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

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"I've had my palm read before," she presently observed.

"You don't seem to be alive to the shock I'm giving you," protested
Polly. "Really, girlie, I have some big news for you. Johnny Gamble
has finished the making of his million!"

"I wish that word million had never been invented!" suddenly flared
Constance. "I'm tired of hearing it. The very thought of it makes me
ill." How did Polly come to know it first?

"I wouldn't care what they'd call it if it would only buy as much,"
returned Polly, still good-naturedly. "And when a regular man like
Johnny Gamble hustles out and gets one, just so he can ask to marry
you, you ought to give a perfectly vulgar exhibition of joy!"

"You have put it very nicely," responded Constance. "If it would
only buy as much! Do you know that my name is seldom mentioned
except in connection with a million dollars? I must either marry one
man or lose a million, or marry another who has made a million for
that purpose."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" charged Polly. She glared at
Constance a moment, bursting with more indignant things to say; but
there were so many of them that they choked her in their attempted
egress, and she swished angrily back to the lawn party, exploding
most of the way.

At just this inopportune moment Johnny Gamble found his way into the
peaceful library.

"Well, it's across!" he joyously confided, forgetting in his
happiness the rebuffs of the day. "I have that million!" and he
approached her with such an evident determination of making an
exuberant proposal then and there that Constance could have
shrieked. "I congratulate you," she informed him as she hastily
rose. "You deserve it, I am sure. Kindly excuse me, won't you?" and
she sailed out of the room.

Johnny, feeling all awkward joints like a calf, dropped his sailor
straw hat, and Constance heard it rolling after her. With an effort
she kept herself from running, knowing full well that if that hat
touched her skirt she would drop!

Johnny looked at the hat in dumb reproach, but when he left the room
he walked widely round it. He dared not touch it.

"Ow, I say, Mr. Gamble," drawled Eugene, passing him in the doorway,
"we've picked out the puppy."

While Johnny was still smarting from the burden of that information
and wondering what spot of the globe would be most endurable at the
present moment, Courtney came through the hall on some hostly
errand.

"Say, Johnny," he blundered in an excess of well-meaning, "why don't
you rest from business for a minute? Why aren't you out among some
of these shady paths with Constance Joy? You've cinched your
million, now go get the girl."

This was too much for the tortured Johnny, and the smoldering agony
within him burst into flame.

"Look here, Courtney!" he declared with a vehemence which really
seemed quite unnecessary, "I'm going to marry Constance Joy whether
she likes it or not!"

A flash of white at the head of the stairs caught Johnny's eye. It
was Constance! There was no hope that she had not heard!

"What's the matter?" asked Courtney, startled by the remarkable
change in his countenance.

"I've got the stomach ache!" groaned Johnny with clumsy evasion,
though possibly he was truthful after all.

"You must have some whisky," insisted Courtney, instantly concerned.

A servant came out of the library.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he remarked, "but I believe this must be
your hat, Mr. Gamble."

Johnny broke one of his most rigid rules. He said: "Damn!"

CHAPTER XX

IN WHICH JOHNNY ASKS HIMSELF WHAT IS A MILLION DOLLARS, ANYWAY

Johnny Gamble in the following days was, as Loring put it, a scene
of intense activity. It was part of his contract with the
improvement company that he put their subdivision plans under way;
and he planted himself in the center of the new offices while things
circled round him at high speed. His persistent use of the fast-gear
clutch came from the fact that he would not bind himself to work for
them more than two weeks.

"They're handing me a shameful salary for it," he confided to
Loring, "and I'm glad to get it because it pays up all my personal
expenses during my forty-days' stunt and leaves me my million
clear."

"Well," began Loring with a smile, "your million won't be"--he
suddenly checked himself and then went on--"won't be a nice pretty
sum of money unless it ends in the six round ciphers."

He had been about to tell Johnny that he owed fifteen thousand
dollars to Constance Joy. Loring reflected, however, that this could
be paid just as well after it was all over; that, if he told about
it now, Johnny would drop everything to make that extra fifteen
thousand; that, moreover, Constance had not yet given him permission
to mention the matter; and, besides, there seemed to be a present
coolness between Constance and Johnny which nobody understood. On
the whole, it was better to keep his mouth shut; and he did it.

"It's rather a nice-sounding word,--million," he added by way of
concealing his hesitation.

"I don't know," returned Johnny, full of his perplexity about
Constance. "I'm tired of hearing the word. Sometimes it makes me
sick to think of it."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" reproached Loring with a
laugh.

"All right," agreed Johnny accommodatingly. "I'm used to that
anyhow. For one thing, I'm ashamed of being such a sucker. That old
partner of mine not only stung me for every cent I could scrape
together for two years, but actually had the nerve to try to sell
the big tract of land we irrigated with money."

"To sell it!" exclaimed Loring in surprise.

"That's all," returned Johnny. "He went to the Western Developing
Company with it two months ago and had them so worked up that they
looked into the title. They even sent a man out there to
investigate."

"Flivver, I suppose?" guessed Loring.

"Rank," corroborated Johnny. "Washburn, of the Western Developing,
was telling me about it yesterday. He said his man took one look at
the land and came back offering to go six blocks out of his way on a
busy Monday to see Collaton hung."

"We'd get up a party," commented Loring dryly, and Johnny hurried
away to the offices of his Bronx concern.

He was a very unhappy Johnny these days and had but little joy in
his million. If Constance did not care for it, nor for him, the fun
was all gone out of everything. Work was his only relief, and he
worked like an engine.

On one day, however, he was careful to do no labor, and that day was
Friday, May nineteenth; Constance's birthday, and he had long
planned to make that a gala occasion.

On the evening preceding he called at the house, but Aunt Pattie
Boyden, who was more than anxious to have Constance marry the second
cousin of Lord Yawpingham, told him with poorly concealed
satisfaction that Constance was too ill to see him. He imagined that
he knew what that meant, nevertheless, on the following morning he
sent Constance a tremendous bouquet and went down into the midst of
the crowds at Coney Island, where of all places in the world he
could be most alone and most gloomy.

"What's a million dollars anyway?" he asked himself.

At ten o'clock on Saturday morning Mr. Birchard came into the Bronx
office with much smiling, presented his credentials duly signed by
each of the five Wobbles brothers, received a check for a million
dollars made out, by the written instructions of the brothers, to
Frederick W. Birchard, Agent, and departed still smiling.

"One step nearer," observed Johnny to Loring an hour or so later.
"Next Saturday I'll have the remaining two and a half million and
will only pay out one and a half of it. The other million sticks
with me."

"The other million?" repeated Loring. "Oh, yes, I see. The half-
million you advanced and the half-million profit you make on this
deal. For how much can you write your check now, Johnny?"

"If I wrote a check right this minute, to pay for a postage stamp,
it would go to protest," laughed Johnny." I guess I can stand it to
be broke for a week though."

"You're a lucky cuss," commended Loring.

"In most things," admitted Johnny half-heartedly.

"In everything," insisted Loring. "By the way, Gresham was over here
to see you yesterday while I was out."

"Gresham?" mused Johnny. "That's curious. He was at the Bronx office
and also at my apartments. I 'phoned this morning, but was told he
had gone out of town for a week."

"You probably missed something very important," returned Loring
sarcastically. "Where were you yesterday anyhow?"

"Having a holiday," said Johnny soberly, and escaped.

He wanted work--the more of it the better. He spent the entire week
in the most fatiguing toil he could find, and in that week had no
word from Constance Joy except a very brief and coldly-formed note
thanking him for his flowers.

On the following Saturday morning Gresham walked into the Bronx
offices with a particularly smug satisfaction.

"I've come to close up the Wobbles transfer with you," he stated. "I
am authorized formally to make over the property to you and to
collect the two and a half million remaining to be paid."

"Barring the slight difference of a million dollars the amount is
correct," replied Johnny dryly. "I have the million and a half
balance ready, but I had expected Mr. Birchard to come in and finish
the transaction."

"Birchard is not representing the Wobbleses," Gresham politely
informed him. "I had a little talk with them on the Tuesday
following the house-party at Courtney's, and they decided to have me
look after the matter instead. By the way, I hunted for you
everywhere on the day before the first payment was due, to tell you
that the Wobbleses preferred to have the two and a half million paid
all in one sum to-day; but since you were not in I didn't trouble to
leave you a note. Very few men need to be told not to pay out
money."

"Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Birchard never has represented the
Wobbles family in this matter?" Johnny managed to ask.

"Certainly not," answered Gresham, widening his eyes.

"I have his signed authorization to act for them in the matter,"
declared Johnny, remembering that circumstance with happy relief.

"You have?" inquired Gresham with great apparent surprise. "Will you
allow me to look at the paper?"

Johnny showed it to him triumphantly, but Gresham read it with a
smile of contempt.

"I was correct in my suspicions of Birchard," he stated. "This
document is a forgery. I hope you did not pay him any money on the
strength of it."

Silently Johnny laid before him Birchard's receipt, and a second
later as he saw the gleam of gratification in Gresham's eyes was
sorry that he had done so.

"I am afraid that you have been swindled," was Gresham's altogether
too sympathetic comment. "However, that does not concern the
business in hand. This was the day appointed for the final
settlement, and I have come prepared to make it with you."

"You'll have to wait," declared Johnny bluntly, putting away the
documents.

"I must call your attention to the fact that if you do not close
this matter to-day my principals are at liberty to place the
property upon the market again."

"Advise them not to do so," Johnny warned him. "Under the
circumstances I am certain that I can secure enough delay for
investigation--legally, if necessary. I won't move a step until I've
looked into this."

"Very well," said Gresham easily, and walked out.

Johnny, in a consternation that was barely short of panic,
immediately consulted Loring, and together they set out upon a
search for the Wobbleses. At their various hotels--for no two of
them put up at the same place--it was discovered that they were
severally "probably in the country at week-end parties". Tommy alone
they found, but he knew so little and was so upset by what they told
him that they were sorry he, too, had not attended a week-end party;
and they left him gasping like a sea-lion, with his toupee down over
his ear, and saying between gasps over and over again with perfectly
vacant eyes: "Eugene's an ass! Perfect ass, don't you know!"

They spent some hopeless time in attempting to trace Birchard, but
that gentleman had disappeared on the previous Saturday. No one had
seen him or had heard of him or had thought of him. They put the
case into the hands of detectives, and gave up hope.

"I don't think it was lucky money any-how," said Johnny gloomily.
Constance had not cared for it and it was worthless!

It was not until Monday that they found Eugene Wobbles, and that
voluntary expatriate was almost as much taken aback as his brother
Tommy had been.

"Ow, I say, it's most extraordinary!" he declared, stroking his
drooping mustache and swinging his monocle. "Why, do you know, I met
the blooming bounder at Lord Yawp'n'am's--second cousin, you know,
of this very decent chap, Gresham. Introduced him at my clubs and
all that sort of thing, I assure you! I'll have the burning
scoundrel blacklisted!"

"Thanks," said Loring with deep gratitude. "Of course that won't get
back the million though."

"Well, I'm bound to give you the right there," admitted Eugene, "but
at the same time I must insist that it will cut the beggar never to
be allowed the privileges of a gentleman's club again."

"And serve him right, I say; even jolly well right," agreed Loring
with a sarcasm that was altogether lost and was intended to be.

"I must say that our friend Gresham has behaved well in the matter,"
added Eugene. "Birth and breeding are bound to tell. I fancy every
one will admit that. What?"

"They tell a great deal," returned Loring dryly. "What did our
friend Gresham do that was so decent?"

"Ow, yes," Eugene was reminded, "we were discussing that, weren't
we? Well, at our friend Courtney's house-party, Gresham was all for
Birchard to handle this business; fairly forced him on us, don't you
know; but on Tuesday he came to us much pained, I assure you, and in
the greatest confidence told us he was sure the beggar was not the
man for the place. Been mixed up in a rotten money scandal or so,
don't you know."

"So you discharged Birchard," Loring surmised, keenly interested.

"Well, not exactly," replied Eugene. "You see it wasn't necessary.
We never had definitely appointed him. Come to think, neither he nor
Gresham insisted on it; and, anyhow, the fellow never came back to
us."

"I see," said Loring softly with a glance at Johnny. "So, you being
without an agent, Gresham kindly consented to act for you--without
commission."

"Ow, yes, certainly, without commission," agreed Eugene. "Very
decent indeed of him, now, wasn't it?"

"Almost pathetic," admitted Loring. "Well, Johnny," he said as they
went back to the office, "you're up against it. While Birchard was
forging the papers to get your million Gresham was establishing an
alibi for himself. The only thing I see for you to do--besides
laying for Gresham--is to repudiate this entire deal and get back as
much of your half-million as you can."

"And owe the rest of it to my friends?" demanded Johnny. "Not any.
I'll pay over the two and a half million I have on hand, complete
the deal and stand the loss myself. I'll be broke, but I won't owe
anybody."

Loring looked at him with sudden pity. "You'll have to take a fresh
start," he advised as lightly as possible, since one did not like to
be caught expressing pity to Johnny. "You have two days left."

"Guess again!" directed Johnny. "One of them's a holiday--Decoration
Day--to-morrow."

"Tough luck, old man!" said Loring.

"I didn't care for the million, Loring," declared Johnny wearily,
driven for the first time to an open confession.

"I know," agreed Loring gently, still suffering from his own hurt.
"It was Constance. She may not be so keen for that million as you
think."

Johnny shook his head sadly.

"I know she isn't," he admitted. "That's the hard part of it. She
didn't seem to care when I had it--not for it or for me. Up to that
time I thought there was a chance. Now the loss of this money
doesn't really hurt. What good would a million dollars do me?"

They had reached the office by this time and made themselves busy
with the final papers. Presently came Gresham and all the Wobbleses,
concluded their business, and took their two and a half million
dollars and happily departed.

Loring glared after Gresham in a fury of anger. He had seen that
gentleman, before he left, slip a square white card under the papers
on Johnny's desk; and, though he did not conjecture what the card
might be, he knew from the curl of Gresham's lips that it meant some
covert trick or insult. Turning, he was about indignantly to call
Johnny's attention to the circumstance when the beaming expression
upon his friend's face stopped him, and sealed any explanation that
might have risen to his lips. Johnny had found the card and was
reading it with glistening eyes.

"Constance Joy!" he said delightedly. "She must have called." He was
lost in pleasant thought for a moment or so and then he looked
eagerly up at Loring with: "I wonder if there isn't some way,
besides Birchard's, that a fellow could make a million dollars in a
day!"

CHAPTER XXI

IN WHICH CONSTANCE AVAILS HERSELF OF WOMAN'S PRIVILEGE TO CHANGE HER
MIND

Polly Parsons burst into the boudoir of Constance Joy, every feather
on her lavender hat aquiver with indignation. "What do you think!"
she demanded. "Johnny Gamble's lost his million dollars!"

Constance, nursing a pale-faced headache, had been reclining on the
couch at the side of a bouquet of roses four feet across; but now
she sat straight up and smiled, and the sparkle which had been
absent for days came back into her eyes.

"No!" she exclaimed. "Really, has he?"

Polly regarded her in amazement. "You act as if you are glad of it,"
she said.

"I am," confessed Constance, and breaking off one of the big red
roses she rose, surveyed herself in the glass, tried the effect of
it against her dark hair and finally pinned it on her dressing-gown.

Polly plumped into a big rocking-chair to vent her indignation.

"I don't see anything to giggle at!" she declared. "Johnny Gamble's
a friend of mine. I'm going home."

"Don't, Polly," laughed Constance. "Why, this is one of Johnny's
roses;" and she gave it an extra touch--really a quite affectionate
one.

"I'm all mussed up in my mind," complained Polly in a maze of
perplexity. "Johnny Gamble made a million dollars so he could ask
you to throw away your million and marry him, and you were so
tickled with the idea that you kept score for him."

Constance smiled irritatingly.

"I kept score because it was fun. He never told me why he wanted the
money."

"You may look like an innocent kid, but you knew that much," accused
Polly.

Constance flushed, but she sat down by Polly to laugh.

"To tell you the truth, Polly, I did suspect it," she admitted.

"Yes, and you liked it," asserted Polly.

Constance flushed a little more deeply.

"It was flattering," she acknowledged. "but really, Polly, it
brought me into a most humiliating position. At the Courtneys'
house-party I overheard Mr. Courtney tell his wife that Mr. Gamble
was making a million dollars in order to marry me; and Johnny was
with me at the time!"

The hint of a twinkle appeared in Polly's indignant eyes as she
began to comprehend the true state of affairs.

"Suppose he did?" she demanded. "Everybody knew it."

Constance immediately took possession of the indignation and made it
her own.

"They had no business to know it!"

Polly smiled.

"Every place I went that day I heard the same thing," continued
Constance much aggrieved--"Johnny Gamble's million, and me, and
Gresham, and the million dollars I would have to forfeit if I didn't
marry Paul. It was million, million, wherever I turned!"

"The million-dollar bride," laughed Polly.

"Don't!" cried Constance. "Please don't, Polly! You've done quite
enough. Even you came to me out there that day to tell me that now
Johnny had made his million and was coming to propose to me. Why,
you knew it before I did."

"I'm sorry I found it out," apologized Polly. "I got it from
Loring."

"Why didn't you say that it was Loring who told you?" demanded
Constance, disposed now to be indignant at everything.

"I didn't know you were jealous," retorted Polly.

"Jealous!" exclaimed Constance. "Why, Johnny wasn't even civil to
any other girl."

Polly smiled knowingly.

"Then why did you quarrel with him?"

"I didn't," denied Constance. "He came the minute you left and I'd
have screamed if he had proposed then, so I went away. He dropped
his straw hat, and it rolled after me and nearly touched me. He
dropped it every time I saw him that day. Also he added the final
indignity--I overheard him tell Mr. Courtney that he intended to
marry me whether I liked it or not. Now, Polly, seriously, what
would you have done if anything like that had happened to you?"

Polly waited to gain her self-control.

"I'd have taken the hat away from him," she declared.

Constance sailed once more.

"I didn't think of that," she admitted.

"No, and instead here's what you've done," Polly pointed out to her:
"You turned Johnny loose to look after himself, and he isn't capable
of it since he fell in love; so for the last two weeks he's been as
savage as any ordinary business man. That's one thing. For another,
you've made yourself sick just pining and grieving for a sight of
Johnny Gamble."

"I haven't!" indignantly denied Constance, and to prove that
assertion her eyes filled with tears. She covered them with her
handkerchief and Polly petted her, and they both felt better. "I
think I'll dress," declared Constance after she had been thus
refreshed. "My headache's much improved and I think I'd like to go
somewhere." She hesitated a moment.

"You know everybody was to have gathered here to join Courtney's
Decoration Day party this afternoon," she added.

"Yes, I remember that," retorted Polly, "but I didn't like to rub it
in. Shall I call up everybody and tell them it's on again?"

"Please," implored Constance, "and, Polly--"

"Yes?"

"Tell Johnny to bring his Baltimore straw hat."

While Polly was trying to get his number, Johnny Gamble sat face to
face with his old partner.

"You have your nerve to come to me," he said, as the eyebrowless
young man sat himself comfortably in Johnny's favorite leather arm-
chair.

"There's nobody else to go to," explained Collaton, with an attempt
at jauntiness. "I'm dead broke, and if I don't have two thousand
dollars to-morrow I'll quite likely be pinched."

"I'm jealous," stated Johnny. "I had intended to do it myself."

"I've been expecting you to," acknowledged Collaton. "That's one of
the reasons I came to you."

"I admire you," observed Johnny dryly. "You bled me for two years,
and yet you have the ingrowing gall to come and tell me you're
broke."

"Well, it's the truth," defended Collaton. "Look here, Johnny; I've
heard that you made a lot of money in the last few weeks, but you
haven't had any more attachments against you, have you?"

"You bet I haven't," returned Johnny savagely. "I've been waiting
for just one more attempt, and then I intended--"

"I know," interrupted Collaton. "You intended to beat Gresham and
Jacobs and me to a pulp; and then have us pinched for disorderly
conduct, and try to dig up the evidence at the trial."

"Well, something like that," admitted Johnny with a grin.

"I knew it," corroborated Collaton. "I told them when to stop."

"I guess you'll be a good witness," surmised Johnny. "How deep were
you in on this Birchard deal? How much did you get?"

"Did Gresham and Birchard pull something?" inquired Collaton with
such acute interest that Johnny felt sure he had taken no part in
that swindle.

"Well, yes," agreed Johnny with a wince, as he thought of his lost
million. "They did pull a little trick. Did you know Birchard very
well?"

"I wouldn't say what I know about Birchard except on a witness-
stand," chuckled Collaton, "but I can tell you this much: if he got
anything, throw it a good-by kiss; for he can rub himself out better
than any man I ever saw. He's practised hiding till he doesn't know
himself where he is half of the time."

"I've passed him up," stated Johnny. "The only people I'm after are
Gresham and Jacobs and you."

"I wonder if you wouldn't pin a medal on one of us if he'd give you
the other two," conjectured Collaton, smoothing his freckled cheek
and studying Johnny with his head on one side.

"We're not coining medals this year," declared Johnny, "but if it's
you you're talking about, and you'll give me Gresham and Jacobs,
I'll promise you a chance to stand outside the bars and look in at
them."

"It's a bet," decided Collaton promptly. "I split up with Gresham
two or three weeks ago at Coney Island, when he wanted me to go in
on a big scheme against you, and I suppose it was this Birchard
stunt. I told him I'd had enough. Your money began to look
troublesome to me. That was the day you were down there with the
girl."

"There's no girl in this," warned Johnny. "Now tell me just what you
can do."

"Will you wipe me off the slate?"

"Clean as a whistle," promised Johnny. "If my lawyer lets you be
convicted I'll go to jail in your place."

"It's like getting over-change by mistake," gratefully returned
Collaton. "I'm tired of the game, Johnny, and if I can get out of
this I'll stay straight the balance of my life."

"You'll die in the top tier, with the pentitentiary chaplain writing
your farewell letters," prophesied Johnny. "What did you say you
could do?"

"Well, I can incriminate not only Jacobs but Gresham in those phoney
attachments, and I can hand you the Gamble-Collaton books," set
forth Collaton. "Gresham got them away from me to take care of and
then held them over me as a threat; but I got them back yesterday by
offering to pound his head off. He's a bigger coward than I am."

"How much money did you say you wanted?" inquired Johnny.

"Five thousand," returned Collaton cheerfully.

"You said two."

"I have to have two and I need the rest. I thought maybe I could
sell you my interest in The Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company.
There's several thousand acres of land out there, you know."

"I haven't laid a finger on you yet," Johnny reminded him, "but if
you make another offer to sell me that land I don't know how I'll
stand the strain."

"Well, say you give me the money for fun then," amended Collaton. "I
didn't know anything about this Birchard deal, but since you've
mentioned it I can piece together a lot of things that mean
something now. I'll help you chase that down, and you can afford to
spare me five thousand. Why, Johnny, I'm a poor sucker that has made
the unfortunate financial mistake of being crooked; and you're the
luckiest cuss in the world. To begin with, you're square; and that's
the biggest stroke of luck that can happen. Everybody likes you,
you're a swift money-maker, and you've got a girl--now don't get
chesty--that would make any man go out and chew bulldogs."

Johnny reflected over that statement and turned a trifle bitter. He
had no million dollars; he had no friends; he had no girl! He
contemplated calling the police.

The telephone bell rang.

"Hello, Polly," he said vigorously into the interrupting instrument,
and then Collaton, watching him anxiously, saw his face light up
like a Mardi Gras illumination. "Bring my Baltimore straw hat!"
jubilated Johnny. "Polly, I'll bring one if I have to go to
Baltimore to get it." He paused, and the transmitter in front of his
face almost glistened with reflected high-lights. "Engagements! For
to-day?" exulted Johnny. "I'm at liberty right now. How soon may I
come over?" He listened again with a wide-spread grin. Collaton
rolled a cigarette with black tobacco and brown paper, lighted it
and smiled comfortably. "Can't I talk to Constance a minute?"
implored Johnny, trying to push in the troublous tremolo stop. "Oh,
is she? All right; I'll be over in about twenty minutes. No, I won't
make it an hour, I said twenty minutes;" and still smiling with
imbecile delight he hung up the receiver and turned to Collaton with
a frown.

"I think I can raise that two thousand for you," he decided. "Now
tell me just what you know about Gresham and Birchard."

CHAPTER XXII

IN WHICH PAUL GRESHAM PROPOSES A VERY PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENT

"Mr. Gresham is calling," announced Aunt Pattie Boyden with some
trepidation; for Constance, besides being ill, had not been in the
best of humor during the last two weeks.

"Paul?" commented Constance with a pleased smile, which both
delighted and surprised Aunt Pattie. "I didn't expect him for half
an hour," and she completed her toilet by adorning herself with a
choice collection of Johnny Gamble's roses.

"You are looking your best, I must say," admired Aunt Pattie after a
critical survey, for she was particularly anxious about this visit
of Paul Gresham's.

"She ought to," interjected Polly, busy at the telephone; "that's
the third gown she's tried on. She's expecting particular company."

"Any one besides Paul?" inquired Aunt Pattie, elevating her
eyebrows.

"Lots of people," returned Constance with a gaiety she had not
exhibited for many days. "Mr. Gamble for one."

Aunt Pattie's countenance underwent an instant change, and it was
not a change for the better.

"Mr. Gamble!" she exclaimed, quite properly shocked. "I shouldn't
think he'd feel in the humor for social calls just now. He's lost
all his money."

"You wouldn't believe it if you had heard him laugh over the 'phone
just now when I told him to bring his straw hat," declared Polly.

"Who told you the news?" asked Constance, feeling sure of the
answer.

"Mr. Gresham," hesitated Aunt Pattie.

"I bet he couldn't keep his face straight," Polly vindictively
charged.

"You do Mr. Gresham an injustice, Polly," protested Aunt Pattie
severely.

"It isn't possible," insisted Polly. "If it were not giving him too
much credit for brains I'd swear he'd helped break Johnny."

"I'm afraid you don't give him quite enough credit for brains," said
Constance, and giving her roses a deft parting turn she went down-
stairs to meet Paul Gresham.

If Aunt Pattie had been pleased by the change in Constance, Gresham
was delighted. This was the first time she had really beamed on him
since she had met Johnny Gamble.

"You are always charming," he observed, taking pleasure in his own
gallantry, "but to-day you seem unusually so."

"That's pretty," dimpled Constance. "I wanted to look nice to-day."

Mr. Gresham's self-esteem arose several degrees. He smiled his
thanks of her compliment to the appointment he had made with her.

"My call to-day is rather a formal one," he told her, smiling, and
approaching the important subject-matter in hand directly but quite
easily, he thought. "It is in relation to the will of your Aunt
Gertrude, which has been the cause of some embarrassment to us both,
and to you particularly, I fear."

"Naturally," she assented, still smiling, however.

This was easy sailing. Gresham walked over and took the chair
nearest her.

"It is, of course, unnecessary to discuss the provisions made by
your Aunt Gertrude," he stated. "Even had such a will never been
written, I am quite sure that the result would have been the same,
and that to-day, after the long friendship which I have enjoyed with
you, I should be asking you, as I am now, to become my wife," and
taking her hand in his, he very gracefully kissed it.

Constance as gracefully drew it away.

"You have done your duty very nicely, Mr. Gresham," she said. "It
must have been as awkward for you to be compelled to make this
proposal as it is for me to be compelled to refuse it. It would be
wicked for us to marry."

"You are very harsh," he managed to protest. "I am sure that I
should not feel wicked in marrying you."

"Perhaps you haven't my sort of conscience," answered Constance,
laughing to conceal her intense hatred and contempt of him.

Gresham, adopting also the light manner of small talk, laughed with
her.

"Really it wouldn't be so bad," he urged. "We would make a very fair
couple when we were averaged. You are beautiful and accomplished
enough to make up for all the deficiencies I may have."

"You do say nice things to me," acknowledged Constance, "but there
is one deficiency you have overlooked. We do not love each other,
and that is fatal to Aunt Gertrude's rather impertinent plans. It
renders even a discussion of the matter impossible. I can not marry
you ever."

Gresham's lips turned dry.

"I believe you really mean that," he stumbled, unable quite to
comprehend it.

"Certainly I do," she assured him.

"But you don't understand," he protested. "You can't understand or
you would at least take time for more serious consideration. You are
relinquishing your entire fortune!"

"Making myself a penniless pauper," she mocked with a light-hearted
feeling that some one--description mentally evaded--would make a
fortune unnecessary.

"It is a million dollars," he insisted.

"A million--that sounds familiar!" and she laughed in remembrance of
her tilt with Polly.

Gresham swallowed three separate and very distinct times.

"A half-interest in that million is mine," he complained. "You can
not turn over your share to an absurd charity without also throwing
mine away. It is not fair."

"Fair?" repeated Constance. For an instant she felt her temper
surging, then caught herself and took refuge in burlesque. "The only
fair thing about it is that my Aunt Gertrude's will gave her
orphaned niece the choice between a title with riches and poverty
with freedom," and raising her eyes and hand toward heaven she
started to sweep from the room with queenly grace, stifling a giggle
as she went.

"Wait just a minute," begged Gresham, suppressing his anger. "We
should arrange in some way to keep the money. We can, at least, be
practical."

Constance, whose faculties were not so concentrated as his, heard a
rustle on the stairs and glancing out through the portieres into the
hall, saw Polly, without her hat, hurrying to the front door. The
bell had not rung, and she divined that Polly, out of the boudoir
window, had seen some particular company approaching.

"It seems impossible," she returned, and waited.

"Not quite," Gresham assured her with a smile. "There is one way we
could carry out the provisions of your aunt's will and still force
no repugnant companionship upon you."

"I think I see," replied Constance--"you mean that we part at the
altar," and in spite of all her efforts to keep her face straight
she finally laughed.

"Well, I didn't intend to put it quite in that melodramatic way,"
resented Gresham.

"Polly wins," declared Constance. "She bet me a five-pound box of
chocolates that you would make that proposal, but I didn't really
think you would do it."

"This is too serious a matter for flippancy," and Gresham bit his
lip. "The plan I suggest is thoroughly sensible."

"That's why I reject it," stated Constance.

Gresham bent his frowning brows on the floor. Constance, through the
portieres, saw Polly and Johnny Gamble.

"I think we shall consider the incident as closed," she added
hastily, with a wicked desire to have him go out and meet Johnny in
the hall.

"You are making a horrible mistake," Gresham told her, losing his
restraint and raising his voice. "I think I know the reason for your
relinquishing your Aunt Gertrude's million so lightly. You expect to
share the million Mr. Gamble is supposed to have made!"

Constance paled and froze. Despite her low opinion of Gresham she
had not expected this crudity.

"You may as well dismiss that hope," he roughly continued--"Mr.
Gamble has no million to give you!"

Mr. Gamble at that moment bulged through the portieres, with Polly
Parsons hanging to his coat tails. He laid an extremely heavy hand
on Gresham's shoulder and turned him round.

"I want to see you outside!" declared Johnny, husky with rage.

Polly, at the risk of life and limb, placed her ample weight between
them. "Don't, Johnny!" she implored. "Don't! Constance doesn't want
any door-step drama, with all the neighbors for audience. Wait till
you get him down an alley and then give him an extra one for me!"

Gresham had retired behind a chair.

"This is no place for a personal encounter," he urged.

Johnny turned to Constance, pitifully afraid that he should be
denied his rights.

"Can't I put him out?" he begged.

Constance had been panic-stricken, but on this she smiled easily.

"Only gently, Johnny," she granted.

"Remember there are ladies present," urged Polly.

"I won't hurt Paul," promised Johnny, responding to her smile with a
suddenly relieved grin, and, taking Gresham daintily by the coat
sleeve with his thumb and forefinger, he led the unresisting cousin
of Lord Yawpingham to the front door. Polly opened it for him, and,
grabbing Gresham's silk hat, put it hastily askew and hindside
before upon his bewildered head.

Johnny did not strike him or shove him, but the graceful and self-
possessed Gresham, attempting desperately to recover those qualities
and to leave with dignity, stumbled over the door-mat and scrambled
wildly down the stone steps, struggling to retain his balance.

Colonel Bouncer, just starting up the steps with Loring, Sammy
Chirp, Winnie, Val Russel and Mrs. Follison, hastily and
automatically gave him a helping shove on the shoulder which sent
him sprawling to the walk, where he completed his interesting
exhibition by turning a back somersault.

"Glimmering gosh, Colonel!" protested Val, as he hurried to pick up
Gresham, laughing, however, as did the others, on account of the
neighbors. "Why did you do that?"

"I thought Johnny Gamble pushed him," humbly apologized the colonel.

Bruce Townley and the Courtney girls arrived, and in the gay
scramble for wraps Johnny had a moment with Constance.

"Well, I lose," he said regretfully. "There isn't much chance to
make that million between now and four o'clock to-morrow afternoon."

"What's the difference?" inquired Constance, smiling contentedly
into his eyes.

Only the presence of so many people prevented her fichu from being
mussed.

"There's a lot of difference," he asserted with a suddenly renewed
impulse, the world being greatly changed since she had refused
Gresham. "I set out to get it, and I won't give it up until four
o'clock to-morrow afternoon."

"If you want it so very badly I hope that you get it then," she
gently assured him.

Her shoulder happened to touch his arm and he pressed against it as
hard as he could. She resisted him.

"Ready, Constance?" called Polly.

"In just a minute," Johnny took it on himself to reply. "How does
the score board look by this time?"

Constance hesitated, then she blushed and drew from a drawer of the
library table the score board. The neatly ruled pasteboard had been
roughly torn into seven pieces--but it had been carefully pasted
together again!

CHAPTER XXIII

IN WHICH THE BRIGHT EYES OF CONSTANCE "RAIN INFLUENCE"

There being no cozy corners aboard Mr. Courtney's snow-white
Albatross in which a couple with many important things to say could
be free from prying observation, Johnny and Constance behaved like
normal human beings who were profoundly happy. They mingled with the
gaiety all the way out through the harbor to the open sea, and then
they drifted unconsciously farther and farther to the edge of the
hilarity, until they found themselves sitting in the very prow of
the foredeck with Mr. Courtney and his friend from the West. If they
could not exchange important confidences they could at least sit
very quietly, touching elbows.

Mr. Courtney's friend from the West was a strong old man with keen
blue eyes, who sat all through the afternoon in the same place,
talking in low tones with Courtney on such dry and interminable
subjects as railroads, mines, freight rates, stocks, bonds and board
meetings.

Constance wondered how an otherwise nice old man could reach that
age without having accumulated any lighter and more comprehensible
objects of interest, and she really doubted the possibility of any
man's understanding all the dry-as-dust business statistics with
which he was so handy. Suddenly, however, Johnny Gamble awoke from
his blissful lethargy and bent eagerly forward.

"Beg pardon, Mr. Boise," he interjected into the peaceful
conversational flow of the older men. "Did I understand you to say
that the S. W. & P. had secured a controlling interest in the
B. F. & N. W.?"

Constance looked at Johnny in dismay. If he, too, intended to talk
in nothing but the oral sign language, she had a wild idea of
joining the frivolous crowd on the afterdeck, where at least there
was laughter.

Mr. Boise looked at Johnny from under shaggy eyebrows.

"It's not generally known," he stated, struggling between a desire
to be pleasant to a fellow guest and a regret that he had fancied
Johnny absorbed too much in Constance to be interested in sotto voce
affairs.

"That's what that territory needs," Johnny briskly commented. "As
long as the S. W. & P. and the B. F. & N. W. were scrapping, the
Sancho Hills Basin had as good service with burros."

Both Boise and Courtney laughed.

"Be careful, Johnny," warned Courtney. "Mr. Boise is president of
the S. W. & P., and is now also virtually president of the B. F. &
N. W."

Constance sighed, but stuck gamely to her post. After all Johnny was
having a good time, and he actually seemed to understand what they
were talking about. There was no question that Johnny was a smart
man!

"I'm glad he is president of both," said Johnny, "for with
consolidation things will start humming out there."

"Thank you," laughed Boise, no longer regarding Johnny as an
impertinent interloper. "That's what we hope to do."

"The first thing you'll start will be a cut right across the Sancho
Hills Basin, which will shorten your haul to Puget Sound by five
hundred miles and open up a lot of rich new land."

Boise studied him with contracted brows.

"That's a good guess," he admitted. "You seem to know a lot about
that country."

"I own some land out there," grinned Johnny. "Your best route will
be from Marble Bluffs to Sage City, and from there straight across
to Salt Pool, then up along the Buffalo Canon to Silver Ledge and on
to the main line."

"That's one of the three routes I've been worrying over," agreed
Boise, admiring Johnny's frankness. "I promised to wire my chief
engineer to-morrow which one to put through."

Constance noticed a slight squaring of Johnny's lower lip, and she
felt leaping within her a sudden intense interest in S. W. & P. and
B. F. & N. W.

"What are the others?" asked Johnny.

Mr. Boise promptly drew a canvas-backed map from his pocket. Mr.
Courtney reached for a folding deck chair. Constance helped Mr.
Boise spread out the map. Johnny weighted down the corners with a
cigar-case, a watch, a pocket-knife and a silver dollar.

"The favorite route at present," pointed out Boise, "is from Marble
Bluffs round by Lariat Center, across to Buffalo Canyon and up to
Silver Ledge. The other one is right through Eagle Pass."

"That one won't do at all," declared Johnny earnestly.

"It's the shortest," insisted Boise.

"You'd have to tunnel through solid granite," objected Johnny, "and
the only traffic you would pick up would be from two or three dead
mining towns. In the Sage City and Salt Pool route you would open up
a big, rich, farming territory."

"That route is the one I have practically discarded," said Boise.
"Right through here," and he put a broad forefinger on the map, "is
a large stretch of worthless arid land."

"Yes, I know," admitted Johnny, hitching closer, "but right here"--
and he pointed to another place--"is Blue Lake, and with very simple
engineering work, which has been begun, it could be brought down to
turn that whole district into land rich enough to load your cars
with wheat, corn and cattle. Just now that water wastes itself
through Buffalo Canyon and doesn't do a pound of work until it hits
the big river."

Mr. Boise studied the map reflectively. Mr. Courtney studied it
interestedly. Johnny studied it eagerly. Constance, with her hands
folded in her lap, looked on with puzzled wonder.

"Why, there's the S. W. & P.!" she exclaimed, as she discovered the
letters along a graceful black line.

"And here," supplemented the smiling Courtney, "is the B. F. & N. W.!"

"I see," returned Constance delightedly. "They're both railroads!
They run up into Washington and Oregon, but the S. W. & P. has to go
away round this big pink spot. If it cuts right across there it can
go to Washington much quicker. Why, I should think by all means that
the route by way of Sage City and Salt Pool would be the best!"

Mr. Boise surveyed her with joyous eyes and chuckled until his
breast heaved. "It might be," he admitted with a friendly glance at
Johnny.

"One big advantage," urged Johnny, "is that it would be an all-level
route, with solid ground and but very little grading," and he
plunged with breathless energy into the task of convincing Mr. Boise
that the Sage City and Salt Pool route was the only feasible one.

They discussed that topic for two solid hours, but before the first
thirty minutes had elapsed Johnny had unconsciously reached over
into Constance's lap and had taken one of her hands. There seemed to
be nothing in particular that she could do about it, so she let him
keep it, and he used it occasionally to gesture with. What
difference did it make if Courtney and Boise did smile about it at
first?

When the railroad party had been dispersed by Winnie--who had
constituted herself rigid master of the revels--Constance and Johnny
found themselves tete-a-tete up in the prow for just a tiny moment.

"Do you suppose he'll decide on the Sage City and Salt Pool route?"
she anxiously inquired.

"I hope so," declared Johnny. "If he does, I think I see a chance to
make a little money."

"Maybe we'd better talk some more with him," she suggested, looking
about for Boise.

"We'll let him alone for a little bit," laughed Johnny. "We've
started him to thinking about it, and I have that appointment with
him at eight-thirty to-morrow morning. Boise does a day's work
before lunch."

Later, in the bustle of preparing for dinner, Boise sat down by
Constance.

"Are you still in favor of the Sage City and Salt Pool route for our
new cut-off?" he asked with a smile as he inspected her delicately
flushed cheeks and her bright eyes and her shining wavy hair.

"Really, I don't know very much about it," she modestly confessed,
"but I should think that an all-level route would be much the best."

At the pier that night at twelve-thirty the party, on account of the
lateness of the hour, very hurriedly dispersed. Johnny and Loring
secured a taxi and, with Polly and Constance, headed for Polly's
house where Constance had decided to spend the night.

As they crossed Seventh Avenue Johnny excitedly tapped on the glass
in front of him and poking his head out through the other forward
window, gave a sharp direction. The driver, a knobby-jawed and
hairy-browed individual, turned and tore down toward the big new
terminal station as fast as he could go.

"Gresham," explained Johnny briefly, peering keenly ahead.

"Well, what about him?" inquired Loring.

"He's jumping the town. I don't trust my detectives."

"Have you secured some proof?" eagerly inquired Loring.

"No, only evidence," laughed Johnny at his lawyer, and for the rest
of that brief ride neither the breathless girls nor the concentrated
men said anything. They only held tensely forward and helped hurry.

There were three taxis preceding them in the congested line which
turned in at the terminal station, and as the vehicles began to slow
down Johnny stood on the step.

"If I get in a mix-up you keep this taxi right round where it'll be
handy," he directed, and ran ahead just as Gresham, as fastidious as
ever, emerged at the entrance to the ticket lobby.

Gresham allowed a porter to take all of his hand luggage, with the
exception of one small black bag which he carefully carried himself.

"I guess these are those," observed Johnny in a pleasant
conversational tone of voice as he lifted the bag from Gresham's
hand.

Gresham made a desperate grab for the bag, but Johnny gave him a
shove with one strong forearm, opened the bag and, diving into it,
felt a tight square bundle of papers near the bottom. Giving them
one hasty glance he rushed back, closely followed by Gresham, to the
taxi where his friends sat quivering with excitement.

"Hide these," he ordered. "Get out of here, quick!" he told the
chauffeur. "Mr. Loring will tell you where to drive."

"They're hid all right," Polly assured him. "What are they?"

"Amalgamated Steel bonds representing Gresham's half of my million,"
rasped Johnny, throwing Gresham's weight off his arm. "Ask me the
rest of it the next time we meet. Just now I have to see to getting
this thief pinched."

"As your attorney I'll have to caution you, Johnny, that your action
is entirely illegal," Loring confidentially stated.

"They're my bonds, bought with my money," asserted Johnny.

"I know, but it has to be proved," argued Loring. "Your only way to
get possession of them is through the courts. Your present action
has no better legal status than highway robbery."

"I got the bonds, didn't I?" demanded Johnny. "Now you move. Here
comes a copper, and if he gets those bonds for evidence I won't see
them again for months."

A policeman appeared in the exact center of the perspective,
followed by a faithful emissary of the Ember Detective Agency.

"The bonds are no good to you just now unless Gresham assigns them,"
insisted Loring almost tearfully, and both Constance and Polly gave
up in despair.

"That's right," agreed Johnny, glancing over his shoulder at the
policeman and the indignant detective. Suddenly he pushed Gresham
headlong into the midst of the party and jumped in after him. "Hold
him, Loring!" he directed, and dismissed the stupefied Gresham from
his mind.

With remarkable deftness he had extracted a single bill from his
pocket and thrust it into the hand of the experienced chauffeur.

"Break the limit!" he tensely ordered.

"Where?" asked the chauffeur, whirling out of the line with a jerk.

"Any place," and the chauffeur, being a night worker and
understanding his business, accepted that direction with grinning
relish and left the depot policeman trying to remember the number of
his machine.

As they went up the incline from the ticket-lobby door Johnny
arranged the bewildered girls on the two little front seats, and
wedged the cowed Gresham carefully in between himself and Loring on
the back seat.

The chauffeur, knowing the only regular time-killing drive in the
city, hit out for Central Park. Gresham was incapable of thought or
action. As they crossed Forty-second Street Johnny touched his
driver on the shoulder, and that handy criminal came to an immediate
halt at the curb. Johnny opened the door. Gresham moved. Loring
quickly clutched him by the knee. The chauffeur looked back.

"Leave it to me," he suggested in most friendly tones. "You don't
need to change taxis."

"I'd feel more like a real sport if I hired two," Johnny argued,
studying his man intently.

"I've got two numbers and I'll switch 'em," offered the assistant
brigand.

"I think the police must know you by name," commented Johnny, "but
I'll take a chance," and giving Polly's address he climbed back.

"Shall we hide the bonds?" whispered Polly as she prepared to alight
at the Parsons home.

"Certainly not," replied Johnny. "I have to get them signed," and he
pressed the hand of Constance with proper warmth as he helped her
out.

Gresham made an attempt at that point to prove himself a man, but
Loring restrained him from that absurd idea with one hand while he
raised his hat with the other.

"Where next?" asked the driver huskily.

"The finest place for a kidnapping is Forty-second and Broadway,"
answered Johnny with his mind made up.

"I'll take you all the way," almost begged the chauffeur. "You're
the only sport that ever handed me enough for a night ride, and I'd
like to hand you good service."

"I don't know who else pays you," laughed Johnny, and his chauffeur,
with a mighty respect for his fare, drove to Forty-second and
Broadway, where Johnny paid him.

They walked to Johnny's apartments, and on their arrival Johnny
produced the bonds, spreading them out on his table.

"About the first thing is to sign these," he suggested to Gresham.

That abused young man, who had been in the constant expectation of
hearing himself yell for the police, but had been as constantly
disappointed, had walked along like a gentleman; now, at last, he
found his voice.

"This is an outrage!" he exclaimed.

"I know it," agreed Johnny. "It's even high-handed. Here's a
fountain-pen."

"I refuse," maintained Gresham. "Why should I assign my own personal
property to you?"

"Because your personal property is mine," Johnny informed him. "I
don't owe you any explanation, Gresham, but I'll make one. You
helped Birchard forge his power of attorney from the Wobbles
brothers, and you were with him in taxi 23406 when he collected my
million from the First National. You were seen again that night with
Birchard on the Boston Post Road, and from then on Birchard dropped
off the earth; but you didn't. You got Jacobs to buy you these
bonds, and Jacobs is a piker. He confessed and begged for mercy.
You're through."

Gresham held doggedly to the thought that never, under any
circumstances, must he admit a criminal action; for such a thing was
so far beneath him.

"I deny everything that you have said," he declared.

Johnny had a sudden frantic picture of this man touching the hand of
Constance, and he leaned across the table until his face was quite
close to Gresham's. The muscles in his jaws grew uncomfortably
nervous.

"Did you ever hear of the third degree?" he inquired. "Well, I'm
going to put you through it."

"The third degree?" faltered Gresham. "I don't quite understand what
you mean."

"You don't?" replied Johnny. "It begins this way"--and the watchful
Loring suddenly hung on Johnny's arm with his full weight.

"Don't!" implored Loring.

"I'm going to smash his head in!" husked Johnny, quivering with an
anger to which he had not given way for years.

"Wait a minute!" pleaded Loring, pulling on him with all his
strength. "Wait, I say! I want to help you, but you're in wrong.
Listen to me"--and he drew his reluctant client away from the table.
"I've no objections to your thrashing Gresham and I'd like to be
your proxy, but you'd better put it off. If you compel Gresham by
force to sign these bonds he can repudiate that action under
protection of the court and it will work against you."

Johnny Gamble controlled himself with an effort.

"They're my bonds," he persisted with his thoughts, however, more on
Constance than on business. "He'll sign them or I'll smash him."

Gresham, speaking above his panic of physical cowardice with a
tremulous effort, interpolated himself into the argument.

"I'll sign," he promised with stiff lips, and tried to write his
name on the cover of a magazine. The scrawl was so undecipherable
that he rose from the table and walked up and down the room in acute
distress, holding his right hand at the wrist and limbering it. "If
I sign," he presently bargained as he came to the table, "I must be
promised freedom from the distaste of a personal encounter."

Loring hastily complied, and Johnny, after having been prodded into
a recognition of the true situation, agreed with a disgusted snarl.

Gresham, with nerves much restored and a smile beginning to appear
upon his now oily features, carefully assigned each bond, and then,
secure in Johnny's promise, which he accepted at the par value all
men gave it, stood up and shook his finger warningly.

"A signature obtained under coercion is not worth the ink it took to
scrawl it," he triumphantly declared, having taken his cue from
Loring. "Any court in America will set aside this action."

"I know it," Johnny unexpectedly coincided. "I'm going to give you a
chance at it," and grabbing his telephone he called up Central
Police and asked for an officer to be sent to his rooms.

"Now, Loring, you disappear," directed Johnny briskly as he gathered
up the bonds. "I may have to dismiss you as my lawyer, but as my
friend you can hand these bonds to somebody who will lose them."

"As your lawyer I'd have to call you a blooming idiot," declared
Loring, "but as your friend I don't think Gresham will raise any
question about the bonds. They're yours, Johnny; but, nevertheless,
I'll forget where they are by the time the police come."

Gresham had been struggling with an intolerable lump in his throat.

"Gamble!" he abjectly pleaded, "I've signed the bonds. I admit that
they're yours. You're not going to have me arrested?"

Johnny turned on him with the sort of implacable enmity which
expresses itself in almost breathless quietness.

"I'm going to send you to the penitentiary for a thousand years," he
promised.

At the curb in front of his door he found a long gray torpedo
touring car throbbing with impatience, and at the wheel sat a plump
young lady in a vivid green bonnet and driving coat. In the tonneau
sat a more slender young lady all in gray, except for the brown of
her eyes and the pink of her cheeks and the red of her lips.

Johnny's Baltimore straw hat came off with a jerk.

"Out after the breakfast rolls?" he demanded as he shook hands with
them quite gladly.

"No, indeed; hunting a job," responded Polly. "This machine and the
services of its chauffeur and messenger girl are for rent to you
only, for the day, at the price of a nice party when you get that
million. We have to be in on the excitement."

"Hotel Midas," Johnny crisply directed, and jumped into the tonneau,
whereupon the chauffeur touched one finger to her bonnet, and the
machine leaped forward.

"You're lazy," chided Constance. "We've been waiting twenty minutes.
We were afraid you might be gone, but they told us that you had not
yet come down."

"If I'd known you were coming I'd have been at the curb before
daybreak," grinned Johnny. "You're in some rush this morning."

"There must be some rushing if you have that million dollars by four
o'clock," laughed Constance. "Polly and I want you to have it."

"You're right that I'll have to go some," he admitted.

"Excuse the chauffeur for interrupting your conversation," protested
Polly, turning round and deftly missing a venturesome banana cart;
"but you grabbed off half a million of it on a holiday."

"It was twelve-thirty this morning when we took Gresham," claimed
Johnny. "This is a working-day."

"Hotel Midas," announced the chauffeur, pulling up to that
flamboyant new hostelry with a flourish.

Johnny hurried in to the desk, where Mr. Boise had already left word
that Mr. Gamble should be shown right up. He found that fatigue-
proof old Westerner shining from his morning ablutions, as neat as a
pin from head to foot, and smoking his after-breakfast cigar in a
parlor which had not so much as a tidy displaced. His eyes twinkled
the moment he saw Johnny.

"I suppose you still have a disinterested anxiety to have me adopt
the Sage City and Salt Pool route?" he laughed.

"I'm still anxious about it," amended Johnny, refusing to smile at
his own evasion of the disinterestedness. "I brought you a wad of
reports and things to show you how good that territory is. You don't
know what a rich pay-streak you'd open up in that part of the Sancho
Hills Basin."

Mr. Boise laughed with keen enjoyment.

"I don't think I need to wade through that stuff, Johnny," he
admitted, having picked up from Courtney the habit of calling young
Gamble by his first name. "To tell you the truth, I sent a wireless
telegram to my chief engineer yesterday afternoon, off Courtney's
yacht when we connected with the Taft, and this morning I have a
five-hundred-word night lettergram from him, telling me that after a
thorough investigation of the situation he finds that the Sage City
and the Lariat Center routes are so evenly balanced in advantage
that a choice of them is really only a matter of sentiment."

Johnny paused awkwardly, stumped for the first time in his life.

"I don't know how to make that kind of an argument," he confessed,
to the great enjoyment of Boise.

"It is rather difficult," admitted that solidly constructed railroad
president; "particularly since I personally favor the Lariat Center
route."

Johnny again felt very awkward.

"Can't we put this on some sort of a business basis?" he implored.

"I don't think so," returned Mr. Boise with a cheerful smile. "You
probably couldn't influence me in the least; but that charming young
lady who was with you yesterday afternoon--your sister or something,
I believe, wasn't it--she might."

Johnny stiffened.

"Then we don't want it," he quietly decided, and took his hat.

"That's the stuff!" yelled Boise in delight. "You belong out West!
Well, Johnny, I'm afraid you'll have to have it as a matter of
sentiment, and partly on the charming young lady's account, whether
you like it or not. Now what have you to say about it, you young
bantam?"

"Much obliged," laughed Johnny, recovering from his huff in a hurry.
"I thank you for both of us."

"Don't mention it," replied Boise easily, and chuckling in a way
that did him good. "Give my very warmest regards to the young lady
in question."

"Would you care to come down-stairs and give them to her yourself?"
invited Johnny, a trifle ashamed that he had resented the quite
evidently sincere admiration of Boise for both Constance and
himself.

"So early in the morning?" laughed Boise, putting on his sombrero
with alacrity. "It must be serious," and, clapping Johnny heartily
on the shoulder with a hand which in its lightest touch came down
with the force of a mallet, he led the way to the elevator.

At the curb Mr. Boise, who was also confronting a busy day,
delighted both the girls and Johnny by the sort of well-wishes that
a real man can make people believe, and when they drove away
Constance was blushing and Polly was actually threatening to adopt
him.

The next stop was at Collaton's, where Johnny bought from that
nonchalantly pleased young man his interest in the Gamble-Collaton
Irrigation Company for five thousand dollars, A check for which
amount he borrowed from Polly while Collaton was signing the
transfer.

Next he went to the offices of the Western Developing Company, and
the president of that extensive concern waved him away with both
hands.

"If you've come about that Sancho Hills Basin land of yours, talk to
me about it in a theater lobby sometime," Washburn warned Johnny in
advance. "We discuss nothing but real business up here."

"I'll bet you five thousand acres of the land that this is real
business," Johnny offered. "The S. W. & P. has just secured control
of the B. F. & N. W., and intends to run the main line to Puget
Sound right square through the middle of my land. Now are you busy?"

"Sit down and have a cigar," invited Washburn, and slammed a call-
bell. "Billy," he told a boy, "if Mr. Rothberg comes in on that
appointment tell him I'll see him in a few minutes. Now, Johnny, how
do I know that the S. W. & P. will actually build that connecting
link through your land?"

"Ask Boise," directed Johnny confidently. "He's at the Hotel Midas,
and he has appointments in his room for the most of the morning."

"Has that grasping old monopolist gumshoed into town again?"
inquired Washburn, and promptly ordered his secretary to get Boise
on the telephone. "How much do you want for that land?" he asked
while he waited.

"Half a million dollars," stated Johnny. "No, I mean five hundred
and ten thousand," he hastily corrected, remembering his five-
thousand-dollar debt to Polly, and planning a five-thousand-dollar
betrothal blow-out that should be a function worth while.

"Half a million's a lot of money," Washburn soberly objected.

"I said half a million and ten thousand, spot cash and to-day,"
Johnny carefully corrected.

"You're joking."

"Am I smiling?" demanded Johnny. "Washburn, if I can't get that odd
ten thousand I'm in no hurry to sell."

Washburn's bell rang, but he went into the next room to talk to
Boise. He came back resigned.

"We'll need a few days for the formalities," he suggested.

"You don't need a minute," denied Johnny. "You looked up the title
weeks ago, and you know it's all right. The formalities can be
concluded in thirty minutes if you'll send your attorney down with
me."

"But what's the rush?" demanded Washburn, averse to paying out cash
with this speed.

"I want the money," explained Johnny.

"All right," gave in Washburn. "You may see Jackson at two o'clock
and wind up the business. He'll hand you a check."

"For five hundred and ten thousand?" inquired Johnny with proper
caution.

"For five hundred and ten thousand," repeated Washburn. "It's a
fool-sounding amount, but Boise said that if I wouldn't pay it he
would."

"May I speak to Boise a minute?" asked Johnny.

"This deal's closed," hastily cautioned Washburn with his hand on
the telephone.

"Of course it's closed," acknowledged Johnny. "I want to invite
Boise to a party."

CHAPTER XXV

IN WHICH JOHNNY KEEPS ON DOING BUSINESS TILL THE CLOCK STRIKES FOUR

The hired auto had plenty to do. It carried Johnny to court, where
he made a deposition against Gresham; it carried him to the office
of the Amalgamated Steel Company, where he had the bonds that
Gresham had transferred to him registered in his own name; it
carried him to the appointment with Washburn's lawyer, who destroyed
a full hour and a half of palpitating time; and it carried all of
them to Loring's office, into which they burst triumphantly at
twenty minutes of four.

At that hour Loring's office was crowded with loafers, the same
being Colonel Bouncer, Morton Washer, Joe Close, Ben Courtney, Val
Russel and Bruce Townley.

"This being a sporting event of some note, I gathered up a nice
little bunch of sports to see the finish," explained Val Russel with
a graceful bow. "Loring passed me the word that he expected you to
nose under the wire in record time. You must show us the million
dollars you were to have by four P. M., on Wednesday, May thirty-
first."

"I don't have to flash it for twenty minutes," claimed Johnny
happily. "At that hour I will show you a certificate of deposit on
Joe Close's bank for half a million in bonds, and a sure-enough
check for five hundred and ten thousand dollars."

"No fair!" objected Val. "You were to have only an even million, and
you've shot ten thousand over the mark."

"I owe Polly five thousand," explained Johnny as he hung his hat on
a hook and pushed back his sleeves, "and I provided for the other
five thousand in order to give a party. May I wash my face while I'm
waiting for the time to be up?"

Courtney noticed that Constance had moved over toward the rather
inadequately screened basin in the corner in unconscious
accompaniment of Johnny.

"We'll excuse you if you'll answer one question," Courtney ventured
with twinkling eyes. "It has been generally understood among your
friends that when you really secured your million dollars--"

"That will do," interrupted Polly Parsons. "You interfered once
before with Johnny's love affairs--Well, I'm not giving anything
away!" she hotly retorted to a blazing glance from Constance.

The door opened and a boy brought in a package for Mr. Gamble.
Loring, guessing the contents from its size, tore off the wrapper.

"Collaton sticks, anyhow, Johnny," he called. "Here are the lost
books."

"Cheap at half the price," laughed Johnny as he splashed in the
water. "By the way, Loring, you never did tell me how you steered
off that first bogus attachment for fifteen thousand."

Constance and Loring looked at each other in dismay.

"I'll bring in a bill for that after four o'clock," promised Loring,
laughing as lightly as he could.

"After four," repeated Johnny, coming from behind the screen with a
towel in his hands. "You didn't pay it, did you?"

"That's an entirely separate deal," evaded Loring.

"Where did you get the money?" demanded Johnny, and scrutinizing the
confused face of Constance, he knew.

Johnny smiled gratefully at her and patted her on the shoulder as he
walked quietly behind the screen. Great Scott! He glanced over the
screen at the clock. Where could he make ten thousand dollars in
fifteen minutes? He had to have that million and it must be clear!
He reached for a comb with one hand and for his hat with the other.

Winnie and Sammy Chirp rushed into the office--Winnie in a
bewildering new outfit of pure white, beaming all over with
importance, and Sammy smiling as he had never smiled before.

"Where on earth have you been?" demanded Polly. "I've been
telephoning for you all day."

"Well," explained Winnie volubly, "I took a notion to marry Sammy. I
just thought that if I mentioned it to you you'd want me to wait a
while, and when it did happen it would be a regular fussy affair."

"Honestly, child, I don't know whether to scold you or kiss you,"
broke in Polly. "Sammy, come here."

Sammy came, not only obediently but humbly, though he never ceased
to smile; and he looked her squarely in the eyes.

Polly surveyed him long and earnestly.

"I guess it's the best thing that could have happened to both of
you, but I'll have a dreadful time looking after such a pair!"

"I'll look after my husband myself, if you please!" indignantly
protested Winnie.

Everybody laughed, and Polly started the popular ceremony of kissing
the bride.

Johnny Gamble came thoughtfully from behind the screen. He had not
heard the commotion, nor was he even now aware that Winnie and Sammy
had been added to the party. He had a broken comb in his hand.

"Bruce," said he, looking steadfastly at the comb, "did you ever
feel the need of a comb of your own in a public wash room?"

"I've sent a boy six blocks to buy one," responded Bruce with a
surge of recurrent indignation.

"It's the curse of the nation," Val earnestly assured him. "You are
ready for the theater. You have fifteen minutes to spare. You drop
into a gilded palace of crime to drink a highball. In your
earnestness you muss your hair. You retire to primp. A comb hangs
before you, with one serviceable tooth. A brush with eight bristles
hangs by its side. You smooth your hair with your towel and go away
saddened for ever!"

"The trouble is," said Colonel Bouncer, "that every man thinks he's
going to carry a neat little pocket-comb in a neat little case, and
he buys dozens of them; but he never has one with him."

"Thanks," acknowledged Johnny. "Now suppose you could step into any
barber shop, theater, hotel, saloon or depot wash room, drop a
nickel in a slot and take out a nice papier-mache comb, paraffined
and medicated and sealed in an oiled-paper wrapper. Would you do
it?"

"Just as fast as I could push the button," agreed Bruce with
enthusiasm.

"Well, I've just invented that comb," explained Johnny, smiling. "Do
you think there would be a good business in manufacturing it?"

Courtney, who had been considering the matter gravely, now nodded
his head emphatically.

"There's a handsome fortune in it," he declared. "It is one of those
little things of which there are enormous quantities used and thrown
away each day. If you want to organize a company to put it on the
market, Johnny, I'll take any amount of stock you think proper--not
only for the investment, but for the pure philanthropy of it."

"Also for the pure selfishness of it," laughed Joe Close. "Courtney
wants to be sure to find a private comb in every public wash room."

"When you get your factory going I wish you'd send a salesman to my
head supply man," requested Mort Washer. "I'll buy them by the ton,
and every guest who comes into one of my hotels will find a fresh
comb in an aseptic wrapper by the side of his individual soap."

"That will be up to Bruce," Johnny informed him. "Bruce intends to
manufacture this device at his papier-mache factory."

"Thanks," acknowledged Bruce. "I hadn't contemplated enlarging the
factory, but I see I shall need to."

"Johnny isn't kidding, Bruce," Val shrewdly warned him.

"Neither am I," maintained Bruce stoutly. "I'll have that comb on
the market so quickly that you can almost afford to wait for it.
Royalty, Johnny?"

"No," denied Johnny promptly. "I'll sell it to you outright for ten
thousand dollars, me to sign any sort of papers you need and you to
pay the patent lawyer."

"I'd be robbing you," protested Bruce. "I should think you'd want to
retain an interest in the manufacture, or at least a royalty.
There'd be a lot more money in it for you."

"Wait just a minute," directed Loring, sitting down at his
typewriting machine from which the neat operator had fled at the
very beginning of the social invasion.

For the next two or three minutes the rapidfire click of the keys
under Loring's practiced fingers drowned all other sound, and then
he jerked off a paper.

"Now, Johnny, you sign this," he ordered. "It is a rather legal
transfer, in line with your other dubious operations of the day, of
all your rights in the Johnny Gamble comb to one Bruce Townley, here
present. Bruce, give Johnny your check for the ten thousand
dollars."

"All right, if you fellows are bound to have it that way," agreed
Bruce. "I haven't a check-book with me, Johnny, but I'll send it up
to you from the office to-morrow."

"But, Bruce, that won't do!" hastily urged Constance. "He must have
the check right now. Don't you see he only has a million and ten
thousand dollars? He owes Polly five thousand and me fifteen
thousand, and if you give him ten thousand dollars for his invention
he'll have a million and how much? I'm all mixed up! But I do know
this: that he'll have his million dollars left exactly to the cent!"

"I--I see," stuttered Bruce in a fever of anxiety to help Johnny
achieve his million in the specified time. "I--I'm sorry I haven't
my check-book," and he looked about him hopelessly.

Just in front of his chest was suspended a check, already made out
in favor of Johnny Gamble, in the amount of ten thousand dollars,
properly dated and lacking only Bruce's signature. It was smiling
Sammy Chirp who had been quietly thoughtful enough to remember that
he and Bruce did business at the same bank.

"The nation is saved!" cheered Val Russel as Bruce dropped down at
Loring's desk. Johnny was already busy writing.

"Do hurry!" urged Constance. "It's two minutes of four!"

Johnny jumped up with two checks on the First National Bank and
passed one to Constance and one to Polly.

"Tough luck!" suddenly commented Val Russel. "It just occurs to me
that our friend Johnny will have to break into his million to pay
for his blow-out."

"I'm glad of it," snapped Morton Washer. "He took an eighth of that
million out of my pocket. He can afford to give a dinner, with
salted almonds and real imported champagne at every plate."

"And a glass-scratching diamond souvenir from the million-dollar
bride," added Polly with a wicked glance at Constance.

"Are we positive that he has won a bride?" demanded Courtney,
gathering courage from the fact that Polly was not crushed.

"I don't know myself," boasted Johnny with an assumption of
masculine masterfulness which he knew he could never maintain. "Will
you marry me, Constance?"

"I decline to discuss that in public," declared Constance with well-
feigned haughtiness.

Johnny kissed her, anyhow, and the mob cheered.

"Listen!" ordered Constance.

The little clock above Loring's desk struck four.

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