Their Word of Honor
The president of the Great B. railway system laid down the letter he had just reread three times, and turned about in his chair with an expression of extreme annoyance.
“I wish it were possible,” he said, slowly, “to find one boy or man in a thousand who would receive instructions and carry them out to the letter without a single variation from the course laid down. Cornelius,” he looked up sharply at his son, who sat at a desk close by, “I hope you are carrying out my ideas with regard to your sons. I have not seen much of them lately. The lad Cyrus seems to me a promising fellow, but I am not so sure of Cornelius. He appears to be acquiring a sense of his own importance as Cornelius Woodbridge, Third, which is not desirable, sir—not desirable. By the way, Cornelius, have you yet applied the Hezekiah Woodbridge test to your boys?”
Cornelius Woodbridge, Junior, looked up from his work with a smile. “No, I have not, Father,” he said.
“It’s a family tradition; and if the proper care has been taken that the boys should not learn of it, it will be as much a test for them as it was for you and for me and for my father. You have not forgotten the day I gave it to you, Cornelius?”
“That would be impossible,” said his son, still smiling.
The elder man’s somewhat stern features relaxed, and he sat back in his chair with a chuckle. “Do it at once,” he requested, “and make it a stiff one. You know their characteristics; give it to them hard. I feel pretty sure of Cyrus, but Cornelius—” He shook his head doubtfully, and returned to his letter. Suddenly he wheeled about again.
“Do it Thursday, Cornelius,” he said, in his peremptory way, “and whichever one of them stands it shall go with us on the tour of inspection. That will be reward enough, I fancy.”
“Very well, sir,” replied his son, and the two men went on with their work without further words. They were in the habit of despatching important business with the smallest possible waste of breath.
On Thursday morning, immediately after breakfast, Cyrus Woodbridge found himself summoned to his father’s library. He presented himself at once, a round-cheeked, bright-eyed lad of fifteen, with an air of alertness in every line of him.
“Cyrus,” said his father, “I have a commission for you to undertake, of a character which I cannot now explain to you. I want you to take this envelope”—he held out a large and bulky packet—“and, without saying anything to anyone, follow its instructions to the letter. I ask of you your word of honor that you will do so.”
The two pairs of eyes looked into each other for a moment, singularly alike in a certain intent expression, developed into great keenness in the man, but showing as yet only an extreme wide-awakeness in the boy. Cyrus Woodbridge had an engagement with a young friend in half an hour, but he responded, firmly—“I will, sir.”
“On your honor?”
“That is all I want. Go to your room, and read your instructions. Then start at once.”
Mr. Woodbridge turned back to his desk with the nod and smile of dismissal to which Cyrus was accustomed. The boy went to his room, opening the envelope as soon as he had closed the door. It was filled with smaller envelopes, numbered in regular order. Enfolding these was a typewritten paper, which read as follows:
Go to the reading room of the Westchester Library. There open envelope No. 1. Remember to hold all instructions secret.
C. W., Jr.
Cyrus whistled. “That’s funny! It means my date with Harold is off. Well, here goes!”
He stopped on his way out to telephone his friend of his detention, took a Westchester Avenue car at the nearest point, and in twenty minutes was at the library. He found an obscure corner and opened envelope No. 1.
Go to office of W. K. Newton, room 703, tenth floor, Norfolk Building, X Street, reaching there by 9:30 A.M. Ask for letter addressed to Cornelius Woodbridge, Jr. On way down elevator open envelope No. 2.
Cyrus began to laugh. At the same time he felt a trifle irritated. “What’s Father at?” he questioned, in perplexity. “Here I am away uptown, and he orders me back to the Norfolk Building. I passed it on my way up. Must be he made a mistake. Told me to obey instructions, though. He usually knows just about why he does things.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Woodbridge had sent for his elder son, Cornelius. A tall youth of seventeen, with the strong family features, varied by a droop in the eyelids and a slight drawl in his speech, lounged to the door of the library. Before entering he straightened his shoulders; he did not, however, quicken his pace.
“Cornelius,” said his father, promptly, “I wish to send you upon an errand of some importance, but of possible inconvenience to you. I have not time to give you instructions, but you will find them in this envelope. I ask you to keep the matter and your movements strictly to yourself. May I have from you your word of honor that I can trust you to follow the orders to the smallest detail?”
Cornelius put on a pair of eyeglasses, and held out his hand for the envelope. His manner was almost indifferent. Mr. Woodbridge withheld the packet, and spoke with decision: “I cannot allow you to look at the instructions until I have your word of honor that you will fulfil them.”
“Is not that asking a good deal, sir?”
“Perhaps so,” said Mr. Woodbridge, “but no more than is asked of trusted messengers every day. I will assure you that the instructions are mine and represent my wishes.”
“How long will it take?” inquired Cornelius, stooping to flick an imperceptible spot of dust from his trousers.
“I do not find it necessary to tell you.”
Something in his father’s voice sent the languid Cornelius to an erect position, and quickened his speech.
“Of course I will go,” he said, but he did not speak with enthusiasm.
“And—your word of honor?”
“Certainly, sir.” The hesitation before the promise was only momentary.
“Very well. I will trust you. Go to your room before opening your instructions.”
And the second somewhat mystified boy went out of the library on that memorable Thursday morning, to find his first order one which sent him to a remote district of the city, with the direction to arrive there within three quarters of an hour.
Out on an electric car Cyrus was speeding to another suburb. After getting the letter from the tenth floor of the Norfolk Building, he had read:
Take cross-town car on L Street, transfer to Louisville Avenue, and go out to Kingston Heights. Find corner West and Dwight Streets, and open envelope No. 3.
Cyrus was growing more and more puzzled, but he was also getting interested. At the corner specified he hurriedly tore open No. 3, but found, to his amazement, only the singular direction:
Take Suburban Underground Road for Duane Street Station. From there go to Sentinel office, and secure third edition of yesterday’s paper. Open envelope No. 4.
“Well, what under the sun, moon, and stars did he send me out to Kingston Heights for!” cried Cyrus aloud. He caught the next train, thinking longingly of his broken engagement with Harold Dunning, and of certain plans for the afternoon which he was beginning to fear might be thwarted if this seemingly endless and aimless excursion continued. He looked at the packet of unopened envelopes.
“It would be easy to break open the whole outfit, and see what this game is,” he thought. “Never knew Father to do a thing like this before. If it’s a joke,”—his fingers felt the seal of envelope No. 4—“I might as well find it out at once. Still, father never would joke with a fellow’s promise the way he asked it of me. ‘My word of honor’—that’s putting it pretty strong. I’ll see it through, of course. My, but I’m getting hungry! It must be near lunch time.”
It was not; but by the time Cyrus had been ordered twice across the city and once up a sixteen-story building in which the elevator service was out of order, it was past noon, and he was in a condition to find envelope No. 7 a very satisfactory one:
Go to Cafe Reynaud on Westchester Square. Take a seat at table in left alcove. Ask waiter for card of Cornelius Woodbridge, Junior. Before ordering lunch read envelope No. 8.
The boy lost no time in obeying this command, and sank into his chair in the designated alcove with a sigh of relief. He mopped his brow, and drank a glass of ice water at a gulp. It was a warm October day, and the sixteen flights had been somewhat trying. He asked for his father’s card, and then sat studying the attractive menu.
“I think I’ll have—” He mused for a moment, then said, with a laugh, “Well, I’m about hungry enough to eat the whole thing. Bring me the—”
Then he recollected, paused, and reluctantly pulled out envelope No. 8, and broke the seal. “Just a minute,” he murmured to the waiter. Then his face turned scarlet, and he stammered, under his breath, “Why—why—this can’t be—”
Envelope No. 8 ought to have been bordered with black, judging by the dismay its order to a lecture hall to hear a famous electrician caused. But the Woodbridge blood was up now, and it was with an expression resembling that of his grandfather Cornelius under strong indignation that Cyrus stalked out of that charming place to proceed grimly to the lecture hall.
“Who wants to hear a lecture on an empty stomach?” he groaned. “I suppose I’ll be ordered out, anyway, the minute I sit down and stretch my legs. Wonder if father can be exactly right in his mind. He doesn’t believe in wasting time, but I’m wasting it today by the bucketful. Suppose he’s doing this to size me up some way; he isn’t going to tire me out so quick as he thinks. I’ll keep going till I drop.”
Nevertheless, when, just as he was getting interested, he was ordered to go three miles to a football field, and then ordered away again without a sight of the game he had planned for a week to see, his disgust was intense.
All through that long, warm afternoon he raced about the city and suburbs, growing wearier and more empty with every step. The worst of it was, the orders were beginning to assume the form of a schedule, and commanded that he be here at 3:15, and there at 4:05, and so on, which forbade loitering, had he been inclined to loiter. In it all he could see no purpose, except the possible one of trying his physical endurance. He was a strong boy, or he would have been quite exhausted long before he reached envelope No. 17, which was the last but three of the packet. This read:
Reach home at 6:20 P.M. Before entering house, read No. 18.
Leaning against one of the big white stone pillars of the porch of his home, Cyrus wearily tore open envelope No. 18, and the words fairly swam before his eyes. He had to rub them hard to make sure that he was not mistaken:
Go again to Kingston Heights, corner West and Dwight Streets, reaching there by 6:50. Read No. 19.
The boy looked up at the windows, desperately angry at last. If his pride and his sense of the meaning of that phrase, “My word of honor,” as the men of the Woodbridge family were in the habit of teaching their sons, had not both been of the strongest sort, he would have rebelled, and gone defiantly and stormily in. As it was, he stood for one long minute with his hands clenched and his teeth set; then he turned and walked down the steps away from the longed-for dinner, and out toward L Street and the car for Kingston Heights.
As he did so, inside the house, on the other side of the curtains, from behind which he had been anxiously peering, Cornelius Woodbridge, Senior, turned about and struck his hands together, rubbing them in a satisfied way.
“He’s come—and gone,” he cried, softly, “and he’s on time to the minute!”
Cornelius, Junior, did not so much as lift his eyes from the evening paper, as he quietly answered, “Is he?” But the corners of his mouth slightly relaxed.
The car seemed to crawl out to Kingston Heights. As it at last neared its terminus, a strong temptation seized the boy Cyrus. He had been on a purposeless errand to this place once that day. The corner of West and Dwight Streets lay more than half a mile from the end of the car route, and it was an almost untenanted district. His legs were very tired; his stomach ached with emptiness. Why not wait out the interval which it would take to walk to the corner and back in a little suburban station, read envelope No. 19, and spare himself? He had certainly done enough to prove that he was a faithful messenger.
Had he? Certain old and well-worn words came into his mind; they had been in his writing-book in the early school-days: “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” Cyrus jumped off the car before it fairly stopped, and started at a hot pace for the corner of West and Dwight Streets. There must be no weak places in his word of honor.
Doggedly he went to the extreme limit of the indicated route, even taking the longest way round to make the turn. As he started back, beneath the arc light at the corner there suddenly appeared a city messenger boy. He approached Cyrus, and, grinning, held out an envelope.
“Ordered to give you this,” he said, “if you made connections. If you’d been later than five minutes past seven, I was to keep dark. You’ve got seven minutes and a half to spare. Queer orders, but the big railroad boss, Woodbridge, gave ’em to me.”
Cyrus made his way back to the car with some self-congratulations that served to brace up the muscles behind his knees. This last incident showed him plainly that his father was putting him to a severe test of some sort, and he could have no doubt that it was for a purpose. His father was the sort of man who does things with a very definite purpose indeed. Cyrus looked back over the day with an anxious searching of his memory to be sure that no detail of the singular service required of him had been slighted.
As he once more ascended the steps of his own home, he was so confident that his labors were now ended that he almost forgot about envelope No. 20, which he had been directed to read in the vestibule before entering the house. With his thumb on the bell button he recollected, and with a sigh broke open the final seal.
Turn about, and go to Lenox Street Station, B. Railroad, reaching there by 8:05. Wait for messenger in west end of station, by telegraph office.
It was a blow, but Cyrus had his second wind now. He felt like a machine—a hollow one—which could keep on going indefinitely.
The Lenox Street Station was easily reached on time. The hands of the big clock were only at one minute past eight when Cyrus entered. At the designated spot the messenger met him. Cyrus recognized him as the porter on one of the trains of the road of which his grandfather and father were officers. Why, yes, he was the porter of the Woodbridge special car! He brought the boy a card which ran thus:
Give porter the letter from Norfolk Building, the card received at restaurant, the lecture coupon, yesterday evening’s Sentinel, and the envelope received at Kingston Heights.
Cyrus silently delivered up these articles, feeling a sense of thankfulness that not one was missing. The porter went away with them, but was back in three minutes.
“This way, sir,” he said, and Cyrus followed, his heart beating fast. Down the track he recognized the “Fleetwing,” President Woodbridge’s private car. And Grandfather Cornelius he knew to be just starting on a tour of his own and other roads, which included a flying trip to Mexico. Could it be possible….
In the car his father and grandfather rose to meet him. Cornelius Woodbridge, Senior, was holding out his hand.
“Cyrus, lad,” he said, his face one broad, triumphant smile, “you have stood the test, the Hezekiah Woodbridge test, sir, and you may be proud of it. Your word of honor can be depended upon. You are going with us through nineteen States and Mexico. Is that reward enough for one day’s hardships?”
“I think it is, sir,” agreed Cyrus, his round face reflecting his grandfather’s smile, intensified.
“Was it a hard pull, Cyrus?” questioned the senior Woodbridge with interest.
Cyrus looked at his father. “I don’t think so—now, sir,” he said. Both gentlemen laughed.
“Are you hungry?”
“Well, just a little, grandfather.”
“Dinner will be served the moment we are off. We have only six minutes to wait. I am afraid—I am very much afraid”—the old gentleman turned to gaze searchingly out of the car window into the station—“that another boy’s word of honor is not….”
He stood, watch in hand. The conductor came in and remained, awaiting orders. “Two minutes more, Mr. Jefferson,” he said. “One and a half… one… half a minute.” He spoke sternly: “Pull out at 8:14 on the second, sir. Ah—”
The porter entered hurriedly, and delivered a handful of envelopes into Grandfather Cornelius’s grasp. The old gentleman scanned them at a glance.
“Yes, yes—all right!” he cried, with the strongest evidences of excitement Cyrus had ever seen in his usually quiet manner.
As the train made its first gentle motion of departure, a figure appeared in the doorway. Quietly, and not at all out of breath, Cornelius Woodbridge, Third, walked into the car.
Then Grandfather Woodbridge grew impressive. He advanced, and shook hands with his grandson as if he were greeting a distinguished member of the board of directors. Then he turned to his son, and shook hands with him also, solemnly. His eyes shone through his gold-rimmed spectacles, but his voice was grave with feeling.
“I congratulate you, Cornelius,” he said, “on possessing two sons whose word of honor is above reproach. The smallest deviation from the outlined schedule would have resulted disastrously. Ten minutes’ tardiness at the different points would have failed to obtain the requisite documents. Your sons did not fail. They can be depended upon. The world is in search of men built on those lines. I congratulate you, sir.”
Cyrus was glad presently to escape to his stateroom with Cornelius. “Say, what did you have to do?” he asked, eagerly. “Did you trot your legs off all over town?”
“Not much, I didn’t!” said Cornelius, grimly, from the depths of a big towel. “I spent the whole day in a little hole of a room at the top of an empty building, with just ten trips down the stairs to the ground floor to get envelopes at certain minutes. I had not a crumb to eat nor a thing to do, and could not even snatch a nap for fear I’d oversleep one of my dates at the bottom.”
“I believe that was worse than mine,” commented Cyrus, reflectively.
“I should say it was. If you don’t think so, try it.”
“Dinner, boys,” said their father’s voice at the door, and they lost no time in responding.