Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
FIVE THOUSAND AN HOUR
How Johnny Gamble Won the Heiress
BY GEORGE RANDOLPH CHESTER
THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT, THE EARLY BIRD, GET-RICH-QUICK WALLINGFORD
ILLUSTRATIONS BY HENRY RALEIGH
I WHICH INTRODUCES JOHNNY GAMBLE AND HIS LAST HUNDRED DOLLARS
II IN WHICH STRANGERS BECOME OLD FRIENDS
III IN WHICH JOHNNY GAMBLE MIXES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
IV IN WHICH GRESHAM FINDS JOHNNY’S OLD PARTNER ACCOMMODATING
V IN WHICH JOHNNY DISPLAYS TALENT AS A TRUE PROMOTER
VI IN WHICH CONSTANCE DECIDES ON A FAIR GAME
VII IN WHICH JOHNNY DREAMS OF A MAGNIFICENT TWENTY-STORY HOTEL
VIII IN WHICH CONSTANCE SHOWS FURTHER INTEREST IN JOHNNY’S AFFAIRS
IX IN WHICH JOHNNY MEETS A DEFENDER OF THE OLD ARISTOCRACY
X IN WHICH JOHNNY IS SINGULARLY THRILLED BY A LITTLE CONVERSATION OVER THE TELEPHONE
XI IN WHICH JOHNNY EXECUTES SOME EXCEEDINGLY RAPID BUSINESS DEALS
XII IN WHICH JOHNNY EVEN DOES BUSINESS AT THE BABIES’ FUND FAIR
XIII IN WHICH JOHNNY BUYS A PRESENT AND HATCHES A SCHEME
XIV IN WHICH JOHNNY TRIES TO MIX BUSINESS WITH SKAT
XV IN WHICH WINNIE CHAPERONS THE ENTIRE PARTY TO CONEY ISLAND
XVI IN WHICH JOHNNY PLANS A REHEARSAL BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS
XVII IN WHICH THE STRAW SAILOR HAT OF JOHNNY PLAYS AN EMBARRASSING ROLE
XVIII IN WHICH THE ENTIRE WOBBLES FAMILY FOR ONCE GETS TOGETHER
XIX IN WHICH THE COLONEL, MESSRS. COURTNEY, WASHER AND OTHERS SIT IN A LITTLE GAME
XX IN WHICH JOHNNY ASKS HIMSELF WHAT IS A MILLION DOLLARS, ANYWAY
XXI IN WHICH CONSTANCE AVAILS HERSELF OF WOMAN’S PRIVILEGE TO CHANGE HER MIND
XXII IN WHICH PAUL GRESHAM PROPOSES A VERY PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENT
XXIII IN WHICH THE BRIGHT EYES OF CONSTANCE “RAIN INFLUENCE”
XXIV IN WHICH JOHNNY DEMANDS SPOT CASH AT ONCE
XXV IN WHICH JOHNNY KEEPS ON DOING BUSINESS TILL THE CLOCK STRIKES FOUR
FIVE THOUSAND AN HOUR
WHICH INTRODUCES JOHNNY GAMBLE AND HIS LAST HUNDRED DOLLARS
About the time the winner of the Baltimore Handicap flashed under the wire, Johnny Gamble started to tear up a bundle of nice pink tickets on Lady S. Just then Ashley Loring came by swiftly in the direction of the betting shed. Loring stopped and wheeled when he caught sight of him as did most men who knew him.
“Hello, Johnny! I didn’t know you had run over. How are you picking them to-day?” he asked.
“With a dream book,” answered Gamble, smiling; “but I ate lobster last night.”
“I didn’t know that you cared for the ponies.”
“I don’t; and it’s mutual. Thought I’d take one more whirl, though, before the Maryland governor also closes the tracks for ever. How are you doing?”
“I’m working on a new system,” stated the tall young man with elation. “With this scheme, all you have to do is to bet on the right horse. What did you have in the handicap?”
“The off bay over there,” replied Gamble, indicating a team attached to a sprinkling wagon, away on the farther side of the course. “Have one of her calling cards, Loring,” and he proffered one of the ex- tickets.
“Lady S?” translated Loring. “I cut her acquaintance three bets ago.” And, turning just then toward the grandstand, he smiled up into one of the boxes and lifted his hat.
Glancing in that direction, Gamble was shocked to find himself looking squarely into the dark eyes of a strikingly beautiful young woman who stood with her hands resting upon the rail.
“What do you know about Collaton?” he asked; and, in spite of himself, he looked again. The young lady this time was laughing with a group of likable young idlers, all of whom Gamble knew; and, since the startling stranger was occupied, he could indulge in a slightly more open inspection.
“I saw Collaton on the track to-day and he was making some big bets,” replied Loring with a frown. “He’s not broke, Johnny. He’s merely been letting you hold the bag.”
“Well, help me let go. Loring, I must dissolve that partnership.”
The young lawyer shook his head.
“No way to do it so long as the books remain lost. Unless one of you buys outright the practically defunct Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company and assumes all its liabilities, you will remain responsible, since Collaton possesses no visible property. I’m sure that he stung you, Johnny.”
“Stung me! I’m swelled up yet.”
“It’s your own fault. You trusted him too much.”
“He trusted me. I sold land.”
“Of course he trusted you. Everybody does. Meantime he was out West incurring obligations. You should have gone into bankruptcy and settled at twenty cents on the dollar when you had a chance, as I advised you.”
“Couldn’t. I look in the glass when I shave. Anyhow, it’s all paid now.”
“How do you know, with the books lost? You started in with an equal amount of money. When that was gone Collaton announced himself broke–and let you foot the bills. If he only raked off half of what he spent he got back his own and a tidy fortune besides. Your only chance is to have that enormous land deal turn out a winner.”
“It’s worse than Lady S. Tore up my ticket long ago.”
“Quite a plunge on a long shot, with a welsher like Collator! making the book,” commented Loring. “He stripped you clean.”
“I have my appetite,” insisted Gamble with a grin. His cheeks were ruddy and his skin as flawless as a babe’s, and his eyes– exceptionally large–were as clear as they were direct.
“An appetite like yours only makes it worse to be broke,” laughed Loring.
“There’s a plenty of money in New York if I want any,” responded Gamble. “I don’t need money, anyhow, Ashley. I have my mother fixed- -and there’s nobody else. Besides, I’m not broke. I have a hundred. Do you know a good horse?”
“Nautchautauk,” advised Loring, and they both turned in the direction of the betting shed. “The price will probably be short; but I look on it as an investment.”
“You can’t invest a hundred dollars,” argued Gamble.
“You don’t mean to say that a hundred’s all you have in the world!” returned Loring. “I thought you’d saved a good deal more than that out of the wreck.”
“I did; but my brother was broke,” replied Gamble carelessly, and stopped in front of a blackboard. The price on Nautchautauk was one and a half to two. “I don’t want a bet,” he remarked, shaking his head at the board; “I need an accident. I wonder if that goat Angora has horns and a beard?”
“People try fifty-to-one shots just before they cut their throats,” warned Loring.
“Hide my safety-razor then. Angora carries my hundred. I’ll feed a sawbuck apiece to ten books.”
Loring lost sight of him for a few moments, but found him outside, by and by, in conversation with “Colonel” Bouncer, a heavily-jowled man with grizzled hair and very friendly eyes which, however, could look quite cold enough on occasion. The colonel was staring up at the box occupied by the young lady to whom Loring had bowed.
“Bless my soul, I’m getting near-sighted!” he was saying as Loring joined them. “Isn’t that Paul Gresham up there with Miss Joy?”
“Is that her name?” asked Gamble eagerly. “Well, I believe it.”
The colonel turned from him impatiently.
“You know Gresham, don’t you, Loring? Is that he up there in that box?”
“That is Saint Paul all right,” answered Loring with a smile, as he glanced up at the prim and precise Gresham, who had now succeeded in fencing Miss Joy in a corner, away from the other young men.
“Thanks,” said the colonel, and walked away abstractedly, his eyes still turning in the direction of the box, although he did not even start to go up into the grandstand.
“The colonel is still bargain-hunting,” observed Loring with a laugh. “His shoe-manufacturing business has increased to the point that he must have more space–and he must have it at once. The only available ground is Gresham’s adjoining property, which Gresham long ago gave up trying to sell him. The colonel is crazy to buy it now, but he’s afraid to let Gresham know he must have it, for fear Saint Paul will run up the price on him. In consequence, he trails the man round like a love-sick boy after an actress. When he finds Gresham he only looks at him–and goes away. That’s only half of the laugh, however. Gresham wants to sell as badly as the colonel wants to buy, but he doesn’t know where to find a fancy market. Queer case, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” replied Gamble. “Who’s Miss Joy?”
“For heaven’s sake, Johnny, don’t say you’re hit too–even at long distance!”
“Hit!” repeated Gamble–“I’m flattened out. I’m no lady-fusser, Ashley, but I’m going to buy a new necktie.”
“You don’t even know she’s rich, do you?” asked Loring, looking at him with a curious smile.
“Of course I do!” asserted Johnny. “I saw her eyes. Who is she?”
“That’s Miss Constance Joy–an orphan worth an exact million dollars; although I believe there is some sort of a string to it,” Loring told him. “She lives with her aunt, who is Mrs. Pattie Boyden, and she’s so pretty that even women forgive her. Anything else you want to know?”
“Yes. Why do I want to bite Paul Gresham?”
“Hush!” admonished Loring. “He is the remnant of one of our very best imported families, and he needs the money. He sells a piece of father’s property every year, and he haunts Miss Joy like a pestilence. I think he’s mixed up in her million some way or other. Aunt Pattie approves of him very much; she is strong for family.”
“I’ll bite him yet,” decided Gamble. “Say, Loring, how am I going to make a stringless million?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be your lawyer,” declared Loring. “Excuse me, Johnny; there’s a client of mine.”
IN WHICH STRANGERS BECOME OLD FRIENDS
Into the box where Miss Constance Joy–slender and dark and tall– entertained her bevy of admirers, there swished a violently-gowned young woman of buxom build and hearty manner, attended by a young man who wore a hundred-dollar suit and smiled feebly whenever he caught an eye. In his right hand he carried Miss Polly Parsons’ gloves and parasol; in his left, her race-card and hand-bag. Round his shoulders swung her field-glasses; from his right pocket protruded her fan and from his left her auto veil. She carried her own vanity box.
“If you aren’t the darlingest thing in the world!” she greeted Miss Joy, whose face had lighted with a smile of both amusement and pleasure. “You certainly are some Con! Every time I see you in a new gown I change my dressmaker. Hello, boys!” She shook hands cordially with all of them as soon as she had paid her brief respects to Mrs. Pattie Boyden, who was pleasant and indulgent enough in her greeting, though not needlessly so.
“You’re looking as happy as ever, Polly,” observed Constance.
“I’m as happy as a mosquito in a baby’s crib,” avowed Polly. “I’ve added three thousand to-day to the subscription list for our Ocean View Baby Hotel. Where’s that list, Sammy?”
Sammy Chirp passed a few things from his right to his left hand and searched a few pockets; passed a few things from his left to his right hand, dropped the lady’s handkerchief and picked it up, smiled feebly upon everybody, and then at last produced the subscription list, which Miss Joy read most interestedly.
“That’s splendid, Polly!” she approved. “Another day’s work as good as this, and we’ll be able to buy our hotel.”
Paul Gresham, standing stiffly between her and Polly, looked down at her and smiled correctly.
“I guess we’d better go, don’t you think?” he remarked to the other young men.
“You’re safe enough,” retorted Polly. “You’re safe any place with your check-book. Besides, we don’t want to double names on this list. We’ll spring another one when we’re ready to equip and run the place. Oh, there’s Johnny Gamble! Hello, Johnny!” And she leaned far over the rail to call to him.
It was strange how quickly Johnny Gamble was able to distinguish a sound coming from that direction, and he looked up immediately. “Come right up here, Johnny,” she commanded him. “I have a great surprise in store for you.”
“Go any place you say if it’s not too hot there,” he cheerfully assured her, and started off towards the staircase.
“When I get Johnny Gamble’s name this list is closed,” said Polly confidently.
“I’ll bet with you on that,” offered Bruce Townley. “Johnny probably hasn’t enough money to buy a tin rattle for your babies’ hotel.”
“No!” she protested, shocked. “I’m so used to seeing him with money that I don’t think I’d know him if he had it shaved off.”
“He was too honest, as usual,” supplemented Val Russel, lounging carelessly against the rail. “Here comes Ashley Loring. He can tell you all about it. Johnny Gamble hasn’t a cent left, has he, Loring?”
“It would be most unprofessional to discuss Mr. Gamble’s private affairs,” said Loring reprovingly as he came into the box. “Aside from a mere detail like that, I don’t mind saying that Johnny Gamble has just bet the last hundred dollars he has in the world on an absolutely criminal long shot.”
“I hope he wins!” stated Polly heartily. “I think he’s the only real gentleman I ever knew.”
“Well, I like that!” protested Val Russel, laughing.
“I don’t mean a slam at you boys,” she hastily corrected. “You’re a nice clean bunch; but I know so much about Johnny. He helps people, then hides so he can’t be thanked. He’s the one man out of a thousand that both women and men can absolutely trust.”
“That’s rather a broad statement,” objected Paul Gresham, who had eyed Polly with fastidious distaste every time she spoke. He was a rather silent young man with a thin high-arched nose and eyebrows that met, and was so flawlessly dressed that he sat stiffly.
“I’ll make it two in a thousand, Mr. Gresham,” said Polly pleasantly. “I hadn’t noticed you; and whatever I am I try to be polite.”
The four other young men, who were used to Polly’s sweeping generalities, laughed; for Polly had their hearty approval.
Johnny Gamble arrived.
“Where’s the surprise?” he demanded with a furtive glance in the direction of Miss Joy, a glance which Gresham jealously resented.
“Me!” Polly gaily told him, thrusting her subscription list into the pocket of Sammy Chirp. “You haven’t seen me since I got back.”
“You’re no surprise–you’re a gasp!” he informed her, heartily glad to see her. “That sunset bonnet is a maraschino.”
“Pinkest one they had,” she complacently assured him. “I want you to meet some friends of mine, Johnny.” And, with vast pride in her acquaintanceship with all parties concerned, she introduced him to Constance and Aunt Pattie.
Johnny Gamble and Constance Joy, for just a moment, looked upon each other with the frank liking which sometimes makes strangers old friends. Gresham saw that instant liking and stiffened. Johnny Gamble, born in a two-room cottage and with sordid experiences behind him of which he did not like to think in this company, dropped his eyes; whereupon Miss Constance Joy, who had been cradled under silken coverlets, studied him serenely. She had little enough opportunity to inspect odd types at close range–and this was a very interesting specimen. His eyes were the most remarkable blue she had ever seen.
“Cousin Polly has been telling us most pleasant things about you,” she observed.
“Your cousin Polly?” he inquired, perplexed.
“Yes; we’re cousins now,” announced Polly happily. “It’s the first time I ever had any relations, and I’m tickled stiff!”
“So am I!” agreed Johnny heartily, figuring vaguely that somebody or other must have married.
“You are just in the nick of time, Gamble,” Gresham quietly stated with a deliberate intention of humiliating this child of no one. “Miss Polly has a subscription list which she wants you to complete.”
“He’s too late,” replied Polly with a flash of her eyes in Gresham’s direction. “Mr. Loring just closed up that list,” and she winked vigorously at Loring.
“Loring’s my friend,” Gamble said with a cheerful laugh. “I have check-writer’s cramp. Who’s to get the loving cup?”
“The loving cup’s a bottle,” Polly returned. “This is a baby’s benefit. It’s Constance’s pet scheme and I’m crazy about it. We’ve found a big, hundred-room summer hotel, with two hundred acres of ground, on a high bluff overlooking the ocean; and we’re going to turn it into a free hotel for sickly babies and their mothers. Isn’t that some scheme?”
“I’m so strong for it I ache!” announced Mr. Gamble with fervor. “Put me down for–” He checked himself ruefully. “I forgot I was broke!” Gresham shrugged his shoulders in satisfaction.
“You’ll take something for that,” Polly confidently comforted her friend Gamble. “There’s G. W. Mason & Company, Johnny. Take me over to him and watch me fool him when he says he has no check-book with him. I have check blanks on every bank in town. Bring along my hand- bag and my subscription list, Sammy.”
When they had gone, with the feebly pleased Sammy dutifully bringing up the rear, Gresham looked after them with relief.
“Handicap day brings out some queer people,” he observed.
“If you mean Mr. Gamble I think him delightful,” Constance quickly advised him. “I’m inclined to agree with Polly that he is very much a gentleman.”
“He would be quite likely to appeal to Polly,” remarked Aunt Pattie as she arose for a visit to a near-by box.
“You mean Cousin Polly,” corrected Constance sweetly.
Gresham was very thoughtful. He was more logically calculating than most people thought him.
It was Polly’s cousinship which puzzled Johnny Gamble. “When you picked a cousin you made some choice,” he complimented her. “How did you do it?”
“They made me,” she explained. “You know that Billy Parsons was the only man I ever wanted to marry–or ever will, I guess. His folks met me once and wouldn’t stand for me at all; then Billy took sick and went out of his head. He cried for me so that the doctor said he had to have me; so I canceled the best engagement I ever had. I wasn’t a star, but I was featured and was making an awful hit. I went right to the house, though, and stayed two months–till Billy died. Then I went back to work; but I hated it. Well, along toward the last they’d got so friendly that I was awful lonesome. It wasn’t long till they got lonesome too. They’re old, you know; and Billy was all they had. So they came after me and I went with them; and they adopted me and we all love each other to death. Constance’s my cousin now–and she stands it without batting an eyelash. She’s about the cream of the earth, Johnny!”
He drew in his breath sharply.
“You’re a lucky kid!” he told her.
There was something in the intensity of his tone which made her look up at him, startled.
“Now don’t you fall in love with her, Johnny!” she begged.
“Why not?” he demanded. “I never tried it; but I bet I can do it.”
“That’s the trouble,” she expostulated; “it’s too easy. You can fall in all right, but how will you get out?”
“I don’t want out,” he assured her. “I play marbles for keeps.”
“All right then; take to pickles and perfume. Look here, Johnny; if none of her own set can ring her with an orange wreath what can an outsider do?”
“How do I know till I try?” he inquired. “I get you, Polly. You mean I’m not in her class; but, you see, I want her!”
“So do the others,” she objected.
“They’re not used to hard work,” he earnestly informed her. “Say, I need a million dollars.”
“Take enough while you’re at it! What do you want it for?”
“Her stack’s that high.”
“She’d never count it.”
“I know; but Aunt Pattie and I would. I have to have it, Polly.”
“Then you’ll get it,” she resignedly admitted. “Why, Johnny, I believe you could get Constance, too!” she added with suddenly accelerated belief in him. “Well, I’m certainly for you. Tell me, what can I do to help you?”
“Poison Gresham for me.”
“Give me your fifteen cents,” she directed. “He’s about as popular with her as a flea with a dog; but he goes with the furniture. He was wished on her by her Aunt Gertrude.”
“Why did her aunt hate her?”
“She hated everybody; so she went in for charity. She made six wills, each time leaving all her money to a different public institution; but they each one did something she didn’t like before she could die. The last time she decided to give Constance a chance, made a new will and took sick the same night. Constance has the interest on her million till she marries Gresham; then she gets it all. If she marries anybody else before Gresham dies the money goes to a home for blind cats, or something like that.”
“Healthy soul, wasn’t she?” commiserated Johnny. “But why Gresham?”
“The bug for family. Aunt Gertrude’s father didn’t make his tobacco- trust money fast enough for her to marry Gresham’s father, who would have been a lord if everybody in England had died. Constance is to bring aristocracy into the family now.”
“Tell her to tear up that million. I’ll get her another one,” offered Johnny easily.
“You’ll need some repairs before you start,” she suggested. “They tell me you’re down and out.”
“Tell them to guess again!” he indignantly retorted. “I own all the to-morrows in the world. There’s money in every one of them.”
“I’ve got an awful big bank-account that needs exercise,” she offered. “Now, look here, Johnny, don’t yell like I’d hit you with a brick. You told me to help myself once when I needed it, and I did. You ought to let me get even. All right, then; be stingy! Where’s Sammy?” She had been feeling in both sleeves with a trace of annoyance, and now she turned to discover Sammy a few paces back, idly watching a policeman putting an inebriated man off the track. “Sammy!” she called him sharply. He came, running and frightened. “I’ve lost my handkerchief,” she informed him. “Go get it.” Sammy smiled gratefully and was gone.
“Where did you find it?” asked Johnny, indicating the departing messenger. “Follow you home one cold night, or did a friend give it to you?”
“Oh, no,” she said carelessly; “it just sticks around. I can’t get rid of it, so I’ve trained it to be handy when I need it.”
She fastened upon Colonel Mason just as the horses came to the post, and she was suplying him with a check blank just as they got away from the barrier. Gamble turned to the track and distinguished his long shot off in the lead. He smiled grimly at that irony, for he had seen long-shot horses raise false hopes before. Mildly interested, he watched Angora reach the quarter pole, still in the lead. Rather incredulously, he saw her still in the lead at the half. He was eager about it when she rounded the three-quarters with nothing but daylight before her; and as she came down the stretch, with Nautchautauk reaching out for her flanks, he stuck the ash-end of his cigar in his mouth and did not see the finish. He knew, by the colossal groan from the grandstand, however, that Angora had beaten the favorite; and, though he was not in the least excited, he felt through all his pockets for his tickets, forgetting that he had taken them out at the beginning of the race and still held them in his hand; also, he forgot completely that he was supposed to be escorting Polly, and immediately sauntered down to the betting shed- -to collect the largest five thousand and one hundred dollars in captivity.
IN WHICH JOHNNY MIXES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
A general desire to bet on the last race had sent all the occupants of the Boyden box, except Constance, Polly and Gresham, down to the betting shed when Gamble returned; and he was very glad there was room enough for him to sit down and enjoy himself. He had evil designs upon Gresham.
“This is my lucky day,” he observed, smiling upon Miss Joy. “I began this afternoon to pile up an exact million. A near horse gave me a five-thousand-dollar start.”
“If you keep on at the rate of five thousand dollars an hour you’ll have your million in two hundred hours,” Constance figured for him.
“I won’t work Sundays, evenings, holidays or birthdays,” he objected.
“How fussy!” commented Polly. “Which was the kind horse?”
“A goat by the name of Angora,” he replied.
“That race should call for an inquiry,” sternly stated Gresham.
“You must have bet on the favorite,” returned Gamble, and laughed when Gresham winced. Not a shade of Gresham’s expression was escaping him now.
“We all did,” acknowledged Constance smilingly. “This is the first time I ever bet on the races; and I sent down to bet on every horse in this last one, so I’ll be sure to win just once. I suppose you attend the races frequently, Mr. Gamble?”
“I’ll give you one more guess,” he returned. “I don’t like to walk home.”
“You won’t have to walk this time,” she reminded him.
“Not while I ride!” asserted Polly stoutly.
“I’m so glad you won, Johnny. I guess you’ll stay in Baltimore now.”
“And give this back? I’ll get an injunction against myself first. Polly, I owe you twenty-five hundred dollars. Here’s the money.”
“This is so sudden,” she coyly observed. “My memory’s poor, though, Johnny.”
“It’s a promise I made myself: If I won this bet half of the winnings belonged to the babies’ hotel.”
“Wait, Johnny,” objected Polly, pushing the money away from her. “I’d rather have you on the new subscription list, by and by, for the furnishing and remodeling fund.”
“I’ll go on both of them,” he offered, putting the money in her lap. “You ought to know that I stick.”
“Yes, you do,” she sighed, and passed him the list, covertly pointing out Gresham’s name as she did so and showing the amount opposite it to be one hundred dollars.
“Mr. Gamble wants to make sure that you’ll get it,” sneered Gresham, and laughed. He was anxious to belittle Gamble in the eyes of Constance.
“If Johnny Gamble puts his name down it’s as good as paid!” flared Polly. “By the way, Mr. Gresham, I have that Corn Exchange check blank for you now.”
She handed him the blank and her fountain-pen; and, with some slight reluctance, Mr. Gresham paid his subscription.
“Thanks,” said Polly briskly. “Johnny, did you say I should put you on the other list for the same amount?”
Constance leaned hastily forward, with the impulse to interfere against so foolhardy a thing, but caught herself; and, leaning back, she looked at Johnny Gamble in profile and smiled. There was something fascinating about the fellow’s clear-eyed assurance as he cheerfully answered: “If you please, Polly.”
“It will take you four hundred hours now to make your million,” Gresham advised him, with scarcely concealed contempt.
“I’m no loafer,” Gamble declared.
They all laughed at that.
“I beg your pardon,” apologized Gresham. “Let’s see. How long will it take you to make your million at the rate of five thousand an hour? How many hours a day?”
“About seven on regular days; three on Saturdays.”
Both the girls were still laughing at the absurdity of it all.
“Counting off for Sundays, you should have your million in about forty days,” persisted Gresham, figuring it with pencil and paper.
Johnny studied the problem carefully.
“All right; I’ll do it,” he announced, and looked at his watch.
“Bravo!” applauded Constance. “If you could succeed in that you would display a force which nothing could resist.”
Gresham looked at her with a quick frown.
“And if he failed he would display a presumption which nothing could forgive,” he paraphrased. “If it’s not asking too much, Mr. Gamble, I’m curious to know how you propose to accumulate your million.” And he smiled across at Miss Joy, who turned to Gamble, waiting interestedly for his reply.
“Work a lot of neglected stunts. I never wanted to make a million till now. I know how, though. I think I’ll start with real estate.” And he watched Gresham narrowly.
“That’s a dismal enough opening,” announced Gresham with a pained expression. “It is impossible to secure a decent price for property, especially when you want to sell it.”
“If you want to get rid of some I’ll buy it,” offered Gamble promptly.
“I want cash.” And again Gresham smiled over at Constance. The slight trace of a frown flitted across her brow. She had always thought of Gresham as a man of perfect breeding.
“Name the right figure. I’ll make a deal with you on the spot.”
“This is scarcely the place for business,” Gresham reproved him.
“I beg pardon,” Gamble quickly said, and looked at Constance, a trifle abashed.
“Please go ahead,” that young lady urged. “This is more fun than the races.”
“Thanks.” He smiled gratefully, “Now, Gresham, let’s get down to statistics. These are working hours. Here’s twenty-five hundred.”
“What for?” asked Gresham, looking at the money avariciously.
“To show confidence in the dealer. You have a vacant lot up-town. What’s it worth?”
“Forty thousand dollars,” recited Graham.
“If you want forty it’s worth thirty,” Gamble sagely concluded. “I’ll split it with you. Give you thirty-five.”
Gresham shook his head; but Gamble, watching him closely, saw that he was figuring.
“I can’t let the property go for less than its value.”
“I don’t want you to. I offered you thirty-five.”
“On what terms?” inquired Gresham cautiously.
“Thirty days cash. This twenty-five hundred is a first payment. I want a renewable option. If I don’t cross over with the balance in thirty days, spend the money.”
“What do you mean by a renewable option?” asked Gresham, hesitating.
“When this option runs out I get another at the same price–and twice more after that.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Gresham, turning away. “Why, I’d be letting you tie up my property for four months.”
“I’m offering you over eighty per cent, a year. You’d rather stay tied.”
Gresham pondered that problem for a moment.
“By Jove, you’re right!” he said. “I’m selfish enough to hope that you can’t pay for it in thirty days.” He reflected that in all probability this reckless person was playing another long shot. “I’ll take you.”
Gamble piled the money into his hands, and with Polly’s fountain- pen, wrote a clear and concise statement of the option upon the back of an unimportant letter. Gresham, as soon as he had finished counting the money with caressing fingers, read and reread the option cautiously–and signed it.
Polly reached out for it.
“Let me witness this,” she requested with a glance of meaning at her friend Johnny; and, writing the word “Witnesses” in its proper place, she signed her name and passed the paper to Miss Joy. “Come in, Constance; the water’s fine,” she invited. “Be a witness with me and let’s all be in vulgar trade.”
Constance signed the paper gravely, puckering her lips adorably as she made a careful business of it. She gave the paper to Mr. Gamble, and he felt foolish enough to kiss the signature. She found another paper upon her lap and opened it mechanically. It was the subscription list. Suddenly she burst into laughter.
“This last donation is from Angora!” she exclaimed. “That’s a generous subscription, Mr. Gamble; but I don’t know whether to thank you or the horse.”
“Thank the goat, whoever that is,” he suggested, smiling into her eyes. Great Scott, what eyes they were! “Polly, Colonel Bouncer is over there by the band stand. I’ll give you a nickel’s worth of peanuts if you’ll tell him what I’m doing.”
Mr. Gresham turned olive green.
“Wait a minute, Miss Parsons,” he protested. “Mr. Gamble, you manage very nicely without Mr. Collaton. If you knew of a probable purchaser for my property you have just taken a most unethical advantage of me.”
“You didn’t have your fingers crossed,” Gamble serenely reminded him.
“Not once,” corroborated Polly. “I watched him all the time. Just leave the colonel to me, Johnny. I’ll scare him to death on the way here,” and she hurried away upon her errand.
“I suppose I must take my medicine,” said Gresham glumly. “I should have sent you to my lawyer. I might have known that your business ethics and my own would be entirely different.”
“What are business ethics, Mr. Gresham?” asked Constance with suspicious innocence.
“There do not seem to be any,” he responded.
“I never heard of any,” agreed Gamble cheerfully. “My principle is, See it first and grab it.”
“That’s the rule of every highwayman, I believe,” charged Gresham. “You will excuse me for a few moments, please?” And he hurried away in pursuit of a man whom he had seen passing.
“That’s the rule of life,” said Gamble. “I had to learn it quick. It took me four months to save up my first eighteen dollars. I thought I’d never get it.”
“You must have wanted something very much,” suggested Constance, smiling sympathetically at her vision of this man as a boy, hoarding his pennies and nickels like a miser for so long a time.
“I did,” he admitted simply. “I wanted a cook stove with silver knobs. The day I had it brought home was the proudest of my life. My mother knelt down and hugged it. It had four lids and not one of them was cracked.”
Constance looked at him with a musing smile. He must have been a handsome boy.
IN WHICH GRESHAM FINDS JOHNNY’S OLD PARTNER ACCOMMODATING
Beneath the grandstand, Gresham caught up with a thin-faced and sandy-haired man whose colorless eyebrows and almost colorless eyes gave his waxlike countenance a peculiarly blank expression–much as if one had drawn a face and had forgotten to mark in the features. The man started nervously as Gresham touched him on the shoulder, and his thin lips parted in a frightened snarl.
“You have such a ghastly way of slipping up behind one,” he complained, brushing the shoulder upon which Gresham had laid his hand.
“You’re nervous, Collaton. I’m not Johnny Gamble,” laughed Gresham.
“Suppose you were!” indignantly retorted Collaton. “I’m not avoiding Johnny.” And he studied Gresham furtively.
“The Gamble-Collaton books are. Do you imagine there are any more outstanding accounts against your firm?”
“How should I know?” Collaton glanced about him uneasily.
“True enough–how should you?” agreed Gresham soothingly. “I’d feel rather sorry for Gamble if an old and forgotten note against your firm, upon which a judgment had been quietly secured ‘by default’, should turn up just now.”
“I don’t think one will,” returned Collaton, searching Gresham’s eyes. “Why?”
“Because he is almost certain to make a deposit in the Fourth National Bank in a short time.”
“That’s a very good reason,” laughed Collaton, now certain of the eyes.
“If that deposit were to be attached,” went on Gresham suavely, “it might embarrass him very much.” There was a slight pause.” If you’ll call me up to-night I’ll let you know how much it will be and when he is likely to bank it.”
“Why do you tell me this?” puzzled Collaton.
“Because I want him broke!” explained Gresham, his face suddenly twitching viciously in spite of himself.
Collaton thought it over carefully.
“What’s your telephone number?” he accommodatingly inquired.
Colonel Bouncer, meanwhile, was flattered to have Polly Parsons pause at his seat as she came down the aisle, after an extended passage at arms with Val Russel, and tell him how young he looked.
“Gad, you’d make any man feel young and brisk!” he gallantly declared.
“Wasn’t that Paul Gresham in Mrs. Boyden’s box?”
“Yes; the very Paul,” she assured him, glad that the colonel was making it so easy for her. “He’s going to give you a new neighbor, Colonel. He’s just been discussing a deal with Mr. Gamble for the vacant property next to your factory.”
“Bless my soul!” ejaculated the colonel, rising hastily. “He hasn’t actually sold it, has he?”
“He has given Mr. Gamble an option on it,” Polly was happy to state.
“You don’t say!” exploded the colonel. “Why, what does Johnny Gamble want with it?”
“He didn’t tell; but I think he’s organizing a shoe-manufacturing company,” lied Polly glibly.
“Goodness me!” muttered the colonel, and, breathing heavily, he cursed his procrastination heartily to himself, threw discretion to the winds and hurried down to the Boyden box just as Gresham returned. His greeting to the other occupants was but perfunctory, and then he turned to Gresham with: “You haven’t sold your property adjoining my factory, have you, Gresham?”
“Well, I’ve given Mr. Gamble an option on it,” admitted Gresham reluctantly.
“For how much?”
“That would be telling,” interposed Gamble.
“For how long is your option?” the colonel demanded.
“What are you buying it for–investment or improvement?”
“That would be telling again.”
“Will you sell it?”
“Depends on the price.”
“What’ll you take for it?”
“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the colonel. “Why, man, that’s robbery! I’ll never pay it. I’ll take a chance on waiting until your option expires, then I’ll do business with Gresham. Gresham, what will you want for the property if Gamble, or WHEN Gamble doesn’t take it up? “
“Fifty thousand,” said Gresham, and glanced darkly at Gamble.
Miss Joy interrupted with a laugh. Gresham looked at her inquiringly, but he did not ask her the joke. She volunteered an explanation, however.
“I’m just framing a definition of business ethics,” she stated; “but really I don’t see the difference between yours and Mr. Gamble’s.”
“Business ethics consists in finding a man who has some money, and hitting him behind the ear with a sand-bag,” explained the colonel. “Even your price is a holdup, Gresham; but I think I can buy it for less when the time comes–if I want it.”
“You’ll have four months to make up your mind,” said Gamble with a triumphant look at Constance.
“I thought your option was for only thirty days.”
“It’s renewable three times.”
“Bless my soul!” shouted the colonel. “That puts an entirely different face upon the matter. If you don’t want too much money for it, Gamble, I don’t mind confessing that I’d like to build an extension to my factory on that property. Now that my defenses are down, soak me.”
“I couldn’t refuse a little thing like that. I’ll soak you all I can. I said fifty-five thou-sand, you know.”
“You didn’t mean it, though!” expostulated the colonel.
“What did I mean then?”
“You meant forty thousand.”
“As a mind-reader you’re a flivver,” chided Gamble. “I’ll let you down one notch, Colonel. I’ll make it fifty thousand–and not one cent less.”
The colonel looked at him sorrowfully.
“Do you really mean that, Johnny?” he inquired.
“I really mean it.”
“Well, if you say you really mean it you really mean it. I know you well enough for that,” admitted the colonel with a sigh. “It’s a rank robbery though. I’ll take you, Johnny.”
Gamble turned to Gresham.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll just transfer my option to the colonel,” he suggested.
“The game is in your hands–for the present,” Gresham acknowledged.
“We’ll just fix it up that way, then, Colonel. Polly, lend me your fountain-pen again. Colonel, you may hand me your check for seventeen thousand five hundred. You may pay the balance of the money to Gresham–upon delivery, I suppose, of the deed.”
“Surely,” said the colonel nonchalantly; and, producing his own fountain-pen and check-book, he wrote Johnny Gamble’s check, while Gamble wrote a transfer of his option. Constance watched that unquestioning operation between the two gentlemen with puzzled brows.
“You’re not taking this matter to your lawyer, Colonel,” she observed.
“Certainly not!” he replied in surprise. “I’ve known Johnny Gamble for years, and I’d take his word for my entire bank-account.”
“I must confess that business ethics has me more confused than ever,” laughed Constance. “You just now accused Mr. Gamble of robbing you.”
It was the colonel’s turn to laugh.
“I’d have paid him sixty thousand,” he advised her, placing the option affectionately in his pocket-book. “It’s worth that to me. I’ve been afraid to broach the matter to Gresham for a month, for fear he’d want seventy-five when he found out I had to have it. I’m getting it cheaper through Gamble.”
A fleeting trace of guilt upon Gresham’s countenance told that this surmise was the truth, and Constance shook her head.
“I don’t suppose I shall ever understand it,” she confessed.
“I don’t, myself,” observed Gamble, passing the colonel’s check between his fingers quite happily. “I can loaf three hours now on that two-hundred-hour stunt, thanks to you, Gresham.”
“You had your start by luck,” Gresham reminded him.
“Not at all,” insisted Gamble cheerfully. “I would have borrowed the money from the colonel to buy that option. How’s that for ethics, Miss Joy?”
“It’s quite in keeping with your methods of the day,” rejoined Gresham. “I still insist that you took an unfair advantage of me.”
The colonel, who regretted to be compelled to dislike anybody, turned upon Gresham a dissatisfied eye.
“Oh, play the game or stay out of it!” he advised. “I’ll see you at my lawyer’s to-morrow at eleven. Come with me a minute, Johnny. I want you to meet a friend of mine who has a big real estate deal on tap, and he may not go back on our train to-night.”
Johnny Gamble made his adieus from the Boyden box with reluctance. The horses were lining up at the barrier for the last race, and he might not return in time. While he was bidding a thoroughly inadequate good-by to Constance, Loring came up hastily and called Polly from the box.
“Sammy Chirp called my attention to Gresham and Collaton talking together rather furtively down under the grandstand a few minutes ago,” he said. “I have a curious impression that they mean harm to Gamble.”
“It was Gresham got the harm. Johnny just beat him to a fifteen- thousand-dollar profit.”
“So that was it,” said Loring with a frown. “Tell him to watch out. They were about to attach his bank-account the last time he paid an unexpected note,” and he lounged into the box.
Polly followed Johnny Gamble when he started to rejoin the colonel.
“Do me a favor, please, Johnny,” she begged.
“Certainly,” he returned. “Do you know what it is?”
“Here’s my fountain-pen. Indorse that check over to me, won’t you?”
“What’s the joke?” he asked.
“I don’t want you to have the money. I’m in a hurry now.”
“Well, I’m broke again,” laughed Johnny in perfect confidence; and he indorsed the check.
“The most thoroughgoing plebe I ever saw,” Gresham commented, looking after Gamble. “It’s so fortunate that one is only compelled to meet him in public places.”
Constance glanced at him curiously and hurried to the rear rail of the box. She barely mentioned Mr. Gamble’s name, and it was surprising how easily he heard her and how quickly he came back.
“I forgot to ask you to call,” she said. “If you can spare any time from your pursuit of that million dollars we should be glad to see you at the house–Aunt Pattie and I.”
“Will you be busy to-morrow evening?” he briskly inquired.
“There’s no one expected but Mr. Gresham,” she informed him with a smile at his precipitancy.
“I’ll be there,” he stated with businesslike decisiveness. “I’ll bring along from five to twenty thousand dollars’ worth of time and use up as much of it as you’ll let me.”
“I’ll have a meter,” she laughed.
IN WHICH JOHNNY DISPLAYS TALENT AS A TRUE PROMOTER
“I don’t know much about bookkeeping, but I guess this will do,” observed Johnny, passing over his first attempt for inspection.
Loring examined the little book with keen enjoyment. Johnny had opened an account with himself and had made five entries. On the debit side appeared the following items:
April 22. To three working hours, $15,000
April 23. Sunday.
April 24. To desk rent, …$38
April 24. To seven working hours, $35,000
On the credit side was this:
April 22. By skinning Paul Gresham–good work, ….. $15,000
“How is it?” asked Gamble anxiously.
“Good work!” pronounced Loring with a chuckle. “They may not teach this sort of bookkeeping in commercial colleges. Their kind is stiff and dry. This has personality. Why am I two dollars shy on desk rent, though? I thought you were to take forty days to make your million dollars?”
“That’s right,” admitted Johnny; “seven hours on week-days and three on Saturdays–two hundred hours at five thousand an hour. I started on Saturday, however. To-day is Monday. This morning is when I begin to use your desk-room. Here’s your dollar a day until four P.M., May thirty-first.” And he handed Loring thirty-eight dollars.
“You’re not really going to try that absurd stunt?” protested Loring incredulously.
“I have to. Miss Joy will think I’m a four-flusher if I don’t.”
“Miss Joy again!” laughed Loring. “You only met her Saturday, and I don’t think you’ve thought of another thing since.”
“Gresham and her million,” corrected Johnny, and he started for the door.
“Where are you going–if anybody should ask for you?” inquired Loring.
“To deposit Gresham’s fifteen thousand?”
“No,” laughed Gamble. “Polly took that away from me.”
“That’s a good safe place for it,” returned Loring, relieved.
“Safe as the mint,” corroborated Johnny, and hurried out.
As he went up the steps of the Fourth National Bank a pallid-faced young man, with eyebrows, eyelashes and hair so nearly the color of his skin that they were invisible, watched him out of the window of a taxi that had been standing across the street ever since the bank had opened. As soon as Johnny entered the door the young man gave a direction to the driver, and the taxi hurried away.
President Close was conservatively glad to see Johnny. He was a crisp-faced man, with an extremely tight-cropped gray mustache; and not a single crease in his countenance was flexible in the slightest degree. He had an admiration amounting almost to affection for Johnny–provided the promising young man did not want money.
“Good morning,” he greeted his caller. “What can we do for you to- day?” And in great haste he mentally reviewed the contents of credit envelope G-237. That envelope, being devoted to Mr. Gamble, contained a very clear record; so Mr. Close came as near to smiling as those cast-iron creases would allow.
“Want to give the Fourth National as a reference,” returned Johnny cheerfully.
“I see,” assented Mr. Close, immediately ceasing to smile; for now approached the daily agony of life–the grudging of credit. “I see; I see. Do you propose engaging in a new venture?”
“Just as often as I can find one,” stated Johnny briskly.
Mr. Close looked at him with stern disapproval.
“That does not sound like a very stable frame of mind,” he chided. “What do you propose to do first?”
“A twenty-story hotel.”
“That runs into millions!” gasped Close, and reached out to touch a button upon his desk; but Johnny Gamble stayed that hand.
“You’re after my balance,” he said. “It’s twelve dollars and thirty- seven cents.”
“Well, you see, Mr. Gamble, under the circumstances–” hesitated Mr. Close.
“I know,” interrupted the applicant; “you can only say I’m good for twelve-thirty-seven. I don’t ask you to back me. If anybody ‘phones you, just say I’m a good boy.”
Mr. Close almost smiled again.
“So far as the moral risk is concerned I shall have no hesitation in speaking most highly of you,” he granted.
“And don’t laugh when you say it,” Johnny admonished, smiling cheerfully, for he knew that Close always did better than he promised. “Tell them this, can’t you?–I’ve banked with you for five years. I’ve run about a ton of money through your shop. I’ve been broke a dozen times and I never left a debt behind me. I’ve been trusted and I always made good. I guess you could say all that if you stopped to take a couple of breaths, couldn’t you?”
“I shall certainly say those things if I am asked about them,” replied Mr. Close, considering them carefully, one by one.” Don’t hesitate to refer to me. I’ll do the best I conscientiously can for you.”
Johnny stood waiting for the stream of the traffic to stop for the cross-current, so that he could go over to the subway, when a big blue touring car stopped just in front of him, and the driver, a hearty young woman all in blue, including plumes and shoes, hailed him joyously.
“Jump in, Johnny!” she invited. “I found a four-leaf clover this morning–and here I’m lucky already. Sammy, run into the drug store for some chocolates. Johnny, sit up here with me.”
Sammy Chirp, who tied his own cravats and did them nicely, smiled feebly in recognition of Johnny Gamble, lugged Miss Polly Parson’s bouquet, parasol, fan, hand-bag and coat back into the tonneau and went upon his errand.
“Thanks, Sammy,” said Johnny, and clambered into young Chirp’s place in the car. “Where are you going to take me?”
“Any place you say,” rejoined Polly.
“Drive over on Seventh Avenue, then,” he directed. “There’s a lot of shack property around the new terminal station. I want to build a smashing big hotel over there. I don’t see why somebody hasn’t done it.”
Polly puzzled over that matter considerably herself.
“It doesn’t seem possible that New York would overlook a bet like that,” she declared, and obeying the traffic policeman’s haughty gesture, turned briskly off Broadway.
“Why not?” he demanded. “New York grabs a cinch. The cinch has been kicking around loose for fifty years. New York pats herself on the pink bald spot. ‘Nothing gets by me!’ she says.”
“New York’s the best town in the world!” Polly flared.
“I wasn’t insulting your friend,” apologized Johnny, and looked at his watch. “Great Scott! It’s ten-thirty!” he exploded. “I owe myself seventy-five hundred dollars. All I’ve done is to decide on a Terminal Hotel Company. Want some stock, Polly?”
“I’ll take all I can reach if you’re leading it around,” she assured him. “I can’t take much, but I’ll make Daddy Parsons go in, and I’ll be a nuisance to every moneyed man I know.”
“By the by, where’s the fifteen thousand I made Saturday?” Johnny asked.
“In my bank,” she replied. “I just deposited it.”
“Why did you take it away from me–if it’s any of my business?” he wanted to know.
“I was afraid they’d snatch it from you,” she returned. “Gresham was all peeved up because you took fifteen thousand away from him in front of Constance. Loring saw Gresham and your old partner talking together immediately afterward; and he told me that they might frame up some crooked scheme to grab the money. I didn’t have a chance to explain, so I asked you to indorse the check to me.”
“Do you think Collaton’s crooked?” Johnny asked with a queer smile.
“I can think he’s crooked without batting an eyelash. I can think it about Gresham too.”
“Why do you have that idea about Gresham?”
“Because I don’t like him,” she triumphantly argued.
“Shake!” invited Johnny. “I know six reasons why I can do without him. What are your six?”
“One is because I don’t like him, and another is because he’s going to marry Constance, and the other four are because I don’t like him,” she calmly summed up.
“Does Constance say he’s going to marry her?” he inquired crisply.
“Not in so many words.”
“Then I don’t believe it. I wouldn’t marry him for six millions.”
“Constance can’t be so careless. If they break you they can’t sprint fast enough to keep it; but if they take it away from Constance she’s broke.”
“It’s ten-forty!” groaned Johnny. “I’m slow on that million. Constance’ll think I’m loafing.”
“Is she interested?”
“She promised last night to keep score. Gresham was there. I looked, any minute, to see him bite himself in the neck and die of poison. Polly, he can’t have her.”
“You’d better tell Constance about that,” laughed Polly. “Why, Johnny, you had never seen her or heard of her forty-eight hours ago!”
“I know; I didn’t have the right chances when I was young!”
Polly gazed upon him admiringly.
“I’ve seen swift love affairs before, but you’ve set a new record!” she exclaimed. “Well, I’m for you, Johnny. Since poor Billy’s parents adopted me and made me a cousin of Constance, I can trot up her stone steps any minute; and she treats me as if I’d had my first bottle in a pink-silk boudoir. I’ll make it my business to run up there twice a day and boost for you.”
“Don’t be too strong!” Johnny hastily warned her. “Boost half of the time if you want to, but be sure and knock the other half.”
“I guess it would be better,” soberly agreed Polly–“even with Constance. Here’s your terminal station. Pick out your corner and drive a claim stake.”
Polly obligingly drove slowly around three sides of the huge new terminal. Directly opposite the main entrance was a vacant plot of ground, with a frontage of an entire block and a depth of four hundred feet. Big white signs upon each corner told that it was for sale by Mallard & Tyne. They stopped in front of this location, while both Johnny and Polly ranged their eyes upward, by successive steps, to the roof garden which surmounted the twentieth story of Johnny’s imaginary Terminal Hotel.
“It’s a nifty-looking building, Johnny!” she complimented him as they turned to each other with sheepish smiles.
“I’m going to tear it down and put up a better one,” he briskly told her. “I’ll hand you a piece of private information. If the big railroad company which built this terminal station doesn’t own that blank space it’s a fool–and I don’t think it is. If it does the property will be held for ever for the increase in value. Let’s look at these other blocks. The buildings on the one next to it are worth about a plugged nickel apiece–and that would make exactly as good a location.”
“But, Johnny; you couldn’t build a hotel in forty days!”
“Build it! I don’t want to. I only want to promote it.”
“Does a promoter never build?” asked Polly.
“Not if he can escape,” replied Johnny. “All a promoter ever wants to do is to collect the first ninety-nine years’ profits and promote something else. Drive me up to the address on that real estate sign and I’ll pay you whatever the clock says and let you go.”
“The clock says a one-pound box of chocolates,” she promptly estimated. “Wait, though. I did send for some!” And she looked back into the tonneau. “Why, drat it all! I mislaid Sammy!” she gasped.
IN WHICH CONSTANCE DECIDES ON A FAIR GAME
By three o’clock Johnny Gamble had acquired so much hotel information that his head seemed stuffed. Every bright-eyed financier in the city had nursed the happy thought of a terminal hotel and had made tentative plans–and had jerked back with quivering tentacles; for all the property in that neighborhood was about a thousand degrees Fahrenheit. The present increase of value and that of the next half-century had been gleefully anticipated, and the fortunate possessor of a ninety-nine-year lease on a peanut stand felt that he was providing handsomely for his grandchildren.
Mr. Gamble detailed these depressing facts to his friend Loring with much vigor and picturesqueness.
“The trouble with New York is that everybody wants to collect the profits that are going to be made,” Loring sagely concluded.
“It’s the only way they can get even,” Johnny informed him. “Well, that’s the regular handicap. Guess I’ll have to take it.”
“You don’t mean to try to promote a hotel against such inflated values!” protested Loring.
“Why not?” returned Johnny. “That section has to have a hotel. The sporty merchants of the Middle West will pay the freight.”
“I guess so,” agreed Loring thoughtfully. “Well, good luck to you, Johnny! By the way, President Close of the Fourth National, has called you up twice this afternoon. I suppose he’s gone, by now.”
“No, I think he stays to sweep out for the gold-dust,” surmised Johnny, and telephoned to the bank. Mr. Close, however, had gone home an hour before.
“He’s sensible,” approved Loring, putting away his papers. “This weather would tempt a mole outdoors. I’m going to the ball game. Better come along.”
“Too frivolous for me,” declared Johnny, eying his little book regretfully. “There’s a thirty-five-thousand-dollar day almost gone. All I can credit myself with is a flivver. I’m going to stay right here on the job and figure hotel.”
At three-thirty Loring returned.
“So you’re not going to the game, Johnny?” he observed with a sly smile.
“At five thousand an hour! Nev-ver!”
“Too bad,” regretted Loring still smiling. “I just saw Constance and Polly. They’re going out.”
Johnny promptly slammed several sheets of figures into a drawer.
“Is there room for me in your car?” he asked anxiously.
“Val Russel and Bruce Townley are with me. There’s plenty of room– but you really ought to stay here and figure on your hotel,” Loring advised him.
“I can figure any place,” stated Johnny briskly, and put away his little book. “Are we ready?”
The eyes of Constance Joy lighted with pleasure as she saw the group which filed into the box adjoining the one in which she sat with Polly Parsons, Paul Gresham, Colonel Bouncer, and Sammy Chirp; and Gresham watched her discontentedly as she shook hands with Gamble. He did not like the cordiality of that hand-shake, nor yet the animation of her countenance. Neither did he like her first observation, which consisted not of any remarks about health or the weather, but about Johnny’s intimate personal affairs.
“How is the million dollars coming on?” she had interestedly inquired, and then sat down in Gresham’s own chair, next to the dividing rail. “You know, I promised to keep score for you.”
“You may mark me a goose-egg for today,” replied Johnny, sitting comfortably beside her with only the thin board partition between them.
Gresham, his dark eyebrows meeting in a sinister line across his forehead, smiled with grim satisfaction.
“People with money seem to be watching it on Mondays,” he observed.
“They have to sleep some time,” Polly quickly reminded him. “Your day for a nap was Saturday.”
“I’m guilty,” admitted Gresham with a frowning glance at Johnny. “My trance–day before yesterday–cost me fifteen thousand. I shan’t forget it soon.”
“I’ll bet you never will!” Polly agreed.
“Johnny was awake that day,” declared Colonel Bouncer, laughing heartily and reaching over to slap Gamble affectionately on the shoulder. “He’s fifteen thousand better off; and I guess he won’t forget that in a hurry.”
“I’ve forgotten it now,” asserted Johnny. “Colonel, I want to talk with you about some stock in a big hotel opposite the new terminal station.”
“Bless my soul–NO!” almost shouted the colonel. “I nearly got tangled up in my friend Courtney’s terminal hotel scheme–and I’m scared yet.”
“Courtney?” repeated Johnny. “That’s the name they gave me at Mallard & Tyne’s office this afternoon. They told me that he has tied up the only available block the railroad company overlooked.”
“Tied it up!” exploded the colonel. “Bless my soul, it has him tied up! Courtney’s company blew so high that none of the pieces has come down yet. Meantime his enthusiasm is likely to cost him a round two and a quarter million dollars.”
He must have had a high fever,” commented Johnny. “How could a man be so forgetful of that much money?”
“He thought his friends were game,” explained the colonel; “and, in spite of his long and sucessful business experience, he over-looked the difference between a promise and a promissory note. He nailed his stock subscribers down with hasty conversation only, and then rushed off and grabbed the six collected parcels of that block, for fear it might get away before he had his company legally organized.”
“And now he can’t unspike it,” guessed Johnny smilingly. “Watch out, Colonel!”
There was a lively scramble in the two boxes as the first foul tip of the season whizzed directly at them. Gamble, who had captained his village nine, had that ball out of the air and was bowing jovially to the applause before Gresham had quite succeeded in squeezing himself down behind the door of the box.
Naturally it was Polly who led the applause; and Constance shocked the precise Gresham by joining in heartily.
She was looking up at Johnny with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks when Gresham came out of his cyclone cellar–and, if he had disliked Gamble before, now he hated him.
It is a strange feature of the American national game that the more perfectly it is played the duller it is. This was a pitchers’ battle; and the game droned along, through inning after inning, with seldom more than three men to bat in each half, while the score board presented a most appropriate double procession of naughts. Spectators, warmly praising that smoothly oiled mechanical process of one, two, three and out, and telling each other that this was a great game, nevertheless yawned and dropped their score cards, and put away their pencils, and looked about the grandstand in search of faces they knew.
In such a moment Colonel Bouncer, who had come into this box because of a huge admiration for Polly and an almost extravagant respect for Constance, and who had heartily wished himself out of it during the last two or three innings, now happily discovered a familiar face only a few rows back of him. “By George, Johnny, there’s Courtney now!” he announced.
Gamble looked with keen interest.
“Do you mean that gentleman with the ruddy face and the white beard?” he inquired.
“That’s the old pirate,” asserted the colonel.
“Why, that’s the man you wanted to introduce me to at the race-track in Baltimore Saturday.”
“Bless my heart, so I did!” he remembered. “I thought it might relieve him to tell his troubles to you. It isn’t too late yet. Come on up and I’ll introduce you–that is, unless you want to watch this game.”
“I’m pleased to pass up this game till somebody makes an error,” Johnny willingly decided. “If they’ll hand out a base on balls and a safe bunt and hit a batter, so as to get three men on bases with two out, and then muft a high fly out against the fence, and boot the ball all over the field while four of the Reds gallop home–I’ll stay and help lynch the umpire; otherwise not. Show me to your friend Courtney.” He turned to take courteous leave of the others and his eyes met the friendly glance of Constance.
“Let’s catch Mr. Courtney at the end of the game,” he suggested to the colonel; and then, turning directly to Constance, he added with a laugh: “I think I’ll play hooky. I don’t want to break up the party.”
“If you think you see an opportunity for that million, the official scorer insists upon saying good-by,” she laughed in return, and held out her hand.
Johnny shook the hand with both pleasure and reluctance, and obediently left.
“I’m offering my pet vanity parasol against a sliver of chewing-gum on Johnny,” Polly confided to Loring. “I could see it in his eye that Mr. Courtney will be invited to help him make that million.”
“Somebody ought to warn Courtney,” Gresham commented sarcastically.
“Why warn him?” demanded Loring. “I’ll guarantee that any proposition Johnny makes him will be legitimate.”
“No doubt,” agreed Gresham. “A great many sharp practices are considered legitimate nowadays.”
“I object, also, to the term ‘sharp practices’,” responded Loring warmly. “I don’t believe there’s a man in New York with a straighter and cleaner record than Gamble’s. Every man with whom he has ever done business, except possibly yourself, speaks highly of him and would trust him to any extent; and he does not owe a dollar in the world.”
“Doesn’t he?” snarled Gresham. “There’s an unsatisfied attachment for fifteen thousand dollars resting against him at the Fourth National Bank at this very moment.”
Loring’s indignation gave way immediately to grave concern.
“So that’s why Close was trying to get him on the ‘phone all afternoon!” he mused.
“Mr. Gresham,” called Polly sharply, “how do you come to know about this so quickly?”
Gresham cursed himself and the blind hatred which had led him into making this slip; and he was the more uncomfortable because not only Loring and Polly but Constance had turned upon him gravely questioning eyes.
“Such things travel very rapidly in commercial circles,” he lamely explained.
“I had no idea that you were a commercial circle,” retorted Polly. “I wonder who’s crooked.” Gresham laughed shortly. “It isn’t Johnny!” she indignantly asserted. “I know how Johnny’s fifteen thousand was saved from this attachment, but I wouldn’t tell where it is–even here.”
Polly and Loring looked at each other understandingly.
“I suppose that was an old Gamble-Collaton account,” Loring surmised with another speculative glance at Gresham. “I am quite certain that Johnny knows nothing whatever of this claim–let alone the attachment. The operations of his big irrigation failure were so extensive that, with the books lost, he can never tell when an additional claim may be filed against him. If suit is made in an obscure court, and Collaton, who hasn’t a visible dollar, answers summons and confesses judgment for the firm, Johnny has no recourse.”
“Except to repudiate payment,” suggested Gresham with a shrug of his shoulders.
“I wish he would,” returned Loring impatiently. “I wish he would let me handle his affairs in my own way.”
“He won’t,” Polly despaired.
“Tell me, Mr. Loring,” interposed Constance, who had been silently thoughtful all this while; “would this unpaid attachment at Mr. Gamble’s bank interfere with his present success if Mr. Courtney–or any one else whom Mr. Gamble might try to interest–were to hear of it?”
“It might–and very seriously,” returned Loring.
The long somnolent game was suddenly awakened by two blissful errors, which gave the audience something to jeer at. A tally slipped home for Boston. A sharp double play redeemed the errors and closed the inning. The first man up for the Yankees drove a clean two-bagger down the right foul line; the second man laid down his life nobly with a beautiful bunt; the Boston pitcher gave a correct imitation of Orville Wright and presented free rides to the next two Highlanders; big Sweeney stalked to bat–and the congregation prayed, standing. Under cover of all this quivering excitement, and with Gresham more absorbed than ever upon the foul which might yet slay him, Constance turned to Polly with an intent decisiveness which was quite new to her.
“Arrange it so that I may go home in Mr. Loring’s car,” she directed.
“Three cheers!” approved Polly, with a spiteful glance at Gresham.
Mr. Courtney, a live-looking elderly gentleman who kept himself more carefully groomed than many a young man, had shaken hands with Mr. Gamble quite cordially, had studied him through and through and through in about half a second of time, and had finished the hand- shake more cordially than he had begun it.
“The colonel has been saying all sorts of kind things about you,”– he very graciously stated.
“So he has about you,” returned Johnny, smiling into Mr. Courtney’s eyes and liking him.
“I suppose so,” admitted Mr. Courtney. “The colonel’s always blowing about his friends, so we mustn’t trust each other too far.”
“That’s a good way to start anyhow,” laughed Johnny. “The colonel’s been telling me you’re so trusting that you stung yourself.”
“How’s that?” asked Mr. Courtney, looking at the colonel in perplexity. “I don’t quite understand.”
“On that hotel deal,” the colonel affably reminded him, and was unkind enough to laugh.
“You old reprobate!” protested Courtney. “I don’t see why you want to publish my disgrace.”
“You deserve it,” chuckled the colonel. “It won’t hurt for Johnny to know it though. He’s the shrewdest young man of my acquaintance, and he might be able to figure a way out of your dilemma for you.”
“I might even be able to make some money out of it myself,” Johnny frankly acknowledged.
“Jump right in and welcome, young man,” invited Courtney. “If you can pull me out whole I don’t care how much you make.”
“We’ll consider that a bargain,” offered Gamble.
“All right,” returned Courtney, smiling. “We’ll shake hands on it in the good old-fashioned way.” And they did so, under Colonel Bouncer’s earnestly interested approval.
“Tell him your troubles,” urged the colonel. “If it were my case, Ben, I’d be yelling for help as long as I had breath in my body.”
“It’s very simple,” explained Courtney. “I imagined that a big hotel at the new terminal station would be the best investment in New York. I spoke to a number of my financially active friends about it and they were enthusiastic. I had verbal promises in one day’s work of all the money necessary to finance the thing. I found that the big vacant plot across from the station was held at a prohibitive price. Mallard & Tyne had, with a great deal of labor, collected the selling option on the adjoining block, fronting the terminal. They held it at two and a quarter millions. My friends, at an infernal luncheon, authorized me, quite orally, indeed, to secure the cheaper site without a moment’s delay, especially since it was rumored that Morton Washer was contemplating the erection of a hotel upon that very spot.”
“I see the finish,” laughed Johnny. “Mad with fear, you dashed right down there and broke yourself! Then Union Pacific fell off an eighth; they killed an insurrecto in Mexico; the third secretary of a second-rate life-insurance company died and Wall Street put crape on the door. All your friends got cold feet and it was the other fellow who had urged you to buy that property. The colonel says you dropped a hundred and twenty-five thousand. That’s a stiff option. Can’t you get any of it back?”
“Get it back!” groaned Courtney. “They’re after the balance. It wasn’t an option–it was a contract. If I don’t pay the remainder at the end of the ninety days they’ll sue me; and I have several million dollars’ worth of property that I can’t hide.”
Gamble shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
“Your only chance is to build or sell,” he decided. “It’s your property, all right. Have you offered it?”
“Old Mort Washer wants it–confound him! I’ve discovered that the day after I bought this ground he told my friends that he intended to buy the big piece and build in competition; and they ran like your horse–Angora–last Saturday, Gamble. Now Washer offers to buy this ground for two and an eighth millions–just the amount for which I will be sued.”
“Leaving you to try to forget the hundred and twenty-five thousand you’ve already spent,” figured Gamble. “Nice cheery thought of Washer’s! Of course you applauded?”
“With a brick–if I’d had one!” declared Courtney still angry.
Johnny smiled and looked thoughtfully out over the sunlit greensward. There were electrifying plays down there; but, “fan” though he was, he did not see them. Something in the tingle of it, however, seemed to quicken his faculties.
“Sell me that block, Mr. Courtney,” he suggested with a sudden inspiration.
The mad mob rose to its feet just then and pleaded with Sweeney to “Hit ‘er out!” Shrieks, howls and bellows resounded upon every hand; purple-faced fans held their clenched fists tight to their breasts so that they could implore the louder.
“On what terms?” shouted Courtney into Johnny’s ear.
“I’ll take over your contract,” yelled Johnny beneath Courtney’s hat brim.
“On what terms?” repeated Courtney at the top of his voice.
“Bless your heart, Sweeney, slam it!” shrieked the now crimson- visaged colonel. He was standing on his chair, with distended eyes, and waving his hat violently.
“Your original price!” loudly called Johnny. “Pay you fifteen thousand now, fifty thousand in thirty days and the balance in sixty.”
Sweeney fanned. The atrocious tumult was drowned, in the twinkling of an eyelash, in a dismal depthless gulf of painful silence. One could have heard a mosquito wink.
“Where’s my security?” bellowed Courtney in Johnny’s ear, so vociferously that all the grandstand turned in that direction and three park policemen headed for the riot.
“Just come outside and I’ll tell you,” whispered Johnny with a grin.
“Ashley, how do you like your car?” asked Polly in the groaning calm which followed Sweeney’s infamous strike-out.
“I’m just designing a private medal for the builder,” replied Loring.
“Self-cranker, isn’t it?”
“Self-cranker, automatic oiler, and supplies its own gasolene. Why?”
“Well, Constance is talking of buying one, and mine is a little too muscular for her. Suppose you take her for a spin after the game and deliver her safely to her Aunt Pattie. I’ll take the boys back in my car.”
“I’m cheating you in the exchange, but my conscience doesn’t hurt me in the least,” accepted Loring with alacrity.
“I’ve never been in your car, Ashley,” insinuated Gresham. “You might invite me to try it out too.”
“At five-thirty to-morrow evening,” Ashley coolly advised him. “I’d be very glad to have you come along now; but the car is engaged for a strictly private demonstration.”
Since the others were prepared to guy him unmercifully if he persisted, Gresham hinted no more and, very much to his discomfort, saw Loring gaily drive away with Constance.
On Riverside Drive, Loring spent the first fifteen minutes in extolling the virtues of his car and Constance listened with patient attention; but during the first convenient silence she surprised Loring with a bit of crisp business talk.
“Would you mind telling me the history of Mr. Gamble’s partnership with Mr. Collaton?” she asked.
“I guess I heard what you said,” he returned doubtfully, and he looked at her in astonishment. “Of course you know that Johnny is a client of mine.”
“I know that he is a friend of yours also,” she reminded him.
“On that basis I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” laughed Loring. “Johnny was doing an excellent business in real estate speculation when this man Collaton came to him with an enormous irrigation scheme. They formed a partnership. Collaton went out West to superintend the reclaiming of some thousands of acres of arid land, while Johnny stayed here to sell rose-bordered farms to romantic city home seekers. Collaton spent money faster than Johnny could get it, and operations had to be discontinued. Johnny has been paying the debts of the concern ever since. Every time he thinks he has them cleared off, a new set bobs up; and, since the books and all the papers are lost, he can’t prove or disprove anything. Johnny can’t even dissolve the partnership so long as there are indefinite outstanding accounts. Now, Constance, I’m not a good lawyer or I would not, even in strict confidence like this, say the following, to wit and namely: I think Collaton is a plain ordinary sneak- thief.”
They were both silent for a little time.
“Doesn’t it seem rather strange that the people who hold claims against Mr. Gamble should just happen to attach his bank-account on the very day he was expected to make a deposit, and for the identical amount?” Constance asked in a puzzled way.
Loring gave her a startled glance.
“It does seem strange,” he admitted.
“It would almost seem as if these people had been informed by some one who knew Mr. Gamble’s circumstances quite intimately,” she went on.
“That is a very delicate matter to discuss,” Loring, with professional caution, gravely reminded her, fearing that she might mention Gresham’s name.
“You are quite right,” she agreed. “What does Mr. Gamble think about it all?”
“Johnny does a lot of thinking and a lot of talking, but you can’t hear what he thinks,” replied Loring with a smile. “He is outwardly assuming–and where Collaton is certain to have it repeated to him– that Collaton was merely unfortunate; but I believe he is only waiting for a proof–and then I imagine he will drop on Collaton and whoever is helping him like a ton of pig-iron.”
“I hope he does!” declared Constance with such sudden vindictiveness that Loring laughed.
“You seem to have acquired a violent partisanship,” he charged her with a curious smile.
“Yes, I have,” she admitted with a slight flush. “I like fair play. I believe I have a very even temper, but it angers me to see any one so open and manly and generous as Mr. Gamble made a victim of mean trickery.”
“He’s a handsome boy too,” commented Loring, grinning.
“Well, suppose he is,” she petulantly laughed.
“He has a right to be,” granted Loring, looking at her with renewed admiration. With a slight flush of confusion upon her she was even more charming than he had ever thought her before. “If I had so tantalizingly pretty a girl so interested in my fortunes I wouldn’t care whether they perfected aeroplanes or not,” he ventured with the freedom of an old friend.
“You may come down now, thank you,” she sweetly informed him. “Can’t you get Mr. Gamble to make you his receiver or trustee, or something, for the irrigation company?”
“I might now,” mused Loring. “He’s so interested in the impulsive attempt to make his million dollars that I think I could persuade him. He seems to be really serious about that million.”