Produced by Suzanne Shell, Anuradha Valsa Raj, Tonya Allen and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: “You can be worth a million … within a year”]
THE FORTUNE HUNTER
Louis Joseph Vance
Author Of “The Brass Bowl,”
“The Bronze Bell,” Etc.
_With illustrations by_
Arthur William Brown
George Spellvin, Esq.,
_This book is cheerfully dedicated_
I. FROM HIM THAT HATH NOT
II. TO HIM THAT HATH
IV. TRIUMPH OF MR. HOMER LITTLE JOHN
V. MARGARET’S DAUGHTER
VI. INTRODUCTION TO MISS CARPENTER
VII. A WINDOW IN RADVILLE
VIII. THE MAN OF BUSINESS IN EMBRYO
IX. SMALL BEGINNINGS
X. ROLAND BARNETTE’S FRIEND
XI. BLINKY LOCKWOOD
XII. DUNCAN’S GRUBSTAKE
XIII. THE BUSINESS MAN AND MR. BURNHAM XIV. MOSTLY ABOUT BETTY
XV. MANOEUVRES OF JOSIE
XVI. WHERE RADVILLE FEARED TO TREAD
XVII. TRACEY’S TROUBLES
XVIII. A BARGAIN IS A BARGAIN
XIX. PROVING THE PERSIPICUITY OF MR. KELLOGG
XX. ROLAND SHOWS HIS HAND
XXI. AS OTHERS SAW HIM
XXII. ROLAND’S TRIUMPH
XXIII. THE RAINBOW’S END
“You can be worth a million … within a year”
“You mean you’re going to work here?”
“Four hundred dollars, Mr. Sheriff”
“You’re a thief with a reward out for you”
“Forever and ever and a day”
FROM HIM THAT HATH NOT
Receiver at ear, Spaulding, of Messrs. Atwater & Spaulding, importers of motoring garments and accessories, listened to the switchboard operator’s announcement with grave attention, acknowledging it with a toneless: “All right. Send him in.” Then hooking up the desk telephone he swung round in his chair to face the door of his private office, and in a brief ensuing interval painstakingly ironed out of his face and attitude every indication of the frame of mind in which he awaited his caller. It was, as a matter of fact, anything but a pleasant one: he had a distasteful duty to perform; but that was the last thing he designed to become evident. Like most good business men he nursed a pet superstition or two, and of the number of these the first was that he must in all his dealings present an inscrutable front, like a poker-player’s: captains of industry were uniformly like that, Spaulding understood; if they entertained emotions it was strictly in private. Accordingly he armoured himself with a magnificent imperturbability which at times almost deceived its wearer.
Occasionally it deceived others: notably now it bewildered Duncan as he entered on the echo of Spaulding’s “Come!” He had apprehended the visage of a thunderstorm, with a rattle of brusque complaints: he encountered Spaulding as he had always seemed: a little, urbane figure with a blank face, the blanker for glasses whose lenses seemed always to catch the light and, glaring, mask the eyes behind them; a prosperous man of affairs, well groomed both as to body and as to mind; a machine for the transaction of business, with all a machine’s vivacity and temperamental responsiveness. It was just that quality in him that Duncan envied, who was vaguely impressed that, if he himself could only imitate, however minutely, the phlegm of a machine, he might learn to ape something of its efficiency and so, ultimately, prove himself of some worth to the world–and, incidentally, to Nathaniel Duncan. Thus far his spasmodic attempts to adapt to the requirements and limitations of the world of business his own equipment of misfit inclinations and ill-assorted abilities, had unanimously turned out signal failures. So he envied Spaulding without particularly admiring him.
Now the sight of his employer, professionally bland and capable, and with no animus to be discerned in his attitude, provided Duncan with one brief, evanescent flash of hope, one last expiring instant of dignity (tempered by his unquenchable humour) in which to face his fate. Something of the hang-dog vanished from his habit and for a little time he carried himself again with all his one-time grace and confidence.
“Good-afternoon, Mr. Spaulding,” he said, replying to a nod as he dropped into the chair that nod had indicated. A faint smile lightened his expression and made it quite engaging.
“G’dafternoon.” Spaulding surveyed him swiftly, then laced his fat little fingers and contemplated them with detached intentness. “Just get in, Duncan?”
“On the three-thirty from Chicago….”
There was a pause, during which Spaulding reviewed his fingernails with impartial interest; in that pause Duncan’s poor little hope died a natural death. “I got your wire,” he resumed; “I mean, it got me–overtook me at Minneapolis…. So here I am.”
“You haven’t wasted time.”
“I fancied the matter might be urgent, sir.”
Spaulding lifted his brows ever so slightly. “Why?”
“Well, I gathered from the fact that you wired me to come home that you wanted my advice.”
A second time Spaulding gestured with his eyebrows, for once fairly surprised out of his pose. “_Your_ advice!…”
“Yes,” said Duncan evenly: “as to whether you ought to give up your customers on my route or send them a man who could sell goods.”
“Well….” Spaulding admitted.
“Oh, don’t think I’m boasting of my acuteness: anybody could have guessed as much from the great number of heavy orders I have not been sending you.”
“You’ve had bad luck….”
“You mean you have, Mr. Spaulding. It was good luck for me to be drawing down my weekly cheques, bad luck to you not to have a man who could earn them.”
His desperate honesty touched Spaulding a trifle; at the risk of not seeming a business man to himself he inclined dubiously to relent, to give Duncan another chance. The fellow was likeable enough, his employer considered; he had good humour and even in dejection, distinction; whatever he was not, he was a man of birth and breeding. His face might be rusty with a day-old stubble, as it was; his shirt-cuffs frayed, his shoes down at the heel, his baggy clothing weirdly ready-made, as they were: there remained his air. You’d think he might amount to something, to somewhat more than a mere something, given half a chance in the right direction. Then what?… Spaulding sought from Duncan elucidation of this riddle.
“Duncan,” he said, “what’s the trouble?”
“I thought you knew that; I thought that was why you called me in with my route half-covered.”
“I mean I can’t sell your line.”
“God only knows. I want to, badly enough. It’s just general incompetence, I presume.”
“What makes you think that?”
Duncan smiled bitterly. “Experience,” he said.
“You’ve tried–what else?”
“A little of everything–all the jobs open to a man with a knowledge of Latin and Greek and the higher mathematics: shipping clerk, time-keeper, cashier–all of ’em.”
“And yet Kellogg believes in you.”
Duncan nodded dolefully. “Harry’s a good friend. We roomed together at college. That’s why he stands for me.”
“He says you only need the right opening–.”
“And nobody knows where that is, except my unfortunate employers: it’s the back door going out, for mine every time…. Oh, Harry’s been a prince to me. He’s found me four or five jobs with friends of his–like yourself. But I don’t seem to last. You see I was brought up to be ornamental and irregular rather than useful; to blow about in motor cars and keep a valet busy sixteen hours a day–and all that sort of thing. My father’s failure–you know about that?”
Spaulding nodded. Duncan went on gloomily, talking a great deal more freely than he would at any other time–suffering, in fact, from that species of auto hypnosis induced by the sound of his own voice recounting his misfortunes, which seems especially to affect a man down on his luck.
“That smash came when I was five years out of college–I’d never thought of turning my hand to anything in all that time. I’d always had more coin than I could spend–never had to consider the worth of money or how hard it is to earn: my father saw to all that. He seemed not to want me to work: not that I hold that against him; he’d an idea I’d turn out a genius of some sort or other, I believe…. Well, he failed and died all in a week, and I found myself left with an extensive wardrobe, expensive tastes, an impractical education–and not so much of that that you’d notice it–and not a cent…. I was too proud to look to my friends for help in those days–and perhaps that was as well; I sought jobs on my own…. Did you ever keep books in a fish-market?”
“No.” Spaulding’s eyes twinkled behind his large, shiny glasses.
“But what’s the use of my boring you?” Duncan made as if to rise, suddenly remembering himself.
“You’re not. Go on.”
“I didn’t mean to; mostly, I presume, I’ve been blundering round an explanation of Kellogg’s kindness to me, in my usual ineffectual way–felt somehow an explanation was due you, as the latest to suffer through his misplaced interest in me.”
“Perhaps,” said Spaulding, “I am beginning to understand. Go on: I’m interested. About the fish-market?”
“Oh, I just happened to think of it as a sample experience–and the last of that particular brand. I got nine dollars a week and earned every cent of it inhaling the atmosphere. My board cost me six and the other three afforded me a chance to demonstrate myself a captain of finance–paying laundry bills and clothing myself, besides buying lunches and such-like small matters. I did the whole thing, you know–one schooner of beer a day and made my own cigarettes: never could make up my mind which was the worst. The hours were easy, too: didn’t have to get to work until five in the morning…. I lasted five weeks at that job, before I was taken sick: shows what a great constitution I’ve got.”
He laughed uncertainly and paused, thoughtful, his eyes vacant, fixed upon the retrospect that was a grim prospect of the imminent future.
“Oh–?” Duncan roused. “Why, then I fell in with Kellogg again; he found me trying the open-air cure on a bench in Washington Square. Since then he’s been finding me one berth after another. He’s a sure-enough optimist.”
Spaulding shifted uneasily in his chair, stirred by an impulse whose unwisdom he could not doubt. Duncan had assuredly done his case no good by painting his shortcomings in colours so vivid; yet, somehow strangely, Spaulding liked him the better for his open-hearted confession.
“Well….” Spaulding stumbled awkwardly.
“Yes; of course,” said Duncan promptly, rising. “Sorry if I tired you.”
“What do you mean by: ‘Yes, of course’?”
“That you called me in to fire me–and so that’s over with. Only I’d be sorry to have you sore on Kellogg for saddling me on you. You see, he believed I’d make good, and so did I in a way: at least, I hoped to.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Spaulding uncomfortably. “The trouble is, you see, we’ve nothing else open just now. But if you’d really like another chance on the road, I–I’ll be glad to speak to Mr. Atwater about it.”
“Don’t you do it!” Duncan counselled him sharply, aghast. “He might say yes. And I simply couldn’t accept; it wouldn’t be fair to you, Kellogg, or myself. It’d be charity–for I’ve proved I can’t earn my wages; and I haven’t come to that yet. No!” he concluded with determination, and picked up his hat.
“Just a minute.” Spaulding held him with a gesture. “You’re forgetting something: at least I am. There’s a month’s pay coming to you; the cashier will hand you the cheque as you go out.”
“A month’s pay?” Duncan said blankly. “How’s that? I’ve drawn up to the end of this week already, if you didn’t know it.”
“Of course I knew it. But we never let our men go without a month’s notice or its equivalent, and–“
“No,” Duncan interrupted firmly. “No; but thank you just the same. I couldn’t. I really couldn’t. It’s good of you, but … Now,” he broke off abruptly, “I’ve left my accounts–what there is of them–with the book-keeping department, and the checks for my sample trunks. There’ll be a few dollars coming to me on my expense account, and I’ll send you my address as soon as I get one.”
“But look here–” Spaulding got to his feet, frowning.
“No,” reiterated Duncan positively. “There’s no use. I’m grateful to you for your toleration of me–and all that. But we can’t do anything better now than call it all off. Good-bye, Mr. Spaulding.”
Spaulding nodded, accepting defeat with the better grace because of an innate conviction that it was just as well, after all. And, furthermore, he admired Duncan’s stand. So he offered his hand: an unusual condescension. “You’ll make good somewhere yet,” he asserted.
“I wish I could believe it.” Duncan’s grasp was firm since he felt more assured of some humanity latent in his late employer. “However … Good-bye.”
“Good luck to you,” rang in his ears as the door put a period to the interview. He stopped and took up the battered suitcase and rusty overcoat which he had left outside the junior partner’s office, then went on, shaking his head. “Much obliged,” he said huskily to himself. “But what’s the good of that. There’s no room anywhere for a professional failure. And that’s what I am; just a ne’er-do-well. I never realised what that meant, really, before, and it’s certainly taken me a damn’ long time to find out. But I know now, all right….”
Outside, on the steps of the building, he paused a moment, fascinated by the brisk spectacle afforded by lower Broadway at the hour when the cave-like offices in its cliff-like walls begin to empty themselves, when the overlords and their lieutenants close their desks and turn their faces homewards, leaving the details of the day’s routine to be wound up by underlings. In the clear light of the late spring afternoon a stream of humanity was high and fluent upon the sidewalks. Duncan had glimpses of keen-faced men, bright-faced women, eager boys, quickened all by that manner of efficiency and intelligence which seems so integrally American. A well-dressed throng, well-fed, amiable and animated, looking ever forward, the resistless tide of affairs that gave it being bore it onward; it passed the onlooker as a strong current passes flotsam in a back-eddy, with no pause, no turning aside. Acutely he felt his aloofness from it, who had no part in its interests and scarcely any comprehension of them. The sunken look, the leanness of his young face, seemed suddenly accentuated; the gloom in his discontented eyes deepened; his slight habitual stoop became more noticeable. And a second time he nodded acquiescence to his unspoken thought.
“There,” said he, singling out a passer-by upon whose complacent features prosperity had set its smug hall-mark–“there, but for the grace of God, goes Nat Duncan!” He rolled the paraphrase upon his tongue and found it bitter–not, however, with a tonic bitterness. “Lord, what a worthless critter I am! No good to myself–nor to anybody else. Even on Harry I’m a drag–a regular old man of the mountains!”
Despondently he went down to the sidewalk and merged himself with the crowd, moving with it though a thousand miles apart from it, and presently diverging, struck across-town toward the Worth Street subway station.
“And the worst of it is, he’s too sharp not to find it out–if he hasn’t by this time–and too damn’ decent by far to let me know if he has! … It can’t go on this way with us: I can’t let him … Got to break with him somehow–now–to-day. I won’t let him think me … what I’ve been all along to him…. Bless his foolish heart!…”
This resolution coloured his reverie throughout the uptown journey. And he strengthened himself with it, deriving a sort of acrid comfort from the knowledge that henceforth none should know the burden of his misfortunes save himself. There was no deprecation of Kellogg’s goodness in his mood, simply determination no longer to be a charge upon it. To contemplate the sum total of the benefits he had received at Kellogg’s hands, since the day when the latter had found him ill and half-starved, friendless as a stray pup, on the bench in Washington Square, staggered his imagination. He could never repay it, he told himself, save inadequately, little by little–mostly by gratitude and such consideration as he purposed now to exhibit by removing himself and his distresses from the other’s ken. Here was an end to comfort for him, an end to living in Kellogg’s rooms, eating his food, busying his servants, spending his money–not so much borrowed as pressed upon him. He stood at the cross-roads, but in no doubt as to which way he should most honourably take, though it took him straight back to that from which Kellogg had rescued him.
There crawled in his mind a clammy memory of the sort of housing he had known in those evil days, and he shuddered inwardly, smelling again the effluvia of dank oilcloth and musty carpets, of fish-balls and fried ham, of old-style plumbing and of nine-dollar-a-week humanity in the unwashen raw–the odour of misery that permeated the lodgings to which his lack of means had introduced him. He could see again, and with a painful vividness of mental vision, the degenerate “brownstone fronts” that mask those haunts of wretchedness, with their flights of crumbling brownstone steps leading up to oaken portals haggard with flaking paint, flanked by squares of soiled note-paper upon which inexpert hands had traced the warning, not: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” but: “Furnished rooms to let with board.” And pursuing this grim trail of memory, whether he would or no–again he climbed, wearily at the end of a wearing day, a darksome well of a staircase up and up to an eyrie under the eaves, denominated in the terminology of landladies a “top hall back”–a cramped refuge haunted by pitiful ghosts of the hopes and despairs of its former tenants. And he remembered with reminiscently aching muscles the comfort of such a “single bed” as is peculiar (one hopes) to top hall backs, and with a qualm what it was to cook a surreptitious meal on a metal heater clamped to the gas-bracket (with ears keen to catch the scuffle of the landlady’s feet as she skulked in the hall, jealous of her gas bill).
And to this he must return, to that treadmill round of blighted days and joyless nights must set his face….
Alighting at the Grand Central Station he packed the double weight of his luggage and his cares a few blocks northward on Madison Avenue ere turning west toward the bachelor rooms which Kellogg had established in the roaring Forties, just the other side of _the_ Avenue–Fifth Avenue, on a corner of which Duncan presently was held up for a time by a press of traffic. He lingered indifferently, waiting for the mounted policeman to clear a way across, watching the while with lack-lustre eyes the interminable procession of cabs and landaus, taxis and town-cars that romped by hazardously, crowding the street from curb to curb.
The day was of young June, though grey and a little chill with the discouraged spirit of a retarded season. Though the hegira of the well-to-do to their summer homes had long since set in, still there remained in the city sufficient of their class to keep the Avenue populous from Twenty-third Street north to the Plaza in the evening hours. The suggestion of wealth, or luxury, of money’s illimitable power, pervaded the atmosphere intensely, an ineluctable influence, to an independent man heady, to Duncan maddening. He surveyed the parade with mutiny in his heart. All this he had known, a part of it had been–upon a time. Now … the shafts of his roving eyes here and there detected faces recognisable, of men and women whose acquaintance he had once owned. None recognised him who stood there worn, shabby and tired. He even caught the direct glance of a girl who once had thought him worth winning, who had set herself to stir his heart and–had been successful. To-day she looked him straight in the eyes, apparently, with undisturbed serenity, then as calmly looked over and through and beyond him. Her limousine hurried her on, enthroned impregnably above the envious herd.
He sped her transit with a mirthless chuckle. “You’re right,” he said, “dead right. You simply don’t know me any more, my dear–you musn’t; you can’t afford to any more than I could afford to know you.”
None the less the fugitive incident seemed to brim his disconsolate cup. In complete dejection of mind and spirit he pushed on to Kellogg’s quarters, buoyed by a single hope–that Kellogg might be out of town or delayed at his office.
In that event Duncan might have a chance to gather up his belongings and escape unhandicapped by the immediate necessity of justifying his course. At another time, surely, the explanation was inevitable; say to-morrow; he was not cur enough to leave his friend without a word. But to-night he would willingly be spared. He apprehended unhappily the interview with Kellogg; he was in no temper for argumentation, felt scarcely strong enough to hold his own against the fire of objections with which Kellogg would undoubtedly seek to shake his stand. Kellogg could talk, Heaven alone knew how winningly he could talk! with all the sound logic of a close reasoner, all the enthusiasm of youth and self-confidence, all the persuasiveness of profound conviction singular to successful men. Duncan had been wont to say of him that Kellogg could talk the hind-leg off of a mule. He recalled this now with a sour grin: “That means me…”
The elevator boy, knowing him of old, neglected to announce his arrival, and Duncan had his own key to the door of Kellogg’s apartment. He let himself in with futile stealth: as was quite right and proper, Kellogg’s man Robbins was in attendance–a stupefied Robbins, thunderstruck by the unexpected return of his master’s friend and guest. “Good Lord!” he cried at sight of Duncan. “Beg your pardon, sir, but–but it can’t be you!”
“Your mistake, Robbins. Unfortunately it is.” Duncan surrendered his luggage. “Mr. Kellogg in?”
“No, sir. But I’m expecting him any minute. He’ll be surprised to see you back.”
“Think so?” said Duncan dully. “He doesn’t know me, if he is.”
“You see, sir, we thought you was out West.”
“So you did.” Duncan moved toward the door of his own bedroom, Robbins following.
“It was only yesterday I posted a letter to you for Mr. Kellogg, sir, and the address was Omaha.”
“I didn’t get that far. Fetch along that suitcase, will you please? I want to put some clean things in it.”
“Then you’re not staying in town over night, Mr. Duncan?”
“I don’t know. I’m not staying here, anyway.” Duncan switched on the lights in his room. “Put it on the bed, Robbins. I’ll pack as quickly as I can. I’m in a hurry.”
“Yes, sir, but–I hope there’s nothing wrong?”
“Then you lose,” returned Duncan grimly: “everything’s wrong.” He jerked viciously at an obstinate bureau drawer, and when it yielded unexpectedly with the well-known impishness of the inanimate, dumped upon the floor a tangled miscellany of shirts, socks, gloves, collars and ties.
“Didn’t you like the business, sir?”
“No, I didn’t like the business–and it didn’t like me. It’s the same old story, Robbins. I’ve lost my job again–that’s all.”
“I’m very sorry, sir.”
“Thank you–but that’s all right. I’m used to it.”
“And you’re going to leave, sir?”
“I am, Robbins.”
“I–may I take the liberty of hoping it’s to take another position?”
“You may, but you lose a second time. I’ve just made up my mind I’m not going to hang round here any longer. That’s all.”
“But,” Robbins ventured, hovering about with exasperating solicitude–“but Mr. Kellogg’d never permit you to leave in this way, sir.”
“Wrong again, Robbins,” said Duncan curtly, annoyed.
“Yes, sir. Very good, sir.” With the instinct of the well-trained servant, Robbins started to leave, but hesitated. He was really very much disturbed by Duncan’s manner, which showed a phase of his character new in Robbins’ experience of him. Ordinarily reverses such as this had seemed merely to serve to put Duncan on his mettle, to infuse him with a determination to try again and win out, whatever the odds; and at such times he was accustomed to exhibit a mad irresponsibility of wit and a gaiety of spirit (whether it were a mask or no) that only outrivalled his high good humour when things ostensibly were going well with him.
Intermittently, between his spasms of employment, he had been Kellogg’s guest for several years, not infrequently for months at a time; and so Robbins had come to feel a sort of proprietary interest in the young man, second only to the regard which he had for his employer. Like most people with whom Duncan came in contact, Robbins admired him from a respectful distance, and liked him very well withal. He would have been much distressed to have harm happen to him, and he was very much concerned and alarmed to see him so candidly discouraged and sick at heart. Perhaps too quick to draw an inference, Robbins mistrusted his intentions; his dour habit boded ill in the servant’s understanding: men in such moods were apt to act unwisely. But if only he might contrive to delay Duncan until Kellogg’s return, he thought the former might yet be saved from the consequences of folly of some insensate sort. And casting about for an excuse, he grasped at the most sovereign solace he knew of.
“Beg pardon, sir,” he advanced, hesitant, “but perhaps you’re just feeling a bit blue. Won’t you let me bring you a drop of something?”
“Of course I will,” said Duncan emphatically over his shoulder. “And get it now, will you, while I’m packing…. And, Robbins!”
“Only put a little in it.”
“A little what, sir?”
“Seltzer, of course.”
TO HIM THAT HATH
It had been a forlorn hope at best, this attempt of his to escape Kellogg: Duncan acknowledged it when, his packing rudely finished, he started for the door, Robbins reluctantly surrendering the suit-case after exhausting his repertoire of devices to delay the young man. But at that instant the elevator gate clashed in the outer corridor and Kellogg’s key rattled in the lock, to an accompanying confusion of voices, all masculine and all very cheerful.
Duncan sighed and motioned Robbins away with his luggage. “No hope now,” he told himself. “But–O Lord!”
Incontinently there burst into the room four men: Jim Long, Larry Miller, another whom Duncan did not immediately recognise, and Kellogg himself, bringing with them an atmosphere breezy with jubilation. Before he knew it Duncan was boisterously overwhelmed. He got his breath to find Kellogg pumping his hand.
“Nat,” he was saying, “you’re the only other man on earth I was wishing could be with me tonight! Now my happiness is complete. Gad, this is lucky!”
“You think so?” countered Duncan, forcing a smile. “Hello, you boys!” He gave a hand to Long and Miller. “How’re you all?” He warmed to their friendly faces and unfeigned welcome. “My, but it’s good to see you!” There was relief in the fact that Kellogg, after a single glance, forbore to question his return; he was to be counted upon for tact, was Kellogg. Now he strangled surprise by turning to the fourth member of the party.
“Nat,” he said, “I want you to meet Mr. Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Duncan.”
A wholesome smile dawned on Duncan’s face as he encountered the blank blue stare of a young man whose very smooth and very bright red face was admirably set off by semi-evening dress. “Great Scott!” he cried, warmly pressing the lackadaisical hand that drifted into his. “Willy Bartlett–after all these years!”
A sudden animation replaced the vacuous stare of the blue eyes. “Duncan!” he stammered. “I say, this is rippin’!”
“As bad as that?” Duncan essayed an accent almost English and nodded his appreciation of it: something which Bartlett missed completely.
He was very young–a very great deal younger, Duncan thought, than when they had been classmates, what time Duncan shared his rooms with Kellogg: very much younger and suffering exquisitely from over-sophistication. His drawl barely escaped being inimitable; his air did not escape it. “Smitten with my old trouble,” Duncan appraised him: “too much money… Heaven knows I hope he never recovers!”
As for Willy, he was momentarily more nearly human than he had seemed from the moment of his first appearance. “You know,” he blurted, “this is simply extraordinary. I say, you chaps, Duncan and I haven’t met for years–not since he graduated. We belonged to the same frat, y’know, and had a jolly time of it, if he was an upper-class man. No side about him at all, y’know–absolutely none whatever. Whenever I had to go out on a spree, I’d always get Nat to show me round.”
“I was pretty good at that,” Duncan admitted a trifle ruefully.
But Willy rattled on, heedless. “He knew more pretty gels, y’know… I say, old chap, d’you know as many now?”
Duncan shook his head. “The list has shrunk. I’m a changed man, Willy.”
“Ow, I say, you’re chawfin’,” Willy argued incredulously. “I don’t believe that, y’know–hardly. I say, you remember the night you showed me how to play faro bank?”
“I’ll never forget it,” Duncan told him gravely. “And I remember what a plug we thought my room-mate was because he wouldn’t come with us.” He nodded significantly toward the amused Kellogg.
“Not him!” cried Willy, expostulant. “Not really? Why it cawn’t be!”
“Fact,” Duncan assured him. “He was working his way through college, you see, whereas I was working my way through my allowance–and then some. That’s why you never met him, Willy: he worked–and got the habit. We loafed–with the same result. That’s why he’s useful and you’re ornamental, and I’m–” He broke off in surprise. “Hello!” he said as Robbins offered a tray to the three on which were slim-stemmed glasses filled with a pale yellow, effervescent liquid. “Why the blond waters of excitement, please?” he inquired, accepting a glass.
From across the room Larry Miller’s voice sounded. “Are you ready, gentlemen? We’ll drink to him first and then he can drink to his royal little self. To the boy who’s getting on in the world! To the junior member of L.J. Bartlett and Company!”
Long applauded loudly: “Hear! Hear!” And even Willy Bartlett chimed in with an unemotional: “Good work!” Mechanically Duncan downed the toast; Kellogg was the only man not drinking it, and from that the meaning was easily to be inferred. With a stride Duncan caught his hand and crushed it in his own.
“Harry,” he said a little huskily, “I can’t tell you how glad I am! It’s the best news I’ve had in years!”
Kellogg’s responsive pressure was answer enough. “It makes it doubly worth while, to win out and have you all so glad!” he said.
“So you’ve taken him into the firm, eh?” Duncan inquired of Bartlett.
The blue eyes widened stonily. “The governor has. I’m not in the business, y’know. Never had the slightest turn for it, what?” Willy set aside his glass. “I say, I must be moving. No, I cawn’t stop, Kellogg, really. I was dressin’ at the club and Larry told me about it, so I just dropped round to tell you how jolly glad I am.”
“Your father hadn’t told you, then?”
“Who, the governor?” Willy looked unutterably bored. “Why, he gave up tryin’ to talk business with me long ago. I can’t get interested in it, ‘pon my word. Of course I knew he thought the deuce and all of you, but I hadn’t an idea they were goin’ to take you into the firm. What?”
Long and Miller interrupted, proposing adieus which Kellogg vainly contended.
“Why, you’re only just here–” he expostulated.
“Cawn’t help it, old chap,” Willy assured him earnestly. “I must go, anyway. I’ve a dinner engagement.”
“You’ll be late, won’t you?”
“Doesn’t matter in the least; I’m always late. ‘Night, Kellogg. Congratulations again.”
“We just dropped round to take off our hats to you,” Long continued, pumping Kellogg’s hand.
“And tell you what a good fellow we think you are,” added Miller, following suit.
“You don’t know how good you make me feel,” Kellogg told them.
Under cover of this diversion Duncan was making one last effort to slip away; but before he could gather together his impedimenta and get to the door Willy Bartlett intercepted him.
“I say, Duncan–“
“Oh, hell!” said Duncan beneath his breath. He paused ungraciously enough.
“We’ve got to see a bit of one another, now we’ve met again, y’know. Wish you’d look me up–Half Moon Club’ll get me ‘most any time. We’ll have to arrange to make a regular old-fashioned night of it, just for memory’s sake.”
Duncan nodded, edging past him. “I’ve memories enough,” he said.
“Right-oh! Any reason at all, y’know, just so we have the night.”
“Good enough,” assented Duncan vaguely. He suffered his hand to be wrung with warmth. “I’ll not forget–good-night.” Then he pulled up and groaned, for Willy’s insistence had frustrated his design: Kellogg had suddenly become alive to his attitude and hailed him over the heads of Long and Miller.
“Nat, I say! Where the devil are you going?”
“Over to the hotel,” said Duncan.
“The deuce you are! What hotel?”
“The one I’m stopping at.”
“Not on your life. You’re not going just yet–I haven’t had half a chance to talk to you. Robbins, take Mr. Duncan’s things.”
Duncan, set upon by Robbins, who had been hovering round for just that purpose, lifted his shoulders in resignation, turning back into the room as Miller and Long said good-night to him and left at Bartlett’s heels, and smiled awry in semi-humorous deprecation of the way in which he let Kellogg out-manoeuvre him. When it came to that, it was hard to refuse Kellogg anything; he had that way with him. Especially if one liked him… And how could anyone help liking him?
Kellogg had him now, holding him fast by either shoulder, at arm’s length, and shaking a reproving head at his friend. “You big duffer!” he said. “Did you think for a minute I’d let you throw me down like that?”
Duncan stood passive, faintly amused and touched by the other’s show of affection. “No,” he said, “I didn’t really think so. But it was worth trying on, of course.”
“Look here, have you dined?”
‘At this suggestion Duncan stiffened and fell back. “No, but–“
Kellogg swept the ground from under his feet. “Robbins,” he told the man, “order in dinner for two from the club, and tell ’em to hurry it up.”
“Yes, sir,” said Robbins, and flew to obey before Duncan could get a chance to countermand his part in the order.
“And now,” continued Kellogg, “we’ve got the whole evening before us in which to chin. Sit down.” He led Duncan to an arm-chair and gently but firmly plumped him into its capacious depths. “We’ll have a snug little dinner here and–what do you say to taking in a show afterwards?”
“I say no.”
“You dassent, my boy. This is the night we celebrate. I’m feeling pretty good to-night.”
“You ought to, Harry.” Duncan struggled to rouse himself to share in the spirit of gratulation with which Kellogg was bubbling. “I’m mighty glad, old man. It’s a great step up for you.”
“It’s all of that. You could have knocked me over with a feather when Bartlett sprang it on me this morning. Of course, I was expecting something–a boost in salary, or something like that. Bartlett knew that other houses in the Street had made me offers–I’ve been pretty lucky of late and pulled off one or two rather big deals–but a partnership with L.J. Bartlett–! Think of it, Nat!”
“I’m thinking of it–and it’s great.”
“It’ll keep me mighty busy,” Kellogg blundered blindly on; “it means a lot of extra work–but you know I like to work….”
“That’s right, you do,” agreed Duncan drearily. “It’s queer to me–it must be a great thing to like to work.”
“You bet it’s a great thing; why, I couldn’t exist if I couldn’t work. You remember that time I laid off for a month in the country–for my health’s sake? I’ll never forget it: hanging round all the time with my hands empty–everyone else with something to do. I wouldn’t go through with it again for a fortune. Never felt so useless and in the way–“
“But,” interrupted Duncan, knitting his brows as he grappled with this problem, “you were independent, weren’t you? You had money–could pay your board?”
“Of course; nevertheless, I felt in the way.”
“I know it is; it wouldn’t be you if you didn’t love work. It wouldn’t be me if I did…. Look here, Harry; suppose you didn’t have any money and couldn’t pay your board–and had nothing to do. How’d you feel in that case?”
“I don’t know. Anyhow, that’s rot–“
“No, it isn’t rot. I’m trying to make you understand how I feel when–when it’s that way with me…. As it generally is.” He raised one hand and let it fall with a gesture of despondency so eloquent that it roused Kellogg out of his own preoccupation.
“Why, Nat!” he cried, genuinely sympathetic. “I’ve been so taken up with myself that I forgot…. I hadn’t looked for you till to-morrow.”
“You knew, then?”
“I met Atwater at lunch to-day. He told me; said he was sorry, but–“
“Yes. Everybody is always sorry, _but_–“
Kellogg let his hand fall on Duncan’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, too, old man. But don’t lose heart. I know it’s pretty tough on a fellow–“
“The toughest part of it is that you got the job for me–and I _had_ to fall down.”
“Don’t think of that. It’s not your fault–“
“You’re the only man who believes that, Harry.”
“Buck up. I’ll stumble across some better opening for you before long, and–“
“Stop right there. I’m through–“
“Don’t talk that way, Nat. I’ll get you in right somewhere.”
“You’re the best-hearted man alive, Harry–but I’ll see you damned first.”
“Wait.” Kellogg demanded his attention. “Here’s this man Burnham–you don’t know him, but he’s as keen as they make ’em. He’s on the track of some wonderful scheme for making illuminating gas from crude oil; if it goes through–if the invention’s really practicable–it’s bound to work a revolution. He’s down in Washington now–left this afternoon to look up the patents. Now he needs me, to get the ear of the Standard Oil people, and I’ll get you in there.”
“What right’ve you got to do that?” demanded Duncan. “What the dickens do I know about illuminating gas or crude oil? Burnham’d never thank you for the likes o’ me.”
“But–thunder!–you can learn. All you need–.”
“Now see here, Harry!” Duncan gave him pause with a manner not to be denied. “Once and for all time understand I’m through having you recommend an incompetent–just because we’re friends.”
“And I’m through living on you while I’m out of a job. That’s final.”
“But, man–listen to me!–when we were at college–“
“That was another matter.”
“How many times did you pay the room-rent when I was strapped? How many times did your money pull me through when I’d have had to quit and forfeit my degree because I couldn’t earn enough to keep on?”
“That’s different. You earned enough finally to square up. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I owe you the gratitude for the friendly hand that put me in the way of earning–that kept me going when the going was rank. Besides, the conditions are just reversed now; you’ll do just as I did–make good in the world and, when it’s convenient, to me. As for living here, you’re perfectly welcome.”
“I know it–and more,” Duncan assented a little wearily. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate all you’ve done for me. But I know and you must understand that I can’t keep on living on you,–and I won’t.”
For once baffled, Kellogg stared at him in consternation. Duncan met his gaze steadily, strong in the sincerity of his attitude. At length Kellogg surrendered, accepting defeat. “Well….” He shrugged uncomfortably. “If you insist …”
“Then that’s settled.”
“Yes, that’s settled.”
“Dinner,” said Robbins from the doorway, “is served.”
“Look here, Nat,” demanded Kellogg, when they were half way through the meal, “do you mind telling me what you’re going to do?”
Duncan pondered this soberly. “No,” he replied in the end.
Kellogg waited a moment, but his guest did not continue. “What does that kind of a ‘No’ mean, Nat?”
“It means I don’t mind telling you.”
Again an appreciable pause elapsed.
“Well, then, what do you mean to do?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.”
Kellogg regarded him sombrely for a moment, then in silence returned his attention to his plate; and in silence, for the most part, the remainder of the dinner was served and eaten. Duncan himself had certainly enough to occupy his mind, while Kellogg had altogether forgotten his own cause for rejoicing in his concern for the fortunes of his friend. He was entirely of the opinion that something would have to be done for Nat, with or without his consent; and he sounded the profoundest depths of romantic impossibilities in his attempts to discover some employment suited to Duncan’s interesting but impracticable assortment of faculties and qualifications, natural and acquired. But nothing presented itself as feasible in view of the fact that employment which would prove immediately remunerative was required. And by the time that Robbins, clearing the board, left them alone with coffee and cigars and cigarettes, Kellogg was fain to confess failure–though the confession was a very private one, confined to himself only.
“Nat,” he said suddenly, rousing that young man out of the dreariest of meditations, “what under the sun _can_ you do?”
“Me? I don’t know. Why bother your silly old head about that? I’ll make out somehow.”
“But surely there’s something you’d rather do than anything else.”
“My dear sir,” Duncan told him impressively, “the only walk of life in which I am fitted to shine is that of the idle son of a rich and foolish father. Since I lost that job I’ve not been worth my salt.”
“That’s piffle. There isn’t a man living who hasn’t some talent or other, some sort of an ability concealed about his person.”
“You can search me,” Duncan volunteered gloomily.
His unresponsiveness irritated Kellogg; he thought a while, then delivered himself of a didactic conclusion:
“The trouble with you is you were brought up all wrong.”
“Well, I’ve been brought down all right. Besides, that’s a platitude in my case.”
“Let’s see: I’ve know you–er–nine years.”
“Is it that long?” Duncan looked up from a gloomy inspection of the interior of his demitasse, displaying his first gleam of interest in this analysis of his character. “You are a long-suffering old duffer. Any man who’d stand for me for nine years–“
“That’ll be all of that,” Kellogg cut in sharply. “I was going on to say that you can’t room with a man for four terms at college and then know him, off and on, for five years more, pretty intimately, without forming a pretty clear estimate of what he’s worth in your own mind.”
“And I don’t mind telling you, Harry, I think you’re the best little business man as well as the finest sort of an all-round good-fellow on this continent.”
“Thanks awfully. I presume that’s why you’re determined to throw me down just at the time you need me most…. What I was trying to get at is the fact that I’ve never doubted your ultimate success for an instant.”
“You’d be a mighty lonesome minority in a congress of my employers, Harry.”
“Given the proper opportunity–“
“Hold on,” Duncan interrupted. “I know just what you’re going to say, and it’s all very fine, and I’m proud that you want to say it of me. But you’re dead wrong, Harry. The truth is I haven’t got it in me–the capacity to succeed. Just as much as you love work, I hate it. I ought to know, for I’ve had a good, hard try at it–several tries, in fact. And you know what they came to.”
“But if you persist in this way, Nat,–don’t you know what it means?”
“None better. It means going back to what you helped me out of–the life that nearly killed me.”
“And you’d rather–“
“I’d rather that a thousand years before I’d sponge on you another day…. But, on the level, I’d as lieve try the East River or turn on the gas…. What’s the use? That’s the way I feel.”
“That’s fool talk. Brace up and be a man. All you need is a way to earn money.”
“No,” Duncan insisted firmly: “get it. I’ll never be able to earn it–that’s a cinch.”
Kellogg laughed a little mirthlessly, absorbed in revolving something which had popped into his head within the last few moments. “There are ways to get it,” he admitted abstractedly, “if you’re not too particular.”
“I’m not. I only wish I understood the burglar business.”
This time Kellogg laughed outright. He sat up with a new spirit in his manner. “You mean you’d steal to get money?”
“Oh, well …” Duncan smiled a trace sheepishly. “I can’t think of anything hardly I wouldn’t do to get it.”
“Very well, my son. Now attend to uncle.” Kellogg leaned across the table, fixing him with an enthusiastic eye. “Here, have a smoke. I’m going to demonstrate high finance to your debased intelligence.” He thrust the cigarette case over to Duncan, who helped himself mechanically, his gaze held in wonder to Kellogg’s face.
“Fire when ready,” he assented.
“I know a way,” said Kellogg slowly, “by which, if you’ll discard a scruple or two, you can be worth a million dollars–or thereabouts–within a year.”
Duncan held a lighted match until it singed his fingertips, the while he stared agape. “Say that again,” he requested mildly.
“You can be worth a million in a year.”
“Ah!” Duncan nodded slowly and comprehendingly. He turned aside in his chair and raked a second match across the sole of his shoe. “Let him rave,” he observed enigmatically, and began to smoke. “No, I’m not dippy; and I’m perfectly serious.”
“Of course. But what’d they do to me if I were caught?”
“This is not a joke; the proposition’s perfectly legal; it’s being done right along.”
“And I could do it, Harry?”
“A man of your calibre couldn’t fail.”
“Would you mind ringing for Robbins?” Duncan asked abruptly.
“Certainly.” Kellogg pressed a button at his elbow. “What d’you want?”
“A straight-jacket and a doctor to tell which one of us needs it.”
Kellogg, chagrined as he always was if joked with when expounding one of his schemes, broke into a laugh that lasted until Robbins appeared.
“You rang, sir?”
“Yes. Put those decanters over here, and some glasses, please.”
The man obeyed and withdrew. Kellogg filled two glasses, handing one to Duncan.
“Now be decent and listen to me, Nat. I’ve thought this thing over for–oh, any amount of time. I’ll bet anything it will work. What d’you say? Would you like to try it?”
“Would I like to try it?” A conviction of Kellogg’s earnestness forced itself upon Duncan’s understanding. “Would I–!” He lifted his glass and drained it at a gulp. “Why, that’s the first laugh I’ve had for a month!”
“Then I’ll tell you–“
Duncan placed a pleading hand on his forearm. “Don’t kid me, Harry,” he entreated.
“Not a bit of it. This is straight goods. If you want to try it and will follow the rules I lay down, I’ll guarantee you’ll be a rich man inside of twelve months.”
“Rules! Man, I’ll follow all the rules in the world! Come on–I’m getting palpitation of the heart, waiting. Tell it to me: what’ve I got to do?”
“Marry,” said Kellogg serenely.
“Marry!” Duncan echoed, aghast.
“Marry,” reaffirmed the other with unbroken gravity.
“A girl with a fortune…. You see, I can’t guarantee the precise size of her pile. That all depends on luck and the locality. But it’ll run anywhere from several hundred thousand up to a million–perhaps more.”
Duncan sank back despondently. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Harry,” he said dully; “you had me all excited, for a minute.”
“No, but honestly, I mean what I say.”
“Now look here: do you really think any girl with a million would take a chance on me?”
“She’ll jump at it.”
Duncan thought this over for a while. Then his lips twitched. “What’s the matter with her?” he inquired. “I’m willing to play the game as it lies, but I bar lunatics and cripples.”
“There’s no particular her–yet. You can take your pick. I’ve no more idea where she is than you have.”
“Now I know you’re stark, staring, gibbering—-“
“Not a bit of it. I’m inspired–that’s all. I’ve solved your problem–you only can’t believe it.”
“How could I? What the devil are you getting at, anyhow?”
“This pet scheme of mine. Lend me your ears. Have you ever lived in a one-horse country town–a place with one unspeakable hotel and about twenty stores and five churches?”
“I have; I was born in one of ’em…. Have you any idea what becomes of the young people of such towns?”
“Not a glimmering.”
“Then I’ll enlighten your egregious density. …The boys–those who’ve got the stuff in them–strike out for the cities to make their everlasting fortunes. Generally they do it, too.”
“The same as you.”
“The same as me,” assented Kellogg, unperturbed. “But the yaps, the Jaspers, stay there and clerk in father’s store. After office-hours they put on their very best mail-order clothes and parade up and down Main Street, talking loud and flirting obviously with the girls. The girls haven’t much else to do; they don’t find it so easy to get away. A few of ’em escape to boarding-schools and colleges, where they meet and marry young men from the cities, but the majority of them have to stay at home and help mother–that’s a tradition. If there are two children or more, the boys get the chance every time; the girls stay home to comfort the old folks in their old age. Why, by the time they’re old enough to think of marrying–and they begin young, for that’s about the only excitement they find available–you won’t find a small country town between here and the Mississippi where there aren’t about four girls to every boy.”
“It’s a horrible thought …”
“You’d think so if you knew what the boys were like. There isn’t one in ten that a girl with any sense or self-respect could force herself to marry if she ever saw anything better. Do you begin to see my drift?”
“I do not. But go on drifting.”
“No? Why, the demand for eligible males is three hundred per cent. in excess of the supply. Don’t you know–no, you don’t: I got to that first–that there are twenty times as many old maids in small country towns as there are in the cities? It’s a fact, and the reason for it is because when they were young they couldn’t lower themselves to accept the pick of the local matrimonial market. Now, do you see–?”
“You’re as interesting as a magazine serial. Please continue in your next. I pant with anticipation.”
“You’re an ass…. Now take a young chap from a city, with a good appearance, more or less a gentleman, who doesn’t talk like a yap or walk like a yap or dress like a yap or act like a yap, and throw him into such a town long enough for the girls to get acquainted with him. He simply can’t lose, can’t fail to cop out the best-looking girl with the biggest bank-roll in town. I tell you, there’s nothing to it!”
“It’s wonderful to listen to you, Harry.”
“I’m talking horse sense, my son. Now consider yourself: down on your luck, don’t know how to earn a decent living, refusing to accept anything from your friends, ready (you say) to do almost anything to get some money…. And think of the country heiresses, with plenty of money for two, pining away in–in innocuous desuetude–hundreds of them, fine, straight, good girls, girls you could easily fall in love with, sighing their lives away for the lack of the likes of you…. Now, why not take one, Nat–when you come to consider it, it’s your duty–marry her and her bank-roll, make her happy, make yourself happy, and live a contented life on the sunny side of Easy Street for the rest of your natural born days? Can’t you see it now?”
“Yes,” Duncan admitted, half-persuaded of the plausibility of the scheme. “I see–and I admire immensely the intellect that conceived the notion, Harry. But … I can’t help thinking there must be a catch in it somewhere.”
“Not if you follow my instructions. You see, having come from just such a hole-in-the-ground, I know just what I’m talking about. Believe me, everything depends on the way you go about it. There are a lot of things to contend with at first; you won’t enjoy it at all, to begin with. But I can demonstrate how it can be managed so that you’ll win out to a moral certainty.”
Duncan drew a deep breath, sat back and looked Kellogg over very critically. There was not a suspicion of a gleam of humour in his face; to the contrary, it blazed with the ardour of the instinctive schemer, the man who, with the ability to originate, throws himself heart and soul into the promotion of the product of his imagination. Kellogg was not sketching the outlines of a gigantic practical joke; he believed implicitly in the feasibility of his project; and so strongly that he could infuse even the less susceptible fancy of Duncan with some of his faith.
“If I didn’t know you so well, Harry,” said Duncan slowly, “I’d be certain you were mad. I’m not at all sure that I’m sane. It’s raving idiocy–and it’s a pretty damned rank thing to do, to start deliberately out to marry a woman for her money. But I’ve been through a little hell of my own in my time, and–it’s not alluring to contemplate a return to it. There’s nothing mad enough nor bad enough to stop me. What’ve I got to do?”
Kellogg beamed his triumph. “You’ll try it on, then?”
“I’ll try anything on. It’s a contemptible, low-lived piece of business–but good may come of it; you can’t tell. What’ve I got to do?”
Slipping back, Kellogg knitted his fingers and stared at the ceiling, smiling faintly to himself as he enumerated the conditions that first appealed to his understanding as essentials toward success.
“First, pick out your town: one of two or three thousand inhabitants–no larger. I’d suggest, at a hazard guess, some place in the interior of Pennsylvania. Most of such towns have at least one rich man with a marriageable daughter–but we’ll make sure of that before we settle on one. Of course any suburban town is barred.”
“Oh, they don’t count. The girls always know people in the city–can get there easily. That spoils the game.”
“How about the game laws?”
“I’m coming to them. Of course there isn’t an open or close season, and the hunting’s always good, but there are a few precautionary measures to be taken if you want to be sure of bagging an heiress. You won’t like most of ’em.”
“Like ’em! I’ll live by them!”
“Well, here come the things you mustn’t do. You mustn’t swear or use slang; you mustn’t smoke and you mustn’t drink–“
“Heavens! are these people as inhuman as all that?”
“Worse than that. It might be fatal if you were ever seen in the hotel bar. And to begin with, you must refuse all invitations, of any sort, whether to dances, parties, church sociables, or even Sunday dinners.”
“Why _Sunday_ dinners?”
“Because Sunday’s the only day you’ll be invited. Dinner on week-days is from twelve to twelve-thirty, and it’s strictly a business matter–no time for guests. But you needn’t fret; they won’t ask you till they’ve sized you up pretty carefully.”
“Moreover, you must be very particular about your dress; it must be absolutely faultless, but very quiet: clothing sober–dark greys and blacks–and plain, but the very last word as to cut and fit. And everything must be in keeping–the very best of shirts, collars, ties, hats, socks, shoes, underwear–.” Kellogg caught Duncan’s look and laughed. “Your laundress will report on everything, you know; so you must be impeccable.”
“I’ll be even that–whatever it is.”
“Be very particular about having your shoes polished, shave daily and manicure yourself religiously–but don’t let ’em catch you at it.”
“Would they raid me if they did?”
“And then, my son, you must work.”
Kellogg paused to let his lesson sink in. After a time Duncan observed plaintively: “I knew there was a catch in it somewhere. What kind of work?”
“It doesn’t make any difference, so long as you get and hold some job in the town.”
“Well, that lets me out. You’ll have to sic some other poor devil on this glittering proposition of yours. I couldn’t hold a job in–“
“Wait! I’ll tell you how to do it in just a minute.”
“I don’t mind listening, but–“
“You’ll cinch the whole business by going to church without a break. Don’t ever fail–morning and evening every Sunday. Don’t forget that.”
“It’s the most important thing of all.”
“Does going to church make such a hit with the young female Jasper–the Jasperette, as it were?”
“It’ll make you more solid than anything else with her popper and mommer, and that’s very necessary when you’re a candidate for their ducats as well as their daughter. You must work and you must go to church.”
“That can’t be all. Surely you can think of something else?”
“Those are the cardinal rules–church and work until you’ve landed your heiress. After that you can move back to civilisation…. Now as soon as you strike your town you want to make arrangements for board and lodging in some old woman’s house–preferably an old maid. You’ll be sure to find at least half a dozen of ’em, willing to take boarders, but you want to be equally sure to pick out the one that talks the most, so that she’ll tell the neighbours all about you. Don’t worry about that, though, they all talk. When you’ve moved In, stock up your room with about twenty of the driest-looking books in the world–law books look most imposing; fix up a table with lots of stationery–pens and pencils, red and black ink and all that sort of thing; make the room look as if you were the most sincere student ever. And by no means neglect to have a well-worn Bible prominently in evidence: you can buy one second-hand at some book-store before you start out.”
“I’d have to, of course. I thank you for the flattery. Proceed with the programme of the gay, mad life I must lead. I’m going to have a swell time: that’s perfectly plain.”
“As soon as you’re shaken down in your room, make the rounds of the stores and ask for work. Try and get into the dry-goods emporium if you can: the girls all shop there. But anything will do, except a grocery or a hardware store and places like that. You mustn’t consider any employment that would soil your clothes or roughen your lily-white hands.”
“You expect me to believe I’d have any chance of winning a millionaire’s daughter if I were a ribbon-clerk in a dry-goods store?”
“The best in the world. The ribbon-clerk is her social equal; he calls her Mary and she calls him Joe.”
“Done with you: me for the ribbon counter. Anything else?”
“The storekeepers aren’t apt to employ you at first; they’ll be suspicious of you.”
“They will be afterwards, all right. However–?”
“So you must simply call on them–walk in, locate the boss and tell him: ‘I’m looking for employment.’ Don’t press it; just say it and get out.”
“No trouble whatever about that; it’s always that way when I ask for work.”
“They’ll send for you before long, when they make up their minds that you’re a decent, moral young man; for they know you’ll draw trade. And every Sunday–“
“I know: church!”
“Absolutely…. Pick out the one the rich folks go to. Go in quietly and do just as they do: stand up and kneel, look up the hymns and sing, just when they do. Be careful not to sing too loud, or anything like that: just do it all modestly, as if you were used to it. Better go to church here two or three times and get the hang of it….”
“Nearly all the wealthy codgers in such towns are deacons, you see, and though they may not speak to you for months on the street, it’s their business to waylay you after the service is over and shake hands with you and tell you they hope you enjoyed the sermon and ask you to come again. And you can bank on it, they’ll all take notice from the first.”
“It’s no wonder Bartlett made you a partner, Harry.”
“Now behave. I want you to get in right. … If you follow the rules I’ve outlined, not only will all the girls in town be falling over themselves to get to you first, but their fond parents will be egging them on. Then all you’ve got to do is to pick out the one with the biggest bundle and–“
“Make a play for her?”
“Not on your life. That would be fatal. Your part is to put yourself in her way. She’ll do all the courting, and when she scents the psychological moment she’ll do the proposing.”
“It doesn’t sound natural, but you certainly seem to know what you’re drooling about.”
“You can anchor to that, Nat.”
“And are you finished?”
“I am. Of course I’ll probably think of more things to wise you to, before you go.”
Duncan laughed shortly and tilted back in his chair, selecting another cigarette. “And you’re the chap who wanted me to go to some bromidic old show to-night! Harry, you’re immense. Why didn’t you ever let me suspect you had all this romantic imagination in your system?”
“Imagination be blowed, son. This is business.” Kellogg removed the stopper from the decanter and filled both glasses again. “Well, what do you say?”
“I’ve just said my say, Harry. It’s amazing; I’m proud of you.”
“But will you do it?”
“Everything else aside, how can I? I’ve got to live, you know.”
“But I propose to stake you.”
Duncan came down to earth. “No, you won’t; not a cent. I’m in earnest about this thing: no more sponging on you, Harry. Besides–“
“No, seriously, Nat: I mean this, every word of it. I want you to do it–to please me, if you like; I’ve a notion something will come of it. And I believe from the bottom of my heart there’s not the slightest risk if you’ll play the cards as they fall, according to Hoyle.”
“Harry, I believe you do.”
“I do, firmly. And I’ll put the proposition on a business basis, if you like.”
“Go on; there’s no holding you.”
“You start out to-morrow and order your war kit. Get everything you need, and plenty of it, and have the bills sent to me. You can be ready inside a fortnight. The day you start I’ll advance you five hundred dollars. When you’re married you can repay me the amount of the advances with interest at ten per cent, and I’ll consider it a mighty good deal for myself. Now, will you?”
“You mean it?”
“Every word of it. Well?”
For a moment longer Duncan hesitated; then the vision of what he must return to, otherwise, decided him. In desperation he accepted. “It’s a drowning man’s straw,” he said, a little breathlessly. “I’m sure I shouldn’t. But I will.”
Kellogg flung a hand across the table, palm uppermost.
“Word of honour, Nat?”
Duncan let his hand fall into it. “Word of honour! I’ll see it through.”
“Good! It’s a bargain.” Kellogg lifted his glass high in air. “To the fortune hunter!” he cried, half laughing.
Duncan nervously fingered the stem of his glass. “God help the future Mrs. Duncan!” he said, and drank.
TRIUMPH OF MR. HOMER LITTLEJOHN
The twenty-first of June was a day of memorable triumph to me, a day of memorable events for Radville.
Only the evening previous Will Bigelow and I had indulged in acrimonious argument in the office of the Bigelow House, the subject of contention being the importance of the work to which I am devoting my declining years, to wit, the recording of _The History of Radville Township, Westerly County, Pennsylvania_; Will maintaining with that obstinacy for which he is famous, that nothing ever had happened, does happen, can or will happen in our community, I insisting gently but firmly that it knows no day unmarked by important occurrence (for it would ill become me, as the only literary man in Radville, to yield a point in dispute with the proprietor of the town tavern). Besides, he was wrong, even as I was indisputably right–only he had not the grace to admit it. We ended vulgarly with a bet, Will wagering me the best five-cent Clear Havana in the Bigelow House sample-room that nothing worth mentioning would take place in Radville before sundown of the following day.
I left him, returning to my room at Miss Carpenter’s (Will and I are old friends, but I refuse to eat the food he serves his guests), warmed by the prospect of certain triumph if a little appalled by the prospect of winning the stake; and sympathising a little with Will, who, for all his egregious stubborness, has some excuse for upholding his unreasonable and ridiculous views. He knows no better, having never had the opportunity to find out for himself how utterly absurd are his claims for the outside world. Whereas I have.
He’s an adventurer at heart, Will Bigelow, a romantic soul crusted heavily with character–like a volcano smouldering beneath its lava. For many years he has managed the Bigelow House, with his thoughts apart from it, his eyes ever seeking the horizon that recedes beyond the soaring rim of our encircling cup of hills, his heart forever yearning forth to the outer world; which he erroneously conceives to be a theatre of events–as if outside of Radville only could there be things worth seeing, considering, or doing, or matters of any sort that move momentously! As long as I’ve known the man (and we played truant together fifty years ago–hookey, we called it then) he’s had his heart set on going forth from Radville, “for to admire and for to see, for to view this wide world o’er”; always he has presented himself to me as one poised on the pinnacle of purpose, ready the next instant to dive and strike out into the teeming unknown beyond the barrier hills. But this promise he has never fulfilled. He still maintains that he will surely go–next week–after the hayin’s over–as soon as the ice is in–the minute Mary graduates from High School. … But I know he never will.
So to Will Radville is as dull as ditchwater to a teamster; to me it’s as fascinating as that same ditchwater to a biologist with a microscope. I see nothing going on in the world outside of Radville more important than our daily life. Too long I have lived away from it, a stranger in strange lands, not to appreciate its relative significance in the scheme of things. It makes all the difference–the view-point: Will sees Radville from its homely heart outwards, I stand on its boundaries, a native but yet, somehow in the local esteem (by reason of my long residence in the East) an outlander. Thus I get a perspective upon the place, to Will and his ilk denied.
It seems curious that things should have fallen out thus for the two of us: that Will Bigelow, all afire with the lust for travel, should never have mustered up enterprise enough to break his home ties, whilst I whose dearest desire had always been to live no day of my alloted span away from Radville, should have been, in a manner which I’m bound presently to betray, forced out into the world; that he, the rebellious stay-at-home, cursing the destiny which chained him, should have prospered and become the man of substance he is, while I, mutinously venturing, should have returned only to watch my sands run out in poverty–what’s little better.
Not that I would have you think me whining: I have enough, little but ample for my simple needs, if inadequate for my ambitions or my neighbours’ necessities. My editorial work for the _Radville Citizen_ is quite remunerative, while my weekly column of local gossip for the _Westerly Gazette_ brings me in a little, and I’ve one or two other modest sources of still more modest income. But Radville folks are poor, many of them, many who are very dear to me for old sake’s sake. There’s Sam Graham…. Though I wouldn’t have you understand that as a community we are not moderately prosperous and contented, comfortable if not energetic and advanced. This is not a pushing town: it has never known a boom. That I’m sure will some day come, but I hope not in my time. I have faith in the mountains that fold us roundabout; they are rich with the possibilities of coal and iron, and year by year are being more and more widely opened up and developed; year by year the ranks of flaming, reeking coke ovens push farther on beside the railway that penetrates our valley. But as yet their smoke does not foul our skies, nor does their refuse pollute our river, nor their soot tarnish our vegetation. And as I say, I hope this is not to be while I live, though sometimes I have fears: Blinky Lockwood made a fortune selling the coal that was discovered beneath his father’s old farm over Westerly way, and ever since that there’s been more or less quiet prospecting going on in our vicinity. I shall be sorry to see the day when Radville is other than as it is: the quiet, peaceful, sleepy little town, nestling in the bosom of the hills, clean, sweet and wholesome….
But this is rambling far from the momentous twenty-first of June, my day of triumph.
I shall try to set down connectedly and coherently the events which culminated in the humbling of Will Bigelow to the dust.
To begin with, we were early startled by the rumour that Hiram Nutt, theretofore deemed unconquerable, had been disastrously defeated at checkers in Willoughby’s grocery–and that by Watty the tailor, of all men in Radville. The rumour was confirmed by eleven in the forenoon, and in itself should have provided us with a nine days’ wonder.
As it happened, an event happening almost simultaneously confused our minds. At eleven-fifteen Miss Carpenter’s household was thrown into consternation by the scandalous behaviour of her black cat, Caesar, who chose suddenly to terminate a long and outwardly respectable career as Miss Carpenter’s familiar by having kittens under the horse-hair sofa in the parlour. Incidentally this indelicate and ungentlemanly behaviour temporarily unloosed the hinges of Miss Carpenter’s reason, so that my supper suffered that evening, and for several days she wandered round the house with blank and witless eyes. Perhaps I should have warned her, for I had latterly come to suspect Caesar of leading a double life; but for reasons which seemed sufficient I had refrained.
By the noon train Roland Barnette received his new summer suit from Chicago. I did not see it till evening, but heard of it before one, since Roland donned it immediately and wore it to the bank that very afternoon. I understand it caused something very near a run on the bank; people came in to draw a dollar or so or get change and lingered to feast their outraged visions, so that Blinky Lockwood, the president, had to send Roland home to change before closing-time. He changed back, however, as soon as off duty, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening hours in Sothern and Lee’s, at the soda-fountain; which Sothern and Lee did not object to, since it drew trade.
Pete Willing established a record by getting drunk at Schwartz’s bar by three in the afternoon, his best previous time being four-thirty; and Mrs. Willing chased him up Centre Street until, at the corner of Main, he blundered into the arms of Judge Scott; who ordered him to arrest and lock himself up; which Pete, being the sheriff, solemnly did, saying that it was preferable to a return to home and wife.
At five o’clock there was a dog-fight in front of Graham’s drug-store.
At five-forty-five the evening train lurched in, bearing The Mysterious Stranger.
Tracey Tanner saw him first, having driven down to the station with his father’s surrey on the off-chance of picking up a quarter or so from some drummer wishing to be conveyed to the Bigelow House. Only outlanders pay money for hacks in Radville; everybody else walks, of course. Naturally Tracey took The Mysterious Stranger for a drummer; he had three trunks and a heavy packing-box, so Tracey’s misapprehension was pardonable. Instinctively he drove him to the Bigelow House; Will now and again makes Tracey a present of a bottle of sarsaparilla or lemon-pop, with the result that Tracey calls Tannehill, who runs the opposition hotel, a skinflint and never takes strangers there except on their express desire. The Mysterious Stranger merely asked to be driven to the best hotel. This is not like most commercial travellers, who as a rule know where they want to go, even in a strange town, having made inquiry in advance from their brothers of the road. Tracey made a note of this, and is further on record as having observed that this stranger was rather better dressed than the run of drummers, if not so nobbily. Moreover, he was reticent under the cross-fire of Tracey’s irrepressible conversation, and failed to ask the name of the first pretty girl they passed; who happened to be Angle Tuthill. Finally The Mysterious Stranger actually tipped Tracey a whole quarter for carrying his suit-case into the hotel office.
With these incitements it would have been unreasonable to expect Tracey to do otherwise than linger around for the good health of his sense of inquisitiveness, which would else have been severely sprained.
Will Bigelow was dozing behind the desk, lulled by the sound of Hi Nutt’s voice in the barroom, as he explained to all and sundry just how he had inadvertently permitted Watty the tailor to best him at checkers that morning. Otherwise the office was deserted. Tracey wakened Will by stamping heavily across the floor, and Will mechanically pushed down his spectacles and dipped a pen in ink, slewing the register round for the guest’s signature. He says he knew at a glance that The Mysterious Stranger was no travelling man, but this is a moot point, Tracey’s memory being minutely accurate and at variance with Will’s assertion.
The Mysterious Stranger was a young man, rather severely clothed in a dark suit which excited no interest in Bigelow’s understanding, although I, when I saw him later, had no difficulty in realising that it had never been made by a tailor whose place of business was more than five doors removed from Fifth Avenue. He was tallish, but not really tall, and carried himself with a slight stoop which took way from his real height. Tracey says he had a way of looking at you as if he was smiling inside at some joke he’d heard a long time ago; and I don’t know but that’s a fairly apt description of his ordinary expression. He had a way, too, of nodding jerkily at you–just once–to show he recognised you or understood what you were driving at; at other times he carried his head a trifle to one side and slightly forward. He was a man you wouldn’t forget, somehow, though what there was about him that was remarkable nobody seemed to know.
He nodded that jerky way in answer to Will Bigelow’s “G’devenin’,” and without saying anything took the pen and started to register. He had to stop, however, for Tracey was pressing him so close upon the right that he couldn’t get any play for his elbow, and after a minute or two he asked Tracey politely would he mind stepping round to the left, where he could see just as well. So Tracey did. Then he wrote his name in a good round hand: “Nathaniel Duncan, N.Y.”
“I’d like a room with a bath,” he told Will: “something simple and chaste, within the means of a man in moderate circumstances.”
Will thought he was joking at first, but he didn’t smile, so Will explained that there was a bathroom on the third floor at the end of the hall, though there wasn’t much call for it. “I could give you a room next to that,” he said, “but you wouldn’t want it, I guess.”
“Why not?” asked The Mysterious Stranger.
“Because,” said Will, “‘taint near the sample-room.”
“That doesn’t make any difference; I’m on the wagon.”
The only sense Will could get out of that was that the young man was travelling for a buggy house and hadn’t brought any samples with him. “I thought,” he allowed, “as how you’d be wantin’ a place to display your samples, but of course if you’re in the wagon business–“
“Oh,” said Mr. Duncan, “I thought you meant the ‘sample-room’ over there.” He nodded toward the bar. “That’s what you call the dispensaries of intoxicating liquors in this part of the country, is it not?”
Will made a noise resembling an affirmative, and as soon as he got his breath explained that travelling men generally wanted a sort of a showroom next to theirs and that that was called a sample-room, too.
“But I’m not a travelling man,” said The Mysterious Stranger. “So I shall have as little use for the one as the other.”
“Then the room on the third floor’ll do for you,” said Will. “How long do you calculate on stayin’?”
“That will depend,” said Mr. Duncan: “a day or so–perhaps longer; until I can find comfortable and more permanent quarters.”
In his amazement Will jabbed the pen so hard into the potato beside the ink-well that he never could get the nib out and had to buy a new one. “You don’t mean to say you’re thinkin’ of coming here to live?” he gasped.
“Yes, I do,” said the young man apologetically. “I don’t think you’ll find me in the way. I shall be very quiet and unobtrusive. I’m a student, looking for a quiet place in which to pursue my studies.”
“Well,” said Will, “you’ve found it all right. There ain’t no quieter place in Pennsylvany than Radville, Mr. Duncan. I hope you’ll like it,” he said, sarcastic.
“I shall endeavour to,” said the young man.
“And now may I go to my room, please? I should like to renovate my travel-stained person to some extent before dinner.”
“You’ll have time,” said Will; “dinner’s at noon to-morrow. I guess you’re thinkin’ about supper. That’s ready now. Here, Tracey, you carry this gentleman’s things up to number forty-three.”
But Tracey had already gone, and such was his haste to spread the news that he forgot to take the horse and surrey back to the stable, but left it standing in front of the hotel till eight o’clock; for which oversight, I am credibly informed, his father justly dealt with him before sending him to bed.
I have never been able to understand how we failed to hear of it at Miss Carpenter’s before seven o’clock. That was the hour when, having finished supper and my first evening pipe, I started down-town to the _Citizen_ office, intending to stop in at the Bigelow House on the way and confound Will with the list of the day’s happenings. Main Street was pretty well crowded for that hour, I remember noticing, and most of the townsfolk were grouped together on the corners, underneath the lamps, discussing something rather excitedly. I paid no particular attention, realising that between Caesar, Pete Willing, Roland Burnette’s suit and the checker game, they had enough to talk about. So it wasn’t until I walked into the Bigelow House office that I either heard or saw anything of The Mysterious Stranger.
Will Bigelow was in his usual place behind the desk, and looked, I thought, rather disgruntled. His reply to my “Howdy, Will?” sounded somewhat snappish. But he got out of his chair and moved round the end of the desk just as the young man came out of the dining-room door. Then Will pulled up and I realised that he was calling my attention to the stranger.
So far as I could see, he seemed an ordinary, everyday, good-looking, good-natured young man, whose naturally sunny disposition had been insulted by the food recently set before him. He wandered listlessly out upon the porch and stood there, with his hands in his pockets, looking up and down Centre Street, just then being shadowed into the warm, purple June dusk, beneath its double row of elms. We’ve always thought it a rather attractive street, and that night it seemed especially lively with its trickle of girls and boys strolling up and down, and the groups of grown folks on the corners, and Roland Burnette’s summer suit conspicuous through Sothern and Lee’s plate-glass windows; and I supposed the young man was admiring it all. But now I know him better. He felt just the same about Main Street, corner of Centre, Radville, as I should have about Broadway and Forty-second Street, New York, if you had set me down there and told me I’d got to get accustomed to the idea that I must live there. He was saying, deep down in his heart: “O _Lord_!”–with the rising inflection.
Will grabbed my arm, without saying anything, and pulled me into the bar.
“Hello!” I said, as he went round behind and opened the cigar-case, “what’s up?”
He took out two boxes of the finest five-centers in town and placed them before me. “Them’s up,” he said. “You win. Have one.”
It staggered me to have him give in that way; I had been looking forward to a long and diverting dispute. “I guess you’ve heard everything worth hearing about to-day’s history,” I said, disappointed, as I selected the least unpleasant looking of the cigars.
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I didn’t have to hear anything. What earned you that smoke took place right here in this office…. Here,” he said, striking a match for me.
I had been trying to put the cigar away so that I might dispose of it without hurting Will’s feelings, but he had me, so I recklessly poked the thing into the automatic clipper and then into my mouth. “What do you mean?” I asked, puffing.
“Come ‘long outside,” said Will; and we went out on the porch just in time to see Mr. Duncan going wearily upstairs to his room. “I mean,” said Will, _”him”_. And then he told me all about it.
“But things like that don’t happen every day,” he wound up defensively. “I’ll go you another cigar on to-morrow.”
“No, you won’t,” I said indignantly; and furtively dropped the infamous thing over the railing.
I am never successful in my little attempts at deception, even in self-defence. In all candour I believe my disposition of that cigar would have gone undetected but for my notorious bad luck. Of course Bigelow’s setter, Pompey, had to be asleep right under the spot where I dropped the cigar, and equally of course the burning end had to make instantaneous connection with his nerve centres, via his hide, with such effect that he arose in agony and subsequently used coarse language. Investigation naturally discovered my empty-handed perfidy. To no one else in Radville would this have happened.
On the other hand, no one else in Radville would have thrown away the cigar.
Discomfort roused Duncan from his rest at an early hour, the morning following his arrival in Radville. I must confess that the beds in the Bigelow House are no better than they should be; in fact, according to Duncan, not so good. Duncan ought to know; he has slept in one of them, or tried to; a trial thus far to me denied. From what he has said, however, I shudder to think what will become of me should I ever lose the shelter of Miss Carpenter’s second-story front and be thrown out into a heartless world to choose between the Bigelow House and Frank Tannehill’s Radville Inn….
Duncan arose and consulted the two-dollar watch which he had left on the pine washstand by the window. It was half-past seven o’clock, and that seemed early to him. He was tired and would willingly have turned in again, but a rueful glance at the couch of his night-long vigil sufficed him. He lifted a hand to Heaven and vowed solemnly: “Never again!”
As he bent over the washstand and poured a cupful of water into the china basin, thus emptying the pitcher, he was conscious of a pain in his back; but a thought cheered him. “They must have decent stables in this town,” he considered, brightening. “The haymows for mine, after this.”
He dressed with scrupulous care, mindful of Kellogg’s parting words, the sense of which was that first impressions were most important. “All the same,” Duncan thought, “I don’t believe they count in a dead-and- alive place like this. There’s no one here with sufficient animation to realise I’m in town.” This shows how little he understood our little community. A day of enlightenment was in store for him.
Pansy Murphy was scrubbing out the office when he came down for breakfast. She is large, of what is known as a full complexion, good-hearted and energetic. His pause at the foot of the stairs, as he surveyed in dismay the seven seas of soapy water that occupied the floor, aroused her. She sat back suddenly on her heels and looked her fill of him, with her blue Irish eyes very wide, and her mouth a trap. He bowed politely. Pansy saved herself from falling over backwards by a supreme effort, scrubbed her hair out of her eyes with a very wet hand, and gave him “Good-marrin’, Misther Dooncan,” in a brogue as rich as you could wish for.
He started violently. “Heavens!” he said. “I am discovered!”
“Make yer moind aisy about thot,” Pansy assured him. “‘Tis known all over town who ye arre, what’s yer name, how manny troonks ye’ve brought wid ye, and th’ rayson f’r yer comin’ here.”
“A comforting thought, thank you,” he commented: “to awake to find one’s self grown famous over-night!…”
“Now ye know,” she returned, emboldened, “what it is to be a big toad in a small puddle.”
“I thank you.” He nodded again, with a comprehensive survey of the reeking floor. “I’m afraid I do.” With which he slipped and slid over to and through the swinging wicker doors of the dining-room.
It was deserted. From the negligée of the tables, littered with the plates and dishes, dreary survivors of a dozen breakfasts, he divined that he was the tardiest guest in the household. A slatternly young woman in a soiled shirt-waist–the waitress–received him with great calm and waved him toward a table by the window, where an unused cover was laid. He went meekly, dogged by her formidable presence. She stood over him and glared down.
“Haman neggs,” she said defiantly, “steakan nomlette.”
“I’ll be a martyr,” he told her civilly. “Me for the steak.”
She frowned gloomily and tramped away. He folded his hands and, cheered by an appetising aroma of warm water and yellow soap from the office, considered the prospect from the window by his side. Three children and a yellow dog came along and watched him do it, dispassionately reviewing his points in clear young voices. Tracey Tanner ambled into view on the other side of the street and beamed at him generously, his round red face resembling, Duncan thought, more than anything else a summer sun rising through mist. Josie Lockwood (he was to discover her name later) passed with her pert little nose ostentatiously pointed away from him; none the less he detected a gleam in the corner of her eye…. Others went by, singly or in groups, all more or less openly interested in him.
He tried to look unconscious, but with ill success. There was nothing particularly engaging in the view: the broad, dusty street lined with commonplace structures of “frame” and brick, glowing in the morning sunshine. There were, to be sure, cool shadows beneath the trees, but