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Five Thousand an Hour: How Johnny Gamble Won the Heiress by George Randolph Chester

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"I'll tear down the top part of his building and put a tunnel around
him if necessary," he asserted.

"You won't like that any better than Ersten," commented Johnny. "I
think I'll have to make another guess for you."

"I like your work," replied Lofty with a smile. "Let's hear it."

"All right. I guess I'll buy Ersten's lease for you."

"You'll have to find another answer, I'm afraid," Lofty hopelessly
stated. "I've had a regiment of real estate men helping me devil
Ersten to death, but he won't sell."

"Of course he'll sell," declared Johnny confidently. "You can buy
anything in New York if you go at it right. Each deal is like a
Chinese puzzle. You never do it twice alike."

"Try this one," urged Lofty. "There's a good commission in it."

"Commission? Not for Johnny!" promptly refused that young man; "I'll
buy it myself, and hold you up for it."

"If you come at me too strongly I'll build that tunnel," warned
Lofty.

"I'll figure it just below tunnel prices," Johnny laughingly assured
him. The gray shawl with the pink relief came up just then, and all
four of them immediately bought it for Johnny's sole surviving
mother.

CHAPTER XIV

IN WHICH JOHNNY TRIES TO MIX BUSINESS WITH SKAT

Louis Ersten, who puffed redly wherever he did not grayly bristle,
met Johnny Gamble half-way. Johnny's half consisted in stating that
he had come to see Mr. Ersten in reference to his lease. Mr.
Ersten's half consisted in flatly declining to discuss that subject
on the premises.

"Here--I make ladies' suits," he explained. "If you come about such
a business, with good recommendations from my customers, I talk with
you. Otherwise not."

"I'll talk any place you say," consented Johnny. "Where do you
lunch?"

"At August Schoppenvoll's," replied Mr. Ersten with no hint of an
intention to disclose where August Schoppenvoll's place might be.
"At lunch-time I talk no business; I eat."

The speculator studied those forbidding bushy brows in silence for a
moment. Beneath them, between heavy lids, glowed a pair of very
stern gray eyes; but at the outward corner of each eye were two
deep, diverging creases, which belied some of the sternness.

"Where do you sleep?" Johnny asked.

"I don't talk business in my sleep," asserted Mr. Ersten stoutly,
and then he laughed with considerable heartiness, pleased immensely
with his own joke and not noticing that it was more than half
Johnny's. After all, Johnny had only implied it; he had said it!
Accordingly he relented a trifle. "From four to half-past five, at
Schoppenvoll's, I play skat," he added.

"Thank you," said Johnny briskly, and started for the nearest
telephone directory. "I'll drop in on you."

"Well," returned Ersten resignedly, "it won't do you any good."

Johnny grinned and went out, having first made a swift but careful
estimate of Ersten's room, accommodations and requirements. Outside,
he studied the surrounding property, then called on a real estate
firm.

At four-ten he went into the dim little basement wine-room of
Schoppenvoll. He had timed this to a nicety, hoping to arrive just
after the greetings were over and before the game had begun, and he
accomplished that purpose; for, with the well-thumbed cards lying
between them and three half-emptied steins of beer on the table,
Ersten was opposite a pink-faced man with curly gray hair, whose
clothes sat upon his slightly portly person with fashion-plate
precision. It was this very same suit about which Ersten was talking
when Johnny entered.

"Na, Kurzerhosen," he said with a trace of pathos in his guttural
voice, "when you die we have no more suits of clothes like that."

"I thank you," returned the flexible soft voice of Kurzerhosen. "It
is like the work you make in your ladies' garments, Ersten. When you
die we shall have no more good walking clothes for our womenfolks."

"And when Schoppenvoll dies we have no more good wine," declared
Ersten with conviction and a wave of his hand as Schoppenvoll
approached them with an inordinately long-necked bottle, balancing
it carefully on its side.

Johnny had drawn near the table now, but no one saw him, for this
moment was one of deep gravity. Schoppenvoll, a tall, straight-
backed man with the dignity of a major, a waving gray pompadour, and
a clean-cut face that might have belonged to a Beethoven, set down
the tray at the very edge of the table and slid it gently into
place. An overgrown fat boy, with his sleeves rolled to his
shoulders, brought three shining glasses, three bottles of Glanzen
Wasser and a corkscrew.

It was at this most inopportune time that Johnny Gamble spoke.

"Well, Mr. Ersten," he cheerfully observed, "I've come round to make
you an offer for that lease."

Mr. Ersten, his gnarled eyebrows bent upon the sacred ceremony about
to be performed, looked up with a grunt--and immediately returned to
his business. Mr. Kurzerhosen glanced round for an instant in
frowning appeal. Mr. Schoppenvoll paid no attention whatever to the
interruption. He gave an exhibition of cork-pulling which a
watchmaker might have envied for its delicacy; he poured the tall
glasses half-full of the clear amber fluid and opened the bottles of
Glanzen Wasser. The three friends, Schoppenvoll now sitting, clinked
their steins solemnly and emptied them. Ersten wiped the foam from
his bristling gray mustache.

"About that lease I have nothing to say," he told Johnny, fixing a
stern eye upon him. "I will not sell it."

The other gentlemen of the party looked upon the stranger as an
unforgivable interloper.

"I'm prepared to make you a very good offer for it," insisted
Johnny. "I have a better location for you, not half a block away,
and I've taken an option on a long-time lease for it."

The stolid boy removed the steins. The three gentlemen poured the
Glanzen Wasser into their wine.

"I will not sell the lease," announced Ersten with such calm
finality that Johnny apologized for the intrusion and withdrew. As
he went out, Ersten and Kurzerhosen and Schoppenvoll, in blissful
forgetfulness of him, raised their glasses for the first delicious
sip of the Rheinthranen, of which there were only two hundred and
eighty precious bottles left in the world.

Outside, Johnny hailed a passing taxi. He called on Morton Washer,
on Ben Courtney, on Colonel Bouncer, and even on Candy-King Slosher;
but to no purpose. Finally he descended upon iron-hard Joe Close.

"Do you know anybody who knows Louis Ersten, the ladies' tailor?" he
asked almost automatically.

"Ersten?" replied Close unexpectedly. "I've quarreled with him for
thirty years. He banks with me."

"Start a quarrel for me," requested Johnny. "I've been down to look
him over. I can do business with him if he'll listen."

Close smiled.

"I doubt it," he rejoined. "Ersten has just lost the coat cutter who
helped him build up his business, and he's soured on everything in
the world but Schoppenvoll's and skat and Rheinthranen."

"Could I learn to play skat in about a day?" inquired Johnny.

"You have no German ancestors, have you?" retorted Close.

"No."

"Then you couldn't learn it in a thousand years!"

"I have to find his weak spot," Johnny persisted. "If you'll just
make him talk with me I'll do the rest."

Close shook his head and sighed.

"I'll try," he agreed, "but I feel about as hopeful as I would be of
persuading a bull to sleep in a red blanket."

Johnny had caught Close as he was leaving his club for home, and
they went round immediately to Schoppenvoll's. At exactly five-
thirty Ersten emerged from the wine-room with Kurzerhosen.

"Hello, Louis!" hailed the waiting Close. "Jump into the taxi here,
and I'll take you down to your train."

Ersten and Kurzerhosen looked at each other.

"Always we walk," declared Ersten.

"There's room for both of you," laughed Close, shaking hands with
Kurzerhosen.

Ersten sighed.

"Always we walk," he grumbled, but he climbed in.

When they were started for the terminal Ersten leaned forward, with
his bushy brows lowering, and glared Close sternly in the eye.

"I will not sell the lease!" he avowed before a word had been
spoken.

"We know that," admitted Close; "but why?"

Ersten hesitated a moment.

"Oh, well; I tell you," he consented with an almost malignant glance
in the direction of Johnny. "All my customers know me in that
place."

"Your customers would find you anywhere," Close complimented him.

"Maybe they do," admitted Ersten. "My cousin, Otto Gruber, had a
fine saloon business. He moved across the street--and broke up."

"It was not the same," Close assured him. "In saloons, men want to
feel at home. In your business, your customers come because they get
the best--and they care nothing for the shop itself."

"They like the place," asserted Ersten. "I've made a good living
there for almost forty years. Why should I move?"

"Because you would be nearer Fifth Avenue," Johnny ventured to
interject, and spoke to the chauffeur, who drew up to the curb.
"This is the place I have in mind, Mr. Ersten."

"They come to me where I am," insisted Ersten, refusing to look,
with unglazed eyes.

"You have no such show-windows," persisted Johnny.

"My customers know my goods inside."

"There's a big light gallery--twice the size of your present
workrooms."

Ersten's cheeks suddenly puffed and his forehead purpled, while
every hair on his head and face stuck straight out.

"My workroom is good enough!" he exploded. "I told it to Schnitt!"

"Is Schnitt your coat cutter?" asked Johnny, remembering what
Constance and Close had said.

Ersten glowered at him.

"He was. Thirty-seven years he worked with me; then he tried to run
my business. He is gone. Let him go!"

"He objected to the light in the workroom, didn't he?" went on the
cross-examiner, carefully piecing the situation together bit by bit.

"He could see for thirty-seven years, till everybody talks about
moving; then he goes crazy," blurted Ersten.

"Won't you look at this place?" he was urged. "Let me show it to you
to-morrow."

"I stay where I am," sullenly declared Ersten, still angry. "We miss
my train."

Close told the driver to go on. Before Ersten alighted at the
terminal, Johnny made one more attempt upon him.

"If a majority of your best customers insisted that they liked the
new shop better would you look at the other place?" he asked.

"My customers don't run my business either!" he puffed.

"Good-by," stated Mr. Kurzerhosen, who had been looking steadily at
the opposite side of the street throughout the journey. "I thank
you."

Close stared at Johnny in silence for a moment after their guests
had gone.

"I told you so," he said. "You'll have to give him up as a bad job."

"He's beginning to look like a good job," asserted Johnny. "He can
be handled like wax, but you have to melt him. Schnitt's the real
reason. Do you know Schnitt?"

"I am happy to say I do not," laughed Close. "One like Ersten is
enough."

"Somebody must lead me to him," declared Johnny. "I'm going to see
Schnitt in the morning. I'd call to-night if I didn't have to be the
big works at a Coney Island dinner party."

"I don't see how Schnitt can help you," puzzled Close.

"He's the tack in the tire. I can see what happened as well as if I
had been there. Ersten knew he ought to move. Lofty tried to buy him
and Schnitt tried to force him. Then he got his Dutch up. Schnitt
left on account of it. Now Ersten won't do anything."

"You can't budge him an inch," prophesied the banker. "I know him."

"I'll coax him," stated Johnny determinedly. "There's a profit in
him, and I have to have it!"

CHAPTER XV

IN WHICH WINNIE CHAPERONS THE ENTIRE PARTY TO CONEY ISLAND

At the last minute, Aunt Pattie Boyden fortunately contracted a
toothache--and the Coney Island party was compelled to go
unchaperoned. They tried to be regretful and sympathetic as the six
of them climbed into the big touring car, but Ashley Loring found
them a solace.

"Never you mind," he soothed them--"Polly will chaperon us."

"You've lost your address book," declared that young lady
indignantly. "Polly Parsons is not the person you have in mind. I'll
be old soon enough without that! The chaperon of this party is my
adopted sister, Winnie."

"Oh, fun!" accepted the nominee with delight. "We had a course in
that at school." And Winnie, in all the glory of her fluffy
youthfulness, toyed carefully with the points of her Moorish collar.
"I was elected chaperon of the Midnight Fudge Club, and the girls
all said that I fooled Old Meow oftener than anybody!"

Thereafter there was no lull in the conversation; for Winnie, once
started on school reminiscences, filled all gaps to overflowing; and
Sammy Chirp, he of the feeble smile, whose diffidence had denied him
the gift of language, gazed on her in rapt and happy stupefaction.

Meanwhile, Johnny Gamble found himself gazing as raptly at Constance
until the chaperon, in a brief interlude between reminiscences,
caught him at it. She reached over and touched him on the back of
the hand with the tip of one soft pink finger. Immediately she held
that finger to her right eye and closed her left one, and Johnny
felt himself blushing like a school-boy.

There was a trace of resentment in his embarrassment, he found. The
strain of being compelled to make a million dollars, before he could
tell this only desirable young woman in the world that he loved her,
was beginning to oppress him. He wanted to tell her now; but it was
a task beyond him to ask her to forfeit her own fortune until he
could replace it by another. Times were hard, he reflected.

He was now twelve hours behind his schedule and possessed of sixty
thousand dollars less than he should have. At nine o'clock to-morrow
morning that deficit would begin to pile up again at the rate of
five thousand dollars an hour. By comparison their auto seemed slow,
and he spoke to the driver about it. How well Constance Joy was in
sympathy with him and followed his thought, was shown by the fact
that she heartily agreed with him, though they were already
exceeding the Brooklyn speed limit.

"I not only want to be the chaperon but the dictator of this tour,"
declared Winnie when they alighted at the big playground. "I've
never been here before, and I don't want anybody to tell me anything
I'm going to see."

"It's your party," announced Johnny promptly. "Let's be plumb vulgar
about it." And he thrust a big roll of bills into her hands.

"You're a darling!" she exclaimed, her eyes glistening with delight.
"May I kiss him, girls?"

"Ask Johnny," laughed Polly, but Johnny had disappeared behind the
others of the party.

It took Winnie five minutes to chase him down, and she caught him,
with the assistance of Constance, in the thickest crowd and in the
best-lighted space on Surf Avenue, where Constance held him while he
received his reward.

"It's a new game," Johnny confessed, though blushing furiously.
"I'll be 'it' any time you say."

"Once is enough," asserted Winnie, entirely unruffled. "Your face is
scratchy. Come on, you folks; I'm going to buy you a dinner." And,
leading the way into the first likely-looking place, she ordered a
comprehensive meal which started with pickles and finished with pie.

Her party was a huge success, for it laughed its way from one end of
Coney to the other. It rode on wooden horses; on wobbling camels; in
whirling tubs; on iron-billowed oceans; down trestled mountains;
through painted caves--on everything which had rollers, or runners,
or supporting arms. It withstood shocks and bumps and dislocations
and dizziness--and it ran squarely into Heinrich Schnitt!

Three tables, placed end to end at the rail of a Shoot-the-Chutes
lake, were required to accommodate Heinrich Schnitt's party. First,
there was Heinrich himself, white as wax and stoop-shouldered and
extremely clean. At the other end of the table sat Mama Schnitt, who
bulged, and always had butter on her thumb. To the right of Heinrich
sat Grossmutter Schnitt, in a black sateen dress, with her back
bowed like a new moon and her little old face withered like a dried
white rose.

Next sat young Heinrich Schnitt and his wife, Milly, who was very
fashionable and wore a lace shirt-waist--though she was not so
fashionable that she was ashamed of any of the rest of the party.

Between young Heinrich and Milly sat their little Henry and little
Rosa and little Milly and the baby, all stiffly starched and round-
faced and red-cheeked. Besides these were Carrie, whose husband was
dead; and Carrie's Louis; and Willie Schnitt with Flora Kraus, whom
he was to marry two years from last Easter; and Lulu, who was
pretty, and went with American boys in the face of broken-hearted
opposition.

In front of each member of the party--except the baby--was a glass
of beer and a "hot dog", and down the center of the long table were
three pasteboard shoe boxes, full of fine lunch, flanking Flora
Kraus' fancy basket of potato salad and fried chicken, as well
prepared as any those Schnitts could put up.

It was Constance who, walking quietly with Johnny, discovered
Heinrich Schnitt in the midst of his throng and casually remarked
it.

"There's the nice old German who cuts my coats," she observed.

"Schnitt!" exclaimed Johnny, so loudly that she was afraid Schnitt
might hear him. "Let me hear you talk to him."

She looked at him in perplexity for a moment.

"Oh, yes; the lease," she remembered. "I'll introduce you and you
can ask him about it."

"Don't mention it!" hastily objected Johnny. "You may introduce me,
but you do the talking."

"All right, boss," she laughingly agreed, and turned straight over
to the head of the Schnitts' table, where she introduced her
companion in due form.

"I want my walking suit," she demanded.

Heinrich's face had lighted with pleasure at the sight of Constance,
but there was a trace of sadness in his voice.

"You must tell Louis Ersten," he politely advised her.

"I did," protested Constance. "He's holding it back on account of
the coat, and that's your affair."

"It is Louis Ersten's," insisted Heinrich with dignity. "I have
retired from business."

"You don't mean to say you've left Ersten?" returned Constance in
surprise.

"I have retired from business," reiterated Heinrich.

"Ersten wouldn't give papa enough room," broke in Mama Schnitt
indignantly, "so he quits, and he don't go back till he does."

"So I don't ever go back," concluded Heinrich.

"Well, we got enough that papa don't have to work any more,"
asserted Mama Schnitt with proper pride and a glance at Flora Kraus;
"but he gets lonesome. That's why we make him come down to Coney to-
day and enjoy himself. He was with Louis Ersten thirty-seven years."

A wave of homesickness swept over Heinrich.

"I take it easy in my old days," he stoutly maintained, but with
such inward distress that, without a protest, he allowed the waiter
to remove his half-emptied glass of beer.

"I'm glad you can take it easy," declared Constance, "but Ersten's
customers will miss you very much--and I am sure Ersten will, too."

"We worked together thirty-seven years," said Schnitt wistfully.

"I'm sure it's only obstinacy," commented Constance when she and
Johnny had rejoined their party. "Why, Mr. Schnitt and Mr. Ersten
have grown up together in the business, and they seemed more like
brothers than anything else. I'd give anything to bring them
together again!"

"I'll ask you for it some time," asserted Johnny confidently.

He caught a flash of challenge in her eyes and realized that he was
moving faster than his schedule would permit,

"I'm going to bring them together, you know," he assured her in
confusion.

"I do hope so," she demurely replied.

"We're wasting an awful lot of time!" called Winnie. "The Canals of
Venice! We haven't been in this." And she promptly bought six
tickets.

In the bustle of taking boats an officious guard succeeded, for the
thousandth time that day, in the joyful duty of separating a party;
and Constance and Johnny were left behind to enjoy the next boat all
to themselves.

It was dim and cool in there--all narrow gravity canals, and quaint
canvas buildings, and queer arches, and mellow lights, with little
dark curves and long winding reaches, and a restfulness almost like
solemnity.

It was the first time Johnny had been in such close companionship
with Constance as this strange isolation gave them, and he did not
know what to say. After all, what was the use of saying? They were
there, side by side, upon the gently flowing water, far, far away
from all the world; and it would seem almost rude to break that
bliss with language, which so often fails to interpret thought.

Constance's hand was drooping idly across her knee and, by an
uncontrollable impulse, Johnny's hand, all by itself, slid over and
gently clasped the whiter and slenderer one. It did not draw away;
and, huddled up on their low narrow seat, bumping against the wooden
banks and floating on and on, they cared not whither, they stared
into oblivion in that semi-trancelike condition that sometimes
accompanies the peculiar state in which they found themselves.

"Oh-ho-o-o-o!" rang the clear voice of Winnie from a parallel canal
just behind them.

Constance, flushing violently, attempted to jerk her hand away; but
Johnny, animated by a sudden aggressiveness, clasped it tightly and
held it--captive--up to view.

At that interesting moment another sharp turn in the canal brought
them face to face with an approaching boat in which were Paul
Gresham and Jim Collaton!

"I said it was a girl," charged Collaton, studying the green pallor
of Gresham's face with wondering interest as they stepped out into
the glare of the million electric bulbs.

"That is not a topic for you to discuss," returned Gresham, looking
up the brilliantly lighted board walk around the bend of which
Johnny Gamble, with Constance on one arm and Winnie on the other,
was gaily following Polly, that young lady being escorted by the
attentive Loring and the submissive Sammy.

"That's what you said before," retorted Collaton, his eyebrows and
lashes even more invisible in this illumination than in broad day-
light. "It's time, though, for a showdown. You drag me into dark
corners and talk over schemes to throw the hooks into Johnny Gamble-
-and I tell you I'm afraid of him!"

"You're mistaken," asserted Gresham dryly. "It was I who told you
that you were afraid of him."

"I admitted it all right," sulkily answered Collaton. "He's awake
now, I tell you; and he's not a safe man to fool with. He turned our
last trick against us, and that's enough hint for me."

"Your trick, you mean," corrected Gresham.

"Our trick, I said!" insisted Collaton, suddenly angry. "Look here,
Gresham, I won't stand any monkey business from you! If there's ever
any trouble comes out of this you'll get your share of it, and don't
you forget it! You've had me lay attachments against the Gamble-
Collaton Irrigation Company on forged notes. Since I had nothing,
Johnny paid them, because he was square. The last attachment,
though--for fifty thousand--he held off until I got that Slosher
Apartment scheme in my own name, and turned it against me; and you
had to pay it, because you had stood good for me."

"What difference does that make to you?" demanded Gresham. "It was
my own money and I got it back."

"It makes just this much difference," explained Collaton: "Gamble
and Loring are busy tracing all these transactions; and when they
find out anything it will be fastened on me, for you never figure in
the deals. You even try to avoid acknowledging to me that you have
anything to do with them."

"You get all the money," Gresham reminded him.

"That's why I know you're framing it up to let me wear the iron
bracelets if anything comes off. Now you play square with me or I'll
hand you a jolt that you won't forget! There's a girl responsible
for your crazy desire to put my old partner on the toboggan--and
that was the girl. You see I happen to know all about it."

Gresham considered the matter in silence for some time, and Collaton
let him think without interruption. They sat down now at one of the
little tables and Collaton curtly ordered some drinks.

"It's al very simple matter," Gresham finally stated. "My father was
to have married Miss Joy's aunt but did not. When the aunt came to
die she left Miss Joy a million dollars, but coupled with it the
provision that she must marry me. That's all."

"It's enough," laughed Collaton. "I understand now why Johnny Gamble
wants to make a million dollars. As soon as he gets it he'll propose
to Miss Joy, she'll accept him and let the million slide. Who gets
it?"

"Charity."

"Why, Gresham, I'm ashamed of you!" Collaton mocked. "The descendant
of a noble English house is making as sordid an affair of this as if
he were a cheese dealer! I have the gift of second sight and I can
tell you just what's going to happen. Johnny Gamble will make his
million dollars--and I'm for him. He'll marry Miss Joy--and I'm for
her. That other million will go to charity--and I'm for it. I hope
they all win!"

"You're foolish," returned Gresham, holding his temper through the
superiority which had always nettled Collaton. "You like money and
I'm showing you a way to get it from Johnny Gamble."

The waiter brought the drinks. Collaton paid for them, tossed off
his own and rose.

"I've had all of that money I want," he declared. "Whatever schemes
you have in the future you will have to work yourself, and whatever
trouble comes of it you may also enjoy alone--because I'll throw
you."

"You would find difficulty in doing that," Gresham observed with a
smile. "I fancy that, if I were to send the missing books of the
defunct Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company to Mr. Gamble, you would
be too busy explaining things on your account to bother with my
affairs to any extent."

"I was in jail once," Collaton told him with. quiet intensity. "If I
ever go again the man who puts me there will have to go along, so
that I will know where to find him when I get out. Good-by."

"Wait a minute," said Gresham. "Your digestion is bad or else you
made a recent winning in your favorite bucket-shop. Now listen to
me: Whatever Johnny Gamble's doing at the present time is of no
consequence. Let him go through with the deal he has on and think he
has scared you off. I'll only ask you to make one more attempt
against him. That's all that will be necessary, for it will break
him and at the same time destroy Miss Joy's confidence in him. He
has over a third of a million dollars. We can get it all."

"Excuse me," refused Collaton. "If I ran across Johnny Gamble's
pocket-book in a dark alley I'd walk square around it without
stopping to look for the string to it."

Gresham rose.

"Then you won't take any part in the enterprise?"

"Not any," Collaton assured him with a wave of negation. "If Johnny
will let me alone I'll let him alone, and be glad of the chance."

Later, Gresham saw Johnny come back and speak to Heinrich Schnitt;
but he had no curiosity about it. Whatever affairs Johnny had in
hand just now he might carry through unmolested, for Gresham was
busy with larger plans for his future undoing.

CHAPTER XVI

IN WHICH JOHNNY PLANS A REHEARSAL BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS

Johnny Gamble was waiting at the store when Louis Ersten came down
the next morning. Mr. Ersten walked in with a portentous frown on
his brow and began to take off his coat as he strode back toward the
cutting room. He frowned still more deeply as Johnny confronted him.

"Again!" he exclaimed, looking about him in angry despair as if he
had some wild idea of calling a porter. "First it's Lofty; then it's
some slick real estate schemer; then it's you! I will not sell the
lease!"

"I won't say lease this time," Johnny hastily assured him.

"Then that is good," gruffly assented Ersten with a trace of a
sarcastic snarl.

"Heinrich Schnitt," remarked Johnny.

That name was an open sesame. Louis Ersten stopped immediately with
his coat half-off.

"So-o-o!" he ejaculated, surprised into a German exclamation that he
had long since deliberately laid aside. "What is it about Heinrich?"

"I saw him at Coney Island last night. He doesn't look well."

"He don't work. It makes him sick!" Ersten's voice was as gruff as
ever; but Johnny, watching narrowly, saw that he was concerned,
nevertheless.

"His eyes are bad," went on Johnny, "but I think he would like to
come back to work."

"Did he say it?" asked Ersten with a haste which betrayed the
eagerness he did not want to show.

"Not exactly," admitted Johnny, "but if he knew that he could have a
workroom where there is a better light I know he would like to come.
His eyes are bad, you know."

"I said it makes him sick not to work," insisted Ersten. "If he
wants to come he knows the way."

"His job's waiting for him, isn't it?"

"In this place, yes. In no other place. I don't move my shop to
please my coat cutter--even if he is the best in New York and a boy
that come over from the old country with me in the same ship, and
his word as good as gold money. It's like I told Heinrich when he
left: If he comes back to me he comes back here--in this place. Are
his eyes very bad?"

"Not very," judged Johnny. "He must take care of them though."

"Sure he must," agreed Ersten. "We're getting old. Thirty-seven
years we worked together. I stood up for Heinrich at his wedding and
he stood up for me at mine. He's a stubborn assel!"

"That's the trouble," mused Johnny, "He said he wouldn't work in
this shop any more."

"Here must he come--in this place!" reiterated Ersten, instantly
stern; and he walked sturdily away, removing his coat.

Johnny found Heinrich Schnitt weeding onions, picking out each weed
with minute care and petting the tender young bulbs through their
covering of soft earth as he went along. Mama Schnitt, divided into
two bulges by an apron-string and wearing a man's broad-brimmed
straw hat, stood placidly at the end of the row for company.

"Good morning, Mr. Schnitt," said Johnny cheerfully. "I have just
come from Ersten's. He wants you to come back."

"Did he say it?" asked Heinrich with no disguise of his eagerness.

"Not exactly," admitted Johnny, "but he said that you are the best
coat cutter in New York and that your job's waiting for you."

"I know it," asserted Heinrich. "Is he going to move?"

"Not just yet," was the diplomatic return. "He will after you go
back to work, I think."

"I never work in that place again," announced the old man with a
sigh. "I said it."

"That shop isn't light enough, is it?" suggested the messenger.

"There is no light and no room," agreed Heinrich.

"Your eyes began to give out on you, didn't they?"

Heinrich straightened himself and his waxen-white face turned a
delicate pink with indignation.

"My eyes are like a young man's yet!" he stoutly maintained.

"You don't read much any more," charged Mama Schnitt.

"My glasses don't fit," he retorted to that.

"You changed them last winter," she insisted. "Now, papa, don't be
foolish! You know your eyes got bad in Louis Ersten's dark workroom.
You never tell lies. Say it!"

Heinrich struggled for a moment between his pride and his honesty.

"Well, maybe they ain't just so good as they was," he admitted.

"That's what I told Ersten," stated Johnny. "He's worried stiff
about it! I think he'll move so you have a lighter workroom if you
go back."

"When he moves I come."

"He won't move till you do."

"Then there is nothing," concluded Schnitt resignedly, and stooped
over to pull another weed. "Mama, maybe Mr. Gamble likes some of
that wine Carrie's husband made the year he died."

"Ja voll," assented Mamma Schnitt heartily, and toddled away to get
it.

"I'll fix it for you," offered Johnny. "You go to Ersten and say you
will come back; then Ersten will get a new place before you start to
work."

Heinrich straightened up with alacrity this time, his face fairly
shining with pleasure.

"I do that much," he agreed.

"Good!" approved Johnny. "You want to be careful what you say,
though, for Ersten is stubborn."

"He is stubborn like a mule," Schnitt pointed out with sober
gravity.

"You must say you have come back to work in that place."

"I'll never do it!" indignantly declared Heinrich, his face
lengthening.

"Certainly not," agreed Johnny hurriedly. "You tell him you want a
month to rest up your eyes."

"I don't need it!" protested Heinrich.

"You only say that so you won't have to work in that shop, but,
never mind, I'll fix it so he offers it," patiently explained
Johnny, and proceeded to make it perfectly plain. "You say that you
have come back to work. Don't say another word."

"I have come back to work," repeated Schnitt.

"Then Ersten will ask you: 'In this place?' You say: 'Yes.'"

Heinrich began to shake his head vigorously, but Johnny gave him no
chance to refuse.

"You say: 'Yes'!" he emphatically insisted. "Ersten will tell you to
take a month off to rest your eyes."

Again Heinrich started to shake his head, and again Johnny hurried
on.

"You say: 'Thank you'," he directed; "then you go away. Before your
month is up, Ersten will send for you in a new shop!"

"Will he promise it?"

"No," confessed Johnny. "I promised it but Ersten will do it."

Heinrich pondered the matter long and soberly.

"All right; I try it," he agreed.

"Three cheers!" said Johnny with a huge sigh of relief. "I'll be
back after you in about an hour." And he reluctantly paused long
enough to drink some of the wine which Carrie's husband helped to
make. It was probably good wine.

Ersten was in the cutting room when Johnny again arrived at the
store, and a clerk took his name up very dubiously. The clerk
returned, smiling with extreme graciousness, and informed the caller
that he was to walk straight back. Johnny found Ersten in spectacles
and apron, with a tape-line round his neck and a piece of chalk in
his hand, and wearing a very worried look, while all the workmen in
the room appeared subdued but highly nervous.

"Did you see him?" Ersten asked immediately.

"He is anxious to come back," Johnny was happy to state.

"When?" This very eagerly.

"To-day."

Ersten took his apron and the tape and threw them on a table with a
slam.

"I invite you to have a glass of Rheinthranen," he offered.

"Thanks," returned Johnny carelessly, not quite appreciating the
priceless honor. "I'll have Mr. Schnitt here in an hour, but you
must be careful what you say to him. He is stubborn."

"Sure, I know it," impetuously agreed Ersten. "He is an old assel.
What is to be said?" Johnny could feel the nervous tension of the
room lighten as Ersten walked out with him.

"It will be like this," Johnny explained: "Schnitt will come in with
me and say: 'I have come back to work.'"

"In this place?" demanded Ersten.

"Ask him that. He will say: 'Yes.'"

"Will he?" cried Ersten, unable to believe his ears.

"That's what he will say--but he won't do it."

"What is it?" exploded the shocked Ersten. "You say he says he will
come back to work in this place, but he won't do it! That is
foolishness!"

"No, it isn't," insisted Johnny. "Now listen carefully. Schnitt
says: 'I have come back to work.' You say: 'In this place?' Schnitt
says: 'Yes.' Then you tell him that he must take a month to rest up
his eyes."

"But must I do his coat cutting for a month yet?" protested the
abused Ersten. "Nobody can do it in New York for my customers but
Heinrich Schnitt and me."

"It may not be a month. Just now he might take some of your more
important work home, where the light is better. That would be
working for you in this place."

"Well, maybe," admitted Ersten puffing out his cheeks in frowning
consideration.

Johnny held his breath as he approached the crucial observation.

"By the time his eyes are rested you may have a better shop for the
old man to work in."

Ersten fixed him with a burning glare.

"I see it!" he ejaculated. "You put this job up to make me sell my
lease!"

Johnny looked him in the eye with a frank smile.

"Of course I did," he confessed. "I didn't know either you or
Schnitt until yesterday."

Ersten knit his bristling brows, but presently grinned.

"You're a smart young man," he complimented. "But I don't promise
Schnitt I move."

"Certainly not," agreed the smart young man, and mopped his brow.
The fight was won! "Here is exactly what you must say"--and he went
patiently over the entire dialogue again, word by word.

Ersten listened carefully with frowns at some parts.

"Well, I try it," he dubiously promised.

They were in front of Schoppenvoll's now; and Johnny, noting
Ersten's fretfulness, proved himself a keen student of psychology by
suggesting: "I'm thirsty for that special drink of yours, Ersten;
but suppose we put it off till after I've brought Schnitt."

"Oh, well, if you say so," returned Ersten with poorly assumed
indifference.

"It's as fine as a frog's feather!" Johnny assured Heinrich Schnitt
half an hour later.

"Will he move?" asked Heinrich.

"Yes, but you mustn't say anything about it"

"Well, I like to know it," returned Heinrich with proper caution.

"I have his promise," asserted Johnny.

"Then he moves," declared Heinrich, fully satisfied.

The mediator conveyed Heinrich to Ersten's with much the same
feeling that he would have endured in carrying a full plate of soup-
-and he had that feeling all through the conference.

"Hello, Heinrich!" greeted Ersten with indifference.

"Hello, Louis!" returned Schnitt with equal nonchalance; then he
assumed a rigid pose and recited: "I have come back to work."

"In this place?" asked Ersten, with parrotlike perfection.

A lump came into Heinrich Schnitt's throat. He struggled with that
lump, but the simple word "Yes" would not come.

"I say yes; but I don't--"

Johnny jerked him violently by the sleeve.

"He said 'Yes'," he informed Ersten.

"Well, maybe," Ersten was decent enough to admit.

There was an uncomfortable pause in which the two men evinced a
slight disposition to glare at each other.

"Mr. Schnitt's eyes are bad," suggested Johnny hopefully.

"My eyes are like a young man's!" asserted Schnitt, his pride coming
uppermost.

"He needs a month to rest them," insisted the buffer, becoming a
trifle panic-stricken; and he tapped the sole of Ersten's shoe with
his foot.

"Must it take a month, Heinrich?" implored Ersten, taking the cue.

"Well, how soon you move?" inquired Schnitt.

"I don't promise I move!" flared Ersten.

"I never come back--"

"Till his eyes are better," hastily interrupted Johnny. "Look here,
you fellows! You're balling up this rehearsal! Now let's get
together. Schnitt, you'll come back to work in this place, won't
you?"

"Well, I say it anyhow," admitted Schnitt reluctantly.

"Ersten, you offer him a month to rest his eyes, don't you?"

"I don't promise him I move!" bristled Ersten.

"We understand that," soothed Johnny, "all of us. Schnitt, you'll
take some of Mr. Ersten's work home with you from this place, won't
you?"

"Sure, I do that," consented Schnitt eagerly. "Louis, what is in the
shop?"

Ersten had a struggle of his own.

"All what was in when you left," he bravely confessed. "That coat
for Mrs. Follison gives me trouble for a week!"

"She's got funny shoulders," commented Schnitt with professional
impersonality. "It's the left one. You cut it--Let me see it."

There was a sibilant sound as of many suppressed sighs of relief
when Heinrich walked into the cutting room, but no man grinned or
gave more than a curt nod of greeting--for the forbidding eye of
Louis Ersten glared fiercely upon them. He strode across to the
table held sacred to himself and spread down a piece of cloth,
bounded by many curves. Heinrich Schnitt gave it but one
comprehensive glance.

"Na, na, na!" he shrilly commented. "Here it is wrong!" And,
grabbing up a slice of chalk, he made a deft swoop toward the
material. Suddenly his arm stayed in mid air and he laid down the
chalk with a muscular effort. "I think I take this home," he firmly
announced.

"Heinrich, you come back after the work. Just now we go with Mr.
Gamble to Schoppenvoll's and have a glass of Rheinthranen!" Ersten
said.

"The Rheinthranen!" repeated Heinrich in awe; and for the first time
his eyes moistened. "Louis, we was always friends!" And they shook
hands.

Johnny Gamble, keen as he was, did not quite understand it; but,
nevertheless, he had penetration enough to stroll nonchalantly out
into the show-room, where Louis and Heinrich presently joined him,
chattering like a Kaffe-klatsch; and they all walked round to
Schoppenvoll's.

While Schnitt thanked Johnny for his interference until that modest
young man blushed, Ersten argued seriously in whispers with
Shoppenvoll to secure a bottle of the precious wine that only he and
Schoppenvoll and Kurzerhosen had a right to purchase. Johnny drank
his with dull wonder. It tasted just like Rhine wine!

While Heinrich Schnitt was back in the cutting room, carefully
selecting every coat in the shop to take home with him, Ersten drew
Johnny near the door.

"I fool him!" he announced with grinning cuteness. "I move right
away. You get my lease for the best price what that smart-Aleck
Lofty offered me. And another word: Whenever you want a favor you
come to me!"

Johnny walked into the Lofty establishment with the feeling of a
Napoleon. "How much will you give me for the Ersten lease?" he
suggested out of a clear sky.

Young Willis Lofty sighed in sympathy with his bank-account.

"Have you really secured it?" he asked.

"I'm the winner," Johnny cheerfully assured him.

"If it's too much I'll build that tunnel," warned Lofty.

"Make me an offer."

"A hundred and twenty-five thousand."

"Nothing doing," stated Johnny with a smile. "There's no use fussing
up our time though. I can tell you, to the cent, how much I must
have. At four o'clock to-day I shall be nineteen hours behind my
schedule, and I want a day for a fresh start, which makes it twenty-
six. At five thousand an hour, that makes a hundred and thirty
thousand dollars. I paid Ersten a hundred thousand. Grand total: two
hundred and thirty thousand."

"I don't understand your figures," protested Lofty.

"It's a private code," laughed the leaseholder, "but that's the
price."

"I won't pay it," threatened the young merchant.

"Build your tunnel then," returned Johnny--but pleasantly,
nevertheless. "Don't let's be nervous, Lofty. I might ask you a lot
more, but that's the exact amount the system I'm playing calls for.
I don't want any more and I won't take any less!"

Lofty studied his face contemplatively for a moment and rang for his
treasurer.

"How did you get Ersten?" he was curious to know; and Johnny told
him, to their mutual enjoyment.

At the nearest drug store Johnny called up Constance.

"Heinrich Schnitt is fixing your coat!" he announced.

"Danke!" she cried. "Did you get the lease?"

"Yes, and sold it to Lofty," he enthusiastically informed her. "The
schedule is paid up until four o'clock to-morrow afternoon."

"Oh!" she gasped. "Wait a minute." He held the telephone while she
consulted the score board and did some figuring. "That makes five
hundred thousand of your million! Just half!"

"I'm coming around to see that diagram," he hastily stated.

CHAPTER XVII

IN WHICH THE STRAW SAILOR HAT OF JOHNNY PLAYS AN EMBARRASSING ROLE

"My dear," observed Mr. Courtney as he and his wife approached the
jessamine summer-house," do you pick your week-end guests from a
city directory or do you draw the names from a hat?" Constance Joy,
sitting in the summer-house with Johnny Gamble, rose and laughed
lightly as a warning.

"My dear," retorted Mrs. Courtney very sweetly indeed and all
unheeding of the laugh, "I pick them by a better system than you
employ when you invite stag parties. You usually need to be
introduced to your guests. Just whom would you like to have me send
home?"

"Paul Gresham for one," replied Courtney bluntly, "and the entire
Wobbles tribe, with their friend Birchard, for some more."

"I could be perfectly happy without them myself, Ben," sighed his
wife, "but the Wobbles bachelors invite themselves whenever they
please, and Paul Gresham was asked on account of Constance."

Constance, in the summer-house, laughed again, although less happily
than before, and dropped her portfolio as loudly as possible, while
Johnny Gamble merely grinned.

"That's what I wondered about," persisted the grizzled financier, as
oblivious to the noises from within the jessamine bower as his wife
had been. "I should have thought that on Constance's account you
would have dropped Gresham."

"How absurd!" laughed Mrs. Courtney. "Why, she is to marry him!"

"I don't believe it!" indignantly denied Courtney. "She got him in a
will with a million dollars, and it isn't enough!"

Constance's foot, twitching nervously, rustled a dry leaf, and her
heart popped into her throat lest the noise should be heard. The
time had passed for wishing to be discovered.

Johnny Gamble had ceased to grin and was looking scared.

"Mr. Gresham is of a very old family," Mr. Courtney's wife reminded
him.

"Age is no recommendation for an egg," her husband kindly informed
her. "Gresham is second cousin to Lord Yawpingham, and if they had
any sense of shame they'd murder each other for the relationship."

"Oh, Ben, I'm sure you're harsh," protested the optimistic Mrs.
Courtney.

"I'm so charitable as to be almost weak," he insisted with a grin.
"Seriously; though, Lucy, Gresham's not square. He tried to destroy
Johnny Gamble's credit with me two or three weeks ago in a most
underhanded manner."

There was a moment of silence, during which the pair in the bower
gazed straight up at nothing.

"You seem to like Mr. Gamble," mused Mrs. Courtney. "Everybody does,
however. Where is he from?"

"Some little town up the state," returned Courtney indifferently.
"He's a fine young fellow, square as a die and a hustler! He's going
to marry Constance Joy."

Johnny Gamble, turning the color of a tomato, dropped his sailor
straw hat, and its edge hit the tiled floor with a noise like the
blow of an ax. Constance could have murdered him for it. They missed
a lot of conversation just about then.

Courtney and his wife rounded the corner of the bower and paused a
moment before turning into it.

"Really, Ben," defended Mrs. Courtney, returning to the criticism
that her husband by now wished he had not made, "except for the
epidemic of Wobbleses this would have been a delightful week-end
party: Constance, Polly, fluffy little Winnie, Mrs. Follison and our
own two girls; Mr. Loring, Val Russel, Bruce Townley, Sammy Chirp,
Mr. Gamble and Mr. Gresham. For your entertainment you'll have Mr.
Washer, Mr. Close and Colonel Bouncer, with whom you will play poker
from the time they reach here this afternoon until they go away
Monday morning."

"It was a good party!" agreed Courtney, "By the way, I owe my poker
guests to Johnny Gamble. He asked if they would be here, and seemed
to want them. He's a live member! Did I ever tell you how he helped
me skin old Mort Washer?" And, changing his mind about entering the
jessamine bower, Mr. Courtney, explaining with great glee the
skinning of his friend Mort Washer, took the other path and the two
strolled away without having seen or heard the luckless
eavesdroppers.

The miserable pair in the bower, exhibiting various shades of red,
looked steadfastly out into the blue, blue sky for some minutes in
stupefied silence. Johnny presently picked up his sailor straw hat
and surveyed the nick in its brim with ingenuous interest.

"I bought that hat in Baltimore," he inanely observed.

Constance suddenly rose and walked straight out of there--alone!

CHAPTER XVIII

IN WHICH THE ENTIRE WOBBLES FAMILY FOR ONCE GET TOGETHER

Mr. Eugene Wobbles, who tried to live down his American ancestry in
London clubs and was, consequently, more British than any
Englishman, came to Mr. Courtney lazily apologetic.

"I fancy I'm going to give you a lot of bother, my dear Courtney,"
he observed, lounging feebly against the porch rail.

"I prefer bother to almost anything," returned his host pleasantly;
"it gives me something to do."

"Rather clever that," laughed Eugene, swinging his monocle with one
hand and stroking his drooping yellow mustache with the other.
"Really I never thought of bother in that way before. Keeps one
bothered, I think you said," and he gazed out over the broad lawn
where the young people were noisily congregating, in pleasant
contemplation of Courtney's wonderful new philosophy.

"What is this particular bother?" gently suggested Courtney after a
pause.

"Oh, yes," responded Eugene, "we were discussing that, weren't we?
I've a rotten memory; but my oldest brother, Tommy, can't even
remember his middle initial. Pretty good that, don't you think;
Tommy is a perfect ass in every respect." And idly considering
Tommy's perfection as an ass, he turned and gazed down into the
ravine where Courtney had built some attractive little waterfalls
and cave paths. "About how deep should you say it was down there,
Courtney?"

"Three hundred and fifty feet," answered Courtney. "I think you were
speaking about a little bother."

"Oh, yes, so I was," agreed Eugene. "Very good of you to remind me
of it. You know, Courtney, Mr. Gamble--who wants to buy some land of
ours--has made the remarkable discovery that we're all here
together. First time in years, I assure you. No matter how necessary
it may be for us to hold a complete family council, one of my
brothers--most unreliable people in the world, I think--is always
missing."

"And when they're all together I suppose you are somewhere else,"
suggested Courtney.

That proposition was so unique that Eugene was forced to spend
profound thought on it.

"Curious, isn't it?" he finally admitted. "A chap becomes so in the
habit of thinking that he is himself always present, wherever he
happens to be, that it's no end starting to reflect that sometimes
he isn't."

"I see," said Courtney, grasping eagerly at the light. "You merely
happen to be all here at the same time, and you think it advisable
to hold a family business meeting because the accident may never
occur again. Sensible idea, Eugene. The east loggia off the second-
floor hall is just the place. Assemble there and I'll send you any
weapons you want."

"Perfectly stunning how you Americans grasp things!" commented
Eugene, agape with admiration. "But I say, old chap, that's a joke
about the weapons. Really, we shan't need them."

"You're quite right; I was joking," returned Courtney gravely. "I'll
go right up and have some chairs and tables put out on the loggia."

"I knew it would be a deuced lot of bother for you," regretted
Eugene apologetically. "It's a lot of face in us to ask it. So
crude, you know. By the way, should you say that this Mr. Gamble
chap was all sorts reliable?"

"Absolutely," Courtney emphatically assured him.

"Ow," returned Eugene reflectively. "And his solicitor fellow,
Loring?"

"Perfectly trustworthy."

"Ow," commented Eugene, and fell into a study so deep that Courtney
was able to escape without being missed.

In the library, where he went to ring for a servant, he found
Constance Joy looking gloomily out of a window, with a magazine
upside down in her hands. She immediately rose.

"Don't let me disturb you," begged Courtney as he rang the bell. "Do
you know where I can find Johnny Gamble?"

"I really couldn't say," replied Constance sweetly. "I left him out
in the gardens a few minutes ago." And she made for the door,
confident that she had not spoken with apparent haste, embarrassment
or coldness.

"Won't you please tell him that Joe Close and Morton Washer and
Colonel Bouncer are coming out on the next train?" requested
Courtney. "You're sure to see him by and by, I know."

"With pleasure," lied Constance miserably, and hurried to finish her
escape. At the door, however, she suddenly turned and came back,
walking nonchalantly but hastily out through the windows upon the
side porch. A second later Paul Gresham and Billy Wobbles, the
latter walking with temperamental knees, passed through the hall.

Courtney looked after Constance in perplexity, but, a servant
entering, he gave orders for the furnishing of the loggia and went
up to make sure of the arrangements. He found Johnny Gamble in moody
solitude, studying with deep intensity the braiding of his sailor
straw hat.

"Hello, Johnny!" hailed Courtney cordially. "I was just asking Miss
Joy about you."

Johnny looked at him with reproachful eyes. Courtney was to blame
for his present gloom.

"Thanks," he returned. "What did she say?"

"Not much," replied Courtney, smiling slyly. "She didn't know where
you were, but she's looking for you."

"Where is she?" asked Johnny, jumping up with alacrity.

"She just went out on the side porch of the library," announced
Courtney. "Her message is from me, however. Washer and Close and the
colonel are coming out this noon."

"Thanks," replied Johnny starting away. "Did I understand you to say
the side porch of the library?"

A thin-legged figure stopped in the door and twitched.

"Mornin'," it observed. "I knew Eugene's intellect was woozing
again. Always announcing some plan for us to bore each other, don't
you know, and never having it come off."

"This is the place and the hour, Reggie," declared Mr. Courtney. "If
you'll just stay here I'll send you out a brandy and soda and some
cigars."

"Thanks awfully, old man," returned Reggie, looking dubiously out at
the loggia. It was enticing enough, with its broad, cool, tiled
flooring and its vine-hung arches and its vistas of the tree-clad
hills across the ravine; but it was empty. "I think I'll return when
the rest of them are together.", And Reggie, stumbling against the
door-jamb on his way out, wandered away, choosing the right-hand
passage because his body had happened to lurch in that direction.

"Johnny, if you say anything I'll be peevish," protested Courtney in
advance. "Please remember that the gentleman is a guest of mine."

"I was grinning at something else," Johnny soothed him, still
grinning, however.

"I apologize," observed Courtney. "Do you think the Wobbles family
will hold their conclave if each of them waits until all the others
are together?"

"I hope so," replied Johnny. "I'll make some money if they do."

"How rude!" expostulated Courtney with a laugh. "Business at a week-
end house-party!"

"Business is right," confessed Johnny. "They admit that you run the
best private exchange in America out here."

Courtney, enjoying that remark, laughed heartily.

"I'm glad they give me credit," he acknowledged. "Well, help
yourself to all the facilities. Where are you going?"

"Library porch," answered Johnny promptly. "Excuse me, I'm in a
hurry."

Constance Joy was not on the library porch. Instead, Johnny found
there Polly Parsons and her adopted sister Winnie, Ashley Loring and
Sammy Chirp. This being almost a family party for Johnny, he had no
hesitation in asking bluntly for Constance.

"This is her morning for Wobbling," returned Polly disdainfully. "A
while ago she was dodging the perfectly careless compliments of old
Tommy and trying not to see that his toupee was on crooked; and now
she's down toward the ravine some place, watching young Cecil
stumble. You could make yourself a very solid Johnny by trotting
right down there and breaking up the party."

"I think I'd rather have a messenger for that," calculated Johnny.
"His brothers wish to see Cecil up in the east loggia."

"Sammy will go," offered Winnie confidently; whereat Sammy, smiling
affably, promptly rose.

"Go with him, Winnie," ordered Polly. "Trot on now, both of you. I
want to talk sense."

Quite cheerfully Winnie gave Sammy her fan, her parasol, her vanity
box, her novel, her box of chocolates and her hat, stuffed a
handkerchief in his pocket and said: "Come on, Sammy; I'm ready."

"Constance showed me that schedule last night, Johnny," rattled
Polly. "You ought to see it, Loring. On Wednesday, at four o'clock,
he was exactly even with it; five hundred thousand dollars to the
good."

"I know," laughed Loring, "and he'll beat his schedule if the
Wobbleses will only hold steady for ten minutes."

"You don't mean to say that a Wobbles could be useful!" protested
Polly.

"Half a million dollars' worth," Loring informed her; then he drew
his chair closer and lowered his voice. "It's a funny story, Polly.
Two weeks ago Johnny took Courtney and Close and Washer and Colonel
Bouncer up to the Bronx in my machine and arranged to sell them a
subdivision for three and a half million dollars."

"Help!" gasped Polly. "Burglar!"

"They'll double their money," asserted Johnny indignantly. "Fanciest
neglected opportunity within a gallon of gasolene from Forty-second
Street."

"Trouble is, Johnny didn't own it and doesn't yet," laughed Loring.
"He's been trying to buy it from the Wobbleses ever since he
arranged to sell it."

"He'll get it," decided Polly confidently.

"Will they agree when they get together?" Loring worried.
"Individually each one needs the money, and each one is satisfied
with Johnny's offer of three million cash."

"Don't say another word," ordered Polly. "I have to figure this out.
Why, Johnny, if you carry this through it will finish your million,
and this is only the thirteenth of May. That's going some! You
weren't supposed to have it till the thirty-first. Polly's proud of
you!"

"I don't think you get the joke of this yet, though, Polly," Loring
went on. "The Wobbleses don't know that Johnny had already arranged
to sell their land, and the subdivision company doesn't know that
the beautiful Bronx tract is the Wobbles estate. In the meantime
both parties are here, and I'm lurking behind the scenery with all
the necessary papers ready to sign, seal and deliver."

"Hush!" commanded Polly; "I'm getting excited. It sounds like the
finish of the third act. Oh, lookee! Who's the graceful party with
Gresham?"

Both Johnny and Loring glanced up at a tall, suave, easy-moving
gentleman, whose clothing fitted him like a matinee idol's, whose
closely trimmed beard would have served as a model for the nobility
anywhere, and whose smile was sickening sweet.

"Eugene Wobbles' friend, Birchard," stated Johnny, who kept himself
well posted on Wobbles affairs. "He's always either with Gresham or
a Wobbles, and he travels for a living, I believe." And Johnny
suddenly rose.

Coming from the direction of the ravine were Constance and Cecil,
Winnie and Sammy, and passing Gresham and Birchard with the nod of
compulsion Johnny walked carelessly on to meet the quartet.

"Good morning, Cecil," he observed. "Your brothers are about to hold
a meeting in the east loggia, and I think they're looking for you."

"No doubt," admitted Cecil wearily. "It's barely possible that one
or two of them are already believing that they will go up. Do you
know, I think I shall establish a record for family promptness, if I
may be excused. Most annoying to be torn away from such a jolly
talk, I'm sure." And receiving the full and free permission of the
company to depart he did so, changing his mind twice about whether
to go through the rose arbor or round by the sun-dial.

Johnny swung in by the side of Constance.

"Some one told me you had a message for me," he blundered.

"Who said so?" she was cruel enough to ask.

Johnny turned pink, but he was brave and replied with the truth.

"Mr. Courtney," he admitted.

"So I imagined," she answered icily. "Mr. Washer and Mr. Close and
Colonel Bouncer are to arrive on the noon train. You'll excuse me,
won't you, please?" And she hurried on to the house by herself to
dress for luncheon.

Johnny Gamble tried to say "Certainly", but he dropped his sailor
straw hat. Constance heard it and every muscle in her body jumped
and stiffened. Johnny turned to business as a disappointed lover
turns to drink.

There seemed a conspicuous dearth of Wobbleses on the east loggia
that morning. Loring, pathetically faithful to his post, entertained
them in relays as Johnny brought them up: sometimes one, sometimes
two, and once or twice as many as three of them at one time; but
they all lost their feeble mooring and drifted away.

Luncheon-time passed; Washer and Bouncer and Close and Courtney went
into executive session; two o'clock came, three o'clock, four
o'clock, and still no meeting. At the latter hour Johnny, making his
tireless rounds but afflicted with despair, located Billy Wobbles,
the one with the jerky eyelids and impulsive knees, on the loggia
with Loring; Eugene was in the poker room trying numbly to discover
the difference between a four-flush and a deuce-high hand; Tommy,
his toupee well down toward his scanty white eyebrows, was boring
the Courtney girls to the verge of tears; Cecil, stumbling almost
rhythmically over his own calves, was playing tennis with Winnie and
Sammy and Mrs. Follison; and Reggie, the twitcher, was entertaining
Val Russel and Bruce Townley with a story he had started at nine
o'clock in the morning.

Suddenly Johnny was visited with a long-sought inspiration and
hurried down to the kennels, remembering with much self-scorn that
he had dragged each of the Wobbleses away from there at least once.

The master of the dogs was Irish and young, with eyes the color of a
six-o'clock sky on a sunny day, and he greeted Johnny with a white-
toothed smile that would have melted honey.

"I locked Beauty up, sir," he said with a touch of his cap,
referring to the gentle collie that had poked its nose confidingly
into Johnny's hand at every visit. "There was too much excitement
for her with all the strangers round, but she'll be glad to see you,
sir."

"Give Beauty my card and tell her I'll be back," directed Johnny
with a friendly glance in the direction of Beauty's summer
residence. "Didn't you say something this morning about a crowd of
setter puppies?"

"Yes, sir," replied the dog expert proudly. "Several of the
gentlemen have been down to see them, but the day has been so hot I
didn't care to bring them out. It's cool enough now, sir, if you'd
like to see them."

"I'll be back, in five minutes," returned Johnny hastily. "I'll say
hello to Beauty first."

Beauty barked and capered when she was let out, and expressed her
entire approval of Johnny in fluent dog language, looking after him
reproachfully when he hurried away.

Johnny first begged a puppy of Courtney, then he brought Eugene
Wobbles and Tommy Wobbles and Billy and Cecil and Reggie Wobbles
down in turns to pick it out for him. Each of the Wobbleses was
still there, deciding, when he brought another. When the last
Wobbles, including their friend Birchard, was in the inclosure
Johnny locked the gate and sent Loring on a brisk errand. That
energetic commercial attorney returned in a very few minutes, laden
with some papers and writing materials, and followed by a servant
carrying a wicker table.

"Gentlemen," said Johnny in a quite oratorical tone of voice,
"suppose we talk business."

The assembled Wobbleses turned in gasping surprise from the violent
family dispute over the puppies.

"Upon my soul, this is a most extraordinary thing!" exclaimed
Eugene, looking about him in amazement. "Why, the whole blooming
family is here, even Tommy. I say, Tommy, it's perfectly imbecile,
with all due respect to you, to prefer that little beggar with the
white star."

"I'll back him for a hundred pounds before any official committee,"
indignantly quavered Tommy, feeling in all the wrong pockets for his
betting-book.

"Gentlemen," interposed Johnny most crudely indeed, "I am here to
repeat my offer of three million dollars, cash, for your Bronx
property; one-half million dollars to-day, one million dollars next
Saturday, May twentieth, and the remaining million and a half the
following Saturday, May twenty-seventh, title to remain vested in
you until the entire amount is paid. Just to show that I mean
business I have brought each of you a certified check for one
hundred thousand dollars." And he distributed them like diplomas to
a class.

Tommy Wobbles, startled to find his toupee on straight, examined his
check with much doubt. "I say, you know," he expostulated, "this
can't be quite regular!"

"Why not?" inquired Johnny.

"Well--er--it's so very precipitate," responded Tommy, putting the
check in his pocket and taking it out again and folding and
unfolding it with uncertain fingers. "No time for deliberation and
dignity and such rot, you know."

"An advance cash payment of half a million dollars is so full of
dignity that its shoes squeak," announced Johnny. "As to delay, I
don't see any reason for it. You want to sell the property, don't
you?"

Eugene said yes, and the others looked doubtful.

"You're satisfied with the price?" demanded Johnny.

Since Eugene kept silent the others answered that they were.

"You know that by my plan you are perfectly secured until you are
fully paid; so there's no reason why we shouldn't wind up the
business at once."

"Should you say that this was regular, Birchard?" asked Eugene,
toying with his check lovingly. He had just finished figuring that
it was worth something like twenty thousand pounds!

"Quite regular indeed," Mr. Birchard smilingly assured him.
"Typically American for its directness and decision, but fully as
good a business transaction in every way as could be consummated in
London."

"Ow, I say," protested Eugene, but he seemed perfectly satisfied,
nevertheless.

"As I understand it," went on Mr. Birchard, "Mr. Gamble's
proposition is very simple. You are to execute a contract of sale to
him to-day, acknowledging receipt of half a million dollars' advance
payment, and are at the same time to execute a clear deed that will
be placed in the hands of your agent until Mr. Gamble completes his
payments. The deed will then be delivered to him and properly
recorded. Is this correct, Mr. Gamble?"

"I couldn't say it so well, but that's what I mean," replied Johnny.

"Then, gentlemen," continued Birchard, "I should advise you to sign
the papers at once and have the matter off your minds."

Loring had everything ready, but it was Johnny who really conducted
the meeting and manipulated the slow-moving Wobbleses so that they
concluded the business with small waste of time.

When it was finished Johnny thanked them with intense relief. The
Wobbles property was his, and he knew exactly where to sell it at a
half-million dollars' profit. His tremendous race for a million was
to be won, with a day or so of margin. There were a few technical
matters to look after, but in reality the prize was his. He could go
to Constance Joy now with a clear conscience and the ability to
offer her a fortune equal to the one she would have to relinquish if
she married him.

"By the way," said Johnny in parting, "who is your agent?"

"Why, I rather fancy it will be Mr. Birchard," replied Eugene. "Of
course nothing is decided as yet, since there are five of us and
four stubborn; but I rather fancy it will be Birchard. Eh, old
chap?"

"I trust so," responded Birchard with a pleasant smile at Johnny.

CHAPTER XIX

IN WHICH THE COLONEL, MESSRS. COURTNEY, WASHER AND OTHERS SIT IN A
LITTLE GAME

Morton Washer, having acquired a substantial jack-pot with the aid
of four hearts and little casino, boastfully displayed the winning
hand.

"Sometime, when you fellows grow up," he kindly offered, "I'll sit
down to a real game of poker with you."

Courtney, keeping the bank, dived ruefully into the box for his
fourth stack of chips.

"There's one thing I must say about Mort," he dryly observed: "he's
cheerful when he wins."

"He can brag harder and louder than any man I ever heard," admitted
iron-faced Joe Close.

Colonel Bouncer, puffing out his red cheeks and snarling
affectionately at his friend Washer, corroborated that statement
emphatically.

"He's bragged ever since he was a boy," he stated.

"I always had something to brag about, didn't I?" demanded Washer,
his intemperate little pompadour bristling, and his waxed mustache
as waspish as if he were really provoked.

"I don't know," objected the solemn-faced Courtney. "I stung you for
half a million on that hotel transaction. Give me an ace, Joe."

"Never!" snapped Morton Washer, picking up his cards as they fell.
"It was Johnny Gamble did that. I open this pot right under the guns
for the size of it and an extra sky-blue for luck. None of you old
spavins was ever able to get me single-handed. A young fellow like
Johnny Gamble--that's different. It's his turn. You fellows are all
afraid of my threes."

"The others might be, so I'll just help them stay out," stated
Courtney kindly as he doubled Washer's bet. "By the way, speaking of
Johnny Gamble, he was very anxious to get you fellows out here to-
day. Now I want to give you some solemn advice, Colonel; you'd
better keep away from this pot."

"Bless my soul, I have a rotten hand!" confessed Colonel Bouncer,
puffing his cheeks. "But you old bluffers can't drive me out of any
place; so I'll trail." And he measured up to Courtney's stack.
"What's Gamble's scheme, Ben?"

"I'll have to let Johnny tell you that himself," responded Courtney
as Johnny entered. "Coming into this scramble, Joe?"

"I'm a cautious man," hesitated Close, inspecting the faces of his
companions with calm interest. "I don't think you or Mort have
second cousins among your pasteboards, but the colonel is concealing
his feelings too carefully." And he threw down his cards.

"You're most unprofessional to say so," growled the colonel. "I
suppose you won't see that raise, Mort?"

"I'm not much interested," returned Washer indifferently, "so I'll
just tilt it another stack." And he did so with beautiful
carelessness. "On general principles I'm very favorable to any
enterprise Johnny Gamble offers. Isn't that so, Johnny?"

"I hope so," replied Johnny with a laugh as he approached the table
and, with perfectly blank eyes, looked down at the hand which Washer
conspicuously held up to him.

Courtney cast only a fleeting glance at Johnny, whose face it would
be impolite to read--also impossible--and concentrated his attention
upon his old friend, Washer.

"You infernal scoundrel, I believe you have them," he decided as
Washer folded his cards into the palm of his hand again.

Courtney turned for a careful inspection of the colonel. That
gentleman, daintily picking a fleck of dust from his cuff, looked
unconcernedly off into the sky, whistling softly, and Courtney,
pushing his hand into the discard, lighted a cigar, while the
colonel met Washer's raise and added a tantalizing white chip.

It was now Washer's turn for consideration, and he studied his only
remaining opponent with much interest.

"Give me one card, Joe; mostly kings," he requested as he pushed in
his one white chip. "What's your scheme, Johnny?" And he looked up,
quite indifferent to the card he was tossing away. He picked up the
one Close carefully dealt him and, without looking at it, slid it in
among the other four.

"I'm ready to close with you for that Bronx subdivision," responded
Johnny, acutely watching Colonel Bouncer as that gentleman asked for
one card, received it and studied its countenance with polite
admiration. "It's the proposition I've previously explained to all
of you, but had to lay aside because I couldn't nail down the
property."

"I suppose you have it now," observed Morton, pushing forward with
gentle little shoves of his middle finger a very tall stack of chips
arranged in three distinct and equal red, white and blue layers. He
had not yet looked at his fifth card, and at Colonel Bouncer he
directed but a brief and passing glance. Did he care what the
colonel held?

"I have the Wobbles estate in my pocket," replied Johnny, still
watching the colonel absorbedly. "I must get you together Monday if
possible."

"Wobbles!" exploded Courtney. "Did you buy that Bronx property at my
party from my guests to sell to us?"

"I did," confessed Johnny with a grin. "This is a lovely party."

The poker game suspended itself for a minute, while all four of the
gentlemen looked at him in contemplative admiration.

"He's a credit to the place," observed Joe Close. "Here's where the
Texas land grab was arranged, and the wool trust formed, and the
joker inserted into the rebate bill."

"Nevertheless, if Johnny Gamble sits in this game I'll cash in my
chips and quit," declared Morton Washer.

"He's good enough company for me," blustered Colonel Bouncer,
scrutinizing his cards one by one.

"I suppose so," agreed Washer with a smile at Johnny, "but he's so
full of young tricks and we're outclassed. What's that property
going to cost us?"

"Three and a half million," stated Johnny quietly.

Colonel Bouncer, having now made up his mind, deliberately and with
nice care measured up blue chips and red chips and white chips
matching Washer's, and added to them all the blue ones he had in his
possession.

"Taking any stock yourself, Johnny?" he softly asked.

"Can't afford it," confessed Johnny with a smile.

"The property's quite worth three and a half million," announced
Courtney decisively, watching the face of Morton Washer as that calm
player stared at the colonel's chips. "I'm willing to take a million
of the stock."

"I'll take a million; more if need be," offered Washer. "I've been
wanting in on that for some time. Colonel, what have you got?"

"Five cards," replied the colonel.

"You have threes," charged Washer.

"I'm conducting my business through an agent," laughed Bouncer.
"There it is," and he indicated the stack of blue chips.

"You have threes," insisted Washer. "The reason I'm so particular is
that I have threes myself, and I want to know which are the better."

"There is one clever way to find out," bantered the colonel
confidently. "You have a lot of chips. Why are you so stingy with
them?"

"That's the way I got them," countered Washer. "I'll donate though.
I'll do better than that: I'll tap you."

The colonel promptly counted his remaining red and white chips.
Washer as promptly measured up to them and to the blues.

"Told you the truth!" he exulted. "I said I had threes, and here
they are! Three tens and a king and another ten!" And he gleefully
spread down his cards. "I caught the pink one."

"Had mine all the time!" triumphed Colonel Bouncer, throwing down
his hand and putting both big arms round the pot. "Four elevens!"
And chuckling near to the apoplexy line he scraped the chips home,
while Washer inspected his excellent collection of jacks. "Now brag,
you old bluffer!" And, still chuckling, he began sorting the chips
into patriotic piles.

"Enjoy yourselves," granted Washer, concealing his intense chagrin
with as nonchalant an air as possible. "I give you my word those
chips are only loaned. Go on and laugh! You fellows make a lot of
fuss over a cheap little jack-pot. Johnny, must you see us Monday?"

"Can't delay it," replied Johnny, checking his own laughter for the
purpose. "I've paid five hundred thousand of the purchase price.
Another million must be paid in one week and the balance in two
weeks."

"That's pretty rapid work," remarked Close, with a frown, beginning
swiftly to figure interest.

"The Wobbleses are in a hurry to sail. I've looked into the title.
It's clear as a whistle. Can't we arrange a meeting at my office?"

They settled on a meeting at three-forty-five on Monday while Morton
Washer dealt.

"Bless my heart, Mort Washer, that's the fourth time you've turned
my first card and it's always a deuce!" complained the colonel. "If
you do it again I shall be compelled to give you an old-time,
school-day licking."

"You can't do it and you never saw the day you could," bristled
Washer, brandishing a bony little fist before the colonel's big
face.

"There's one more question I'd like to ask," Johnny interposed on
this violent quarrel. "Will it be necessary for me to offer any
stock outside this group?"

"I can't swing but a quarter of a million to save me; possibly only
two hundred thousand," regretted Bouncer.

"If you'd like to carry a little more I'll let you have the money,
Colonel," offered his bitter enemy of the bony fist.

"Thanks, Mort," returned the colonel gratefully. "However, it is not
necessary to display the fact to the entire gathering that I now
have a pair of those deuces."

Washer quickly reached over, snatched the colonel's cards, replaced
them with his own and went on dealing.

"I think we can handle it all among us, Johnny," figured Courtney.

Shortly afterward, Loring, in high glee, separated Polly from a
hilarious game of drop-the-handkerchief.

"Well, Polly, it's all over!" he exulted. "Johnny has been in to see
his financial backers. He has bought the Wobbles property and he has
made his million dollars."

"If Mr. Courtney hasn't any fireworks he must telephone for some
right away," declared Polly in delight, and suddenly her eyes
moistened. "I'm as dippy about Johnny as his own mother!" she added.

"And in just the same way," returned Loring, secretly glad to
recognize that fact. "When you can spare a little time for it,
Polly, you might become dippy about me."

"I am," she acknowledged, putting her hand upon his arm
affectionately.

"But you don't want to marry me," protested Loring, a trace of pain
contracting his brows. "I need you, Polly!"

"Please don't, Ashley," she begged. "It's a for-sure fact that I'm
never going to forget poor Billy. Don't let that stop us being pals,
though, please!"

"Certainly not," agreed Loring, with as much cheerfulness as she
could have wished, and burying deeply for the last time the hope
that he had cherished.

"Look here, Loring," charged Val Russel, striding over with Mrs.
Follison; "you'll kindly come into this game or give us back our
Polly."

"You'll have to do without your Polly for a minute, children,"
insisted that young woman. "She is to be the bearer of glad
tidings," and giving her eyes another dab she hurried away to the
house.

She found Constance alone in the library, instructing herself with
an article on mushroom culture.

"I can read your palm without looking at it, pretty lady," bubbled
Polly. "A large blond gentleman with handsome blue eyes and a
million dollars in his pocket is about to offer you a proposal of
marriage."

Constance, suppressing a rising resentment, turned the leaf of her
mushroom article. The next page began a startling political series,
which demanded of the public in violent headlines: "Who Spends Your
Money?" but Constance perused it carefully without noticing the
difference.

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