley, President Thos. H. Beck, Vice President G. J. Kennedy, Vice President F. H. Rice, Vice President A. E. Winger, Treasurer A. B. Casey, Secretary
How We Can All Help the Readjustment That Is Making Headway
Collier's does not believe that any panic is near or in prospect. Neither is Collier's convinced that the industrial structure is collapsing or will collapse.
Collier's does believe that a readjustment is making headway. Promoters of wildcat schemes and nonessentials have had their day. Those who would conserve are getting their hearing now.
We have a sound banking system and we have sound bankers. Industry and banking are working together, so that we may be gradually lowered from the clouds, into which our bad thinking elevated us, back to the firm ground of old-fashioned common sense and clear thinking.
The time has come for less loose talk and more hard thought about the traffic jam in which American business finds itself.
This is a time to consult experienced men. This is not a time to be guided by the nervous judgment of those in high places who have ridden into their positions on the top of a flood of extraordinary prosperity.
Nobody is untouched. And yet, if we all try to do the useful and sensible and decent things, the outcome will be good for us. Though we have all wished for a continuation of good times and prosperity, our common sense has told us that it might not continue. Like the whole world, we have spent hectic years in burning up and blowing up wealth, and material, and human resources in War. We have tried to put off the war reckoning. We have doubted, many of us, the wisdom which our older heads might have given us. We have thought, many of us, we could continue to make and sell to the dealer, and expect him to sell to the consumer, goods at the high prices of the past few years. We have watched, many of us, the ticker tick, when we should have traveled around and determined whether or not the customer of our dealer could pay for the goods we sold to the dealer. Then we have bought raw material to make the goods to sell to the dealer, who we expected would sell these goods to the consumer, without stopping to find out whether the consumer could pay the dealer, who could pay us, so that we could pay for these materials. Many a man who works for wages has thought he could receive an extraordinarily high wage for fewer hours and less production per hour, without determining whether or not the product he made would be bought and paid for by a man who could use it. It is simple enough when we take the time to think about it.
Lawyers tell us that the law offices of America are filled with cases of broken contracts and attempted cancellations. If there is anything to be found in periods of slack business that helps more than all else to break down confidence, and shut down industries, and bring pain, it is this effort to cancel orders given.
When Jones breaks a contract with Smith, and Smith in turn feels disposed to break his promise to Brown, and Brown is squeezed so that he has to disappoint Robinson, an insidious disease springs up that corrupts all standards and does its evil best to increase the pains of reorganization for all of us. When Jones breaks faith
with Smith, and drives Smith to pass the evil along, Jones probably does the shortsighted thing and may start a chain of events that will come back and knock the stuffing out of Jones himself. If this is not right, then civilization and its built-up business practices are not right. If we are wrong, then when civilization devised business honor, it devised a silly and unpractical thing. We have all consulted our wishes and our hopes. We have been unwilling to face the facts. Now we are all upset. Some of us howl calamity. Some of us wreathe our faces in the hollow smile of unthinking optimism. But all of us have been unwilling to make decisions that quarreled with our hopes, and so to-day we complain that there is little trade. Bankers are criticized for suddenly withdrawing credit. Merchants complain that customers refuse to buy and refuse to pay their bills. And labor complains that mills are closed. After all, there is nothing to gain by passing the buck. Each of us is dependent on the other. Instead of passing the buck, suppose that each of us steps backward in order that he may then go forward and travel familiar paths.
Herbert Hoover put it aptly when he said: “Successful business consists of profit and loss.” We all hate to leave the feast. Many of us will sometimes eat ourselves stupid at our plates and can scarcely move without a prod. We are all tired of sentimental generalities. The world has had an overdose of the dream stuff. Collier's is not offering, in this moment when we are facing deflation and descent to earth, any proposal to change human nature or evangelize business. But we assert this fact as being 100 per cent true:
Our social attitude—the elements of human nature, human temperance, human merit, and human wisdom— are the forces upon which we must depend to make cooperation in meeting pinches. Economic facts are facts, and they are inflexible. The flexible, variable, workable, saving element lies in the conduct of human beings. The return to good times will come when employer and employee
share the costs of temporary depression, when banker and borrower share the risks of slowly deflating credit, when promises are kept
and the seller meets the buyer in the slow decline of prices, and the
buyer meets the seller in a demand that prices shall be reduced rather than crashed.
Trade will resume. Collier's has no fear of a general smash. We realize adjustment is necessary. We plead for better thinking on the part of our leaders in industry. Those who lead trade-unions must have the courage to tell their membership that its welfare rests now upon lower wages, continued activity, and the expectation of lower living costs. Those who employ labor, and bear the responsibility for unemployment, owe it to those whom they like to call “partners in industry” to save jobs for them to the last ditch. We all stand together. The vital point in the whole situation is that we must all take what is only an apparent step backward, in order that we may once more take a real step forward. The man who does this, no matter whether he has a big job or a small one, is the kind of leader that we all need. His example will shine brightly before others. No pilot has ever made a lasting reputation in smooth waters. If the war taught us anything at all, it taught this: When anything threatens us, even though we imagine its basis is economic fact, the one way to beat it is by human conduct. The way out is found not in things, but in men. If we act now, all together and each with an eye to the other, we will act precisely as though we were the same old men and women who used to play square and be decent when everything was on the crest of the wave. And before we have gone far into 1921 we will find ourselves going ahead surely on a sound basis, paying for what we order and ordering only that for which we can pay.