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Title: The Making of Bobby Burnit - Being a Record of the Adventures of a Live American Young Man
Author: Chester, George Randolph, 1869-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT



[Illustration: I'm in for some of the severest drubbings of my life]



                      THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT

    Being a Record of the Adventures of a Live American Young Man


                     _By GEORGE RANDOLPH CHESTER_


                              AUTHOR OF

       "Get Rich Quick Wallingford," "The Cash Intrigue," Etc.


                       WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

              BY JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG AND F. R. GRUGER


                         _A. L. BURT COMPANY_
                        _Publishers New York_



                            COPYRIGHT 1908

                    THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY

                            COPYRIGHT 1909

                      THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

                                 JUNE



                              DEDICATION

                   To the Handicapped Sons of Able
                     Fathers, and the Handicapped
                        Fathers of Able Sons,
                          with Sympathy for
                             each, and a
                              Smile for
                                 both



THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT



CHAPTER I

BOBBY MAKES SOME IMPORTANT PREPARATIONS FOR A COMMERCIAL LIFE


"I am profoundly convinced that my son is a fool," read the will of
old John Burnit. "I am, however, also convinced that I allowed him to
become so by too much absorption in my own affairs and too little in
his, and, therefore, his being a fool is hereditary; consequently, I
feel it my duty, first, to give him a fair trial at making his own
way, and second, to place the balance of my fortune in such trust that
he can not starve. The trusteeship is already created and the details
are nobody's present business. My son Robert will take over the John
Burnit Store and personally conduct it, as his only resource, without
further question as to what else I may have left behind me. This is my
last will and testament."

That is how cheerful Bobby Burnit, with no thought heretofore above
healthy amusements and Agnes Elliston, suddenly became a business man,
after having been raised to become the idle heir to about three
million. Of course, having no kith nor kin in all this wide world, he
went immediately to consult Agnes. It is quite likely that if he had
been supplied with dozens of uncles and aunts he would have gone first
to Agnes anyhow, having a mighty regard for her keen judgment, even
though her clear gaze rested now and then all too critically upon
himself. Just as he came whirling up the avenue he saw Nick Allstyne's
white car, several blocks ahead of him, stop at her door, and a figure
which he knew must be Nick jump out and trip up the steps. Almost
immediately the figure came down again, much more slowly, and climbed
into the car, which whizzed away.

"Not at home," grumbled Bobby.

It was like him, however, that he should continue straight to the
quaint old house of the Ellistons and proffer his own card, for,
though his aims could seldom be called really worth while, he
invariably finished the thing he set out to do. It seemed to be a sort
of disease. He could not help it. To his surprise, the Cerberus who
guarded the Elliston door received him with a smile and a bow, and
observed:

"Miss Elliston says you are to walk right on up to the Turkish alcove,
sir."

While Wilkins took his hat and coat Bobby paused for a moment
figuratively to hug himself. At home to no one else! Expecting him!

"I'll ask her again," said Bobby to himself with determination, and
stalked on up to the second floor hall, upon which opened a delightful
cozy corner where Aunt Constance Elliston permitted the more
"family-like" male callers to smoke and loll and be at mannish ease.

As he reached the landing the door of the library below opened, and in
it appeared Agnes and an unusually well-set-up young man--a new one,
who wore a silky mustache and most fastidious tailoring. The two were
talking and laughing gaily as the door opened, but as Agnes glanced up
and saw Bobby she suddenly stopped laughing, and he almost thought
that he overheard her say something in an aside to her companion. The
impression was but fleeting, however, for she immediately nodded
brightly. Bobby bowed rather stiffly in return, and continued his
ascent of the stairs with a less sprightly footstep. Crestfallen, and
conscious that Agnes had again closed the door of the library without
either herself or the strange visitor having emerged into the hall, he
strode into the Turkish alcove and let himself drop upon a divan with
a thump. He extracted a cigar from his cigar-case, carefully cut off
the tip and as carefully restored the cigar to its place. Then he
clasped his interlocked fingers around his knee, and for the next ten
minutes strove, like a gentleman, not to listen.

When Agnes came up presently she made no mention whatever of her
caller, and, of course, Bobby had no excuse upon which to hang
impertinent questions, though the sharp barbs of them were darting
through and through him. Such fuming as he felt, however, was
instantly allayed by the warm and thoroughly honest clasp she gave him
when she shook hands with him. It was one of the twenty-two million
things he liked about her that she did not shake hands like two ounces
of cold fish, as did some of the girls he knew. She was dressed in a
half-formal house-gown, and the one curl of her waving brown hair that
would persistently straggle down upon her forehead was in its
accustomed place. He had always been obsessed with a nearly
irresistible impulse to put his finger through that curl.

"I have come around to consult you about a little business matter,
Agnes," he found himself beginning with sudden breathlessness, his
perturbation forgotten in the overwhelming charm of her. "The
governor's will has just been read to me, and he's plunged me into a
ripping mess. His whole fortune is in the hands of a trusteeship,
whatever that is, and I'm not even to know the trustees. All I get is
just the business, and I'm to carry the John Burnit Store on from its
present blue-ribbon standing to still more dazzling heights, I
suppose. Well, I'd like to do it. The governor deserves it. But, you
see, I'm so beastly thick-headed. Now, Agnes, you have perfectly
stunning judgment and all that, so if you would just----" and he came
to an abrupt and painful pause.

"Have you brought along the contract?" she asked demurely. "Honestly,
Bobby, you're the most original person in the world. The first time, I
was to marry you because you were so awkward, and the next time
because your father thought so much of me, and another time because
you wanted us to tour Norway and not have a whole bothersome crowd
along; then you were tired living in a big, lonely house with just you
and your father and the servants; now, it's an advantageous business
arrangement. What share of the profits am I to receive?"

Bobby's face had turned red, but he stuck manfully to his guns.

"All of them," he blurted. "You know that none of those is the real
reason," he as suddenly protested. "It is only that when I come to
tell you the actual reason I rather choke up and can't."

"You're a mighty nice boy, Bobby," she confessed. "Now sit down and
behave, and tell me just what you have decided to do."

"Well," said he, accepting his defeat with great philosophy, since he
had no reason to regard it as final, "of course, my decision is made
for me. I'm to take hold of the business. I don't know anything about
it, but I don't see why it shouldn't go straight on as it always has."

"Possibly," she admitted thoughtfully; "but I imagine your father
expected you to have rather a difficult time of it. Perhaps he wants
you to, so that a defeat or two will sting you into having a little
more serious purpose in life than you have at present. I'd like,
myself, to see you handle, with credit to him and to you, the splendid
establishment he built up."

"If I do," Bobby wanted to know, "will you marry me?"

"That makes eleven times. I'm not saying, Bobby, but you never can
tell."

"That settles it. I'm going to be a business man. Let me use your
'phone a minute." It was one of the many advantages of the
delightfully informal Turkish alcove that it contained a telephone,
and in two minutes Bobby had his tailors. "Make me two or three
business suits," he ordered. "Regular business suits, I mean, for real
business wear--you know the sort of thing--and get them done as
quickly as you can, please. There!" said he as he hung up the
receiver. "I shall begin to-morrow morning. I'll go down early and
take hold of the John Burnit Store in earnest."

"You've made a splendid start," commented Agnes, smiling. "Now tell me
about the polo tournament," and she sat back to enjoy his enthusiasm
over something about which he was entirely posted.

He was good to look at, was Bobby, with his clean-cut figure and his
clean-cut face and his clean, blue eyes and clean complexion, and she
delighted in nothing more than just to sit and watch him when he was
at ease; he was so restful, so certain to be always telling the truth,
to be always taking a charitably good-humored view of life, to turn on
wholesome topics and wholesome points of view; but after he had gone
she smiled and sighed and shook her head.

"Poor Bobby," she mused. "There won't be a shred left of his tender
little fleece by the time he gets through."

One more monitor Bobby went to see that afternoon, and this was Biff
Bates. It required no sending in of cards to enter the presence of
this celebrity. One simply stepped out of the elevator and used one's
latch-key. It was so much more convenient. Entering a big, barnlike
room he found Mr. Bates, clad only in trunks and canvas shoes,
wreaking dire punishment upon a punching-bag merely by way of
amusement; and Mr. Bates, with every symptom of joy illuminating his
rather horizontal features--wide brows, wide cheek-bone, wide nose,
wide mouth, wide chin, wide jaw--stopped to shake hands most
enthusiastically with his caller without removing his padded glove.

"What's the good news, old pal?" he asked huskily.

He was half a head shorter than Bobby and four inches broader across
the shoulders, and his neck spread out over all the top of his torso;
but there was something in the clear gaze of the eyes which made the
two gentlemen look quite alike as they shook hands, vastly different
as they were.

"Bad news for you, I'm afraid," announced Bobby. "That little
partnership idea of the big gymnasium will have to be called off for a
while."

Mr. Bates took a contemplative punch or two at the still quivering
bag.

"It was a fake, anyway," he commented, putting his arm around the top
of the punching-bag and leaning against it comfortably; "just like
this place. You went into partnership with me on this joint--that is,
you put up the coin and run in a lot of your friends on me to be
trained up--squarest lot of sports I ever saw, too. You fill the place
with business and allow me a weekly envelope that makes me tilt my
chin till I have to wear my lid down over my eyes to keep it from
falling off the back of my head, and when there's profits to split up
you shoves mine into my mitt and puts yours into improvements. You put
in the new shower baths and new bars and traps, and the last thing,
that swimming-tank back there. I'm glad the big game's off. I'm so
contented now I'm getting over-weight, and you'd bilk me again. But
what's the matter? Did the bookies get you?"

"No; I'll tell you all about it," and Bobby carefully explained the
terms of his father's will and what they meant.

Mr. Bates listened carefully, and when the explanation was finished he
thought for a long time.

"Well, Bobby," said he, "here's where you get it. They'll shred you
clean. You're too square for that game. Your old man was a fine old
sport and _he_ played it on the level, but, say, he could see a marked
card clear across a room. They'll double-cross you, though, to a
fare-ye-well."

The opinion seemed to be unanimous.



CHAPTER II

PINK CARNATIONS APPEAR IN THE OFFICE OF THE JOHN BURNIT STORE


Bobby gave his man orders to wake him up early next morning, say not
later than eight, and prided himself very much upon his energy when,
at ten-thirty, he descended from his machine in front of the old and
honored establishment of John Burnit, and, leaving instructions for
his chauffeur to call for him at twelve, made his way down the long
aisles of white-piled counters and into the dusty little office where
old Johnson, thin as a rail and with a face like whittled chalk,
humped over his desk exactly as he had sat for the past thirty-five
years.

"Good-morning, Johnson," observed Bobby with an affable nod. "I've
come to take over the business."

He said it in the same untroubled tone he had always used in asking
for his weekly check, and Johnson looked up with a wry smile.
Applerod, on the contrary, was beaming with hearty admiration. He was
as florid as Johnson was colorless, and the two had rubbed elbows and
dispositions in that same room almost since the house of Burnit had
been founded.

"Very well, sir," grudged Johnson, and immediately laid upon the
time-blackened desk which had been old John Burnit's, a closely
typewritten statement of some twenty pages. On top of this he placed a
plain gray envelope addressed:

    _To My Son Robert,
    Upon the Occasion of His Taking Over the Business_

Upon this envelope Bobby kept his eyes in mild speculation, while he
leisurely laid aside his cane and removed his gloves and coat and hat;
next he sat down in his father's jerky old swivel chair and lit a
cigarette; then he opened the letter. He read:

    "Every business needs a pessimist and an optimist, with ample
    opportunities to quarrel. Johnson is a jackass, but honest. He
    is a pessimist and has a pea-green liver. Listen to him and
    the business will die painlessly, by inches. Applerod is also
    a jackass, and I presume him to be honest; but I never tested
    it. He suffers from too much health, and the surplus goes into
    optimism. Listen to him and the business will die in horrible
    agony, quickly. But keep both of them. Let them fight things
    out until they come almost to an understanding, then take the
    middle course."

That was all. Bobby turned squarely to survey the frowning Johnson and
the still beaming Applerod, and with a flash of clarity he saw his
father's wisdom. He had always admired John Burnit, aside from the
fact that the sturdy pioneer had been his father, had admired him much
as one admires the work of a master magician--without any hope of
emulation. As he read the note he could seem to see the old gentleman
standing there with his hands behind him, ready to stretch on tiptoe
and drop to his heels with a thump as he reached a climax, his
spectacles shoved up on his forehead, his strong, wrinkled face stern
from the cheek-bones down, but twinkling from that line upward, the
twinkle, which had its seat about the shrewd eyes, suddenly
terminating in a sharp, whimsical, little up-pointed curl in the very
middle of his forehead. To corroborate his warm memory Bobby opened
the front of his watch-case, where the same face looked him squarely
in the eyes. Naturally, then, he opened the other lid, where Agnes
Elliston's face smiled up at him. Suddenly he shut both lids with a
snap and turned, with much distaste but with a great show of energy,
to the heavy statement which had all this time confronted him. The
first page he read over laboriously, the second one he skimmed
through, the third and fourth he leafed over; and then he skipped to
the last sheet, where was set down a concise statement of the net
assets and liabilities.

"According to this," observed Bobby with great show of wisdom, "I take
over the business in a very flourishing condition."

"Well," grudgingly admitted Mr. Johnson, "it might be worse."

"It could hardly be better," interposed Applerod--"that is, without
the extensions and improvements that I think your father would have
come in time to make. Of course, at his age he was naturally a bit
conservative."

"Mr. Applerod and myself have never agreed upon that point," wheezed
Johnson sharply. "For my part I considered your father--well, scarcely
reckless, but, say, sufficiently daring! Daring is about the word."

Bobby grinned cheerfully.

"He let the business go rather by its own weight, didn't he?"

Both gentlemen shook their heads, instantly and most emphatically.

"He certainly must have," insisted Bobby. "As I recollect it, he only
worked up here, of late years, from about eleven fifty-five to twelve
every other Thursday."

"Oftener than that," solemnly corrected the literal Mr. Johnson. "He
was here from eleven until twelve-thirty every day."

"What did he do?"

It was Applerod who, with keen appreciation, hastened to advise him
upon this point.

"Said 'yes' twice and 'no' twelve times. Then, at the very last
minute, when we thought that he was through, he usually landed on a
proposition that hadn't been put up to him at all, and put it clear
out of the business."

"Looks like good finessing to me," said Bobby complacently. "I think I
shall play it that way."

"It wouldn't do, sir," Mr. Johnson replied in a tone of keen pain.
"You must understand that when your father started this business it
was originally a little fourteen-foot-front place, one story high. He
got down here at six o'clock every morning and swept out. As he got
along a little further he found that he could trust somebody else with
that job--_but he always knew how to sweep_. It took him a lifetime to
simmer down his business to just 'yes' and 'no.'"

"I see," mused Bobby; "and I'm expected to take that man's place! How
would you go about it?"

"I would suggest, without meaning any impertinence whatever, sir,"
insinuated Mr. Johnson, "that if you were to start clerking----"

"Or sweeping out at six o'clock in the morning?" calmly interrupted
Bobby. "I don't like to stay up so late. No, Johnson, about the only
thing I'm going to do to show my respect for the traditions of the
house is to leave this desk just as it is, and hang an oil portrait of
my father over it. And, by the way, isn't there some little side room
where I can have my office? I'm going into this thing very earnestly."

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Applerod exchanged glances.

"The door just to the right there," said Mr. Johnson, "leads to a room
which is at present filled with old files of the credit department. No
doubt those could be moved somewhere else."

Bobby walked into that room and gaged its possibilities. It was a
little small, to be sure, but it would do for the present.

"Just have that cleared out and a 'phone put in. I'll get right down
to business this afternoon and see about the fittings for it." Then he
looked at his watch once more. "By George!" he exclaimed, "I almost
forgot that I was to see Nick Allstyne at the Idlers' Club about that
polo match. Just have one of your boys stand out at the curb along
about twelve, will you, and tell my chauffeur to report at the club."

Johnson eyed the closed door over his spectacles.

"He'll be having blue suits and brass buttons on us two next," he
snorted.

"He don't mean it at all that way," protested Applerod. "For my part,
I think he's a fine young fellow."

"I'll give you to understand, sir," retorted Johnson, violently
resenting this imputed defection, "that he is the son of his father,
and for that, if for nothing else, would have my entire allegiance."

Bobby, meanwhile, feeling very democratic and very much a man of
affairs, took a street-car to the Idlers', and strode through the
classic portals of that club with gravity upon his brow. Flaxen-haired
Nick Allstyne, standing by the registry desk, turned to dark Payne
Winthrop with a nod.

"You win," he admitted. "I'll have to charge it up to you, Bobby. I
just lost a quart of the special to Payne that since you'd become
immersed in the cares of business you'd not be here."

Bobby was almost austere in his reception of this slight.

"Don't you know," he demanded, "that there is nobody who keeps even
his social engagements like a business man?"

"That's what I gambled on," returned Payne confidentially, "but I
wasn't sure just how much of a business man you'd become. Nick, don't
you already seem to see a crease in Bobby's brow?"

"No, that's his regular polo crease," objected lanky Stanley Rogers,
joining them, and the four of them fell upon polo as one man. Their
especially anxious part in the tournament was to be a grinding match
against Willie Ashler's crack team, and the point of worry was that so
many of their fellows were out of town. They badly needed one more
good player.

"I have it," declared Bobby finally. It was he who usually decided
things in this easy-going, athletic crowd. "We'll make Jack Starlett
play, but the only way to get him is to go over to Washington after
him. Payne, you're to go along. You always keep a full set of regalia
here at the club, I know. Here, boy!" he called to a passing page.
"Find out for us the next two trains to Washington."

"Yes, sir," said the boy with a grin, and was off like a shot. They
had a strict rule against tipping in the Idlers', but if he happened
to meet Bobby outside, say at the edge of the curb where his car was
standing, there was no rule against his receiving something there.
Besides, he liked Bobby, anyhow. They all did. He was back in a
moment.

"One at two-ten and one at four-twenty, sir."

"The two-ten sounds about right," announced Bobby. "Now, Billy,
telephone to my apartments to have my Gladstone and my dress-suit togs
brought down to that train. Then, by the way, telephone Leatherby and
Pluscher to send up to my place of business and have Mr. Johnson show
their man my new office. Have him take measurements of it and fit it
up at once, complete. They know the kind of things I like. Really,
fellows," he continued, turning to the others, after he had patiently
repeated and explained his instructions to the foggy but willing
Billy, "I'm in serious earnest about this thing. Up to me, you know,
to do credit to the governor, if I can."

"Bobby, the Boy Bargain Baron," observed Nick. "Well, I guess you can
do it. All you need to do is to take hold, and I'll back you at any
odds."

"We'll all put a bet on you," encouraged Stanley Rogers. "More, we'll
help. We'll all get married and send our wives around to open accounts
with you."

In spite of the serious business intentions, the luncheon which
followed was the last the city saw of Bobby Burnit for three days. Be
it said to his credit that he had accomplished his purpose when he
returned. He had brought reluctant Jack Starlett back with him, and
together they walked into the John Burnit Store.

"New office fitted up yet, Johnson?" asked Bobby pleasantly.

"Yes, sir," replied Johnson sourly. "Just a moment, Mr. Burnit," and
from an index cabinet back of him he procured an oblong gray envelope
which he handed to Bobby. It was inscribed:

    _To My Son,
    Upon the Fitting-Out of New Offices_

With a half-embarrassed smile, Bobby regarded that letter thoughtfully
and carried it into the luxurious new office. He opened it and read
it, and, still with that queer smile, passed it over to Starlett. This
was old John Burnit's message:

    "I have seen a business work up to success, and afterward add
    velvet rugs and dainty flowers on the desk, but I never saw a
    successful business start that way."

Bobby looked around him with a grin. There _was_ a velvet rug on the
floor. There were no flowers upon the mahogany desk, but there _was_ a
vase to receive them. For just one moment he was nonplussed; then he
opened the door leading to the dingy apartment occupied by Messrs.
Johnson and Applerod.

"Mr. Johnson," said he, "will you kindly send out and get two dozen
pink carnations for my room?"

Quiet, big Jack Starlett, having loaded and lit and taken the first
long puff, removed his pipe from his lips.

"Bully!" said he.



CHAPTER III

OLD JOHN BURNIT'S ANCIENT ENEMY POINTS OUT THE WAY TO GRANDEUR


Mr. Johnson had no hair in the very center of his head, but, when he
was more than usually vexed, he ran his fingers through what was left
upon both sides of the center and impatiently pushed it up toward a
common point. His hair was in that identical condition when he knocked
at the door of Bobby's office and poked in his head to announce Mr.
Silas Trimmer.

"Trimmer," mused Bobby. "Oh, yes; he is the John Burnit Store's chief
competitor; concern backs up against ours, fronting on Market Street.
Show him in, Johnson."

Jack Starlett, who had dropped in to loaf a bit, rose to go.

"Sit down," insisted Bobby. "I'm conducting this thing all open and
aboveboard. You know, I think I shall like business."

"They tell me it's the greatest game out," commented Starlett, and
just then Mr. Trimmer entered.

He was a little, wiry man as to legs and arms, but fearfully rotund as
to paunch, and he had a yellow leather face and black eyes which,
though gleaming like beads, seemed to have a muddy cast. Bobby rose to
greet him with a cordiality in no degree abashed by this appearance.

"And what can we do for you, Mr. Trimmer?" he asked after the usual
inanities of greeting had been exchanged.

"Take lunch with me," invited Mr. Trimmer, endeavoring to beam, his
heavy, down-drooping gray mustache remaining immovable in front of the
deeply-chiseled smile that started far above the corners of his nose
and curved around a display of yellow teeth. "I have just learned that
you have taken over the business, and I wish as quickly as possible to
form with the son the same cordial relations which for years I enjoyed
with the father."

Bobby looked him contemplatively in the eye, but had no experience
upon which to base a picture of his father and Mr. Trimmer enjoying
perpetually cordial relations with a knife down each boot leg.

"Very sorry, Mr. Trimmer, but I am engaged for lunch."

"Dinner, then--at the Traders' Club," insisted Mr. Trimmer, who never
for any one moment had remained entirely still, either his foot or his
hand moving, or some portion of his body twitching almost incessantly.

Inwardly Bobby frowned, for, so far, he had found no points about his
caller to arouse his personal enthusiasm; and yet it suddenly occurred
to him that here was doubtless business, and that it ought to have
attention. His father, under similar circumstances, would find out
what the man was after. He cast a hesitating glance at his friend.

"Don't mind me, Bobby," said Starlett briskly. "You know I shall be
compelled to take dinner with the folks to-night."

"At about what time, Mr. Trimmer?" Bobby asked.

"Oh, suit yourself. Any time," responded that gentleman eagerly. "Say
half-past six."

"The Traders'," mused Bobby. "I think the governor put me up there
four or five years ago."

"I seconded you," the other informed him; "and I had the pleasure of
voting for you just the other day, on the vacancy made by your father.
You're a full-fledged member now."

"Fine!" said Bobby. "Business suit or----"

"Anything you like." With again that circular smile behind his
immovable mustache, Mr. Trimmer backed out of the room, and Bobby,
dropping into a chair, turned perplexed eyes upon his friend.

"What do you suppose he wants?" he inquired.

"Your eye-teeth," returned Jack bluntly. "He looks like a mucker to
me."

"Oh, I don't know," returned Bobby, a trifle uneasily. "You see, Jack,
he isn't exactly our sort, and maybe we can't get just the right angle
in judging him. He's been nailed down to business all his life, you
know, and a fellow in that line don't have a chance, as I take it, to
cultivate all the little--well, say artificial graces."

"Your father wasn't like him. He was as near a thoroughbred as I ever
saw, Bobby, and he was nailed down, as you put it, all _his_ life."

"Oh, you couldn't expect them all to be like the governor," responded
Bobby instantly, shocked at the idea. "But this chap may be no end of
a good sort in his style. No doubt at all he merely came over in a
friendly way to bid me a sort of welcome into the fraternity of
business men," and Bobby felt quite a little thrill of pride in that
novel idea. "By George! Wait a minute," he exclaimed as still another
brilliant thought struck him, and going into the other room he said to
Johnson: "Please give me the letter addressed: 'To My Son Robert, Upon
the Occasion of Mr. Trimmer's First Call.'"

For the first time in days a grin irradiated Johnson's face.

"Nothing here, sir," he replied.

"Let me go through that file."

"Strictly against orders, sir," said Johnson.

"Indeed," responded Bobby quizzically; "I don't like to press the bet,
Johnson, but really I'd like to know who has the say here."

"You have, sir, over everything except my private affairs; and that
letter file is my private property and its contents my private
trusteeship."

"I can still take my castor oil like a little man, if I have to,"
Bobby resignedly observed. "I remember that when I was a kiddy the
governor once undertook to teach me mathematics, and he never would
let me see the answers. More than ever it looks like it was up to
Bobby," and whistling cheerfully he walked back into his private
office.

Johnson turned to Applerod with a snarl.

"Mr. Applerod," said he, "you know that I almost never swear. I am now
about to do so. Darn it! It's a shame that Trimmer calls here again on
that old scheme about which he deviled this house for years, and we
forbidden to give Mr. Robert a word of advice unless he asks for it."

"Why is it a shame?" demanded Applerod. "I always have thought that
Trimmer's plan was a great one."

So, all unprepared, Bobby went forth that evening, to become
acquainted with the great plan.

At the restless Traders' Club, where the precise corridors and columns
and walls and ceilings of white marble were indicative of great
formality, men with creases in their brows wore their derbies on the
backs of their heads and ceaselessly talked shop. Mr. Trimmer, more
creased of brow than any of them, was drifting from group to group
with his eyes turned anxiously toward the door until Bobby came in.
Mr. Trimmer was most effusively glad to see the son of his old friend
once again, and lost no time in seating him at a most secluded table,
where, by the time the oysters came on, he was deep in a catalogue of
the virtues of John Burnit; and Bobby, with a very real and a very
deep affection for his father which seldom found expression in words,
grew restive. One thing held him, aside from his obligations as a
guest. He was convinced now that his host's kindness was in truth a
mere graceful act of welcome, due largely to his father's standing,
and the idea flattered him very much. He strove to look as
businesslike as possible, and thought again and again upon his father;
of how he had sat day after day in this stately dining-hall, honored
and venerated among these men who were striving still for the ideal
that he had attained. It was a good thought, and made for pride of the
right sort. With the entrée Mr. Trimmer ordered his favorite vintage
champagne, and, as it boiled up like molten amber in the glasses, so
sturdily that the center of the surface kept constantly a full quarter
of an inch above the sides, he waited anxiously for Bobby to sample
it. Even Bobby, long since disillusioned of such things and grown
abstemious from healthy choice, after a critical taste sipped slowly
again and again.

"That's ripping good wine," he acknowledged.

"There's only a little over two hundred bottles of it left in the
world," Mr. Trimmer assured him, and then he waited for that first
glass to exert its warming glow. He was a good waiter, was Silas
Trimmer, and keenly sensitive to personal influences. He knew that
Bobby had not been in entire harmony with him at any period of the
evening, but after the roast came on--a most careful roast, indeed,
prepared under a certain formula upon which Mr. Trimmer had
painstakingly insisted--he saw that he had really found his way for a
moment to Bobby's heart through the channel provided by Nature for
attacks upon masculine sympathy, and at that moment he leaned forward
with his circular smile, and observed:

"By the way, Mr. Burnit, I suppose your father often discussed with
you the great plan we evolved for the Burnit-Trimmer Arcade?"

Bobby almost blushed at the confession he must make.

"I'm sorry to say that he didn't," he owned. "I never took the
interest in such things that I ought, and so I missed a lot of
confidences I'd like to have had now."

"Too bad," sympathized Mr. Trimmer, now quite sure of his ground,
since he had found that Bobby was not posted. "It was a splendid plan
we had. You know, your building and mine are precisely the same width
and precisely in a line with each other, back to back, with only the
alley separating us, the Trimmer establishment fronting on Market
Street and the Burnit building on Grand. The alley is fully five feet
below our two floor lines, and we could, I am quite sure, get
permission to bridge it at a clearance of not to exceed twelve feet.
By raising the rear departments of your store and of mine a foot or
so, and then building a flight of broad, easy steps up and down, we
could almost conceal the presence of this bridge from the inside, and
make one immense establishment running straight through from Grand to
Market Streets. The floors above the first, of course, would bridge
over absolutely level, and the combined stores would comprise by far
the largest establishment in the city. Of course, the advantage of it
from an advertising standpoint alone would be well worth while."

Bobby could instantly see the almost interminable length of store area
thus presented, and it appealed to his sense of big things at once.

"What did father say about this?" he asked.

"Thought it a brilliant idea," glibly returned Mr. Trimmer. "In fact,
I think it was he who first suggested such a possibility, seeing very
clearly the increased trade and the increased profits that would
accrue from such an extension, which would, in fact, be simply the
doubling of our already big stores without additional capitalization.
We worked out two or three plans for the consolidation, but in the
later years your father was very slow about making actual extensions
or alterations in his merchandising business, preferring to expend his
energies on his successful outside enterprises. I feel sure, however,
that he would have come to it in time, for the development is so
logical, so much in keeping with the business methods of the times."

Here again was insidious flattery, the insinuation that Bobby must be
thoroughly aware of "the business methods of the times."

"Of course, the idea is new to me," said Bobby, assuming as best he
could the air of business reserve which seemed appropriate to the
occasion; "but I should say, in a general way, that I should not care
to give up the identity of the John Burnit Store."

"That is a fine and a proper spirit," agreed Mr. Trimmer, with great
enthusiasm. "I like to see it in a young man, but I've no doubt that
we can arrange that little matter. Of course, we would have to
incorporate, say, as the Burnit-Trimmer Mercantile Corporation, but
while having that name on the front of both buildings, it might not be
a bad idea, for business as well as sentimental reasons, to keep the
old signs at the tops of both, just as they now are. Those are little
details to discuss later; but as the stock of the new company, based
upon the present invoice values of our respective concerns, would be
practically all in your hands and mine, this would be a very amicable
and easily arranged matter. I tell you, Mr. Burnit, this is a
tremendous plan, attractive to the public and immensely profitable to
us, and I do not know of anything you could do that would so well as
this show you to be a worthy successor to John Burnit; for, of course,
it would scarcely be a credit to you to carry on your father's
business without change or advance."

It was the best and the most crafty argument Mr. Trimmer had used, and
Bobby carried away from the Traders' Club a glowing impression of this
point. His father had built up this big business by his own unaided
efforts. Should Bobby leave that legacy just where he had found it, or
should he carry it on to still greater heights? The answer was
obvious.



CHAPTER IV

AGNES EMPHATICALLY DECIDES THAT SHE DOES NOT LIKE A CERTAIN PERSON


At the theater that evening, Bobby, to his vexation, found Agnes
Elliston walking in the promenade foyer with the well-set-up stranger.
He passed her with a nod and slipped moodily into the rear of the
Elliston box, where Aunt Constance, perennially young, was
entertaining Nick Allstyne and Jack Starlett, and keeping them at a
keen wit's edge, too. Bobby gave them the most perfunctory of
greetings, and, sitting back by himself, sullenly moped. He grumbled
to himself that he had a headache; the play was a humdrum affair;
Trimmer was a bore; the proposed consolidation had suddenly lost its
prismatic coloring; the Traders' Club was crude; Starlett and Allstyne
were utterly frivolous. All this because Agnes was out in the foyer
with a very likely-looking young man.

She did not return until the end of that act, and found Bobby ready to
go, pleading early morning business.

"Is it important?" she asked.

"Who's the chap with the silky mustache?" he suddenly demanded, unable
to forbear any longer. "He's a new one."

The eyes of Agnes gleamed mischievously.

"Bobby, I'm astonished at your manners," she chided him. "Now tell me
what you've been doing with yourself."

"Trying to grow up into John Burnit's truly son," he told her with
some trace of pompous pride, being ready in advance to accept his
rebuke meekly, as he always had to do, and being quite ready to cover
up his grievous error with a change of topic. "I had no idea that
business could so grip a fellow. But what I'd like to find out just
now is who is my trustee? It must have been somebody with horse sense,
or the governor would not have appointed whoever it was. I'm not going
to ask anything I'm forbidden to know, but I want some advice. Now,
how shall I learn who it is?"

"Well," replied Agnes thoughtfully, "about the only plan I can suggest
is that you ask your father's legal and business advisers."

He positively beamed down at her.

"You're the dandy girl, all right," he said admiringly. "Now, if you
would only----"

"Bobby," she interrupted him, "do you know that we are standing up
here in a box, with something like a thousand people, possibly, turned
in our direction?"

He suddenly realized that they were alone, the others having filed out
into the promenade, and, placing a chair for her in the extreme rear
corner of the box, where he could fence her off, sat down beside her.
He began to describe to her the plan of Silas Trimmer, and as he went
on his enthusiasm mounted. The thing had caught his fancy. If he could
only increase the profits of the John Burnit Store in the very first
year, it would be a big feather in his cap. It would be precisely what
his father would have desired! Agnes listened attentively all through
the fourth act to his glowing conception of what the reorganized John
Burnit Company would be like. He was perfectly contented now. His
headache was gone; such occasional glimpses as he caught of the play
were delightful; Mr. Trimmer was a genius; the Traders' Club a
fascinating introduction to a new life; Starlett and Allstyne a joyous
relief to him after the sordid cares of business. In a word, Agnes was
with him.

"Do you think your father would accept this proposition?" she asked
him after he was all through.

"I think he would at my age," decided Bobby promptly.

"That is, if he had been brought up as you have," she laughed. "I
think I should study a long time over it, Bobby, before I made any
such important and sweeping change as this must necessarily be."

"Oh, yes," he agreed with an assumption of deep conservatism; "of
course I'll think it over well, and I'll take good, sound advice on
it."

"I have never seen Mr. Trimmer," mused Agnes. "I seldom go into his
store, for there always seems to me something shoddy about the whole
place; but to-morrow I think I shall make it a point to secure a
glimpse of him."

Bobby was delighted. Agnes had always been interested in whatever
interested him, but never so absorbedly so as now, it seemed. He
almost forgot the stranger in his pleasure. He forgot him still more
when, dismissing his chauffeur, he seated Agnes in the front of the
car beside him, with Starlett and Allstyne and Aunt Constance in the
tonneau, and went whirling through the streets and up the avenue. It
was but a brief trip, not over a half-hour, and they had scarcely a
chance to exchange a word; but just to be up front there alone with
her meant a whole lot to Bobby.

Afterward he took the other fellows down to the gymnasium, where Biff
Bates drew him to one side.

"Look here, old pal!" said Bates. "I saw you real chummy with T. W.
Tight-Wad Trimmer to-night."

"Yes?" admitted Bobby interrogatively.

"Well, you know I don't go around with my hammer out, but I want to
put you wise to this mut. He's in with a lot of political graft, for
one thing, and he's a sure thing guy for another. He likes to take a
flyer at the bangtails a few times a season, and last summer he
welshed on Joe Poog's book; claimed Joe misunderstood his fingers for
two thousand in place of two hundred."

"Well, maybe there was a mistake," said Bobby, loath to believe such a
monstrous charge against any one whom he knew.

"Mistake nawthin'," insisted Biff. "Joe Poog don't take finger bets
for hundreds, and Trimmer never did bet that way. He's a born welsher,
anyhow. He looks the part, and I just want to tell you, Bobby, that if
you go to the mat with this crab you'll get up with the marks of his
pinchers on your windpipe; that's all."

Early the next morning--that is, at about ten o'clock--Bobby bounced
energetically into the office of Barrister and Coke, where old Mr.
Barrister, who had been his father's lawyer for a great many years,
received him with all the unbending grace of an ebony cane.

"I have come to find out who were the trustees appointed by my father,
Mr. Barrister," began Bobby, with a cheerful air of expecting to be
informed at once, "not that I wish to inquire about the estate, but
that I need some advice on entirely different matters."

"I shall be glad to serve you with any legal advice that you may
need," offered Mr. Barrister, patting his finger-tips gently together.

"Are you the trustee?"

"No, sir"--this with a dusty smile.

"Who is, then?"

"The only information which I am at liberty to give you upon that
point," said Mr. Barrister drily, "is that contained in your father's
will. Would you care to examine a copy of that document again?"

"No, thanks," declined Bobby politely. "It's too truthful for
comfort."

From there he went straight to his own place of business, where he
asked the same question of Johnson. In reply, Mr. Johnson produced,
from his own personal and private index-file, an oblong gray envelope
addressed:

    _To My Son Robert,
    Upon His Inquiring About the Trusteeship of My Estate_

Opening this in the privacy of his own office, Bobby read:

    "As stated in my will, it is none of your present business."

"Up to Bobby again," the son commented aloud. "Well, Governor," and
his shoulders straightened while his eyes snapped, "if you can stand
it, I can. Hereafter I shall take my own advice, and if I lose I shall
know how to find the chap who's to blame."

He had an opportunity to "go it alone" that very morning, when Johnson
and Applerod came in to him together with a problem. Was or was not
that Chicago branch to be opened? The elder Mr. Burnit had considered
it most gravely, but had left the matter undecided. Mr. Applerod was
very keenly in favor of it, Mr. Johnson as earnestly against it, and
in his office they argued the matter with such heat that Bobby,
accepting a typed statement of the figures in the case, virtually
turned them out.

"When must you have a decision?" he demanded.

"To-morrow. We must wire either our acceptance or rejection of the
lease."

"Very well," said Bobby, quite elated that he was carrying the thing
off with an air and a tone so crisp; "just leave it to me, will you?"

He waded through the statement uncomprehendingly. Here was a problem
which was covered and still not covered by his father's observations
anent Johnson and Applerod. It was a matter for wrangling, obviously
enough, but there was no difference to split. It was a case of
deciding either yes or no. For the balance of the time until Jack
Starlett called for him at twelve-thirty, he puzzled earnestly and
soberly over the thing, and next morning the problem still weighed
upon him when he turned in at the office. He could see as he passed
through the outer room that both Johnson and Applerod were furtively
eying him, but he walked past them whistling. When he had closed his
own door behind him he drew again that mass of data toward him and
struggled against the chin-high tide. Suddenly he shoved the papers
aside, and, taking a half-dollar from his pocket, flipped it on the
floor. Eagerly he leaned over to look at it. Tails! With a sigh of
relief he put the coin back in his pocket and lit a cigarette. About
half an hour later the committee of two came solemnly in to see him.

"Have you decided to open the Chicago branch, sir?" asked Johnson.

"Not this year," said Bobby coolly, and handed back the data. "I wish,
Mr. Johnson, you would appoint a page to be in constant attendance
upon this room."

Back at their own desks Johnson gloated in calm triumph.

"It may be quite possible that Mr. Robert may turn out to be a
duplicate of his father," he opined.

"I don't know," confessed Applerod, crestfallen. "I had thought that
he would be more willing to take a sporting chance."

Mr. Johnson snorted. Mr. Applerod, who had never bet two dollars on
any proposition in his life, considered himself very much of a
sporting disposition.

Savagely in love with his new assertiveness Bobby called on Agnes that
evening.

"I saw Mr. Trimmer to-day," she told him. "I don't like him."

"I didn't want you to," he replied with a grin. "You like too many
people now."

"But I'm serious, Bobby," she protested, unconsciously clinging to his
hand as they sat down upon the divan. "I wouldn't enter into any
business arrangements with him. I don't know just what there is about
him that repels me, but--well, I don't _like_ him!"

"Can't say I've fallen in love with him myself," he replied. "But,
Agnes, if a fellow only did business with the men his nearest
women-folks liked, there wouldn't be much business done."

"There wouldn't be so many losses," she retorted.

"Bound to have the last word, of course," he answered, taking refuge
in that old and quite false slur against women in general; for a man
suffers from his spleen if he can not put the quietus on every
argument. "But, honestly, I don't fear Mr. Trimmer. I've been
inquiring into this stock company business. We are each to have stock
in the new company, if we form one, in exact proportion to the
invoices of our respective establishments. Well, the Trimmer concern
can't possibly invoice as much as we shall, and I'll have the majority
of stock, which is the same as holding all the trumps. I had Mr.
Barrister explain all that to me. With the majority of stock you can
have everything your own way, and the other chap can't even protest.
Seems sort of a shame, too."

"I don't like him," declared Agnes.

The ensuing week Bobby spent mostly on the polo match, though he
called religiously at the office every morning, coming down a few
minutes earlier each day. It was an uneasy week, too, as well as a
busy one, for twice during its progress he saw Agnes driving with the
unknown; and the fact that in both instances a handsome young lady was
with them did not seem to mend matters much. He was astonished to find
that losing the great polo match did not distress him at all. A year
before it would have broken his heart, but the multiplicity of new
interests had changed him entirely. As a matter of fact, he had been
long ripe for the change, though he had not known it. As he had
matured, the blood of his heredity had begun to clamor for its
expression; that was all.

At the beginning of the next week Mr. Trimmer came in to see him
again, with a roll of drawings under his arm. The drawings displayed
the proposed new bridge in elevation and in cross section. They showed
the total stretch of altered store-rooms from street to street, and
cleverly-drawn perspectives made graphically real that splendid
length. They were accompanied by an estimate of the cost, and also by
a permit from the city to build the bridge. With these were the
preliminary papers for the organization of the new company, and Bobby,
by this time intensely interested and convinced that his interest was
business acumen, went over each detail with contracted brow and with
kindling enthusiasm.

It was ten o'clock of that morning when Silas Trimmer had found Bobby
at his desk; by eleven Mr. Johnson and Mr. Applerod, in the outer
office, were quite unable to work; by twelve they were snarling at
each other; at twelve-thirty Johnson ventured to poke his head in at
the door, framing some trivial excuse as he did so, but found the two
merchants with their heads bent closely over the advantages of the
great combined stores. At a quarter-past one, returning from a hasty
lunch, Johnson tiptoed to the door again. He still heard an insistent,
high-pitched voice inside. Mr. Trimmer was doing all the talking. He
had explained and explained until his tongue was dry, and Bobby, with
a full sense of the importance of his decision, was trying to clear
away the fog that had grown up in his brain. Mr. Trimmer was pressing
him for a decision. Bobby suddenly slipped his hand in his pocket,
and, unseen, secured a half-dollar, which he shook in his hand under
the table. Opening his palm he furtively looked at the coin. Heads!

"Get your papers ready, Mr. Trimmer," he announced, as one finally
satisfied by good and sufficient argument, "we'll form the
organization as soon as you like."

No sooner had he come to this decision than he felt a strange sense of
elation. He had actually consummated a big business deal! He had made
a positive step in the direction of carrying the John Burnit Store
beyond the fame it had possessed at the time his father had turned it
over to him! Since he had stiffened his back, he did not condescend to
take Johnson and Applerod into his confidence, though those two
gentlemen were quivering to receive it, but he did order Johnson to
allow Mr. Trimmer's representatives to go over the John Burnit books
and to verify their latest invoice, together with the purchases and
sales since the date of that stock-taking. To Mr. Applerod he assigned
the task of making a like examination of the Trimmer establishment,
and each day felt more like a really-truly business man. He affected
the Traders' Club now, formed an entirely new set of acquaintances,
and learned to go about the stately rooms of that magnificent business
annex with his hat on the back of his head and creases in his brow.

Even before the final papers were completed, a huge gang of workmen,
consisting of as many artisans as could be crowded on the job without
standing on one another's feet, began to construct the elaborate
bridge which was to connect the two stores, and Mr. Trimmer's
publicity department was already securing column after column of space
in the local papers, some of it paid matter and some gratis, wherein
it appeared that the son of old John Burnit had proved himself to be a
live, progressive young man--a worthy heir of so enterprising a
father.



CHAPTER V

WHEREIN BOBBY ATTENDS A STOCK-HOLDERS' MEETING AND CUTS A WISDOM-TOOTH


Within a very few days was completed the complicated legal machinery
which threw the John Burnit Store and Trimmer and Company into the
hands of "The Burnit-Trimmer Merchandise Corporation" as a holding and
operating concern. The John Burnit Store went into that consolidation
at an invoice value of two hundred and sixty thousand dollars, Trimmer
and Company at two hundred and forty thousand; and Bobby was duly
pleased. He had the majority of stock! On the later suggestion of Mr.
Trimmer, however, sixty thousand dollars of additional capital was
taken into the concern.

"The alterations, expansions, new departments and publicity will
compel the command of about that much money," Mr. Trimmer patiently
explained; "and while we could appropriate that amount from our
respective concerns, we ought not to weaken our capital, particularly
as financial affairs throughout the country are so unsettled. This is
not a brisk commercial year, nor can it be."

"Yes," admitted Bobby, "I've heard something of all this hard-times
talk. I know Nick Allstyne sold his French racer, and Nick's supposed
to be worth no end of money."

"Exactly," agreed Mr. Trimmer dryly. "This sixty thousand dollars'
worth of stock, Mr. Burnit, I am quite sure that I can place with
immediate purchasers, and if you will leave the matter to me I can
have it all represented in our next meeting without any bother at all
to you."

"Very kind of you, I am sure," agreed Bobby, thankful that this
trifling detail was not to bore him.

And so it was that the Burnit-Trimmer Merchandise Corporation was
incorporated at five hundred and sixty thousand dollars. It was
considerably later when Bobby realized the significance of the fact
that the subscribers to the additional capitalization consisted of Mr.
Trimmer's son, his son-in-law, his head bookkeeper, his confidential
secretary and his cousin, all of whom had also been minor
stock-holders in the concern of Trimmer and Company.

It was upon the day preceding the first stock-holders' meeting of the
reorganized company that Bobby, quite proud of the fact that he had
acted independently of them, made the formal announcement to Johnson
and Applerod that the great consolidation had been effected.

"Beginning with to-morrow morning, Mr. Johnson," said he to that
worthy, "the John Burnit Store will be merged into the Burnit-Trimmer
Merchandise Corporation, and Mr. Trimmer will doubtless send his
secretary to confer with you about an adjustment of the clerical
work."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Johnson dismally, and rose to open the filing
case behind him. With his hand in the case he paused and turned a most
woebegone countenance to the junior Burnit. "We shall be very
regretful, Mr. Applerod and myself, to lose our positions, sir," he
stated. "We have grown up with the business from boyhood."

"Nonsense!" exploded Applerod. "We would be regretful if that were to
occur, but there is nothing of the sort possible. Why, Mr. Burnit, I
think this consolidation is the greatest thing that ever happened.
I've been in favor of it for years; and as for its losing me my
position--Pooh!" and he snapped his fingers.

"Applerod is quite right, Mr. Johnson," said Bobby severely. "Nothing
of the sort is contemplated. Yourself and Mr. Applerod are to remain
with me as long as fair treatment and liberal pay and personal
attachment can induce you to do so."

"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Johnson dryly, but he shook his head, and
from the file produced one of the familiar gray envelopes.

Bobby eyed it askance as it came toward him, and winced as he saw the
inscription. He was beginning to dread these missives. They seemed to
follow him about, to menace him, to give him a constant feeling of
guilt. Nevertheless, he took this one quite calmly and walked into his
own room. It was addressed:

    _To My Son,
    Upon the Occasion of His Completing a Consolidation
      with Silas Trimmer_

and it read:

    "When a man devils you for years to enter a business deal with
    him, you may rest assured that man has more to gain by it than
    you have. Aside from his wormwood business jealousy of me,
    Silas Trimmer has wanted this Grand Street entrance to his
    store for more than the third of a century; now he has it.
    He'll have your store next."

"Look here, Governor," protested Bobby aloud, to his lively
remembrance of his father as he might have stood in that very room, "I
call this rather rubbing it in. It's a bit unsportsmanlike. It's
almost like laying a trap for a chap who doesn't know the game," and,
rankling with a sense of injustice, he went out to Johnson.

"I say, Johnson," he complained, "it's rather my fault for being too
stubborn to ask about it, but if you knew that Mr. Trimmer was trying
to work a game on me that was dangerous to the business, why didn't
you volunteer to explain it to me; to forewarn me and give me a chance
for judgment with all the pros and cons in front of me?"

"From the bottom of my heart, Mr. Burnit," said Johnson with feeling,
"I should like to have done it; but it was forbidden."

He already had lying before him another of the gray envelopes, and
this he solemnly handed over. It was addressed:

    _To My Son,
    Upon His Complaining that Johnson Gave Him No Warning
      Concerning Silas Trimmer_

The message it contained was:

    "It takes hard chiseling to make a man, but if the material is
    the right grain the tool-marks won't show. If I had wanted you
    merely to make money, I would have left the business entirely
    in the hands of Johnson and Applerod. But there is no use to
    put off pulling a tooth. It only hurts worse in the end."

When Bobby left the office he felt like walking in the middle of the
street to avoid alley corners, since he was unable to divine from what
direction the next brick might come. He had taken the business to
heart more than he had imagined that he would, and the very fact of
his father's having foreseen that he would succumb to this
consolidation made him give grave heed to the implied suggestion that
he would be a heavy loser by it. He had an engagement with Allstyne
and Starlett at the Idlers' that afternoon, but they found him most
preoccupied, and openly voted him a bore. He called on Agnes Elliston,
but learned that she was out driving, and he savagely assured himself
that he knew who was handling the reins. He dined at the Traders',
and, for the first time since he had begun to frequent that place, the
creases in his brow were real.

Later in the evening he dropped around to see Biff Bates. In the very
center of the gymnasium he found that gentleman engaged in giving a
preliminary boxing lesson to a spider-like new pupil, who was none
other than Silas Trimmer. Responding to Biff's cheerful grin and Mr.
Trimmer's sheepish one with what politeness he could muster, Bobby
glumly went home.

On the next morning occurred the first stock-holders' meeting of the
Burnit-Trimmer Merchandise Corporation, which Bobby attended with some
feeling of importance, for, with his twenty-six hundred shares, he was
the largest individual stock-holder present. That was what had
reassured him overnight: the magic "majority of stock!" Mr. Trimmer
only had twenty-four hundred, and Bobby could swing things as he
pleased. His father, omniscient as he was, must certainly have failed
to foresee this fact. In his simplicity of such matters and his
general unsuspiciousness, Bobby had not calculated that if the
additional six hundred shares were to vote solidly with Mr. Trimmer
against him, his twenty-six hundred shares would be confronted by
three thousand, and so rendered paltry.

Mr. Trimmer was delighted to see young Mr. Burnit. This was a great
occasion indeed, both for the John Burnit Store and for Trimmer and
Company, and, in the opinion of Mr. Trimmer, his circular smile very
much in evidence, John Burnit himself would have been proud to see
this day! Mr. Smythe, Mr. Trimmer's son-in-law, also thought it a
great day; Mr. Weldon, Mr. Trimmer's head bookkeeper, thought it a
great day; Mr. Harvey, Mr. Trimmer's confidential secretary, and Mr.
U. G. Trimmer, Mr. Silas Trimmer's cousin, shared this pleasant
impression.

In the beginning the organization was without form or void, as all
such organizations are, but Mr. Trimmer, having an extremely clear
idea of what was to be accomplished, proposed that Mr. Burnit accept
the chair _pro tem._--where he would be out of the way. The unanimous
support which this motion received was quite gratifying to the
feelings of Mr. Burnit, proving at once that his fears had been not
only groundless but ungenerous, and, in accepting the chair, he made
them what he considered a very neat little speech indeed, striving the
while to escape that circular smile with its diameter of yellow teeth
and its intersecting crescent of stiff mustache; for he disliked
meanly to imagine that smile to have a sarcastic turn to-day. At the
suggestion of Mr. Trimmer, Mr. Weldon accepted the post of secretary
_pro tem._ Mr. Trimmer then, with a nicely bound black book in his
hand, rose to propose the adoption of the stock constitution and
by-laws which were neatly printed in the opening pages of this
minute-book, and in the articles of which he had made some trifling
amendments. Mr. Weldon, by request, read these most carefully and
conscientiously, making quite plain that the entire working management
of the consolidated stores was to be under the direct charge of a
general manager and an assistant general manager, who were to be
appointed and have their salaries fixed by the board of directors, as
was meet and proper. Gravely the stock-holders voted upon the adoption
of the constitution and by-laws, and, with a feeling of pride, as the
secretary called his name, Bobby cast his first vote in the following
conventional form:

"Aye--twenty-six hundred shares."

Mr. Trimmer followed, voting twenty-four hundred shares; then Mr.
Smythe, three hundred; Mr. Weldon, fifty; Mr. Harvey, fifty; Mr. U. G.
Trimmer, fifty; Mr. Thomas Trimmer, whose proxy was held by his
father, one hundred and fifty; making in all a total of fifty-six
hundred shares unanimously cast in favor of the motion; and Bobby,
after having roundly announced the result, felt that he was conducting
himself with vast parliamentary credit and lit a cigarette with much
satisfaction.

Mr. Trimmer, twirling his thumbs, displayed no surprise, nor even
gratification, when Mr. Smythe almost immediately put him in
nomination for president. Mr. Weldon promptly seconded that
nomination. Mr. Harvey moved that the nominations for the presidency
be closed. Mr. U. G. Trimmer seconded that motion, which was carried
unanimously; and with no ado whatever Mr. Silas Trimmer was made
president of the Burnit-Trimmer Merchandise Corporation, Mr. Burnit
having most courteously cast twenty-six hundred votes for him; for was
not Mr. Trimmer entitled to this honor by right of seniority? In
similar manner Mr. Burnit, quite pleased, and not realizing that the
vice-president of a corporation has a much less active and influential
position than the night watchman, was elected to the second highest
office, while Mr. Weldon was made secretary and Mr. Smythe treasurer.
Mr. Harvey, Mr. U. G. Trimmer and Mr. Thomas Trimmer were, as a matter
of course, elected members of the board of directors, the four
officers already elected constituting the remaining members of the
board. There seemed but very little business remaining for the
stock-holders to do, so they adjourned; then, the members of the board
being all present and having waived in writing all formal
notification, the directors went into immediate session, with Mr.
Trimmer in the chair and Mr. Weldon in charge of the bright and
shining new book of minutes.

The first move of that body, after opening the meeting in due form,
was made by Mr. Harvey, who proposed that Mr. Silas Trimmer be
constituted general manager of the consolidated stores at a salary of
fifty thousand dollars per year, a motion which was immediately
seconded by Mr. U. G. Trimmer.

Bobby was instantly upon his feet. Even with his total lack of
experience in such matters there was something about this that struck
him as overdrawn, and he protested that fancy salaries should have no
place in the reorganized business until experience had proved that the
business would stand it. He was very much in earnest about it, and
wanted the subject discussed thoroughly before any such rash step was
taken. The balance of the discussion consisted in one word from Mr.
Smythe, echoed by all his fellow-members.

"Question!" said that gentleman.

"You have all heard the question," said Mr. Trimmer calmly. "Those in
favor will please signify by saying 'Aye.'"

"Aye!" voted four members of the board as with one scarcely interested
voice.

"No!" cried Bobby angrily, and sprang to his feet, his anger confused,
moreover, by the shock of finding unsuspected wolves tearing at his
vitals. "Gentlemen, I protest against this action! I----"

Mr. Trimmer pounded on the table with his pencil in lieu of a gavel.

"The motion is carried. Any other business?"

It seemed that there was. Mr. Harvey proposed that Mr. Smythe be made
assistant general manager at a salary of twenty-five thousand dollars
per year. Again the farce of a ballot and the farce of a protest was
enacted. Where now was the voting power of Bobby's twenty-six hundred
shares? In the directors' meeting they voted as individuals, and they
were six against one. Rather indifferently, as if the thing did not
amount to much, Mr. Smythe proposed that the selection of a firm name
for advertising and publicity purposes be left to the manager, and
though Bobby voted no as to this proposition on general principles, it
seemed of minor importance, in his then bewildered state of mind.
After all, the thing which grieved him most just then was to find that
people _could_ do these things!



CHAPTER VI

CONSISTING ENTIRELY OF A RAPID SUCCESSION OF MOST PAINFUL SHOCKS


He was still dazed with what had happened, when, the next morning, he
turned into the office and found Johnson and Applerod packing-up their
personal effects. Workmen were removing letter-files and taking desks
out of the door.

"What's the matter?" he asked, surveying the unwonted confusion in
perplexity.

"The entire office force of the now defunct John Burnit Store has been
dismissed, that's all!" blurted Applerod, now the aggrieved one. "You
sold us out, lock, stock and barrel!"

"Impossible!" gasped Bobby.

Mr. Johnson glumly showed him curt letters of dismissal from Trimmer.

"Where's mine, I wonder?" inquired Bobby, trying to take his terrific
defeat with sportsmanlike nonchalance.

"I don't suppose there is any for you, sir, inasmuch as you never had
a recognized position to lose," replied Johnson, not unkindly. "Did
the board of directors elect you to any salaried office?"

"Why, so they didn't!" exclaimed Bobby, and for the first time
realized that no place had been made for him. He had taken it as a
matter of course that he was to be a part of the consolidation, and
the omission of any definite provision for him had passed unnoticed.

The door leading to his own private office banged open, and two men
appeared, shoving through it the big mahogany desk turned edgewise.

"What are they doing?" Bobby asked sharply.

"Moving out all the furniture," snapped Applerod with bitter relish.
"All the office work, I understand, is to be done in the other
building, and this space is to be thrown into a special cut-glass
department. I suppose the new desk is for Mr. Trimmer."

Furious, choking, Bobby left the office and strode back through the
store. The first floor passageway was already completed between the
two buildings, and a steady stream of customers was going over the
bridge from the old Burnit store into the old Trimmer store. There
were very few coming in the other direction. He had never been in Mr.
Trimmer's offices, but he found his way there with no difficulty, and
Mr. Trimmer came out of his private room to receive him with all the
suavity possible. In fact, he had been saving up suavity all morning
for this very encounter.

"Well, what can we do for you this morning, Mr. Burnit?" he wanted to
know, and Bobby, though accustomed to repression as he was, had a
sudden impulse to drive his fist straight through that false circular
smile.

"I want to know what provision has been made for me in this new
adjustment," he demanded.

"Why, Mr. Burnit," expostulated Mr. Trimmer in much apparent surprise,
"you have two hundred and sixty thousand dollars' worth of stock in
what should be the best paying mercantile venture in this city; you
are vice-president, and a member of the board of directors!"

"I have no part, then, in the active management?" Bobby wanted to
know.

"It would be superfluous, Mr. Burnit. One of the chief advantages of
such a consolidation is the economy that comes from condensing the
office and managing forces. I regretted very much indeed to dismiss
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Applerod, but they are very valuable men and
should have no difficulty in placing themselves advantageously. In
fact, I shall be glad to aid them in securing new positions."

"The thing is an outrage!" exclaimed Bobby with passion.

"My dear Mr. Burnit, it is business," said Mr. Trimmer coldly, and,
turning, went deliberately into his own room, leaving Bobby standing
in the middle of the floor.

Bobby sprang to that door and threw it open, and Trimmer, who had been
secretly trembling all through the interview, turned to him with a
quick pallor overspreading his face, a pallor which Bobby saw and
despised and ignored, and which turned his first mad impulse.

"I'd like to ask one favor of you, Mr. Trimmer," said he. "In moving
the furniture out of the John Burnit offices I should be very glad,
indeed, if you would order my father's desk removed to my house. It is
an old desk and can not possibly be of much use. You may charge its
value to my account, please."

"Nonsense!" said Mr. Trimmer. "I'll have it sent out with pleasure. Is
there anything else?"

"Nothing whatever at present," said Bobby, trembling with the task of
holding himself steady, and walked out, unable to analyze the bitter
emotions that surged within him.

On the sidewalk, standing beside his automobile, he found Johnson and
Applerod waiting for him, and the moment he saw Johnson, cumbered with
the big index-file that he carried beneath his arm, he knew why.

"Give me the letter, Johnson," he said with a wry smile, and Johnson,
answering it with another equally as grim, handed him a gray envelope.

Applerod, who had been the first to upbraid him, was now the first to
recover his spirits.

"Never mind, Mr. Burnit," said he; "businesses and even fortunes have
been lost before and have been regained. There are still ways to make
money."

Bobby did not answer him. He was opening the letter, preparing to
stand its contents in much the same spirit that he had often gone to
his father to accept a reprimand which he knew he could not in dignity
evade. But there was no reprimand. He read:

    "There's no use in telling a young man what to do when he has
    been gouged. If he's made of the right stuff he'll know, and
    if he isn't, no amount of telling will put the right stuff in
    him. I have faith in you. Bobby, or I'd never have let you in
    for this goring.

    "In the meantime, as there will be no dividends on your stock
    for ten years to come, what with 'improvements, expenses and
    salaries,' and as you will need to continue your education by
    embarking in some other line of business before being ripe
    enough to accomplish what I am sure you will want to do, you
    may now see your trustee, the only thoroughly sensible person
    I know who is sincerely devoted to your interests. Her name is
    Agnes Elliston."

"What is the matter?" asked Johnson in sudden concern, and Applerod
grabbed him by the arm.

"Oh, nothing much," said Bobby; "a little groggy, that's all. The
governor just handed me one under the belt. By the way, boys"--and
they scarcely noted that he no longer said "gentlemen"--"if you have
nothing better in view I want you to consider yourselves still in my
employ. I'm going into business again, at once. If you will call at my
house tomorrow forenoon I'll talk with you about it," and anxious to
be rid of them he told his driver "Idlers'," and jumped into his
automobile.

Agnes! That surely was giving him a solar-plexus blow! Why, what did
the governor mean? It was putting him very much in a kindergarten
position with the girl before whom he wanted to make a better
impression than before anybody else in all the world.

It took him a long time to readjust himself to this cataclysm.

After all, though, was not his father right in this, as he had been in
everything else? Humbly Bobby was ready to confess that Agnes had more
brains and good common sense than anybody, and was altogether about
the most loyal and dependable person in all the world, with the single
and sole exception of allowing that splendid looking and unknown chap
to hang around her so. They were in the congested down-town district
now, and as they came to a dead stop at a crossing, Bobby, though
immersed in thought, became aware of a short, thick-set man, who,
standing at the very edge of the car, was apparently trying to stare
him out of countenance.

"Why, hello, Biff!" exclaimed Bobby. "Which way?"

"Just waiting for a South Side trolley," explained Biff. "Going over
to see Kid Mills about that lightweight go we're planning."

"Jump in," said Bobby, glad of any change in his altogether indefinite
program. "I'll take you over."

On the way he detailed to his athletic friend what had been done to
him in the way of business.

"I know'd it," said Biff excitedly. "I know'd it from the start.
That's why I got old Trimmer to join my class. Made him a special
price of next to nothing, and got Doc Willets to go around and tell
him he was in Dutch for want of training. Just wait."

"For what?" asked Bobby, smiling.

"Till the next time he comes up," declared Biff vengefully. "Say, do
you know I put that shrimp's hour a-purpose just when there wouldn't
be a soul up there; and the next time I get him in front of me I'm
going to let a few slip that'll jar him from the cellar to the attic;
and the next time anybody sees him he'll be nothing but splints and
court-plaster."

"Biff," said Bobby severely, "you'll do nothing of the kind. You'll
leave one Silas Trimmer to me. Merely bruising his body won't get back
my father's business. Let him alone."

"But look here, Bobby----"

"No; I say let him alone," insisted Bobby.

"All right," said Biff sullenly; "but if you think there's a trick you
can turn to double cross this Trimmer you've got another think coming.
He's sunk his fangs in the business he's been after all his life, and
now you couldn't pry it away from him with a jimmy. You know what I
told you about him."

"I know," said Bobby wearily. "But honestly, Biff, did you ever see me
go into a game where I was a loser in the end?"

"Not till this one," confessed Biff.

"And this isn't the end," retorted Bobby.

He knew that when he made such a confident assertion that he had
nothing upon which to base it; that he was talking vaguely and at
random; but he also knew the intense desire that had arisen in him to
reverse conditions upon the man who had waited until the father died
to wrest that father's pride from the son; and in some way he felt
coming strength. In Biff's present frame of conviction Bobby was
pleased enough to drop him in front of Kid Mills' obscure abode, and
turn with a sudden hungry impulse in the direction of Agnes. At the
Ellistons', when the chauffeur was about to slow up, Bobby in a panic
told him to drive straight on. In the course of half an hour he came
back again, and this time pride alone--fear of what his chauffeur
might think--determined him to stop. With much trepidation he went up
to the door. Agnes was just preparing to go out, and she came down to
him in the front parlor.

"This is only a business call," he confessed with as much appearance
of gaiety as he could summon under the circumstance. "I've come around
to see my trustee."

"So soon?" she said, with quick sympathy in her voice. "I'm _so_
sorry, Bobby! But I suppose, after all, the sooner it happened the
better. Tell me all about it. What was the cause of it?"

"You wouldn't marry me," charged Bobby. "If you had this never would
have happened."

She shook her head and smiled, but she laid her hand upon his arm and
drew closer to him.

"I'm afraid it would, Bobby. You might have asked my advice, but I
expect you wouldn't have taken it."

"I guess you're right about that," admitted Bobby; "but if you'd only
married me---- Honest, Agnes, when are you going to?"

"I shall not commit myself," she replied, smiling up at him rather
wistfully.

"There's somebody else," declared Bobby, instantly assured by this
evasiveness that the unknown had something to do with the matter.

"If there were, it would be my affair entirely, wouldn't it?" she
wanted to know, still smiling.

"No!" he declared emphatically. "It would be my affair. But really I
want to know. Will you, if I get my father's business back?"

"I'll not promise," she said. "Why, Bobby, the way you put it, you
would be binding me _not_ to marry you in case you _didn't_ get it
back!" and she laughed at him. "But let's talk business now. I was
just starting out upon your affairs, the securing of some bonds for
which the lawyer I have employed has been negotiating, so you may take
me up there and he will arrange to get you the two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars you are to have. It's for a new start, without
restrictions except that you are to engage in business with it. That's
all the instructions I have."

[Illustration: Will you if I get my father's business back?]

"Thanks," said Bobby, with a gulp. "Honestly, Agnes, it's a shame.
It's a low-down trick the governor played to put me in this helplessly
belittled position with you."

"Why, how strange," she replied quietly. "I look upon it as a most
graceful and agreeable position for myself."

"Oh!" he exclaimed blankly, as it occurred to him just how
uncomfortable the situation must be to her, and he reproached himself
with selfishness in not having thought of this phase of the matter
before. "That's a fact," he admitted. "I say, Agnes, I'll say no more
about that end of it if you don't; and, after all, I'm glad, too. It
gives me a legitimate excuse to see you much oftener."

"Gracious, no!" she protested. "You fill up every spare moment that I
have now; but so long as you are here on business this time, let's
attend to business. You may take me up to see Mr. Chalmers. By the
way, I want you to meet him, anyhow. You have seen him, I believe,
once or twice. He was here one day when you called, and he was walking
with me in the lobby of the theater when you came in to join us one
evening."

"Y-e-s," drawled Bobby, as if he were placing the man with difficulty.

"The Chalmers' are charming people," she went on. "His wife is
perfectly fascinating. We used to go to school together. They have
only been married three months, and when they came here to go into
business I was very glad to throw such of your father's estate as I am
to handle into his hands. Whenever they are ready I want to engineer
them into our set, but they live very quietly now. I know you'll like
them."

"Oh, I'm sure I will," agreed Bobby heartily, and his face was
positively radiant, as, for some unaccountable reason, he clutched her
hand. She lifted it up beneath his arm, around which, for one ecstatic
moment, she clasped her other hand, and together they went out into
the hall, Bobby, simply driveling in his supreme happiness, allowing
her to lead him wheresoever she listed. Still in the joy of knowing
that his one dreaded rival was removed in so pleasant a fashion, he
handed her into the automobile and they started out to see Mr.
Chalmers. Their way led down Grand Street, past the John Burnit Store,
and with all that had happened still rankling sorely in his mind,
Bobby looked up and gave a gasp. Workmen were taking down the plain,
dignified old sign of the John Burnit Store from the top of the
building, and in its place they were raising up a glittering new one,
ordered by Silas Trimmer on the very day Bobby had agreed to go into
the consolidation; and it read:

                        "TRIMMER AND COMPANY"



CHAPTER VII

PINK-CHEEKED APPLEROD RUSHES TO THE RESCUE WITH A GOLDEN SCHEME


Agnes had been surprised into an exclamation of dismay by that new
sign, but she checked it abruptly as she saw Bobby's face. She could
divine, but she could not fully know, how that had hurt him; how the
pain of it had sunk into his soul; how the humiliation of it had
tingled in every fiber of him. For an instant his breath had stopped,
his heart had swelled as if it would burst, a great lump had come in
his throat, a sob almost tore its way through his clenched teeth. He
caught his breath sharply, his jaws set and his nostrils dilated, then
the color came slowly back to his cheeks. Agnes, though longing to do
so, had feared to lay her hand even upon his sleeve in sympathy lest
she might unman him, but now she saw that she need not have feared. It
had not weakened him, this blow; it had strengthened him.

"That's brutal," he said steadily, though the steadiness was purely a
matter of will. "We must change that sign before we do anything else."

"Of course," she answered simply.

Involuntarily she stretched out her small gloved hand, and with it
touched his own. Looking back once more for a fleeting glimpse at the
ascending symbol of his defeat, he gripped her hand so hard that she
almost cried out with the pain of it; but she did not wince. When he
suddenly remembered, with a frightened apology, and laid her hand upon
her lap and patted it, her fingers seemed as if they had been
compressed into a numb mass, and she separated them slowly and with
difficulty. Afterward she remembered that as a dear hurt, after all,
for in it she shared his pain.

While they were still stunned and silent under Silas Trimmer's parting
blow, the machine drew up at the curb in front of the building in
which Chalmers had his office. Chalmers, Bobby found, was a most
agreeable fellow, to whom he took an instant liking. It was strange
what different qualities the man seemed to possess than when Bobby had
first seen him in the company of Agnes. Their business there was very
brief. Chalmers held for Bobby, subject to Agnes' order as trustee,
the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in instantly
convertible securities, and when they left, Bobby had a check for that
amount comfortably tucked in his pocket.

There was another brief visit to the office of old Mr. Barrister,
where Agnes, again as Bobby's trustee, exhibited the papers Chalmers
had made out for her, showing that the funds previously left in her
charge had been duly paid over to Bobby as per the provisions of the
will, and thereupon filed her order for a similar amount. Barrister
received them with an "I told you so" air which amounted almost to
satisfaction. He was quite used to seeing the sons of rich men
hastening to become poor men, and he had so evidently classed Bobby as
one of the regular sort, that Bobby took quite justifiable umbrage and
decided that if he had any legal business whatever he would put it
into the hands of Chalmers.

He spent the rest of the day with Agnes and took dinner at the
Ellistons', where jolly Aunt Constance and shrewd Uncle Dan, in
genuine sympathy, desisted so palpably from their usual joking about
his "business career," that Bobby was more ill at ease than if they
had said all the grimly humorous things which popped into their minds.
For that reason he went home rather early, and tumbled into bed
resolving upon the new future he was to face to-morrow.

At least, he consoled himself with a sigh, he was now a man of
experience. He had learned something of the world. He was not further
to be hoodwinked. His last confused vision was of Silas Trimmer on his
knees begging for mercy, and the next thing he knew was that some one
was reminding him, with annoying insistency, of the early call he had
left.

The world looked brighter that morning, and he was quite hopeful when,
in the dim old study, seated at his father's desk and with the
portrait of stern old John Burnit frowning and yet shrewdly twinkling
down upon him, he received Johnson, dry and sour looking as if he
expected ill news, and Applerod, bright and radiant as if Fortune's
purse were just about to open to him.

"Well, boys," said Bobby cheerily, "we're going to stick right
together. We're going to start into a new business as soon as we can
find one that suits us, and your employment begins from this minute.
We're beginning with a capital of two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars," and rather pompously he spread the check upon the desk. His
pompousness faded in something under fifteen seconds, for it was in
about that length of time that he caught sight of a plain gray
envelope then in the process of emerging from Johnson's pocket. He
accepted it with something of reluctance, but opened it nevertheless;
and this was the message of the late John Burnit:

    _To my Son Upon the Occasion of his Being Intrusted
      With Real Money_

    "In most cases the difference between spending money and
    investing it is wholly a matter of speed. Not one man in ten
    knows when and where and how to put a dollar properly to work;
    so the only financial education I expect you to get out of an
    attempt to go into business is a painful lesson in
    subtraction."

"This letter, Johnson, is only a delicate intimation from the governor
that I'll make another blooming ass of myself with this," commented
Bobby, tapping his finger on the check, and placing the letter face
downward beside it, where he eyed it askance.

"A quarter of a million!" observed Applerod, rolling out the amount
with relish. "A great deal can be done with two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, you know."

"That's just the point," observed Bobby with a frown of perplexity,
directed alternately to the faithful gentlemen who for upward of
thirty years had been his father's right and left bowers. "What am I
to do with it? Johnson, what would you do with two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars?"

"Lose it," confessed stooped and bloodless Johnson. "I never made a
dollar out of a dollar in my life."

"What would you do with it, Applerod?"

Mr. Applerod, scarcely able to contain himself, had been eagerly
awaiting that question.

"Purchase, improve and market the Westmarsh Addition," he said
promptly, expanding fully two inches across his already rotund chest.

"What?" snorted Johnson, and cast upon his workmate a look of
withering scorn. "Are you still dreaming about the possibilities of
that old swamp?"

"To be sure it is a swamp," admitted Mr. Applerod with some heat. "Do
you suppose you could buy one hundred and twenty acres of directly
accessible land, almost at the very edge of the crowded city limits,
at two hundred dollars an acre if it wasn't swamp land?" he demanded.
"Why, Mr. Burnit, it is the opportunity of a lifetime!"

"How much capital would be needed?" asked Bobby, gravely assuming the
callous, inquisitorial manner of the ideal business man.

"Well, I've managed to buy up twenty acres out of my savings, and
there are still one hundred acres to be purchased, which will take
twenty thousand dollars. But this is the small part of it. Drainage,
filling and grading is to be done, streets and sidewalks ought to be
put down, a gift club-house, which would serve at first as an office,
would be a good thing to build, and the thing would have to be most
thoroughly advertised. I've figured on it for years, and it would
require, all told, about a two-hundred-thousand investment."

"And what would be the return?" asked Bobby without blinking at these
big figures, and proud of his attitude, which, while conservative, was
still one of openness to conviction.

"Figure it out for yourself," Mr. Applerod invited him with much
enthusiasm. "We get ten building lots to the acre, turning one hundred
and twenty acres into one thousand two hundred lots. Improved sites at
any point surrounding this tract can not be bought for less than
twenty-five dollars per front foot. Corner lots and those in the best
locations would bring much more, but taking the average price at only
six hundred dollars per lot, we would have, as a total return for the
investment, seven hundred and twenty thousand dollars!"

"In how long?" Bobby inquired, not allowing himself to become in the
slightest degree excited.

"One year," announced the optimistic Mr. Applerod with conviction.

Mr. Johnson, his lips glued tightly together in one firm, thin,
straight line across his face, was glaring steadfastly at the corner
of the ceiling, permitting no expression whatever to flicker in his
eyes; noting which, Bobby turned to him with a point-blank question:

"What do you think of this opportunity, Mr. Johnson?" he asked.

Mr. Johnson glared quickly at Mr. Applerod.

"Tell him," defied that gentleman.

"I think nothing whatever of it!" snapped Mr. Johnson.

"What is your chief ground of objection?" Bobby wanted to know.

Again Mr. Johnson glared quickly at Mr. Applerod.

"Tell him," insisted that gentleman with an outward wave of both
hands, expressive of his intense desire to have every secret of his
own soul and of everybody's else laid bare.

"I will," said Johnson. "Your father, a dozen times in my own hearing,
refused to have anything to do with the scheme."

Bobby turned accusing eyes upon Applerod, who, though red of face, was
still strong of assertion.

"Mr. Burnit never declined on any other grounds than that he already
had too many irons in the fire," he declared. "Tell him that, too,
Johnson!"

"It was only his polite way of putting it," retorted Mr. Johnson.

"John Burnit was noted for his polite way of putting his business
conclusions," snapped Applerod in return, whereat Bobby smiled with
gleeful reminiscence, and Mr. Johnson smiled grimly, albeit
reluctantly, and Mr. Applerod smiled triumphantly.

"I can see the governor doing it," laughed Bobby, and dismissed the
matter. "Mr. Johnson, as a start in business we may as well turn this
study into a temporary office. Take this check down to the Commercial
Bank, please, and open an account. You already have power of attorney
for my signature. Procure a small set of books and open them. Make out
for me against this account at the Commercial a check for ten
thousand. Mr. Applerod, kindly reduce your swamp proposition to paper
and let me have it by to-morrow. I'll not promise that I will do
anything with it, but it would be only fair to examine it."

With these crisp remarks, upon the decisiveness of which Bobby prided
himself very much, he left the two to open business for him under the
supervision of the portrait of stern but humor-given old John Burnit.

"Applerod," said Johnson indignantly, his lean frame almost quivering,
"it is a wonder to me that you can look up at that picture and reflect
that you are trying to drag John Burnit's son into this fool scheme."

"Johnson," said Mr. Applerod, puffing out his cheeks indignantly, "you
were given the first chance to advise Mr. Robert what he should do
with his money, and you failed to do so. This is a magnificent
business opportunity, and I should consider myself very remiss in my
duty to John Burnit's son if I failed to urge it upon him."

Mr. Johnson picked up the letter that Bobby, evidently not caring
whether they read it or not, had left behind him. He ran through it
with a grim smile and handed it over to Applerod as his best retort.

At the home of Agnes Elliston Bobby's car stopped almost as a matter
of habit, and though the hour was a most informal one he walked up the
steps as confidently as if he intended opening the door with a
latch-key; for since Agnes was become his trustee, Bobby had awakened,
overnight, to the fact that he had a proprietary interest in her which
could not be denied.

Agnes came down to meet him in a most ravishing morning robe of pale
green, a confection so stunning in conjunction with her gold-brown
eyes and waving brown hair and round white throat that Bobby was
forced to audible comment upon it.

"Cracking!" said he. "I suppose that if I hadn't had nerve enough to
pop in here unexpectedly before noon I wouldn't have seen that gown
for ages."

It was Aunt Constance, the irrepressible, who, leaning over the stair
railing, sank the iron deep into his soul.

"It was bought at Trimmer and Company's, Grand Street side, Bobby,"
she informed him, and with this Parthian shot she went back through
the up-stairs hall, laughing.

"Ouch!" said Bobby. "That was snowballing a cripple," and he was
really most woebegone about it.

"Never mind, Bobby, you have still plenty of chance to win," comforted
Agnes, who, though laughing, had sympathetic inkling of that sore spot
which had been touched. He seemed so forlorn, in spite of his big,
good-natured self, that she moved closer to him and unconsciously put
her hand upon his arm. It was too much for him in view of the way she
looked, and, suddenly emboldened, he did a thing the mere thought of
which, under premeditation, would have scared him into a frappéd
perspiration. He placed his hands upon her shoulders, and, drawing her
toward him, bent swiftly down to kiss her. For a fleeting instant she
drew back, and then Bobby had the surprise of his life, for her warm
lips met his quite willingly, and with a frank pressure almost equal
to his own. She sprang back from him at once with sparkling eyes, but
he had no mind to follow up his advantage, for he was dazed. It had
left him breathless, amazed, incredulous. He stood for a full minute,
his face gone white with the overwhelming wonder of this thing that
had happened to him, and then the blunt directness which was part of
his inheritance from his father returned to him.

"Well, anyhow, we're to be engaged at last," he said.

"No," she rebuked him, with a sudden flash of mischief; "that was
perfectly wicked, and you mustn't do it again."

"But I will," he said, advancing with heightened color.

"You mustn't," she said firmly, and although she did not recede
farther from him he stopped. "You mustn't make it hard for us, Bobby,"
she warned him. "I'm under promise, too; and that's all I can tell you
now."

"The governor again," groaned Bobby. "I suppose that I'm not to talk
to you about marrying, nor you to listen, until I have proved my right
and ability to take care of you and your fortune and mine. Is that
it?"

She smiled inscrutably.

"What brings you at this unearthly hour?" she asked by way of evasion.
"Some business pretext, I'll be bound."

"Of course it is," he assured her. "This morning you are strictly in
the rôle of my trustee. I want you to look at some property."

"But I have an appointment with my dressmaker."

"The dressmaker must wait."

"What a warning!" she laughed. "If you would order a mere--a mere
acquaintance around so peremptorily, what would you do if you were
married?"

"I'd be the boss," announced Bobby with calm confidence.

"Indeed?" she mocked, and started into the library. "You'd ask
permission first, wouldn't you?"

"Where are you going?" he queried in return, and grinned.

"To telephone my dressmaker," she admitted, smiling, and realizing,
too, that it was not all banter.

"I told you to, remember," asserted Bobby, with a strange new sense of
masterfulness which would not down.

When she came down again, dressed for the trip, he was still in that
dazed elation, and it lasted through their brisk ride to the far
outskirts of the city, where, at the side of a watery marsh that
extended for nearly a mile along the roadway, he halted.

"This is it," waving his hand across the dismal waste.

"It!" she repeated. "What?"

"The property that it was suggested I buy."

"No wonder your father thought it necessary to appoint a trustee," was
her first comment. "Why, Bobby, what on earth could you do with it?
It's too large for a frog farm and too small for a summer resort," and
once more she turned incredulous eyes upon the "property."

Dark, oily water covered the entire expanse, and through it emerged,
here and there, clumps of dank vegetation, from the nature and
dispersement of which one could judge that the water varied from one
to three feet in depth. Higher ground surrounded it on all sides, and
the urgent needs of suburban growth had scattered a few small, cheap
cottages, here and there, upon the hills.

"It doesn't seem very attractive until you consider those houses,"
Bobby confessed. "You must remember that the city hasn't room to grow,
and must take note that it is trying to spread in this direction.
Wouldn't a fellow be doing a rather public-spirited thing, and one in
which he might take quite a bit of satisfaction, if he drained that
swamp, filled it, laid out streets and turned the whole stretch into a
cluster of homes in place of a breeding-place for fevers?"

"You talk just like a civic improvement society," she said, laughing.

"We did have a chap lecturing on that down at the club a few nights
ago," he admitted, "and maybe I have picked up a bit of the talk. But
wouldn't it be a good thing, anyhow?"

"Oh, I quite approve of it, now that I see your plan," she agreed;
"but could it be made to pay?"

"Well," he returned with a grave assumption of that businesslike air
he had recently been trying to copy down at the Traders' Club, "there
are one hundred and twenty acres in the tract. I can buy it for two
hundred dollars an acre, and sell each acre, in building lots, for
full six hundred. It seems to me that this is enough margin to carry
out the needed improvements and make the marketing of it worth while.
What do you think of it?"

They both gazed out over that desolate expanse and tried to picture it
dotted with comfortable cottages, set down in grassy lawns that
bordered on white, clean streets, and the idea of the transformation
was an attractive one.

"It looks to me like a perfectly splendid idea," Agnes admitted. "I
wonder what your father would have thought of it."

"Well," confessed Bobby a trifle reluctantly, "this very proposition
was presented to him several times, I believe, but he always declined
to go into it."

"Then," decided Agnes, so quickly and emphatically that it startled
him, "don't touch it!"

"Oh, but you see," he reminded her, "the governor couldn't go into
everything that was offered him, and to this plan he never urged any
objection but that he had too many irons in the fire."

"I wouldn't touch it," declared Agnes, and that was her final word in
the matter, despite all his arguments. If John Burnit had declined to
go into it, no matter for what reason, the plan was not worth
considering.



CHAPTER VIII

BOBBY SUCCEEDS IN SNAPPING A BARGAIN FROM UNDER SILAS TRIMMER'S NOSE


Still undecided, but carrying seriously the thought that he must
overlook no opportunity if he was to prove himself the successful man
that his father had so ardently wished him to become, Bobby dropped
into the Idlers' Club for lunch, where Nick Allstyne and Payne
Winthrop hailed him as one returned from the dead.

"Just the chap," declared Nick. "Stan Rogers has written me that I'm
to scrape the regular crowd together and come up to his new Canadian
lodge for a hunt. Stag affair, you know. Real sport and no pink-coat
pretense."

"Sorry, Nick," said Bobby, pluming himself a trifle upon his
steadfastness to duty, "but I know what Stan's stag affairs are like.
It would mean two weeks at least, and I could not spare that much time
from the city."

"Business again!" groaned Payne in mock dismay. "This grasping greed
for gain is blighting the most promising young men of our avaricious
country. Why, it's positively shameful, Bobby, when your father must
have left you over three million."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand, so far as I'm allowed to inquire just
now," corrected Bobby; "and I'm ordered to go into business with that
and prove that I'm not such a blithering idiot that I can't be trusted
with the rest of it, whatever there is."

"But I thought you'd had your trial by fire and pulled out of it,"
interposed Nick. "I heard that you had sold your interests or
something, and when I saw a new sign over the store I knew that it was
true. Sensible thing, I call it."

"Sensible!" winced Bobby. "You're allowing me a mighty pleasant way
out of it, but the fact of the matter is that I lost in such a
stinging way I'm bound to get back into the game and do nothing else
until I win," and he explained how Silas Trimmer had performed upon
him a neat and delicate operation in commercial surgery.

They were properly sympathetic; not that they cared much about
business, but if Bobby had entered any game whatsoever in which he had
been soundly beaten, they could quite understand his desire to stay in
that game until he could show points on the right side.

"Nevertheless," Nick urged, "you ought to take a little breathing
spell in between."

All through lunch, and through the game of billiards which followed,
they strove to make him see the error of his ways, but Bobby was
obdurate, and at last they gave him up as a bad job, with the grave
prediction that later he would find himself nothing more nor less than
a beast of burden. When he left them Bobby was surprised at himself.
For a time he had feared that in his declaration of such close
attention to business he might be posing; but he found that to miss a
stag hunting party, which heretofore had been one of his keenest
delights, weighed upon him not at all; found actually that he would
far rather stay in the city to engage in the game of finance which was
unfolding before him! He came upon this surprising discovery while he
was on his way across to a side street, where, on the fourth floor of
a store and warehouse building, he let himself in at a wide door with
a latch-key and entered the gymnasium of Biff Bates. That gentleman,
in trunks, sweater and sandals, was padding all alone around and
around the edge of the hall at a steady jog, which, after twenty solid
minutes, had left no effect whatever upon his respiration.

"Getting fat as a butcher again," he announced as he trotted steadily
around to Bobby, suddenly stopping short with an expansive grin across
his wide face and a handshake that it took an athlete to withstand.
"Got to cut it down or it'll put me on the blink. What's the best
thing you know, chum?"

"How does this hit you?" asked Bobby, taking from his pocket the check
Johnson had given him that morning.

Mr. Bates looked at it with his hands behind him.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance," he said to the slip of paper,
nodding profoundly.

"Oh, everybody's friendly to these," said Bobby, indorsing the check.
"It is for the new gymnasium," he explained. "Now, partner, turn loose
and monopolize the physical training business of this city."

"Partner!" scorned Mr. Bates. "Look here, old pal, there's only one
way I'll take this big ticket, and that is that you'll drag down your
split of the profits."

"But don't I on this place?" protested Bobby.

"Nit!" retorted Mr. Bates with infinite scorn. "You put them right
back into the business, but that don't go any more. If we start this
big joint it's got to be partners right, see? Or else take back this
wealthy handwriting. I don't guess I want it, anyhow. From past
performances you need all the money in the world, and ten thousand
simoleons will put a crimp in any wad."

"No," laughed Bobby; "you're saving it for me when you take it. I've
just read a very nice note, left for me by the governor, that I'll be
a fool and lose anyhow."

Mr. Bates grinned.

"You will, all right, all right, if you're going into business," he
admitted, and stuffed the check in the upturned cuff of his sweater.
"After these profit-and-loss artists get your goat on all the starts
your old man left you, maybe I'll have to put up the eats and sleeps
for you anyhow; huh?" and Mr. Bates laughed with keen enjoyment of
this delicately expressed idea. "How are you going to divorce yourself
from the rest of it, Bobby?"

"I'm not quite sure," said Bobby. "You know that big stretch of swamp
land, out on the Millberg Road?"

"Where Paddy Dolan fell in and died from drinkin' too much water? Sure
I do."

"Well, it has been suggested to me that I buy it, drain it, fill it,
put in paved streets, cut it up into building lots and sell it."

"And build it full of these pale yellow shacks that the honest working
slob buys with seventeen years of his wages, and then loses the
shack?" Biff incredulously wanted to know.

"You guessed wrong, Biff," laughed Bobby. "Just selling the lots will
be enough for me. What do you think of it?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Bates thoughtfully. "I know they frame up
such stunts and boost 'em strong in the papers, and if any of these
real-estate sharps is working just for their healths they've been
stung from all I've seen of 'em. But the main point is, who's the guy
that's tryin' to lead you to it?"

"Oh, that part's all right," replied Bobby with perfect assurance.
"The man who wants me to finance this, and who has already bought some
of the land, was one of my father's right-hand men for nearly thirty
years."

"Then that's all right," agreed Mr. Bates. "But say!" he suddenly
exclaimed as a new thought struck him; "it's a wonder this right-mitt
mut of your father's didn't make the old man fall for it long ago, if
it's such a hot muffin."

"He did try it," confessed Bobby with hesitation for the second time
that day; "but the governor always complained that he had too many
other irons in the fire."

"He did, _did_ he?" Mr. Bates wanted to know, fixing accusing eyes on
Bobby. "Then don't be the fall guy for any other touting. Your old man
knew this business dope from Sheepshead Bay to Oakland. You take it
from me that this tip ain't the one best bet."

Bobby left the gymnasium with a certain degree of dissatisfaction, not
only with Mr. Applerod's scheme but with the fact that wherever he
went his father's business wisdom was thrown into his teeth. That
evening, drawn to the atmosphere into which events had plunged him, he
dined at the Traders' Club. As he passed one of the tables Silas
Trimmer leered up at him with the circular smile, which, bisected by a
row of yellow teeth and hooded with a bristle of stubby mustache, had
now come to aggravate him almost past endurance. To-night it made him
approach his dinner with vexation, and, failing to find the man he had
sought, he finished hastily. As he went out, Silas Trimmer, though
looking straight in his direction, did not seem to be at all aware of
Bobby's approach. He was deep in a business discussion with his
priggish son-in-law.

"It's a great opportunity," he was loudly insisting. "If I can secure
that land I'll drain and improve it and cut it up into building lots.
This city is ripe for a suburban boom."

That settled it with Bobby. No matter what arguments there might be to
the contrary, if Silas Trimmer had his eye on that piece of property,
Bobby wanted it.

Applerod, though eagerness brought him early, had no sooner entered
the study next morning than Bobby, who was already dressed for
business and who had his machine standing outside the door, met him
briskly.

"Keep your hat on, Applerod," he ordered. "We'll go right around and
buy the rest of that property at once."

"I thought those figures I left last night would convince you," beamed
Mr. Applerod.

There is no describing the delight and pride with which that
highly-gratified gentleman followed the energetic young Mr. Burnit to
the curb, nor the dignity with which, a few minutes later, he led the
way into the office of one Thorne, real-estate dealer.

"Mr. Thorne, Mr. Robert Burnit," said Mr. Applerod, hastening straight
to business. "Mr. Burnit has come around to close the deal for that
Westmarsh property."

Mr. Thorne was suavity itself as he shook hands with Mr. Burnit, but
the most aching regret was in his tone as he spoke.

"I'm very sorry indeed, Mr. Burnit," he stated; "but that property,
which, by the way, seems very much in demand, passed out of my hands
yesterday afternoon."

"To whom?" Mr. Applerod excitedly wanted to know. "I think you might
have let us have time to turn around, Thorne. I spoke about it to you
yesterday morning, you know, and said that I felt quite hopeful Mr.
Burnit would buy it."

"I know," said Mr. Thorne, politely but coldly; "and I told you at the
time we talked about it that I never hold anything in the face of a
bona fide offer."

"But who has it?" Bobby insisted, more eager now to get it, since it
had slipped away from him, than ever before.

"The larger portion of it, the ninety-two acres adjoining Mr.
Applerod's twenty," Mr. Thorne advised him, "was taken up by Miles,
Eddy and Company. The north eight acres are owned by Mr. Silas
Trimmer, and I am quite positive, from what Mr. Trimmer told me, not
two hours later, that this parcel is not for sale."

Bobby's heart sank. Eight acres of that land had already been gobbled
up by Silas Trimmer, and, no doubt, that astute and energetic business
gentleman was now after the balance.

"Where is the office of Miles, Eddy and Company?" Bobby asked, with a
crispness that pleased him tremendously as he used it.

"Twenty-six Plum Street," Mr. Thorne advised him.

"Thanks," said Bobby, and whirled out of the door, followed by the
disconsolate Applerod.

At the office of Miles, Eddy and Company better luck awaited them.

Yes, that firm had secured possession of the Westmarsh ninety-two
acres. Yes, the property was listed for sale, having been bought
strictly for speculative purposes. And its figure? The price was now
three hundred dollars per acre.

"I'll take it," said Bobby.

There was positive triumph in his voice as he announced this decision.
He would show Silas Trimmer that he was awake at last, that he was not
to be beaten in every deal.

"Twenty-seven thousand six hundred dollars," said Bobby, figuring the
amount on a pad he picked up from Mr. Eddy's desk. "Very well. Allow
me to use your telephone a moment. Mr. Chalmers," directed Bobby when
he had his new lawyer on the wire, "kindly get into communication with
Miles, Eddy and Company and look up the title on ninety-two acres of
Westmarsh property which they have for sale. If the title is clear the
price is to be three hundred dollars per acre, for which amount you
will have a check, payable to your order, within half an hour."

Then to Johnson--biting his pen-handle in Bobby's study and wondering
where his principal and Applerod could be at this hour--he telephoned
to deliver a check in the amount of twenty-seven thousand six hundred
dollars to Mr. Chalmers. Never, since he had been plunged into
"business," had Bobby been so elated with himself as when he walked
from the office of Miles, Eddy and Company; and, to keep up the good
work, as soon as he reached the hall he turned to Applerod with a
crisp, ringing voice, which was the product of that elation.

"Now for an engineer," he said.

"Already as good as secured," Mr. Applerod announced, triumphant that
every necessity had been anticipated. "Jimmy Platt, son of an old
neighbor of mine. Fine, smart boy, and knows all about the Westmarsh
proposition. Bless you, I figured on this with him every vacation
during his schooling!"

An hour later, Bobby, Mr. Applerod and the secretly jubilant Jimmy
Platt had sped out Westmarsh way, and were inspecting the hundred and
twelve acres of swamp which the new firm of Burnit and Applerod held
between them.

"It's a fine job," said the young engineer, coveting anew the
tremendous task as he bent upon it an admiring professional eye. "This
time next year you won't recognize the place. It's a noble thing, Mr.
Burnit, to turn an utterly useless stretch of swamp like this into
habitable land. Have you secured the entire tract?"

"Unfortunately, no," Bobby confessed with a frown. "The extreme north
eight acres are owned by another party."

"And when you drain your property," mused Jimmy, smiling, "you will
drain his."

"Not if I can help it," declared Bobby emphatically.

"You must come to some arrangement before you begin," warned the
engineer with the severe professional authority common to the quite
young. Already, however, he was trying to grow regulation engineer's
whiskers; also he immediately planned to get married upon the proceeds
of this big job, which, after years of chimerical dreaming, had become
too real, almost, to be believed. "Perhaps you could get the owner to
stand his proportionate share of the expense of drainage."

Bobby smiled at the suggestion but made no other answer. He knew Silas
Trimmer, or thought that he did, and the idea of Silas bearing a
portion of a huge expense like this, when he could not be forced to
shoulder it, struck him as distinctly humorous.



CHAPTER IX

AGNES DELIVERS BOBBY A NOTE FROM OLD JOHN BURNIT--IN A GRAY ENVELOPE


That night, at the Traders' Club, Bobby was surprised when Mr. Trimmer
walked over to his table and dropped his pudgy trunk and his lean
limbs into a chair beside him. His yellow countenance was creased with
ingratiating wrinkles, and the smile behind his immovable mustache
became of perfectly flawless circumference as his muddy black eyes
peered at Bobby through thick spectacles. It seemed to Bobby that
there was malice in the wrinkles about those eyes, but the address of
Mr. Trimmer was most conciliatory.

"I have a fuss to pick with you, young man," he said with clumsy
joviality. "You beat me upon the purchase of that Westmarsh property.
Very shrewd, indeed, Mr. Burnit; very like your father. I suppose that
now, if I wanted to buy it from you, I'd have to pay you a pretty
advance." And he rubbed his hands as if to invite the opening of
negotiations.

"It is not for sale," said Bobby, stiffening; "but I might consider a
proposition to buy your eight acres." He offered this suggestion with
reluctance, for he had no mind to enter transactions of any sort with
Silas Trimmer. Still, he recalled to himself with a sudden yielding to
duty, business is business, and his father would probably have waved
all personal considerations aside at such a point.

"Mine _is_ for sale," offered Silas, a trifle too eagerly, Bobby
thought.

"How much?" he asked.

"A thousand dollars an acre."

"I won't pay it," declared Bobby.

"Well," replied Mr. Trimmer with a deepening of that circular smile
which Bobby now felt sure was maliciously sarcastic, "by the time it
is drained it will be worth that to any purchaser."

"Suppose we drain it," suggested Bobby, holding both his temper and
his business object remarkably well in hand. "Will you stand your
share of the cost?"

"It strikes me as an entirely unnecessary expense at present," said
Silas and smiled again.

"Then it won't be drained," snapped Bobby.

Later in the evening he caught Silas laughing at him, his shoulders
heaving and every yellow fang protruding. The next morning, keeping
earlier hours than ever before in his life, Bobby was waiting outside
Jimmy Platt's door when that gentleman started to work.

"The first thing you do," he directed, still with a memory of that
aggravating laugh, "I want you to build a cement wall straight across
the north end of my Westmarsh property."

Mr. Platt smiled and shook his head.

"Evidently you can not buy that north eight acres, and don't intend to
drain it," he commented, stroking sagely the sparse beginning of those
slow professional whiskers. "It's your affair, of course, Mr. Burnit,
but I am quite sure that spite work in engineering can not be made to
pay."

"Nevertheless," insisted Bobby, "we'll build that wall."

The previous afternoon Jimmy Platt had made a scale drawing of the
property from city surveys, and now the two went over it carefully,
discussing it in various phases for fully an hour, proving estimates
of cost and general feasibility. At the conclusion of that time Bobby,
well pleased with his own practical manner of looking into things,
telephoned to Johnson and asked for Applerod. Mr. Applerod had not yet
arrived.

"Very well," said Bobby, "when he comes have him step out and secure
suitable offices for us," and this detail despatched he went out with
his engineer to make a circuit of the property and study its drainage
possibilities.

From profiles that Platt had made they found the swamp at its upper
point to be much lower than the level of the river, which ran beyond
low hills nearly a mile away; but the river made a detour, including a
considerable fall, coming back again to within a scant half-mile of
the southern end of the tract, where it was much lower than the marsh.
Between marsh and river at the south was an immense hill, too steep
and rugged for any practical purpose, and this they scaled.

The west end of the city lay before them crowding close to the river
bank, and already its tentacles had crept around and over the hills
and on past Westmarsh tract. Young Platt looked from river to swamp,
his eyes glowing over the possibilities that lay before them.

"Mr. Burnit," he announced, after a gravity of thought which he strove
his best to make take the place of experience, "you ought to be able
to buy this hill very cheaply. Just through here we'll construct our
drainage channel, and with the excavation fill your marsh. It is one
of the neatest opportunities I have ever seen, and I want to
congratulate you upon your shrewdness in having picked out such a
splendid investment."

This, Bobby felt, was praise from Cæsar, and he was correspondingly
elated.

He did not return to the study until in the afternoon. He found
Johnson livid with abhorrence of Applerod's gaudy metamorphosis. That
gentleman wore a black frock-coat, a flowered gray waistcoat,
pin-striped light trousers, shining new shoes, sported a gold-headed
cane, and on the table was the glistening new silk hat which had
reposed upon his snow-white curls. His pink face was beaming as he
rose to greet his partner.

"Mr. Burnit," said he, shaking hands with almost trembling gravity and
importance, "this day is the apex of my life, and I'm happy to have
the son of my old and revered employer as my partner."

"I hope that it may prove fortunate for both of us," replied Bobby,
repressing his smile at the acquisition of the "make-up" which
Applerod had for years aspired to wear legitimately.

Johnson, humped over the desk that had once been Bobby's father's,
snorted and looked up at the stern portrait of old John Burnit; then
he drew from the index-file which he had already placed upon the back
of that desk a gray-tinted envelope which he handed to Bobby with a
silence that was more eloquent than words. It was inscribed:

    _To my Son if he is Fool Enough to Take up With Applerod's
      Swamp Scheme_

Rather impatiently Bobby tore it open, and on the inside he found:

    "When shrewd men persist in passing up an apparently cinch
    proposition, don't even try to find out what's the matter with
    it. In this six-cylinder age no really good opportunity runs
    loose for twenty-four hours."

"If the governor had only arranged to leave me his advice beforehand
instead of afterward," Bobby complained to Agnes Elliston that
evening, "it might have a chance at me."

"The blow has fallen," said Agnes with mock seriousness; "but you must
remember that you brought it on yourself. You have complained to _me_
of your father's carefully-laid plans for your course in progressive
bankruptcy, and he left in my keeping a letter for you covering that
very point."

"_Not_ in a gray envelope, I hope," groaned Bobby.

"_In_ a gray envelope," she replied firmly, going across to her own
desk in the library.

"I had feared," said Bobby dismally, "that sooner or later I should
find he had left letters for me in your charge as well as in
Johnson's, but I had hoped, if that were the case, that at least they
would be in pink envelopes."

She brought to him one of the familiar-looking missives, and Bobby, as
he took it, looked speculatively at the big fireplace, in which, as it
was early fall, comfortable-looking real logs were crackling.

"Don't do it, Bobby," she warned him smiling. "Let's have the fun
together," and she sat beside him on the couch, snuggling close.

The envelope was addressed:

    _To My Son Upon his Complaining that His Father's Advice
      Comes too Late!_

He opened it, and together they read:

    "No boy will believe green apples hurt him until he gets the
    stomach-ache. Knowing you to be truly my son, I am sure that
    if I gave you advice beforehand you would not believe it. This
    way you will."

Bobby smiled grimly.

"I remember one painful incident of about the time I put on
knickerbockers," he mused. "Father told me to keep away from a
rat-trap that he had bought. Of course I caught my hand in it three
minutes afterward. It hurt and I howled, but he only looked at me
coldly until at last I asked him to help. He let the thing squeeze
while he asked if a rat-trap hurt. I admitted that it did. Would I
believe him next time? I acknowledged that I would, and he opened the
trap. That was all there was to it except the raw place on my hand;
but that night he came to my room after I had gone to bed, and lay
beside me and cuddled me in his arms until I went to sleep."

"Bobby," said Agnes seriously, "not one of these letters but proves
his aching love for you."

"I know it," admitted Bobby with again that grim smile. "Which only
goes to prove another thing, that I'm in for some of the severest
drubbings of my life. I wonder where the clubs are hidden."

He found one of them late that same night at the Idlers'. Clarence
Smythe, Silas Trimmer's son-in-law, drifted in toward the wee small
hours in an unusual condition of hilarity. He had a Vandyke, had Mr.
Smythe, and was one who cherished a mad passion for clothes; also, as
an utterly impossible "climber," he was as cordially hated as Bobby
was liked at the Idlers', where he had crept in "while the window was
open," as Nick Allstyne expressed it. Ordinarily he was most prim and
pretty of manner, but to-night he was on vinously familiar terms with
all the world, and, crowding himself upon Bobby's quiet whist crowd,
slapped Bobby joyously on the shoulder.

"Generous lad, Bobby!" he thickly informed Allstyne and Winthrop and
Starlett. "If you chaps have any property you've wanted to unload for
half a lifetime, here's the free-handed plunger to buy it."

"How's that?" Bobby wanted to know, guessing instantly at the
humiliating truth.

"That Westmarsh swamp belonged to Trimmer," laughed Mr. Smythe, so
bubbling with the hugeness of the joke that he could not keep his
secret; "and when Thorne, after pumping your puffy man, told my clever
father-in-law you wanted it, he promptly bought it from himself in the
name of Miles, Eddy and Company and put up the price to three hundred
an acre. Besides taking the property off his shoulders you've given
him nearly a ten-thousand-dollar advance for it. Fine business!"

"Great!" agreed blunt Jack Starlett. "Almost as good a joke as
refusing to pay a poker debt because it isn't legal."

Bobby smiled his thanks for the shot, but inside he was sick. The game
they were playing was a parting set-to, for the three others were
leaving in the morning for Stanley's hunt, but Bobby was glad when it
was over. In the big, lonely house he sat in the study for an hour
before he went to bed, looking abstractedly up at the picture of old
John Burnit and worrying over this new development. It cut him to the
quick, not so much that he had been made a fool of by "clever"
real-estate men, had been led, imbecile-like, to pay an extra hundred
dollars per acre for that swamp land, but that the advantage had gone
to Silas Trimmer.

Moreover, why had Silas put a prohibitive valuation upon that north
eight acres? Why did he want to keep it? It must be because Silas
really expected that his tract would be drained free of charge, and
that he would thus have the triumph of selling it for an approximate
six thousand dollars an acre in the form of building lots. In the face
of such a conclusion, the thought of the cement wall that he had
ordered built was a great satisfaction.

It was a remarkably open winter that followed, and outdoor operations
could thereby go on uninterrupted. In the office, the pompous
Applerod, in his frock-coat and silk hat, ground Johnson's soul to
gall dust; for he had taken to saying "_Mr._ Johnson" most formally,
and issuing directions with maddening politeness and consideration. An
arrangement had been effected with Applerod, whereby that gentleman,
for having suggested the golden opportunity, was to reap the entire
benefit of the improvement on his own twenty acres, Bobby financing
the whole deal and charging Applerod's share of it against his
account. Applerod stood thereby to gain about seventy-six thousand
dollars over and above the price he had paid for his twenty acres;
and, moreover, _Bobby had decided to call the improved tract the
Applerod Addition_! When that name began to appear in print, coupled
with flaming advertisements of Applerod's devising, there was grave
danger of the rosy-cheeked old gentleman's losing every button from
every fancy vest in his possession.

In the meantime, thoroughly in love with the vast enterprise which he
had projected, Bobby spent his time outdoors, fascinated, unable to
find any peace elsewhere than upon his Titanic labor. His evenings he
spent in such social affairs as he could not avoid; with Agnes
Elliston; with Biff Bates; in an occasional game of billiards at the
Idlers'; but his days, from early morning until the evening whistle,
he spent amid the clang of pick and shovel, the rattling of the trams,
the creaking of the crane. It was an absorbing thing to see that
enormous groove cut down through the big hill, and to watch the growth
of the great mounds which grew up out of the marsh. The ditch that
should drain off all this murky water was, of course, the first thing
to be achieved, and, from the base of the hill through which it was to
be cut, the engineer ran a tram bridge straight across the swamp to
the new retaining wall; and from this, with the aid of a huge,
long-armed crane which lifted cars bodily from the track, the soil was
dumped on either side as it was removed from the cut. By the latter
part of December the ditch had been completed and connected with the
special sewer which, by permission of the city, had been built to
carry the overflow to the river, and, the open weather still holding,
the stagnant pool which had been a blot upon the landscape for untold
ages began to flow sluggishly away, displaced by the earth from the
disappearing hill.

The city papers were teeming now with the vast energy and
public-spirited enterprise of young Robert Burnit and Oliver P.
Applerod, and there were many indications that the enterprise was to
be a most successful one. Even before they were ready to receive them,
applications were daily made for reservations in the new district, and
individual home-seekers began to take Sunday trips out to where the
big undertaking was in progress.

"You sure have got 'em going, Bobby," confessed the finally-convinced
Biff Bates after a visit of inspection. "Here's where you put the
hornet on one Silas Tight-Wad Trimmer all right, all right. But the
bones don't roll right that the side bet don't go for Johnson instead
of Applegoat. He's a shine, for me. I think he's all to the canary
color inside, but this man Johnson's some man if he only had a shell
to put it in. Me for him!"

The unexpressed friendship that had sprung up between the taciturn
bookkeeper and the loquacious ex-pugilist was both a puzzle and a
delight to Bobby, and it was one of his great joys to see them
together, they not knowing why they liked such companionship, not
having a single topic of conversation in common, but unconsciously
enjoying that vague, sympathetic man-soul they found in each other.



CHAPTER X

AGNES AND BOBBY DISCERN DIAMOND-STUDDED SPURS FOR THE LATTER


About the first of February the filling and grading were finished and
the construction of the streets began, and the middle of March saw the
final disappearance of everything, except that dark, eight-acre spot
of Silas Trimmer's, which might remind one of the tract once known as
the Westmarsh. In its place lay a broad, yellow checker-board, formed
by intersecting streets of asphalt edged with cement pavements, and in
the center, at the crossing of broad Burnit and Applerod Avenues,
there arose, over a spot where once frogs had croaked and mosquitoes
clustered in crowds, a pretty club-house, which was later to be
donated to the suburb; and a great satisfaction fell upon the soul of
Bobby Burnit like a benediction.

Also one Oliver P. Applerod added two full inches to his strut. He
seldom came out to the scene of actual operations, for there was none
there except workmen to see his frock-coat and silk hat; but
occasionally, from a sense of duty inextricably mingled with
self-assertiveness, he paid a visit of inspection, and upon one of
these his eyes were confronted by a huge new board sign, visible for
half a mile, that overlooked the Applerod Addition from the hills to
the north. It bore but two words: "Trimmer's Addition." Applerod,
holding his broadcloth tight about him to keep it from yellow
contamination as a car rumbled by, looked and wiped his glasses and
looked again, then, highly excited, he called Bobby to him.

"Why didn't you tell me of this?" he demanded, pointing to the sign.

Bobby, happy in sweater and high boots and liberal decorations of
clay, only laughed.

"The sign went up only yesterday," he stated.

"But it is competition. Unfair competition! He is stealing our
thunder," protested Applerod.

"He has a perfect right to lay out a subdivision if he wants," said
Bobby. "But don't worry, Applerod. I've been over there and the thing
is a joke. The tract is one-fourth the size of ours, it is uphill and
downhill, only a little grading is being done, streets are cut through
but not paved, and a few cheap board sidewalks are being put down.
He's had to pay a lot more for his land than we have, and can not sell
his lots any cheaper."

"There's no telling what Silas Trimmer will do," said Applerod,
shaking his head.

"Nonsense," said Bobby; "there is no chance that people will pass by
our lots and buy one of his."

Applerod walked away unconvinced. Had it been any one else than Silas
Trimmer who had set up this opposition he would not have minded so
much, but Applerod had come to have a mighty fear of John Burnit's
ancient enemy, and presently he came back to Bobby more panic-stricken
than ever.

"I'm going to sell my interest in the Applerod Addition the minute I
find a buyer," he declared, "and I'd advise you to do the same."

"Don't be foolish," counseled Bobby, frowning. "You _can't_ lose."

"But man!" quavered Applerod. "I have four thousand dollars of my own
cash, all I've been able to scrape together in a lifetime, tied up in
this thing, and I _mustn't_ lose!"

Bobby regarded his father's old confidential clerk more in sorrow than
in anger. He was not used to dealing with men of any age so utterly
lacking in gameness.

"Four thousand," he repeated, then he looked across his big
checker-board. "I'll give you ten thousand for it right now."

"What!" objected Applerod, aghast. "Why, Burnit, the work is nearly
done and I have already in sight seventy-six thousand dollars of clear
profit over my investment."

Bobby did not remind Applerod that his four thousand dollars
represented only a trifling part of the investment required to yield
this seventy-six thousand dollars' profit. Yet, after all, there was
no flaw in Applerod's commercial reasoning.

"I didn't expect you to accept it," replied Bobby. "If you were
determined to get out, however, you've had an offer of six thousand
profit, with no risk."

"I'd be crazy," declared Applerod. "I can get a better price than
that."

Bobby was thoughtful for an hour after Applerod had left him; then he
hurried into the club-house and telephoned to Chalmers. This was in
the forenoon. In the afternoon Applerod was served with an injunction
based upon an indivisibility of interest, restraining him from
disposing of his share; and in his anger he let it slip out that he
had already been trying to open negotiations with Trimmer!

"Honestly, it hurts!" said Bobby wearily, telling of the incident to
Agnes that night. "I didn't know there were so many unsportsmanlike
people."

"I think that is precisely what your father wanted you to find out,"
she observed.

"I don't want to know it," protested Bobby. "I'd stay much happier to
believe that everybody in the world was of the right sort."

She shook her head.

"No, Bobby," she said gently; "you have to know that there is the
other kind, in order properly to appreciate truth and honor and
loyalty."

"I could almost believe I was in a Sunday-school class," grinned
Bobby. "No wonder it's snowing."

Agnes looked out of the window with a cry of delight. Those floating
flakes were the very first snow of the season; but they were by no
means the last. The winter, delayed, but apparently all the more
violent for that very reason, burst suddenly upon the city, stopping
the finishing touches on both suburban additions. Came rain and sleet
and snow, and rain and sleet and snow again, then biting cold that
sank deep into the ground and sealed it as if with a crust of iron.
March, that had come in like a lamb, went out like a lion, and the
lion raged through April and into May. Then, as suddenly as it had
come, the belated winter passed away and the warm sun beat down upon
the snow-clad hills and swept them clean. It penetrated into the
valleys and turned them into rivulets, thousands of which poured into
the river and swelled its banks brimming full. The streets of the
Applerod Addition were quickly washed with their own white covering
and dried, and immediately with this break-up began the great
advertising campaign. The papers flamed with full-page and half-page
announcements of the wonderful home-making opportunity; circulars were
mailed to possible home-buyers by the hundred thousand; every
street-car told of the bargain on striking cards; immense electric
signs blazoned the project by night; sixteen-sheet posters were spread
upon all the bill-boards, and every device known to expert advertising
was requisitioned. Not one soul within the city or within a radius of
fifty miles but had kept constantly before him the duty he owed to
himself to purchase a lot in the marvelous Applerod Addition; and now
indeed Oliver P. Applerod, reassured once more, began to reap the
fruit of his life's ambitions as prospective buyers thronged to look
at his frock-coat and silk hat.

June the first was set for the date of the "grand opening," and though
it was not to be a month of roses, still the earth looked bright and
gay as the time approached, and Bobby Burnit took Agnes out to view
his coming triumph. This was upon a bright day toward the end of May,
when those yellow squares were tempered to a golden green by the
tender young grass that had been sown at the completion of the
grading. She had made frequent visits with him through the winter, and
now she gloried with him.

"It looks fine, Bobby," she confessed with glowing eyes. "Fine! It
really seems as if you had won your spurs."

"Diamond-studded ones!" he exulted. "Why, Agnes, the office is
besieged with requests for allotments. In spite of the fact that we
have over eleven hundred lots for sale at an average price of six
hundred dollars, we're not going to have enough to go around. The
receipts will be fully seven hundred thousand dollars, and our
complete disbursements, by the time we have sold out, will not amount
to over two hundred and twenty-five thousand. Of course, I don't
know--I haven't asked, and you wouldn't tell me if I did--just by what
promises you are bound, but when I close up this deal you're going to
marry me! That's flat!"

"You mustn't be too sure of anything in this world, Bobby," she warned
him, but she turned upon him a smile that made her words but idle
breath.



CHAPTER XI

BOBBY DISCOVERS AN ENEMY GREATER THAN SILAS TRIMMER


One circumstance only had occurred to give Bobby any anxiety. With the
beginning of the thaw the water in Silas Trimmer's eight acres had
begun slowly to rise, and he saw with some dismay that by far the
larger part of the great natural basin from which the surface water
had been supplied to this swamp sloped from the northern end. Not
having that expanse of one hundred and twenty acres to spread over, it
might overflow, and in considerable trepidation he sought Jimmy Platt.
That happy young gentleman only smiled.

"I calculated upon that," he informed Bobby, "and built your retaining
wall two feet higher than the normal spring level for that very
reason. It will carry all the water than can shed down from those
hills."

Relieved, Bobby went ahead with the preparations for turning the
Applerod Addition into money, and though he saw the water creeping up
steadily against the other side of his wall, he displayed no anxiety
until it had reached within three or four inches of the top. Then he
took Platt out with him to have a look at it.

"Don't you think you ought to get busy?" he inquired. "Hadn't we
better add another foot to this wall?"

"Not necessary," said Jimmy, shaking his head positively. "This has
been an unusual spring, but the wet weather is all over now, and you
can see by the water-mark where the level has gone down a half inch
since morning. All the moisture that has been trickling down here
during the past week has been from the thawing out of the frozen
hillsides, but those slopes are almost dust dry now."

"Suppose it should rain again?" insisted Bobby, still worried.

"It couldn't rain hard enough to fill up these four inches," declared
Platt with decision. "Look here, Mr. Burnit, I'd worry myself if there
was any cause whatever. Do you suppose I'd want anything to happen to
my biggest and best job so close to my wedding-day?"

"So you've set the time," said Bobby, with eager pleasure. He had met
Platt's "best girl" and her mother out at the Addition, and liked her,
as he did earnest young Platt.

"June the first," replied Jimmy exultantly. "The date of your
opening--in the evening."

"Don't forget to send me an invitation."

"Will you come?" said Platt. He had wanted to ask Bobby before, but
had not been quite sure that he ought.

"Come!" replied Bobby. "Indeed I shall--unless I happen to have a
wedding of my own on that date."

Bobby went away satisfied once more, and quite willing to give up the
additional foot of wall. The work would entail considerable cost, and
expense now was much more of an item than it had been a few months
previously. Already he had spent upon this project over two hundred
and ten thousand dollars; ten thousand he had given to Biff Bates; ten
thousand he had used personally, so there was but an insignificant
portion left of his two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Their
"grand opening" would eat up another tidy little sum, for it was to be
an expensive affair. The liberal advertising that had already appeared
was augmented as the great day approached, a brass band had been
engaged, a magnificent lunch, sufficient to feed an army, had been
arranged for, and every available 'bus and carry-all and picnic wagon
in the city had been secured to transport all comers, free of charge,
from the end of the car line to the new Addition. The price of
vehicles was high, however, for Silas Trimmer had already engaged
quite a number of them to run between the Applerod Addition and his
own. During the week preceding June first, there had appeared, in the
local papers, advertisements of about one-fourth the size that Bobby
was using, calling attention to the opening of the Trimmer Addition,
which was to be upon the same date.

On the evening of May twenty-ninth, Bobby found Silas pacing the top
of the retaining wall which held in his swamp, and waited for the
spider-like figure to come across and join him.

"Too bad you didn't come in with me, or sell me your property at a
reasonable figure," said Bobby affably, willing, in spite of his
recent bitter experience, to meet his competitor upon the same
friendly grounds that he would a crack polo antagonist on the eve of
contest. "It's a shame that this could not all have been improved at
one time."

"I'd just as lief have my part of it the way it is," said Silas. "It's
no good now, but it's as good as yours," and he climbed into his buggy
and drove away laughing, leaving Bobby strangely dissatisfied and
doubtful over that strange remark.

While he was still trying to unravel it, he noted that the water in
Silas' pond, which but a day or so previously had been down to fully
nine inches from the top, was now climbing rapidly upward again; and
there had been no rain for more than two weeks! The thing was
inexplicable. He was still puzzling over this as he drove down the
road and turned in at broad Burnit Avenue toward the club-house. The
asphalt and the pavements were bone dry and as clean as a ball-room
floor, and it seemed to him that the young grass was growing greener
and higher here than anywhere.

Suddenly he ordered his chauffeur to stop the machine. He had just
passed a lot where, amid the tufts of green, his eye had caught the
glint of water. Running back to it he saw that the center of that lot
was covered by a small pool scarcely half an inch deep, through which
the grass was growing dankly. This, too, was queer, for the hot sun
and strong breeze of the past few days should have dried up every
vestige of moisture. He walked along the sidewalk, studying each of
the lots in turn. Here and there he discovered other small pools, and
every lot bore the appearance of having just been freshly and too
liberally watered. He stepped from the pavement upon the earth, and to
his surprise his foot sank into it to the depth of an inch or more.
For a while he was deeply worried, but presently it flashed upon him
that all this soil had been dumped into the marsh, displacing the
water, and that in this process it had naturally become soaked through
and through. Of course it would take a long time to dry out and it
would be all the better for its moisture. The rate at which grass was
growing was proof enough of that.

On the next day, kept busy by the preparations for the big opening,
Bobby did not get out to the Applerod Addition until evening again. As
he neared it he met Silas Trimmer coming back in his buck-board, that
false circle around his mouth very much in evidence.

"You ought to have had your opening yesterday. I'd have been tempted
to buy a lot myself then," shouted Silas as he passed, and Bobby was
sure that the tone was a mocking one.

Consumed with anxiety, he hurried on to see how Silas' swamp stood.
Aghast, he found the level of the water a full inch higher than any
point that it had ever before reached. Connecting this condition
vaguely with that other phenomenon that he had noted, he whirled his
runabout and ran back into Burnit Avenue. In twenty-four hours a
remarkable change had been wrought. There were pools everywhere. The
lot where he had first noticed it was now entirely covered with water,
with barely the tips of the grass showing through. Frightened, he
drove over the entire Addition, up one street and down another. In
many places the lots were flooded. One entire block had become no more
nor less than a pond. At other points the water, carrying with it the
yellow soil, was flowing over his beautiful clean sidewalks and
spreading its stain upon his immaculate streets. The darkness alone
drove him from that inspection, and then it occurred to him to send
once more for Jimmy Platt. At the first suburban telephone station he
tried for nearly an hour to locate his man, but in vain. Later he
tried it from his club, but could not reach him. That night was a
sleepless one, and the next morning's daybreak found him speeding out
the roadway to the Applerod Addition.

Early as he was, however, he found young Platt there ahead of him and
in despair. He had good cause. The whole north end of the Applerod
Addition had turned black, and over the top of Bobby's now grimy
cement wall poured a broad, dark sheet of the murky swamp-water which
had stained it. The pond of Silas Trimmer had overflowed in spite of
all Platt's confident figuring that it could not, and in spite of the
fact that dry weather had prevailed for two solid weeks. That was the
inexplicable part. Clear weather, and still the entire suburb was
becoming practically submerged! With solid, dry soil surrounding it,
wherever the eye could reach it had become but a morass of mud! Mud
was smeared upon every path and every roadway, and Bobby's automobile
slipped and slid in the oily, yellow liquid that lay sluggishly in
every gutter and blotched every rod of his clean asphalt.

Young Platt's face blanched as he saw Bobby.

"I've made a miserable botch of it," he confessed, torn with an agony
of regret at his failure; "and I can't see yet what I overlooked. I'd
no right to tackle a man's job like this!"

"You!" replied Bobby vehemently. "It was Trimmer who did this;
somehow, someway he did it, and he flaunts it in our faces. Look
there!" and he pointed to a huge signboard that had been erected
overnight just opposite the entrance to Burnit Avenue. In huge, bold
letters, surmounted by a giant hand that pointed the way, it told
prospective investors to buy property in the high and dry Trimmer
Addition, the words "High and Dry" being twice as large as any other
lettering upon the board.

"It is surely a lot of nerve," admitted Platt, "but it is rank
nonsense to say that the man had anything to do with this catastrophe.
It would have been impossible. Let's look this thing over. Drive past
the club-house to the extreme west side."

Once more they traversed the mud of Burnit Avenue, and upon the dry,
sloping ground the young engineer, cursing his inexperience, alighted
and walked along the edge of the property, seeking a solution to the
mystery. Still perplexed, he ascended the rising ground and looked
musingly across at the yet swollen and clay-red river. Suddenly an
exclamation escaped his lips.

"There's your enemy," he said to Bobby who had climbed up beside him,
and pointed to the river. "The river bank, I am sure, must edge upon a
tilted shale formation which dips just below this basin. Probably at
all times some of the water from the river seeps down between two
sand-separated layers of this formation to find its outlet in the
marsh, and it is this water which, through a geological freak, has
supplied that swamp for ages. In the spring, however, and in
extraordinary flood times, it probably finds a higher and looser
stratum, and rushes down here with all the force of a hydraulic
stream. This spring it took it a long time to wet thoroughly all our
made ground from the bottom upward. The frost, sinking deeper in this
loose, wet soil than elsewhere, held it back, too, for a time, but as
soon as this was thoroughly out of the ground the river overflow came
up like a geyser.

"Mr. Burnit, your Applerod Addition is ruined, and it can never be
saved, unless by some extraordinary means. Nature picked out this
spot, centuries and centuries ago, for a swamp, and she's going to
have one here in spite of all that we can do. In five years this basin
won't be a thing but black water and weeds, with only that club-house
as a decaying monument to your enterprise."

Bobby controlled himself with an effort. His face was drawn and white;
but part of that was from the anxiety of the past two days, and he
took the blow stiff and erect, as a good soldier stands up to be
disciplined. His eye roved over the work in which he had taken such
pride, and already he could see in fancy the dank weeds growing up,
and the croaking frogs diving into the oily surface, and the clouds of
mosquitoes hovering over it again. Over the top of his retaining wall
still poured the foul water which was to leaven all this, and he gazed
upon it with a sharp intake of the breath.

"And to think that Silas Trimmer must have known all this, and led me
to waste a fortune just so that he could reap the benefit of my
advertising for his own vulture advantage!"

That, at first, was the part which hurt more than the overthrow of his
plans, more than the loss of his money, more than the failure of his
fight to carry out his father's wishes for his success: that any one
could play the game so unfairly, that there could be in all the world
people so detestable, so unprincipled, so _unsportsmanlike_!

Slowly the vanquished pair descended the hill to where the automobile
stood upon the solid, level sward, but before they climbed in Bobby
shook hands with his engineer.

"Don't blame yourself too much, old man," he said. "It wasn't a
condition that you could foresee, and I'm mighty sorry if it hurts
your reputation."

"It ought to!" exclaimed Platt with deep self-revilement. "I should
have investigated. I should not have taken anything for granted. I
ought to have enough money so that you could sue me for damages and
recover all you lost."

"It couldn't be done," said Bobby miserably. "I've lost so much more
than money."

He did not tell Platt of Agnes, but that was the one thought into
which all his failure had finally resolved. Agnes! How much longer
must he wait for her? They had just passed the club-house when a light
buggy turned into Burnit Avenue, driven furiously by a white-haired
man in a white vest and a high silk hat.

"I accept your offer!" cried Applerod, as soon as he came within
talking distance, his usually ruddy face now livid white.

"My offer," repeated Bobby wonderingly.

"Yes; your offer of ten thousand dollars for my share in the Applerod
Addition."

Bobby was forced to laugh. It had needed but this to make the bitter
jest of fortune complete.

"You refused that offer the day it was made, Applerod!" put in Platt
indignantly. "I heard you. Anyhow, you dragged Mr. Burnit into this
thing!"

"He's not to blame for that," said Bobby. "But still, I don't think I
care to buy any more of this property." And he smiled grimly at the
absurdity of it all.

"I'll sue you for it!" shrieked Applerod, frantic from thwarted
self-interest. "You prevented me from selling out at a profit when I
had a chance! You bound me hand and foot when I knew that if Silas
Trimmer had anything to gain by it we would lose! He knew all the time
that this swamp was fed by underground springs. He bragged about it to
me this morning as I passed him on the road. He told me last night I'd
better come out here this morning."

"I see," said Bobby coldly, and he reached for his lever.

"Then you won't hold good to your offer?" gasped the other.

Pale before, he had turned ashen now, and Bobby looked at him with
quick compunction. Applerod, always so chubbily youthful for a man of
his years, was grown suddenly old. He seemed to have shrunk inside his
clothes, his face to have turned flabby, his eyes to have dimmed.
After all, he was an old man, and the little that he had scraped
together represented all that he could hope to amass in a none too
provident lifetime. This day made him a pauper and there was no chance
for a fresh start. Bobby himself was young and strong, and, moreover,
his resources were by no means exhausted.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Applerod," said he, after a moment of
very sober thought. "Your property cost you in the neighborhood of
four thousand. Interest since the time you first began to invest in it
would bring it up to a little more than that. I'll give you five
thousand."

"I won't accept it.--Yes, I will! yes, I will!" he cried as Bobby
impatiently reached again for his lever.

"Very well," said Bobby, "wait a minute." And tearing a leaf from his
memorandum-book he wrote a note to Johnson to see to the transfer of
the property and deliver to Applerod a check for five thousand
dollars.

"That was more than generous; it was foolish," protested Jimmy Platt,
as they whirled away.

"No doubt," admitted Bobby dryly. "But, if I'm forced to be a fool, I
might as well have a well-finished job of it."



CHAPTER XII

AGNES DECIDES THAT SHE WILL WAIT


Applerod, his poise nearly recovered, bounded into the office where
Johnson sat stolidly working away, his sense of personal contentedness
enhanced by the presence of Biff Bates, who sat idly upon the flat-top
desk, dangling his legs and waiting for Bobby. Mr. Applerod paid no
attention whatever to Mr. Bates, that gentleman being quite beneath
his notice, but with vast importance he laid down in front of Mr.
Johnson the note which Bobby had given him.

"_Mr._ Johnson," he pompously directed, "you will please attend to
this little matter as soon as possible."

"Applerod," said Johnson, glancing at the note and looking up with
sudden fire, "does this mean that you are no longer even partially my
employer?"

"That's it exactly."

"Then you, Applerod, don't you dare call me _Mr._ Johnson again!" And
he shook a bony fist at his old-time work-fellow.

Biff Bates nearly fell off the desk, but with rare presence of mind
restrained his glee.

Mr. Applerod, smiling loftily, immediately wielded his bludgeon.

"We should not quarrel over trifles," he stated commiseratingly. "We
are once more companions in misfortune. There is no Applerod Addition.
It is a swamp again."

"What do you mean?" asked Johnson incredulously, but suspending his
indignation for the instant.

"This," said Applerod: "that the entire addition is a hundred-acre mud
puddle this morning. You couldn't sell a lot in it to a blind man.
Every cent that was invested in it is lost. The whole marsh was fed
from underground springs that have come up through it and overflowed
the place."

"Trimmer again," said Biff Bates, and slid off the desk; then he
looked at his watch with a curious speculative smile.

"But if it is all lost," protested Johnson, looking again at the note
and pausing in the making out of the check, "how do you come to get
this?"

"He owed it to me," asserted Applerod. "I wanted to sell out when I
first found that we were competing with Silas Trimmer, and young
Burnit kept me from it by an injunction. He offered me ten thousand
dollars for my interest once, but this morning when I went to accept
that offer he would only give me this five thousand. It's just five
thousand dollars that he's robbed me of."

"_Robbed!_" shrilled Johnson, jumping from his chair. "Applerod, you
weigh a hundred and eighty pounds and I weigh a hundred and
thirty-seven, but I can lick you the best day you ever lived; and by
thunder and blazes! if you let fall another remark like that I'll
knock your infernal head off!"

Mr. Johnson had on no coat, but he felt the urgent need to remove
something, so he tore off one false sleeve, wadded it up in a little
ball and slammed it on the floor with great vigor, tore off the other
one, wadded it up and slammed that down. Biff Bates, quivering with
joy, rang loudly upon a porcelain electric-light shade with his pencil
and called: "Time!"

There was no employment for a referee, however, for Mr. Applerod, with
astonishing agility, sprang to the door and held it half open, ready
for a hurried exit in case of any other demonstration. It was shocking
to think that he might be drawn into an undignified altercation--and
with a mere clerk! Also, it might be dangerous.

"Nothing doing, chum," said Biff Bates disgustedly to his friend
Johnson. "This bunch of mush-ripe bananas ain't even a quitter. He's a
never-beginner. But you'll do fine, old scout. Come along with me. I
got a treat for you."

Mr. Johnson, breathing scorn that alternately dented and inflated his
nostrils, slowly donned his coat and hat without removing his eyes
from Applerod, who, as the two approached the door, edged uncertainly
away from it.

"I've got to go out, anyhow," said Johnson, addressing his remarks
exclusively to Mr. Bates, but his glare exclusively to Mr. Applerod.
"I'm going to put this check into the hands of Mr. Chalmers, so Mr.
Robert don't get cheated by any yellow-livered _snake in the grass_!"
And he spit out those last violent words with a sudden vehemence which
made Mr. Applerod drop his shiny hat.

When Bobby came into the office a few minutes later he found Applerod,
his hat upon his lap, waiting in one of the customers' chairs with
stiff solemnity.

"Why aren't you at your desk, Applerod?" asked Bobby sharply. "You
have an immense amount of unopened mail, and some of it may contain
checks which will have to be sent back."

"Mr. Burnit," said Mr. Applerod, rising with great dignity and
throwing back his shoulders, "I consider myself no longer in your
employ. I have resigned."

Bobby looked at him thoughtfully and weighed rapidly in his mind a
great many things. He remembered that his father had once said of the
two men: "Johnson has a pea-green liver and is a pessimist, but he is
honest. Applerod suffers from too much health and is an optimist, and
I presume him to be honest, but I never tested it." Yet his father had
seen fit to keep Applerod in his intimate employ all these years,
recognizing in him material of value. Moreover, he had advised Bobby
to keep both men, and Bobby, to-day more than ever, placed great faith
in the wisdom of his father.

"Mr. Applerod," said he, "I dislike to be harsh with you, but if you
don't put up your hat and get at that bundle of mail I shall be
compelled to consider discharging you. Where's Johnson?"

"He went out with Mr. Bates, sir."

When Bobby left, Applerod was industriously sorting the mail on his
desk, preparing to open it.

Bobby let himself into the big new gymnasium and walked back through
the deserted hall to the small room that was used for individual
training. As he neared the door he could hear the sound of loud voices
and the shuffling of feet, and heard the commanding voice of Biff
Bates shout "Break!"

The door was locked, but through the slide window at the side a
strange tableau met his eyes. Stooped and lean Johnson, as chalk-white
of face as ever, had paunchy and thin-legged Silas Trimmer by the
collar, and over Biff Bates' intervening body was trying to rain blows
into the center of the circular smile, now flattened to an oval of
distress.

"Break, Johnson, break!" begged Biff. "Don't put him out till you feed
him all he's got coming." Thereupon he succeeded in extracting Mr.
Trimmer from the grasp of Mr. Johnson and forced the former back upon
a chair, where he began to fan him with a towel in most approved
fashion.

"Let me out of this!" gasped Mr. Trimmer. "I'll have you arrested for
assault and conspiracy."

"They'll only pinch a corpse, for the cops'll find me tickled to death
when they get here," responded Mr. Bates gaily. "Now you're all right.
Get up!"

"Let me out of this, I say!" commanded Mr. Trimmer frantically. "I'll
run you into the penitentiary! I'll break you up in business! I'll
hire thugs to break every bone in your body!"

"Is that all?" inquired Biff complacently, and grabbed him as he
started to run around the room in a wild hunt for an outlet. "Stand up
here and put up a fight or I'll punch you myself. I've been aching to
do it for a year. That's why I got Doc Willets to dope it out to you
that you was dyin' for training, and why I kept shifting your hour to
when there was nobody here. Go to him, chum!"

Then ensued the strangest sparring match that the grinning and
stealthily silent Bobby had ever seen. Johnson, with a true "tiger
crouch" which he could not have avoided if he had wished, began
dancing around and around the spherical body of Mr. Trimmer, without
science and without precaution, keeping his two arms going like
windmills, and occasionally landing a light blow upon some portion of
Mr. Trimmer's unresisting anatomy; but finally a whirl so vigorous
that it sent Johnson spinning upon his own heel, landed squarely
beneath the jaw of Silas. That gentleman, with a puffed eye and a
bleeding lip and two teeth gone, rose from his feet with the impact of
the blow, and landed with a grunt in a huge basket of soiled
bath-towels.

"Johnson," called the laughter-shaken voice of Bobby through the
window, "I'm ashamed of you!"

Mr. Johnson looked up happily from his task of wiping away a little
trickle of blood from his already swollen nose.

"Did you see me do it?" he demanded, thrilling with pride. "Mr.
Burnit, I--I never had so much fun in my life. Never, never! By the
way, sir," and even upon that triumphant moment his duty obtruded, "I
have a letter for you that I brought away from the office," and
through the window he handed one of the inevitable gray envelopes. It
was inscribed:

    _To My Son, Upon the Failure of Applerod's Swamp Scheme_

"In the midst of pleasure we are in pain," murmured Bobby, and tore
open the letter. In it he read:

    "My Dear Boy:

    "A man must not only examine a business proposition from all
    sides, but must also turn it over and look well at the bottom.
    I never knew what was the matter with that swamp scheme,
    except Applerod, but I didn't want to know any more. You did.

    "Well, you don't need wisdom. I've put one-half your fortune
    where it will yield you a living income. Try to cut at least
    one eye-tooth with the other half. Your trustee is instructed
    to give you another start.

                                             "YOUR LOVING FATHER."

His trustee! Once more he must face her with failure; go to her
beaten, and accept through her hands the means to gain himself another
buffeting. He had not the heart to see her now, but he was not turned
altogether coward, for leaving the scene of the late conflict
abruptly, all its humor spoiled for him, he telephoned her what had
happened and that he would be out in the evening.

"No, you must come now. I want you," she gently insisted, and when he
had come to her she went directly to him and put both her hands upon
his shoulders.

"It wasn't fair, Bobby; it wasn't fair!" she cried. "None of it is
fair, and your father had no right to bind me down with promises when
you need me so. I'm willing to break them all. Bobby, I'll marry you
to-morrow if you say so."

He drew a long, trembling breath, and then he put his hands gently
upon both her cheeks and kissed her on the forehead.

"Let's don't," he said simply. "I have my own blood up now, and I want
to take this other chance. I want to play the game out to the end.
You'll wait, won't you?"

She looked up at him through moist eyes. He was so big and so strong
and so good, and already through the past year of earnest purpose
there had come firm, new lines upon his face, lines that meant
something in the ultimate building of character; and she recognized
that perhaps stern old John Burnit had been right after all.

"Indeed, I can wait," she whispered. "Proudly, Bobby."



CHAPTER XIII

IN WHICH A CHARMING GENTLEMAN OFFERS AN INVESTMENT WITHOUT A FLAW


It was pretty, in the succeeding days, to see Agnes poring over
advertisements and writing down long lists of suggested enterprises
for investigation, enterprises which proved in every case to be in the
midst of an already too thickly contested field, or to be hampered by
monopoly, or subject to some other vital drawback. There seemed to be
a strange dearth of safe and suitable commercial ventures, a fact over
which Bobby and Agnes together puzzled almost nightly. There was to be
no false start this time; no stumbling in the middle of the race; no
third failure. The third time was to be the charm. And yet too much
time must not be wasted. They both began to feel rather worried about
this.

Of course, there was a letter, in the familiar gray envelope. It had
been handed to Bobby by Johnson upon the day the second check for two
hundred and fifty thousand had been paid over by Chalmers upon Agnes'
order, and it read:

    _To My Son Robert,
    Upon His Third Attempt to Make Money_

    "The man who has never failed has been either too lucky or too
    timid to have much tried and tested worth. The man who always
    fails is too useless to talk about. As you've failed twice
    you're neither too lucky nor too timid. It remains to be seen
    if you are too useless.

    "Remember that money isn't the only audible thing in this
    world; but it makes more noise than anything else. A vast
    number of people call money vulgar; but, if you'll notice,
    this opinion is chiefly held by those who haven't been able to
    secure any of it.

    "I wouldn't have you sacrifice any decent principle to get it,
    because that is not necessary; but go get money of your own,
    and see what a difference there is between dollars. A dollar
    you've made is as different from a dollar that's given to you
    as your children are from other people's."

"If only the governor had pointed out some good business for me to go
into," complained Bobby as he read this letter over with Agnes.

She shook her head soberly. She realized, more than he possibly could,
as yet, just where Bobby's weaknesses lay. She had worried over them
not a little, of late, and she was just as anxious as old John Burnit
had been to have him correct those defects; and she, like Bobby's
father, was only thankful that they were not defects of manliness, of
courage or of moral or mental fiber. They were only defects of
training, for which the elder Burnit, as he had himself confessed, was
responsible.

"That isn't what he wanted at all, Bobby," she protested. "The very
fact of your two past failures shows just how right he was in making
you find out things for yourself. The chief trouble, I am afraid, is
that you have been too ready to furnish the money and let others spend
it for you."

"I know," said Bobby. "I have been too willing to take everybody's
word, I guess; but I have always been able to do that in my crowd, and
it is rather a dash to me to find that in business you can not do it.
However, I have reformed."

He said this so self-confidently that Agnes laughed.

"Yes," she admitted, "you are convinced that Silas Trimmer is a thief
and a rascal, and you would not take his word for anything. You are
convinced that Applerod's judgment is useless and that your own does
not amount to much, but I still believe that the next plausible
looking and plausible talking man who comes to you can engage you in
any business that seems fair on the surface."

"I deserve what you say," he confessed, but somewhat piqued,
nevertheless. "However, I don't think you are giving me credit for
having learned any lesson at all. Why, only to-day you ought to have
heard me turning down a proposition to finance a new and improved
washing-machine. Sounded very good and feasible, too. The man was a
good talker and thoroughly earnest and honest, I am sure. I really did
want to help the fellow start his business, but somehow or other I
could not seem to like the idea of washing-machines; such a sudsy sort
of business."

Agnes laughed the sort of a laugh that always made him want to catch
hold of her, but if he had any intentions in that respect they were
interfered with just now by Uncle Dan, who strolled into the parlor in
his dressing-jacket and with a cigar tilted in the corner of his
mouth.

"How's the Commercial Board of Strategy coming on?" he inquired as he
offered Bobby a cigar.

"Fine!" declared Bobby; "except that it can not think of a stratagem."

"I think you are very selfish not to help us out, Uncle Dan," declared
Agnes. "With all your experience you ought to be able to suggest
something for Bobby to go into that would be a nice business and
perfectly safe and make him lots of money without requiring too much
experience to start with."

"Young lady," said Uncle Dan severely, "if I knew a business of that
kind I'd sell some of the stock of my factory and go into it myself;
but I don't. The fact is, there are no business snaps lying around
loose. You have to make one, and that takes not just money, but work
and brains."

"I'm perfectly willing to work," declared Bobby.

"And you don't mean to say that he hasn't brains!" objected Agnes.

"No-o-o," admitted Uncle Dan. "I am quite sure that Bobby has brains,
but they have not been quite--a--a--well, say solidified, yet. You're
not allowed to smoke in this parlor, Bobby. Mrs. Elliston wants a
quiet home game of whist; sent me to bring you up."

Secretly, old Dan Elliston was himself puzzling a great deal over a
career for Bobby, but up to the moment had not found anything that he
thought safe to propose. Not having a good idea he was averse to
discussing any project whatsoever, and so, each time that he was
consulted upon the subject, he was as evasive as this about it, and
Bobby each morning dragged perplexedly into the handsome offices of
the defunct Applerod Addition, where Applerod and Johnson were still
working a solid eight hours a day to straighten out the affairs of
that unfortunate venture.

Those offices were the dullest quarters Bobby knew, for they contained
nothing but the dead ashes of bygone money; but one morning business
picked up with a jerk. He found a mine investment agent awaiting him
when he arrived, and before he was through with this clever
conversationalist a man was in to get him to buy a racing stable.
Affairs grew still more brisk as the morning wore on. Within the next
two hours he had politely but firmly declined to buy a partnership in
a string of bucket shops, to refinance a defunct irrigation company,
to invest in a Florida plantation, to take a tip on copper, and to
back an automobile factory which was to enter business upon some
designs of a new engine stolen by a discharged workman.

"How did all these people find out that I have two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to invest?" impatiently demanded Bobby, after he had
refused the allurements of a patent-medicine scheme, the last of that
morning's lot.

There followed a dense silence, in the midst of which old Johnson
looked up from the book in which he was entering a long, long list of
items on the wrong side of the profit and loss account, and jerked his
lean thumb angrily in the direction of Applerod.

"Ask him," he said.

Chubby-faced old Applerod, excessively meek of spirit to-day, suffered
a moment of embarrassment under the accusing eyes of young Burnit.

"The newspapers, sir," he admitted, twisting uncomfortably in his
swivel chair. "The reporters were here yesterday afternoon with the
idea that since you haven't announced any future plans, the failure of
our real estate scheme--_my_ real estate scheme," he corrected in
response to a snort and a glare from Johnson--"had left you penniless.
Of course I wasn't going to let them go away with that impression, so
I told them that you had another two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars to invest, with probably more to follow, if necessary."

"And of course," groaned Bobby, "it is all in print, with ingenious
trimmings."

From a drawer in his desk Johnson quietly drew copies of the morning
papers, each one folded carefully to an article in which, under wide
variations of embarrassing head-lines, the facts of Bobby's latest
frittering of his father's good money were once more facetiously, even
gleefully, set forth and embellished, with added humorous speculations
as to how he would probably cremate his new fund. Bobby was about to
turn into his own room to absorb his humiliation in secret when
Applerod hesitantly stopped him.

"Another thing, sir," he said. "Mr. Frank L. Sharpe called up early
this morning to know when he would find you in, and I took the liberty
of telling him that you would very likely be here at ten o'clock."

Bobby frowned slightly at the mention of that name. He knew of Sharpe
vaguely as a man whose private life had been so scandalous that
society had ceased to shudder at his name--it simply refused to hear
it; a man who had even secured advancement by obligingly divorcing his
first wife so that the notorious Sam Stone could marry her.

"What did he want?" he asked none too graciously.

"I don't know, sir," said Applerod; "but he telephoned me again just
as you were getting rid of this last caller. I told him that you were
here and he said that he would be right over."

Bobby made no reply to this, but went thoughtfully into his room and
closed the door after him. In less than five minutes the door opened,
and Mr. Applerod, his voice fairly oily with obsequiousness, announced
Mr. Frank L. Sharpe! Why, here is a man whose name was in the papers
every morning, noon and night! Mr. Sharpe had taken a trip to New York
on behalf of the Gas Company; Mr. Sharpe had returned from his trip to
New York on behalf of the Gas Company; Mr. Sharpe had entertained at
the Hotel Spender; Mr. Sharpe had made a speech; Mr. Sharpe had been
interviewed; Mr. Sharpe had been indisposed for half a day!

Quite prepossessing of appearance was Mr. Sharpe; a tall, rather
slight gentleman, whose features no one ever analyzed because the eyes
of the observer stopped, fascinated, at his mustache. That wonderful
adornment was wonderfully luxuriant, gray and curly, pretty to an
extreme, and kept most fastidiously trimmed, and it lifted when he
smiled to display a most engaging row of white, even teeth. Centered
upon this magnificent combination the gaze never roved to the animal
nose, to the lobeless ears, to the watery blue eyes half obscured by
the lower lids. He was immaculately, though a shade too youthfully,
dressed in a gray frock suit, with pearl-gray spats upon his shoes,
and he was most charmed to see young Mr. Burnit.

"You have a very neat little suite of offices here, Mr. Burnit," he
commented, seating himself gracefully and depositing his gray hat, his
gray cane and his gray gloves carefully to one side of him upon
Bobby's desk.

"I'm afraid they are a little too nice for practical purposes," Bobby
confessed. "I have found that business isn't a parlor game."

"Precisely what I came to see you about," said Mr. Sharpe. "I
understand you have been a trifle unfortunate, but that is because you
did not go into the regular channels. An established and paying
corporation is the only worth-while proposition, and if you have not
yet settled upon an investment I would like to suggest that you become
interested in our local Brightlight Electric Company."

"I thought there was no gas or electric stock for sale," said Bobby
slowly, clinging still to a vague impression that he had gained five
or six years before.

"Not to the public," replied Mr. Sharpe, smiling, "and there would not
have been privately except for the necessity of a reorganization. The
Brightlight needs more capital for expansion, and I have too many
other interests, even aside from the Consumers' Electric Light and
Power and the United Gas and Fuel Companies, to spare the money
myself--and the Brightlight is too good to let the general public in
on." He smiled again, quite meaningly this time. "This is quite
confidential, of course," he added.

Bobby bowed his acknowledgment of the confidence which had been
reposed in him, and generously began at once to reconstruct his
impressions of the impossible Mr. Sharpe. You couldn't believe all you
heard, you know.

"The Brightlight," went on Mr. Sharpe, "is at present capitalized
for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and is a good
ten-per-cent.-dividend-paying stock at the present moment; but its
business is not growing, and I propose to take in sufficient capital
to raise the Brightlight to a half-million-dollar corporation, clear
off its indebtedness and project certain extensions. I understand that
you have the necessary amount, and here is the proposition I offer
you. Brightlight stock is now quoted at a hundred and seventy-two. We
will double its present capitalization, and you may take up the extra
two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of its stock at par, or
about three-fifths of its actual value. That is a bargain to be
snapped at, Mr. Burnit."

Did Bobby Burnit snap at this proposition? He did not. Bobby had
learned caution through his two bitter failures, and of caution is
born wisdom.

"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of stock in a
five-hundred-thousand-dollar corporation won't do for me," he declared
with a firmness that was pleasant to his own ears. "I don't care to go
into any proposition in which I have not the controlling interest."

Mr. Sharpe, remembering the details of Bobby's Trimmer and Company
experiment, hastily turned his imminent smile of amusement into a
merely engaging one.

"I don't blame you, Mr. Burnit," said he; "but to show you that I am
more willing to trust you than you are to trust me, if you care to go
into this thing I'll agree to sell you from one to ten shares of my
individual stock--at its present market value, of course."

"That's very good of you," agreed Bobby, suddenly ashamed of his
ungenerous stand in the face of this sportsmanlike attitude. "But
really I've had cause for timidity."

"Caution is not cowardice," said Mr. Sharpe in a tone which conveyed a
world of friendly approbation. "This matter must be taken up very
soon, however, and I can not allow you more than a week to
investigate. I'd be pleased to receive your legal and business
advisers at any time you may nominate, and to give them any advantage
you may wish."

"I'll investigate it at least, and I thank you for giving me the
opportunity," said Bobby, really very contrite that he had been doing
Sharpe such a mental injustice all these years. "By the way," he
suddenly added, "has Silas Trimmer anything whatever to do with this
proposition?"

Mr. Sharpe smiled.

"Mr. Trimmer does not own one share of stock in the Brightlight
Electric Company, nor will he own it," he answered.

"In that case," said Bobby, "I am satisfied to consider your offer
without fear of heart-disease."

The departing caller met an incoming one in the outer office, and
Agnes, sweeping into Bobby's room, breathlessly gasped:

"That was Frank Sharpe!"

"The same," admitted Bobby, smiling down at her and taking both her
hands.

"I never saw him so closely," she declared. "Really, he's quite
distinguished-looking."

"As long as he avoids a close shave," supplemented Bobby. "But what
brings you into the--the busy marts of trade so early in the morning?"

"My trusteeship," she answered him loftily, producing some documents
from her hand-bag. "And I'm in a hurry. Sign them papers."

"Them there papers," he kindly corrected, and seating himself at his
desk he examined the minor transfers perfunctorily and signed them.

"I'm afraid I'm a failure as a trustee," she told him. "I ought to
have had more power. I ought to have been authorized to keep you out
of bad company. How came Mr. Sharpe to call on you, for instance?"

"To make my fortune," he gravely assured her. "Mr. Sharpe wants me to
go into the Brightlight Electric Company with him."

"I can imagine your courteous adroitness in putting the man back in
his place," she laughed. "How preposterous! Why, he's utterly
impossible!"

"Ye-e-es?" questioned Bobby. "But you know, Agnes, this isn't a
pink-tea affair. It's business, which is at the other end of the
world."

"You're not honestly defending him, Bobby?" she protested
incredulously. "Why, I do believe you are considering the man
seriously!"

"Why not?" he persisted, arguing against his own convictions as much
as against hers. "We want me to make some money, don't we? To make a
success that will let me marry you?"

"I'm not to say so, remember," she reminded him.

"Father put no lock on my tongue, though," he reminded her in turn;
"so I'll just lay down the dictum that as soon as I succeed in any one
business deal I'm going to marry you, and I don't care whether the
commodity I handle is electricity or potatoes."

"But Frank L. Sharpe!" she exclaimed, with shocked remembrance of
certain whispered stories she had heard.

"Really, I don't see where he enters into it," persisted Bobby. "The
Brightlight Electric Company is a stock corporation, in which Mr.
Sharpe happens to own some shares; that is all."

She shook her head.

"I can't seem to like it," she told him, and rose to go.

The door opened, and Johnson, with much solemnity, though in his eyes
there lurked a twinkle, brought in a card which, with much stiff
ceremony, he handed to Bobby.

"Professor Henry H. Bates," read Bobby in some perplexity, then
suddenly his brow cleared and he laughed uproariously. "Come right in,
Biff," he called.

In response to this invitation there entered upon Agnes' vision a
short, chunky, broad-shouldered young man in a checked green suit and
red tie, who, finding himself suddenly confronted by a dazzlingly
beautiful young lady, froze instantly into speechless awkwardness.

"This is my friend and partner, Mr. Biff--Mr. Henry H. Bates--Miss
Elliston," introduced Bobby, smiling.

Agnes held out her hand, which suddenly seemed to dwindle in size as
it was clasped by the huge palm of Mr. Bates.

"I have heard so much of you from Mr. Burnit, and always nice things,"
she said, smiling at him so frankly that Mr. Bates, though his face
flushed red, instantly thawed.

"Bobby's right there with the boost," commented Mr. Bates, and then,
not being quite satisfied with that form of speech, he huskily
corrected it to: "Burnit's always handing out those pleasant words."
This form of expression seeming also to be somewhat lacking in polish,
he relapsed into more redness, and wiped the strangely moist palms of
his hands upon the sides of his coat.

"He doesn't talk about any but pleasant people," Agnes assured him.

After she had gone Mr. Bates looked dazedly at the door through which
she had passed out, then turned to Bobby.

"Carries a full line of that conversation," he commented, "but I like
to fall for it. And say! I'll bet she's game all right; the kind that
would stick to a guy when he was broke, in jail and had the smallpox.
That's your steady, ain't it, Bobby?"

Coming from any one else this query might have seemed a trifle blunt,
but Bobby understood precisely how Mr. Bates meant it, and was
gratified.

"She's the real girl," he admitted.

"I'm for her," stoutly asserted Mr. Bates, as he extracted a huge wad
of crumpled bills from his trousers pocket. "Any old time she wants
anybody strangled or stabbed and you ain't handy, she can call on your
friend Biff. Here's your split of last month's pickings at the gym.
One hundred and eighty-one large, juicy simoleons; count 'em, one
hundred and eighty-one!" And he threw the money on the desk.

"Everything paid?" asked Bobby.

"Here's the receipts," and from inside his vest Mr. Bates produced
them. "Ground rent, light, heat, payroll, advertising, my own little
old weekly envelope and everything; and I got one-eighty-one in my
other kick for my share."

"Very well," said Bobby; "you just put this money of mine into a fund
to buy further equipments when we need them."

"Nit and nix; also no!" declared Mr. Bates emphatically. "This time
the bet goes as she lays. You take a real money drag-down from now
on."

"Mr. Johnson," called Bobby through the open door, "please take charge
of this one hundred and eighty-one dollars, and open a separate
account for my investment in the Bates Athletic Hall. It might be,
Biff," he continued, turning to Mr. Bates, "that yours would turn out
to be the only safe business venture I ever made."

"It ain't no millionaire stunt, but it sure does pay a steady divvy,"
Mr. Bates assured him. "I see a man outside scraping the real-estate
sign off the door. Is he going to paint a new one?"

"I don't know," said Bobby, frowning. "I shall, of course, get into
something very shortly, but I've not settled on anything as yet. The
best thing that has turned up so far is an interest in the Brightlight
Electric Company offered me to-day by Frank L. Sharpe."

"What!" shrieked Biff in a high falsetto, and slapped himself smartly
on the wrist. "Has he been here? I thought it seemed kind of close.
Give me a cigarette till I fumigate."

"What's the matter with the Brightlight Electric Company?" demanded
Bobby.

"Nothing. It's a cinch so far as I know. But Sharpe! Why, say, Bobby,
all the words I'd want to use to tell you about him have been left out
of the dictionary so they could send it through the mails."

Bobby frowned. The certain method to have him make allowances for a
man was to attack that man. When he arrived at the Idlers' Club at
noon, however, he was given another opportunity for Christian charity.
Nick Allstyne and Payne Winthrop and Stanley Rogers were discussing
something with great indignation when he joined them, and Nick drew
him over to the bulletin board, where was displayed the application of
Frank L. Sharpe, proposed by Clarence Smythe, Silas Trimmer's
son-in-law, and seconded by another undesirable who had twice been
posted for non-payment of dues.

"There is only one thing about this that commends itself to me, and
that is the immaculate and colossal nerve of the proceeding," declared
Nick indignantly. "The next thing you know somebody will propose Sam
Stone."

At this they all laughed. The Idlers' Club was the one institution
that stood in no awe of the notorious "boss" of the city and of the
state; a man who had never held an office, but who, until the past two
years, had controlled all offices; whose methods were openly
dishonest; who held underground control of every public utility and a
score of private enterprises. The idea of Stone as an applicant for
membership in the Idlers' Club was a good joke, but the actual
application of Sharpe was too serious for jesting. Nevertheless, all
this turmoil over the mere name of the man worked a strange reaction
in Bobby Burnit.

"After all, business is business," he declared to himself, "and I
don't see where Sharpe's personality figures in this Brightlight
Electric deal, especially since I am to have control."

Accordingly he directed Chalmers and Johnson to make a thorough
investigation of that corporation.



CHAPTER XIV

BOBBY ENTERS A BUSINESS ALLIANCE, A SOCIAL ENTANGLEMENT AND A QUARREL
WITH AGNES


The report of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Chalmers upon the Brightlight
Electric Company was a complicated affair, but, upon the whole, highly
favorable. It was an old establishment, the first electric company
that had been formed in the city, and it held, besides some minor
concessions, an ancient franchise for the exclusive supply of twelve
of the richest down-town blocks, this franchise, made by a generous
board of city fathers, still having twenty years to run. The concern's
equipment was old and much of it needed renewal, but its financial
affairs were in good shape, except for a mortgage of a hundred
thousand dollars held by one J. W. Williams.

"About this mortgage," Mr. Chalmers advised Mr. Burnit; "its time
limit expires within two months, and I have no doubt that is why
Sharpe wants to put additional capital into the concern. Moreover,
Williams is notoriously reputed a lieutenant of Sam Stone's, and it is
quite probable that Stone is the real holder of the mortgage."

"I don't see where it makes much difference, so long as the mortgage
has to be paid, whether it is paid to Stone or to somebody else," said
Bobby reflectively.

"I don't see any difference myself," agreed Chalmers, "except that I
am suspicious of that whole crowd, since Sharpe is only a figurehead
for Stone. I find that Sharpe is credited with holding two hundred
thousand dollars' worth of the present stock. The majority of the
Consumers Company and a good share of the United are also in his name.
Just how all these facts have a bearing upon each other I can not at
present state, but in view of the twenty years' franchise, and of the
fact that you will hold undisputed control, I do not see but that you
have a splendid investment here. The contract for the city lighting of
those twelve blocks is ironclad, and the franchise for exclusive
private lighting and power is exclusive so long as 'reasonably
satisfactory service' is maintained. As this has been undisputed for
thirty years I don't think you need have much fear upon that score,"
and Chalmers smiled.

In the afternoon of that same day Sharpe called up.

"What dinner engagement have you for to-night?" he inquired.

"None," replied Bobby, after a moment of hesitation.

"Then I want you to dine with me at the Spender. Can you make it?"

"I guess so," replied Bobby reluctantly, after another hesitant pause.
"What time, say?"

"About seven. Just inquire at the desk. I'll have a dining-room
reserved."

Bobby was very thoughtful as he arrayed himself for dinner, and he was
still more thoughtful when, a boy ushering him into the cozy little
private dining-room, he found the over-dazzling young Mrs. Sharpe with
her husband. She greeted the handsome young Mr. Burnit most
effusively, clasping his hand warmly and rolling up her large eyes at
him while Mr. Sharpe looked on with smiling approval. Bobby
experienced that strange conflict which most men have known, a feeling
of revulsion at war with the undoubted lure of the women. She was one
of those who deliberately make appeal through their femininity alone.

"Such a pleasure to meet you," she said in the most silvery of voices.
"I have heard so much of Mr. Burnit and his polo skill."

"It's the best trick I do," confessed Bobby, laughing.

"That's because Mr. Burnit hasn't found his proper forte as yet,"
interposed Sharpe. "He was really cut out for the illuminating
business." And he led the way to the table, upon which Bobby had
already noted that five places were laid.

"A couple of our friends might drop in," said the host in explanation;
"they usually do."

"If it's Sam and Billy we're not going to wait for them," said Mrs.
Sharpe with a languishing glance at Bobby. "They're always ages and
ages late, if they come at all. Frank, where are those cocktails? I'm
running down."

She took the drink with an avidity Bobby was not used to seeing among
his own women friends, and almost immediately it heightened her
vivacity. There could be no question that she was a fascinating woman.
Again Bobby had that strange sense of revulsion, and again he was
conscious that, in spite of her trace of a tendency to indecorum,
there was a subtle appeal in her; one, however, that he shrank from
analyzing. Her talk was mostly of the places she had been, with almost
pathetic little mention now and then of unattainable people. Evidently
she craved social position, in spite of the fact that she was for ever
shut out from it.

While they were upon the fish the door opened and two men came in.
With a momentary frown Bobby recognized both; one of them the great
Sam Stone, and the other William Garland, a rich young cigar
manufacturer, quite prominent in public affairs. The latter he had
met; the former he inspected quite curiously as he acknowledged the
introduction.

Stone gave one the idea that he was extremely heavy; not that he was
so grossly stout, although he was large, but he seemed to convey an
impression of tremendous weight. His features and his expression were
heavy, his eyes were heavy-lidded, and he was taciturnity itself. He
gave Bobby a quick scrutiny from head to foot, and in that instant had
weighed him, measured him, catalogued and indexed him for future
reference for ever. Stone's only spoken word had been a hoarse
acknowledgment of his introduction, and as soon as the entrée came on
he attacked it with a voracious appetite, which, however, did not
prevent him from weighing and absorbing in silence every word that was
spoken in his hearing. Bobby found himself wondering how this
unattractive man could have secured his tremendous following, in spite
of the fact that Stone "never broke a promise and never went back on a
friend," qualities which would go far toward establishing any man in
the esteem of mankind.

It was not until the appearance of the salad that any allusion was
made to business, and then Garland, upon an impatient signal from
Stone, turned to Bobby with the suavity of which he was thorough
master.

"Mr. Sharpe tells me that you consider taking a dip into the public
utilities line," he suggested.

Instantly three of them bent an attention upon Bobby so straight that
it might have been palpable even to him, had not Stone suddenly
lighted a match to attract their attention, and glared at them.

"I have already decided," said Bobby frankly, seeing no reason for
fencing. "My legal and business advisers tell me that it would be a
good investment, and I am ready to take hold of the Brightlight
Electric as soon as the formalities can be arranged."

Stone grunted his approval, and immediately rose, looking at his
watch.

"Pleased to have met you, Mr. Burnit," he rumbled hoarsely, and took
his coat and hat. "Sorry I can't stay. Promised to meet a man."

"Coming back?" asked Garland.

"Might," responded the other, and was gone.

As soon as Stone had left, the trifle of strain that had been apparent
prior to Bobby's very decided statement that he would go into the
business, was lifted; and Mrs. Sharpe, pink of cheek and sparkling of
eye and exhilarated by the wine to her utmost of purely physical
attractiveness, moved when the coffee was served to a chair between
Bobby and Garland, and, gifted with a purring charm, exerted herself
to the utmost to please the new-comer. She puzzled Bobby. The woman
was an entirely new type to him, and he could not fathom her.

With the clearing of the table more champagne was brought, and Bobby
began to have an uneasy dread of a "near-orgie," such as was
associated in the minds of the knowing ones with this crowd. Sharpe,
however, quickly removed this fear, for, pushing aside his own glass
with a bare sip after it had been filled, he drew forth a pencil and
produced some papers which he spread before Bobby.

"I imagined that you would have a very favorable report on the
Brightlight Electric," he said with a smile, "so I took the liberty of
bringing along an outline of my plan for reorganization. If Mr.
Garland and Mrs. Sharpe will excuse us for talking shop we might
glance over them together."

"You're selfish," pouted Mrs. Sharpe quite prettily, but,
nevertheless, she turned her exclusive attention to Garland for the
time being.

With considerable interest Bobby plunged into the business at hand.
Here was a well-established concern that had been doing business for
three decades, which had been paying ten per cent. dividends for
years, and which would doubtless continue to do so for many years to
come. An opportunity to obtain control of it solved his problem of
investment at once, and he strove to approach its intricacies with
intelligence. He became vaguely aware, by and by, that just behind him
Garland and Mrs. Sharpe were carrying on a most animated conversation
in an undertone interspersed with much laughter, and once, with a
start of annoyance, he overheard Garland telling a slightly _risqué_
story, at which Mrs. Sharpe laughed softly and with evident relish. He
glanced around involuntarily. Garland had his arm across the back of
her chair, and they were leaning toward each other in a close
proximity which Bobby reflected with sudden savageness could not
possibly occur if that were his wife; nor was he much softened by the
later reflection that, in the first place, a woman of her type never
could have been his wife, and that, in the second place, it was not
the man who was to blame, nor the woman so much, as Sharpe himself.
Indeed, Bobby somehow gained the impression that the others flouted
and despised Sharpe and held him as a weakling.

His glance was but a fleeting one, and he turned from them with a look
which Sharpe, noting, misinterpreted.

"I had hoped," he said, "to go into this thing very thoroughly, so
that we could begin the reorganization at once, with the preliminaries
completely understood; but if we are detaining you from any
engagement, Mr. Burnit--"

"Not at all, not at all," the highly-interested Bobby hastened to
assure him. "I have no engagements whatever to-night, and my time is
entirely at your disposal."

"Then let's drop down to the theater," suddenly interposed Mrs.
Sharpe. "You can talk your dust-dry business there just as well as
here. Billy, telephone down to the Orpheum and see if they have a
box."

Bobby was far too unsuspecting to understand that he had been
deliberately trapped. Though not of the ultra-exclusives, his social
position was an excellent one and he had the entrée everywhere. To be
seen publicly with young Burnit was a step upward, as Mrs. Sharpe saw
it, in that forbidding and painful social climb.

Bobby started with dismay when Garland stepped to the telephone, but
he was fairly caught, and he realized it in time to check the
involuntary protest that rose to his lips. He had acknowledged that
his time was free and at their disposal, and he regretted deeply that
no good, handy lie came to his rescue.

They arrived at the theater between acts, and with the full blaze of
the auditorium upon them. Bobby's comfort was not at all heightened
when Stone almost immediately followed them in. He had firmly made up
his mind as they entered to obtain a place in the rear corner of the
box, where he could not be seen; but he was not prepared for the
generalship of Mrs. Sharpe, who so manoeuvered it as to force him to
the very edge, between herself and Garland, and, as she turned to him
with a laughing remark which, in pantomime, had all the confidential
understanding of most cordial and intimate acquaintanceship, Bobby
glanced apprehensively across at the other side of the proscenium-arch.
There, in the opposite box, staring at him in shocked amazement, sat
Agnes Elliston!

"But Agnes," protested Bobby at the Elliston home next day, "I could
not possibly help it."

"No?" she inquired incredulously. "I don't imagine that any one
strongly advised you to have anything to do with Mr. Sharpe--and it
was through him that you met _her_. Perhaps it is just as well that it
happened, however, because it has shown you just how you were about to
become involved."

Bobby swallowed quite painfully. His tongue was a little dry.

"Well, the fact of the matter is," he admitted, reddening and
stammering, "that I have already 'become involved,' if that's the way
you choose to put it; for--for--I signed an agreement with Sharpe, and
an application for increase of capitalization, this morning."

"You don't mean it!" she gasped. "How could you?"

"Why not?" he demanded. "Agnes, it seems quite impossible for you to
divorce business and social affairs. I tell you they have absolutely
nothing to do with each other. The opportunity Sharpe offered me is a
splendid one. Chalmers and Johnson investigated it thoroughly, and
both advise me that it is quite an unusually good chance."

"You didn't seem to be able to divorce business and social affairs
last night," she reminded him rather sharply, returning to the main
point at issue and ignoring all else.

There was the rub. She could not get out of her mind the picture of
Mrs. Sharpe chatting gaily with him, smiling up at him and all but
fawning upon him, in full view of any number of people who knew both
Agnes and Bobby.

"You have made a deliberate choice of your companions, Mr. Burnit,
after being warned against them from more than one source," she told
him, aflame with indignant jealousy, but speaking with the rigidity
common in such quarrels, "and you may abide by your choice."

"Agnes!" he protested. "You don't mean--"

"I mean just this," she interrupted him coldly, "that I certainly can
not afford to be seen in public, and don't particularly care to
entertain in private, any one who permits himself to be seen in public
with, or entertained in private by, the notorious Mrs. Frank L.
Sharpe."

They were both of them pale, both trembling, both stiffened by hurt
and rebellious pride. Bobby gazed at her a moment in a panic, and saw
no relenting in her eyes, in her pose, in her compressed lips. She was
still thinking of the way Mrs. Sharpe had looked at him.

"Very well," said he, quite calmly; "since our arrangements for this
evening are off, I presume I may as well accept that invitation to
dine at Sharpe's," and with this petty threat he left the house.

At the Idlers' he was met by a succession of grins that were more
aggravating because for the most part they were but scantily
explained. Nick Allstyne, indeed, did take him into a corner, with a
vast show of secrecy, requested him to have an ordinance passed,
through his new and influential friends, turning Bedlow Park into a
polo ground; while Payne Winthrop added insult to injury by shaking
hands with him and most gravely congratulating him--but upon what he
would not say. Bobby was half grinning and yet half angry when he left
the club and went over for his usual half hour at the gymnasium.
Professor Henry H. Bates was also grinning.

"See you're butting in with the swell mob," observed Mr. Bates
cheerfully. "Getting your name in the paper, ain't you, along with the
fake heavyweights and the divorces?" and before Bobby's eyes he thrust
a copy of the yellowest of the morning papers, wherein it was set
forth that Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Sharpe had entertained a notable box
party at the Orpheum, the night before, consisting of Samuel Stone,
William Garland and Robert Burnit, the latter of whom, it was rumored,
was soon to be identified with the larger financial affairs of the
city, having already contracted to purchase a controlling interest in
the Brightlight Electric Company. The paper had more to say about the
significance of Bobby's appearance in this company, as indicating the
new political move which sought to ally the younger business element
with the progressive party that had been so long in safe, sane and
conservative control of municipal affairs, except for the temporary
setback of the recent so-called "citizens' movement" hysteria. Bobby
frowned more deeply as he read on, and Mr. Bates grinned more and more
cheerfully.

"Here's where it happens," he observed. "On the level, Bobby, did they
hook you up on this electric deal?"

"What's the matter with it?" demanded Bobby. "After thorough
investigation by my own lawyer and my own bookkeeper, the Brightlight
proves to have been a profitable enterprise for a great many years,
and is in as good condition now as it ever was. Why shouldn't I go
into it?"

Biff winked.

"Because it's no fun being the goat," he replied. "Say, tell me, did
you ever earn a pull with this bunch?"

"No."

"Well, then, why should they hand you anything but the buzzer? If this
is a good stunt don't you suppose they'd keep it at home? Don't you
suppose that Stone could go out and get half the money in this town,
if he wanted it, to put behind a deal that was worth ten per cent. a
year and pickings? I don't care what your lawyer or what Johnson says
about it, I know the men. This boy Garland is a good sport, all right,
but he's for the easy-money crowd every time--and they're going to
make the next mayor out of him. Our local Hicks would rather be robbed
by a lot of friendly stick-up artists than have their money wasted by
a lot of wooden-heads, and after this election the old Stone gang will
have their feet right back in the trough; yes! This is the way I
figure the dope. They've framed it up to dump the Brightlight
Electric, and you're the fall guy. So wear pads in your derby, because
the first thing you know the hammer's going to drop on your coco."

"How do you find out so much, Biff?" returned Bobby, smiling.

"By sleeping seven hours a day in place of twenty-four. If some of the
marks I know would only cough up for a good, reliable alarm clock
they'd be better off."

"Meaning me, of course," said Bobby. "For that I'll have to manhandle
you a little. Where's your gloves?"

For fifteen minutes they punched away at each other with soft gloves
as determinedly and as energetically as if they were deadly enemies,
and then Bobby went back up to his own office. He found Applerod
jubilant and Johnson glum. Already Applerod heard himself saying to
his old neighbors: "As Frank L. Sharpe said to me this morning--," or:
"I told Sharpe--," or: "Say! Sam Stone stopped at my desk
yesterday--," and already he began to shine by this reflected glory.

"I hear that you have decided to go into the Brightlight Electric," he
observed.

"Signed all the papers this morning," admitted Bobby.

"Allow me to congratulate you, sir," said Applerod, but Johnson
silently produced from an index case a plain, gray envelope, which he
handed to Bobby.

It was inscribed:

    _To My Son Upon His Putting Good Money Into any
      Public Service Corporation_

and it read:

    "When the manipulators of public service corporations tire of
    skinning the dear public in bulk, they skin individual
    specimens just to keep in practice. If you have been fool
    enough to get into the crowd that invokes the aid of dirty
    politics to help it hang people on street-car straps, just
    write them out a check for whatever money you have left, and
    tell your trustee you are broke again; because you are not and
    never can be of their stripe, and if you are not of their
    stripe they will pick your bones. Turn a canary loose in a
    colony of street sparrows and watch what happens to it."

Bobby folded up the letter grimly and went into his private room,
where he thought long and soberly. That evening he went out to
Sharpe's to dinner. As he was about to ring the bell, he stopped,
confronted by a most unusual spectacle. Through the long plate-glass
of the door he could see clearly back through the hall into the
library, and there stood Mrs. Sharpe and William Garland in a tableau
"that would have given Plato the pip," as Biff Bates might have
expressed it had he known about Plato. At that moment Sharpe came
silently down the stairs and turned, unobserved, toward the library.
Seeing that his wife and Garland were so pleasantly engaged, he very
considerately turned into the drawing-room instead, _and as he entered
the drawing-room he lit a cigarette_! Bobby, vowing angrily that there
could never be room in the Brightlight for both Sharpe and himself,
did not ring the bell. Instead, he dropped in at the first public
telephone and 'phoned his regrets.

"By the way," he added, "how soon will you need me again?"

"Not before a week, at least," Sharpe replied.

"Very well, then," said Bobby; "I'll be back a week from to-day."

Immediately upon his arrival down-town he telegraphed the joyous news
to Jack Starlett, in Washington, to prepare for an old-fashioned
loafing bee.



CHAPTER XV

A STRANGE CONNECTION DEVELOPS BETWEEN ELECTRICITY AND POLITICS


Chalmers, during Bobby's absence, secured all the secret information
that he could concerning the Brightlight Electric, but nothing to its
detriment transpired in that investigation, and when he returned,
Bobby, very sensibly as he thought, completed his investment. He paid
his two hundred and fifty thousand dollars into the coffers of the
company, and, at the first stock-holders' meeting, voting this stock
and the ten shares he had bought from Sharpe at a hundred and
seventy-two, he elected his own board of directors, consisting of
Chalmers, Johnson, Applerod, Biff Bates and himself, giving one share
of stock to each of the other four gentlemen so that they would be
eligible. The remaining two members whom he allowed to be elected were
Sharpe and J. W. Williams, and the board of directors promptly elected
Bobby president and treasurer, Johnson secretary and Chalmers
vice-president--a result which gave Bobby great satisfaction. Once he
had been frozen out of a stock company; this time he had absolute
control, and he found great pleasure in exercising it, though against
Chalmers' protest. With swelling triumph he voted to himself, through
his "dummy" directors, the salary of the former president--twelve
thousand dollars a year--though he wondered a trifle that President
Eastman submitted to his retirement with such equanimity, and after he
walked away from that meeting he considered his business career as
accomplished. He was settled for life if he wished to remain in the
business, the salary added to the dividends on two hundred and sixty
thousand dollars worth of stock bringing his own individual income up
to a quite respectable figure. If there were no further revenue to be
derived from the estate of John Burnit, he felt that he had a very
fair prospect in life, indeed, and could, no doubt, make his way very
nicely.

He had been unfortunate enough to find Agnes Elliston "not at home"
upon the two occasions when he had called since their disagreement
upon the subject of the Sharpes, but now he called her up by telephone
precisely as if nothing had happened, and explained to her how good
his prospects were; good enough, in fact, he added, that he could look
matrimony very squarely in the eye.

"Allow me to congratulate you," said Agnes sweetly. "I presume I'll
read presently about the divorce that precedes your marriage," and she
hung up the receiver; all of which, had Bobby but paused to reflect
upon it, was a very fair indication that all he had to do was to jump
in his automobile and call on Aunt Constance Elliston, force his way
upon the attention of Agnes and browbeat that young lady into an
immediate marriage. He chose, on the contrary, to take the matter more
gloomily, and Johnson, after worrying about him for three dismal days,
consulted Biff Bates. But Biff, when the problem was propounded to
him, only laughed.

"His steady has lemoned him," declared Biff. "Any time a guy's making
plenty of money and got good health and ain't married, and goes around
with an all-day grouch, you can play it for a one to a hundred
favorite that his entry's been scratched in the solitaire diamond
stakes."

"Uh-huh," responded the taciturn Johnson, and stalked back with grim
purpose to the Electric Company's office, of which Bobby and Johnson
and Applerod had taken immediate possession.

The next morning Johnson handed to Bobby one of the familiar gray
envelopes, inscribed:

    _To My Son Upon the Occasion of His Having a Misunderstanding
      with Agnes Elliston_

He submitted the envelope with many qualms and misgivings, though
without apology, but one glance at Bobby's face as that young
gentleman read the inscription relieved him of all responsibility in
the matter, for if ever a face showed guilt, that face was the face of
Bobby Burnit. In the privacy of the president's office Bobby read the
briefest note of the many that his forethoughted father had left
behind him in Johnson's charge:

    "You're a blithering idiot!"

That was all. Somehow, that brief note seemed to lighten the gloom, to
lift the weight, to remove some sort of a barrier, and he actually
laughed. Immediately he called up the Ellistons. He received the
information from the housekeeper that Agnes and Aunt Constance had
gone to New York on an extended shopping trip, and thereby he lost his
greatest and only opportunity to prove that he had at last been
successful in business. That day, all the stock which Frank L. Sharpe
had held began to come in for transfer, in small lots of from ten to
twenty shares, and inside a week not a certificate stood in Sharpe's
name. All the stock held by Williams also came in for transfer. Bobby
went immediately to see Sharpe, and, very much concerned, inquired
into the meaning of this. Mr. Sharpe was as pleasant as Christmas
morning.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Burnit," said he, "there were several very
good reasons. In the first place, I needed the money; in the second
place, you were insistent upon control and abused it; in the third
place, since the increased capitalization and change of management the
quotations on Brightlight Electric dropped from one-seventy-two to
one-sixty-five, and I got out before it could drop any lower. You will
give me credit for selling the stock privately and in small lots where
it could not break the price. However, Mr. Burnit, I don't see where
the sale of my stock affects you in any way. You have the Brightlight
Electric now in good condition, and all it needs to remain a good
investment is proper management."

"I'm afraid it needs more than that," retorted Bobby. "I'm afraid it
needs to be in a position to make more money for other people than for
myself;" through which remark it may be seen that, though perhaps a
trifle slow, Bobby was learning.

Another lesson awaited him. On the following morning every paper in
the city blazed with the disquieting information that the Consumers'
Electric Light and Power Company and the United Illuminating and Fuel
Company were to be consolidated! Out of the two old concerns a
fifty-million-dollar corporation was to be formed, and a certain
portion of the stock was to be sold in small lots, as low, even, as
one share each, so that the public should be given a chance to
participate in this unparalleled investment. Oh, it was to be a
tremendous boon to the city!

Bobby, much worried, went straight to Chalmers.

"So far as I can see you have all the best of the bargain," Chalmers
reassured him. "The Consumers', already four times watered and quoted
at about seventy, is to be increased from two to five million before
the consolidation, so that it can be taken in at ten million. The
Union, already watered from one to nine million in its few brief
years, takes on another hydraulic spurt and will be bought for twenty
million. Of the thirty million dollars which is to be paid for the old
corporation, nineteen million represents new water, the most of which
will be distributed among Stone and his henchmen. The other twenty
million will go to the dear public, who will probably be given one
share of common as a bonus with each share of preferred, and pay ten
million sweaty dollars for it. Do you think this new company expects
to pay dividends? On their plants, worth at a high valuation, five
million dollars, and their new capital of ten million, a profit must
be earned for fifty million dollars' worth of stock, and it can not be
done. Within a year I expect to see Consolidated Illuminating and
Power Company stock quoted at around thirty. By that time, however,
Stone and his crowd will have sold theirs, and will have cleaned up
millions. Brightlight Electric was probably too small a factor to be
considered in the consolidation. Did you pay off that mortgage? Then
Stone has his hundred thousand dollars; the back salary list of
Stone's henchmen has been paid up with your money; Sharpe and Williams
have converted their stock and Stone's into cash at a fancy figure;
Eastman is to be taken care of in the new company and they are
satisfied. In my estimation you are well rid of the entire crowd,
unless they have some neat little plan for squeezing you. But I'll
tell you what I would do. I would go direct to Stone, and see what he
has to say."

Bobby smiled ironically at himself as he climbed the dingy stairs up
which it was said that every man of affairs in the city must sooner or
later toil to bend the knee, but he was astonished when he walked into
the office of Stone to find it a narrow, bare little room, with the
door wide open to the hall. There was an old, empty desk in it--for
Stone never kept nor wrote letters--and four common kitchen chairs for
waiting callers. At the desk near the one window sat Stone, and over
him bent a shabby-looking man, whispering. Stone, grunting
occasionally, looked out of the window while he listened, and when the
man was through gave him a ten-dollar bill.

"It's all right," Stone said gruffly. "I'll be in court myself at ten
o'clock to-morrow morning, and you may tell Billy that I'll get him
out of it."

Another man, a flashily-dressed fellow, was ahead of Bobby, and he,
too, now leaned over Stone and whispered.

"Nothing doing," rumbled Stone.

The man, from his gestures, protested earnestly.

"Nix!" declared Stone loudly. "You threw me two years ago this fall,
and you can't come back till you're on your uppers good and proper. I
don't want to see you nor hear of you for another year, and you
needn't send any one to me to fix it, because it can't be fixed. Now
beat it. I'm busy!"

The man, much crestfallen, "beat it." Bobby was thankful that there
was no one else waiting when it was his turn to approach the Mogul.
Stone shook hands cordially enough.

"Mr. Stone," inquired Bobby, "how does it come that the Brightlight
Electric Company was not offered a chance to come into this new
consolidation?"

"How should I know?" asked Stone in reply.

"It is popularly supposed," suggested Bobby, smiling, "that you know a
great deal about it."

Mr. Stone ignored that supposition completely.

"Mr. Burnit, how much political influence do you think you could
swing?"

"Frankly, I never thought of it," said Bobby surprised.

"You belong to the Idlers' Club, you belong to the Traders' Club, to
the Fish and Game, the Brassie, the Gourmet, and the Thespian Clubs.
You are a member of the board of governors in three of these clubs,
and are very popular in all of them. A man like you, if he would get
wise, could swing a strong following."

"Possibly," admitted Bobby dryly; "although I wouldn't enjoy it."

"One-third of the members of the Traders' Club do not vote, more than
half of the members of the Fish and Game and the Brassie do not vote,
none of the members of the other clubs vote at all," went on Mr.
Stone. "They ain't good citizens. If you're the man that can stir them
up the right way you'd find it worth while."

"But just now," evaded Bobby, "whom did you say I should see about
this consolidation?"

"Sharpe," snapped Stone. "Good day, Mr. Burnit." And Bobby walked away
rather belittled in his own estimation.

He had been offered an excellent chance to become one of Stone's
political lieutenants, had been given an opportunity to step up to the
pie counter, to enjoy the very material benefits of the Stone style of
municipal government; and in exchange for this he had only to sell his
fellows. He knew now that his visit to Sharpe would be fruitless, that
before he could arrive at Sharpe's office that puppet would have had a
telephone message from Stone; yet, his curiosity aroused, he saw the
thing through. Mr. Sharpe, upon his visit, met Bobby as coldly as the
January morning when the Christmas bills come in.

"We don't really care for the Brightlight Electric in the combination
at all," said Mr. Sharpe, "but if you wish to come in at a valuation
of five hundred thousand I guess we can find a place for you."

"Let me understand," said Bobby. "By a valuation of five hundred
thousand dollars you mean that the Brightlight stock-holders can
exchange each share of their stock for one share in the Consolidated?"

"That's it, precisely," said Mr. Sharpe without a smile.

"You're joking," objected Bobby. "My stock in the Brightlight is worth
to-day one hundred and fifty dollars a share. My two hundred and sixty
thousand dollars' worth of stock in the Consolidated would not be
worth par, even, to-day. Why do you make this discrimination when you
are giving the stock-holders of the Consumers' an exchange of five
shares for one, and the stock-holders of the United an exchange of
twenty shares for nine?"

"We need both those companies," calmly explained Sharpe, "and we don't
need the Brightlight."

"Is that figure the best you will do?"

"Under the circumstances, yes."

"Very well then," said Bobby; "good day."

"By the way, Mr. Burnit," Sharpe said to him with a return of the
charming smile which had been conspicuously absent on this occasion,
"we needn't consider the talk entirely closed as yet. It might be
possible that we would be able, between now and the first of the next
month, when the consolidation is to be completed, to make you a much
more liberal offer to come in with us; to be one of us, in fact."

Bobby sat down again.

"How soon may I see you about it?" he asked.

"I'll let you know when things are shaped up right. By the way, Mr.
Burnit, you are a very young man yet, and just starting upon your
career. Really you ought to look about you a bit and study what
advantages you have in the way of personal influence and following."

"I have never counted that I had a 'following.'"

"I understand that you have a very strong one," insisted Sharpe. "What
you ought to do is to see Mr. Stone."

"I have been to see him," replied Bobby with a smile.

"So I understand," said Sharpe dryly. "By the way, next Tuesday I am
to be voted upon in the Idlers'. You are on the board of governors up
there, I believe?"

"Yes," said Bobby steadily.

Sharpe studied him for a moment.

"Well, come around and see me about this consolidation on Wednesday,"
he suggested, "and in the meantime have another talk with Stone. By
all means, go and see Stone."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Johnson," asked Bobby, later, "what would you do if a man should ask
you to sell him your personal influence, your self-respect and your
immortal soul?"

"I'd ask his price," interposed Applerod with a grin.

"You'd never get an offer," snapped Johnson to Applerod, "for you
haven't any to sell. Why do you ask, Mr. Burnit?"

Bobby regarded Johnson thoughtfully for a moment.

"I know how to make the Brightlight Electric Company yield me two
hundred per cent. dividends within a year or less," he stated.

"Through Stone?" inquired Johnson.

"Through Stone," admitted Bobby, smiling at Johnson's penetration.

"I thought so. I guess your father has summed up, better than I could
put it, all there is to be said upon that subject." And from his
index-file he produced one of the familiar gray envelopes, inscribed:

    _To My Son Robert Upon the Subject of Bribery_

    "When a man sells his independence and the faith of his
    friends he is bankrupt. Both the taker and the giver of a
    bribe, even when it is called 'preferment,' are like dogs with
    fleas; they yelp in their sleep; only the man gets callous
    after a while and the dog doesn't. Whoever the fellow is
    that's trying to buy your self-respect, go soak him in the
    eye, and pay your fine."

"For once I agree most heartily with the governor," said Bobby, and as
a result he did not go to see Stone. Moreover, Frank L. Sharpe was
blackballed at the Idlers' Club with cheerful unanimity, and Bobby
figuratively squared his shoulders to receive the blow that he was
convinced must certainly fall.



CHAPTER XVI

AGNES APPEARS PUBLICLY WITH MRS. SHARPE AND BIFF BATES HAS A ONE-ROUND
SCRAP


That night, though rather preoccupied by the grave consequences that
might ensue on this flat-footed defiance of Stone and his crowd, Bobby
went to the theater with Jack Starlett and Jack's sister and mother.
As they seated themselves he bowed gravely across the auditorium to
Agnes and Aunt Constance Elliston, who, with Uncle Dan, were
entertaining a young woman relative from Savannah. He did not know how
the others accepted his greeting; he only saw Agnes, and she smiled
quite placidly at him, which was far worse than if she had tilted her
head. Through two dreary, interminable acts he sat looking at the
stage, trying to talk small talk with the Starletts and remaining
absolutely miserable; but shortly before the beginning of the last act
he was able to take a quite new and gleeful interest in life, for the
young woman from Savannah came fluttering into the Elliston box,
bearing in tow the beautiful and vivacious Mrs. Frank L. Sharpe!

Bobby turned his opera-glasses at once upon that box, and pressed Jack
Starlett into service. Being thus attracted, the ladies of the
Starlett box, mystified and unable to extract any explanation from the
two gleeful men, were compelled, by force of circumstances and
curiosity, also to opera-glass and lorgnette the sufferers.

Like the general into which he was developing, Bobby managed to meet
Agnes face to face in the foyer after the show. Tears of mortification
were in her eyes, but still she was laughing when he strode up to her
and with masterful authority drew her arm beneath his own.

"Your carriage is too small for four," Bobby calmly told Mr. Elliston,
and, excusing himself from the Starletts, deliberately conducted Agnes
to a hansom. As they got well under way he observed:

"You will notice that I make no question of being seen in public
with--"

"Bobby!" she protested. "Violet did not know. The Sharpes visited in
Savannah. His connections down there are quite respectable, and no
doubt Mrs. Sharpe, who is really clever, held herself very
circumspectly."

"Fine!" said Bobby. "You will notice that I am quite willing to listen
to _you_. Explain some more."

"Bobby!" she protested again, and then suddenly she bent forward and
pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.

Bobby was astounded. She was actually crying! In a moment he had her
in his arms, was pressing her head upon his shoulder, was saying
soothing things to her with perfectly idiotic volubility. For an
infinitesimally brief space Agnes yielded to that embrace, and then
suddenly she straightened up in dismay.

"Good gracious, Bobby!" she exclaimed. "This hansom is all glass!"

He looked out upon the brilliantly lighted street with a reflex of her
own consternation, but quickly found consolation.

"Well, after all," he reflected philosophically, "I don't believe
anybody who saw me would blame me."

"You're a perfectly incorrigible Bobby," she laughed. "The only check
possible to put upon you is to hold you rigidly to business. How are
you coming out with the Brightlight Electric Company? I have been
dying to ask you about it."

"I have a telephone in my office," he reminded her.

"I am completely ignoring that ungenerous suggestion," she replied.

"It wasn't sportsmanlike," he penitently admitted. "Well, the
Brightlight Electric is still making money, and Johnson has stopped
leaks to the amount of at least twenty thousand dollars a year, which
will permit us to keep up the ten per cent. dividends, even with our
increased capitalization, and even without an increase of business."

"Glorious!" she said with sparkling eyes.

"Too good to be true," he assured her. "They'll take it away from me."

"How is it possible?" she asked.

"It isn't; but it will happen, nevertheless," he declared with
conviction.

He had already begun to spend his days and nights in apprehension of
this, and as the weeks went on and nothing happened his apprehension
grew rather than diminished.

In the meantime, the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company went
pompously on. The great combine was formed, the fifty million dollars'
worth of stock was opened for subscription, and the company gave a
vastly expensive banquet in the convention hall of the Hotel Spender,
at which a thousand of the city's foremost men were entertained, and
where the cleverest after-dinner speakers to be obtained talked in
relays until long after midnight. Those who came to eat the rich food
and drink the rare wine and lend their countenances to the stupendous
local enterprise, being shrewd business graduates who had cut their
eye-teeth in their cradles, smiled and went home without any thought
of investing; but the hard-working, economical chaps of the offices
and shops, men who felt elated if, after five years of slavery, they
could show ten hundred dollars of savings, glanced in awe over this
magnificent list of names in the next day's papers. If the stock of
the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company was considered a good
investment by these generals and captains and lieutenants of finance,
who, of course, attended this Arabian Nights banquet as investors, it
must certainly be a good investment for the corporals and privates.

Immediately vivid results were shown. Immense electric signs,
furnished at less than cost and some of them as big as the buildings
upon the roofs of which they were erected, began to make
constellations in the city sky; buildings in the principal down-town
squares were studded, for little or nothing, with outside incandescent
lights as thickly as wall space could be found for them, and the men
whose only automobiles are street-cars awoke to the fact that their
city was becoming intensely metropolitan; that it was blazing with the
blaze of Paris and London and New York; that all this glittering
advancement was due to the great new Consolidated Illuminating and
Power Company, and more applications for stock were made!

Every applicant was supplied, but the treasury stock of the company
having been sold out, the scrip had to come from some place else, and
it came through devious, secret ways from the holdings of such men as
Stone and Garland and Sharpe.

During the grand orgie of illumination the election came on; the price
of gas and electricity went gloriously and recklessly down, and the
men who were identified with the triumphantly successful new
illuminating company were the leading figures in the campaign. The
puerile "reform party," the blunders of whose incompetence had been
ridiculous, was swept out of existence; Garland was elected mayor by
the most overwhelming majority that had ever been known in the city,
and with him was elected a council of the same political faith. Sam
Stone, always in the background, always keeping his name out of the
papers as much as possible, came once more to the throne, and owned
the city and all its inhabitants and all its business enterprises and
all its public utilities, body and soul.

One night, shortly after the new officials went into power, there was
no light in the twelve blocks over which the Brightlight Company had
exclusive control, nor any light in the outside districts it supplied.
This was the first time in years that the company, equipped with an
emergency battery of dynamos which now proved out of order, had ever
failed for an instant of proper service. Candles, kerosene lamps and
old gas fixtures, the rusty cocks of which had not been turned in a
decade, were put hastily in use, while the streets were black with a
blackness particularly Stygian, contrasted with the brilliantly
illuminated squares supplied by the Consolidated Company. All night
long the mechanical force, attended by the worried but painfully
helpless Bobby, pounded and tapped and worked in the grime, but it was
not until broad daylight that they were able to discover the cause of
trouble. For two nights the lights ran steadily. On the third night,
at about seven-thirty, they turned to a dull, red glow, and slowly
died out. This time it was wire trouble, and through the long night as
large a force of men as could be mustered were tracing it. Not until
noon of the next day was the leak found.

It was a full week before that section of the city was for the third
time in darkness, but when this occurred the business men of the
district, who had been patient enough the first night and enduring
enough the second, loosed their reins and became frantic.

At this happy juncture the Consolidated Company threw an army of
canvassers into those twelve monopolized blocks, and the canvassers
did not need to be men who could talk, for arguments were not
necessary. The old, worn-out equipment of the Brightlight Electric,
and the fact that it was managed and controlled by men who knew
nothing whatever of the business, its very president a young fellow
who had probably never seen a dynamo until he took charge, were
enough.

Bobby, passing over Plum Street one morning, was surprised to see a
large gang of men putting in new poles, and when he reached the office
he asked Johnson about it. In two minutes he had definitely
ascertained that no orders had been issued by the Brightlight Electric
Company nor any one connected with it, and further inquiry revealed
the fact that these poles were being put up by the Consolidated. He
called up Chalmers at once.

"I knew I'd hear from you," said Chalmers, "and I have already been at
work on the thing. Of course, you saw what was in the papers."

"No," confessed Bobby. "Only the sporting pages."

"You should read news, local and general, every morning," scolded
Chalmers. "The new city council, at their meeting last night, granted
the Consolidated a franchise to put up poles and wires in this
district for lighting."

"But how could they?" expostulated Bobby. "Our contract with the city
has several years to run yet, and guarantees us exclusive privilege to
supply light, both to the city and to private individuals, in those
twelve blocks."

"That cleverly unobtrusive joker clause about 'reasonably satisfactory
service,'" replied Chalmers angrily. "By the way, have you
investigated the cause of those accidents very thoroughly? Whether
there was anything malicious about them?"

Bobby confessed that he had not thought of the possibility.

"I think it would pay you to do so. I am delving into this thing as
deeply as I can, and with your permission I am going to call your
father's old attorney, Mr. Barrister, into consultation."

"Go ahead, by all means," said Bobby, worried beyond measure.

At five o'clock that evening Con Ripley came jauntily to the plant of
the Brightlight Electric Company. Con was the engineer, and the world
was a very good joke to him, although not such a joke that he ever
overlooked his own interests. He spruced up considerably outside of
working hours, did Con, and, although he was nearing forty, considered
himself very much a ladies' man, also an accomplished athlete, and
positively the last word in electrical knowledge. He was donning his
working garments in very leisurely fashion when a short,
broad-shouldered, thickset young man came back toward him from the
office.

"You're Con Ripley?" said the new-comer by way of introduction.

"Maybe," agreed Con. "Who are you?"

"I'm the Assistant Works," observed Professor Henry H. Bates.

"Oh!" said Mr. Ripley in some wonder, looking from the soft cap of Mr.
Bates to the broad, thick tan shoes of Mr. Bates, and then back up to
the wide-set eyes. "I hadn't heard about it."

"No?" responded Mr. Bates. "Well, I came in to tell you. I don't know
enough about electricity to say whether you feed it with a spoon or
from a bottle, but I'm here, just the same, to notice that the juice
slips through the wires all right to-night, all right."

"The hell you are!" exclaimed Mr. Ripley, taking sudden umbrage at
both tone and words, and also at the physical attitude of Mr. Bates,
which had grown somewhat threatening. "All right, Mr. Works," and Mr.
Ripley began to step out of his overalls; "jump right in and push
juice till you get black in the face, while I take a little vacation.
I've been wanting a lay-off for a long time."

"You'll lay on, Bo," dissented Mr. Bates. "Nix on the vacation. That's
just the point. You're going to stick on the job, and I'm going to
stick within four feet of you till old Jim-jams Jones shakes along to
get his morning's morning; and it will be a sign of awful bad luck for
you if the lights in this end of town flicker a single flick any time
to-night."

"Is that it?" Mr. Ripley wanted to know. "And if they should happen to
flicker some what are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know yet," said Biff. "I'll knock your block off first and
think about it afterward!"

Mr. Ripley hastily drew his overalls back on and slipped the straps
over his shoulders with a snap.

"You'll tell me when you're going to do it, won't you?" he asked
banteringly, and, a full head taller than Mr. Bates, glared down at
him a moment in contempt. Then he laughed. "I'll give you ten to one
the lights will flicker," he offered to bet. "I wouldn't stop such a
cunning chance for exercise for real money," and, whirling upon his
heel, Mr. Ripley started upon his usual preliminary examination of
dynamos and engines and boilers.

Quite nonchalantly Mr. Bates, puffing at a particularly villainous
stogie and with his hands resting idly in his pockets, swung after Mr.
Ripley, keeping within almost precisely four feet of him. In the
boiler-room, Ripley, finding Biff still at his heels, said to the
fireman, with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder:

"Rocksey, be sure you keep a good head of steam on to-night if you're
a friend of mine. This is Mr. Assistant Works back here, and he's come
in to knock my block off if the lights flicker."

"Rocksey," a lean man with gray beard-bristles like pins and with
muscles in astounding lumps upon his grimy arms, surveyed Mr. Bates
with a grin which meant volumes.

"Ring a bell when it starts, will you, Con?" he requested.

To this Biff paid not the slightest attention, gazing stolidly at the
red fire where it shone through the holes of the furnace doors; but
when Mr. Ripley moved away Biff moved also. Ripley introduced Biff in
much the same terms to a tall man who was oiling the big,
old-fashioned Corliss, and a sudden gleam came into the tall man's
eyes as he recognized Mr. Bates, but he turned back to his oiling
without smile or comment. Ripley eyed him sharply.

"You'll hold the sponge and water-bottle for me, won't you, Daly?" he
asked, with an evident attempt at jovial conciliation.

Daly deliberately wiped the slender nose of his oil can and went on
oiling.

"What's the matter?" asked Ripley with a frown. "Got a grouch again?"

"Yes, I have," admitted Daly without looking up, and shrugged his
shoulders.

"Then cut it out," said Ripley, "and look real unpeeved when somebody
hands you tickets to the circus."

From that moment Mr. Ripley seemed to take a keen delight in goading
Mr. Bates. He took a sudden dash half-way down the length of the long
room, as if going to the extreme other end of the plant, then suddenly
whirled and retraced his steps to meet Biff coming after him; made an
equally sudden dart for the mysterious switch-board, and seized a
lever as if to throw it, but suddenly changed his mind, apparently,
and went away, leaving Mr. Bates to infer that the throwing of that
particular lever would leave them all in darkness; later, with Biff
ready to spring upon him, he threw that switch to show that it had no
important function to perform at all. To all these and many more
ingenious tricks to humiliate him, Mr. Bates paid not the slightest
attention, but, as calmly and as impassively as Fate, kept as nearly
as he could to the four-foot distance he had promised.

It was about ten o'clock when Biff, interested for a moment in the
switch-board, suddenly missed Ripley, and looking about him hastily he
saw the fireman standing in the door of the boiler-room grinning at
him, while the other workmen--all of whom were of the old regime--were
also enjoying his discomfort; but Daly, catching his eye, nodded
significantly toward the side-door which led upon the street. It was
an almost imperceptible nod, but it was enough for Biff, and he dashed
out of that door. Half a block ahead of him he saw Ripley hurrying,
and took after him with that light, cat-like run which is the height
of effortless and noiseless speed. Ripley, looking back hastily,
hurried into a saloon, and he had scarcely closed the door when Biff
entered after him, in time to see his man standing at the telephone,
receiver in hand. It was the work of but an instant to grab Ripley by
the arm and jerk him away from the 'phone. Quickly recovering his
balance, with a lunge of his whole body Ripley shot a swift fist at
the man who had interfered with him, but Biff, without shifting his
position, jerked his head to one side and the fist shot harmlessly by.
Before another blow could be struck, or parried, the bartender, a
brawny giant, had rushed between them.

"Let us alone, Jeff," panted Ripley. "I've got all I can stand for
from this rat."

"Outside!" said Jeff with cold finality. "You can beat him to a pulp
in the street, Con, but there'll be no scrimmage in this place without
me having a hand in it."

Ripley considered this ultimatum for a moment in silence, and then, to
Biff's surprise, suddenly ran out of the door. It was a tight race to
the plant, and there, with Biff not more than two arms' length behind
him, Ripley jerked at a lever hitherto untouched, and instantly the
place was plunged into complete darkness.

"There!" screamed Ripley.

A second later Biff had grappled him, and together they went to the
floor. It was only a moment that the darkness lasted, however, for
tall Tom Daly stood by the replaced switch, looking down at them in
quiet joy. Immediately with the turning on of the light Biff scrambled
to his feet like a cat and waited for Ripley to rise. It was Ripley
who made the first lunge, which Biff dexterously ducked, and
immediately after Biff's right arm shot out, catching his antagonist a
glancing blow upon the side of the cheek; a blow which drew blood.
Infuriated, again Ripley rushed, but was blocked, and for nearly a
minute there was a swift exchange of light blows which did little
damage; then Biff found his opening, and, swinging about the axis of
his own spine, threw the entire force of his body behind his right
arm, and the fist of that arm caught Ripley below the ear and dropped
him like a beef, just as Bobby came running back from, the office.

"What are you doing here, Biff? What's the matter?" demanded Bobby, as
Ripley, dazed, struggled to his feet, and, though weaving, drew
himself together for another onslaught.

"Matter!" snarled Biff. "I landed on a frame-up, that's all. This
afternoon I saw Sharpe and this Ripley together in a bum wine-room on
River Street, swapping so much of that earnest conversation that the
partitions bulged, and I dropped to the double-cross that's being
handed out to you. I've been trying to telephone you ever since, but
when I couldn't find you I came right down to run the plant. That's
all."

"You're all right, Biff," laughed Bobby, "but I guess we'll call this
a one-round affair, and I'll take charge."

"Don't stop 'em!" cried Daly savagely, turning to Bobby. "Hand it to
him, Biff. He's a crook and an all-round sneak. He beat me out of this
job by underhand means, and there ain't a man in the place that ain't
tickled to death to see him get the beating that's coming to him.
Paste him, Biff!"

"Biff!" repeated Mr. Ripley, suddenly dropping his hands. "Biff who?"

"Mr. Biff Bates, the well-known and justly celebrated ex-champion
middleweight," announced Bobby with a grin. "Mr. Ripley--Mr. Bates."

"Biff Bates!" repeated Con Ripley. "Why didn't some of you guys tell
me this was Biff Bates? Mr. Bates, I'm glad to meet you." And with
much respect he held forth his hand.

"Go chase yourself," growled Mr. Bates, in infinite scorn.

Ripley replied with a sudden volley of abuse, couched in the vilest of
language, but to this Biff made no reply. He dropped his hands in his
coat pockets, and, considering his work done, walked over to the wall
and leaned against it, awaiting further developments.

"Daly," asked Bobby sharply, breaking in upon Ripley's tirade, "are
you competent to run this plant?"

"Certainly, sir," replied Daly. "I should have had the job four years
ago. I was promised it."

"You may consider yourself in charge, then. Mr. Ripley, if you will
walk up to the office I'll pay you off."



CHAPTER XVII

BOBBY'S MONEY IS ELECTROCUTED AND JOHN BURNIT'S SON WAKES UP


Bobby, jubilant, went to see Chalmers next day. The lawyer listened
gravely, but shook his head.

"I'm bound to tell you, Mr. Burnit, that you have no case. You must
have more proof than this to bring a charge of conspiracy. Ripley had
a perfect right to talk with Sharpe or to telephone to some one, and
mere hot-headedness could explain his shutting off the lights. Your
over-enthusiastic friend Bates has ruined whatever prospect you might
have had. Your suspicions once aroused, you should have let your man
do as he liked, but should have watched him and caught him in a trap
of some sort. Now it is too late. Moreover, I have bad news for you.
Your contract for city lighting is ironclad, and can not be broken,
but I saw to-day a paper signed by an overwhelming majority of your
private consumers that the service is not even 'reasonably
satisfactory,' and that they wish the field open to competition. With
this paper to back them, Stone's council granted the right to the
Consolidated Company to erect poles, string wires and supply current.
We can bring suit if you say so, but you will lose it."

"Bring suit, then!" ordered Bobby vehemently. "Why, Chalmers, the
contract for the city lighting alone would cost the Brightlight money
every year. The profit has all been made from private consumers."

"That's why you're losing it," said Chalmers dryly. "The whole project
is very plain to me now. The Consumers and the United Companies never
cared to enter that field, because their controlling stock-holders
were also the Brightlight controlling stock-holders, and they could
get more money through the Brightlight than they could through the
other companies; and so they led the public to believe that there was
no breaking the monopoly the Brightlight held upon their service. Now,
however, they want to gain another stock-jobbing advertisement by
driving you out of the field. They planned from the first to wreck you
for just that purpose--to make Consolidated stock seem more desirable
when the stock sales began to dwindle--and they are perfectly willing
to furnish the consumers in your twelve blocks with current at their
present ridiculously low rate, because, with them, any possible
profits to be derived from the business are insignificant compared to
the profits to be derived from the sale of their watered stock. The
price of illumination and power, later, will _soar_! Watch it. They're
a very bright crowd," and Mr. Chalmers paused to admire them.

"In other words," said Bobby glumly. "I am what Biff Bates told me I
would be--the goat."

"Precisely," agreed Chalmers.

"Begin suit anyhow," directed Bobby, "and we'll see what comes of it."

"By the way," called Chalmers with a curious smile as Bobby opened the
door; "I've just learned that one of the foremost enthusiasts in this
whole manipulation has been quiet and conservative Silas Trimmer."

Bobby did not swear. He simply slammed the door.

Two days later Bobby was surprised to see Sharpe drop in upon him.

"I understand you are bringing suit against the Consolidated for
encroachment upon your territory, and against the city for abrogation
of contract," began Sharpe.

"Yes," said Bobby.

"Don't you think it rather a waste of money, Mr. Burnit? I can
guarantee you positively that you will not win either suit."

"I'm willing to wait to find that out."

"No use," said Sharpe impatiently. "I'll tell you what we will do, Mr.
Burnit. If you care to have us to do so, the Consolidated, a little
later on, will absorb the Brightlight."

"On what terms?" asked Bobby.

"It all depends. We might discuss that later. There's another matter
I'd like to speak with you about. Stone wants to see you, even yet. I
want to tell you, Mr. Burnit, he can get along a great deal better
without you than you can without him, as you are probably willing to
admit by now. But he still wants you. Go and see Stone."

"On--what--terms--will the Consolidated now absorb the Brightlight?"
demanded Bobby sternly.

"Well," drawled Sharpe, with a complete change of manner, "the
property has deteriorated considerably within a remarkably short space
of time, but I should say that we would buy the Brightlight for three
hundred thousand dollars in stock of the Consolidated, half preferred
and half common."

"And this is your very best offer?"

"The very best," replied Sharpe, making no attempt to conceal his
exultant grin.

"Not on your life," declared Bobby. "I'm going to hold the Brightlight
intact. I'm going to fulfill the city contract at a loss, if it takes
every cent I can scrape together, and then I'm going to enter politics
myself. I'm going to drive Stone and his crowd out of this city, and
we shall see if we can not make a readjustment of the illuminating
business on my basis instead of his. Good day, Mr. Sharpe."

"Good day, sir," said Sharpe, and this time he laughed aloud.

At the door he turned.

"I'd like to call your attention, young man, to the fact that a great
many very determined gentlemen have announced their intention of
driving Mr. Stone and his associates out of this city. You might
compare that with the fact that Mr. Stone and his friends are all here
yet, and on top," and with that he withdrew.

"If I may be so bold as to say so," said Mr. Applerod, worried to
paleness by this foolish defiance of so great and good a man, "you
have made a very grave error, Mr. Burnit, very grave, indeed. It is
suicidal to defy Mr. Sharpe, and through him _Mr. Stone_!"

"Will you shut up!" snarled Johnson to his ancient work-mate. "Mr.
Burnit, I have no right to take the liberty, but I am going to
congratulate you, sir. Whatever follies inexperience may have led you
to commit, you are, at any rate, sir, a _man_, like your father was
before you!" and by way of emphasis Johnson smacked his fist on his
desk as he glared in Mr. Applerod's direction.

"It's all very well to show fight, Johnson," said Bobby, a little
wanly, "but just the same I have to acknowledge defeat. I am afraid I
boasted too much. Chalmers, after considering the matter, positively
refuses to bring suit. The whole game is over. I have the Brightlight
Company on my hands at a net dead loss of every cent I have sunk into
it, and it can not pay me a penny so long as these men remain in
power. I am going to fight them with their own weapons, but that is a
matter of years. In the meantime, my third business attempt is a
hideous failure. Where's the gray envelope, Johnson?"

"It is here," admitted Johnson, and from his file took the missive in
question.

As Bobby took the letter from Johnson Agnes came into the office and
swept toward him with outstretched hand.

"It is perfectly shameful, Bobby! I just read about it!"

"So soon?" he wanted to know.

She carried a paper in her hand and spread it before him. In the very
head-line his fate was pronounced. "Brightlight Electric Tottering to
Its Fall," was the cheerful line which confronted him, and beneath
this was set forth the facts that every profitable contract heretofore
held by the Brightlight Electric had been taken away from that
unfortunate concern, in which the equipment was said to be so
inefficient as to render decent service out of the question, and that,
having remaining to it only a money-losing contract for city lighting,
business men were freely predicting its very sudden dissolution. The
item, wherein the head-line took up more space than the news, wound up
with the climax statement that Brightlight stock was being freely
offered at around forty, with no takers.

To her surprise, Bobby tossed the paper on Johnson's desk and laughed.

"I have been so long prepared for this bit of 'news' that it does not
shock me much," he said; "moreover, the lower this stock goes the
cheaper I can buy it!"

"Buy it!" she incredulously exclaimed.

"Exactly," he stated calmly. "I presume that, as heretofore, I'll be
given another check, and I do not see any better place to put the
money than right here. I am going to fight!"

"Beg your pardon, sir," said Johnson. "Your last remark was spoken
loud enough to be taken as general, and I am compelled to give you
this envelope."

Into his hands Johnson placed a mate to the missive which Bobby had
not yet opened, and this one was inscribed:

    _To My Son Robert, Upon His Declaration that He Will Take Two
      Starts at the Same Business_

Bobby looked at the two letters in frowning perplexity, and then
silently walked into his own office, where Agnes followed him; and it
was she who closed the door. He sat down at his desk and held that
last letter of his father's before him in dread. He had so airily
built up his program; and apprehension told him what this letter might
contain! Presently he was conscious that Agnes' arm was slipped across
his shoulder. She was sitting upon the arm of his chair, and had bent
her cheek upon his head. So they read the curt message:

    "To throw good money after bad is like sprinkling salt on a
    cut. It only intensifies the pain and doesn't work much of a
    cure. In your case it is strictly forbidden. You must learn to
    cut your garment according to your cloth, to bite off only
    what you can chew, to lift no more than you can carry. Your
    next start must not be encumbered."

"He's wrong!" declared Bobby savagely.

"But if he is," protested Agnes, "what can you do about it?"

"If his bequests are conditional I shall have to accept the
conditions; but, nevertheless, I am going to fight; and I am going to
keep the Brightlight Electric!"

Mechanically he opened the other letter now. The contents were to this
effect:

    _To My Son Upon His Losing Money in a Public Service
      Corporation_

    "Every buzz-saw claims some fingers. Of course you had to be a
    victim, but now you know how to handle a buzz-saw. The first
    point about it is to treat it with respect. When you realize
    thoroughly that a buzz-saw is dangerous, half the danger is
    gone. So, when your wound is healed, you might go ahead and
    saw, just as a matter of accomplishment. Bobby, how I wish I
    could talk with you now, for just one little half hour."

Convulsively Bobby crumpled the letter in his hand and the tears
started to his eyes.

"Bully old dad!" he said brokenly, and opened his watch-case, where
the grim but humor-loving face of old John Burnit looked up at his
beloved children.

"And now what are you going to do?" Agnes asked him presently, when
they were calmer.

"Fight!" he vehemently declared. "For the governor's sake as well as
my own."

"I just found another letter for you, sir," said Johnson, handing in
the third of the missives to come in that day's mail from beyond the
Styx. It was inscribed:

    _To My Son Robert Upon the Occasion of His Declaring Fight
      Against the Politicians Who Robbed Him_

    "Nothing but public laziness allows dishonest men to control
    public affairs. Any time an honest man puts up a sincere fight
    against a crook there's a new fat man in striped clothes. If
    you have a crawful and want to fight against dirty politics in
    earnest, jump in, and tell all my old friends to put a bet
    down on you for me. I'd as soon have you spend in that way the
    money I made as to buy yachts with it; and I can see where the
    game might be made as interesting as polo. Go in and win,
    boy."

"And now what are you going to do?" Agnes asked him, laughing this
time.

"Fight!" he declared exultantly. "I'm going to fight entirely outside
of my father's money. I'm going to fight with my own brawn and my own
brain and my own resources and my own personal following! Why, Agnes,
that is what the governor has been goading me to do. It is what all
this is planned for, and the governor, after all, is right!"



CHAPTER XVIII

SOME EMINENT ARTISTS AMUSE MEESTER BURNIT WHILE HE WAITS


One might imagine, after Bobby's heroic declarations, that, like young
David of old, he would immediately proceed to stride forth and slay
his giant. There stood his Goliath, full panoplied, sneering, waiting;
but alas! Bobby had neither sling nor stone. It was all very well to
announce in fine frenzy that he would smash the Consolidated, destroy
the political ring, drive Sam Stone and his henchmen out of town and
wrest all his goods and gear from Silas Trimmer; but until he could
find a place to plant his foot, descry an opening in the armor and
procure an adequate weapon, he might just as well bottle his fuming
and wait; so Bobby waited. In the meantime he stuck very closely to
the Brightlight office, finding there, in the practice of petty
economics and the struggle with well-nigh impossible conditions, ample
food for thought. In a separate bank reposed the new fund of two
hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which he kept religiously aside
from the affairs of the Brightlight, and this fund also waited; for
Bobby was not nearly so feverish to find instant employment for it as
he had been with the previous ones--though he had endless chances.
People with the most unheard of schemes seemed to have a peculiar
scent for unsophisticated money, and not only local experts in the
gentle art of separation flocked after him, but out of town
specialists came to him in shoals. To these latter he took great
satisfaction in displaying the gem of his collection of post-mortem
letters from old John Burnit:

    "You don't need to go away from home to be skinned; moreover,
    it isn't patriotic."

That usually stopped them. He was growing quite sophisticated, was
Bobby, quite able to discern the claws beneath the velvet paw, quite
suspicious of all the ingenious gentlemen who wanted to make a fortune
for him; and their frantic attempts to "get his goat," as Biff Bates
expressed it, had become as good as a play to this wise young person,
as also to the wise young person's trustee.

Agnes, who was helping Bobby wait, came occasionally to the office of
the Brightlight on business, and nearly always Bobby had reduced to
paper some gaudy new scheme that had been proposed to him, over which
they both might laugh. In great hilarity one morning they were going
over the prospectus of a plan to reclaim certain swamp lands in
Florida, when the telephone bell rang, and from Bobby's difficulty in
understanding and his smile as he hung up the receiver, Agnes knew
that something else amusing had turned up.

[Illustration: Little me to trot out and find an angel. Are you it?]

"It is from Schmirdonner," he explained as he turned to her again.
"He's the conductor of the orchestra at the Orpheum, you know. I
gather from what he says that there are some stranded musicians here
who probably speak worse English than myself, and he's sending them up
to me to see about arranging a benefit for them. You'd better wait; it
might be fun, or you might want to help arrange the benefit."

"No," disclaimed Agnes, laughing and drawing her impedimenta together
for departure, "I'll leave both the fun and the philanthropy to you. I
know you're quite able to take care of them. I'll just wait long
enough to hear how we're to get rid of the water down in Florida. I
suppose we bore holes in the ground and let it run out."

"By no means," laughed Bobby. "It's no where near so absurdly simple
as that," and he turned once more to the prospectus which lay open on
the desk before them.

Before they were through with it there suddenly erupted into the outer
office, where Johnson and Applerod glared at each other day by day
over their books, a pandemonium of gabbling. Agnes, with a little
exclamation of dismay at the time she had wasted, rose in a hurry, and
immediately after she passed through the door there bounded into the
room a rotund little German with enormous and extremely thick glasses
upon his knob of a nose, a grizzled mustache that poked straight up on
both sides of that knob, and an absurd toupee that flared straight out
all around on top of the bald spot to which it was pasted. Behind him
trailed a pudgy man of so exactly the Herr Professor's height and
build that it seemed as if they were cast in the same spherical mold,
but he was much younger and had jet black hair and a jet black
mustache of such tiny proportions as to excite amazement and even awe.
Still behind him was as unusually large young woman, fully a head
taller than either of the two men, who had an abundance of jet black
hair, and was dressed in a very rich robe and wrap, both of which were
somewhat soiled and worn.

"Signor R-r-r-r-icardo, der grosse tenore--Mees-ter Burnit,"
introduced the rotund little German, with a deep bow commensurate with
the greatness of the great tenor. "Signorina Car-r-r-avaggio--Mees-ter
Burnit. I, Mees-ter Burnit, _Ich bin_ Brofessor Frühlingsvogel."

Bobby, for the lack of any other handy greeting, merely bowed and
smiled, whereupon Signorina Caravaggio, stepping into a breach which
otherwise would certainly have been embarrassing, seated herself
comfortably upon the edge of Bobby's desk and swung one large but
shapely foot while she explained matters.

"It's like this, Mr. Burnit," she confidently began: "when that
dried-up little heathen, Matteo, who tried to run the Neapolitan Grand
Opera Company with stage money, got us this far on a tour that is a
disgrace to the profession, he had a sudden notion that he needed
ocean air; so he took what few little dollars were in the treasury and
hopped right on into New York.

"Here we are, then, at the place we were merely 'to make connections,'
two hundred miles from our next booking and without enough money among
us to buy a postage stamp. We haven't seen a cent of salary for six
weeks, and the only thing we can do is to seize the props and scenery
and costumes, see if they can be sold, and disband, unless somebody
gallops to the rescue in a hurry. Professor Frühlingsvogel happened to
know another Dutchman here who conducts an orchestra at the Orpheum,
and he sent us to you. He said you knew all the swell set and could
start a benefit going if anybody in town could."

"Yes," said Bobby, smiling; "Schmirdonner telephoned me just a few
minutes ago that the Herr Professor Frühlingsvogel would be up to see
me, and asked me to do what I could. How many of you are there?"

"Seventy-three," promptly returned Signorina Caravaggio, "and all
hungry. Forty singers and an orchestra of thirty--seventy--besides
props and the stage manager and Herr Frühlingsvogel, who is the
musical director."

"Where are you stopping?" asked Bobby, aghast at the size of the
contract that was offered him.

"We're not," laughed the great Italian songstress. "We all went up and
registered at a fourth-rate place they call the Hotel Larken, but
that's as far as we got, for we were told before the ink was dry that
we'd have to come across before we got a single biscuit; so there they
are, scattered about the S. R. O. parts of that little two-by-twice
hotel, waiting for little me to trot out and find an angel. Are you
it?"

"I can't really promise what I can do," hesitated Bobby, who had never
been able to refuse assistance where it seemed to be needed; "but I'll
run down to the club and see some of the boys about getting up a
subscription concert for you. How much help will you need?"

"Enough to land us on little old Manhattan Island."

"And there are over seventy of you to feed and take care of for, say,
three days, and then to pay railroad fares for," mused Bobby, a little
startled as the magnitude of the demand began to dawn upon him. "Then
there's the music-hall, advertising, printing and I suppose a score of
other incidentals. You need quite a pile of money. However, I'll go
down to the club at lunch time and see what I can do for you."

"I knew you would the minute I looked at you," said the Signorina
confidently, which was a compliment or not, the way one looked at it.
"But, say; I've got a better scheme than that, one that will let you
make a little money instead of contributing. I understand the Orpheum
has next week dark, through yesterday's failure of The Married
Bachelor Comedy Company. Why don't you get the Orpheum for us and back
our show for the week? We have twelve operas in our repertoire. The
scenery and props are very poor, the costumes are only half-way decent
and the chorus is the rattiest-looking lot you ever saw in your life;
but they can sing. They went into the discard on account of their
faces, poor things. Suppose you come over and have a look. They'd melt
you to tears."

"That won't be necessary," hastily objected Bobby; "but I'll meet a
lot of the fellows at lunch, and afterward I'll let you know."

"After lunch!" exclaimed the Signorina with a most expressive placing
of her hands over her belt, whereat the Herr Professor and Der Grosse
Tenore both turned most wistfully to Bobby to see what effect this
weighty plea might have upon him. "Lunch!" she repeated. "If you would
carry a fork-full of steaming spaghetti into the Hotel Larken at this
minute you'd start a riot. Why, Mr. Burnit, if you're going to do
anything for us you've got to get into action, because we've been up
since seven and we still want our breakfasts."

"Breakfast!" exclaimed Bobby, looking hastily at his watch. It was now
eleven-thirty. "Come on; we'll go right over to the Larken, wherever
that may be," and he exhibited as much sudden haste as if he had seen
seventy people actually starving before his very eyes.

Just as the quartette stepped out of the office, Biff Bates, just
coming in, bustled up to Bobby with:

"Can I see you just a minute, Bobby? Kid Mills is coming around to my
place this afternoon."

"Haven't time just now, Biff," said Bobby; "but jump into the machine
with us and I'll do the 'chauffing.' That will make room for all of
us. We can talk on the way to the Hotel Larken. Do you know where it
is?"

"Me?" scorned Biff. "If there is an inch of this old town I can't put
my finger on in the dark, blindfolded, I'll have that inch dug out and
thrown away."

At the curb, with keen enjoyment of the joke of it all, Bobby gravely
introduced Mr. Biff Bates, ex-champion middle-weight, to these
imported artists, but, very much to his surprise, Signorina Caravaggio
and Professor Bates struck up an instant and animated conversation
anent Biff's well-known and justly-famous victory over Slammer Young,
and so interested did they become in this conversation that instead of
Biff's sitting up in the front seat, as Bobby had intended, the
eminent instructor of athletics manoeuvered the Herr Professor into
that post of honor and climbed into the tonneau with Signor Ricardo
and the Signorina, with the latter of whom he talked most volubly all
the way over, to the evidently vast annoyance of Der Grosse Tenore.

The confusion of tongues must have been a very tame and quiet affair
as compared to the polyglot chattering which burst upon Bobby's ears
when he entered the small lobby of the Hotel Larken. The male members
of the Neapolitan Grand Opera Company, almost to a man, were smoking
cigarettes. There were swarthy little men and swarthy big men, there
seeming to be no medium sizes among them, while the women were the
most wooden-featured lot that Bobby had ever encountered, and the
entire crowd was swathed in gay but dingy clothing of the most
nondescript nature. Really, had Bobby not been assured that they were
grand opera singers he would have taken them for a lot of immigrants,
for they had that same unhappy expression of worry. The principals
could be told from the chorus and the members of the orchestra from
the fact that they stood aloof from the rest and from one another,
gloomily nursing their grievances that they, each one the most
illustrious member of the company, should thus be put to
inconvenience! It was a monstrous thing that they, the possessors of
glorious voices which the entire world should at once fall down and
worship, should be actually hungry and out of money! It was, oh,
unbelievable, atrocious, barbarous, positively inhuman!

With the entrance of the Signorina Caravaggio, bearing triumphantly
with her the neatly-dressed and altogether money-like Bobby Burnit,
one hundred and forty wistful eyes, mostly black and dark brown, were
immediately focused in eager interest upon the possible savior. Behind
the desk, perplexed and distracted but still grimly firm, stood frowzy
Widow Larken herself, drawn and held to the post of duty by this vast
and unusual emergency. Not one room had Madam Larken saved for all
these alien warblers, not one morsel of food had she loosed from her
capacious kitchen; and yet not one member of the company had she
permitted to stray outside her doors while Signorina Caravaggio and
Signor Ricardo and the Herr Professor Frühlingsvogel had gone out to
secure an angel, two stout porters being kept at the front door to
turn back the restless. If provision could be made to pay the bills of
this caravan, the Widow Larken--who was shaped like a pillow with a
string tied around it and wore a face like a huge, underdone apple
dumpling--was too good a business woman to overlook that opportunity.
Bobby took one sweeping glance at that advancing circle of one hundred
and forty eyes and turned to Widow Larken.

"I will be responsible for the hotel bills of these people until
further notice," said he.

The Widow Larken, looking intently at Bobby's scarf-pin, relented no
whit in her uncompromising attitude.

"And who might you be?" she demanded, with a calm brow and cold
determination.

"I am Robert J. Burnit," said Bobby. "I'll give you a written order if
you like--or a check."

The Widow Larken's uncompromising expression instantly melted, but she
did not smile--she grinned. Bobby knew precisely the cause of that
amused expression, but if he had needed an interpreter, he had one at
his elbow in the person of Biff Bates, who looked up at him with a
reflection of the same grin.

"They're all next to you, Bobby," he observed. "The whole town knows
that you're the real village goat."

The Widow Larken did not answer Bobby directly. She called back to a
blue-overall-clad porter at the end of the lobby:

"Open the dining-room doors, Michael."

Signorina Caravaggio immediately said a few guttural words in German
to Professor Frühlingsvogel, a few limpid words in Italian to Signor
Ricardo a few crisp words in French to Madame Villenauve, a nervous
but rather attractive little woman with piercing black eyes. The
singers of other languages did not wait to be informed; they joined
the general stampede toward the ravishing paradise of midday
breakfast, and as the last of them vacated the lobby, the principals
no whit behind the humble members of the chorus in crowding and
jamming through that doorway, Bobby breathed a sigh of relief. Only
the Signorina was left to him, and Bobby hesitated just a moment as it
occurred to him that, perhaps, a more personal entertainment was
expected by this eminent songstress. Biff Bates, however, relieved him
of his dilemma.

"While you're gone down to see the boys at the Idlers' Club," said
Biff, "I'm going to take Miss Carry--Miss--Miss--"

"Caravaggio," interrupted the Signorina with a repetition of a laugh
which had convinced Bobby that, after all, she might be a singer,
though her speaking voice gave no trace of it.

"Carrie for mine," insisted Biff with a confident grin. "I'm going to
take Miss Carrie out to lunch some place where they don't serve
prunes. I guess the Hotel Spender will do for us."

Bobby surveyed Biff with an indulgent smile.

"Thanks," said he. "That will give me time to see what I can do."

"You take my advice, Mr. Burnit," earnestly interposed the Signorina.
"Don't bother with your friends. Go and see the manager of the Orpheum
and ask him about that open date. Ask him if he thinks it wouldn't be
a good investment for you to back us."

Biff, the conservative; Biff, whose vote was invariably for the
negative on any proposition involving an investment of Bobby's funds,
unexpectedly added his weight for the affirmative.

"It's a good stunt, Bobby. Go to it," he counseled, and the Caravaggio
smiled down at him.

Again Bobby laughed.

"All right, Biff," said he. "I'll hunt up the manager of the Orpheum
right away."

In his machine he conveyed Biff and the prima donna to the Hotel
Spender, and then drove to the Orpheum.



CHAPTER XIX

WITH THE RELUCTANT CONSENT OF AGNES, BOBBY BECOMES A PATRON OF MUSIC


The manager of the Orpheum was a strange evolution. He was a man who
had spent a lifetime in the show business, running first a concert
hall that "broke into the papers" every Sunday morning with an account
of from two to seven fights the night before, then an equally
disreputable "burlesque" house, the broad attractions of which
appealed to men and boys only. To this, as he made money, he added the
cheapest and most blood-curdling melodrama theater in town, then a
"regular" house of the second grade. In his career he had endured two
divorce cases of the most unattractive sort, and, among quiet and
conventional citizens, was supposed to have horns and a barbed tail
that snapped sparks where it struck on the pavement. When he first
purchased the Orpheum Theater, the most exclusive playhouse of the
city, he began to appear in its lobby every night in a dinner-coat or
a dress-suit, silk topper and all, with an almost modest diamond stud
in his white shirt-front; and ladies, as they came in, asked in awed
whispers of their husbands: "Is _that_ Dan Spratt?" Some few who had
occasion to meet him went away gasping: "Why, the man seems really
nice!" Others of "the profession," about whom the public never knew,
spoke his name with tears of gratitude.

Mr. Spratt, immersed in troubles of his own, scarcely looked up as
Bobby entered, and only grunted in greeting.

"Spratt," began Bobby, who knew the man quite well through "sporting"
events engineered by Biff Bates, "the Neapolitan Grand Opera Company
is stranded here, and--"

"Where are they?" interrupted Spratt eagerly, all his abstraction
gone.

"At the Hotel Larken," began Bobby again. "I--"

"Have they got their props and scenery?"

"Everything, I understand," said Bobby. "I came around to see you--"

"Who's running the show?" demanded Spratt.

"Their manager decamped with the money--with what little there was,"
explained Bobby, "and they came to me by accident. I understand you
have an open date next week."

"It's not open now," declared Spratt. "The date is filled with the
Neapolitan Grand Opera Company."

"There doesn't seem to be much use of my talking, then," said Bobby,
smiling.

"Not much," said Spratt. "They're a good company, but I've noticed
from the reports that they've been badly managed. The Dago that
brought them over didn't know the show business in this country and
tried to run the circus himself; and, of course, they've gone on the
rocks. It's great luck that they landed here. I just heard a bit ago
that they were in town. I suppose they're flat broke."

"Why, yes," said Bobby. "I just went up to the Hotel Larken and said
I'd be responsible for their hotel bill."

"Oh," said Spratt. "Then you're backing them for their week here."

"Well, I'm not quite sure about that," hesitated Bobby.

"If you don't, I will," offered Spratt. "There's a long line of
full-dress Willies here that'll draw their week's wages in advance to
attend grand opera in cabs. At two and a half for the first sixteen
rows they'll pack the house for the week, and every diamond in the
hock-shops will get an airing for the occasion. But you saw it first,
Burnit, and I won't interfere."

"Well, I don't know," Bobby again hesitated. "I haven't fully--"

"Go ahead," urged Spratt heartily. "It's your pick-up and I'll get
mine. Hey, Spencer!"

A thin young man, with hair so light that he seemed to have no hair at
all and no eyebrows, came in.

"We've booked the Neapolitan Grand Opera Company for next week. Have
they got Caravaggio and Ricardo with them?" he asked, turning abruptly
to Bobby.

Bobby, with a smile, nodded his head.

"All right, Spence; get busy on some press stuff for the afternoon
papers. You can fake notices about them from what you know. Use
two-inch streamers clear across the pages, then you can get some fresh
stuff and the repertoire to-night for the morning papers. Play it up
strong, Spence. Use plenty of space; and, say, tell Billy to get ready
for a three o'clock rehearsal. Now, Burnit, let's go up to the Larken
and make arrangements."

"We might just as well wait an hour," counseled Bobby. "The only one I
found in the crowd who could speak English was Signorina Caravaggio."

"I know her," said Spratt. "Her other name's Nora McGinnis. Smart
woman, too, and straight as a string; and sing! Why, that big ox can
sing a bird off a tree."

"She's just gone over to lunch with Biff Bates at the Spender,"
observed Bobby, "and we'd better wait for her. She seems to be the
leading spirit."

"Of course she is. Let's go right over to the Spender."

Biff Bates did not seem overly pleased when his tête-à-tête luncheon
was interrupted by Bobby and Mr. Spratt, but the Signorina Nora very
quickly made it apparent that business was business. Arrangements were
promptly made to attach the carload of effects for back salaries due
the company, and to lease these to Bobby for the week for a nominal
sum. Bobby was to pay the regular schedule of salaries for that week
and make what profit he could. A rehearsal of _Carmen_ was to be
called that afternoon at three, and a repertoire was arranged.

Feeling very much exhilarated after all this, Bobby drove out in his
automobile after lunch to see Agnes Elliston. He found that young lady
and Aunt Constance about to start for a drive, their carriage being
already at the door, but without any ceremony he bundled them into his
machine instead.

"Purely as my trustee," he explained, "Agnes must inspect my new
business venture."

Aunt Constance smiled.

"The trusteeship of Agnes hasn't done you very much good so far," she
observed. "As a matter of fact, if she wanted to build up a reputation
as an expert trustee, I don't think she could accomplish much by
printing in her circulars the details of her past stewardship."

"I don't want her to work up a reputation as a trustee," retorted
Bobby. "She suits me just as she is, and I'm inclined to thank the
governor for having loaded her down with the job."

"I'm becoming reconciled to it myself," admitted Agnes, smiling up at
him. "Really, I have great faith that one day you will learn how to
take care of money--if the money holds out that long. What is the new
venture, Bobby?"

He grinned quite cheerfully.

"I am about to become an angel," he said quite solemnly.

Aunt Constance shook her head.

"No, Bobby," she said kindly; "there _are_ spots, you know, where
angels fear to tread."

But Agnes took the declaration with no levity whatever.

"You don't mean in a theatrical sense?" she inquired.

"_In_ a theatrical sense," he insisted. "I am about to back the
Neapolitan Grand Opera Company."

"Why, Bobby!" objected Agnes, aghast. "You surely don't mean it! I
never thought you would contemplate anything so preposterous as that.
I thought it was to be only a benefit!"

"It's only a temporary arrangement," he reassured her, laughing that
he had been taken so seriously. "I'm arranging so that they can earn
their way out of town; that's all. I am taking you down now to see
their first rehearsal."

"I don't care to go," she declared, in a tone so piqued that Bobby
turned to her in mute astonishment.

Aunt Constance laughed at his look of utter perplexity.

"How little you understand, Bobby," she said. "Don't you see that
Agnes is merely jealous?"

"Indeed not!" Agnes indignantly denied. "That is an idea more absurd
than the fact that Bobby should go into such an enterprise at all.
However, since I lay myself open to such a suspicion I shall offer no
further objection to going."

Bobby looked at her curiously and then he carefully refrained from
chuckling, for Aunt Constance, though joking, had told the truth.
Instant visions of dazzling sopranos, of mezzos and contraltos, of
angelic voices and of vast beauty and exquisite gowning, had flashed
in appalling procession before her mental vision. The idea, in the
face of the appalling actuality, was so rich that Bobby pursued it no
further lest he spoil it, and talked about the weather and equally
inane topics the rest of the way.

It was not until they had turned into the narrow alley at the side of
the Orpheum, and from that to the still more narrow alley at its rear,
that the zest of adventure began to make amends to Agnes for certain
disagreeable moments of the ride. At the stage door a particularly
bewildered-looking man with a rolling eye and a weak jaw, rendered
limp and helpless by the polyglot aliens who had flocked upon him,
strickenly let them in, to grope their way, amid what seemed an
inextricable confusion, but was in reality the perfection of
orderliness, upon the dim stage, beyond which stretched, in vast
emptiness, the big, black auditorium. Upon the stage, chattering in
shrill voices, were the forty members of the company, still in their
queer clothing, while down in front, where shaded lights--seeming dull
and discouraged amid all the surrounding darkness--streamed upon the
music, were the members of the orchestra, chattering just as volubly.
The general note was quite different in pitch from the one Bobby had
heard that morning, for since he had seen them the members of the
organization had been fed, and life looked cheerful.

Wandering at a loss among these people, and trying in the dim twilight
to find some face that he knew, the ears of Bobby and his party were
suddenly assailed by an extremely harsh and penetrating voice which
shouted:

"Clear!"

This was accompanied by a sharp clap from a pair of very broad hands.
The chattering suddenly took on a rapid crescendo, ascending a full
third in the scale and then dying abruptly in a little high falsetto
shriek; and Bobby, with a lady upon either arm, found his little trio
immediately alone in the center of the stage, a row of dim footlights
cutting off effectually any view into the vast emptiness of the
auditorium.

"Hey, you; _clear_!" came the harsh voice again, accompanied by
another sharp clap of the hands, and a bundle of intense fighting
energy bounced out from the right tormentor wing, in the shape of a
gaunt, fiercely-mustached and entirely bald man of about forty-five,
who appeared perpetually to be in the last stages of distraction.

"Who do you weesh to see?" demanded the gaunt man, in a very decided
foreign accent. He had made a very evident attempt to be quite polite
indeed, and forgiving of people who did not know enough to spring for
the wings at the sound of that magic word, "Clear!"

Any explanations that Bobby might have tried to make were happily
prevented by a voice from the yawning blackness--a quiet voice, a
voice of authority, the voice of Mr. Spratt.

"Come right down in front here, Burnit. Jimmy, show the gentleman how
to get down."

"Thees way," snapped the gaunt man, with evident relief but no
abatement whatever of his briskness, and he very hastily walked over
to the right wings, where Jimmy, the house electrician, piloted the
trio with equal relief through the clustered mass of singers to the
door behind the boxes. As they emerged into the auditorium the raucous
voice of the gaunt man was heard to shout: "All ready now. _Carmen_
all ze way through." An apparent repetition of which statement he
immediately made with equal raucousness in two or three languages.
There was a call to Caravaggio in English, to Ricardo and the Signers
Fivizzano and Rivaroli in Italian, to Messrs. Philippi and
Schaerbeeken in Spanish and Dutch, to Madam Villenauve in French, to
Madam Kadanoff in Russian, and to Mademoiselle Török in Hungarian, to
know if they were ready; then, in rough but effective German, he
informed the Herr Professor down in the orchestra that all was
prepared, clapped his hands, cried "Overture," and immediately plunged
to the right upper entrance, marked by two chairs, where, with shrill
objurgations, he began instructing and drilling the Soldiers' Chorus
out of certain remembered awkwardnesses, as Herr Frühlingsvogel's
baton fell for the overture.

Shorn of all the glamor that scenic environment, light effects and
costume could give them, it was a distinct shock to Agnes to gaze in
wondering horror from each one of those amazing faces to the other,
and when the cigarette girls trooped out, amazement gave way to
downright consternation. Nevertheless, she cheered up considerably,
and the apex of her cheerfulness was reached when the oversized
Signorina Caravaggio sang, very musically, however, the rôle of the
petite and piquant Carmen. It was then that, sitting by Bobby in the
darkness, Agnes observed with a sigh of content:

"Your trustee quite approves, Bobby. I don't mind being absolutely
truthful for once in my life. I _was_ a little jealous. But how could
I be? Really, their voices are fine."

Mr. Spratt, too, was of that opinion, and he came back to Bobby to say
so most emphatically.

"They'll do," said he. "After the first night they'll have this town
crazy. If the seat sale don't go right for Monday we'll pack the house
with paper, and the rest of the week will go big. Just hear that
Ricardo! The little bit of a sawed-off toad sings like a canary. If
you don't look at 'em, they're great."

They _were_ superb. From the throats of that ill-favored chorus there
came divine harmony, smooth, evenly-balanced, exhilarating, almost
flawless, and as the great musical poem of passion unfolded and the
magnificent aria of Don José was finished in the second act, the
little group of listeners down in front burst into involuntary
applause, to which there was but one dissenting voice. This voice,
suddenly evolving out of the darkness at Bobby's side, ejaculated with
supreme disgust:

"Well, what do you think of that! Why, that fat little fishworm of a
Dago is actually gone bug-house over Miss McGinnis," a fact which had
been obvious to all of them the minute small Ricardo began to sing his
wonderful love song to large Caravaggio.

The rest of them had found only amusement in the fact, but to Biff
Bates there was nothing funny about this. He sat in speechless
disapproval throughout the balance of that much-interrupted
performance, wherein Professor Frühlingsvogel, now and then, stopped
his music with a crash to shriek an excited direction that it was all
wrong, that it was execrable, that it was a misdemeanor, a crime, a
murder to sing it in that way! The passage must be all sung over; or,
at other times, the gaunt stage director, whose name was Monsieur
Noire, would rush with a hoarse howl down to Herr Professor, order him
to stop the music, and, turning, berate some unfortunate performer who
had defied the conventions of grand opera by acting quite naturally.
On the whole, however, it was a very creditable performance, and
Bobby's advisers gave the project their unqualified approval.

"It is really a commendable thing," Aunt Constance complacently
announced, "to encourage music of this order, and to furnish such a
degree of cultivation for the masses."

It was a worthy project indeed. As for the company itself there could
be no question that it was a good one. No one expected acting in grand
opera, no one expected that the performers would be physically
adaptable to their parts. The voice! The voice was all. Even Agnes
admitted that it was a splendid thing to be a patron of the fine arts;
but Bobby, in his profound new wisdom and his thorough conversion to
strictly commercial standards, said with vast iconoclasm:

"You are overlooking the main point. I am not so anxious to become a
patron of the fine arts as I am to make money," with which terrible
heresy he left them at home, with a thorough understanding that he was
quite justified in his new venture; though next morning, when he
confided the fact to Johnson, that worthy, with a sigh, presented him
with an appropriate missive from among those in the gray envelopes
left in his care by the late John Burnit. It was inscribed:

    _To My Son Robert, Upon His Deciding to Back a Theatrical
      Venture_

    "Sooner or later, every man thinks it would be a fine thing to
    run a show, and the earlier in life it happens the sooner a
    man will have it out of his system. I tried it once myself,
    and I know. So good luck to you, my boy, and here's hoping
    that you don't get stung too badly."



CHAPTER XX

STILL WITH THE RELUCTANT CONSENT OF AGNES, BOBBY INVESTS IN THE FINE
ARTS


That week's "season of grand opera" was an unqualified success,
following closely the lines laid down by the experienced Mr. Spratt.
Caravaggio and Ricardo and Philippi and Villenauve became household
words, after the Monday night performance of _Carmen_, and for the
balance of the week shining carriages rolled up to the entrance of the
Orpheum, disgorging load after load of high-hatted gentlemen and
long-plumed ladies. Before the end of the engagement it was definitely
known that Bobby's investment would yield a profit, even deducting for
the days of idleness during which he had been compelled to support the
rehearsing company. The powers of darkness thereupon set vigorously to
work upon him to carry the company on through the rest of its season.

It was then that the storm broke. Against his going further with the
company Agnes Elliston interposed an objection so decided and so
unflattering that the _entente cordiale_ at the Elliston home was
strained dangerously near to the breaking point, and in this she was
aided and abetted by Aunt Constance, who ridiculed him, and by Uncle
Dan Elliston, who took him confidentially for a grave and hardheaded
remonstrance. Chalmers, Johnson, and even Applerod wrestled with him
in spirit; his friends at the Idlers' Club "guyed" him unmercifully,
and even Biff Bates, though his support was earnestly sought by the
Signorina Caravaggio, also counseled him roughly against it, and
through it all Bobby was made to feel that he was a small boy who had
proposed to eat a peck of green apples and then go in swimming in
dog-days. Another note from his father, handed to him by the faithful
and worried Johnson, was the deciding straw:

    _To My Son Robert, About That Theatrical Venture_

    "When a man who knows nothing of the business backs a show,
    there's usually a woman at the bottom of it--and that kind of
    woman is mostly rank poison to a normal man, even if she is a
    good woman. No butterfly ever goes back into its chrysalis and
    becomes a grub again. Let birds of a feather flock together,
    Bobby."

That unfortunate missive, for once shooting so wide the mark, pushed
Bobby over the edge. There was a streak of stubbornness in him which,
well developed and turned into proper channels, was likely to be very
valuable, but until he learned to use that stubbornness in the right
way it bade fair to plunge him into more difficulties than he could
extricate himself from with profit. Even Agnes, reading that note,
indignantly agreed with Bobby that he was being unjustly misread.

"It is absurd," he explained to her. "This is the first
dividend-paying investment I have been able to make so far, and I'm
going to keep it up just as long as I can make money out of it. I'd be
very foolish if I didn't. Besides, this is just a little in-between
flyer, while I'm conservatively waiting for a good, legitimate
opening. It can take, at most, but a very small part of my two hundred
and fifty thousand."

Agnes, though defending him against his father, was still reluctant
about the trip, but suddenly, with a curious smile, she withdrew all
objections and even urged him to go ahead.

"Bobby," said she, still with that curious smile and strangely shining
eyes, and putting both her hands upon his shoulders, "I see that you
must go ahead with this. I--I guess it will be good for you. Somehow,
I think that this is to be your last folly, that you are really
learning that the world is not all polo and honor-bets. So go
ahead--and I'll wait here."

He could not know how much that hurt her. He only knew, after she had
talked more lightly of his trip, that he had her full and free
consent, and, highly elated with his first successful business
venture, he took up the contracts of the Neapolitan Grand Opera
Company where Signor Matteo, the decamped manager and producer, had
dropped them. The members of the company having attached the scenery
and effects for back salaries, sold them to Bobby for ten thousand
dollars, and he immediately found himself confronted by demands for
settlements, with the alternative of damage suits, from the two cities
in which the company had been booked for the two past weeks.

Had Bobby not bound himself irrevocably to contracts which made him
liable for the salaries of every member of this company for the next
twenty weeks, he would have withdrawn instantly at the first hint of
these suits; but, now that he was in for it, he promptly compromised
them at a rate which made Spratt furious.

"If I'd thought," said Spratt angrily in the privacy of the Orpheum
office, "that you were sucker enough to get roped in for the full
season, I'd have tossed you out of the running for this week. This
game is a bigger gamble than the Stock Exchange. The smartest
producers in the business never know when they have a winner or a
loser. More than that, while all actors are hard to handle, of all the
combinations on earth, a grand opera company is the worst. I'll bet a
couple of cold bottles that before you're a week on the road you'll
have leaks in your dirigible over some crazy dramatic stunts that are
not in the book of any opera of the Neapolitan repertoire."

The prediction was so true that it was proved that very night, which
was Friday, during the repetition of _Carmen_. It seemed that Biff
Bates, by means of the supreme dominance of the Caravaggio, had been
made free of the stage, a rare privilege, and one that enabled Biff to
spend his time, under unusual and romantic circumstances, very much in
the company of the Celtic Signorina; all of which was very much to the
annoyance, distress and fury of Signor Ricardo, especially on _Carmen_
night. At all other times the great Ricardo thought very well indeed
of the Signorina Nora, only being in any degree near to unfaithfulness
when, on _Aïda_ nights, he sang to vivacious little Madam Villenauve;
but on _Carmen_ nights he was devotedly, passionately, madly in love
with the divine Car-r-r-r-avaggio! Else how could he sing the
magnificent second act aria? Life without her on those nights would be
a hollow mockery, the glance of any possible rival in her direction a
desecration. Why, he even had to restrain himself to keep from doing
actual damage to Philippi, who, though on the shady side of
forty-five, still sang a most dashing Escamillo; nor was his jealousy
less poignant because Philippi and Caravaggio were sworn enemies.

Thus it may be understood--by any one, at least, who has ever loved
ecstatically and fervidly and even hectically, like the great
Ricardo--how on Monday and Wednesday nights and the Thursday matinée,
all of which were Caravaggio performances, he resented Biff's
presence. From dark corners he more darkly watched them chatting in
frank enjoyment of each other's company; he made unexpected darts in
front of their very eyes to greet them with the most alarming scowls;
and because he insolently brushed the shoulder of the peaceably
inclined and self-sure Biff upon divers occasions, and Biff made no
sign of resentment, he imagined that Biff trembled in his boots
whenever he noted the approach of the redoubtable Ricardo with his
infinitesimal but ferocious mustachios. Great, then, was his wonder,
to say nothing of his rage, when Biff, after all the scowls and
shoulderings that he had received on Thursday, actually came around
for Friday night's _Carmen_ performance!

Even before the fierce Ricardo had gone into his dressing-room he was
already taking upon himself the deadly character of Don José, and his
face surged red with fury when he saw Biff Bates, gaily laughing as if
no doom impended, come in at the stage door with the equally gay and
care-free Caravaggio. But after Signor Ricardo had donned the costume
and the desperateness of the brigadier Don José--it was then that the
fury sank into his soul! And that fury boiled and seethed as, during
the first and second acts, he found in the wings Signorina
Car-r-r-r-r-r-avaggio absorbed in pleasant but very significant chat
with his deadly enemy, the crude, unmusical, inartistic, soulless
Biffo de Bates-s-s-s! But, ah! There was another act to come, the
third act, at the beginning of which the property man handed him the
long, sharp, wicked-looking, bloodthirsty knife with which he was to
fight Escamillo, and with which in the fourth act he was to kill
Carmen. The mere possession of that knife wrought the great tenor's
soul to gory tragedy; so much so that immediately after the third act
curtain calls he rushed directly to the spot where he knew the
contemptible Signor Biffo de Bates-s-s-s to be standing, and with
shrill Latin imprecations flourished that keen, glistening blade
before the eyes of the very much astounded Biff.

For a moment, thoroughly incredulous, Biff refused to believe it,
until a second demonstration compelled him to acknowledge that the
great Ricardo actually meant threatening things toward himself. When
this conviction forced its way upon him, Biff calmly reached out, and,
with a grip very much like a bear-trap, seized Signor Ricardo by the
forearm of the hand which held the knife. With his unengaged hand Biff
then smacked the Signor Ricardo right severely on the wrist.

"You don't mean it, you know, Sig-nor Garlic," he calmly observed. "If
I thought you did I'd smack you on both wrists. Why, you little red
balloon, I ain't afraid of any mutt on earth that carries a knife like
that, as long as I got my back to the wall."

Still holding the putty-like Signor by the forearm, he delicately
abstracted from his clasp the huge knife, and, folding it up gravely,
handed it back to him; then deliberately he turned his back on the
Signor and pushed his way through the delightedly horror-stricken
emotionalists who had gathered at the fray, and strolled over to where
Signorina Caravaggio had stood an interested and mirth-shaken
observer.

"You mustn't think all Italians are like that, Biff," she said, her
first impulse, as always, to see justice done; "but singers are a
different breed. I don't think he's bluffing, altogether. If he got a
real good chance some place in the dark, and was sure that he wouldn't
be caught, he might use a stiletto on you."

"If he ever does I'll slap his forehead," said Biff. "But say, he uses
that cleaver again in the show?"

The Signorina Nora shrugged her shoulders.

"He's supposed to stab me with it in this next act."

"He is!" exclaimed Biff. "Well, just so he don't make any mistake I'm
going over and paste him one."

It was not necessary, for Signor Ricardo, after studying the matter
over and seeing no other way out of it, proceeded to have a fit. No
one, not even the illustrious Signor, could tell just how much of that
fit was deliberate and artificial, and just how much was due to an
overwrought sensitive organization, but certain it was that the Signor
Ricardo was quite unable to go on with the performance, and Monsieur
Noire himself, as agitated as a moment before the great Ricardo had
been, frantically rushed up to Biff and grabbed him roughly by the
shoulders.

"Too long," shrieked he, "we have let you be annoying the artists, by
reason of the Caravaggio. But now you shall do the skidooing."

With a laugh Biff looked back over his shoulder at the Caravaggio, and
permitted Monsieur Noire to eject him bodily from the stage door upon
the alley.

The next morning, owing to the prompt action and foresightedness of
Spratt, all the papers contained the very pretty story that the great
Ricardo had succumbed to his own intensity of emotions after the third
act of _Carmen_, and had been unable to go on, giving way to the
scarcely less great Signor Dulceo. That same morning Bobby was
confronted by the first of a long series of similar dilemmas. The
Signorina Caravaggio must leave the company or Signor Ricardo would do
so. No stage was big enough to hold the two; moreover, Ricardo meant
to have the heart's blood of Signor Biffo de Bates-s-s-s!

With a sigh, Bobby, out of his ignorance and independence, took the
only possible course to preserve peace, and emphatically told Signor
Ricardo to pack up and go as quickly as possible, which he went away
vowing to do. Naturally the great tenor thought better of it after
that, and though he had already been dropped from the cast of _Il
Trovatore_ on Saturday afternoon, he reported just the same. And he
went on with the company.

It was not until they went upon the road, however, that Bobby fully
realized what a lot of irresponsible, fretful, peevish children he had
upon his hands. With the exception of serene Nora McGinnis, every one
of the principals was at daggers drawn with all the others, sulking
over the least advantage obtained by any one else, and accepting
advantage of their own as only a partial payment of their supreme
rank. The one most at war with her own world was Madam Villenauve,
whose especial _bête noire_ was the MeeGeenees, whom, by no
possibility, could she ever under any circumstance be induced to call
Caravaggio.

On the second day of their next engagement, as Bobby strode through
the corridor of the hotel, shortly after luncheon, he was stopped by
Madam Villenauve, who had been waiting for him in the door of her
room. She was herself apparently just dressing to go out, for her
coiffure was made and she had on a short underskirt, a kimono-like
dressing-jacket and her street shoes.

"I wish to speak wiz you on some beezness, Meester Burnit," she told
him abruptly, and with an imperatively beckoning hand stepped back
with a bow for him to enter.

With just a moment of surprised hesitation he stepped into the room,
whereupon the Villenauve promptly closed the door. A week before Bobby
would have been a trifle astonished by this proceeding, but in that
week he had seen so many examples of unconscious unconventionalities
in and about the dressing-rooms and at the hotel, that he had
readjusted his point of view to meet the peculiar way of life of these
people, and, as usual with readjustments, had readjusted himself too
far. He found the room in a litter, with garments of all sorts cast
about in reckless disorder.

"I have been seeing you last night," began Madam Villenauve, shaking
her finger at him archly as she swept some skirts off a chair for him
to sit down, and then took her place before her dressing-table, where
she added the last deft touch to her coiffure. "I have been seeing you
smiling at ze reedeec'lous Carmen. Oh, la, la! Carmen!" she shrilled.
"It is I, monsieur, I zat am ze Carmen. It was zis Matteo, the
scoundrel who run away wiz our money, zat allow le Ricardo to say whom
he like to sing to for Carmen. Ricardo ees in loaf wiz la MeeGeenees.
Le Ricardo is a fool, so zis Ricardo sing Carmen ever tam to ze great,
grosse monstair MeeGeenees; an' ever'body zey laugh. Ze chorus laugh,
ze principals laugh, le Monsieur Noire he laugh, even zat
Frühlingsvogel zat have no humair, he laugh, an' ze audience laugh,
an' las' night I am seeing you laugh. Ees eet not so? _Mais!_ It is
absurd! It is reedeec'lous. Le Ricardo make fool over la MeeGeenees.
_I_ sing ze Carmen! I _am_ ze Carmen! You hear me sing Aïda? Eet ees
zat way. I sing Carmen. Now I s'all sing Carmen again! Ees eet not?"

As Madam Villenauve talked, punctuating her remarks with quick,
impatient little gestures, she jerked off her dressing-jacket and
threw it on the floor, and Bobby saved himself from panic by reminding
himself that her frank anatomical display was, in the peculiar ethics
of these people, no more to be noticed than if she were in an evening
gown, which was very reasonable, after all, once you understood the
code. Still voicing her indignation at having been displaced in the
role of Carmen by the utterly impossible and preposterous Caravaggio,
she caught up her waist and was about to slip it on, while Bobby, with
an amused smile, reflected that presently he would no doubt be
nonchalantly requested to hook it in the back, when some one tried the
door-knob. A knock followed and Madam Villenauve went to the door.

"Who ees it?" she asked with her hand on the knob.

"It is I; Monsieur Noire," was the reply.

"Oh, la, come in, zen," she invited, and threw open the door.

Monsieur Noire entered, but, finding Bobby in the chair by the
dresser, stopped uncertainly in the doorway.

"Oh, come on een," she gaily invited; "we are all ze good friends;
_oui_?"

It appeared that Monsieur Noire came in all politeness, yet with rigid
intention, to inquire about a missing piece of music from the score of
_Les Huguenots_, and Madam Villenauve, in all politeness and yet with
much indignation, assured him that she did not have it; whereupon
Monsieur Noire, with all politeness but cold insistence, demanded that
she look for it; whereupon Madam Villenauve, though once more
protesting that she had it not, in all politeness and yet with
considerable asperity, declared that she would not search for it;
whereupon Monsieur Noire, observing the piece of music in question
peeping out from beneath a conglomerate pile of newspapers, clothing
and toilet articles, laid hands upon it and departed. Madam
Villenauve, entirely unruffled now that it was all over, but still
chattering away with great volubility about the crime of Carmen,
finished her dressing and bade Bobby hook the back of her waist, and
by sheer calmness and certainty of intention forced him to accompany
her over to rehearsal.

Whatever annoyance he might have felt over this was lost in his
amusement when he reached the theater in finding Biff Bates upon the
stage waiting for him; and Biff, while waiting, was quite excusably
whiling the time away with the adorable Miss McGinnis.

"You see, Young Fitz lives here," Biff brazenly explained, "and I run
up to see him about that exhibition night I'm going to have at the
gym. I'm going to have him go on with Kid Jeffreys."

"Biff," said Bobby warmly, "I want to congratulate you on your
business enterprise. Have you seen Young Fitz yet?"

"Well, no," confessed Biff. "I just got here about an hour ago. I
didn't know your hotel, but it was a cinch from the bills to tell
where the show was, so I came right around to the theater to see you
first."

"Exactly," admitted Bobby. "Do you _expect_ to see Young Fitz?"

"Well, maybe, if I get time," said Biff with a sheepish grin. "Just
now I'm going out for a drive with Miss McGinnis."

"Caravaggio," corrected that young lady with a laugh.

"McGinnis for mine," declared Biff. "By the way, Bobby, I saw a
certain party before I left town and she gave me this letter for you.
Certain party is as cheerful as a chunk of lead about your trip,
Bobby, but she makes the swellest bluff I ever saw that she's tickled
to death with it."

With this vengeful shot in retaliation for his excuse about Young Fitz
having been doubted he sailed away with the Caravaggio, who, though
required to report at every rehearsal, was not in the cast for that
night and was readily excused from further attendance. Since Bobby had
received a very pleasant letter from Agnes when he got up that morning
he opened this missive with a touch of curiosity added to the thrill
with which he always took in his hands any missive, no matter how
trivial, from her. It was but a brief note calling attention to the
enclosed newspaper clipping, and wishing him success in his new
venture. The clipping was a flamboyant article describing the decision
of the city council to install a magnificent new ten-million-dollar
waterworks system, and the personally interesting item in it, ringed
around with a pencil mark, was that Silas Trimmer had been appointed
by Mayor Garland as president of the waterworks commission.

It was not news that could alter his fortunes in any way so far as he
could see, but it did remind him, with a strange whipping of his
conscience, that, after all, his place was back home, and that his
proper employment should be the looking after his home interests. For
the first time he began to have a dim realization that a man's place
was among his enemies, where he could watch them.



CHAPTER XXI

WHEREIN THE FINE ARTS PRESENT BOBBY WITH A MOST EMBARRASSING DILEMMA


It had become by no means strange to Bobby, even before the company
"took the road," that some one of the principals should attach
themselves to him in all his possible goings and comings, for each and
every one of them had some complaint to make about all the others.
They wanted readjustments of cast, better parts to sing, better
dressing-rooms, better hotel quarters, better everything than the
others had, and with the unhappy and excited Monsieur Noire he shared
this unending strife. At first he saw it all in a humorous light, but,
by and by, he came to a period of ennui and tried to rebel. This
period gave him more trouble than the other, so within a short time he
lapsed into an apathetic complaint-receptacle and dreamed no more of
walking or riding to and from the hotel without one of these impulsive
children of art, who seethed perpetually in self-prodded artificial
emotions, attached to him. If it seemed strange at times that Madam
Villenauve was more frequently with him than any of the others he only
reflected that the vivacious little Frenchwoman was much more
persistent; nor did he note that, presently, the others came rather to
give way before her and to let her monopolize him more and more.

It was during the third week that Professor Frühlingsvogel was to
endure another birthday, and Bobby, full of generous impulses as
always, announced at rehearsal that in honor of the Professor's
unwelcome milestone he intended to give a little supper that night at
the hotel. Madam Villenauve, standing beside him, suddenly threw her
arms around his neck and kissed him smack upon the lips, with a quite
enthusiastic declaration, in very charmingly warped English, that he
was "a dear old sing." Bobby, reverting quickly in mind to the fact of
the extreme unconventionally of these people, took the occurrence
quite as a matter of course, though it embarrassed him somewhat. He
rather counted himself a prig that he could not sooner get over this
habit of embarrassment, and every time Madam Villenauve insisted on
calling him into her dressing-room when she was in much more of
dishabille than he would have thought permissible in ordinary people,
he felt that same painful lack of sophistication.

At the supper that night, Madam Villenauve, with a great show of
playful indignation, routed Madam Kadanoff from her accidental seat
next to Bobby, and, in giving up the seat, which she did quite
gracefully enough, Madam Kadanoff dropped some remark in choice
Russian, which, of course, Bobby did not understand, but which Madam
Villenauve did, for she laughed a little shrilly and, with an engaging
upward smile at Bobby, observed:

"I theenk I shall say it zat zees so chairming Monsieur Burnit is soon
to marry wiz me; ees eet not, monsieur?"

Whereupon Bobby, with his customary courtesy, replied:

"No gentleman would care to deny such a charming and attractive
possibility, Madam Villenauve."

But the gracious speech was of the lips alone, and spoken with a
warning glare against "kidding" at the grinning Biff Bates, who had
found business of urgent importance for that night in the city where
the company was booked. Bobby, in fact, had begun to tire very much of
the whole business. To begin with, he found the organization a much
more expensive one to keep up than he had imagined. The route, badly
laid out, was one of tremendous long jumps; of his singers, like other
rare and expensive creatures, extravagant care must be taken, and not
every place that they stopped was so eager for grand opera as it might
have been. At the end of three weeks he was able to compute that he
had lost about a thousand dollars a week, and in the fourth week they
struck an engagement so fruitless that even the cheerful Caravaggio
became dismal.

"It's a sure enough frost," she confided to Bobby; "but cheer up, for
the worst is yet to come. Your route sheet for the next two months
looks like a morgue to me, and unless you interpolate a few coon songs
in _Tannhäuser_ and some song and dance specialties between the acts
of _Les Huguenots_ you're gone. You know I used to sing this route in
musical comedy, and, on the level, I've got a fine part waiting for me
right now in _The Giddy Queen_. I like this highbrow music all right,
but the people that come to hear it make me so sad. You're a good
sport, though, and as long as you need me I'll stick."

"Thanks," said Bobby sincerely. "It's a pleasure to speak to a real
human being once in a while, even if you don't offer any
encouragement. However, we'll not be buried till we're dead,
notwithstanding that we now enter upon the graveyard route."

Doleful experience, however, confirmed the Caravaggio's gloomy
prophecy. They embarked now upon a season of one and two and three
night stands that gave Bobby more of the real discomforts of life than
he had ever before dreamed possible. To close a performance at eleven,
to pack and hurry for a twelve-thirty train, to ride until five
o'clock in the morning--a distance too short for sleep and too long to
stay awake--to tumble into a hotel at six and sleep until noon, this
was one program; to close a performance at eleven, to wait up for a
four-o'clock train, to ride until eight and get into a hotel at nine,
with a vitally necessary rehearsal between that and the evening
performance, was another program, either one of which wore on health
and temper and purse alike. The losses now exceeded two thousand
dollars a week. Moreover, the frequent visits of Biff Bates and his
constant baiting of Signor Ricardo had driven that great tenor to such
a point of distraction that one night, being near New York, he drew
his pay and departed without notice. There was no use, in spite of
Monsieur Noire's frantic insistence, in trying to make the public
believe that the lank Dulceo was the fat Ricardo; moreover,
immediately upon his arrival in New York, Signor Ricardo let it be
known that he had left the Neapolitan Company, so the prestige of the
company fell off at once, for the "country" press pays sharp attention
to these things.

A letter from Johnson at just this time also had its influence upon
Bobby, who now was in an humble, not an antagonistic mood, and quite
ripe for advice. Mr. Johnson had just conferred with Mr. Bates upon
his return from a visit to the Neapolitan Company, and Mr. Bates had
detailed to Mr. Johnson much that he had seen with his own eyes, and
much that the Caravaggio had told him. Mr. Johnson, thereupon, begging
pardon for the presumption, deemed this a fitting time, from what he
had heard, to forward Bobby the inclosed letter, which, in its gray
envelope, had been left behind by Bobby's father:

    _To My Son in the Midst of a Losing Fight_

    "Determination is a magnificent quality, but bullheadedness is
    not. The most foolish kind of pride on earth is that which
    makes a man refuse to acknowledge himself beaten when he is
    beaten. It takes a pretty brave man, and one with good stuff
    in him, to let all his friends know that he's been licked.
    Figure this out."

Bobby wrestled with that letter all night. In the morning he received
one from Agnes which served to increase and intensify the feeling of
homesickness that had been overwhelming him. She, too, had seen Biff
Bates. She had asked him out to the house expressly to talk with him,
but she had written a pleasant, cheerful letter wherein she hoped that
the end of the season would repay the losses she understood that he
was enduring; but she admitted that she was very lonesome without him.
She gave him quite a budget of gay gossip concerning all the young
people of his set, and after he had read that letter he was quite
prepared to swallow his grit and make the announcement that for a week
had been almost upon his tongue.

Through Monsieur Noire, at rehearsal that afternoon, he declared his
intention of closing the season, and offered them each two weeks'
advance pay and their fare to New York. It was Signorina Caravaggio
who broke the hush that followed this announcement.

"You're a good sort, Bobby Burnit," she said, with kindly intent to
lead the others, "and I'll take your offer and thank you."

It appeared that the majority of them had dreaded some such dénouement
as this; some had been prepared for even less advantageous terms, and
several, upon direct inquiry, announced their willingness to accept
this proposal. A few declared their intention to hold him for the full
contract. These were the ones who had made sure of his entire
solvency, and these afterward swayed the balance of the company to a
stand which won a better compromise. When Monsieur Noire, with a
curious smile, asked Madam Villenauve, however, she laughed very
pleasantly.

"Oh, non," said she; "it does not apply, zis offair, to me. I do not
need it, for Monsieur Burnit ees to marry wiz me zis Christmastam."

"I am afraid, Madam Villenauve, that we will have to quit joking about
that," said Bobby coldly.

"Joking!" screamed the shrill voice of madam. "Eet ees not any joke.
You can not fool wiz me, Monsieur Burnit. You mean to tell all zese
people zat you are not to marry wiz me?"

"I certainly have no intention of the kind," said Bobby impatiently,
"nor have I ever expressed such an intention."

"We s'all see about zat," declared the madam with righteous
indignation. "We s'all see how you can amuse yourself. You refuse to
keep your word zat you marry me? All right zen, you do! I bring suit
to-day for brich promise, and I have here one, two, three, a dozen
weetness. I make what you call subpoena on zem all. We s'all see."

"Monsieur Noire," said Bobby, more sick and sore than panic-stricken,
"you will please settle matters with all these people and come to me
at the hotel for whatever checks you need," and, hurt beyond measure
at this one more instance that there were, really, rapacious schemers
in the world, who sought loathsome advantage at the expense of decent
folk, Bobby crept away, to hide himself and try to understand.

They were here for the latter half of the week, and, since business
seemed to be fairly good, Bobby had decided to fill this engagement,
canceling all others. In the morning it seemed that Madam Villenauve
had been in earnest in her absurd intentions, for, in his room, at
eleven o'clock, he was served with papers in the breach-of-promise
suit of Villenauve _versus_ Burnit, and the amount of damages claimed
was the tremendous sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, an
amount, of course, only commensurate with Madam Villenauve's standing
in the profession and her earning capacity as an artist, her pride and
shattered feelings and the dashing to earth of her love's young dream
being of corresponding value. Moreover, he learned that an injunction
had been issued completely tying up his bank account. That was the
parting blow. Settling up with the performers upon a blood-letting
basis, he most ignominiously fled. Before he went away, however,
Signorina Nora McGinnis Caravaggio called him to one side and confided
a most delicate message to him.

"Your friend, Mr. Bates," she began with an embarrassed hesitation
quite unusual in the direct Irish girl; "he's a nice boy, from the
ground up, and give him an easy word from me. But, Mr. Burnit, give
him a hint not to do any more traveling on my account; for I've got a
husband back in New York that ain't worth the rat poison to put him
out of his misery, but I'm not getting any divorces. One mistake is
enough. But don't be too hard on me when you tell Biff. Honest, up to
just the last, I thought he'd come only to see you; but I enjoyed his
visits." And in the eyes of the Caravaggio there stood real tears.

A newsboy met Bobby on the train with the morning papers from home,
and in them he read delightfully flavored and spiced accounts of the
great Villenauve breach-of-promise case, embellished with many details
that were entirely new to him. He had not counted on this phase of the
matter, and it struck him almost as with an ague. The notoriety, the
askance looks he would receive from his more conservative
acquaintances, the "ragging" he would get at his clubs, all these he
could stand. But Agnes! How could he ever face her? How would she
receive him? From the train he took a cab directly home and buried
himself there to think it all over. He spent a morning of intense
dejection and an afternoon of the utmost misery. In the evening, not
caring to dine in solitary gloom at home nor to appear yet among his
fellows, he went out to an obscure restaurant in the neighborhood and
ate his dinner, then came back again to his lonely room, seeing
nothing ahead of him but an evening of melancholy alone. His butler,
however, met him in the hall on his return.

"Miss Elliston called up on the 'phone while you were out, sir."

"Did you tell her I was at home?" asked Bobby with quick apprehension.

"Yes, sir; you hadn't told me not to do so, sir; and she left word
that you were to come straight out to the house as soon as you came
in."

"Very well," said Bobby, and went into the library.

He sat down before the telephone and rested his hand upon the receiver
for perhaps as much as five long minutes of hesitation, then abruptly
he turned away from that unsatisfactory means of communication and had
his car ordered; then hurriedly changed to the evening clothes he had
not intended to don that night.

In most uncertain anticipation, but quite sure of the most vigorous
"blowing up" of his career, he whirled out to the home of the
Ellistons and ascended the steps. The ring at the bell brought the
ever imperturbable Wilkins, who nodded gravely upon seeing that it was
Bobby and, relieving him of his coat and hat, told him:

"Right up to the Turkish room, sir."

There seemed a strange quietness about the house, and he felt more and
more as if he might be approaching a sentence as he climbed the silent
stairs. At the door of the Turkish room, however, Agnes met him with
outstretched hands and a smile of welcome which bore traces of quite
too much amusement for his entire comfort. When she had drawn him
within the big alcove she laughed aloud, a light laugh in which there
was no possible trace of resentment, and it lifted from his mind the
load that had been oppressing it all day long.

"I'm afraid you haven't heard," he began awkwardly.

"Heard!" she repeated, and laughed again. "Why, Bobby, I read all the
morning papers and all the evening papers, and I presume there will be
excellent reading in every one of them for days and days to come."

"And you're not angry?" he said, astounded.

"Angry!" she laughed. "Why, you poor Bobby. I remember this Madam
Villenauve perfectly, besides seeing her ten-years-ago pictures in the
papers, and you don't suppose for a minute that I could be jealous of
her, do you? Moreover, I can prove by Aunt Constance and Uncle Dan
that I predicted just this very thing when you first insisted upon
going on the road."

He looked around, dreading the keen satire of Uncle Dan and the
incisive ridicule of Aunt Constance, but she relieved his mind of that
fear.

"We were all invited out to dinner to-night, but I refused to go, for
really I wanted to soften the blow for you. There is nobody in the
house but myself and the servants. Now, do behave, Bobby! Wait a
minute, sir! I've something else to crush you with. Have you seen the
evening papers?"

No; the morning papers had been enough for him.

"Well, I'll tell you what they are doing. The Consolidated
Illuminating and Power Company has secured an order from the city
council compelling the Brightlight Electric Company to remove their
poles from Market Street."

Bobby caught his breath sharply. Stone and Sharpe and Garland, the
political manipulators of the city, and its owners, lock, stock and
barrel were responsible for this. They had taken advantage of his
absence.

"What a fool I have been," he bitterly confessed, "to have taken up
with this entirely irregular and idiotic enterprise, a venture of
which I knew nothing whatever, and let go the serious fight I had
intended to make on Stone and his crowd."

"Never mind, Bobby," said Agnes. "I have a suspicion that you have cut
a wisdom-tooth. I rather imagined that you needed this one last folly
as a sort of relapse before complete convalescence, to settle you down
and bring you back to me for a more serious effort. I see that the
most of your money is tied up in this embarrassing suit, and when I
read that you were on your way home I went to Mr. Chalmers and got him
to arrange for the release of some bonds. Following the provisions of
your father's will your next two hundred and fifty thousand is waiting
for you. Moreover, Bobby, this time I want you to listen to your
trustee. I have found a new business for you, one about which you know
nothing whatever, but one that you must learn; I want to put a weapon
into your hands with which to fight for everything you have lost."

He looked at her in wonder.

"I always told you I needed you," he declared. "When _are_ you going
to marry me?"

"When you have won your fight, Bobby, or when you have proved entirely
hopeless," she replied with a smile in which there was a certain
amount of wistfulness.

"You're a good sort, Agnes," he said a little huskily, and he pondered
for some little time in awe over the existence of women like this. "I
guess the governor was mighty right in making you my trustee, after
all. But what is this business?"

"The _Evening Bulletin_ is for sale, I have learned. Just now it is an
independent paper, but it seems to me you could not have a better
weapon, with your following, for fighting your political and business
enemies."

"I'll think that over very seriously," he said with much soberness. "I
have refused everybody's advice so far, and have taken only my own. I
have begun to believe that I am not the wisest person in the world;
also I have come to believe that there are more ways to lose money
than there are to make money; also I've found out that men are not the
only gold-brick salesmen. Agnes, I'm what Biff Bates calls a 'Hick'!"

"Look what your father has to say about this last escapade of yours,"
she said, smiling, and from her desk brought him one of the familiar
gray envelopes. This was the letter:

    _To My Daughter Agnes, Upon Bobby's Entanglement with a
      Blackmailing Woman_

    "No man can guard against being roped in by a scheming woman
    the first time; but if it happens twice he deserves it, and he
    should be turned out to stay an idiot, for the signs are so
    plain. A man swindler takes a man's money and makes a fool of
    him; but a woman swindler takes a man's money and leaves a
    smirch on him. Only a man's nearest and dearest can help him
    live down such a smirch; so, Agnes, if my son has been this
    particular variety of everlasting blank fool, don't turn
    against him. He needs you. Moreover, you'll find him improved
    by it. He'll be so much more humble."

"I didn't really need that letter," Agnes shyly confessed; "but maybe
it helped some."



CHAPTER XXII

AGNES FINDS BOBBY A SLING AND BOBBY PUTS A STONE IN IT


The wonderful change in a girl who, through her love, has become all
woman, that was the marvel to Bobby; the breadth of her knowledge, the
depth of her sympathy, the boundlessness of her compassionate
forgiveness, her quality of motherliness; and this last was perhaps
the greatest marvel of all. Yet even his marveling did not encompass
all the wonder. In his last exploit, more full of folly than anything
into which he had yet blundered, and the one which, of all others,
might most have turned her from him, Agnes had had the harder part; to
sit at home and wait, to dread she knew not what. The certainty which
finally evolved had less of distress in it than not to know while day
by day passed by. One thing had made it easier: never for one moment
had she lost faith in Bobby, in any way. She was certain, however,
that financially his trip would be a losing one, and from the time he
left she kept her mind almost constantly upon the thought of his
future. She had become almost desperately anxious for him to fulfill
the hopes of his father, and day by day she studied the commercial
field as she had never thought it possible that she could do. There
was no line of industry upon which she did not ponder, and there was
scarcely any morning that she did not at the breakfast table ask Dan
Elliston the ins and outs of some business. If he was not able to tell
her all she wanted to know, she usually commissioned him to find out.
He took these requests in good part, and if she accomplished nothing
else by all her inquiries she acquired such a commercial education as
falls to the lot of but few home-kept young women.

One morning her uncle came down a trifle late for breakfast and was in
a hurry.

"The Elliston School of Commercial Instruction will have a recess for
this session," he observed as he popped into his chair. "I have an
important engagement at the factory this morning and have about seven
minutes for breakfast. During that seven minutes I prefer to eat
rather than to talk. However, I do not object to listening. This being
my last word except to request you to gather things closely about my
plate, you may now start."

"Very well," said she, dimpling as she usually did at any evidence of
briskness on the part of her Uncle Dan, for from long experience she
knew the harmlessness of his bark. "Nick Allstyne happened to remark
to me last night that the _Bulletin_ is for sale. What do you think of
the newspaper business for Bobby?"

"The time necessary to answer that question takes my orange from me,"
objected Uncle Dan as he hastily sipped another bite of the fruit and
pushed it away. "The newspaper business for Bobby!" He drew the
muffins toward him and took one upon his plate, then he stopped and
pondered a moment. "Do you know," said he, "that's about the best
suggestion you've made. I believe he could make a hummer out of a
newspaper. I've noticed this about the boy's failures; they have all
of them been due to lack of experience; none of them has been due to
any absence of backbone. Nobody has ever bluffed him."

Agnes softly clapped her hands.

"Exactly!" she cried. "Well, Uncle Dan, this is the last word _I'm_
going to say. For the balance of your seven minutes I'm going to help
stuff you with enough food to keep you until luncheon time; but
sometime to-day, if you find time, I want you to go over and see the
proprietor of the _Bulletin_ and find out how much he wants for his
property, and investigate it as a business proposition just the same
as if you were going into it yourself."

Uncle Dan, dipping voraciously into his soft boiled eggs, grinned and
said: "Huh!" Then he looked at his watch. When he came home to dinner,
however, he hunted up Agnes at once.

"Your _Bulletin_ proposition looks pretty good," he told her. "I saw
Greenleaf. He's a physical wreck and has been for two years. He has to
get away or die. Moreover, his physical condition has reacted upon his
paper. His circulation has run down, but he has a magnificent plant
and a good office organization. He wants two hundred thousand dollars
for his plant, good will and franchises. I'm going to investigate this
a little further. Do you suppose Bobby will have two hundred thousand
left when he gets through with grand opera?"

"I hope so," replied Agnes; "but if he hasn't I'll have him waste the
balance of this two hundred and fifty thousand so that he can draw the
next one."

Uncle Dan laughed in huge enjoyment of this solution.

"You surely were cut out for high finance," he told her.

She smiled, and was silent a while, hesitating.

"You seem to think pretty well of the business as a business
proposition," she ventured anxiously, by and by; "but you haven't told
me what you think of it as applicable to Bobby."

"If he'll take you in the office with him, he'll do all right," he
answered her banteringly; but when he went up-stairs and found his
wife he said: "Constance, if that girl don't pull Bobby Burnit through
his puppyhood in good shape there is something wrong with the scheme
of creation. There is something about you women of the Elliston family
that every once in a while makes me pause and reverence the Almighty,"
whereupon Aunt Constance flushed prettily, as became her.

With the same earnestness of purpose Agnes handled the question of
Bobby's breach-of-promise suit in so far as it affected his social
reception. The Ellistons went to the theater and sat in a box to
exhibit him on the second night after his return, and Agnes took
careful count of all the people she knew who attended the theater that
night. The next day she went to see all of them, among others Mrs.
Horace Wickersham, whose social word was social law.

"My dear," said the redoubtable Mrs. Wickersham, "it does Bobby Burnit
great credit that he did not marry the creature. Of course I shall
invite him to our affair next Friday night."

After that there could be no further question of Bobby's standing,
though without the firm support of Agnes he might possibly have been
ostracised, for a time at least.

It was with much less certainty that she spread before Bobby the facts
and figures which Uncle Dan had secured about the condition and
prospects of the _Bulletin_. She did not urge the project upon him.
Instead, though in considerable anxiety, she left the proposition open
to his own judgment. He pondered the question more soberly and
seriously than he had yet considered anything. There were but two
chances left to redeem himself now, and he felt much like a gambler
who has been reduced to his last desperate stake. He grew almost
haggard over the proposition, and he spent two solid weeks in
investigation. He went to Washington to see Jack Starlett, who knew
three or four newspaper proprietors in Philadelphia and elsewhere. He
obtained introductions to these people and consulted with them,
inspected their plants and listened to all they would say; as they
liked him, they said much. Ripened considerably by what he had found
out he came back home and bought the _Bulletin_. Moreover, he had very
definitely made up his mind precisely what to do with it.

On the first morning that he walked into the office of that paper as
its sole owner and proprietor, he called the managing editor to him
and asked:

"What, heretofore, has been the politics of this paper?"

"Pale yellow jelly," snapped Ben Jolter wrathfully.

"Supposed to be anti-Stone, hasn't it been?" Bobby smilingly inquired.

"But always perfectly ladylike in what it said about him."

"And what are the politics of the employees?"

At this Mr. Jolter snorted.

"They are good newspaper men, Mr. Burnit," he stated in quick defense;
"and a good newspaper man has no politics."

Bobby eyed Mr. Jolter with contemplative favor. He was a stout,
stockily-built man, with a square head and sparse gray hair that would
persist in tangling and curling at the ends; and he perpetually kept
his sleeves rolled up over his big arms.

"I don't know anything about this business," confessed Bobby, "but I
hope to. First of all, I'd like to find out why the _Bulletin_ has no
circulation."

"The lack of a spinal column," asserted Jolter. "It has had no policy,
stood pat on no proposition, and made no aggressive fight on
anything."

"If I understand what you mean by the word," said Bobby slowly, "the
_Bulletin_ is going to have a policy."

It was now Mr. Jolter's turn to gaze contemplatively at Bobby.

"If you were ten years older I would feel more hopeful about it," he
decided bluntly.

The young man flushed uncomfortably. He was keenly aware that he had
made an ass of himself in business four successive times, and that
Jolter knew it. By way of facing the music, however, he showed to his
managing editor a letter, left behind with old Johnson for Bobby by
the late John Burnit:

    The mere fact that a man has been foolish four times is no
    absolute proof that he is a fool; but it's a mighty
    significant hint. However, Bobby, I'm still betting on you,
    for by this time you ought to have your fighting blood at the
    right temperature; and I've seen you play great polo in spite
    of a cracked rib.

    "P. S. If any one else intimates that you are a fool, trounce
    him one for me."

"If there's anything in heredity you're a lucky young man," said
Jolter seriously, as he handed back the letter.

"I think the governor was worried about it himself," admitted Bobby
with a smile; "and if he was doubtful I can't blame you for being so.
Nevertheless, Mr. Jolter, I must insist that we are going to have a
policy," and he quietly outlined it.

Mr. Jolter had been so long a directing voice in the newspaper
business that he could not be startled by anything short of a
presidential assassination, and that at press time. Nevertheless, at
Bobby's announcement he immediately sought for his pipe and was
compelled to go into his own office after it. He came back lighting it
and felt better.

"It's suicide!" he declared.

"Then we'll commit suicide," said Bobby pleasantly.

Mr. Jolter, after long, grinning thought, solemnly shook hands with
him.

"I'm for it," said he. "Here's hoping that we survive long enough to
write our own obituary!"

Mr. Jolter, to whom fighting was as the breath of new-mown hay, and
who had long been curbed in that delightful occupation, went back into
his own office with a more cheerful air than he had worn for many a
day, and issued a few forceful orders, winding up with a direction to
the press foreman to prepare for ten thousand extra copies that
evening.

When the three o'clock edition of the _Bulletin_ came on the street,
the entire first page was taken up by a life-size half-tone portrait
of Sam Stone, and underneath it was the simple legend:

    THIS MAN MUST LEAVE TOWN

The first citizens to awake to the fact that the _Bulletin_ was born
anew were the newsboys. Those live and enterprising merchants, with a
very keen judgment of comparative values, had long since ceased to
call the _Bulletin_ at all; half of them had even ceased to carry it.
Within two minutes after this edition was out they were clamoring for
additional copies, and for the first time in years the alley door of
the _Bulletin_ was besieged by a seething mob of ragged, diminutive,
howling masculinity. Out on the street, however, they were not even
now calling the name of the paper. They were holding forth that black
first page and screaming just the name of Sam Stone.

Sam Stone! It was a magic name, for Stone had been the boss of the
town since years without number; a man who had never held office, but
who dictated the filling of all offices; a man who was not ostensibly
in any business, but who swayed the fortune of every public
enterprise; a self-confessed grafter whom crusade after crusade had
failed to dislodge from absolute power. The crowds upon the street
snapped eagerly at that huge portrait and searched as eagerly through
the paper for more about the Boss. They did not find it, except upon
the editorial page, where, in the space usually devoted to drivel
about "How Kind We Should Be to Dumb Animals," and "Why Fathers Should
Confide More in Their Sons," appeared in black type a paraphrase of
the legend on the outside: "_Sam Stone Must Leave Town._" Beneath was
the additional information: "Further issues of the _Bulletin_ will
tell why." Above and below this was nothing but startlingly white
blank paper, two solid columns of it up and down the page.

Down in the deep basement of the _Bulletin_, the big three-deck
presses, two of which had been standing idle since the last
presidential election, were pounding out copies by the thousand, while
grimy pressmen, blackened with ink, perspired most happily.

By five o'clock, men and even girls, pouring from their offices, and
laborers coming from work, had all heard of it, and on the street the
bold defiance created first a gasp and then a smile. Another attempt
to dislodge Sam Stone was, in the light of previous efforts, a
laughable thing to contemplate; and yet it was interesting.

In the office of the _Bulletin_ it was a gleeful occasion. Nonchalant
reporters sat down with that amazing front page spread out before
them, studied the brutal face of Stone and chuckled cynically. Lean
Doc Miller, "assistant city editor," or rather head copy reader, lit
one cigarette from the stub of another and observed, to nobody in
particular but to everybody in general:

"I can see where we all contribute for a beautiful Gates Ajar floral
piece for one Robert Burnit;" whereupon fat "Bugs" Roach, "handling
copy" across the table from him, inquired:

"Do you suppose the new boss really has this much nerve, or is he just
a damned fool?"

"Stone won't do a thing to _him_!" ingratiatingly observed a "cub"
reporter, laying down twelve pages of "copy" about a man who had
almost been burglarized.

"Look here, you Greenleaf Whittier Squiggs," said Doc Miller most
savagely, not because he had any particular grudge against the
unfortunately named G. W., but because of discipline and the custom
with "cubs," "the next time you're sent out on a twenty-minute
assignment like this, remember the number of the _Bulletin_, 427 Grand
Street. The telephone is Central 2051, and don't forget to report the
same day. Did you get the man's name? Uh-huh. His address? Uh-huh.
Well, we don't want the item."

Slow and phlegmatic Jim Brown, who had been city editor on the
_Bulletin_ almost since it was the _Bulletin_ under half a dozen
changes of ownership and nearly a score of managing editors, sauntered
over into Jolter's room with a copy of the paper in his hand, and a
long black stogie held by some miracle in the corner of his mouth,
where it would be quite out of the road of conversation.

"Pretty good stuff," he drawled, indicating the remarkable first page.

"The greatest circus act that was ever pulled off in the newspaper
business," asserted Jolter. "It will quadruple the present circulation
of the _Bulletin_ in a week."

"Make or break," assented the city editor, "with the odds in favor of
the break."

A slenderly-built young man, whose red face needed a shave and whose
clothes, though wrinkled and unbrushed, shrieked of quality, came
stumbling up the stairs in such hot haste as was possible in his
condition, and without ceremony or announcement burst into the room
where Bobby Burnit, with that day's issue of the _Bulletin_ spread out
before him, was trying earnestly to get a professional idea of the
proper contents of a newspaper.

"Great goods, old man!" said the stranger. "I want to congratulate you
on your lovely nerve," and seizing Bobby's hand he shook it violently.

"Thanks," said Bobby, not quite sure whether to be amused or
resentful. "Who are you?"

"I'm Dillingham," announced the red-faced young man with a cheerful
smile.

Bobby was about to insist upon further information, when Mr. Jolter
came in to introduce Brown, who had not yet met Mr. Burnit.

"Dill," drawled Brown, with a twinkle in his eye, "how much money have
you?"

"Money to burn; money in every pocket," asserted Mr. Dillingham;
"money to last for ever," and he jammed both hands in his trousers'
pockets.

It was an astonishing surprise to Mr. Dillingham, after groping in
those pockets, to find that he brought up only a dollar bill in his
left hand and forty-five cents in silver in his right. He was still
contemplating in awed silence this perplexing fact when Brown handed
him a five-dollar bill.

"Now, you run right out and get stewed to the eyebrows again,"
directed Brown. "Get properly pickled and have it over with, then show
up here in the morning with a headache and get to work. We want you to
take charge of the Sam Stone exposé, and in to-morrow's _Bulletin_ we
want the star introduction of your life."

"Do you mean to say you're going to trust the whole field conduct of
this campaign to that chap?" asked Bobby, frowning, when Dillingham
had gone.

"This is his third day, so Dill's safe for to-morrow morning," Brown
hastened to assure him. "He'll be up here early, so penitent that
he'll be incased in a blue fog--and he'll certainly deliver the
goods."

Bobby sighed and gave it up. This was a new world.

Over in his dingy little office, up his dingy flight of stairs, Sam
Stone sat at his bare and empty old desk, looking contemplatively out
of the window, when Frank Sharpe--his luxuriant gray mustache in an
extraordinary and most violent state of straggling curliness--came
nervously bustling in with a copy of the _Bulletin_ in his hand.

"Have you seen this?" he shrilled.

"Heard about it," grunted Stone.

"But what do you think of it?" demanded Sharpe indignantly, and spread
the paper out on the desk before the Boss, thumping it violently with
his knuckles.

Stone studied it well, without the slightest change of expression upon
his heavy features.

"It's a swell likeness," he quietly conceded, by and by.



CHAPTER XXIII

BOBBY BEGINS TO GIVE TESTIMONY THAT HE IS OLD JOHN BURNIT'S SON


Closeted with Jolter and Brown, and mapping out with them the
dangerous campaign into which they had plunged, Bobby did not leave
the office of the _Bulletin_ until six o'clock. At the curb, just as
he was about to step into his waiting machine, Biff Bates hailed him
with vast enthusiasm.

"Go to it, Bobby!" said he. "I'm backing you across the board, win,
place and show; but let me give you a hot tip right from the stables.
You want to be afraid to go home in the dark, or Stone's lobbygows
will lean on you with a section of plumbing."

"I've thought of that, Biff," laughed Bobby; "and I think I'll
organize a band of murderers of my own."

Johnson, whom Bobby had quite forgotten in the stress of the day,
joined them at this moment. Thirty years as head bookkeeper and
confidential adviser in old John Burnit's merchandise establishment
had not fitted lean Johnson for the less dignified and more flurried
work of a newspaper office, even in the business department, and he
was looking very much fagged.

"Well, Johnson, what do you think of my first issue of the
_Bulletin_?" asked Bobby pleasantly.

Johnson looked genuinely distressed.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Burnit," said he, "I have not seen it. I
never in all my life saw a place where there were so many
interruptions to work. If we could only be back in your father's
store, sir."

"We'll be back there before we quit," said Bobby confidently; "or I'll
be in the incurable ward."

"I hope so, sir," said Johnson dismally, and strode across the street
to catch his car; but he came back hastily to add: "I meant about the
store; not about the asylum."

Biff Bates laughed as he clambered into the tonneau with Bobby.

"If you'd make a billion dollars, Bobby, but didn't get back your
father's business that Silas Trimmer snaked away from you, Johnson
would think you'd overlooked the one best bet."

"So would I," said Bobby soberly, and he had but very little more to
say until the chauffeur stopped at Bobby's own door, where puffy old
Applerod, who had been next to Johnson in his usefulness to old John
Burnit, stood nervously awaiting him on the steps.

"Terrible, sir! Terrible!" spluttered Applerod the moment he caught
sight of Bobby. "This open defiance of Mr. Stone will put entirely out
of existence what little there is left of the Brightlight Electric
Company."

"Cheer up, Applerod, for death must come to us all," encouraged Bobby.
"Such shreds and fragments of the Brightlight as there are left would
have been wiped out anyhow; and frankly, if you must have it, I put
you in there as general manager, when I shifted Johnson to the
_Bulletin_ this morning, because there was nothing to manage."

Applerod threw up his hands in dismay.

"And there will be less. Oh, Mr. Burnit, if your father were only
here!"

Bobby, whose suavity Applerod had never before seen ruffled, turned
upon him angrily.

"I'm tired hearing about my father, Applerod," he declared. "I revere
the governor's memory too much to want to be made angry by the mention
of his name. Hereafter, kindly catch the idea, if you can, that I am
my own man and must work out my own salvation; and I propose to do it!
Biff, you don't mind if I put off seeing you until to-morrow? I have a
dinner engagement this evening and very little time to dress."

"His own man," said Applerod sorrowfully when Bobby had left them.
"John Burnit would be half crazy if he could know what a botch his son
is making of things. I don't see how a man could let himself be
cheated four times in business."

"I can tell you," retorted Biff. "All his old man ever did for him was
to stuff his pockets with kale, and let him grow up into the sort of
clubs where one sport says: 'I'm going to walk down to the corner.'
Says the other sport: 'I'll bet you see more red-headed girls on the
way down than you do on the way back.' Says the first sport: 'You're
on for a hundred.' He goes down to the corner and he comes back. 'How
about the red-headed girls?' asks the second sport. 'I lose,' says the
first sport; 'here's your hundred.' Now, when Bobby is left real
money, he starts in to play the same open-face game, and when one of
these business wolves tells him anything Bobby don't stop to figure
whether the mut means what he says, or means something else that
sounds like the same thing. Now, if Bobby was a simp they'd sting him
in so many places that he'd be swelled all over, like an exhibition
cream puff; but he ain't a simp. It took him four times to learn that
he can't take a man's word in business. That's all he needed. Bobby's
awake now, and more than that he's mad, and if I hear you make another
crack that he ain't about all the candy I'll sick old Johnson on you,"
and with this dire threat Biff wheeled, leaving Mr. Applerod
speechless with red-faced indignation.

It was just a quiet family dinner that Bobby attended that night at
the Ellistons', with Uncle Dan and Aunt Constance Elliston at the head
and foot of the table, and across from him the smiling face of Agnes.
He was so good to look at that Agnes was content just to watch him,
but Aunt Constance noted his abstraction and chided him upon it.

"Really, Bobby," said she, "since you have gone into business you're
ruined socially."

"Frankly, I don't mind," he replied, smiling. "I'd rather be ruined
socially than financially. In spite of certain disagreeable features
of it, I have a feeling upon me to-night that I'm going to like the
struggle."

"You're starting a stiff one now," observed Uncle Dan dryly.
"Beginning an open fight against Sam Stone is a good deal like being
suspended over Hades by a single hair--amidst a shower of Roman
candles."

"That's putting it about right, I guess," admitted Bobby; "but I'm
relying on the fact that the public at heart is decent."

"Do you remember, Bobby, what Commodore Vanderbilt said about the
public?" retorted Uncle Dan. "They're decent, all right, but they
won't stick together in any aggressive movement short of gunpowder. In
the meantime, Stone has more entrenchments than even you can dream.
For instance, I should not wonder but that within a very short time I
shall be forced to try my influence with you in his behalf."

"How?" asked Bobby incredulously.

"Well, I am trying to get a spur track from the X. Y. Z. Railroad to
my factory on Spindle Street. The X. Y. Z. is perfectly willing to put
in the track, and I'm trying to have the city council grant us a
permit. Now, who is the city council?"

"Stone," Bobby was compelled to admit.

"Of course. I have already arranged to pay quite a sum of money to the
capable and honest city councilman of that ward. The capable and
honest councilman will go to Stone and give up about three-fourths of
what I pay him. Then Stone will pass the word out to the other
councilmen that he's for Alderman Holdup's spur track permit, and I
get it. Very simple arrangement, and satisfactory, but, if they do not
shove that measure through at their meeting to-morrow night, before
Stone finds out any possible connection between you and me, the price
of it will not be money. I'll be sent to you."

"I see," said Bobby in dismay. "In other words, it will be put flatly
up to me; I'll either have to quit my attacks on Stone, or be directly
responsible for your losing your valuable spur track."

"Exactly," said Uncle Dan.

Bobby drew a long breath.

"I'm very much afraid, Mr. Elliston, that you will have to do without
your spur."

Uncle Dan's eyes twinkled.

"I'm willing," said he. "I have a good offer to sell that branch of my
plant anyhow, and I think I'll dispose of it. I have been very frank
with you about this, so that you will know exactly what to expect when
other people come at you. You will be beset as you never were before."

"I have been looking for an injunction, myself."

"You will have no injunction, for Stone scarcely dares go publicly
into his own courts," said Uncle Dan, with a pretty thorough
knowledge, gained through experience, of the methods of the "Stone
gang"; "though he might even use that as a last resort. That will be
after intimidation fails, for it is quite seriously probable that they
will hire somebody to beat you into insensibility. If that don't teach
you the proper lesson, they will probably kill you."

Agnes looked up apprehensively, but catching Bobby's smile took this
latter phase of the matter as a joke. Bobby himself was not deeply
impressed with it, but before he went away that night Uncle Dan took
him aside and urged upon him the seriousness of the matter.

"I'll fight them with their own weapons, then," declared Bobby. "I'll
organize a counter band of thugs, and I'll block every move they make
with one of the same sort. Somehow or other I think I am going to
win."

"Of course you will win," said Agnes confidently, overhearing this
last phrase; and with that most prized of all encouragement, the faith
in his prowess of _the_ one woman, Bobby, for that night at least,
felt quite contemptuous of the grilling fight to come.

His second issue of the _Bulletin_ contained on the front page a
three-column picture of Sam Stone, with the same caption, together
with a full-page article, written by Dillingham from data secured by
himself and the others who were put upon the "story." This set forth
the main iniquities of Sam Stone and his crew of municipal grafters.
In the third day's issue the picture was reduced to two columns,
occupying the left-hand upper corner of the front page, where Bobby
ordered it to remain permanently as the slogan of the _Bulletin_; and
now Dillingham began his long series of articles, taking up point by
point the ramifications of Stone's machine, and coming closer and
closer daily to people who would much rather have been left entirely
out of the picture.

It was upon this third day that Bobby, becoming apprehensive merely
because nothing had happened, received a visit from Frank Sharpe. Mr.
Sharpe was as nattily dressed as ever, and presented himself as
pleasantly as a summer breeze across fields of clover.

"I came in to see you about merging the Brightlight Electric Company
with the Consolidated, Mr. Burnit," said Mr. Sharpe in a chatty tone,
laying his hat, cane and gloves upon Bobby's desk and seating himself
comfortably.

From his face there was no doubt in Mr. Sharpe's mind that this was a
mere matter of an interview with a satisfactory termination, for Mr.
Sharpe had done business with Bobby before; but something had happened
to Bobby in the meantime.

"When I get ready for a merger of the Brightlight with the
Consolidated I'll tell you about it; and also I'll tell you the
terms," Bobby advised him with a snap, and for the first time Mr.
Sharpe noted what a good jaw Bobby had.

"I should think," hesitated Sharpe, "that in the present condition of
the Brightlight almost any terms would be attractive to you. You have
no private consumers now, and your contract for city lighting, which
you can not evade except by bankruptcy, is losing you money."

"If that were news to me it would be quite startling," responded
Bobby, "but you see, Mr. Sharpe, I am quite well acquainted with the
facts myself. Also, I have a strong suspicion that you tampered with
my plant; that your hired agents cut my wires, ruined my dynamos and
destroyed the efficiency of my service generally."

"You will find it very difficult to prove that, Mr. Burnit," said
Sharpe, with a sternness which could not quite conceal a lurking
smile.

"I'm beginning to like difficulty," retorted Bobby. "I do not mind
telling you that I was never angry before in my life, and I'm
surprised to find myself enjoying the sensation."

Bobby was still more astonished to find himself laying his fist
tensely upon his desk. The lurking smile was now gone entirely from
Mr. Sharpe's face.

"I must admit, Mr. Burnit, that your affairs have turned out rather
unfortunately," he said, "but I think that they might be remedied for
you a bit, perhaps. Suppose you go and see Stone."

"I do not care to see Mr. Stone," said Bobby.

"But he wants to see you," persisted Sharpe. "In fact, he told me so
this morning. I'm quite sure you would find it to your advantage to
drop over there."

"I shall never enter Mr. Stone's office until he has vacated it for
good," said Bobby; "then I might be induced to come over and break up
the furniture. If Stone wants to see me I'm keeping fairly regular
office hours here."

"It is not Mr. Stone's habit to go to other people," bluffed Sharpe,
growing somewhat nervous; for it was one of Stone's traits not to
forgive the failure of a mission. He had no use for extenuating
circumstances, He never looked at anything in this world but results.

Bobby took down the receiver of his house telephone.

"I'd like to speak to Mr. Jolter, please," said he.

Sharpe rose to go.

"Just wait a moment, Mr. Sharpe," said Bobby peremptorily, and Sharpe
stopped. "Jolter," he directed crisply, turning again to the 'phone,
"kindly step into my office, will you?"

A moment later, while Sharpe stood wondering, Jolter came in, and
grinned as he noted Bobby's visitor.

"Mr. Jolter," asked Bobby, "have we a good portrait of Mr. Sharpe?"

Jolter, still grinning, stated that they had.

"Have a three-column half-tone made of it for this evening's
_Bulletin_."

Sharpe fairly spluttered.

"Mr. Burnit, if you print my picture in the _Bulletin_ connected with
anything derogatory, I'll--I'll--"

Bobby waited politely for a moment.

"Go ahead, Mr. Sharpe," said he. "I'm interested to know just what you
will do, because we're going to print the picture, connected with
something quite derogatory. Now finish your threat."

Sharpe gazed at him a moment, speechless with rage, and then stamped
from the office.

Jolter, quietly chuckling, turned to Bobby.

"I guess you'll do," he commented. "If you last long enough you'll
win."

"Thanks," said Bobby dryly, and then he smiled. "Say, Jolter," he
added, "it's bully fun being angry. I'm just beginning to realize what
I have been missing all these years. Go ahead with Sharpe's picture
and print anything you please about him. I guess you can secure enough
material without going out of the office, and if you can't I'll supply
you with some."

Jolter looked at his watch and hurried for the door. Minutes were
precious if he wanted to get that Sharpe cut made in time for the
afternoon edition. At the door, however, he turned a bit anxiously.

"I suppose you carry a gun, don't you?"

"By no means," said Bobby. "Never owned one."

"I'd advise you to get a good one at once," and Jolter hurried away.

That evening's edition of the _Bulletin_ contained a beautiful
half-tone of Mr. Sharpe. Above it was printed: "The _Bulletin's_
Rogues' Gallery," and beneath was the caption: "Hadn't this man better
go, too?"



CHAPTER XXIV

EDITOR BURNIT DISCOVERS THAT HE IS FIGHTING AN ENTIRE CITY INSTEAD OF
ONE MAN


At four o'clock of that same day Mr. Brown came in, and Mr. Brown was
grinning. In the last three days a grin had become the trade-mark of
the office, for the staff of the _Bulletin_ was enjoying itself as
never before in all its history.

"Stone's in my office," said Brown. "Wants to see you."

Bobby was interestedly leafing over the pages of the _Bulletin_. He
looked leisurely at his watch and yawned.

"Tell Mr. Stone that I am busy, but that I will receive him in fifteen
minutes," he directed, whereupon Mr. Brown, appreciating the joke,
grinned still more expansively and withdrew.

Bobby, as calmly as he could, went on with his perusal of the
_Bulletin_. To deny that he was somewhat tense over the coming
interview would be foolish. Never had a quarter of an hour dragged so
slowly, but he waited it out, with five minutes more on top of it, and
then he telephoned to Brown to know if Stone was still there. He was
relieved to find that he was.

"Tell him to come in," he ordered.

If Stone was inwardly fuming when he entered the room he gave no
indication of it. His heavy face bore only his habitually sullen
expression, his heavy-lidded eyes bore only their usual somberness,
his heavy brow had in it no crease other than those that time had
graven there. With the deliberateness peculiar to him he planted his
heavy body in a big arm-chair opposite to Bobby, without removing his
hat.

"I don't believe in beating around the bush, Mr. Burnit," said he,
with a glance over his shoulder to make sure that the door was closed.
"Of course you're after something. What do you want?"

Bobby looked at him in wonder. He had heard much of Stone's bluntness,
and now he was fascinated by it. Nevertheless, he did not forget his
own viewpoint.

"Oh, I don't want much," he observed pleasantly, "only just your
scalp; yours and the scalps of a few others who gave me my education,
from Silas Trimmer up and down. I think one of the things that
aggravated me most was the recent elevation of Trimmer to the
chairmanship of your waterworks commission. Trivial as it was, this
probably had as much to do with my sudden determination to wipe you
out, as your having the Brightlight's poles removed from Market
Street."

Stone laid a heavy hand easily upon Bobby's desk. It was a strong
hand, a big hand, brown and hairy, and from the third pudgy finger
glowed a huge diamond.

"As far as Trimmer is concerned," said he, quite undisturbed, "you can
have his head any minute. He's a mutt."

"You don't need to give me Mr. Trimmer's head," replied Bobby, quite
as calmly. "I intend to get that myself."

"And as for the Brightlight," continued Stone as if he had not been
interrupted, "I sent Sharpe over to see you about that this morning. I
think we can fix it so that you can get back your two hundred and
fifty thousand. The deal's been worth a lot more than that to the
Consolidated."

"No doubt," agreed Bobby. "However, I'm not looking, at the present
moment, for a sop to the Brightlight Company. It will be time enough
for that when I have forced the Consolidated into the hands of a
receiver."

Stone looked at Bobby thoughtfully between narrowed eyelids.

"Look here, young fellow," said he presently. "Now, you take it from
me, and I have been through the mill, that there ain't any use holding
a grouch. The mere doing damage don't get you anything unless it's to
whip somebody else into line with a warning. I take it that this ain't
what you're trying to do. You think you're simply playing a grouch
game, table stakes; but if you'll simmer down you'll find you've got a
price. Now, I'd rather have you with me than against me. If you'll
just say what you want I'll get it for you if it's in reach. But don't
froth. I've cleaned up as much money as your daddy did, just by
keeping my temper."

"I'm going to keep mine, too," Bobby informed him quite cheerfully. "I
have just found that I have one, and I like it."

Stone brushed this triviality aside with a wave of his heavy hand.

"Quit kidding," he said, "and come out with it. I see you're no piker,
anyhow. You're playing for big game. What is it you want?"

"As I said before, not very much," declared Bobby. "I only want to
grind your machine into powder. I want to dig up the rotten municipal
control of this city, root and branch. I want to ferret out every bit
of crookedness in which you have been concerned, and every bit that
you have caused. I want to uncover every man, high or low, for just
what he is, and I don't care how well protected he is nor how shining
his reputation, if he's concerned in a crooked deal I'm going after
him--"

"There won't be many of us left," Stone interrupted with a smile.

"--I want to get back some of the money you have stolen from this
city," continued Bobby; "and I want, last of all, to drive you out of
this town for good."

Stone rose with a sigh.

"This is the only chance I'll give you to climb in with the music," he
rumbled. "I've kept off three days, figuring out where you were
leading to and what you were after. Now, last of all, what will you
take to call it off?"

"I have told you the price," said Bobby.

"Then you're looking for trouble and you must have it, eh?"

"I suppose I must."

"Then you'll get it," and without the sign of a frown upon his brow
Mr. Stone left the office.

The next morning things began to happen. The First National Bank
called up the business office of the _Bulletin_ and ordered its
advertisement discontinued. Not content alone with that, President De
Graff called up Bobby personally, and in a very cold and dignified
voice told him that the First National was compelled to withdraw its
patronage on account of the undignified personal attacks in which the
_Bulletin_ was indulging. Bobby whistled softly. He knew De Graff
quite well; they were, in fact, upon most intimate terms, socially.

"I should think, De Graff," Bobby remonstrated, "that of all people
the banks should be glad to have all this crookedness rooted out of
the city. As a matter of fact, I intended shortly to ask your
coöperation in the formation of a citizens' committee to insure honest
politics."

"I really could not take any active part in such a movement, Mr.
Burnit," returned De Graff, still more coldly. "The conservatism
necessary to my position forbids my connection with any sensational
publicity whatsoever."

An hour later, Crone, the advertising manager, came up to Bobby very
much worried, to report that not only the First National but the
Second Market Bank had stopped their advertising, as had Trimmer and
Company, and another of the leading dry-goods firms.

"Of course," said Crone, "your editorial policy is your own, but I'm
afraid that it is going to be ruinous to your advertising."

"I shouldn't wonder," admitted Bobby dryly, and that was all the
satisfaction he gave Crone; but inwardly he was somewhat disturbed.

He had not thought of the potency of this line of attack. While he
knew nothing of the newspaper business, he had already made sure that
the profit was in the advertising. He sent for Jolter.

"Ben," he asked, "what is the connection between the First National
and the Second Market Banks and Sam Stone?"

"Money," said the managing editor promptly. "Both banks are
depositories of city funds."

"I see," said Bobby slowly. "Do any other banks enjoy this patronage?"

"The Merchants' and the Planters' and Traders' hold the county funds,
which are equally at Stone's disposal."

Bobby heard this news in silence, and Jolter, after looking at him
narrowly for a moment, added:

"I'll tell you something else. Not one of the four banks pays to the
city or the county one penny of interest on these deposits. This is
well known to the newspapers, but none of them has dared use it."

"Go after them," said Bobby.

"Moreover, it is strongly suspected that the banks pay interest
privately to Stone, through a small and select ring in the court-house
and in the city hall."

"Go after them."

"I suppose you know the men who will be involved in this," said
Jolter.

"Some of my best friends, I expect," said Bobby.

"And some of the most influential citizens in this town," retorted
Jolter. "They can ruin the _Bulletin_. They could ruin any business."

"The thing's crooked, isn't it?" demanded Bobby.

"As a dog's hind leg."

"Go after them, Jolter!" Bobby reiterated. Then he laughed aloud. "De
Graff just telephoned me that 'the conservatism of his position
forbids him to take part in any sensational publicity whatsoever.'"

Comment other than a chuckle was superfluous from either one of them,
and Jolter departed to the city editor's room, to bring joy to the
heart of the staff.

It was "Bugs" Roach who scented the far-reaching odor of this move
with the greatest joy.

"You know what this means, don't you?" he delightedly commented. "A
grand jury investigation. Oh, listen to the band!"

Before noon the Merchants' and the Planters' and Traders' Banks had
withdrawn their advertisements.

At about the same hour a particularly atrocious murder was committed
in one of the suburbs. Up in the reporters' room of the police
station, Thomas, of the _Bulletin_, and Graham, of the _Chronicle_,
were indulging in a quiet game of whist with two of the morning
newspaper boys, when a roundsman stepped to the door and called Graham
out. Graham came back a moment later after his coat, with such studied
nonchalance that the other boys, eternally suspicious as police
reporters grow to be, looked at him narrowly, and Thomas asked him,
also with studied nonchalance:

"The candy-store girl, or the one in the laundry office?"

"Business, young fellow, business," returned Graham loftily. "I guess
the _Chronicle_ knows when it has a good man. I'm called into the
office to save the paper. They're sending a cub down to cover the
afternoon. Don't scoop him, old man."

"Not unless I get a chance," promised Thomas, but after Graham had
gone he went down to the desk and, still unsatisfied, asked:

"Anything doing, Lieut.?"

"Dead as a door-nail," replied the lieutenant, and Thomas, still with
an instinct that something was wrong, still sensitive to a certain
suppressed tingling excitement about the very atmosphere of the place,
went slowly back to the reporters' room, where he spent a worried
half-hour.

The noonday edition of the _Chronicle_ carried, in the identical
columns devoted in the _Bulletin_ to a further attack on Stone, a
lurid account of the big murder; and the _Bulletin_ had not a line of
it! A sharp call from Brown to Thomas, at central police, apprised the
latter that he had been "scooped," and brought out the facts in the
case. Thomas hurried down-stairs and bitterly upbraided Lieutenant
Casper.

"Look here, you Thomas," snapped Casper; "you _Bulletin_ guys have
been too fresh around here for a long time."

In Casper's eyes--Casper with whom he had always been on cordial
joking terms--he saw cruel implacability, and, furious, he knew
himself to be "in" for that most wearing of all newspaper jobs--"doing
police" for a paper that was "in bad" with the administration. He
needed no one to tell him the cause. At three-thirty, Thomas, and
Camden, who was doing the city hall, and Greenleaf Whittier Squiggs,
who was subbing for the day on the courts, appeared before Jim Brown
in an agonized body. Thomas had been scooped on the big murder, Camden
and G. W. Squiggs had been scooped, at the city hall and the county
building, on the only items worth while, and they were all at white
heat; though it was a great consolation to Squiggs, after all, to find
himself in such distinguished company.

Brown heard them in silence, and with great solemnity conducted them
across the hall to Jolter, who also heard them in silence and
conducted them into the adjoining room to Bobby. Here Jolter stood
back and eyed young Mr. Burnit with great interest as his two
experienced veterans and his ambitious youngster poured forth their
several tales of woe. Bobby, as it became him to be, was much
disturbed.

"How's the circulation of the _Bulletin_?" he asked of Jolter.

"Five times what it ever was in its history," responded Jolter.

"Do you suppose we can hold it?"

"Possibly."

"How much does a scoop amount to?"

"Well," confessed Jolter, with his eyes twinkling, "I hate to tell you
before the boys, but my own opinion is that we know it and the
_Chronicle_ knows it and Stone knows it, but day after to-morrow the
public couldn't tell you on its sacred oath whether it read the first
account of the murder in the _Bulletin_ or in the _Chronicle_."

Bobby heaved a sigh of relief.

"I always had the impression that a 'beat' meant the death, cortège
and cremation of the newspaper that fell behind in the race," he
smiled. "Boys, I'm afraid you'll have to stand it for a while. Do the
best you can and get beaten as little as possible. By the way, Jolter,
I want to see you a minute," and the mournful delegation of three, no
whit less mournful because they had been assured that they would not
be held accountable for being scooped, filed out.

"What's the connection," demanded Bobby, the minute they were alone,
"between the police department and Sam Stone?"

"Money!" replied Jolter. "Chief of Police Cooley is in reality chief
collector. The police graft is one of the richest Stone has. The
rake-off from saloons that are supposed to close at one and from
crooked gambling joints and illegal resorts of various kinds, amounts,
I suppose, to not less than ten to fifteen thousand dollars a week. Of
course, the patrolmen get some, but the bulk of it goes to Cooley, who
was appointed by Stone, and the biggest slice of all goes to the
Boss."

"Go after Cooley," said Bobby. Then suddenly he struck his fist upon
the desk. "Great Heavens, man!" he exclaimed. "At the end of every
avenue and street and alley that I turn down with the _Bulletin_ I
find an open sewer."

"The town is pretty well supplied," admitted Jolter. "How do you feel
now about your policy?"

"Pretty well staggered," confessed Bobby; "but we're going through
with the thing just the same."

"It's a man's-size job," declared Jolter; "but if you get away with it
the _Bulletin_ will be the best-paying piece of newspaper property
west of New York."

"Not the way the advertising's going," said Bobby, shaking his head
and consulting a list on his desk. "Where has Stone a hold on the
dry-goods firm of Rolands and Crawford?"

"They built out circular show-windows, all around their big block, and
these extend illegally upon two feet of the sidewalk."

"And how about the Ebony Jewel Coal Company?"

"They have been practically allowed to close up Second Street, from
Water to Canal, for a dump."

Bobby sighed hopelessly.

"We can't fight everybody in town," he complained.

"Yes, but we can!" exclaimed Jolter with a sudden fire that surprised
Bobby, since it was the first the managing editor displayed. "Don't
weaken, Burnit! I'm with you in this thing, heart and soul! If we can
hold out until next election we will sweep everything before us."

"We will hold out!" declared Bobby.

"I am so sure of it that I'll stand treat," assented Mr. Jolter with
vast enthusiasm, and over an old oak table, in a quiet place, Mr.
Jolter and Mr. Burnit, having found the sand in each other's craws,
cemented a pretty strong liking.



CHAPTER XXV

AN EXCITING GAME OF TIT FOR TAT WITH HIRED THUGS


The _Bulletin_, continuing its warfare upon Stone and every one who
supported him, hit upon names that had never before been mentioned but
in terms of the highest respect, and divers and sundry complacent
gentlemen who attended church quite regularly began to look for a
cyclone cellar. They were compromised with Stone and they could not
placate Bobby. The four banks that had withdrawn their advertisements,
after a hasty conference with Stone put them back again the first day
their names were mentioned. The business department of the _Bulletin_
cheerfully accepted those advertisements at the increased rate
justified by the _Bulletin's_ increased circulation; but the editorial
department just as cheerfully kept castigating the erring conservators
of the public money, and the advertisements disappeared again.

Bobby's days now were beset from a hundred quarters with agonized
appeals to change his policy. This man and that man and the other man
high in commercial and social and political circles came to him with
all sorts of pressure, and even Payne Winthrop and Nick Allstyne, two
of his particular cronies of the Idlers', not being able to catch him
at the club any more, came up to his office.

"This won't do, old man," protested Payne; "we're missing you at
billiards and bridge whist, but your refusal to take part in the
coming polo tourney was the last straw. You're getting to be a regular
plebe."

"I am a plebe," admitted Bobby. "What's the use to deny it? My father
was a plebe. He came off the farm with no earthly possessions more
valuable than the patches on his trousers. I am one generation from
the soil, and since I have turned over a furrow or two, just plain
earth smells good to me."

Both of Bobby's friends laughed. They liked him too well to take him
seriously in this.

"But really," said Nick, returning to the attack, "the boys at the
club were talking over the thing and think this rather bad form, this
sort of a fight you're making. You're bound to become involved in a
nasty controversy."

"Yes?" inquired Bobby pleasantly. "Watch me become worse involved.
More than that, I think I shall come down to the Idlers', when I get
things straightened out here, organize a club league and make you
fellows march with banners and torch-lights."

This being a more hilarious joke than the other the boys laughed quite
politely, though Payne Winthrop grew immediately serious again.

"But we can't lose you, Bobby," he insisted. "We want you to quit this
sort of business and come back again to the old crowd. There are so
few of us left, you know, that we're getting lonesome. Stan Rogers is
getting up a glorious hunt and he wants us all to come up to his lodge
for a month at least. You should be tired of this by now, anyhow."

"Not a bit of it," declared Bobby.

"Oh, of course, you have your money involved," admitted Payne, "and
you must play it through on that account; but I'll tell you: if you do
want to sell I know where I could find a buyer for you at a profit."

Bobby turned on him like a flash.

"Look here, Payne," said he. "Where is your interest in this?"

"My interest?" repeated Payne blankly.

"Yes, your interest. What have you to gain by having me sell out?"

"Why, really, Bobby--" began Payne, thinking to temporize.

"You're here for that purpose, and must tell me why," insisted Bobby
sternly, tapping his finger on the desk.

"Well, if you must know," stammered Payne, taken out of himself by
sheer force of Bobby's manner, "my respected and revered--"

"I see," said Bobby.

"The--the pater is thinking of entering politics next year, and he
rather wants an organ."

"And Nick, where's yours?"

"Well," confessed Nick, with no more force of reservation than had
Payne when mastery was used upon him, "mother's city property and
mine, you know, contains some rather tumbledown buildings that are
really good for a number of years yet, but which adverse municipal
government might--might depreciate in value."

"Just a minute," said Bobby, and he sent for Jolter.

"Ben," he asked, "do you know anything about Mr. Adam Winthrop's
political aspirations?"

"I understand he's being groomed for governor," said Jolter.

"Meet his son, Mr. Jolter--Mr. Payne Winthrop. Also Mr. Nick Allstyne.
I suppose Mr. Winthrop is to run on Stone's ticket?" continued Bobby,
breaking in upon the formalities as quickly as possible.

"Certainly."

"Payne," said Bobby, "if your father wants to talk with me about the
_Bulletin_ he must come himself. Jolter, do you know where the
Allstyne properties are?"

Jolter looked at Nick and Nick colored.

"That's rather a blunt question, under the circumstances, Mr. Burnit,"
said Jolter, "but I don't see why it shouldn't be answered as bluntly.
It's a row of two blocks on the most notorious street of the town,
frame shacks that are likely to be the start of a holocaust, any windy
night, which will sweep the entire down-town district. They should
have been condemned years ago."

"Nick," said Bobby, "I'll give you one month to dispose of that
property, because after that length of time I'm going after it."

This was but a sample. Bobby had at last become suspicious, and as old
John Burnit had shrewdly observed in one of his letters: "It hurts to
acquire suspiciousness, but it is quite necessary; only don't overdo
it."

Bobby, however, was in a field where suspiciousness could scarcely be
overdone. When any man came to protest or to use influence on Bobby in
his fight, Bobby took the bull by the horns, called for Jolter, who
was a mine of information upon local affairs, and promptly found out
the reason for that man's interest; whereupon he either warned him off
or attacked him, and made an average of ten good, healthy enemies a
day. He scared Adam Winthrop out of the political race entirely, he
made the Allstynes tear down their fire-traps and erect better-paying
and consequently more desirable tenements, and he had De Graff and the
other involved bankers "staggering in circles and hoarsely barking,"
as "Bugs" Roach put it.

So far, Bobby had been subjected to no personal annoyances, but on the
day after his first attack on the chief of police he began to be
arrested for breaking the speed laws, and fined the limit, even though
he drove his car but eight miles an hour, while his news carriers and
his employees were "pinched" upon the most trivial pretexts. Libel
suits were brought wherever a merchant or an official had a record
clear enough to risk such procedure, and three of these suits were
decided against him; whereupon Bobby, finding the money chain which
bound certain of the judges to Sam Stone, promptly attacked these
members of the judiciary and appealed his cases.

His very name became a red rag to every member of Stone's crowd; but
up to this point no violence had been offered him. One night, however,
as he was driving his own car homeward, men on the watch for him
stepped out of an alley mouth two blocks above the Burnit residence
and strewed the street thickly with sharp-pointed coil springs. One of
these caught a tire, and Bobby, always on the alert for the first sign
of such accidents, brought his car to a sudden stop, reached down for
his tire-wrench and jumped out. Just as he stooped over to examine the
tire, some instinct warned him, and he turned quickly to find three
men coming upon him from the alley, the nearest one with an uplifted
slung-shot. It was with just a glance from the corner of his eye as he
turned that Bobby caught the import of the figure towering above him,
and then his fine athletic training came in good stead. With a
sidewise spring he was out of the sphere of that descending blow, and,
swinging with his heavy wrench, caught the fellow a smash upon the
temple which laid him unconscious. Before the two other men had time
to think, he was upon them and gave one a broken shoulder-blade. The
other escaped. There had been no word from any of the three men which
might lead to an explanation of this attack, but Bobby needed no
explanation; he divined at once the source from which it came, and in
the morning he sent for Biff Bates.

"Biff," said he, "I spoke once about securing some thugs to act as a
counter-irritant against Stone, but I have neglected it. How long will
it take to get hold of some?"

"Ten minutes, if I wait till dark," replied Biff. "I can go down to
the Blue Star, and for ten iron men apiece can get you as fine a bunch
of yeggs as ever beat out a cripple's brains with his own wooden leg."

Bobby smiled.

"I don't want them to go quite that far," he objected. "Are they men
you can depend upon not to sell out to Stone?"

"Just one way," replied Biff. "The choice line of murderers that hang
out down around the levee are half of them sore on Stone, anyhow; but
they're afraid of him, and the only way you can use them is to give
'em enough to get 'em out of town. For ten a throw you can buy them
body and soul."

"I'll take about four, to start on duty to-night, and stay on duty
till they accomplish what I want done," and Bobby detailed his plan to
Biff.

Stone had one peculiarity. Knowing that he had enemies, and those
among the most reckless class in the world, he seldom allowed himself
to be caught alone; but every night he held counsel with some of his
followers at a certain respectable beer-garden where, in the
summer-time, a long table in a quiet, half-screened corner was
reserved for him and his followers, and in the winter a back room was
given up for the same purpose. Here Stone transacted all the real
business of his local organization, drinking beer, reviving
strange-looking callers, and confining his own remarks to a grunted
yes or no, or a brief direction. Every night at about nine-thirty he
rose, yawned, and, unattended, walked back through the beer-garden to
the alley, where he stood for some five minutes. This was his retreat
for uninterrupted thought, and when he came back from it he had the
day's developments summed up and the necessary course of action
resolved upon.

On the second night after the attempted assault upon Bobby he had no
sooner closed the alley door behind him than a man sprang upon him
from either side, a heavy hand was placed over his mouth, and he was
dragged to the ground, where a third brawny thug straddled his chest
and showed him a long knife.

"See it?" demanded the man as he passed the blade before Stone's eyes.
"It's hungry. You let 'em clip my brother in stir for a three-stretch
when you could have saved him with a grunt, and if I wasn't workin'
under orders, in half an hour they'd have you on slab six with ice
packed around you and a sheet over you. But we're under orders. We're
part of the reform committee, we are," and all three of them laughed
silently, "and there's a string of us longer than the Christmas
bread-line, all crazy for a piece of this getaway coin. And here's the
little message I got to give you. This time you're to go free. Next
time you're to have your head beat off. This thuggin' of peaceable
citizens has got to be stopped; see?"

A low whistle from a man stationed at the mouth of the alley
interrupted the speech which the man with the knife was enjoying so
much, and he sprang from the chest of Stone, who had been struggling
vainly all this time. As the man sprang up and started to run, he
suddenly whirled and gave Stone a vicious kick upon the hip, and as
Stone rose, another man kicked him in the ribs. All three of them ran,
and Stone, scrambling to his feet with difficulty, whipped his
revolver from his pocket and snapped it. Long disused, however, the
trigger stuck, but he took after them on foot in spite of the pain of
the two fearful kicks that he had received. Instead of darting
straight out of the alley, the men turned in at a small gate at the
side of a narrow building on the corner, and slammed the gate behind
them. He could hear the drop of the wooden bolt. He knew perfectly
that entrance. It was to the littered back yard of a cheap saloon, at
the side of which ran a narrow passageway to the street beyond, where
street-cars passed every half-minute.

Just as he came furiously up to the gate a policeman darted in at the
alley mouth, and, catching the glint of Stone's revolver, whipped his
own. He ran quite fearlessly to Stone, and with a dextrous blow upon
the wrist sent the revolver spinning.

"You're under arrest," said he.

For just one second he covered his man, then his arm dropped and his
jaw opened in astonishment.

"Why, it's Stone!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, damn you, it's Stone!" screamed the Boss, livid with fury, and
overcome with anger he dealt the policeman a staggering blow in the
face. "You damned flat-foot, I'll teach you to notice who you put your
hands on! Give me that badge!"

White-faced and with trembling fingers, and with a trickle of blood
starting slowly from a cut upon his cheek, the man unfastened his
badge.

"Now, go back to Cooley and tell him I broke you," Stone ordered, and
turned on his heel.

By the time he reached the back door of the beer-garden he was limping
most painfully, but when he rejoined his crowd he said nothing of the
incident. In the brief time that it had taken him to go from the alley
mouth to that table he had divined the significance of the whole
thing. For the first time in his career he knew himself to be a
systematically marked man, as he had systematically marked others; and
he was not beyond reason. Thereafter, Bobby Burnit was in no more
jeopardy from hired thugs, and for a solid year he kept up his fight,
with plenty of material to last him for still another twelvemonth. It
was a year which improved him in many ways, but Aunt Constance
Elliston objected to the improvement.

"Bobby, they _are_ spoiling you," she complained. "They're taking your
suavity away from you, and you're acquiring grim, hard lines around
your mouth."

"They're making him," declared Agnes, looking fondly across at the
firm face and into the clear, unwavering eyes.

Bobby answered the look of Agnes with one that needed no words to
interpret, and laughed at Aunt Constance.

"I suppose they are spoiling me," he confessed, "and I'm glad of it.
I'm glad, above all, that I'm losing the sort of suavity which led me
to smile and tell a man politely to take it, when he reached his hand
into my pocket for my money."

"You'll do," agreed Uncle Dan. "When you took hold of the _Bulletin_,
your best friends only gave you two months, But are you making any
money?"

Bobby's face clouded.

"Spending it like water. We have practically no advertising, and a
larger circulation than I want. We lose money on every copy of the
paper that we sell."

Uncle Dan shook his head.

"Is there a chance that you will ever get it back?" he asked.

"Bobby's so used to failure that he doesn't mind," interjected Aunt
Constance.

"Mind!" exclaimed Bobby. "I never minded it so much in my life as I do
now. The _Bulletin_ must win. I'm bound that it shall win! If we come
out ahead in our fight against Stone I'll get all my advertising back,
and I'll keep my circulation, which makes advertising rates."

The telephone bell rang in the study adjoining the dining-room, and
Bobby, who had been more or less distrait all evening, half rose from
his chair. In a moment more the maid informed them that the call was
for Mr. Burnit. In the study they could hear his voice, excited and
exultant. He returned as delighted as a school-boy.

"Now I can tell you something," he announced. "Within five minutes the
_Bulletin_ will have exclusive extras on the street, announcing that
the legislature has just appointed a committee to investigate
municipal affairs throughout the state. That means this town. I have
spent ten thousand dollars in lobbying that measure through, and
charged it all to improvements' on the _Bulletin_. Sounds like I had
joined the ranks of the 'boodlers,' don't it? Well, I don't give a
cooky for ethics so long as I know I'm right. I'd have been a simp, as
Biff Bates calls it, to go among that crowd of hungry law jugglers
with kind words and the ten commandments. I'm not using crossbows
against cannon, and as a result I'm winning. I got my measure through,
and now I think we'll put Stone and his crew of freebooters on the
grill, with some extra-hot coals for my friend De Graff and the other
saintly sinners who have been playing into Stone's hands. I have been
working a year for this, and the entire politics of this town, with
wide-reaching results in the state, is disrupted."

"You selfish boy," chided Aunt Constance. "You have been here with us
for more than an hour, expecting this all the time, and have not
breathed one word of it to us. Don't you trust anybody any more?"

"Oh, yes," replied Bobby easily; "but only when it is necessary."

Agnes smiled across at him in calm content. She had but very little to
say now. She was in that blissful happiness that comes to any woman
when the man most in her mind is reaping his meed of success from a
long and hard-fought battle.

"Spoken like your father, Bobby," laughed Uncle Dan. "You're coming to
look more and more like him every day. You talk like him and act like
him. You have the same snap of your jaws. Your father, however, never
dabbled in politics. He always despised it, and I see you're bound to
be knee-deep in it."

"My father would have succeeded in politics," said Bobby confidently,
"as he succeeded in everything else, after he once got started. I have
his confession in writing, however, that he made a few fool mistakes
himself along at first. As for politics, I _am_ in it knee-deep, and
I'm going to elect my own slate next fall."

"Another reform party, of course," suggested Uncle Dan with a smile.

"Not for Bobby," replied that decided young gentleman. "I am forming
an affiliation with Cal Lewis."

"Cal Lewis!" exclaimed Uncle Dan aghast. Then he closed his eyes and
laughed softly. "As notorious in his way as Sam Stone himself. Why,
Bobby, that's fighting fire with gasolene."

"It's setting a thief to catch a thief. You must remember that for
fifteen years Cal hasn't had any of the pie except in a minor way, and
all this time he's been fighting Stone tooth and toe-nail. The late
reform movement, which failed so lamentably to carry out its gaudy
promises after it had won, left him entirely out of its calculations,
and Lewis actually joined with Stone in overturning it. I propose to
use Lewis' knowledge of political machinery, but in my own way. As a
matter of fact, I have already engaged him and put him on salary; a
good, stiff one, too. His business is to organize my political
machine. I'm going to have a slate of clean men, who will not only
conduct the business of this county and city with probity but with
discretion, and I do not mind telling you that my candidate for mayor
is Chalmers."

Agnes gave a little cry of delight, and even Aunt Constance clapped
her hands lightly, for Chalmers, a young lawyer of excellent social
connections, was a prime favorite with the Ellistons, and in the
business he had transacted for the Burnit estate Bobby had found in
him sterling qualities.

"Chalmers is a good man," agreed Uncle Dan, "though he is young, and
practically without political influence; but, if you can make him
mayor, I predict a brilliant political future for him."

"He will have it," said Bobby confidently, "for I intend to make him
the attorney for the investigating committee, and through his work I
expect to have not less than a hundred thousand dollars of stolen
money turned back into the city and county treasuries."

As Bobby announced this he rose mechanically, and, still absorbed in
the details of his big fight, walked out into the hall. It was not
until he had his coat on and his hat in his hand that he came to
himself; and with the deepest confusion found that he had been about
to walk out without making any adieus whatever.

"Why, where are you going?" inquired Agnes, as he came back into the
drawing-room.

He laughed sheepishly.

"Why," he explained, "ever since I received that telephone message I
have been seeing before me the _Bulletin_ extra that they are throwing
on the street right now, and I forgot everything else. I'll simply
have to go down and hold a copy of it in my hands."

"You're just a big boy," laughed Aunt Constance. "Will you ever grow
up?"

"I hope not," declared Agnes, and taking his arm she strolled with him
to the door in perfect peace and confidence.



CHAPTER XXVI

MR. STONE LEAVES BOBBY A PARTING COMMISSION AND A LEFT-HANDED BLESSING


It looked good to Bobby, that late extra of the _Bulletin_, and the
force that he had kept on duty to get it out greeted him, as he walked
through the office, with a running fire of comment and congratulation
that was almost like applause. He had bought a copy on the street as
he came in, and as he spread it out there came upon him a thrill of
realization that this ought to be the beginning of the end.

It was. The fact that Bobby, through the _Bulletin_, had forced this
action, made him a power to be reckoned with; and straws, whole bales
of them, began to show which way the wind was blowing.

One morning a delegation headed by the Reverend Doctor Larynx waited
upon him. The Reverend Doctor was a minister of great ingenuity and
force, who sought the salvation of souls through such vital topics as
Shall Men Go Coatless in Summer? The Justice of Three-Cent Car Fares,
and The Billboards Must Go. All public questions, civic, state or
national, were thoroughly thrashed out in the pulpit of the Reverend
Larynx, and turned adrift with the seal of his condemnation or
approval duly fixed upon them; and he managed to get his name and
picture in the papers almost as often as the man who took eighty-seven
bottles of Elixo and still survived. With him were four thoroughly
respectable men of business, two of whom wore side-whiskers and the
other two of whom wore white bow-ties.

"Fine business, Mr. Burnit," said the Reverend Doctor Larynx in a
loud, hearty voice, advancing with three strides and clasping Bobby's
hand in a vise-like grip; for he was a red-blooded minister, was the
Reverend Doctor Larynx, and he believed in getting down among the
"pee-pul." "The _Bulletin_ has proved itself a mighty fine engine of
reform, and the reputable citizens of this municipality now see a ray
of hope before them."

"I'm afraid that the reputable citizens," ventured Bobby, "have no one
but themselves to blame for their past hopeless condition. They're too
selfish to vote."

"You have hit the nail on the head," declaimed the Reverend Larynx
with a loud, hearty laugh, "but the _Bulletin_ will rouse them to a
sense of duty. Last night, Mr. Burnit, the Utopian Club was formed
with an initial membership of over seventy, and it selected a
candidate for mayor of whom the _Bulletin_ is bound to approve. Shake
hands with Mr. Freedom, the Utopian Club's candidate for mayor, Mr.
Burnit."

Bobby shook hands with Mr. Freedom quite nicely, and studied him
curiously.

He was one of the two who wore side-whiskers and a habitual Prince
Albert, and he displayed a phenomenal length from lower lip to chin,
which, by reason of his extremely high and narrow forehead, gave his
features the appearance of being grouped in tiny spots somewhere near
the center of a long, yellow cylinder. Mr. Freedom, he afterward
ascertained, was a respectable singing-teacher.

"Professor Freedom," went on the Reverend Doctor Larynx, still loudly
and heartily, "has the time to devote to this office, as well as the
ideal qualifications. He has no vices whatever. He does not even smoke
nor use tobacco in any form, and under his régime the saloons of this
town would be turned into vacant store-rooms, if there are laws to
make possible such action."

"I do not want the saloons put out of business," declared Bobby. "I
merely want them vacated at twelve every night, without exception."

When Doctor Larynx and his delegation went away in wrath the leader
was already preparing his sermon upon The Iniquity of the Sons of Rich
Fathers.

On the following day a delegation from the business men's club waited
upon him. The business men's club wanted a business administration.
This crowd Bobby handled differently. Upon his desk, tabulated in
advance against just such an emergency, he had statistics concerning
all the business men's administrations that had been tried in various
cities, and he submitted this statement without argument. It needed
none.

"Politics is in itself a distinct business," he explained. "You would
not one of you take up the duties of a surveyor without previous
training. The only trouble is that there are no restrictions placed
upon politicians. I propose to use them, but to regulate them."

He did not convert the delegation by this one interview, but he did by
cultivating these men and others of their kind separately. He ate
luncheons and dinners with them at the Traders' Club, played billiards
with them, smoked and talked with them; and the burden of his talk was
Chalmers. When he finally got ready for his campaign the business men
were with him unanimously, at least outwardly. Inwardly, there were
reservations, for the matter of special privileges was one to be very
gravely considered; and special privileges, at a price not entirely
prohibitive, was the bulwark of Stone's régime.

"But the Stone régime," Bobby advised them, coming brutally to the
point and telling them what he knew of their own affairs and Stone's,
"is about to come to an end. The handwriting is on the wall, and you
might just as well climb into the band wagon, for at last I have the
public on my side."

At last he had. For a solid year he had been trying to understand the
peculiar apathy of the public, and he did not understand it yet. They
seemed to like Stone and to look upon his wholesale corruption as a
joke; but by constant hammering, by showing the unredeemable
cussedness of Stone and his crowd, he had produced some impression--an
impression that, alas! was of the surface only--until the
investigating committee began its sessions. When it became understood,
however, that certain of the thieves might actually be sent to the
penitentiary, then who so loud in their denunciation as the public?
Why, Stone had robbed them right and left; why, Stone was an enemy to
mankind; why, Stone and all his friends were monsters whom it were a
good and a holy thing to skewer and flay and cast into everlasting
brimstone!

Facts were uncovered that set the entire city in turmoil. More than
fifty men who had never been born had been carried upon the city and
county pay-rolls, and half of their salaries went directly into
Stone's pocket, the other half going to the men who conducted this
paying enterprise. Contracts for city paving and other improvements
were let to favored bidders at an enormous figure, and Stone
personally had one-fourth of the huge profits on "scamped" work,
another fourth going to those who arranged the details and did the
collecting. Innumerable instances of this sort were brought out; but
the biggest scandal of all, in that it involved men who should have
been unassailable, was that of the banks. The relentless probe brought
out the fact that all city and county funds had been distributed among
four banks, the deposits yielding no revenue whatever to either
commonwealth. These funds, however, had paid privately two per cent.
interest, and this interest was paid in cash, in sealed envelopes, to
the city and county auditors and treasurers, who took the envelopes
unbroken to Stone for distribution. The amounts thus diverted from the
proper channels totaled to an enormous figure, and, as this money was
the most direct and approachable, Chalmers, who had the interesting
rôle of inquisitor, set out to get it. The officials who had been
longest at the crib, grown incautious were now men of property, and by
the use of red-hot pincers Chalmers was able to restore nearly sixty
thousand dollars of stolen money, with the possibility of more in
sight.

It was upon the heels of this that Chalmers' candidacy for mayor was
announced, and the manner in which the Stone machine dropped to pieces
was laughable. Chalmers, and the entire slate so carefully prepared by
Bobby in conjunction with the shrewd old fox, Cal Lewis, won by a
majority so overwhelming as to be almost unanimous. Immediately upon
Chalmers' election heads began to drop, and the first to go was
Cooley, chief of police, in whom, four years later, Bobby recognized
the driver of his ice wagon. Coincident with the election came
well-founded rumors of grand jury indictments. Two of Stone's closest
and busiest lieutenants, who were most in danger of being presented
with nice new suits of striped clothing, quietly converted their
entire property into cash and then just as quietly slipped away to
Honduras.

Late one afternoon, as Bobby sat alone in his room in the almost
deserted _Bulletin_ building, so worried over his business affairs
that he had no time for elation over his political and personal
triumphs, the door opened and Stone stood before him. The pouches
under Stone's eyes were heavier and darker, his cheeks drooped
flabbily and he seemed to have fallen away inside his clothes, but
upon his face there sat the same stern impassiveness. Bobby instantly
rose, having good cause to want to be well planted upon his feet with
this man near him. Stone carefully closed the door behind him and
advanced to the other side of Bobby's desk.

"Well, you win," he said huskily.

Bobby drew a long breath.

"It has cost me a lot of money, Mr. Stone. It has left me almost flat
broke--but I got you."

"I give you credit," admitted Stone. "I didn't think anybody could do
it, least of all a kid; but you got me and you got me good. It's been
a hard fight for all of us, I guess. I'm a little run down," and he
hesitated curiously; "my doctor says I got to take an ocean trip." He
suddenly blazed out: "Damn it, you might as well be told! I'm running
away!"

Bobby found himself silent. For two years he had planned and hoped for
this moment of victory. Now that the exultant moment had come he found
himself feeling strangely sorry for this big man, in spite of his
unutterable rascality.

"I ain't coming back," Stone went on after a pause, "and there's
something I want to ask you to do for me."

"I should be glad to do it, Mr. Stone, if it is anything I can allow
myself to do."

"Aw, cut it!" growled Stone. "Look here. I got a list of some poor
mutts I been looking out for, and I've just set aside a wad to keep it
going. I want you to look after 'em and see that the money gets spread
around right. I know you're square. I don't know anybody else to give
it to."

To Bobby he handed a list of some fifty names and addresses, with
monthly amounts set down opposite them. They were widows and orphans
and helpless creatures of all sorts and conditions, blind and deaf and
crippled, whom Stone, in the great passion that every man has for some
one to love and revere him, and in the secret tenderness inseparable
from all big natures, had made his pensioners.

"There ain't a soul on earth knows about these but me, and every one
of 'em is wise to it that if they ever blat a word about it the pap's
cut off. I don't want a thing, not even a hint, printed about
this--see? I ain't afraid that you'll use it in the paper after me
asking you not to, so I don't ask you for any promise."

"I'll do it with pleasure," offered Bobby.

"Well, I guess that's about all," said Stone, and turned to go.

Bobby came from behind his desk.

"After all, Stone," he said, with some hesitation, "I'm sorry to lose
an enemy so worth while. I wish you good luck wherever you are going,"
and he held out his hand.

Stone looked at the proffered hand and shook his head.

"I'd rather smash your face," he growled, and passed out of the door.

It was the last that Bobby ever saw of him, and all that the
_Bulletin_ carried about his flight was the "fact," not at all too
prominently displayed for the man's importance as a public figure,
that Stone's health was in jeopardy and that he was about to take an
ocean voyage upon the advice of his physician; and on that day Stone's
picture disappeared from the place it had occupied upon the front page
of the _Bulletin_.

It was a victory complete and final, but it was not without its sting,
for on that same day Bobby faced an empty exchequer. It was Johnson
who brought him the sad but not at all unexpected tidings, at a moment
when Chalmers and Agnes happened to be in the office. Seeing them,
Johnson hesitated at the door.

"What is it, Johnson?" asked Bobby.

"Oh, nothing much," said Mr. Johnson with a pained expression. "I'll
come back again."

He had a sheet of paper with him and Bobby held out his hand for it.
Still hesitating, old Johnson brought it forward and laid it down on
Bobby's desk.

"You know you told me, sir, to bring this to you."

Had the others not been present he would have added the reminder that
he had been instructed to bring this statement a week in advance of
the time when Bobby should no longer be able to meet his payroll.
Bobby looked up from the statement without any thought of reserve
before these three.

"Well, it's come. I'm broke."

"Not so much a calamity in this instance as it has been in others,"
said Agnes sagely. "Fortunately, your trustee is right here, and your
trustee's lawyer, who has two hundred and fifty thousand dollars still
to your account."

Bobby listened in frowning silence, and old Johnson, who had prepared
himself before he came upstairs for such a contingency, quietly laid
upon Bobby's desk one of the familiar gray envelopes and withdrew. It
was inscribed:

    _To My Son Robert, Upon the Turning Over to Him of His Sixth
      and Last Experimental Fund_

    "If a man fails six times he'd better be pensioned and left to
    live a life of pleasant ease; for everybody has a right to be
    happy, and not all can gain happiness through their own
    efforts. So, if you fail this last time, don't worry, my boy,
    but take measures to cut your garment according to the income
    from a million and a half dollars, invested so safely that it
    can yield you but two per cent. If the fault of your ill
    success lies with anybody it lies with me, and I blame myself
    bitterly for it many times as I write this letter.

    "Remember, first, last and always, that I want you to be
    happy."

Bobby passed the letter to Agnes and the envelope to Chalmers.

"This is a little premature," he said, smiling at both of them, "for
I'm not applying for the sixth portion."

Agnes looked up at him in surprise.

"Not applying for it?"

"No," he declared, "I don't want it. I understand there is a provision
that I can not use two of these portions in the same business."

Both Chalmers and Agnes nodded.

"I don't want money for any other business than the _Bulletin_,"
declared Bobby, "and if my father has it fixed so that he won't help
me as I want to be helped, I don't want it at all."

"There is another provision about which you perhaps don't know,"
Chalmers informed him; "if you refuse this money it reverts to the
main fund."

Bobby studied this over thoughtfully.

"Let it revert," said he. "I'll sink or swim right here."

The next day he went to his bank and tried to borrow money. They liked
Bobby very much indeed over at the bank. He was a vigorous young man,
a young man of affairs, a young man who had won a great public
victory, a young man whom it was generally admitted had done the city
an incalculable amount of good; but they could not accept Bobby nor
the _Bulletin_ as a business proposition. Had they not seen the
original fund dwindle and dwindle for two years until now there was
nothing left? Wouldn't another fund dwindle likewise? It is no part of
a bank's desire to foreclose upon securities. They are quite well
satisfied with just the plain interest. Moreover, the _Bulletin_
wasn't such heavy security, anyhow.

Bobby tried another bank with like results, and also some of his firm
business friends at the Traders' Club. In the midst of his dilemma
President De Graff of the First National came to him.

"I understand you have been trying to borrow some money, Burnit?"

It sounded to Bobby as if De Graff had come to gloat over him, since
he had been instrumental in dragging De Graff and the First National
through the mire.

"Yes, sir, I have," he nevertheless answered steadily.

"Why didn't you come to us?" demanded De Graff.

"To you?" said Bobby, amazed. "I never thought of you in that
connection at all, De Graff, after all that has happened."

De Graff shrugged his shoulders.

"That was like pulling a tooth. It hurt and one dreaded it, but it was
so much better when it was out. Until you jumped into the fight Stone
had me under his thumb. The minute the exposure came he had no further
hold on me. It is the only questionable thing I ever did in my life,
and I'm glad it was exposed. I admire you for it, even though it will
hurt me in a business way for a long time to come. But about this
money now. How much do you need at the present time?"

"I'd like an account of about twenty-five thousand."

"I can let you have it at once," said De Graff, "and as much more as
you need, up to a certain reasonable point that I think will be amply
sufficient."

"Is this Stone's money?" asked Bobby with sudden suspicion.

De Graff smiled.

"No," said he, "it is my own. I have faith in you, Burnit, and faith
in the _Bulletin_. Suppose you step over to the First National with me
right away."



CHAPTER XXVII

AUNT CONSTANCE ELLISTON LOSES ALL HER PATIENCE WITH A CERTAIN PROSAIC
COURTSHIP


That night, with a grave new responsibility upon him and a grave new
elation, sturdier and stronger than he had ever been in his life, and
more his own master, Bobby went out to see Agnes.

"Agnes, when my father made you my trustee," he said, "he laid upon
you the obligation that you were not to marry me until I had proved
myself either a success or a failure, didn't he?"

"He did," assented Agnes demurely.

"But you are no longer my trustee. The last money over which you had
nominal control has reverted to the main fund, which is in the hands
of Mr. Barrister; so that releases you."

Agnes laughed softly and shook her head.

"The obligation wasn't part of the trusteeship," she reminded him.

"But if I choose to construe it that way," he persisted, "and declare
the obligation null and void, how soon could you get ready to be
married to the political boss of this town and one of its leading
business men? Agnes," he went on, suddenly quite serious, "I can not
do without you any longer. I have waited long enough. I need you and
you must come to me."

"I'll come if you insist," she said simply, and laid both her hands in
his. "But, Bobby, let's think about this a minute. Let's think what it
means. I have been thinking of it many, many days, and really and
truly I don't like to give up, because of its bearing upon our future
strength. Yesterday I drove down Grand Street and looked up at that
Trimmer and Company sign, and so long as that is there, Bobby, I could
not feel right about our deserting the colors, as it were; that is,
unless you have definitely given up the fight."

"Given up!" repeated Bobby quickly. "Why, I have just begun. I've been
to school all this time, Agnes, and to a hard school, but now I'm sure
I have learned my lesson. I have won a fight or two; I have had the
taste of blood; I'm going after more; I'm going to win."

"I'm sure that you will," she repeated. "Think how much better
satisfied we will be after you have done so."

"Yes, but think, too, of the time it will take," he protested. "First
of all I must earn money; that is, I must make the _Bulletin_ pay. I
can do that. It is on the edge of earning its way right now, but I owe
twenty-five thousand dollars. It is going to take a long, long time
for me to win this battle, and in it I need you."

"I am always right here, Bobby," she reminded him. "I have never
failed you when you needed me, have I? But maybe it won't take so
long. You say you are going to make the _Bulletin_ pay. If you do that
counts for a business success, enough to release you on that side. But
really, Bobby, how difficult a task would it be to get back control of
your father's store?"

"Hopeless, just now," said he.

"How much money would it take?"

"Well, not so very much in comparison with the business itself," he
told her. "I own two hundred and sixty thousand dollars' worth of
stock, Trimmer owns two hundred and forty thousand, while sixty
thousand more are scattered among his relatives and dependents. That
stock is not for sale, that is the trouble; but if I could buy
twenty-one thousand dollars of it I could do what I liked with the
entire concern."

"Then Bobby, let's not think of anything else but how to get that
stock. Let's insist on having that for our wedding present."

Bobby regarded her gravely for a long time.

"Agnes, you're a brick!" he finally concluded. "You're right, as you
have always been. We'll wait. But you don't know, oh, you don't know
how hard that is for me!"

"It is not the easiest thing in the world for me," she gently reminded
him.

From the time that she had laid her hands in his he had held them, and
now he had gathered them to him, pressing them upon his breast.
Suddenly, overcome by his great longing for her, he clasped her in his
arms and held her, and pressed his lips to hers. For a moment she
yielded to that embrace and closed her eyes, and then she gently drew
away from him.

"We mustn't indulge in that sort of thing very much," she reminded
him, "or we're likely to lose all our good resolutions."

"Good resolutions," declared Bobby, "are a nuisance."

She smiled and shook her head.

"Look at the people who haven't any," she reminded him.

It was perhaps half an hour later when an idea which brought with it a
smile came to her.

"We've definitely resolved now to wait until you have either
accomplished what you set out to do, or completely failed, haven't
we?"

"Yes," he assented soberly.

"Then I'm going to open one of the letters your father left for us. I
have been dying with curiosity to know what is in it," and hurrying up
to her secretary she brought down one of the inevitable gray
envelopes, addressed:

    _To My Children Upon the Occasion of Their Deciding to Marry
      Before the Limit of My Prohibition_

    "What I can not for the life of me understand is why the devil
    you didn't do it long ago!"

Bobby was so thoroughly awake to the underlying principle of Agnes'
contention that even this letter did nothing to change his viewpoint.

"For it isn't him, it is us, or rather it is me, who is to be
considered," he declared. "But it does seem to me, Agnes, as if for
once we had got the better of the governor."

They were still laughing over the unexpectedness of the letter when
Aunt Constance came in, and they showed it to her.

"Good!" she exclaimed, dwelling longer upon the inscription than upon
the letter itself. "I think you're quite sensible, and I'll arrange
the finest wedding for Agnes that has ever occurred in the Elliston
family. You must give me at least a couple of months, though. When is
it to come off? Soon, I suppose?"

Carefully and patiently they explained the stand they had taken. At
first she thought they were joking, and it took considerable
reiteration on their part for her to understand that they were not.

"I declare I have no patience with you!" she avowed. "Of all the
humdrum, prosaic people I ever saw, you are the very worst! There is
no romance in you. You're as cool about it as if marriage were a
commercial partnership. Oh, Dan!" and she called her husband from the
library. "Now what do you think of this?" she demanded, and explained
the ridiculous attitude of the young people.

"Great!" decided Uncle Dan. "Allow me to congratulate you," and he
shook hands heartily with both Agnes and Bobby, whereat Aunt Constance
denounced him as being a sordid soul of their own stripe and went to
bed in a huff. She got up again, however, when she heard Agnes retire
to her own room for the night, and came in to wrestle with that young
lady in spirit. She found Agnes, however, obdurate in her content, and
ended by becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the idea. "Although I
did have my heart so set on a fine wedding," she plaintively
concluded. "I have been planning it for ages."

"Just keep on planning, auntie," replied Agnes. "No doubt you will
acquire some brilliant new ideas before the time comes."

So this utterly placid courtship went on in its old tranquil way, with
Bobby a constant two and three nights a week visitor to the Elliston
home, and with the two young people discussing business more
frequently than anything else; for Bobby had learned to come to Agnes
for counsel in everything. Just now his chief burden of conversation
was the letting of the new waterworks contract, which, with public
sentiment back of him, he had fought off until after the Stone
administration had ended. Hamilton Ferris, an old polo antagonist of
his, represented one of the competing firms as its president, and
Bobby had been most anxious that he should be the successful bidder,
as was Agnes; for Bobby had brought Ferris to dinner at the Ellistons
and to call a couple of times during his stay in the city, and all of
the Ellistons liked him tremendously. Bobby was quite crestfallen when
the opening of the bids proved Ferris to be the second lowest man.

"I've tried hard enough for it," declared Ferris during a final dinner
at the Ellistons that night. "There isn't much doing this year, and I
figured closer than anybody in my employ would dared to have done. In
view of my estimate I can not for the life of me see how your local
company overbid us all by over a million dollars."

"It is curious," admitted Bobby, still much puzzled.

"It's rather unsportsmanlike in me to whine," resumed Ferris, "but I
am bound to believe that there is a colored gentleman in the woodpile
somewhere."

"That would be no novelty," returned Bobby. "Ever since I bought the
_Bulletin_ I have been gunning for Ethiopians amid the fuel and always
found them. The Middle West Construction Company, however, is a new
load of kindling to me. I never heard of it until it was announced
this morning as the lowest bidder."

"Nobody ever heard of it," asserted Ferris. "It was no doubt organized
for the sole purpose of bidding on this job. Probably when you delve
into the matter you will discover the fine Italian hand of your
political boss."

"Hardly," chuckled Uncle Dan, indulging in his recent propensity to
brag on Bobby. "Our local boss was Sam Stone, and Bobby has just
succeeded in running him and two of his expert wire workers out of the
country."

"If anybody here is the political boss it is Bobby," observed Agnes,
laughing.

"I'm sorry to have to suspect him," laughed Ferris. "Well, there is no
use crying over spilled milk; but I had hoped to bring Mrs. Ferris out
for a good long visit."

"Give your wife my regards, Mr. Ferris, and tell her she must come
anyhow," insisted Mrs. Elliston. "Since I have heard that you married
the daughter of my old schoolmate, I have been wanting the Keystone
Construction Company to have a big contract here more than you have, I
think."

"Sounds very nice, Constance," said her husband dryly, "but I doubt if
any woman ever wanted to see the daughter of her old schoolmate as
badly as any man ever wanted to make a million dollars. Bobby, I'll
make you a small bet. I'll bet your new construction company is
composed of the shattered fragments of the old Stone crowd. I'll even
bet that Silas Trimmer is in it."

"If he is," suddenly declared Agnes, "I'm going to go into the
detective business," whereat Uncle Dan enjoyed himself hugely. Her
vindictiveness whenever the name of Silas Trimmer was mentioned had
become highly amusing to him, in spite of the fact that he admired her
for it.

"Go right ahead," said Bobby approvingly. "If you find anything that
will enable me to give that gentleman a financial backset I'll see
that you get a handsome reward. In the meantime I'm going to find out
something about the Middle West Construction Company myself."

Accordingly he asked his managing editor about that concern the first
thing in the morning.

Ben Jolter lit his old pipe, folded his bare arms and patted them
alternately in speculative enjoyment.

"I have something like two pages of information about them, if we
could use it," he announced. "I have been getting reports from the
entire scouting brigade ever since the contract was let yesterday, and
you may now prepare for a shock. The largest stock-holders of the
concern are Silas Trimmer and Frank Sharpe, and the minor
stock-holders, almost to a man, consist of those who had their little
crack at the public crib under your old, time-tried and true friend,
Sam Stone."

"I admit that I am properly shocked," responded Bobby.

"It hinges together beautifully," Jolter went on. "The whole
waterworks project was a Stone scheme, and Stone people--even though
Stone himself is wiped out--secure the contract. The last expiring act
of the Stone administration was to employ Ed Scales as chief engineer
until the completion of the waterworks, which may occupy eight or ten
years, and the contract with Scales is binding on the city unless he
can be impeached for cause. Scales was city engineer under the
previous reform spasm, but Stone probably found him good material and
kept him on. The waterworks plans were prepared under his supervision
and he got them ready for bidding. Now what's the answer?"

"Easy," returned Bobby. "The city loses."

"Right," agreed Jolter; "but how? I don't see that we can do anything.
Scales, having prepared the plans, is the logical man to see that they
are carried out, and he is perfectly competent. His record is clean,
so that he owns no property, nor does any of his family--although that
may be because he never had a chance. The Middle West Construction
Company, though just incorporated, is financially sound, thoroughly
bonded, and, moreover, has put into the hands of the city ample
guarantee for its twenty per cent. forfeit as required by the terms of
the contract. There isn't a thing that the _Bulletin_ can do except to
boost local enterprise with a bit of reservation, then lay low and
wait for developments."

"I dislike to do it," objected Bobby. "It hurts me to think of
mentioning Stone or Trimmer in any complimentary way whatsoever."

Jolter laughed. "You're a fine and consistent enemy," he said.

"I guess I came by it honestly," smiled Bobby, and from a drawer in
his desk took one of the gray John Burnit letters.

"'Always forgive your enemies,'" read Jolter aloud; "'that is, after
you are good and even with them.'"

"Here goes for them, then," said Jolter, passing back the letter with
an approving chuckle. "We'll let them go right ahead, and in the
meantime the _Bulletin_ will do a lot of real nifty old sleuthing."

But the _Bulletin's_ sleuthing brought nothing wrong to light, and
work upon the big waterworks contract was begun with a rush.

In the meantime Agnes, true to her threat, was doing some
investigating on her own account. She renewed her girlhood
acquaintance with Trimmer's daughter, who was now Mrs. Clarence
Smythe, and with others of the Trimmer connection, and she saw these
women folk frequently for the sole purpose of gathering up any scraps
of information that might drop. The best she could gather, however,
was that Clarence Smythe and Silas Trimmer were no longer upon very
friendly terms; that Mrs. Smythe had quarreled with her father about
Clarence; also that Clarence's Trimmer and Company stock was in Mrs.
Smythe's name. These scraps of information, slight as they were, she
religiously brought to Bobby. When the new waterworks began Agnes
saved all the newspaper clippings relating to that tremendous
undertaking, and she frequently drove out there of evenings after the
workmen had all gone home; with just what purpose she could not say,
but she felt impelled, as she half-sheepishly confessed to her Uncle
Dan, to "keep an eye on the job." She kept up her absurd surveillance
in spite of all Uncle Dan's ridicule, and one evening she came home in
a state of quivering excitement. She called up Bobby at once.

"Bobby," she wanted to know, "has the city decided to cut down
expenses on the waterworks, or have the plans been changed for any
reason?"

"Not that the public knows about," replied Bobby. "Why?"

"The pumping station is not so big as the newspapers said it was to
be. It is over thirty feet shorter and over twenty feet narrower."

"How do you know?" demanded Bobby.

"I took Wilkins out there with me to-night and had him measure it for
me with a yard-stick while the watchman had gone for his supper,"
replied Agnes triumphantly.

Bobby stopped to laugh.

"Impossible," said he. "You have measured it wrong or misunderstood it
in some way or other."

"You go out and measure it for yourself," insisted Agnes.

Partly to humor her and partly because his interest had been aroused,
Bobby went out the next night and measured the pumping station, the
excavation for which was already completed, and to his astonishment
found that Agnes' measurements were correct. He immediately wrote to
Ferris about it, told him the present dimensions and asked him upon
what basis he had figured. In place of replying Ferris came on.
Arriving in the city on Saturday, on Sunday he and Bobby went out to
the site, and Ferris examined the new waterworks with a deliberation
which well-nigh got him into serious trouble with the watchman.

"Well, young man, your fair city is stung," declared Ferris. "The
trenches are not so deep as specified by two feet, and from their
width I can tell that the foundation walls are to be at least six
inches thinner. I bid on the best grade of Portland cement for that
job. It was spelled with a _B_, however, in my copy of the
specification, and I asked your man Scales about it. 'Oh,' said he,
'that's a misprint in the typewriting,' and he changed the _B_ to _P_
with a lead pencil. Under that shed are about a thousand barrels of
_Bortland_ cement. I never heard of that brand, but I can tell cement
when I see it, and this stuff will have no more adhesive power than
plain mud. Bedford stone was specified. They have several car-loads of
stone dumped down here which is not Bedford stone at all. I could tell
a piece of Bedford in the dark. This is an inferior rock which will
discolor in six months and will disintegrate in five years."

Bobby thought the thing over quietly for some minutes.

"About the dimensions of the building, Ferris, you might possibly be
mistaken, might you not?" asked Bobby.

"Impossible," returned Ferris. "I have not figured on many jobs for
years, but our chief estimator had been sent down to Cuba when this
thing came up and I did the work myself, so I have a very vivid memory
of it and can not possibly have it confused with any other bid.
Moreover, we have all those things on record in our office and I
looked it up before I came away. The dimensions of the power house and
pumping station were to be one hundred and ninety by one hundred and
sixty feet. The present dimensions are one hundred and fifty-eight by
one hundred and thirty-three."

Bobby was thoughtfully silent for a while.

"Do you remember who else bid on the contract?" he inquired presently.

"Every one of them," smiled Ferris. "I can give you their addresses
and the names of the people to wire to if that is what you want. We
meet them on every big job."

"Do you mind wiring yourself?" asked Bobby. "They would be more apt to
give you confidential information."

"With pleasure," agreed Ferris, and wrote the telegrams.

On the following morning Bobby received answers at his office to all
but one of his telegrams, and the information was unanimous that the
original plans had called for a building one hundred and ninety by one
hundred and sixty feet.

"Now I begin to understand," said Ferris. "This was the first set of
important plans I ever saw in which the dimensions were not marked,
but they were most accurately drawn to scale, one-fourth inch to the
foot. They are probably using the same drawings with an altered scale,
although it would be an absurdly clumsy trick. If that is the case it
is easy to see how the Middle West Construction Company could
under-bid us by more than a million dollars and still make more money
than we figured on."

Bobby reached for the telephone.

"Get me the mayor's office," he called to the girl at his private
telephone exchange. "Will you 'stick around' to see the fuss?" he
inquired with grim pleasure, as he hung up the receiver.

Ferris grinned as he noted the light of battle dawning in Bobby's
eyes.

"I don't know," he replied. "It depends on the size and duration of
the fuss."

"If you don't stay I'll have you subpoenaed. I may have to, anyhow.
As for the size of the fuss, I can promise you a bully one if what you
surmise is correct."

His telephone bell rang and Bobby turned to it quickly.

"Hello, Chalmers!" he began, then laughed. "Beg pardon, Agnes; I
thought it was the mayor's office;" he apologized, then listened
intently. There were a few eager queries, and when Bobby hung up the
telephone receiver it was with great satisfaction. "I haven't seen as
much fun in sight since I began my fight on Stone," he declared. "Miss
Elliston, who has developed a marvelous new capacity for finding out
other men's business secrets through their women folk, has just
telephoned me the results of her last night's detective work. It seems
that Silas Trimmer, one of the heavy backers of the Middle West
Construction Company, has just negotiated a loan upon his stock in the
mercantile establishment of Trimmer and Company, my share of which was
known as the John Burnit Store until Trimmer beat me out of control. I
understand that Trimmer has mortgaged everything to the hilt to go
into this waterworks deal."

The bell rang again. This time it was Chalmers.

[Illustration: I'd be tickled black in the face to make good any day]

"Say, Chalmers," said Bobby, "I want you to get me some sort of a
legal document that will allow me to take possession of and examine
all the books, papers and drawings of the city engineer's department,
including the waterworks engineer's office.... Yes, you can,
Chalmers," he insisted, against an obvious protest. "There is some
legal machinery you can put in motion to get it, and I want it right
away. Moreover, I want you to secure me somebody to serve the writ and
to keep it quiet."

Then he explained briefly what had been partly discovered and partly
surmised. Next Bobby sent for Jolter and laid the facts before him, to
the great joy of that aggressive gentleman. Then he called up Biff
Bates, and made an appointment with him to meet him at Jimmy Platt's
office in half an hour. He would have telephoned Platt, but the
engineer had no telephone.



CHAPTER XXVIII

BIFF RENEWS A PLEASANT ACQUAINTANCE AND BOBBY INAUGURATES A TRAGEDY


"Is Mr. Platt in?"

Biff stood hesitantly in the door when he found the place occupied
only by a brown-haired girl, who was engaged in the quiet,
unprofessional occupation of embroidering a shirtwaist pattern.

The girl looked up with a smile at the young man's awkwardness, and
felt impelled to put him at his ease.

"He's not in just now, but I expect him within ten or fifteen minutes
at the outside. Won't you sit down, Mr. Bates?"

He looked at her much mystified at this calling of his name, but he
mumbled his thanks for the chair which she put forward for him, and,
sitting with his hat upon his knees, contemplated her furtively.

"I guess you don't remember me," she said in frank enjoyment of his
mystification, "but I remember you perfectly. I used to see you quite
often out at Westmarsh when Mr. Burnit was trying to redeem that
persistent swamp. I am Mr. Platt's sister."

"No!" exclaimed Biff in amazement. "You can't be the kid that used to
ride on the excavating cars, and go home with yellow clay on your
dresses every day."

"I'm the kid," said she with a musical laugh; "and I'm afraid I
haven't quite outgrown my hoydenish tendencies even yet."

Biff had no comment to make. He was lost in wonder over that eternal
mystery--the transformation which occurs when a girl passes from
fourteen to eighteen.

"Don't you remember?" she gaily went on. "You gave me a boxing lesson
out there one afternoon and promised to give me more of them, but you
never did."

Biff cleared a sudden huskiness from his throat.

"I'd be tickled black in the face to make good any day," he urged
earnestly, and then hastily corrected the offer to: "That is, I mean
I'll be very glad to--to finish the job."

Immediately he turned violently red.

"I don't seem to care as much for the accomplishment as I did then,"
observed the girl with a smile, "but I do wish I could learn to swing
my nice Indian clubs without cracking the back of my head."

"I got a medal for club swinging," said Biff diffidently. "I'll teach
you any time you like. It's easy. Come right over to the gym on
Tuesday and Friday forenoons. Those are ladies' mornings, and I've got
nothing but real classy people at that."

The entrance of Mr. Platt interrupted Biff just as he was beginning to
feel at ease, and threw that young gentleman, who always appropriated
and absorbed other people's troubles, into much concern; for Mr. Platt
was hollow-eyed and sunken-cheeked from worry. His coat was very
shiny, and his hat was shabby. The dusty and neglected drawing on his
crude drawing-table told the story all too well. The engineering
business, so far as Mr. Platt was concerned, seemed to be a total
failure. Nevertheless, he greeted Mr. Bates warmly, and inquired after
Mr. Burnit.

"He's always fine," said Biff. "He had me come up here to meet him."

"I should scarcely think he would care to come here after the
unfortunate outcome of the work I did for him," said Mr. Platt.

"You mean on old Applerod's Subtraction?"

"You couldn't hardly call it the Applerod Addition, could you?"
responded Jimmy with a smile. "That was a most unlucky transaction for
me as well as for Mr. Burnit."

Biff looked about the room comprehendingly.

"I guess it put you on the hummer, all right," said he. "It don't look
as if you done anything since."

"But very little," confessed Mr. Platt. "My failure on that job hurt
my reputation almost fatally."

Biff gravely sought within himself for words of consolation, one of
his fleeting ideas being to engage Mr. Platt on the spot to survey the
site of Bates' Athletic Hall, although there was not the slightest
possible need for such a survey. In the midst of his sympathetic gloom
came in Mr. Ferris and Bobby.

"Jimmy, how would you like to be chief construction engineer of the
new waterworks?" asked Bobby, with scant waste of time, after he had
introduced Ferris.

Mr. Platt gasped and paled.

"I think I could be urged, from a sense of public duty, to give up my
highly lucrative private practice," he said with a pitiful attempt at
levity, though his voice was husky, and his tightly clenched hand,
where the white knuckles rested upon his drawing-table, trembled.

"Don't build up too much hope on it, Jimmy; but if what we surmise is
correct you will have a chance at it," and he briefly explained.
"We're going right out there," concluded Bobby, "and I want you to go
along to help investigate. We have to find some incriminating
evidence, and you'd be more likely to know how and where to look for
it than any of us."

It is needless to say that Jimmy Platt took his hat with alacrity.
Before he went out, with new hope in his heart, he turned and shook
hands ecstatically with his sister. Still holding Jimmy's hand she
turned to Bobby impulsively:

"I do hope, Mr. Burnit, that this turns out right for Jimmy."

Bobby turned to her abruptly and with a trace of a frown. It was a
rather poorly trained office employee, he thought, who would intrude
herself into conversation that it was her duty to forget, but Biff
Bates caught that look and stepped into the breach.

"This is Nellie, Bobby--that is, it used to be Nellie," he stated with
a quick correction, and blushed violently.

"It is Nellie still," laughed that young lady to Bobby, and the
puzzled look upon his face was swiftly driven away by a smile, as he
suddenly recognized in her traces of the long-legged girl who had been
always present at the Applerod Addition, who had ridden in his
automobile, and had confided to him most volubly, upon innumerable
occasions, that her brother Jimmy was about the smartest man who ever
sighted through a transit.

In the hastily constructed frame office out at the waterworks site, Ed
Scales, pale and emaciated and with black rings under his eyes, looked
up nervously as Bobby's little army, reënforced from four to six by
the addition of a "plain clothes man" and Dillingham, the _Bulletin's_
star reporter, invaded the place. Before a word was spoken, Feeney,
the plain clothes man, presented Scales with a writ, which the latter
attempted to read with unseeing eyes, his fingers trembling.

"What does this mean?"

"That I have come to take possession," said Bobby, "with power to make
an examination of every scrap of paper in the place. Frankly, Scales,
we expect to find something crooked about the waterworks contract. If
we do you know the result. If we do not, the interruption will be only
temporary, and you will have very pretty grounds for action; for I am
taking a long shot, and if I don't find what I am after I have put
myself and the mayor into a bad scrape."

Scales thrice opened his mouth to speak, and thrice there came no
sound from his lips. Then he laid a bunch of keys upon his desk,
shoving them toward Feeney, and rose. He half-staggered into the large
coat room behind him. He had scarcely more than disappeared when there
was the startling roar of a shot, and the body of Scales, with a round
hole in the temple, toppled, face downward, out of the door. It was
Scales' tragic confession of guilt. They sprang instantly to him, but
nothing could be done for him. He was dead when they reached him.

"Poor devil," said Ferris brokenly. "It is probably the first crooked
thing he ever did in his life, and he hadn't nerve enough to go
through with it. I feel like a murderer for my share in the matter."

Bobby, too, had turned sick; his senses swam and he felt numb and
cold. He was aroused by a calm, dispassionate voice at the telephone.
It was Dillingham, sending to the _Bulletin_ a carefully lurid account
of the tragedy, and of the probable causes leading up to it.

"We'll have an extra on the street in five minutes," he told Bobby
with satisfaction as he rose. "That means that the _Chronicle_ men
will come out in a swarm, but it will take them a half-hour to get
here. We have that much time, then, to dig up the evidence we are
after, and if we hustle we can have a second extra out before the
_Chronicle_ can get a line. It's the biggest beat in years. Come on,
boys, let's get busy," and he took up the keys that Scales had left on
the desk.

Dillingham had no sooner left the telephone than Feeney took up the
receiver and called for a number. The reporter turned upon him like a
flash, recognizing that call as the number of the coroner's office.
Dillingham suddenly caught himself before he had spoken, and looked
hastily about the room. In the corner near the floor was a little box
with the familiar bells upon it, and binding screws that held the
wires. Quickly Dillingham slipped over to that corner just as Feeney
was saying:

"Hello! Coroner's office, this is Feeney. Is that you, Jack?...
Well----"

At that instant Dillingham loosened a binding screw and slipped off
the loop of the wire.

"Hello, coroner!" repeated Feeney. "I say, Jack! Hello! Hello! Hello,
there! _Hello! Hello!_" Then Feeney pounded the mouthpiece, jerked the
receiver hook up and down, yelled at exchange, and worked himself into
a vast fever.

"What's the matter with this thing, anyhow, Dill?" he finally
demanded.

"Exchange probably went to sleep on you," said Dillingham.

Easily he was now opening one by one the immense flat drawers of a
drawing-case, and with much interest delving into the huge drawings
that it contained.

"Come here, Mr. Platt," Dillingham went on. "You cast your eagle eye
over these drawings while I do a little job of interviewing," and he
walked over to the employees of the office, who, since they had been
roughly warned by Feeney not to go near "that body," had huddled,
scared and limp, in the far corner of the room.

Perspiring and angry, Feeney tried for five solid minutes to obtain
some response from the dead telephone, then he gave it up.

"I've got to go out and hunt up another 'phone," he declared. "Biff,
I'll appoint you my deputy. Don't let anybody touch the corpse till
the coroner comes."

"I'll go with you," said Bobby hastily, very glad to leave the room,
and both he and Mr. Ferris accompanied Feeney. No sooner was Feeney
out of the place than Dillingham reconnected the telephone and went
back to his investigations. He was thoroughly satisfied, after a few
questions, that the present employees knew nothing whatever, and Platt
reported to him that every general drawing he could find was marked
three-tenths inch to the foot, none being marked one-fourth.

"That doesn't matter so much," mused Dillingham. "It will be easy
enough to prove that these are the same drawings that were provided
the contestants, and six firms will swear that they were marked
one-fourth of an inch to the foot. What we have to do is to prove that
the drawings the Middle West Company used as the basis of their bid
were marked one-fourth inch to the foot."

The telephone bell rang violently while Dillingham was puzzling over
this matter, and one of the employees started to answer it.

"No, you don't!" shouted Dillingham. "You fellows are dispossessed."

He took down the receiver.

"Waterworks engineer's office?" came a brisk voice through the
telephone.

"Yes," said Dillingham.

"This is the _Chronicle_. The _Bulletin_ has an extra----"

Dillingham waited to hear no more. He hung up the receiver with a
grin, and it was music in his ears to hear those bells impatiently
jangling for the next ten minutes. It seemed to quicken his
intelligence, for presently he slapped his hand upon his leg and
jumped toward the group of employees in the corner.

"Say!" he demanded. "Who figured on this job for the Middle West
Company?"

"Dan Rubble, I suppose," answered a lanky draftsman, who, still
wearing his apron, had slipped his coat on over his oversleeves and
retained his eye-shade under his straw hat. "At least, he seemed to
know all about the plans. He's the boss contractor. There he is now."

Looking out of the window Dillingham saw a brawny, red-haired giant
running from the tool-house, carrying a cylindrical tin case about
five feet long. He pulled off the cap of this as he came and began to
drag from the inside of the case a thick roll of blue-prints. He was
hurrying toward a big asphalt caldron underneath which blazed a hot
wood fire.

"Come on, Biff," yelled Dillingham, and hurried out of the door,
closely followed by Bates.

They both ran with all their might toward the caldron, but before they
could reach the spot Rubble had shoved the entire roll into the fire.
Biff wasted no precious moments, but, glaring Mr. Rubble in the eye as
he ran, doubled his fist with the evident intention of damaging that
large gentleman's countenance with it. He suddenly ducked his round
head as he approached, however, and plunged it into the middle of Mr.
Rubble's appetite; whereupon Mr. Rubble grunted heavily, and sat down
quite uncomfortably near to the caldron. Biff, though it scorched his
hands, dragged the blazing roll of blue-prints from the flames and,
seizing a near-by pail of water, started for the drawings, just as big
Dan regained his feet and made a rush for him.

Dillingham, slight and no fighter but full of sand, jumped crosswise
into that mêlée, and with a flying leap literally hung himself about
Rubble's neck. Big Dan, roaring like a bull at this unexpected and
most unprofessional mode of warfare, placed his two hands upon
Dillingham's hips and tried to force him away; failing in this, he ran
straight forward with all this living clog hanging to him, and planted
a terrific kick upon Biff's ribs, just as Biff had dashed the pail of
water from end to end of the blazing roll of drawings. He poised for
another kick, but Biff had dropped the pail by this time, and as the
foot swung forward he grabbed it. Rubble, losing his balance, pitched
forward, landing squarely upon the top of the unhappy Dillingham, who
signified his retirement from the game with an astonishingly large
"Woof!" to come from so small a body; moreover, he released his arms;
but Rubble, freed from the weight on his chest, found another one on
his back. Biff felt quite competent to manage him, but by this time
half a dozen men came running from different directions, and as there
were a hundred or more of them on the job, all beholden for their
daily bread and butter to Mr. Rubble, things looked bad for Biff and
Dillingham.

"Back up there, you mutts, or I'll make peek-a-boo patterns out of the
lot of you!" howled a penetrating voice, and Mr. Feeney, heading the
relief party, which consisted only of Bobby and Mr. Ferris, whipped
from each hip pocket a huge blue-steel revolver, at the same time
brushing back his coat to display his badge.

Those men might have fought Mr. Feeney's guns, but they had no mind to
fight that badge, and they held back while Bobby and Mr. Ferris helped
to calm Mr. Rubble by the simple expedient of sitting on him.

Three days later Bobby induced Messrs. Sharpe, Trimmer and all of
their associates, without any difficulty whatever, to meet with him in
the office of the mayor.

"Gentlemen of the Middle West Construction Company," said Bobby; "I am
sorry to say that you are not telling the truth when you claim that
you figured _in good faith_ on this absurd and almost unknown
three-tenths-inch scale, when all the others figured on the same
drawings at one-fourth inch. The rescue of these prints, covered with
Rubble's marginal figures, does not leave you a leg to stand on," and
Bobby tapped his knuckles upon the charred-edged blueprints that lay
unrolled on the desk before him. Fortunately the three inside prints
were left fairly intact, and these were plainly marked one-fourth inch
to the foot. "Moreover, rolled up inside the blueprints was even
better evidence," went on Bobby; "evidence that Mr. Trimmer has
perhaps forgotten. Nothing has been said about it until now, and
nothing has been published since we saved them from the fire."

From the drawer of his desk he drew several sheets of white paper.
They were letter-heads of Trimmer and Company and were covered with
Rubble's figures.

"Here's a note from Mr. Trimmer to Mr. Rubble, requesting him to
prepare a statement showing the difference in cost '_between
three-tenths and one-fourth_.' He does not say three-tenths or
one-fourth what, but that is quite enough, taken in conjunction with
these summaries on another sheet of paper. They are set down in two
columns, one headed three-tenths and the other one-fourth. I have had
Mr. Platt go over these figures, and he finds that the first number in
one column exactly corresponds to the number of yards of excavating in
this job when figured on the scale of three-tenths inch to the foot.
The first number in the next column exactly corresponds to the
excavating when figured at the one-fourth-inch scale. Every item will
compare in the same manner: concrete, masonry, face-brick, and all.
Now, if you chaps want to take this clumsy and almost laughable
attempt at a steal into the courts I'm perfectly willing; but I should
advise you not to do so."

Mr. Sharpe cleared his throat. He, the first one to declare that the
Middle West would "go into court and stand upon its rights," was now
the first one to recant.

"I don't suppose it's worth while to contest the matter," he admitted.
"We have no show with your administration, I see. We lose the contract
and will step down and out quite peaceably; although there ought to be
some arrangement by which we might get credit for the amount of work
already done."

"No," declared Chalmers, with quite a reproving smile, "you may just
keep on using the available part of it; for the point is that _you
don't lose the contract_! You keep the contract, and you will build
the power-house upon the original scale of one-fourth inch to the
foot. Also you will carry out the rest of the work on the same basis
as figured by other contractors. I want to remind you that you are
well bonded, well financed, and that the city holds a guarantee of
twenty per cent. of the contract price as a forfeit for the due and
proper completion of this job."

"Why, it means bankruptcy!" shrieked Silas Trimmer, the deeply-graven
circle about his mouth now being but the pallid and piteous caricature
of his old-time sinister smile.

"That is precisely what I intend," retorted Bobby with a snap of his
jaws. "I have long, long scores to settle with both of you gentlemen."

"But you haven't against the other members of this company," protested
Sharpe. "Our other stockholders are entirely innocent parties."

"They have my sincere sympathy for being caught in such dubious
company," replied Bobby with a contemptuous smile. "I happen to have a
roster of your stock-holders, and every man of them has been mixed up
in crooked deals in combination with Stone or Stone enterprises; so
whatever they lose on this contract will be merely by way of
restitution to the city."

"Look here, Mr. Burnit," said Sharpe, dropping his tone of
remonstrance for one intended to be wheedling; "I know there are a
number of financial matters between us that might have a tendency to
make you vindictive. Now why can't we just get together nicely on all
of these things and compromise?"

Chalmers rapped his knuckles sharply upon his desk.

"Kindly remember where you are," he warned.

"When I get around to settling day there will be no such thing as a
compromise," declared Bobby with repressed anger. "I'll settle all
those other matters in my own way and at my own time."

"One thing more, gentlemen," said Chalmers, as the chopfallen
committee of the Middle West Construction Company rose to depart; "I
wish to remind you that there is a forfeit clause in your contract for
delay, so I should advise you to resume operations at once. Mr. Platt
succeeds the unfortunate Mr. Scales as constructing engineer, and he
will see that the plans and specifications of the entire contract are
carried out to the letter."

Platt, who had said nothing, walked away with Bobby.

"You were speaking about following the plans exactly, Mr. Burnit," he
said when they were alone upon the street. "I find on an examination
of the subsoil that there will be a few minor changes required. The
runway, for instance, which goes down to the river northward from the
power-house for the purpose of unloading coal barges, would be much
better placed on the south side, away from the intake. There is
practically no difference in expense, except that in running to the
southward the riprap work will need to be carried about three feet
deeper and with concreted walls, in place of being thrown loosely in
the trenches as originally planned."

"All those things are up to you, Jimmy," said Bobby indifferently.
"You must use your own judgment. Any changes of the sort that you deem
necessary just bring before the city council, and I am quite sure that
you can secure permission to make them."

"Very well," said Platt, and he left Bobby at the corner with a
curious smile.

He was a different looking Jimmy Platt from the one Bobby had found in
his office a week before. He was clean-shaven now, and his clothing
was quite prosperous looking. Bobby, surmising the condition of
affairs, had delicately insisted on making Platt a loan, to be repaid
from his salary at a conveniently distant period, and the world looked
very bright indeed to him.

The next day work on the new waterworks was resumed. In bitter
consultation the Middle West Construction Company had discovered that
they would lose less by fulfilling their contract than by forfeiting
their twenty per cent., and they dispiritedly turned in again, kept
constantly whipped up to the mark by Platt and by the knowledge that
every day's non-completion of the work meant a heavy additional
forfeit, which they had counted on being able to evade so long as the
complaisant Mr. Scales was in charge.



CHAPTER XXIX

JIMMY PLATT ENJOYS THE HAPPIEST DAY OF HIS LIFE


The straightening out of the waterworks matter left Bobby free to turn
his attention to the local gas and electric situation. The _Bulletin_,
since Bobby had defeated his political enemies, had been put upon a
paying basis and was rapidly earning its way out of the debt that he
had been compelled to incur for it; but the Brightlight Electric
Company was a thorn in his side. Its only business now was the street
illumination of twelve blocks, under a municipal contract which lost
him money every month, and it had been a terrific task to keep it
going.

The Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company, however, Bobby
discovered by careful inquiry, was in even worse financial straits
than the Brightlight. To its thirty millions of stock, mostly water,
twenty more millions of water had been added, making a total
organization of fifty million dollars; and the twenty million dollars'
stock had been sold to the public for ten million dollars, each
purchaser of one share of preferred being given one share of common.
As the preferred was to draw five per cent., this meant that two and
one-half million dollars a year must be paid out in dividends. The
salary roll of the company was enormous, and the number of non-working
officers who drew extravagant stipends would have swamped any company.
Comparing the two concerns, Bobby felt that in the Brightlight he had
vastly the better property of the two, in that there was no water in
it at its present, half-million-dollar capitalization.

It was while pondering these matters that Bobby, dropping in at the
Idlers' Club one dull night, found no one there but Silas Trimmer's
son-in-law, the vapid and dissolute Clarence Smythe, which was a
trifle worse than finding the place entirely deserted. To-night
Clarence was in possession of what was known at the Idlers' as "one of
Smythe's soggy buns," and despite countless snubs in the past he
seized upon Bobby as a receptacle for his woes.

"I'm going to leave this town for good, Burnit!" he declared without
any preliminaries, having waited so long to convey this startling and
important information that salutations were entirely forgotten.

"For good! For whose good?" inquired Bobby.

"Mine," responded Clarence. "This town's gone to the bow-wows. It's in
the hands of a lot of pikers. There's no chance to make big money any
more."

"Yes, I know," said Bobby dryly; "I had something to do with that,
myself."

"It was a fine lot of muck-raking you did," charged Clarence. "Well,
I'll give you another item for your paper. I have resigned from the
Consolidated."

"It was cruel of you."

"It was time," said Clarence, ignoring the flippancy. "Something's
going to drop over there."

Bobby smiled.

"It's always dropping," he agreed.

"This is the big drop," the other went on, with a wine-laden man's
pride in the fact of possessing valuable secrets. "They're going to
make a million-dollar bond issue."

"What for?" inquired Bobby.

"They need the money," chuckled Mr. Smythe. "Those city bonds, you
know."

"What bonds?" demanded Bobby eagerly, but trying to speak
nonchalantly.

Mr. Smythe suddenly realized the solemn gravity of his folly. Once
more he was talking too much. Once more! It was a thing to weep over.
"I'm a fool," he confessed in awe-stricken tones; "a rotten fool,
Burnit. I'm ashamed to look anybody in the face. I'm ashamed----"

"It's highly commendable of you, I'm sure," Bobby agreed, and took his
hasty leave before Clarence should begin to sob.

Immediately he called up Chalmers at his home.

"Chalmers," he demanded, "why must the Consolidated Illuminating and
Power Company purchase city bonds?"

Chalmers laughed.

"Originally so Sam Stone could lend money to the Consumers' Electric.
It is a part of their franchise, which is renewable at their option in
ten-year periods, and which became a part of the Consolidated's
property when the combine was effected. To insure 'faithful
performance of contract,' for which clause every crooked municipality
has a particular affection, they were to purchase a million dollars'
worth of city bonds. Each year one hundred thousand dollars' worth
were retired. In the tenth year, in renewing their franchise for the
next ten years, they were compelled to renew also their million
dollars of city bonds. These bonds they then used as collateral. Stone
carried all that he could, at enormous usury, I understand, and let
some of his banker friends in on the rest; and I suppose the banks
paid him a rake-off. The ten-year period is up this fall, and their
bonds are naturally retired; but, of course, they will renew."

"I'm not so sure about that," said Bobby. "Look up everything
connected with it in the morning, and I'll see you at noon."

When they met the next day at noon, however, before Bobby could talk
about the business in hand, Chalmers, with a suppressed smile, handed
him a folded slip of paper.

Bobby examined that legal document--a dissolution of the injunction
which had tied up a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in his bank for
more than two years--with a sigh of relief.

"It seems," said Chalmers dryly, "that at the time you laid yourself
liable to Madam Villenauve's breach-of-promise suit she had an
undivorced husband living, Monsieur Villenauve complacently hiding
himself in France and waiting for his share of the money. Let this be
a lesson to you, young man."

Bobby hotly resented that grin.

"I'll swear to you, Chalmers," he asserted, "I never so much as
thought of the woman except as a nuisance."

"I apologize, old man," said Chalmers. "But at least this will teach
you not to back any more grand opera companies."

"I prefer to talk about the electric situation," said Bobby severely.
"What have you found out about it?"

"That the Ebony Jewel Coal Company, a former Stone enterprise, has
threatened suit against the Consolidated for their bill. The
Consolidated is in a pinch and must raise money, not only to buy that
allotment of the new waterworks bonds, but to meet the Ebony's and
other pressing accounts. It must also float this bond issue, for it is
likely to fall behind even on its salary list."

"Fine!" said Bobby. "I can see a lot of good citizens in this town
holding stock in a bankrupt illuminating concern. Just watch this
thing, will you, Chalmers? About this nice, lucky hundred and fifty
thousand, we may count it as spent."

"What in?" asked Chalmers, smiling. "Do you think you can trust
yourself with all that money?"

"Hush," said Bobby. "Don't breathe it aloud. I'm going to buy up all
the Brightlight Electric stock I can find. It's too bad, Chalmers," he
added with a grin, "that as mayor of the city you could not, with
propriety, hold stock in this company," and although Chalmers tried to
call him back Bobby did not wait. He was too busy, he said.

His business was to meet Agnes and Mrs. Elliston for luncheon
down-town, and during the meal he happened to remark that Clarence
Smythe had determined to shake the dust of the city from his feet.

"I thought so," declared Agnes. "Aunt Constance, I'm afraid you'll
have to finish your shopping without me. I must call upon Mrs.
Smythe."

Mrs. Elliston frowned her disapproval, but she knew better than to
protest. Before Agnes called upon Mrs. Smythe, however, she dropped in
at the manufacturing concern of D. A. Elliston and Company.

"Uncle Dan, how much money of mine have you in charge just now?" she
demanded to know.

"Cash? About five or six thousand."

"And how much more could you raise on my property?"

"Right away? About fifteen, on bonds and such securities. This is no
time to sacrifice real estate."

"It isn't enough," said Agnes, frowning, and was silent for a time.
"You'll just have to loan me about ten thousand more."

"Oh, will I?" he retorted. "What for?"

"I want to make an investment."

"So I judged," he dryly responded. "Well, young lady, as your steward
I reckon I'll have to know something more about this investment before
I turn over any money."

With sparkling eyes and blushes that would come in spite of her, she
told him what she intended to do. When she had concluded, Dan Elliston
slapped his knees in huge joy.

"You shall have all the money you want," he declared.

Upon that same afternoon Bobby started to buy up, here and there,
nearly the entire stock of the Brightlight, purchasing it at an
absurdly low price. Then he went to De Graff, to Dan Elliston, and to
others to whose discretion he could trust. His own plans were well
under way when the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company
announced, with a great flourish of trumpets, its new bond issue. The
_Bulletin_ made no comment upon this. It merely published the news
fact briefly and concisely--an unexpected attitude, which brought
surprise, then wonder, then suspicion to the office of the
_Chronicle_. The _Chronicle_ had been a Stone organ during the heydey
of Stone's prosperity; the _Bulletin_ had fought the Consolidated
tooth and toe-nail; the already criminally overcapitalized
Consolidated was about to float a new bond issue; the _Bulletin_ did
not fight this issue; _ergo_, the _Bulletin_ must have something to
gain by the issue.

The _Chronicle_ waited three days, then began to fight the bond issue
itself, which was precisely the effect for which Bobby had planned.
Grown astute, Bobby realized that if the bond issue failed the
Consolidated would go bankrupt at once instead of a year or so later.
The newspaper, however, which would force that bankruptcy would, by
that act, be the apparent means of losing a vast amount of money to
the poor investors of the town, and Bobby left that ungrateful task to
the _Chronicle_. He even went so far as to defend the Consolidated in
a mild sort of manner, a proceeding which fanned the _Chronicle_ into
fresh fury.

For three months desperate attempts were made by the Consolidated to
make the new bonds attractive to the public, but less than one hundred
thousand dollars was subscribed. Bobby was tabulating the known
results of this subscription with much satisfaction one morning when
Ferris walked into his office.

"I hope you didn't come into town to dig up another scandal, old man,"
said Bobby, greeting his contractor-friend with keen pleasure.

"No," said Ferris; "came in to give you a bit of news. The Great
Eastern and Western Railroad wants to locate its shop here, and is
building by private bid. I have secured the contract, subject to
certain alterations of price for distance of hauling and difficulty of
excavation; but the thing is liable to fall through for lack of a
location. They can't get the piece of property they are after, and
there is only one other one large enough and near enough to the city.
The chief engineer and I are going out to look at it again to-day.
Come with us. If we decide that the property will do, and if we can
secure it, you may have an exclusive news-item that would be very
pretty, I should judge." And Ferris smiled at some secret joke.

"I'll go with pleasure," said Bobby, "and not by any means just for
the news. When do you want to go?"

"Oh, right away, I guess. I'll telephone to Shepherd and have him
order a rig."

"What's the use?" demanded Bobby, much interested. "My car's right
within call. I'll have it brought up."

Shepherd, the chief engineer of the G. E. and W., when they picked him
up at the hotel, proved to be an entire human being with red whiskers
and not a care in the world. Bobby was enjoying a lot of preliminary
persiflage when Shepherd incidentally mentioned their destination.

"It is known as Westmarsh," he observed. "I suppose you know where it
is."

Bobby, who had already started the machine and had placed his hand on
the steering wheel, gave a jerk so violent that he almost sent the
machine diagonally across the street, and Ferris laughed aloud. His
little joke was no longer a secret.

"Westmarsh!" Bobby repeated. "Why, I own that undrainable swamp."

"Swamp?" exclaimed Shepherd. "It's as dry as a bone. I looked it over
last night and am going out to-day to study the possible approaches to
it."

"But you say it is dry!" protested Bobby, unable to believe it.

"Dry as powder," asserted Shepherd. "There has been an immense amount
of water out there, but it has been well taken care of by the splendid
drainage system that has been put in."

"It cost a lot of money to put in that drainage system," commented
Bobby; "but we found it impracticable to drain an entire river."

It was Shepherd's turn to be puzzled, a process in which he stopped to
laugh.

"This is the first time I ever heard an owner belittle his own
property," he declared. "I suppose that next you'll only accept half
the price we offer."

Bobby kept up his part of the conversation but feebly as they whirled
out to the site of the old Applerod Addition. He was lost in
speculation upon what could possibly have happened to that unfortunate
swamp area. When they arrived, however, he was surprised to find that
Shepherd had been correct. The ground, though sunken in places and
black with the residue of one-time stagnant water, was firm enough to
walk upon, and after many tests he even ran the machine across and
across it. Moreover, grass and weeds, forcing their way here and
there, were already beginning to hide and redeem the ugly earthen
surface.

Bobby surveyed the miracle in amazement. It was the first time he had
seen the place in a year. Even in his trips to the waterworks site,
which was just north, beyond the hill, he had chosen the longer and
less solid river road rather than to come past this spot of
humiliating memories.

"I can't understand it," he said again and again to the two men. "Why,
Mr. Shepherd, I spent thousands of dollars in filling this swamp and
draining it, with the idea of making a city subdivision here. Silas
Trimmer, the man from whom I bought the place, imagined it to be fed
by underground springs, but he let me spend a fortune to attract
people out to see my new building lots so that he could, without cost,
sell his own. That is his addition up there on the hills, and I'm glad
to say he has recently mortgaged it for all that it will carry."

"How about the springs?" asked Shepherd with a frown. "Did you find
them? You must have stopped them. Are they liable to break out again?"

"That's the worst of it," replied Bobby, still groping. "It wasn't
springs at all. It was a peculiar geological formation, some
disarranged strata leading beneath the hill from the river and
emptying into the bottom of this pond. All through the year it seeped
in faster than our extensive drainings could carry it away, and in the
spring and fall, when the river was high, it poured in. I don't see
what could have happened. Suppose we run over and see the engineer who
worked on this with me. He is now in charge of the new waterworks."

In five minutes they were over there. Jimmy Platt, out in his
shirt-sleeves under a broad-brimmed straw hat, greeted them most
cordially, but when Bobby explained to him the miracle that had
happened to the old Applerod Addition, Platt laughed until the tears
came into his eyes; and even after he stopped laughing there were
traces of them there.

"Come down here and I'll show you," said he.

Leading south from the pumping station, diagonally down the steep bank
to the river, had been built a splendid road, flanked on both sides by
very solid, substantial-looking retaining walls.

"You see this wall?" asked Jimmy, pointing to the inside one. "It runs
twenty feet below low-water level, and is solidly cemented. You
remember when I got permission to move this road from the north side
to the south side of the pumping station? I did that after an
examination of the subsoil. This wall cuts off the natural siphon that
fed the water to your Applerod Addition. I have been going past there
in huge joy twice a day, watching that swamp dry up."

"In other words," said Bobby, "you have been doing a little private
grafting on my account. How many additional dollars did that
extra-deep wall cost?"

"I'm not going to tell you," asserted Jimmy stoutly. "It isn't very
much, but whatever it is the city good and plenty owes you for saving
it over a million on this job. But if I'd had to pay for it myself I
would have done it to correct the mistake I made when I started to
drain that swamp for you. I guess this is about the most satisfactory
minute of my life," and he looked it.

"A fine piece of work," agreed Shepherd, casting a swift eye over the
immense and busy waterworks site, and then glancing at the hill across
which lay Bobby's property. "You're lucky to have had this chance, Mr.
Platt," and he shook hands cordially with Jimmy. "I'm perfectly
satisfied, Mr. Burnit. Do you want to sell that property?"

"If I can get out at a profit," replied Bobby. "Otherwise I'll regrade
the thing and split it up into building lots as I originally
intended."

"Let's go back down to the hotel and talk 'turkey,'" offered Shepherd
briskly. "What do you think of the place, Ferris? Will it do?"

"Fine!" said Ferris. "The property lies so low that we won't have to
cart away a single load of our excavation. If we can only get a
right-of-way through that natural approach to the northeast--"

"I think I can guarantee a right-of-way," interrupted Bobby, smiling,
with his mind upon the city council which had been created by his own
efforts.

"All right," said Shepherd. "We'll talk price until I have browbeaten
you as low as you will go. Then I'll prepare a plat of the place and
send it on to headquarters. You'll have an answer from them in three
days."

As they whirred away Bobby's eyes happened to rest upon a young man
and a young woman rowing idly down-stream in a skiff, and he smiled as
he recognized Biff Bates and Nellie Platt.

On the day Bobby got the money for his Westmarsh property old Applerod
came up from the office of the Brightlight Electric Company, where he
held a lazy, sleepy afternoon job as "manager," and with an
ingratiating smile handed Bobby a check for five thousand dollars.

"What's this for?" asked Bobby, puzzled.

"I have decided to give you back the money and take up again my
approximate one-fifth share in the Applerod Addition," announced that
gentleman complacently.

Bobby was entirely too much surprised at this to be amused.

"You're just a trifle too late, Mr. Applerod," said he. "Had you come
to me two weeks ago, when I thought the land was worthless, out of
common decency I would not have let you buy in again. Since then,
however, I have sold the tract at a profit of forty thousand dollars."

"You have?" exclaimed Applerod. "I heard you were going to do
something of the kind. I'm entitled to one-fifth of that profit, Mr.
Burnit--eight thousand dollars."

"You're entitled to a good, swift poke in the neck!" exclaimed the
voice of wizened old Johnson, who stood in the doorway, and who, since
his friendship with Biff Bates, had absorbed some of that gentleman's
vigorous vernacular. "Applerod, I'll give you just one minute to get
out of this office. If you don't I'll throw you downstairs!"

"Mr. Johnson," said Applerod with great dignity, "this office does not
belong to you. I have as much right here--"

Mr. Johnson, taking a trot around Bobby's desk so as to get Mr.
Applerod between him and the door, made a threatening demonstration
toward the rear, and Applerod, suddenly deserting his dignity, rushed
out. Bobby straightened his face as Johnson, still blazing, came in
from watching Applerod's ignominious retreat.

"Well, Johnson," said he, ignoring the incident as closed, "what can I
do for you to-day?"

"Nothing!" snapped Johnson. "I have forgotten what I came for!" and
going out he slammed the door behind him.

In the course of an hour Bobby was through with his morning allotment
of mail and his daily consultation with Jolter, and then he called
Johnson to his office.

"Johnson," said he, "I want you to do me a favor. There is one block
of Brightlight stock that I have not yet bought up. It is in the hands
of J. W. Williams, one of the old Stone crowd, who ought to be wanting
money by this time. He holds one hundred shares, which you should be
able to buy by now at fifty dollars a share. I want you to buy this
stock in your own name, and I want to loan you five thousand dollars
to do it with. I merely want voting power; so after you get it you may
hold it if you like and still owe me the five thousand dollars, or
I'll take it off your hands at any time you are tired of the
obligation. You'd better go to Barrister and have him buy the stock
for you."

"Yes, sir," said Johnson.

Bobby immediately went to De Graff.

"I came to subscribe for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth
of additional stock in the New Brightlight. I have just deposited two
hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars in your bank."

"You're becoming an expert," said De Graff with a quizzical smile.
"With the million dollars' valuation at which we are to buy in the
present Brightlight, the two hundred and fifty thousand subscribed for
by Dan Elliston, and the ten thousand held by Miss Elliston, this new
subscription about gives you control of the New Brightlight, don't
it?"

"That's what I want," Bobby exulted. "You don't object, do you?"

"Not on my own account," De Graff assured him; "but you'd better have
Barrister buy this in for you until we are organized. Then you can
take it over."

"I guess you're right," agreed Bobby. "I'll send Barrister right over,
and I think I shall make him take up the remaining ten thousand on his
own account. A week from to-night is the council meeting at which the
Consolidated must make good to renew their franchise, and we don't
want any hitch in getting our final incorporation papers by that time.
The members of the Consolidated are singing swan songs in seven
simultaneous keys at this very moment."

Bobby's description of the condition of the Consolidated was scarcely
exaggerated. It was a trying and a hopeless period for them. The bond
issue had failed miserably. It had not needed the _Chronicle_ to
remind the public of what a shaky proposition the Consolidated was,
for Bobby had thoroughly exposed the corporation during the
_Bulletin's_ campaign against Sam Stone. Bond-floating companies from
other cities were brought in, and after an examination of the books
threw up their hands in horror at the crudest muddle they had ever
found in any investigation of municipal affairs.

On the night of the council meeting, Sharpe and Trimmer and Williams,
representing the Consolidated, were compelled to come before the
council and confess their inability to take up the bonds required to
renew their franchise; but they begged that this clause, since it was
an entirely unnecessary one and was not enjoined upon gas or electric
companies in other cities, be not enforced. Council, however, was
obdurate, and the committee thereupon begged for a further extension
of time in which to raise the necessary amount of money. Council still
was obdurate, and by that obduracy the franchise of the Consumers'
Electric Company, said franchise being controlled by the Consolidated
Illuminating and Power Company, became null and void.

Thereupon Bobby Burnit, President De Graff and Dan Elliston,
representing the New Brightlight Electric Company, recently organized
for three million dollars, came forward and prayed for a franchise for
the electric lighting of the entire city, agreeing to take over the
poles and wiring of the Consolidated at a fair valuation; and council
was not at all obdurate, which was scarcely strange when one reflected
that every member of that municipal body had been selected and put in
place through the direct instrumentality of Bobby Burnit. It was
practical politics, true enough, but Bobby had no qualms whatever
about it.

"It may be quite true that I have not been actuated by any highly
noble motives in this," he confessed to a hot charge by Williams, "but
so long as in municipal affairs I am not actuated by any ignoble
motives I am doing pretty fairly in this town."

There was just the bare trace of brutality in Bobby as he said this,
and he suddenly recognized it in himself with dismay. What pity Bobby
might have felt for these bankrupt men, however, was swept away in a
gust of renewed aggressiveness when Trimmer, arousing himself from the
ashen age which seemed all at once to be creeping over him, said, with
a return of that old circular smile which had so often before
aggravated Bobby:

"I am afraid I'll have to draw out of my other ventures and retire on
my salary as president and manager of Trimmer and Company."

Vengefulness was in Bobby's eyes as he followed Trimmer's sprawling
figure, so much like a bloated spider's in its bigness of
circumference and its attenuation of limbs, that suddenly he shuddered
and turned away as when one finds oneself about to step upon a toad.



CHAPTER XXX

IN WHICH, BEING THE LAST CHAPTER, EVERYTHING TURNS OUT RIGHT, AND
EVERYBODY GETS MARRIED


At the offices of the New Brightlight Electric Company there was
universal rejoicing. Johnson was removed from the _Bulletin_ to take
charge of the new organization until it should be completed, and Bobby
himself, for a few days, was compelled to spend most of his time
there. During the first week after the granting of the franchise Bobby
called Johnson to him.

"Mr. Johnson," said he quite severely, "you have been so careful and
so faithful in all other things that I dislike to remind you of an
overlooked duty."

"I am sorry, sir," said Johnson. "What is it?"

"You have neglected to make out a note for that five-thousand-dollar
loan. Kindly draw it up now, payable in ten years, with interest at
four per cent. _after_ the date of maturity."

"But, sir," stammered Johnson, "the stock is worth par now."

"Would you like to keep it?"

"I'd be a fool to say I wouldn't, sir. But the stock is not only worth
par,--it was worth that in the old Brightlight; and I received an
exchange of two for one in the New Brightlight, which is also worth
par this morning; so I hold twenty thousand dollars' worth of stock."

"It cost me five thousand," insisted Bobby, "and we'll settle at that
figure."

"I don't know how to thank you, sir," trembled Johnson, but he
stiffened immediately as Applerod intruded himself into the room with
a bundle of papers which he laid upon the desk.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Burnit," began Applerod, "but I have five
thousand dollars I'd like to invest in the New Brightlight Company if
you could manage it for me."

"I'm sorry, Applerod," said Bobby, "but there isn't a share for sale.
It was subscribed to the full capitalization before the incorporation
papers were issued."

Applerod was about to leave the room in deep dejection when Johnson,
with a sudden happy inspiration, called him back.

"I think I know where you can buy five thousand," said Johnson; "but
you will have to hurry to get it."

"Where?" asked Applerod eagerly, while Bobby went to the window to
conceal his broad smiles.

"Just put on your hat and go right over to Barrister," directed
Johnson; "and take a blank check with you. I'll telephone him, to save
time for you. The stock is worth par, and that lonesome fifty shares
will be snapped up before you know it."

"You will excuse me till I go up-town, Mr. Burnit?" inquired Applerod,
and bustled out eagerly.

He had no sooner left the building than Johnson grabbed Bobby's
telephone and called up Barrister.

"This is Johnson," he said to the old attorney. "I have just sent
Applerod over to you to buy fifty shares of New Brightlight at par.
Take his check and hold it for delivery of the stock. I'll have it
over to you within an hour, or as soon as I can have the transfer
made. It is my stock, but I don't want him to know it."

Hanging up the receiver old Johnson sat in the chair by Bobby's desk
and his thin shoulders heaved with laughter.

"Applerod will be plumb crazy when he finds that out," he said. "To
think that I have fifteen thousand dollars' worth of this good stock
that didn't cost me a cent, all paid for with Applerod's own five
thousand dollars!"

Johnson laughed so hard that finally he was compelled to lay his head
on the desk in front of him, with his lean old fingers over his eyes.

"Thanks to you, Robert; thanks to you," he added after a little
silence.

Bobby, turning from the window, saw the thin shoulders still heaving.
There was a glint of moisture on the lean hands that had toiled for so
many years in the Burnit service, and as Bobby passed he placed his
hand on old Johnson's bowed head for just an instant, then went out,
leaving Johnson alone.

It was Applerod who, returning triumphantly with Barrister's promise
of the precious block of New Brightlight for delivery in the
afternoon, brought Bobby a copy of his own paper containing so much
startling news that the front page consisted only of a hysteria of
head-lines. Sudden proceedings in bankruptcy had been filed against
the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company. These proceedings had
revealed the fact that Frank L. Sharpe, supposed to have left the city
on business for the company, had in reality disappeared with the
entire cash balance of the Consolidated. This disappearance had
immediately thrust the Middle West Construction Company into
bankruptcy. By Stone's own acts the Stone enterprises had crumpled and
fallen, and all his adherents were ruined.

Out of the chaos that the startling facts he was able to glean created
in Bobby's mind there came a thought of Ferris, and he immediately
telephoned him, out at the site of the new G. E. and W. shops, where
ground was already being broken, that he would be out that way.

Half an hour later he took Ferris into his machine and they whirled
over to the waterworks site, where the work had stopped as abruptly as
if that scene of animation had suddenly been stricken of a plague and
died. On the way Bobby explained to Ferris what had happened.

"You were the lowest legitimate bidder on the job, I believe," he
concluded.

"Yes, outside of the local company."

"If I were you I'd get busy with Jimmy Platt on an estimate of the
work already done," suggested Bobby. "I think it very likely that the
city council will offer the Keystone Construction Company the contract
at its former figure, with the proper deductions for present progress.
We will make up the difference between their bid and yours, and
whatever loss there is in taking up the work will come out of the
forfeit put up by the Middle West Company."

Jimmy Platt ran out to meet them like a lost soul. The waterworks
project had become his pet. He lived with it and dreamed of it, and
that there was a prospect of resuming work, and under such skilful
supervision as that of Ferris, delighted him. While Jimmy and Mr.
Ferris went into the office to prepare a basis of estimating, Bobby
stayed behind to examine the carbureter of his machine, which had been
acting suspiciously on the way out, and while he was engaged in this
task a voice that he knew quite well saluted him with:

"Fine work, old pal! I guess you put all your lemons into the squeezer
and got the juice, eh?"

Biff had a copy of the _Bulletin_ in his hand, which was sufficient
explanation of his congratulations.

"Things do seem to be turning out pretty lucky for me, Biff," Bobby
confessed, and then, looking at Mr. Bates, he immediately apologized.
"I beg pardon for calling you Biff," said he. "I should have said Mr.
Bates."

"Cut it!" growled Biff, looking himself over with some complacency
nevertheless.

From his nice new derby, which replaced the slouch cap he had always
preferred, to his neat and uncomfortably-pointed gun-metal leathers
which had supplanted the broad-toed tans, Mr. Bates was an epitome of
neatly-pressed grooming. White cuffs edged the sleeves of his gray
business suit, and--wonder of wonders!--he wore a white shirt with a
white collar, in which there was tied a neat bow of--last wonder of
all--modest gray!

"I suppose that costume is due to distinctly feminine influence, eh,
Biff?"

"Guilty as Cassie Chadwick!" replied Biff with a sheepish grin. "She's
tryin' to civilize me."

"Who is?" demanded Bobby.

"Oh, _she_ is. You know who I mean. Why, she's even taught me to cut
out slang. Say, Bobby, I didn't know how much like a rough-neck I used
to talk. I never opened my yawp but what I spilled a line of
fricasseed gab so twisted and frazzled and shredded you could use it
to stuff sofa-cushions; but now I've handed that string of talk the
screw number. No more slang for your Uncle Biff."

"I'm glad you have quit it," approved Bobby soberly. "I suppose the
next thing I'll hear will be the wedding bells."

"No!" Biff denied in a tone so pained and shocked that Bobby looked up
in surprise to see his face gone pale. "Don't talk about that, Bobby.
Why, I wouldn't dare even think of it myself. I--I never think about
it. Me? with a mitt like a picnic ham? Did you ever see her hand,
Bobby? And her eyes and her hair and all? Why, Bobby, if I'd ever
catch myself daring to think about marrying that girl I'd take myself
by the Adam's apple and give myself the damnedest choking that ever
turned a mutt's map purple."

"I'm sorry, after all, that you are through with slang, Biff," said
Bobby, "because if you were still using it you might have expressed
that idea so much more picturesquely;" but Biff did not hear him, for
from the office came Nellie Platt with a sun-hat in her hand.

"Right on time," she said gaily to Biff, and, with a pleasant word for
Bobby, went down with Mr. Bates to the river bank, where lay the neat
little skiff that Jimmy had bought for her.

Bobby and Ferris and Platt, standing up near the filters, later on,
were startled by a scream from the river, and, turning, they saw the
skiff, in mid-stream, struck by a passing steamer and splintered as if
it were made of pasteboard. Nellie had been rowing. Biff had called
her attention to the approaching steamer, across the path of which
they were passing. There had been plenty of time to row out of the way
of it, but Nellie in grasping her oar for a quick turn had lost it.
Fortunately the engines had been stopped immediately when the pilot
had seen that they must strike, so that there was no appreciable
underdrag. Biff's head had been grazed slightly, enough to daze him
for an instant, but he held himself up mechanically. Nellie, clogged
by her skirts, could not swim, and as Biff got his bearings he saw her
close by him going down for the second time. Two men sprang from the
lower deck of the steamer, but Biff reached her first, and, his senses
instantly clearing as he caught her, he struck out for the shore.

The three men on shore immediately ran down the bank, and sprang into
the water to help Biff out with his burden. He was pale, but strangely
cool and collected.

"Don't go at it that way!" he called to them savagely, knowing neither
friend nor foe in this emergency. "Get her loosened up someway, can't
you?"

Without waiting on them, Biff ripped a knife from his pocket, opened
it and slit through waist and skirt-band and whatever else intervened,
to her corset, which he opened with big fingers, the sudden deftness
of which was marvelous. Directing them with crisp, sharp commands, he
guided them through the first steps toward resuscitation, and then
began the slow, careful pumping of the arms that should force breath
back into the closed lungs.

For twenty minutes, each of which seemed interminable, Jimmy and Biff
worked, one on either side of her, Biff's face set, cold,
expressionless, until at last there was a flutter of the eyelids, a
cry of distress as the lungs took up their interrupted function, then
the sharp, hissing sound of the intake and outgo of natural, though
labored, breath; then Nellie Platt opened her big, brown eyes and
gazed up into the gray ones of Biff Bates. She faintly smiled; then
Biff did a thing that he had never done before in his mature life. He
suddenly broke down and cried aloud, sobbing in great sobs that shook
him from head to foot and that hurt him, as they tore from his throat,
as the first breath of new life had hurt Nellie Platt; and, seeing and
understanding, she raised up one weak arm and slipped it about his
neck.

It was about a week after this occurrence when Silas Trimmer, coming
back from lunch to attend the annual stock-holders' meeting of Trimmer
and Company, stopped on the sidewalk to inspect, with some curiosity,
a strange, boxlike-looking structure which leaned face downward upon
the edge of the curbing. It was three feet wide and full sixty feet
long. He stooped and tried to tilt it up, but it was too heavy for his
enfeebled frame, and with another curious glance at it he went into
the store.

The meeting was set for half-past two. It was now scarcely two, and
yet, when he opened the door of his private office, which had been set
apart for that day's meeting, he was surprised at the number of people
he found in the room. A quick recognition of them mystified him the
more. They were Bobby Burnit and Agnes, Johnson, Applerod and
Chalmers.

"I came a little early, Mr. Trimmer," said Bobby, in a polite
conversational tone, "to have these three hundred shares transferred
upon the books of Trimmer and Company, before the stock-holders'
meeting convenes."

"What shares are they?" inquired Silas in a voice grown strangely
shrill and metallic.

"The stock that was previously controlled by your son-in-law, Mr.
Clarence Smythe. Miss Elliston bought them last week from your
daughter, with the full consent of your son-in-law."

"The dog!" Trimmer managed to gasp, and his fingers clutched
convulsively.

"Possibly," admitted Bobby dryly. "At any rate he has had to leave
town, and I do not think you will be bothered with him any more. In
the meantime, Mr. Trimmer, I'd like to call your attention to a few
very interesting figures. When you urged me, four years ago, to
consolidate the John Burnit and Trimmer and Company Stores, my
father's business was appraised at two hundred and sixty thousand
dollars and yours at two hundred and forty. On your suggestion we took
in sixty thousand dollars of additional capital. I did not know as
much at that time as I do now, and I let you sell this stock where you
could control it, virtually giving you three thousand shares to my two
thousand six hundred. You froze me out, elected your own board, made
yourself manager at an enormous salary, and voted your son-in-law
another one so ridiculous that it was put out of all possibility for
my stock ever to yield any dividends. All right, Mr. Trimmer. With the
purchase of this three hundred shares I now control two thousand nine
hundred shares and you two thousand seven hundred. I presume I don't
need to tell you what is going to happen in today's meeting."

To this Silas returned no answer.

"I am an old man," he muttered to himself as one suddenly stricken. "I
am an old, old man."

"I am going to oust you," continued Bobby, "and to oust all your
relatives from their fat positions; and I am going to elect myself to
everything worth while. I have brought Mr. Johnson with me to inspect
your books, and Mr. Chalmers to take charge of certain legal matters
connected with the concern immediately after the close of to-day's
meeting. I am going to restore Applerod to his position here from
which you so unceremoniously discharged him, and make Johnson general
manager of this and all my affairs. I understand that your stock in
this concern is mortgaged, and that you will be utterly unable to
redeem it. I intend to buy it and practically own the entire company
myself. Are there any questions you would like to ask, Mr. Trimmer?"

There was none. Silas, crushed and dazed and pitiable, only moaned
that he was an old man; that he was an old, old man.

Bobby felt the gentle pressure of Agnes' hand upon his arm. There was
a moment of silence.

Trimmer looked around at them piteously. Once more Bobby felt that
touch upon his sleeve. Understanding, he went over to Silas and took
him gently by the arm.

"Come over here to the window with me a minute," said he, "and we will
have a little business talk."

"Business! Oh, yes; business!" said Silas, brightening up at the
mention of the word.

He rose nervously and allowed Bobby to lead him, bent and almost
palsied, over to the window, where they could look out on the busy
street below, and the roofs of the tall buildings, and the blue sky
beyond where it smiled down upon the river. It was only a fleeting
glance that Silas Trimmer cast at the familiar scene outside, and
almost immediately he turned to Bobby, clutching his coat sleeve
eagerly. "You--you said something about business," he half-whispered,
and over his face there came a shadow of that old, shrewd look.

"Why, yes," replied Bobby uncomfortably. "I think we can find a place
for you, Mr. Trimmer. You have kept this concern up splendidly, no
matter how much beset you were outside, and--and I think Johnson will
engage you, if you care for it, to look after certain details of
buying and such matters as that."

"Oh, yes, the buying," agreed Silas, nodding his head. "I always was a
good buyer--and a good seller, too!" and he chuckled. "About what do
you say, now, that my services would be worth?" and with the prospect
of bartering more of his old self came back.

"We'll make that satisfactory, I can assure you," said Bobby. "Your
salary will be a very liberal one, I am certain, and it will begin
from to-day. First, however, you must have a good rest--a vacation
with pay, understand--and it will make you strong again. You are a
little run down."

"Yes," agreed Silas, nodding his head as the animation faded out of
his eyes. "I'm getting old. I think, Mr. Burnit, if you don't mind
I'll go into the little room there and lie on the couch for a few
minutes."

"That is a good idea," said Bobby. "You should be rested for the
meeting."

"Oh, yes," repeated Silas, nodding his head sagely; "the meeting."

They were uncomfortably silent when Bobby had returned from the little
room adjoining. The shadow of tragedy lay upon them all, and it was
out of this shadow that Bobby spoke his determination.

"I am going to get out of business," he declared. "It is a hard, hard
game. I can win at it, but--well, I'd rather go back, if I only could,
to my unsophistication of four years ago. I don't like business. Of
course, I'll keep this place for tradition's sake, and because it
would please my father--no, I mean it _will_ please him--but I'm going
to sell the _Bulletin_. I have an offer for it at an excellent profit.
I'm going to intrust the management of the electric plant to my good
friend Biff, here, with Chalmers and Johnson as starboard and larboard
bulwarks, until the stock is quoted at a high enough rating to be a
profitable sale; then I'm going to turn it into money, and add it to
the original fund. I think I shall be busy enough just looking after
and enjoying my new partnership," and he smiled down at Agnes, who
smiled back at him with a trusting admiration that needed no words to
express.

"Beg your pardon, sir," said old Johnson, "but I have a letter here
for you," and from his inside pocket he drew one of the familiar
steel-gray envelopes, which he handed to Bobby.

It was addressed:

    _To My Son Bobby, Upon His Regaining His Father's Business_

The message inside was so brief that one who had not known well old
John Burnit would never have known the full, full heart out of which
he penned it:

    "I knew you'd do it, dear boy. Whatever mystery I find in the
    great hereafter I shall be satisfied--for I knew you'd do it."

That was all.

"Johnson," said Bobby, crumpling up the letter in his hand, and
speaking briskly to beat back his emotion, "we will move our offices
to the same old quarters, and we will move back, for my use, my
father's old desk with my father's portrait hanging above it, just as
they were when Silas Trimmer ordered them removed."

Two of the stock-holders came in at this moment, and Agnes went down
into the store to find Biff Bates and Nellie Platt, for there was much
shopping to do. Agnes had taken pretty Nellie under her chaperonage,
and every day now the girls were busy with preparations for certain
events in which each was highly interested.

Up in the office there was a meeting that was a shock to all the
stock-holders but one, and after it was over Bobby joined the
shoppers. When the four of them had clambered into Bobby's automobile
and were rolling away, Bobby stopped his machine.

"Look," he said in calm triumph, and pointed upward, his hand clasping
a smaller hand which was to rest contentedly in his through life.

Over the Grand Street front of the building from which they had
emerged, workmen were just raising a huge electric sign, and it bore
the legend:

                     THE JOHN BURNIT'S SON STORES



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  Partners of the Tide. By Joseph C. Lincoln.
  Phra the Phoenician. By Edwin Lester Arnold.
  President, The. By Alfred Henry Lewis.
  Princess Passes, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.
  Princess Virginia, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.
  Prisoners. By Mary Cholmondeley.
  Private War, The. By Louis Joseph Vance.
  Prodigal Son, The. By Hall Caine.
  Quickening, The. By Francis Lynde.
  Richard the Brazen. By Cyrus T. Brady and Edw. Peple.
  Rose of the World. By Agnes and Egerton Castle.
  Running Water. By A. E. W. Mason.
  Sarita the Carlist. By Arthur W. Marchmont.
  Seats of the Mighty, The. By Gilbert Parker.
  Sir Nigel. By A. Conan Doyle.
  Sir Richard Calmady. By Lucas Malet.
  Speckled Bird, A. By Augusta Evans Wilson.
  Spirit of the Border, The. By Zane Grey.
  Spoilers, The. By Rex Beach.
  Squire Phin. By Holman F. Day.
  Stooping Lady, The.  By Maurice Hewlett.
  Subjection of Isabel Carnaby. By Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.
  Sunset Trail, The. By Alfred Henry Lewis.
  Sword of the Old Frontier, A. By Randall Parrish.
  Tales of Sherlock Holmes. By A. Conan Doyle.
  That Printer of Udell's. By Harold Bell Wright.
  Throwback, The. By Alfred Henry Lewis.
  Trail of the Sword, The. By Gilbert Parker.
  Treasure of Heaven, The. By Marie Corelli.
  Two Vanrevels, The. By Booth Tarkington.
  Up From Slavery. By Booker T. Washington.
  Vashti. By Augusta Evans Wilson.
  Viper of Milan, The (original edition). By Marjorie Bowen.
  Voice of the People, The. By Ellen Glasgow.
  Wheel of Life, The. By Ellen Glasgow.
  When Wilderness Was King. By Randall Parrish.
  Where the Trail Divides. By Will Lillibridge.
  Woman in Grey, A. By Mrs. C. N. Williamson.
  Woman in the Alcove, The. By Anna Katharine Green.
  Younger Set, The. By Robert W. Chambers.
  The Weavers. By Gilbert Parker.
  The Little Brown Jug at Kildare. By Meredith Nicholson.
  The Prisoners of Chance. By Randall Parrish.
  My Lady of Cleve. By Percy J. Hartley.
  Loaded Dice. By Ellery H. Clark.
  Get Rich Quick Wallingford. By George Randolph Chester.
  The Orphan. By Clarence Mulford.
  A Gentleman of France. By Stanley J. Weyman.
  Purple Parasol, The. By George Barr McCutcheon.
  Princess Dehra, The. By John Reed Scott.
  Making of Bobby Burnit, The. By George Randolph Chester.
  Last Voyage of the Donna Isabel, The. By Randall Parrish.
  Bronze Bell, The. By Louis Joseph Vance.
  Pole Baker. By Will N. Harben.
  Four Million, The. By O. Henry.
  Idols. By William J. Locke.
  Wayfarers, The. By Mary Stewart Cutting.
  Held for Orders. By Frank H. Spearman.
  Story of the Outlaw, The. By Emerson Hough.
  Mistress of Brae Farm, The. By Rosa N. Carey.
  Explorer, The. By William Somerset Maugham.
  Abbess of Vlaye, The. By Stanley Weyman.
  Alton of Somasco. By Harold Bindloss.
  Ancient Law, The. By Ellen Glasgow.
  Barrier, The. By Rex Beach.
  Bar 20. By Clarence E. Mulford.
  Beloved Vagabond, The. By William J. Locke.
  Beulah. (Illustrated Edition.) By Augusta J. Evans.
  Chaperon, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.
  Colonel Greatheart. By H. C. Bailey.
  Dissolving Circle, The. By Will Lillibridge.
  Elusive Isabel. By Jacques Futrelle.
  Fair Moon of Bath, The. By Elizabeth Ellis.
  54-40 or Fight. By Emerson Hough.





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