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The Fortune Hunter by Louis Joseph Vance

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[Illustration: "You can be worth a million ... within a year"]



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_


























"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"



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

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

"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."

"You mean--?"

"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

"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.

"And then--?"

"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

"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 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

"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

"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

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

"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,

"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."



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

"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.

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

"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

"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

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

"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."

"That's funny...."

"It's straight."

"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,

"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

"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."

"But, Harry--"

"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 ..."

"I do."

"Then that's settled."

"Yes, that's settled."

"Dinner," said Robbins from the doorway, "is



"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

"You'd be a mighty lonesome minority in a congress of my employers,

"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

"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

"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."

"Yes, sir."

The man obeyed and withdrew. Kellogg filled two glasses, handing one to

"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

"Then I'll tell you--"

Duncan placed a pleading hand on his forearm. "Don't kid me, Harry," he

"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?"

"No ..."

"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

"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

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."

"How so?"

"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

"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

"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

"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

"No trouble whatever about that; it's always that way when I ask for

"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...."

"Here, now--"

"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

"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

"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.



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

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

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

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

"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

Will grabbed my arm, without saying anything, and pulled me into the

"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



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

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

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

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