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The Desire of the Moth; and The Come On by Eugene Manlove Rhodes

Part 3 out of 3

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than any other day. Why?"

"Oh, well, you can get off. I promised Thompson, here, to do him
the honors, and now I've got to help John out. Oh, you two are not
acquainted, are you? Ex_cuse_ me! Mr. Archibald, Mr. Bickford--Mr.
Thompson, Mr. Bickford. Mr. Bickford's father was a dear old friend of
mine. Once very wealthy, too, but has had reverses. Bless me, how I do
ramble on! Old age, sir, old age! Osler was half right. Now, Archie,
'phone up to your office that you're unavoidably detained and all the
rest of it, like a good fellow, and take my place as cicerone.
Never mind your dinky little boats--take him up and show him the big
fellows--the ocean greyhounds."

"But," objected Archibald, "I've got to go down to the office to get
some money. You've broke me, you shanghaier."

"So I have, so I have!" He peeled off a hundred-dollar-bill, ignoring
Steve's protest. "That enough? I'll fix John up, some way. You're at
Mr. Thompson's orders. Mind, his money isn't any good. I pay for both
of you. Wish it was more, but you see how I'm hooked up. You'll have a
better time with a young fellow like Archie than you would with an
old fogy like me, anyhow. Here, we'll be left!" He made for the ferry
slips with the anxious Bickford.

Thus did the wily Mr. Mitchell justify his headship. In these profuse
strains of unpremeditated art, apparently the merest of rambling
commonplace, he had plainly conveyed to his henchmen that, though
foiled by the countryman's straightforward single-mindedness, they
were not to adopt a policy of scuttle, but persevere in the paths of
manifest destiny to benevolent assimilation; at the same time
adroitly extricating his embarrassed lieutenant from a very present
predicament. Because "Archibald" felt a certain reluctance about
accompanying Steve to Pier Number 4 in the capacity of owner, for the
sufficiently obvious reason that he might be summarily kicked off.
Such a contretemps might give cause for conjecture even in one so
green as his companion, reflected Archie.

He saluted with easy grace. "Orders, captain? Happy to oblige. My
friend's friend is my friend."

Steve saw the big steamships. Thence, at his artless suggestion, they
went to Brooklyn Bridge. Followed rides on the Subway and Elevated,
a viewing of skyscrapers and such innocent and exhilarating delights.
Noting Archibald's well-groomed and natty appearance, Steve naively
asked his advice in matters sartorial, purchasing much raiment and
leaving an order with a fashionable tailor. But, after an _amazing_
dinner at an uptown house of call, Archibald took the reins into his
own guidance, and led him forth to quite other distractions--in the
agricultural quarter of the city, where that popular and ever-blooming
cereal, wild oats, is sown by night and by day.

Behind them the plausible Mr. Mitchell and his old friend's son held
high commune.

"Why, the lantern-jawed, bug-eyed, rubber-necked, double-jointed,
knock-kneed, splay-foot, hair-lipped, putty-brained country Jake!
Did you see him sidestep that?" demanded the aggrieved Bickford,
forgetting, in his pique, his stricken father. "What you want to do
to him is to sandbag him, give him knockout drops, stab him under the
fifth rib! He's too elusive--the devil-sent----" He was proceeding to
further particulars when Mitchell checked him.

"I want you to bear in mind that this is no strong-arm gang, and I'm
neither dip nor climber." His emphasis was withering. "My credit is
involved in this affair now, and I'm going through with it. If he'd
had the dough with him he'd handed it out just like he did the check.
He floundered out through pure, unadulterated innocence. I'll land him
yet. Next time I won't leave the shirt to his back. I tried him with
covetousness. I've tried him with distress. Now I'll tempt him with a
business opportunity--one that he'll have to have cash for. Keep your
eye on your uncle. He'll see you through."

The next day being Sunday, Mitchell took the cowboy to the Speedway,
and back through Central Park, in an auto, frankly hired.

"I can hardly afford to set up one," he confided. "And anyway, I
haven't much leisure. Of course, when a good fellow like you comes
along I can take a day off, once in a way. But generally my nose is
down to the grindstone."

On their way home he pointed out a fine building, ornamented with
a "To Let" sign in the window. "There's a place I used to own,
Thompson," he said. "Belongs to a friend of mine, young Post. One
of the best families--but, poor fellow, he's in trouble now." He
dismissed the subject with a benevolent sigh. "Would you like to go in
and look at it? The caretaker will show it to you. He'll think you're
a prospective buyer. You needn't tell him so, but then again you
needn't tell him any different. There's no harm and it's well worth

Thompson, nothing loth, agreed. It was a fine house, as Mitchell had

"Gracious!" said Steve, when the inspection was over. "What's such a
house worth?"

"I sold it for forty thousand. It's worth more now."

Steve gazed at him wide-eyed. "My! I shouldn't have thought it worth
that much." (It was, in fact, worth a great deal more.)

"It's the ground that makes it cost so," explained Mitchell. "That's
why the value has increased. The house itself is not worth as much
as when I had it, but land values are coming up by leaps and bounds.
Young man, the ground valuation alone of the six square miles
adjoining Central Park is more than the value of all real estate
in the great commonwealth of Missouri. And it is going higher every

"I don't understand it," said Steve, much impressed.

"Do you understand the philosophy of an artesian well? Yes? Then you
understand this. Every farm cleared, every acre planted, every
mine developed, every baby born, enhances the value of _all_ city
property--and New York's got the biggest standpipe. The back country
soaks up the rain and it is delivered conveniently at our doors
through, underground channels, between the unleaking walls that
confine its flow; our price on the surplus you have to sell and _our_
price on the necessities you buy. Every city taps this flow, be the
pipe large or small; and as I said before, New York has the biggest

"We've got the money. So you may do the work and we allow you to get
enough to sustain life, and just as little more as possible. Sell at
our price, buy at our price--we've got you coming and going. You can't
get away.

"You're poor, you take what you can get to pay your debts. That keeps
down prices on what you sell. You've got families, you've got to play.
Yes, yes, quite right, the rules are not _entirely_ fair; we'll revise
them to-morrow, maybe, some time. Let _you_ do it? Tut, tut, no, no!
Why, you object to 'em! That won't do at all. Let the rules be revised
by their friends and beneficiaries, to-morrow, next day, by and by;
busy to-day, stockholders' meeting, dividend declared, good-by! You're
virtually _peons_. Fourth of July, elections and war-times you're
the sovereign people, Tommy this and Tommy-rot; but for all practical
purposes you're _peons_.

"We're rich, we can afford a scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours
tariff that keeps our prices up arbitrarily, that takes fifty dollars
out of your pockets to put in ours for every dollar it puts into the
national treasury."

"If the tariff was repealed," said Steve diffidently, "if we
raised money for the National Government, just as we do for county

"Hush-sh!" said Mitchell, shocked. "That's High Treason--that's
Unconstitutional! Some one will hear you! Then there's another.
_You_ sell at a sacrifice to pay your debts. If we get in debt that's
exactly what we won't do. A poor man goes broke, but a rich man goes
bankrupt. Ever think of that?

"That baby I spoke of will grow up, produce corn, cotton, cattle or
copper, maybe--but the net result of his life will be to enrich the
rich. If, by any means--industry, opportunity, invention, speculation,
dishonesty, chance or inheritance--he gets on top, then the workers
will be working for him by the same law. The fact remains that every
dollar's worth of betterment in the country increases the value of
city property one dollar, without effort to the owner. A city is an
artesian well. Take it from me, Thompson, a man of your ability ought
to make connections and get your little tin pail under."

Chapter V

"_A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome._"

Thompson sat in his room alone, meditating on Mitchell, statesman and
Political Economist. On the table lay his letter of introduction and
his bad "Souvenir" dollar.

"The meeting will please come to order!" he said, rapping the table
smartly. "The Gentleman from Montana has the floor."

"I move you, Mr. Chairman," said the Gentleman from Montana, "that the
letter of introduction be laid upon the table, and that this House do
now go into Committee of putting the other fellows in the Hole."

No objection being heard, this was done. Steve stared at the tabled
letter with a puzzled frown.

"Gentlemen, the Chair awaits your pleasure," he announced, at last.
"Have you any suggestions to make?"

The Gentleman from Montana again obtained recognition.

"Mr. Speaker, I see here present an ex-member, my _alter ego_, Mr.
Reuben Rubber-Neck, who once parted with six months' wages on another
man's game. Mr. Rubber-Neck is a graduate of the celebrated and
expensive school of Experience, of which it is written that a large
and influential class will learn of no other. As an ex-Member, he is
entitled to the privilege of the floor. I, for one, would like to have
his counsels at this juncture."

Thus appealed to, Mr. Rubber-Neck got stumblingly to his feet with a
gawky and timid demeanor.

"Mr. Chairman, it is not a theory but a hell of a condition that
confronts us," he said, uncertainly. "I think that we should use the
letter so providentially er--um--provided to make friends with the
mammon of righteousness. Two heads are proverbially better than one,
if one _is_ an Expert. It behooves us, for the sake of the near and
dear kinsmen, the Mark brothers, that we should so bear ourselves
toward our generous hosts as to make them feel that they have
entertained a devil unawares. Avenge now the innumerable wrongs of me
and my likes. Before deciding on our line of action, however, I should
like to hear from a learned gentleman in our midst, whose brain is
ever fertile in expedients. I refer to the only one of us who has been
through college--in at the front door and out the back. I call on the
representative of the class of Naughty-naughty!"

He sat down amid vociferous cries of "Hear! Hear!"

The Bookman arose gracefully. "While I thank the gentleman who has
preceded me for his encomiums," he said, with deprecatory modesty,
"yet I can lay no claim for scholastic honors, owing to an unfortunate
difference of opinion with the Faculty in the scorching question of
turning state's evidence concerning the ebullition of class feeling,
in which I was implicated by a black eye or so. I fought the good
fight, I kept the faith, but I did not finish my course. But to return
to our sheep.

"In every crisis, I have always found precedent for action in the
words of the immortal Swan of Avon. What does Will say? He says:

'_Put money in thy purse_!'

"Follows naturally the advice of the melancholy Dane, bearing directly
on the case in hand:

'_Let it work.
'For 'tis the sport to see the engineer
Hoist with his own petard._'


'_Look on this picture, then on that!
The counterfeit_.'

"Where is that counterfeit, anyhow?" He took from his pocket a good
silver dollar, compared it thoughtfully with the bad one on the table,
and continued.

"What else? Why, this:

'_Art thou not horribly afeared?... Could the world pick thee three
such enemies again as that fiend Douglas, that spirit Percy, and that
devil Glendower?'_

"Having thus pointed out the danger, he plainly indicates the remedy:

'_Where shall I find one that will steal well? O! for a fine thief of
the age of two-or-three and twenty! I am heinously unprovided_.'

"Gentlemen, in my opinion we need three things. First, the services
of a skillful and discreet silversmith. Second, a pair of eye-glasses
fitted with a powerful microscopic lens, able to distinguish good
from evil. Third, a confederate who can steal well, such as we can
doubtless find in or about Broad Street. By these simple and feasible
means we shall be enabled to whip-saw our redoubtable opponents or, to
use the local term, 'give 'em the double-cross.'"

He sat down amid boisterous applause.

"The Watch-dog of the Treasury!" said Steve icily. The Watch-dog stood
apologetically, twisting nervous fingers together. "It strikes me, Mr.
Speaker," he stammered, "that my eminent colleague might aptly have
quoted from the same high authority two maxims in praise of prudence.
'Discretion is the better part of valor,' he says, and also,

'_He who fights and runs away
Will live to fight another day._'

"It appears to me the part of prudence----"

Here he was howled down by disapproving groans.

"The Chair will take great pleasure in recognizing the Gentleman from
New Mexico," suggested Steve, with a gracious nod.

Wildcat Thompson, cowboy, sprang to his feet; lithe, active, eager.
Swiftness, alertness, poise, certainty were in every line of his
splendid body. His was the assured, resourceful bearing of the man of
action, whose hands have kept his head, contrasting sharply with the
Miner's heavy and tentative slowness, the awkward self-consciousness
of the Easy One, the Objector's furtive and apprehensive manner, or
the Near-Collegian's languid affectation of dilettantism.

"Be a sport!" He threw out a hand, his confident voice ringing with
decision. "We are seven!--(or at least we will be when we pick up
a financier at Atwood's). Get together! Let us adopt our learned
brother's ingenious device. Should fraud fail, we can always fall back

'_the simple plan
That each should take who hath the power.
And he should keep that can_.'

"As alternative, or, I should say, as reserve, I offer--this!" A
swift gleam of silver and steel: he laid a cocked .45 beside the other

"The sword of Brennus! Woe to the vanquished!" murmured the
School-man, when the cheering had abated. "Mr. Chairman, the amendment
is accepted."

The entire meeting then lit a cigarette.

The Chair arose, using the six-shooter as gavel. "Gentlemen, have you
anything more to offer? If not will you hear the question? Is it the
sense of this meeting that united we fall upon this infamous coalition
with the jaw bone of an ass and get their money; dishonestly if we
can, and if not, then by main strength and awkwardness? Those in favor
of the motion will please rise. I am unanimous, and it is so ordered.
This resolution will be spread all over the minutes, right off. The
Chair will appoint as committee to get a move on, Mr. Stephen Thompson
of Montana; the earnest Shakespearian student, Mr. Thompson-Stephen;
Mr. Wildcat Thompson of New Mexico; and myself. Having no further
use for a sucker or a quitter, the other two gentlemen may go to the
devil, and I hereby stand adjourned."

So saying, he gathered up his resources and departed.

At a later hour Steve presented himself in a body to the senior
Atwood, with his letter from the Judge as credentials.

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated that person, when he had read a few
lines. His eyes dropped to the signature. "Oh--the Judge!" he said,
enlightened, and read on, chuckling.

He wheeled his chair around. "Well, Mr. Thompson, what is it--fine or
bail?" he queried.

"I want to borrow a man," Steve began mildly. Here he was interrupted.
The ante-room door opened. One entered--no, floated in--faultlessly
arrayed, with an air at once languid and gloomy.

"Wyatt!" said Atwood, cordially. "Man! You're good for sore eyes! What
fair wind blows you here?"

Wyatt sank into a chair. "Doldwums. Nothing at all," he
said listlessly. "Mewest chawnce, I assuah you. Fawct is, I
was--er--howwidly boahed, y' know. It's no good. All of it!" He
spread out his immaculate pink palm in a comprehensive gesture. "All
wot!--Dinnahs and dawnces and bwidge, the hawse-show--and--ah--all
the west of it.--Vahnity fawr, y' know. If you have whatevah you want
diwectly, of cow'se you cawnt want anything you daunt have, y' know.
Doocid unpleasant. I find myself like the boy that wanted to leah'n
to shivah and shake, y' know. Needin' the excitement of what this
fellah--ah--at Washington, y' know--_Woosevelt_!--of what Woosevelt
calls the stwenuous life. Saht in the club thinkin' it ovah, and
decided to sally fowth to seek adventuah----"

"Adventure! You?" Atwood threw back his head and roared.

"--adventuah. In a hansom," returned the new-comer placidly. "So the
dwivah ahsked me 'Whah to?' y' know. I was feelin' nawsty enough, so I
told him 'To pwugatowy!--like that! He was--ah--a vewy litewal-minded
puhson." There was a faint flicker of amusement in his gray eyes.
"He--ah--bwought me to the Stock Exchange. Aftah I got out, y' know, I
wemembahed that you--ah--did something heah. So I thought I'd just wun
ovah and see you." He relapsed into moody silence.

"You've come to the right shop, I do believe," said Atwood. "Mr.
Thompson, let me make you acquainted with my old friend Wyatt."

"Chawmed, I'm suah!" muttered Wyatt, adjusting his monocle.

"You have probably heard of him," pursued Atwood. "He appears
regularly in the Sunday Supplements as a Horrible Example--Anson
Walworth Wyatt, nephew to his uncle. But for all he seems such a
silly, supercilious ass, he's a good old chap at heart, a 'weal' lion
in an ass-skin. Mr. Thompson, have I permission to share this letter
with my friend?"

"Why not?" said Steve.

"This is a Western man's business letter," explained Atwood. The
clubman listened with a well-bred stony stare.

"Aw!" he said. "How _vewy_ extwaohdinawy!"

"Now, old fellow, Mr. Thompson was just about to negotiate the loan
of a man from me when you came. Here we have the adventure seeking
the man, and the man seeking the adventure. It sounds promising. Of
course, I shall expect a commission both ways. Now give us your plans
and specifications, Mr. Thompson."

"I want to borrow a young man, as I said before, of good
appearance"--with a glance at Wyatt's sumptuous apparel--"and some
little brains"--another and a sharper glance, "One who will obey
orders if he breaks owners, who will stand without being tied, and
who doesn't especially care whether school keeps or not. I would
particularly request that he leave his money, his memory, acquired
good habits, if any, and his conscience, in your safe-keeping till he
is returned."

"That sounds like the makings of a pretty adventure, Wyatt," said
Atwood, delighted, "Are you for loan, old chap?"

Wyatt laid his affectation aside. "That depends on the interest, the
security, and length of the term. It certainly appears, from your very
flattering description, that you were searching for me, Mr. Thompson."
His eyes were dancing.

"Interest from the word Go. The security's all right, too, if you take
a gun," said Steve reassuringly. "You _might_ get a long term, but
it can be avoided with luck and good management. I think the parties
concerned will hardly make a complaint."

"You are not contemplating anything illegal, I trust?" Atwood was
enjoying himself to the full.

"I don't know. Really hadn't given it much attention," returned the
Committee, simply. "But now you mention it, I think probably I am."

"Will you allow my accomplice and myself to use your private room for
executive session?" asked Wyatt.

* * * * *

"But why don't you have them arrested?"

"Arrested? O no!" cried Steve, in pained surprise. "That wouldn't
be fair. That isn't done! Besides, don't you see, that wouldn't hurt
their feelings like this?"

"I see," said Wyatt. "I'm your man. And I say, old chap, before I
go back to my Cholly-talk again, advise me. Would I look any more
idiotic, do you think, if I should suck my cane? I don't want to
disappoint any one."

"I would not," said Steve. "You're too good to be true, without that."

"Wouldn't you naturally suppose," sighed Wyatt, "that people would
know that no man could be as big a fool as I am, unless he did it on
purpose? But they don't. They swallow it, hook, bob and sinker!"

Chapter VI

"_If the bowl had been stronger
My tale had been longer_."

Steve entered Mitchell's office with the painful uprightness and
precise carriage of one who has lunched not wisely but rather too
well. His speech, too, was of ponderous brevity. The man of affairs
chided him with fatherly kindness.

"This won't do, my boy--this won't do. I like you, Thompson. I'm
sorry--I'm pained to see this. Don't go in for this sort of thing, or
your good fortune will prove a curse in disguise."

Steve hung his head, muttering something incoherent about not being
used to wine and that he'd soon get over it.

"Oh, young men _will_ be young men, I suppose," sighed Mitchell
tolerantly. "Tell you what. Archibald's going for a spin over to
East New York. I'll just 'phone him to drop by on his way and take us
along. Fresh air'll do you good."

Steve assented, and fell to poring over the immense wall map of New
York with preternatural gravity.

But Mitchell's benevolent plan was doomed to be frustrated. Hardly had
Archibald arrived and the employees been dismissed, when the sordid,
busy, money-making city intruded in the person of Loring.

There were merry greetings all around. The artist was much pleased to
renew his acquaintance with Thompson, to whom he had taken a fancy.
Loring, it seemed, was an old friend of Archibald's and was promptly
invited to make one of the party.

"Oh, I can't," demurred Loring. "And I hate to spoil sport, but I've
got a good thing which must be put through to-night or not at all. I
ran in to get Mitchell to handle it for me. I've got the opportunity,
but not the wherewithal." He made the candid admission with a
delightful smile.

"I fear that you are leaning on a mighty nearly broken reed," said
Mitchell. "I'm all tied up in money matters this week. But spit it
out, anyhow. I've got six or seven thousand loose. If it's more than
that perhaps Archie can swing it--if it's a safe proposition."

"Safe as United States bonds, and good for thirty per cent, profit.
Come back, Thompson!" Steve was making for the door, with apologies.
"You're not in the way a bit. Sit down, man! Your six thousand won't
be a starter, Joe. I've got some four thousand myself, in red,
red gold. All I have in the world--wish it was more." His blithe
insouciance was irresistibly charming.

"Get down to business, old fellow," said Archibald. "What's the lay?"

"This is all confidential, between gentlemen, you understand?" All
nodded. "You know young Post is in hiding? Well, I've been in touch
with him all along. He's tired of skulking and wants me to sell that
house his mother left him, strictly on the Q.T. He's got a chance to
slip away on a private yacht to-night. Said I could have all I could
get over thirty thousand. It's worth fifty, at least. I know where
I could get forty-five, but I dare not approach those people now,
because they are unfriendly to Post and would make him trouble. Once
he is safely away----" He waved his hand.

"That ought to be a good thing," said Archibald thoughtfully. "It
rents for six thousand a year, and values going up. I've a good mind
to go into it for a permanent investment. Let's see--he'd want spot
cash, wouldn't he?"

"Naturally. Cash on the nail. He could hardly afford to be identified,
you know."

"Can't raise that much to-day," said the shipowner. "Maybe, by
borrowing from my partner, I could get enough to pool with you and
Mitchell. What's your proposition? About cutting profits, I mean."

"I think I should have ten per cent. net, besides the proportionate
earning of my four thousand--for giving you fellows the first chance.
There's plenty would jump at it."

"That's fair enough," said Archibald. "Mr. Thompson, you will excuse
us? Our trip will only be postponed. I'll have to fly around to rustle
ready money. I'll see Bowring first."

"Hold on," said Mitchell. "Why don't you let my friend in on this?
He's got the scads, and he's a good fellow."

"Oh, he would have to go and see the place," objected Archibald, his
eye evidently on the main chance.

"No, he won't. We looked it over yesterday. I showed it to him because
I used to live there. Don't be selfish, Archie. There's plenty of
chances for you to make money. Get your pail, Thompson!"

"We-ll," said Archibald grudgingly. "So long as it's not sure that
Bowring can spare me the money, let him take over a third if he wants

"Sure I do," grinned the prospective buyer, highly elated, "and much
obliged to you, too, Mr. Archibald.

"That's all right," said that person gruffly. "Now then, Loring, come
out of it! Time's flying. Where? When? How? Never saw an artist yet that
could think on straight lines," he grumbled.

"All of you get your money, meet at Mitchell's rooms. I'll let Post
know and join you there later. We'll wait till dark, get a tried and
acquitted notary of my acquaintance, slip around to Post's lair after
dark and do the deed. I'll stand a ripping dinner for the bunch out
of my ten per cent. Put deed on record to-morrow morning. That'll give
him start enough. Is that all clear?"

"Clear as a bell. I'm off!" said Archibald.

"Archie's a good sort, but he does hate to let a dollar get by him."
The artist laughed indulgently. "I say, Thompson, did you see how he
stuck on letting you have a whack at it?"

"Where do you bank?" inquired Mitchell. Steve told him where his money
was deposited. Mitchell shook his head. "I was hoping we would go the
same way, but I go uptown."

Ten minutes after they left the industrious bookkeeper returned
with navvies and draymen, and removed the office furniture to parts

* * * * *

When the four financiers got together in Mitchell's room Steve
proposed to continue his lessons in the fascinating game of bridge.

He drank freely and his game was the apotheosis of bumble-puppy.
Archibald, his partner, was much irritated by his stupidity.

A bellboy came to the door. A gentleman in the parlor would like to
see Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson looked at the card. "Mr. A.W. Wyatt," he announced
sneeringly. "You can tell Mr. A.W. Wyatt, if he wants to see me, he
can just naturally mosey himself up here."

"Not _the_ A.W. Wyatt--Anson Walworth Wyatt?" asked Loring. "I know
him--I mean, I know him by sight."

"I believe it is," said Steve with surly indifference. "If you know
him, you know an overbearing jabberwock. He's head devil of the push
that bought the Copperbottom and I don't like his style even a little
bit. He seems to think I'm the dirt under his feet. I'll show him.
I know what he wants, and that's the other fourth of my mine." He
thumped the table viciously. "He'll pay for all he gets from _me_,
I'll tell you that."

Mr. Wyatt was ushered in; irreproachable, flawless, exquisite. ("It's
him!" breathed Loring.) He remained standing, hat in hand, fitted
his glass with vacuous care and surveyed the room with deliberately
insolent scrutiny. Thompson kept his seat, fairly prickling with
antagonism. The others rose with exemplary good breeding.

"Aw!" said the newcomer, after an eloquent pause.

"Mistah--er--Townsend, cawn I have a few moments of quite pwivate
convehsation with you?"

"No, you cawnt!" retorted Thompson truculently. "Sit down, boys. Sit
down, I say! These gentlemen are my friends. Anything you got to say?
If there is, say it. And my name's _Thompson_, if you please."

"Aw!--what an _extwemely_ wemahkable ahttitude!" Wyatt fixed
his monocle on the offending miner with bland and exasperating
condescension. "Weally, you quite intewest me, y' know! I appwoach
you, quite civilly, y' know, with an offah decidedly to youah
ahdvahntage, Mistah--ah--Tomlinson, and you tweat it----"

"_Thompson_!! By Heavens, you say Tomlinson again and I'll pound your
face into shape!" roared the misnamed one, jumping up. Mitchell and
Loring vainly tried to quiet him.

"Weally, I shall be obwiged to wefeh you to my lawyehs----" Wyatt

"Refer _me_--you animated outrage--you libel! Turn me loose, you
fellows! _I_ don't want to see _you_ or your durn lawyers! I know
what _you_ want, well enough. You want to bamboozle me into selling my
interest in the Copper-bottom for less than it's worth. Here's my last
word to you--Mr.--ah--White! If you want my fourth at forty thousand,
to-day, all right. It's worth more--it's paid from the grass-roots
down. But that'll make me the round six figures, and that's enough.
_I_ can make money--_I_ know _my_ little way about," he boasted, with
insufferable complacency.

"Nobody left me _my_ pile! Put up or shut up!"

"Mr. Wyatt," said Mitchell, "pardon me, but may I suggest that you
call at a more favorable time?" He made, behind Thompson's back, the
motion significant of an emptied glass.

"Aw! I see--I _see_! Thawnks awfully for the hint. Good-evening,
gentlemen--and--ah--Mistah Tomkins!"

Thompson broke away, shaking his fist in Wyatt's face. "Say that again
and I'll brain you--pawdon me, I should say, I'll smash your head in.
Thompson's my name--T-h-o-m-p-s-o-n, _T h o m p s o n_! And you trade
with me, now or never!"

"You see, gentlemen?" Wyatt appealed. "Mistah--ah--Tawmson, I offahed
you twenty-five thousand on my own wesponsibility, as a--ah--business
pwoposition. My--ah--associawates in this undehtaking aw all fwiends,
quite congenwial, y' know, and I felt suah they would sanction that. I
do not cyah to go futheh lengths without--ah--a confewence with them,
as I believe that pwice quite ahmple, y' know. But if I could awwange
fo' an option----"

"You pay me twenty thousand, cash, in this room, at eight o'clock
to-night, and I'll give you an option for one week at forty thousand,"
persisted the morose miner. "After that, the price goes up."

"Fifty pehcentum down on an option! This is uttehly unpwecedented, y'
know. I must wemonstwate, weally!"

"It's all the option you'll get from me, you jackanapes." He snapped
contemptuous fingers under Wyatt's nose.

Wyatt buttoned his coat with dignity. "Weally, this pahsses all
bounds!" he ejaculated. "Gentlemen, I accept this--ah--puhson's offeh.
I cannot enduah such an associwate. You ah all witnesses. May I ahsk
you-ah names, and may I wequest youah pwesence to-night, both to
ensuah the--ar--fulfillment of the vehbal contwact which you have
heahd, and to pwevent the wepetition of this scandalous scene?" He
opened the door. "Aw wevoah, gentlemen!" By this time he was in the
elevator. From this coign of vantage he sent a Parthian shaft.

"Till eight o'clock, Mistah--ah--Tomkinson!"

The three held the raging Thompson with some mutual dishevelment. They
soothed him with flattery, stayed him with flagons, for he yearned for
blood with a great yearning.

"Listen to your friends, boy," urged Mitchell. "Take his money, and
don't do anything you'll be sorry for. Make out your papers and pay no
attention to what he says. Come, brace up! It'll be time for dinner
in a jiffy. Promise us not to drink any more, and not to make any
trouble, or we'll 'phone him not to come."

Steve allowed himself to be pacified at last, but he regarded his
mitigators with a malignant eye.

"Here's what I owe you on bridge, Mitchell--twenty-three dollars," he
said sullenly. "Archibald can settle with Loring. _I_ don't want no
dinner--I'm going to sleep."

"Oh, come on now, that's a good fellow," purred Mitchell, picking
up the two bills and the coins. "Say, old man--you haven't turned
counterfeiter, have you?" he said good-naturedly. "This one's N.G."

Steve took it clumsily. "It's no such thing," he blurted. "Good as
gold. Take it or leave it. I don't care."

"Oh, very well," said Mitchell, humoring him. Then he reflected. The
indications were that their projected _coup_ might fail if Steve's
surly humor kept up. Why not improve the shining hour? The coin was
obviously bad.

"I'll take it before it gets you into trouble," he insinuated.

Steve lurched to his feet, thrusting an undecorative face over the
table. "You think' it's bad?" he queried darkly. "You think I'm a
fool?" He flung a packet of bills on the table. "Cover that, if you
dare," he said. "There's the money for the Post place--ten thousand
dollars. It says that's a good dollar. Put up or shut up!"

"You'll lose your money!" warned Mitchell. "Then you'll say I took
advantage of you."

"_I_ know what _you_ think," said Steve shrewdly. "_You_ think
I'm drunk, but I'm not. _I_ know a good thing when I see it. Don't
you--don't you lose no sleep about _me_. I'm--I'm all right, you bet!
Now what'll you do or take water?" he fleered.

Surreptitiously Loring had tried the coin with his penknife during
this controversy. The metal was quite soft--the knife left a great
scar, which he flashed at Mitchell.

"Well--if you insist," said Mitchell reluctantly. He counted out ten
one-thousand-dollar bills. "Who'll be the judge?"

"Anybody. Archie. I've got you skinned a mile anyway."

"I am sorry, Mr. Thompson," said Archibald, "but this dollar seems to
be pewter, or something of that general description. Aw, give him back
his money, Mitchell--he's drinking.

"I won't!" said Mitchell stubbornly. "He forced me into it. He
wouldn't have given it back to me if I'd lost."

"Sure I wouldn't," assented Steve. "I'm no boy. _I_ play for keeps,
me. Don't be so fast, _if_ you please. This money ain't won yet. Cut
into that dollar! I was from Missouri before ever I saw Montana."

"Cut it, Loring," said Mitchell. "Show him!"

Loring scratched it with the penknife point. "You see? soft as
cheese--rotten," he said. And then the knife struck something hard.
A chill crept over him. Stupefied, he scraped the base metal back,
revealing a portion of _an irrefutably good dollar._

The dismayed rascals looked up. In Thompson's hand a large,
businesslike gun wavered portentously from one head to the other.

"Go on!" he admonished. His tone was not particularly pleasant. "Peel
her off! Yah! You puling infants! You cheap, trading-stamp crooks!"
He raked off the money. "Be tran-tranquil! You doddering idiots, I'd
shoot your heads off for two bits I Try to rob a countryman, will you?
Why, gentle shepherds all, I've been on to such curves as yours ever
since Hec was a pup! You and your scout Loring and your Bickford
and your Post!" he scoffed. "Don't open your heads. Bah! Here, you
skunks!" He threw an ostentatiously bad dollar on the table. "Take
that, and break even if you can. That patronizing half-baked tailor's
dummy that called me out of my name will be back bimeby, with his
pockets full. I'd like to see him taken down a peg, but I dassent
spoil the sale of my mine. Tell him I'm in bed, full, but'll be out in
an hour or so. He'll come again to buy me out. Hates me like poison,
he does. If you can get him to bite, go it! But I doubt if you'll find
even that saphead as rank as you three wise guys. Anyway, I don't want
to see him while I feel this way. My head aches, and I suppose there's
some sort of law against shooting the likes of him--or you. I'm
leavin' for another hotel, right now. Don't you fellows bother me
if you value your hides. If you can skin, that puppy, why, sic 'em,
Towse! and the devil take the hindmost! Oh, you Smart Alecks!"

He backed out with a traditional wiggle of his fingers.

It is to be regretted that the stringent regulations of the postal
authorities will not permit us any report of the heart-to-heart talk
that followed his departure, other than the baldest summary. It was
marked by earnestness, sincerity, even by some petulance, interspersed
with frank and spirited repartee. Mutual recrimination resulted.

Subdued and chastened, Mr. Mitchell was reduced to the ranks; Loring,
by virtue of his own and Mitchell's vote, replacing him. Archibald's
preference was for a third person still--namely, himself--and he
acquiesced with ill grace.

They had but little over ten thousand dollars remaining for the return
match; and this, as Loring pointed out with just indignation, would
only put them even. They knew that Wyatt would have at least twice
that much with him. So they scurried forth and made such good use of
the scant time left them, by borrowing, by squeezing both Bickford and
the hard-working bookkeeper, and by resource to certain nest-eggs
laid by for case of extreme urgency (known among themselves as "fix
money"), they scraped together some six thousand more. The "ripping"
dinner went untasted. They were hardened, but human.

All ravages of carking care were smoothed away, and they were disposed
in luxuriant and contented ease when Wyatt came.

"Aw, gentlemen, I am punctual, you see!" he announced gayly. "It
is weally vewy kind of you to be so obliging--I'm suah. Is
the--ah--mining puhson in?"

Mr. Loring, speaking for the trio, affably regretted that their young
friend was not, in fact, at his best during Mr. Wyatt's previous call.
They had remonstrated with him for his injurious conduct. At present
he was sleeping off the effects of his slight exhilaration: they
thought it would not be at all judicious to disturb him: they felt
sure that, on awakening, he would prove amenable to reason. Meanwhile,
the night was young; if Mr. Wyatt cared to join them in a friendly
rubber they would be delighted.

"Chawmed, I'm suah!" said Wyatt. "I do not desiah any contwovewsy with
that vewy wuffianly puhson while he is--ah--wuffled. So I shall wait
and shall be happy to join you."

The score was close; it was only through ingenious manipulation by
their opponents that Wyatt and his partner were forced to win a small

"Weally, gentlemen," drawled Wyatt, looking at his watch, "I shall be
fowced to leave you. I have an engagement at eleven, and I weally feah
ouah Mr. Townshend will be, as I might say, _hors de combat_ foh
the night. I have to thawnk you fow a vewy agweeable evening,

He was carelessly sweeping the money into his pocket when Mitchell,
his partner, checked him.

"I beg your pardon, but is that not a bad dollar?" he said.

"Oh, no mattah--no consequence at all, I assuah you," said Wyatt
liberally. He would have pocketed the piece, but Loring, who had paid
it, gave him another, and flung the slighted coin over to Mitchell.

"If you're so set on this dollar being bad," he said angrily, "I'll
bet you what you dare it's not bad."

"Done with you for twenty!" Mitchell covered it promptly.

Loring drew out a handful of bills. "Here you are. Any one else want
any of this?" he inquired captiously.

Archibald shook his head and laughed. Wyatt screwed his monocle into
his eye, regarded both sides of the coin attentively, and laid it

"Quite bad, I assuah you," he said. "I should pwonounce it about the
wohst specimen extahnt."

"Maybe you'd like to bet on it?" said Loring, flaunting the big bills.

Wyatt was evidently nettled. "Weally, you aw wong--I assuah you," he
said stiffly.

"If you aw--pawdon me--quite able to lose that money
without--ah--inconvenience I am weady to covah it, at least, as fah as
what I have with me goes."

"Done!" said Loring. This was not so bad, after all.

"How much?... Aw! Seventeen thousand. Exactly. The bet is made,
gentlemen. I--ah--propose that we wing the bell foh the pwopwietah
and, shahl we say, the clahk, to act as judge and stakeholdeh."

"That will be satisfactory," said Loring. "Allow me, in turn, to make
a suggestion, Mr. Wyatt. Put the money in your billbook, hand it to
the stakeholder, and let him give it, unopened, to the winner. Of
course, you will first take out your other money. There is no need for
them to know that more than a trivial sum is at stake. We do not want
to court unpleasant notoriety."

"Quite twue! An excellent suggestion," said Wyatt gravely. He
proceeded to put it in effect.

The summoned dignitaries arrived, the situation was explained, and
Wyatt, handing the money to the proprietor and the questionable dollar
to the clerk, requested judgment.

The clerk looked at the coin, rubbed it, rang it. It gave out a dull
and leaden sound.

"Bad, beyond a doubt," he said.

"Try it with your knife," said Loring confidently.

The clerk complied. By mischance he bore on too hard. The knife went
through to the table.

A sound of mirth swept to them. With horror frozen on their faces,
the three rascals were aware of Thompson, leaning in the
doorway--unmistakably sober, given up to reprehensible levity, holding
out a bright tin pail with an expectant air.

Let us give even the devil his due. For Mitchell laughed.


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