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

Part 2 out of 3

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had passed; moonlight might betray him. When he found a way up that
unlucky wall others of the search party farther to the left were well
beyond him.

Perhaps a quarter of a mile away, the last sheer cliff, the Thumb
which gave the hill its name, frowned above him, a hundred feet from
base to crest. Pringle bore obliquely up to the right. Speed was his
best safety now; he pushed on boldly, cheered by the thought that
if seen by any of the posse he would be taken for one of their own
number. But Foy, seeing him, would make the same mistake! It was an
uncomfortable reflection.

The pitch was less abrupt now, and there were no more ledges; instead,
bowlders were strewn along the rounded slope, with bush and stunted
tree between. Through these Pringle breasted his way, seeking even
more to protect himself from above than from below, forced at times to
crawl through an open space exposed to possible fire from both sides;
so came at last to the masses of splintered and broken rock at the
foot of the cliff, where he sank breathless and panting.

The tethered constellations paled in the sky; the moon rose and lit
the cliff with silver fire. The worst was yet to come. Foy would ask
no questions of any prowler, that was sure; he would reason that a
friend would call out boldly. And John Wesley had no idea where Foy or
his cave might be. Yet he must be found.

With a hearty swig at the canteen Pringle crept off to the right. The
moonlight beat full upon the cliff. He had little trouble in that ruin
of broken stone to find cover from foes below; but at each turn he
confidently looked forward to a bullet from his friend.

"Foy! Foy!" he called softly as he crawled. "It's Pringle! Don't
shoot!"

After a space he came to an angle where the cliff turned abruptly
west and dwindled sharply in height. He remembered what the Major had
said--the upper entrance of the cave came out on the highest crest of
the hill. He turned back to retrace his painful way. The smell of dawn
was in the air; the east sparkled. No sound came from the ambush all
around. The end was near.

He passed by his starting-point; he crept on by slide and bush and
stone. The moon magic faded and paled, mingled with the swift gray of
dawn. He held his perilous way. Cold sweat stood on his brow. If Foy
or a foe of Foy were on the cliff now, how easy to topple down a stone
upon him! The absolute stillness was painful. A thought came to him of
Stella Vorhis--her laughing eyes, her misty hair, the little hand that
had lingered upon his own. Such a little, little hand!

Before him a narrow slit opened in the wall--such a crevice as the
Major had described.

"Foy! Oh, Foy!" he called. No answer came. He raised his voice a
little louder. "Foy! Speak if you're there! It's Pringle!"

A gentle voice answered from the cleft:

"Let us hope, for your sake, that you are not mistaken about that. I
should be dreadfully vexed if you were deceiving me. The voice is the
voice of Pringle, but how about the face? I can only see your back."

"I would raise my head, so you could take a nice look by the
well-known cold gray light of the justly celebrated dawn," rejoined
Pringle, "if I wasn't reasonably sure that a rifle shot would promptly
mar the classic outlines of my face. They're all around you, Foy.
Hargis, he gave you away. Don't show a finger nail of yourself. Let me
crawl up behind that big rock ahead and then you can identify me."

"It's you, all right," said Foy when Pringle reached the rock and
straightened himself up.

"I told you so," said Pringle, peering into the shadows of the cleft.
"I can't see you. And how am I going to get to you? There are twenty
men with point-blank range. I'm muddy, scratched, bruised, tired and
hungry, sleepy and cross--and there's thirty feet in the open between
here and you, and it nearly broad daylight. If I try to cross that
I'll run twenty-five hundred pounds to the ton, pure lead. Well, we
can put up a pretty nifty fight, even so. You go back to the other
outlet of your cave and I'll stay here. I'm kinder lonesome, too....
Toss me some cartridges first. I only got five. I left in a hurry. You
got forty-fives?"

"Plenty. But you can't stay there. They'll pot you from the top of the
bluff, first off. Besides, you got a canteen, I see. You back up to
that mountain mahogany bush, slip under it, and worm down through
the rocks till you come to a little scrub-oak tree and a big granite
bowlder. They'll give you shelter to cross the ridge into a deep
ravine that leads here where I am. You'll be out of sight all the way
up once you hit the ravine. I'd--I'd worm along pretty spry if I was
you, going down as far as the scrub oak--say, about as swift as
a rattlesnake strikes--and pray any little prayers you happen to
remember. And say, Pringle, before you go ... I'm rather obliged to
you for coming up here; risking taking cold and all. If it'll cheer
you up any I'll undertake that anyone getting you on the trip will
think there's one gosh-awful echo here."

"S'long!" said Pringle.

He wriggled backward and disappeared.

Ten minutes later he writhed under the bush at Foy's feet.

"Never saw me!" he said. "But I'll always sleep in coils after
this--always supposing we got any after this coming to us."

"One more crawl," said Foy, leading the way. "We'll go up on top.
Regular fort up there. If we've got to die we'll die in the sun."

He stooped at what seemed the end of the passage and crawled out of
sight under the low branches of a stunted cedar. Pringle followed and
found himself in the pitch dark.

"Grab hold of my coat tail. I know my way, feeling the wall. Watch
your step or you'll bark your shins."

The cave floor was smooth underfoot, except for scattered rocks; it
rose and dipped, but the general trend was sharply upward.

"You're quite an institution, Pringle. You've made good Stella's word
of you--the best ever!" said Foy as they mounted. "But you can't do
me any good, really. I'll enjoy your company, but I wish you hadn't come."

"That's all right. I always like to finish what I begin."

"Well," remarked Foy cheerfully, "I reckon we've reached the big
finish, both of us. I don't see any way out. All they've got to do
is to sit tight till we starve out for water. Wish you was out of it.
It's going to be tough on Stella, losing her friend and--and me, both
at once. How's she making out? Full of fight and hope to the last,
I'll bet."

"They had me under herd; but she was wishing for the Bar Cross buddies
to butt in, I believe. Reckon your sheriff-man guessed it. He had her
under guard, too."

"Nice man, the sheriff! How'd you get away from your herder?"

"He don't just remember," said Pringle.

"Who was it?"

"Applegate. Dreadful absent-minded, Applegate is. Ouch! There went my
other shin. Had any sleep?"

"Most all night. Something woke me up about two hours ago, and I kept
on the look-out ever since."

"That was me, I guess. I had to step lively. They was crowding me."

"If the Bar Cross happened to get word," observed Foy thoughtfully,
"we might stand some hack. But they won't. It's good-by, vain world,
for ours! Say, in case a miracle happens for you, just make a memo
about the sheriff being a nuisance, will you?"

"I'll tie a string on my finger. Anything else?"

"You might stick around and cheer Stella up a little. I'll do as much
for you sometime. I'm thinking she'll feel pretty bad at first. Here
we are!"

A faint glimmer showed ahead. They crawled under low bushes and
stumbled out, in what seemed at first a dazzle of light; into a
small saucer-shaped plat of earth a few feet across, enclosed by
an irregular oval made by great blocks of stone, man-high. Below, a
succession of little cliffs fell away, stair fashion, to an exceeding
high and narrow gap which separated Little Thumb Butte from its
greater neighbor, Big Thumb Butte.

"Castle Craney Crow," smiled Foy with a proprietary wave of his hand.
"Just right for our business, isn't it? Make yourself at home, while
I take a peep around about." He bent to peer through bush and crack.
"Nothing stirring," he announced. He leaned his rifle against a
walling rock. "Let's have a look at that water."

He raised the canteen to his lips. Pringle struck swift and hard to
the tilted chin. Foy dropped like a poled bullock; his head struck
heavily against the sharp corner of a rock. Pringle pounced on the
stricken man. He threw Foy's sixshooter aside; he pulled Foy's wrists
behind him and tied them tightly with a handkerchief. Then he rolled
his captive over.

Foy's eyes opened; they rolled back till only the whites were visible;
his lips twitched. Pringle hastily bound his handkerchief to the gash
the stone had made; he sprinkled the blood-streaked face with water;
he spilled drops of water between the parted lips. Foy did not revive.

Pringle stuck his hat on the rifle muzzle and waved it over the
parapet of rock.

"Hello!" he shouted. "Bring on your reward! I've got Foy! It's
me--Pringle! Come get him; and be quick--he's bleeding mighty bad."

"Come out, you! Hands up and no monkey business!" answered a startled
voice not fifty yards away.

"Who's that? That you, Nueces? Give me your word and I'll lug him out.
No time to lose--he's hurt, and hurt bad."

"You play fair and we will. I give my word!" shouted Nueces.

"Here goes!" Pringle pitched the rifle over. A moment later he
staggered out between the rocks, bearing Foy's heavy weight in his
arms. The head hung helpless, blood-spattered; the body was limp and
slack; the legs dragged sprawling; the dreaded hands were bound.

Pringle laid his burden on the grass.

"Here he is, you hyenas! His hands are tied--are you still afraid of
him? Damn you! The man's bleeding to death!"

Chapter VI

"You treacherous, dirty hound!" said Breslin.

"Of all the low-down skunks I ever seen, you sure are the skunkiest!"
said Nueces. "The sheriff was right after all. Cur-dog fits you to a
T." He finished washing out the cut on Foy's head as he spoke. "Now
the bandages, Anastacio. We'll have the blood stopped in a jiffy.
Funny he hasn't come to. It's been a long while. It ain't the head
ails him. This isn't such a deep cut; it oughtn't to put him out. Just
happened to strike a vein." He bound up the cut with the deftness of
experience.

"I hit him under the jaw," observed Pringle. "That's what did the
business for him. He'll be around directly."

Anastacio looked up at Pringle; measureless contempt was in his eyes.

"Judas Iscariot could have sublet his job to you at half price if
you'd been in the neighborhood. You are the limit, plus! I hope to see
you fry in a New English hell!"

"Oh, that's all right, too," said Pringle unabashed. "I might just
as well have that forty-five hundred as anyone. It wouldn't amount to
much split amongst all you fellows, but it's quite a bundle for
one man. That'll keep the wolf from the well-known door for quite a
while."

"You won't touch a cent of it!" declared the sheriff.

"Won't I though? We'll see about that. I captured him alone, didn't I?
Oh, I reckon I'll finger the money, alrighty!"

"Here, fellows; give him a bait of whisky," said Creagan.

Breslin, kneeling at Foy's side, took the extended flask. They
administered the stimulant cautiously, a sip at a time. Foy's eyes
flickered; his breath came freer.

"He's coming!" said Breslin. "Give him a sip of water now."

"He'll be O.K. in five minutes, far as settin' up goes," said old
Nueces, well pleased; "but he ain't goin' to be any too peart for
quite some time--not for gettin' down off o' this hill. See--he's
battin' his eyes and working his hands around. He sure heard the
birdies sing!"

"The rest of you boys had just as well go on down to the shack,"
directed the sheriff. "Creagan and Joe and me will take care of Foy
till he's able to move or be moved, and bring him into camp. You just
lead up our three horses and an extra one for Foy--up as far as you
can fetch 'em. One of you can ride home behind someone. Call down to
the bunch under the cliff that we've got 'em, and for them to hike out
to the ranch and take a nap. You'd better turn old Vorhis loose--and
that girl. They can't do any harm now."

"Bring my horse, too," said Anastacio. "I'm staying. I want to be sure
the invalid gets ... proper care."

"Me too," said Breslin.

"And I'm staying to kinder superintend," said Nueces dryly. "Sheriff,"
he added, as the main body of the posse fell off down the hill--"and
you, too, Barela--I don't just know what's going on here, but I'm
stayin' with you to a fare-you-well. You two seem to be bucking each
other."

No one answered.

"Sulky, hey? Well, anyhow, call it off long enough to drive this
Pringle thing away from here. He ain't fittin' for no man to herd
with."

"I'm staying right with this man Foy till I get that reward,"
announced Pringle. "Those are my superintentions. Much I care what you
think about me! There's other places besides this."

Breslin raised his eye from Foy's face and regarded Pringle without
heat--a steady, contemplative look, as of one who studies some strange
and interesting animal. Then he waved his hand down the pass, where
certain of the departing posse, were bringing the saddle horses in
obedience to the sheriff's instructions.

"They'll carry a nice report of you," observed Breslin quietly. "What
do you suppose that little girl will think?"

A flicker of red came to Pringle's hard brown face. Even the scorn of
Espalin and Creagan had left him unabashed, but now he winced visibly;
and, for once, he had no reply to make.

Foy gasped, struggled to a sitting position, aided by his oddly
assorted ministrants, gazed round in a dazed condition and lapsed back
into unconsciousness.

"I'll take my dyin' oath it ain't the cut that ails him," said the
ranger, tucking a coat under Foy's blood-stained head. "That must have
been a horrible jolt on his jaw, Pringle. You're no kind of a man at
all--no part of a man. You're a shameless, black-hearted traitor; but
I got to hand it to you as a slugger. Two knock-outs in one day--and
such men as them! I don't understand it."

"He 'most keel Applegate," said the Mexican.

"Aw, it's easy!" said Pringle eagerly. "There ain't one man in a
thousand knows how to fight. It ain't cussin' and gritting your teeth,
and swellin' up your biceps and clenching your fists up tight that
does the trick. You want to hit like there wasn't anybody there. I'll
show you sometime."

He paused inquiringly, as if to book any acceptance of this kindly
offer. No such engagements being made, Pringle continued:

"Supposin' you was throwin' a baseball and your hand struck a man
accidentally; you'd hurt him every time--only you'd break your arm
that way. That ain't the way to strike. I'll show you."

"That wasn't no olive branch I was holdin' out," stated Nueces River.
"You'll show me nothin'--turncoat!"

"It helps a lot, too, when the man you hit is not expecting it,"
suggested Anastacio smoothly. "You might show me sometime--when I'm
looking for it."

"Now what's biting you?" demanded Pringle testily. "What did you
expect me to do--send 'em a note by registered mail?"

"I'm not speaking about Applegate. That was all right. I am speaking
about your friend."

"Here; Kit's coming to life again," said Lisner.

Kitty Foy rolled over; they propped him up; he looked round rather
wildly from one to the other. His face cleared. His eye fell upon
Pringle, where it rested with a steady intentness. When he spoke, at
last, he ignored the others entirely.

"And I thought you were my friend, Pringle. I trusted you!" he said
with ominous quietness. "I'll make a note of it. I have a good memory,
Pringle--and good friends. Give me some water, someone. I feel sick."

Espalin brought a canteen.

"Take your time, Chris," said Lisner. "Tell us when you feel able to
go."

"I'll be all right after a little. Say, boys, it was the queerest
feeling--coming to, I mean. I could almost hear your voices, first.
Then I heard them a long ways off but I couldn't make any sense to the
words. Here; let me lean my back up against this rock and sit quiet
for a while. Then we'll go. I'm giddy yet."

"I've got it!" announced Nueces a moment later. "Barela, he's
hankering to be sheriff--that's the trouble. He wanted to take Chris
himself, to help things along. That would be quite a feather in any
man's hat--done fair. And the sheriff, natural enough, he don't want
nothing of the kind."

"That's it," said Anastacio, amusement in his eyes. "I knew you were a
good gunman, Nueces, but I never suspected you of brains before."

"What's the matter with that guess?" said Nueces sulkily. "Kid, you're
always ridin' me. Don't you try to use any spurs!"

"I'm in on that," said Pringle, rising brightly. "That's my happy
chance to join in this lovin' conversation. Speaking about gunmen, I'm
a beaut! See that hawk screechin' around up there? Well, watch!"

The hawk soared high above. Pringle barely raised Foy's rifle to his
shoulder as he fired; the hawk tumbled headlong. Pringle jerked the
lever, throwing another cartridge into the barrel, as if to fire again
at the falling bird. Inconceivably swift, the cocked rifle whirled to
cover the seated posse.

"Steady!" said Pringle. "I'm watchin' you, Nueces! Chris, when
you're able to walk, go on down and pick you a horse from that bunch.
Unsaddle the others and drive 'em along a ways as you go." Still
speaking, he edged behind the cover of a high rock. "I'll address the
meetin' till you get a good head start.... Steady in the boat!"

"Well, by Heck!" said Nueces.

"And I thought you had betrayed me!" cried Foy.

"Well, I hadn't. This was the only show to get off.... I hate to kill
you, Nueces; but I will if you make a move."

"Hell! I ain't makin' no move! What do you think I am--a damn fool?"
said Neuces. "If I moved any it was because I am about to crack under
the justly celebrated strain. Say, young fellow, it strikes me that
you change sides pretty often."

"Yes; I am the Acrobat of the Breakfast Table," said Pringle modestly.
"Thanks for the young fellow. That listens good."

"Look out I don't have you performing on a tight rope yet!" growled
the sheriff hoarsely. "There'll be more to this. You haven't got out
of the country yet."

"That will be all from you, Sheriff. You, too, Creagan--and Espalin.
Not a word or I'll shoot. And I don't care how soon you begin to talk.
That goes!"

Espalin shriveled up; the sheriff and Creagan sat sullen and silent.

Foy got to his feet rather unsteadily.

"Chris, you might slip around and gather up their guns," said Pringle.
"Pick out one for yourself. I left yours where I threw it when I
picked it out of your belt. I meant to knock you out, Chris--there
wasn't any other way; but I didn't mean to plumb kill you. You hit
your head on a rock when you fell. It wouldn't have done any good to
have got the drop on you. You had made up your mind not to surrender.
You would have shot anyhow; and, of course, I couldn't shoot. I'd
just have got myself killed for nothing. No good to play I'd taken you
prisoner. This crowd knew you wouldn't be taken--except by treachery.
So I played traitor. As it was, when I knocked you out you didn't look
much like no put-up job. You was bleeding like a stuck pig."

"Hold on, there, before you try to take my gun!" warned old Nueces
River as Foy came to him for his gun, collecting. "You got the big
drop on me, Pringle, and I wouldn't raise a hand to keep Chris from
getting off anyhow--not now. But I used to be a ranger--and the
rangers were sworn never to give up their guns."

"How about it, Pringle?" asked Foy, who had already relieved the
sheriff and his satellites of their guns. "He'll do exactly as he
says--both ways."

"I wasn't done talking yet," said Nueces irritably. "But I'll let
Chris take my gun, on one condition."

"What's that?" inquired Pringle.

"Why, if you ain't busy next Saturday I'd like to have you call
around--about one o'clock, say--and kick me good and hard."

"Let him keep his gun. He called me a young fellow. And I don't want
Breslin's, anyway. He's all right. Not to play any favorites, let
Anastacio keep his. There are times," said Pringle, "when I have great
hopes of Anastacio. I'm thinking some of taking him in hand to see if
I can't make a man of him."

"Ananias the Amateur," said Anastacio, "I thank you for those kind
words. And I'd like to see you Saturday about two--when you get
through with Nueces. I'm next on the waiting list. This will be a
lesson to me never to let my opinion of a man be changed by anything
he may do."

"If you fellows feel that way," said Foy, "how about me? How do you
suppose I feel? This man has risked his life fifty times for me--and
what did I think of him?"

"If you ask me, Christopher," said Anastacio, "I think you were quite
excusable. It was all very well to dissemble his love--but I should
feel doubtful of any man that handed me such a wallop as that until
the matter had been fully explained."

"What I want to know, Pringle, is, how the deuce you got up here so
slick?" said Nueces.

"Oh, that's easy! I can run a mile in nothing flat."

"Oh--that's it? You hid in the water pen?"

"Under the troughs. Bright idea of yours, them fires! I knew just
where not to go. After you left I hooked a horse. If you'd had sense
enough to go with the sheriff and eat your supper like a human being
I'd 'a' hooked two horses, and Chris and me would now be getting
farther and farther. I don't want you ever to do that again. Suppose
Chris had killed me when I tried to knock him out? Fine large name I
would 'a' left for myself, wouldn't I?"

"If you had fought it out with us," said Breslin musingly, "you would
have been killed--both of you; and you would have killed others. Mr.
Pringle, you have done a fine thing. I apologize to you."

"Why, that all goes without saying, my boy. As for my part--why, I
don't bother much about a blue tin heaven or a comic-supplement hell,
but I'm right smart interested in right here and now. It's a right
nice little old world, take it by and large, and I like to help out at
whatever comes my way, if it takes fourteen innings. But, so long as
you feel that way about it, maybe you'll believe me now, when I say
that Christopher Foy was with me all last night and he didn't shoot
Dick Marr."

"That's right," said Foy. "I don't know who killed Dick Marr; but I do
know that Creagan, Joe Espalin, and Applegate intended to kill me
last night. They gave me back my sixshooter, that Ben Creagan had
borrowed--and it was loaded with blanks. Then they pitched onto me,
and if it hadn't been for Pringle they'd have got me sure! We left
town at eleven o'clock and rode straight to the Vorhis Ranch."

"I believe you," said Anastacio. "You skip along now, Chris. You're
fit to ride."

"Why shouldn't I stay and see it out?"

"It won't do. For one thing, your thinker isn't working as per
invoice," said Nueces River. "You're in no fix to do yourself justice.
We'll look after your interests. You know some of the posse might be
coming back, askin' fool questions. Pull your freight up to the Bar
Cross till we send for you."

"Well--if you think Pringle isn't running any risks I'll go."

"We'll take care of Pringle. Guess we'll make him sheriff next fall,
maybe--just to keep Anastacio in his place. Drift!"

"No sheriffin' for mine, thanks. Contracting is my line.
Subcontracting!"

"So long, boys! You know what I'd like to say. You gave me a square
deal, you three chaps," said Foy. "Get word to Stella as soon as ever
you can. She thinks I'm a prisoner, you know. You know what I want to
say there, Pringle--tell her for me.... Say! Why don't you all go in
now? You boys all know that Stella's engaged to me, don't you? What's
the good of keeping her in suspense? Go on to the ranch, right away."

"I told you your head wasn't working just right," jeered Nueces. "We
want to give you a good start. They'll be after you again, and you're
in no fix to do any hard riding. But one of us will go. Breslin, you
go."

"Too late," observed Anastacio quietly. There is Miss Vorhis now, with
her father. They're climbing to the Gap. Go on, Foy."

"They've got a led horse," said Nueces as Stella and the Major came
to the highest point of the Gap. "Who's that for? Chris? But they
couldn't know about Chris. And how did they get here so quick? Don't
seem like they've had hardly time."

Stella dismounted; she pressed on up the hill to meet her lover. The
first sunshafts struck into the Gap, lit up the narrow walls with red
glory.

"_Magic Casements!_" thought Pringle.

"Watch Foy get over the ground!" said Anastacio. "He'll break his neck
before he gets down. I don't blame him. He's nearly down. Look the
other way, boys!"

They looked the other way, and there were none to see that meeting.
Unless, perhaps, the gods looked down from high Olympus--the poor
immortals--and turned away, disconsolate, to the cheerless fields of
asphodel.

"But they're not going away," said Breslin after a suitable interval.
"They're waiting; and the Major's waving his hat at us."

"I'll go see what they want," said Anastacio.

In a few minutes he was back, rather breathless and extremely agitated
in appearance.

"Well? Spill it!" said Nueces. "Get your breath first. What's the
trouble?"

"Applegate's dead. Joe Espalin, I arrest you for the murder of Richard
Marr! Applegate confessed!"

"He lied! He lied!" screamed Espalin. "I was with Ben till daylight,
at the monte game; they all tell you. The sheriff he try to make me
keel heem--he try to buy me to do eet--he keel Dick Marr heemself!"

"That's right!" spoke Creagan, suddenly white and haggard. His voice
was a cringing whine; his eyes groveled. "Marr was at Lisner's house.
We all went over there after the fight. Lisner waked Marr up--he'd
been tryin' to egg Marr on to kill Foy all day, but Marr was too
drunk. He was sobering up when we waked him. Lisner tried to rib him
up to go after Foy and waylay him--told him he had been threatening
Foy's life while he was drunk, and that Foy'd kill him if he didn't
get Foy first. Dick said he wouldn't do it--he'd go along to help
arrest Foy, but that's all he'd do. The sheriff and Joe went
out together for a powwow. The sheriff came back alone, black as
thunder--him and Dick rode off together----"

The sheriff sprang to his feet, his heavy face bloated and blotched
with terror.

"He cursed me; he tried to pull his gun!" he wailed. His eyes
protruded, glaring; one hand clutched at his throat, the other spread
out before him as he tottered, stumbling. "Oh, my God!" he sobbed.

"That will do nicely," said Anastacio. "You're guilty as hell! I'll
put your own handcuffs on you. Oddly enough, the law provides that
when it is necessary to arrest the sheriff the duty falls to the
coroner. It is very appropriate. You must pardon me, Mr. Lisner, if I
seem unsympathetic. Dick Marr was your friend! And you have not been
entirely fair with Foy, I fear.... Creagan, we'll hold you and Joe for
complicity and for conspiracy in Foy's case. We'll arrest Applegate,
too, when we get to camp. He'll be awfully vexed."

"What!" shrieked the sheriff, raising his manacled hands. "Liar!
Murderer!"

"So Applegate's not dead? Well, I'm just as well pleased," said
Pringle.

"Not even hurt badly. I was after the Man Lower Down. What the Major
told me was that the Barelas were at the ranch--more than enough to
hold Lisner's crowd down. They come at daylight. I was expecting that,
and waiting. As I told you, that's the best thing I do--waiting."

"But how did you know?" demanded Breslin, puzzled.

"I didn't know, for sure. I had a hunch and I played it. So I killed
poor Applegate--temporarily. It worked out just right and nothing to
carry."

"One of the mainest matters with the widely-known world," said Pringle
wearily, "is that people won't play their hunches. They haven't spunk
enough to believe what they know. Let me spell it out for you in words
of two cylinders, Breslin: You saw that I knew Creagan and Applegate,
while they positively refused to know me at any price; you heard
the sheriff deny that I was at the Gadsden House before I'd claimed
anything of the sort. Of course you didn't know anything about the
fight at the Gadsden House, but that was enough to show you something
wasn't right, just the same. You had all the material to build a nice
plump hunch. It all went over your head. You put me in mind of the
lightning bug:

"_The lightning bug is brilliant,
But it hasn't any mind;
It wanders through creation
With its headlight on behind_.

"Come on--let's move. I'm fair dead for sleep."

"Just a minute!" said Anastacio. "I want to call your attention to the
big dust off in the north. I've been watching it half an hour. That
dust, if I'm not mistaken, is the Bar Cross coming; they've heard the
news!"

"So, Mr. Lisner, you hadn't a chance to get by with it," said Pringle
slowly and thoughtfully. "If I hadn't balked you, the Barelas stood
ready; if the Barelas failed, yonder big dust was on the way; half
your own posse would have turned on you for half a guess at the truth.
It's a real nice little world--and it hates a lie. A good many people
lay their fine-drawn plans, but they mostly don't come off! Men are
but dust, they tell us. Magnificent dust! This nice little old world
of ours, in the long run, is going right. You can't beat the Game!
Once, yes--or twice--not in the long run. The Percentage is all
against you. You can't beat the Game!"

"It's up to you, Sheriff," said Anastacio briskly. "I can turn you
over to the Bar Cross outfit and they'll hang you now; or I can turn
you over to the Barelas and you will be hung later. Dick Marr was your
friend! Take your choice. You go on down, Pringle, while the sheriff
is looking over the relative advantages of the two propositions. I
think Miss Vorhis may have something to say to you."

* * * * *

She came to meet him; Foy and the Major waited by the horses. "John!"
she said. "Faithful John!" She sought his hands.

"There now, honey--don't take on so! Don't! It's all right! You know
what the poet says:

"Cast your bread upon the waters
And you may live to say:
'Oh, how I wish I had the crust
That once I threw away!'"

Her throat was pulsing swiftly; her eyes were brimming with tears,
bruised for lost sleep.

"Dearest and kindest friend! When I think what you have done for
me--that you faced shame worse than death--guarded by unprovable
honor--John! John!"

"Why, you mustn't, honey--you mustn't do that! Why, Stella, you're
crying--for me! You mustn't do that, Little Next Door!"

"If you had been killed, taking Chris--or after you gave him up--no
one but me would have ever believed but that you meant it."

"But you believed, Stella?"

"Oh, I knew! I knew!"

"Even when you first heard of it?"

"I never doubted you--not one instant! I knew what you meant to do.
You knew I loved him. The led horse was for you. I thought Chris would
be gone. Why, John Wesley, I have known you all my life! You couldn't
do that! You couldn't! Oh, kiss me, kiss me--faithful John!"

But he bent and kissed her hands--lest, looking into his eyes, she
should read in the book of his life one long, long chapter--that bore
her name.

THE END

THE COME ON

"_Fair fellow, said Sir Ector, knowest thou not
in this country any adventures that be here nigh
hand? Sir, said the forester,... strike upon
that basin with the butt of thy spear thrice, and
soon after thou shalt hear new tidings, and else hast
thou the fairest grace that many a year had ever
knight that passed through this forest_.... _Then
anon Sir Ector beat on the basin as he were wood_."

Chapter I

"_Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go_!"

Steve Thompson had sold his cattle. El Paso is (was) the Monte Carlo
of America. Therefore--The syllogism may he imperfectly stated, but
the conclusion is sound. Perhaps there is a premise suppressed or
overlooked somewhere.

Cash in hand, well fortified with paving material, Thompson descended
on the Gate City. At the expiration of thirty-six blameless hours he
perceived that he was looking through a glass darkly, in the Business
Man's Club, intently regarding a neatly-lettered placard which
ambiguously advised all concerned in this wise:

IF DRINKING INTERFERES
WITH YOUR BUSINESS,
STOP IT.

A back-room door was opened. A burst of merriment smote across the
loneliness. A head appeared. The tip of its nose quivered.

"Hey, old-timer! Will you walk into my parlor?" it jeered.

Steve walked over with dignity and firmly closed the door, closing
it, through sheer inadvertence, from the inside. A shout of welcome
greeted him.

With one exception--the Transient--they were all old friends; the
Stockman, the Judge, alike darkly attractive; the supple-handed
Merchant, with curly hair and nose; and the strong quiet figure of the
Eminent Person. A wight of high renown and national, this last, who
had attained to his present bad Eminence through superior longevity.
As he was still in the prime of life, it should perhaps be explained
that his longevity was purely comparative, as contrasted with that of
a number of gentlemen, eminent in the same line, who had been a trifle
dilatory at critical moments, to them final.

The Merchant, sometime Banker-by-night, as now, began evening up
chip-stacks. "How much?" he queried. The Judge and the Eminent Person
hitched along to make room between them.

"I'm not playing to-night," Steve began. He was cut short by a torrent
of scoffing advice and information.

"Only one hundred to come in--all you got to get out."

"Another victim!"

"Bet 'em high and sleep in the streets!"

"Table stakes. Cuter goes for aces and flushes."

"Just give us what you can spare handy and go to bed. You'll save
money and sleep."

"Straight flush the best hand."

"All ties go to the sweaters."

"A man and his money are soon parted!"

"You play the first hand for fun, and all the rest of the night to get
even!" Thus, and more also, the Five in hilarious chorus.

"Any man caught bluffing loses the pot," added the Eminent Person,
gravely admonitory. "And a Lalla-Cooler can only be played once a
night."

"Nary a play play I," said Steve aggrievedly. "I stole just one measly
horse and every one's called me a horse-thief ever since. But I've
played poker, lo! these many years, and no one ever called me a
gambler once. The best I get is, 'Clear out, you blamed sucker. Come
back when you grow a new fleece!' and when I get home the wind moans
down the chimney, 'O-o-o-gh-h! wha-a-t have you do-o-one with your
summer's w-a-A-a-ges!"

"Aw, sit down--you're delayin' the game," said the Stockman. The
Banker shoved over three stacks of patriotically assorted colors and
made a memorandum. The Five howled mockery and derision, the cards
danced and beckoned luringly in the mellow lamplight, the Judge pulled
his coat-tail, the Major Premise tugged. Steve sat down, pulling his
sombrero over his eyes.

"He that runneth after fools shall have property enough," he quoted
inaccurately. "I'll have some of your black hides on the fence by
morning."

The cards running to him, it was not long before Steve doubled his
"come-in" several times on quite ordinary hands, largely because his
capital was so small that he could not be bluffed out. The betting was
fierce and furious. Steve, "on velvet," played brilliantly. But he was
in fast company--too fast for his modest means. The Transient seemed
to have a bottomless purse. The Stockman had cattle on a thousand
hills, the Merchant habitually sold goods at cost.

As for the Judge--his fine Italian hand was distinctly traceable
in the frenzied replies to frenzied attacks upon certain frenzied
financial transactions of his chief, a frenzied but by no means
verdant copper magnate, to whom he, the Judge, was Procureur-General,
adviser legal and otherwise. The Judge took no thought for the morrow,
unless his frequently expressed resolve not to go home till that date
may be so regarded.

The Eminent Person, a Republican for Revenue Only, had been awarded
a remunerative Federal position as a tribute to his ambidextrous
versatility in the life strenuous, and his known prowess as a
"Stand-Patter."

Upon all these things Steve reflected. With caution, some caution,
and again caution, a goodly sum might well be abstracted from these
reckless and capricious persons; provided always that he had money on
the table to play a good hand for what it was worth.

For long his luck held good. Having increased his gains manyfold, he
was (being quite a natural person) naturally incensed that they were
not more. Yielding to his half-formed resolve, he dug up his herd
of cattle and put them on the table. "I am now prepared to grab old
Opportunity by the scalp-lock," he announced.

He played on with varying success. Presently, holding aces up, and
being persistently crosslifted by the Eminent One and the Judge, after
a one-card draw all around, he became obsessed with the fixed idea
that they were both bluffing and afraid to show down. When this
delusion was dispelled, he noted with chagrin that the spoils of Egypt
had departed, taking with them some plenty of real money.

That was the turning-point. By midnight he was hoarse with repeating,
parrot-wise, "That's good--give me another stack." His persistent
losses won him sympathy, even from these hardened plungers.

"Bad luck, old man--sure!" purred the consolatory Stockman, raking the
pot. "I drawed out on you. Sometimes the cards run against a fellow a
long time, that way, and then turn right around and get worse."

"Don't you worry about me," retorted Steve. "You're liable to go home
talking to yourself, yet, if the cards break even."

In the early stages of the game Steve had been nervous and restless
from the fever in his blood. Now he was smiling, easy, serene, his
mind working smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. Collecting all his
forces, counting the chances coolly, he played a steady, consistent
game.

The reckless plunging ceased so far as it was against him. The others,
for most part, merely called his tentative bets with wary respect. Men
of his type are never so formidable as in defeat. Things had come to
such a pass that many good hands netted him little or nothing. Then
came a rally; his pile crept slowly up until he was nearly even.

With twenty dollars each in a jackpot, the Eminent Person dealing, the
Stockman modestly opened for two hundred. The Transient stayed, as did
the Merchant and the Judge, the latter mildly stating that he would
lie low and let some one else play his hand. Steve stayed.

"Happy as the dealer in a big jackpot," warbled the Eminent Person.
"And now we will take an observation." He scrutinized his cards,
contributed his quota, and raised for double the amount. "I'll just
play the Judge's hand for him," he remarked blandly. The Stockman
cheerfully re-raised five hundred.

The Transient, momentarily low in funds, stayed for all he had before
him. "I've got a show for this much," he said, pushing back the side
money. "_And_ a pretty good one. Bet your fool heads off! You've got
to beat a hectic flush to finger this pot!"

The Merchant laid down three sevens, of diamonds, spades and clubs.
"Any one got the seven of hearts?" he wondered. The Judge called.
Steve, squeezing his hand carefully, drew out the seven of hearts,
flashed it at the Merchant, replaced it, and stayed.

The Eminent Person, after due consideration, saw the five hundred and
raised it to a thousand. "To dissuade you all from drawing out on me,"
he explained, stroking his mustache with deliberate care.

The Stockman called without comment. The Judge hesitated, swore
ferociously, and finally called.

Steve squeezed his cards with both hands for a final corroborative
inspection, scratched his head and rolled his eye solemnly around the
festal board.

"Eleven hundred dollars of my good coin in there now, and here I sit
between the devil and the deep, blue sea. One thousand bucks. Much
money. Ugh! One thousand days, each day of twenty-four golden hours
set with twenty near-diamond minutes! Well! I sure hate to give you
fellows this good gold."

"Steve's got one of them things!" surmised the Stockman.

"A fellow _does_ hate to lay down a bobtail straight flush when
there's such a chance for action if he fills," chimed in the Eminent
dealer.

"It's face up, Steve. You'd just as well show us. My boy, you ought to
wear a mustache," said the Judge, critically. "Your lips get pale and
give you away when you try to screw your courage up. Of course,
you've got a sweet, little, rosebud mouth; but you need a big, ox-horn
mustache in this vocation."

"Don't show it, Steve," advised the Stockman. "I judge his Honor's got
one of them same things his black self. You might both fill--and you
don't want to let him see how high yours is."

"If I only don't fill the wrong way," said Steve. "Want to split the
pot or save stakes with me, Judge?"

"That would be a foolish caper. If I fill--I mean," the Judge
corrected himself hastily--"I mean, I've got the money won now, unless
you draw out, and that's a 52 to 1 shot."

"Me, too," said the dealer. "We both got it won. But I'll save out a
hundred with you, Steve. That'll pay your bills and take you home."

"That'll be nine hundred to draw cards for a chance at nine thousand
and action on what I got left. Faint heart never won a jackpot. Here
goes nothin'!" said Steve, pushing the money in. "One from the top,
when you get to me. If I bet after the draw, you all needn't call
unless you're a mind to."

"Got that side money and pot straight?" queried the dealer lightly.
"All right?" He stretched out a long left arm and flipped the cards
from the pack with a jerk of the wrist. "Cards and spades? (I'm pat,
myself, of course.) Cards to you? None? Certainly. None to you, and
one to you, one to you, none----"

Steve's card, spinning round as it came, turned over and lay face up
on the table--the three of hearts. (Laymen will please recall that, as
already specified, a straight flush was, in this game, the Best.) As
the dealer was sliding the next card off to replace it, Steve caught
the thin glint of a red 8 on the corner.

With a motion inconceivably swift he was on his feet, his left hand
over the pack. "Hold on!" he cried. "Look at this!" He made a motion
as if to spread out the four cards he had retained, checked himself
and glared, crouching.

"Sit down, Steve. Don't be a fool," said the Stockman. "You know
you've no right to an exposed card, and you know he didn't go to do
it."

Steve bunched his four cards carefully and laid them on the table,
face down. "Certainly not. Oh, no! He didn't go to do it. But he did
it, just the same," he said bitterly. "Now, look here! I don't think
there's anything wrong--not for a minute. Nothing worse'n dumb,
idiotic thumb-hand-sidedness. I specially don't want no one else to
get mixed up in this," with a glance at the Stockman. "So you and the
Judge needn't feel called upon to act as seconds. But I'm vexed. I'm
vexed just about nine thousand dollars' worth, likely much more, if
my hand hadn't been tipped. _Mira_!" addressing the dealer, who sat
quietly holding the pack in his left hand, his right resting on the
table. "I've a right to _call_ for my card turned up, haven't I?"

"Sure thing," said the dealer equably.

"All right, then. One bad turn deserves another. But--plenty
_cuidado!_ If any card but the eight of hearts turns up, protect
yourself, or somebody's widow'll be in a position to collect life
insurance, and I ain't married! Turn her over." He leaned lightly on
the table with both hands. Their eyes met in a level gaze.

"Let her zip!" said the Eminent Person. Without hesitation he dropped
the card over. No slightest motion from either man, no relaxing of
those interlocked eyes. A catching of breaths--

"The eight of hearts!" This in concert by the quartette of
undisinterested witnesses.

The two Principals looked down, then. That the Eminent Person's free
hand had remained passive throughout bore eloquent testimony to nerve
and integrity alike. Nevertheless, he now ran that hand slowly through
his hair and wiped his forehead. "That was one long five seconds--most
a week, I guess. Did you ever see such a plumb dam-fool break in your
whole life?" he said, appealingly, to the crowd.

"I guess," said Steve sagely, pushing the eight-spot in with his other
cards--"I guess if you'd separated from a thousand big round dollars
to draw a card and then got it turned over, _you_ wouldn't have cared
a whoop if your left eye was out, either. It _is_ warm, ain't it?" He
sat down with a sigh of relief.

The Stockman bunched his cards idly and tapped the table with them.
The Judge was casually examining the chandelier with interest and
approval. Presently, he looked down and around.

"Oh, thunder! What are you waiting for, Thompson? I pass, of course!"
he said testily.

Steve shoved in his pile. "As I mentioned a while ago, you're not
obliged to call this," he said demurely. "Just suit yourselves."

One card at a time, with thumb and forefinger, the Eminent Person
turned over his hand with careful adjustment and alignment. After much
delay, he symmetrically arranged an Ace-full, face up, and regarded it
with profound attention.

"That was a right good-looking hand, too--before the draw," he
remarked at last, sweeping them into the discard.

"Ye-es," assented the Stockman, mildly dubious. "It might have taken
second money--maybe." He tossed in four deuces.

The Transient spread out a club flush. "Do you know?" he said
confidentially--"do you know, I was actually glad to see that hand
when I first picked it up?"

"Won't you fellows _never_ learn to play poker?" said the Judge
severely. "Why don't you stay out till you get something?" He laid his
hand down. "Four tens and most five! The Curse of Scotland and Forty
Miles of Railroad! _For_-ty miles, before the draw--and gone into the
hands of a deceiver!"

"Oh!" Leaning over, Steve touched the ten of spades lightly. "So
_that's_ why I couldn't fill my hand!" he remarked innocently.

"Get out!" snorted the Judge. "No use throwing good money after bad. I
wouldn't call you, not if I had five tens!"

He slammed in his hand. The Eminent Person thoughtfully took out the
hundred he had saved. "Some one press the button, and I'll do the
rest," said Steve. He removed the side-money, placidly ignoring the
"pot" of some fifteen hundred dollars, for which the Transient, having
his money all in, was entitled to a showdown.

The Transient's jaw dropped in unaffected amazement. Dealer and
Stockman drummed their fingers on the table unconcernedly. And the
Judge saw a great light.

"You, _Thompson_!" he roared. "Turn over that hand! I feel that you
have treated this Court with the greatest contemptibility!" He pawed
the discard with frantic haste, producing the seven of hearts.

"Why, you pink-cheeked, dewy-eyed catamaran! What----_have_ you got,
anyway?"

"Why, Judge," said Steve earnestly, "I've got a strong case of
circumstantial evidence." He turned over the eight of hearts; then,
after a pause, the ace, king, queen and jack of spades; and resumed
the stacking of his chips. "I discarded that seven of hearts," he
said, smiling at the Merchant.

A howl of joyous admiration went up; the Transient raked in the pot.

"The Crime of the Century!" bellowed the Judge. "I'm the victim of the
Accomplished Fact! Cash my checks! I'm going to join the Ladies' Aid!"

"Aw, shut up," gasped the Transient. "No sleep till morn where youth
and booty meetsh! Give ush 'nother deck!"

But Steve, having stacked his chips, folded the bills and put them in
his pocket.

"What's the matter with you, you old fool?" demanded the Eminent
Person affectionately. "You can't quit now."

Steve rose, bowing to right and left, spreading his hand over his
heart. "Deeply as I regret and, as I might say, deplore, to quit a
good easy game," he declaimed, "I must now remove myself from your
big midst. For a Lalla-Cooler can only be played once in one night.
Besides, I've always heard that no man ever quit ahead of the game,
and I'm going to prove the rule. I will never play another card, never
no more!"

"What--not in your whole life?" said the Stockman, chin on hand,
raising his eyebrows at the last word.

"Oh--in my whole _life_!" admitted Steve. He drew a dollar from his
pocket, balanced it on his thumb, and continued: "We will now invoke
the arbitrament of chance to decide the destinies of nations. Heads, I
order an assortment of vines and fig trees, go back to the Jornado
and become a cattle-king, I proceed to New-York-on-the-Hudson, by the
Ess-Pee at 3:15 this A.M. presently, and arouse that somnolent city
from its Rip Van Winkle."

The coin went spinning to the ceiling. "Tails!" said the Merchant,
picking it up. "I must warn my friends on Wall Street, Hello! this is
a bad dollar!"

"I'll keep it for a souvenir of the joyful occasion," said Steve.
"Just one more now, and we'll all go home!"

"Hold on, you abandoned profligate!" said the Judge. "You don't know
any one in the Big Burgh, do you? Thought not. Without there! Ho,
varlet!" He thumped on the table, demanding writing materials. "I'll
fix you out. Give you a letter to a firm of mining experts I'm in
touch with."

After an interval devoted to refreshments, the Judge read with all the
pride of authorship:

Messrs. Atwood, Strange & Atwood, 25 Broad Street, New York City.

_Gentlemen_:

This will introduce to you Mr. Stephen Thompson, of Dundee, New
Mexico. You will kindly consider yourself _in loco parentis_ to him,
charging same to my account.

On presentation of this letter, please pay Mr. Thompson's fine or
go his bail, as the case may be, furnish him with pocket-money and a
ticket home, and see him safely on the right train.

Should the matter be more serious, wire me at once. Periodical
insanity can be readily proved. He has just recovered from a paroxysm
at this writing. He is subject to these attacks whenever his wishes
are crossed, having been raised a pet. Therefore, you will be doing
yourself a great favor by acceding to any request he may make, however
unreasonable it may seem. It is unlucky to oppose or thwart him;
but he is amenable to kindness. Kindly apprize municipal and Federal
authorities for the preservation of public safety. Your loss is our
eternal gain.

* * * * *

During the ensuing applause he signed this production. Steve pocketed
it gravely. "Thank you," he said. "When I get down to husks I'll look
up my locoed parent."

"The Bird of Time," said the Transient vociferously, "hash but a
little way to flutter. Cash in! The bird ish on the wing! Tomorro'sh
tangle to the winds reshign. Come, all ye midnight roish-roishterers!
A few more kindly cupsh for Auld Lang Shine. Then let ush eshcort
thish highwayman to the gatesh of the city and cash him forth to outer
darknesh! Let ush shing!

_I stood on a flush at midnight_,
_When my money was nearly gone_,
_And two moonsh rosh over the city_
_Where there shouldn't have been but one_."

* * * * *

In Ohio, one of rough appearance, clad in a fire-new, ready-made suit,
began to pervade Thompson's car; restlessly rushing from one side to
the other in conscientious effort to see all there was to be seen;
finally taking to the vestibule as affording better conveniences for
observations. He was, however, not so absorbed in the scenery but that
he took sharp note of the cowboy's unsophisticated garb and
guileless mien. Later, when Steve went into the smoker, he struck
up acquaintance with him; initiated by the mere demand for a light,
continued through community of interest, as both being evidently
non-urban.

A voluble and open-hearted person, the stranger, displaying
much specie during their not infrequent visits to the buffet for
refreshment of the jocund grape, where they vied with each other in
liberality, and one who naively imparted his private history without
reticence. A lumberman, who had risen from the ranks; a Non-Com. of
Industry, so to speak, who, having made his pile, was now, impelled by
filial piety, revisiting his old New England Home.

This touching confidence so ingratiated the bluff and hearty son of
toil to the unsuspicious cowboy, that he, in turn, began, to ooze
information at every pore. Steve Thompson was his name; miner of
Butte, Montana. He had, after years of struggle and defeat, made
a lucky strike. He had bonded his mine to New York parties--the
Copper-bottom, just to the left of the High Line Trail from Anaconda
to Philipsburgh; receiving $10,000 down for a quarter interest, giving
option on two-thirds remainder for $50,000, if, after six months'
development work, the mine justified its promise. It had proved all
his fancy painted it; he was on his way to the big town, to be paid
the balance on the sixteenth, at the office of--where is that
letter? Oh, yes, here it is--"Atwood, Strange & Atwood, 25 Broad
St."--retaining a one-fourth interest. He was going to see the sights.
Possibly he would take a trip round the world.

Incited by judicious interest of his auditor, he prattled on and on,
till the lumberman--(Dick Barton, the name of him)--was possessed with
the salient points of his past, present and future; embellished by a
flood of detail and personal reminiscence. It is to be regretted that
the main points were inaccurate and apocryphal, the collateral details
gratuitous improvisations, introduced for the sake of local color.

"For," Steve reasoned, "evidently this party is a seeker after
knowledge; it is better to siphon than to be pumped. Doubtless it will
be as bread upon the waters."

Freely did he gush and freely buy--(the bulk of his money, in large
bills, was safely wadded at the bottom of the six-shooter scabbard
under his arm, his .45 on guard--but his well-filled billbook was much
in evidence). So thoroughly charmed was Barton that he lamented loud
and long that he and his new acquaintance might not have their first
view of the metropolis in company. But he had promised his aged
parents to come to them directly, by way of Albany. However, he was
a day ahead of his schedule; neither of them had seen Niagara; if
Thompson would excuse him, he would write his father, that the letter
would go on to herald the hour of his coming. Then they both would take
one day's lay-over at Buffalo, visiting the famous cataract entirely at
his, Barton's, expense. Thence, exchanging addresses, on their respective
ways, to meet in Manhattan later. To which Thompson agreed with
cordiality.

The letter Barton mailed at Buffalo was addressed:

J.F. MITCHELL

Binghamton

The Arlington N.Y.

Chapter II

"_A goodly, portly man, i's faith, and a corpulent:
of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble
carriage; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or by'r
lady, inclining to three score_."

It had been a good morning, thought Mendenhall. If only more citizens
like this big, talkative, prosperous looking stranger would settle in
Elmsdale! Over a thousand dollars' worth in one bill--not bad, that,
for a little rural New York town. Moreover, the stranger had evinced
a taste in his selection of furniture and carpets scarcely to be
expected from his slightly overdressed appearance and his loud,
dominating talk. His choice had been always swift and certain, wholly
unaffected by prices. Obviously, a self-made man, with a long purse,
this.

The big man threw up his hands in mock surrender. "Time--King's
X--'nuff!" he bellowed, a pervading and infectious smile
spreading over his broad, jovial, smooth-shaven face. "Police!
Nine--eleven--twelve hundred, sixty-eight. I'll pay you a hundred to
bind the--No, I'll just pay you now and have done with it. Don't want
the stuff delivered till some time next week, though. Wife'll run up
to-morrow or next day to take her choice of the two houses I've been
looking at. Then, paper-hanging, mantels, plumbing and all that--Make
it even twelve-fifty?" he demanded, pen poised in a plump, white hand,
eying the dealer with shrewd expectancy.

"Certainly, certainly," Mendenhall murmured, rubbing his hands with a
thought of future custom.

Scratch-tch-ch! The check was made out with a flourish. "Here you are.
I'll come round when I'm ready and tell you where to send the stuff.
By the way, where do you bank? Want to send in checks for collection."

"At the Farmers' and Citizens', mostly. The First National is right
around the corner, first turn to your left. Thank you very much,
Mr."--he glanced at the check--Britt--Mr. N.C. Britt. I hope for the
pleasure of your better acquaintance, Mr. Britt."

"Oh, you will!" laughed Britt. "Nice little town, here. If I like it
as well a year from now as I do to-day I'll stick. Time for an old
fellow like me to settle down. I've worked hard all my life. But I've
got enough. What's the good of more? No dying in the harness for mine.
I want to retire, as they call it, and let the young bucks do the
work."

"Oh, you're not an old man," protested Mendenhall with reason. "Your
amazing vitality--your energetic----" Britt pulled at his luxuriant
white hair.

"Oh, good enough for an old has-been!" He laughed with pardonable
vanity. "Pretty hearty yet, owing to having lived a clean and
wholesome life, thank God; but aging, sir--aging. 'The evil days draw
nigh!'" He shook his head with a sober air, which at once gave way to
the satisfied smile habitual on his round, contented face. Briskly, he
consulted a heavy gold repeater, replacing it with the quick movement
of one to whom seconds are valuable. "Well, well! Twelve-thirty! Been
here all morning, picking and choosing! Take luncheon with me? No? All
right--see you later!" He swung out through the door.

Turning the corner, he crossed the street to the First National,
bounced in and presented himself at the teller's window, lighting a
cigar, puffing like a tugboat. "To open a small account--two of 'em.
Checks for collection," he announced. Tone and manner were breezily
self-assertive; the president, from his desk, turned and looked. He
indorsed, blotting with a swift dab, and a final fillip through the
window. "Chicago, thirty-three hundred--credit to Britt & Stratton.
Here's our signature. Denver, eight hundred, to private account H.E.
Stratton. He'll be here next week. I'll bring him around and identify.
Draw on this by Wednesday? Good! Gimme checkbook. Excuse haste; yours
truly!" He popped out.

The president smiled. "An original character, apparently," he said.
"He doesn't aim to let grass grow under _his_ feet."

Between two and three Britt bustled into Mendenhall's, making for the
office.

"Oh, I say!" he puffed, as Mendenhall rose. "Banked that check yet?"

"Not yet," replied the other sedately. "It is our custom to send the
day's checks for deposit just before three. Nothing wrong, I trust?"

Britt dropped into a chair, mopping his face. "Oh, no, nothing
_wrong_; but I'm afraid I've made a little mistake. I'm not a good
business man--not systematic--though I worry along. Like the young
wife's bookkeeping--'Received fifty dollars from John--spent it all.'
Fact is, I never entirely got over the days when a very short memory
was enough to keep track of all my transactions. Always forgetting
to fill out my stubs," he explained. "So I don't remember what bank I
checked on. But I'm pretty sure 'twas the Commercial, and my balance
there is low--not enough to cover your bill, I'm thinking." He leaned
back, his portly sides shaking with merriment. "By Jove!" he roared.
"It would have been a good joke on me if I hadn't remembered. Nice
introduction to a town where I expect to make my home. Oh, well, even
so, you had the furniture safe in your warehouse. Guess you wouldn't
have been much scared, eh?" He poked Mendenhall playfully with a
stubby finger. "Well, let's see about it."

Secretly, the other resented the familiarity, deprecated the
boisterous publicity with which the stranger saw fit to do business.
Business, with Mendenhall, was a matter for dignified and strictly
private conference. With stately precision he took up the neat bundle
of checks which he had just indorsed, ran them over, slipped one from
under the rubber band, and scanned it with great deliberation. He
could not afford to offend a good customer, but he could thus subtly
rebuke such hasty and slipshod methods.

"Yes, it is on the Commercial." He held it out inquiringly.

"Thought so!" snorted the other. "Dolt! Imbecile! Ass! I'll apply for
a guardian. Fix you out this time!" He whipped out fountain pen and
checkbook. "National Trust Company (guess I've got enough _there_).
Pay to J.C. Mendenhall & Co.--how much was that?"

He took the check from the unresisting Mendenhall, spread it out on
the desk with a sprawling gesture, tore it to strips with the same
impetuous vehemence, and threw it in the waste-basket. After this
brief outburst of anger his good humor returned. "Twelve-fifty. Here
you are. No mistake this time. Say, old man, that's the drinks on
me--come along!"

"Thank you, I never drink," returned Mendenhall primly. He had not
relished the roughness with which the other had snatched the check
from him, though making allowance for the natural annoyance of one who
had been betrayed into a mortifying mistake.

"All the better, all the better. Seldom do myself, but sometimes--Have
a cigar? No? Well, I must toddle along!"

It may here be mentioned that during his moment of impulsive vexation
Mr. Britt had inconsiderately substituted for the "Commercial" check
another, precisely similar save for the important particular that it
lacked the Mendenhall indorsement. The original had slipped between
the leaves of Britt's check book, under cover of his large hands.
Those hands were most expert in various amusing and adroit feats of
legerdemain, though Mr. Britt's modesty led him to a becoming, if
unusual, reticence in this regard. The substitute, as we have seen,
was in the waste-basket.

Just before three Britt ran heavily up the steps of the First
National, puffing down the corridor, cocking a hasty eye at the clock
as he came.

"Hey, there, sonny! I was almost too late, wasn't I?" was his
irreverent greeting to the cashier. "Time to cash this before closing
up?" he demanded breathlessly, but with unabated cheerfulness. He
flopped the check over. "Mendenhall's indorsement. Hi! Mr. President!
Just a minute! I'm a stranger here, but if you'll let us slip in at
a side door I'll trot around and fetch Mendenhall. Need this money
to-night."

The president took the check from the indignant young cashier, nodded
at the familiar signature with the cabalistic peculiarities which
attested its authenticity, glanced indulgently at the bobbing white
head in window, with difficulty suppressing a smile.

"It will not be necessary, Mr.--Mr. Britt," he said courteously. "Not
necessary at all. You have an account here, I believe?"

"It won't be here long," retorted Britt, with garrulous good nature.
"Draw it all out next week. Eleven, twelve--_and_ fifty. Thanks to
_you_. There goes the clock. Good day!"

"Quite an odd character, that Mr. Britt?" said the president casually
at the club that night. "Boyish old chap."

"Yes, isn't he?" said Mendenhall, folding his paper. "I sold him a
pretty stiff bill of goods this morning. Warmish, I take it. He's
going to settle here."

"Friend of yours?"

"Oh, no, I never saw him before."

"Why, you indorsed his check for twelve hundred and fifty," said
the president, interested, but not alarmed. Doubtless the man had
references. Besides, his face was a letter of credit in itself.

"Oh, yes," said Mendenhall unsuspiciously, thinking of the check sent
to the Farmers' and Citizens' Bank. The president, thinking of the
other, was fully reassured, and was about to pass on. Here the
matter might have dropped, and would in most cases. But Mendenhall, a
methodical and careful man, wished to vindicate his business prudence
by explaining that he had taken no risk in indorsing for a stranger,
since he retained possession of the goods.

The rest is too painful.

"I do not rhyme for that dull wight" who does not foresee that New
York, Chicago and Denver checks were returned in due course, legibly
inscribed with the saddest words of tongue or pen, "No funds." Or that
Mr. Britt fully justified his self-given reputation for absence of
mind by neglecting to call for his furniture.

Meanwhile, Mr. Britt unostentatiously absented his body as well,
taking the trolley for an inland village. At the time of Mendenhall's
interview with the president he was speeding southward across country
in a livery rig, catching the Lackawanna local for Binghamton about
the time the wires were working and he was being searched for on all
Lehigh Valley trains.

"Hello, Kirkland!" he said to the night clerk at the Arlington. "Back
again, like a bad sixpence! Have my trunk sent up, will you? No--no
supper!"

"Letter for you, Mr. Mitchell. Just came," said the clerk
respectfully. "So we were expecting you. Haven't seen you for a long
time."

Britt-Mitchell thrust the letter in his pocket unopened. "It'll keep
till morning. I'm for bed. Good-night, Frank."

He turned in, weary with his exertions to be sure, but with the
pleasing consciousness that

..._some one done
Has earned a night's repose_.

Elmsdale never learned these particulars, however. His genial and
expansive smile and the unobtrusive manner of his fading away are
there vaguely associated with Cheshire Puss, of joyful memory, whose
disappearance, like his, began with the end of the tale.

Chapter III

"_There's a franklin in the wilds of Kent, hath
brought three hundred marks with him in gold ... a
kind of auditor_."

It was quite late when Britt-Mitchell arose like a giant refreshed.
First ringing for breakfast, he bathed and shaved and arrayed himself
carefully in glad habiliments of quiet taste and cut, in which he bore
slight resemblance to the rough-and-ready Britt of Elmsdale.

Sitting indolently sideways to the table, his feet on a chair, he
discussed an excellent breakfast leisurely, as one at peace with
the world. His paper was propped before him; he chuckled as he read.
Breakfast finished, he pulled his coffee over, lit a cigar and puffed
luxuriously. Not till then did he open the letter taken from the
discarded coat of yesterday. It read:

Well, old man, I am sending you an easy one. Crack him hard for me.
He's the rankest sucker yet. I was going to work the Scholar's Gambit
on him, but he'll get his hooks on a whole bunch of money when he gets
down town, so I turn him over to you. 'Fifty thou. to be paid him
by Atwood, Strange & Atwood. You know of them--Mining Engineers and
Experts, 25 Broad. Let him get the boodle and hand him a sour one.

Name, Steve Thompson, en route to New York. Section 5, Sleeper
Tonawanda, Phoebe Snow. Brown, smooth-shaved, hand-me-down suit,
cowboy hat. From Butte, Montana. Has sold his mine, the Copper-bottom
(on right of trail northeast of Anaconda). Former partner, Frank
Short, killed by powder explosion at Bozeman, two years ago. Appendix
subjoined with partial list of his friends, details about his mine,
his ten years of unsuccessful prospecting, etc. Am not so explicit as
usual, because he is such a big-mouthed damfool he'll tell you all he
knows before you get to Hoboken. Also I am in some haste. I am to take
him to Niagara with me to give you time to get this and join him at
Binghamton, if you are there as planned. If not, I have wired Jim
to meet train at Hoboken and keep in touch with him till you come,
scraping acquaintance if necessary. Then he can disappear and leave
you to put the kibosh on him. Jim is all right, but he lacks your
magnetism, and your light, firm touch. You can beat us all putting up
a blue front.

RUBE.

Mr. Mitchell rose to instant action. In a very few minutes his trunk
was packed, his bill paid. He then hied him in haste to the Carnegie
Library, where, till train time, he fairly saturated himself with
information concerning Butte and vicinity.

When the train pulled out from Binghamton, Mitchell sat across the
aisle from Thompson, deep in his paper. A visorless black cap adorned
his head, beneath which flowed his reverend white hair; rimless
eye-glasses imparted to his unimpeachable respectability an eminently
aristocratic air. These glasses he wiped carefully from time to time
with a white silk handkerchief, which he laid across his ample knees,
resuming his reading, oblivious to all else.

The paper was laid aside and the big man became immersed in a
magazine. The handkerchief slipped from his knees into the aisle.
Thompson politely restored it.

"Thank you, young man, thank you," said Britt. Then a puzzled look
came over his brow. Polishing the glasses he took another sharp look.
He leaned across the aisle.

"I _beg_ your pardon," he said, with stately courtesy. "But I am
sure I have met you somewhere. No, don't tell me. Pardon an old man's
harmless vanity, but it is my weakness to make my memory do its work
unaided, when possible. I have a famous memory generally, and yours
is not a face to be easily forgotten. Let me see--not in New York, I
think--Philadelphia--Washington? No--you would be from the West, by
your hat. Um-m-Omaha--Chicago, St. Louis?--_Butte_!" he said, with a
resounding thwack on his knee. "Butte! 'Where every prospect pleases,
and only man is vile'!"

"Right you are," said the Westerner, well pleased. "I seem to remember
you, too."

"I have it!" said Mitchell. "Don't remember your name--but you're the
very man Judge Harney pointed out to me as the unluckiest prospector
in Montana. Said you could locate a claim bounded on all sides by
paying property and gopher through to China without ever striking
ore."

"May I come over there and talk?" said Steve. "Mighty glad to see some
one from my town. You didn't live there though, or I should have met
you."

"Certainly," said Mitchell, making room. "Glad to have you. Live
there? Oh, no, I only made a couple of trips. Some associates of mine
were in with Miles Finlen--you know him, I reckon?--on the Bird's-eye
proposition, and I took a flyer with them," he explained. "I lost out.
Dropped several dollars," His face lit up with comfortable good-humor.
"It was a good mine, but it got tied up in the courts. Let me
see--what did Harney call you--Townsend, Johnson?"

"Thompson," said Steve, smiling. "Steve Thompson."

"So it was--so it was. Well, I was getting close. Glad to meet you,
Mr. Thompson. That is my name." He handed over a bit of pasteboard,
inscribed;

MR. J.F. MITCHELL

"On Vesey Street now, just south of Barclay Street Ferry. I'll jot
down the number--you want to come round and look me up. Sorry I can't
ask you to use my house for headquarters. Wife's away to Bar Harbor
for the summer, and I'm camping out in a hotel. Tell you what,
though--you put up at my caravanserai--the Cornucopia--good house,
treat you well. I'll be busy a day or so catching up after my trip
up-state, but after that I'll show you around. But perhaps you've been
here before?"

"Not I," said Steve. "My first trip. Haven't been out of Montana since
I was a kid. I'm sure glad to meet a friend so soon."

"Lots of Montana people here," said Mitchell cheerily. "We'll look
'em up. Probably find some of your old friends. People here from
everywhere. Say--Judge Harney got into a bad mix-up, didn't he? That
young Charley Clark is a devil. I've met him up here." With this he
launched into a discussion of Butte, with inquiries as to various
figures of local prominence, from which Steve was fain to escape by
turning the talk on his final good luck, the sale of his mine and his
rosy prospects. For Mitchell had "crammed up" on Butte industriously.
Steve lacked his facilities, his sole source of information being
certain long-past campfire tales of Neighbor Jones.

"Made it at last, did you? Glad to hear it. Can't keep a good man
down, as the whale said to Jonah," said Mitchell heartily. "'But
with all thy getting, get understanding,'" he quoted with unctuous
benevolence. "The city is full of traps for the unwary. You can't be
too careful, young man. Don't be drawn into gambling, or drinking, or
fast company, or you'll be robbed before you know it. Watch out for
pickpockets, and, above all, be chary of making acquaintance with
strangers. They're sly down here, my boy--devilish sly. Have you any
friends in town? If you have, get them to go around with you till you
learn the ropes."

"Don't know a soul but you," said Steve truthfully. "But I have a
letter here to the people who are putting the sale through. Do you
know these people?"

"Atwood, Strange & Atwood," Mitchell read. "A good, reliable firm.
I don't know them, but I know of 'em. They will advise you just as I
do."

"But," objected Steve, "I want to see a good time. That's what I come
for. For instance, I want to see the races. And naturally, I want to
put up a few dollars to make it interesting."

"Bad business--bad business," admonished the elder man wisely. "I
don't object to a quiet game of cards myself, among friends, and for
modest stakes. But I can't afford to do anything to hurt my business
reputation. Let a man of small means, like myself, play the ponies, or
affect shady company, and what happens? All the banks know it at once,
and shut down on loans instanter. They keep tab on all business men
religiously."

"What's your line?" said Steve, impressed.

"Mainly buying on commission for Mexican and South American
trade--though I handle a good many orders for country dealers, too,"
replied Mitchell. "My specialty is agricultural implements, barbed
wire, machinery and iron stuff generally, for the export trade.
There's things about it would surprise you. Why, such things, farm
machinery more especially, retail in Buenos Ayres at from 40 to 60 per
cent, of what they do here, after paying freight charges and a snug
commission to me."

"How can they do it?" asked Steve, interested.

Mitchell plunged into an explanation of the workings of the tariff and
its effect on home prices. He had it at his fingers' end. Under his
skillful hands the dry subject became really interesting, embellished
with a wealth of illustration and anecdote. He was still deep in
his exposition, when, beyond Scranton, a hand was laid on his arm. A
dapper, little, dark man, with twinkling, black eyes and pointed black
beard, stood in the aisle.

"Well, Mitchell!" he said, with an affectionate pat. "Still riding
your hobby?"

The fat man jumped up, beaming. "Loring! by all that's holy! Let me
make you acquainted with my friend. Mr. Thompson--Mr. Loring. Mr.
Loring is one of our rising young artists."

"The rising young artist," said Loring with a flash of white teeth,
"is trying to get up a whist game, to pass away the time. Will you
gentlemen assist?" He turned aside in a paroxysm of coughing.

"Certainly, certainly--that is, if Mr. Thompson plays.----That's a bad
cough you've got there, Loring."

"Yes--caught cold fishing," said the artist. "Will you join us, Mr.
Thompson?"

"Glad to," said that worthy. "Only my game is bumble-puppy. You can
hardly call it whist. Who's the fourth?"

"Yet to be found," laughed Loring. After a few rebuffs they picked up
a drummer, and adjourned to the smoker, buying a deck from the train
boy. The little dark man and Steve played against the other two, a
suitcase on their knees serving as a table. They played a rubber.
Steve verified his statements as to his style of play.

"Well, that's enough--nearly in," said Loring, as they drew near their
destination.

"Yes, indeed. I must go back to my car. We've had a pleasant game,"
said the fourth man, taking his leave.

"Have a smoke--you'll find these A 1," said the artist. "Say,
Mitchell, I've learned a new trick to illustrate the old saying that
the hand is quicker than the eye." Sticking a cigar in the corner of
his mouth, he ran over the cards swiftly, took out the two red jacks,
and held them up, one in each hand, backs toward himself, faces to
Mitchell and Steve.

"Now," he said, "you can put these two jacks in the deck wherever you
wish, shuffle them all you please, let me give them just one riffle,
and you'll find them both together." He put his handkerchief to his
lips and turned away to cough, laying the two jacks face downward on
the table.

With a nudge to Steve, Mitchell threw the jack of hearts under
Loring's seat, where it lay, face up, substituting therefor the five
of clubs from the top of the deck.

Loring held the cards up again. "There are the two jacks, gentlemen:
the two inseparable jacks. Put them in for yourselves, and watch
me--_close_!"

Steve took the five of clubs and put it in the middle. Mitchell put
in the jack of diamonds. Both shuffled. Loring cut the pack into
two equal parts, using only the extreme tip ends of his fingers, and
shoved them together in the same fashion. Balancing the deck on the
open palm of his left hand, he turned the cards carefully with his
right thumb and forefinger, keeping up a running fire of comment.

"Now watch me! This trick won't work with any other cards but the
jacks. The reason is easy to see. Where you find one knave there's
always another close by. 'Birds of a feather flock together,' you
know. Ah! here we are!" He turned over the knave of diamonds, and laid
the deck down. "Now," he said to Mitchell, "what'll you bet the next
card isn't the knave of hearts?" Here he was again attacked by that
excruciating cough.

As he turned away Mitchell slyly turned up the corner of the next
card, winking at Steve. It was the five of clubs. Evidently Loring had
done the trick right, except for the substituted card.

"I'll bet you five hundred dollars!" said Mitchell jubilantly. He
drew out a billbook and shook a handful of notes at the artist. "A
thousand, if you like!"

"Nobody wants to rob you, Mitchell," laughed Loring. "Put up your
money. I don't need it. I'll do the trick, of course." Steve was
laughing immoderately.

"Rob me! Go ahead! You're welcome!" said Mitchell, riotously radiant.
He waved the bills before Loring's eyes. "Money talks! Yah! You
haven't the nerve to bet on it," he taunted, his knee touching Steve's
under the table.

Loring's black eyes snapped maliciously. "Oh, well, you insist on it,"
he said. "I've warned you now, remember! No rebate on this. How much?"
He pulled out a fat rubber-banded roll and began stripping bills from
the outside.

"A thousand--all you want!" shouted Mitchell, in high glee. "Getting
on, Thompson?"

Steve, still laughing, shook his head. "I'll be stakeholder," he said
in a choking voice.

The black-eyed man shot a malevolent glance at him as they put up the
money in his hands. For he had a supernumerary jack of hearts, neatly
palmed, to turn up if Steve "bit." This quickly disappeared, however,
or rather did not appear at all. With an expectant smile the artist
turned up from the top of the deck the five of clubs. He looked at it
in stupefied amazement, which, if not real, was well invented.

Mitchell roared and pounded the suitcase. "Oh, _Loring_!" he gasped,
drying his eyes. "You _will_ teach an old dog new tricks, will you?
My stars, but you're easy!" Retook the cash from the grinning
stakeholder, counted out Loring's half and pushed it over to that much
discomfited gentleman. "I don't want to rob you!" he quoted mockingly.
"But if I had time I'd have kept you on the anxious seat a while.
There's your jack of hearts, under your feet!"

"Why, you fat, old swindler! You white-headed outrage--you--you Foxy
Grandpa!" cried Loring in blushing chagrin--not wholly dissembled,
either. "I ought to make you eat it. Come, have a drink." He led the
way, the others following with gibe and jeer.

"Why didn't you bet with him, Thompson?" demanded Mitchell, still
shaking with Homeric laughter. "Say, I should have kept his money, by
good rights. 'Twould have been the joke of the season!"

Steve raised his glass. "I would," he replied innocently, "but I knew
you'd give it back, anyhow, so what's the use--among friends? If it
had been a stranger, now, I'd 'a' hopped on the band-wagon too quick.
I like a little easy money as well as anybody. Well, here's to our
next meeting!"

"Hello!" said Mitchell. "Here's the tunnel and Hoboken. Let's go back
to our belongings. Now, Thompson, business first and pleasure after,
you know. You take the Barclay Street boat. If I don't get time to see
you before noon to-morrow you run up to the office and see me. It's
only a block from the Cornucopia. I've got to go the other way, and
so does Loring--at least his studio's uptown. I say, Loring, tell Mr.
Thompson what's doing at the theatres. That's in your line."

Loring named several plays, recommending one as particularly good.
In the waiting-room they parted with warm handshakings and great
good-will.

"Do you suppose he's wise?" said Loring, on the ferry.

Mitchell guffawed. "That bumpkin? Not he. The poor, dumb idiot took it
all as a practical joke among friends. Naturally, just as he said, he
thought I'd give you your money back. Glad you had presence of mind
enough to go on through with the five-spot. It's fine business to be
able to think on your feet, especially for us moon-minions. Good
thing it turned out the way it did. He's got perfect confidence in me
now--he's seen me tried, and _knows_ I'm straight. We'll get more out
of him in the long run." He explained Steve's mining expectations at
length.

"I don't like it much," said Loring. "It's a bad sign. My experience
is that it's hard to overreach a man that isn't on the hog himself.
When they're eager to annex something dishonestly you get 'em every
time. Maybe you'll lose him. Why didn't you stay with him? He may not
go to the Cornucopia at all."

"Oh, yes, he will!" said Mitchell confidently. "I am going to play him
for all he's worth, and I want him to feel sure I'm O.K. It might make
him suspicious if I kept at his coat tails. Plenty of time. I won't
even look him up to-morrow. Rig the old joint as my office, and wait
there till he hunts me up. Let him make all the advances, d'ye see?
Teach him bridge, on the square, at night. Let him win a little--just
enough to keep him satisfied with himself--_you_'ll see. Wait till he
draws his wad, and we'll throw the gaff in him to the queen's taste.
If he won't nibble at one hook try another. But, I say, Billy,
you'll have to furnish the scads for bait, in case he don't? rise to
something easy. I know you're flush from that Manning job."

* * * * *

Meantime, with unspoiled and sparkling eye, the inlander saw, broad
sweeping before him, mist-bordered, dream-vast, dim-seen beneath the
lowering sky, the magic city whose pulsings send and call a nation's
life-blood.

The salt tang of the sea was in his nostrils; greetings, many-keyed,
hoarse-whistled by plying craft, were in his ears; creamy-foamed wakes
of turbulent keels, swift-sent or laboring, boiled their swirling
splendor against the black water. Mysterious, couchant, straining, the
bulwarked city rode the waves; a mighty ship, her funnels the great
buildings beyond, where sullen streamers of smoke trailed motionless
and darkling; the indescribable, multitudinous hum of the city's
blended voices for purring of monster engines, deep in her hold; bold
and high, her restless prow swung seaward in majestic curve, impatient
to beat to open main.

This simple young man actually found impressiveness, glamour, even
beauty, in this eye-filling canvas; the crowding of crashing lights
and interwoven shadows, massed, innumerable, bewildering; the turmoil
of confused and broken line, sprawled with tremendous carelessness for
a giant's delight.

Plainer proof of his utter unsophistication could not be. For it is
traditional with, all "correct" and well-informed folk that New York
is hopelessly ugly. It gives one such a superior air to disprize with
easy scorn this greatest of the Gateways of the World.

Chapter IV

"_A good plot, good friends, and full of expectation:
an excellent plot, very good friends_."

Steve went, not to a theatre, but to bed. In the morning, after a
few inquiries, he sauntered round to get his bearings. He made these
explorations afoot, opining that, at first, the use of street cars or
the "L" would tend to confuse his orientation. He contented himself
with locating 25 Broad Street, without presenting his letter.
Incidentally, he left most of his cash in a safe-deposit drawer.
"For," he mused, "the touching attachment of my open-handed,
prepossessing friend may not always ad-here to the lofty plane
recognized by business ethics. He may, at any time, abandon the
refined and artistic methods of high finance for primitive, crude and
direct means unworthy of his talents. The safe side of a safe is the
inside of a safe."

So back by the water-front, where he spent a pleasant and interesting
forenoon. At one o'clock there were still no signs of Mitchell. So
Steve, Mahomet-like, sought his office.

The _mise-en-scene_ was admirable. A well-littered desk, two 'phones,
code-book, directory, typewriter, file-books, a busy bookkeeper, a
fair stenographer--no detail was omitted. Mitchell, pacing the floor,
paused in his dictation to give him a cheerful greeting.

"Hello, Thompson--up already? Just sit down till I'm through here,
will you? Most done. How'd you like to walk around the docks? That
ought to interest you. All right--thought it would. I've got some
business at No. 4. Make yourself at home. There's the papers--Ready,
Miss Stanley?" Clearing his throat, he put a hand under his coat-tails
and resumed dictation:

"'Melquiades Sandoval y Hijos, Montevidio. Gentlemen: Your order
shipped to-day by steamer Escobar as per your esteemed favor of the
5th. Invoices inclosed. In the item of mowing machines, was unable
to fill order with Nonpareil as desired. Have taken liberty of
substituting fifty Micas, the Mica being the same in every respect
except the name plate. In fact, the two firms, with others, have a
"gentleman's agreement" sharing patents, keeping up separate plants
only to preserve the appearance of competition. (Confound it--excuse
me, Miss Stanley--there's my hobby again. Shouldn't have said that,
but let it go.) Trusting you will find this satisfactory in every
particular, and hoping to be favored by your future orders, I am,
etc.'--Got that? Next!

"'Brown, Small & VanRiper, Hartford, Ct. Gentlemen: Inclosed find my
check for $27,000, to be used in the matter we discussed the other
day. Kindly send papers to my lawyers, Reed, Reed, Perkins & Reed.

"'Am sorry I cannot more largely avail myself of the privilege so
kindly extended me. At the present, however, my capital is tied up in
various enterprises, and I am really crowding myself to raise this.
Thanking you for past favors, etc.'--Here's the last. 'Mr. Joseph
Yates, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. Dear old Joe: Sorry to hear of your
undeserved bad luck. While not exactly a financial Napoleon these
days, I am able to accommodate you, and glad to do so. Have not
forgotten the time you helped me out of a mighty tight place. Draw on
me for $10,000 through the Marine. Take your time for repayment. If
this is not enough, let me know. Kind regards to the wife--and take
care of yourself, old man. In haste, your old friend----'

"Pound those off, Miss Stanley. Jim"--this to the silently industrious
bookkeeper--"how much have we got at the Marine?"

After swift search in a little black book the bookkeeper looked
up--"Seven thousand six hundred-twenty, sir," he replied respectfully.

"I'll give you enough to make out ten thousand to honor old Joe's
draft," ruminated Mitchell, twirling the safe-knobs deftly. "You take
it round and deposit it. On your way back jack Stevens up about those
plows. Tell him if he don't get 'em round on time he loses one big
customer--and that's me." Counting out the required amount, he stuffed
the slight remainder in his pocket, slammed shut the safe, signed his
letters briskly, and took up his hat. "Come on, Thompson, we'll be
off."

"Now then," he resumed, in the elevator, "I've got to go down to slip
No. 4, to see about some stuff I'm shipping to Mexico. Walk or ride?
It's only a little ways."

"Let's walk, then," said Steve. "You can tell me about the boats as we
go. That's what takes my eye. What's that big one coming in?"

"Rotterdammer. The one behind her is a coaster--Menacho, Puig & Co.
Look up stream--there's a big Cunarder just swinging out. Hello,
there's the Rosenthal and Montoya stuff now!"

A string of heavily-laden drays moved slowly down the rock-paved
street. "Lights out! Protect yourself!" thought Steve. "I feel a
presentiment that there'll be a heavy transportation bill on that
stuff and that my friend won't have enough cash to settle it. Perhaps
he will accept a temporary accommodation from me. Thompson, he pays
the freight--_nit_!"

This unworthy suspicion proved unfounded. As they watched the rumbling
wagons they were joined by one of businesslike appearance and swift
step.

"Going down, Mitchell? That's your Argentine freights, I suppose? At
least, I recognize your foreman."

Mitchell introduced him: Mr. Archibald, of the Bowring and Archibald
line, in the coastwise and southern trade.

"Just going down to your place, Archie. We _were_ going to walk, but
if you're in a hurry----"

"Not at all. Have a cigar?" said the pseudo-Archibald urbanely.

"You can show my young friend over the boats, if you will," said
Mitchell. "Rank inlander, Thompson. Rather look at a boat than eat.
Been talking boat, boat, boat to me ever since we left the office."

"Happy to do so," said the merchant-mariner. "You'd better take a
little trip with us, Mr. Thompson--say a run down to Havana. Any
friend of Mr. Mitchell's----"

A young man came tearing across the street at a great rate.
"Mitchell!" he shouted. "Mitchell! Look here!" He thrust a telegram
into Mitchell's hand. "Just reached me by A.D.T. from the Carlton. Let
me have some money, will you? About three thousand. Just got time to
catch the next Pennsylvania train and make connections at Baltimore."

Mitchell spread out the yellow slip and read it aloud. "H'm! 'Ponce de
Leon St Augustine Florida John E Bickford The Carlton New York--Come
at once Father worse Doctor orders to Egypt Jennie.' Why sure, my boy.
Here's what cash I got, and I'll give you a check. Too bad, too bad!
By George, I hope your dad pulls through. What! Blame it, I mean
dammit, I've come off without my checkbook. Got yours, Archie?"

Archie patted his pockets. "No, I haven't. Left it in the office. Got
a couple of hundred cash you're welcome to, though."

The young man looked nervously at his watch. Mitchell turned
hesitatingly toward Thompson. But the Westerner did not wait for an
appeal to his generosity. He volunteered, eager to oblige a man of
such large affairs as his substantial friend.

"I'll write you a check. You can just run in to the nearest bank with
me and indorse it, Mr. Mitchell. Sorry I haven't the cash with me."
Thus Steve, his clumsy innocence eluding the toils with all the grace
of an agile hippopotamus.

The grafters glanced at each other. But Mitchell was equal to the
emergency.

"No need to bother you, Mr. Thompson, thanks, all the same," he said
suavely. "Archibald, just give me what you've got and I'll run over to
Jersey City with John. Traffic Manager of the Pennsylvania is a friend
of mine. If he's in his office I'll get it of him. Otherwise, I'll
start John on, and wire balance to him at St. Augustine when I get
back. Wait a minute, John. Got plenty of time to catch the boat. Look
here, Archie--you're not busy, are you?"

"I'm always busy," said the shipowner gayly, "but no more so to-day

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