(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At age seventeen, Vincent is sent to work for his Uncle Belton, a dapper, dreamy man who makes Vincent believe that this job is the opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone assures Vincent that he has his foot on the first rung of the ladder, that life is now beginning for him. On his first day, Vincent takes the train to work with his uncle, who along the way gives the boy the impression that Mr. Phillimore, his partner, is the genius of the firm, a man to be feared and respected. He encourages Vincent to remember young Samuel of the Old Testament, who, when he heard the voice of God, replied, “Speak Lord, thy servant heareth.” Belton thinks it would not be inappropriate to think the same thoughts when Phillimore calls.

The Beautifix Furniture Company turns out to be a modest enterprise, precariously supported by the capital Phillimore brought to the firm. In Belton’s eyes, however, it was he who saved Phillimore from the clutches of a possessive mother. Phillimore is also something less than the godlike figure Belton had described on the train. Effeminate, clumsy, and dithering, his chief virtue in Belton’s view is his high regard for Belton. Vincent soon learns that their partnership is like a marriage, each member of which is sustained by the weaknesses of the other. Belton and Phillimore are temperamental opposites, too. Belton is dreamy, optimistic, and idle, while Phillimore is fretful and pessimistic. One day, Belton returns to the office with...

(The entire section is 561 words.)