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The Fortune Hunter by Louis Joseph Vance

Part 3 out of 5

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A pause ensued. Duncan was smiling fatuously, serene in the belief that
he had solved the problem: the way to serve soda was to make them help
themselves. It was very simple. Only they didn't... With a start he
became sensible that they were eyeing him strangely.

"You--ah--wanted vanilla, did you not?"

"Yes, thanks, vanilla," Josie agreed.

"Well, that's it," he said firmly, indicating the jar and the glass.

Josie giggled. "But I don't want to drink it clear. You put the syrup
in the glass, you know, and then the soda."

"Oh, I see! You want to make a high-ba--ah--a long drink of it. Ah,
yes!" He procured a glass of the regulation size. "Now I understand." A
pause. "If you'll be good enough to help yourself to the syrup."

"No; you do it," Josie pleaded.

"Certainly." He lifted the whiskey-glass and the jar and began to pour.
"If you'll just say when."

"What? Oh, that's enough, thank you."

"If I ever get out of this fix, I'll blow the whole shooting match," he
promised himself, holding the glass beneath the faucet and fiddling
nervously with the valves. For a moment he fancied the tank must be
empty, for nothing came of his efforts. Then abruptly the fixture
seemed to explode. "A geyser!" he cried, blinded with the dash of
carbonated water and syrup in his face, while he fumbled furiously with
the valves.

As unexpectedly as it had begun the flow ceased. He put down the glass,
found his handkerchief and mopped his dripping face. When able to see
again he discovered the young women leaning against one of the
show-cases, weak with laughter but at a safe remove.

"Our soda's so strong, you know," he apologised. "But if you'll stay
where you are, I'll try again."

Warned by experience, he worked at the machine gingerly, finally
producing a thin, spluttering trickle. Beaming with triumph, he looked
up. "I think it's safe now," he suggested; "I seem to have it under

Angie and Josie returned, torn by distrust but unable to resist the
fascination of the stranger in our village. And there's no denying the
boy was good-looking and a gentleman by birth: a being alien to their
experience of men.

He had filled one glass and was tincturing it with syrup when he caught
again that confiding smile of Josie's, full upon him as the beams of a
noon-day sun.

"Haven't we seen you at church, Mr. Duncan?" she said prettily.

"I think, perhaps, you may have," he conceded. "I have seen you, both."
The second glass (for he was determined that Angie should not escape)
took up all his attention for an instant. "Do you have to go, too?" he
inquired out of this deep preoccupation.


"I mean, do you attend regularly?" he amended hastily.

"Oh, yes, of course," Josie simpered, accepting the glass he offered
her. "You make it a rule to go every Sunday, don't you, Mr. Duncan?"

He permitted himself an indiscretion, secure in the belief it would
pass unchallenged: "It's one of the rules, but I didn't make it."

"Did you know there was a vacancy in the choir?" Angle asked, taking up
her glass.


"Yes," Josie chimed in; "we were hoping you'd join. I want you to,

"We're both in the choir," Angie explained.

"And all the girls want you to join. Don't they, Angie?"

"Oh, yes, indeed; they're all just dying to meet you."

"I'll have to write and ask," he said abstractedly.

"Why, what do you mean by that?"

Josie's question struck him dumb with consternation. He made curious
noises in his throat, and fancied (as was quite possible) that they
eyed him in a peculiar fashion. "It's--I mean--a little trouble with my
throat," he managed to lie, at length. "I must ask my physician if I
may, first."

"Oh, I see," said Josie.

"But," he hastened to change the subject, "you're not drinking, either
of you. I sincerely hope it's not so very bad."

Angie replaced her glass, barely tasted. "Do you like it, Josie?"

To Josie's credit it must be admitted that she made a brave attempt to
drink. But the mixture was undoubtedly flat, stale and unprofitable.
She sighed, put it back on the counter, and rose to the emergency.

"Mine's perfectly lovely"--with a ravishing smile--"but it's not very

"I made them dry for you--thought you'd like 'em that way," he
stammered. "Perhaps you'd like 'em better if I put a collar on 'em?"

The chorus negatived this suggestion very promptly.

"Why don't you try a glass, Mr. Duncan?" Angie added with malice.

"I'm on the wagon--I mean, I don't drink at all," he said wretchedly;
and was deeply grateful for the diversion afforded by the entrance of a
third customer.

It was Tracey Tanner, as usual swollen with important tidings, as usual
propelling himself through the world at a heavy trot. It has always
been a source of wonderment to me how Tracey manages to keep so stout
with all the violent exercise he takes.

"Say, Angle," he twanged at sight of her, "I've been lookin' for you
everywhere. Did you hear that----"

He stopped instantaneously with open mouth as he saw Duncan behind the
counter; and openmouthed he remained while the young man came round and
advanced toward him, with a bland smirk accompanied by a professional
bow and rubbing of hands.

"May I have the pleasure of serving you, Mr. Tanner?"

"Huh?" bleated Tracey, dumbfounded.

"Is there anything you wish to purchase?"

A violent emotion stirred in Tracey. Sounds began to emanate from his
heaving chest. "N-n-no, ma'am!" he breathed explosively.

Duncan bowed again, his face expressionless. "Then will you be good
enough to excuse me?" He turned precisely and made his way back to the

As if released from some spell of strong enchantment by the movement,
Tracey swung on his heel and lunged for the door.

"What was it you wanted to ask me, Tracey?" Angie called after him.

As the boy disappeared at a hand-gallop his response floated back: "I

"I'm afraid I must have frightened him?" Duncan said inquiringly.

"Oh, no, not at all," Josie reassured him; "he's just gone to tell
everybody you're here."

"Come, Josie, we've been here ever so long." Angie moved slowly toward
the door, but Josie inclined to linger.

"Don't hurry, I beg of you," Duncan interposed.

"Oh, we haven't hurried," she said with a gush of gratification that
startled the man. "You'll remember what I said about the choir, won't

He braced himself to take advantage of the opening. "I shall never
forget it," he said impressively.

She gave him her hand. "Then good-bye."

"Not good-bye, I trust?" He retained the hand, despising himself

"Oh, we'll be in again, won't we Angie?"

"Oh, yes, indeed."

"My land, Angie! What do you think? I'd almost forgotten to pay for the

"Please don't speak of it, Miss Lockwood--the pleasure--."

"But I must, Mr. Duncan. How much is it?"

Josie fingered the contents of her purse expectantly, but Duncan hung
in the wind. He had no least notion what might be the price of soda
water. "Two for a quarter?" he hazarded with his disarming grin.

Angle choked with appreciation of this exquisite sally. "Ain't you

"I'm afraid you're right," he conceded; "still I'd rather you didn't
think so."

"It's ten cents, isn't it, Mr. Duncan?"

Josie was offering him a dime; he accepted it without question.

"Thank you, very much," said he. "Good afternoon, ladies."

He was aware of Angle's fluttering farewells on the sidewalk. Josie was
lingering on the doorstep in an agony of untrained coquetry. He lowered
his tone for her benefit, thereby adding new weight to his bombardment
of her amateur defences.

"Remember you promised to call again."

Her giggles tore his ear-drums. "Th-thank you, I'm sure," she
stammered, and fled.

They disappeared. He wandered to the chair and threw himself limply
into it. "That voice!" he said stupidly. "That giggle! I've got to woo
and win... _that!_...

"It serves me right," he concluded.

The most hopeless of humours assailed him, and he yielded to it without
a struggle. His attitude expressed his mood with relentless verity.
Chin sunken upon his breast, eyes fairly distilling gloom, legs
stretched out carelessly before him, he sat motionless, suffocating at
the bottom of a gulf of discontent. His lips moved, sometimes
noiselessly, again in whispers barely audible.

"Years of this!... A matter of human endurance--no, superhuman!... If
it wasn't for the bargain, I'd chuck it all and...

"Well, the only way to forget your misery is to work, I suppose."

He pulled himself together and stood up, wondering where he had left
his broom, and simultaneously stiffened with surprise, aware that he
was not alone. A glance, however, established the connection between
the rear door, which stood ajar, and the young woman who stood staring
at him in utterest stupefaction. This, he thought, must be the woman of
the voice, upstairs.

But she couldn't be Graham's wife. She was too young. Even beneath the
mask of care and weariness, the all too plain evidences of privation,
spiritual and mental as well as physical, that Betty wore unceasingly
in those days, he could discern youth and grace and gentleness, and the
nascent promise of prettiness that longed to be, to have the chance to
show itself and claim its meed of deference and love. He was quick to
see the intelligence in her mutinous eyes, and the sweet lines of her
mouth, too often shaped in sullen mould, and no less quick to recognise
that she would carry herself well, with spirit and dignity, once she
were relieved of household toil and moil, once given the chance to
discard her shapeless, bedraggled and threadbare garments for those
dainty and beautiful things for which her starved heart must be sick
with longing....

"Good Lord!" he thought, pitiful, "it's worse here than I dreamed. Old
Graham must need a keeper--and this child has been trying to be that,
with nothing to keep him on."

"Who are you?" the girl demanded sullenly, in a voice a little harsh
and toneless. "What are you doing here? Where's my father?"

"Mr. Graham has stepped out on business," Duncan replied. "You are his
daughter, I believe?"

"Yes, I'm his daughter, but----"

"My name is Nathaniel Duncan. Mr. Graham has been kind enough to take
me on as apprentice, so to speak."

Her stare continued, intense, resentful, undeviating.

"You mean you're going to work here?"

"That my intention, Miss Graham." He nodded gravely.

"What for?"

"To learn the drug business."

"Oh-h!" She flung herself a pace away, impatiently. "I'm not a child,
and I don't want to be talked to like one."

"I didn't mean to annoy you----"

[Illustration: "You mean you're going to work here?"]

"Well, you do. You've got no business in a run-down place like this--
you with your fine clothes and your fine airs. You didn't come here to
learn the drug business; you know as well as I do you've got some other

There was a truth in that to sting him. He smarted under its lash, but
held his temper in check because he was sorry for the girl. "Perhaps
you're right," he conceded; "perhaps I have some other motive. But
that's neither here nor there. I'm here, and it is my present intention
to learn the drug business in your father's store."

"I don't believe you, Mister Duncan--or whatever your name is."

"I'm sorry," he said patiently.

Betty's lips twitched, contemptuous. "Well, saying you do mean to work

"I do."

"Where do you think your pay's going to come from?"

"Heaven, perhaps."

"I guess you think that's funny, don't you?"

"I confess, at the moment I did. But now I realise it's probably a
bitter truth."

He was too much for her, she saw, and the knowledge only served to fan
her indignation and suspicions.

"You're making a mistake," she snapped. "Father can't pay you nothing."

"He'll pay me all I'm worth," said Duncan meekly.

She glared at him an instant longer, then mute for lack of a
sufficiently scornful retort, turned and ran back up the steps,
slamming the door behind her.

Duncan drew a rueful face, contemplating the place where she had been.

"I didn't think this was going to be a bed of roses--and it isn't," he



Nat had a busy day or two after that, trying to set things to rights in
the store for the better reception and display of the new stock. Sperry
dropped him a line saying that the goods would arrive on the third day,
and there was much to do to make way for it. He managed to get the shop
cleaned up thoroughly with Betty's not unwilling but distinctly
suspicious aid; the girl was apparently convinced that Duncan meant
business, and that this would ostensibly work for her father's benefit,
but she was distinctly dubious as to the _deus ex machina_. Duncan
now and again would catch her watching him, her eyes dark with
speculation; but when she detected his gaze her look would change
instantly to one of hostility and defiance. He suspected that only her
father's wishes prevented an open break with her; as it was he was
conscious that there was no more than an armed truce between them. And
he did not like it; it made him uncomfortable. He wasn't hardened
enough to have an easy conscience, and Betty's open doubts as to the
reason for his coming to Radville disturbed Duncan more than he would
have cared to own.

For all that, they worked together steadily, and accomplished a rather
sensational transformation in the appearance of the place. The floor,
counter and shelves were swept, washed, dusted and garnished with
paint; that is, all but the floor received the attention of the
paint-brush; Duncan managed to smuggle a quantity of oil-cloth into the
shop and get it down before Graham could enter any protest: the effect
approximated tiling nearly enough to brighten the room up wonderfully.
Aside from this the old stock was routed out and, for the greater part,
donated to the rubbish-heap. Teddy Smart, the glazier, was commissioned
to repair the broken window-panes and show-cases. A can of metal polish
freshened up the nickel and brass trimmings and rendered the single
upright of the soda fountain almost attractive. The stove was uprooted
and stored away, and its aspiring pipes dispensed with. Finally, after
considerable argument, Graham consented to the removal of his
work-bench to a shed in the back-yard. The model was suffered to
remain, the tanks and burner being stored out of sight beneath one of
the window-seats, more because Duncan considered it would be a good
thing to have the light than because he understood or attached much
importance to the contrivance. For that matter, he hadn't the time to
listen to an exposition of its advantages, and Graham, recognising
this, was content to abide his time, serene in the conviction that he
would presently find in his assistant a willing and sympathetic

Between spasms of work Duncan had his hands full attending to the soda
fountain. Soda water being practically the only salable thing in the
store, it had to serve as an excuse for the inquisitiveness of many of
my fellow-citizens, to say nothing of--I should put it, but
especially--their wives and daughters. The consumption of vanilly sody
in those two days broke all known Radville records, and stands a
singular tribute to the Spartan fortitude of Radville womanhood,
particularly the young strata thereof. Duncan, after he had succeeded
in taming the fountain, seemed rather to enjoy than object to
dispensing sody, standing inspection and receiving adulation and
nickels in unequal proportions. By the end of the second day he could
not truthfully have told his friend Willy Bartlett: "The list has
shrunk." It had swollen enormously. There isn't any doubt but that he
had a nodding acquaintance with every pretty girl in town, as well as
with most not considered pretty.

From my window in the _Citizen_ office I was able to keep a
tolerably close account of events and obtain a consensus of public
opinion. So far as the latter bore upon Duncan, it was divided into two
rather distinct parties, one of course favouring him; and this was
feminine almost exclusively. Tracey Tanner, to be sure, confessed
within my hearing to a predilection for the Noo York dood, but was
inclined to hedge and climb the fence when assailed by Roland's
strictures. Roland, I suspect, was a wee mite jealous; he had been
paying attention to--I mean, going with--Josie Lockwood for several
months. Instinctively he must have divined his danger; and it's not in
reason to exact admiration of the usurper from the usurped, even when
the act of usurpation has not yet been definitely consummated. Roland
went to the length of labelling Duncan "sissy," and professed to
believe that Hiram Nutt was justified in calling him a "s'picious
character"; Roland hinted darkly that Duncan knew New York no better
than Will Bigelow.

"And if he did come from there," he asseverated, "I betcher he didn't
leave for no good purpose."

His temper inspired me with the sapient reflection that it's a terrible
thing to be in love, even if only with an old man's millions.

"There's goin' to be a real Noo Yorker here before long," Roland
boasted; "he's comin' to see me on some 'special private bus'ness of

"Huh," commented Tracey, the sceptical. "What kind of a Noo Yorker'd
come all the way here to see you?"

"That's all right. You'll see when he gets here. He's a pro-motor."

"A what?"

"A pro-motor, a financier." Roland pronounced it "finnan seer," thus
betraying symptoms of culture and bewildering Tracey beyond expression.

"What's that?" he demanded aggressively.

"That's a feller 't can take nothing at all and incorporate it and make
money out of it," Roland defined with some hesitancy.

"And that's why he's coming down here to take a look at you?" inquired
Tracey, skipping nimbly round the corner.

Curiously enough in my understanding (for I own to no great faith in
Roland's statements, taking them by and large) his friend from New York
put in an unheralded appearance in Radville that same night, on the
evening train. The Bigelow House received him to its figurative bosom
under the name of W.H. Burnham. He sent for Roland promptly and treated
him to a dinner at the hotel; something which I have always regarded as
a punishment several sizes too large for the crime. Later, having
displayed him on the streets in witness to his good faith, Roland spent
the evening with Mr. Burnham mysteriously confabulating behind closed
doors in the hotel. Speculation ran rife through the town until nine
o'clock, and land for several days basked in the heat of public

I happened accidentally to get a glimpse of Mr. Burnham after supper,
although I had to miss my baked apple in order to get down town in
time. He was a disappointment to some extent, although his mode of
dress attracted much comment as being far more sprightly than Duncan's
and less startling than Roland's. He had a self-confident air and a bit
of swagger that filled the eye, but a face and a voice that detracted,
the one too boldly good-looking, with eyes roving and predaceous, the
other a suggestion too loud and domineering. ... I fear association
with Duncan had vitiated my taste.

However that may be, Roland got an hour off at the bank the following
morning, and the pair of them, after wandering with evident aimlessness
round the town, drifted as it were on the tide of hap-chance into
Graham's drug-store.

Duncan was at the station, superintending the transportation of the new
stock, which had come by the early local; Betty was busy with her
housework upstairs; and only old Sam kept the shop.

Sam wasn't in the best of spirits. His evergreen optimism seldom
withered, but in spite of all that had already been accomplished in
behalf of the store, in spite of the rosier aspect of his declining
fortunes and his confidence in and affection for Duncan, Sam was
worried. He had been over to the bank once, even at that early hour,
but Blinky Lockwood had driven out of town to see about foreclosing one
of his numerous mortgages in the neighbourhood, and his note, which
fell due at the bank that day, was still a weight upon Sam's mind.

Roland and Burnham found him wandering nervously round the store,
alternately taking his hat down from the peg, as if minded to make a
second trip to the bank, and replacing it as he realised that patience
was his part. He looked older and more worn than ordinarily, and seemed
distinctly pleased to be distracted by his callers.

"Why, hello, Roland!" he cried cheerfully, hanging up his hat for
perhaps the twentieth time. And, "How de doo, sir?" he greeted the

"Good-morning, sir," said Burnham pleasantly.

"Say, Sam," Roland blundered with his usual adroitness, "this

Burnham's hand fell heavily on his forearm and he checked as if

"What's that, Roland?" Sam turned curiously to them.

"Oh, nothin'; I was--er--just going to say that this gentleman's my
friend from Noo York, Mr. Burnham. I was showin' him round the town and
we just happened to look in."

"The friend you were going to write to about my burner?" inquired Sam.
"Well, I'm right glad to meet you, sir."

It was here that Roland got a look from Mr. Burnham that withered him
completely. His further contributions to the conversation were somewhat
spasmodic and ineffectual.

"Why, no, Mr. Graham," Burnham interposed deftly. "Mr. Barnette must've
been talking of someone else he knew in New York. I----"

"Didn't know he knew more'n one there," Sam observed mildly.

Burnham's glance jumped warily to Sam's face, but withdrew reassured,
having detected therein nothing but the old man's kindly and simple
nature. "At all events," he continued, "I don't remember hearing
anything about the matter (what did you call it? A burner, eh?) from
Mr. Barnette."

"I s'pose Roland forgot," Sam allowed. "He's so busy courtin' our
pretty girls, Mr. Burnham----"

"Yes, that was it," Roland put in hastily, seeing his chance to mend
matters. "I did intend to write you about it, Mr. Burnham, but it kind
of slipped my mind. We've had a lot of important business over to the
bank recently."

"By the way, Roland, did you just come from the bank? Is Mr. Lockwood
back yet?"

"No; I got off this morning. I don't think he is, Sam. Did you want to
see him?"

"Well, yes," Sam admitted. "I guess you know about that, Roland."

"Mean business, sometimes, asking favours of these bankers, eh, Mr.
Graham?" Burnham remarked, much too casually to have deceived anybody
but old Sam.

Graham nodded, dolefully. "Yes, it is unpleasant," he admitted
confidingly. "You see, there's a note of mine come due to-day, and I'm
not able to take care of it or pay the interest just now...." He
thought it over gravely for a moment, then brightened. "But I guess
it'll be all right. Mr. Lockwood's kind, very kind."

"I'm afraid you're a little too sure, Sam," Roland contributed
tactfully. "When there's money due Lockwood, he wants it, and most
times he gets it or its equivalent."

"Yes," Sam assented sadly, "I guess he does, mostly."

"But," Burnham changed the subject adroitly, "what was this--burner,
did you say?--that Mr. Barnette forgot to tell me about?"

"Oh, just one of my inventions, sir."

"I understand you're quite an inventor?"

Sam's smile lightened his face like sunlight striking a snow-bound
field. He nodded slowly, thinking of his past enthusiasms, his hopes
and discouragements. "I've spent most of my life at it, sir, but
somehow nothing has ever turned out well... not so far, I mean. But I
mean to hit it yet."

"That's the way to talk," Burnham cried heartily; "never give up, I
say!... But tell me about some of these inventions, won't you?"

"Wel-l"--Sam knitted his fingers and pursed his lips reflectively--"I
patented a new type threshing machine, once, but I couldn't get anybody
to take hold of it. You see, I haven't any money, Mr. Burnham."

"How would you like to talk it over with me, some time? I'm interested
in such things--as a sort of side issue."

"Will you?" Sam's eagerness was not to be disguised.

"Be glad to. Tell me, how did you get your power?"

"From gas, sir--though coal will do 'most as well. You see, I've got
this burner patented, that makes gas from crude oil--no waste, no odour
nor trouble, and little expense. It'd be cheaper than coal, I thought;
that's why I invented it. I could get steam up mighty quick with that
gas arrangement. I use it for lighting here in the store, now."

"Do you, indeed?" Burnham's tone indicated failing interest, but such
diplomacy was lost on Sam.

"If you've got time, I could show you; it's right over here."

A glance at his watch accompanied Burnham's consent to spare a few
minutes. "There's a telegram I must send presently," he said. "But I'd
like to see this burner, if it won't take long."

"No, not long; just a minute or two." Sam was already dragging the
affair out from under the window box. "You see..."

He went on to expound its virtues with all the fond enthusiasm of a
father showing off his firstborn, and wound up with a demonstration of
the illuminating appliance. I'm afraid, though, he got little
encouragement from Mr. Burnham. He considered the machine with a
dispassionate air, it's true, and admitted its practical advantages,
but wasn't at all disposed to take a roseate view of its future.

"Yes," he grudged, when Sam put a match to the jet, "that's certainly a
very good light."

"All right, ain't it?" chimed Roland, enthusiastic.

"Oh, it may amount to something. It's hard to tell. Of course you know,
sir," he continued, addressing Graham directly, "you've got competition
to overcome."

Sam's old fingers trembled to his chin. "No-o," he said, "I didn't know
that. I've got the patent----"

"Of course that's something. But the Consolidated Petroleum crowd has
another machine, slightly different, which does the same work, and, I
should say, does it better."

"Is--is that so?" quavered Sam. "My patent----."

"Now see here, Mr. Graham," Burnham argued, "we're practical men, both
of us----"

"No; I shouldn't say that about myself," Sam interrupted. "Now you,
sir----I can see you're a man who understands such things. But I----"

"Nevertheless, you must know that a patent isn't everything. You said a
moment ago a man had to have money to make anything out of his

"Did I?" Sam interjected, surprised.

"Certainly you did; and dead right you are. A patent's all very well,
but supposing you're up against a powerful competitor like the
Consolidated Petroleum Company. They've got a patent, too. Granted it
may be an infringement of yours even--what can you do against them."

"Why, if it's an infringement----"

"Sue, of course. But do you suppose they're going to lie down just
because an unknown and penniless inventor sues them? Bless you, no!
They'll fight to the last ditch, they'll engage the best legal talent
in the country. You'll have to carry the case to the Supreme Court of
the United States if you want a winning decision. And that's going to
cost you thousands--hundreds of thou-sands--a million----"

"Never mind; a thousand's enough," said Sam gently. "I see what you
mean, sir. It's just another case where I've got no chance."

"Oh, I wouldn't put it as strong as that------"

"But I have no money."

"Still, you never can tell. I'll think it over, if I get time."

"Why, that's kind of you, sir, very kind."

It was at this point that Roland rose to the occasion like the noble
ass he is. Roland never could see more than an inch beyond the end of
his nose.

"Say, Mr. Burnham," he floundered, "don't you think you could help Sam

"I think," said Mr. Burnham, with additional business of looking at his
watch, "I'd like to send that wire I spoke of."

"Yes, Roland," Sam agreed meekly; "you mustn't keep your friend from
his business. I'm glad you looked in, sir. You'll call again, I hope."

"Thank you," said Burnham, moving toward the door.

It was too much for Roland's sense of opportunity. He rolled in
Burnham's wake, sullenly reluctant. "Say, Mr. Burnham," he exploded as
they got to the door, "if you'll just offer Sam five----"

_"That will do!"_ Roland collapsed as if punctured. Burnham turned
to Graham with a wave of his hand. "I'm leaving on the afternoon train,
but if I get time I may drop in again and talk things over with you.
There might be something in that threshing machine you mentioned."

"I'll be glad to show you anything I've got here..."

"All right. Good-day. I'll see you again, perhaps."

This cavalier snub was lost on Sam, an essential of whose serene soul
is the quality of humility. He followed them to the door, as grateful
as a lost dog for a stray pat instead of a kick. "Good-day, sir.
Good-day, Roland," he sped their parting cheerfully.

But it was a broken man who shut the door behind them and turned back,
fingering his grey chin. There must have been a dimness in his eyes and
a quiver to his wide-lipped, generous mouth.

"Perhaps Mr. Burnham was right. Only I was kind of hopin'... Now Mr.
Lockwood over there..."

He shook himself to throw off the spell of depression and somehow
managed to quicken again his abiding faith in the essential goodness of
the world.

"Well, well! He's kind, very kind."

He began to restore his model to its hiding place, musing upon the
ebb-tide in his affairs in his muddle-headed way, and in the process
managed to convince himself that "it 'ud all come right."

"With this young man in here, and everythin' gettin' fixed up, and new
stock comin' in ... I'm sure Mr. Lockwood'll see it the right way ...
for us.... He's kind, very kind."

Thus it was that he presently called up the stairs in a very cheerful
voice: "Betty, are you pretty near through up there?"

The girl's weary voice came down to him without accent: "Yes, father,

"Well, then, you keep an eye on the store, please. I'm goin' to step
out for a minute."

"Yes, father."

"And if--if anybody asks for me, I'll most likely be down to the depot,
with Mr. Duncan."

He didn't mention that he contemplated calling on Lockwood, because he
feared it might worry Betty. ... As if a woman doesn't always
understand when things are going wrong!

Betty knew, or rather divined. And she had no hope, no faith such as
made Sam what he was. She came down the steps listlessly, overborne by
her knowledge of the world's wrongness. The glance with which she
comprehended the renovated shop was bitter with contempt. What was the
worth of all this? Nothing good would come of it; nothing good came of
anything. Life was drab and dreary, made up of weary, profitless years
and months and weeks and days, to each its appointed disappointment.

Only her sense of duty sustained her. She owed something to old Sam for
the gift of life, dismal though she found it. He needed her; what she
could do for him she would. I have always thought that her affection
for her father was less filial than maternal. He seemed such a child,
she--so very old! She mothered him; it was her only joy to care for
him. Her care was constant, unfailing, omniscient. In return she got
only his love. But it was almost enough--almost, not quite, dearly as
she prized it. There were other things a girl should have--indeed, must
have, if her life were to be rounded out in fulness. And these, she
understood, were forever denied her: apples of Paradise growing in her
sight, heartrending in their loveliness so far beyond her reach....

Sighing, she went to work. In work only could she forget.... The soda
glasses needed cleaning, and the syrup jars replenishing (for the new
order of syrups had come in the previous evening).

After a time, to a tune of pounding feet, Tracey Tanner pranced into
the shop with all the graceful abandon of a young elephant feeling its
oats. His face was fairly scarlet from exertion and his eyes bulging
with a sense of importance. The girl looked up without interest,
nodding slightly in response to his breathless: "'Lo, Betty."

"Father's gone out," she said, holding a glass to the light, suspicious
of the lint from her dish towel.

"I know--seen him down the street." The boy halted at the counter,
producing a handful of square envelopes. "Note for you from the
Lockwoods, Betty," he panted. "Josie ast me to bring it round."

Betty put down her glass in consternation. From the Lockwoods?"

"Uh-huh." Tracey offered it, but she withheld her hand, dubious.

"For me, Tracey?"

"Uh-huh. It's a ninvitation. I got four more to take." He thrust it
into her reluctant fingers. "Got five, really, but one of 'em's for

"An invitation, Tracey!"

"Yeh. Hope you have a good time when it comes off." Already he was
bouncing toward the door. "Goo'-bye."

"But what is it, Tracey?"

"Aw, it tells in the ninvitation. S'long."

"From the Lockwoods!" she whispered.

Suddenly she tore it open, her hands unsteady with nervousness.

The envelope contained a square of heavy cardboard of a creamy tint
with scalloped edges touched with gold. On the face of the card a round
and formless hand had traced with evident pains the information:

Miss Josephine Mae Lockwood

Requests the Pleasure of your Company at a Lawn Fête and Dance to be
held at the residence of her Parents, Mr. & Mrs. Geo. Lockwood,
Saturday July 15, at 8 p. m. R.S.V.P.

The envelope fluttered to the floor while the card was crushed between
the girl's hands. For a moment her face was transfigured with delight,
her eyes blank with rapturous visions of the joys of that promised

"Oh!... it 'ud be grand!..."

Then suddenly the light faded. Her eyes clouded, her face settled into
its discontented lines. She stuffed the card heedlessly into the pocket
of her dingy apron, and took up another glass.

"But I can't go; I've got nothin' to wear...."



She was scrubbing blindly at the same glass when, a quarter of an hour
later, Blinky Lockwood strode into the store, his right eye twitching
more violently than usual, as it always does in his phases of mental
disturbance--as when, for instance, he fears he's going to lose a

Lockwood is that type of man who was born to grow rich. He inherited a
farm or two in the vicinity of Radville and the one over Westerly way,
to which I have referred, and ... well, we've a homely paraphrase of a
noted aphorism in Radville: "Them as has, gits." Lockwood had, to begin
with, and he made it his business to get; and, as is generally the case
in this unbalanced world of ours, things came to him to which he had
never aspired. Fortune favoured him because he had no need of her
favours; the discovery of coal under his Westerly acres was wholly
adventitious, but it made him far and away the richest man in
Radville--with the possible exception of old Colonel Bohun's
traditional millions.

In person he is as beautiful as a snake-fence, as alluring as a stone
wall. Something over six feet in height, he walks with a stoop (one
hand always in a trouser-pocket jingling silver) that materially
detracts from his stature. His face, like his figure, is gaunt and
lanky, his nose an emaciated beak; his mouth illustrates his attitude
toward property--is a trap from which nothing of value ever escapes;
his eyes are small and hard and set close together under lowering
brows. He's grizzled, with hair not actually white, but grey as the iron
from which his heart was fashioned. Aside from these characteristics his
principal peculiarity is a nervous twitching of the right eye which has
earned him his sobriquet of Blinky. Legrand Gunn said he contracted the
affliction through squinting at the silver dollar to make sure none of
its milling had been worn off. ... I have never known the man to wear
anything but a rusty old frock coat, black, of course, and black and
shiny broadcloth trousers, with a hat that has always a coating of dust
so thick that it seems a mottled grey.

He grunts his words, a grunt to each. He grunted at Betty when he saw

"Where's your father?"

She put down her glass and dish-rag. "I don't know, sir."

"Don't know, eh?" he asked in an indescribably offensive tone.

"I think he went to the bank to see you."

"Oh, he did, eh? Did he have anything for me."

The girl took up another glass. "I don't know, sir," she said wearily.
"I'm afraid not."

"Well, if he didn't there's no use see in' me. It won't do him any

"I guess he knows that," she returned with a little flash of spirit.

Lockwood looked her up and down as if he had never seen her before,
then summarised his resentful impression of her attitude in an open
sneer. "Does, eh? Well, that's a good thing; saves talk."

She contained herself, saying nothing. He glared round the place,
remarking the improvements.

"You don't do no business here, not to speak of, do ye?"

"No," she admitted without interest, "not to speak of."

"Then what's the good of all this foolishness, fixing up?"

"I don't know."

"Costs money, don't it?"

"I guess so."

"And that money belongs to me."

"It's Mr. Duncan's doing. Father ain't paying for it. He can't."

"What's he doin', then? Sittin' round foolin' with his inventions,
ain't he?"


"What's he inventin' now?"
"I don't know much about it." She pointed to the model beneath the
window. "That's the last thing, I guess."

Blinky snorted and stamped over to the window, stooping to peer at the
machine. "What's the good of that?" he demanded, disdainful; and
without waiting for her response went on nagging. "Foolishness! That's
what it is. Why don't you tell him not to waste his time this way?"

"Because he likes it," said Betty hopelessly. "It's the only thing that
makes life worth while to him. So I let him alone."

"What difference does that make? It don't bring him in nothin', does

"No ..."

"Nor do any good?"


"No, siree, it don't. He'd oughter stop it. What does he do with them
things when he gets 'em finished?"

"Patents them."

"And then what?"

"Nothin' that I know of."

"That's it; nothing--nor ever will. Well, he's been getting money from
me for those patents--I thought at fust there might be somethin' in
'em--but he won't any more. I'd oughter had more sense."

A little colour spotted the girl's sallow cheeks. "He'd never ha' got
money from you if he hadn't thought he could pay it back," she told
Blinky hotly.

"No, nor if I hadn't thought he could----"

She interjected a significant "Huh!" He broke off abruptly, pale with

"Well, I want to see him, and I want to see him before noon," he
snapped. "I'm goin' over to the bank, an' if he knows what's good for
him he'll come there pretty darn quick."

"I'll try to find him for you; he must be somewhere round," she

"Well, you better. I ain't got much patience to-day."

He swung on one heel and slouched out, as Betty turned to go upstairs.
Presently she reappeared pinning on her sad little hat, and left the

It was upwards of an hour before she returned, walking quickly and very
erect, with her head up and shoulders back, her eyes suspiciously
bright, the spots of colour in her cheeks blazing scarlet, her mouth
set and hard, the little work-worn hands at her sides clenched tightly
as if for self-control. Even old Sam, who had returned from the depôt
after missing Blinky at the bank--even he, blind as he ordinarily was,
saw instantly that something was wrong with the child.

"Why, Betty!" he cried in solicitude as she flung into the
store--"Betty, dear, what's the matter?"

For an instant she seemed speechless. Then she tore the hat from her
head and cast it regardlessly upon the counter. "Father!" she cried.
"Father!"--and gulped to down her emotion. "Can you get me some money?"

"Money? Why, Betty, what--?"

Her foot came down on the floor impatiently. "Can you get me some
money?" she repeated in a breath.

"Well--er--how much, Betty?" He tried to touch her, to take her to his
arms, but she moved away, her sorry little figure quivering from head
to feet.

"Enough," she said, half sobbing--"enough to buy a dress--a nice
dress--a dress that will surprise folks--"

"But tell me what the matter is, Betty. Wanting a dress would never
upset you like this."

She whipped the cracked and crumpled card from her pocket and pushed it
into his hand. "Look at that!" she bade him, and turned away,
struggling with all her might to keep back the tears.

He read, his old face softening. "Josie Lockwood's party, eh? And she's
sent you an invitation. Well, that was kind of her, very kind."

She swung upon him in a fury. "No, it was not kind. It was mean... It
was mean!"

"Oh, Betty," he begged in consternation, "don't say that. I'm sure--"

"Oh, you don't know... I heard the girls talking in the post-office--
Angle Tuthill and Mame Garrison and Bessie Gabriel... I was round by
the boxes where they couldn't see me, but I could hear them, and they
were laughing because I was invited. They said the reason Josie did it
was because she knew I didn't have anything to wear, and she wanted to
hear what excuse I'd make for not going. Ah, I heard them!"

"Oh, but Betty, Betty," he pleaded; "don't you mind what they say.

"But I do mind; I can't help mindin'. They're mean." She paused, her
features hardening. "I'm going to that party," she declared tensely:
"I'm goin' to that party and--and I'm goin' to have a dress to go in,
too! I don't care what I do--I'm goin' to have that dress!"

Sam would have soothed her as best he might, but she would neither look
at nor come near him.

"We'll see," he said gently. "We'll see. I'll try--"

She turned on him, exasperated beyond thought. "That only means you
can't help me!"

"Oh, no, it doesn't. I'll do what I can--"

"Have you got any money now?"

He hung his head to avoid her blazing eyes. "Well, no--not at present,
but here's this new stock and--."

"That doesn't mean anything, and you know it. You owe that note to Mr.
Lockwood, don't you? And you can't pay it?"

"Not to-day, Betty, but he'll give me a little more time, I'm sure.
He's kind, very kind."

"You don't know him. He's as mean--as mean as dirt--as mean as Josie."


"Then if you did get any money you'd have to give it to him, wouldn't

"Yes, but--I'm sure--I think it'll come all right."

"Ah, what's the use of talkin' that way? What's the use of talkin' at
all? I know you can't do anything for me, and so do you!"

Sam had dropped into his chair, unable to stand before this storm; he
stared now, mute with amazement, at this child who had so long, so
uncomplainingly, shared his poverty and privations, grown suddenly to
the stature of a woman--and a tormented, passionate woman, stung to the
quick by the injustice of her lot. He put out a hand in a feeble
gesture of placation, but she brushed it away as she bent toward him,
speaking so quickly that her words stumbled and ran into one another.

"I can't understand it!" she raged. "Why is it that I have to be more
shabby than any other girl in town? Why is it that the others have all
the fun and I all the drudgery? Why is it that I can't ever go anywhere
with the boys and girls and laugh and--and have a good time like the
rest do?..."

Sam bent his head to the blast. In his lap his hands worked nervously.
But he could not answer her.

"It ain't that I mind the cookin' and doin' the housework and--all the
rest--but--why is it you can never give me anything at all? Why must it
be that everyone looks down on us and sneers and laughs at us? Why is
it that half the time we haven't got enough to eat?... Other men manage
to take care of their families and give their children things to wear.
You've got only us two to look after, and you can't even do that. It
isn't right, it isn't decent, and if I were you I'd be ashamed of

Her temper had spent itself, and with this final cry she checked
abruptly, with a catch at her breath for shame of what she had let
herself say. But, childlike, she was not ready to own her sorrow; and
she turned her back, trembling.

Sam, too, was shaken. In his heart he knew there was justification for
her indictment, truth in what she had said. And he was heartbroken for
her. He got up unsteadily and put a gentle hand upon her shoulder.

"Why, Betty--I--I--"

A dry sob interrupted him. He pulled himself together and forced his
voice to a tone of confidence. "Just be a little patient, dear. I'm
sure things will be better with us, soon. Just a little more patience--
that's all... Why, there was a gentleman here this morning, from Noo
York City, talkin' about an invention of mine."

The girl moved restlessly, shaking off his hand. "Invention!" she
echoed bitterly. "Oh, father! Everybody knows they're no good. You've
been wastin' time on 'em ever since I can remember, and you've never
made a dollar out of one yet."

He bowed to the truth of this, then again braced up bravely. "But this
gentleman seemed quite interested. He's over to the Bigelow House now.
I think I'll step over and have a talk with him--"

"You'd much better go and have a talk with Blinky Lockwood," she told
him brutally. "He's waitin' for you at the bank, and said he wasn't
goin' to wait after twelve o'clock, neither!"

"Wel-l, perhaps you're right. I'll go there. It's after twelve, but..."
He started to get his hat and stopped with an exclamation: "Why, Nat!
I didn't know you'd got back!"

Duncan was at the back of the store, clearing the last remnants of the
old stock from the shelves. "Yes," he said pleasantly, without turning,
"I've been here some time, cleaning up the cellar, to make room for the
stuff that's coming in. I came upstairs just a moment ago, but you were
so busy talking you didn't notice me."

He paused, swept the empty shelves with a calculating glance, and came
out around the end of the counter. "Everything's in tip-top shape," he
said. "I checked up the bill of lading myself, and there's not a thing
missing, not a bit of breakage. Mr. Graham," he continued, dropping a
gentle hand on the old man's shoulder, "you're going to have the finest
drug-store in the State within six months. With the stuff that Sperry
has sent us we can make Sothern and Lee look like sixty-five cents on
the dollar.... We're going to make things hum in this old shop, and
don't you forget it." He laughed lightly, with a note of encouragement.
But he avoided Graham's eyes even as he did Betty's. He could not meet
the pitiful look of the former, any more than that stare of hostility
and defiance in the latter.

"It's good of you, my boy," Graham quavered. "I--but I'm afraid it

"Now don't say that!" Duncan interposed firmly. "And don't let me
keep you. I think you said you were going out on business? And I'll be
busy enough right here."

And without exactly knowing how it had come about, Graham found himself
in the street, stumbling downtown, toward the bank.

When he had gone, Duncan would have returned to the shelves for a final
redding-up. He desired least of all things an encounter with Betty in
her present frame of mind, and he tried his level best to seem as one
who had heard nothing, who was only concerned with his occupation of
the moment. But from the instant that she had been made aware of his
presence Betty had been watching him with smouldering eyes, wondering
how much he had heard and what he was thinking of her. The keen
repentance that gnawed at her heart, allied with shame that an alien
should have been private to her exhibition, half maddened the child.
With a sudden movement she threw herself in front of Duncan, thrusting
her white, drawn face before his, her gaze searching his half in anger,
half in morose distrust.

"So you were listening!"

"I'm sorry," he said uncomfortably.

She drew a pace away, holding herself very straight while she threw him
a level glance of unqualified contempt.

"I didn't mean to hear anything," he argued plaintively. "I was in
the room before I understood, and by the time I did, it was too late--
you had finished."

"Oh, don't try to explain. I--I hate you!"

He held her eyes inquiringly. "Yes," he said in the tone of one who
solves a puzzling problem, "I believe you do."

She looked away, shaking with passion. "You just better believe it."

"But," he went on quietly, "you don't hate your father, too, do you,
Miss Graham?"

She swung back to meet his stare with one that flamed with indignation.

"What do you mean by that, Mr. Duncan?"

"I mean," he said, faltering in where one wiser would have feared to
venture--"I'm going to give you a bit of advice. Don't you talk to your
father again the way you did just now."

"What business is that of yours?"

"None," he admitted fairly. "But just the same I wouldn't, if I were

"Well, you ain't me!" she cried savagely. "You ain't me! Understand
that? When I want advice from you, I'll ask for it. Until I do, you
let me alone."

"Very well," he replied, so calmly that she lost her bearings for a
moment. And inevitably this, emphasising as it did all that she
resented most in him--his education, wit, address, his advantages of
every sort--only served further to infuriate the child.

"Oh, I know why you talk that way," she said, rubbing her poor little
hands together.

"Do you?" he asked in wonder.

"Yes, I do--you!..."

Suddenly she found words--poverty-stricken words, it's true, but the
best she had wherewith to express herself. And for a little they flowed
from her lips, a scalding, scathing torrent. "It's because you go to
church all the time and try to look like a saint and--and try to make
out you're too religious for anything, and like to hear yourself givin'
Christian advice to poor miserable sinners--like me. You think that's
just too lovely of you. That's why you said it, if you want to know.
... Folks wonder what you're doing here, don't they? Guess you know
that--and like it, too. It makes 'em look at you and talk about you,
and that's what you like. _I_ could tell 'em. You're only here to
show off your good clothes and your finger-nails and the way you part
your hair and--and all the other things you do that nobody in Noo York
would pay any attention to!"

He faced her soberly, attentively. She was a little fool, he knew, and
making a ridiculous figure of herself. But--his innate honesty told him
--she was right, in a way; she had hit upon his weakest point. He was
in Radville to "show off," as she would have said, to make an
impression and ... to reap the reward thereof. The way she spoke was
ludicrous, but what she said was mostly plain truth. He nodded

"A pretty good guess at that," he acknowledged candidly.

"Yes, it is, and I know it, and you know it. ... Oh, it's easy enough
to give advice when you've got plenty of money and fine clothes and ...

"I understand," he said when she paused to get a grip upon herself and
find again the words she needed. "You needn't say any more. The only
reason I said what I did was because I'm strong for your father and ...
well, I wanted to do you a good turn, too."

"I don't want any of your good turns!"

"Then I apologise."

"And I don't want your apologies, neither!"

"All right, only ... think over what I said, some time."

"I had a good reason for saying what I did."

"I know you had."

"You know I had!" She looked at him askance. She had been on the point
of relenting a little, of calming, of being a bit ashamed of herself.
But his quiet acquiescence rekindled her resentment. "How do you know?
You!" she said bitterly.

"Because I'm not what you think I am, altogether."

"I guess you're not," she observed acidly.

"But I don't mean what you mean. I mean you think I'm conceited and
rich and don't know what trouble is. Well, you're mistaken. I've been
up against it the worst way for five years, and I know just how it
feels to see other people getting up in the world when you're at the
bottom of the heap with no chance of squirming out--to know that they
have things you haven't got any chance of getting. I've been through
the mill myself. Why, I've kept out of the way for days and days rather
than let my prosperous friends see how shabby I was. Many's the time
I've dodged round corners to avoid meeting men I knew would invite me
to have dinner or luncheon or a drink--of soda--or something, for fear
they'd find out that I couldn't treat in return. Many a time I've gone
hungry for days and weeks and slept on park benches ... until an old
friend found me and took me home with him."

The ring of sincerity in his manner and tone silenced the girl,
impressed her with the conviction of his absolute sincerity. The tumult
in her mind quieted. She eyed him with attention, even with interest
temporarily untinged with resentment. And seeing that he had succeeded
in gaining this much ground in her regard, Duncan dared further,
pushing his advantage to its limits.

"But it's your father I wanted to talk about," he hurried on. "I'd bet
a lot he knows more than any other man in this town; and besides, he's
a fine, square, good-hearted old gentleman. Anybody can see that.
Only, he's got one terrible fault: he doesn't know how to make money.
And that's mighty tough on you--though it's just as tough on him. But
when you roast him for it, like you did just now ... you only make him
feel as miserable as a yellow dog ... and that doesn't help matters a
little bit. He can't change into a sharp business crook now; ... he's
too old a man. ... Before long he ... he won't be with you at all and
... when he's gone you'll be sore on yourself ... sure! ... if you keep
on throwing it into him the way I heard you. ... And that's on the

He paused in confusion; the role of preacher sat upon him awkwardly, a
sadly misfit garment. He felt self-conscious and ill at ease, yet with
a trace of gratulation through it all. For he felt he'd carried his
point. He could see no longer any animus in the pale, wistful little
face that looked up into his--only sympathy, understanding, repentance
and (this troubled him a bit) a faint flush of dawning admiration.
Presently she grew conscious of herself again, and looked aside, humbled
and distressed.

"I--I won't do it again," she faltered, twisting her hands together.

"Bully for you!" he cried, and with an abrupt if artificial resumption
of his business-like air turned away to a show-case--to spare her the
embarrassment of his regard.

"I didn't think," said the voice behind him; "I didn't mean to--
something happened that almost drove me wild and..."

"I know," he said gently.

After a bit she spoke again: "I'll go up and get dinner ready now."

"That's all right," he returned absently. "I'll tend the store."

He heard her footsteps as she crossed to the door and opened it. There
followed a pause. Then she came hurriedly back. He faced about to meet
her eyes shining with wonder.

"I wanted to ask you," she said hastily, "if--was it this friend you
spoke about--that found you in the park--who set you on the road to

"That's what he said," Duncan answered, twisting his brows whimsically.



Like almost all business Radville, Duncan went home for his midday
meal. It wasn't much of a walk from Sam Graham's store to Miss
Carpenter's, and he didn't mind in the least.

On this particular day he was sincerely hungry, but he had much to
think about besides, and between the two he just bolted his food and
made off, hot-foot for the store, greatly to the distress of his

Naturally, knowing nothing about Sam's note, although he knew Pete
Willing by sight as the sheriff and town drunkard in one, it didn't
worry him at all to discover that gentleman tacking toward the store as
he hurried up Beech Street, eager to get back to his job. The first
intimation that he had of anything seriously amiss was when he entered,
practically on Pete's heels.

Pete Willing is the best-natured man in the world, as a general rule;
drunk or sober, Radville tolerates him for just that quality. On only
two occasions is he irritable and unmanageable: when his wife gets
after him about the drink (Mrs. Willing is an able-bodied lady of Irish
descent, with a will and a tongue of her own, to say nothing of
an arm a blacksmith might envy) and when he has a duty to perform in
his official capacity. It is in the latter instance that he rises
magnificently to the dignity of his position. The majesty of the law in
his hands becomes at once a bludgeon and a pandemonium. No one has ever
been arrested in Radville, since Pete became sheriff, without the
entire community becoming aware of it simultaneously. Pete's voice in
moments of excitement carries like a cannonade. Legrand Gunn said that
Pete had only to get into an argument in front of the Bigelow House to
make the entire disorderly population of the Flats, across the river,
break for the hills. (This is probably an exaggeration.)

Tall, gaunt, gangling and loose-jointed, Duncan found Pete standing in
the middle of the floor, hands in pockets and a noisome stogie thrust
into a corner of his mouth, swaying a little (he was almost sober at
the moment) and explaining his mission to old Sam in a voice of

"I'm sorry about this, Sam," he bellowed, "but there ain't no use
wastin' words 'bout it. I'm here on business."

"But what's the matter, Sheriff?" Graham asked, his voice breaking.

"Ah, you know you got a note due at the bank, don't you?"

"Yes, but----"

"Well, it's protested. Y'un'erstand that, don't you?"

"Why, Pete!" Graham swayed, half-dazed.

"An' I'm here to serve the papers onto you."

"But--but there must be some mistake." Sam clutched blindly for his
hat. "I'll step over and see Mr. Lockwood. He'll arrange to give me a
little more time, I'm sure. He's always been kind, very kind."

"Naw!" Pete bawled, "Mr. Lockwood don't want to see you unless you can
settle. Y'can save yourself the trouble. Y'gottuh put up or git out!"

"But, Pete--Mr. Lockwood said he didn't want to see me?"

"Yah, that's what he said, and I got orders from him, soon's I got
judgment to close y'up. And that goes, see!"

"To--to turn me out of the store, Pete?" Graham's world had slipped
from beneath his feet. He was overwhelmed, witless, as helpless as a
child. And it was with a child's look of pitiful dismay and perplexity
that he faced the sheriff.

The father who has fallen short of his child's trust and confidence
knows that look. To Duncan its appeal was irresistible. He had his
hand in his pocket, clutching the still considerable remains of what
Kellogg had termed his grubstake, before he knew it.

"But--there must be some mistake," Graham repeated pleadingly. "It
can't be--Mr. Lockwood surely wouldn't----"

"Now there ain't no use whinin' about it!" Willing roared him into
silence. "Law is Law, and----" He ceased quickly, surprised to find
Duncan standing between him and his prey. "What----!" he began.

"Wait!" Duncan touched him gently on the chest with a forefinger, at
the same time catching and holding the sheriff's eye. "Are you," he
inquired quietly, "labouring under the impression that Mr. Graham is


Duncan turned to Sam, apologetically. "He said 'what.' Did you hear it,

But by this time Pete was recovering to some degree. "What've you got
to say about this?" he demanded, crescendo.

"I'll show you," Duncan told him in the same quiet voice, "what I've
got to say if you'll just put the soft pedal on and tell me the amount
of that note."

Pete struggled mightily to regain his vanished advantage, but try as he
would he could not escape Duncan's cool, inquisitive eye. Visibly he
lost importance as he yielded and dived into his pocket. "With interest
and costs," he said less stridently, "it figgers up three hundred 'n'
eighty dollars 'n' eighty-two cents."

There's no use denying that Duncan was staggered. For the moment his
poise deserted him utterly. He could only repeat, as one who dreams:
_"Three hundred and eighty dollars!..."_

His momentary consternation afforded Pete the opening he needed. The
room shook with his regained sense of prestige.

"Yes, three hundred 'n' eighty dollars 'n'--say, you look a-here!----"

Again the calm forefinger touched him, and like a hypnotist's pass
checked the rolling volume of noise. "Listen," begged Duncan: "if
you've got anything else to tell me, please retire to the opposite side
of the street and whisper it. Meanwhile, _be quiet!"_

Pete's jaw dropped. In all his experience no one had ever succeeded in
taming him so completely--and in so brief a time. He experienced a
sensation of having been robbed of his spinal column, and before he
could pull himself together was staring in awe, while with one final
admonitory poke of his finger Duncan turned and made for the soda
counter, beneath which was the till. His scanty roll of bills was in
his right hand, and there concealed. He stepped behind the counter (old
Sam watching him with an amazement no less absolute than Pete's),
pulled out the till, bent over it with an assured air, and pushed back
the coin slide. Then quite naturally, he produced--with his right
hand--his four-hundred-and-odd dollars from the bill drawer, stood up
and counted them with great deliberation.

"One ... two ... three ... four."
He smiled winningly at Pete. "Four hundred dollars, Mr. Sheriff. Now
will you be good enough to hand over that note and the change and then
put yourself, and that pickle you're wearing in your face, on the other
side of the door?"

Pete struggled tremendously and finally succeeded in producing from
his system a still, small voice:

"I ain't got the note with me, Mr. Duncan."

"Then perhaps you won't mind going to the bank for it?"

Half suffocated, Pete assented. "Aw'right, I'll go and git it. Kin I
have the money?"

"Certainly." Duncan extended the bills, then on second thought withheld
them. "I presume you're a regular sheriff?" he inquired.

Very proudly Pete turned back the lapel of his coat and distended the
chest on which shone his nickel-plated badge of office. Duncan examined
it with grave admiration.

"It's beautiful," he said with a sigh. "Here."

Gingerly, Pete grasped the bills, thumbed them over to make sure they
were real, and bolted as for his life, his coat-tails level on the

[Illustration: "Four hundred dollars, Mr. Sheriff"]

There floated back to Duncan and old Sam his valedictory: "Wal, I'll be

With a short, quiet laugh Duncan made as though to go out to the
back-yard, where the new stock was being delivered, having been carted
up from the station through the alley--thereby doing away with the
necessity of cluttering up the store with a débris of packing. His
primal instinct of the moment was to get right out of that with all the
expedition practicable. He didn't want to be alone with old Sam another
second. The essential insanity of which he had just done was patent;
there was no excuse for it, and he was like to suffer severely as a
consequence. But he wasn't sorry, and he did not want to be thanked.

"I'm going," he said hurriedly, "to find me a hatchet and knock the
stuffing out of some of those packing-cases. Want to get all that truck
indoors before nightfall, you know----"

But old Sam wasn't to be put off by any such obvious subterfuge as
that. He put himself in front of Duncan.

"Nat, my boy," he said, tremulous, "I can't let this go through--I
can't allow you----"

"There, now!" Duncan told him, unconcernedly yet kindly, "don't say
anything more. It's over and done with."

"But you mustn't--I'll turn over the store to you, if----"

"O Lord!" Duncan's dismay was as genuine as his desire to escape
Graham's gratitude. "No--don't! Please don't do that!"

"But I must do something, my boy. I can't accept so great a kindness--
unless," said Graham with a timid flash of hope--"you'll consider a

"That's it!" cried Duncan, glad of any way out of the situation.
"That's the way to do it--a partnership. No, please don't say any more
about it, just now. We can settle details later. ... We've got to get
busy. Tell you what I wish you'd do while I'm busting open those boxes:
if you don't mind going down to the station to make sure that

"Yes, I'll go; I'll go at once." Sam groped for Duncan's hand, caught
and held it between both his own. "If--if fate--or something hadn't
brought you here to-day--I don't know what would've happened to Betty
and me. ..."

"Never mind," Duncan tried to soothe him. "Just don't you think about

Graham shook his head, still bewildered. "Perhaps," he stumbled on, "to
a gentleman of your wealth four hundred dollars isn't much----"

"No," said Duncan gravely, without the flicker of an eyelash:
"nothing." Then he smiled cheerfully. "There, that's all right."

"To me it's meant everything. I--I only hope I'll be able to repay
you some day. God bless you, my boy, God bless you!"

He managed to jam his hat awry on his white old head and found his way
out, his hands fumbling with one another, his lips moving inaudibly--
perhaps in a prayer of thanksgiving.

Motionless, Duncan watched him go, and for several minutes thereafter
stood without stirring, lost in thought. Then his quaint, deprecatory
grin dawned. He found a handkerchief and mopped his forehead.

"Whew!" he whistled. "I wouldn't go through that again for a million

Gradually the smile faded. He puckered his brows and drew down the
corners of his mouth. Thoughtfully he ran a hand into his pocket and
produced the little crumpled wad of bills of small denominations,
representing all he had left in the world. Smoothing them out on the
counter, he arranged them carefully, summing up; then returned them to
his pocket.

"Harry," he observed--"Harry said I couldn't get rid of that stake in a

"He doesn't know what a fast town this is!"



It was, perhaps, within the next thirty minutes that Betty (who had
been left in charge of the store while Duncan, with coat and collar off
and sleeves rolled above his elbows, hacked and pounded and pried and
banged at the packing-cases in the backyard) sought him on the scene of
his labours.

She waited quietly, a little to one side, watching him, until he should
become aware of her presence. What she was thinking would have been
hard to define, from the inscrutable eyes in her set, tired face of a
child. There was no longer any trace of envy, suspicion or resentment
in her attitude toward the young man. You might have guessed that she
was trying to analyse him, weighing him in the scales of her
impoverished and lopsided knowledge of human nature, and wondering if
such conclusions as she was able to arrive at were dependable.

In the course of time he caught sight of that patient, sad little
figure, and, pausing, panting and perspiring under the July sun,
cheerfully brandished his weapon from the centre of a widespread
area of wreckage and destruction.

"Pretty good work for a York dude--not?" he laughed.

There was a shadowy smile in her grave eyes. "It's an improvement," she
said evenly.

He shot her a curious glance. "_Ouch!_" he said thoughtfully.

"I just came to tell you," she went on, again immobile, "you're wanted

"Somebody wants to see _me?_" he demanded of her retreating back.


"But who--?"

"Blinky Lockwood," she replied over her shoulder, as she went into the

"Lockwood?" He speculated, for an instant puzzled. Then suddenly:
"Father-in-law!" he cried. "Shivering snakes! he mustn't catch me like
this! I, a business man!"

Hastily rolling down his shirt-sleeves and shrugging himself into his
coat, he made for the store, buttoning his collar and knotting his tie
on the way.

He found Blinky nosing round the room, quite alone. Betty had
disappeared, and the old scoundrel was having quite an enjoyable time
poking into matters that did not concern him and disapproving of them
on general principles. So far as the improvements concerned old Sam
Graham's fortunes, Blinky would concede no health in them. But with
regard to Duncan there was another story to tell: Duncan apparently
controlled money, to some vague extent.

"You're Mr. Duncan, ain't you?" he asked with his leer, moving down to
meet Nat.

"Yes, sir. Mr. Lockwood, I believe?"

"That's me." Blinky clutched his hand in a genial claw. "I'm glad to
meet you."

"Thank you," said Duncan. "Something I can do for you, sir?"

"Wal, Pete Willin' was tellin' me you'd just took up this note of

"Not exactly; the firm took it up."

Blinky winked savagely at this. "The firm? What firm?"

"Graham and Duncan, sir. I've been taken into partnership."

"Have, eh?" Blinky grunted mysteriously and fished in his pocket for
some bills and silver. "Wal, here's some change comin' to the firm,
then; and here," he added, producing the document in question, "is
Sam's note."

"Thank you." Duncan ceremoniously deposited both in the till, going
behind the soda fountain to do so, and then waited, expectant. Blinky
was grunting busily in the key of one about to make an important

"I'm glad you're a-comin' in here with Sam," he said at length, with an
acid grimace that was meant to be a smile.

"Oh, it may be only temporary." Nat endeavoured to assume a seraphic
expression, and partially succeeded. "I'm devoting much of my time to
my studies," he pursued primly; "but nevertheless feel I should be
earning something, too."

"That's right; that's the kind of spirit I like to see in a young
man.... You always go to church, don't you?"

"No, sir--Sundays only."

"That's what I mean. D'you drink?"

"Oh, no, sir," Duncan parroted glibly: "don't smoke, drink, swear, and
on Sundays I go to church."

The bland smile with which he faced Lockwood's keen scrutiny disarmed

"I'm glad to hear that," Blinky told him. "I'm at the head of the
temp'rance movement here, and I hope you'll join us, and set an example
to our fast young men."

"I feel sure I could do that," said Duncan meekly.

Lockwood removed his hat, exposing the cranium of a bald-headed eagle,
and fanned himself. "Warm to-day," he observed in an endeavour to be
genial that all but sprained his temperament.

Indeed, so great was the strain that he winked violently.

Duncan observed this phenomenon with natural astonishment not unmixed
with awe. "Yes, sir, very," he agreed, wondering what it might portend.

"I believe I'll have a glass of sody."

"Certainly." Duncan, by now habituated to the formulae of soda
dispensing, promptly produced a bright and shining glass.

"I see you've been fixin' this place up some."

"Oh, yes," said Nat loftily. "We expect to have the best drugstore in
the State. We're getting in new stock to-day, and naturally things are
a little out of order, but we'll straighten up without delay. We'll try
to deserve your esteemed patronage," he concluded doubtfully, with a
hazy impression that such a speech would be considered appropriate
under the circumstances.

"You shall have it, Mr. Duncan, you shall have it!"

"Thank you, I'm sure.... What syrup would you prefer?"

"Just sody," stipulated Lockwood.

His spasmodic wink again smote Duncan's understanding a mighty blow.
Unable to believe his eyes, he hedged and stammered. Could it be--?
This from the leader of the temperance movement in Radville?

"I beg pardon----?"

His denseness irritated Blinky slightly, with the result that the right
side of his face again underwent an alarming convulsion. "I say," he
explained carefully, "just--_plain_--sody."

"On the level?"

"What?" grunted Blinky; and blinked again.

A smile of comprehension irradiated Nat's features. "Pardon," he said,
"I'm a little new to the business."

Blinky, fanning himself industriously, glared round the store while
Duncan, turning his back, discreetly found and uncorked the whiskey
bottle. He was still a trifle dubious about the transaction, but on the
sound principles of doing all things thoroughly, poured out a liberal
dose of raw, red liquor. Then, with his fingers clamped tightly about
the bottom of the glass, the better to conceal its contents from any
casual but inquisitive passer-by, he quickly filled it with soda and
placed it before Blinky, accompanying the action with the sweetest of
childlike smiles.

Lockwood, nodding his acknowledgments, lifted the glass to his lips.
Duncan awaited developments with some apprehension. To his relief,
however, Blinky, after an experimental swallow, emptied the mixture
expeditiously into his system; and smacked his thin lips resoundingly.

"How," he demanded, "can anyone want intoxicatin' likers when
they can get such a bracin' drink as that?"

"I pass," Nat breathed, limp with admiration of such astounding

Blinky reluctantly pried a nickel loose from his finances and placed it
on the counter. Duncan regarded it with disdain.

"Ten cents more, please," he suggested tactfully.

"What for?"

"Plain sody." The explanation was accompanied by a very passable
imitation of Blinky's blink.

Happily for Duncan, Blinky has no sense of humour: if he had he would
explode the very first time he indulged in introspection.

"Not much," said he with his sour smile. "I guess you're jokin'....
Well, good luck to you, Mr. Duncan. I'd like to have you come round and
see us some evenin'."

"Thank you very much, sir." Duncan accompanied Blinky to the door.
"I've already had the pleasure of meeting your daughter, sir. She's a
charming girl."

"I'm real glad you think so," said Blinky, intensely gratified. "She
seems to've taken a great shine to you, too. Come round and get
'quainted with the hull family. You're the sort of young feller I'd
like her to know." He paused and looked Nat up and down captiously,
as one might appraise the points of a horse of quality put up for sale.
"Good-day," said he, with the most significant of winks.

"Oh, that's all right," Nat hastened to reassure him. "I won't say a
word about it."

Blinky, on the point of leaving, started to question this (to him)
cryptic utterance, but luckily had the current of his thoughts diverted
by the entrance of Roland Barnette, in company with his friend Mr.

Roland's consternation at this unexpected encounter was, in the mildest
term, extreme. At sight of his employer he pulled up as if slapped.
"Oh!" he faltered, "I didn't know you was here, sir."

"No," said Blinky with keen relish, "I guess you didn't."

"I--ah--come over to see Sam about that note," stammered Roland.

"Wal, don't you bother your head 'bout what ain't your business, Roly.
Come on back to the bank."

"All right, sir." Roland grasped frantically at the opportunity to
emphasise his importance. "Excuse me, Mr. Lockwood, but I'd like to
interdoos you to a friend of mine, Mr. Burnham from Noo York."

Amused, Burnham stepped into the breach. "How are you?" he said with
the proper nuance of cordiality, offering his hand.

Lockwood shook it unemotionally. "How de do?" he said, perfunctory.

"I brought Mr. Burnham in to see Sam----"

"Yes," Burnham interrupted Roland quickly; "Barnette's been kind enough
to show me round town a bit."

"Here on business?" inquired Lockwood pointedly.

"No, not exactly," returned Burnham with practised ease, "just looking

"Only lookin', eh?" Blinky's countenance underwent one of its erratic
quakes as he examined Burnham with his habitual intentness.

The New Yorker caught the wink and lost breath. "Ah--yes--that's all,"
he assented uneasily. And as he spoke another wink dumbfounded him.
"Why?" he asked, with a distinct loss of assurance. "Don't you believe

"Don't see no reason why I shouldn't," grunted Blinky. "Hope you'll
like what you see. Good day."

"So long ... Mr. Lockwood," returned Burnham uncertainly.

Lockwood paused outside the door. "Come 'long, Roland."

"Yes, sir; right away; just a minute." Roland was lingering
unwillingly, detained by Burnham's imperative hand. "What d'you want? I
got to hurry."

"What was he winking at me for?" demanded Burnham heatedly. "Have

"Oh!" Roland laughed. "He wasn't winking. He can't help doing that.
It's a twitchin' he's got in his eye. That's why they call him Blinky."

"Oh, that was it!" Burnham accepted the explanation with distinct
relief, while Duncan, who had been an unregarded spectator, suddenly
found cause to retire behind one of the show-cases on important

So that was the explanation!...

After his paroxysm had subsided and he felt able to control his facial
muscles, Duncan emerged, suave and solemn. Roland had disappeared with
Blinky, and Burnham was alone.

"Anything you wish, sir?" asked Nat.

"Only to see Mr. Graham."

"He's out just at present, but I think he'll be back in a moment or so.
Will you wait? You'll find that chair comfortable, I think."

"Believe I will," said Burnham with an air. He seated himself. "I can't
wait long, though," he amended.

"Yes, sir. And if you'll excuse me----?"

Burnham's hand dismissed him with a tolerant wave. "Go right on about
your business," he said with supreme condescension.

And Duncan returned to his work in the backyard. It wasn't long before
he found occasion to go back to the store, and by that time old Sam was
there in conversation with Burnham. Neither noticed Nat as he entered,
and to begin with he paid them little heed, being occupied with his
task of depositing an armful of bottles without mishap and then placing
them on the shelves. The hum of their voices from the other side of the
counter struck an indifferent ear while he busied himself, but
presently a word or phrase caught his interest, and he found himself
listening, at first casually, then with waxing attention.

"That's part of my business," he heard Burnham say in his sleek,
oleaginous accents. "Sometimes I pick up an odd no-'count contraption
that makes me a bit of money, and more times I'm stung and lose on it.
It's all a gamble, of course, and I'm that way--like to take a gambling
chance on anything that strikes my fancy--like that burner of yours."

"Yes," Graham returned: "the gas arrangement."

"It's a curious idea--quite different from the one I told you about;
but I kinda took to it. There might be something to it, and again there
mightn't. I've been thinking I might be willing to risk a few dollars
on it, if we could come to terms."

"Do you mean it, really?" said old Sam eagerly.

"Not to invest in it, so to speak; I don't think it's chances are
strong enough for that. But if you'd care to sell the patent outright
and aren't too ambitious, we might make a dicker. What d'you say?"

"Why, yes," said Graham, quivering with anticipation. "Yes, indeed,


"If you really think it's worth anything, sir."

"Well, as I say, there's no telling; but I was thinking about it at
dinner, and I sort of concluded I'd like to own that burner, so I made
out a little bill of sale, and I says to myself, says I: 'If Graham
will take five hundred dollars for that patent, I'll give him spot
cash, right in his hand,' says I."

With this Burnham tipped back in his chair, and brought forth a wallet
from which he drew a sheet of paper and several bills.

"Five hundred dollars!" repeated Graham, thunderstruck by this

"Yes, sir: five hundred, cash! To tell you the truth--guess you don't
know it--I heard at the bank that they didn't intend to extend the time
on that note of yours, and I thought this five hundred would come in
handy, and kind of wanted to help you out. Now what do you say?"

He flourished the bills under Graham's nose and waited, entirely at
ease as to his answer.

"Well," said the old man, "it is kind of you, sir--very kind. Everybody's
been good to me recently--or else I'm dreamin'."

"Then it's a bargain?"

"Why, I hope it won't lose any money for you, Mr. Burnham," Sam
hesitated, with his ineradicable sense of fairness and square-dealing.
"Making gas from crude oil ought to--"

Duncan never heard the end of that speech. For some moments he had been
listening intently, trying to recollect something. The name of Burnham
plucked a string on the instrument of his memory; he knew he had heard
it, some place, some time in the past; but how, or when, or in respect
to what he could not make up his mind. It had required Sam's reference
to gas and crude oil to close the circuit. Then he remembered: Kellogg
had mentioned a man by the name of Burnham who was "on the track of" an
important invention for making gas from crude oil. This must be the
man, Burnham, the tracker; and poor old Graham must be the tracked....

Without warning Duncan ran round and made himself an uninvited third to
the conference.

"Mr. Graham, one moment!" he begged, excited. "Is this patent of yours
on a process of making gas from crude oil?"

Burnham looked up impatiently, frowning at the interruption, but Graham
was all good humour.

"Why, yes," he started to explain; "it's that burner over there that--"

"But I wouldn't sell it just yet if I were you," said Nat. "It may be
worth a good deal--"

"Now look here!" Burnham got to his feet in anger. "What business 've
you got butting into this?" he demanded, putting himself between Duncan
and the inventor.

"Me?" Duncan queried simply. "Only just because I'm a business man. If
you don't believe it, ask Mr. Graham."

"He's got a perfect right to advise me, Mr. Burnham," interposed
Graham, rising.

"Well, but--but what objection 've you got to his making a little money
out of this patent?" Burnham blustered.

"None; only I want to look into the matter first. I think it might be--

"What makes you think so?" demanded Burnham, his tone withering.

"Well," said Nat, with an effort summoning his faculties to cope with a
matter of strict business, "it's this way: I've got an _idea_," he
said, poking at Burnham with the forefinger which had proven so
effective with Pete Willing, "that you wouldn't offer five hundred iron
men for this burner unless you expected to make something big out of

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