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The Fortune Hunter by Louis Joseph Vance

Part 4 out of 5

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it, and... it ought to be worth just as much to Mr. Graham as to you."

"Ah, you don't know what you're talking about."

"I know that," Nat admitted simply, "but I do happen to know you're
promoting a scheme for making gas from crude oil, and if Mr. Graham
will listen to me you won't get his patent until I've consulted my
friend, Henry Kellogg."


"Yes. You know--of L.J. Bartlett & Company." Nat's forefinger continued
to do deadly work. Burnham backed away from it as from a fiery brand.

"Oh, well!" he said, dashed, "if you're representing Kellogg"--and Nat
took care not to refute the implication--"I--I don't want to interfere.
Only," he pursued at random, in his discomfiture, "I can't see why he
sent you here."

"I'd be ashamed to tell you," Nat returned with an open smile. "Better
ask him."

Burnham gathered his wits together for a final threat. "That's what I
will do!" he threatened. "And I'll do it the minute I can see him. You
can bet on that, Mister What's-Your-Name!"

"No, I can't," said Nat naïvely. "I'm not allowed to gamble."

His ingenuous expression exasperated Burnham. The man lost control of
his temper at the same moment that he acknowledged to himself his
defeat. In disgust he turned away.

"Oh, there's no use talking to you--"

"That's right," Nat agreed fairly.

"But I'll see you again, Mr. Graham--"

"Not alone, if I can help it, Mr. Burnham," Duncan amended sweetly.

"But," Burnham continued, severely ignoring Nat and addressing himself
squarely to Graham, "you take my tip and don't do any business with
this fellow until you find out who he is." He flung himself out of the
shop with a barked: "Good-day!"

"Well, Mr. Graham?" Duncan turned a little apprehensively to the
inventor. But Sam's expression was almost one of beatific content. His
weak old lips were pursed, his eyes half-closed, his finger tips
joined, and he was rocking back and forth on his heels.

"Margaret used to talk that way, sometimes," he remarked. "She was the
best woman in the world--and the wisest. She used to take care of me
and protect me from my foolish impulses, just as you do, my boy...."

For a space Duncan kept silent, respecting the old man's memories, and
a great deal humbled in spirit by the parallel Sam had drawn. Then: "I
was afraid what I said would sound queer to you, sir," he ventured--
"that you mightn't understand that I'm not here to do you out of your

"There's nothing on earth, my boy,"--Graham's hand fell on Nat's arm--
"could make me think that. But five hundred dollars, you see, would
have repaid you for taking up that note, and--and I could have bought
Betty a new dress for the party. But I'm sure you've done what's best.
You're a business man--"

"Don't!" Nat pleaded wildly. "I've been called that so much of late
that it's beginning to hurt!"



Sam Graham said to me, that night: "I don't know when so many things
have happened to me in so short a time. It don't seem hardly possible
it's only four days since that boy came in here asking for a job. It's
wonderful, simply wonderful, the change he's made."

He waved a comprehensive hand, and I, glancing round the transformed
store, agreed with him. Everything was spick and span and mighty
attractive--clean and neat-looking--with the new stock in the shining
cases and arranged on the glistening white shelves: not all of it set
out by any means, of course, but no unplaced goods in sight, cluttering
up the counters or kicking round the floor.

"The way he's worked----! You'd hardly believe it, Homer. He said he
wanted to get home early so's to write a letter to a friend of his in
New York, a Mr. Kellogg, junior member of L. J. Bartlett & Company,
about my invention. But he insisted on leaving everything to rights for
business to-morrow. And just look!"

"But I thought Roland Barnette----?" I suggested with guile. Of
course I'd heard a rumour of what had happened--'most everyone in town
had--and how Roland and his friend, Mr. Burnham, had sort of fallen out
on the way from the Bigelow House to the train; but no one knew
anything definite, and I wanted to get "the rights of it," as Radville

So I had dropped in at Graham's, on my way home from the office, as I
often do, for an evening smoke and a bit of gossip: something I rarely
indulge in, but which I've found has a curious psychological effect on
the circulation of the _Citizen_--like a tonic. Sam was just at
the point of closing up. He was alone, Duncan having gone home about an
hour earlier, and Betty being upstairs, while (since it was quite
half-past nine) all the rest of Radville, with few exceptions (chiefly
to be noted at Schwartz's and round the Bigelow House bar) was making
its final rounds of the day: locking the front door, putting out the
lamp in its living-room, banking the fire in the range, ejecting the
cat from the kitchen and wiping out the sink, and finally, odoriferous
kerosene lamp in hand, climbing slowly to the stuffy upstairs
bed-chamber. Indeed, the lights of Radville begin to go out about
half-past eight; by ten, as a rule, the town is as lively as a

But I am by nature inexorable and merciless, a masterful man with such
as old Sam; and it was an hour later before I left him, drained of
the last detail of the day. He was a weary man, but a happy one, when
he bade me good-night, and I myself felt a little warmed by his
cheerfulness as I plodded up Main Street through the thick oppression
of darkness beneath the elms.

After a time I became aware that someone was overtaking me, and waited,
thinking at first it would be one of my people. But it wasn't long
before I recognised from the quick tempo of the approaching footfalls
that this was no Radvillian. There was just light enough--starlight
striking down through the thinner spaces in the interlacing foliage--to
make visible a moving shadow, and when it drew nearer I saluted it with

"Good-evening, Mr. Duncan."

He stopped short, peering through the gloom. "Good-evening, but--Mr.
Littlejohn? Glad to see you." He joined me and we proceeded homeward,
he moderating his stride a trifle in deference to my age. "Aren't you

"A bit," I admitted. "I've been gossiping with Sam Graham."


"You're out late yourself, Mr. Duncan, for one of such regular, not to
say abnormal, habits."

He laughed lightly. "Had a letter I wanted to catch the first morning

"Then you're interested in Sam's burner?"

"No, I'm not, but I hope to interest others....Oh, yes: Mr. Graham
told you about it, of course.... It just struck me that if a man of
Burnham's stamp was willing to risk five hundred dollars on the
proposition, he very likely foresaw a profit in it that might as well
be Mr. Graham's. So I've sent a detailed description of the thing to a
friend in New York, who'll look into it for me."

He was silent for a little.

"Who's Colonel Bohun?" he asked suddenly.

"Why do you ask?"

"I saw him this evening. He was passing the store and stopped to glare
in as if he hated it--stopped so long that I got nervous and asked Miss
Lockwood (she'd just happened in for a parting glass--of soda) whether
he was an anarchist or a retired burglar. She told me his name, but was
otherwise inhumanly reticent."

"For Josie?" I chuckled; but he didn't respond. So I took up the tale
of the first family of Radville.

"The story runs," said I, "that the Bohuns were one of the F.F.V.'s;
that they sickened of slavery, freed their slaves and moved North, to
settle in Radville. I _believe_ they came from somewhere round
Lynchburg; but that was a couple of generations ago. When the Civil War
broke out the old Colonel up there"--I gestured vaguely in the general
direction of the Bohun mansion--"couldn't keep out of it, and
naturally he couldn't fight with the North. He won his spurs under
Lee.... After the war had blown over he came home, to find that his
only son had enlisted with the Radville company and disappeared at
Gettysburg. It pretty nearly killed the old man--though he wasn't so
old then; but there's fire in the Bohun blood, and his boy's action
seemed to him nothing less than treason."

"And that's what soured him on the world?"

"Not altogether. He had a daughter--Margaret. She was the most
beautiful woman in the world...." I suspect my voice broke a little
just there, for there was a shade of respectful sympathy in the
monosyllable with which he filled the pause. "He swore she should never
marry a Northerner, but she did; I guess, being a Bohun, she had to,
after hearing she must not. There were two of us that loved her, but
she chose Sam Graham...."

"Why," he said awkwardly--"I'm sorry."

"I'm not: she was right, if I couldn't see it that way. They ran away--
and so did I. I went East, but they came back to Radville. Colonel
Bohun never forgave them, but they were very happy till she died.
Betty's their daughter, of course: Sam's not the kind that marries more
than once."

Duncan thought this over without comment until we reached our gate.
There he paused for a moment.

"He's got plenty of money, I presume--old Bohun?"

"So they say. Probably not much now, but a great deal more than he

"Then why doesn't somebody get after the old scoundrel and make him do
something for that poor--for Miss Graham?" he asked indignantly.

"He tried it once, but they wouldn't listen. His conditions were
impossible," I explained. "She was to renounce her father and take the
name of Bohun------."

"What rot!" Duncan growled. "What an old fiend he must be! Of course he
knew she'd refuse."

"I suspect he did."

Duncan hesitated a bit longer. "Anyhow," he said suddenly, "somebody
ought to get after him and make him see the thing the right way."

"S'pose you try it, Mr. Duncan?" I suggested maliciously, as we went up
the walk.

He stopped at the door. "Perhaps I shall," he said slowly.

"I'd advise you not to. The last man that tried it has no desire to
repeat the experiment."

"Who was he?"

"An old fool named Homer Littlejohn."

Duncan put out his hand. "Shake!" he insisted. "We'll talk this over
another time."

We went in very quietly, lit our candles, and with elaborate care
avoided the home-made burglar-alarm (a complicated arrangement of
strings and tinpans on the staircase, which Miss Carpenter insists on
maintaining ever since Roland Barnette missed a dollar bill and
insisted his pocket had been picked on Main Street) and so mounted to
our rooms. As we were entering (our doors adjoin) a thought delayed my

"By the way, did you get your invitation to Josie Lockwood's party, Mr.
Duncan? I happened to see it on the hall table this evening."

"Yes," he assented quietly.

"It's to be the social event of the year. I hope you'll enjoy it."

"I'm not going."

"Not going!... Why not?"

"It's against the rules at first--I mean, business rules. I'll be so
busy at the store, you know."

"Josie'll be disappointed."

"Thank you," said he gratefully. "Good-night."

Alone, I was fain to confess he baffled my understanding.

The rush of business to Graham's began the following morning: Duncan's
hands were full almost from the first, and he had to relegate such
matters as making final disposition of his stock and getting acquainted
with it to the intervals between waiting upon customers. Old Sam must
have put up more prescriptions in the next few days than he had within
the last five years. Everybody wanted to take a look at the renovated
store, shake Sam's hand, and see what the new partner was really like.
Sothern and Lee's was for some days quite deserted, especially after
Duncan took a leaf out of their book, bought an ice-cream freezer and
began to serve dabs of cream in the sody. I've always maintained that
our Radville folks are pretty thoroughly sot in their ways (the phrase
is local), but the way they flocked to Graham's forced me to amend the
aphorism with the clause: "except when their curiosity is aroused."
Every woman in town wanted to know what Graham and Duncan carried that
Sothern and Lee didn't, and how much cheaper they were than the more
established concern; also they wanted to know Mr. Duncan. I suspect no
drug-store ever had so many inquiries for articles that it didn't
carry, but might possibly, or ought to, in the estimation of the
prospective purchasers, as well as that at no time had Radvillians
happened to think of so many things that they could get at a
druggist's. People drove in from as far as twenty miles away, as soon
as the news reached them, to buy notepaper and stamps--people who
didn't write or receive a letter a month. Will Bigelow, even, dropped
round and bought samples of the tobacco stock, from two-fors up to
ten-centers--and smoked them with expressive snorts. Tracey Tanner's
soda and cigarette trade was transferred bodily to Graham's from the
first, and Roland Barnette gave it his patronage, albeit grudgingly, as
soon as he found it impossible to shake Josie Lockwood's allegiance. I
say grudgingly, because Roland didn't like the new partner, and had
said so from the first. But everyone else did like him, almost without
exception. His attentiveness and courtesy were not ungrateful after the
way things were thrown at you at Sothern and Lee's, we declared.

Duncan certainly did strive to please. No man ever worked harder in a
Radville store than he did. And from the time that he began to believe
there would be some reward for his exertions, that the business was
susceptible to being built up by the employment of progressive methods,
he grew astonishingly prolific of ideas, from our sleepy point of view.
The window displays were changed almost daily, to begin with, and were
made as interesting as possible; we learned to go blocks out of our way
to find out what Graham and Duncan were exploiting to-day. And daily
bargain sales were instituted--low-priced articles of everyday use,
such as shaving soap, tooth brushes, and the like, being sold at a
few cents above cost on certain days which were announced in advance by
means of hand-lettered cards in the show-windows; whereas formerly we
had always been obliged to pay full list-prices. An axiom of his creed
as it developed was to the effect that stock must not be allowed to
stand idle upon the shelves; if there were no call for a certain line
of articles, it must be stimulated. I remember that, some time along in
August, he began to worry about the inactivity in cough-syrups.

"No one wants cough-syrups in summer," he told Graham; "that stuff's
been here six weeks and more. It's getting out of training. Needs
exercise. Look at this bottle: it says: 'Shake well.' Now it hasn't
been shaken at all since it was put on the shelves, and I haven't got
time to shake it every morning. We must either hire a boy to give it
regular exercise, or sell it off and get in a fresh supply for the
winter. I'll have to think up some scheme to make 'em take it off our

He did. Somehow or other he managed to convince us that forewarned was
forearmed, that it was better to have a bottle or two of cough-syrup in
our medicine chests at home than on the shelves of the drug-store, when
the chill autumnal winds began to blow, especially when you could buy
it now for thirty-nine cents, whereas it would be fifty-four in

Still earlier in his career as a business man he noticed that the local
practitioners wrote their prescriptions on odd scraps of paper.

"That's all wrong," he declared. "We'll have to fix it." And by next
morning the job-printing press back of the Court House was groaning
under an order from Graham and Duncan's, and a few days later every
physician within several miles of Radville received half a dozen neat
pads of blanks with his name and address printed at the top and the
advice across the bottom: "Go to Graham's for the best and purest drugs
and chemicals." The backs of the blanks were utilised to request people
living out of reach, but on rural free delivery routes, either to mail
their prescriptions and other orders in, or have the physicians
telephone them, promising to fill and despatch them by the first post.

For he had a telephone installed within the first fortnight, and the
next day advertised in the _Gazette_ that orders by telephone
would receive prompt attention and be delivered without delay. Tracey
Tanner became his delivery-boy, deserting his father's stables for the
obvious advantages of three dollars a week with a chance to learn the
business.... Sothern and Lee were quick to recognise the advantage the
telephone gave Graham and Duncan, and promptly had one put in their
store; but the delay had proven almost fatal: Radville had already
got into the habit of telephoning to Graham's for a cake of soap, or
whatnot, and it's hard to break a Radville habit.

As business increased and the stock turned itself over at a profit,
Duncan began to branch out, to make improvements and introduce new
lines of goods. He it was who inoculated Radville with the habit of
buying manufactured candies. Up to the time of his advent, we had been
accustomed to and content with home-made taffies and fudges--and were,
I've no doubt, vastly better off on that account. But Duncan, starting
with a line of five- and ten-cent packages of indigestible sweets, in
time made arrangements with a big Pittsburgh confectionery concern to
ship him a small consignment of pound and half-pound "fancy" boxes of
chocolates and bonbons twice a week. And taffy-pulls and fudge parties
lapsed into desuetude.

Later, Sperry introduced him to an association of druggists, of which
he became a member, for the maintenance and exploitation of the cigar
and tobacco trade in connection with the drug business. They installed
at Graham's a handsome show-case and fixtures especially for the sale
and display of cigars, and thereafter it was possible to purchase
smokable tobacco in our town.

Again, he treated Radville to its first circulating library,
establishing a branch in the store. One could buy a book at a moderate
price, and either keep it or exchange it for a fee of a few cents. I
disputed the wisdom of this move, alleging, and with reason, that
Radville didn't read modern fiction to any extent. But Duncan argued
that it didn't matter. "They're going to try it on as a novelty, to
begin with," he said, "and it'll bring 'em into the store for a few
exchanges, at least. That's all I want. Once we get 'em in here, it'll
be hard if we can't sell them something else. You'll see."

He was right.

Undoubtedly he made the business hum during those first few months; and
after that it settled down to a steady forward movement. The store
became a social centre, a place for people to meet. In time Tracey was
promoted to be assistant and another boy engaged to make deliveries.
... And Duncan had never been happier; he had found something he could
understand and, understanding, accomplish; there was work for his hands
to do, and they had discovered they could do it successfully. I don't
believe he stopped to think about it very much, but he was conscious of
that glow of achievement, that heightening of the spirits, that comes
with the knowledge of success, be that success however insignificant,
and it benefited him enormously....

But this chronicle of progress has run away altogether with a desultory
pen, which started to tell why Duncan didn't want to go to Josie
Lockwood's party. I was long in finding out, but not so long as Duncan
himself, perhaps; by which I mean to say that he was conscious of the
desire not to go, and determined not to, without stopping to analyse
the cause of that desire more than very superficially.

It happened, toward the close of the eventful day already detailed at
such length, that as Duncan was entering the house with a load of boxed
goods, he heard voices in the store--young voices, of which one was
already too familiar to his ears. He paused, waiting for them to get
through with their business and go; for he had no time to waste just
then, even upon the heiress of his manufactured destiny. Betty was
keeping shop at the time (old Sam having gone upstairs for a little
rest, who was overwrought and weary with the excitement of that day)
and it was Duncan's hope that she would be able to serve the customers
without his assistance.

There were two of them, you see--Josie and Angle Tuthill--hunting as
usual in couples; and while he waited, not meaning to eavesdrop but
unwilling to betray his whereabouts by moving, he heard very clearly
their passage with Betty.

He overheard first, distinctly, Betty responding in expressionless
voice: "Hello, Angie.... Hello, Josie."

There ensued what seemed a slightly awkward pause. Then Josie,
painfully sweet: "Did you get the invitation, Betty?"

Betty moved into Duncan's range of vision, apparently intending to come
and call him. She turned at the question, and he saw her small, thin
little body and pinched face _en silhouette_ against the fading
light beyond. He saw, too, that she was stiffening herself as if for
some unequal contest.

"The invitation?" she questioned dully, but with her head up and

"Why," said Josie, "I sent you one. To the party, you know--my lawn
feet next week."

I give the local pronunciation as it is.

"Did you?"

"I gave it to Tracey for you," persisted the tormentor. "Didn't you get

Betty caught at her breath, inaudibly; only Duncan could see the little
spasm of mortification and anger that shook her.

"Oh, perhaps I did," she said shortly. "I--I'll ask Mr. Duncan to wait
on you."

She swung quickly out into the hallway, slamming the door behind her
and so darkening it that she didn't detect Duncan's shadowed figure.
And if she had meant to call him, she must have forgotten it; for an
instant later he heard her stumbling up the stairs, and as she
disappeared he caught the echo of a smothered sob.

He waited, motionless, too disturbed at the time to care to enter the
store and endure Josie's vapid advances; and through the thin partition
there came to him their comments on Betty's ungracious behaviour.

"Well!... _did_ you ever!"

That was Angle; Josie chimed in the same key: "Oh, what did you expect
from that kind of a girl?"

"_Ssh!_ maybe he's coming!"

After a moment's silence, Josie: "Oh, come on. Don't let's wait any
longer. I don't think it's healthy to drink sody so soon before dinner,

"And, besides, we only wanted to hear--"

Their voices with their footsteps diminished. Duncan allowed a prudent
interval to elapse, entered the store and began to bestow the goods he
had brought in.

While he was at work the light failed. He stopped for lack of it just
as Betty came downstairs.

"Hello!" he said cheerfully. "Know where the matches are?"

"Yes." She moved behind a counter and fetched him a few. "Are you 'most
done?" she inquired, not unfriendly, as he took down from its bracket
one of the oil lamps.

"Hardly," he responded, touching a light to the wick and replacing the
chimney. "It's a good deal of a job."


He replaced the lamp, and in the act of turning toward another caught a
glimpse of the girl's face, pale and drawn, her eyes a trifle reddened.
And with that commonsense departed from him, leaving him wholly a prey
to his impulse of pity. "Oh, thunder!" he told himself, thrusting a
hand into his pocket. "I might as well be broke as the way I am now."
He produced the scanty remains of his "grubstake."

"Miss Graham..."

"Yes?" she asked, wondering.

"Could you get a party dress for thirty-four dollars?"

"Thirty-four dollars!" she faltered.

He discovered what small change he had in his pocket: it was like him
to be extravagant, even extreme. "And fifty-three cents?" he pursued,
with a nervous laugh.

"Heavens!" the girl gasped. "I should think so!"

"Then go ahead!" He offered her the money, but she could only stare,
incredulous. "I'll stake you."

"Oh..._no_, Mr. Duncan," she managed to say.

"Oh, yes!" He tried to catch one of the hands that involuntarily had
risen toward her face in a gesture of wonder. "Please do," he begged,
his tone persuasive, "as a favour to me."

But she evaded him, stepping back. "I couldn't take it; I couldn't

"Yes, you can. Just try it once, and see how easy it is," he persisted,

"No, I can't." She looked up shyly and shook her head, that smile of
her mother's for the moment illuminating her face almost with the
radiance of beauty. "But I--I thank you very much--just the same."

"But I want you to go to that party..."

"You're awful' kind," she said softly, still smiling, "but I don't care
to go, now. I--"

"Don't care to! Why, you were insisting on going, a little while ago."

"Yes," she admitted simply, "I know I was. But ... I've been thinking
over what you said, since then, and I ... I've made up my mind I'd be
out of place there."

"Out of place!" he echoed, thunderstruck.

"Yes. I've concluded I belong here in the store with father." She half
turned away. "And I guess folks is better off if they stay where they

She went slowly from the room, and he remained staring, stupefied.

"You never can tell about a woman," he concluded with all the gravity
of an original philosopher.



Nat didn't go to the Lockwood lawn fête, and did excuse himself on the
plea of being unable to leave the store. I'm afraid the young man had a
faint, fond hope that Josie would be offended; but his excuse was
accepted without remonstrance. And, indeed, it was at that time quite a
reasonable one. Tracey had not been added to the staff, although
business was booming, and Saturday night is, as everyone who has lived
in a Radville knows, the busiest of the week; all the stores keep open
late on Saturday--some as late as eleven--and frequently take in half
the week's income between noon and the closing hour. Duncan really
couldn't be spared; so it's probable that Josie cloaked her
disappointment and comforted herself with the assurance that her
selection of the day had been an error in judgment, of which she would
not again be guilty.

But the party came off, without fail, and that on a wonderful, still,
moonlit night; and everybody voted it a splendid success. The
_Citizen_ in its next issue recorded the event to the extent of a
column and a half of reading matter, called it a social function, and
described the gowns of the leading ladies of society present in
bewildering phrases. I was not invited, but the owner of the paper was,
and his wife wrote the description with the assistance of the entire
editorial and reportorial force, a dictionary and some evil if
suppressed language from the foreman of the composing-room. I read
the proofs with an admiration strongly tinctured with awe, and found
it lacking in one particular only: no mention was made of Roland
Barnette's first open-faced suit.

Roland had ordered it from a clothing-house in Chicago, and it arrived
just in time. Having heard all about it from Roland's own lips (they
dilated upon the matter to Watty the tailor, just beneath my window), I
sort of hung round downtown Saturday evening in the hope of catching
a glimpse of it, and was not disappointed. I was loitering in Graham's
when Roland sauntered nonchalantly in at about a quarter to eight and
called for a pack of "Sweets." Sam served him, and Duncan, happily for
him disengaged at the moment, after one look at Roland retired
precipitately behind the prescription counter--overcome, I judged from
Roland's triumphant smirk, by deepest chagrin. Well, thought I, might
he have been: he could never, by whatever wildest endeavour, have
approximated Roland's splendour.

The coat was bob-tailed (at least, so Watty described it within my
hearing) and curiously double-breasted, caught together at the waist
with a single button, thus revealing a shining expanse of very stiff
shirt-bosom; which creaked, for some reason. With this Roland wore a
ribbed white-silk waistcoat, very brilliant low-cut patent leather
shoes, and white-silk socks. The trousers were strikingly cut, as to
each leg, after the physical configuration of the domestic pear, and
the effect of the whole was measurably enhanced by an opera-hat--one
of those tall and striking contraptions that you can shut up by
pressing gently but firmly upon the human midriff and looking
unconscious, but which is apt to open with a resounding report if
you're not careful... I am glad to be able to report that Roland failed
to commit the solecism of wearing a red string tie; his tie was a
sober black, firmly knotted at the factory. I'm glad too, for the
sartorial honour of Radville, that Roland knew how to wear such
fixin's: that is to say, with an expression of proud defiance.

After he had departed, stepping high, Sam called me behind the counter
to assist in reviving Duncan. We found him leaning upon the counter,
his forehead resting upon a mortar, very red in the face and breathing
stertorously; and when Sam addressed him, to learn what was the matter,
he seemed unable to speak, but choked and beat the air feebly with his
hands. Sam concluded he had swallowed something, and was, I think,
right; he was plainly half strangled, and only recovered after we had
beaten his back severely. Then he refused any explanation, beyond
saying that he was subject to such seizures.

After the party the town's excitement simmered down and subsided; we
had become moderately accustomed to the presence of Duncan in our midst
(strange as this may sound), and for some time nothing happened germane
to the fate of the Fortune Hunter.

On his part, he fell into a routine without the least evidence of
discontent. He was early to rise and early to work, and rarely left the
store save at meal hours and closing-up time. And in the course of our
serene days, I began to notice in him an increasing interest in the
affairs of the church; he seemed to look forward with a not uneager
anticipation to the fixtures of its calendar. He attended with
admirable regularity both morning and evening services, on Sunday, the
mid-weekly prayer-meeting, and Friday evening choir practice. For in
the course of time he had been won over to join the choir, and modestly
discovered to our edification a barytone voice, wholly untrained but
not unpleasing. Mrs. Rogers, our organist, averred his superiority to
Packy Soule, whom he superseded, and was supported in this estimate by
the remainder of the choir, with the exception of Roland Barnette,
who helped with his reedy tenor. Josie Lockwood sang contralto and Bess
Gabriel what we were informed was soprano--only Radville called it a
treble. Tracey Tanner pumped the organ and puffed audibly in the
pauses--a singular testimony to his devotion to Angie Tuthill, who
"just sang" with the others, chiefly because she was Josie's nearest

I remember that, one Sunday night after evening service, Duncan
confided to me, quite seriously, "that the church thing was getting to
him." He seemed somewhat surprised, to a degree indignant, as if he
suspected religion of having taken an advantage of him in some
roundabout, underhand way.... He wondered audibly what Harry would
think if he could see him now.

He had settled down to a pretty steady correspondence with Kellogg,
chiefly on business matters. Kellogg was investigating old Sam's
burner, and seemed quite impressed with its possibilities. He had
quarrelled with Roland's friend, Burnham, on Duncan's representations,
and ordered him out of the offices of L. J. Bartlett & Company, it
seemed. Later he opened up negotiations with a corporation known as the
Modern Gas Company, I believe, a competitor of Consolidated Petroleum,
and in due course representatives of both concerns came to Radville,
examined the burner, and retired, non-committal. Then Bartlett sent
a requisition for a model, and supplied the funds for making it--thus
demonstrating his confidence. Sam never had such a good time in his
life as when occupied with that model, and in his elation was inspired
to invent two notable improvements on the machine--which were promptly
patented. Then the model was despatched, receipt acknowledged, and
nothing ensued for three or four months. Radville, which had been
watching and wondering with open incredulity and dissatisfaction (this
latter because neither Graham nor Duncan would talk about the matter),
concluded that the whole business had gone up in smoke, said "I told ye
so," and forgot it completely. Roland Barnette, I believe, drove the
last nail in the coffin of our expectations that anything would ever
come of it, by writing to Burnham that Duncan's negotiations had
failed, and inviting him to renew his offer if he thought it worth
while. Presumably he didn't, for Roland received no reply, and told the
town so....

I don't remember just how soon it was, but it was shortly after the
formation of the firm of Graham and Duncan that the young man received
his first invitation to dinner at the Lockwoods'. He accepted, of
course, whether he wanted to or not, for there could be no excuse for
his refusing a Sunday bid, and the Lockwoods made quite an event of
it. The Soules were invited, because they were Araminta Lockwood's
brother and sister-in-law, and the Godfreys came over from Westerly to
grace the board as representatives of the Lockwood strain. Also Ben
Lockwood attended--Blinky's first cousin and senior.

Duncan described the function in a letter to Kellogg as the time of his
young life. Undoubtedly it was in certain respects singular in his
experience. The entire party walked home from church through a hot
August noon, with that air of chastened joy common to a gathering of
relations--an atmosphere of festive gloom and funeral baked meats
painfully enlivened by exhilarating jests from old Ben, who was a
connoisseur of vintages when it came to jokes. Duncan wished
fervently, first that he might expire; secondly, and with greater
intensity of feeling, that they all might die. Minta Lockwood, he felt,
was slowly but expertly greasing him with adulation--as a python
prepares its prey before dining (or is it a python?)--and he knew he
was presently to be swallowed alive.

They dined protractedly. The meal, consisting of baked chicken, mashed
potatoes, boiled onions with cream sauce, boiled beets and green corn,
followed by rhubarb pie and ice cream, was served by an independent,
bony and red-faced specimen of the "help" genus. The atmosphere was
stifling, with the heat of the day thickened by the steam and odour of
cooked food. Duncan was seated consciously beside Josie--a circumstance
of which, in fact, everyone else seemed tolerantly aware. He writhed in
impotent agony, confronted alone by the consciousness he had brought
this thing upon himself: it was a part of his punishment.

At the conclusion of the meal, which endured throughout two
interminable hours, the elder menfolk withdrew to the garden and the
lawn, where they strolled about, sleepy eyes glistening with repletion,
until finally they disappeared, to each his doze. The ladies
foregathered in the parlour, conversing in undertones, with significant
glances and liftings of their eyebrows. Nat was left to Josie, who
conducted him to the side porch, out of sight of everybody, and planted
herself in the baggy hammock there. She was gay, even brilliant within
her limitations, arch, naïve, coquettish, shy, petulant, by turns:
animated by a sense of conquest. She supplied the major part of the
conversation, chatting volubly on the thousand subjects she didn't
understand, the dozen she did. In the most ingenuous manner imaginable
she laid herself open to advances, not once, but a score of times; and
when he failed to respond according to the code of Radville, had the
wit to mask her chagrin, did she feel any: very probably she laid his
lack of responsiveness at the door of his shyness (a quality he was
wholly without) and liked him the better for it.

It was on this day that she extracted from him his promise to join the
choir; he acceded through apathy alone.

"I don't care whether you can sing or not," she confessed, with a look.
"But I do want somebody to walk home with me that ... I like."

"That's a nice way of putting it," Duncan considered without emphasis.

"Roland Barnette's always walked home with me, but I think he's just

"Why?" inquired the young man, with some interest.

She averted her head, plucking at the strands of the hammock. "Oh,
_you_ know," she said diffidently.

"Oh?" Nat was enlightened. "Then I'm sorry for Roland."


"I can't blame him, you know." He couldn't help this: the time, the
place, the girl inspired, indeed incited, one to banality.

"Why?" she persisted.

"Oh, _you_ know." He caught the intonation of her previous words

She had the grace to blush and hang her head; but he received a
thrilling sidelong glance.

"Ah... aren't you awful to talk that way, Mr. Duncan?"

"Yes," he admitted meekly.

"Then you will join the choir?" she pursued, failing to fathom the
meaning of that humble acquiescence. Any other boy or man of her
acquaintance would have taken her remark as openly provocative.

"Oh, yes," he agreed listlessly.

"I'm so glad..."

He thanked her, but avoided her eye.

"We might's well begin to-night," she suggested presently, with
diffident, downcast eyes.

"What--the choir?" He was startled. "Oh, I couldn't without a

"No, I didn't mean that..."


"I mean about Roland." She was paying minute attention to the lace
insertion of her skirt. From this circumstance he divined that he was
on dangerous ground, but could not, in his stupidity, understand just
what made it dangerous.

"About Roland--?"

"Yes; I mean... You know what I mean, Mr. Duncan?"

"I assure you I do not, Miss Lockwood."

"About not walking home with him any more. I don't want to. I wish
you'd commence to-night, instead of choir practice night. I'd much
rather walk home with you."

"After evening service, you mean?" She nodded. "It'll be a great

"Really?" She gave him her eyes now.

"Really," he assured her.

"Ah, I don't believe you mean that!"

"But indeed I do...."

It was not until nearly five o'clock that he was given a chance to
escape. He had, even then, to refuse inflexibly an invitation to stay
to supper.

Minta Lockwood--an expansive woman, generously convex--almost
smothered him with appreciation of his thanks. She held his hand in a
large, moist palm and beamed upon him, saying: "Now't you know the way,
Mr. Duncan...."

"Yes," Blinky insisted, blinking roguishly, "drop in any time. Take pot
luck. We're plain people, Mr. Duncan, but allus glad to see our
friends. Drop in any time."

Josie accompanied him to the front gate, where etiquette required him
to linger for a parting chat....

"Good-bye." The girl gave him her hand. "I'm real glad you came--at

"The pleasure has been all mine," insisted the gallant bromide, fishing
the trite phrase desperately from the grey vacuity of his thoughts.
"You won't forget?"

"Forget what?"

"About to-night?"

"Do you imagine I could?..."

Josie returned to the family conclave, to interrupt a symposium on
Duncan's qualities. He was unanimously approved, on every point. She
took no part in the conversation, but listened, aglow with the pride of
triumph, until old Ben chose to observe:

"He seems to've taken a right smart set for Josie."

Then she rose, blushing, and tossed her pretty, pert head. "How you all
do talk!" she cried. "I'm not thinking about Mr. Duncan that way." And
she left the gathering.

"You might's well begin now as later," pursued her, accompanied by
chucklings; and she tossed her head, but wasn't at all displeased, be

Duncan wrote to Kellogg in his room that night after church: "I don't
want to sound immodest, but it looks as if you were right, old man:
apparently there's nothing to it...

"Probably I should have stayed on for supper, but I couldn't; I should
have choked. As it was, my soul was curdling. Another ten minutes and I
should have jumped down on the lawn and run round the house on all
fours, yapping and foaming at the mouth, and have wound up by
biting old Blinky..

"The worst of it all is, I know I'm ungrateful: I know they mean well.
But why is it that people who mean well almost invariably grate upon
your sensibilities like the screeching of a slate-pencil?

"In this case, I suspect it's a case of when Snob meets Snob. A snob, I
take it, is a fellow who holds himself your superior because he looks
at things in a different way. That counts me a snob in my mental
attitude toward the Lockwoods. I don't understand their conception of
life--wasn't brought up to understand it. And yet I know they're not a
bad sort, though they bore me to death what time I'm not laughing in my
sleeve at them. Blinky, for instance, is an old screw, but he can't
help that; he was born that way; and aside from the fact that money has
made him snobbish toward his neighbours, he's a simple, honest,
square-dealing (according to his lights) old Jasper. He's not snobbish
toward me, because I've got something he admires but can't understand
and never can acquire; but he's a snob of the first water when it comes
to somebody like this old prince I'm working for--Graham--and his
daughter. And so is Josie....

"But I mustn't say mean things about my future spouse, I presume....
That is the great trouble with your infernal scheme, Harry: it seems
to be working like a charm, and now that I've got something to do I'm
not so strong for it as I was. But I gave you my word. ... Only, mind
this: if the rules prescribe a perpetual course of Sunday dinners,
_en famille_, it's going to break down and turn out a natural-born
flivver. There are limits to human endurance, and I'm human, whatever
else I am not...."



Summer slumbered to its close, a drowsy autumn settled upon our valley,
in which its traditional peace seemed but the more profound. The skies
darkened to an ineffable intensity of blue; the livery of the fields
was changed, green giving place to gold; the woodlands and lower slopes
of our hills flamed with the scarlet of dying sumach, with the russet
and orange and crimson of a foliage making merry against its moribund
to-morrows; a drought parched the land, and our little river lessened
to a mere trickle of water. The daylight hours became sensibly
abbreviated; while they endured they were golden and warm and hazy:
faint veils of purple shrouded the distances. Twilight fell early, its
air sweet with the tang of dead leaves raked into heaping bonfires by
the children of the town. The nights were long and cool, with a hint of
frosts to come. Day dissolved into day almost imperceptibly. ...

Josie Lockwood announced that she was going away to school in New York
for the winter. Pete Willing took the pledge and kept it almost a
month. Will Bigelow secured time-tables and laboriously mapped out his
semi-annually contemplated trip to the East: like the others
destined never to come off. Tracey Tanner went to work for Graham and
Duncan. The _Citizen_ gained eighteen subscribers; four old ones
paid up their accounts. Babies were born, people married and died,
loved and hated, lived in striving or sloth, accomplished or failed.
Roland Barnette paid ostentatious attentions to Bess Gabriel, who
tolerated him simply because she didn't much like Josie; but, blighted
by Josie's supreme indifference, this budding passion drooped and
failed by mutual consent of both parties concerned. Angie Tuthill
became more conspicuously than ever the orb of Tracey's universe.
Duncan walked home with Josie on two weekday evenings and twice on
Sundays, and learned how to play Halma and Parcheesi, as well as how
long to linger at the front gate in the gloaming, saying good-night.
Eight young women of the town set their caps for him, at one time or
another and... set them back again, because he was too blind to see. As
a body they united with the female element in Radville in condemning
Josie for a heartless flirt, and sympathising with Nat, behind his
back, for being so nice and at the same time so easily taken in. Mrs.
Lockwood gave a Bridge party which failed as such because Radville knew
not Bridge; but everybody went and played progressive euchre, instead.
The drug-store prospered in moderation, Sothern and Lee vainly
contesting its conquering campaign. And Duncan grew thoughtful.

One has more time to think unselfishly in Radville than in a great
city, where there's rarely more time than enough to think of one's own
concerns. And Duncan was making time to think about others--notably,
Betty Graham. The girl was, as usual, shy, reticent, reserved; she kept
her thoughts to herself, sharing the most intimate not even with old
Sam, who _would_ talk; but Duncan divined that she was unhappy.
The easier circumstances of the family had provided her with a few
simple frocks, adequate clothing which she had gone without for years,
and with a sufficiency of wholesome and appetising food: with these,
peace of mind should likewise have come to her, and content. But Duncan
thought they hadn't. Relieved, on Tracey's engagement, of any share in
the store service, she had only the housework for herself and father to
occupy her; her associations with the girls of her age were distant and
constrained. Usage wears into tradition in the Radvilles of our land;
even with the young folks this is so; and in Betty's case, the girl had
for so long been "out of it," debarred by her unfortunate circumstances
from participation in the pastimes, pleasures and duties of her
generation, that by common consent, unspoken but none the less
absolute, she remained an outsider. You might say that she relied on
her father alone for companionship. Duncan she avoided, unobtrusively
but with pains; he consorted with those with whom she had nothing in
common, and she would not thrust herself upon him or seem to seek his
notice. Her early suspicion and sullen resentment of his intrusion into
their affairs had vanished; there remained only a gnawing consciousness
that to him she was little or nothing, that his vision ranged above her
humble head. She was not the sort to take this ill; she was reasonable
enough to believe it natural. But she would not willingly intrude upon
his thoughts--who little knew how much she did occupy his leisure

He saw her go and come, a wistful shadow on the borders of his
occupations, self-contained, a little timid, but at the same time brave
in her own quiet, uncomplaining fashion. And the distant look in those
soft eyes he divined to be one of longing for that which she might not
possess--the advantages that other girls had, socially and
educationally, the pleasures they contrived, the attentions they
received, the thousand and one slight things that make existence life
for a woman. He saw her drooping insensibly day by day, growing a
little paler, a shade more aloof and listless. And he became infinitely
concerned for her.

He told himself he had solved the problem of her disease, but its
remedy remained beyond his reach. The business was doing very well
indeed, but it was still young and must be subjected to as few
financial drains as possible; as it ran, there was an income sufficient
to board, lodge and clothe the three of them, maintain the credit of
the partnership, and now and again admit of a slight but advantageous
addition to the stock or fixtures. Things would certainly be better in
the course of time, but... Kellogg he would not beg another dollar of,
the bank was an equally impossible resource; there wasn't a chance in a
hundred that Lockwood would refuse to accommodate the growing concern
with money in reason, but the concern, individually and collectively,
would never ask it of him. There remained--?

It came to pass that he left the store early one evening, excusing
himself on the plea of some slight indisposition, and lost himself for
the space of two hours. I mean to say, that no one knew where he went
until long after. When he came home some time after ten he told me he
had been for a walk....

He found himself shortly after eight at pause by the gate to the Bohun
place. The night was dark and murmurous with a sibilant wind that sent
the leaves drifting, softly clashing one with another. At the far end
of the straight brick walk, up through the formal grounds, he could
just see the glimmer of the stately columns, and, between them, to one
side, a little twinkling light. The gate was closed, but he tried it
and found it on the latch. He entered and scuffled up the walk, ankle
deep in fallen leaves. His footfalls as he crossed the porch sounded
startlingly loud by contrast; he even fancied a note of indignation in
the cavernous echoes of the knocker on the front door. He waited with a
thumping heart, aware that he was venturing where even fools would fear
to tread.

An aged negro butler, one of the freed slaves brought from Virginia by
the Bohuns, admitted him to the hall and took his card, smothering his
own wonderment. For in those days nobody disturbed the silence and the
peace of decay of the Bohun mansion save its master. And Duncan had
long to wait in the wide, gloomy, musty hall before the servant

"Cunnul Bohun will see yo', suh," he said, and ushered him into the
library--a great, high-ceiled, shadowy room illuminated by a single
lamp, tenanted by the old colonel alone.

Bohun received the young man standing: he was as courteous beneath his
own roof as he was impossible away from it. A quaint old figure, with
his grey hair tousled and his dressing-gown draped grotesquely from his
shoulders, he stood by the fireplace, Duncan's card between his
fingers, and bowed ceremoniously.

"Mr. Duncan, I believe?"

Nat returned the bow. "Yes, sir," he said. "Will you be good enough to
pardon this intrusion, Colonel Bohun, and spare me five minutes of your

The colonel nodded. "At your service, sir," he replied, and waited
grimly--perhaps not unsuspicious of the nature of his visitor's errand,
since he could not have been ignorant of his place in Radville.

Duncan had his own way of getting at things--generally more circuitous
than now, though he struck on a tangent sufficiently acute momentarily
to puzzle Bohun.

"May I inquire, sir, if you are acquainted with the firm of L.J.
Bartlett & Company of New York?"

"I have heard of it, Mr. Duncan, through the newspapers."

"You know that it ranks pretty high, then, I presume?"

"I understand that such is the case."

"Then would you mind doing me the favour of writing to Mr. Henry
Kellogg, the junior partner, and asking him about me?"

The colonel stiffened. "May I ask why I should do anything so

"Because it isn't uncalled-for, sir. I mean, you won't think so after
I've explained."

Bohun inclined his head, searching Nat's face with his keen, bright

"You see, sir, it's this way: I want you to entrust me with a
considerable sum of money, and naturally you wouldn't do that without
knowing something about me."

"I incline very much to doubt that I should do it in any event, Mr.

"Oh, don't say that. You don't know the circumstances, as yet." Nat
jerked his head earnestly at the colonel. "You see, you're said to be
one of the richest men in town, and I'm certainly one of the poorest,
so of course I turn to you in a case like this."

"In a case like what, Mr. Duncan?" Something in the young man's manner
seemed to tickle the colonel; Duncan could have sworn that the eyes
were twinkling beneath the savagely knitted brows.

"Well, you must understand I'm in business here in Radville--a partner
in a growing and prospering concern--ah--doing--very well, in point of


"But we haven't any spare capital; in fact, we haven't got any capital
worth mentioning. But the business is entirely sound and solvent."

"I congratulate you, sir."

"Thank you very much.... Now I'm interested in a rather singular
case: that of a young woman--a girl, I should say--daughter of my
partner. She's a good girl and wonderfully sweet and fine, sir. She
comes of one of the best families in these parts--"

"On her mother's side," suggested the colonel drily.

"So I'm told, sir. But she's been neglected. Circumstances have been
against her. She hasn't had a real chance in life, but she ought to
have it, and I'm going to see that she gets it, one way or another."

"You haven't finished?" said the colonel coldly, as he paused for
breath and thought.

"Not quite, sir," said Duncan. "Good sign!" he told himself: "he hasn't
ordered me thrown out yet." And he hurried on, speaking quickly in the
semi-humorous style he had, more arresting to the attention than
absolute gravity would have been.

"To come down to cases, sir, she ought to be sent to a good
boarding-school for a few years. It'll make a new woman of her--a woman
to be proud of. She's got that in her--it only needs to be brought

"And before you leave, sir," said the colonel with significant
precision, "will you be so kind as to inform me why you think this
should interest me?"

"No," said Duncan candidly; "I haven't got the nerve to. But what I
wanted to propose was this: that you lend me five hundred dollars to
cover the expense of the first year, on condition that I represent the
money as coming from the profits of the business and, in short, keep
the transaction between ourselves absolutely quiet. If you'll inquire
of Mr. Kellogg he'll tell you I can be trusted to keep my word.
Furthermore"--he galloped, suspecting that his time was perilously
short and desiring to get it all out of his system--"I'll guarantee you
repayment within a year, and that you shan't be annoyed this way a
second time."

Bohun looked him over from head to foot, bowed in silence, and
turning--both had stood throughout this passage--grasped a bell-rope by
the chimney, and pulled it violently.

Duncan turned to the door, hat in hand, realising that he had his
answer and was lucky to get away with one so mild. Only the emergency
could have spurred him to the point of so outrageous an impertinence.

In the desolate fastnesses of that dreary house somewhere a bell
tinkled discordantly. A moment later the white-headed darky butler
opened the door.

"Suh?" he said.

Colonel Bohun essayed to speak, cleared his throat angrily, and
indicated Duncan with a courteous gesture.

"Scipio," said he, "this gentleman will have a glass of wine with me."

"Yassuh!" stammered the negro, overcome with astonishment.

Bohun turned to his guest. "Won't you be seated, Mr. Duncan?" he said.
"You have interested me considerably, sir, and I should be glad to
discuss the matter with you."

Speechless, Duncan gasped incoherently and moved toward a chair as the
servant reappeared with a tray on which was a decanter of sherry and
two old-fashioned, thin-stemmed crystal glasses. He placed this on the
library table, filled the glasses, and at a sign from Bohun retired.

"Sir," said the colonel, indicating the tray, "to you."

"I--I thank you, sir." Duncan lifted one of the glasses. Bohun took up
the one remaining, and held it toward his guest with the gracious
gesture of a bygone day.

"I hold it a privilege, sir," he said, "to drink to the only gentleman
of spirit it's been my good fortune to meet this many a year."

By way of an aside, it should be mentioned that this was the first and
only drink Duncan took while he lived in Radville.



Probably nothing ever gave rise to more comment in Radville than Betty
Graham's departure to spend the winter at a boarding-school near
Philadelphia. Hardly anyone knew anything about it--in fact, the rumour
of it was just being noised about and contemptuously discredited on all
hands--when Tracey galloped down Main Street Monday morning with the
news that she had left on the early train. He himself had remained in
ignorance of the impending event until requested to carry Betty's bag
down to the station....

She left under convoy of a certain Mrs. Hamilton, who lived in
Philadelphia and had been visiting her cousin, Mrs. Will Bigelow.
Duncan had met this lady at a church sociable and, apparently, taken a
liking to her; for he prevailed upon her, via Sam Graham and Will
Bigelow, to see the girl safely to her school, after superintending the
purchase of a suitable wardrobe in Philadelphia.

So Betty was gone--herself, I believe, no less surprised and
incredulous than the rest of us.

Radville was at first stupefied, then clamorous; but there was little
information to be got out of old Sam. I found him busy working on his
new model and much preoccupied with that. When interrogated and given
to understand that I would not be put off, he roused a bit, but beyond
being unquestionably a very happy man, seemed himself slightly dazed by
the amazing circumstances. I learned from him that Nat had evidently
made all his plans in advance, but had withheld his announcement of
them until the Saturday prior to that Monday; and then he had fairly
whirled Betty and her father off their feet and left them no time to
think or to raise objections.

"There's no use at all arguing with that boy," Sam told me, with the
fond smile that I was beginning to recognise as the invariable
accompaniment of his thoughts about Nat; "when he says a thing must
be, it must. When he first came here I told him he was a wonderful
business man, and he laughed at me, but now I know he is. Why, he gave
Betty a hundred dollars to buy clothes with in Philadelphia, and said
he'd have more for her by Christmas, besides paying all the expenses of
that school--which must be considerable. I don't see how the store's
going to stand the strain--though it's doing splendidly since he came
in, splendidly!--but he says it's all right, and so it must be...."

Duncan himself refused to be interviewed. He told everybody who had
the impudence to mention the matter to him, that it was Mr. Graham's
affair: Mr. Graham was a substantial business man, he said, and if he
chose to send his daughter away to school he had a perfect right to do
so. I don't believe even Josie Lockwood got more than that out of him,
for if she had we would have heard of it; and Josie was unmistakably a
little jealous, and undoubtedly questioned Nat.

One direct result of it all was to hasten Josie's own leave-taking. It
would never do to let the Grahams eclipse the Lockwoods, you see. Josie
had been talking of going to a school in Maryland, but Betty's move to
a fashionable centre like Philadelphia made her change her mind; and
arrangements were made by which Josie was able to go Betty one better:
a young ladies' seminary in New York City itself received Josie. She
left us bereaved about a week after Betty vanished from our ken, but
promised to be back for the Christmas holidays--an announcement which
Duncan received with expressions of chastened joy, as he did her
promise to write to him regularly, in return for his covenant to
respond promptly.... Betty, by the way, had made no such arrangement;
but she wrote twice a week to old Sam, and I understand she never
failed to include a message to Nat.

Betty was happy, she protested in every communication, and wholly
content. She was getting along. The other girls liked her and she liked
them (these statements being made in the order of their relative
importance). Lots of them, of course, were frightfully swell (Betty
annexed "frightfully" at school, by the by) and had all sorts of
clothes; but Betty was perfectly content with her modest outfit, and
none of the other girls seemed to mind how she dressed. They were all
kind and nice, and she'd never had such a good time.... I quote these
expressions from memory of Sam's digest of her letters.

Of Josie I heard less; I know that Graham and Duncan's mail seldom
lacked a personal communication to Duncan, postmarked at New York; our
postmaster told me so. But Duncan was reticent, and the Lockwoods said
little. I gathered an impression that Josie was not altogether happy
in her new surroundings.... One inferred there was a difference between
New York and Philadelphia, that one was less friendly and sociable
than the other.

Josie kept her promise and came home for Christmas. She was reticent as
to her impressions of the New York seminary, but seemed extremely glad
to be home, notwithstanding the fact that Nat had apparently contracted
no disturbing alliances with the other belles of our village. And
Roland remained true--a reliable second string to Josie's bow. Roland
was working hard at the bank, with an application that earned Blinky
Lockwood's regard and outspoken approbation; and his Christmas raiment
proved the sensation of the season. But none of us believed he had any
chance against Duncan: Josie's attitude toward the latter was such
that we confidently anticipated the announcement of their engagement
before she went away again. But it didn't come, for some reason. We
bore up under the disappointment bravely, all things considered,
sustained by a very secure feeling that the proclamation couldn't be
long deferred.

In passing, I should mention that Betty didn't come home once
throughout the entire school term. The Christmas and Easter holidays
she spent with a girl friend at her Philadelphia home.

Meanwhile, life in our town simmered gently. Things went on much as
they might have been expected to. I don't recall much essential to this
narrative, in the way of events; and part of the ground I've covered on
earlier pages. Duncan continued to make progress: for one thing, I
recall that he put in hot soda with whipped cream, which helped a lot
to hold the trade regained in the summer from Sothern and Lee. And he
bought a new soda fountain, a very magnificent affair, installing it in
the early spring. Graham and Duncan's, in short, became a town
institution: to it Radville pointed with pride....

He remained reserved, retiring, inconspicuous, and puzzling to our
understanding. In his effort (never very successful) to strike off the
shackles of modern slang, he fell into a way of speech that bewildered
those unable to realise what an abiding sense of humour underlay it--as
water runs beneath ice--more, I think, a matter of intonation and
significant silences, than a mere play upon words and phrases; which,
coupled with an unshakable sobriety of demeanour, furnished us with
wonder and some admiration, but no resentment. We liked him pretty
well and mostly unanimously: he was a good fellow, if queer; entitled
to his idiosyncrasy, if he chose to keep one....

There was a certain night, by way of illustration--a bitter night,
along toward the first of January--when trade was dull, as it always is
after Christmas, and there was nobody in the store save Nat and Tracey.
Each had their task, whatever it may have been, and each was busied
with it, but of the two Tracey seemed the more restless. His ample, if
low, forehead was decidedly corrugated; his always rosy face owned an
added trace of scarlet--a flush of perturbation; his chubby hands were
inexpert, clumsy. He stumbled, fumbled, forgot and (in our homely
phrase) flummoxed generally; his mind was elsewhere, and his hands and
feet went anywhere but where they should have gone: a condition which
eventually excited Duncan's attention.

He broke a long silence in the store. "What's the trouble, Tracey?"

Tracey pulled up with a stare of confusion. "I--I dunno, Mr. Duncan; I
was thinkin', I guess."

"Anything gone wrong?"

"Not yet." Niobe would have made the response with a greater show of

Duncan looked up curiously, struck by the boy's tone. "Somebody been
demonstrating that your doll's stuffed with sawdust, Tracey?"

"No-o, but..."


"Say, Mr. Duncan--" Tracey's confusion became terrific.

"Say on, Mr. Tanner."

The interjection diverted Tracey's train of thought to an
inconsiderable siding. "I only called you Mr. Duncan," he said,
aggrieved, "'cause you're my boss."

"That's a poor excuse, Tracey. You call Mr. Graham 'Sam,' and he's
likewise your boss."

"I know. But it's diff'runt."

"I don't see it. Even Nats have their place in the cosmic system,

"I dunno what that is, but you ain't like Sam."

"The loss is mine, Tracey. Proceed."

"But, Mr. Duncan..."

"I beg of you, speak to me as to a friend."

Tracey struggled perceptibly. The words, when they came, were blurted.
"Ah... I was only thinkin' 'bout Angie."

"Do you ever think about anything else?"

"No," Tracey admitted honestly, "not much. But I was wonderin'--"


"Are you stuck on Angie, Mr. Duncan?" demanded Tracey desperately.

"Great snakes! I hope not!" Duncan cast an anxious glance about him,
and discovered the poster depicting the gentleman in strange attire
vainly endeavouring to free his overcoat (I believe it's his overcoat)
from the bench upon which a pot of glue has been spilled. He lifted a
reverent hand to the card. "Tracey," he said solemnly, "I swear to you
that not even that indispensable article of commerce could stick me on

The boy sighed. "Thank you, Mr. Duncan. I was only worryin' because you
and Angie is singin' together in the choir, now Josie Lockwood's gone
to school, an'--an' Angie's the purtiest girl in town--and I was 'fraid
't you might like her best, when Josie's away. An' I wanted to ask you
to pick out s'mother girl."

Duncan chuckled silently. "Tracey," he said presently, "it strikes me
you must be in love with Angie."

The boy gulped. "I--I am."

"And I think she's rather partial to you."

"Do you, really, Mr. Duncan?"

"I do. Do you want to marry her?"

"Gee! I can't hardly wait!... Only," Tracey continued, disconsolate,
"it ain't no use, really. She's so purty and swell and old man
Tuthill's so rich--not like the Lockwoods, but rich, all the same--an'
I'm only the son of the livery-stable man, an' fat an'--all that--an'--"

"Nonsense, Tracey!" Nat interrupted firmly. "If you really want her and
will follow the rules I give you, it's a cinch."

"Honest, Mr. Duncan?"

"I guarantee it, Tracey. Listen to me...." And Duncan expounded
Kellogg's rules at length, adapting them to Tracey's circumstances, of
course; and throughout maintained the gravity of a graven image. "You
try, and you'll see if I'm not right," he concluded.

"Gosh! I b'lieve you are!" Tracey cried admiringly. "I'm just going to
see how it works."

"Do, if you'd favour me, Tracey."

Tracey was quiet for a time, working with the regularity of a mind
relieved. But presently he felt unable to contain himself. Gratitude
surged in his bosom, and he had to speak.

"Sa-y, lis'en...."

"Proceed, Tracey."

"Say, Mist--Nat, you've treated me somethin' immense."

"Your mistake, Tracey. I haven't treated anybody since I've been here:
I'm on the wagon."

"I mean just now, when we was talkin' 'bout me an' Angie. I'd--I'd like
to help you the same way, if I could."

"You would?" Duncan eyed the boy apprehensively, wondering what was

"Yes, indeedy, I would. An' p'rhaps I kin tell you somethin' that
"Speak, I beg."

"You--er--you're tryin' to court Josie Lockwood, ain't you?"

"Oh!" said Nat. "So that was it! That's a secret, Tracey," he averred.

"All right. Only, if you are, she's your'n."

"Just how do you figure that out?"

"Oh, I kin tell. She was in here to-night with Roland."


"Yes, just afore you come home from prayer-meetin'. She was lookin'
for you, and when she seen you wasn't here, she wouldn't wait for no
soda nor nothin'. Said she had a headache an' was goin' home. Roland
went with her, but she didn't want him to. You just missed seein'

"Heavens, what a blow!"

"But Roland's takin' her home needn't upset you none."

"Thank you for those kind words, Tracey." Nat sighed and passed a
troubled hand across his brow. "You're a true friend."

"I'm tryin' to be, Nat, same's you are to me." Tracey thought this
over. "But you ain't foolin' me, are you?" he asked presently. "I mean
'bout bein' a true friend?"

"Why should I?"

"Ah, I dunno. You're so cur'us, sometimes. I ain't never sure whether
you mean what you're sayin' or not."

"Oh, don't say that."

"Well, I ain't the only one. Everybody in town says they don't
understand you, half the time."

Duncan left his counter and moved over to that at which Tracey was
occupied. His face was entirely serious, his manner deeply
sympathetic. "Tracey," he said, dropping a hand on the boy's shoulder,
"do you know, nothing in life is harder to bear than not to be

Tracey wrestled with this for a moment, but it was beyond him.

"Then why the hell don't you talk so's folks'll know what it's about?"
he demanded heatedly.

"Because... _Hm_." Duncan hesitated, with his enigmatic smile.
"Well, because the rules don't require it."

"What d'you mean by _that_?" Tracey exploded.

Nat couldn't explain, so he countered neatly. "This is one of your
Angie... evenings, isn't it, Tracey?"

"Yep, but--"

"Well, you hurry along. I'll close up the shop."

Tracey had slammed on his hat and was struggling into his overcoat
almost as soon as the words were out of Nat's mouth.

"Kin I?" he cried excitedly.

"Yes," said Nat, watching the boy turn up his collar and button his
overcoat to the throat, "I haven't got the heart to keep you."

"Ah, thanks, Mr. Duncan."

"But, Tracey..."

The boy paused at the door. "What?"

"Remember what I told you. Don't you make too much love. Let Angie do

"Gosh, that'll be the hardest rule of all for me!" A shadow clouded
Tracey's honest eyes. "But I got to do it that way, anyway. I can't
ask her to marry me yit. I can't afford to get married."

"It's a contrary world, Tracey, a contrary world!" sighed Nat in a tone
of deepest melancholy.

"What makes you say that? You kin git married's soon's you want to."

"You think so, Tracey?"

"All you got to do's ask Josie--"

"I'm almost afraid you're right."

"Why? Don't you want to git married?"

"Well"--Nat smiled--"no. Don't believe I do. Not just now, at any

"Well, you don't have to if you don't want to.... G'd-night."

"Yes, I do," Nat told Tracey's back. "The rules say so. If the girl
asks me, I must."

He grimaced ruefully beneath his wisp of a moustache. "Anyhow, I've got
a few months left...."



So the winter wore away.... And as spring drew nigh upon our valley,
Duncan seemed to grow perturbed, even as he had been in the autumn
before Betty went away. He was pondering another scheme for the
betterment of the condition of those he cared for, and gave it ample
consideration before he broached it to old Sam, after swearing him to

He had to propose nothing more or less than an abandonment of the old
Graham housekeeping quarters above the store and a removal of the
_ménage_ bodily to a vacant house on Beech Street, near the store,
which could be rented, partly furnished, at a moderate rate.

To begin with (thus ran his argument) the store itself was growing too
small for the volume of business it commanded. More room was needed,
both for storage and laboratory purposes, to say nothing of
accommodation for Sam's models and work-bench. The latter had already
been moved upstairs for the winter, the shed in the backyard being too
cold to work in; and the laboratory end of the business was growing at
such a rate that it was crowding the prescription counter to the
wall--so to speak. You see, there really wasn't a more clever
analytical chemist in the northern part of the State than Sam Graham,
and now that the drug-store was becoming an influence in the
neighbourhood he was receiving commissions from physicians operating in
districts as far as fifty miles away. So a room was needed for that
branch of the business alone.

Moreover, a separate residence distinctly befitted the dignity of a
man who was at once a prominent inventor and one of Radville's leading
merchants (vide a "Personal" in the late issue of the Radville
_Citizen_), to say nothing of the social position of his
daughter--meaning Betty. And the house Duncan had his metaphorical eye
upon was large enough to shelter Nat himself in addition to the Graham
family. Thus they might pool their living expenses to the economical
advantage of each.

Finally, it would be a great and glad surprise for Betty on her

Graham fell in with the scheme without a murmur of dubiety or dissent.
Whatever Nat proposed in Sam's understanding was right and feasible;
and even if it wasn't really so, Nat would make it so.... They engaged
the house and moved. Miss Ann Sophronsiba Whitmarsh, a maiden lady of
forty-five or thereabouts, popularly known as "Phrony," had been coming
in by the day to "do for" old Sam in the rooms above the shop. She was
engaged as resident housekeeper for the new establishment, and entered
upon her duties with all the discreet joy of one whose maternal
instincts have been suppressed throughout her life. She mothered Sam
and she mothered Nat and she panted in expectation of the day when she
would have Betty to mother. Incidentally, she was one of the best
housekeepers in Radville, and cooperated with all her heart with Nat
in the task of making a home out of the new house. They arranged and
disarranged and rearranged and discarded old furniture and bought new
with almost the abandon of a newly married couple fitting out their
first home.... It was surprising what they managed to accomplish with
it; when they were finished, there wasn't a prettier nor a more
home-like residence in all Radville--and Phrony Whitmarsh was Nat's
slave, even as Miss Carpenter had been. She gave him all the credit for
everything praiseworthy about the place: and with some reason; for, as
a matter of fact, he had spared himself not at all in the business of
scheming and contriving to make the new home suitable for the
reception of Betty Graham....

It's interesting when one has come to my time of life, to sit and
speculate on the singular mental blindness of mortal man, such as that
which kept Nat unaware of the real, rock-bottom reason why he was
working so hard on the Beech Street house. I daresay the young idiot
thought his motives as much selfish as anything else--told himself that
he wanted a comfortable home--and this was his way of securing one--and
all that rot. At all events, he told me as much, quite seriously--
seemed to believe it himself; and this, in spite of the fact that Miss
Carpenter had done everything imaginable to make him comfortable....

Josie Lockwood came home again for the Easter holidays, but didn't
return to finish her term in the New York school. Just why, we never
discovered: the Lockwoods furnished us with no really satisfying
explanation; they said that Josie didn't like New York, but I've always
doubted that, especially since Josie married and insisted on moving
straightway to that metropolis. I suspect she didn't get along with
the class of young women with whom she was thrown at school, and I'm
pretty certain she was uneasy about Nat all the time she was so far
away from him. Anyway, she elected to remain in Radville and keep the
young man dancing attendance on her day in and out. Which he did, as in
duty bound; he liked the game less and less all the time, but Kellogg
held his promise....

It was during this period, between the Easter vacation and the end of
the spring school term, that Roland Barnette's animosity toward Duncan
became virulent. Looking back, I can recall the symptoms of his waxing
hostility--as, for instance, the evening he spent in the
_Citizen_ office, poring over back files of our exchanges. That
seemed innocent enough at the time, a harmless freak on the part of the
young man, and no one paid much attention to it; but it led to great
things, in the end, and incidentally did Duncan a service which
probably could have been accomplished through no other agency. This,
however, is something that Roland doesn't realise to this day; and I'm
inclined to doubt if you could ever make him understand it.

Josie, of course, was prompt to oust Angie Tuthill from her place in
the choir. After that she sang with Nat on Friday nights as well as
Wednesdays and twice per Sunday. Between whiles she was a pretty
constant patron of the store. There was no longer the least doubt in
the collective mind of the town as to the inclination of Josie's
affections. Nat himself gave evidence of his appreciation of the
gravity of the situation, managing by some admirable diplomacy to evade
the issue until the very last moment. But with the three--Roland, Nat,
and Josie--so involved, we sensed a storm below the horizon, and
awaited its breaking, if not with avidity, at least with quickened

The culmination came the day before Betty was to return--a day late in
May, I remember, and a Friday at that.

It began along toward evening. Duncan, alone in the store, was busy
behind the prescription counter. The day had been humid, warm and
sultry, and the doors and windows were open. The air was bland and
still, and sound travelled easily. He could hear the musical clanking
of hammers in Badger's smithy, on the next block, the deep-throated
_hoot-toot_ of the late afternoon train as it rushed down the
valley, sounds of fierce altercation from the home of Pete Willing near
by, a boy rattling a stick along palings down on Main Street.... But he
did not hear anybody enter the store: absorbed with his task, he
thought himself quite alone until a well-kenned voice reached his ear.

"Well!" it said, unctuous with appreciation of the sight of him.
"_Old_ Doctor Duncan!"

He let the pestle fall from his hand and jumped as if he had been stuck
with a pin. His jaw dropped and his eyes bulged. "Great Scott!" he
cried; and in a twinkling was round the counter, throwing himself into
the arms of a man whom he hailed ecstatically: "Harry, by all that's
wonderful!" He fairly danced with delight. "Henry Kellogg, Esquire!"
he cried, holding him at arms' length and looking him over. "What in
thunderation are you doing here?"

Kellogg freed himself, only to seize both Nat's hands and squeeze them
violently. "Wanted to see you," he replied, beaming. "On my way to
Cincinnati on business--thought I'd drop off for a night and size you
up. My, but it's good to get a look at you! How are you?"

"Me? Look at me--picture of health. Harry, you've made a new man of
me." Duncan pranced round his friend in a mild frenzy. "No booze--no
smokes--no swears--work! I feel like a two-year-old: I could do a
Marathon without turning a hair. Watch me kick up my heels and neigh!"
He paused for breath. "And you?"

"Fine as silk--but you've got it on me, Nat, physically. You're a sight
to heal the blind."

"And listen!" Nat crowed: "I'm a business man. Didn't you believe it?
Pipe my shop!"

Kellogg checked to obey the admonition of Duncan's gesticulations, and
took a long look round the store. "Gad!" said he. "I'm blowed if it
isn't true! It _was_ hard to credit your letters. But it's great,
old man. I congratulate you, with all my heart."

"Just wait and I'll tell you all about it. But first tell me how long
you're going to be here."

"Well, I plan to hang around with you a couple of days. My business in
the West isn't pressing."


"Which is the least worst hotel?"

"There ain't no such thing in the whole giddy town.... No, none of that
hotel stuff, now I I'm going to put you up--and I'll do it in style,
too. I wrote you about taking a new place for the Grahams?"

"Yes, and I'm mighty keen to meet 'em. The girl here?"

"Betty? No; she's coming home to-morrow. But Graham himself is upstairs
in the laboratory. Take you up in a minute, but not before I've had a
good look at you."

Kellogg found himself a chair. "Well," he inquired, twinkling, "how's
the scheme working out? Are you really living up to all the rules?"

"Every singletary one."

"You have got a strong constitution.... Even prayer-meetings?"

"The church thing? Honest, Harry, I _own_

"Bully for you, Nat. But how does it work? Was I right?"

"I should say you were. It's so easy it's a shame to do it. If this
thing ever should get into the papers there'd be a swarm of city men
lighting out for the Rube centres so thick you wouldn't be able to see
the sky."

"I knew it! Trust your Uncle Harry." Kellogg waited a time for further
particulars, but Duncan seemed stuck; his transports of the few
minutes just gone were sensibly abated; and the sidelong look he gave
Kellogg was both uneasy and rueful--apprehensive, indeed. So Kellogg
had to pump for news. "And you've made a strong play for the fond
affections of Lockwood's daughter?"

"Certainly not!"


"You forget your rules." Nat grinned, whimsical. "I let her to make a
play for me."

"Of course. My mistake.... But how has it worked?"

"Oh! immense." Duncan's tone, however, was wholly destitute of
enthusiasm. He stuck his hands in his trousers' pockets and half turned
away from his friend, looking out of the window.

Kellogg smiled secretly. "You mean you've won her already?"

"Oh, there's nothing to it," said Duncan, shaking his head and meaning
just the exact opposite of what his words conveyed, for of such is our
modern slang.

"Then you're engaged?" Kellogg had understood perfectly, you see.

"No, not _yet_. I've got two months left--almost."

"So you have. And since she's so strong for you, there's no hurry: let
her take her time."

"I only wish she would." Duncan removed one hand from the pocket the
better to tug at his moustache. "It's got beyond that--to the point
where I have to keep dodging her."

"You don't mean it! That's splendid." Kellogg got up and slapped Nat's
shoulder heartily. "But don't overdo the dodging. She might get her
back up."

"Not she. She'd eat out of my hand, if I'd let her. You don't

"What's the matter, then? Aren't you strong for her?"

"I wish I were."

"But why? Is there another----?"

"No." Nat shook his head, honestly believing he was telling the truth.
"Only ... I don't look at things the way I did once."

"Just what do you mean by that?"

Nat, squaring himself to face Kellogg, was very serious, now, and
troubled. "See here, Harry," he said: "do you really want me to carry
out the rest of the agreement?"

"Most certainly I do. Why not?"

"Because I'm pretty well fixed here. The business is making good--and
so am I. It won't be long before I can pay you back, with interest, as
we agreed, without having to marry that poor girl and ... and draw on
her money to make good to you."

"You want to go back on our agreement?" demanded Kellogg, with a show
of disappointment and disgust.

"Yes and no. I won't break faith with you, if you insist, but I'd give
a lot if you'd let me off--let me pay back what you advanced and cry
quits.... When you outlined this scheme I was down and three times
out--willing to take a chance at anything, no matter how contemptible.
Now... well, it's different."

"Good heavens! You don't mean you'd be willing to _live_ here?"

Nat smiled, but not mirthfully. "I don't know," he hesitated; "I'm
afraid I'm beginning to like it."

"You, Nat?" Kellogg's amazement was unfeigned. "You, ready to spend
your life here slaving away in this measly store?"

Duncan grunted indignantly. "Hold on, now. Don't you call this a measly
store. There isn't a more complete drug-store in the State!"

"Do you hear that?" Kellogg appealed vehemently to the universe at
large. "Is it possible that this is Nat Duncan, the fellow who hated
work so hard he couldn't earn a living?... Gad, I believe I've arrived
just in time!"

"In time for what?"

"To save you from yourself, old man. Here's the heiress you came here
to cop out, ready and anxious, everything else coming your way and ...
and you're more than half inclined to back out.... You make me tired."

"I suppose I must. But I can't help it. I can't make you see how the
thing looks to me. You know--I've written you all about everything--
what this place has meant to me. Until I came here I never realised it
was in me to make good at anything. But here I have; I'm doing so well
that I'd actually have some self-respect if I wasn't bound to play this
low-down trick on Josie Lockwood. I've worked and succeeded and been
of some service to people who were worth it----"

"Who? Sam Graham?"

"He and his daughter----"

"Oh, his daughter!"

"Now get that foolish idea out of your head; there's nothing in it.
Betty's just a simple, sweet little girl, who's had a pretty hard time
and never a real chance in life--until I managed to give it to her. And
I'd feel pretty good about that if ... Oh, there's no use talking to

"No; go on; you're very entertaining." Kellogg laughed mockingly.

"Well, I have tried to keep to the terms of our understanding; I
singled out this Lockwood girl and worked all the degrees--didn't say
much, you know--no love-making--just let her catch me looking sadly
at her once in a while..."

"That's the way to work it."

"Yes, that's the way," Nat assented gloomily. "But the longer I keep it
up the meaner I feel and... I wish you'd agree to call it off. ...
These Rubes at first struck me as being nothing but a lot of jay
freaks, but when I got to know them I realised they were just as human
as we are. I like them now and... on the level, I'm getting kind of
stuck on church.... As for work, why, I eat it up!"

Kellogg laughed with delight "Nat," he cried, "my poor crazy friend,
listen to me: This working and church-going and helping old Graham is
all very noble and fine, and I'm glad you've done it. This drug-store
is a monument to the business ability that I always knew was latent in
you. And clean living hasn't done you any harm.... But now you're due
to come down to earth. This place pays you a neat profit. Well and
good! That's all it'll ever do. It's new to you now and you like the
novelty and you're having the time of your life finding out you're good
for something. But pretty soon it'll begin to stale on you, and before
long you'll find yourself hating it and the town--and then you'll be
back where you started. Now, I'm going to hold you to our bargain for
your own sake. If you're stuck on the town and the work you can keep
right on just as well after you're married; but when you do begin to
tire of it, you'll want that fortune to fall back on and do what you
like with. Don't let this chance slip--not on your life!"

"But," Nat argued feebly, "think of the injustice to the girl. From
the way I've behaved since I struck this burg she thinks I'm closely
related to the saints."

"Very well, then; I'll concede a point. If you really think you're
taking a mean advantage of her, when she proposes to you tell her all
about yourself--just the sort of a chap you've been. You needn't
mention our agreement, however. Then if she wants to drop you, I'll
have nothing to say."

"Thank you for nothing," said Duncan bitterly. "A bargain's a bargain.
I gave you my word of honour I'd go through with this thing, and I'll
stick to it. But I tell you now, I don't like it."

"Oh, I know how you feel, Nat. But I _know_ that some day you'll
come to me and say: 'Harry, if you had let me back out, I'd never have
forgiven you.'"

"All right," said Nat impatiently. "I presume you know best."

"You can bet I do. And now I'd like to meet old Graham."

"I'll take you right up--no, I can't. Here comes a customer. But you
just go through that door and upstairs; he'll be in the laboratory--the
front room--and he knows all about you. I'll join you just as soon as
Tracey gets back."



A customer came and went, and then Nat noticed that twilight was
beginning to darken the store. Though the hour wasn't late and the
evenings were long at that season, the windows faced the east, and
there were huge, overshadowing elms outside--just then heavy with
luxuriant foliage; so dusk was always early in the room.

It was one of Nat's axioms that a store, to be successful, should be
always brilliantly lighted. It was a bit expensive, perhaps, but in the
long run it paid. For that reason he installed electric light as soon
as he felt the business could afford it.

Now he moved to the windows and switched on the bulbs behind the huge
glass jars filled with tinted water. Returning, he was about to connect
up the remainder of the illuminating system, when Josie, entering,
stayed him. Later he was glad of this.


He knew that voice. "Why, Josie!" he exclaimed in surprise, swinging
about to discover her standing on the threshold--very dainty and
fetching, indeed, in one of the summery frocks she had brought back
from New York.

She moved over to him, holding out her hand. He took it with disguised
reluctance. "Where's Tracey?" she asked with a look that first held his
eyes, then reviewed the store.

"This is his afternoon off," Nat reminded her.

"Then you're all alone?" she deduced archly.

"Oh, quite...."

"I'm so glad." She sighed and dropped into a chair by the soda-water
counter. "I wanted to see you--to talk to you alone."

He bit his lip in his annoyance, shivering with a presentiment. "What
about, Josie?"

"About Wednesday night--after prayer meeting. Why didn't you wait for

"Why--ah--I had to get back to the store, you know--there were some
cheques to be made out and sent off, and I'd forgotten them. Besides,"
he added on inspiration, "you were talking with Roland and I didn't
want to interrupt you."

"So you left me to go home with him?"

"Why, what else--"

"You're making me awful' unhappy." Her voice trembled.

"_I_, Josie?"

"Yes. You knew I didn't want to walk home with Roland."

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