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6. CHAPTER VI. HAROLD PLAYS THE RAVEN.
Mason Compton, president and general manager, sat in his private office in the works of the International Machine Company, chewing upon an unlighted cigar and occasionally running his fingers through his iron-gray hair as he compared and recompared two statements which lay upon the desk before him.
"Damn strange," he muttered as he touched a button beneath the edge of his desk. A boy entered the room. "Ask Mr. Bince if he will be good enough to step in here a moment, please," said Compton; and a moment later, when Harold Bince entered, the older man leaned back in his chair and motioned the other to be seated.
"I can't understand these statements, Harold," said Compton. "Here is one for August of last year and this is this August's statement of costs. We never had a better month in the history of this organization than last month, and yet our profits are not commensurate with the volume of business that we did. That's the reason I sent for these cost statements and have compared them, and I find that our costs have increased out of all proportions to what is warranted. How do you account for it?"
"Principally the increased cost of labor," replied Bince. "The same holds true of everybody else. Every manufacturer in the country is in the same plight we are."
"I know," agreed Compton, "that that is true to some measure. Both labor and raw materials have advanced, but we have advanced our prices correspondingly. In some instances it seems to me that our advance in prices, particularly on our specialties, should have given us even a handsomer profit over the increased cost of production than we formerly received.
"In the last six months since I appointed you assistant manager I am afraid that I have sort of let things get out of my grasp. I have a lot of confidence in you, Harold, and now that you and Elizabeth are engaged I feel even more inclined to let you shoulder the responsibilities that I have carried alone from the inception of this organization. But I've got to be mighty sure that you are going to do at least as well as I did. You have shown a great deal of ability, but you are young and haven't had the advantage of the years of experience that made it possible for me to finally develop a business second to none in this line in the West.
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