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´╗┐Title: Five Thousand an Hour: How Johnny Gamble Won the Heiress
Author: Chester, George Randolph, 1869-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Five Thousand an Hour: How Johnny Gamble Won the Heiress" ***

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FIVE THOUSAND AN HOUR

How Johnny Gamble Won the Heiress


BY

GEORGE RANDOLPH CHESTER



Author of

THE MAKING OF BOBBY BURNIT, THE EARLY BIRD, GET-RICH-QUICK WALLINGFORD



ILLUSTRATIONS BY HENRY RALEIGH



CONTENTS


     I   WHICH INTRODUCES JOHNNY GAMBLE AND HIS LAST HUNDRED DOLLARS
    II   IN WHICH STRANGERS BECOME OLD FRIENDS
   III   IN WHICH JOHNNY GAMBLE MIXES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
    IV   IN WHICH GRESHAM FINDS JOHNNY'S OLD PARTNER ACCOMMODATING
     V   IN WHICH JOHNNY DISPLAYS TALENT AS A TRUE PROMOTER
    VI   IN WHICH CONSTANCE DECIDES ON A FAIR GAME
   VII   IN WHICH JOHNNY DREAMS OF A MAGNIFICENT TWENTY-STORY HOTEL
  VIII   IN WHICH CONSTANCE SHOWS FURTHER INTEREST IN JOHNNY'S
         AFFAIRS
    IX   IN WHICH JOHNNY MEETS A DEFENDER OF THE OLD ARISTOCRACY
     X   IN WHICH JOHNNY IS SINGULARLY THRILLED BY A LITTLE
         CONVERSATION OVER THE TELEPHONE
    XI   IN WHICH JOHNNY EXECUTES SOME EXCEEDINGLY RAPID BUSINESS
         DEALS
   XII   IN WHICH JOHNNY EVEN DOES BUSINESS AT THE BABIES' FUND FAIR
  XIII   IN WHICH JOHNNY BUYS A PRESENT AND HATCHES A SCHEME
   XIV   IN WHICH JOHNNY TRIES TO MIX BUSINESS WITH SKAT
    XV   IN WHICH WINNIE CHAPERONS THE ENTIRE PARTY TO CONEY ISLAND
   XVI   IN WHICH JOHNNY PLANS A REHEARSAL BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS
  XVII   IN WHICH THE STRAW SAILOR HAT OF JOHNNY PLAYS AN
         EMBARRASSING ROLE
 XVIII   IN WHICH THE ENTIRE WOBBLES FAMILY FOR ONCE GETS TOGETHER
   XIX   IN WHICH THE COLONEL, MESSRS. COURTNEY, WASHER AND OTHERS
         SIT IN A LITTLE GAME
    XX   IN WHICH JOHNNY ASKS HIMSELF WHAT IS A MILLION DOLLARS,
         ANYWAY
   XXI   IN WHICH CONSTANCE AVAILS HERSELF OF WOMAN'S PRIVILEGE TO
         CHANGE HER MIND
  XXII   IN WHICH PAUL GRESHAM PROPOSES A VERY PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENT
 XXIII   IN WHICH THE BRIGHT EYES OF CONSTANCE "RAIN INFLUENCE"
  XXIV   IN WHICH JOHNNY DEMANDS SPOT CASH AT ONCE
   XXV   IN WHICH JOHNNY KEEPS ON DOING BUSINESS TILL THE CLOCK
         STRIKES FOUR



FIVE THOUSAND AN HOUR



CHAPTER I

WHICH INTRODUCES JOHNNY GAMBLE AND HIS LAST HUNDRED DOLLARS


About the time the winner of the Baltimore Handicap flashed under the
wire, Johnny Gamble started to tear up a bundle of nice pink tickets on
Lady S. Just then Ashley Loring came by swiftly in the direction of the
betting shed. Loring stopped and wheeled when he caught sight of him as
did most men who knew him.

"Hello, Johnny! I didn't know you had run over. How are you picking
them to-day?" he asked.

"With a dream book," answered Gamble, smiling; "but I ate lobster last
night."

"I didn't know that you cared for the ponies."

"I don't; and it's mutual. Thought I'd take one more whirl, though,
before the Maryland governor also closes the tracks for ever. How are
you doing?"

"I'm working on a new system," stated the tall young man with elation.
"With this scheme, all you have to do is to bet on the right horse.
What did you have in the handicap?"

"The off bay over there," replied Gamble, indicating a team attached to
a sprinkling wagon, away on the farther side of the course. "Have one
of her calling cards, Loring," and he proffered one of the ex-tickets.

"Lady S?" translated Loring. "I cut her acquaintance three bets ago."
And, turning just then toward the grandstand, he smiled up into one of
the boxes and lifted his hat.

Glancing in that direction, Gamble was shocked to find himself looking
squarely into the dark eyes of a strikingly beautiful young woman who
stood with her hands resting upon the rail.

"What do you know about Collaton?" he asked; and, in spite of himself,
he looked again. The young lady this time was laughing with a group of
likable young idlers, all of whom Gamble knew; and, since the startling
stranger was occupied, he could indulge in a slightly more open
inspection.

"I saw Collaton on the track to-day and he was making some big bets,"
replied Loring with a frown. "He's not broke, Johnny. He's merely been
letting you hold the bag."

"Well, help me let go. Loring, I must dissolve that partnership."

The young lawyer shook his head.

"No way to do it so long as the books remain lost. Unless one of you
buys outright the practically defunct Gamble-Collaton Irrigation
Company and assumes all its liabilities, you will remain responsible,
since Collaton possesses no visible property. I'm sure that he stung
you, Johnny."

"Stung me! I'm swelled up yet."

"It's your own fault. You trusted him too much."

"He trusted me. I sold land."

"Of course he trusted you. Everybody does. Meantime he was out West
incurring obligations. You should have gone into bankruptcy and settled
at twenty cents on the dollar when you had a chance, as I advised you."

"Couldn't. I look in the glass when I shave. Anyhow, it's all paid now."

"How do you know, with the books lost? You started in with an equal
amount of money. When that was gone Collaton announced himself
broke--and let you foot the bills. If he only raked off half of what he
spent he got back his own and a tidy fortune besides. Your only chance
is to have that enormous land deal turn out a winner."

"It's worse than Lady S. Tore up my ticket long ago."

"Quite a plunge on a long shot, with a welsher like Collator! making
the book," commented Loring. "He stripped you clean."

"I have my appetite," insisted Gamble with a grin. His cheeks were
ruddy and his skin as flawless as a babe's, and his eyes--exceptionally
large--were as clear as they were direct.

"An appetite like yours only makes it worse to be broke," laughed
Loring.

"There's a plenty of money in New York if I want any," responded
Gamble. "I don't need money, anyhow, Ashley. I have my mother
fixed--and there's nobody else. Besides, I'm not broke. I have a
hundred. Do you know a good horse?"

"Nautchautauk," advised Loring, and they both turned in the direction
of the betting shed. "The price will probably be short; but I look on
it as an investment."

"You can't invest a hundred dollars," argued Gamble.

"You don't mean to say that a hundred's all you have in the world!"
returned Loring. "I thought you'd saved a good deal more than that out
of the wreck."

"I did; but my brother was broke," replied Gamble carelessly, and
stopped in front of a blackboard. The price on Nautchautauk was one and
a half to two. "I don't want a bet," he remarked, shaking his head at
the board; "I need an accident. I wonder if that goat Angora has horns
and a beard?"

"People try fifty-to-one shots just before they cut their throats,"
warned Loring.

"Hide my safety-razor then. Angora carries my hundred. I'll feed a
sawbuck apiece to ten books."

Loring lost sight of him for a few moments, but found him outside, by
and by, in conversation with "Colonel" Bouncer, a heavily-jowled man
with grizzled hair and very friendly eyes which, however, could look
quite cold enough on occasion. The colonel was staring up at the box
occupied by the young lady to whom Loring had bowed.

"Bless my soul, I'm getting near-sighted!" he was saying as Loring
joined them. "Isn't that Paul Gresham up there with Miss Joy?"

"Is that her name?" asked Gamble eagerly. "Well, I believe it."

The colonel turned from him impatiently.

"You know Gresham, don't you, Loring? Is that he up there in that box?"

"That is Saint Paul all right," answered Loring with a smile, as he
glanced up at the prim and precise Gresham, who had now succeeded in
fencing Miss Joy in a corner, away from the other young men.

"Thanks," said the colonel, and walked away abstractedly, his eyes
still turning in the direction of the box, although he did not even
start to go up into the grandstand.

"The colonel is still bargain-hunting," observed Loring with a laugh.
"His shoe-manufacturing business has increased to the point that he
must have more space--and he must have it at once. The only available
ground is Gresham's adjoining property, which Gresham long ago gave up
trying to sell him. The colonel is crazy to buy it now, but he's afraid
to let Gresham know he must have it, for fear Saint Paul will run up
the price on him. In consequence, he trails the man round like a
love-sick boy after an actress. When he finds Gresham he only looks at
him--and goes away. That's only half of the laugh, however. Gresham
wants to sell as badly as the colonel wants to buy, but he doesn't know
where to find a fancy market. Queer case, isn't it?"

"Yes," replied Gamble. "Who's Miss Joy?"

"For heaven's sake, Johnny, don't say you're hit too--even at long
distance!"

"Hit!" repeated Gamble--"I'm flattened out. I'm no lady-fusser, Ashley,
but I'm going to buy a new necktie."

"You don't even know she's rich, do you?" asked Loring, looking at him
with a curious smile.

"Of course I do!" asserted Johnny. "I saw her eyes. Who is she?"

"That's Miss Constance Joy--an orphan worth an exact million dollars;
although I believe there is some sort of a string to it," Loring told
him. "She lives with her aunt, who is Mrs. Pattie Boyden, and she's so
pretty that even women forgive her. Anything else you want to know?"

"Yes. Why do I want to bite Paul Gresham?"

"Hush!" admonished Loring. "He is the remnant of one of our very best
imported families, and he needs the money. He sells a piece of father's
property every year, and he haunts Miss Joy like a pestilence. I think
he's mixed up in her million some way or other. Aunt Pattie approves of
him very much; she is strong for family."

"I'll bite him yet," decided Gamble. "Say, Loring, how am I going to
make a stringless million?"

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be your lawyer," declared Loring. "Excuse
me, Johnny; there's a client of mine."



CHAPTER II

IN WHICH STRANGERS BECOME OLD FRIENDS


Into the box where Miss Constance Joy--slender and dark and
tall--entertained her bevy of admirers, there swished a
violently-gowned young woman of buxom build and hearty manner, attended
by a young man who wore a hundred-dollar suit and smiled feebly
whenever he caught an eye. In his right hand he carried Miss Polly
Parsons' gloves and parasol; in his left, her race-card and hand-bag.
Round his shoulders swung her field-glasses; from his right pocket
protruded her fan and from his left her auto veil. She carried her own
vanity box.

"If you aren't the darlingest thing in the world!" she greeted Miss
Joy, whose face had lighted with a smile of both amusement and
pleasure. "You certainly are some Con! Every time I see you in a new
gown I change my dressmaker. Hello, boys!" She shook hands cordially
with all of them as soon as she had paid her brief respects to Mrs.
Pattie Boyden, who was pleasant and indulgent enough in her greeting,
though not needlessly so.

"You're looking as happy as ever, Polly," observed Constance.

"I'm as happy as a mosquito in a baby's crib," avowed Polly. "I've
added three thousand to-day to the subscription list for our Ocean View
Baby Hotel. Where's that list, Sammy?"

Sammy Chirp passed a few things from his right to his left hand and
searched a few pockets; passed a few things from his left to his right
hand, dropped the lady's handkerchief and picked it up, smiled feebly
upon everybody, and then at last produced the subscription list, which
Miss Joy read most interestedly.

"That's splendid, Polly!" she approved. "Another day's work as good as
this, and we'll be able to buy our hotel."

Paul Gresham, standing stiffly between her and Polly, looked down at
her and smiled correctly.

"I guess we'd better go, don't you think?" he remarked to the other
young men.

"You're safe enough," retorted Polly. "You're safe any place with your
check-book. Besides, we don't want to double names on this list. We'll
spring another one when we're ready to equip and run the place. Oh,
there's Johnny Gamble! Hello, Johnny!" And she leaned far over the rail
to call to him.

It was strange how quickly Johnny Gamble was able to distinguish a
sound coming from that direction, and he looked up immediately. "Come
right up here, Johnny," she commanded him. "I have a great surprise in
store for you."

"Go any place you say if it's not too hot there," he cheerfully assured
her, and started off towards the staircase.

"When I get Johnny Gamble's name this list is closed," said Polly
confidently.

"I'll bet with you on that," offered Bruce Townley. "Johnny probably
hasn't enough money to buy a tin rattle for your babies' hotel."

"No!" she protested, shocked. "I'm so used to seeing him with money
that I don't think I'd know him if he had it shaved off."

"He was too honest, as usual," supplemented Val Russel, lounging
carelessly against the rail. "Here comes Ashley Loring. He can tell you
all about it. Johnny Gamble hasn't a cent left, has he, Loring?"

"It would be most unprofessional to discuss Mr. Gamble's private
affairs," said Loring reprovingly as he came into the box. "Aside from
a mere detail like that, I don't mind saying that Johnny Gamble has
just bet the last hundred dollars he has in the world on an absolutely
criminal long shot."

"I hope he wins!" stated Polly heartily. "I think he's the only real
gentleman I ever knew."

"Well, I like that!" protested Val Russel, laughing.

"I don't mean a slam at you boys," she hastily corrected. "You're a
nice clean bunch; but I know so much about Johnny. He helps people,
then hides so he can't be thanked. He's the one man out of a thousand
that both women and men can absolutely trust."

"That's rather a broad statement," objected Paul Gresham, who had eyed
Polly with fastidious distaste every time she spoke. He was a rather
silent young man with a thin high-arched nose and eyebrows that met,
and was so flawlessly dressed that he sat stiffly.

"I'll make it two in a thousand, Mr. Gresham," said Polly pleasantly.
"I hadn't noticed you; and whatever I am I try to be polite."

The four other young men, who were used to Polly's sweeping
generalities, laughed; for Polly had their hearty approval.

Johnny Gamble arrived.

"Where's the surprise?" he demanded with a furtive glance in the
direction of Miss Joy, a glance which Gresham jealously resented.

"Me!" Polly gaily told him, thrusting her subscription list into the
pocket of Sammy Chirp. "You haven't seen me since I got back."

"You're no surprise--you're a gasp!" he informed her, heartily glad to
see her. "That sunset bonnet is a maraschino."

"Pinkest one they had," she complacently assured him. "I want you to
meet some friends of mine, Johnny." And, with vast pride in her
acquaintanceship with all parties concerned, she introduced him to
Constance and Aunt Pattie.

Johnny Gamble and Constance Joy, for just a moment, looked upon each
other with the frank liking which sometimes makes strangers old
friends. Gresham saw that instant liking and stiffened. Johnny Gamble,
born in a two-room cottage and with sordid experiences behind him of
which he did not like to think in this company, dropped his eyes;
whereupon Miss Constance Joy, who had been cradled under silken
coverlets, studied him serenely. She had little enough opportunity to
inspect odd types at close range--and this was a very interesting
specimen. His eyes were the most remarkable blue she had ever seen.

"Cousin Polly has been telling us most pleasant things about you," she
observed.

"Your cousin Polly?" he inquired, perplexed.

"Yes; we're cousins now," announced Polly happily. "It's the first time
I ever had any relations, and I'm tickled stiff!"

"So am I!" agreed Johnny heartily, figuring vaguely that somebody or
other must have married.

"You are just in the nick of time, Gamble," Gresham quietly stated with
a deliberate intention of humiliating this child of no one. "Miss Polly
has a subscription list which she wants you to complete."

"He's too late," replied Polly with a flash of her eyes in Gresham's
direction. "Mr. Loring just closed up that list," and she winked
vigorously at Loring.

"Loring's my friend," Gamble said with a cheerful laugh. "I have
check-writer's cramp. Who's to get the loving cup?"

"The loving cup's a bottle," Polly returned. "This is a baby's benefit.
It's Constance's pet scheme and I'm crazy about it. We've found a big,
hundred-room summer hotel, with two hundred acres of ground, on a high
bluff overlooking the ocean; and we're going to turn it into a free
hotel for sickly babies and their mothers. Isn't that some scheme?"

"I'm so strong for it I ache!" announced Mr. Gamble with fervor. "Put
me down for--" He checked himself ruefully. "I forgot I was broke!"
Gresham shrugged his shoulders in satisfaction.

"You'll take something for that," Polly confidently comforted her
friend Gamble. "There's G. W. Mason & Company, Johnny. Take me over to
him and watch me fool him when he says he has no check-book with him. I
have check blanks on every bank in town. Bring along my hand-bag and my
subscription list, Sammy."

When they had gone, with the feebly pleased Sammy dutifully bringing up
the rear, Gresham looked after them with relief.

"Handicap day brings out some queer people," he observed.

"If you mean Mr. Gamble I think him delightful," Constance quickly
advised him. "I'm inclined to agree with Polly that he is very much a
gentleman."

"He would be quite likely to appeal to Polly," remarked Aunt Pattie as
she arose for a visit to a near-by box.

"You mean Cousin Polly," corrected Constance sweetly.

Gresham was very thoughtful. He was more logically calculating than
most people thought him.

It was Polly's cousinship which puzzled Johnny Gamble. "When you picked
a cousin you made some choice," he complimented her. "How did you do
it?"

"They made me," she explained. "You know that Billy Parsons was the
only man I ever wanted to marry--or ever will, I guess. His folks met
me once and wouldn't stand for me at all; then Billy took sick and went
out of his head. He cried for me so that the doctor said he had to have
me; so I canceled the best engagement I ever had. I wasn't a star, but
I was featured and was making an awful hit. I went right to the house,
though, and stayed two months--till Billy died. Then I went back to
work; but I hated it. Well, along toward the last they'd got so
friendly that I was awful lonesome. It wasn't long till they got
lonesome too. They're old, you know; and Billy was all they had. So
they came after me and I went with them; and they adopted me and we all
love each other to death. Constance's my cousin now--and she stands it
without batting an eyelash. She's about the cream of the earth, Johnny!"

He drew in his breath sharply.

"You're a lucky kid!" he told her.

There was something in the intensity of his tone which made her look up
at him, startled.

"Now don't you fall in love with her, Johnny!" she begged.

"Why not?" he demanded. "I never tried it; but I bet I can do it."

"That's the trouble," she expostulated; "it's too easy. You can fall in
all right, but how will you get out?"

"I don't want out," he assured her. "I play marbles for keeps."

"All right then; take to pickles and perfume. Look here, Johnny; if
none of her own set can ring her with an orange wreath what can an
outsider do?"

"How do I know till I try?" he inquired. "I get you, Polly. You mean
I'm not in her class; but, you see, I want her!"

"So do the others," she objected.

"They're not used to hard work," he earnestly informed her. "Say, I
need a million dollars."

"Take enough while you're at it! What do you want it for?"

"Her stack's that high."

"She'd never count it."

"I know; but Aunt Pattie and I would. I have to have it, Polly."

"Then you'll get it," she resignedly admitted. "Why, Johnny, I believe
you could get Constance, too!" she added with suddenly accelerated
belief in him. "Well, I'm certainly for you. Tell me, what can I do to
help you?"

"Poison Gresham for me."

"Give me your fifteen cents," she directed. "He's about as popular with
her as a flea with a dog; but he goes with the furniture. He was wished
on her by her Aunt Gertrude."

"Why did her aunt hate her?"

"She hated everybody; so she went in for charity. She made six wills,
each time leaving all her money to a different public institution; but
they each one did something she didn't like before she could die. The
last time she decided to give Constance a chance, made a new will and
took sick the same night. Constance has the interest on her million
till she marries Gresham; then she gets it all. If she marries anybody
else before Gresham dies the money goes to a home for blind cats, or
something like that."

"Healthy soul, wasn't she?" commiserated Johnny. "But why Gresham?"

"The bug for family. Aunt Gertrude's father didn't make his
tobacco-trust money fast enough for her to marry Gresham's father, who
would have been a lord if everybody in England had died. Constance is
to bring aristocracy into the family now."

"Tell her to tear up that million. I'll get her another one," offered
Johnny easily.

"You'll need some repairs before you start," she suggested. "They tell
me you're down and out."

"Tell them to guess again!" he indignantly retorted. "I own all the
to-morrows in the world. There's money in every one of them."

"I've got an awful big bank-account that needs exercise," she offered.
"Now, look here, Johnny, don't yell like I'd hit you with a brick. You
told me to help myself once when I needed it, and I did. You ought to
let me get even. All right, then; be stingy! Where's Sammy?" She had
been feeling in both sleeves with a trace of annoyance, and now she
turned to discover Sammy a few paces back, idly watching a policeman
putting an inebriated man off the track. "Sammy!" she called him
sharply. He came, running and frightened. "I've lost my handkerchief,"
she informed him. "Go get it." Sammy smiled gratefully and was gone.

"Where did you find it?" asked Johnny, indicating the departing
messenger. "Follow you home one cold night, or did a friend give it to
you?"

"Oh, no," she said carelessly; "it just sticks around. I can't get rid
of it, so I've trained it to be handy when I need it."

She fastened upon Colonel Mason just as the horses came to the post,
and she was supplying him with a check blank just as they got away from
the barrier. Gamble turned to the track and distinguished his long shot
off in the lead. He smiled grimly at that irony, for he had seen
long-shot horses raise false hopes before. Mildly interested, he
watched Angora reach the quarter pole, still in the lead. Rather
incredulously, he saw her still in the lead at the half. He was eager
about it when she rounded the three-quarters with nothing but daylight
before her; and as she came down the stretch, with Nautchautauk
reaching out for her flanks, he stuck the ash-end of his cigar in his
mouth and did not see the finish. He knew, by the colossal groan from
the grandstand, however, that Angora had beaten the favorite; and,
though he was not in the least excited, he felt through all his pockets
for his tickets, forgetting that he had taken them out at the beginning
of the race and still held them in his hand; also, he forgot completely
that he was supposed to be escorting Polly, and immediately sauntered
down to the betting shed--to collect the largest five thousand and one
hundred dollars in captivity.



CHAPTER III

IN WHICH JOHNNY MIXES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE


A general desire to bet on the last race had sent all the occupants of
the Boyden box, except Constance, Polly and Gresham, down to the
betting shed when Gamble returned; and he was very glad there was room
enough for him to sit down and enjoy himself. He had evil designs upon
Gresham.

"This is my lucky day," he observed, smiling upon Miss Joy. "I began
this afternoon to pile up an exact million. A near horse gave me a
five-thousand-dollar start."

"If you keep on at the rate of five thousand dollars an hour you'll
have your million in two hundred hours," Constance figured for him.

"I won't work Sundays, evenings, holidays or birthdays," he objected.

"How fussy!" commented Polly. "Which was the kind horse?"

"A goat by the name of Angora," he replied.

"That race should call for an inquiry," sternly stated Gresham.

"You must have bet on the favorite," returned Gamble, and laughed when
Gresham winced. Not a shade of Gresham's expression was escaping him
now.

"We all did," acknowledged Constance smilingly. "This is the first time
I ever bet on the races; and I sent down to bet on every horse in this
last one, so I'll be sure to win just once. I suppose you attend the
races frequently, Mr. Gamble?"

"I'll give you one more guess," he returned. "I don't like to walk
home."

"You won't have to walk this time," she reminded him.

"Not while I ride!" asserted Polly stoutly.

"I'm so glad you won, Johnny. I guess you'll stay in Baltimore now."

"And give this back? I'll get an injunction against myself first.
Polly, I owe you twenty-five hundred dollars. Here's the money."

"This is so sudden," she coyly observed. "My memory's poor, though,
Johnny."

"It's a promise I made myself: If I won this bet half of the winnings
belonged to the babies' hotel."

"Wait, Johnny," objected Polly, pushing the money away from her. "I'd
rather have you on the new subscription list, by and by, for the
furnishing and remodeling fund."

"I'll go on both of them," he offered, putting the money in her lap.
"You ought to know that I stick."

"Yes, you do," she sighed, and passed him the list, covertly pointing
out Gresham's name as she did so and showing the amount opposite it to
be one hundred dollars.

"Mr. Gamble wants to make sure that you'll get it," sneered Gresham,
and laughed. He was anxious to belittle Gamble in the eyes of Constance.

"If Johnny Gamble puts his name down it's as good as paid!" flared
Polly. "By the way, Mr. Gresham, I have that Corn Exchange check blank
for you now."

She handed him the blank and her fountain-pen; and, with some slight
reluctance, Mr. Gresham paid his subscription.

"Thanks," said Polly briskly. "Johnny, did you say I should put you on
the other list for the same amount?"

Constance leaned hastily forward, with the impulse to interfere against
so foolhardy a thing, but caught herself; and, leaning back, she looked
at Johnny Gamble in profile and smiled. There was something fascinating
about the fellow's clear-eyed assurance as he cheerfully answered: "If
you please, Polly."

"It will take you four hundred hours now to make your million," Gresham
advised him, with scarcely concealed contempt.

"I'm no loafer," Gamble declared.

They all laughed at that.

"I beg your pardon," apologized Gresham. "Let's see. How long will it
take you to make your million at the rate of five thousand an hour? How
many hours a day?"

"About seven on regular days; three on Saturdays."

Both the girls were still laughing at the absurdity of it all.

"Counting off for Sundays, you should have your million in about forty
days," persisted Gresham, figuring it with pencil and paper.

Johnny studied the problem carefully.

"All right; I'll do it," he announced, and looked at his watch.

"Bravo!" applauded Constance. "If you could succeed in that you would
display a force which nothing could resist."

Gresham looked at her with a quick frown.

"And if he failed he would display a presumption which nothing could
forgive," he paraphrased. "If it's not asking too much, Mr. Gamble, I'm
curious to know how you propose to accumulate your million." And he
smiled across at Miss Joy, who turned to Gamble, waiting interestedly
for his reply.

"Work a lot of neglected stunts. I never wanted to make a million till
now. I know how, though. I think I'll start with real estate." And he
watched Gresham narrowly.

"That's a dismal enough opening," announced Gresham with a pained
expression. "It is impossible to secure a decent price for property,
especially when you want to sell it."

"If you want to get rid of some I'll buy it," offered Gamble promptly.

"I want cash." And again Gresham smiled over at Constance. The slight
trace of a frown flitted across her brow. She had always thought of
Gresham as a man of perfect breeding.

"Name the right figure. I'll make a deal with you on the spot."

"This is scarcely the place for business," Gresham reproved him.

"I beg pardon," Gamble quickly said, and looked at Constance, a trifle
abashed.

"Please go ahead," that young lady urged. "This is more fun than the
races."

"Thanks." He smiled gratefully, "Now, Gresham, let's get down to
statistics. These are working hours. Here's twenty-five hundred."

"What for?" asked Gresham, looking at the money avariciously.

"To show confidence in the dealer. You have a vacant lot up-town.
What's it worth?"

"Forty thousand dollars," recited Graham.

"If you want forty it's worth thirty," Gamble sagely concluded. "I'll
split it with you. Give you thirty-five."

Gresham shook his head; but Gamble, watching him closely, saw that he
was figuring.

"I can't let the property go for less than its value."

"I don't want you to. I offered you thirty-five."

"On what terms?" inquired Gresham cautiously.

"Thirty days cash. This twenty-five hundred is a first payment. I want
a renewable option. If I don't cross over with the balance in thirty
days, spend the money."

"What do you mean by a renewable option?" asked Gresham, hesitating.

"When this option runs out I get another at the same price--and twice
more after that."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Gresham, turning away. "Why, I'd be letting you
tie up my property for four months."

"I'm offering you over eighty per cent, a year. You'd rather stay tied."

Gresham pondered that problem for a moment.

"By Jove, you're right!" he said. "I'm selfish enough to hope that you
can't pay for it in thirty days." He reflected that in all probability
this reckless person was playing another long shot. "I'll take you."

Gamble piled the money into his hands, and with Polly's fountain-pen,
wrote a clear and concise statement of the option upon the back of an
unimportant letter. Gresham, as soon as he had finished counting the
money with caressing fingers, read and reread the option
cautiously--and signed it.

Polly reached out for it.

"Let me witness this," she requested with a glance of meaning at her
friend Johnny; and, writing the word "Witnesses" in its proper place,
she signed her name and passed the paper to Miss Joy. "Come in,
Constance; the water's fine," she invited. "Be a witness with me and
let's all be in vulgar trade."

Constance signed the paper gravely, puckering her lips adorably as she
made a careful business of it. She gave the paper to Mr. Gamble, and he
felt foolish enough to kiss the signature. She found another paper upon
her lap and opened it mechanically. It was the subscription list.
Suddenly she burst into laughter.

"This last donation is from Angora!" she exclaimed. "That's a generous
subscription, Mr. Gamble; but I don't know whether to thank you or the
horse."

"Thank the goat, whoever that is," he suggested, smiling into her eyes.
Great Scott, what eyes they were! "Polly, Colonel Bouncer is over there
by the band stand. I'll give you a nickel's worth of peanuts if you'll
tell him what I'm doing."

Mr. Gresham turned olive green.

"Wait a minute, Miss Parsons," he protested. "Mr. Gamble, you manage
very nicely without Mr. Collaton. If you knew of a probable purchaser
for my property you have just taken a most unethical advantage of me."

"You didn't have your fingers crossed," Gamble serenely reminded him.

"Not once," corroborated Polly. "I watched him all the time. Just leave
the colonel to me, Johnny. I'll scare him to death on the way here,"
and she hurried away upon her errand.

"I suppose I must take my medicine," said Gresham glumly. "I should
have sent you to my lawyer. I might have known that your business
ethics and my own would be entirely different."

"What are business ethics, Mr. Gresham?" asked Constance with
suspicious innocence.

"There do not seem to be any," he responded.

"I never heard of any," agreed Gamble cheerfully. "My principle is, See
it first and grab it."

"That's the rule of every highwayman, I believe," charged Gresham. "You
will excuse me for a few moments, please?" And he hurried away in
pursuit of a man whom he had seen passing.

"That's the rule of life," said Gamble. "I had to learn it quick. It
took me four months to save up my first eighteen dollars. I thought I'd
never get it."

"You must have wanted something very much," suggested Constance,
smiling sympathetically at her vision of this man as a boy, hoarding
his pennies and nickels like a miser for so long a time.

"I did," he admitted simply. "I wanted a cook stove with silver knobs.
The day I had it brought home was the proudest of my life. My mother
knelt down and hugged it. It had four lids and not one of them was
cracked."

Constance looked at him with a musing smile. He must have been a
handsome boy.



CHAPTER IV

IN WHICH GRESHAM FINDS JOHNNY'S OLD PARTNER ACCOMMODATING


Beneath the grandstand, Gresham caught up with a thin-faced and
sandy-haired man whose colorless eyebrows and almost colorless eyes
gave his waxlike countenance a peculiarly blank expression--much as if
one had drawn a face and had forgotten to mark in the features. The man
started nervously as Gresham touched him on the shoulder, and his thin
lips parted in a frightened snarl.

"You have such a ghastly way of slipping up behind one," he complained,
brushing the shoulder upon which Gresham had laid his hand.

"You're nervous, Collaton. I'm not Johnny Gamble," laughed Gresham.

"Suppose you were!" indignantly retorted Collaton. "I'm not avoiding
Johnny." And he studied Gresham furtively.

"The Gamble-Collaton books are. Do you imagine there are any more
outstanding accounts against your firm?"

"How should I know?" Collaton glanced about him uneasily.

"True enough--how should you?" agreed Gresham soothingly. "I'd feel
rather sorry for Gamble if an old and forgotten note against your firm,
upon which a judgment had been quietly secured 'by default', should
turn up just now."

"I don't think one will," returned Collaton, searching Gresham's eyes.
"Why?"

"Because he is almost certain to make a deposit in the Fourth National
Bank in a short time."

"That's a very good reason," laughed Collaton, now certain of the eyes.

"If that deposit were to be attached," went on Gresham suavely, "it
might embarrass him very much." There was a slight pause. "If you'll
call me up to-night I'll let you know how much it will be and when he
is likely to bank it."

"Why do you tell me this?" puzzled Collaton.

"Because I want him broke!" explained Gresham, his face suddenly
twitching viciously in spite of himself.

Collaton thought it over carefully.

"What's your telephone number?" he accommodatingly inquired.

Colonel Bouncer, meanwhile, was flattered to have Polly Parsons pause
at his seat as she came down the aisle, after an extended passage at
arms with Val Russel, and tell him how young he looked.

"Gad, you'd make any man feel young and brisk!" he gallantly declared.

"Wasn't that Paul Gresham in Mrs. Boyden's box?"

"Yes; the very Paul," she assured him, glad that the colonel was making
it so easy for her. "He's going to give you a new neighbor, Colonel.
He's just been discussing a deal with Mr. Gamble for the vacant
property next to your factory."

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated the colonel, rising hastily. "He hasn't
actually sold it, has he?"

"He has given Mr. Gamble an option on it," Polly was happy to state.

"You don't say!" exploded the colonel. "Why, what does Johnny Gamble
want with it?"

"He didn't tell; but I think he's organizing a shoe-manufacturing
company," lied Polly glibly.

"Goodness me!" muttered the colonel, and, breathing heavily, he cursed
his procrastination heartily to himself, threw discretion to the winds
and hurried down to the Boyden box just as Gresham returned. His
greeting to the other occupants was but perfunctory, and then he turned
to Gresham with: "You haven't sold your property adjoining my factory,
have you, Gresham?"

"Well, I've given Mr. Gamble an option on it," admitted Gresham
reluctantly.

"For how much?"

"That would be telling," interposed Gamble.

"For how long is your option?" the colonel demanded.

"Thirty days."

"What are you buying it for--investment or improvement?"

"That would be telling again."

"Will you sell it?"

"Depends on the price."

"What'll you take for it?"

"Fifty-five thousand."

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the colonel. "Why, man, that's robbery! I'll
never pay it. I'll take a chance on waiting until your option expires,
then I'll do business with Gresham. Gresham, what will you want for the
property if Gamble, or WHEN Gamble doesn't take it up?"

"Fifty thousand," said Gresham, and glanced darkly at Gamble.

Miss Joy interrupted with a laugh. Gresham looked at her inquiringly,
but he did not ask her the joke. She volunteered an explanation,
however.

"I'm just framing a definition of business ethics," she stated; "but
really I don't see the difference between yours and Mr. Gamble's."

"Business ethics consists in finding a man who has some money, and
hitting him behind the ear with a sand-bag," explained the colonel.
"Even your price is a holdup, Gresham; but I think I can buy it for
less when the time comes--if I want it."

"You'll have four months to make up your mind," said Gamble with a
triumphant look at Constance.

"I thought your option was for only thirty days."

"It's renewable three times."

"Bless my soul!" shouted the colonel. "That puts an entirely different
face upon the matter. If you don't want too much money for it, Gamble,
I don't mind confessing that I'd like to build an extension to my
factory on that property. Now that my defenses are down, soak me."

"I couldn't refuse a little thing like that. I'll soak you all I can. I
said fifty-five thou-sand, you know."

"You didn't mean it, though!" expostulated the colonel.

"What did I mean then?"

"You meant forty thousand."

"As a mind-reader you're a flivver," chided Gamble. "I'll let you down
one notch, Colonel. I'll make it fifty thousand--and not one cent less."

The colonel looked at him sorrowfully.

"Do you really mean that, Johnny?" he inquired.

"I really mean it."

"Well, if you say you really mean it you really mean it. I know you
well enough for that," admitted the colonel with a sigh. "It's a rank
robbery though. I'll take you, Johnny."

Gamble turned to Gresham.

"If you don't mind, I'll just transfer my option to the colonel," he
suggested.

"The game is in your hands--for the present," Gresham acknowledged.

"We'll just fix it up that way, then, Colonel. Polly, lend me your
fountain-pen again. Colonel, you may hand me your check for seventeen
thousand five hundred. You may pay the balance of the money to
Gresham--upon delivery, I suppose, of the deed."

"Surely," said the colonel nonchalantly; and, producing his own
fountain-pen and check-book, he wrote Johnny Gamble's check, while
Gamble wrote a transfer of his option. Constance watched that
unquestioning operation between the two gentlemen with puzzled brows.

"You're not taking this matter to your lawyer, Colonel," she observed.

"Certainly not!" he replied in surprise. "I've known Johnny Gamble for
years, and I'd take his word for my entire bank-account."

"I must confess that business ethics has me more confused than ever,"
laughed Constance. "You just now accused Mr. Gamble of robbing you."

It was the colonel's turn to laugh.

"I'd have paid him sixty thousand," he advised her, placing the option
affectionately in his pocket-book. "It's worth that to me. I've been
afraid to broach the matter to Gresham for a month, for fear he'd want
seventy-five when he found out I had to have it. I'm getting it cheaper
through Gamble."

A fleeting trace of guilt upon Gresham's countenance told that this
surmise was the truth, and Constance shook her head.

"I don't suppose I shall ever understand it," she confessed.

"I don't, myself," observed Gamble, passing the colonel's check between
his fingers quite happily. "I can loaf three hours now on that
two-hundred-hour stunt, thanks to you, Gresham."

"You had your start by luck," Gresham reminded him.

"Not at all," insisted Gamble cheerfully. "I would have borrowed the
money from the colonel to buy that option. How's that for ethics, Miss
Joy?"

"It's quite in keeping with your methods of the day," rejoined Gresham.
"I still insist that you took an unfair advantage of me."

The colonel, who regretted to be compelled to dislike anybody, turned
upon Gresham a dissatisfied eye.

"Oh, play the game or stay out of it!" he advised. "I'll see you at my
lawyer's to-morrow at eleven. Come with me a minute, Johnny. I want you
to meet a friend of mine who has a big real estate deal on tap, and he
may not go back on our train to-night."

Johnny Gamble made his adieus from the Boyden box with reluctance. The
horses were lining up at the barrier for the last race, and he might
not return in time. While he was bidding a thoroughly inadequate
good-by to Constance, Loring came up hastily and called Polly from the
box.

"Sammy Chirp called my attention to Gresham and Collaton talking
together rather furtively down under the grandstand a few minutes ago,"
he said. "I have a curious impression that they mean harm to Gamble."

"It was Gresham got the harm. Johnny just beat him to a
fifteen-thousand-dollar profit."

"So that was it," said Loring with a frown. "Tell him to watch out.
They were about to attach his bank-account the last time he paid an
unexpected note," and he lounged into the box.

Polly followed Johnny Gamble when he started to rejoin the colonel.

"Do me a favor, please, Johnny," she begged.

"Certainly," he returned. "Do you know what it is?"

"Here's my fountain-pen. Indorse that check over to me, won't you?"

"What's the joke?" he asked.

"I don't want you to have the money. I'm in a hurry now."

"Well, I'm broke again," laughed Johnny in perfect confidence; and he
indorsed the check.

"The most thoroughgoing plebe I ever saw," Gresham commented, looking
after Gamble. "It's so fortunate that one is only compelled to meet him
in public places."

Constance glanced at him curiously and hurried to the rear rail of the
box. She barely mentioned Mr. Gamble's name, and it was surprising how
easily he heard her and how quickly he came back.

"I forgot to ask you to call," she said. "If you can spare any time
from your pursuit of that million dollars we should be glad to see you
at the house--Aunt Pattie and I."

"Will you be busy to-morrow evening?" he briskly inquired.

"There's no one expected but Mr. Gresham," she informed him with a
smile at his precipitancy.

"I'll be there," he stated with businesslike decisiveness. "I'll bring
along from five to twenty thousand dollars' worth of time and use up as
much of it as you'll let me."

"I'll have a meter," she laughed.



CHAPTER V

IN WHICH JOHNNY DISPLAYS TALENT AS A TRUE PROMOTER


"I don't know much about bookkeeping, but I guess this will do,"
observed Johnny, passing over his first attempt for inspection.

Loring examined the little book with keen enjoyment. Johnny had opened
an account with himself and had made five entries. On the debit side
appeared the following items:

  April 22. To three working hours, $15,000
  April 23. Sunday.
  April 24. To desk rent, ...$38
  April 24. To seven working hours, $35,000

On the credit side was this:

  April 22. By skinning Paul Gresham--good work, ..... $15,000

"How is it?" asked Gamble anxiously.

"Good work!" pronounced Loring with a chuckle. "They may not teach this
sort of bookkeeping in commercial colleges. Their kind is stiff and
dry. This has personality. Why am I two dollars shy on desk rent,
though? I thought you were to take forty days to make your million
dollars?"

"That's right," admitted Johnny; "seven hours on week-days and three on
Saturdays--two hundred hours at five thousand an hour. I started on
Saturday, however. To-day is Monday. This morning is when I begin to
use your desk-room. Here's your dollar a day until four P.M., May
thirty-first." And he handed Loring thirty-eight dollars.

"You're not really going to try that absurd stunt?" protested Loring
incredulously.

"I have to. Miss Joy will think I'm a four-flusher if I don't."

"Miss Joy again!" laughed Loring. "You only met her Saturday, and I
don't think you've thought of another thing since."

"Gresham and her million," corrected Johnny, and he started for the
door.

"Where are you going--if anybody should ask for you?" inquired Loring.

"Fourth National."

"To deposit Gresham's fifteen thousand?"

"No," laughed Gamble. "Polly took that away from me."

"That's a good safe place for it," returned Loring, relieved.

"Safe as the mint," corroborated Johnny, and hurried out.

As he went up the steps of the Fourth National Bank a pallid-faced
young man, with eyebrows, eyelashes and hair so nearly the color of his
skin that they were invisible, watched him out of the window of a taxi
that had been standing across the street ever since the bank had
opened. As soon as Johnny entered the door the young man gave a
direction to the driver, and the taxi hurried away.

President Close was conservatively glad to see Johnny. He was a
crisp-faced man, with an extremely tight-cropped gray mustache; and not
a single crease in his countenance was flexible in the slightest
degree. He had an admiration amounting almost to affection for
Johnny--provided the promising young man did not want money.

"Good morning," he greeted his caller. "What can we do for you to-day?"
And in great haste he mentally reviewed the contents of credit envelope
G-237. That envelope, being devoted to Mr. Gamble, contained a very
clear record; so Mr. Close came as near to smiling as those cast-iron
creases would allow.

"Want to give the Fourth National as a reference," returned Johnny
cheerfully.

"I see," assented Mr. Close, immediately ceasing to smile; for now
approached the daily agony of life--the grudging of credit. "I see; I
see. Do you propose engaging in a new venture?"

"Just as often as I can find one," stated Johnny briskly.

Mr. Close looked at him with stern disapproval.

"That does not sound like a very stable frame of mind," he chided.
"What do you propose to do first?"

"A twenty-story hotel."

"That runs into millions!" gasped Close, and reached out to touch a
button upon his desk; but Johnny Gamble stayed that hand.

"You're after my balance," he said. "It's twelve dollars and
thirty-seven cents."

"Well, you see, Mr. Gamble, under the circumstances--" hesitated Mr.
Close.

"I know," interrupted the applicant; "you can only say I'm good for
twelve-thirty-seven. I don't ask you to back me. If anybody 'phones
you, just say I'm a good boy."

Mr. Close almost smiled again.

"So far as the moral risk is concerned I shall have no hesitation in
speaking most highly of you," he granted.

"And don't laugh when you say it," Johnny admonished, smiling
cheerfully, for he knew that Close always did better than he promised.
"Tell them this, can't you?--I've banked with you for five years. I've
run about a ton of money through your shop. I've been broke a dozen
times and I never left a debt behind me. I've been trusted and I always
made good. I guess you could say all that if you stopped to take a
couple of breaths, couldn't you?"

"I shall certainly say those things if I am asked about them," replied
Mr. Close, considering them carefully, one by one. "Don't hesitate to
refer to me. I'll do the best I conscientiously can for you."

Johnny stood waiting for the stream of the traffic to stop for the
cross-current, so that he could go over to the subway, when a big blue
touring car stopped just in front of him, and the driver, a hearty
young woman all in blue, including plumes and shoes, hailed him
joyously.

"Jump in, Johnny!" she invited. "I found a four-leaf clover this
morning--and here I'm lucky already. Sammy, run into the drug store for
some chocolates. Johnny, sit up here with me."

Sammy Chirp, who tied his own cravats and did them nicely, smiled
feebly in recognition of Johnny Gamble, lugged Miss Polly Parson's
bouquet, parasol, fan, hand-bag and coat back into the tonneau and went
upon his errand.

"Thanks, Sammy," said Johnny, and clambered into young Chirp's place in
the car. "Where are you going to take me?"

"Any place you say," rejoined Polly.

"Drive over on Seventh Avenue, then," he directed. "There's a lot of
shack property around the new terminal station. I want to build a
smashing big hotel over there. I don't see why somebody hasn't done it."

Polly puzzled over that matter considerably herself.

"It doesn't seem possible that New York would overlook a bet like
that," she declared, and obeying the traffic policeman's haughty
gesture, turned briskly off Broadway.

"Why not?" he demanded. "New York grabs a cinch. The cinch has been
kicking around loose for fifty years. New York pats herself on the pink
bald spot. 'Nothing gets by me!' she says."

"New York's the best town in the world!" Polly flared.

"I wasn't insulting your friend," apologized Johnny, and looked at his
watch. "Great Scott! It's ten-thirty!" he exploded. "I owe myself
seventy-five hundred dollars. All I've done is to decide on a Terminal
Hotel Company. Want some stock, Polly?"

"I'll take all I can reach if you're leading it around," she assured
him. "I can't take much, but I'll make Daddy Parsons go in, and I'll be
a nuisance to every moneyed man I know."

"By the by, where's the fifteen thousand I made Saturday?" Johnny asked.

"In my bank," she replied. "I just deposited it."

"Why did you take it away from me--if it's any of my business?" he
wanted to know.

"I was afraid they'd snatch it from you," she returned. "Gresham was
all peeved up because you took fifteen thousand away from him in front
of Constance. Loring saw Gresham and your old partner talking together
immediately afterward; and he told me that they might frame up some
crooked scheme to grab the money. I didn't have a chance to explain, so
I asked you to indorse the check to me."

"Do you think Collaton's crooked?" Johnny asked with a queer smile.

"I can think he's crooked without batting an eyelash. I can think it
about Gresham too."

"Why do you have that idea about Gresham?"

"Because I don't like him," she triumphantly argued.

"Shake!" invited Johnny. "I know six reasons why I can do without him.
What are your six?"

"One is because I don't like him, and another is because he's going to
marry Constance, and the other four are because I don't like him," she
calmly summed up.

"Does Constance say he's going to marry her?" he inquired crisply.

"Not in so many words."

"Then I don't believe it. I wouldn't marry him for six millions."

"Constance can't be so careless. If they break you they can't sprint
fast enough to keep it; but if they take it away from Constance she's
broke."

"It's ten-forty!" groaned Johnny. "I'm slow on that million.
Constance'll think I'm loafing."

"Is she interested?"

"She promised last night to keep score. Gresham was there. I looked,
any minute, to see him bite himself in the neck and die of poison.
Polly, he can't have her."

"You'd better tell Constance about that," laughed Polly. "Why, Johnny,
you had never seen her or heard of her forty-eight hours ago!"

"I know; I didn't have the right chances when I was young!"

Polly gazed upon him admiringly.

"I've seen swift love affairs before, but you've set a new record!" she
exclaimed. "Well, I'm for you, Johnny. Since poor Billy's parents
adopted me and made me a cousin of Constance, I can trot up her stone
steps any minute; and she treats me as if I'd had my first bottle in a
pink-silk boudoir. I'll make it my business to run up there twice a day
and boost for you."

"Don't be too strong!" Johnny hastily warned her. "Boost half of the
time if you want to, but be sure and knock the other half."

"I guess it would be better," soberly agreed Polly--"even with
Constance. Here's your terminal station. Pick out your corner and drive
a claim stake."

Polly obligingly drove slowly around three sides of the huge new
terminal. Directly opposite the main entrance was a vacant plot of
ground, with a frontage of an entire block and a depth of four hundred
feet. Big white signs upon each corner told that it was for sale by
Mallard & Tyne. They stopped in front of this location, while both
Johnny and Polly ranged their eyes upward, by successive steps, to the
roof garden which surmounted the twentieth story of Johnny's imaginary
Terminal Hotel.

"It's a nifty-looking building, Johnny!" she complimented him as they
turned to each other with sheepish smiles.

"I'm going to tear it down and put up a better one," he briskly told
her. "I'll hand you a piece of private information. If the big railroad
company which built this terminal station doesn't own that blank space
it's a fool--and I don't think it is. If it does the property will be
held for ever for the increase in value. Let's look at these other
blocks. The buildings on the one next to it are worth about a plugged
nickel apiece--and that would make exactly as good a location."

"But, Johnny; you couldn't build a hotel in forty days!"

"Build it! I don't want to. I only want to promote it."

"Does a promoter never build?" asked Polly.

"Not if he can escape," replied Johnny. "All a promoter ever wants to
do is to collect the first ninety-nine years' profits and promote
something else. Drive me up to the address on that real estate sign and
I'll pay you whatever the clock says and let you go."

"The clock says a one-pound box of chocolates," she promptly estimated.
"Wait, though. I did send for some!" And she looked back into the
tonneau. "Why, drat it all! I mislaid Sammy!" she gasped.



CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH CONSTANCE DECIDES ON A FAIR GAME


By three o'clock Johnny Gamble had acquired so much hotel information
that his head seemed stuffed. Every bright-eyed financier in the city
had nursed the happy thought of a terminal hotel and had made tentative
plans--and had jerked back with quivering tentacles; for all the
property in that neighborhood was about a thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
The present increase of value and that of the next half-century had
been gleefully anticipated, and the fortunate possessor of a
ninety-nine-year lease on a peanut stand felt that he was providing
handsomely for his grandchildren.

Mr. Gamble detailed these depressing facts to his friend Loring with
much vigor and picturesqueness.

"The trouble with New York is that everybody wants to collect the
profits that are going to be made," Loring sagely concluded.

"It's the only way they can get even," Johnny informed him. "Well,
that's the regular handicap. Guess I'll have to take it."

"You don't mean to try to promote a hotel against such inflated
values!" protested Loring.

"Why not?" returned Johnny. "That section has to have a hotel. The
sporty merchants of the Middle West will pay the freight."

"I guess so," agreed Loring thoughtfully. "Well, good luck to you,
Johnny! By the way, President Close of the Fourth National, has called
you up twice this afternoon. I suppose he's gone, by now."

"No, I think he stays to sweep out for the gold-dust," surmised Johnny,
and telephoned to the bank. Mr. Close, however, had gone home an hour
before.

"He's sensible," approved Loring, putting away his papers. "This
weather would tempt a mole outdoors. I'm going to the ball game. Better
come along."

"Too frivolous for me," declared Johnny, eying his little book
regretfully. "There's a thirty-five-thousand-dollar day almost gone.
All I can credit myself with is a flivver. I'm going to stay right here
on the job and figure hotel."

At three-thirty Loring returned.

"So you're not going to the game, Johnny?" he observed with a sly smile.

"At five thousand an hour! Nev-ver!"

"Too bad," regretted Loring still smiling. "I just saw Constance and
Polly. They're going out."

Johnny promptly slammed several sheets of figures into a drawer.

"Is there room for me in your car?" he asked anxiously.

"Val Russel and Bruce Townley are with me. There's plenty of room--but
you really ought to stay here and figure on your hotel," Loring advised
him.

"I can figure any place," stated Johnny briskly, and put away his
little book. "Are we ready?"

The eyes of Constance Joy lighted with pleasure as she saw the group
which filed into the box adjoining the one in which she sat with Polly
Parsons, Paul Gresham, Colonel Bouncer, and Sammy Chirp; and Gresham
watched her discontentedly as she shook hands with Gamble. He did not
like the cordiality of that hand-shake, nor yet the animation of her
countenance. Neither did he like her first observation, which consisted
not of any remarks about health or the weather, but about Johnny's
intimate personal affairs.

"How is the million dollars coming on?" she had interestedly inquired,
and then sat down in Gresham's own chair, next to the dividing rail.
"You know, I promised to keep score for you."

"You may mark me a goose-egg for today," replied Johnny, sitting
comfortably beside her with only the thin board partition between them.

Gresham, his dark eyebrows meeting in a sinister line across his
forehead, smiled with grim satisfaction.

"People with money seem to be watching it on Mondays," he observed.

"They have to sleep some time," Polly quickly reminded him. "Your day
for a nap was Saturday."

"I'm guilty," admitted Gresham with a frowning glance at Johnny. "My
trance--day before yesterday--cost me fifteen thousand. I shan't forget
it soon."

"I'll bet you never will!" Polly agreed.

"Johnny was awake that day," declared Colonel Bouncer, laughing
heartily and reaching over to slap Gamble affectionately on the
shoulder. "He's fifteen thousand better off; and I guess he won't
forget that in a hurry."

"I've forgotten it now," asserted Johnny. "Colonel, I want to talk with
you about some stock in a big hotel opposite the new terminal station."

"Bless my soul--NO!" almost shouted the colonel. "I nearly got tangled
up in my friend Courtney's terminal hotel scheme--and I'm scared yet."

"Courtney?" repeated Johnny. "That's the name they gave me at Mallard &
Tyne's office this afternoon. They told me that he has tied up the only
available block the railroad company overlooked."

"Tied it up!" exploded the colonel. "Bless my soul, it has him tied up!
Courtney's company blew so high that none of the pieces has come down
yet. Meantime his enthusiasm is likely to cost him a round two and a
quarter million dollars."

"He must have had a high fever," commented Johnny. "How could a man be
so forgetful of that much money?"

"He thought his friends were game," explained the colonel; "and, in
spite of his long and successful business experience, he over-looked
the difference between a promise and a promissory note. He nailed his
stock subscribers down with hasty conversation only, and then rushed
off and grabbed the six collected parcels of that block, for fear it
might get away before he had his company legally organized."

"And now he can't unspike it," guessed Johnny smilingly. "Watch out,
Colonel!"

There was a lively scramble in the two boxes as the first foul tip of
the season whizzed directly at them. Gamble, who had captained his
village nine, had that ball out of the air and was bowing jovially to
the applause before Gresham had quite succeeded in squeezing himself
down behind the door of the box.

Naturally it was Polly who led the applause; and Constance shocked the
precise Gresham by joining in heartily.

She was looking up at Johnny with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks
when Gresham came out of his cyclone cellar--and, if he had disliked
Gamble before, now he hated him.

It is a strange feature of the American national game that the more
perfectly it is played the duller it is. This was a pitchers' battle;
and the game droned along, through inning after inning, with seldom
more than three men to bat in each half, while the score board
presented a most appropriate double procession of naughts. Spectators,
warmly praising that smoothly oiled mechanical process of one, two,
three and out, and telling each other that this was a great game,
nevertheless yawned and dropped their score cards, and put away their
pencils, and looked about the grandstand in search of faces they knew.

In such a moment Colonel Bouncer, who had come into this box because of
a huge admiration for Polly and an almost extravagant respect for
Constance, and who had heartily wished himself out of it during the
last two or three innings, now happily discovered a familiar face only
a few rows back of him. "By George, Johnny, there's Courtney now!" he
announced.

Gamble looked with keen interest.

"Do you mean that gentleman with the ruddy face and the white beard?"
he inquired.

"That's the old pirate," asserted the colonel.

"Why, that's the man you wanted to introduce me to at the race-track in
Baltimore Saturday."

"Bless my heart, so I did!" he remembered. "I thought it might relieve
him to tell his troubles to you. It isn't too late yet. Come on up and
I'll introduce you--that is, unless you want to watch this game."

"I'm pleased to pass up this game till somebody makes an error," Johnny
willingly decided. "If they'll hand out a base on balls and a safe bunt
and hit a batter, so as to get three men on bases with two out, and
then muft a high fly out against the fence, and boot the ball all over
the field while four of the Reds gallop home--I'll stay and help lynch
the umpire; otherwise not. Show me to your friend Courtney." He turned
to take courteous leave of the others and his eyes met the friendly
glance of Constance.

"Let's catch Mr. Courtney at the end of the game," he suggested to the
colonel; and then, turning directly to Constance, he added with a
laugh: "I think I'll play hooky. I don't want to break up the party."

"If you think you see an opportunity for that million, the official
scorer insists upon saying good-by," she laughed in return, and held
out her hand.

Johnny shook the hand with both pleasure and reluctance, and obediently
left.

"I'm offering my pet vanity parasol against a sliver of chewing-gum on
Johnny," Polly confided to Loring. "I could see it in his eye that Mr.
Courtney will be invited to help him make that million."

"Somebody ought to warn Courtney," Gresham commented sarcastically.

"Why warn him?" demanded Loring. "I'll guarantee that any proposition
Johnny makes him will be legitimate."

"No doubt," agreed Gresham. "A great many sharp practices are
considered legitimate nowadays."

"I object, also, to the term 'sharp practices'," responded Loring
warmly. "I don't believe there's a man in New York with a straighter
and cleaner record than Gamble's. Every man with whom he has ever done
business, except possibly yourself, speaks highly of him and would
trust him to any extent; and he does not owe a dollar in the world."

"Doesn't he?" snarled Gresham. "There's an unsatisfied attachment for
fifteen thousand dollars resting against him at the Fourth National
Bank at this very moment."

Loring's indignation gave way immediately to grave concern.

"So that's why Close was trying to get him on the 'phone all
afternoon!" he mused.

"Mr. Gresham," called Polly sharply, "how do you come to know about
this so quickly?"

Gresham cursed himself and the blind hatred which had led him into
making this slip; and he was the more uncomfortable because not only
Loring and Polly but Constance had turned upon him gravely questioning
eyes.

"Such things travel very rapidly in commercial circles," he lamely
explained.

"I had no idea that you were a commercial circle," retorted Polly. "I
wonder who's crooked." Gresham laughed shortly. "It isn't Johnny!" she
indignantly asserted. "I know how Johnny's fifteen thousand was saved
from this attachment, but I wouldn't tell where it is--even here."

Polly and Loring looked at each other understandingly.

"I suppose that was an old Gamble-Collaton account," Loring surmised
with another speculative glance at Gresham. "I am quite certain that
Johnny knows nothing whatever of this claim--let alone the attachment.
The operations of his big irrigation failure were so extensive that,
with the books lost, he can never tell when an additional claim may be
filed against him. If suit is made in an obscure court, and Collaton,
who hasn't a visible dollar, answers summons and confesses judgment for
the firm, Johnny has no recourse."

"Except to repudiate payment," suggested Gresham with a shrug of his
shoulders.

"I wish he would," returned Loring impatiently. "I wish he would let me
handle his affairs in my own way."

"He won't," Polly despaired.

"Tell me, Mr. Loring," interposed Constance, who had been silently
thoughtful all this while; "would this unpaid attachment at Mr.
Gamble's bank interfere with his present success if Mr. Courtney--or
any one else whom Mr. Gamble might try to interest--were to hear of it?"

"It might--and very seriously," returned Loring.

The long somnolent game was suddenly awakened by two blissful errors,
which gave the audience something to jeer at. A tally slipped home for
Boston. A sharp double play redeemed the errors and closed the inning.
The first man up for the Yankees drove a clean two-bagger down the
right foul line; the second man laid down his life nobly with a
beautiful bunt; the Boston pitcher gave a correct imitation of Orville
Wright and presented free rides to the next two Highlanders; big
Sweeney stalked to bat--and the congregation prayed, standing. Under
cover of all this quivering excitement, and with Gresham more absorbed
than ever upon the foul which might yet slay him, Constance turned to
Polly with an intent decisiveness which was quite new to her.

"Arrange it so that I may go home in Mr. Loring's car," she directed.

"Three cheers!" approved Polly, with a spiteful glance at Gresham.

Mr. Courtney, a live-looking elderly gentleman who kept himself more
carefully groomed than many a young man, had shaken hands with Mr.
Gamble quite cordially, had studied him through and through and through
in about half a second of time, and had finished the hand-shake more
cordially than he had begun it.

"The colonel has been saying all sorts of kind things about you,"--he
very graciously stated.

"So he has about you," returned Johnny, smiling into Mr. Courtney's
eyes and liking him.

"I suppose so," admitted Mr. Courtney. "The colonel's always blowing
about his friends, so we mustn't trust each other too far."

"That's a good way to start anyhow," laughed Johnny. "The colonel's
been telling me you're so trusting that you stung yourself."

"How's that?" asked Mr. Courtney, looking at the colonel in perplexity.
"I don't quite understand."

"On that hotel deal," the colonel affably reminded him, and was unkind
enough to laugh.

"You old reprobate!" protested Courtney. "I don't see why you want to
publish my disgrace."

"You deserve it," chuckled the colonel. "It won't hurt for Johnny to
know it though. He's the shrewdest young man of my acquaintance, and he
might be able to figure a way out of your dilemma for you."

"I might even be able to make some money out of it myself," Johnny
frankly acknowledged.

"Jump right in and welcome, young man," invited Courtney. "If you can
pull me out whole I don't care how much you make."

"We'll consider that a bargain," offered Gamble.

"All right," returned Courtney, smiling. "We'll shake hands on it in
the good old-fashioned way." And they did so, under Colonel Bouncer's
earnestly interested approval.

"Tell him your troubles," urged the colonel. "If it were my case, Ben,
I'd be yelling for help as long as I had breath in my body."

"It's very simple," explained Courtney. "I imagined that a big hotel at
the new terminal station would be the best investment in New York. I
spoke to a number of my financially active friends about it and they
were enthusiastic. I had verbal promises in one day's work of all the
money necessary to finance the thing. I found that the big vacant plot
across from the station was held at a prohibitive price. Mallard & Tyne
had, with a great deal of labor, collected the selling option on the
adjoining block, fronting the terminal. They held it at two and a
quarter millions. My friends, at an infernal luncheon, authorized me,
quite orally, indeed, to secure the cheaper site without a moment's
delay, especially since it was rumored that Morton Washer was
contemplating the erection of a hotel upon that very spot."

"I see the finish," laughed Johnny. "Mad with fear, you dashed right
down there and broke yourself! Then Union Pacific fell off an eighth;
they killed an insurrecto in Mexico; the third secretary of a
second-rate life-insurance company died and Wall Street put crape on
the door. All your friends got cold feet and it was the other fellow
who had urged you to buy that property. The colonel says you dropped a
hundred and twenty-five thousand. That's a stiff option. Can't you get
any of it back?"

"Get it back!" groaned Courtney. "They're after the balance. It wasn't
an option--it was a contract. If I don't pay the remainder at the end
of the ninety days they'll sue me; and I have several million dollars'
worth of property that I can't hide."

Gamble shrugged his shoulders resignedly.

"Your only chance is to build or sell," he decided. "It's your
property, all right. Have you offered it?"

"Old Mort Washer wants it--confound him! I've discovered that the day
after I bought this ground he told my friends that he intended to buy
the big piece and build in competition; and they ran like your
horse--Angora--last Saturday, Gamble. Now Washer offers to buy this
ground for two and an eighth millions--just the amount for which I will
be sued."

"Leaving you to try to forget the hundred and twenty-five thousand
you've already spent," figured Gamble. "Nice cheery thought of
Washer's! Of course you applauded?"

"With a brick--if I'd had one!" declared Courtney still angry.

Johnny smiled and looked thoughtfully out over the sunlit greensward.
There were electrifying plays down there; but, "fan" though he was, he
did not see them. Something in the tingle of it, however, seemed to
quicken his faculties.

"Sell me that block, Mr. Courtney," he suggested with a sudden
inspiration.

The mad mob rose to its feet just then and pleaded with Sweeney to "Hit
'er out!" Shrieks, howls and bellows resounded upon every hand;
purple-faced fans held their clenched fists tight to their breasts so
that they could implore the louder.

"On what terms?" shouted Courtney into Johnny's ear.

"I'll take over your contract," yelled Johnny beneath Courtney's hat
brim.

"On what terms?" repeated Courtney at the top of his voice.

"Bless your heart, Sweeney, slam it!" shrieked the now crimson-visaged
colonel. He was standing on his chair, with distended eyes, and waving
his hat violently.

"Your original price!" loudly called Johnny. "Pay you fifteen thousand
now, fifty thousand in thirty days and the balance in sixty."

Sweeney fanned. The atrocious tumult was drowned, in the twinkling of
an eyelash, in a dismal depthless gulf of painful silence. One could
have heard a mosquito wink.

"Where's my security?" bellowed Courtney in Johnny's ear, so
vociferously that all the grandstand turned in that direction and three
park policemen headed for the riot.

"Just come outside and I'll tell you," whispered Johnny with a grin.

"Ashley, how do you like your car?" asked Polly in the groaning calm
which followed Sweeney's infamous strike-out.

"I'm just designing a private medal for the builder," replied Loring.

"Self-cranker, isn't it?"

"Self-cranker, automatic oiler, and supplies its own gasolene. Why?"

"Well, Constance is talking of buying one, and mine is a little too
muscular for her. Suppose you take her for a spin after the game and
deliver her safely to her Aunt Pattie. I'll take the boys back in my
car."

"I'm cheating you in the exchange, but my conscience doesn't hurt me in
the least," accepted Loring with alacrity.

"I've never been in your car, Ashley," insinuated Gresham. "You might
invite me to try it out too."

"At five-thirty to-morrow evening," Ashley coolly advised him. "I'd be
very glad to have you come along now; but the car is engaged for a
strictly private demonstration."

Since the others were prepared to guy him unmercifully if he persisted,
Gresham hinted no more and, very much to his discomfort, saw Loring
gaily drive away with Constance.

On Riverside Drive, Loring spent the first fifteen minutes in extolling
the virtues of his car and Constance listened with patient attention;
but during the first convenient silence she surprised Loring with a bit
of crisp business talk.

"Would you mind telling me the history of Mr. Gamble's partnership with
Mr. Collaton?" she asked.

"I guess I heard what you said," he returned doubtfully, and he looked
at her in astonishment. "Of course you know that Johnny is a client of
mine."

"I know that he is a friend of yours also," she reminded him.

"On that basis I'll tell you anything you want to know," laughed
Loring. "Johnny was doing an excellent business in real estate
speculation when this man Collaton came to him with an enormous
irrigation scheme. They formed a partnership. Collaton went out West to
superintend the reclaiming of some thousands of acres of arid land,
while Johnny stayed here to sell rose-bordered farms to romantic city
home seekers. Collaton spent money faster than Johnny could get it, and
operations had to be discontinued. Johnny has been paying the debts of
the concern ever since. Every time he thinks he has them cleared off, a
new set bobs up; and, since the books and all the papers are lost, he
can't prove or disprove anything. Johnny can't even dissolve the
partnership so long as there are indefinite outstanding accounts. Now,
Constance, I'm not a good lawyer or I would not, even in strict
confidence like this, say the following, to wit and namely: I think
Collaton is a plain ordinary sneak-thief."

They were both silent for a little time.

"Doesn't it seem rather strange that the people who hold claims against
Mr. Gamble should just happen to attach his bank-account on the very
day he was expected to make a deposit, and for the identical amount?"
Constance asked in a puzzled way.

Loring gave her a startled glance.

"It does seem strange," he admitted.

"It would almost seem as if these people had been informed by some one
who knew Mr. Gamble's circumstances quite intimately," she went on.

"That is a very delicate matter to discuss," Loring, with professional
caution, gravely reminded her, fearing that she might mention Gresham's
name.

"You are quite right," she agreed. "What does Mr. Gamble think about it
all?"

"Johnny does a lot of thinking and a lot of talking, but you can't hear
what he thinks," replied Loring with a smile. "He is outwardly
assuming--and where Collaton is certain to have it repeated to
him--that Collaton was merely unfortunate; but I believe he is only
waiting for a proof--and then I imagine he will drop on Collaton and
whoever is helping him like a ton of pig-iron."

"I hope he does!" declared Constance with such sudden vindictiveness
that Loring laughed.

"You seem to have acquired a violent partisanship," he charged her with
a curious smile.

"Yes, I have," she admitted with a slight flush. "I like fair play. I
believe I have a very even temper, but it angers me to see any one so
open and manly and generous as Mr. Gamble made a victim of mean
trickery."

"He's a handsome boy too," commented Loring, grinning.

"Well, suppose he is," she petulantly laughed.

"He has a right to be," granted Loring, looking at her with renewed
admiration. With a slight flush of confusion upon her she was even more
charming than he had ever thought her before. "If I had so
tantalizingly pretty a girl so interested in my fortunes I wouldn't
care whether they perfected aeroplanes or not," he ventured with the
freedom of an old friend.

"You may come down now, thank you," she sweetly informed him. "Can't
you get Mr. Gamble to make you his receiver or trustee, or something,
for the irrigation company?"

"I might now," mused Loring. "He's so interested in the impulsive
attempt to make his million dollars that I think I could persuade him.
He seems to be really serious about that million."

"Of course he's serious about it," asserted Constance almost
indignantly. "Don't you suppose he can do it?"

"Well, this is the age of financial miracles," acknowledged Loring, but
with a shake of his head. "He can't do it, though, if Collaton gobbles
up all he makes and injures his credit besides."

Constance drew a deep breath.

"I wish you to act as my agent, Ashley," she said crisply. "Mr. Gamble
is certain to make some money, is he not?"

"Johnny will always make money," he assured her.

"If you bring in a bill against him for money you have expended, after
you have wound up the Gamble-Collaton affairs, he will, of course, pay
it."

"As quickly as he can find a fountain-pen and a check-book."

"I wish to loan him some money without his knowledge. I want you to
take fifteen thousand dollars early to-morrow morning and pay that
attachment, or whatever it is, at his bank. Naturally I do not want Mr.
Gamble to know that I am interested; and I look to you to manage it so
that, when the money is returned to me, he shall imagine that you have
advanced the funds."

"I can arrange that easily enough," Loring promised her. "Constance, I
suppose I ought to advise you that this is silly; but I'm glad you're
doing it. Moreover, I feel certain that, if this entanglement is
straightened out, Johnny may take a new interest in the irrigation
company and, by handling it himself, may recover all his losses."

"I sincerely hope so," returned Constance earnestly. "You know I've
taken a queer interest in this quixotic attempt of Mr. Gamble's to make
his million. It's like a fascinating game, and I almost feel as if I
were playing it myself--I'm so eager about it."

"And your spirit of fair play is aroused," Loring said.



CHAPTER VII

IN WHICH JOHNNY DREAMS OF A MAGNIFICENT TWENTY-STORY HOTEL


The other terminal hotel projects had been kept very quiet, indeed,
lest the jealous promoters of similar enterprises might be whetted into
greediness; but no such modesty seemed to attend the plans of the
Terminal Hotel Company; in fact, it seemed to court publicity--and,
since Johnny Gamble was known and liked by a host of newspaper men, it
received plenty of attention. After the ball game Johnny rode down to
Mr. Courtney's club with him to dinner; and when he was through talking
to Courtney he immediately called on his newspaper friends.

When Loring arrived at the office in the morning he found Johnny
immersed in a pile of papers--and gloating.

"Say, Johnny, I want you to give me power of attorney to wind up the
Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company," was Loring's morning greeting.

"Go as far as you like," Johnny told him without looking up from a
glowing account of the magnificent new hostelry.

"Good for you!" approved Loring. "I'd expected to have half an hour's
wrestle with you--and I couldn't afford it, for this is my busy day. I
want you to understand this, Johnny: If I take that old partnership off
your hands you're to ask no questions."

"Go twice as far as you like," offered Johnny indifferently. "I've
forgotten there ever was a Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company. Listen
to this, Loring: 'Surmounting the twentieth story of the magnificent
new structure there will be a combined roof garden, cafe and theater,
running continuous vaudeville--'"

"This agreement, entered into this twenty-fifth day of April," began
the discordantly hurried voice of Loring. He was dictating to his
stenographer a much more comprehensive agreement than a mere power of
attorney; and as soon, as it was ready Johnny signed it without a
question.

"Get this, Ashley?" he remarked, handing back Loring's pen and reading
gleefully from another paper: "'A subway entrance into the new terminal
station is being negotiated--'"

"All right," said Loring, putting on his hat. "Good-by!"--and he was
gone.

If Loring professed but slight interest in the flamboyant plans for the
new hotel, there were others who were painfully absorbed in the news of
the project. Gresham, for one, read the account with contracted brows
at his late breakfast; and at noon, inspired by a virtuous sense of
duty, he sauntered over to Courtney's club.

"I see you're involved in another hotel proposition," he ventured.

"I hope involved is not the word," returned Courtney with rather a wry
smile.

"Is your company fully organized?" asked Gresham with a trace of more
than polite interest.

"I think not," answered Courtney. "I'm not in a position to state,
however, as the matter is out of my hands. I am taking some stock in
it, of course; but I have nothing to do with the organization of the
company, since I have sold the ground to Mr. Gamble."

"Gamble?" repeated Gresham. "Oh, is that so?"

His tone was so deprecative that Courtney was sharply awakened by it.

"Do you know anything against Gamble?" he quite naturally inquired.

"Not a thing," Gresham hastily assured him. "Anyhow, you have sold him
the property and are fully secured?"

"I've sold it to him under contract," replied Courtney, ready, in view
of his recent experiences, to become panic-stricken at a moment's
notice.

"Of course, if anything happens you can reclaim the property," Gresham
considered. "It forms its own security; but still, any one holding a
private claim against Gamble might try to attach it and give you a
nasty entanglement."

"There doesn't seem to be any danger of that," argued Courtney, looking
worried, nevertheless. "He was able to show me an extremely clean bill
of health. The only drawback I could find in his record was the payment
of some debts which were not rightly his and which he might have
evaded."

"Did he refer you to the Fourth National Bank?" inquired Gresham
quietly.

"No. Say, Gresham, what have you up your sleeve? Gamble paid me fifteen
thousand dollars this morning, as per agreement. I would scarcely think
he would risk that much money on a bluff."

"He paid you the fifteen thousand, then?" said Gresham with a smile.
"Mr. Courtney, one does not like to mix in these affairs; but you and
my father were friends and, though I regret to do so, I feel it my duty
to advise you to call up the Fourth National Bank."

"Thanks!" gratefully acknowledged Courtney, and hurried down to the
telephone booth. He came back in a few moments, and his manner was
distinctly cool. "I 'phoned to Mr. Close," he stated. "He tells me that
an attachment was laid against Mr. Gamble's account at his bank
yesterday for fifteen thousand dollars, and was returned to the server
marked 'no funds'; but that this morning the executor of Mr. Gamble's
interests in the Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company deposited fifteen
thousand dollars for the specific purpose of meeting this attachment.
Mr. Close informs me that, though he could not, of course, guarantee
Mr. Gamble's solvency, he would take Mr. Gamble's unsupported word on
any proposition. I have known Joe Close for years, and I never knew him
to be so enthusiastic about any man who possessed no negotiable
securities. I thank you for your well-intentioned interference in my
behalf, Mr. Gresham, but I think I shall cling to Mr. Gamble
nevertheless."

"I certainly should if I were in your place," Gresham hastily assured
him with such heartiness as he could assume. "I am delighted to learn
that the rumor I heard of Mr. Gamble's insolvency is unfounded."

"By the way, where did you hear the rumor?" inquired Courtney with a
frown.

"Really, I've forgotten," Gresham confessed.

"One should not forget such things if one repeats such rumors,"
Courtney reproved him.

Gresham went away both puzzled and annoyed. It was three o'clock before
he found Collaton; and that featureless young man, whose lack of
visible eyebrows and lashes was a constant annoyance to the fastidious
Gresham, was in a high state of elation.

"Well, we get back your fifteen thousand," he exulted after they were
safely in Gresham's apartments. "Of course Jacobs gets five thousand
for engineering the deal, but that gives us five thousand apiece.
Jacobs was told--about eleven o'clock--that the money was there."

"Keep my share; but why didn't you send me word?" snarled Gresham. "I
nearly put my foot in it by having a man with whom Gamble is doing
business inquire about him at the Fourth National. In place of injuring
his credit, we've strengthened it."

"Good work!" approved Collaton. "I hope he makes all kinds of money."

"I don't!" snapped Gresham. "Did you read the papers this morning?"

"I read the racing and base-ball returns."

"There was more to interest you in the news. Gamble has a big hotel
proposition on--and I want it stopped. Can you get another attachment
against him for about fifty thousand dollars?"

"It's risky!" And Collaton looked about him furtively. "It's easy
enough to fake an old note for money--"

"You must not say 'fake' to me. I will not countenance any crooked
business."

"To dig up an old note for money I am supposed to have borrowed and
spent--"

"Not supposed."

"For money I borrowed and spent on the work out there--and have a quiet
suit entered by one of my pet assassins in Fliegel's court, have the
summons served and confess judgment. Johnny is sucker enough to confess
judgment, too, rather than repudiate a debt which he can not prove he
does not owe; but I've already milked that scheme so dry that I'm
afraid of it."

"You're afraid of everything," Gresham charged him with the scorn one
coward feels for another. "Your operations out there were spread over
ten thousand acres of ground; and it would take a dozen experts six
months, without any books or papers to guide them, to make even an
approximate estimate of your legitimate expenditures."

"I don't know," hesitated Collaton with a shake of his head--"I only
touched the high places in the actual work out there. I believe I was a
sucker at that, Gresham. If I had buckled down to it, like Gamble does,
we could have made a fortune out of that scheme. He's a wonder!"

"He has wonderful luck," corrected Gresham. "I tried my best to scare
Courtney away from him with that attachment, but he insisted on
clinging to his Johnny Gamble; so we'll hand him enough of Johnny by
laying a fifty-thousand-dollar attachment against his property."

"You're a funny cuss," said Collaton, puzzled. "If you wanted to soak
him for this fifty thousand why did you try to scare Courtney off?"

"Can't you understand that I'm not after the money?" demanded Gresham.
"I've explained that to you before. I want Gamble broke, discredited,
and so involved that he can never transact any business in New York."

"What's he done to you?" inquired Collaton. "He must be winning a
stand-in with your girl."

"My private affairs are none of your concern!" Gresham indignantly
flared.

"All right, governor," assented Collaton a trifle sullenly. "I'll fake
that note for you to-night; and--"

"I told you I would not have anything to do with any crooked work,"
Gresham sharply reprimanded him.

"Oh, shut up!" growled Collaton. "You give me the cramps. You're a
worse crook than I am!"



CHAPTER VIII

IN WHICH CONSTANCE SHOWS FURTHER INTEREST IN JOHNNY'S AFFAIRS


On Wednesday morning Mr. Courtney, sitting as rigidly at his desk as if
he were in church, was handed the card of Morton Washer. He laid the
card face down and placed a paper-weight on it, as if he feared it
might get away. He turned a callous eye on his secretary and, in his
driest and most husky tones, directed: "Tell Mr. Washer I will see him
in five minutes."

During that five minutes Mr. Courtney signed letters as solemnly as a
judge pronouncing a death sentence. At last he paused and looked at
himself for a solid half-minute in the bookcase mirror across from his
desk. Apparently he was as mournful as an undertaker, but at the end of
the inspection his mouth suddenly stretched in a wide grin, which
bristled the silver-white beard upon his cheeks; his eyes screwed
themselves up into knots of jovial wrinkles and he winked--actually
winked--at his reflection in the glass! Thereupon he straightened his
face and sent for Morton Washer.

Mr. Washer, proprietor of two of the largest hotels in New York, and
half a dozen enormous winter and summer places, looked no more like a
boniface than he did like a little girl on communion Sunday. He was a
small, wispy, waspish fellow with a violently upright, raging
pompadour, a mustache which, in spite of careful attempts at waxing,
persisted in sticking straight forward, and a sharp hard nose which had
apparently been tempered to a delicate purple.

"Hear you've revived your hotel project," he said to Mr. Courtney.

"No," denied Courtney. "Sold the property."

"I know," agreed Mr. Washer with absolute disbelief. "What'll you take
for it?"

"I told you it was sold. Here's the contract." And, with great
satisfaction, Courtney passed over the document.

"Two million six hundred and fifty!" snorted Washer. "That's half a
million more than it's worth."

"You told my friends you intended to buy the railroad plot at three and
a half," Courtney gladly reminded him.

"It's four hundred feet deep."

"You said you only wanted two hundred feet square, which is the size of
this plot--and this is an equally good location."

"I know," admitted Washer, contemptuous of all such trifles. "What will
you take for the property--spot cash?"

"It's sold, I tell you. If you want to buy it see Mr. Gamble."

"Who's Gamble?"

"The man who is organizing the Terminal Hotel Company."

"How much stock has he subscribed?"

"You will have to see Mr. Gamble about that."

"Did you take any?"

"Half a million."

"Humph! You could afford to. Now give me the straight of it, Courtney:
Is it any use to talk to you?"

"Not a bit. You'll--"

"I know. I'll have to see Mr. Gamble! Well, where do I find him?"

Mr. Courtney kindly wrote the address on a slip of paper. Mr. Washer
looked at it with a grunt, stuffed it in his waistcoat pocket and
slammed out of the door. Mr. Courtney winked at himself in the glass.
Old Mort Washer would try to take advantage of him, to the extent of an
eighth of a million dollars, would he! Make his old friend Courtney
take an eighth of a million less than he paid, eh? Mr. Courtney
whistled a merry little tune.

Fifteen minutes later, Old Mort Washer bounced into Loring's office.

"Mr. Gamble?" he popped out.

Both gentlemen turned to him, but Loring turned away.

"I'm Gamble," stated that individual.

"I'm Morton Washer."

Since Mr. Gamble was aware of that fact and was expecting this visit,
he betrayed no surprise.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Washer?" he inquired.

"Are you taking bona fide subscriptions to your Terminal Hotel Company?"

"No other kind interests me."

"How nearly is your company filled?"

"Why do you want to know? Do you figure on taking some stock?"

"No."

"What do you want?"

"Your price on the property. Will you sell it?"

"Of course I will--at a profit."

"How much?"

"Two million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars."

"Keep it!" snapped Washer, and started for the door.

"Much obliged," returned Johnny cheerfully, and returned to his
combination daybook, journal, ledger and diary. "Ashley, I put in four
hours' overtime, Monday. Do I enter that on the debit or credit side?"

Loring stifled a snicker.

"I think I'd open a separate account for that," he solemnly advised.

"I say," renewed Washer, returning one pace, "who are some of your
prospective stockholders?"

"Close, of the Fourth National, is one; Mr. Courtney is another;
Colonel Bouncer is another. I have more."

"Thanks!" snapped Washer. "I'll give you two and a half millions for
that property."

"I'd rather finance the Terminal Hotel. Let me show you a perspective
sketch of it, Mr. Washer," and he opened the drawer of his desk.

"You'll have to excuse me," blurted Mr. Washer. "Good day!" and he was
gone.

"I didn't know you had Close," commented Loring in surprise. "How did
you hypnotize him?"

"Showed him a profit. Mr. Courtney told me last night that Close
boosted me yesterday, so I sold him some stock this morning. Say,
Loring, how did you square that fifteen thousand attachment?"

"None of your business," said Loring.

Mr. Washer rushed in to see Mr. Close.

"I see you've subscribed for stock in the Terminal Hotel Company," he
observed. "To accommodate a client?"

"No, because I thought it would be a good investment," Mr. Close
informed him, turning up the edge of a piece of paper and creasing it
as carefully as if it had been money. "Of course I would not care to
have my action influence others."

"Do you think Gamble can fully organize such a company?"

"I think so," stated Mr. Close. "Understand, I do not recommend the
investment; and my stock is subscribed only on condition that he
obtains his full quota of capital."

"What sort of a man is he?"

"A very reliable young man, I believe," responded Mr. Close, carefully
testing an ink-eaten steel pen point to see if it was really time for
it to be thrown away. "Of course I could not state Mr. Gamble to be
financially responsible, but personally I would trust him. I would not
urge or even recommend any one to take part in his projects; but
personally I feel quite safe in investing with him, though I would not
care to have that fact generally known, because of the influence it
might have. Perhaps you had better see some of the other subscribers."

"No, I've seen enough," announced Mr. Washer. "Thanks!" and he dashed
out of the door.

Ten minutes later he was in Loring's office again.

"Now, name your bottom price for that property," he ordered.

"Two million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars," obliged Johnny
with careful emphasis on each word.

"It's too much money."

"Don't buy it, then," advised Johnny, smiling quite cheerfully.

"Come on; let's close it up," offered Washer resignedly. "I might have
to pay more if I waited."

"All right," said Johnny. "It's a bargain, then?"

"It's a bargain--confound it!" agreed Mr. Washer quite affably, now
that the struggle was over. "Where do we go?"

"To Mallard Tyne, the six original owners and myself will all take a
piece of your two and three-quarter millions."

"I ought to take a body-guard," grinned Washer; "but I'll chance it.
Come on."

While the foregoing was in progress Constance Joy was entertaining Paul
Gresham, who had the effrontery to drop in for lunch. Of course the
conversation turned to Johnny Gamble. Neither of them could avoid it.
They had reached the point where Gresham was angry and Constance was
enjoying herself.

"I have great faith in him," she was saying. "He has a wonderful
project under way just now."

"And he doesn't care who suffers by it," charged Gresham, furious that
she should be so well-informed. "You'll see that he'll involve
Courtney's property with some of his old debts."

Constance's eyes widened.

"Do you think so?" she inquired as quietly as possible.

"Of course he will. His creditors are certain to take advantage of this
immediately. I warned Courtney."

She hastily arose and went into the hall.

"Oh, Aunt Pattie!" she called up the stairs. "Mr. Gresham is here."
Then to Gresham: "You'll excuse me for a little while, won't you? Aunt
Pattie is coming down."

Five minutes after Johnny and Mr. Washer had gone, Constance Joy came
into Johnny's office with carefully concealed timidity. Her manner was
coldly gracious and self-possessed, and her toilet was perfect; but she
carried one ripped glove.

"Is Mr. Loring in?" she asked with perfect assurance and also with
suddenly accelerated dignity; for the stenographer was really quite
neat-looking--not pretty, you know, but neat.

"He has just gone out," replied the stenographer with tremendous
sweetness. Anybody could look pretty in expensive clothes like
Constance Joy's.

There was a moment's hesitation.

"Is Mr. Gamble in?"

The girl smiled quite brightly.

"Mr. Gamble has just gone out," she stated, and smiled again. She was
not at all pretty when she smiled--not by any means--neat, though.

"Could you tell me where I would be likely to find Mr. Loring?" asked
Constance stiffly.

"Haven't the slightest idea," answered the girl happily, and gave her
hair a touch. Ah! there was a rip under her sleeve!

"Do you know where Mr. Gamble has gone?" and Constance was suddenly
pleasant through and through.

"Mr. Gamble?" repeated the girl, wondering at the sudden sweetness and
suspicious of it. "Oh, Mr. Gamble has gone over to the office of
Mallard back in a few minutes. He's in and out a great deal, but he
seldom stays out of the office long at a time."

"Thank you," said Constance hastily, reflecting that there was a public
telephone booth in the drug store on the corner, so she need not
inquire the address of Mallard & Tyne.

Mr. Gamble, Mr. Courtney, and Mr. Washer were in Mr. Mallard's private
office, with that acutely earnest real estate gentleman, when a boy
came in to advise Mr. Gamble that he was wanted on the telephone.
Johnny Gamble had never heard the voice of Constance over a thin wire,
but he recognized it in an instant; and he hitched his chair six inches
closer to the instrument. He gave her a fool greeting, which he tried
to remember afterward so that he could be confused about it; but
Constance wasted no time in preliminaries.

"Have you any property which could be attached?" she wanted to know.

"Just at the present minute I have," he admitted. "I shall have a
nominal title in a big building plot, for a day or two--or until the
necessary papers can be signed."

"You mustn't wait!" she hastily ordered him. "You must get rid of it
right this minute."

"I'll burn it up if you don't like it," he heartily promised her.
"What's the matter with it?"

"It isn't safe for you to have it an instant. I've wasted so much time
trying to find Polly or Loring, so that they could warn you, that I
haven't time to explain. Just get rid of it immediately--can't you?"

"I can do anything you say," he earnestly informed her, hitching his
chair closer. There was only an inch left, but he took that. "You'll
explain to me to-night what all this is about, won't you?"

"You may come, but you mustn't ask questions."

"I'll be there as soon as I'm through here," he promptly informed her.

"Not so early," she protested, panic-stricken, "I have a caller just
now. You must hurry, Mr. Gamble."

"Yes, I will," and he tried to hitch his chair closer. "You're
telephoning from the house, then?"

"No-o-o-o!" and he thought he detected a stifled snicker. "I left him
with Aunt Pattie and slipped out for a minute."

Him! Him, eh? And she had slipped out to telephone her friend, Johnny,
the bit of hot information!

He covered the transmitter with his hand to turn aside and smile. This
was a pleasant world after all!

"Many, many thanks!" he jubilated. "I think I'll arrange a little
dinner of jollification to-night and hand you the official score. I'll
have the colonel, and Mr. Courtney, and Polly, and--"

"You may call me up and tell me about it as soon as you get that
property off your hands," she interrupted him.

"All right," he reluctantly agreed. "You'll come to the dinner, won't
you?"

"Well, I have a partial engagement," she hesitated.

"Then you'll come," he exultantly knew.

"Maybe," she replied. "Hurry!"

He declared that he would--but he was talking into a dead telephone.

"I guess I'll hurry," he decided, and stalked into Mallard's room.
"Look here, fellows. Can't we cut this thing short?" he suggested.
"There's no use in Mr. Courtney's completing his purchase from Mallard
& Tyne, or me mine from Mr. Courtney, or Mr. Washer his from me. All
that poppy-cock is just to conceal out profits. What Mr. Washer wants
is the ground; and Courtney and I want half a million dollars, besides
the eighth of a million that Mr. Courtney had already invested. Mr.
Washer, give Courtney your check for five-eighths of a million--and
both Courtney and I will tear up our contracts and give you the pieces.
Then you settle with Mallard & Tyne for two and an eighth millions."

"Look here, Courtney, is this a put-up job between you and Gamble?"
demanded Washer.

"No," returned Courtney, with that rarely seen smile of his, "it's only
the finish of that job you put up on me when you persuaded my friends
to drop out of my hotel company."

Washer looked petulant. Johnny Gamble patted him on the shoulder.

"Cheer up," he said--"but hurry. If you don't hurry I'll sell you some
stock in my Terminal Hotel Company."

"Give me some papers to sign," ordered Washer, producing his check-book.

Gresham met the colonel and Courtney on Broadway in full regalia just
as they were turning in at the newest big cafe to dine that night.

"I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Courtney, that my warning of this noon was
not unfounded," he remarked. "Perhaps, however, you already know it."

"No, I don't," returned Courtney, eying the correctly dressed Gresham
with some dissatisfaction. "I'm not even sure of what you mean."

"About a certain man with whom you are doing business."

"Oh--Gamble?"

"What's the matter with Gamble?" bristled the colonel.

"Why, Gresham hinted to me this morning that Gamble had financial
obligations he could not meet," explained Courtney. "It seems that he
met them, however."

"Of course he did!" snorted the colonel.

"I hadn't intended to make the matter public property," stated Gresham
with an uncomfortable feeling that he was combating an unassailable and
unaccountable prejudice.

"Bless my soul, you're succeeding mighty well!" blurted the colonel.
"Now, tell us all you know about my friend Gamble. Out with it!"

"I beg you to understand, Mr. Courtney, that I am inspired by a purely
friendly interest," insisted Gresham with very stiff dignity. "I
thought it might be of value for you to know--if you were not already
informed--that an attachment for fifty thousand dollars upon Mr. Gamble
was laid against your Terminal Hotel property this afternoon."

Mr. Courtney paused to consider.

"At what time was this attachment issued?"

"At three-thirty, I was informed."

Mr. Courtney's reception of that important bit of news was rather
unusual, in consideration of its gravity. He threw back his head and
laughed; he turned to the colonel and, putting his hand upon his old
friend's shoulder, laughed again; he put his other hand upon Gresham's
shoulder and laughed more. The colonel was a slower thinker. He looked
painfully puzzled for a moment--then suddenly it dawned upon him, and
he laughed uproariously; he punched his old friend Courtney in the ribs
and laughed more uproariously; he punched Gresham in the ribs and
laughed most uproariously.

"Why, bless my heart, boy!" he explained for Courtney. "At two-thirty,
neither Courtney nor Johnny Gamble owned a penny's worth of interest in
the Terminal Hotel site, if that's the property you mean--and of course
you do."

"No," laughed Courtney. "At that hour we sold it outright to Morton
Washer for a cool half-million profit, which my friend Johnny and I
divide equally. I saw him make the entry in his book. He has
twenty-four hours in which to loaf on that remarkable schedule of his.
Johnny Gamble is a wonderful young man!"

"Who's that's such a wonderful young man?" snapped a jerky little
voice. "Johnny Gamble? You bet he is! He skinned me!"

Turning, Courtney grasped the hands of lean little Morton Washer and of
wiry-faced Joe Close.

"We're all here now except the youngsters and the ladies," said
Courtney. "Possibly they're inside. Coming in, Gresham?"

"No, I think not," announced Gresham, sickly. "Who's giving the party?"

"Johnny Gamble," snapped Washer. "It's in honor of me!"

A limousine drove up just then. In it were sweet-faced Mrs.
Parsons--Polly's mother by adoption--Polly, Loring and Sammy Chirp, the
latter gentleman being laden with the wraps of everybody but Loring.

Just behind the limousine was a taxi. In it were Aunt Pattie Boyden,
Constance Joy and Johnny Gamble. Gresham, who had held a partial
engagement for the evening, went to his club instead.



CHAPTER IX

IN WHICH JOHNNY MEETS A DEFENDER OF THE OLD ARISTOCRACY


Johnny, whose sources of information were many and varied, called on a
certain Miss Purry the very next morning, taking along Val Russel to
introduce him.

"Any friend of Mr. Russel's is welcome, I am sure," declared Miss
Purry, passing a clammy wedge of a hand to Johnny, who felt the chill
in his palm creeping down his spine. "Of the Maryland Gambles?"

"No, White Roads," replied Johnny cheerfully. Miss Purry's chiseled
smile remained, but it was not the same. "I came to see you about that
vacant building site, just beyond the adjoining property."

Miss Purry shook her head,

"I'm afraid I could not even consider selling it without a very
specific knowledge of its future." And her pale green eyes took on a
slightly deeper hue.

Val Russel stifled a sly grin.

"This was once a very aristocratic neighborhood," he informed Johnny
with well-assumed sorrow. "Miss Purry is the last of the fine old
families to keep alive the traditions of the district. Except for her
influence, the new-rich have vulgarized the entire locality."

"Thank you," cooed Miss Purry. "I could not have said that myself, but
I can't hinder Mr. Russel from saying it. Nearly all of my neighbors
tried to buy the riverview plot, about which you have come to see me;
but I did not care to sell--to them."

Her emphasis on the last two words was almost imperceptible, but it was
there; and her reminiscent satisfaction was so complete that Johnny,
who had known few women, was perplexed.

"If all the old families had been as careful the Bend would not have
deteriorated," Val stated maliciously, knowing just how to encourage
her. "However, the new-comers are benefited by Miss Purry's
resolve--particularly Mrs. Slosher. The Sloshers are just on the other
side of the drive from the vacant property, and they have almost as
good a river view as if they had been able to purchase it and build
upon it in the first place."

The green of Miss Purry's eyes deepened another tone.

"Mr. Slosher, who is now in Europe, was almost brutal in his
determination to purchase the property," she stated with painful
repression. "The present Mrs. Slosher is a pretty doll, and he is
childishly infatuated with her; but his millions can not buy everything
she demands."

Ignorant of social interplay as Johnny Gamble was, he somehow divined
that William G. Slosher's doll was the neighborhood reason for
everything.

"If you were only certain of what you intend to build there--" she
suggested, to break the helpless silence.

"I have an apartment-house in mind," he told her.

"That would be very large and very high, no doubt," she guessed,
looking pleased.

"It's the only kind that would pay," Johnny Gamble hastily assured her.
"It would be expensive--no suite less than three thousand a year and
nobody allowed to do anything."

"I'll consider the matter," she said musingly.

"What about the price?" asked Johnny, whose mind had been fixed upon
that important detail.

"Oh, yes--the price," agreed Miss Purry indifferently; "I've been
holding it at two hundred thousand. I shall continue to hold it at that
figure."

"Then that's the price," decided Johnny. "Can't we come to an agreement
now?"

"To-morrow afternoon at three," she dryly insisted.

He saw that she meant to-morrow afternoon at three.

"Can't I arrange with you for a twenty-four-hour option?" he begged,
becoming anxious.

"I shall not bind myself in any way," she declared. "To-morrow
afternoon at three."

"That's a beautiful piece of property," commented Johnny as they drove
by. "By George, the apartment-house will shut those people off from the
river!"

"That's the only reason she'd be willing to sell," replied Val. "What
set you hunting up this property?"

"The De Luxe Apartments Company intends confining its operations to
this quarter. They'll go scouting among the listed properties
first--and they may not find this one until I am asking them two
hundred and fifty for it."

That afternoon, Johnny, always prompt, was ahead of time at the final
committee meeting of the Babies' Fund Fair, but Constance Joy did not
seem in the least surprised at his punctuality.

"I was in hopes you'd come early," she greeted him. "I want to show you
the score board of your game."

"Honest, did you make one?" he asked, half-incredulous of his good
fortune, as she led the way into the library; and his eyes further
betrayed his delight when she showed him the score board itself.

"See," she pointed out, "you were to make five thousand dollars an hour
for two hundred working hours, beginning on April twenty-second and
ending May thirty-first."

Johnny examined the board with eager interest. It was ruled into tiny
squares, forty blocks long and seven deep.

"I want to frame that when we're through," he said, admiring the
perfect drawing.

"Suppose you lose?" she suggested, smiling to herself at his
unconscious use of the word "we".

"No chance," he stoutly returned. "I have to paste a
five-thousand-dollar bill in each one of those blocks."

"You've kept your paste brush busy," she congratulated him, marveling
anew at how he had done it, as she glanced at the record which she had
herself set down. "I have the little squares crossed off up to two
hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars."

"The money's in Loring's bank," he cheerfully assured her. "That pays
me up to next Tuesday, May second, at two o'clock. This is two o'clock,
Thursday. I have twenty-four working hours to loaf."

"Lazy!" she bantered him. "That isn't loafing time; it's only a safety
margin."

Her eagerness about it pleased Johnny very much. When he had his
million he intended to ask her to marry him; and it was pleasant to
have her, all unaware of his purpose, of course, taking such an acute
interest in this big game.

"If a man plays too safe he goes broke," objected Johnny seriously,
still intent on the diagram, however. "I notice that none of these
Sundays or Saturday afternoons have money in them. According to my plan
I also allowed for two possible holidays; but why are those two special
days left white?"

"Well," hesitated Constance, flushing slightly, "May thirtieth is
Decoration Day; and then I allowed for a possible birthday."

"Birthday?" he repeated, perplexed. "Whose?"

"Oh, anybody's," she hastily assured him. "You can move the date to
suit. You know you said you weren't going to work on Sundays, evenings,
holidays or birthdays."

"I have but one birthday this year, and it comes in the fall," he
answered, laughing; then suddenly a dazzling light blinded him. "It's
the score keeper's!" he guessed.

In spite of all her efforts to prevent it Constance blushed furiously.
"I had intended to give a little party on the nineteenth," she
confessed.

"I'm coming!" he emphatically announced.

Aunt Pattie Boyden swept into the room, and Johnny immediately felt
that he had on tight shoes. He had once made a fatal error before Aunt
Pattie; he had confessed to having been a voter before he owned a dress
suit.

Paul Gresham arrived, and Aunt Pattie was as the essence of violets.
Paul, though American-born, was a second cousin of Lord Yawpingham.
Johnny and Paul sat and inwardly barked at each other. Johnny almost
barked outwardly.

Val Russel and Bruce Townley came, and everybody breathed a sigh of
relief.

"Well, Johnny," said Val, "I just now saw your newest speculation
driving down the Avenue in a pea-green gown and a purple hat."

"I never had a speculation like that," denied Johnny.

"Sounds like a scandal," decided Bruce Townley.

"You might as well tell it, Val," laughed Constance with a mischievous
glance at Johnny.

"It hasn't gone very far as yet," replied Val, enjoying Johnny's
discomfort, "but it promises well. Johnny and I called upon a wealthy
spinster, away upon Riverside Drive, this morning, ostensibly to buy
real estate."

Val, leaning his cheek upon his knuckles with his middle finger upon
his temple, imitated Miss Purry's languishing air so perfectly that
Aunt Pattie and Gresham, both of whom knew the lady, could see her in
the flesh--or at least in the bone.

"'Ostensible' is a good word in that neighborhood," opined Gresham
lightly. "Were you trying to buy Miss Purry's vacant riverfront
property?"

Notwithstanding his seeming nonchalance, Gresham betrayed an earnest
interest which Constance noted, and she turned to Johnny with a quick
little shake of her head, but he was already answering, and she frowned
slightly.

Mrs. Follison arrived, and after her the rest of the committee came
trooping by twos and threes,--a bright, busy, chattering mob which
stopped all personal conversation.

Last of all came Polly Parsons, accompanied by Ashley Loring and Sammy
Chirp, and by the fluffy little orphan whom she had been keeping in
school for the last three years.

"I know I'm late," declared Polly defiantly; "but I don't adopt a
sister every day. I stopped at Loring's office to do it, and I'm so
proud I'm cross-eyed. Sister Winnie, shake hands with everybody and
then run out in the gardens with Sammy."

Dutifully, Winnie, in her new role of sister, shook hands with
everybody and clenched their friendship with her wide blue eyes and her
ingenuous smile; and, dutifully, Sammy Chirp, laden with her sun-hat
and parasol and fan, her vanity box and lace hand-bag, took her out
into the gardens, and the proceedings began as they usually did when
Polly Parsons arrived. Subcommittees took cheerful and happy possession
of the most comfortable locations they could find, and Constance Joy
walked Ashley Loring out through the side porch.

"There's a very cozy and retired seat in the summer-house," she
informed him. "I wish to have a tete-a-tete with you on a most
important business matter."

"You may have a tete-a-tete with me on any subject whatsoever," laughed
Loring. "I suppose it's about those Johnny Gamble attachments, however."

"It's about that exactly," she acknowledged. "What have you learned of
the one for fifty thousand dollars which was attempted to be laid
against Mr. Gamble's interest in that hotel property yesterday?"

"Very little," he confessed. "It is of the same sort as the one we
discussed the other day."

Constance nodded. "Fraudulent, probably," she guessed.

"I think so myself," agreed Loring. "Trouble is, nobody can locate the
Gamble-Collaton books."

"Perhaps they have been destroyed," mused Constance.

"I doubt it," returned Loring. "It would seem the sensible thing to do;
but, through some curious psychology which I can not fathom, crooks
seldom make away with documentary evidence."

"Who is helping Mr. Collaton?" asked Constance abruptly after a little
silence.

"I do not know," answered Loring promptly, looking her squarely in the
eye.

"Some one of our mutual acquaintance," she persisted shrewdly. "Twice,
now, attachments have been served on Mr. Gamble when the news of his
having attachable property could only have come from our set."

They had turned the corner of the lilac screen and found a little
summer-house occupied by Sammy and Winnie, and the low mellow voice of
Winnie was flowing on and on without a break.

"It's the darlingest vanity purse I ever saw," she babbled. "Sister
Polly bought it for me this morning. She's the dearest dear in the
world! I don't wonder you're so crazy about her. How red your hand is
next to mine! Madge Cunningham says that I have the whitest and
prettiest hands of any girl in school--and she's made a special study
of hands. Isn't that the cunningest sapphire ring? Sister Polly sent it
to me on my last birthday; so now you know what month I was born in.
Jeannette Crawley says it's just the color of my eyes. She writes
poetry. She wrote some awfully sweet verses about my hair. 'The regal
color of the flaming sun', she called it. She's dreadfully romantic;
but the poor child's afraid she will never have a chance on account of
her snub nose. We thought her nose was cute though. Miss Grazie, our
professor of ancient history, said my nose was of the most perfect
Greek profile she had ever seen--just like that on the features of
Clytie, and with just as delicately formed nostrils. We set the
funniest trap for her once. Somebody always told the principal when we
were going to sneak our fudge nights, and we suspected it was one of
the ugly girls--they're always either the sweetest or the meanest girls
in school, you know. We had a signal for it, of course--one finger to
the right eye and closing the left; and one day, when we were planning
for a big fudge spree that night, I saw Miss Grazie watching us pass
the sign. There isn't much escapes my eyes. Sure enough, that night
Miss Porley made a raid. Well, on Thursday, Madge Cunningham and
myself, without saying a word to anybody, stayed in Miss Grazie's room
after class and gave each--other the fudge signal; and sure enough,
that night--"

Constance and Loring tiptoed away, leaving the bewildered Sammy smiling
feebly into the eyes of Winnie and floundering hopelessly in the maze
of her information.

"I have it," declared Constance. "That lovely little chatterbox has
given me an idea."

"Is it possible?" chuckled Loring. "Poor Sammy!"

"He was smiling," laughed Constance. "Here comes the chairman of the
floor-walkers' committee."

Gresham, always uneasy in the absence of Constance, who was too
valuable a part of his scheme of life to be left in charge of his
friends, had come into the garden after them on the pretext of
consulting the general committee.

"Do you know anything about the Garfield Bank?" Constance asked Gresham
in the first convenient pause.

"It is very good as far as I have heard," he replied after careful
consideration. "Are there any rumors out against it?"

"Quite the contrary," she hastily assured him. "It is so convenient,
however, that I had thought of opening a small account there. Mr.
Gamble transferred his funds to that bank to-day--and if he can trust
them with over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars I should think I
might give them my little checking account."

When they were alone again Loring turned to her in surprise.

"I have Johnny's money in my name. I didn't know he had opened an
account with the Garfield Bank," he wondered.

"Neither did I," she laughed. "I told a fib! I laid a trap!"



CHAPTER X

IN WHICH JOHNNY IS SINGULARLY THRILLED BY A LITTLE CONVERSATION OVER
THE TELEPHONE


Mr. Gamble, on his arrival the following afternoon, found Miss Purry
very coldly regretful that she had already disposed of her property for
a working-girls' home, at a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars,
having made a twenty-five-thousand-dollar reduction by way of a
donation to the cause. Johnny drove back into the city rapidly--for he
was now only sixteen hours ahead of his schedule. He was particularly
out of sorts because Miss Purry had mentioned that the De Luxe
Apartments Company had been after the plot. It is small satisfaction to
a loser to have his judgment corroborated.

There was a Bronx project, involving the promotion of a huge exclusive
subdivision, which he had hoped to launch; but during his call on Miss
Purry that scheme went adrift through the sudden disagreement of the
uncertain Wobbles brothers who owned the land. It was a day of
failures; and at four o'clock he returned to the office and inscribed,
upon the credit side of his unique little day-book, the laconic entry:

"April 28. Two flivvers. $0."

Loring, pausing behind him and looking over his shoulder, smiled--and
added a climax. "Jacobs attached your account at the Garfield Bank
to-day on that fifty-thousand-dollar note."

"That's my first good laugh to-day," returned Johnny. "I have no funds
there."

"Gresham thought you had," said Loring quietly. "A trap was laid to
make him think so, and he walked right into it."

"As soon as I have any place to keep a goat I'll get Gresham's,"
declared Johnny. "So he's really in on it."

"He's scared," stated Loring.

"I hope he's right," returned Johnny. "I do wish they'd let me alone,
though, till Thursday, June first."

On Saturday, the twenty-ninth, and on Monday, the first of May, Johnny
Gamble was compelled reluctantly to enter "flivvers" against his days'
labors; and on Tuesday at two o'clock Constance called him up.

"Guilty!" he acknowledged as soon as he heard her voice. "I'm caught up
with my schedule. At four o'clock I'll be ten thousand dollars behind.
Everything I touch crawls right back in its shell."

"They'll come out again," she encouraged him. "I didn't call you up, as
your score keeper, to tell you that from this hour you will be running
in debt to yourself, but that one of your projects has come to life
again."

"Which one is that?" he eagerly inquired.

"The property owned by that lady on Riverside Drive. I see by this
morning's paper that the working-girls' home is not to be built. I
suppose you already know it, however."

"I overlooked that scandal," he confessed. "Wasn't the building to be
ugly enough?"

"This was a little obscure paragraph," she told him. "It was rather a
joking item, based upon the fact that there is a great deal of ill
feeling among the neighbors, who clubbed together and bought the option
to prevent a building of this character from being erected. I'm so glad
you didn't know about it!"

Her enthusiasm was contagious. Johnny himself was glad. It seemed like
a terrific waste of time to have to wait a month before he could tell
her what he thought of her; but he had to have that million!

"You're a careful score keeper," he complimented her. "I'll go right
after that property. Does the item say who controls it now?"

"I have the paper before me. I'll read you the names," she returned
with businesslike preparedness: "Mr. James Jameson-Guff, Mr. G. W.
Mason, Mr. Martin Sheats, Mr. Edward Kettle."

"All the neighbors," he commented. "They don't like honest
working-girls, I guess. That's a fine crowd of information you've
handed me. I ought to give you a partnership in that million."

"You just run along or you'll be too late!" she urged him. "I'll take
my commission in the five-thousand-dollar hours you donate to the
Babies' Fund Fair. By the way, from whom do you suppose that option was
purchased?"

"Gresham?" inquired Johnny promptly and with such a thrill of startled
intensity in his tone that Constance could not repress a giggle.

"No, James Collaton," she informed him. "That's all the news. Hurry,
now! Report to me, won't you, as soon as you find out whether you can
secure the property? I haven't made an entry on my score board since
last Wednesday night. Good-by."

"Good-by," said Johnny reluctantly; but he held the telephone open,
trying to think of something else to say until he heard the click which
told him that she had hung up.

Last Wednesday night! Why, that was the night he had given the dinner
in celebration of his passing the quarter-of-a-million mark; and after
he had taken her home from the dinner she had sat up to rule and mark
that elaborate score board! Somehow his lungs felt very light and
buoyant.

Collaton, though? How did he get into the deal? Suddenly Johnny
remembered Val Russel's joking at the committee meeting. Gresham again!

"Loring, I don't think I can wait till June first to get after the
scalps of Gresham and Collaton," he declared as he prepared to go out.
"I want to soak them now."

James Jameson-Guff, so christened by his wife, but more familiarly
known among his associates as Jim Guff, received Johnny with a frown
when he understood his errand.

"You're too late," he told Johnny. "We've turned the option over to our
wives to do with as they pleased. We're to have a swell yacht club out
there now. I think that's a graft, too!"

"If you get stung again, Mr. Guff, let me know," offered Johnny, "and
I'll have you a bona fide apartment-house proposition in short order."

"Nyagh!" observed Mr. Guff.

Johnny dutifully reported to his score keeper the result of his errand
and, that evening, to explain it more fully he went out to her house;
but he found Gresham there and nobody had a very good time.

On the following morning he saw in the papers that the Royal Yacht
Club, a new organization, the moving spirit of which was one Michael T.
O'Shaunessy, was to have magnificent headquarters on Riverside
Drive--and he immediately went to see Mr. Guff. Mike O'Shaunessy was a
notorious proprietor of road houses and "clubs" of shady reputation,
and there was no question as to what sort of place the Royal Yacht Club
would be.

Mr. Guff was furious about it.

"I knew it," he said. "The women have just telephoned me an
authorization to send for this Jacobs blackguard and buy back the
option."

"Jacobs?" inquired Johnny, "Not Abraham Jacobs?"

"That's the one," corroborated Guff. "Why, do you know him?"

"He is a professional stinger," Johnny admitted. "He stung me, and
Collaton helped."

"I've no doubt of it," responded Guff. "It was a put-up job in the
first place. By the way, Gamble, you used to be in partnership with
Collaton yourself."

"That's true enough," admitted Johnny. "Possibly I'd better give you
some references."

"Give them to the women," retorted Guff.

An hour later Johnny telephoned Guff.

"Did you repurchase the option from Jacobs?" he inquired.

"Yes!" snapped Guff, and hung up.

The facts that the De Luxe Apartments Company was hot after the
property and that he himself was now four hours behind his schedule,
with nothing in sight, drove Johnny on, in spite of his dismal
forebodings.

Mrs. Guff he found to be a hugely globular lady, with a globular nose,
the lines on either side of which gave her perpetually an expression of
having just taken quinine. In view of her recent experiences she was
inclined to call the police the moment Johnny stated his errand, but he
promptly referred her to some gentlemen of unimpeachable commercial
standing; namely, Close, Courtney, Bouncer and Morton Washer. She
coolly telephoned them in his presence and was satisfied.

"You must understand, however," she said to him severely, "the only way
in which we will release this option is that nothing but a first-class
apartment-house, of not less than ten stories in height and with no
suites of less than three thousand a year rental, shall be erected."

"I'll sign an agreement to that effect," he promptly promised.

"And how much do you offer us for the property?"

"Two hundred thousand," he returned, making a conservative guess at the
amount they must have paid for the two options.

A deepening of the quinine expression told him that he had undershot
the mark.

"Two hundred and ten thousand," he quickly amended.

A chocolate-cream expression struggled feebly with the quinine; and
Johnny, who could translate the lines of the human countenance into
dollars and cents with great accuracy, knew instantly that their two
options had cost them thirty thousand dollars, and that he was offering
the four ladies a profit of one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars'
worth of gowns or diamonds each.

"That will be the most I can give," he still further amended. "I am
prepared to write you a check at any moment."

"I think I can call a meeting at once," she informed him, and did so by
telephone.

Mrs. Sheats, who came over presently, was an angular woman who kept the
expression of her mouth persistently sweet, no matter what her state of
mind might be; and she was very glad indeed that, so long as Miss Purry
insisted on permitting a building of any sort to be erected opposite
the Slosher residence, they were protecting that estimable lady in her
absence by insuring a structure of dignity and class.

Mrs. Kettle, who was a placid lady of mature flesh and many teeth, and
who carried ounces upon ounces of diamonds without visible effort,
bewailed the innovation that Miss Purry was forcing on them, but felt a
righteous glow that, under the circumstances, they were doing so nobly
on behalf of Mrs. Slosher.

Mrs. Mason, who was a little, dry, jerky woman whose skin creaked when
she rubbed it, whose voice scratched and whose whole personality
suggested the rasp of saw-filing, was in her own confession actuated by
less affectionate motives.

"I'm glad of it!" she snapped. "Mrs. Slosher is always talking about
their superb river view and the general superiority of the Slosher
location, the Slosher residence, the Slosher everything! I'm glad of
it!"

The other ladies felt that Mrs. Mason was very catty.

At four o'clock that afternoon Johnny entered in his book:

"May third. To seven hours--nine hours behind schedule--$35,000. To
Purry speculation, $210,000."

To offset this was:

"May third. To a chance, $0."



CHAPTER XI

IN WHICH JOHNNY EXECUTES SOME EXCEEDINGLY RAPID BUSINESS DEALS


Sitting tight and watching the hands of his watch go round, with a
deficit of five thousand dollars an hour piling up against him, was as
hard work as Johnny Gamble had ever done; and yet he knew that, if he
succumbed to impatience and went to the De Luxe Apartments Company
before they came to him, he would relinquish a fifty per cent,
advantage. He saw another day slipping past him, with a total deficit
of sixteen hours behind his schedule--or an appalling shortage of
eighty thousand dollars--when, at one o'clock on Thursday, the expected
happened--and a brisk little man, with a mustache which would have been
highly luxuriant if he had not kept it bitten off as closely as he
could reach it, dropped in, inquired for Loring, jerked a chair as
close to him as he could get it and said, in one breath: "Want to sell
your river-view property?"

"Certainly," replied Loring, in whose name the property stood. "Mr.
Gamble is handling that for me. Mr. Chase, Mr. Gamble."

Mr. Chase, holding to his chair, jumped up, hurried over to Johnny and
once more jerked the chair close up.

"How much do you want for it?" he asked.

"Two hundred and seventy-five thousand."

"Too much. I understand it's restricted to apartment-house purposes
alone?"

"Yes."

"Not less than ten stories, and a minimum rental of three thousand
dollars a suite?"

"Yes."

"You can't sell it for that price with those restrictions."

"We can build on it," replied Johnny calmly.

"You won't," asserted Mr. Chase with equal conviction. "You bought it
to sell. I'll give you two hundred and fifty thousand."

"No," refused Johnny quite bravely, though with a panicky feeling as he
thought of that appallingly swift schedule.

"All right," said Chase. "I'll hold the offer open at that figure for
forty-eight hours. I think you'll come to it."

"I doubt it," responded Johnny, smiling; but he was afraid he would.

In less than an hour he received an unexpected call from Mrs. Guff, who
was in such secret agitation that she quivered like jelly whenever she
breathed.

"Mr. Guff and myself have decided to take Miss Purry's river-view
property off your hands, Mr. Gamble," was the glad tidings she conveyed
to him, smiling to share his delight. "We can't think of letting that
river view slip by us."

"I'm glad to hear it," he announced with gratification, as he thought
of Mr. Chase. "Have you secured the consent of your partners in the
option to waive the apartment-house requirements?"

"Oh, no!" she ejaculated, shocked that any one should think that
possible. "We have decided to build the apartment-house and to live
there."

"To live there!" he repeated, remembering the elaborate Guff residence.

"Yes, indeed!" she enthusiastically exclaimed. "You know the property
slopes down to the river beautifully, and exquisite, private, terraced
gardens could be built there. We could take the entire lower floor of
the apartment building for ourselves, with a private driveway arched
right through it; and we could take the first three floors of the rear
part for our own use, with wonderful Venetian balconies overlooking the
terraces and the river. The remaining apartments would have entrances
on the two front corners, leaving us all the effect of a Venetian
palace. Don't you think that's clever?"

"It is clever!" he repeated with smiling emphasis, and mentally raising
Chase's ultimatum ten per cent.

"I suppose you'll want to charge us more for the property than you paid
for it," she suggested with a faint hope that maybe he might not, since
he had bought it so recently--and through them.

"That's what I'm in business for," he blandly acknowledged. "I can let
you have the property for two hundred and seventy-five thousand
dollars."

"How much did you say?" she gasped.

"Two hundred and seventy-five thousand."

"Why, it's an outrage!" she puffed. "You paid only two hundred and ten
thousand for it yesterday."

"I'm not telling you its cost to me yesterday, but its value to-day,"
he reminded her.

Mrs. Guff had helped her husband to his business success in the early
days--and she had driven bargains with supply men which had made them
glad when she was ill.

"You may keep the property," she wheezed. "Nobody will pay that
price--not even William Slosher; and he'll buy anything if his wife
pouts for it in the ridiculous French clothes she's brought back with
her."

"So the Sloshers are back?" he guessed, with an understanding, at last,
of her agitation.

"They came last night," she admitted, inflating with a multitude of
feelings. "The most ungrateful people in the world! So far from being
thankful for the time and pains and money we spent to protect them,
they're viciously angry and are making threats--positive threats--that
they will disgrace the entire neighborhood!"

"Do you refuse this property at two hundred and seventy-five thousand?"
Mr. Gamble interestedly wanted to know.

"Certainly I do!" she emphatically declared, positive that no human
being would pay that absurd increase in valuation.

"Then the price is withdrawn," he told her; and she left him, puzzling
mightily over that last remark.

Johnny Gamble was a man of steady nerves, yet even he fidgeted until
three o'clock for fear Mr. Slosher would not call him up. At that hour,
however, Mr. Slosher called in person, accompanied by his wife. There
is no need to describe Mr. Slosher, who was merely an elderly gentleman
of much vigor and directness; and it is impossible to describe Mrs.
Slosher, who was never twice alike, anyhow, being merely the spirit of
a beautiful ever changing youth in a body of beautiful ever changing
habiliments.

"What do you want for the river-view property you have just purchased?"
Mr. Slosher demanded.

"I don't know," confessed Johnny, laughing. "The valuation is going up
so rapidly that I can't keep track of it myself. Mrs. Guff was just in,
asking the price."

Mrs. Slosher tapped the toe of a beautiful satin carriage slipper
impatiently upon the floor, and a very bright red spot glowed on each
cheek; but she did not say a word. She only looked at her husband. Mr.
Gamble had a queer idea that her mere gaze could, on an occasion like
this, burn holes through a cake of ice. Certain it is that Mr. Slosher
turned quickly to her--and then, as if he had been galvanized, turned
back to Johnny.

"I'll give you until to-morrow night to secure your highest offer and
then I'll add five per cent, to it," he stated.

"You understand the restrictions, I suppose?" ventured Johnny.

"Perfectly. My kind neighbors have handed me a ten-story
apartment-house, with a minimum rental per suite of three thousand
dollars a year. I'm going to build their neighborhood ornament and fill
it with high-toned niggers!"

Mrs. Slosher smiled. She was a beautiful young woman. To youth belongs
much.

Johnny Gamble, caught amidships, as it were, snorted.

"Well, I don't live out there," he said.

Mr. Slosher smiled.

"That is all, I believe," he announced as he assisted Mrs. Slosher to
her feet with that punctilious gallantry which defies a younger man to
do it better.

At four o'clock Jim Guff called Mr. Gamble on the telephone.

"Hello, Gamble!" he hailed in an entirely new voice. "You're a robber!"

"You flatter me," returned Johnny quite comfortably. "Is there anything
I can do for you in that line?"

"A whole lot," replied Guff. "I'll accept the price you gave Mrs. Guff
on that river-view site."

"Too late," answered Johnny cheerfully. "I withdrew that offer before
Mrs. Guff left the office. Mr. and Mrs. Slosher have been in since
then."

Jim Guff's voice cracked as he hastily said:

"I'll meet any offer he makes you and tack a five-thousand-dollar bonus
to it."

Johnny called up the De Luxe Apartments. Company and secured the ear of
Mr. Chase.

"I withdraw my offer of two hundred and seventy-five thousand for that
river-view property," he stated. "What is the best bid you will make me
above that figure?"

"I'm not inclined to scramble for it," immediately claimed Mr. Chase,
who was aware at the time that he was telling a point-blank lie.

"Very well, then," said Johnny, wondering how he was to get a definite
figure without committing himself. "I'll have to drop you out of my
calculations."

"When must you know?"

"To-morrow morning."

"You're bluffing!" charged Mr. Chase scornfully.

"I have two very earnest bidders for the property," insisted Johnny
with dignity--and completed his bluff, if Chase cared to regard it that
way, by hanging up his receiver.

Before he left the office he entered in his books:

"May 4. Sold; but I don't know who to or at what price. Close to
schedule, though."

He entered the next day in advance:

"May 5. The Babies' Fund Fair--Holiday. Nothing doing."



CHAPTER XII

IN WHICH JOHNNY EVEN DOES BUSINESS AT THE BABIES' FUND FAIR


"I wish I could write poetry," regretted Johnny, looking across at
Constance Joy in the violet booth.

"Why don't you try it?" asked Polly Parsons, following his gaze and
comprehending his desire perfectly, for she, too, was a rabid
Constancite.

"I did," he confessed with a disappointed laugh. "I hadn't the nerve to
be mushy enough, though--and nothing else seems to be real poetry. I
got one line that listened like the goods, but I couldn't match it up:
'As I lie awake and look at the stars--' Pretty good start, eh? How do
you find a rhyme for it?"

"You go down through the alphabet," Polly advised him, rather proud to
be able to answer him so promptly. "Bars, cars, fars, jars--that way,
you know. How I found out is that Sister Winnie writes so much poetry."

"She's a great kid," laughed Johnny. "Where is she?"

"Round here some place, giving orders to Sammy Chirp. Why are you
loafing this afternoon? You're supposed to be making five thousand
dollars an hour, but I don't see any chance for it here."

"It's a holiday," he retorted. "You're loafing yourself. I see it's on
the program that you're to sell a quarter's worth of violets and a
smile, for five dollars a throw at the boutonniere booth. Notice how I
said boutonniere?"

"You got it out of a book," charged Polly disdainfully. "I called
Constance over from the candy booth to take my place because a
gray-haired rusher came back seven times to have me pin violets on his
coat--and I couldn't smile any more. There he goes now. That's his
second trip for Constance."

"This is a cruel world. I suppose it would fuss her all up if I dropped
him out of a window," Johnny observed wistfully.

"Constance doesn't need help. Just watch her!" And Polly grinned
appreciatively as Constance, recognizing and sorting the tottering
lady-killer at a glance, took his money handed him a nosegay and a pin,
and returned to the back of the booth to arrange her stock:

A huge blot of orange and a thin streak of lavender paused on the other
side of the palms. Johnny wondered to see these two enemies together,
but no man could know the satisfaction they took in it.

"The violet booth," read the big blot of orange, adjusting her gold
lorgnette to the bridge of her globular nose and consulting her
catalogue. "Friday afternoon: Polly Parsons and Mrs. Arthur Follison.
That is not Mrs. Follison in the booth, is it?"

"Oh, no, Mrs. Guff!" protested the thin streak of lavender in a rasping
little lavender voice. "Mrs. Follison, though not a doll-face--indeed,
far from it--is of most aristocratic bearing."

"I suppose that person in the booth, then, is the adopted actress,"
guessed Mrs. Guff. "Any one can tell that's beauty and movement of the
professional type."

Johnny looked at Polly with hasty concern, but that young lady was
enjoying the joke on Constance and gripped his arm for silence.

"One can quite understand how poor Billy Parsons might become
infatuated with her doll-face," returned Miss Purry pityingly, since
she was herself entirely free from the crime of doll-facedness; "but
that the Parsons should adopt such a common person merely because Billy
died before he could marry her was inconsiderate of the rest of our
class."

"The artfulness of her!" exclaimed the thick one, lorgnetting the
graceful Constance with a fishy eye as the temporary flower girl
joyously greeted Ashley Loring and Val Russel and Bruce Townley, pinned
bouquets upon them and exchanged laughing banter with them.

"Dreadful!" agreed the shocked thin one. "Those are the very wiles by
which doll-faced stage women insnare our most desirable young men."

Constance looked about just then in search of Polly, and her eyes
lighted as they saw Johnny standing with her.

"Oh, Polly!" she called.

"Coming, Constance!" returned the hearty and cheery voice of Polly from
just behind the critics.

The ladies in lavender and orange were still gasping when Johnny Gamble
passed them with Polly. He had made up his mind about the river-front
property.

Loud acclaim hailed Polly and Johnny, for where they went there was
zest of life; and the boys, knowing well that Johnny never wore
flowers, made instant way for him at the violet booth.

"I'll take some blue ones, lady," announced Johnny gamely, intending to
wear them with defiance.

"I'll give you the nearest we have, mister," laughed Constance, and
promptly decorated him.

Since this was the closest her face and eyes had ever been to him, he
forgot to pay her and had to be reminded of that important duty by
Polly and all the boys in unison. There was a faint evasive trace of
perfume about her, more like the freshness of morning or the delicacy
of starlight than an actual essence, he vaguely thought with a groping
return to his poetic inclination. He felt the warmth of her velvet
cheek, even at its distance of a foot away, and there seemed to be a
pulsing thrill in the very air which intervened. For a startled instant
he found himself gazing deep down into her brown eyes. In that instant
her red lips curved in a fleeting smile--a smile of the type which
needs moist eyes to carry its tenderness. It was all over in a flash,
only a fragment of a second, which seemed a blissful pulsing eternity;
and at its conclusion he thought that her finger quivered as it brushed
his own, where he held out the lapel of his coat, and her cheek paled
ever so slightly--but these were dreams, he knew.

"I'm next, I think," grated a usually suave voice which now had a
decided tinge of unpleasantness; and Paul Gresham, selecting a bunch of
violets from the tray, held them out toward Constance, impatient to end
the all too pretty tableau.

"Next and served," Polly briskly told him; and, taking the boutonniere
from his fingers, she whisked it into place and pinned it and extracted
his money--all apparently in one deft operation.

"Thanks," said Gresham, blinking with the suddenness of it all and
sweeping with a glance of gloomy dissatisfaction, Polly, the bouquet,
Constance and Johnny. "I thought you were to be in the caramel booth,
Constance."

"I'm just going back," she informed him, pausing to straighten Johnny's
lapel, patting it in place and stepping back to view the result with a
critical eye. It seemed to need another coaxing bend and another pat,
both of which she calmly delivered.

A handsome passing couple caught Johnny's eye--a keen and
vigorous-looking elderly gentleman, and Springtime come among them in
the pink and white of apple blossoms--sweet and fresh and smiling; as
guileless as the May itself, but competent!

"Excuse me," said Johnny, and tore himself away from the girl whose
natural beauty made Mrs. Slosher an exquisite work of art. "Beg your
pardon, Mr. Slosher."

Mr. Slosher turned and smiled.

"Hello, Mr. Gamble!" he greeted him, while Mrs. Slosher gave him a
bright and cheery little nod. "I played old-fashioned army poker with
Colonel Bouncer and Ben Courtney and Mort Washer and Joe Close last
night--and the old robbers skinned me out of thirty-two dollars. They
spoke of you during the game and I guess you could get backing to any
amount in that crowd."

"Thanks for the tip," returned Johnny. "I may need it."

"You're going to give us our apartment-house property, aren't you?"
Mrs. Slosher knew by his very appearance.

"It's only a matter of closing the deal," Johnny told her with a
perfectly justifiable smile which Constance, from a distance,
criticized severely. He drew an envelope from his pocket and took from
it a paper which he passed to Mr. Slosher.

It was a written offer from the De Luxe Apartments Company for three
hundred thousand dollars.

"That makes my offer, then--at five per cent, advance--three hundred
and fifteen thousand," figured Slosher. "Is that a bargain?"

Johnny, glancing contentedly about the big inclosure, saw Jim Guff
waiting impatiently for a chance to speak with him.

"It's a bargain," he agreed, and pretty little Mrs. Slosher nodded her
head vehemently with innocent joy.

Gresham passed them by and tipped his hat to Mrs. Slosher, including
Mr. Slosher in the greeting. A pleasant idea struck Johnny.

"You scarcely intend to build your colored apartment-house under your
own name?" he suggested.

"Indeed, no!" laughed Mrs. Slosher happily. "All we wish is the result.
We ask for no credit."

"Moreover," warned Mr. Slosher, "I wouldn't care to have my purpose
known until after I have sold my own residence. I am a little worried,
however, about the detail you suggest. No man of any consequence would
injure the good will of his fellows by standing sponsor for such a
venture."

"I think I know your man," stated Gamble with pleasant anticipation.
"I'll tell you about him if you'll be careful not to let him or anybody
else know that I recommended him."

"I can figure out sufficient reasons for that," replied Slosher. "Is he
reliable?"

"He can give you security--and I suppose you had better exact it,"
advised Johnny. "He is the man who first secured the option from Miss
Purry."

"What is his name?"

"Collaton," and Johnny gazed serenely after Gresham.

"I'll send for him in the morning," decided Mr. Slosher.

When Johnny returned to the violet booth he found there Winnie and
Sammy Chirp, the latter with all his pockets and both his arms full of
Winnie's purchases and personal belongings, inextricably mixed with
similar articles belonging to Polly; and there was a new note of
usefulness which redeemed somewhat the feebleness of his smile. Loring
was helping Sammy to adjust his burdens; and Winnie, with the aid of
the mirror in her vanity box, was trying the effect of violets close to
her eyes. Johnny waited patiently for Loring to get through and then,
despite Polly's protest, dragged him away.

"I've arranged for the first dent in Gresham and Collaton," he
announced, and outlined the program which later on was carried out to
the letter. "I've fixed to have some valuable property placed in
Collaton's name, with Gresham as security. When that is done I want you
to go to Jacobs and play a mean trick on him. Make him serve that
attachment on Collaton's ostensible property. Collaton, having
confessed judgment on the note, can not fight it--and Gresham will have
to foot the bill."

Self-contained and undemonstrative as Loring was in public, he,
nevertheless, gave way to an uncontrollable burst of laughter which
humiliated him beyond measure when he discovered the attention he had
attracted.



CHAPTER XIII

IN WHICH JOHNNY BUYS A PRESENT AND HATCHES A SCHEME


Johnny, relying like a lost mariner on Polly Parsons and Constance Joy
to help him pick out a present for his only mother, approached Lofty's
with a diffidence amounting to awe. In that exclusive shop he would
meet miles of furbelowed femininity, but he would not have ventured
unprotected into those fluffed and billowed aisles for anything short
of a penance.

Being a philosopher, however, he kept his mind active in as many other
directions as possible, like a child deliberately feasting upon
thoughts of Santa Claus though on the way to a promised spanking.

"There's a hoodoo on this block," Johnny observed as they were caught
in the traffic crush almost in front of their destination.

"Lofty and Ersten must be the hoodooers, then," laughed Polly.
"Everybody else has gone away."

Johnny looked at the towering big Lofty establishment, which occupied
half the block, and at the dingy little ladies' tailoring shop, down
around the other corner, with speculative curiosity. About both, as
widely different as they were, there was the same indefinable
appearance of prosperity, as if the solid worth from within shone
heavily through.

"Lofty's couldn't move and Ersten wouldn't," supplemented Constance.

"Not that Dutchman!" returned Polly, laughing again as she peered into
the low dark windows of the ladies' tailoring shop. "I was in the other
day, and he told me three times that he would be right there to make my
walking frocks for the next thirteen years."

"He was having a quarrel with Mr. Schnitt about the light in the
workroom when I was in," observed Constance, "but he told me the same
thing, in his enjoyable German way, and he seemed almost angry about
it."

"That's the extent of his lease," guessed Johnny shrewdly. "They're
trying to get it away from him."

"I wonder why," speculated Constance.

"It's as simple as spending money," Johnny announced. "Lofty intends
building an extension."

"They won't tear down Ersten's shop," Polly confidently asserted.

"They'll move him in a wheelbarrow some night," Johnny prophesied. "If
I could grab his lease I could play a few hours."

Both the girls laughed at him for that speech.

"You'll be gray before the thirty-first of May," warned Polly.

"It turns anybody gray to dig up a million," agreed Johnny. "It's a
good guess, though, Polly. I counted seven new white ones this morning."

"That's a strange coincidence," commented Constance, with a secretly
anxious glance at his hair. "You're just seven hours behind your
schedule."

Johnny shook his head.

"That schedule goes round like an electric fan," he soberly declared.

"And there's no switch," Constance reminded him.

"Gresham," Johnny suggested with a smile.

Polly cast a sidelong glance at the pretty cousin into whose family she
had been adopted. The subject of Gresham was a painful one; and Johnny
felt his blundering bluntness keenly.

"There isn't any Gresham," laughingly asserted Polly. "There never was
any Gresham. Let's go to Coney Island to-night."

Both Constance and Johnny gave Polly a silent but sincere vote of
thanks.

Willis Lofty, who continued the progressive fortune of his father by
prowling about the vast establishment with a microscopic eye,
approached Polly with more than a shopkeeper's alacrity.

"You promised to send for me to be your clerk the next time you came
in," he chided her.

"I didn't come in this time," she gaily returned. "Mr. Gamble is the
customer," and she introduced Constance and the two gentlemen. "Mr.
Gamble wants to buy a silk shawl for a blue-eyed mother with gray wavy
hair and baby-pink cheeks."

"There are a lot of pretty shawls here," Constance added, "but none of
them seems quite good enough for this kind of a mother."

Young Lofty, himself looking more like a brisk and natty college youth
who had come in to buy a gift for his own mother than the successful
business man he was, glanced at the embarrassed Johnny with thorough
understanding.

"I think I know what you want," he said pleasantly; and, calling a boy,
he gave him some brief instructions. "We have some very beautiful
samples of French embroidered silks, just in yesterday, and if I can
get them away from our buyer you may have your choice. There's a
delicate gray, worked in pink, which would be very becoming to a mother
of that description. They're quite expensive, but, I believe, are worth
the money."

"That's what I want," stated Johnny. "I understand you're going to
build an extension, Mr. Lofty."

The girls gasped and then almost tittered.

Young Lofty ceased immediately to be the suave master of friendly
favors and became the harassed slave of finance.

"I don't know where you secured your information," he protested.

"I'm a fancy guesser," returned Johnny with a grin.

"I wish you were right," said Lofty soberly. "We have quietly gained
possession of nearly all the property in the block, but we're not quite
ready to build, nevertheless."

"I can finish the sad story," sympathized Johnny. "One granite-headed
ladies' tailor threatens to block the way for thirteen years."

Lofty was surprised by the accuracy of his knowledge. "I'd like to
borrow your guesser," he admitted.

Johnny and the girls looked at each other with smiles of infantile
glee. They were delighted that they had deduced all this while waiting
for a traffic Napoleon to blow his whistle.

"Somebody's been telling," surmised Lofty. "The worst of it is, we own
the original lease. Father covered the entire block, in fact."

Johnny's thorough knowledge of New York business conditions enabled him
to make another good conjecture.

"Your firm has made money too fast," he remarked. "Your father hoped to
build in twenty years, and you need to build in seven."

"He provided much better than that," returned Lofty in quick defense of
his father's acumen. "He only allowed ten-year leases; but the one
occupied by Ersten came to him with a twenty-year life on it. We've
bought off all the other tenants, at startlingly extravagant figures in
some cases; but Ersten won't listen."

"Did you rattle your keys?" inquired Johnny, much interested.

"As loudly as possible," returned Lofty, smiling. "I went up three
steps at a time until I had offered him a hundred thousand; then I
quit. Money wouldn't buy him."

"Then you can't build," innocently remarked Constance.

Willis Lofty immediately displayed his real age in his eyes and his
jaws.

"I'll tear down the top part of his building and put a tunnel around
him if necessary," he asserted.

"You won't like that any better than Ersten," commented Johnny. "I
think I'll have to make another guess for you."

"I like your work," replied Lofty with a smile. "Let's hear it."

"All right. I guess I'll buy Ersten's lease for you."

"You'll have to find another answer, I'm afraid," Lofty hopelessly
stated. "I've had a regiment of real estate men helping me devil Ersten
to death, but he won't sell."

"Of course he'll sell," declared Johnny confidently. "You can buy
anything in New York if you go at it right. Each deal is like a Chinese
puzzle. You never do it twice alike."

"Try this one," urged Lofty. "There's a good commission in it."

"Commission? Not for Johnny!" promptly refused that young man; "I'll
buy it myself, and hold you up for it."

"If you come at me too strongly I'll build that tunnel," warned Lofty.

"I'll figure it just below tunnel prices," Johnny laughingly assured
him. The gray shawl with the pink relief came up just then, and all
four of them immediately bought it for Johnny's sole surviving mother.



CHAPTER XIV

IN WHICH JOHNNY TRIES TO MIX BUSINESS WITH SKAT


Louis Ersten, who puffed redly wherever he did not grayly bristle, met
Johnny Gamble half-way. Johnny's half consisted in stating that he had
come to see Mr. Ersten in reference to his lease. Mr. Ersten's half
consisted in flatly declining to discuss that subject on the premises.

"Here--I make ladies' suits," he explained. "If you come about such a
business, with good recommendations from my customers, I talk with you.
Otherwise not."

"I'll talk any place you say," consented Johnny. "Where do you lunch?"

"At August Schoppenvoll's," replied Mr. Ersten with no hint of an
intention to disclose where August Schoppenvoll's place might be. "At
lunch-time I talk no business; I eat."

The speculator studied those forbidding bushy brows in silence for a
moment. Beneath them, between heavy lids, glowed a pair of very stern
gray eyes; but at the outward corner of each eye were two deep,
diverging creases, which belied some of the sternness.

"Where do you sleep?" Johnny asked.

"I don't talk business in my sleep," asserted Mr. Ersten stoutly, and
then he laughed with considerable heartiness, pleased immensely with
his own joke and not noticing that it was more than half Johnny's.
After all, Johnny had only implied it; he had said it! Accordingly he
relented a trifle. "From four to half-past five, at Schoppenvoll's, I
play skat," he added.

"Thank you," said Johnny briskly, and started for the nearest telephone
directory. "I'll drop in on you."

"Well," returned Ersten resignedly, "it won't do you any good."

Johnny grinned and went out, having first made a swift but careful
estimate of Ersten's room, accommodations and requirements. Outside, he
studied the surrounding property, then called on a real estate firm.

At four-ten he went into the dim little basement wine-room of
Schoppenvoll. He had timed this to a nicety, hoping to arrive just
after the greetings were over and before the game had begun, and he
accomplished that purpose; for, with the well-thumbed cards lying
between them and three half-emptied steins of beer on the table, Ersten
was opposite a pink-faced man with curly gray hair, whose clothes sat
upon his slightly portly person with fashion-plate precision. It was
this very same suit about which Ersten was talking when Johnny entered.

"Na, Kurzerhosen," he said with a trace of pathos in his guttural
voice, "when you die we have no more suits of clothes like that."

"I thank you," returned the flexible soft voice of Kurzerhosen. "It is
like the work you make in your ladies' garments, Ersten. When you die
we shall have no more good walking clothes for our womenfolks."

"And when Schoppenvoll dies we have no more good wine," declared Ersten
with conviction and a wave of his hand as Schoppenvoll approached them
with an inordinately long-necked bottle, balancing it carefully on its
side.

Johnny had drawn near the table now, but no one saw him, for this
moment was one of deep gravity. Schoppenvoll, a tall, straight-backed
man with the dignity of a major, a waving gray pompadour, and a
clean-cut face that might have belonged to a Beethoven, set down the
tray at the very edge of the table and slid it gently into place. An
overgrown fat boy, with his sleeves rolled to his shoulders, brought
three shining glasses, three bottles of Glanzen Wasser and a corkscrew.

It was at this most inopportune time that Johnny Gamble spoke.

"Well, Mr. Ersten," he cheerfully observed, "I've come round to make
you an offer for that lease."

Mr. Ersten, his gnarled eyebrows bent upon the sacred ceremony about to
be performed, looked up with a grunt--and immediately returned to his
business. Mr. Kurzerhosen glanced round for an instant in frowning
appeal. Mr. Schoppenvoll paid no attention whatever to the
interruption. He gave an exhibition of cork-pulling which a watchmaker
might have envied for its delicacy; he poured the tall glasses
half-full of the clear amber fluid and opened the bottles of Glanzen
Wasser. The three friends, Schoppenvoll now sitting, clinked their
steins solemnly and emptied them. Ersten wiped the foam from his
bristling gray mustache.

"About that lease I have nothing to say," he told Johnny, fixing a
stern eye upon him. "I will not sell it."

The other gentlemen of the party looked upon the stranger as an
unforgivable interloper.

"I'm prepared to make you a very good offer for it," insisted Johnny.
"I have a better location for you, not half a block away, and I've
taken an option on a long-time lease for it."

The stolid boy removed the steins. The three gentlemen poured the
Glanzen Wasser into their wine.

"I will not sell the lease," announced Ersten with such calm finality
that Johnny apologized for the intrusion and withdrew. As he went out,
Ersten and Kurzerhosen and Schoppenvoll, in blissful forgetfulness of
him, raised their glasses for the first delicious sip of the
Rheinthranen, of which there were only two hundred and eighty precious
bottles left in the world.

Outside, Johnny hailed a passing taxi. He called on Morton Washer, on
Ben Courtney, on Colonel Bouncer, and even on Candy-King Slosher; but
to no purpose. Finally he descended upon iron-hard Joe Close.

"Do you know anybody who knows Louis Ersten, the ladies' tailor?" he
asked almost automatically.

"Ersten?" replied Close unexpectedly. "I've quarreled with him for
thirty years. He banks with me."

"Start a quarrel for me," requested Johnny. "I've been down to look him
over. I can do business with him if he'll listen."

Close smiled.

"I doubt it," he rejoined. "Ersten has just lost the coat cutter who
helped him build up his business, and he's soured on everything in the
world but Schoppenvoll's and skat and Rheinthranen."

"Could I learn to play skat in about a day?" inquired Johnny.

"You have no German ancestors, have you?" retorted Close.

"No."

"Then you couldn't learn it in a thousand years!"

"I have to find his weak spot," Johnny persisted. "If you'll just make
him talk with me I'll do the rest."

Close shook his head and sighed.

"I'll try," he agreed, "but I feel about as hopeful as I would be of
persuading a bull to sleep in a red blanket."

Johnny had caught Close as he was leaving his club for home, and they
went round immediately to Schoppenvoll's. At exactly five-thirty Ersten
emerged from the wine-room with Kurzerhosen.

"Hello, Louis!" hailed the waiting Close. "Jump into the taxi here, and
I'll take you down to your train."

Ersten and Kurzerhosen looked at each other.

"Always we walk," declared Ersten.

"There's room for both of you," laughed Close, shaking hands with
Kurzerhosen.

Ersten sighed.

"Always we walk," he grumbled, but he climbed in.

When they were started for the terminal Ersten leaned forward, with his
bushy brows lowering, and glared Close sternly in the eye.

"I will not sell the lease!" he avowed before a word had been spoken.

"We know that," admitted Close; "but why?"

Ersten hesitated a moment.

"Oh, well; I tell you," he consented with an almost malignant glance in
the direction of Johnny. "All my customers know me in that place."

"Your customers would find you anywhere," Close complimented him.

"Maybe they do," admitted Ersten. "My cousin, Otto Gruber, had a fine
saloon business. He moved across the street--and broke up."

"It was not the same," Close assured him. "In saloons, men want to feel
at home. In your business, your customers come because they get the
best--and they care nothing for the shop itself."

"They like the place," asserted Ersten. "I've made a good living there
for almost forty years. Why should I move?"

"Because you would be nearer Fifth Avenue," Johnny ventured to
interject, and spoke to the chauffeur, who drew up to the curb. "This
is the place I have in mind, Mr. Ersten."

"They come to me where I am," insisted Ersten, refusing to look, with
unglazed eyes.

"You have no such show-windows," persisted Johnny.

"My customers know my goods inside."

"There's a big light gallery--twice the size of your present workrooms."

Ersten's cheeks suddenly puffed and his forehead purpled, while every
hair on his head and face stuck straight out.

"My workroom is good enough!" he exploded. "I told it to Schnitt!"

"Is Schnitt your coat cutter?" asked Johnny, remembering what Constance
and Close had said.

Ersten glowered at him.

"He was. Thirty-seven years he worked with me; then he tried to run my
business. He is gone. Let him go!"

"He objected to the light in the workroom, didn't he?" went on the
cross-examiner, carefully piecing the situation together bit by bit.

"He could see for thirty-seven years, till everybody talks about
moving; then he goes crazy," blurted Ersten.

"Won't you look at this place?" he was urged. "Let me show it to you
to-morrow."

"I stay where I am," sullenly declared Ersten, still angry. "We miss my
train."

Close told the driver to go on. Before Ersten alighted at the terminal,
Johnny made one more attempt upon him.

"If a majority of your best customers insisted that they liked the new
shop better would you look at the other place?" he asked.

"My customers don't run my business either!" he puffed.

"Good-by," stated Mr. Kurzerhosen, who had been looking steadily at the
opposite side of the street throughout the journey. "I thank you."

Close stared at Johnny in silence for a moment after their guests had
gone.

"I told you so," he said. "You'll have to give him up as a bad job."

"He's beginning to look like a good job," asserted Johnny. "He can be
handled like wax, but you have to melt him. Schnitt's the real reason.
Do you know Schnitt?"

"I am happy to say I do not," laughed Close. "One like Ersten is
enough."

"Somebody must lead me to him," declared Johnny. "I'm going to see
Schnitt in the morning. I'd call to-night if I didn't have to be the
big works at a Coney Island dinner party."

"I don't see how Schnitt can help you," puzzled Close.

"He's the tack in the tire. I can see what happened as well as if I had
been there. Ersten knew he ought to move. Lofty tried to buy him and
Schnitt tried to force him. Then he got his Dutch up. Schnitt left on
account of it. Now Ersten won't do anything."

"You can't budge him an inch," prophesied the banker. "I know him."

"I'll coax him," stated Johnny determinedly. "There's a profit in him,
and I have to have it!"



CHAPTER XV

IN WHICH WINNIE CHAPERONS THE ENTIRE PARTY TO CONEY ISLAND


At the last minute, Aunt Pattie Boyden fortunately contracted a
toothache--and the Coney Island party was compelled to go unchaperoned.
They tried to be regretful and sympathetic as the six of them climbed
into the big touring car, but Ashley Loring found them a solace.

"Never you mind," he soothed them--"Polly will chaperon us."

"You've lost your address book," declared that young lady indignantly.
"Polly Parsons is not the person you have in mind. I'll be old soon
enough without that! The chaperon of this party is my adopted sister,
Winnie."

"Oh, fun!" accepted the nominee with delight. "We had a course in that
at school." And Winnie, in all the glory of her fluffy youthfulness,
toyed carefully with the points of her Moorish collar. "I was elected
chaperon of the Midnight Fudge Club, and the girls all said that I
fooled Old Meow oftener than anybody!"

Thereafter there was no lull in the conversation; for Winnie, once
started on school reminiscences, filled all gaps to overflowing; and
Sammy Chirp, he of the feeble smile, whose diffidence had denied him
the gift of language, gazed on her in rapt and happy stupefaction.

Meanwhile, Johnny Gamble found himself gazing as raptly at Constance
until the chaperon, in a brief interlude between reminiscences, caught
him at it. She reached over and touched him on the back of the hand
with the tip of one soft pink finger. Immediately she held that finger
to her right eye and closed her left one, and Johnny felt himself
blushing like a school-boy.

There was a trace of resentment in his embarrassment, he found. The
strain of being compelled to make a million dollars, before he could
tell this only desirable young woman in the world that he loved her,
was beginning to oppress him. He wanted to tell her now; but it was a
task beyond him to ask her to forfeit her own fortune until he could
replace it by another. Times were hard, he reflected.

He was now twelve hours behind his schedule and possessed of sixty
thousand dollars less than he should have. At nine o'clock to-morrow
morning that deficit would begin to pile up again at the rate of five
thousand dollars an hour. By comparison their auto seemed slow, and he
spoke to the driver about it. How well Constance Joy was in sympathy
with him and followed his thought, was shown by the fact that she
heartily agreed with him, though they were already exceeding the
Brooklyn speed limit.

"I not only want to be the chaperon but the dictator of this tour,"
declared Winnie when they alighted at the big playground. "I've never
been here before, and I don't want anybody to tell me anything I'm
going to see."

"It's your party," announced Johnny promptly. "Let's be plumb vulgar
about it." And he thrust a big roll of bills into her hands.

"You're a darling!" she exclaimed, her eyes glistening with delight.
"May I kiss him, girls?"

"Ask Johnny," laughed Polly, but Johnny had disappeared behind the
others of the party.

It took Winnie five minutes to chase him down, and she caught him, with
the assistance of Constance, in the thickest crowd and in the
best-lighted space on Surf Avenue, where Constance held him while he
received his reward.

"It's a new game," Johnny confessed, though blushing furiously. "I'll
be 'it' any time you say."

"Once is enough," asserted Winnie, entirely unruffled. "Your face is
scratchy. Come on, you folks; I'm going to buy you a dinner." And,
leading the way into the first likely-looking place, she ordered a
comprehensive meal which started with pickles and finished with pie.

Her party was a huge success, for it laughed its way from one end of
Coney to the other. It rode on wooden horses; on wobbling camels; in
whirling tubs; on iron-billowed oceans; down trestled mountains;
through painted caves--on everything which had rollers, or runners, or
supporting arms. It withstood shocks and bumps and dislocations and
dizziness--and it ran squarely into Heinrich Schnitt!

Three tables, placed end to end at the rail of a Shoot-the-Chutes lake,
were required to accommodate Heinrich Schnitt's party. First, there was
Heinrich himself, white as wax and stoop-shouldered and extremely
clean. At the other end of the table sat Mama Schnitt, who bulged, and
always had butter on her thumb. To the right of Heinrich sat
Grossmutter Schnitt, in a black sateen dress, with her back bowed like
a new moon and her little old face withered like a dried white rose.

Next sat young Heinrich Schnitt and his wife, Milly, who was very
fashionable and wore a lace shirt-waist--though she was not so
fashionable that she was ashamed of any of the rest of the party.

Between young Heinrich and Milly sat their little Henry and little Rosa
and little Milly and the baby, all stiffly starched and round-faced and
red-cheeked. Besides these were Carrie, whose husband was dead; and
Carrie's Louis; and Willie Schnitt with Flora Kraus, whom he was to
marry two years from last Easter; and Lulu, who was pretty, and went
with American boys in the face of broken-hearted opposition.

In front of each member of the party--except the baby--was a glass of
beer and a "hot dog", and down the center of the long table were three
pasteboard shoe boxes, full of fine lunch, flanking Flora Kraus' fancy
basket of potato salad and fried chicken, as well prepared as any those
Schnitts could put up.

It was Constance who, walking quietly with Johnny, discovered Heinrich
Schnitt in the midst of his throng and casually remarked it.

"There's the nice old German who cuts my coats," she observed.

"Schnitt!" exclaimed Johnny, so loudly that she was afraid Schnitt
might hear him. "Let me hear you talk to him."

She looked at him in perplexity for a moment.

"Oh, yes; the lease," she remembered. "I'll introduce you and you can
ask him about it."

"Don't mention it!" hastily objected Johnny. "You may introduce me, but
you do the talking."

"All right, boss," she laughingly agreed, and turned straight over to
the head of the Schnitts' table, where she introduced her companion in
due form.

"I want my walking suit," she demanded.

Heinrich's face had lighted with pleasure at the sight of Constance,
but there was a trace of sadness in his voice.

"You must tell Louis Ersten," he politely advised her.

"I did," protested Constance. "He's holding it back on account of the
coat, and that's your affair."

"It is Louis Ersten's," insisted Heinrich with dignity. "I have retired
from business."

"You don't mean to say you've left Ersten?" returned Constance in
surprise.

"I have retired from business," reiterated Heinrich.

"Ersten wouldn't give papa enough room," broke in Mama Schnitt
indignantly, "so he quits, and he don't go back till he does."

"So I don't ever go back," concluded Heinrich.

"Well, we got enough that papa don't have to work any more," asserted
Mama Schnitt with proper pride and a glance at Flora Kraus; "but he
gets lonesome. That's why we make him come down to Coney to-day and
enjoy himself. He was with Louis Ersten thirty-seven years."

A wave of homesickness swept over Heinrich.

"I take it easy in my old days," he stoutly maintained, but with such
inward distress that, without a protest, he allowed the waiter to
remove his half-emptied glass of beer.

"I'm glad you can take it easy," declared Constance, "but Ersten's
customers will miss you very much--and I am sure Ersten will, too."

"We worked together thirty-seven years," said Schnitt wistfully.

"I'm sure it's only obstinacy," commented Constance when she and Johnny
had rejoined their party. "Why, Mr. Schnitt and Mr. Ersten have grown
up together in the business, and they seemed more like brothers than
anything else. I'd give anything to bring them together again!"

"I'll ask you for it some time," asserted Johnny confidently.

He caught a flash of challenge in her eyes and realized that he was
moving faster than his schedule would permit.

"I'm going to bring them together, you know," he assured her in
confusion.

"I do hope so," she demurely replied.

"We're wasting an awful lot of time!" called Winnie. "The Canals of
Venice! We haven't been in this." And she promptly bought six tickets.

In the bustle of taking boats an officious guard succeeded, for the
thousandth time that day, in the joyful duty of separating a party; and
Constance and Johnny were left behind to enjoy the next boat all to
themselves.

It was dim and cool in there--all narrow gravity canals, and quaint
canvas buildings, and queer arches, and mellow lights, with little dark
curves and long winding reaches, and a restfulness almost like
solemnity.

It was the first time Johnny had been in such close companionship with
Constance as this strange isolation gave them, and he did not know what
to say. After all, what was the use of saying? They were there, side by
side, upon the gently flowing water, far, far away from all the world;
and it would seem almost rude to break that bliss with language, which
so often fails to interpret thought.

Constance's hand was drooping idly across her knee and, by an
uncontrollable impulse, Johnny's hand, all by itself, slid over and
gently clasped the whiter and slenderer one. It did not draw away; and,
huddled up on their low narrow seat, bumping against the wooden banks
and floating on and on, they cared not whither, they stared into
oblivion in that semi-trancelike condition that sometimes accompanies
the peculiar state in which they found themselves.

"Oh-ho-o-o-o!" rang the clear voice of Winnie from a parallel canal
just behind them.

Constance, flushing violently, attempted to jerk her hand away; but
Johnny, animated by a sudden aggressiveness, clasped it tightly and
held it--captive--up to view.

At that interesting moment another sharp turn in the canal brought them
face to face with an approaching boat in which were Paul Gresham and
Jim Collaton!

"I said it was a girl," charged Collaton, studying the green pallor of
Gresham's face with wondering interest as they stepped out into the
glare of the million electric bulbs.

"That is not a topic for you to discuss," returned Gresham, looking up
the brilliantly lighted board walk around the bend of which Johnny
Gamble, with Constance on one arm and Winnie on the other, was gaily
following Polly, that young lady being escorted by the attentive Loring
and the submissive Sammy.

"That's what you said before," retorted Collaton, his eyebrows and
lashes even more invisible in this illumination than in broad
day-light. "It's time, though, for a showdown. You drag me into dark
corners and talk over schemes to throw the hooks into Johnny
Gamble--and I tell you I'm afraid of him!"

"You're mistaken," asserted Gresham dryly. "It was I who told you that
you were afraid of him."

"I admitted it all right," sulkily answered Collaton. "He's awake now,
I tell you; and he's not a safe man to fool with. He turned our last
trick against us, and that's enough hint for me."

"Your trick, you mean," corrected Gresham.

"Our trick, I said!" insisted Collaton, suddenly angry. "Look here,
Gresham, I won't stand any monkey business from you! If there's ever
any trouble comes out of this you'll get your share of it, and don't
you forget it! You've had me lay attachments against the
Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company on forged notes. Since I had
nothing, Johnny paid them, because he was square. The last attachment,
though--for fifty thousand--he held off until I got that Slosher
Apartment scheme in my own name, and turned it against me; and you had
to pay it, because you had stood good for me."

"What difference does that make to you?" demanded Gresham. "It was my
own money and I got it back."

"It makes just this much difference," explained Collaton: "Gamble and
Loring are busy tracing all these transactions; and when they find out
anything it will be fastened on me, for you never figure in the deals.
You even try to avoid acknowledging to me that you have anything to do
with them."

"You get all the money," Gresham reminded him.

"That's why I know you're framing it up to let me wear the iron
bracelets if anything comes off. Now you play square with me or I'll
hand you a jolt that you won't forget! There's a girl responsible for
your crazy desire to put my old partner on the toboggan--and that was
the girl. You see I happen to know all about it."

Gresham considered the matter in silence for some time, and Collaton
let him think without interruption. They sat down now at one of the
little tables and Collaton curtly ordered some drinks.

"It's a very simple matter," Gresham finally stated. "My father was to
have married Miss Joy's aunt but did not. When the aunt came to die she
left Miss Joy a million dollars, but coupled with it the provision that
she must marry me. That's all."

"It's enough," laughed Collaton. "I understand now why Johnny Gamble
wants to make a million dollars. As soon as he gets it he'll propose to
Miss Joy, she'll accept him and let the million slide. Who gets it?"

"Charity."

"Why, Gresham, I'm ashamed of you!" Collaton mocked. "The descendant of
a noble English house is making as sordid an affair of this as if he
were a cheese dealer! I have the gift of second sight and I can tell
you just what's going to happen. Johnny Gamble will make his million
dollars--and I'm for him. He'll marry Miss Joy--and I'm for her. That
other million will go to charity--and I'm for it. I hope they all win!"

"You're foolish," returned Gresham, holding his temper through the
superiority which had always nettled Collaton. "You like money and I'm
showing you a way to get it from Johnny Gamble."

The waiter brought the drinks. Collaton paid for them, tossed off his
own and rose.

"I've had all of that money I want," he declared. "Whatever schemes you
have in the future you will have to work yourself, and whatever trouble
comes of it you may also enjoy alone--because I'll throw you."

"You would find difficulty in doing that," Gresham observed with a
smile. "I fancy that, if I were to send the missing books of the
defunct Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company to Mr. Gamble, you would be
too busy explaining things on your account to bother with my affairs to
any extent."

"I was in jail once," Collaton told him with quiet intensity. "If I
ever go again the man who puts me there will have to go along, so that
I will know where to find him when I get out. Good-by."

"Wait a minute," said Gresham. "Your digestion is bad or else you made
a recent winning in your favorite bucket-shop. Now listen to me:
Whatever Johnny Gamble's doing at the present time is of no
consequence. Let him go through with the deal he has on and think he
has scared you off. I'll only ask you to make one more attempt against
him. That's all that will be necessary, for it will break him and at
the same time destroy Miss Joy's confidence in him. He has over a third
of a million dollars. We can get it all."

"Excuse me," refused Collaton. "If I ran across Johnny Gamble's
pocket-book in a dark alley I'd walk square around it without stopping
to look for the string to it."

Gresham rose.

"Then you won't take any part in the enterprise?"

"Not any," Collaton assured him with a wave of negation. "If Johnny
will let me alone I'll let him alone, and be glad of the chance."

Later, Gresham saw Johnny come back and speak to Heinrich Schnitt; but
he had no curiosity about it. Whatever affairs Johnny had in hand just
now he might carry through unmolested, for Gresham was busy with larger
plans for his future undoing.



CHAPTER XVI

IN WHICH JOHNNY PLANS A REHEARSAL BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS


Johnny Gamble was waiting at the store when Louis Ersten came down the
next morning. Mr. Ersten walked in with a portentous frown on his brow
and began to take off his coat as he strode back toward the cutting
room. He frowned still more deeply as Johnny confronted him.

"Again!" he exclaimed, looking about him in angry despair as if he had
some wild idea of calling a porter. "First it's Lofty; then it's some
slick real estate schemer; then it's you! I will not sell the lease!"

"I won't say lease this time," Johnny hastily assured him.

"Then that is good," gruffly assented Ersten with a trace of a
sarcastic snarl.

"Heinrich Schnitt," remarked Johnny.

That name was an open sesame. Louis Ersten stopped immediately with his
coat half-off.

"So-o-o!" he ejaculated, surprised into a German exclamation that he
had long since deliberately laid aside. "What is it about Heinrich?"

"I saw him at Coney Island last night. He doesn't look well."

"He don't work. It makes him sick!" Ersten's voice was as gruff as
ever; but Johnny, watching narrowly, saw that he was concerned,
nevertheless.

"His eyes are bad," went on Johnny, "but I think he would like to come
back to work."

"Did he say it?" asked Ersten with a haste which betrayed the eagerness
he did not want to show.

"Not exactly," admitted Johnny, "but if he knew that he could have a
workroom where there is a better light I know he would like to come.
His eyes are bad, you know."

"I said it makes him sick not to work," insisted Ersten. "If he wants
to come he knows the way."

"His job's waiting for him, isn't it?"

"In this place, yes. In no other place. I don't move my shop to please
my coat cutter--even if he is the best in New York and a boy that come
over from the old country with me in the same ship, and his word as
good as gold money. It's like I told Heinrich when he left: If he comes
back to me he comes back here--in this place. Are his eyes very bad?"

"Not very," judged Johnny. "He must take care of them though."

"Sure he must," agreed Ersten. "We're getting old. Thirty-seven years
we worked together. I stood up for Heinrich at his wedding and he stood
up for me at mine. He's a stubborn assel!"

"That's the trouble," mused Johnny, "He said he wouldn't work in this
shop any more."

"Here must he come--in this place!" reiterated Ersten, instantly stern;
and he walked sturdily away, removing his coat.

Johnny found Heinrich Schnitt weeding onions, picking out each weed
with minute care and petting the tender young bulbs through their
covering of soft earth as he went along. Mama Schnitt, divided into two
bulges by an apron-string and wearing a man's broad-brimmed straw hat,
stood placidly at the end of the row for company.

"Good morning, Mr. Schnitt," said Johnny cheerfully. "I have just come
from Ersten's. He wants you to come back."

"Did he say it?" asked Heinrich with no disguise of his eagerness.

"Not exactly," admitted Johnny, "but he said that you are the best coat
cutter in New York and that your job's waiting for you."

"I know it," asserted Heinrich. "Is he going to move?"

"Not just yet," was the diplomatic return. "He will after you go back
to work, I think."

"I never work in that place again," announced the old man with a sigh.
"I said it."

"That shop isn't light enough, is it?" suggested the messenger.

"There is no light and no room," agreed Heinrich.

"Your eyes began to give out on you, didn't they?"

Heinrich straightened himself and his waxen-white face turned a
delicate pink with indignation.

"My eyes are like a young man's yet!" he stoutly maintained.

"You don't read much any more," charged Mama Schnitt.

"My glasses don't fit," he retorted to that.

"You changed them last winter," she insisted. "Now, papa, don't be
foolish! You know your eyes got bad in Louis Ersten's dark workroom.
You never tell lies. Say it!"

Heinrich struggled for a moment between his pride and his honesty.

"Well, maybe they ain't just so good as they was," he admitted.

"That's what I told Ersten," stated Johnny. "He's worried stiff about
it! I think he'll move so you have a lighter workroom if you go back."

"When he moves I come."

"He won't move till you do."

"Then there is nothing," concluded Schnitt resignedly, and stooped over
to pull another weed. "Mama, maybe Mr. Gamble likes some of that wine
Carrie's husband made the year he died."

"Ja voll," assented Mamma Schnitt heartily, and toddled away to get it.

"I'll fix it for you," offered Johnny. "You go to Ersten and say you
will come back; then Ersten will get a new place before you start to
work."

Heinrich straightened up with alacrity this time, his face fairly
shining with pleasure.

"I do that much," he agreed.

"Good!" approved Johnny. "You want to be careful what you say, though,
for Ersten is stubborn."

"He is stubborn like a mule," Schnitt pointed out with sober gravity.

"You must say you have come back to work in that place."

"I'll never do it!" indignantly declared Heinrich, his face lengthening.

"Certainly not," agreed Johnny hurriedly. "You tell him you want a
month to rest up your eyes."

"I don't need it!" protested Heinrich.

"You only say that so you won't have to work in that shop, but, never
mind, I'll fix it so he offers it," patiently explained Johnny, and
proceeded to make it perfectly plain. "You say that you have come back
to work. Don't say another word."

"I have come back to work," repeated Schnitt.

"Then Ersten will ask you: 'In this place?' You say: 'Yes.'"

Heinrich began to shake his head vigorously, but Johnny gave him no
chance to refuse.

"You say: 'Yes'!" he emphatically insisted. "Ersten will tell you to
take a month off to rest your eyes."

Again Heinrich started to shake his head, and again Johnny hurried on.

"You say: 'Thank you'," he directed; "then you go away. Before your
month is up, Ersten will send for you in a new shop!"

"Will he promise it?"

"No," confessed Johnny. "I promised it but Ersten will do it."

Heinrich pondered the matter long and soberly.

"All right; I try it," he agreed.

"Three cheers!" said Johnny with a huge sigh of relief. "I'll be back
after you in about an hour." And he reluctantly paused long enough to
drink some of the wine which Carrie's husband helped to make. It was
probably good wine.

Ersten was in the cutting room when Johnny again arrived at the store,
and a clerk took his name up very dubiously. The clerk returned,
smiling with extreme graciousness, and informed the caller that he was
to walk straight back. Johnny found Ersten in spectacles and apron,
with a tape-line round his neck and a piece of chalk in his hand, and
wearing a very worried look, while all the workmen in the room appeared
subdued but highly nervous.

"Did you see him?" Ersten asked immediately.

"He is anxious to come back," Johnny was happy to state.

"When?" This very eagerly.

"To-day."

Ersten took his apron and the tape and threw them on a table with a
slam.

"I invite you to have a glass of Rheinthranen," he offered.

"Thanks," returned Johnny carelessly, not quite appreciating the
priceless honor. "I'll have Mr. Schnitt here in an hour, but you must
be careful what you say to him. He is stubborn."

"Sure, I know it," impetuously agreed Ersten. "He is an old assel. What
is to be said?" Johnny could feel the nervous tension of the room
lighten as Ersten walked out with him.

"It will be like this," Johnny explained: "Schnitt will come in with me
and say: 'I have come back to work.'"

"In this place?" demanded Ersten.

"Ask him that. He will say: 'Yes.'"

"Will he?" cried Ersten, unable to believe his ears.

"That's what he will say--but he won't do it."

"What is it?" exploded the shocked Ersten. "You say he says he will
come back to work in this place, but he won't do it! That is
foolishness!"

"No, it isn't," insisted Johnny. "Now listen carefully. Schnitt says:
'I have come back to work.' You say: 'In this place?' Schnitt says:
'Yes.' Then you tell him that he must take a month to rest up his eyes."

"But must I do his coat cutting for a month yet?" protested the abused
Ersten. "Nobody can do it in New York for my customers but Heinrich
Schnitt and me."

"It may not be a month. Just now he might take some of your more
important work home, where the light is better. That would be working
for you in this place."

"Well, maybe," admitted Ersten puffing out his cheeks in frowning
consideration.

Johnny held his breath as he approached the crucial observation.

"By the time his eyes are rested you may have a better shop for the old
man to work in."

Ersten fixed him with a burning glare.

"I see it!" he ejaculated. "You put this job up to make me sell my
lease!"

Johnny looked him in the eye with a frank smile.

"Of course I did," he confessed. "I didn't know either you or Schnitt
until yesterday."

Ersten knit his bristling brows, but presently grinned.

"You're a smart young man," he complimented. "But I don't promise
Schnitt I move."

"Certainly not," agreed the smart young man, and mopped his brow. The
fight was won! "Here is exactly what you must say"--and he went
patiently over the entire dialogue again, word by word.

Ersten listened carefully with frowns at some parts.

"Well, I try it," he dubiously promised.

They were in front of Schoppenvoll's now; and Johnny, noting Ersten's
fretfulness, proved himself a keen student of psychology by suggesting:
"I'm thirsty for that special drink of yours, Ersten; but suppose we
put it off till after I've brought Schnitt."

"Oh, well, if you say so," returned Ersten with poorly assumed
indifference.

"It's as fine as a frog's feather!" Johnny assured Heinrich Schnitt
half an hour later.

"Will he move?" asked Heinrich.

"Yes, but you mustn't say anything about it"

"Well, I like to know it," returned Heinrich with proper caution.

"I have his promise," asserted Johnny.

"Then he moves," declared Heinrich, fully satisfied.

The mediator conveyed Heinrich to Ersten's with much the same feeling
that he would have endured in carrying a full plate of soup--and he had
that feeling all through the conference.

"Hello, Heinrich!" greeted Ersten with indifference.

"Hello, Louis!" returned Schnitt with equal nonchalance; then he
assumed a rigid pose and recited: "I have come back to work."

"In this place?" asked Ersten, with parrotlike perfection.

A lump came into Heinrich Schnitt's throat. He struggled with that
lump, but the simple word "Yes" would not come.

"I say yes; but I don't--"

Johnny jerked him violently by the sleeve.

"He said 'Yes'," he informed Ersten.

"Well, maybe," Ersten was decent enough to admit.

There was an uncomfortable pause in which the two men evinced a slight
disposition to glare at each other.

"Mr. Schnitt's eyes are bad," suggested Johnny hopefully.

"My eyes are like a young man's!" asserted Schnitt, his pride coming
uppermost.

"He needs a month to rest them," insisted the buffer, becoming a trifle
panic-stricken; and he tapped the sole of Ersten's shoe with his foot.

"Must it take a month, Heinrich?" implored Ersten, taking the cue.

"Well, how soon you move?" inquired Schnitt.

"I don't promise I move!" flared Ersten.

"I never come back--"

"Till his eyes are better," hastily interrupted Johnny. "Look here, you
fellows! You're balling up this rehearsal! Now let's get together.
Schnitt, you'll come back to work in this place, won't you?"

"Well, I say it anyhow," admitted Schnitt reluctantly.

"Ersten, you offer him a month to rest his eyes, don't you?"

"I don't promise him I move!" bristled Ersten.

"We understand that," soothed Johnny, "all of us. Schnitt, you'll take
some of Mr. Ersten's work home with you from this place, won't you?"

"Sure, I do that," consented Schnitt eagerly. "Louis, what is in the
shop?"

Ersten had a struggle of his own.

"All what was in when you left," he bravely confessed. "That coat for
Mrs. Follison gives me trouble for a week!"

"She's got funny shoulders," commented Schnitt with professional
impersonality. "It's the left one. You cut it--Let me see it."

There was a sibilant sound as of many suppressed sighs of relief when
Heinrich walked into the cutting room, but no man grinned or gave more
than a curt nod of greeting--for the forbidding eye of Louis Ersten
glared fiercely upon them. He strode across to the table held sacred to
himself and spread down a piece of cloth, bounded by many curves.
Heinrich Schnitt gave it but one comprehensive glance.

"Na, na, na!" he shrilly commented. "Here it is wrong!" And, grabbing
up a slice of chalk, he made a deft swoop toward the material. Suddenly
his arm stayed in mid air and he laid down the chalk with a muscular
effort. "I think I take this home," he firmly announced.

"Heinrich, you come back after the work. Just now we go with Mr. Gamble
to Schoppenvoll's and have a glass of Rheinthranen!" Ersten said.

"The Rheinthranen!" repeated Heinrich in awe; and for the first time
his eyes moistened. "Louis, we was always friends!" And they shook
hands.

Johnny Gamble, keen as he was, did not quite understand it; but,
nevertheless, he had penetration enough to stroll nonchalantly out into
the show-room, where Louis and Heinrich presently joined him,
chattering like a Kaffe-klatsch; and they all walked round to
Schoppenvoll's.

While Schnitt thanked Johnny for his interference until that modest
young man blushed, Ersten argued seriously in whispers with Shoppenvoll
to secure a bottle of the precious wine that only he and Schoppenvoll
and Kurzerhosen had a right to purchase. Johnny drank his with dull
wonder. It tasted just like Rhine wine!

While Heinrich Schnitt was back in the cutting room, carefully
selecting every coat in the shop to take home with him, Ersten drew
Johnny near the door.

"I fool him!" he announced with grinning cuteness. "I move right away.
You get my lease for the best price what that smart-Aleck Lofty offered
me. And another word: Whenever you want a favor you come to me!"

Johnny walked into the Lofty establishment with the feeling of a
Napoleon. "How much will you give me for the Ersten lease?" he
suggested out of a clear sky.

Young Willis Lofty sighed in sympathy with his bank-account.

"Have you really secured it?" he asked.

"I'm the winner," Johnny cheerfully assured him.

"If it's too much I'll build that tunnel," warned Lofty.

"Make me an offer."

"A hundred and twenty-five thousand."

"Nothing doing," stated Johnny with a smile. "There's no use fussing up
our time though. I can tell you, to the cent, how much I must have. At
four o'clock to-day I shall be nineteen hours behind my schedule, and I
want a day for a fresh start, which makes it twenty-six. At five
thousand an hour, that makes a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. I
paid Ersten a hundred thousand. Grand total: two hundred and thirty
thousand."

"I don't understand your figures," protested Lofty.

"It's a private code," laughed the leaseholder, "but that's the price."

"I won't pay it," threatened the young merchant.

"Build your tunnel then," returned Johnny--but pleasantly,
nevertheless. "Don't let's be nervous, Lofty. I might ask you a lot
more, but that's the exact amount the system I'm playing calls for. I
don't want any more and I won't take any less!"

Lofty studied his face contemplatively for a moment and rang for his
treasurer.

"How did you get Ersten?" he was curious to know; and Johnny told him,
to their mutual enjoyment.

At the nearest drug store Johnny called up Constance.

"Heinrich Schnitt is fixing your coat!" he announced.

"Danke!" she cried. "Did you get the lease?"

"Yes, and sold it to Lofty," he enthusiastically informed her. "The
schedule is paid up until four o'clock to-morrow afternoon."

"Oh!" she gasped. "Wait a minute." He held the telephone while she
consulted the score board and did some figuring. "That makes five
hundred thousand of your million! Just half!"

"I'm coming around to see that diagram," he hastily stated.



CHAPTER XVII

IN WHICH THE STRAW SAILOR HAT OF JOHNNY PLAYS AN EMBARRASSING ROLE


"My dear," observed Mr. Courtney as he and his wife approached the
jessamine summer-house, "do you pick your week-end guests from a city
directory or do you draw the names from a hat?" Constance Joy, sitting
in the summer-house with Johnny Gamble, rose and laughed lightly as a
warning.

"My dear," retorted Mrs. Courtney very sweetly indeed and all unheeding
of the laugh, "I pick them by a better system than you employ when you
invite stag parties. You usually need to be introduced to your guests.
Just whom would you like to have me send home?"

"Paul Gresham for one," replied Courtney bluntly, "and the entire
Wobbles tribe, with their friend Birchard, for some more."

"I could be perfectly happy without them myself, Ben," sighed his wife,
"but the Wobbles bachelors invite themselves whenever they please, and
Paul Gresham was asked on account of Constance."

Constance, in the summer-house, laughed again, although less happily
than before, and dropped her portfolio as loudly as possible, while
Johnny Gamble merely grinned.

"That's what I wondered about," persisted the grizzled financier, as
oblivious to the noises from within the jessamine bower as his wife had
been. "I should have thought that on Constance's account you would have
dropped Gresham."

"How absurd!" laughed Mrs. Courtney. "Why, she is to marry him!"

"I don't believe it!" indignantly denied Courtney. "She got him in a
will with a million dollars, and it isn't enough!"

Constance's foot, twitching nervously, rustled a dry leaf, and her
heart popped into her throat lest the noise should be heard. The time
had passed for wishing to be discovered.

Johnny Gamble had ceased to grin and was looking scared.

"Mr. Gresham is of a very old family," Mr. Courtney's wife reminded him.

"Age is no recommendation for an egg," her husband kindly informed her.
"Gresham is second cousin to Lord Yawpingham, and if they had any sense
of shame they'd murder each other for the relationship."

"Oh, Ben, I'm sure you're harsh," protested the optimistic Mrs.
Courtney.

"I'm so charitable as to be almost weak," he insisted with a grin.
"Seriously; though, Lucy, Gresham's not square. He tried to destroy
Johnny Gamble's credit with me two or three weeks ago in a most
underhanded manner."

There was a moment of silence, during which the pair in the bower gazed
straight up at nothing.

"You seem to like Mr. Gamble," mused Mrs. Courtney. "Everybody does,
however. Where is he from?"

"Some little town up the state," returned Courtney indifferently. "He's
a fine young fellow, square as a die and a hustler! He's going to marry
Constance Joy."

Johnny Gamble, turning the color of a tomato, dropped his sailor straw
hat, and its edge hit the tiled floor with a noise like the blow of an
ax. Constance could have murdered him for it. They missed a lot of
conversation just about then.

Courtney and his wife rounded the corner of the bower and paused a
moment before turning into it.

"Really, Ben," defended Mrs. Courtney, returning to the criticism that
her husband by now wished he had not made, "except for the epidemic of
Wobbleses this would have been a delightful week-end party: Constance,
Polly, fluffy little Winnie, Mrs. Follison and our own two girls; Mr.
Loring, Val Russel, Bruce Townley, Sammy Chirp, Mr. Gamble and Mr.
Gresham. For your entertainment you'll have Mr. Washer, Mr. Close and
Colonel Bouncer, with whom you will play poker from the time they reach
here this afternoon until they go away Monday morning."

"It was a good party!" agreed Courtney, "By the way, I owe my poker
guests to Johnny Gamble. He asked if they would be here, and seemed to
want them. He's a live member! Did I ever tell you how he helped me
skin old Mort Washer?" And, changing his mind about entering the
jessamine bower, Mr. Courtney, explaining with great glee the skinning
of his friend Mort Washer, took the other path and the two strolled
away without having seen or heard the luckless eavesdroppers.

The miserable pair in the bower, exhibiting various shades of red,
looked steadfastly out into the blue, blue sky for some minutes in
stupefied silence. Johnny presently picked up his sailor straw hat and
surveyed the nick in its brim with ingenuous interest.

"I bought that hat in Baltimore," he inanely observed.

Constance suddenly rose and walked straight out of there--alone!



CHAPTER XVIII

IN WHICH THE ENTIRE WOBBLES FAMILY FOR ONCE GET TOGETHER


Mr. Eugene Wobbles, who tried to live down his American ancestry in
London clubs and was, consequently, more British than any Englishman,
came to Mr. Courtney lazily apologetic.

"I fancy I'm going to give you a lot of bother, my dear Courtney," he
observed, lounging feebly against the porch rail.

"I prefer bother to almost anything," returned his host pleasantly; "it
gives me something to do."

"Rather clever that," laughed Eugene, swinging his monocle with one
hand and stroking his drooping yellow mustache with the other. "Really
I never thought of bother in that way before. Keeps one bothered, I
think you said," and he gazed out over the broad lawn where the young
people were noisily congregating, in pleasant contemplation of
Courtney's wonderful new philosophy.

"What is this particular bother?" gently suggested Courtney after a
pause.

"Oh, yes," responded Eugene, "we were discussing that, weren't we? I've
a rotten memory; but my oldest brother, Tommy, can't even remember his
middle initial. Pretty good that, don't you think; Tommy is a perfect
ass in every respect." And idly considering Tommy's perfection as an
ass, he turned and gazed down into the ravine where Courtney had built
some attractive little waterfalls and cave paths. "About how deep
should you say it was down there, Courtney?"

"Three hundred and fifty feet," answered Courtney. "I think you were
speaking about a little bother."

"Oh, yes, so I was," agreed Eugene. "Very good of you to remind me of
it. You know, Courtney, Mr. Gamble--who wants to buy some land of
ours--has made the remarkable discovery that we're all here together.
First time in years, I assure you. No matter how necessary it may be
for us to hold a complete family council, one of my brothers--most
unreliable people in the world, I think--is always missing."

"And when they're all together I suppose you are somewhere else,"
suggested Courtney.

That proposition was so unique that Eugene was forced to spend profound
thought on it.

"Curious, isn't it?" he finally admitted. "A chap becomes so in the
habit of thinking that he is himself always present, wherever he
happens to be, that it's no end starting to reflect that sometimes he
isn't."

"I see," said Courtney, grasping eagerly at the light. "You merely
happen to be all here at the same time, and you think it advisable to
hold a family business meeting because the accident may never occur
again. Sensible idea, Eugene. The east loggia off the second-floor hall
is just the place. Assemble there and I'll send you any weapons you
want."

"Perfectly stunning how you Americans grasp things!" commented Eugene,
agape with admiration. "But I say, old chap, that's a joke about the
weapons. Really, we shan't need them."

"You're quite right; I was joking," returned Courtney gravely. "I'll go
right up and have some chairs and tables put out on the loggia."

"I knew it would be a deuced lot of bother for you," regretted Eugene
apologetically. "It's a lot of face in us to ask it. So crude, you
know. By the way, should you say that this Mr. Gamble chap was all
sorts reliable?"

"Absolutely," Courtney emphatically assured him.

"Ow," returned Eugene reflectively. "And his solicitor fellow, Loring?"

"Perfectly trustworthy."

"Ow," commented Eugene, and fell into a study so deep that Courtney was
able to escape without being missed.

In the library, where he went to ring for a servant, he found Constance
Joy looking gloomily out of a window, with a magazine upside down in
her hands. She immediately rose.

"Don't let me disturb you," begged Courtney as he rang the bell. "Do
you know where I can find Johnny Gamble?"

"I really couldn't say," replied Constance sweetly. "I left him out in
the gardens a few minutes ago." And she made for the door, confident
that she had not spoken with apparent haste, embarrassment or coldness.

"Won't you please tell him that Joe Close and Morton Washer and Colonel
Bouncer are coming out on the next train?" requested Courtney. "You're
sure to see him by and by, I know."

"With pleasure," lied Constance miserably, and hurried to finish her
escape. At the door, however, she suddenly turned and came back,
walking nonchalantly but hastily out through the windows upon the side
porch. A second later Paul Gresham and Billy Wobbles, the latter
walking with temperamental knees, passed through the hall.

Courtney looked after Constance in perplexity, but, a servant entering,
he gave orders for the furnishing of the loggia and went up to make
sure of the arrangements. He found Johnny Gamble in moody solitude,
studying with deep intensity the braiding of his sailor straw hat.

"Hello, Johnny!" hailed Courtney cordially. "I was just asking Miss Joy
about you."

Johnny looked at him with reproachful eyes. Courtney was to blame for
his present gloom.

"Thanks," he returned. "What did she say?"

"Not much," replied Courtney, smiling slyly. "She didn't know where you
were, but she's looking for you."

"Where is she?" asked Johnny, jumping up with alacrity.

"She just went out on the side porch of the library," announced
Courtney. "Her message is from me, however. Washer and Close and the
colonel are coming out this noon."

"Thanks," replied Johnny starting away. "Did I understand you to say
the side porch of the library?"

A thin-legged figure stopped in the door and twitched.

"Mornin'," it observed. "I knew Eugene's intellect was woozing again.
Always announcing some plan for us to bore each other, don't you know,
and never having it come off."

"This is the place and the hour, Reggie," declared Mr. Courtney. "If
you'll just stay here I'll send you out a brandy and soda and some
cigars."

"Thanks awfully, old man," returned Reggie, looking dubiously out at
the loggia. It was enticing enough, with its broad, cool, tiled
flooring and its vine-hung arches and its vistas of the tree-clad hills
across the ravine; but it was empty. "I think I'll return when the rest
of them are together.", And Reggie, stumbling against the door-jamb on
his way out, wandered away, choosing the right-hand passage because his
body had happened to lurch in that direction.

"Johnny, if you say anything I'll be peevish," protested Courtney in
advance. "Please remember that the gentleman is a guest of mine."

"I was grinning at something else," Johnny soothed him, still grinning,
however.

"I apologize," observed Courtney. "Do you think the Wobbles family will
hold their conclave if each of them waits until all the others are
together?"

"I hope so," replied Johnny. "I'll make some money if they do."

"How rude!" expostulated Courtney with a laugh. "Business at a week-end
house-party!"

"Business is right," confessed Johnny. "They admit that you run the
best private exchange in America out here."

Courtney, enjoying that remark, laughed heartily.

"I'm glad they give me credit," he acknowledged. "Well, help yourself
to all the facilities. Where are you going?"

"Library porch," answered Johnny promptly. "Excuse me, I'm in a hurry."

Constance Joy was not on the library porch. Instead, Johnny found there
Polly Parsons and her adopted sister Winnie, Ashley Loring and Sammy
Chirp. This being almost a family party for Johnny, he had no
hesitation in asking bluntly for Constance.

"This is her morning for Wobbling," returned Polly disdainfully. "A
while ago she was dodging the perfectly careless compliments of old
Tommy and trying not to see that his toupee was on crooked; and now
she's down toward the ravine some place, watching young Cecil stumble.
You could make yourself a very solid Johnny by trotting right down
there and breaking up the party."

"I think I'd rather have a messenger for that," calculated Johnny. "His
brothers wish to see Cecil up in the east loggia."

"Sammy will go," offered Winnie confidently; whereat Sammy, smiling
affably, promptly rose.

"Go with him, Winnie," ordered Polly. "Trot on now, both of you. I want
to talk sense."

Quite cheerfully Winnie gave Sammy her fan, her parasol, her vanity
box, her novel, her box of chocolates and her hat, stuffed a
handkerchief in his pocket and said: "Come on, Sammy; I'm ready."

"Constance showed me that schedule last night, Johnny," rattled Polly.
"You ought to see it, Loring. On Wednesday, at four o'clock, he was
exactly even with it; five hundred thousand dollars to the good."

"I know," laughed Loring, "and he'll beat his schedule if the Wobbleses
will only hold steady for ten minutes."

"You don't mean to say that a Wobbles could be useful!" protested Polly.

"Half a million dollars' worth," Loring informed her; then he drew his
chair closer and lowered his voice. "It's a funny story, Polly. Two
weeks ago Johnny took Courtney and Close and Washer and Colonel Bouncer
up to the Bronx in my machine and arranged to sell them a subdivision
for three and a half million dollars."

"Help!" gasped Polly. "Burglar!"

"They'll double their money," asserted Johnny indignantly. "Fanciest
neglected opportunity within a gallon of gasolene from Forty-second
Street."

"Trouble is, Johnny didn't own it and doesn't yet," laughed Loring.
"He's been trying to buy it from the Wobbleses ever since he arranged
to sell it."

"He'll get it," decided Polly confidently.

"Will they agree when they get together?" Loring worried. "Individually
each one needs the money, and each one is satisfied with Johnny's offer
of three million cash."

"Don't say another word," ordered Polly. "I have to figure this out.
Why, Johnny, if you carry this through it will finish your million, and
this is only the thirteenth of May. That's going some! You weren't
supposed to have it till the thirty-first. Polly's proud of you!"

"I don't think you get the joke of this yet, though, Polly," Loring
went on. "The Wobbleses don't know that Johnny had already arranged to
sell their land, and the subdivision company doesn't know that the
beautiful Bronx tract is the Wobbles estate. In the meantime both
parties are here, and I'm lurking behind the scenery with all the
necessary papers ready to sign, seal and deliver."

"Hush!" commanded Polly; "I'm getting excited. It sounds like the
finish of the third act. Oh, lookee! Who's the graceful party with
Gresham?"

Both Johnny and Loring glanced up at a tall, suave, easy-moving
gentleman, whose clothing fitted him like a matinee idol's, whose
closely trimmed beard would have served as a model for the nobility
anywhere, and whose smile was sickening sweet.

"Eugene Wobbles' friend, Birchard," stated Johnny, who kept himself
well posted on Wobbles affairs. "He's always either with Gresham or a
Wobbles, and he travels for a living, I believe." And Johnny suddenly
rose.

Coming from the direction of the ravine were Constance and Cecil,
Winnie and Sammy, and passing Gresham and Birchard with the nod of
compulsion Johnny walked carelessly on to meet the quartet.

"Good morning, Cecil," he observed. "Your brothers are about to hold a
meeting in the east loggia, and I think they're looking for you."

"No doubt," admitted Cecil wearily. "It's barely possible that one or
two of them are already believing that they will go up. Do you know, I
think I shall establish a record for family promptness, if I may be
excused. Most annoying to be torn away from such a jolly talk, I'm
sure." And receiving the full and free permission of the company to
depart he did so, changing his mind twice about whether to go through
the rose arbor or round by the sun-dial.

Johnny swung in by the side of Constance.

"Some one told me you had a message for me," he blundered.

"Who said so?" she was cruel enough to ask.

Johnny turned pink, but he was brave and replied with the truth.

"Mr. Courtney," he admitted.

"So I imagined," she answered icily. "Mr. Washer and Mr. Close and
Colonel Bouncer are to arrive on the noon train. You'll excuse me,
won't you, please?" And she hurried on to the house by herself to dress
for luncheon.

Johnny Gamble tried to say "Certainly", but he dropped his sailor straw
hat. Constance heard it and every muscle in her body jumped and
stiffened. Johnny turned to business as a disappointed lover turns to
drink.

There seemed a conspicuous dearth of Wobbleses on the east loggia that
morning. Loring, pathetically faithful to his post, entertained them in
relays as Johnny brought them up: sometimes one, sometimes two, and
once or twice as many as three of them at one time; but they all lost
their feeble mooring and drifted away.

Luncheon-time passed; Washer and Bouncer and Close and Courtney went
into executive session; two o'clock came, three o'clock, four o'clock,
and still no meeting. At the latter hour Johnny, making his tireless
rounds but afflicted with despair, located Billy Wobbles, the one with
the jerky eyelids and impulsive knees, on the loggia with Loring;
Eugene was in the poker room trying numbly to discover the difference
between a four-flush and a deuce-high hand; Tommy, his toupee well down
toward his scanty white eyebrows, was boring the Courtney girls to the
verge of tears; Cecil, stumbling almost rhythmically over his own
calves, was playing tennis with Winnie and Sammy and Mrs. Follison; and
Reggie, the twitcher, was entertaining Val Russel and Bruce Townley
with a story he had started at nine o'clock in the morning.

Suddenly Johnny was visited with a long-sought inspiration and hurried
down to the kennels, remembering with much self-scorn that he had
dragged each of the Wobbleses away from there at least once.

The master of the dogs was Irish and young, with eyes the color of a
six-o'clock sky on a sunny day, and he greeted Johnny with a
white-toothed smile that would have melted honey.

"I locked Beauty up, sir," he said with a touch of his cap, referring
to the gentle collie that had poked its nose confidingly into Johnny's
hand at every visit. "There was too much excitement for her with all
the strangers round, but she'll be glad to see you, sir."

"Give Beauty my card and tell her I'll be back," directed Johnny with a
friendly glance in the direction of Beauty's summer residence. "Didn't
you say something this morning about a crowd of setter puppies?"

"Yes, sir," replied the dog expert proudly. "Several of the gentlemen
have been down to see them, but the day has been so hot I didn't care
to bring them out. It's cool enough now, sir, if you'd like to see
them."

"I'll be back, in five minutes," returned Johnny hastily. "I'll say
hello to Beauty first."

Beauty barked and capered when she was let out, and expressed her
entire approval of Johnny in fluent dog language, looking after him
reproachfully when he hurried away.

Johnny first begged a puppy of Courtney, then he brought Eugene Wobbles
and Tommy Wobbles and Billy and Cecil and Reggie Wobbles down in turns
to pick it out for him. Each of the Wobbleses was still there,
deciding, when he brought another. When the last Wobbles, including
their friend Birchard, was in the inclosure Johnny locked the gate and
sent Loring on a brisk errand. That energetic commercial attorney
returned in a very few minutes, laden with some papers and writing
materials, and followed by a servant carrying a wicker table.

"Gentlemen," said Johnny in a quite oratorical tone of voice, "suppose
we talk business."

The assembled Wobbleses turned in gasping surprise from the violent
family dispute over the puppies.

"Upon my soul, this is a most extraordinary thing!" exclaimed Eugene,
looking about him in amazement. "Why, the whole blooming family is
here, even Tommy. I say, Tommy, it's perfectly imbecile, with all due
respect to you, to prefer that little beggar with the white star."

"I'll back him for a hundred pounds before any official committee,"
indignantly quavered Tommy, feeling in all the wrong pockets for his
betting-book.

"Gentlemen," interposed Johnny most crudely indeed, "I am here to
repeat my offer of three million dollars, cash, for your Bronx
property; one-half million dollars to-day, one million dollars next
Saturday, May twentieth, and the remaining million and a half the
following Saturday, May twenty-seventh, title to remain vested in you
until the entire amount is paid. Just to show that I mean business I
have brought each of you a certified check for one hundred thousand
dollars." And he distributed them like diplomas to a class.

Tommy Wobbles, startled to find his toupee on straight, examined his
check with much doubt. "I say, you know," he expostulated, "this can't
be quite regular!"

"Why not?" inquired Johnny.

"Well--er--it's so very precipitate," responded Tommy, putting the
check in his pocket and taking it out again and folding and unfolding
it with uncertain fingers. "No time for deliberation and dignity and
such rot, you know."

"An advance cash payment of half a million dollars is so full of
dignity that its shoes squeak," announced Johnny. "As to delay, I don't
see any reason for it. You want to sell the property, don't you?"

Eugene said yes, and the others looked doubtful.

"You're satisfied with the price?" demanded Johnny.

Since Eugene kept silent the others answered that they were.

"You know that by my plan you are perfectly secured until you are fully
paid; so there's no reason why we shouldn't wind up the business at
once."

"Should you say that this was regular, Birchard?" asked Eugene, toying
with his check lovingly. He had just finished figuring that it was
worth something like twenty thousand pounds!

"Quite regular indeed," Mr. Birchard smilingly assured him. "Typically
American for its directness and decision, but fully as good a business
transaction in every way as could be consummated in London."

"Ow, I say," protested Eugene, but he seemed perfectly satisfied,
nevertheless.

"As I understand it," went on Mr. Birchard, "Mr. Gamble's proposition
is very simple. You are to execute a contract of sale to him to-day,
acknowledging receipt of half a million dollars' advance payment, and
are at the same time to execute a clear deed that will be placed in the
hands of your agent until Mr. Gamble completes his payments. The deed
will then be delivered to him and properly recorded. Is this correct,
Mr. Gamble?"

"I couldn't say it so well, but that's what I mean," replied Johnny.

"Then, gentlemen," continued Birchard, "I should advise you to sign the
papers at once and have the matter off your minds."

Loring had everything ready, but it was Johnny who really conducted the
meeting and manipulated the slow-moving Wobbleses so that they
concluded the business with small waste of time.

When it was finished Johnny thanked them with intense relief. The
Wobbles property was his, and he knew exactly where to sell it at a
half-million dollars' profit. His tremendous race for a million was to
be won, with a day or so of margin. There were a few technical matters
to look after, but in reality the prize was his. He could go to
Constance Joy now with a clear conscience and the ability to offer her
a fortune equal to the one she would have to relinquish if she married
him.

"By the way," said Johnny in parting, "who is your agent?"

"Why, I rather fancy it will be Mr. Birchard," replied Eugene. "Of
course nothing is decided as yet, since there are five of us and four
stubborn; but I rather fancy it will be Birchard. Eh, old chap?"

"I trust so," responded Birchard with a pleasant smile at Johnny.



CHAPTER XIX

IN WHICH THE COLONEL, MESSRS. COURTNEY, WASHER AND OTHERS SIT IN A
LITTLE GAME


Morton Washer, having acquired a substantial jack-pot with the aid of
four hearts and little casino, boastfully displayed the winning hand.

"Sometime, when you fellows grow up," he kindly offered, "I'll sit down
to a real game of poker with you."

Courtney, keeping the bank, dived ruefully into the box for his fourth
stack of chips.

"There's one thing I must say about Mort," he dryly observed: "he's
cheerful when he wins."

"He can brag harder and louder than any man I ever heard," admitted
iron-faced Joe Close.

Colonel Bouncer, puffing out his red cheeks and snarling affectionately
at his friend Washer, corroborated that statement emphatically.

"He's bragged ever since he was a boy," he stated.

"I always had something to brag about, didn't I?" demanded Washer, his
intemperate little pompadour bristling, and his waxed mustache as
waspish as if he were really provoked.

"I don't know," objected the solemn-faced Courtney. "I stung you for
half a million on that hotel transaction. Give me an ace, Joe."

"Never!" snapped Morton Washer, picking up his cards as they fell. "It
was Johnny Gamble did that. I open this pot right under the guns for
the size of it and an extra sky-blue for luck. None of you old spavins
was ever able to get me single-handed. A young fellow like Johnny
Gamble--that's different. It's his turn. You fellows are all afraid of
my threes."

"The others might be, so I'll just help them stay out," stated Courtney
kindly as he doubled Washer's bet. "By the way, speaking of Johnny
Gamble, he was very anxious to get you fellows out here to-day. Now I
want to give you some solemn advice, Colonel; you'd better keep away
from this pot."

"Bless my soul, I have a rotten hand!" confessed Colonel Bouncer,
puffing his cheeks. "But you old bluffers can't drive me out of any
place; so I'll trail." And he measured up to Courtney's stack. "What's
Gamble's scheme, Ben?"

"I'll have to let Johnny tell you that himself," responded Courtney as
Johnny entered. "Coming into this scramble, Joe?"

"I'm a cautious man," hesitated Close, inspecting the faces of his
companions with calm interest. "I don't think you or Mort have second
cousins among your pasteboards, but the colonel is concealing his
feelings too carefully." And he threw down his cards.

"You're most unprofessional to say so," growled the colonel. "I suppose
you won't see that raise, Mort?"

"I'm not much interested," returned Washer indifferently, "so I'll just
tilt it another stack." And he did so with beautiful carelessness. "On
general principles I'm very favorable to any enterprise Johnny Gamble
offers. Isn't that so, Johnny?"

"I hope so," replied Johnny with a laugh as he approached the table
and, with perfectly blank eyes, looked down at the hand which Washer
conspicuously held up to him.

Courtney cast only a fleeting glance at Johnny, whose face it would be
impolite to read--also impossible--and concentrated his attention upon
his old friend, Washer.

"You infernal scoundrel, I believe you have them," he decided as Washer
folded his cards into the palm of his hand again.

Courtney turned for a careful inspection of the colonel. That
gentleman, daintily picking a fleck of dust from his cuff, looked
unconcernedly off into the sky, whistling softly, and Courtney, pushing
his hand into the discard, lighted a cigar, while the colonel met
Washer's raise and added a tantalizing white chip.

It was now Washer's turn for consideration, and he studied his only
remaining opponent with much interest.

"Give me one card, Joe; mostly kings," he requested as he pushed in his
one white chip. "What's your scheme, Johnny?" And he looked up, quite
indifferent to the card he was tossing away. He picked up the one Close
carefully dealt him and, without looking at it, slid it in among the
other four.

"I'm ready to close with you for that Bronx subdivision," responded
Johnny, acutely watching Colonel Bouncer as that gentleman asked for
one card, received it and studied its countenance with polite
admiration. "It's the proposition I've previously explained to all of
you, but had to lay aside because I couldn't nail down the property."

"I suppose you have it now," observed Morton, pushing forward with
gentle little shoves of his middle finger a very tall stack of chips
arranged in three distinct and equal red, white and blue layers. He had
not yet looked at his fifth card, and at Colonel Bouncer he directed
but a brief and passing glance. Did he care what the colonel held?

"I have the Wobbles estate in my pocket," replied Johnny, still
watching the colonel absorbedly. "I must get you together Monday if
possible."

"Wobbles!" exploded Courtney. "Did you buy that Bronx property at my
party from my guests to sell to us?"

"I did," confessed Johnny with a grin. "This is a lovely party."

The poker game suspended itself for a minute, while all four of the
gentlemen looked at him in contemplative admiration.

"He's a credit to the place," observed Joe Close. "Here's where the
Texas land grab was arranged, and the wool trust formed, and the joker
inserted into the rebate bill."

"Nevertheless, if Johnny Gamble sits in this game I'll cash in my chips
and quit," declared Morton Washer.

"He's good enough company for me," blustered Colonel Bouncer,
scrutinizing his cards one by one.

"I suppose so," agreed Washer with a smile at Johnny, "but he's so full
of young tricks and we're outclassed. What's that property going to
cost us?"

"Three and a half million," stated Johnny quietly.

Colonel Bouncer, having now made up his mind, deliberately and with
nice care measured up blue chips and red chips and white chips matching
Washer's, and added to them all the blue ones he had in his possession.

"Taking any stock yourself, Johnny?" he softly asked.

"Can't afford it," confessed Johnny with a smile.

"The property's quite worth three and a half million," announced
Courtney decisively, watching the face of Morton Washer as that calm
player stared at the colonel's chips. "I'm willing to take a million of
the stock."

"I'll take a million; more if need be," offered Washer. "I've been
wanting in on that for some time. Colonel, what have you got?"

"Five cards," replied the colonel.

"You have threes," charged Washer.

"I'm conducting my business through an agent," laughed Bouncer. "There
it is," and he indicated the stack of blue chips.

"You have threes," insisted Washer. "The reason I'm so particular is
that I have threes myself, and I want to know which are the better."

"There is one clever way to find out," bantered the colonel
confidently. "You have a lot of chips. Why are you so stingy with them?"

"That's the way I got them," countered Washer. "I'll donate though.
I'll do better than that: I'll tap you."

The colonel promptly counted his remaining red and white chips. Washer
as promptly measured up to them and to the blues.

"Told you the truth!" he exulted. "I said I had threes, and here they
are! Three tens and a king and another ten!" And he gleefully spread
down his cards. "I caught the pink one."

"Had mine all the time!" triumphed Colonel Bouncer, throwing down his
hand and putting both big arms round the pot. "Four elevens!" And
chuckling near to the apoplexy line he scraped the chips home, while
Washer inspected his excellent collection of jacks. "Now brag, you old
bluffer!" And, still chuckling, he began sorting the chips into
patriotic piles.

"Enjoy yourselves," granted Washer, concealing his intense chagrin with
as nonchalant an air as possible. "I give you my word those chips are
only loaned. Go on and laugh! You fellows make a lot of fuss over a
cheap little jack-pot. Johnny, must you see us Monday?"

"Can't delay it," replied Johnny, checking his own laughter for the
purpose. "I've paid five hundred thousand of the purchase price.
Another million must be paid in one week and the balance in two weeks."

"That's pretty rapid work," remarked Close, with a frown, beginning
swiftly to figure interest.

"The Wobbleses are in a hurry to sail. I've looked into the title. It's
clear as a whistle. Can't we arrange a meeting at my office?"

They settled on a meeting at three-forty-five on Monday while Morton
Washer dealt.

"Bless my heart, Mort Washer, that's the fourth time you've turned my
first card and it's always a deuce!" complained the colonel. "If you do
it again I shall be compelled to give you an old-time, school-day
licking."

"You can't do it and you never saw the day you could," bristled Washer,
brandishing a bony little fist before the colonel's big face.

"There's one more question I'd like to ask," Johnny interposed on this
violent quarrel. "Will it be necessary for me to offer any stock
outside this group?"

"I can't swing but a quarter of a million to save me; possibly only two
hundred thousand," regretted Bouncer.

"If you'd like to carry a little more I'll let you have the money,
Colonel," offered his bitter enemy of the bony fist.

"Thanks, Mort," returned the colonel gratefully. "However, it is not
necessary to display the fact to the entire gathering that I now have a
pair of those deuces."

Washer quickly reached over, snatched the colonel's cards, replaced
them with his own and went on dealing.

"I think we can handle it all among us, Johnny," figured Courtney.

Shortly afterward, Loring, in high glee, separated Polly from a
hilarious game of drop-the-handkerchief.

"Well, Polly, it's all over!" he exulted. "Johnny has been in to see
his financial backers. He has bought the Wobbles property and he has
made his million dollars."

"If Mr. Courtney hasn't any fireworks he must telephone for some right
away," declared Polly in delight, and suddenly her eyes moistened. "I'm
as dippy about Johnny as his own mother!" she added.

"And in just the same way," returned Loring, secretly glad to recognize
that fact. "When you can spare a little time for it, Polly, you might
become dippy about me."

"I am," she acknowledged, putting her hand upon his arm affectionately.

"But you don't want to marry me," protested Loring, a trace of pain
contracting his brows. "I need you, Polly!"

"Please don't, Ashley," she begged. "It's a for-sure fact that I'm
never going to forget poor Billy. Don't let that stop us being pals,
though, please!"

"Certainly not," agreed Loring, with as much cheerfulness as she could
have wished, and burying deeply for the last time the hope that he had
cherished.

"Look here, Loring," charged Val Russel, striding over with Mrs.
Follison; "you'll kindly come into this game or give us back our Polly."

"You'll have to do without your Polly for a minute, children," insisted
that young woman. "She is to be the bearer of glad tidings," and giving
her eyes another dab she hurried away to the house.

She found Constance alone in the library, instructing herself with an
article on mushroom culture.

"I can read your palm without looking at it, pretty lady," bubbled
Polly. "A large blond gentleman with handsome blue eyes and a million
dollars in his pocket is about to offer you a proposal of marriage."

Constance, suppressing a rising resentment, turned the leaf of her
mushroom article. The next page began a startling political series,
which demanded of the public in violent headlines: "Who Spends Your
Money?" but Constance perused it carefully without noticing the
difference.

"I've had my palm read before," she presently observed.

"You don't seem to be alive to the shock I'm giving you," protested
Polly. "Really, girlie, I have some big news for you. Johnny Gamble has
finished the making of his million!"

"I wish that word million had never been invented!" suddenly flared
Constance. "I'm tired of hearing it. The very thought of it makes me
ill." How did Polly come to know it first?

"I wouldn't care what they'd call it if it would only buy as much,"
returned Polly, still good-naturedly. "And when a regular man like
Johnny Gamble hustles out and gets one, just so he can ask to marry
you, you ought to give a perfectly vulgar exhibition of joy!"

"You have put it very nicely," responded Constance. "If it would only
buy as much! Do you know that my name is seldom mentioned except in
connection with a million dollars? I must either marry one man or lose
a million, or marry another who has made a million for that purpose."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" charged Polly. She glared at
Constance a moment, bursting with more indignant things to say; but
there were so many of them that they choked her in their attempted
egress, and she swished angrily back to the lawn party, exploding most
of the way.

At just this inopportune moment Johnny Gamble found his way into the
peaceful library.

"Well, it's across!" he joyously confided, forgetting in his happiness
the rebuffs of the day. "I have that million!" and he approached her
with such an evident determination of making an exuberant proposal then
and there that Constance could have shrieked. "I congratulate you," she
informed him as she hastily rose. "You deserve it, I am sure. Kindly
excuse me, won't you?" and she sailed out of the room.

Johnny, feeling all awkward joints like a calf, dropped his sailor
straw hat, and Constance heard it rolling after her. With an effort she
kept herself from running, knowing full well that if that hat touched
her skirt she would drop!

Johnny looked at the hat in dumb reproach, but when he left the room he
walked widely round it. He dared not touch it.

"Ow, I say, Mr. Gamble," drawled Eugene, passing him in the doorway,
"we've picked out the puppy."

While Johnny was still smarting from the burden of that information and
wondering what spot of the globe would be most endurable at the present
moment, Courtney came through the hall on some hostly errand.

"Say, Johnny," he blundered in an excess of well-meaning, "why don't
you rest from business for a minute? Why aren't you out among some of
these shady paths with Constance Joy? You've cinched your million, now
go get the girl."

This was too much for the tortured Johnny, and the smoldering agony
within him burst into flame.

"Look here, Courtney!" he declared with a vehemence which really seemed
quite unnecessary, "I'm going to marry Constance Joy whether she likes
it or not!"

A flash of white at the head of the stairs caught Johnny's eye. It was
Constance! There was no hope that she had not heard!

"What's the matter?" asked Courtney, startled by the remarkable change
in his countenance.

"I've got the stomach ache!" groaned Johnny with clumsy evasion, though
possibly he was truthful after all.

"You must have some whisky," insisted Courtney, instantly concerned.

A servant came out of the library.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he remarked, "but I believe this must be your
hat, Mr. Gamble."

Johnny broke one of his most rigid rules. He said: "Damn!"



CHAPTER XX

IN WHICH JOHNNY ASKS HIMSELF WHAT IS A MILLION DOLLARS, ANYWAY


Johnny Gamble in the following days was, as Loring put it, a scene of
intense activity. It was part of his contract with the improvement
company that he put their subdivision plans under way; and he planted
himself in the center of the new offices while things circled round him
at high speed. His persistent use of the fast-gear clutch came from the
fact that he would not bind himself to work for them more than two
weeks.

"They're handing me a shameful salary for it," he confided to Loring,
"and I'm glad to get it because it pays up all my personal expenses
during my forty-days' stunt and leaves me my million clear."

"Well," began Loring with a smile, "your million won't be"--he suddenly
checked himself and then went on--"won't be a nice pretty sum of money
unless it ends in the six round ciphers."

He had been about to tell Johnny that he owed fifteen thousand dollars
to Constance Joy. Loring reflected, however, that this could be paid
just as well after it was all over; that, if he told about it now,
Johnny would drop everything to make that extra fifteen thousand; that,
moreover, Constance had not yet given him permission to mention the
matter; and, besides, there seemed to be a present coolness between
Constance and Johnny which nobody understood. On the whole, it was
better to keep his mouth shut; and he did it.

"It's rather a nice-sounding word,--million," he added by way of
concealing his hesitation.

"I don't know," returned Johnny, full of his perplexity about
Constance. "I'm tired of hearing the word. Sometimes it makes me sick
to think of it."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" reproached Loring with a laugh.

"All right," agreed Johnny accommodatingly. "I'm used to that anyhow.
For one thing, I'm ashamed of being such a sucker. That old partner of
mine not only stung me for every cent I could scrape together for two
years, but actually had the nerve to try to sell the big tract of land
we irrigated with money."

"To sell it!" exclaimed Loring in surprise.

"That's all," returned Johnny. "He went to the Western Developing
Company with it two months ago and had them so worked up that they
looked into the title. They even sent a man out there to investigate."

"Flivver, I suppose?" guessed Loring.

"Rank," corroborated Johnny. "Washburn, of the Western Developing, was
telling me about it yesterday. He said his man took one look at the
land and came back offering to go six blocks out of his way on a busy
Monday to see Collaton hung."

"We'd get up a party," commented Loring dryly, and Johnny hurried away
to the offices of his Bronx concern.

He was a very unhappy Johnny these days and had but little joy in his
million. If Constance did not care for it, nor for him, the fun was all
gone out of everything. Work was his only relief, and he worked like an
engine.

On one day, however, he was careful to do no labor, and that day was
Friday, May nineteenth; Constance's birthday, and he had long planned
to make that a gala occasion.

On the evening preceding he called at the house, but Aunt Pattie
Boyden, who was more than anxious to have Constance marry the second
cousin of Lord Yawpingham, told him with poorly concealed satisfaction
that Constance was too ill to see him. He imagined that he knew what
that meant, nevertheless, on the following morning he sent Constance a
tremendous bouquet and went down into the midst of the crowds at Coney
Island, where of all places in the world he could be most alone and
most gloomy.

"What's a million dollars anyway?" he asked himself.

At ten o'clock on Saturday morning Mr. Birchard came into the Bronx
office with much smiling, presented his credentials duly signed by each
of the five Wobbles brothers, received a check for a million dollars
made out, by the written instructions of the brothers, to Frederick W.
Birchard, Agent, and departed still smiling.

"One step nearer," observed Johnny to Loring an hour or so later. "Next
Saturday I'll have the remaining two and a half million and will only
pay out one and a half of it. The other million sticks with me."

"The other million?" repeated Loring. "Oh, yes, I see. The half-million
you advanced and the half-million profit you make on this deal. For how
much can you write your check now, Johnny?"

"If I wrote a check right this minute, to pay for a postage stamp, it
would go to protest," laughed Johnny. "I guess I can stand it to be
broke for a week though."

"You're a lucky cuss," commended Loring.

"In most things," admitted Johnny half-heartedly.

"In everything," insisted Loring. "By the way, Gresham was over here to
see you yesterday while I was out."

"Gresham?" mused Johnny. "That's curious. He was at the Bronx office
and also at my apartments. I 'phoned this morning, but was told he had
gone out of town for a week."

"You probably missed something very important," returned Loring
sarcastically. "Where were you yesterday anyhow?"

"Having a holiday," said Johnny soberly, and escaped.

He wanted work--the more of it the better. He spent the entire week in
the most fatiguing toil he could find, and in that week had no word
from Constance Joy except a very brief and coldly-formed note thanking
him for his flowers.

On the following Saturday morning Gresham walked into the Bronx offices
with a particularly smug satisfaction.

"I've come to close up the Wobbles transfer with you," he stated. "I am
authorized formally to make over the property to you and to collect the
two and a half million remaining to be paid."

"Barring the slight difference of a million dollars the amount is
correct," replied Johnny dryly. "I have the million and a half balance
ready, but I had expected Mr. Birchard to come in and finish the
transaction."

"Birchard is not representing the Wobbleses," Gresham politely informed
him. "I had a little talk with them on the Tuesday following the
house-party at Courtney's, and they decided to have me look after the
matter instead. By the way, I hunted for you everywhere on the day
before the first payment was due, to tell you that the Wobbleses
preferred to have the two and a half million paid all in one sum
to-day; but since you were not in I didn't trouble to leave you a note.
Very few men need to be told not to pay out money."

"Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Birchard never has represented the
Wobbles family in this matter?" Johnny managed to ask.

"Certainly not," answered Gresham, widening his eyes.

"I have his signed authorization to act for them in the matter,"
declared Johnny, remembering that circumstance with happy relief.

"You have?" inquired Gresham with great apparent surprise. "Will you
allow me to look at the paper?"

Johnny showed it to him triumphantly, but Gresham read it with a smile
of contempt.

"I was correct in my suspicions of Birchard," he stated. "This document
is a forgery. I hope you did not pay him any money on the strength of
it."

Silently Johnny laid before him Birchard's receipt, and a second later
as he saw the gleam of gratification in Gresham's eyes was sorry that
he had done so.

"I am afraid that you have been swindled," was Gresham's altogether too
sympathetic comment. "However, that does not concern the business in
hand. This was the day appointed for the final settlement, and I have
come prepared to make it with you."

"You'll have to wait," declared Johnny bluntly, putting away the
documents.

"I must call your attention to the fact that if you do not close this
matter to-day my principals are at liberty to place the property upon
the market again."

"Advise them not to do so," Johnny warned him. "Under the circumstances
I am certain that I can secure enough delay for investigation--legally,
if necessary. I won't move a step until I've looked into this."

"Very well," said Gresham easily, and walked out.

Johnny, in a consternation that was barely short of panic, immediately
consulted Loring, and together they set out upon a search for the
Wobbleses. At their various hotels--for no two of them put up at the
same place--it was discovered that they were severally "probably in the
country at week-end parties". Tommy alone they found, but he knew so
little and was so upset by what they told him that they were sorry he,
too, had not attended a week-end party; and they left him gasping like
a sea-lion, with his toupee down over his ear, and saying between gasps
over and over again with perfectly vacant eyes: "Eugene's an ass!
Perfect ass, don't you know!"

They spent some hopeless time in attempting to trace Birchard, but that
gentleman had disappeared on the previous Saturday. No one had seen him
or had heard of him or had thought of him. They put the case into the
hands of detectives, and gave up hope.

"I don't think it was lucky money any-how," said Johnny gloomily.
Constance had not cared for it and it was worthless!

It was not until Monday that they found Eugene Wobbles, and that
voluntary expatriate was almost as much taken aback as his brother
Tommy had been.

"Ow, I say, it's most extraordinary!" he declared, stroking his
drooping mustache and swinging his monocle. "Why, do you know, I met
the blooming bounder at Lord Yawp'n'am's--second cousin, you know, of
this very decent chap, Gresham. Introduced him at my clubs and all that
sort of thing, I assure you! I'll have the burning scoundrel
blacklisted!"

"Thanks," said Loring with deep gratitude. "Of course that won't get
back the million though."

"Well, I'm bound to give you the right there," admitted Eugene, "but at
the same time I must insist that it will cut the beggar never to be
allowed the privileges of a gentleman's club again."

"And serve him right, I say; even jolly well right," agreed Loring with
a sarcasm that was altogether lost and was intended to be.

"I must say that our friend Gresham has behaved well in the matter,"
added Eugene. "Birth and breeding are bound to tell. I fancy every one
will admit that. What?"

"They tell a great deal," returned Loring dryly. "What did our friend
Gresham do that was so decent?"

"Ow, yes," Eugene was reminded, "we were discussing that, weren't we?
Well, at our friend Courtney's house-party, Gresham was all for
Birchard to handle this business; fairly forced him on us, don't you
know; but on Tuesday he came to us much pained, I assure you, and in
the greatest confidence told us he was sure the beggar was not the man
for the place. Been mixed up in a rotten money scandal or so, don't you
know."

"So you discharged Birchard," Loring surmised, keenly interested.

"Well, not exactly," replied Eugene. "You see it wasn't necessary. We
never had definitely appointed him. Come to think, neither he nor
Gresham insisted on it; and, anyhow, the fellow never came back to us."

"I see," said Loring softly with a glance at Johnny. "So, you being
without an agent, Gresham kindly consented to act for you--without
commission."

"Ow, yes, certainly, without commission," agreed Eugene. "Very decent
indeed of him, now, wasn't it?"

"Almost pathetic," admitted Loring. "Well, Johnny," he said as they
went back to the office, "you're up against it. While Birchard was
forging the papers to get your million Gresham was establishing an
alibi for himself. The only thing I see for you to do--besides laying
for Gresham--is to repudiate this entire deal and get back as much of
your half-million as you can."

"And owe the rest of it to my friends?" demanded Johnny. "Not any. I'll
pay over the two and a half million I have on hand, complete the deal
and stand the loss myself. I'll be broke, but I won't owe anybody."

Loring looked at him with sudden pity. "You'll have to take a fresh
start," he advised as lightly as possible, since one did not like to be
caught expressing pity to Johnny. "You have two days left."

"Guess again!" directed Johnny. "One of them's a holiday--Decoration
Day--to-morrow."

"Tough luck, old man!" said Loring.

"I didn't care for the million, Loring," declared Johnny wearily,
driven for the first time to an open confession.

"I know," agreed Loring gently, still suffering from his own hurt. "It
was Constance. She may not be so keen for that million as you think."

Johnny shook his head sadly.

"I know she isn't," he admitted. "That's the hard part of it. She
didn't seem to care when I had it--not for it or for me. Up to that
time I thought there was a chance. Now the loss of this money doesn't
really hurt. What good would a million dollars do me?"

They had reached the office by this time and made themselves busy with
the final papers. Presently came Gresham and all the Wobbleses,
concluded their business, and took their two and a half million dollars
and happily departed.

Loring glared after Gresham in a fury of anger. He had seen that
gentleman, before he left, slip a square white card under the papers on
Johnny's desk; and, though he did not conjecture what the card might
be, he knew from the curl of Gresham's lips that it meant some covert
trick or insult. Turning, he was about indignantly to call Johnny's
attention to the circumstance when the beaming expression upon his
friend's face stopped him, and sealed any explanation that might have
risen to his lips. Johnny had found the card and was reading it with
glistening eyes.

"Constance Joy!" he said delightedly. "She must have called." He was
lost in pleasant thought for a moment or so and then he looked eagerly
up at Loring with: "I wonder if there isn't some way, besides
Birchard's, that a fellow could make a million dollars in a day!"



CHAPTER XXI

IN WHICH CONSTANCE AVAILS HERSELF OF WOMAN'S PRIVILEGE TO CHANGE HER
MIND


Polly Parsons burst into the boudoir of Constance Joy, every feather on
her lavender hat aquiver with indignation. "What do you think!" she
demanded. "Johnny Gamble's lost his million dollars!"

Constance, nursing a pale-faced headache, had been reclining on the
couch at the side of a bouquet of roses four feet across; but now she
sat straight up and smiled, and the sparkle which had been absent for
days came back into her eyes.

"No!" she exclaimed. "Really, has he?"

Polly regarded her in amazement. "You act as if you are glad of it,"
she said.

"I am," confessed Constance, and breaking off one of the big red roses
she rose, surveyed herself in the glass, tried the effect of it against
her dark hair and finally pinned it on her dressing-gown.

Polly plumped into a big rocking-chair to vent her indignation.

"I don't see anything to giggle at!" she declared. "Johnny Gamble's a
friend of mine. I'm going home."

"Don't, Polly," laughed Constance. "Why, this is one of Johnny's
roses;" and she gave it an extra touch--really a quite affectionate one.

"I'm all mussed up in my mind," complained Polly in a maze of
perplexity. "Johnny Gamble made a million dollars so he could ask you
to throw away your million and marry him, and you were so tickled with
the idea that you kept score for him."

Constance smiled irritatingly.

"I kept score because it was fun. He never told me why he wanted the
money."

"You may look like an innocent kid, but you knew that much," accused
Polly.

Constance flushed, but she sat down by Polly to laugh.

"To tell you the truth, Polly, I did suspect it," she admitted.

"Yes, and you liked it," asserted Polly.

Constance flushed a little more deeply.

"It was flattering," she acknowledged, "but really, Polly, it brought
me into a most humiliating position. At the Courtneys' house-party I
overheard Mr. Courtney tell his wife that Mr. Gamble was making a
million dollars in order to marry me; and Johnny was with me at the
time!"

The hint of a twinkle appeared in Polly's indignant eyes as she began
to comprehend the true state of affairs.

"Suppose he did?" she demanded. "Everybody knew it."

Constance immediately took possession of the indignation and made it
her own.

"They had no business to know it!"

Polly smiled.

"Every place I went that day I heard the same thing," continued
Constance much aggrieved--"Johnny Gamble's million, and me, and
Gresham, and the million dollars I would have to forfeit if I didn't
marry Paul. It was million, million, wherever I turned!"

"The million-dollar bride," laughed Polly.

"Don't!" cried Constance. "Please don't, Polly! You've done quite
enough. Even you came to me out there that day to tell me that now
Johnny had made his million and was coming to propose to me. Why, you
knew it before I did."

"I'm sorry I found it out," apologized Polly. "I got it from Loring."

"Why didn't you say that it was Loring who told you?" demanded
Constance, disposed now to be indignant at everything.

"I didn't know you were jealous," retorted Polly.

"Jealous!" exclaimed Constance. "Why, Johnny wasn't even civil to any
other girl."

Polly smiled knowingly.

"Then why did you quarrel with him?"

"I didn't," denied Constance. "He came the minute you left and I'd have
screamed if he had proposed then, so I went away. He dropped his straw
hat, and it rolled after me and nearly touched me. He dropped it every
time I saw him that day. Also he added the final indignity--I overheard
him tell Mr. Courtney that he intended to marry me whether I liked it
or not. Now, Polly, seriously, what would you have done if anything
like that had happened to you?"

Polly waited to gain her self-control.

"I'd have taken the hat away from him," she declared.

Constance sailed once more.

"I didn't think of that," she admitted.

"No, and instead here's what you've done," Polly pointed out to her:
"You turned Johnny loose to look after himself, and he isn't capable of
it since he fell in love; so for the last two weeks he's been as savage
as any ordinary business man. That's one thing. For another, you've
made yourself sick just pining and grieving for a sight of Johnny
Gamble."

"I haven't!" indignantly denied Constance, and to prove that assertion
her eyes filled with tears. She covered them with her handkerchief and
Polly petted her, and they both felt better. "I think I'll dress,"
declared Constance after she had been thus refreshed. "My headache's
much improved and I think I'd like to go somewhere." She hesitated a
moment.

"You know everybody was to have gathered here to join Courtney's
Decoration Day party this afternoon," she added.

"Yes, I remember that," retorted Polly, "but I didn't like to rub it
in. Shall I call up everybody and tell them it's on again?"

"Please," implored Constance, "and, Polly--"

"Yes?"

"Tell Johnny to bring his Baltimore straw hat."

While Polly was trying to get his number, Johnny Gamble sat face to
face with his old partner.

"You have your nerve to come to me," he said, as the eyebrowless young
man sat himself comfortably in Johnny's favorite leather arm-chair.

"There's nobody else to go to," explained Collaton, with an attempt at
jauntiness. "I'm dead broke, and if I don't have two thousand dollars
to-morrow I'll quite likely be pinched."

"I'm jealous," stated Johnny. "I had intended to do it myself."

"I've been expecting you to," acknowledged Collaton. "That's one of the
reasons I came to you."

"I admire you," observed Johnny dryly. "You bled me for two years, and
yet you have the ingrowing gall to come and tell me you're broke."

"Well, it's the truth," defended Collaton. "Look here, Johnny; I've
heard that you made a lot of money in the last few weeks, but you
haven't had any more attachments against you, have you?"

"You bet I haven't," returned Johnny savagely. "I've been waiting for
just one more attempt, and then I intended--"

"I know," interrupted Collaton. "You intended to beat Gresham and
Jacobs and me to a pulp; and then have us pinched for disorderly
conduct, and try to dig up the evidence at the trial."

"Well, something like that," admitted Johnny with a grin.

"I knew it," corroborated Collaton. "I told them when to stop."

"I guess you'll be a good witness," surmised Johnny. "How deep were you
in on this Birchard deal? How much did you get?"

"Did Gresham and Birchard pull something?" inquired Collaton with such
acute interest that Johnny felt sure he had taken no part in that
swindle.

"Well, yes," agreed Johnny with a wince, as he thought of his lost
million. "They did pull a little trick. Did you know Birchard very
well?"

"I wouldn't say what I know about Birchard except on a witness-stand,"
chuckled Collaton, "but I can tell you this much: if he got anything,
throw it a good-by kiss; for he can rub himself out better than any man
I ever saw. He's practised hiding till he doesn't know himself where he
is half of the time."

"I've passed him up," stated Johnny. "The only people I'm after are
Gresham and Jacobs and you."

"I wonder if you wouldn't pin a medal on one of us if he'd give you the
other two," conjectured Collaton, smoothing his freckled cheek and
studying Johnny with his head on one side.

"We're not coining medals this year," declared Johnny, "but if it's you
you're talking about, and you'll give me Gresham and Jacobs, I'll
promise you a chance to stand outside the bars and look in at them."

"It's a bet," decided Collaton promptly. "I split up with Gresham two
or three weeks ago at Coney Island, when he wanted me to go in on a big
scheme against you, and I suppose it was this Birchard stunt. I told
him I'd had enough. Your money began to look troublesome to me. That
was the day you were down there with the girl."

"There's no girl in this," warned Johnny. "Now tell me just what you
can do."

"Will you wipe me off the slate?"

"Clean as a whistle," promised Johnny. "If my lawyer lets you be
convicted I'll go to jail in your place."

"It's like getting over-change by mistake," gratefully returned
Collaton. "I'm tired of the game, Johnny, and if I can get out of this
I'll stay straight the balance of my life."

"You'll die in the top tier, with the pentitentiary chaplain writing
your farewell letters," prophesied Johnny. "What did you say you could
do?"

"Well, I can incriminate not only Jacobs but Gresham in those phoney
attachments, and I can hand you the Gamble-Collaton books," set forth
Collaton. "Gresham got them away from me to take care of and then held
them over me as a threat; but I got them back yesterday by offering to
pound his head off. He's a bigger coward than I am."

"How much money did you say you wanted?" inquired Johnny.

"Five thousand," returned Collaton cheerfully.

"You said two."

"I have to have two and I need the rest. I thought maybe I could sell
you my interest in The Gamble-Collaton Irrigation Company. There's
several thousand acres of land out there, you know."

"I haven't laid a finger on you yet," Johnny reminded him, "but if you
make another offer to sell me that land I don't know how I'll stand the
strain."

"Well, say you give me the money for fun then," amended Collaton. "I
didn't know anything about this Birchard deal, but since you've
mentioned it I can piece together a lot of things that mean something
now. I'll help you chase that down, and you can afford to spare me five
thousand. Why, Johnny, I'm a poor sucker that has made the unfortunate
financial mistake of being crooked; and you're the luckiest cuss in the
world. To begin with, you're square; and that's the biggest stroke of
luck that can happen. Everybody likes you, you're a swift money-maker,
and you've got a girl--now don't get chesty--that would make any man go
out and chew bulldogs."

Johnny reflected over that statement and turned a trifle bitter. He had
no million dollars; he had no friends; he had no girl! He contemplated
calling the police.

The telephone bell rang.

"Hello, Polly," he said vigorously into the interrupting instrument,
and then Collaton, watching him anxiously, saw his face light up like a
Mardi Gras illumination. "Bring my Baltimore straw hat!" jubilated
Johnny. "Polly, I'll bring one if I have to go to Baltimore to get it."
He paused, and the transmitter in front of his face almost glistened
with reflected high-lights. "Engagements! For to-day?" exulted Johnny.
"I'm at liberty right now. How soon may I come over?" He listened again
with a wide-spread grin. Collaton rolled a cigarette with black tobacco
and brown paper, lighted it and smiled comfortably. "Can't I talk to
Constance a minute?" implored Johnny, trying to push in the troublous
tremolo stop. "Oh, is she? All right; I'll be over in about twenty
minutes. No, I won't make it an hour, I said twenty minutes;" and still
smiling with imbecile delight he hung up the receiver and turned to
Collaton with a frown.

"I think I can raise that two thousand for you," he decided. "Now tell
me just what you know about Gresham and Birchard."



CHAPTER XXII

IN WHICH PAUL GRESHAM PROPOSES A VERY PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENT


"Mr. Gresham is calling," announced Aunt Pattie Boyden with some
trepidation; for Constance, besides being ill, had not been in the best
of humor during the last two weeks.

"Paul?" commented Constance with a pleased smile, which both delighted
and surprised Aunt Pattie. "I didn't expect him for half an hour," and
she completed her toilet by adorning herself with a choice collection
of Johnny Gamble's roses.

"You are looking your best, I must say," admired Aunt Pattie after a
critical survey, for she was particularly anxious about this visit of
Paul Gresham's.

"She ought to," interjected Polly, busy at the telephone; "that's the
third gown she's tried on. She's expecting particular company."

"Any one besides Paul?" inquired Aunt Pattie, elevating her eyebrows.

"Lots of people," returned Constance with a gaiety she had not
exhibited for many days. "Mr. Gamble for one."

Aunt Pattie's countenance underwent an instant change, and it was not a
change for the better.

"Mr. Gamble!" she exclaimed, quite properly shocked. "I shouldn't think
he'd feel in the humor for social calls just now. He's lost all his
money."

"You wouldn't believe it if you had heard him laugh over the 'phone
just now when I told him to bring his straw hat," declared Polly.

"Who told you the news?" asked Constance, feeling sure of the answer.

"Mr. Gresham," hesitated Aunt Pattie.

"I bet he couldn't keep his face straight," Polly vindictively charged.

"You do Mr. Gresham an injustice, Polly," protested Aunt Pattie
severely.

"It isn't possible," insisted Polly. "If it were not giving him too
much credit for brains I'd swear he'd helped break Johnny."

"I'm afraid you don't give him quite enough credit for brains," said
Constance, and giving her roses a deft parting turn she went
down-stairs to meet Paul Gresham.

If Aunt Pattie had been pleased by the change in Constance, Gresham was
delighted. This was the first time she had really beamed on him since
she had met Johnny Gamble.

"You are always charming," he observed, taking pleasure in his own
gallantry, "but to-day you seem unusually so."

"That's pretty," dimpled Constance. "I wanted to look nice to-day."

Mr. Gresham's self-esteem arose several degrees. He smiled his thanks
of her compliment to the appointment he had made with her.

"My call to-day is rather a formal one," he told her, smiling, and
approaching the important subject-matter in hand directly but quite
easily, he thought. "It is in relation to the will of your Aunt
Gertrude, which has been the cause of some embarrassment to us both,
and to you particularly, I fear."

"Naturally," she assented, still smiling, however.

This was easy sailing. Gresham walked over and took the chair nearest
her.

"It is, of course, unnecessary to discuss the provisions made by your
Aunt Gertrude," he stated. "Even had such a will never been written, I
am quite sure that the result would have been the same, and that
to-day, after the long friendship which I have enjoyed with you, I
should be asking you, as I am now, to become my wife," and taking her
hand in his, he very gracefully kissed it.

Constance as gracefully drew it away.

"You have done your duty very nicely, Mr. Gresham," she said. "It must
have been as awkward for you to be compelled to make this proposal as
it is for me to be compelled to refuse it. It would be wicked for us to
marry."

"You are very harsh," he managed to protest. "I am sure that I should
not feel wicked in marrying you."

"Perhaps you haven't my sort of conscience," answered Constance,
laughing to conceal her intense hatred and contempt of him.

Gresham, adopting also the light manner of small talk, laughed with her.

"Really it wouldn't be so bad," he urged. "We would make a very fair
couple when we were averaged. You are beautiful and accomplished enough
to make up for all the deficiencies I may have."

"You do say nice things to me," acknowledged Constance, "but there is
one deficiency you have overlooked. We do not love each other, and that
is fatal to Aunt Gertrude's rather impertinent plans. It renders even a
discussion of the matter impossible. I can not marry you ever."

Gresham's lips turned dry.

"I believe you really mean that," he stumbled, unable quite to
comprehend it.

"Certainly I do," she assured him.

"But you don't understand," he protested. "You can't understand or you
would at least take time for more serious consideration. You are
relinquishing your entire fortune!"

"Making myself a penniless pauper," she mocked with a light-hearted
feeling that some one--description mentally evaded--would make a
fortune unnecessary.

"It is a million dollars," he insisted.

"A million--that sounds familiar!" and she laughed in remembrance of
her tilt with Polly.

Gresham swallowed three separate and very distinct times.

"A half-interest in that million is mine," he complained. "You can not
turn over your share to an absurd charity without also throwing mine
away. It is not fair."

"Fair?" repeated Constance. For an instant she felt her temper surging,
then caught herself and took refuge in burlesque. "The only fair thing
about it is that my Aunt Gertrude's will gave her orphaned niece the
choice between a title with riches and poverty with freedom," and
raising her eyes and hand toward heaven she started to sweep from the
room with queenly grace, stifling a giggle as she went.

"Wait just a minute," begged Gresham, suppressing his anger. "We should
arrange in some way to keep the money. We can, at least, be practical."

Constance, whose faculties were not so concentrated as his, heard a
rustle on the stairs and glancing out through the portieres into the
hall, saw Polly, without her hat, hurrying to the front door. The bell
had not rung, and she divined that Polly, out of the boudoir window,
had seen some particular company approaching.

"It seems impossible," she returned, and waited.

"Not quite," Gresham assured her with a smile. "There is one way we
could carry out the provisions of your aunt's will and still force no
repugnant companionship upon you."

"I think I see," replied Constance--"you mean that we part at the
altar," and in spite of all her efforts to keep her face straight she
finally laughed.

"Well, I didn't intend to put it quite in that melodramatic way,"
resented Gresham.

"Polly wins," declared Constance. "She bet me a five-pound box of
chocolates that you would make that proposal, but I didn't really think
you would do it."

"This is too serious a matter for flippancy," and Gresham bit his lip.
"The plan I suggest is thoroughly sensible."

"That's why I reject it," stated Constance.

Gresham bent his frowning brows on the floor. Constance, through the
portieres, saw Polly and Johnny Gamble.

"I think we shall consider the incident as closed," she added hastily,
with a wicked desire to have him go out and meet Johnny in the hall.

"You are making a horrible mistake," Gresham told her, losing his
restraint and raising his voice. "I think I know the reason for your
relinquishing your Aunt Gertrude's million so lightly. You expect to
share the million Mr. Gamble is supposed to have made!"

Constance paled and froze. Despite her low opinion of Gresham she had
not expected this crudity.

"You may as well dismiss that hope," he roughly continued--"Mr. Gamble
has no million to give you!"

Mr. Gamble at that moment bulged through the portieres, with Polly
Parsons hanging to his coat tails. He laid an extremely heavy hand on
Gresham's shoulder and turned him round.

"I want to see you outside!" declared Johnny, husky with rage.

Polly, at the risk of life and limb, placed her ample weight between
them. "Don't, Johnny!" she implored. "Don't! Constance doesn't want any
door-step drama, with all the neighbors for audience. Wait till you get
him down an alley and then give him an extra one for me!"

Gresham had retired behind a chair.

"This is no place for a personal encounter," he urged.

Johnny turned to Constance, pitifully afraid that he should be denied
his rights.

"Can't I put him out?" he begged.

Constance had been panic-stricken, but on this she smiled easily.

"Only gently, Johnny," she granted.

"Remember there are ladies present," urged Polly.

"I won't hurt Paul," promised Johnny, responding to her smile with a
suddenly relieved grin, and, taking Gresham daintily by the coat sleeve
with his thumb and forefinger, he led the unresisting cousin of Lord
Yawpingham to the front door. Polly opened it for him, and, grabbing
Gresham's silk hat, put it hastily askew and hindside before upon his
bewildered head.

Johnny did not strike him or shove him, but the graceful and
self-possessed Gresham, attempting desperately to recover those
qualities and to leave with dignity, stumbled over the door-mat and
scrambled wildly down the stone steps, struggling to retain his balance.

Colonel Bouncer, just starting up the steps with Loring, Sammy Chirp,
Winnie, Val Russel and Mrs. Follison, hastily and automatically gave
him a helping shove on the shoulder which sent him sprawling to the
walk, where he completed his interesting exhibition by turning a back
somersault.

"Glimmering gosh, Colonel!" protested Val, as he hurried to pick up
Gresham, laughing, however, as did the others, on account of the
neighbors. "Why did you do that?"

"I thought Johnny Gamble pushed him," humbly apologized the colonel.

Bruce Townley and the Courtney girls arrived, and in the gay scramble
for wraps Johnny had a moment with Constance.

"Well, I lose," he said regretfully. "There isn't much chance to make
that million between now and four o'clock to-morrow afternoon."

"What's the difference?" inquired Constance, smiling contentedly into
his eyes.

Only the presence of so many people prevented her fichu from being
mussed.

"There's a lot of difference," he asserted with a suddenly renewed
impulse, the world being greatly changed since she had refused Gresham.
"I set out to get it, and I won't give it up until four o'clock
to-morrow afternoon."

"If you want it so very badly I hope that you get it then," she gently
assured him.

Her shoulder happened to touch his arm and he pressed against it as
hard as he could. She resisted him.

"Ready, Constance?" called Polly.

"In just a minute," Johnny took it on himself to reply. "How does the
score board look by this time?"

Constance hesitated, then she blushed and drew from a drawer of the
library table the score board. The neatly ruled pasteboard had been
roughly torn into seven pieces--but it had been carefully pasted
together again!



CHAPTER XXIII

IN WHICH THE BRIGHT EYES OF CONSTANCE "RAIN INFLUENCE"


There being no cozy corners aboard Mr. Courtney's snow-white Albatross
in which a couple with many important things to say could be free from
prying observation, Johnny and Constance behaved like normal human
beings who were profoundly happy. They mingled with the gaiety all the
way out through the harbor to the open sea, and then they drifted
unconsciously farther and farther to the edge of the hilarity, until
they found themselves sitting in the very prow of the foredeck with Mr.
Courtney and his friend from the West. If they could not exchange
important confidences they could at least sit very quietly, touching
elbows.

Mr. Courtney's friend from the West was a strong old man with keen blue
eyes, who sat all through the afternoon in the same place, talking in
low tones with Courtney on such dry and interminable subjects as
railroads, mines, freight rates, stocks, bonds and board meetings.

Constance wondered how an otherwise nice old man could reach that age
without having accumulated any lighter and more comprehensible objects
of interest, and she really doubted the possibility of any man's
understanding all the dry-as-dust business statistics with which he was
so handy. Suddenly, however, Johnny Gamble awoke from his blissful
lethargy and bent eagerly forward.

"Beg pardon, Mr. Boise," he interjected into the peaceful
conversational flow of the older men. "Did I understand you to say that
the S. W. & P. had secured a controlling interest in the B. F. & N. W.?"

Constance looked at Johnny in dismay. If he, too, intended to talk in
nothing but the oral sign language, she had a wild idea of joining the
frivolous crowd on the afterdeck, where at least there was laughter.

Mr. Boise looked at Johnny from under shaggy eyebrows.

"It's not generally known," he stated, struggling between a desire to
be pleasant to a fellow guest and a regret that he had fancied Johnny
absorbed too much in Constance to be interested in sotto voce affairs.

"That's what that territory needs," Johnny briskly commented. "As long
as the S. W. & P. and the B. F. & N. W. were scrapping, the Sancho
Hills Basin had as good service with burros."

Both Boise and Courtney laughed.

"Be careful, Johnny," warned Courtney. "Mr. Boise is president of the
S. W. & P., and is now also virtually president of the B. F. & N. W."

Constance sighed, but stuck gamely to her post. After all Johnny was
having a good time, and he actually seemed to understand what they were
talking about. There was no question that Johnny was a smart man!

"I'm glad he is president of both," said Johnny, "for with
consolidation things will start humming out there."

"Thank you," laughed Boise, no longer regarding Johnny as an
impertinent interloper. "That's what we hope to do."

"The first thing you'll start will be a cut right across the Sancho
Hills Basin, which will shorten your haul to Puget Sound by five
hundred miles and open up a lot of rich new land."

Boise studied him with contracted brows.

"That's a good guess," he admitted. "You seem to know a lot about that
country."

"I own some land out there," grinned Johnny. "Your best route will be
from Marble Bluffs to Sage City, and from there straight across to Salt
Pool, then up along the Buffalo Canon to Silver Ledge and on to the
main line."

"That's one of the three routes I've been worrying over," agreed Boise,
admiring Johnny's frankness. "I promised to wire my chief engineer
to-morrow which one to put through."

Constance noticed a slight squaring of Johnny's lower lip, and she felt
leaping within her a sudden intense interest in S. W. & P. and B. F. &
N. W.

"What are the others?" asked Johnny.

Mr. Boise promptly drew a canvas-backed map from his pocket. Mr.
Courtney reached for a folding deck chair. Constance helped Mr. Boise
spread out the map. Johnny weighted down the corners with a cigar-case,
a watch, a pocket-knife and a silver dollar.

"The favorite route at present," pointed out Boise, "is from Marble
Bluffs round by Lariat Center, across to Buffalo Canyon and up to
Silver Ledge. The other one is right through Eagle Pass."

"That one won't do at all," declared Johnny earnestly.

"It's the shortest," insisted Boise.

"You'd have to tunnel through solid granite," objected Johnny, "and the
only traffic you would pick up would be from two or three dead mining
towns. In the Sage City and Salt Pool route you would open up a big,
rich, farming territory."

"That route is the one I have practically discarded," said Boise.
"Right through here," and he put a broad forefinger on the map, "is a
large stretch of worthless arid land."

"Yes, I know," admitted Johnny, hitching closer, "but right here"--and
he pointed to another place--"is Blue Lake, and with very simple
engineering work, which has been begun, it could be brought down to
turn that whole district into land rich enough to load your cars with
wheat, corn and cattle. Just now that water wastes itself through
Buffalo Canyon and doesn't do a pound of work until it hits the big
river."

Mr. Boise studied the map reflectively. Mr. Courtney studied it
interestedly. Johnny studied it eagerly. Constance, with her hands
folded in her lap, looked on with puzzled wonder.

"Why, there's the S. W. & P.!" she exclaimed, as she discovered the
letters along a graceful black line.

"And here," supplemented the smiling Courtney, "is the B. F. & N. W.!"

"I see," returned Constance delightedly. "They're both railroads! They
run up into Washington and Oregon, but the S. W. & P. has to go away
round this big pink spot. If it cuts right across there it can go to
Washington much quicker. Why, I should think by all means that the
route by way of Sage City and Salt Pool would be the best!"

Mr. Boise surveyed her with joyous eyes and chuckled until his breast
heaved. "It might be," he admitted with a friendly glance at Johnny.

"One big advantage," urged Johnny, "is that it would be an all-level
route, with solid ground and but very little grading," and he plunged
with breathless energy into the task of convincing Mr. Boise that the
Sage City and Salt Pool route was the only feasible one.

They discussed that topic for two solid hours, but before the first
thirty minutes had elapsed Johnny had unconsciously reached over into
Constance's lap and had taken one of her hands. There seemed to be
nothing in particular that she could do about it, so she let him keep
it, and he used it occasionally to gesture with. What difference did it
make if Courtney and Boise did smile about it at first?

When the railroad party had been dispersed by Winnie--who had
constituted herself rigid master of the revels--Constance and Johnny
found themselves tete-a-tete up in the prow for just a tiny moment.

"Do you suppose he'll decide on the Sage City and Salt Pool route?" she
anxiously inquired.

"I hope so," declared Johnny. "If he does, I think I see a chance to
make a little money."

"Maybe we'd better talk some more with him," she suggested, looking
about for Boise.

"We'll let him alone for a little bit," laughed Johnny. "We've started
him to thinking about it, and I have that appointment with him at
eight-thirty to-morrow morning. Boise does a day's work before lunch."

Later, in the bustle of preparing for dinner, Boise sat down by
Constance.

"Are you still in favor of the Sage City and Salt Pool route for our
new cut-off?" he asked with a smile as he inspected her delicately
flushed cheeks and her bright eyes and her shining wavy hair.

"Really, I don't know very much about it," she modestly confessed, "but
I should think that an all-level route would be much the best."

At the pier that night at twelve-thirty the party, on account of the
lateness of the hour, very hurriedly dispersed. Johnny and Loring
secured a taxi and, with Polly and Constance, headed for Polly's house
where Constance had decided to spend the night.

As they crossed Seventh Avenue Johnny excitedly tapped on the glass in
front of him and poking his head out through the other forward window,
gave a sharp direction. The driver, a knobby-jawed and hairy-browed
individual, turned and tore down toward the big new terminal station as
fast as he could go.

"Gresham," explained Johnny briefly, peering keenly ahead.

"Well, what about him?" inquired Loring.

"He's jumping the town. I don't trust my detectives."

"Have you secured some proof?" eagerly inquired Loring.

"No, only evidence," laughed Johnny at his lawyer, and for the rest of
that brief ride neither the breathless girls nor the concentrated men
said anything. They only held tensely forward and helped hurry.

There were three taxis preceding them in the congested line which
turned in at the terminal station, and as the vehicles began to slow
down Johnny stood on the step.

"If I get in a mix-up you keep this taxi right round where it'll be
handy," he directed, and ran ahead just as Gresham, as fastidious as
ever, emerged at the entrance to the ticket lobby.

Gresham allowed a porter to take all of his hand luggage, with the
exception of one small black bag which he carefully carried himself.

"I guess these are those," observed Johnny in a pleasant conversational
tone of voice as he lifted the bag from Gresham's hand.

Gresham made a desperate grab for the bag, but Johnny gave him a shove
with one strong forearm, opened the bag and, diving into it, felt a
tight square bundle of papers near the bottom. Giving them one hasty
glance he rushed back, closely followed by Gresham, to the taxi where
his friends sat quivering with excitement.

"Hide these," he ordered. "Get out of here, quick!" he told the
chauffeur. "Mr. Loring will tell you where to drive."

"They're hid all right," Polly assured him. "What are they?"

"Amalgamated Steel bonds representing Gresham's half of my million,"
rasped Johnny, throwing Gresham's weight off his arm. "Ask me the rest
of it the next time we meet. Just now I have to see to getting this
thief pinched."

"As your attorney I'll have to caution you, Johnny, that your action is
entirely illegal," Loring confidentially stated.

"They're my bonds, bought with my money," asserted Johnny.

"I know, but it has to be proved," argued Loring. "Your only way to get
possession of them is through the courts. Your present action has no
better legal status than highway robbery."

"I got the bonds, didn't I?" demanded Johnny. "Now you move. Here comes
a copper, and if he gets those bonds for evidence I won't see them
again for months."

A policeman appeared in the exact center of the perspective, followed
by a faithful emissary of the Ember Detective Agency.

"The bonds are no good to you just now unless Gresham assigns them,"
insisted Loring almost tearfully, and both Constance and Polly gave up
in despair.

"That's right," agreed Johnny, glancing over his shoulder at the
policeman and the indignant detective. Suddenly he pushed Gresham
headlong into the midst of the party and jumped in after him. "Hold
him, Loring!" he directed, and dismissed the stupefied Gresham from his
mind.

With remarkable deftness he had extracted a single bill from his pocket
and thrust it into the hand of the experienced chauffeur.

"Break the limit!" he tensely ordered.

"Where?" asked the chauffeur, whirling out of the line with a jerk.

"Any place," and the chauffeur, being a night worker and understanding
his business, accepted that direction with grinning relish and left the
depot policeman trying to remember the number of his machine.

As they went up the incline from the ticket-lobby door Johnny arranged
the bewildered girls on the two little front seats, and wedged the
cowed Gresham carefully in between himself and Loring on the back seat.

The chauffeur, knowing the only regular time-killing drive in the city,
hit out for Central Park. Gresham was incapable of thought or action.
As they crossed Forty-second Street Johnny touched his driver on the
shoulder, and that handy criminal came to an immediate halt at the
curb. Johnny opened the door. Gresham moved. Loring quickly clutched
him by the knee. The chauffeur looked back.

"Leave it to me," he suggested in most friendly tones. "You don't need
to change taxis."

"I'd feel more like a real sport if I hired two," Johnny argued,
studying his man intently.

"I've got two numbers and I'll switch 'em," offered the assistant
brigand.

"I think the police must know you by name," commented Johnny, "but I'll
take a chance," and giving Polly's address he climbed back.

"Shall we hide the bonds?" whispered Polly as she prepared to alight at
the Parsons home.

"Certainly not," replied Johnny. "I have to get them signed," and he
pressed the hand of Constance with proper warmth as he helped her out.

Gresham made an attempt at that point to prove himself a man, but
Loring restrained him from that absurd idea with one hand while he
raised his hat with the other.

"Where next?" asked the driver huskily.

"The finest place for a kidnapping is Forty-second and Broadway,"
answered Johnny with his mind made up.

"I'll take you all the way," almost begged the chauffeur. "You're the
only sport that ever handed me enough for a night ride, and I'd like to
hand you good service."

"I don't know who else pays you," laughed Johnny, and his chauffeur,
with a mighty respect for his fare, drove to Forty-second and Broadway,
where Johnny paid him.

They walked to Johnny's apartments, and on their arrival Johnny
produced the bonds, spreading them out on his table.

"About the first thing is to sign these," he suggested to Gresham.

That abused young man, who had been in the constant expectation of
hearing himself yell for the police, but had been as constantly
disappointed, had walked along like a gentleman; now, at last, he found
his voice.

"This is an outrage!" he exclaimed.

"I know it," agreed Johnny. "It's even high-handed. Here's a
fountain-pen."

"I refuse," maintained Gresham. "Why should I assign my own personal
property to you?"

"Because your personal property is mine," Johnny informed him. "I don't
owe you any explanation, Gresham, but I'll make one. You helped
Birchard forge his power of attorney from the Wobbles brothers, and you
were with him in taxi 23406 when he collected my million from the First
National. You were seen again that night with Birchard on the Boston
Post Road, and from then on Birchard dropped off the earth; but you
didn't. You got Jacobs to buy you these bonds, and Jacobs is a piker.
He confessed and begged for mercy. You're through."

Gresham held doggedly to the thought that never, under any
circumstances, must he admit a criminal action; for such a thing was so
far beneath him.

"I deny everything that you have said," he declared.

Johnny had a sudden frantic picture of this man touching the hand of
Constance, and he leaned across the table until his face was quite
close to Gresham's. The muscles in his jaws grew uncomfortably nervous.

"Did you ever hear of the third degree?" he inquired. "Well, I'm going
to put you through it."

"The third degree?" faltered Gresham. "I don't quite understand what
you mean."

"You don't?" replied Johnny. "It begins this way"--and the watchful
Loring suddenly hung on Johnny's arm with his full weight.

"Don't!" implored Loring.

"I'm going to smash his head in!" husked Johnny, quivering with an
anger to which he had not given way for years.

"Wait a minute!" pleaded Loring, pulling on him with all his strength.
"Wait, I say! I want to help you, but you're in wrong. Listen to
me"--and he drew his reluctant client away from the table. "I've no
objections to your thrashing Gresham and I'd like to be your proxy, but
you'd better put it off. If you compel Gresham by force to sign these
bonds he can repudiate that action under protection of the court and it
will work against you."

Johnny Gamble controlled himself with an effort.

"They're my bonds," he persisted with his thoughts, however, more on
Constance than on business. "He'll sign them or I'll smash him."

Gresham, speaking above his panic of physical cowardice with a
tremulous effort, interpolated himself into the argument.

"I'll sign," he promised with stiff lips, and tried to write his name
on the cover of a magazine. The scrawl was so undecipherable that he
rose from the table and walked up and down the room in acute distress,
holding his right hand at the wrist and limbering it. "If I sign," he
presently bargained as he came to the table, "I must be promised
freedom from the distaste of a personal encounter."

Loring hastily complied, and Johnny, after having been prodded into a
recognition of the true situation, agreed with a disgusted snarl.

Gresham, with nerves much restored and a smile beginning to appear upon
his now oily features, carefully assigned each bond, and then, secure
in Johnny's promise, which he accepted at the par value all men gave
it, stood up and shook his finger warningly.

"A signature obtained under coercion is not worth the ink it took to
scrawl it," he triumphantly declared, having taken his cue from Loring.
"Any court in America will set aside this action."

"I know it," Johnny unexpectedly coincided. "I'm going to give you a
chance at it," and grabbing his telephone he called up Central Police
and asked for an officer to be sent to his rooms.

"Now, Loring, you disappear," directed Johnny briskly as he gathered up
the bonds. "I may have to dismiss you as my lawyer, but as my friend
you can hand these bonds to somebody who will lose them."

"As your lawyer I'd have to call you a blooming idiot," declared
Loring, "but as your friend I don't think Gresham will raise any
question about the bonds. They're yours, Johnny; but, nevertheless,
I'll forget where they are by the time the police come."

Gresham had been struggling with an intolerable lump in his throat.

"Gamble!" he abjectly pleaded, "I've signed the bonds. I admit that
they're yours. You're not going to have me arrested?"

Johnny turned on him with the sort of implacable enmity which expresses
itself in almost breathless quietness.

"I'm going to send you to the penitentiary for a thousand years," he
promised.



CHAPTER XXIV

IN WHICH JOHNNY DEMANDS SPOT CASH AT ONCE


Seven-thirty the next morning found Johnny Gamble listening, in awed
curiosity, to an insistent telephone bell. Gradually it dawned on him
that he must have left a call, and plodding into the bath-room he
mechanically turned on the cold water, reflecting dully that this was
a cruel world. Suddenly it came to him with a rush that this
thirty-first of May was to be the busiest of his life! He had to have
a million dollars before four o'clock!

At seven-forty-five he was out of his bath-tub. At eight he was gulping
hot coffee.  At eight-fifteen he was stepping out of the elevator with
an apple core in his hand.

At the curb in front of his door he found a long gray torpedo touring
car throbbing with impatience, and at the wheel sat a plump young lady
in a vivid green bonnet and driving coat. In the tonneau sat a more
slender young lady all in gray, except for the brown of her eyes and
the pink of her cheeks and the red of her lips.

Johnny's Baltimore straw hat came off with a jerk.

"Out after the breakfast rolls?" he demanded as he shook hands with
them quite gladly.

"No, indeed; hunting a job," responded Polly. "This machine and the
services of its chauffeur and messenger girl are for rent to you only,
for the day, at the price of a nice party when you get that million. We
have to be in on the excitement."

"Hotel Midas," Johnny crisply directed, and jumped into the tonneau,
whereupon the chauffeur touched one finger to her bonnet, and the
machine leaped forward.

"You're lazy," chided Constance. "We've been waiting twenty minutes. We
were afraid you might be gone, but they told us that you had not yet
come down."

"If I'd known you were coming I'd have been at the curb before
daybreak," grinned Johnny. "You're in some rush this morning."

"There must be some rushing if you have that million dollars by four
o'clock," laughed Constance. "Polly and I want you to have it."

"You're right that I'll have to go some," he admitted.

"Excuse the chauffeur for interrupting your conversation," protested
Polly, turning round and deftly missing a venturesome banana cart; "but
you grabbed off half a million of it on a holiday."

"It was twelve-thirty this morning when we took Gresham," claimed
Johnny. "This is a working-day."

"Hotel Midas," announced the chauffeur, pulling up to that flamboyant
new hostelry with a flourish.

Johnny hurried in to the desk, where Mr. Boise had already left word
that Mr. Gamble should be shown right up. He found that fatigue-proof
old Westerner shining from his morning ablutions, as neat as a pin from
head to foot, and smoking his after-breakfast cigar in a parlor which
had not so much as a tidy displaced. His eyes twinkled the moment he
saw Johnny.

"I suppose you still have a disinterested anxiety to have me adopt the
Sage City and Salt Pool route?" he laughed.

"I'm still anxious about it," amended Johnny, refusing to smile at his
own evasion of the disinterestedness. "I brought you a wad of reports
and things to show you how good that territory is. You don't know what
a rich pay-streak you'd open up in that part of the Sancho Hills Basin."

Mr. Boise laughed with keen enjoyment.

"I don't think I need to wade through that stuff, Johnny," he admitted,
having picked up from Courtney the habit of calling young Gamble by his
first name. "To tell you the truth, I sent a wireless telegram to my
chief engineer yesterday afternoon, off Courtney's yacht when we
connected with the Taft, and this morning I have a five-hundred-word
night lettergram from him, telling me that after a thorough
investigation of the situation he finds that the Sage City and the
Lariat Center routes are so evenly balanced in advantage that a choice
of them is really only a matter of sentiment."

Johnny paused awkwardly, stumped for the first time in his life.

"I don't know how to make that kind of an argument," he confessed, to
the great enjoyment of Boise.

"It is rather difficult," admitted that solidly constructed railroad
president; "particularly since I personally favor the Lariat Center
route."

Johnny again felt very awkward.

"Can't we put this on some sort of a business basis?" he implored.

"I don't think so," returned Mr. Boise with a cheerful smile. "You
probably couldn't influence me in the least; but that charming young
lady who was with you yesterday afternoon--your sister or something, I
believe, wasn't it--she might."

Johnny stiffened.

"Then we don't want it," he quietly decided, and took his hat.

"That's the stuff!" yelled Boise in delight. "You belong out West!
Well, Johnny, I'm afraid you'll have to have it as a matter of
sentiment, and partly on the charming young lady's account, whether you
like it or not. Now what have you to say about it, you young bantam?"

"Much obliged," laughed Johnny, recovering from his huff in a hurry. "I
thank you for both of us."

"Don't mention it," replied Boise easily, and chuckling in a way that
did him good. "Give my very warmest regards to the young lady in
question."

"Would you care to come down-stairs and give them to her yourself?"
invited Johnny, a trifle ashamed that he had resented the quite
evidently sincere admiration of Boise for both Constance and himself.

"So early in the morning?" laughed Boise, putting on his sombrero with
alacrity. "It must be serious," and, clapping Johnny heartily on the
shoulder with a hand which in its lightest touch came down with the
force of a mallet, he led the way to the elevator.

At the curb Mr. Boise, who was also confronting a busy day, delighted
both the girls and Johnny by the sort of well-wishes that a real man
can make people believe, and when they drove away Constance was
blushing and Polly was actually threatening to adopt him.

The next stop was at Collaton's, where Johnny bought from that
nonchalantly pleased young man his interest in the Gamble-Collaton
Irrigation Company for five thousand dollars, A check for which amount
he borrowed from Polly while Collaton was signing the transfer.

Next he went to the offices of the Western Developing Company, and the
president of that extensive concern waved him away with both hands.

"If you've come about that Sancho Hills Basin land of yours, talk to me
about it in a theater lobby sometime," Washburn warned Johnny in
advance. "We discuss nothing but real business up here."

"I'll bet you five thousand acres of the land that this is real
business," Johnny offered. "The S. W. & P. has just secured control of
the B. F. & N. W., and intends to run the main line to Puget Sound
right square through the middle of my land. Now are you busy?"

"Sit down and have a cigar," invited Washburn, and slammed a call-bell.
"Billy," he told a boy, "if Mr. Rothberg comes in on that appointment
tell him I'll see him in a few minutes. Now, Johnny, how do I know that
the S. W. & P. will actually build that connecting link through your
land?"

"Ask Boise," directed Johnny confidently. "He's at the Hotel Midas, and
he has appointments in his room for the most of the morning."

"Has that grasping old monopolist gumshoed into town again?" inquired
Washburn, and promptly ordered his secretary to get Boise on the
telephone. "How much do you want for that land?" he asked while he
waited.

"Half a million dollars," stated Johnny. "No, I mean five hundred and
ten thousand," he hastily corrected, remembering his
five-thousand-dollar debt to Polly, and planning a five-thousand-dollar
betrothal blow-out that should be a function worth while.

"Half a million's a lot of money," Washburn soberly objected.

"I said half a million and ten thousand, spot cash and to-day," Johnny
carefully corrected.

"You're joking."

"Am I smiling?" demanded Johnny. "Washburn, if I can't get that odd ten
thousand I'm in no hurry to sell."

Washburn's bell rang, but he went into the next room to talk to Boise.
He came back resigned.

"We'll need a few days for the formalities," he suggested.

"You don't need a minute," denied Johnny. "You looked up the title
weeks ago, and you know it's all right. The formalities can be
concluded in thirty minutes if you'll send your attorney down with me."

"But what's the rush?" demanded Washburn, averse to paying out cash
with this speed.

"I want the money," explained Johnny.

"All right," gave in Washburn. "You may see Jackson at two o'clock and
wind up the business. He'll hand you a check."

"For five hundred and ten thousand?" inquired Johnny with proper
caution.

"For five hundred and ten thousand," repeated Washburn. "It's a
fool-sounding amount, but Boise said that if I wouldn't pay it he
would."

"May I speak to Boise a minute?" asked Johnny.

"This deal's closed," hastily cautioned Washburn with his hand on the
telephone.

"Of course it's closed," acknowledged Johnny. "I want to invite Boise
to a party."



CHAPTER XXV

IN WHICH JOHNNY KEEPS ON DOING BUSINESS TILL THE CLOCK STRIKES FOUR


The hired auto had plenty to do. It carried Johnny to court, where he
made a deposition against Gresham; it carried him to the office of the
Amalgamated Steel Company, where he had the bonds that Gresham had
transferred to him registered in his own name; it carried him to the
appointment with Washburn's lawyer, who destroyed a full hour and a
half of palpitating time; and it carried all of them to Loring's
office, into which they burst triumphantly at twenty minutes of four.

At that hour Loring's office was crowded with loafers, the same being
Colonel Bouncer, Morton Washer, Joe Close, Ben Courtney, Val Russel and
Bruce Townley.

"This being a sporting event of some note, I gathered up a nice little
bunch of sports to see the finish," explained Val Russel with a
graceful bow. "Loring passed me the word that he expected you to nose
under the wire in record time. You must show us the million dollars you
were to have by four P. M., on Wednesday, May thirty-first."

"I don't have to flash it for twenty minutes," claimed Johnny happily.
"At that hour I will show you a certificate of deposit on Joe Close's
bank for half a million in bonds, and a sure-enough check for five
hundred and ten thousand dollars."

"No fair!" objected Val. "You were to have only an even million, and
you've shot ten thousand over the mark."

"I owe Polly five thousand," explained Johnny as he hung his hat on a
hook and pushed back his sleeves, "and I provided for the other five
thousand in order to give a party. May I wash my face while I'm waiting
for the time to be up?"

Courtney noticed that Constance had moved over toward the rather
inadequately screened basin in the corner in unconscious accompaniment
of Johnny.

"We'll excuse you if you'll answer one question," Courtney ventured
with twinkling eyes. "It has been generally understood among your
friends that when you really secured your million dollars--"

"That will do," interrupted Polly Parsons. "You interfered once before
with Johnny's love affairs--Well, I'm not giving anything away!" she
hotly retorted to a blazing glance from Constance.

The door opened and a boy brought in a package for Mr. Gamble. Loring,
guessing the contents from its size, tore off the wrapper.

"Collaton sticks, anyhow, Johnny," he called. "Here are the lost books."

"Cheap at half the price," laughed Johnny as he splashed in the water.
"By the way, Loring, you never did tell me how you steered off that
first bogus attachment for fifteen thousand."

Constance and Loring looked at each other in dismay.

"I'll bring in a bill for that after four o'clock," promised Loring,
laughing as lightly as he could.

"After four," repeated Johnny, coming from behind the screen with a
towel in his hands. "You didn't pay it, did you?"

"That's an entirely separate deal," evaded Loring.

"Where did you get the money?" demanded Johnny, and scrutinizing the
confused face of Constance, he knew.

Johnny smiled gratefully at her and patted her on the shoulder as he
walked quietly behind the screen. Great Scott! He glanced over the
screen at the clock. Where could he make ten thousand dollars in
fifteen minutes? He had to have that million and it must be clear! He
reached for a comb with one hand and for his hat with the other.

Winnie and Sammy Chirp rushed into the office--Winnie in a bewildering
new outfit of pure white, beaming all over with importance, and Sammy
smiling as he had never smiled before.

"Where on earth have you been?" demanded Polly. "I've been telephoning
for you all day."

"Well," explained Winnie volubly, "I took a notion to marry Sammy. I
just thought that if I mentioned it to you you'd want me to wait a
while, and when it did happen it would be a regular fussy affair."

"Honestly, child, I don't know whether to scold you or kiss you," broke
in Polly. "Sammy, come here."

Sammy came, not only obediently but humbly, though he never ceased to
smile; and he looked her squarely in the eyes.

Polly surveyed him long and earnestly.

"I guess it's the best thing that could have happened to both of you,
but I'll have a dreadful time looking after such a pair!"

"I'll look after my husband myself, if you please!" indignantly
protested Winnie.

Everybody laughed, and Polly started the popular ceremony of kissing
the bride.

Johnny Gamble came thoughtfully from behind the screen. He had not
heard the commotion, nor was he even now aware that Winnie and Sammy
had been added to the party. He had a broken comb in his hand.

"Bruce," said he, looking steadfastly at the comb, "did you ever feel
the need of a comb of your own in a public wash room?"

"I've sent a boy six blocks to buy one," responded Bruce with a surge
of recurrent indignation.

"It's the curse of the nation," Val earnestly assured him. "You are
ready for the theater. You have fifteen minutes to spare. You drop into
a gilded palace of crime to drink a highball. In your earnestness you
muss your hair. You retire to primp. A comb hangs before you, with one
serviceable tooth. A brush with eight bristles hangs by its side. You
smooth your hair with your towel and go away saddened for ever!"

"The trouble is," said Colonel Bouncer, "that every man thinks he's
going to carry a neat little pocket-comb in a neat little case, and he
buys dozens of them; but he never has one with him."

"Thanks," acknowledged Johnny. "Now suppose you could step into any
barber shop, theater, hotel, saloon or depot wash room, drop a nickel
in a slot and take out a nice papier-mache comb, paraffined and
medicated and sealed in an oiled-paper wrapper. Would you do it?"

"Just as fast as I could push the button," agreed Bruce with enthusiasm.

"Well, I've just invented that comb," explained Johnny, smiling. "Do
you think there would be a good business in manufacturing it?"

Courtney, who had been considering the matter gravely, now nodded his
head emphatically.

"There's a handsome fortune in it," he declared. "It is one of those
little things of which there are enormous quantities used and thrown
away each day. If you want to organize a company to put it on the
market, Johnny, I'll take any amount of stock you think proper--not
only for the investment, but for the pure philanthropy of it."

"Also for the pure selfishness of it," laughed Joe Close. "Courtney
wants to be sure to find a private comb in every public wash room."

"When you get your factory going I wish you'd send a salesman to my
head supply man," requested Mort Washer. "I'll buy them by the ton, and
every guest who comes into one of my hotels will find a fresh comb in
an aseptic wrapper by the side of his individual soap."

"That will be up to Bruce," Johnny informed him. "Bruce intends to
manufacture this device at his papier-mache factory."

"Thanks," acknowledged Bruce. "I hadn't contemplated enlarging the
factory, but I see I shall need to."

"Johnny isn't kidding, Bruce," Val shrewdly warned him.

"Neither am I," maintained Bruce stoutly. "I'll have that comb on the
market so quickly that you can almost afford to wait for it. Royalty,
Johnny?"

"No," denied Johnny promptly. "I'll sell it to you outright for ten
thousand dollars, me to sign any sort of papers you need and you to pay
the patent lawyer."

"I'd be robbing you," protested Bruce. "I should think you'd want to
retain an interest in the manufacture, or at least a royalty. There'd
be a lot more money in it for you."

"Wait just a minute," directed Loring, sitting down at his typewriting
machine from which the neat operator had fled at the very beginning of
the social invasion.

For the next two or three minutes the rapidfire click of the keys under
Loring's practiced fingers drowned all other sound, and then he jerked
off a paper.

"Now, Johnny, you sign this," he ordered. "It is a rather legal
transfer, in line with your other dubious operations of the day, of all
your rights in the Johnny Gamble comb to one Bruce Townley, here
present. Bruce, give Johnny your check for the ten thousand dollars."

"All right, if you fellows are bound to have it that way," agreed
Bruce. "I haven't a check-book with me, Johnny, but I'll send it up to
you from the office to-morrow."

"But, Bruce, that won't do!" hastily urged Constance. "He must have the
check right now. Don't you see he only has a million and ten thousand
dollars? He owes Polly five thousand and me fifteen thousand, and if
you give him ten thousand dollars for his invention he'll have a
million and how much? I'm all mixed up! But I do know this: that he'll
have his million dollars left exactly to the cent!"

"I--I see," stuttered Bruce in a fever of anxiety to help Johnny
achieve his million in the specified time. "I--I'm sorry I haven't my
check-book," and he looked about him hopelessly.

Just in front of his chest was suspended a check, already made out in
favor of Johnny Gamble, in the amount of ten thousand dollars, properly
dated and lacking only Bruce's signature. It was smiling Sammy Chirp
who had been quietly thoughtful enough to remember that he and Bruce
did business at the same bank.

"The nation is saved!" cheered Val Russel as Bruce dropped down at
Loring's desk. Johnny was already busy writing.

"Do hurry!" urged Constance. "It's two minutes of four!"

Johnny jumped up with two checks on the First National Bank and passed
one to Constance and one to Polly.

"Tough luck!" suddenly commented Val Russel. "It just occurs to me that
our friend Johnny will have to break into his million to pay for his
blow-out."

"I'm glad of it," snapped Morton Washer. "He took an eighth of that
million out of my pocket. He can afford to give a dinner, with salted
almonds and real imported champagne at every plate."

"And a glass-scratching diamond souvenir from the million-dollar
bride," added Polly with a wicked glance at Constance.

"Are we positive that he has won a bride?" demanded Courtney, gathering
courage from the fact that Polly was not crushed.

"I don't know myself," boasted Johnny with an assumption of masculine
masterfulness which he knew he could never maintain. "Will you marry
me, Constance?"

"I decline to discuss that in public," declared Constance with
well-feigned haughtiness.

Johnny kissed her, anyhow, and the mob cheered.

"Listen!" ordered Constance.

The little clock above Loring's desk struck four.





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